He yells and yells and yells.
Sometimes, Taehyung finds himself unaware of his own lucidity, his peace of mind and any sort of tranquility he wishes he could have when Seunghyun yells. They’re not articulate words, ineloquent and often just loud reverberations ripping from this throat at the decibels so high that Taehyung feels his world quiver and crumble around him in mere seconds.
It isn’t that he’s docile or unassuming. Not when Seunghyun can be indulgent; kinder with his words. He’ll nip at the edges of Seunghyun’s temper then, albeit with caution even at the best of times. But he’ll still try with small smiles and impish words tied together to see the older man smile back at him in earnest. Just once.
But there are times in the dead of the night when they’re alone, and any movement sets him off. Like a timer on a bomb, waiting to reach those empty numbers until it lets go. Seunghyun’s timer is inconsistent, Taehyung has discerned this. But while inconsistent, it is there and its presence is vulgar. And it’s frequent. So he knows it won’t stop.
Seunghyun raises his voice when he’s angry. Occurrences when Taehyung just doesn’t understand how anything could have gone wrong solicits for an explanation. There are times when he thinks he does it for his gratification, does it just because he can. When he can’t find the stack of papers he’d left skewed on the dining table, even though they’re now neatly arranged in their respective paper drawers, he yells and yells and yells. They’re supposed to be there but he yells, anyway. Seunghyun didn’t put them there so it must be wrong. He’s wrong. Wrong.
But what can he do except retract his voice, close his eyes and breathe. Just breathe.
And Taehyung stays muted.
There are times when Seunghyun allows him to be louder. It's palpable when they’re in bed, Taehyung spread out on the sheets with soft scalds on the backs of his shoulders every time he’s jostled. He’ll try to hide into himself then. He’s unusually unobtrusive when he’s in bed. Even when he knows he has to be loud. He has to be loud because Seunghyun says so.
“Louder for me, baby,” Seunghyun says and it sounds more demanding as his mouth works almost uncomfortably firmly against Taehyung’s skin. His lips are chapped, they feel like sandpaper. But Taehyung doesn’t say anything.
Taehyung squirms against his hold as Seunghyun’s mouth continues to work on his skin, “I said louder,”
Seunghyun’s voice is firmer; louder now and involuntarily, Taehyung flinches. He wonders how much longer he’ll be able to do this. But today, he opens his mouth and lets out a moan he doesn’t even know if he can feel in him.
Seunghyun looks satisfied, contended even, when he can see the look of clear discomfort endorsing Taehyung’s face “Good,”
It sounds sick. The words, his expression and the way his hands run down his skin feel sick. It’s so sick that it pleasures Taehyung and he doesn't understand why he feels this way. Maybe it's the silence.
As long as he isn’t yelling, Taehyung will do anything.
Seunghyun doesn’t keep him in confinement. He can’t. Not when Taehyung has his own obligations, things he needs to do and classes to get to. Outside of their seclusion and outside of their concealment, Seunghyun is the same Seunghyun that Taehyung had met a year and half ago when he’d offered a gentle smile and a warm hand to hold. He wonders if it can ever go back to the way it was. But now Seunghyun’s tongue stains him with his words, now he feels that even if they went back, his skin would remain jarred.
But good things come with each dawn. When day breaks, he stops suffocating and leaves the house that smells too much like sandalwood, too much like worry. Too much like reality. Classes go on, as usual, Park Jimin still looks at him longingly on most days. But he’s okay.
He can be okay.
He’s reminded of a sense of hope the day a new boy that seeps in along with the sea of freshmen in the universities. The boy glows unnaturally in the midst of the others. He glows in a way that Taehyung doesn’t understand, so radiant. So fruitful. He lets his gaze linger on him as he walks past.
His hair is dark, starkly juxtaposed against his skin. His eyes are round, so big that they seem to hold numerous galaxies within them. Twinkling, obsidian eyes that stare back into his when he catches them. They remind of the night skies on those rare days that they can see each constellation spread across them. His lips are pretty, too. Carmine, shiny and slick. They look so soft.
He returns Taehyung’s smile without hesitation, eyes not leaving his.
Beside him, Seunghyun stiffens as if he’s sensed something. He tightens his grip.
Taehyung’s smile falls. So does the boy’s.
The boy attaches himself to the name ‘Jeongguk’ and it becomes habitual for him to position himself right beside Taehyung in each one of their photography lectures. Every day, he comes in with a fresh scent to him that Taehyung unknowingly craves and an enthusiasm Taehyung longs to have.
The first time it had happened, Jeongguk had offered him a smile and his name in a blithe voice almost beautiful to his ears. Taehyung had found himself freezing at the sound, unable to comprehend how gentle his voice was. Jeongguk had the sweetest tone, a beautiful way of speaking, so melodious and warm. He was so aberrantly soft-spoken in comparison to anyone Taehyung had heard.
Taehyung had given him his own name once he had gotten over his initial shock, which in turn got him another little grin.
If the boy notices something strange about the way Seunghyun grips Taehyung’s arms after each lecture ends and they leave the hall, he doesn’t comment on it. Taehyung pretends not to dwell on the long, calculating looks he gets either.
Their friendship grows on its own concurrence. It flourishes slowly at first when Taehyung is still apprehensive and provisional with his words. But he finds himself able to speak how he wants to and when he wants to and it takes him time to admit to himself that its something he’s wanted for so long. To be heard by someone who doesn't want to dominate, someone who genuinely wants to listen.
Jeongguk is patient with him, almost surprisingly so. His speech has never been quite perfect, not completely eloquent but when he stumbles, he finds that Jeongguk is there with his soft smiles and sincere eyes that encourage Taehyung to go on.
Whenever small things like these happen, moments where Jeongguk acts almost like a vessel for his growing confidence, Taehyung feels something inside of him constrict. He doesn't understand it, but maybe it’s okay not to this time.
Taehyung falls sick mid-class when a sudden surge of nausea clouds his vision and he has to use his desk as sustenance to stand and ask the professor for a leave. The entire time, he senses Jeonguk’s unwavering, concerned gaze on him and it makes him feel incomprehensibly secure.
He isn’t surprised that there is a concern but he is surprised when Jeongguk shows up a day later at his apartment with pretty flowers and an even prettier smile. He seems to want to check up on the latter’s health, but the sheer amount of alarm on Taehyung’s face evidently perplexes him.
“You can’t be here. He’ll be home soon,” Taehyung tells him anxiously, voice hoarse. He propels forward, grabbing Jeongguk’s arm, “Please, you have to leave,”
Jeongguk’s expression transmutes into an indecipherable one, “What do you mean? Who’s going to be here?”
“Please, Jeonggukie,” Taehyung says, pleading, “I need you to go. I promise I’ll be in class soon but right now, you have to go,”
“But the flowers,” Jeongguk whispers, stabilizing Taehyung with his hands on his forearms so that he won’t fall over, “At least take these,”
“I’m sorry, Guk. You can, uh, bring them home,” Taehyung says quietly, “They’re beautiful but I can’t have them,”
Jeongguk’s face falls but he looks down, ‘Fine. Fine. Okay. But… I need you to be okay. Will you be okay?”
Taehyung nods quickly, panic continuously coloring his tone, “Please. Yes. Go, please,”
Jeongguk nods one last time before turning away, but he looks back at Taehyung with an expression so solemn that it makes him shiver, “He doesn’t own you, Taehyung. Remember that for me,”
And without another word, he’s gone.
Taehyung thinks his life has turned on him unpredictably plenty of times. He is just about used to things being thrown at him. But to be stripped of his own privacy, his own dignity shatters him inside out.
Seunghyun loses his temper outside the next time it happens. People stare with naked eyes, burning into him as they watch without shame. It happens outside a coffee shop near campus approximately four months after he first meets Jeongguk and it breaks something inside of him to feel that degraded, that humiliated in front of so many people who just stare at him with pity leaking out of them. He hates it.
He’d only been trying to catch up with Jeongguk to collect a few of the lecture notes he’d missed when he’d fallen ill, but Seunghyun had followed him with the suspicion in mind that Taehyung was doing something he was not to do. Acting as if he owned Taehyung. And at that moment, Taehyung had finally understood Jeongguk’s words.
“Do you hear me? I asked you a fucking question!” Seunghyun grabs his arm and it hurts, he hurts. He’s hurting so much. He wishes someone would just do something instead of just fucking stare.
“S-Seunghyun,” He gasps out, trying to pull himself away, “Plea-“
“Shut the fuckup!” Seunghyun yells and the onlookers increase. Taehyung is breaking. He’s breaking and he can’t stop, “Shut the fuck up!”
He’s at his peak. Seunghyun doesn’t seem to care that people gasp or that people look. Taehyung can feel streaks of tears on his face but he can’t get himself out of his grip. He just wants to leave. But he’s hurting and it won't stop.
“What’s going on? What do you think you’re doing?” a calm, familiar voice says suddenly and the relief that overpowers Taehyung is so overwhelming that he almost collapses.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes out, catching sight of the dark haired boy sporting an alarmingly enraged expression on his face.
“Let him go,” Jeongguk tells Seunghyun, “Let him go, you sick fuck”
The words are calm, quiet. But they hold a power to them that wavers Seunghyun’s hold.
“Who the fuck are you?” Seunghyun glares, then turns to Taehyung, “Is this the twink you’ve been seeing behind my back?”
“N-no, please... let my arm go, please... it h-hurts,” Taehyung cries softly, pulling on his arm. He sees a steely expression flash across Jeongguk’s face.
“Answer me, fucking bitch,” Seunghyun twists his grip but before Taehyung can register the pain, Seunghyun is being pulled off of him, gyrating backwards at an inconceivable speed. He doesn’t see what happens in the next few moments other than the flash of movement in his peripheral vision and a loud pained cry.
Seunghyun ends up in the ER with a broken nose, Jeongguk with red knuckles and a warning from the officials and Taehyung goes home with red wrists.
He feels considerably lighter. Maybe it was the way Jeongguk held him right after, comfortingly strong arms and a fresh scent he’d grown familiar with.
When Seunghyun returns, he refuses to say anything and it terrifies Taehyung beyond the point of madness. He stays vigilant, just waiting- waiting- for Seunghyun to do something.
Jeongguk watches out for him now. He’ll wait for Taehyung after lectures and drop him off instead of Seunghyun. He makes sure Taehyung never has bruises and is always apprehensive when Taehyung is with Seunghyun.
“You need to leave him,” Jeongguk whispers to him, the gentlest tone he’s ever used with Taehyung, “Tae, this isn’t healthy,”
But Taehyung doesn’t say a word. He continues flipping the pages, pretending he can’t see the broken expression on Jeongguk’s face.
(He’s bad at pretending)
(He can try anyway)
The last time it happens, it isn’t Seunghyun who does anything. Or Jeongguk.
It’s Park Jimin.
Years ago, when they were mere first years, Park Jimin and Kim Taehyung had been best friends. Inseparable and so intimate, so close that people wanted to have something even comparable to what they had. They were supposed to look out for each other and be there when no one else was. And Jimin did, he continually did. But Taehyung never fulfilled the unspoken promise. When Seunghyun had offered Taehyung what he’d always wanted from someone, Park Jimin had been left in the dust.
He’d told Taehyung there was something wrong. He had felt the strange aura around Seunghyun. The immediate agitation in his eye whenever something was out of order. And Jimin had told Taehyung but Taehyung hadn’t listened to him.
Maybe that’s how they had fallen out. Maybe that’s why Jimin still looks at who Taehyung has become. He wonders where the lively, loud boy he used to know went. He blames himself for what it has come to.
He’d seen faith. Just a little bit of it when Jeon Jeongguk had started talking to Taehyung because even for flashes at a time, he could see figments of who Taehyung used to be come alive. And while he’s indebted to Jeongguk for that, he’s still regretful of not doing it himself.
So when he sees Seughyun cheating on Taehyung at an under-budgeted zone in the city, he leaves his own mark on Seunghyun they way he left one on Taehyung.
He loses himself like Seunghyun in that uninhabited instant, his fists and legs moving on their own accord. He fights for whom he set adrift, for who he’s become. And he can’t find it in himself to feel even an ounce of compunction.
“You’re going to leave him,” Jimin wipes his nose, panting. He glowers at the bloody pulp he’s made of Seunghyun, “You go home today and take your things and leave. Leave him alone. Understand?”
He sees a nod, barely there. He continues, “And if you don’t, I’ll come back,”
And with that, he’s gone.
He feels lighter. Maybe it’s the thought of Taehyung smiling.
Taehyung finds Park Jimin with a bandaged hand and a look of expectancy on his face and he lets himself fall into his best friends arms once more.
Later, when his eyes are swollen from relieved tears, he finally smiles.
Good things come with each dawn.
Jeongguk’s smile is strikingly wide when Taehyung tells him what had happened and he grabs his hands so firmly that his knuckles turn white.
“You did it,” He sighs, bringing Taehyung’s hands to his lips, “You did it. I’m so proud of you,”
Taehyung smiles, “It wasn’t even me, Jeongguk. It was Jimin,”
Jeongguk shakes his head, letting his forehead rest against Taehyung’s knuckles, “You’re the one who doesn't have to put up with that anymore, Tae,”
And he’s right. Taehyung walks with sprightlier footsteps. He can breathe easy now. His apartment doesn't waft with the scent of sandalwood anymore, it doesn't constrain him. He has Jimin back. He has Jeongguk.
All is good.
“That day,” Jeongguk tells him one night, a frail purple flower tangled between his fingers, “I brought you this flower. An iris,”
Taehyung rests his head against his shoulder and hums, “Why this one?”
Jeongguk leans down and presses a gentle kiss against Taehyung’s lips. It’s so soft, so candid. He’s never felt more gratified.
“It represents hope. And the importance of your friendship. How much it means to me,” Jeongguk mumbles, “I hoped it would mean the same to you,”
Taehyung wraps both his arms around Jeongguk’s right one, “Of course. Always,”
Taehyung has always been unobtrusive in bed. But unlike Seunghyun, Jeongguk takes him with an indisputable extent of carefulness and kisses him senseless to the point where he’s gaping for air. Jeongguk caresses each crevice on Taehyung’s body, treats him with uttermost placidness and makes sure that Taehyung is content with every move.
It lets a consciousness settle deep in his bones. He knows he’s safe. He lets Jeongguk handle him. He doesn't need to say anything, to do anything because he knows Jeongguk is there with him.
He couldn't have asked for more.
Seunghyun had taken a part of him that he wasn't sure he could get back but he learns from Jeongguk that he can restore himself now. He can heal. Jeongguk is pliant with his words, tender with his touch. He’s patient and he understands. He never raises his voice. Not after what happened with Taehyung. He never does it. He teaches Taehyung what love really is. He gives him what Seunghyun couldn't. He gives him what he needed.
Jeongguk never yells. And he never will.
Taehyung is free.