Jeongguk watched out of the corner of his eye as Jimin smiled at the throngs of people who cheered in front of the stage. The lights danced across his face, making the sweat gleam brightly as he sucked in laboured breaths. He didn’t know how many were watching him, but he knew he was one of the only ones who could see that the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. His adorable cheeks that always stood out as he grinned clung to his bones heavily, as if it was too laborious an action to lift them. The stage make-up that masked the burnt out look that held onto Jimin at home stopped the screaming fans from seeing but not him. Jeongguk saw as Jimin’s eyes became unfocused, his smile dimming a little as his gaze shifted around. Unnaturally glassy, his eyes glinted under the vibrant lights, a sight that was would have been beautiful had it not been for the pain that had begun welling up within his chest.
It was only a few moments later when it happened, almost too swift for him to catch from where he stood but making him hold his breath either way. Jimin stumbled back as he stood, the smile now completely falling from his face as he shakily brought his hand to his forehead. Before Jeongguk knew it, his own smile left him and his legs carried him towards Jimin, who now seemed too dazed to face the crowd. Around him, he knew the others had noticed too, but he paid no attention to them as he closed the gap between him and Jimin.
Where he had been worried that the crowd might guess what was wrong, the thought no longer bothered him as he ran towards Jimin who seemed to crumple to the floor in slow motion. His usually graceful and controlled movements replaced by broken, disobediant completely alien to Jimin's beautiful body. Ripping off the mic from in front of his lips, he nearly screamed, paying no mind to the crowd that had now gone completely quiet. For him, even if he had been surrounded by a thousand people, he would have been able to see no one but Jimin. “Hyeong!”
Falling onto his knees, he put one arm around Jimin as tried to lift his face, but the older man went completely limp against him. Although for him, Jimin had never been difficult to carry, he may have been lifting the word in his hands as he felt Jimin's listless body against him. Tightening his grip around him, he lifted Jimin in his arms, the task itself not requiring the amount of effort it took for him to hold back his tears. He could hear Namjoon speak to the muttering crowd but he paid it no attention as he carried Jimin backstage, ignoring the staff members who offered to take him from his arms. Knowing that this was one of the only times he could hold Jimin in his arms twisted his aching heart painfully for it was far from what he wished for.
It was only a few moments later that the medic came and snatched the shorter man away from him, leaving him standing outside the plain black door behind which he had disappeared. The door that separated him from Jimin stood like a stoic cell wall, making his heart ache every second he was apart from him. The pain did not seem to care for the time or location as it plagued him throughout the remaining performance, equally as consuming as his thoughts that seemed to be about nothing but Jimin. Every smile harder than the last as he fought himself to stay on stage. His heart had been unable to pull itself away from where he had been standing in front of the same black door where he stood now.
Jeongguk knew that Jimin loved how the crowd cheered as he danced. He also knew the thought that there was something that began plaguing him after he did. At first, he dismissed it as nothing. Maybe he did not feel well enough to eat, or maybe the food did not sit well with him before practice. But it did not take long for him to feel guilty for every bite he took that Jimin didn’t. It didn’t take long for him to feel that everything he ate tasted like the plainest rice when Jimin wasn’t there to eat with him. And it didn’t take long for him to notice the tiny scars that appeared on Jimin’s delicate skin.
One of the first things he had been told as a child was that if he lied, the whole world would know. Each lie would carve a cut into his skin, leaving a permanent mark of his dishonesty. The lesson stuck to his mind, making him hold his tongue instead of lying. The first time he had received one of the most serious cuts, it had been after the first time he had watched Jimin crumple to the floor. His lithe body with its disciplined, calculated movements crumpled to the floor like a puppet with severed strings. Before that, he had never realised truly how difficult it could be to breath even when there was far more than enough air around him. He couldn’t move, even when he watched Taehyeong help Hoseok as they carried Jimin to the staff members as the others crowded around them. Even though every inch of him ached to hold the shorter man in his arms, he simply watched as Jimin was taken back to the dorms.
He had watched as they spoke to Jimin, as they made Jimin eat a little more. And then, they had asked him a question he could no longer recall. But the memory of that lie would never leave him for the scar stood out pale against the skin above his heart. A permanent reminder for a lie that had rolled more smoothly off his tongue than every lie he had ever spoken before.
For a while, he watched as his beautiful smile returned, as the life he breathed into his dance shone bright once more. And he watched as the cuts healed. But after he danced on stage, the mealtime disappearances returned, along with the silvery lines across his skin. It was after the second time he had seen Jimin fall that he had gone to him. But even then, he had simply watched as Jimin lay in his bunk, his food still lying untouched beside him as he barely moved. He had been unable to say anything as his words had died in his throat. The usual glowing and happy man Jimin used to be had slowly been reduced to the broken man he so wanted to help. That night, he had lain on his bed, unable to tear his eyes away from Jimin as hot tears escaped from his eyes that he could no longer stop. The following morning, he had woken up to a similar scar accompanying the first on his chest. He told no one of the pain it brought to him, nor the scars that appeared from their questions because he knew seeing Jimin that way was painful enough. He knew, these scars would be for no one's eyes but his own.
And now, he watched as tears left Jimin’s as he sat with his legs crossed in front of him. With each tear, he felt another needle prick his heart as he stood in the doorway. Having been asleep the first two times, he did not know whether it was the pain in his heart or the pain from the cut being drawn onto his skin that plagued him, but he did not bother to check. He couldn’t stop his eyes from falling on the fresh cut that stood out on his hands, the sight painful enough for him to feel as if it had appeared on his own hand. His thoughts were overwhelmed by the sight of the fresh cut that stood out on the back of Jimin’s left hand, the drop of blood trickling down his fingers. Although the door was mostly closed, somehow Jimin knew he was there, his beautiful hazel eyes falling on his through the small crack.
His voice was enough to make him forget why he had chosen to keep his distance. It made him forget why he had ever held back from holding Jimin in his arms in the first place. As if being pulled by an invisible rope, he scuffled into the room, kicking the door shut behind him. No longer attempting to hide his tears, he let them fall freely as he wrapped his arms around Jimin’s neck, burying his face into the soft fabric of Jimin's t-shirt. Almost instantly he felt the familiar scent from Jimin’s perfume creep into his nose as he held onto him all the more tighter. In that moment, he felt more exhausted than ever before. He was tired of being strong for the others, in front of Jimin, he knew he didn’t have to hide anymore. With Jimin's arms around him, he no longer felt obligated to be the stronger one, letting Jimin take the mantle without a single complaint.
Without a word, Jimin pulled him onto his lap, putting an arm around him as he let Jeongguk lean into him. Despite his height, he felt smaller than ever, losing himself in Jimin's arms as he breathed in his comforting scent. Despite the older man being the one suffering, he still comforted him, making his heart heavy with guilt with each moment. His gentle hands stroked his hair as he let out the last of his tears, all the while whispering the same words over and over. “I’m sorry.”
Even if he tried, he couldn’t tell the older man that he didn’t have to apologise to him, that he had already forgiven him, but nothing except muffled sobs escaped his throat.
Jimin wanted to say so much more, to apologise for every smile he had removed from the younger’s face. For every time he had let Jeongguk watch him as he fell, as he cried, as he suffered. And, for every time Jeongguk had to see the cuts appear on his skin. But the words refused to leave his throat, leaving him unable to say anything more than I’m sorry. Somehow, he knew those two words were enough as Jeongguk’s arms loosened, his palms flat against his chest. For a few moments, they sat that way, a tangle of limbs that left him unsure of where they ended. Afraid of how short their time might be, he didn’t hold himself back from stroking the soft skin on Jeongguk’s cheek, still wet with tears. The younger's eyes searched his face desperately, grasping for an answer with each movement. “W-why hyeong?”
Unable to stop himself, he pressed a kiss to Jeongguk’s forehead before touching his own to it. He no longer had the resolve to frame in his words in way that wouldn’t hurt Jeongguk and he did not require any more words to realise what he meant. He knew the lies hurt the both of them far more than the truth would.
“Because I’m afraid.” Jimin whispered as the tips of their noses brushed slightly. Every inch of his body ached to close the distance between them as their close proximity allowed him to feel the warmth of his breath against his skin.
Jeongguk tilted his head back to look at him. His large doe eyes were slightly bloodshot, but Jimin had never seen anything more beautiful. Everything about him was so gentle, so delicate, he couldn't help but be afraid of breaking it, of breaking him. No matter how strong he had become, Jeongguk was still the same child he had met all those years ago, with the same big heart that could break at the simplest of words which he was so afraid to utter. “I- I don’t want them to stop loving me.” he breathed softly.
As he spoke, Jeongguk’s gaze fell on the small angry red cut on his hand. The sudden urge to hide it from his eyes flooded his mind, almost immediately dissipating as the younger took his hand in his own and softly pressed kisses to the faded cuts. Jeongguk was careful in avoiding the most recent ones, even though Jimin felt that with his touch, he would not feel any pain. Each touch of his lips left his skin warmer than before, making the formerly perpetual pain disappear entirely as he indulged in the euphoria he had so longed for.
Taking one of his hands away, Jeongguk’s slender fingers brushed against the skin of his cheek as he shifted his gaze back to him. Leaning into his touch, Jimin placed his own hand on his wrist as he spoke. “They will never stop loving you hyeong.” he breathed softly, his dainty lips stretching into a small smile. “And they will love you even more if you love yourself, Jimin-ssi.”
Unable to help himself, he felt a chuckle escape him at the younger’s use of the nickname. Despite the smile, there was only concern glinting brightly in his eyes. Hesitantly, Jeongguk rest his head on his shoulder, his soft hair brushing against his skin as he nuzzled into the crook of his neck. His hand found Jeongguk’s once more, allowing the younger man to completely encompass Jimin's smaller hand within his.
For the first time in months, Jimin truly knew what it was like to feel contented. After all the time he had spent in a state of constant exhaustion, it was as if Jeongguk had torn it away from his body. Yet, he could not lift the heavy weight of dread off his chest, even as the younger’s thumb softly traced the skin on his hands, for the dread stayed as he awaited the inevitable moment he could no longer hold Jeongguk this way. After so many months of aching for the very moment he was currently living, he did not want to return to the same life he had been living in before. The moment where he had to return to the life surrounded by cameras that watched his every move. The life where he couldn't feel the younger man's arms around him for more than a few moments before being pulled apart.
“H-hyeong?” whispered Jeongguk shakily, as if unsure of what he was about to say. Unable to stop himself, his mind immediately recalled the first moment he had met the shy boy who spoke the same way he did now. The same shy boy he had fallen for.
Shifting slightly, Jeongguk held onto his hand a little tighter as he continued. “C-can you promise me something?”
The word slipped from his mouth before he even had a chance to think about it. If it was possible, somehow the feeling of dread only heightened as he waited for the younger man to speak. Each second seemed to stretch into a minute as the silence continued, allowing him to hear his heartbeat thrum in his ears.
“Promise me you’ll eat with me. Every time, every meal.” he whispered, audibly taking in a shaky breath after he spoke. The words took with them, the weight from his chest, as they disappeared into the air. In its place, rose a warmth he had not felt before, but its presence seemed to fill a part of him he had not realised was empty. Once again, he did not have to give any thought to his words, for they were nothing but the truth, free of any fear of hiding the cuts that would have come with them.
Jeongguk’s voice grew with desperation as his hand clasped his tighter. “Promise me hyeong. Please.” he implored, his voice growing softer by the second. “I c-can’t watch you go through this.”
His broken voice seemed to take apart his heart piece by piece, allowing him to feel the same pain he had no doubt put the younger man through. At that moment, he didn't see Jeongguk only as the shy boy he had first met, but the angelic man he had grown into.
“I promise Jeonggukie.” he whispered.