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Kim Taehyung knows he is not what most people call “normal.”

 

He knows that he’s awkward, and loud, and has edges that never quite seem to fit in the grand puzzle of life.

(Or at least that’s the metaphor he uses, as his psychiatrist makes concerned faces at him and scribbles on her notepad. He wonders if she ever gets bored of taking notes and doodles instead. He wonders if she’s ever drawn Taehyung, or if she’s ever wanted to. If anyone will ever want to.)

Taehyung knows he’s not like everyone else, and while he’s been told multiple times—“Oh, baby,” his mother says, gathering a wretchedly sobbing Taehyung, who’s soaked through from when those assholes in his class dumped a bucket of collected rainwater over him—that people get unsettled when someone is too different, he still doesn’t understand.

He understands, and he doesn’t understand, and so most of the time he tries not to think about it.

It doesn’t matter, though, not when he can still see that glint of uneasiness in the other trainees’ eyes, can hear them whispering about him when they think he can’t hear.

In many ways, it makes joining Bangtan one of the easiest things he’s ever done. The other members grow used to his presence and mannerisms, and the company slaps the label of “4D” on him like a protective shield.

It’s fine, it’s fine, Taehyung can be…Taehyung. And it’s all good and fun, because he’s the group’s “alien,” it’s his job to be eccentric.

And if only the members know what Taehyung’s really like, when he’s cut off from all the cameras and lights and questions, when he can sag, exhausted, into his bed and forget the shadows in his mind because he’s too damn tired—it’s okay.

 

Taehyung’s never been “normal” anyway.

 

---

 

None of them knew, when Taehyung joined Bangtan, why he did the things he did. There was nothing too noticeable—Taehyung had learned, by then, that the best strategy was to avoid talking, avoid looking, avoid existing, to just throw his everything into practicing and it would be fine, no one would stare at him or whisper mean things about him or shove him onto the floor and drive kicks into his ribs until he nearly passed out—but still there was always…something.

A little too long spent staring off into the distance with something akin to fear in his eyes.

Covering his ears when there was hardly any noise at all.

Flinching away from any touch or skinship, resisting all attempts to draw him in.

It was like Taehyung wanted to purposely alienate himself, and after too many aborted tries at bringing him closer, the others let it be.

Taehyung was different, maybe a little off or quirky or strange, but—“Maybe he’s just shy,” Hoseok murmurs, he and Namjoon sitting against the wall to try and catch their breath, watching Taehyung look like he’s trying to press himself through the practice room mirror, “You know, like VIXX Leo-sunbaenim.”

Namjoon shrugs. “As long as he at least tries to be a little more engaged when we debut,” he mumbles, more worried than upset, “We can’t have a member who only opens his mouth to sing.”

 

---

 

Jimin comes like a blessing.

Jimin is loud, and cheerful, and eager-to-please, and he immediately attaches himself to a startled and helplessly confused Taehyung.

“You’re Taehyung, right?” Jimin asks breathlessly, crashing to the floor beside him as soon as the dance teacher announces a 5-minute break, “I’m Jimin. You know we were born in the same year, right? We should be friends!”

Taehyung is quiet, though the smile doesn’t fall from Jimin’s face until he hears the other whisper, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

One thing Taehyung quickly learns about Jimin is that he’s stubborn as fuck, and in the end it’s what draws them together into this wonderfully chaotic friendship.

“Of course it is!” Jimin’s shoulder-nudge is a little too forceful, and Taehyung’s head gets knocked into the mirror.

“Ow, fuck—” “Oh my god, I’m so sorry—Jesus, I didn’t mean to—I mean, uh, are you okay, Taetae?”

Taehyung squints up at a too-close, intensely worried Jimin, his ears ringing a little.

“Taetae?”

A flash of insecurity flickers over Jimin’s face before it’s replaced with a small, hopeful smile.

“Yeah, Taetae,” he nods, “It’ll be, like, my nickname for you. And you can call me Jiminnie, or Minnie—whichever you prefer—and then we’ll be Jiminnie and Taetae, and we’ll get into all sorts of trouble together. Like Batman and Robin.”

Jimin’s smile is blinding. “Aren’t Batman and Robin the good guys?” Taehyung retorts, before he can stop himself.

Jimin laughs, and it’s the best fucking thing Taehyung’s ever heard.

 

---

 

And Taehyung still isn’t sure when this tiny bubble world he and Jimin created for themselves—“Bubble world?” Jimin scrunches his nose. Taehyung nods. “Yeah. It’s floaty and nice and nothing can hurt me.” He doesn’t know what makes Jimin look sad—grew to include Hoseok.

Not that he’s complaining, because he is definitely not complaining.

Plus, it works.

(“It works?” Hoseok asks, confused. Taehyung nods sagely. “It works,” he explains, “This way we’re all divided nicely. I get you and Jiminnie, and Namjoon-hyung and Seokjin-hyung can keep fucking each other, and Yoongi-hyung doesn’t want anyone anyway, and Jungkookie’s a baby.” “Wait—” Hoseok’s eyes are comically huge, “—since when are Namjoon and Seokjin-hyung—”)

And Taehyung trusts Jimin and Hoseok more than anyone else in the whole wide world, trusts them to protect him from the bad things.

Jungkook’s slowly working his way up to that level, but he’s still got a way to go (that, and Hoseok still doesn’t trust him completely). It’s strange, because Taehyung likes Jungkook, but he can’t help but feel a little pleased when he remembers how furious Hoseok had looked, seeming to tower over Jungkook as Jimin let a shuddering, panicking Taehyung cling to him.

Because sometimes Taehyung has a hard time with telling when things are real or not.

Jimin and Hoseok know this, Bangtan knows this, the company knows this, the little pill bottles in the lockbox kept safe by the managers knows this.

His psychiatrist and the diagnosis sheet spelling “schizophrenia” in a thousand technicalities know it.

But Jungkook didn’t. Not at first.

 

(“Kookie,” Taehyung’s voice is hardly more than a hoarse whisper, but he knows Jungkook hears him because the maknae swears and jumps about a foot in the air in surprise, whirling around to stare at Taehyung, who’s pressed into the corner, because “Jesus Christ, hyung, it’s four in the morning, what—”

“Jungkookie,” Taehyung whimpers, and Jungkook raises an eyebrow in acknowledgment, “the scary man…he’s not real, right?”

Jungkook follows Taehyung’s pointing finger to the opposite corner. There’s nothing.

Jungkook huffs in laughter. “Hyung, quit playing around,” he rolls his eyes, “You don’t even like scary movies, stop trying to scare—” “Jungkook he’s not real, right?” Taehyung’s voice is pitched and thin, and his eyes are wide and glimmering, almost manic.

Jungkook frowns, uncomprehending, and then, figuring his hyung is just in one of those moods when he wants to play a game no one else understands, proceeds to do the worst thing possible: play along.

“Oh my god, hyung,” he gasps in mock-terror, scrambling back and dramatically clutching his chest, staring in feigned fear at the empty corner, “Holy shit, what is that? Oh, oh god is it—is it getting closer?”

If Jungkook can hear Taehyung’s breathing accelerating rapidly, or the quiet whimpers of sheer terror falling from his lips, he gives no indication of it, and Taehyung is absolutely panicked because no no no, Jungkook can’t be seeing it too because that means it’s real and it can’t be real please please please—

Taehyung’s head is between his knees but that doesn’t mean his scream—an animalistic, half-sobbed shriek—doesn’t reverberate through the dorm, the hairs on Jungkook’s neck standing on end.

He doesn’t understand, what’s going on and why is Taehyung making that horribly keening noise—?

Hoseok barrels out of the bedroom like it’s on fire, Seokjin hot on his heels, followed quickly by Namjoon and Jimin—and it might be funny how they fight to get out of the door at the same time, if their faces weren’t blown open in panic—and then Yoongi, stumbling and haggard but very much awake and worried.

It takes Hoseok all of two seconds to take in the scene, Jungkook pressed against the counter looking scared and utterly baffled, and Taehyung in the corner, sobbing horribly and rocking back and forth, before he’s sliding to his knees and instantly enfolding Taehyung in his arms; Taehyung, who makes an awful gasping, wailing noise and clings to Hoseok, nails digging into his skin.

“What happened?” Seokjin demands, looking for all the world as confused as Jungkook feels. Jungkook shrugs, wordless, at a loss. Jimin has taken up residence on Taehyung’s other side, sandwiching him against Hoseok, and both of them are murmuring gently, softly under their breaths, hands roving over Taehyung’s shuddering body in soothing strokes.

“H-H-Hyu-uunnng,” Taehyung wails, wretched, even as Hoseok tries to shush him, calm him, “h-h-h-hyung, h-he s-s-aid—Ju-ungk-kookie s-said—”

“Hey, breathe,” Hoseok’s voice is firm and comforting at the same time, his hands gripping Taehyung’s trembling biceps, “You need to breathe, Taehyung, okay? Breathe, you’re gonna hyperventilate—breathe with Jimin and me. In…out…in…out…there you are, that’s good, in…out…”

Jungkook doesn’t know how long they all stand there, watching, but his feet feel like they’ve gone numb by the time Taehyung croaks, “J-Jungkookie s-s-said he w-was re-real, hyung, d-don’t l-let him b-b-be real,” and all of a sudden Jungkook gets the sinking feeling he’s messed up horribly.

“Jimin,” Hoseok’s voice is even and hard, and even Yoongi looks wary, “Take Taehyung into the bedroom. The rest of you can go as well—except you, hyung; I might need you to step in.”

The others slowly vacate the room, throwing concerned glances over their shoulders.

 Jungkook only has time to wonder at how tight the line of Seokjin’s shoulders are—like they get when he’s really stressed—before he’s being slammed up against the refrigerator by 59kg of furious Jung Hoseok.

Jungkook has never seen Hoseok angry before, and he’s positively certain that he never wants to, ever again.

“Jeon Jungkook,” Hoseok’s voice is an angry hiss, “What the fuck—why the fuck would you—how fucking dare you!”

Jungkook can’t help it, and bursts into tears. He feels more than sees Seokjin remove Hoseok’s fingers from the front of his shirt.

“I don’t know what I did wrong!” Jungkook sniffles, “I-I don’t understand! I thought he was just playing around—”

The thing about Jung Hoseok is that when he’s serious, it’s in everyone’s best interest to listen, and Jungkook is sure he’ll never forget the royal chewing-out he receives, or the vaguely murderous glint in Hoseok’s eye.)

 

(Taehyung forgives him, because Taehyung is too nice, but Jungkook knows that Hoseok’s still wary of him. Honestly, Jungkook doesn’t really blame him)

 

---

 

Jimin is still so wonderful, and Taehyung is sure he doesn’t appreciate him enough.

He just never seems to have the right words, at the right time, and so he just kind of hopes that Jimin knows

Jimin slams his hips back down onto Taehyung, moaning sweetly, and Taehyung doesn’t know what it is but all of a sudden it’s too much, he can’t think and everything is scrambled, like he’s caught up in a riptide and there’s a roaring of whispers in his ears—

“Taetae, baby,” Jimin whispers against his sweaty temple and Taehyung starts, wheezing into Jimin’s neck. He doesn’t remember when they moved, but now they’re curled up face-to-face and Jimin’s murmuring all sorts of soothing things, and not even seeming upset about the fact that Taehyung’s episode has just interrupted them fucking

“I love you,” Taehyung gasps, surging up to claim Jimin’s lips, “I love you, I love you, you’re so—Jimin—I love you, thank you, thank you, thank you—”

“Shh,” Jimin pets through his hair, indulging Taehung’s frantic kisses, “I know, I know.”