It was a tiny hand clasped at the very hem of his nurse coat that made Soobin stop in his tracks.
Yet another tranquil Sunday morning at the hospital cafeteria came, uneventful as always. The male was holding a tab in one hand, heading back in after finishing a round of check-ups at the courtyard. Not many patients were inside, save for a few children finishing up their breakfast and some elders in need.
Upon feeling the tug, Soobin immediately turned, coming face to face with the owner of the hand. It belonged to a small girl—young, rather pale, her frame frail. Soobin made a mental note to ask for her name so he could put in a word or two with her nutritionist later.
She had hair that was as dark as night, silky like black jade. Her eyes were wide and round as they stared straight at him—almost alarmingly big in proportion to the rest of her tiny features. Her frame was dressed in a plain white dress, oddly ambiguous. But then again, this was a hospital gown.
The child had a Peitero duck plushie in her free hand, possessively clutched to her chest. Her fist was oddly clamped, and only then did Soobin realise there was something else poking through the gap of her stout fingers.
“Hello there,” he flashed her a warm smile, quickly crouching down to meet the child’s eye level. He was rewarded with a shy one in return. “How can I help you?”
“Mister nurse.” Meekly mumbled the girl, eyes wide with a hint of curiosity in them. They were clear as day as those obsidian orbs blinked at him. Soobin’s crinkled. “I… I found something.”
“You did? Would you like to show me?” Soobin hummed, eyes gazing at the girl’s clamped fist, waiting for it to unturn. And so it did.
What laid in the girl’s palm, however, made his expression shift.
Clutched in the middle of her small hand was a crinkly paper heart. Neatly folded, but with edges worn. It wasn’t an uncommon sight for him, but for whatever reason, his guts told him that Soobin recognised all too well just where this particular one came from.
“Oh? Where did you find this?” He tried to keep the smile plastered on his face, unstretching his own palm to hold the child’s.
The girl fidgeted, shifting her weight between her feet; reluctant to answer—like a child afraid of reprimanding because she was caught doing something she shouldn’t be. “It’s okay to tell me, I promise.” He added, for extra reassurance which he was certain she needed.
This sparked a glint of hope in her eyes. “I found this in the room next to mine! There were so many! It was like a Barbie movie, mister nurse!”
Soobin’s heart dropped.
A heartbeat too late, he inquired, his voice wavering just in the slightest. “What’s your room number, little one?”
“554!” Chirped the child, and something unreadable flashed across Soobin’s usually bright visage.
“You went in there?” Said Soobin, his cheerful tone from earlier completely absent.
“I-it was unlocked.” Fumbled the child, her grip on the plushie tightening. She was looking away now, and the hand situated on top of Soobin began to tremble.
The room is never left unlocked. Then, how...?
Nevertheless, Soobin cooed, shaking his head and reaching out to stroke her back; something he was trained to do to comfort children. “Shh, it’s okay. It’s alright. Why don’t we return this to where it belongs?”
She meekly nodded, putting the crumpled paper heart in Soobin’s much larger palm. Soobin carefully held it, like he was afraid it would break under the gentlest of touches; and put it in his coat pocket.
Long time no see.
He then stood up, took the child’s hand in his, and began walking.
“Mister nurse, why are there so many hearts in here?”
Fluorescent lights began to flood the room after he flipped the switch. Soobin had let the girl come in ahead of him before he slid the door close.
The room was exactly just as they’d left it three years ago; in which Soobin never let anyone, himself included, enter it since. Just being here alone made his body feel like it was being torn through a time warp. Inhaling a deep breath, his eyes finally flickered up to take in his surroundings.
It wasn’t anything different from other hospital rooms. The bed was perfectly made. The sheets were white—so were the pillows, the floor, the ceiling, and just about anything else. Almost the entire room was adorned in white. Nothing was unordinary.
Except, for the masses and masses of origami hearts—all in different colours—filling the entire space to the brim everywhere one would look. Colours rippled in bright paper hues through his field of vision; left to right, up to down. It was taped on the wall, much so that there was barely room for the white paint to peek through. Strings and strings of them were hung up across the ceiling in multiple rows, criss-crossing like bedroom lights decoration. It was by the bed; on the nightstand, on the pillow, and carefully spread out on the sheets.
Soobin could perfectly recall how he was right there, taping the hearts onto the wall, tying the strings, scattering them on the sheets—three years ago, like it was just yesterday.
The little one carefully sat down on the chair right by the bed, but Soobin lifted her up and put her on the mattress. Her tiny frame was huddled by the sea of origami hearts on the sheet; the sight was oddly endearing, but heart-wrenching to him for reasons the male would rather not address.
The nurse sat himself down on the bedside chair, pulled it closer, and handed the child a random heart he picked up. Then, he started. “Have you ever heard about the origami hearts tradition in the hospital?”
Taking the heart, the child excitedly inspected it, nodding in glee. “Yes! My mama told me that when someone leaves the hospital to go to heaven, we all fold a paper heart for them! Like this, like this!”
“That’s right,” chuckled Soobin. The pure, innocent excitement of a child almost single-handedly brightened the morbid ambiance of this room, something that no one was able to accomplish for countless years to come. Soobin found it highly ironic. “But do you know how it started?”
The girl shook her head, handing her paper heart to the Peitero duck so they could inspect it together. This alone tugged at Soobin’s heartstrings.
“Well, then. I’ll tell you a story.” He cleared his throat, and the child looked up at him with the brightest eyes in the world, waiting for him to go on with her lips shaped into a perfect ‘o’.
I wonder if you sent her into my path. As a sign.
“It started here, in this room. From a boy who used to fold a paper heart every day for his lost love, hoping each one he makes will take him closer to the day those eyes would open again."
Unfortunately for him, that day never came.
“Hyung, look here!”
Yeonjun was in the middle of climbing down a tree, the end of a random grass plant tucked between his teeth when he turned to look. “Beomgyu, what are you doing?”
“Come quick, or the wind’s gonna blow it away! Look!” The younger boy still exclaimed with glee, sounding way too excited as he crouched in the middle of the field, hands cupped protectively around something.
Yeonjun let out a small laugh as he jumped down, walking over. In the middle of a tall grass field, Beomgyu mysteriously looked even smaller. “What is it?” He inquired as he squatted down next to him.
With a bright grin, the boy in question unveiled his hands, revealing the item he’s been carefully shielding from the afternoon spring breeze.
They were two perfect dandelions—white as snow, round as textbook circles, not a single flake out of place.
Beomgyu noticed Yeonjun staring in awe as well and giggled as he gently plucked the flowers, handing one to the former. “Here! Did you know that when you see dandelions, you can make a wish before you blow them, and they’ll come true?”
Yeonjun’s brow arched. Beomgyu didn't look like the type to be interested in things like that. “Really? Are you making this up?” Yeonjun mused, looking at the younger with a questioning gaze that was half teasing.
“No! An uncle told me once. Quick quick, close your eyes and make one. Let’s do it together.” Beomgyu waved around his free hand, his excitement barely contained. With a smile still plastered on his face, he squeezed his eyes shut—so excessively tightly that wrinkles started to form. If Yeonjun found it endearing, he didn’t let him know. He only spared a second to stare at Beomgyu, smiling fondly to himself before he too closed his own eyes.
What he wished for, he'd rather take to his grave than admit aloud.
I wish to always spend tomorrow together with you, until the end of forever.
When he opened them again, Beomgyu’s were no longer closed. Those doe eyes were now staring at him with anticipation; like he was waiting for him to complete making his wish so they could blow them together.
Yeonjun let out a small chuckle, a nod signifying the green light Beomgyu was awaiting. The latter’s smile turned impossibly brighter before they both blew at their dandelions at the same time.
“What wish did you make?” Yeonjun nudged him by the shoulder, the remains of the dandelions scattered around them like miniature snowflakes.
“Hyung, I can’t tell you! Or it won’t come true!” The younger looked away, a small pout forming on his face.
“Aw, but you tell hyung everything,” Yeonjun pressed, tackling the younger male down onto the field. Beomgyu only whined but showed no signs of restraint.
The sun was high above them. The breeze was warm yet gentle. In the distance, Yeonjun could hear birds chirping. Dew drops made their clothes damp as they rolled about in the field, but neither of them seemed to care. Giggles filled the quiet of the park; it was as if only the two of them were present in this vast, vast world.
They were ten.
When they turned eleven, Beomgyu took him here again—on a chilly September evening, where the breeze no longer held the comforting warmth of a peck like it would a March afternoon. Yeonjun still remembered the dew drops caressing his cheeks when they last visited.
Now, he only pulled his turtleneck higher, the wind ruthlessly ravaging through his hair. Beomgyu was by his side, a hand clasped tightly around his; wearing a white beanie and a bright yellow sweater. Yeonjun noticed that his beanie had cat ears and snickered. How adorable.
“Come quickly!” The younger male ushered, dragging him by their intertwined hand. Yeonjun only yelped as he tried to keep up. The breeze blew more mercilessly this time around, and he could taste his hair in his lips as he lightly shuddered.
Beomgyu finally stopped once they arrived at Yeonjun’s favourite spot of the park—a giant maple tree. They sat, and only then did Beomgyu let go of his hand to dig into the basket he’s been carrying. Yeonjun’s palms felt oddly empty in the cold, and so he tugged them under his sweater to get rid of the chill.
“Hyung, do you know that they’re going to renovate that part of the park over there into an amusement park?” Beomgyu spoke up, his tiny hand pointing. Yeonjun’s gaze followed, and surely enough, he already saw a Ferris wheel; standing tall in the middle of the eerie dusk, its bright lights in glowing contrast against the dark of the night.
“Does Beomgyu want to go?” He spoke up, noticing the light wash of colour appearing on the younger’s face at the third-person address. He always knew Beomgyu was fond of being referred to like that ever since they were toddlers, but didn't realise it would still have the same effect now. “Stop calling me that, I’m not five anymore!” He retorted, but the crimson hue was now evident on his visage. A heartbeat after Yeonjun was done with his fit of giggles, he spoke up in a timid voice.
“Beomgyu doesn’t like tall places.”
“Mm,” hummed Yeonjun, slinging an arm over the latter’s shoulder. “Hyung knows. We can look at it from afar, then.”
Beomgyu nodded silently. A second later, he produced a small box in his hands, pulled right out of the basket. Yeonjun’s favourite grin was on his face once again as he stared at him in anticipation.
“Look what I got you!” Singsonged the younger boy before he hurriedly put the box down, reaching to pull out other things from the basket. “What’s that?”
Beomgyu only smiled cryptically, not answering. Clutched in his hands now were a candle, a lighter, and a bunch of plastic utensils; he quickly scattered them in his lap before disassembling the paper box. Yeonjun’s eyes widened slightly.
“Your birthday cake, silly.” Said Beomgyu in a playful tone, the lack of honorific intentional based on Yeonjun’s deduction; yet he paid it no mind. The younger now proudly handed him the cake, practically shoving it into his arms—which a mildly flustered Yeonjun diligently took.
“Carrot cake, your favourite. I asked my mum to help me make it! I think I did a pretty good job, don’t you think?” Beomgyu asked with a triumphant grin as he put a candle in the middle of the cake and pulled out a lighter. In white frosting, Yeonjun could barely make out the handwritten ‘Happy birthday Yeonjun hyung’ on top of it. Beomgyu usually had neat handwriting, so this could only signify the struggle he had with the decorating process.
The mental image of Beomgyu putting so much effort just for him put a fond smile on his face.
“You made it, really? Are you lying to me?” Yeonjun remarked, a sly smile on his face. What he didn’t tell Beomgyu was that he hoped the chuckles from their dry mouths could cover the sound of his own heart beating, rapidly against the constraint of his rib cage.
“It’s your birthday, I put in my all! How dare you question Beomgyu!’’ He pouted, intentionally utilising his baby talk advantage. Beomgyu, too, was aware of just how much the older adored this pet name of sorts.
“I, Choi Yeonjun, vow to never question Choi Beomgyu ever again for as long as I live.’’ He spoke, voice dramatically deepened. Beomgyu just huffed at the tease, attempting to light up the singular candle amidst the strong evening breeze.
In between the banterful exchanges and muffled giggles, the two boys sang a very unsynchronised, off-key take of ‘Happy Birthday’. Yeonjun later would realise that the reason he was only able to focus on Beomgyu—even though it was supposed to be his birthday—would signify more than he’d ever let on.
“Alright now, time for you to make a wish!” Chimed the younger. The cat ears on his beanie were flopping along with the wind, the brightest smile adorning his face. For a moment, Yeonjun was convinced that the orange glow emanating between them was coming from the younger’s smile, and not the birthday candle.
Humming, Yeonjun closed his eyes and did as he was told.
I hope to always see you smile like this, until the end of forever.
On another fateful March evening, Yeonjun was now on the giving end of dragging Beomgyu by their entwined hands.
“Hyung, I do not want to go on there! Mum will scold us if she finds out!’’ Whined the younger, lower lip trembling. He tried to dig the heels of his feet into the grassy earth of the field, but the action proved to be of no use. Yeonjun had always been stronger than him anyway. “Then we just have to make sure she doesn’t, right?” Yeonjun replied, a cheeky grin forming on his face.
The younger only responded with a petulant groan, but resisted no further. Once they finally stopped, they were met face to face with the giant Ferris wheel; the one on the other side of the park which they’d made their second home. Beomgyu half-expected the lopsided grin on Yeonjun’s face to grow even wider as he'd shove him into the already open cabin. Yet, the older boy only turned to look at him, giving their interlocked hands a reassuring squeeze. “Is Beomgyu afraid?”
There it was again—his favourite baby talk, and Beomgyu was slightly taken aback by the worried tone in his voice. Gnawing on his lower lip, he attempted to look up at the very top of the Ferris wheel and imagined them there. Needless to say, a shock jolted through his spine.
But Yeonjun was right there; and as soon as he sensed Beomgyu’s fear, his hold on him tightened. “Don’t be afraid, hyung is here.”
That’s right. His hyung is here—and there was nothing for him to be afraid of.
With a made up mind, Beomgyu let out a toughened puff that pushed up his chest; an act of bravery that he needed more than the boy beside him. “Beomgyu isn’t afraid.” The sly smile made its way onto Yeonjun’s face again. Beomgyu wanted to tell himself that he hated it, but he wasn’t sure how much of that he actually believed. “Good.’’
And with that, they boarded the Ferris wheel.
Yet the next thing Beomgyu knew, he was glued to the older’s side—his display of courage moments ago long abandoned as he latched himself onto the entirety of Yeonjun’s left arm. He did not care that he looked like a koala right now, or if the latter’s tease would make his ears burn crimson later.
Between choked breaths and unrelenting laughter, Yeonjun was finally able to put together a coherent sentence. “You are so adorable! Didn’t you say you aren’t afraid? Huh, Choi Beomgyu?’’
“Shut up! You tricked me! You are so horrible, hyung!’’ Beomgyu could only make empty threats and shaky insults, squeezing his eyes shut so tightly he began to feel his head ache. Underneath him, he felt the unstable rise of the passenger cabin.
He would be throwing up out of nausea right now, had it not been for the comforting warmth of the hand he was holding onto.
From above him, he could hear his favourite voice coo. “Beomgyu, it’s okay to open your eyes. I promise.’’ He spoke, tone surprisingly fond; no more sarcasm present.
And then, the incline of the cabin he’d dreaded so much halted to a stop. “Are we finally done?’’ He attempted to peek an eye open, body relaxing significantly.
“No, we’re at the top.’’ Said Yeonjun, and Beomgyu almost shrieked.
“Then why would you tell me it’s safe to open my eyes? You liar! You are the worst person on earth, Choi Yeonjun!” His eyes were clamped shut once again, tiny fists repeatedly landing thuds on the latter’s chest. This, however, had no effect of ceasing the older’s amused laugh.
“You can see the sunset right now, Beomgyu. It’s beautiful. Look, we can even see the maple tree from here too.’’ He whispered, his free hand reaching up to cradle the younger’s head.
There was silence when Beomgyu didn’t respond. He thought the boy had given up persuading him, when a heartbeat later a voice resounded right next to his earlobe. “It’s alright to look. Nothing will happen when I’m by your side, silly.”
Beomgyu was hesitant—but Yeonjun knew him well enough to know that it was beginning to sway him, so he tried again. “I promise, Gyu.”
It was another dull moment of silence before he could hear Beomgyu’s muffled voice from where he was buried into his shoulder. “You better.’’
And then, slowly, he pulled away. Yeonjun proudly smiled, slowly turning his body to where the sunset was. “I got you,” he whispered, “Now open your eyes.”
With a shaky exhale, Beomgyu did as he was told.
At first, the younger only saw a bright orange glow—it bombarded his vision and invaded his sight in a way that almost startled him. But after blinking a few times, his pupils adjusted to the light.
What he was met with almost took his breath away.
It was golden hour then, the gentle cast of the sunset painting everything it could reach a stunning orange. The sky was a perfect harmony of red, pink and yellow; the colors vibrant and almost whimsical, like a canvas meticulously finessed by a world-class artist.
Beomgyu let out an audible gasp. He could hear a faint chuckle from the male next to him, but he couldn’t care less.
From the nearby clock tower, Beomgyu could barely read the time. With a squint, he attempted; it was 5:53pm.
He had never seen the sun so up close—it burned an angry crimson, looking like it would be within his palms right now if only he reached out. “H-has the sun always been so red?” He blurted out, and as soon as those words left him, he felt his face heat up in embarrassment.
“It’s so cool, isn’t it?’’ Chuckled the older before he pointed. “There, look. Our maple tree.’’
Then, Yeojun watched with amusement as the younger’s eyes visibly lit up. “Wow! It looks so small from here. Wait, wait. I can see the roof of your house, hyung! Look!”
But Yeonjun wasn’t looking. He was too busy staring at the boy beside him.
And Beomgyu wished he hadn’t turn to catch his gaze when he was met with silence, because the affection in those same eyes—staring at him like he hung the stars—would then introduce him to a lifetime of unbecoming he didn't know would be lying ahead.
And neither of them were old enough to recognise just what that moment entailed, nor what it will manifest into—the fond smiles on both their faces, the knots in their stomachs, the feeling of being so high up that somehow reaching for the sky sounded perfectly sensible.
From then on, Beomgyu was no longer afraid of heights.
“Happy birthday, Beomgyu.”
Since then, it has been a recurring habit to visit the park whenever they celebrated their birthdays. Beomgyu would always use Yeonjun’s name as an excuse with his parents, telling them ‘hyung takes good care of me, don’t worry!’ and ‘I don’t want to hang out with other kids, just Yeonjun hyung!’. Every time the older boy would show up at his doorstep, no matter the time nor circumstance; as long as he had that bright grin on his face, Beomgyu would undoubtedly follow him anywhere.
It was a cold December morning when Yeonjun almost broke his door bell with his ruthless rings. “Choi Beomgyu, come out!”
“Coming!” Yelled a hyper Beomgyu, hastily wrapping his scarf around his neck and putting on his winter boots. He was out the door in no time, coming face to face with a grumbling Yeonjun by his house gate. The older was beginning to grow taller than him, and now Beomgyu had to adjust to habitually looking up whenever they were close. In a way, he was envious.
“Don’t make me wait for you in the cold again, are you going to be responsible if I freeze to death?” The older rolled his eyes, pulling his beanie down to cover his ears. Beomgyu just chuckled, nudging him playfully as they began taking the familiar route to the park. The roads were all coated with a thin layer of ice, and snow piled like little mountains as they were shoved off the pavement.
It only took them two rounds of bickering back and forth to reach the park this time. As they made their way to the maple tree, the snow began to deepen past their ankles, their little bodies looking far more lonesome in the middle of the once green field; that was now a clear terrain of snow.
Yeonjun was a few steps ahead of the younger—one of his many newfound perks of having longer legs—and was not paying attention to Beomgyu slowly drifting behind as he mindlessly hiked his way to the maple tree.
And that was his first grave mistake—because when he didn’t stop to turn back, a massive snowball was hauled at him at full speed.
Losing balance, Yeonjun cried out, falling face first into the two feet of white in front of him. Even submerged in freezing temperature, he could still hear the maniacal laughter of the younger from a distance.
“Oh, Choi Beomgyu, you are going to regret this!’’ He exclaimed in rage that was both too exaggerated and authentic when he stood up again. The older didn’t even bother to dust the snow off his front; a speckle sitting on his now angrily red nose as he rushed to grapple a fistful of snow.
The boy in question was standing some distance away behind him, visibly bent over with hands holding his stomach. Beomgyu felt like he was going to pass out from laughing too hard, but he couldn’t stop; not when Yeonjun looked so outrageously furious like that. “Am I? Try to get me, then! You can’t! Boo!”
“Well, it is on!” Hollered the latter as the large snowball in his hand was finally coming to fruition. “This is the number one basketball player of our middle school you’re messing with.”
And Beomgyu was so occupied laughing that he failed to catch what he said; because the next thing he knew, he was seeing white.
From Yeonjun’s view, the way Beomgyu melodramatically fell back was pure comedic gold. Now it was his turn to be bent over laughing; their only voices being the sole indications of life breathed into the stoic, tranquil park.
“Choi Yeonjun, you are so dead!’’ Yelled the younger boy when his head finally peeked out of the snow. He looked like a little polar bear with his white beanie, and Yeonjun cooed. “If I die, then who’s going to play with you? Huh?”
“If I don’t kill you myself, I hope you live such a boring life that once I’m gone that you’ll regret ever doing this to me!’’ Beomgyu yelled just before another snowball was thrown, and he was submerged once again. Then there was another, before he could retaliate; and another.
Minutes stretched into hours, and laughter gave way to exhausted pants. The once perfect body of untouched snow now had numerous plunges of footsteps in them. Even though the sun was barely out, to Yeonjun and Beomgyu, it felt like spring.
They were thirteen.
“Hyung! Come sit, quickly.” Beomgyu hurriedly patted the space next to him on his bed, tucking his legs and positioning the guitar atop his lap.
Yeonjun calmly closed the bedroom door, a brow raised as he made his way over. Apparently, it was too slow for Beomgyu’s liking, because the pat immediately grew more impatient. “No matter what you do, you always tell me to come quickly. What’s the rush? It’s not like you’re going anywhere!”
“Just shut up and come sit, I have something cool to show off.” The younger proudly grinned, swiftly producing a guitar pick from his hoodie pocket once Yeonjun was where he wanted him to be. “Well, actually, it’s just a new song I discovered. I spent all night learning the melody!”
This earned him an amused chuckle as Yeonjun leaned back, an arm supporting himself when he regarded the boy with a tilted head. “For me? That’s adorable.”
“Not for you! It’s not always about you, God—” Beomgyu let out an exaggerated groan, trying his best to make it convincing; when in reality his heart almost jumped at being found out. “Sure, sure. Whatever. Let’s hear it, musician.”
Beomgyu only shot him a look before clearing his throat, positioning his fingers for the first chord. Silence momentarily enveloped them as he mentally prepared himself. Somehow, this felt more intimate than it should be.
Relax, it’s just you playing your best friend a song. It has no deeper meaning beyond that.
Yet, when he was about to sing, he caught Yeonjun staring at him like he saw right through him. Beomgyu felt awfully barren, like his soul was stripped naked.
A blush crept up his neck, burning the tip of his ears. He averted his gaze, now intensely staring at his guitar strings, head hung low.
But he sang anyway, because the tension in the silence was beginning to take his mind places he’d rather not be. Not when Yeonjun was in the same room.
Just what was wrong with him?
“Remember the way you made me feel,”
Was it because they were both going through puberty that he was suddenly feeling this way about his best friend? Or had it been there all along, but he was too indifferent and naïve to notice?
“Such young love but, something in me knew that it was real,”
Was it because of their changing looks? Or Yeonjun losing his baby fat and hitting his growth spurt?
“Frozen in my head. Pictures I’m living through for now,”
Did he get more handsome? And since when were his features so defined? Had his lips always been this pouty?
“Trying to remember all the good times. Our life was cutting through so loud,”
Then, Beomgyu did something he knew he would regret in hindsight—he looked up.
The consequences caught up to him faster than he would have liked, because the look in Yeonjun’s eyes that he was met with almost made him short-circuit.
“Memories are playing in my dull mind I, hate this part, paper hearts,”
Had he always stared at him like that? Even when he wasn’t looking?
Beomgyu realised a heartbeat later that he’d rather not know the answer to that question.
“And I’ll hold a piece of yours,”
The boy looked away, internally reprimanding himself for letting his voice go off-pitch. Even so, a pair of eyes still burned holes through the back of his head.
“Don’t think I would just forget about it,”
How come Yeonjun’s stare was so intense that he could still feel it even when he wasn’t looking? Or was he making it all up in his head?
“Hoping that you won’t forget.”
He took in a shaky breath as his voice dimmed, and then there was silence. Beomgyu just sat there, holding onto his guitar for dear life like it could help him anchor his racing thoughts. He didn’t dare look up, afraid that he would burst if he did. So he waited.
And waited. And waited. Until he couldn’t bear the silence anymore, because now he was beginning to second-guess if he sounded totally awful and Yeonjun just couldn’t bring himself to lie to him.
But once he finally raised his head, Yeonjun was just sitting there—unmoving from his position like he was freeze-framed.
Beomgyu, on the other hand, was going to combust out of frustration. He almost threw his guitar away—or at the older—just so he could garner the slightest indication of a reaction from him.
Except Yeonjun was just avidly staring at Beomgyu’s lips. And when Beomgyu caught that, his heart hammered all the way up to his eardrums.
His desperation to break the tension gave him the courage to speak. “Was it that bad?”
Like he was broken from a spell, Yeonjun snapped out of his trance and finally met his eyes. “What? No, no. It was good. I had no idea you could sing this well.”
“What do you take me for, a cow?” Beomgyu faked an exasperated groan, taking this opportunity to climb out of the bed to put his guitar away. He needed all the distance he could use between him and Yeonjun right now, since something odd bloomed in his chest the longer the boy was close to him.
Beomgyu did not recognise that feeling, so by default he didn't like it.
“A cow sings better, I’m sure.” Chimed Yeonjun from behind him, and Beomgyu responded with an unimpressed noise. “Anyway, do you want to hear the original?” He asked, reaching for the album laying beside his DVD player.
“Sure. What’s it called?”
“Paper Hearts,” he answered, putting the CD in the extender and pushing it back into the contraption. “By Tori Kelly. It’s my favourite song right now. I bought her EP because I found her on Soundcloud.”
He pressed the play button, then turned to head back toward the bed. The action should not frighten him as much as it did now, because it was his bed—the one he slept in daily. The older was the guest, not him.
But with Yeonjun being on it right now, his bed had never felt more foreign. Don’t be silly, Beomgyu. We shared our beds our entire lives.
Yet, it was like Choi Yeonjun was put into this world solely just to make his life worse; because the older laid down and made himself comfortable, audacious enough to pat the space right next to him.
“Come lay down, quickly.”
Beomgyu immediately recognised this as an imitation of himself and regretted it instantly. But Yeonjun was staring at him expectantly, and Beomgyu realised then that a defeat was already written in stone for him.
It'd be fine... This is nothing out of the ordinary, right? I'm just reading into things because hormones are messing with my brain.
The lyrics began to play in the background as Beomgyu plopped down beside Yeonjun. They were both taller now, their heights making them an awkward fit for a bed that used to perfectly accommodate them just a year ago.
He never had a problem being skin to skin with Yeonjun—but why was it getting harder for him just to breathe with each passing second?
His mind began to descend into haywire. Maybe it was just puberty, but he noticed that Yeonjun no longer had that baby powder smell. Why did he have body odor now? And had he always smelled like pine and sandalwood?
Beomgyu could no longer keep up. His brain was shooting a million questions in a million different directions, all of which he knew he would not want answered. Nonetheless, his head refused to slow down.
The younger was lying straight like a ruler, hands clasped at the middle of his stomach like he was practicing his position in a coffin. He stared at the ceiling of his bedroom like it was the most interesting mural in the world, not even daring to steal a glance at the boy next to him.
Because if he caught him staring again, Beomgyu wasn’t sure what it would end up doing to him this time.
Then, like a pebble thrown at a glass window, Yeonjun’s voice shattered his train of thoughts.
“Beomgyu, have you ever been curious about what it’s like to kiss someone?”
Beomgyu’s chest tightened so badly he was almost convinced a knot was closing in on his throat. “Why? Do you have someone you want to kiss?”
This earned him an unreadable glance from the older. Slowly after, Yeonjun shook his head and tucked a hand underneath it as a makeshift pillow. “No, not really. I'm just wondering what it’d feel like.”
“That’s odd,” he commented, trying his absolute best to steer this conversation into normalcy. He was pushing himself up with one arm now, leaning on his side and facing the older. “Is it because Taehyun got his first kiss the other day? In the school playground with—what’s his face—Hueningkai?”
Yeonjun chuckled at the recount. “I heard it was an accident too.” Then, there it was again; that look in Yeonjun’s eyes that Beomgyu was unable to read. It frustrated him to no end, because no matter what it was, Beomgyu could always read him.
He was beginning to hate puberty. They’d been together their entire lives, just what would he not know about Choi Yeonjun?
“Man, imagine having your first kiss be an accident. That’d be so sad.” He tried his best to respond like he was as nonchalant as he hoped he looked, because Yeonjun’s gaze was beginning to make him unravel. The frantic churns at the pit of his stomach did not assist him one bit in his personal mission.
“How would Beomgyu imagine his first kiss to go?” Said Yeonjun, tone smug as he leaned on his side too.
God, anything but that pet name. Not right now. “Hm… I’d want it to be meaningful. With someone important. Someone that means a lot, I guess?”
“Ooh, I didn’t take you to be the romantic type.” The older boy teased with a chuckle, in which he just responded with a roll of his eyes.
Then, Beomgyu didn’t know if he imagined it, but Yeonjun’s gaze flickered to his lips just as quickly as it returned to him.
“What about you, hyung?”
Yeonjun’s chuckle morphed into a small smile. “I’d just want it to be with someone I don’t regret. Like, someone I can just experiment my first time with without embarrassment and we laugh it off after. If it’s too awkward, then I’d just die right there.”
This made them both giggle. Something about Yeonjun’s answer ignited a foul spark of bravery within him, because the next thing Beomgyu knew, the words had already slipped past his lips.
“Wouldn’t that be me?”
The entire room screeched to a halt. Even the background music seemed to fade into silence. The look he was rewarded with made Beomgyu wish the earth would somehow open up and swallow him whole.
Visibly panicking, he attempted to backpedal. “Uh, I mean, it’s like—well—”
But Yeonjun just gave him an unbothered shrug. “You’re not wrong, actually,” And there it was again, the look in his eyes—this time accompanied with a smirk that immediately launched his heart into a frenzy. “You fit all the criteria.”
And they both went quiet. The sound of Tori Kelly harmonising in the background seemed to ease back in, the only thing keeping the room from falling into another dreadful silence. Beomgyu felt his entire body spiral, like the bed was disintegrating beneath him. “Then—”
“Do you wanna try it out?” Asked Yeonjun. The boy almost fell face first into his pillow. “We can just… Experiment. Be each other’s trial—and if it goes horrible, we’ll just laugh it off. At least with you I know it won’t be awkward, right?”
Beomgyu wished he could go back in time and just disappear completely, because what left him next was going to set him up for a lifetime of despair he didn’t see coming.
But of course, back then it was just a curious him and a curious best friend—and therefore, just what could possibly go wrong?
“Right.” He managed a half-smile, heart pounding too fast for him to say anything else. The older returned the smile, and Beomgyu’s eyes zeroed in on Yeonjun’s lips. Something about his expression made him look like he was… Glad. “But you do it first, since you asked.”
“Okay. If it’s bad, you have to lie to boost my ego.” Said the older male as he inched closer. Paper Hearts was still playing in the background—and had Yeonjun always looked this handsome up close?
They were already nose to nose when Beomgyu finally found it in him to throw in a snarky response. “No, I’ll laugh at you for the rest of your life.”
A low chuckle. Had he always sounded like that? “Then I’ll just kiss you to shut you up for the rest of your life.”
If his nerves could materialise, his entire bedroom would be filled to the brim right now with his own sweat. “You won’t.” He challenged, yet his voice was audibly shaking. He’d find it in him to be embarrassed about it later.
Too bad for him Yeonjun was never the type to back down from a challenge. If there was anything one should know about him, it was that he was the most competitive person Beomgyu has ever known.
“I will, actually.” Was the last thing he heard before the entire world gravitated onto him in the form of lips pressed flush against his. A touch so gentle, yet Beomgyu felt like he was hit with a thousand bricks.
Has his heart always beated this fast whenever Yeonjun was this close? Has his bedroom always been this stuffy?
He found himself eventually giving up trying to answer those questions; because as soon as the boy’s lips began to move against his own, the only thing Beomgyu could find it in him to focus on was remembering how to breathe.
Flustered wouldn’t even come close to describing the state Beomgyu was in. He was at a loss, a wretched mess of a thousand knots in place of his body—all coming loose under the manoeuvre of Choi Yeonjun’s lips.
How long had he been laying on his back? Had Yeonjun been on top of him the entire time? Had his hair always been this soft trapped between his fingers? Had his touches always been this warm? Had it been hours already, or was it just a minute ago when Yeonjun walked into his room? He couldn't tell.
In the background, Tori Kelly was on her last verse of the song, her voice sounding as if she was serenading them. Years later, Beomgyu would look back and question whether it was a serenade of the beginning of something more, or mourning for the end of something less.
When the older boy retreated that time, Beomgyu wasn’t sure if the only thing he pulled back were just his lips anymore. “How was it?”
“Horrible.” He lied. He hoped to God it was convincing. The arrogant smile on Yeonjun’s lips told him it wasn’t. “Oh? Are you gonna laugh at me?”
At his words, a faint chuckle escaped Beomgyu. He would rather take it to his grave than tell Yeonjun that his laughter wasn’t out of spite. “You little punk.”
“Don’t kiss me again, you’re an awful kisser!” He tried to turn away, pushing Yeonjun off of him.
But had Yeonjun ever been this strong? Or was he just momentarily weakened by the look in his eyes?
Had Yeonjun always looked at him like he was the centre of his world, or was it just the illusion of the moment playing tricks on Beomgyu’s muddled mind?
“Choi Beomgyu, I will never let you breathe easy again.” He whispered vengefully, flipping them over with ease. His hands were securely clamped on either sides of Beomgyu’s hips—had his hands always been this big?—and the younger was forced to straddle him. He wasn’t even given a chance to make his witty comeback, because his lips were yet again occupied before a sound could be emitted.
In hindsight, Beomgyu feared that Yeonjun might have meant his words too literally.
Being fourteen was a confusing time.
“What, you want me to fall to my death?” Retorted the younger male, a shadow of a scowl on his face. This earned him an amused chuckle and a knowing look in return. Beomgyu had learned to decipher what that look meant over the year, and the next thing he knew, it was another defeat he’d conceded.
Begrudgingly, Beomgyu pulled himself up with his arms, and sat on the branch leaning against the tree next to Yeonjun.
They were about ten feet off the ground, covered by the thick, dense leaves of the maple tree. Beomgyu could barely see the grass beneath them, nor could he see past the blaring auburn of the maple leaves. Everywhere he turned, he and Yeonjun were shrouded—concealed and hidden from the rest of the park, and therefore, the world.
Just the two of us. Like our own private little universe.
The thought made the younger bite his lips just to refrain from smiling. However, the older boy, much to his dismay, had always been quick to catch onto him—never a moment for him to win the chase. Sometimes, Beomgyu wondered if he was truly that easy to read.
An arm comfortably snaked itself around his waist, pulling him securely flush against Yeonjun’s side. “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing you need to know.” He chimed, looking away. This time, Beomgyu was desperate for Yeonjun to let go of the conversation. He’d rather talk about their mundane lives, the maple leaves, the weather, Yeonjun’s dirty shoes—anything. How could he possibly tell his best friend to his face that just now he’d thought of kissing him?
Instead, what he was rewarded with was a low snicker and a peck to his forehead. “You realise that it’s written in bright yellow letters on your face whenever you have a thought and it’s about me, right?’’
A weak punch was thrown at his chest. “Shut up, you just like to tease me!”
Then, Yeonjun did his annoying eyebrow raise and sly smirk, emitting a ‘hm?’ as he pressed their foreheads together. Beomgyu could only let out a defeated whimper before the older boy planted a chaste kiss on the tip of his nose. “Anyway, tomorrow’s our first day of high school.”
At the mention, Beomgyu’s entire body slouched in a way Yeonjun knew was the opposite of comfort. “I’m not looking forward to it.” He mumbled, lips curling into a small pout as he rested his head on the other’s shoulder; to which Yeonjun responded to by resting his head on top of his. The action felt so natural, neither of them questioned it. “We don’t have all our classes together. At some point, you’ll have to make a new friend that isn’t me, you know?”
Beomgyu scoffed before Yeonjun was even able to finish his sentence. “That’s so stupid. Why would I need new friends when you’re right here?” His nose scrunched up, a display of his displeasure that Yeonjun only interpreted as immensely endearing. “As long as I have you, I don’t need anybody else.”
“Gyu, that’s not how it works, silly.” Yeonjun laughed, ruffling his hair. “You can’t be with me for the rest of your life.”
And this made Beomgyu sit up, pulling away from their snuggly position. He stared at the elder straight on, and the hardened look in his eyes slightly took Yeonjun back.
“And why can’t I? As long as you’re still here and I’m still here—and we still have each other, I don’t care if the world ends today or tomorrow. Now stop trying to make me talk to other people.” He was crossing his arms now, hugging them to his chest like a rebellious child—well, he was still one.
Underneath his breath, he mumbled. “If it’s not you, I don’t like them.” Then, he turned away.
For a brief moment, Yeonjun didn’t respond. His childish outburst was met with silence, and Beomgyu’s ears began to burn. Was I being too much? Was Yeonjun hyung looking forward to making other friends? But then, we wouldn't be—
Just then, two arms snaked around his waist, pulling him back with a force that was way stronger—or was it more desperate?—than the last. Yeonjun’s nose was buried in the crook of his neck, and he could feel the older deeply inhale; taking in his scent. He let the boy hold him, and he didn’t move. Neither of them spoke.
If he’d just blinked, focused on something else, or let his mind drift elsewhere, he would have missed it entirely; the feeling of Yeonjun’s lip hovering just above the skin of his neck, pressing a ghost of a kiss—so gentle, it was almost like it never happened. But he was paying attention, and unfortunately for his poor, confused heart; he didn’t miss it for the world.
“You’ll always have me.” The words were whispered right against his neck, like he was inking them onto his skin—tattooed and forever to be etched onto him; body, mind, and soul. The younger boy sighed, leaning back into his embrace. "No one will ever be able to take me away from you. Always," a pause, like he was hesitating. Then, "until the end of the world. Forever."
Beomgyu would not ask for anything more.
“You know I’m old enough to walk home by myself, right? It’s not like I won’t survive without you, hyung!”
“Okay, but if that’s the case then the family gathering can also wait. I want to walk you home first.” Argued the older boy, brows furrowed. They were already making their way back to the entrance of the park, bickering over nothing as usual. It had become a habit for them to take the least crowded exit, savouring whatever sense of privacy they could earn.
“Hyung,” he whined, aggressively shaking their intertwined hands to express his annoyance. “Beomgyu will be fine.” He used his baby talk advantage whilst throwing on top a pair of pleading eyes for good measure. And he could tell that it worked to a degree, because instantaneously, Yeonjun’s expression softened.
Yet his jaw was still tightly clamped, so he tried harder. “What if you go home late, get scolded by your mum and then next time she won’t let you hang out with me anymore? We don’t want that to happen, right?” His voice had an exaggerated tone to it now, trying so hard to sound convincing that it ended up making Yeonjun flinch.
They stopped in their tracks, now arriving at the exit. Yeonjun would have to take the route to their right for his home, and Beomgyu would have to take the left across the street. Their paths would diverge.
“Hyung, I’m fifteen! I can cross the street by myself! When I’m home, I’ll text you. Promise.” Beomgyu flashed him a reassuring grin, lifting up a pinky. It took a moment of Yeonjun staring at him skeptically before he finally gave in with a resigned huff, interlocking his pink with the younger’s. “You better.”
The latter giggled, finally letting go of their hands. He even did a little jump. “Now go enjoy your family gathering and help your mum set up the table, or else she will whoop your butt.”
“You don’t sound empathetic about that, Choi Beomgyu.” The older boy rolled his eyes, tucking his now empty hands into the pockets of his hoodie. The pavement was clear and void of any passerbys, and the sun had already begun to set. “Hurry up now, hyung! Tik tock!”
“Ah, this brat just wants to get rid of me.” With a groan he pulled Beomgyu back in with a headlock, which resulted in the younger screaming maniacally. Yeonjun would have let him go, and they would have parted ways then, if only a sense of courage hadn’t strangely overcome him to enable one of the stupidest decisions of Yeonjun’s short-lived life.
With both hands cupping Beomgyu’s face, he abruptly pulled him in for a kiss.
There were no fireworks nor did it feel like time stopped; it was just a long press of Beomgyu’s lips against his. What felt like minutes were mere seconds when Yeonjun finally let Beomgyu go. It could be the golden cast of the sunset playing tricks with his eyes, or it could be the fact that his best friend just kissed him again for the second time; much so without either of them asking—but he could have sworn that Yeonjun's cheeks were dusted with crimson.
“Text hyung when you get home, okay?” He whispered, sounding somehow out of breath. Beomgyu could only muster up a nod, and a weak “Okay.”
With a flick of his hand, Yeonjun took a glance at his digital wristwatch. It was 5:53pm.
“I’m going now.” He took his first retreating step backwards, a satisfied smile on his face. The younger gave him a small wave, which he returned with enthusiasm. Then, he turned his back and headed the other direction.
Beomgyu, too, turned around. It felt weird going home alone without a hand in his and a bickering voice by his side, but he tried to cheer himself up—they were growing older, and things were changing. This should be the new normal. It’ll be fine. You’re not a baby anymore. Get used to it.
Sighing, he pulled his earphones out of his pocket and plugged them in. With a few punches into his screen, Paper Hearts began to play as he walked down the barren street. His favourite.
He arrived by the crosswalk, silently humming the melody to himself. The feeling of Yeonjun’s lips pressed against his still burned like wildfire at the back of his mind, the sensation still fresh on his lips like he hadn’t pulled away.
He did that. He really kissed me again. Smiling, he reached up to touch his lips as he got onto the crosswalk.
Was the light green? Or was it red? Either way, it made no difference, since there was not even a single biker on the street.
Paper hearts, and I’ll hold a piece of yours,
Giddily, he smiled to himself, like a smitten schoolgirl thinking about her crush. The music was the only thing he was able to hear, and the horizontal white lines of the crosswalk were the only thing he was able to see. Yet, to Beomgyu, he could not see—nor could he hear, nor focus on anything else when all that occupied his mind was Choi Yeonjun.
Not even the crosswalk light blaring a bright red. Not even the deafening honk of a medium pickup van coming at him in full speed, unable to push the brakes in time.
And by the time Choi Yeonjun wasn’t the only thing occupying his mind anymore—by the time Beomgyu was looking up at the source of the noise, the look of fright and dread on his face had signalled him that it was already too late.
Don’t think I would just forget about it.
He failed to realise then, but little did he know that the last thing Beomgyu would ever see again for the rest of his life were a white pair of bright LED headlights. If he had screamed, he himself did not hear it.
It all happened too quickly, too sudden for anyone to realise just what the impact was truly like until it had already passed. The slightest variable would have prevented it all from happening, and if Beomgyu did just one thing differently—he couldn’t help but question—he might still be on the other side of the sidewalk. If only had he looked at the traffic light before crossing. If only he didn’t put on his earphones. If only he was paying attention. If only he agreed on letting Yeonjun walk him home.
Yeonjun. If only he didn’t let him go.
Beomgyu felt only the slightest bit of affliction—that split second where it felt like the entire force of the universe had conjoined on either side of his hands, tearing his body apart in a cruel tug-of-war until he’d snap in two.
And snap Beomgyu did. After that harrowing split second had passed, what he felt next was a jarring combination of everything and nothing at once. His life didn’t even flash before his eyes.
Hoping that you won’t forget.
On the other side of the block, Yeonjun was frantically anticipating a text amidst running laps from the kitchen to the dining table, greeting his cousins along the way as he set up the plates. In his jean pocket laid his phone, still and silent; waiting for a vibration that would be the indication of a message.
The text never came.
At fifteen, Beomgyu should have been more adept to walking home alone.
“Doctor, please let me in. Please!” Croaked the older boy, cheeks stained with dried tears. He immediately zoomed toward the front of the room when the door opened, only to be held back by two nurses that exited. The doctor in question was inside, back turned to him, not even sparing him a second glance.
From the tiniest crack left ajar, he could spot the back of two gloomy figures; Beomgyu’s parents. He could see several other bodies in white coats, all surrounding the bed situated in the middle of the hospital room. He could make out voices—some murmured, some hushed, some laced with agony, others apologetic.
He was able to make out strings of words from their hushed conversation, all devastatingly fragmented— ‘coma’, ‘too late’, ‘low chance’, ‘waking up’.
At the back of his mind, Yeonjun had already assumed the context; but his heart was fighting against the resolution with its all. There’s no way. He’ll be fine.
Yeonjun was hysterical now, hopelessly clawing at the door handle, trying to slide it aside. The hospital reeked of antiseptics, lights too bright, voices too muffled—or was it just his consciousness that was beginning to fade away?
The nurses holding him pulled him back even further, and had it not been for the fact that he’d been crying for the past several hours, Yeonjun would have very easily outsourced their combined strengths.
But a delirious, sleep-deprived Yeonjun was very convenient to drag away. He could only let out a defeated sob as he was pulled backwards and carelessly dropped onto a random seat in the waiting area. As the female nurse left, the younger nurse out of the two turned to him, crouching to meet his eyes. “Are you a relative?”
Yeonjun lightly shook his head, a hand wiping his tears. “No, but I’m his best friend.’’
Only when he looked up did he realise just how young this nurse was—a teenage male, fresh out of adolescence, looking like he was no older than a high schooler; eyes big and clear as they gazed at him questioningly. Even in the middle of his hysteria, he couldn’t help but stop to question. How can a teenager this young become a nurse already?
“You should go home and get some rest, you don’t look well. His parents are here to look after him.” The nurse flashed him a sympathetic smile, to which Yeonjun instantly noticed that the boy had dimples. “Did you eat? I can get you something. I know it’s hard, but I’m sure he’d want you to take care of yourself instead of crying like this.”
Yeonjun had no idea how this nurse knew all the right things to say, but a knot in his heart slowly came undone. He felt like he could breathe just a little bit easier now, his lungs a bit clearer as he leaned back against the seat with a meek nod.
The young nurse then disappeared to a nearby vending machine, returning with a tuna sandwich and a bottle of water too soon for Yeonjun’s liking. He could only accept with an ashamed mumble of thanks.
“It’s no problem,” said the nurse. To his surprise, he sat himself down next to him instead of turning to leave. Yeonjun looked up to meet his eyes. “I’m Soobin. I know you’re probably wondering why a nurse looks so young. I think we’re about the same age, I just help my father around after school—he’s a surgeon at this hospital. I usually just help with minor errands in the pediatric wing, but this one was sudden and no one else was free.”
“So you’re a high school student who’s a nurse part-timer?” Yeonjun asked as he took a bite out of his sandwich, the tangy flavour of tuna sharp on his tongue. His lack of appetite almost made him recoil, but fought against it as he remembered to be polite for the free food.
The nurse named Soobin just nodded. “Yes, I’m just in high school. Weird, I know. But I find it very fun and interesting… What about you?’’
“I’m Yeonjun. Today’s supposed to be my first day of high school.” Then, he gulped with difficulty, like he’d just remembered something more. In a shaky low voice, he continued. “Our first day.”
Soobin’s face dropped. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Yeonjun just blinked, face void of any emotions. He felt too hollow to conjure an appropriate response. “How is he in there?”
It was now Soobin’s turn to go stale. “He got hit right in the head. My dad said severe nerve damage to the cortex and the cerebellum. His brain right now is almost entirely dysfunctional, they were able to salvage the part responsible for his consciousness. But he’s alive. He’s breathing.”
Yeonjun let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. The relief was cut short, because the next time Soobin spoke up, his breath yet again caught in his throat.
“But his body is in a persistent vegetative state. He can’t move, speak, or do anything at all, basically—there’s little to no brain activity, and zero stimuli. The surgeon—my dad said there’s very little chance of recovery... But his auditory perception was able to be saved, out of all things. He can hear.”
It felt like the world paused as Yeonjun tried to register Soobin’s words. The sandwich in his hand almost dropped to the floor, had it not been for the other boy catching it for him.
“In other words… Your friend is in an indefinite coma.”
Yeonjun felt all air knocked out of his lungs.
How did it all happen? In such a short time, how was he somehow able to lose him? Where did he go wrong?
Then, he realised.
I should have never let him go.
Once he got the call from Beomgyu’s parents asking him where he was, Yeonjun left his family gathering and bolted straight to the park. The scene he was met with, he could not erase out of his mind for the rest of his life, no matter how hard he tried.
Thankfully, the ambulance was already there, and Beomgyu was pushed away into the back. Yeonjun had never seen him look that small before, both literally and figuratively. Beomgyu's presence had always been the epitome of loud carnival rides and soft beanies. However, laid on the stretcher bed he remembered the way Beomgyu's body curled into itself, dried blood caked to his hair and an oxygen mask equipped to the lower half of his face.
The rest felt like a fever dream. Yeonjun couldn’t even recall how he got to the hospital—did he board the ambulance? Did he run all the way? Did he phone Beomgyu’s parents and they later picked him up?—because the last thing he remembered was sobbing in front of the emergency room for hours until the sun rose.
Had he fallen asleep then? If he did, Yeonjun would have wished to wake up in the comfort of his own bed, reaching for his phone to check and see Beomgyu’s good morning text—their normalcy. Anything at all to signal that this was all just a nightmare.
His disappointment was immeasurable when he lifted his head several hours later, and he was still crouched on the floor in front of the ER.
“Yeonjun-ssi.” The gentle voice of the nurse pulled him back into the bitter reality, and Yeonjun snapped out of his reverie. “Eat up, and go rest. His parents are still inside. Once they’re done and my dad leaves, we can go in.”
The thought of finally getting to see Beomgyu again was enough incentive for Yeonjun to devour the rest of his sandwich; although with every bite he tasted bile. Yet, Soobin was right about one thing—Beomgyu would want him to take care of himself. Therefore, he will do it.
Less for himself, and more for the younger boy.
“He can hear us, right?”
Soobin nodded, pulling the door aside to let him in. For whatever reason, Yeonjun’s heart was rapidly pounding, the sound like a constant hammering in his ears as his nerves bundled up in his chest.
Once the door opened, the first thing Yeonjun did was flinch.
The room inside was too bright, too white and too plain to have accommodated the boy that once bloomed with so much colour. Yet there he was, tucked in a bed twice too large for him, the stark white of his scrubs and the sheet almost swallowing him up.
There he was—Choi Beomgyu, his best friend.
His best friend, now unconscious and strapped to numerous IV's, heartbeat monitored on life support, and an oxygen mask still covering half his face.
Seeing Beomgyu like that for the first time permanently broke something inside Yeonjun, yet he couldn't identify what it was. Or maybe he did, but he’d rather not dwell on it now; because the only thing he could focus on was just how dreadful he looked, seemingly chained to the hospital bed like he was to be permanently bound.
Seeing that Yeonjun didn’t take another step past the door, Soobin gestured for him to get closer with a nudge of his head. Time ran agonisingly slow as he finally made his way to Beomgyu’s bedside, dropping himself onto the chair next to it.
When Soobin closed the door, the silence hung so heavy it made his head dizzy.
“Hey, Gyu. It’s hyung.” He attempted after a few heartbeats, the hoarseness in his voice a clear indication of just how much he’d been crying. He figured he wouldn’t want Beomgyu to notice, so he cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m here.” He abruptly stopped there, not trusting himself to say any more without breaking his tough front.
Yeonjun didn’t know why he was hoping for a response when he was fully aware that none was coming. Perhaps he wasn’t yet accustomed to the fact that every one of his snarky remarks wouldn’t be met with a witty comeback from Beomgyu here on out.
The knot in his chest returned, words stuck at the back of this throat. Was it from pain? Sorrow? Guilt? He didn’t want to find out.
But why was it that when he was finally able to talk to him, no words were coming out? So many thoughts and questions shot through his mind like a meteor shower, yet Yeonjun struggled for where to begin.
As he regarded the younger, he noticed that Beomgyu looked awfully solemn without his signature bright grin on his face. His face was stoic and void of colour, paler than Yeonjun had ever seen him. His eyes were closed, and Yeonjun was able to see close-up the curly, long lashes which laid out like little fans cascading above his cheekbones. He had only watched Beomgyu sleep once, and that was a long time ago.
His heart ached. Now, there was nothing he’d wish for more than those eyes to open again, knowing he had an indefinite amount of time to watch him sleep like this. He was not used to seeing Beomgyu without either a giddy smile or an unimpressed scowl on his face. Is this what he looks like around other people that aren’t me? He wondered.
After another prolonged silence, he settled for the first thing he wanted to get off his chest.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered, voice low.
“If only I hadn’t let you go, you wouldn’t be here right now. If only I’d walked you home. It’s my fault. If only I’d—” he stopped, noticing the crack in his voice and the miserable turn this one-sided conversation was taking. Would Beomgyu want him to blame himself, when he so adamantly insisted that he leave in the first place?
Although he knew Beomgyu wouldn’t meet his eyes, Yeonjun still found it hard to look at him. So he glanced away, trying to steady his swaying thoughts.
Soobin was standing a respectful distance apart from them, right by the door. Although the boy was young, he looked terribly mature and tall for his age in that white coat, that Yeonjun would have never guessed he was still a high school freshman. The taller boy caught his eyes, and a flash of pity flitted past his complexion. Yeonjun could only muster up a half-smile in return.
“I’m so glad you’re still here, at least.” Yeonjun spoke up again, reaching for Beomgyu’s hand that laid lifelessly by his side. He took it in his, the usual warmth in them gone; his heart aching as he told himself to brush over that detail. “I’m so glad I haven’t lost you completely." He whispered into the still boy's hand, "Knowing you can hear me is enough. I’m thankful enough.”
Again, he was met with silence.
Yeonjun had to mentally reprimand himself the second time that day for naturally awaiting the younger’s response. He knew that hope was slim, but how ambitious could one be to dare hope for the impossible—the lowest variable from the common denominator, even in a situation where no odds could be defied?
Nonetheless, Yeonjun allowed himself to hold onto that fleeting spark of hope.
“You’ll always have me, for real this time. I won’t ever leave again. Never, for the rest of my life. You said as long as you have me for the rest of yours, nothing else matters." He murmured, eyebrows furrowed. "Right, Choi Beomgyu? Be a man of your words. You broke your promise by the way, but I’ll get back at you later, since I’m so nice.” The chuckle he let out is hollow and purely out of self-pity, yet he was afraid if he acknowledged it, his façade would crack. Beomgyu wouldn't like that. The boy used to always tell him how pretty his smile was, and how good his laughter sounded.
Therefore, Yeonjun decided, that was all he was ever going to do from now on.
Maybe someday, when he’s talked to himself enough—Beomgyu would get fed up and finally decide to rise from that godforsaken bed to respond to him out of annoyance. It had worked plenty of times before, surely it would work this time as well, wouldn't it?
The younger boy’s patience was as thin as a thread, surely he wouldn’t be able to hold back for that long; and all Yeonjun had to do was visit everyday until his nerves got the better of him—right? It would be like nothing has changed, and Beomgyu was just temporarily asleep.
One day, those eyes will open again; and the first words to leave his mouth would be his usual trademark; of telling Yeonjun how much of a horrible hyung he was, for pestering him when he wasn’t able to talk back—right?
The flickering spark of hope in Yeonjun’s eyes were so fleeting; if one blinked, one would have missed it. But the boy squeezed the hand in his, blinking away his unshed tears, and placed a kiss on the back of his palm.
A spark was all he needed.
No one had warned Yeonjun that being fifteen was ever going to be this hard.
“Soobin! Did you eat?”
“Oh. Hi, hyung.” The boy in question flashed him a small smile from his position by the end of the hospital bed, taking notes on his tab. Yeonjun slid the door close behind him, dropping his plastic bag of takeout on a nearby coffee table. Approaching him, he stopped by his side and stared at the boy on top of the bed. “How is he?”
Soobin had never known how to properly answer that question. For every single day in the past year, Yeonjun wouldn’t fail to ask every time he came—and Soobin had to struggle with devising a different alternative of the same answer each time. Well, but still no sign of improvement? He’s alive, but it’s worse than death?
“He's well, as usual. Nothing’s going wrong, so that’s good news.” He tried to spin it in a way that would relieve the older. Instantly, it worked, because Yeonjun let out a relieved sigh. “That’s good. Beomgyu, did you hear that? You’re not allowed to die on me. Even God himself forbids it. You have to be stuck with me for the rest of your life, remember? You said it first, not me.”
Rambling on, the older boy went to plop himself into the chair by the bedside, dropping his backpack by his feet. He was still in his school uniform, indicating that he’d come here straight after class—which had been almost always the case every single day for the past year, Soobin noted.
Pulling the folded built-in food tray out of the hospital bed, Yeonjun rotated it to face himself before dropping a notebook on top of it. “I brought my math homework, again. You’ve always been better at math than I was, so you need to help me out this time too, okay? I only got a C last time. You’re still mean as always, Choi Beomgyu. Scared I’d get a higher grade? Pft.”
Soobin was used to Yeonjun making this kind of conversation by now, yet each time still pained him like the first. He had no idea how Yeonjun was still able to remain so positive after a solid year. They must have been very close.
Chattering away, Yeonjun got started on his homework while Soobin finished up adjusting the entries of Beomgyu’s IV tubes. “Soobin, don’t you have homework too?” The older boy was talking to him now as he was about to see himself out, and so he turned to him. “Ah… I do, actually.” Soobin sheepishly replied.
A bright smile lifted Yeonjun’s entire face. “Bring it in, let’s work on it together! Also that takeout is for you, so you better eat it before it gets cold. Or I’ll be mad.”
Soobin could only offer him a gentle smile and a meek nod. “Thanks, hyung. In that case, I’ll be right back.”
The next few hours went by with Yeonjun occasionally groaning in frustration at his algebra equations, Soobin chuckling softly as he offered whatever minimal help he could while eating his tomato soup, and the older boy rambling about the tedious details of his school days to Beomgyu. Soobin had long finished his history homework; he never knew what it was like to academically struggle, to which Yeonjun whined at with an envious ‘you are too smart it’s unfair’.
“Beomgyu, I’ll have you know that by the time you wake up again you will have a lifetime’s worth of homework you’d need to catch up on. Dear God, Miss Kim is the worst math teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Who gives their students this much work? Ooh, also, Taehyun and Hueningkai are dating now. Can you believe it? Turns out their first kiss wasn’t an accident after all. Taehyun asked Kai out and they’re literally so cute and lovesick it makes me want to throw up!" After stealing a bite from Soobin’s tomato soup, he continued. "You are so extremely lucky you don’t have to witness it in geography class every day, because yuck.” He faked a disgusted gag, to which Soobin silently giggled. If the silence he was met with afterwards pricked his skin, he didn’t show it.
They both tried their hardest to ignore the fact that every single exchange ended up with an empty response. That the boy in the bed, sheets swallowing his body, could only hear and not respond. Yet, if he focused more on the former part than the latter—that Beomgyu could hear them, and that by keeping him company like he was another high school kid made them happy—it was enough for Yeonjun.
It should be enough.
But why was it that with each passing day, it grew harder and harder for Yeonjun to pretend? To hold onto that faint glimmer of hope; as if the more he stretched his arms, the further it would grow out of his reach—and no matter how hard he tried to catch up, he would never be fast enough to quite keep the light in his grasp.
Next to him, Soobin had witnessed this scene unravel enough times to gather a sense of what would happen after. Therefore, before Yeonjun’s face dropped, he pulled out a piece of coloured paper from the stack he’d neatly placed on the cabinet and handed it to him.
Yeonjun turned to look, and Soobin offered him a small smile. “You almost missed your daily streak.” He said, thrusting the paper into Yeonjun’s hands. The latter accepted.
They both just offered each other encouraging smiles, exchanging no more words. Soobin had agreed with Yeonjun not to speak up about their little secret they were preparing for when Beomgyu wakes up.
If Beomgyu wakes up.
However, they both tried to not let their thoughts wander that far. Next to him, Yeonjun had zoned into his origami trance, eyebrows furrowed and lower lips caught between his teeth as he carefully folded the paper in hand. He’d done it enough time to breeze through the process with his eyes closed, but something inside him nagged for perfection. He wanted every single one of them to turn out flawless, because they were all for Beomgyu—and Beomgyu deserved nothing short of flawless.
Barely under a minute later, the finished product was laid proudly in his palm as he showcased it to Soobin. The younger boy gave him a thumbs up.
It was a heart, folded with a bright pink origami paper. The edges were so carefully smoothed out that no uneven creases could be found.
Smiling to himself, Yeonjun placed the paper heart by Beomgyu’s pillow. The pink hue stood out in stark contrast against the white sheet, bundled in with yellow, and red, and blue, and purple—and a variety of other hearts carefully placed around the same area. Another one of many added to the collection.
Now, Beomgyu wasn't swimming in the white sheets, the color all around him easing some of the tension in Yeonjun's shoulders. Colour-fun paper hearts for a boy that once bursted with vibrance.
The image of him laying in the sea of origami hearts was as breathtaking a sight as it was heartbreaking. If either Soobin or Yeonjun felt a hollow pit sink into their guts at the sight, neither made an effort to show it.
Not only were the paper hearts everywhere on Beomgyu’s bed, it was everywhere else in the room as well—much so that the once bleak hospital room looked like it was mass decorated for a year-round birthday party. Soobin had pleaded and begged his dad to keep the room the way it was, and not get rid of the origami hearts, just so Yeonjun could find comfort in them. After many trials, he succeeded.
“Paper Hearts was his favourite song. So, I’m going to fold him a paper heart for each day he hasn’t woken up. It’s like a timer, or a countdown—I don’t really know. I just need something to keep track of the time, or I’ll feel like I’ll float away.” Yeonjun once told him. “I also have things I want to say to him when he wakes up and sees all these hearts. It’s just a hopelessly romantic gesture on my part, really—since I liked him ever since we were little. But it has to be our secret, he can’t know. Okay? I want him to see it all for himself when he wakes up. It’ll be his welcome surprise.” Blushing, he added. “And I plan to tell him about my feelings then.”
Soobin didn’t have it in him at the time to tell Yeonjun it most likely wouldn’t happen; because how could he, when Yeonjun looked the happiest he’d ever seen him when he was talking about that?
So, he agreed. He even agreed to tape them on the walls for him when they began to run out of space for display.
In the corner of his eyes, he saw Yeonjun reach for his pen and wrote something onto the heart he’d just folded. When he returned it to its former position by Beomgyu’s pillow, Soobin could read the letters in distinct, black ink.
365. I miss U.
It had already been 365 days since Beomgyu has laid unmoving on this bed. When he stole a glance at Yeonjun, he noticed the elder desperately wiping a single tear away from his eyes, his smile showing cracks in the happy façade he’s been trying to desperately put on—more for himself than anybody else in this room.
“Get some rest, punk. I’ll be back to annoy you later, you’ll need energy for that.”
Being sixteen would have been so much better if Yeonjun had his best friend by his side.
Ever since then, without Beomgyu, time began to pass with less and less significance to Yeonjun.
Had it been years since the last time Beomgyu smiled at him? Was it a year—or two, or three? Or had it just been months? Incidentally, was it also just yesterday when they kissed? Because to him, it sure felt like it.
He used to count the days until he and Beomgyu would visit the park together again; but now, the concept of time no longer existed to him. Days began to blur into one, months beginning to feel like they stretched into eons. If a supernatural being waltzed into his life just to tell him that he’d been stuck in his own personal Hell loop this entire time, Yeonjun would very much believe them.
He remembered less and less of his own high school life. He paid less and less attention to things around him that didn’t pertain to Beomgyu. He would often catch himself subconsciously comparing people he met to the younger, scolding himself in the process. He knew that he had to carry on living his life without Beomgyu, because that would be what he wanted.
However, that was much easier said than done; and with the way Yeonjun still thinks about the younger in every waking moment of his day, he knew he wasn’t doing a particularly good job at that—much less the daily visits, and the paper hearts. In hindsight, if Beomgyu had to wake up to all the hearts he’d been folding, Yeonjun might just collapse on the spot from embarrassment. The scenario played out better in his head.
That is, again— if Beomgyu wakes up. Yeonjun stopped himself just before his train of thoughts could descend any further.
This time as Yeonjun slid the ever so familiar hospital door aside, to his surprise, Soobin wasn’t there. Must have been a first. He’s usually always here.
And why was the lack of Soobin’s presence making him more anxious than usual? Has being alone with Beomgyu always been this nerve wrecking?
Or was it something else about their current situation that Yeonjun refused to address?
Wordlessly, he closed the door behind him, staring at the only other person in the room—to call him a person now felt like an overstatement—the motionless body laying on a bed that suddenly looked too massive for his petite frame. Beomgyu always had a smaller build, but had he gotten thinner over the years?
It was the first time that Yeonjun allowed himself to take him in, for all that he was in his true condition without his optimism tainting his perspective.
As he stepped closer, he noticed how Beomgyu’s skin was now almost as ghostly white as the bedsheet beneath him, fingers thinner than they used to be. The hollow of his collarbones were so frighteningly prominent, each curve and dip distinctly outlined. The bags of his eyes were dark and sunken, cheekbones hollow, like he’d lost sleep in days although that was the only thing he’s been doing. Yeonjun found that ironic. His soft peach colored cheeks were now an ashen mauve. Yeonjun’s heart twisted.
Beomgyu looked too sick; too pale for his liking. It was as if life was being continuously drained out of him through the countless tubes and wires attached to his body, when they should have been doing the opposite. Even his normally fluffy hair had lost its shine and volume, thinning out in frail strands and split ends.
The only thing serving as an indication of life at all was the way his oxygen mask would fog up with every subtle rise and fall of his chest. It was the only thing comforting Yeonjun’s fragile heart, and even that façade was beginning to crumble.
It was at that moment that it finally hit him.
Beomgyu was living on borrowed time.
Would live even be the appropriate word, when in fact he was barely living at all—and just surviving? His life barely hanging on by a thread, like he was perched atop a cliff; ready to tiptoe and freefall at any moment?
In that case, wouldn't this be a life worse than death?
Reality crashed down onto the older like ferocious ocean waves, its tides pushing and pulling at the remnants of his sanity; taunting him with the ghost of his own despair as each second passed. For the past couple years, Yeonjun had caught himself blankly staring at Beomgyu’s eyes—his favourite feature—hoping for it to blink, twitch, shift, move, anything; he would take even the lightest flutter of his lashes. But his hope led him onto a dead end, as even that amounted to no avail.
Yeonjun would normally holler at the top of his lungs upon arrival in order to signal Beomgyu of his presence; but this time he was achingly silent when he took the boy’s hand in his. Was it due to the fact that Soobin wasn’t here, that he didn’t find it in him to put up his usual pretence?
Every single day after the first time he saw him, Yeonjun always told himself he would walk in with a smile. That he would only say happy things and be as normal as he could, to bring the younger boy a sense of normalcy—like nothing really ever changed.
He realised just now that nothing about this was in any way normal. He wondered if Beomgyu realised too, and was pitying him this whole time.
The thought pricked his eyes with unshed tears. With a shaky inhale, he squeezed the latter’s hand, bringing it to his cheek. The look in Yeonjun’s eyes as he stared at Beomgyu was laced with the epitome of pure agony and desperation. It hurts now, just to look at him.
“I miss you,” he weakly whispered as the first tear cascaded past his cheekbones, right onto Beomgyu’s index finger. “I miss you so much, Beomgyu.” He pressed soft kisses onto the younger's fingers, not noticing the stream of tears falling from his eyes.
“Come back to me. You’ve been playing hard to get for a little bit too long now, don’t you think? You’re making hyung sad now… What happened to going to the park every birthday? I still need to take you on that Ferris wheel again, they renovated it. My birthday this year was so not fun without you. I’m seventeen now… Can you believe it? We were ten yesterday.”
Silence. Not that he was expecting anything else; but that lingering trace of hope festered inside him like a parasite, refusing to leave his mind. “You’re missing out on so much. Would you really want to spend the rest of your life in this room? I never took you to be such a boring person.” He tried his best to ramble through his tears, his own defence mechanism going at work. Those words were spoken in more favour of his own comfort than it was Beomgyu’s. He wondered if the younger boy saw through him at one point.
“God, this is pathetic,” He groaned, his free hand reaching up to wipe his tears. His hold on the younger remained clasped tight—as if Beomgyu would fade away as soon as he let go. “I haven’t cried in front of you ever since we were, what, twelve? You have to promise not to make fun of me for this when you wake up, okay? Don’t be so horrible.” He chuckled to himself, trying to regain his composure—not that it would matter anyway, since Beomgyu couldn’t see him. Still, he tried.
As he attempted to stabilise his emotions, he picked up the familiar pastel paper from a nearby cabinet, fingers automatically starting the routine that had been drilled into him. “Anyway, today’s TMI.” He cleared his throat, his voice already transitioning back to what he liked to call his ‘lying to the principal’ voice. “I’m at the end of my junior year. Next year will be my last year of high school, can you imagine? The school offered me a scholarship to do an exchange in the United States for my last year. See? Your best friend is so smart. I’m practically an English genius, I’ll have you know.”
Then, he paused, waiting for the ‘and did you accept it?’ that never came. He should be used to it by now, but why would the silence still leave him with a pang of disappointment that only continued to expand each time farther than the first?
“I know you’re wondering, so I’m gonna cut to the chase. I said no. Don’t be mad at me, okay? You can yell at me about this later." He defended himself, although there wasn’t anyone that would speak up right now, anyway. "I know, I know. I’m so stupid. God, I can almost hear your nagging voice. So annoying.” He chuckled humorlessly, suddenly wondering how long it had been since he'd heard the younger's laugh. A newfound fear of never hearing it again suddenly implemented itself inside him.
He placed the now finished paper heart on the younger's bedside table, trying to form a proper sentence without jumbling on his words. "Hey you know, between you and me…what—” he started, only to stop moments after to make sure his voice wasn’t shaking. "What if I did take the offer and leave you behind? I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I did. I can't—” He gripped the side of the hospital bed, knuckles white as he tried to steady himself to no avail. “I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if that happened.”
“I just,'' he started, gulping. The nervousness was back in his voice, and he prayed that Beomgyu couldn’t sense it. If he did, he didn’t let it show. Well, not that he could.
“I can’t bring myself to leave you. Never again. I made that mistake once, and it cost us—all this. I can’t bear to think how I’d be halfway across the world from you, unable to visit you everyday… What if something happens, and when it does, I’m not by your side?” His eyelashes fluttered with his rapid attempts to blink away his tears, aggressively biting down his lower lip to refrain it from trembling.
“What if when you wake up, and the first face you see isn’t me? I wouldn’t be able to handle that.” He lightly shook his head as an attempt to get rid of the thought. He knew better than anyone else that contemplating on what-if’s would do him no good, yet he somehow couldn’t stop. “I promised to be by your side for the rest of your life. When we were on that tree, remember? And I said you’ll always have me. Guess what? Your hyung is a man of his words.” Then, elaborately, he pressed his lips against Beomgyu’s pale hand; planting soft kisses to each and every knuckle.
“He will never leave your side, ever again.”
What Yeonjun failed to consider at the time, he would later on learn, was how he only thought of the possibility of him leaving Beomgyu’s first—yet never the other way around.
So naturally, he wasn’t the least bit prepared when that scenario began to grow more and more plausible—even more than he would have liked. One day, it was all going to crash down on his shoulders like the earth had folded in on him, engulfing him whole until he was left with nothing but skin and bones; and not even that lingering spark of hope he’s been desperately holding onto would remain by his side then.
He just had no idea the day would come so soon.
“Yeonjun, come on in.”
“Good afternoon, auntie. Oh, uncle Choi. You’re here too.” Yeonjun politely bowed, taking off his shoes and putting them on the shelf by the door.
One afternoon, as he was about to exit his classes, he received a text from Beomgyu’s parents. They had invited him to come over to their home, telling him there were some things they wanted to discuss. Of course Yeonjun agreed.
Naturally, they have been fond of him ever since he was little. Practically growing up together, Beomgyu’s family felt just like his second family.
Therefore, he had no reason to feel such dread and anxiety from just visiting Beomgyu’s parents. Yet, why did the knot in his gut signal him that whatever he was about to hear, it wasn’t good news?
“Come sit, Yeonjun.” Said Beomgyu’s dad, gesturing at the living room couch across from where he and his wife were seated upon. Yeonjun could only offer a small smile as he made his way there, putting his backpack down by his feet.
“How are you?” Asked Mrs. Choi, her expression adorned with the nurturing smile Yeonjun had grown to like.
“I’m well, auntie. I was just about to go visit Beomgyu at the hospital.”
At the mention, he noticed simultaneously how both their faces dropped. His heart sank. There was silence that hung heavier than it should, before Mr. Choi took it upon himself to break it.
The next things he said broke more than just the silence, however. “About that…” He started, looking up at Yeonjun with hesitancy that he’d never seen before.” We have decided, after much thought, to finally put Beomgyu down.”
It was as if you could hear a pin drop, the silence breaking down the last wall of strength he had. Yeonjun had felt his exterior cracked. If his entire life ever since he lost Beomgyu was a dream, he would very much like to wake up now.
“I’m sorry?” He choked out and turned to Mrs. Choi, who was sitting next to her husband. The warm smile moments earlier was now completely gone, replaced with a frown as she hung her head low to avoid his eyes.
This, Yeonjun realised, wasn’t a dream. Rather, it was beginning to look like a horrible nightmare.
“But how can you decide to do that? He’s your son, uncle! He’s going to wake up soon. Trust me. H-he’s getting better.” He blurted, tone growing less confident as he went on. He wasn’t even sure if he himself believed that last bit. Alas, he persisted. “We can’t give up on him!”
“Yeonjun,” calmly called out Mr. Choi, face crestfallen. Yeonjun watched as he reached for his wife’s hand and squeezed it. “It’s precisely because he’s our son that we made this decision.”
Yeonjun just couldn’t understand the logic of adults. How could they be so cruel over their own flesh and blood, when he himself struggled to come to terms with it every day? Did they suddenly turn heartless?
The anger bubbling up in his chest must have shown on his face, because Mrs. Choi’s expression shifted. “But—”
“Yeonjun, please. It’s our decision. We’re his parents. He’s—” she spoke, having to pause just so she could breathe. “He’s our only child. If it’s been hard for you, it’s been… Much harder for us.”
Maybe it was because she was right, but Yeonjun couldn’t conjure a coherent response. After what felt like hours, he found his voice again. “Surely there’s something we can do? Something I can do to help? Please, anything—”
“It’s been three years.” This time, it was Mr. Choi that spoke, his voice firm but cracked. His jaws were tightened now, face dark. He was growing impatient at Yeonjun’s lack of understanding.
“We’ve waited for three years. The bills have been staked high. His treatments are costly, and at this point—it’s not that we wanted to give up, Yeonjun. It’s just that we can’t afford to go on anymore.” He paused, staring Yeonjun dead in his eyes. The resolution in them took Yeonjun back. “Both financially, and emotionally.”
Quietly, Mrs. Choi added. “This is better for him.”
This did not rub him well, because the next thing he knew, he was up on his feet. “How can it possibly be better for him?! If you need help covering the costs, I can help. My salary from my job at the convenience store isn’t much, but I’ll give you all I have. I can drop a few more classes to work another daytime job too. I can even help other kids with their homework for pocket money if that’ll make a difference at all—”
A slammed hand on the coffee table jolted Yeonjun out of his train of speech.
“To live a life more painful than death; if my son had a say, do you think he’d want to keep on living?” Bursted Mr. Choi, now standing up as well. His voice no longer had that composed edge to it, suddenly raw with emotions he seemed to have been holding back.
“Be honest to yourself, Yeonjun. You knew him as well as we did. If Beomgyu could make a choice, would you truly think that he’d choose what we didn’t? To prolong his suffering, and watch those around him crumble because there’s nothing they can do except leave it up to fate?!”
Yeonjun froze, lips agape with no words coming out. He so badly wanted to deny everything the older male said, telling him that there was still hope; that Beomgyu would wake up, or that he’d want to keep fighting.
But it had already been three years. Yeonjun could barely hold onto that remaining spark of hope anymore—was it still a spark? or was it now just a dying flicker?—so how could he even convince others to do the same?
The look on the couple’s face told him that whatever Yeonjun was about to feel now with this establishment, they already have come to terms with. Therefore, he bit his lips, shakily sitting back down.
He would never admit it, not even with a knife pointed at his throat—but at the back of his mind, he knew. And perhaps he had always known.
That Beomgyu’s parents were right. Everything they said, Yeonjun couldn’t find it in him to refute. Because it was all true, and Yeonjun couldn’t waste another second trying to delude himself into thinking it wasn’t.
While he spent the past three years locking himself up in a fantasy, his parents have been bracing themselves to face the harsh reality. Oh, how he wished now he was strong enough to have done the same.
The realisation that he had been distracting himself, turning a blind eye to the inevitable—that his Beomgyu wouldn't wake up anytime soon, no matter how many more paper hearts he folded for him. It hit him like a blunt force on the head.
This discovery filled him with cold dread, heart aching and lungs too heavy. He blinked, as the sparkle of hope in him completely gave way to darkness.
His Beomgyu was never coming back, and there was nothing he could do to change that.
The room was yet again enveloped in a suffocating silence. None of them spoke, and for the longest time; it also felt like none of them remembered to breathe.
After what felt like forever and back, he spoke up. “How long…?” He couldn’t even afford to finish the sentence, voice cracking as he looked up through his blurry vision at the couple.
“A month, at best.” Said Mr. Choi, back to his previous position of sitting and holding his wife’s hand. His voice was composed again, and this time, Yeonjun could almost hear a trickle of guilt in it.
“His birthday.” He cryptically said, which earned him two pairs of questioning eyes thrown in his way. “His eighteenth birthday. Let me celebrate it with him,” Yeonjun’s voice grew quieter with every spoken word. By the time he arrived at the end of the sentence, it was barely audible when he added, “please—one last time.”
Then there was silence as a look of contemplation washed over the couple’s faces. They stared at each other for what felt like minutes, having an unspoken discussion.
Reluctantly, Mrs. Choi spoke up. “Alright. But we’re afraid that would have to be his last day.”
Yeonjun smiled apologetically to himself, nodding. “That’s fine.” He deeply inhaled, trying to steady his trembling hands by clamping them together. “That’s enough.”
It wasn’t enough, and it probably never will be—but what more could Yeonjun ask for? Who would grant his wish? Who would give him more?
They were moving on borrowed time. Time granted to them through money and debt, chemicals and machinery. Yeonjun had always known this, but this was the first time he allowed himself to come to terms with the cruelty of that realisation.
It wasn’t enough, but it somehow had to be.
“Remember that he could hear us, so you have to pretend that everything’s fine. Okay?” He turned to whisper one last time, a hand covering the flames of the candles to stop them from flickering.
The day had finally come. To Yeonjun, it both felt like it was too soon and too late at the same time.
His last day with Beomgyu.
It was March, and for this special occasion, he had asked Taehyun and Hueningkai to visit Beomgyu just so they could celebrate his birthday together. The two males were nowhere near as close to Beomgyu as he was, but they were also the only ones aside from him that can be considered his friends.
“Okay,” the other two responded in unison, nodding. Next to them, Soobin offered a small smile before sliding the room door open.
Like a mask, a bright smile immediately slipped onto his face—although he knew the boy wouldn’t see it either way, his lips still curled up in a way that didn’t reach his eyes. It had somewhat become natural to him after all these years, so it wasn’t that difficult a feat. What he didn’t disclose, was that the smile was to fool himself more than it was to fool Beomgyu.
Following closely behind, Taehyun and Hueningkai both took that as his cue to begin singing a very loud, unsynchronised version of ‘Happy Birthday’. With Soobin quietly mumbling along, they all clapped as Yeonjun rounded the bed to go to Beomgyu’s side. In his mind, he tried to imagine the look of surprise and bliss that would have marred the younger’s face right now if he was able to express it. He'd imagined the younger's eyes lighting up and his cheeks pink; like that breezy autumn night underneath the maple tree. The thought eased him.
“Happy birthday, to you!” They finished, wrapping it up with another round of uneven applause. On the pulled out food tray, Yeonjun put down the matcha-flavoured cake—he remembered to get Beomgyu’s favourite.
Well, it wasn't like Beomgyu would be able to taste it—or see it, as a matter of fact. But it was the thought that counted, right?
Dread began to sink into the pit of his stomach as he looked at Beomgyu. This would be the last day he was able to sit by his side like this; the last time he’d ever see him lay on that bed.
The last time he’d ever see him again.
As selfishly as he could form a thought, Yeonjun just wanted to freeze this moment in his head; capturing the image of the only boy he’s ever looked at in front of him and burying it into the deepest crevice of his brain, and probably the only one he would ever look at. Until the end of forever.
I guess this is as long as forever could be.
“Beomgyu, you’ve got visitors.” He announced, trying to keep his tone as light as he could. Behind him, the addressed boys stepped closer. “Hi, hyung.” They spoke simultaneously.
“You recognise that? That’s Taehyun and Hueningkai. I told you I’d drag them to see you one day. They’re so in love, it’s gross.” He joked, which resulted in a light giggle from Hueningkai and a tiny punch to his shoulder from Taehyun. “Beomgyu hyung, we got you some birthday gifts!” Chirped the youngest before he gently laid the said gift onto the male’s lap. It was a bouquet filled with baby’s breaths and red asters, neatly wrapped in lilac linen paper.
“What should we get Beomgyu hyung when we visit?” Mused Taehyun one afternoon during lunch. “Hm, what about flowers? Does he like flowers, Yeonjun hyung?” Hueningkai inquired, putting down his banana milk before he turned to stare at the oldest of the three.
Upon the mention of his name, Yeonjun snapped out of his daydream. “I think he’ll like anything you get him.” Answered Yeonjun, half-heartedly.
“Then, what type of flower would be a good choice? Roses?” Taehyun asked, a hand supporting his chin as he stared off contemplatively. After a moment, Yeonjun spoke up. “Red asters.”
“Why red asters?” Asked Hueningkai, mouth half-full.
“Red asters signify undying devotion.” Said the oldest boy, picking at his lunch with a fork, uninterested.
Immediately, the other two understood, and didn’t inquire any more.
But, of course, Beomgyu didn’t have to know all that.
“They got you a bouquet of red aster, how thoughtful.” Yeonjun spoke, positioning the younger’s arms so that he was now holding onto the bouquet with both hands.
“Don’t look at me with that face, come on now. My presence itself is already your gift. What more can you ask for?” He lightly teased, a half-smile on his face as he reached up to stroke the boy’s hair. “Soobin has something for you as well.”
At the mention of his name, the nurse came closer to the other side of the bed. Lightly clearing his throat, he pulled something from behind his back, and placed it onto Beomgyu’s head. “It isn’t much, but I hope you like it.”
It was a flower crown, strung up out of maple leaves in varying hues of auburn. “Me and Yeonjun went to get the leaves from the tree you liked.” He added, tone somehow timid and shy.
Dressed in white, laid within a sea of origami hearts with a bouquet of red asters and a maple crown on his head—Beomgyu looked like a forest prince. He was beautiful in a way that filled Yeonjun’s heart with butterflies as quickly as they faded into ashen embers.
If he was going to go, this would be the best they could afford to do his beauty justice.
“You turn eighteen today, Gyu.” Quietly, Yeonjun spoke up. The candle on top of the cake had melted halfway through, and it tore the four of them apart that the birthday boy couldn’t even make a wish to blow it. “Are you done making your wish? I’m going to blow it out for you.” He said, more to himself than to Beomgyu, before putting out the flickering flame. The cake looked ravishing—Yeonjun made sure to order it from the city’s top bakery—yet not even one out of the four of them looked like they had the appetite. Therefore, Taehyun reached in to put the cake away on top of a nearby cabinet.
Then, out of the corner of his eyes, Yeonjun saw several nurses peeking through the blinds of their room window. He saw Soobin immediately turn to them, signalling them to stay outside.
Yeonjun felt as if he had roughly been woken up from a dream, body frozen. Have they come to remove all these tubes from Beomgyu? Was it already time?
The taller boy turned and met his eyes; and Yeonjun’s chest constricted with the look of grief and devastation in them. Yet, they both remained silent. Neither Taehyun nor Hueningkai spoke either, mindful of the silence.
What else was there to say? Would it still be worth it to pretend that all was well, saying that he would get better soon; or tell him about his future outside of the hospital that they all knew he wouldn’t have? Would it still be worth it to pretend?
At that moment, Yeonjun decided. Like a flip of a switch, the mask of cheerfulness slipped off his face, revealing underneath the forlorn look of a boy who was just about to lose everything in front of his eyes.
A word hadn’t yet left his mouth when his eyes began to well up with hot tears. Behind him, both Taehyun and Hueningkai rested a comforting hand on either side of his shoulders. He took in a deep breath, averting his eyes up to stare at the ceiling to hold back his tears.
“Beomgyu,” he started. Soobin’s eyes slightly widened at the tone of the older’s voice—he had heard him say this name numerous times, yet never once had it been so clearly laced with so much desperation. So much pain.
“Soon, we’re gonna tuck you in.”
It was the best way he could explain it without outright telling the younger that he’d be dead in a few minutes. Yeonjun could never find it in him to say it. His whole body began to double in weight, the hands resting on his shoulders suddenly feeling so heavy that lifting a finger was a struggle. “There’s so much I still want to tell you.”
Soobin made a little gesture, and the next moment, he and the other two had retreated to the furthest corner of the room. They were giving him space to say goodbye, Yeonjun realised.
So, he deeply inhaled, looked at the forest prince in front of him, and began.
“I talk to you every day, yet it still feels like no matter how much I keep going, it’ll never be enough.” His heart tightened in his chest at what he was about to say next, feeling like it was stabbed with a thousand daggers at all the wrong angles. “You know what? Your hyung’s a coward. He’s always been a coward, and even now he still couldn’t outgrow himself to not be one.” He chuckled humorlessly, trying to blink away his tears.
He hung his head low, feeling his chest constrict yet again. The butterflies he had once ignored all those years ago came back to him—except instead of his chest being filled with warmth, it now throbbed like said butterflies festered into plaguing viruses, eating him up from the inside out.
Internally, his heart wept, crying out for the boy in front of him—for his Beomgyu that he cherished so much; the same one whose life had been ripped away from him when he did nothing to deserve it. And yet Yeonjun still couldn't convey how much Beomgyu meant to him. He realised then that no words would ever come close to expressing what he wanted to say.
“Do you want to know why I’m a coward, Beomgyu?” He lifted his head, the smile on his face growing melancholic. “Because there were so many things I wanted to say to you that I couldn’t.” A pause.
The only sound left in the room came from the steady beep of Beomgyu’s heart monitor.
“Because I was afraid of what you’d think of me then, if I did.” He finally confessed, voice so achingly vulnerable and raw it took the other three by surprise. He'd never felt this vulnerable before, emotions spilling out like waves rushing through a broken dam. He momentarily almost forgot that others were in the room when he tried to continue.
"The fear of losing you haunted me, and I couldn't lose you. You were the only thing I had. We were the only things we had, and I couldn't be selfish like that. I was scared to even change the smallest things between us, in case you didn’t feel the same. And guess what? I wish I took the chance.” He couldn't even finish his sentence before his voice cracked halfway through, yet he paid it no mind. The ache in his chest was now rising to his throat, the guilt making him taste bile.
“That day, at the park—when I impulsively kissed you, and the look on your face after I did—I almost said it.” He whispered as he turned to look at Beomgyu's face, the younger looking almost too peaceful at Yeonjun’s confession. He looked so serene nestled between those white sheets, the only colour coming not from his complexion but the origami hearts surrounding his frame.
Yeonjun thought to himself that no matter how vivid or bright the flowers were, they would never compare to how much brighter the younger was. Not enough bouquets, flower crowns nor paper hearts in the world would ever do justice the phenomenon that was Choi Beomgyu.
He swallowed back a pained breath before remembering to continue. “I wanted to say it so badly, but a part of me feared for my life that the next second—your eyes would look at me with sparks no longer, but a spit of disgust. That you would distance yourself from me, pushing me away because I ruined it for us.
“However, that was the second happiest moment of my life. I wish I told you then, but I wasn’t brave enough", He clenched his fists, knuckles now turning white.
“Even now, I’m not. It took me years of lying to myself, feeding my heart false hope instead of trying to prepare myself for this moment, which I knew would come. I knew it would, but I was foolish enough to think that it wouldn’t; as long as the day isn’t today, and I’m still by your side. Like somehow that would keep the inevitable away. Which idiot thinks like that?” He let out another dry laugh, tears now freely streaming down his cheeks as his heart slowly crumbled behind the constraint that was his chest.
Quietly, he pulled a piece of paper heart from his jacket pocket, and inserted it into Beomgyu’s hold. “Paper hearts. After all, it was your favourite song, right? Remember the first time you sang it to me with your guitar in your bedroom? We were barely fifteen. I can still recall how beautiful you sounded then, but I was too cowardly to tell it to your face. I teased you and said you sounded like a cow, when in reality I was too busy being distracted by the beating of my heart to even hear you properly."
He wondered if the younger heard his heart beating then, with how loud it was. It would have been hard to miss. “If you asked me how and when it started, I couldn’t even give you a truthful answer. I wonder if I’ve felt this way all along, but I was just too young and dumb to notice.
“I thought everyone felt this way about their best friend, because I simply didn’t know better.” He chuckled with mirth at the memory of his younger self. "I remembered asking myself, is it normal to feel so unreasonably excited just to see someone smile? To feel heat crawl up your face when you hold someone else’s hand? Is it normal for me to always stare at you each time you weren’t looking, and whenever you spoke, I couldn’t take my eyes off your lips?"
It sounded so painfully obvious now that he said it aloud, and he wondered how he could have been so dumb. He glanced at the younger's now pale lips, a pang of hurt hitting him at the sight. “For the entirety of my life, I convinced myself into thinking that it was normal. Who knew I was so foolish?
“Maybe it’s a little too late now, but that time on your bed—when I asked you if you’ve ever wondered how your first kiss would go? Yeah, it was me making the most pathetic excuse of my life just so I could kiss you. I was so desperate, I was willing to live up to the rest of that lie,” He just kept going and going, years of bottled emotions finally seeing light. And they weren’t going to stop anytime soon. “Just so I could feel your lips against mine at the time. I didn’t understand what the feeling was, but I just knew that if I didn’t get to kiss you then, I would explode.”
Oh, how young and foolish they were. He remembered asking himself what could go wrong. He didn’t exactly prepare himself for the answer to that question to be everything.
“I didn’t expect you to buy it. I wondered, for the slightest fraction of a moment, if the same thoughts were going through your head when I pulled away, and saw you look at me with those eyes.” He could never forget the look Beomgyu gave him, eyes filled with something he couldn't identify as their gazes met after their first kiss. “I was too scared to find out the answer to that. But that.. That was probably the happiest I’ve ever been.”
And he poured and poured his heart out to the boy in front of him, feeling as if he would choke on his own feelings if he didn't. The rest of the world faded into monochrome behind them. To Yeonjun, Beomgyu was the only thing left in colour anymore. Nothing else mattered.
“You make me so happy, Choi Beomgyu. Each day spent with you, I took it for granted because I was a fool who couldn’t recognise it; the way his heart rattled in his chest every time you look at him. Whenever you’re not around, I lay in bed counting the days—hours, minutes, seconds —until I could see you again,” at this point, Yeonjun was unpacking every burdened load of his heart to the younger, like an overdue delivery. “This wasn’t normal, and I should have known; but it took me several years of not having you by my side to realise that it wasn’t.
“These hearts, if only you could open your eyes again. I folded one for you; for each day passed that you haven’t woken up.” He remembered the whirlwind of blurry days that went by, the only highlight being a hold of the familiar coloured paper; making sure the folds were always crisp and clean. “It was the only thing that gave me a sense of comfort, as I deluded myself into thinking that you’ll wake up to a sea of them. I never forgot to fold one every single day, because it was the only thing I looked forward to doing. It was my only purpose.
“In my head, I obsessed over how grand of a gesture this would be. To have you wake up and see the amount of hearts I’ve made for you—representing the amount of feelings I have for you. I thought it would be so romantic to finally confess then, or even ask you out.” He lets out an amused chuckle, the sadness in his tone showing how much of that fantasy he still believed. “It was the only thing that kept me going. The paradise up there in my head was nothing like the reality we’re in now.
“Sadly for me, that day isn’t going to come. I counted and labeled each one just so I wouldn’t lose track of the amount of days spent without you.” Then, he stroked Beomgyu’s knuckles with his thumb. “This one, I made just before coming in. Heart number 1313.” He let out a sigh. “1313 days spent without you. And now I don’t have to count anymore, because starting tomorrow, I’ll have to spend each day without you for the rest of my life.” He said, trying to make it sound matter-of-fact. He failed miserably as his form slumped.
“If only you could see—if only you could look at me now and see me for the first time as who I truly am; not as your childhood best friend who swore to protect you, but as a boy who’s been hopelessly in love with you since the moment he met you.” His eyes glanced up to catch the younger’s, trying his best to trace every detail of his face into the deepest part of his memory—from the slope of his cheeks to his lips, now concealed behind the foggy oxygen mask.
“It’s you, Beomgyu. It’s always been you—I swear on all the times I secretly looked at you at the playground of our elementary school, and all the times I made the silliest excuses just to hold your hand—it’s always been you.” Finally saying it made Yeonjun feel like a heavy burden had been finally lifted from his chest, so he kept going, desperately trying to chase that sense of relief. He knew it wouldn’t last a moment longer if he wasn’t careful.
“And it will always be you. For every single birthday, ever since I met you, the only thing I’ve ever wished for was you.” To himself, Yeonjun covered his face and broke into a pathetic laugh.
“The way the world works is so unfair,” he choked back a sob. “You never did anything to deserve any of this. You were the best thing to ever happen to me—the only good thing to have entered my life. How am I supposed to go on now? You’re so cruel, Beomgyu. What happened to forever? Will I ever see you again?” He was full on weeping now, face drenched with messy streaks of tears he didn’t bother to wipe away. Beomgyu wouldn’t see them anyway, and this time he didn’t even bother to try.
“If heaven exists… Will we meet again? Will I find you there?” He whispered on a whim, still audaciously hoping, lips pressed against the younger's ice cold knuckles. Even Beomgyu’s hands were now stained wet with his tears.
“If it does exist, Choi Beomgyu—you have one last promise you need to make to me.”
He let out a cracked plea, “Please, wait for me at the gate. No matter how long it takes, I’ll find you again. I always do. This time, allow me to fulfill my part in protecting you until the end of forever.” He kissed each one of the younger's fingers. Something about it felt final and definite, like goodbye was near. The pain in his chest had bloomed into raging fire, consuming his insides and burning its way out of Yeonjun’s tongue. Each word began to hang heavier than the last.
“And this time, when I tell you I love you—you better say it back.” He pressed one last kiss to Beomgyu's hand before pulling away. He felt like smashed porcelain being held together by dried glue, so close to falling apart once again yet somehow still intact. It was the most horrible feeling Yeonjun had ever experienced.
The room was dead quiet when he stopped speaking. He glanced to the side, and was surprised to find all three of his other friends equally teary-eyed. Hueningkai was full on weeping into Taehyun’s shoulders, the older holding him in his arms for comfort. Soobin briefly wiped away a single tear with the back of his hand, yet his nose was bright end.
If his friends were crying this hard, Yeonjun didn’t want to imagine what he looked like at this moment.
“Now… For my birthday present.” He deeply inhaled, trying to regain his composure—or whatever left of it he could muster. “I know I said I didn’t prepare a thing, but I wanted to give you one last surprise.”
From the corner of the room, Soobin finally walked over and handed him an acoustic guitar. It was lamented with a shade of burgundy wood, its exterior smooth to the touch. The strings were a uniform shade of worn out brass, and tucked securely between them was a plain guitar pick. There were streaks of uneven lines carved into the surface that spelled ‘BG’, Beomgyu’s initials.
It was Beomgyu’s guitar, simultaneously also the last thing he begged from Beomgyu’s parents to keep.
Yeonjun didn’t know how to play the guitar. He never found the interest to learn, although Beomgyu offered to teach him a few times.
Now he wished he took his offer. But for the past year, because of him, he had been learning—all for the purpose of one day being able to play this song to him, yet this wasn’t exactly how he imagined it’d go down. Alas, what other choice did he have?
Slowly plucking the strings in a soft finger style, he played the beginning melody of the song.
“Remember the way you made me feel. Such young love, but. Something in me knew that it was real, frozen in my heart.”
They say that when you’re happy, you enjoy the melody; but when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics.
Nothing had ever resonated with him quite as hard as the lyrics were at this moment. Internally, he asked God if this was one sick joke.
Soobin, Taehyun and Hueningkai remained silent in their respective corner as they listened to Yeonjun sing. He had a hauntingly beautiful voice, the song sounding so alluring as each note flitted past his lips. The melancholic melody would make for a perfect lullaby, had it not been for the agonising circumstance they were in. It pained Yeonjun to realise that this was the first and last time he’d ever sing for Beomgyu.
“Memories are playing in my door mind, I hate this part. Paper hearts, and I’ll hold a piece of yours.”
In his head, Yeonjun could almost perfectly envision the echo of Beomgyu’s voice as he sang this exact line to him years ago. If he closed his eyes now, he was convinced the next time he opened them, he would return to being on Beomgyu’s bed on that fateful day; with the younger boy shyly singing to him, red as a tomato.
His heart sank in despair when he opened his eyes again and he was still in the same hospital room.
After a few uneventful minutes of his voice and the monitor beep being the only sounds in the room, he played the last note on the acoustic guitar, letting it fade into silence as he paused singing.
Slowly, he set it aside, standing up. In the corner of the room, three pairs of eyes slightly widened as Yeonjun leaned over, half hovering above the boy on the bed.
“Don’t think I would just forget about it.”
A single tear dropped past his cheeks, landing perfectly onto Beomgyu’s. Normally, Yeonjun would scold himself for such carelessness; but right now, he couldn’t care about anything else in the world.
He paused for a second, taking in the sight of Beomgyu one last time.
“Hoping that you won’t forget."
With a visibly trembling hand, he inched closer, reaching in—and carefully pulled the oxygen mask from Beomgyu’s face. Behind him, he could hear Soobin let out an audible gasp.
But Yeonjun couldn’t care less as he bent down, cupping Beomgyu’s ice cold cheek in his palms, and pressed his lips against his. One last time.
“Choi Beomgyu, I love you so much it hurts.”
The kiss was stale and uneventful; just Yeonjun’s lips blandly attached to Beomgyu’s. The latter’s were far colder, far paler, far rougher than the last time he’d felt them, but Yeonjun took what he could get. Not even an ounce of warmth on Beomgyu’s entire body was left to the touch anymore, his complexion lifelessly cold. At the back of Yeonjun’s mind, he could also hear shuffling and hushed voices, yet he didn’t care.
This was going to be his last moment with Beomgyu, so he wanted to focus on him and him only. Distantly, he could hear the steady beep of the younger’s heartbeat monitor pick up into frantic hikes. His own heart jumped inside his chest, yet he didn’t pull away. If anything, he pressed in closer, deepening the kiss.
It dawned upon Yeonjun then that it was finally happening. Yet, even then, a part of him dared hope. He hoped that at the very last second, before everything was about to slip past his grasp forever; that the boy beneath him would at the very least flinch.
So when the irregular beeps of his heart rate flatlined into a monotonous screech, Yeonjun finally let out the most defeated sob in his entire life.
As he pulled away, he could barely even look at the boy anymore. His vision was blurry with tears, choked breaths barely meeting their ends. He didn’t realise when the room began to flood with numerous people in white coats, but the next thing he knew, he was abruptly pulled away.
It didn’t quite hit him until he was being dragged by the shoulders by Taehyun and Hueningkai—with Soobin and the nurses covering Beomgyu’s body with a white cloth—only then did he finally shatter.
Footsteps were rapid and frantic as medical professionals flitted in and out of the room; and Yeonjun felt like his heart was the floor they were trampling on.
He wanted to scream, cry, yell—anything to express just the agony that was tearing his body in two. If he did, he didn’t hear it. Was he trying to run after the bed that was slowly being pushed out the door? Was that why Soobin was suddenly in front of him, hands on his face, with Taehyun and Hueningkai physically restraining him? Yeonjun couldn’t quite recall.
As he caught the very last glimpse of the godforsaken hospital bed being ushered out of his vision, Yeonjun’s knees suddenly gave in. His heart felt like it was going to slip out of his throat with how hard he was sobbing, yet to him, he could no longer hear a sound. The silence inside his head was deafening.
Was it silence? Or was it the blaring buzz of the heart monitor replaying itself in his head, so deafeningly loud he was unable to register anything else?
They say when you love someone, sometimes the best thing you can do for them is let them go.
Choi Beomgyu died on his eighteenth birthday. However, when he did, a piece of Choi Yeonjun he couldn’t regain also died along with him.
And from then on, Yeonjun would have to live with half a heart for the rest of his life—however long that rest would be.
What either of them failed to notice, however—was the way a single tear flowed past the younger boy’s closed eyes, just a heartbeat before the white cloth was draped over his visage.
No matter how long it takes, I’ll find you again.
“And was that it?”
“Yes, that was it.” Replied Soobin, lightly patting the child’s head. She was curling in on herself now, leaning into him with her duck plushie snugly pressed against her tiny chest. Her eyes were growing a bit droopy from his tediously long storytime, and Soobin himself was surprised the girl managed to sit through it all.
“What happened next, mister nurse? What happened to the older boy?” Asked the child as she looked up at him once more with those wide, curious eyes which Soobin found hard to resist.
It was quite peculiar for a child her age to enjoy such a sad story. Didn’t normal kids usually enjoy fairy tales with happy endings?
“The older boy tried his best to live his life without the younger boy,” he continued, giving the girl a gentle squeeze of her cheeks, which she responded with a delighted giggle. “But sometimes, even that was hard.”
“Mister nurse, I don’t understand.” She interrupted, brows furrowed like she’d just come to an unpleasant realisation. “Don’t stories normally have happy endings? Why is this one so sad? They are in love, but why can’t they live happily ever after like the princesses in my books?”
Soobin smiled. There it was, the childlike innocence. “Those are stories, little one. This, however, was reality.” He paused then, unsure if he should finish the rest of his sentence. A moment later, he decided to proceed. “Reality isn’t always happy. Once you grow up, you will know.”
“I know, mister nurse. Whenever I fall in the garden and my knees get little scraps, they hurt so much and it doesn’t make me happy.” She responded with a pout, leaning back into the pillow. Soobin could only chuckle. “Really? I’ll make sure to replace the garden floor with foam mats so you’ll never be hurt again.” His words were met with an excited exclamation.
“But tell me, tell me. What happened next?”
Soobin’s smile lightly faltered, but it grew twice as wide before the little girl could even notice it. “What happened next, was reality.”
“I can’t go today, Soobin. I’m sorry.”
Another empty excuse as he pulled the phone away from his ear and hung up. Yeonjun sighed to himself before leaning back against the tree, pulling up the first name in contact, and pressed the dial.
One beep. Two. Then, three. Yeonjun grew exasperated. He’d grown to detest beeping noises, and this was unnecessarily getting under his skin. Yet, he didn’t expect it to stop anytime soon.
“The number you are trying to reach isn’t available right now, please try again later.”
The automated voice sent him straight to voicemail. That didn’t bother Yeonjun, anyway. Because it was exactly what he dialled for.
“Gyu, it’s me again. I had a horrible day today.” He sighed, putting the phone closer to his mouth. This had become a routine for him, visiting the park and leaving Beomgyu’s phone number a voice message at the end of every day.
It had been another arduous year for Yeonjun. He’d graduated now, looking for his opportunity to start a career as a dance teacher. He had long dreamed of celebrating his graduation day with Beomgyu, the younger standing right next to him on that venue stage—dressed in a similar gown, wearing a similar hat, staring at him with the proudest smile in the world.
When he wasn’t there, Yeonjun felt like he was on that stage alone, although hundreds of others were beside him. Feeling lonely in a crowded room was possibly the second worst feeling he’d ever encountered. Only Taehyun, Hueningkai and Soobin were there to celebrate it with him. Back then, he told himself that it was enough.
Ever since Beomgyu left, Soobin had been trying to spend more time with him. For once, they would meet outside the hospital, and Yeonjun was forced to realise just how normal the other boy looked without his lab coat. On lonely nights when the silence of his own bedroom had him in a chokehold, Soobin was there to soothe his uneven breaths. On days when Yeonjun’s signature smile didn’t reach his eyes, Soobin was the first to reach for his hand. When he took longer than usual to respond to a text, Soobin would almost always call him precisely an hour and a half afterward. Every single time, he was right on the clock. This time was no exception.
Except, Yeonjun made yet another lie. Today was one of those days, but strangely enough Yeonjun couldn’t find the strength in him to fake another smile in front of Soobin. He knew the other boy would never say it to his face, but deep down he knew just how much of a hassle he’d been.
That was all he was—Choi Yeonjun, a burden. A failure.
He was never a patient at that hospital, but somehow it turned out that this nurse had been taking care of him for far longer, and far more attentively than he would those in his professional demand.
And God had Yeonjun felt like utter scum sometimes for always being dependent on him. He was the older one, but why was it that Soobin acted the part more than he did? When will he finally be able to live on by himself?
It was when he realised he wouldn’t, that led him to the park—a bottle of pills in his coat pocket, a phone in the other. So now, he sat, knees hugged to his chest under a shrouded maple tree, leaving a voicemail to a number he’d spent half of his monthly wage paying just to keep open.
“Has it been long enough? Because I can’t do this anymore, Gyu. It’s becoming too exhausting, and I don’t know if I have any more reasons to keep going. You’re not here anymore, and I just—” he had to stop himself before he began getting all choked up. “I… I’ve given up.”
With his free hand, Yeonjun reached inside his coat pocket and felt for a familiar cylinder bottle, grasping it tightly in his hold. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I’m still a coward.” He continued, voice desolate.
With that, he hung up and tossed his phone aside. Taking a deep breath, Yeonjun allowed himself to look up at the sky one last time as he slowly pulled out the capped bottle in his pocket.
The sky was beautiful. It was a fine gradient of lilac, orange and pink—a breathtaking sight, especially seen from a park where no buildings were obstructing the view. The sky looked so vast, it made Yeonjun wonder if Beomgyu was up there staring back at him somewhere. It reminded him of the first time they went on top of the Ferris wheel, seeing the sky so close for the first time. Oh, how he would do anything now to relive that moment again.
He thought about how he would soon see his favourite face again, and a forlorn smile spread across his face. Yeonjun had planned this out for a while now, as shameful as he was to admit it. He’d done his share of research, looking for the right medication and ensuring the right amount of dosage it’d take to tip him over the edge. He’d sneakily asked Soobin a few questions whenever he visited him at his hospital, and Soobin would always stare at him with an odd look but paid no further attention.
Soobin. He dreaded that he had to leave the only person that would ever come close to what Beomgyu was to him. But he could no longer be courageous—or was selfish the more appropriate term?—enough to continue using the male as a substitute. Deep down, he knew that the void Beomgyu left, no one can replace. Not even Soobin.
And God did he try to prove himself wrong. He tried, and tried, but it was to no avail. The missing piece he was looking for had escaped him long ago just as when Beomgyu’s last breath escaped him. Continuing to use Soobin for his cowardly deeds was not fair to him.
Yeonjun shakily inhaled. He convinced himself that this was the right thing to do.
He looked around. This area of the park had always been more secluded this time around. He waited for the last couple to leave the field before he held the bottle of pills in front of his face. He was all left alone now, just as he’d planned. All it would take were several pills and a single gulp. Then, he’d just have to lay back and close his eyes. Five minutes later, it would all be over—and the rest would be up to the universe. His suffering will finally end then.
However, as he uncapped the bottle, his eyes caught a brief glance of the park’s clock tower. Why he thought to randomly check the time now, he had no idea.
It was 5:53pm. The sun was beginning to set, painting everything in its trail an overwhelming cast of molten gold.
Sunset had always been Yeonjun’s favourite time of the day. Perhaps doing this now was the best possible way to send himself off. He sighed to himself as he spilled the contents of the bottle onto his palm, which trembled more violently than he would have liked to admit. He wouldn’t even need water to gulp them down, he didn’t care enough to bring any.
Just as he was above to chug it all down his throat, a loud ‘crack’ resonated from above him.
Yeonjun barely had time to look up to assess the source, and even less time to barely dodge it as a branch right above him snapped in half and came crashing down. It missed Yeonjun by a hair; but now, his pills were messily scattered into the dirtied soil of the grass. The bottle in his hand earlier was hastily thrown away too, now laying raggedly several meters ahead of him. Frustrated, Yeonjun loudly cussed underneath his breath.
Even at his last moment, did God have to be so cruel?
Groaning, he stood up, walking toward the middle of the field where his bottle was. The sun was glowing an angry red now, at its brink of submerging. The bright light invading his field of vision made him flinch as he shielded his eyes with one hand.
However, when he dropped them, he noticed something he didn’t earlier.
In the perfect center of the glowing sunset in front of him now stood a figure.
It was difficult for Yeonjun to make out who it was. At first thought, he attempted to dismiss it as another late visitor of the park, and tried to approach his strewn bottle on the grass. But then, slowly—the figure moved.
And it was moving toward him.
With every approaching step they took, Yeonjun’s heart mysteriously began to pick up in his chest. His brain short-circuited as his vision cleared, eyes gradually adjusting to the light. There's no harm in at least identifying this stranger at the very least, Yeonjun thought. Perhaps he can convince them to move to another section of the park, leaving him alone to finish off his deed.
But once he saw just enough, an audible gasp left him. It was the silhouette of a figure he knew all too well—the outlines of a frame he spent every single day staring at, once upon a time.
There is no way.
The male was dressed in white, but it wasn’t the stark white of the hospital scrubs he’d worn the last time Yeonjun saw him. His hair had returned to its original fluffy state, looking just like how Yeonjun loved it. His form began to appear more distinct with every step he took, and Yeonjun found himself subconsciously walking closer, too.
I’m dreaming. This is not real.
When the older male was able to properly make out what was in front of him, his heart stopped beating. His figure wasn’t anything impressive; he’s always had a thinner build, one that would make it hard for you to spot in a crowd.
But Yeonjun could spot him anywhere.
It can’t be. He’s gone. This is a hallucination, it has to be, pleaded Yeonjun to himself as his eyes continued to widen. But with what was standing in front of him, why did he not want to believe himself—not even a little bit?
After what felt like eternity, the mysterious figure finally faded out of the blinding sunset light, slowly easing into his vision. His face became clearer, and so did the rest of him—Yeonjun didn’t dare blink, afraid that this perfect illusion would be broken if he did.
When Beomgyu finally stopped in front of him, a few arm’s length away, he was smiling.
A smile so genuine and serene, like every suffering he’d gone through half of his life was him paying the price of this privileged moment. Suddenly, Yeonjun couldn’t complain about his hardships anymore.
Beomgyu looked older; and perfectly healthy now, the faint pink glow back to his complexion. His eyes were wide open—Yeonjun’s knees trembled as he finally met them—clear and bright as day, like all the possibilities in the world were held within those obsidian orbs, and all Yeonjun had to do was get a look. Perhaps he’d grown a little taller as well, but it was hard for Yeonjun to pinpoint those details when all he’d ever seen of him last was a limp figure chained to a hospital bed.
Yet, the Beomgyu in front of him now looked like what he’d imagine he would be if he got to grow up with him. A little more mature, a little taller, a little more stunning.
It was like he never left.
It was the most beautiful thing Yeonjun ever witnessed in his life—He was the most beautiful thing Yeonjun ever witnessed in his life.
The boy in front of him was the first to break the silence. “Hyung.”
Yeonjun never thought he’d be this easy to wreck, because all it took was hearing his voice again for him to immediately tear up.
The other male, however, was quick to act. Always so quick-witted no matter what, his Beomgyu. Just like how Yeonjun remembered him. “My silly hyung. Don’t cry.” Giggled the younger boy as he stepped closer.
His silly hyung.
Yeonjun almost forgot how to breathe when he was now within reach, a hand lifted to wipe his cheek. “I heard everything.”
It was hard for Yeonjun to recall what he meant by ‘everything’ as he stood there, dumbfounded—did he mean his confession at the hospital? Or all the voicemails? Or everything in between?
Beomgyu didn’t give him time to think before he clarified, voice soft. “I have always heard you. Every single thing you said.” Then, his bright smile dimmed. “Even just now.”
Yeonjun’s heart twisted into a suffocating knot. He knew.
“What were you even saying about me leaving you? I never left, idiot.” Beomgyu kept going in a lightly reprimanding tone, both hands now cupping Yeonjun’s teary face. “I have always been beside you.” He continued in a softer tone, thumbs gently stroking Yeonjun’s cheekbones.
“And Beomgyu will wait for you.”
The older male’s breath hitched at the fond usage of third-person address; almost akin to their secret love language. Even up til now, he couldn’t form a single word. “I’ll wait for as long as it takes. By then, we’ll have the rest of forever to spend together. You won’t be able to leave my side again, you’ll be sick of me.” The younger male tried to throw in a casual banter—one they’d always have—and was instantly relieved when a small smile broke onto Yeonjun’s face.
“So, before then, do me a favour.” And Yeonjun’s smile fell. “Live your life.”
That’s easier said than done, he wanted to retort, yet somehow no words left him. “Live to the fullest you can. Make up for the lost time we spent in that hospital room. Live, as vividly as you could—do it for yourself, but more importantly, do it for me as well.”
If Beomgyu told him to live, Yeonjun was suddenly absolute that it would be the last thing he’d ever do. “If you don’t have a reason to live anymore, live for me. Because when the time comes, you’ll see me again at the gate.” The response to his pledge on his deathbed was now finally given to Yeonjun via a soft voice and a pair of softer eyes.
Beomgyu stared at him with the fondest look in his eyes, like he was his entire world. The him from several years ago would think this was normal between them, but now he knew better—and he immediately recognised that look.
It was the look Yeonjun always had in his eyes whenever he stared at Beomgyu. For the first time in a long time, warmth bloomed across his chest. “This time, I won't go anywhere. I’ll keep our promise.” He whispered as he inched closer to the older male. Yeonjun noticed that he was just the slightest bit taller than him now, when he used to be far ahead of the competition when they were younger.
He wanted to pull him into a hug, but somehow his body refused to move. It took him this long to realise that he was bound under some sort of immobile spell.
However, what happened next didn’t allow him room to complain; because the younger boy had already leaned in to place a gentle kiss on his lips.
It was quick and chaste, and Yeonjun could barely feel more than a comforting tingle—but it was enough. It was more than enough.
When Beomgyu pulled back, Yeonjun would spend the rest of his life remembering the look of pure bliss on his face. “And ask me out properly by then so I could say yes, coward.”
Yeonjun was finally able to blink. He was finally able to move. But when he reached out to pull the boy back in, spilling his heart out with a million things he had yet to say—the male was already gone. In front of him, the sun had already set; leaving the rest of the world in a gloomy navy. Briefly, he glanced at the clock tower; the hands showing 5:54pm.
It had only been one minute.
Yeonjun heaved out a sigh, his knees finally giving in beneath him. He had no energy to keep his body upright anymore, so he let himself plop to the ground, bracing for the impact of the fall.
Except, it never came. What he felt next was a pair of strong, big arms wrapping themselves around his waist—catching him just in time for his head to crash into the softness of familiar thighs.
When he looked up, he was met with wide, concerned eyes belonging to a panicked Soobin. “Hyung, just what in the world were you doing?” He spoke, voice raised in alarm; yet his actions were ever so gentle as he laid Yeonjun’s head in his lap.
“You didn’t sound well when you hung up, and I immediately rushed to look for you. Thank God this place was my first choice.’’ His tone softened, laced with a nurturing edge as he continued to stare holes into Yeonjun’s forehead. Yeonjun could only offer him a weak smile.
“You were crying? I didn’t have a good feeling since yesterday when I saw you stop by at the hospital’s pharmacy and—oh my God, are those Oxycodone and Fentanyl? That’s a deadly combo, and a whole bottle? Hyung, just what were you thinking?” Soobin’s voice began to crack now, panic written all over his face as he grabbed Yeonjun by his shoulders. “Hyung, it can’t be—were you—?”
“I’m sorry.” He managed to croak out, meeting Soobin’s eyes with what he imagined to be guilt on his face, because the younger’s expression softened immediately.
Without a word, Soobin choked back a whimper before scooping the male up into a tight embrace. Yeonjun wordlessly buried his face into his wide shoulders, returning the hug. “It won’t happen again, Soobin. I promise.” Soobin didn’t respond, only continuing to hold him tight.
For the first time in four years, Yeonjun felt comfort.
Beomgyu was right. It was now finally time for him to live the life he’s lost. And he wasn’t going to just do it for himself, or would it just be for Beomgyu; for he had forgotten one important component of the equation. How could he forget, when the male had been nowhere but by his side for the past several years?
He was going to do it for Soobin as well, if that was the only way he could ever repay him for his kindness.
In the shadows, concealed behind the maple tree, Beomgyu’s transparent body stood as he watched, a relieved smile on his face. Live.
So live Yeonjun did.
“Is that the end?” The child asked, stifling a small yawn. Evening was drawing in, and the sky outside their window began to gradually give its light away to darkness.
“Not really, but yes. For a while, he was happy.” Soobin bit back a small smile. We were happy, was what he omitted from the child.
But it was like she knew, because immediately after, she asked. “With you, mister nurse?”
A hint of colour washed over Soobin’s face at being put on the spot; by a somewhat three year old child, no less. “You can say so.”
The child sat up from her sleeping position now, visibly excited. “Then, where is he now?”
The smile on Soobin’s face dimmed. “He’s with his happily ever after.” This made the little girl frown in confusion, like she wasn’t expecting the story to take that turn. “He’s with the angel boy?”
Sighing, Soobin reached in to mess up the girl’s hair. “He’s not just with the angels. He’s now one of them.”
The child shrieked, displeased. “But how?”
Soobin can vividly recall asking himself the same exact question when it just happened. He remembered rushing to the park as soon as he saw the headlines that the alarming rate of autumn wildfire had reached the city. He prayed and prayed that Yeonjun wouldn’t be there as his long legs took him to the location he dreaded, two steps at a time.
Soobin had never run this fast in his life. He was hoping that he’d be proven wrong, and that the older male was just in the shower or something when he didn’t pick up his phone thrice in a row.
He could barely catch his breaths when he finally halted to a stop, holding onto a street light pole to steady himself.
The only thing he saw was red. Red filled his vision. Red was reflected in the panicked gaze of his eyes. Red, angry as it rapidly consumed everything it touched, spreading like a pool of venomous blood. It painted everything crimson—the trees, the grass, the Ferris wheel he saw from afar, the clock tower—as piles of thick, black smoke pummeled into the sky.
Pedestrians were yelling, scattered about as they tried to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the burning park. Soobin was the only person doing the complete opposite.
The scene was awfully horrific, yet nothing felt nearly as terrifying as the way his guts sank into the pit of his stomach.
It was barely dusk, and sunlight was escaping them. Yet, the whole park was set alight, as bright as the sun itself; the wildfire sparing nothing in its destructive wake. As he desperately tried to peek through the gates that were now consumed in flames as well, he prayed and prayed.
Please, do not let him be under that maple tree.
Soobin’s heart almost failed him when he successfully rounded the property, stopping at a spot that earned him a vague view of the giant maple tree inside. Perhaps he should work out more in the future.
Yet, in the next second, all thoughts were wiped clean in his head when he caught sight of a familiar pink-haired male, standing exactly where Soobin wished he wouldn’t be.
There, Yeonjun stood, phone in hand as he stared at Soobin’s last call going straight into his voicemail. How long had it been? Yeonjun was never good at keeping up with the time.
He only remembered coming to the park after finishing his last dance class of his shift at the academy, a guitar strung to his back as he walked the familiar route to his favourite spot. He’d only planned to spend some time in solidarity, playing a song to himself, and maybe watch the sunset for a bit before going out for dinner with Soobin.
It would just be another day.
The date was March 13th. Yeonjun knew that he was not supposed to be so strung up over a simple date, but something inside him nagged. And thus, that something brought him here; under the maple tree where he would always celebrate Beomgyu’s birthday.
It would just be a small revisit of the past. A little walk down memory lane.
Who would know that the memory lane was long gone, now replaced by a destructed trail of vivid flames? Yeonjun’s little walk turned out to be something much more complicated than he’d anticipated it to be.
The fire started at the other end of the park. He had no idea how, nor was he paying attention; Yeonjun was busy learning the finger style to Tori Kelly’s newest song—but when the suffocating smell of smoke reached his nose, he immediately perked up in alarm.
It was a race between him and the fire. It spread so quickly, going from the furthest corners of his periphery to blasting right in his face, just by the time he stood up. In the distance, he watched in shock as it consumed the Ferris wheel—what was once lit by multicoloured fluorescent lights were now glowing in Mother Nature’s signature orange. He was only able to take a few steps when the fire had already reached the clock tower, riling up along the antique concrete walls.
In hindsight, he should have considered not visiting the park when it was the most quiet. As he turned, making a slow spin; he realised that he was, yet again, the only person left in the property. Normally, he’d very much appreciate the sense of privacy that fact gave him—but now? He wasn’t so sure.
It took him a second to finally see the irony. Then, instead of breaking out into paranoia; the male lightly chuckled. He could now see eye to eye with the scene playing out in front of him. He wondered if it was karma.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to Yeonjun that death would knock at his door just when he’d least expect it.
When the time comes. Distantly, a weak voice echoed through his head. Oddly, Yeonjun’s tense shoulders relaxed.
And like clockwork, what Yeonjun expected to see was already there waiting for him.
The next time he turned, he spotted a familiar figure outside the gate—one he’d seen almost every single day for the past five years, one he could recognise him everywhere. He wasn’t able to clearly make out the look on Soobin’s face with the flames dancing between them, but he imagined it’d be his usual panic stricken expression.
For whatever reason, Yeonjun suddenly had the urge to look at the now crumbling clock tower. Just before the hands bursted in fire embers, he was barely able to read the time.
5:53pm—blue hour. The fragment of time between twilight and dusk, the bridge that was neither day nor night; where most supernatural things tend to occur. Yeonjun remembered reading up about this phenomenon during his sleepless nights. It only lasted a minute, and it was said to be a border where all things were possible. If it hadn’t happened to him, Yeonjun would never believe in such absurd myths.
So, he turned the other direction, staring into the once green field that was now a deathly ring of fire. Yeonjun was only hoping with half a heart, but when he blinked next; he spotted exactly what he was looking for.
Who he was looking for.
Stood in the middle of the field as the wild flames licked at their feet, as if unaffected by it all—he stared at him with a smile. Yeonjun smiled back. It was probably the biggest smile that ever marred his face.
Like he wasn’t afraid of anything in the world, the male stepped right into the fire—and closer to the only person he’d ever longed for. When the time comes, a muffled voice echoed in his head. It rang clearer now, and Yeonjun distinctly recognised who it belonged to.
On the other side of the gate, Soobin could only stare in horror as Yeonjun walked straight into the vivid fire, letting it engulf him whole until he was no more. It was the most devastating thing he ever had to witness, his breaths knocked out of his lungs, heart shattering on the floor. Seeing the only male Soobin ever felt anything akin to affection for, turning his back to him after meeting his eyes like it was goodbye—it truly was the most unfair, heartbreaking sight.
Yet, to Yeonjun, it was the most breathtaking thing he could ever hope for. Nothing has ever felt more just. “Are you finally here to pick me up, angel?”
Beomgyu only gave him an amused chuckle. “I didn’t get to set this up, okay.”
To walk straight into his death, welcoming him in the form of black smoke and endless trails of furious flames as the sun died behind them, with the love of his life standing on the other side—Yeonjun couldn’t have asked for better.
Yet what felt like salvation to Yeonjun, was a freefall of descent into despair for Soobin.
He was twenty two. What a poetic way to die.
“Now that is the real, final ending.” Said Soobin, pretending to close a non-existent storybook in his hands. The child pouted, face scrunched up adorably. “So they both left you for their happy ending? Mister nurse, that is so unfair for you!” She petulantly whined, kicking at the sheets. Soobin only laughed as he reached in to stop her.
The laugh died down into a small, empathetic smile that didn’t reach the nurse’s eyes. “It’s okay. I knew my place.” He paused, unsure if he should say the rest. He did anyway. “I knew what I was getting into.”
It was the truth. Yeonjun was the closest thing to a best friend he ever had. Naturally, for his hopeless self, he began to notice things even the older himself didn’t. How bright his smiles were when they weren’t fake. How he would always laugh at his jokes and squeeze his hands whenever he reached for them. How warm his hugs were when they laid in his bed during sleepless nights, Soobin sacrificing his morning shift just so Yeonjun could have a good night’s rest.
To Yeonjun, it was just Soobin being a good friend in his time of need. Naturally, to Soobin, whom has never known what it was like to be so close to someone his entire life; nor had he ever fallen in love—it was something more.
Something more that he knew wouldn’t be reciprocated from the get-go. Yet, still, feelings bloomed inside him. Feelings that were so hopeless as he watched the male he was in love with struggle to open his eyes for another day, longing for someone else that had long departed.
Someone that wasn’t him.
Soobin sometimes cursed at how the world worked in such mysterious, cruel ways. How merciless it was for fate to let them all meet, just for them to end up as broken pawns to a lifelong game of chess.
“Mister nurse, did you like the older boy?” The little girl spoke up. Oh, how a voice so innocent could hold such damage as her words pierced straight through his heart.
The smile on his face turned sorrowful. “Yes. I did.” Do. But it’s no use now. “Did he know?”
Soobin shook his head. “No, he didn’t. We were just friends.” The nurse’s expression was now crestfallen. “At least that’s what it was for him. And I’m fine with just that.”
The little girl pouted again, tiny hands clenched into furious fists. Yet, she didn’t say anything more. “Reality is so bad, I prefer my storybooks.”
This earned a small giggle from the nurse. “If I could say the same, I would too.” He reached in, giving the child a gentle pat on her head. She relished in a satisfied sigh.
He hadn’t paid attention, but something about the girl began to grow more and more familiar to him with each passing second. He was so certain he’d never met a child that looked like her before in the past ten or so years of working at this hospital. So, how?
Standing up, he clapped his hands together in resolution. “Story’s over, let’s take you back to your room. It’s almost dinner time too.” At the mention of time, he turned to glance at the room clock on the adjacent wall.
5:53pm. They had seven minute before he had to be down by the cafeteria for dinner.
Oddly enough, Soobin felt as though something flitted past his eyes in the split second he had blinked. When he looked again, nothing was out of place.
But why did it feel like something shifted? Must be the work fatigue. I should get coffee after this.
Brows furrowed at the sudden bewilderment, Soobin shook his head and tried not to think much of it. He didn’t notice the enigmatic change behind the child’s once innocent face; now staring at him like she saw right through him when he turned to her. Hair rose at the back of Soobin’s neck.
“Soobin hyung, hi.” Spoke the child, in a tone that was still the same high-pitched voice; yet something about it now was laced with a completely different edge. It took the nurse a moment of realisation to notice the oddest thing out of it all.
She had called him hyung.
Soobin attempted to open his mouth, raising a question. Yet, no words made their way past. “I never got to talk to you. Or say hi, or thank you.” The child continued, regarding him with an unreadable smile and an even more unreadable gaze.
Soobin was rooted to his standing position by the bed as he just continued to stare in shock. “It’s been so long, how have you been? I owe you so much, but we never even got to be friends.” The child sighed, reaching for a couple origami hearts scattered around her. “It feels weird to be here again. Ah, these—I can finally see them. Yeonjun hyung didn’t lie when he said he folded 1313.”
At that moment, Soobin finally realised who the person currently inside that child was.
So you really sent her into my path. As a sign.
“Please don’t freak out, it will be over in a minute. Well, not really, since I’m stopping time right now. Which is why you can’t move.” The child—Beomgyu—reassured him. Soobin was still shocked out of his mind, but with his entire body stuck under a spell, there wasn’t much of a choice left for him, was there?
“I just want to say thank you so much for taking care of him—and me, when I wasn’t able to. For showing him the part of his life he’s missed. It was my last birthday wish that day; for him to live to the fullest and be happy. Even though it’d be without me.” The little girl sighed then, putting the origami hearts back.
“When I was laying here, I heard everything he said. He tried to hide it from me, but I knew how difficult it was getting for him to go through each day. I swore to myself that as soon as I’m able to speak again, the first thing I’d do is tell him to live on.”
There was a heartbeat of silence as she paused, staring at her lap. “He wanted me to come by and properly thank you. He saw how miserable you were when he left—we both did. He said he doesn’t want you to live through the grief the same way he did, you know? And that if there was a way to give you the closure you needed in order to properly close off this chapter of your life, he’d do anything. But I told him to let me do it, because I wanted to get a chance to finally talk to you.” She flashed him another small smile, before reaching from her position on the bed to hold Soobin’s hand. Her tiny fingers only wrapped around the nurse’s pinky, yet she held on tight.
“You are such an amazing person, hyung. There’s so much out there that you deserve to see. So much you deserve to experience. You lost your teenagehood to us once; don’t lose your adulthood to us again.” The child let out an exhale before staring off into the opposite wall. Seeing a tiny child act so mature was truly a jarring sight. “I never knew what it was like to have a chance to live, so would it be selfish to ask you to do it? Although we’re not close, you took great care of me.”
A pause, then, “I would like you to do the same now, for yourself.”
Soobin remained silent. He noticed how the minute hand of the clock had begun moving again, although agonisingly slowly. Their time was about to be up. “Hyung, you deserve someone who looks at you the way you looked at him, when he was busy looking at me.”
The male’s heart immediately broke in his chest. He knew.
“It’s been three years since he left, and six since I did. It’s time to give us a proper send-off and let us go now, so you can actually live the rest of your life.”
The minute hand on the wall picked up its pace, almost returning back to normal. Outside the window, the faintest hint of colour began to fade from the sky. “They say when you love someone, sometimes the best thing you can do is let them go.”
Soobin gulped, breath caught in his throat; eyelashes rapidly fluttering.
“You can let us go now. Thank you so much for everything.”
When the nurse was able to move in his body again, and as the look of childlike innocence began to ease back into the little girl’s face, Soobin finally realised something he hadn’t before.
Maybe that was why the child felt so familiar to him, especially those wide doe eyes that were clear as day—because some years ago, he used to spend every single day of his time around them.
Except he just never saw them opened.
The little girl excitedly hopped off the bed now, clinging onto his arm as they were about to leave the room. “I forgot to ask,” Soobin spoke up, halting in his tracks. “What’s your name, little one?”
The child blinked up at him. “Choi.” She said rather cryptically. Soobin’s brow raised. “And first name?”
A light giggle. “Haneul!” The sky. Of course.
Some moments later, as they exited the room and walked down the hall, Soobin’s phone vibrated in his coat pocket.
Soobin swiftly picked up. “Hello, Jin-hyung?”
“Hey, Soobin. We have a new patient, but the pediatric wing is full. There’s no more room here, can you find one that’s available? Right now? It’s kind of urgent.” Soobin stopped walking, phone pressed to his ear before he turned back to look at the door he’d just closed.
You can let us go now.
“There’s one, actually.” He responded, eyes still trained to the room number labeled on top of the sliding door.
“Perfect, what’s the room number?” A split second of silence, before the nurse finally answered with newfound resolution. “553.”
“But—” said the voice on the other end of the line, hesitant. Soobin could only offer him a dry chuckle. “It’s okay, hyung. It’s been years, it’s about time.” With a deep breath, he continued. “Tell the guys to come clear the room.”
He could almost envision his colleague’s furrowed brows as he took a moment to respond. “Okay, if you say so.” Then, the line ended.
As Soobin and the child rounded the corner of the main hall, two transparent figures stood, unnoticed by the rest of the world—hands entwined, smiles on their faces as they watched the retreating back of their favourite nurse shrink into the far distance.