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ELLIPSISM

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Ellipsism

(n) sadness that you'll never be able to know how history turned out.

 

Jeon Jeongguk is twelve years old with small hands and doe eyes when he meets Kim Taehyung, a transfer student from a small hick town just outside of Daegu. Taehyung arrives during the beginning of the second semester of sixth grade, when the chill of winter is at its harshest and the excitement of the holidays has died down. In all of his prepubescent awkwardness, Taehyung stands hunched over in front of the class with gangly limbs.


“I-I’m Kim Taehyung,” he stutters when he introduces himself—accent strange in a way that Seoul kids like Jeongguk rarely hear. The boy’s gaze is constantly shifting around the room, fingers locked tightly together. His voice is soft as if he’s afraid of being heard and Jeongguk’s barely listening, finds doodling at the corners of his math book to be more interesting. It’s when he glances up that Taehyung accidentally makes eye contact with Jeongguk. He recoils  like he’s been burned and instantly looks down to the floor.

Jeongguk doesn’t know why it irritates him, or why he finds Taehyung’s shyness to be kind of adorable. But from that moment on, for some innocuous reason, Jeongguk decides that he doesn’t like the boy.  

Taehyung is strange—everyone in class knows this. His skin is dark from living out in the country, a stark contrast compared to the paleness that Seoul kids strive for. His hair, a dark shade of brown, is shaggy and unkempt. He reads books alone in the courtyard and wears the same pair of shoes everyday with holes in them. Taehyung is the epitome of different, a complete contrast to Jeongguk who’s loud, and bold and popular.

He doesn’t talk much either, and when he does it’s incoherent mumbling under his breath. Sometimes he’ll stop in the middle of street on the way home to pick up a beetle and set it in the grass. When it storms and the ground becomes flooded, he’ll take worms from the sidewalk and put them in a dirt filled jar before they die, only to release them when everything dries up and Jeongguk thinks it’s stupid that anyone would go out of the way to save a worm. It’s stupid but incredibly cute and it only makes his dislike towards the boy grow even stronger. Because Taehyung, in all of his strangeness, is still beautiful. He’s undeniably beautiful, and everyone knows it.

Despite having holes in his shoes, by the first month a dozen girls have confessed to him and he’s politely turned every single one of them down. Taehyung doesn’t seem to show much interest in the opposite sex, and after the eleventh girl gets turned down, vicious rumors begin to circulate about him. Middle school is cruel, especially one as elite as theirs, and between the whispers shared through notes passed from underneath desks, Jeongguk is handed a piece of paper from the stubby fingers of a classmate.

It’s a ripped piece from the corner of a notebook folded carelessly with jagged edges. When Jeongguk unfolds it and reads what’s written in bold graphite letters, he feels a surge of anger and something that his twelve-year-old mind can’t quite decipher overwhelm him.

IS KIM TAEHYUNG GAY? it reads. Jeongguk immediately rips the note apart, the shredded pieces fluttering to the floor as the molten lava of rage expands in his chest and threatens to spill over. It’s obviously an irrational sort of anger, one that he can’t pinpoint, and all he knows is that he has do something. Anything right now.

He thinks that maybe if he hadn’t been so ignorant back then things could have been different, but in those fleeting days of youth Jeongguk was young and possessed the ignorant cruelness of a child who knew nothing except for what was in front of him. He knew that the neighbors two houses down were both two men who held hands and kissed each other goodbye every morning. He had only been six-years-old back then and it was the first time Jeongguk had ever seen gay people before. While he was initially in awe, his father had been less than pleased by the sight.

“Do they not have any goddamn sense of decency being all over each other in public like that?” he had said, lips curled in a sneer. “A bunch of goddamn fags is what they are.”

Jeongguk had been confused by his father’s blatant hostility towards the neighbors and had blinked up at him with round, wondrous eyes. “Daddy, what’s a fag?”

“A fag is someone who is going to hell, Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk had frowned. “You can go to hell for being in love?”

His father had glared down at him as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Men can’t love other men, Jeongguk. It’s wrong and God will be angry if you do.”

“I don’t want to go to hell daddy,” Jeongguk had muttered dejectedly, eyes watering.

“Don’t worry son.” His father had smiled at him then, cruelty wiped from his face and eyes sparkling with affection as he placed a large hand atop Jeongguk’s head. “As long as you find a nice girl to marry, God will always love you.”

Gnawing on the inside of his cheek, Jeongguk glares at Taehyung, of whomst is completely oblivious to the way everyone around him is whispering and pointing in his direction. He’s completely immersed in the book he’s reading and Jeongguk knows that he should just leave it—that it’s really none of his business. Except, he’s awful enough to make it his business and before he can think about what he’s doing, Jeongguk stands up and marches right up to Taehyung’s desk.

“Why don’t you ever talk to anyone?” he asks abruptly with a scowl. It’s the first words he’s ever spoken to the boy.

Taehyung peeks up from the book he’s reading, surprise evident on his face. “H-hi,” he stutters out shyly, voice so small that Jeongguk barely catches his response. 

For some reason, his naive expression only serves to piss off Jeongguk even more, because everything that he does pisses Jeongguk off. His father had taught him that boys shouldn’t be soft, and Kim Taehyung is the very definition of soft.

“Are you gay?” he blurts out rather loudly. Around them, the chattering that once filled the classroom goes mute. Somewhere, the sound of a pen dropping is like an echo. He knows that they’re all waiting for Taehyung’s response with hungry eyes, ready to spread the gossip at a moments notice because that’s just how children work.

“E-excuse me?” Taehyung squeaks, the tan of his cheeks flushing scarlet.

“Everyone’s been saying that you like boys.” Jeongguk is uncouth with his words, says them recklessly without any thought of consequences and sitting in front of him, Taehyung suddenly looks very small.

“That’s not—”

“You know that’s weird, right?” Jeongguk cuts Taehyung off. He scoffs, gestures to the rest of the students and puffs out his chest for added dramatism. “If you’re not a homo, then do you just think you’re better than everyone else? Is that why you’ve turned all of those girls down?”

Taehyung looks downright mortified at this point. Shoulders hunched over as if he’s shrinking in on himself, he clenches his fists tightly. Doesn’t respond, just chews harshly at his bottom lip and stares at the open book laying forgotten on the desk.

“Did you move here because everyone found out how much of a pervert you are?” Jeongguk continues. He knows that he should stop. Knows that he’d gone too far the moment he’d opened his mouth and asked Taehyung about his sexuality in front of all of the other students. But his heart is beating loudly in his chest and there’s adrenaline coursing through his veins. Fueled even further by Taehyung’s silence, Jeongguk tears him apart with words like a black mamba’s venom. “We don’t want faggots here either.”

Still, Taehyung is completely silent and refuses to look at Jeongguk. Just continues to stare blankly at his stupid book and Jeongguk’s half tempted to pick it up and throw it across the room but he tries to reign in his anger instead. Biting his tongue, he forces himself to walk away from Taehyung and back to his friends who aren’t even trying to hide the fact that they’re laughing at  Taehyung.

“That was so savage.” Mingyu guffaws and claps him on the back. “You’ve got some balls of steel, dude.”

Jeongguk looks back at Taehyung who still hasn’t moved an inch, eyes unfocused as if he’s not really there. He’s slightly surprised as Soyeon and Jisoo (two girls that had previously confessed to Taehyung) approach the other boy. They kneel next to the desk and start whispering soft words of comfort to him, looking far more upset with Jeongguk than Taehyung does.

Tearing his eyes away from the scene, Jeongguk simply shrugs. “Well someone had to say it, right?”

His friends are still laughing and hooting obnoxiously, directing awful slurs at Taehyung and Jeongguk tries to smile but for some reason he feels ugly inside—like the world has tilted off of its axis and something feels off. His insides feel a bit ugly. He ignores it anyways.

Instead, stuffing his hands into his pockets, he pretends they don’t shake.  

 



With the passing of time the harshness of the cold only grows and soon fall turns into winter and there’s snow on the ground. The trees are barren and gnarled. The world loses all of its greenery and the echo of children screaming as they run around the playground becomes mute. Winter is harsh, but Jeongguk loves the cold. It’s serene, peaceful—otherworldly in a sense.

But with the harshness of the season comes the harshness of children. After Jeongguk had humiliated Taehyung in front of the entire class, everyone except for Soyeon and Jisoo begins to shun the boy. The whispers become more cruel; little twelve-year-old hands desperate for gossip, for something to spread.

The question of: ‘is Kim Taehyung gay?’ becomes: ‘is Kim Taehyung sleeping with the male teachers?’

They’re all baseless rumors without even an inkling of proof, but everyone believes them. Everyone besides Jeongguk who isn’t laughing anymore. He starts to think that maybe his classmates and friends are taking this too far, which is further proved when Taehyung comes into class one day in nothing but faded white socks. His shoes are missing.

Over the snickering and shushed giggles, Jisoo steps forward red in the face when she yells, “who the fuck threw Taehyung’s shoes in the river?!”

Sitting next to him, Jeongguk’s friends look smug but nobody points fingers. Mingyu leans back in his chair, pops a cherry flavored lollipop out of his mouth and licks his lips, tongue stained red. “Are you accusing your classmates of doing something so awful?” he goads. “Besides, those shoes belong in the dumpster with how fucked they were. Weren’t you tired of wearing such ratty shoes, Taehyung?” said boy is quiet, doesn’t even look at Mingyu who scoffs. “If I were you I’d thank whoever threw them away for you.” There’s an underlying threat in his tone.

The torment continues. It’s only a few days before Taehyung walks in with his backpack quite literally drenched, sopping and dripping all over the floor. Soyeon and Jisoo look ready to cry as they tell everyone off once again. Threaten to tell the principal even though they never do. It doesn’t let up. Sometimes there’s graffiti on Taehyung’s desk calling him names. Chan tells Jeongguk that someone put a dead frog inside of his locker and Jeongguk knows that ‘someone’ are his friends. And yet, Taehyung never looks angry; he always just stares at the ground, lips pursed. Wordless.

At one point it gets physical. Taehyung has a shiner around his left eye, arms mottled in bruises and Jeongguk feels sick. Feels angry. Disgusted. None of this was ever funny to begin with and he’s beginning to hate his friends.

“Maybe you guys should leave Taehyung alone,” he mentions at lunch. The cafeteria is loud and Jeongguk’s words are low, almost completely drowned out by the noise around them.

Chan looks baffled, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. Like Jeongguk’s grown an extra head or something. “We’re just messing around a bit. It’s not really a big deal.”

Jeongguk frowns. “You guys hit him. That’s not messing around.”

“He fell,” Jun explains lamely. He looks annoyed. “I don’t know why you’re being so emotional about it when he’s a fucking weirdo.”

Mingyu snorts. “He probably touches his dick thinking about us anyways.” And then, fixing Jeongguk with a hard stare he says, “you’re not really defending Taehyung ‘cos you want him to give you a bj or something, right? ‘Cos that would make you a fag, dude.”

“No.” Jeongguk’s quick with his response, heart hammering in his chest. He thinks about how even with holes in his shoes Taehyung is still pretty. “Of course not.”

Mingyu smiles, slow and cruelly. “Just trust us, dude. We’re friends, right?”

Jeongguk nods. Smiles back tightly. “Yeah, friends.” The words sound wrong in his mouth but he ignores it. Eats his half cooked lunch and shuts the fuck up.

A month goes by before Taehyung stops showing up to class. For days his desk is vacant, Jisoo and Soyeon haven’t heard from him either and Jeongguk starts to feel off. Feels a painful twist in the pit of his stomach and on the fifth day he feels nauseous. Even the students get nervous, shifty eyes. Rumors start to float around but Jeongguk shuts his ears. Acts like Taehyung never existed in the first place.

It’s homeroom. Jeongguk’s still groggy, mind half asleep. At this point he barely even spares a glance over to the empty desk. It makes him feel too guilty. Just then, Mr. Ahn enters the classroom, expression grim—Jeongguk feels uneasy.

“Taehyung has transferred to another school.” He sighs heavily, leans against the podium. Mr. Ahn is the kind of teacher that cares about his students too much. The kind that makes kids like Jeongguk feel a little less lost in the world.

It’s quiet. Jeongguk stares at the wall. Stares at the end of his sneakers. His hands. Looks everywhere but at Mr. Ahn because, because—he's not shaken. This shouldn’t bother him because it wasn’t like he forced the boy to leave. Wasn’t the one who scribbled fag on his desk in marker. It’s none of Jeongguk’s business and he doesn't care about Taehyung. Taehyung who is awkward and shy and quiet, but kind. Taehyung who is gay.

"I'm very disappointed in all of you," Mr. Ahn says, tone leveled yet angry in a way that makes Jeongguk feel scolded. "I’ve had a couple of students telling me that Taehyung was being bullied. Who was it?”

Jeongguk thinks about Sooyeon and Jisoo’s threat to tell the principal and when he looks over to Sooyeon she has her head tilted down and Jeongguk knows. He knows but doesn’t even blame them—can’t find it in himself to be angry. Even feels relieved  

Everyone is quiet. Mingyu and Chan make eye contact, shift uncomfortably in their seats. Jun shakes his head at both of them, whispers something low. Ends up catching Jeongguk’s gaze and smiles nervously. 

"If someone doesn't come forth the whole class with be punished." Mr. Ahn’s tone is harsh and Jeongguk has never heard his homeroom teacher sound this severe.

Heart thudding loudly in his ears, Jeongguk can feel the blood rushing straight to his face as shame blossoms in his gut. He thinks about Taehyung and how much smaller the boy looked as the bullying got worse—how sometimes he seemed ready to collapse in on himself like a century old abandoned house, as if the world was ready to swallow him whole. He thinks about Taehyung who is gone and it’s all his fault.

The guilt is all-consuming, like there’s a cobra nesting in his throat and at the tender age of twelve-years-old, Jeongguk learns that his only talent is hurting people with venom on his tongue. He thinks that at least, maybe he should say something. Staying quiet just doesn’t feel right.

Slowly, as if weights are tying him down, he begins to raise his hand, a confession on the tip of his tongue. He begins to raise his hand but—

“It was Jeongguk!” Chan blurts out. Stands up and points a finger at Jeongguk. Beside him, Jun and Mingyu both share panicked looks and for a moment, time seems to stop. Jeongguk tries to process the words in his head and before he can even defend himself, his other friends are speaking up.

“Y-yeah. It was Jeongguk. He started the rumors about Taehyung,” Mingyu says. “He told everyone that Taehyung liked boys and threw his shoes in the river.”

Everyone begins to mutter their agreements and soon the entire class is chiming in.

“Jeongguk did it.”

“Yeah, he was always so mean to Taehyung.”

It's jarring how someone's life can change in a split second. Everyone mutters their dissent and Jeongguk feels hot all over. Dizzy. Mr. Ahn clenches his jaw, stares right at Jeongguk and anything he had planned to say dies in his throat because it's obvious by the way Mr. Ahn looks at Jeongguk that he won't believe anything he says.

At such a young age, Jeongguk never thought that he’d experience things like hurt and betrayal. But now, it’s like facing the mouth of a storm and he’s the boy being called a homo and being jeered at by his peers. The sickness makes him shake and he can’t look up. When Jun explains to Mr. Ahn that Jeongguk had called Taehyung some slurs, he can’t look up and he wonders if this was how Taehyung felt; like there were spiders crawling underneath his skin when people pointed him. And now he understands why Taehyung always walked around with his shoulders hunched over as if it would make him invisible.

Over the next few days more rumors start to circulate. Rumors of Taehyung being in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, caused by no one other than the school’s biggest heart throb and captain of the soccer team, Jeongguk. The notes passed between the stubby hands of children no longer speculate Taehyung’s sexuality. This time in bold, grey graphite it reads, DID KIM TAEHYUNG TRY TO KILL HIMSELF BECAUSE OF JEON JEONGGUK?

At twelve years old, Jeongguk learns how cruel children can be. They take whatever they can get and spit it back in your face when good isn’t good enough. They bury you like a scapegoat under cement. Oh, friends can use you—Jeongguk learns this. They can pluck pretty flowers from the spaces in between your ribs and when there’s nothing left, they can throw you away without notice. Friends can use you. They can break you.

At twelve years old, Jeongguk wishes that he had never hurt Taehyung.












Chapter Text

At twenty years old, Jeongguk never thought that he would make it far in life. Growing up, everyone around him always said that he would forever be a nobody—a waste of space. A bad person undeserving of anything good. Yet somehow, through eight years of torment, Jeongguk just barely pulls through.

The day that he’s released from the confines of school uniforms and detentions he feels such immeasurable relief. His ribs no longer ache and blossom with bruises and for a brief moment, he feels like he can finally breathe. Maybe things are starting to look up.

Jeongguk’s lucky enough to make it into Seoul University and his parents are absolutely overjoyed—call him their prodigal son. Getting into university is the most attention he’s received in years from his own father and it feels good. Feels like he’s gained the approval he’s seeked for years. Finally. Finally.

It feels nice until Jeongguk says he wants to do music and his father is no longer smiling. Clenches his fingers tightly around the neck of a beer bottle and scoffs. “That kind of major will get you nowhere in life.” And Jeongguk doesn’t argue back because he knows what happens when he sticks up for himself. And being the coward that he is, Jeongguk suggests going into financing with a shaky smile. Just like that he gives up his dreams of making music and his father is happy again. Even calls him a genius. Says that he knew that Jeongguk would come around eventually.

And so, Jeongguk goes to college for business and financing even though he doesn’t care about money. Doesn’t care about numbers. Sure, he’s nearly a straight A student but his heart isn’t in it. It’s back in Busan with his guitar and piano. Back where his fingers produced melodies and his mom always loved to listen. But here he feels empty. Always too empty.

Honestly, a naive part of Jeongguk had some hope that things would get better once he entered college. His mom had called it a fresh start for him to get his act together, for him to stop being such a problem child. But for people like him, things only get worse. Kids are cruel, but reality is crueler. While the whispers and rough hands of his childhood no longer follow him, university becomes a place of isolation for Jeongguk. His parents buy him a nice place off of campus. It’s not too flashy but big enough for other kids to know that he comes from money.

His mom calls a few days later to ask how he’s settling in, and Jeongguk laughs lightly down the receiver. Hopes that his voice doesn’t sound too strained. “It’s lovely, mom.” He doesn’t tell her that he hates it. That it’s too big—so big that Jeongguk feels like he’ll disappear. That there’s a space in the living room where a piano could fit.

“This will be good for,” she says. And then hesitantly, “maybe you’ll meet a pretty girl.”  

Jeongguk feels himself deflate. “Yeah, maybe.”

What about a boyfriend? He wants to ask but he doesn’t because they’re not supposed to talk about that kind of stuff. His father will be angry if they do.

He remembers the way his mom had cried whenever he was laid across the kitchen floor like a martyr. When his right eye was swollen shut. When he couldn’t breathe.

Maybe he’ll get a girlfriend.

 

 



It’s a lot harder to make friends in college (not that he even tries) but Jeongguk finds himself feeling more invisible than ever. There’s no one to shove him against lockers or humiliate him in front of twenty other peers, but no one acknowledges his existence either. He attends classes alone, eats lunch alone, and avoids any kind of social activities. When things get really bad Jeongguk thinks that maybe loneliness is worse than being beaten up. Because at least then, people acknowledged his existence, even if it was in some kind of fucked up way. At least he was being used for something.

Every morning before he leaves the sanctuary of his apartment, Jeongguk looks at himself in the bathroom mirror and smiles at his reflection. “You’re okay Jeon Jeongguk,” he tells himself. “You don’t need anyone but yourself.” He tries to tell himself that he’s good at this: that pain doesn’t bother him anymore. That he doesn’t need friends because people are always so quick to turn on him once they see that his cup is half empty. Pain is okay. It’s familiar. Comes naturally to him. He’s okay. Jeongguk is used to this. He can deal with being alone.

And for the most part, Jeongguk thinks that he does a pretty good job at coping given his circumstances. So what if he’s not pursuing the one thing in life that has ever brought him joy? His parents are happy and he’s caused them enough trouble as it is. Jeongguk is good at coping. Until he isn’t.

Until he’s sitting in Starbucks doing homework—except he’s not really doing homework because he’s too busy watching a group of girls chatting happily a few tables away from him and he feels jealous; a want that stirs in his gut like please pay attention to me. I feel like I’m disappearing. But Jeongguk knows what happens to boys like him who don’t know how to shut their mouths. Knows how to bite his tongue because his words are always a wasps nest and he’s only ever good at hurting other people. And yet, a part of him still has the audacity to be selfish, to want more.

Jeongguk leaves pieces of himself everywhere and hopes that someone will notice and pick them up. Like frayed strings in the doorway. Like origamis hidden underneath his bed. Like torn envelopes—the scar on his cheek. The mole under his bottom lip. He sometimes wonders what it would be like if someone were to try and pick it all up—how deep it would cut, but he knows that he’s not the kind of person that anyone wants to bleed for.   

Sometimes girls like the ones sitting close to Jeongguk approach him and before they can even say anything, he’s already shutting down. Pretty girls with round eyes, glossy lips, and soft hair. Pretty girls who ask him if he’s single or if he wants to go out to see a movie, but all Jeongguk can do is shake. He opens the palm of his hands and sees the ugliness in between each crease and he can’t—he can’t. He always says no because if he keeps people away they can’t ruin him again.  


And he’s scared. Scared that if he gives any girl a chance she’ll know after the first date that he doesn’t swing that way. That he likes cocks and broad shoulders, but never tits. Likes the roughness of boys. The stubble on their chins.   

Jeongguk’s good at creating his own destruction. It’s fine as long as he’s the one hurting himself, right? If he does bad things, at least he’s the one screwing up his own life. If he throws himself onto the pavement and lets the hurt stick, no one can point fingers anymore. But then it all catches up when he’s laying wide awake in bed at two a.m. staring at the ceiling and wondering where all of this bad came from. Sometimes, late in the night, he wonders about Kim Taehyung.

It’s strange because he hasn’t seen the boy in eight years, but when the nights are long and Jeongguk’s chest aches, his mind always drifts to the brunette. He wonders about Taehyung and if he still clenches his fists. Wonders if he still shrinks under scrutiny. If he trembles every time one of his tormentors calls his name. Wonders if Taehyung had ever learned how to hold himself together without letting pieces fall out—or if he’s just as broken as Jeongguk is. Is his voice still quiet when he speaks? Does he french kiss boys in locker rooms as if that’ll make all of the trauma that Jeongguk caused him go away?

IS KIM TAEHYUNG GAY?

Jeongguk’s good at letting the past eat away at him. The what-could-have-been’s he holds like a monument between his teeth. What if he hadn’t opened his mouth? What if he had stopped Mingyu and the others before things went too far? What if he had apologized back then? What if instead of being Kim Taehyung’s bully he had been his friend? What if. What if. What if?

He doesn’t know how to let things go—holds onto all of the wrong parts of his life, so at least then he knows that there was a time when he was happy. Long ago, there was a table set for three and his parents were both smiling down at him. Once, his father loved him. Once, he had friends that he laughed with. Once, long ago, there was a time when the sunlight seeped through his skin and Jeongguk felt whole.

Or maybe it’s a form of self punishment; like if he holds on tightly enough someplace, somewhere, Taehyung is happy. Taehyung is alive.

Jeongguk tries to be content living his life in relative isolation. Sticks his nose into books. Plugs his headphones in and drowns out the sound of the outside world. He lives in his little bubble where the passage of time is his only acquaintance. He works on school projects alone, rarely with other people and when he does he never remembers their faces. If Jeongguk tries to remember the people he went to highschool with their features are always a blur. He can’t remember. Doesn’t want to anyways.

Because when faces stick, when Jeongguk remembers the way they smile or how their eyes twinkle when they’re happy, that means something. If Jeongguk can put a name to a face that means that they can hurt him. He won’t ever let that happen again.

Except, there’s this guy in his physics class that refuses to let Jeongguk forget him. His name is Jung Hoseok, and the only reason that Jeongguk knows this is because Hoseok had been running late to class, and by then everyone had already chosen their partners. And of course, Jeongguk was the odd one out. The awkward and quiet kid who sat in the back that no one ever tried to talk to beyond simple pleasantries.

The professor scolds him for being late. Scans the room and then motions to the back. “Hoseok you’ll be paired with Jeongguk,” she says and he doesn’t even hesitate. Doesn’t pause to frown at Jeongguk or even look mildly miffed. He bounds up the steps, all the way to the very back of the lecture room where the former sits.

“I’m Jung Hoseok!” he beams brightly, sticks his hand out expectantly.

Except Jeongguk doesn’t even acknowledge the gesture. “I know,” he mutters instead, doodling aimlessly in his notebook. He tries to play it cool like he doesn’t really care, except he’s lowkey sweating bullets because Hoseok is intimidating. He shines way too much and carries himself in a way that would put anyone at ease. He also kind of looks like the kind of person who slacks off and Jeongguk hopes that he doesn’t get stuck with a partner who makes him do all of the work again, because the last time that had happened he stayed awake for fifty hours straight. And Jeongguk is stupid enough to just accept it because he’s terrified of confrontation. Scared of offending anyone.

Hoseok doesn’t seem at all perturbed by Jeongguk’s lack of enthusiasm. Sits down next to him and continues to talk. “You look really smart,” he says and Jeongguk just shrugs in response. Hoseok leans back in the chair. Lets out a long sigh. “I’m so shit at math and I’m barely passing this class, so please be patient with me.”

Oh great, Jeongguk’s going to have to do all of the work again isn’t he?

“Meet me in the library tomorrow at six,” he says stiffly, completely ignoring Hoseok’s rambling.

Hoseok doesn’t miss a beat. Just grins and agrees with far too much enthusiasm. “It’s a date!”

Jeongguk doesn’t even crack a smile, just goes back to doodling and ignoring everyone around him. Hoseok sits with him for the rest of the lecture.

 

 



Hoseok wasn’t lying when he said he was bad at math. Surprisingly enough, he’d shown up at the library to work on the project and hadn’t missed a single meeting, even if Jeongguk was always the one who set the date and time without inquiry. He doesn’t really understand the project and Jeongguk finds himself being more of a tutor than a partner, but for some strange reason it doesn’t really irk him. Although Hoseok had initially seemed like someone who joked around too much and didn’t take things seriously, he’s actually quite attentive and willing to learn.

And he’s patient. Far too patient for his own good. When Jeongguk stumbled over an explanation for the nth time, Hoseok didn’t interrupt him once or act annoyed. He seemed so enthralled by every word that came out of Jeongguk’s mouth and Jeongguk just doesn’t get it because he’s always frustrated with his inability to communicate like a normal human. He doesn’t know how Hoseok is just so okay with the blatant awkwardness.

“Ah, you’re such a genius,” Hoseok had complimented. “Like freaking Einstein.”

Jeongguk admittedly, had blushed and refused to make eye contact. Picked at the dirt underneath his fingernails instead. “I-it’s pretty simple actually.”

Even in the silence of the library, his voice was too quiet. Jeongguk had long ago lost the ability to speak with even a semblance of confidence. His words always a murmur and often Hoseok has to lean across the table to hear him, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it at all and it makes Jeongguk dizzy because he doesn’t understand.

“Simple?” Hoseok had snorted, an incredulous look on his face. “Dude, like half of the class is failing and this is like elementary school math to you. Pure genius.”

Jeongguk has never had a partner quite like Hoseok, who goes out of his way to be far too kind. And initially, he’s quite suspicious, because no one is ever that nice without an ulterior motive. Around Hoseok, Jeongguk’s always bracing himself for an impact that never comes. A part of him thinks that perhaps Hoseok is just a good person and he doesn’t know how to handle it—doesn’t know how to accept good people.  

And Hoseok is good, he’s more than good actually. The two week deadline approaches and after they hand in their project, Jeongguk knows that they’ll never speak again because that’s always how this goes. He pretends that he isn’t at all disappointed. Pretends that he doesn’t kinda want Hoseok to stay and talk to him more. But it always goes like this because that’s how it’s supposed to be. Because no one ever stays.

Except the next time they have class together Hoseok marches right up the steps and sits next to Jeongguk like they’re old friends.

“Boy, am I glad that hellish project is finally over.” He sighs dramatically. “I owe my life to you Jeon Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk blinks in confusion. Pinches his arm just to make sure that his depressed and lonely self isn’t starting to make up nonexistent friends.

“Um,” he begins awkwardly, “the project is over.”

“Yes? I just said that.”

“Y-you don’t have to sit with me anymore.”

Hoseok furrows his eyebrows and now Jeongguk isn’t the only one confused. “I am aware…”

Jeongguk just stares at him for a long moment, lips pursed. Gears turning in his head. He turns away when the professor walks into the room. “Okay then,” he mutters. He doesn’t say another word for the rest of the lecture.

 

 



Jeongguk doesn’t understand Hoseok. Like, at all. For some reason Hoseok has become fixated on him and Jeongguk would be lying if he said that he wasn’t spooked by this turn of events. The older boy’s presence is jarring, a complete juxtapose to the isolation that Jeongguk has lived with for eight years.

Hoseok enters his life not like a storm because he leaves no destruction, but rather like a long summer. The kind of summer you wish would never end and Jeongguk doesn’t know how to adjust. Doesn’t think that he can. At first he tries avoiding Hoseok, but he must have attached some kind of GPS device to him, because no matter how fast Jeongguk runs across campus to avoid him, Hoseok always ends up finding Jeongguk.

His second attempt at shaking Hoseok off is to just ignore him to death, except that plan fails even faster than the first one. Hoseok’s positive energy is contagious and Jeongguk feels himself beginning to crack. It starts with small gestures like actually smiling shyly at his corny jokes or having small (mostly one sided) conversations about things that don’t involve physics. Sometimes Hoseok even drags him out to dinner or the movies and it’s the first time in years that Jeongguk has ever spent time with someone like this. So casually and comfortably almost as if they’re friends.

“Do you want to go see another movie this weekend, Jeongguk?”

They’re sitting on a bench outside an ice cream parlor. Jeongguk had bought blueberry and Hoseok bought strawberry, double scooped. It’s a bit inconvenient because the last vestiges of summer had disappeared a few weeks ago and the chill of fall makes his fingertips numb but he doesn’t care because this moment is special. Because it’s the first time since primary school that Jeongguk has eaten ice cream with someone like this.

“Sure. What movie?” Jeongguk sniffles, tries to rub the warmth back into his nose. He hopes that he doesn’t get a cold.

“I dunno yet.” Hoseok shrugs. “There’s been a lot of superhero movies coming out lately. I would say Justice League but we all know DC sucks ass at making good films, so I was thinking the new Iron Man maybe?”

Jeongguk inhales sharply, and then he can’t help it. Really, he can’t. His face lights up like a Christmas tree as he softly says with wide eyes, “I love Iron Man.”

His reaction startles Hoseok for a split second, but then the older boy looks overjoyed as if he’s found a pot of gold. “Oh yeah?”

Jeongguk nods, a little self conscious. “He’s my favorite superhero.”

“Why’s that?” Hoseok sounds giddy.

“Because…”Jeongguk chews at his bottom lip nervously. He’s not used to talking about himself like this. “B-because even though he’s selfish and doesn’t always do what’s morally right he’s still a hero. Everyone still loves him.”

Jeongguk wishes that people still loved him.

He doesn’t remember the last time someone wasn’t just a blip in his life. He’s spent the last eight years forgetting faces, but Hoseok is a glimmer of light in a world that has long lost its color in his eyes and as terrifying as it is, Jeongguk finds that Hoseok’s face stands out from the crowd. His long nose, the curve of his jawline—Jeongguk finds that he can remember exactly what Hoseok looks like when he closes his eyes and it’s terrifying.

Hoseok, who is loud and buoyant; who laughs with his whole body and smiles like he’s the fucking sun. Jeongguk won’t ever admit to it, but he’s become terribly fond and Hoseok’s the kind of person that he longs to be friends with, but he’s the kind of friend that Jeongguk will never deserve.

So whenever Hoseok makes some stupid joke that never fails to make Jeongguk crack a smile, he begins to clench his fists and look away because he isn’t even entitled to these small moments of relief. If Hoseok notices he doesn’t say anything, just continues to cling to Jeongguk and talk to him as if they’re more than just two boys who worked on a class project together once. It’s not happiness, but for just a few moments, when Jeongguk’s with Hoseok his chest doesn’t feel as heavy. And he thinks, maybe I can have this.

But then he’s looking at the palm of his hands again and thinking about all the mistakes he’s made and he’s shrinking. He can’t. He can’t hold on to someone like Hoseok and taint him. Can’t ask Hoseok to stay because then he’ll just paint his insides black. Jeongguk refuses to hurt anyone like that ever again.

But it’s like Hoseok knows that something inside of Jeongguk is broken, like he knows that Jeongguk never learned how to unstick the sticky parts of himself; like he knows that Jeongguk is shattered glass too dangerous to pick up because there’s so many pieces of himself scattered all over the kitchen floor that he’ll never find. He’s gentle with Jeongguk and weirdly intune with his mood swings. Like he knows when it’s okay to touch Jeongguk and when to leave space between them when they sit together.

It’s comfortable. Too comfortable.

Sorry I’m a messy person, Jeongguk wants to say. But he doesn’t.

He’s sitting in Starbucks again, absentmindedly scribbling drawings onto the empty white spaces of his textbook. Jeongguk finds himself unable to focus on any of his homework because it’s one of those days. One of those days where the fact that he’s unhappy and will never be able to chase his dreams really hits him. His skin is crawling with anxiety and he can’t stay still. Glares at his financing textbook and wishes he could throw it into a fire.

He’s more invested his doodling than anything else, glancing up briefly at a trio of newcomers who are loud with their entrance, and just when he’s about to dismiss them as your average campus fuckboys, he recognizes Hoseok amongst them. And being the terribly unsociable person that he is, Jeongguk tries to pretend that he doesn’t see the other—which doesn’t work out at all because with his Jeon Jeongguk radar activated, Hoseok almost immediately zones in on him.

“Gukkie!” he calls excitedly.

Jeongguk pretends that he doesn’t hear Hoseok because maybe if he glares at his textbook hard enough the other boy will get the signal and go away, but then Hoseok’s making a beeline for the table and Jeongguk looks up, smiling tightly.

“Hi,” he squeaks.

Hoseok beams. “I haven’t seen you all week, dude. Where have you been?”

Jeongguk tries to think of a plausible excuse that doesn’t involve telling Hoseok that sometimes his anxiety gets so bad that it’s hard for him to leave the house. Sometimes he’s too scared to go to class, and even though he knows that it’s not like highschool, knows that there aren’t teenage boys waiting to dump his head in a toilet again, it sticks with him anyways. Like what if someone shoves him into the mud again? Another black eye maybe? Sometimes he can still feel the pain of every blow, but how does he tell anyone that?

He clams up instead. “Um...places.”

Hoseok laughs as if Jeongguk is the funniest person on the planet and in the presence of two other people he doesn’t know and refuses to look at, Jeongguk feels way out of his element.

“Okay well I’ve wanted to introduce you to my friends for awhile, but you always bolt the moment I look away,” Hoseok scolds jokingly and Jeongguk feels very much called out.

“This is Jimin.” Hoseok introduces the boy on his left who smiles sweetly. He’s pretty in a way that makes Jeongguk feel self-conscious. Features soft with plump lips and blonde hair fluffed in a way that makes him look incredibly soft.

“I’ve heard so much about you. You’re fucking adorable,” Jimin coos. His voice is nice to listen to, a little raspy and high pitched but he sounds pretty. Looks pretty. Is definitely pretty. Probably takes his baths with rose petals and bath bombs. Jeongguk on the other hand has been wearing the same white tee for three days straight.

He scratches his head awkwardly. “Thank you,” he mumbles.

“And this,” Hoseok gestures to the other boy and this time Jeongguk dares really look. Past his chin, his nose and—oh. The moment their eyes meet he regrets it. Wishes that he could look away but he can’t because it’s too late and chills begin to creep up his spine because this boy is breathtakingly beautiful as if he was born from the cosmos. Beautiful as in Zeus himself created the boy with his bare hands and Jeongguk feels the blood in his veins rush and freeze over. Feels himself beginning to shake, because while the boy is ethereal, he is familiar in a way that makes dread bubble in the pit of his stomach. He’s familiar in a way that makes Jeongguk feel like there’s no air in the room.

Just the two of them.

“T-Taehyung,” he chokes out.

He feels like he’s going to be sick.

Jeongguk tries to tear his gaze away but it’s like Taehyung has him locked in place. He stares back with such intensity for a long moment, expression unreadable and Jeongguk feels hot and cold at the same time. Feels like the world is starting to crumble at his feet because this has to be some kind of cruel joke. Taehyung can’t possibly be here right now. But he is.

Finally after what feels like an eternity, Taehyung shifts, the corners of his mouth pulling up into a smirk. “Hello Jeongguk,” he greets cooly. “Didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

All the remaining air leaves Jeongguk’s lungs and it’s like the time he got hit in the chest with a baseball bat when he was nine and couldn’t breathe; except this is the kind of pain he carries around his ankles like shackles and he’s barely afloat, trying to keep his head above the surface. Feels like Taehyung has just shook his pond with just a few words, but Jeongguk has never learned how to hold himself together in the first place without letting all of the bad spill over.

It’s a venomous moment—Taehyung and Jeongguk are like two satellites at the opposite ends of the planet that should never connect. They’re more than cliches like fire and ice, and Jeongguk knows better than to play with boys who give him third degree burns. He had tried to forget Taehyung, but it’s like every time he tries to let things go it all comes right back to cut him open. Or maybe he never really tried to forget; he wanted his mind to be a graveyard but Taehyung could never be the corpse.

He’s never been good at funerals anyways.

Here Taehyung is, beautiful and no longer a child. No longer small and fragile. His gaze is sharp. Gone is the Taehyung who stares at the ground with wide, clueless eyes. He no longer looks ready to crumble like a century old abandoned house. He’s tall now with defined features, very much a man.

His voice is deep and strong, a complete juxtapose to the stuttering child he had been years ago. He seems to hold himself with such surety and confidence in a way that gives Jeongguk whiplash. His presence is loud, not in the way that Hoseok is, but more like an overwhelming force—like he could swallow Jeongguk whole.

Kim Taehyung has grown to be beautiful; undeniably and irrevocably beautiful.

It’s like the wide mouth of a storm. Taehyung looks at Jeongguk not with mute terror. Not with hatred or disgust, but almost as if he’s a predator enjoying a hunt. Like he finds Jeongguk’s presence amusing more than anything else—a simple old flame of his past to temporarily fixate his attention on. As if DID KIM TAEHYUNG TRY TO KILL HIMSELF BECAUSE OF JEON JEONGGUK? never existed.  

Jeongguk wants to know if it’s true. He needs to know.

Hoseok looks between the pair, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You two know each other?”

And Jeongguk can’t answer. Feels himself shrivelling up under Taehyung’s unwavering, oppressive gaze. If eyes are the windows to the soul, Jeongguk feels more like he’s staring at a brick wall. Taehyung seems closed off. Every twitch of his lips measured, every shift in his facial expression controlled.

Jeongguk feels the anxiety begin to creep its way up his throat. Feels it as it squeezes its hands around his neck. Look at what you’ve done. Look at the mess that you’ve created. It’s like he’s ten again, except this time he’s the one walking into class without shoes on. The skin on his knees are bruised and every sentence starts with a stuttered syllable.

“We’re just old acquaintances from before I moved,” Taehyung explains smoothly without a hitch. Doesn’t even hesitate or second guess himself, as if they were really just strangers.

Hoseok’s face lights up at this. “Really? What a small world.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung responds dryly, eyes never once leaving Jeongguk’s. “What a small world indeed.”

It’s small. Too small. So small that it’s suffocating. Sitting here frozen to the chair in front of a kid he used to bully, Jeongguk feels as if his skin will melt into his bones.

“Have you been well?” Taehyung asks and all Jeongguk can do is swallow. He doesn’t know how Taehyung does it—how he’s able to speak to Jeongguk so casually as if he isn’t the reason for Taehyung being bullied out of middle school. As if he isn’t the biggest piece of shit on planet earth.

Jeongguk realizes that they’re all waiting for him to answer. “Y-yeah,” he manages to stutter. Looks away from Taehyung, down to his hands that shake in his lap. “I’ve been well.” The words come out as a thick whisper and Jeongguk feels stupid. So fucking stupid. Is this the world’s cruel joke? Like, oh someone actually doesn’t think you’re a piece of shit for once? Well guess what? You remember that kid you used to bully? Well that’s one of his friends. Did you really think that you could ever be loved?

It tastes bitter on his tongue.

“That’s good,” Taehyung hums. “It’s nice to see you making something out of your life, Jeongguk.” He says it in a way that seems friendly but Jeongguk can hear the underlying bite to Taehyung’s words and shame makes his cheeks burn hot.

He’s not making anything out of himself. Just wasting time and wasting away in it.

“Jeongguk?” Jimin echoes. “You mean Jeon Jeongguk?” his voice is tight and when Jeongguk dares to glance up, he’s no longer smiling.

“Oh yeah. Didn’t I tell you about him, Jimin?” Taehyung raises a brow.

“Heard you were quite the charm back in the day.” The tone Jimin takes on is mocking. He glances over pointedly to Taehyung and it’s obvious by the look they share that there’s a cruel joke whispered between them.

Jeongguk knows exactly what he means.

So you’re the one who bullied my best friend and made his life a living hell?

“Yeah.” Jeongguk swallows. “I’m him.” It’s like a confirmation of guilt and Jeongguk feels himself shrivelling up. Hears his heart thudding loudly in his ears and oh, is he going to have a panic attack right in front of the boy he tormented as if he’s the one suffering? What kind of backwards logic is this?

But it’s too much and Taehyung’s too much. Too overwhelming. Too beautiful. And Jeongguk—he only ever knows how to let light leak out from the marrow of his bones and his insides are a house full of spiders who don’t plan on helping him live.

“I have to go,” he blurts. Tries to gather his things but his hands are shaking so hard that the pen goes flying to the floor and before he has a chance to reach for it, Taehyung’s already bent over and gripping it in between his fingers.

“You dropped his,” he states obviously. Holds out the pen and stares at Jeongguk with challenging eyes.

There’s a moment of awkwardness where neither of them move, but the need to escape is making him feel dizzy and so Jeongguk reaches out to grab it with his head down. “T-thank you,” he murmurs.  

Before Hoseok has a chance to stop him, Jeongguk’s already running out the door but his feet aren’t moving fast enough. Even when the coffee shop disappears as he turns a corner, he still feels like he’s suffocating. Like he’ll sink into the cement and be swallowed up.

He wishes that he could just brush meeting Taehyung off as some kind of coincidence. He wishes that he could just shrug it off and let go because it was eight fucking years ago, but he can’t. Because this is karma coming back to take another piece of him yet again and he’s too weak for this. The smallest of pin pricks breaks his skin open but seeing Taehyung has torn him right open and it hurts.

Hurts the way it did the first time when Jeongguk had kissed a boy and told his father. Hurts like when he had been called disgusting. Dirty. You’re not my fucking son. The sun begins to set like the last grains of sand in an hourglass, and nothing is bright anymore but the blood on Jeongguk’s fingernails from where he picks too hard at his skin. Jeongguk tries to hold on, but he doesn’t hold on tight enough before the mess is seeping out of his fists and dripping onto the concrete.

He doesn’t make it far before he throws himself into a secluded alleyway and sinks down to the dirty ground. World spinning and chest heaving, a sob rips its way out of his throat, ugly and garbled. Jeongguk doesn’t know how long he kneels there, curled into himself. Nails digging into his arms, drawing blood. Thinks that he’s prettier when he’s in pain like this—when he’s bleeding.

He doesn’t know a lot of things; like why he’s still alive. Like why god makes people like him.  Like why is Taehyung here? Why is he perfect and so well put together? Why is he beautiful. Gorgeous. Unreal. Why after all these years, does Jeongguk still want to kiss him?

Why is Jeongguk gay? Why do I have to be gay?

Boys don’t kiss boys. His father told him that.

Cold and so terribly alone, Jeongguk cries. What for, he isn’t sure about. All he knows is that he wants to go home. Where home is, he doesn’t know.  




Chapter Text

Jeongguk spends the next few days in a state of relative numbness. Meeting Taehyung again after all of these years triggers something in him—brings up memories from his past that Jeongguk has spent years locking away and a naive part of himself thought that maybe, maybe he really could forget. This was supposed to be a fresh start but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s really just Jeongguk running away and of course he was bound to fall again. It all catches up and seeps into the cuts on his knees, and this time he can’t escape. But he tries to anyways. Avoids public places where he could possibly bump into Taehyung like a plague, even if coffee shops are his favorite place to relax.

He shuts Hoseok out completely. Shrinks back into his shell and jumps whenever Hoseok lays a friendly hand on him. Their relationships starts to become strained, and he can tell that Hoseok really is trying his best but Jeongguk is a master at pushing people away. Getting him to smile becomes an impossible task and as soon as class is over he all but runs out of the room before Hoseok can even call out to him. If there were flowers threatening to bud and bloom before, any chance of opening up withered away the moment Taehyung walked back into his life.

Because now he can’t. Because now he’s lost the one opportunity he had at making a friend. And it’s silly because he knew that he never deserved someone as bright as Hoseok in his life. He fucking knew but he keeps making the same mistake again and again. He’s stuck in a dangerous cycle and he never quite learned how to escape.

It’s okay though, right? He’s used to being alone and by now the empty silence of his too big apartment has become his best friend. He whispers to the quiet air when it’s three in the morning and the only thing drowning out his muffled sobs is the humming of the air conditioner.

Hoseok didn’t mean that much to him anyway. He was just a classmate. Someone to pass the time. No biggie. He tells himself this over and over again, tries to beat it into his head that their relationship really didn’t mean anything because they weren’t friends. But since when has lying to himself ever made the pain go away?  It shouldn’t matter, except Hoseok is the first person since high school to show him any kindness, and now he’s lost that because the other boy probably knows.

Knows that Jeongguk is like poison. Knows that his insides are all rotten. Knows that his hands are only good for hurting people. It weighs down on him and he’s trying to let go because they weren’t ever close in the first place, but it feels so terribly suffocating. They weren’t close but Jeongguk knows that Hoseok’s favorite color is green and seven is his lucky number. Knows that sunflowers make him smile and that he’s absolutely terrified of snakes.

It shouldn’t matter, except Jeongguk is no longer the boy that he used to be. He’s lost any confidence he had in himself—lets go of everything that he’s passionate about because he doesn’t deserve good things. Doesn’t deserve a happiness that tastes sweet and stays permanent. So if he lets go before anything becomes permanent then it doesn’t give him false hope, but somehow Hoseok managed to get under his skin and make him feel less numb, and for the first time in years he felt hope. It was just a spark, a glimmer, but it was still there.

But now he feels nothing but shame and disgust with himself. Did he really think that he deserved a friend? He became too greedy with Hoseok and now its come back full circle and Jeongguk doesn’t want to see his expression when he finds out. Remembers the way Mr. Ahn had looked at him when everyone pointed fingers and he knows that if Hoseok knows it’ll break him.  

“I thought that things might be different.” Jeongguk has his face buried into the pillow and when he speaks it comes out muffled, fragile. He doesn’t know who he’s even talking to. The walls maybe? They’re the only ones who’ll listen. “I hate myself too, you know? But I thought that things could be okay just for a little while.”

He thinks about the library and that corner table where he and Hoseok had worked on their project together. It had seemed like they were in their own world then and a small part of Jeongguk had thought that nothing could stop him then. It was like sneaking his hand into a cookie jar hoping he wouldn’t be caught.

“Why can’t I just give up?”

He thinks about Hoseok and ice-cream. The cold taste of blueberry and the way it had made his teeth ache. The numbness of his fingers, his nose, the tips of his ears and how fun it had been, sitting on a bench in the middle of fall.

“Why do I always lose everything?”

Jeongguk feels irrationally angry. Screams into the pillow and cries some more. He doesn’t understand why he’s so upset because nothing has ever been his to lose in the first place. What has he ever done to earn anything himself? His clothes, his education, even this damn apartment; his parents buy everything for him. Shower him with gifts and he’s only ever ungrateful. Kisses boys when he knows that he shouldn’t.

“I’m sorry.” Even when he’s alone he’s apologizing like this. “I just thought that maybe I could catch a glimpse of the sun.”

The burning heat of the pavement. Short sticky fingers, sunburns and tan lines. Splashing through creeks with his shoes on. That summer his father took him fishing—he’s forgotten about it all. The warm seasons don’t feel the same anymore and he’s been stuck in an eternal winter where the clouds won’t peel away and everywhere he goes it rains.

In the silence of the night, the only response he gets is the hum of the air conditioner.  

 

 



Jeongguk goes through the week avoiding Hoseok and Taehyung like the plague. He’s constantly on edge. When he walks down the hallways he looks around every corner before he turns and practically bolts across campus after his classes end. He knows that he’s being rather ridiculous, but in Jeongguk’s defense he’s pretty sure everyone hates him and would rather avoid confrontation. Avoiding human contact is second nature to him.

Since he’s been successful thus far, he foolishly allows himself to drop his guard and that’s when he ends up running into Hoseok while he’s returning some textbooks to the school library.

“Jeongguk is that you?” Hoseok’s voice comes from directly behind him and he tenses, turns around slowly and prays that he’s just hearing things, but there Hoseok is—and he doesn’t look too happy either.

He crosses his arms over his chest when they make eye contact. Taps his foot harshly against the carpet and lets out a loud huff. “Where the fuck have you been?” he snaps and even though Jeongguk knows that he’s upset for the right reasons, he can’t help but flinch back. Because his father had been like that. Always angry and demanding to know where Jeongguk had been whenever he returned a minute too late.

“I’ve been worried sick about you all week, dude.” He looks exasperated, like he can’t believe that Jeongguk would have the nerve to cut him off like that.

Jeongguk doesn’t know what to say. Tries to find an excuse but his tongue feels heavy in his mouth and god—he had planned to spend the rest of his college life living as a ghost, avoiding the one person who showed him any kindness. But there’s always a price, right? Because people like Hoseok are too good for him.

He swallows. “Hey hyung.”

“Have you been avoiding me?” Hoseok’s voice is tense, emotional, and Jeongguk is surprised to see the hurt expression on the other man’s face. Doesn’t know why he cares. Maybe it’s an act. Does he knows? He has to know, right?

“No. I’ve just been busy.” It’s a lame excuse and they both know it.

“Yeah?” Hoseok looks more than skeptical. “You couldn’t bother to answer any of my texts?”

Jeongguk looks away, stares at a shelf of books instead. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “Things have been hard lately.” And it’s not a lie because things are always hard for him. He’s always struggling to adjust, to find a place in this world to fit into. But it’s like a puzzle that just doesn’t work out and Jeongguk is the one piece that doesn’t fit anywhere. And usually he’s good at controlling himself because he should be used to it by now, but sometimes he spirals out of control. It gets messy, and when Hoseok called at eight pm Jeongguk had pretended to be asleep.

Hoseok’s expression instantly softens at Jeongguk’s words, but he still appears a bit miffed. He’s quiet for a long moment, as if he’s debating on saying more, but eventually he bites his tongue and smiles slowly instead. “If you want to make it up to me let’s have lunch.”

“Right now?” Jeongguk asks hesitantly.

“Right now.”

Jeongguk guesses that if he were smarter he would have said no because Hoseok probably knows the truth and is just playing along. It wouldn’t be the first time. But a naive part of him still hopes that Hoseok might actually want to be his friend. “...I guess that’s fine.”

 

 



“Hey hyung.”

Jeongguk startles, looks up with his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. When Hoseok asked if they could have lunch together, Jeongguk had been under the impression that it would just be the two of them. But right now Taehyung is sliding in the booth across from him and he looks just as surprised by this turn of events as Jeongguk does.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Hoseok says. “I ran into Jeongguk at the library and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other so I invited him.”

The realization that Hoseok asked him to tag along on an already planned meeting with Taehyung has him feeling quite bitter. If he’d known in the first place he would have never agreed to this.

Taehyung squints at him for a moment, expression closed off and lips pursed. “It’s fine.” He shrugs, opens the menu to lazily look over it. “We’re childhood friends anyways, right?”

But it all doesn’t seem fine and there’s a slight suggestive lilt in his voice that reminds Jeongguk that this is all an act and none of this is actually okay at all. Reminds him that he nearly destroyed another person’s life. Jeongguk wonders how he does it—how he makes everything seem so effortless. How he regards the world with little interest, or maybe it’s just when Jeongguk’s around that he seems like he doesn’t care. That he clams up and suddenly he isn’t Kim Taehyung anymore.

They aren’t friends. They didn’t even know each other for more than three months before Taehyung transferred schools, and he knows that Taehyung will always remember him as the kid who called him a fag. He doesn’t even know if Taehyung likes men, nor does it matter. It doesn’t matter, but eight years ago Jeongguk made it matter and he hopes that Taehyung has been able to heal from that. Hopes that if Taehyung is gay, that he didn’t force him in the closet because he was too embarrassed to come to terms with his own sexuality.

Jeongguk wants to tell him that he’s sorry. Taehyung deserves an apology, he knows this more than anyone else. He deserves the truth as well; that Jeongguk likes kissing boys and at twelve years old his curious mind had wanted to kiss him again. How he wanted to hold Taehyung’s hand and tell him that his love for nature was endearing. Is it the same as kissing girls? Jeongguk’s mind had been curious from the moment he laid eyes on him. Because Kim Taehyung, even as a child, was breathtaking.

But then he thinks about the year after Taehyung. He thinks about his first kiss. And then the next. Thinks about the first time a boy had ever laid him across his bed and kissed him silly and then his father, standing at the door, red in the face. His features had been twisted in such rage back then that he’d become a man Jeongguk could hardly recognize. The boy he kissed never talked to him again.

“Hi Taehyung,” Jeongguk manages to greet but it all sounds wrong in his mouth as if he doesn’t deserve to even speak his name.

Taehyung smiles but it’s a forced pleasantry. It’s obvious that Jeongguk’s presence isn’t welcomed. “Hey, haven’t seen you around in awhile.”

Jeongguk has a moment to think of an excuse as a waitress approaches the table to take their orders. When she leaves, he’s still unable to produce a coherent sentence without stuttering.

“I-I was busy.” He stares down at the table and flinches at the way his voice breaks. He’s not sure why he needs to validate himself to Taehyung.

“Busy,” Taehyung repeats. “Are you part of any clubs or anything? There’s still a lot of time left before finals come up.”

“Ah, I’m not part of any clubs.” He picks at a hole in his jeans and refuses to look up.

“Oh? You were always so eager to be apart of things back in middle school. Weren’t you the captain of the soccer team?

Jeongguk’s ears burn hot with shame. He knows exactly what Taehyung is implying and it stings. He had played soccer because running across the field had made him feel free. Because his father had liked it when he was active and winning medals even as a child. But then it all went to shit and Jeongguk was thirteen when he’d had his first anxiety attack. When standing out became too much and he’d collapsed before he could even get to the field.

“Things change,” Jeongguk mutters. “People change.”

He hardly remembers how to be bold and loud with his words. Knows how to bite his own tongue and choke on regret. Class presentations make him throw up in the trashcan by the teacher’s desk.

Taehyung laughs dryly. “Is that so?” he turns to Hoseok with a sickeningly sweet smile. “Hyung, do you think people can change?”

“I mean, I guess it depends on the context?” Hoseok answers carefully, obviously confused by the question. “I think our interests change as we get older, so we’re always evolving.”

“What about people who hurt others?” Taehyung asks. Sounds tighter this time, less like a joke and more like something personal. “What about the people who spend every waking moment making someone else’s life a living hell?”

Jeongguk picking at the skin around his nails now, barely even flinching at the sting and the blood that wells up.

Hoseok looks contemplative. Scratches at his chin thoughtfully. “I mean, usually bullies are the way that they are because they’re projecting their own insecurities upon other people. I’m not saying that it’s okay but pain changes people, Tae. Makes them feel small.” He then turns towards Jeongguk expectantly and oh—oh no, he isn’t ready for this. “What do you think, Guk?”

Hoseok’s right, he feels small. Over the past eight years Jeongguk has learned to crumple himself up like a piece of paper. Learned how to make his presence nonexistent. But it’s like the world is telling him that he’s not less enough. That his half empty cup is still too full because here he is, having lunch with Kim Taehyung and Jeongguk doesn’t know how to make himself disappear any further. Unless, unless—

He shouldn’t think about that, right?

“I just think that we’re all trying to find our place in the world,” Jeongguk starts to say, “and sometimes we do things we regret.”

“Regret doesn’t erase trauma.” Taehyung’s response is tense as he stares him down and Jeongguk instantly looks away, resolve wavering.

I’m sorry. I wish I could erase all of the pain I caused you but I can’t and it hurts.

“Then I guess they just have to live knowing that they’re a shitty person for the rest of their lives,” Jeongguk murmurs. Glances down at the blood that coats his fingers hidden underneath the table. If he looks at his reflection he can see the black of him. He ruined someone’s life and yet he expects forgiveness? How many people did he hurt just because he could?

Taehyung stares at him for a long moment. Lips pursed, expression unreadable. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but then grimaces and takes a sip of water instead. Jeongguk can only imagine the kinds of things he wanted to say.

Once their food comes the tension dissipates a little. Hoseok and Taehyung are quick to forget about the previous conversation as they turn their attention to the steaming plates. But Jeongguk feels like his lungs are full of water.

“Aren’t you gonna eat?” Hoseok nudges him.

He stares at the food and feels nauseous. Since when has pasta ever been appealing?

“Oh, I’m not that hungry anymore.” His response is empty and the smile he gives is wobbly at best. Underneath the table he’s wringing his fingers together.

“You should eat,” Hoseok insists with a frown.

“Okay.” Jeongguk gives in easily because he’s never been good at saying no. Removes his hands from under the table and tries to pick up the chopsticks but they’re shaking too hard and his fingers won’t coordinate with each other. He feels a sob stuck in his throat—he can’t even do this one thing right. It’s just eating. It’s just fucking eating.

“Jeongguk!” Hoseok suddenly shouts in horror. “You’re bleeding.”

“Ah…” he looks down at his fingers and oh yeah, he’s bleeding. The skin around his index, middle, and ring finger are peeled raw. Hoseok looks mortified at the bloody state of his picked skin. Even Taehyung looks somewhat concerned.

Hoseok takes a napkin and dips it into his water cup before he starts wiping the crusted maroon away. “Why would you do something like that?” he snaps. “Are you okay?”

Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be anything else but okay? He’s breathing, right? He’s here right now with Hoseok and Taehyung and everything is just fine. All he has to do is interact with the two of them like a normal human being.

“I don’t know.” He feels as if he’s floating as Hoseok continues to clean his hand up. “I don’t know,” he repeats again as if somehow it’ll give him clarity.

Taehyung doesn’t say anything, just tears his gaze away from Jeongguk’s hand and starts moving the food around on his plate with a concentrated look on his face. He doesn’t make any motions to eat, and Jeongguk’s sure that he’s the one who ruined his appetite.

“Be more careful,” Hoseok admonishes gently. Jeongguk tries to laugh. Tries to reassure Hoseok that everything is okay and that he was just having a moment. Except his brain feels all scrambled and once again, he feels the need to escape.

“I think I’m gonna go,” he says. Stands up too quickly, blood rushing to his head. “I’m not feeling too well.”  

“Oh. Okay.” Hoseok frowns, eyes cast with worry.

Taehyung’s still playing with the food on his plate and Jeongguk’s gaze lingers before he tears his gaze away and says, “let’s hang out soon hyung.”

Jeongguk shuts down after that. Hoseok says something to him but Jeongguk’s floating and there’s cotton in his ears and he’s not even in his own body. He floats out of the diner, down the street and onto the bus. He wonders what reality is when he gets like this. There’s  two sides of the same coins, except Jeongguk’s not really sure who he is anymore. Maybe it’s some weird sixth sense or maybe he’s just crazy. He’s betting the latter.

When he gets back to the apartment he toes off his shoes and moves to stand in the middle of the living room. He looks up to the too high ceiling and then back to the empty space where there could be a piano. He stares at the emptiness of the white walls. Places where pictures of family and friends should be. But the thing is, Jeongguk isn’t the type of person that people stay long enough for to create memories with.

Oh, people use him like he’s recyclable. He’s always been thrown away without a thought. A temporary band-aid ripped off right when they’ve healed. A temporary fixation, something to fill the emptiness in their hearts. But eventually it all leaks out and he’s left alone again.

Jeongguk thinks that if he were to disappear right now, no one would even notice because his parents act like he doesn’t even exist unless he’s pleasing his father, and the last friends he had had shoved him into the dirty eight years ago. Laughed when he scraped his knees. And that’s the thing, he’s so used to falling that it doesn’t even hurt anymore.  It has never been Jeongguk's secret: cracks race along the surface of his skin, marring him, making him less, and if people would look closer they would see. But if you point at something and smile enough, it ceases to be a problem.

There are no photographs. No text messages or facebook posts. Only awkward phone calls from his mom twice a month. There’s not even any evidence of being a normal college boy with idiotic friends. No jackets left behind on the couch. An empty soda can left on the island. Jeongguk hasn’t even left a dent in the world. He’s already been living as a ghost for all of these years, so would anything change if he actually became one?

It’s in that moment that it all comes surging forth and the floodgates open. The sob that he’d been holding back tears its way past his throat and it’s a house of cards that topples from there on. His legs buckle and he hits the floor, hard. The absence of love in his own home is like a slap in the face. He’s a mess of snot and tears and too much anxiety.  

It’s tiring, fighting for a world that wants nothing more than to see him fail and at this point, Jeongguk doesn’t know why he still tries. There’s a voice in the back of his head repeating the same sentence over and over again like a mantra. It’s time to let go, it says. Let go.

And a part of Jeongguk wants to argue, wants to fight, but then he thinks of the things he’s still holding onto and realizes that they’re all just monuments from the past; crumpled paper cranes and polaroids of people who have long forgotten his name. It’s pointless, warring for hope that has done nothing more than to cause him endless pain. God takes no pity on fools.

“It’s time to let go,” he whispers to the walls and they absorb his words, crush secrets in the quiet of the air. Jeongguk tries to count the people who’ll be sad when he’s gone on one hand and ends up at zero. It’s frustrating. Unfair. All he ever wanted in his life was acceptance. Acceptance from peers and his father. He just wanted to be told that he was doing well, but all he ended up with was a fist to a face and mud in his mouth.

Jeongguk threw himself at anyone who showed him affection and attention because for a moment he thought that the idea of love could silence the rest of him.  

Growing up, his mom always asked why he kept running when he was so intent on falling, and Jeongguk had believed that as long as he was the one hurting himself that it would be okay. As long as he was the one holding the shotgun to his temple he was in control. As long as he was the first one to cut the break lines no one could take anything away from him ever again. No one can point fingers if he’s the one causing his own destruction. But maybe it’s cut too deep. His life has always been a series of tragedies; misfortune after misfortune. Jeongguk had learned how to shut the world out years ago and tells his secrets only to the miniature Iron Man figurine his father had bought him when he was eight.

But then why does it hurt so much? He did this to himself, right? He’s spent years pushing people away and now he’s sad that they won’t come crawling back to him? It’s just that for once Jeongguk wanted a happiness that didn’t taste of blood.

Yes, he has lived as a ghost and this body of his he has carried around like a dead flower during winter. He thinks of all the nights he’s spent curled around the toilet bowl in cold sweat, panic attack gripping him like a vice and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting—tearing himself out of bed every morning, eating three meals a day, going to school to study for a future he doesn’t have—it’s exhausting. Jeongguk’s body is a dead corpse in winter, begging for him to let go and put it out of its misery.   

But he thinks about how he has a lifetime of regrets. A lifetime of abuse and self punishment, and now he has the chance to make things up to Taehyung at the very least. He has the chance to sit the older boy down and finally tell him the truth. Taehyung who is beautiful and bright and still hurt. Jeongguk has to at least fix things with him before he goes. He doesn’t think he could die peacefully knowing that Taehyung still has too many questions for him left unanswered. And Jeongguk can see it in the way that Taehyung looks at him that he wants to ask. Why did you do it? Why did you hate me so much? Did it feel good to watch me fall apart? He isn’t expecting forgiveness, but he wants Taehyung to at least know he’s not the same person he used to be, or at least he’s trying not to be. Can’t he at least have that?

Jeongguk wills himself to move, crawls towards the coffee table to pick up his Iron Man figurine that he had left there earlier and holds it close. Holds it like it’s the only thing anchoring him to the earth. “Give me till the end of the year,” he whispers to Iron Man. “Just give me some time. I’ll be gone by New Years, I promise. Just give me some time, please.”

He feels empty now. All cried out with snot dripping from his nose, lashes wet and eyes stinging. He feels a little at peace now that he knows that he has a goal. It’s okay if Taehyung still resents him even after death, but at the very least he owes him the truth. It’d be selfish to leave otherwise.

Holding Iron Man to his chest, Jeongguk strokes absentmindedly at the plastic. “I wonder who’s gonna take care of you when I’m gone.” Hoseok seems like a good candidate, maybe he’ll write him a letter.

He smiles bitterly. Tries to laugh but it sounds like a painful wheeze instead. He lays down on the floor, still holding onto the figurine and closes his eyes. He’s dizzy and his mind is a fog but he feels calm. Before darkness overtakes him, Jeongguk briefly wonders what the new year will look like without him. Will he see the fireworks before he goes? Will anyone even miss him? 

A small part of him hopes that at the very least, someone will.


 



When Jeongguk wakes up the next day, he's still on the floor clutching Iron Man to his chest. The sunlight filters through the blinds and eats away at his eyelids. Everything hurts. His throat feels awfully dry as if he’s been parched for days, and every muscle in his body aches. Maybe sleeping on the floor was a bad idea.

Opening his puffy eyes is a struggle. He still feels floaty. Disconnected. It's like now that Jeongguk has a clear sense of purpose and knows his expiration date all of the fight has left his body. He’s living on a countdown now and everything seems pointless. He looks at the clock, sees that there's still an hour till class starts and doesn't eat breakfast. He does take a shower though. Stares at the soapy bubbles long after they've swirled down the drain and disappeared. Wonders why he can't just disappear like that too. At least he doesn't cry again.

Jeongguk knows that he has a lot of anxiety, but it's been years since he's been stuck in this headspace of not really being present in his body. He goes through the motions of getting ready. Pulls his pants up and he’s reaching for a t-shirt, but then he blinks and things get a little distorted. The next thing  he knows, he’s in history class taking notes he can't decipher. He stares at what he’s scribbled into his notebook but none of the letters are intelligible. In his freshman seminar he's pretty sure that his professor asks him if he's okay, but Jeongguk can't really hear anything. In this universe it’s quiet, only the faint hum of static and muffled voices. His bones feel like the hollow insides of a can. It's the kind of emptiness that faintly aches in his chest but he pushes it down, down, down.

From here on, the days pass like snapshots. He tries to keep track, he really does but he can’t find himself to care. Can’t find the will to try and get out of this headspace where he feels like a stranger looking in. Before he knows it, he’s waking up on the couch and once again the morning sunlight is filtering its way through, but he doesn’t even remember it ever being night. It’s eight in the morning and he should be a little bit freaked out by the gaps in his memory, except he’s just so terribly tired.

What day is it? Monday? No, Tuesday? Are they still in September? Jeongguk shakes his head but it does nothing except make him dizzy. He’s sure of nothing except for the fact that right now he is a living, breathing human being. Or at least he thinks he is. Lately, he’s even begun to doubt his own identity.

The weather isn’t as harsh today and when Jeongguk finds himself sitting underneath a tree in the campus courtyard, back pressed against the roughness of the bark, he merely tips his head back and closes his eyes. Who cares what’s real and what isn’t. He likes whatever this is because if his brain can’t focus on anything he has no worries. Not caring is nice. Forgetting is nice.

“Where have you been?” the voice, sudden and severe is what finally breaks the spell.

Jeongguk opens his eyes, finds Taehyung standing over him with his arms crossed over his chest. His expression is tight and he looks annoyed, eyebrows knit together and lips downturned. He’s pretty, with his back to the sun enveloping him in a soft glow—he’s pretty.

Jeongguk stares up in confusion as he struggles to fight his way through the haze. “Um, around?” He’s a bit concerned as to why Taehyung out of all people is asking about his whereabouts. Maybe he’s here to finally give Jeongguk a piece of his mind.

“Hoseok has been worried sick,” he says tersely.

“It’s been like two days.”

Taehyung scoffs in disbelief. “I don’t know what game you’re trying to play but it’s been over a week.  Hoseok said your phone’s been turned off and you stopped coming to class. He’s always running around campus trying to find you. Fuckin’ cried ‘cos he thinks that he did something wrong.” He pauses. And then bitterly, “you seem to have that effect on people.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk mutters. It’s been a week? Where did all of the days go? He hadn’t meant to let himself slip that far, it’s just that he doesn’t always know how to stop it. Sometimes the numbness feels too much like a home and he soaks it all in. But now the sickness is starting to creep back in again. Starts in the pit of his stomach because the way Taehyung looks at him always makes him feel like he’s doing something wrong. Like his very existence is a bother. It’s yet another reminder of why he needs to let go.

“I’m sorry.” He swallows. Wonders if Taehyung knows what he’s apologizing for. If he can hear the double meaning behind the apology. “I’ve just been dealing with some things. I’m sorry,” he repeats.

Taehyung scoffs in disbelief. “Sure,” he mutters and Jeongguk knows what it means. The way his frown deepens and he looks at Jeongguk with such scepticism. How can someone like you have problems? How can someone who walks on money, who wears eight-hundred-dollar shoes and owns three rolexes know pain? If wealth could replace the emptiness, Jeongguk would have stuffed himself full with money by now.

“I really don’t remember anything from the past week.” He doesn’t know why he’s saying any of this. Maybe he just wants Taehyung to see him as a person for once. Hates that he’s always just been the perfect villain in the other boy’s eyes. “I don’t even know what day it is or how I got here. It’s just been crazy y’know? I—” It all feels too overwhelming and the cracks are beginning to form. Days spent being nothing but numb and burying his emotions six feet under starts to catch up with him and it’s too much for him to deal with right now.

He wants to return to the floatiness because anything is better than this. Anything is better than feeling anything.

“Are you drunk?”

The question works like a punch in the gut and Jeongguk feels his cheeks grow warm. Promptly stares sat the grass and begins to tear at it with anxious fingers. Of course he had just made a fool of himself in front of Taehyung. Did he expect for Taehyung to believe him in the first place?

“N-no,” he stutters out in mortification. “I’m not drunk. I’m—I just—”

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Jeongguk is so stupid.

He tries to calm himself. Tries to silence all of the bad screaming inside of his head, but when Taehyung’s around Jeongguk has almost no control over his emotions. He’s crumbling under a tree in front of Taehyung and he doesn’t know what else to do but apologize. “I’m sorry,” he repeats for the hundredth time, shoulders sagging in defeat. He risks sparing a glance up at Taehyung and finds that the other boy refuses to look at him.

“Stop apologizing,” Taehyung chides. Squints off into the distance as if he’s seen something interesting. “Just text Hoseok, okay?”

It’s the only thing he’s ever been good at. Apology after apology after apology. When he was fifteen and Minsoo from his english class had punched him in the mouth for looking at him the wrong way, Jeongguk had apologized profusely and Minsoo had laughed in his face. He was pathetic then and he still is now.

He reaches into his pocket only to realize that the presence of his phone is absent. “Oh, um...I think I lost my phone actually.”

Taehyung lets out a long, drawn out sigh as if he can’t fathom the ridiculousness of this situation. He mutters something incoherently under his breath before he retrieves his own phone. He presses the device up to his ear and taps his foot impatiently when it rings for too long.

“Hyung? I found Jeongguk. Yeah. He’s right here with me. You wanna talk to him? Okay.” He then hands the phone to Jeongguk and says, “Hoseok hyung wants to talk to you.”

Jeongguk takes it with hesitant, unsteady hands. Heart beating loudly, he breathes down the line for a moment too long before he lets out a weak, “hey hyung.”

“Jeon fucking Jeongguk!” Hoseok shouts. “I swear to god if you don’t stop disappearing on me…”

“Sorry,” Jeongguk mumbles shyly.

Hoseok huffs. “Do I need to buy one of those ankle bracelets just so that I know your every move?”

“No, hyung.”

“Do I need to move in with you?”

“Of course not, hyung.”

“Then please Jeongguk, tell me what I can do to help you.” It all comes out sounding pained and helpless.

Jeongguk’s about to say that he’s fine, but this time he pauses. He’s never met someone who was willing to help him before and Hoseok’s words are jarring. They give him whiplash and he doesn’t know how to respond. A part of him wants to say you can’t help me. No one can. But instead he finds himself feeling weak and little bit needy.

“I really could use a hug.” He blushes when he says it. Taehyung, who had retreated a few steps, begins to kick at the ground. He looks uncomfortable, as if he feels like he’s intruding on something too personal. Something that he wasn’t supposed to see. A fragile side of Jeongguk that he wasn’t prepared for.

Hoseok laughs. “I’ll text you the address to my place and you can come over. Do you like ice cream?”

Jeongguk nods even though he can’t see it. “I love chocolate.”

“I’m already on it.” There’s rustling as if he’s getting out of bed and Jeongguk feels a bit guilty. “Just gimme forty minutes or so. I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

“Yeah.” I’ll see you soon.” Already, Jeongguk feels less like he’s drowning. Hoseok always seems to have that soothing effect on him. “Thank you, hyung.”

“I’m your friend and I care, there’s no need to thank me,” Hoseok says rather seriously.

At this, something inside of Jeongguk trembles. He hasn’t had a friend in eight years and as terrifying as it is, for some reason his soul hums and the idea that maybe someone does kind of care—even if it’s temporary and shallow. In some aspects, he’s wanted. He tries to remember to watch himself, to not get too close. Doesn’t want to reopen his wounds over something temporary. And as sweet as Hoseok is, even honey starts to taste bitter when you drown in it.   

“Thanks.” Jeongguk stands up, hands Taehyung his phone back and the two of them are stuck in a silence so long that he’s sure it could break his ribs.

They stare at each other and Jeongguk is trying to read Taehyung but Taehyung is also trying to read him and they’re stuck in a stalemate wondering who’s going to take the first shot.

Taehyung is the first to break. “I don’t know what Hoseok sees in you but he really cares.”

Jeongguk gulps. “Yeah?”

“He thinks of you as a really close friend.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know why he cares.”

“Yeah.”

Taehyung presses his lips together and when Jeongguk looks down he can see that he’s balled his fists. “Aren’t you gonna say anything else?”

Jeongguk sighs. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Taehyung. You want me to admit that I’m a shitty person? Because I am. I know.”

He doesn’t have the energy to give Taehyung what he wants right now. There are too many messy truths bubbling inside of him and he almost tells Taehyung what it’s like to fall for the intangible; how he wanted to intertwine their fingers together eight years ago and he wants to feel his touch still. How the first time he’d kissed a boy he’d thought of Taehyung and he doesn’t know why he can’t let go. He’s a boy and so is Taehyung and they shouldn’t even kiss under the cover of night, and the space between them shrinks.

Jeongguk almost loses it. But he’s too exhausted for emotions right now. Too tired to fight.

Taehyung seems a little taken aback. Sets his jaw and squares his shoulders as if he’s preparing for a fight, but he doesn’t need to because Jeongguk had shriveled up long ago.

“Just don’t hurt him,” is all he says before he turns around and walks away.


 


An hour later Jeongguk’s sat on Hoseok’s couch swathed in blankets. Hoseok had put on the Avengers because he knows how much Jeongguk adores marvel movies. He brings out chocolate ice cream and popcorn. Halfway through the movie, Jeongguk lays his head in Hoseok’s lap and Hoseok plays with his hair. Runs his fingers through the brown strands and massages his scalp, and just for this moment the chaos in him goes quiet. It’s strange, being taken care of like this but Jeongguk can’t say that he hates it.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Hoseok asks gently. He’s trying to reach out and get Jeongguk to open up again, but he instantly recoils. His guard immediately going up.

“No,” he responds curtly.

“I’m just really worried about you, Guk. I care, y’know?” Hoseok sounds just as helpless as he did over the phone and Jeongguk almost apologizes again. Almost clams right back up, but this time he’s trying to squeeze what little honesty he can out before the door completely closes.

He takes a deep breath, a shuddering sound, and when he exhales he tries to let a little of the truth out. “It makes me feel like I can’t breathe.”

“What does?”

“When you act like you care, I can’t breathe.”

The fingers rubbing at his scalp pause and even though his eyes are glued to the T.V., he knows that Hoseok is frowning.

“I don’t act like I care. I just do.”

“You don’t know me,” Jeongguk mumbles. “You don’t know the first thing about me.”

“That’s because you won’t let me know you.” Hoseok raises his voice slightly and he sounds frustrated. Jeongguk feels awful because he knows that Hoseok is trying harder than anyone else, even himself.

“I’m scared.” He admits feebly. “I don’t want you to hate me, hyung.”

“I could never hate you.” Hoseok’s words are severe and Jeongguk bites the inside of his cheek. Hoseok’s a good guy and Jeongguk wishes that he wasn’t. It would make it so much easier for the both of them.

“I’ve hurt people,” he argues weakly.

“So have I.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “Not like me. I destroyed someone’s life a long time ago and I hate myself for it. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Is that why you’re sad?” Hoseok asks quietly. “Because we’ve all made mistakes, Jeongguk. We fuck up and we aren’t always given a chance to fix things and that’s just life. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“I’m not sad,” he lies and neither of them believe it. “I just do bad things because what’s the point? We’re all going to die anyways, right?” Jeongguk does bad things and then wonders where all of these bad things come from.

He finds himself wondering how he’s supposed to live in a world like this—becoming a host of insecurities that he never even wanted. How is he supposed to live like this? In a universe that has its own stoic sense of judgment and remains unwaveringly critical. The truth is that he can’t and he’s forgotten what it’s like to look up and see the vastness of the blue sky or how brightly the stars shine at night. The world is awful and terrifying, and he isn’t strong enough to stay. He’s not strong enough to welcome the day with a bright smile the way Hoseok does. Maybe he will be in another lifetime.

Lately, Jeongguk only stares at the ground. At the soles of his feet. At his hands, and the inky black of his insides. What is he supposed to do with himself when he’s barely holding on?

Before Hoseok can make another worried remark at his morbid words, he says, “you’ll have to let go of me someday—soon.” This is the moment where the door slams shut and Jeongguk clams up again. Doesn’t let anything else leak out.

“Why?” Hoseok asks tightly. “Why do I have to do that? Are you going somewhere?”

Jeongguk maneuvers so that he’s lying on his back and looks up at Hoseok. “I’m moving back home after New Years,” he lies. Tries a smile but he feels sick talking about it.

“Oh.” Hoseok looks a bit miffed but seems to relax. “Well we can still keep in contact, okay? I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too hyung,” he responds weakly. “I’ll miss you a lot.”

He turns back to the movie and they finish the rest of it in comfortable silence.

























































































































 

Chapter Text

The next few days pass without incident. Hoseok begins to glue himself to Jeongguk’s side and while it’s jarring and a bit hard for him to adjust to because he hasn’t had a friend in years, it helps him feel grounded. He hasn’t felt floaty ever since Taehyung had found him underneath the tree and it’s a relief, really. Makes him feel a little more normal. Makes him feel like maybe, just maybe Hoseok can be someone who stays just a little longer.

Hoseok memorizes Jeongguk’s schedule like the back of his hand. He buys coffee for the both of them in the morning even if Jeongguk always insists on paying. On the days they don’t have physics together Jeongguk always finds Hoseok waiting outside of his last class with a smile on his face and Jeongguk doesn’t get it—doesn’t get how anyone can be so eager to see someone like him everyday.

“Are you feeling okay?” Hoseok will always ask everyday. It’s such a simple question that appears innocent from an outsider’s perspective, except Jeongguk is someone who has forgotten what being okay actually is. For once he tried for honesty and said, “I don’t know hyung.”

“Let’s try numbers,” Hoseok suggested. There was always a certain gentleness in his eyes that Jeongguk could never understand. And so they make a system; one being over the moon with happiness. Nine being he’s ready to jump off a bridge any moment. Tens are saved for funerals. Today he’s a solid five and a half. Like, he’s not going to jump in front of a car but if he got hit he wouldn’t necessarily care. Today he feels more okay.

It’s five in the afternoon and they’re eating pancakes at iHOP because apparently Hoseok had been desperately craving them all week. Jeongguk on the other hand often forgets to eat and unless he’s around his friend he rarely does.

“I feel like Tae’s been avoiding me,” Hoseok says as he angrily shoves a spoonful of syrup covered blueberries into his mouth.

“I haven’t seen him around in a while,” Jeongguk mutters. Nibbles on a piece of pancake. He leaves out the part where he doesn’t exactly want to be around Taehyung in the first place and he’s sure that the other feels the same way.

Hoseok shrugs. “Yeah, I dunno. He’s been distant ever since I started hanging out with you more, which is weird because Tae really isn’t the jealous type.” He hesitates as if he’s not sure if he should say anything. “I know you guys said that you’re just old classmates but are you sure that’s just it? I don’t think he likes you much.”

Hoseok’s words sting more than they should, which is ridiculous because Jeongguk already knows that Taehyung hates his guts but still, it hurts to hear.

Jeongguk tries to play it cool and not let it show. “Yeah we never talked to each other much and I haven’t seen him in eight years so I’m not sure what his deal is.” Lying to the only friend he has doesn’t exactly feel nice.

“Maybe he has a huge crush on you and is just playing the tsundere roll,” Hoseok adds on with a laugh after noticing the way Jeongguk tenses up, lips drawn into a thin line. “Taehyung is a real sweetheart who makes friends with basically everyone, so it’s just a bit jarring to see him act this way towards you.”

“And what about Jimin?” Jeongguk asks in an attempt to steer the conversation in another direction that doesn’t involve the boy whose haunted him for years. Hoseok looks uncomfortable and Jeongguk wishes that he’d never asked in the first place.

“Oh...um, Jimin?” Hoseok clears his throat awkwardly.

“He hates me too, doesn’t he?” Jeongguk mutters with a bitter smile. Sets the fork down because he suddenly doesn’t feel hungry anymore. It’s stupid and he doesn’t know why he cares since he’d only met Jimin once, but he does anyways. He hasn’t cared about anything or anyone in forever. Spent years forgetting people until familiar faces became a blur and he doesn’t remember the last time he looked at someone and really saw them, but he sees Hoseok, and he sees Jimin, and Taehyung. He hates it. Wishes that he could go back to a time when Hoseok was just another faceless classmate and not his partner for a project. Jeongguk thinks about how different things could be right now if they hadn’t been paired together. If Hoseok hadn’t been late and if Jeongguk hadn’t been such a loner. He wouldn’t have met Taehyung again, that’s for sure.

“Jimin’s just a drama queen.” Hoseok rolls his eyes. “He’s been Tae’s best friend for years so he can be a bit overprotective. Don’t worry about him.”

But the thing is, Jeongguk can’t help it. Tightly holds onto Hoseok’s words and turns it over in his head again, and again. He’s never been good at letting go of things.

“He hates me doesn’t he?”

“Hate’s a strong word.”

“It’s okay, I hate myself too.” Jeongguk shrugs like it doesn’t really bother him, but it seems to work like a slap in the face for Hoseok, who’s already opening his mouth to go off on another one of his dad lectures. “I’m kidding,” Jeongguk adds on quickly. “Today is a five and a half remember?” But he doesn’t tell Hoseok that he’s steadily been climbing up to a six. Instead, he forces a smile because the last thing he wants is to be even more of a burden to his friend than he already is.

It’s enough to appease Hoseok’s worry, but he still looks slightly put off by the comment. “I wish you’d be kinder to yourself, Guk.”

“I’ll work on it,” Jeongguk replies without much promise. Knows that people like him don’t deserve kindness. New Years seems too far away for him. How morbid is it to be anticipating such a shitty thing? But the thing is, Jeongguk has forgotten what it’s like to look up. He’s forgotten how to get back up on his feet and dust off his knees. It’s like he has to relearn how to be a person. It’s hard to pretend to be whole when he can hear his insides breaking. He should practice harder.



It’s been weeks since Jeongguk has seen Jimin, nor does he really expect to see the boy ever again. There wasn’t any particular reason for them to meet anyways. So when Jeongguk runs into Jimin in the most unlikely of places, he’s sure that this is a sign that the world hates him.

It’s past midnight when he decides that it’s a good idea to visit the neighborhood Seven Eleven for some banana milk. He’s been running low and in desperate need for a restock. He barely spares the cashier a glance, just dumps a dozen small cartons of banana milk onto the counter knowing very well that he’s probably being judged. But Jeongguk doesn’t necessarily care right now because he’s had a particularly rough night.

After sitting in the library for five hours he’d returned to his apartment dead on his feet and had only been able to get a solid hour of sleep before jolting awake from a nightmare, drenched in sweat. In his confused and terrified state, it had given him a full blown panic attack. He couldn’t remember what he dreamt of, but the fear had him hunched over the toilet for a solid ten minutes.

Jeongguk knows that he must look sweaty and gross and absolutely exhausted, because that’s exactly what he feels like and he’s been sporting a headache ever since he’d woken up, but right now he just wants to drink his milk and cry over sad youtube videos. He doesn’t feel floaty like he usually does after an episode, just groggy and heavy as if he’s dragging weights around and he hates it when he gets like this because there’s no escape from his shitfest of a life. It all becomes too real. Too personal.

“Didn’t realize you were such a banana milk fanatic,” a familiar voice drawls and his attention immediately snaps to the cashier.

“Oh.” Jeongguk swallows. Recognizes the soft pink hair and pouty, full lips. His heart immediately drops to his stomach. “It’s you.”

“It’s me,” Jimin replies dryly.

They’re both silent for a long, awkward moment. Jimin glaring at Jeongguk and Jeongguk glaring at the counter because he doesn’t have the nerve to look the other boy in the eyes, neither of them willing to be the first one to break.

All Jeongguk wanted was his damn banana milk.

“I didn’t know you worked here,” he finally wills himself to say.

“I just started last week,” Jimin replies stiffly and Jeongguk doesn’t look up, just stares at Jimin’s hands that are smaller than his own. “College is expensive and not all of us are spoilt rich kids with parents to pay for our shit.”

Jeongguk is sure that it’s a shady indirect at him and frowns.

“Do you like it?” he asks in an attempt to maintain the peace because he’s a coward who’s awful at confrontation.

“Are you asking me if I like working at a shitty corner store this late on a weekday when I have class at seven a.m?”

Jeongguk immediately flushes, suddenly feeling like an idiot. Why did he have to open his mouth in the first place? “N-no—I mean, yeah? I’m sorry.”

Jimin shrugs as he begins scanning the milks. “I mean, I guess it’s alright.”

They both return to silence after that. The only sound being the humming of the refrigeration units and the beep of the scanner. Jeongguk’s skin itches and he knows that it would be easier just to leave Jimin be and go back to hiding in his apartment. But then he thinks of Hoseok and how sad he had seemed when he mentioned that his friends were avoiding him and Jeongguk knows that it’s his fault and he doesn’t want Hoseok to lose his friends because of him. He doesn’t think that he could ever forgive himself for that.

“Hoseok misses you guys.” He says it with such quiet uncertainty that he’s not sure if Jimin hears it. But then the beep of the scanner stops and Jeongguk looks up to see Jimin all tensed up, a less than friendly smile plastered onto his face. It’s almost vicious.

“Then he should hang out with us more.”

And Jeongguk knows that he should stop here because it’s none of his business and opening his mouth has only ever gotten him into trouble. But the thing is, Hoseok does so much for him and all he ever does is take and take. For once, he wants to be of use to someone.

“He says you guys have been avoiding him,” he pushes.

“I wonder why,” Jimin drawls dryly. Stares right at him. The hostility towards Jeongguk is as clear as day and he finds himself having to take a step back from the counter. He knows that he’s messed up and awful and that his insides are rotten, but Jimin’s blatant hatred is like a punch in the gut. It’s almost unbearable and instead of looking at a twenty-something-year-old boy, Jeongguk feels like he’s staring into the eyes of a disappointed father again.

“I’ll go away,” Jeongguk blurts. “I-If it means that Hoseok hyung gets to see you guys I’ll disappear.” He’s wringing his fingers together, picking nervously at the skin around his nail again. “I d-don’t want anyone to be sad because of me.” His voice trembles and he tries to swallow the lump in his throat.

“Isn’t it a bit too late for that?” Jimin snaps and Jeongguk instantly recoils as if he’s been burned.

He tries to act like it doesn’t affect him, he really does. But then he’s shaking and his eyes sting and there’s something squeezing his chest and it hurts. It hurts.

“I’m trying.”

Jimin slams a milk down. Exhales an angry breath. “Then try harder.”

Jeongguk looks down at the cartons, bottom lip trembling and vision blurring. “I-I’m sorry,” he says and his voice sounds so awful—terribly thick with emotion that he finds himself feeling further humiliated than before.

He almost says, I wish I was never born, but doesn’t because he’s sure that Jimin wishes that he didn’t exist either. Wishes that Jeongguk’s bones would dwindle into space dust; his fingers will shrink into his arms, his arms shrink into his chest and he’ll keep growing smaller until he condenses like a wormhole. Being alive is hard when no one wants you around. Being alive is hard for people like him. Jimin tells him to try harder but he doesn’t know that Jeongguk’s already racing to the finish line.

It’s dizzying. The scrutiny. The disgust. The way Jimin clenches his jaw. It’s like he sees Jeongguk as the terrible person that he truly is and it’s like a confirmation—reassurance to remind him of why he loathes his own existence so much. But it’s anything but gentle and more like black waves pulling him under. Like hitting the brakes too hard without a seatbelt on.

“I h-have to go,” Jeongguk manages to choke out, a sob nearly tearing its way from the back of his throat. The idea of going to a Seven Eleven this late for some milk seems like a stupid idea now and Jeongguk is sure that if he wishes hard enough he’ll return to dust.

He takes a shaky step back. And then another. Tries to exhale out his nose but it doesn’t come out right.

“Wait.” Jimin looks alarmed. Reaches out a hand even though Jeongguk’s too far away. “I didn’t mean to—”

“No, it’s okay. You’re right. You’re completely right and I’ll just—I’ll just—” he knows that he must sound border hysterical now but he doesn’t know how to quell the storm inside of him.

“Jeongguk…”

But he doesn’t want to hear anymore of it. Doesn’t want to hear Jimin shit on him more than he already does to himself. He turns around and races out the door before the other can say another word.

He doesn’t know why he runs but he does. He runs down the steep hill, not even on the sidewalk but the middle of the road. The sound of his shoes against the pavement. His heart beating in his ears. Breathing erratic, blood rushing—it echoes too loudly and when he reaches the end of the street he stops, looks up at the sky. At the stars, the moon, the blackness of it all. He doesn’t know what he’s even running from anymore.

He thinks of the summer he turned thirteen. It had been the first time that he’d truly ever been alone. His friends were all away for vacation. Mingyu’s mom had always brought them to their family lakehouse the first week of the summer, except that time Jeongguk received no invitation. All he had gotten from his friends was radio silence.

He remembers seeing a broken bottle on the sunset lit pavement. How he had stopped and stared at it and even though it was beautiful, it was still broken. There was no glue it back together. No pretend it’s whole again. Jeongguk thinks that maybe it learned its lesson, lying there broken on the pavement, and he thinks maybe he learned with it. He remembered the friends he had lost. Friends who blamed him for what had happened to Taehyung and laughed behind his back. He had been running when he’d seen the broken bottle. And as he kicked it down the street, he had thought, do goodbyes always have to be this hard? And they still are. They still are.



It’s been a few days since the incident at the store and Jeongguk had vowed to never go there again. Even when his stomach growls with protest, he either ignores it or goes to the CVS a few neighborhoods over, even if it’s further away. He’s been lucky enough to avoid running into Jimin on and off of campus, but the other boy’s words stick to his lungs like gum and Jeongguk can’t stop thinking about that night. He tries to act unbothered though, more for Hoseok’s sake than anything else, even if the guilt that he feels for being the reason why Hoseok’s friends have drifted from him is incredibly overwhelming at times.

Jeongguk tells himself that he’ll end their friendship. Tells himself that it’s not a big deal because he’s never known permanency anyways. He’s never known how to make anyone stay. Hoseok is too good and bright for someone like him anyways. But every time he tries to summon the courage to basically break up with Hoseok, the other is smiling at him, all sunshine and kindness and Jeongguk can’t bring himself to do it—even if it is selfish.

His last class has just ended when his phone vibrates with a text from Hoseok asking if they can meet up at Starbucks for some coffee and he says yes because it’s not like anyone else is trying to hang out with him.

When Jeongguk arrives at the cafe and spots Hoseok, he lifts a hand to wave, but freezes mid way when he realizes that not only is Hoseok not alone, but he’s pretty sure that the person with his back facing towards him and pink hair is undoubtedly Park fucking Jimin. He’s about to turn and run right back out the door, but it’s way too late because Hoseok has already spotted him and is calling him over. Taking a deep breath, Jeongguk plasters on the fakest smile as he approaches the pair.

He’s not sure as to why Hoseok always does this shit to him.

“Hi hyung,” he greets. Completely ignores Jimin and doesn’t even look his way. He’s totally not bitter about his banana milk (all he wanted was some damn banana milk).

“Hey!” Hoseok shouts brightly as if he isn’t completely aware of the fact that Jimin hates Jeongguk’s very existence.

Jimin gives him a weak smile. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Jeongguk just blinks, squints suspiciously because holy shit, did Jimin just speak to him in a non-condescending way for once without any underlying shade?

“Um, hi.” His reply is stiff. Refuses to make any eye contact.

“Jimin asked if he could join us. I hope you don’t mind,” Hoseok tells him.

Jeongguk’s jaw nearly drops in shock because in what universe would Jimin willingly want to be in the same vicinity as Jeongguk without looking as if he wanted to strangle him?

He shrugs nonchalantly. Tries to seem like he could care less and says in the most casual way he can muster, “it’s fine.” Except it’s not and he’s still incredibly butthurt about the fact that Jimin had made him cry in the middle of the night. Immediately his guard is up and he’s sure that the other is only here to berate him even more. He doesn’t even know if he can handle it. Honestly, he’s just exhausted. Like, Jeongguk already knows that he’s a piece of shit and he doesn’t need another person to rub it into his face.

He has no other choice but to sit right across from Jimin and he thinks it’s rather deliberate how Hoseok hadn’t taken that seat. Almost as if this entire meeting has been planned and he panics a bit because what if Hoseok knows?

The entire time Jeongguk is silent. Looks anywhere but at Jimin, and pretends to busy himself with scrolling through Twitter, except he doesn’t have any followers or online friends to even interact with. The tension is palpable, only eased by Hoseok’s zealous rambling.

“Jimin’s a dance major,” Hoseok tells Jeongguk as if he actually cares. Even though it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to participate in the conversation. “He’s actually fucking amazing. The best dancer in class and all.”

Jimin blushes slightly. “That’s you Hoseokie hyung.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hoseok holds his hand to his chest in mock offense. “You’re fucking magical when you dance. Wish I had learned contemporary when I was younger.”

They go back and forth like this for awhile; Hoseok grinning and Jimin batting his lashes and pouting like a highschool girl. Jeongguk’s right eye twitches in annoyance because honestly, he could give less of a shit about Park Jimin and his stupid dancing. At this point he’s not even sure why he was even invited in the first place. Hoseok had called Jimin his close friend but the way they act around each other is more than just friendly.

“I’ll go get our drinks,” Hoseok announces and Jeongguk is ready to jump up and offer to get them instead because he can’t take another painful moment sitting directly across from Jimin anymore, but Hoseok fixes him with a firm and knowing look that says you better stay put before he stands up. “You guys want your usuals?” he asks and they both nod their heads. Jeongguk thinks that it’s kind of funny how even though the older boy doesn’t know him at all, he remembers what kind of coffee Jeongguk likes.

He never thought it was possible until this very moment, but he really hates Hoseok right now. He’s not even subtle about the fact that he’s purposefully leaving the two of them alone and Jeongguk would rather blip out of existence than to be left alone with Park Jimin. No, he’d rather cut off his right foot than to be subjugated to this.

Commence the awkward silence. Jeongguk immediately pulls his phone back out and pretends like he’s texting someone, even though he literally only has four people in his contacts (two of them being his parents) but it’s better than acknowledging the other boy. Honestly, this whole situation is making him feel rather anxious and he wants nothing more than to go back home and hide in his room for five years.

But times running out. Times running out and he’s honestly so tired of hiding but it’s like every time he tries to find his voice he remembers being locked in dark closets and his father’s angry, muffled voice. He remembers being hidden away from the world. A disgrace. So when he tries to say something to Jimin, anything, nothing comes out. Maybe it’s ptsd or maybe he’s just a coward. Although he’s betting on the latter.

Jimin clears his throat awkwardly and Jeongguk jumps at the sound. “So…” he gnaws on his bottom lip and Jeongguk stares even harder at his screen. Pretends he didn’t hear anything. Maybe he should get back into Candy Crush.

“Are you really just gonna ignore me, dude?” Jimin mutters harshly. At this, Jeongguk’s head snaps up, mouth pressed into a firm line and eyes wide.

“Sorry?”

But isn’t it better to just ignore each other? Like maybe the problem will cease to be a problem if they both ignore it hard enough and Jeongguk doesn’t know how to handle confrontation. Knows that the moment Jimin goes off he’ll be reduced to a mess of snot and tears. You think he’d learn how to handle cruelty better with how much he’s endured throughout the years, but he’s weak. Too weak.

Jimin shifts in his seat. Looks incredibly uncomfortable and Jeongguk thinks that it’s the first time he’s ever seen him look so out of his element. There’s always been an air of surety and confidence around Jimin, but right now, he looks more unsure of himself than ever and it scares Jeongguk.

“Listen,” he starts. Lets out a long sigh and runs his fingers through his hair. Jeongguk holds his breath because he’s pretty sure that this is the moment where Jimin tears him apart. He can’t do this. He can’t. He can’t. He can’t.

“I’m sorry!” he blurts out. Feels himself starting to shake already. “I know I said that I’d fuck off, but Hoseok is the o-only friend I have and I don’t want to go back to being completely alone again. I know it’s selfish of me, but I’ll be gone by the end of the semester. So please let me be his friend just for a few more months. I’m so sorry. I’m—”

“Woah there,” Jimin cuts off his hysteric tangent rather gently. “Calm down. I’m not here to yell at you or tell you to fuck off, okay? I’m not shitty enough to police my friends like that.”

Jeongguk’s eyes water and he bites his bottom lip. “You’re not?”

Jimin looks incredibly guilty. “I’m really not. Promise.”

Jeongguk relaxes ever so slightly. Chews on the inside of his cheek until the faintest taste of metallic hits his tongue. He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Then why are you here?”

Jimin hesitates and then slowly, “because I’m the one who should be apologizing right now.”

“Wait what?” he furrows his eyebrows. “Why would you…?”

“Because I’ve been a fucking asshole,” Jimin says. His expression twisted into one of shame. “I shouldn’t have said what I said to you. It was completely out of line.”

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk replies almost instantaneously because even if it isn’t okay, he’s used to this and most of all, he deserves it. “You were just trying to protect your friend. You don’t—”

“No.” Jimin holds up his palm and Jeongguk immediately goes quiet. “Please don’t make excuses for me. I already feel shitty enough about it as it is and you don’t deserve to be treated as awfully as I’ve been treating you.”

Jeongguk looks down at the table. Tries to make sense of the confusion and chaos going on inside of his head because holy shit, Jimin is actually apologizing to him. “But you were right,” he whispers. “I’ve hurt people.”

It’s all he’s ever known how to do, really. He’d tortured Taehyung to the point where he had to transfer schools, made his mom cry more times than he can count, and disappointed his father to the point where he didn’t even want to look at his own sons face anymore.

“People make mistakes and I have no right to hate you for something that happened years ago,” Jimin says rather earnestly. “I heard from Hoseok that you’ve been going through a really rough time, and I shouldn’t act like a bitch over a situation that doesn’t even involve me.”

But the thing is, he’s good at repeating mistake, after mistake, after mistake. And still, he never learns. He’s still the same immature twelve-year-old boy that destroyed someone else’s childhood.

“Oh.” Jeongguk is rendered rather speechless by Jimin’s proclamation. “I’m still sorry though.”

Jimin appears baffled. “Why are you still apologizing?”

“I dunno...I think that I’m just so used to being in the wrong, it’s all I know how to do,” he admits with a flush. Because even now, he’s still blaming himself.

“Don’t apologize to me,” Jimin says firmly. “Don’t blame yourself for things you don’t have to be sorry for, Jeongguk.”

“I’ll try,” is all he can say because he knows that he’ll always be like this; apologetic with no sense of self-esteem. He’d lost himself long ago between bruises and ugly portraits painted onto his skin. He lost it from the moment he’d had his very first panic attack. Between doctor visits and pills. Arguments between his parents, his father screaming about how he wasn’t normal. The animosity he could feel even from his room.

“He’s still our son!” his mom had sobbed.

“That fag is no son of mine.”

Jeongguk only knows how to take someone’s happiness and rip it right out. He’ll always be sorry. Sorry towards Taehyung—towards the world for being born. Towards his parents who kicked him out the moment he turned eighteen because he was creating too many problems with their marriage. At least they pay for his tuition, right? He’s always sorry. Holds apologies at his fingertips, right where the nail meets the skin.

“I brought you something.” Jimin reaches for his backpack on the chair next to him and rummages around in it before he procures a small, yellow carton and sets it in front of Jeongguk.  

“Is that banana milk?”

“It’s banana milk.”

“You brought banana milk to a coffee shop?”

Jimin huffs, mildly miffed. Scrunches up his nose slightly. “Well, you kind of just stormed off without them so I thought that this was the least I could do for you.”

“Thank you,” Jeongguk whispers. Starts to feel himself getting a little choked up.

Jimin brought him banana milk.

“No problem.” Jimin winks with a coy smile and it gives Jeongguk whiplash to see anything other than a glare directed towards him. “How much longer do you think Hoseok will stand at the coffee bar trying to act like he isn’t obviously staring at us?”

Jeongguk follows Jimin’s amused gaze and notes the way that Hoseok keeps trying to inconspicuously look back to keep an eye on them. He giggles. “I mean, you’re not spitting in my face yet, so.”

“Our friendship is cemented in banana milk,” Jimin jokes and Jeongguk’s eyes bulge.

“We’re...f-friends?” he splutters. Heart hammering in his chest because wow, the thought of having not one but two friends is something that he never thought could be possible.

“Yeah.” Jimin looks at him oddly, a bit hesitant. “If you want to, that is.”

“I do!” Jeongguk shouts a little too loudly. Immediately blushes and glances around to see if anyone had heard him. And then quieter, “I really do.”  

Jimin nods and makes an affirmative noise at the back of his throat. “Then we’re friends.”

At this, Jeongguk is over the moon. If Hoseok were to ask him what number he’s at right now, he’d say a solid three. If he was more naive he’d say that things are starting to look up for him, but by now he knows better than to have any hope. Nothing is permanent, and no one ever stays.

Hoseok returns a minute later with their drinks in his hands and tries to plaster on an innocent expression. “So what did I miss?”

Jeongguk laughs. “I made another friend, hyung.” And as if to make his point, he lifts the cartoon up. “Jimin brought me milk.”

“I’m your hyung too, brat,” Jimin scolds.

Hoseok looks between the two of them for a moment. When he smiles it’s a little wobbly and he looks a little emotional in a way that Jeongguk can’t understand. “I’m so happy for you, Guk. Really, I’m happy.”

“Me too,” he says and for once, it isn’t a complete lie.































 

Chapter Text

Jeongguk learns that Jimin is actually quite different from his initial impression of the older boy. The pretenses he had put up in front of Jeongguk instantly melts away from the moment they exchange numbers. There is no awkward phase in their friendship. Jimin doesn’t skitter around him nor takes things slowly. He isn’t constantly apologetic and regretful in the way that Jeongguk would be, but rather he takes the lead and dives in first without testing the waters. In fact, he’s the most softest and headstrong person that Jeongguk has ever met, and it’s a bit intimidating at first, how sure Jimin is of himself. How he holds himself together like a monument. How there’s a certain fire he holds that is overwhelming, and sometimes it feels as if Jeongguk is going to be burned. But instead Jimin makes him feel warm—makes him feel safe.  Because Park Jimin is the kind of gentle ferociousness that Jeongguk never knew he needed in his life, and it’s mesmerizing. He’s the kind of person who isn’t afraid to laugh with his whole body, or throw himself across Jeongguk’s lap and pout when he’s had a long day.

If Jeongguk ever thought that Hoseok was clingy, over the next few days he learns that Jimin is in a completely different league of clinginess. While he doesn’t send as many shitty memes from 2012 like Hoseok does, Jeongguk finds himself having to silence his phone often because Jimin spams him with the most random of topics. Like the time he’d sent Jeongguk a picture of a baby turtle just to rant about how fucking cute it is. Or the time he’d sent a blurred photo of Hoseok’s back as he stood in front of the mirror in the dance studio, all sweaty and focused.

Jiminnie:
BTCH WHAT THE FUCK
You:
?
Jiminnie:
I WANT HIM TO STEP ON MY FACE
You:
Why would u want that? Are u guys fighting?
Jiminnie:
….
Oh my sweet innocent gukkie
I want him to step on me as in like
I want him to press me against a mirror and fuck me until i’m crying
I’d let him call me baby too
Scratch that
I’d let him call me whatever he wants :)

Jeongguk had promptly turned off his phone after that and spent the rest of class with his head on the desk trying to erase that mental image. Do people normally say those kinds of things about the people they like? Maybe Jimin’s just weird. Yeah, definitely weird.

And the thing is, it’s just who he is. He’s not afraid to constantly barrage Jeongguk’s phone by slews of text messages because he’s the kind of person to send a million texts instead of just one paragraph. He’s not afraid to make crude jokes that never fail to make Jeongguk’s face go through five different shades of red and when he laughs, he laughs like armageddon. He laughs as if they’re the only people on the planet, and he doesn’t hold fear in his chest. Doesn’t cage it up and let it suffocate him, but rather he faces everything head on. Never once is he uncertain or shy and Jeongguk envies him so much—how he’s able to let his presence encompass a room by just being himself. He’s beautiful, smart, kind, and Jeongguk is starry eyed with envy.

But it’s not in a malicious way, really. Rather, Jimin is quick to become a person that he looks up to. A person that he would like to be. He hopes that in another life he’s born as someone like Jimin.

Although at times Jimin’s personality is a little too overwhelming for Jeongguk. Sometimes he feels himself start to shut down because his brain is stupid and short circuits because this can’t possibly be real. No one would willingly be friends with someone as awful as him. Like Hoseok, Jimin is too good for him so Jeongguk tries to avoid him.

He tries, as in Jimin refuses to let it happen. He’s quick to adjust to Jeongguk’s mood swings and has no qualms about getting Jeongguk’s address from Hoseok only to bang on his door at midnight with chinese takeout and more banana milk. Jeongguk wonders if Jimin’s a psychic or if he’s just easy to read—probably the latter.

“Are you okay?” Jimin’s standing in the doorway. The bag of takeout’s stuffed so full that it looks as if it’s about to rip. Jeongguk’s wearing nothing but boxers and a white t-shirt with stains on it from the cup ramen he’d eaten yesterday.

He blinks owlishly. Eyes dry and achey because he hasn’t slept in two days. His mind hasn’t been kind to him lately. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Jimin glares at the stain and asks, “when was the last time you took a shower?”

Jeongguk tries to remember. He can’t. Has he been floating again? When was the last time he’d hung out with Jimin or Hoseok? Tuesday? What day is it? He’s tired of trying to remember when his brain is so hellbent on forgetting everything.

“I dunno,” he whispers. Tries to shrug it off. Stares at Jimin’s shoes because this is embarrassing. He’s embarrassed. He can never seem to go a day without worrying his friends and it makes something burn hot and ugly inside the pit of his stomach because Jeongguk doesn’t want to be a burden and he really does try his hardest to deal with everything himself, but it’s like lately he’s so transparent. He’d allowed himself to open up a little bit around Hoseok and somewhere along the way he’d lost the facade he’d so carefully crafted and he hates it. Inside his heart is a quieter space and it turns out that it hurts when people get inside of it.

Why can’t he just tell Jimin that he’s not okay? Why is it so goddamn hard just to be truthful for once?

“Sometimes I don’t remember things.” He doesn’t sound panicked, just defeated. Tired.

Jimin’s quiet for a short moment. Jeongguk’s still staring at his shoes. And then softly, as he puts a hand on Jeongguk’s arm to gently move him back so that he can step through the threshold, “go take a shower. I’ll put something nice on for us, hm? We can watch Infinity War again if you’d like.”

Jeongguk doesn’t have the energy to argue. Just shrugs and wordlessly shuffles to his room to grab whatever clean clothes he can find. Except, he hasn’t done the laundry in a week. His room looks like a tornado has blown through it and he tries to ignore it. Grabs whatever looks the cleanest, smells it and deems it okay enough to wear before he heads to the bathroom.

He spends a little too much time in the shower looking at the floor, watching the water go down the drain until his fingers start to resemble raisins and Jimin knocks on the door to check on him. When he finally manages to gather himself enough to communicate with other human beings, he finally steps out of the shower. He finds Jimin on his couch, food containers spread out over the coffee table and the beginning of Infinity War paused on the T.V.

Jeongguk joins him shyly, cautiously almost. He sits down a bit stiff as if this isn’t his own apartment but he tries to relax. Tries to talk to Jimin like a friend and not a stranger.

“I hope you don’t mind the chinese.” Jimin gestures to the general’s chicken, places an eggroll on the plate in front of Jeongguk. “I know you’re a banana milk addict but you don’t share a lot about yourself so I picked whatever.”

It’s such an insignificant comment but it stings a bit. Makes him feel like shit.

“I-I’m not picky,” he reassures Jimin with a faint flush. “You didn’t have to go out of your way to all of this. It’s like really late.” He nibbles on an eggroll. When was the last time he ate something other than packaged ramen?

“I wanted to though.” Jimin’s firm with his words. Gives Jeongguk a knowing look before he shoves a chopstick full of LoMein into his mouth.

Jeongguk chews slowly. Hides his eyes by staring at the plate in front of him and frowns. “Sometimes things are blurry,” he says. He doesn’t know why he’s being honest. He doesn’t know why it matters. He doesn’t know why any of this fucking matters.

“Blurry how?” It’s obvious that Jimin won’t drop it until he gets the answer he wants.

Jeongguk shifts uncomfortably. This is the part where he should get angry and clam up like he always does because he’s never been stupid enough to bare the ugliness inside to people who want to know too much again. How many have hurt him just because they knew? He’s lost count. Turns out that people don’t like sadness that isn’t pretty. Sadness that can’t be romanticized. No one likes sadness that cuts jagged like a rusty knife.

But the thing is, he’s never really talked about it before. Because it’s easy to say sometimes it hurts to breathe and laugh it off. I’m lonely and have no friends. The second boy that had kissed Jeongguk had laughed at him for that. But no one’s ever stopped to listen from the beginning. From the moment anyone sees his dead eyes they run and it doesn’t even rattle his bones anymore, but Jimin looks at him with genuine concern that it makes him feel like throwing it all up. But he doesn’t know how to open his mouth and let it spill out. He works more like a broken faucet than a flowing river and how do you fix that? How the fuck does anyone fix that?

“Sometimes—” his throat tightens and he leans back against the couch, takes a deep breath, nose flaring. “Sometimes I’ll be here but then I blink and four hours have passed and then I’m sitting in a lecture wondering how I got there. It’s as if time stops existing and when things get real bad I’ll forget an entire week. It’s so scary, hyung. I don’t know why it happens but I start getting this floaty feeling, like I’m not really me and then I’m gone. I turn to dust or somethin’. I—I don’t mean to ghost anyone the way I do. I can’t really control it and it’s just—”

He cuts himself off, head spinning and eyes blurring. It’s hard to breathe. He wonders if he’s said too much. Let too much of the bad leak out and he doesn’t want to scare Jimin away but, but—it hurts to keep it all inside and Jeongguk has been expanding for eight years. A balloon filled with water ready to pop.

His next exhale is shaky and when he speaks, his voice cracks. “It’s just that when it happens I don’t know what I’m doing. I forget everything.” And then quietly, “I think there’s something wrong with me, hyung.”

Jimin doesn’t say anything for awhile. Just hums and reaches out to uncurl Jeongguk’s hands that had clenched tightly into a fist, nails digging into the skin of his palms. He traces the crescent indentations left behind before he intertwines their fingers together.

“Hey, Guk?”

“Y-yeah?”

“Can you look at me?”

Jeongguk presses his lips together and resolutely glares at their hands.

“Please?”

He breaks instantly, but the moment they make eye contact he flinches.

“‘m sorry,” he mumbles.

“Hey, hey. Please don’t be sorry.” Jimin squeezes his hand. “I can’t say that I understand what you’re going through because I’ve never had to deal with something like that before, but I’m here for you, okay? So there’s no need to feel ashamed or feel like a burden around me. I’m actually really glad you told me?”

Jeongguk looks doubtful but feels himself tearing up again anyways. “R-really?”

“Yeah. Thank you for trusting me enough to share a piece of yourself with me, Jeongguk.” Jimin’s voice is gentle and raspy and warm. “I know that I was terrible towards you before, but let me make it up to you by just being here for you.”

Jeongguk sniffles. Looks back down at their hands; Jimin’s fingers are short and stubby, a stark contrast compared to his own larger ones. He thinks they look like gnarled tree roots and wonders if their friendship can be just as tightly woven together. Cemented. Permanent.

But then he thinks about Taehyung and how they’re best friends and Jimin will always choose Jeongguk last.

“Does Taehyung know that we’re friends?” he asks. Feels irrationally jealous and upset. It’s petty and he knows it.

Jimin hesitates and that’s enough of an answer for Jeongguk. He rips his hand away and scoots over to create space between them. “He doesn’t know does he?” his voice is flat. Defeated. He’s clamming up again, an easy defense mechanism.

You’re ashamed to be around me, aren’t you? He wants to say.

Jimin looks guilty. “He never really talks about you anymore and I’m not sure how to bring it up.”

“You still hate me.” The accusation is ridiculous and he doesn’t know why he’s making such a big deal out of Taehyung not knowing that they’re friends. It shouldn’t even be important because it isn’t.

“What the hell?” Jimin’s obviously upset. Cheeks flushed and lips pulled downwards. Jeongguk doesn’t expect his statement to put him off so much. “Do you think I spend time with you and buy you food because I hate you?” he runs his hands through his hair. Sighs in exasperation. “I thought you trusted me.”

“You’re Taehyung’s friend.” The response is automatic and Jeongguk immediately regrets it. Hurt flickers through Jimin’s eyes and ah, there it is. Jeongguk had almost forgotten how easy it is for him to hurt people. He expects Jimin to stand up angrily and scream at him before storming out of his apartment. He expects to never see him again.

But instead Jimin stares at him, hard and honest. “But I’m also your friend.”

Jeongguk’s a little shell shocked. Doesn’t know how to handle this situation because Jimin throws him completely off of his rocker. There’s a beat of silence. “What if he gets angry when he finds out?”

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Taehyung’s my best friend not my fucking owner. He has no say on who my friends are.”

“Oh,” is all Jeongguk can say. He feels a little bad now, an apology already at the tip of his tongue. But then he remembers what Jimin had said about apologizing and he’s trying to work on that. “Can we start the movie?” he asks meekly instead.

The tension immediately dissolves. Jimin scrunches his nose and playfully cuffs his ear with his hand. “You’re such a kid.”

“You’re the one who suggested it, hyung.”

“It’s because you’re obsessed with this series you little shit.” Jimin presses play and Jeongguk scoots closer, rests his head on the other’s shoulder. Halfway through the movie Jimin’s running his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair and he’s drifting to sleep.

With the last vestige of his awareness he mumbles a nearly incoherent question that goes something like, “did you put the banana milk in the fridge? I dun’ want it to go bad.”

Jimin huffs, chest vibrating with laughter. “You’re such a kid,” he repeats. “Of course I put them in the fridge.”

Jeongguk’s pretty sure that Jimin is the best hyung ever. Don’t tell Hoseok that though.


 


Halloween is the most pointless holiday in Jeongguk’s opinion, and honestly he’d prefer to stay home and play some video games until he passes out because the last thing he wants to deal with is drunk college students in skimpy outfits that barely pass as costumes. But Hoseok, on the other hand, is stupidly passionate about any holiday (although Jeongguk is ninety-nine percent sure that his friend just wants a valid reason to get ridiculously plastered). When Hoseok first asks Jeongguk to come to his party, Jeongguk doesn’t miss a beat and answers with a firm, “hell no.”

And that should be it—except it really isn’t because over the next few days Hoseok begs him to come, even when Jeongguk starts to become visibly annoyed he doesn’t let up. As Halloween approaches he turns into more of a petulant child throwing a tantrum.

“But why?” he whines for the millionth time. “It’ll be so fun. Don’t you want to hang out with your hyung?”

Jeongguk fixes him with a glare. “I see you practically everyday!”

“But you love me and I’m your bestest friend.”

“Parties aren’t my thing,” he insists, even if the last so-called party he’d gone to involved prepubescent boys throwing rocks at each other. High school was awful and Jeongguk was too shy and awkward. He was the kind of student that other kids would invite to parties only to humiliate and he was never stupid enough to go in the first place.

Hoseok huffs and has the audacity to look upset. “Fine,” he grumbles and Jeongguk thinks that he’s finally gotten off the hook, but then Hoseok pouts for three days straight and is constantly shooting him looks of utter betrayal and despair. Makes off-hand, petty jibes like, “I can’t believe my very own best friend isn’t going to my party.”

And Jeongguk know that he shouldn’t feel guilty because Hoseok is the kind of person who has a million bff’s, but he does anyways because he’s, well, himself, and Jeongguk lives in a perpetual state of feeling guilty about everything anyways. He agrees to come on the condition that he doesn’t have to dress up and Hoseok practically smothers him in his excitement, tells Jeongguk that he doesn’t have to wear a silly costume if he doesn’t want to.

When the dreadful night finally arrives, Jeongguk is more than a little nervous. Never once has he ever thought that he’d be going to a college party—but then again, he never thought that he’d even make it to college in the first place. And while he refuses to wear a costume, he doesn’t want to look like a complete disaster either. He spends two hours fretting over what to wear because what the fuck do people wear to parties? Hoseok had told him to not overdo it and just come casual, but honestly he’s not even sure what that means.

Eventually, he decides on a pair of skinny jeans and a black t-shirt with a deep v-line. Looks at himself in the mirror and still feels out of place so he googles how to apply eyeliner and spends the next half hour poking his eye out a million times before he’s got a somewhat decent smokey effect going. He curses, eyes burning. Tilts his head back and tries to blink away the tears that had gathered because no way is he ruining his makeup. After he deems his appearance to be not a complete mess he throws the eyeliner straight into the trash and promises to never put himself through that kind of suffering ever again.
 
By the time Jeongguk arrives (exactly an hour late because Wiki How had told him that cool people don’t arrive on time) the party is already in full swing. Even from outside the complex he can hear the distant sounds of shouting and muffled music. He hesitates at the lobby entrance, pulls his jacket tighter around his frame and takes a deep breath. He can do this. He can totally do this.

The elevator ride up to the fifth floor takes too long and he finds his anxiety growing as he watches the floor numbers light up. And as the elevator door dings and opens, he’s immediately hit by the vibration of the bass and the music is terribly loud. Hoseok’s door is opened and students are spilling out into the hallway, red solo cups in hand. Jeongguk is more than tempted to just leave, but Hoseok is god damn lucky that Jeongguk would practically do anything for him.

He forces himself to take a step forward, and then another until he’s out of the lift. His pace is hurried and he ends up bumping into one too many people just trying to get down the hallway and trips over his own foot. When he finally forces himself into the apartment, the inside is over crowded and hazy. The music rattles his skull and he’s already feeling a little dizzy. He’s not sure exactly what he’s supposed to do and the only knowledge he has about parties are from movies. He scans the room, tries to find a familiar face and panics when there’s no sign of Hoseok. The usual comfort he feels by being in his friend’s apartment absent and replaced by anxiety. This was an awful idea. Why did he ever agree to this?

Jeongguk’s just about to scurry to an empty corner of the living room and make himself as small as possible when a body quite nearly slams into his side and causes him to nearly topple over. He steadies himself, turns with wide eyes to find the offender—the very asshole who had forced him to attend this party.  

“Gukkie!” Hoseok practically screams into his ear. Wraps an arm around his neck, practically strangling him to death with how hard he’s squeezing. “You came!”

Jeongguk scrunches his nose, the smell of alcohol on Hoseok’s breath revolting. “How drunk are you?”

“‘m not even that drunk.” He jerks Jeongguk around and his eyes are nearly bulging straight out of his head with how he’s being manhandled. “I jus’ missed you. My sweet lil Gukkie.” And then, in all of his drunkenness, Hoseok has the nerve to boop his nose. “You’re so cute.” He giggles. “Wanna protect you forever.”

“Okay hyung.” Jeongguk’s stone is dry and he’s trying not to show any obvious signs of being annoyed, but in truth he’s quite miffed at the fact that the only person he knows at this stupid party is wasted off of his ass already. He’s not good at dealing with unfamiliarity and this whole thing is overwhelming.

“Are you mad?” Hoseok asks, breath hot on Jeongguk’s cheek. The crestfallen expression on his face makes Jeongguk feel bad for being angry.

“I just wish that you had waited for me,” he mutters even though he knows it’s his fault for arriving an hour late. Screw WikiHow. He’s never trusting that site again.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Hoseok promises. Wobbles on his feet and Jeongguk steadies him.

“It’s okay. Don’t let me ruin your fun.” Because that’s exactly what it feels like he’s doing—like everyone is clearly trying to have a good time but Jeongguk is bitter and unsociable. He’s still that weird kid from high school that never got invited to anything.

He’s about to tell Hoseok that he’s just going to leave and will text him tomorrow, but then Hoseok almost takes Jeongguk’s head clean off when he jumps and yells, “Jiminie! Taehyungie!” and Jeongguk freezes.

Both of them are dressed up in costumes. Jimin’s wearing a police uniform and he looks mighty good in it. The material tight around his thighs. It hugs his shape nicely, showing off the curves of his ass and if he wasn’t like a brother to Jeongguk, he would have totally popped a boner.

When he turns look at Taehyung he nearly stops breathing. Tries to tear his eyes away and not think about what he’s wearing but he can’t. The devil horns. The choker. His outfit, completely black; leather of his pants even tighter than Jimin’s. Every inch of his legs prominent and enticing. Their eyes meet and Jeongguk notices that he’s wearing yellow lenses. Eye makeup red and smokey and—is that lipgloss? Taehyung’s expression is intense and Jeongguk isn’t sure whether his heart is in his stomach or his dick. Just knows that Taehyung makes him feel like shit about himself and dizzy at the same time. Just knows that Taehyung looks like a predator ready to devour him and Jeongguk doesn’t think that he could say no.

“Dude you’re fucking trashed.” It’s Jimin who breaks their heated stare off and Jeongguk instantly blushes and averts his gaze.

“Let go of Jeongguk,” Jimin scolds. “You’re going to choke him out, hyung.”

“N-nuh!” Hoseok holds on even tighter, bottom lip jutting out like he’s going to cry. “I dun’ wanna.”

Jimin looks mildly irritated. Huffs and tries to yank Hoseok away. “You’re being ridiculous.”

“Am not.”

“You’re drunk!”

“Oh yeah?” Hoseok glares. “And how do I know that you’re not the drunk one and this isn’t you jus’ trying to gaslight me, huh? Check and mate.”

Jimin looks completely baffled. “What the—”

“I don’t wanna leave Gukkie!” Hoseok all but wails.

The next thirty seconds consist of Jimin attempting to pry Jeongguk away from Hoseok’s death grip and Hoseok screaming at the top of his lungs. Jeongguk has basically been turned into a ragdoll at this point and he’s just about ready to accept the fact that this is how he dies when Hoseok finally relents, but that’s only because he bends over the nearest plant to vomit in it. Jimin acts quickly. Rubs soothing circles on his back as he continues to throw up, and Jeongguk doesn’t understand how the fuck their friend is so wasted this early into the night.
Jimin turns to give Jeongguk an apologetic, knowing look. “I’m gonna take him to the bathroom to sober up. You okay being alone?” his eyes flicker to Taehyung and Jeongguk knows exactly what he’s asking.

Is he going to be okay with Taehyung?

Jeongguk tries to give a reassuring. Says, “it’s fine, hyung.” Knows that it’s not fine. Knows that anxiety is already burning a hole through his stomach like acid. He hasn’t seen much of Taehyung within the last couple of months, despite it being his newfound mission to clear things up. But the thing is, Jeongguk has no clue how to approach him. Can’t open his mouth without stuttering and feeling overwhelmed. How can he fix things when he’s such a coward?

Jimin shoots one last apology before he’s dragging Hoseok out of the living room. The two of them are left to stand there awkwardly, and even if there are dozens of people around them it feels as if they’re the only ones left. Taehyung is the only person he’s aware of. Feels everything around them fade until it’s just Taehyung. Taehyung. Taehyung.

Shouldn’t Jeongguk say something? Like, hi how are you? Shouldn’t he do something but stare at the ugly painting on Hoseok’s wall? But where does he start? Where the fuck does he start? All of his life, Jeongguk has only ever known how to run but now he’s expected to slow down and face his past for the first time in his life. But the thing is, he doesn’t know how to stop when the brakes have been cut and he’s been speeding down a hill for eight years waiting for the end. The crash. Waiting for the moment that his body is catapulted out of the windshield because he’d stopped wearing a seatbelt long ago. Waiting for the moment when he’s laying on the asphalt, gazing up at the stars and will think, finally. Finally.

But they’re all just excuses and the truth is that he’s scared to look back. Scared to turn around and find that there really isn’t anything left for him to salvage. Scared that there’ll be nothing left but an endless, gaping chasm of black nothingness. What if it’s too late? What if Taehyung’s already on the other side, walking away?

“Do you wanna grab a drink from the kitchen?” Taehyung offers. “It’s too crowded here.” He doesn’t sound as awkward as Jeongguk feels. Just casual.

“Sure,” he mumbles.

They head to the kitchen. Taehyung leaned against the counter and Jeongguk against the stove. The knobs poking into his back but he doesn’t care. He just wants to create as much space as he can between them in this tiny area. Taehyung pours some liquor that Jeongguk’s never heard of into red solo cups. When he hands one to Jeongguk their fingers accidentally brushes and Jeongguk feels a zap all the way down to his toes. Fearing that Taehyung will notice, he doesn’t even think about what he’s doing, just tilts the cup back and takes several huge gulps out of nervousness.

Big mistake.

Jeongguk begins to cough heavily. The foul aftertaste and burning sensation almost makes him throw it all back up.

Taehyung just looks at him strangely. “You aren’t supposed to chug moonshine like that.”
Jeongguk blushes, wipes his tingling lips on the back of his hand. “I-I’ve never drank before,” he admits after he’s managed to stop coughing.

Taehyung laughs but immediately stops when he sees Jeongguk’s serious expression. His brows shoot up. “Wait, are you being serious?”

Jeongguk nods, feels his cheeks heating up further like a blushing virgin. The alcohol’s already starting to hit him and he feels a bit woozy. “Was never the kind of person people invited to parties.”

“But you were so popular.” Taehyung doesn’t sound mean when he says it, just slightly taken aback. “Everyone would break their backs just to talk to you.”

Jeongguk thinks of the kids from middle school and how after Taehyung left, suddenly no one wanted to be around him anymore. He remembers how Mingyu had punched him square in the face a few days after he had blamed Jeongguk for everything and had told him that he was gross. That they didn’t want to hang out with someone like him.

“It’s bad for our reputation. Being around someone that almost killed another person.”

Jeongguk still remembers it all.

He remembers how after middle school the torment only got worse. That was when his perception of the world twisted into something ugly and he was no longer the twelve-year-old boy who dreamed of being a firefighter. An astronaut. An inventor. Instead he became lesser. Smaller. That was when the innocent, childlike light in his eyes died and smiling became a chore. Getting out of bed in the morning became a challenge.

Jeongguk remembers Jungho from eighth grade. Beautiful, mature and smart. The boy who sat in front of him. Shoulders broader than his own and he remembers what it was like to kiss Jungho.

When Jeongguk was fourteen, he discovered that he was gay.

It’s a venomous moment and he’s so close to telling Taehyung everything. That he’s sorry. That he’s suffered for eight years with third degree burns. Has lived life more like a car crash than anything else. That his knees are scraped and raw and his insides are bleeding. How does he get rid of all the bad in him? Jeongguk doesn’t know how. Doesn’t know how to scoop it all out and start again. It’s like mold growing between walls and it’s festered for too long. Leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

He almost tells Taehyung because he’s drunk and in love with someone who hates him. Almost.

“Things change,” he mutters. Brings the cup to his lips but doesn’t drink it.

“Feels like we’ve had this conversation before,” Taehyung says. He sounds regretful.

“Do you still think that people can’t change?” he asks. Alcohol gives him courage and he’s holding his breath.

Taehyung’s stare is intense and Jeongguk looks to the grimy white tiled flooring instead and thinks that Hoseok needs to clean his kitchen.

“Not really,” he says. “You can’t change who you are at your very core. A tiger never changes its stripes and all.”

Jeongguk feels himself plummeting. Confidence deflating. Of course. Of fucking course.

He opens his mouth, tries to say something. Tries to tell Taehyung that he’s changed. Or at least that he’s trying his damn hardest to be a better person. But the distance between them, the way it swallows everything—it becomes too much. Why did he ever even allow himself to have hope in the first place?

Taehyung looks at Jeongguk like he’s gotten him all figured out. Leans against the counter and crosses his arms over his chest. Jeongguk stares at the exposed skin of his collarbones and wonders how someone can be so beautiful, yet cruel at the same time. How someone can hold so much power over him. And more than anything, he wishes that he could take back the emptiness he gave Taehyung. The hollow space he created inside of the other boy’s chest. All of the cruel words he didn’t mean because he didn’t know how to accept himself. He wishes he could take it all back.

He wants to open himself up and say, look, I’m just as damaged as you are. Let the inky blackness seep out so that Taehyung can see that he’s paid for his mistakes and he still is. He still is.

But he can’t.

“I didn’t know you and Jimin were so cozy with each other,” Taehyung comments offhandedly. He sounds a little bothered, like he can’t quite believe it himself and Jeongguk feels his insides shrivel up.

“Yeah. We made up.” He’s starting to pick at the skin around his nails again, something he hasn’t done in weeks. Not since Jimin had put Iron Man bandaids over his raw fingers and bought him a stress ball.

“I see.” Taehyung’s frowning slightly and Jeongguk feels all hot and cold at once.

“Do you really hate me that much?” Jeongguk blurts out and he’s dizzy. The floor underneath him shifts again. Stupid Jeongguk and his stupid mouth.

Even on a night like this, when the city is alive and there’s adrenaline coursing through everyone’s bodies, Jeongguk is incapable of speaking a truth so dangerous it could crush them both in the way that he’s destroyed himself, and that is only right. Taehyung is too good for being crushed.

Jeongguk waits. Holds his breath again. Feels the blood running through his veins not akin to excitement, but anxiety like the last ounce of oxygen in the room. It’s as if he’s made of livewires and he knows that this can only end badly. He can only make it worse.

Doesn’t even look up when Taehyung says softly, defeatedly, “I don’t know.”

The world stops. Everything shifts and oh—there it is, the wide mouth of a storm. The brief second of silence. Of acceptance. This is who you are.

Jeongguk will always be a monster. It shouldn’t bother him because he knows this. Even if Taehyung or his classmates hadn’t been around to tell him, his father pressed it into his skin when he was fourteen and kissed a boy for the first time.

“Look closely,” his father had growled. Grip bruising. “This is what happens when boys kiss other boys. Don’t forget it.”

Jeongguk lifts a shaky hand up to his neck. He’ll never forget. Never.

Taehyung’s saying something but Jeongguk can’t hear anything past the ringing in his ears. Even the music is muffled and he feels disoriented. Nauseous, even. Which way is down and which way is up? He feels too much at once and yet the hollowness in his chest expands into a blackhole. The walls feel like they’re closing in on him and Jeongguk has to get out of here. Now. He stumbles out of the kitchen, trips over a rug, but somehow manages to push past the crowd and out onto the balcony. It’s empty save for one person finishing a cigarette who goes back inside as soon as they see him.

He tries to get a grip on himself but he can’t breathe. God, he can’t fucking breathe.

He slides down against the railing. His bottom harshly hitting the ground. And it should be better because he’s outside and away from people and it’s quiet out here, but he’s not. He’s not. He curls in on himself, grabs at his hair and tugs harshly because pain usually brings him back down, but the sting of his scalp isn’t enough this time. He’s drowning. Sinking, sinking, sinking. His lungs burn—oh god, they burn and there’s no one here to save him. He’s stuck in this darkness alone with the ghosts of his past with no way out.

Jeongguk doesn’t remember the last time he had an episode this bad.

For years, Jeongguk has left everything on the back burner for it all to pile up, and now he’s wondering where did all of this come from? He used to eat three square meals a day, was the star of his school’s soccer team. He was supposed to be someone. Where did all of this bad come from?

If you slap a jester’s hat on the monster in the closet it ceases to be scary but to itself, it will still be a monster. If he opens his palms he closes them instantly because he doesn’t like the ugliness he sees. The neon light leaks through his pores and he ceases to be bright.

He wants to let go.





















  

 

Chapter Text

Floating. Jeongguk is floating. And... he doesn’t remember anything. Just knows that in this moment all he is aware of is numb warmth. He tries to think of his purpose, of his reason for being here but it all just makes his head hurt, so he just doesn’t think of anything at all and simply exists—wherever that is.

“—guk! Jeongguk!”   

Is this heaven? Maybe he can finally let go.

“Jeongguk, look at me!”

There are hands on him. On his arm, on his face, prying his fingers away from his hair, stroking his head. The touch is warm, soft, familiar. But then Jeongguk opens his eyes and he sees Taehyung, knelt in front of him with his eyebrows knitted in worry. Suddenly the touches feel dirty. Warmth replaced by something cold and bitter. It all feels too wrong. Too much. He’s burning again, and he wants to get away but nothing comes out and his brain is still lagging behind and the confusion scares him.

Then there’s the sound of the sliding door opening. “Taehyung—” A pause that sounds a lot like rage. “What’s going on?”

“I—I don’t know. We were talking and then he just—”

Rushed footsteps and then another person kneeling before him but he can’t see their face. It’s all static.

“Taehyung, what the fuck did you do?” At the blatant hostility in his tone, Taehyung flinches back.

“I didn’t do anything!” Taehyung jumps to his feet and the other person follows.

“Don’t bullshit me, dude.”

“We were just talking. I swear.”

“Is this what just talking looks like?” The person sighs deeply as if trying to collect himself. “Look, I know that it’s hard for you to get over what happened, but it was eight years ago, Tae. You were both just kids and Jeongguk doesn’t deserve this. Not from you or anyone else. You don’t have to be his friend, but at least treat him with some fucking decency, yeah?”

They continue to argue until it all becomes background noise because Jeongguk’s still trapped in his head. He thinks about New Years and he can’t wait. Doesn’t think that he has the strength to make it. But if he jumped off of Hoseok’s balcony he’d only break a few bones and even after all these years, he’s still not good with physical pain.

It dawns on him then, that this is his life. That after twenty years this is what he amounts to. Ugly, pathetic and weak. A disappointment and a burden to everyone else around him. He understands now why his father wants nothing to do with him. Why his mother keeps him at a distance.

Oh.

It’s like being yanked out from under water and taking that first desperate gasp of air, and when it all fills his lungs it hurts. It burns. It all comes rushing back and the nausea hits him like a freight train. Before he can even comprehend what’s happening, Jeongguk bends over his side and vomits. Ears ringing and eyes watering, he dispels a stomach full of moonshine all over Hoseok’s balcony on Halloween. He wasn’t that drunk really. Wasn’t like Hoseok, a slurring stumbling mess, but sometimes he gets like this. Sometimes the panic that fills him makes him sick and it doesn’t happen a lot. It’s usually not this bad, but being around Taehyung is a constant reminder of everything that he’s tried so hard to forget.

They’re both immediately at his side again. But Taehyung’s too close and it’s suffocating. Makes his head spin all over again and he can’t do this. Can’t humiliate himself any further than he already has. Taehyung reaches for him again and he flinches. Presses himself even further against the rail in hopes that he’ll shrink until he disappears.

“Jeongguk.” Taehyung whispers his name softly and Jeongguk hates the way he says it—like it’s safe in his mouth.

He shakes his head. Knows that any word that the other boy speaks will only destroy him further because the smallest of things cut him open and Jeongguk has long forgotten how to pretend to be whole. Do people change? He wants to ask again. When he was fifteen his mom asked him why he kept running if he was so intent on falling, and honestly, he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know why he tries to change for people who don’t want him to.  

It never works out in the end. When being gay had equated to bringing shame to his family, Jeongguk had tried to change then. “It’s just a phase, son,” his father had said, and through bloodied lips and a swollen black eye Jeongguk had smiled and told his father that he was right. That he didn’t know what he was thinking. That he was just curious.

But the truth is that he couldn’t change, and the only time he’d kissed a girl it had all felt so wrong and awful. And god did he try. He read the bible everyday and when his father took him to church to see the priest he thought that maybe he’d be able to live a normal life, but he’s still the fucking same and Taehyung is an awful reminder of it.

“Leave me alone,” he wheezes weakly. Doesn’t know how he manages to speak in the first place. “P-please just—” he cuts himself short, tries to take a big gulp of air and chokes instead. He knows that apologies have never fixed anything.

He looks away from Taehyung and tries to somewhat clear his head enough for him to see straight. He squints his eyes, tries to make sense of the person in front of him and—oh. It’s Jimin. He has a hand on Jeongguk’s back, rubbing it in soothing motions.

His expression is hard and angry as he glares at Taehyung. “I think you need to go, Tae.”

“But—”

He narrows his eyes, tone icy. “I’m not messing around. You need to go.”

Jeongguk doesn’t know why, but at the sight of the familiar boy knelt in front of him, tears immediately fill his eyes. “H-hyung?” he calls brokenly, voice cracks on a sob. “Jimin hyung?”

Immediately, as if a switch has been flipped, Jimin’s expression softens and he smiles carefully. “I’m right here, Guk.”

It’s as if a dam has been released and Jeongguk jumps forward. Buries himself right in Jimin’s chest and begins to cry—hard and ugly. And Jimin just holds him close. Runs his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair and lets him get tears and snot all over his nice police uniform.

“Go,” he hears Jimin repeat and then there’s the sound of receding footsteps. “Breathe. Just breathe.” Jeongguk feels the pressure of Jimin’s fingers applied to his scalp in an attempt to calm him and he only holds on tighter—feels more desperate to be close to something familiar, something warm. And perhaps, something that feels a little like home. “It’s okay. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. I’m not going anywhere.”

Hyung.

“Hoseok hyung’s been sulking over you. He’s completely shitfaced and threw up all over himself again, but he wouldn’t stop crying about how awful of a friend he is.” Jimin laughs, low and nervous and Jeongguk feels his chest rumble. “He really cares about you, y’know?” He pauses, fingers halting their movement. And then more seriously he says, “we both do.”

They’re quiet for awhile. Jimin blabbers about random things, tells an embarrassing story from his past and laughs at his own jokes (even if they’re terrible) and Jeongguk is quiet. He focuses on the sound of Jimin’s voice. The warmth of his body. Tries to pull himself together and breathe. When he finally manages to calm down his head is in a haze and he feels heavy. Lethargic.

Jimin’s gone quiet too as he waits patiently. Simply soothes Jeongguk with his reassuring touches and Jeongguk lets the warmth seep into his skin, down to his bones. Doesn’t understand why Jimin, who held such deep rooted animosity towards him, is so kind towards him. Doesn’t understand how anyone could care for him.

Jimin and Hoseok. Hoseok and Jimin. They’re supposed to be temporary.

“‘m sorry,” Jeongguk mumbles. “I always fuck things up.”

He tries to pull back but Jimin only hugs him tighter. “Didn’t I already tell you to stop apologizing?” he says. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

But he does. He has so many things to be sorry for and it’s all stuck in his throat. It feels wrong to be consoled like this when Taehyung is probably hurting far worse than he is.

Jimin loosens his hold and Jeongguk is able to pull back this time. Wipes at his face and grimaces when he notices the eyeliner smudged on the back of his hand. He can only imagine how much of a wreck he must look like right now.

Looking at the other boy right now, Jeongguk knows what to say. Jimin’s expression is pinched, lips downturned and eyebrows furrowed. Lately it seems that Jeongguk’s only good at worrying his friends.

“Do you want to talk about what happened?” Jimin asks.

He shakes his head. There’s a harsh breeze and both of them shiver. Jeongguk wonders why he ever thought it was a good idea to go outside in the first place. His fingers feel a bit numb.

“Then let’s get you home, yeah? I don’t want you to catch a cold.” Before he can protest, Jimin’s hoisting him up on his feet and he stumbles, legs unsteady and head spinning for a moment before he rights himself.

“I don’t want people to see me,” Jeongguk admits. “I look awful.”

Jimin bites his bottom lip as he takes in Jeongguk’s appearance. “Yeah, you do look like shit but everyone in there is drunk off their ass anyways. No one will notice.”

Jeongguk’s doubtful but doesn’t protest, not wanting to cause any more trouble than he already has. “Okay,” he mumbles. Lets Jimin take him by the hand and lead him back inside and through the crowd. He keeps his head down the entire time. Focuses on their linked together fingers instead. Tries not to wonder if Taehyung is still here. Tries not to care.

The drive back home is a blur. The car is engulfed in silence, save for the music playing softly through the radio. At some point Jeongguk passes out and it isn’t until Jimin’s shaking him awake that he realizes how utterly exhausted he is. Jimin follows him into his apartment, despite his protests of being just fine. Waits for Jeongguk to change and perches himself on the edge of the bed once the younger boy is tucked under the covers.

It’s dark and Jeongguk can barely see him. The only light source being the faint sliver of the living room light through the crack of the doorway.

“I know you don’t want to talk about it,” Jimin starts, “but I don’t want to misunderstand the situation. Did...did Taehyung say anything terrible to you?”

Jeongguk swallows. Laughs but it sounds more like a croak, dry and awful. It would be easier to lie. To pretend that he hadn't stood under the faded light in the kitchen with Taehyung and drank moonshine for the first time. Hadn't stared at his collarbones, the curve of his lips. But it gets tiring, keeping everything to himself all of the time.

“That’s the thing, hyung. He didn’t say anything shitty to me. It was just casual conversation to fill the silence and act like there weren’t a million things that either of us wanted to say. It was nothing and yet I freaked the fuck out.” He lets out a sigh. “I’m pathetic aren’t I? Had a fuckin’ panic attack over something so stupid.”

He stares at the wall. It’s the first time he’s said it outloud—given the feeling of being unable to breathe a name.  It becomes real. Tangible. Like it's not a secret that Jeongguk folds into unread envelopes anymore. He's never told anyone about this; about how sometimes the need for air is overwhelming and he shakes until he becomes an earthquake, a magnitude of 9.5.

“You’re not so don’t say that about yourself,” Jimin scolds. “Your emotions are valid, Guk. You have a right to feel the way you feel and don’t let anyone else tell you different.”

Jeongguk wants to argue. Wants to say that he really doesn’t have a right to anything, but doesn’t. Shoves it all down and utters an, “okay” instead because his eyelids are heavy and he just wants to sleep for a thousand years and never wake up.

“Thank you,” he mumbles. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Jimin laughs lightly. “Anything for you.”

And then he succumbs to the fatigue and falls asleep.

 





Jeongguk spends the next few days locked inside of his apartment. It’s a routine that his friends are all too familiar with and they give him the space he needs. Jimin texts him constantly, asking if he’s taking care of his hygiene and eating. Hoseok sends him random memes that he thinks are hilarious, but no one else finds funny. Still, Jeongguk always indulges because he loves his friends far more than he should.

It’s on a Tuesday evening when the silence is finally broken. Hoseok asks Jeongguk if he wants to go out to eat and he almost says no, but figures that it’s the least that he can do after causing so much shit.

“Is there anywhere you want to go?” Hoseok asks. They’re walking down the street, just a few blocks away from campus. There’s something in the air between them, a sense of awkwardness that Jeongguk can’t wrap his head around because Hoseok is a lot of things, awkward not being one of them. His smiles seem strained and conversation a little forced. It makes Jeongguk’s skin prickle with paranoia.

What if he knows?

“Pizza?” he suggests.

Hoseok nods. “Then pizza it is, your majesty.”

Jeongguk snorts. The fear alleviated the moment he sees the sign of his favorite pizza place. He hasn’t eaten anything else besides ramen for the last few days and his mouth waters at the sight. But any excitement he had initially felt deflates the moment he walks through the door and sees who’s behind the counter, heart plummeting down to his stomach.

Taehyung stands in front of the register. His uniform consists of a red polo shirt with the logo stitched atop the right breast and skinny jeans. The black hat he’s wearing is honestly ugly, but Kim Taehyung can make anything look good. Even a stupid pizza hat. 

Hoseok calls his name, says, "I totally forgot you worked here, dude."

And Jeongguk panics because how could Hoseok forget? Surely Jimin had informed him about what had conspired at the party. He's not ready for this yet and the paranoia is back, this time stronger than ever.

Taehyung opens his mouth to make a snide remark but the moment he sees Jeongguk he freezes, eyes wide. Jeongguk stares right back, doesn't know how to look away because Taehyung makes his brain turn to goo. Makes his knees weak and cheeks warm.

Taehyung blinks, closes his mouth and swallows. He clears his throat and his smile is all wobbly and awkward and cute. "How do you forget where your best friend works, dumbass?" and then to Jeongguk, "hi." 

"H-hi," Jeongguk stutters out weakly. Feels himself shrinking again. Why does he literally have the worst of luck? The memory of Taehyung kneeling in front of him, face too close and voice smothered in concern as he attempted to calm Jeongguk down is still too fresh in his mind.

"How are you doing?" Taehyung adjusts his cap, shifts his weight as if he's nervous and Jeongguk tenses up. 

"I'm alive,” he says it like a joke, like he doesn't constantly wish he were dead instead. Like Taehyung hadn’t watched him fall apart on Halloween. 

"I'm glad. You're alive. I'm glad that you're alive and uh, doing better." It’s all so forced and far outweighs the awkwardness with Hoseok.

"Me too," Jeongguk mutters. Stares at the tip of Taehyung's nose but never his eyes. He's too scared, too cowardly. 

"Do you want some pizza?" Taehyung asks as if that’s not exactly what they’re here for.

“Uh, yeah. I—I would totally like some pizza.”

“I see.”

“Yeah.”  

Hoseok steps forward then, noticing the tension. He throws an arm around Jeongguk and grins. “Our bunny here loves cheese pizza with extra cheese.”

“But hyung, don’t you hate—”

“We’ll take a medium.”

Jeongguk tries to argue but Hoseok’s already pulling out his wallet out and fishing for some bills. But then Taehyung shakes his head. "It's on the house," he says. Stares right at Jeongguk.

Hoseok looks shocked but doesn't object. “Thanks dude.”

They find a table and Hoseok sits across from him—seems to have a lot on his mind. Chews on his bottom lip and looks at Jeongguk strangely and he's too scared to ask. He's always unsure, hesitant. The dark cloud of anxiety always hanging above his head.

"Taehyung doesn't ever do that for anyone." Hoseok finally speaks up. "I've been trying to get a free pizza out of him for the past five months and he wouldn't budge or even give one to Jimin." 

Jeongguk glances at Taehyung who's taking another customer's order. He's all smiles and his laugh echoes, reverberates inside Jeongguk down to his very core and something inside him aches because he's never seen Taehyung look so happy and at ease, and he knows that Taehyung will never smile at him like that.

“Is that what you really wanted to talk about, hyung?” Jeongguk implores. Tongue feeling thick because this is it. This is the part where Hoseok finally reveals that he knows everything. That he feels disgusted and betrayed. “You’ve been acting off since we met up.”

The cheery demeanor instantly drops but instead of angry, Hoseok looks guilty. “I’m sorry,” he blurts. “I’m so sorry, Guk.”

“Woah, what?”

“I know how nervous you are around strangers and yet I forced you to go to the party, even though you obviously really didn’t want to go. On top of that, I got wasted before you even arrived and left you to fend for yourself. I’m so stupid and selfish and I’m sorry.” Hoseok flushes. Looks down at his lap in shame and mumbles another, “I’m really sorry.”

And Jeongguk? He’s speechless. Even though he had been quite miffed at first, he never once had blamed Hoseok because at the end of the day, he was the one who had decided to go the party. Watching Hoseok apologize to someone like him leaves a bad taste in his mouth because he’s the one who should be sorry. He’s the one who’s been lying since the moment they met.

“Hyung…” Jeongguk chews at his bottom lip. He’s always been awful at comforting people and he doesn’t remember the last time anyone had ever apologized to him besides Jimin. He’s almost tempted to argue with the older boy but with Hoseok, he knows that he’ll never win. “It’s okay,” he says instead. “I’m not upset with you. Seriously.”

“Really?” Hoseok lifts his head rather meekly. His hesitancy clear as day. “You don’t want to punch me in the throat?”

Jeongguk scrunches his nose. “Why would I want to do that?”

Hoseok just stares at him. Eyes gleaming. “You’re too pure for this world,” he utters.
The pizza comes, steaming hot and fresh. Jeongguk’s mouth waters at the aroma and Hoseok is far too eager (even if he hates cheese) and burns his tongue, despite Jeongguk’s warning. The tension between them dissipates completely but he still can’t seem to relax—at least, not with Taehyung around. He thinks about the party and how Taehyung didn’t say that he hated Jeongguk, but he also didn’t imply that he liked him either. It’s like they’re stuck in this limbo of uncertainty and it makes his stomach queasy. Jeongguk doesn’t bode well with the unknown.

So he tries to push it away. Thinks that if he can just avoid Taehyung they can both forget about the party, about the balcony. The panic attack. It’s humiliating really. A side of Jeongguk that he never wanted anyone else to see, least of all Taehyung. Who is bright and beautiful and too good for tragedy. Lately, Jeongguk has found himself wondering how Taehyung ever learned to let go of the boy he used to be and move. Did he ever manage to swallow his sorrows? Because Jeongguk’s is still stuck against his voice box and won’t go down. But he’s perfected this, holding onto the bad. Spinning it around and around until it makes him dizzy with regret and self loathing.

They finish the pizza and even though Jeongguk is stuffed he feels terribly empty. Why can’t food be a placeholder for sadness? He’s determined to rush out the door before Taehyung notices. Doesn’t give Hoseok any time to gather his things before he’s halfway to the door and he’s almost there. But then Taehyung steps around the counter and makes a beeline directly for him and oh shit.

“Can we talk?” Taehyung all but blurts. Cheeks flushed and for some reason he’s breathing hard like he’s out of breath.  

Jeongguk kind of just freezes up. Tries to process everything in his head before he glances back at Hoseok, who’s giving him an encouraging thumbs up. That’s when he realizes that this was all just a trap and that his friend is just an evil person at heart.

Realizing that he currently has no choice but to comply, Jeongguk sighs. “Sure,” he mumbles. Tries to seem relaxed even though he’s a shit actor.

“Okay then.” Taehyung just stands there awkwardly for a long moment. Shifts on one foot and looks everywhere but at Jeongguk. “There’s a park nearby if you wanna go there.”

Jeongguk swallows. Realizes that he’ll be far from Hoseok and he’s become so ridiculously dependent at this point. It scares him, knowing that he can never go back to the solitude he lived with for eight years. Because now someone other than the walls of his childhood home know his secrets. He doesn’t know why he wants to return to a house full of spiders anyways.

It’s like, sometimes he’s laughing and being around Hoseok and Jimin makes his heart feel so full. Makes his fingertips feel all tingly and he thinks, I could get used to this. But there are times when he wakes up and Jeongguk wishes that he could return back to the darkness. Sometimes he thinks about New Years and how he’ll be gone and he feels such relief, but then the next minute he’s so unsure of everything. He gives himself whiplash and he hates it—how he doesn’t understand himself or his feelings and it all feels stupid. So stupid.  

The walk to the park is encompassed by a silence that stretches too thin. They walk with distance between them and Jeongguk’s on edge. He never looks at Taehyung once, too scared to find out what kind of face he’s making. What is he thinking? When they’re together, does Taehyung dream about losing teeth? Jeongguk does. He dreams of wide nights that leave him powerless. Mocking whispers closing around the base of his throat like a vice. He dreams of a younger Taehyung; small, trembling, and godless. Taehyung who has grown and flourished into someone strong. Someone that’s got his shit together and eats three meals a day. Someone who is deserving of kindness. Ethereal and out of reach for men like Jeongguk.

They arrive at the park and Taehyung leads him to a bench on a hill that overlooks a lake; shimmering and dancing lights reflected from the sun. It’s a breathtaking sight and Jeongguk finds himself transfixed, tries to lose himself in the way the water moves. But he can’t. He can’t because Taehyung’s sat next to him, too much space between them still.

There’s a long, drawn out sigh. “It’s pretty isn’t it? I come here often when I need to think.”

But the lake is just a lake and Taehyung is an ocean. Jeongguk dares to look at him and he’s handsome in the sun, the light caresses him gently. Jeongguk thinks that Taehyung may be the sun god’s lost lover. Thinks that he belongs up in the clouds, not in a dirty place like this where humans are cruel and selfish.

He stares at his palms, opens and closes them again.

It’s so hard for him to hold onto things. Him and Taehyung and loneliness. He’s still holding onto the wrong parts of life, grasps these feelings so tightly because he doesn’t want to let go. But then it all gets messy. Overflows and seeps out of the cracks of his fingers red, runs over his skin red, spills into the air red and stains his carpet red. I’m sorry. But what was he supposed to do? He makes such a mess out of things but can't look away because it's a beautiful mess. It becomes too breathtaking to scrub away, a captivating shade of crimson. But now he realizes that it was the color of blood—desperately wishing that it was the color of soulmates. Of apologies and forgiveness. So many things left unsaid.

He's had to reshape his heart around the hole that had formed after Taehyung left. Buries the bad memories in his mind, lets them rot like a time capsule. But lately he's dug it all up. Lately he wonders about what Taehyung had meant that night. I don’t know. Wonders if he can ever be forgiven. Wonders about the free pizza and the way Taehyung had offered him a drink that night. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks, but when he opens his mouth he chokes.

“Can we just forget about that night?” The words tumble out recklessly and Jeongguk’s heart beats loudly, thumps against his chest ready to escape. Why did he have to go and mention it? Stupid, stupid Jeongguk.

Taehyung shifts nervously, tongue darting out to lick his lips. “Do we have to?” he’s hesitant. Scratches the back of his neck and finally looks Jeongguk in the eyes. “I feel like shit about that night. That’s kinda what I wanted to talk about.”

Jeongguk’s skin grows hot and he doesn’t like where this is going. Doesn’t want to talk about that night. Sows his mouth together and stares at his feet instead because why do they have to talk? What is there to talk about?

“I didn’t mean to freak you out like that.” Taehyung frowns, stares back out at the lake. “I didn’t think that you’d ever have anxiety.”

Anger flares up inside of him and Jeongguk blurts, “I know I’m fucked up okay? You don’t have to mention it.”

Taehyung blinks, clearly taken aback. He seems unsure of what to do with himself and laughs awkwardly. “You’re not fucked up, Jeongguk. Not at all.” He sounds sincere and Jeongguk wants to close his ears and turn away.

“Y’know, when we were kids you were a lot different. Bold and loud, you were never afraid to say what you were thinking.” He flinches at his own words. “But now...now you’re completely different from the person I had painted in my head.” He looks at Jeongguk, brows furrowed like he’s trying to make sense of it in his head—how someone so cruel could turn into something terribly fragile.

“What happened to you, Jeon Jeongguk?” the question is quiet but fills the tiny space that surrounds them. Fills up the small box and Jeongguk feels like he's starting to drown, head barely above water and struggling for air. He feels like his lungs are going to constrict and he can't. He can't. He can't. The question is too loaded and he isn't ready for this conversation. He doesn't know where to even start. An apology? But there's too much to apologize for, so many things overflowing and spilling over and he doesn't know how to clean it all up.

I’m sorry for accusing you of being gay. I’m sorry you were bullied because of me. Did you really try to kill yourself or was it just another shitty rumor? I’m sorry that I never tried to understand you. I hated myself so much back then and still do. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry—

Where does he start? Where does he fucking start? Does he tell Taehyung that after he’d left, Jeongguk had become too familiar with the cruelness of children? Does he tell Taehyung about the way everyone left him? Swatches of big bruises, painted under his toes all the way to the swell of his eyes, courtesy of people he had once considered his best friends. Or does he tell Taehyung about how he knows what it’s like to have his backpack torn apart; pencils and notebooks thrown into a nearby stream. How he stood on the railing of Mapo bridge when he was sixteen. How he’s gay and no one knows. How he doesn’t even accept himself.

Jeongguk can't do this, he's not ready. He feels the panic begin to well up inside him and squeeze his heart. There's still two months until New Years, and he just needs some time, but Taehyung is looking at him so expectantly, he feels like he's going to cry.

"I—I guess I just grew up." Jeongguk lies through his teeth. "I was a really immature kid back then." 

Taehyung shrugs like it’s not a big deal. Like Jeongguk hasn’t destroyed himself for years over this. "We all were." 

They're just barely skirting around the subject, dipping their toes in the water. 

And then, so quietly that it’s barely a faint whisper, “I’m sorry.”

Jeongguk startles because what the actual fuck? It was already weird enough as it was receiving an apology from Hoseok, but now this?

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Jeongguk says quickly. “It’s not your fault.” He feels the panic begin to recede.

"But it is." Taehyung scratches the bridge of his nose, squints at the sun. "I've kinda been a total asshole to you, right?  I never thought about the fact that you might have stuff going on in your personal life. So yeah, sorry."

Jeongguk blinks. Opens his mouth and then closes it again. Frowns and tries to make sense of it all in his head, because Taehyung is too good for apologies and Jeongguk doesn't deserve it when he's the one who wronged him in the first place. Figures that Taehyung is just as stubborn as Hoseok is and settles for, “thanks.”

It feels all weird on his tongue. Two apologies in one day. It takes him back to when he was fifteen and his mother had cried over his bruised and beaten body sprawled across the kitchen floor. Repeated apology after apology like a mantra. Jeongguk hasn’t known kindness until these past few months.

They sit in quiet for another few minutes, neither of them know how to fill the silence. What happens after this? Do they go back to avoiding each other and acting like everything's ok? What does Taehyung's apology mean when Jeongguk hasn't even uttered a single sorry for the pain he caused.

"If you ever want my employee discount, come by whenever you want," Taehyung says. Looks at his fingernails instead. He’s embarrassed and it’s cute. Really cute. 

"O-okay." Jeongguk blushes, feeling equally as flustered. He's glad that Taehyung isn't looking at him because he's scared that the other boy will notice the way he trembles and know the truth. A truth that he’s not too sure of anymore.

Because Taehyung has never given anyone free pizza before. His gaze is no longer cold and his words aren't malicious. It makes Jeongguk’s head spin. Makes his heart sing—hands shake. No one else seems to have this effect on him and it’s terrifying.

For the past eight years, Jeongguk has lived in a house full of spiders that aren't interested in helping him live, but Taehyung is like the sharp edge of a knife and Jeongguk is trying to get rid of himself. And so he tells himself that he'll apologize soon because he's ready to finally dissipate into air and become someone who doesn't take up space—who isn't needy and clingy and a burden. He'll disappear from everyone's life like dust, not even leaving footprints behind.

In the morning Jeongguk will kiss Taehyung's shadow instead of him, waiting for a sign from God telling him that it's okay to live. But unless it's a neon sign right in front of him, he won't see it. Unless Taehyung asks him to stay, he'll turn into smoke.

Jeongguk looks out to the lake again. Thinks about how he'll be gone soon. Everyone will be okay without him—he's just a mismatched piece of a puzzle anyways. 

Hoseok comes and takes him home, and Jeongguk wishes that all of this could stay permanent. Wishes for a happiness that will never come to him. He smiles when Jimin comes by and surprises him with a restock of banana milk. For now this is enough, even if he has to go one day.

Soon, he thinks. Soon.













































































 

Chapter Text

Nothing really changes after Jeongguk and Taehyung talk—not immediately at least. This isn’t a shitty romcom and they don’t become best friends overnight and skip off into the sunset holding hands. There’s no bold declaration of love, just a painful awkwardness because what are they supposed to do now? Their relationship becomes more confusing than ever. Jeongguk doesn’t quite know how to properly act in front of Taehyung. Knows that they’re standing on a thin line and could easily teeter over to one side or the other. What they have is fragile. Unsure.

Taehyung stops avoiding Hoseok and even though things seem stagnant, amidst all the confusion Jeongguk’s glad that their relationship quickly returned to how it used to be—even if it means that Jeongguk has to be around Taehyung more often. Even if his presence is overwhelming and any time they make eye contact, Jeongguk quickly looks away because it reminds him of how beautiful Taehyung looked under the dim yellow light of Hoseok’s kitchen all those nights ago.

Something is different. There’s still the fragility that makes him stutter, and yet something inside of him seems to shift. There are still secrets eating away at him, but being around Taehyung begins to feel less like he’s drowning. Instead, it makes his stomach all weird, and it’s strange, being able to breathe around the boy he destroyed. The boy who’s left guilt and regret to eat away at his heart like a disease. Taehyung brings the warmth back that Jeongguk’s father had snuffed out long ago.

Still, they’re both hesitant. Jeongguk isn't quite ready to take Taehyung’s offer up on discounted pizza, which has little effect because soon Taehyung starts to join their lunch dates more frequently and before Jeongguk knows it, the group of three becomes four. It’s weird because even though Hoseok, Jimin, and Taehyung had been friends long before Jeongguk came into the picture, he doesn’t think that he can ever get used to this. In fact, he’s a little scared if he’s being honest. They all fall into each other so well and Jeongguk is left to laugh at inside jokes he never understands. Recollections of special moments that he was never privy to experiencing. And maybe he is a little jealous of the friendship they share. He’s terrified of being alone, yet he tries to shove it all down.

Taehyung’s no longer as tight lipped around Jeongguk as he used to be. He seems to be more at ease after their talk and still, Jeongguk is trying to adjust. He doesn’t know whether he should be happy or not. They aren’t friends, but Taehyung always greets him and asks how he’s been and Jeongguk never fails to stutter and blush, forming incoherent responses that Taehyung just smiles at.

No, he’ll never get used to this.

Jeongguk learns that even though Taehyung is different than he used to be, even though he’s no longer shy and meek, some things never change. He’s still warmhearted. He’s thoughtful, funny, and cares way too much about stranded worms on pavement more than he should. He’s bold though; never afraid to express himself. Never shrinks whenever people look at him strangely with judgment in their eyes. When he laughs Jeongguk flinches because how can someone be that bright? How can someone have so much good in them at once?

They’re never really left alone but when they are their conversations are bland and tense, just words to fill the awkward silences. Taehyung does most of the talking and Jeongguk feels bad but he’s terrified that he’ll end up saying the wrong thing and that Taehyung will hate him again. Jeongguk hates being alone with him. Avoids it if he can, which isn’t hard because lately Hoseok and Jimin especially have been hovering over him, and as much as Jeongguk loves his friends it begins to get a little weird. For one, they stare at each other way too often, and maybe Jeongguk’s just imagining things but sometimes it seems like Jimin is hardcore hitting on Hoseok, and if Jeongguk squints hard enough he can see the red tint of Hoseok’s cheeks.

He doesn’t really ask about it because it’s none of his business, but it’s still weird as hell and he tries not to think about the one time Jimin had texted him and basically said he wanted to sleep with Hoseok. He doesn’t know much about sex, but he wishes that his friends would just talk it out and resolve whatever it is that they have between them. Jeongguk just wants his friends to be happy, and sometimes he opens his mouth to say something but freezes up. Since when has his opinion ever mattered to anyone?

Jeongguk hates being alone with Taehyung, but when Hoseok invites him over to hang out, the person who opens the door is no other than the very man he’s kind of trying to avoid.

“Um,” is all that comes out. Not a simple hello or anything because his brain doesn’t know how to function properly and Jeongguk always has to make things awkward for everyone.

Taehyung leans against the door frame in a black tee that looks far too good on him and Jeongguk hopes that it isn’t obvious that he’s ogling him.

“Hoseok said you were coming.” He completely ignores Jeongguk’s blatant awkwardness. Settles for a casual tone that makes it seem as if they’re actually friends. “He went out to grab some takeout though, so you’ll have to wait for a bit.”

“I—I can just come back later,” Jeongguk stutters out. There’s no way that he’s gonna allow himself to be completely alone with Taehyung in Hoseok’s apartment.

Taehyung looks perplexed, a little bemused as if he knows exactly what’s going through Jeongguk’s mind. “Why would you do that? He’ll be back soon, Jeongguk. You can come in and chill on the couch.” He moves out of the doorway to let him in. “No need to be a stranger.” The corner of his lips twitch. Makes Jeongguk almost think he’s being teased.

He debates on whether he should just turn around and bolt or not, but his intentions would be obvious and it would make them both more uncomfortable with each other than they already are. So he takes a tentative step past the threshold and tries to force a cordial smile. He moves to sit on the couch, posture stiff and back straight. Sure he hangs out in Hoseok’s apartment all of the time. It’s become more of a home for him than his own too big and too empty apartment, but with Taehyung in here he feels out of place. Like a stranger. Like he’s intruding on something, becoming a nuisance to their friendship.

There’s a game of Super Smash Bros paused on the T.V. and Taehyung plops down right next to him, leaving a considerable amount of space between them.

“You like Smash?”

“It’s alright,” Jeongguk responds stiffly. He fucking loves Smash.

Taehyung shoots him another bemused look. Throws the other controller in his lap and says, “play a game with me.”

It’s less of a question and more of a demand that leaves little room for Jeongguk to object, so he picks up the remote. “Just one game,” he mutters. Tries to appear disinterested.

Taehyung nods. “Just one game.”

It’s supposed to be just one game, but then one turns into two. And then rematches are demanded and before Jeongguk knows it, they’ve already played eight matches and Taehyung has only won three times. Jeongguk had completely forgotten about how competitive he can be. After Taehyung had won the first match, he couldn’t just give up like that. Couldn’t let Taehyung think that he sucks at playing his favorite videogame ever.

“That’s not fair! You totally cheated,” Taehyung shouts. Has the audacity to pout when his Kirby goes flying off the screen and it’s game over yet again.

“How did I cheat?” Jeongguk laughs lightly. “Everyone knows that Pit is the best for pvp matches.”

Taehyung glares. “You shouldn’t have been able to use your Smash attack like that, the game glitched. Let’s play again.”

“You’re such a sore loser.” Jeongguk snorts and rolls his eyes.

It’s the first time that they’ve been able to casually joke around with each other like this and sitting beside Taehyung, he forgets who they both are. He forgets how much he had hurt Taehyung and how he probably still resents him. He wonders if this is how they could have been if he hadn’t been such an asshole back then. Right now they’re just two competitive college boys who take Smash far too seriously and Jeongguk can smile a little. Can laugh half-heartedly even. Forgets that he’s supposed to be hanging out with Hoseok because he’s actually having fun with Taehyung.

“You know, I’m kinda surprised,” Taehyung says. Gets a little excited when he finally manages to knock Jeongguk’s character off of the screen. “You’re not exactly how I thought you’d be.”

“How so?”

“You’re usually really shy and don’t talk much, so I wasn’t expecting you to be so competitive.” He pauses thoughtfully. “It kind of gives me whiplash, but it’s nice being able to hang out like this.”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk keeps his reply short, tries not to think too much about it. Doesn’t want to ruin the mood. 

But then, “it’s almost like we’re friends.”

Jeongguk stiffens. “Taehyung—”

“I know,” he quickly interjects. “I know.”

Of course he does. Of course he knows that Jeongguk is spooked easily by the idea of meaning anything more to each other besides bad memories. That they can’t be because that’s not fair to Taehyung at all and there’s still too much left unsaid, hidden behind pleasant smiles and forced conversations.

“Hoseok tells me that you’re a financing major,” Taehyung comments offhandedly in an attempt to smooth things out before it gets incredibly awkward again. He’s chosen Sheik this time and isn’t doing half as bad anymore.

Jeongguk hums in affirmation, tries to get his head on straight and focuses on making sure that Taehyung never tastes victory ever again.

“You don’t seem like the type to like that kind of thing.”

“I hate it. Makes me miserable as hell,” Jeongguk mutters. The truth slipping out before he even has a chance to think about what he’s saying.

“Then why are you doing something that makes you so unhappy?” Taehyung asks, eyes glued to the screen.

Jeongguk thinks that the older boy is too curious for his own good. His heart is no longer in the game and he doesn’t even curse when his character falls off the platform and Taehyung whoops in victory. His confidence begins to deflate and even something as simple as sitting besides Taehyung playing Smash starts to make him feel a little guilty. He shouldn’t be enjoying himself like this.

He swallows. “It’s what my parents wanted.”

“But what about what you want?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “What I want doesn’t matter.”

Taehyung doesn’t start another game. Instead, he sets his controller down and turns towards Jeongguk with a frown. “Why would you say that?”

Because it’s true. Jeongguk doesn’t matter. Nothing he says or does matter. Who cares about his dreams? His happiness The reality of life had taken him by the throat and crushed it all. He doesn’t know how to tell Taehyung that he doesn’t deserve any kind of hope—that he won’t allow himself to.

“It just doesn’t,” he says instead.

Taehyung’s quiet for a long minute and Jeongguk looks at the corner of the coffee table. Hoseok’s been gone for awhile, maybe he should text him.

“If it did matter, what would you want to do?” Taehyung inquires instead.

Jeongguk doesn’t even hesitate with his answer. “Music. I really love music.” It’s the first time he’s ever honestly said it outloud; his passion for it all. He feels a little exposed. A little sore because it’s still a touchy topic for him.

At this, Taehyung smiles softly. “You seem like you love music.”  

Jeongguk’s heart doesn’t skip a beat.

“You know,” Taehyung begins slowly, hesitantly, “I get wanting to make your parents proud and everything, but you are your own person, Jeongguk. How you live your life should be something that you decide for yourself.”

Taehyung’s words cut a little too deep, and Jeongguk begins to wring his fingers together, dares to look up at the other boy with hopeful eyes. “You really think that?” the question is an insecure whisper.

“Of course,” Taehyung assures gently. “I wouldn’t lie.”

But Jeongguk does. He’s spent his entire life lying to himself and others, and it weighs down on him greatly.

He wants to make music more than anything else in the world. He wants to sing and write songs again and he misses his guitar, but he’d left it back in Busan because it was far too painful to look at. His father always hated it when he played anyways. He wants the empty space in his apartment to be replaced with a grand piano, but his father would scoff at the sight of it. Jeongguk just wants to make his parents happy but he wonders how many pieces can a soul lose before it’s no longer his to keep? He wonders how much longer he can dance to his father’s tempo before he breaks.

Real men don’t kiss boys. Real men don’t chase pipe dreams like music.

“I may be overstepping my boundaries when I say this, but if you ever feel like you want to start living for yourself, I have a friend in the music department that can help. Even if you don’t end up changing your major, I’m sure it’d be nice to do something that makes you happy.”

Jeongguk wants to say that it’s pointless because he won’t live long enough to chase a dead end dream that his father hates, but he nods anyways. Perhaps he can allow himself to believe just for a little bit. “I-I’ll think about it. Thank you, Taehyung.”

He shifts awkwardly and Taehyung looks like he wants to say more. Looks like he knows that something has been burning Jeongguk’s insides little by little, and Jeongguk holds his breath. Maybe Taehyung knows. Maybe, just maybe he’ll ask, “are you happy to be alive?” and Jeongguk will say no. Will say that he’s going to die. He’ll die just as the New Year arrives and he hasn’t quite worked it all out, but no one can stop him.

Unless—unless Taehyung asks him to stay. Sometimes, in moments like these, he wants to stay. But Taehyung doesn’t ask him anything else. Just settles for a warm smile and says, “You’re welcome, Jeongguk.”

Taehyung doesn’t ask him if he wants to stay and he’s okay with that. The older boy drops the subject and they play another round of Super Smash Bros instead.

 





Being around Taehyung becomes less stifling after that day. Jeongguk tries to not let Taehyung’s words affect him, but he spent the entire night staring at his ceiling, thinking about the one thing he swore to give up on—music. It’s silly because he shouldn’t let it get under his skin, but it does and he wonders where he would be right now if he had stuck up for himself instead of caving in under his father’s scrutiny. Would he be any happier?

He shouldn’t think about it. There’s little over a month left till New Years and by then he’ll be a ghost but there’s a whisper of a voice in the back of his mind asking, what if you had even tried?

He had turned around to face the wall. Squeezed his eyes shut as if it would make all of the intrusive thoughts go away, but everything had been too loud. Too much. He didn’t sleep that night, thought about the sound of the guitar underneath his fingers instead.

He doesn’t see Taehyung around for the next few days either, which is a blessing as well as a curse because he sits in class daydreaming about guitar strings and piano keys, and the soundboard back home that his eccentric aunt had bought him many Christmases ago. But his skin has been crawling and there’s an itch in his throat that won’t go away. He’s unfocused now more than ever. Finals are next month, which means the hellish few weeks of studying for eight hours straight and getting two hours of sleep are coming up, but every time Jeongguk looks at numbers and statistics he feels gross. His father said that he would do well in business but he doesn’t want this. Wants lyrics and melodies. Likes to sing to himself in the shower.

It’s on the third day of mulling over his awful life decisions that he finally decides to get the fuck over himself and stops by the pizzaria to see if Taehyung is working. The moment he sees Taehyung in his stupid uniform, his heartbeat inexplicably speeding up when their eyes meet.

“Hey,” he greets. Feels a little breathless.

“Jeongguk?” his tone is one of confusion, clearly not expecting Jeongguk to ever actually come back. And then jokingly, “did you come here for my employee discount?”

Jeongguk shrugs. Tries to make it seem as if he’s just here by chance, even if he’s feeling rather embarrassed now that the other boy is in front of him. “I—I just happened to be in the are and thought that I’d drop by.”

“You still need to work on your lying skills.” Taehyung smiles wryly. “You really suck at it.

Jeongguk’s eyes widen. “Is it that obvious?”

Taehyung snorts in amusement. “I was just kidding but now you’ve exposed yourself.”

Cheeks burning, Jeongguk resists the urge to punch himself in the face. “Oh.”

“So what are you actually here for?” Taehyung eyes him curiously.  

Jeongguk pauses, tries to gather the courage to just ask but he doesn’t remember the last time he’d asked for a favor and they aren’t close enough for that. Plus, what if Taehyung wasn’t even serious? What if everything he had said were just empty words? But still, a voice echoes in his head, what if you had even tried?

“You remember when you told me that you have a friend in the music department?” he starts slowly, shakily. Looks at the register when he speaks because he feels selfish and a little ashamed.

“Yeah. What about it?”

“Well...well—” oh god, he can’t do this. Can’t ask this of Taehyung.

He begins to shut down, is ready to tell the other to just forget about it and buy some discounted pizza, but Taehyung is quick to catch on.

“Would you like me to introduce you to him?” he inquires.

“Oh no,” Jeongguk starts blubbering. Takes a step back. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I really don’t want to bother you with all of this. I couldn’t possibly—”

“His name is Min Yoongi and he’s a senior,” Taehyung interjects smoothly. “He can be kind of grumpy and quiet, but I know that he’ll like you.”

Jeongguk eyes him warily. “Are you sure? You don’t have to go out of your way for someone like me.”

Taehyung scrunches his nose as if offended. “What is that supposed to mean? Besides, I think you would be good company for each other.” There’s a double meaning there that Jeongguk doesn’t quite understand, but he doesn’t dwell on it either.

“Thanks.” He ducks his head, stares at his shoes instead and apologizes thrice for being annoying, even if Taehyung assures him that he isn’t. He wonders what kind of person Min Yoongi is and feels something akin to excitement rush through his veins. He shifts on his other foot, flushes a little as he attempts to initiate small talk for once. “So uh, what have you been up to?”

Once again, Taehyung is caught off guard as if he wasn’t expecting Jeongguk to stick around and talk. “Nothing much. Just working and dreading finals like basically everyone else.”

“Ah.”

There’s an awkward silence and Jeongguk is just about to dismiss himself when Taehyung speaks up. “Are you busy? My shift is actually ending in twenty minutes and I was wondering if you wanted to grab a bite to eat or something?”

“You work at a pizza shop,” Jeongguk deadpans.

“Yeah and I now have a burning hatred for it.”

“Understandable.”

“So…?”

Jeongguk hesitates for a long moment because besides that one time they played Smash, they’ve never truly hung out before. But what does he have to lose now? Maybe this will be the chance to properly tell the older boy everything once and for all.

“Sure.”

And so he waits. Sits at the table near the window and tries to control the shaking of his right leg, foot tapping incessantly against the ground. He tries not to think too hard about it because he knows that he’ll run away and regret it all day if he does, but this entire situation is unexpected. Jeongguk had just stopped by to ask a question, but now he’s going to hang out with Taehyung? He pinches himself on the arm to make sure he’s not dreaming and curses when the sting of pain is too real. Just what has he gotten himself into?

Jeongguk doesn’t get how Taehyung can be so confident because everything makes Jeongguk nervous; eye contact and small spaces with too many people give him anxiety. But Taehyung is strong, holds himself together and faces everything head on. Tries to create more than small talk with Jeongguk and doesn’t let the past eat away at himself. It’s like he’s trying to reach out, a gentle voice that says I’ll wait for you until you’re ready and Jeongguk wants to hold on tight but there are too many parts of himself missing so he tries to let go because it’s better this way. He makes things awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. At the end of the day it’s all his fault and what is he supposed to do? Saunter back into Taehyung’s life after eight years and ruin his happiness again?

He looks down at his palm, realizes that he’s overthinking things again.

“Hey.” He blinks suddenly, a little startled. Looks up to see Taehyung standing in front of him no longer in uniform. “You ready?”

Jeongguk nods, a bit tight lipped.

 




They don’t go to a restaurant, but instead hop on a train to Gwangjang market. During summertime, the enclosure is ridiculously hot. The heat from cooking and the humid summer air gets trapped, but in fall the warmth is welcomed. Taehyung is like a little boy in a candy shop as he goes from food stall to food stall, shoving everything in his mouth as the old ladies coo at him. Jeongguk trails awkwardly behind him, not quite comfortable with the crowd and the loudness of it all. 

Taehyung takes a big bite out of a seafood pancake and holds it out as an offer. “Want some?”

Jeongguk scrunches his nose in distaste. “No thank you. It’s way too greasy for me.”

“It’s fucking fantastic, thank you very much,” Taehyung grumbles. Shoves the rest of it into his mouth in one go and Jeongguk tries not to smile at the way his cheeks bulge. It’s cute.

He settles for kimchi dumplings instead, and watches in awe as Taehyung inhales five of them. At this point, he’s pretty sure that the other boy’s stomach is an endless pit.

They don’t really talk until they’re stuffed full and Taehyung leads them across the street and under a bridge where a small river runs endlessly for miles. It’s dark now, and still there are people sitting on the rocks dipping their feet in the water and drinking with their friends. It’s nice, feels like it’s a seperate world under here.

“Ugh, I should have brought some soju,” Taehyung comments offhandedly.

“Oh, I don’t really drink anyways.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything, just climbs down the rocks and sits at the opposite end from the people who are drinking. He begins to take his shoes and socks off. Looks back up at Jeongguk as he’s rolling his pant sleeves up and asks, “aren’t you coming?”

Jeongguk flushes and slowly climbs down. He doesn’t stop to sit next to Taehyung because he honestly doesn’t think that he can handle that kind of proximity right now. Instead, he throws off his shoes and goes splashing right into the river, scaring the fish away. It’s cold and he flinches at the way the pebbles dig into the soles of his feet but doesn’t complain.

“Be careful,” Taehyung warns him. “It’s slippery.”

But Jeongguk ignores him. Wanders further into the middle until he feels as if he’s become his own island. Until the water is up to his knees and he hits the deepest point, jeans soaked because he hadn’t bothered to roll them up. He looks up but the sky isn’t there, just a cement ceiling. Wonders if this is the extent of his world on this tiny, lonely island.

After awhile, Taehyung calls him. Says, “Come back here, Guk.” The pet name falls from his lips like familiarity; like friends or lovers—not strangers. And in the dark, Jeongguk can’t see his face from here. He wonders how Taehyung’s so good at pretending nothing happened. It’s as if things in his life are pliable. He nurtures a garden where he only lets certain plants in.

This garden isn’t made for people like you.
He knows. He knows. Takes a step towards Taehyung but it feels as if there’s an ocean between them, so he stops. Wonders if they’ll ever be able to build a bridge between them. Do ocean waves ever feel lonely? Taehyung calls his name again but he doesn’t look back, maybe he can pretend that they were right for each other in another lifetime. He often misses things that are not as sweet as he remembers them tasting.

“Jeongguk.”

The sudden proximity of the voice has him whipping around so fast that he loses his footing and slips on algae, his body tilting as he begins to fall. Taehyung reaches out, tries to grab him by the waist to catch him but when Jeongguk instinctively latches onto his shirt, Taehyung goes toppling over as well and they hit the water with a splash.

Jeongguk goes under for an instant, when he comes back up he sputters and his eyes are wide in panic, apology at the tip of his tongue as his face burns in embarrassment. But then Taehyung’s laughing and Jeongguk can’t help that it’s contagious and they’re both laughing abit hysterically.

“I tuh-told you t-to be careful!” Taehyung manages to get out between wheezing for air.

“Sorry.” Jeongguk lifts a hand to cover his face, feeling a bit flustered all over again now that he’s realized their position. While he’s sat in the water, Taehyung had managed to avoid going under and instead kneels over him, knees on each side of Jeongguk’s leg so that he’s practically being straddled and one hand around the small of his back.

“Don’t be.” Taehyung grabs Jeongguk’s hand and pulls it away from his mouth but instead of letting go, he seems to think that it’s a good idea to intertwine their fingers together and Jeongguk’s brain short circuits. “You’re cute when you get embarrassed.”

“What?”

Jeongguk stares at him cluelessly and under the faint glow of the streetlight, Taehyung’s eyes look a little dark. A little intimate.

“I said, you’re fucking cute.”

Jeongguk swallows. Blinks a couple of times. “O-oh. Thanks? I mean you’re definitely far more handsome than I am but—”

“You think I’m attractive?” Taehyung cuts off.

“Huh?”

“You just called me handsome.”

Jeongguk feels like his head is about to explode. “No I was just—it’s just that subjectively speaking you have an attractive face and anyone who says otherwise is blind. Science and all.”

“Oh?” Taehyung puts pressure on the small of Jeongguk’s back and he gasps when Taehyung leans further in, smirk playing at his lips. “So you just subjectively find me attractive.”

“Um, yes?” What the fuck.

Taehyung hums. “Well I subjectively appreciate it.”

Jeongguk nods as if they’re just having casual conversation and he’s totally not having a meltdown on the inside. “You’re welcome. I guess.”

Taehyung looks as if he’s trying to hold his laughter back and Jeongguk tries not to stare at his lips but they’re so close, all he would have to do is tilt his head a little and then—

“We should get out before you catch a cold,” Taehyung advises. Creates distance between them and Jeongguk instantly feels as if something is missing.

He shakes it off anyways and puts on a smile as Taehyung reaches out a hand to help him up. “Yeah, I should probably go home and change anyways. I, uh, had fun hanging out with you.”

“Really?” the other looks a little doubtful.

“Really.”

“Well, I would hope so. Seeing as I’m handsome and all.”

“Taehyung!”

Subjectively handsome, I mean. Science and all, right?”

Jeongguk is going to combust.

 




The next day, Jeongguk glances up from the directions Taehyung had texted him with trepidation, and sure enough he’s standing in front of the music building on the far end of campus, and of course he’s sweating bullets as well. With finals coming up, Taehyung didn’t have enough free time to go with Jeongguk, and while he had assured Jeongguk that he would be completely fine going by himself, it was honestly a complete lie because Jeongguk doesn’t deal well with unfamiliar faces.

He tries to calm down and mentally prepares to make an absolute fool out of himself before he enters the building. There’s no one in the lobby and he takes the elevator to the second floor where the studios are. He debates on whether he should even get off or not before he tells himself to stop being a bitch and begins to search for the room number that Taehyung had given him. When he finally finds it, he ends up hesitating for far too long. Taehyung had assured him that Yoongi knew he was coming and that he was completely okay with it, but he’s terrified that he’ll leave an awful impression. He gulps, stares at the door handle for another minute.

“Um, can I help you?”

Jeongguk jumps. A squeaky sound of surprise emanates from his lips before he spins around with wide eyes and finds a small man with blonde hair that’s been bleached far too many times. The fringes brittle and fried.

“Uh,” he starts. “I-I’m looking for Min Yoongi.”

The man frowns a little. Squints his eyes at Jeongguk of whom squirms under his scrutiny. “Oh, are you the Jeon Jeongguk I’ve heard so much about?”

Jeongguk blanches, color draining from his face. “Are you Min Yoongi by any chance?”

“The one and only,” he replies dryly.

“Oh.” Jeongguk gulps.

“I was wondering why you were just standing there for three minutes,” Yoongi comments. He doesn’t sound annoyed but he doesn’t sound happy either.

“I’m so sorry!” Jeongguk splutters, blushing profusely. It was an absolute mistake coming here. He should have just waited until Taehyung was free because now Yoongi’s first impression of him is that he’s some creep who lurks in front of his studio.

So he opens his mouth to make an excuse as to why he has to leave, but then Yoongi opens the door and glances back at him. “Are you coming in or…?”

Not wanting to make a bigger fool of himself, Jeongguk swallows the words and just nod stiffly.

The studio is small and it seems like all of the equipment had been crammed into wherever there was space. Standing in a room with soundboards, monitors, a recording booth and even a electric piano, Jeongguk feels awkward and out of his element. It hasn’t even been a year since he last played anything but it feels as if it’s been ages. He wonders if he would have been given a studio much like this one if he had just given his father the middle finger and walked out the door.

Yoongi plops himself down in the chair situated in front of the computer, and swivels it around to face Jeongguk. “You can sit down, kid.”

“Oh...thank you.” Jeongguk shuffles over to a ratty looking couch. Sits down with his posture stiff, back straight and hands folded neatly into his lap.

Yoongi sighs in disbelief. "You don't have to act like I'm going to murder you or something. Relax."

Oh god, now Jeongguk's making things uncomfortable for the both of them. Why can't he just socialize like a normal twenty year old?

"Sorry," he apologizes again. Doesn't relax.

Yoongi mutters something intelligible under his breath. "Taehyung tells me that making music is your dream," he says. "But liking music and being good at it are two different things. Do you play any instruments?"

"The piano and guitar mainly," he answers slowly. And then adds on, “I used to write songs and played around with creating some beats but I was never really good at that.”

Yoongi motions towards the guitar sitting in a corner. "Wanna play?"

Immediately, Jeongguk feels himself closing off. "I-I don't think that's a good idea."

Yoongi appears pretty irritated by his response. He mutters something under his breath that sounds like, “then why did you come here?” before he tsks and then turns back towards the computer. “I can show you some of my projects if you’d like.” He sounds disinterested, as if he’s just fulfilling a promise towards Taehyung and would care less if Jeongguk says no and leaves.

Taehyung had said that Yoongi would like him, but that seems to be a complete lie because Jeongguk ruins everything.

“Taehyung told me that you’re good at hiphop,” Jeongguk comments in an attempt to lighten the mood. “It’s my favorite genre.”

Yoongi shrugs as he starts to pull files up . “I rap but I’m not that special.”

Except that he is and the moment the notes flow out of the speakers, followed by Yoongi’s voice, Jeongguk’s jaw practically drops to the floor.  Yoongi's rapping style is nothing like Jeongguk has ever heard before. It's aggressive with a slight lisp, a twinge of an accent similar to Taehyung's. The way he rhymes syllables and plays with words leaves Jeongguk speechless. His lyrics are genius. Heavy and raw. Jeongguk gets lost in the unique flavor of Yoongi's rap, the way he unabashedly talks about his mental health, about wanting to give up and yet still holding on for the future. There's no filter and it's terrifying. Jeongguk's never been able to relate to someone so much before.

He never thought that anyone else besides himself could hold such darkness in them. All his life, Jeongguk has been sure that if you opened him up you would find that his insides are nothing but black, but now he thinks that maybe Yoongi might have a little bit of it inside him as well.

By the last track Yoongi plays titled ‘The Last’, Jeongguk feels like he can’t breathe. It’s powerful. Suffocating. He wonders what kind of things Yoongi has gone through to produce such dark music. Feels like maybe Yoongi can understand him.

“Are you from Daegu?” it’s the first question he asks after the song ends and Yoongi looks at him strangely.

“Yeah. Me and Taehyung were actually childhood friends until he moved away. Why?”

Jeongguk fiddles with his fingers, refuses to make eye contact. "I-it's just that I thought I could hear the accent in your rap. I really liked it sunbae. I think you're really amazing."

Yoongi snorts. "Just call me hyung, it's weird when you speak so formally."

"Okay then." He flushes. Feels a little warm knowing that Yoongi tolerates him enough for such familiarity. 

"Do you still not want to play?" Yoongi asks and Jeongguk feels selfish knowing that Yoongi shared something so intimate with him, and yet he's being difficult.

"I guess I can try," he answers hesitantly and Yoongi seems a little more interested in him now. Grabs the guitar with eager fingers and passes it on to him.

"If you remember a song you composed, play that instead."

Jeongguk gulps. "But what if it sucks?"

Yoongi shrugs. “Then I’ll teach you.”

Maybe the older boy doesn’t hate him after all.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Jeongguk positions the guitar in his lap. Plucks at the strings and tunes it to his liking. It’s a little alien at first, and despite being a nervous wreck, he begins to re-familiarize himself with the shapes and sound. He’s pretty sure that he’ll completely fucked this up because the only person he could ever confidently play in front of was his mom. He remembers the insults that his father had thrown towards him about wasting his time with music and he’s so sure that he’ll fail, but when he finally begins to play it becomes motor memory from there.

The melody is sad and slow. He messes up a few times in the beginning but refuses to allow himself to be intimidated and instead loses himself in the feeling, the yearning. The notes begin to sound more stable until it all flows together and Jeongguk is in bliss. He begins to hum the melody softly and he’s never sang in front of anyone before, but then he’s opening his mouth and singing. Softly. Hauntingly. The lyrics strikingly painful as Yoongi’s. It’s a song about loss and regret, and Jeongguk pours his heart into it even when his voice cracks and his pitch is off at parts.

When he’s done the room is eerily quiet. Too quiet. He peels open his eyes to find Yoongi staring at him in wonder, mouth forming a soft o. And Jeongguk holds his breath because he’s scared—terrified that Yoongi will hate it. Because he knows that he’s not enough of anything. Not talented enough. Not smart enough. Not confident enough. That’s why his father hated his much. He’s just not good enough.

But then Yoongi lets out a breathless wow and he’s smiling softly, the speckled brown of his irises shining. “That was far better than I was expecting it to be,” Yoongi admits. Sounds kind of taken aback. “You really have a talent Jeon Jeongguk, don’t let go of that.”

"Are you just saying that to make me feel better?" Jeongguk mumbles. 

Yoongi gives him a pointed look. "Do I seem like the type to spew bullshit?"

"No."

"Then accept the compliment, kid. I rarely give them out."

Jeongguk sags in relief, tension leaving his body. He’s a little shell shocked with disbelief. Can’t believe that someone as amazing and genius as Yoongi has actually acknowledged him and didn’t sneer at the sound of his voice or call him shitty.

“Thank you,” he says quietly. Looks up shyly and flutters his lashes. “It really means a lot coming from someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” Yoongi snorts. “I’m just a mess, kid. Not someone you should look up to.”

“So am I.”

Yoongi stares at him, long and hard as if he’s debating something. “Yeah, I’ve heard. Guess we’ll just be fuck ups together then.

Jeongguk freezes. “And what exactly did you hear?”

“I told you that I’ve known Tae ever since we were kids,” Yoongi answers evenly. “Plus me and Jimin have been together for a couple of years now, so yeah I know everything.”

It’s like the first time Jeongguk met Taehyung again in Starbucks and he feels so incredibly small as if his body is about to collapse in on itself, because everyone but Hoseok knows how ugly he really is. But what is he supposed to say? He didn’t mean to? Because even if he regrets it he did mean it, and he doesn’t know how to tell people why. Why he was so angry and bitter at the world and why it’s still hard for him to really lay it all out and say sorry.

Because they say that abuse is a bad word. An ulcer in his stomach that he shouldn’t talk about. So he’s always stayed quiet, covered big swatches of blue and purple. Treated them like spacedust, another galaxy. The coloration he wore like a necklace had been Saturn’s ring.

“How long have you known?”

Yoongi doesn’t answer right away. Seems to be choosing his words carefully. “Since the day Taehyung returned to Daegu with stitches in his arms, more broken than he used to be.”

Jeongguk’s heart plummets all the way down to his stomach and he feels sick. He finally has the answer to the question that has been eating away at him for so long. He doesn’t understand why it hurts.

Yoongi knows. Of course he knows. Anyone within a five mile radius knows how ugly Jeongguk really is. Knows that if they open him up all they’ll find is rot. He’s scared of a lot of things; like spiders, loud noises and microwaves. But most of all, he’s scared of himself. Scared that he’ll never amount to anything more than his mistakes and people will leave like they always do. They’ll take his house and tear it all down and he promised himself that he’d never let anyone in to hurt him like that ever again, yet here he is. A stupid, stupid boy. When will he learn?

“I don’t hate you,” Yoongi adds on when Jeongguk doesn’t respond, just stares at his lap and picks at the skin around his finger again. “At first I was so angry that I wanted to kill you with my bare hands, but the past is the past and everyone is over it.”

“Why?” Jeongguk’s vision starts to blur. He hopes that he doesn’t start to cry. This is their first meeting after all.

“Because you were just a kid,” Yoongi says. And then gently, “you’re obviously not the same person you used to be.”

But he is and Jeongguk doesn’t know how Yoongi can’t see that.

Neither of them seem to know what to say after that because Jeongguk has never allowed himself to be forgiven and he doesn’t know how to handle this. He feels sick having confirmation that Taehyung hurt himself because of Jeongguk.

Yoongi clears his throat eventually. “It’s getting late, you should head home,” he says. “Come by whenever. I’m always here.” It’s an invitation, a sign to let Jeongguk know that Yoongi truly doesn’t hate him but he’s undeserving of it.

He smiles anyway. Stands up and bids the older boy farewell but his words feel empty and numbness begins to spread throughout his body. He feels tingly. Jeongguk knows that he’s starting to float again. He doesn’t remember how he gets home, just knows that it all goes from zero to a hundred faster than he can comprehend.

One moment he’s standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to turn green as cars zoom by. Seoul traffic is always awful and Jeongguk knows that if he stepped out into the road he could really end it all now, but he doesn’t remember ever making it that far. Everything fades out and when his vision finally comes back into focus he’s standing atop a chair in the kitchen. Confused, he realizes that there’s a rope hanging loosely around his neck, tied to the ceiling lamp and he’s staring at the tiles on the floor, wondering if it’ll heard.

But then his senses return to him and Jeongguk startles. Confusion morphs into fear and disgust and as the sudden onslaught of emotions hit him, he begins to shake. He can’t do this. It’s too early and he’s too scared. And, and—a sob rips its way past his throat and Jeongguk screams in frustration. In pain.

“Do you think people can change?”  

“Not really. You can’t change who you are at your very core.”

He removed the rope from his neck and climbs off the chair. Picks it up and throws it across the kitchen with so much more that the legs break and splinter upon impact. Picks up a glass cup and throws it on the floor. Screams and cries some more as he destroys everything. He wants to tear this entire building down.

“Do you still hate me?”

“I don’t know.”

He throws another plate and steps in shards of glass but he doesn’t even flinch. He can barely feel it, tracks blood all over the white tiles and thinks it’s beautiful how he can bleed like this. He’s sure that Taehyung bled even more.

“This is what happens when boys kiss other boys. Don’t forget it, son.”

Jeongguk hates himself. Doesn't understand why he can't just do it when he's wanted to die for years now. Why can't he just take that final leap and do it? He's pathetic. Too much of a coward. Perhaps its because it's not New Years yet and he still hasn't told Taehyung everything. Maybe after he gets everything off of his chest and sees Taehyung doing well for well, maybe then he can finally let go.

Or maybe he’s still hoping that someone, anyone, will ask him to stay.

He collapses on the floor, pulls out his phone from his pocket and through blurry vision, attempts to scroll through his contacts. When he hits call, the line picks up on the third ring.

"Hello?" Jimin's soft voice carries through the receiver and Jeongguk's still sobbing. "Guk? Is that you? are you okay?" his tone is severe, worried now.

"H-hyung," Jeongguk chokes out. "I n-need you. Please. I need you."

Jimin's breath hitches. "Where are you?"














 

Chapter Text

Jeongguk doesn’t know how much time passes before there are urgent knocks at his door. All he’s aware of is that his aching feet feel like they’re on fire. His head pounds, brain as if it’s about to break through his skull, and the skin around his eyes is puffy and sore from how much he’s cried. He’d managed to stop some time ago, but he feels even worse than before.

“Jeongguk?” Jimin’s worried voice is muffled even further by the cotton in Jeongguk’s ears. He knows very well that he should get up and let Jimin in. Knows that his friend is probably thinking of the worst case scenario, but his legs feel like jello and right now he doesn’t want to acknowledge the real world. He wants to stay in this state of limbo where he doesn’t really feel anything. It’s easier this way.

“Please open up, I don’t want to call the cops.” At Jimin’s frantic tone, Jeongguk forces himself up, grips the counter for support as he heaves onto his feet and almost instantly falls over on wobbly legs, and with pressure against the soles of his wounded feet, the pain finally hits him at full force and he nearly doubles over. 

Somehow he’s able to make it to the door. Swings it open with a little too much force and Jimin barrels in, almost knocks him right over. He looks at Jeongguk with wide eyes, hair unkempt and clothes askew as if he’d just gotten out of bed. Jeongguk instantly feels like shit for calling. He must be quite the sight right now.

“What happened?” Jimin asks breathlessly.

Jeongguk tries to smile. Tries to tell Jimin that it was really nothing but a minor freakout, just him being dramatic as usual, but for some reason his tongue is all twisted and when he tries to smile and tell Jimin that he was just lonely all that comes out is a croak. He tries to swallow but his throat is terribly dry. He must appear quite unsteady on his feet because the moment he wobbles, Jimin surges forward and supports Jeongguk by the elbow and small of his back.

“C’mon, let’s sit you down and I’ll get you some water.”

Jeongguk feels too fuzzy to respond and lets Jimin guide him with a limp in his gait. Once he’s safely sat on the couch, Jimin moves to to head towards the kitchen but Jeongguk reaches out and pulls at the hem of his shirt. Scared of what he’ll find.

The other boy instantly turns around, opens his mouth to say something but decidedly closes it and instead waits for Jeongguk to say something. But he doesn’t. Can’t. Doesn’t know how to explain this kind of thing so he lets go because he’s tired of always having to cover his tracks. He’s tired of stuffing his trauma into old, forgotten boxes. Maybe, just maybe he’s sick of people not knowing. For once, he wants someone to know. He wants Jimin to know.

The moment Jimin disappears into the kitchen, Jeongguk braces himself for the worst. He remembers the first time he had told someone that he was broken and had been called a freak and jeered at. But at the lack of a scream of horror like he expected, he finds himself caught completely off guard when Jimin returns a minute later with a glass of water in hand. Jeongguk refuses to glance up, scared of the kind of expression he might see. Stares at the Kumamon socks on Jimin’s feet instead.

He reaches out to take Jeongguk’s limp hand and makes sure his fingers are securely curled around the glass before he lets go. “Drink this,” he commands and Jeongguk can hear the tightness in the way he speaks, the way he’s trying to keep his composure. “Are you hungry?”

Jeongguk shakes his head.

“You sure? I can make something light like soup.”

Another shake.

“Okay, well I’m gonna—” Jimin’s voice cracks and he pauses for a second. Jeongguk can imagine what kind of face he’s making. “I’m gonna go clean up the kitchen a bit and then we can watch a movie together and have a little sleepover, yeah?”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond, continues staring at Jimin’s socks until he walks away but Jeongguk’s eyes are still transfixed to the spot where he’d been. He’s scared that something in him will break if he moves. It’s not long before he hears the sound of broken wood being cleaned up. The rustling of a trash bag.

He finally moves his arm to take a small sip of water, and then a bigger gulp that feels cool down his throat. He wonders how Jimin’s going to get that rope down. Fantasizes about how it would have played out if he wasn’t such a coward. There’s the creak of cabinets opening and closing and then the smell of bleach begins to burn his nose. Jimin’s in the kitchen for a long time and Jeongguk never knew that a silence could feel so guilty.

Eventually, when Jimin returns he smells like disinfectant. He’s carrying a first aid kit with him and when he kneels down in front of Jeongguk, he sets it right next to him. “I found this under the sink,” he says. “Did you cut your feet?”

Wordlessly, Jeongguk nods.

Knelt down like this, it’s hard to avoid looking at Jimin. He picks one of Jeongguk’s feet up to inspect the severity of the lacerations and whistles lowly to himself. “They’re not that deep, but you cut yourself up quite a bit. I’m surprised you were even able to walk.”

He opens the box and begins to rummage around before he gets back up and returns with a wet cloth. The first thing he does is wipe the blood away, the damp towel warm against Jeongguk’s skin brings him a slight sense of relief. When Jimin is done the material is stained an ugly red. He scrunches his nose as he rips open an ointment packet and begins to apply it to cuts.

“You’re so careless, Guk.” It’s Jimin’s attempt at cracking a joke, but his bottom lip is trembling and when he smiles it’s terribly forced. “You need to be more careful.” He finally looks up at Jeongguk and his eyes are shining. “You stupid, stupid boy.” And that’s when he breaks. His expression crumples and the tears begin to spill over. “Why? Why would you do that?”

Jeongguk has spent a majority of his life asking himself that question. Why did he do what he did to Taehyung? Why was he such an angry and cruel child? Why couldn’t his father look him in the eyes anymore? Why can’t he kiss boys? Why?

“Because I’m tired hyung.” It’s the first words Jeongguk has spoken all night and it sends a tremor through him. It feels strange to say out loud. The truth. This isn’t everything but it’s still a painful part of himself that he’s kept behind tight lips.

At this, Jimin only cries even harder. Hunches over to press his forehead against Jeongguk’s knee and he stares at the back of Jimin’s head. He’s never seen him cry before.

Jeongguk doesn’t move, just stares at Jimin’s shaking form and tries to make sense of it all. “I don’t want you to disappear,” Jimin wails, voice thick with emotion. “I’m scared for you, Guk.”

Jeongguk hesitantly reaches out to run his fingers through Jimin’s hair in an attempt to soothe him. Tries not to get too emotional over this but he can’t help it because Jimin’s love, the way he cares is shocking and Jeongguk just doesn’t understand it. Doesn’t understand how anyone could give a shit about someone as messed up as him. Jimin is bright and kind, and too good for him. And yet, here he is, crying his heart out with worry on Jeongguk’s knee.

“I’m sorry,” he begins to apologize. “I’m sorry,” he repeats brokenly. Just like that, it all hits him like a freight train and everything begins to leak out. Jeongguk breaks. The sound of their anguished cries fills the apartment because neither of them know how to fix him and this is all that they can do. How do you erase eight years of trauma and self hatred? You can’t. You can’t. So they cry and fold this secret like paper airplanes and maybe if they throw it far enough it’ll all just disappear.

“I can’t forgive myself for anything anymore,” Jeongguk mumbles. They’re laid out on the couch and he’s tucked into Jimin’s side halfway through a movie. It’s past midnight now, the first of December. There’s only thirty days until New Years now. His eyes are hurting again and his body feels terribly heavy. He’s starting to drift off, tongue loose and static radio playing in his head.

Jimin stills. Takes awhile to reply. “I forgive you. Isn’t that enough?” He sounds like he’s the one in pain and Jeongguk’s head spins.

He already knows the answer so he stays quiet. Falls asleep instead.




Jeongguk spends the next few days feeling a little numb and fuzzy. He’s not floating this time, his body feels too heavy for that. It’s just a relative numbness that he’s content with. Jimin spends those days glued to his side, leaving little room for Jeongguk to breathe. They don’t really talk about what happened, but Jimin erases the evidence. When Jeongguk woke the morning after the kitchen was immaculate, not a speck of blood in sight.

Despite hovering, Jimin doesn’t try to walk on eggshells around Jeongguk and the atmosphere between them lacks the awkwardness. Instead, he’s more attentive. He may not bring it up, but he shows how much he cares in small gestures. Whenever Jimin does have to leave Jeongguk’s side to attend class, he makes sure to check up on him often.

It takes longer to get Jeongguk to come back out of his shell this time. He holes himself up in the apartment, spends most of his day locked in his bedroom with the curtains drawn and blanket over his head until Jimin drags him out into the living room.

It’s just that he isn’t ready to confront the issue. Isn’t quite ready to tell his truth, so he texts Hoseok to let him know that he’s okay, just busy with studying for exams, which technically isn’t a lie because the semester is drawing to a close, and soon winter break will be upon them. But Jeongguk is scared—scared that if he sees Hoseok or Taehyung they’ll see the phantom prints around his neck and know.

They’ll know that under his skin there are old bruises, not like galaxies from the time he fell off his bike when he was seven, but something uglier. Something like anger and hatred from his own flesh and blood. And honestly, Jeongguk isn’t sure how much longer he can keep up this facade. He’s exhausted. Sanity barely hanging on by a single thread.

“He loves you,” his mother had told him, as she had covered up his father’s violence with makeup. Back then, she sounded like she didn’t even believe her own words and the trembling of her fingers had told another story. But isn’t that what love looks like? Wasn’t his father just trying to make his skin thick enough to handle the world? Because it’s the only kind Jeongguk has ever known and unless he’s swatched in a halogen of blues and blacks, he isn’t quite sure what to call it.

It’s funny, he thinks, because he had originally started off on the wrong foot with Jimin, and the other boy couldn’t even stand being in the same room as him. But now? Now Jeongguk clings to him like a lifeline. As if he can see Jeongguk’s wounds and it’s this secret swallowed between them. This secret that his smile is a paradox—a lie to make sure that people think he’s okay. A loneliness so stifling that if he wished it hard enough, he could return to dust. He’s nothing but a shell. A barely there ghost. And now, Jimin knows that slowly, Jeongguk is disappearing.  

It’s terrifying, having his wounds exposed for someone else to see—the black eye from when he was thirteen. The blood smeared across his nose. The cool embrace of the kitchen floor. Back then, he had called it love. Remembers it all like snapshots of someone else’s life. It didn’t happen if he doesn’t believe it. Like, his mom never cried over his body, and he didn’t feel like he was bursting from the inside out. Like, he hadn’t been stripped bare and left to drown in shame and regret. It’s hard to remember the days before that. The days when he was happy. Did they even exist?  

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” he tells Jimin when the moon is out and they’re laying in his bed.

Jimin give him a strange look, mouth set in a thin line. “What?” he utters in disbelief. Because it’s been three days and Jeongguk still hasn’t left the apartment.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” he repeats, voice rough from disuse. Jimin had to force him to take a shower today.

Jimin stares at him for a moment, expression blank, and Jeongguk knows that he doesn’t understand. Knows that Jimin is thinking about the rope and the equation in his head doesn’t fit, because how can someone be happy living like this? But Jimin just doesn’t understand, because Jeongguk has never had people care about him like this before. Has never had friends who make him feel less invisible.

This is Jeongguk’s version of happiness, as twisted as it may be.

“Okay,” Jimin whispers. “I wish you could be happy forever.”

But it’s silent, this understanding between them. They both know that Jeongguk will never fully heal. There will always be fractured parts of himself. There will always be something missing.

No one has asked him to stay.

“I didn’t know that you were dating Yoongi hyung.” Jeongguk mentions, steering the conversation away from himself.

Jimin smiles like he’s in love. “Yeah, we’ve been dating for two years. He was telling me about how he met you a few days ago. He really likes you, y’know?”

Jeongguk flushes a bit, hides his face in the pillow. “I was intimidated at first but he’s actually really cool.”

Jimin laughs. “Cool? I’ve never heard that one before, but yeah, he’s a huge softie at heart.”

“Does he make you happy?”

“Of course,” Jimin answers immediately, with no hint of uncertainty. “He makes me the happiest man alive.”

Jeongguk is confused because Jimin isn’t afraid to be so genuine about his feelings for Yoongi, and yet Jeongguk was sure that he liked Hoseok. Jeongguk shakes his head and pushes it out of his mind. It’s none of his business anyway.




In a strange turn of events, Jeongguk finds that Yoongi is the next person he opens up to. It’s kind of odd how the two of them end up bonding, but Jeongguk can’t say that he regrets it. Yoongi is caring in his own quiet way, but it’s cute.

He reignites Jeongguk’s passion in music and when Jeongguk isn’t studying for finals or laying in bed staring at the ceiling, he’s holed up in the studio with Yoongi. It’s an interesting and flourishing bond between the two, their love for music binding them together.

Yoongi doesn’t ask what happened, even if Jimin’s concern was obvious, nor does he treat Jeongguk any differently. Even though he tries to mind his own business, Jeongguk finds himself to still be quite baffled, because while there’s Yoongi and Jimin, there’s also Jimin and Hoseok, and he doesn’t want to think that someone as sweet as Jimin would ever cheat.

He can’t hide his curiosity any longer. Yoongi’s teaching him how to properly use a soundboard when he finally asks. “Hyung, do you know Jung Hoseok by any chance?”

“Do I know him?” Yoongi snorts. “Of course I do.”

“What do you think about him?”

Yoongi furrows his brows. “He’s my friend, what do you mean? Are you guys fighting?”

“No, not at all,” he quickly reassures the elder. “It’s just that...are you attracted to him?” he blurts, instantly slaps a hand over his mouth.

He doesn’t expect Yoongi’s reaction. A furious blush rising to his cheeks as he splutters out, “n-no!”

It’s a look that he’s never seen on Yoongi’s face before (granted they’ve only been friends for a week) and now Jeongguk is left with more questions about their relationship than ever. He doesn’t know much about romance, but he knows that what’s going on here is messy and that someone could get hurt.

Now there’s Yoongi and Jimin, and Jimin and Hoseok, but also Yoongi and Hoseok, and Jeongguk’s head is spinning. He can barely understand the relationship that he shares with Taehyung as it is. He just hopes that his friends are able to sort this out.

“Why would you ask such a thing?” Yoongi narrows his eyes and glares.

Jeongguk shrugs. “I was just teasing, hyung.”


Taehyung’s presence slowly slips back into his life again, and it’s as tentative as ever but once again, something has shifted. He finds himself sharing secretive glances with Taehyung a little too often, and being alone is no longer as suffocating. Jeongguk finds that he’s able to stutter out full sentences around the other boy more often. They form something somewhat stable over videogames, and they meet up at the library almost daily after Taehyung had suggested that they be each other’s study partner.

It’s silly because Jeongguk knows it’s a one-sided infatuation because Taehyung is too good for him, and yet Jeongguk can’t help but blush whenever Taehyung lightly shoves him or when the back of their hands brush. What they have slowly becomes comfortable and too familiar. Jeongguk is becoming too attached.

Before he knows it, finals come and go, and with the arrival of winter break, a familiar sense of dread begins to creep up Jeongguk’s throat. Everyone packs up their things, except for Jeongguk, who avoids visiting his parents. Hoseok goes home, but Jimin stays a bit longer to keep an eye on him. It’s a bit comforting to not be alone for the holidays, but eventually Jimin has to leave as well.

Yoongi, who isn’t going home at all, placates Jimin’s worries by promising to keep an eye on Jeongguk.

“Does your family suck too?” Jeongguk asks when they’re sitting at the island eating chinese takeout.

“You bet.” Yoongi snorts. “Mum’s alright but my father’s an ass.”

He pours Jeongguk another shot of soju and it’s only the second time he’s ever drank, so he’s already a little too intoxicated and his tongue is loose. Doesn’t know why his filter disappears and the words just fly out of his mouth.

“Yeah, my dad almost disowned me for being gay.”

It’s the first time he’s told someone and while he knows that he should be mortified, he’s honestly too drunk right now to care.

“You’re gay?” Yoongi questions, not sounding all that surprised.

“Is that a problem?”

“I’m gay you idiot,” Yoongi deadpands.

“Oh yea.” Jeongguk hiccups. Sways in his seat a little. “Just don’t tell anyone, ‘kay?”

“I won’t,” he promises. “But I hope you realize that our friends won’t judge you. We’re all gay as fuck, after all.”

“Even Taehyung?” Jeongguk asks.

Yoongi gives him a knowing smirk. “Even Taehyung.”

Jeongguk giggles, leans forward as he remembers his father’s fist and the kitchen floor. “If my father ever found out he’d really kill me this time. And it’s not supposed to be funny, but it is. It’s fucked. I’m defective and I don’t even know why I was born. I wish I could just die, hyung.”

The silence that follows after is engulfing. Hangs over them like a black cloud and through the haze, Jeongguk is afraid. There’s the humming from the refrigerator and the sound of the T.V. in the background and then, “do you really want that Jeongguk?”

“Sometimes I do.” He’s honest.

Yoongi purses his lips, looks down at the counter. “Me too.”

There’s always this understanding that passes between them and now, Jeongguk gets it. I’m wounded, but you’re wounded too. Like they both come from the same kind of darkness, except Yoongi figured out how to escape, and Jeongguk is still trapped in the same damn place. It’s strange, this realization that there are people who were once broken like him. People like Yoongi who were somehow able to heal and survive, and just breathe. Because Jeongguk will never know how. He’s almost at the end of his own beaten road, before he reaches the end and just drops into nothingness. Into silence.

Jeongguk doesn’t know why he says it, but his fountain is overflowing today, and maybe it’s because Yoongi is the same as him. It makes him feel as if it’s okay to be honest for once. It’s okay to show a friend his pain. “Last week I felt all floaty and time became meaningless. One minute I was saying goodbye to you and the next I was standing on a chair with a rope around my neck.”

There’s no heavy pause of silence or shock. No, Yoongi takes it in stride. “Oh, you dissociated?”

“Is that what it is?”

“Yeah. It used to happen to me when I was in high school. It’s like a break from reality. It’s like your body isn’t your own and you’re not really yourself.”

“Ah.” Jeongguk nods. They’re quiet again. He looks at his hands for some reason, as if he can physically see this illness now that he knows that it has a name. The sense of relief that washes over him almost makes him cry because he’s not absolutely insane. Yoongi has been through it too and the world feels a little less lonely.

Yoongi doesn’t comment on it after that. They move onto lighter subjects, though there is still this tension that Jeongguk just can’t quite shake off. It’s when Yoongi’s gathering the leftovers and putting them in the fridge that he says anything. With his back to Jeongguk, he quietly says, “if you ever feel like you’re gonna do that again, please call me.”

It’s simple. Short and to the point, but it hits Jeongguk. Hard.

He stares at Yoongi’s back. Two lost souls connected by tragedy, born from the same dying star. “Okay.”

It feels like a promise.




Winter break comes. Jeongguk finds himself in the tranquil comfort of Yoongi.

He spends most of these cold and dreary days on campus in the studio with Yoongi. They both have shitty parents that they would rather not deal with, except Jeongguk can’t avoid his the entire break. The campus is quiet with barely a flicker of human life insight besides the janitors, and the occasional security guards that night. And other than a few other reject kids, it’s as if he and Yoongi are in their own little world where they can simply enjoy music and not be judged.

He teaches Jeongguk proper vocal techniques and helps him relearn how to play the piano. Jeongguk is more than thrilled to learn everything Yoongi has to offer. The elder is a good teacher, and Jeongguk is a fast learner. Despite his cold exterior and reputation in the music department for being a strict and scary senior, Yoongi is the complete opposite around Jeongguk. When he makes silly mistakes, Yoongi never gets frustrated or angry.

(He complains about it to Jimin over Skype later that night.

“Even when I miss a note he never even tells me I’m wrong!” Jeongguk exclaims in exasperation. “How am I supposed to improve if just keeps telling me that it’s perfect?”

Jimin giggles. “It’s because he adores you, silly.”)

The two of them are so in sync with each other that it’s a little vexing. He finds that around Yoongi, he’s coming out of his shell more than he has ever done around Hoseok or Jimin. Maybe it’s because he knows that he has nothing to hide around the other. It’s almost freeing. Yeah, Jimin may know that Jeongguk is in an awfully dark place, but he’s never been there. He can’t relate to Jeongguk in the way that Yoongi can, who is blunt and brazen, but soft and still a little damaged inside. They share pain until it becomes a metaphor they don’t talk about, but they don’t need to. They just quietly understand each other.

Honestly speaking, if Jeongguk wasn’t totally head over heels with Taehyung, and if Yoongi and Jimin weren’t madly in love, he’s sure that they would be perfect together. Maybe in another universe they’re star crossed lovers or something.

They’ve been holed up in the studio all day when Yoongi’s stomach growls and Jeongguk decides to make a run outside to the nearest vending machine for some snacks (for some reason the music building doesn’t have one.)

Jeongguk watches a bag of chips drop to the bottom and is bending down to retrieve it when he startles at the sound of someone calling his name.

“Jeongguk?”

“Taehyung?”

They stare at each other for a moment, perplexed as to why the other is here and not back at home with his family for the holiday.

“What are you doing here?” Jeongguk asks first. “You didn’t go home?”

“Ah, I did for a few days but then some shit happened to my uncle and he lives in Taipei so my parents had to fly out there.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk frowns. “I’m sorry.”

Taehyung shrugs nonchalantly but he doesn’t look too happy about it. “It’s okay. I mean, yeah I was really looking forward to this and I’m hella disappointed, but my parents feel incredibly guilty about it and they promised that they’ll be back in time for Christmas Eve. I could have left for Daegu anyways, but I don’t really have friends down there so I would have just been alone in the house.”

Jeongguk straightens himself out. Feels awkward kneeling down with one hand in the vending machine when they’re talking about something kind of personal.

“You must be close to your parents,” he says.

At this, Taehyung instantly lights up. “Yeah. They take care of me well and I know that I’m lucky to have a mom and a dad who love me unconditionally.”

Jeongguk doesn’t know why he feels jealous. It’s unreasonable, but he does. He wonders what it’s like to have parents that cherish their children and support their dreams. He doesn’t know what that closeness must be like. The sadness and longing from being away from home for too long. The joy of being around unconditional love. He almost asks Taehyung how it feels to not have unrealistic expectations set for him. What it’s like to have a dad. What’s it’s like to not be hit but hugged instead.

“What about you?” Taehyung inquires. “I was surprised to see you here.”

“Oh, um.” He shifts on his feet awkwardly. “My parents are away on business but they want me to be home in time for Christmas.”

“I guess that’s what happens when you come from money,” Taehyung jokes.  

Except, it’s not funny and Jeongguk hates it. The fact that everything in his life has always just been given to him—he hates it. His father has never seen him as a son, but rather a tool to make himself wealthier. A dumb and brainwashed son to do his bidding so he can retire and fly off to god knows where with cash falling out of his pockets. Jeongguk has never been a person.

“Have you been alone this entire time?” Taehyung asks in concern and Jeongguk doesn’t understand why he would be. They’re not friends.

“Yoongi hyung’s been with me.”

“Ah, I forgot how much he can’t stand being around his dad,” he says. “Every time he goes home they argue. His dad has never supported him doing music. Apparently it’s not a real job.”

Jeongguk and Yoongi are really too similar.

“Do you want to hang out with us?” he asks shyly because he hates talking about family. It makes him bitter and angry because he doesn’t know what it’s like to have one.

“If I won’t be in your way. I know how Yoongi hyung can get about being around too many people. He’s such a recluse.”

Jeongguk smiles and it’s a little stiff but at least he’s trying. “It’s fine. We’re just messing with some beats anyways. Thank you for introducing us by the way. I’ve learned a lot from hyung.”

Taehyung’s gaze softens and when he smiles warmly, Jeongguk’s heart flutters. “I’m glad to see that you’ve regained your passion, Guk. You deserve to be happy.”

It gives him whiplash, the way the nickname rolls easily from Taehyung’s tongue. The way he speaks with such honesty and tellings Jeongguk that he deserves happiness. It gives him whiplash because Taehyung isn’t supposed to be this kind to him. It makes something inside Jeongguk tremble and expand.

People like Taehyung are too good for the world—too good for someone like him.




Taehyung’s constant presence become a familiar comfort and Jeongguk finds himself spending less time holed up in the studio with Yoongi. It’s strange, because just a few weeks ago he couldn’t stand to be in the same room as Taehyung, but now he constantly yearns to be near him. It’s not like anything dramatic has changed. Jeongguk is still as shy and awkward about everything as ever, and Taehyung is still bold and beautiful, but he treats Jeongguk with a certain gentleness that Jeongguk finds impossible to wrap his head around.

Taehyung has no reason to be as kind as he is towards Jeongguk. But he is anyways. He’s kind and beautiful. Every time Jeongguk sneaks glances his heart aches. They don’t do anything crazy. Rather, they spend time together playing video games and going out to eat. Sometimes they’re able to drag Yoongi out of the studio, but Yoongi doesn’t seem keen on putting up with their shenanigans and Jeongguk wonders if the elder leaves them alone together on purpose. At this point he can no longer confidently call Taehyung an acquaintance, but he doesn’t think he has the right to call him a friend either.

They’re not friends, but after a few days of loitering around the dorms Jeongguk is sick of seeing the school and gathers the courage to invite Taehyung over to his apartment. Taehyung is more than ecstatic, and the moment he steps foot inside, he gasps. Stares up at the tall ceiling, the shine of the golden chandelier, down to the marble flooring—at all of the space. Too much space.

Except with Taehyung here it doesn’t feel so empty anymore. It feels warm and full, and for once Jeongguk doesn’t hate being here. He thinks that Taehyung can make any place feel like home.

“So this is how rich kids live, eh? It’s not even comparable to how us commoners live,” he teases, and Jeongguk just shrugs and bites his tongue because he always feels bitter when Taehyung jokes about his family’s wealth like that.

Contrary to popular belief, Jeongguk absolutely despises the fact that he comes from money. It’s only ever taken everything away from him. The love of his father—the happiness of his mother. Wealth makes people hungry. Inhuman. Wealth made Jeongguk grow up in a shell of a house with parents who just played pretend with each other. Parents who married for numbers and crisp bills instead of love.

Often, Jeongguk wonders how his life could have turned out if he hadn’t been born on a bed full of dirty money. He wonders what expectations his parents would have for him then. He thinks about the nights his father came home smelling like cheap perfume and wonders if his father didn’t have his pockets full of cash, would his mom have stayed? He remembers all the nights when his five year old self would hear his mom crying into a pillow at midnight. Back then, even though he didn’t quite understand that his father was cheating, he knew that his mom was in pain and would climb into the bed to sleep with her on the side reserved for his father. The sheets were always too cold.

It’s awful, he thinks, how much people will suffer for money.

“Did you just move in?” Taehyung asks. He’s sat on the couch now, still looking around with wide eyes while Jeongguk goes to grab him a drink. “The walls are empty. I thought you’d have a million photos of family trips like all rich kids do.”

Jeongguk grips the glass tightly in his hands as he brings it over. Sets it down on the coffee table with more force than necessary. He moves over to the gaming shelf and takes his time picking something out.

He’s never been someone to say what’s on his mind. Clams up whenever he says too much, but for some reason Taehyung’s ignorance is really getting to him today and he can’t help but feel a little irritated, even if it is a joke. Even if Taehyung means no harm and he doesn’t really have a right to be upset about it. He can’t help the surge of negativity he feels.

“You have to have a family in order to take family photos, hyung” His words are biting, cut through the air life a knife. He doesn’t look back at Taehyung, body tense and jaw tight. It’s just embarrassing and painful to say—to admit the truth. “Coming from money is the most lonely thing ever. I wish you’d understand that.”

It’s quiet for far too long and Jeongguk begins to falter; loses the confidence he had built up. There’s nothing but burning shame and regret. He should know better than to open his stupid mouth, hadn’t his father taught him that? He stares at the title of the games, feels his eyes begin to prickle. His chest tightens and it’s such a silly little thing to get so worked up over, but he’s only ever good at making things worse and surely he’s fucked things up with Taehyung. Oh god, he should have never—

There’s a light pressure on his fingers, something warm and hesitant that feels too much like skin. And then, more daring, creeping up to encompass him in warmth, he realizes that Taehyung is behind him, holding his hand.

Taehyung is holding his hand.

“I’m sorry.” Taehyung’s apology is a soft whisper. “I say things without thinking and I never realized how much it upset you.”

“It’s okay.” Jeongguk’s voice is tight. He reaches up to retrieve a random game but his hand is shaking.

Taehyung is still holding onto him and it feels too intimate. Too much. Is this how you’re normally supposed to act with someone you’re not friends with?

“But it’s not. I hurt you, so I’m apologizing.” Behind him, Taehyung sighs. “It’s like every time I open my mouth I say some stupid shit and you end up getting hurt again.”

Jeongguk laughs dryly. Isn’t it fucking ironic? Taehyung’s saying sorry because Jeongguk is too sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily, but he made Taehyung suffer for years and he still hasn’t properly apologized. It makes him hate himself a little more. He doesn’t deserve Taehyung’s kindness at all.

“You don’t have to apologize to someone like me,” he murmurs.

Taehyung is so close that he can feel him stiffen. Squeezes Jeongguk’s hand a little tighter. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Jeongguk swallows. “You know exactly what it means.”

Taehyung’s quiet again and in the silence that fills the space between them, Jeongguk is reminded that even though upon first glance things may seem alright between them, what they have is fragile, weighed down by too many things left unsaid.

With a shyness that Jeongguk has never heard before, Taehyung asks, “can I hug you?”

He should say no because that’s the smart thing to do. Because he can’t let Taehyung get too close. He can’t hurt him, not when he’s going to be leaving soon—not again. But Jeongguk is an idiot. An idiot who is whipped for someone who will never belong to him and when it comes to Taehyung, he’s weak.

“Yeah,” he mutters. “That’s okay.”

Taehyung releases his hand and there’s trepidation in the way that he moves. A certain hesitance to his touches as if he’s afraid that Jeongguk will break, and maybe he will. Jeongguk doesn’t move an inch, just lets Taehyung snake his arms around his waist. He moves closer to press his chest against Jeongguk’s back and rests his chin atop his shoulder. Jeongguk thinks about how well their bodies mold together. Two perfect pieces of a puzzle that will never be pieced together because they’re like satellites at the opposite ends of the earth that should never meet.

Neither of them say anything. Taehyung holds him for a long time. Too long for just two strangers, and Jeongguk lets him. Allows himself to believe that everything will be okay, if only for a little while.

Yoongi had escaped and found a life worth living. Maybe he can too.


Things between Jeongguk and Taehyung seem to always be changing, and after that day, things shift again. Jeongguk can’t quite figure out what it is, but after they hugged it broke some kind of boundary because Taehyung’s become much more touchy. It’s in small gestures, like the way Taehyung brushes his fingers against Jeongguk’s arm.

Yesterday they’d gone to Hongdae for some street food and Taehyung was constantly placing his hand on the small of Jeongguk’s back to guide him (a completely unnecessary thing to do) and he can’t fathom why Taehyung is acting like this, but he doesn’t hate it. Jimin and Hoseok are touchy people and Jeongguk has held hands with them plenty of times, but Taehyung’s touches seem different. More intimate. Taehyung stops leaving space between them on the couch and Jeongguk’s brain short circuits.

He can never think straight when he’s around Taehyung and days spent with him seem like a dream. Too unreal. He’s afraid; afraid that this is all really just a dream and he’ll wake up alone in a too big apartment, and Taehyung will still hate him.

But then the moments become real when they're watching another movie together at one in the morning. Jeongguk comments offhandedly, “it’s getting late.” And then without thought, “do you want to stay over?”

Taehyung pauses when he looks at him and Jeongguk thinks that he’ll say no.

“Yeah. I’d love that.”

Taehyung doesn’t sleep on the couch. Complains about it hurting his back and when Jeongguk offers to sleep on the couch instead, he whines that he gets cold easily at night. So he drags Jeongguk to the bedroom and before he knows it they’re under the covers, Taehyung wrapped around him like a koala.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Taehyung asks out of the blue. His head is on Jeongguk’s chest so he can’t see what kind of face he’s making.

“Uh, no?” Jeongguk furrows his eyebrows.

“You don’t sound too sure of yourself. Is she a complicated one?”

“No,” Jeongguk says quickly. Feels a flush rising to his cheeks. “I mean, I don’t really swing that way. So...yeah.”

Taehyung hums thoughtfully and Jeongguk doesn’t know why he feels so self conscious about this.

“Me neither,” Taehyung responds.

He intertwines their legs together and Jeongguk, left more confused than ever, doesn’t know what any of this means. All he knows is that Taehyung brings a joy back that he thought he’d lost.

All he knows is that being around Taehyung makes him happy.

When Jeongguk wakes, he expects to find the bed cold and empty. He expects to find himself abandoned, but Taehyung is still there, sleeping soundly. Sometimes in the night they had shifted positions; chest to chest, an arm slung around Jeongguk’s waist.

He thinks that Taehyung is beautiful like this, with the morning sunlight filtering through the window to cast an ephemeral glow upon smooth, olive skin. Jeongguk stares at his lashes, the perfect bridge of his nose, the fullness of his lips. He wants to kiss him.

“Like the view?” Taehyung croaks, voice heavy with sleep. He peels open his eyes and gives a sleepy smirk.

Jeongguk, in his mortified state, squeaks before rolling over him and crashing to the floor when his legs get caught in the blankets. He scrambles up and bolts to the bathroom. Slams the door shut. On the other side of the door he can hear Taehyung’s bright laughter and his heart beats loudly in his ears. Yeah, he’s totally in love.

Jeongguk can’t help but smile to himself.


(“Do you want to spend the night again?”

“Are you gonna stare at me for five years again?”

“I wasn’t even staring!”

“Yeah you were.” 

“For like, two seconds.”

“Jeongguk, I could hear you mouth breathing for five minutes straight.”

“I hate you.”

“No you don’t. I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

“...You know what? You can just go home.”

“No, Guk please. I need cuddles or I’ll die.

“Then get in bed you asshole.”)


The morning that Jeongguk wakes up and finds that Taehyung isn’t next to him, he panics for a moment before a delicious and warm aroma from the kitchen hits him. He kicks off the covers and makes his way to the kitchen to find Taehyung standing in front of the stove.

“What are you doing?”

Taehyung’s in nothing but a white t-shirt and boxers. His face instantly lights up when he sees Jeongguk. “You’re finally up? I’m making pancakes.” And then, sheepishly, “this isn’t weird, right? I just thought you might be hungry.”

Jeongguk shakes his head, moves to jump up and sit on the island. Kicks his legs as he watches Taehyung expertly flip the pancakes. “It’s not weird and I’m starving. Thanks, hyung.”
  
Taehyung smiles fondly. “Anything for you.”

He sounds flirtatious and Jeongguk doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s just reading too much into it, but it makes his heart thrum anyways.

“You blush so easily,” Taehyung teases.

“Shuddup.”

“It’s cute.”

They both stop. Stare at each other for too long, the air thick with something that Jeongguk can’t decipher before Taehyung clears his throat and turns back to the stove.

Jeongguk’s not sure what’s happening between them but being around Taehyung makes him feel like he’s overflowing, and not in a messy way for once. From the moment their hands brushed, something inside of him shivered, a part of his heart shook and swelled.

It’s oddly domestic in a sense; Taehyung cooking in his kitchen and Jeongguk sitting on the counter watching. Nothing but light banter and quiet giggles between them. Taehyung makes him feel beautiful. Whole. Wanted.

Jeongguk thinks that maybe he wants to stay.




A few days before Jeongguk is forced to return to Busan, Taehyung suggests that they go to a bar, to which Jeongguk immediately says no to. He’s tolerance is awful and he doesn’t do well with crowds, plus he’s never even been to a bar before, but Taehyung is adamant on him going and won’t take no for an answer. Of course Jeongguk caves in because he can never say no to the other boy.

The bar isn’t as awful as he thought it would be. It’s a Saturday but it’s not overwhelmingly crowded, and once Jeongguk gets past the nervousness and Taehyung hands him something fruity to drink, he finds himself letting loose for once. There’s no anxiety sitting at the back of his throat. Jeongguk, who hates these kinds of things, is actually having a good time. Maybe Taehyung is changing him, giving him more courage. Or maybe he hasn’t changed at all.

Jeongguk’s surprised to find himself on his third glass of whatever fruity cocktail Taehyung keeps ordering, perplexed as to how he’s not passed out yet. The more drinks they down, the touchier that Taehyung gets. On his fourth he moves the stool so close to Jeongguk that his legs are trapped in between Taehyung’s. He’s giggling and playing with the sleeve of Jeongguk’s t-shirt.

Jeongguk can’t think so he stares at Taehyung’s long lashes instead. Pretty.

When he excuses himself to go to the bathroom and stands up, that’s when the alcohol hits him and Jeongguk sways precariously on his feet. That’s also when Taehyung decides that they have enough and once Jeongguk relieves himself they leave.

They stumble down the street. The moon hangs waxing above them, and Taehyung laughs sweetly like a birdsong. Jeongguk, too drunk off of three fruity drinks and three shots of soju, laughs too. He’s not exactly sure what’s so funny, but they laugh so hard that the houses turn their lights on and Taehyung is shushing him, but they’re both still giggling and it’s perfect. Too perfect.

Taehyung is rain on rooftops, someone that’ll always slip through his fingers and evaporate, but Jeongguk has never been able to let go of the intangible. If they kissed, would they melt together? He wants to know. He wants to know because his ocean is overflowing. Taehyung leaves footprints in the sand and Jeongguk has been yearning for a ghost for too many years.

Someone opens their window to yell and Taehyung, in his drunken stupor, yells back. Walks backwards and flips them off, and the entire time Jeongguk is laughing and trying to tug him away. “Let’s go before we get in trouble, hyung”

Taehyung looks at him with wild eyes, smiles. “Yeah, let’s go.”

And before Jeongguk knows it, he’s the one being dragged as Taehyung latches onto his wrist and takes off into a sprint. He doesn't know why they’re running. There’s no one chasing them and they have no reason to, but they do anyway. They run through alleyway after alleyway and the entire time they’re laughing.

Is this what it’s like to be free? Jeongguk feels the wind through his hair. His feet heavily hitting asphalt rattles his bones. He doesn’t know where they’re going but he doesn’t need to. For Taehyung, he’d go anywhere.

When Taehyung finally stops, Jeongguk collapses against a brick wall. His lungs ache with every gasp of air, and maybe it was an awful idea to run with nothing but alcohol in his stomach because now the world is spinning, but he feels good. Feels high off of adrenaline.

“A-are you okay?” Taehyung asks, just as breathless.

“Yuh-yeah.”

They stare at each other for a moment, but then Jeongguk bursts out into another fit of giggles and he doesn’t know why, but he feels so euphoric at this very moment. Like he’s on top of the world and it all still feels like a dream.

“Jeongguk?”

“Hm?” he hums, still trying to get his bearings.

Taehyung isn’t laughing anymore. He looks serious. A little dazed.

“I’m going to kiss you.”

“What?”

Before Jeongguk can even react Taehyung strides forward and he’s being pressed against the wall. Taehyung is on him, pressing their lips together. In this moment, all the noise in Jeongguk’s mind dies. All he can think about is Taehyung. Taehyung.

There’s no gentleness in their first kiss. It’s hungry and heavy from the start. A deep yearning because perhaps Jeongguk isn’t the only one who has wanted this for awhile. Taehyung devours him like a starved man and Jeongguk instantly melts. Under Taehyung’s hands his body turns to putty. He hasn’t kissed a boy in years and he feels like he’s on fire, burning from the inside out. He kisses back with equal fervor, a confidence that he didn’t know he had. Taehyung’s hands are everywhere; his neck, his arms, thighs. It’s intoxicating and Jeongguk can do nothing but grip fistfuls of his shirt.

When Taehyung presses roughly against him, bodies flushed together, his lips part in a breathy moan and Taehyung takes his chance. Slips his tongue inside Jeongguk’s mouth. He feels like he’s really about to die. It’s scorching now—too much for him to bare. It’s too much and he doesn’t know what he wants, but he needs it now because he’s desperate.

Jeongguk whines, the sound high in his throat, and when Taehyung pulls back they’re both panting harshly. With the sudden rush of air he’s more dizzy than before. Taehyung pushes himself off the wall and Jeongguk can’t help but make a needy noise of discontent. Hazy with want.

“You good?” Taehyung’s voice is deep and gravelly, a tone that Jeongguk has never heard before. His gaze is dark, foreboding and Jeongguk shivers. He doesn’t know what to say, just knows that he needs Taehyung’s lips on his again. His senses are overloaded and he feels himself starting to tear up because he isn’t sure about what it is that he’s supposed to do, but he doesn’t want Taehyung to stop touching him.

Taehyung looks down, gaze growing darker and Jeongguk follows him. Notices the obvious tent in his jeans and oh, that’s what’s going on. He flushes in embarrassment and instantly shifts to cover himself up, but Taehyung stops him. Catches his wrist and puts his knee right in between his legs.

Jeongguk shudders, lets out something that sounds like a sob at the pressure against his groin. It’s almost explosive. He’s never felt this way before.

“Fuck,” Taehyung groans. Wipes the tears from the corners of Jeongguk’s eyes and then presses himself right up against him again. “You’re too much for me, baby. All fuckin’ hard for me. Shit. You don’t know how long I’ve wanted this—wanted you.”

At the petname, Jeongguk absolutely melts. “Wuh-wanna go home,” he manages to slur.

And Taehyung wastes no time. Presses one last kiss, hard against Jeongguk’s lips before he pulls him by the waist, out of the secluded alleyway. They catch a taxi and the entire time, Taehyung can hardly keep his hands to himself. Jeongguk tries to keep quiet, but he’s drunk and Taehyung is too much.  

Jeongguk hadn’t realized how drunk Taehyung actually is until they stumble through the apartment, crashing into everything hands desperately searching for skin and impatient to undress.

Now he’s laid out on the bed completely naked. The cold air against his skin sobers him up a little and he suddenly feels very shy.

Taehyung’s peppering kisses down his chest, to the inside of his thighs and now that he’s completely bare he finds himself a little hesitant. Shyly covers himself up when Taehyung parts his legs.

“You’re cute,” he chuckles. “Even like this you’re shy and fucking adorable.”

“‘m not,” Jeongguk mumbles. His conscious is beginning to weigh down upon him, causing him to falter. Because Taehyung moves with purpose, like he knows what he’s doing and Jeongguk is a fish out of water.

“Do you really want this?” Jeongguk asks shyly.

“Yeah, for a long time,” Taehyung answers honestly. “Do you?”

Jeongguk had been sure that he wanted it too, but now he hesitates. Taehyung notices and pauses, waits patiently for Jeongguk to gather his thoughts.

“I—” he swallows. “I’ve never done this before.”

Taehyung’s eyebrows furrow in confusion. “You’ve never been with a guy?”

Jeongguk shakes his head. Flushes an even deeper shade of red. “I’ve never been with anyone before,” he admits. And then quietly, “you’re my first.”

It’s scary but also a little thrilling, a little exciting because Jeongguk is in love. He’s in love and he trusts Taehyung. This will be amazing, he knows it. He’s ready and knows that the older boy will take care of him.

But then Taehyung’s frowning and pulling away completely. He looks visibly upset. With the absence of his skin, Jeongguk feels cold.

“W-what’s wrong?” he asks. “I don’t have any lube but—”

“I don’t think we should do this, Jeongguk.”

He blinks. Once, then twice. Taehyung’s words are cold, distant. The silence between them makes him feel sick.  

“What do you mean?” Jeongguk flinches at the sound of his own voice, raising in tone and bordering near hysteria.

Taehyung clenches his jaw and looks away. “I just don’t think that we should do this right now.”

“Oh.” The sensation starts from the pit of his stomach. It twists and turns until it turns into pain and spreads like wildfire, and just like that, all the fullness and warmth he’s felt up until now is sucked right out, replaced by something dark and ugly.

Taehyung doesn’t want him. He lied. Taehyung doesn’t want him at all.

The air between them is thick with a different kind of tension. It’s suffocating. Like he’s back at that party, curled up on Hoseok’s balcony again. Jeongguk feels as if he’s going to throw up.

“Could you please leave?” he asks quietly, shakily.

Some kind of realization flickers across Taehyung’s face. “Jeon—”

“I need to be alone right now.”

Taehyung reaches forward. “Please, just let me—”

Jeongguk instantly recoils. “Please get the fuck out!” he shouts it this time.

Almost immediately, he slaps a hand over his mouth in mortification. He’s never raised his voice before and he’s ashamed. The last person who deserves to be yelled at is Taehyung, but Jeongguk is good at taking something beautiful and destroying it.

He sees, the moment Taehyung closes himself off and goes back to being the Taehyung from the first time they met again at the coffee shop. His shoulders sag in defeat and he instantly backs off. Climbs off the bed.

“Okay.”

It’s obvious how upset he is by the way he snatches his clothes from the floor and dresses quickly, angrily. And Jeongguk knows that he should stop him from going. He knows that the right thing to do right now is to talk things out because this could all just be one big misunderstanding, but he’s a coward. He’s too scared of what he might hear.

He thinks that Taehyung is about to leave without a word, but when he gets to the bedroom door he takes a deep breath, looks back over his shoulder. “Goodnight, Jeongguk. Get some sleep, yeah?”

And then just like that, he’s gone.

The moment the door closes, Jeongguk’s frame begins to violently shake. And then—and then he breaks down completely. Starts to sob and take big, ugly gasps of air. The pain is blinding. He throws himself back down onto the bed and turns to his side, curls in on himself as he cries.

Taehyung took one look at his naked body and didn’t want him anymore. No one wants him, but what did he expect? Eight years ago, Jeongguk had ruined his life. Did he really believe that someone like Taehyung would want to make love to someone as disgusting as Jeongguk? Maybe it was all revenge. A way to humiliate Jeongguk and make him suffer just as Taehyung once had. But hasn’t he suffered enough? Isn’t this enough?

This was all a mistake. From the moment that he’d opened up to Taehyung about wanting to go back to music again, he’d fucked up. He was supposed to keep Taehyung at a distance. Apologize properly and clear things up, but he lost his focus. Had the nerve to think that he had a chance at love. A chance at happiness and forgiveness. But the thing is, he’s not Yoongi. He’s not bright and intelligent, nor kind.

He’s cruel, always has been and always will be. Even right now, he’s being selfish, wanting to mean something to Taehyung. Wanting to be loved back. A part of him had even thought that Taehyung could fix him. Could undo all the bad and fix him with a kiss.

He cries and cries until his head hurts and then he gets up and vomits in the hallway before he can make it to the bathroom. Slides down the wall and sits next to the puddle and cries more, even after he’s emptied out.

Jeongguk just wanted to mean something to someone for once.

He thinks about New Years and hopes for it to come even sooner than before. Not everyone gets a happily ever after, he realizes.

Taehyung never wanted him to stay in the first place.




Jeongguk wakes up and forgets that it’s Christmas. It’s jarring, how empty he feels when being around Taehyung had made him feel alive. Warm. Except now the other side of his bed is empty and his eyes are swollen and crusted.

His mom calls him at eight in the morning. “Merry Christmas darling,” she coos down the line and Jeongguk mutters a half assed merry Christmas back. He had completely forgot that he’s supposed to be at the train station in an hour, and rushes to get ready after he hangs up. Stuffs whatever clothes he can into his bag—dirty or clean. Though it doesn’t really matter because he’s only staying for two days. He can’t handle being around his father for anything longer than that. That man always has to find something to scold Jeongguk about.

He doesn’t feel floaty the way he usually does when bad things happen. (Dissociation is what Yoongi had called it). He’s hollow, but this time there’s no alternate reality to escape to and it hits him full force. He just feels...completely numb. Like nothing matters anymore. Like he can’t even pretend at this point. If his father hit him and he fell to the floor, he wouldn’t get back up again.

Jeongguk gets on the train back to Busan. Back to a house that has never been a home and dreads every single minute of the trip. He doesn’t even have the chance to gather himself before his mom opens the door and practically throws herself at him.

“I missed you baby.” She’s warm when she hugs him and still smells of the familiar rose perfume that puts Jeongguk at ease.

“I missed you too, mom.”

His relationship with his mom isn’t perfect but it’s better than it is with his father, and Jeongguk knows that she does her best to keep their torn apart family  together and make everyone happy—even at the expense of her own happiness. His mom has sacrificed everything for Jeongguk, and all he’s ever given her in return is grief. He’s sure that everyone will be better off without him.

His father’s sitting on the armchair in the living room, next to the large white Christmas tree decorated with various ornaments. His mom always did go all out for the holidays. There are lights on the walls and stockings hanging above the fireplace.

“Hello father.” He shifts awkwardly when his father’s gaze falls on him.  

He grunts. “It’s nice to have you back, son.” But he doesn’t sound happy. His greeting flat and devoid of any feeling, as if he could care less if Jeongguk came home for Christmas or not. They both know that the only reason Jeongguk even bothers to come back to Busan is because of his mom.

And so, Christmas passes like this. In a tense environment where everyone smiles and acts whole, and no one says what they mean. His father is surprisingly amicable this time but it’s only because Jeongguk had gotten all A’s this semester, even if it was pointless to try.

Of course, they shower him with gifts in the way that wealthy parents do because that’s the only form of love that his father will ever show. Gucci shirts, six hundred dollar Nordstrom dress shoes, and yet another rolex he will never wear because what the fuck is the point of having a watch when phones exist?

It goes as okay as it can between the two of them, until dinner comes around and there’s a turkey in the middle of the table and his father asks, “are you seeing anyone?”

Jeongguk freezes. Instantly thinks of Taehyung and has a hard time swallowing. “No.”

His father’s gaze is critical. He observes Jeongguk like a hawk. “You’re not still in that phase are you?”

Jeongguk feels his eyes prickle. It’s just a phase. That’s all it’ll ever be to his father, because his son can’t be anything less than perfect. Can’t be an abomination. Can’t be a faggot.

His mom looks uncomfortable but doesn’t say anything. Smiles nervously and takes a sip of wine instead.

“I’m busy with my studies,” he replies shortly. Tries to take another bite of japchae but he’s not hungry anymore.

His father nods. “Of course, your studies are more important. But when you have time you should find a nice girl and bring her home to us.”

“Yes, father.”

When the night is over and his father has retreated to his office, Jeongguk’s helping his mom wash dishes when she says, “you know that I know I love you no matter what? Whoever you decide to spend your life with, I’ll always welcome them with open arms.”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond. Stares at the running water and silently cries instead.




“Your birthday is in a few days,” his father mentions. They’re having breakfast together, except his father spends the entire time reading a newspaper and never once looks up.

“It is.”

“Would you like a new car? Mercedes? Or a jaguar maybe?”

“I’m okay with taking the bus,” Jeongguk mutters.

His father snorts. “Do you know what kind of image that create? My son taking the bus like some kind of commoner. You should have your license by now. Me and your mother will be in Paris, so I’ll have one of my assistants drop it off at your apartment on your birthday.”

“...thanks.”

“Make sure you sign up for driving lessons too.”

Jeongguk sighs deeply. “Understood.”

“If you keep your grades up I’ll buy a bigger apartment during the summer.”

But Jeongguk doesn’t want a bigger place. He doesn’t want any of this. He realizes that he’ll never find a place to call home. Not here, not back in Seoul, not anywhere. He’ll always be lost and alone with no place to go. He’ll always take up too much space.

He forces a smile anyways.








Chapter Text

 

FOUR DAYS UNTIL NEW YEARS


Jeongguk goes home the next day and immediately proceeds to lock himself in his room. He turns off his phone. Shuts out his friends and the world around him. Only comes out to use the bathroom and doesn’t eat once. Just the thought of food makes him nauseous. He’s tired, terribly so, but sleep evades him. Every time he closes his eyes, the nightmares are waiting for him. It’s been awhile since he’s had them but the fight with Taehyung (if he can even call it that) and his father reminding him—once again—that his existence is an abomination seems to trigger them again.

He dreams of Taehyung dressing him down. Peels off his clothes and his skin, sees the bruises underneath, and reels back in horror before he runs out the door. He dreams of an endless black sky without a star in sight, just a full blood moon casting an eerie glow across a barren wasteland where he’s alone. In the distance Hoseok, Jimin and Yoongi stare at him, faces blank and devoid of emotion. Wordlessly, they turn around, holding hands and begin to walk away. Jeongguk tries to yell for them, to chase after them, but no matter how fast his legs carry him he can never catch up. Not even once do they turn to glance back at him.

He runs, and runs and before he knows it the ground beneath him opens up and he’s falling. When he hits solid ground he’s on the kitchen floor of the house back in Busan, his father towers over him with his fists clenched. An imposing figure with hatred in his eyes.

“What did I tell you?” he hisses. “You are no son of mine!”

In his nightmares, Jeongguk’s always left behind. Alone.

And when he jolts awake in cold sweat he always feels sick to his stomach. If he’s able to prevent himself from throwing up he turns on his side and curls into a ball and tries to will the nausea away. What’s the point of sleeping anymore? He often stares up at the ceiling instead.

As the days count down, he lives his life like this: in constant panic, fear, and self loathing. He no longer finds himself second guessing the arrival of the end of the year. He realizes that he had been blinded by false hope. He’d witness Yoongi’s happiness and thought that maybe he could have that too, but reality is like a slap in the face. He can’t believe that he had been foolish.

He thinks that maybe it’s time to let go.


THREE DAYS UNTIL NEW YEARS

Hoseok returns the next day and it isn’t long before he’s knocking at Jeongguk’s door. He’s all bright eyes and wide smiles. The effects of the holiday spirit still lingers. He’s too radiant and Jeongguk is too tired for this, but he moves aside and lets Hoseok in anyway.

He talks about his holiday with such enamor. His eyes sparkle and he makes dramatic motions with his hands when he tells Jeongguk about how his dad had bought his sister a baby ferret. He talks about how his mom had cried the moment he walked into the house, and there’s such a fondness in the way that he talks about his family. Usually, Jeongguk would be jealous, but he can’t bring himself to feel anything right now. Can’t even pretend that he cares.

Hoseok notices and falters at his lack of interest. “Are you okay, Guk? You seem kind of off.”

Jeongguk shrugs, his face a mask of indifference. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Did it not go so well at home or something?” Hoseok asks with a slight frown, brows furrowed.

He shrugs once again. “It was fine, I guess.”

Hoseok hesitates. Slowly, he says, “you know that you can talk to me right? If something happened back home…”

Jeongguk knows that he shouldn’t be upset by this, but he’s been having nightmares for the past few days and the last thing he wants to be reminded of is his shitty father. The anger bubbles up inside of him and now he’s getting all worked up over it. “I said it was fine!” he snaps. “I never said I had a bad relationship with my parents so stop asking.”

Hoseok blinks, eyes wide and mouth parted in shock. Jeongguk immediately flushes in embarrassment and looks away.

“I’m sorry.” He bites his lower lip. Shoulders tense and all wound up like a slingshot. “I’m just kinda burnt out. I didn’t mean to snap at you like that.”

It’s an obvious lie but Hoseok doesn’t push him. “I understand.” Hoseok’s always so gentle. Always so patient. “But if you ever want to talk about anything you know that I’m always here for you, right?”

Jeongguk nods, suddenly finding himself unable to speak. It’s been the worst week of his life and he wants to tell Hoseok the truth. Hyung, I want to die. He wants to scream it from the top of his lungs because maybe then he could stop hurting like this. But it sticks to his lungs and he can’t wish it away. Can’t open his mouth and tell the truth, and it’s so frustrating.

Why can he be honest with Yoongi but not with Hoseok, the person who’s been there for him since the beginning? He’s the clueless one amongst their friends and Jeongguk knows that Hoseok deserves to know, but he’s terrified. He isn’t a stranger to loss—hasn’t held anything solid in the palm of his hand since Mingyu had punched him in the face, but he’s terrified of losing Hoseok. It’s the kind of fear that shakes him to his very core. Even till the bitter end, he’s still afraid.

“—guk?”

“Hm?” Jeongguk blinks. Realizes that he’s been spacing out.

Hoseok looks like he really wants to bring the subject back up, discontent and concern clear on his face, but he bites his tongue instead. “I said, my old friends Namjoon and Seokjin are throwing a New Years party in a couple of days. Come with me? Maybe it’ll help lift your spirits. Jimin’s dragging Yoongi along too.”

Jeongguk opens his mouth, ready to decline Hoseok’s offer because he hates parties and he’s too miserable to be around people and pretend to be okay, but then he thinks that maybe going isn’t such a bad idea. It’d be nice to be able to see his friends for one last time.

“Fine,” he agrees reluctantly. And then to lighten the mood, “but you can’t throw up in any plants again.”

“That was one time!”

He’ll miss this.



TWO DAYS UNTIL NEW YEARS


Jeongguk finds out that he and Taehyung share the same birthday the next day when he’s sprawled out on the couch, browsing aimlessly through Netflix, bored and numb out of his mind. He tries to distract himself from thinking about Taehyung too much, which proves to be nearly impossible when he hasn’t left his apartment since he returned from Busan.

He had turned his phone back on so that his friends would stop freaking out, though they seem to be under the impression that Jeongguk just needs some space and haven’t bothered to text him all that much. When his phone screen lights up beside him, he sees that it’s a text from Hoseok.

Seokie hyung <3
So today is tae’s bday
And we’re gonna go out to eat and drink a bit to celebrate. U down?

Jeongguk purses his lips. Taehyung must have not told their friends anything about what happened between them.

Me
Sorry hyung but i’m busy
Maybe next time!!!

Seokie hyung <3
Yeah it was super short notice but i understand :) we should have told u earlier
Jeongguk’s about to assure Hoseok that it’s okay and make another shitty excuse as to why he can’t go just so it won’t be completely obvious that he’s avoiding Taehyung, but then his phone chimes again and when he sees the name at the top of the screen his heart stops.

Taehyung
Hey its my birthday today
I’d like to see you.
How was your christmas?

Jeongguk watches the text bubble appear and disappear for an entire minute before the next message comes through.

Taehyung
I miss you.

He rereads the last text over and over again. Commits it to memory and it plays in a loop in his head. I miss you. I miss you. He worries at the bottom of his lip until he can taste blood and lets out a breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. It’s the first time since that night that Taehyung has reached out to him, and his initial assumption of none of their friends knowing is replaced with suspicion. He figures that Hoseok or Jimin must have put Taehyung up to it.

In the end Jeongguk ignores it, even if it does make him feel kind of guilty to not wish Taehyung a happy birthday. Turns off his phone again and throws it to the other end of the couch as if he can’t stand the sight of it, but not before receiving yet another text (this time from his father) saying that there is a gift for him waiting in the parking garage. He doesn’t tell anyone that today he turns twenty-one, not even Yoongi, who knows more about Jeongguk than anyone ever should.

He lets out a deep, dreadful sigh. Jeongguk doesn’t want any presents honestly—least of all from the man who hates his existence more than anything else in this world, but he forces himself onto his feet and drags himself to the garage anyways. And surely enough, there’s a sleek, shiny and silver sixty thousand dollar Jaguar sitting in the assigned parking spot he never uses. There’s a ridiculously large, red bow placed atop the hood and Jeongguk just stares.  

It’s beautiful, it really is. And he hates it. Hates it so much that rage blinds him and he stomps forward, kicks harshly at the side of the door. It barely makes a dent, which only fuels his anger. With as much force as possible, he lifts his right foot to kick at the side view mirror and it snaps off. Smacks against the side of the driver door, hanging by some wires. But it’s not enough and he wants to destroy the entire thing. Wants to smash in the windows and set it on fire.

He wishes that he could throw it all away. The car, the apartment—the stupid fucking rolex. He hates all of it.

He must look ridiculous right now, throwing a fit over a six hundred thousand dollar car. Must look like a spoiled brat, but honestly he could care less because Jeongguk is in pain and it won’t go away. Everything hurts. Everything fucking hurts and no one is to stop him. They’re all out with Taehyung because it’s his birthday, and Jeongguk is stuck here, getting worked up over something he should be thankful for.

He takes a deep breath. Gathers himself and goes back upstairs. Scrolls through Netflix for another fifteen minutes before he decides to rewatch the entirety of Black Mirror. Like this, he spends his birthday alone.

He’s used to it anyway.

 

NEW YEARS EVE


Hoseok’s friends are rich, something that Jeongguk wasn’t quite expecting. They live in the Gangnam district, their apartment situated near the top of a high rise complex. Gangnam is flashy, a place where superficial people flaunt their wealth and park their Mercedes on the sidewalks. It’s a place that Jeongguk tends to avoid because he hates being reminded of the materialistic lifestyle, prefers to try and live a simple college life and act like the extra zeros in his bank account don’t exist.

He really shouldn’t be nervous about this because it’s just a stupid party, and if he humiliates himself it doesn’t matter anyways because it’s the last one he’ll ever go to. Yet, the anxiety never leaves him. Even with Hoseok right next to him, he feels it thrumming through his veins and his pulse speeds up. The entire ride up the elevator feels a lot like deja vu. He’s wringing his fingers together and chewing at his bottom lip.

Hoseok places a hand on Jeongguk’s arm, touch gentle and soothing. Hoseok shoots him a worried look. “If this is too much for you we can leave. I won’t force you into something that makes you uncomfortable like I did last time.” There’s  lingering guilt in his words and Jeongguk shakes his head, tears his gaze away from the ground to give Hoseok a forced smile that isn’t quite convincing.

“It’s okay, hyung. I got this.”

For once, it isn’t a lie because he really can handle this, if only to say goodbye to everyone. He just wants one last night where he can just laugh with his friends and watch fireworks light up the dark sky in a halogen of lights. For them, he can do this.

Hoseok pauses once in front of the door, gives Jeongguk’s elbow a reassuring squeeze, a chance for him to back out. But Jeongguk doesn’t give any indication that he’s about to bolt, just smiles nervously and gives the other a curt nod.

When Hoseok knocks, it doesn’t take long before the door swings open revealing a tall brunette man who’s quite easy on the eyes (he actually looks like a model and Jeongguk is a bit starstruck).

“Hoseok you made it!” he smiles widely, pulls Hoseok into a hug and the two of them exchange warm greetings. It’s obvious by their body language that though they haven’t seen each other in awhile, they’re really close and Jeongguk feels a little awkward, like he’s intruding upon this reunion.

“How was Paris?” Hoseok asks when the tall man finally pulls back.

“Amazing.” He grins, revealing a deep set of dimples that makes his smile all too endearing. “I didn’t want to leave but Seokjin was starting to get a little homesick, we both were honestly.”

Hoseok raises a brow. “He’s not still seeing that crazy french girl?”

The man snorts. “Good riddance, no.” His eyes find Jeongguk and he looks a little caught off guard. “Oh? Who is this?”

“Ah, sorry. This is my friend, Jeongguk.”

Namjoon instantly turns his grin towards him. “Ah, I’ve heard so much about you. Excuse my rudeness. I’m Kim Namjoon.”

Jeongguk is still a little shook by the fact that all of Hoseok’s friends are really hot. He flushes when he realizes that Namjoon’s waiting for a response.

“Oh, um. It’s really n-nice to meet you.”

Namjoon doesn’t comment on his blatant awkwardness. Invites them both inside and Jeongguk sticks to Hoseok like glue. He doesn’t drink much, just nurses a cup of coke and rum for the better part of an hour until Seokjin magically materializes out of nowhere, and he’s just as beautiful as Kim Namjoon. What the fuck.

Seokjin practically drags Hoseok away after that, because apparently he’s still heartbroken over this french girl and needs to cry to someone about it because Namjoon isn’t very sympathetic when it comes to the subject. Hoseok doesn’t object. Flashes Jeongguk an apologetic smile before he disappears into the crowd and Jeongguk is left alone to stand awkwardly in a corner. It’s a lot like dejavu.

To his relief, Jimin ends up finding him nearly twenty minutes later. He’s dragging Yoongi by the hand, who looks just as unwilling to be here as Jeongguk. Jimin’s obviously already tipsy, blush high on his cheeks. Jeongguk finds it rather endearing.

“I missed you, Gukkie.” Jimin whines, almost at the stage of being too emotional. It’s like Halloween all over again and he thinks that Jimin is more drunk than he had initially thought. “Why haven’t you hung out with us?” the other pouts, leans into Yoongi. “I tried texting and calling you but it always went to voicemail and Hoseok told us to leave you alone.”

“Ah, sorry hyung.” Jeongguk scratches the back of his head and tries to seem bashful. “I’ve just been tired and all after being around my family.”

Jimin then frowns, expression serious. “Listen, Jeongguk. I’ll be your dad, and Yoongi will be dad number two. Okay?”

“I didn’t agree to this,” Yoongi grumbles. “I didn’t agree to any of this. Why am I here?”

“Because you love me.” Jimin bats his eyelashes and Yoongi scoffs. “Plus you already soft for Jeongguk as it is.”

“No I’m not” Yoongi denies with a vehement grumble. Clears his throat, and then to change the subject, “where’s Hoseok? Didn’t you come with him?” he narrows his eyes, expression turning sour. “Don’t tell me that he just left you alone when he knows—”

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says quickly. “Hyung hasn’t seen his friends in a long time so I don’t mind at all.” And he’s not lying this time because as much of a nervous wreck he is, Hoseok isn’t his babysitter.

Yoongi relaxes a little at this but doesn’t look fully convinced. “If you say so…” he glances down to check the time on his phone. “Watch the fireworks with us? It’ll be our first New Years together.”

Except that it won’t be, but Jeongguk swallows the bitterness back and replies with, “of course we can.”

But they can’t because he has to go soon and he’s glad that he’s never been the kind of person who leaves traces of himself anywhere. He never leaves footprints. The smell of his cologne doesn’t linger anywhere. Jimin won’t find a t-shirt left in his dorm. There are no pictures, there never are. No lasting impressions. It’s easier this way so he can disappear into dust.

Like he never existed in the first place.

Jimin looks between the two of them and huffs. “Are you dating me or Jeongguk?”

“Why can’t I have both?” Yoongi snips sarcastically with a roll of his eyes.

“Don’t you have Hoseok for that?” Jeongguk blurts out mindlessly.

Both of them freeze and have the audacity to look embarrassed. “Oh we haven’t—”

“It’s not like that!” Yoongi blurts.

“It isn’t?” Jimin furrows his brows, seems a little offended by the quick denial. There’s a beat of silence as they stare at each other before he says, “I’m too drunk for this. Fuck you both,” and then proceeds to turn on his heels and walk stumble away.

Yoongi refuses to meet Jeongguk’s eyes. Scrunches his nose, still flustered. “I don’t know what made you think that but…” he trails off, uncertain.

“Am I wrong?” Jeongguk doesn’t know why he’s being so bold tonight. Maybe it’s because he knows that this is the last time and he doesn’t have to suffer any repercussions for anything he says.

Yoongi’s mouth snaps shut. Lips drawn into a thin line. “Uh, we’ll talk about this another day?” and before Jeongguk can comment any further he ducks his head and chases after his boyfriend, of whom is now attempting to climb onto the coffee table and dance.

Jeongguk’s left alone again. He’s a little anxious and once he hits the bottom of the cup, he frowns and decides that maybe he does need another drink. He pours more rum than soda this time and it isn’t long before a tingly warmth spreads throughout his body. It makes him feel nice, calm. He understands now why people drink—it’s easy to fill the emptiness like this. Because who cares if it can kill you when you’re already half dead anyway?  

“Jeongguk?”

He freezes. Stares down at the liquid sloshing around in the cup, already half empty. Maybe if he ignores Taehyung hard enough he’ll go away. He’s the last person he’d expected to see here, and honestly, he’s not ready to face the other boy at all. Doesn’t think he’ll ever be. But Jeongguk is stupid and in love. When it comes to Taehyung he breaks so easily. He looks up, smiles shyly because Taehyung looks beautiful today. He always does.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

There’s an awkward standoff between the two of them, too many things they want to say but know that they never will. There’s always a surge of emotions Jeongguk can feel when he’s around Taehyung—emotions that he has a hard time controlling. Because Taehyung takes his breath away. Makes him dizzy with want and guilt. Makes his heart feel full yet empty at the same time.   

He still doesn’t know how to manage it, how to calm down and not let it all spill out. It almost does. When he sees Taehyung it’s hard to keep it in again, and he almost lets it all slip. Almost, as in he opens his mouth and the truth is at the tip of his tongue. That he loved Taehyung eight years ago and even now, he still does. That he misses cuddling on the couch and waking up next to each other with their legs intertwined, Taehyung’s soft skin pressed against his own. That what he did to Taehyung left him broken, unable to heal, and even now he still doesn’t forgive himself.

You’re the reason that I got this far in the first place, but I fucked up again and now you don’t want me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I love you, please don’t hate me.

But he swallows it all back, bitter in his mouth like medicine and tries not to choke until it expands in his chest and aches. “H-how are you?” he manages to ask instead. It’s easier this way.

Taehyung looks disappointed. Like casual talk isn’t what he came here for, but he goes with it anyways. Smiles even if it doesn’t seem genuine and all Jeongguk can think about is the fact that he created this mess. He should have never kissed back.

He looks at the space behind Taehyung’s head and pretends to be clueless. Pretends that he doesn’t know that they both want to talk about what happened but neither of them are brave enough to be the first to bring it up.

“I’m okay. Wasn’t able to spend a whole time with my family but it was fun…” Taehyung trails off, waiting for a response that never comes. “Um, what about you?” he shuffles to lean against the wall, right next to Jeongguk. There’s space between them that wasn’t there just a week ago, and it’s like the first time they were alone in Hoseok’s apartment together. Back to square one. He misses the warmth.

Jeongguk shrugs. Tries to appear casual but the tension between them is palpable. It’s glaringly obvious how uncomfortable they are with this situation. With each other. “Alright I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I guess.” He’s curt. To the point. Gives little to no opportunity for Taehyung to make conversation. They can never go back to the way things were between them before. He can’t do this to Taehyung. Can’t give himself any hope.

Taehyung purses his lips and looks away, down to the floor, head hung in shame. Jeongguk finishes off the rest of his drink in one go, moves to the kitchen to pour himself another. Forgets the coke this time. Taehyung follows him and lingers by the archway. Jeongguk wishes he would just go away. It’s impossible to ignore his presence.

He lets out a sigh. “Please leave me alone,” he utters defeatedly at the same time Taehyung blurts out, “I’m sorry.”

Jeongguk doesn’t turn around, tenses instead.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Taehyung voices after a beat of silence. His tone is shaky, unsure.

Jeongguk tries to ignore the way that his heart twists in pain. “I’m not hurt,” he says but it all sounds stiff and angry. He still doesn’t understand his own emotions. Doesn’t get why lately his temper has been so short, because he doesn’t have the right to feel like he’s the one who has been wronged here. It just doesn’t work that way.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung continues slowly. “I know that you probably don’t even want to be anywhere near me right now, but please just hear me out. You deserve an explanation.”

Jeongguk shakes his head frantically. He doesn’t want to hear anything. “No, it’s okay. I get it. I would have left too if I were you.”

“What? That’s not—” Taehyung reaches out for him and he remembers the day when he invited Taehyung over and the older boy had held him from behind. He remembers how perfectly they had molded together, except this time the moment Taehyung touches him he rips away from his grasp as if he’s been burned.

Jeongguk spins around with fire in his eyes, heart thrumming in a way that makes him nauseous. “Don’t touch me!”  

Taehyung flinches back, eyes wide and confused. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Taehyung.” There’s a finality to Jeongguk’s words that makes the other shut up. And before he can say anything else, Jeongguk allows himself to completely fall apart, he moves past Taehyung and leaves.

Taehyung calls his name, frantic and high pitched as if he’s about to cry, but Jeongguk doesn’t look back—pretends that in another lifetime they’re right for each other. Pretends that in another universe they meet each other at the right moment when Jeongguk doesn’t hold cruelness in his heart. A reality where he can be kind and love Taehyung freely, without guilt or regret. He can’t imagine how wonderful it would be, to walk down the street holding hands and kissing each other in the open. He can’t imagine that because he remembers what happened whenever his father had found out he was gay. The closet. The kitchen floor. His mom crying.

He just wonders what it would be like to love Taehyung closely—wholeheartedly. Maybe in another lifetime, but not this one. In this life, Jeongguk’s existence is a tragedy he can’t escape and he’s tired of fighting against the waves.

He sees Yoongi and Jimin, dancing together with Hoseok. Hands all over each other. Too intimate to be friendly. He’s still having a hard time comprehending what exactly is going on between the three of them, but he hopes they figure everything out. Hopes they get the happily ever after he never deserved.

Jeongguk takes it all in one last time before he leaves. Doesn’t want to linger too long, lest one of them catches him and he wimps out. He gets to the elevator, but stops when he sees a door to the stairwell. Honestly, Jeongguk’s not quite sure what his plan is. He goes home and then what? Tries hanging himself in the kitchen again? He hesitates for a moment longer, biting his bottom lip as the gears in his head begin to turn.

Fuck it.

He takes one last glance down the hallway to make sure no one sees him before he opens the door to the stairwell, takes them up two at a time. It’s not a long ascent. Namjoon and Seokjin’s apartment is on the fifty-sixth floor, so he’s only a little out of breath when he reaches the top.

Once again, Jeongguk pauses, hand hovering above the door handle. Maybe a part of him is hoping that it’s locked; maybe a part of him wants his mind to be changed. But it’s not. The door to the roof is unlocked and up here, the air is colder than before.

He wanders around for a bit. Enjoys the bite of the wind, the way it blows through his hair and stings the tip of his ears. It’s a little like flying. Up here, the loud nightlife of Seoul is muted. He can hear the faint sound of horns honking and sirens blaring, but it’s all so far away. A different world perhaps.

He looks up, and though it may be a silly thought, the stars look closer up here. Lifting a hand, Jeongguk closes one eye and spreads his fingers towards the sky. He wonders how far he’d have to reach to touch the cosmos. Maybe this human body of his is the one weighing him down. What happens after death? Will he become a radiant star to hang in the sky as well?

He climbs up on the ledge and balances on the narrow concrete platform. Walks back and forth, back and forth, one foot in front of the other. He feels a lot like a bird now, arms straight out to his sides. Jeongguk’s far too reckless and begins to run across the ledge. Stops abruptly when he reaches a sharp turn and looks down. From up here, Seoul is beautiful and alive. The bokeh lights are dazzling. The scenery takes Jeongguk’s breath away and he hopes that he doesn’t ruin it when he falls. Hopes no one sees him—offers a silent apology for the person who does. Maroon against cement never makes for a pretty sight.

Jeongguk remembers when he was five and his mom told him that if he really wanted it, he could do anything he put his mind to. The first time he was asked what his dream was in kindergarten, he said that he wanted to be Superman. Now he wonders how far he can fly when he jumps. Maybe the wind will simply carry him away.

He thinks about Hoseok, the first person who ever showed him what it was like to be cared for. The sun who could break through the darkest of storm clouds and ease his pain. To this day, Jeongguk is still baffled as to why someone as luminous as Jung Hoseok decided that someone like him was ever worth fighting for. And as painful as the journey has been, he’s honestly thankful, because at least now he can die knowing that there are people who will remember him, if only for a short while.

He thinks about Jimin, how even though they didn’t quite start off on the right foot, Jimin had ended up becoming such an important pillar in his life. Someone who laughs too loudly. Who is dramatic, and bold, and never afraid to stand up for what he believes in. Someone joyous and kind—too good of a friend. At least, more than Jeongguk ever deserved.

Yoongi, someone who knew Jeongguk better than he knew himself at times, even if they hadn’t known each other for long. Yoongi had become someone who quietly understood his pain and never once shunned him, even after knowing of all the horrible things he had done. Jeongguk really hopes that Yoongi makes it big in the music industry one day, and he knows that with the passion that Yoongi possesses, he’ll make it.

And Taehyung, the love of his life who was never even his to begin with. Jeongguk should have never kissed back, but he wishes—he wishes that Taehyung would kiss him again, just one last time. He wishes that Taehyung had asked him to stay.

Jeongguk doesn’t cry. Doesn’t feel anything except for numb resignation and acceptance. This was his fate. Always has been. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks the time.

11:59 PM

The hardest part of growing up is surviving your own youth. Too bad Jeongguk never learned how to survive his.

Fireworks suddenly light up the sky, breathtaking and bright. A salvo of colors that blanket Seoul in a warm glow. He’s completely enamored by the sight. Drinks it all in one last time. What a tragically marvelous way to go, underneath an incandescent night sky. This isn’t an eulogy, but maybe it should be.

Jeongguk smiles, feels the tightness in his chest lessen until it becomes obsolete. He spreads his arms again. Closes his eyes and feels the wind against his skin. It’s the beginning of the New Year and he’s waited long enough. 

It’s time to let go.

He takes a step forward, one foot dangling in the air and—and—

The moment his phone starts ringing in his pocket, he flinches back. Both feet planted firmly on the ledge. Without even glancing at the screen to see who’s called, he answers. Presses the phone harshly to his ear until it aches.

“Jeongguk?” It’s Yoongi’s voice that floats through the other end. “Where are you? You missed the fireworks and Jimin won’t stop complaining about it.” Yoongi continues to lightly scold him for leaving and grumbles about Jimin being far too extra when he drinks, but all Jeongguk can hear is the buzzing in his head getting louder and louder. He just wants it to go away.

“If you ever feel like you’re gonna do that again, please call me.”

Yoongi’s words from the previous month echo, louder than the buzzing and ah—the numb haze from before begins to dissipate and Jeongguk realizes that the lies that he had so carefully cultivated and convinced himself to believe are beginning to fall apart, and there are cracks forming. Everything around him is crumbling. He’s scared. So scared. How do you take someone who’s been shoved down to the dirt over and over again and fix them?

All Jeongguk ever wanted was for someone to ask him to stay, but he’s just the world’s biggest fuck up. He thinks about the broken bottle he had kicked away that hot summer and how moving on has been something that he’s never quite figured out how to do. Here Jeongguk is, twenty-one years old and still just as lost. A part of him had thought that all of the pain and rejection he had experienced in his childhood had made him grow up to fast, but now he realizes that he’s the same kid wondering why he finds himself staring at the boy in his eighth grade science class more than the pretty petite girl next to him.

Truth is, Jeongguk never grew up. Instead, he trapped himself in his own hell and blamed others for how he lived his life. He gives and gives to the wrong people. Lets them step all over his flowerbeds and then wonders why they leave his garden left to wither, but it’s his fault. Always has been.

“...anyways, are you home yet? I—”

Hyung.” The tremble in Jeongguk’s voice, borderline a sob, causes Yoongi to pause.

And then, in a serious tone that Jeongguk has never heard before, “where are you Guk?”

Jeongguk inhales. Hates that right away Yoongi knows that something is terribly wrong. He hates that in this world there is one person who can see right through him, and everything crumbles then. The century old abandoned house where he’d locked everything away begins to creak and fall apart. Wood splinters, the roof collapses, and he feels it now; everything he hasn’t allowed himself to feel for eight years. When he opens his mouth to speak, this time all that escapes is a pained sob and once he starts he can’t stop.

His chest hurts so much.

“‘m so suh-sorry h-hyung. ‘m so sorry,” Jeongguk cries. Crouches down with his knees pressed against his chest and lets the tears drip down his face as he looks at the vast space below him. The lights don’t seem so appealing anymore.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay, Guk. I’m here. Hyung is here. Just tell me where you are and I’ll come get you, yeah? We can have a sleepover and watch as many Marvel movies as you want. I’ll even buy you some banana milk.”

Jeongguk knows that he should just hang up. This is what he wanted right? An end to his pathetic existence. But now he’s just so terribly unsure and confused about everything. Because as much as he hates to admit it, Yoongi, Hoseok, Jimin, and Taehyung—they’d all gotten under his skin and gave him a reason to get up every morning. They gave him a reason to smile and laugh, and the thought of permanently leaving it all behind is terrifying. Gentle hands, laugh like a windchime, wholesomeness that fills Jeongguk up whenever he’s around his friends...it all gave him a reason to breathe. To exist.

But Jeongguk has to do this. He has to, right?

“The roof,” he chokes out. “I’m o-on the ruh-roof.”

He hears a sharp intake of breath on the other end. Yoongi pulling the phone away from his ear to whisper something to another person. The sound of the party fades in and out until it goes completely quiet and Jeongguk hears several voices in the background speaking in hushed and urgent tones.

“Can you wait there Guk?” Yoongi asks. “Please wait for me.”

“I—” he has to let go of everything. “I can’t do that hyung.”

The phone slips from his hand and Jeongguk watches it fall, fall, fall. All the way down until it disappears into the rushing city below. He dug his own grave and now he has no one to stop him. If he just takes a step forward finally, finally it’ll all be over. Just one step. That’s all it takes. He’ll no longer be a disappointment to everyone around him, an embarrassment to his father’s legacy. A burden. But for some reason, Jeongguk finds that his feet are rooted to the cement. Why? Why? Why?

Why can’t he even kill himself properly? He’s spent his life pretending that the rot in him is temporary; let it grow and fester until it infected every crevice and now he has a chance to be free, but he can’t even fucking move because he’s still stuck on the what ifs like a fool.

Doesn’t know why even now, he still thinks of Taehyung when what they had was never real. The thing is, Jeongguk is the kind of person who throws himself at the first notion of love. He thinks that the validation and attention will be enough to silence the chaos inside of his heart. Like maybe if Taehyung maps out constellations onto his skin and treats him like a newly discovered planet, it would put things into perspective. At least he’d have some semblance of control again. But Jeongguk’s body is a decrepit mausoleum and the insides of his palms don’t hold cosmos like he wants them to. You can’t take an abandoned house and call it a home when there’s already mold festering between the walls. Jeongguk can’t fix the rotten inside of him and he know that’s all he’ll ever be—rotten down to his very core.  
He takes a deep breath. He can do this. He can fucking do—

“Jeongguk!”

He doesn’t startle. Doesn’t give any indication of having heard Yoongi’s voice.

“Jeongguk!”

He looks up. Tonight the moon is full, wisps of indigo clouds grasping at the curves.

“Jeongguk, please.”

He finally turns, although painfully slow. Yoongi stands several feet away and to Jeongguk it feels as if there’s a chasm between them. A gaping distance that reminds him of his nightmares, except this time Yoongi isn’t the one walking away. He stares up at Jeongguk with a sort of panic that Jeongguk has never seen before. But he’s not alone. All of them are there; Jimin, Hoseok, and even Taehyung. They all have the same look in their eyes. The kind that makes his heart sink, but Taehyung—he gazes at Jeongguk with a level of control that the others don’t have.

“Hey, Jeonggukie.” Hoseok takes a step forward.

Jeongguk takes one back and they all collectively gasp at how close he is to the drop beneath him. He’d stopped crying already. Just stares at his hyungs with an impassive expression. He can’t show how weak he really is or he’ll completely lose it again.

“Why are you up there?” Hoseok doesn’t take another step, too scared to do so. “Why don’t you come down and talk to us?”

“I don’t want to talk. You guys aren’t supposed to be here.” Even to Jeongguk’s ears, his words sound terribly cold.

Hoseok swallows, looks back at Yoongi helplessly. But before the elder can say anything, Taehyung strides forward. Walks right past Hoseok until he’s just a few feet away and Jeongguk finds himself able to take another threatening step backwards.

“Come down from there, Jeongguk.” His tone is calm, firm. Leaves little room for argument but Jeongguk won’t back down. Not this time.

“No.”

“Why?”

It’s such a simple question, yet it catches Jeongguk off guard. He narrows his eyes and bites his tongue. “Why does it matter to you?”

Taehyung tenses. Clenches his jaw and asks in a quipped tone, “what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I don’t fucking matter to you.” Jeongguk tries to keep his composure but he’s breathing hard. In front of Taehyung, any kind of dignity he had leaves him.

“Jeongguk,” Jimin interjects, “that’s not—”

“And what about you?” Taehyung cuts off, tone steely. “Do any of us matter to you right now?”

Jeongguk flushes. Feels himself getting all worked up again because of course. Of course he cares—more than any of them will ever know. He cares so much that his insides ache. Cares so much that he’d do anything for them. Cares more about the happiness of these four boys more than his own.

So, “of course.”

“If you care, then why are you up there?” Taehyung says it so matter-of-fact, as if it’s an obvious answer. As if things are really that simple.

Jeongguk’s so angry. So frustrated because Taehyung will never understand. None of them will. They don’t know about his expired body; his skin, so fragile that it bruises under the softest touch, all the way down to the bone. They don’t know about the black eyes. The torment he had to go through (the first time he’d kissed a boy). They don’t know that Jeongguk suffers with his mouth sewn shut—swallows a black sea and holds it inside of his lungs until he begins to leak.  

“You left me!” Jeongguk practically screams. He doesn’t know why he says it. Doesn’t know why he’s even bringing it up, but he’s just so angry and tired of lying about everything. Tired of keeping it all inside. “You left me alone in that stupid fucking apartment because you were disgusted by me.”

“What the fuck? I left because you pushed me away!” Taehyung shouts back. His composure snaps, and suddenly he’s just as angry. Fire burning in his eyes. “You always push me away.”

“Because you hate me!”

“I don't hate you, Jeongguk.”

“Yes you do.” He chokes. “You always have, and I hate myself too.” And to add insult to injury, “does that make you happy Taehyung? To know that after everything, I’m the one standing up here instead of you?”

Taehyung takes a step back as if he’s been physically hit and Jeongguk doesn’t understand why he looks so wounded. “You always do this. Put words in my mouth. You don't get to tell me how I fucking feel. That's for me to decide, not you. Everything that I went through back then...I never put the blame solely on you.”

Jeongguk clenches his fists, teeth grinding painfully. “Don’t lie to me. Yoongi hyung told me what you did after you went back to Daegu. Your wrists...I know from the moment we met again that you wanted me gone.”

Behind Taehyung, the others are watching carefully. Jimin seems as if he’s about to say something, but Yoongi stops him. Whispers something in his boyfriend’s ear that makes him go mute.

“Why would you even think that?” Taehyung sounds genuinely confused, as if he can’t believe his own ears. “Yeah, seeing you again did bring up some fucked up memories, but isn’t it obvious?” he throws his hands up in the air in exasperation. “I fell for you. I fucking love you, Jeongguk. What I did back then was never because of you, so don’t you fucking dare blame yourself. I won’t let you.”

And to Jeongguk, Taehyung’s words are like a punch to the gut. A knife to the stomach. He feels sick, so sick. He should be happy, right? All he’s ever wanted was validation, and now Taehyung’s saying that he loves him but it’s not right. None of this is right. He promised that he would apologize to Taehyung and disappear from his life. This world.  

“No,” he says. “You don’t. And it was my fault. It was all—”

“Didn’t I just say that you don’t get to tell me how I feel? It was never your fault, and you don’t get to to use it as an excuse to make yourself more miserable! You just want a reason to die, Jeongguk, but I won’t let you use my past struggles to make yourself a fucking martyr for all of us.”

“Stop lying to me!” Jeongguk shakes his head frantically. “Please. Just s-stop.”

“Why?” Taehyung takes another daring step forward, right until his knees hit the barrier and he’s standing below Jeongguk, staring right up at him. They’re so close now that Taehyung could simply reach up and yank him down if he wanted. “Why can’t I love you?”

“Because I don’t deserve to be here,” Jeongguk wheezes out. The back of his eyes are starting to burn, and oh shit, he can’t cry again. Not now. “Because I don’t deserve you.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I d-didn’t mean anything I said back then, Taehyung. I was angry and hurting, a-and I know that’s no excuse but you were just so bright, and beautiful and you, and I...I was just some stupid, closeted gay kid who would do anything to make his shitty father love him. I just...just…”

Jeongguk thinks that in the end, it was never worth it, fighting for the love of someone who loved him like numbers; like extra cash—a fat wallet. It was the biggest mistake of his life.  

Taehyung shakes his head, reaches up to rest a hand on Jeongguk’s hip. His eyes shine with sadness, lips parted. He speaks gentler this time. “We were just kids back then. We were just stupid fucking kids who thought we knew better. Reckless kids who thought we could handle more. We were just kids. Stupid, stupid kids.” He swallows, blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay. “You deserve the world, Guk. You deserve so much more than the life you were given and I’m sorry I didn’t see you for the amazing man that you are sooner.”

“Tae.” Jeongguk’s face crumples then. The tears he’d been holding back burst like a fountain and he feels himself fall apart.

“Come down here, yeah?” Taehyung tugs gently at Jeongguk’s wrist with his other hand, the other still on his waist. “We can talk about everything. Start from the beginning.”

“I can’t…” Jeongguk cries. “I hurt you.”

“So have I,” Taehyung croaks. “So have I.”

He doesn’t resist when Taehyung pulls him down. Doesn’t resist when Taehyung holds him close, circles his arms around Jeongguk’s waist. Just wails into his shoulder, loud and ugly and in so much pain. “‘m suh-sorry. So sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Taehyung shushes, voice thick with emotion. Runs his hands through Jeongguk’s hair. “I forgave you a long time ago.”

Warmth begins to surround him, and through the blur of tears Jeongguk realizes that his friends have all gathered around, a mess of snot and tears and— 

“We’re so glad you’re okay.”

“We love you so much.”

“Don’t ever scare me like that ever again, kid.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more.”

“I’ll buy you a life supply of banana milk, okay?”

And against the shell of his ear, whispered quietly enough for only Jeongguk to hear, Taehyung says, “please stay. Please don’t go.”

Jeongguk balls the front of Taehyung’s shirt up tightly in his clenched fists and sobs even harder than before. He’s in so much pain and it still hurts to breathe, but Taehyung had said it. Taehyung had asked him to stay.

It’s a wide night and as another barrage of fireworks lights up the sky, Jeongguk thinks about how he’s spent all these years wasting time and wasting away in it. He’s spent all these years struggling to say the intangible, suffering in a silence so long that it’s made his bones brittle. He thought that if he ran fast enough he could explode them into the loving embrace of a brick wall and return back to dust. He didn’t mean to leave a mark in any of their lives.

Jeongguk doesn’t know how to accept forgiveness, how to forgive himself—but it this has to mean something, right?

He raises his head from Taehyung’s shoulder, and they all look up to watch the burst of colors. It’s five minutes past midnight.

Beautiful, Jeongguk thinks. Then he turns to Taehyung who’s eyes gleam with tears, the light from the fireworks casts his skin in a soft glow. Beautiful, Jeongguk thinks again.