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A congregation of butterflies

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He stands naked from waist up in their cold, too-tiny bathroom. The door is locked with its little jimmy latch that honestly is open-able from the outside if you jiggle the doorknob till the door slips open, and then slide your hand inwards and upwards. Yoongi doesn’t care. Or more like he isn’t in the right state of mind to care. 

There are only the two kids at home, eyes fixated on TV, and here is Yoongi, eyes fixated on himself. 

He’s looking at himself in the mirror, counting the bumps of each rib and panicking when he reaches the end and his fingers slip down onto smooth skin. He’s no Jimin. He knows that. He’s always known that. But reason wars with fear and all he can see in the mirror are the marks of imperfections and then the stark red lines of perfection.

They’re beautiful, a row of poppies in snow.

No. No. No. He’s not supposed to think of cutting. Butterflies. That’s what he’s got to think about. Butterflies and drawing and not blood and blades and cutting and-

 

Jimin had first discovered Yoongi’s bad habit shortly after they were finalized for Bangtan Sonyeondan. He had stumbled into the bathroom late one night, rubbing at sleepy eyes, but having had spent the whole day dancing and inhaling liquids, was in dire need for the toilet.   

The sight behind the closed door however had wiped away all feelings of tiredness and bladder needs.

Yoongi, leaning against the bathroom wall, eyes closed with pleasure or pain, Jimin hadn’t been able to decide. Lips as thin and red as the lines embedded in the crook of his elbow.

Jimin had inhaled sharply, an involuntary action. It was a muted sound but enough to alert Yoongi and he had snapped his eyes open, the glazed expression focusing with fear.

“Ji…min…” he had croaked, and dropped the blade to the bathroom floor. It clattered, the sound amplified in the silence that had reigned. Jimin had flinched and stumbled backwards, heart and hands floundering.

“Don’t go!” Yoongi barked, voice steadier than before, effectively stopping Jimin in his tracks.

“What are you doing hyung?” Jimin had whispered, unable to draw his eyes away from the thin veil of red on one side of the tiny razor. He had only known Yoongi for a few months but everything he thought he had known about the elder had never pointed to these silent tendencies and midnight secrecies.

“It’s…it’s not what you think,” Yoongi had rasped, trying to kick the blade underneath the carpet as he got to his knees. As if that would change a thing.

Jimin had swallowed hard and tried to coerce his stormy thoughts into coherent words. “Why are you doing this?” he had managed.

Yoongi had dropped his head between his hands, his elbows creasing with the movements and a wave of pleasure-pain had rippled up his nerves. “I don’t know,” Yoongi had whispered harshly, trying to shut out everything. Jimin, the blade, the desire to pick it back up and cut it all away. “I just can’t help it.”

His words had been small, lost in the tiny bathroom that had suddenly felt a thousand times bigger, a gaping maw that grew and stretched in the distance between the two of them.

Jimin had wanted to rectify that.

He had glanced behind him, ears pricking at the unnerving quietness of the dorm. Everyone was deep in slumber. He closed it to a crack, and then crossed the distance between him and Yoongi in one stride. 

Yoongi had watched as Jimin slowly took one of Yoongi’s hands between his warm clasp. In contrast, Yoongi’s skin had felt like ice.

Jimin had turned over Yoongi’s palm with such gentleness that Yoongi hadn’t known Jimin capable of, and he had pulled his hand forwards, stretching and baring the wounded arm. Blood had smeared over the expanse of his forearm, starkly red against Yoongi’s white.

Jimin turned on the tap with his spare hand and the sound of rushing water filled their tiny cove. Gently, with a trembling hand, he dabbed at the blood with dampened toilet paper. The touch of the sodden mess had made Yoongi want to hiss, but he clenched his teeth and held it back.

He didn’t need Jimin feeling guilty where it wasn’t his fault.

So he sat and watched with a tight jaw as Jimin slowly wiped away the blood, periodically chucking a redden clump into the toilet paper and then wetting another few sheets.

One cut.

Two cut.

Three wipes better.

All clean, Jimin stuck a plethora of plasters over each cut and pressed down on the flush handle. Yoongi eyed them with suspicion. Half of them would probably fall off through the course of the night, and the other half Yoongi would have to take off come tomorrow morn to avoid further suspicion, but for now he’d received Jimin’s quiet attention.

Done, Jimin had lifted Yoongi’s cold hand to his cheek and held it there. “Please don’t do this again hyung,” he had begged, eyes closed as if trying to erase the scores of red that were imprinted to the back his eyelid. “Please don’t hurt yourself anymore Yoongi-hyung.”

Yoongi didn’t dare say a word then. He had just reached for the blade and quietly pocked it.

Any promises he would make would just be a lie.

 

Yoongi’s breathing hard, chest rising and falling radically and he’s so short on breath that he wonders if he’s going to pass out right here and now, his body tipping forwards and his head cracking against the basin. He’d slip to the floor and blood would seep out and in between the lines of the floor tiles.

It’s a beautiful thought.

Butterflies, crimson red, fluttering away with the wind.

No. No. No!

Yoongi grasps the black marker that he’s stashed in the cupboard under the sink and practically yanks off the cap. It goes flying and tumbling to the floor. He draws the first butterfly on the underside of his wrist. The simple hourglass figure that Jimin came up with.  A line down for the body. Two lines upwards for the antenna.

It’s not enough.

Red lurks at the recesses of Yoongi’s mind and he draws another butterfly a space down. And another. And another.

They line up, streaks of black, and in his fogged mind they waver and overlap.

He begins to run out of space, the butterflies fluttering closer and closer to his cuts, old and scabbed over. The marker bumps as goes over the first ridge, and there’s a strange sensation of almost…pleasure... at the pressure exerted by the marker tip

Yoongi groans as his brain slips.

No. Focus Min Yoongi. Draw the butterflies. Make the pain go away. Don’t think about hurting yourself.

He starts drawing on the other arm, uneven butterflies with lopsided wings. His mind wanders and he thinks of the new track he was making earlier that day after dance practice when he had slipped up for the sixth time and needed the refuge of cool leather and keys beneath his fingers. Everyone had been tired and frustrated, and even though they had said nothing, he could feel it in the air. See it in their eyes. Namjoon had finally called it quits after an hour, but Yoongi had seen it. Disappointment in all its densely clouded grey.

His track had reflected that, a deep heavy bass that felt like the dropping of a stone to the bottom of a lake. A softer, barely perceptible note in the background, almost drowned out by the sheer shake of the track.

Yoongi had pressed the save button and practically fled, even before the computer had finished shutting down.

 

Jimin had been the one to suggest it.

“It’s called The Butterfly Project,” he had said one day when it was only the two of them lounging in their dorm’s tiny living room, his feet slung over the arm of the sofa and an iPad in his lap.

“The what?” Yoongi had been caught off guard.

“The Butterfly Project,” Jimin repeated, one finger sliding down the screen. “Or the Butterfly Effect.”

Yoongi made a sound of assent through the noodles he was slurping. “Mm okay,” he mumbled. “And what does it do?”

It was just the two of them in the dorm, left alone to whatever devices they so wished to follow. It was a free day off and apparently everyone else had decided they had better things to do than wake Yoongi and Jimin up.

“They say every time you feel like cutting yourself, draw a butterfly instead,” Jimin explains. “Then you’re not allowed to wash to it off. And for as long as the butterfly stays there you can’t cut. If you do, the butterfly dies.”

Yoongi had snorted into the soup. “Really?”

Jimin frowned at him. “Hyung, take this seriously. It’s a really good idea.”

Yoongi dropped his chopsticks as he declared, “I can’t even draw.”

Jimin placed down his iPad and scooted over to the dining table, nudging Yoongi to one side. “It doesn’t have to be a good butterfly hyung,” he said amicably. He had reached for a loose piece of scrap paper and a spare pen, tugging them close to the two of them. “It’s just a metaphor anyway.”

Yoongi had watched as Jimin tried to scribble out a butterfly, frowning and biting at his lower lip as it hadn’t worked out. "Hmm, you could draw a line here, then um, the wings, and um.” He tried another butterfly, crossing it out when it didn’t so much as resemble anything with wings.

Yoongi had taken another bite of his noodles, letting the idea simmer, before reaching over and placing his hand over Jimin’s. “Simplify it,” he had suggested, leading Jimin’s hand and scrawling down a passable butterfly.

He had used Jimin’s nightmarish attempt as a basis. An hourglass turned on its side, the wings straight and angular. One line down the middle that was the abdomen. And sprouting from the top, two tiny lines for the antenna.

“How’s that?” he had said, doubting himself the minute he pulled the pen away. It was in no way artistic, but there was some resemblance. Or so Yoongi hoped.

He had turned to look at Jimin, to assuage his reaction.

To his surprise Jimin had looked ecstatic. “This is brilliant hyung! Really cool!”

“Yeah?” Yoongi had mumbled and returned to his noodles to hide whatever expression he had been making.

“Why don’t we try it out now?” Jimin had suggested and grabbed for a large black marker sitting in the pen jar. He had taken Yoongi’s non-dominant hand and pushed up the sleeve of his baggy sweatshirt.

Yoongi had frozen, half expecting one of the five other boys to burst in and see everything, for his secret to be exposed in the harshest of ways.

But nothing had happened. No lightning strike. No meteor fall. Just Jimin, uncapping a pen and replicating the design onto Yoongi’s skin, brow furrowed and bottom lip caught between teeth as he focuses. 

“How’s that?” he had asked, pulling back after nearly a minute of solid lines. Yoongi had examined the tiny thing, around three fingers wide and with lines so thick it’d probably take a solid week before it would vanish of its own accord.

It was wobbly and skewed, but it was a butterfly, and it had Jimin’s heart and soul embedded in each shaky line.

“You can’t wash this off now, okay?” Jimin had said with a smile on his face. “And then you can’t cut yourself again, okay?”

Yoongi had sighed and yanked down his sleeve, leaning over instead to finish his noodles.

But when Jimin had pouted and tugged at Yoongi’s shirt, Yoongi had rolled his eyes and offered the remains of his noodles to Jimin.

“Alright Jiminnie,” he had said in a low voice, and Jimin had grabbed the bowl and the chopsticks and beamed.

 

The water runs hot behind him in the shower, steam billowing in the air. Yoongi sucks down the moisture and feels it swirl, clinging to his throat. Everything is sticky and hot and it’s hard to breathe. The marker in his hand slides and the butterfly he is drawing on his right bicep slips, a long black line streaking down sweaty skin.

He stares at it and it looks so much like one of his scars scabbed over that he swallows involuntarily. The spit slides down his throat heavy as lead.

Jimin had taken away his razor after the first time he had caught Yoongi cutting, only giving it back to him when he needed to shave, which honestly wasn’t often, and even then, only when he was around to watch Yoongi shave.

But Jimin can’t confiscate the other razors and Yoongi knows that out of everyone in the dorm Taehyung and Seokjin have the sharpest blades.

He licks his lips as he imagines the first slice.

The marker falls to the floor and somehow Yoongi is already on his knees, a blade in his hand.

He can barely see himself in the mirror, so fogged up as it is. But he likes it that way. Not having to see himself. The disappointment in his eyes. The sag at the corners of his mouth. The block in his mind that refuses to let the beats out. The legs that give way when he needs them the most.

Blood. Butterflies. Blades. Let it all fly away.

 

The first time Yoongi had been tempted to cut after Jimin had first laid out his idea, his hands had gone to the blade without even thinking. He had lifted it, deliciously cool under his thumb, and his fingers had pushed back the fabric of his three-quarter sleeves that hid the plethora of cuts at his elbow.

His chest rose and fell rapidly as he brought the blade down onto flesh and bone. The tantalizing touch, the gentle caress.

All he had to do was apply a little pressure.

But then as he bent over, the sleeve of his right arm had rucked up and the faint fade of the butterfly Jimin had drawn there, just three days prior, had come into view.  

Yoongi had swallowed hard and stared, blacked lines that cut through the fog.

“What’s that hyung?” Taehyung had asked earlier that day, seeing the peep of the antenna from underneath his sleeve. He had grabbed for Yoongi’s arm, but Yoongi had swerved and only just avoided at the last minute.

“It’s just Jimin playing around,” Yoongi had said roughly, his hand pushing down his sleeves as far as they would go.

“Eh?” Taehyung had whined. “You never let me play with you.”

“I was sleeping,” Yoongi had lied, and then spied a spare hoodie. For good measure he had slipped it on in case Taehyung was tempted to sneak another look.

And because of that Yoongi had forgotten that the mark was there. But he sees it now, three days faded and all artistic ability shot to hell.

He faltered. 

If you cut, the butterfly dies, Jimin had said.

Rather than butterflies, Yoongi feels like Jimin might die. So he had forced himself to take the blade and put it back in the bathroom cupboard. His hands had been shaking like some sort of withdrawal druggie, but he had told himself to be strong, to close the door and his eyes and think of anything but the pumping blood beneath the butterfly and his veins.

He threw open the bathroom door and Jimin had been there, head tilted, eyes puzzled.

“Weren’t you going to have a shower hyung?” he asked, and Yoongi had stumbled forwards into him, his hands going to Jimin’s shirt and gripping the material there.

“Hyung?” Jimin had whispered into his ear, one hand coming up to Yoongi’s back and grounding him there. “Are you okay?”

Yoongi shook his head.

Jimin’s breath had hitched, and his hand had gone to Yoongi’s sleeves, pushing them back. He made a noise of surprise when he saw nothing.

“You didn’t cut yourself hyung?”

Yoongi had shaken his head again.

“Was it because of the butterfly?”

Yoongi shook his head a third time, unwilling to answer Jimin. Jimin let it go and just stood there, rubbing soothing circles into his back, confused, but accepting that Yoongi could not produce an answer just yet.

It wasn't because of the butterfly, Yoongi had wanted to say. It was because of you.

 

Now Yoongi presses the tip of his thumb to the blade and it pricks deliciously, blood welling up immediately. It must be a new blade.

Yoongi tries not to think of how disappointed Jimin will be. But the kid is still at the practice studio, dancing his heart out. And here is Yoongi, giving in the weight of his heart.

Jimin will be so, so disappointed.

Butterflies. He’s got to make sure Jimin doesn’t get disappointed.

The blade sinks into skin and Yoongi draws it upwards, the first thin, light slice. And then up, and down, and up again. A perfect triangular hourglass.

A line down the center.

Two lines at the top.

Jimin would be so proud.

He traces another one, digging in deeper. Sweat beads out on Yoongi’s temples and drips down. His tongue swipes out and catches it, salty to taste. He swallows hard and watches the butterfly bleed as he grips his balls his hand into a fist.

Again he cuts and a dizzy wave rushes through him, euphoric.   

But it’s not enough. Not big enough. Not large enough to carry the weight of all his pain on its fragile wings.

Yoongi trembles with realization, and the grip on the blade grows tighter. He needs a bigger canvas. A bigger stage. Yoongi stands and stares right into the mirror, right at his new canvas.

It’s always been about the big picture.

Jimin had grown distant in the upcoming months to debut. He’s obsessed with training, with perfecting his image before it would be revealed to the public. When he wasn’t in the practice room going over their moves again and again, he was in the gym working out. When he wasn’t at home sleeping, he was in front of a mirror practicing his facial expressions.

Yoongi hadn’t wanted to admit it but he had missed the younger boy at his side.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand why Jimin was acting as he did, because Yoongi was doing the same. Just in different ways. When they didn’t have mandatory practice, he was in the studio, changing beats and adding in bars, shifting them back and forth and adding on layers. There’d be days when he would think one chord was perfect and his heart would leap every time he played the track back. And then the next it would be absolute rubbish and he would delete it without a second thought.

They weren’t songs for their debut album – those had already been finalized, and as much as Yoongi’s fingers were twitching to edit them one last time, management had expressively forbidden him from touching them so he had had to let those sleeping dogs lie – but these were potential songs for their next album, and they had to be a step above whatever they’re releasing in three months’ time.

“How’s it going?” Namjoon asked as he sank into the chair next to Yoongi, groaning as his spine cracked.

“Same old,” Yoongi had muttered, clicking the mouse furiously as he dragged and dropped several chords into the bin.

Namjoon had raised an eyebrow to the screen. “I thought you liked that section?”

“Not anymore,” Yoongi replied in a near growl. There was something building under his skin, fire and ice and snakes, all smooth and scaly and they were slithering around the traceries of his veins. He wanted to pluck them out, extract them, anything to get rid of the itchy sensation. It felt like there was something foreign in his body, circulating and parasitizing on his system.

“You okay?” Namjoon leaned over. Yoongi had been scratching at his arms without realizing it, the sleeves rucking up, almost to a dangerous point.

“I’m fine,” he had said roughly, standing abruptly and closing down the whole file without saving it. “I’m going to go take a shower.”

Namjoon had watched him go with an unnerved look. “O-kay,” he had said in an unsure tone and watched as Yoongi had flung over the studio door, so forcefully that it had collided with the wall, making Namjoon wince at the thought of paint chips and angry managers scolding.  

When Yoongi had gone, Namjoon had clicked open the file again. The song was short, incomplete, and only had a few base layers. But it was tough and gritty and it sounded like despair and terror all wrapped up into one chaotic clash, the dissonance of the beats, the rough heavy drum of the background. It sounded like Yoongi was simultaneously shouting and crying out at the world, and as the track wound to a halt, Namjoon felt like he had just walked through a storm and barely come out alive.

 

And here was Yoongi now, in the bathroom, blade in hand, skin peppered with fresh black lines and red scores. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

He lifts the blade to just above his breast bone, and almost reverently brings it in close. One long swift line downwards, then upwards, a diagonal shift here. Repeat again. It bites in deeply and Yoongi relishes in the claws. The snakes are let loose. The fire extinguished. The ice thawed.

Done, he sways.

Yoongi feels weak, too weak to hold onto the blade. He lets the strength in his wrist fade and the blade clatters to the floor, red at the tips, smears on the tiles. He staggers forwards half a step and his hands are on the mirror, sliding and wiping away the steam.

He stares at his reflection with a half wondrous smile plastered on his lips.

It’s beautiful. A butterfly red as crimson, cut and drawn all the way up his arms, and the final flourish etched into his chest. 

He traces its outline in the mirror and watches as the fog slowly creeps back in, swallowing away his image and erasing it to a faint ghostly smear. His fingers run over and over the reflection again so that his body is mist, but the butterfly lines stand out starkly.

His mouth twitches as he watches the two images overlap, the one on the mirror and the one on his chest.

There’s a smile on his face, drugged and beatific, and the next he knows he is on the floor and the fog creeps in until the world is nothing but a dizzy whiteness and a red smiling smear.