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First Day Of My Life

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The apartment is dark. Stuffy, dusty, full of must. Like no one's lived here for years.

Which they haven't.

Yoongi stands in the doorway a long time. Staring at the bare wooden floors and furniture covered in white sheets. The curtains are drawn, and the only sound is the fridge humming. The power had gotten restored yesterday, but even so he can't bring himself flip the light switch. Once the room is lit up it will reveal the remains of a person—of a life—that died long ago. Here rests BTS' Suga, is what he thinks should be mounted in the corridor outside of his apartment. A plaque commemorating what once was, but is no more.

The past three nights in a hotel haven't served his back well. His bones, his muscles, ache. He couldn't sleep. He's starving.

Yoongi goes in slowly, dropping his duffel bag to the floor and trudging towards the kitchen. He leaves the front door open, casting a long beam of light into the living room. The place is small. All the rooms connected, of which there are only three, not including the bathroom.

Like an idiot, he opens the refrigerator to see if there's anything inside. Empty. Buzzing with electricity, and glowing with sterile whiteness. He slams it shut. The cupboards are next. He swings each one open, revealing bare insides and the occasional spiderweb. There's a can of refried beans. And that's it. The dishes and glasses are organised, clean, but coated in a thin film of dust. He thinks dust must not be human skin if so much has collected in his absence.

Leaving the cupboard doors open, he steps back into the living room and casts a blank look over the space. There aren't any pictures on the walls. Not even a stack of CDs by the stereo. If this place wasn't his, he would say that no one has ever lived here.

But the truth is that he lived here only a few months before having to uproot his entire life. He never got the chance to make it his own.

Yoongi wonders if it's better this way. There's nothing here to remind him of the past, no haunting memories in picture frames or carpet stains. He'd call it a clean slate if that weren't a fucking lie.

It's so much worse than that.

It's the first day of his life.

Not when he gathered his belongings from his bunk, all of it fitting in a single duffel. Not when he nodded his good-byes and exchanged pleasantries with the men he'll likely never see again. Not when he handed over the clean, folded, uniforms or stood by the massive iron gate, waiting for it to buzz. Not even when he stepped through the gate onto the street and stood awkwardly by the side of the road waiting for the taxi to arrive, or when it deposited him in a small, old, hotel in Seoul. His life didn't begin again until just now, stepping foot back in the last place he'd so briefly called home.

Back then, he'd had grandiose dreams about filling it with a grand piano and obnoxious, mulit-coloured lights and shaggy rugs. Yoongi had found this place and pictured it filled with his friends spread out on the leather couch and popping open champagne in the kitchen, music bubbling out of strategically placed speakers and the balcony open, a grill cooking up chicken or seafood outside. None of that happened. And now it never will.

He can't go back in time. But he, admittedly, wants to cling to it all the same. Return to everything that had been good and right with the world.

It would be too easy to say that everything has changed. Because that much is fucking obvious.

He's alone now.

If he thought he was an idiot back then, he knows for certain that he was now. Delusions of grandeur. Dreams of a future that were  brutally derailed—crashing and burning in a canyon. Setting it all aflame. Up in smoke.

But even then, even before, he'd known it in his gut. It wouldn't last. And now he's been proven right. Being right has never felt so shitty.

There's a lot of things to factor in.

From the excessive travel, lack of sleep, foreign words hitting his ear drums that could have contained compliments or criticism, and he wouldn't have known the difference. To how their success internationally was the hottest piece of national news, and then there was the pressure to represent the entire music industry—and culture, country, and people—of South Korea. It was an insane amount of pressure to drop on anyone. Even if it was spread between several shoulders.

And Yoongi had wanted nothing more than to go to his best friends—Joon, Hoseok, Jin, Taehyung, Jimin, Jeongguk—and lift the weight off of them. He'd wanted to be Atlas, holding up the sky. Allowing them to flower rather than suffocate. He'd wanted to protect them from the hate that hides behind screens and reporters.

But Yoongi wasn't blind. And they certainly weren't, either. They all knew the risk. Fame wasn't all it cracked up to be.

He could've probably told you that long before he started selling his sound on the streets for what barely qualified as spare change. But that didn't change the fact that actually being there, making it, rested a lot heavier on him than he'd anticipated. In some ways though, he'd still been unable to recognise it all as real.

Maybe he'd been reading too many fan theories, but his entire life felt like something he was experiencing in flashes of fragmented memories—a highlight real of a life he could have lived if he weren't so far away from it—feeling like he was fading out of existence. Every Daesang, MAMA, BBMAMelon award and top spot on the charts was a goal that seemed only possible to reach in an ideal world—a world that actually happened. The overseas success felt like a daydream made real as he floated through life, unable to find anything to hold onto.

Except he wasn't falling down a rabbit hole. It had been real.

Though, at the time, it had been more like he was caught in the eye of a hurricane. Watching his life swirl and storm and splash past him in waves and violent whirls of wind. All of it happening at once—collecting and growing in size. From being a kid and getting Holly, to his brother turning against him alongside their parents, to Yoongi falling to his knees on a stage in front of thousands just to express his thankfulness that his family had, at last, accepted him back into their life.

Everything at once. All the uncertainty and doubt and fear, smirking down at him and watching as he slept. A constant prickle on the back of his neck like he was waiting for Zeus or Poseidon to reach out and grab him and throw him deep into the belly of the hurricane.

He kept opening his big ass mouth, had been for years. And then they made great strides towards their goals, achieving things they hadn't even considered hoping for.

Yoongi had hated himself the most when he'd said something as foolish as:

"Grammys?"

Yoongi hated himself for putting a fantasy into words. Obviously, they were never gonna make it there. It wouldn't happen.

And of course, everyone else knew it was just as unlikely as he did, but he was the damn one who put it into fucking words and now, years later, they still haunt him.

But all of that pain. All of the frustration with himself and his life and his lack of filter—even his inherent inability to simply enjoy the ride—he would take it back again in a heartbeat. A heartbeat.

That was nothing compared to this.

This—this, awful fucking apartment.

Yoongi wishes he was the kind of person that let bygones be bygones and could move on with his life. He wishes the sheets covering the things in his living room didn't feel like chains he can't break out of.

So instead of shoving open the curtains to let in the afternoon sunlight, instead of falling onto the couch—instead of any of that he spins around and leaves the apartment as fast as he can. The door cracks like a whip when he slams it shut, and he doesn't give a single fuck. Let it break. Let it be ripped off it's hinges. Let it fall apart like everything else has.

He stumbles into the convenience store below his apartment, and without an ounce of shame loads two six-packs of beer onto the check-out counter.

"Get me a bottle of that Scotch Blue too, and a pack of Marlboro's. And a lighter."

The man behind the counter is greying, a patchy beard across his jaw and thick eyebrows that raise in response to Yoongi's demands. "Bad day?"

"Nah, it's my first day of freedom."

The guy rings Yoongi up, putting the stuff in a bag.

"I'll just take the cigarettes," Yoongi tells him, grabbing the pack and the lighter. He lifts the paper bag up underneath one arm, supporting the bottom with his hand so the handles won't tear, then leaves the store.

He goes to the rickety metal stairs that lead up to his apartment building and sits down on the cold, hard, steps. He slams the cigarette pack down into his palm a few times. He unwraps the plastic covering and tugs one out. He lights it absently with one hand, the habit has become all too familiar the last few months. Yoongi hadn't meant for it to stick, but it has. Like glue.

The smoke is sweet. Tickling his windpipe slightly, and sending a slight buzz throughout his body. People pass by him on the pavement, not even sparing a glance his way. How strange it is to be unrecognisable when he used to have to travel with an entire security squad at his side.

He smudges the cigarette on the ground, watching the black ash spread and the last few embers of tobacco go dark. Yoongi is about to leave it there. On the ground between feet. Is that the kind of person he's become? He stares at it longer than he probably should, and then decides to pick it up and toss it in the trashcan that sits on the street curb.

He trudges up to the apartment building with his drinks, and pounds in the number on the keypad that unlocks the door. Yoongi can't bring himself to move at a decent pace down the corridor. The thought of spending a night in this place is nearly unbearable. Hence, the whiskey and beer.

When he reaches his door, number 119, he grits his teeth and shoves inside. He hadn't bothered to lock the door earlier. There's nothing here worth stealing anyway.

He kicks his duffel aside as he goes past it into the kitchen, opening the alarmingly bright fridge once more but this time he's able to fill it with something. The two six-packs take up space in the middle shelf nicely, and he takes a can from one of the cardboard holders. He pops it open, revelling in the fizzy sound that erupts from the small opening. The coldness is nice in his hand, the drink a perfect weight. He hasn't drank in probably two years, unless you count that single sip he had last New Years. But he didn't.

And now he's taking a gulp, of wonderful, bubbling, crisp liquid on an empty stomach and broken spirit. The only thing haunting this house is him.

He peels the tin off the Scotch Blue and then cranks the lid open, finding a stubby glass and blowing in it to get some of the dust out. He puts it on the counter and fills it halfway. And then two-thirds.

Who the fuck is he kidding? He fills it to the top. The first sip is too large and he nearly gags, it's strong shit. It's disgusting too, but he doesn't care. He takes another sip and chases it quickly with the beer to keep it in his stomach.

Though he fully expects to be puking it up later. Right now though, he couldn't give a fuck.

Yoongi stares at the clock over the oven, and by the time it goes from 6:37 in the afternoon to 7:15 three beers are gone and so is the entire glass of whiskey. He's wasted. Beyond wasted. He feels absolutely sick to his stomach, head spinning. In another life, this kind of behaviour would scare him. He never envisioned himself a lonely bastard in an empty apartment, drinking himself to death, but here he is.

He slides down against the fridge to the linoleum floor, another beer and glass of whiskey in hand. Alternating drinks. Letting the room grow blurry and limbs go entirely numb. His movements are slow, like swimming through honey, and each drink makes him want to simultaneously throw up and chug it all down. Whatever rationale he may have had yesterday, when he just collapsed in bed and watched TV, is gone. If it had ever been there. But maybe the only reason he didn't drink the past few days was because he knew he'd be drinking like this soon.

The back of his hand knocks over his beer and all he can do is watch it fall, seemingly in slow motion, and then the contents spill out and spread on the beige tiles of the kitchen. It seeps under the fridge and gets soaked up in Yoongi's sleeve. He's too tired to pretend to care. He can't get up because if he does he'll either collapse or puke, and he'd prefer not to do either. Resigning himself to a night on the unforgiving floor, Yoongi shuts his eyes and leans his head back on the fridge that rumbles behind him.

He continues to sip the whiskey until the glass runs out, and by then his eyes are so glazed over in his drunken haze that he may as well be asleep.


Yoongi's eyes snap open, and he has no time to adjust to the darkness surrounding him before his entire stomach gives a violent, involuntary, lurch. Somehow he ends up standing, falling forwards, hands gripping the kitchen sink as his body rejects the liquid poison he'd do fervently consumed.

It hurts. Scraping against his throat, twisting his insides, threatening to knock his teeth out with the intense push of out out out! his body exerts. The second he starts thinking it's over, it begins again. He has the tap running full blast, washing the putrid substances down the drain.

Mercifully, his stomach runs out of alcohol to reguragitate but that doesn't matter much to his system evidently, because he just keeps heaving without anything but some vile, yellow, bile coming out. The alcohol is in his blood, in his brain and muscles.

His gut stops lurching, and he takes the opportunity to rinse his mouth clean, and then keeps doing it. Over and over again until he's certain he's washed every crevice. He needs to brush his teeth.

Yoongi hisses when his sock steps in the spilled beer still on the floor, but he bares his teeth and exits the kitchen, beelining for the bathroom.

He's at the sink, and only then realises he doesn't have a toothbrush. He hadn't bothered to pick one up yet since he's barely eaten anything. Fuck, he doesn't even have soap. Either way he's lucky that when another wave of gagging hits him that the sink is right there for him to bend his head into.

A million mouth rinses later and he is finally, finally certain the pain is over. Until morning, that is, when a brutal hangover is sure to strike. There is a small rug in the bathroom, cushioning his feet. Maybe it's purpose is to stop the floor from getting slick after someone steps out of the shower, but right now Yoongi is certain it's the softest thing in this entire goddamn apartment so he ends up back on the floor, curled into a ball with his face resting on the rug.


The morning comes too soon, and the splitting headache makes it impossible for Yoongi to fall back asleep once he hears the sound of traffic outside the apartment.

The apartment. He's back. In the centre of Seoul, downtown, alone.

Fuck.

Yoongi pushes himself up from the floor with a groan. All of him hurts. All of him.

He leaves the bathroom, using walls for support, and ends up back in the kitchen. The hand towels from the bottom drawer make quick work of the spilled beer, and the rag is sopping by then time he stands back up. He takes the empty cans and stacks them up on the counter. He drank only one six pack. But for a guy his size, with that many beers at 8% alcohol content, plus all that Scotch Blue on an empty stomach—a stomach practically foreign to liquor for years—it's no surprise he's ended up like this. A fucking mess.

He can barely keeps his eyes open with how hard his brain is throbbing against his skull, screaming for relief.

A horrible fucking idea whispers in Yoongi's ear.

In one movement, he's filling up the whiskey glass again. He doesn't have any aspirin in the house. And the pain is too intense for him to even care about anything right now except making it stop. And after Yoongi cracks open another beer, it does. The throbbing mellows out until it's gone and all that's left is numbness. Beautiful, beautiful, numbness.

A ghost of a smile appears on his lips, and he thinks he can manage to take the sheets off some furniture now.

Drink in hand, he reveals the white leather couch first. It's clean, perfectly preserved, decorated with big, hand-knit pillows. The coffee table is the same, and so are the lamps standing in the corners. Yoongi even opens the curtains, blinking in the harsh sunlight but pressing onwards and sliding the window to let some fresh air blow through. The balcony curtains come next, and he steps out onto the tiny four-by-four space to look out at the most incredible view he's ever laid eyes on.

A brick wall covered in graffiti, looking down on an alley filled with trash and dumpsters. Home sweet home.

Yoongi has another cigarette or five, letting the nicotine chase away his intrusive thoughts and the beer takes care of the rest. Over the next few hours he smokes nearly the entire pack. But at least the dusty sheets are now washed and folded, back in the linen closet where they belong. And he's unloaded his duffel of the few pairs of clothes and it had.

And. His phone.

Oh, how long it's been since he's even touched the slim and smooth device.

He holds down the power button, waiting for it to turn in. Unsurprisingly, it tells him it needs to be plugged in. Yoongi's fingers can barely push the charger into the wall, he's so numb. So shakey.

It occurs to him, as he sits on the balcony with a cigarette between two fingers as he waits for his phone to light back up, that he hasn't eaten for at least 30 hours. Nor has he drank anything that his body found even mildly nourishing.

He's been a free man for only four days and looks where it's gotten him.

Yoongi is sat cross-legged on the patio with the door wide open, his phone sitting just inside with the charging cable stretched taught. He's staring at it, drifting in and out of varying states of consciousness. The cigarettes help keep him awake. When the phone at last lights up, his lock screen coming into view, his breath is stolen by the sight of his wallpaper.

It's a photograph of a collection of notes his friends left him on a napkin.

That day, unlike many days, is one Yoongi remembers with absolute clarity.

They'd been in Tokyo, eating in Namjoon and Hoseok's hotel room sharing huge platters of sushi and bowls of rice and tempura. Yoongi had been upset all day, frustrated at himself for fucking up at the concert the night before. Which was worrying to the others because he rarely let mistakes get to him so deeply, but in this occasion, it had. Everyone knew what was running through his mind, and rather than force him to talk about it, they'd written little notes of encouragement on a paper napkin before passing it to Yoongi along with a pair of chopsticks. He'd read their words, tears welled in his eyes, and he'd given each and every one of them a hug that night. And he wasn't a hugger.

you're so much more than your mistakes, hyung –Jeongguk

They loved you last night, and so did we. We always do. –Jimin

show me that gummy smile :D –Tae

You did your best, that's all we can ask –Namjoon

you're too cool for us, Yoongi. Sometimes you're gonna be forced back to our level :-) –Hoseok

All their loving words scrawled in black and blue ink, preserved in a photo.

He doesn't get much of a chance to take it in before his screen is practically drowning notifications. The pop-ups scroll by just to be replaced by more so quickly that Yoongi can't make out anything more than whether they're texts, emails, or something else. Dozens and dozens and dozens more appear.

He's missed so much. But these are all echoes of the past. Voices from long ago, so long ago that at this point a response is worthless. Whoever was trying to contact him while he was gone would have had more success at communication with a stone.

The notifications at last stop piling up, and he unlocks the phone to find his emails numbering in the thousands and his text messages in the low hundreds. Not to mention phone calls. He can't remember this many people ever trying to talk to him when he'd actually been able to respond. And then when he was gone they suddenly took interest? Pretty fucking typical. It's like they say: People only care once you're gone.

He opens up his email, watches it load, and then hits the the select all unread messages button before choosing to delete every single one of them. There. Gone.

Rather than open up each text conversation to make the alert disappear, he goes to Settings and simply has it delete every message more than a day old. To his utmost surprise, that still leaves over twenty messages for him to read.

He clicks on the green app, where Hoseok's name appears first. When he reads the texts his stomach drops to the floor. It's almost a welcome contrast to how it had nearly forced itself out of Yoongi's mouth last night.

Hoseok is going to be here in less than fifteen minutes. And Yoongi's drunk before it's even 9 in the morning. Beer cans are stacked in the kitchen and the half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter beside them is incredibly incriminating. And that's not even taking into account the large pile of cigarette butts and ash he has collected on the patio next to him. He doesn't have an ash tray, he'd never smoked until recently. Well, shit.

With one sweep of his hand he pushes all the cigarette remains off the balcony and watches them fall to the alley below. Black stains are streaked across the patio from it, but he can't care about that right now.

He goes back inside and throws all the cans into the paper bag he originally carried them home in. Yoongi doesn't know what to do with them, and he's tempted to toss them off the balcony too, but he settles for shoving them in the back of the closet hidden behind the sheets and extra pillow cases. The Scotch Blue is next, and he's contemplating hiding it beneath the kitchen sink when there's a firm knock on the door. Fuck. Fuck.

He grips the bottle hard and runs to the living room to shove it in his duffel, which he takes and puts in the closet too. Fuck.

There's still half a beer sitting on the patio outside, but another knock on the door and then the doorbell ringing tells him he has next to no time left to get his shit together. So he shuts the patio doors and closes the curtains over them and prays to god that Hoseok won't want to go out there. In the back of Yoongi's mind he wonders why it would matter so much for Hoseok to see a can of beer. It's not like Yoongi drinking is something revolutionary. But mostly he's terrified of the man inquiring further into the why's of the drinking, not so much the drinking itself. Because Yoongi doesn't have an explanation for either.

"Hyung!" A muffled voice calls out, an Yoongi crosses to the front door.

He unlocks it, and pulls it open to reveal Jung Hoseok standing on the threshold.

The smile the younger man is wearing is brighter than the rising sun.

"Holy shit, Yoongi."

Yoongi steps back to let him in and the second he does Hoseok swoops towards him and wraps his arms around him in a hug. Yoongi's shoulders stiffen, before he's able to relax into him and return it with a hesitant pat on his friend's back.

They haven't seen each other in three years.

Three fucking years.

Hoseok's hair is shaggy and dark, the corner of his eyes crinkling with happiness as he looks Yoongi up and down.

"You look different," Hoseok says.

"So do you," Yoongi retorts. "But you look good."

"You hungry?"

"What you don't want to see my place?" Yoongi asks with mock offence.

Hoseok laughs, "No, I just want to see you, hyung. It's been..." Hobi's smile is suddenly sad, "years."

Yoongi hugs him again, tighter this time.

"I'm fucking starving."

 

The restaurant is nice. Bustling with breakfast goers and waiters. Dishes clanking, spoons scraping, sounds of food grilling and chefs shouting instructions in the kitchen. It sets Yoongi on edge.

Every click of a chopstick, every raised voice, any time anyone so much as looks at him he flinches, then hardens up immediately afterwards. Hoseok is too busy talking about the menu—asking what food Yoongi craved most while he was on the inside—and ordering orange juice to notice the tenseness of Yoongi's straight posture. The only time he pauses to consider Yoongi again is when the older orders a mimosa to start off breakfast.

"What?" Yoongi challenges. "Can't a man celebrate his reunion with his best friend?"

Hoseok grins, "Right you are. Make that two mimosas, please," he requests before listing off a dozen food items as well. He turns back to Yoongi, "I hope you don't mind, I ordered for both of us."

"As long as there's some kind of meat I'm good."

"There is," Hoseok promises. "When did you get back?"

"Yesterday. Afternoon."

"What'd you do?"

"Crashed," Yoongi lies. "Exhausted."

"Oh hell, how was being in your own bed again? That's the best feeling, isn't it?" Yoongi's about to lie again and say he slept great in it, but his friend spares him the trouble of answering and plows right on talking about a recent trip to see his sister and how, even though he'd been gone only a few days, getting back to his own bed had been a religious experience.

"Ah, and I have some pretty crazy news," Hoseok says almost shyly as their mimosas arrive. Yoongi takes a large gulp, wishing there was more champagne and less orange juice.

"What's that?"

"I'm kind of...seeing someone? And it's kind of serious?" Hoseok smiles softly into the distance. Clearly lost in thought. "Her name is Misun, and she's...she's wonderful."

"When did you meet?" Yoongi asks, engaged in the conversation much more than he was before. Hoseok? Relationship? He's glad.

"Almost a year ago now, but we've only been official for nine months, but..." Hoseok glances back to Yoongi, a kind of love written all over his face that Yoongi's never seen before. "But I think she's, ya know, the one."

"Really?" Yoongi says, mildly incredulous. "What's she like?"

"She dances," Yoongi snorts at that and Hoseok goes on. "But like, real hiphop dancing. And she just does it for fun. Makes videos on YouTube teaching moves a stuff. Otherwise she's a primary school teacher. She's...so sweet. And listens and talks and we're..." Hoseok shrugs, "we're inseparable. It feels like we've known each other our whole lives, ya know? It's amazing."

Yoongi swirls the last splash of mimosa in his glass, smiling fondly at his friend, "It sounds like it. Will I get to meet her?"

"Of course, hyung, as soon as she can."

Yoongi nods, and then their food arrives and Hoseok tells him all about the hottest dancing trends and stories about camping in midwinter in the middle of nowhere. He tells Yoongi about how his last year had began with Taehyung and Seokjin—all three of them doing work with charity—and how it diverged into settling down in a condo with a new girlfriend and getting a cat, living a life of simple domesticity and indulging in small comforts he'd never been allowed before. Like eating fast food for a week straight and going a month without stepping foot in a gym. He talks with energy, enthusiasm, an aura of happiness radiating off of him.

Only this isn't the halo of cheeriness he used to sport in interviews and variety shows, no, this is genuine. This is bone deep. This is his soul, glowing through his eyes and singing in every word. Hoseok is happy. Hoseok is happy. Hoseok is happy.

Yoongi orders another mimosa.

The other man's pays for their massive meal despite Yoongi's protests, and then they roam the streets of downtown Seoul for a long while, talking about anything and everything and Yoongi finds himself laughing. When Hoseok suggests they chase off a hoard of pigeons collecting in a square he gladly joins him, and they charge at the ratty birds and they scuttle away as fast their little legs will carry them.

Hoseok walks Yoongi back to his apartment, embraces him for a long minute, and then pulls back again looking at Yoongi hard.

"Take it easy, hyung. I think Taehyung will be by before the week is over, and you can expect me again, too," he lifts his phone as he walks backwards away from Yoongi. "Text me!"

Yoongi waves bye, watching him go, "Sure."

Hoseok shoots him a thumbs up, and then turns around, heading for his car. Hoseok. Driving.

How strange.

Once Yoongi's sure his friend is long gone, he heads straight back into the convenience store he'd need in yerterday. Thankfully, a different employee is working so he doesn't haven't to go through some awkward exchange about why, exactly, it is he needs another bottle of Scotch Blue and three six-packs and four packs of Marlboro's. The worker just diligently scans his items and lets him pay without commentary, and soon Yoongi is back in apartment with the door slamming shut behind him.

He drops the goods on the kitchen counter, and pulls out one of the beers from the fridge before piling in the fresh stuff. Yoongi still doesn't have any food. Or a goddamn toothbrush, for that matter. He's not sure how he managed to get through a few hours with Hoseok without him commenting on Yoongi's awful breath. Maybe the man had been too swept up in their reunion to even notice.

Yoongi goes back down to convenience store three more times before he's gathered all the necessities, everything collecting on the living room table and looking more suiting for a hotel room than an apartment home. He rinses his mouth with mouth wash, and then hops into the shower.

He's so numb he barely feels anything.

 

He takes a nap on the couch and when he wakes the sun has set, and his brain feels like splitting open again. Yoongi groans, pressing his fingers to his temples and rubbing. Again he's reached the crossroads of picking whether to drink more, or taking some aspirin and waiting for it all to wear off.

It takes all of Yoongi's willpower to swallow the small red pill and drink a glass of water. And even more energy for him to clean up the cans again, shoving them back in the closet out of fear that someone he knows will show up unexpectedly. He eats a travel-size bag of chips and a browning banana, and then lays back down to sleep it off.

He's restless. Twisting and turning on the leather, breaths short and halting, limbs back in his full control with the alcohol leaving his system. It feels awful. He ends up throwing up several more times, much to his dismay, and any food he'd had in his stomach is gone as a result. Yoongi understands now why he never got wasted living as an idol. Because once you start drinking it's hard to stop, knowing that the only thing that waits for you on the other side is this. Hunching over a toilet, with a head full of bees. Humming humming stinging stinging.

Yoongi feels absolutely disgusting and gets in the shower, the new toothbrush in hand to cleanse himself of the taste of bile on his tongue. The shower is steaming hot. It could be penetating his skin and frying his insides up for all he cares. He is glad to feel his body again. He is glad to feel something.

But as he steps out of the shower, dripping wet and making a trail of water as he searches the closet for a towel, he thinks he might have preferred the numbness. Yoongi also can't decide whether he's relieved Hoseok didn't bring up where Yoongi's been the last two years, or of it makes him feel even more isolated than he had been under the cruel gaze of self-righteous men. He hadn't been able to talk to anyone then because there was—quite literally—no one he could talk to. But now he's back in his apartment in Seoul and he still has no one.

What a world, huh? What a fucking world.

You think things'll start shaping up just because you've left the storm in the distance, and you didn't peek over your shoulder as you drove away. You think everything will be better once you see a familiar horizon and cityscape again, with the sounds of bustling people in the post-holiday season. But instead the place you come back to is disorienting. And it's not at all the place it was before. And you're left to question whether it's the city that's changed, or if it's you that has.

 

The beer cans have been brought down to the recycling and Yoongi's fridge filled with bean dip and cupboard overflowing with instant noodles. He's even had several glasses of water and the headache has faded into a dull, soft, pressure at his temples.

His phone begins ringing, so he heads into the living room. Yoongi takes it in hand and finds a picture of Jimin staring at him. Face-calling.

Two years ago Yoongi would have hit decline and texted his friend instead, but now he falls onto the couch and answers.

It takes a second for the connection to strengthen, for Jimin's blurry silhouette to become clear, and for his smile and squinting eyes to take up the screen. Yoongi has to hold himself back from flipping the camera around to show his living room instead. Because Jimin looks amazing. So amazing. Hair dark and well groomed, face bare and pure, a strong tan accentuated by shadows of his neck and collarbone. And Yoongi knows that, in comparison, it looks like he's just crawled out from the sewer like a rat.

"Hyung," Jimin laughs. "Oh wow, this is so crazy. You're actually there!"

"Sure am," Yoongi smiles. How much he's missed Jimin. So fucking much. When Yoongi would get thrown around or disciplined with a slap on the wrist, or more commonly, on his face, he had wished so much for Jimin to be there. With his gentle encouragements and positivity and humbleness. Because Jimin—well, Jimin has one of the biggest hearts Yoongi's ever known to exist.

And now here he is. And he looks different. And sounds different. And of course he fucking does he's, what, twenty-six years old now?

But as Yoongi presses deeper into the couch cushions, sparkling water in hand, and listens to Jimin's recollection of his travels to the Galapagos with Taehyung Yoongi realises that Jimin is still the man he was when Yoongi left. Granted, his tone has matured and features strengthened and words are more eloquent, but he is the same.

Yoongi imagines how this conversation would be different if Jimin were actually here beside him. Would he collapse into his friends arms and start crying? Probably. Or maybe not. Because Yoongi seems to be numb with or without the alcohol.

What matters though is that Jimin is happy. Jimin is happy. Jimin is happy.

 

Seokjin calls next, and then his brother. And they both say exactly what he expected. Which means, almost nothing. But they say enough for Yoongi to know that his brother is doing good—that Seokjin is happy. Seokjin is happy. Seokjin is happy.

 

Hoseok visits the next morning with a basket full of produce and bread and take-out. He barges in and opens Yoongi's windows and steps out onto the balcony. Yoongi had been prepared this time, and had hidden all his cigarettes from sight.

They watch the best romcoms to be released in the last two years and Hoseok makes them hot chocolates and busts out the baclava he'd brought over. They eat and drink and things are good. Things are wonderful. There's no urgency. There's no orders being barked or tension on the air. There's no insecurity, or spike of fear, as Yoongi shuts his eyes and falls asleep beside his friend.

He's not dreading an aggressive shove or snapping voice that'll wake him from a fruitless night of sleep. No. This is comfort. This is ease.

 

When they debuted, the world had been incomprehensibly large and complicated. Chalk full of bureaucratic and societal barriers, made up of unrealistic expectations and 20 hour workdays in a never ending cycle that started and ended with a mattress in room shared with six other boys. And Yoongi had clung to his roots, Daegu, to his one track mind and determination and got swept up in focusing on one and only one thing: Being successful. Showing his family that yeah, dreams are dangerous. Dreams are vulnerable and risky and stupid. But wasn't that sorta the point? Because the only way Yoongi was gonna be able to be happy was if he no longer felt like his mind was at war with itself. So instead of screaming matches in his subconscious he translated the tantrums into lyrics that he could share. That other people could connect with and feel validated by. That's what music is about. And not everyone got that.

So he was in the hurricane of laser-focus and tunnel vision writing lyrics and making back-tracks and experimenting with sound mixing and layering and textures and minor and major chords, attempting to get messages across—not just in the words, but in the music itself. And he put that into the performances as well. Hyping things up or battening down the hatches, whatever the mood called for. He let himself swallow thickly around tears before pouring his heart out into the mic. He let himself roam the stage like he owned the goddamn place, let himself shout and cry and dance and fall in love with hot lights and smoke dancing around his ankles at concerts. He did that—and loved that—but his head? His head stayed underwater. He was a stick in the mud. So stunned by their success and so desperate to cling to it that he'd forgotten the meaning of being a person. Of being something outside of it all.

He had been uprooted from Daegu—from his family, from his time on the streets and working delivery—and had been repotted with fresh soil, water and sunlight and he'd bloomed, goddammit. He'd fucking bloomed.

His sad sapling had turned into a garden of roses. Made of delicate petals but strong stems, and wicked sharp thorns that would stab anyone who tried to tear them down. The roses grew taller and more abundant, and the undergrowth surrounding them erupted with life as well. Small daisies and thick grasses and fucking squirrels and chipmunks. Beautiful. All of it so fucking beautiful.

And then the call came. Not for Yoongi. No, not for him. For Seokjin. That he'd gotten a letter that had to be read immediately. A letter, an envelope, that would wilt the flowers, brown the grass, and kill the life that had thrived in their garden.

Too good to last.

And then Hoseok's letter came not even two weeks later. And a year after that?

Yoongi's.

But now here is. Any life that music may have breathed into him has been sucked out. The energy, the passion, drained. His one outlet for self-expression corrupted by nothing other than his unhealthy dependency on it. He'd even gone through the stages of withdrawal. Nervous twitching, anxiety nightmares, disobeying rules just to get a fix and then having his body break down. Then submission. Giving in. No longer fighting back, but rolling with the punches. Pliant.

He hates to be so fucking dramatic. It's not that big a deal, it not that fucking big a deal.

But being clean for two years, being so distanced from music, he's settled into a pattern. Smoke the worries out. And now? Drown them too.

Rapping, writing, and working was the only way he ever could get a handle on his emotions. The only way he could process his experiences and move on from his baggage. And he needs that right now more than anything, but he's not going to succumb to it.

Music may have literally saved his life but he doesn't want to risk tainting the memories of the best chapter of his life by stepping back into the industry that gave him everything from his best friends to his confidence to his fortune. No. To try that again would ruin it. Better to let the glory days shine than to trample over them with a half-hearted comeback. He's a broken man now. Fucking snapped in two.

 

Taehyung texts him the next day.

Are you up for company today?

Yoongi tells him yes, and an hour later he's buzzing Taehyung into the apartment complex and unlocking his front door.

Instantly, Yoongi senses the difference.

Taehyung stands taller, broader, with a genuine grin reaching his eyes. But it's not boxy or full of teeth, his energy is calm. Not radiating youthfulness or elasticity or anything else like Yoongi was anticipating. Like Yoongi is used to. The Taehyung standing at his door is mature, and not the forced kind of maturity that was drilled into Yoongi far too young—no, the kind of maturity that just comes from experience. That oozes in naturally over time to slowly mould you into a cooler, collected, classier version of yourself.

"Hyung, can I hug you?" Tae asks, lifting his arms.

Yoongi answers by moving towards Taehyung and hugging him around the middle, and then arms fall around his back and squeeze him tight. How could he have ever complained about this? He would have killed for a single touch of friendly human contact—killed for a goddamn hug that was full of acceptance and support—when he was bent over at the waist trying to catch his breath as orders got barked at him. What he would have given for this hug the second he stepped out of those gates, or even his first day back when he came into this apartment.

Would he feel better now if there'd been a Welcome Home banner and streamers hanging on his walls? What if everyone had been here waiting for him? He would have received a dozen hugs then, heard everyone's voices, and things—things would have been different. It's only been six days but Yoongi's already fucked up the first days of his new life. He's already wanting to reset the clock to change what he's done, he wants to go back and tell himself it's fine to need them, to want them, to beg for all of them to please, please, come pick him up outside of those godawful metal gates.

But he hadn't. And now dreaming about it won't change anything.

He's not sure how long they stand half in the hallway hugging, but Taehyung doesn't say a word and just rubs gentle circles into Yoongi's back and lets him bury his face his sweaters and scarf. He smells like coffee and makeup and Yoongi must smell like cigarette smoke and whiskey but there's no judgement here. He kind of wants to cry—or he a lot wants to cry—but he manages to just take deep breaths and keep it in. After Yoongi pulls away, they enter his apartment and shut the door.

Taehyung watches him and wanders around, looking at the bare walls and ramen bubbling on the stove. Yoongi finds himself a bowl and chopsticks, offering noodles to Tae but he turns them down.

"It's empty in here."

"Tell me about it," Yoongi agrees, filling his dish and then walking to where Taehyung is in the living room. The younger man is turning the dials on the stereo, even though it's not plugged in and no sound is coming out. "I don't really have anything to put out. It's not like I collected a bunch of shit when I was gone."

"No, I guess not," Tae looks back at him and smiles. "I'm so glad you're back, Yoongi-hyung. Nothing's been the same without you here."

Yoongi scoffs, rolling his eyes and leaning up against the wall. "Please, it's not like you've been bored out of your mind. You've been busy as hell, you don't need to lie to make me feel better."

Taehyung frowns, "I'm not lying. I may have been busy but that doesn't mean I didn't miss you. There were so many times when I'd pick up my phone to call you, or text you, and then realise that I couldn't. Sometimes it was because I needed advice, or whatever, but most the time I just wanted to hear your voice. Because you've, like, always been a huge motivator and inspiration for me."

Yoongi doesn't know what to say to that.

"And besides, you were most certainly busy every second of the day but that didn't stop you from wanting to talk to someone, right?" Then he adds, "Don't try and tell me it's not true, that hug from earlier spoke a thousand words."

"Yes, of course I missed you," Yoongi sighs, running a hand through his hair. "But I didn't exactly have that option. I couldn't call anyone at all, even if I wanted to. It's so—so—" Yoongi has to stop talking or else he's going to get real mad, real fast. He has to stop talking because otherwise he's gonna pick a fight with Taehyung over nothing and he doesn't have the emotional capacity to handle that right now. "I don't want to—to—to get into this right now," he takes a breath, turning away towards the kitchen. "Can you just...tell me about Japan?"

Taehyung follows him, and nods, which fills Yoongi with relief. He takes a drink of his soda that's been spiked with the Scotch Blue still hidden in his closet, and hops up onto the counter to listen to Taehyung.

After Seokjin and Hoseok left, Taehyung was the first to find something else to do. He traveled with Jimin, but then within a month he'd gotten himself an agent and started auditioning for dozens and dozens of rolls in dramas. The name he'd made for himself as V helped obtain small roles, but it wasn't until he was cast in a film that people started praising his acting as an actor, rather than his acting as an idol. The success of the movie opened up doors for him, and he exchanged the title of vocalist and dancer for entertainer and actor—for movie star.

By the time Yoongi left Taehyung was doing press conferences and variety shows and interviews with his co-stars promoting a new movie he was the star of. His Hwarang acting debut was old news. When Yoongi first taxied into Seoul almost ten days ago and stayed in the hotel, he'd watched not one, but three of Taehyung's movies and that way only half of them. And he'd seen Taehyung on the news, with announcers talking about how his filming for an movie by a Korean-American director had just wrapped in Japan, and he was due back in Seoul to begin promotions soon.

Yoongi's never understood much about the TV and film industry, but going by Taehyung's clean-cut appearance he imagines it's much the same as it is for music. Schedules. Dieting. Working out, practicing, memorising lines or languages or what have you—it all boils down to tedious, time-consuming, work. But at least Taehyung has more control over his life now. Which Taehyung tells him with a relieved sigh, that he can say no to anything he wants, and has total control over how his image is publicised and how much, or how little, about his personal life he wants to reveal.

"I never knew before how much I hated being told how to act or what to wear or what to say, but now I can be myself, or be the opposite of myself, and no one can say anything of it. My publicist doesn't mind so long as I avoid scandals and trashy parties, but that's never been much of a problem anyway."

Yoongi laughs, "You saying you're more the type to stay home nowadays?"

"No," Taehyung corrects with a twinkle in his eyes. "I mean all the parties I get invited to are high class, not trashy."

"Wow, you're really kickin' it with the elite now, aren't you?"

Taehyung shrugs, sipping the sparkling water Yoongi had given him. "I guess so. I didn't think it could be that much snobbier than some of that stuff we had to do as idols, but it's like an entirely different world. Actors are much more self-centred, I think. Probably because it's only about them, not a group."

Taehyung had joined him in the kitchen, sitting on the counter opposite Yoongi. "But don't worry, what Namjoon-hyung says is still true. Teamwork makes the dream work. I have a bunch of people I work with every day that make everything possible. And as for all the networking crap? I'd be lost without my agent, she's honestly a gift from god."

The room goes quiet, minus Taehyung's shuffling to take his many layers off, and Yoongi just stares at him. Trying to soak up as much of him as he can before he inevitably leaves. He'd done the same with Hoseok, Jimin, and Seokjin. Now their time together seems so precious. He'd taken it for granted for years. Seeing each other virtually everyday, sharing rooms, sharing lives and schedules and expectations, he'd thought there was no way he could ever not get enough them. But oh, how wrong he had been. Their faces may have been ingrained in his minds' eye but their voices quickly faded into a hollow, out-of-tune recording in his brain. Like a CD that was scratched up, whirring and skipping when it was played.

So he hangs on to this moment. Catalogues the shape of Tae's brows and tilt of his head, how is voice is now deeper and smoother and surer. How his clothes are all different colours and styles but somehow works anyway. Taehyung's hair is long and clipped up in a bun, he has crystal studs in his ears and rings covering his long fingers. Yoongi doesn't want to ever forget. Doesn't ever want to feel like the memories of his friends are out of reach.

It takes awhile, but finally Taehyung poses the question Yoongi's been dreading, "What are you going to do now? What have you been dreaming about?"

Yoongi shrugs, setting his empty soda can down beside him and rubbing the back of his neck. He doesn't meet Tae's eyes. "I don't know. I haven't really been planning on doing anything. Sit around. Sleep. Eat. Boring shit like that."

"Relaxing is good," Taehyung assures him, but raises a skeptical eyebrow. "But is that really what you want to do? Or is that just what's easy?"

"Your questions are too hard," Yoongi mumbles.

"Good, questions are supposed to be."

Yoongi looks back up at him in surprise. Yoongi was always the one pressing people for answers. Inquiring for their future goals, suggesting they focus on something and make strides towards their dreams, or at the very least fill their days doing something they love as opposed to lying around, waiting for destiny to find you. You have to work to make shit happen, if Yoongi knows anything for certain, it's that nothing comes easy. And now Taehyung is the one with his life under control, and Yoongi is the one lost at sea. And Yoongi is the one tired of trying, wanting to give up, and Taehyung is the one saying he can't do that. Two years change everything.

And maybe stepping into his apartment earlier this week wasn't the first day of his life. Maybe this is. This is the first day of his life.

"Well?"

"Dreams are dumb, Tae," is what Yoongi decides to say. "Dreams are dumb because you get your hopes up only to have them be crushed. And you're forced to face facts."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Taehyung shakes his head, "Because it sounds like you're making excuses, to me. You know the worth of dreams as much as any of us. You—we—have the best rags-to-riches story of anyone, and we did that because we dreamed and we believed and persevered. Don't pretend like your story, like your life, is over. It's not."

"I know it's not, okay?" Yoongi snaps, hopping down from the counter. "I know my life's not fucking over. All I can think about is how much more fucking life I'm gonna have to tolerate before I can die. I want it all to be fucking over because I can't stand that now I have to fucking start over. Everything that we did doesn't matter now! All that work, all that time, it feels like it was for nothing because I wasn't able to follow through with it. I couldn't finish it. My goddamn dream was cut short and now I can't just pick up the pieces and keep going because all the damn pieces are scattered to the wind!"

He's shouting now, practically yelling at the top of his lungs and he wonders what the neighbors think. He wonders what Taehyung thinks. The other man's countenance is unreadable and he just lets Yoongi keep going. "Jimin's got his dance studio, charity, thing, Hoseok's fucking got a girlfriend and choreographing shit, Jin's busy and getting married and working with Jimin, you're a goddamn movie star now and Namjoon is—is—"

Yoongi's voice breaks and he covers his face with his hands. "But that's not the point. I just can't have a dream now because everything I want is intangible," anxiously, he begins speaking with hands waving around, as if it will distract from the tears threatening to spill over. "All I can dream about is a younger me chasing after a music career, all I can dream about is our tours and the hours I'd spend composing and writing. All I can dream about is our past life."

Taehyung shakes his head, and gets down from the counter to join Yoongi on the cold kitchen tiles. He speaks slowly, and softly, as if he's afraid anything too loud or too fast with frighten Yoongi like a bird and he'll take flight.

"Yoongi-hyung. This is the same life you were living before. I know we're all doing different things now. But before we met we all did different things too. This is just the next phase of our lives, and we're all moving at our own pace. Which means, if you're needing to just stay in this apartment and do nothing, you can do that for as long as you want. It means that me, and everyone else, wants you to come visit them or stay with them or do random fun shit with them whenever you want to. It means that an ocean of possibilities lies before you and it's up to you, compeletly, what you do from here."

Yoongi opens his mouth, but Tae peers down at him with huge, loving, eyes and takes his hand into his so he just listens to the younger man.

"Listen, I know it can feel like a lot of pressure. I know how it can seem like your entire life is dependent on how one event turns out. And that things are going to be challenging and new every single day. But what's hard about today may not be hard tomorrow, it may not even be relevant tomorrow, so just keep going. Learn from what happens but don't anchor yourself in it. It can be so easy think that we are only what we've done, but we are greater than the sum of our parts. You are greater than your troubles and your misfortunes and you are so much more than whatever you had to endure the last two years, okay? You are much more than that."

Taehyung squeezes his hand and Yoongi nods. He didn't just listen to Tae he heard him. Since when was this kid so good at saying the right things? And this guy is happy. Taehyung is happy. Taehyung is happy.

 

The weather finally decides to act like winter again and when Yoongi wakes up the next morning the balcony is covered in an inch-thick layer of snow. It doesn't hinder his determination to light a cigarette and hold the smoke in his lungs until it burns. The burning feels good. So does the shot of whiskey he has before reluctantly eating a piece of toast with jam. He has to make some effort to pretend like everything is fine.

He crashes back to the couch, into the dent he left while sleeping, and turns on the TV. There's reruns of old dramas, news, a sports channel playing baseball. Nothing much. God how he hates this. He feels like a lazy ass. Because Taehyung was right. This isn't what he wants to be doing, at all. He doesn't want to sleep and drink the days away. He wants to be out in the world making up for lost time. But he doesn't have a clue where to begin.

An ocean of possibilities? More like a raging hurricane. Spitting ideas out, wind spiralling out of control and blasting him off his feet. Rain cascading down his face, over his body, so many options and so little time. He's unequipped to tackle a situation like this. Yoongi has no frame of reference. Because he had been so focused on music that he'd never even considered another career path, and now, since he flat out refuses to venture back into the music scene, he must open his eyes to everything else he missed out on. Oh, how much there is to see.

Because what if he'd used his schooling in broadcasting and performing arts to pursue a wildly different career. What if he'd been a radio host. Or did podcasts. And could just talk about whatever and spin music and get into debates with call-in listeners.

What if he'd done what his parents wanted. Gone to a traditional university and worked in a restaurant or in retail. They were poor, and couldn't help financially, but that never stopped them from pushing him towards college. Like they expected him to have the typical trajectory in life: School, dependable nine-to-five job that he slowly got promoted in, and then get married with three and a half kids plus a dog. Get a house where he mowed the lawn on weekends. Somewhere suburban but well developed.

Or what if he'd traveled. Penniless and clueless, packed up a single suitcase with as much crap as he could and taken a journey on the road the second he graduated high school. Gone across country, bed-hopping, exploring. Hell, maybe even ventured out of country to visit Tokyo, the Great Wall of China, and tourist shit like that. And then found himself a set of obscure jobs that paid the bills and that would be that.

He could have become a producer with Big Hit, refused the idol role, and just made music constantly for other people. Maybe released a few tracks of his own stuff, but for the most part just composed and produced songs that maybe he wouldn't always have a passion for.

Or what if, thirteen years ago, that night had ended differently. What if his parents hadn't found him. And he'd never woken up. What if his brother hadn't been so level-headed and hadn't called the ambulance in time. What if Yoongi wasn't here anymore, and never had to worry about any of this bullshit.

Those are alternative routes he could have driven down but when he'd reached those crossroads he'd chosen music, time and time again, and that's what's lead him here. To this cold, dusty apartment. Smoking cigarettes on an icy balcony, wishing he weren't alone but also relieved that he is.

Yoongi doesn't want to be a leech. Sucking the blood out of his friends, sucking what makes them tick right out and making their gears rust up. No. No, he can't do that. So he doesn't ever text them first. Or call them first. Or ask to hang out. Or anything at all. But he thinks about them constantly. He keeps coming up with questions he's burning to ask them. Or he'll come across a piece of news that occurred in the past two years and want to ask them about it, to hear what it was like when it was actually happening. And he really wants to hear their voices. Or read their messages. He tries not to think about it, but he still does.

They've got their own lives now. With new people. New pastimes. New interest, skills, and preferences. And they have new hardships, and stressors, and shit like that. And Yoongi wants to know about all of it. But he doesn't. And he's too scared to ask. He feels like an outsider. Like a stranger. Like he's prying, or pushing too much, or forcing a friendship that may not even exist anymore. Except he hasn't even tried yet so he doesn't actually know if any of that is remotely true.

But the lumps in his throat, tugging of his eyes, and smoke filling his lungs tell him otherwise. His perpetually spiked drinks only take a sliver of an edge off the whole, nasty, situation. He's a fucking coward.

He doesn't want to sound needy. He really doesn't. He wants to show everyone that he came out the back end of that shit hole A-Okay and that there's no need to worry. He wonders why they worry at all. Aren't they through with worrying about him? Since they're not working together, they have no obligation to, right? They don't ever have to speak to him again if they don't want to.

Yet when Hoseok visits Yoongi every morning—with coffee and breakfast—the whole next week just to chat, Yoongi feels himself get swept up into an uncanny, euphoric, state of being. Like the helium that had been swelling in his chest, the intense pressure that was building and threatening to burst, is slowly deflated. Everything is fine and Yoongi can breathe and the splashes of whiskey are smaller. The cravings for a cigarette forgotten.

And Jimin texts him every night. Presumably as he's lying in bed, winding down for the night, and sometimes he'll face call and make Yoongi watch as he puts on a face mask "I can't break the habit, hyung, don't laugh. Just because you're an old man doesn't mean I have to be," and Yoongi will laugh and fall asleep with a smile.

But when he wakes at 3am in a cold sweat the ghosts of this graveyard of an apartment will come back to haunt him. They don't want to talk to you, Yoongi. Who are you to them, anyway? They're going to cut you out of their lives soon, gradually so you won't know it 'til they're gone, because they feel bad for what you went through but once they pay back that emotional responsibility towards you they'll hightail it out of your high-risk zone. Because you're a risk, Yoongi. A goddamn walking natural disaster.

And then he'll do a shot or three of whiskey to burn the demons away long enough for him to crash back down onto the couch and sleep.

But he doesn't want to be a leech. He doesn't want to interrupt the lives his friends have started making for themselves, without having to worry about deadlines and managers and press and practices. He doesn't want to ruin that for them. He doesn't want to taint them with the toxic chemicals Yoongi is made of.

Because he is toxic. His music is toxic. The way his mind will sometimes think in poetry and essays and spoken-word is toxic. How his fingers itch to tap out a beat, or a rhythm, or touch a keyboard. Toxic how he'll sometimes pick up a pen and a scrap of paper, the ball of ink hovering over it, and then he'll press down and scrawl out some notes or lyrics and then he'll get so mad at himself. For ruining it more. Ruining it. He ruins everything.

And he burns those scraps on the balcony with his lighter, watching it crumble away. Like spreading ashes of the dead.

But if he'd killed Min Yoongi years ago. And now he's killed Suga and Agust D. Then who is he?

 

Hoseok isn't able able to visit that morning, shooting Yoongi a quick apology text that Yoongi responds to good-naturedly, as his insides fold in on themselves. Holding on by the skin of his teeth. It's hard. It's so hard.

Each day is blurring into the next, the waters made even more muddy by the booze and cigarettes and insomnia. He's awake for hours and hours with twenty minute naps here and there, he can barely pry his eyes open but they also don't want to stay shut. His mind and body are a set of contradictions, making it next to impossible to feel rested or settled or relaxed. His fingers will twitch or heart will race, his breath heaving faster and faster and sometimes his mind will be whirling. A rollercoaster trekking upwards before dropping and careening downwards, performing loops and turns that send his gut up and down. And he'll be so caught up in his mind that he'll forget to breathe.

Each day has been like this. Forgetting to eat. To shower. To brush his teeth. Most of what Hoseok has been doing, in hindsight, is babysitting him. He's been ushering Yoongi into the bathroom to clean up and then when he returns damp and shampooed, Hoseok will have breakfast prepared. He treats Yoongi like he's gonna break. And Yoongi would be annoyed by this if he weren't so grateful.

He knows the best way to repay his friend's efforts is by proving a can take care of himself even when Hoseok isn't here.

Yoongi takes a long deep breath, trying to motivate himself to get up from the couch. The once clean leather fabric has collected a number of stains over the past two weeks. He's tried to scrub them off, but it is nice for it to finally look like someone's living here. His kitchen more or less looks like a functional space now. There's clean dishes in the cupboard and dishwasher, the coffee pot has day old coffee in it, and the recycling bin is full of cardboard from frozen meals and beer cans. Maybe not the best diet, but at least there's any diet at all.

Yoongi runs his hands over his hair, then over the stubble on his chin. It's a foreign sensation to have hair there. He almost kind of likes it.

He pushes himself up from the couch with a groan and stretches with a huge yawn. He shuffles into the bathroom and heats up the water in a daze, waiting until it burns his fingertips and then turns on the shower head and steps into the tub. Hot hot water. Soapy hair and arms. The steam makes him feel like his lungs get cleaned too. Wiping out the smoke staining his ribs. Rinsing his blood of carcinogens. His fingernails have started yellowing from smoking, same with the edges of his teeth. He's goes through a pack a day. It's not something anyone should be proud of it. But in a weird, twisted, way, it brings him a sense of self-satisfaction. A horrible feeling that he's succeeding in destroying himself.

The demons in his head cheer him on. And he'll take any praise he can get. It creates this positive feedback loop; smoke more, feel better, the demons will say good job! So he smokes more, enjoys the pulse of energy that slips into his veins, and revels in it.

He shuts the water off after a long time. Lets it run until it's icy and he's shivering. The burning hot heat makes him feel alive, but so does shuddering in the freezing cold. He exists only in extremes. Any form of ambiguity leaves him at a loss.

Yoongi dresses in baggy sweatpants and a hoody, he's only heading downstairs to the convenience store.

All the employees know him now. They don't know his name, but they know his face and what he buys. So when the bell dings as he enters, the bearded man has pack of Marlboros out on the counter before Yoongi even has to ask. He grabs some beer from one of the refrigerators, then heads up pay.

"Scotch Blue today or no?"

"Yeah, I think so," Yoongi tells him, pulling out his card.

The cashier rings him up, puts it all in a bag, and Yoongi's back outside on the icy sidewalk quickly. He trudges up the metal stairs, punches in the code. Enters the complex. Walks down the corridor. Stares at his feet as he walks.

Sees a pair of shoes standing in front of his door. Raises his eyes to look at the stranger.

Squeezes the paper bag close as if it's a shield, a gasp slipping out of his lips before he can stop it.

He's not sure how long he just stares at the man before him, but it's long enough that his arm starts aching with the weight of his drinks.

"You just gonna stand there, or are you gonna open the door?" Jeongguk asks.

Chapter Text

Yoongi shakes himself, mumbles something inaudible, and races to pull out his keys and unlock the door. His heart is beating like a ticking bomb in his throat. His hands are shaking. Shaking so bad he drops his keys and he has to bend down to pick them up. Jeongguk takes them before he can, his face expressionless, and unlocks the door for Yoongi. He shoves it open, and gestures for Yoongi to enter first.

Yoongi goes, nearly tripping over himself as he kicks off his shoes and sets the bag down on the kitchen counter. He holds onto the counter, listens to the front door shut and Jeongguk's shoes come off. There's eyes burning into the back of his head, and he can't bear the thought of glancing back to meet them.

Fuck. He doesn't know if he can do this.

He's never been brave. People like to tell him that he is. That he was. That his lyrics were personal, and honest, and touched them. That the intimacy and emotion of his tone lets the meaning transcend language barriers—breaking them down as if they were houses made of hay. But he's not brave. They don't know how much he's really kept inside his head. Inside his heart. Yoongi isn't brave. He's a fucking coward. Scared of nothing. Scared of everything.

He sleeps with a lamp on in the living room even though everyone else has the habit of considering him some kind of vampire. He can't watch scary movies. Loud noises, anger, sudden movements scared him before—but now they've settled deep under his skin. Laying eggs and breeding fear throughout every hair on his body. He jumps at any touch. Any bird chirping. The sound of a car door slamming shut or train hooting in the far off distance. He's scared.

And that's why what happened, happened. Because he was a goddamn coward. Selfish, and desperate to protect his fragile heart. He's made of fine china, not stone. He's been afraid of falling his whole life. Crashing to the floor and shattering into a million pieces. Crumbling like dust. Irreparable. Broken. He's so fragile he'll break on carpet.

He's not strong enough, brave enough, not even fucking numb enough to face Jeongguk right now.

Oh god. How he wants to dissapear. Turn invisible. Wants to be a ghost haunting this apartment, not an all-too-real, living, human being residing in it.

It's too much.

"What's in the bag?" Jeongguk inquires, his voice devoid of emotion. When did he get so good at that?

Yoongi shakes his head, sucks in a shallow breath, and turns around. He leans back on the counter, fingers still gripping it tightly; afraid his legs will give out on him.

"Are you going to say anything?" Jeongguk says like it's a challenge. Like he's daring Yoongi to speak. Like whatever Yoongi's first words are to him after two years better be damn well worth waiting for. But Yoongi is drawing a blank. Always has—when it comes to what to say to Jeongguk.

"I don't know what to say."

Jeongguk sighs, "I knew you'd say that."

"I'm sorry."

"I knew you'd say that, too," he laughs bitterly.

"What are you doing here?"

Jeongguk shrugs, casually opening the fridge like it's his own and taking out a can of seltzer. He pops it open, studying every inch of Yoongi's kitchen and looking over the counter into the living room.

"I figured you'd be settled in by now, but you still got a sheet over the piano. What's up with that?"

Yoongi's heart skips a beat. No one's mentioned that yet.

"I'm not playing it these days," Yoongi tells him honestly.

"Why not?" Jeongguk presses.

"I'm just not."

Jeongguk cocks his head like he doesn't believe him, "Care to expand on that?"

"There's nothing to expand on," he grits out, "I haven't played in a long time and I'm not keen on picking it back up again."

"What you mean like you're not doing music anymore?" Jeongguk laughs like he's kidding, but upon seeing Yoongi's deer-in-headlights expression he stops. "Wait, are you really not anymore? Didn't you write a bunch the last two years? Like you were planning?"

"I..." Yoongi glances away, unable to bring himself to say it. No one else has asked about this either.

"You didn't? Not anything?"

Yoongi shakes his head.

"Wow," Jeongguk breathes.

And then he suddenly moves out of the kitchen, heading for the living room. Yoongi watches him go with a sinking feeling, rooted to the spot. He wants to tell Jeongguk to stop but his throat is closing in on itself. His voice box has shut down. Jeongguk's hands tug the sheet off in one fell-swoop, dust flying off and gathering in a cloud in front of him.

Neither of them say a word as the old, wooden, piano is revealed. Yoongi wants to leave. It's so hard to look at it. But he can't tear his gaze away. Jeongguk pulls the bench out, it scrapes against the floor, and he sits down. He lifts the cover up from the piano keys, his fingers floating over them before settling down. As though he's about play it. Jeongguk looks back at Yoongi.

"Please don't," Yoongi whispers.

"Then will you?"

Yoongi shakes his head.

Jeongguk stares at him long and hard, then presses his fingers into the keys.

The sound echoes around the apartment like a church bell tolling. Signalling a time for silence, reflection, and confession. Yoongi's eyes fall shut. Jeongguk keeps playing.

Yoongi hears his childhood.

Running around after his brother, chasing him to his room only to have the door shut on him. He hears his mother downstairs, telling him to let his brother be. He sees himself moodily descending the steps, convinced that life is unfair. When he sees his mom though, sitting at a brand new piano shining with wax and glittering white and black keys, his face lights up and he dashes across the aging carpet to sit beside her on the bench. She shows him how to place his hands, how to spread his fingers. Then she presses their palms together, curling her long fingers over his short ones.

"It'll get easier as you get older," she tells him, eyes sparkling. And all he wants is to make her proud.

And they play a few notes, and Yoongi feels a warmth fill his chest like an oven turning on to bake fresh bread. The piano becomes his best friend when his brother won't play with him and when his parents are at work. It becomes his hobby, then his passion, then his first love.

And when he's a bit older, his father glowers at him from across the room as Yoongi plays a piece he's been writing himself, trying to get the chords right, and says, "You know music doesn't pay the bills, right, Yoongi?" He tries not to let it sting. But it does.

Jeongguk's piece picks up the pace, like a cheetah chasing down prey in the Sahara.

Yoongi hears his father shouting at him. Demanding to know why he hasn't applied to college. Why his grades are slipping. Why he's not studying for entrance exams and why he keeps disappearing at night. And when Yoongi refuses to answer, when he just plays faster and louder, his father stomps over. Like a giant, making Yoongi feel tiny, he stands over him and looks down at him. Like Yoongi's nothing. Like his music is nothing. And Yoongi keeps playing with defiance and a fire burning inside him, rage fuming from his ears and nose—and then his father's hand is on the keyboard cover, and he's slamming it down as Yoongi's playing.

His fingers barely escape being crushed. He yanks them away, shock thrumming through him. Breathless, he looks up at his father. Yoongi's met with nothing more than a humph. And that's the moment when Yoongi knew he needed to leave. When he knew he needed music more than he needed his father's approval.

Yoongi doesn't know how he ends up on the bench next to Jeongguk. But he does. His breathing is calm, but his heart is fluttering. He leans into Jeongguk, watches as his fingers fly over the keys skilfully. Jeongguk keeps playing songs Yoongi doesn't recognise, and he just lets himself sink into them. Intimate. Personal. It feels like Jeongguk is playing just for him. Like he's the only audience he ever wanted. Like he's been waiting to show him how much he's learned over last two years.

The new melody teleports him back to his delivery job. To buying lottery tickets with his spare change. To working alongside Namjoon late into the night, and into early morning. He remembers meeting everyone for the first time, having Jimin join and their group be complete. How they all looked so young and inexperienced in the mirror during dance practice. How their voices cracked, they were constantly blushing and stuttering and all trying to figure out how they fit together. And then eventually all their rough edges nestled together to create one, smooth, package that glowed. The rust had been scraped off, their communication silent and telepathic.

From zero to one hundred in a matter of months.

And then ascending from there. By 2016 the slope of their success was exponential.

Jeongguk's hands move faster. Yoongi's mesmerised. His movements become halting, jarring, poignant, elusive and deliberate.

He clutches onto the hem of Jeongguk sweater and presses his face into his shoulder, holding his breath.

He hears anger. And frustration. Desperation. He hears the words shouted between them over two years ago, and all the words that were left unspoken.

The piano stops and Yoongi's eyes close and an arm comes around his waist to pull him closer. They breathe in time with each other. Gently, cautiously. As if any sudden movements will shatter the illusion.

"No one's even mentioned your name to me since I got back," Yoongi whispers. "Did you...did you tell them what happened?"

"No," Jeongguk answers just as softly. "Not really. It wasn't hard for Jimin and Taehyung to figure it out themselves, though. And the others probably did too. But they haven't mentioned it," he shifts slightly against Yoongi, pulling away enough that he can swing one leg over the bench so he face Yoongi properly. "But I did ask them all to not tell you what I've been up to."

"Why?" Yoongi's afraid of the answer.

"Because I wanted to tell you myself."

"Oh," and the corners of his mouth twist up slightly. A sickly sweetness is oozing into him. A giddy sensation pulsing in his chest. Growing in strength. He wishes it would go away. He honestly hasn't been sure if it would still be there. It's been two years. Maybe his feelings had changed over the course of them. Evidently not. "What have you been doing?"

Jeongguk meets his eyes for the first time since they've been sat here. They're huge and brown, deep, vulnerable; he looks as young as he did when Yoongi left. He looks small. But the rest of him is big. Larger than life. From the way he carried himself into the living from, how he stood at Yoongi's front door, his dominance of the piano. He might be the same height as he was, but he feels three feet taller. The aura surrounding him, like Taehyung's, is wise beyond his years. Yoongi, admittedly, is intimidated despite the way Jeongguk's slouching, a frown distracting from his sharply defined jaw and nose.

"I don't want to talk about me yet, hyung. I want to know how it was," he sits up straighter. He's quiet a long minute, as if he's waiting for Yoongi to say something. But Yoongi doesn't know what he's talking about. Jeongguk's brows furrow. "Well, how was it?"

"How was what?"

"The military."

Yoongi's throat is closing up again. "The—the—what?"

"The military," Jeongguk says it like, like, it's easy. Easy to wonder. As if the answers will be just as easy to give. "Where you were for two years? Where I sent you letters you never responded to? Well? How was it?"

Yoongi looks away, blinks a dozen times. The wind's been knocked out of him. His nails are scrabbling at the extra fabric hanging around his knees. What does he say? What does he say? What does he say?

"No one has asked you that either, have they?"

Yoongi shakes his head belatedly. Opens his mouth then shuts it again.

"Are you smoking?"

He nods.

Jeongguk sighs. But it's not mean. Not like he's exasperated by Yoongi's uselessness. Not even like he's disappointed. It's more like he's buckling down to stay here, with Yoongi, for a long time. Like he's embracing the fact that Yoongi is struggling. Like he's gonna be here for him.

"Has anyone asked you that?" Jeongguk seems to figure out the answer himself and reaches over to take Yoongi's hand in his own. Their fingers slide together. Yoongi doesn't squeeze them, makes Jeongguk do the work, and he wonders why Jeongguk would do this now, after how Yoongi treated him. After what Yoongi said.

After what Yoongi refused to say. What he still hasn't said.


• Two years and seventeen days ago •


The single bag he's allowed to have is packed. Boxers, socks, and a set of clothes to wear when he's set free again. And he's got half a dozen notebooks. Bound in leather, some lined and some not.

He's heard a lot of things about the military. From the rigorous training to the extensive work days—and then also, the boredom. Lots of empty hours in your cabin with nothing to do but converse with your roommates or sleep. And while Yoongi plans on sleeping plenty, he's more than planning on writing songs. Lots of songs.

He hasn't even left his apartment yet and he's thinking up metaphors to describe mandatory conscription and the negative affects it has on their society. How taking two years from a young man's life—two of his best years, nonetheless—is damaging. It can change everything. Ruin relationships, end careers, exchange one life path for another and leave someone hanging on by a thread by the end of it all. Yoongi is ready though, he can handle anything.

He may not be thrilled about it, by any means, but he can handle it.

Besides. What's left for him here? Seokjin, Hoseok? Still have a year left. And Yoongi hasn't achieved anything in all the time they've been gone. He has a half-finished apartment, no real job. He's been floating from one requested appearance to another. He's produced a few things for Jimin, worked extensively with Namjoon on his new mixtape. But none of it is the same.

And there's something else.

Something else, big, that he's been doing. With Jeongguk and Namjoon.

They're making an album that's predominantly in English. Jeongguk and Namjoon wrote the lyrics, Yoongi composed and produced. It's nearly done. The plan was, tentatively, to market it primarily in the United States and the UK. Release the album, tour around those places, see if they could chip away at the Western music industry even further. See if they could slip through the cracks and be taken seriously as artists. Not just strange foreigners with a massive fan base. They wanted their music to be able to speak for itself.

And they're not doing it out of spite, or to leave Seoul behind, or ARMY, or any of that. It's just to see if they can. Just to try. Just for shits and giggles—if you will.

But Yoongi's felt off about the project since he settled on the melody of the last song. Not off like he hates it, or that maybe they shouldn't do this and betray everything they thought they valued. Not like that at all. Off because he's near certain it's the best thing he's ever made, and he doesn't even have any lines. Jeongguk's vocals are the star, Namjoon featuring in a few, a whole 13 track album. And it sounds good. It flows good. Yoongi's afraid to jinx it, but he dares say it's perfect.

Perfect.

And maybe this is the universe's way of getting back at him for it. He has to get carted off to the military. Not that Jeongguk and Namjoon need him, they can go promote it perfectly well without him. They'll just have to cancel the third bed and airplane tickets. The ones that have been booked for months. They'll have to explain to the fans that Yoongi wishes he could be there.

And does he? He doesn't know. But Namjoon and Jeongguk are leaving for the States in less than six hours and Yoongi is heading in the exact opposite direction. They're crashing through pearly gates and he's about to rot behind rusted ones.

But that's fine. He can handle it.

He closes the curtains, straightens the sheets on the furniture, and head for the front door. He lingers on the threshold, shuts off the lights, and stares at the apartment. This place was just starting to feel like home, and now he has to leave it.

Yoongi steps out and shuts the door with a satisfying click. In a few days the power and water company will shut down his electricity and pipes so he won't get charged while he's away. The apartment itself he bought in its entirety two months ago. There's no one to pay rent to. It's strange, to say the least, to have ownership over something so large. He's a goddamn property owner. It's a weird thing to be proud of, but he had been when he'd signed the contract on the dotted line.

His life was his own. And now it's not. It's the government's. It the military's.

But it's fine.

He takes one last breath of the complexes stuffy air, then heads out.

The tail lights of the taxi are glowing in the 4am darkness. A heavy mist hangs in the air, leaves crunch beneath his feet as he descends the stairs. His duffel is slung over his shoulder. Yoongi sees this as his last bit of freedom. Why does it feel like the taxi is a cop car and he's about to get arrested? Why is the military nothing more than a prison camp in his mind? Why does he feel nothing? Why is heading for the taxi at a swift pace, rather than dragging his feet?

A familiar voice snaps him out of his trance.

"Yoongi-hyung?"

Yoongi jerks his head up, and there's Jeongguk.

The man is standing on the pavement, biting his lip, staring anxiously at Yoongi with his car keys clutched in one hand.

"Yoongi, I'll take you."

"Jeo—Jeongguk?" Yoongi shakes himself, stepping away from the curb to approach him. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'll take you."

"Take me where? You have a flight soon," Yoongi reminds him. He doesn't understand why he's here. They said goodbye. They said goodbye already. With brief hugs and strained smiles, they'd parted with the mutual understanding that they wished the best for each other, and would see each other again once it was all over. Sure, Jeongguk had been tight-lipped and as jumpy as horse that night, and Yoongi had felt something inside him breaking, but they'd said goodbye. Yoongi can't do it again.

"To the base. I want to take you to the base."

"It's a four hour drive," is all Yoongi can think to say.

"What's four hours when you're gonna be gone two years?" Jeongguk whispers.

Jeongguk isn't looking at Yoongi like he's planning to say goodbye once they reach the seven-metre tall fence that surrounds the compound. Like they're gonna be exchanging farewells and hugs and good-spirited words again, on the eve of Yoongi's mandatory conscription. Jeongguk is looking at him like he's about to ask Yoongi to stay. When he knows it's impossible.

Yoongi swallows hard. "Jeongguk, I can't do this right now. I need to go."

"I know you do, please," Jeongguk's practically, begging. "Let me take you."

Yoongi tears his gaze away, shakes his head, reaches for the taxi door again. Then there's a hand wrapping around his forearm, stopping him. He can hear Jeongguk breathing heavy. The hand tightens.

"Yoongi, can I talk to for a minute then?"

Yoongi runs a tongue over his lips, gathering whatever fragmented courage remains at the pit of his stomach, "Jeongguk, we already said goodbye. Please don't make this harder than it needs to be."

"Yoongi we didn't make it hard enough—you—you know as well as I do that there's more that needs to be said before you can go."

Yoongi shakes his head in distress, trying to tug his arm away from Jeongguk, but his grip is too strong. He swings himself around to face the younger head on.

"Jeongguk," he starts lowly, between bared teeth, "don't do this. Let me go."

Jeongguk's eyes are shining from the streetlights, reflecting the tears that are collecting in the corners. He blinks hard, takes a breath, "I can't let you go. I need to tell you something first."

"No," Yoongi responds bluntly, wishing it didn't hurt so much to see Jeongguk flinch.

"I have to."

"No," Yoongi says again, more urgently. He can't let Jeongguk talk. He can't. He can't. He can't. So he talks instead. "You have to get on a plane to LA in less than seven hours. You need to go home and pack, socks, underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste. All that fun shit," somehow his hand is holding onto Jeongguk now too, "and a comb. You like to say you don't need it, but I've seen you that rat's nest in the morning."

"They're going to cut your hair off," Jeongguk mumbles, his free hand reaching forwards and tucking the long black strands hanging in Yoongi's face behind his ear. "You said you liked your hair like this more than any other way. It's not fair."

"No, it's not," Yoongi agrees. "But it's how it is. And it's fine. It's just hair. It'll grow back. These bits are all dead from bleach anyway, shaving it off will it all grow in fresh and clean. That'll be nice too."

"Let me take you."

"No," Yoongi repeats, firmly. "You can't. You need to go to America and show them what our Korean asses are capable of. Prove those haters wrong. And sing for the people who love us, who love you. You have to be there for them. And for me. Take pictures, okay?"

"When do I not? Trust me," Jeongguk attempts a smile, "you'll get pictures. But that's not the same as being there. We're going to New York. You love New York. We were all gonna sneak into an open mic, and—"

"I don't need any of that. I can do it later."

"But that's not the same as doing it now."

"Be patient," Yoongi's voice gets caught and he can't get anything else out. His face is wet. When did that happen? This is why their other goodbye had been perfect. There hadn't been tears. No contemplating the million hypotheticals and what ifs and if onlys.

"I was going to be patient," Jeongguk speaks louder, his posture straightens, and he holds Yoongi just as tightly. His other hand has found a home on the hem of Yoongi's shirt. "I tried to convince myself that I was meant to let you go without saying anything. But—but—I realised I can't. It feels like everything has changed—it's like, it's like, it's like I've just woke up. It's like..." Jeongguk searches for the right words. "It's like it's the first day of my life and I'm figuring everything out all at once. And I know this is selfish. But Yoongi, I have to be selfish. I have to be or else this thing is gonna eat me alive. I can feel it—it—it's gnawing at my ribs. And I couldn't eat last night, all I could focus on was this tightness in my chest. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but I have to be selfish."

And Yoongi wants to make him stop. He needs him to stop. He can't listen to this. If he listens to this he's going to fucking break. He shakes his head in warning, tries to step away, pull away, anything to make Jeongguk stop. He could yell. He would be if his mouth could function properly.

And then the words are bursting out like a dam has collapsed from the water pressure.

"All this time, all this time, months, Jeongguk, months—and you think now is the time to do this? You had months. Okay? Months. I had months. We're not doing this now. We can't do this now. It'll just hurt both of us. Just wait."

"No!" Jeongguk shouts, and Yoongi glares. "I won't."

"Don't be such a self-entitled brat, kid. Don't fucking do this."

"Don't call me that," Jeongguk bites out, "don't you dare call me that."

"Then don't be one, okay? And we won't have a goddamn problem."

Jeongguk abruptly drops Yoongi's arm, and then he steps back. "You're just scared. You've always been scared."

"I'm not scared, I'm just realistic," Yoongi defends. "I don't like clinging to dreams. I'm not you. I don't wish on stars and birthday candles."

It's a low blow and Yoongi knows it. Jeongguk's mouth is open and face reddening. He's angrier than Yoongi has ever seen him.

"You hypocritical bastard. You fucking dream as much as the rest of us do, you're just a piss-poor loser when things don't go your way. Why don't you grow up."

"I'm the one on the way to the fucking military, Jeongguk! What do you want from me? Just let me leave!" Yoongi yells—screams—the taxi honks behind him. It's time to go.

He spins around, bag swinging, and is harshly turned back by a strong hand on his shoulder.

"No," Jeongguk says under his breath. The determination radiates off of him, his face is set, he's going to fucking say it and Yoongi can't stop him. "You're going to listen to me. I said I have to be selfish. Because the only way I can do this tour without you there, the only way I'm going to be able to get on with my life while you're gone, is if I get this weight off of my shoulders. It hurts too much to carry around, hyung."

Well, Yoongi's always wanted to be Atlas. To hold the hardships of the world up so everyone else could live without bruises digging into their shoulders and backs.

And this conversation is like quicksand. The more he struggles against it, the faster he's going to fall.

"Okay," he agrees so quietly he wonders if Jeongguk even hears him.

"I love you."

Yoongi sees his mouth move and expression change and hears his voice dripping with fear and honesty but the words themselves barely make it through Yoongi's thick skull. They bump against it. Bounce off.

Jeongguk continues, "I don't want this to be a burden. And I know you're gonna come back eventually. But I had to tell you now so I have time to get over you. Or so I can at least make peace with—with—with you not reciprocating how...I want you to. Because I'm the coward, not you. I want to tell you now, exactly because you're leaving and it's gonna be a lot easier for me to move on if you're not here. But I couldn't begin that process without saying goodbye. Properly."

The words are sinking in and spreading through his blood stream. What Yoongi wants to say right now he can't. He won't. That would hurt even more. And he has to be selfish now too.

"I don't want you take me. I need you to go, Jeongguk," he ignores everything he just said and gestures at the younger's car, "Go."

Jeongguk doesn't react.

"I can't believe, god, you have some nerve. Jesus," Yoongi feels the cracks spreading. The crevices widening, deepening, relentlessly ripping at his lungs and making his bones shake. "God, Jeongguk. Do you know you just did? Fuck, I'm going to be gone for two years. Two years. That ain't no walk around the block. It's the goddamn military. It's as isolated as you can get. Fuck, I can't even begin to tell you how much I think it's all bullshit. But I still have to go. Okay? I can't put it on hold just because you decided to rip the bandage off—" he lets the duffel bag slip from his shoulder and swing down to his wrist. "I gotta keep the bandage on. I can't...I just can't talk to you right now. Hell, what were you expecting me to say? What am I supposed to say?"

The taxi honks again, and Yoongi glances back to see a visibly irritated driver at the wheel.

"Is that it, then?" Jeongguk asks in a small voice.

"That's it, then." Yoongi pulls his bag back up and turns back towards his ride. He tugs the handle and the heat from the taxi pours out, inviting him inside. A warm coffin in which to comfortably be transported to his doom. Yoongi gets in, tosses the lumpy bag next to him, and buckles up.

Someone raps on his window just as the driver is taking his foot off the break. Yoongi should tell him to step on it, but he doesn't.

"Hang on," Yoongi's weak. He pops the car door open a dozen centimetres.

"Stay safe," Jeongguk says. Yoongi can't tell if it's regret or guilt or sincerity written in his features. "We need you."

And that's that.

He slams the door shut without a response and turns away. It takes all his willpower not to glance out his window as the taxi pulls away from the curb. It's even harder to not look behind him. But he can't. He can't. He can't.


current day


Jeongguk's arms are around him, boxing him in, keeping his face against his chest as his own heaves and rivers of tears cascade down his face.

Yoongi is so tired.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he mumbles again and again. "I'm so sorry Jeongguk I'm so sorry."

"Shhhhhh," Jeongguk soothes. "You don't need to apologise it's okay, it's okay."

"It's not okay though," Yoongi's words are skipping as the tears keep coming. "It's n—not. I hurt you and that wasn't fair of me. I shouldn't have said what I did. I should have—have—listened to you. You were r—right."

"Shhh, it's okay. You were right too. And I was wrong too. We both were...being stubborn."

There's so much bubbling up inside Yoongi he wouldn't he even know where to begin so he doesn't. But he knows he can't keep it in forever. The time is coming when all the affection he pushed off and all confessions he swallowed and the stares he refused to meet will have to be faced. The truth reigns supreme, does it not?

They stay there a long time holding each other. Until Yoongi's tears have dried and Jeongguk's hushes evolve into back rubs. Yoongi is certain he doesn't deserve this. Doesn't deserve this kindness and care from Jeongguk—or really, from anyone. Why is everyone so fucking nice to him when all he's ever done is bitch and complain and glare? Why do they all say they love him? How does that happen?

It doesn't make any sense. But that's sorta the point, he supposes. Love isn't supposed to make sense.

"You wanna watch something and I'll get some food?"

Yoongi nods into Jeongguk's chest. The younger stands and offers him a hand up, guiding him to the couch and pressing the remote into his hand.

"We can watch anything."

Jeongguk heads off to the kitchen and Yoongi can feel him watching him as he flicks through Netflix. Eggs sizzle, something's chopped and popped in the microwave, and before Yoongi's even settled on something to watch a bowl of rice, egg, and broccoli with some kind of chilli sauce is being set on his lap.

"Thanks."

"Sure, what are we watching?"

"I don't know, what do you think?"

Jeongguk considers it a second, and then grabs the remote from Yoongi.

"How much would you say you've looked into what's happened with us all since you've been gone?"

"Not much," Yoongi says around a bite of rice. "Only what they've told me. And I saw a couple of Tae's movies."

"Hmm," Jeongguk says nonchalantly as he opens the YouTube app on the TV. "Okay, don't look at the screen 'til I tell you to."

"What are you looking for?" Yoongi shields his eyes with one hand, peering at Jeongguk. The man is biting his lip in that nervous habit of his. "What is it?"

"Okay," Jeongguk doesn't answer his question and just sits back on the couch. "You can look now."

Yoongi turns back to the screen. It's dark, and Jeongguk hits play. Music fades in, along with the image of a man walking away down a path in a park at dusk. Yoongi glances at Jeongguk curiously, before staring back at the screen.

The man keeps walking, and soon the trees surrounding the path become covered in lights dangling from the branches. Not Christmas lights, more like fairy lights. Like little bulbs guiding the man off the path and into the woods like a will-o'-wisp.

The camera pulls up close on the man's feet as he hurries through crunchy autumn leaves and steps over tree roots and rocks, and the credits begin to roll.

Seoul Independent Productions presents

a Golden Closet film

directed by Jeon Jungkook

Among the Stars

Yoongi's head jerks over to Jeongguk. "What's this? Is this—?"

"I started making short films," Jeongguk interrupts him to explain. "Like, real ones with scripts and casts and all that. I submit them," he says in a rush, looking mildly embarrassed, "to festivals and competitions. I wanted to...I don't know. But I have this one and one more. They took way longer to make than I thought they would. But..."

"Let's just watch," Yoongi says. Oh god, could Jeongguk be any more amazing? Oh god. He's going to cry. He doesn't deserve this man made of talent and passion and motivation. Yoongi has none of that to offer in return. "I—I wanna watch."

"Okay," Jeongguk replies quietly. They both look back at the screen, and Yoongi takes the remote and turns up the volume. The soundtrack so far is just piano and it's—

"Oh!" Yoongi gasps. "This song, you were playing it earlier. Before. On the piano?"

"Yes," Jeongguk confirms. "I made my own music because that was easier than dealing copyright fees."

"Wow," Yoongi says, amazed. Just wow.

The film is hardly over twenty minutes long but it somehow manages to tell an entire story arc, one that leaves Yoongi questioning himself and wondering if he's gonna cry again. He doesn't.

He doesn't know how to tell Jeongguk that he loved it. That it spoke universes to him. There are no words to describe how much pride and love he has for Jeongguk. He gazes at the younger and smiles as hard as he can, staying silent. Any praise he can offer will fall short of expressing how he really feels.

Jeongguk must read this in his face, because he just nods and smiles back at him before clearing Yoongi's dish.

When he comes back, he surveys the living room like he's looking at it for the first time again. His eyes linger on the wooden door tightly shut on the left wall.

"Have you been sleeping on the couch for the last two weeks?"

"...Yes," Yoongi admits. It's no use lying.

"Have you even gone in your bedroom?"

"No."

Jeongguk grimaces, "And no one's asked you about this either, I take it?"

"You'd be the first."

"Wow," Jeongguk sighs. "Why hasn't anyone been upfront with you? Why are they skirting around everything? That's not helping anybody."

"I don't know," Yoongi rubs his neck. "I think...I think that they think that I don't want to talk about anything and that I'd rather pretend it never happened. I think they think if they push too far that I'll just snap."

"You've already snapped," Jeongguk says bluntly. "The bottle of scotch says it all. But I'm guessing they don't know about that."

"No, not really."

"You know this is kind of ridiculous, right, Yoongi?" Jeongguk rounds on him, crossing his arms. And it's not that he looks mad, but Yoongi feels himself shrinking into the couch. "You're all cooped up in this apartment refusing to deal with all your personal shit. Drowning it out won't work."

"I know," Yoongi whispers. "I know."

"It's not gonna go away. And there's still more to come. I'm gonna have to serve eventually, too. And Tae."

Yoongi shakes his head, willing it not to be true, "And Jimin. I don't know how I'll make it without you guys."

"Not Jimin."

"What?"

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, "Of course he didn't tell you. Jimin doesn't have to go. He—he—"

"Oh my god, is he okay? Is he hurt?" Dread washes over Yoongi like nausea.

"He's okay, he's okay, I promise," Jeongguk says. "But he hurt his shoulder pretty bad last year, the one that has always been sensitive. Tore some muscles and ligament pretty badly. He has to be really careful not to stress it or strain it. He couldn't serve in the military if he wanted to."

Air whistles out of Yoongi's mouth. He hates that this happened to Jimin. But he can't deny how relieved he is that his friend is spared conscription.

Jeongguk comes over to him, towering above, looking down. He offers his hand again. Yoongi feels small again. But he takes it and gets up from the couch.

Jeongguk point at Yoongi's bedroom door, "Can you open that?"

Yoongi stares at it. Takes a long, steadying breath. Steps over in front of the door. Grips the handle. Twists. It opens with a rush of musty air. And it smells like a stale vanilla candle and his room is glowing with sunlight. His bed is made and piled with pillows. The bedside tables on either side have a lamp. One side has a pair of Yoongi's reading glasses. The other side has a pair of Jeongguk's earrings.

This is why he couldn't open the door.

Because the ghosts don't live in the rest of the house. They only live in this room.

The walls are covered in photographs and posters and framed movie and concert posters. The closet door is wide open, revealing flannels and suits and blazers—amongst hoodies that aren't Yoongi's. Shirts that aren't Yoongi's. In fact, almost half the stuff in the room isn't Yoongi's.

At some point the lines blurred until they were indistinguishable between where Yoongi ended and Jeongguk began. The most bizarre part of it all is that, technically, Jeongguk never lived here. He's always had his own place across the city. Yet so much of him lives in Yoongi's room.

How could Yoongi have been so stupid? How could he have ever doubted anything? How could he have been so damn set on denying everything and anything between them? When the evidence has always been laid out in front of him? When the evidence was in the closet and in the hand weights on top of the dresser, and in the way half the pillows are small and skinny and the others fat and puffy. The evidence was in the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning together. The evidence was in the food they made and meals they ordered in. The evidence was in the first time Jeongguk called Yoongi's apartment home and then didn't go back to his own place for a week.

The evidence was in their touches and embraces and honesty and whispered secrets and jokes and music and kisses and hand holding and laughing and finding comfort in one another.

And Yoongi had stopped Jeongguk every time it got too real. When it felt like his heart was going to burst from how full it was. How sure he was that none of it would last and that he deserved none of it. How sure he is that he still doesn't. Now he knows at least that it sure as fuck is gonna last. Because here they are again.

In the room where they exchanged those first goodbyes. In the room where he told Jeongguk about the letter—the call to the military. The room where Jeongguk yelled at him, the room where Yoongi yelled back, the room where they made up and forgave. The room where they slept and cuddled and felt safe. The room where Yoongi felt his life maybe mattered for once, and not just because of his music.

This is the room where Jeongguk stared at him with huge eyes and started speaking in choked up sentences, and where Yoongi told him to be quiet, don't ruin it. Because he was so fucking afraid. Afraid. Afraid of...

Of what?

Yoongi spins around to face Jeongguk who is still standing in the threshold, staring at the room like he's remembering all the same things.

"You feel it, don't you?" Yoongi asks tentatively. "I finally get it. It's...it's so heavy."

"I've always felt it," Jeongguk confirms, eyes glassy. "My...my mom alway said it's heavy because it matters. And it hurts because it's real."

"...Yeah."

 


Jeongguk stays. Because Yoongi asks him too. And he asks Jeongguk to walk with him around the city at night and to admire the stars and streetlights and fountains in the park. And he does. And Yoongi asks Jeongguk to takes his cigarettes and whiskey and beer and to not let him have them anymore. Yoongi apologises for being irritable without them, and Jeongguk promises him it's okay. And Yoongi, well, Yoongi lets himself believe him. And he gets better.

Yoongi asks for all the things he refused to before. And gives Jeongguk all the things he wanted that Yoongi had denied him.

The rain and snow becomes blankets on the beach in the sun. And Yoongi cries almost every day because holy shit. He's starting to be fucking happy.

They go to Taehyung's movie premiere in suits and shake hands with celebrities. It's been so long since Yoongi's done anything like this, but it reminds him of why he loved performing.

So he ends up back behind a microphone with Hoseok and Jin and they do a small show and Yoongi cries. The lights in his face and slight bounce of the stage floor, holding the mic close to your mouth but not so much that your lips touch it. It's all achingly familiar. Like coming home. Nothing can begin to compare to the rush of energy that comes from an audience swaying and singing along with you. The knowledge that you're all feeling and thinking and experiencing the same thing in the same moment is as close as you can come to seeing each other's souls.

And at night while Jeongguk is typing like a madman at his laptop—a new script idea having struck him in the middle of dinner—Yoongi is sitting at the piano with his hands poised above the keys. And he presses down and feels them out and plays old tunes and new tunes and sometimes just pauses to stare at the trusty old piano that once sat in the corner of his childhood home. The one his mother taught him on and the one where his father nearly smashed his fingers. The same piano where his father apologised a half dozen years later and told Yoongi how his own father had treated music and art.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint with acrylics or watercolour or anything at all, really. And it was fine when I was kid," Yoongi's dad had stared past him, lost in the memory. "But when I got older my art supplies disappeared and was replaced by text books and study materials, and ya know, I was unhappy. But it got me to do school and get work, and I thought that was best. But you're different from me, and I'm different from my old man, so I'm gonna say something he never woulda said to me," he gripped Yoongi's shoulder and looked at him hard. "Your art is good, son. Keep going."


The summer heat starts to burn and he cranks the AC up in his apartment. The fridge is filled with soda and seltzers. His porch has a new grill on it. The curtains and the balcony doors are open and inviting the delicious scent of cooking meat inside—Jin is at the helm, grilling up skewers. Jimin and Taehyung are in the kitchen popping open a bottle of champagne. A record spins on the turn table, music playing from the speakers that are strategically located in every room of the house behind the succulents Jeongguk insisted on bringing over from his old apartment. And the old piano gleams in the sunlight, fresh and dusted from recent use—far grander than any grand piano Yoongi could ever buy.

The front door rattles behind Yoongi and he looks behind him with a grin as Jeongguk enters. But Yoongi looks past him, and past Hoseok, to the tall, short-haired figure behind them.

"Namjoon-hyung."

Namjoon beams, his dimples the most beautiful thing Yoongi's ever seen. Yoongi moves in for a hug as Namjoon throws his bag on the ground and hugs Yoongi back.

"God, it's good to see you, Yoongi."

"Same here, Joon, same here," Yoongi's crying again and so is Namjoon.

Namjoon's conscription is over. He's free. He doesn't look bad, all things considered, not bad at all. And Yoongi thinks he can breathe again.

Jin and the others have gathered in the living room. They take turns hugging Namjoon and laughing and crying and filling up glasses with champagne. Yoongi pulls Jeongguk close to him by the waist, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Jeongguk smiles at him and leans down to chastely kiss his lips.

Yoongi grins and then looks at the rest of the group. He raises his glass.

"Do you guys mind if I say something?"

"Of course not," Jimin assures.

"As long as it's not about you Guk's sex life anything is fine," Taehyung smirks.

"Right, nothing too mushy either, hyung," Hoseok agrees.

"That won't be a problem, I don't do mushy," Yoongi promises him.

"Sure you don't," Hoseok teases.

"Then go ahead," Jin encourages and Namjoon nods.

"Well, um, you all know I struggled with the idea of the military. That I struggled a lot when Hoseok and Seokjin-hyung enlisted and Bangtan finally came to an end. I was really lost...even when Jeongguk and Namjoon and I worked on our album, I was pretty lost. And when I came back home, and Namjoon was gone, I felt more alone than ever. But I wanted to thank you all," Yoongi pauses to look at each person in the room. His eyes linger the longest on Jeongguk and he feels the younger lean against him comfortingly. "For sticking with me. I want to say how proud I am of Jeongguk and Namjoon for touring the U.S. and U.K. and—"

Yoongi glances at the turn table and the space beside it. Where a gleaming gold statue of a gramophone rests.

"And I want to thank them for—fuck," Yoongi had been doing so well but his voice breaks. He's crying again. "Fuck, I want to thank them for bringing home a goddamn Grammy award. Fuck."

"You speak the future into existence, hyung," Jeongguk smiles, squeezing his arm gently.

Yoongi laughs, "I guess so, huh? Anyway, I never thought that would happen. And I may have not been there to receive it, but I'm still fucking proud of myself for having helped us earn it. And I want to say thank you, to all of you, for always believing in me even though I didn't always believe in myself."

Jimin and Taehyung look like they're on the verge of tears and Jin and Namjoon are looking at him like proud dads.

"I've realised that I've always defined my happiness by how many shows we were doing and how many copies of our albums we sold. But now I know that the real happiness was never that, it was always being with you all and being happy together. It doesn't matter about what. Right now, right here," Yoongi gestures around the circle. "This is one of the happiest moments of my life. Because we're all together. Because we're all alive and happy and making the most of it."

He's been living with his eyes sewn shut and heart locked behind bars. It's as if he's just woken up. What a delicate thing, life has proven to be. The breeze could knock it over and break it into pieces. But he's been sheltered and padded up for far too long. Min Yoongi has never been dead. Just dormant. Lurking below, waiting to resurface.

This is the first day of his life. God. This is the first day of his life.

He pulls away from Jeongguk and turns his attention to him.

"Jeongguk, you changed everything for me. When you kept showing up at my apartment—and then when you did again after I came back home from enlisting, you reminded of something you said a long time ago. You told me once that you came here and it felt like you'd just woken up. Like the clouds had cleared and things had become clear for you. And you said that again the night I left. And that night you'd driven just to meet me in the morning. And I'd thought that was strange too. And you said it again, that everything has changed, that you'd just woken up. And I hadn't understood then. But I get it now. Because it's not like deciding between working for a pay check or hoping to win the lottery, it's something else entirely."

It's the first day of his life.

"I'm especially slow when it comes to these sorts of things. But I realise that I need you. And I love you. And..." Yoongi rubs the back of his neck, feels his lips pulling back to show his gums in the sort of smile Jeongguk says he loves the most. "I don't know where I'm at, Jeongguk. And I sure as hell don't where I've been. But I do know where I'm going."

"Where's that?"

"Wherever you are."

Yoongi raises his glass and looks at the others. At Joon and Hoseok and Jimin and Taehyung and Seokjin. "Wherever you all are."