Sometimes? It's just nice knowing...you're there.
As a general rule of thumb, Yoongi does his best not to form new bad habits. He has plenty of old ones and keeping those under wraps tends to be a full-time job in and of itself. Despite his best intentions, as he gets older he sleeps even less than he did in his adolescence – which is saying something. He has tried a number of so-called remedies, all to no avail, and it’s only one day, sitting across from one Jung Hoseok and looking like death, that a new option makes itself known.
“You look terrible.”
“Avoid mirrors. Got it.”
“I’m serious. When’s the last time you slept – really slept?” Hoseok’s frown is slight but the weight it bears on Yoongi’s conscience is immense. It has always been this way. Hoseok can tilt his head to one side and Yoongi will worry if he is okay; Hoseok can do nothing and Yoongi will worry in general. These are long-bred protective tendencies he has not been able to shake since childhood when they were far more warranted; in recent years Hoseok has his life together a lot more than Yoongi. But to Yoongi this is fine.
“Couple days?” he says and knows that Hoseok knows he means rather longer than that. Nudging his tea to one side, Hoseok sighs, staring down at the space where he rests his hands. For a while they sit like that, surrounded by the coffee shop’s candid din consisting of orders shouted and customers both kind and terrible; laughter of friends and too-loud conversations of people on Bluetooth. When Hoseok looks up, his mouth is crooked with consideration over his words. Yoongi laughs softly. “What?”
“Well I was gonna say don’t laugh but too late for that.” Hoseok shakes his head. “But have you tried…I dunno, calling someone?”
“I don’t want a shrink. That’s not the kind of problem I have anymore.”
Of all the people in the world, there are maybe two Yoongi would be so honest with. One is the person in front of him; the other is on business in the States, promoting his book and giving lectures on something Yoongi does not quite remember, though he’ll watch the recordings later and talk to Namjoon about them anyway. In Yoongi's studio he has two shelves: one filled with books and the other filled arrayed with dried flowers. He remembers the first flower the same as he remembers the first day he met Jung Hoseok -- as his family pulled into the driveway and his not-yet-best-friend waved from the living room window. And he remembers the first book the same as he remembers meeting Kim Namjoon -- as Yoongi stood contemplating the long walk home in the rain only to take a few steps and find the rain had already stopped thanks to a red umbrella overhead.
Pushing his hand back through his hair, he sighs.
If anyone has the right to confront him about himself, it's them. But he doesn't like it either way.
“Not like that,” Hoseok waves a hand then digs around in his bag – a gift from Seokjin that speaks volumes about how much the older man listens (Hoseok mentioned it almost a year ago but Seokjin remembered and grabbed it on a good sale, dropped it in Hoseok’s lap at work and said ‘treat yourself’ and walked away to return to his school-nurse duties.) “Ah!” He retrieves his phone, covered in stickers of various cute things and some which seem to sparkle. He once put one on Yoongi’s cheek and Yoongi forgot about it until someone at the studio pointed it out and said: I didn’t know you had kids. After almost Actually Dying, Yoongi glanced in a window, removed the sticker, and texted Hoseok that he would be collecting child-support.
“’Ah’?” Yoongi deadpans.
“Try this,” Hoseok slides the phone over. It is open to a number whose contact info reads: Save Me Inc. Yoongi can feel a twitch in his right eye; also his left.
“It’s a sleep hotline!”
“Excuse me?” Yoongi voices his thoughts.
“Like, I found out about it from Seokjin who heard about it from Jimin who heard about it from Taemin, who—“
“Okay okay, stop. Stop. Uh. But seriously?” If Yoongi was an owl his head would have turned all the way around by now.
“I know it sounds stupid,” Hoseok says into his tea, sipping once then setting it down again. “But you’ve tried so many other things and it’s not like they’re working and what’s the harm? It’s not like you have to pay for it.”
Yoongi goes to bury his face in his hands but honestly it’s too late. Hoseok has That Look he gets when he’s both worried and frustrated, the anxiety ridden expression Yoongi used to see much more often, a look that scared him years ago because sometimes it was the only look Hoseok had; even when he was smiling, it was there and Yoongi would squeeze his hand just to make sure he was still there. As few things as he finds himself grateful for, these days, Hoseok’s brightness – less burdened, less falling – is at the top.
A few feet away, someone hasn’t capped their coffee properly and it spills everywhere, including on another customer who proceeds to curse the hapless stranger out in a language Yoongi doesn’t know but swear words are swear words and there’s only so many tones for them. He rubs his temples.
The pen behind his ear comes in handy. He clicks it open, scrawls the number on his wrist (palms are unreliable, he finally has learned after losing many notes to smudged ink and That One Time he accidentally got a phone sex line instead wherein he proceeded to die and revive just in time to go to work) and watches as Hoseok’s shoulders relax a little. It’s enough to make him smile.
Technically Yoongi could say he called and just…not. Technically. But lying is a habit he's been trying to break. Still, it takes almost four days of no sleep whatsoever for Yoongi to cave. He’s staring at the cupboards in his kitchen not because he is hungry but because he is bored, boredom having even won out over his general tendency to prefer Not Moving once home. It is almost 4:12 in the A.M. and he is less than bright-eyed. Almost as if under a kind of spell, his hand slips into his pocket, pulls out his phone, and presses the number he’d transposed into it under the Contact Header of SMH.
A couple rings happen and Yoongi is about to hang up when it connects after a pre-programmed computer telling him how this call may be monitored for quality assurance.
“Good morning. Thank you for calling Save Me sleep hotline. May I ask who I’m speaking to?”
It is a bit of a mouthful. Yoongi feels bad for the kid – it must be a kid, his voice is so soft? A job is a job though, he figures and knows this better than most. A subconscious reflex, his shoulder throbs.
“…do I get to know your name too?” he asks and he can’t help it. He’s a little reticent despite being the one to make the call. A pause happens.
“We don’t disclose names, as we don’t want people to get attached to one assistant. There are nights where we aren’t here, after all,” the voice says and it’s gentle, as if he’s trying to take care of Yoongi without even knowing him and for the second time so far Yoongi almost hangs up. Not because this stranger is bad at this but because he is very good and that’s…a little much to handle. His finger hovers over the End Call as the voice says, “But you don’t need to give me yours either. We can just talk.”
It’s so benign, so weirdly innocent. Yoongi forgets about hanging up, says, “Talk?”
The voice laughs. There is a breathy quality to it, windswept. Yoongi swallows around nothing in particular, waits.
“Well. Sometimes it helps. That is what we are here for.” Behind this nameless kindness, Yoongi can’t hear anything, which is quite odd.
“Do you work from home or something? Why’s it so quiet?” These are probably questions He also cannot answer but it’s too late now so Yoongi just waits again, his fingertips drumming some unwritten cadence on the countertop.
“Mm, no. But we have our own offices. Well,” the voice grows sheepish. “Not mine, I mean it’s mine because I’m the one working right now…er.”
“Er.” Yoongi echoes himself and this boy and surprises himself by laughing.
Something unfurls in his chest, a tight stress he did not know he was carrying.
Yoongi blinks and continuing in his lack of a filter – thanks in great part to no sleep, undoubtedly – says, “You sound too young to be up this late.”
The indignant sputtering sound gets another laugh and Yoongi isn’t really sorry because he doesn’t mean it in a bad way. This person is cute, if a faceless, nameless voice can be cute.
“I’m old enough,” the voice frowns. Yoongi hums thoughtfully.
Sighing, the reply comes equal parts good nature and tender chagrin, “I don’t know how to address you without a name. That’s the only thing.”
“…ah,” Yoongi considers, meandering from his kitchen to his living room where he flops down on the couch and buries his feet in the blanket there because he’s lost most feeling in his toes at this point. Damn defective heater.
“I’m supposed to ask you questions.”
“What’s your name. Why do you think you can’t sleep. What do you do for a living. That kind of thing,” the voice says and Yoongi pictures a graceful hand ticking these points off fingertip after fingertip.
“Call me Suga,” he suggests, his work moniker which no one should care about unless reading the producing label on today’s hottest pianists is a Thing now. “I can’t sleep because I can’t fucking sleep. And I don’t want to talk about my job. That all?”
“Oh…okay, well,” the voice trails off and Yoongi doesn’t know what to make of it but he’s relieved somehow when it comes back, “That’s a start.”
“Listen, if I call back like tomorrow and you’re not here do I have to answer these questions all over again?”
Yoongi makes a sound.
“Guess I won’t be calling back.”
“But everyone who works here is really nice,” the voice insists. “The idea is that maybe if one person can’t help, another can. I’m just—“
“But I like your voice.”
The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them but Yoongi is too exhausted to be effectively mortified by himself – for now. For now, he’s just being honest, just admitting that for whatever weird reason this voice on the other end of the call is calming, is nice the way very little is nice in the world and he…likes it.
“How did you find out about our call line?”
“Ah…alright well. Good.”
Yoongi perks up a little, brow pinched.
The voice laughs a softer sound than before.
“Someone is watching out for you; that’s all I meant.”
Curling on his side, phone pressed unnecessarily close to his cheek, Yoongi stays silent for a long time. A childish part of him wants to ask: why do you care? A pragmatic part of him says: well it’s their job isn’t it. Another part still wonders: but he sounds like he Really means it. And so on. He must be quiet longer than he realizes because he hears as if from far away:
“—uga? Suga? Are you there?”
Such a nice voice, he thinks, as he drifts off to sleep.
When he wakes up, he finds that the call ended only at 8AM, even though Yoongi, groggy and in deep need of caffeine, knows he passed out closer to 5, which means…
Staring down at his phone, Yoongi’s thumb hovers over Delete Contact because he already knows if he doesn’t do it then he will call again, will call until he finds that voice. Even having told him he wouldn’t; pride be damned.
He’s about to click ‘Yes’ to ‘Are You Sure’ when Hoseok’s number comes through and the query changes to ‘Accept’. Yoongi taps.
“Sorry I’m late. On my way.”
“You sound…did you actually sleep?” Hoseok sounds way too excited for such a dreary topic, but that’s friendship for you.
“Yep,” Yoongi says, searching in vain for his other sock.
“You called!” Hoseok chirps.
“Ye-ep,” Yoongi drawls, giving up on socks entirely and shoving his feet bare into his boots. Later, he will be a man filled with regret but for now needs must; he’s already twenty minutes late.
Hoseok waits. Yoongi sighs.
“Thanks,” he pauses and says the way people only speak when they surprise themselves, “…I didn’t even have any bad dreams.”
When Hoseok replies, his tone is the same as hands that are gentle and a heart that loves you. “I’m glad. I’m so glad. Yoongi, that’s so good I--”
“I don’t think I’ll call again…”
“But that was nice…you were right.”
“Ahhh now you’re just saying things you think I want to hear,” Hoseok is back to frowning in his tone.
“Nah,” Yoongi says and then, grabbing his keys, “Hanging up now. See you soon.”
As he ends the call he hears Hoseok mumble to someone: “He’s being weird.”
To be fair, Yoongi supposes he’s not wrong.
At around 10 in the morning, Yoongi is reconsidering deleting the hotline. Then he decides he should reassess the arrangement on a new contract's upcoming album.
At around 1 in the afternoon, Yoongi is even more confident this is the best course of action but he's already sorely in need of more coffee, so he goes to get that instead.
At 7 in the evening he has had several times that much caffeine and not enough food and during his very brief call with Namjoon (far too bright-eyed for how early it is over in the U.S.A) was chastised: no wonder you can't sleep. He almost mentioned the hotline but then thought better of it, thought: well I'm getting rid of it anyway.
At 12 in the morning Yoongi drags himself through his front door after arguing with his keys for about ten minutes, ignores the deep rebellion in his empty stomach and flops down onto the couch. He's deleting call-history when he pauses over SMH and oh right; he was going to delete that.
He reasons that if he waits til around the same time he called the night before, then he's more likely to get...
...whoever it is.
So he waits. About 4 in the morning, losing badly in a game of online GO, Yoongi taps SMH and, unintentionally, holds his breath.
"Good morning. Thank you for calling Save Me sleep hotline. May I ask who I’m speaking to?"
It's not him.
Yoongi hangs up.
He calls the next night and the next with no luck, and he's ready (honestly, for real this time) to give up when persistence pays out.
"Good morning. Thank you for calli--"
"Fucking finally!" A tenuous silence sits between them but Yoongi doesn't let it last very long, adds, "Don't hang up."
Nice-Voice-Person blusters softly. "I wouldn't! That's not..." he trails off sheepishly. "I wouldn't," he repeats though there is a sigh too as he continues, "But didn't I tell you you're supposed to talk to other people too? Suga, the point of--"
Yoongi's chuff of laughter is like punctuation -- a sharp stop you don't need to see to process; the voice pauses.
Between Yoongi's fingers, a pen idles thoughtfully.
"You remember me."
He hears the stranger exhale, a whispering rush of air. A minute disappears, another.
Then softly, softly:
"Sorry," Yoongi says the fourth night he talks to the stranger whose name he may never know despite knowing other things now. For example: Nice-Voice-Person likes video games, is evidently into dancing, doodles when he's talking which he claims helps him focus, which makes sense for a more visual person.
"You're breaking rules for me."
There is some shifting in the background and Yoongi gets the impression his sleep angel (yes he questions who he, Min Yoongi, has become that he has resorted to nicknames like this; but there's no price on getting some actual sleep -- sans nightmares -- for the first time in years) is walking back and forth now probably.
"It's okay," he says eventually. "I'm helping you...aren't I?"
Yoongi nods to his empty apartment and says, "I get at least four hours now. It's life-changing."
The voice has a scattered laugh. "Th..that's so lame? We should aim for at least five. Do you know what that does to your body?"
"Guess I'll find out," Yoongi chuckles.
"Not funny," Nice-Voice says miserably and sounds so genuine that Yoongi relents, says,
"I'm just kidding."
But maybe Nice-Voice has gotten to know him better than he meant for him to, because he simply replies, "No you weren't."
Sometimes they talk about Yoongi's day. Mostly they talk about Yoongi, whatever the focus otherwise, and it's the kind of thing Yoongi would ordinarily run from -- has run from in the past. But with this nameless, faceless person it's somehow easier. Maybe it's because the stranger doesn't force anything, doesn't try to elicit a particular answer from him; maybe it's just his exceptionally nice voice. Maybe it's both.
Whatever it is, Yoongi keeps calling.
"I know you can't give me your real name but don't you have some kind of alias or something I can call you by?" Yoongi asks, reclining on his couch again, tossing a stress ball up in the air and catching it, over and over -- a gift from Jimin who told him he could probably use ten but one was a good start.
"Give me a name then."
Yoongi blinks, surprised.
But a name comes surprisingly easy. He thinks of the name his brother thought of when they were kids and thought they were getting a dog (they didn't.)
"...isn't that a girl's name?"
"Not necessarily," Yoongi shrugs even though there's no one there to see it.
"Who's Holly?" Jimin asks. Yoongi snatches his phone back and tugs Jimin's beanie down over his eyes. "Hey!"
"A friend," Yoongi says.
"What d'you mean?!"
"It's not serious."
"The fuck it's not? You didn't do anything wrong."
"I know that," Holly sounds tense, almost defensive, so Yoongi calms down a little before saying anything else.
"I hate people."
Holly laughs. It sounds sad. "You don't hate me though."
"You're not 'people'. You're Holly." It's so childish. Even Yoongi can hear it in his own tone but he doesn't care. This time when Holly laughs it's not sad -- not as much -- and Yoongi holds onto that like he might hold Holly's hand if he could. "I hope you fought back."
At this, Holly scoffs, a young sound. "'course I did. I won too. I'm pretty strong," he stops himself, the pause that always indicates self-consciousness. Embarrassment. "I mean."
"Good." Yoongi says.
"Ah," Holly says, which gives way to a slight giggle, which makes Yoongi laugh, which makes things a bit alright again for the rest of the night.
He comes to learn that Holly gets picked on a lot though Holly isn't exactly clear as to why. Doesn't matter. It would make Yoongi angry either way. But he also gets the impression that Holly isn't a doormat, which conversely makes him quite happy.
"What would you do if you had only one day left?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"Just one day." Holly pauses. Yoongi pictures him biting his lower lip but as one might expect, the figure is blurry even if the action is not. "What do you do?"
Rhetorical usually, too philosophical, it's the kind of thing that ordinarily would make Yoongi lean back in his chair and sigh, exasperated. But something about the way Holly asks has him tense.
"I don't know." It's the truth.
"Mm. Me neither," Holly says.
"Why are you asking?"
"Curious. A lot of people say they'd blow all their money -- on trips or loved ones or unlikely schemes. A lot of people also say they don't know. I was just wondering which you'd be."
"You're like me. Kind of. I guess I wanted to be sure."
They fall into silence which eventually ebbs into the pencil to paper background noise of Holly drawing something. Yoongi types a few work e-mails. And it's easy.
"But why'd you break up if you're still in love?"
"It's a different kind of love now."
A pause. "Well. He sounds pretty cool, whatever kind of love it is."
"He is. He's the kind of person who...well. I guess..." Yoongi trails off. On the bookshelf at about eye-level, he has a picture-frame. The contents: sunrise on the beach, Namjoon's arm around his shoulders. Not visible: Yoongi's hands playing with the fraying ends of Namjoon's scarf. It was cold that morning but they had all decided to meet -- him, Hoseok, Seokjin, Jimin. Later Hoseok texted him the photo and Yoongi stared at it for a long time thinking what he says now. "I'm a better person 'cause of him."
"--and he's a better person 'cause of me."
"Oh." Holly breathes that syllable out the way most people wake up from deep dreams.
Yoongi rather agrees.
Every night Yoongi calls, and most nights, Holly answers.
Shuffling in the background goes dim then silent. "That's really not necessary."
"Sure it is."
"But I'm just doing my job."
On his side, Yoongi doesn't even take up half of the bed. He draws invisible lines up and down where it's empty, feels guilty for feeling bad when life has given him Holly, misses Holly even though Holly is right here on the phone, feels lonely and says,
"'s that so?"
Soft breaths are the constant calls from inside a seashell on a beach under a sky full of stars.
"And I like you." It doesn't mean more than it is, Yoongi tells himself, but he takes Holly's words in with no particular intention of releasing them, feels indeed like maybe that's what makes sense in the small hours between morning and night. How do you measure the space between friends who do not know each other's faces but would keep each other's secrets like something sacred? What kind of bridge do you need to cross it? Or maybe a bridge wouldn't do.
Falling asleep as gray dawn steals in, Yoongi murmurs, "Maybe we need wings."
Holly, well versed in his almost-asleep voice, waits to hear his breathing even out. When it does, he whispers, "Maybe."
It happens without warning, the way life tends to do: work gets crazy and not only can Yoongi not sleep, he can't even find the time to call Holly.
Near the end of the three different projects he's responsible for, he unlocks his phone to a voicemail from an unknown number.
"Hi. It's me..um...Holly." A nervous laugh. "I hope you've been sleeping better. I hope...you're okay? I'm not....I can't believe....I'm breaking every rule but...I just...I was worried. You're probably fine. Um. Good night!" Every word is smashed against the other except for his weird little stutters that Yoongi finds somehow charming. Go figure.
When he tries to hit the callback option, the number just rings forever.
The more days go by that Yoongi cannot reach Holly, the more irritable he is and while some of this has to do with persistent inadequate sleep, more of it has to do with worrying about something -- someone -- and having no power to do more than hope. So when Hoseok grabs his wrist just to stop him from running away, Yoongi doesn't really fight him, just stares at the ground and scowls. To Hoseok, Yoongi doesn't look annoyed as much as he looks sad, because he knows Yoongi almost better than he knows himself. He sees dark circles at Yoongi's eyes and sees insomnia but he also sees a feeling that aches. What Hoseok can't do: fix a problem Yoongi won't share with him. What Hoseok can do: prevent other problems from piling up. His hand slips from Yoongi's sharp sharp wrist to his hand, threads their fingers together, and tightens. Says,
"Let's get dinner."
With Namjoon away a lot of the time now, their communication is largely by text, e-mail, and occasional Skype sessions.
"What happened?" Namjoon squints into the camera as if he could pick Yoongi apart though he'd do it gently because he's always done it so. But Yoongi tips his head back against the couch, stares at the ceiling and shrugs.
"Not sleeping again.Well or..."
His oldest friend sighs. Yoongi can almost feel it.
"What about the call center?"
Quiet for so long, Namjoon begins to think Yoongi has fallen asleep, so he jumps a little when Yoongi speaks, low and careful.
This time it's Namjoon's turn to be silent. It lasts until Yoongi sits up and looks at him, and because they've been close to forever, he's not terribly surprised to find the other man just staring at him. Namjoon once told him he'd never get tired of it. Yoongi, up to his knees in the river they were crossing (one of exactly two camping trips they ever took), pushed him over just to hide the flush in his own traitorously pale cheeks. These days Yoongi misses 'Holly' so much he thinks he understands a little more. Then he remembers that he he misses a person whose face he doesn't even know; so he figures maybe he understands nothing at all. But Namjoon stares at him, looks at him, sees him, and it doesn't change the worry in Yoongi's heart nor the tongue-tied nature of his sadness, but it helps. He doesn't know why. But it's a little like being told he's real.
Holly is real. Yoongi is real.
And he's allowed to keep trying. Whatever's happening to him.
Whatever has already happened to him.
Sure enough, Namjoon, reaching off screen to turn out his desk light, says, "So keep calling."
He's on that threshold people get to when nothing is promised -- the one where you think cutting your losses is logical so why not? Even when the bigger part of you says it's not about that. He's wandering from park to parking lot, from the edge of the forest along one edge of the city to a long lost alleyway, when he finds him again. Out of habit he almost hangs up, then stops himself only to drop his phone, curse, catch it mid-air.
"Holly! I got your message. What the--"
"I shouldn't hav--"
"I was worried."
"You didn't have to--"
"Thanks." Pause. "Not for worrying me. But for...worrying about me."
A moment passes. Then Yoongi hears it: an exhale so long whispering and deep it feels like it belongs to him too.
The heart in unexpected relief.
Some nights later:
"Do you think we could ever meet...you know, in person?"
"I..." Holly says and the breathy, lilting catch in his voice makes Yoongi...ache. It wasn't a fair question, he supposes.
Which is maybe why he says, "Nevermind. Hey Holly."
"Walk home with me."
Surprised half-laughs half-giggles peter off into assent as Holly smiles in a way Yoongi can hear, smiles and says,
"So. How was your day?"
What Yoongi thinks: better now. What Yoongi says: "Good enough. Yours?"
Sometimes Yoongi calls and just wants to talk about 'Holly'. But 'Holly' only wants to talk about Yoongi. Every time he starts by asking how Yoongi slept and give or take a few exceptions, Yoongi's answer is usually something like 'Better' or 'Okay' and, once or twice? 'Good'.
"Hey Suga," a tapping noise in the background suggests an anxious pencil metronoming against a tabletop.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to but...I was wondering...are you doing something you like?"
"Like...for a living?" Yoongi blinks at his phone as he speaks, browsing an unfinished furniture website at the same time.
"Well...sure. In a perfect world I'd have more time to do my own stuff but working with music every day is still...honestly better than I thought I could do."
"Why d'you ask?"
"Nothing...just...I think it sounds nice. Doing what you set out to do."
For the first time in any of their conversations, Yoongi feels something off.
Exiting speakerphone, Yoongi presses it to his ear.
The way Holly laughs sounds off too; wrong, and Yoongi is gripped with the sudden and visceral desire to see him -- even just from a distance, just to make sure this person is okay, or as okay as he can be. Except he can't do that.
"What's going on?" he tries rephrasing.
"Nothing. I mean it. Suga. I'm just...thinking a lot lately. That's all. Thank you for answering my question."
"You know," Yoongi folds his legs under himself because his feet are cold. "It might seem weird to you but...I think of you...as a friend."
"Well I do."
The tapping fades out, is replaced by the more comfortable friction of pencil to paper.
"What're you drawing?"
"Give me a hint."
This goes on until around 3AM -- the earliest record by far -- when Yoongi falls asleep, having made guesses, all of them wrong, and as he's drifting off, he manages to slur out one more, "Hint?"
'Holly' waits until his breathing evens out, indicative of true sleep.
The next time Yoongi calls, 'Holly' is not there.
“What's the matter with you?" It's Namjoon, leaning in the doorway to Yoongi's studio, arms folded and legs lazily crossed at the ankle.
"Then you tell me, genius."
People often liken Yoongi to a cat but in Yoongi's opinion Namjoon is equally cat-like, just not quite so stereotypical. For example, the way he languidly moves into the room (not to be confused with graceful, more like boneless) reminds Yoongi of a stray he's been feeding recently, a stray who has for better or worse taken the place of Holly, who happens to be all Yoongi talks about.
"Does it have to do with Holly again?" The pencil Yoongi has been pinching between his teeth while writing notes with a pen snaps clean in half. Then he spits it out, glasses sliding down his nose as he looks over at Namjoon, incredulous.
"How do you--" he stops himself, eyes narrowing. "Jimin."
"He's worried about you. We all are. What's going on? I thought you found him again." The way Namjoon makes himself comfortable on the couch speaks volumes: 1. he's not about to be intimidated out of an answer; 2. he's ready to wait; 3. he knows Yoongi too well to accept any kind of attempt at 'it's no big deal' or the like. Which leaves Yoongi sort of cornered. Grimacing at the pencil halves rolling on his floor, Yoongi huffs.
He could tell Namjoon that it's none of his business (a lie; most of Yoongi's life has been Namjoon's up close and personal business for a long time now) and he could tell him that he's tired (always true but not really the point) or he could tell him that Holly is a problem he didn't prepare for. He could tell him, for example, how lately when he drifts to sleep he hears Holly's voice even without ever having called; he could tell him that he looks for Holly in crowds knowing full well he has no idea what he's looking for except that some significant part of him feels certain he would Know regardless; he could tell him that Holly makes him want things he did not think he wanted -- things he had given up on wanting.
He could tell this man, who knows him better, closer, truer than anyone (because they're similar, because they're different, because) that he's scared. He doesn't.
But if Yoongi looked up from his own hands, he might see that Namjoon has some idea of this anyway.
"Hoseok gave me that stupid number."
"It was supposed to help me sleep."
"Which it seems to have done. Or it had been."
Yoongi buries his face in his hands.
After a while, he feels a warm weight at his side, a head on his shoulder.
When he tightens his hands in his hair it hurts but Yoongi wants it to hurt, wants to shock himself into some more articulate answer than what he has. Time passes. Minutes. A half hour. Namjoon falls asleep on Yoongi who leans likewise against him until they are holding each other up, equal but opposite forces. When they were teenagers, they fell into dreams together all the time. Yoongi's hand found a home at the back of Namjoon's neck when he drew him down for a kiss they were both terrible with technically and flawless with otherwise. He knows what they have now they will have for forever -- whatever that means, whatever it can mean.
Not many people turn to each other one day and say 'it's over' and ever turn back. Not many people can. It hurts too much. But the day Namjoon held Yoongi's hand under a summer sky and asked him to 'wait', Yoongi only ever had one answer. Months passed; Yoongi would check in and Namjoon would say: 'a little longer, just a little longer'. And one day, it was long enough; it was spring, and Yoongi clutched Namjoon to him feeling whole, knowing how to be grateful but not how to deserve it. 'Best friends', is what they tell people but there may not be a word for how far they've come.
Your heart is my heart.
But Yoongi finds himself drifting to sleep here, now, and thinks: true love happens once, maybe twice if you're lucky but is this really lucky?
Can you fall in love with someone you haven't really met?
It takes Namjoon -- awake without warning -- replying for Yoongi to realize he said that out loud.
"But you have."
Startled, Yoongi jumps in place, which jostles Namjoon enough to have the other sitting upright, rubbing the back of his head.
"You have met Holly."
"No? I nev--"
"Yoongi." Namjoon's hand over Yoongi's mouth is a warm feeling; the sky at sunrise. Yoongi waits. "What's happened to you counts." They aren't a lot of words and they aren't specific in the way that others might find useful but Yoongi absorbs said words as if Namjoon is feeding him, and maybe he is. Hope is a starving animal; so it goes. But it always appreciates what it gets. They both know. So when the hand lowers, Yoongi presses his lips into a thin thankful line, bites his tongue, untangles a thought and says,
"I don't even know his name."
"But someone where he worked probably does."
"They've got no reason to give it to me."
"But they might anyway."
Yoongi's gaze drops to his empty hands and imagines a voice there: a sound like starlight.
Weeks go by. Life goes on. More or less.
Sometimes Hoseok texts him (how'd you sleep? did you sleep? yoongi!) and sometimes Namjoon calls him (what's your schedule like in October? giving a lecture in New York -- why don't you come with, if you're free?) and sometimes Yoongi loses himself in his work just like old times. Except not quite. Because beneath it all is something profoundly different.
Something Yoongi can't undo.
Wouldn't want to.
Even given the chance.
"This sounds good. Different than usual, kind of ummm..." Jimin has his hand mashed against his cheek, eyes narrowed as he tries to think of the right words for what he wants to say. There's always a particularity to how one addresses music -- says a lot about them as much as the sound they're describing, as much about the creator; and Yoongi makes Jimin want to try a little harder than most. For the longest time their friends had this idea, this thought that Jimin had a crush on Yoongi, was even in love with him. The only people who always knew that wasn't how it was, happened to be Jimin and Yoongi themselves. With Yoongi wringing his hands under the desk right now (as if Jimin doesn't know) and going on maybe two days of no sleep (Jimin is a pretty good guesser at this point), they feel like older friends than the years can prove.
("A past life," Namjoon half joked once and Yoongi thought: could be. While Jimin thought: yeah.)
This and other things shuffle through his mind as he listens to the snippet of a song Yoongi has on loop one more time. The headphones are massive and effectively block out any extraneous sound, and seated in the chair across from him, Yoongi waits, legs folded up under him like a child, arms crossed trying not to be uptight and mostly failing.
This piece should be different. It's meant to be. But because it's different he can't tell if he likes it or not, if it's utterly wrong or if even some of it is right, whether he ought to just scrap it all and start over (again again again.) "Mm..." Jimin listens thrice more, humming along the second (truly the fifth time by now) and sits up a little straighter. "Ah I got it!"
Beyond words, Yoongi just stares. Jimin flounders not because he's intimidated, so much as he's excited.
"It needs words."
"And the right voice."
"But it's not--"
It says a lot about Park Jimin that he can go from soft as a dandelion to diamond sharp in approximately .01 of a second. Appropriately, Yoongi shuts his mouth and opts for arching one annoyed eyebrow. Jimin smiles.
"I think you did."
"Did what? Jimin I swear to--"
"I think even if you didn't do it consciously, you did it anyway."
His laughter takes Yoongi by surprise and drives it home with the gentle touch of his smile as he reaches out, fixes Yoongi's glasses and says,
"You wrote a love song."
It's true. The independent work Yoongi has done up to now, mixtape under his alias and aught else unreleased, has been some kind of autobiography or commentary about things close to love but not quite: loneliness, betrayal, indecision, sacrifice, stories that never get to be told -- stories no one wants to hear but everyone wants to know, stories Yoongi feels are important to tell. Even having been in love (still in love, just not the way that the masses expect, not the way that fits into a mold because not all soulmates are romantic) Yoongi just never found that topic to be at the forefront of his fingertips.
"Thank you for call--"
"I have a question."
"Sir do you have the right number?"
"Save Me insomnia hotline, right?"
"Oh, okay then. Well--"
"I'm looking for someone who used to work there."
The pause that follows is uncomfortable and Yoongi feels a little bad but only a little. What it comes down to is this: he wrote a song and the song is a gift and he can't give it to the person he made it for if he can't find them. The world will just have to deal with him.
"I can't disclose information about the people here, sir. It's a rule for a reason."
"But I need to talk to him."
"I'm sorry but I can't."
The dial tone isn't surprising but it's also not discouraging. Yoongi calls again.
"Hello, thank you for calling--"
It's a week and a half before he compromises on his plan -- aching with sleeplessness and something worse than that.
"Sir, we cannot--"
"What about a message then?"
"If I give you a message for him, if you think you know who he is by my description...will you tell him?"
"I..." a new voice from the other nights, this one pauses, this one waits, and Yoongi, deeply plagued by half-dreams, idles the time away by running his fingers across the piano. "...that's pretty." He blinks.
"It's part of my message."
"I can't sing like a piano, sir." For the first time in this so-far awkward exchange, the stranger sounds amused if tired. Relatable.
"But you can pick up a recording can't you? From the music shop downtown. I'll leave it with the owner. And all you have to do is give it to him."
"I still don't even know who you're talking about."
"So you'll do it?"
"I'm not allowed sir."
Yoongi grinds his teeth. What else is he supposed to do?
But then the voice continues, mild, "Tell me about him though. Maybe it will help you sleep."
It's a weird thing to say. Yoongi obviously didn't call to get help sleeping. He's more surprised than the voice on the other end when he hears himself say,
It's too much and it's not enough.
He tells the voice about a boy he calls Holly. He tells them that Holly likes to draw and likes video games, that he's in school for something he's not probably all that into but feels some responsibility towards. He tells them that Holly's voice is probably a good singing one though he's got no proof so much as a trained ear and intuition; he tells them Holly once worried about him enough that he called him which means he probably has his number -- or had it. He tells them that Holly called him 'Suga'--
"--and I wish I'd just told him my name. It's not even on my voicemail so he wouldn't know it by that either. My own fucking fault."
Around five in the morning, Yoongi isn't anywhere closer to sleeping but he's out of breath.
"'Holly' sounds like a good kid."
Both the stranger and Yoongi have the same thought: hope he knows that.
Before they hang up, the stranger says, "Good luck. I'm sorry I can't help you the way you wanted. But," the voice pauses. "I think...well, I was thinking while you were talking--" He laughs but it's a kind sound, a friend's sound, and Yoongi finds himself liking him in spite of himself, in spite of everything, softening as he continues, "--you should produce the song anyway. Because who really knows? Maybe he'll hear it."
Yoongi sits there for a long time after the call is over, watching the sun rise through his poorly drawn curtains, the stranger's tone echoing in his ears because it sounds a lot like the one last thing he can hope for: maybe he'll hear it.
Yoongi does produce the song, even gets it air time on reasonably popular radio slots. Waits.
When his knock goes unanswered, Namjoon lets himself into Yoongi's apartment. It's not that Yoongi is asleep. Of course he isn't. But he has his headphones on and is staring out the window like it's got something to say to him. For his part, Namjoon settles down on the couch, takes out one of the book's he's reading, and waits for Yoongi to come back -- to him, to here, but mostly?
When he does:
"Exactly what it looks like."
Yoongi holds his breath, winds his fingers in the too-short cord of his headphones, and exhales only when he has to, says,
The flight to New York is long, technically. But it's amazing really. How time isn't long or short when the mind is stuck in one place, neither here nor there.
Nowhere and everywhere.
In Yoongi's notebook: notes on someone named Holly. In Yoongi's subconscious: memories with someone named Holly.
Outside: Namjoon in the seat to his left saying,
"If I could help, you'd tell me...right?"
Not quite knowing if it's true.
"Where d'you wanna go? We've got a whole day before my conference starts." Down the either too-packed or bizarrely spacious streets of Manhattan, Yoongi and Namjoon converge on that bone-deep affection for things that are small but dense -- teeming with lives that mean life that mean a hundred other things. There is something weirdly freeing for Yoongi who knows just enough English to get by but not so much that every errant conversation is an addition to his already saturated thoughts. This, Namjoon knows. It's why he insisted; it's why in an unprecedented show of intervention, he didn't ask Yoongi to come with him; he told him to.
They get lost in Central Park for the better part of the day, and Yoongi finds himself wondering if Holly would like it, would mind heading nowhere specific for an equally unspecific amount of time. He wonders if Holly likes flowers, which makes him wonder what Holly's favorite season is. And he wonders like some kind of inevitable and recurring return: if Holly is okay.
Namjoon takes a picture with his phone. He has quite a lot of Yoongi but this one stands out.
There: Yoongi's profile raised to the sky, his hands tangled in a flowering branch that hangs low to brush his heart -- a day moon becoming a dusk moon becoming a night moon.
So far away.
Time passes. Because that's what time does. And sometimes Yoongi feels it but often he doesn't, gets lost in daydreams, work, and the worry of his friends. He adopts a stray cat, he writes more music, and less often than all of that: sleeps. Sometimes, if he's very lucky, he hears a voice making pathways in the dreamland. Once behind that voice: the song he wrote back then. Another time: too familiar sounds of the vendors on the street below, the rush of the train, a bell attached to the coffee shop door half a block south. After that, for whatever reason, he finds himself looking for a face he doesn't know -- a face he forgets he does not know because he is so close to knowing other things. Or hopes he was.
So Yoongi does his extra work on his laptop at the coffee shop with just one earbud...and listens, because maybe he's crazy but maybe he's not.
The year Namjoon gets married, he asks Yoongi to be his best man. Their fingers thread under the table of their corner booth and Yoongi's smile is all the answer necessary. When Yoongi tightens his hold, he means: love you. And when Namjoon thumbs the instep of his wrist, he means: love you too.
Some days are harder than others. It rains. The trains are astronomically unreliable. Survival of the fittest. So on, so forth.
Those moments typically end up with Yoongi holed up in his studio without break, a day, two days, a week. Hoseok will drop by under the guise of saying 'hello' and happen to bring food with him as well as a warm hand to the back of Yoongi's neck that asks him to stop. Just for a little while. Tells him: work isn't going anywhere.
On the shelves of dried flowers and old books, there are two telephone numbers, neither of which does Yoongi any good. One Hoseok recognizes and the other he doesn't.
"You still have this," he picks up the number for Save Me, wondering when Yoongi had transferred it from his wrist to actual paper.
From his chair, not turning around, Yoongi shrugs.
Gently, Hoseok sets the scrap down, walks over, and leans over in an effort to hold the silence from behind. When Yoongi's face touches Hoseok's forearm, it's wet. Warm. But he's fairly certain Yoongi himself doesn't realize he's crying. His body is statue still, near down to his breaths, so faint they're barely real.
It's not, Yoongi reasons one night after a failed date (one of a reasonable multitude over the past few years) that he's in love with the person he can't even think of as 'Holly' anymore so much as You -- You who moves me when I cannot move myself, You who I used to reach for in the dark. That sort of thing. It's not that he's in love or was in love or even ever will be in love. Yoongi is twenty-seven and far beyond the respectable realm of putting one's faith in this kind of history. Once Jimin asked him if he wanted to let go and Yoongi told him the truth: that he wasn't sure he could let go of what he never really had in the first place. And again he wasn't in love; he's pretty sure. Or he's not. He's sure.
But sometimes going through the massive library on his work computer, he'll stumble across a file that he thought he wrote for that person but ended up being also for himself. He asked his friend Suran to voice on it, and while it was never perfect, she brought it as close to it as anyone could have. Back when it was on the radio, Yoongi would grip his phone in white knuckled hands. These days of course he never hears it unless it's in his own studio or it shuffles on Namjoon's archive when he's visiting.
Kicking a can along the sidewalk, Yoongi sighs as it starts to rain, pulls his hood tight, and narrowly misses getting hit by a taxi taking the corner too closely.
Leaning over the side of a major bridge near his apartment, Yoongi watches the moon in the reflection of the water far below. Behind him: children out way past what he thinks is a normal bedtime, joggers, couples, friends, and complete strangers. Above: partly cloudy skies. Out there: big small things.
Stars collapsing in on themselves. Also: the first cherry blossoms of the season, late but no less beautiful.
At his apartment: the stray cat who also has no name but loves to sleep on Yoongi's feet when he lets her, several e-mails from Namjoon about vastly different things, his collection of flowers and books now relocated with two ragged bookmarks whose faded graphite and crumpled textures suggest they were almost thrown out several times.
Almost. But not quite.
The university Namjoon has been invited to speak at is four hours away at best. Yoongi spends most of it spacing out, staring through the train window at the scenery flying past him like the flickering speed of a movie. Annoyed because he hasn't got the right music to listen to while experiencing that view, he opts for a podcast of a radio program Namjoon himself recommended. For the most part, Yoongi prefers music, is very picky about voices whether they are singing or speaking if the length of time is anything past a minute or two. Off the top of his head he can only name a few such voices he never tires of. Namjoon is one.
A boy without a name is another.
And it's unfair, Yoongi thinks, that he keeps cropping up in his thoughts even when Yoongi has done his damnedest to move forward. What's even worse: how badly he knows that person would feel, how responsible if he knew.
Even more irritated, Yoongi taps PLAY hard enough to break a nail if his weren't cut distressingly short already. The rest of the ride is still the majority -- basically three hours -- and Yoongi has his headphones halfway on as he tries to also undo his scarf, somehow only managing to tangle his hands in both the scarf and the cord. He'd blame lack of sleep except he's mostly used to it by now, resigned to a life of however much longer filled with nights where the best he can hope for is two hours chasing a sound through unmappable territories.
He's halfway untied when he notices the person in the set of seats across the aisle staring at him. The face Yoongi makes must be a little severe because the guy looks away quickly, huge eyes facing forward and then out of his window instead. Truth be known he's not even that miffed, but it's the overkill reaction when one is caught in a silly situation -- tripping over one's own feet, caught in one's own technology and clothing, making a stupid expression, et cetera. Looking at the back of the stranger's head, he frowns and doesn't know why, keeps staring a little too long and doesn't know why. In the seat next to him the backpack is partially open, a sketchbook sticking out. Art student?
Well good. The world needs more of those.
As he settles back into his own place, Yoongi shoves his scarf in his own bag and restarts the podcast.
It's one of those programs that changes every week but the premise, vague as it is, is stories.
This one is about the sun and the moon.
Yoongi makes a note to himself to send it to Hoseok.
"How was it?" Namjoon always asks him this. Yoongi doesn't really get why. If Yoongi's gift is music production from a machine level -- instrument, beat detection, etc -- then Namjoon's is whatever magic happens when he speaks. His closest friends are well aware he's also a composer, a poet, and all of that; but Namjoon doesn't need music or editing backdoors to keep hundreds of people riveted for hours on end. The joke is that he's invited to teach and lecture in so many places because the student body literally has no choice but to listen -- like the tide, like exhales after inhales; you have to. But every time, Namjoon asks. Yoongi guesses this is what being humble means, slings an arm up around Namjoon's shoulder and laughs a low warm sound.
"Good. Better than good. Thanks for inviting me. Beats watching the livestream with my shitty data plan."
As they walk to the train together, Yoongi notices the boy from the train passing by, map in one hand, cell phone in the other.
Despite his preoccupation, the boy seems to notice him too. He looks back over his shoulder and it's only a second, if that, but it's enough to make Yoongi stumble. Namjoon steadies him and when he has his footing back, the boy is walking again.
When Yoongi and Namjoon round the far corner, the boy stops walking and turns to stare at the place where they were.
When work is slower, Yoongi gets restless. As much as he claims to love sleeping and lazing about, Hoseok knows by now that his friend likes it best when he's productive. So sometimes he invites him to the school under the guise of asking him to provide live accompaniment for various students' recitals. Because it's Hoseok, Yoongi never says no even though, because it's Hoseok, Yoongi knows he could without worry. It's refreshing in a way he doesn't quite understand even if he appreciates it -- to watch passion for a singular thing that can lead to many other things, to watch also: Hoseok's gentle strength, sharp yet soft. It's something he has in common with Jimin, and Yoongi thinks it makes a lot of sense that they're as close as they are. The way Hoseok teaches feels very natural. He makes it look easy. And his students love him. It's this last that gives Yoongi the most joy; because when Hoseok is happy it's not so different from the sun on a good day: warm enough to grow -- and share.
One day as he's getting up from the piano at a rehearsal, he runs into Seokjin lingering outside the door to the theatre.
They both watch as Hoseok lifts an arm in a graceful curve, his fingers at full extension like the half-span of a wing, watch as the last student follows like a tiny echo.
"He's been telling me about this one," Seokjin says, quiet, unobtrusive.
"Wants to major in dance. Parents want him to major in accounting or something. Safer."
In his head Yoongi thinks: not that safe.
Not if they want their kid to be happy.
Why is it, anyway, that people don't protect their children from the deadliest of things? Sadness. Emptiness. Dysfunctional functioning. Yoongi takes in the fluid motions of the two dancers and thinks: do something you like.
Somewhere in his subconscious, a dull ache becomes sharp until it manifests in his chest. He doesn't realize he's got his hand over his heart until he feels Seokjin touching his shoulder, hears him asking,
"----gi? Yoongi? Are you okay?"
When he swallows, the feeling doesn't quite go down but he nods. Not believing him, Seokjin rests a hand between his shoulderblades while they watch the remainder of the dance, a broad yet soft anchor.
(You don't need to tell me. But if you want to, I'm here.)
A minimalist in some ways, the pictures in Yoongi's apartment can be counted on one hand. A piano over the sofa, black and white, slightly over-exposed. Namjoon and himself on the bookcase, as ever. Dried flowers on the wall so organic in pattern that one would think they were a part of it, and Yoongi supposes if he ever moves he'll have to take the wall with him, so he probably won't move if he can help it. On the wall closer to the balcony, a couple torn pages from magazines: one about his mixtape -- strangely well received, and one with a painting he liked so much after seeing it he tried to find the original artist to buy it; but the artist had asked to remain anonymous and so Yoongi has to settle for this slightly glossy print version instead: an image of an ocean filled with stars whose surrounding darknesses imply such big things he's not sure how the creator managed it -- things like time, loss, and longing. Things Yoongi has inside of him too and guesses at this point in life, he always will.
Yeah it's not that he fell in love. But love maybe thieved into his shadows and love maybe came in the form of finding out a stranger found him worthwhile. Sometimes Yoongi worries he didn't give enough back, and sometimes he wonders if he'll ever stop wondering.
Hoseok and Seokjin never officially get married but they might as well. Sprawled on their living room floor, Yoongi listens to their faint bickering from the kitchen with dry amusement while Jimin outright laughs. Namjoon is abroad again, and Jimin makes no ambiguity about it being hard but he also makes no uncertainties about his support. They call, they text, they e-mail, they face-time. Namjoon even writes him letters.
Mild discord continues to bluster in the background. Jimin pulls him in for a selca to send to Namjoon.
"Hey what's this--" Jimin pulls something out of Yoongi's unruly hair, a silver mess with the undercut threatening to grow out too fast. Dark eyes narrow then widen. Pinched between Jimin's thumb and forefinger: a strip of paper.
The other day his bookshelf pitched a fit while Yoongi was trying to adjust the one below it. Everything fell on him, which would have been more concerning if the books were bigger but they're not; there's just a lot of them. Even so, it's incredibly improbable that this would've gotten stuck in his hair, much less stayed in it as long as it has. Yoongi takes the piece of paper, rubs the corners between his fingers and blinks, says without really thinking, quietly,
"To help me sleep."
Jimin tilts his head and sees something in Yoongi he hasn't seen in years.
Visiting Hoseok and Seokjin's school again, this time it's just to drop off Hoseok's spare key ("My sister's coming to visit and this way she can just come and go!" Hoseok had explained before asking Yoongi daffodils or daisies for the vase in her room.) The beginning of the day, Yoongi dodges around, weaving between multitudes of students congregating in their mismatched ways. He sees a couple boys who remind him of Namjoon and himself at that age and surprises himself by feeling ridiculously fond; hopes they find their respective ways. On his way to the blackbox -- which doubles as Hoseok's classroom when the theatre is booked up -- there are the other elective rooms -- music, visual art, film.
This wing is especially packed with kids but a louder group than most grabs Yoongi's attention. A swarm of students seeming to range in ages all but cling to a young man who looks equal parts charmed and overwhelmed, his crinkling smile revealing an overbite that reminds Yoongi curiously of a rabbit. The circular glasses he's wearing paired with his loose-fit pink shirt over a paint-spattered t-shirt all do nothing to convince Yoongi he isn't a student himself. Except even if he is young he's obviously not in high school, at least. Sure enough, he unlocks the door to a room that opens to reveal a circle of easels; his students filter in past him, chattering all the while.
He looks up just as Yoongi is passing by.
Two strangers who might not be strangers share two sides of a similar thought.
After Yoongi hands off the spare, he goes back the way he came and pauses outside the door of the art room.
He can't see anything through the pebbled glass of the door's window, can't hear anything except classroom din and somewhere behind that, a piano. Interesting choice.
It hits him later that the art teacher looks like the boy he saw on the train a couple years ago.
Which explains why he thought he knew him.
Well. Mystery solved.
The podcast he started subscribing to -- also two years ago -- is Yoongi's go-to these days. This week their subject is less creative than usual, a spin on Missed Connections except it's Reconnections. It's a quarter past four in the morning and he hasn't made any headway on his latest project, which should stress him out more but he doesn't much care for the client in the first place who seems to think music is a formula and not an art rather than seeing it for what it truly is: both. Rubbing his face, Yoongi yawns so wide his jaw cracks, then reaches to play the podcast because obviously nothing else is getting done tonight. A warm weight leans against his shins and Yoongi leans down to run his palm along the cat's black black fur.
[ "Hello. You are listening to Table of Contents, the show that brings you pages and pages of stories you've never heard but might know by heart. This week our reporters went out to find someone who...is also trying to find someone. Ordinarily we have three different stories for you but this time we are dedicating our program to one story with three parts..." ]
"Weird," Yoongi says. The cat blinks and rubs against his hand again.
[ "...and with that in mind, there is no better place to start than the person doing the looking, so here you go..." ]
. . .
Part One: Midnight.
. . .
Speeding down the stairs, he's hurrying so fast that he slips and falls; but he's got the luck of the rabbit so somehow doesn't injure himself too badly. Rubbing his head, Jungkook sighs and picks himself up only to drop himself down at the breakfast table with a murmured apology.
"What was that?" This voice belongs to his father but Jungkook keeps his eyes on the large hands on the table rather than his face, shakes his head.
"I said 'm sorry. I didn't mean to sleep so late."
The rest of breakfast is the scrape of utensils, silence, and as always, a shutting door.
Getting to school on time every morning is always a bit of a toss-up. It helps if Taehyung is there because they race each other and Jungkook is shy but he's also competitive -- a set of contrasting traits that Taehyung says make him more interesting than most people. Taehyung is older than him but it doesn't feel like it a lot of the time. They eat lunch every day together and spend most afternoons hanging out while they should be doing homework. Jungkook isn't sure how he got so lucky, because by all rights their schedules shouldn't match up so well, completely different majors that they are. But they do. Every day Jungkook is on campus, so is Taehyung, and on the rest they work, which means they don't usually see each other; but Jungkook is grateful for what he has. Even though his family chose his concentration, even though it's not exactly what he wants...?
It's so much more than others have; so...it should be enough.
That's what he tells himself.
To be okay. Be grateful. Enough.
If he spends hours doing nothing but drawing or painting in place of his reports and projects, if he does all those other things last minute, if he can't even lie well enough to get himself to falsify an apology, well.
Chin hooked on Jungkook's shoulder, Taehyung angles to kiss his cheek. Some would assume this is a boyfriend thing to do, but between them it is just a Taehyung thing, a thing that soaks up the quiet tears and insists: it doesn't have to be this way.
Wiping his eyes and nose with the back of his hand, Jungkook glares at the rippling paper where salt water has fallen.
"Why can't I just be happy?"
Taehyung presses his face into the side of Jungkook's neck.
"'cause you're sad."
It's true and Jungkook hates himself for it, tries to beat it out of himself by working more shifts, by throwing out all of his art supplies, getting rid of all of his art books, until his room is as bare as the word.
Taehyung waits until Jungkook has fallen into a fitful sleep to climb out of his window, scale down the side of his house, and go collect all of those things, spends the whole night bringing them to his own dorm, where he keeps them for almost a year. His roommate -- a dance major -- asks him a few months in if he's going to ever use the stuff, to which Taehyung says he's just keeping it for a friend.
Part-time at the cafe never becomes more than a few days, which means Jungkook fills the time he used to spend painting, looking for a second job.
Walking along the train tracks to Jungkook's house, Taehyung asks him if that won't be too much. Jungkook kicks a rock and shrugs.
"Guess we'll find out."
Sometimes Jungkook gets home and his father isn't there. Sometimes Jungkook gets home and he's there in body but not much else. He remembers once bringing him his acceptance to university -- a look that came over his father, a look he didn't remember having ever seen before.
Like he was proud of him.
He hasn't seen it since then and often wonders if he imagined it but thinks that can't be true or he wouldn't want to see it again so badly.
He finds the second job through a friend at the campus radio station.
"A sleep hotline? But that's...at night isn't it?" Jungkook's expression must be comical because his friend giggles.
"Y-eah but like, just do it the nights before your lectures start in the afternoon?"
"All my school days are booked 9 in the morning to 9:30 at night."
Looking down at the scribbled address, Jungkook's brows knit.
"Why're you reccing me this place? Sounds shady."
His friend waves hands placatingly.
"No! It's really good. It's proven that poor sleep habits can contribute to big problems -- like depression, not to mention various physical sicknesses!"
"But why me?"
"'cause your voice is very uh...soothing...?" His friend pretends to rummage through some papers on his desk, ears going pink as Jungkook eyeballs the note again.
"'Save Me Sleep Hotline'."
But a night job has its appeal. Jungkook goes to the call center and decides to apply assuming he'll never hear from them.
The next day he receives an e-mail, the subject of which is: Who Can You Save?
His first few calls are uneventful, enough that he gets into the swing of the job fairly fast. A script helps. Without meaning to, Jungkook falls back into doodling and then into drawing moreso than doodling, finds that he listens better to his callers when he's got something happening under his hands. The hardest part of the new job is adjusting to his own lack of sleep; ironic, he knows. But maybe he didn't need all of it anyway, because he manages no worse than he was before. And maybe it's stupid but he gets a little bit of a thrill sneaking out of the house at half past eleven to get to the call-center by midnight. Ridiculous because he's just going to work, but this is probably as 'bad' as he'll end up being even in his prime. Sometimes Taehyung asks why he doesn't just dorm. Jungkook explains it's somewhat about money but also about his father. To which Taehyung usually says: ah. So Jungkook sneaks out, drops into his sound-proofed cubicle at the hotline, and does what he's taught himself to do: his best.
"Thank you for calling Save Me..."
It's routine until it isn't -- you know, the way life is.
By the time Jungkook receives his first call from the person he starts to think of as Special Case -- or, Suga -- he's pretty certain he has it down to a science, at least enough to think on his feet and still stay within hotline parameters. He supposes he's so focused on trying not to argue with someone who may (or may not) genuinely need his help, that he ends up blindsided by the low calm resonance reaching out to say,
"But I like your voice."
Reaching out and sounding not so dissimilar from: but I like You.
Rule 1. No disclosing the address.
Rule 2. No suggestion of actual medications.
Rule 3. No giving of personal informations such as phone numbers, e-mails...
Suga asks to call him something and Jungkook panics, blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.
"Give me a name then."
The nights he speaks with Suga, Jungkook draws places he feels he knows even if he's never been there: worlds that look like this one but aren't, stars that look like these stars but aren't, faces that are friends he maybe once knew or will know, and shapes like landscapes like songs he's waiting to hear. It doesn't escape him that Suga wants to know more about him, and Jungkook could tell him lots of things -- things like: you make me want more. Things like: you make me think maybe that's not bad. Things like: when you sound like you've rested, it makes me happy even if I'm exhausted -- on the good days, on the bad days, on the nothing days.
Things like: I like your voice too.
I like it a lot.
Suga keeps trying to know more about him, which heals Jungkook as much as it hurts him.
Gives him something he's maybe been looking for not knowing he was looking.
He tells him that the people who give him a hard time now are the people who are jealous or just stupid. Jungkook makes a disbelieving sound.
"Jealous of what?"
"Probably more than one thing," Suga says, sounds like he could say more but doesn't.
Even so, it helps -- to be told he doesn't deserve the random persecution that followed him from high-school to the local college, that someone thinks at the root of the problem, for once, it's not Jungkook at all.
"What about your friend? Doesn't he defend you?"
"I don't want him to." Jungkook frowns. Taehyung would fight for him, he's sure but that's not the point. A sunflower blooms under his pencil as Jungkook says, "I can handle it."
"...well. I guess you know best," the reply doesn't sound convinced at all but Suga lets the topic dwindle, opts for letting Jungkook ask him questions instead -- falling into procedure if just for a while. As his answers get more and more spacey, Jungkook finds an entire landscape beneath his hands now as he says,
"Getting sleepy yet, Suga?" His voice is three-quarters curious and one hundred percent affection but he supposes Suga is too tired to notice.
As though to confirm, Suga's "No," is accompanied by a traitorous yawn.
If a sound can light up the space between two people, maybe it's this: conversations like a bridge being built in the middle of somewhere forgotten. A frustrated sigh. A spring laugh. Good morning and good night.
Hope you're doing well.
Hope you're doing even better than that.
But it's okay, sometimes, if you aren't.
A bridge like a telephone call that walks you the whole way home.
"---so I'll miss him," Jungkook pauses. "I guess that's all."
"You can visit though, right?"
Biting his tongue, Jungkook feels childish even though his thought is his honest opinion: it's not the same.
"I mean, it's not the same," Suga continues. "But he's worth it, isn't he?"
"Always," Jungkook says without hesitation and the sound Suga makes isn't a laugh or anything but somehow it conveys the feeling of a smile. "Magic," Jungkook murmurs to himself and his mouth is pressed so close to the receiver it muffles the word.
Jungkook draws an imaginary constellation and says, "Nothing."
When Taehyung graduates, Jungkook brings him flowers.
"Pretty," Taehyung's roommate (also graduating) eyes them approvingly.
"Like Tae," Jungkook grins and the way Taehyung positively glows is, this day, the whole world going right.
Later they sit back to back on the roof of the science building because it's the tallest. Taehyung has a sunflower stuck lopsided in his headband and Jungkook has some baby's breath tucked behind his ear and the night is very clear.
"You know I'm going to visit," Taehyung says and his hand finds Jungkook's as Jungkook lets go of one shivering exhale.
"Thanks for taking off work."
"Don't thank me for that."
This time Taehyung cranes around, waits for Jungkook to look at him.
"You know you're kinda different lately."
"What? No I'm n--"
Behind Taehyung, Jungkook sees city lights but when Taehyung smiles at him this time, they seem almost like stars.
Unconsciously his hand lifts to his heart, head bowed.
They go back to Taehyung's dorm for the last time, and sleep swathed together in a cocoon of blankets, Taehyung kissing his forehead goodnight.
It's only after Jungkook has fallen asleep first that Taehyung sits up a little and looks across at his roommate, brow arched.
"What?" he asks, quiet enough not to wake the boy at his side.
"You really aren't dating. Are you," he says and Taehyung rolls his eyes.
"I did tell you. A hundred times."
Jimin shakes his head even as he says, "Yeah. You did."
Running fingers through Jungkook's hair, Taehyung sighs. "We just love each other."
He sees a few things cross Park Jimin's face: sadness, loss, understanding, love...and calm.
"Good," he says, and means it.
Later still, when Taehyung is the only one left awake, he murmurs to no one in particular, "But someday...Jungkookie...I wanna meet 'em." Pause. "The one who's made you so happy lately."
The next time he speaks to Suga, Suga is sad even if he doesn't admit it. By now, Jungkook can tell but he also knows mentioning it will come to no good, so they talk around it. Suga thanks him and Jungkook says it's not necessary even while all he wants to say is: tell me what's wrong, let me help. He hears what he thinks Suga himself does not hear: exhausted hope, a rock echoing at the bottom of a well, something close to surrender. And it scares him.
Each night he draws something new. As Suga falls asleep tonight, the image under Jungkook's trembling hand is a man neither young nor old, seated at a burning piano.
For some reason, Jungkook thinks he looks rather at home, then has the sharpest, heaviest thought he's ever felt: this person wants the same home I want.
Fire in the dark.
He waits for Suga's call the next night. And the next. And the next. He adds a boy beside the piano. He adds wings. Waits some more.
A week ago Jungkook broke another rule.
Standing in the last payphone booth in the city (probably), he holds grounds for being fired in his hand as he dials once, fucks it up, and dials again. Waits. The automated voicebox fills him with dread but he's come this far and if he does nothing else, then at least he has to do this.
Tell this stranger who is not a stranger: I'm thinking of you -- how you are, how you aren't.
And maybe: what that means to me.
Even if it wasn't supposed to.
Could be stress. Could be the weather. Could be none of it. Jungkook gets so sick he can't go to class or work. His father, unnerved by sickness of any kind, is fortunately away on business, so Jungkook can at least go through his potential death throes in privacy.
One night he wakes up to someone changing a cloth on his forehead.
He tries to sit up but he can't, and Taehyung gently pushes him back.
"Got worried. For good reason, looks like."
When Jungkook tries to argue it's not necessary, his words don't come out proper at all, his head swims, and as he has no choice but to slip back into an unconscious fever, he's vaguely aware of Taehyung saying,
"I'm still worried."
His first night back, Suga calls, and although Jungkook is still recovering, he feels irrationally better when Suga says he got his message; when Suga says thank-you; when he realizes Suga isn't mad or disappointed or worse. And oh.
With one hand, Jungkook presses his palm hard to one eye then the other, both burning.
In a good way.
As repayment for helping him out, Jungkook treats Taehyung to lunch. It's a bookstore and cafe, one of the few that stocks manga as well as more conventional books. They meander in and out of comics and conversations and strawberry cake, and Jungkook is hit with how much he misses seeing his friend almost every day. He wonders if it ever gets easier. When they are leaving the cafe, Taehyung grabs Jungkook's hand, swings their arms up and down like a child and asks,
"How are you?"
"I'm okay," Jungkook says, smiles.
Nodding, Taehyung lets that be as it is; knows: sometimes it's the best that one can hope for -- saying one is okay until it's true.
At the train station, Taehyung says, "Check my old locker by the way."
The doors close as Jungkook blinks and says, "...huh?"
Along with his old art supplies, Jungkook finds a note:
I'm on your side.
According to his research, changing majors at this point amounts to doing almost a full undergraduate program all over again.
Knowing the logical choice, Jungkook clutches the form and stuffs it in his bag anyway.
Suga asks him to meet and Jungkook wants to say yes but he also wants to say no and no being what he's supposed to say, it's what he defaults to. Because what if they only work in this one Way? What if he meets Suga and then Suga finds him inadequate or stupid or too young or or or? What if? Jungkook aches and fills in the shadows of wings he's drawing tonight, presses his pencil down on its side to make a smoky wave of graphite. Regardless, the answer being no also means Jungkook cannot stop thinking about it, ends up wondering truly foolhardy things like 'would I know him?'
'Would he know me?'
Jungkook speaks with Suga one last time before he quits his job with Save Me.
He says a couple things he has been wanting to say for a while.
It isn't nearly enough.
. . .
Part Two: Daylight
. . .
Starting over is harder than starting for the first time. Everyone in his class is younger than him and Jungkook can barely keep his eyes open anyway because three jobs plus a full-time class roster will do that.
But he manages. The way he always has; the way he means to -- for something he can like for more than today, for more than tomorrow.
In his bag: a sketchbook, class texts, headphones. In that sketchbook: dried baby's breath flowers, a burning piano, wings.
Now and then he meets up with Taehyung, Taehyung who teaches full time in a city Jungkook has never visited. Because of his schedule, Taehyung comes to him and never bears him any ill will for it. Once, Jungkook tries to apologize for it, but Taehyung hooks him in by his untucked shirt and says,
"If I didn't want to, I wouldn't. But I do, so I'm here. No big deal."
For his birthday, Taehyung brings him a new backpack, pointing towards the laptop sleeve and saying he can use it for his sketchpads instead. Jungkook draws him a story about a boy whose life revolves around the ocean, where one day he meets his best friend: a mermaid the spitting image of Taehyung when they were younger.
Alone in his apartment, Taehyung hangs each page on the wall and feels grateful the way you do when your most important people are doing okay.
"Have you looked at the program near me?" Taehyung asks at the end of Jungkook's third year (well, sixth, technically.)
"'cause it's fine arts, and you could log your hours where I work."
Jungkook stares a moment before breaking into laughter, full-bodied and bright.
"I'm looking at a few places for my last year."
"So you'll think about it."
"So I'll think about it."
This time they both laugh.
Listening to his favorite podcast -- Table of Contents --, Jungkook is comfortable in his row when another person shuffles into it on the other side of the aisle. He watches without meaning to watch, ends up staring worse than ever though as the stranger somehow gets tangled up in both his scarf and his headphones. Years ago, Jungkook would have felt bad and actually guilty for catching such an awkward sight. Now he just finds himself amused because it's relatable. And the stranger is handsome, though that's neither here nor there; it's something else too.
On the tip of his tongue.
Jungkook is still trying to figure it out when the man looks up. He seems so annoyed that Jungkook quickly looks away.
It's only after staring out the train window for a while longer that he realizes he's in the middle of the podcast's first segment...and completely lost; something about falling stars and the smell of rain. Sighing, he starts it over,
"Hello. You are listening to Table of Contents, the show that brings you......"
In a turn of events that he hopes he'll laugh at later, he misses his stop. By the time he back-tracks, it's evening.
Somehow this means as he's walking onto the university's campus, he passes that same stranger, presumably heading back.
He's with a friend, or a boyfriend -- hard to say -- and Jungkook shouldn't stare (again) but he does; he turns and looks over his shoulder only to see him looking back too.
Only when the man trips does Jungkook look away, starts walking again, carefully tugging his earbuds out just in time to hear,
Later he'll blame it on his shock, how he freezes up and can't move much less breathe. He'll think about how he knew so many important things in that one span of a moment and then lost it all just as fast. For now Jungkook just turns and stares at where they were, stares and fails to notice his own hand over his heart, shaking.
Because he knows that voice.
The next morning on the train back, Jungkook curses himself. He should have chased after them. Looking crazy be damned. He should have. But he didn't. And he stands by it: he knows that voice, would know it in the throngs of a hundred thousand of others. Doesn't matter though. He can't do anything with it -- so he hurries to the friend's apartment. There he digs around in his old sketchbook for a drawing he did one night on the phone with that voice and when he finds it, his throat closes up. He remembers Suga asking him what he was drawing; he remembers making him guess; he also remembers thinking: this is probably nothing what you look like for real, just what you look like to me.
But staring down at it now, aligning it with the image in his own head, Jungkook can't decide whether to laugh or to cry.
Because for all the things he's gotten wrong in his life the first time around, this? Isn't one of them.
There on a paper too old to know it's the truth, is Suga. For some reason Jungkook had shaded his hair in a light minty green but other than that, it looks exactly like him.
Jungkook's routine goes something like this: wake up, roll into whatever clean clothes he has, check his backpack for all he needs, run to the train, do leftover homework on said train, go to school, go to work. Repeat. Days off are not days off because those are all spent working too. Unlike when he was majoring in business, Jungkook finds he doesn't mind it even at his most exhausted.
What he does mind: on the hour long commute, gripped with longing for someone he tried to move on from without ever truly having them, the indelible ache of 'what if' and 'why didn't I', and the inability to stop.
Sometimes the sheer want sets him dreaming and once he almost gets hit by a car, so distracted by his thoughts.
As the car veers away, Jungkook watches its lights disappear.
Without any real plan, he starts reaching for Suga over and over, here and there, the only way he knows how. In the margins of his notes, in his actual textbooks, on napkins at restaurants or bars, in the fog of a window on the bus when the train fails and only takes him so far, in his sketchbooks and in his head, once on the sidewalk when invited by a child to draw with her (she was decorating the cityscape with daisies), and often often often in his paintings. Anywhere he can.
Which makes sense perhaps, because to Jungkook, that's exactly where Suga is.
"Oooh," the child crouched down so close to the drawing that when she lifted her head she had chalk on the tip of her nose. "Who'sit?" she asked as Jungkook watched the sun glance off of her dark dark hair. He smiled and looked down.
"His name is Suga." And then he thought: except it's not.
The little girl took her yellow chalk to the drawing's hair, added a flower.
"Much better," Jungkook said.
In that uncanny way children have (more often than adults anyway), his fellow artist lifted her chin with pride and said, "I know."
When Jungkook thinks about that afternoon he wonders if she's alright, if she's still drawing flowers on sidewalks or if her parents have told her she's too old for that now.
It seems a sad sort of inevitability -- to be informed of one's age.
How it changes you to the world, whether you want it to or not.
Late nights are no strangers but some warrant more productivity than others. Somewhere along the timeline, Jungkook starts to play the piano again -- mainly for himself, and sometimes for Taehyung if the other man (because they're adults now, apparently) visits him. The practice rooms are often full-up, but when there's a free one Jungkook will sit very still until he's not.
Try to make a sound out of a feeling his paintings have yet to find for him.
Listening one evening, Taehyung sits with his back against the wall, eyes closed and thinks that the song half-happening under Jungkook's fingers is beautiful.
Not happy. Not sad. The place in the middle of those two feelings, stronger than uncertainty but equally nameless. And it's not his story; Taehyung knows without asking.
But it hurts just the same.
Sometimes Taehyung texts him to hang out after work, night owls that he and his city friends are now. But Jungkook always says no for one reason or another.
ull like them!
maybe next time?
u always say that :(
i miss you
i just rly need to go sleep
okok. text me when u get to ur dorm?
He feels guilty but it's also the truth. Habits of falling asleep inconveniently on the train or on his break or what-have-you have started cropping up and when he sleeps, he dreams half-realities muddled with a voice telling him about the piano and asking him to walk home together.
"This is different," his favorite teacher says, which fills Jungkook with dread because 'different' could be very good but it could also be very bad and disappointing people remains one of his deepseated fears. Brushing his hair behind his ear, he pretends not to be nervous, curls his toes inside of his shoes and blinks.
"Ah...not good?" he asks.
His teacher narrows her eyes.
"Why do you always do that?"
"Assume I'm going to tell you what you've done isn't good." Her hands aren't on her hips but the feeling is somewhat similar.
She sighs. "What I was going to say, is it's beautiful. You usually stick to people, so it's nice to see something else. I feel like I know this person who lives here, just from looking at what you've done." Her hand on his shoulder is brief but strong as she moves on to survey the other students' work, as she says quieter, "Keep doing what you're doing." Vague. Yet something in Jungkook exhales. He doesn't even know why.
But he looks at the drawing of a room that isn't his, whoever's it might be -- a living room with an old leather couch and a coffee table that's propped up by a couple manuals on plumbing and videography. On the left of the room: shelves and shelves of albums. On the right where the couch is: a black and white photograph of an old piano. Towards the back of the composition: suggestion of a balcony that looks out at a city, the door ajar. Jungkook thinks that's foolish in this weather; the person will catch a cold. Things he's left ambiguous under the smudge of his thumb or forefinger: a picture-frame on the bookshelf at eye-level which feels too important to fill-in when he's not one hundred percent certain, a set of headphones on the coffee table next to a set of earbuds next to three different remotes, the impression of the couch having been slept on probably more than the owner's bed.
Some scraps of paper on the floor.
And Jungkook almost erases those several times, but then the class is over so he doesn't; closes his book and slides it into his bag.
"Jimin really wants to see you," Taehyung makes an impressive pout-and-frown combo, and Jungkook sighs. Face-time is rather dangerous with his best friend, who could wrap the surliest of souls around his pinky finger if he wanted to.
"I still can't believe he moved to the city too."
"Well he's in the performing arts," Taehyung's brows raise as if to say: so actually it makes sense. Jungkook shakes his head.
"I just mean...that you ended up in the same place, again."
"I'm glad we did."
"How's he doing?"
"Okay. I think as long as he's dancing, he's mostly happy, but..." Taehyung trails off, disappears from the phone's camera for a second and Jungkook can hear him cooing at what most certainly is a passing dog on the street ("Ahh handsome!") and the sound of unconditional love. Jungkook hopes Taehyung can get his own dog someday, because he thinks it would make him happy, because he knows Taehyung has wanted one for quite a long time. When Taehyung comes back on screen, he's grinning ear-to-ear, a shine that's always there but brighter still. Jungkook smiles wider too, a natural response.
"Mm. But seriously, let's hang out. You still applying to our district for your last log?"
"I said I would, didn't I?"
"Just checking -- hi!" Taehyung waves to someone Jungkook cannot see.
"Lady who runs the corner-store I go to in the morning. Closing up kinda late."
For some of Taehyung's walk home, they're silent, just listening to a part of each other's lives that is normal, just getting to know that part about each other the way people do when they're still dealing with the distance of time and geography.
In the hand not holding his phone, Jungkook has a piece of paper with a phone number that has long-since been disconnected. Even knowing this, he cannot bring himself to get rid of it.
"Ask me next time?"
Taehyung nods and smiles a half-smile. "Sure."
Between school -- whether learning or teaching -- and his myriad of part-time jobs, Jungkook draws and paints for himself, when he can. Sometimes he sends art out to contests or, given the wherewithal, applies for an artist's grant. Nothing ever comes of the latter, but a few publications print his art, and it's nice. They pay him and ask how he wants to be credited. Jungkook thinks about it a while before replying that if possible, he'd love the piece published with a title but without his name; confused, the magazine's representative asks him several times if he's sure; and Jungkook has a moment where he wonders if he'll regret it or not. But when it comes out, he's just relieved. He keeps just one copy. Taehyung buys dozens and gives them to everyone he knows, as well as a few people he doesn't.
For one of his first lessons he asks the students to draw something they love. Then he asks them to draw why they love it.
Even though he knows it would be best not to, Jungkook goes back to his father's house once in a while, just to make sure he's okay -- or as okay as he'll ever be. His father tells him how disappointed he is in him, tells him he's made a mistake. But these days it's a dull ache instead of a twisting knife. Jungkook has stopped expecting to find here what he'd long hoped for.
Instead, he is looking elsewhere.
It comes as some sad relief -- rain in the chill of spring knowing what rain promises -- finding out there is anywhere else to look in the first place. It's strange too.
Jungkook puts the washed dishes away. Locks the door behind him.
The problems searching for someone whose real name you don't know are difficult to work with. He has no pictures to bring, no point of contact except the phone which is protected by the company, and a voice he can't imitate to save his life (he tried.) He can't exactly afford a private investigator when he's living on bread -- and that's a luxury.
Leaving hints for the universe to deliver up to now amounts to the kind of wish one makes and is afraid to make.
With his arms folded around his legs, pulled up to his chest, Jungkook sighs.
When Jungkook was very young his mother took him to the beach at night. Together they counted stars. On the one evening they saw a falling star, his mother held him up high and said, "Make a wish." Walking home, she ruffled his hair and told him, "I hope it comes true."
Two years later Jungkook waited at the dinner table until dinner was cold and for a long time afterward wondered if he had done something wrong, one thing or a hundred things that led to a chair that would always be empty. She left no note and she never called. As far as he could tell from his father's reaction, it wasn't wholly unexpected for anyone but Jungkook himself.
He looked for her too: in the local park where she would take him, after school near the buses, in the post office where they used to wait in line together, and on the beach.
As he got older, he talked to the stars and the occasional turtle ambling up in midnight.
Truth be known he doesn't remember when he stopped looking. He just knows that a point in time came when other things in life took over and for quite a while, that was that.
It's a sickness maybe, not inhibiting but not helpful either: the sudden question that crops up: what did I do wrong?
Do I deserve this?
Looking now for someone he's never known and yet feels as though he knows so well, it seems a humorless joke. Jungkook draws the face he saw so briefly, creates character studies all over the walls of his studio apartment and finds himself telling some kind of story. Frame to frame, panel to panel: one young man looks for another young man who, when the younger was still a boy, made him feel strong when he needed it most.
Sometimes (often) Jungkook thinks about it, how he asked Suga: I'm helping you...aren't I?
How Suga told him yes and all it meant to him.
Means to him.
In Jungkook's story he's doing what he's actually doing: looking for Suga. But he does what most writers do -- indulges his hopes and fears; writes draws imagines daringly that...
...maybe Suga is looking for him too.
He draws Suga at the piano. He draws Suga on a balcony. He draws Suga sitting with an old friend across a cup of coffee and two plane tickets to New York. He draws Suga petting a dog on the street -- reddish brown with sort of wavy fur, and eyes that always say I-Love-You. He draws Suga calling Save Me again because even though the call will never connect, the act of making it is still something.
One part he can never get quite right, and he ends up revisiting it over and over.
It's the last conversation he remembers having with Suga, and he redoes it so many times that he just confuses himself. What was going on then that he was so sad? Bottom lip bleeding under his teeth, Jungkook erases what he has and tries again. He remembers drawing Suga -- the piece of paper not on his wall but on his desk, the original if one can call it that. He remembers making Suga guess. He remembers what he feels right now: physical pain in his chest, an ache that wrenches and seems to so precisely hit the nerve in a person that elicits tears without explanation. Rubbing the back of his hand across his nose and eyes, Jungkook tries to stop crying and winds up with a massive headache for his efforts.
He falls asleep, cheek smashed against pencil and paper, his one light still on.
Perhaps because Jungkook himself is stuck, Suga remains stuck in his story as well. He finds it almost funny but mostly sad: how even in his own creation things feel out of his hands.
One eye on his phone -- deleting e-mails by and large -- and one eye on the not-yet boiling pot of water, Jungkook's finger pauses over an e-mail from Table of Contents. It's his own fault that as he opens the e-mail and tries to pour the box of pasta into the pot at the same time, he knocks said pot over and has to read the e-mail with his dominant arm under cold running water but given the contents of the message he doesn't care as much as he probably should.
[Table of Contents thanks you for subscribing. Sharing stories is our passion and we are grateful for all our listeners. As always we have to remind you that everything helps, so if you can donate anything at all, we appreciate it. Now that that's out of the way, the truth is we need your help with our next episode. The subject?
Somewhere Out There.
What we need from you...]
Jungkook rereads the e-mail so many times that his burnt arm has gone numb from the cold water by the time he remembers to shut the faucet off.
It's three in the morning as he paces from wall to wall. Outside: a half moon pitches its story in fast moving clouds. Inside: Jungkook takes up a pencil and draws the other half above a man standing on his balcony, listening to a story that just might be about him.
[ "Which brings us here. Part Three. Did you title this chapter?"
"And why is that?"
The nice voice, Jungkook's voice, laughs soft but heavy. "Well. I'm hoping the story isn't over." He pauses. "And either way, I'd rather not name it until I'm sure."
"And what will you do now?"
"Keep looking. Keep drawing. And teaching." The way he says the last one is self-conscious, like he knows as a fully functioning adult that should have been his first answer.
"Ah that's right you told me you teach art, right? That's cool. When did y--" ]
With his cat's chin on his ankle, Yoongi pinches himself. He always thought that was an idiotic way to check if one was dreaming because why wouldn't you be able to pinch yourself in a dream? But he doesn't feel real. Nothing feels real.
Except this: a gut-punch that makes it hard to breathe and is felt more in his heart than anywhere else. A pragmatic person would tell him to go see a doctor. Namjoon would tell him to write the podcast. Hoseok would hold his hand. Seokjin would literally shove his phone in his face until he wrote in. Jimin would probably just stare at him. And Jungkook -- his name, finally his name -- what would he do?
Well, Yoongi thinks to himself, what he's already done.
When Yoongi passed Jungkook in the hallway of the school not so long ago, only Yoongi thought: I think I know you.
Meanwhile, Jungkook thought: yes. Yes you do.
"But why didn't he say anything? He definitely saw me! This podcast is from two weeks ago. Why wouldn't he--"
"Wait wait wait!" Hoseok covers Yoongi's mouth with both his hands. "Slow down." Behind Hoseok's hands, Yoongi scowls. Hoseok rolls his eyes. "You're sure he saw you."
Hoseok lowers his hands. Yoongi pinches the bridge of his own nose.
"I said: That's what I said."
"Well, I dunno. I mean if he's been looking for you you'd think he would've at least said hello," folding his arms, Hoseok squints up at the sky the way people do when they're trying to organize a few too many thoughts at once. "Maybe...he's afraid?"
Yoongi's scowl disappears for a confused sort of furrow. "...of...me?" That thought hurts somehow.
Tilting his head side to side, Hoseok shrugs and finally just looks at Yoongi. He sees Yoongi in many ways: the child who was always smaller than him but stronger in some ways, the friend who protected him when he couldn't protect himself from others or even his own self, the boy he kissed on the cheek one February and said he'd do anything for him and meant it. He knows that's a thing he and Namjoon have in common, though Hoseok never actually dated Yoongi. The fact remains they were both more than a little in love with him and maybe always will be.
But one love doesn't have to negate another. Hoseok met Seokjin and nothing has ever made him feel luckier -- loves the sound of the guitar under Seokjin's fingers, the wistful light of his voice, and how he invites Hoseok to sing with him not out of obligation but out of want, once told him: I like how we sound together. Hoseok pushed his hands back through Seokjin's hair, brought his mouth to his ear and said: me too.
In the here and now, Hoseok is in love with Seokjin and loves all of their friends with different wavelengths. Where Yoongi used to be his backbone and then hands gentle but strong around his heart, Yoongi is now maybe his moonlight: the most soothing hour of night where peace tiptoes in and loves you exactly as you are -- a phonecall he doesn't have to make but knows he could if he wanted to. He still isn't entirely clear on what has happened to his friend the past several years since giving him that phone number, wonders off and on if he did him some kind of disservice when he's seen something hollow in Yoongi's frame, a place where the fire belongs but...sometimes...wasn't.
Looking at him now, there is fire. Hoseok can almost smell it. He looks away.
"I just mean, it's different chasing an idea of a person. You never actually met him. He's probably afraid of...you know...disappointing you."
"Or afraid I'll disappoint him," Yoongi mumbles. Again silence. Again a waiting room. Again. And when Yoongi looks up, he sees Hoseok staring at the dried flowers on the wall, meditates on his profile, the simple steadiness of his voice as he says,
"No...I think that's what you're afraid of."
Part Three: Nightlight
"See you tomorrow." Jungkook watches the last student wave, shuffle out sideways as she tries to say goodbye and runs into the doorframe, flushes and bolts too fast for Jungkook to even ask if she's okay. To be fair, he would have done the same thing. Brushing some of his hair behind his ear, he knocks the pencil off, forgetting he'd stowed it there. He takes a step after its slow roll across the floor, and crouches to pick it up.
At the same time, another hand reaches out.
There is a painting in Jungkook's apartment of the stars over a beach that leads somewhere not here. The water is made of music notes puzzle-pieced into the breaks of waves and glancing moonlight. If you get close enough, there is a half-washed away sandcastle closer to the left and a seemingly arbitrary pile of shells, rocks, and sea glass. If you get closer than enough, you'll see footprints, not a path of them, just two pairs side-by-side with no sense of which direction they came from.
The biggest trick or truth of all: if you get far away enough you see what Jungkook sees.
They stay like that long enough that Jungkook's knees start to ache but he doesn't quite dare move just yet. Both their hands still outstretched over the pencil, he blinks back a feeling like tears and is surprised to see the man across from him doing the same. He gets the impression that they're both embarrassed but figures that just means they're not alone, is insanely worried that he's dreaming, is equally worried that he's not, is so many contradictions. So he says the first thing that comes to mind after all this time, meets a warm dark gaze blurred at the edges, a too-full sense of waiting on the verge of no longer having to -- says, his voice a crying laughing thing:
"So, how did you sleep?"
There is a song Yoongi never produced but carries with him everywhere he goes. When Jungkook asks him how he slept, he thinks the best answer would be to play it for him, but now that they're here nothing seems right or wrong. He doesn't know what to do, how to act, cannot even be clear anymore on what he wants. For the longest time he wanted this: to meet Holly -- who is Jungkook. And maybe for a while there he wanted to tell him thank-you and maybe I might be in love with you.
They sit on the classroom floor, a pencil and a pause between them. Through the wall of windows to their right, the sun sets in a pink-gold scattering of light. It occurs to Yoongi that Jungkook is as beautiful on the outside as he already knew him to be inside, as beautiful as the imagination, and real.
He's struck with the thought that he doesn't want to hurt him and remembers Hoseok's words.
Jungkook asks how he slept but Yoongi's voice is trapped between heartbeats half his half Jungkook's, so he offers both his hands, outstretched, palms up -- a question, an answer, and a grace.
Their hands do not intertwine. Rather, Jungkook holds his own hands over Yoongi's in the same way a couple in a movie might hover face to face before a kiss. Yoongi's gaze travels the length of Jungkook's right arm where fresh gauze is wrapped with more finesse than Jungkook himself could manage.
A hoarse sound, as if he's already been crying or sick or both, Yoongi asks, "What happened?"
"Ah," Jungkook ducks his head and their hands touch for a second. "I got distracted while making dinner."
"Be more careful."
"You always said that."
"Well," Jungkook looks sheepish, looks young. "I didn't change much."
"You did a little."
Jungkook blinks, brows raised in question.
"The teaching thing."
"Oh." A small smile escapes him. "Yeah. Um. Thanks." It feels too embarrassing to say a thing like 'you inspired me', no matter how true it is, so he doesn't; but as he fidgets with his slightly too-long shirt sleeves, he shakes his head. Says, "You know..."
Yoongi lifts his gaze from their hands again, murmurs, "Hm?"
They stare at each other another minute, another moment, another maybe-it-will-be-okay-after-all...before Jungkook says, soft as memory:
"I never got your name."
You could be the the one I reach for in the dark.