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Round and Around

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The worst that could happen, is I become an angel. Then I won’t hurt anymore, and I can watch over you like you always watched over me.

—————

Friday night. It was raining. He sat at his desk working in front of a keyboard, his laptop picking up the melody he was playing. He was focused on the keys and nearly missed that his phone was going off. He took his hands away and turned off the recording, it wasn’t a clean run anyways. He was experimenting with new sounds, trying to make something of his passion for music. No one took him seriously but he wanted it bad enough that 2:00am on a Friday night he still had his earphones on as he played.

Papers were strewn in front of him, lyrics and chords lining the pages. It was like an addiction of sorts, something he couldn’t stop doing for long. Every moment of his days his mind seemed to play music in the back of his head. Songs he had to write some flowed easily and others were mountains he still couldn’t conquer. While most other kids spent their weekends running away from their homework and chasing youthful highs he was seeking something different. He wanted music more than anything which was why he was dedicated to becoming better. He fumbled his headphones as he reached to answer the phone.

Caller ID showed it was Jackson. If Jackson was calling this late it had to be something important, and he knew what that was. He paused and looked at it as it rang, he shouldn’t answer because if he didn’t he could pretend he was asleep and that he didn’t know. He knew what Jackson was calling and if he answered it he couldn’t resist like he had for weeks through multiple calls.

It was the last ring, he answered.

“Hello?” He asiked. He was getting tired, he knew all hope of any sleep that night was gone.

“I hoped you’d be awake,” Jackson replied.

“Barely,” Jaebum responded, “I need to go to sleep.”

“You can’t yet,” Jackson responded, there was a worry in his voice and it was in every way too familiar. A sound Jaebum had grown used to over the past three years. He always knew what had caused it, who had caused it. He breathed out and leaned his head back. He’d been fighting a losing battle to stay out of it and to quit caring, Jackson still called everytime. Jaebum had shut a door and said he wouldn’t ever go again, but his chest hurt and the fact that it was happening so frequently again scared him so much.

He knew he couldn’t say no.

Things got out of control once, so out of control no one was sure what was going to happen. The worst times… the worst days of his life were those days walking hosptial halls to court rooms and occassional visits to juvenille detention. Things he’d wanted to forget, wanted to erase by pretending it could change. Every pretense of change was a lie.

They’d laid in the meadows and counted the stars like they had when they were children but when the days moved on Jaebum realized they could never go back. He didn’t want to believe it, he didn’t want to let go but it hurt so much to hold on. It was a constant ache when he saw him in the halls of the school, their last year was one they had planned together. Their future was supposed to be together, but that was gone. Jaebum shut the door and if he went he would be pushing hard to re-open it.

“Where is he now?” Jaebum asked, he felt nothing but pain knowing it was the same story again and things could end up like he always feared. It was frightening because he knew one day these calls could be very different.

One day it could be a call that they’d found him, that he was gone.

“His aunt called me,” Jackson replied his voice was shaking, some part of it was a lie Jaebum knew that, “I told her he was with me... I know I shouldn’t have but he’s really been trying hard... I just... I didn’t want him to get in trouble again but we have to find him. I know you said you’re out, that you can’t do this anymore, but Jaebum… please, please help me find him.” Jaebum breathed deep and careful, he should say no. It was too painful to keep going but Jackson kept going, he never stopped no matter how hard it was.

Jaebum stood up and grabbed his car keys.

Trying hard, of course he’d tried. He could never take credit away from him for at least pretending he was getting better. He was good at pretending he was trying, pretending he still cared about his own life and future. The others didn’t get it, Jaebum knew better.

Round and around it went, a cycle that didn’t break. No matter how many times he’d tried to stay away, tried to get out he couldn’t help it. He always watched out for Jinyoung, even when Jinyoung pushed him out and pushed and pushed until he broke down. It was all happening again and he couldn’t stop it, he could only be one of those who would go after him and try to pull him out before it was too late.

“Where are you?” Jaebum asked. They had a system for what to do when they both went out. There were multiple schools and multiple parties, multiple possibilites. They just needed answers, he was likely far from them in familiar places Jaebum never had wanted to go again. Still they had a system because they couldn’t risk chasing the wrong leads when time was never on their side. Jackson searched parties on one side of town and Jaebum searched another they asked around until someone told them where he’d gone. Someone usually knew something, except for the day where no one wanted to fess up to what they’d known. He could tell Jackson was already driving as he walked out the door of his room and slowly walked down the stairs.

He didn’t want to wake his parents, though they would probably join the search with him. They were empathetic to everything that was happening, in many ways they saw Jinyoung as their own son as well. They suffered with all that had happened, the things they’d seen and didn’t see. He hated that they lived with so much regret over everything. He didn’t want to put anything else on them.

“I’m heading to Hyunwoo’s,” Jackson said, “I know there was a party there tonight.” Hyunwoo was at least someone they trusted, Jaebum didn’t think Jinyoung would be there. If he had shown up Hyunwoo would have called them because he knew the weight of everything.

“I’ll take Sunmi’s then,” Jaebum said. He knew her well, and he knew Jinyoung would likely go there to avoid them. He had a sinking feeling that was where Jinyoung would have gone earlier in the evening though the place he had most likely gone after was somewhere Jaebum didn’t want to go. If Jinyoung was back there, back with him, Sunmi would know. If confronted directly she would tell him what he needed to know. This wasn’t the first time, he didn’t know when it would be the last time. In a way he was scared of a last time.

“Okay, I’ll call you if I find you,” Jackson said, “be careful... if he’s with him again... you know.”

Jaebum walked out the door of his room, he knew. He knew all too well.

—————
8 years earlier
—————

”Jinyoung!” Jaebum called out as he ran quickly to grab him.

Jinyoung was laughing, carefree, and never watching where he was going. Jaebum grabbed his shirt and pulled him back to stop him right before the car flew past them. The driver wasn’t paying attention and Jinyoung wasn’t watching where he was going. Jinyoung fell back into Jaebum, at 10 years old they were both small and neither much different.

At 10 years old they were inseperable, every day was a new adventure to be traversed. Everything in front of them was open to their big imaginations as they sought all the brightness the world had to offer. They fought armies together, battled in fantasy worlds and ran anywhere their feet could take them. Their minds were so bright, and in many ways their dreaming had just begun.

“Hyung you saved my life!” Jinyoung exclaimed.

“You’re stupid Jinyoungie,” Jaebum responded, “you’re supposed to watch where you’re going!”

“I don’t need to, you watch for me,” Jinyoung responded with a big smile. Jaebum couldn’t help but smile back, they’d been best friends since before they could remember. They did everything together, today they had been given permission from Jinyoung’s mom to go to the corner store for some snacks. Jaebum had gotten a new movie for his birthday and saved it to watch with Jinyoung when his family got back from vacation. Winter break was always Jaebum’s least favorite time. Jinyoung’s family always went away for all of it. Jaebum counted the days until he had gotten home.

“You need to still watch out for yourself!” Jaebum said, “what if I’m not here and you still just don’t look!”

“Then I guess I’ll become an angel like my grandma,” Jinyoung said with a nochalant shrug, “then I can watch over you hyung!” Jinyoung laughed and Jaebum knew it was because his expression had gotten serious. He didn’t like the sound of what Jinyoung had said. “I’m just joking hyung I’ll be more careful.” Jaebum pushed him, reactionary.

Jaebum could feel his face heating up and he turned to walk away quickly. Jinyoung was always making jokes, Jaebum didn’t like them because he never understood why he would joke about things like that. He probably should have understood Jinyoung joked so often and he never meant anything by it.

“Wait hyung,” Jinyoung moved quickly after him and grabbed his hand, “I’ll stop, I’ll be careful.” He was pouting, Jaebum loved how easily he could switch to pouting. Jaebum knew better than to give in, yet he still gave in everytime.

Jaebum laughed at him, he made it his own joke in a way. They laughed together, walked together. Their hands stayed together their whole way home.

—————
Present
—————

Jaebum parked in front of the house, music was blasting from inside and there was a lot of noise. He was surprised most of them weren’t passed out. It was one of the best houses to party in, far from neighbors out of the city and where the police never came to shut thingd down. He’d gone to a few parties at Sunmi’s house over the years since entering high school, he’d wanted to understand what had drawn Jinyoung in as it had. It had been fun but it wasn’t something he wanted to do often.

He looked out and breathed, he had to find Sunmi and find out if she knew something. Anything.

He got out and entered the house, the scene was typical of a friday night rager. People dancing, drinking, screaming, make outs, all things he’d done before like any person his age. It was a fun diversion on the occasional weekend, but there was a darker side to all of it he’d been blind to at first. They’d leave this scene behind soon when they graduated in a couple months, unfortunately the things beyond were often more dangerous.

“Jaebummie!” he turned to see Sunmi draped over some guy who had hands all over her.

“You came!” Another person shouted and there was an arm around him, Wonho.

“I’m not here to party,” Jaebum said lightly moving Wonho off of him, “I’m looking for Jinyoung.” Sunmi got up and walked over, she looked buzzed and not trashed which was good. It meant she was coherent enough to help.

“I know how things are Jaebum,” she said, “if I saw him I would have called you or Jackson.” He didn’t trust her, she had lied that night that everything had gone wrong. She wouldn’t call if Jinyoung had come there, he knew that much. She lied that day and they’d lost precious time finding him, he wouldn’t let that happen again.

He knew which questions to ask.

“Where’s Minho?” Jaebum asked next, he couldn’t control the edge in his voice. He hated that boy, he hated everything he stood for and what he had done to his best friend. Nothing went wrong until Minho had entered their lives. Though Jinyoung had sworn nothing was Minho’s fault, he blamed it all on his dad. But Minho deserved some blame, that he’d gotten away clean from what happened before always made Jaebum angry. Just thinking about it made his heart elevate and anger surged through him.

Minho was the one who had supplied Jinyoung with the substances he was high off of before. For some reason he was ignored in the case that came before. Sunmi was good friends with him and Jaebum knew that the both of them communicated quite often. Jaebum blamed himself for how things had gone but he blamed Minho and Sunmi even more.

“Minho’s at his house,” Sunmi responded, “and if Jinyoungie’s there then he’s perfectly safe. Minho will keep him off the road.” Jaebum couldn’t believe she would believe something like that, she’d seen how they were. They were bad for each other, destructive in the worst ways. Jaebum never understood why Jinyoung kept going back to him.

“You call him right now,” Jaebum said, he wanted to know for sure, “if Jinyoung’s there I need to know now.”

“I thought you were done chasing his tail,” Sunmi replied, she looked tired, “he said you weren’t friends anymore, yet here you are still following him.” Jaebum knew that was all true, he knew how things were but he couldn’t help it.

“You call him right now,” Jaebum replied, “I’m not playing games.” She sighed and pulled out her phone to dial the number without resisting him anymore.

“Hey,” she said she turned away but he could still hear her, “is Jinyoung there?” Her face dropped and she nodded to Jaebum. Jinyoung was there. “Minho you know… it’s really not a good idea… No, no I understand just be careful.”

Jaebum already turned away, he knew what the answer was. He pulled out his phone to call Jackson, he was probably closer to that side of town. He relayed the information and moved his car fast to drive. It was dangerous to go high speeds but he had to get there before things went wrong again.

—————
6 years earlier
—————

Jaebum hadn’t meant for things to go as far as they had. Now he sat in the principals office with disappointed parents, bruises and scrapes but it was worth it. He knew it was worth it.

He glared at the other boys in the room who dared to try and lie about the situation. They had tormented Jinyoung for weeks and when Jaebum had found out about it he was understandably not going to stand for it. Maybe he had gone a little far, but he had won the fight and knocked them both down a peg. Jinyoung had tried to pull him off, he was angry and Jaebum knew why. Jinyoung wanted to fight his own battles but Jaebum wasn’t going to just let people mess with his best friend. That wasn’t what friends did.

“It doesn’t matter to me whose at fault,” the principal had silenced all of them from the argument that had broken out between the boys, “all of you will be suspended for a week for unruly behavoir and after that you will spend two more weeks in detention. We have a zero tolerance policy for fights such as these and will show no leniance.”

“We understand,” Jaebum’s father said. Jaebum didn’t understand, they clearly didn’t care that Jinyoung was being bullied. Jinyoung was sitting next to him and was being suspended as well for no reason, Jaebum wouldn’t just let that happen.

“That’s not fair,” Jaebum protested.

“Jaebum be quiet!” his mom said.

“No,” Jaebum replied, “Jinyoung had nothing to do with it. They were bullying him and I was angry. He didn’t cause the fight, punish me but it’s not his fault!”

“It’s okay Jaebum,” Jinyoung said softly.

“No it’s not!” Jaebum declared, “he didn’t do anything wrong! You can punish me with a month of detention but Jinyoung doesn’t deserve it!” He didn’t understand why no one was hearing what it was he said, the principal had burshed aside any mention of bullying as an excuse. If they didn’t do something about it fairly it would just happen agan.

“Fine you’ll both get a month of detention,” the principal said.

“You can’t do that!” Jaebum’s father finally spoke up in his defense, “did you hear nothing the boy said?”

“On the contrary Mr. Im, I can do anything I see fit,” he said, “if there was a legitimate concern for bulling your son could have called a teacher to help handle it, fights can not be tolerated no matter how noble the reason. Your son and Park Jinyoung are always together, they both have some measure of responsibiltiy in what happened and will both be punished accordingly. Now get out of my office all of you.”

His father tried to argue more but the principal was unmoved. He felt Jinyoung’s hand grip his as they left. Jaebum’s parents both took them to his house for the evening. Their parents were trying to decide how they should handle the situation. That night Jinyoung slept over, they shared Jaebum’s bed like they always did.

“Jaebum hyung,” Jinyoung said.

“Yeah?” Jaebum asked.

“I don’t mind being in detention,” Jinyoung responded.

“Jinyoung you don’t belong in detention, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Jaebum said. He didn’t understand why Jinyoung had to be punished too.

“Neither did you,” Jinyoung said, “it was more my fault than yours… You were just trying to protect me.”

“That wasn’t your fault,” Jaebum replied, “they were acting stupid, you should have told me sooner what they were doing.” Jinyoung curled up closer to him.

“You don’t always need to protect me hyung,” Jinyoung said softly.

“Yes I do,” Jaebum replied, “It’s my job as your best friend, you know you’d do the same for me.”

“Yeah but you never need help,” Jinyoung said softly, “you’re always so strong.”

“Jinyoung you help me all the time,” Jaebum said, “that’s why you’re my best friend.” Jinyoung was silent, they were both tired and needed to sleep. Staying up late wouldn’t do much for them.

“Hyung when we’re on suspension we can work on our dancing,” Jinyoung said softly. Jaebum smiled, that was something they both shared. They both lived dancing since Jinyoung’s mom had sent them to a dance class one weekend. They’d gone many more times and they practiced together apart from it. Jaebum always thought Jinyoung was better at it than him but Jaebum started practicing some different forms of dance as well.

“Yeah,” Jaebum said, “that would be fun.”

“I’m glad I have detention too,” Jinyoung said.

“Why?” Jaebum asked.

“Because at least we’ll be together,” Jinyoung responded.

—————
Present
—————

He drove down a street he swore he’d never step foot on again. It was 3:00am and he felt out of place, like he had no right to be here and to stop something that Jinyoung had clearly chosen for himself. But here he was parking and staring up at a familiar apartment he wished he’d never seen once in his life.

How many times had he stood in that street beneath those lights? How many times had he come to drag Jinyoung out of there? And it wasn’t just there. There were many places Jaebum had gone to just to pull Jinyoung out, some of those places the worst had happened. Jinyoung didn’t care, he still let people hurt him and he still went back to them. Jaebum wanted to give up, he’d told himself he’d never do this again because Jinyoung didn’t want them or their help. He willingly walked back into this every single time.

Round and around, an unbreakable cycle. Promises meant to be broken. He’d sworn he’d be better, but Jaebum knew better than to believe anything he said. That’s why they were nothing anymore.

Anytime could be the last time, not because Jaebum could really stop but because one day there would be nothing to bring back.

He saw another car pulling in and was relieved Jackson was there as well. He had done it alone so many times, he didn’t know if he had the will to go in alone. They didn’t know what they were about to find. Everytime things were different, sometimes Jinyoung refused to go back with him. Sometimes he so violently refused that Jaebum was forced to get others involved and he didn’t want to do that again.

He approached Jackson’s car and someone else got out with Jackson, Jaebum recognized him. Mark Tuan, one of Jackson’s friends from his fencing team. Jaebum wasn’t aware of how but him and Jinyoung seemed close at times. Jaebum wasn’t friends enough to know anything more than he’d seen Jinyoung sitting with Mark and Jackson a couple at school. Jackson didn’t agree with Jaebum’s drawing a line as he’d said he didn’t want to be involved anymore. He didn’t trust Jinyoung anymore, but they didn’t understand he just emotionally wasn’t ready to handle things getting bad again. Jinyoung’s addiction, his lies, it all made Jaebum break. He’d said never again because he couldn’t keep doing it… he couldn’t keep running to his aid knowing nothing would change.

So why was he even out there? Why did he keep coming when he was called? He’d held out for weeks, but for some reason he was standing out in the cold spring air again ready to try and pull Jinyoung back out of the dark. He could keep pulling him back, Jinyoung would always run for it again. He knew that better than the others, he’d lived his whole story. He knew every reason Jinyoung found his comfort in a fix, he knew why Jinyoung clung to Minho and anything that would make him feel something even for a moment. Jaebum knew him best.

He knew things that Jinyoung had never shared with the others, not because Jinyoung had meant to share them with him. Jaebum had seen it all, Jinyoung couldn’t keep it hidden forever. He watched him go from the happiest person he knew, to understanding it was all a mask and a lie all along. Jinyoung wasn’t the person he’d thought he’d known as a child, he’d changed somewhere along the line or maybe Jaebum had just been blind.

Blinded by the prettiest, kindest boy in the world who loved to dance and who loved to sing. Someone whose imagination was so bright and beautiful. They’d shared things no one else could. Maybe he kept coming back for his memories, for his hope that some of it had been real. He’d come back over and over just in hope that maybe one day Jinyoung would smile again, would be that boy he remembered.

Even if just for a moment.

I’m done, I’m never coming back. I can’t keep watching you self destruct.

Don’t say things like that hyung. Please stay with me.

He breathed, it had been two months since they’d spoken. Maybe it was his fault everything was more frequent. He couldn’t keep doing this to himself, maybe one day he’d break down as well.

“He’s here?” Jackson asked as Jaebum approached.

“I haven’t gone up yet,” Jaebum said, “but Sunmi called Minho, he’s here.” Jackson nodded. Jaebum felt sick, like he was walking in a disoriented nightmare he wanted to escape.

“I picked up Mark, figured it would be good to have backup,” Jackson added. Jaebum nodded to Mark who nodded back. Jaebum guessed that was why he had gotten there before Jackson did. If Jackson thought they needed help maybe he knew a bit more about what was going on than he had let on. Now wasn’t the time to ask, he would demand answers once they got Jinyoung back to his aunt’s house and notified his case worker.

They argued about the last part but Jaebum felt it was better that Jinyoung end up back locked up than not coming back. He was still seventeen, and would be until after the summer. He would be okay.

“Let’s go,” Jaebum said and he turned up the stairs towards the door. If he didn’t get an answer he would break down the door. He was exhausted and he wasn’t here to play along with any of the games Jinyoung pulled out for more attention.

Jaebum knocked strongly.

Chapter Text

They met Ha Minho when Jinyoung was 14 and Jaebum was 15. He was one of the older students in the dance school they had joined the spring of their first year of high school. Minho helped out in the class that year as the teacher’s assistant. He was 16, not much older than them and he paid special attention to Jinyoung. When looking back Jaebum knew he should have seen something was off about him those first weeks they knew him. Jinyoung really liked him, and that was why Jaebum ignored his gut feeling.

He didn’t go to the same school as them, he went to one across town. It started with him inviting Jinyoung to go with him after classes to spend time with him and his other friends. Jinyoung always invited Jaebum to go and he accepted. Jaebum also invited Jackson whom the two had befriended in their first year. What had started out as simple teenage partying, mostly at Sunmi’s house, changed quickly.

During that time something else happened Jaebum hadn’t seen coming. As summer came they hung out with Minho and his friends less. Jaebum liked it better that way, but Jinyoung started going on more and more vacations with his family. Then one day Jaebum went by his house to find police there who told him he couldn’t go in. Jaebum’s parents called around to find out what was going on till they got ahold of his aunt who told them what had happened. Jinyoung had been dropped off at his aunt’s house by a social worker. Jinyoung’s father had gotten drunk and died in a car accident. Following the incident, Jinyoung’s mother abandoned him.

Jaebum wanted to go see Jinyoung, and found out he was in the hospital. He had been badly beaten by his father before the accident and was still recovering. He learned then that none of Jinyoung’s family vacations were vacations at all. Jinyoung’s dad was an alcoholic and had physically abused him since he was five years old. Every “vacation” was because Jinyoung had to recover from another beating. Jaebum had known Jinyoung’s parents his whole life; yet he hadn’t known the truth of what Jinyoung had endured.

He had known nothing and he hated himself for never putting it together; the signs had been everywhere. He should have seen it in the way Jinyoung sometimes had walked slowly and carefully when they were younger. It was in the way he would get tired and just want to lay down and sleep. It was in every sad expression Jinyoung had on his face when he thought no one was looking. Jaebum had missed it, because he had no way of knowing.

The bruises weren’t from Jinyoung being clumsy, they were from hands that were supposed to protect him not hurt him. Jaebum had always thought Jinyoung had a good relationship with his parents, but the truth was Jinyoung had never wanted Jaebum to know what was really going on. He didn’t want Jaebum’s pity or protection, he felt like he had to be strong enough to get through it on his own. Jaebum cried so hard when he saw everything for what it truly was.

His best friend had hidden his suffering for 9 years. What kind of friend was Jaebum that he had never noticed?

After that he felt more than ever it was his duty to protect Jinyoung. He recovered over the summer, they didn’t go to dance classes. Jaebum spent the whole summer by Jinyoung’s side. He wanted to make up for not being there through the worst of what Jinyoung had been through. Jaebum and Jinyoung spent most of their times in libraries or meadows reading and watching sunsets. They chased the times when they were younger and when things were easier.

Jaebum started learning to drive and Jinyoung sat in the car with him and his mother as they drove around town.

Jaebum worried about Jinyoung all summer long, but things seemed okay. He recovered before school started. They started dance classes again, but early on things were obviously different. Jinyoung turned fifteen and advanced within their dance classes. He had always been a gifted dancer. Around that time Jaebum had found a new passion. He’d taken piano lessons since he was young, by combining those with learning poetry he started to write songs.

Jinyoung loved the music he created, and reminded him of their dream to become an Idol group. He could write music they could dance to. Their talents together could help them to become famous. That was a dream they’d discussed when they were younger and had first started dancing. It didn’t seem so far away now that they were old enough to try.

Jaebum was concerned when Jinyoung advanced in dance class; he moved to the class Minho was in. Jaebum didn’t really know if Minho would show Jinyoung the same attention as he had before. He had hoped things would be different; he was wrong. He went out with them a couple times, and was concerned with how touchy Minho was. He was worried parties with too much alcohol would evolve into more dangerous situations. Minho started bringing around more nefarious things, illegal substances, and that was where Jaebum drew the line.

Jinyoung however let himself be pressured into more. He began to go out with Minho more and more. Jaebum heard about the parties after they’d happened. He was beginning to focus more on music and stopped attending. He worried but Jinyoung said he was fine. Jaebum decided to say something, to try and get Jinyoung to stop.

“All you ever do is worry about me,” Jinyoung said when Jaebum had expressed concern for him, “I’m fine, I don’t need you to protect me! You’re not my dad!”

It echoed a conversation they’d had as kids, something Jinyoung had expressed many times. It was the first time he had ever said something so forcefully, and the way he’d compared Jaebum to his father was hurtful. So Jaebum let things go on, deciding to ignore it. He went out occasionally, but avoided parties that took place at Minho’s home.

Jaebum went less and less and Jackson reported that Jinyoung went more and more. They still sat together at school, in their shared classes and lunch; but things were less easy between them. One day they made plans to actually spend time together again. Jaebum was happy when Jinyoung kept them. They went to Jaebum’s home and played games they hadn’t since they were kids. As the night got later Jinyoung decided to stay over.

When they crammed into Jaebum’s bed, it was almost too small for the both of them, Jinyoung started to cry. Jaebum didn’t know what was going on. He just held onto him as he cried, and asked what was wrong several times but Jinyoung didn’t say anything.

“You can tell me anything,” Jaebum reminded. When Jinyoung’s tears had run out, he just laid still in Jaebum’s comforting embrace. Jaebum was scared that Jinyoung felt he couldn’t tell him things. It had been his biggest insecurity since he’d found out about Jinyoung’s dad. He affirmed he would always be there for him, and still Jinyoung revealed nothing.

“I’m fine hyung,” Jinyoung said softly, “I just missed you.”

Jaebum accepted his answer.

Jinyoung stayed all weekend. When they worked on homework together, Jaebum found out Jinyoung was behind. So he helped him through the parts that were difficult. Jinyoung promised he would come to him for help more often.

He kept his word. Jinyoung came each Saturday and Jaebum helped him through his work so he could pass that year. When summer came everything changed again. Jaebum found out Jinyoung and Minho’s relationship had changed to something more than just friendly. Because of this Minho began to demand more and more of Jinyoung’s time. Jaebum felt pushed aside and he felt a sting of jealousy as he realized that Minho had been looking at Jinyoung that way all along. He resented Minho more and more as he realized Jinyoung spent all his time with Minho and none of his time with Jaebum. The moment Jinyoung had given in to Minho, Jaebum had lost his best friend. He had never realized how much that would hurt. He wanted his best friend back.

Jaebum’s songs began to reflect what he felt. He stopped showing them to Jinyoung because he didn’t want him to know. Jaebum grew to hate Minho, not just because he was dating Jinyoung but because he didn’t trust him. He spent some time with the both of them and felt Minho was controlling. Jinyoung was just infatuated because of the attention Minho had always shown him. He tried to voice his concerns with Jinyoung multiple times. He found his words had the opposite effect of what he wanted.

“You don’t trust me!” Jinyoung shouted at him, “I can take care of myself. I know what I am doing!”

“Jinyoung it’s him not you,” Jaebum said, “you don’t even see what he’s done to you. You’re not yourself, you haven’t been yourself since you two started going out!”

“No you don’t get it,” Jinyoung replied with force, “this is who I am. This is who I’ve always been, I don’t have to pretend around him like I’ve always had to pretend around you.” Those words hurt so much, Jaebum didn’t understand and hoped Jinyoung didn’t mean it. He hoped it was just that he was obviously on something, and that was why he was acting like this.

“Jinyoung please,” Jaebum grabbed him and tried to hug him and he was pushed away. Jinyoung shouted at him again and again. Each time he brought it up things got worse. A rift formed between them that felt uncrossable.

They could no longer call themselves best friends.

As another school year began, lunch with Jackson and their other friends became tense. Both had reverted to just being acquaintances and everyone noticed. Jaebum couldn’t help how much he loved him despite it all; and because of that he ignored the things that bothered him. He ignored everything and focused on trying to be his friend as he had always been. He wanted to be there for Jinyoung. He hoped whatever was going on was just a phase that would end, and when it did he wanted to still be in his life.

He wanted the old Jinyoung back.

It was fall, Jinyoung was 16 years old when the incident happened.

Jackson called him that evening and told him that Jinyoung had been missing for two days. His aunt had called the authorities and people were looking for him with no real leads. Minho’s home was searched. Jackson had given the police information, but Minho had no idea where Jinyoung was. Jaebum and Jackson began to search everywhere and they asked anyone who could possibly know anything.

Jaebum went to Minho’s himself and confronted the older boy. The fight got ugly and Minho revealed Jinyoung had broken it off with him and he blamed Jaebum for ruining everything. It was the worst day of Jaebum’s life. Every lead went cold. No one knew enough, no one said enough. Jaebum and Jackson kept searching, and they had nearly given up when he was found. They got a call that Jinyoung had been in a bad accident. He was found but in critical condition. Jaebum would never forget how his heart stopped when he heard what happened.

Jinyoung had been driving while intoxicated. Just like his father...

He didn’t have a license. The car belonged to a university student who Jinyoung had begun to see behind Minho’s back. The other boy was in the car passed out when Jinyoung had crashed it into a storefront two towns over. Both survived but the damage done was extensive. The other boy wasn’t as bad off as Jinyoung, but he legally he faced the harshest charges. He was charged with providing alcohol to a minor, for letting that minor drive while intoxicated, and for statutory rape. He was 21 years old and he swore he didn’t know Jinyoung was only sixteen.

Jaebum remembered how bad that day was. He remembered sitting in the hospital waiting room with Jinyoung’s aunt, his parents, and Jackson. Jinyoung was seriously injured. He had multiple broken bones, broken ribs, and his lungs nearly collapsed. He had a horrible concussion and was unconscious for days. The doctors had found illegal drugs in his system along with alcohol. It worried them all. They knew mixing drugs with alcohol as he had done could be fetal.

Jaebum confessed to his parents that he’d known Jinyoung was taking drugs, that he’d known he was partying as much as he was and that he’d done nothing about it. He cried and sobbed as he realized his silence could have cost Jinyoung his life.

He stayed at the hospital, and Jackson brought him his schoolwork each day. Minho didn’t visit once, and Jaebum suspected the drugs Jinyoung got probably came from him. He was the only person who could have obtained the illegal drugs that Jinyoung was on. He tried to tip off the officers who were assigned Jinyoung’s case but they did nothing.

He was anxious the day they finally let him go sit by Jinyoung’s side. He held his hand, and held onto him when he regained consciousness. Jinyoung had such emptiness, fear, and sorrow in his eyes. He cried when he saw Jaebum there. Jaebum had been afraid to lose him.

As Jinyoung recovered Jaebum stayed with him as much as he could. In that time they began to grow close; as they had been before. He recovered in the hospital until he was strong enough to be placed in juvenile detention. It was a hard time for Jaebum; he felt he was finally getting to know his best friend again only to have him taken away. It hurt tremendously. Jaebum visited whenever he could, but the detention center visitation hours made it difficult.

Jinyoung was out after 6 months, late spring. He was placed on probabtion, forced to meet with a case worker each week, and placed in psychological care against his own will. The psychological care didn’t last long; Jinyoung was doing very well. Considering all that happened, and how he was behaving, he was able to avoid the scrutiny of his probation officer. Jaebum hadn’t realized it then, even though he knew he should have. Jinyoung was just pretending like he always had. Jaebum should have recognized it because after a lifetime of friendship he knew Jinyoung best.

Jinyoung lied. It was how he coped. It was how he tried to hide the truth from even himself. Jaebum didn’t realize that while Jinyoung was sitting by his side getting better, he was really going behind all of their backs.

Jaebum found out when he called him one evening and Minho answered his phone. Jaebum had just wanted to check in when he uncovered the lies. When he confronted Jinyoung, he denied doing anything wrong. Jinyoung claimed he was uncomfortable with where he and Minho left things. Jaebum knew at that moment it was all bullshit and lies. He didn’t press him, he waited and watched and followed and found things were back to where they were before. He found him at parties with alcohol and drugs. He was using as much as ever.

He told Jackson and they began to try and pull him out. Jaebum confronted him again and Jinyoung begged for help and forgiveness. Jaebum hated Jinyoung’s excuses because Jaebum knew his words were meaningless.

Jaebum and Jackson kept tabs on Jinyoung as best they could. They chased after him throughout autumn. Jaebum grew tired of the apologies, tired of the lies. He was tired of trying to fight for someone who didn’t care.

Jinyoung didn’t care about how his actions hurt those around him and himself. He didn’t care about anything anymore, not even Jaebum, not even a little. If he cared Jaebum believed he would try. Jaebum tried to tip of the probation officer multiple times, but Jinyoung was clever. He got away with it and got off probation. The only one left to help Jinyoung was his case worker, and she didn’t seem concerned. Jaebum wanted her to be more involved.

Jaebum was at a loss of what to do except to try and make Jinyoung feel the weight of his actions. That was when he decided he was going to end their friendship for good, unless Jinyoung really tried to change. It was difficult as he threatened to leave and saw Jinyoung try just a little bit more only to fail. Winter came, winter was ending.

Jaebum was done.

Done hurting, done fighting, done running after someone who didn’t want to be saved anymore. Done with everything.

“You won’t see me again Jinyoung,” Jaebum said. A morning, a hangover, Jinyoung looked horrible. They were at Jackson’s, he was down the stairs talking something over with his parents on the phone. Jaebum was done.

“What?” Jinyoung had asked him. He was clearly in a lot of pain from his own choices.

“I’m done,” Jaebum said to him, “I told you if you didn’t stop I was leaving. That was not an empty threat. I meant it and you haven’t changed. You’re still doing this… you’re still hurting yourself.”

“You won’t leave,” Jinyoung said softly, “you can’t leave.”

“Yes I can,” Jaebum said, “I’m done, I’m never coming back. I can’t keep watching you self destruct.”

“Don’t say things like that hyung,” Jinyoung whined slightly, but his voice sounded so empty. “Please stay with me.”

The words sounded sincere and Jinyoung stood up to face him. Jaebum clenched his fists and held to his resolve.

“You’re never going to get better,” Jaebum replied, it hurt with everything he had to say it and to try and close that door. “You’re not getting better. You won’t stop. You don’t even realize…”

“No hyung,” Jinyoung reached forward to hug him, Jaebum put a hand against his chest to push him back. “I’m trying.” Those words were a lie.

“You aren’t trying anything,” Jaebum said softly, “you’re lying to yourself if you think this is trying. If you were really trying you would have accepted help instead of lying to everyone. Do you think you’re the only one you’re hurting? Do you really think that?”

“No,” Jinyoung’s eyes filled with tears, “I really am trying, please don’t go…” Jaebum knew the longer the conversation went on the more his resolve would fade, the more he would lose his will to leave. Jinyoung had a rope around his heart from the time they were children. If Jaebum stayed Jinyoung would grab at it and pull him close.

“Goodbye Jinyoung,” he said coldly as he turned away.

Jinyoung grabbed him and hugged him and cried.

“You can’t,” Jinyoung cried loudly, “please, please, please.”

Jaebum pulled Jinyoung’s arms off of himself and pushed him back. Jinyoung sobbed and cried and begged for Jaebum, and tried to grab him again.

“Please I’ll die if you go,” Jinyoung cried, and Jaebum pushed him away. He lost his balance and fell to his knees and begged, but Jaebum was already at the door. He was out the door swiftly, down the stairs and past Jackson. He rushed out towards the street and ran with tears streaming down his own face. He couldn’t do it anymore, he couldn’t fight a losing battle for someone he loved anymore.

He cried and ran and ran and ran.

He didn’t answer the phone for two months.

In that time he wrote music.

Music was his only safe haven. Music was his only hideaway from the truth of everything. A deep depression settled over him as he watched his phone light up on dark nights with Jackson’s name. As he distanced himself from his friends at school, and spring came into full bloom. There was new new life in the light of day as the snow melted away.

He hoped with the days to come he could learn to let go and learn to move on. He knew his decision was the right one, because if he kept going he would end up hurting more and more. It was too big for him.