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this is the real you, this is the real me

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He’s never violent, is the problem.

Not once has Yoongi been struck at, or punched, or kicked. Ilseok doesn’t even really yell, not technically, choosing to keep his tone even and chilled rather than raise his voice. Yoongi has never bled, never broken a bone, never bruised at his hand.

But Yoongi has learned during the two years they’ve been together that not all wounds are visible.

“You always do this,” Ilseok says, standing across the room, with a glare that could freeze boiling water. “You always ‘forget,’ and you always say you’ll do better next time, but you don’t, do you?”

They aren’t soulmates, Yoongi knows, and so it wouldn’t be so terrible for him to leave, but he has nowhere else to go. They live together, they have for a year now, and Yoongi can’t afford to live by himself somewhere else, not unless he wants to drop out halfway through his senior year. “I don’t know what to do with you,” Ilseok continues, in that awful, flat, given-up voice that makes Yoongi’s blood run ice-cold.

“I’m sorry,” says Yoongi quietly.

“Sure,” Ilseok laughs. “Sure you are. If you were sorry, you’d do it right.”

“I’m trying,” says Yoongi again.

“What, and I’m just supposed to believe that forever? You never change, Yoonie. I don’t even think you can.”

The thing is that Yoongi is trying, trying really hard, but between school and work and homework and projects, things like buying leeks and onions (the thing he forgot: the thing Ilseok is currently angry at him for forgetting) keep managing to slip through the cracks. Not to mention he’s exhausted, collapsing into his bed at the end of the day like he wants it to be his final resting place. He’s tried explaining this to Ilseok, not just once or twice, but he doesn’t listen, or doesn’t understand, and Yoongi is still, always, in the wrong.

Ilseok continues talking for a long time. He never runs out of bad things to say about Yoongi; there are never enough words to express his disappointment. Each word is another set of knuckles against Yoongi’s skin, and the wounds may not be visible, but Yoongi feels like they are, feels like every time he hears yet another reason he’ll never be good enough, it leaves marks and bruises, until he is just a blotch of stained blue-purple skin stretched over bones.

---

“Hyung, please come! You never come out with us anymore!”

“I’m busy,” says Yoongi, looking at the floor, determined to not meet Jimin’s eyes.

“I know, hyung, but I don’t even see you anymore. You can bring Ilseok too, you know we all love him.”

Yoongi does know that, which is one of the roots of the whole problem. Ilseok is really likeable. He’s cool and fun to be around and so, so nice. All of Yoongi’s friends love him. But when it’s just the two of them, it’s like some switch flips and he becomes some sort of loudspeaker, booming out every flaw Yoongi has, everything wrong with Yoongi. Yoongi wants to tell someone, wishes he could tell someone, tell them what it’s really like, but all they know is his boyfriend’s nice side, and Yoongi knows they wouldn’t even believe him if he tried. “I’ve really got to work on those applications,” says Yoongi, even though he already finished his last application this morning.

“I wish you would come, hyung,” says Jimin, pouting. “It would be so much more fun if you and Ilseok-hyung came out with us.”

Yoongi can’t say that’s why he doesn’t want to come; because he doesn’t want to watch Ilseok’s facade of being nice and friendly and then go back home with him and watch him switch back. Because he doesn’t want his friends talking about how much they like Ilseok. It makes Yoongi angry, which is selfish, and stupid. No wonder Ilseok can’t stand him.

He stares at a fading violet bruise on Jimin’s skin, the purple covering his whole palm. A mark from touching his soulmate. “How’s Hoseok?”

Jimin’s eyes go to the mark as well, a small smile tracing over his lips. Jimin is the one who bears the marks: Hoseok is the one who leaves them. “Good. He’s good, hyung. We’re good.”

“Isn’t it hard?” asks Yoongi before he can stop himself. “The bruises, I mean?”

Jimin’s smile grows a little wider. “Only if you let it be.”

Yoongi has no idea what he’s talking about; there’s no way it wouldn’t be hard, getting bruised every time you and your soulmate touch. Yoongi knows enough about getting hurt to know that he doesn’t want that, to know that looking at it would hurt him all over again every time. “What, so just because decide not to let it hurt, it doesn’t?”

Jimin laughs. “Yeah, something like that. You’ll understand, when you meet yours.”

But Yoongi doesn’t want to meet his soulmate, not ever. He was already a bit too much before Ilseok, and now he is broken down and trampled, not something he should make anyone put up with. Which is maybe one of the reasons he hasn’t left Ilseok, yet, because at least Ilseok is still there, at least he hasn’t run away when he sees all the things that are wrong with Yoongi.

“Not that you even want to, probably,” says Jimin, and Yoongi’s heart simultaneously drops and soars, like it’s ripped in half, split between hope and terror, because how could Jimin know that, Yoongi’s never told that sort of thing to anyone, “not since you and Ilseok are so good together.”

Right. Of course Jimin doesn’t know, how would Jimin know. Jimin only knows the lies that Ilseok feeds to all of them, the lies that Yoongi doesn’t dare refute.

“Is something going on, hyung?” asks Jimin, and Yoongi realizes that he’s zoned out, glaring at a spot to the left of Jimin’s head.

“No, why?” says Yoongi, forcing a casual smile onto his face. It’s difficult to smile at all when he thinks about Ilseok.

“You’ve been really quiet lately.” Jimin’s brow creases. “I feel like something’s wrong, and you’re not telling us.”

“I—” Yoongi starts, but then he stops, because he’s afraid if he starts putting it into words, everything will spill out until he floods the room with it. “I’m fine,” he says, which is technically not a lie, because he’s breathing and functioning and that counts for a lot.

It’s just that Yoongi doesn’t know how he would ever tell anyone. It would be easier if Ilseok hurt him physically, because then he could just show the cuts and scrapes and bruises and his friends would understand. But there’s no way to show them the scars he has, metaphorical lacerations shredding his self-respect, his mental well-being, until they are down to nearly nothing. Ilseok has made him see just how much he is a burden, someone that plagues and drags people down. He doesn’t know if he will ever stop being that.

“You know you can talk to me, right?” asks Jimin, a hand on Yoongi’s arm. It’s meant to be reassuring, but Yoongi feels the touch like a choking pressure, like Jimin’s fingers are vice-tight around his wrist. “You can tell me anything, hyung.”

“I know,” says Yoongi, insincere, because Jimin doesn’t mean it, Jimin doesn’t know what he’s asking Yoongi to say, Jimin wouldn’t still support Yoongi if he knew the truth. That Yoongi is all messed up, that he’s too weak to even try to get away from someone who treats him like he’s nothing, that he probably deserves that treatment anyway.

Jimin looks a little unconvinced, and Yoongi prays he won’t push any more. “I wish you would come tonight, hyung.”

“Maybe next time,” Yoongi says, which is what he’s said every time for the past eight months, at least, and the referenced “next time” has yet to come.

---

“Why are you so late?” says Ilseok when Yoongi opens the door.

“I told you, I was working on a project,” says Yoongi, a little defensively, setting his backpack down .

“But I said I wanted you back here by 8:00.”

“The project’s due tomorrow, hyung, we had to finish it today.”

“It’s 9:30, Yoonie, you should have told me.”

“I told you it might take a while. I said I didn’t know when we would be done.”

“You should have planned ahead, not done it all at the last minute.”

“I didn’t. I’ve been working on this for the last few weeks, doing everything I can. It just took us a while to get it all wrapped up and ready to submit. It’s not my fault.” Yoongi can feel himself getting angry, can feel that age-old flame spiking up, the need to strike back, to defend his actions.

“But I love you, and I missed you.”

What? ” Yoongi knows he shouldn’t, regrets it before it’s even said, but the word shoots out like a bullet, frustrated and resentful and irritated. He imagines it burying itself in Ilseok’s chest, right where it would hurt the most.“You love me?”

“You know I love you, Yoonie.”

“I don’t, though. If you loved me, wouldn’t you support me? Wouldn’t you make me feel good and safe and comfortable? All you do is tell me everything I’ve ever done wrong. I’m an adult, okay? I know when I’ve made a mistake. I don’t need you rubbing it in my face as well.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have to if you just did what you’re supposed to do. I’m always worried about you, your grades, and your social life, and—”

“No you’re not.” Yoongi watches Ilseok’s gaze freeze over, a block of cold, unfeeling ice. “I can’t live because of you.”

“What are you talking about, Yoonie?” He looks confused, like he really doesn’t know. There’s no way he doesn’t know.

“You make me feel like shit,” says Yoongi, knowing he has said way too much, knowing it’s going to make everything so much worse, but he can’t stop, can’t hold back the whole lake when the dam has already burst. “Nothing I do is ever good enough for you, and I try so hard to make you happy, but you only ever see the things I do wrong, hyung. It’s exhausting. I do everything you ask, but I make one mistake, and it’s like all the rest of it gets erased. What do you even like about me?”

Ilseok, to his own condemnation and Yoongi’s ultimate despair, goes silent.

“You can’t think of anything?” Yoongi’s voice is quiet, and it’s terrifying, how this is what he asked for in the first place, but his own boyfriend can’t even answer such a simple question as what do you like about me?

“You…” It’s clear that this is hard for Ilseok. Yoongi can see the gears turning in his head. “Well...you…you work hard, in your classes.”

Yoongi doesn’t know whether to cry or scream. He knows what people are supposed to say to a question like that, when they’re dating, when they’ve been dating for two years: you listen well, you always support me when I’m having a hard time, when you get excited about something your face lights up and it’s adorable. He’s heard his friends say things like that about their significant others, even his parents about each other. But the one thing Ilseok was able to come up with, generic as hell, is just more proof of how wrong this is.

“That’s it?” asks Yoongi, when Ilseok is silent for a moment too long, again.

“No—I mean, you—”

“You don’t love me,” says Yoongi. “If you do, you have a shit way of showing it.”

“That’s not fair, Yoonie, you know I love you.”

“You don’t, and I’m sick of pretending like you do when you obviously don’t.”

“Yoongi?” Ilseok’s voice sounds small, pathetic, and Yoongi almost feels sorry for him. “Do you want to break up with me?”

Yoongi’s head and heart and every cell in his body are screaming, pleading, yes yes yes, but he can’t, he knows that. He has nowhere else to live, nowhere else to go. He’s pushed all his friends so far away that he can’t turn to them, either. He lowers his head, shakes it, communicating the “no” without actually saying it. The lie still makes it heavy, and the simple shaking motion feels like it’s being done in a vat of honey, the movement sluggish and labored.

Ilseok lets out a sigh of relief. Yoongi can’t force himself to do the same.

“I’m going to bed,” he says aloud, after a moment, not daring to meet Ilseok’s gaze because he feels like his silent rebellion is visible, boiling right behind his eyes.

---

It’s not until he closes the door to his room (his studio, but the only place that’s uniquely his ) that everything collapses in on him, like a dilapidated building finally falling apart, and he’s being crushed with all of it. There’s adrenaline from finally speaking his mind, even if just for a second. There’s anger, and hatred, and fear. There’s resignation, and this is the feeling that sticks with him in the wake of the collapse.

So; Ilseok doesn’t love him. Which is something Yoongi knew, but he didn’t know, not until he had seen his boyfriend at a complete loss for words when asked why he loved him.

The resignation is for this, and the rest of it. Yoongi has gotten himself into this mess, and he can’t just get himself out. He can’t leave Ilseok, and subject himself to homelessness. It’s not like he’s close enough with any of his friends (okay: Jimin. And maybe Hoseok, also via Jimin. They’re his only friends, and one of them only half-counts) to ask them to let him live with them, and he can’t afford to live by himself, and it’s far enough into the semester that he’s not going to be able to find some random soul looking for a roommate.

It’s suffocating, though, living with Ilseok, living his entire life in terror of making another mistake. People in relationships (or friendships, or anything healthy) are supposed to be forgiving and patient, Yoongi knows; at least, he knows in theory. But with Ilseok, it never goes like that. If Yoongi makes any mistake at all, it will be noticed, picked out from among a thousand things Yoongi has done right, and Yoongi will suffer for it.

At this point, it seems like all Yoongi does is suffer, like everything Ilseok says to him hits him in the chest, shocks the air out of his lungs. Hits him in the leg, drops him towards the ground. Hits him in the head, shoves every thought out of his mind. Keeps hitting him everywhere, over and over, until he doesn't feel like he's living at all.

He can hide from Ilseok for a while, dodge his criticisms for a few hours, maybe a few days, if he's lucky, but Yoongi knows he has to get out before he loses every last part of him.

---

“Min Yoongi-ssi?” asks a velvety-sounding voice. Yoongi looks up from his phone to see someone approaching him from the opposite end of the hallway. He’s...really pretty, like not quite real, perfect proportions, broad shoulders, a really pleasant smile. “I’m Kim Seokjin, your professor wants us to work together?”

He extends a hand out to Yoongi. Yoongi stares at his hand for a second, and then looks at Seokjin, making sure he’s okay with touching, making sure he realizes what it might mean if something happens when they touch. Seokjin nods, pushing his hand a little closer to Yoongi.

Yoongi takes it, and lets out a tiny sigh of relief when he doesn’t feel anything, and by Seokjin’s reaction, neither does he. It’s not until then that Yoongi notices a ring hanging on a chain around Seokjin’s neck. Of course. He’s already met his soulmate. No wonder he’s so fearless, going around shaking people’s hands like it’s no big deal. Yoongi scans him quickly for marks, but doesn’t see any. Maybe he’s the one who leaves them.

“Thanks for agreeing to help me on this project, Seokjin-ssi.”

Seokjin smiles. “No problem. My friend should be here in a second, he’s always running late.”

Yoongi looks up at Seokjin in shock. “Your friend?”

“Yeah. The professor said you wanted two vocalists?”

“Um, I—I don’t think I asked for—”

“Should I tell him not to come?”

Yoongi shakes his head hurriedly. “No. Two vocalists is good, I can work with two.”

The sound of running feet echoes through the hallway, and Seokjin turns in the direction of the approaching blur. “Ah, Jeongguk-ah, I was wondering if you’d gotten lost again.”

The blur slows to a stop in front of them and takes the form of a boy. He has big, round eyes, and he looks sheepishly at the ground in response to Seokjin’s comment. He’s kind of attractive, Yoongi thinks, for a shy kid. “I only got lost that one time, hyung.” He attempts a glare that looks a lot more adorable than threatening. “Hi,” he says, turning in Yoongi’s direction, bowing slightly. “You must be Min Yoongi-ssi?”

Yoongi nods, trying to figure out if this kid is as young as he looks. “I’m Jeon Jeongguk.”

“He’s a freshman,” says Seokjin, looking at Yoongi like he knows he just read his mind.

“No offense,” says Yoongi, regarding the kid (actually a kid. A freshman ) with some uncertainty, “but—”

“He’s really good,” says Seokjin, in response to the criticism Yoongi hasn’t even vocalized yet. “His vocals are insane, and he’s pretty good at composing, too.”

“Oh,” says Yoongi, exhaling. “That—that’s good, I guess. I mean, I don’t know how much your professor explained to you about this, but I need help writing, and then recording? I have a few ideas, but they’re just concepts, at this stage...”

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah, that’s what he told us. Writing, then recording vocals. He said you rap?” Jeongguk looks very, genuinely interested, his big eyes extra big, round, wide with awe.

“Yeah,” says Yoongi, a little confused by the attention. “Kind of.” The kid is still looking at him, intrigued. It’s weird, someone actually being interested in his music. “Let’s go in?” he gestures to his studio (finally his, with a namecard on the door and everything) and Jeongguk and Seokjin follow him in.

“What were you thinking?” asks Seokjin, taking the chair next to Yoongi’s.

Yoongi realizes in a slight panic that he only has two chairs, since he had only been expecting one vocalist. “Hold on, let me get—”

“It’s fine, he can sit on my lap, right, Gukkie?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes spectacularly, but he does sit on Seokjin’s lap. Yoongi’s eyes go to the chain around Seokjin’s neck, the silver ring glinting as he shifts under Jeongguk’s weight. He watches Seokjin place his hand over Jeongguk’s, and notes in surprise that there’s no bruise, no mark. They could sit like that if they were soulmates—the bruising only happens for skin-on-skin contact—but they couldn’t touch like that. “So, you’re not soulmates,” he says conclusively.

Parallel expressions of horror appear on both of their faces. “No,” says Jeongguk, adding a shudder of disgust for good measure. “Not at all, no. Gross.”

“We grew up together. I raised him on my back. You thought we were soulmates?”

“You have a ring?” Yoongi points to Seokjin’s neck.  “And you seemed...familiar?”

“We’re not,” says Jeongguk. “Jin-hyung’s soulmate regularly trips on thin air and breaks one of hyung’s dishes, like, every day. I dance. I have control over my body. I’m the complete opposite of hyung’s soulmate.”

“Sorry?” says Yoongi, not actually feeling particularly apologetic. “But how was I supposed to know? You were acting like a couple.”

“Jeonggukkie is my dongsaeng. No romantic anything.” Seokjin makes a repulsed face. “That really is gross to even think about.” He sits up straight, Jeongguk still on his lap. “Anyway. Your song?”

“Right.” Yoongi shakes his head, passing his notebook to the pair of vocalists. “The assignment is to use a single metaphor as the basis for the song. So, these are a few ideas I had, just—”

Jeongguk and Seokjin are both looking over his list. “Are you dating someone?” asks Jeongguk abruptly.

Yoongi thinks through his normal answers to this question, all fake smiles, all “yes, and we’re so in love” and is about to say just that when he looks at Jeongguk. The kid is looking at him, all innocent, all genuine sincerity, and Yoongi doesn't want to lie. He's so sick of lying. “Yeah, but it's not really…it was good, at first, but now, it’s like I’m kind of...stuck?”

“You have that here,” says Jeongguk, pointing at a spot in Yoongi's notebook. “Seesaw. You keep just pulling each other up and down, never going anywhere.”

Yoongi feels hope flicker to life in his chest, can feel the warmth as though there really is a tiny flame alight inside of him. He was interested in music from the very beginning because it was a way to be honest, a way to be real, a way to speak about things that mattered to him and be heard. Is it really okay, he wonders, to be honest? About this? About Ilseok?

“Do you want to write about that?” asks Jeongguk.

“I think it would be really cool,” says Seokjin, nodding. “I like that idea.”

Yoongi likes it too. A lot. He’s been choking down how he feels, hiding it from everyone, and the idea of setting it loose in a song is immeasurably appealing. Ilseok doesn’t have to know it’s about him; in fact, Ilseok doesn’t usually listen to Yoongi’s music anyway. He’s quick to brag about Yoongi’s talents to others, when it makes him look good; “My boyfriend is a genius songwriter” and all that. But he doesn’t actually care, himself, hasn’t ever asked to listen to anything Yoongi’s written. He listens to it, sometimes, but he’s only half paying attention, and he only points out things he doesn’t like. Not that that’s any different from how he is with anything Yoongi does.

Yoongi feels the corner of his mouth lift up in a smile, for real, like he actually feels light and happy and free. “All right. Let’s do that, then. Seesaw.”

---

“I guess there was a miscommunication, somehow? They sent me two vocalists instead of one? And one of them was a freshman.”

Jimin leans forward across the table. He and Hoseok had ambushed Yoongi at lunch and forced him to eat with them. Ilseok was in class, so Yoongi agreed. “A freshman? Did you send him back?”

“Thought about it,” says Yoongi, “but Seokjin started singing his praises immediately, so I figured I could use them both.”

“Seokjin?” Hoseok perks up. “This wouldn’t happen to be Kim Seokjin, would it? Tall, looks like a Greek sculpture come to life?”

Yoongi stares at his friend’s soulmate. There’s a solid few centimeters of space between Hoseok and Jimin, only their clothed knees bumping together as they speak. They’re careful not to touch, not to hurt each other. “Do you know him?”

“Yeah. He’s dating my roommate.”

“Wait, your roommate is Seokjin’s soulmate? The one that breaks stuff all the time?”

Hoseok laughs, loudly enough to draw the attention of two or three tables around them. “Yeah, that’s him.”

This is weird. The world is too small. Yoongi takes a breath. “Do you know the other one too? The freshman? Jeongguk, I think?”

“Jeonggukkie!” says Hoseok with way too much enthusiasm. “Yeah, we’ve met a couple times. He begs Jin-hyung for food, like, once a week. He’d probably starve if Jin-hyung didn’t feed him.” He looks thoughtful. “So would Namjoon, actually, for that matter.”

“Namjoon?” asks Yoongi, feeling suddenly lost.

“Oh, that’s his name. My roommate, Seokjin’s soulmate. His name is Namjoon.”

“Oh,” says Yoongi. “I can’t believe you know them both. What are the chances?”

“Hyung knows everybody.” Jimin looks proud and affectionate, fond, as he looks at his soulmate. “He makes friends with everyone he meets.”

Yoongi watches as Jimin touches just his pinky finger to Hoseok’s wrist, watches the red-violet bruise that immediately stains across Jimin’s skin at the contact. Jimin has always been a touchy, affectionate person; they haven't really talked about it, since Jimin and Hoseok met recently, after things with Ilseok started getting bad, but Yoongi thinks it's probably really hard for Jimin, feeling the way he does about his soulmate but not being able to touch him without getting hurt. Hoseok moves his hand to Jimin’s clothed thigh, grinning.

It suddenly hits Yoongi, how this is something he will never have, how Ilseok will never love him like that, how no one will, not after the mess Ilseok’s made of him.

“Sorry, just remembered, I have to—” Yoongi jumps up from the table, grabbing his backpack, and runs down the hall, not even bothering to finish his sentence. He can’t look at it anymore, soulmates, people in love. He vaguely hears Jimin calling after him as he runs and runs and runs and doesn’t stop.

---

Yoongi stares at the clock. 4:58. Two minutes until Ilseok will be back. He glances over the kitchen, making there isn’t some dirty dish hiding somewhere or a bag of chips left out. The counter is clear and empty. The dishes have all been washed (carefully, thoroughly, scrubbing them at least three times, because Ilseok sees everything) and put away. The floor is swept (also three times), the window is cleaned and sparkling, everything should be ready, Ilseok shouldn’t get mad. There’s nothing for him to get mad about, Yoongi assures himself. You did a good job.

Yoongi sits down on the couch, opening the book he’s supposed to be reading for his comparative literature class. The door opens at 5:00 on the dot, and Yoongi has to force himself not to look up, not to act terrified. He knows Ilseok’s looking over the apartment, appraising his cleaning job. He doesn’t say anything, which is a good sign. He never praises, but if he’s quiet that means he’s not dissatisfied.

“Yoongi!” Ilseok’s voice hits him like a sledgehammer to the ear. “You know how the sink is leaking, you know not to leave water behind here. Look, this is what’s making the cabinet fall apart. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, and you still aren’t careful, look.”

Yoongi doesn’t look, instead feels that resignation sink deep, settled, into his bones. Of course he had to do one thing wrong, of course that one thing ruins all the rest of it. Ilseok is still ranting about the leaking sink, but Yoongi doesn’t care about the sink, doesn’t care about trying to make Ilseok happy. Ilseok is never happy, never satisfied, never placated, not when it comes to Yoongi.

Yoongi closes his book, shoves it in his backpack, and walks out the door.

“Min Yoongi, I was talking to you!” Ilseok’s voice echoes through the hallway, even through the closed door, but Yoongi doesn’t turn around, doesn’t stop. Not this time.

---

Yoongi isn’t expecting anyone to be in his on-campus studio when he gets there. In fact, he had completely forgotten that he gave Jeongguk and Seokjin the passcode.

Which is why it’s a huge shock, when he opens the door, still in a mixture of anger and exhaustion, that Kim Seokjin is sitting at his desk, singing into the microphone, a notepad with scribbled-out lyrics in front of him.

Seokjin looks up at him in surprise, and Yoongi looks back at him with a mirror expression. “Sorry, am I in your way?”

Yes, Yoongi thinks. “No, it’s fine. I gave you the passcode, didn’t I?”

Seokjin smiles. “I have a few lines, if you want to see?” He slides the notepad towards Yoongi.

all of these meaningless emotions

 

is there really a need to repeat ourselves

saying this was love and this is love?

 

repeated seesaw game

i’m getting tired of this

Yoongi’s eyes widen. “Oh,” he says.

Seokjin laughs. “Is that a good ‘oh’ or a bad ‘oh’?”

“Good,” says Yoongi, because the words are how he feels, shoving so much energy into a relationship that gives him nothing back. “Really good.”

He grabs the pen, and starts writing, and the words pour out of the ballpoint like a flood.

if we didn’t have feelings for each other

if we didn’t think of each other

would we have dragged it out like this?

now if you don’t have any more feelings

this seesaw is dangerous

stop thinking about me

 

a repeating seesaw seesaw game

it's about time we put an end to it

 

“I can’t do this anymore,” says Yoongi, reading the words he has just written as if they are some divine revelation.

“You’re not talking about the song, are you?” asks Seokjin, his voice all soft.

Yoongi shakes his head. “He —” Yoongi exhales, and it’s like something breaks in his chest, whatever was holding all of his resentment and pain back, and just like that he’s telling Seokjin everything, everything Ilseok has said to him, all the ways he’s made Yoongi want to shrink and shrink until he just shrinks out of existence.

Seokjin is a good listener, Yoongi realizes, just as the torrent of words slows to a trickle. Seokjin hasn’t said a word, has just let Yoongi go on and on, watching him intently as he speaks.

“Yoongi-yah,” says Seokjin, when Yoongi has at last run out of words. “We’re going to get away from him.”

“I can’t leave him,” says Yoongi, voice reduced to a whisper. “I don’t have anywhere to go.”

“You can live with me,” says Seokjin, insistent. “I have an extra bedroom, my roommate is on study abroad this year.”

“He won't let me go,” says Yoongi, and he doesn't know why he's arguing against this, anyway, because he wants to get away from Ilseok, obviously.

“Sure he will,” says Seokjin, smiling like he knows something Yoongi doesn’t know.

“Seokjin-ssi, you don’t know him. He really won’t let me—”

“He will,” says Seokjin, voice steady, “because you’ll have met your soulmate.”

“I haven’t, though,” says Yoongi.

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that. And anyway, you have the perfect person to play the role.”

“Who? He already knows my friends, I told you, they like him better than me at this point.”

“He doesn’t know me, though,” and there’s no way Seokjin thinks that’s a good idea, there’s no way Seokjin would do that for him, they barely know each other, why would he—

“Don’t look at me like that,” says Seokjin. “I’m going to do it, and you can’t tell me no.”

“You’re going to pretend to be my soulmate,” Yoongi says, his voice flat.

Seokjin nods enthusiastically. “I am, yes, and we’re going to get you away from that asshole.”

“You can’t—”

“I can, and I will.”

“But Namjoon’s roommate—”

“Hoseokie? What about him?”

“He’s my friend Jimin’s soulmate, and he knows you already. He’ll tell Ilseok, and—”

“Does he know? What Ilseok is like with you?”

Yoongi shakes his head slowly.

“Then, maybe it’s time he finds out.”

---

His studio is made for one person, maybe two, max three.

Not five, which is the number currently squeezed in. Seokjin had made him call Jimin and Hoseok, and then he had called Jeongguk, for some reason. So now there are five of them crammed into his studio. Jeongguk is back on Seokjin’s lap, between Jimin and Hoseok. All of them are staring at Yoongi in some degree of horror. Jimin is alternating between crying and smacking Yoongi on whatever body part he can reach at the moment.

“Hyung, why didn't you tell us? ” Jimin wails, hitting Yoongi's thigh.

“You like him,” says Yoongi, completely baffled by Jimin's display. “You like Ilseok, why would you believe me?”

“I liked him because I thought he made you happy, hyung! If I had known he was treating you like this I would have killed him a year ago; why would you think I would pick him over you? Hyung, I love you!”

“I see that,” says Yoongi, in a slightly deadened tone, staring at the way Jimin is now using his arm as a punching bag. He doesn’t even mean to be sarcastic, but his mind is kind of in shock, and apparently sarcasm is his fallback, his defense mechanism.

“Jiminie, stop hitting him, and let's figure out how to help,” Hoseok says calmly.

“Help?” Yoongi asks, his voice cracking and fading weakly by the end of the word.

“What, you think we're going to let you stay with him for another minute?”

“You…” Yoongi stares at them: his friend, and his friend’s soulmate, and these two other random guys he's working on a group project with. “You aren't? You want to help me get away from him?”

“Of course,” says—Jeongguk, of all people. Jeongguk, who he knows the least out of all of them.

“...why?” Yoongi hears how small he sounds, and, well, he feels small, so it makes sense he would sound like that.

“Because we care about you,” says Jimin. “We want you to be happy.”

“So,” says Seokjin, after a moment of Yoongi staring at all of them in stunned silence, because he’s not quite sure this is actually happening. Four people—more than double the amount of friends he actually has—are looking at him, saying all sorts of nice things like “we love you,” “we care about you,” “we want to help.” It can’t possibly be real. Why would they care about him?

“I have a plan,” says Seokjin, cutting through Yoongi’s internal turmoil. “Yoongi, you keep saying he won’t let you leave, right?”

Yoongi nods, almost like his head is moving completely of its own volition.

“So, like I said before, I’m going to be your soulmate. It’s pretty easy to fake, honestly. I’ll have Joon touch me someplace inconspicuous, like the inside of my arm or something, and we can pretend like you’re leaving the mark instead of him. Also, we can come in holding hands, and I can have a mark there.”

“He’s going to be mad,” says Yoongi, because that’s the only thing that he can make sense of at the moment. “Ilseok’s going to be mad. I told him I wouldn’t leave him even if I met my soulmate, back when we first started dating, before it got like this. He’s going to be so mad.”

“Do you think he would—” Jimin cuts himself off. Yoongi looks at his face, and he looks angry. Too angry, apparently, to put words together. Park Jimin doesn’t get angry very often, Yoongi thinks, so this is especially disarming. “Be physically violent?” he finally says, the words soft but so, so powerful, energy boiling underneath them.

“I don’t think so,” says Yoongi, but he isn’t sure, how could he be sure, when he’s never done something like this, something big and intentional, something that he knows is going to piss Ilseok off.

“Pack up before you come with Jin-hyung. We can sneak your stuff out the window or something, if doesn’t want to let you leave,” says Jeongguk, and Yoongi still doesn’t know why the kid is here, why he cares at all. Why he seems to have been able to pick up on Yoongi’s hesitation, on the question behind his words.

“I live on the third floor.”

“I have those hard-top suitcases, you can throw them from the third floor and they won’t break.” Yoongi stares at him. “Probably,” he adds.

Yoongi inhales. “If you guys are done, I’m gonna go home?”

“You’re going back to him?” asks Jimin, and he sounds protective, the way Jimin gets sometimes, like he’s squaring up to fight everyone else’s battles.

“What, you want to do this soulmate scheme right now?” asks Yoongi, looking at all of them.

“Obviously not. There’s prep to do, and probably some rehearsal. I don’t know how good your acting abilities are.” Seokjin smiles like he’s just made the most hilarious joke.

“Jimin’s right, though,” says Hoseok. “Let’s go out to dinner or something. Keep you away from him for as long as we can.”

“I left him in one of his moods,” says Yoongi. “He’ll give me the silent treatment for a few days, at least, so I’ll be okay.”

“You’ll be alone,” corrects Jimin, and Yoongi has never considered that there is another option. It’s either he’s with Ilseok, or he’s alone. “You shouldn’t be alone.”

“You don’t need to feel obligated to hang out with me,” says Yoongi, laughing in the way that there’s no sound, just a quick rush of air. “I know you’re more comfortable without me around, you don’t have to pretend—”

“Hey, no,” says Jimin. “Who told you that?”

“I—I mean, I’m, me, I’m already being a burden on all of you, and I—”

“That bastard,” Yoongi hears Hoseok say under his breath.

“—sorry, what?” Yoongi asks, too intrigued by Hoseok’s comment and the way the rest of them are staring at him, eyes wide, to finish his thought. Jimin looks like he’s about a millisecond away from bursting a blood vessel.

“You aren’t a burden, Yoongi-yah, we care about you, we said. We want to hang out with you because we like you. None of us feel obligated to help you, right?” All of them shake their heads vigorously at Seokjin’s question.

“Does he say that to you?” asks Jimin. “That your friends don’t like you? That you make us feel uncomfortable?”

Yoongi stops. Freezes, more accurately. It feels like an icy chill creeping through his brain, freezing all the neurons, stopping everything in its tracks. The thing is, he doesn’t know. Maybe Ilseok has said that, but he can’t remember any specific instance. Maybe Ilseok has implied it, but he can’t place that either. All he knows is that it’s in his head, like it’s been implanted—and he feels like it’s always been there, because he can’t remember a time when it wasn’t—this idea that he’s not worth people’s time, not worth their kindness or concern or love.

“I don’t know,” he says eventually, the words kind of choked out. He doesn’t know how long they’ve all been waiting for him to respond, but it feels like a long time. Or, like it could have been a long time, since time itself sort of froze along with the rest of his brain.

“It’s not true,” says—Jeongguk, again. It’s literally a shock to Yoongi every time Jeongguk speaks.

“You barely know me,” says Yoongi, looking at Jeongguk with his eyes narrowed.

“True,” Jeongguk says, cheerfully, mouth twitching into a smile. He is quick to smile, Yoongi notes, has been the whole time Yoongi has known him. “I know enough to know that you’re really smart, and good with music, and,” he blushes slightly, swallows, looks at the ground, “I might have looked you up on Soundcloud? Your mixtape is amazing, holy shit.”

“You listened to my mixtape?”

“I downloaded it. It’s really good.”

“In conclusion,” says Seokjin, “we all like you, and we’re inviting you to please come to dinner with us because we want to hang out with you.”

“Okay,” says Yoongi. Looks at everyone. A room full of people calling themselves his friends. “All right. Let’s go.”

Jimin wraps his arms around Yoongi, hugs him tightly, as they leave the studio. “Hyung, I love you, you know that?”

You know I love you, Yoonie.

It’s so different, what Jimin is saying, from what Ilseok said to him, in spite of the words being almost the same. Yoongi stops, looks at Jimin, who is still hanging onto him like an octopus, both arms and one leg wrapped around Yoongi’s frame. “Maybe,” he says, quietly. “I think I will.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Yoongi stares at the marks on Seokjin’s skin. Curls a finger around the one on the inside of his upper arm, and then pulls it away, watching how his touch hides it, how it looks like he’s the one who left it there.

“Perfect,” says Seokjin, grinning. “Hold my hand?” He stretches out his fingers, palm painted a pomegranate red. Yoongi flips his hand over to see bruises trailing up the back of his hand as well, one line for each of his soulmate Namjoon’s fingers. When he intertwines his fingers with Seokjin’s, the bruises are completely covered.

“Does it hurt?” Yoongi asks, his voice quiet.

“No,” says Seokjin, as if this were a ridiculous question. “I love Joon; that makes it painless. Now, how do you feel about pet names?”

“What?” Yoongi asks, totally caught off guard. Namjoon laughs from where he’s sitting on the couch.

“I can call you honey, or sweetheart?” Seokjin studies him as if trying to reach some highly scientific conclusion. “Darling? You look like a darling.”

“Just use my name?” Yoongi suggests, although he's hesitant to shut Seokjin down. “It’s not like we’re pretending to be madly in love. We’re just soulmates who recently met, right?”

“You’re taking all the fun out of this,” says Seokjin, pouting. “I’m an acting major. At least let me use my skills to their full capacity.”

“I really appreciate this,” says Yoongi. “Really, I do. I just think we should keep it simple. I mean, all we really need for the deception to work is the bruises, which you already have.” Yoongi covers them both with his fingers again, first the hand, and then the arm. He glances at Namjoon, who is watching their interactions with a soft smile. Or, rather; he is watching Seokjin with the soft smile. “Thanks,” says Yoongi to Namjoon. “You don’t know me at all; it means a lot that you were willing to help me.”

“It’s not a problem,” says Namjoon, turning his smile to Yoongi, enormous dimples visible on his cheeks. “I’m glad to help. From what Jin told me, your Ilseok is a grade-A asshole.”

Yoongi doesn't know whether he should agree or disagree, whether he should say anything at all, so he just goes quiet.

“Are you ready?” asks Seokjin.

Yoongi takes a deep breath, steels his nerves. “All right. Let's go.”

---

Yoongi doesn’t know what’s going to happen, feels like he’s going in to a secret agent mission completely blind. Ilseok, as much as he may be extremely predictable in some circumstances, is also characteristically unpredictable; for example, you can predict that he will be upset about something, but you can’t predict what it will be. Some days, it’s not a problem when Yoongi does X, but the next week, X is the worst thing Yoongi could possibly have done.

And the way he expresses being upset is also unpredictable. There’s always the Silent Treatment, one of Ilseok’s favorites, where he refuses to speak at all, just walks around the house slamming cabinet doors and sniffing like he’s allergic to Yoongi’s very existence, for hours, if not days. Sometimes Ilseok opts for Lecturing, and tells Yoongi in excruciating detail exactly what he has done wrong and how this will ruin his future in ways A, B, and C. Ilseok also favors Bartering, not in the pleasant ancient peoples “I will give you this fish for a woven basket” way, but in the way that physical affection is denied unless Yoongi does what he’s asked, or that Yoongi isn’t allowed to work on his classwork until he’s given Ilseok what he wants.

So, Yoongi has no idea what Ilseok’s reaction will be to Seokjin; if he will try to barter Yoongi’s loyalty, if he will lecture Yoongi about lying and how he promised to not leave Ilseok for his soulmate, if he will point-blank refuse to let him go, if he will just go silent and let Yoongi leave without saying a word.

Yoongi glances at where his hand is connected with Seokjin’s, slides his index finger to the side to see the red-violet bruise there. The bruises are fresh, almost brand new. New enough that Ilseok won’t be able to tell the difference. He glances at Seokjin, moving his fingers back to where all the marks are covered, and raises his eyebrows in a silent question. Seokjin smiles and nods, and Yoongi opens the door.

“Yoonie, you’re back, finally,” says Ilseok, without looking up. Yoongi watches as he looks towards the door, traces his gaze from Yoongi, down Yoongi’s arm, to his and Seokjin’s interlocked hands, and over to Seokjin. Yoongi watches Ilseok’s eyes get hard, cold, the ice freezing over. “Who’s this?”

“Seokjin-ssi is my soulmate,” says Yoongi, and he’s so relieved that his voice doesn’t crack, doesn’t reveal the lie at all. Instead the words come out confident, steady.

Ilseok’s mouth drops open, just a little bit, in shock, and Yoongi takes that as his cue. He releases Seokjin’s hand, revealing the bruises staining every inch of skin Yoongi had been touching. “You met your soulmate,” says Ilseok, after what feels like an extremely long time, his voice carrying no emotion at all, at least not that Yoongi can identify.

Yoongi nods, and so does Seokjin. “I like him,” says Yoongi, and he doesn't know where this courage is coming from, but he breathes it in, lets it seep into his skin. He looks at Seokjin, calling upon theater gods everywhere for divine assistance. “It’s different from anything I’ve felt before,” he says. “I can’t explain it.” He looks back at Ilseok. “I’m sorry.” This is the biggest lie of them all, the thing he means least out of everything.

Ilseok doesn’t speak, just stares, looking at the bruise on Seokjin’s hand. “Show me,” he says, and Yoongi expected this; presses his fingers right on the inside of Seokjin’s arm, under his shirt, where the other mark is. He pulls up Seokjin’s sleeve, watches Ilseok’s expression stay frozen as Yoongi reveals the mark, right there under Yoongi's fingers, like he really was the one who left it there. There’s a moment of panic, where Yoongi thinks Ilseok might see through the act, but then: “You said—” Ilseok finally speaks, and it ends up choked off, and he’s crying.

Yoongi cannot believe Ilseok is crying. It’s not like Yoongi makes him happy. It’s not like he likes Yoongi at all. This makes no sense until Yoongi realizes that Seokjin’s there, and so they have an audience, so, of course; Ilseok’s putting on a show.

“I didn’t know,” says Yoongi. “I like him so much already, it’s just not the same.” He pours out the lies, forcing his eyes to look apologetic instead of angry, looks back at Seokjin like he hung the stars in the sky. “I’ll move out, you won’t have to see me anymore.” I won’t have to see you anymore. The thought is so exhilarating that it’s almost terrifying.

“You’re going to leave me? Just like that?” Ilseok looks so upset, so distraught, legitimately heartbroken, and Yoongi wonders what this would be like if Ilseok actually still loved him.

“I can’t still be with you, not when…” Yoongi trails off, gazing at Seokjin again.

Ilseok doesn’t say anything, just cries fervently into the couch cushion. It makes Yoongi so angry he thinks his blood might boil. “I’ll just get my stuff then, and go,” says Yoongi. “I'm sorry it had to be like this.” He isn't, though, not really. It's satisfying to see Ilseok suffer a little bit, even if he is being extra dramatic for their guest.

“Yoonie, I love you,” Ilseok sobs. He sounds pathetic, in the original sense of the word: pitiable, like he’s the one who’s been criticized and torn to shreds for more than a year, like he's the one who's broken and miserable and unloved.

“I'm sorry,” says Yoongi again, and walks away, back to his room, where his belongings are already packed. His senses are flooded with adrenaline, spiking its way into every vein. He’s free. He did it, and he’s getting away, and he doesn’t have to ever see Ilseok again.

Seokjin moves to follow him, but Ilseok’s voice cuts through, surprisingly clear in spite of his recent tears. “Can I just talk to him alone for a second?” He addresses the question to Seokjin, of course, who shoots Yoongi a questioning look. “Please?” Yoongi knows he has no choice. Seokjin nods slowly, reluctantly, like he doesn't trust Ilseok with Yoongi alone.

Ilseok follows Yoongi into the bedroom, where Yoongi’s stuff is already mostly gone from the closet, from the bedside table. “Yoonie,” he says, reaching a hand forward to cup Yoongi’s jaw. His touch burns, burns like ice. “You’re really going to leave?”

Yoongi nods, determined. Ilseok kisses him, and it’s honestly been a while since they kissed, and it feels all wrong, uncomfortable, the way Ilseok’s lips move against his with too much pressure, the way his nails dig into the back of Yoongi’s neck just slightly. Ilseok is always hurting him, Yoongi realizes, always.

Yoongi pulls back. Meets Ilseok’s gaze. “Stop making a scene. Just let me leave.”

“Does he like you too?” asks Ilseok. Yoongi isn’t expecting the question, and he stutters a little bit, unsure how to answer. Ilseok notices his hesitation right away, latches on. “You said you like him, but does he feel the same way?”

“O-of course he does,” says Yoongi quickly.

“He doesn't know you yet,” says Ilseok quietly. “He doesn't know you like I do. I know what you're really like, Yoonie, and I still stayed with you. Will he?”

“Yes,” says Yoongi, and it’s the worst lie out of them all, because he isn’t leaving Ilseok for someone else, because there’s not anyone who would love him. Ilseok doesn’t. Ilseok hates when Yoongi tries to stand up for himself, when he’s vocal about his opinions or tastes. It all started going downhill when Yoongi tried to be himself, be genuine. It all started going downhill then because Yoongi isn’t the type of person people love. He knows it, and he knows Ilseok knows it. “He will.” Yoongi makes himself lie, but he can hear the way the confidence has all drained right out of his voice.

“I’ll take you back,” says Ilseok, and no, that would be worse than dying, worse than being alone for the rest of his life, “if he changes his mind. You can come back to me.” Yoongi won’t, he can’t, why doesn’t Ilseok see that.

“I’m leaving,” he says, wrenching himself out of Ilseok’s grip. “Seokjin,” he calls, and Seokjin opens the door right away, like he was waiting on the other side, listening in. Yoongi sees the expression on Seokjin’s face. He probably was. “Can you take this?” he holds up one of his pre-packed bags, which Seokjin takes from him. They’re careful to not even let their fingers brush, not wanting to expose their deception.

Yoongi and Seokjin move pretty quickly to get Yoongi’s stuff out, Yoongi riding on a wave of pure adrenaline, and with Jeongguk’s help they get everything loaded into Seokjin’s car. Yoongi still doesn’t know why Jeongguk is there, why this kid keeps popping up, why Yoongi is always extra aware of his presence, like he’s got a neon sign pointing to him.

Yoongi hops into the front seat of the car (at Jeongguk’s insistence) and it’s the sound of the door shutting that makes it all suddenly real. “I did it,” he whispers, mostly to himself. Seokjin is already driving away, the car weighed down with all of Yoongi’s stuff. It lurches its way out of the parking lot. “I left him.”

Tears are starting to pool at the corners of his eyes, and he doesn’t know why it feels like this, like something is being ripped out of his soul, like he’s relieved and uncertain and heartbroken and so so so afraid all at once. Seokjin places a hand on his knee. “You did it,” he says, and he sounds proud. Pleased.

The pride, and the happiness, feel so misplaced. Yoongi feels like he’s not just broken, he’s breaking, every last bit of him shattering and collapsing, and the tears are getting violent, the way they fall, the way a sob shakes his whole frame. “It’s okay,” Seokjin assures, as Yoongi keeps breaking. “Let it out. You deserve to cry.”

Yoongi doesn’t know if he quite deserves anything, not at this rate, but it’s not like he can stop. “It’s okay,” says Jeongguk’s soft voice from behind him, and Yoongi feels a hand gently touch his shoulder, fingers tightening around the fabric of his shirt. “You’re going to be okay. You don’t ever have to deal with his bullshit again. It’s okay, hyung.”

Yoongi laughs wetly at the idea of Jeongguk, who looks like a baby bunny, all soft and shy, swearing. “You’re a kid, kids shouldn’t curse. And who said you could call me hyung?” he says, his voice strained and water-logged.

The hand disappears from his shoulder. “Sorry,” says Jeongguk, sounding thoroughly chagrined. “I just—”

“It’s fine,” says Yoongi, trying to act casual even though he’s still crying. “You can. You just helped me escape from my psycho boyfriend, I think that means we’re close enough for you to call me hyung.”

“Ex,” corrects Seokjin. “He’s your ex-boyfriend.”

The whole world stops, goes silent, all the colors vanish, the adrenaline of the whole thing suddenly gone. “Oh,” says Yoongi. “Yeah.” He chokes on another sob. “Ex-boyfriend.” It stays like that, the whole world suspended, like Yoongi is being told he can’t have this reality, where he and Ilseok aren’t together, for what feels like several minutes.

“What he said, to you,” Seokjin tries, so, so gently, like Yoongi is something delicate, made of paper-thin glass that will break if you even speak at him too loudly.

“What?” asks Yoongi, scared to hear the rest of Seokjin’s sentence.

“I heard what he said, when you were in the bedroom. It’s not true,” says Seokjin, emphatically, but still just as careful, as gentle as before, just the pads of his fingers resting against Yoongi’s glass shell. “You’re not undesirable, or unlovable, or whatever other bullshit he was trying to make you think.”

Yoongi doesn’t say a word.

“You’re gone, now, and you don’t have to listen to him anymore, okay?” Seokjin prods a little, putting a little force behind his touch, like he can feel the glass that Yoongi is made of under his fingertips. “It’s not true. You know that, right?”

“Right,” Yoongi echoes back, and he has never felt simultaneously so brave and so afraid.

---

Someone knocks on the door of Yoongi’s studio, and he opens it to find Jimin holding a coffee. “What is this?” asks Yoongi, taking the cup from him.

“Hyung, I’m so sorry, seriously, I feel terrible.” Jimin’s eyes get big, droopy, like a sad puppy. “I should have known something was wrong. I should have been there for you when you needed me.” He sniffs, like he might start crying at any second.

“It’s not your fault,” says Yoongi, holding him by the shoulder. “I avoided you and didn’t tell you anything. You did ask, but I was the one who didn’t tell you. You had no way of knowing.”

“Still,” says Jimin. “I feel awful. He kept doing all that shit to you, and I just let it happen. So,” Jimin takes a seat on the table next to Yoongi, very nearly sitting on his keyboard, “I’ve made it my personal mission to make you feel loved twenty-four seven.”

Yoongi stares at Jimin, not trying to hide the expression of distaste on his face. “Gross,” he says, just because he can.

“Drink your coffee, hyung,” says Jimin, doing that smile where his eyes vanish right off his face.

Yoongi does, muttering a “thank you” under his breath. “How is it living with Seokjin?” Jimin asks pleasantly.

“...good, actually. He’s really nice, and comfortable. Like, he knows when to give me space, and when not to.”

“He seems like he's really good for you.”

“Don't say it like that, Jimin-ah, that makes it sound like we're dating.”

“A good friend for you. You’re single, and you should be rejoicing in that fact.”

“I am,” says Yoongi, although he’s not quite sure his current sentiments classify as rejoicing. In fact, he’s been exposed to a whole spectrum of sentiments, swinging from elated to devastated, from confused to confident, from hopeful to miserable, like a giant pendulum.

“Are these your lyrics?” asks Jimin, and Yoongi is relieved at the change in subject as Jimin leans over to look at his notebook.

“Yeah, we’re mostly done, just revising,” he says.

Jimin hums appreciatively, his eyes still scanning over the page. “It’s good, hyung. The writing just...even just reading the lyrics, I can feel it.”

Yoongi smiles. “Really?”

Jimin nods. “Thanks,” says Yoongi. “That’s a really nice compliment.”

“See, I told you! I said I would make you feel loved.” Jimin turns back to the page. “What’s the melody like?”

Yoongi is prevented from humming the tune to Jimin because suddenly a floaty voice, the perfect balance of air and tone, is singing it instead, and Yoongi turns around to see Jeongguk standing in the doorway (apparently Jimin hadn’t closed the door all the way.) Yoongi looks up at the clock in surprise. “It’s already 3:00?”

“I’m a couple minutes early,” says Jeongguk, shrugging. “Hyung’s on his way. You’re here too, Jimin-ssi?”

“I came to give the addict his drugs,” says Jimin, gesturing to Yoongi’s coffee.

Jeongguk laughs, soft and high, his trademark huge smile reappearing. His nose scrunches as he laughs, and Yoongi wonders what it feels like to be happy all the time like Jeongguk is, where the smallest thing makes him grin or tips him into laughter.

“Sing the melody again, please, Jeonggukkie, I want to hear it,” says Jimin.

“Why are you calling him Jeonggukkie?” asks Yoongi, looking at Jimin with narrowed eyes.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Jimin asks Jeongguk, who nods a little bit reluctantly.

“He called you Jimin-ssi like, ten seconds ago.”

“Jimin-hyung,” Jeongguk corrects, flashing another smile.

Jimin beams back at him. “Yoongi-hyung is an amazing songwriter, huh?”

“Park Jimin, I already told you—”

“He’s amazing,” Jeongguk agrees very quickly. Very enthusiastically. Yoongi closes his mouth.

“Actually,” Jeongguk adds in a stage whisper, holding his hand in front of his mouth to block in from Yoongi's view, like he’s telling a secret Yoongi isn’t supposed to know, “I asked the professor to assign me to him. I found his mixtape six months ago, and I’m still obsessed with it. I couldn't believe it when I saw his name on the list of music comp majors who needed vocalists for their projects.”

“Wait,” says Yoongi, very confused, “you what? Six months?

“You’re hyung’s fan? Before you even knew him? ” Jimin all but squeals. “And now you get to work with him! That’s so cute, Jeonggkkie!”

“He’s so talented, hyung, it’s insane,” says Jeongguk to Jimin, as if Yoongi wasn’t even there. “You don’t realize, just listening to his music, how precise he is, how he makes sure everything is perfect. He works really hard.”

“He does!” agrees Jimin. “His music is so good, and really sincere. He’s the best in the program; I heard one of his professors say so.”

“Please stop,” Yoongi says weakly.

“Oh, hyung, you’re here?” says Jeongguk, as if he just now noticed Yoongi’s presence.

“What are you doing?” asks Yoongi.

“We were just talking about the song,” Jeongguk answers, looking 100% innocent.

“Please never do that again.”

“You’re really not used to being complimented, are you?” asks Jimin, leaning in to study Yoongi’s expression. Yoongi freezes, his whole body going stiff at Jimin’s proximity. Or maybe at the compliments. At something. “Man, I hate him.”

“Um? Who?” Yoongi is really, very lost.

“Your asshole of an ex, who apparently only ever told you everything that was wrong with you.”

“I mean, I—”

“No,” says Jeongguk definitively, shutting Yoongi up for the second time in five minutes.

“You don’t even know what I was going to say,” says Yoongi.

“You were going to say that you did things wrong, and you deserved it.”

Yoongi’s mouth drops open just a little bit. “I didn't deserve it every time,” he says quietly. “But sometimes he—”

“He should have made you feel good. Happy. Did he ever compliment one of your songs?”

“Um,” Yoongi knows that he didn’t. Obviously. He remembers every time Ilseok complimented him; it’s easy to remember, because he only did it twice after they started dating. And neither time was it about his music. “He didn’t really listen to—”

“He didn’t listen to your music? ” asks Jimin.

“Not really, no,” says Yoongi.

“But he told me—”

“He talked me up to other people. It made him look good, I guess, or something. But he didn’t actually care, himself.”

Jimin freezes, and then throws his arms around Yoongi, nearly squeezing the life out of him. “I'm so glad we got you away from him, hyung, it's such a relief.”

It is a relief, Yoongi is relieved. But the thoughts are still there, in his head, like before. It’s not like Ilseok’s voice is there, but more like his view of himself has been tainted, like he sees himself and thinks about himself the way Ilseok would, maybe.

“Do you really think all that?” he asks, not able to meet either of their gazes. “About my music?”

“Yes,” says Jeongguk, and he’s not smiling anymore. In fact, he looks extremely serious. “I looked up to you so much before I even knew who you were.”

“And now? Now that you know me?” Yoongi is afraid to ask the question, but he thinks he might be even more afraid to hear the answer.

“Even more. And it’s not just because you’re brilliant at writing and composing and production. It’s who you are as a person, too.” He smiles again, and there’s something about the way he’s smiling, not all teeth and overflowing happiness like it usually is, but something soft and sincere, something heartfelt. Yoongi doesn’t even know what it is, the something;


but he feels it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Has he tried to contact you?” asks Seokjin, as he and Yoongi are chopping vegetables for kimchi fried rice.

“No,” says Yoongi, and he doesn’t know why that’s painful. He doesn’t want Ilseok to contact him. But it still hurts that he hasn’t even tried, that he just let Yoongi go like that, like Yoongi is a burden he was happy to have taken off his hands.

“Hey,” Seokjin says, putting an arm on Yoongi’s. Somehow Seokjin is always in tune to Yoongi’s thoughts. “You’re doing really well, you know.”

“I just kind of thought,” says Yoongi, quietly, “it would all go away if I left. But I’m still terrified of doing something wrong, like he’s going to pop out from behind a corner and start lecturing me again.”

“It’s okay to make mistakes,” says Seokjin, simply. “You aren’t perfect, which is fine.”

Yoongi has heard that phrase a million times, has even told it to himself, but for some reason it strikes him right now. “Oh,” he mutters. “Yeah.”

“You have us,” says Seokjin. “Me and Namjoon, and Jeonggukkie, and Jimin and Hoseok. We’re here for you. You aren’t alone.”

Yoongi is fairly sure this knowledge is the only thing keeping him sane right now.

“Jeonggukkie really admires you, you know,” says Seokjin, slicing into a carrot.

“Yeah, he wouldn’t shut up the other day about my mixtape,” Yoongi grumbles. He’s more endeared than uncomfortable, though, and he thinks Seokjin can tell. “He’s the talented one, though. He’s really good with fitting music to lyrics. It’s amazing.”

“And to think,” says Seokjin: from the sparkle in his eyes, Yoongi can tell he’s going to tease, “you almost turned him down because he was a freshman.”

Yoongi laughs a little, just because it's comfortable, being here with Seokjin, talking like they're old friends. “We're recording tomorrow, right?” asks Seokjin, after a minute.

Yoongi nods, scraping the onion he has just finished chopping into the pan. “Yeah, I think we're ready. You guys both helped a ton. The song is really good.”

“Says the guy who wrote like, at least eighty percent of the lyrics.”

“Thanks. It came together really well, I think,” says Yoongi, who is learning under Jimin's and Jeongguk's tutelage to not deflect compliments. It's extremely difficult. But he's getting better.

“It's very good. Better than anything I've heard on American radio in years.” Seokjin grins smugly at Yoongi. He knows perfectly well how Yoongi feels about American radio.

Yoongi is about to respond with something snarky, but he is interrupted by a knock on the door. “Ah, that'll be Joon,” says Seokjin, his grin softening.

It is, of course, Namjoon, who greets Yoongi warmly. They actually have a lot in common, Yoongi has realized; Namjoon is also a music composition major, but a junior, and he also raps. He's the type of friend Old Yoongi would have sought out, the Yoongi before Ilseok. Maybe he can be like that again, and become friends with Namjoon because he wants to, like he used to.

Namjoon sits on the other side of Seokjin's bar (“he's not allowed in the kitchen, and he knows that,” was the only explanation Seokjin offered) while they add the last of the vegetables to the pan.

“I don't actually know how you guys met?” says Yoongi as soon as the thought strikes him. “Or how long you've been together, or any of that.”

Both Namjoon and Seokjin look at him in surprise; both turning their heads at the exact same time with the exact same expression. “You didn’t tell him?” asks Namjoon after a moment, turning to Seokjin.

“I guess not?” says Seokjin, looking between Yoongi and Namjoon in confusion. “It must not have come up?”

“I am banned from telling this story,” says Namjoon, looking very somber.

“And for good reason,” says Seokjin. “You tell it wrong every time.”

“I do not!” protests Namjoon. “You see,” he turns to Yoongi, “it was my freshman year, and I was coming home from the libr—”

“You were literally in class, ” says Seokjin.

“I was in class,” Namjoon continues, as if this is what he had been saying the whole time, “and the fire alarm went off—”

“What fire alarm? There was no fire alarm.”

“— and one of the students started having a seizure, so Seokjin, who at this time was a pre-med major, burst through the door to help him—”

“I have never at any point in my life been pre-med.”

“—and so he got the kid isolated, and his feet elevated, and all that stuff you’re supposed to do for someone having a seizure, when the fire actually spread to our classroom, and the entire front wall went up in flames—”

“Okay, now you’re just making up random shit to piss me off. And you wonder why you’re not allowed to tell this story.” Namjoon grins at Yoongi, all dimples and teeth, and Yoongi realizes that making sure Seokjin told the story was actually Namjoon’s goal all along. “Forget literally everything Namjoon just told you,” Seokjin instructs Yoongi. “What actually happened was this.”

“Just so I’m clear: there was no fire alarm, no seizure, no pre-med major, and no actual fire?” Yoongi asks.

“Correct,” says Seokjin. “So, what actually happened: Namjoon was in the freshman writing class, and the TA got in a really bad car accident, and so they had to bring me in as the TA partway through the year.”

“Ooh,” says Yoongi. “A student/TA romance.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Namjoon, who laughs loudly.

Seokjin also sees Yoongi’s eyebrow wiggle, and hides a chuckle before continuing in perfect seriousness. “So, before I even went in, the professor warned me about this one kid who was really smart, and a really good writer, but was very passionate about, like, every social issue ever, and had a tendency to start ranting about a topic and not stop for hours.”

“It was me,” says Namjoon, raising his hand, as if Yoongi hadn’t already figured that much out.

“So, my first day in the class, I’m already looking out for Kim Namjoon. And this day, Kim Namjoon happens to read a piece he had written for one of the assignments aloud in class. The topic he had chosen was soulmates, and he was pretty scathing, talking about how we shouldn’t let our physical reaction to someone determine our emotional and intellectual compatibility, how we’ve become slaves to our biology, etc.”

“Oh,” says Yoongi, his mouth dropping open slightly in surprise.

“Pretty controversial, obviously; the class went nuts after he finished and it was total chaos.” Seokjin smiles. “The thing is, it was really well written. The way he structured his argument: that level of persuasive writing belongs in a museum.” Seokjin looks wistfully into the corner for a moment before continuing. “And he wasn’t necessarily saying you shouldn’t be with your soulmate, just that the bruises alone aren’t enough to ensure you’re compatible. Like, you have to get to know each other, and work to sustain a lasting relationship. So, I was kind of intrigued by him.”

“You were like, half in love with me,” says Namjoon. “Love at first rhetorical device.”

“I was intrigued, ” repeats Seokjin, who is somehow managing to keep an even tone although he looks like he is on the verge of hysterical laughter at Namjoon’s comment. Acting majors must really be something, Yoongi thinks. “Anyway, he came to my office hours, and we had a number of intellectual conversations—”

“A few of them were more like debates, but sure,” adds Namjoon.

“—and we became friends, and I was getting interested in him, so after the last class of the year I asked him out, but he didn’t realize it was a date, because he’s an idiot.”

“To be fair,” Namjoon inserts, “you were unbelievably vague.”

“Anyway,” says Seokjin, coughing and beginning to turn slightly red, “at some point we established mutual interest in each other, and went on the date, and we did hold hands, but it was winter, so, gloves.”

“So you didn’t know you were soulmates.”

Seokjin shakes his head. “We didn’t even talk about it. I was terrified that either we would turn out to not be soulmates and decide not to be together, or that we would be soulmates and Mr. I-wrote-a-whole-essay-about-how-soulmates-are-bullshit wouldn’t want to be with me.”

“Poor communication, the oldest story in the world,” says Namjoon. “I wanted to be with him. And I never thought soulmates were bullshit. If he had just asked…”   He shoots Seokjin a look.

“So, which of you brought it up?”

“Ah, this is the good part,” says Seokjin. “Here I was, in fear of losing him, and here he was, secretly in love with me, and I was trying to figure out how to bring it up, to see if we could try skin contact. I had planned a whole thing out, like I was going to tell him I was in love with him and give some spiel about how no matter what happened, I would still love him and want to be with him. So I tried to go somewhere romantic, some nice view of the city, and this idiot tripped halfway up the hill and somehow managed to ram his forehead into my cheek on his way down.”

“I hit him hard—like, hard enough to bruise anyone—so I wasn’t sure if he had soulmate bruises or just normal bruises. So I touched the other side of his face to check.”

“With his whole hand. My entire face was bruised for two weeks.

Yoongi laughs. “I had just hit my head, in my defense,” says Namjoon. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“I yelled at him,” says Seokjin, “for a while, then...other feelings were expressed, and now here we are.”

“See,” says Namjoon. “I know the story.”

“And I’d let you tell it, if you didn’t start out every time with something out of The Avengers, or Sherlock Holmes, or whatever movie you watched most recently.”

“Does it really not hurt?” Yoongi asks, unable to keep the question back. Both of them look at him in confusion at the abrupt change in topic. “The marks, I mean.”

“It’s just a bruise, Yoongi-yah.” Seokjin shrugs.

“Aren’t you scared of hurting him?” Yoongi asks Namjoon.

Namjoon looks at him with a soft expression, like he can see Yoongi’s fears right there in his head. “I was, at first. But we talk to each other, and we don’t do anything that we’re not both comfortable with. So no, I’m not scared of hurting him.”

“Communication,” says Seokjin. “Solves almost every problem.” He reaches over the counter, slides two of his fingers over Namjoon’s hand. They stain immediately, cranberry purple. “I love you,” he says, and Yoongi immediately feels like he’s intruding on an extremely intimate moment.

“I love you too, but you’re an insensitive asshole,” says Namjoon to Seokjin, pulling his hand away and smiling apologetically at Yoongi. “Seriously, though, don’t worry about it too much. Don’t go through life waiting nervously to meet your soulmate. If—when you do meet them, you’ll figure it out.”

Yoongi wishes he could have that confidence.

---

They’re an hour (or so, Yoongi tends to lose track of time when he's working) into recording, and Yoongi is afraid to speak too soon, but so far it sounds really good. He had let the two vocalists divide parts amongst themselves, and they’ve done a good job. Their voices are pretty different, but they blend well together, and they’ve figured out some really pleasant-sounding harmonies for the backing vocals under the chorus. “Good. That’s good. Let’s move on to the next chorus,” Yoongi says through the mic into the recording booth.

“Um,” says Seokjin, “I have to go to class, remember?”

“Right,” says Yoongi. So, more like three hours. “It's already almost 2:00. I didn't even realize, sorry. Can you stay longer, Jeongguk?” Jeongguk nods, grinning. “All right,” says Yoongi. “Then I’ll just work with you.” And to Seokjin, “Thank you for your help, hyung.”

Seokjin smiles at the honorific. “Let me know if you’re still here at 3, and I’ll come back.”

“I’ll text you, hyung,” says Jeongguk.

Seokjin nods, and walks out the door. Yoongi feels a strange jolt of nervousness as he looks back at Jeongguk. Somehow he feels extra vulnerable, extra exposed around him. Which doesn’t even make sense, because Jeongguk probably knows less about him than any of his other friends. And that’s counting Jeongguk as one of his friends, which is only true if “friend” has a pretty loose definition.

“Do you want to switch spots?” asks Jeongguk. “You can record the rap parts now, while hyung’s gone.”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” Yoongi waits for him to leave the room before trying to go in, like there’s some magnet making sure he keeps his distance from Jeongguk. He slips past him and into the booth.

“This is so cool,” says Jeongguk softly, almost reverently, once the door to the booth is closed, watching Yoongi get ready to record. “I can’t believe this is happening, holy shit.” He then emits the sort of high-pitched squeak that would naturally come from a tea kettle or maybe some species of rare bird and not a freshman boy. Yoongi is used to Jeongguk showering him in praise, and Jeongguk hasn’t exactly been shy about his admiration for Yoongi, but this feels like something he was not supposed to have heard.

“You do know the mic is on, right?” Yoongi asks through his own mic, pulling the headphones on so only one ear is covered.

“Oh,” says Jeongguk, turning a little pink. Yep, Yoongi was definitely not supposed to have heard that. “Can you just—”

“Yeah,” says Yoongi quickly. “Don’t worry about it. I cried in front of you the third time we met, it’s fine.”

Jeongguk laughs, all teeth and soft sound, his nose scrunched up in that bunny-rabbit grin. He always acts soft, Yoongi thinks, not in the way that he can’t be firm when he needs to, or in the way that he isn’t easily heard, but in the way that every word and every action, is gentle, kind. In the way that you never wonder about his affection for you. It’s like, the polar opposite of Ilseok, and Yoongi is fascinated.

“Did you want to double layer the second rap verse?” asks Jeongguk, and Yoongi is dragged back into the present.

“Yeah, let’s try that, at least on the end lines?”

It’s easy to rap well when Jeongguk is watching him with stars in his eyes, clapping in excitement every time he does the line without messing up. Yoongi makes Jeongguk play it back for him over and over, repeating the parts until they sound just right, and Jeongguk is the perfect project partner, offering good feedback, not getting impatient no matter how picky or perfectionistic Yoongi gets.

They’ve just finished polishing both rap verses when  Jeongguk gets a text from Seokjin. “Hyung’s done with class, should he come back here?”

“No,” says Yoongi. “You’ve been here, like, all day.” And then, in a voice that certainly sounds like his, coming out from his voicebox, Yoongi both hears and feels more words come out. “You’re probably hungry, right? Let’s get something to eat. Hyung’ll treat.”

What the hell was that, Min Yoongi? You barely know the kid, you’ve done nothing but be weird and uncomfortable around him, and now you just invited him out to lunch? Dinner? What do you call a meal eaten at 3:00 p.m.? Do you have to have eaten lunch already to call it dinner, or is it a time thing? Does it—

“Should I tell Jin-hyung?” asks Jeongguk, chewing on the corner of his lip in a way that suggests he would rather not.

Yes, thinks Yoongi. Yes, you should invite Seokjin, you should not go out for food with Jeongguk alone. Tell him yes. Yoongi makes the mistake of looking at Jeongguk’s face before answering, and the yes he sends out from his brain somehow leaves his mouth as a “No.”

Jeongguk looks at him in surprise, very obviously caught off guard but pleased. “I think he mentioned something he wanted to do with Namjoon.” Yoongi is spewing pure bullshit at this point, but he can’t stop it, like some external force is shaping each word and sending it out of his mouth.

Jeongguk’s eyebrow quirks up, like he knows Yoongi is making this up but he certainly isn’t planning to call him out on it. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to keep him from that.” He’s smiling slightly as he types out some version of “don’t come” to Seokjin.

Yoongi makes sure the most recent version of the song is saved, and then he goes around the recording booth and the rest of the studio, turning off everything and putting it back in its place. Jeongguk follows him around kind of like a puppy, watching everything he does with wide eyes. Yoongi has never felt this interesting. “What made you decide to study music, hyung?” Jeongguk asks.

“It’s kind of a long story,” says Yoongi, laughing quietly and shrugging off the request. It takes him a minute before he realizes that Jeongguk is waiting for him to proceed, eyes locked on Yoongi’s lips waiting for his next words. “You still want to hear it?” Yoongi asks in surprise.

“I asked, hyung,” says Jeongguk, and then he makes a face, extending his lower lip outward just a little bit, something that would be a pout if it were more pronounced.

“Have you ever listened to Epik High?” asks Yoongi, and Jeongguk’s face lights up, like a shooting star ripping bright color across a night sky. He looks so bright, all sincere interest and childlike enthusiasm. It burns, the way Jeongguk looks like nothing has ever hurt him before, white hot in Yoongi’s vision, and he can’t look away.

---

Yoongi has never spent time with anyone so easily before in his life. He and Jeongguk do go eat, bibimbap, at a place near the university, and they stay there for hours, just sitting and talking, until the sun has started to set. It doesn’t feel weird, or contrived, or dragged-out, or any of the things Yoongi’s used to conversations being. Then again, the only person he’s had any remotely deep conversations with lately is Ilseok, and talking to Ilseok is…

“Are you okay, hyung?” asks Jeongguk. He looks concerned, but still gentle. Always so gentle. Yoongi doesn’t know if he’ll ever get used to it.

Yoongi nods quickly. Jeongguk’s eyes narrow. “We can talk about it, if you want,” he says. “I mean, if you think it will help.”

Yoongi isn’t sure if it will help; in fact, he’s not sure he and Jeongguk are even talking about the same thing. “He isn’t here,” says Jeongguk, and Yoongi realizes that he had subconsciously looked around the room and over his shoulder, as if expecting Ilseok to be lurking there in the shadows.

Yoongi exhales. “Yeah, I know.” Ilseok doesn’t even go to school here; it’s not even likely for them to cross paths. Yoongi keeps telling himself that sort of thing, because logic and reason and common sense prove that he is free from Ilseok. He tells himself over and over that the probability of them running into each other is 0.029%, that he will probably never even see Ilseok again, but: it doesn’t work, somehow. Yoongi is still haunted by him. Still terrified that he will wake up and still be living with Ilseok, still be letting Ilseok control every aspect of his life.

“Hyung,” says Jeongguk, leaning across the booth towards Yoongi. They've been here so long by now that the server has started glaring at them when she passes by. “Can you tell me what you’re afraid of?”

Jeongguk says the words as if they are simple, as if this is an easy thing to ask and an easy thing to answer, but Yoongi thinks it might be the most difficult question that has ever been posed to him. “I keep thinking he’s going to pop up and, like, forcibly drag me back into that house,” Yoongi says, after a minute or two. “Or that I’ll run into him and he’ll say all sorts of things and somehow convince me to get back together. Which is the last thing I want, I know, but he does things to my head, Jeongguk, my brain goes all fuzzy and weird around him. He makes me not trust myself, and it terrifies me.” Yoongi stares at his hands, twisted together in his lap. “It’s so dumb, I know, I keep telling myself that I left him, and I probably won’t even see him again, much less, like, talk to him, but it still scares me.”

“It’s not dumb,” says Jeongguk. “He hurt you. It would be weird if you weren’t scared.”

“I let him,” says Yoongi, and he doesn’t even realize he thinks this about himself until he’s spilling the words out to Jeongguk, like a spring, bubbling up and spilling over, out, careful but nonstop. “I let him hurt me. I let it go on for so long. He just kept treating me like that, and I didn’t leave. I didn’t even tell anyone. I just sat there and let him do it for more than a year.”

“No,” says Jeongguk, and he looks concerned, and angry, like he wants to fight someone. ( Like he wants to protect me, Yoongi doesn’t quite let himself think.) “Hyung, I'm really terrible at giving advice, or whatever, and I don't know what it was like, exactly, but I know that it wasn't your fault.”

“But I knew what he was doing, and I still let him—”

“You left. You walked away so he couldn’t hurt you anymore. Which makes you brave, and strong, and, like, maybe the coolest person I know.”

Yoongi soaks Jeongguk’s words in, feels them like sunlight on his skin, absorbing them into his bloodstream like he can live off of just these words alone. Yoongi did leave, he did get away, and he did stop letting Ilseok hurt him. “There’s no way I’m the coolest person you know,” he says, because he’s not sure he’s at the point to verbally acknowledge what Jeongguk has just said to him. “Maybe, like, top five, if you only see my cool side.”

Jeongguk laughs again, like he can’t keep it in, curling himself into a little ball of amusement. “All your sides are cool,” he says once he’s regained his composure. “And you’re at least number two, give yourself some credit.”

“Who’s number one?”

“G-Dragon,” says Jeongguk, completely serious. “But if you work really hard, I think you could take his spot.”

Yoongi laughs, in a way that feels like a full-bodied release. “Those are some tough shoes to fill,” he says, to a grinning Jeongguk.

“I think you could do it,” says Jeongguk. “If you were to, I don't know, give me a preview of your next mixtape, or something?”

“Ah,” says Yoongi. “This friendship is just a means to an end, then. You only like me for my music.”

Jeongguk laughs, and so does Yoongi, because he feels comfortable enough to talk to Jeongguk freely like this, to joke and tease, but Jeongguk stops after a moment, his expression going serious. “I do like you, you know. As a person. I think you’re interesting and funny and cool and brave and whatever other weird sappy thing I said earlier. I meant it.”

“I know,” says Yoongi, because he does. Ilseok, for all he said he cared, for all his odd ways of showing affection that did more to show he didn't care, never listened to him like Jeongguk does. Ilseok would interrupt him all the time, or try and change the subject to something he wanted to talk about, or try and gain the upper hand in any conversation by spitting out knowledge like he was an encyclopedia. Yoongi and Jeongguk have spent these past few hours wanting to talk about the same things, not having to force their words or feign interest, not battling for control of the conversation. Yoongi thinks he would like to talk to Jeongguk for weeks, or months, or maybe years.

“Good. I just don’t want you to think that I—”

“You’re not like him,” says Yoongi. “You’re geniune. And I really like talking to you. Speaking of which,” he lowers his voice, leaning in over the table closer to Jeongguk, “I think if we stay here any longer the server might actually kick us out of the building.”

“I’m pretty sure she mimed stabbing us with chopsticks to her coworker,” says Jeongguk. “Which definitely means we should stay to see what she actually does.” Jeongguk’s face lights up as he laughs, and Yoongi can’t breathe for a second. He’s not sure if those two events are related or not. “What if we get banned? I’ve never been banned from a restaurant before, but it’s one of those things I want to have happen to me so I can tell my grandchildren about it when I’m old, you know?”

“That is a terrible basis for life decisions, Guk-ah.” Yoongi doesn’t plan on using the nickname, but it just sort of pops out before he can think about it.

Jeongguk smiles, soft at the corners of his eyes. “So. We’ll stay until we get kicked out or banned?”

All the weird voices in Yoongi head start chiming in, saying how everyone will look at him like he's crazy, how he just causes problems wherever he will go, how he makes everyone else’s lives difficult, but this time, he hears Ilseok’s voice behind them, and he tries to drown them out, dim them to a dull murmur in a back corner of his mind. He looks at Jeongguk, whose eyes are bright at the prospect of a challenge, who has one eyebrow raised in an invitation.

Yoongi exhales, forcing all those thoughts out, and leans back in his seat, comfortable, ready to stay for a long time. “I think you should tell me the story about the time your roommate spent the night in the art gallery.”

Jeongguk beams, and Yoongi doesn’t feel afraid, not at all, for just a moment.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Yoongi enters his house to find not only Seokjin (who lives there) and Namjoon (who practically lives there), but also Jimin and Hoseok (who definitely do not live there.) “Where on earth have you been?” demands Jimin immediately. “Seokjin-hyung said you finished recording hours ago.”

“I was hungry,” says Yoongi, as if this were all the explanation they could ever need, sitting down between Seokjin and Jimin on the couch.

“You ate for five hours?” asks Seokjin, his eyebrow slightly raised. Yoongi gets the uncomfortable feeling that Seokjin knows exactly where he was and with whom.

“Seokie-hyung and I have been waiting here for ages,” says Jimin, pouting in a way that only Park Jimin can.  Don’t you ever check your phone?”

Yoongi pulls out his phone to see that, yes, he does have a fair number of missed calls and texts from Jimin and Seokjin. And a new message from Jeongguk.

 

freshman vocal kid: hey hyung thanks for buying me food today! although it is a disappointment we didn’t get banned.

 

Yoongi smiles slightly. “Oops,” he says unapologetically, closing all the missed call notifications and turning back to Jimin. “I’m here now?”

“How is Jeonggukkie?” asks Seokjin. One eyebrow is still slightly lifted up. Seokjin’s uncanny ability to read his mind is making Yoongi more nervous by the minute.

“Good. The recording went really well.”

Seokjin’s jaw tenses, as if he knows he could call Yoongi out on deflecting his actual question, but he fortunately decides against it.

It’s not that Yoongi is trying to hide the fact that he just spent...six hours (six hours? okay wow six hours is a really long time) with Jeongguk. It’s just that he doesn’t know what he would say about it. Because if he says he went to get food with Jeongguk, and then they sat there talking in the restaurant until the server had to tell them to leave, they’ll ask him what they talked about, or why it was so easy for them to spend time together, or something like that, and Yoongi doesn’t know how to put it into words. In fact, he hasn’t even sorted out how he feels about Jeongguk besides “comfortable.” Besides “not terrified.”

It’s that, mixed with Yoongi being used to hiding everything, trying to figure out how to lie or mold the truth into a way that will get him out of trouble. He’s not used to it being okay for him to be himself, or okay to do the things he wants to do. He’s not used to having friends because he chose to be friends with them.

“We wanted to have a movie night,” says Jimin, “but you got here really late, and some of us have class tomorrow.” He sends a pointed glare at Yoongi. Jimin glares a lot, but it’s Jimin, which means his glares are on the list of the least threatening things Yoongi has ever seen. Unless he’s actually angry, in which case they’re one of the most.

“We could do it this weekend?” Yoongi suggests, looking around the room. Seokjin and Namjoon both nod, and so does Hoseok, and, eventually, Jimin.

“We could invite Jeongguk too,” says Namjoon, looking at Yoongi in a way that makes him think Seokjin’s mind-reading abilities have been shared through their soulmate bond.

“Oh, yes, I love Jeonggukkie!” says Hoseok. “And his roommate should come, if he’s free.” Right. Jeongguk's roommate. “You know him, don’t you, Jimin? Taehyung?”

Jimin’s eyes light up. “Oh, Taehyungie? My platonic soulmate? My best art class friend?” Yoongi wonders how on earth all his friends’ friends seem to know each other. Jimin legitimately squeals before continuing. “I didn’t know he was Jeongguk’s roommate! This is great!”

Hoseok looks delighted with Jimin’s delight. Yoongi doesn’t know much about soulmate bonds, if emotions like that are shared when you’re soulmates, or if that’s just what love looks like; being happy when your person is happy, and sad when they’re sad.

It makes Yoongi jealous, a little, and angry, not as much with Ilseok as with himself. He had watched it go bad, what he had with Ilseok, could feel the poison drip into their relationship drop by drop, and yet he had made himself stay, like he could cure it by mere force of will. Now he watches his friends like this, caring about him, and in love with each other, like it’s something foreign, something he’s never seen before. It’s something he doesn’t know what it would be like to feel.

“So that’s settled, then,” says Seokjin. “Saturday, present company plus Jeongguk and Taehyung, movie night.”

Jimin grins at Yoongi, scoots over on the couch until he’s pressed right up against him. Yoongi watches Hoseok watch Jimin, Hoseok's eyes crinkled up in a smile, his whole expression effectively screaming how did I get so lucky, look at my soulmate, isn’t he lovely, he makes me so happy.

And then Yoongi sees Hoseok’s hand reach out, get close, almost touch Jimin, before he remembers what happens if they touch. Hoseok’s smile dims, just a little bit, like the sun has dipped behind a cloud for just a moment, and he pulls his hand back. Yoongi can see a firm set in his lip, a determination to not hurt Jimin.

And for as much as Yoongi has been feeling a little bit braver recently, he looks at that and realizes that soulmates still terrify him. It’s a different sort of getting hurt than what he had with Ilseok; Ilseok knew what would hurt Yoongi and did it on purpose, prodded where Yoongi was most sensitive. With soulmates, it’s not intentional. You can love each other purely, perfectly, and it still doesn’t change the fact that one of you is going to hurt the other every time you touch.

Yoongi is afraid of getting hurt again, more, worse than he already is. That’s a part of it, yes.

But more than that. Yoongi is much more afraid of having the power to hurt someone else.

Yoongi is afraid of hurting his soulmate the way Ilseok hurt him. He’s afraid of his soulmate being like he was, too scared to tell him they’re hurt, not knowing how much pain they can handle until they’re already broken.

Yoongi can see the hint of sadness in the way Hoseok is smiling at Jimin, and he hopes he’ll be lucky enough to never meet his soulmate.

---

All the recording is done, so Yoongi is working on the final mixing, on balancing the sounds until the song takes you to a playground, mentally sets you on the seesaw, pushes you up and down and up and down. Seokjin and Jeongguk have finished their part, although Jeongguk has been strangely insistent on sitting with Yoongi as he adds various effects and background instrumentals.

Not that Yoongi minds the help. He's still just...a little...not overwhelmed, since Jeongguk isn't overwhelming. It's just really different, being with Jeongguk, from what he's used to, and the strangest thing about it is that it's not hard to get used to. Usually Yoongi needs a little time to adjust to any changes, especially ones as abrupt as his friendship with Jeongguk, but he hasn't needed anything this time. It's like he's come home after a long time away, like Jeongguk is everything he's always been familiar with. He slips right into easy conversation with him, and it's only weird at all when he stops to think about it: how easy it is, being with Jeongguk. How it should be jarring, but it isn't.

Right now, though, Jeongguk is in class, and Yoongi is a little bit stuck. He can tell that something is not quite right, that something is missing from the verse, but he doesn't exactly know what. He's listened to it at least ten times, in just the right ear, then just the left, then both again, even once with his head upside down. He still hasn't figured it out. He's trying his right ear for the third time when someone knocks on the door.

He doesn't have time to figure out who might be there before he opens it and sees...Namjoon.

Namjoon's face immediately dissolves into a wide smile, his (enormous) dimples appearing as he grins. “Hi!” He holds up one hand in a greeting gesture. “Jin-hyung mentioned you’d be here, and I thought I could...help? Maybe?”

Yoongi could question why exactly Namjoon is here, looking all shy and embarrassed, or he could just accept the help he has graciously been given. “Please. I’ve been stuck on the same verse for half an hour. I could use a fresh pair of ears.” Yoongi steps aside, and Namjoon comes into his studio, looking around in awe, like it’s some grand cathedral and he’s shocked to have been permitted entrance. Yoongi follows his gaze, but all he sees is the slightly dilapidated studio space the university loans to seniors during their last semester. Yoongi passes Namjoon a pair of headphones. “It’s the second verse. If you can figure out what’s missing, please tell me.”

Yoongi immediately plays the verse, watching Namjoon’s face carefully as it plays. “A synth riff, maybe?” says Namjoon, and Yoongi feels like an idiot already, because of course, that’s exactly what’s missing. “Not too loud, just sort of layered in with the beat?”

Yoongi slides his hand over to the piano. “Maybe something like this?” he asks as he plays a few notes.

Namjoon’s eyes light up. “Oh, yeah, that. How did you—that’s perfect. Wow. He was right, you really are a genius.”

Yoongi’s eyebrows raise. “Who told you that?” He asks, although he has a sinking suspicion he already knows the answer.

Namjoon colors, like he’s embarrassed for whoever’s secret he’s about to tell. “Jeonggukkie. He’s mentioned something like that, a few times.”

Yoongi laughs. “The more I hear about this kid, the more I’m convinced he’s been stalking me for the past year.”

Namjoon laughs. “He always blasts your mixtape, all the time, like he runs around the house playing it. And he screamed when he found out he could work on this project with you. Like, at an inhumanly high pitch.” Yoongi bites back a smile, because he knows exactly what sound Namjoon is referring to: Jeongguk did it with him just the other day. “But he never stalked you.” Namjoon’s expression goes quickly to something serious. “He’s not, like, creepy, or completely obsessed with you.”

Yoongi smiles. “Just moderately obsessed, then.” Namjoon looks slightly panicked, so Yoongi hurries to continue, with a good deal less sarcasm. “It’s fine, I like the kid. I’ve never had a fanboy before. It’s kind of endearing.”

“That’s good,” says Namjoon, exhaling. “I think his heart would break if you were scared of him.”

Yoongi starts to say something, but the SENSITIVE INFORMATION: DO NOT SHARE alarms start going off in his head, and thank goodness, because he was either going to say: 1) that he is slightly scared of Jeongguk because he finds him so easy to get along with, or 2) that being around Jeongguk makes him less scared of himself and the world in general. Which are not even things he’s fully figured out or come to terms with, himself, much less things he should be sharing with his roommate’s soulmate and his kind-of friend, Kim Namjoon. He eventually has to cough out the air that got stuck in his throat when he stopped himself from oversharing, and an awkward cough is the perfect segway into actually adding that synth riff.

Namjoon is really nice to work with, in a different way from Jeongguk. He’s also a music production major, first of all, so he speaks the same language as Yoongi. And he’s really good. The King of Troubleshooting. Yoongi’s hero.

Yoongi says as much to him after they’ve finally hit all of the spots in the song that were bothering him. Namjoon’s eyes go wide and he gapes at Yoongi. “Your hero?” he repeats, as if Yoongi’s sanity is a mild concern to him.

“The song’s hero, too. Namjoon-ssi. You’ve helped this song reach its full potential.”

“You don’t have to call me that,” says Namjoon, making a face. “I would hope we’re close enough by now to ditch the formalities.”

“Namjoon-ah, then,” says Yoongi, and smiles, because it feels good, having someone consider you a friend.

“Thanks for letting me help.” Namjoon catches his eye before he adds, “Hyung.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” says Yoongi seriously. “You saved the day. This project. My grade in this class. Probably my graduation.”

“I think that is very much an exaggeration. But you’re welcome. I like music production. Obviously. I mean, that’s my major. And you’re my friend, so it really was my pleasure to work with you on this.”

Yoongi is still trying to wrap his head around the concept of having friends. Friends, that he likes. Friends, that he doesn’t have to worry about Ilseok hating and trying to keep him away from. Friends, that care about the things he cares about, that help him with projects, that say nice things like this. He is still trying to grasp the idea when Seokjin literally attacks him from behind.

“Hyung, what the hell,” Yoongi manages after a slightly mortifying shriek.

“Surprise,” says Seokjin, with what sounds like a twinge of anger. His smile is also a bit threatening, Yoongi notices once he squirms out of Seokjin’s grip. Yoongi feels his skin prickle, his hair standing on end, waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Or more like, I made a whole beautiful meal, and then neither my boyfriend nor my roommate came home for dinner, and it turns out they were still in the studio, and had completely forgotten about me.”

That awful sinking guilt coagulates in the pit of Yoongi’s stomach, something thick and hard and heavy. Shit. Shit. You should have thought about him, should have told him where you were, of course he was going to get mad, why do you never learn, you idiot. Yoongi opens his mouth to apologize, but Namjoon speaks first. “You literally told me to come here, babe. Wanna hear the song?”

Seokjin’s face transforms so fast it makes Yoongi dizzy. He goes from glaring to a wide grin in under half a second, and he nods, looking excited. “Is it good?”

Yoongi can’t quite breathe. Seokjin isn’t—he’s not mad. Yoongi isn’t in trouble. Seokjin looks happy, and...he wants to hear the song, and Yoongi—Yoongi didn’t do anything wrong. Seokjin isn’t going to stop talking to him, or avoid him for next week, or kick him out, or anything. He’s not mad, it’s okay. Yoongi breathes in, deep, and he has to force the air in, and force it back out.

“Yoongi-yah?” says Seokjin, at the same time Namjoon says “Hyung?”

Yoongi stares at the both of them, chanting you’re fine it’s okay you’re fine he’s not mad it’s okay you’re fine over and over in his head, but that sickening feeling of guilt is still lodged uncomfortably in his gut and won’t go away, no matter what he tells himself. He tries to respond to them, but he...can’t. His throat won’t work, he can’t make a sound. His mouth gapes open helplessly.

“What’s wrong?” asks Seokjin, smoothing a hand along Yoongi’s shoulder. Yoongi almost flinches at the touch, just out of reflex, but it doesn’t hurt when Seokjin touches him, so it’s...okay, for right now.

“You—y—” He exhales, loud. Swallows. “Sorry,” he says. “I just—I was just being stupid. Sorry.”

“It’s not stupid,” says Seokjin. “Did I do something?”

“No, no, sorry, I’m just—overreacting, or something, it’s not even—”

“Hyung,” says Namjoon, putting a hand on his arm. “If Jin-hyung or I did something, we want to know. We aren’t mad, we won’t be mad. We just want to know so we don’t do it again.”

Yoongi stares at them. Not mad. They aren’t mad. They won’t be mad. Yoongi inhales, and looks at Seokjin. “I just—I thought you were mad? That I hadn’t said where we were? And you had, like, made dinner, and we didn’t come home, and…” Yoongi feels tears prick at his eyelids. No. Absolutely not. He is not going to cry right now. “Sorry, I totally overreacted, and you’re not mad, obviously, I just—”

“Yoongi-yah,” says Seokjin, gently. “I’m sorry. I was just being dramatic. Acting major, you know. I didn’t think.”

“It’s not your fault,” says Yoongi quickly. “I’m the one who freaked out for no reason.”

“Not for no reason. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named always got mad at you, so it’s normal if you freak out when you think someone might be mad. I didn’t think, and I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t have to, like, walk on eggshells around me,” says Yoongi, and the blood in his veins won’t stop heating up, agitating him, like the misplaced guilt has taken a new form as this irritation. “You don’t need to apologize. I’m the one who’s psychologically messed up. You shouldn’t have to be careful not to trigger me, or whatever. That’s not fair to you.”

“That’s not—”

“I know I’m a burden to you, hyung. To both of you.” Yoongi is so angry, suddenly, and it’s clawing at his skin, plugged up in his lungs. He feels a tear drip off one eye.

“You’re not—”

Yoongi can’t stop, like the words are an avalanche crumbling down the mountainside. “I live with you. For free. You cook for me all the time, and not only that, but you have to be, like, extra careful around me, because I’m all screwed up, and I can’t even take a damn joke without crying. I’m obviously a goddamn burden.”

“Yoongi-yah, I really don’t—”

“I’m sorry,” says Yoongi, fully crying now. “You’re really nice, you know that? Way too nice to have to put up with my shit.”

And he leaves before either of them can say anything, choking on the next round of tears. He grabs his backpack and all but runs out of the studio, and he’s halfway across campus before he realizes that he’s alone.

Which is what he’s used to, but it stings a little, because for at least a moment, he wasn’t.

Well.

He’s probably ruined that now.

---

It takes a while for Yoongi to realize that he doesn’t have anywhere to go. He’s run away from Seokjin and Namjoon, which means he can’t go back home, and he’s also run away from his studio, where they might possibly still be.

The thing is, Yoongi should have known better. He sort of—loses grip on his emotions, a little, when he’s panicked, and his filter is practically nonexistent, so he ends up just sort of saying things. It’s not that they’re things he doesn’t mean, but they are things he probably doesn’t want to say; at least, not the way they come out. He tends to be harsh and blunt when he’s panicked, and so he typically tries to avoid any conversation at all, but he had just—blurted all of that, and now they know, and he can start hoping to find somewhere else to live.

His phone has been vibrating nonstop for...however long it’s been since he booked it out of the studio. He doesn’t dare look at it. He imagines it’s probably Seokjin and Namjoon trying to tell him...something.

He’s just—so frustrated. With himself. He left Ilseok, took himself out of the figurative lion’s den, which means he’s supposed to be safe, and okay, and back to normal. But he, well—isn’t. And people like Jimin and Seokjin and Jeongguk keep saying it’s okay for him to have a hard time, but he can see it, the way he’s draining them, leeching off of their kindness, soaking up their time like a greedy sponge.

It’s just—they say it’s okay, or whatever, that they don’t mind helping him, but. That’s what he used to say, too, before, when Ilseok was bleeding him within an inch of his life. And he’s so scared, of turning into him.

Yoongi’s thoughts are still all messed up, a dark tangle that started out as Ilseok’s voice, but it’s so knotted up in there now that it’s just him. His own voice. Telling him he doesn’t have the capacity to be successful, that he can’t change, that he’s lazy, and irresponsible, and doomed to be a starving artist until the end of his days. Which, he knows, somewhere in his heart, that it isn’t true, of course it’s not true, but those twisted-up thoughts scream and shriek and wail and drown everything else out. And since it’s like this, his own voice saying all of it, the blacks and the whites and the murky grays, he sometimes can’t tell which ones are lies until much, much later.

This is scary enough on its own, of course, like a demon trapped inside his head, whispering a mixture of lies and truths and half-truths that he can’t always distinguish. But he has this awful, sinking feeling that this is how Ilseok started too. That something like this took root in Ilseok’s head and it poisoned his view of himself, and then the poison didn’t stop, spread out through his whole brain until that was the way he saw Yoongi too, as something irredeemable.

Yoongi feels like he maybe could be a side character in a zombie movie, someone who’s already been bitten, who is just waiting to turn into a monster, who knows there is nothing he can do to stop it. He might be able to. He wants to be able to stop it. But if he doesn’t—

His phone goes off again, vibrating in his pocket nonstop.

He can apologize, or something, he thinks, after a day or two. He can spend the night in his studio, and then go back to Seokjin and Namjoon, and actually listen to them, this time, and just...be grateful, instead of whatever he’s being right now.

Because Ilseok—Ilseok never apologized, not for anything with any weight. And Ilseok didn’t listen, and Ilseok didn’t know how to communicate. Yoongi can explain himself, or try to, and talk to them. Let them explain themselves, too. Ilseok wouldn’t do that.

Yoongi doesn’t have to be like Ilseok.

He doesn’t.

It’s cold outside, Yoongi realizes, a little belatedly. His hands are starting to go numb and a little blue. He’s debating in his head whether he should go back to the studio already, or if he should wait a little longer, when suddenly he hears the word “hyung” screamed across the courtyard, and a small blur bearing notable resemblance to one Park Jimin is barrelling toward him.

It’s the most Yoongi can do to avoid being barrelled over, and Jimin latches onto him like an octopus, holding him tightly for what feels like several minutes. “Hyung, you’re freezing,” he says, dragging his palms down Yoongi’s arms until he can clasp both of Yoongi’s hands. “Let’s get you inside, huh?”

Yoongi’s expecting Jimin to say something about Seokjin, or about him running out, or about anything that just happened, but he doesn’t, just takes Yoongi by the hands and drags him inside the nearest building. The warmth is like another hug, and Yoongi feels its embrace down to his toes. “Are you okay?” Jimin asks, after giving Yoongi a moment to defrost. It doesn’t escape Yoongi’s notice that he is typing something frantically on his phone: probably a message to Seokjin and Namjoon.

“I’m—” He almost lies, but then he stops himself. “Kind of. I’ve been worse.”

Jimin smiles, warm and kind. “Seokjin-hyung said the song is amazing.”

Yoongi had been expecting to hear “Seokjin-hyung is worried about you” or “Seokjin-hyung is upset with you,” and had already started closing up on reflex. “He liked it?” Yoongi asks quietly, taking a moment to reverse his instincts, to open back up.

“A ton. He wants to use it as a demo, I think he probably texted you already to ask if he can.”

Yoongi’s phone vibrates again, perfectly on cue. Yoongi almost wants to read the messages, but—not quite yet. “Is he—is he mad?” His tongue trips on the word that started this whole mess in the first place.

Jimin tilts his head to the side. “No. He just wanted to know if you were okay. He was about to put together a search party, but I happened to pass you in the quad.”

“I kind of…” Yoongi starts, but then he stops, because he’s not sure how to put it into words, what he said to Seokjin and Namjoon. The words he remembers saying are much more harsh than anything he would dare utter now.

“You can talk to them, whenever you’re ready. They’re willing to listen. Well,” he scrolls through his phone, laughing, “to quote Jin-hyung, ‘of course we want to talk to him. Hopefully he will also let one of us finish a sentence next time.’”

Yoongi laughs a little too, in spite of the fact that he still feels guilty. This guilt is normal, though, just a tilt of unease, not the huge tumorous mass that had taken up residence in his stomach earlier. “You can stay with me, if you want, for the night?” asks Jimin. “If you’re still figuring out what you want to say to the hyungs.”

“Oh, no, I can just—in the studio...” he starts to say, but Jimin sends him a glare. A real one. A bonafide Park-Jimin’s-Hit-List glare. “Or—thank you, sure, I’ll stay with you.”

“Sleep in the studio, hyung, what the hell. Don’t you ever dare suggest that again.” Jimin punches him in the arm, but there’s no force behind it.

Yoongi feels a little uncomfortable, still, about the whole thing, about being a burden and an inconvenience, but a little thought comes into his head, that if their positions were reversed, and Jimin were the one planning to spend the night in the dance studio, Yoongi would also probably pull out his most frightening glare and punch Jimin in the arm.

So, maybe, it is a little less of a parasitic relationship, and a little more of a mutualistic one. Which might actually be...okay.

---

Yoongi has pretty much mapped out a sort of speech to give to Seokjin and Namjoon. It’s some apologizing, some explanation, and a lot of blank space to listen to what they want to say. He doesn’t often do things like this—probably because he doesn’t often get himself into trouble. Which might be a result of being with Ilseok for so long, now that he thinks about it. He’s over-sensitive to what might bother everyone else and over-cautious to not do it.

So having to approach someone and ask forgiveness, someone who will actually work to fix what went wrong, someone who cares about their relationship with him enough to work at it: this is very new to him.

He’s getting close to Seokjin’s apartment, feeling a sort of excited nervousness that tingles like a sparkler in his veins: warm, fizzy, bright. He mumbles the beginning of his prepared speech to himself as he walks, making sure he’s got the words just right, when he sees—Jeongguk, running towards him, face white.

“Hyung,” he says as soon as he’s close enough, the word falling out on a heavy exhale. “Hyung, he found out.”

Yoongi’s blood goes to ice, and he can already feel himself start to shake, even though he doesn’t know for sure what Jeongguk’s talking about, it could be...it probably isn’t what he’s...right? “Who?” he almost whispers. Jeongguk is barely close enough to hear him.

“The asshole, ” Jeongguk hisses, as if he doesn’t ever intend to refer to Ilseok by his name, as if Ilseok doesn't quite deserve the credit of Jeongguk considering him a person. “He saw Namjoon and Seokjin together. He knows you lied. And he’s there now, waiting for you to come home.”

“No,” says Yoongi. “No no no, there’s no way he found out, no.”

“I’m so sorry, hyung,” says Jeongguk. “He followed them home, he’s literally hiding outside their door. He asked the neighbors and they said you live there, and he said he’ll wait for you come back, then. Seokjin saw him talking to them and texted to ask what they had told him, which is how we know. He hasn’t talked to Namjoon-hyung or Seokjin-hyung yet. I don’t think he realizes they saw him, but...”

Yoongi is dizzy. Alarmed. Panicked. He can feel fear crawling under his skin. “How did—he doesn’t even go to school here, why was he—”

“I don’t know, just, you can’t go there. If he stays long enough, they can call the police on him or something, stalking charges. But they sent me to keep you away, in the meantime.”

Jeongguk’s phone rings. The sound echoes in Yoongi’s head, bouncing off everything until his skull is full of it. “Hyung,” Jeongguk answers. “He—he what? No, shit...Okay. All right, I’ll...yeah.” He turns back to Yoongi. “He left. Probably going to find you somewhere else.”

“He knows where Jimin lives,” says Yoongi. “And where my studio is, and all my classes, and he’d be able to find out where Hoseok lives, easily, and—” He can’t stop talking, because Ilseok knows everything, knows about the lie, knows everywhere Yoongi goes, and he’ll keep looking for him, forever, probably. He’ll wait until he can find Yoongi alone, and then he’ll do...something. Yoongi doesn’t know what, but he knows it will be bad. Really really bad.

“My house,” says Jeongguk. “He doesn’t know me. Come to my house. He won’t be able to find you there. Let’s just get you away from him, for now, and then...we’ll figure something out.” Jeongguk is staring at the ground, looking really determined, like he’s not going to stop until he’s sure Yoongi never sees Ilseok again.

“Okay,” says Yoongi, breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth. “Your house. Okay.”

Okay. Yoongi doesn't feel okay.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

It’s like Yoongi blinked, and he’s now standing in Jeon Jeongguk’s apartment, where a really elegant-looking boy dressed from head to toe in...Gucci? is looking him over. “Who did you say this was?” Gucci asks, in a shockingly deep voice.

“Yoongi-hyung?” Gucci’s eyebrows crease in confusion, so Jeongguk continues. “The senior? For the vocal project I’ve been—”

“You’re Agust D!” exclaims Gucci, so loudly and so suddenly it almost makes Yoongi jump. “Wow. Gukkie, how did you manage to lure him here? This is so cool, Jeongguk talks about you all the time, I can’t believe you’re actually here! Did you—”

Hyung,” says Jeongguk, looking sternly at Gucci. “Yoongi-hyung is in trouble, and you need to be normal, and not freak him out.” Jeongguk turns to Yoongi. “This is my roommate, Kim Taehyung. I’m sorry about him.”

Yoongi doesn’t trust himself to speak, so he just nods at Gucci (Taehyung, his name isn’t Gucci), and then again at Jeongguk. “You don’t have class or anything, do you?” asks Jeongguk.

“Not today,” says Yoongi. “Tomorrow morning.”

“Tae-hyung or I will walk you,” says Jeongguk.

Yoongi shakes his head rapidly. “No, you don’t need to—”

“I don’t want him to do anything. We can at least make sure he doesn’t hurt you.”

“He’s not the type to be violent,” says Yoongi, trying to act like this is okay, like he’s not quivering at the mere thought of being within Ilseok’s line of vision. He doesn’t know why he’s trying to argue against Jeongguk, but he keeps going anyway. “He won’t hurt me.”

“I don’t mean physically, hyung.” Jeongguk looks at him in a way that makes him feel simultaneously like he's transparent and like he’s covered in full, thick armor. It doesn’t make any sense. But that’s how he feels. Exposed, but protected. “I don’t want him anywhere near you.”

“Are you sure it isn’t too much trouble?”

“Not to interrupt,” says Taehyung, interrupting, “but what exactly is going on?”

Yoongi thinks this is probably the best possible time to explain everything to Taehyung, but instead of explaining anything, Yoongi just looks at him, Ilseok’s name so heavy on his tongue that he can’t force it to move. He glances apologetically at Jeongguk, but Jeongguk is looking at Taehyung, already about to answer the question.

“Yoongi-hyung was dating this guy who was a total asshole, so Jin-hyung pretended to be his soulmate to get him out of there. Only, now the asshole saw Jin-hyung and Namjoon-hyung together and leaving bruises, so he knows that Yoongi-hyung lied, and now the asshole’s stalking him.”

Taehyung raises his hand. “I volunteer as a bodyguard.”

Yoongi finds his voice abruptly. “You don’t even know me.”

“I know plenty about you. You’re Agust D. Jeongguk is like, in love with you. He listens to your mixtape every day. He said you guys were working on a project together and ‘whoa, hyung, he’s so cool, his lyrics are amazing, you should see him work, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ Seriously, he went on like that for hours. Anyone who Jeonggukkie likes that much has got to be a good person. So, I’m happy to help you stay safe from your psycho ex.”

Jeongguk has gone a light shade of pink, and is looking at Taehyung in horror. “That’s not—I don’t talk about you like that, hyung, don’t listen to him.”

Yoongi files away Jeongguk’s flattery and blushing as something to go over later, when there’s not a more pressing issue at hand, and turns back to Taehyung. “Really? You’d be willing to help me, just because…”

“You’re Jeonggukkie’s friend? And you’re, just, like, a person, caught in a bad situation? Of course I’ll help.” Taehyung grins, his lips baring a rectangle of bright teeth. “What time is your class?”

“Um, nine?” says Yoongi.

“Oh, I have a class then too! I can definitely walk to campus with you!” Taehyung looks very excited about this. Which Yoongi doesn’t quite understand. “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe from any asshole ex-boyfriends you might come across.”

Yoongi exhales, relieved and surprised and trying to come to terms with this. “Oh. Okay. Thank you, I guess.”

Taehyung beams. “No problem! Anything for the love of Gukkie’s life.”

Hyung,” Jeongguk spits. “He’s not—I’m not—” He’s spluttering, going a bit pinker.

“Sure,” says Taehyung, raising an eyebrow and Jeongguk and then... winking?

“Yoongi-hyung’s going to stay here tonight, okay hyung?” Jeongguk addresses Taehyung, pretending not to have heard his prior comments. He’s steadily blushing, though, Yoongi notes. Why, he starts to ask himself, but then Taehyung responds.

“Awesome!” says Taehyung, like he had invited Yoongi here and planned a whole banquet to welcome him. “Will you rap for us?”

“What?” says Yoongi weakly, at the same time Jeongguk says “No, hyung, leave him alone.”

“You don’t have to,” says Taehyung. “But it could be fun, to distract you. Like...we could go to a noraebang?”

“Okay,” says Yoongi, surprising himself a little bit, and also, apparently, surprising Jeongguk, who is looking at him in shock.

“Wait, really?” Taehyung beams, like he wasn’t expecting Yoongi to say yes either but is thrilled that he did. “You really want to?”

“I’d rather do something than just sit here, thinking about Il”—he trips on Ilseok’s name—“about him.”

Jeongguk’s eyes get a little dark, like a storm cloud has moved in and is threatening a downpour over his thoughts. Taehyung, on the other hand, is vibrating with excitement. “Let’s go, Gukkie. It’ll be fun. We can sing, and hyung can rap!”

“You’re sure?” asks Jeongguk, leveling Yoongi with a very serious-looking gaze.

Yoongi nods. “I’m sure. Let’s go.” And he joins Taehyung in a chant of “noraebang! noraebang!” as Jeongguk blinks at both of them.

---

Yoongi has almost forgotten about Ilseok, except for the occasional jerk of panic in his gut, where he whips his head around, checking for Ilseok in every shadow. That’s only every few minutes, though: other than that, it’s easy for him to be distracted, because Taehyung and Jeongguk are funny and clever and chatter along the whole way to the noraebang.

The noraebang is surprisingly empty for a Friday night, just a handful of lost-looking couples at varying stages of inebriation. Some of them alarmingly so, considering it’s barely 6:00 p.m. and not even finals week.

Jeongguk immediately queues up about fifteen Epik High songs, which makes Yoongi smile, especially when he notices that they are all the songs he told Jeongguk about the other day, his favorites, the ones that got him interested in music in the first place. It’s a little weird, but the good kind of weird: realizing that Jeongguk listens when he talks, and cares about what he cares about.

Yoongi ends up taking most of the Epik High songs off (“I’m not putting on a solo Epik High cover concert, Jeongguk-ah”) and Taehyung is quick to add some Big Bang and SNSD and then a whole slew of classic noraebang trot songs.

“Hyung, not this again,” says Jeongguk, looking and sounding exhausted.

Taehyung pouts and looks pleadingly at Yoongi. “I don’t sing,” says Yoongi. “You invited me here to rap. I can’t rap to those.”

Taehyung sighs loudly and removes several songs from the queue, but not without acting like he’s getting one tooth pulled per song he takes off.

It ends up being fun. Really fun, more than Yoongi had been expecting. Noraebang is always more fun when the people you’re with are prepared to be a little shameless, which both Taehyung and Jeongguk definitely are. Yoongi ends up singing (or screeching) the trot songs anyway, a pleasant cacophony with Jeongguk’s soft, high voice and Taehyung’s deep, rich one.

It’s late by the time they get back to Jeongguk’s (and Taehyung’s) apartment; late enough that Yoongi should probably go directly to sleep. Which, he starts to do. Taehyung goes to get ready for bed, and so does Jeongguk, so Yoongi curls up on the couch, one of the throw pillows under his head, pulling the blanket that’s draped across one of the arms over him.

“Um, I would not recommend using that blanket as an actual blanket,” says Jeongguk, and Yoongi looks up to see him holding a pile of genuine, fluffy, warm-looking blankets. “It’s really more decorative. Hyung’s mom got a little carried away trying to decorate our apartment when we moved in, and so now we have a surplus of random shit that looks nice but has no functional purpose.” Yoongi looks down at the blanket Jeongguk is referring to, which is thin and particularly holey, as well as being maybe a square meter in size. It barely covers his knees. “Here,” says Jeongguk, and proceeds to toss him the entire stack of real blankets at once. They smack him directly in the face, and he has to set the top two of them to his side before he can even see Jeongguk over the pile.

“Thanks,” says Yoongi. “Not just, for the blankets...but like, this whole thing. Letting me stay with you, walking me to class, all that.”

“It’s not a problem,” says Jeongguk. “Although I wasn’t expecting you and Tae-hyung to get along like a house on fire.”

“He’s cool,” says Yoongi, even though he is probably just as caught off-guard by his and Taehyung’s unlikely friendship as Jeongguk is. “He’s...not like most people I know. It’s refreshing.”

Jeongguk laughs, eyes and nose all crinkled up, his teeth on full display, and then he sits next to Yoongi, on the corner of the last cushion, as far away as he can be on the small couch. Yoongi is a little surprised; he thought they were all going to bed, but apparently Jeongguk is sitting down with him. Not that he minds. In fact, his problem with this is probably the opposite: he would be happy to stay up with Jeongguk for most of the night. Which is a little bit alarming to him.

“He’s a really good friend,” says Jeongguk. “It was kind of hard for me when I first started school, but Tae-hyung made it a lot easier.”

Yoongi smiles. “You’re lucky. To have such good friends. I mean, Jin-hyung adores you too, and Namjoon-ah.”

“They’re your friends too, now,” says Jeongguk, looking at him in that way he has, so softly and gently Yoongi feels like he’s made of rose petals, like he must be something pretty and delicate and valuable for Jeongguk to look at him like that.

“I screwed up,” says Yoongi. “With them.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “You didn’t. Hyung. You can’t keep beating yourself up for that.”

“I still haven’t even apologized, or tried to explain—”

“You couldn’t,” says Jeongguk, a little insistently, pressure on his words. “You were going to, and the asshole showed up. Anyway, they’ve already forgiven you, hyung.”

“Why?” asks Yoongi. “I said all sorts of awful shit. Why would they be so quick to forgive me?”

Jeongguk’s eyes narrow, looking a little frustrated, but it’s not directed at Yoongi. It’s never directed at Yoongi. “When I was in sixth grade,” says Jeongguk, and Yoongi wasn’t expecting a story, “someone T-boned my mom’s car while she was driving me home from basketball practice. It was a nasty wreck, the whole other car ran straight into the passenger seat. I broke my femur.”

Yoongi has no idea where this is going. “I spent, like, 2 months, in a wheelchair, and then another 3 months on crutches. I couldn’t get anywhere on my own. I had to have at least two people to help me get to class, to get me in and out of bed. I hated it. But—there were always people willing to help me. My friends would still invite me to go places with them, even though it took upwards of five minutes to get me into the car and another five minute to get me out of it, even though I walked at the speed of a snail. They didn’t blame me. I was still their friend, and I just happened to have gotten hurt, through no fault of my own. It was just a thing that had happened. They had to deal with me being basically immobile, but they didn’t care, because they cared about me, because me being hurt didn’t make me any less of a person.”

Jeongguk looks at Yoongi again. “I think it’s kind of similar with you. He hurt you, and so you might take a while to recover, and there will be things you can’t do as easily, or things that still hurt. But, we get it, and we still like you in spite of you what that asshole did to you.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything, because this…kind of makes sense, in a weird way. The analogy is oddly fitting. Yoongi feels like his brain is what’s broken, like he can’t trust people the way he used to. Which, apparently, from what Jeongguk is saying, is fine. It’s a thing that happened to him. It doesn’t define him. “That’s really what you think?” asks Yoongi quietly.

“I like you,” says Jeongguk, his whole expression serious. It sounds and looks a little like a confession. Yoongi’s mouth drops a tiny bit open, and he starts remembering Taehyung’s teasing earlier (“Jeongguk is like, in love with you.” “Anything for the love of Gukkie’s life.” and then how Jeongguk had blushed and hissed at Taehyung to try and get him to shut up.) It takes Jeongguk another half a second to realize exactly what he said, and a look of terror crosses his face. “No. No. Not like that, hyung, that’s not what I meant.” Jeongguk is waving his hands frantically, as if the gesture could erase his previous words. “As a friend. I like you as a friend, and I understand if it’s hard for you to open up to me or trust me or whatever, and it’s totally fine. You need time to heal. It doesn’t bother me.” He swallows. “ Us, I mean. Any of us. Seokjin-hyung, and Namjoon-hyung, and Tae-hyung too.” He hides his hands behind his face. “Wow. That was a disaster, I’m sorry.”

Yoongi laughs in spite of himself, because Jeongguk went so quickly from serious and genuine to a complete flustered disaster. “Thanks. I guess,” he says, still laughing. Jeongguk makes a noise like a dying seal, if the seal were dying of embarrassment. Yoongi doesn't think seals can even be embarrassed, but that's still what Jeongguk sounds like. “Are you okay, though?”

Jeongguk peeks over the tops of his fingers. “This is why I don’t try to comfort people. Wow. I’m so bad at this. I’m sorry. I should just stick to things I’m good at. I could, like, sing you a song, or run through taekwondo forms, instead of trying to tell stories from my childhood like an inspirational message.” He cringes. “Oh no, shit, everything I just said was like a TED Talk, or one of those awful Christian youth seminars.”

“It worked,” says Yoongi. “I feel better.”

“Really?” says Jeongguk, his hands dropping to his lap. He looks surprised and a little hopeful.

“Yeah.” The corner of Yoongi’s mouth keeps threatening to twitch up into a full smile. “And the more you keep rambling on making a fool of yourself, the better I feel.”

Jeongguk tries to look offended, but it doesn’t last more than a few seconds, and then he crumples into laughter, loud and high. Yoongi can’t help but join in, feeling all warm to the tips of his toes. They laugh long enough and loud enough that Taehyung sticks his head out of his bedroom, asking them to “please respect the sanctity of my most sacred sleep.” This, of course, only makes them laugh harder, and Yoongi gets that feeling again, where he thinks he might want to laugh with Jeongguk for weeks, or months, or maybe years.

---

When Yoongi wakes up in the morning, it is to a series of thumps and bangs. As he squints one eye open, these noises are revealed to be coming from Taehyung, who is standing in the kitchen, alternating punching a cookie sheet and a sack of flour with a great deal of energy. Jeongguk is holding them both up, the cookie sheet held vertically and the sack of flour clenched at the top by his fist. “Good morning!” says Taehyung cheerfully when he notices Yoongi staring, as if waging war on kitchen items is an everyday occurrence.

“What are you doing?” asks Yoongi, blinking.

“Training,” says Taehyung, and Yoongi waits several seconds for him to provide more detail, which...he does not.

“For...the zombie apocalypse? World War: Sentient Food?”

Jeongguk snorts. Taehyung grins. “No. For fighting your ex. I volunteered as a bodyguard, I should at least be able to punch the guy.”

“You agreed to help him with this?” Yoongi asks Jeongguk, who nods sheepishly. “Taehyung, you don’t have to do that.” Taehyung obediently stops the punching, looking over at Yoongi with blatant curiosity. “I told you both, he’s not going to be physically violent. You aren’t going to have to beat him up, or attack him, or anything.”

“Better safe than sorry,” Taehyung says, shrugging, and goes right back to the cookie sheet/flour sack punching routine.

“Jeongguk-ah? You’re encouraging this?” asks Yoongi, looking as betrayed as he possibly can.

“Better safe than sorry,” Jeongguk echoes, shooting Yoongi a blinding grin. Yoongi rolls his eyes.

Taehyung delivers a particularly forceful punch to the cookie sheet, which lets out a reverberating bang like a gong. Taehyung yelps, cradling his knuckles in his other hand. “You are looking pretty sorry to me,” says Yoongi, laughing.

“Not at all,” says Taehyung, with an air of confidence that his fighting skills definitely do not warrant. “Considering his head isn’t made of sheet metal, I’m already at a significant advantage.” And then he swings his other fist into the flour sack, punching with so much power that it flies out of Jeongguk’s grasp and flings open as it spins, raining flour in a white cascade over Jeongguk, Taehyung, and the entire kitchen.

Jeongguk laughs so hard he crashes into the counter, the cookie sheet falling onto the surface with a metallic smack. Yoongi collapses into the couch cushions, his ribs aching as he laughs until there are tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. When he resurfaces, Taehyung is crouched on the ground, cackling, and Jeongguk is hanging onto the counter with one arm. Both of them are still covered in flour, and it’s all over the floor like a dusting of snow. “Please don’t ever try to fight again,” says Yoongi, pleading.

“That’s fair,” says Taehyung through a bout of laughter. “Shit. I can’t go to class looking like this. And I put so much thought into this outfit too.”

“You’re literally wearing a hoodie and sweatpants,” Jeongguk points out.

“I put thought into choosing this specific hoodie and sweatpants, Jeon Jeongguk.”

“What thought? ‘I think these are the only two clothing items I have that are clean’?”

Taehyung glares at Jeongguk, then stomps into his bedroom to change, and Yoongi’s throat hurts. He can’t think of a time over the last few months when he has felt so happy.

Now, when he tries to imagine what his future might look like, it looks like this: laughing until he's crying, everything coated in white flour, under the bright lights of Jeongguk's kitchen. It's something to look forward to, instead of something to dread.

---

Taehyung wears a different hoodie and sweatpants to class, which are largely indistinguishable from the first pair. In fact, Yoongi probably would not have even noticed a difference if it weren’t for the lack of flour stains.

They don’t even see Ilseok the whole way to class. He’s still not there when Yoongi goes to the studio after his first class, nor at either one of his afternoon lectures. Yoongi almost wishes he could just see him, just get it over with, instead of having this dread tingling at the back of his spine, the constant knowledge that he could appear at any moment. Yoongi knows he’s going to appear. Ilseok isn’t the type to just give up. He’s going to want an explanation, and he’s going to want to find a way to get Yoongi back.

Yoongi’s waiting outside the the arts building: Jeongguk is coming to walk him back from class, but his lecture let out a few minutes early, so...he’s just standing there. People keep walking by—it is a college campus, after all—and Yoongi is nervous to the point that every single footstep he hears sounds like Ilseok. Every shadow looks like him. Every voice sounds like his. Yoongi should probably go inside, stay out of potential-Ilseok’s visibility, but Jeongguk had said he would be there in a few minutes, and Yoongi’s going to be just as jumpy inside as he is out here. Anyway, it’s just a few minutes, and it probably—

Someone’s shoe hits the sidewalk, and the thrum of anxiety in Yoongi’s spine turns to full-fledged terror. Yoongi knows that footfall.

“Yoonie,” says that voice, always capable of the illusion of kindness but never the real thing. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Ilseok looks concerned, like he’s worried that Yoongi has been having a hard time away from him.

He has no clue. Ilseok still has no idea what he did to Yoongi.

Ilseok steps close to him, and Yoongi’s fight-or-flight reflex malfunctions, causing him to just freeze. Ilseok reaches up a hand to touch Yoongi’s face. He tucks a strand of hair behind Yoongi’s ear. Traces his fingers down Yoongi’s cheek. Yoongi can’t breathe.

Ilseok's touch tingles and burns and stings. Hurts. It hurts.

“He has a soulmate. Seokjin. I saw him with someone who wasn’t you, saw him bruise.” Yoongi can feel Ilseok’s breath on his face. It’s cold, chilling, where it should be warm. Ilseok leans back so he can see Yoongi’s face. “Did you know?”

Yoongi steels his nerves. Nods. He’s not sure he can speak.

“Did he trick you?” asks Ilseok next.

Yoongi shakes his head.

“Why did you—”

Suddenly it all erupts. “I tried to tell you so many times. You weren’t nice to me.” The words spew out, lava melting everywhere, burning everything. “I told you. You think that you loved me, but you didn’t. You made me feel like I was never good enough, like no matter what I did I was never going to be what you wanted. I was miserable with you.” Yoongi exhales, feeling the heat of it. His very skin is on fire, the whole world going up in flames. “I tried, and tried, and it never got better. So I asked Seokjin for help. He posed as my soulmate so I could have a reason to get away and never see you again.”

“You didn’t tell me.” Ilseok looks confused, concerned. Not angry. Not angry yet. “I didn’t know you felt like that. You could have told me, we could have worked through it.”

“I did tell you, though. So many times. I told you things that hurt me, but you kept doing them again anyway. You never listened.” It’s all playing back in Yoongi’s head like a drama montage, every time he told Ilseok “when you do this, it makes me feel bad” or “please try to understand” and Ilseok talked over him or interrupted or simply ignored him. Every time Yoongi had started talking about something he cared about, and Ilseok had rolled his eyes, mocked him for having interests. Ilseok never listened. Never cared.

“So you lied to me?”

“I don’t regret it,” says Yoongi, and he means it, he does. “I did what I had to. I had to get away from you.” He inhales, pushes Ilseok’s hand away from where it’s still brushing against his chin. “Please leave me alone.” His voice is quiet, but it’s not weak.

“Can’t we—can we talk through it? Tell me what I can do?” Ilseok looks apologetic. Sincere. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I want to try again, make it better. Please, Yoonie? Can’t we work together, try to fix it? I’ll listen to whatever you have to say. We can work out a compromise, right?”

Ilseok's eyes are big and a little watery. He  looks like he means what he's saying.

So, Yoongi might be wrong, then. It's very possible. Maybe he jumped to conclusions. He didn’t have to run away from him like that. Maybe Ilseok would actually try, maybe it could get better. If he listens to Yoongi, if he actually works at it, it could get better. It’s not like Ilseok is a horrible person. They were happy, at first. And people deserve second chances, Yoongi knows that. Maybe he should give him the benefit of the doubt here. Be the bigger person.

Maybe Ilseok will stop hurting him. Maybe things will be different if they try again. Maybe…

His heart twinges, just a little flicker of pain, an old scar acting up, and then Yoongi remembers. With Ilseok, he is always at risk of getting hurt.

The thing is, it’s a gamble. It might be able to work. They might be able to build something happy, and functional. But it might not. And if it doesn’t, he’ll get crushed again. He was able to get out of there alive, the first time. But if he goes back, and it goes bad, he might not be so lucky.

The stakes are too high, he realizes. His sanity, his life, aren’t worth the risk.

“No. I don’t think so,” Yoongi says, with a rush of conviction. “I can’t let you hurt me like that again.”

“So, what, I’m just supposed to let you go?"

“Yes, please,” Yoongi nods. Locks gazes with Ilseok. He has never felt as confidently frightened as he does right now. “If you ever cared about me, at all, please just leave me alone.”

“That’s not—”

“He said to leave him alone,” says—Jeongguk. Jeongguk is here, looking at Ilseok. His expression is stony and unreadable, until he turns his gaze to Yoongi and it goes soft again. The lava still oozing under Yoongi’s skin cools completely when he meets Jeongguk’s eyes, all the angry, pent-up energy going out with a hiss.

“Please, Yoongi, can’t you give me another chance?” Ilseok asks. He sounds desperate.

Yoongi can’t, though. Can’t give Ilseok even one more opportunity to level a punch at his self-esteem. “No, thank you. I can't.”

Ilseok glances at Jeongguk, and then looks back at Yoongi. “Let’s just talk, for a minute? Just the two of us. Okay?” Ilseok is reaching for Yoongi’s hand, and then three things happen at once.

First: Yoongi sees it coming, pulls his hand back, out of Ilseok’s reach. Second: Yoongi’s hand collides with Jeongguk’s, who had also reached forward, presumably to make sure Ilseok didn’t touch Yoongi again.

Third: Jeongguk makes a noise, something like a gasp of surprise. Surprise mixed with pain.

Because, right there on Jeongguk's skin, in the exact spot where Yoongi’s hand had touched his, vivid magenta and blood-red, is a bruise.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

For a moment, it’s like time doesn’t exist. Like the whole space where they are standing, outside the door of the art building, has suddenly become liminal. Like everything is on the cusp of a huge transformation, the biggest change of their lives. No one moves, no one speaks. Yoongi isn’t sure anyone even breathes.

The first thing that happens to prove that they haven’t actually paused space-time is that Jeongguk reaches forward again, wraps his hand around Yoongi’s wrist. Yoongi is staring at Jeongguk’s eyes, and he watches them twitch, hears his breath hitch at the sudden onset of pain. Jeongguk leaves his hand there for several seconds. Yoongi can feel Jeongguk’s warmth, ebbing gently into his skin like the shy ripples of an incoming tide. Jeongguk pulls his hand back, turns it over palm-up. Everything is violet and crimson red in Yoongi’s vision, Jeongguk’s whole hand swimming with color.

“Holy shit,” whispers Jeongguk, quietly, gently, almost reverently. Yoongi’s brain feels like it’s been plunged into a vat of jelly. “It’s—you’re my—”

“Is this even real?” says Ilseok, his voice rough and scathing, breaking through the delicate tension that had Yoongi and Jeongguk all wrapped up in its embrace. “This is the same stunt you pulled before, Yoonie, so forgive me if it’s a little hard to believe.”

Jeongguk stares at him. “How would we have faked what just happened? I had no idea he was my soulmate, or I would have...” Jeongguk catches Yoongi’s eye, and sort of gives up on his sentence, letting it drain away into nothing.

“Can you prove it? Prove there’s not paint, or something else, on your skin? Show me the bruises are real?” asks Ilseok, and Yoongi is so, so tired of him, so tired of seeing him and hearing his voice and feeling anxious and exhausted and never ever good enough.

Yoongi holds his hand out, nothing but pale skin. “Show him your other hand, Jeongguk-ah,” he says. He can hear the rough scrape of his voice, the anger in it. He knows he’s being stupid, letting Ilseok rile him up still, after everything.

Jeongguk does what Yoongi asks, shows his unblemished hand. Yoongi presses two fingers to the inside of Jeongguk’s wrist, like he’s taking his pulse, and pulls them back. There are two new marks on Jeongguk's skin, like bloody shadows left behind at Yoongi’s touch. “Are you convinced?” Yoongi asks.

Ilseok swallows. “I mean, okay, he’s your soulmate. But, that doesn’t change—we can still—”

“No,” says Yoongi, and his voice echoes, like the ghosts of his ancestors have joined in, adding their voices to the fight for his soul. “I don’t want you. I have a soulmate, now. But even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t let you hurt me again. Please. Go away.”

“That’s really what you want?” asks Ilseok, a whirl of quiet anger.

“That’s really what I want,” Yoongi affirms.

Jeongguk puts a hand close to the base of Yoongi’s spine, on top of his jacket, and it feels so good, like Yoongi could melt straight into his touch. But—right. He can’t get used to touching Jeongguk. He can’t, because if he does, Jeongguk will get hurt, and Yoongi doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Especially Jeongguk, good and gentle and kind. Jeongguk doesn’t deserve to be hurt.

“I think no one will ever love you like I do,” says Ilseok.

Yoongi hopes not. Yoongi hopes no one will ever throw words at him like arrows and knives until he’s bleeding and broken, not again. “What I said before—you can always come back, if he gets tired of you.” Ilseok looks at both of them as if their friendship is a palace slowly turning to glass; the more transparent it gets, the more fragile, until one blow can shatter the whole thing.

“Never,” says Jeongguk, with way more conviction than he should even be able to fake. “I would never get tired of him.”

“Leave,” says Yoongi. “Please. I don’t want to see you again.”

Ilseok doesn’t say anything else, but he steps backwards once, and then again, until he turns and actually leaves.

Yoongi’s head wobbles, his vision going fuzzy around the edges. Jeongguk puts one hand on each of his shoulders, tilting his head down until he’s at Yoongi’s eye level. “Hey, hyung. Are you okay?”

Yoongi closes his eyes, breathes. Nods. Opens his eyes again. Looks over to where Ilseok had been standing. There’s no one there. He’s gone. “He’s gone, hyung. I’ll kill him if he ever comes near you again.”

Yoongi’s eyes travel back towards Jeongguk’s face, but something stops them. A splotch of bright bright color, fuchsia, on Jeongguk’s hand. Yoongi goes instinctively to touch it, to make sure Jeongguk is okay, to look at the bruise more closely, but the moment his skin meets Jeongguk’s it gets worse, punch-red spilling across Jeongguk's hand. Yoongi pulls his own hands back like he’s been burned. “No, no, Jeongguk-ah, I’m so sorry, you’re hurt, hyung hurt you, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay,” says Jeongguk, and he’s smiling, glancing down at the bruise. “Hyung. It’s okay.” He looks happy. He’s doing that big toothy grin that makes him look like a rabbit. “Hyung, you’re my soulmate.”

Yoongi looks down at Jeongguk’s hands again. The one has just the two finger-marks at the wrist, and the other—

The other hand is almost completely wine red-mauve, almost every inch of skin painted with bruises. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry,” Yoongi says. He covers his mouth with his hand like his words might make the injuries worse. “No, no, Guk-ah, I hurt you, hyung hurt you so much.”

“It’s fine,” says Jeongguk, still smiling, smiling at him like that’s his way of pretending it doesn’t hurt. It has to hurt, though. Yoongi has gotten bruises before, and they hurt, but he has never gotten one that big. It’s Jeongguk’s whole hand. The whole thing, front and back, his whole palm, all the way down every finger, even his fingertips. Yoongi bruised Jeongguk’s whole hand, his hand. People use their hands all day long, have to use their hands to eat and to type and to write and to go anywhere. It’s going to hurt him constantly, for, at least a week. Bruises are never quick to heal.

“Your hand , Jeongguk-ah.” Yoongi can’t look away from it, like the pink-purple-red bruise palette is the only thing his eyes are capable of focusing on. “Your hand. Hyung is so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” says Jeongguk, again. He keeps saying that. Keeps smiling. Yoongi used to do that too, when Ilseok hurt him. He would always smile and say “It’s okay,” and “It’s fine,” but it never was. Jeongguk’s doing that now, pretending like he can’t feel the pain. Jeongguk, who was kind and gentle and unscathed, and Yoongi has bruised his whole hand.

“No, Jeongguk-ah,” says Yoongi, shaking his head, stepping back. Jeongguk reaches for him. Yoongi jumps back further. “No, no, you can’t—I’ll hurt you again, worse than this. You can’t— we can’t—”

Yoongi is terrified, and Yoongi knows he’s all set up to do the thing he does best in the whole world—make people suffer. Take good people and make them hurt, drag them down, burden them.

He knows he’s going to do that, he always does that, so he stops, stops before it can get too far, and does the thing he does second-best.

He runs.

---

Yoongi sleeps like a nightmare.

His dreams are all some shade of pink, everything the blossoming color of blood pooling under skin, and it keeps spreading until it’s in even the furthest corners of his vision.

He wakes up to the sound of the door opening, the soundproofing lining making a weird scraping noise along the floor. “Yoongi-yah,” says Seokjin’s voice. “Can I come in?”

Yoongi blinks, peeling his cheek off of the table it had gotten stuck to. “Hyung? Why are you here?”

It hits Yoongi with a sickening jolt, that he hasn’t even talked to Seokjin since the last time they were together in the studio, when he just word vomited and ran away.

“First of all,” says Seokjin. “What happened the other day. I’m sorry I freaked you out, and you’re sorry you didn’t listen to me, and it’s all good now, right?”

“Um.” First of all, Yoongi is still not entirely awake. He’s not sure what time it is: it’s pitch black in his studio, which makes it hard to get a grasp on how much time has passed. “What?” He yawns.

“The other day. I don’t blame you for anything that happened, you don’t blame me? It was a misunderstanding, and we were both at fault, and we’ll work on it. I won’t sneak up on you, I won’t pretend I’m mad when I’m not, and you won’t refuse to accept help or kindness because you feel like a burden. Deal?”

Yoongi feels like his whole speech has just been chucked into the trash can. “I had a whole thing prepared,” he says. “I was going to ask for your forgiveness, and explain how—”

“Did it or did it not boil down to what I just said?” asks Seokjin.

“It did, but—”

“I would love to hear your speech, Yoongi-yah, but I think there’s a slightly more pressing matter at hand. Jeongguk told me what happened.”

“I can’t see him,” says Yoongi, because he just thinks of Jeongguk and everything goes carmine red, like he can’t ever unsee the bruises he left on Jeongguk’s hand. “Shit, hyung, his hand. Is he okay?”

“Bruises usually look worse than they are,” says Seokjin calmly. “It’s not too bad, honestly.”

“I saw it, it was the whole thing, like his palm and his fingertips and the whole back, too, what do you mean ‘it’s not too bad’?”

“He’s worried about you,” says Seokjin, not even answering the question.

I’m worried about him, ” counters Yoongi. “It was his right hand, hyung. How is he supposed to even do his homework or...eat, or anything?”

“Are you upset?” says Seokjin, his lips twisting into a concerned pout.

“Yes, damnit, hyung, I’m upset! I hurt him, and you aren’t even answering my questions!”

“Jeongguk is fine.” Seokjin’s words are definitive, but then he adds, “Physically.”

Yoongi blinks. “What do you mean, ‘physically’?”

“It’s just a bruise,” says Seokjin, which is something he’s said before and something Yoongi has never quite understood. “Bruises only hurt if you put pressure on them, and even then, it’s only mildly irritating.”

“You said ‘physically’ like he’s not okay not-physically.”

“Ding ding ding,” says Seokjin, deadpan. “We have a winner.”

“Why would he not be okay not-physically?”

“Would you like to think about that question for a minute and then answer it for yourself?” asks Seokjin.

Yoongi is exhausted and afraid and confused. Yoongi is not okay, not-physically. Because Jeongguk was the one who got hurt, and Yoongi always hurts people. Yoongi left so Jeongguk wouldn’t get hurt worse. Jeongguk is supposed to be okay. That was the whole point of the whole thing. Yoongi would leave, and Jeongguk would not get hurt anymore.

“Did I hurt him? Not-physically?”

Seokjin just looks at him for a minute, his expression curious, like Yoongi is some medieval painting and Seokjin is trying to interpret him, trying to write a whole essay about his symbolism and what stories he is meant to tell.

“Are you upset that Jeongguk is your soulmate?” asks Seokjin. Yoongi would really like to just get a straight answer to one of his questions.

Yoongi goes to answer this one, though, and finds that he’s even more confused. “In what context?” he asks, his eyes narrowing. “I’m upset that Jeongguk is my soulmate, in the sense that he’s the one who bruises. And that I can’t be close to him without hurting him. And that according to fate or destiny or whoever assigns soulmate pairs, he’s supposed to be stuck with my sorry ass forever. I mean, he’s Jeongguk. He’s the nicest person ever.”

“He thinks you hate him,” says Seokjin.

Something in Yoongi’s chest drops, like a whole organ has come unhooked from his blood vessels and fallen straight to the bottom of his chest cavity. “He—what? I don’t hate him, why would I hate him?”

“You ran away. You found out you were his soulmate and you ran away. What was he supposed to think?”

“I hurt him. Hyung. I hurt people. I hurt you and Namjoon too, the other day—no, don’t say I didn’t. I did. I know I did. And Jeongguk. He’s so nice, so gentle, I can’t let myself hurt him again.”

Seokjin hums, thoughtful. “Maybe you should talk this through with Namjoon.” He looks at Yoongi for a moment. “Actually, before that. You should really sleep. Preferably in a bed. We’ll sort out everything with Jeongguk later.”

“I can’t talk to him, hyung, I can’t. But. Tell him I don’t hate him,” says Yoongi. “Tell him I—” I what? Yoongi thinks. In fact, he sits there for what feels like several minutes, trying to sort out any of his other feelings. Jeongguk is—Yoongi thinks—

“I’ll tell him,” says Seokjin, who has apparently given up on Yoongi finishing his sentence. “We’re going to get you home, and let you sleep and shower, and then we’ll talk about this a little more, okay?”

Yoongi nods, unsure if he’s quite in a state to try and say anything else, or in a state to contradict Seokjin. “Come on,” says Seokjin, pulling Yoongi out of his chair by one limp arm.

“I’m sorry,” mutters Yoongi as Seokjin forces him into his jacket.

“Literally none of this is your fault,” says Seokjin, handing him his backpack. “Unless you’re apologizing for sleeping on the table in your studio, in which case, apology accepted.”

Yoongi wants to laugh, but he finds that the first chuckle brings a wave of tears to his eyes, so he stops, just sort of shuts the emotions out until he does not and cannot feel anything at all.

---

Seokjin makes him take a shower and then forces him to drink some weird blend of tea and take some sort of sleeping pill, the combination of which knock him into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

Waking up is laborious, like he has to drag himself back to a plane of consciousness. He eventually stumbles out of the bedroom, a blanket draped over his shoulder because he’s still cold. He thinks of the blankets Jeongguk had thrown at him the other day, and then he thinks about Jeongguk, and then—then he doesn’t think anymore, because he can’t think about Jeongguk. It’s something like this: because Jeongguk is marked to be his, he shouldn’t be.

Namjoon is staring at him in some version of alarm when Yoongi looks up through his fringe of messy hair, like Namjoon didn’t expect to see him. Yoongi wonders if maybe Seokjin gave him strong enough sleeping medicine to kill him, and so he’s dead, and Namjoon’s looking at him in such shock because he’s a ghost, or a zombie.

“You’re alive!” says Namjoon in a tone of surprise, not really offering evidence to contradict Yoongi’s theory.

“Am I not supposed to be?” he asks without thinking.

Namjoon laughs. “Jin-hyung drugged you pretty thoroughly; I wasn’t sure you’d wake up in the next week.”

“Well,” says Yoongi, yawning and raising his fist in an exhausted sort of triumph. “Here I am. Alive. At least, I hope I so.”

Namjoon smiles, the way he does that’s sympathetic and kind. “Jeongguk’s been begging us to let him in,” he says, his tone abruptly gentle.

Yoongi feels a spike of fear. “No, please don’t—”

“We didn’t. We told him to go home and let you rest.” Yoongi exhales. “We’ve seen him pacing outside the window a couple times, but Jin yelled at him until he left.”

“How long was I asleep?”

Namjoon glances at the clock. “Oh, like...fifteen hours?”

Yoongi’s jaw drops. “ Fifteen hours?”

Namjoon nods, like this is no big deal. “You probably needed more sleep than that, after everything that happened to you.”

“Did he tell you about…”

“Your ex? Yeah.” Namjoon shifts his weight, props his head up in his hand, leaning over on the arm of the couch towards Yoongi. Yoongi takes a seat at the counter, angling himself towards Namjoon. “I’m sorry about all of that, by the way. If he hadn’t seen us touch...well. What’s done is done. Jeongguk said you did amazing, standing up to him.”

Yoongi’s heart does this weird flutter, like it forgot halfway through a beat what it was supposed to be doing. “Jeongguk said that?” he asks, and his voice is a little fluttery too, a little effervescent.

Namjoon looks at him in barely-disguised concern. “Have you eaten? At any point in like, the past two days?”

Yoongi’s sure it hasn’t possible been—okay, actually though...maybe it has been that long. He’s actually starving, now that he thinks about it. His stomach is doing that thing where it’s started trying to eat itself. It growls loudly in response to Namjoon’s question.

“Hyung made doenjang jjigae, if you want some.”

Yoongi is very certain that Kim Seokjin has saved his life. He’s furiously nodding, but Namjoon has already run into the kitchen and is ladling the stew from the pot on the stove into a bowl. The scent makes Yoongi’s stomach swoon, and when Namjoon passes him the bowl, he cups it against his palms, leaning over and letting the steam press feather-light kisses across his face.

“Please eat it,” says Namjoon, a bit of fear leaking into his tone. “You look like you’re about to pass out from malnourishment.”

Yoongi obediently raises the spoon to his mouth, and immediately comes to the conclusion that this soybean stew might be the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. Like, he lives with Seokjin, he’s eaten his cooking before, but this. This is a whole different level.

He doesn’t even realize that he’s slipped into a half-conscious state of devouring food like a machine until the bowl is empty. Namjoon looks pleased, or maybe just relieved. “You actually have some color,” he comments when he sees that Yoongi’s finished eating. “Well, as much color as you ever have.”

Yoongi makes a face. “My pale complexion is genetic, thank you very much.”

“Are you feeling better?” asks Namjoon.

Yoongi nods. It’s not a lie; there’s a little hum of “hello, you’re alive, isn’t it nice to be awake and fed and functioning?” under his skin.

“Hyung said you were freaked out by the bruises,” says Namjoon.

Yoongi stares at him. “I didn’t realize how bad they looked,” he says quietly, after a minute. “They look so painful. And I touched him on his hand. His right hand. He’s right-handed.”

“It’s actually common,” says Namjoon, “for the soulmate who leaves the mark to react like that after the first time they leave a bruise.”

Yoongi still stares at him. “Really?”

Namjoon nods. “Yeah. It freaked me out too, at first. I bruised hyung’s face. Every time I looked at him, it was all I could see. I didn’t want to touch him again for like, the next three weeks.”

“But...you did? I mean, you’re fine now?”

“Jin-hyung is extremely stubborn and extremely persuasive.”

Yoongi laughs a little bit. “But,” adds Namjoon, “there’s like, a therapist, on campus, who specializes in soulmate bruises. She helped me out a lot. I would recommend you go to see her, talk through stuff with her. And Guk, too. Obviously.”

Yoongi nods, and then takes a deep breath. “He is...okay, right? I mean, Seokjin-hyung said he was okay, but I just want to make sure.”

“He’s worried about you. A lot. He’s not physically hurt. Jeongguk is a tough kid.”

“Is he—does he—” Yoongi knows what he wants to ask (is he disappointed? does he even want me?), but he can’t quite get the words out.

“I think I should let Jeongguk tell you all that stuff for himself.”

Yoongi knew that answer was coming, saw it coming from miles away, but it still scares him. “I don’t think I’m ready for that, yet.”

Namjoon nods. “That’s fine. He won’t be happy about it, but he could stand to learn a little patience.”

Yoongi feels guilty. First he bruised him, and now he’s avoiding him, and all he does to Jeongguk is cause him pain. His skin starts itching, just underneath the surface, everything a buzzing discomfort. Yoongi thinks he might really be better off living as a hermit out in the Himalayas. Somewhere no one could hurt him,. Somewhere he couldn’t hurt anyone.

Yoongi has always been very good at running away and hiding.

---

Yoongi knocks twice on Jimin’s door, hard enough to send a sharp pain up his knuckles. The thrill of pain is oddly satisfying.

“Hyung!” says Jimin, smiling at the sight of him. A quick sweep over Yoongi’s appearance, though, and his expression falls. “What’s going on?”

Yoongi recounts the entire hurricane of the last few days, from Ilseok’s reappearance to their confrontation to the Jeongguk thing.

“Hyung, first,” says Jimin, leaning into Yoongi’s side where they’re both sitting on the couch, “I’m so proud of you for saying all that to him, and for standing up to him, and telling him to leave and not letting him hurt you anymore. That’s awesome. You’re really brave and really cool.”

Maybe the coolest person I know, filters into his mind, along with Jeongguk’s wide grin and smile-crinkled eyes. He shuts out the thought as quickly as it came in.

“So,” continues Jimin. “Jeongguk?”

The thought comes right back. Yoongi swallows, feeling everything like fear and discomfort and guilt come right back to where they were, draining into his veins and making his blood prickle like its been infected with a virus or poison or something equally terrible. “Is it that bad, to not be with your soulmate?”

“You don't like him?” asks Jimin, who sounds a little surprised.

Yoongi doesn’t know if he likes Jeongguk or not. He hasn’t given himself enough time thinking about Jeongguk to answer that question. “I’m not the sort of person people want for a soulmate,” he says. “I have all sorts of trauma and shit from Ilseok. It’s hard enough for me to have friends. I’m really good at being weird and hurting people, and that’s about it.”

Jimin looks at him sternly. “That’s not true, hyung, and you know it. You care a lot, about a lot of people. You’re a musical genius, and you work harder than anyone I know. And Jeongguk...Jeongguk already thinks the world of you.”

Yoongi does know that. Jeongguk has a little fanboy-crush on him, some sort of hero-worship. And so, trying this soulmate thing with him could go one of two ways.

One: Jeongguk finally sees enough of the wreck Yoongi actually is to shatter the illusion, and he’s disappointed and heartbroken by Yoongi’s real, lame self.

Two: Jeongguk is so caught up in his puppy love for Yoongi that he lets himself get hurt, doesn’t realize how bad the damage is getting until it’s gone on too long, until it’s gotten so bad that he can’t recover.

Neither of those are things Yoongi wants to see unfold. Jeongguk is too nice of a kid to get dragged through the shitty mess that is Yoongi and his life.

“Exactly,” he says when he realizes Jimin is looking at him, probably waiting for him to say something. “Jeongguk would let himself get hurt. Which—I can't have that happen.” Jimin is still just looking at him, like he wants to say something but he’s not sure what, or how. Yoongi is caught up thinking about Jeongguk, and, like every time he thinks about Jeongguk, his mind goes to the vivid plum wine stain of bruises across Jeongguk's hand. The bruises he left there. “Jimin-ah, can you tell me? Honestly—how much do the bruises hurt?”

Jimin tilts his head to one side. “You’ve gotten bruises before. You know what a bruise feels like, hyung.”

“Yeah, but—”

“It’s not easy,” says Jimin. “It’s not easy for anyone, the soulmate thing. No one ever said it was.”

“Actually,” Yoongi points out, “Seokjin-hyung—”

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Seokjin-hyung is an acting major. He’s also…well, Seokjin-hyung. You should maybe not take everything he says at face value.” He sighs. “But anyway. To answer your question. It’s not as much about how badly it hurts as it is about balance. It’s a trade-off sort of thing. You have to decide that the consequence of touch is worth the act itself, if that makes sense?” Jimin taps his fingers against Yoongi’s arm as he speaks, and there is a weight to even this casual touch that makes Yoongi think Jimin has had to become careful with the way he touches everyone, not just his soulmate.

Yoongi squints at Jimin. “Not really?”

“Ah,” says Jimin, shifting his weight as if sitting in a different position will help him reword what he’s trying to say in a way that makes sense. “Um. There will always be the reality of getting hurt, physically. Like, Seokie-hyung touches me, and I bruise. That’s just how it is? But, when you really care about someone, those sorts of sacrifices are worth it. You have to talk about it, obviously and agree on it, put limits, and stuff. But. Being close to him is worth more to me than avoiding the pain of getting bruised. Giving up something good for something better. The reward is more valuable to us than the pain. Stuff like that.”

It makes sense, a little bit, but Yoongi still isn’t sure. The pain is something that can be pushed aside in pursuit of something better or more valuable, okay. That part makes sense to him. He’s just not sure that he could be worth pain like that. Especially not to Jeongguk, of all people, who shines bright and untarnished everywhere he is. Yoongi is not the kind of person someone like that should sacrifice for.

“You just have to talk about it,” says Jimin. “Set boundaries, tell each other when things get too hard. That’s probably why soulmate relationships tend to last, actually. You get in the habit of talking about the bruises, and then it’s just natural to talk through whatever other things come up.”

“What if he doesn’t tell me?” says Yoongi. “What if he just lets me hurt him and never stops me?”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” says Jimin. “I think Jeongguk will be more than willing to talk through this with you and take it as slowly as you both need to.”

There is a knock at the door. Yoongi looks at Jimin in alarm.

Jimin grins. “Oh, right! Didn’t I mention Taehyungie and Jeonggukkie were coming over for dinner?”

Yoongi doesn’t have time to hide, or run, or even to panic, because Jimin yells “come in!” and then the door opens and Jeon Jeongguk is staring straight at him.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

So many emotions wash over Jeongguk’s face in a few seconds that it makes Yoongi slightly dizzy. “Hyung,” he says, “I didn’t know you would be here.”

“Yeah, I didn’t—Jimin didn’t tell me you were…”

“Are you okay?” asks Jeongguk. “I tried to come check on you, but Seokjin said he would call the cops if I continued loitering around his apartment complex.”

Yoongi laughs, in spite of himself, in spite of the way everything is wrong. “I’m okay. What—I mean, are you?

“I finally got to see you, so. Yes.” Jeongguk says the words simply, but there is so much weight to them, a foundational affection bearing up each syllable. Yoongi is very much not ready for that.

“Your hand,” Yoongi says, a little desperate to change the subject.

Jeongguk waves his hand, which has gone from salmon-pink to a deep indigo. “It’s kind of pretty,” he says, grinning, “don’t you think?”

“Does it—”

“It doesn’t hurt. Riding my bike is a little tricky, but other than that it’s fine.”

“Can you please stop flirting? I’m starving,” says Taehyung, and Yoongi had managed to completely forget that there was anyone in the room besides him and Jeongguk. Jimin is grinning at him from behind Taehyung. Yoongi looks away from him and back to Jeongguk. Again. He keeps looking at Jeongguk, like a compass finding north over and over again every time it gets jostled. They all walk towards the kitchen, but Yoongi doesn’t look anywhere but at Jeongguk.

“Can I,” asks Yoongi, staring at Jeongguk’s hand. “I won’t touch it, I just want to look.”

Jeongguk looks at him in a way that makes his skin tingle and all his organs flutter a little bit. And then he holds up his hand, places it right in Yoongi’s line of vision, holding it out so he can see all of it, the few patches of pure skin blurring into the pansy-black-indigo dye of the bruises. Yoongi thinks of the way it’s always been explained to him, that the connection between souls is so strong that the body can’t handle it, so strong that your blood vessels rupture under your skin at the mere instance of skin contact with your soulmate. Thinks of Jeongguk’s soul being so connected to his that this happens when they touch. Thinks of Jeongguk being patient and kind and careful with him. Thinks of Jeongguk talking to him and laughing with him and looking at him in that way he has that makes Yoongi feel invaluable.

Thinks of letting his life be intertwined with Jeongguk’s the way their souls already are.

“Um,” says Jimin, holding out a bowl of...whatever food they’re even eating. Yoongi rips his gaze away from Jeongguk’s bruised hands to accept the dish that Jimin is repeatedly shoving into his chest. He blinks and shakes his head, clearing away the vision of a future he cannot have.

They sit down at the table to eat, and sink into a precariously comfortable conversation, talking about everything except Yoongi and Jeongguk’s newly-discovered soulmate status. They talk about tests and projects and horror stories of terrible professors. Yoongi laughs, and he hears Jeongguk laugh too, but it’s the fragile kind of laughter, the sort that only fringes on reality because it knows everything will break if it gets too close.

“Okay,” says Taehyung, finally, any trace of avoidance gone from his tone, “you two keep staring like you’re going to eat each other alive. Jiminie and I will go, leave you two to talk?”

“Is that okay?” asks Jimin, looking between both of them nervously.

Yoongi dares a glance at Jeongguk (like he hasn’t been staring at him for the past forty-five minutes.) Jeongguk is looking back at him, his eyes pleading. Yoongi feels afraid, feels unprepared, but this is only ever going to get worse if they don’t talk to each other.

Yoongi exhales through his nose, and nods to Jimin. He swears he can see the tiniest flicker of a smile at the corner of Jeongguk’s mouth. “Okay,” says Jimin, hesitantly. He seems to have forgotten that he was the one to put them in this situation in the first place. “Call me if anything happens, or you need...you know.”

Yoongi inclines his head, an acceptance of Jimin’s request. He feels his blood start to chill, all over, as Jimin and Taehyung leave the table, pull on their jackets, and disappear behind the closed door.

He turns to Jeongguk, who has stood up and is...pacing? Yeah, definitely pacing, nervously. “Can I go first?” Jeongguk asks, the words all a little bit rushed, lumping together oddly.

Yoongi was totally fine until this precise moment. It’s almost like Jeongguk’s nerves are contagious, because he can feel this unease and fear boiling in his gut. But he meets Jeongguk’s eyes and forces himself to nod.

“Oh.” Jeongguk sounds surprised that Yoongi agreed. He takes a deep breath in and out. “Okay. Um. So. Shit. Why is this so hard to say. Get it together, Jeon Jeongguk.” Yoongi doesn’t know what’s happening, can’t even try to guess. “Um. So. The other day, when I said I liked you?”

Jeongguk is looking at him as if waiting for confirmation...that he remembers? Yoongi nods again. He remembers that. He doesn’t know why Jeongguk is being so weird about it. “And I said I didn’t mean it like that? Well. That was a lie. I did. I like you. Like that. I’ve liked you since we met. And I just need you to know, because—you’re my soulmate, and I’m so happy, hyung. I wanted it to be you so bad.”

“You... happy? You’re happy? Jeongguk-ah?”

Jeongguk smiles, still shaking a little with nerves, even though he’s already said—he’s already confessed. Jeongguk just confessed to him. “I like you so much. I’m so happy.”

Yoongi’s heart is going too fast. Way too fast. Hearts shouldn’t even be able to beat that quickly. “You like me?”

Jeongguk nods, his whole face earnest. Yoongi’s heart goes faster. He wonders how long it can keep speeding up. At what speed it would kill him. “ Why?

The word falls out of Yoongi’s mouth completely without permission. Jeongguk looks at him—not that he wasn’t already looking at him, but now he really looks at him, like he can see straight through Yoongi’s skin, like Yoongi’s bones and muscles and organs are on display to Jeongguk in all their raw glory. “You...I know you don’t see yourself like this,” he says, and he is stepping closer to Yoongi.  “And that’s not your fault, that asshole messed with your brain, I know. But you are so good. You work and work until you’ve created a masterpiece. You’re so smart, you know so much about so many things. You care so much about people, you always want to make sure everyone around you feels happy and loved and it’s incredible.” Jeongguk pulls on the long sleeve of Yoongi’s shirt—a place he can touch without any collateral damage. He rubs the fabric between his fingers like a caress. Yoongi’s heart rate has slowed down to something life sustaining, but it’s still too much, still thuds each beat in a way that makes his ribs rattle. “I know you aren’t ready for anything. I know. And that’s okay.”

Yoongi finally finds his voice and starts to protest. “It’s not—”

“It really is. Hyung. You’re it, for me. So I’ll wait, or give you space, or whatever you need. I want this to work.”

“Jeongguk-ah,” says Yoongi, and it’s that full burst of emotion again, “I’m not good for you.”

Jeongguk wraps his other hand around Yoongi’s sleeve too. They’re not even touching, technically, and yet Yoongi feels so much. He’s staring at the way Jeongguk’s bruised hands tangle up in his shirt, and it’s so much. “Hyung, you are. You’re the best for me.”

Yoongi shakes his head, tries to pull his arm away. Well, sort of. It’s not a real effort, he’s only trying a tiny bit, mostly just for show. He likes the way Jeongguk’s touch feels. He liked it the other day, too. He will probably always like it. But it will always be dangerous, which is why he can’t do what Jeongguk is saying. “I’ll hurt you. Jeongguk-ah, look at your hand. That’s only the physical part. I’m not...okay, you know. Mentally or emotionally or any of it. I’ll just cause you pain.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “You don’t hurt me, hyung. You’ve never hurt me, not once.”

Yoongi points at Jeongguk’s hand. Jeongguk’s mouth drops open, a pretty little o-shape on his lips, a shape that looks like it’s asking to be kissed. Yoongi’s heart lurches at the thought. “No, hyung, this isn’t—it’s a privilege to be soul-marked by you.” Jeongguk touches the bruise carefully, like it is a work of art. A privilege.

“What,” says Yoongi, his heart lurching again. “You—the whole time you’ve known me, I’ve been all messed up and weak and pathetic and—”

“Hey, no,” says Jeongguk. “It’s like I told you before, hyung. You got hurt. It was just a thing that happened to you. But you told us, and got out, and you stood up to him. I didn’t get to tell you, but it was amazing, what you said to him.”

“I was terrified,” says Yoongi, and he doesn’t know why he has to argue against any praise, but he always does.

“But you did it anyway. Which is pretty cool, to be honest.” Jeongguk leans back against the couch cushions. “Really cool, actually. I think you might have finally pushed G-Dragon out of the top spot.”

“I thought this was supposed to be a serious conversation,” says Yoongi, one eyebrow raised.

“I am being 100% serious,” says Jeongguk, with an expression to match. “I like you so much, and I want to be with you in whatever capacity you want, and you are officially the coolest person I know.”

“I’m not—I can’t like anyone right now, Jeongguk-ah, you know that, right?” Yoongi’s head starts blaring alarms the second he says the words, like then what is going on right now? What do you feel for Jeongguk if not that? You thought about kissing him, not two minutes ago. What do you mean you can’t like anyone? You’re already halfway there, at least.

Jeongguk nods. “I figured. Friends, then?” And he extends his hand, like he wants them to shake on the deal.

Yoongi stares at Jeongguk, at his hand, all eggplant purple with the damage Yoongi has already done to him. “Or,” says Jeongguk, laughing slightly, retracting his hand, “we could not shake hands. Let’s be friends, though? And whatever else you want, when you’re ready?”

Yoongi swallows, feels his whole body trying to shake in fear, but he nods anyway. “Friends.”

Jeongguk grabs onto his sleeve again, and it’s freaking fabric, he has no reason to touch it that carefully, like it’s a piece of Yoongi’s actual soul, or like Yoongi is the one who will bruise if he tugs on it too roughly, but Jeongguk does. He is. Yoongi is still staring at the bruise, twisting around Jeongguk’s fingers like a ribbon, and he can’t stop hearing Jeongguk’s words in his head. It is a privilege to be soul-marked by you. It looks so much less painful, so much less terrifying, like that. A privilege. Being Yoongi’s soulmate is a privilege. He doesn’t understand how that’s possible, how anyone could feel like that about him, but Jeongguk says, “Thank you, hyung,” in a voice that’s so gentle, so respectful, like this is a privilege, too, just being allowed to be Yoongi’s friend, and Yoongi doesn’t know how, but he knows Jeongguk means it.

---

“You didn’t tear each other’s throats out,” says Jimin, sounding legitimately impressed. He stares at Yoongi and Jeongguk, who are both sitting on the couch, dissecting a song Jeongguk has been writing. Yoongi hadn’t even heard Jimin come in. It’s been...probably fifteen minutes or so. They’re okay. Yoongi is okay. “You look...really normal, actually?”

“We’re friends,” says Yoongi, shrugging. Friends who are also soulmates. Also, he likes you. And you probably like him. Yoongi tells his brain to shut the hell up.

Jimin still looks at them like expecting something to break, or one of them to run screaming from the room. “Yoongi-hyung,” says another voice, and Taehyung appears in the doorway. “Please rate Jeonggukkie’s confession on a scale from one to ten.”

Any mortification Yoongi might have felt at being asked this question is forgotten, because Jeongguk’s face flushes a bright red and he refuses to meet Yoongi’s or Taehyung’s eye, going so far as to duck behind Yoongi’s shoulder until his whole face is hidden. Taehyung raises one eyebrow, looking at Yoongi in surprise. “Did he not confess?”

Yoongi is just as baffled as Taehyung, quite honestly. “He did,” says Yoongi, trying to get a look at Jeongguk’s expression or some explanation as to his present behavior; the latter only smushes his face further between Yoongi’s back and the couch cushion. He’s confused as to why Jeongguk waited until now to feel embarrassed about any of this. His confession had been a bit rambly, but he hadn’t seemed sheepish at all.

“Well,” says Taehyung, “you can still answer my question, right? From the way he’s hiding back there, I would assume it didn’t go very well?”

Yoongi doesn’t actually have any idea what he’s supposed to say. The idea of Jeongguk liking him feels like something he’s read from a textbook and has subsequently filed away in his brain, ready to pull out for an answer on the next test. King Sejong invented Hangul in the fifteenth century. Five times five is twenty-five. Jeongguk likes him. Yoongi keeps trying to look at Jeongguk, who continues squirming. “Guk-ah, don’t do that, please be careful, I don’t want you to bruise again.”

“Was my confession really that bad?” asks Jeongguk. Yoongi doesn’t know how he managed to understand the question, as it was spoken directly into the back of the couch.

“No, Jeongguk-ah, it wasn’t bad.”

Jeongguk shoots up out of the crevice between Yoongi’s back and the couch, narrowly avoiding a would-be disastrous collision with Yoongi’s head. “Guk, please be careful, for heaven’s sakes.”

“Tell the truth,” says Jeongguk. (“Yeah, tell the truth,” echoes Taehyung.) “It was a disaster, wasn’t it?”

Yoongi just stares at him. “I’m not...like...a pro confession-receiver. It was...fine? I don’t have a lot of comparison to go on here.”

Jeongguk looks at him, and Yoongi watches his face fall slowly, one feature at a time. “I shouldn’t have. Right? It made you uncomfortable, didn’t it?”

It didn’t make Yoongi anything, is more accurate. It’s just: Jeongguk is his soulmate. Jeongguk likes him. “It didn’t,” says Yoongi. “I’m not uncomfortable. In fact,” he doesn’t know what he’s feeling until it comes out like this, one big burst of emotions shaped like words, “I’m glad you said it. It’s good to know. I’m just...I guess I’m not used to people being vocal about their affection for me. So I don’t quite know how to react.”

“Really?” says Jeongguk, his voice hushed. Yoongi nods. “Oh, thank goodness. That’s such a relief. I’ve been trying so hard not to overwhelm you and then I just went and screamed about how much I like you and I was sure you’d—”

“It’s fine. It was a good confession too, for as much as I know,” says Yoongi, looking at his hands.

“I was really starting to panic there, for a second,” says Jimin, and Yoongi is relieved at the interruption. “You were fine when we came in, but then Tae mentioned confessing and you both freaked out, and I thought for a second that Jeongguk had managed to still not confess to hyung, after all this time.”

“Don’t say it like that,” says Jeongguk. “You make it sound like I’ve been pining desperately over him for months.”

“Haven’t you been?” asks Taehyung, and Yoongi looks at him in surprise. “I’m sure I can find evidence that you were.” He holds up his phone, and then begins to scroll through it. “Let’s see—do you want text conversations, photos—oh! I even have a couple videos. Drunk Jeongguk or sober Jeongguk?”

Jeongguk lunges at Taehyung’s knees, knocking him over. Taehyung still keeps a firm grasp on the phone in his hand. “I will murder you in your sleep,” says Jeongguk, crawling over Taehyung’s chest to try and grab the phone.

“What type of videos are we talking?” says Jimin conversationally. He’s sitting on the loveseat, looking at Jeongguk and Taehyung’s wrestling match as if it were a pleasant game of croquet being played casually on the front lawn of some British estate.

“There’s one where he cries,” says Taehyung, pulling Jeongguk into a headlock and pinning him down with all his weight. “It’s over that one song, hyung, um...what’s it called…” He looks at Yoongi as if Yoongi can answer his question. Yoongi only stares back.

“So Far Away,” says Jimin. So Far Away. That’s Yoongi’s song. Jeongguk cried over Yoongi’s song?

“Yes! Thank you, Jiminie, that’s the one.”

“Is this a drunk video or a sober video?” asks Jimin.

Jeongguk manages to flip Taehyung over, and pries the phone out of his hand. “It’s a nonexistent video,” he says, presumably deleting the referenced piece of film.

Taehyung ceded way too easily, Yoongi thinks, through the haze of Jeongguk taking over his brain. Until Taehyung sits up, dusting himself off. “That one was sober. I sent them all to you, Minnie.”

Jeongguk screams.

“Come sit here, hyung,” says Jimin, patting the seat next to him. “Let’s watch Tae’s videos.”

Yoongi stares at Jeongguk. “If you don’t want me to…”

“It’s embarrassing,” Jeongguk says into his hands, behind which he is hiding his face. Again.

“What are you embarrassed about?” asks Taehyung. “You’re scared he’s going to find out how much you like him? He knows that! You just confessed to him!”

“Yeah, but—he—he doesn’t know about—”

“Pretty sure he does,” says Jimin. “Yoongi-hyung. Did you or did you not know that Jeongguk was a huge fan of your mixtape?”

Jeongguk is making some gesture, like, the slice-across-your-throat gesture, probably. It’s a kind of sloppy one, but that’s what it looks most like. Which could either mean he wants Jimin to shut up, or wants Yoongi to not say anything, or it could be a threat to kill Taehyung, which he had already voiced earlier, actually, and is probably the most likely out of the three options. Yoongi decides to give up any further attempts at interpreting Jeongguk’s gesture and just answer Jimin’s question. “I knew that.”

Jeongguk makes a strangled noise and flings himself bodily into the rug. “See, Jeonggukkie, he already knows, it’s fine,” says Taehyung reassuringly, completely ignoring Jeongguk’s catastrophic reaction.

“Please don’t listen to anything they say,” says Jeongguk, who has apparently resurfaced right beneath Yoongi’s elbow. “Hyung, please. I’m not a creep, I swear.”

“I don’t think you’re a creep, Jeongguk-ah. You’re a connoisseur of music, is all. You only listen to the best.”

Jeongguk pulls himself into a sitting position, leaning close to Yoongi with a soft smile just starting to take shape on his features. “Music and people. I only like the best.” Yoongi’s heart trips over a couple beats, probably missing one altogether.

“If you say one more sappy thing, Jeon Jeongguk, I’m showing Yoongi-hyung everything.”

“I mean,” Jeongguk corrects quickly. “All my friends. They’re all really cool.” (“You’re still the coolest,” he mutters to Yoongi, his mouth so close that Yoongi can feel the shadow of Jeongguk’s breath on his ear. Can feel the threat of the bruise that would inevitably form if one of them were to close the tiny distance.) “Park Jimin and Kim Taehyung, especially. Stellar human beings.” He then proceeds to shoot finger guns at both of them.

Yoongi nearly chokes in secondhand embarrassment, and then gets up to join Jimin on the couch. “I take it back,” he says, watching Jeongguk as he speaks, so he’s sure Jeongguk knows he’s just kidding. “Anyone who uses finger guns in regular conversation has at least a 90% probability of being a creep.”

Jeongguk looks: superficially; scandalized, offended, horrified. Non-superficially; affectionate. Happy.

It pours over Yoongi like a bucket of something warm and sticky, the epiphany, the feeling that should have come with the fact the first time.

Jeon Jeongguk likes him.

---

“Jimin did what? ” asks Namjoon. “Are you okay?”

The thing is, Yoongi was fine. He had talked to Jeongguk and it was nice and helpful and the bruise is a privilege, is what Jeongguk had said, which makes it a lot less scary, and Jeongguk said he liked him, and everything was cool, crisis averted.

At least, it had been, until now.

Because the moment Namjoon asks “are you okay?” the tears start like a stop-motion flash flood, nothing then everything.  And suddenly Yoongi is curled into a ball on Seokjin’s floor, sobbing so hard his bones are starting to ache.

“He didn’t—” Yoongi chokes out. “Not—’min’s fault—Jeongguk-ah—”

“Yoongi-yah,” says Seokjin, rubbing his hand down Yoongi’s back. “What exactly happened? Did you and Jeongguk fight?”

“No, we didn’t—he said—was—a privilege—” His chest tightens or closes up, or something, and he can’t get anything else out.

“A privilege, hyung?” asks Namjoon, and he’s so nice and patient, Yoongi really doesn’t, really shouldn’t…

“He—said—the bruises—a damn privilege —why would he—”

“Oh,” says Seokjin, like he’s suddenly figured out what Yoongi is saying. Yoongi doesn’t even know what he’s saying, so he thinks Seokjin must be wrong. Yoongi blinks up at him, wiping away enough tears that Seokjin’s face is blurrily visible. “I’m going to say what I think happened, and you can just nod or shake your head, ‘kay?” Yoongi nods, mechanically, like his muscles have left the control of his brain and have started acting all for themselves. A privilege. How could Jeongguk think being linked to Yoongi, in any way, at all, was a privilege?

“You talked to Jeongguk.” Yoongi nods in confirmation. “He confessed, probably.” Yoongi inhales, remembering the look on Jeongguk’s face, so much affection, seeing it and feeling it everywhere like something he could drown in. A privilege. Yoongi nods again. “And you were okay? With that?”

Yoongi hesitates before nodding a third time. He was okay with it, at the moment. He’s not so much okay now. Seokjin’s eyes narrow. “Do you like him?”

Yoongi knows the answer to that question, knows it’s somewhere in his heart, but he’s nowhere near ready to go digging around in there now trying to make sure it’s found the right one. “He said it’s okay,” Yoongi manages to get out, somehow. “If I don’t.”

Namjoon smiles in what looks like a little bit of relief. “That’s good,” says Seokjin. “But still doesn’t explain why you’re—” Seokjin gestures at him “—like this. ” Yoongi sits up, the tears having gone down to a regular raging river instead of the previous flash flood. “Did you touch him again?” Yoongi shakes his head quickly. “Is it the old bruises that are still freaking you out?”

Yoongi hiccups, and then takes a deep breath, knowing he has to get it all out in one sentence if it’s going to come out at all. “He said it was a privilege to be marked by me.”

“He said what?” says Namjoon, practically choking on air.

“Who knew Jeon Jeongguk had a romantic side?” says Seokjin. His eyebrows do some sort of wave. Both of them seem happy. Like this is something Yoongi should be excited about. And he sees that, sort of. He can pick out the voice in his head that says nothing about you makes people happy, can tell it no, you’re wrong, that isn’t true, I'm deserving of other people's love. But it still makes him feel guilty.

“He said he’ll wait,” Yoongi continues. “He said it’s fine if I don’t like him back, and he’ll wait for me to heal, and be friends for now, and whatever else I want, when I’m ready. Which is...really nice of him, and all, but. I can’t ask that of him.”

“Did you ask him to wait?” asks Seokjin.

“...no,” says Yoongi. “I wouldn’t do that. I already feel like enough of a burden as it is, even without the whole...soulmate...thing.”

“Which means he offered it.”

“Which means,” Namjoon picks up where his soulmate left off, grinning widely, “that you aren’t asking him to do anything. It’s all on him. It’s his decision. I’ve listened to him talk about you enough to know that he’s not doing it because he feels obligated, or just because of the bruises. He likes you so much.”

“He means it, you know,” says Seokjin. “The privilege thing.”

Yoongi knows Jeongguk’s affection for him is real. Can see it and feel it and breathe it every time Jeongguk is around him. “I know,” Yoongi says.

What Yoongi doesn’t say is how much that affection (Jeongguk's for him, and its counterpart, coming to life inside his own chest) terrifies him.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Yoongi has all but forgotten about the song, the one that started everything, until he gets called into his professor’s office one day after class. “Min Yoongi-ssi?” Dr. Hwang looks up when Yoongi arrives, standing in the already-open doorway. “Come in.”

There was no context for this visit, nothing other than a “please come by my office at 4:00pm today,” and Yoongi is already feeling a little stir of guilt in the pit of his stomach. He’s been attending class well, completing assignments. He even turned in the song a few days early, so there’s no reason he should be getting in trouble. But logic has never played a huge part in his emotional reactions, and so he’s fighting off the initial symptoms of panic trilling a high-pitched, slightly off-key aria through his veins.

“I listened to your song, for the project with the vocal class.”

Yoongi’s brain jumps into overdrive, filling the empty space that follows his professor’s words with every possible thing he could say next: it was childish, it was poorly done, it didn’t stick to the metaphor well, it—

Excellent work, Yoongi-ssi.”

Yoongi thinks he must be hallucinating. “I—what?”

“The lyrics, the production, everything. It’s remarkably well done. The emotions felt very genuine, and the song has a lot of power.”

Yoongi realizes that his mouth is hanging open, and he’s been staring at his teacher for an indiscriminate amount of time. “You liked it?”

Dr. Hwang laughs. “Yes, I did. Quite a bit. I wanted to ask how you feel about me sending it out to a few scouts, as a demo?”

“Sc-scouts?”

The professor nods. “I have a few connections with some big-name companies, and I’d be happy to send this to them along with my recommendation.”

Yoongi waits for a haha, just kidding, april fool’s. It doesn’t come. “You’re serious?”

Dr. Hwang nods again. “I wanted to check with you first, make sure that was something you would want.”

“Make sure it was something—yes, of course that’s what I—why wouldn’t I want that?”

“That’s what I thought,” says his professor, chuckling slightly. “But I didn’t want to do it without your permission.”

“You have it,” says Yoongi, too fast. “Please. Send it to as many people as you want.” He exhales, and the air comes rushing out, like he’s been forgetting to breathe normally this whole time. “Wow. This is really amazing, thank you so much.”

“It’s my pleasure,” says his professor. “You did an excellent job, and hard work pays off.”

His professor then shows him a list of contacts he would like to send the song to, and Yoongi falls even deeper into his state of shock. It’s everyone, every company Yoongi has ever dreamed of getting accepted to as a producer, a whole long list of them, like dream after dream after dream that are glittering with the opportunity to actually come true.

He leaves Dr. Hwang’s office in a daze, allowed to hope, allowed to maybe taste happiness and success and all the other things he has spent his whole life yearning for.

And, just like always, along with the fizzing excitement comes a desire to share it.

Which is why Min Yoongi opens his phone and gets halfway through a text message to Seo Ilseok before he remembers.

The remembrance is a bit like a crack of lightning, a crash of thunder, and the sudden downpour of the whole storm on him at once. Each realization hits him within a millisecond of the last: he and Ilseok aren’t together anymore, Ilseok doesn’t love him, Ilseok never cared about the things Yoongi cared about, Ilseok isn’t the person he should turn to in a moment like this.

It hurts, realizing this, realizing that the person he always used to go to with good news or bad news or any news at all is...not there. Removed (albeit necessarily) from his life. It’s painful, and weird, like something was cut out from his body. He’s better off without it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a part of him, doesn’t mean everything isn’t still raw and messily stitched-up, still healing. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel its absence like a gap in his very being.

Yoongi swallows back the tears that are poking out, under the corners of his eyelids, and takes a deep breath. He holds it in, relying on the oxygen for strength, and then he deletes Ilseok’s number. He should have done it before, this should have been taken care of weeks ago, but somehow it managed to slip through. But, it’s done now. Yoongi won’t call him or text him by accident, won’t contact Ilseok again after he so painstakingly cut Ilseok out of his life. It’s just Yoongi now, and he has to come to terms with that.

Except—there’s Jeongguk.

Yoongi isn’t sure yet what Jeongguk is to him, or even what he wants Jeongguk to be to him. It’s just that Jeongguk is the very next place his mind jumped, and not even because Jeongguk worked on the song with him. It’s like some natural gravitation, like he’s been pulled into Jeongguk’s orbit. He’s slingshotted out of Ilseok’s, but somehow is drifting towards Jeongguk. Which scares him, because he doesn’t feel healed yet, doesn’t feel confident enough in his own heart to be offering it to someone else.

After a few moments’ debate (which feels like it lasts several centuries) he decides to tell both Seokjin and Jeongguk together, which isn’t weird because they contributed to the song, and they should hear the good news.

me: prof just told me the song is awesome and asked me if it's okay if he sends it out to a bunch of scouts

me: thanks so much for your help!! i couldn't have done it without you!

seokjin-hyung: of course he wants to send it out! it's awesome!

jeongguk: congrats hyung!

seokjin-hyung: what companies is he sending it to? anywhere we've heard of?

Yoongi tells them a few of the companies. They’re so good it feels like he’s name-dropping.

jeongguk: holy shit hyung that’s amazing

jeongguk: i’m not surprised at all though, you’re super talented

jeongguk: i bet they’ll all be fighting over you

seokjin-hyung: i’m sure they will

seokjin-hyung: are you on your way home?

me: yes why?

seokjin-hyung: DON’T COME

me: um why not

seokjin-hyung: i’m sending jeonggukkie to you

seokjin-hyung: don’t come near the house unless i have given you explicit permission

 

And then in a private chat:

jeongguk: where are you hyung i’m coming to meet you

 

Yoongi is abruptly nervous. (Of course he’s nervous, it’s Jeon Jeongguk. ) He hasn’t seen him since the other day at Jimin’s, and although everything is fine between them (it really is, okay? Everything is fine) he’s still not exactly sure what he’s supposed to do now. They’re friends, sure, which is simple enough. Except for the part where he already knows Jeongguk wants more, and the part where he himself also probably wants more, but he can’t handle being more.

Yoongi stares at the message for a little while, and then responds, letting Jeongguk know where he is. Jeongguk appears maybe a minute later and falls into step beside Yoongi, which is kind of creepy, honestly. Or it would be creepy if Yoongi weren’t so happy to see him.

If the smile on his face is anything to go on, Jeongguk is equally happy to see Yoongi. “Hyung, that’s so cool.” Yoongi watches Jeongguk’s hands, twitching like he wants to hug Yoongi or touch him or something. He doesn’t, for which Yoongi is immeasurably grateful. “Maybe I should switch to music production, if the professors have connections like that.”

“You’d be good at it,” says Yoongi, without thinking. The conversation immediately plunges from something light to something serious.

“You think so?” asks Jeongguk, his eyes widening in childlike surprise. “I just sort of play around with it a little, I don’t actually know what I’m doing.”

“You’re good,” Yoongi says again. It’s not a lie; none of Yoongi’s knee-jerk comments are lies. “You have a good instinct for the production side of things, and if you work at it, I think you could do really well.” Yoongi stops walking, looking at Jeongguk. “You haven’t formally declared a major yet, right?”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No. It’s really hard to pick. I mean, there are a lot of things I like, and things I’m like, pretty good at, so I have a quarter-life crisis every time someone mentions picking a major because I don’t know which one I’ll be good enough at to keep doing forever.”

Yoongi hums as he thinks. He knows a few people like this, who have had a hard time picking a major, or who have changed majors several times. For him, there’s always only been music. It’s the only thing he’s ever loved, or ever been interested in, or ever been good at. There was never a question of what he would major in, because music was the only option. But he sees where Jeongguk is coming from. As far as he can tell, Jeongguk’s talents have no end. He can sing and dance and rap, for one. He has a knack for composition and production. He’s in ridiculously good shape, and from what Seokjin says, he’s good at every sport.

“I think you’re good enough to major in anything you want,” says Yoongi, looking at Jeongguk. “But I think it’s a lot less about how good you are and a lot more about how hard you’re willing to work. If you choose a major you like and decide to put in the effort, you’ll succeed.”

Jeongguk smiles. “Look at you, hyung, all full of wisdom.”

“I’m serious,” says Yoongi, a little petulant.

“I know,” says Jeongguk. “It’s...what you said was...really nice, actually, but I get awkward talking about feelings, so I was trying to save my own skin.” He exhales, kicking at some pebble on the sidewalk. “And now I’m being awkward anyway, so my effort to save face was all for naught.”

“What majors are you considering?” asks Yoongi, and he watches Jeongguk’s face relax into a smile. It triggers that heart flutter he’s been feeling all the time around Jeongguk. He tries to ignore it, but it’s still there, flaring up every time them make eye contact, every time Jeongguk smiles at him. Yoongi hates it. Or rather, he hates the fact that he doesn’t hate it.

“It's...kind of embarrassing,” says Jeongguk.

“I've embarrassed myself in front of you like, a hundred times,” says Yoongi.

“We've only known each other for a month,” says Jeongguk.

“Exactly. That's my point. You could tell me you want to major in vampire hunting and I wouldn't have any room to judge you.”

Jeongguk laughs. “Well, I haven't been considering vampire hunting, but maybe I should.” He looks at Yoongi, and he's visibly relaxed, the uncomfortable tension having dissipated almost completely. It makes Yoongi feel absurdly good. “I've thought about vocal performance, obviously. And dance. Or exercise and wellness, something like that? But,” Yoongi feels a tiny chill run up his spine, “I really like photography. And film. I just don't know,” he exhales, staring at his toes. “I’m not sure if I'm any good at it.”

“You can show me?” suggests Yoongi, way more forward than he means to be. “I mean, you don't have to. Just if you want. I used to do photography and stuff in high school, so I know a little about it.”

“You want to?” asks Jeongguk, looking at Yoongi like he’s afraid he’s going to change his mind.

“Of course,” says Yoongi. “We’re friends, remember?”

A few emotions flash through Jeongguk’s eyes, too fast for Yoongi to identify them. “Okay,” he agrees, pursing his lips into that determined almost-smile he does when he’s trying not to look as happy as he feels. “But I have a condition.”

“What condition?” asks Yoongi, raising one eyebrow.

“You have to promise to be honest, hyung. You have to tell me if it sucks.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t,” says Yoongi. “You’re not bad at anything.”

“You’ve never seen my stuff,” says Jeongguk. “No one has, really. So it really might be awful. I have no idea. And if it is, you have to tell me, okay?”

“Okay,” says Yoongi, laughing softly. “I’ll be honest.”

Jeongguk smiles fully, looking pleasantly relieved, and then he pulls out his phone. “Oh,” says Yoongi, when he realizes Jeongguk has stuff ready to show him right here, right now. “You were prepared for this.”

“I’m always prepared,” says Jeongguk, clicking through a few things on the screen. “Here, look through this album first.” He shoves his phone in Yoongi’s face. Yoongi takes it from him, particularly careful not to let their fingers brush because—well, you know.

He doesn’t dwell on thoughts of Jeongguk’s fingers or his touch or his skin, forcing himself to quickly focus on the pictures on Jeongguk’s phone. “Oh,” he says, again, in surprise. He can’t help it. The first picture is of Busan, but...it’s different from pictures he’s seen before. It’s...soft, for lack of a better word. Familiar. Yoongi has never been to Busan, but for some reason he looks at this picture and feels like he’s at home. He’s not sure if it’s the lighting, or the coloring (the whole picture is bathed in a gentle morning light, making things that might otherwise look harsh look a little blurred around the edges) but whatever it is, it works really well. He swipes to the next picture, and then the next. They’re all different from each other, but each one is powerful in its own way. He feels like Jeongguk has just guided him on a tour of Busan, pointing out all his favorite places and favorite people. Every photo holds Jeongguk’s heart, and Yoongi is left in awe of it.

He glances up at Jeongguk, who is staring at him with wide eyes, trembling almost imperceptibly. “Jeongguk-ah,” says Yoongi.

Jeongguk closes his eyes. “Just tell me, hyung.”

“You’re good. You’re really good. Shit, Guk, I felt like I knew all those places, and felt at home there, just by the way you took the pictures. I’ve never even been to Busan. You’re amazing.”

Jeongguk looks even more terrified. “Are you serious?”

“I don’t usually say things I don’t mean.”

“Oh. Yeah. No, I know that. Just—really? You liked them?”

“Yeah, I did. I liked them a lot. Was that your hyung? And your parents?”

Jeongguk’s eyes widen impossibly further. He looks like a rabbit who has just noticed a fox creeping towards him, and has frozen in wide-eyed terror, trying to plan a desperate escape. “Yeah. How...um, how did you know?”

“The way you take pictures of them, I can tell that they’re important to you. That they’re people you love.”

“You can tell that?” asks Jeongguk, his voice quiet and careful.

“The mandu shop is a place you love too.” Yoongi looks at Jeongguk, daring him to deny it. “And the beach. The train station is a place where you feel excited but also a little nervous. Right?”

“Yes,” says Jeongguk, barely above a whisper. “It’s my aunt’s mandu shop. And the train station—I took that when I was leaving for school, my first time leaving home. That’s...that’s exactly how I felt. Excited but a little nervous.” Jeongguk blinks at him. “You could tell all that from those pictures?”

Yoongi nods. “There’s feeling to them. They’re authentic. Which makes them really, really good.”

“Oh,” says Jeongguk, on an exhale. “You’re sure? You’re not lying?”

Yoongi laughs, but there’s a little bit of pity to it, because he knows that feeling. He felt the same way only a little while earlier, when his professor told him his song was good enough to get sent to big-name scouts. “I’m sure. I wouldn’t lie to you, Jeongguk-ah. Not about something that important to you.”

“Do you—” Jeongguk cuts himself off. Yoongi can see him stop his own tongue partway through the sentence.

“Yes,” says Yoongi, even though he didn't know what Jeongguk is going to say. “Probably.”

“You’re not busy right now, are you?” says Jeongguk. He chews on his bottom lip just a little bit.

“I’m banned from my living quarters until further notice, remember?” Yoongi asks, gesturing toward Jeongguk’s phone. “Seokjin sent you to keep me away from the house like a police officer.”

“Would you want to,” Jeongguk takes a breath, “come back to my place? There’s a couple videos I’d like to show you.” He looks at Yoongi expectantly. “Only if you want,” he adds, a bit hastily.

“I’d love to,” says Yoongi. And then he realizes how that sounds, the weight of the word love in his mouth, addressed to Jeongguk. “Not like there’s much else I can be doing at the moment,” he amends, trying to do something about the influx of feeling that has come crashing over him like the break of a tidal wave.

Jeongguk offers a timid smile, and takes his phone back. Yoongi lets himself actually look at the bruise on Jeongguk’s hand, now faded to something like chartreuse. A privilege.

He thinks of the pictures he just saw, how Jeon Jeongguk cares so much, so sincerely, how someone with a heart like that thinks it is a privilege to be fate-tied to him. The now-predictable voice in his head tries to argue you don’t deserve it, you’re broken and a burden and too much, you don’t deserve him, but he stops it there, and counters that voice with one question:

But what if I do?

---

Taehyung isn’t home where they get there. Yoongi’s not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. On one hand, it means things are a bit quieter, a bit less chaotic. But on the other hand, he’s closed in the apartment with just Jeongguk and his ever-growing feelings and nothing to distract him from either of those things. Which is a bit frightening.

Jeongguk disappears into the other room for a minute, and emerges with his laptop, balanced on one hand like it were a box of pizza (the way Jimin always tries to hold his laptop and ends up dropping it: multiple times, once irreparably). Jeongguk, of course, doesn’t drop the laptop, but delivers it elegantly onto the coffee table in front of Yoongi’s knees.

“This is from when I went on vacation with the hyungs,” says Jeongguk. “It’s not the best, but it’s...okay. I mean, I think it’s okay.” And he presses play.

Yoongi would be lying if he said he didn’t have high expectations for this video. After Jeongguk’s apparent photography skills, he’s sure the video will be good.

There’s not really a storyline to it, no plot to speak of, just random clips of the view out the car window and the sky and Seokjin-hyung and Namjoon being dorks. It’s layered with some pop song Yoongi doesn’t recognize. It’s so simple, and yet Yoongi finds his eyes pricked with tears. The camera goes to Seokjin-hyung smiling, and even if Yoongi had never seen Seokjin in his life, he’s sure he would be able to tell Jeongguk was close to him just by watching this video. The whole thing is bursting at the seams with love, tangible in every shot.

The video ends, the song fading out, the screen flashing to black, and Yoongi just stares.

“Do it,” he says, because Jeongguk has to, because the world needs to be able to see things like this, because Yoongi has never seen anything that made him feel so much.

“Do what?” asks Jeongguk, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“Major in this. Film or photography or videography or whatever the program is called.”

“Major in it? You’ve only seen, like ten pictures, and one three-minute video, how can you—”

“It’s really good. I feel what you feel, it’s like I can see the world through your eyes, and the fact that you can get that across in a three-minute video and a handful of pictures means you should do it professionally.”

“Professionally? This isn’t professional, it’s just—”

Yoongi pulls out his phone. “What’s the program called here? I’ll help you get an application sent in.”

Jeongguk buries his face in the arm of the couch, letting out a sound that is somewhere between a squeak and a squeal. “Is this what it feels like when I go on and on about how good your music is?” he asks, his voice halfway muffled by the fabric of the couch.

“Yep,” says Yoongi. He hadn’t thought of it, but it probably is. “Now that I’ve discovered your talent, I’ll make you pay for everything you put me through.” He grins at Jeongguk, and Jeongguk pulls himself off of the arm of the couch to grin back.

“Do you really think it’s good?” asks Jeongguk. “I mean, you said you did, but is it good enough?

“I still meant what I said earlier. If you’re willing to work at it, you’ll succeed.”

Jeongguk smiles, and he looks relieved and delighted and really, genuinely happy. “Can I look at some of your other pictures?” asks Yoongi. “I’ll help you put together a portfolio, if you want.”

“You don’t have to,” says Jeongguk immediately.

“I know. But I want to, so I will. Okay?” says Yoongi. He realizes as he’s speaking, how easy it is for him to be confident and sure of Jeongguk’s abilities, and he wonders for a moment how different his life might be if he had that same faith in himself. Thinks it might be a good thing to try.

Jeongguk unlocks his phone and hands it to Yoongi, opened to his photo gallery. “I have a few albums in there, after the Busan one, that I’ve done some work on, if you want to look at those.”

Yoongi scrolls through the different pictures for a minute, marking his favorites and saving them to a new album titled “portfolio.” There are pictures of views around campus, of Taehyung, of Seokjin and Namjoon, of the dance studio. It’s interesting how easily Yoongi can tell Jeongguk’s feelings for the subject from the pictures themselves. Just by looking through the photos, he can tell where Jeongguk feels comfortable, or relaxed, or excited. There’s one picture of a stage, probably during the end-of-semester dance showcase, taken from behind the curtain looking out over the empty stage and the audience, and just looking at it gives Yoongi the familiar pre-performance thrill.

Yoongi scrolls past a couple more pictures, and then he sees an album, the most recent one. It’s titled with his name. 민윤기. He pauses for just a second, and then he opens it.

He doesn’t think Jeongguk has ever taken pictures of him (at least not that he’s noticed), and a quick scan through the album shows that he’s right. There are no pictures of him. There are fond pictures of his studio, awed pictures of the place outside the art building where he last saw Ilseok (the place where he found out Jeongguk was his soulmate). There are pictures, tinged with longing, of the door to Seokjin’s apartment. And then there are pictures of Jeongguk’s hand.

Yoongi inhales sharply and shuts his eyes for a moment before he looks at the picture again. It’s nothing fancy, just a phone picture, but at the same time it is a lot. It’s really a lot, Yoongi thinks, swiping on to the next picture. There are lots of them. Jeongguk took care to track every stage of the bruising, the transformation from red to pink to purple to blue and now to green. Jeongguk had said it was a privilege, being soul-marked by Yoongi, but that doesn’t cover what Yoongi feels from these pictures. Honor comes closer. Like the greatest distinction that could ever come to Jeongguk’s life would be the honor of being Min Yoongi’s soulmate.

Yoongi stares at Jeongguk. A confession is one thing, but this is another. A heavier thing. It falls on him like a weighted blanket, draping itself over his shoulders, the sort of weight that should be oppressive but instead is almost comforting.

Jeongguk looks at him in a question, and Yoongi realizes he doesn’t even know Yoongi has seen the pictures. He tilts the phone toward Jeongguk, and he watches his soulmate’s eyes go wide. “Oh. I forgot I...I didn’t think you would look at those,” he says, quiet.

“You titled the album with my name,” says Yoongi, and he has no idea where he found a voice to speak with, much less one that jokes like this and keeps a steady tone. “What was I supposed to do, scroll past it?”

“Sorry, it’s really embarrassing, I know. I mean, I did already confess to you, but this is, like, way too…” Jeongguk cringes, sinking into the couch cushions slowly as if trying to make himself disappear. “I understand if you’re...creeped out? Or never want to see me again. In fact, I should probably move to the Australian outback and cut off all communication with humanity. Or Brazil? The Amazon rainforest sounds appealing. I could get devoured by piranhas, end my miserable existence. If Seokjin-hyung finds out about this I will never hear the end of it, I already know.” Jeongguk looks at him for the first time in several moments. “I’m sorry, please, just go ahead and leave, you don’t have to —”

“Jeongguk-ah,” says Yoongi. “I like them.” It isn’t a lie. Yoongi likes them, and he likes Jeongguk. Maybe because he likes Jeongguk.

“—stay here, I’m sure I’m making you— what?

“I like them,” repeats Yoongi.

“You...like them?”

“I mean that much to you?” asks Yoongi, instead of answering Jeongguk’s question.

“I...yes,” Jeongguk says, after a long pause, like he was trying to decide how much of his soul to bare and decided to just go ahead and bare the whole thing. “You do.”

“I’m going to be honest with you,” says Yoongi, and it’s terrifying, he can feel his bones shaking beneath his skin. “I still don’t feel like I deserve it. Your kindness or affection, or...this.” He gestures to the pictures, unsure how to put that feeling into words. “But I’m working on it. I’m trying to tell myself that it’s okay for people to care about me. For you to care about me. So, please be patient.”

Jeongguk nods, fast. Yoongi wonders if he’s going to make himself dizzy. “Of course, hyung. You can tell me, too, if I’m making you uncomfortable, or putting too much pressure, or anything, okay?”

Yoongi nods back. “And, as far as me,” he notes the way Jeongguk looks a little surprised at his words, “I’m trying to learn how to love someone without letting myself be trampled on.” Jeongguk freezes. Yoongi watches Jeongguk’s lips mouth the word “love” and wonders if he might have gotten ahead of himself. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I think I’ll get there, with you. I like you, already, at least a little bit.”

Jeongguk exhales, slowly, and then inhales fast. “Shit, hyung, that was the scariest few moments of my life. I seriously thought you were going to banish me to Brazil and go marry that one TA from your mixing class, the one you did a song with on your mixtape—Suran-ssi? I think that’s her name—and I would spend the rest of my tragic life alone in the rainforest telling poison dart frogs and sloths about how I lost my soulmate because I showed him all the pictures I took of our soulmark, like a creepy sap. I was preparing myself to never see you again. But you like the pictures? And...you like me ?”

Yoongi tries very hard not to laugh as Jeongguk goes on, but by the time Jeongguk’s reached the end, he can’t hold it back anymore. “Don’t laugh,” says Jeongguk, who is also laughing. “You just said you like me, this isn’t funny.”

“You threatened to move to the Amazon rainforest.” Yoongi is still shaking, almost choking on his laughter.

“It wasn’t a threat, ” says Jeongguk. “It was a contingency plan.”

“Please do not ever get a job in risk management,” says Yoongi.

Anyway, ” says Jeongguk, a little abruptly. He’s still grinning, his eyes sparkling with residual laughter. “You like me.”

“Probably? A little bit, I said.”

“That’s plenty. Hyung. That’s more than enough.” Jeongguk angles toward him on the couch, leaning in, closer than he’s ever been. Yoongi fights off the urge to recoil or run, reminds himself that being vulnerable does not always mean getting hurt.

Jeongguk raises one hand, reaches towards Yoongi’s face. It’s not the one that had been bruised before. He stops about three inches away, and looks at Yoongi, his eyebrows raised in a questions. “Can I—” he asks, leaving the rest of the question as understood. And Yoongi understands it. Can I touch you?

Yoongi is about to nod, about to accept the request, when he realizes what Jeongguk is asking.

It starts as just a flicker of fear, but then it rages, a full wildfire in Yoongi’s chest. “I—” He starts to explain himself, but he can’t. He’s full of sparks and flames, violently reminding him of Ilseok. Of Jimin. Of Seokjin and Namjoon. Of people he has hurt, of their expressions when they realize he’s not what they thought he was. Of Jeongguk’s bruised hand: something that he treats as priceless and valuable, when it’s an injury. Everyone he has hurt and disappointed. How easy it is to keep letting yourself get hurt once it’s started. “I don’t think—”

And Yoongi jumps backwards, away. He sees the hurt flash across Jeongguk’s face. It makes him feel a little guilty, but more relieved. Because yes, Jeongguk is disappointed now, but at least he didn’t let Yoongi hurt him any more than this.

Yoongi is relieved because it could have been so much worse.