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Tell Me Again

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When Yoongi was two, he got sick. Sick enough to be admitted into the hospital. Sick enough that the doctors said the only way he would make it to his third birthday is if he had surgery. So Yoongi had a partial bit of his voice box removed, and another chunk of his left vocal cord taken out, and Yoongi lived even if it meant his parents never heard him laugh again.

Yoongi’s had countless check-ups since that initial visit. Sore throat? Trip to the doctor. Pressure on his lungs? Trip to the doctor. Trouble swallowing? Off to see the doctor.  But Yoongi never thought he’d be sitting in the same office in Busan with the man from two decades ago who handed sign language info pamphlets to his family and sent them off with warm wishes of luck.

“When Yoongi was seven,” Dr. Kim says, “we recommended not performing a follow-up surgery due to how weak the remaining vocal cord still was. Do you remember this discussion, Mrs. Min?”

Yoongi’s mom is a sweet woman. She’s lovely and round and Yoongi definitely got his quote/unquote “button nose” from her; but if there’s one person in the family that Yoongi would trust to take someone out in a street brawl in the seediest way possible, it’s gotta be his mom.

“Yes. Quite well,” she says, hands folded neatly in her lap, the picture of ease. (No one would suspect that thirty hours ago she was about ready to storm a hospital.) “It was one of the first questions we asked when we were presented with options to move forward.”

Yoongi was too little to remember what happened when he got sick, so he sits to the side, arms folded, unsure of what his role is here after recounting what happened in the cafe.

Dr. Kim isn’t put off by either of their demeanors. He’s been their ENT specialist since the beginning. He’s practically an uncle by this point. So he just grins, and holds out his hands, and carefully explains, “Well, your vocal cords are made of cells, just like the rest of your body. They regenerate with time. When the body is injured, it does its best to heal itself. That is what Yoongi’s left cord has been doing all these years. It’s been healing itself.”

“So is it healed now,” Yoongi’s mom translates for Yoongi, and Dr. Kim shakes his head.

“Not quite. Not enough for speech to be an option at this stage.” 

The tidal wave of thoughts that have been smashing against Yoongi’s skull go still. Regret follows in its place. Yoongi shouldn’t have let Namjoon get so excited. Yoongi shouldn’t have let Jimin look up all those medical articles. 

Yoongi, after all this time, should have known better than to have hoped.

“But Yoongi may fit the requirements for another surgery, though,” Dr. Kim says, and Yoongi’s head shoots up. “It’s called reinnervation. We would take a healthy nerve from Yoongi’s neck and use it to replace parts of both the paralyzed and the non-paralyzed cords. I believe that this, combined with a bulk injection and several months of therapy, we could be looking at a near full recovery.”

Full recovery meaning what exactly? Yoongi signs, fingers trembling.

“It’s hard to say so prematurely,” Dr. Kim replies, but his eyes are bright. “But I estimate eighty to ninety percent of your phonation would return.”

Meaning I could talk? Yoongi asks, his mother translating along. Aloud? Like a normal person?

“Yes.”

You’re telling me, Yoongi continues, neck warming, feeling like someone just crammed him into a cupboard, that after twenty years of living my life like, like this, he gestures to his scrunched up form in the hospital chair, it can just be fixed with a new nerve and some therapy? 

Dr. Kim’s expression smooths into something more worn at the edges, as if he realizes this isn’t just a moment of celebration for them. Which it’s not but it should be and Yoongi doesn’t know why all he’s seeing is this vicious red. “Ten years ago this surgery was unheard of,” he explains in a tone that Yoongi doesn’t appreciate. Makes him feel small in the worst of ways. “I only recommend it to you now because it’s become more commonplace in the medical field. Plus, your cord has been regenerating cells beautifully. Now is the prime window of opportunity for the highest successful outcome.”

Yoongi closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath, then exhales long and slow. He’s shaking. 

“Thank you, Dr. Kim,” Yoongi’s mom interjects. “I think we need some time to talk as a family.”

“Of course. I’m going to go grab some informational packets for you. I’ll leave them at the front desk with Miss Choi for when you check out. Please feel free to call or come by with any questions you may have.”

Yoongi hears the door click shut after that, and he reaches blindly for the chair next to him. His mom instantly takes his hand within her own, and Yoongi presses his forehead to his knees and uses every muscle in his body to keep from falling apart.

 

~~~

 

In the last competition Yoongi performed in (the one where he played Liebestraum’s No. 3 in A-flat major with such raw craftsmanship and intimacy that he got an offer from three international conservatories within the week), Yoongi had taken his place at this bench in a concert hall not unlike the hundred other benches in concert halls he’s sat on, surrounded by a thousand souls not unlike the thousands of others he’s played in front of before, and he hadn’t heard a single note come out of the piano.

Not.

One.

Note.

It was like watching a car crash, an analogy Yoongi truly didn’t understand until six years later when he was actually in one. But that’s what it was like. Your body shuts down. The sound bleeds away. Your heart, which you’re never quite aware of until something is wrong with it, goes still. For just a few moments, Yoongi felt like he was in a dream. Like his body wasn’t his own. As if his life wasn’t his own.

He feels that way now, as he steps onto the train at the Daegu station for the two-hour ride back to Seoul with a packet of information burning in his backpack while his head lobs from side to side as if someone didn’t twist it back on tight enough and any second it might topple off his shoulders.

His mom said to sleep on it. They’ll talk later in the week. To focus on school. We have time, Yoongi-yah, she said. We have time.

Everyone keeps saying that, but Yoongi doesn’t feel like he has time. He feels like he’s trapped in a windowless room filling with water. Like he’s standing on a street corner on a clear summer day, watching a car burst through a red light. 

It’s like he can see the disaster approaching but there’s no way for him to stop it.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi gets into town, crawls onto the bus heading for his neighborhood feeling like he’s been sucker-punched in the spleen, and starts to plan how the hell he’s going to explain to the others the past fifty hours. If he even wants to open the door to that conversation right now. He can’t lie. Not about this. And he shouldn’t want to but he does. Yoongi doesn’t want to talk to anyone because he hasn’t taken a full breath in two days and he wants to do nothing more than just crawl into a bathtub and dissolve. 

The bus door swings open and Yoongi gathers his bag, slips down to the sidewalk, and promptly realizes that he’s still twelve blocks from his apartment and the wooden sign of Seokjin’s café is across the intersection, swinging in the breeze.

Huh.

It’s Tuesday. Tuesday evening, actually. Taehyung works Tuesday evenings, and as Yoongi sidles up to the counter, still feeling like the floor is so uneven he has to watch one foot move in front of the other or else he’ll trip, he spots the dark mop of Taehyung’s head bustling behind the machines. 

The dark hair is still startling. The blond was beautiful, but the black has people stopping. Searching. Stumbling. Yoongi sees it happen every day. Knows Taehyung notices and chooses to ignore it. Yoongi wonders what it’s like to have a face made for film. To have a smile that draws in the whole room. To have a voice that sounds like magic.

What if you had a voice like magic, his mind whispers. What if you had a voice?

Taehyung turns and catches Yoongi watching him. His eyes light up and he smiles a smile that Yoongi is coming to know as the one meant for him and him alone; a little smeary at the corners, a bit less practiced. Yoongi tries to smile back and feels it fall short several yards. Taehyung’s face shifts instantly into protective concern.

“What? What happened?” Taehyung presses after he’s handed off an order, already moving under the counter so he can slip out front. He’s by Yoongi’s side almost instantly. “Hyung, what’s wrong?”

Yoongi takes a deep breath, doesn’t feel any of the air actually reach his lungs, and promptly slams a fist down on the counter so hard it jostles the straw jar and sends a stack of lids skidding.

Taehyung nimbly works them back into a stable pile, all while tugging Yoongi in close to hug fast and fierce. Taehyung lets him go just a second later so that he can see Yoongi’s face, read his eyes. “Hyung, talk to me.” Yoongi shoots him a look, and Taehyung lifts his hands up defensively. “Figure of speech. You know that.”

Yoongi picks at a hangnail around his thumb while his thoughts keep skipping like a scratched CD.

It’s Taehyung, you can tell him anything. It’s Taehyung, what does he possibly know?

He loves you, he doesn’t understand, he loves you, but he doesn’t understand.

Yoongi looks up into Taehyung’s open face, those searching and thoughtful eyes. Taehyung would understand. Maybe? Probably not. He doesn’t know. Taehyung doesn’t know anything and Yoongi doesn’t know how to tell him. Yoongi doesn’t know how to tell anyone anything. That’s the whole problem, right? What good is a working throat when Yoongi’s brain keeps flatlining?

“Hyung!”

Yoongi shoves his shoulder against the front door and sidesteps a woman trying to slip in. He doesn’t pause to hold it open for her, just barrels forward through a group of students at what could be considered an Olympic power-walking speed, and he makes it all the way to the end of the block when someone shoves him from behind.

Yoongi sticks his arms out, ready to catch himself as he stumbles, but a hand wraps around his upper arm and pulls him in fast, handles him deliberately so that he spins and backs into the wall of a stationary store at the same time.

Taehyung’s standing in front of him, breathing wildly, hair a mess around his forehead and ears. He looks angry, and then he looks betrayed, and then he’s so utterly crushed that Yoongi can’t help but lean forward to cup his cheeks and smooth the creases where his lips have pinched into such a tight frown it looks like it might hurt, like he might never smile again.

“You don’t get to do that.”

Taehyung leans into his touch, but his eyes are still confused and furious. “You don’t get to do that,” he repeats slowly, as if he’s processing the words himself, trying to make them both understand. “You’re my boyfriend. You’re my… Hyung, we’re in this together and you can’t… You promised you wouldn’t run away anymore. At least not from me.”

Yoongi nods, steps in close, rests his forehead against the bony part of Taehyung’s shoulder. Feels Taehyung’s chin drop on top of his head, pinning him down.

“You can’t do that,” he whispers, rubbing Yoongi’s back. “I know you’re upset but you have to talk to me. We have to talk about things, hyung.”

Yoongi traces the word “sorry” into his lower back and Taehyung shivers. 

“Was that an apology?” Yoongi nods and Taehyung exhales thickly. “Apology accepted. Now I have to go back to work, but I called Jiminie to come hang out with you. You can talk to him, or not, or you can talk to me later, or not. But eventually you gotta talk to someone, okay?”

Yoongi nods again and feels Taehyung press a spattering of kisses against the crown of his head. “Let’s go, hyung.” 

You don’t understand, Yoongi wants to say. You don’t understand, you don’t get it, how do I tell you, how do I tell anyone, someone please tell me what to do, someone please tell me what to say.

 

~~~

 

“Surgery?” Jimin says, signs, curled up tight at one end of the sofa. He has his bare feet tucked under Hoseok’s thighs and a glass of green juice forgotten off to the side so he can use his hands. His eyes are wider than eyes should possibly be able to go.

Yeah. Surgery, Yoongi signs, looking at him reluctantly. To give me back my voice.

Hoseok’s frown deepens. He doesn’t uncross his arms as Jimin asks, “They can do that?

Yoongi scowls. Now they can, apparently.

 Yoongi had barely made it through the apartment door before Jimin was bounding up the stairs after him, still in scrubs from his clinical, this wild glean in his eyes that he tends to get when he’s ready to hear a story. Yoongi definitely didn’t disappoint. A half hour, a pack of beer, and three orders of japchae later, Yoongi’s recounted the doctor’s visit to him and Hoseok with steady hands and a mouthful of tar.

It’s easy to say what happened. Those are facts. And the Big Fucking Fact here is that Yoongi’s been given a solution to all his problems and he cannot, for the life of anyone involved, figure out why it feels like his face is melting off.

Yoongi’s head throbs. He unfurls from the armchair he’s taken residency in and tries to breathe again, and quickly finds the air is still getting lodged in his windpipe. 

What do I do? He signs. I don’t know what to do.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Jimin asks, still signing.

It’s my voice. They’re handing me this chance to… to… Yoongi runs both his hands through his hair. Pulls hard. Jimin’s eyes go soft and sad and Yoongi doesn’t want that right now. He can’t handle pity right now.

Hoseok sighs then, and his shoulders fold in as he glances between Jimin and Yoongi. He looks disappointed. To what, hyung? What is this a chance for? To be heard? To be normal?

Yoongi lifts his hands but the words fall away. He’s never had Hoseok look at him like this before. Quiet and twisted and intense. The confusion must show because Hoseok sighs and slumps backwards. Presses his fingers against his eyes and rubs. Signs, I qualify for a cochlear implant. Have for years now. I’ve chosen not to do it.

Jimin turns to Yoongi immediately. His face says, Did you know about this? Yoongi shakes his head. Someone just pulled his spine from his body. Exhaustion is taking over.

I chose not to because being a part of this community has made who I am, Hoseok presses, still watching them evenly. It’s made me a better person, I think. It’s… It’s hard, sometimes, I get that. But I’ve helped and inspired more people being HOH than I could have ever done if I was fully phonic. 

Hoseok has always been the sunny one. The lovely one. Since they were first forced together as roommates all those years ago, Hoseok has never been anything less than joyful about his circumstances while Yoongi continually moves through life as a slug, wallowing from room to room, feeling small and unseen and forgettable.

Yoongi looks Hoseok in the eye and Hoseok looks back. His leg is bouncing but his stare is stable. Sorry, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get the surgery, Hoseok signs, catching his cheek between his teeth to bite, or that we’re going to look at you differently if you do. I just want you to try to look at this from different angles. To know that you’re loved the way you are right now, and none of us see you as something that has to be fixed. Okay?

Hoseok’s smile could set the room on fire and Jimin is looking at Yoongi with such unwavering kindness and it’s terrible. Yoongi is only surrounded by people who know how to give and it just makes Yoongi feel all the more like a black hole that can only consume.

So if you say yes, Hoseok continues, drawing Yoongi back in with that megawatt grin, do it for yourself, not for someone else. Not to fit in. Not to please others. Not because you feel like you have to. We’re going to support you no matter what. 

After that, Jimin tugs him onto the sofa for a squished hug. Hoseok’s hand finds the back of his spine to trail his fingers along. They put on a movie and Jimin runs out to grab some hotteok and Yoongi doesn’t mention the sludge. Doesn’t bring up

 

~~~

 

Days and nights fade in to each other. School resumes. Taehyung’s mornings are now filled with classes and his aftertoons shifts at the library. His evenings go towards the cafe. His nights, to Yoongi. 

When Yoongi was with Jimin, every second felt restless. There was this wretched, ridiculous need to be near him always. They gave each other a lot of firsts and Yoongi doesn’t regret that; but Yoongi’s glad he left behind the unwanted beat of possession that ate away at their relationship until Jimin left him that December morning and told Yoongi not to follow.

(Yoongi followed. It was two days later, after they had both calmed down, but Yoongi followed. He’s not sure where they both would be if he hadn’t.)

Time with Taehyung is different. Maybe because Yoongi’s grown in the last handful of years. Maybe because Taehyung balances him in a way that Jimin never quite could. But the moments with Taehyung feel breathless and warm and full of possibility. Being with Taehyung feels safe, like right now, just past one on a Wednesday morning, Yoongi on his stomach with his head on his arms, listening to the low rumble of Taehyung’s voice as he reads aloud from a textbook. It’s like whalesong to Yoongi’s brain and he keeps dozing off, only to jolt awake when Taehyung clears his voice or flips a page.

“Just go to sleep,” Taehyung murmurs, a laugh hidden beneath his smile. Yoongi waves him off and Taehyung begins to read again.

Yoongi hasn’t told him. Yoongi told Seokjin a couple days after while walking the grounds of a tiny park a block down from the cafe. Seokjin didn’t show anything but sincere support for whichever path Yoongi chooses to take, and Yoongi couldn’t find it in him to force a conversation meant for midnight and a couple bottles of soju into a ten A.M. stroll.

Yoongi told Namjoon at the radio station the following Thursday. Namjoon acted like he wasn’t surprised, but his eyes kind of sparked. He wanted to ask. He wanted to press. Instead he patted down his thighs and said, “That’s amazing, hyung. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” 

And then he stared very intentionally at Yoongi, and Yoongi didn’t try to talk about it.

That was nearly two weeks ago. Now Yoongi is in Taehyung’s bedroom, spread across his soft blue duvet while Taehyung studies for a quiz he has in the morning and Yoongi avoids thinking about the last song he has to write for his album.

Three months. He has three months to wrap everything up with a tidy bow, present it to his thesis board, and then figure out why the fuck he decided to pursue more schooling in a field that kept him in a constant state of drawn-out panic for nearly three years before his brain finally gave out on him.

Yoongi rolls onto his back, his head lagging to the side so that he can look around.

Taehyung’s room is tidy. The apartment as a whole constantly looks like Jimin’s closet threw up on it, but Taehyung’s space is kept neat. There are knick-knacks and photos and art posters and more pillows than a person really needs on a bed (which is rich, coming from one Min Yoongi, proud owner of three body pillows); but each item has its own place, and Taehyung made it clear that he would like each item to remain in its place. It’s the same reason why Taehyung wears all his clothes large enough to fit another person under them and will only take his food in bite-sized pieces and why sometimes Yoongi will catch him stacking things: paperclips, pencils, the lids at the cafe. Taehyung says it helps his brain stay quiet. 

(And since Taehyung is learning a whole new language for him, Yoongi thinks it’s simple to make sure that his bag is hung on the back of the desk chair so it isn’t resting on the floor, and that his nails are kept short so that when he drums his fingers they don’t make a clicking sound, and that he doesn’t use scented lip-balm.)

Taehyung, Yoongi mouths. Taehyung doesn’t look up. He’s propped up on one elbow, shirt stretched taut across his shoulders. He keeps one finger pressed to the page of his book, trailing along as he reads, his unruly hair pushed back with a yellow bear headband that he must use when he washes his face. It has two tufty ears on top. 

Taehyung’s eyebrows are turned down, making his dark eyes seem more determined than usual.

Taehyung, Yoongi repeats, again and again, wondering what it would be like if more than just breath were to escape. He closes his eyes. Taehyung, Taehyung, Taehyung.

Yoongi hears Taehyung move. The bed dips. Yoongi cracks one eye open and Taehyung has boxed him in. Is looking at him expectantly. “You called?”

Read my lips? Yoongi mouths, his heart unsettled behind his ribs.

Getting better, Taehyung mouths back as he traces the nape of Yoongi’s neck with his long fingers. Need something?

Yoongi keeps getting caught in the earnest hold of Taehyung’s eyes, and not for the first time that evening, Yoongi finds himself trying to put feelings into words only for them to sputter out before they can make it to the tips of his fingers.

Just you, Yoongi tells him, grinning when Taehyung barks out a laugh. Taehyung crawls forward so that he’s straddling Yoongi’s hips, and when Taehyung kisses him, he’s still chuckling. When Taehyung kisses him, it feels strangely serious. When Taehyung finally kisses him, it’s as if there are words hidden under his tongue that Yoongi can almost taste, but he’s too afraid of what they may sound like to try.

 

~~~

 

“Dear, I know I told you we had time, but don’t sit for too long on this, okay?”

Okay, mom.

“We can schedule the surgery. Get it on the books. If you change your mind—”

I have to go to class, mom. I’ll let you know soon.

“Alright. I love you.”

Bye, mom.

 

~~~

 

Jungkook has officially changed his major from music to film production. 

Yoongi knew it was going to happen. Jungkook’s schedule has steadily been taken over by photography and animation courses. He’s missed brunch a handful of times over the past few weeks to meet with an advisor Yoongi doesn’t recognize. He rarely stops by the studios anymore while Yoongi is working, and when he does manage to make it by, they talk movies more and more and albums less and less.

Yoongi knew this was going to happen, how could it not? But when Jimin mentions it in passing one morning and Yoongi asks him to repeat himself, Jimin squints and looks at him strangely and then realizes— Oh, Jungkook didn’t tell you?

Jungkook didn’t tell Yoongi.

Yoongi shrugs it off. He takes his coffee and starts off towards campus, feeling jittery and awake and alarmed. 

Jungkook didn’t tell him.

Jungkook changed his major last semester, nearly seven months ago, and he didn’t tell Yoongi. Didn’t talk to him about the process. Didn’t talk about where it was coming from. Didn’t bring to Yoongi his doubts or fears or concerns. Jungkook never mentioned it. Not once. Not to him. 

Sun streams through the canopy of leaves overhead, and Yoongi stops and watches the light dance across the sidewalk. Listens to the cacophony of sparrows in a tree nearby. A woman jogs past with a retriever at her side. A man a moment later with a neatly trimmed Pomeranian. 

Jungkook didn’t tell Yoongi about switching majors, and he didn’t tell Yoongi about getting the job at the gym, and he didn’t tell Yoongi about his dad having surgery, and he didn’t tell Yoongi about the cat he and Jimin adopted. Yoongi found out all those things from other people, and Yoongi sits down on a bench, even though he’s running behind, and starts to wonder when Jungkook decided to stop telling him things. 

 

~~~

 

(Yoongi thinks it’s when he decided to stop telling Jungkook things.)

 

~~~

 

(But how do you tell someone whose voice you took away that you’re the one who will get it back instead?)

 

~~~

 

“Yoongi, I’d like to discuss something you said in our session a few weeks ago. About how you think you break people.”

Yoongi tips his head back against the chair. It’s been storming for three days, and the window it took months for Yoongi to notice is filled with the slate grey of an angry sky. The weather was so heinous last night they couldn’t get a radio signal out for the show and had to cut things short.

“Yoongi?”

There’s nothing to discuss, Yoongi signs, and Dr. Kim tilts her head. Looks at him for a very long moment. Yoongi tils back ot he window.

“You’ve been quiet lately,” Dr. Kim says, and Yoongi rolls his eyes and watches as wind picks up outside. It rattles its way through the trees of the park across the street. 

(Namjoon told him that trees, regardless of their thickness or height, all break at the same wind speed. He then went on to talk about the established laws of tree allometry, for two hours, but that’s mainly because Seokjin kept asking questions every time he passed by their table, only to leave a few seconds later for Yoongi to handle the fallout of giving Kim Namjoon a highly individualized prompt.)

“Yoongi.”

I’m mute, Yoongi says when Dr. Kim makes no motion to continue without getting a response. She tilts her head again, opposite direction this time. Her eyes rove his face.

“And that means what exactly to you?” She asks, pen in hand. “What does being mute mean to you, Yoongi?”

Thunder crackles. Yoongi pulls a knee up to his chest to hug. I have nothing to say.

“You have nothing to say about the question?” Dr. Kim presses and Yoongi looks away. “Or because you’re mute, it means that what you say isn’t as important as someone who says it aloud? Doesn’t make it valid? Doesn’t make it real?” Yoongi’s teeth grate against the soft skin of his cheek. “Doesn’t make you real?”

Toes curling the edge. Bones creaking like the branches outside. 

“Have you been dissociating again, Yoongi?”

Forty-two meters per second. 

“Yoongi, did something happen that I should know about it?”

That’s the strength needed to crack a tree. 

“I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

Yoongi clenches his teeth and resists the urge to tell her that he doesn’t want her help. Instead he picks at the skin around his fingernails and keeps his arms around his leg and watches the clouds roil in the distance. 

Dr. Kim writes something in the folder but says nothing more.

 

~~~

 

SeokSeok [8:47pm]

You haven’t been home in two days. Text me in the next hour or I’m calling Jimin.

 

Yoongles [9:13pm]

I’ve been gone longer. Stop fussing

 

SeokSeok [9:14pm]

Don’t do this to us again Yoongi. Please.

 

[INCOMING CALL FROM Jiminie]

[MISSED CALL FROM Jiminie]

 

[INCOMING CALL FROM Joon]

[MISSED CALL FROM Joon]

 

[INCOMING CALL FROM Jinnie Hyung]

[MISSED CALL FROM Jinnie Hyung]

 

Jinnie Hyung [11:20pm]

just tell me that ur okay and i’ll get everyone to leave you alone

 

Yoongichi [11:27pm]

I’m okay.

 

Jinnie Hyung [11:28pm]

trusting you

love you

 

~~~

Yoongi stops visiting the cafe. He tells everyone it’s because he’s down to the wire with his thesis (which he is) and that no, he’s not upset with any of them (which he’s not) and that yes, he’s still taking his meds (he ran out two weeks ago) and he most definitely has talked to his parents about the surgery (he has his mom’s notifications muted).

The only person who isn’t pressing is Taehyung, and Yoongi thinks that’s because Taehyung hasn’t been told anything and doesn’t even know there might be something to press. 

They’re out on a date (the first in a few weeks because of Taehyung’s schedule and Yoongi’s inability to remain bathed for longer than three days at a time) when Taehyung finds out there’s probably something he should be pressing. 

“What about that one?”

Someone bumps Yoongi’s shoulder, hard, and Yoongi looks over with a scowl and the drunken neanderthal beside him doesn’t even acknowledge that he just forced himself into a spot that doesn’t exist. Yoongi steps away from him and the guy follows, continuing to take up space that doesn’t belong to him.

He’s talking to someone behind him, another guy around his and Yoongi’s age, also tipsy going off that glass-eyed grin he’s sporting. “Dude,” the new guy sings, “that’s fucking gay .”

Yoongi snorts. Shoves one hand deeper into his pocket as the machine finishes processing his request. 

When they go to the theater, Yoongi handles tickets because the machines are self-operated while Taehyung gets the snacks. It’s more efficient that way. Usually. Except when Yoongi ends up waiting at the gate with two drunk homophobes.

“What? He’s got a great ass,” the first guy drawls. He’s got an unpleasant voice. Nasally. Makes your skin crawl. Makes you want to clear your throat. Yoongi grabs the paper stubs that just printed and immediately moves away from him.

“Bet twenty-thousand you wouldn’t follow through,” second guy laughs, and Yoongi hesitates because he thinks that sounds strange. Unnerving. A red flag if he ever heard one. So he stops, and he turns around just in time to see this loping man come up behind a figure waiting off to the side of the concession line. 

A figure in a bright yellow beret.

Yoongi’s stomach free-falls, and he watches in slow-motion as this drunkard laughs and grabs Taehyung from behind. Whispers something in his ear.

Yoongi’s never seen Taehyung with the expression he’s wearing right now. Violent. Terrible. Completely and utterly mortified.

The man beside him laughs and it’s an ugly, rotten sound.

So Yoongi punches him. 

And then Yoongi crosses the lobby in a few easy strides, swings his arm around, and punches the other guy, too. The one who made Taehyung scared. The one who made Taehyung doubt his safety. 

Apologize, Yoongi wants to say to the man crawling beneath him. Don’t ever touch him again. Don’t ever look at him again. Don’t ever speak to him again. Apologize.

But he can’t. He can’t do anything but drag his fist across the guy’s jaw once more so he does, again and again and again until someone’s throwing him to the ground, pinning him into place, and Yoongi gasps and struggles and is about to dig his heel into a kneecap when Taehyung cups his cheeks and presses their foreheads together so hard it physically aches.

“Hyung. Hyung, Yoongi , baby, stop it. Please. Please, stop.”

Yoongi stills, breathes, but he can’t keep his hands from clenching, unclenching and his gaze darts over to where the man from before is pulling himself to his feet and stumbling to the front entrance, of sight, his friend nowhere to be seen.

People are staring. People are staring and whispering and someone has a phone out, videoing the scene, and the carpet feels grainy and Taehyung is crying, his tears drip down onto Yoongi’s cheeks, and Yoongi wonders why it is he only ever breaks the people he loves. 

“I’m okay,” Taehyung whispers. His breath warms Yoongi’s nose. “I’m okay. You’re okay.”

Yoongi’s not okay. He’s so far from okay. It’s been so long since he’s been okay. 

Taehyung pulls him to his feet. Yoongi cradles his bloodied hand to his chest as he’s led from the lobby, out into the open expanse of the mall. People are staring, but Taehyung doesn’t stop until they’ve made it to a public restroom, away from the threat of drunk men and theater managers and strangers with cameras who prefer to stand around and gawk then try to help.

I’m fine, Yoongi signs when Taehyung tries to guide him to the sinks. Stop it. It’s not a big deal.

Yoongi tries to walk away and Taehyung grips his arm, pulls him back in. “No,” Taehyung says, holding on to him tighter. “Wash your hand. Now. And we’re going to talk about this, hyung. You’re not going to run away and I’m not going to laugh this off and we’re going to talk.”

Here? In the bathroom?

Fine , Taehyung signs, his face exasperated. Your place or mine? Yoongi pushes past him to the sink. “Or neither?” Taehyung says when Yoongi won’t meet his eye. “Because of whatever reason you’ve been avoiding Jimin and Hoseok-hyung?”

I’m not—

Taehyung cuts him off. “You are.  You know you are. We all know you are. You think I haven’t noticed?”

Yoongi shakes his head. Reaches over to grab a few paper towels to press against his skinned knuckles. Mouths to the mirror, You wouldn’t understand.

“Then help me to! You don’t—” Taehyung’s voice turns strained. His eyes drift over Yoongi’s face as if he’s trying to remember something. It looks like he comes up short. “You’re not listening to me, hyung. You’re always so good at listening to me but you’re not right now and you haven’t been and this—this isn’t just about you, okay? You don’t get to make all the decisions—”

I’m not trying to!  Yoongi signs, throwing his arms out. Taehyung backs away to avoid getting hit. I just don’t want to talk about this right now!

“Or you just don’t want to talk about this, whatever it is, with me?” Taehyung says. “Is that it?”

That’s not — Except it is. It is, it is, it is. Yoongi doesn’t want to talk about this with Taehyung because things with Taehyung are different, are supposed to be different. Are supposed to be good . It’s not you, Tae

Taehyung laughs, mocking. The sound shocks Yoongi into stillness. “It’s not you, it’s me? Really? What do you think this is hyung? Some kind of fling? Some kind of game?”

Just let me I can explain

Now you want to explain?” Taehyung’s eyes blur over with angry tears and Yoongi’s heart does that thing where it feels like someone is trying to rip it from his chest. “You assume all these things about me and-and you don’t even stop to—”

Guilt pushes through Yoongi’s chest. I just need to talk—

“Then talk!” Taehyung’s arms are flapping at his sides. Yoongi’s never seen him so distressed before.  “What is stopping you? What-What’s been stopping you all this time, hyung?”

Yoongi heaves in a breath, and the noise that comes back out is animalistic and wounded, so pained that Taehyung freezes, turns to him. “Hyung?” Yoongi makes the sound again and Taehyung moves towards him immediately. Shushes him softly. Wipes away tears Yoongi hadn’t realized were falling.

“Shit, hyung, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Taehyung murmurs, running his hands through Yoongi’s hair and down to the nape of his neck as Yoongi heaves. “I wasn’t— I’m not angry, hyung. Not for real. I’m sorry for yelling. I should have given you a chance to speak. I’m sorry. Are you okay? Please talk to me.”

Yoongi can’t. He can’t talk and his hands are shaking too much to sign, to write or type, so he just presses them against Taehyung’s chest and sobs. 

Taehyung holds him. Taehyung is trembling but still he holds Yoongi, rocking them side to side, apologizing to anyone who enters the bathroom. Yoongi thinks most of them leave.

“Thank you for defending me,” Taehyung whispers a long while later, once Yoongi’s tears have stifled. They still cling to each other. “But hyung, I don’t like violence. And your hands… Your hands are your voice. Don’t you ever risk your voice for me, hyung. Never again.”

Yoongi doesn’t move. He continues to rest against Taehyung. Quiet. Tired. God, Yoongi is so tired.

“If you really, really need to fight someone next time,” Taehyung continues, rubbing Yoongi’s back, “try using your feet. Or maybe pepper spray. I’m gonna buy you some pepper spray, hyung.”

Yoongi sniffs. Taehyung kisses the top of his head. “Wanna tell me what’s on your mind? Why you went all sudden death on that guy? Didn’t think you were the type.”

Yoongi pulls out his phone to type, but he keeps his head pressed to Taehyung’s shoulder where he can stay hidden. I’m not. It just happened. I’ve never hit someone before. It was kind of scary.

“It was really scary,” Taehyung says after he’s read the screen. “Maybe you should start going to the gym Jungkook works at. They have boxing lessons.”

How do you know that?

“Because I go to the gym that Jungkook works at to take boxing lessons.”

Yoongi snorts at that. Have someone you want to hit?

“Yup. My co in my disability foundation course who keeps loudly announcing that the only reason why I have such a high score is because I have an ‘unfair advantage’ in understanding our kids.”

Yoongi pulls away to look up into Taehyung’s waiting face. Taehyung gives him a soft smile. Want me to pepper-spray him?  Yoongi signs. Or I can try using my feet.

A real grin this time. Enough to see teeth. “I’ll stick to outscoring him on the final.”

Yoongi pats his cheeks. Atta boy, he mouths, and Taehyung looks happy, and then he looks sad, and then he clears his throat. Hesitates. Lifts his hands instead.

If you get into a fight again over me again, he signs tentatively, we’re through. Okay? We’re not… I’m not going to let you hurt yourself over me. And I really don’t like violence .

Okay, Yoongi nods.

Taehyung presses down on his lips. He’s searching again. “Please don’t make me leave you, okay, hyung? Please don’t make me do that.”

Okay, Yoongi mouths, and Taehyung rubs at his temples. Takes a few deep breaths. When he opens his eyes again, Yoongi signs, I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening to you, either. And you’re right, I haven’t been honest.

“I want you to talk to me, I want you to tell me everything. But if I can’t be that person for you—” Taehyung fizzles out when Yoongi starts shaking his head.

You are that person. You are my person, Yoongi emphasizes, and Taehyung’s cheeks warm. I just don’t have the words yet. I’m sorry.

“We’ll get there.” Taehyung takes his hand to kiss his knuckles, already blooming with bruises. “We have time.”

 

~~~

 

Jimin sits down in the chair across from Yoongi, shoves half a flatbread into his mouth, then says around a mouthful of chicken pesto, “Tae told me you knocked a guy’s tooth out at the movies yesterday.”

Yoongi sets down his pen. Jimin takes another monstrous bite. There wasn’t that much blood And do you and Taehyung talk about everything?

“Of course. Tae and I are soulmates. And you and I are exes. And you and him are dating.”

Yoongi stares him down and Jimin just gives an exaggerated shrug, his eyes curling up with his smile. Did Taehyung also mention the guy groped him?

“He did. But you’re more of a silent intimidator, Yoongi.” Jimin tilts his head, his freshly dyed cotton candy hair falling to the side. Purple looks good on him. Everything looks good on him. “So, what happened, hyung?”

Yoongi pinches his eyes shut. Jimin knows he needs his hands to work, yet still he’s here, trying to push a conversation he knows better than to even approach. Guess I just lost it.

Jimin’s nose wrinkles. “You never lost it with me.”

Well, not everything is about you, Jimin.

Shame fills his chest and Jimin pauses chewing, stricken. Yoongi hears him swallow thickly, then take a shaky breath to steady himself.

“That was cruel,” Jimin says, looking right into Yoongi’s face, “and I’m going to forgive you because I know it came from a place of pain.”

Yoongi mouths a quiet apology, throat tight, and Jimin finishes his sandwich and his fruit cup and half his carrot juice before he says evenly, “Hobi says you’re off your meds. Fill them, today, or I’m having Joon call your therapist and you know that she will admit you.”

Yoongi shudders out a sigh and presses his face into the crook of his arm. A moment later Jimin’s hand is in his hair, petting softly. They stay like that until Jimin’s break ends and Seokjin’s begins. But Seokjin doesn’t play with his hair. He gives Yoongi two chocolate croissants that he said were burnt in the oven, instead, and a “you know how I hate letting food go to waste, Yoongichi”. 

But all Yoongi sees is a perfect, even layer of golden brown crust and the calm gaze of someone who’s daring him to call them out on a lie. 

So Yoongi eats the croissants. 

And the egg tart. 

And the black tea.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi goes to a party. 

Yoongi hates going to parties, but he goes to this one because:

 

  1. It’s Jungkook and Namjoon’s joint birthday month.
  2. Seven out of seven of them were able to get an evening off despite it being midterm season (even if both Jimin and Namjoon had to be personally extracted from the reference sections of their respective libraries).
  3. Seokjin’s cream cheese oreo cake is so rich it can send you into a catatonic state and he only makes it for one occasion a year.
  4. Yoongi didn’t get his prescription filled in time so Jimin tattled on him to Namjoon and now Namjoon is using it as leverage to get Yoongi to start integrating himself into society again.

 

Community support, Namjoon had said on their way up the steps after an evening at the radio station. Your therapist says one of the worst things you can do during the healing process is isolate yourself, so if you don’t go to this thing, then I’m not going either, and I can’t not go to my own party in my own apartment, hyung.

So Yoongi is at a party. A small one, nowhere near the size of the end of semester Christmas party, but it still feels two sizes too big but that might be because Yoongi’s kept the company of a MIDI board and a styrofoam cup of vending machine coffee the past two weeks. 

Community support, Namjoon had said. Community support , Dr. Choi had said. But what do they know. Their rib cages aren’t collapsing under the weight of their sadness. 

Namjoon knows, Namjoon understands the heaviness. He’s been here, he’s been here. Talk to Namjoon, talk to Namjoon—

“Hey, hyung.” 

The sofa dips. Yoongi looks over. Let’s Taehyung kiss him lightly on the mouth. When Yoongi doesn’t react at first, Taehyung’s light-filled smile fades to doubt. “Hyung? You okay?”

Taehyung’s eyes are looking through him. Yoongi nods. Signs slow, Not feeling too great. Because Taehyung will know he’s lying, and Taehyung will press, and Yoongi won’t last if he’s pressed right now. He’s toeing the edge of a cliff.

“Bad brain day?” Taehyung asks anyway, and Yoongi shrugs and looks away. “Okay, hyung. I’m here if you want to talk. Do you want some cake? I hear Jin-hyung spends, like, five hours making it. It has twelve layers.”

Yoongi eats the cake. He plays the drinking games. It’s Jimin’s second week of clinical rotations in the psychiatry department, and he and Taehyung pick up a conversation they must have started back at home that Namjoon easily slips into even though Yoongi is eighty percent certain that Namjoon has never taken a medicine-related course in his university career.

Yoongi can’t keep up with the jargon, but he nods along and uses his fork to create whirling, cream cheese clouds on his plate. Taehyung circles an arm around his waist and the heat of his skin feels good, soothing, but just as quick it turns into a vice and Yoongi has to fake a trip to the bathroom before his bones try to crawl out of his skin. He feels the dull ache of their stares follow him out of the room.

Don’t spiral, don’t spiral, don’t spiral. Don’t ruin this for them. Just be normal. 

His reflection doesn’t look normal. His reflection looks like that of a person who’s dangerously close to being unhinged and who is in desperate need of a dye-job. Jimin says he should bleach it again. Maybe go with a color. Hoseok voted pink. Jungkook said green. Seokjin started a betting pool and pitched in red, which Hoseok then argued didn’t count because after a couple washes it’d turn pink anyway and then they’d have a conflict of interest. Seokjin then winked at him, and Hoseok sputtered and left the room. 

Get it together, Yoongi tells his reflection. Right now

Yoongi wipes down his neck with a cool cloth and slaps his cheeks and doesn’t get it together whatsoever, so he goes to the kitchen because it will waste more time, and because being in other people’s kitchens is strangely soothing. Yoongi pours some champagne. Swirls it around the glass. Finds he can’t stomach the idea of trying to down it so he dumps it back into the bottle. Jimin will drink anything. He gets water instead, then has some trouble swallowing it but tells himself it’ll make him feel better. Namjoon’s always going on about how most of the population is dehydrated without even knowing it, which is why most people feel crummy for no reason. Their organs aren’t getting enough fluids.

So Yoongi drinks his water, and he still feels crummy, but at least his organs won’t be dried out.

“Hyung?”

Yoongi looks up from his glass. Jungkook is hesitating in the entrance to the kitchen. 

“Hyung,” Jungkook says again. He glances around, then signs, I need to talk to you about something.

Jungkook looks flustered. He’s also giving Yoongi this sad, frightened look, so at odds with the way he’s been twinkling around everyone all evening. Yoongi thought he was tipsy, but he seems awfully sober right now, standing in front of Yoongi, clutching the hem of his shirt between his fingers.

Yoongi wants to listen, but Yoongi also feels ragged on the inside. He doubts he has any advice left to give right now. Their radio listeners have even started asking Namjoon if Suga still works at the station, seeing as he’s pretty much abandoned the message board. 

(I know the guy is quiet, someone sent in, but just want to make sure he’s still there to make sure you don’t choke on those fish chips again.)

It takes too much energy to respond to people these days, and if Yoongi can’t answer six-word sentences from complete strangers, he definitely can’t handle his first real conversation with Jungkook in weeks taking place here, right now, while Yoongi debates throwing up in the sink. Huh. Did Yoongi drink that much? He couldn’t have drank that much. He won the last two games. But everything is buzzing. The lights, the speakers, the tips of Yoongi’s fingers. His turtleneck is choking him. 

“Yoongi-hyung?”

Can this wait? Yoongi signs after putting down his glass. Jungkook looks hurt and Yoongi is being horrible but he can’t do this now. He can’t stumble right now. Walking the edge, walking the edge. One wrong step and he’s gone. Why does his skin feel like it’s falling off?  I’m sorry, I can’t—

“No. Hyung, I need—” Jungkook shakes his head in its place between his palms and shudders. He looks to Yoongi and signs,  I need you to listen to me right now, please.

Kook—

“I love you.”

Jungkook’s looking at him straight on, guilty and bewildered. Yoongi frowns. There’s a pulse of pain across his temple. Seokjin’s laughing. Seokjin’s laughing somewhere and Yoongi loves when Seokjin’s laughs but right now Seokjin needs to shut up, everyone just needs to be quiet

Yoongi finds his hands and signs, I love you, too. But I can’t—

“No. No, hyung.” Jungkook’s voice breaks and he must feel it because he clears his throat. Takes to signing again, I am in love with you, hyung. Romantically. I am in love with you. Do you understand?

Yoongi opens and closes his palms. His vision is tilting. Someone just tipped the earth on its axis an extra degree. 

(Namjoon explained it once in passing on a walk to the radio station after dinner. They do that sometimes.Or at least, they did. Theorize about the impossible that sometimes doesn’t feel all that improbable. So Namjoon looked up what would happen if the earth was thrown off its rotation, and they discovered that there’d be a tremendous tectonic upheaval. The biosphere would be transfigured. Hurricanes and earthquakes would ravage the planet for decades. Large portions of the crust would liquify, turn molten. Everything would die.)

(Yoongi feels like everything in his world, at this very moment, is dying.)

Jungkook takes a step towards him and Yoongi backs away, his shoulder blades hitting the cabinets. Jungkook flinches and stays in his spot, rocking up on his toes and back down. “I’ve been—I love you , hyung,” he says, then signs just as steady, I’ve loved you for years and I need you to—I just need you to hear that, okay? Do you hear me?

Jungkook, you— Yoongi slides his hands into his hair and squeezes, like he can get ahold of his brain, twist and turn it over and figure out some other outcome to this conversation because this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening. He shakes his head again, and again, and again. The room is spinning. Condensing. 

A panic attack. 

Sensory overload. 

Yoongi needs to lie down. 

He needs this discussion to die. 

He needs to talk to Jungkook. He needs to fix this, he needs to fix them.

Kook, you don’t love me.

Jungkook frowns. You don’t get to decide that. 

Heaviness is building behind Yoongi’s eyes. He shakes his head again. Wipes the snot from his nose. Why didn’t you tell me this before? 

I tried, Jungkook signs, biting down hard on his bottom lip. I tried, hyung, you just never got it. Or you talked yourself out of it, or you tried to pawn me off to Jimin. I tried, hyung. I’ve been trying. 

All this time, all this time, all this time. It’s been him all this time? Yoongi hangs his head, pressing his chin to his chest. Jungkook has spoken to him about this so many times and it’s been Yoongi? That can’t be. It can’t. Yoongi’s not that dense, he would have noticed. He notices everything. This is Jungkook, he would have noticed. This is Jungkook.

The breath shudders out of him, and Yoongi squeezes his eyes shut and sees an immaculate blue sky.

No, no, no—

“If I had told you sooner, before Taehyung,” Jungkook’s voice rushes in and Yoongi shakes his head, drags his nails across his sternum, claws at his throat, “do you think you could have loved me?”

It’s 10pm on a Tuesday in September and he's standing in Seokjin’s kitchen and there’s no trigger here. There’s no trigger and it’s been months and he was supposed to be getting better, he was supposed to be good, so why is he seeing that sky? Why can’t he fix this?

I don’t— Yoongi’s hands feel like barbells in the air, he can barely get them above his chest to sign. I can’t answer that, I don’t know—

“If I hadn’t been in the accident,” Jungkook says, and Yoongi takes a few gulps to steady himself and feels a rush of car exhaust go down. The kitchen smells like burnt rubber and gasoline and the powdery dust left behind by airbags. “Could you have fallen in love with me?” Yoongi bends over, forehead to palms to knees. “You don’t— You see me, right? You never talk about what you see, but I know it’s me. Do I make you feel guilty, hyung?”

Jungkook’s voice is crooked. His words are slurring together but Yoongi can piece them apart. “It’s been two years, hyung. Two years. I’m okay. I’m—I’m trying to be okay so why can’t you just let it go, why can’t you just see me right now, hyung please just look at me, why can’t you look—”

BECAUSE IT WAS MY FAULT! Yoongi pounds his fist against the top cabinet and watches as red smears across the white gloss of the board. Yoongi mashes the heels of his palms against his eyes until he sees colored spots. Until that blue sky is encroaching in again and he has to look up into the horrified face of Jungkook hovering over him. I’m the one who should have been hit! Yoongi signs, knuckles throbbing, choking down a breath. I’m the reason you’re like this! I’m the one who broke you!

Jungkook’s face, torn with misery, twists into fury.

“I’m not broken!” Jungkook shrieks. 800kph winds of dirt and debris and despair. The earth, shattering. That’s what Jungkook’s voice sounds like. It’s the most terrible sound Yoongi’s ever heard in his life. “Is that the way you see me? Just something you have to fix ?”

No, Yoongi mouths, spinning around, shame and regret rolling through him so quick he might just hurl. No, no, no—

“Were we not friends before all this?” Jungkook continues, his voice rising. Yoongi covers his ears, spins and spins, pinches his eyes closed. Blue, blue, blue, the lights, his sweater, the floor rocking underfoot— “Did you just stick around all this time because you pity me?”

No, no, no—

“Jungkook, what the hell is—”

“Hyung, please, I just need you to tell me—”

The sound of crunching metal and shattered glass. Yoongi looks down and he’s standing in a pool of blood. Someone is screaming. Someone is screaming. 

Yoongi is screaming.

Yoongi is screaming as loud as he can, and not a sound makes it past his mouth. Not one person in the crowd turns in his direction as he lays in the street near the mangled metal of what once was a car. Yoongi screams and sobs and wails and no one tries to help him and that’s okay. Because Yoongi deserves it. Because he is small, and he is unseen, and he doesn’t deserve to be heard. 

 

~~~

 

Yoongi wakes up in Seokjin’s bed with Taehyung’s arms around him. It’s still dark out, the room cast in the blue shadow of a city at night, but Yoongi knows it’s Seokjin’s room because Seokjin likes to use jersey cotton sheets while Namjoon prefers flannel, and he knows it’s Taehyung resting behind him because Taehyung always smells of cinnamon.

Out in the living room, Hoseok is waiting up on the sofa under the glow of the Christmas lights Seokjin still refuses to take down. He’s reading one of the books Namjoon left out. This one looks more like a novel than a check-out from the library. It doesn’t have any tabs in it. The spine is cracked and worn with use.

Hoseok looks cracked and worn with use.

Yoongi takes a seat beside him and Hoseok dog-ears the page he’s on and topples to the side so he can rest his head in Yoongi’s lap. They sit together for a long while, saying nothing, and Yoongi must fall asleep because he opens his eyes to the late light of morning and Seokjin making noise in the kitchen. Hoseok is still asleep in his lap. Namjoon is watching them from across the room in the armchair, a mug of what smells like coffee in hand.

Namjoon’s shoulders lift. Fall. “Yoongi,” he says. That’s all he says. And then he waits.

Namjoon is the one who went to Yoongi’s first therapy session with him. Namjoon is the one who got him the job with the radio station. Namjoon is the one who would leave protein shakes on his desk before the start of the Storytelling in Music class he TA’d for his first year of grad school. Namjoon is the one who knows how to talk him down off a ledge better than anyone. 

This is Namjoon’s allure: that he is steady and kind and so, so good. It’s not his boy-next door charm or the weight of his voice or the number of plaques he has tucked away in a box under his bed that he refuses to hang. What makes Namjoon the most incredible person in Yoongi’s life is that he is fearless with his love. 

How’s Jungkook? Yoongi signs, careful not to jostle Hoseok.

Home with Jimin, Namjoon signs back. He’s fine. Scared, but fine. We were all scared.

Namjoon waits. He doesn’t drink from his mug. Seokjin has gone quiet in the kitchen.

Yoongi takes in a deep breath. I had a flashback.

Namjoon nods.

It was really bad.

Namjoon nods again. He’s done asking. Yoongi can see that. Namjoon is done asking Yoongi to talk to him. This is him telling Yoongi to. Either talk to me, his gaze is saying, or we go to the hospital right now. Your choice.

I ruin the people around me, Yoongi signs, not bothering to look at Namjoon’s expression. He knows what he’ll find there. I don’t think I deserve to get better. I don’t think I deserve to have this surgery.

“Oh, hyung,” Namjoon sighs.

You all say it wasn’t my fault, Yoongi signs, but it doesn’t change how I feel. I feel like it was my fault. My head keeps telling me it was my fault so much that I keep reliving the day over and over again. I keep seeing Jungkook die again and again and I just keep screaming over and over and no one can hear me. 

Namjoon doesn’t say anything. Namjoon just keeps looking at him. Everyone just. Keeps. Looking at him.

What if I get the surgery and nothing changes? Yoongi asks. Hoseok stirs in his lap and Yoongi brushes the hair from his forehead, slowly, until his breathing evens out once more. What if people still don’t listen? What if they still don’t understand? What if I get this surgery and I continue to ruin and break everything and everyone I care about, only then I don’t have an excuse to hide behind anymore? What if it’s just me, Min Yoongi, who’s a fuck-up?

It’s quiet in the apartment, except nothing is ever truly silent. Hoseok’s rising breaths. The sounds of the city waking outside. The groan of wind working its way against the windows. A creaking floorboard from the kitchen where Seokjin must be hovering, afraid to move. 

“Hyung.” Yoongi looks away from the line of succulents along the edge of the patio door. “Do you remember the spring I lived with you and Hobi?”

Yoongi must make an expression like How could I possibly forget? because Namjoon’s face dimples with his smile.

“One night we were squished in together on the floor of your dorm room,” Namjoon says, still wearing that warm expression, still looking at Yoongi kindly, “and I told you that I felt empty inside, and you turned to me and said ‘Kim Namjoon, I’m going to fill you with so much love you’re not going to know what to do with it’. Do you remember that?”

Yoongi remembers it, but from a distance. A stranger looking in. It sounds like something he would have said then. Why wouldn’t Yoongi say it again now?

“Well, you filled me with love, hyung,” Namjoon continues. “You gave me so much love it spilled over. That’s why I started the radio program. So we could share some of that love with others. And we did, hyung. You did,” Namjoon tells him fiercely, his eyes alight, his voice breaking. “You have helped so many people. You—You do not ruin people, Min Yoongi. You make them better . You have made us better.”

Yoongi can feel his heart pounding, big and heavy in his chest, impossible to ignore. 

“I know what it feels like to want to disappear,” Namjoon says, his voice gentle, his expression wide open. Unafraid. Unashamed. “I know what it feels like to want to run away. I know what it feels like to be abandoned and forgotten. I know that I will never understand what you’re going through because we’ve both been handed a different set of circumstances; but I also know that you are one of my closest friends, one of the most important people in my life, and that right now you are not okay.”

A tear rolls down down Yoongi’s cheek, then another. Yoongi doesn’t clean his face off. 

“I called your therapist,” Namjoon says. Yoongi squeezes his eyes shut and more tears slip through. “We’re going to meet with her this afternoon. I’m going with you. Because you can’t do this alone, hyung. You can’t. No one can. And you don’t have to.”

Yoongi’s breath shudders in, then out. He nods. Someone touches the back of his hand lightly and Yoongi looks down to find Hoseok blinking up at him, his own eyes misty and bloodshot. 

They look at each other for a long time, saying nothing. Saying everything. 

“Jin-hyung?” Namjoon calls out. 

Yoongi looks up in time to see Seokjin poke around the doorframe to the kitchen, shy at first, and then more steady when he sees that he’s wanted. “Yeah?”

“Need any help with breakfast?” Namjoon asks, then one-shots his mug as if it’s tequila and not a hazlenut latte. 

Seokjin purses his lips like he wants to be disgusted but is physically unable to. It’s part of Namjoon’s charm. “I’d rather get help from a dilapidated squirrel than have your hands in this kitchen, Kim Namjoon.”

Namjoon’s smile is blinding. “I don’t think that word can apply to living organisms, hyung.”

“Don’t question my authority.”

“You have authority over all linguistics?”

“Watch yourself,” Seokjin points with a sharp finger. “I control your meals.”

“You won’t let me starve.”

“But I will force you to eat over-salted rice and spam for a week.”

“Like you’d ever purposefully oversalt food,” Namjoon beams, on his feet now. He approaches Seokjin with open arms. “It goes against your nature.”

Seokjin’s hands rise to his chest like a barrier, his eyes flitting to Yoongi. Or at least, his direction. Yoongi looks down and Hoseok is watching the two of them bicker with this humongous, delighted smile. Hoseok nods, as if giving permission, and Seokjin’s body sags right into Namjoon’s hold. 

“Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says, peeking over the top of Namjoon’s shoulder. His eyes are melty. “Go back to bed for an hour. I’ll get you and TaeTae when breakfast is ready.”

Yoongi’s face is still wet, when he crawls back into bed; but when he goes to wipe his cheeks with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, Taehyung’s hands are already there to do the job.

“Hi, hyung,” Taehyung whispers, and Yoongi looks into his kind face, so filled with love, love for Yoongi, and feels the tears begin to fall again.

Taehyung lets him cry. He tucks Yoongi in against his shoulder and just lets him be sad and confused and angry.

“You know how many times I’ve wished you could speak?” Taehyung asks a lifetime later. Breakfast should be done by now, but Seokjin’s always had this sense for when to push people, when to leave them be.

Yoongi sniffs and Taehyung doesn’t hesitate to wipe away his snot. Yoongi grimaces. Taehyung laughs. “Never,” he says, his posture relaxed, his face untroubled as he looks at Yoongi. “Not once. I don’t know what you-You think you have to say things aloud for them to matter, that you have to put words to your thoughts for people to care, but I didn’t fall in love with your voice, hyung.” A smile creeps onto Taehyung’s face as he runs his fingers along Yoongi’s jaw. “I fell in love with your honesty and your compassion and your thoughtfulness. I fell in love with the way you make me feel when you play the piano. I fell in love with how much you care about your friends and your parents and stray cats on the street. Those things matter to me. How you treat people matters to me. I’ve never once had to hear you in order to see you, Yoongi.”

Taehyung’s words knock the wind right out of him. Hit him where it hurts. Because a part of Yoongi doesn’t think he’s warranted having someone love him the way Taehyung does. The way any of them do. 

Yoongi finds his phone on the bedside table behind him. Writes, Things were easier when we weren’t dating.

Taehyung reads it. His eyes dim, but he doesn’t let Yoongi go. “Do you want to take a break?”

No, Yoongi shakes his head, shifting forward to kiss Taehyung quick and hard. Not from you, he writes, after Taehyung has kissed him back. I think I just need to get out of the city for a bit. Get some perspective.

“Okay, hyung. Okay.”

Will you be here when I come back?

Bewilderment clouds Taehyung’s face. “I’m not gonna leave you, hyung. Not over this.”

What would you leave me over?

Taehyung looks at him, thinking. “If you were cruel,” he finally says, then slowly traces a tendril of hair near Yoongi’s temple. “If you didn’t listen to me. Or respect me. If you were a conservative. If you didn’t want a dog someday.”

Yoongi snorts. Taehyung’s grin is enormous. Wow, that’s quite the list.

“I’ve learned that I deserve more than what people have given me in the past.”

Taehyung’s stare is steadfast, but his hand trembles where it rests against Yoongi’s waist. 

That’s really incredible, Tae , Yoongi mouths, hoping there’s enough light in the room for Taehyung to read him. That’s really brave.

Taehyung must be able to because he leans in to rest his cheek against Yoongi’s. Says, quietly, in his ear, “You also deserve more than what people have given you in the past.”

Yoongi bats his eyes fast to blink back tears. All the love Yoongi has for Taehyung is trying to crawl out of his throat and it hurts.

I don’t feel like I deserve anything, Yoongi mouths to him, and Taehyung’s eyes grow sad.

“You deserve love and joy and all the most wonderful things in life, hyung. All of them. Including that surgery.”

Yoongi’s stomach drops. 

“No one told me,” Taehyung says quickly, like he’s afraid Yoongi might be upset over the idea that someone went behind his back. Which he might have been. Probably would be. Except now he’s learning that not all secrets are meant to be kept hidden. That sometimes the best way to help someone is to do what they need and not what they want. “I pieced things together. I’m smart, y’know.”

I know, Yoongi grins. You’re the smartest person I know.

Yoongi sees the surprise cross Taehyung’s face. “But you know Namjoon-hyung.”

I said what I said.

“You think I’m smarter than Namjoon-hyung?” Taehyung says, throwing Yoongi this jaw-dropping grin. “That’s quite a turn-on.”

Talking about Joon turns you on? Yoongi mouths as he crawls forward. Taehyung rolls onto his back so that Yoongi can straddle his lap.

“It’s the dimples,” Taehyung swoons, tilting his head, smiling squinitly. “Jin-hyung is so lucky. He’s got two sets of them now.”

You gonna leave me over my lack of dimples? Yoongi asks, running his hands over Taehyung’s bare arms, up to his shoulders, across his neck, grinning when Taehyung shivers beneath him.

Taehyung shrugs, his impossible lashes making his eyes darker than usual as he gives Yoongi this non-committal look. “I mean…”

Yoongi tickles his side and Taehyung shrieks, and not five seconds later they hear Seokjin screaming, “IF YOU HAVE SEX ON MY BED I WILL NEVER LOVE YOU AGAIN.”

Yoongi collapses onto Taehyung’s chest in hysterics, and they hold each other long after the laughter has quieted and the moment has softened.

Thank you, Yoongi mouths, his chin on Taehyung’s sternum so he can look up into Taehyung’s face. For putting up with me. I know I’m difficult.

Taehyung kisses the pads of his fingers, then presses them against Yoongi’s forehead. “You’re the one who waits for me to finish counting ceiling tiles before we leave restaurants. I should be thanking you.”

Yoongi scoffs at that and Taehyung repeats the action from earlier, kissing his fingers and pressing them to different parts of Yoongi’s face. His nose, his temples, his eyelids. Yoongi warms under the touch but doesn’t tell him to stop.

I don’t know what to do, Yoongi mouths, when Taehyung starts placing little kisses along his top lip. There’s so much to do. So much to feel.

“One step at a time,” Taehyung tells him. “And we’re gonna be with you the whole way.”

 

~~~

 

“You know what the worst thing about PTSD is, Yoongi? It steals the hope and joy and light from you. Makes it impossible to see or remember all the good in the world. I want to help you see that good again, Yoongi. I want to help you see that light. Your friends want to help you, too. Will you let us?”

 

~~~

 

Yoongi goes home. He keeps his hands busy. He spends two days helping out around the house: cleaning and painting and patching up chipped furniture and weeding the small back garden his mom started up a few years ago when he and his brother left home for good. Yoongi reads a book. Well, half a book. He preps dinner. And lunch. And if he’s up early enough, then breakfast, as well. 

He plays Liebstraume’s No. 3 in A-flat Major on the old, stand up piano outside his dad’s office and feels every single note go straight to his heart.

He doesn’t sign to anyone. Doesn’t write. Doesn’t say a thing.

On the third day, he goes to his mom. He tells her everything, and she has him sit at their cramped dining table with a cup of peppermint tea and says, “Have you ever thought to look at your muteness like a gift, Yoongi?”

No. He hasn’t. Because gifts don’t make you want to die some days.

“Yoongi-yah,” she says, taking his hands, stroking his wrists. “You view the world in such an incredibly complex way because of your disability. You have so many thoughts and emotions to share with others, and instead of using words, you learned how to shape music into what you wanted to say.”

It’s not the same, he mouths, looking away.

“So you have never felt joy from hearing a concerto? Or pain? Anger? You’ve never felt those things while playing?”

Yoongi chews on his lip, debating the next move. His mom seems to be doing the same. “Is there someone important in your life, Yoongi-yah?”

Yoongi flushes and looks up into his mom’s waiting face. The corner of her mouth tips up. There is.

“Picture them in your mind,” she says, drawing back her hands. “If you were to describe them to me, what would you say?”

That they’re kind, Yoongi signs without thinking, his heart tripping. That they love art and children and the moon. That they make me happy.  

Yoongi’s mom nods. She leans in confidently, like she’s about to share a secret, and Yoongi mirrors her. “When people ask me about my sons, do you know what I say about you?” Yoongi’s heart trips. “I say that you are brilliant, and passionate about many things, and that you make me proud. Mute doesn’t come to mind first, and I don’t think it should be the first thing you think of, either.”

She smiles at him, and Yoongi has to bite his lip to keep it from quivering.

“Yoongi, sweetheart,” she says as Yoongi ducks his head. “If you want the surgery, we’ll support you. Don’t think that you’re turning your back on anyone or anything because you want to have that connection with people.” Yoongi’s chest feels prickly, like when you sit for too long and your leg falls asleep. Is it possible for the heart to fall asleep? “Your disability isn’t your entire identity. It has made you strong, and it has taught you empathy; but you’re not going to lose those things just because you gain another.”

Yoongi nods and nods and nods. He feels shaky, and cramped, and surely if he tried to stand he would only collapse. But his mom takes his hand in both her own and squeezes tight, and Yoongi sucks in a breath and mouths, His name is Taehyung. I want you to meet him.

“Bring him home over winter break,” his mom says, sniffling, and the small sob noise that Yoongi makes almost sounds like a laugh.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi goes home. He finds Taehyung waiting up for him on the sofa with a textbook, what looks to be the finale of Descendants of the Sun playing on the television with only the subtitles on, and the sweetest smile in existence when he catches Yoongi lurking from the entryway.

Yoongi nods, answering a question Taehyung has yet to ask, and Taehyung shuffles up and over to pull him into a breathless hug.

“Hyung,” Taehyung whispers, pushing their foreheads together, still tacky from where he must have applied some of Hoseok’s fancy moisturizer. His skin smells of oranges. He takes Yoongi’s face in his hands. “You are going to get this surgery because it’s something you want and there’s nothing wrong with wanting things.”

Okay, Yoongi mouths, shutting his eyes, feeling Taehyung’s breath against his cheeks. His heartbeat, from where they are pressed chest to chest, fills the spaces that Yoongi’s leaves behind.

“And it’s going to be a long recovery process,” Taehyung says, rocking them, a slow dance with no music. Yoongi circles his arms around Taehyung’s waist. “And you’re going to get frustrated and upset, but that’s okay because you’ve got so many people here who love you and want to see you happy.”

Okay, Yoongi repeats. His eyes brim with tears. 

“And I will be here the whole time.” Taehyung kiss his cheek mole. The tip of his nose. “Because I love you. Because I want to see you happy. Okay, hyung?”

Yoongi nods. Breathes. Taps the back of Taehyung’s neck three times again and again and again.

 

~~~

 

“Good evening, Konkuk youth. RM here. Before we get into today’s program, there’s a story that was sent in by a special friend of ours that I want to share with you all. I think some of you might need to hear it:

 

“I woke up this morning, and the world smelled of cut grass and burnt toast and the promise of rain. I woke up this morning to a dull ache in my upper shoulder, from an injury that never quite healed. I woke up this morning in a tangle of limbs, with a voice whispering low near my ear ‘hyung, let’s go to the beach’.  And I responded, ‘that’s dumb’. And then I packed a bag. And then I went to the beach. 

“For most of the day I laid in the shade while my friends danced around me, splashing each other with water and digging in the sand. The hours melted together under the last breath of summer and I laid there, melting with it, this undercurrent of sadness threatening to sweep me away. 

“Over the past several months, a shadow has settled over my body to the point that I have become a ghost in my own life. No one hears me, no one feels me, and if I stay still for long enough, it feels as if at any moment, I may just disappear. One blink, and I will be gone.

“I woke up this morning, and I went to the beach, and right when I felt as if I was taking my last breath before the water rushed in to fill my lungs, there were hands, yanking on my wrists. My ankles. Shimmering up my sides. And then the water did rush in, and I struggled and flailed and crawled out of the ocean as laughter echoed around me. And as I laid there in the sun-warmed sand, gasping for breath, I realized something: I woke up this morning.

“I woke up this morning, and the world smelled of cut grass and failed breakfast and rain. I woke up this morning with my shoulder throbbing and my forehead damp, cradled between two beating hearts, overwhelmed by sadness and guilt and fear.

“I woke up this morning, and I went to the beach, and I laid in the sand with my chest facing the sky, and I watched until the last scrap of sunbeam flickered out across the horizon. My cheeks were wet, but my heart… My heart, my heart, my heart.

“I woke up this morning, and I plan on doing it again. I hope tomorrow you do, too.”

 

~~~

 

The day that Yoongi submits his opus, Jungkook finds him sitting outside the music building with Hatsepshut curled up two steps away. The history department got her a green beanie this year. Yoongi thinks it compliments her russet fur nicely. (Taehyung’s been talking about getting a sweater made for her, as well, because it’s snowed everyday for two weeks now. Yoongi doesn’t mention that Hattie is probably fat enough to last a full hibernation period). 

She still won’t let Yoongi touch her. Or feed her. Some days, if he even looks at her the wrong way (or at all), she trots out of sight into the brush. So Yoongi has taken to keeping his hands to himself but not his thoughts. Those he still shares with her. She doesn’t seem to mind them.

“Hey, hyung,” Yoongi hears, and he looks up and there’s a muffin floating in front of his face. Blueberry. The good kind from the cafe. 

Yoongi takes the muffin and Jungkook takes the spot beside him. Yoongi watches as Hattie stretches, back arching, and plods right over to crawl into Jungkook’s lap. Jungkook just grins and adjusts her cap. He doesn’t try to pet her. He just lets her rest.

“How did your panel go?”

Yoongi looks up from Hattie and Jungkook is looking right back. Good, Yoongi signs, then shakes his head. Great, actually. It was perfect.

“Are you a doctor yet?” Jungkook teases, and Yoongi cracks a grin and nudges their shoulders. Jungkook leans into the touch and Yoongi doesn’t lean away.

Two more years before that happens.

“You gonna do it?”

Dr. Choi asked him the same thing barely an hour ago. Encouraged it, really. You would make an excellent professor, Yoongi, she had said in the hallway outside the conference room, right after a panel of judges told him his work could move someone’s soul. It certainly moved theirs. Any university would be lucky to have you.

Yoongi thanked her. Shook her hand. Wrote neatly on his board, I stopped playing because I couldn’t hear the music anymore. I think I want to help other kids going through the same thing.

Yoongi’s not sure what that looks like quite yet, if it means he should finish more schooling. But he has time to figure it out.

“Hyung?”

Jungkook is watching him, head tilted, his curls falling to the side. He’s waiting. All this time he’s been waiting. 

Yoongi takes the biggest breath of his life. Feels the pressure lift from his chest the moment he signs, Can I tell you something? 

Wonderment spreads across Jungkook’s face, and the smile he gives Yoongi—lopsided, sincere, filled with glowing warmth—it says more than words ever could.

“Tell me everything, hyung.”