this what friendship is, woosung supposes. a whole lot of hip-hop.
warnings for a lot of inane hip hop + smtm3 references
written for this year's round of nugu_seyo for staygame! this fic is based off the notion that team b does not exist as hanbin never joined yg, but becomes friends with olltii (woosung) through a turn of events and ends up joining smtm3 anyway. basically a whole seven thousand words about bff-ery that i wish existed, and hanbin pining. i had a lot of fun writing this! title from epik high's i remember. many great thanks to mmdgz, the ever-faithful encouragers of fic and writing!
There are shards of glass, cleanly split into fragmented bits, scattered across the pavement from where someone had dropped their cocktail that they’d accidentally snagged from a nearby bass-booming club. Red liquid seeps slow across grey stone. Woosung steps around the little splatter of alcohol, slides down the wall, and takes a seat beside him, stretching out his legs and kicking out his sneakers, ignoring the crowd of people who ignore them in turn, walking brisk past them.
It’s a Friday night. Woosung glances over, and holds out a hand. “Share.”
“It’s bad for you,” says Hanbin, but he ends up passing the cigarette to him anyway. Woosung holds the cigarette to his lips, and breathes in, falling into the silence that Hanbin had been in prior to his arrival. He’s not fond of smoking, but it calms the mind enough to bring the right words about, sometimes.
The smoke twirls around his fingers minutely. The city lights grow brighter.
“You know,” Hanbin says, after a few moments, “this shit is disgusting. Some guy just gave me this after the set, like it was some kind of reward. Fuck that, I wanna get paid in real cash. Not scraps from the table.”
“Then try harder, you little shit,” says Woosung, stubbing out the cigarette in the ground beside him. “Stop balking when I call you for gigs. We could have done FT together last month, man. Sool J-hyung had to get some random pickup off the street that no one knew enough to trust. It was embarrassing as hell.”
“Bet you steamrolled him in a minute, didn’t you?”
“You think?” Woosung lets out a breath of a laugh. “But hey, seriously. What’s up with you?”
“I don’t need you to pull your weight around for me,” says Hanbin, expression clear with what he thinks of the situation. “I can do it.”
“It’s not called pulling my weight around,” says Woosung, “it’s called networking, and you should really start doing some of that, if you want to get anywhere in this place. Dude, JJK-hyung didn’t build up his entire career on side-alley shows full of drunk idiots and kids with no career hope. Start small, yeah, but you gotta go somewhere after.”
“Fine, fine. Just.” Hanbin stares out towards the road, where cars glide by one after the other, deftly maneuvering around the crowd that’s too wasted to walk in a straight line. It’s easy enough to disappear in Seoul back-ways. It’s easy enough to guess why Hanbin frequents this place so often. “What are you doing here, anyway? Thought you had something on.”
“I had study group,” says Woosung, “did you want me to suffer all the way through three hours of international trade? Fuck that. Let’s get out of here.”
They pull themselves to their feet. Woosung is more than used to these lapses in judgment, and he holds Hanbin steady as they make their way through the throng of people. Itaewon is friendly enough, but on nights like these it’s always better to have more than one person when you’re traversing its streets.
“Hey,” says Hanbin, once they’ve made it to the subway, “thanks for coming after me. Sorry for being an idiot again.”
“If I hadn’t, who would pay for coffee tomorrow? Think about that,” quips Woosung cheerfully, despite the late hour, and Hanbin shoves him into the subway compartment, rolling his eyes.
Hanbin shows up at his place the next morning with two cups of coffee from the nearest Starbucks. “Happy?” he bites out, and Woosung takes his with a wide grin. The sweet smell of cappuccino and favours well-earned. “Come on. We’re going to be late. You and your two hours of hair-styling, Christ, get a hold of yourself.”
The night comes, and the night goes, but things will remain the same.
They’d met a couple of years back. Hongdae’s Free Market is a place he’s frequented more times than he can recall saying his own name, and he’s no stranger to the sights, the stalls, the short and the tall, the fun stages that folks put on without a second doubt, for the crowd, for themselves, for the whole lot, they shout.
That Saturday had boasted a freestyle rap battle, one that drew quite a number. Woosung had walked right up, grabbed the mic, and spat bar after bar, line after line, knocking out everyone who had come up to the bat to attempt it.
He’d just become ADV’s youngest, some months before that. People were starting to know him. It was a grand feeling. It still is, and Woosung will never forget it. The smell of the food in the air, the people stopping to see, cheering and clapping away. Those little sounds of awe with every witty line that came from someone’s lips. The acknowledgment of strangers had meant much to him, back then.
One kid, then. Just this one kid had squeezed his way through the crowd near the end, taking the microphone from the emcee’s hand, mouth set in something that looked like half a grin and half a serious grimace.
Woosung hadn’t been intimidated. He’d seen these types all over the city. He’d beat down most of these types from the city. But the kid had rapped. Jesus, had the kid thrown punch after punch at him, bouncing back from each verse with a verse of his own. His words weren’t much, but he had an ear for wrapping those words around the rhythm. Woosung had been more than intrigued.
They’d called it a draw, and moved on to the next two.
“Hey,” Woosung had said, some minutes later, handing the kid a bottle of water. The heat had been sweltering. The kid had chugged down the water like nobody’s business. “What’s your name?”
“B.I,” he’d answered, a little less confidently than he’d rapped. New on the block, perhaps. “You’re Olltii, aren’t you? I saw you on FT’s channel. You’re real good.”
“So are you, man.” They’d turned out to be the same age. Woosung had always wanted a friend the same age doing this sort of thing. Everyone he’d known before he’d joined ADV had laughed at the thought of him becoming a rapper. “Hey. You gonna be around in Seodaemun next week? They’re having another freestyle thing. You should go.”
B.I had hesitated. “Yeah,” he’d said, “maybe.”
He’d shown up anyway. Woosung had hoped he would. He’d slaughtered three other rappers, and lost to one other. Woosung had taken home the badge that day, but it had been B.I that he’d stayed behind to talk to, over a cup of coffee.
“It’s Woosung,” he’d said, after laughing at some random joke. “Not Olltii.”
“Woosung. It’s Hanbin, then.” The kid had smiled. “So, tell me about Andante. Is he really like that in real life?”
“Hell no,” Woosung had said immediately. “Much, much worse. You should see him when he gets drunk. The accidental double girlfriend story is practically urban legend by now.”
Hanbin had snorted so hard his coffee had gone up his nose, half-choking as Woosung had thumped him on the back with a fist.
Sixteen is an easy time to make friends. Keeping them after, is much harder.
Woosung’s glad he’s never had trouble with that.
He hears about the Show Me The Money revival after classes one evening, and the first thing he does is head straight for Hanbin’s place, phone in his hand, the audition website already open in a tab.
Hanbin’s mother lets him in, accustomed to the easy grin and bow that he greets her with, and he pats little Hanbyul on the head when she comes up to poke at his knee. “Hey kiddo,” he says, “where’s your big brother?” She merely blinks up at him, and pats his knee again, before padding away to her colouring books. Cute kid.
“You know where,” says Hanbin’s mother, always welcoming, “and there’s dinner if you’re staying past six, Woosung.” He’s been over enough in the past couple of years that he’s basically treated as family by now.
“Thanks, ma’am,” says Woosung, smiling, as he ducks into Hanbin’s room after a knock. “Hey, you busy next Tuesday?”
“What’s up?” Hanbin glances up from where he’s lying upside-down, spread-eagle across his bed, a book in his hands. “Please don’t tell me you need homework help again. We’re not even taking the same classes.”
“Shut up and look at this.” Woosung drops his phone on Hanbin’s face. Hanbin splutters and grabs for it, squinting to see the screen. “Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t been waiting for this!”
“Dude,” says Hanbin slowly, as he scans through the page, “don’t you realise that there’s gonna be thousands of people auditioning? I mean, you’ve got a chance, yeah, you’re Olltii, but me? Are you kidding? I’d probably mess up my first line.”
“I don’t get why you’re always so hard on yourself. I mean, sure, I’m Olltii, of course I’m going to get in. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance! Well. I guess. Unless I beat your ass right out of the competition. Then that’d be too bad.”
God bless quick reflexes. Woosung ducks, narrowly avoiding Hanbin who attempts to knuckle him in the temple, and leans against the side of the bed, gauging Hanbin’s reaction as he scrolls through the site on Woosung’s phone.
It’s definitely worth a shot. Show Me The Money gets a hell of a lot of coverage, and the prize money is something that no one would pass up. A million won could pay for so much. Besides, the chance to work with one of the judges is more than enticing enough, for anyone who’s looking to make it in big in the scene.
Woosung voices all these opinions, and Hanbin seems to be coming around to the notion. “Come on, man,” says Woosung again, “what would you have to lose, anyway? You have no reputation to speak of, besides being that one kid who hangs around me.”
“Hey!” says Hanbin in indignation, reaching for a pillow to throw at Woosung. “I don’t hang around you! You’re the one who hangs around me. Besides, where’d you be without my tracks, anyway?”
“Ah, yes,” says Woosung, “my mysterious composer. Reminds me, Yankie-hyung has been asking about you.”
Hanbin sits up immediately. “Really?” His voice sounds hopeful. “He heard some of my stuff?”
“My stuff, rather. He asked who laid down the melody line. I told him I could put him through to you. Don’t expect anything till next month, though. He’s out of town. Some Corgi issue.”
“You’re the fucking greatest,” declares Hanbin, and he flops back down with a sigh. “One step at a time.”
“And, you sure you don’t want to skip a few steps ahead?” Woosung motions towards his phone. “Join with me, come on. If anything, the exposure will do you a hell of a lot of good. And, remember what I always tell you.”
“Networking, yeah, yeah.” Hanbin waves at him. “Fine. Fine! Okay? I’ll audition.”
Woosung grins, and cheers. “This is going to be ace,” he says. “Also, I call shotgun.”
“What do you mean you call—I’m not driving!”
“You are now.”
“God, you’re the worst. Mom will kill me if she finds out.”
True to what Hanbin had predicted the first time he’d seen the audition notice, there are thousands who show up on the day for a chance to be on the show. It almost scares Woosung, the fact that there might be so many people who are this good, if not better than him, auditioning. But then again, he’s confident enough. More or less.
He nudges Hanbin in the side. Hanbin’s doing that nervous little tic of his again, patting his chest over where his heart is probably racing a mile a minute. “Hey,” he says. “You’ll do good, yeah?”
“Yeah,” says Hanbin, not sounding completely sure of himself, “yeah, man. Damn the competition. I’ll kill everyone out there.”
“That’s the spirit!” Woosung thumps him on the back, and Hanbin nearly trips into one of the other contestants, who scowls at him. “Whoops. Sorry.”
They’re there practically the whole day queuing up. Woosung hates lines, goddamn, and this one has been moving slower than the traffic in Incheon for over two hours. He’s glad they’d gotten here early. He’d hate to be at the back of the thousand-long line right now in the heat. And persuading Hanbin to wake up at five a.m. had not been easy at all. It had taken way too much caffeine, a pit-stop for ramyeon, and a slap in the face to get him awake enough to drive all the way down to the venue.
Hanbin watches the rest of the contestants go with careful looks. There are rappers they’ve seen around, rappers who could be considered famous enough to not even need this competition, rappers who have more years of experience on them than they’ve lived, and rappers who’ve barely said a single line on stage before.
He’s probably wondering which category he falls into. Hanbin’s never had luck with making it in the scene. He’d nearly had a chance, but failed auditions for multiple labels left and right, before giving up altogether to stick around the underground scene in the end. His rapping’s good, but his songwriting is better. Woosung’s more than aware of that. But maybe this could be his big break.
Woosung’s too, even.
“It’s Vasco,” whispers one of the contestants beside them, some time later, and everyone in the vicinity swivels to see the seasoned rapper, arriving with a determined grin. Something similar occurs with a few other rappers. Those from labels, those who’ve got clout underground.
One of those up and coming rookies, a kid named Bobby, an ex-YG trainee who’d been dropped from the company after some survival show against another group, earns more than a few envious looks, with the way the camera follows him. A couple of girls call his name, from the crowd. He waves at them, all grins.
“He’s good,” notes Hanbin, and it’s the first thing he’s said in maybe an hour. “I like his stuff.”
“Just his stuff?” says Woosung, teasing, and he coughs into his hand. “Sure.”
Hanbin flushes, and hisses, “Don’t bring that up here.”
“No one can hear us, chill.” Woosung slings an arm around Hanbin’s shoulder, an attempt to ease him out. “You alright?”
“It’s fine,” says Hanbin. “Sorry. You know how it gets. Just paranoid.”
“Yeah, man.” Woosung smiles, and ruffles his hair. Hanbin shakes his head, swatting his hand away. “It’s fine.”
They watch the crowd go, until it’s their turn to head in, and it’s almost surreal, being in the building with everyone else. The crowd is immense, but the cheers they let out are even more so, and Woosung whoops enthusiastically when the judges enter. It’s even more intense to know that these are the people judging them. These are the people whom they could potentially be working with.
“God, what I’d give to work with Tablo,” whispers Woosung over to Hanbin, whose eyes are following the YG team in with something close to awe. Everyone knows Epik High. Everyone knows how long they’ve been in the game, and how much they’ve contributed to its mainstream success. Christ, if Woosung could have anything at all, it’d be a chance to work with them.
The emcee announces how it’s going to be, for the cameras that are rolling, even though they already know the rundown of the program, having been briefed earlier. They settle into their groups, all nervous and tense and overconfident to boot.
Woosung is up before Hanbin is, and he schools his features into something a little more firm, before he lets out a steady stream of words for the judge before him. Tablo (of all the people to get his group) smiles as he hands him the gold chain, and Woosung grins for the camera that zooms in on him, holding it up.
One round down, many more to go.
Hanbin does mess up, in front of the 1llionaire judges, no less, but Woosung watches with the slightest bit of fear in his throat as Hanbin leaps down from the contestant stands, and starts to freestyle. He can’t help but laugh when Hanbin gets the gold chain in the end. What a little shit.
They meet up outside the venue after that, and the first thing Hanbin does is tackle Woosung with a promise of dinner, and coffee in the mornings for the next week.
“We made it in!” Woosung drags him away to the car, grinning among the rest of the contestants who are beginning to flood out the doors of the building. “Come on, now tell me you regret auditioning.”
“No way,” says Hanbin, beaming, “thanks, man. Even though I did screw up.”
“Even though you did screw up, yes,” says Woosung, “judges must have seen something in you. Not too sure what it is, but.”
“Fuck you,” says Hanbin, pulling Woosung’s cap down over his eyes. “Honestly, all you do is talk. I don’t know how anyone stands you.”
“Ask yourself that question.”
The second Woosung had turned eighteen, earlier in the year, he’d called Hanbin and shouted into the mouthpiece, “Road trip!”
Hanbin had just said, “It’s twelve in the morning. I’m going to murder you.”
“Why?” Woosung had snorted. “Not like you were sleeping, anyway. What were you doing, playing Starcraft?”
“Shut up, I wasn’t,” Hanbin had said. “Dota 2.”
“Even worse. Anyway. Road trip. Still on? We talked about this!”
“Yeah, yeah, Busan trip, I remember. I’ll bring snacks.”
Woosung had hung up with a laugh. Hanbin never sounded completely excited for anything, really, but Woosung knew him well enough to know that he’d been probably even more excited than Woosung was himself.
They’d piled into Woosung’s brother’s car with food split between them, and hours of the best music they knew. Which, obviously, consisted of a whole lot of hip-hop. Arguing over which Dynamic Duo album to play, whether they should start with the Primary LP, or to put on that slow jam mix Hanbin had made was only a familiar motion to them now.
“Know thy competition!” Hanbin had said, putting on a bunch of Giriboy tracks, as they got onto the highway. Woosung was sure Hanbin had been doing it just to antagonise him.
They’d driven down for hours, till they reached Haeundae. The beach awaited them, clear skies and loose green waves sweeping across the hem of the shore.
Watching the sun go down on them over sandwiches and conversation had been something interesting, to say the least. Especially when Hanbin had cleared his throat suddenly, and said he had to tell him something.
“You’re not dying, are you,” Woosung had said slowly, “no, wait. Are you in debt? I knew it! How much do you owe? Did you tell your parents yet? Of course you haven’t told them. And I’m not lending you a single cent, and even if I was, you wouldn’t be able to pay the interest anyway—”
“I’m not in debt!” Hanbin had interrupted, “and I’m not dying! Jesus Christ.”
“Then?” Woosung had pressed on, wondering for details.
The sun had gone down a couple more inches in their line of vision, before Hanbin said, voice quiet, “I think I don’t like girls?”
Woosung had just glanced over at him. “Is that a question or a statement?” That sentence had ended in a funny sort of speculative way. Woosung wasn’t sure when had been the last time he’d heard Hanbin being unsure of anything other than his music.
“Both?” Hanbin drew his knees up to his chest, slinging his arms loosely around his legs. He looked even younger than he was, in that moment. “I just—I don’t know what to do, man. I can’t fix this.”
“What’s to fix?” Woosung had clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, seriously, there’s nothing wrong with you. So what if you like guys? A million other people do too.”
Hanbin had smiled at him, faint in the glow of the sunset. “I guess. So, you don’t—like, you don’t find it gross or anything? I can keep my best friend?”
“I am here for you forever!” Woosung had announced. “Except when you’re in debt.”
Hanbin had laughed, and smacked him in the shoulder.
There’d been a pause, before Woosung added, “So, are we done with the melodrama? We’ve got some tourist traps to catch up on.”
“You’re going to end up buying a bunch of key-chains, aren’t you?”
“Don’t forget the postcards!”
“Of course. Not the postcards.”
They’d gotten six key-chains and twelve postcards, along with a range of various other commonly tourist-bought items. Hanbin had called him an idiot. Woosung had just replied with how much Hanbin had spent on that beanie from the seaside stall from earlier.
Driving back had been to the sweeter sounds of Jazzyfact and Leessang. Neither of them spoke much, for the rest of the trip, all tired out from driving, playing, chattering away in the sun. But really. Neither of them had to.
This was what friendship was, Woosung supposed. Highways, easy silence, and hip-hop.
“Spice it up a little,” the producer tells them as they sign their names across paper, the Show Me The Money 3 contract that all the contestants past the auditions have to sign. His illegible scrawl and Hanbin’s slightly neater print make for nice contrast. “Make it interesting for the cameras. You know each other, don’t you? Make things competitive. With the others too, of course.”
“Sure,” says Hanbin, shrugging. “Won’t be hard.”
Woosung glances over and Hanbin shoots him a grin. He’s right, though. If the producers want entertainment, then he’ll sure as hell give them entertainment. Now, to find the right target. “Hey, Bobby!” he calls, over to where the guy is standing across the room, and Hanbin’s elbow shoots out to stab him right in the side. “Fuck, Hanbin!”
“Dude,” says Hanbin, eyes wide, “of all the people, really?”
“Entertainment’s sake,” says Woosung, rubbing at his ribs. “Jesus, did you have to?”
Hanbin isn’t listening, for Bobby has sauntered up to them, all bright smiles and handshakes, and Hanbin seems to be stuck to the floor. Or something. Just until Woosung nudges him in the side, no less painfully than Hanbin had elbowed him, and says, “So, you know what the producers are looking for, right?”
“Yeah, a little bit of friendly competition? All these bits obviously won’t get aired, but.” Bobby shrugs, hands in his pockets. “It’d be fun to make everyone think we all hated each other, wouldn’t it? People love drama.”
“Yeah,” agrees Woosung, and he nods. “Olltii. This is B.I.”
“Yo,” greets Bobby, and Hanbin smiles, all his hesitance shoved aside. “I definitely know who you guys are already, but still. Nice meeting you for the first time.”
“The mixtape you dropped last month was ill,” says Hanbin, and Bobby’s face brightens immediately at that. “The intro track was really well done. Who produced?”
“Me,” says Bobby, running a hand through his hair absentmindedly, “I wrote pretty much everything on it. Except the sampling, of course.”
Woosung watches the conversation slowly tune him out, and he chuckles to himself. Let the two get along. See how that turns out. And if not, it’s worth it enough to see the way Hanbin flushes every time Bobby compliments him. Man, crushes hit everyone hard. Even the most stone-cold, emotional-range-of-a-teaspoon-type people.
“I do not have the emotional range of a teaspoon,” says Hanbin later, when they’re hanging around the main lounge, waiting to be dismissed. “Who’s the one who blew off his own girlfriend just so he could go watch Homefront?”
“Okay, first off, I didn’t know it was supposed to be a date,” says Woosung indignantly, “and two, why are we even having this conversation again?”
“Because you’re an idiot,” proclaims Hanbin immediately. “And I don’t have—I do not have—”
“A crush?” says Woosung.
“—affections for someone I don’t know,” finishes Hanbin.
Woosung cracks up. “God, you’re unbelievable. Affections? Yep, that’s right, stay in the eighteenth century a little longer, would you? And I have best friend privileges, so don’t try to tell me I can’t make fun of you.”
Hanbin fumes all the way back home, and fumes even more when Woosung puts on one of Bobby’s tracks from his mixtape just for gags.
They squint at the screen.
“Huh,” says Woosung, “does my head really look that big on television?”
“Yes,” says Hanbin. “Hey, what the fuck. Didn’t that guy get in? I don’t see him.”
“Editing, man. Pass me the coke.”
They watch in silence for another ten minutes, before Woosung’s brother pipes up from behind them, “Your head really does look big on television.”
Hanbin ignores Woosung reaching over to strangle his brother with a Moomin sofa pillow, and says, “Goddamn, Swings is a piece of shit.”
“You only know this now?” Woosung swivels back and tosses the pillow over his shoulder, hitting his brother right in the face with a muffled ‘oof.’ “Hey, you know next week is the team choice filming, right? Did you pick already?”
Hanbin looks at him, and Woosung looks back at him, and they both say at the same time, “YG.”
“Fuck!” says Woosung, “I don’t want to be on the same team as you!”
“That goes without saying!” Hanbin scrunches up his nose. “Like hell I’m going to go against my first choice.”
“Everyone’s going to pick YG!” Woosung frowns. The rest of the competitors know this well enough, but hell, everyone’s going to take a chance anyway, even if it means getting cut. “It’d be too easy to pick Brand New, though. You know nobody’s going to join them. 1llionaire and YG are going to get the biggest picks.”
Hanbin snorts. “Everyone’s going to be too busy running to the coolest judges, or the nicest one, or the biggest name anyway. Even though you can’t deny JM knows its stuff. Their label album was such a fucking jam. And, honestly—I guess I wouldn’t mind working with San E-hyung.”
“Then pick them,” says Woosung, at the same time Hanbin goes, “But I’m not picking them, okay!”
“God,” says Woosung’s brother, “you two are worse than a married couple.”
“Have you seen yourself around your girlfriend, hyung? Anyway.” Woosung returns his gaze to the screen, where yet another person has gotten cut from the auditions. “If we’re going to be in the same team, we might as well make it fun.”
“Easy talk, hard work. And that’s even if we make it in.”
Woosung grins over at Hanbin. “We are. Trust me. Production loves you.”
“And you know this how?”
“It’s a reality show, man.” Woosung takes a swig of his drink, and wipes the condensation off his palms onto his jeans. “Everything’s scripted as fuck. C-Jamm-hyung and I overheard some of the scriptwriters talking to the producers last week. I can tell you for a fact Jolly V’s gonna get cut.”
“Why the fuck would they cut her? She slayed the second audition.”
“Jidam,” Woosung just goes, and Hanbin stares at him like he’s grown an extra arm. “Ratings. Everyone’s eating into the high-school-girl-turned-badass-rapper image.”
“Whatever,” says Hanbin, “whoever ends up with Jidam, god bless their soul. Let’s just worry about ourselves for now.”
“You’re so safe, it sickens me,” says Woosung. “You know, if you were an idol kid, they’d be all over you the way they are with Bobby. I mean, he was just a trainee, and Christ, look at how many goddamn fans are just there for him! Imagine if you were under one of the big labels. You’d probably just be floated all the way through to the finals for the views.”
Hanbin goes silent. “But if I did join a company, would it make things any different? I mean, like. Everyone’s always getting up in arms over idols. Especially the rappers. Wouldn’t it be good to have a rapper go mainstream? You know, image-wise, promotion-wise?”
“Well.” Woosung shrugs. He’s never thought much of idol rappers, to say the least. With a few good exceptions, obviously. Jiho-hyung, mostly. But then again, it’s not like they’re the end of the world. “I guess it would have its perks. And hey man, if you ever got into a company, no matter what company, I’d be the first to buy you dinner.”
“Even if it was SM?” asks Hanbin solemnly, “because I got a call-back the other day. I’m going to be part of the new EXO spin-off.” Woosung nearly chokes on his coke, and opts for spitting it all back into his cup instead. “I’m kidding, kidding! SM would never take me.”
“If they could take Minho, I’m pretty sure they could take you,” says Woosung, just as dryly. “Dibidibidis, motherfucker.”
“I won’t even ask how you know that.” Hanbin flicks him in the forehead. “Be gone, demon.”
“I’ve had girlfriends, okay, Mr. Eighteen-Years-A-Single-Man?”
“I severely question your taste in girlfriends.”
“And I severely question your taste in life choices.”
“And I severely question my taste in friends. Each and every single day of my single life.”
“I do try,” says Woosung, “it takes talent to be this adored, you know.”
Hip-hop is something beautiful, he believes.
This he believes with all his heart, from the first time he’d heard a verse born straight from the bottom of someone’s soul, from the first time he’d allowed his feet to take him up to the front of an audience at a showcase, from the first time he’d given his own words in return for the words of others.
Nobody understands hip-hop, but hip-hop understands all of us.
All of him.
The words, the music, the rhythm. The flow comes in and sweeps it all together, sweeps it in like a tide across the early morning ocean, carrying in last night’s hopes and carrying away the regrets of all nights before the last. It’s a connection, it’s the one and only true love, it’s what continues for generations, even when your hearing’s blown and your fears have shown after age and time has passed.
Woosung believes in hip-hop.
He believes in the music, and he believes in the stage. What he doesn’t believe in is the industry that it’s wrapped around. What he doesn’t believe is the crawl that takes place before anyone can even dream of hitting the first step up on the way to the top. What he really doesn’t believe in is the way love is turning into a business.
How can numbers and figures rule, instead of the soul that it takes its rewards from? But maybe Woosung is just young, too young to understand the way the world works. This show is proof enough how far people will go just to get their name out there. Everybody says show me the money, but he’s got nothing.
So he’s going to give them nothing but free love.
“Believe in what you’re doing,” Tablo tells him, tells all of them, one practice day, with the rest of those who’d gotten past that round, and onto the team, “love what you’re doing, and you’ll get there.”
He’ll take that advice to heart. He’ll remember his roots. All he can do is hope the rest of the world does the same.
“I can hear you thinking from a mile away,” says Hanbin, when the group meeting is over. Woosung looks up to see Hanbin crumpling a piece of paper in his hands, probably lyrics. He’d probably glanced over at the lyrics of the others, to see how they were faring. He’s always like this. Hanbin’s probably going to go straight home later and rewrite his words till it’s three in the morning. “You alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, just.” Woosung clears his throat, clears his head, and clears the sudden burden off his shoulders. “Just thinking. About all of this.”
Hanbin considers him for a moment. “It’s not going to go away,” is all he says, after a few moments. “It waits for you. It does.”
“I know.” Woosung unfolds his limbs from where he’s sitting cross-legged, and gets up, pulling Hanbin to his feet too, before grinning. “Come on. Seonwoong-hyung and Jinwon-hyung are buying us lunch.”
“Ever ready to be treated, aren’t you?” says Hanbin, as he’s dragged back inside the building.
“Nah,” says Woosung easily, pushing the door open, “just ready for opportunities.”
“You and your networking schemes,” sighs Hanbin, tugging the door closed behind him.
Hanbin gets kicked barely five seconds into reaching the top eight.
Maybe Woosung had seen it coming, anyway. They’d been paired off with each other, best friends turned rivals, not that the audience knew. Hanbin already had an on-screen track record of forgetting his lyrics. He’d been furious with one of the episodes showing him messing up his lyrics on one of the stages he’d recovered quickly on, but Woosung had already told him how the show worked.
Ratings, ratings, ratings.
And goddamn, Hanbin’s track had been good. It had been more than good. It’d charted after the episode, real time top ten.
But Woosung had won that round against him.
“You tried,” Woosung says, backstage after filming has ended, and the look on Hanbin’s face is a little more devastated than he’d have liked to ever see in his life, and all he can do is fold him into a hug. “Hey man, you tried. You did really good.”
“Not good enough,” mutters Hanbin, clearing his throat. “But enough of me killing the mood. You’re through! You’re going to be in the fucking semis, man!”
Woosung smiles despite the situation. “Yeah. Yeah, I am, aren’t I? I did good. Fuck that, I did great!”
“And you’re still awful,” says Hanbin, shaking his head, laughing. “So much for being humble.”
“Rappers need to be confident!” says Woosung. “It’s on page 34 of the Handbook for Beginner Rappers.”
“Does it have a section on what to do after you lose the chance to be famous?” asks Hanbin, probably wanting to come off as joking, but Woosung can still hear the bitterness in his voice. “Please enlighten me.”
“Of course it does!” Woosung slings an arm around his shoulders, and leads him out of the room, before his voice drops. “On page 167, it says you should let your best friend take you to karaoke, and buy you all the drinks your mother will never find out about.”
Hanbin cracks a smile at that. “Is that a promise?”
“Only if you don’t throw up on my shoes. Says so on page 168.” Woosung adds, “and these are seriously new as fuck. Please don’t throw up on them.”
Hanbin holds up three fingers. “Scout’s honour.”
“You were never a scout.”
“Me being a scout is just about as real as the Handbook for Beginner Rappers is.”
“Touche. Come on. Karaoke time.”
He takes Hanbin to the nearest karaoke he can find, and they spend four hours singing terribly off-key to depressing drama OSTs and screaming along every single lyric they can to Itaewon Freedom six times over until Hanbin hits the button for Big Bang, and everything goes even further to hell.
Probably all the way down to the ninth circle of hell. Or whatever comes after that, when the chorus to Fantastic Baby swerves in so hard that Woosung is sure they’re going to get banned from this karaoke joint for the rest of their lives.
Woosung also manages to get Hanbin completely and irrevocably and illegally drunk, and celebrates his success by attempting to sing all of Hanbin’s favourite girl group songs right in his face as Hanbin makes loud, fake crying noises at the screen.
“Oh my god,” says Hanbin at the turn of the fourth hour, “oh my god, you’re so fucking awful. I hate you so much. I hate you, Jung Woosung. Please take all my fucking hate and shove it down your motherfucking throat.”
“It’s the alcohol talking,” says Woosung kindly, and he pats Hanbin on the head, switching to a trot song. “Tell me all your secrets or I’ll never stop singing.”
“They have to kick us out sometime tonight! I’ll never give in!”
Woosung puts on his favourite Secret song.
“No,” gurgles Hanbin, “no, fuck you.”
“Shy, shy, shy boy!” screeches Woosung, “oh, oh, oh, my boy!”
“God,” says Hanbin, “what did I ever do to deserve this life. Someone help me. There’s nothing sharp in this room. I can’t stab him with a microphone.”
The song ends in Hanbin attempting to smother Woosung with one of the sofa cushions, and they flop about until Hanbin decides he’s too tired to commit murder tonight, and saves it for another day.
“It’s totally the best time to tell me just how in love with Bobby you are,” says Woosung, reclining against Hanbin, cradling a bowl of peanuts in his arms. “I saw you both having lunch together last filming. Don’t you dare deny your little date.”
“It wasn’t a date,” groans Hanbin, hand over his eyes. “Fuck you. Fuck, I’m not drunk at all, I swear to god. I can’t believe we made out. You heard nothing. Fuck, I’m drunk.”
Woosung nearly drops the bowl of peanuts. “You made out! Hah! I knew it!” He gets up and points at Hanbin for dramatic effect. Just like in the movies. Not that Woosung admits to watching romantic comedies or anything. Nope. Never. “Hah! Hah! Ahah! Hanbin!”
“I’m getting a headache just imagining your face in my mind,” says Hanbin, eyes still covered. “What’s that unintelligible noise that seems to be coming from your mouth?”
“It’s me mocking you, in case you needed clarification.” Woosung points at him a last time. “Ahah! Okay, I’m done.”
“My life is a joke,” says Hanbin miserably, “I got kicked from Show Me The Money, I accidentally made out with Bobby, I have you as a best friend, I’m failing Business 2—”
“Dude, your mom is going to kill you if you’re failing.”
Woosung pauses. “Wait. How do you accidentally make out with someone?”
Hanbin just glances up at him, eyes narrowed. “Long story.”
“We have the entire night,” says Woosung, “I’m driving, remember?”
“Awful,” says Hanbin, “anyway. Yeah. I guess. I don’t know, uh, we went for lunch? And it was pretty much cool, and we went back to the filming location and I left my earphones backstage in one of the rooms after saying hi to someone, god, I can’t even fucking remember now, and he just sort of? Turned at the same time I stood up and we just? Made out?” Hanbin’s voice goes up so high by the end of his last sentence that Woosung just stares at him.
“I just,” says Woosung, “have no idea how that actually happens in real life. Are you sure you’re not a character in a drama?”
Hanbin blinks at him.
Woosung waves a hand at Hanbin’s face. “Anyway. So what? Isn’t that a good thing? You know, you like someone, they like you back, you both do the smoochy-smoochy for an indeterminate amount of time, get married, have babies, et cetera.”
“Firstly, I already have two babies in my life, and that’s my little sister and you, both of whom I spend way too much time babysitting.” Hanbin straightens up, and reaches over the peanuts for the karaoke remote. “Secondly, it is a bad thing because I may or may not have run away before either of us could say anything.”
“I did,” affirms Hanbin sadly, pressing the number for a Cho Youngpil song.
“You are officially a drama character,” says Woosung. “Congratulations on your life. Also, please fix this. I won’t be able to look Bobby in the face next week without imagining the two of you attached at the mouth.”
“Advise me, oh great and illustrious best friend,” says Hanbin, sinking back into the cushions. “Or just buy me more booze, so I can pretend to have a plan.”
“I’d take the second option, except for the fact that my wallet’s currently shrinking faster than the speed of light, so advice it is!”
Woosung is such a great friend. “I am such a great friend,” says Woosung, after what seems like ten minutes of advising Hanbin on what to do next.
Hanbin just stares at him in horror. “I’m never asking you for relationship help ever again.”
“Just!” Woosung makes a series of rude motions, Hanbin growing more disturbed with each. “Fix it with more mouth touching.”
“What if he doesn’t want to mouth touch!” says Hanbin, exasperated.
“You don’t know until you try?”
Hanbin gives up. “I should have just told you all my secrets instead of this.”
“Worth it,” says Woosung serenely. “Now, last song, before I drag you back to my place.”
They mournfully croon along to a Yoon Mirae single and wait for the last bits of the music to fade out, before Hanbin turns to Woosung and says, “Thanks.”
“For getting you drunk?”
“That, and,” says Hanbin, clutching Woosung’s shoulder, “for everything, I guess. You know. The competition. You’re going to do great, by the way. Fucking win it, yeah?”
“Yeah, man.” Woosung grins, and ruffles Hanbin’s hair. “I’ll win it.”
They hadn’t started off as complete best friends. In fact, Woosung was sure he’d hated Hanbin at some point in time.
He’d known that Hanbin was good, known that Hanbin had every bit of potential needed to get far in this industry, and he’d possibly been just a little jealous when Hanbin had let him hear his unfinished tracks, because damn, those had been pretty sick.
But friendship doesn’t come just because you wish for it. It happens unknowingly, over time and tide and waiting for the bus to arrive, and sharing drinks and promises over late nights of recording, and swapping verses with the thought of improving not just yourself but the other.
Woosung guesses that’s how it happened.
He doesn’t regret it. Not at all. Maybe he regrets not pushing Hanbin a little harder to get his work out there, maybe he regrets skipping class a few too many times, maybe he regrets drinking so much coffee that he’d spent three nights in a row writing hooks for songs that hadn’t yet existed.
There are a lot of things that Woosung regrets, but this friendship is definitely not one of those things.
Though, it does come close when Hanbin narrowly misses throwing up on his shoes after karaoke that night.
Both of them get free passes to come back to the show as part of the audience, even after they both get eliminated. It’s a nice gesture. Woosung definitely wishes he could have stayed on longer, but it’s nice being able to see everyone again, almost as if it’s like the weeks before.
The finals are intense, and it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Woosung when Bobby ends up the champion, and it’s a rush of cheers and claps on the back all around when they all get together.
“Hey, congrats,” he calls to Bobby, in the midst of all the raucous noise, and Bobby grins back. “You deserved it. That last one was fucking awesome.”
“Thanks, man.” Bobby glances around. “Hey, seen Hanbin anywhere?”
Ahah. Woosung points over his shoulder.
Bobby smiles, unassuming. “Thanks. See you later, yeah? We should collab on something someday.”
God, they’re both so obvious. Woosung wants to laugh at them. But since he only has best friend privileges with one of them, he’ll just have to concentrate all his amusement on Hanbin, then.
Woosung nods at Bobby, before heading off to patter around the room for a little while longer, before everyone has to head off. He shakes a few hands, he calls out a few loud greetings to a few choice people, and then scoots off to greet the cold weather outside instead.
“And where were you?” asks Woosung later, once he’s met back up with Hanbin outside, warming his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“Fixing things,” says Hanbin, and Woosung’s eyebrows shoot up. Oh. No wonder a certain someone had returned with his tie completely out of place and his hair completely messed up. “And possibly talking a contract offer.”
“Oh,” says Woosung audibly this time, “you work fast.”
Hanbin laughs, and it echoes across the parking lot. “YG, man. They’re offering me a place with them! I’m fucking stoked.”
“Nah, just.” Hanbin shrugs, but his face is flushed with excitement. It’s a good look on him, compared to his usual I-look-like-I-hate-everyone-but-I-actual
“Dude,” says Woosung, “that’s fucking awesome!” He tackles Hanbin in a hug, and Hanbin lets out a laugh, hugging back. “You’re going to be famous. Tell G-Dragon I love him.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” says Hanbin, “although you did cover his song, so I’ll consider that.”
Woosung punches him in the shoulder. “My little songwriter, all grown up and about to be even bigger. What will I do without you?”
“Nothing,” says Hanbin, “because I’m still going to come over every other day to steal all your food, and to tell you about all the tracks I have for you to rap over, and complain about classes while you complain about yours. Nothing’s going to change. Right?”
Everything is going to change. Woosung knows this for a fact.
But for now? Absolutely nothing has to change. “Right,” agrees Woosung, and Hanbin grins, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Come on. Let’s get food. And then you can tell me all about your conquest. Which obviously means Mr. Kim Jiwon, the love of your life. Tell me all about what happened so I can make fun of you for the rest of your miserable little existence.”
“That’s no-no,” says Hanbin in the most serious voice he can muster, and who could he even kid?
They laugh all the way to the car, and even then, they’re still grinning at each other like idiots.
This is what friendship is, Woosung guesses. Easy laughter, food, and a whole lot of hip-hop.
And that’s all he needs.