Jiseok doesn’t know where his feet are taking him. Sometimes because his body has been on autopilot for so long, he has difficulty inhabiting it, really living in it. When he manages to get a few minutes to himself, to stop and breathe, he's vaguely aware of his body as a constellation of bones, muscles and skin, small parts which keep the machinery of him moving. Most of the time, he doesn't think of his hands and feet except as tools to get things done, to take care of his mom.
“Chief?” he hears a familiar voice behind him and he turns, squinting at the figure before him. At first, he thinks it’s a figment of his imagination. Since when had Newbie become blurry? He realizes then with a start that his face is wet. He reaches up to touch his cheeks and his hands come away with saltwater on his fingertips. Are there tears on his face? He doesn’t know how they got there. Or maybe it’s rain. Wait, how long has it been raining? The last thing he remembers is hearing something upsetting at his mom’s hospital and leaving but he can’t even recall what the words were.
“Chief?” he hears the voice again, this time a lot closer and more urgent, said in that tone of voice that’s undeniably Newbie. It’s then that he realizes that it’s her in the flesh, real and right in front of him, not just something that his water-soaked imagination has made up.
He hastily scrubs the tears, rainwater or whatever it is off his face. “Oh. OH? Newbie?”
Then she’s there right beside him, offering him an umbrella, no, holding one over his head. Both their heads. He can see her right there, worried eyes scrutinizing his face and something like relief courses through him. “Chief, didn’t you hear me calling you? What are you doing in the rain? Let me take you home.”
He shakes his head. “No, no. I’m fine.”
“Chief, you’re soaked! And you’re shivering. You must be cold.”
Now that she points it out, he notices that his limbs are trembling. “Cold?” he asks, like it’s a foreign word. “I’m not cold.”
She sighs then. “I’m hungry. Let’s go to the best place in Seoul to eat instant noodles. Hurry, Chief,” she presses like there’s something urgent, because there always is with her, her life is a state of emergency.
And so they take the subway back to her place. He’s so out of it that he doesn’t remember most of the journey. But that’s the thing about Newbie that he knows he can always rely on - her spatial awareness of the subway astounds him. With her, he trusts that he will never be lost in the underground. (Sometimes Jiseok feels like he’s trapped underground too, that ever since he found out that his mom was sick, he’s been buried, gasping for air).
Suddenly there he is on Newbie’s couch with her crouched in front of him, a towel in her hands and she’s rubbing his hair dry with such gentleness, it makes something inside him ache.
Then she’s gone again and there’s only emptiness.
What seems like hours but could maybe be a few minutes later, Newbie is back with a bag. “Here, Chief. I got you something,” she says softly, pressing it into his hands. There are some cheap dry clothes and a candle. It says on the package that it’s supposed to smell like a moonlit night sky.
“Remember Chief, when you lit a candle for me that time I said I was scared of the dark? I’ve been buying myself candles since then. I like the different scents they come in. It’s like going to a different place all without leaving your room.”
There’s a sound like a wounded animal and he realizes suddenly that it’s him. And even worse than collapsing in front of Newbie and adding to her burdens when she already has enough of a weight on her shoulders, is that he’s creating a puddle on her furniture.
“I-,” he manages to get out. “I’m getting your things wet. I’m sorry. And look at you. Do you want to catch a cold? Put on a jacket, Newbie.”
Instead of responding, she shakes her head. “Sssh,” she murmurs. Then his head is somehow on her lap and her hands are in his hair. She strokes his hair back off his forehead and it makes him want to sob. It’s like the warm gentle hands of rain not the cold bone soaking storm. It’s tenderness and shelter all at once. This is what he’s been missing for so long - being taken care of, shown care. Like he’s someone worthy of being cared for. Someone who can take and take without having to give first.
He takes in a deep shuddering breath. Suddenly he’s hyperaware of his skin, of his hair, the places in him where her hands are touching; every nerve ending in him sparking alive. He is a body that is touched; no, more than that, he is a being connected. Just for one moment, he leans in to her touch, lets himself take pleasure and reprieve in it.
He remembers that night when Newbie brought him to her secret place, when she’d shown him the moon bright and full. It’s like seeing another phase of the moon; this side of Newbie that she’s letting him see. It’s like catching the moon itself.