November 3rd, 2017
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jeongguk chants desperately, feet pounding on the pavement as he sprints towards the school gates at full speed. He manages to slip inside just twenty minutes late for his first class. It's not his fault he'd been so completely drunk off his mind at Wonshin's birthday party last night that he'd come home and passed out in his back yard, waking up with a hangover so terrible there were black spots in his vision. His head's mostly alright now, after chugging down two bottles of water and being in the fresh air for a bit. He bursts into the classroom.
Now, usually, when Jeongguk's late to class, this is what happens: he strides in, confident as ever, and his group of friends- large, popular, utterly attractive and all star members of the school's football team- erupt into cheers and shouts of 'looks like Guk finally decided to turn up's until the teacher rolls their eyes and tells them to shut the hell up. It is then Jeongguk's turn to saunter into his seat in the middle of them- the football team's captain.
The teacher will then tell Jeongguk that he needs to take his classes seriously, it's junior year and things are serious. He will nod along obediently but knows it doesn't matter all that much because he's getting into college for football. No-one needs to know that Jeongguk secretly wishes his grades were a little better, that perhaps he had a shot at becoming a doctor like his mom or a university professor like his dad. That maybe he didn't have to hide the fact that he kind of likes baking and draws in a sketchbook he keeps under his pillow and maybe, just maybe might like boys the way he's meant to like girls.
Today is different, however. People turn to look, yes, but their faces are serious and resigned, and their eyes seem to see through him instead of at him. The air in the room is thick with tension. He glances over to his friends, piled up in their usual corner of the classroom, and even they are eerily quiet.
What the fuck, Jeongguk thinks.
Mrs Kwon clears her throat. “Mr Jeon, if you'd like to take a seat.”
Her voice cracks in the middle of the sentence, which has alarm bells ringing in Jeongguk's head. He goes to his seat quickly.
“Continuing from where I left off,” Mrs Kwon says, tone grave, “there will be an assembly after this class that'll go into a little more depth than I have. And... I just want to say, to all of you, that I hope you know you can talk to me anytime. About anything. I know I'm only your teacher, but if there is any way I could--”
She stops suddenly, choking on her words. Jeongguk notices her eyes are glistening. A small sob crawls up from her throat and she covers her mouth instantly, turning away. The air only gets thicker.
Jeongguk freaks a little, looking around desperately. What the hell is going on?
“What's happening?” he says under his breath.
“Kid in our year killed himself yesterday,” Jaebum replies quietly.
“What?” Jeongguk exclaims, eyes widening. A few heads turn. Shit, a bit too loud. He lowers his voice. “Who?”
“Kim Taehyung,” Jaebum says.
Jeongguk shuts up in favor of trying to remember this Taehyung. He searches his brain extensively-- Kim Taehyung, who's Kim Taehyung?-- and comes up with nothing. They most likely weren't friends. Jeongguk thinks about how he would feel if one of his friends committed suicide, and feels his chest clench up a little. He shakes his head to clear himself of morbid thoughts.
The bell rings and everyone gets up. It's the assembly now.
While they file into the hall, Jeongguk nudges Jaebum.
“You know who Kim Taehyung is?” he pauses, then adds, “was.”
“No idea,” Jaebum says.
Jeongguk turns to Kyuhyun.
“Did you know Kim Taehyung?” he asks. Kyuhyun shrugs and shakes his head.
Jeongguk keeps asking around, and none of his friends seem to recall this Taehyung. It worries him. Surely at least one of them would know him, remember that he existed? Jeongguk feel anxious and jittery inside.
The assembly consists of various teachers talking about Taehyung, about how the school had high ambitions for him, about how lovely a student he was-- always helping teachers, staying behind to do extra work and improving the school community. Afterwards, they tell the students that there are counselors they can talk to anytime, and that suicide shouldn't be an option, et cetera. Jeongguk fidgets throughout the entire thing.
On the screen projector at the front of the hall is a large, slightly pixellated picture of Kim Taehyung, grin at full-force as he kneels beside what presumably is his dog, arms thrown around the animal's neck in a messy embrace. Jeongguk wonders when that picture was taken. Whether Kim Taehyung knew he was going to kill himself and smiled at the camera anyway.
He can't shake this uncomfortable feeling off. He looks around to see if he can find some of Kim Taehyung's friends. To his dismay, no one seems to be crying hysterically, or looking upset beyond the impersonal point of learning about someone's death, someone you didn't know well. There are a few girls shedding tears, but that's to be expected.
Who were Kim Taehyung's friends?
If he didn't have friends, anyone to confide in-- it would've made everything he was going through worse, surely. Feeling lonely on top of whatever other problems the boy was facing-- Jeongguk can't even imagine the toll that would take on a person.
He turns back to the picture on the screen. His caramel-brown hair is ruffled and his clothes are crumpled, like he's been running around. Jeongguk does remember him, but very vaguely. He can recall seeing that face in the hall sometimes but nothing further than that.
Better than nothing.
I shouldn't be feeling guilty about this, Jeongguk thinks. Why do I feel guilty? It's not my fault, I couldn't have done anything. I didn't even know him!
“Taehyung's funeral will be held this Friday, at six pm. You are all welcome to go-- his family has extended the invite to all.”
Jeongguk thinks this is a little odd. His parents are okay with just anyone turning at their son's funeral? He wonders who will go, then feels guilty all over again. The principal wraps up the assembly solemnly, and everyone leaves the hall in silence.
By the end of the week, most of the school seem to have forgotten the whole Taehyung thing; it's as if it never happened. People go back to normal. Life must go on, Jeongguk reasons, though it's a cruel thought.
For some reason, Jeongguk can't get Taehyung out of his head. The thought keeps flitting in and out of his mind, Taehyung's face flashing into the black of his eyelids when he closes them. It isn't normal. He shouldn't be thinking about it so much. It can't be healthy.
He found out how Kim Taehyung had died-- the story had spread around the school. He'd been found by local police dead in his bathtub, overdosed on prescription pills because he hadn't been in school for two weeks.
As a result, Jeongguk's friends notice his change in demeanor throughout the week but he tells them he's just feeling ill. He says he won't be coming to Seolhyun's party after school on Friday, and his friends all look at him like he's mad.
“It's Seolhyun,” Wonshin says, as if that's meant to make everything obvious to Jeongguk.
“I know that,” he says. “And what?”
“Are you high right now?” Wonshin leans into his face, pretending to examine him. Jeongguk rolls his eyes and bats him away.
“Shut up. I just don't get why you're all looking at me like that-- what's so special about Seolhyun?”
“She's fucking hot, for one, and she's into you like hell. That's what everyone's saying, anyway. If you go, you can probably, you know,” Sejun makes a crude gesture and the group of them roar with laughter.
“What if I don't want to, you know,” Jeongguk mocks. Seolhyun is beautiful, yes, but Jeongguk just isn't all that attracted to her. He doesn't know why-- her body is amazing, all curves and toned thighs and tanned skin.
You know why. Jeongguk ignores the thought.
“You don't wanna fuck that? You a fag or something?”
They all start laughing again, slapping Jeongguk on the back and he laughs along with them. It's a joke, he knows that. And plus, he's not gay. He's not. Not wanting to have sex with one of the most attractive girls in school doesn't mean he's... no. It doesn't.
“Why don't one of you lot have a go at her instead?” Jeongguk grins. “Though I'll be shocked if any of you ugly fuckers manage it.”
“Ugly fucker? You gotta be blind, Guk,” Sejun says cockily. He reaches out to grab a boy walking past, and shoves him in front of Jeongguk. The boy looks terrified, blinking up at Jeongguk through thick-framed glasses.
“What's your name, kid?” Sejun asks.
“S-sungmin,” the boy stammers, ears tipped with red.
“Well, Guk,” Sejun grins that wicked grin, the one that plasters all over his face before he does something dick-worthy, “this is what you call an ugly fucker. See it?”
When everyone snorts, Sungmin looks like he's about to start crying any moment, but Jeongguk shrugs.
“Yeah, I see it. But I'm not taking it back, Sejun. You're still an ugly fucker.”
Sejun mock-punches Jeongguk and they're all laughing again, Sungmin forgotten.
Jeongguk is very, very close to just turning off his phone altogether. If one of his friends drunk-call him from Seolhyun's party again, someone's going to die. His phone rings again and he turns it off. Problem solved.
He's been sitting in bed, unable to think about anything else except for Taehyung-- which he's used to by now. I need to stop or I'll go crazy.
Jeongguk glances over at his clock on his bedside table, and the time reads 6:45pm. That's when he gets an idea.
It's Friday-- the day of Taehyung's funeral, a fact he hasn't been able to forget. It started at 6pm, so perhaps he could still manage to catch a couple of minutes at the end. If he goes, maybe it'll give him some closure. He might be able to stop thinking about it all the time, clear his head and go back to normal like everyone else has.
Jeongguk still hasn't changed out of his uniform and pulls on his football jersey-- emblazoned on the back is the number '1', for the team captain. He'd been absolutely ecstatic when he'd been offered the position and the jersey is his prized possession.
He reaches the cemetery just after seven. After a quick glance over the area of land, it seems he's missed it. There's only a few people dotted around, and even they're leaving because it's started to rain. He goes in anyways, just to see the grave itself.
Jeongguk finally finds it. He swallows but his throat is dry all of a sudden. There's an ache in his chest, a dull, monotonous pain for a boy he never talked to, never knew. The scene in front of him breaks his heart.
The funeral is just finishing, although there's only five people there, all facing away from him. A boy with dark hair, around his age, perhaps; a little boy, kneeling in the mud adjusting a small bouquet of flowers resting against the stone; two little girls wailing and an old woman, hunched over and clutching at a walking stick. Jeongguk can hear her sobs from here, hoarse and broken.
The boy his age puts an arm around the old woman and pats her gently, telling her something. She nods, and together with the younger children, she leaves. He watches them, the way they slouch as they walk. Where are Taehyung's parents? Are they still alive? Is that why he...?
Jeongguk walks closer to the gravestone, still far enough for the dark-haired boy not to have noticed him. The sky overhead is dark with grey, stormy clouds. The rain is so heavy that it sounds more like the rushing of a river. Jeongguk shivers and wraps his soaked jersey around himself tighter. He nearly falls over in surprise when the boy starts talking.
“I'm sorry I couldn't do anything, Tae,” the boy says. His voice is quiet, barely a whisper, and scratchy as if he's been crying for a while. “I should have come over more. Then maybe I would've noticed-- that you, well... you were going to...”
Jeongguk blinks away the start of tears.
“I was a shitty best friend, wasn't I?” the boy laughs. It's tinged with the kind of hysteria fueled only by sadness. “You deserved someone better. Someone who didn't live so far away, who actually picked up your calls. I... I was always busy, but I should never have been too busy to talk to you. I know how hard things were at home, and school... but I just... I never thought...”
There's the sudden crack of thunder and the rain pours down frantically.
“Why did you do this?” the boy says after a long silence, but he sounds... angry. “How could you? You're gone, and you didn't tell anyone, and I can't believe you just-- you're not here anymore! We were about to graduate, Tae, go to college? Did you forget that we planned to room together? Who the fuck am I going to room with? Who am I going to... God, Taehyung-- I'd do anything for you to come back.”
The boy cries all over again. Jeongguk wants to leave, wants to forget this ever happened. He's never felt like this before-- like his heart is shattering, like someone is ripping out chunks of his lungs, bit by bit, taking away his ability to breathe until he's gasping, choking on nothing; like his knees don't know how to work and they're about to give out from underneath him; tears stinging his eyes until he feels like gauging them out himself. He hates it. He fucking hates it.
After what seems like hours, the boy's sobbing ceases. Jeongguk takes a deep breath and walks over to stand next to the boy, eyes fixed on the gravestone with Taehyung's name engraved at the top. They stand in silence until he can't bear it anymore.
“You were close to Taehyung,” he means to ask, but it sounds more like a statement. As soon as the words leave his mouth, the dark haired boy gasps.
Jeongguk blinks once and his head snaps to look at the boy beside him.
“Holy fuck,” he says, losing his balance a little. “Jimin-hyung?”
They stare at each other, and God, Jeongguk's heart is in this throat. It's his Jimin-hyung.
They'd been childhood friends in Busan, their families like family to each other, before the boys had moved to Seoul for a better education. They'd attended different high schools and became parts of different crowds-- Jimin with the nice kids, the ones that helped the elderly cross the street and studied together in pretty little coffee shops, who babysat kids and worked part-time at the charity center. Jeongguk had become friends with the popular kids, the rich-kids-gone-bad who held parties every other day that ended up with everyone passed out in the swimming pool, who paraded around the school halls like kings in a castle and crashed their expensive cars just for the thrill of it.
All in all, they'd drifted apart and the last time Jeongguk had seen Jimin was two years ago when he was a freshman in high school and Jimin a sophomore.
Despite that, Jeongguk still loves Jimin like he's his own brother, and knowing that he was the one upset crushes Jeongguk even more.
“Hyung, I've missed--”
Jimin punches Jeongguk in the face so hard he lands painfully on his ass. Jeongguk stares up at him in shock, brain short-circuited. He lifts a hand to his face slowly, touching his bloodied nose and wincing. He stands up, not understanding.
“Why did you--?”
Jimin lunges again, knocking Jeongguk to the floor. They're both tussling now, yelling and punching and kicking and scratching, and they're drenched in rain and sweat and mud and blood, and the sky is shouting its disapproval through thunder and torrents of rain. It hurts, God it hurts when Jimin manages to land blow after blow-- but the pain in Jeongguk's chest is a hundred times worse.
Jeongguk is stronger, however, and has Jimin pinned underneath him after a few minutes. They're both panting, and Jimin's face is still contorted with a kind of raw anger he's never seen before, and he's crying too, massive sobs that rack through his body like jolts of electricity. Jeongguk's crying too and he doesn't know why. He doesn't know anything anymore.
“It's all your fucking fault!” Jimin screams, struggling against Jeongguk though he's exhausted and soaked to his bones. “You're a fucking asshole, Jeon Jeongguk! I can't believe you've grown up to be such a dick, I fucking hate you!”
“Hyung, what's wrong with you? What did I--”
“There's no way you're the same fucking person from all those years ago. Who the fuck do you think you are? Oh, I bet you're just so fucking happy Taehyung went and killed himself, aren't you? Good riddance, huh?” Jimin scoffs, but the effect is lost because he's crying. “You throw a party to celebrate with all your asshole friends? I bet you thought it'd be so funny if you came up here, listening to me talk to... to Taehyung-- I bet you thought I was a fucking idiot for talking to a dead person.”
“That's not it at all!” Jeongguk exclaims, but is too shocked and confused to say anything else.
“Don't act innocent with me. I know exactly who you are. Taehyung told me what you're like now. How could you do that to a person-- his life was hard enough, without you and all your-- get the fuck off me!”
Jeongguk, stunned into silence, complies. They stand up, both dirty and dripping wet. Jeongguk has no idea what to make of any of this. It's his fault? Taehyung told Jimin what he... was like now? What does that even mean? Wait, Taehyung knew him? Jeongguk's brain overrides with information-- nothing makes sense and he can't keep up. The last ten minutes of his life are probably the most confusing.
And Jimin hates him, for some reason. It has something to do with Taehyung. It's the first time he's seen his hyung in years and... and this happens.
Jimin starts crying again, breathing hard. He looks so completely lost. His hair is matted with rain and mud, matted to his forehead, stones and leaves entwined through the limp strands. His clothes stick to his skin and are streaked with the dusky red of blood and the black-brown of wet mud. He's shivering, teeth chattering.
Jeongguk goes towards him slowly, lays a careful hand on his shoulder. He can't stand seeing Jimin like this.
“Hyung, please just listen to me,” Jeongguk says quietly. He finds that his voice is hoarse, his mouth, frozen from the cold, struggling to form the words. “I don't understand--”
Jimin jerks away from his hand and glares at him with pure hate.
“If you touch me again, Jeon Jeongguk, I swear to God I will fucking kill you.”
He shoves at Jeongguk one last time before storming off.
Jeongguk watches Jimin go until he turns the corner and is completely out of sight. Jeongguk lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and sits down heavily beside the gravestone. He puts his head in his hands, shoulders slumped, and watches blankly as drops of rain slide down his nose and down his neck and chest.
Is he an asshole? Is that really what people think of him and his friends? He thinks about this morning, about Sejun grabbing that little freshman boy and humiliating him, about the way Jeongguk himself had just laughed without even thinking about it. He thinks about how that wouldn't be the first time, how he's made fun of others, threatened them, even hurt them physically.
Maybe Jimin's right. Though that still doesn't explain what it all has to do with Taehyung. Jeongguk didn't know him at all.
He's going to catch hypothermia if he doesn't get inside soon, but doesn't have the energy to get up and move anywhere. Jeongguk thought he'd find closure from coming to Taehyung's grave, but this is the opposite. He has so many more questions-- if only Taehyung were here to answer them.
He's not, though. He's dead, and somehow you were involved.
Jeongguk's stomach lurches. He falls forwards on his hands and knees and throws up over the grass. God, he feels dizzy. And cold. So, so cold.
He stays still, trying to calm his breathing. A small blue butterfly lands on Taehyung's gravestone delicately, wings twitching. Jeongguk wonders what it's doing out in the rain. He crawls over and holds his finger out. To his surprise, the butterfly simply flits over and settles itself there.
His head starts spinning a little, and as he watches the butterfly flap its wings in a glow of sapphire-blue and ebony his eyes begin to flutter. He's tired, drowsy. He should probably just lie down and go to sleep here, just for a little while. He'll get up later... after... a minute or so...
A pair of bright eyes watch the boy's still form critically. He can only hope the boy is not like the others. He thinks he has made the right choice, choosing this boy, but only Time can tell.
May 18th, 2017
Jeongguk blinks slowly, his eyes adjusting to the sudden shock of bright white sunlight. He's a little dazed for a minute, mind still hazy from sleep. Then he remembers Jimin, the fighting and the crying. Jeongguk swallows thickly and gets up.
The weather is nothing like it was yesterday- in fact, it seems like it hasn't rained at all. The grass is completely dry and it's warm, like summer. The sky is almost cloudless and every tree is in full bloom--
Jeongguk closes his eyes and opens them again. No, he's not imagining it-- the trees really are full of leaves, even though they were merely bare branches just yesterday. Is he going crazy? Did he take a particularly nasty hit to the head?
“Stop being a fucking idiot,” Jeongguk mutters to himself. He stands awkwardly for a bit, trying to process what exactly is going on. Is there some type of extreme weather condition that changes the season overnight?
He reaches up to fiddle absently with his piercings, going for the silver hoop, then the second hoop, then the stud--
There's no stud, Jeongguk thinks, starting to panic. He moves up to the shell of his ear-- and what the fuck, there's no piercing there either. How can piercings disappear? Just like that? He'd got the first four, two in each ear, done when he'd just turned sixteen. He'd gotten the fifth and sixth a month ago.
Something is seriously wrong.
He comes to realize with a start that he's either been sleepwalking, or Taehyung's grave has just... disappeared. It's literally not there-- all that's left is a patch of grass, like no one had ever dug into the ground and buried a teenage boy.
Jeongguk needs to get home, needs to get away from here. Perhaps it's the experience from yesterday that has him off-kilter.
He hurries out of the cemetery and heads home, pausing at a shop window to look at his reflection.
What he sees shouldn't surprise him, not really, but it does.
His hair is inky black, not the brown he'd dyed it when he'd gotten his new piercings, and it is parted in the middle so that his fringe curves both ways and falls softly over his eyebrows. He really does only have four piercings, and his face is a little different.
This is what he'd looked like before summer, at the end of his sophomore year.
But there's no other explanation right now. Unless the last six months were just an incredibly vivid, realistic dream and he never turned seventeen and lost his virginity and dyed his hair brown.
Jeongguk goes home, because maybe something will be the same there and he'll stop feeling so lost. He gets home, and yes, the house is practically the same. He walks inside.
“Gukkie, is that you?” his mom's voice calls from the living room.
“Yeah,” he replies, following the sound. His mom is on the couch, doing paperwork on the coffee table in front of her while the TV plays silently in the background.
“You're home early,” she looks up from her work and smiles at him warmly. “I thought you were going to Junghyun's house?”
“I, uh,” Jeongguk clears his throat. “Don't feel so well.”
“Really? Come here, let me check your temperature--”
“N-no, nothing like that,” he says quickly. “Just tired. By the way, Mom, what's the date today?”
“I think it's the 18th,” she says, after a moment. “But you'll have to check that.”
“The 18th,” Jeongguk nods. “What month?”
His mom raises an eyebrow, but answers, “May, of course.”
It had been November the 3rd before he'd woken up in this... whatever this place is.
“And the year?”
At this, his mom's eyes widen.
“2017-- wait, are you alright?” she stands up and moves towards him. “Did you hit your head? Why are you asking me what year it is?”
Jeongguk balks at that. 2017? So it's six months ago, he was right-- near the end of his sophomore year.
“I'm fine,” he laughs nervously. “I'm gonna go upstairs now. Really, Mom. I'm okay.”
His mom shoots him one last worried look and Jeongguk ambles upstairs, feeling more tired than ever. He's definitely going to go to school tomorrow, and he just hopes he doesn't fuck up and mention something from the future. He needs to act like he's sixteen. That's all.
Jeongguk's friends are all crowded around something, yelling and jeering. Nothing new, Jeongguk thinks with a smile. His friends are always fun to be around.
When he gets closer, he realizes they're surrounding a person. Harassing other students isn't the most satisfying thing to do... but he's used to it, by now, and his face morphs into the routine cocky smirk whenever they all do something like this.
He reaches the edge of the circle and his friends are actually hitting the guy, which doesn't happen so often. Jeongguk's stomach drops. Verbal teasing and throwing insults are alright, but whenever the harassment turns into violence, it's not all that fun anymore.
From the looks of it, Yeonshik is the one doing most of the physical action, and he punches the guy full in the face. Jeongguk cranes his neck to see-- the person isn't even trying to fight back. His friends continue cheering, laughing and urging Yeonshik on. Jeongguk's too tired to join in.
He stands where he is, and a thought comes into his head.
Jimin had called him an asshole, with asshole friends. He'd acted as if... as if Jeongguk had had a reputation, that people had known about, that Taehyung had known about.
No. He isn't going to think about Jimin at a time like this. Jeongguk knows what'll happen. When you start thinking about your actions too much, you start feeling guilty, and then you don't have the stomach for them anymore.
He squares his shoulders and barges through the circle. He's not weak. Jimin won't affect him. He'll join in this time, see. And if he does, it doesn't make him an asshole, it fucking does not...
“Boys, who're we--” he stops dead in his tracks, frozen.
His friends scatter a little with his arrival to reveal a bloodied, beaten Kim Taehyung. Jeongguk swallows back the bile that rises up his throat.
Taehyung's eye is blackened and there's blood on his lips, dripping out of his nose and down his neck. He's crouched on the floor, clutching his stomach and breathing heavily. Taehyung wheezes and coughs, and a bit of blood splatters onto the floor. His eyes rise up slowly to meet Jeongguk's, a rich chocolate-brown.
They're bloodshot and tired, and the emptiness in them chill Jeongguk to the bone.
Those are the eyes of a dead boy, he thinks, then shivers. His friends look at him expectantly. Oh, that's right. He was going to join in.
He can't possibly do that. Not to... to Kim Taehyung.
“What's the kid done?” Jeongguk asks, cocky bravado back on, though weaker than usual.
“Tried to trip me over,” Jinsoo says, eyeing Taehyung with distaste. “Rude little fucker, aren't you?”
He kicks him and Jeongguk looks away.
Somehow Jeongguk feels as if Taehyung hadn't actually done anything-- that this was an excuse, an excuse to hit someone, to feel better about yourself. Like it always was.
And fuck, Jimin's back in his head, reminding him that Taehyung had it hard at home, and apparently Jeongguk had only gone and made it worse for him at school--
Shit. Fucking shit. When Jimin had shouted at him like a wild animal, saying that it was his fault-- he probably wasn't lying. Back in his actual sophomore year, at this exact moment, Jeongguk had most likely gone and helped beat Taehyung up.
Maybe he'd done it before, too, maybe even more than twice-- who knows? Perhaps that was what Jimin had meant by that; that Jeongguk and his friends bullied Taehyung at school. It's not that unlikely. The countless people Jeongguk and his crowd have picked on-- he'd be lucky if he remembered any of their names. They're always no-one to Jeongguk, just the next person he decides to pick on. To, well. Bully...?
Bully. Is that what Jeongguk is? A bully?
I'm not a bully, he reassures himself. Funny-- he doesn't feel any better.
When Yeonshik keeps going at it with Taehyung, Jeongguk doesn't join in. He doesn't stop it. He doesn't do anything, because he fucking can't. It's as if his body has decided to stop working without his permission, and all he can do is stand there and watch blankly.
The bell finally rings for class and the crowd disperses. Wonshin slings an arm around Jeongguk's shoulder and they all scramble off to their math class, leaving Taehyung slumped against the lockers.
Jeongguk wills himself not to look back.
When they're in class, Mrs Kwon begins calling out the register.
“Kim Taehyung,” she says, and there's no reply. Jeongguk sits up straighter. No one seems to notice that Kim Taehyung isn't here, or find it odd that he's suddenly gone missing. Apart from Mrs Kwon, who looks around anxiously before carrying on.
“Mrs Kwon?” Jeongguk raises his hand. “Can I go to the bathroom?”
She eyes him warily, thinking that he's trying get out of class (which usually, he is). She also has long since given up on trying to stop him, so sighs and nods. Jeongguk mutters a thanks and shoulders Kyuhyun as he leaves, who gives him a friendly grin.
Jeongguk goes back to where they'd been beating Taehyung up, near a row of lockers in the corridor. He's not there anymore, but there's still a small smear of blood against the bottom locker. For some reason the sight of it makes him feel sick again.
The bile rises up his throat again, and fuck, he's actually going to throw up this time. He runs into the nearest bathroom and goes straight to the sinks, planting his hand on either side of one and taking deep breaths to calm himself down.
He's not sure why he's so shaken. He looks up at himself, his sixteen-year-old self from six months ago. What do other people think when they look at him?
Jeongguk's always thought that when people see him, they see the captain of the football team-- popular, attractive, confident, funny. Someone for other guys to envy and for girls to fall head over heels for. Now? Now, he wonders if people feel fear when they look at him, maybe even disgust, because Jeon Jeongguk is someone that that bullies other people and parades around like he's proud of it.
Jeongguk's always thought of Jimin as wise-- when they were younger, he would take his hyung's word as the truth about anything. Perhaps that hasn't changed, and Jimin is right about Jeongguk.
It's only after he's finished his internal monologue that he hears the soft crying coming from a cubicle. His muscles stiffen and he turns around to stare at the locked door, silent. Maybe the person hears the movement, because the crying stops abruptly and quietens down to sniffling.
“Hello?” Jeongguk says hesitantly. “Are... are you okay?”
“Yes,” comes a voice that definitely isn't. Then there's a noise that Jeongguk can't place exactly-- the slap of something against skin, followed by a small cry of pain. Jeongguk's next to sure this is Taehyung.
“I don't think you are,” he ventures.
“I am,” the voice replies, though it's trembling. “You can go.”
Jeongguk thinks, fuck that, and goes into the cubicle next to Taehyung's. He gets up on the toilet and pulls himself over to land in Taehyung's cubicle.
Taehyung yelps as he lands next to him, then quickly turns away.
For a minute, Jeongguk doesn't do anything but stare. This is him, this is Kim Taehyung, the dead boy that Jeongguk couldn't get out of his mind for even a minute back in the, well, the future. The boy that'd swallowed enough pills to end his own life because he couldn't take it anymore. The boy who Jimin so obviously cared about. The boy who is currently less than a meter away from him.
He looks at Kim Taehyung, and the only word Jeongguk can think of is broken. He feels protective over him all of a sudden. He's the only one in this world who knows what Kim Taehyung's going to do, and there's no way he's not going to do something about it.
“What do you want?” Taehyung says, so softly that Jeongguk only just hears because of their proximity. “If you're going to hit me, just do it. I don't like the waiting.”
“Hit you?” Jeongguk repeats stupidly. Taehyung nods, still not looking at him.
“If you're going to do it, just... please,” Taehyung coughs a little. “Quickly.”
“I'm not going to hit you,” Jeongguk says, and leans back against the locked door. Taehyung looks up at him then, with those dead eyes. They're confused but resigned. Taehyung licks his dry, peeling lips and lowers his head again.
“Please,” Taehyung says in a small voice. “Please, just. Do it.”
“Do what?” Jeongguk asks slowly.
“Hit me,” Taehyung says, and holds out his arm. “Hard. Here, or-- or anywhere you like.”
Jeongguk's jaw drops and there's that nausea he's become so accustomed to.
“What the fuck?” he says, a little too loudly, and winces. “No! Why would I do that?”
“Why wouldn't you?” Taehyung cocks his head, as if he is genuinely confused. “You... you always do.”
Jeongguk swallows against the lump in his throat and says nothing.
Taehyung stands up and moves closer to Jeongguk, so that he's backed up in the corner of the cubicle. The air is heavy and God, Jeongguk is scared.
“You're trying to be nice to me, right?” Taehyung says. His voice is detached, hopeless. “If you want to be nice, hit me. As much as you want, just keep going until I pass out, please, I don't care how you do it, I need you to keep going until I pass out--”
“No!” Jeongguk says quickly, horrified. He was wrong-- Taehyung is beyond broken, nothing like he's ever seen before. “Taehyung, just-- just calm down for a minute, okay? I'm not going to hurt you--”
“But I want you to!” Taehyung shouts hoarsely. He sounds crazy, desperate, like he's begging for it. “Don't you fucking understand? I hate you, Jeon Jeongguk-- you're always going around beating people up, beating me up, and the one time I ask you for it, you refuse--”
“I've hit you before?” Jeongguk's asks. “Wait, you know who I am?”
“Yes, you've hit me before, not like you'd remember,” Taehyung's laugh is without humor, and it's a terrifying sound. “And of course I know who you are. Who doesn't? I'm surprised you know who I am.”
Jeongguk doesn't know what to say to that.
“So you're not going to hit me,” Taehyung says.
“No,” Jeongguk agrees.
“Fine,” Taehyung sits back down on the closed toilet seat and shoves his shirtsleeve up to his elbows. He takes hold of an elastic band around his wrist, pulls it back, and lets it slap against his skin with a sound that echoes through the bathroom. He keeps going, over and over, the skin reddening, and Taehyung's crying again but getting faster all the while. Jeongguk watches, speechless, as Taehyung keeps hurting himself like he needs it.
“Stop!” Jeongguk says, panicked. “Taehyung, what-- stop that!”
“I can't, just let me do this, do this one thing for me, Jeongguk, please,” Taehyung chokes out. His wrist is bleeding a little now but this only seems to encourage him. The elastic band turns a splotchy pink.
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk's voice goes up by an octave. This is the scariest experience of his life. “Fucking stop, you're bleeding now--”
He darts out a hand to grab Taehyung, but the older boy just turns away from him.
“Taehyung, stop!” he knees down on the floor in front of Taehyung and takes hold of the boy by his wrists. Taehyung is sobbing, shaking so hard that Jeongguk feels the tremors pass through Taehyung's body into his.
He keeps hold until Taehyung's fingers stop trembling and his crying subsides. Taehyung slumps back, defeated and still. Jeongguk gently slides the elastic band off his hand, careful not to graze the sensitive skin of his wrist, and throws it into the small bin.
“Come on, get up,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung complies silently. It's eerie, his demeanor. Just a few minutes ago he was wild with emotion, crying and screaming and abusing his own wrist with that goddamned elastic band, and now he's still. Like... he just can't be bothered anymore.
Taehyung doesn't struggle as Jeongguk turns on the cold water tap and washes off his wrist, the dried blood on his nose and mouth from the fight with Yeonshik. Jeongguk's heart thumps against his chest like an animal. He's never been this on edge before.
After Taehyung's cleaned up, Jeongguk is at a loss as for what to do.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, which is pretty stupid, but he just wants to break the silence.
“Fine,” Taehyung replies. His voice is steady now.
“Okay,” Jeongguk says. “Maybe you should just go home for today. There's only one class left anyway.”
As soon as Jeongguk says the word 'home', Taehyung's eyes take on a panicked, shifty look, and his hands start trembling again.
Jeongguk curses himself inwardly. Jimin had said that things were bad at home, and Jeongguk just had to go and mention it like the fucking idiot he is.
“Forget that, actually,” Jeongguk says. “Don't go home. You don't want to miss your last class. Education is very important.”
Taehyung doesn't smile at that. He just nods and leaves the bathroom. Jeongguk doesn't follow him.
He thinks that there might be a reason he's woken up in the past, and that reason is Kim Taehyung. Jeongguk steels himself. He's going to help him. He is.