Taehyung watches the clock as seconds tick by.
His mother is making dinner, humming a cheerful tune under her breath, but Tae can see the tension in her shoulders that she is desperately trying to hide. He glances at Seokjin who is also watching her. His brother notices him looking and the concerned frown on his face disappears, replaced by a reassuring smile, but it is strained, and Tae wonders why he and his mother still insist on pretending, on turning a blind eye to what's really happening right in front of them.
Excuses slip out of his mother's mouth, trying to convince them and herself. It never works. "He is just late at work again," she says. "You know how he is."
And Tae does, which is why he doesn't believe her. But he smiles at his mother and lies. It isn't the first time so they all know what to expect.
Seokjin gets up and starts to help her, telling her to rest and Tae goes to sit next to her. He listens to her empty lies and smiles and agrees to whatever she says just to give her a sense of ease, no matter how small and short-living it will be.
He doesn't show up, just as he expects and Seokjin gently coaxes his mother into eating, and he manages to make her take a few bites before she is off to bed. Tae considers going to her bedroom and making up an excuse for being there but he knows that his mother doesn't like anyone to see her cry. So he swallows the lump in his throat and sits next to Seokjin to watch TV, none of them really paying attention.
At some point, Seokjin wraps his arm around him and Tae rests his head on his shoulder. He doesn't make some sort of silly story to cheer Seokjin up as he usually does because he is too tired; he is stretched too thin and he isn't sure if he can handle another day of the silent tension in his home anymore.
Seokjin doesn't talk for the rest of the night. The only sound in the room is some TV show running in the background. Tae snuggles closer to him and Seokjin holds his hands, the other playing with his hair.
Tae falls asleep like this, surrounded by Seokjin’s warmth and soothing presence, and for once, nightmares don't plague his dreams.
Tae hears the familiar noise the next night. He glances at the clock and hopes that no one is awake to meet him. When he hears Seokjin's voice, he gets up quickly and as quietly as possible from his bed, peeking from the door before getting out and tip-toeing to the source of the sound. His parents' bedroom is slightly ajar but he knows that his mother isn't going to get up whether she is awake or not; she is too used to the cycle of pretending do anything about it.
He finds his father and Seokjin in his brother’s bedroom. His father is yelling about something but Tae quickly tunes it out; he's found out that on days like this, his father would find anything to be angry about.
Seokjin's fists are clenched by his side. He is looking at the floor and every part of his body is tense and rigid. His father yells at him to be a man and look him in the eye and he does, face devoid of every expression.
His father starts to yell again and Seokjin barely has time to answer before he interrupts Seokjin by pushing him.
The man looks sober and that worries Tae more; it means that this may not stop as quickly as it sometimes does when his father can't stand for too long to finish the argument. Tae bites his lips to stop himself from making any sounds and just watches his brother instead. Seokjin takes a couple of steps back from the impact, but his eyes never stray away from his father's.
"You're not going to talk to me like that. Have you lost your fucking mind?"
The slap is loud and Tae flinches. Seokjin's face is whipped to the side and he closes his eyes, stubborn as always to show the tears that Tae knows are there. He swallows once, twice, and then he opens them.
He sees Tae peeking from the door and for the first time in what seems like forever, Tae sees fear in his eyes. Seokjin doesn't move but Tae already knows what he wants to say. He shakes his head, telling him that he isn't leaving.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you, boy!" His father shouts, shaking Seokjin. And his brother looks up, no defiance in his gaze this time.
Tae knows that he is doing it for him; that he is doing all of this just so that his father would take it on him and not Tae if he finds him, and he hates it. Hates being so helpless; hates getting stuck in this corner wanting to help but never able to; because he isn't strong enough, he isn't brave enough to face his father.
And so he will wait, until his father calms down enough to leave the room, hoping and praying to anyone who is out there that he will just go to bed or leave the house.
And eventually he does, stomping out and Tae scrambles to reach his own room before he spots him. His father closes the door after him, the sound loud in the quiet night. Tae waits for a couple of painful long seconds to make sure that he isn't just waiting outside of the room, and then he goes to where Seokjin is. He makes him sit down and holds his shaking hands tightly. He hugs him when he's calmed down and not flinching from the slightest contact. He runs a soothing hand down his back, trying to offer silent support because he knows that Seokjin doesn't like to talk about it — not now and not ever.
And that is all he can do. It is all they can ever do.
Tae remembers when it all began. When his mother had some troubles with his previous father and troubles with her mind. Things he didn’t understand then because he was too young. All he knew that one day his mother had waited till that man was out of the house and she packed their things and took his hands and left.
She had told him then that they were going to somewhere else, somewhere much better than the small suffocating house they lived in. Tae had just followed her, secretly happy to be out of the house for once. He didn't know then that he was never going to see his real father again.
He doesn't remember much of that time after leaving except his mother waking up screaming every couple of nights, holding him tight with all her might, while he just held on to her, scared for reasons he hadn't known then.
They kept moving for a couple of months, his mother suddenly declaring that they had to leave and Tae never questioned her. She didn't like him asking too many questions.
A long time passed before his mother calmed down again; before he stopped hearing her pacing steps in the small hotel room at midnight, before the strong smell of alcohol wasn't filling the room all the time.
And then, she met someone. A guy in a park when he was playing with other children. He was tall and strong, and he had a boy standing next to him. The boy was older than Tae, and he didn't speak a lot. His father had introduced him as Seokjin, ruffling his hair. Jin gave him a small uncertain smile. Tae grinned.
The man started to visit them in their new home every couple of days, sometimes bringing Seokjin with him. Jin slowly opened up to him and Tae was glad to finally have a friend that he wouldn't have to leave.
Sometimes he would catch his mother speaking with that man, and he watched in wonder as he made her smile and laugh and brought back his mother's old self. He had almost forgotten how she used to be.
A couple of months passed and then they got married. Tae was 12 then, dressed in a black suit. He watched them kiss, wondering how he was going to think of this man as his father. He already had one.
He sometimes wondered what had happened to him, but his mother quickly shut him up when he started to talk about him. She told him to forget him, to remember how he used to treat him and then wipe him of his memory. But it wasn't easy. He was still his father, and he still wanted to see him every now and then, but he learnt to stop bringing it up.
Still, Seokjin's father was nice and kind to him and Tae thought that he could get used to living with him. And Seokjin was his best friend, his only friend, and he wanted to stay with him forever.
Taehyung should have seen it coming when everything started to crash down around him.
He and Seokjin were out to hang out with a couple of friends, and when they returned the house was quiet. Their father was sitting in the kitchen, holding a book in his hands, but his eyes weren't following the text and Tae doubted that he was paying attention at all.
"Where's Mum?" Seokjin had asked.
"Sleeping in the bedroom," he answered, his tone clipped. Tae frowned, watching the way his dad gripped the cover of the book tightly as if he wanted to tear it off, and how Seokjin's expression hardened and became unreadable.
Tae had shrugged it off then, telling himself that he was being paranoid, that it wasn't the same as it was when he was a kid. Things had changed, and his mother wouldn't fall for the same type of man again, she wouldn't fall for the same deadly trap twice.
He saw her the next day, with her neatly combed hair and her perfectly applied makeup on her bruised skin. He couldn't see it, but the strained smile and the tension shown in her every movement were too much for him to kid himself.
Seokjin had already woken up and he was looking anywhere but at his mother. Rage towards Seokjin bubbled beneath Tae's skin at that moment, and he couldn't explain why; whether it was because his mother and Seokjin had some sort of silent agreement to pretend like nothing had happened, or was it because he caught a look of guilt cross his brother's face before he schooled his face once more into indifference, or maybe because Tae knew that he couldn't do anything about the situation, not with his mother refusing to talk, refusing to get help.
The last time he tried to talk to her, she had pushed him away harshly, her face filled with so much hatred towards him that Tae had flinched and looked away. She apologised afterwards, and the only sentence he remembered was one she had whispered in his ear right before she started to cry, "You just look too much like your father."
A cold breeze ruffles Tae's hair as he stands in front of his school, waiting for his brother. His eyes search the place around him. The chatter slowly dies down as students leave the school.
He knows that Seokjin hasn’t gone home yet; it's become their habit ever since they knew each other that one of them would wait for the other and then they would walk home together. And Seokjin's college is near, he should have been here an hour ago.
He spots Seokjin walking slowly towards him and he sighs in relief, chasing away the ridiculous worry in his head; it isn't like their father or anyone can get to them here.
When Seokjin gets closer to him, he sees the ugly bruise on his cheek.
"What happened?" He demands. Seokjin shrugs, looking at the floor.
Tae grits his teeth, following Seokjin when he starts walking. A couple of seconds tick by before he loses the ability to hold it in anymore and he stands in front of Seokjin, stopping him.
Tae looks up to him; Seokjin's skin is still soft and clean as always except for his cheek, and his lips are split open, one of his hands is bloody and bruised. Tae holds his arm gingerly, silently asking for answers. Seokjin flinches as if he were hit and takes a step back.
"It is just a fight, Taetae. Don't worry about it."
"You never get into fights."
Seokjin shrugs. "I lost my temper."
Seokjin stays silent.
"God, I don't fucking know," he says, finally looking at him. "I was walking out and — this fucking boy. He said a stupid comment and it usually doesn't get to me. I never let it get to me but I was already angry about what happened this morning and...and I fucking lost it."
Tae watches his brother for a moment. He can't bear to see the guilt in his eyes. "Well, at least you kicked his ass."
Seokjin chuckles and the tension in his shoulders loosens a little. "Not really."
Tae holds Seokjin's uninjured hand and tugs at him. "Come on, let's get you patched up."
"God, Mum is going to give me a lecture," Seokjin groans.
"I look forward to that," Tae said, which earned him a light hit on his shoulder.
When they arrive home, they find their mother standing at the doorstep. The relieved smile on her lips disappears when she looks at Seokjin. A flash of something appears in her eyes for just a second, something like fear, but it quickly evaporates before Tae can decipher it.
She takes Seokjin's hand in hers and guides him into the room. She is quiet as she looks at the swelling cheek before going to get an ice pack. She doesn’t speak except to ask the necessary questions and Seokjin avoids looking at her in the eye.
They spend the night in Tae's bedroom, watching old TV shows because they couldn't sleep. Advertisements come and Tae mutes the TV.
"I got so angry, Tae," he whispers. "The guy was an asshole but I shouldn't have gotten that angry. I was getting everything out on him. I don't even know why I hit him that hard."
A moment passes before Seokjin continues. "I feel like I'm turning into him."
"You aren't like him," Tae immediately interjects.
Seokjin searches his eyes for a while before he lies on his back, staring at the ceiling. "God, I hate him so much. I despised everything he did ever since I was a child and — and when you came, and they got married. I thought...I thought he would change. They looked so happy and he was more relaxed than I ever remembered. I was such an idiot. And now — I'm acting just like him."
"The guy deserved it."
"No, he didn't. Not all that. I kept going even when he stopped, even when he was just trying to block out my hits. Even when he looked scared."
Tae doesn't know what to say to that. So, he holds Seokjin's hand in his, squeezing it gently.
Seokjin looks at their joined hands for a moment, before his eyes snap up to his. "You will stop me, won't you, if you ever see me acting like him?"
"Of course. I will kick your ass myself."
Seokjin laughs. "Okay then."
One day, their mother leaves.
A couple of days pass by before they find her body - “Suicide,” the policeman says solemnly to them - before Tae lets it sink that she has really left them.
Tae wakes up, his vision blurry. He sees a shadow in front of him, and he sits up quickly. A hand muffles his scream.
"Stay quiet," the man whispers.
Tae relaxes. Jin smiles and motions for him to follow him.
Seokjin grabs Tae's jacket and trousers and throws it at him. Tae quickly changes his clothes without questions and grabs his phone, following his brother outside of the bedroom.
The wood creaks loudly in the otherwise quiet hallway.
Tae grabs his wrist. "Wait, hyung. Dad-"
"He is sleeping." He turns around and continues to walk as quietly as possible. Tae hesitates for a brief second before he follows suit.
They go down the stairs. Jin keeps looking around, stopping every now and then, before he continues to walk again.
When they reach the small living room, Tae finds his father snoring loudly on the couch, his arms resting limply next to him. A broken bottle is on the floor, the scatterings of it shining against the light coming from the TV.
Tae opens his mouth to ask about what happened but decides against it; he doesn't want to risk waking him up. He watches Jin closely but there aren’t any obvious bruises that he can see.
Tae watches his father for a moment, a sweaty drunk lump on the couch. He knows what Jin is doing; he told him before over and over again that one day they are going get out of here, that one day they will walk out and never come back to this house, but he never thought it was going to actually happen.
"Tae, what are you waiting for?" Jin whispers.
"Nothing." He turns around and looks at his brother who is waiting for him by the door. "Let's go."
He isn't sure where they are going, isn’t sure what Jin’s plan is, but it doesn’t matter right now. He knows that he will lose it if he stays here another day.
The cold wind greets him as soon as they are outside. Tae shivers and wraps his arms around himself. He looks at the clear dark sky; it won’t be long before the sun rises.
He walks alongside Jin, watching his face every now and then. He reaches out to him and grabs his hand. It is red and warm. Jin looks at him for a moment and offers a reassuring smile. Tae smiles back.
They walk for a couple of miles until Tae can no longer move, then they take a taxi. Jin mumbles the address to the driver while Tae looks around, watching. He knows that there is no way that their father has woken up and caught up to them, but he has to make sure.
The sun is just starting to rise when they enter the hotel room.
"Where are we going from here?" Tae asks as Jin sits on the bed next to his.
"I'm not sure yet," Jin says, running his hand through his hair. "I didn't plan that far. I...I didn't even plan for us to run away today but I couldn't..." He pauses, swallowing. "I couldn't stay there. I just couldn't."
"I'm glad we got out of there.” He stands up and goes to sit next to Jin. He wraps his arms around him and Jin lets out a small exhale, relaxing. "We are free, hyung."
Seokjin nods, looking at the floor.
"I could have hit him," Jin whispers. They are both lying on Jin's bed, watching as the sun rises slowly. "I wanted to so much, Tae. It'd have been so easy."
Tae turns to look at him. Jin is still watching the sky through the small window of the room, but his eyes are distant, unfocused. "But I couldn't do it. He was drunk, couldn't even stand up straight, but I was scared. I was so scared even though I know that in that moment that I was stronger, that I could take him out."
Jin turns to look at him. "I don't understand why I didn't do anything, why I always let him continue.”
Tae doesn't have an answer for that - He has been asking himself the same question for years now - but Jin isn't expecting any. His brother closes his eyes and lets out a sigh.
"It is better that you didn't," Tae says after a couple of moments. "You could've gotten into trouble."
"I don't care."
"Yeah, you do. If they locked you up, what would you do without me?" Tae grins. "You would go mad from boredom."
Jin rolls his eyes. "I can think of a couple of things to do."
Seokjin just shakes his head at that and Tae lets his eyes flutter shut, finally relaxing enough to sleep. They are free now, and he is going to worry about everything else later.