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Those Countless Stars

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Jungkook let his body slump face first into the cool, scuffed desktop before him. The sound of his forehead hitting the tabletop must have resounded louder than the muted thud that rattled through his own head, though, because a few classmates were quick to cast him a judgy glance. He could hear their scoffs, feel their eyes burning holes in his head even with his own eyes closed.

“Jeon?” his Accounting 101 professor questioned, a warning in his old, tired voice.

“M’fine,” Jungkook lied easily, mumbling into his untouched worksheet packet. He’d been sitting there staring at it for what felt like an eternity, silent and unmoving as the other students around him chatted over the prompts. They’d all chosen partners to work with, and fucking surprise, Jungkook had been the odd man out once again. He’d already skimmed every exercise; he knew every answer. That wasn’t the problem. Then again, what was the problem?

It was suddenly too warm in the room and the soft buzz of the projector now sounded like a muffled electric scream. The raindrops that had collected on the windowpane within the past hour all cascaded down simultaneously -- from a particularly strong gust of wind, probably -- but the way they sped downward, fat and heavy and chaotic, it was almost like Jungkook could hear them explode on the sill. There were too many bodies in the room, too many eyes. Everything was moving, vibrating infinitesimally, and the walls began to cluster, chairs and desks shrinking in and out of existence faster than he could blink. The wavelengths in the gross fluorescent lighting above him seemed to warp and bend and color seemed to break in front of his very eyes. Jungkook’s fucking skin was crawling.

A panic attack? Jungkook thought in a daze, clumsily standing and exiting the room without a word, without a second thought. He just needed to get the fuck out of that room, and he needed to get out now. The hallway offered no more relief; he needed the sky, he needed air, he couldn’t breathe, he was going to --

He burst out of the exit doors with a huff, stumbling forward into the grey mist of the chilly early autumn day. His knees wobbled, and he leaned his palms into them. A few lone students made their way past, eyeing him curiously, but none spoke. None offered a hand. All was quiet and calm. As it should be.

The dewey air felt like absolute heaven on Jungkook’s clammy skin and he closed his eyes, trying to draw in a few deep breaths.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered to himself, frustrated. “What the fuck is wrong?”

Truthfully, nothing was. Jungkook had no real problems that he could pinpoint; he had a somewhat stable part time job, and his parents were very helpful financially, so he had no issues with money. School was easy because numbers were easy; that was part of the reason why he’d chosen to major in accounting, because everything was logical, everything had a definitive answer, and Jungkook knew how to solve it. People were kind to him, and even if he still couldn’t name a single person he could call a friend in the entire university since he’d began two weeks ago… well, he’d always liked his own company, anyway. Jungkook had come to terms with his appearance years ago, so looking in the mirror felt fine. He was okay with who he was.

Life was simple. But maybe that was the problem, after all.

How selfish, Jungkook reprimanded himself, settling cross legged on the concrete, head in his hands. He literally had everything he needed. Many people, he knew, were worse off than he’d ever be. And yet, truthfully… he felt so empty. There were never any surprises, never any thrilling twists to his narrative. It was almost like whatever universal force that created him had forgotten to write him a storyline, like he was just some filler character in the background of someone else’s epic journey. Maybe that’s why God never had any appeal to him; if Jungkook could accept any of that bullshit existed, then he’d also have to accept that he had been an afterthought. And even though Jungkook truly felt, in his heart of hearts, that there was absolutely nothing special about himself, it just simply wasn’t a concept he ever wanted to entertain.

If he was going to be honest with himself, life was boring. Life was dull, grey as the fucking sky above him then, as his breath settled and the color began to return to his cheeks. He wasn’t depressed, no, not really. At least he didn’t think so. Jungkook was just simply somewhere in the middle -- not happy or sad, not above or below. Just average. Just existing. Floating in a yolk, unsure when, or if, he’d hatch.

A shiver wracked through him, but he wasn’t anxious anymore. He realized, as the cold breeze nipped at his skin, that he’d left all of his things -- his jacket, his backpack, his phone -- in the classroom. He’d have to go back for them, but he hated the idea of having to face anyone in there ever again after the abrupt stunt he just pulled. He’d wait a few more minutes before subjecting himself to that embarrassment.

Out of everything, there were some small blisses. The fresh air was nice, for example. Whenever Jungkook felt like he’d combust, it always helped him to be outside, no ceilings or walls to block him in. He liked to sit back with handfuls of soft green grass and watch the birds play midair. He liked to people watch, step out of his own mindspace for only a brief moment and pretend he could see through others’ eyes, speak in others’ voices. It should’ve concerned Jungkook more, how much comfort he gathered from dissociating like that, but it wasn’t something he was willing to fight. It was coping for coping’s sake.

A rush of students burst through the main doors of the building behind Jungkook, and he figured that the period had ended. Time had kind of disappeared for a bit, but he wasn’t complaining. He could finally go back in and grab his stuff in peace. With one more stabilizing sigh, Jungkook hauled himself to his feet and headed back inside.

~~~

Not ten minutes later, Jungkook shouldered his way through the door of his dorm room, slightly ajar. His roommate -- who, truthfully, Jungkook knew nearly nothing about -- sat sprawled on his bed at the left of the room, his laptop balanced on his knees in front of him, his usual mess of clothes and supplies surrounding him on his half. At the sudden commotion, he glanced up at Jungkook.

“Dude, you good?” Geun eyed Jungkook suspiciously, glasses perched dangerously low on his nose.

“M’fine,” Jungkook repeated, apparently only able to use the same handful of words in a given day. He threw his bag on his desk chair, and promptly threw his body flat on his bed. “Just tired.”

“Hmm, well, take a nap, then. I’ve got class in a couple minutes, anyway.” Jungkook could only grunt in response. Geun continued to clack away at his keyboard for a bit in silence. Just as Jungkook’s eyes began to feel heavy and his breathing had slowed, he was startled awake by a textbook thumping loudly on the floor.

“Shit, sorry,” Geun grumbled, shooting Jungkook an apologetic look. “Be ready by eight, yeah?”

“Wait, what?” Jungkook sat up a bit in confusion, squinting.

Geun chuckled lightly. “Already forgot? There’s that freshman bonfire tonight. You said you’d come, remember?”

Jungkook had forgotten. He eyed Geun skeptically. He was an okay roommate, as far as roommates went. He was friendly in all the right respects, and Jungkook had only fought with him once over who’s wall Geun’s gigantic flat screen TV should mount -- of which Jungkook had caved easily -- but beyond that, they both mostly kept to themselves. Geun, who almost always had a couple of loud high school friends over, must have picked up on how maladjusted Jungkook was socially, and had invited him along to the big welcome event that the hall councils sponsor under the administration’s radar every year.

“Come on, Kook! It’ll be fun! Have a drink, chat up some girls -- or guys, whatever floats your boat, you know, I’m no one to judge. I’m, like, really open to --”

“For godssake, Geun, okay, I’ll go,” Jungkook had eventually relented, physically unable to sit through another one of Geun’s rambling spiels about the supposed joys of college life. The invite was definitely out of pity, but Jungkook didn’t have a real reason to refuse, anyway. Besides, free booze.

“I’ll be ready,” Jungkook nodded drowsily, and Geun seemed contented enough with the response. The next second, he’d peaced out with a flourish and their little dorm was quiet once again.

Orangey light leaked in through the tiny window, from the single streetlight that was located, to Jungkook’s annoyance, directly outside their dorm. All else was dim, the sun still having chosen to remain hidden behind a stretch of thick grey clouds. It’ll probably storm, Jungkook thought distantly to himself, and wondered if the councils had a backup plan for that kind of thing. Regardless, he drifted off, flashes of fire and rushes of water dancing behind his eyelids.

~~~

“You clean up okay.”

Jungkook, Geun, and a handful of his friends had all piled out of Geun’s dinky little Jeep and were making their way slowly across the sandy stretch of beach between the parking lot and the open venue. Jungkook had only showered and thrown on a nicer button up shirt -- nothing special, honestly. Geun was probably just trying to be nice.

“Thanks. You, too.” Jungkook offered him a small smile. He wanted to have fun tonight, he really did; he hoped a couple drinks would take the edge off of the headache beginning to build in his temples, and maybe fend it off until tomorrow morning. Geun’s friends were just as friendly to Jungkook, albeit in their dude-bro way. They were just so loud and energetic and when they all laughed simultaneously, the sound erupted too quickly and Jungkook was so very tired already. He’d hoped their energy would be contagious, but it seemed like all it was doing was draining him. As if on cue, one of the guys took off ahead, face first in a Naruto run, screaming at the top of his lungs, and, honestly? Jungkook just wanted another fucking nap.

As their little group approached, Jungkook began to get a better idea of the party. There wasn’t just a singular bonfire, but a few scattered about along the shore. A little tent had been erected on the right side -- presumably with a makeshift bar inside, as the throngs of people exiting with plastic cups could prove. Pockets of students, mostly freshman but definitely a few older stragglers, were spread all over the beach, some huddled under blankets near a fire, some nudging a volleyball between them, others splashing in the sea waves. Someone was blasting some generic pop music over a grainy speaker system, but Jungkook could also make out a few licks of an acoustic guitar from somewhere in the vicinity. The whole thing was very hip, very chill. Almost forcibly so.

They were greeted in the drink tent by a few upperclassmen girls who introduced themselves as resident assistants, all wide, wet smiles and wandering fingers. The flirting was definitely not lost on Jungkook, but it made him more uncomfortable than anything. Geun and his guys ate it up, though, wiggling their eyebrows comically at each other in the most obnoxious way possible. Jungkook wondered if they tried to be this annoying. One of the more petite girls patted at Jungkook’s shoulder while he grabbed a cup of who fucking knows what, and her tiny hand lingered there a beat too long. Her fingertips squeezed ever so slightly at the muscle there and Jungkook nearly choked.

It wasn’t like he hated the attention. It was nice. And she was pretty, really. She looked like she’d just left Coachella, all legs in her high waisted short shorts and crop top, dark hair done up in a high ponytail, visibly shivering in the cool night air. Her cheeks were flushed a gorgeous pink, from the cold or the alcohol or maybe both, and the little silver ring in her eyebrow glinted subtly in the fire light. It was clear what she was looking to get out of the night, her eyes hooded already, and Jungkook almost, almost considered indulging a bit… But she was already so fucking drunk, stumbling and catching Jungkook’s arm for balance, that he doubted she’d be awake much longer, anyway. He guided her down into a nearby folding chair, and excused himself before she could gather the words to say anything to him.

And thank fuck this ordeal was outdoors, because Jungkook was already antsy. He followed behind Geun and his friends, feeling lost and out of place already. He recognized a few faces from his classes as he passed them, but they weren’t people he ever actively spoke to. Everyone seemed to be absorbed in something, laughing and spinning and talking and splashing, and for a moment Jungkook felt like he didn’t exist.

The group found a washed up chunk of curved driftwood large enough to all squat on, and they all plopped down, Jungkook only slightly out of the circle. It was better that way, he reasoned. He was more of an observer here, anyway.

After that, time seemed to disappear, once again. This time, Jungkook blamed whatever was in the cups he drank from. Feeling emboldened by the alcohol, Jungkook managed to interject a few times into the endlessly rolling conversation, but otherwise settled, drifting in and out of attention. When all of their cups were empty, one of them would make a run back to the tent for another round, and Jungkook certainly lost track of how many rounds they’d gone through by the time it was his turn. His face felt hot to the touch and his vision was a little hazy, but he made it to the tent in one piece.

Jungkook was grumbling to himself, trying to figure out how to carry six flimsy cups full of booze at once, when Coachella girl appeared in his periphery. He certainly couldn’t avoid her now, seeing as though he was still fumbling around with the drinks. At worst, he could ask her to help carry a couple back with him. Steeling himself, he turned to her, trying to make eye contact the best he could.

“Hey again,” she murmured, leaning up against the makeshift bar. Her speech wasn’t as slurred as the first time they’d met, but her eyes were still dark and hazy. Jungkook hadn’t even thought to consider that she may have been high, too.

“Hi,” he offered, his own voice sounding strange inside his head. Jungkook cleared his throat. “You feeling okay?”

“Much better now.” She was tipping forward, pawing at Jungkook’s chest, and his reflexes were just fast enough to catch her as she lost her balance, crashing forward against him with a tiny yelp. Her arms flew up around his neck and Jungkook’s hands fluttered around her waist, not sure where to touch. He jostled back, too, catching himself on a tent support beam.

Her breath was hot and sickly sweet on Jungkook’s neck as she laughed, and for a moment, he thought about kissing this nameless girl. He’d surely never see her again after this, and it’d just be a bit of drunk funsies. Maybe he’d finally have something fun to say to the guys when he got back. Screw it, he thought, leaning in.

“I liiiiike you.”

Jungkook stopped short, no more than a centimeter from her pink, plump little mouth. Everything about her was tiny and the more time she spent in his arms, the more he liked the feeling. But, uh, that was a bit much, even to Drunk Jungkook’s standards.

“You… like me?”

“Mhmmmm.” She smiled wide, closing her eyes for a moment longer than necessary. She redirected, standing on her tiptoes and leaning into Jungkook’s ear, as if to tell a secret. “Know why?”

“No idea.” He really had no fucking clue what was happening.

She giggled once more in his ear before pulling back, staring wide up at Jungkook, seemingly searching his face for something. Her hands trailed from the back of his neck to cup his jaw.

“You’re glowing.”

Jungkook sputtered a laugh. What the fuck was this girl on? “‘Scuse me?”

“You glow like you aren’t a boy. ‘S like you’re made of the sun. Like you’re not real.” Her eyebrows knit together, suddenly serious. She seemed almost frustrated, like Jungkook was a puzzle she couldn’t quite solve.

Drunk Jungkook lacked every ability to process what was going on. He needed to get the hell out of there. “Uh… I’m gunna go,” he mumbled, backing out of her hold. She let him go, almost too easily, but her expression remained troubled as she watched Jungkook scramble for the drinks.

“Bye, star boy,” he heard quietly behind him as he emerged back into the night air. He walked fast, as fast as his wobbly legs allowed, and breathed deep. What the fuck was that? Jungkook tried to keep his cool, he really did, but it was almost like something inside him was being pulled taut, like he could snap any second.

By the time he’d made it back to their spot, Geun and his friends were gone. Jungkook stood there with six cups of booze in his hands, glancing around, stupidly. Of course they’d left. They’d probably gone as soon as he’d left for drinks, in all honesty.

Now alone, he let himself crumple down into the sand. His face was hot again, hotter than before, and his chest felt tight. His eyes stung, and Drunk Jungkook decided he’d like himself better if he were Drunker Jungkook. He downed an entire cup in one go, and reached for another, unable to care anymore.

The fire before him was burning low, blue and white around its kindling, and Jungkook felt like he could relate. He was drifting in and out faster than he could consciously recognize, and soon the fire was burning mint and lilac and rose and Jungkook was alone alone alone.

Jungkook was lonely.

Feeling impulsive, he pushed himself to his feet, a third cup in one hand, shoes in the other. The feeling of the sand under his heels as he stumbled was almost too much, but that was a better everything than what was in his head. He passed giggles and kisses and arguments, and none stopped for him.

He reached the shoreline eventually, toes brushing the water as it rolled lazily up the sand. He stared down at it for a moment, then up at the larger body. He finished the cup in his hand after he felt the water breathe deep, and wondered what would happen to him if he just walked forward into it and never turned around. The waves at his feet seemed to groan in protest, urging him backward and away, and he let them push until he was falling flat on his ass in the wet sand, sprawled and gazing hazily up at the sky. He was already far from the nearest group of students, so voices were no more than a faint lull.

It was impossible to know how late it was, but the night was impossibly dark, save for the full moon, hanging heavily above. Jungkook squinted at the stars blinking brightly above him and considered what Coachella girl had said in the tent. Looking up at the vastness like that, there was nothing else. He felt everything. He was nothing.

“You fucking suck, star boy,” Jungkook mumbled to himself, laughing bitterly. Sand was everywhere, all over him, and the air was buzzing in his ears and he needed to move. He needed to not be this.

He walked for a long time. He’d tried to count his steps as they disappeared under the tide, but even that only lasted for a little while. Everything was a blur of rhythmic steps and lapping waves and the numbness was nice.

Jungkook’s sole met something with a lot less give than sand, and he looked up from his daze. He’d reached an outcropping of rock that ran steadily inland and out a ways into the water. The pile was only a few inches higher than he was tall. Since he didn’t want to stop moving, Drunker Jungkook determined the formation looked steady enough to scale over, and continued with shaky hands.

About a foot up, a shout caught Jungkook’s attention. There was no one in sight behind him, so he assumed it came from the other side of the rock. Curiosity getting the best of him, he continued, almost losing his footing twice in an effort to peek over faster.

He wasn’t really sure what he was looking at, but Drunker Jungkook couldn’t be sure Sober Jungkook would’ve known, either. The light of a huge flame caught his eye first, sparks lifting high into the night sky. This fire, similarly built to those back at the event, seemed to be a focal point, as six figures stood evenly spaced around it. From the firelight, he could see that they all were wearing similar versions of the same kind of outfit -- layers upon layers of yellow, red, purple, and green, every color of tunic, scarves and skirt-like pieces tied around waists. Accents, maybe gems or sequins, glittered beautifully as the fabric moved softly in the sea breeze. They were still, shoulders squared and facing the blaze, and even though he couldn’t quite make out their faces, Jungkook knew their eyes were closed. He felt the urge to close his own, too, but he couldn’t look away, didn’t want to miss a single moment of the strange sight.

The rock beneath Jungkook’s feet seemed to tremble, and an impossibly low hum rose up from the sand. Small whirlpools formed along the edges of the shore, whirring, singing as if it had a voice. Or was that them, the people around the fire? Squinting hard, Jungkook did catch small movements around their mouths, and soon enough he heard them clearly.

Drunker Jungkook thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard. These figures, these weirdos in a circle around a fire in the middle of the night, were weaving melodies together in ways Jungkook had never heard. The counterpoint was impeccable, their tones clear, and at the moments when the voices met in harmony, Jungkook was sure his knees would give out. A warm feeling was beginning to claw its way out of the center of his chest, and for the first time tonight it felt okay. Alarming, but okay.

Listening quietly for a while, Jungkook watched as one of the figures raised his arms high, a round disk in one hand and a slender looking stick in the other. The person struck them together seven consecutive times, and the sound reverberated like a drumhead would, echoing out and sweeping over Jungkook body. With every hit, he felt his breath start to quicken, and his palms began to slick against the rocks he clung to. He was transfixed, even as that warmth inside him began to spread and his entire body fidgeted restlessly.

There was a pause, and then collective movement, the figures moving slowly in synchronization. The figure closest to Jungkook, back turned, wore a gauzy blue blouse, and Jungkook decided to focus his eyes there, as the whole ensemble began to make him feel increasingly light headed. They moved left, pausing after one full rotation.

Jungkook’s heart leapt into his throat, anticipation burning hot and almost unbearable inside him.

Seven more strikes to the drumhead, and they were off to the left again. This time, though, they moved freely, bouncing and swaying to the beat of a lower pitched drumhead, held by a figure in yellow. The movement was open and wild, bells ringing out as they shook around a few of the figures’ ankles. They were singing again, but this time there were words. Jungkook couldn’t understand them, but he thought he knew them. His mouth fell open, eyes wide, as the figures kicked high in the air, spinning and laughing and singing, reaching up to the sky, and it was too much. Drunker Jungkook knew he shouldn’t be crying, but he was. He didn’t know why. Their bodies seemed to glitch in front of him and the sky was dropping in on them and he couldn’t breathe.

Another panic attack? Probably. Jungkook was so wasted, there was no way he could think to handle this. Every hair on his body was standing on end and unbearable heat was coursing through his veins and looking down, light peaked out from the beds of his fingernails.

He was glowing.

Gasping, Jungkook’s gaze returned to the raucous group before him, tears streaming openly down his face.

He could feel each of their heartbeats thumping in his chest as if they were his own. That warmth inside him, what the fuck?

It was pure joy.

For the first time in a long time, he felt alive.

Just as a broken cry escaped Jungkook’s lips, a blinding bolt of lightning struck down before him in a deafening crack. He cowered close behind the rocks, shaking and gasping in shock. His ears rung terribly, and there was no sound -- no more singing, no more drums. After a moment, Jungkook gathered enough courage to slowly stand, peeking hesitantly over the crest of rock.

The fire was completely dead, not even an ember burning at the base. It was dark, then, but not dark enough to see the crooked, odd mass arching up from the ground. Squinting at it, Jungkook finally understood. What was that shit called? Fulgurite, what was made when lightning fused sand. He’d only seen pictures, and even then, only small samples. Never anything this huge. The shape vaulted high and thick and menacing in a straight line, crooked glassy fingers pointing accusingly at Jungkook.

Trembling, he looked up and met six pairs of wide eyes, glinting back at him in shock.

Jungkook ran.

He ran and ran and didn’t stop until he was sick, gagging in someone’s front garden like the pathetic piece of shit he knew he was. Even then, he dragged himself up and kept running. Tears in his eyes, fog in his lungs, ringing in his ears, Jungkook didn’t know where he was going and he didn’t know where he’d end up.

But he needed to run, he had to.

He needed to, because it was the only way to drown out the small, unfamiliar voice in his head, begging him, stay.