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The ethereal woman dances in her snow white frock among the sky line. 

She is idyllic. A masterpiece. A fantasy. 

Her idyllic aura shines through the screen, permeating his heart. He longs to see that smile  in person, hear her laugh. This display is too cruel. It's almost tangible. 

"Baby, what are you staring at?"

She grabs onto his arm, following his line of vision. 

Kim Taehyung's cerebration is shattered. 

Eyes flutter closed, he inhales deeply. He shouldn't spiral like that, he needs to ground himself in reality. 

Yet seeing her face again overwhelms his very being. Everything rippling to the surface, and she's not even real. 

"Ah, are you looking at the Moonbeam Cosmetics campaign?" She gestures to the the large advertisement. 

Taehyung wordlessly nods. 

She grins. "Don't all those billboards make you want to buy me their stuff? So I can be as pretty as her?" 

The joke throws him off completely. "Huh?" 

"The model. She's stunning right?" 

Taehyung hesitates. 

She chuckles. "I won't be jealous if you say so, it's not like she's real life." 

Taehyung's mind whirrs with a million questions. 

Is it really her? Why would she be in a giant beauty campaign in the middle of Hongdae?

"Who is that?" He blurts. 

"Her name is Park Jia." 

The woman stares at her face plastered on the skyscrapers. 

"That's me?" 

"Did America make you stupid?" Jeon Jungkook scoffs. 

She smirks. "God didn't hold back when crafting my face." 

Her best friend groans. "Did America destroy your modesty too?" 

Jia shrugs. "I am gorgeous though." 

"Shall I take you to the shaman so we can extort Seokjin's spirit from your body?"  

"Jin and I do well in business for reason." She smirks, hand circling her face. 

Jungkook smiles at a pair in the distance, the woman tugging on her partner's sleeve, pointing to the display. 

"Ah, look at that good-looking couple. Do you think her boyfriend will buy her some Moonbeam products?" He muses. 

Jia ponders as she sets sight on the fashionable pair. A blonde bob and blonde mullet. Interesting. 

"Good looking? You can only see the back of them."

"Good looking as in look good together. Look at their fashion and the height difference." Jungkook sighs. 

"I see. Feeling single?" Jia teases. 

"No need to call me out like that, Miss independent. Some of us are needy and like to be cuddled." 

Jia rolls her eyes. "Just get a dog." 

"Can a dog buy me stuff on billboards?" 

Jia wonders if Jungkook is deliberately ignoring that his mother owns the department store skyscraper on which her face is printed on. 

"I'll buy you stuff then." She mutters. 

He pouts indignantly. "I'll hold you to that." 

Chapter Text

"The campus is nice." Jia skips up the stairs, whilst Jungkook trudges after her, panting. 

"I had a 9AM today, could you be happy somewhere else?" He grunts. 

"I graduated a year early just for you and you're sick of me half way through the first day of the semester?" Jia sighs forlornly, melodramatic as ever. 

"I thought you meant doing the  fun stuff we used to back in high school, not enrolling at my uni for a masters degree. You really graduated a year early from Harvard just to go straight back into the Korean education system?" Jungkook rants. 

"Should I go back then?" She teases. 

Jungkook grabs her arm and yanks her down to sit on the step he was currently resting on. 

"No! Stay right here in Seoul." He grunts. 

"You're really unfit for a tennis player, Kook." 

"A court is flat, we've been on incline like all day." Jungkook protests, laying down. 

"Oof." Jia groans as his head clunks onto her thigh. "Gosh, what will I do with you?" 

Jungkook beams, eyes closed. "You love me." 

She can't even argue, settling on an irritated pout. 

"You love me so you're going with me to this party tonight." 

"What?" 

People gawk as Jungkook drags Jia down the street. 

"How are you putting up resistance in heels?" He huffs in exasperation, tugging the reluctant girl. 

"I came out the womb in heels." Jia retorts, resiliently planted on the pavement. 

"Hurry up! People will think I'm a kidnapper." Jungkook hisses. 

"You are! I didn't want to leave the apartment." 

"Then why are you dressed for a party?" 

"Because you'd carry me here anyway." Jia bickers, "I have a reputation to uphold. What if you dragged me here in pyjamas?" 

"They'd probably call it high fashion with a twist. Everyone's so far up your ass these days. Eighteen year old Jia would be laughing right now." Jungkook shoots back. 

Jia rolls her eyes at the ugly truth,  the recollection of her past treatment stinging. 

"Let's not talk about that." She mellows. 

Large house muffling booming music and laughter. Oh the joys of college parties. 

She eyes the two body guards at the front gate in curiosity. "Who's party?" 

"Kim Lily." 

"Oh for Christ's sake." Jia groans. "Why are you so fake?" 

Jungkook shrugs. "She throws good parties. Besides, we have to stay friendly either way." 

He's referring to the tight-knit camaraderie of upper class Seoul. 

"Let's get this over with." Jia sighs. 

The security part for their entry, no questions asked. 

Jia imagines there will be many familiar faces. 

"My team's here tonight." Jungkook mutters, steering her to the kitchen. 

Jia sarcastically grins, lunging for the tequila bottle. "Oh yay." 

"You're not going to come with me to greet the host?" He asks as she pours three shots. 

"Do I have to?" Jia resists, checking the surroundings before necking two. 

Jungkook declines the third shot. "At least have a chaser, psycho." 

"It's kind of quiet in here." Jia observes as she pours the tiniest cup of orange juice, downing it after the final liquid hits her throat. 

Jungkook beckons her to follow him, winding past a few people in the hallway as they come into the lounge. 

The noise is overwhelming: drunken screeches, the bass, the sound of jumping from the ceiling. Jia doesn't feel in her element whatsoever. Eyes stare at her in fascination. 

The host jumps from entertaining a large group of the couch, beaming. 

"Kookie!" She squeals, throwing her arms over him. 

Despite his muscularity, Jungkook stumbles a little with a chuckle. Jia apathetically watches the spectacle. 

"Oh my God." Kim Lily gasps, mirth in her eyes. 

The it girl, the queen nightclubs, the lifestyle connoisseur. 

"Park Jia. I can't believe you're here. It's been so long!” The hostess embraces Jia, which she returns less enthusiastically. 

"Hello, Lily." Jia utters. 

"Ah, did no one offer to put your coat away? Aish. Here." Lily scrambles for her coat, gesturing for one of her minions. 

"Thanks." Jia drawls. 

"We'll enjoy the party, see you later Lily." Jungkook smiles. 

"The sports teams are upstairs." The hostess responds, eyes lingering on Jia. 

Lily leans towards her. "The passcode to the wine cellar is one five nine six. Take anything you want." 

Jia smirks slightly, raising an eyebrow playfully as she turns to leave. 

They're barely through the doorway when the room explodes in commotion. 

Park Jia is back. 

"Fuck, Taehyung. How much did you drink?" The football captain laughs as the younger dives onto him. 

"Captain Hyung." Taehyung whines, limply burying into his chest. 

"Park Jimin?" The captain calls. 

Those two were joint at the hip. If one jumped off a cliff, the other would follow without hesitation. 

"He fought with his girlfriend again." Jimin responds, the team mates laugh or pat Taehyung's back sympathetically. 

The captain  rolls his eyes one half of the chaotic pair as he blabbers into his shirt. 

"She was there and she wasn't there and she was so pretty. The prettiest I've ever seen her but she wasn't even there." 

"Ugh, Jimin. Come deal with your boyfriend." The captain retires, throwing Taehyung down on the couch beside his best friend. 

Jimin scowls as Taehyung's head bashes into his own. 

"Cap," He whines, "Why am I baby sitter?"

"Because I always do. I feel like a nanny every party: it's either you or him or both of you. You guys aren't freshmen anymore." The older scolds, jetting off to mingle with others. 

"Curse that popular jerk." Jimin mutters, propping Taehyung upright. 

"I'm going to get you water. Don't move, punk." Jimin orders. 

Taehyung doesn't respond, a panorama playing in his mind. 

The white dress. Her smile. His brain has turned into the skyscraper in which her billboarded are imprinted. He hasn't forgotten it all day, it's seeped through every silent moment. Stained his concentration. 

Jimin sighs, heading to the garden for a smoke. He figures Taehyung will be fine, the other team mates are there. 

He bumps into someone.

"Sorry, man." He smiles apologetically. 

"No worries." The stranger smiles, and carries on. 

Jimin pauses. He looked familiar. 

"You go SNU?" Jimin slurs. 

The guy swings around unsteadily. "Yeah. Aren't you football?" 

Jimin nods. "You play?" 

"Nah, I'm tennis. I've seen you around though. You're very popular with the girls." 

They share a drunken laugh. 

"Want to smoke?" Jimin asks. 

The stranger grins. "Go on." 

Jimin swears he's seen this guy before, where has escaped him. 

"Lily throws parties once a month or something. All the SNU sports teams come, Seoulites and her other friends I guess. It's a weird mix to be honest. The second floor is just a massive lounge space where the sports people hang."

"The jocks?" Jia muses as they climbs the stairs.

Jungkook scoffs. "Whatever floats your boat. Sports people, athletes, jocks. Potato, Tomato." 

She giggles. "That's not the phrase, Kook." 

"Ah," He whines, "This is why I couldn't study in the US." 

The whole of the second floor has no walls, a massive open space. 

"Madness." Jia exclaims as she steps in, turning to the left there was a mini dance floor kitted with a disco ball and DJ booth, the music pounding and people flailing around. Then the music quietens from the rest of the space to a volume where people can chat at reasonable volume. It's littered with Art Deco couches and armchairs, kitted with coloured lights. 

Jungkook laughs at her silliness. "My team's over there, let's go." 

He bounds over to a large, mixed group who cheer when they spot him. 

"Look who finally showed up." One of the guys laugh, slapping him on the back as they hug. 

"Kookie!" Some of the girls squeal. 

Jia tries not to feel disgust at the atrocious din, smile painted on her lips. 

"Everyone, this is my-" 

"Girlfriend?" 

Jia almost chokes. 

"No, no. This is my sister." He gestures hurriedly. 

"I'm Jia, nice to meet you all." Jia beams, squashing Jungkook's nervousness. 

He'd forgotten how much of a social butterfly she can be if she actually tries. 

"Jeon Jia! Welcome to the tennis family." 

"You play right? Jungkook said he was bringing someone who was interested in Tennis society. Oh I'm Men's captain by the way, Park Jinyoung." 

"I am?" Jia echoes, glaring at Jungkook's guilty smile. "I mean, yeah I was thinking about it." 

"I'm Lee Doha, women's captain. Trials are on Monday if you're interested." 

They shake hands. 

Jungkook scans the group. "Where's second place?" 

They shrug. "Bathroom?" 

Three rounds later, with Jia magic, she's fully integrated. 

"Guys, I'm just going to the bathroom okay?" 

The girls ask if she needs them to go with them to which she politely declines. 

Jia's definitely not going to the bathroom. She pads downstairs to the ground floor and scans the area. 

Where would that wine cellar be? 

She skips into the kitchen, grabbing a can of mixer.  She grins when spotting the pass-coded door in the corner. Bingo. 

She fumbles for the light switch, unable to find one. It's dark but not pitch black so she ventures in, even though it's a little creepy descending the stairs. 

Jia exhales, enjoying a little tranquility after interacting with so many people. It's cool and quiet compared to the bustling second floor. 

Jia freezes as she hears a noise, she shines her phone torch around and sees nothing. Probably just a stair creak. Brushing it off, she  ponders what Kim Lily's liquor cabinet could offer. She's in the mood for gin. 

When Jia jumps from the last step the sensor triggers at last. Finally, light. 

Her can clatters to the floor, seeping over the smooth marble. 

Jimin is running. She chases after him as he darts out the house, tearing down the residential street. 

"Jimin! Park Jimin!" Jia screeches, the awful clack of her heels against the paves ringing in her ears. 

She definitely saw it. 

Park Jimin and another man.

When stranger leant forward into visibility. Except it wasn't a stranger.

It was Hwang Jun. Hwang Jun from Geochang High.

Kissing girl obsessed, womanising Park Jimin. 

"Jimin, stop please." Jia implores, lunging for the boy. 

He lashes around, blanched and shaking. They are both panting and wild-eyed. 

Jimin throws off her grip on his jacket, gripping onto her arms instead. He shakes her as he angrily sobs. 

"Don't tell anyone." He spits. 

Jia gapes as his fingers dig into her arms as he jostles her around like a  rag doll. A dog with a toy. She remains limp in his arms, petrifying by his lunacy. 

One last look into his crazed eyes, Jimin drops her. 

She stares on her bloody hands and knees at his shrinking figure. He turns the corner and disappears. 

Jimin doesn't even look back. 

Jia bursts into hysterical sobs, tumbled on the pavement. Alone on the quiet residential street. 

"Where the hell-" Jungkook stills. 

Jia is a million miles way, ashen face, bloody limbs. Trembling. 

"What happened?" He gasps, reaching out to inspect her gushing palms. She flinches. 

"Who did this to you? What cunt did this?" Jungkook seethes. 

Jia bites her quivering lip. "I fell. I drank too much and fell in the garden." 

Jungkook sighs, dragging her into the kitchen. 

"Let's clean this up and go home." He declares, running the tap over her hands. 

"What? You were having so much fun." Jia protests.

"But you're not." He exasperates. 

"I fell over but apart from that it's fine. Let's just bandage me up and go back." 

Jungkook keeps tabs on Jia all night as she chats with the tennis girls. They fuss over her wounded form, bringing her drinks and snacks. Jia appreciates their care, even if they are completely wasted. 

It hits 3:30AM, the dance floor long vacated, people beginning to drift home. Only a few groups seem to remain, a particularly boisterous lot in the corner. 

“Ah, the football team never know how to read the room." Jinyoung tuts. 

"Isn't their captain your best friend, hyung?" Jungkook chuckles. 

"Exactly." Jinyoung scoffs affectionately. 

"He'll come over so they can go home together soon." Doha coos. 

"Ah, the joys of living with your best friend." Jungkook grins at his roommate, who winks in return. 

The football captain claps his hands, quieting the rowdy bunch. 

"Right boys, I've got an essay due for tomorrow so I'm going to head home." He announces. 

The boys agree with his sentiment, grabbing their coats from the couch to retire for the night. 

"What about midfield maestro?" Yugyeom enquires, poking the dead weight on the couch. 

"Nipper's in charge of him. He'll be fine." A teammate shrugs. 

"Park Jinyoung!" The captain ambles towards tennis, waving Jinyoung over. The latter scoots away from the group to see what his roommate wants. 

 "Let's go home." 

Jinyoung nods. He turns to the tennis group. "See everyone Monday? Jia, don't even think of not coming, we like you too much already." 

The football captain jerks in interest at the name, zoning in on the woman. 

His eyes widen. "Park Jia?"

Jia blinks. "Lim Jabeom?" 

--- 

"What did he want?" Jungkook looks up from his as she trundles onto second floor. 

Jia shrugs tiredly. "Just a catch up." 

He frowns. What would the connection between Jia and the SNU football captain be?

"Let's go home." Jungkook concludes. 

Jia sighs in relief. 

The tennis team had left just now, and the entire second floor has cleared out, except for one person slumped in the corner. 

Kim Lilly skips up the stairs. "Oh hi guys. Heading home?" 

They nod. "Thanks for hosting." 

"No pr- What the heck? Is that your friend?" 

"We don't know him. I think he's on the football team." Jia mutters. 

“Shit. I can't have a stranger in my house but he seems so drunk." Lily pouts. 

"I'll deal with him, don't worry." Jungkook smiles at the hostess. 

"H-hello? Jinyoung hyung?-" 

Jungkook groans. 

Jia pouts. "Voicemail?" 

"Yep." He resigns. 

The two glare at the body slumped on the couch across the room. 

"We should pat him down for ID or something." She suggests. 

Jungkook nods, padding over to the snoozing figure. The tennis player taps the drunkard's back. Then a little harder. 

"Jungkook!" Jia exclaims as he boots the stranger in the back. 

The guy grunts, rolling off the couch and smacking on the hardwood floor. 

Taehyung blinks, vision aligned with the floor. Then he feels himself being turned, wincing as the light glares at him. The room spins. 

He sees her again, blurry.  This time she's looming over him. 

Taehyung closes his eyes, praying he would stop thinking about her. 

The breath is knocked out of her. Jia stumbles a little, caught by Jungkook. 

"I-is that?" Jungkook exhales, bending to brush the excess hair from his face. 

It was definitely Kim Taehyung. 

Chapter Text

Jia doesn't say a word as Jungkook carries Taehyung on his back towards the main road. Nor when they finally catch a taxi. 

She stares at his lifeless figure on their couch. 

"I'm sorry to break it to you but it's definitely him." Jungkook sighs, waving the student card. 

Kim Taehyung. Fashion Design. Seoul National University. 

"I saw Jimin today." Jia settles on a different but equally dreadful conversation, reluctant to dwell on the figure of her past sprawled on their couch.  

Jungkook tenses. "What happened?" 

Jia shrugs. "He didn't want to talk to me." 

His jaw clenches. "He's still an immature prick." 

Jia merely nods, indicating that she doesn't want to expand.

"And Lim Jabeom?" Jungkook questions. 

"He did a semester at Harvard. We fucked around a bit." 

Jungkook chokes. "You and the football captain? Now I can't look at him without thinking he piped my best friend." 

Jia scowls. “Jungkook!" 

The boy claps in approval. "He's gorgeous, way to go bestie. Hold up-" 

"What?" 

"So you managed to run into two people you slept with at your first college party in Seoul since returning?" He smirks. 

"There's supposed to be ten million people in this city and I ran into four people I could have done without seeing. What a joke." Jia mutters. 

"Four?" 

"Three. I meant three." 

Jungkook eyes her suspiciously, wondering if she's still tipsy. Then he focuses on the figure on the couch. 

"Anyway, what do we do with country bumpkin?" 

Jia purses her lips in thought. "Let's charge his phone and see if anyone calls. Otherwise he's on the couch for the night." 

"You're weirdly calm about this." 

Jia smiles slightly. "It's been years. What's not to be calm about?" 

Taehyung is jolted from his slumber by a shriek. 

"Where the fuck did you put my Loofah?" 

"I haven't touched it, bitch." 

He hisses at the throb is his head, and swallows. Throat parched, limbs sore. He pauses for a second. The patter of feet, the smell of bacon. He fumbles to feel a velvet couch. Is he still at Kim Lily's house? 

He groans as he opens his eyes, the streaming daylight stirring his pounding head. 

"Fuck." He rasps. 

This is definitely not his apartment. He's an idiot.

He hears a door open in the unfamiliar abode, squinting. 

"It's been a while, Kim Taehyung." 

He's still wide-eyed and youthful yet a lot more ripped than Taehyung remembered. 

"Jeon?" Taehyung exclaims. 

"Disappointed?" Jungkook chuckles. 

"This is your place? Wait, what happened? Why am I here?" Taehyung rants, squeezing his temples in frustration. 

Jungkook holds a somber expression. "We hooked up, don't you remember?" 

"What?" 

He rolls his eyes. "You were passed out at Lily's and all your friends left. Your phone was dead and we couldn't find an address on you so we brought you here." 

Taehyung frowns, half embarrassed and half annoyed. "What happened to Jimin?" 

Jungkook rolls his eyes darkly. "I'll be damned if I know. It's Jimin. He probably abandoned your drunk ass to go home with a girl." 

Taehyung shakes his head, feeling a little concerned. 

"You said 'we'? You have a roommate?" Taehyung attempts to divert the subject. 

He didn't really care to be honest. The situation was awkward in itself. He'd landed himself in his  best friend's former best friend's apartment where he's slagging him off. He hadn't seen Jungkook around for a while, maybe over a year.

Jungkook shifts, morphing from mildly amiable to hesitant. 

"Do you want water, maybe bacon? A spare toothbrush before you go?" Jungkook offers, glancing at his exorbitant watch. "Ah, I've got a study session in forty." 

Taehyung knows this is a queue to vacate the apartment as Jungkook fumbles around the kitchen. 

"Water would be good. And I'd appreciate a toothbrush." He smiles. 

Jungkook tosses him a carton water. "Toothbrush should be in the bathroom over there under the sink."

Taehyung pads over. 

Suddenly, the pan clutters in the sink. 

"Actually why don't I get that for you?” Jungkook suddenly beams, lurching forward. 

"Oh er- don't worry about it. I'll manage." Taehyung returns the forced grin, reaching for the handle. 

"Oh, he's still here?" Jia remarks, ringing out her wet hair with a towel after whacking him with the door. 

Taehyung clutches his forehead, staggering back slightly. 

“Sorry, didn't see you there. Bathroom's all yours." Jia smiles apologetically, skipping over to the kitchen counter. 

Taehyung slams the bathroom door shut, leaning over the sink in shock. 

"Did you have a nice chat?" Jia munches on some bacon. 

"I think he's having an existential crisis in there." Jungkook mutters.

Taehyung douses his face in cold water, hands shaking as he opens the toothbrush packaging. He scrubs at his teeth, spitting with vigour. 

He feels them watching as he comes out the room. He stares at the floor. Heart pounds in his chest so hard that it's in his mouth and ears too. 

"Well thanks for everything, guys. I really appreciate it." Taehyung smiles at the floorboards. 

"No problem." Jia hums. He can feel her gaze burning into the top of his head, lifting his eyes to meet hers for a second. 

Flames erupt in his chest. Eyes return to the floor. 

"Okay, bye then." Taehyung chirps, scampering to the front door. 

"Kim! Your shit's still here." Jungkook yells. 

He curses, halting at the door mat and turning around. 

Jia leans against the counter, amused by his awkward demeanour as she holds up his phone and ID. 

"You shouldn't let your phone die if you're going to get that wasted." She teases. 

"Uh, thanks." Taehyung mutters, jittery. 

Her presence is overwhelming. She smells the same, intoxicating and sensual. Orange blossoms.

He jolts as their fingers brush, clambering to catch his phone. 

Jungkook clears his throat. "We live right next to campus, do you live far?" 

Taehyung nods. "I live by the river." 

Jungkook nods. "Ah, I thought you might be in central. That's  definitely not walking distance and I don't think you should ride the subway looking like that, no offence. So someone's co-" 

The doorbell rings. 

"Just in time." Jia remarks. 

Taehyung is perturbed by her pleasant aura. Didn't she hate him? Why is she acting as if they don't know each other at all?

"Hello, I'm so sorry about all this." A woman bows to Jungkook. 

"Ah no problem." He smiles, returning the bow. 

Taehyung freezes. 

"Aren't you Lily's friend? Jungkook-ssi?" She asks. 

"Ah yes. Sorry but your name..." 

"Lee Nara. I think we met at a party before." 

They bow again. 

Jungkook clicks his teeth in recognition. "Ah, I think you had longer hair back then." 

He gestures to his head, mimicking her blonde bob. 

Nara scans the apartment, Taehyung shrinks as she glares disapprovingly. Then her expression turns shocked, as she bows profusely at the silent observer. 

"Oh my God. Are you..." 

Jia raises an eyebrow, sauntering past Taehyung towards Nara.

"I don't think we've met before. I'm Park Jia. " 

"Ah, your billboard is all over the city. You're close with Lily right? I'm her good friend, Lee Nara." She beams excitedly. 

Kim Lily certainly is not what Jia would class as a close friend but she retains her fake smile. 

"Oh, I see. It's lovely to meet you." 

"How do you know Taehyung?" Jungkook asks. 

This snaps the aforementioned out of his dazed reverie. 

Taehyung wanders over to the doorway where the other three are. 

"She's my girlfriend." He states. 

Taehyung is appalled as he finds himself gauging Park Jia's reaction to the news. Her lack of such disappoints him. And he knows it certainly should not. 

Nara grabs onto his arm then her face scrunches. "Oppa, you reek of alcohol." 

Jia smiles. They look good together. 

Taehyung says nothing, just grimaces apologetically. 

"So, how did you end up here?" She asks her boyfriend with a hint of suspicion. 

He stiffens, slow in conjuring a response. 

"We brought him here." Jungkook offers. 

Nara frowns. "I didn't know you knew Jia-ssi and Jungkook-ssi?” 

Jia shrugs. "Jungkook knows him from the sport scene." 

Nara's expression twists into confusion. "I swear the football team was at the party yesterday. I'm pretty sure I saw some of them there on socials." 

"I'll explain in the car. Let's go." Taehyung asserts, growing extremely uncomfortable with this situation. 

"Bye. See you around." Jungkook calls, whilst Jia just waves at the departing couple. 

He shuts the door, collapsing against it and exhales dramatically.

"God, that made me fucking sweat. Why were we even covering for that guy?" 

"We covered for him?" Jia responds nonchalantly.

"You lied. And I pretended to be his friend." 

"Lied? When?" Jia chuckles, throwing herself on the couch. 

"You know Kim Taehyung better than me. You lived with him...amongst other things." 

Jia rolls her eyes. "We were eighteen and haven't seen each other since. You both at least run in the SNU sport circle. More convincing. I don't want his girlfriend misunderstanding something that isn't even happening, you know how some girls get." 

"You really aren't bothered by his existence." Jungkook chuckles, impressed. 

"He has a blonde mullet now." Jia muses, sarcastically adding. “Good thing it wasn’t black or I’d be falling for him.”

"God, I hate mullets." Jungkook gags. 

"Did you see how they have matching hair? Should we both dye our hair purple?" 

Jungkook slaps her head at the ridiculous idea. 

"So even more people think we're dating? No thanks." 

Chapter Text

Taehyung finally sees Jimin on Monday. 

"Jimin, where the fuck have you been?" He exclaims frustratedly. 

Jimin's erratic temperament had always worried Taehyung to the point where he was developing early onset wrinkles. 

Jimin exhales, guiltily. "You didn't get my text? I took a solo spa trip to Jeju. I was stressed." 

Taehyung rolls his eyes at his compulsive antics. He wasn't sure if anything coming out of Jimin's mouth would surprise him at this point. 

"Well, Jabeom hyung's going to lynch you for missing Sunday practice. They were all on my ass about where you were and I said you were sick but no one bought it." He sighs, slinging his arm around the shorter boy.

Attention gravitates towards them as usual, greetings flailing around as they pass the hoard of students. 

"Actually, I have something to tell you." Jimin halts. 

Taehyung gulps. Jimin is never serious. 

"W-what?" 

"Park Jia is back in Seoul." 

Taehyung's eyes widen. "You saw her?" 

Jimin nods, eyes filled with despair. "At the party." 

Asides from momentary surprise, Taehyung's reaction is not what Jimin expected at all. 

"I thought you'd be more shocked considering-" 

"Actually, I knew." 

"You saw her too?" Jimin gasps. 

“Well..." 

“Oi lovebirds!" The duo swing around. 

Their captain, Lim Jabeom bounds over. He lurches forward, slapping them on the shoulder. The pair wince. 

"Park Jimin, feeling better?" The captain teases with an undertone of severity. 

Jia attempts to slip away, mind foggy at her discovered revelation. Kim Taehyung and Park Jimin know each other? They're friends? Alas, a noise slips from her throat as Jabeom grabs her wrist. 

The pair's attention jump to her, flickering to astonishment and then immediately back on their captain as he clears his throat expectantly. 

"Yeah, cap. I had the shits. Sorry I missed practice." Jimin mutters. 

Jia looks anywhere but the pair, her head reeling. 

Lovebirds? These two must be close.

They equally avoid acknowledging her presence at all costs. 

"Taehyung-ah, did you get home okay?" Jabeom presses. 

Taehyung's eyes widen, jumping from Jia to the captain. 

"Yes, cap." 

"Good, I was worried Jimin would ditch his roommate. Wouldn't be the first time." The athlete scoffs. 

"Roommate?" Jia blurts. 

"Huh? Oh, guys, this is Jia. She's new to campus so if you see her make sure to say hi." Jabeom pulls her in their direct line of vision. 

Jimin and Taehyung frown at the interaction, glancing at each other. 

"How do you know each other?" Jimin pretends to be natural, the smile wiped off his face at Jia's wounded expression. 

"We went to Harvard together. Remember my semester abroad?" 

Jia wanted to be anywhere but here. 

"I have trials now, gotta bounce." She mutters, breaking away from the group and practically sprinting away. 

"But-" Jabeom sighs as she whooshes away. "Well, that was Park Jia."

They knew that. Very well. 

"You're close?" Taehyung manages. 

Jimin gapes in horror as their captain flushes, scratching his neck. 

"Um, we're-" 

"You fucked. Didn't you, hyung?" Jimin's impulsive mouth outruns his brain. 

Taehyung feels outrage at the mere idea, then an inexplicable repulsion as Jabeom's guilty expression confirms it. 

"Jimin, that's not really your business." Jabeom huffs. "Anyway, I'll see you rascals at the trials this afternoon." 

He walks away. The pair stand in silence for a long while. 

"Park Jia goes to SNU?" Taehyung laments. "We're fucked, Minnie." 

Jimin disagrees unconvincingly. "It's a massive campus. We'll be fine." 

Jia imagines Park Jimin's face as the ball as she smashes it into the back corner of the court. Jia's winning sets left and right and before she knows it her trial is over. 

Jungkook runs over. "You- you really improved. Wow." 

Jia downs her water bottle, slamming it into her bag. 

"I can go home now right?" She pants, drying her forehead with a towel. 

Jungkook pouts. "Aren't you going to watch my trial?" 

"You're literally the best player at the university. Is this even a trial for you? Your face is hung in the entry of the tennis club." Jia rolls her eyes. 

"But I'm playing my number one rival today, he's almost as good as me." Jungkook whines. 

"Okay fine. You watched mine so I guess it's fair." Jia relents despite her awful mood. 

She follows Jungkook to the club pavilion, all of the tennis boys are there.

"Jia!" Captain Jinyoung whistles, "You're very talented." 

"Thanks Captain." She manages a smile. 

"Done trialling?" 

Jia nods, returning the greetings of those she met on Friday. 

"You didn't meet one of our best at the party though." Jinyoung remarks. 

"Yah, second place. Come here." Jungkook yells at the guy emerging from the toilet. 

Jia sees flashes of the wine cellar, paling as they make eye contact. Of course, why didn't she make the connection before?

Hwang Jun was the tennis ace of Geochang High. 

Jungkook grins, slapping the boy on the back. 

"This is-" 

"We know each other." Jun cuts him off. 

Jia nods. "We went to high school together. Nice to see you again, Hwang Jun." 

It's not nice. 

"Should we go catch up?" Jun smiles, cocking his the balcony of  the club bar. 

"Sure." Jia's smile drops as soon as they're out of view of the curious team. 

"I heard you went to Harvard." Jun utters. 

“Yeah, I did.” Jia stares at the the people playing below. 

Jun chuckles dryly. "Aren't you glad to see an old friend?" 

Jia exhales. "I don't like seeing anyone from that town, it’s not personal. Reminds me of bad things. ” 

"I see." Jun grimaces then hesitates to say something.

"Are you going to ask about what happened Friday or can we go back inside?" She deadpans.

"Well at least you're still blunt, and good at reading people." Jun sighs. 

Jia waits for him to continue. 

"Was that your boyfriend? He reacted really strangely to being found." 

"Who?" She tests. 

"Park Jimin?" 

"He's not my boyfriend." 

"So you're single?" Jun smirks. 

Jia rolls her eyes. "Don't even think about it." 

"We had chemistry though, back in the day." He wiggles his eyebrows.

"Hwang Jun, don't flatter yourself.” Jia scoffs.

"Well if you're ever in the mood for-" 

"Join the line then. She's got about thirty other boys waiting." Jungkook swaggers over. 

"Are you one of them, Jeon?" Jun grins at his rival. 

"That's not even something you need to worry about." Jungkook smirks back. 

Hwang feigns hurt. "I guess I must be number thirty." 

"That's an optimistic placement." 

"Jungkook, go warm up." Jia drawls. 

He chuckles, giving Jun one last warning look as he strides back in. 

"I don't know how close you and Jungkook are but if you tell him about Friday or even mention the name Park Jimin - I don't think you'll have a tennis career anymore." 

Jun gulps at her nonchalance. "Because of you?" 

"Because of Jungkook, or Jimin." 

"Jimin?" 

"I still have a small soft spot for you, so I'll give you some advice. If you see him, don't stop to say hello. If he tells you to keep your mouth shut you say 'what about' and you don't breath a word  to anyone about it, ever." Jia warns.

"He's closeted?" He enquires, eyes wide.

"Good luck with trials." She smiles, patting his shoulder. 

Jungkook wins, as predicted, and with trials completely over, the club decides to head straight to a BBQ restaurant to celebrate. Jia just wants to go home and shower but stays for the sake of socialisation. 

They take a short cut through the football pitches. 

Jia walks besides Jungkook and Jinyoung towards the back as Hwang Jun messes around with the tennis girls at the front. 

"Don't be put off by his flirting, it's just a part of his personality, Jia." The captain rolls his eyes playfully. 

Jia chuckles. "He was the same in school."

"Ah, I keep forgetting. Did you guys play tennis together?" 

Jia  smiles at the memory and then suddenly Kim Taehyung takes over. 

Her smile falls. "Yeah, we played together once but there wasn't a girls team so…” 

Jungkook scoffs. "How old fashioned." 

Jia nods aggressively. "Tell me about it. In the twenty fir-"

"Watch where you're fucking going." 

The group halts as Jun in his clownish antics, collides straight into a football player. 

"Sorry ma-" Jun pauses. It's Park Jimin. 

"Do you have vision problems or something?" Jimin spits, not letting him pass. 

"It's not that deep, bro. Sorry." Jun rolls his eyes at the player's manners. 

Jia and Jungkook instantly recognise his voice, marching to the front of the group. 

"You guys go ahead." Jungkook orders the tennis team, who scamper at his stern tone. Only the captain and Hwang Jun stay.

"Watch your tone. It was an accident." 

Jia's voice is so icy that Taehyung shudders from beside his stormy teammate. 

Jimin's jaw clenches at the sight of his former best friends. He rolls in his eyes with annoyance. 

"Of course this obnoxious prick is friends with you two." 

Jungkook's eyes blaze, he steps towards the shorter boy who glares back. 

"Lads, easy, easy." Jinyoung mediates, gently pushing Jungkook to distance him from Jimin. 

Jun and Jungkook stand their ground against Jimin, Taehyung stood beside him with his usual blank stare. 

"You got hurt?" He digresses from the tense exchange. 

Taehyung's question confounds her. Does this kid know how to read situations?

Jia purses her lips, instinctively enclosing her wounded hands as Taehyung's piercing stare settles on her bandaged knees and littered bruises. 

"I fell." 

“Did you really?” Jun chides. 

Jia's eyes widen, as do Jimin's as he frowns in disbelief. 

His anger morphs into guilt. He did that to Jia? 

Luckily, the football captain stalks over. 

"What's going on here?" He barks, Jimin shifts a little, no longer venomous and instead distraught as he observes Jia's battered form.

Jinyoung silently indicates the issue to his roommate with his eyes. 

Jabeom sighs in annoyance. "Park Jimin, go warm up." 

Taehyung remains rooted whilst Jimin nods meekly, glistening eyes lingering on Jia before he jogs onto the pitch. 

"You good?" Jungkook pats Jun on the back, who nods, boyish grin returning. 

"Aw Jeon. It was cute how you had my back. Cheers, pal." 

Jungkook scoffs to suppress his bashful smile. "Aish, don't flatter yourself." 

Jia clicks her tongue at the debacle. "Testosterone is really a disease." 

"So, who did that to Jia?" Jungkook turns serious as he questions his teammate. 

Jun flickers over to Jia uncertainly. 

"Someone pushed you?" Jabeom exclaims. 

"Say the name and I'll kill him." Jungkook asserts. 

"It's no one." Jia hisses. "I just got in the way of some random drunk guy and toppled." 

Only Jabeom is satisfied with the answer. "Well if you ever see him, fetch me and I’ll sort him out. I've got to go warm up. Taehyung?" 

"Give me a sec, cap." Taehyung mutters. 

Then it's just five of them. 

"Right. let's go eat some BBQ, shall we?" Jinyoung slings his arms over the boys' shoulders. 

"Jia, a moment please?" Taehyung asks casually. 

Jungkook pauses, waiting for Jia's affirmation. 

"You guys go first." 

"See you there, then." He sighs. 

"Farewell, Geochang friends." Jun grins as Jinyoung wordlessly nods. 

The three skip away in their formation. 

Jia smiles a little at the ridiculous display. Taehyung is not smiling at all. 

"What happened on Friday?" He demands. 

"You got too drunk and we took you to ours." Jia repeats the tale. 

Her deflective answer irks him. "Who hurt you, Jia?" 

"Like I said, nobody I know." She emphasises. 

"Liar." He retorts. 

"Excuse me?" Jia rebukes. "How does this concern you anyway?" 

"Was it Jimin?" Taehyung continues. 

"What? No." 

"I saw bruises on your arm and the cuts. Jimin went MIA the whole weekend which he only ever does when he has a lot on his mind. Come Monday, he's telling me he ran into you at the party. You guys fell out, he's usually off his head at those events...." 

Jia keeps her indignant silence at Taehyung's allusion. 

"You don't need to protect him. He's my best friend, I won't hurt him badly."

Jia is appalled. "Don't touch him. He's going through a lot, okay?" 

"It's weird how you're so loyal to him when he doesn't seem to care about you very much." Taehyung scoffs. 

"Why? Are you here to boast about how you're besties now?" She jeers. 

"No. I'm saying you're stupid if you think hiding the truth that he fucking assaulted you is beneficial for anyone. He needs to be held accountable for his actions, otherwise God knows what else he'll do in the future." Taehyung rants. 

"It wasn't assault, Kim Taehyung. You really think I'm going to let it go so easily?  It's between him and I, that's why I didn't tell everyone. You're kicking off without knowing the context." 

"What context?" He ridicules. 

"Ask Jimin if you want to know. Since you're his best friend now apparently." Jia hisses. 

Jia gasps as Taehyung reaches forward and grabs her shoulders. 

"I don't care that he's my best friend, anyone who touches you like that is a dead man." 

“Just focus on protecting your girlfriend." Jia mutters. 

Then escapes before she can feel anything fatal. 

Chapter Text

"Dammit, Park. Get your head in the fucking game." Yugyeom snaps as Jimin fails to fill the correct offensive position once again and the other team snatch the ball. 

"Time out." The captain calls, storming over. 

"Park Jimin, you skipped Sunday practice and are making your team a circus act today. Unless you want to be replaced by a freshman, I suggest you get your fucking act together." Jabeom hisses. 

Jimin stares blankly, his mind on the bruises and the cuts. He feels sick. He can't function, Jia screaming in his ear, her body thudding against the pavement. 

As soon as they arrive back at the apartment, Jimin is sent tumbling to the floor. 

Taehyung looms over him, grabbing his collar. 

"Bastard. I knew you can be a scumbag but laying your hands on a girl is low even for you." He seethes, as Jimin wheezes. 

He throws the boy back on the hardwood floor and waits. Waits for Jimin to spring up and perhaps swing, suddenly explode like he's known to have done before. 

Instead, he remains crumpled on the floor and begins to sob. Taehyung freezes, mystified. 

Then sighs, padding into his room. 

Light turns to dark and Taehyung figures he should check his roommate. He grabs an icepack from the freezer, knocking on the door. 

"Jimin, can I come in?"

No response. 

"I need my foam roller back." He lies, hoping it will coax a response.

He knocks again.

"Jimin?" Taehyung whispers as he opens the door. 

Jimin's curled on his bed, lit by the silhouette of moonlight shining through his window. 

Puffy eyes, sniffling in his sleep. He's clutching a photo frame. 

Taehyung feels his heart crack a little; it's a photo of Jimin, Jungkook and Jia back in high school. 

Taehyung aches on his behalf.

Behind Jimin's affluence and charm, he's a train wreck. A product of an unloving home, who doesn't know how expression any emotion except fury, who pushes people who care about him away before he thinks they'll  leave him instead.

Taehyung knows he can't fill the position of two other people in Jimin's life, as much as Jimin wishes he could. Jia and Jungkook left a colossal void in his heart which nothing can fill. Not the rushes of the drugs, the alcohol, the women, the cheering football crowds. Nothing. 

On the other side of the city, Park Jia cries herself to sleep too. 

Jia has no lectures on Tuesday so she heads to the top floor of Park Industries instead. 

"CEO-nim." She nods at her father, slips into her chair at the executive's meeting. 

The meeting mostly concerns business which Jia doesn't actively participate in but as heiress, it's important she's present. The executives love her to death, she has the strategy and the tactics and always brings a fresh perspective to the business. 

She's their lucky charm. No project has failed under her, even when she called shots from The States. 

"Okay, the next agenda just concerns Director Park. See you all next week." Her father announces.

He slides her a thick file. 

"So, I'm not sure if you were aware but KQA is going down the drain right now." 

"I know. My shares aren't making much money yet no one wanted to tell me why ." Jia remarks, interest piquing as she opens the file. 

She figured she wouldn't have heard much about its failures as a top share holder as they scramble to save face for their crumbling company. Their first priority would be making sure to provide her any profit first. In the business world, she's not someone you  cross under any circumstances. 

"So by trying to line their investors' pockets despite minute profit, they're running themselves into the ground." She catches on. 

"Exactly. Prestigious people invested so they don't want to turn around and give them nothing, however this comes at the expense of their own operating budgets and so on." 

"Jung Studios is under KQA." Jia mutters. 

Would Hoseok's clothing company be okay? She flicks through the statistics and financial data, whistles lowly. 

"They're most likely going bankrupt in two years." She observes. 

"Now is your chance, assessment management and investment planning has always been your forté." Park Chul comments vaguely yet proudly. 

"To recommend them Voluntary Liquidation? Isn't that jumping the gun?" 

Park Chul shrugs. "You practically own their company and all the companies under them; you own sixty percent of the shares." 

"True but..." 

Jia pauses a second, trying to understand what her father's scheme.

"Ah, they liquidate and then I buy their useful assets, like Jung Studios?" 

Park Chul raises his eyebrows at the suggestion. 

"I was just warning you to get them to surrender before they really run themselves to the ground and all the creditors take money that's rightfully the shareholders'." 

"But then what about the companies under KQA? Their investments get pulled and then they have no operating money not to mention some may go down with the company. They signed to KQA but then may be sold off to some other random investor to settle some debts." 

"Are you saying that random investor is going to be you? Because if you are I don't know whether to call you a genius or a complete buffoon. Either way this is not happening under Park Fashion." 

"I wasn't planning on it anyway." She sticks her tongue out at the old man. 

He chuckles. "What under then? Ji Squared company?"

Jia snorts. "Seokjin would kill me for making such a risky move." 

"So?" 

"Areum Holdings." 

"Yerim, Park Jia is outside our fucking store. The Park Jia! Princess of  Seoul." Yewon freaks out down the phone, as the aforementioned women stands outside the store, dripping elegance and expense. 

The staff member rushes to the front of the store, swinging open the door. 

She bows so hard she feels a muscle pop in her back. 

"Hello, Welcome to our store, Miss Park. It's an honour." 

Yewon almost has a heart attack as her girl crush slowly lowers her designer shades and gives her a dazzling smile. 

"Thank you, doll. I've heard good things about this place." Jia muses, wandering into the store. 

Yewon immediately switches the store sign to closed. 

"Wah, a VIP." She whispers under her breath, observing in fascination as Jia browses through the rails. 

"You guys have some cool stuff." Jia remarks, picking up some patchwork wide leg jeans. 

She frowns at the odd combination of patterns on the squares of fabrics. Prints of library books,  blossoms, trains and grand pianos. 

"Very abstract." She conjures, smiling at the store clerk who vigorously nods. 

Jia likes that she's keen. It means she'll spill information on this brand which has sparse public information except for its store location and opening hours.

Her eyes stop at a baby blue oversized hoodie, it looks hand-painted. There's clouds and a hill with a train flying past. 

"The designer really likes trains.” Jia blurts. 

Yewon grins. "Oh yes, designer-nim likes to call this the trains capsule." 

"There's a head designer?" 

"He's practically the only designer. Every design is created by him, we just make the clothes with him." 

A Male designer. Works alone.

Jia raises an eyebrow. "You work storefront and make the clothes?”

"Yes, we er don't have many staff here.”Yewon trails off. 

They can't afford extra staff to manage the shop floor. 

"Your work ethic is impressive, it seems like you care a lot about the brand." Jia genuinely remarks, observing the quality of the material and careful craftsmanship. 

"Where's your production HQ?" 

"In the back." 

"In the back?" Jia blinks. "You make clothes in the storeroom?" 

"We're a small business, Miss Park. To be honest, if it weren't for our investor..." Yewon realises she's oversharing about their financial woes in front of one of the richest women in Korea, so she immediately stops. 

"Is the head designer here?" 

"Boss isn't here right now. He went to eat lunch." 

"Ah that's a shame. I was just interested in the creative process." 

Yewon's eyes widen at the prospect of disappointing such a client. It would be such a wasted opportunity and she wanted to make the boss proud. 

"If you want, come see the studio! I'm not in charge but I do make the clothes so I can show you round." 

Jia hides her smirk as she follows her, too easy. 

She tries not to wince at the cramped space, catching the store clerk as she trips over a mannequin on the floor. 

"I never got your name." Jia remarks as she stands the starstruck employee upright. 

"Kim Yewon." 

"Thank you for showing me around, Yewon-ssi. I appreciate it." 

"Ah," She gasps, "No problem. So this is where we make the clothes, sorry for the mess." 

A cramped yet charming space, sketches and mood boards splayed out. A whiteboard scribbled with ideas. Mannequins half-clothed. Racks of garments and rolls of fabric. 

Jia stares at a sewing machine in the corner, Yewon follows her line of vision. 

"Ah that's designer-nim's sewing machine. It's his prized possession."

"Isn't it outdated?" Jia mutters, comparing it to the rest of the newer machines. 

Yewon sounds agreement. "But he insists on using it. No one can touch it except him."

She leans over to Jia, voice lowering despite the vacancy. "Once one of his ex-girlfriends tried to replace it with a new one and he broke up with her on the spot.”

Jia finds it bizarre concept to fight over, a sewing machine. 

"One of his ex-girlfriends?" Jia echoes. A boss parading his relationships in front of his employees didn't sound very professional to her. 

Head designer is a player and male. More intel needed. 

"Oh, he's dated a lot of women. Some of them march in here and beg him to take them back. But his current relationship seems very solid. Maybe they'll get married."

Jia raises her eyebrows, never really that impartial to gossip unless there was intel involved which she could use to her advantage.

"It's important that people's love lives don't interfere in the work space." Jia ends the the topic. She didn't care what the head designer got up to granted it isn't during office hours. 

Yewon nods, realising she wasn't promoting the cleanest company image. "It doesn't usually happen. Promise." 

"So, who owns this company?" 

"Designer-nim founded two years ago and we're a new subsidiary of KQA collective. They give us a massive boost on our operating budget so we can make our clothes with nice material and we were able to open this store."

So they wouldn't have a store if it weren't for KQA. 

"So before you were with-" 

"Ah, we don't like to talk about it." Yewon scratches her neck, looking rather traumatised. 

Jia resolves to buy this company from KQA. 

"Well thanks for showing me the creative process." 

"Ah Miss Park, please buy our clothes. They're all crafted here in Korea, with organic, vegan, fair-trade materials. Every design is thought of right here in this box room." Yewon pleads. 

Jia's eyes widen at her desperation. 

"I thought after G-Dragon bought your stuff, you guys were doing quite well." 

"We would be if boss didn't insist on his expensive materials and generous wages." Yewon rants. 

"Ah okay, I kind of liked those jeans back there anyway." 

Jia stands in the changing room as Yewon begs her try on everything in the store. 

"You're my muse, Miss Park. It's been a dream of mine to style you since I was sixteen." 

"How old are you now?" 

"Eighteen." 

Jia walks out the wide leg jeans and the logo printed cropped cami. 

Yewon almost faints. "I'm literally dead. Look in the mirror." 

Jia shifts around, analysing her reflection in the large store mirror. She turns to Yewon, satisfied. 

"This is cool, I-" 

The sentence dies in her throat. 

Yewon is holding an orange hoodie, with a pop art style sketch. 

It's Jia. She recognises the distorted image which definitely portrays her mugshot. The one taken in Geochang after her life was turned to hell. She remembers how she defiantly smirked at the camera and how it notoriously spread through the media. 

"Do you like it? It's our upcoming collaboration with Jung studios and The Library. It's not public yet but I thought because you're The Library-" 

The Library? Jung Studios? 

Jia feels nauseous. Stabbing betrayal. 

"One moment, Yewon." Jia sounds calmly, stepping back into the changing room. 

She rips off the clothes, changing back into her own. 

Jia inhales deeply, suppressing her pounding heart and the rage creeping up. 

Yewon doesn't notice Jia's shift in temperament. After all, Jia is used to vile revelations, betrayals and lies. She's used to concealing everything. 

The heiress smiles warmly, holding the jeans and top up. "I'll take these."  

Yewon skips to the counter, ringing up the items. 

Jia almost scowls when she peeks in the back and sees the orange hoodie. 

"The new hoodie is on the house. Just got dropped off from Jung Studios. We'd really love you to wear the designs as the face of The Library. When I found out we were collaborating with you and Mr. Kim I was so excited." 

Jia wishes not to disclose that she wasn't aware that her own business partner had thrown her under the bus for a collaboration which she was not aware of nor did she consent to being the face of. 

Jia figures she'll burn the hoodie when she gets home, along with sending a cease and desist letter straight to perpetrator's doorsteps. 

The door rings as three figures step in. 

"Boss!" Yewon squeals behind the counter, eager to show him their new VIP client. 

"Yewon, why is the store closed?" 

Jia's whole body becomes rigid. She closes her eyes in disbelief, back still turned. 

Of course. The Geochang blossoms, the books from The Library, the grand piano from her father's house. 

The spot of their first and second kiss, adorned on the baby blue hoodie. 

The Mugshot. 

Jia's hands tighten around the bag. 

Yewon rushes over to the group, knees bouncing. "We have a VIP, boss." 

"VIP?" Taehyung echoes, staring at the figure by the cash register. "Welcome to Vante Designs, ma'am." 

Only then does Jia turn. 

Taehyung’s stomach drops. She’s here. She's discovered the working of his inner mind. 

"Ji?" Seokjin utters beside him in shock. 

"Princess? When did you get back?" Hoseok is equally stunned. 

Taehyung notices her demeanour. 

"Yewon, go on break. Now." He sternly orders. 

Yewon’s eyes flitter between the others in the room, figuring they're probably going to discuss business. She grabs her coat and scampers out the store. 

Jin is oblivious to Jia's rage as he bounds up to her, arms outstretched. 

Instead, she hurls the hoodie in his face. The three men are stunned as it thuds to the floor. 

"What the fuck is this?" Jia demands, eerily calm considering what she just did. 

"Jia-" 

"When did this happen?" Jia gestures between the three like they're vermin. 

Taehyung can't speak. 

Jia raises an eyebrow and laughs. "Kim Taehyung, you seem to get off on copying my friends. Are you pals with Kim Namjoon too? Maybe Min Yoongi?" 

He's been caught. 

Jia laughs coldly. "To think, I was planning on being nice to you, letting supposed grudges go. Meanwhile you're profiting off me behind my back." 

She clicks her tongue, scanning the store. 

“Does your girlfriend know the stories behind all these clothes?" 

"Park Jia, leave his girlfriend out of this." Seokjin warns. 

"Why?" Her whisper is playful, "Every single piece of clothing here is inspired by me. And you still have the sewing machine I gave you in the storeroom. Don't tell me you're in love with me?" 

Here he is, wallowing in his suppressed love for her through clothing while her eyes glisten as she tears his heart to pieces. 

It's been years. Taehyung knows he shouldn't feel this way. There shouldn't be scar tissue of guilt and pain around his heart. 

"What happened to you?" Hoseok asks the once sweet girl in disbelief. 

Jia rolls her eyes, lazily kicking the cloth towards them. 

"What happened to you, Hoseok? I didn't know putting a mugshot of me on a hoodie without my permission was part of your angelic personality." 

"It's just art, Jia. You can't really tell it-" 

Jia scoffs. "Can't tell it's me? I knew from the moment I saw it." 

Seokjin sighs. "Would you stop being a child about this?" 

Jia almost gapes at his uncaring manner. 

"I'm being a child?" 

"Yes, you are." Seokjin retorts, one of the only people capable of fighting her. 

He immediately regrets his utterance once her smile shifts into a malicious grin. 

Taehyung knows exactly what they've caused. 

Park Jia won't stop until she's destroyed them. 

"Did you tell them?" Jia turns to Taehyung, propping herself against the checkout desk. 

"What?" Taehyung whispers. 

"The story behind the mugshot." 

"The whole country knows the story, you got framed for drugs and became the first person to sue the Korean prosecution and win." The eldest chides. 

"That's a rather optimistic take, Seokjin. I'm guessing he didn't give you the full story so I'll do the honours." 

"I was witch-hunted from Geochang, his family abandoned me, my father made me plead guilty to a crime I never committed. I was humiliated, shunned, my entire past exposed to the whole courtroom. Kim Taehyung was the one who pulled me out of the lake when I tried to drown myself. But it's just art right? My pain, my struggle, the fact that this mugshot represents when I hurt so badly I didn't even want to be on this earth anymore." 

Jia chuckles. Cold, ghastly. 

"But it's just art, right Hoseok?" 

She circles the boy. He trembles. 

"All you had to do was call me and ask. I think I deserved that much." Her voice breaks at the end of the sentence. 

Underneath the boiling rage is just disappointment and hurt. Trust shattered. 

"You'll never know how much this hurt." She stomps on the mugshot print. "But I look forward to making you all experience something similar." 

Silence. 

"Or maybe I'm just being a child, Seokjin-ah?" Jia smiles. 

Taehyung flinches at the awful shatter. There's a scream. 

"Enjoy your seven years bad luck. If this place even lasts that long." Jia calls as she glides out the store. 

All she leaves is the glimmering shards of the fragmentised mirror. 

As soon as she saw the painted trains on the frame she wanted to destroy it. 

 

Chapter Text

Ever since the bust up in his store, Taehyung has been on edge. 

Waiting. Yet nothing had happened to him. 

He'd being thinking about her all week, wallowing in guilt. 

 Now he sat in a coffee shop near the store, aimlessly stirring his tea. 

"Taehyung." He rolls his eyes as the elder calls him. 

"Seokjin hyung." Taehyung sounds. 

"Well aren't you terse, today?" Seokjin chuckles. 

It falls flat. 

"Sorry, traffic." Hoseok pants as he arrives at the table. 

Honestly, Taehyung would prefer not to talk to either of them. But unfortunately for him, these are his business partners. 

"So-" Seokjin begins but is interrupted by a phone call. 

He frowns at the caller ID yet picks up. Taehyung raises an eyebrow as the ever suave, collected man's face falls. 

"O-okay. Bye." Jin stumbles, gaping as the call cuts. 

"Jin?" Hoseok worries. 

The oldest closes his eyes, pinches his proportioned nose bridge. And breathes. 

"She fired me." 

"What?" Hoseok gasps. 

Taehyung looks up warily. 

"I'm no longer the CEO of Ji Squared." Seokjin tells himself as much as the others. 

"Can she do that?" 

"Of course she can! She's owns basically the whole damn company." Seokjin rants, raking a hand through his immaculate hair in disbelief. He won't stop blinking. 

"She did say she was going to ruin us." Taehyung sighs, sipping his tea. 

"I'm jobless and that's all you can say?" 

“Not jobless. You’re still in charge of logistics and management at Vante, unfortunately." Taehyung grumbles. 

“Taehyung! Don't be so harsh." Hoseok scolds. 

 He rolls his eyes. "Why did you guys call me? For business. So let's talk business and get this over with." 

"You're still mad?" Hoseok is surprised. 

"I told you that it this collaboration was a bad idea a thousand times and asked you to get Jia's permission. You said you'd handle that, considering I'm not in contact with her." Taehyung hisses, conscious of their public surroundings. 

"I thought you asked for permission too, hyung." Hoseok adds, less accusatory but disappointed all the same. 

Seokjin swallows. "I thought she'd like it, her mugshot on a hoodie. You know Jia, she doesn't take anything too seriously and she loves making bold moves in business. I honestly thought she'd be fine with it-" 

"She didn't even know about the collaboration her own damn club was putting out. Honestly, I've never witnessed you being unprofessional, hyung. I thought you and Jia were a team." Hoseok scoffs. 

"You have no idea how lucky you are." Taehyung blurts. 

The other two turn to him, confused. 

"She considers you friends and you're a part of her life. And this is how you treat her? People have tried to step all over Jia and use her all her life and you thought it would be appropriate to profit off her behind her back?" 

"Taehyung that's not-" 

"All I did in this collaboration was allow you to use the Vante train print on the sleeves and then trust you with the rest of the creative process. That's my brand's name on a hoodie with a design that you didn't even have me approve. I trusted you guys and you blind sided me by putting Park Jia's face on it.”

"It's my fault okay? I'll sort this whole thing out." Seokjin pleads. 

"This isn't fair. I'm going to get all the blame for this and she's going to hate me once again. I was finally at peace with everything that happened in Geochang. I was gearing myself up to apologise to her and finally have some civility and you completely shattered that prospect." 

Taehyung exhales blankly, rises from his seat and leaves the cafe without another word. 

Jungkook laughs as Jia emerges from her room. 

"You got something on your neck." He pokes the slight love bite. 

Jia yelps, scowling. "What the hell. Is he marking me or something?" 

"Who was it? The football captain?" 

Jia nods, helping herself to a pancake. 

"He's good and I was stressed." 

"It's a weird combo. Lim Jabeom gives me relationship guy vibes." 

"Exactly. He's probably going to get a girlfriend at some point so I got to max out the card before it expires." Jia remarks, stealing Jungkook's orange juice. 

He snorts at her crude analogy. "You're terrible. Plus you know other girls would kill to date him? And so would I.” 

Jia waves him off. ”We definitely don't have romantic chemistry." 

Jungkook sighs. “When was the last time you tried dating?" 

"Dating is for when you're thirty." She retorts. 

"Oh come on. Being in relationships are fun, you can go on dates and cuddle-" 

"I can do all that with you, though." 

"Sweets, it's not the same." Jungkook ruffles her hair. "Though if I wasn't gay then we'd be married now for sure." 

"I think in a different lifetime we have four kids and live on Jeju Island." She plays along. 

"Two sons, two daughters. And a dog called Porridge." Jungkook cackles. 

Jia gags. "And then I'd divorce you because you called our dog porridge."  

"When was the last time we went on a date?" 

Taehyung silently sighs. 

"Nara, I'm really busy at the moment. Sorry." 

"Is it studio stuff? I can come to the store and help." 

"No." He wants to be alone."I mean, I'll take you out tomorrow. Okay?" 

"I'm going on a girls' trip tomorrow. Did you forget?" 

Taehyung curses. "No, I didn't. Just had a lot on my mind. Let's go for drinks tonight okay?" 

He surrenders. 

She squeals down the phone. "Yay! I can't wait. Are you picking me up, oppa?" 

"Sure. At seven." 

"Okay, bye. I love you, Taehyung." 

Taehyung freezes.

 "You too, bye." He mumbles, hanging up. 

--- 

“Wow, you really missed us." Namjoon chuckles as Jia encases him and Yoongi in a bone crushing group hug. 

"I missed Joonie and Yoonie the most." She mumbles into Yoongi's large puffer. 

Yoongi pouts a little. She was being so cute that he wasn't sure if he'd be able to scold her. 

"We got your drink so let's sit." He orders. 

Jia raises an eyebrow at his sternness. 

"Uh oh. Is this drinks or time for lecture?”

"The latter. Did you really need to fire Jin hyung?" Namjoon sighs. 

Jia rolls her neck in annoyance. 

"This is why Jungkook is my favourite." She mutters to herself, grabbing her martini and taking a large gulp. 

"Well?" Yoongi presses. 

Jia sighs, smiling sadly. "Why do you all care about each other way more than about me? Only Jungkook ever takes my side." 

Namjoon shakes his head. "Jia, you know that's not true." 

"Did you ask Seokjin and Hoseok what they did? Oh and Kim Taehyung since apparently everyone's best buddies with him now."

The men exchange a look. 

Jia scoffs. "Of course you didn't. You took their side without even checking the facts." 

"Look, we know you guys fought. But firing him is too much-" 

"I know what you're going to say, Namjoon. Meditation not retaliation. Zen, zen. Spiritual balance. Two wrongs don't make a right. I've heard it all before." Jia drawls. 

"You could have sat down and talked to them about why they upset you instead of trying to exact revenge. You're not a kid anymore, Ji." Yoongi castigates. 

Jia raises an eyebrow, scowling. "Talk? So I have to be the one to talk? None of this would happened if Hoseok or Seokjin picked up the damn phone, called me and asked me about it. I was in America, not planet fucking Mars." 

Namjoon sighs. "Jia, what's this all about?" 

She  laughs in disbelief. They dragged her all the way here under the pretence of reunion drinks and started having a go at her over a situation they had no clue about. 

She slams her phone on the table. Namjoon frowns analysing the photo then transforms into a grimace when it clicks in his mind. Yoongi remains perplexed. 

"It's a...hoodie with-" 

"I have to go to the bathroom." Jia announces. 

As soon as she turns the corner, she hurries into a stall, clamps her hand over her mouth as a sob escapes. 

No one is ever on my side. 

She gives herself a moment, dabbing her eyes slightly as she exits the stall. She stiffens at the sight of a woman her age standing awkwardly by the sink. She extends a tissue, expression sympathetic. 

"Park Jia-ssi?" She bows unsurely. 

Jia mumbles thank you as she takes the tissue, slightly sniffling as she erases all evidence of her upset. 

The woman looks familiar but Jia struggles to remember from where. She encounters new faces  all the time. 

"Are you okay?" 

Jia chuckles at the question, smiling at her in the mirror. "Not really. I'll get over it though." 

 The heiress pouts as she ruffles her hair slightly and tops up her lipstick as if she wasn't sobbing a few minutes prior. 

"Thanks for the tissue." Jia smiles. 

"No problem." 

Jia walks out the bathroom and jolts at the figure looming by the entrance. 

She almost groans. 

Why him? Why now? 

"Ah, thanks for waiting, oppa." The woman chirps, following behind her. 

Jia's eyes widen. Of course. 

"Oh I'm so sorry for not recognising you. You're Taehyung's girlfriend." Jia feels stupid as she blurts the statement. 

Lee Nara giggles. "Oh it's completely fine. We only met once. You must meet so many people that I'm surprised you even remember him."  

Jia feigns a smile, bowing goodbye. "Enjoy your night then."

Of course she remembers him. She was enamoured with him once upon a time. 

"Bye, Jia-ssi." Nara grins, squealing when the socialite is out of earshot. 

Only then does Taehyung's body relax. 

He thinks of the faint love bite on her neck. Wonders who the cause would be. Who can embrace her instead of him? Taehyung knows it's wrong. They ended before they even started years ago. 

He has a girlfriend for Christ's sake. 

Yoongi storms over, meeting Jia  half way. 

“What’s taking you so long?" He agonises, glancing behind her. "Oh, Taehyung-ah? Nara?" 

Jia rolls her eyes, escape plan shattered. 

"Yoongi oppa! It’s been a while." Nara beams, bowing. 

Jia bristles. Taehyung's even acquainted his girlfriend with them. Everyone became so close with him and she didn't even know. 

And the icing on the cake. 

"Why don't you two join us?" Yoongi smiles. 

‘Us'?" Nara enquires. 

"Namjoon." 

"Joonie is here?" Nara gasps, clinging onto Taehyung's arm and dragging him to follow Yoongi. 

That was my nickname for him.  

"Jia? Aren't you coming?" 

She sours at the warning look in Yoongi's eyes, jamming a finger at the bar. 

Yoongi sighs as she stalks to the counter. 

"What can I get for you?" The bartender smiles. 

"Something which will get me through an awful social situation." Jia remarks. 

The woman laughs. "I know exactly what you need." 

Jia drinks two of them at the bar, brushing off a number of guys who try to bother her. 

"You're very popular with the boys." The bartender muses. "I've never had to help a customer get rid of so many." 

Jia chuckles. "It's bothersome. You must get it too?" 

She's exceptionally pretty, even in the frumpy uniform. 

"Oh, I don't bother. I'm pretty sure the love of my life already passed." 

Jia gasps. "Don't say that! You're still so young." 

But her words echo around the heiress’ head again and again and again.

"Sorry about that. I got chatting with the bartender." Jia smiles, mood considerably improved. 

"You can just get table service. Your dad owns the place." Yoongi grumbles. 

This wipes the smile straight off her face. 

"That wasn't called for, hyung." Taehyung remarks.

"So, anyway. We were just talking about how it's my birthday soon. You're coming right?" Namjoon asks Jia. 

An hour ago Jia would have ridiculed him for even asking. Of course she'd go. But now she feels wounded. A birthday gathering where she'd fallen out with everyone except Jungkook. 

Jia approaches the subject carefully. 

"Is Jungkook going?" She asks, watching her finger trace around the bottom of her glass. 

Namjoon's face falls. "He's not sure, he has a tournament that might fall on the day so he said if he can't then he'd buy me a meal as soon as he's back." 

"I'll do whatever he's doing." She deliberates. 

"Is Jungkook-ssi your boyfriend?" Nara asks. 

"What gave you that idea?" 

"You guys live together. And people say you're always together." 

Jia smirks. "Do you often listen to what other people are saying, Nara-ssi?" 

 Nara's nosiness is something she'd usually let slide but after a few drinks and all this unfairness, her annoyance bubbles over a little. 

"You two are always together." Taehyung defends his girlfriend, perturbed by the edge to Jia's tone. 

“You live with Jimin. People aren't saying you two are dating." Jia shoots back. 

"You know Jimin?" Nara frowns. 

For someone who apparently wasn't acquainted with Park Jia, her boyfriend had an awful lot of mutual connections. 

Yes, he was my best friend before your boyfriend was in the picture. 

Jia ignores her question. 

"Namjoon, you're not seriously thinking of putting Jungkook and Jimin in the same room, are you?" Jia comments. "That would make for a memorable birthday, and not in a good way." 

"Why? What's wrong with Jungkook and Jimin?" Yoongi is confounded. 

"Did they fight?" Namjoon echoes his confusion. 

Jia almost laughs at their ironic obliviousness, rolls her eyes instead. "Jesus Christ." 

"There's nothing wrong with Jimin and Jungkook." Taehyung grits through his teeth. 

"I thought you knew Jungkook from sports? Not from Jimin? They're friends?" Nara probes. 

Jia smirks at how Taehyung's concealment has spiralled. 

Namjoon doesn't understand the reason for Nara's enquiries. 

"Jungkook, Jimin and Jia have been best friends since childhood. And Jia and T-" 

Jia's phone rings, cutting him off effectively. Taehyung slumps in his chair, heart calming as his withheld truths remain so.

”Where are you right now?" 

"Bar Seven. What's up?" 

"For real? I'm at the karaoke around the corner." 

"Why did you call then? Not having fun?" 

"I wanted to come over." 

Jia raises an eyebrow. "Oh. Come here then." 

"Who was that?" Namjoon asks, suspicious of the glimmer in her eyes. 

"Just my friend." Jia shrugs. "I'm going in a second, it was nice to see you all." 

Lies. The boys look like they want to protest but don't say anything. 

Lim Jabeom strolls into the bar, smile overtaking his face as he spots Jia and approaches the table.

”Hi everyone." He beams. 

Jia grins, grabbing her purse as she bypasses Yoongi and Namjoon in the circular booth. 

"Captain?" Taehyung coughs. 

"Oh Taehyung? I didn't know you and Jia were close. Nara, you're here too." Jaebeom grins with surprise and bows. 

"We just have mutual friends." Jia gestures to Yoongi and Namjoon, who scour the stranger. Jabeom isn't put off by their scrutiny, bowing a little. 

"Are you Jia's boyfriend?" Namjoon enquires.

Taehyung finds himself leaning forward to hear the answer. 

Jabeom chuckles a little. "No, we're just..." 

He glances at Jia, wondering what answer he's allowed to give. 

"You're fucking around?" Yoongi remarks, blunt as ever. 

"Oh-yeah. I guess." 

"You guess?" Yoongi repeats, amused.  "Just don't fuck her over or you have seven of us to answer to." 

Jabeom laughs awkwardly. "I don't think I'll be the one fucking anyone over." 

“Hey!” Jia hits him in the chest at the implication. “Let’s go. Bye guys.” 

Taehyung's jaw remains clenched as they walk to the entrance, Jabeom's arm encircling her waist as they chat animatedly. 

It's an awful feeling. Jealousy. Awful. Unfair. Unjustified. Yet he can't stop. 

Jimin feels awful. He had been pacing the lobby of her apartment complex for hours, the only reason security hadn't kicked him out is because it's Park Jimin, Seoul royalty and son of the top dog of Park Legal

"What are you doing here?" Jia demands as she enters the lobby, startled by his presence. 

Jimin gapes, words caught in his throat. 

"Jimin? You okay?" Jaebeom asks, baffled by his teammates presence. 

His skittish eyes dart between Jia and his captain. 

"S-sorry, I shouldn't have come." He stutters, raking a hand through his hair frustratedly. 

"Wait." Jia grabs his wrist as he attempts to flee. 

She gives Jaebeom an apologetic look. He sighs, still stumped by what exactly this occurrence means but nods anyway. 

"I'll see you two around." He resigns. 

"Thank you." Jia murmurs gratefully, dragging Jimin towards the elevator. 

She observes him as they fly up the building. 

He's disheveled. Dark rings under his bleary, bloodshot eyes. Ashen, sickly complexion. Tormented face like it hurts to breath. 

They reach the penthouse, Jia scans her finger, allowing him in. 

Jimin kicks off his shoes, sludges a little way into and then halts. 

He just stands there, deathly still. 

Jia stares for a moment. Exhales deeply. 

"What happened to you?" 

Jimin's on his hands and knees begging at her feet. 

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry." He sobs as he clutches her leg. 

She can't move. She wasn't sure what she expected him to be here for but it wasn't for this. 

"I hate myself. I hate myself for hurting you. I didn't mean to." He wails, breathing erratic. 

Jia crouches down, kneels to stroke his head as he chokes on his tears.

She's not sure how long she sits on the floor, Jimin sleeping from his emotional exhaustion. 

 Jimin can't stay here, she has no idea when Jungkook will be back and she doesn't want to imagine how he'd react if he saw the boy in his own apartment. 

"Hello?" Yoongi answers the phone. 

"Are you still with Taehyung?" 

Yoongi hesitates. "Yeah, why?" 

"Pass the phone." Jia demands. 

“Okay?" 

Taehyung's eyes widen as Yoongi thrusts his phone in his hand. 

"For you." 

He puts the device to his ear. 

"Is this Taehyung?" 

"Jia?" Taehyung exclaims. 

"I have a situation. You need to come right now." 

Taehyung frowns, puzzled. Why would she need him right now? 

"Isn't Jaebeom hyung with you?" 

"No. Jimin's here and I need you to take him home." 

He shoots up, grabbing his coat. 

"I'll text you my number, send me the address." 

"Where are you going?" Namjoon protests, "Nara's still in the bathroom." 

"Tell her something urgent happened and I'll make it up to her." 

With that, Taehyung rushes out the bar. 

"My life is falling apart, Ji." Jimin mutters. 

He's curled on the floor, head resting on Jia's lap, eyes closed . 

She always had his mother's touch. A safe haven where he can say anything.

"You know I love you right, Ji?" 

"I know, sweetheart." Jia blinks back her tears. 

"Do you hate me?" 

"I could never hate you, Jimin." 

"As soon as I pushed you away, I regretted it but Taehyung is a good best friend. He's like my soulmate. So for a while, I thought I could live without you and Kook. But it hurts. Like there's a hole in my chest." 

"How did you become friends with Taehyung?" Jia rasps. 

"We did our military service together. At first he pretended not to know me and he pushed me away. He said he didn't deserve to be friends with any of yours because of what he did to you." 

She stops absentmindedly stroking Jimin's hair and hangs onto his every word instead. 

"But I chipped away at him because I knew he was one of those people I was destined to be friends with, you know? And Taehyung would talk about you every so often, how every little thing reminded him of you. Like blossoms and trains. And he would read these letters you wrote to him before bed every night, from childhood I think. He never let me read them but they seemed old and the handwriting looked atrocious." 

"Why are you telling me this, Jimin?" Jia whispers. 

"I just don't want you to be too harsh on Taehyungie. He never gave me the full story but he really missed you and felt sorry towards you for the last few years. He's happy with Nara now but for a long while he was stuck in love with you. You were his first love, Ji. I think he still cares about you a lot." 

"I guess it's like me and Jungkook." Jimin laughs. It's so sad and haunting. 

He doesn't elaborate, so Jia just lets him remain unquestioned. 

She worries about Jimin. His mother's death anniversary is approaching and it was around this time Jimin became the most destructive and forlorn, drowns himself in despair and drink. Lashes out. Cries alone. 

She was the only one allowed to console him then. She wondered if this role is now Taehyung's. 

Miraculously, Jimin slips back into slumber. Jia's leg are numb. 

The sound of the door jingles in the air, she prays it's not Jungkook. 

Taehyung looks like a madman as he burst through the door. He pants, reeling from the exhaustion of running here from the subway. 

What he wasn't expecting is Jia and Jimin sprawled on the hard floor, the latter snoozing. 

She holds her finger to her lips. 

"A-are you okay?" Taehyung whispers breathily, scanning her apartment for any visible ruckus.  He knows from experience that when Jimin is mad he throws things. 

Jia feels something bloom in her chest which she hasn't experienced in a long time. It's almost nostalgic. 

Jimin said Taehyung loved her. He read her letters every night. The trains and blossoms on his clothing remind him of her. He kept the now antiquated sewing machine she gifted him. He missed her. 

Jia feels relieved and sad at once. She didn't like how he suffered too much, they were young and there were misunderstandings. Yet he still hurt her more than she will ever experience again. And Jia never properly came to terms with the depth of betrayal she felt.

But he was her best friend, once upon a time. 

"W-why are you looking at me like that?" 

"Taehyung." She breathes out. "I'm glad you're here." 

His skin is on fire, chest tight. It's been years since his name fluttered so affectionately from her lips. 

She helps him move the sleeping man onto his back, Taehyung's heart pounds as her hand extends towards his face then slows as she brushes a lock out Jimin's eye. 

That's right. He shouldn't feel this way. He has a girlfriend. 

"I called Samsoon to drive you, I know from experience that even though Jimin is small and slender, he's really heavy." Jia murmurs. 

"It's eighty percent muscly thighs." Taehyung quips fondly, patting them lightly. 

Jia laughs quietly, opening the door for him and calling the elevator. 

"Thank you for coming, by the way. And I'm sorry about that whole drinks thing, it was kind of painful." 

"Yoongi and Nara made made it painful. Don't worry about it." He mutters flippantly. 

"She's really nice." Jia comments, recalling the incident in the bathroom. 

The comment surprises him. "I thought you were annoyed by her." 

"Annoying people can still be nice. And I don't even know her that well, how do I know if she's annoying?" Jia explains. 

"Then how do you know if she's nice?" Taehyung counters. 

Jia huffs but it's playful. "I just do. Aish, you're more irritating than I remember."

The elevator opens. Taehyung asks her to come with his eyes. 

"I need to make sure you get in the right car, Samsoon's bad with faces so he'll let any male our age get in." Jia recalls. 

"Even with this dead weight on my back?" Taehyung groans, shifting Jimin.

They walk across the lobby in silence, Jia points to the Bentley a little further down the road with its headlights on. Taehyung almost laughs, it's pretty easy to tell which car would be Park property. 

She opens the door so Taehyung can manoeuvre Jimin across the back seat. He winces as the boy is finally pried off his back, stretching out. 

Taehyung reluctantly reaches for the passenger door. Who knows when he will next see Park Jia? It could be months or years. Asides from fateful encounters he has no reason to see her anymore. 

"Take care." Jia's voice is soft, "Of him and yourself. But especially Jimin, okay?" 

Taehyung can only nod, not trusting his voice. He salutes her with two fingers, hopping into the vehicle. 

Then they're gone. 

Jia stands rooted to her spot, watching the car disappear from the road. 

They're gone. 

"Oi princess, why are you standing alone in the street like a nut job?" Jungkook yells, bounding over to her. 

The  smell of alcohol and BBQ smoke is overwhelming. 

"Did you have fun with the tennis boys?" She snaps out of her glum reverie as Jungkook slings an arm around her shoulder. 

“Yes, sir. But you went to a bar with the hyungs so why am I drunker?" He wobbles, Jia grunting as he uses her as a support stick. 

"What meat did you have?" Jia diverts the subject. 

"Beef, pork, chicken, some vegan thing Jun ordered. Still hungry though. Do we any ramen left?" 

"We do...but considering you eat six cups in one sitting we should probably buy some more." Jia laughs about his endless pit of a stomach. 

"Convenience store. Let's get it!" He bellows in the quiet street. 

Jia wishes she could be even half as care-free as Jungkook. 

 

Chapter Text

Jia feels tremendous optimism this week. She made the tennis team, started researching her thesis and perfected the university and business balance. 

On the other hand, Taehyung found himself spiralling into a slump. It started with girl problems. Lee Nara did not appreciate being ditched at the bar, nor was she interested in Taehyung 'making it up to her'. So they weren't talking at the moment. He was still avoiding Seokjin and Hoseok, who had been flooding his phone. Jimin, though looking less dead, was still not quite himself and much to Taehyung's despair kept begging to throw a party in their apartment. 

Their sparkling, immaculate abode which Taehyung was unhealthily attached to. But he equally couldn't stand Jimin's sulky pout and puppy eyes opposite him at the dining table or burning into him when he tries to binge Netflix. 

One of Taehyung's escapes from daily bustle was football, but even this was becoming a chore. Their captain and Jimin were avoiding each other, on the pitch as well as off, which isn't very useful when they're both offense. Similarly, Taehyung struggled to cope with the idea of their captain and Jia being together. 

Astoundingly, this concern played on his mind most often. 

"Kim Taehyung?"

He jolts. 

The lecture has ended. The professor is calling his name amongst the shuffle of students and the stuffing of bags. 

Taehyung scrambles out of his seat, the arriving students leaving the left side of the stairs free for him to clamber down. It's Kim Taehyung after all, the icon of the Fashion Department. 

He makes eye contact with Nara, who stops mid sentence amongst her friends to give him a mixed glare of hurt and annoyance. He winces, reeling from the guilt of being frankly a terrible boyfriend as of late. They seemed fine a month ago, still going strong, he'd liked Nara a lot more than his previous string of girlfriends. 

He mentally resolves to make more of an effort to be the good boyfriend that he was mere weeks ago. 

"Yes, Prof?" Taehyung enquires when he reaches the front of the lecture hall, feeling the burn of eyes on him. 

The professor grins, handing Taehyung an article. 

"Ah, my star student Kim Taehyung. I need you to find this woman and ask her to give a lecture." 

Taehyung nods and then almost chokes as he reads the headline: 

Park Jia: An Inheritor Who Actually Has An Eye For Business

"W-why Park Jia specifically Professor?" 

"She's university age and a business mogul, especially in fashion. I had no clue who this kid was but after I read the article I was hooked. She owns the nightlife of Seoul with expansion to Busan, Incheon and Daegu. Her fashion company Areum is home to Wallows AveBlue Tape and Bread and Butter - three years ago no one had heard of those brands, now everyone under thirty owns these pieces. Heck you're wearing a hoodie from Wallows Ave. She owns youth culture. She is the Kylie Jenner of Seoul. We need to know her strategies, her mind, everything." 

Taehyung winces as his eccentric professor runs on a tangent, completely ignoring his next lecture class as he raves about Park Jia's mind and such. 

Finally, he calms down. 

"She goes to Harvard. But tell her we'll pay for her flights. We're like the Harvard of Korea right? She'll definitely come." The professor mutters as to convince himself. 

Taehyung rolls his eyes. "Professor...she's literally a student at this university."

The professor pauses in surprise, and then grins. Taehyung feels uneasy. 

"How bloody handy!" He claps excitedly. “Then that makes your job even easier." 

"Professor, she's not going to say yes to me." Taehyung sighs. 

"Why? You're our star student."

Taehyung leans over to the professor, whispering. "Because...Park Jia is sort of my ex?"

He leans back, more gleeful. “Very funny. When would you be able to date someone like her?”

“Professor!” Taehyung expresses offense.

“Okay, so what if she’s your ex?” The man rolls his eyes.

"What?" Taehyung splutters. 

“That means you know her personally, so you don't even have to scramble around for her contact information. And she's in our very own university. I knew you were the right man for the job, Taehyung. Off you pop to your next class. Toodaloo." 

Taehyung finds himself at his utmost escape: Vante. He finds some tranquility with his sewing machine. 

Peace. Just the strum of the needle against fabric. 

Until Seokjin bursts into the room. 

"Did you hear?" He bellows. 

Taehyung cringes at his obnoxious volume. 

"Can't you see I'm making something? And it's designers only back here." 

"Come out. I have some news." The oldest orders, storming back into the storefront. 

Taehyung sighs, discarding the now ruined fabric to the side. 

He meanders into the shop where Yewon, Hoseok and Seokjin stand around the counter with grim expressions. 

"What's up?" Taehyung sighs. 

Seokjin tosses him his phone. 

"Liquidation of KQA...That doesn't sound too good for us?" Taehyung guesses. 

There's a reason Seokjin is in charge of the business side and he stays on the creative. Taehyung is hopeless at this stuff. 

"Not too good? It's a disaster! Jung Studios and Vante are now assets floating the around the market for any random business to snatch up." 

"Call the KQA guy?" Taehyung suggests, his brain was so fried from his ongoing stress that he couldn't process what the hell was going on. 

Seokjin scoffs at his unhelpfulness and heads into the back to take an incoming call. 

"I got a cease and desist letter for our collaboration by the way, not that we were going to put it out anyway." Hoseok informs him sheepishly, glancing around the store. "You got the mirror fixed?" 

Taehyung nods. "People take instagram pictures in it. That's how I get the store name out there, people come for the aesthetics.” 

"You're smarter in business than I thought." Hoseok chuckles. 

“So what's this thing going on with KQA?” Taehyung enquires, “We're being sold?" 

Yewon scoffs from behind the cash register. "If we're sold to another company then they can control all of our operations like what designs we put out, what fabrics we use, who makes the clothes. They can fire us if they want and bring new people in ." 

"Don't use the F word when Seokjin's around." Taehyung mutters. 

"It's the same predicament for me." Hoseok nods, grimacing.

"But hyung, Jung Studios is popular now. No one's going to tell you what to do." 

Hoseok shrugs. "Just about, yeah. But still, they can take our brand names and designs and throw us out of our own company if they want. Once they buy us off KQA they become our new owners." 

"Why did Seokjin make us sign to KQA? Doesn't sound too good to me." Taehyung scratches his neck. 

"Seriously boss? KQA gave us our operational budget, they subside our store rent, stock our fabrics and they paid for our adverts in Itaewon station. He signed with them because they promised us one hundred percent creative and operational control, the fact that they're voluntarily liquidating is totally unforeseen." Yewon rants. 

"Okay. I got it. So I guess we both just have to wait it out to see who buys our companies. No fucking biggie." Taehyung freaks, feeling absolutely destroyed. 

 Seokjin emerges from the storeroom, deathly pale. 

"What did they say?" Hoseok demands, tense. 

"They said that they've already negotiated a deal for Jung Studios and Vante but they're not at liberty to say with who. They told me it's the same company though." The oldest releases a frustrated sigh, holding the counter for support. 

"So we're either safe together or getting fucked over together?" Taehyung translates. 

Then he receives an incoming call.

"Hello?" 

"Taehyung-ah, about hosting a party this week-" 

"Jimin, not right now. My business is being sold off to some tyrant who will probably steal my brand and fire me." Taehyung barks down the phone, hanging up. 

"Taehyung-ah, try to be more positive." Hoseok smiles, although it's visibly painful. 

"Okay, Mr. every K-pop idol in existence wears my clothing." 

"G-Dragon wore yours." Hoseok pouts. 

"Well it didn't give us as many sales as I expected." Taehyung grumbles. 

"It stopped us going bust six months in." Yewon mutters. 

"Kim Yewon! Go make some clothes." Taehyung orders. 

"Okay, fine. But we might not even need them." 

"People! Positivity is key." Hoseok repeats. 

Seokjin says nothing, scheming in his mind. 

Taehyung miserably sits besides the counter. Yewon says it usually improves sales when he does. 

His phone rings again. "Jimin, I told you no par-" 

"So, I did some digging. And I think I'm close to finding out who bought Vante." 

"What? How? Actually, it's you. Thank you, Minnie." Taehyung forgets his best friend is the next face of Park Legal and therefore has powerful connections. 

He's chewed his nails from the anxiety, sending Seokjin and Hoseok back to Jung Studios because their bickering about positivity versus realism was doing his head in. 

His phone rings again. 

He frowns at the unknown number. 

"Hello?" 

“Kim Taehyung? It's Park Jia." 

His heart picks up speed. 

"How did you get my number?" 

"You literally texted it to me? So I could tell you where to pick up Jimin?” 

 He'd really flattered himself into thinking she'd made an effort to find it from someone. 

"Shit. I mean sorry. I mean, I forgot. Why are you calling?" 

Taehyung clamps his eyes shut in mortification, he'd fumbled over his sentence like it's an uneven sidewalk and then managed to sound completely brusque. 

"Are you at your store?" Jia remains unfazed at his blunder. 

"Yes." Taehyung is unsure why he's suddenly so curt with the woman, perhaps it's a mixture of stress and guilt towards his girlfriend. 

"Just checking." 

She hangs up, leaving him stumped. 

Taehyung gapes at his childhood friend. "Is this your revenge? Buying us out?"

"I didn't buy you out, I already owned you." 

"Huh?" 

"She owns sixty five percent of KQA so she basically owns them and in turn they owned us. So really in the grand scheme of things, we've been under Jia's thumb since we signed with them." Hoseok explains. 

"And now?" 

"You're under my company now, Areum Holdings." 

"Areum Holdings?" 

"It's a fashion holding company." 

"Holding company?" 

Jia gives him an incredulous look. 

"Jin Hyung handles the business side for both our brands." Hoseok explains. 

"A holding company buys and owns other companies and these companies become subsidiaries." She explains.

"So we can buy our shares back? Now that we're not under KQA." Taehyung begs hopefully. 

Jia grimaces. "With respect Mr Kim, I don't think you'll be able to match the price at which I purchased Vante." 

The thought angers Taehyung. His pride, the efforts of his mind and hands being auctioned off with a price. Taehyung was never suited to business, he just wants to create. 

"I will. Name your price." 

"Don't bother." 

"You're really going to keep Vante? Why! We don't even make that much money." Taehyung protests, desperate to just have his creation in his hands again. 

"I'm going to make it make money." She retorts. 

"Are you obsessed with me or something? Why would you buy my company?" Taehyung hisses. 

Jia rolls her eyes.  "Please don't flatter yourself, Mr Kim. I have my reasons." 

"Really? Let's hear them." 

Jia clicks her tongue, a little peeved by his animosity. 

"I'm your boss now, I ask the questions and you answer them. Not the other way around. We're not going to have a smooth ride if there's no common ground of respect, Mr Kim." 

"Why the hell are you calling me Mr. Kim?" He exasperates. 

"Because from today we have a business relationship." Jia smirks. "Welcome to Areum Holdings, Mr Kim and Hoseok." 

"Am I hearing this right?" Seokjin demands, stood by the entrance. 

"Hyung! Thank God you're here." Taehyung exhales. 

Seokjin strides into the store, flanking the younger boy. 

Jia purses her lips at the oldest in the room, almost taunting. 

"You're in charge of the business side of Vante, Seokjin?” 

"And some aspects of Jung." Hoseok adds. 

"And you're the company who bought both? Why would you buy fashion companies under Ji Squared? Have you lost your mind?" 

Seokjin hated being overpowered and outsmarted. 

"It's not Ji Squared, silly. Not that you even have a say in that business anymore." 

Taehyung winces. This is wrathful Jia taking over. 

"So what now? You bought these companies to fire me too?" Seokjin responds weakly. 

"Don't victimise yourself, Seokjin. I already removed you from Ji Squared, I wouldn't waste my breath buying subsidiaries for the sake of rendering you jobless. They're companies, not toys." Jia remarks flatly. 

She hands him a file. "The answer as to why KQA was liquidated and why I bought Vante and Jung is in this file. When you and the other Mr. Kim are finished with your personal issues, you can give me a call and we'll talk business. Hoseok, let's go to Jung Studios. " 

"Wait." Taehyung orders. 

Jia turns. "I have a favour to ask....Miss Park." 

She waits expectantly. 

"My professor wants you to give a lecture for the Fashion Department." 

Jia frowns. "Why would your professor want me to do that?" 

"Because of Areum Hol-" 

"You own Areum Holdings?" Seokjin splutters. 

"I thought that was public knowledge. It said so an article in The Korea Times today. " 

Taehyung nods. "That's the article he read and now Prof is besotted with you so please- considering you just..." 

Bought my entire existence. 

Jia mulls over the offer. "But most people still think I'm at Harvard. Giving a lecture at my own university is a bit attention grabbing." 

"The news flies around campus anyway. Everyone will know by the third week of the semester." 

"Your desperation is making me uncomfortable so fine. I'll do it. Just give me the professor's contact details." 

Taehyung scowls, resentment bubbling in his stomach. 

Chapter Text

Taehyung slouches in the leather chair, the first in line of  a row of empty seats except from Jia's presence at the head of the table. 

"Isn't Seokjin hyung supposed to talk to you? Not me." Taehyung grumbles. 

"He's busy with Jung Studios right now. You're in charge of business today, Kim." Jia retorts, mood sullied by his persistent pettiness. 

 "Seokjin manages everything business-" 

"And you manage everything creative." Jia interjects, "Yes, I've heard about a dozen times. However, Seokjin is busy with a new, time consuming project concerning Jung Studios so you'll have be representing both sides for the next few weeks." 

"What? Then why didn't you get Yewon to come to the meeting instead?" Taehyung complains, exasperated by the lack of communication in Vante and how he only has his reduced business knowledge to see him through this. 

"You wanted me to ask an eighteen year old store clerk and designer to come chat to me about a business she's not even a shareholder or director of? Mr Kim, do you doubt your own abilities that much or do you just not actually care about Vante?" Jia's words cut through him, tone as if she's chastising a petulant child. 

Taehyung straightens in his chair defiantly, slamming his hands on the table. Jia's eyes widen as he leans forward, glowering and mere inches from her face. 

"You can run your mouth about me in any other capacity, I don't care.  But don't ever accuse me of not caring about Vante." He hisses lowly, hot breath dancing along her lips. 

Jia hums, eyes unflinching and playful. "Understood, Mr Kim." 

Taehyung leans back, satisfied and determined. He finally grabbing the file in front of him and opening it. 

"How many staff at Vante?" 

Jia already thinks she has a firm grasp of the knowledge of how the business operates and by who but she still wants to hear it from the man himself. 

"Me, Seokjin hyung, Yewon and Bareum, who you haven't met." 

"He helps you make the clothes. And so does Yewon? That must be quite a big workload for three people." 

"Nara and Hoseok help out sometimes too when the workload is heavy." 

"Nara knows how to tailor?" 

"She's a fashion design major." 

"Wow. You guys are really a perfect match." Jia remarks. 

The compliment hangs in the air. Taehyung clears his throat awkwardly. 

"Thanks." 

"Anyway," Jia throws some Vante hoodies on the table. "We need to discuss quality control." 

"Where did you get these?" Taehyung gasps. 

"I had to pull them from the store! They're in dreadful condition." 

Taehyung feels offence. "They're just bespoke, unique pieces." 

His indignant claim is tossed. "No, it's sloppy, inconsistent handiwork. You can't sell goods in this condition, you can ruin the brand image." 

"Well Yewon's learning as she goes and we can't afford to lose fabric. It's not even bad; the imperfect stitching is charming." Taehyung protests. 

Jia sighs. "Tae- Mr Kim. Why do you have someone with no formal training making clothes for your store?" 

"Yewon is my cousin and she failed high school so I gave her a job! She's hard working and she learns quickly.  She's massively improved and her tailoring skills are expanding on the daily." 

"I know. She told me already. But it's not professional or economically sufficient." 

"Well, what are you planning to do? Fire her?" 

"What? No. We're sending her on an intensive tailoring course so she can improve and be able to keep up with the rest of you. She's going to learn how to patchwork, embroider and knit." 

"She can't afford that!' 

"Which is why I'm paying for it. Relax." 

Taehyung softens, scratching his neck as he reels from his unnecessary outburst . 

"Oh okay. Sounds good." He murmurs. 

"Can you have a look through the file please?" Jia continues. 

Taehyung stares at the numbers, charts and graphs and exhales. It's an incomprehensible blur to him. His troubled form concerns Jia. He blinks frustratedly, embarrassed about his exposing how ineptness in front of such an accomplished business magnate.

"Do you want me to explain it?" Jia offers. 

The lack of judgment in Jia's patient, gentle gaze dissipates Taehyung's inhibition, coaxing his transparency. 

"Yes, please." 

They share a small smile of understanding. 

"How did the meeting go?" Seokjin asks, face taut as the young creative bounds towards him. 

Tahyung's eyes widen. Paper spread everywhere, laptops and coffee, plastic wrapped project proposals. He can't help but think Seokjin and Hoseok look so sharp and successful, the latter engrossed in discussing something with a huddle of staff.  

"Relax, hyung. It actually went really well." Taehyung beams. Surrounded by the working climate he feels rush of desire to succeed, excitement surging at the thought of the future. 

"You know I'm a little preoccupied with this," the businessman waves at some paperwork, "but if you need me, then don't hesitate to call. Even if you need to ask for a definition and definitely if they ask you to sign anything." 

"So I can find you in the Areum building?" Taehyung grins cheekily. 

"Yes, I guess I'll be slaving away here for a few weeks." 

Namjoon's birthday rolls around. 

Jia had dreaded the incoming affair since he'd told her at the bar. That was a little over a week ago. Honestly, she'd been trying to find any excuse not to go. 

However, he'd sent her a text last night. 

It's been three years since we all celebrated together. I hope you can still come Ji!

People who didn't know her well considered Jia a stone-cold yet enviable bitch who would throw anyone under a bus if it suited her desires. But in reality, Jia's weakest spot was her friends and fear of hurting them, so she knew her fate was cemented as soon as she imagined a despondent Kim Namjoon blowing out the candles on his cake. 

"Here, you're going to need it."

Jungkook passes her his purple, sparkly flask. She gulps and cringes at the hot bitterness in her throat and passes it back. He does the same. 

"Why am I so scared?" Jia squeaks.

"Namjoon's birthday is the only one which everyone is always free for. I had to deal with going without you for the last two years." 

Of course, Jungkook and Jimin had been feuding for that long. Still, Jia gapes at the thought of the defragmented group. 

"What? The six of you never meet up unless it was Namjoon's birthday. What about the others?" 

"The seven of us." Jungkook corrects. 

"Well of course I excluded myself from the number, I was in America." 

"No, Kim Taehyung's been there." 

"Kim Taehyung...is  part of our circle now?" Jia echoes. 

She's unsure how to react. 

Jungkook shrugs, tone as bitter as the liquid in the flask. "Guess so." 

"And the other boys think there's nothing wrong between you and Jimin?" 

“It's just one night of the year, we just sit at opposite sides of the table and they don't suspect anything because they think we hang out all the time." Jungkook explains.

Jia is upset by his nonchalance. 

"But in high sc-" 

"Well we're not in high school anymore. You left and everything went to shit, sorry for not telling you." Jungkook snaps. 

The rest of the car ride is silent. 

They are the last to arrive at the restaurant. A few years ago it would have been Jimin, always exceeding the fashionably late memo, but now Taehyung keeps him in check. 

She longs for Jimin's tardiness as the six pairs of eyes stare in judgement. 

"Nice of you guys to turn up." Yoongi drawls, making a point to glance at his watch. 

She finds his sarcasm a little unwarranted considering they'd barely made it to the table but chooses not to comment for fear of seeming sensitive. Everyone always loved the fact that she could always take jokes at her expense and was never easily offended.

 These days, Jia feels fragile and under appreciated. Like a punching bag or a favour call. A person of the past. She feels disconnected as her eyes trail over the seated men. 

Even Jungkook who had lashed out at her, has left her standing alone as he glowers beside Hoseok on the end of the table. 

"Princess? You good?" Namjoon appears concerned as he pads over to her. He envelops her in a hug and then draws away quickly in surprise at the faint fragrance of liquor. "Did you drink?" 

The statement is loud, attracting everyone's attention. Jia's stomach bubbles with shame and annoyance as they stare with judgement. 

She ignores the question. "Happy birthday, Namjoon." 

He frowns at her formality, the refrain from using his nickname. She has called him 'Joonie' for as long as he can recall. 

"Come sit. Why are you standing there like a weirdo?" Seokjin scolds. 

Everyone except Jungkook and Jimin grimace, who are blissfully unaware there has been a large rift among them which isn't their own.

Jia only scowls slightly, settling in the only spare seat between Jimin and Taehyung. The position is very undesirable, she hadn't seen Jimin since he broke down in her apartment and Taehyung is technically her employee who she wasn't sure how to interact with in a non-professional setting. 

Taehyung opens his mouth to protest but the words die in his throat. She's upset. It's subtle, but he can tell from the tiniest downward corners of the mouth and her slight slump of her shoulders. Jia must be upset because in an effort  to lie with her eyes, she's  failed other parts of her body language. Taehyung knows Jia's hardly ever readable so he can't bring himself to soil her mood further. 

Unfortunately, Yoongi doesn't know how to read the girl well or he just doesn't care. 

"Taehyung's saving that seat for Nara. Sit somewhere else." 

"Your girlfriend's coming?" Jungkook asks, surprised. 

"Why wouldn't she? Namjoon is so fond of her." Hoseok smiles. 

Jia bites her lip slightly as she stands up from the chair. There's no more seats. 

She wonders if she should just leave. They've managed three years without her and her presence didn't seem to be adding much, or even wanted.

Jimin is the one who immediately fetches a chair from another table for her, making room. 

He gives her the small, shy smile patting the seat next to him. Jia immediately beams, practically jumping into the place next to him. 

"Hi Jimin." Jia murmurs. 

He's reticent, her face falls a little. She shouldn't have been so optimistic. 

"It was nice to see you smile at me." Jimin mutters. "Can you do it again, please?" 

His eyes begin to glisten with tears when her smile returns. 

"What did you do this week, Jiminie?" Jia asks. 

They're still whispering for some reason. Perhaps it was the vulnerability from trying to put aside the hurt and fights and communicate. Properly. Just a trivial, everyday conversation because neither of them knew if they could ever return to what used to be normal. 

"Hm football and then a party, lectures. Pretty mundane." He offers. 

"How is law going?"

"It's kicking my ass." 

Jia giggles quietly.  

"What have you been up to, princess?" 

Jia pauses, glancing at Taehyung who's laughing at something Yoongi comments. Hasn't he told Jimin what's going on with Vante?

"Business stuff, you know how it is." Jia shrugs playfully.

"Is your father treating you okay?" 

Jimin still cares. Jia itches to tell him how her relationship with her father has immensely improved, how she was healing from past family traumas. Yet it might be too much, and she doesn't want to trigger anything for him. They always had common ground, deceased mothers, neglectful fathers, evil step mothers. 

"He's kept in line so far." Jia smiles reassuringly. 

She knows better than to ask him about his own father. 

"Hey you two, quit whispering in the corner. Are you kids?" Yoongi scoffs, shattering the hopeful atmosphere between the pair. 

Taehyung watches sadly as Jimin becomes guarded, as they move apart, no need to be close to catch onto the whispering of the other. 

Jungkook clears his throat across the table. "Joon hyung, I'm not feeling so well. I think I need to rest, sorry hyung. I'll buy you a meal sometime." 

Jia winces. She wasn't sure how long he'd been watching her exchange with Jimin, but his gaze was indicative that the spectacle had infuriated him. Jungkook stares at her, looking betrayed. 

"Ah Kook. Your health always comes first, thanks for making it. Feel better soon." Namjoon pats him on the back. 

Then he's gone. 

"Seat's free over there now." Jimin drawls. 

Jia sighs. He's shut her out again. So she changes seats to Jungkook's former, next to Hoseok and opposite Seokjin. 

The oldest was the last person she wished to be near on the table. 

She'd had lunch with Hoseok a few days after the explosion in the Vante store. He'd apologised about the collaboration and explained his side. Jia was never one to hold unnecessary grudges so she had forgiven him and since she'd acquired Jung Studios they were almost like before, he'd even played her at tennis and lost miserably since. 

Seokjin, on the other hand had not apologised. Jia thought he'd come running and beg for forgiveness after his colossal mistake. She gave him three days to resign his staggering pride and try to fix things but he hadn't. And that's why she fired him. There she was obviously hurt and affected by his actions and he couldn't even bring himself to apologise. 

He'd even ran his mouth to Yoongi and Namjoon, painting her as the bad guy. 

So Jia chatted to Hoseok instead whilst Jin joined in with a different conversation. 

The evening drifted on, Jia felt more comfortable, maybe almost like old times. 

She hadn't noticed how Taehyung's eyes wouldn't leave her for more than five minutes as he fretted over whether Jimin and Jungkook's eternal feud was taking a toll on her and why she'd stepped into the restaurant with such sadness. 

Taehyung wondered why no one else had noticed that she was hurting. Every joke at her expense, every cutting remark and the sparkle in her eyes diminished further. 

"Joonie oppa! Happy birthday!" Lee Nara squealed as she bounded into the restaurant with a flurry of balloons and a cake box. 

She used Jia's nickname for him again. 

All the boys cheer upon her entrance. What had Jia received when she walked in? Certainly not this kind of reception.  

"Nara's here." Hoseok grins.

"Namjoon's favourite girl finally arrived." Yoongi chuckles. 

"Nara-ah, it's been so long. Taehyung's been hiding you away." Seokjin whines dramatically. 

Namjoon's grin is huge as he engulfs the girl in a hug. 

"It's my favourite dongsaeng." He coos. 

Jimin huffs. "Hyung! That's me." 

He sticks his tongue out at Nara who returns the gesture. 

Oddly enough, Taehyung is the most subdued as he reaches for the box balanced in her arms and the balloon. Namjoon would probably end up knocking it onto the ground. 

"Thank you, honey." She grins at  Taehyung, who pulls out her chair instinctively. 

Jia sits, forgotten as all attention falls on the new arrival. For the first time in her life, Jia is overwrought with envy. Namjoon's giant smile, as someone else calls him the nickname she gave him first. When Jungkook and Jimin always fought over who Namjoon's favourite was he'd always pick her to make it fair, "my favourite dongsaeng", "my favourite girl" and Jimin would stick his tongue at her defiantly, claiming he had his hyung's utmost affection. And Yoongi doesn't scold her for being late nor does he berate the whispering between her and Taehyung. 

Jia thinks Lee Nara is so lucky. She has the unsettling inkling she has been replaced. 

Even seeing her with Kim Taehyung, she feels replaced. It's ridiculous. Years have gone by and she was never his. 

Jia sits and wonders whether she is just here for the sake of old times. Whether anyone would bat an eye if she vanished into thin air right now.  She feels pathetic, so full of self-sorrow. There must be something wrong with her, everyone is so bored of her now, either they hate her or find themselves annoyed. Was her lack of presence even felt before?

A single tear slips down her cheek. She hates herself even more. 

It doesn't matter because no one cares to watch her anyway. 

Kim Taehyung is watching. He's been watching Jia retreat into silence, as she blankly stares at down at her shoes under the stable. How a tear flies down her cheek. Taehyung jerks in his chair, surprising the others. 

"What's wrong with you?" Jimin exclaims as everyone laughs at his  best friend. 

"Sorry,  just got the chills." Taehyung lies, Nara's hand wraps around his arm again. It feels like lead. Unbalanced. Wrong. 

What he really wants to do is march over to Jia and talk to her. Ask her what's wrong. Tell her that he appreciates her being here, even though the others are being neglectful. 

Jia fumbles for her purse, catching Hoseok's attention. 

"I'm going to the bathroom." She answers his curious gaze. 

"I'll look after your purse, don't worry." Hoseok smiles, thinking he's being helpful as he tries to take it from her. 

Jia shakes her head, clamping onto it. "No, Hoseok it's fine." 

There's something she needs in there. She needs one to numb this absurd feeling. Alcohol is a dangerous truth serum and Jia can already feels a lack of control. 

"Why are you being difficult?" Seokjin huffs, yanking the purse from between them. 

It tumbles open from the force, contents spilling across the table. Everyone goes silent as a packet of cigarettes fly open. 

Jia can only sigh in irritation as she gathers the unsullied ones, packing them back in the box. 

"You smoke?" Yoongi's voice is accusatory. It's a sensitive topic seeing as his father passed away from lung cancer. 

Seokjin clicks his tongue. "It's a dirty habit, you know." 

Jia wants to protest that Jimin is infinitely worse than her and no one ever has a go at him but it's been years and he's probably quit by now. 

"She's an adult and she can make her own decisions." Jimin disagrees from across the table. 

Jia can't bare to witness the rest of this play out so she snatches her lighter and packet and storms outside. 

Taehyung abruptly stands. "I'm going for a smoke too." 

Nara pouts. "But you-" 

Taehyung knows exactly where Jimin keeps his pack and lighter, he snatches it out the left pocket of the jacket hung on the back of Jimin's chair. 

Jimin notices but doesn't say anything, he knows from Taehyung's expression that there's a method in his madness. 

After the second puff Jia feels less jittery despite the cold night air, she perches unceremoniously against the side of the restaurant wall away from the bustle of the front. 

"Jia?" Taehyung calls, peeking around the side. He smiles once he spots her. 

"What are you doing here?" She asks tonelessly. 

"I said I came to smoke but I actually came to check on you." 

He's the only person to notice or care.

Jia drops the cigarette, grinding it with her shoe. 

"That didn't look very finished." Taehyung chuckles. 

"I'd rather use my lips to talk to someone." She explains. 

His mouth quirks in fondness at her habitual wit. 

Taehyung leans against the opposite wall. "What do you want to talk about then?" 

Jia shrugs. "I don't know, I guess I just want to feel like someone cares about what I have to say." 

"Of course people care what you have to say." Taehyung disagrees 

Jia's face twists dubiously. "Only when I'm making money for them." 

"That's not true." Taehyung adamantly disagrees. 

"I don't know," Jia sighs bashfully, "I guess I'm  in a weird mood. I'm overthinking.” 

Taehyung shakes his head. "I don't think you are, I think you've told yourself that because you worry about self-pity." 

Jia smirks. "I worry about self pity?" 

"You worry that your feelings are unjustified because you feel that people expect your impenetrable business image to carry into your personal life. So when you feel hurt you invalidate your own feelings by calling yourself an over thinker." 

He knows it's a risk to be this straightforward.  Unexpectedly, Jia smiles and then even laughs a little. "God, out of everyone in that room I didn't think you'd be the one who understands me best, Kim Taehyung."

"Well, I have known you my whole life." Taehyung quips. 

It's a fact which they always gloss over. But the memories still remain, although inconsistently, they've been in and out of each other's lives since diapers. 

It's nice for them to talk like this, like old friends. No invisible lines. 

"We were even housemates for a bit." Jia recalls. 

Silence ensues for a while as they bathe in nostalgia. Taehyung knows it's been too long for a smoke break yet he can't bring himself to end it here. Not when she's leant comfortably against the brick wall, eyes finally clearing. 

"You can depend on me this time. I promise." 

His sincerity blazing, intense. It completely throws Jia off. 

"Depend on you?" 

"Not literally of course, you can obviously handle yourself-" 

Jia chuckles at his nervous blunder. 

"You mean I can tell you if I'm having a tough time?" 

"Yes." 

Jia doesn't know if she should trust Kim Taehyung again. She had once before and it resulted in calamity. 

"I'm not sure how much your promises are worth, Taehyung. But I'll keep that in mind, thank you." 

She needs to protect herself. He's her employee, former lover, childhood friend. Kim Taehyung is a rollercoaster. A warm enigma. Endearing yet cold. Jia does not want to stumble into lethal territory, becoming enamoured with a man who's very essence is a paradox. 

His words were honey but his actions could be fatal. There could be danger of her becoming enraptured in the idea of his safe haven.

She vowed to never be hurt by love again. Especially by him.

Taehyung feels burned. But what did he expect? Misunderstandings are like festering wounds. Foggy as city pollution against the sky. 

"Guys, it's cake time." Hoseok calls, pausing. Taehyung's face is etched with hurt, Jia's expression is blank. 

Taehyung nods, rushing past. He's tearful. 

Jia lazily kicks herself upwards, slinking towards the restaurant. 

"What did you say to him?" Hoseok accuses, feeling protective over the younger. 

"I was just honest." Jia responds neutrally.

"So you were a bitch? The kid really cares about you, can you not be horrible for once?” Hoseok scorns. 

Jia stiffens at his malignity, and lashes around. This is the first point of the night where she's fed up with suppressing her frustration. 

"Just shut the fuck up, Hoseok." 

Hoseok recoils into silence. 

"Happy Birthday to you." They chorus, cheering as Namjoon blows out the candles. 

Jia declines a slice, feeling queasy. 

"You don't eat cake anymore, princess?" The birthday boy pouts worriedly. 

"I'm good, thank you." Jia mumbles. 

"You should eat some, it's polite. Especially because Nara did your job for you." Yoongi scolds. 

"What do you mean?" Jia frowns. 

"You didn't get Namjoon's cake." 

"Because no one told me too." She retorts. 

"You always get the cake." Yoongi argues. 

"I've not been here for three years, has cake duty not been handed to someone else? Or did you go cakeless every birthday since?" Jia surmises sarcastically.

Yoongi ignores her. "Well thank you Nara for being Namjoon's most reliable dongsaeng." 

Jia scowls at how he complimented the girl at her expense. 

"Hey, Min Yoongi." Jia seethes. "Any danger of you hopping off my dick tonight?" 

The table falls silent, Taehyung gasps as she blatantly disrespects her elder. Jimin almost smirks, he was beginning to worry that Park Jia had become a punching bag. 

"I'm sorry?" Yoongi blinks. 

Jia raises an eyebrow in warning. "You will be if you run your mouth any further." 

"Should we do presents?" Namjoon suggests in an attempt to mediate the conversation. 

"This is from both of us." Nara smiles nervously as she hands Namjoon the pretty gift bag. 

Namjoon gasps as he digs through the contents, pulling out a succulent. 

"So cute! Thank you guys."

"I owe you, sorry hyung!" Jimin exclaims, rubbing his hands together apologetically. 

"Aish, punk. I haven't even got the maknae present yet." 

"Maknae present?" Nara enquires.

"Me, Jungkook and Jimin get him a joint gift. It's tradition." Jia can't even conceal the bitterness in her tone, tossing the bag unceremoniously to Namjoon. 

In truth, only Jia had actually contributed any thought and money to it, despite Jungkook's passing suggestion that they should have a joint gift. Jimin obviously had no involvement but apparently the older boys had no idea that they'd all fallen out so Jia has to keep the whole ordeal under wraps. 

Namjoon pulls out the contents. 

Seokjin scoffs. "Wow, the richest of the group split the cost of a mini bonsai tree three ways. Very generous." 

Jia rolls her eyes, waiting. Namjoon holds up the attached  key quizzically, reading the tag. 

"Find more of me at 53, Chelsea Ave." He reads. 

Hoseok gasps at the familiar location. "Woah, you guys." 

The smugness is wiped off Seokjin's face.

"What? You bought him a conservatory?"

"You guys paid to refurbish the old glass building?"

Jimin shrugs, at least decent enough not to take any credit."'It wasn't my idea."

"It must have been Jungkook's. Jia isn't capable of sentimentality." Jin snorts. 

Taehyung frowns. "Hyung, that's not nice."

"You're right Seokjin," Jia glances at her nails unbothered, "I'm not very sentimental. That's why it was so easy for me to fire you from Ji Squared."

Yoongi hisses. "Park Jia-"

She rolls her eyes. She's like a sibling who always gets punished for arguments she never started.

"Am I missing something? You're not CEO of Ji Squared anymore, Hyung?" Jimin perplexes.

"No, I'm not thanks to this selfish brat."

Jia smiles darkly.

"Watch who you're speaking to." She taunts.

"Why are you bringing that up? Are you thinking of ridding me from Vante and Jung too?"

"What?" Nara squeaks.

Taehyung closes his eyes in annoyance as Jin exposes the truth. This will be a fun one to explain to Nara and Jimin.

"You...bought Jung Studios and Vante?" Namjoon infers.

"Jia saved our companies from being sold off to a holding company which would most likely stop our creative freedom by telling us what to do or replace us and other staff." Taehyung explains.

"Well if she saved your companies then why didn't she give them back to you?" Nara mutters.

Jia's eyes narrow a little at the implication. She's never had a real reason to dislike Nara but her accusatory tone didn't sit right with her.

"Nara don't be naïve. They're business with shares and stakes, obviously Jia isn't going to buy the rights of a company and give it back to the original main owner when we can't afford to buy them back. She's a businesswoman not a philanthropist."

It's rare for him to get snappy with Nara but he grows defensive over her jab towards Jia. He tells himself it's because Jia is his boss, and it's unprofessional for his girlfriend to undermine her. 

Chapter Text

"What did you just say, father?”

Her cup clanks against the table. 

Jia rakes a hand through her hair, uncharacteristically flustered. 

"Kim Manseok and his son died in a private plane crash this morning. The media haven't caught wind of it yet but they will soon." 

"Kim Jinwoo is dead?" Jia echoes.

Her stomach lurches. 

"Jia, I'm sorry." 

Jia tries to inhale. Her friend is dead.

"Jinwoo...is dead?" Jia repeats like a broken record. 

It's surreal, just words. It doesn't feel real. 

"I know you were very fond of him. This must be hard for you." Park Chul squeezes her hand in a rare moment of affection. 

"I'm sorry about Mr Kim, father. You two were also close." Jia manages, focusing on his aged hand against her own as an attempt to maintain composure. 

An alarming revelation crashes into her mind, a kind which falters her being as if time halted for a brief moment.

"So, are you going to stop sketching Park Jia's eyes in your notebook and tell me what the fuck is going on with you?" Jimin hisses. 

Taehyung blinks at the doodle, horrified that his best friend is correct. He scrambles to slam it shut, garnering startled looks from surrounding students. 

"Right now? In Gothic Literature?" Taehyung mumbles back. 

"Well neither of us care about this class anyway." Jimin whispers, twirling his pen expectantly. 

After all, it was their option for the compulsory class outside of their own majors. Taehyung cursed Jimin every day for persuading him into choosing an essay subject when the only thing he liked to write about was fashion. Jimin's intention was choosing an unpopular module meant it was easier to get the top grades but after word got out the infamous duo was enrolled, the class size quadrupled and moved from a classroom to a lecture hall. Taehyung has never let the boy live it down since. 

"Later." Taehyung resists. 

Conveniently, the bell rings leaving him with no more excuse of delay. Jimin smirks practically yanking him out the room. Taehyung grits his teeth in annoyance half at the cruel timing, half at the constant attention that the student body bestows on them every time they step on campus. 

The smaller boy tugs him into the men's football society room. 

Yugyeom eyes them quizzically as they burst in. 

"Hiding from your fangirls again? Or Taehyung's girlfriend?" 

The best friends roll their eyes and chorus. "Shut up, Yugyeom."

"Get to class, I need to speak to him in private." Jimin chides, kicking their teammate's behind as he begrudgingly exits. 

Jimin flops on the couch, swinging one leg over the other. 

"So," He cocks an eyebrow, "Care to tell me what's occurring?" 

Taehyung glowers at his arrogant roommate and the smug glint in his eyes as he pats the space besides him. He reluctantly sits, avoiding Jimin's expectant gaze. 

"I know you know and whatever you don't know, I know you have a plan for to me to tell you what I know." Taehyung mumbles. 

Jimin chuckles. "That made zero sense but yes, I know exactly what you're thinking but I want to hear it from your mouth before I give my two cents." 

"Which nobody asked for." He quips. 

"Kim Taehyung." Jimin warns.

There's a pause. Taehyung sighs.

"I think...I'm having relationship issues." 

Jimin's face remains the same as he nods understandingly.

"I thought so, you and Nara haven't been the same since..." 

He doesn't need to say it; they both know what's changed. 

"It's weird, I liked her- I mean I still like her-" 

"Do you really though?" Jimin doubts. 

"She's my girlfriend, Jimin.” Taehyung exasperates.

The aforementioned shrugs. "Shit happens. Feelings can go as fast as they came."

"Jimin, you're a total player. I'm not taking relationship advice from you." Taehyung deadpans.

"Single people give the best advice, my friend. And you know that your heart's not in it anymore Tae, even though your head says you are. You just feel guilty." 

"I just got busy with Vante and football and work. Everyone's busy this time of year. That's why I feel distant right? After things are settled, we'll be back to normal."

He loathes Jimin's dubious expression. "Taehyung...is there anything else going on which maybe impacted your feelings for Nara?"

"No." He denies in an instant.

Jimin scoffs, grabs Taehyung's bag and rifles through it. He finds the notebook and flips through the pages until the desired one is found, tossing in it into Taehyung's lap. 

"Your reasons don't change the fact you're in love with another woman." 

 It’s Park Jia's eyes. 

"I-I'm not in love with another woman." Taehyung stumbles, inhaling sharply.

"But you're not in love with Nara anyway.” Jimin counters. “So what's the point?" 

"Jimin, you're cynical about dating anyway so if I explain it then you won't understand." 

"What's your explanation? You like Nara more than other girls you've dated? Before Nara you dated women who you thought were like Park Jia but they were all cheap replicas. Lee Nara granted, isn't like those girls, she's demure and approachable. The boys like her and the team like her. She has her own interests and is fairly low maintenance. At the time, she was a breathe of fresh air for you that's what drew you to her. But she's not Park Jia and she never was. She will never be, Taehyung.” 

"You have some fucking nerve-" 

"Am I wrong?" Jimin demands.  

Taehyung clenches his jaw and says nothing. He grabs his bag and slams his notebook closed. 

Jimin rolls his eyes, still splayed on the couch as Taehyung’s hand grabs the door handle.

"The hyungs will tell you otherwise but you and I know if you had to be married by the end of the week who your choice of bride would be." He calls.

The door slams.

"What?" Seokjin splutters as the others gape.

"I don't know, something's off." Taehyung sighs, stirring his latte with vigour. 

"How long have you felt this way?" Namjoon enquires, concern etched upon his pensive face. 

Taehyung's wrist halts. He rewinds the cogs of his memories, scrutinising every detail. 

The spoon sinks into the froth. 

"I don't know… the start of the semester?" 

Yoongi scoffs, waving his hand with unconcern.

"It's perfectly normal for a relationship's momentum to slow when the academic year starts. You go from tons of free time in vacation back to the bustle of college life." 

Taehyung said the exact thing earlier to Jimin, so why did Yoongi's words not ring true in his own gut? 

"Right? That's what I said." He mumbles. 

"You and Nara match each other really well. You've never been so compatible with a girlfriend before." Jin comments, recalling the boy's catastrophic string of partners. 

"You were going steady for quite a while." Namjoon adds. 

Six months. Six smooth months. 

Hoseok remains oddly silent. 

"I think, you guys just need to spend some quality time together and it should patch things up." Yoongi decides. 

They see it as a common relationship woe, an easy gap to bridge. 

"What did Jimin say about it?" Hoseok asks. 

The unexpected question raises eyebrows. 

The designer recalls the incident at Namjoon’s birthday dinner. He had suspicions but Jimin would definitely know the whole truth. 

"Why is that important? The hyungs obviously know best." Yoongi declares. 

"Our Jiminie hasn't had a girlfriend for more than a month in his life. It's not safe to listen to his advice about women." Seokjin laughs. 

"You don't have the greatest track record either, Jin hyung." Namjoon retorts. 

"Aish, you brat."

The receptionist is visibly agitated as the three men stand before her with the same enquiry yet again. 

"CEO Park isn't in today." 

"Again?" Seokjin huffs, "It's been five days." 

Taehyung taps his foot in silence. Something is off.

“My apologies, Mr Kim." The receptionist responds with no feeling. 

"Did she say how long she'd be gone for?" Hoseok asks, visibly concerned. 

Jia doesn't spend a day out of office unless it's serious. It's nearing a week of her absence. 

"Unfortunately not, Mr Jung."  

"Is she okay? Did something happen?" Taehyung probes. 

He chews his bottom lip as the receptionist purses her lips. 

"I can't disclose private information to employees. You can contact Miss Park yourself if you wish to know." 

Taehyung almost scowls. 

"We tried that already." Seokjin scoffs. 

They trudge through the barriers with a swipe of their Areum passes and into the elevator. As soon as they arrive at the employee lounge Seokjin throws himself on a couch like he owns the place. 

"I'm worried." Hoseok sighs, slumping into a seat. 

Taehyung nods. His stomach has felt like lead for the past few days, he can't even sleep. It's stupid. What kind of person is that worried about their boss? 

They sit in somber tranquility, Jin dozing off whilst Hoseok answers various work emails. Taehyung stares at his delivered messages to her whilst the messages from his girlfriend remain unread. 

Maybe Jimin was right. 

Taehyung was becoming too spoilt, too accustomed to Jia's presence. He was used to her orange blossom haze, stormy eyes and now he was longing for it. Embarrassingly pining for a woman who has scorned him, created distance. They are just employee and employer. So why is he plagued with concern? His mind wonders to her, he unthinkingly sketches her eyes, she flutters in and out of his fitful sleep. 

He hears the click of heels against the marble floor and launches out of his chair. It must be her. Except it's not. Taehyung morphs from relief to disappointment. 

Instead an elderly woman struts towards them, flanked by various people he assumes to be assistants of sorts. Her gaze seems zoned on him which is unsettling but also confusing for the boy. She looks familiar. 

The stir has awoken Seokjin and Hoseok, who scramble to stand at the site of the woman. 

"Ma'am. What brings you here?" 

The oldest is surprised as he rapidly blinks the sleep away, immediately bowing to the exalted, finely-dressed figure before them. Taehyung follows the gesture, eyes darting between Jin and the stranger. 

"Seokjin, it's been a while. I was sad to hear you were no longer working at Ji Squared." 

He slightly grimaces which is salvaged with a smile and fake enthusiasm. "Ah, yes. After all the success in the nightlife scene, it was time to move onto a new challenge."

Taehyung almost laughs at the blatant lie. 

"Yes, Jia said at the board meeting that you desired to head into a new venture. I wish you luck." The woman smiles. 

She screams wealth with her immaculate hair and nails, opulent business attire and the enviable Birkin bag. Taehyung's inner fashion student waters at the sight of the all-black ensemble. 

Seokjin bows again. "Thank you, ma'am. May I ask what you're here at Areum for?" 

Is she looking at him? Taehyung gulps as her determined eyes fix onto him.

Then the memory crashes in like a wave. She attended the dinner he and Jia stormed the Park residence all those years ago, when the vase shattered and Park Chul clobbered his daughter. The chairwoman of Kim Financial. It was such a brief encounter that he's sure it wouldn't be lodged in his memory if the surrounding events weren't so haunting. 

She opens her mouth to speak. Taehyung's breath escapes him as Park Jia storms out of the elevator and marches straight towards the scene. 

She struts until she is planted directly in front of him, like a shield. 

"Chairwoman Kim." She utters coldly. 

Taehyung feels unsettled with her tone and more so with the older woman's displeased expression. 

"Jia, I was told you were out of office today." Agatha Kim raises an eyebrow, manner and tone terse. 

His eyes widen as Jia grabs his arm as she still faces forward, moving him further behind her. It's almost protective. 

"Well I'm here now. Is there something you wish to discuss, ma'am?" Jia matches her curtness. 

"No, not presently with you.” She declines, "I will eventually." 

Her words are ominous. Jia gazes at Agatha Kim with warning, she's one of very few who could do such a thing and remain unscathed. 

The chairwoman waves her hand and with that her powerful presence and the entourage are gone. 

Jia whips around. "What did she say?" 

Taehyung's mouth ceases to open as she gazes with such intent. He feels the blood rush to his head. 

She's here. 

"She didn't say anything except greet me. That was..kind of weird?" Seokjin muses. 

"I swear she was staring at Taehyung." Hoseok mutters, scratching his neck in confusion. 

"Don't be ridiculous, Hobi. What could she possibly need to say to Taehyung? And anyway, where the hell have you been, dear boss?" Jin scoffs. 

"Seokjin, Hoseok, don't you have a project deadline to finish? Go do some work." Jia retorts. 

The two elders roll their eyes at her avoidance of the question and skulk away. Taehyung realises he should probably follow and find something to do. 

"You. We need to talk." Jia beckons him towards the elevator. 

He feels stiff as they enter the elevator. Jia jabs the button for the top floor, her office. 

"Aren't you going to press four?" Hoseok asks Taehyung, he and Jin were headed to Jung Studios on the fifth. 

"He's with me." Jia responds. 

The boys exchange quizzical looks, whilst Taehyung implores them to save him with his eyes. 

"Don't kill him. I need his designs." Jin mutters as they depart. 

Taehyung remains very still as the lift carries them to the twelfth floor. Jia's expression is blank, which she adopts when she doesn't want people to read her. This does little to dissipate Taehyung's nerves. 

"Welcome back, Miss Park." 

Her two secretaries bow and gaze with curiosity as their boss nods, a gawky, attractive young man trailing behind her. 

"Boyfriend?" One whispers as soon as they've disappeared into her office. She giggles. 

The other rolls her eyes. "No, silly. That's the Vante guy." 

"Still, I think there might be an office romance in our midst." 

"CEO Park and romance? Dream on." 

Meanwhile, Taehyung stays rooted at the door as Jia glides across the gorgeous expanse of her office and into her sturdy chair behind her desk. 

Taehyung thinks the sight is bewitching. Park Jia painted against the Seoul skyline, silhouette kissed with the afternoon sunlight as she dwells in a space which exudes success and sophistication as much as she does. 

Taehyung never thought his weakness would be businesswomen. 

"Come sit. Do you want a drink?" Jia asks, kicking off her heels and unwinding her tresses.

 She ruffles her hair, and takes no notice of Taehyung's flustered state as she discards the suit jacket. 

"W-water, is good." He stumbles over to an opposite chair, almost tipping it backwards as he attempts to create as much space between them as possible. Luckily Jia is preoccupied with the mini fridge. 

"Here." She tosses the carton, which plonks the unsuspecting boy in the forehead and lands in his lap. 

Jia suppresses a laugh. "Sorry. I thought footballers had good coordination." 

"Of feet, not hands." Taehyung bites with mortification. 

"Anyway, we're beginning a new phase of Vante starting from tomorrow." 

Taehyung perks with interest. "What kind of phase?" 

"We're closing the store." 

He blinks. Then snaps. "What?" 

"Mr Kim, there's reason-"

"I thought you were on our side! I thought, I thought you trusted my vision." Taehyung rants, tearing a hand through his hair as he rises. 

Jia sighs at his escalating frustration. "Can you sit down so I can explain?" 

"Explain what? Is this the revenge you were talking about?" He barks. 

Jia's face falls. "What revenge?" 

Taehyung scoffs. "The revenge you swore on the hyungs and I. You already fired Jin from his old job and now you've bought us all to continue. Was it fun building up my hopes so it hurts even more now you're destroying Vante?" 

He feels like he's been stabbed. All the sweat, tears, pinpricks and all-nighters he'd slaved away at making those clothes, the triumph he'd felt when they opened the store. The swell of pride he feels at being able to support his cousin and Bareum. All ruined because he'd fallen on the wrong side of an affluent individual. 

Jia is disturbed by the hatred swirling in his eyes. A bucket of ice water floods her body as she's reminded of how he looked at her like that as she laid in the hospital bed . It was the same gaze he gave her before he deserted her three years before. 

This is why I can't trust you. You always see the worst in me. 

"Is that what you think?" 

Jia almost laughs at the prospect. How evil did he think she could be? 

"Is this funny to you? Destroying my life?" Taehyung spits. 

Jia fixes her face with cold indifference. Her guard is drawn once again, she knew it. Kim Taehyung is still the same. 

Jia sighs. ”If you must know, at first, I wanted to destroy you but then I found out who you really are and I knew that would destroy you anyway." 

Taehyung pauses his furious tirade. Who he really is? The bizarre implication is beyond perplexing. 

"You're giving me a headache so now you've finished your hissy fit, get out." 

 

Chapter Text

Jia regrets it now as she sits across from Agatha Kim in the quiet café. 

"So, what do you wish to discuss?" The elder sips on her tea expectantly. 

Jia wishes she'd never demanded for her receptionist to arrange a meeting with the chairwoman of Kim Financial as she raced to save a man who would never reciprocate such loyalty or allegiance. 

"You know already." Jia responds neutrally. 

Agatha Kim smiles slightly, shaking her head with amusement.

"You're very bold, Park Jia." 

Jia would choose the word stupid. She defied the most powerful woman in Korea for someone who doesn't even care. She should have left him to rot. In fact, what was she even thinking throwing herself onto a battleground where the fight would have cost her an arm and a leg. 

"I am, but I was mistaken in my boldness this time. I suppose you have the right to do what you like with him." Jia resolves, a bitter taste on her tongue. 

The woman chuckles. "Did you two fight? Lover's quarrel?" 

"We're not dating." Jia refutes. 

"Is that so? Are you in a one-sided love with my grandson then?" 

Jia can't help but snort. "Why? Would that make you happy?" 

"You and Jinwoo never hit it off in the romance department but-" 

"He isn't like Jinwoo, halmeoni. He's...idealistic over realistic, creative but not logistic and he knows nothing about business." 

"Are you saying he isn't marriage material?" Agatha grins. 

"I'm saying he's not heir material." Jia voices her opinion.

Agatha frowns. ”Kim Financial needs an heir and  I will make Taehyung such." 

 Even though she wants to loathe him, Jia can't help but feel her stomach sink at the prospect. The care free boy who loves to sketch and create, kick a ball around, who works away in a cramped back room to ensure his art comes alive precisely how he imagines. Who grew up knowing nothing but fields and farms only to be thrown into the cut-throat world of the elite and their cruel administrations and scorching scrutiny. The world he always hated, the parts of her life he always despised are now supposed to become a part of his. 

If Taehyung hates her, then how will he cope with becoming the same hybrid of calculations and coldness, superficial smiles and destruction?

Jia knows that Agatha Kim will not budge. She knows very well that every conglomerate needs a successor, a next of kin. The blood of the company must be a Kim. 

"Did you know that Taehyung and Jinwoo knew each other?" The chairwoman glances to the ceiling sadly, Jia feels a prang of grief as a photo is passed to her. 

Jia frowns at the picture of Taehyung, Jinwoo and Jimin.

"Do they know about Jinwoo?" She whispers.

Agatha shakes her head. The passing of the heirs to Kim Financial was still a hushed secret, the news was inevitably going public very soon. 

 "Who knew my two grandsons were friends this whole time. And now...fate is too cruel." 

Jia feels sorry for the business tycoon. Her second son had deserted her years ago and kept her estranged from her own grandson only for  the other pair to suddenly pass. Already a widow of five years and now the woman has to mourn another two generations of family. 

Jia grabs her hand across the table and chooses not to speak. The older woman grips her hand tightly. 

"Taehyung has run in Park Jimin's circle for years now, he's friendly with many of our kind. Please don't worry too much, the adjustment won't be too hard." Agatha sniffles. 

Jia wants to argue that Taehyung is an adult now and he should be able to make this decision. That Agatha is too optimistic, mutual rich friends doesn't quell how Taehyung wasn't born into this kind of life. His parents didn't want him to live this way either. Alas, it's useless to argue against the traditions of conglomeracy, especially at the expense of paining someone who has to surmount so much grief for the sake of her business. 

"Give me some time. I'll teach him." Jia suggests. 

"Two months. I expect him to have some sense by the time he learns his real identity." Agatha agrees firmly. 

The thought makes Jia feel sick as she stares at the photo of Taehyung and Jinwoo. That's all the freedom she can obtain for Kim Taehyung. Someone who isn't even worth her effort. 

Jia barely enters the apartment when Jungkook thrusts his phone in her face. 

"Why were you with Agatha Kim just now?" 

Jia curses at the grainy picture splayed on Seoulite Secrets. 

"Oh so now you want to talk? Fuck off, Jeon." Jia spits. 

She was beyond over his childish antics. He'd given her the cold shoulder ever since Namjoon's birthday until he wants to know her business. Whenever Jia needs people the most, they always seem to be absent. 

"Are you finally engaged to Jinwoo hyung? Congratulations." Jungkook fires sarcastically. 

Jia flinches. "Did your parents not tell you?" 

Jungkook grows confused. 

"Jinwoo and Manseok are dead." 

"What?" Jungkook's malignity shifts to ashen shock. "H-hyung...when?" 

"Six days ago! I would have told you sooner if you weren't being like this. God forbid I try and be civil with someone who was my best friend for over a decade. We all could die at any fucking moment you know.  Would you be happy if Jimin passes away knowing you hated his guts? Because I'm sick of pretending that I don't like him and that I don't miss him. You two can carry on despising each other, I'm done being stuck in the middle." Jia rants, grabbing her laptop off the couch and slamming the door. 

Despite smashing a ball around the court and annihilating her Yonsei opponent, Jia feels dissatisfied as she stalks from the tennis club now showered and changed. She had more anger than she knew how to channel. 

She tore down the path, storming past the rowdy clusters of athletes frequenting to and from their fixtures. Everyone would immediately part to allow the terrifying woman to pass. 

"Miss Grumpy!" Jia halts, lashing around as Hwang Jun bounds up to her. Of course, no one else would be stupid enough to address her like that

"What, fucktard?" She drawls, anger slightly subsiding at the sight of the happy go lucky buffoon of her adolescence. 

"How was your match?" 

"Won." Jia shrugs. 

"You're not staying for the boy's matches?" 

"Not today, Jun. I've got shit to do." 

"Why! Team dinner afterwards." He whines, grabbing her shoulders and vigorously shaking. Jia rolls her eyes as he jostles her in protest. 

"I'll buy you dinner next time." Jia argues, jabbing him in the stomach. 

Jun cries out like a petulant child at her dirty attack. "Come watch! Jeon looks out of his element and even though he's my rival, we still play for the same team." 

Jia feels a pang of guilt. "Jungkook is like the third person on the list of people that I'd rather not see right now.” 

Jun raises an eyebrow in surprise. "Sibling squabble? Who's the first and second? If you say me I'll be upset, meanie." 

"You're not even relevant enough to be on the list, Jun. And-" 

"Park Jia!" 

Jia audibly groans as she sets sight on the football team. 

"I see Park Jimin. That's my queue to skedaddle, bye my chum." Jun giggles, skipping away. 

"Hey! Hwang Jun!" Jia protests, glowering at his retreating form. 

"Jia, you good?" Lim Jabeom, fourth on the avoid list, asks. 

And conveniently, number one and two, Kim Taehyung and Park Jimin are amongst the group. 

"Ah, this is Park Jia? I’m Kim Yugyeom, pleased to make your acquaintance." 

She raises an eyebrow as the younger boy grabs her hand and kisses it. He yelps as Jimin slaps him across the back of the head. 

"Do you have screws loose? Let's go." He scoffs, grabbing the youngest in the team and dragging him along, everyone follows except the captain.

 Taehyung felt irritated at the sight of her and Hwang Jun and now she'll be left with Lim Jabeom. Nevertheless, it wasn't his business and his rage overrides his jealousy as he stalks behind the rest of the team. 

Jia shifts on her feet as Jabeom stares for a moment. 

"How have you been?" He asks. 

Jia would rather be asked to solve advanced algebra than that question. 

"I've had better weeks." Jia replies, hoping he'd catch a hint. 

Jabeom nods stiffly. "So about last time...'

"What about last time?" Jia retorts. 

"Park Jimin was at your place and it's totally up to you who you- I'm not trying to claim you or something but Jimin really gets around you know. I think you should be careful with contraception with him-" 

"I'm not fucking Park Jimin." Jia laughs at the ridiculousness of the situation. 

"Oh? Then why was he at your apartment?" 

"Jimin and I go way back, as in friends. We've never- Anyway I would tell you if I was. So you haven't contracted a STD second hand from Park Jimin if that was what you were worried about."

Jabeom swallows, scratching his neck. "Sorry for assuming. I didn't know you guys were friends but I guess it makes sense if you've got mutuals with Taehyung." 

"Is that everything, Jabeom? I've kind of got to run so-" 

"Wait, actually. I met this girl-"

"Are you telling me as a friend or as someone you fuck because if it's the latter I'm not fussed. Why do you think I haven't messaged you for like three weeks?" 

"Oh. That's easy then. It's kind of getting serious so I guess I'm no longer of service." He jokes. 

"Congratulations on your exit from singledom, Lim Jabeom. I'll see you around." 

They high five before she dashes to her arriving family car.

The media got a hold of the story eventually. Jia felt numb at the funeral. 

"I can't stand to watch this." Jimin sighs, hopping up from their table.

 Taehyung watches him grab the zoned girl, politely excusing her from a visibly draining conversation. 

Jia is blanched with vacant eyes and an alarming frailty. She barely acknowledges how Jimin is tugging her across to their table in the corner. Taehyung's melancholy deepens at the ghastly sight. 

"How did you get this thin? Are you not eating?" 

"The funeral's been going in private since last week so." 

Jimin's eyes widen. "You've been coming here for six days straight? " 

"I had to keep Jinwoo company before all his friends could come too." Jia mutters. 

Jimin feels his heart break. She suffered here alone for days. 

"Can you please eat something, Ji?" He begs, sliding her the plate. 

She hates the clamour in the dining area and the laughter. It's not happy. Her friend is gone at such a young age, a grandma is left with no kin. Is this a time to celebrate? 

"I feel sick." Jia murmurs, pushing the plate back. 

"Is this a connection party or a funeral?" Jimin sighs. "At least it's technically the third day, Jinwoo and his dad can finally rest peacefully after today." 

She doesn't respond. 

Taehyung clears his throat. "How did you know Jinwoo hyung?" 

It's like she didn't hear him as she remains hunched, staring at her plate. 

Taehyung flickers unsurely to Jimin, who waves off his concern. 

"Their fathers were close. All of our parents are close." 

Taehyung nods. The infamous Seoulite circle. 

"Park Jia, long time no see." 

Jia rolls her eyes at the table. Upon the embodiment of avarice’s entrance , the sinister Emmanuel Park, Jimin's whole body becomes rigid. 

Taehyung has never met the man in the real life, but he knows this monster is Park Jimin's father, the country's top lawyer and owner of Park Legal. What's perhaps even more startling is how Jia shifts from dazed and grief stricken to her assured, fiery self in seconds. 

"Mr Park," She bows, "Have you been well?" 

Jia doesn't bother to mask her matched contempt for the man as she her lip quirks and stare remains cold. It's a message that she won't put up with his shit. 

"I'm sorry for your loss, I know you and Jinwoo were very close." He smiles with fake sympathy. 

Park Emmanuel is anything but sorry. He's here to torment, to push the knife deeper. 

Jia raises an eyebrow. "Yes, we were all very close to Jinwoo. He was the big brother none of us had." 

The man purses his lips. "Brother? That's a twisted way to describe the man you were betrothed to." 

"Father, that's enough." Jimin seethes, now standing. 

It's so quiet and low that Taehyung feels a shiver shoot up his spine. Park Jimin's pure, unadulterated rage is a rare sight yet so quiet that it screams volume. 

"Son, can't you see I'm having a conversation?" Emmanuel warns. 

A violent warning. 

Jia grabs Jimin's arm as he attempts to lean closer to his father. 

"Mr Park, it seems you have a point to make? This is a sacred place of mourning so if you must, then we can discuss this outside." Jia responds. 

Her calm exterior irks the antagonist. She is indeed Park Chul's daughter. 

Jimin looks at her incredulously. "N-" 

"Jimin, sit down. I'll be fine." She whispers firmly, lightly pushing him back to the table. 

Jimin slumps with a frustrated sigh, banging his hand against the table. 

"We're still at a funeral, Minnie." Taehyung hisses. 

Taehyung silently panics. Jimin's burning with either rage or despair or both. Jia's disappeared to have a confrontation with the most powerful lawyer in the country. 

"He has a personal vendetta against Jia, he might fucking obliterate her whilst she's got a visible weak point for once." 

"Personal vendetta?" Taehyung squeaks. 

"Jia always ranked first in school, I came second every single year until she went to Geochang. And you know how this high society marriage stuff works, my father wanted Jinwoo hyung to marry into our family with Dan noona, but his dad and chairwoman Kim wanted him to marry Jia. The engagement was never confirmed but..." 

"Jinwoo hyung and Jia were supposed to be married?" Taehyung repeats. 

Jimin scoffs. "Jia and Jinwoo probably would have found a way to stop it but yeah, the two richest conglomerates in the country joining hands? They would have been unstoppable. My father thinks his children, as a byproduct of him, must be the best. So with this smarter, more desirable kid knocking around, he's always hated her." 

His explanation hangs heavy in the air, before the two look at each other and nod. They scramble towards the exit. 

Emmanuel Park grins. "So, what are your father's marriage plans for you now, Jia? I know you're not free to choose whom you like." 

Indeed, no kin of the elite was allowed to marry freely. Marrying a commoner? An obscene obstruction of societal custom and a lethal blow to family legacy. The rich married the rich. The elite did not mix their blood with people who were not their kind. 

Jia blinks. "Your lifelong friend Kim Manseok and his son passed away and instead of paying your respects, you're questioning me about the business of Park Industries?" 

She was old enough to accept that her marriage would be a motive of business, not of her heart. 

"Some of us knew for six days, I think I've mourned enough. Life must go on." 

Jia clenches her jaw. "I didn't know your lack of moral conscience in your profession carried  heavily into your personal life too, Mr Park." 

"Ah Jia, your loss is much deeper than mine, you lost your partner for life, such closeness can't be handled easily." His eyes gleam. 

Jinwoo and Jia were always just friends, like siblings. They'd made it this far without an engagement because of their defiance, much to familial dismay. Everyone in their close circle knew that. Emmanuel Park is playing a game but whether it was for entertainment, twisted revenge or something else, Jia had to work out quickly. 

"Jinwoo and I were not close in that way. You know that, Mr Park. I mourn a friend like how you mourn a friend." 

"Do you wish to have another close friend like Kim Jinwoo?" 

Jia feels sick as she realises his intention. She sets eyes on Jimin's step mother, a malevolent wench who silently revels in her husband's malignity. 

Externally, Jia chuckles. "What do mean by close friend? Like you and your secretary Kwon?" 

The man swallows, his wife balks and then lashes around, storming away.  Jimin collides with his step mother's shoulder on his way to the garden. 

"Watch it, witch." He barks. 

Taehyung gulps, wondering how the wounded expression on the fleeting woman's face has been caused. 

Jia leans against the wall smugly, knowing she has grasped the upper hand after all this equal jabbing. 

"I'm not marrying your son, Mr Park. Even if you put in a good word with my father it will never happen. We don't need a strong tie to a law firm, our businesses aren't dirty enough. Try the daughter of Lee Pharmaceuticals, I heard they're making pills which are a little more exciting than paracetamol." 

"What the fuck are you trying to do? Marry me off to Park Jia?" Jimin bellows as they round the corner. 

"You were supposed to be babysitting." Jia sighs at Taehyung. 

"Park Jimin, go back inside. This doesn't concern you." His father barks. 

"My own marriage doesn't concern me?" Jimin laughs. 

Emmanuel Park's hand launches towards him, Taehyung glares at man, shoving his arm back. 

 The man chuckles in disbelief. "And who the hell is this? Your lackey?" 

"He's with us." Jia responds. 

"You kids will ruin our images hanging out with common scum like this. Aish." He laughs, observing Taehyung like he's a rat on the street. 

"Watch your tone. If you say something like that again I'll put your affair on page six tomorrow morning." Jia spits. "Let's go, boys." 

 

Chapter Text

Jimin was so furious that Taehyung decided they needed it to go home after one last goodbye to Jinwoo. 

Jia also had to leave, for a different reason. 

"I'm a busy woman so make it snappy." She mutters, sliding into the booth in the quaint restaurant. 

"Has Taehyung left?" 

She simply nods. 

Kim Myung knows this his signal to talk. 

"Jia, I'm sorry-" 

"Oh Christ, save that shit and tell me what on earth I need to know." Jia scoffs at her Godfather. 

She had cut off all contact from her Godparents after they abandoned her in Geochang and kicked her out of their house. They were just reminders of her painful past. 

"You know, don't you?" 

Jia rolls her eyes at the obvious question. "Know what? The reason why you're hiding from your son instead of  at the funeral?" 

Myung sighs, panicked. "You didn't tell Taehyung did you?"

"What's my business telling Taehyung? We aren't friends." 

"And what is my mother trying to do?" He probes, frantic look in his eyes.

"Why don't you go ask her? You should be conducting the funeral rites with her right now, by the way." Jia castigates. 

She casually sips her tea as the man before her finds his world crumbling. 

"Jia," Kim Myung begs, "You have to protect Taehyung." 

“Why?” She scoffs, glancing at her nails. “Because you've failed to do it?" 

"I...created a better life for my family-" 

"You are the second son of Kim Financial. You weren't even inheriting." Jia retorts. 

She has no sympathy for him as the only child and sole heiress of Park Industries. No siblings to share the burden with, no opportunities to escape. No room to breath. 

"This world, I've always hated it. Power thirsty, money hungry people with no values and their religion is materialism. I couldn't raise my son in that environment. I had to protect him." 

“And you failed. Taehyung thinks he is mourning a friend when the funeral is for his own cousin and uncle where he unknowingly bows to his  own grandmother and tells her 'sorry for your loss' as she stands alone to mourn. Do you think that's right? Is that really protection? You can't even stand beside her because your son doesn't know who he is. You're lying to him, not protecting him." Jia drawls as if she’s recounting some regular, mundane occurrence.

Kim Myung remains silent. 

"I always thought it was weird for my father to befriend a so-called regular person and your house was suspiciously nice to be bought that many years ago by a newly qualified nurse and a farmer with no agricultural qualifications. Then I found a photo album in our attic storage...you, under your real name Myungsoo, my father, Kim Manseok and all of your parents. And then it all clicked. But what did it matter to me? Your family is a merely figment of my past. And I don't seek revenge for the fun of it.” She hesitates. “But…I was curious all this time about why you did it." 

The man swallows, twiddles his fingers for a while in silence.

"My parents refused to accept my engagement to Hae and had arranged a marriage to a woman of similar financial status. But she was already pregnant and is the woman I love. So we ran." 

"Are you stupid? “ Jia raises an eyebrow. "You ran back to Hae’s hometown and shortened your name to Myung. You were still in contact with my father and mother. If they really wanted to they would have turned up at your house and brought you back to Seoul. But they left you alone. So were you disowned? Or did you abandon your own family?" 

"At the time, it felt like I had to choose one part of my family over the other. And I just wanted a normal life." 

Jia clicks her tongue in disapproval. "Gosh. What a cliché." 

Kim Myung frowns, growing defensive. "You wouldn't understand, kid. You've never-" 

"I was in love with your son for almost my entire life. Don't tell me I'm too young to understand, I've heard all that shit before. What stands is you're a selfish imp who abandoned your filial duties when there were rather a few other less drastic options. Like how my father married my mum in secret and announced it publicly, and risked being cut off but that wouldn't even have been a risk for you, because you cut yourself off anyway." She clicks her tongue with disinterest and scours his being.

Jia wants Kim Myungsoo to feel sorry. He is nothing but a selfish coward to her. 

"Was your dream of a quiet, normal life away from the stress of global finance, billions and high society nice while it lasted? Your idyllic farm away from a pushy conglomerate family?" She taunts.

"I didn't choose that life, it was thrust upon me. I wanted better." Myung stresses.

"None of us wanted this life,” Jia muses, “but life isn't fair is it?"

"I escaped tyranny and I would do it all again. I gave my wife peace away from scrutiny and judgement and raised my son to value what matters in life." 

"Isn't family what matters in life? You ignored your parent's pleas to meet their grandson. Meanwhile your son could've grown up with two sets of grandparents and an uncle and cousin. Halmeoni told me that they forgave you after two years and promised they wouldn't interfere. She just wanted to see her grandson."

"You people lie to get your way." Kim Myung protests. ”I couldn't risk everything away when I'd made it out." 

Jia sighs.

“At first, I saw your supposed perfect family where Taehyung bitched about school work and helping out with the farm when I was abused and shipped abroad and then abused again. It looked peaceful, routinely and I was fooled for a moment that you so-called normal people live better lives. Less material wealth, less struggle for power, more time for the kids. Blah, blah. You pretend to be be better than the people in our world but at the end of the day, we're all the same. Whilst I was forced to be an heiress, you're forcing Taehyung onto the farm. While my identity was decided for me, you hid Taehyung's from him. My father sent me away for fear of reputation and you pretended to be better than him but in the end, you all abandoned me too for the sake of your reputation in the village. It's all the same shit, the place doesn't change it.  Granted, I'm not a good person surrounded by my materialism, but you aren't either even if you frolic in the fields and harvest corn." 

Kim Myungsoo says nothing.

"If you're still using the excuse that you wanted a better life for your son, you still failed. Now he's going to be dragged by the ankles into this world, blind and vulnerable. He's going to have a fucking identity crisis. A country boy with fashion aspirations is suddenly he heir to the biggest finance company in the country.” 

"I-I didn't know." 

Jia ignores his protests.

”Go stand by your mother and make up for being a selfish, thoughtless excuse of a son, a brother, an uncle and a father." 

As she leaves, she turns to the defeated man. 

"Running away only works in movies, Kim Myungsoo. In real life, everything comes back to bite tenfolds harder." 

Taehyung feels nothing but guilt as he gazes at the woman across from him. Lee Nara.

He had contemplated long and hard about how it happened. How his feelings seemed to have flown into a void. Vanished so suddenly that he wonders if they were ever real. 

Maybe Jimin's theory was true. He'd supposedly fallen for her after his pitiful search for a person to fill the cavity of where an ardent, enthralling blossom tree used to sprout. Instead of a blossom, perhaps she planted seasonal flower which bloomed prettily for a while and then died,   overpowered by the roots of the dormant yet sturdy tree. 

Daisies cannot mask the scent of orange blossoms. It's not a fair site for growth, the shallow roots of daisies against the lasting tree which has sucked all of the goodness from the soil. 

The plant imagery which spins through his head made him ponder many times whether he'd descended into madness.

This is the woman who everyone told him was the one. She's perfect for you.  Someone who everyone adored. The enviable couple of the fashion department. She lasted the longest out of all the woman he'd tried to fall in love with, come closest to that feeling. 

But it was still shallow daisy roots. 

Taehyung inhales deeply, gripping the rims of his mug. The heavy declaration hangs behind his teeth like sludge, feeling sordid to the core. 

He never thought he'd be that asshole. Neglectful, selfishly preoccupied and his fleeting feelings are the icing on the cake. 

Taehyung fails to account for the other imposing factor of his romantic iniquity. 

"I-" 

Nara flinches. "Oppa, don't say it." 

"W-what?" 

Taehyung feels like he's swallowing sand, he'd finally mustered the courage to utter the torrent of thoughts he'd kept shut in and her teary state paralyses it. 

"Don't break up with me," she implores, "please?" 

His stomach is a bottomless pit. Someone who he was supposed to make happy laments instead, and the cause is him. Nara's eyes are splintering wood and shattered glass, reminding him of the destruction he's caused. 

"Nara, please. Don't make this harder than it needs to be." 

Pathetic. He's pathetic.

"Why, Taehyung? We are doing fine." She sniffles. 

Kim Taehyung is almost her entire world. He's a precious diamond which gleams just for her whilst others can only peer at with envy. He's a protective shield, he spoils her, he makes her laugh.

He's achingly beautiful. A masterpiece. She can't afford to let him go. 

"We're not, Nara."

"You're not, you're a perfectly good boyfriend. So, don't try and change anything." She pleads. 

"We've been fighting, and there's secrets I've kept from you." 

She says nothing but her eyes say a lot. Taehyung sighs, the all too familiar bitterness guilt pooling his insides.

"My mind and my heart aren't in this anymore, Nara." 

Six months commitment to someone in words doesn't mean your heart will do the same. 

Chapter Text

Jia stands behind the curtain with the Fashion Department's peculiar head professor, who peaks through the gap. 

"I knew I did the right thing by booking the biggest auditorium, I haven't seen this many students since we were giving out free donuts." He babbles excitedly. 

Jia laughs politely. "Shall I go on now?" 

The professor raises an eyebrow. "You're not nervous?" 

She shrugs. "Of public speaking? No, not in the slightest." 

He chuckles. "You really are Park Industries' leader in the making." 

She fakes a smile. "Indeed I am." 

"On that note, let's get this show on the road." 

The curtain draws. The clamour of applause. Thousands of eyes on her.

Jia breathes. This is what she was born to do. 

Taehyung wonders from a shadowy corner at the very back row of many, how she looks so nonchalant. Jia looks like a pocket doll from the distance yet his heart beats like she's right in front of him. Maybe it's because he's nervous on behalf of her and unsure why. More likely his organ thrums erratically because she's wearing the very clothes his hands crafted whilst his mind thought of her. 

And that million dollar smile which sweeps people off their feet. 

"Shit." Taehyung mutters. "I'm still in love with her." 

"Hi." Jia starts as if she's sat down for coffee with a bunch of close friends, "It's nice to see you all, thank you for coming." 

She clicks the next slide. 

Areum Holdings.

"Now, let's talk about fashion, shall we?" 

After shaking another final hand and exchanging gracious words, Jia finally deems it appropriate to excuse herself from the giant auditorium. 

She exhales, rolling out her neck and The familiar feeling of loneliness creeps into her veins as she stands in the empty hallway. Surrounded by hundreds of admirers and yet feeling so alone. So she wonders aimlessly through the university building, up the grand wooden stairs to the antique fashion sector, peering into the studios with awe at the intricate, vibrant pieces encasing plain mannequins. Masterpieces of the human mind sketched on paper. 

She skids to a halt, staring at the prettiest dress she perhaps has ever seen, and suddenly her legs are moving and without thought she's tumbling into the room to get a better look. 

"Can I help- Jia?" 

Jia jolts a little at the peeved voice which turns surprised. 

"Taehyung?" She gasps, her eyes widening a fraction more at the sight of an abundance of soju bottles and the man hunched on the floor of the dimly lit room. "What are you doing here?" 

He scoffs. "This is my studio. What are you doing here?" 

She points to the dress. "Admiring her. Gorgeous thing." 

"Crafted her myself." Taehyung mutters. 

"Can I buy it?" Jia enquires, sliding next to him uninvited and grabbing a bottle. 

He rolls his eyes but secretly he's thrilled. "You can have it for free. I had a dream about you and you were wearing that." 

Jia raises an eyebrow. "You dream about me?" 

Taehyung glowers. "Used to." 

"That would make sense." Jia muses. "So, what's up with you these days?" 

"We saw each other a few days ago, Jia." Taehyung gulps some liquid, wincing a little. 

"Let me rephrase. Did you always drink alone, in practical darkness in your studio? Or should I be worried about you?" She sighs as he avoids eye contact. 

"Are you worried about me?" He teases to completely avoiding the question. "Why?" 

"Because I need you as the head designer of Vante, genius. Don't let my investment go to waste." Jia sips. 

It's a half lie. 

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say." He mutters, swallowing more soju. It tastes bitter. 

They sit in silence for a short while, drinking at their own respective paces. 

"You got better at holding your liquor." Jia comments. 

Taehyung places the bottle down, slight clank against the wooden floor. He shifts his body to face her, knees brushing hers. Breath hitching as he ponders Jia's face illuminated by the moonlight drpping through ceiling window. 

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Jia swallows. 

Taehyung shakes his head.

"I'm sorry." 

"Why are you sorry?" She blunders. "You can look as much as you like I guess. Human rights." 

Taehyung blinks then bursts into laughter.

"Human rights?" He repeats with amusement. 

Jia gapes, flustering over her words. "I didn't mean it like that."

"You're right though. Should be my human right to look at you, lately when I look at you I feel...I don't feel suffocated. I get this urge to run away when things get bad, y'know. But now you're back...you're here...I don't know. I don't know." He throws the words back down his words as her face falls a little. 

Jia contemplates the meaning to his ramblings.

"I went to America to escape." She pauses, eyes trailing over the floor. "But I realised running away doesn't fix anything." 

"Well, I guess I'm guilty too, because I ran to Seoul to get away from the farm." From memories of you. "But after I graduate I'll be straight back there in my overalls." Taehyung chuckles sadly. 

"You won't." Jia murmurs. "You'll be stuck here in Seoul forever." 

"Why? Are you keeping me hostage because of Vante?" Taehyung tries to joke. "Don't worry, by the time I graduate it will either be bust or successful enough that you can swap the designer to someone else." 

It's heartbreaking. 

"Don't talk like that." Jia disagrees softly. 

"Why?" Taehyung sighs. "You're a realist, don't you prefer to be frank like this?" 

"Not from you, it feels wrong." Jia shakes her head. "You were always a dreamer, I liked that about you." 

"Oh?" He gasps softly. "I didn't know that." 

"Because when I liked you I would have rather shot myself in the foot than told you anything like that." Jia finds herself being exceedingly candid. 

When I liked you.  

"I liked you a lot, back then." Taehyung confesses. 

It was weird to recall how they were never really together. They loved each other but it never took form. 

He still does despite his denial. Jimin and Hoseok think so too. 

Jia doesn't know how to respond to him so Taehyung takes it upon himself to disperse the palpability. 

"Well it's a good thing it's all in the past now. Your father would never approve and you'll probably be married off to Jimin." 

Jia laughs at the last part although the prospect isn't very funny. 

"And you have a girlfriend now." 

Taehyung's heart stops for a second. "Right." 

Almost like he forgot. 

"Actually we're - never mind." 

What would it matter to her?

"I'm not good at relationship advice so it's good you stopped there." Jia chuckles.

"Aren't you dating Jabeom hyung?" 

"No. I'm not dating anyone, not much point seeing as I'll probably be marrying Jungkook or some other man from a rich family." 

Taehyung's stomach tightens. "You should try a stranger, you might actually fall in love with them." 

Jia grimaces. "And what if they're abhorrent? I'd rather marry one of my friends and then we can date other people behind the scenes." 

"What if you want children?" 

"Oh...AI is fine, you just need to make an excuse about fertility. Jihyun unnie and her husband have this kind of relationship, she's Gaeun's sister." 

"Isn't that the girl Jimin and Jungkook fought over in high school?” 

Jia giggles at the ridiculous memory. "Yeah, I'm surprised you remember that." 

"Anyway, don't marry Jimin or Jungkook. I mean look at you, you're incredible. We're still so young. You'll find someone who you love and your father approves of." 

And I will probably wish it could have been me for the rest of my life. 

Jia wonders why she pictures the man in front of her when she has that thought. 

I don't think I'll ever love anyone like I loved you.

Taehyung leans in and skims over her lips with his own. It must be the alcohol which runs through his veins which propels the outrageous move. He thinks this is what it would be like in a different life time, he would be able to plant his lips firmly on hers like he desperately wants to. She's so close yet a lifetime away, an entire world away. 

Unforeseeably inevitable. 

"I wish I could be a part of your world." He whispers against her lips. 

She gazes at him, eyes glistening. "You are." 

"Should we run away and get married? You could wear that dress." He whispers. 

They are still so close, heat from skin to skin. 

The idea is ridiculous, absurd. Jia knows it is. This must have been how Kim Myung felt before, ditch the infamy, and the riches, the titles. Princess of Seoul. Heiress of Park Industries. How nice would it be to just be Park Jia again?  But life isn't supposed to be nice. Life is jumping over hurdle after hurdle and picking yourself up if you fall only to carry on. Life is duty and preserving honour. Her life is not free, it never was and it never will be. 

"We can't." Jia rushes, drawing away. 

She cannot bare to gauge Taehyung's expression as she flees. 

Jia rounds the corner, smashing into another figure. She catches them as they flail back, gasping. 

"I am so sorry...Lee Nara?" She pants. 

The girl's usual cheerful disposition is clouded with sorrow. 

"Are you okay?" Jia continues unsurely. 

"No, not really." Nara huffs. 

Jia rolls her eyes. This is why she shouldn't bother being nice to people. 

"Hope you feel better." Jia issues a pleasantry and begins to walk away. 

"That lecture." Nara starts. 

Jia turns expectantly. Nara's face is broken yet fiery.  Jia wonders if her anger is somehow directed at her. 

"What about it?" 

"What are you really doing with Vante? Are you overworking Taehyung?" 

Jia blinks, unimpressed. "If you're worried about your boyfriend you should go ask him what's going on with his life." 

Jia knows they're young, same age students at the same university but even so, the prospect of  having a business partner's girlfriend interrogate her seems off. 

"We're not together right now and it's because..." Nara stops. 

This catches Jia off guard for a split second. They broke up? 

Taehyung's intentions become even more muddling. Was he trying to use her as a rebound? 

"Because?" Jia challenges.

"He said he doesn't have time for me anymore! Except nothing's changed except for the fact that you bought Vante." 

"I'm not really seeing how this involves me?" Jia deadpans. 

Nara tugs at her hair in frustration. "You must have told him to break up with me! Or gave him too much to do so he feels too stressed."

"He's good at picking the delusional ones." Jia mutters to herself.

"It's all your fault!" Nara yells, bursting into tears. 

Jia sighs. She doesn't know whether to pity her or think her pathetic. 

"What the hell is going on here?" 

Jia closes her eyes in dread. "What are you guys doing here?" 

Hoseok observes the scene cautiously. "We were just hanging out and took a detour to pick up my masters portfolio..." 

"Nara-ah, are you okay?" Namjoon coos as him and Yoongi hurry over to comfort her. 

Jia can feel accusatory glares from all angles. 

"What's going on?" Seokjin repeats his earlier question. 

Jia waits for Nara to say something but she just continues to wail. 

"Where's Jimin and Jungkook?" Jia deflects the question. 

"They're always busy, now tell me why Nara is balling her eyes out." 

"She has a mouth which can obviously make noise." Jia waves nonchalantly to the blubbering woman, "Ask her." 

"Do you even have a heart?" Yoongi scoffs. 

Taehyung finally feels collected enough to brave campus again as he descends from the art room, immediately skidding to a halt as he turns the corner. 

"H-hyungs? What are you- Nara? W-what's happening?" 

Silence ensues, even Nara's sobs cease. He feels like disintegrating under the sorrowful pools and the burning coals. 

"Ah, the catalyst finally arrives to explain what the fuck is going on. This isn't my problem so everyone can quit trying to blame me for mess that you boys always start." Jia smiles sarcastically, ruffling around her bag before she finds the desired item. 

Taehyung winces as a pack of designer tissues hit Nara in the chest.

"Don't accuse me of groundless things which entail situations I have nothing to do with. I'm not a nice person so don't piss me off." Jia chirps. "Have a god weekend, everyone. Oh and remember we have work tomorrow, Taehyung. Sorry to be overworking you." 

She bounces off, glamorous and composed as always. 

 Taehyung sighs defeatedly. "What the fuck is going on?" 

The boys shrug. 

"We just stumbled upon Jia and Nara and she was crying." Hoseok explains neutrally. 

"Did that wench say something to upset you?" Seokjin pouts. 

"Don't call her a wench. You haven't heard the story yet." Taehyung snaps, surprising everyone. 

"Relax, the boss isn't here anymore." Jin scoffs. 

"Hyung, you're becoming very churlish. Stop assuming the worst about Jia all the time." Taehyung rebukes the elder. 

Hoseok nods. "Honestly, we've all been giving her a hard time for no reason." 

Taehyung raises his eyebrows in satisfaction. 

Nara exhales sharply. "Seriously? You're defending that bitch?" 

Taehyung's eyes narrow. "Don't call her a bitch." 

"Why? Because she's your holy boss?" 

"Because she's my friend and you don't know her enough to pass a judgement like that." He tries to respond calmly but there's an inkling of irritation. 

The others stiffen. This is a similar occurrence to when he scolded her at Namjoon's birthday. 

"Seriously? This is all her fault. Ever since she bought Vante-" 

"Nara, let's go speak about this somewhere else, okay?" Taehyung requests, conscious of the wary audience. 

"No! I want them here so you can see some sense." She snaps. 

 He wanted to spare her the humiliation of being chastised in front of his friends but if she was going to be this difficult then there wasn't really another option. 

"Vante was never your concern, not when you were my girlfriend and definitely not now." He asserts. 

"You guys broke up?" Yoongi interjects. He's ignored. 

"Even though it's damaging our relationship?" Nara outcries. 

"There is no relationship! We're done." 

It's like he's fighting a battle he already lost. He's acknowledged his erroneous behaviour, he's explained his reasons. Nara is just hammering more nails into a coffin which has already been sealed. Disturbing the dead. 

"It's not fair! I can't understand it, I won't." She rants, fresh tears arriving. 

"I don't like you anymore. Okay? Honestly, I don't even know if I liked you that much in the first place. Is that easier to understand?" Taehyung snaps. 

There's an audible gasp. 

Honestly, Taehyung has reached tipping point. The closure of his store, the sudden loss of Jinwoo, his failing relationship and of course, Park Jia dancing around his mind in one form or another almost all the time. He's failed as a boyfriend. He's failed as a designer. He's lost a role model and a dear friend. He can't think straight anymore, he refuses to acknowledge that he's longing for a woman which he can never have. 

Taehyung is drowning. He's trying his best to stay afloat. 

"Kim Taehyung, that was out of line." Namjoon warns. 

"What's the point of staying in the fucking lines anymore, hyung?" Taehyung huffs, "I just want space for myself." 

To grieve. To think about the future. To breathe. 

"Then I'll give you some space, okay? Then you can come back to me when you're ready." Nara pleads. 

A gripe rumbles from his throat. "No." 

"Why?" Nara laments. 

"Because I'm in love with someone else." Taehyung declares. "Happy now?" 

Nara is stunned into silence for while. Everyone is dumbfounded except Hoseok, the cogs whirring in his mind. 

"Stop trying to push me away with ridiculous crap." Nara resigns, " Call me when you come to your senses." 

"Don't fucking count on it." Taehyung yells after her retreating figure. 

Chapter Text

Taehyung stumbles as soon as he opens the apartment door. He freezes. The floor is littered with cans and cups, the counter tops lined with empty liquor bottles. There's streamers and confetti strewn everywhere. It even smells of stale beer. 

He blinks thrice, inhaling deeply. 

"Park Jimin!" He bellows, deserting his suitcase at the door as he storms over the still figure on the couch. 

Jimin yelps as he feels a sharpness on his bottom, ripped from his deep drunken slumber. 

"Taehyung-ah, did you have a nice time at home?" He croaks.

"Never mind that home, what about this one? Did you feel like decorating?" Taehyung quips. 

Jimin pouts, closing his eyes again. "The cleaning company's coming at three… I think I locked your room." 

Taehyung rushes to his door and tries the handle. It doesn't budge. He exhales with relief.

"At least you're not completely brain dead.” Taehyung scowls at his best friend's relaxed state. 

"Are you mad I threw a party without you? It wasn't my idea so don't be mad." 

 Taehyung is sure Jimin’s using his puppy eyes behind his closed lids. 

"Who's idea was it then?" 

"Park Jia." 

Taehyung's hand freezes over the coffee machine. "Why did Park Jia want to throw a party in our apartment?" 

"Because it's more central than hers. She paid for everything and I love a party so I thought why not? Plus I can take credit for it." 

For Park Jimin, house party connoisseur, the deal was too sweet. 

"I didn't know you guys were on speaking terms." Taehyung comments warily. 

"We're...I don't know. How was the countryside?" Jimin diverts the subject. 

Taehyung sighs as he carries the steaming mugs to the couch. 

"So bad that I came back early. My dad was being super weird, he asked if we should move to France or something. He said I could study fashion in Paris-" 

"Your dad? The one your mother had to threaten to divorce for you to go to university? The one who's making sure you're back on the farm as soon as you graduate?" Jimin chuckles. 

"Right? I'm worried that he's dying or something. He seemed really off, and mum cried when I arrived and when I left." Taehyung shudders at the recollection. 

Jimin shrugs, sipping his latte. "They probably really missed you. You don't visit a lot, you bad son." 

"That wasn't the weirdest part though." 

Jimin wriggles upwards with interest. "Go on." 

"They started talking about Park Jia." Taehyung pauses. "But Jia is like a forbidden subject at home." 

Jimin frowns. "What exactly did they say?" 

"Well I mentioned how Jinwoo hyung passed away and mum suddenly asked if I met up with Jia in Seoul and how she is. And then dad got angry like he used to when she lived with us."

His best friend is quiet for a moment. "How bizarre." 

"So, did you hear anything more about your marriage plans?" Taehyung teases in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. 

Jimin rolls his eyes. "You're a bastard for bring that up when I'm sober. And honestly as long as my father gives up on Park Jia, I don't think I care." 

"So, then Jeon Jungkook marries her?" 

Jimin's playful smirk drops. "Jungkook's family aren't pushy and he's not the first son so he can do what he wants." 

"Must suck to be an heir." Taehyung chimes with absolutely no sympathy. 

"Aish, you have no idea." Jimin whines, pretending to sob. 

"Did you sell everything?" Jungkook asks, setting their plates on the counter. 

"Thank you, and yes I did." Jia grins, waving a large stack of notes around. 

"So was he happy?" 

"Kim Taehyung? He wasn't there, he went home."

"So he still thinks you're wielding a massive revenge plan on him in which you run his business into the ground?" Jungkook scoffs. 

Jia shrugs. "I don't know what that boy's thinking. He looks like he's got a lot going on." 

"I hears he was close to Jinwoo hyung too." Jungkook’s voice softens.

Jia shifts uncomfortably in her seat. "He was. I think...we're all handling it differently. Jimin is drinking and partying his problems away as usual, I guess Taehyung went home for some peace-" 

"And how are you handling it? Selling defected clothes at college parties?" Jungkook scolds gently. 

"What about you? You're on the court so much that Hwang Jun texted me to come save his arm." Jia shoots back. 

"What about you and Jimin? You guys are co-hosting parties together and all." Jungkook mutters. 

"Oh that? It was just business. Anyway, Jimin has Taehyung, he's doing fine." Jia batters away any room for the subject to be extended.

"Poor Taehyung. We barely managed that kid and we had Gaeun as well." He shudders slightly. 

"Come to this address now." 

"Jia, it's 10pm on a Sunday." Taehyung protests. 

Jimin rolls his eyes at his roommate's antics. He'd already hurried to the door and put his shoes on before arguing for show.

"Don't play hard to get, Taehyung-ah." He scolds as the boy hangs up, "Enjoy your date." 

"It's work." Taehyung barks as he leaves. 

Soon enough he's made it to Chelsea Avenue, he's passed Namjoon's conservatory a little further up. Taehyung remembers this street very well, it's home to The Library. He hasn't returned to this place in years but he knows it's practically deserted during the day, and only alive at night because of the club. 

"You're here." He almost jumps as Jia emerges from the shadows.

 "Why-" 

"Follow me." She beckons.

He absorbs the site of the huge structure surrounded by towering boarding with wide eyes. Jia unlocks the temporary door, Taehyung stares at the lightly scaffolded front of the building. 

"We needed it to clean and paint the outside." Jia explains. 

It's covered in paint murals and the signature Areum print. 

"It's really pretty." Taehyung gasps. 

"Wait until you see the inside." Jia smiles, performing various security measures to open the large arched doors. 

"This place used to be a hotel, so we're playing up to that theme." 

Taehyung nods along. 

"You're going to be in the lobby." 

Taehyung blinks. "I'm not following?" 

"Vante is going to be here, in the lobby." Jia spins around the empty space for effect. 

It's a beautifully wide with antique, wooden floorboards. 

"T-this is all Vante's space?"

 Taehyung cannot quite process it. How this vast expanse will be theirs entirely, filled with garments procured from his very own brain.

"Well, obviously there's the cash register and changing room and if I buy another brand it goes in the lobby too but, it's pretty much all your-" 

She's engulfed in a hug before she can finish. 

"Thank you." Taehyung muffles into her shoulder. 

Rarely, Jia is at a loss for words. She wonders if Taehyung can feel her heart racing and lightly pulls away in case. Peering straight into his intense gaze perhaps isn't a much better alternative for her nerves. 

"It's just my job." She manages, willing a neutral exterior. 

Taehyung shakes his head. "Seriously, you have no idea. Thank you." 

"Are you crying?" Jia gasps, instinctively reaching to swipe his tears with her thumb. 

Taehyung chuckles bashfully. "It's happy tears. Promise." 

Neither of them notice how naturally they touch each other, Taehyung leaning into her hand as she wipes the remaining droplets, neither phased when she brushes his curtain aside. Nor do they acknowledge that mere days ago he was millimetres from her lips, asking her to marry him. The entire dynamic between them was bewildering to anyone else. The flares of anger, passion, pain, the proximity and the distance. Familiarity kissing strangeness.

"So this building is called going to be called Areum's Funhouse and it houses all fashion brands under Areum Holdings which are obviously VanteJung Studios and Wallows AveBlue Tape and Bread and Butter. It's twelve floors like the office."

"Do you buy buildings based on your favourite number?" Taehyung chuckles, stopping when he spots her grin. "Seriously?" 

"Stairs or elevator?" She asks hiding her smile as he recalls a little detail about her. Jia heads straight for the machine anyway before Taehyung can even decide.

"Which floor is Hobi's?" 

"He gets what used to be the dining room and the glass floor." 

"Glass floor?" 

"It's like a penthouse except it's not at the top of the building." 

"This must have been a strange hotel." Taehyung deliberates.

"The architecture was inspired by the red brick buildings in NYC, but I guess it wasn't very popular cause here we are." Jia muses as they step out. 

"Is this what the hyungs have been working on for the past month?"

"Yeah that's why Seokjin's been MIA from Vante stuff." 

“Well, it was worth it." Taehyung exhales in awe.

The two-toned green wall with the deep coral fireplace with a single potted plant and an alarm clock. The ombré metallic sheets with the polka dotted inner lining on the single bed. A fish tank in the middle of the room with a disco ball directly above. 

Then in another corner, a lime green wall on one side, with half the table cloth the common, tacky red checked plastic, whilst the other half a crisp white cloth, a decadent, deep purple wall paper behind it. Two toned walls everywhere, monkey print, yellow checkered arm chair. It screams Jung Hoseok. Method to madness. Bright, symbolic, charismatic. 

"He calls it Daydream." Jia informs him, "Right now him and Seokjin are arguing where to put the clothes rails and what kind of fish to put in the tank." 

Taehyung almost snorts as he pictures them arguing about their potential fish line up.

"You can't even tell that this was a hotel dining room." He’s impressed.

"Hoseok put the half-half dinner table as homage." Jia points.

"And the glass room?" 

"Just up the stairs." 

It's breathtaking. The twinkling lights of Seoul surround the entire room, the entire floor is glass too, so you can see Hoseok's other floor below at a Birdseye view, something, as a fellow designer, Taehyung can tell the elder accounted for when he designed the place. 

There's nothing in the room except a plain white bed in the middle. 

Taehyung blushes as he recalls Hoseok's words. 

Jia turns around, finding his silence unnerving. 

"You're burning up, do you want to go on the balcony?" 

"Sure." Taehyung mutters, following her out. 

The railings are entirely glass so the skyline view isn't obstructed from inside. It's a little terrace garden. He feels calm. They’re high enough for the din of the city to dissipate into subtler  hums. It's almost tranquil. Taehyung always thinks there's something about a city view which is sublime. An ineffable warmth. Especially with Jia next to him. 

"Actually, there's something I need to say to you." He starts. 

The air gets knocked to him as Jia turns to him, hair dancing in the wind against the picturesque  backdrop. She is a movie. 

"I'm sorry about the other day when I accused you of getting revenge on me for closing the store. It was so ridiculous and irrational of me and unprofessional. It was unfair for me to accuse you of such things. " 

"You have sentimental attachments to the store, I get it. And about that whole collaboration mess,  I know it wasn't you, Hoseok explained it to me ages ago. That's why only Seokjin was affected." 

They grimace at the memories of the debacle.

"Anyway, after the lecture, I realised that I need to trust you wholeheartedly with our brand. Because you get it. You understand the process and value our staff."

"You watched the lecture?" Jia groans. 

"Of course I- you were wearing my clothes and representing my brand so well I wanted to run to the front and kiss you senseless." 

Momentary silence ensues. Taehyung can only close his eyes in mortification. 

"Kim Taehyung." Jia chokes on a giggle as she exclaims her shock with the beet red man. 

"Oh my God. No. I didn't- It's a phrase-" 

Jia knows it's wrong to wish for their lips to meet on this balcony. As employer and employee, former childhood friends, as a city girl and a country boy. 

It's a sick, twisted fate of how they resisted their feelings as an elite heiress and a common civilian. Two different worlds, is what Taehyung always said. Except they were from the same world since the beginning and they never knew it. 

Jia cannot bring herself any closer to Kim Taehyung. She knows that those eyes which look at her with admiration will one day morph back into hatred with the addition of betrayal. 

"Do you think we're trapped in a glasshouse?" Jia asks, staring at the skyline. 

Taehyung nods, she can feel his stare on the back of her head. "All the time. Or like a puppet on a string, where someone is pulling me in all sorts of directions and laughing at the chaotic outcomes." 

Jia chuckles a little at his analogy. "Instead of God?" 

"Maybe it's God." Taehyung ponders, "I think there must be something out there. What about you?" 

"I stopped believing in God a long time ago."

"Why?" 

"After mum died, all that stuff about suffering and perseverance sounded like bullshit to me." 

Taehyung winces as he recalls the way Park Areum passed away. 

"She was devout so I think she'll be cussing me out right now," Jia points to the sky, "But business people can't be real Christians anyway. It's just for show." 

Taehyung opens his mouth to say something but his phone begins to blare. The atmosphere is shattered, Jia silently nods to the door. He reluctantly follows her back inside. 

"Hello?" He barks. 

"Where are you? We're here with Jimin and he's wasted." Hoseok groans. 

Taehyung sighs. "I'm at the Fun House with Jia." 

"Fun House? What the hell is that? At this time of night?" Yoongi can be heard ranting in the background, "Aigo, our Jiminie why don't you lay down?" 

Jia smiles slightly as she manages to hear all commotion through the receiver. After all, these men are so bloody loud. 

"Anyway, take Jimin home yourself. I'm hanging u-" 

"Wait! Did you see the glass room yet?" 

"Yeah." 

"You get what I mean about the bed right?"

Taehyung chokes on his spit. "Bye Hobi hyung." 

Jia raises an eyebrow, glancing at the centre piece. "The bed?" 

"Oh just some artistic rubbish Hobi was on about." 

Jia's eyes light up, contrary to what he desired. "Really? Tell me."

Taehyung shakes his head. 

"Go on." 

He remains mute, stepping backwards as she steps forward. 

"Tell me." Jia pouts, nearing him as a halfhearted act of intimidation. 

Taehyung feels his knees fold as they collide with bed, he's falling backwards. Jia tries to catch him but he's heavier than she recalls as she stumbles forward, dragged with him. She manages to stabilise, knees on either side of one of his thighs. 

Taehyung gulps, staring up at the alluring woman as she cages him in. 

"Tell me." Jia demands. 

He's flustered at her bold display. He shouldn't find her so provocative. 

"Hyung said that he found a perfect spot to take a woman he really cares about and make love to her all night against the city skyline." 

Jia bites her lip, Taehyung wishes to know what she's thinking in that moment. Is she imaging herself with someone on this bed. Another man? Is she repulsed? 

"I never thought it about like that but," Jia pauses, "I can see what he means." 

Her eyes flit over Taehyung's form splayed on the bed. His rumpled hair, full crimson lips, his ragged breathing leaving sparks in the air. 

It was her turn to want to kiss him senseless. She clambers up, extending her hands for Taehyung to pull himself up. 

Taehyung wants to yank her back down, encircle her waist. Hold her. His entire body aches to feel her. 

Instead he uses her fleeting warmth to pull him out of the fantasies, back into reality as his feet plant on the ground. 

"What colour-" 

Taehyung's phone rings again, he glares at the device. 

"What now?" He snaps.

"Taehyungie? Why are you mad?" 

He silently groans at Jimin's slurred whines. 

"Jiminie, I'm not mad. Where's Hobi hyung?" 

"Hoseokie? He went to pee, now pass the phone." 

"To who?" 

"My best friend." 

"Me?" 

"No, princess." 

"For me?" Jia mouths in surprise. "Hello?" 

"Jinger nut. Why aren't you here?" Jimin mewls. 

"Are you drunk? It's a Sunday night, please get it together." Jia reprimands. 

"See, it's boring when the hyungs scold me. Hurry over." 

"Where are you?" 

"The hyung's house." 

Jia rolls her eyes. "Okay, we're coming." 

"I love you, Park slice." Jimin giggles. 

Jia sighs at the drunken words. "Yes, Jimin. Thank you."  

"What? Say it back now." Jimin suddenly barks. 

Taehyung's eyes widen, he takes the phone back. 

"Hey, you silly bastard. We're coming, relax." 

When they arrive, everyone's already gone to bed. Jimin has been haphazardly shrouded in a blanket on the couch, he's blearily texting away on his phone. 

Taehyung rolls his eyes as he feels his phone chime five times in a row. 

"We're right here, dumbass." He scoffs, waltzing over to the drunkard and tugging his ear. 

"Ow, stop. They all went to bed and left me!" 

"Some of us have work tomorrow, Jimin." Jia reasons. 

"Is that what you two were doing just now?" He wiggles his eyebrows, "Work?" 

Taehyung clears his throat, pinching Jimin's cheek with quite a bit of force. 

"Do you want me to throw you in the road?" He hisses. 

"We went to see Hoseok's fantasy." Jia laughs. 

"Huh. At the Fun House? What even is that? A new strip club? Hostess bar?" Jimin muses. 

"Why would Jia and I go to either of those things alone on a Sunday? I know you're shit faced but please Jimin, at least have some sense." 

"Hoseok hyung!" Jimin yells as the man exits his room. 

"Oh, you guys are here? Thank god, he's being such a brat." Hoseok ignores Jimin, going to hug Jia instead. 

"You look pretty today, princess." He beams, resting his head on top of hers. 

"Thanks, hobi." 

"What about me? I'm pretty right?" Jimin whines. 

"Of course you're the most handsome, Jimin. But obviously I'm the prettiest." Jia sticks her tongue out. 

Hoseok tuts, slightly slapping the back of her head. "Yah, don't antagonise him. He'll throw a tantrum." 

"What the hell." Jia complains, hand flying to the back of her head. 

"Don't worry. Taehyung will kiss it better." Jimin cackles in English. 

"Do you want to die? Seriously?" Taehyung whispers lowly. 

"Hyung! Taehyung is threatening me!" Jimin yells to poor Hoseok, who just wanted a cup of water from the kitchen.

"Jimin, don't disturb the others. They're sleeping." Hoseok warns, immediately the brat shuts up. He saunters over to the couch, forcing Jimin to drink some water. 

"So Taehyungie finally got to see the Fun House?" Hoseok asks excitedly. 

"Jia showed me around the floors, your set up is insane, hyung." Taehyung beams. 

"Gosh, you flatter me. Did you guys do anything with the lobby?" 

"They went to see your fantasy hyung." Jimin interjects. 

Jia feels the urge to smack Park Jimin in the forehead. 

Hoseok frowns. "My fantasy? Oh!" 

His eyes bulge as he looks between the pair in disbelief. 

"You two...On the bed in my section? You could have at least done it on the lobby desk, that's more polite. You dirty bastard-" 

"Hyung! We didn't so please, just stop." Taehyung cries.

Jia feels a chuckle escape her lips. "Lobby desk? Jung Hoseok you're really quite something." 

"Someone's watching too much porn." Jimin sings, shrieking as he's attacked by the elder with tickles. 

Yoongi bursts out his room, the door smacking the wall from the force. 

"Take the kid home, for the love of God." He growls. 

Then his door slams shut again. 

Chapter Text

Jia, did you hear that Taehyung is single now?" Jimin gurgles, practically strangling the two with his arms around their shoulders as the walk. 

"Yes, Jimin." Jia rolls her eyes. 

"Taehyung, did you know captain hyung and Jia aren't sleeping together anymore?" 

"That's not my business. Or yours." Taehyung mutters, willing for the boy to silence. 

"Jabeom hyung has a girl now. But why would he pick her over our princess?" 

Jia snorts at Jimin's annoyance. “Jabeom and I were never going to date, Jimin. You of all people should understand the art of casual sex." 

"Wah, don't talk like that next to Taehyung. Country people are conservative." 

Taehyung scoffs. "I'm not conservative." 

"You only sleep with women if you're in a relationship with them." 

"Really? That's sweet." Jia smiles. 

"Did you two ever sleep together?" Jimin asks like it's a topic of the weather. 

"Jimin." Taehyung hisses. 

"Why do you want to know, Jiminie?" Jia plays along. 

"I like to know things about my best friend and my future wife." Jimin giggles. 

"We're not getting married, Jimin." 

"Have you met my father? He's the embodiment of persuasive." 

"Have you met mine? He's the embodiment of rapacity. I think he'll be heading for Jeon Enterprises." 

"You're not seriously marrying Jungkook?" Jimin sombers. 

Jia shrugs. "You're acting like I have a say. Besides, Jungkook can weave his way out of it if he wants to. He's a second son with pushover parents." 

"You can't marry Jungkook." 

"Why?" Jia sighs. "Are you going to?" 

"What the fuck are you even saying?" Jimin snaps, stalking ahead. 

"You've done it now." Taehyung groans, breaking his silence. 

Jia clicks her tongue. "He's so annoying these days. He hasn't even apologised to me, doesn't even talk to Jungkook and he thinks he can boss me around about stuff I can't even control." 

"Jimin...has his reasons. He's going through a lot all the time." 

"I know, Taehyung. But when you hurt people, you should put your own hurt aside and say sorry. Jimin should know better. Everything festers and resentment builds. You know the saying, flowers can't grow on poisoned soil." Jia purses her lips as she watches the wavering man in the distance.

"That's what my mum always says." Taehyung murmurs. 

Jia raises an eyebrow in surprise. "Yeah, she did." 

Taehyung wonders why he's let their relationship fester. 

"I'll recover the soil, so flowers can grow." He announces firmly which startles her. 

With that he's tearing down the pavement after Jimin. 

--- 

"Are you sad, boss?" Bareum grunts, having never been a man of many words. 

"A little. This was where we had our first milestones." Taehyung pouts as the movers carry boxes of their things to the van. 

"We'll have more room in Areum and more resources." Yewon sings happily. 

"And we'll waste less fabric now you actually know how to sew." Taehyung comments. 

Bareum stifles a laugh as Yewon scowls at the two. 

"Jia unnie sorted it.” 

"Unnie?"  Taehyung repeats in surprise. 

"She had I could call her that. Unnie is the nicest and prettiest person I've ever met." Yewon gushes. 

Bareum nods in agreement, freezing as both Kims glare at him. 

Speaking of the devil, she strides in looking as chic as ever. 

"Woah, unnie...Where did you get your pant suit?” Yewon drools. 

"Blue Tape. I only wear Areum brands when working, you know." Jia smiles, waving at Bareum. 

"Hi Bareum. Good to see you again." 

Taehyung feels horrified as Bareum flushes red, deeply bowing. 

"You two know each other?" 

"Of course. Bareum and I were working on something while you were busy with school." 

Taehyung narrows his eyes. "Shouldn't you have told me?" 

"I told Seokjin. Didn't you say he handles the business side?” Jia smirks. 

"I-I handle the business side too." 

Yewon snorts. "Since when?" 

"Since, we started being under Areum." 

"What nonsense. You just want unnie's attention." Yewon argues. 

Taehyung scowls. "I'll give you five seconds to finish packing the store room before I pull your hair out." 

"You see unnie? This power abuse is what we have to deal with. Thank you for buying us." Yewon squeals as Taehyung brandishes his fist towards her, hurrying to the storeroom. 

Bareum awkwardly shuffles after her. 

Taehyung leans back on the counter, accentuating his toned arms. 

"What project are you three doing without me?" 

Jia's lips quirk. "Do you and Seokjin really not communicate?” 

"He's busy with Fun House and I usually ignore his texts anyway." Taehyung concedes. 

He's too candid considering she's his boss. 

"Well then, are you stepping up to be the business guy then?" Jia teases. 

"I guess I am." Taehyung smirks. 

"Well first, Jimin and I threw a party on Saturday and sold all of Yewon's questionable masterpieces at a discounted rate." 

"Why at a party?" 

"Do you know what they call Jimin and I?" 

Taehyung racks his brain for things he'd overheard on campus. "Life of the party Parks. " 

"It's cringeworthy but true." Jia rolls her eyes. "We hosted parties back in high school so a college one for old times sake? It's a hit." 

"So a load of rich, popular kids flooded into our apartment and bought our designs?” He summarises. 

"So, the faces of the campus start walking around in your designs. The athletes, the socialites and the social media stars of the university. The student body starts to wonder where to buy this stuff and then suddenly, it spreads to the next campus until every student in Seoul knows the brand and by then there's enough momentum for it to fly through the youth of the country." 

"Is that why you wore Vante to the lecture?" 

"It's an easy formula." Jia nods. "Getting influential people to wear your clothes without paying them." 

"Well thank God one of us has the city of Seoul in our palm." Taehyung grins sarcastically. 

"Honestly, I was just going to sell the defects to a textile mill but Hoseok and Jin miscalculated their budget for the Fun House so I had to take desperate measures. Jimin said you weren't around so I didn't want to bother you while you were visiting home." 

"You're really smart." Taehyung mutters. 

"You want to know what happens today so you can think I’m even smarter?" Jia grins. "Yewon! Is the storeroom clear?" 

The aforementioned girl hurries out with one last box. 

"Just boss' sewing machine. We're done." 

"Okay good," Jia checks her watch, "We're on time." 

She hands a plastic wallet around. 

"We're having a closing sale. Ten percent off the popular items, thirty percent off the shit that never sells." 

"So, thirty percent off all the stuff Jia hasn't worn in public?" Yewon giggles. 

"Hey! These are my precious designs remember." Taehyung takes offence. 

"Everything will be gone by tonight, trust me." Jia pats his shoulder, "We're staying open until nine, I hope no one has any plans." 

"Nine AM to Nine PM?" Bareum winces. 

"You never manage the shop floor when you're supposed to so this must be making up for lost time." Taehyung chuckles. 

Signs up and instagram posts later, and the store is swamped. Taehyung's sure that there's never been a large volume people in the store ever before. 

"Look, boss!" Yewon squeals, showing him a video of the queue winding down the sidewalk.

"Won't people not come because it looks busy? Don't post that." Taehyung orders. 

Jia and Yewon shake their heads, exchanging a knowing look. 

"It's human nature to copy each other and be curious. People will either come because they want to see what the hype is about or because they don't want to miss out." 

"I didn't even know we had this many clothes to sell." Taehyung sighs tiredly. 

Jia grabs a panting Bareum, who hands Yewon the tumbling pile of clothes. 

"You can thank our new head of production, Lim Bareum." 

She gestures to the bashful boy. Taehyung scowls at his obvious enamour with Jia. 

"Thanks Bareum. Now get back to work." He drawls. 

The tailor nods, scampering off. 

Jia scoffs in surprise . "You're a strict boss." 

"Kim Taehyung!" 

Taehyung laughs in embarrassment as the entire football team barrel into the store. 

"We brought flowers for the store's success. But it says it's closing so I guess this is actually a mourning gift." Yugyeom grins, widening when he spots Jia. "Hi gorgeous." 

"Hi Yugyeom." She smiles. "I'm looking forward to seeing what you buy." 

Yugyeom collapses onto Jimin. "Hyung! She remembered my name!"

"Just go buy a hoodie, you clown." Jimin pushes the younger boy away. 

"Cool shit, Taehyung." Youngjae chirps as the team disperse to browse the store. 

Jabeom looks between Taehyung and Jia and grins. 

"You two seem to be very close recently." 

"I heard you got a girlfriend, captain." Taehyung retorts cheekily.

"I heard you don't have one anymore." Jabeom counters. 

Taehyung pouts as the captain wins, as always. Jia grimaces on Taehyung's behalf. Athletes really don't play around with their jokes. 

"Why haven't we met your girl yet, hyung?" 

Jabeom scoffs. "It's too early. You animals will scare her away." 

"Captain! Only Jimin hyung is an animal." Yugyeom whines across the store, dashing for refuge in the changing rooms as Jimin lunges after him. 

"This is a store, not a playground." Taehyung yells as he rings up another customer's purchase. 

His fingers feel like they might drop off. 

---- 

"Are you a prophet? Seriously everything you say comes true." Taehyung groans as they finally close the store, not a single item remains. 

"You said you trusted in my process, Mr Kim." Jia teases, stretching out. 

"My fingers." Taehyung whines, wriggling his fingers as he lays on the shop floor. 

Jia grimaces at the thought how dirty it might be but sits next to him anyway. 

"It was nice of you to send the kids home early." 

"I don't want my aunt yelling down the phone about how I'm overworking Yewon. And I don't think Bareum can physically spend twelve hours awake." 

Jia rolls her eyes at his excuses. "Whatever you say, tough boss." 

Taehyung huffs in response, still flexing his sore hands. 

"Here." Jia grabs them. "Your mum taught me hand reflexology."

"She taught you?" 

Jia nods. "When I was really little, she said you were a problem child and I needed to know it to look after you." 

Taehyung groans. "How embarrassing." 

"It's strange how life works out, isn't it?" Jia comments, pressing on the knots in his palm. 

"We can look after each other as adults." Taehyung suggests. 

"I told you before, Taehyung, I can't really trust you." Jia deadpans, switching out one hand for another. 

Taehyung feels a pang in his chest. "Why?"

"Well it's not been that long and people don't change that easily." Jia remarks flatly. 

She refuses to be reeled in by his sweet words and sweeter actions only to be pushed away again. 

Taehyung exhales glumly as she puts up her wall again.

 

Chapter Text

Being shooed away by her secretaries, shielded by meetings and generally being one of the busiest people in the country did not perturb Taehyung from trying to reach Park Jia. 

It started with pastries and drinks from her favourite bakery in Seoul when she stepped into the Areum building every morning. And when that wasn't responded to, a state of the art coffee machine delivered right to her office. Then a new bouquet of flowers every two days, alternating between cherry blossoms and honeysuckle. Next was chocolates every Friday afternoon. 

Then there were bespoke garments wrapped in lilac tissue and brown string with simple KT's as notes. 

And when Taehyung still received no response, no texts or calls, not even a flash of her shiny, black hair passing by, because he embarrassingly kept an eye out whenever he could, he was disappointed. But he kept at it. 

It was perhaps the twenty fifth day since the commencement of his pieces of affection. 

"She wore that knitted cardigan." The receptionist at Areum's front desk informs him with a sympathetic smile. Taehyung's glum demeanour instantly transforms, the tray of coffee almost splaying over the counter from his newfound animation. 

"Really? When? Did she say anything?" 

"Hyerin said so." She shrugs. "The heater broke in Miss Park's office and it was cold." 

Taehyung's shoulders fall a little, but nevertheless his stomach tingles with satisfaction. 

There's a knock on her office door.

"Come in." 

Lee Hyerin, one of her two secretaries enters sheepishly with the familiar tray of drinks from Mocha

Jia's eyes narrow. She managed to avoid seeing Kim Taehyung in person for a long, long time. But that didn't mean the man stayed away from her thoughts. 

"It's him again. Same drill?" 

"Same drill." Jia instantly confirms. "Thank you." 

She stares at her computer screen, attempting to focus on the monthly Jung Studios performance report. 

Hyerin hesitates as she places the cup on the desk. 

"M'am I don't want to overstep a boundary but as much as I like Designer Kim sending us all coffee and breakfast to the top floor every morning..." 

"You feel bad for him right? You think I'm being harsh?" 

Hyerin's eyes bulge, she shakes her head adamantly. "No, no. Of course not." 

Jia raises an eyebrow. 

"Okay." The secretary winces. "Maybe a little. Kara just called and said he rushed out to buy a portable heater after he heard the heating's broken here." 

Jia rolls her eyes but inside she feels a little bad as she pictures Taehyung sprinting to the nearest department store just because he heard she might be cold. 

"Why would he do that?" She mutters. 

"Because he likes you, ma'am. He really, really likes you." 

Jia lets out an incredulous laugh. "Yeah right." 

"I'm serious.It's all people will talk about." 

"What are people talking about?" Jia almost whines. 

"Your relationship with Designer Kim! It's the hottest topic amongst the clerks. The whole building thinks so! The receptionists swoon every time he shows up with a bouquet." 

Hyerin jumps as her boss' head slams against the desk. 

"That annoying little twerp." Jia cries to herself, clutching her scalp with frustration. Her head snaps up. "The whole office are talking about it? All twelve floors?" 

Hyerin swallows nervously. "More or less, Miss Park." 

"Gah!" Jia exclaims, shooting out her plush leather chair. She grabs her blazer. 

"Where are you going boss?" Hyerin is confounded as Jia strides out the room. 

"I'll be back soon." 

Jia scowls as Bongsoon sends her a knowing look from her station, rushing to press the elevator for her. "Don't kill him, boss." 

She exhales, stepping into the metal shaft. 

The doors close, the lift goes down. 

Hyerin and Bongsoon exchange a thrilled look. 

"Call Martha, I bet she's heading to Vante's floor." 

Jia strides out the elevator, trying to remain neutral as her employees bow with intrigued expressions. 

So everyone really is talking about it. 

Taehyung obliviously strolls through the office floor, bag in hand, smile playing on his lips as he imagines Jia in the cardigan he knitted. 

A throat clears in front of him. Taehyung freezes. 

Jia stands with a withering glare, especially when she recognises the branded bag from appliance store down the road which he almost drops.  

"Designer Kim, can I have a word?" 

He gulps and nods. Jia's head tilts to the vacant conference room near them. 

She wordlessly walks over,  Taehyung trails after like a lost puppy. 

Jia shuts the door firmly, presses a button so the glass wall frosts over. She doesn't want more people to witness the exchange. 

"Why do you look like you've seen a ghost?" Jia starts. 

Taehyung awkwardly shuffles away from the doorway as she perches comfortably on the edge of the large table. He doesn't know what to make of her tone, but he has an inkling that he's about to be chastised. 

"It's been a while." Taehyung sounds as evenly as he can, grimacing as his voice picks up at the end. 

Jia nods for a moment, glancing at the skyline view.

"That's intentional." She deadpans. 

Taehyung blinks. "Why?" 

Jia shrugs. "There's no reason for us to see each other except for work." 

Taehyung impossibly deflates. He figured as much. 

"B-but, you haven't stopped by our office." 

"Vante hasn't given me a reason to yet." 

"But we submitted our winter collection designs." 

Jia nods. "I saw them from the comfort of my office. Where I do most things. CEOs aren't hands on in the office, Mr Kim. There are people in management positions which I delegate those tasks to and then I have the final say in everything." 

Taehyung swallows. He takes a risk. 

"And what if I want to see you?" 

The question hangs in the air for a while. Jia's eyes widen by a fraction, her heart skips a fraction but she manages to recover quickly. 

"Lots of people want to see me. I'm a busy woman." 

"Then I'll schedule an appointment." Taehyung declares. 

Jia wants to waver from his determined gaze. But she shouldn't, she needs to put her foot down and draw a line. 

"Those are for work related purposes, Mr Kim." Jia warns, crossing her arms. "I've been lenient with your displays at the office, but please stop. It's attracting attention from the other staff." 

He sighs dejectedly, eyes falling to the floor. "I just wanted you to acknowledge me. I missed you." 

"And I just want to be professional, in a professional working environment. It's hard to assert leadership and authority when everyone thinks I'm having an office romance with my employee." Jia fulminates.  

Taehyung's head hangs. He feels guilt, once again he thought he was doing something for her which only really benefitted himself. He wanted to see her, get her attention and even when there was no response, he persisted. 

And now what had happened? He'd made her life worse, like he always does. 

He just wanted to be the cause of her smile. But there were factors that his thoughtless and bullheaded traits overlooked. 

"I'm sorry...Miss Park. It was really thoughtless of me. I'll stop now." 

Jia awkwardly shuffles. "Thanks, I appreciate it." 

She kicks herself off the table, feeling a little bad due to Taehyung's forlornness. 

Jia hesitates at the doorway. 

"Focus on your brand and work hard. That's how you can get my attention." 

Taehyung catches her ghost of a smile as she leaves. 

"Work hard." He repeats to himself.

After a dreaded evening class, Taehyung aimlessly roams the campus like a dejected romantic hero. He feels a little sorry for himself after being scorned. Even though he kind of deserved it. 

"Oh my dear pal of Geochang!" Hwang Jun screeches jovially, attracting bewildered stares. 

Taehyung looks up with dread as the grinning boy bounds towards him, the horror seems to make Hwang Jun decrease the metres in slow motion. Taehyung winces as the tennis player slaps his back with a booming laugh. 

"What's got you so down in the dumps, chum?" 

Taehyung sighs, too dejected to deny Jun's overly friendly addressing. 

Hwang Jun isn't perturbed by the lack of response, his grin impossibly widens further. "It's girl trouble? Isn't it." 

Taehyung shakes his head weakly. "Boss trouble." 

"Either way, is that the sweet call of alcohol I hear?" 

If you told high school Kim Taehyung that he'd be drinking alone with Hwang Jun on a Tuesday night in his final year of college, and the latter was trying to comfort him over woes about Park Jia of all things, he probably would've punched you. 

But here we are. 

Taehyung pouts, sloppily knocking back a portion his fifth bottle of soju. He rakes a hand through his already mussed hair, a result half from his misery, half from Jun's sympathetic ruffles.

"She hates me!" He laments. 

Jun tuts, animatedly shaking his head with outrage. He grabs Taehyung's face, squishing his flushed, rosey cheeks in order to stop the drunker boy's flailing vision. 

"She doesn't hate you. She's drawing a line." Jun slurs. 

"Why!" Taehyung objects childishly. 

"Because she doesn't want to get hurt." Hwang Jun fires back, almost flooring his face against the table as his elbow fails to support it. 

"Why would she get hurt?" Taehyung protests. "I would never hurt her." 

Hwang Jun suddenly grows serious. It's such a quick change of demeanour that Taehyung pays attention, even in his bladdered stupor. 

"You hurt her before. You could do it again. How would she know?" 

Taehyung swallows. It comes again. The incessant guilt which pools his insides every time he thinks of the past. It's why he barely ever visits home, avoids his parents, never talks about his high school days. Even at the slight downwards turn of the the corner of her lips, Taehyung remembers everything vividly, it played like a loop in his dreams for the year following, every moment he had to think, he thought of what he'd done to her. 

He swallows. "I did some terrible things. I really suffered for them, Jun. I really did." 

"More than her? I don't think I've ever witnessed someone so downtrodden and shattered since that time. Did you ever say sorry?" Jun asks curiously. 

The air evades his lungs, throat tightens, heart aches. 

Jun scoffs slightly and shakes his head. "Your displays of romance won't do shit. That's all superficial, even if your intentions are good. It's like a cavity, it's still there after the dentist fills it and it chips away slowly but surely." 

"Flowers can't grow on poisoned soil." Taehyung mutters. 

"Exactly." Jun snaps his fingers. "You need to confront those demons of your past head on. Find the root of the problem and apologise properly, sincerely and thoroughly." 

The prospect makes Taehyung feel sick.

Because it wasn't just a teenage fall out. It was childhood abandonment issues, and ceaseless voices telling him that he could never be enough for her and she wasn't good for him, years of miscommunication and trust issues and fear to get heartbroken. 

Sure, it hurts him to have a boundary with Jia, when she pushes him away and reminds him what scum he is. Yet Taehyung can't help but fear the prospect of pouring his heart out to her, every single detail, every single fear and all his reasons only for Jia to still want nothing to do with him after. 

He fears losing what feeble proximity he has with her now. 

"And what if she doesn't forgive me?" 

Jun hesitates. "Do you want me to say the truth?" 

Taehyung winces, taking a large gulp of his drink. "Go on." 

Jun sighs. "Then you have to live with it. As the person who hurts the other always does."