The first words Jihoon hears when he walks through the door are, “Welcome home.”
Jihoon was nearing his ninth birthday when he finally realized that his parents did a lot more than just dote on him because he was the youngest child.
And it sucked because he didn’t ask to be doted on. Sure, he liked being able to get away with certain things, like not having to do chores. But the thing was that he never had any chores to begin with. And when he wanted to help out, his parents would refuse him and say, “Your hyung will do it for you.”
It took nine years for Jihoon to finally detect the underlying “Do not disobey me” tone in his parents’s voices whenever they spoke to Yoongi hyung. It was mainly their father who talked to his hyung like he wasn’t human, and it irked Jihoon to no end because even if that man wasn’t his hyung’s father, why was he talking to hyung like that? Families are supposed to love each other unconditionally. As far as Jihoon knew, Yoongi hyung wasn’t a bad person. Sure, was sarcastic and witty and a hell of a smart ass, but he had his flaws like everyone else did. And Yoongi hyung was never one to knowingly and willingly cause trouble.
And yet, not once did Yoongi hyung complain or cry out that this wasn’t fair to him. Jihoon only ever saw his hyung nod to their parents and do whatever task they wanted him to do.
Frankly, it always broke Jihoon’s heart.
“Why don’t you say something, Hyung?”
“Why bother? They’re not worth my time.”
“But they treat you like horse shit.”
“What kind of reason is that?”
“The only one I need.”
Jihoon was nearing his fourteenth birthday when his world turned upside down.
“Eomma… Have you seen Yoongi hyung?”
“I haven’t, sweetie,” his mom hummed as she diced up onions on her cutting board.
“It’s getting dark.”
“Maybe he’s staying at a friend’s house.”
“He doesn’t have a lot of people he’s close to, Eomma.” Jihoon sighed exasperatedly. Seeing it was fruitless to speak to his mother about his hyung, he speed dialed his hyung’s number for the nth time. He was taken straight to voicemail again. “He’s not answering any of my calls. I think his phone’s dead. We have to find him—“
“Jihoon-ah, let’s not worry about this now, okay? He’s probably still going through his rebellious stage. He’s never not come home before.”
Jihoon wanted to argue back, wanted to kick and scream at her to stop slaving in the kitchen for her ungrateful husband and fucking look for her son. Look for Jihoon’s brother. His only brother.
But, he didn’t. Because he is Lee Jihoon, his parents’s golden child. Lee Jihoon, who always hid behind his hyung like the older was a shield because the younger was afraid of the consequences for lashing out at his parents. Consequences for embarrassing them. Consequences for bringing them shame.
But his Yoongi hyung was the misfit at family gatherings who made it no secret how much he detested his “home.” Yoongi hyung, who didn’t believe in sugarcoating, who despised being treated like he was nonexistent until someone needed him. Yeah, he was brash. But Jihoon loved him nonetheless.
He wished his hyung had brought him along.
“Hyung, where have you been?”
“Jihoon? Why are you still up?”
“I was worried about you, Hyung.”
“Worried? It’s fucking 1 am, Hoon—“
“I can’t sleep well knowing that you haven’t come home yet.”
“For fuck’s sake…”
“I know you don’t like coming home, Hyung. I know you always wait until Eomma and Appa are sleeping so that you don’t have to talk to them. I know you hate it here, Hyung. But do you hate me too?”
“You know I don’t, kid.”
Yoongi’s eyes are glassy even in the darkness. He pulls Jihoon into a bone crushing hug.
“I could never hate you even if I wanted to, Hoonie.”
Jihoon was nearing his sixteenth birthday when he first picked up his father’s handgun.
It was heavy. The metal was cool against the heat of his hands, but it still seared him with something the teenager couldn’t shake off even though he wanted to.
He’s seen… it thousands of times. Frankly, he’s always hated the damn thing. It scared the living shit out of him and Yoongi hyung (mores Jihoon than his brother), especially when their father got drunk when he came home. Jihoon still hasn’t forgotten the time his father got so mad that he shot up the TV in his drunken rage. Had his brother not had good intuition on what their father was going to do, he might have been hurt. Or worse — dead.
But now, he was looking at it differently.
Like it was a way out.
He hesitated taking it.
“I-I can’t. I can’t fucking take it anymore, Hoonie, I can’t.”
“Hyung, what’s wrong? A-are you okay?”
“Don’t take another step near me, Jihoon.”
“Yoongi is dead, Jihoon. I killed him.”
Jihoon had just turned seventeen when he said, “Fuck it,” packed his backpack with what few clothes and necessities he had, and followed in his hyung’s footsteps.
He never looked back.
“Eo-Eomma, can I… can I hold him?”
“Be careful not to drop him, Yoongi-yah.”
Yoongi, with trembling hands, cradles the newborn infant in a gentle hold. He’s so nervous about dropping the baby (even though he’s sitting on the couch) or holding him the wrong way, but he pushes those thoughts aside as he looks down at the naked body, warm and flushed a soft pink, swadled in a fluffy, cotton blanket. His little brother is pretty, and so, so cute. Yoongi doesn’t register that his eyes are getting glassy until something warm dribbles down his cheek. He speaks in a high-pitched whisper.
The baby doesn’t reply, not that Yoongi expects him to. He’s in a deep sleep after all, and babies need all the sleep.
“I’m your Yoongi hyung. I promise to love you and-and protect you and-and-and… be there for you and, and! Um, scare off any monsters underneath your crib. I will be the best hyung ever. I won’t leave your side. I love you so, so much, Jihoonie.”
Jihoon won’t understand everything his hyung said to him. But he doesn’t need to, at least, that’s what Yoongi thinks. He’s a baby after all.
But for Jihoon, who can’t remember many of his early memories, remembers all those promises his Hyung made, even as an infant.
So why did you lie, Hyung?
Jihoon was halfway to approaching his eighteenth birthday when he met that peculiar but handsome stranger. The man had just entered the parking garage with a steaming cup of some bougie coffee when he craned his neck and got a look at Jihoon. The small boy curled up into the tattered blanket he found in a random garbage can the week before, but the stranger’s interest was piqued and he walked up to him. A burly man dressed in all black and wearing sunglasses followed behind the stranger at a distance.
Jihoon was fucking terrified.
But still, the stranger kept walking towards him.
At first, he was on guard. Jihoon had already left home and his parents hadn’t bothered to look for him. He couldn’t get particularly far in Busan anyway without a car, but the boy was several kilometers away from his god awful neighborhood. There was no news coverage concerning his disappearance or search parties trying to find him. His parents didn’t care and there was no way anyone else would.
So why would this stranger be any different?
“This is no place to sleep.”
Jihoon lifted his head and stared back the stranger towering above him. Even when he was exhausted as shit, he was able to make out small, sharp eyes and full, mochi-like cheeks. He was of average height, but Jihoon was on the shorter side to begin with. The stranger bent his knees to squat and gave the small boy a smile.
Jihoon was unnerved even more.
“Y’know, the fumes the cars emit here will be nasty for your lungs.”
The stranger ran a hand through his bowl cut (a bowl cut, seriously? And he managed to be one of the few people on this Earth to pull it off that well? How fucking rude). His lips pressed together into a thin line and he spoke up.
“I won’t hurt you.”
He’s lying, an inner voice tucked in the corner of his head screamed. And yet there was something comforting about the way this stranger carried himself. Something comforting. Something reassuring.
Something like home.
“How can I trust you?” Jihoon croaked.
The strange boy extended his hand.
It hasn’t even been a day since Jihoon (after a shit ton of that strange man’s insistence to stay with him for a little while till he was ready to get back on his feet) started staying with him. He hasn’t learned his name yet, as he is still on guard and not the best around people, but he’s bound to learn his name eventually.
Jihoon is escorted to a guest room by one of the house servants (how fucking loaded is this guy?). The small boy makes a beeline to the shower after he hastily strips off his clothes. The hot torrent of water beating on his skin is refreshing. It sure beats sneaking in and breaking into public bathhouses late at night.
After Jihoon steps out of the shower, he notices a pair of satin pajamas have been draped over the desk chair, and a plain white shirt and blue shorts for loungewear has been laid out on the bed. He does remember the rich boy saying dinner would be ready soon, but he’s way too exhausted to even muster the strength to go down and eat.
He flops down on the bed. The coolness of the pillow is soothing, and the airy softness of the mattress feels so damn good against his sore muscles. It’s been a while since he’s slept on a bed and he’s out like a light.
He dreams that night.
He dreams that the sky above him is a vibrant blue, yet somehow it’s still dull with the presence of periwinkle and gray clouds rolling in. The street is dilapidated and the road line paint is faded. There are no cars coming from either direction, which makes the soft breeze louder in Jihoon’s ears. It feels too real to be a dream, he thinks as he rubs his arms up and down to warm him up.
Jihoon squints his eyes and sees something in the distance. His curiosity gets the better of him and he starts making his way towards it.
As he gets closer, he sees it’s a small pinwheel. It shouldn’t be anything mind-blowing, yet for some reason, Jihoon thinks it looks so…
Someone crosses his field of vision. He’s taller, thinner, and his hair is tousled messily.
But he doesn’t seem to hear him, even though Jihoon keeps shouting the honorific at the top of his lungs. So Jihoon runs faster, his footsteps hitting the pavement harder as he rushes to the older boy.
The older boy plucks the pinwheel from the ground and starts leaving. Jihoon, at the last minute, grabs the other by the shoulder and makes him turn around.
Except he isn’t looking at Yoongi hyung’s face.
An older him stares back at him. His eyes are cold, scarily distant, and lonely. He offers Jihoon a sad smile.
Jihoon stares back in disbelief. His grip on the future him loosens.
The older him grips the pinwheel tighter and walks away.
Kwon Soonyoung, Jihoon came to learn, was a fucking weirdo.
First impressions when they met at the parking garage a couple days ago were overall good. Soonyoung was kind and very sociable. Even though Jihoon had no interest in engaging in conversation with him, he found his over the top, animated energy welcoming. He didn’t do extroverted people. They were loud, always needed to be around people, and fucking clingy as hell.
Yet Jihoon found himself wanting to cling to Soonyoung the way he clung to his hyung.
Nah, he rationalized with himself. A cute boy’s just showing you kindness for the first time in months ever since you ran away. Get your head out of the gutter, Lee Jihoon. You’re just going to stay at this rich kid’s place for a little bit and then leave.
So that’s what he did. He accepted food from Soonyoung. Took his offer up to take a shower. Changed into clothes that the taller boy had outgrown. And his manners and decency were still intact so before anyone gets ideas, no, he did not steal anything he could sell off to someone for quick cash.
“Jihoon-ssi! Wait!” Soonyoung exclaimed in a panic, grabbing the smaller boy by the wrist. “Where are you going?”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Jihoon smiled. “I’ll be going now.”
“What? Where are you going? You don’t have anywhere to go! Do you even have any money?”
“It doesn’t matter. I just need to find my hyung.”
“Oh, is that the boy in the picture you keep in your sweater?”
“When did you look at my stuff!?”
“No, no, no! It’s a misunderstanding! It fell out of your sweater pocket when you changed out of it before you used my bathroom! But I put it back! I swear I didn’t take anything!”
“You better not have.” Jihoon didn’t realize it until it was too late but he began to tear up. His voice wavered the next time he spoke, “He’s all I have left and he ran away three years ago.”
“So you went after him.”
“Well when your dad’s a cop but won’t look for his own sons when he loses them at the grocery store, let alone when they run away…”
“How can you believe he’s still alive?”
“Because my hyung is the strongest son of a bitch I know.”
Soonyoung looked at him with a sort of sympathy painted on his face. He said goodbye to Jihoon with a hug the smaller boy wasn’t expecting. Jihoon tensed up. Sensing his discomfort, Soonyoung quickly pulled away and flashed a toothy smile at him. Jihoon nodded back and grabbed the door handle.
Jihoon whipped his head back.
“You can come back at any time. I don’t know you but I know that if you don’t find your brother—“
“Which I will.”
“—you have nowhere else to go though if you don’t. So that’s why you’re free to come back if you need anything.”
He wanted to scoff.
“Thank you,” he said instead.
And he was off.
Just pass me the drink / Because I want to get drunk today / So please don’t try to stop me
Jihoon knows that voice anywhere.
Too bad Agust D isn’t anywhere nearby.
That’s right, fuck, I live because I can’t die / But I don’t have anything I want to do
I’m in so much pain and loneliness but people around me / Keep telling me to regain my consciousness
I try to vent my anger but I only got myself / So what’s the point of venting my anger?
I’m scared to open my eyes everyday and start breathing
Didn’t you say I was enough to keep you next to me?
What changed, Hyung?
Jihoon was two days shy of 18 when he almost gave up searching for his hyung. It had been a couple months since he left Soonyoung’s place. And quite honestly, a part of him did want to go back. But another part of him didn’t. Soonyoung would just be a distraction from his goal. And Jihoon could not afford distractions.
Maybe Jihoon will come to regret this in the future. Maybe this decision is what he was needing all this time. Maybe this will end with his death.
But whatever it comes to, he cannot turn back time now.
He shakes hands with three people. JR first, S. Coups next.
And then at last, Hoshi.