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Alive

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“What if we just ceased to exist?”

Taehyung glances unimpressed at Jeongguk from where he’s perched on the windowsill, art history book momentarily forgotten. His friend seems to be all but glaring holes into his very expensive computer screen. Taehyung is not what one would call versed in the art of video editing, but even from his spot on the far corner of the room he can tell that the timeline of whatever video Jeongguk is messing with now is filled to the brim with way too many snippets of footage and audio. It’s chaos.

“Is this the theme of your new project or are you having an existential crisis in the middle of our terms?”, he asks indulgently.

Jeongguk spins in his chair facing his friend, ignoring the question and going on with his tirade, “No but listen, what if you had a choice, to just cease to exist? Not die. Just – not exist anymore. With 0 consequences. Would you take it?”

Taehyung for his part remains passive, with the exception of a casual raise of eyebrows.

“Since when are you this philosophical? Did Namjoon hyung make you listen to his monologues again?”

Because Jeongguk was not one to be dramatic. Extra at times? Yes. Most likely to power walk to the other side of the city to get to a tech store rather than sit through traffic? Hell yeah. Break a game controller with his own very hands cause he’s a sore loser? Taehyung had been the very frightened witness of that. Will go up a flight of stairs in a hand stand cause his thighs hurt from leg day? Happened way too many times.

But Jeongguk was a generally unbothered guy and like any other individual, complex in his own unique way. If you didn’t count his knack for excelling at virtually anything and everything, Jeongguk was your average college kid. Being curious and eager to learn by nature, he had random interests – something would grab his attention but then he would move on but not before mastering it for no particular reason other than to rub it in Taehyung’s face.

So yeah, Taehyung wasn’t all that surprised that his friend was all of a sudden interested in – what was it? Meaning of life apparently.

But when Jeongguk tsks and leans back in his chair, pushing his hair back in frustration muttering a curse, Taehyung’s 'shit is serious' senses go off. Shoving his book aside, he makes his way to his best friend and plops down on the bed directly in front of Jeongguk’s work station.

“Gguk, seriously, why are you thinking like this all of a sudden? School can’t be that bad, right?”, he chuckles almost nervously. He wouldn’t want Jeongguk to be all of a sudden interested in excelling at 'ceasing to exist'.

“This project for my class,” he gestures exasperatedly towards his screen, “they want us to come up with a concept about what it means to be alive. Since it’s supposed to be abstract, they gave us free reign, but I- “, he pauses to lick his lips and Taehyung has never seen Jeongguk be this nervous about a film project, “-I have no idea where to start,” he confesses shamefully.  

Taehyung understands immediately. Jeongguk is a perfectionist and overly-competitive on a good day. For him to hit a wall from the get-go is in short – tragic. Taehyung looks behind his friend, his eyes searching for the video timeline.

“You seem to have some ideas at least,” he notes.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but it’s the obvious stuff: kids laughing, friends having fun, people getting married, freaking kittens. All stock footage as well,” he adds with disgust. “But I want to go beyond that. Everyone will come up with a Hallmark commercial.”

Taehyung smiles fondly at that. Trust his best friend to always try to stand out from the crowd when it comes to his craft.

“Okay I see. So then what’s with the creepy question? Ceasing to exist is basically the opposite of your theme.”

“I figured I do it the other way around, you know? What makes life meaningful is the fact that we die at some point. We’re all here on borrowed time. Everything we do counts for something, right? But then I wouldn’t want to bring death into this, but rather a scenario. If we ceased to be no more, without the burden of the suffering we would make others go through, how many of us would accept that? Like – stop fighting you know? With no consequences. I read somewhere that happiness is just a break from the bad stuff and I think – I think it’s true? Maybe our lives are not as shitty as others’, but we still go through our struggles, right? And it makes me think whether they’re worth it. Would we stop going through all of this if we could? Why is life worth living at the end of the day?”

Taehyung whistles in awe. “Wow, Jeongguk. If I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you came up with all of that on your own.  How many pretentious movies did you say you binge-watched last weekend?”

Jeongguk unceremoniously punches his upper arm. “Asshole”.

Taehyung laughs and makes a show out of nursing his wounded shoulder. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I know there’s some profoundness underneath all that sculpted muscle,” he mocks in a high-pitched voice which Jeongguk assumes is meant to resemble the girls in his year. “But anyway, I think it’s a good take. A bit morbid, but maybe you should focus on what makes you feel alive, yeah? You can’t tell me you would take that option? Would you?”

Jeongguk is silent at that and Taehyung is negative seconds away from slapping him across his chiseled face, but the beginning of an answer comes in the form of a hum.

“I wouldn’t cease to exist, hyung, no. I like what I’m doing and I’m satisfied with my life. But I feel like- like I’m not qualified to answer that question. What makes life worth living? I don’t know enough. There are so many people out there that lived longer, have seen the world, made a difference, had a positive impact, know more about life overall. I’m just a student that’s lucky enough to do what he’s passionate about. I can’t make my video about – oh, life is about doing what you love. That is, if you have the money and luck.”

Taehyung shakes his head vehemently. “There’s no right answer with this. Life is different for all of us. You’re no less valid than others no matter how much volunteering they did at 16. That’s the whole point of this project. Everyone has their own take on being alive and I think it’s a wonderful self-reflection exercise. If we would have this in art class, I would do a gallery’s worth of pieces.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me then. What does it mean to be alive, Taehyungie?”, Jeongguk is quick to ask with a sickeningly sweet smile, a challenging lilt in his tone. How is everything a competition with this kid, seriously?

“Aish, you’re such a brat I swear,” Taehyung reprimands rolling his eyes. “Alright, listen here you ungrateful child. Take art for example, yeah? What we both do is a form of art so it shouldn’t be too hard to understand,” Taehyung pauses to dodge the empty water bottle Jeongguk aims at his head.

“Art in its very essence is about people trying to make sense of life. We express what we feel, what we think about, what we question, what we love, what we hate, everything – through art. Any form of it. Cooking is an art. Sex is an art. Washing dishes can be an art. As long as you put passion in it, you put a bit of yourself in your craft, then – you make art. When I make art, I learn and see and feel, and that makes me feel alive*. Think about it. What makes us human, therefore different from other mammals, is the fact that we feel so much, that we’re so self-aware of ourselves and our thoughts, we have desires but we are also capable of hate. We have a conscience and that’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s how you perceive and what you do with the materialization of your conscience that makes you alive.”

Jeongguk crosses his arms in thought. “So like, if my conscience tells me to kill you in your sleep and say, I do it. That makes me alive?”

“Yes,” Taehyung says unfazed. “Listen, Gguk. It’s more complex than that. Philosophers have been debating the meaning of life for centuries, so don’t expect to figure out the answer at 21. There is no answer to begin with, hence why this is an abstract project. The best you can do is to figure it out for yourself and your own life. I just gave you my take on it.”

Taehyung ends his little speech by flicking Jeongguk’s forehead with a content smirk. He counts it as a victory every time he gets to prove his hyung status over Jeongguk, who for once in his life is rendered speechless.

“Alright, that’s enough for today’s life lesson. I have to get going.” He goes to retrieve his book and begins packing the rest of his things, babbling on about how Jeongguk is messing with his karma and ‘I have an exam tomorrow that I have to pass with flying colors thank you very much’.

Jeongguk follows his movements mechanically across the room, not really listening in all fairness, but rather encouraging himself that he gets it a bit better now. Maybe he should just focus on himself and stop trying to think outside the box for this one. It does seem like a project that demands an honest personal approach, rather than creativity and flare. But he’s never been the subject of his own project and that unsettles him. How can he bear himself so intimately through his videos for the whole world (class) to see? It almost feels like they ask of him to strip naked in front of everyone to be judged and critiqued and laughed at. But maybe – just maybe – it’s a good thing to experiment as a film maker. He tries to think of that one quote, “Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone” or something. How can he grow as an artist if he limits himself?

He sighs heavily. It’s gonna be a long restless night.

“Okay good luck and try not to steal my brilliant ideas about the philosophy of life. See you later, my young padayan”. And with that Taehyung is slipping out the door in his usual elegant flurry.

The room is eerily quiet all of a sudden.

“It’s padawan,” Jeongguk mutters miserably.

 


 

 

Taehyung forgot to mention in his pretentious art student rant that life is also very much unpredictable. You’re never prepared for the worst. No one gives you a heads up. You just sit there, living your normal day to day life, going through the motions, not knowing that your life is about to change 180. One second, you’re fine, the next, your world tilts on its axis. And things seldom regress to their means.

It’s during his lunch break, the very following week, that Jeongguk gets the call from his mother.

“Oh come on, hyung! You never feature me, like ever. It’s not like it’s a concert,” Taehyung is whining right next to his ear and Jeongguk’s seriously considering shoving his beloved bread down his throat just to shut him up for once.

Yoongi is unbothered as usual, demeanor unflinching as a mountain. “For the last time, no. I’m trying to keep people inside the house for this party. Besides, no one is rapping. Namjoon and I are just gonna DJ.”

Taehyung all but climbs over the table, up until he’s all over Yoongi’s breathing space. “But that’s the point – you guys don’t have to be associated with me, therefore no one’s reputation is being ‘tainted’. You can present me as the new kid from the block who tries to have his first breakthrough.”

Jeongguk pulls him back by his shirt. “Literally everyone at the party knows who you are. Let it go hyung.”

Traitor,” he hisses back at Jeongguk, who just shrugs like he couldn’t be bothered. Which. He isn’t.

Yoongi points his chopsticks at Taehyung. “I’ll let you rap with us the day you let me do a piece for your gallery showcase.”

Taehyung gasps horrified.

“So you get it now.”

Yoongi grins in satisfaction at Taehyung’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed expression.

Jeongguk bursts out laughing, his whole body doubled over. “Oh, don’t even. You had it coming.”

Taehyung scoffs in mostly mock annoyance and crosses his arms. “Fine, hope you miss me on Friday cause I’m suddenly very busy.”

“Yeah? With whom? Virtually every person you're planning to sleep with is gonna be there.”

“Who said anything about spending the night with someone? Maybe I want some well-deserved me time.”

“Yeah alright. Have fun masturbating. What about you, Jeongguk? You’re gonna be there, right?”

“Definitely. I really need a break from this project I’m working on. Let loose and all that.”

“Yeah, let loose in someone’s pants,” Taehyung mutters from his spot.

“I wouldn’t be mad at it, no.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes at the children he has no idea what involvement he has with, nor why. “What project? You didn’t tell me about it.”

“Ah. Kind of an abstract project. They asked us to make a short film about what it means to be alive.” Yoongi stops eating at that, giving Jeongguk his full attention. “So, uhm- yeah. I’ve been brainstorming these past days. Taetae had a good idea for once – ha, and he said I should focus more on myself and what it means for me, but it’s really hard.”

Yoongi nods somberly in approval. “Yeah, I can imagine it is for you,” he says, pausing only to bask in Jeongguk’s glare. 

“But it’s also obvious. How can you talk about what it means to be alive if it’s not from your own perspective? It’s a subjective project. What’s your issue? I know you’re hard headed, but you’re still an artist. You are capable of identifying and portraying emotions, are you not?”

“It’s just hard to start you know? And I’ve been racking my brains constantly – I honestly feel like I fried every neuron in my head, but still, I’m not satisfied. Nothing clicks. But hey, guess who’s getting absolutely hammered on- “

He’s interrupted by his phone ringing, ‘Mom’ flashing intermittently on the screen. Jeongguk furrows his brows. His mom never really calls during a school day, but he doesn’t think much of it as he cleans his hands on his pants, before picking up the phone and greeting her.

He stops in his tracks when he hears choked sobs coming from the other line. He can barely make out what she’s saying except for a few words.

‘Your brother – Junghyun – accident - there’s been a car accident - come home.’

His heart plummets to the bottom of his stomach and ice-cold panic washes over him.

“Mom? Mom what happened?” he can hear the tremble in his voice as he grips his phone tighter against his ear hoping that he didn’t hear correctly. That maybe his mom is crying out of joy because his older brother finally saved enough money to buy himself a car and replace that shit motorcycle once and for all.

Taehyung and Yoongi almost snap their necks turning to look at Jeongguk, shock and dread taking ahold of their features. They instinctively move closer to Jeongguk with wide worried eyes, Taehyung reaching a tentative hand to his shoulder.

His mother doesn’t answer him. She tries to that is, but she can’t, sobs racking through her and Jeongguk has never felt raw fear quite like this in his whole life.

“Mom? Mom, mom - please answer me. What happened dammit?! Answer me, come on. Mom?!” Jeongguk begins shouting in the phone and he shouldn’t be angry of all things, but fear doesn’t mix well with the unknown and he can’t even bring himself to think of the worst. He can practically feel his mother shaking through the phone. He can feel it in his own very being rattling him to the core.

Somewhere, at the very back of his mind he knows he should be calm in situations like these, but like hell he’s gonna take a deep breath and count to ten when he can barely breath as it is with his lungs feeling devoid of any air.

“Mom please,” he whispers and he suddenly feels 8 again, the time he got lost in a supermarket, his mother and brother no where to be seen. And it’s dumb, so fucking dumb to compare it to this, but the same gravity of hopelessness and dread hits him like a freight train. Tears well up in his eyes and dammit, if someone would just tell him what happened to his brother. He starts heaving, tears blurring his world as reality starts slipping from him.

“Jesus Christ, Jeongguk-“

He can hear Taehyung shouting his name but it’s far away, almost muted. Hands grab at his shoulders, but he can’t. He just can’t –

“Jeongguk.”

His father’s voice brings him back and it’s much more stable, although somber, his usual lively cheerful tone buried deep under the levity of the matter.

It scares Jeongguk more than his mother’s and he holds his breath.

“Your brother, Junghyun. His motorcycle hit a car that was running a red light. We can only be thankful that he was wearing protective gear, but even so, his condition is grave. We’re at the hospital now and the doctors are doing their best to stabilize him. You need to come home, son.”

So he’s not-

His older brother is not-

Jeongguk cries harder.

 


 

 

He’s gonna make it.

He has to.

Junghyun hyung is strong.

And he promised.

He promised he will always be there for me.

Jeongguk wouldn’t be able to trace back how he got on a train to Busan, but he vaguely registers Seoul dissolving into a myriad of flurry lights around him. He only remembers hands enveloping him in a tight hug, the ringing in his ears, the headache that he got (has) from crying, the erratic gallop of his heart, and poorly masked frantic voices trying to reassure him that school will be fine, we’re gonna handle it, go to your family and please keep your phone on, I’ll take the evening train.

He clenches his fists in his lap and bites his lip until it stings. He can’t cry anymore. He needs to be strong for his mother and father. He needs to be strong for his brother. It makes him sick that he felt relief when he heard his brother was in critical condition, that the only possible worse thing was death. How he was almost quick to just accept that this was it.

How did this happen?

Why did this have to happen to our family?

He’s so angry – angry at himself, angry at Junghyun for never listening to their father insisting that he changes the damn motorcycle, angry that this happened to them because it’s not fair, angry that he didn’t get the call earlier, because apparently the accident happened in the morning. Maybe he would have been in Busan by now, with his family, not counting the miles to his hometown, feeling like his skin is too tight and his eyes too hot. But above all, he feels small and useless.

Jeongguk replays in his head over and over again the last conversation he had with his brother. Junghyun had dropped him off at the train station and they’d been talking non-sense really. College degrees and scholarships, teasing each other about who their mom meant when she said she wants grandchildren, summer plans, and right before he got on the train, he remembers how his brother had proudly said “Get out there Kook and show ‘em who the next Kim Ki-duk is”. Jeongguk remembers feeling embarrassingly giddy at the support and trying hard to mask it with faux-nonchalance.

But those memories rise bile in his throat right now and the only thing that he can do is pray and hope.

Pray and hope that the last words he said to his older brother weren’t “You’re an idiot, hyung.”

 


 

 

The Busan St. Mary's Hospital is quiet and almost empty when Jeongguk stumbles through its revolving door. It’s funny how he expected chaos, doctors running around, bloodied patients being rolled in, shouting and nurses screaming at him to get out of the way, but maybe Taehyung was right – he does watch too many movies. It’s almost peaceful and the secretary at front desk seems to be in her own bubble, unbothered and unaware of Jeongguk’s (and God knows how many others’) life tumbling to pieces. And why would she? Life’s tragedies are an intimate thing after all.

Once he registers the floor number from her clinically professional voice, Jeongguk rushes up the stairs, taking two at a time, because he doesn’t trust himself in an elevator.

He almost crumbles to the floor when he sees his parents huddled together on the waiting chairs, looking devastated, worn out, and faces tear-stricken.

“Mom, dad,” he intends to shout, but his voice is hoarse and low. Even so, his parents look up at him in tandem, and Jeongguk can see the relief flooding their faces. His mom gets up and runs to him, hugging him tightly and burying her face in his chest, fresh sobs rocking her small form. Jeongguk wraps her in his arms just as breath-stopping, anchoring her and whispering small reassurements that he’s here, he’s okay.

 He looks up at his dad’s red-rimmed eyes when he feels his familiar heavy hand squeezing his shoulder.

“Glad you got here safe, son.”

There’s an at least you hidden somewhere in there and Jeongguk’s throat constricts all over again.

“What happened? Where’s Junghyun hyung?” he asks desperately.

His parents guide him to a chair and it’s not helping the situation in the least. “Take a seat, Jeongguk. We’re gonna be here for a while”. He sits between his mom and dad, hands wringing and heart making a dent in his chest.

His father sighs long and tiredly. “Junghyun was riding that cursed motorcycle when it happened, but he was driving reglementarily. He was crossing an intersection, legal speed they tell me, maybe a bit over but not outrageously so. A car – it sped through the intersection at the same time, running a red light, probably trying to cross it with no causalities.” His father scoffs with bitter irony. “My son has quick reflexes, so I’m sure he reacted in time, but as the police confirmed, the breaks were not responsive enough.”

Jeongguk’s blood drains from his face, because he hadn’t realized. He hadn’t even thought of the severity of such an impact. He takes a deep breath and steels himself for the next question.

“Dad, what happened to him?”

“As expected, the motorcycle collided with the side of the car. The nose of the motorcycle got impaled in the metal and Junghyun, - he, -he was propelled off it. He was wearing his helmet thankfully, but nothing else, and even so, his head was badly shaken, so they’re putting him through a CT scan. The worst of it - he landed on his back, so his spine took most of the burnt. The doctors expect major casualties there, but we won’t know for sure until they’re done with the investigations. Junghyun is also suspect of heavy internal hemorrhage, but he’s unconscious now and will be for a while most likely. The doctors, they even asked us if we would approve of an induced coma if necessary.”

Jeongguk’s head spins with the amount of new information.

“Wait, wait. Induced coma? That’s too much, isn’t it? We don’t even know what’s wrong with him yet. We can’t just put him under without knowing. And what about his spine? Is it broken? Will he be able-“

“Kook-ah,” his mother interrupts him gently, taking his hands in her smaller ones, “let’s not think of the worst, yes?”, she sniffles, making an inhumane effort to move the corners of her lips in a ghost of a smile. “What’s important is that your brother is alive. No matter what comes after this, we have to stick together and support him. We need to be strong now for our Junghyun, yes?” Her voice weavers but Jeongguk can feel that she means every word. He nods weakly, even though he feels aimless.

“What about the other car? Were there any other casualties?”

Jeongguk finds himself asking that question not out of curiosity or worry, but out of newly found spite. There’s a seed of hatred starting to bloom towards the driver of the car. After all, this is all his fault. It’s wrong, but there’s a sick need deep within him for someone to pay, for someone to suffer just as much as his family is right now.

His father shakes his head, “No. No one died thankfully. The other car had two passengers in it and they made it from what the police said. As for pedestrians, no one was hurt.”

At the mention of death, Jeongguk snaps out of it and is momentarily horrified at himself. What the hell is wrong with him, thinking like that. It’s not like him. He knows the need to blame someone weighs heavily in situations like these, especially when there is someone to blame, but he can’t lose himself in fickle things like that. He needs to focus all his mental strength on his brother, not on some petty revenge. After all, the man will get what he deserves in court.

“I see, that’s good then,” he says mechanically. “Are they gravely hurt as well?” He’s gonna let it go after this, he promises himself.

His mom and dad exchange a look, furrowing their brows. “We actually don’t know, dear. We didn’t really think to ask. Your brother was already at the hospital when we arrived,” his mom answers in shame.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. I was just curious,” Jeongguk reassures her, rubbing soothing circles on her back.

“The motorcycle hit the backseat part of the car, so unless someone was sitting there, the two should be fine actually, so don’t worry too much about it, son,” his father says and Jeongguk’s ashamed that worrying about other people is really not his issue right now, so he just nods in understanding.

Doors open somewhere and the three of them turn their heads in unison to watch the doctor stride towards where they sit with a reserved look on her face. His parents stand up to greet her, but Jeongguk is rooted to his spot, feels too young all of a sudden, too out of his depth to join them.

“The Jeons yes? I’ll get to the point; your son is out of harm’s way. Everything he sustained, while grave in nature, is treatable. The CT scan came through and everything looks normal, no major damage inflicted. His spine on the other hand has suffered some fractures. The L1 to L4 vertebrae– the Lumbar section – have been completely shattered.”

Jeongguk’s mother sharp intake of breath is loud enough to have the doctor pause and look sympathetically at the woman. “But as I said, it’s all treatable. Being shattered to this degree, it will be a difficult operation, but we do assure you that our surgeons will be successful. Junghyun is quite young, so we do expect that his body will cooperate.”

“Will he walk again?” Jeongguk finds himself asking. He consciously stands up and does a quick half-bow.

The doctor smiles tight-lipped, having expected the question. “We don’t know. The spine is a very unpredictable sensitive thing. The operation will put his spine back together, but we’re not sure yet if he will be able to walk, or to what degree, as this has to do with nerve damage as well. Speed of recovery and rehabilitation will tell. But his upper body will not be affected”

His father grunts in understanding, but Jeongguk can tell he’s visibly shaken at the notion that his son is lucky enough to not be completely paralyzed.

“What about the internal hemorrhage?”

“Was present, yes. We dealt with it, however with his spine being in such a detrimental condition, it was quite difficult to operate with maximum efficiency. It’s under control for now, but we will revise it after the back surgery.”

“When will he be operated?” his mother asks through small hiccups.

“They’re prepping him right now. The sooner we get in, the better. It’s gonna take a while, but I can imagine going home is not an option.”

The three Jeons shake their heads vehemently.

 


 

 

When the clock strikes the three-hour mark, Jeongguk peels himself off the chair with a healthy groan. Stretching his sore limbs, he realizes none of them have eaten anything, coffee really not making up for his slowly awakening hunger. The hospital probably has a canteen, but he doubts his parents want to move from their spot. And honestly, he doesn’t either, but his body is disagreeing completely.

“I’m gonna go get some food and water,” he announces, not bothering to wait for their delayed replies which are most likely gonna be refusals.

Jeongguk walks stiffly, searching for any signs that lead to a canteen or any kind of food. He passes a nurse eventually, and she directs him to the top floor. Taking the elevator this time, he checks his phone and re-reads the last texts from Taehyung. He had told him that there’s no need to come all the way to Busan, especially not in the middle of their terms. Things were stable enough for now and there really wasn’t anything that he could do here to help. Taehyung had simply replied ‘on my way’.

That was 2 hours ago, so Jeongguk assumes he should be here soon. He’ll probably never admit it out loud, but he is thankful that his best friend will be here with him. He’s definitely not the one in need of support right now, but he’s also not against receiving some.

Other people texted him as well. He assumes Taehyung and Yoongi hyung broke the news to their fellow colleagues and teachers. Everyone is unflinchingly supportive and they all encourage him with kind words and don’t worrys regarding his homework. Honestly, he can’t even be bothered to think about his stupid projects now.

What does it mean to be alive?

Not being dead is a great start, thanks bye.

He arrives at the canteen and stops shortly at its entrance. The neon lights are way too bright up here and they enhance the immaculateness of the white room. Jeongguk feels like he should take off his shoes.

He makes his way through the mostly empty chairs and stops in front of the food display. Doesn’t look too bad, but even though his stomach grumbles, he has the vague feeling he wouldn’t be able to eat much.

Still, he orders enough for the four of them (Taehyung will be hungry for sure), along with drinks, and pays dutifully.

As he juggles the four food packages, the drinks and his wallet, he hears someone sniffing right next to him. He turns around and there’s a young boy, probably around his age, crying quietly into his sandwich, and Jeongguk really doesn’t have time for this.

The boy is definitely old enough to be left unattended but what if he just found his parents died or something. Jeongguk has a sudden understanding that dying is way easier and probable than it seems.

He stands there, everything haphazardly fitted in his arms, mouth opening and closing, conflicted if he should even say something. He’s definitely not in the position to comfort someone for their loss or tragedy or whatever.

But wasn’t he in the same position hours ago? Just crying his eyes out and having no one to fall back on. And it’s not like he’s better now, but at least his mind adapted and resigned enough to the situation that he can’t really cry anymore. For now, at least.

As his mom always used to brag when he was 16, in his early emo phases, ‘You’re not fooling anyone, darling. Your heart is too kind for all that hatred.’

Jeongguk looks at the ceiling and sighs.

“Oi,” he calls out, his foot kicking gently the chair that the boy is sitting in. He has a hunch the boy wouldn’t register someone talking to him even if you flipped over the table in front of him.

The boy gasps softly and looks down at the source of the shove, trailing his eyes up from black Timberlands to their expectant owner.

“What?”

His Busan accent is thick and Jeongguk hadn’t realized how much he missed it. He was used to his parents, but hearing strangers naturally talk in his dialect makes him want to come back and just stay for a while.

Well.

He’s pretty sure he’s gonna get his wish.

 “Are you okay? Why are you alone?” Jeongguk asks in his natural accent as well, and there’s a misplaced satisfaction to it given the situation.

The boy furrows his eyebrows. “We’re in a hospital. Do you think anyone is okay in here?”

Jeongguk scoffs and he’s irrationally defensive. “I don’t see anyone in the near vicinity balling their eyes out.”

He probably shouldn’t be using banmal with a stranger, but he’s tired and he had a field day okay.  This kid looks younger than him anyway and just as rude.

“Why do you care? Do you just go around making fun of people in distress?”

Jeongguk’s nostrils flare and it has to be the stress of the day just frying his nerves away, because he’s seconds away from throwing hands at an innocent boy and what is wrong with me seriously?

He counts to 1 because he’s never been patient.

“Listen, I just saw you here alone, crying, and just wanted to know if I can help, alright? There’s no one with you, so excuse me for being civilized.”

“Way to be civilized,” the boy mutters, wiping his tears away with his sweater sleeve. “How old are you anyway?”

Jeongguk looks at him unimpressed. Kid probably wants to curse at him. Well, fat chance.

“’97 liner,” he answers almost smugly. “You?”

The boy surprises him when he scoffs loudly. “Me too.”

“Well you don’t look it.”

“Is that what gives you the right to be rude?”

“Whatever. So can I leave, or do I need to bring someone to attend to you?”

“What is wrong with you seriously? No, my parents are on their way, if you must know. So no, there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anyone can do,” he adds as an afterthought that sounded suspiciously out of context.

And Jeongguk is suddenly there in the boy’s shoes. He relates. He understands. They’re all in the same boat, aren’t they? They were all just living their normal happy lives, when life struck. No one asked for this, no one deserves this, no one should go through this and Jeongguk doesn’t do very well in critical situations.

He lingers there for a few seconds, all the fight leaving him, as the boy goes back to fiddling with his sandwich, mostly staring through it, Jeongguk already forgotten it seems.

“Relative?” Jeongguk breaks the silence.

The boy doesn’t look at him this time. “Yes.”

“Close?” And really? Out of all the dumb questions Jeonggu-

“Brother.” The kid does look at him this time and there’s a challenge there. Challenge to dare say anything else.

But all that Jeongguk does is take a chair out and plop heavily in it, food and everything strewn carelessly over the table. He sighs long and wearily.

“Same.”

The other boy seems to let his defenses down at that, suddenly aware as well that hey, there’s comradery in tragedy. He can’t bring himself to laugh though.

“What’s your name?” he asks instead.

“Jeongguk. Yours?”

“Jihyun. Park Jihyun. I’d say ‘it’s nice to meet you’ under different circumstances.”

Jeongguk chuckles bitterly at that. “Yeah, no kidding.”

There’s a moment of silence and he doesn’t know if he should ask, if it’s too soon, but Jeongguk is way too drained to care about etiquette at this point.

“So what happened to your brother?”

Jihyun exhales loudly, predictably not wanting to voice it, but what are they gonna talk about? Certainly not the weather.

“Some idiot on a motorcycle hit my brother’s car.”

Oh.

Oh.

Jeongguk is pretty sure his parents will not be happy when they’re gonna hear he got into a brawl in a damn hospital canteen.