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Never Alone

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With the sound of the alarm clock blaring through the dorm came a tightness in Jeongguk's chest.

And the cause of it wasn't a surprise to him either. Between preparing for midterms at school and a comeback for Bangtan, he was completely overwhelmed.

Every day added more and more deadlines, and every day for the past week or so he awoke with chest pains that his anxiety meds couldn't quell. Because he was an idol, and his physical health was probably considered more important than his mental health by many, the dosage he took was half the typically prescribed amount, and he was only permitted to take it about once a week, more if it was an emergency.

But, since it'd felt this way the entire week, he figured he could make it. Just a couple more days until the weekend, and then he'd get an extra half hour of sleep in the morning. That would be a nice improvement on the three hours a night he'd been scraping by with this week.

Wearily, Jeongguk dragged himself out of bed and began getting ready for school, stumbling more times than he'd care to admit. At this point the tightness in his chest was relentless, and he kept pulling at his collar even though he knew it wasn't what was choking him.

At breakfast, he caught Yoongi giving him some strange looks as he ate, so he forced his hand to stop going to his neck and just act normal. He just needed to get through the day.

He had his first midterm this morning, math, and he'd stayed up to an obscene hour going back over everything in his head. Jeongguk was convinced he remembered nothing.

In the rest of his classes he would be working on three projects, two papers, and studying for his six other exams. Then home, and with that came a vocal lesson, dance practice, then recording in the studio. And finally, a meal if he could squeeze it in, and it would be more working on projects, papers, and studying.

The tightness in his chest started to ache.

Jeongguk looked up, only to meet Yoongi's narrowed eyes. Averting his own gaze, he stood up and quickly picked up his now-empty bowl, rinsed it out, and grabbed his bag.

"Jin-hyung, can you take me to school this morning?" Seokjin took him to school most days, but around comebacks it sometimes wasn't possible.

"I can take you this morning, but you'll have to catch a bus home. Sorry JK, manager-nim insisted I pick up an extra vocal lesson before dance practice," he sent a wry grin towards Jeongguk, ruffling his hair as he passed by him on his way to the sink to rinse out his own bowl.

Jeongguk smiled back. "Don't worry hyung, it's fine."

"Wahh, look at our Jungkook-ie, so understanding of his hyungs," Hoseok joined the fray, pinching Jeongguk's cheek and making strange faces, eliciting giggles out of the 95-liners still at the kitchen table, watching Jeongguk trying desperately to escape Hoseok's grasp. "Where's our little brat of a maknae today, huh?"

Namjoon walked into the kitchen, still toweling off his still-damp hair, obviously fresh out of the shower. Upon seeing the scene in front of him, he let out a loud laugh, "Hobi-hyung, let our poor maknae go. He's probably exhausted between all the practice on top of preparing for his midterms."

Even though their leader's voice was jovial, when Jeongguk glanced over at him, his gaze was sharp and knowing. And at the reminder of his exams, the invisible band around his chest seemed to tighten, and he bit his lip and looked down at his shoes.

Luckily for him, Hoseok was already pulling him in towards his chest and missed his face fall slightly, already cooing over "their poor baby maknae who works so hard" in an overly-high pitched voice, which sent Jimin and Taehyung back into a fit of giggles.

Jeongguk sunk into the embrace for just a moment before squirming and pushing away with a, "gah, hyung, leave me alone, I'm going to be late for school," which of course wasn't taken seriously, as his hyung clutched at his own chest, faking hurt at the rejection. Jeongguk and the other members couldn't help but laugh at Hoseok's theatrics. All except one.

And as Jeongguk stepped back from the warm atmosphere of the kitchen, throwing his bag over his shoulder and then scratching roughly at the inside of his arm, heading out to the car to wait for Seokjin, he missed the sharp cat-like eyes that had been carefully watching him ever since breakfast.

 

 

Jeongguk was screwed.

His math exam had gone terribly; he knew he'd panic and forget everything. Between that and the time limit making him feel all too pressured... There had really been no chance.

And on top of that, that particular teacher was all about immediate results, so of course she had run them all before the day was over. Then of course, when he was sitting in last period, counting down the minutes until he could leave, an aide came in and gave a note to the teacher, who promptly walked over and passed it to Jeongguk.

His heart had sank the moment he saw the note requesting him to go to his math classroom after school ended.

So, he had spent the next half hour getting lectured over his failing grade and how he needed to work harder and that even though he was an idol he still had to do well in school and put in effort. About halfway through, he stopped trying to explain to her that he did, he had studied so hard, he just honestly didn't get all of it, and he had testing anxiety on top of that, because she clearly didn't believe him.

By the time he was able to escape her harsh gaze and even harsher words, the bus was gone. Jeongguk stared at the bus stop, mouth slightly open, unable to believe his horrible luck.

He felt the tightness in his chest increase, now building up to a painful ache. He was almost choking on it. The dorm was almost thirty minutes away from school by car... It would take forever to get home and he was exhausted. There was a prickling behind his eyes and he scoffed, forcing the tears back. He wouldn't cry over something this stupid, despite how horribly his day was going.

Jeongguk considered asking one of his hyungs to pick him up, but... Seokjin was the only one with a license and a car, and he was at vocal practice, so they'd have to arrange something with one of the managers. And of course, the school would've already notified the managers of his failed exam. He didn't think he could take another lecture tonight.

If he walked quickly and took a couple short cuts, he could probably make it back in a little bit over an hour. Maybe more? He wasn't sure, but that'd probably be a good guess. That'd still mean he'd be over two hours late, and he'd miss all of his vocal lesson, as well as part of dance practice.

He sighed. He was going to be in so much trouble.

The tight thickness in his chest seemed to swell, making him light-headed with anxiety, and he scratched his left forearm sharply, using the pain to ground himself a little bit.

And that was another thing that was new within the past week or so. He'd started obsessively scratching at the insides of his arms, and there were semi-permanent red lines on the left one from how often it occurred at this point. Jeongguk knew that it wasn't healthy, and he should probably tell one of his hyungs, but... It was kinda embarassing? The golden maknae using pain to cope.

Sucking in a breath, he began the long journey home.

 

Almost an hour later, he was only a little over halfway to the dorms. His feet were dragging across the pavement, and he felt a little sick to his stomach as the churning picked up. Finally succumbing to the urge to stop walking, he pulled out his phone, only to be rewarded with the red battery symbol. His heart sunk. He'd wondered why none of his hyungs had called him, and now he knew why. They were going to be pissed.

But that wasn't his biggest problem at the moment. The sun was starting to go down, and he still had about an hours walk left. Yeah, he'd say his estimated walking time was a little off.

 

 

By the time Jeongguk made it back to the dorm, his anxiety was a beast, making breathing a difficulty, although he wasn't entirely sure whether that was because of his anxiety or the utter exhaustion pounding through him. He reached into the side pocket of his bag for his key, only to find it empty. And he remembered that amidst Hoseok's theatrics this morning, he'd forgotten to grab it off the counter.

Jeongguk pressed his palms into his eyes to keep the tears at bay. Literally everything that could go wrong today had gone wrong. And now he couldn't even sneak in quietly and hope to not be noticed for a while.

That was even assuming any of them were home. Since his phone was dead, Jeongguk had no idea what time it was. For all he knew, they were all at dance practice, or gone straight to recording afterwards, and he could be stuck in the hallway for hours.

Raising a shaking hand to the door, he knocked three times, scratching at his arm (which was probably bleeding at this point), and praying that at least one of his hyungs would be home.

Before he could even raise his hand to try again, the door flew open, revealing a frantic Seokjin, Namjoon right behind him. Seokjin immediately pulled him inside and shut the door behind him.

"Jeon Jeongguk where the hell have you been? Minnie and Tae called me on my way back and asked how long a bus normally took to get back because an hour after school ended, guess what? You still weren't here. And they'd called you probably a dozen times apiece, but guess what? You didn't answer."

"Hyung -"

"Right now, the rest of your hyungs, minus Yoongi since we couldn't get ahold of him at the studio until his recording had already started, are out looking for you. And you couldn't be bothered to let us know where you were?"

"Hyung -"

"Do you know how terrified the rest of us have been? Why the hell wouldn't you answer your phone?"

"Hyung -"

"It's been over two hours since you should've gotten home, so you'd better have a good explanation for all this."

"Hyung," This time, Jeongguk's voice was soft, and slightly wobbly, which seemed to immediately get Seokjin's attention, and he lowered his voice.

"Where were you Gguk-ah?"

"I missed the bus, hyung." The last of Jeongguk's energy seemed to leave him with that sentence, and he leaned back on the door for support.

"Aish, Jeongguk, did you walk all the way here? Why didn't you call us? Or answer our calls?"

"Yes, and because my phone was dead."

"Well how'd you miss the bus?" A new voice, Namjoon's joined from behind Seokjin.

Jeongguk closed his eyes. "I really don't want to talk about it."

"Well I think we deserve an answer, you've been missing for over two hours, almost three." Namjoon rarely pulled out his leader voice, but when he did, it ensured that whoever it was directed at would listen.

But Jeongguk really couldn't do this right now. "I promise I'll explain tomorrow, hyungs, but I really," his voice cracked on the word, and he cleared his throat, voice now even softer than before. "Really don't want to talk about it right now. I'm really tired and it's hard to think." He pressed his hands to the sides of his head, massaging his temples and trying not to start crying in front of the two other members. He wouldn't be that weak.

Seokjin reached forward and pulled the maknae into his chest, and Jeongguk let out a sigh, sinking into the embrace. The fact that there were no complaints from Jeongguk let the other two know the depth of the youngest's exhaustion.

"I'm sorry for yelling at you Kook. I was terrified that something had happened to you," Seokjin's voice was gentle, but quivered slightly, and Jeongguk immediately felt guilty for worrying his eldest hyung so much. "I'm sure you're exhausted, and as much as I'd like to say that you should go to bed and sleep for the next twelve hours, the managers insist that you go to vocal recording. Do you think you'll be okay? Yoongi's the only one in the studio right now."

"Yeah Jin-hyung, I can do it." He whispered into the eldest's neck, almost preening when he felt Namjoon's long fingers comb through his hair. Normally, he wasn't that big on skinship, especially when compared to the other members of the maknae line, but after the difficult day he'd had, he felt borderline touch-starved, and their soothing hands seemed to loosen the grip of anxiety, at least for a while.

Reluctantly, he pulled back and set his bag down in the living room, not even bothering to change before going to the kitchen, grabbing his key off of the counter, and heading out to the studio.

"Bye hyungs, could you please tell the others that I'm really sorry that I made them worry and explain what happened?" When the two of them made noises of ascent, he slipped out the door and wearily made his way to the recording studio. Now that he wasn't safely in the arms of the others, he felt his anxiety building back up again. It was going to be a long night.

 

 

Jeongguk walked into the studio, he fully expected Yoongi to be waiting for him. After all, he hadn't been able to help look for him, and ever since the last ordeal in the studio, he'd been one of Jeongguk's most overprotective hyungs. Not to mention Yoongi would be the one helping him record, so it was just the two of them in the studio.

So, when he was greeted with dead silence, that familiar prickle built up beneath his skin. Yoongi was probably angry with him, he was only here because Bang PD had insisted, he'd worried them, been an inconvenience, again-

He scratched at his arm.

Forcing himself to move from his place in the doorway, Jeongguk walked back towards the recording studio, and sure enough, was met with Yoongi's back. He quietly entered and shut the door gently behind him, making sure it clicked shut so that Yoongi would know he wasn't alone, then remained standing in the entrance.

He scratched at his arm.

When his hyung stood up from his chair and began to walk away without so much as a glance in his direction, the tight ache in his chest seemed to expand, his head spun and his hands shook because see see see this is it the worst possible ending to a no good very bad day-

He scratched at his arm.

But then Yoongi turned and sat on the couch tucked into the corner of the studio, and wordlessly held up his arms towards Jeongguk. A low whine resounded from his throat and he stumbled forwards into his hyung's lap, burying his face in his collarbone, a position that seemed to be becoming a common position with him and his older members. The older leaned back so that Jeongguk was half on him, half on the couch, but they were chest to chest, Jeongguk's head on his chest, listening to his heart beat. Yoongi's fingers ran down the back of his head all the way down to the base of his spine, then back up again, soothing.

Somehow, Yoongi seemed to know just what to know without Jeongguk having to say a word, realizing that leaving the silence open would be detrimental because of the headspace he was stuck in. So Yoongi talked. He talked about how he couldn't wait until this comeback was over, about how Namjoon managed to spill his coffee all over himself that morning, how the 95-liners were engaged in some sort of prank war with Hoseok, he even just started counting at one point. Anything to give Jeongguk something to latch on, something to ground him from the spinning twisting turning churning mixing horrible no good bad bad bad bad thoughts too many of them overwhelming-

And only when Yoongi seemed to deem his dongsaeng aware (or maybe stable) enough to talk, did he ask what was wrong.

"Kid, I know you've been overwhelmed all week. We all do. But what happened today? I saw you this morning... Something just wasn't right."

And Jeongguk told him everything. About how all week, his chest was tight with anxiety, how it seemed worse this morning, how he failed his exam and missed the bus because his teacher seemed to think he wasn't trying. He told him how hard he was trying, how he was getting almost no sleep, how life seemed a bit fuzzy lately. He told him about how he had to walk for two hours to get home, despite his exhaustion, how his phone died and he'd forgotten his key, how he felt guilty because he'd scared his hyungs.

Jeongguk couldn't keep the tears at bay at times, the overwhelming anxiety making it too difficult to hold back, shaking hands fiddling with the hem of Yoongi's shirt. But his hyung only soothed him, reassuring him, reminding him of the validity of his feelings, of the fact that it was okay to cry, that he only needed to come to them, there would be no judgement.

And in return, the maknae took a deep shuddering breath and sat up.

"Hyung, there's something else." But before he could say any more, that band of pressure returned quickly and he gasped for air, crying out and grasping with his hands for something, anything, to anchor him.

And Yoongi was there.

He gripped Jeongguk's hands tightly in his own, uncurling the tight fists and placing gently kisses to his palms, gently shushing him and trying to help him regulate his breathing.

"Hey, kid, I'm really sorry but I need to know what you're at. Can you give me a number?" Yoongi's voice was soft, so so soft, but enough to reach Jeongguk over the roaring in his ears, so he gasped out a weak "eight."

"Alright. Alright, that's okay. I just need you to breathe with me, okay? In for four seconds, hold for four seconds, out for four seconds, okay? Can you do that with me?"

Yoongi got off the couch, keeping Jeongguk's hands in his own, and crouched on the floor in front of him. Gently putting the younger's hands on his chest, he continued, "alright, match my breathing, okay kid? In four, hold four, out four."

Slowly, Jeongguk's breathing matched itself to Yoongi's steady pace, and the two of them stayed in that position, focusing on keeping air flowing regularly into the maknae's lungs.

But eventually, Jeongguk knew he'd have to finish what he'd tried to say before. "Hyung, I... I'm sorry I freaked out," he ignored Yoongi reassuring him that he had nothing to apologize for, "I really need to tell you something. I... I have a new tic."

Yoongi cocked his head at that. "What do you mean?"

"You know how when we discussed triggers and all that stuff? During you guys' intervention or whatever?" he managed a small smile despite the tightening in his chest once more. "I mentioned how you guys would probably be able to tell if I was anxious or overwhelmed because I had little things I would do?"

Understanding blossomed in Yoongi's eyes.

Jeongguk's voice became even shakier. "Well, a new one's popped up in the last week or so. And it's a little more... Self-destructive? I guess? I mean, I don't know, I just.... I've been scratching at the insides of my arms? Sometimes when the anxiety gets bad it helps me get grounded, or something? It was pretty harmless, you know, but I think," his voice got even quieter. "I think I broke skin today?"

Yoongi's voice was gentle but firm, and left no room for argument. "Roll up your sleeves."

With shaking hands, the maknae did as he was told. While the right was red with scratchmarks, Jeongguk was indeed right; the inside of his left forearm was streaked with little smears of blood. Good thing my shirt is black.

Yoongi inhaled sharply, closing his eyes and leaning forward, resting his forehead on Jeongguk's knees. The strong, usually steady hands that still held Jeongguk's own had a slight tremor to them.

"Hyung, I'm sorry, I didn't... I didn't mean to upset you I'm sorry you're already stressed enough I shouldn't have told you -"

When Yoongi raised his head, Jeongguk was shocked (and slightly horrified) to find tears in his normally stoic hyung's eyes. "No, Kookie, no. I'm so so unbelieveably glad you told me. But... I noticed you scratching before. It kind of set off some warning bells, but I brushed it off. I'm sorry. I should've said something, asked... But the past is in the past, and wallowing won't do anything to help the future. So, thank you for telling me." With a small smile, Yoongi pressed another gentle kiss to each palm.

Jeongguk stared down at the elder. His wise words would never cease to amaze him.

"And now, Jeon Jeongguk, we are going home."

"But what about recording?"

Yoongi raised an eyebrow. "Now, do you really feel like recording?" As if proving a point, he reached up and brushed a tear off of Jeongguk's cheek.

Jeongguk blushed. "No."

"That's what I thought," the elder said, standing up. "Now, we are going to go home, you are going to shower and we are going to disinfect your arms. Then, we're going to push my bed up to Seokjin's and all of us are going to cuddle, eat junk food from Seokjin's secret stash that he thinks none of us know about, and binge Studio Ghibli films until we fall asleep. How does that sound?"

Jeongguk stared up at him with wide eyes. "B-but I have homework to do?"

"I don't think so. If you try to do any homework tonight, I'll throw Namjoon's Ryan plushies into a mud puddle and tell him you did it." He grinned as the younger giggled. "And you're having a day off tomorrow. You're drained, mentally and physically. I'll call the school in the morning and let them you're not coming and I'll let Bang PD-nim know what's going on. Bare minimum details of course."

Reaching down, he pulled Jeongguk up off the couch and into a hug, which was gladly accepted.

"Where you at now, kid?"

Jeongguk sighed, then after a moment replied, "probably a four."

Yoongi pulled back and smiled at him, gums and all. "Well, that's definitely better than before. Now, let's get home and make that a zero."

The older gently wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him into his side, and together the two of them made their way home, where their five other brothers would be waiting for them with open arms, happy to spend the night with the ones they loved and trusted most. Their family.