Jihyun panted as his fingers curled around the sink, the latest wave of panic ebbing away as he bowed his head, shoulders shaking. He struggled to keep his sobs quiet as he let the water run, tears mixing with the water and being spun away so fast it was almost like they were never there. Not that he could see them anyway. He didn’t tell anyone, but at this point, the most he could see was movement and light changes.
He’d seen Rika again today.
It wasn’t very often that Jihyun met her, since her ‘suicide’. He’d learned to both long and dread for these meetings. As always, she was his sun, but…
Jihyun knew he needed to find something to cover up the bruises around his neck, but was pretty sure he’d left his turtlenecks at home. Stupid. He knew he’d be meeting Rika this week, had known this was always, always a possibility…
Her voice echoed in his mind, “Useless, Jihyun, why are you always so useless?’
Jihyun swallowed harder and pushed himself away from the sink, back bumping gently into the wall.
“Come on, Jihyun,” he said quietly to himself as he turned off the water and wiped his damaged eyes. His hand found his cane and he tapped his way out to the main hotel room and felt about his suitcase for one of his thicker scarves. He was planning to meet with Luciel and perhaps Jumin that night and had to be sure they didn’t notice anything...off. He knew they were already suspicious about his eyes…
Jihyun was never very good at lying.
His suitcase was in the center of the made bed, exactly where he’d left it. As his vision steadily deteriorated, Jihyun picked up several tips and tricks from the blind community as a whole that made his life easier. While he knew he’d probably never navigate the world as well as those who went blind earlier- let alone those born blind- he could manage. He could adapt.
Jihyun was good at that.
He dressed quickly and steadily, fingers brushing over the rudimentary braille tags. He was far from fluent. He hoped he would be soon. He hoped the scarf covered the bruises and scratches he could feel there and that the long sleeves covered his wrists all right.
He’d barely shut his suitcase and placed it at the foot of the bed when he heard the knocks at the door. Standing in a fluid motion, his hand slid around his cane as he strode to the door and pulled it open.
“Hey, V,” said Luciel smoothly as Jihyun stood aside to let the two men in. “You picked a nice hotel this time.”
Jihyun just shrugged and gave a careful smile as Jumin sniffed, always hiding his concern over a layer of not-exactly falsified arrogance.
“Could be better,” Jumin said. “V. You are too thin. Eat more.”
“I’ll try,” Jihyun said demurely. A little ways away, he could just make out what might be Luciel’s form leaping onto the bed. The sound of springs bouncing both confirmed that and made him flinch, memories he’d rather forget slicing through his mind.
“V?” Jumin asked, apparently having caught the flinch.
“Nothing,” he said. “Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about, Luciel?”
He could feel Jumin’s eyes on him, but he forced himself to remain as composed and distant as he always was.
“I want answers,” said Luciel. “Jumin came because...I actually don’t know.”
Jumin just grunted and walked over to the counter to boil some water for tea.
“What answers do you want?” Jihyun asked, crossing his fingers on top of his cane.
“Why you won’t remove the bomb from Rika’s apartment,” Luciel said bluntly. “Yoosung is furious. And I’m confused.”
“V. Jihyun . Please,” Luciel said quietly, almost begging.
“I- okay. Okay.”
So he did. He’d spent hours torturing himself over all the possibilities, trying to find some way to keep everyone safe, especially poor Yuna, who was dragged into all this completely and utterly blind. He’d finally fallen upon this option, knowing the risks, but knowing the flaws of the other plans were unacceptable.
Finally, when Jihyun finished timidly speaking, Luciel was quiet.
“Okay,” he said finally. “Okay. I’ll do what you need, V.”
Gratitude swept through Jihyun so heavily that he almost needed to brace himself with his cane. “Thank you, Luciel.”
He could hear a quiet hum and knew Luciel was doing his little hand flap thing when he was trying to act modest or wave off praise. Jihyun rarely regretted losing his eyes, but in that moment, he wished he could see Luciel’s expressive hands and eyes once more.
Luciel’s phone buzzed and the younger man groaned. “I have to go. I’ll work on what you need, V. See you.”
“Goodbye,” Jihyun said as Luciel rose from the bed, loping gait passing him as the door creaked upon and shut. He turned to Jumin, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet this entire time.
“What’s with the scarf?” Jumin asked. Jihyun’s hand floated up to the material- green, the braille tag told him.
“Cold,” Jihyun said evasively, not entirely lying. He was cold. Not physically, just..numb.
“Sure,” said Jumin slowly. “I’ll turn up the temperature. Take that scarf off- it’s barely even autumn.”
“No-” Jihyun said quickly. “It’s okay. I’m fine.”
“What’s the problem?” Jumin said. “It’s not a big deal. If you are that cold…” he sighed and then there was a sound of rustling fabric as he took off his jacket. “I would be willing to allow you to borrow my jacket until the room warmed up.”
“I couldn’t impose-”
“Then tell me why you can’t take off the scarf?” said Jumin.
Jihyun stayed silent, mouth pressed shut. Jumin’s quiet sigh sliced through the air, heavy and tired.
“You understand why I’m...concerned, don’t you?” Jumin asked. “Last time, you acted like this, a few days later you lost your eyes. I don’t want to see you hurt again…”
“I’m alright, Jumin,” Jihyun said meekly, even though they both knew he was lying. He could feel Jumin’s intense gaze, even if he couldn’t see it. Seconds later, Jumin crossed the room and gently took Jihyun’s hand, even as the other man flinched away. Jihyun tried to pull his hand away from Jumin’s, terror tracing its way up his throat as Jumin’s other hand uncurled the scarf from around his neck to reveal the scratches and mottled reds and purples, not quite old enough to have transformed into greens and yellows.
“Jihyun…” Jumin whispered quietly even as Jihyun bit back tears of shame and fear. “Who…?”
“I- I c-can’t,” Jihyun said, trying so hard to keep his voice steady and knowing he failed. He was so tired of pretending he was okay and being strong but he knew he couldn’t fail and now he was and suddenly, Jumin was pulling him into a hug as Jihyun’s chest ached with suppressed sobs. “J-Jumin?”
He could feel the heat of his friend’s cheeks against his as Jumin gently rubbed circles into his back with his thumb, both of them caught off-balance by the out of character action. They hadn’t hugged since they were children.
“Is this why you aren’t on the chat much anymore?” Jumin asked quietly, pulling away when Jihyun stopped quivering so hard.
“...partially,” Jihyun said hoarsely, the two sitting down on the bed as Jihyun rolled the cane between his fingers.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Jihyun paused too long. Jumin reached over and pulled up the sleeves of his shirt, barely holding back a gasp.
Jihyun knew what Jumin found. It’d been nearly three years since his wrists and arms looked any different, with few exceptions. Dark bruises and varying shades of yellow, black, and green would paint his skin, dotted with raised scars in the formation of finger nails and nauseatingly vibrant red scratches.
“Finger marks…” Jumin said softly, then tilts Jihyun’s head back to get a better look at the bruises tied around his neck like an ugly choker. “Jihyun...this is really b-”
“Please,” Jihyun said quietly. “Leave me be. I can handle it.”
“Just like you handled Rika?” Jumin said, the words hitting Jihyun like a physical blow. He unconsciously curled away from Jumin, the shivering picking up again as the aches in his eyes grew almost in response to her name. “Jihyun, I’m sorry-”
“It’s okay,” he said almost numbly. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t hers either…”
“Jihyun, she wrecked your eyes .”
“It wasn’t her fault. She couldn’t help herself. I should have gotten her more help. I should-”
“Stop blaming yourself, Jihyun,” Jumin snapped, and this time, Jihyun couldn’t stop the flinch. When he heard Jumin’s pained sigh, his heart clenched tighter.
The pain Jumin felt was because of him. Even though he tried so hard, he couldn’t stop hurting people…
Maybe Rika was right. Maybe he was better off dead…
“Jihyun, can you tell me anything?” Jumin asked softly. “I- I know you won’t tell me who. But can I ask who it was to you?”
“I-” Jihyun said softly, at a loss for words. How much could he say? He hated lying, hated the secrets. They suffocated him and he could feel his friends fading away from him with each secret, each lie. But he had to keep Rika safe and had to stop her from hurting anyone else. He had to get her help…
“Is it someone you love?” Jumin prodded. Jihyun nodded slowly, rubbing his terrifyingly bare wrists. “Someone you love... like Rika?”
Jihyun only stiffened, but that was apparently enough for Jumin.
“Oh, Jihyun…” said Jumin softly.
Jihyun pulled his knees up to his chest like he was a child again and buried his head in his arms, trying to control the trembling as Jumin rubbed circles in between his shoulder blades.
Jumin, always trying to hold back the emotions he felt so passionately.
Jihyun, destroyed by the emotions he held away from himself.
No wonder they were best friends.
“I wish you could just trust me, Jihyun,” Jumin said quietly. “I could help you.”
“You can’t,” Jihyun said hoarsely. “You can’t.”
“Why?” Jumin said softly. “I have money. I have people. I have influence. Why can’t I help you?”
“Because it would hurt you too much,” said Jihyun painstakingly, the words falling like anvils between them.
“But it’s okay for you to hurt?” Jumin said, touching Jihyun’s wrists, who flinched away. “Why do you always have to sacrifice yourself, Jihyun?”
“Because I deserve it,” Jihyun said, with the certainty of someone who had those words pounding in their ribcage for years.
“You don’t, Jihyun!”
“I do!” said Jihyun, standing and stumbling away from his best friend. “All I do is hurt people! I’m selfish, and useless, and I keep screwing up! I’m supposed to be the strong one, Jumin. And I’m weak.”
Jumin let out a bitter laugh as he stood, stilling as Jihyun jerked away from him. “You? Weak? Selfish? Jihyun, you are anything but.”
Jihyun drew in breaths slowly, trying to uncurl the fingers digging tightly into his palms. He felt naked in the room, with just their rising chests and dug open hearts.
“I’m just so tired, Jumin,” Jihyun said softly, exhaustion and weariness practically dripping off him as he stood defenseless in the center of the room.
“So sleep,” Jumin said. “I’ll keep watch.”
“It’s not so simple…” said Jihyun, but didn’t protest as Jumin gently steered him towards the bed.
“Even a short nap can make anyone feel a tiny bit better,” Jumin said firmly as he released Jihyun and popped open his suitcase, pulling something out and pressing it into Jihyun’s hands. “Sleeping clothes. Change.” He handed Jihyun’s cane to him.
“I’m sorry, Jumin,” Jihyun said quietly as he anxiously made his way to the bathroom.
“No more apologies,” said Jumin. “Go.”
Jihyun bowed his head and went to change.
Nightmares haunted Jihyun. Many of them, some fiction, some reality. But one played on repeat often these days and it was anything but fiction. During the day, Jihyun ruthlessly shoved the memories away, deep inside. But at night, they came back in a vengeance, leaving him shaking and exhausted, without fail. And lately, one memory reigned above the rest.
The nightmare began like this:
After a dinner with some of the RFA, Jihyun missed a call from Rika. When he finally noticed, he’d excused himself, claiming some sort of business and took a taxi home where he knew Rika would be waiting, twisted up in terror and intense pain, afraid that Jihyun had left her.
Jihyun would be dragged inside by a furious Rika. He’d beg forgiveness, swear he hadn’t cheated on her. Rika would hit him, sobbing and shouting out his flaws and Jihyun would agree, knowing she was right, because he was a mess. He was awful and always hurt others, no matter how hard he tried.
And then, with dread running cold fingers down his spine, Rika would strike him and herd him into their bedroom with strong shoves that barely felt like they could have come from someone so small.
“Rika, I’m sorry, I don’t-” he tried, desperately holding back sobs as she pressed him against a wall, her fingers, always her fingers, clawing at his throat as they tried to get a better grip.
“You always ‘don’t’,” Rika snapped, suddenly pulling him off the wall and throwing him
against the bed. A gasp of air escaped Jihyun’s lips as the frame smacked into his lungs and his feet scrabbled at the wooden floor. Rika smacked his shoulder and Jihyun scrambled to his feet, muttering apologies as she pushed him onto the bed.
“Rika, please, I can’t, not tonight-”
“Shut up!” she said, tears streaming down her face as she straddled him. “Prove you didn’t cheat on me! Prove that you love me!”
His own tears lodged in his throat, Jihyun fell silent, eyes shuddering shut as she moved, desperate and furious. One word played on rewind- please- in his mind as he surrendered. Rika got what she wanted and stripped him. Goosebumps built up on his skin as his lips connected to his brain again and he begged her to stop, arms still not moving from his sides as she struck his chest. He couldn’t push her off. He couldn’t. He couldn’t he couldn’t he couldn’t he couldn’t-
And then she was there hands palming and he was drowning and numb and the tears came as his body finally disobeyed him and Rika’s hands ghosted across his body in claws and soft feather-like motions, her slight weight heavy on him, far heavier than what she warranted. Her heat surrounded him, but it was anything but pleasurable, anything but comforting. And then, as Jihyun stared at the ceiling with eyes bloodshot from quiet crying, aching and so, so tired, she curled up on his chest, nuzzling into him as Jihyun tried to keep breathing, knowing this wasn’t the first nor the last time.
Knowing he’d always forgive her.
Knowing it was his fault.
And Jihyun would awake in a darkened hotel room, never able to go home and sleep in the bed they’d often shared. He would uncurl his fingers and stumble to the bathroom and wash away the sweat and the shame. He’d open up the cellphone Luciel’d given him, with the voice typing installed and listen to the RFA logs and maybe talk to one of the members if they were awake, giving away nothing. Giving nothing.
He was so selfish…
But tonight, the script was different.
Tonight he woke with Jumin watching the door, sprawled across the couch as he tapped at his phone. Tonight he woke with Jumin rising and shaking him out of the nightmare and him scrabbling away, begging Rika to not hurt him.
He curled against something hard, waiting for that hand on his shoulder to reach up and strike him, waiting for those words begging him for forgiveness, saying, “I didn’t mean to, I wouldn’t have to if you just let me, please forgive me-”
But the hand just sat there as Jihyun sobbed, fist in mouth and stomach aching, throat pulsing.
And then the words, “What did she do to you…?”
Things slotted into place then.
Shame choked him and he leaned his forehead against his knees, unable to think, unable to breath as Jumin leaned Jihyun against his shoulder, one arm wrapped loosely around his friend’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Jumin said softly, guilt painting his voice so gently. Jihyun doubted most would be able to notice it, but then they’d been friends for over twenty years. “I should have been there for you, like you were for us.”
Jihyun tried to answer, but he couldn’t find the words, so he just pressed his face against Jumin’s shoulder, trying to find the strength he needed.
Jumin sighed as he placed one hand in Jihyun’s hair. “You don’t have to be so strong all the time, you know…”
“What time is it?” Jihyun asked after a while, as he calmed down.
“7:38,” said Jumin. “I believe you are scheduled to talk to Yoosung in about twenty minutes, but-”
“No, I’ll talk to him,” Jihyun said heavily. “He...he deserves answers.”
“Will you tell him?” Jumin asked.
Jihyun shrugged helplessly. “I’ll...I’ll try.”
Jumin nodded. “Jihyun, if you need anything…”
“I’ll let you know,” Jihyun said softly as they pulled away from each other.
“Jihyun, about this person…” Jumin said. Immediately, Jihyun drew back, shoulders pulled tight as a wire. “I’m not going to push you...but please, Jihyun. You deserve better than this.”
Jihyun swallowed hard, shaking his head. “I’m fine. I am.”
“I didn’t even realize you were over Rika…” Jumin said softly.
Jihyun’s forehead crinkled together as he curled over his knees, pressing his head into the bony structures as his back shuddered.
“You aren’t over her...but you’re dating again?”
Jihyun’s fingers dug into his arms.
“This is a bad idea,” Jumin warned. “Even if whoever it is wasn’t hurting you, you aren’t ready to date again.”
Jihyun shook his head, breaths catching in his throat. “I n-need-”
“You need to be safe and happy and healthy for once in your life, Jihyun,” Jumin said softly, squeezing his shoulder with the barest pressure. “To have someone at your side who isn’t going to hurt you.”
“I love her,” Jihyun forced out, two strands of hair falling across his eyes.
Jumin was quiet.
“I can’t leave her.”
“I love Rika.”
Jumin’s hand tightened for a second around Jihyun’s shoulder as the latter choked back a sob. Quietly, normally-calm voice betraying the slightest tremor, he said, “I know.”
They sat in silence for a moment, Jumin’s head falling against Jihyun’s as if they were children again.
“Yoosung is waiting for you,” Jumin said softy. “I can text him and say-”
“No, I”ll talk to him,” Jihyun said quickly.
Jumin paused. “Fine. Call me if you need anything.”
He rose and Jihyun forced himself not to call out for him to return. Suddenly, he felt so much colder without Jumin there beside him.
The door shut.
Jihyun took a breath, shaking fingers pulling out his phone as he quietly whispered instructions to it until the chat room was open and Yoosung’s angry words were played in a man’s monotone.