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13 July 2016 @ 11:22 pm
It's not really SMTM season till I write a fic  
Title: Step Up To The Plate
Fandom(s): One, YG Family, AOMG HiLite, Show Me The Money (it's a mess out here)
Pairings: One-centric, One/Xitsuh, G2/One, B.I/Olltii
Rating: NC17
Warnings: Explicit sex, slightly unhealthy relationship dynamics
Word count: 23,807
Summary: Jaewon goes on Show Me The Money hoping to prove himself, if only he knew what he was trying to prove

Also on AO3

Jaewon goes in with high hopes and a sickening fear of falling. He can’t help it, that’s how he operates, wearing his fear on the corners of his smile. He spends half an hour in the morning staring listlessly at his reflection in the bathroom, tugging his baseball cap down over his eyes, letting his oversized jacket swallow him as far as it will allow. He practices his camera smile for the thousandth time as lyrics dash through his head.

“Time to go,” his manager sticks her head round the door without knocking.

Jaewon starts, she frowns at him, “c’mon, get in the van”

The ride to Mnet’s studio takes entirely too long and not long enough. Jaewon sits on his hands all the way there to stop them shaking and mutters everything he has prepared for today under his breath like a prayer.

Please, please please please PLEASE let me be what they want me to be. Let them see in me what I want to see in myself.

His manager has no such worries. “You’ll be fine,” she shrugs, “barring serious fuck ups we’ve got you secured till the final twelve. So once you’ve made it that far, then you can start panicking.”

The idea doesn’t instill any great confidence in Jaewon, but he smiles along with her anyway as the car pulls up to the curb. He is suddenly struck by the idea that his for-the-cameras smile is too much, but doesn’t have time to process or recalibrate before the doors are thrown open and an ocean of cameras and curious faces opens up in front of him.

People attribute a certain comfort to Jaewon in public spaces, assuming that as an idol he must be used to rabid fans and unwanted media attention. The truth of the matter is far less glamourous. He was a trainee, then for the briefest of moments he was an idol in the loosest sense of the word, then he went into freefall only to land on his feet, but a trainee once more.

He gets it, it’s the face that fools them. No one with looks like his is supposed to go unnoticed.

“One!” calls an Mnet cameraman

“One!” cries a hapless contestant watching their chances at success dwindle with every famous face that arrives.

“One oppa!” scream long-time fans that he doesn’t have the heart to tell are wasting their time.

His manager is nowhere to be seen. Jaewon follows the lead of an Mnet employee he recognises from last year, up through the crowds to a flimsy little sign up desk where he signs his name on the dotted line. The disapproving tuts that erupt in the line behind him tell him everything he needs to know about privileged treatment, he must not be the first special case to pass their way.

Ignore them, had been Hanbin’s advise on dealing with the dispossessed masses of a hiphop scene that unwittingly spun itself into existence for the sake of idols who will never share their values. Trouble is Hanbin can’t take his own medicine, the kid absorbs negative energy like a sponge.

What Jaewon can do, is accept the things he cannot change. With a big name record label comes an unprecedented level of scrutiny. He doesn’t begrudge anyone their distaste for the system in which he chooses to operate, but no amount of lucky breaks can prepare a person for what it feels like to be on in the inside looking out.

“I hear the new YG girl group’s debuting soon. Been practicing your choreo?” Seo Chulgoo jeers as Jaewon makes his way to his spot in the line.

He nearly says something, snapping back at taunts is as easy a route towards soothing his nerves as any other day. But Jaewon also knows a thing or two about showing weakness, and retaliation without pause for thought is the easiest litmus test of them all.

Jaewon says nothing. He tucks in his chin so the brim of his hat fully masks his face, and fluffs up his jacket to hide his frame.

He gets Dok2 as a judge. Of course he does. It’s something of a relief if he’s being honest, the diminutive millionaire might be ostensibly harder to please, but Jaewon has a safety net, and it’s the first time all day someone has managed to speak to him without commenting on how attractive he is.

The trouble with growing up pretty is that you get to know the effect you have on people very quickly. Once you are made fully aware of your genetic disposition towards reducing other people to their basest desires and blunders in your presence, you can either use it to your advantage or try to rise above it.

For all too long, Jaewon took the low road. He has to admit, disarming people with a smile is a gratifying super power to live with. But after a time everything else he did came to feel diminished by the seemingly unstoppable torrent of attention given to the even tone of his skin, the strong line of his jaw, his wide eyes…

Jaewon doesn’t mind one bit that people like him for his face, that doesn’t stop him wanting to be more than that.

The point being, he passes. Perhaps not with flying colours, but Dok2 hands him a chain and moves on, to the irritation of other contestants desperate for their big chance. Jaewon grimaces and turns away, because he knows he can’t help the situation much. He heads through the corridors that make up the inner workings of the preposterously huge stadium in which Show Me The Money has to hold its auditions till he finds another desk, with another form to sign.

Other contestants, already passed, mill around like they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Jaewon has to remind himself that filming anything is always a messy business and Mnet probably doesn’t have the staff to babysit the cameras as well as the talent.

He receives a few respectful nods from some of the bigger names he’s currently sharing air with. G2 and Bizniz acknowledge him duly, Sanchez and Taewoon even offer smiles, but no one comes dashing over to say hello.

Jaewon doesn’t have any friends in this playground. He fishes out his phone and tries to resist the temptation to text Samuel.

“You did alright then?”

Jaewon almost starts when Seo Chulgoo steps into his personal space, that’s another part of not showing weakness. The rapper cuts a more intimidating figure than he remembers, a little gangly but still one of the tallest people in the room.

It’s one thing to have someone shit talking you outside the arena, and quite another to have to deal with them up close and personal. Chulgoo is smart enough to work out that proximity to the closest thing YG Entertainment has to a golden boy in this competition is hardly going to hurt his chances of staying in, and principled enough to eschew any glory that he didn’t bring his own way.

Point being, Jaewon refuses to trust him, “what are you talking to me for?”

“What, I can’t say hi?” Chulgoo replies, voice flat. His expression is unreadable and his eyes bore into Jaewon’s with unprecedented intensity. It’s not like they have to start from nothing, they know each other from last year. Not all that well, but they know each other.
Jaewon does his best not to shrink into himself, “you didn’t seem so keen to chat earlier.”

“That was earlier,” Chulgoo shrugs, “if a little thing like that throws you off, you probably aren’t cut out for the rest of this.”

He speaks in a manner so matter of fact, so completely devoid of malice or taunting, that Jaewon has difficulty lining up the man standing before him with the heckler he had passed in the line. Chulgoo doesn’t play games, or so he had thought.

“You did well.” Jaewon tells him, because he can’t think of anything smart to say to break the tension. He hadn’t even heard Chulgoo’s verse in the main hall, but he doesn’t need to. He’s invariably on fantastic form, and he passed, what more is there to say.

“I always do well.”

“You’re reliable like that.”

“Not entirely,” the ghost of a smirk graces Chulgoo’s face, “you though, I know exactly what to expect from you.”

“What do you remember about them from last year?” Jaewon asks, tongue in his cheek, hoping that he doesn’t sound too desperate.

From the other end of the studio, Minho blinks at him, “remember about who from where?”

“The contestants from Show Me The Money! Taewoon, BeWHy, Seo Chulgoo, MyunDO, Jung Sansoo”

“Oh!” a pleased look of comprehension spread over Minho’s face, but is quickly replaced by the furrowed brows of serious consideration, “erm I mean I didn’t even meet MyunDO he’s been a complete non entity for the last few seasons from what I can tell.”

“Yeah well you didn’t see him today,” Jaewon tries not to sound too dejected when he speaks, judging by Minho’s expression he fails.

“Listen, you’ll be fine, the company has your back and-“

“That’s not the point,” Jaewon realises his voice has raised a second too late and takes a deep breath to calm himself down, “I know that I’ve got a safety net to keep me up and trust me, I’m not complaining, but the show’s still free to make me look like an idiot. I wanna be good enough that I don’t need the safety net.”

Minho nods along thoughtfully, then tips back in his chair and stares at the ceiling like he’s thinking on the matter of authenticity very hard indeed.

Jaewon likes that Minho takes his time with things. He’s never particularly quick off the mark, some might even say he was dim-witted, but if he’s given enough time he’ll arrive at just the conclusion he needs to arrive at. He is an unashamed tortoise in a world filled with hares.

“The one vs one round is your first chance to really play tactically. Pick someone easy, don’t try to showboat too much. Keep it clear and simple. Taewoon’s not all that bad but Mnet doesn’t like him, so if you go against him you’ll have a pretty good shot at getting through. Jung Sansoo is an ass, there’s no way they’ll let him into the final sixteen again. BeWHy is…probably gonna win this?”

Minho looks over at Jaewon who nods in reluctant ascension, “right, so don’t go up against him at all if you can help it. You should go ask Hanbin about Cjamm.”

“I’m not trying to beat CJamm or BeWHY, I’m just trying not to make a fool out of myself,” Jaewon shrugs.

Minho grins back at him, “an admirable goal! Best way to manage that is not to go up against Seo Chugoo in the team diss battle, whoever has to be on the other end of him is gonna be licking their wounds for a long time.”

“I have no intention of getting involved with anyone from ADV,” Jaewon says, and shoots Minho a grimace that says it all, “Chulgoo’s weird as well. You remember that silent, expressionless thing he had going on last year? Yeah well that hasn’t changed, only this time round he seems to want to bother me.”

Minho wiggles his eyebrows suggestively. Jaewon makes a face, “not like that! Jesus…”

“You never know!”

“I don’t wanna know.”

“Aww,” Minho reaches forward to ruffle Jaewon’s hair, “well if you need any help staying away from your big bad boyfriend, just ask Gunhee, he’ll help you out.”

“First of all,” Jaewon says from between gritted teeth that do little to mask the fact that he’s smiling despite himself, “he’s not my boyfriend. Second, your cousin couldn’t hurt a fly. Third, I completely forgot to kick your ass for showing up at the auditions but not coming over to say hi.”

“What can I say? Blood is thicker than water.”

“Being that handsome is basically cheating,” Simon D announces as Jaewon steps out onstage, alone in front of the judges.

The trouble is, he’s not wrong, and Jaewon feels a complicated mix of guilt and frustration bearing down on him that is only intensified by Zion T’s insistence on droning on and on about the exact qualities that make his face so very appealing.

Part of him thinks he should remind them that he cannot help being pretty, and people cannot help liking a pretty face. That’s not entirely true though, he can’t help his fundamental features, but Jaewon has styling teams and real money and years of careful training teaching him how to show his best angels just so. It’s impossible to take visuals out of the equation for a stage like this without removing the essential element of performance, and so it’s impossible to know how good he really is.

As things stand, he is three passes good, or two and a half, depending on how you think about it. It’s something of a moot point, when regardless of Mad Clown’s approval he would have passed anyway. Dok2 has the good graces to let The Quiett fail him rather than retract his initial approval. They ask him about his nerves and he shows them all his shaking hands.

It’s always easiest to go into these things with your feet of clay held high, that way people know you’re not overcompensating. He gets to progress relatively unscathed.

It’s not till the next day that he finds out Chulgoo only managed two passes.

Jaewon doesn’t understand the fascination with America that seems to grip every Korean rapper he encounters. Well, he understands the need to stare longingly across the ocean at the great hiphop motherland, but they all use it as an unattainable benchmark that they must forever flagellate themselves before.

For Jaewon, his greatest rival has always been himself. Sometimes it’s his shaking palms, struggling to hold the mic steady, or a blank mind that refuses to vomit the words he knows he has hidden in the depths of his many layers of clothing. Mostly though, it’s himself from two years ago, six months back, last week, that he seeks to challenge. The fool who thought the rhymes at the front of his notebook were worthy. He will rest in pieces before he rests on his laurels.

All the same, he can’t help but get caught up in the collective awe that sweeps the room when the American contestants step out. There’s a chubby guy smiling like he’s just happy to be there, a guy so handsome he might just distract attention from Jaewon’s face, and an older looking guy who’s face is vaguely familiar.

“Flowsik,” the crowd whispers excitedly. Jaewon knows the name, knows the work. His heart sinks with the thought that their victory has been collectively snatched from them by the apparition of an icon.

Two of them, Flowsik and Killahgramz (the chubby guy) fall in with the top grade rappers, the guys good enough to earn four passes. You don’t get to cross the ocean unless you’re that good. Junoflow (the handsome guy) hangs back to be called with the rest of them with three passes.

Then they name and shame the one pass rappers, then those with two passes. Jaewon feels disproportionately satisfied watching Seo Chulgoo step out under a tier lower than him, that’s progress, if nothing else.

“One!” the host calls, and Jaewon leaves the now empty stage on which he stands. What a relief, to be made an example of. He bows deep and skips into line.

It takes two hours of refilming and reshuffling to get it right. In the final broadcast, Mnet show them splitting off into their tiers before the Americans even arrive. Jaewon’s disappointed, they miss so much of the excitement. The only benefit of doing things this way round is to watch Superbee trail in after them, unexpected and enthralled by the stir he causes. Spectacle, of course, is always the bottom line in these situations.

Once the television audience have gotten the gasps and laughs that Mnet is so sure they deserve, the real work begins. They have to cypher, as a tier. Everyone stepping forward to take the mic and say their piece.

There are jeers through the crowd, people snapping at Seo Chulgoo not to drop the mic this time. They are said with the same impunity that he had graced Jaewon with waiting to shuffle into the stadium and be judged for the first time this year, but they are like water off a ducks back.

Words don’t stick to Seo Chulgoo, so he forgets that other people are less well prepared for the coming storm. He dolls out sentences that bite and clauses that sting, because he doesn’t think it matters. Maybe Jaewon is too sensitive.

It’s with not inconsiderable discomfort that the bottom tier rappers file out to the stage, ready to put themselves to shame. The pressure helps some of them for sure, but it holds others back. Jaewon winces internally at a lot of their material, though he’s sure a lot of people agree with the kid who says he wants to fight Superbee.

When they’re done, Jaewon realises that there are no more women left to perform that day. It feels like the sort of thing someone should kick up a fuss about, and so no one says anything.

The second tier do better, obviously, though it helps their cause that they are buoyed along by a performance designed to look out of place in a lower ranking group, by Seo Chulgoo. He does most of it in English, and Jaewon can only assume he makes sense to the Americans littering the studio as they nod along enthusiastically with the rest of them.

Jaewon doesn’t understand jack shit. He gets regular English lessons at YG but they never seem to do him much good. Jiwon says that the stuff they teach them in class is too formal, which would explain why it’s such a challenge to filter through the seemingly never ending slang that peppers the lyrics of American hiphop. Not that that’s a bad thing, just frustrating from his side of the line.

The more rappers step up to the mic, the worse they get, or maybe that’s just Jaewon’s nerves. He has stuff prepared, Mnet always make sure to give them warning when they need to prepare a little extra in the way of lyrics but that doesn’t make it any less stressful to perform and make it look spontaneous. They’re supposed to freestyle, if they can, but he can’t, so he has to trust his tongue to not trip over itself rather than trusting his mind not to go blank.

The second tier finish, everyone claps politely, a few people clap Seo Chulgoo on the back as he falls in with the audience, grinning wide. Jaewon shuffles towards the stage, doing his best to smile, trying to pretend his palms aren’t sweaty.

The Watcher is a pretty good beat to get, he supposes. It’s a classic of schoolboy circles, trying to be cool with their formulaic rhymes and weak wordplay. He knows it, that’s a positive he’s willing to take.

Snacky Chan appears to have the crowd attentive and waiting before he even starts, their adoration feeding his arrogance and justifying the lazy swagger with which he performs. Jaewon will get none of that.

Then Donutman, and Jung Sansoo, the handsome American rapper and a guy with frizzy hair who Jaewon doesn’t know but who knows what to do with the mic in his hands. They all seem so good, so very much above the majority of the rappers from the group before. He feels like he is standing at the foot of a mountain, trying to reach the peak in the space of time it will take for him to be shoved to the front.

At least when the moment hits he vomits words instead of the contents of his stomach, though it’s a pretty close call. He flubs, repeats, flubs, repeats again. Jaewon’s brain is blank and his tongue trips, his hands shaking so profoundly that he dare not keep them still for fear his tremors will be seen.

“Hyeong, do you want to go for a drink?” Jaewon asks as soon as he spies Seo Chulgoo creeping up on him after the cyphers are done. Let him deal with that, see if he can handle fake intimacy.

He can. Of course he can, water off a duck’s back. Chulgoo reaches out to put a seemingly reassuring hand on Jaewon’s shoulder, “why? What’s wrong?”

He’s not supposed to be comforting, but he is. The world seems to shrink, until the chatter of the studio and the memory of words misspoken are background concerns, and suddenly it’s not a game anymore. Jaewon needs emotional support, who is he to turn it down if it comes trotting over and calls his bluff? Some part of Chulgoo’s façade has to be real, he’ll trust it’s the part that’s slightly less of an arsehole.

“I feel like crying. I’m so embarrassed,” Jaewon tells him. More of the truth than he’d meant to spill. He won’t learn till later that as all this happens, the cameras are still rolling.

“Go drink with Reddy hyeong,” Chulgoo says brightly.

Jaewon doesn’t get it, “who?”


Chulgoo is wearing the same smile he walked over with, it still looks like a face that Jaewon should be able to trust. But he doesn’t miss the implication, Reddy botched his lyrics too, though he didn’t seem so fussed by it. He has years of clear shots to make up for it.

Right now though, Jaewon refuses to take shame for an answer, “I’m serious. I wanna get hammered. Come out with me after recording’s done.”

“Ok,” Chulgoo’s smile is unchanging. He doesn’t ask why, or point out that the shared contents of all the conversations he and Jaewon have ever had together could be squeezes into the time frame of a kpop music video.

Going out tonight I’ll be back late Jaewon texts his manager as he waits for the cameras to power down so they can all go free

If you’re not in your bed at 7am tomorrow I’m going to skin you she replies. Which is about as close as she ever gets to approving extracurricular activities.

Seo Chulgoo drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, which isn’t to say he can handle alcohol or cigarettes very well. By two in the morning he’s got Jaewon in an affectionate sort of headlock, crooning idol songs in a voice rough with excess smoke as they wander through the streets of Hongdae with the vague intention of heading to NB2.

“I work with AOA y’know,” he mumbles, like it’s nothing, “nice girls.”

Jaewon has had just enough alcohol for the idea of pushing Chulgoo up against a wall and sticking his tongue in his mouth to sound kinda appealing. Kinda. He’s cute in an empty sort of way, blank slate, waiting for your imagination to fill it. But he’s still in possession of enough of his senses to know no good can come of drunken make out sessions with someone he doesn’t like that much when sober.

So instead he indulges the obvious lead, “you ever…do stuff with them?” Jaewon asks.

“Nah. S’a working relationship. Everyone always asks me that. You saying you would hit on someone you were working with like that?”

Jaewon shakes his head, “I don’t like girls like that.”

Normally, people flinch a little when Jaewon is bold enough to mention is sexuality in black and white terms. It is, at bare minimum, a bit of a shock. Chulgoo doesn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary though, he continues like it’s normal, and that alone is enough to make him all the more likeable, “see, I like girls, and they’re pretty and all. But they’re just nice? Ya know? I don’t wanna date them.”

“What a responsible straight boy.”

Chulgoo pulls Jaewon in close enough to whisper sloppily in his ear, “I said I like girls. Didn’t say I was straight.”

The drunken parts of Jaewon’s brain that think kissing ostensibly good looking, tall, broad shouldered, steady handed, weirdly charismatic rappers in the dark go into overdrive. He knows he’ll regret every treacherous thought about it come the morning, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an effort to quiet them down, even as Chulgoo relaxes his grip so that they’re no longer pressed against each other.

“I tell you what’s weird,” Chulgoo hums, “there are never any women on Show Me The Money. Or like, there are but they never get anywhere so it doesn’t count.”

“Yeah,” Jaewon nods along but he has nothing to add. It’s an observation, he doesn’t know how to be angry about it.

Chulgoo does, hardening around the edges with alarming rapidity, the thought of injustice freezing his features in stone, “its pretty fucked up. They boot all the female rapper out, put them on Unpretty Rapstar, and make it look like they were shit all along. They’re not shit. Not all the time. There’s gonna be a few female rappers on the scene who can do better than you.”

Jaewon frowns, “what does that mean?”

“You’re coasting,” Chulgoo shrugs, “what do you want me to say? We’re not drinking because you did well today.”

Speaking of drink, Jaewon decides he needs more. They duck into a convenience store for soju, and drink it on the street. Chulgoo hops from topic to topic, offering his opinion so quickly that it’s an effort to keep up with which matter matches which grievance. He has swallowed the world and all its problems, and it determined to spit them back out again one by one.

Jaewon doesn’t pay attention like that. He sits back and listens, trying to osmose as much second hand outrage as can be managed. Come the next morning he won’t remember much past the streetlights glinting off Chulgoo’s teeth as he opened his mouth to deliver one of any number of cutting blows, but at least when his manager comes to get him at seven, he’s safely tucked up in bed.

Eventually, the dwindling chances of Jaewon getting a decent placement on Show Me The Money have to go into a nosedive, but wouldn’t it be nice if the honeymoon lasted forever?

Jaewon can feel the rest of the competition slipping away from him with the words. With his credibility. With his good standing at YG. For a moment he steps back, resigned to watch Lee Gyuhwan take the stage and wipe him off it. That would be the easy way out, that would be the honourable thing to do.

Show Me The Money is easy enough on him without him doing the work for it. The image of his manager, reminding him that it doesn’t matter how well he does, he’ll be fine either way.

“Barring serious fuck ups,” she had qualified brightly, just that morning. Jaewon knows that she’s just doing her job, just trying to be kind, but he wishes she’d shut up.

He goes again, cutting across Lee Gyuhwan before he’s had time to say his piece. Right now, it matters more to Jaewon that he is heard and not seen, and even once the cameras are off and his opponent slumps off in defeat, the sting of regret that he’s sure should follow never comes.

If he was Lee Gyuhwan, Jaewon would be furious, as would half the viewership. That’s the value of being unheard of, people don’t care when big names cross boundaries with you.

The judges barely bring it up, “why did you do that?” is about the most they can manage.

“I would have regretted it if I hadn’t,” Jaewon answers. That’s the truth, but it was supposed to be a choice between regret then or regret later. Lee Gyuhwan accepts his defeat with good graces, and the only thing Jaewon feels is relief that despite his brush with serious fuck ups, he’s still standing.

“That was cold,” Chulgoo tells him as they pass on Jaewon’s way back to the dressing rooms, “and you were still shit.”

“You weren’t so great yourself.”

Chulgoo shrugs, “we’re still here, aren’t we?”

Every broadcast building he’s ever been in has had narrow corridors, Jaewon always assumed that was to make it harder to cameramen to run full tilt with expensive studio property hitched up on their shoulders. But right now there are no cameras around, no one to bear witness to the two of them exchanging scathing pleasantries, and there still doesn’t feel like there’s enough space.

Chulgoo is once again in his personal space, looming large. Jaewon sucks in a breath and does his best to straighten his back. He refuses to be intimidated. He refuses to remember the drunk haze of a memory of a thought of kissing Seo Chulgoo on the streets of Hongdae.

“Good luck finding a team,” Chulgoo mutters. Then he’s gone, marching off to wherever his feet must take him. And all the world opens up around Jaewon.

Song Gunhee is like Song Minho on a sugar rush – friendly, filled to bursting with energy, and unable to shut up.

“You did so well in the last round though man,” he says around a mouthful of something sweet and carb filled that probably has no place in an idol dorm, “so fucking good you killed it.”

“Thanks?” Jaewon says, and accepts the hug that Gunhee goes to pull him into, “I mean, I really didn’t do my best, but thanks.”

They’re standing in the middle of the Winner dorm, trying to make small talk as Minho runs around gathering together his crack team of Show Me The Money advisors while Taehyun looks on from his spot on the couch and doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he would rather this meeting took place anywhere other than his home.

“Hey, top form or not you were the bomb. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to go against you or I would be out on my ass by now.” Gunhee grins. Then the door swings open, and in come a troop of people ready to save Jaewon from having to self-deprecate himself any further.

“One-sshi!” Tablo cries, kicking off his shoes and marching over to shake his hand, “long time no see. Nice to meet you Gunhee.”

“Are we speaking formally now?” Jaewon asks, somewhat taken aback.

Tablo winks at him, “of course not, I’m just pulling your leg.”

Following behind Tablo comes Hanbin and Olltii, the former looking tired as ever despite his rigidly straight back and the latter positively buzzing with energy.

“Wassup, good to meet you guys,” Olltii says, exchanging high fives with both Jaewon and Gunhee, “I hear you’re are in need of a little advice.”

“God, yes,” Gunhee breathes, “and can I just say it’s really great to meet you, I’m a big fan.”

“Aww no way,” Olltii’s smile hitches up a little higher.

Hanbin rolls his eyes, “so what do you want to know?”

Jaewon shrugs, “I dunno, whatever you can tell us I guess.”

“I can tell you that Hanbin needs half an hour in the bathroom every morning to make his hair lie flat,” Olltii says very matter of factly. Hanbin tries to poke him in the side but he’s too quick and pulls himself out of the way at the last moment, cackling.

In all seriousness, Jaewon has no idea how talking to people who have done this before is supposed to help. No one in this room has the power to change anyone’s opinion of him on the show, or to convince the producer’s to give him a better chunk of the script. He has to do that for himself or not at all.

Jiwon’s not even here. They have a past winner in their grasp and he’s too busy to put in an appearance.

Gunhee is eager to listen though, and is filled with questions. “How do you stop yourself getting too excited on stage?”

“There’s no such thing as getting too excited when you perform, you’re trying to share your excitement with everyone,” Tablo tells him.

“He has a shouting problem,” Minho informs the room at large to Gunhee’s obvious embarrassment.

Olltii crashes down onto the sofa, at the opposite end from where Taehyun is still giving all of them the stink eye, and drags Hanbin down to join him “Just like this one then,”

Hanbin does not look amused, “I don’t shout that much…”

“Aww babe it’s alright you know I love you no matter how hard you scream.”

This is apparently the final straw for Taehyun, who stands up very quickly and to Olltii’s amusement skulks off muttering about filthy minded rappers.

Minho slides into the newly opened spot on the sofa, Tablo drops to the floor and indicates that Gunhee and Jaewon should join him. “You just gotta give it your all,” he tells them, simply, “the best advice I’ve ever given on Show Me The Money was that the audience are the most important people you can perform to. So don’t let yourself make mistakes in front of them that you wouldn’t make in front of other people.”

“You say that, but even with my company’s support I’ve got my work cut out convincing Mad Clown hyeong to choose me,” Gunhee says glumly.

“Right, but for now Mad Clown is part of your audience. So perform for him now and when the time comes, perform for everyone else.”

“I perform for myself,” Jaewon cuts in before he can think better of it. Olltii shoots him a thumbs up by way of approval.

Tablo fixes Jaewon with an uncomfortably serious stare, “then you better not disappoint yourself.”

Two days later, the choosing of the teams is looming large and the lack of any track to prepare for is sending Jaewon stir crazy in the trainee dorms. His manager had carefully cleared his schedule over the course of Show Me The Money filming in order to give him more time to focus on the show, but this gap with nothing to do is now proving to be a problem.

As a result, he spends increasingly long hours draped around the iKON dorm, begging for the boys to entertain him.

“You know, you could go bother Winner for a change,” Junhoe says, coming into the kitchen to find Jaewon eating breakfast with Hanbin for the third day in a row.

Jaewon shakes his head, “no way, Taehyun wants to kill me and Seunghoon usually smells weird. Besides, he’s allowed to stay,” he uses a spoon to point towards Olltii, who’s happily sat next to Hanbin, wolfing down rice like there’s no tomorrow.

Junhoe pulls a face like he’d rather send Olltii packing, but a sharp glare from Hanbin changes his tune, “significant others are allowed, everyone else is just stealing our food.”

“Oh I’m definitely stealing your food,” Olltii beams, rice filling out his cheeks, “but I mean if you wanna give me food stealing privileges just because I give Hanbin the good dick then be my guest.”

“You’re disgusting,” Junhoe hisses, before shuffling over to the counter to start working on a cup of coffee.

“Oi, make me some coffee!” Jiwon crows from somewhere down the corridor.

This is followed by a soft thump, then a loud thump, then Jinhwan swearing loudly, then Jiwon’s feet slapping hard against the wooden floors as he scurries towards the kitchen. “Hey man,” he grins, collapsing into the chair next to Jiwon and pulling him into a one armed hug, “sorry I couldn’t make it to the great pep talk the other day.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Jaewon says, returning the hug as best he can with a bowl of cereal in play, “but maybe you can make it up to me by putting your kid in his place.”

Jiwon spies Junhoe faffing around on the other side of the kitchen and immediately breaks out into giggles, “what’s he done now.”

“He’s trying to claim that in order to be granted eating asylum in this flat, you have to be fucking someone who lives here,” Olltii informs him.

Jiwon shakes his head, “how cruel.”

Junhoe sniffs, “I’m just saying, we’d run out of side dishes a whole lot less if it was just the seven of us eating them.”

“He’s got a point,” Jiwon turns back to Jaewon, “like I feel for you man, but I can’t live without food.”

“You know, all you would have to do to escape this mess would be to start dating one of us,” Hanbin says in his best serious leader voice, but his eyes are twinkling like he expects someone to call his bluff at any moment.

Suppressing a smirk, Jaewon nods along with him, “You’re right. Is Jiwon single?”

“Can you imagine anyone dating him?”

“Good point.”

“I may be single, bur word on the street is you’re not,” Jiwon punctuates the statement with a slurp of the freshly made coffee that Junhoe has just passed him and winds up spluttering around a burnt tongue.

Hanbin’s eyebrows raise, “you’re seeing someone?”

“Not as far as I can remember,” Jaewon spares Jiwon a glance out of the corner of his eye, “that’s a weak excuse dude.”

“Donggap said you left with Seo Chulgoo the other night”

This time it’s Olltii’s turn to splutter, “Chulgoo? You’re fucking around with Chulgoo? Motherfucker didn’t tell me I’m gonna kick his ass.”

Olltii reaches into his pocket to get at his phone, but Hanbin smoothly snatches it out of his hands before any damage can be dealt, “First of all, you’ve never been in a fight you couldn’t lose. And just in case you weren’t listening five seconds ago, Jaewon’s not dating anyone. Jiwon’s just being an ass.”

“I’m not being an ass! That’s seriously what Donggap told me.”

“I can’t believe you’re still on contact with Illionaire,” Jaewon shakes his head in disbelief, “anyway, just to clear this up, I did leave with Seo Chulgoo the other night, but we just went for a drink.”

“Huh,” Olltii sits back in his chair and stares determinedly into the middle distance like this new influx of non-information requires some serious processing. Jaewon’s never seen him so calm, and for all of ten seconds it looks like he might have actually shut up for the time being.

No such luck.

“So how are you finding Chulgoo?” Olltii coos, leaning in as far as he can and grinning wide at Jaewon.

Jaewon flicks through possible answers in his mind, trying to pick the one that will lead to the fewest follow up questions. “He’s…fine? Bit weird, doesn’t really know what personal space is, better rapper than me. You know how it is.”

“Doesn’t know what personal space is, eh?”

Jaewon curses internally, that was definitely not what he’d meant to say. He doesn’t react though, except to inform Olltii that he was just referring to Chulgoo’s habit of appearing out of nowhere to loom over him. He doesn’t mention how small the corridor had felt the last time they met, or the thrill that had run down his spine with whispered implications of queerness.

“Maybe he does like you after all,” Olltii laughs, “c’mon, gimme your phone and I’ll give you his number.”

“I’m never gonna call him,” Jaewon whines, but he passes his phone over all the same. If there’s one thing he’s learned about Olltii, it’s that it’s easier to go along with his ideas and get them out of the way than spend all day arguing about them.

Olltii snatches his phone back from Hanbin and starts frantically clicking around between the two. Next to him, Jiwon decides that the coffee has cooled enough and chugs the whole lot in one go.

“There you go,” Olltii slides Jaewon’s phone back to him with a worryingly straight face.

Jaewon groans, “what did you do?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

With a sinking stomach, Jaewon opens up Kakao and sees that a new chat has been opened with a Seo Chulgoo. There is only one message in there. From him, reading hey there babycakes, this is one from smtm. Hmu sometime bigboy xoxoxox

“What the fuck?” Jaewon snaps. Olltii’s straight face breaks and he bursts into mighty guffaws.

Quickly, he rattles off a clarification to Chulgoo that wasn’t me it was olltii. Sorry

It takes all of ten seconds for him to reply oh yeah that makes sense. He’s a dick sometimes, sorry

And then you with him and hanbin?


Lmao hanbin lets him get away with murder

“See, you guys are getting along great,” Jiwon cackles.

“Shut up!” Jaewon snaps, and everyone laughs, “hey listen, just because he’s alright on Kakao doesn’t mean he’s not weird in real life.”

Olltii agrees, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Jaewon doesn’t leave for his own dorm until well into the afternoon. By that point his conversation with Chulgoo is pages and pages long, and Olltii has a smug expression that suggests he knows.

Sometimes the difference between what Jaewon wants and what Jaewon can have is too much. The procession of people being led out of the shadows offset to stand in front of their chosen door and wait to be judged moves erratically, so that the producers trying to keep track of who goes where have their job cut out for them.

Jaewon tries to be patient, but the foot he sets tapping away the seconds till he is allowed to walk out onto the soundstage and let fortune and scripting have their way with him gives him away.

“That PD looks ready to fight you,” Gunhee hisses in his ear. Jaewon looks over and, sure enough, an Mnet employee in a worn out SMTM2 baseball cap is staring him down.

Gunhee snickers, Jaewon joins in with him, because it’s easier that admitting he’s frustrated.

“You know where you’re headed to?” Jaewon asks.

“Mad Clown and Gil,” Gunhee brings his feet together and salutes in the general direction of his desired team door, “I’m not taking any chances on this one.”

“I thought Mad Clown didn’t like you.”

“He doesn’t, but I’m here on the company ticket, so…”

Jaewon has to pause to think about that. Company influence is everything keeping him afloat right now, and the right company can work wonders for your career. The previous evening, Kush had called him to let him know that if he stood at the YG door today, he would be fine, they would make sure he had a clear run to the final eight.

It would be so easy, and yet, Jaewon doesn’t see himself succumbing to nepotism quite that thoroughly.

“YG haven’t done shit for me,” he mutters.

Gunhee rests a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, “man, Starship have been the fucking worst. But I’m the fool who signed the contract.”

Foolish actions always come back to bite you in the ass, but risk taking can pay off. Jaewon decides to defy the recommendations of his manager and the scriptwriters, and goes to stand in front of Team AOMG’s door. First time round, the doors fly up and they are sitting firmly at the other end of their runway, reluctant to choose him and surprised that he is there at all. Two doors down, Kush stares at the empty space in front of him in bewilderment.

The second time round though, Jaewon finds himself welcomed into his chosen fold with open arms. This time they don’t reshoot.

Jaewon stands at the side of the road, with three rappers he barely knows and a full Mnet production team trying to film them in what is supposed to be a candid moment. They stand around awkwardly, trying to find something to talk about.

BewhY is stony faced, here for the stages but untrained in what to do when cameras are pointed at his face for other reasons. He’s not the sort of person that would get much attention from television if he wasn’t a good rapper, his face is too much, bulging teeth and eyes that don’t appeal to the sort of people who croon over how attractive Jaewon is.

Day Day is vaguely familiar from the previous year, and Jaewon only knows G2 as ‘that guy with the blonde dreads’.

“This is ridiculous,” G2 mutters conspiratorially into Jaewon’s ear as Day Day tries to coax BewhY into saying anything at all.

It breaks some of the tension between the two of them, and before long G2 is recounting the tale of how he went from living in Texas to rapping in Korea.

“I didn’t even know Korean people lived in Texas,” Jaewon immediately feels stupid for speaking. Texas is huge, it’s bound to have people from all over the place living there.

Luckily, G2 is nice enough not to be an ass over stupid comments. Whether it’s because he’s naturally more subdued that most other rappers Jaewon has met or because he’s still recovering from the loss of his appendix, he comes across as very calm and down to earth. “Swings grew up in Texas as well. There’s more of us than you would think.”

Jaewon likes him. “Jaewon,” he says, offering out a hand to shake by way of proper introduction.

G2 takes it, his handshake is firm, “Kevin.”

A car pulls up in front of the four of them, and the cameras immediately start whirring. Kevin throws an arm around Jaewon’s shoulders and summons his best grin. Jaewon leans into him, just a little, enjoying the feeling of having someone deciding to be nice to him just because.

Simon D and Gray step out of the car, they say hello then whisk BewhY and Kevin away with them, citing lack of seating space as the reason they can’t take all four of them at once.

Kevin apologises, and waves at Jaewon through the window, but soon enough he’s pulling away.

Day Day falls into the space created by their departed team mates, “fuck.”

Jaewon agrees with him, but he has little else to say. They sit in silence most of the way to their destination. His phone buzzes in his pocket, like somewhere out there, someone knows that he’s in desperate need of distraction.

How’s your day going? It’s Chulgoo

Shit. Yours?

Not great.

It can only get worse. They arrive in Incheon and are immediately confronted by a set of six quad bikes demanding that driving licenses be shown before they can be driven. Jaewon shakes his head and backs away, “I can’t ride then.”

Day Day hangs back with him, the two of them trying to ignore the awkward tension that refuses to stop building as they are left behind with the remaining bikes.

Jaewon pulls out his phone and snaps a selfie of himself next to an unused bike. He sends it to Samuel with the caption someday you’ll be old enough to drive your hyeong around on one of these, to Hanbin with YG would never make us get a license to ride, and to Chulgoo as an afterthought.

That looks like fun. Chulgoo replies

I can’t ride, don’t have a license

*you can’t ride a bike

Jaewon blinks at his phone, trying to work out if Chulgoo is implying what he thinks he is implying. For a moment, he debates asking Day Day if he has an opinion on the matter, but decides that would definitely be too much. This, of all things, is what the winking smiley face is for.

Can you? Is all he can think to say

Can I what?

Ride a bike?

Oh yeah ;)

All of a sudden, Jaewon feels butterflies flooding his intestines. He doesn’t like it.

After leaving the two of them twenty minutes to stew in the unfairness of not being able to head out on the bikes, the group swings back for Jaewon and Day Day. Kevin offers to take Jaewon on the back of his bike but gets refused by Simon D and Gray.

“You guys look a million bucks,” Simon D calls, leering as Jaewon pulls himself up to sit behind Gray.

Jaewon bristles internally, but he feels better about it when Gray rolls his eyes and informs him in a hushed tone that Simon D “really likes pretty boys”.

“Must be difficult with you and Jay Park around.”

“You have no idea.”

The bikes are fun, kinda. Jaewon doesn’t feel like he was missing out on all that much standing by back where they started trying not to think about how he should be talking to Day Day. He supposes most of the fun comes from being the one driving. He is forced to perch, leaning back to avoid placing any stray hands at Gray’s waist, because comfortable as that might be it would be weird as hell.

His newly acquired butterflies suggest that if Gray were Chulgoo, he would have free reign to put his hands wherever he liked. Jaewon brushes the thought aside and determinedly tries to think about anything but the way the world seems to shrink when Chulgoo steps into his personal space.

“I reckon One will be the first to leave,” Day Day announces over a horribly staged lunch. Jaewon bites his tongue and nods along, convinced that he wouldn’t be saying that if the script hadn’t dictated him.

Still, he doesn’t like it.

“Me too,” Kevin concedes, and then, like he might be trying to soften the blow, “he was the last to join.”

And finally BewhY “Yeah it’ll be One.”

Simon D smirks at Jaewon across the table, “One, I guess it’s you. But don’t worry, you’re handsome. You’ll be fine.”

Jaewon just keeps nodding, just keeps biting, any harder and he’ll taste blood. It’s ok, he tells himself, he hasn’t been on top form so far, it’s only fair that he get some fair criticism. And yet, as he sits there surrounded by naysayers, Kevin looking like he doesn’t want anything to do with this and Simon D looking smug as shit, he can’t help but feel he’s been set up.

“Sorry,” Kevin mumbles sheepishly as they’re bundled into the back of another car and taken to eat at another restaurant, “In the interview I told them that I felt bad about saying it.”

“It’s fine,” Jaewon shrugs, “I could totally do better.”

“Thanks for being cool about it.”

They file into the chosen restaurant and spend the first half hour eating for the cameras, “so we have good framing material,” a producer explains. Jaewon tries to sit back and enjoy it, not least because his manager isn’t on set and so there’s no one to stop him from eating as much as he likes, but glancing between Simon D and Gray, he sees their TV smiles slipping further down their faces and his gut tells him that something is up.

“We’re getting rid of one of you and replacing him with one of the eliminated contestants.” Simon D announces.

For a horrible moment, Jaewon forgets how to breathe. He knows, of course he knows, how could he not? That Show Me The Money has always been a hotbed of terrible decisions and foul play, but he’s gotten so far, and has so much left to show, and in that moment all he can think about is five faces staring back at him, telling him that he could do better.

“I’m gonna throw up,” BewhY whispers. Jaewon nearly snaps at him that he has nothing to worry about.

They all know it’s not fair, but Kevin is the one who speaks up, “we worked hard to be here, swapping us out with someone who got eliminated isn’t fair,” he informs Simon D and Gray, so matter of fact and simple. Jaewon feels a rush of affection towards him, and desperately hopes that he won’t be dragged out of his calm, no nonsense aura just yet.

The judges argue with the producers, when the producers fight back Simon D goes off on a spiel about how it’s not fair that they should eliminate Jaewon. Like it’s already decided, like all the conversations that led them here went on behind his back.

“The replacement is already here,” a producer snaps. And that seems to be the end of it. Simon D and Gray get up and leave, seemingly as annoyed as the rest of them about the position they now find themselves in. Jaewon feels like he should be going with them, there’s no point waiting around to have his humiliation filmed and broadcast across the country.

If there’s no point in seeing you humiliated, what did you even come out here for? A small voice pipes up at the back of his mind. Jaewon’s fingers itch to get to his phone, he’s sure there are people at YG who he could call on to get the decision overturned. That’s what they’re there for after all, no point in signing to a big company if you don’t make them work for you.

And yet…he’s wondering what Seo Chulgoo’s going to say when he hears about this. Jaewon’s wondering if he would leave the show for him, diss the producers, have his back in raging at the powers that be. Is this enough injustice to stir the part of him that drops mics and rants drunkenly about the terrors of the world?

Of course he wouldn’t, that would be ridiculous. It takes all of two seconds for the wishful thinking part of Jaewon’s brain to reach full speed, and by the time he realises he’s being silly he’s already too far gone.

The sound of footfall on the stairs echoes around the restaurant. Jaewon glares at the door and waits for his fate to walk through it his heart in his mouth, hoping that it’s someone good. If he has to be switched out with someone, let it be someone who really deserves it.

The figure that emerges out onto the rudimentary soundstage Mnet have created has a cap pulled low over his eyes and a mask covering his face. Like he doesn’t want to be seen. Jaewon sympathises.

Then the head snaps up, and a familiar pair of eyes are visible under the brim of the cap.
It’s Loco.

First, Jaewon doesn’t understand, then the others start groaning and Simon D and Gray put on matching shit eating grins. A hidden camera, this was all just a trick.

Jaewon laughs in relief, and then at Loco dancing like he just told the best joke of his life. He tries desperately not to feel worthless, or expendable, but the damage is already done. He supposes he can only be grateful that when the waterworks finally do turn on, it’s Day Day crying and not him.

Team challenges are harder than working solo. Jaewon remembers this almost as soon as he’s walked through the door to the AOMG studio for the first group rehearsal. Whatever playfulness Simon D might have on camera is vanished and he is a hard task master, demanding new re-writes every time one of them steps forward with a new verse.

“We gotta get recording,” Gray mumbles, sometime after midnight. Jaewon, Kevin, Day Day and BeWHy collectively raise their hands in triumph.

“Just because mummy says you kids gotta go to bed doesn’t mean daddy’s done helping you with your homework,” Simon D growls.

Huddled together as they are on the lone sofa in what has to be the smallest studio AOMG have to offer, Jaewon and Kevin exchange looks. “Did he just call himself daddy?” Jaewon mutters.

Kevin has to visibly bite back a snort, “it sounds so much worse when you put it like that.”

Evidently, Gray has had enough of Simon D’s bullshit to know how to handle himself. He marches over to Jaewon and holds out a hand for his lyrics. He takes a cursory look through them before jerking his head in the direction of the recording booth, indicating that Jaewon should get his ass in there.

“Wow hold up he’s not ready!” Simon D protests.

Gray fixes him with a withering stare, “daddy pays for everything, mummy looks after the kids, remember? And I say it’s bed time.”

“How extraordinarily backwards of you. A woman can be anything she wants.”

“You don’t say.”

Jaewon’s sure that the metaphor has gotten away from the pair of them along with half the night, and scuttles into the recording booth before any more AOMG artists can refer to him as their kid. It’s an easy recording, he’s been staring at more or less the same combination or words for so long that it only takes a handful of takes to get everything Gray needs.

“Nice,” the producer grins when Jaewon’s made it to the end of his third take, “that’s a wrap for you.”

Kevin is up next, they fistbump as they pass.

“I’ll wait for you, we can go for a drink or something when we’re done,” Jaewon suggests more enthusiastically then he feels. It’s late, and he’s tired, but he likes hanging out with Kevin, and if he can stand to go for a drink with Seo Chulgoo he should really make more of an effort to socialise with people whose company he enjoys more consistently.

But Kevin laughs him off. “Man you look tired as hell. Go home and get some sleep, we’ll drink another time.”

When put like that, Jaewon doesn’t need to be told twice. He waves everyone else good night before wrapping himself up tight enough to keep his face hidden from curious passers-by and heads out to the main road to catch a taxi. He should probably feel bad about ditching the others but he knows they’d do the same if they were him. If there’s any more recording to be done, he can be damn sure that Gray will drag him back to the studio post haste.

The orange street lamps cast the shop fronts in an eerie light, and throw the multi coloured splendour of a bar just up the road into sharper contrast. Jaewon tucks in his limbs till he takes up as little space as possible and tries, just for a moment, to be invisible. The summer air of Seoul hangs heavy around him, pulling him into a thick embrace that makes him feel safe, that has always made him feel safe. He can be whatever he wants to be in this city, he can be mighty, or miniature, and right now he feels like both.

A taxi crawls down the street, and as Jaewon’s sticking his hand out to hail it, his phone buzzes.

The taxi pulls over, Jaewon rattles off his dorm address like clockwork, even as he’s pulling out his phone and opening up Kakao to see a familiar face, marred by panda sized eye bags, sitting against the easily recognisable wooden walls of a YG studio.

Kush is trying to kill us reads the text underneath.

Ha. That’s what you get for making it to the final sixteen, Jaewon thinks to himself, but he doesn’t say it. Instead he snaps a selfie of his own, grimaces at his own eye bags (Kevin was right, he does look tired), and opens up the quick photo editing program that YG makes sure all its idols and trainees have access to for what that describe as emergencies.

Showing Seo Chulgoo up in the middle of the night is definitely an emergency.

You’ll survive ^^ off to catch up on my beauty sleep Jaewon sends the selfie, and waits for the ellipses to indicate that Chulgoo is typing back.

You don’t need beauty sleep looking like that

Jaewon grins despite himself, the butterflies in his stomach threatening to start giving him hell. Ridiculous. He doesn’t even like Chulgoo he just…likes Chulgoo like that.

His phone buzzes as Chulgoo messages him again hey you live at YG right? Like in the building? Lemme share your bed.

Doesn’t work like that

Spoil sport

After that the other end of the line goes dead. Jaewon manages to only be a little disappointed when the next message he gets is an emoji filled mess from Kevin, whose finished recording and is also heading home for the night. As he climbs into bed, he stubbornly refuses to wonder how much of this little bunk Chulgoo would occupy, but it’s hard when the butterflies don’t seem to want him to sleep.

Part 2