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Code Purple

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                 Hoseok inwardly cursed the cloud of animatedly gossiping tourists that seemed incapable of walking faster than a snail’s pace and not taking up the entire hallway. He clutched at the strap of his backpack, fingers digging into the fabric as he zigzagged backwards and forwards, trying to find a weakness in the solid wall of foreigners babbling to each other in their native tongue.

But the second he escaped the confinement of the tunnel and broke into the open airport space, he started running with his rusty old suitcase squeaking in protest behind him. He was almost there.

There were a thousand faces before him, a forest of mismatched bodies in a wide assortment of colours and clothes, but he was only searching for one. He ploughed forwards, muttering hurried apologies if his shoulder connected with another, his head turning this way and that as he scanned the fleshy corn field for a single pair of eyes.

“Hyung!”

He turned instantly, his mind honing in on that voice he had craved to hear for so, so long. His gaze fixed on the figure pin-balling its way through oblivious passengers to get to him. His fingers loosened their grip on the handle of his suitcase, his backpack was tossed to the floor and he spread his arms just in time to catch the boy that flew into him with a squeal of joy.

They stood there, bodies entwined and fingers curled into each other’s clothes, as the world kept moving around them, oblivious in their blissful euphoria. At long last, Hoseok pulled back to survey that toothy smile that, until now, had only been a photograph taped to his wall.

“Let me look at you,” he ordered, tutting at the petulant whine the boy made as hands clasped his face and twisted his head this way and that so he could be inspected from every angle. “You’re skinny,” he observed with distaste and his subject rolled his eyes.

“I’ve put on weight!”

“Not enough.”

“Hyung!”

“What?”

“I missed you.”

Hoseok faltered in his physical examination and raised his gaze to meet the puppy dog eyes that sparkled with unshed tears of happiness. He let out an amused huff and pulled his baby in for another hug, ruffling the messy mop of hair that sat atop his head.

“I missed you, too, Tae.”

Somebody cleared their throat awkwardly from beside them and Hoseok drew away from his brother to turn to the unrecognisable figure that stood patiently awaiting his own greeting.

“Holy shit, Kook,” he gaped, jaw dropping to the floor as he reached out to envelope another piece of his heart in his arms. “You’re huge.”

“Yeah,” Tae nodded, his face split in a proud grin, bringing his hand up to nudge the boy’s chin. “And he’s handsome, too.”

Jungkook scoffed, turning his attention back to Hoseok who had already started conducting his next inspection. A low whistle fluttered from between his lips as his hands traced the outline of muscles bulging along Jungkook’s arms.

“Are you on steroids?” he suddenly snapped, eyes narrowing, but the kid just giggled. The sound was so familiar but coming from a body that had changed so much, it had Hoseok’s head spinning.

“You both look so good. And you’re both taller than me so that sucks. And you had better be getting amazingly good grades if you’ve still got time to go to the gym and get a body like that and – JEON JUNGKOOK, IS THAT A HICKEY?”

Surrounding pedestrians turned their heads with mixed expressions of irritation and amusement at the sudden outburst and Jungkook’s ears blossomed into a brilliant red as he pulled his hood up to hide the mouth-shaped bruise on the side of his neck.

“Hyung …” he whined in protest but Hoseok was already ranting.

“You had better not be having sex, Jeon Jungkook. You’re sixteen years old. I co-raised you better than this. I thought we’d already agreed that neither you or Tae are having a relationship of any kind until either you’re both thirty or I’m a black belt in taekwondo.”

His angry-parent eyes flickered between Tae and Jungkook and his experienced-parent mind did not miss the way both of them were looking at anything but each other, dull flushes already creeping up their necks. He made the connection within three seconds.

“You two …” he spluttered, eyes rallying between both faces. “Holy shit … I … Kook, does your brother know?”

“Yes!” Jungkook sighed in exasperation. “And he’s accepted it.”

Hoseok stepped away from them, folding his arms over his chest and reducing his eyes to snake-like slits. He took pleasure in the way his prey squirmed uncomfortably in front of him, glancing at one another shiftily and shuffling from foot to foot.

“I don’t know which one of you to give the ‘you hurt him, you die’ speech to.”

Taehyung gasped, clasping his fists to his chest and contorting his face into an expression of exaggerated horror. “My own brother …”

“Top 10 anime betrayals,” Jungkook sniggered, raising his hands in mock surrender when Hoseok pointed a warning finger at his face.

Then he started laughing. He shook his head at their bewilderment as he retrieved his rucksack from the floor and threw it at Taehyung before slinging an arm around Jungkook’s shoulders and starting the steady plod towards the exit.

There would be time to question them later. For now, he was simply happy to finally be back on familiar soil. And he wasn’t particularly keen on having the safe-sex talk with Tae either.

“So …” he started, not raising his gaze from the path ahead of him because he didn’t want to look at either of them during this particular conversation that needed to happen whether he liked it or not. “How’s Jin?”

The grins faded, the expressions hardened, the eyes darkened and Hoseok felt the air leaving Jungkook’s body as his entire posture seemed to deflate as he walked.

“You know … he’s … he’s hanging on.”

Hoseok nodded absently, tightening his grip on the maknae’s shoulders. He hadn’t wanted to burden the kid with the reminder of their hyung’s predicament but at the same time, he had two years’ worth of information to catch up on and from the look of his now-dramatically-aged dongsaengs, a lot had changed.

“I’ll go and see him after school later. But I really need some sleep,” he muttered before Taehyung started spewing some excited garble about the new internship he’d gotten with a photographer.

And Hoseok felt his mouth stretch wide once more as he reminded himself that he was back with his brother and his friends and Jin was hanging on and his babies were all grown up and dating each other and things were finally going to get better.

 

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           Hoseok found himself staring at the school building for so long that it felt like the entire world faded out around him. The only things that existed were him and the recollections that came flooding through his mind like the visual proof of the structure in front of him had burst the dam in his memory.

“Do we need to leave you two alone?” Jungkook poked and Hoseok snapped out of his reverie to jab his elbow into the kid’s ribs.

“I just never thought I’d be so happy to be back at school,” he smirked, gouging at his eyes with the tip of his fingers.

“Don’t complain, hyung,” Jungkook whined hypocritically, slipping his arm through Taehyung’s. “You got to go to California and dance with that choreographer you’ve been banging on about since forever, which apparently made you so busy that you couldn’t even pick up the phone.”

“Yeah …” Hoseok muttered, the sight of the two’s interlocked arms hitching a curve to his lips. He was glad they hadn’t tried to hide it from him.  

“You know, you’re tired from the flight,” Taehyung interjected, his brow creasing with concern. “You can go home and sleep. Nothing happens on the first day back anyway.”

But before Hoseok could retort, he caught sight of a bundle of arms and legs curled up on a bench with a pink little nose buried in a book. He gaped for several moments while he processed the dramatic adaptation in the physique of the boy he hadn’t laid eyes on for twenty-four months.

He cupped his hands either side of his mouth and bellowed at the top of his lungs, relishing in the way his voice echoed off the school’s stone walls. “SO SHOW ME!”

The response was instantaneous and just as perfect as he’d hoped it would be.

The little nose shot right out of the book with lightning speed and eyes zapped the hustle and bustle of students around him as he searched for the source of the honing call. The second he found it, he was hurling his novel aside and scrambling off the bench with a glorious, sunny grin plastered over his face.

Hoseok barely made it three steps forwards before he was hit with a body’s full force, eliciting a grunt from his throat at the sudden contact. Legs wrapped around his waist, arms encircled his neck and a beaming face loomed inches from his, eyes sparkling as the newcomer screeched right in his face. “I’LL SHOW YOU!”

“Oh …” Hoseok sighed as he set his koala back on his feet, cupping the adorably chubby cheeks that he had always found so deeply endearing and squeezing at the pouty lips. “I missed you, Mochi.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me you were already here?” Jimin scolded, swatting pathetically at his hyung’s chest as he turned his accusatory stare to Taehyung and Jungkook. “I would have come to meet you at the airport.”

“I got in at 3am this morning,” Hoseok responded as he levelled his hand on top of Jimin’s head and drew a straight line from the fluffy mop to the height of his own collarbones. “Why are you still so short? Are you eating enough protein?”

Jimin opened his mouth to respond but before he could form his gasp of mock horror, someone collided with his back and he staggered forwards, hands instinctively fisting in Hoseok’s jumper to stop himself from falling.

“Oi!” Hoseok yelled after the figure rapidly retreating towards the school doors. Their head was down and their face was hidden by the hood pulled as far forward as it would go but he still caught a glimpse of white blonde hair protruding from under the black fabric.

“Leave it …” Jimin hummed, straightening his ruffled jacket and fastening his fingers around Hoseok’s wrist. “It was just an accident.”

“It was rude is what it was.”

It took all of his self-control to push aside his protective – not possessive, Tae – instincts and turn his full attention back to Jimin as he placed his hands on the skinny shoulders.

“Chim,” he said with a deadly serious expression on his face. “Please confirm what I already know which is that you are ten times smarter than both of these two combined and therefore you are still a virgin.”

Jimin’s expression was torn between mortification at the deeply personal invasion of his privacy and smugness at the affronted looks on his younger friends’ faces. There was a moment where his mouth opened and shut like a goldfish before he abruptly turned around and started striding back towards the bench he’d left his book on.

“No comment.”

“PARK JIMIN!”

Chapter Text

         Hoseok couldn’t help the huff of disapproval when he strutted into his first math class, eyes roving over the sea of students, and spotted the only spare seat in the back corner. The only spare seat that was right next to a boy in a black hoodie with white-blonde hair.

A matchstick leg was pulled up onto the chair with one papery hand wrapped around the knee and the other already scribbling frantically in a workbook, despite the bell having rung less than a minute ago.

Hoseok sauntered through the wooden maze and flopped down into the seat, resting his elbow on the table and cupping his chin in his hand, eyes fixed upon his new partner. The boy looked up through the white fringe that dusted his nose and his gaze scoured right around the classroom without landing on Hoseok once.

He finally seemed to realise that there was nobody else for this new parasite to latch onto and he turned his attention back to his work after tugging his hood a little further down his face.

“So …” Hoseok started, staring down the - frankly terrifyingly skinny – boy curled up in the seat beside him. There was no response. “You pushed my friend.”

The boy didn’t even acknowledge Hoseok’s existence. If anything, he lessened the gap between his nose and the book on the table and his scribblings became more and more ferocious.

“Hello?” he waved his hand in front of the face he couldn’t even see but withdrew in a heartbeat when he saw the way the boy’s entire body jerked in a terrified flinch.

He looked up for the first time and Hoseok sat back in his chair at the sight of the eyelids that seemed to hang heavier than a dozen shopping bags, casting purple shadows on the pasty skin. He saw eyes that were … beautiful was the only word he could think of to describe them but there was something missing inside the inky wells. Something had died within them and dulled their beauty.

He opened his mouth, intending to apologise for the invasion of personal space but the boy cut him off with a curt, decisive and painfully hostile hiss of, “Sorry I pushed your friend.”

They didn’t converse for the rest of the lesson and when the bell rang to signal the end of the day, the boy with the bleached blonde hair and the beautiful heavy eyes stormed from the classroom without a single word or side glance to anyone.

Hoseok didn’t know what it was but there was something about the fear he had seen in that malnourished face that had sparked something inside of him. Some memories of a past he had tried so hard to supress and a deep feeling that something was very wrong in that boy’s life.

He was pulled from his philosophical reverie when Jimin attacked him from behind, latching himself to his hyung’s back like a spider monkey and hollering at the top of his lungs, “Time to go see Jin-hyung!”

Hoseok forced a grin, hooked his hands under Jimin’s knees and spun on the spot, relishing in the terrified squeak he heard in his ear.

His Mochi remained on his back as he strutted out into the parking lot to find Taehyung and Jungkook leaning against the school gates. He stopped, narrowing his eyes at the sight of his brother’s hand in Jungkook’s hair as their lips locked.

“Get used to it, hyung,” Jimin laughed from his perch. “Jin-hyung already protested and they shot him down.”

“It’s just hard to believe you three were only fourteen when I left,” Hoseok replied, still watching the tender way the boys embraced each other, Taehyung’s head nuzzling into the crook of Jungkook’s neck to shelter his face from the cold.

“Time to go see, Jin-hyung!” Jimin whined, digging his heels into Hoseok’s sides like a rider would his horse and Hoseok hitched him up higher on his hips before strolling forwards to break-up the couple that he knew he was going to have to learn to tolerate.

 

--------------------------

 

         “Hyung?”

Hoseok jumped – literally jumped – as Taehyung’s tentative whisper echoed much louder than it should have in the empty corridor.

“Are you alright?”

He hadn’t realised he’d been standing – staring at the ugly grey door with his fingers curled around the handle – for so long.

He knew what was on the other side and he wanted to abolish the only barrier that stood between him and getting to it but at the same time, he couldn’t bear to see with his own eyes what two years had done to the one thing he had been most terrified to leave. Except for Tae, of course.

“Yeah …” he muttered, removing his hand from the doorknob and wiping the excess sweat on his T-Shirt, disgusted at the clammy texture of his palms.

Why was he so nervous?

“You know what? Can you guys go and get us some coffees?” he inquired of the other three who were all watching him with wary, concerned expressions on their young faces. “I want to … Say hi first.”

“Sure,” Jungkook nodded, ensnaring Jimin with an arm around the smaller boy’s shoulder and taking a firm grip of Taehyung’s hand so he could pull the two of them away from Hoseok and his unnecessarily intense showdown with the door.

“Okay,” he breathed, scrubbing a hand over his face just in case there was a sweaty sheen clinging to his skin. “Okay.”

He opened the door and the first thing he heard was the all-too familiar rhythmic beeping sound that had once been so familiar he hadn’t registered its presence. But now he remembered just how secure that noise made him feel and it gave him the confidence to step further into the room and speak with the cocky drawl he hadn’t used for two years.

“Still alive then?”

Jin turned his head at the sound of the new voice and Hoseok resisted the temptation to burst into tears at just how fragile his hyung looked. His skin was tinged grey, his lips were chapped and broken and his eyes were half-closed.

But the second he processed who was standing in the doorway, his face lit up and those cracked lips spread into the award-winning smile they always used to joke about. His eyes ignited with a spark brighter than any firework and Hoseok found himself grinning right back.

“Still rude then.”

Hoseok snorted as he finally closed the gap and flopped onto the edge of the bed, pulling Jin up to envelope him in as tight a hug as possible without crushing the pouch that was strapped to his hyung’s waist.

“I’m so fucking happy to see your goddamn face.”

It was the first thing he thought of to say as he gently settled his hyung back against the pillows and pressed his healthy lips to Jin’s sickly-grey forehead.

Somebody let out a disapproving cough behind him and he turned his head to see the final piece of his puzzle watching them from the bathroom door, arms folded over his chest and eyebrows raised in affronted question.

“You come back after two years and the first thing you do is kiss my boyfriend?”

“It’s good to see you, too, Namjoon.”

He pushed off the bed and grabbed hold of Namjoon’s hand, using it to pull himself into the other’s chest, gripping tightly to his shirt before gathering himself enough to let go.

“You got tall,” he commented.

“You got old,” Namjoon countered as he poked at the frown lines Hoseok knew were now imprinted into his forehead forever.

They settled themselves either side of Jin’s bed, helping the eldest to sit up a little with the addition of extra pillows. The silence that wafted around them was neither awkward and nor was it comfortable. They all wanted to address the elephant in the room but none of them knew how to initiate the conversation.

“So …” Jin finally prompted, reaching out to take Hoseok’s hand and smiling at the strong squeeze he got in return. “How was it?”

And before Hoseok knew what was happening, the tears were forging paths down his cheeks as he brought his other hand up to encase Jin’s. He hadn’t realised just how badly he’d needed to cry. He hadn’t done so for two years. Crying wasn’t acceptable where he’d been.

“I can’t …” he stuttered, shaking his head with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. “I couldn’t tell you. They … The people there … If I had to stay a day longer, I would have killed myself. I swear to God, I was so close.”

“Why didn’t you call?” Namjoon asked softly, sympathy lathered over his face. “They have phones there, right?”

“And what would I say?” Hoseok sobbed, swatting furiously at the moisture that dared trespass his cheeks. “’Hey, Tae, it’s your brother calling from an unknown number and sobbing about how everything’s fine even though he sounds about ready to kick the bucket’?”

“It was your choice not to tell them.”

“We can never tell them.” Hoseok said it with as much determination as he could muster, staring at Jin and Namjoon through the glaze over his retinas. “They can never know where I was.”

“Okay,” Jin reassured, rubbing his thumb gently backwards and forwards over Hoseok’s hand to calm the surge of desperation that he could feel radiating off the younger boy’s body. “We won’t tell them. But you know that we will never blame you for what happened. Never.”  

Hoseok nodded, glaring up at the ceiling to let gravity impede his crying. When, at last, the waterworks stopped, he cleared his throat in an attempt to unclog the bile that had accumulated in his oesophagus and put on his best sceptically disapproving face.

“So I heard that you’re letting your brother screw my brother.”

There was a snort from Namjoon before he rose from his chair with his hands held either side of his head.

“I am not going to be here for this conversation,” he laughed as he stooped to kiss Jin’s forehead. “My shift starts in an hour anyway and I don’t know where the kids have got to.”

Jin lifted a skeletal hand from the blankets and threaded his fingers through Namjoon’s hair, smiling weakly up at him with a kind of love Hoseok only wished he could feel.

“It’s your fault,” he whispered and Namjoon nodded, dimples concaving his sunken cheeks despite his dramatic weight loss.

“It’s my fault.”

He finally detached himself from his boyfriend and reached over the bed to grip Hoseok’s hand.

“Missed you, brother.”

“Right back at you.”

Jin held onto Namjoon’s other hand for as long as he could before their fingers were pulled apart and the younger boy left the room, blowing them a kiss before the door swung shut.

“You two got really sappy,” Hoseok smirked and Jin scowled at him. “So about our brothers …”

“Hobi,” Jin started, his tone flat and firm, asserting his superiority. “I get it. Tae’s your entire world. Kook’s mine. And I know that they’re young and I know that you don’t want them to hurt each other but think about it, Hobi. For years, we’ve known that this,” he gestured to his chest and the wires that were protruding from underneath his T-Shirt, “is hereditary. Kook could get sick.”

“Hyung …”

“No, Hobi. Kook could get sick, too, and if he does …” Jin trailed off, shaking his head with his eyes closed as he tried to rid his mind of the thought. “We lost our mom to this. He could still lose me. So I want him to live his life. I want him to fall in love and I want him to find out who he is and if I’m being honest, Hobi, I wouldn’t have chosen anyone other than Tae to do that with him.”

Hoseok leaned forwards, wrapping his fingers around Jin’s hand and laying his head on his hyung’s chest, listening to the sound of the heartbeat that only existed because of the machine that fuelled it.

He could remember the day they put it in. He had sat in the hospital waiting room with Tae and Kook under each arm, Jimin on the floor by his feet and Namjoon pacing frantically back and forth in front of him.

He could remember the fear that he couldn’t seem to shake and he could remember how he had envisioned the doctors emerging from those double doors with solemn expressions and words that would rip his world to shreds.

“You will get a new heart,” he breathed into Jin’s chest. “You will.”

“But if I don’t …”

“Stop.”

“If I don’t, I want you to take care of Kook. I know I don’t even need to ask you but I want you to take care of him and I want you to be there for Joon and I want you to let someone be there for you, too.”

“Hyung, please just stop,” Hoseok murmured, burying his face into the fabric of Jin’s shirt. “I only got back this morning and you’re already saying goodbye again?”

“I’m just being prepared, Hobi.”

Hoseok didn’t want him to be prepared. That’s all they had been doing for the past god-knows-how-many-years: preparing. That’s all the doctors had been saying to them on god-knows-how-many-occasions: “you should prepare yourselves.”

But he didn’t want to be prepared for a life without the boy he had been to Hell and back with. All the things they had suffered through, all the horrors they had endured and the sacrifices they’d had to make for the brothers who had become more like their children – nothing could prepare him for having all of that come to waste.  

“Stay alive,” was all he said as he closed his eyes and burrowed further into the crook of Jin’s neck. “You promised you’d wait for me and here I am so now … just stay alive.”

Chapter Text

         “I’m more of a free-range stallion.”

Hoseok stopped walking, the other three sputtering to a halt a few paces in front of him and turning to see his curled lip of bewilderment. “What?”

“I said I’m more of a free-range stallion,” Jimin clarified, fastening his grip on Hoseok’s arm and pulling him back into stride with them.

“He does this a lot,” Taehyung informed his brother, shaking his head with a look of endeared amusement as his and Jungkook’s interlocked hands swung at his side.

“Okay, Jimin, please explain. How are you a free-range stallion?”

“You know,” Jimin gesticulated violently with his hands as his mouth emitted several indistinct grunts to make up for his lack of words. “I’m just better off on my own. Running with the wind, letting the world take me wherever I want to go.”

“You’re seventeen. The only place the world is taking you is school.”

“I’m a strong, independent and confident man,” Jimin stated proudly, nose up in the air and hand pressed over his heart. “And I don’t need no one.”

He gestured regally at Taehyung and Jungkook. “Those two are like … Shetland ponies. Domesticated and co-dependant.”

They rounded the corner and the school building came into view, the swarm of grumbling students filtering lazily through the gates and into the courtyard to mill around each other with equal expressions of distaste.

As they walked closer, Hoseok’s eye caught on something in his peripheral vision and his gaze wandered across the road to see the boy from his math class staggering out from behind a car.

He had a distinct limp, his frail body favouring his left leg, something Hoseok was certain hadn’t been present the previous day. His head was down, the same hoodie as yesterday barricading his face from view, and the books he clutched in his arms were ripped at the corners and tinted with stains that Hoseok couldn’t identify.

He was just trying to figure out what to make of this bizarre appearance when another man emerged from behind that same vehicle. The two of them couldn’t have contrasted more dramatically.

This guy was tall – just as tall if not taller than Namjoon – and each of his shoulders could have seated an entire human being with the width they stood at. Kook’s muscles would have been no match for him if he was correct in assuming it was his biceps that the sleeves of his jacket were straining over.

Even as Hoseok watched, the giant snatched out a hammy hand and seized the boy’s upper arm in a grip so tight Hoseok was afraid he would snap his bones in two. He dragged his prey back towards him, seeming to relish in the yelp of surprise and pain he elicited, and suckered his mouth onto his victim’s face. 

There was a split second where the blonde boy struggled in the hold and another meaty hand leapt to his hair, tugging at the overly-long locks with alarming ferocity. But it clearly had the desired effect as the boy stopped resisting and surrendered to the violent display of very twisted affection.

Hoseok couldn’t take his eyes off the way the smaller hands braced themselves against the much-larger chest, as though they wished they could push with all their strength and break free of the vertical wrestling match they were being forced to participate in.

“Hyung …”

Hoseok hadn’t realised he’d stopped walking and was standing on the pavement, gawking at the pair of men across from him with his fists clenched at his sides. You didn’t have to be a genius to figure out what was going on there.

“Hyung, let’s go.”

It was Taehyung who was tugging on his arm, his voice low and desperate as he put all his effort into dragging Hoseok forwards, away from the lion and its condemned meal.

If it wasn’t for the fear in his little brother’s voice, Hoseok would have shaken him off and stormed right across the road to intervene, but instead he allowed Taehyung to pick up the pace until they finally caught up to Jimin and Jungkook who were already at the school gates.

“Who was that?” Hoseok demanded, turning his head back the way they’d come. The couple were no longer visible.

“Trust me, hyung, you don’t want to get involved,” Jungkook hissed, pulling them all further into the courtyard and constantly checking over his shoulder as though they were being watched.

“That boy’s in my math class. Who is he?”

“Hyung, please …” Taehyung begged, his anxiety prevailing through his features. “You can’t fix everyone and you definitely can’t fix him so just mind your own business like everybody else does.”

“Just give me his name,” Hoseok implored, silent eyes begging for Taehyung’s cooperation.

He knew what the exchange he’d seen had reminded him of. He’d witnessed it before when he’d been absolutely powerless to stop it. Not a single person had tried to help back then and it had only gotten worse until …

“Just his name.”

Jungkook opened his mouth, already shaking his head in a refusal, but Jimin piped up before he could utter the words.

“August.”

Hoseok snorted, raising his eyebrows and glaring at the fairy-like human being he towered over.

“His real name.”

“We don’t know his real name,” Jimin supplied bluntly, ignoring the glowers he was receiving from his dongsaengs. “No one does.”

Hoseok stared at him, bewildered gaze demanding an explanation.

“He doesn’t speak,” Jimin continued, slapping Taehyung’s hand when it reached to cover his mouth. “He doesn’t interact, he doesn’t communicate. Nobody knows anything about him except the fact that his boyfriend gives him bruises but nobody does anything about it because they don’t want to get their necks broken. He has a weird hair colour and we call him August because that’s when he got here but that’s all anyone knows.”

“And it’s not your problem!” Taehyung interjected, grabbing Hoseok by the shoulders and staring him right in the face, as though he knew exactly what his hyung was thinking.

“It has to be someone’s!” Hoseok retorted. “Do you know how many people are killed in abusive relationships every year?”

“Hoseok, please!” Taehyung whimpered and he looked on the verge of tears. “We have our own war that we’re barely winning as it is. I know this is personal for you but if you get involved, you’ll get hurt. And badly.”

It was the first pearly droplet sliding down Taehyung’s cheek that finally brought Hoseok to his defeat. He had never been able to refuse Tae anything when he cried.

“Okay, Tae,” he conceded, wrapping his brother up in a hug and rubbing his hand up and down his back. “Okay.”

But just as they drew apart, the boy everybody had objectively named August came storming past them. His limp was even more profound, the knuckles clenching his tattered books were white and even from underneath the hood, Hoseok could see that his lips were swollen and already starting to bruise.

And there was some part of him that just knew he was going to break his promise to Taehyung.  

They stopped at the lockers, waiting for Jungkook to scrape out his books before they would part ways to various classrooms. They talked more about free-range stallions and Shetland ponies and laughed at Jimin’s indignant refusal to be compared to a donkey, but Hoseok couldn’t shake the sight of August straining against that man.

He was wrenched from his thoughts, however, by Jungkook’s phone very loudly announcing the arrival of a new message.

“You really should turn that on silent,” Taehyung chastised as he watched his boyfriend fishing the device from his jeans pocket.

But Jungkook’s face paled the moment his eyes locked with the screen. Every ounce of colour just seemed to drain like a bath: slowly at first and then all at once.

Jimin and Hoseok’s argument sputtered to a stop and they all stared as the maknae’s bag slid off his shoulder to land on the floor with a crash, his phone still clutched in a trembling hand.

“Kook …” Hoseok prompted nervously, but in his heart he already knew what the message read.

Jungkook raised his gaze to meet them, expression contorted with fear as he whispered two words. Two words that would have sounded mundane and meaningless to any mind but theirs. Two words that instilled a terror within them that compared to no other. Two words.

“Code purple.”

And the second they had that confirmation, they were all tossing their bags to the floor as they turned and sprinted for the doors. Fellow students flattened themselves against the lockers to let them pass and irritated abuse was fired at their rapidly retreating backs but not one of them faltered.

Hoseok’s heart was hammering as he skidded through the gates and followed Jungkook down the road, Taehyung and Jimin at his heels.

Please … Please … Please, he found himself repeating in his mind. He could remember the last Code Purple they’d had like it was yesterday. It had been the first footfall that started the avalanche, and Hoseok had barely survived that one.  

They pounded down the pavement and straight into the main road, barely even giving the oncoming traffic a sideways glance as they pelted over the tarmac to the other side. A car horn blared and there was an indistinct bellow of some provocative phrase but Hoseok merely threw his gaze over his shoulder just to check no one had been run over before he kept moving.

His thoughts were manifesting with alarming speed and graphic detail, imagining all the possibilities that could await them when they reached their destination. He tried to tell himself that it could be nothing. Just an overreaction or a panicked impulse.

But the last time he’d heard the words Code Purple, Jin’s heart had stopped beating.

 

-----------------------

 

Namjoon was waiting for them in the corridor, wearing his ugly maroon polo shirt with the hospital’s coffee shop logo embroidered in yellow over his chest and the second he saw them careering towards him, faces flushed and shoulders heaving from the exertion, he moved forwards to intercept Jungkook before he ploughed into a wall.

The kid looked like he was going to have a full-blown anxiety attack. Hoseok couldn’t believe that he could be out of breath with a body like his and so hyperventilation was the only other option. Kook reached out and clutched at Namjoon’s elbows with a terrified pleading edge to his eyes.

“Tell me,” he stammered, his fingernail’s digging into Namjoon’s skin.

“It’s um … It’s …” There were tears in Namjoon’s eyes that he was refusing to let fall and the second he looked over Jungkook’s shoulder and locked gazes with the others, Hoseok knew it was bad.

“Namjoon!” Jungkook shrieked, shaking his hyung as though he could somehow rattle the answer out of him. “What happened to my brother?”

“We were just talking!” Namjoon spilled, wriggling free of Jungkook’s grasp and reaching up to wipe the sweat accumulating on his brow. “I came up here on my break and we were just talking … and then he couldn’t breathe.”

Jimin swore, making Hoseok jump. He’d been so fixated on Namjoon’s traumatised expression that he’d forgotten the other two were still behind him.

“It’s okay,” he interjected into the conversation, stepping forwards and putting a hand on Jungkook’s shoulder. He was starting to worry that the kid was going to collapse. “He’s been through this before and he always comes out the other side. He hasn’t fought for all this time just to opt out today.”

“What the fuck do you know?” Jungkook spat, whirling around to face Hoseok so that their noses were only a few inches apart, his eyes wild and panicked and crazed with fear. “You haven’t been here!”

Hoseok found himself taking a step back, suddenly unnerved. He never would have imagined he would be frightened of the kid he used to read bedtime stories to.

“I know, Kook, but …”

“You haven’t been here!” the maknae screamed, salivated bullets peppering Hoseok’s shocked face. “You left us to go do some fucking dance bullshit and now you come back and pretend like you know exactly what we’ve been through the past two years!”

Hoseok swallowed the lump of vomit that was threatening to claw its way up his throat.

“This is the third Code this year,” Jungkook continued, and now nobody was even trying to stop him. He was too far gone. “You’re right, he’s fought for god knows how long but he isn’t fighting anymore! He’s tired! He’s weak! He’s barely hanging on! And you weren’t here!”

He turned away, ramming his fist into the nearest wall with a bellow of fury and Hoseok could have sworn he felt Taehyung flinch beside him.

He was stunned. Jungkook had grown not just in physique but in aggression, and Hoseok couldn’t shake the feeling that he bore a striking resemblance to his father. The thought made him want to throw up.

But the worst feeling was that he knew Jungkook was right. He hadn’t been here, and his heart was screaming at him to tell them why – to admit that there had been no dance camp or private lessons from an iconic choreographer – but his head told him that the truth would reduce their already-trembling foundations to rubble.

Namjoon pressed his back up against the wall and slid down to rest on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chest and his fingers interlocked in front of him, as though in prayer.

After a moment, Jimin and Taehyung lowered themselves down beside him, holding each other’s hands but not uttering a single word. Hoseok, and finally Jungkook, joined them and they sat there in painful silence, lined up against the hospital corridor wall and waiting for the guillotine to fall.  

 

--------------------

 

“Boys …”

Hoseok’s head snapped up from where it had rested with his chin nestled into his chest and he immediately felt the bittersweet sensation of recognition blossoming in his gut.

The doctor that stood before them, staring down at their exhausted forms huddled shoulder to shoulder in the corridor, was old and frail with knotted veins popping through the papery skin of his hands and wrinkles that seemed so heavy they dragged half his face down with them.

But his eyes were kind. His eyes had always been kind, for as long as Hoseok could remember. And that was a long time. He still remembered their first meeting when his thirteen-year-old mind had instantly written the ancient bat off as useless.

But now that he was standing in front of them with those kind eyes and those knotted hands which had saved Jin’s life more times than any of them cared to count, Hoseok knew that his thirteen-year-old mind had been stupid.

“Hoseok, it’s good to see you again,” the doctor smiled as Hoseok scrambled to his feet and clutched both of those hands in his own, squeezing tightly and bowing as far as his waist would let him.

“You, too, Dr Wong,” he responded as he felt the others rising beside him, knees popping and necks cracking from their sudden awakening.

“Doctor …” Jimin pressed anxiously, one hand still entwined with Taehyung’s and the other twisted into the back of Hoseok’s shirt. “How’s Jin-hyung?”

Wong surveyed them all, his sadness evident in the softened smile he gave them and his hand that reached out to clasp Jungkook’s shoulder.

“It was a pulmonary embolism,” he began.

He spoke slowly but he wasn’t patronising like so many had been before him. He looked each of them in the eye when he spoke to convey his sincerity like so many had neglected to do before him. And Hoseok’s favourite thing about the man he had come to know as an angel was that he never refused them information or questioned their biological relationship to their brother like so many had failed to do before him.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a blood clot that got lodged in one of his lungs and restricted his breathing.”

Taehyung went white and Namjoon’s eyes widened slightly as they remained fixated on his shoes. He had always had a problem with looking at the person who had stuck their hands in his boyfriend’s body.

“It’s alright,” Wong continued quickly at the sight of their distress. “We removed it and he’s stable in the ICU. But …”

Here it was. It was coming. Just like it always did.

“We are running out of time,” he said as he looked Hoseok right in the eye. He knew Hoseok had been doing this the longest and he knew what the boy had needed to sacrifice in order to keep Jin alive. “Seokjin’s current condition has permitted him to move several places up the transplant list but we would need to receive news of a donor heart within the next few weeks if we’re going to stand a chance of keeping him with us.”

There would have been a time when they would have sobbed at such news, or sunk to their knees and screamed in horror, but this was their lives. This had been their existence for almost five years and each one of them had grown accustomed to the mortality clock counting down until the flatline.  

They all remained still, nodding silently, scrubbing their hands over their faces and breathing sighs of mingled relief and resignation.

“Can I see him?” Jungkook finally whispered, those big Bambi eyes boring into Wong’s decrepit old face with the charm he knew nobody could resist.

“Yes, Kookie, you can see him.”

Only Wong called Jungkook ‘Kookie’. It was another reason why they loved him. He cared. He wasn’t just groping for a paycheque, he was actually invested in Jin’s condition.

“Okay, Kook,” Hoseok spoke up, coughing slightly when his voice cracked from the build-up of phlegm that had accumulated in his throat. “We’ll tell your teachers you’re having a sick day.”

He didn’t meet Jungkook’s eye and therefore he missed the guilty look the kid was giving him over the top of Taehyung’s shoulder as the two of them embraced.

“Thank you,” Hoseok said to Wong, bowing once more and leaning into the hand that rested against his face before the doctor retreated back into the white-coated parade.

“Call if there’s a change,” he directed at Namjoon as they hugged before he took Taehyung and Jimin by the arms and steered them towards the hospital exit.

Returning to school would be hellish, constant glances at phone screens hidden under desks and imploring eyes silently scolding the clock, and there would be consequences for their truancy but they all knew that if they took a ‘sick’ day every time Jin fluctuated, they would have the lowest attendance rates in the school. And the eldest would have killed them.

They knew that, for now, Jin was alive and kicking, and that had to be enough. Every day was a gift that God presented them with but his generosity was rapidly running out and soon, he would grow weary of their ungratefulness. And then the gifts would stop.

Chapter Text

          The three of them were sentenced to ninety minutes of teeth-pulling boredom in detention, but Hoseok was thankful for the time to think.

He sat by the window, watching the cars pulling out of the gates and the students leisurely lumbering to freedom, and suddenly his and Jin’s last conversation was the only thing he could truly focus on.

If I don’t get a new heart in time …

I want you to look after Kook …

I want you to be there for Joon …

I’m just trying to be prepared …

“Son of a bitch,” he breathed, too softly for Taehyung and Jimin to hear from a few tables over but loud enough to satisfy his internal frustration.

Jungkook had been right. Jin was giving up. He’d been confined to a hospital bed where he’d lived off a machine surgically fused into his chest for two straight years and now that Hoseok was back and able to clear up the collateral damage, he was strapping the explosives to his chest.

He could feel the tears pricking his eyes but before his body could have the chance to truly mourn the loss of his best friend’s motivation, he was distracted by the hushed argument slowly rising in decibel at the front of the classroom.

August was standing beside the teacher’s desk, his hood down for the first time in Hoseok’s memory, displaying the slightly overgrown mop of greasy, tangled and clumsily dyed blonde hair. His eyes were fixed on the teacher’s and Hoseok would have been lying if he said he couldn’t see a hint of desperation in his sallow and sunken skin.

He honed in on the conversation, moving his gaze down to his workbook in front of him so that he couldn’t be accused of eavesdropping.

“Miss, I am begging you, please,” August was whispering, clasping his hands in front of him and looking as though he was ready to get down on his knees.

“I can’t make exceptions, August,” she replied and Hoseok couldn’t help the raise in his eyebrows. Even the staff called him August. “You were given two extensions and still you failed to hand in your assignment and therefore, here we are. We have to treat everybody the same. Now go and sit down.”

“Miss …”

“Sit down, August.”

The tone was harsh and commanding, the gaze cold and hard and August visibly stiffened, his feet shuffling a few inches away from the desk as though he were repelled by her scolding.

“Yes, Miss,” he whispered before scurrying to the nearest seat and lowering himself into the chair, gripping the sides of the desk so tightly that his paper pale hands lost another shade of colour.

Hoseok couldn’t help but watch. He couldn’t help but wonder and he couldn’t help but fear that there was a reason August was so desperate to escape detention. He eyed the smaller boy and felt his gut aching at the sight of heaving shoulders, a nervously bouncing leg and a tremor in the hands that held onto the table.

He knew the symptoms of a panic attack. He’d seen too many to count and had experienced plenty himself, but in this moment when the teacher was sitting straight-backed and solemn at the front of the class with cruel eyes burning holes in their inferior bodies, there was nothing he could do.

So he waited. He watched August’s breathing becoming more and more laboured with each glance he gave the clock, as though he could beg the hands to move faster. And when the second hand hit its mark and signalled the end of their legalised torture, August literally staggered from the room, needing to use the door frame for support.

“Hoseok?” Taehyung called as Hoseok made to follow and the older boy stopped, inner emotions conflicted.

“You go ahead,” he decided. “I’ll just be a moment.”

He ducked out of the classroom, spinning on the spot before he spotted August making a desperate bid for the door. His legs didn’t look like they were working properly as they buckled underneath him and he was forced to cling to the lockers to keep himself upright.

“August!”

Hoseok didn’t know what he was doing but he found his feet were carrying him towards the stumbling boy and his stability allowed him to catch up within a matter of seconds.

“August …”

His hand reached out, tentatively hovering over August’s stooped body until he finally gained the courage to initiate contact.

“Breathe, August,” he whispered, rubbing his hand between the boy’s shoulder blades and wincing as he felt each individual vertebra in his spine. He couldn’t even begin to understand why nobody seemed to have deemed this case serious enough to step in. “Just breathe.”

He was shocked when August’s hand reached out and fisted in his jacket, clinging to him for dear life as he remained doubled over in the school corridor with tears streaming down his face.

Hoseok took a risk when he pulled the smaller body towards him but August latched onto him with a kind of desperation that broke Hoseok’s heart. When was the last time someone had hugged this boy?

“August, come with me.”

The words were out of his mouth before he even had a chance to register them and from the way August lifted his head and stared at him with wide and red-rimmed eyes, he deduced that they were both shocked by the sudden outburst. And yet he felt no regret.

“Come with me right now and I can get you somewhere safe.”

He didn’t know what he was doing. He had no idea how he could help when he was barely holding his own family together but he was not going to be one of those people who crossed over the road and turned away so they could pretend they didn’t see. He was going to throw a lifeline and now all he needed was for August to grab hold.

“I need to go.”

“No, no, no,” Hoseok begged, trying to hold onto something to keep this boy with him where he was sheltered and protected but there was nothing to hold onto. He was skin and bones and sickness and bruises and he slid from Hoseok’s grasp like soap through wet hands. “August, please!”

But August was already through the front doors and by the time Hoseok stumbled out onto the concrete, the blonde matchstick had made it across the road and into the clutches of the seething dragon that stood waiting for him.

Hoseok found himself frozen to the spot, desperate to call out and intervene but too afraid of what would happen if he did. All his body let him do was watch as the beast hissed something that Hoseok didn’t need to hear to know it’s intent and August’s sugary pale hands reached up to frame his face as though he were trying to soothe him.

However, when a flat palm met a bony cheek and a white-knuckled fist seized a handful of bleached hair, Hoseok was sprinting towards them. He didn’t care if August’s tormentor was twice his size, he didn’t care if he knocked him flat on his ass; all he cared about was getting that fragile creature away from those murderous eyes.

“Hey!” he yelled out, his voice drowned by the blast of a car horn from the main road. He opened his mouth to try again but the vulture had already tossed the sparrow roughly into the passenger seat and Hoseok’s second scream either went unheard or ignored.

The car screeched into motion, the smell of burning rubber wafting through the air as tyres skidded on tarmac, and all Hoseok was left with was a number plate retreating down the road. But a number plate was enough.

His phone almost slipped from his hands as he fumbled with it and he knew instantly that if he had let it drop, he would have lost his chance. But it remained in his grasp and even permitted him to access the front camera automatically so he could imprint that collection of numbers and letters into his memory forever.

 

-----------------

 

It was nearly 6pm by the time Hoseok finally lumbered through the hospital doors, but rather than making a beeline for the ICU, his exhausted feet carried him on autopilot, straight to the coffee shop.

He waited patiently in line, hands in his pockets and mind racing with what he’d just seen before he reached the front of the queue and ducked under the barrier to join Namjoon behind the counter.

“You know you’re not allowed to do that,” Namjoon snorted as he waved a flapjack nonchalantly underneath the barcode scanner and handed it back to its owner.

“Your boss loves me, it’ll be fine,” Hoseok replied as he leaned forward to rest his forehead on Namjoon’s shoulder, ignoring the disapproving look he was getting from the customers. “I am exhausted.”

“You’re telling me.”

“How’s Worldwide Handsome doing?”

Namjoon’s sigh could have been heard from Indonesia. He sounded like a man who had truly reached the end of his very-long tether. He sounded like a man who had given up hope and that was something they had promised never to do.

“It looks like the curtain call, Hobi,” he said as he scribbled a name on a coffee cup. Hoseok almost smiled at how his friend always managed to spell them correctly. “They took him off the ventilator but he hasn’t woken up yet and Kook’s just …”

He trailed off, staring wistfully at the brownies piled in a pyramid in front of him, just a sheet of glass away. Hoseok couldn’t remember the last time either of them had received the luxury of biting into a brownie.

“He told me to take care of you yesterday,” Hoseok murmured, leaning his back against the coffee machine and letting his eyes roam over the customers seated at the tables. In a hospital café, you never knew what kind of torture those people were living and therefore you could never assume it was less significant than your own. “I think he was saying goodbye.”

Namjoon gave a sad smile. “He told me he’d always love me.”

As Hoseok thought about Jin’s grey skin and the finalised look in his eyes when he had held his friend’s hand, he couldn’t imagine anyone’s lives being worse than theirs. But then he remembered August.

“Joon?”

“Have a nice day, Ma’am – yeah?”

“Have you heard the kids mention anyone named August?” He meant it to sound innocently inquisitive but Namjoon’s head snapped towards him in a heartbeat, eyes narrowed and expression stern.

“Stay out of it, Hoseok,” he stated curtly and Hoseok let out a frustrated sigh. “I mean it. Trust me, when I heard, I wanted to help him too but we can’t. And I know it’s hard for you to walk away when you know what a life like that can do to a person but I’m here working three jobs to pay for my boyfriend’s healthcare while his little brother’s upstairs holding his hand, crying and begging him not to die which is something we all know he’s going to do very soon if he doesn’t get a goddamn heart, and I can’t remember the last time I had a meal that wasn’t given to me by a nurse out of pity because every spare penny I have goes towards feeding Kook and Tae. So when I say that we can’t afford to help anybody else, Hoseok, I mean that we can’t afford to help anybody else.”

Only when he’d finished his tirade did he seem to realise there was a slightly-alarmed looking man clutching a waffle at the front of the queue.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” he stuttered, clicking the cash register and holding out the customer’s change.

“Keep it,” the man grunted and waddled off to enjoy his waffle, leaving Namjoon standing defeated at the counter.

Hoseok stepped forwards, placing his palm on Namjoon’s back and resting his head on the broad shoulder. He took the change from the hand that still hovered uselessly in mid air and slipped it into Namjoon’s pocket. It wasn’t stealing if the guy had said he could keep it.

“I know how hard you work,” he whispered. “I know what you’ve sacrificed for us and I would never take it for granted.”

Namjoon scoffed slightly. He was too tired to make his incredulity sound believable. “What I’ve sacrificed? Hobi, you … I can’t even begin to imagine what you went through in that place.”

“And I pray that you never have to,” Hoseok replied as he straightened up and handed Namjoon a lollipop to give to the little girl peering over the top of the counter.

The taller boy turned towards him and Hoseok was reminded of just how tired he looked with the weight of the world loaded into the bags under his eyes. His life could have been so different. His life could have been so much easier. But this is what he had chosen and he hadn’t expressed a single regret in five years.

“Please,” he implored, and his gaze was so desperate that Hoseok found himself already agreeing to whatever was being asked of him. “Don’t start another battle you won’t be able to win.”

Hoseok never answered him because lying was something he had promised he would never do to Namjoon and if he told the boy what he wanted to hear, he would be doing just that.

“I’m going to see your man,” was all he said as he shimmied back underneath the barrier and strode out of the café, the image of August’s boyfriend’s number plate imprinted in his mind.

Chapter Text

           The second Hoseok walked into his math class, there was some part of him that just knew what he was going to see. August was slouched in his seat, nose almost touching his workbook as his hand scribbled frantically. His hood was back up, shielding his face from view but as Hoseok slid into the seat beside him, he caught a glimpse of the damage that lay beneath.

August’s face was a mess of black and purple. One of his eyes was swollen to the point that his lids almost touched without consent. His lip was split right down the middle and a hideously obvious bloodied mark tainted the pale flesh stretched taught over his cheek.  

“Holy shit …” Hoseok breathed, unsure whether or not to reach out and touch him. “August, I think you need a hospital.”

There was no reply, just an increase in the ferocity with which August etched the algebraic equations onto the paper. He stooped even lower over the table and brought his left hand up to rest under his chin, concealing any further trace of skin from being revealed.

“August, let me see …”

The hand that rested confidently on August’s shoulder was a huge mistake. The blonde boy whipped around, his arm whizzing upwards to slap at the trespassing digit. He glared right into Hoseok’s eyes, the full extent of his injuries displayed perfectly, but all Hoseok could focus on were the words that were spat from his mouth.

“I don’t know who you are,” he hissed, far too quietly for anyone but his uninvited partner to hear. “And I don’t know why you care but you are not my social worker and I am not your charity case. Yesterday, you were in the right place at the right time and that was all that was. It doesn’t mean we’re friends, it doesn’t mean you have an all access pass to my personal life and it doesn’t mean that I am obligated to listen to a single damn word that comes out of your overly large mouth. Now shut the fuck up and leave me alone.”

With that, he returned his full attention to the formulas in front of him, signalling that the exchange was well and truly over.

Hoseok sat there in shell-shocked silence for several long moments before the teacher banged open the classroom door and signalled the start of the lesson, forcing him to turn his attention away from the heavily-guarded boy beside him.

But even though his concern had been fiercely rejected, Hoseok couldn’t help noticing the way August hissed in pain and instinctively reached for his ribs when he sneezed or how, at some point during the lesson, he had broken into a violent coughing fit and Hoseok could have sworn he saw blood in his hand.

And when the bell rang and the class dispersed into lunch break, August’s limp was more profound than ever, hobbled and pained and agonising to watch.

Hoseok watched his tiny, fragile frame disappearing into the throng of students flooding leisurely towards the canteen. Even though his blonde hair would have easily made him stand out, his height was what swallowed him whole and then Hoseok couldn’t see him anymore.

That was when he made up his mind.

He knew exactly where he would find his target: glued to a computer screen in the library with a barely-concealed packet of chips in his lap, greasy fingers dancing the Tarantella over the keyboard as he zapped whatever he was into zapping these days.

Hoseok strode right over to him, scanning the room just to make sure there was no one who could possibly overhear and snitch on him. He deemed the environment safe and reached out to tug the gamer’s headphones out of his ears.

“Unacceptable!” came the screech of fury that sputtered into a huge grin as the perpetrator looked up into the face of his saboteur.

“Hyung! I didn’t know you were back!” he yelled as he leapt to his feet and wrapped his victim in a greasy hug that smelled strongly of cheese and onion.

“Good to see you, Daehwi,” Hoseok laughed as he picked a crisp crumb from the younger boy’s sweater. “I would love to catch up with you but first, I need something.”

“Anything,” the boy grinned up at him, melting Hoseok’s heart right where he stood. Honestly, if he had room in his financially-floundering family, he would have adopted this kid on the spot.

“I need you to trace a number plate for me.”

He knew how it sounded: shifty, and from the way Daehwi’s glowing expression dimmed just a little, he knew the kid had noticed.

“Please, Hwi, don’t ask questions,” he begged, placing his hands on the skinny shoulders and bending his knees slightly so that he was almost eye-level with his only hope.

There was a moment where he was seriously concerned Daehwi was going to refuse but then he nodded his head with only the slightest hint of reluctance.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

“Thank you,” Hoseok almost laughed, kissing the boy’s forehead before Daehwi wriggled free with a squeal of disgust and sank back into his chair.

“Have you got the number plate?” he asked, already summoning the necessary software he needed before Hoseok could even get his phone out of his pocket.

He found the photograph he’d taken the previous day and placed the device in front of Daehwi, stepping back and watching the kid work his magic. He got this expression on his face when he was in his comfort zone that made him look like he was in his own little world, truly absorbed in the binary codes that had become his second language.

“I got it,” he suddenly piped up and Hoseok felt his eyebrows shooting up towards his hairline.

“Jesus, kid, you got fast.”

Daehwi smirked proudly as he sat back in his seat so Hoseok could scoot forwards and see the screen.

“The plate’s registered with a Jang Jaeyeol. Do you want me to run a background check?”

“Please.”

There was another second where the only sound in Hoseok’s universe was Daehwi’s fingertips tapping against the individual keys, playing his own kind of music with the plastic squares. Then the song stopped.

“Hwi?”

Daehwi looked up at him, biting down on his bottom lip just the way he always did when he was nervous or concerned about something.

“Hyung,” he murmured, voice uncharacteristically low and quiet. “Are you in trouble again?”

Hoseok frowned at him, brow creasing in confusion before he gently manoeuvred Daehwi’s chair aside and stooped to read the information on the computer screen.

“Holy mother of …”

“Jang Jaeyeol’s a wanted criminal,” Daehwi continued, scrolling through the article he’d unearthed, wide eyes surfing over the words and pictures with increasing panic building in his tone. “Triple homicide and child abduction. Hyung, what the hell have you got into?”

“Daehwi, go get lunch,” Hoseok gulped, already feeling the lump constricting his airway.

All he’d wanted was to get a name to include in his domestic abuse report. He’d had absolutely no idea he’d find something of this calibre, and now the last thing he wanted was Daehwi running to tell Taehyung that his brother was wrangling a beast he couldn’t control.

“Hyung …”

“It’s okay, Daehwi. Everything’s fine. I’m not in trouble. Now go and get some lunch.” He pulled the kid into a bone-crushing hug, stroking the back of his head in an attempt to make up for the rudest reunion he’d ever been a part of.

He waited until he was alone before he threw himself in front of the computer, face so close that his nose almost touched the screen and his eyes started to feel fuzzy, but he couldn’t pull away.

 

November 23, 2015

Written by Kim Sunggyu

 

A murder investigation has been launched after a family of four were attacked in their home in Suseong-Gu, Daegu Province. The incident occurred in the late evening of November 18 when neighbours contacted the police to report a commotion coming from the Min family residence.

Police found Min Yunkyum, 42, and his wife, Min Jaehee, 40, restrained in their living room in the early hours of November 20. Along with their daughter, Min Dawon, 13, they had received multiple stab wounds to their abdomens and chests and had been deceased for several days by the time authorities arrived.  

After his sudden disappearance immediately following the crime, it was suspected that the culprit might have been the Min’s son, Min Yoongi, 15, but after a forensic examination revealed that a substantial amount of blood at the scene belonged to the child, it was concluded that he must have been another victim.

An interview with close friends brought the name Jang Jaeyeol to light.

Teachers at Yoongi and Dawon’s school reported seeing Yoongi seemingly caught up in a very concerning relationship with a fellow pupil by the name of Jang Jaeyeol. The pair initially appeared to be an ordinary couple but other students informed police that as time went on, Jaeyeol became increasingly controlling and possessive of the Min’s son, even going as far as to ban him from seeing his fellow classmates outside of school.

Park Chanyeol, Min Yoongi’s close friend, told reporters: “He started coming in with these bruises and when we asked him about them, he just said he fell. He became really distant and wouldn’t talk to anyone except Jaeyeol. Then one day he told me he was going to break up with him. That was the day before he went missing.”

The FBI have issued a statement to say that they believe Jang Jaeyeol attacked the Min family after their son attempted to end their relationship. He murdered the mother, father and daughter before abducting the son and seemingly vanishing into thin air.

Detective Inspector, Moon Taeil, reported that in the vast majority of stalker/abduction cases, the victims are either found dead or never found at all.

Authorities have issued a Code Amber and would ask that anybody with any information on the murder of the Min family or the abduction of Min Yoongi to please step forward.

 

Hoseok was numb as he scrolled down the screen to reveal the pictures that were pasted beneath the article. There were two of them: two boys, barely halfway through their teens.

He didn’t even look at the second one. His gaze was firmly and resolutely fixed on the first, his heartrate elevating to dangerous levels as he felt his pulse rocketing in his wrist. The face that grinned back at him from the computer screen had his undivided attention.

The cheeks were chubbier. The eyes were brighter. The hair wasn’t bleached and unwashed. The child in that photograph looked so unrecognisably happy and carefree, unaware that his life was about to be shredded into a thousand pieces and scattered to the four corners of the Earth.

The child in that photograph was definitely, unmistakably, irrevocably August.

“There you are!”

Hoseok jumped so violently that his knee collided with the underside of the table and he cursed loudly, bringing his leg up onto the chair with him so he could wrap his arms around it in an attempt to dull the pain.

“What were you watching?” Jimin snorted and when Hoseok’s eyes widened in fear and his hand immediately snapped to the computer mouse, the younger started forwards with an excited glint in his eye. “Is it porn?”

Hoseok only just managed to click that tiny red X in the corner of the tab before he had the human embodiment of a koala clinging to his back, disappointed eyes glaring at the screen.

“No, it was not porn!” Hoseok spluttered indignantly, wrapping his fingers around Jimin’s arm and tugging him towards the library exit. “And I think we need to have a conversation about your choices of entertainment these days.”

But even as Jimin whined a protest and did his best impression of a puppy begging for forgiveness, Hoseok felt completely blank.

In this school, in his class, in the seat beside him, was a boy who had witnessed the brutal murder of his entire family before his abduction. A boy the FBI had been searching for. A boy everybody had written off as far too damaged to get involved with or too hostile to try getting close to. A boy who was now suffering the most unimaginable torture with bruises blossoming on his face and a limp crippling his footsteps and who had stood hyperventilating in Hoseok’s arms only yesterday, and yet nobody had made a single move to help him.

Nobody cared. Nobody had even tried. Somebody had to. And now somebody would.  

Chapter Text

         Concentration was a virtue Hoseok did not possess for the remainder of the day. Jimin had tried to engage with him and Taehyung had asked for his help with homework – Jungkook was still living at the hospital – but Hoseok’s mind had completely shut off to everything that didn’t revolve around a terrifyingly skeletal boy with a bruised face and bleached hair.

He wondered if he should call the police. That seemed to be the logical solution but at the same time, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Jaeyeol would just take August and run the second he saw them coming. And if that happened, he doubted anyone would ever find him again.

The only option that seemed viable was to somehow get August to trust him. If he trusted him, he could take him somewhere safe and protect him until the police arrived. But he was still grasping at straws, at a complete loss for how to tame a bird so traumatised that it had ceased all attempts at making human contact, when the final bell signalled the end of the day.

He shouldered open the bathroom door, eyes fixated on the ground in his silent brainstorming session, but the moment he glanced up he found himself faltering in the doorway.

August was standing at the sink, hands braced on the rim and glaring at his reflection in the mirror. His cheeks were flushed and there were tears tentatively crawling towards his chin, gliding gracefully over the bruises that looked three whole shades darker than they had in math class that morning.

His eyes flickered to the side the moment Hoseok walked in and he let out a huff of amusement before wrenching his hood back up and swinging his bag over his shoulders.

“Wait,” Hoseok ordered, catching hold of the skinny arm before its owner could flee the bathroom.

August tried to wriggle free but he was weak. Dangerously weak. And where Hoseok had come from, he’d had to be strong.

“I thought I told you to fuck off.”

“And I thought I told you that I could help you,” Hoseok countered, taking a step back and releasing August when he realised just how threatening he was being despite his intentions.

“I don’t need your help,” August spat at him, shoving past Hoseok and storming towards the door.

“You look very different with blonde hair, Yoongi.”

He knew that was going to do it. He had wanted to be gentle and encouraging but in his desperation not to let Yoongi walk out that door, the words had come tumbling out of his mouth.

The boy froze, fingers wrapped around the handle, and Hoseok could see the stiffness that suddenly encased his body as every single muscle seemed to harden in its place. He started to tremble, his knees wobbling ever so slightly, and his breath coming out in a single wavering gasp.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Hoseok pressed. He wanted to step forward but he didn’t want to scare the bird away when he’d only just garnered its attention.

“How do you know that?” Yoongi choked, his voice thin and barely above a whisper. He turned around very slowly, showing Hoseok the watery haze glistening in his lifeless – and yet breathtakingly beautiful – eyes.

Hoseok didn’t answer. He couldn’t risk Daehwi in a situation that had taken such a dramatically dangerous turn.

“Yoongi,” he said instead and watched as Yoongi’s bottom lip began to quiver at hearing a name he probably no longer associated with the person he’d become. “If you keep living like this, he will keep hurting you. Trust me, I’ve seen this life before. I’ve lived it before. And even if they say that they’re going to stop and that they love you, it’s a lie. I think that …”

He broke off, jumping violently when Yoongi suddenly launched himself forwards and seized Hoseok by the upper arms, holding him in a grip that seemed like it was supposed to be strong. It wasn’t, but Hoseok wasn’t about to tell him that.

“You have to forget everything you know,” Yoongi whispered. The tears in his eyes were gone, replaced with something completely different; fear.

“Yoongi, just come with me right now and we can …”

“No! You don’t understand. He will kill you if he even sees you talking to me.” Yoongi almost looked deranged with the desperation lathering his panicked tone. “You can’t help me. Do you understand? You can’t help me!”

“I …” Hoseok didn’t know how to respond.

He’d known there was a real and incredibly terrifying threat from the beginning and now he knew the real and even more terrifying history and yet it was only truly hitting him now that Yoongi was in front of him, almost nose to nose.

“Do you have a family?” he continued, still gripping the taller boy’s arms for dear life.

Hoseok nodded wordlessly.

“He’ll kill them, too.”

He gulped, his mind suddenly abuzz with images of Taehyung’s boxy smile, Jungkook’s Bambi eyes, Jimin’s laugh, Namjoon’s dimples and Jin’s frail and fragile body that would have absolutely no chance of protecting itself.

Yoongi nodded, finally satisfied that Hoseok understood the ferocity of the storm he was about to barge into without a single layer of rainwear. His grip softened slightly and Hoseok saw something different on his face, something that wasn’t anger or fear. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought it looked remarkably like gratitude.

“You’re a good person,” he whispered into the bathroom silence. “Now go and save someone who can be saved.”

He turned away and Hoseok was struck with the sudden realisation that if he didn’t do something right now, Yoongi was going to slip right through those cracks that schools always insisted they closed.

“Wait!” he cried out, ignoring Yoongi’s frustrated sigh as he tugged a pen from his jacket pocket and stepped forwards.

He apologised under his breath when he reached for Yoongi’s arm and the smaller boy flinched. He took a hand that was decorated with royal blue veins standing vibrant against papery skin, and lined with fingers the width of string beans, and he pushed up the hoodie sleeve.

“What are you doing?” Yoongi hissed, trying to pull away but Hoseok held on, pressing the tip of his pen to the flesh stained with purple handprints, and started writing.

“My number,” he said as he finished and straightened up, helping Yoongi pull his sleeve back down. “If you’re hurt or scared or you want out … call me.”

There was a moment where Yoongi stared at him through those heavy-lidded eyes framed with black swelling, and then the corners of his mouth twitched into something that could have been mistaken for a smile.

“That was the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.”

Hoseok even chuckled, averting his eyes to the floor and lifting his hand to rub self-consciously at the back of his neck. By the time he looked up, the door was already swinging shut.

He sighed. He’d done something, was all he could tell himself. He’d done something. He hadn’t just been one more of those purposefully oblivious bystanders who insisted on turning a blind eye when another’s suffering was staring them right in the face. He’d done something. And maybe, just maybe, there was hope for this boy with the bruises and the bleached blonde hair.

His footsteps were no longer weighed down with the burden of his indecision as he slid back out into the school corridor. It was silent, a long stretch of emptiness void of human life as every last inhabitant had fled for freedom.

“Is that him?”

He jumped, his body whipping around at the speed of light, and he felt his blood plummeting below zero as his heart turned to ice.

Jaeyeol was standing right smack in the middle of the hallway and the pure density of his massive frame almost ensured that his shoulders touched the lockers on either side. At least that was what it felt like.

His hand was wrapped around the back of Yoongi’s neck, those meaty digits digging their untrimmed talons into preciously fragile flesh. And Yoongi was looking at Hoseok with a clenched jaw and wide eyes, his fingers holding onto the arm that restrained him in an attempt to lessen the pressure.

“Is that him?” Jaeyeol repeated, giving his frightened prey a brutal shake without moving his eyes off Hoseok’s rigid body. “Is that the guy you’ve been staying late to see!”

“No!” Yoongi choked out, and it was clear that he was trying to hide the hint of a sob in his voice. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. I promise.”

“You’re a liar!” Jaeyeol screamed and Hoseok had to restrain himself from crying out in horror as Yoongi’s body slammed into the lockers, his head bouncing off the metal with an almighty crash.

He wanted to intervene. He wanted to take this piece of shit by the throat and beat him to a pulp but his feet were frozen to the floor as the memories resurfaced and paralysed him where he stood.

“Worthless!”

“Useless!”

“Worst mistake I ever made!”

“Just as weak as your mother!”

“I wish you’d never been born!”

He could only watch Yoongi scramble up off the floor and intercept Jaeyeol’s gigantic body as it lunged for Hoseok. The sparrow against the vulture. It was an incontestable match, but Yoongi didn’t hesitate even for a moment.

“Baby, look at me!” he pleaded, cupping Jaeyeol’s twisted face in his hands and pulling his chin down towards him. “Look at me, baby!”

Jaeyeol glowered down at him with an expression that would have withered diamond and yet Yoongi held out. Although his physical ability was worthless in this battle for his own survival, his emotional strength stood as tall as the monster he faced.

“I love you, baby,” Yoongi whispered, stroking his captor’s cheek with a gentleness that was not deserved by its recipient. “I’ve always loved you and I will always love you. Only you.”

Hoseok was forgotten as the sparrow’s soft song soothed the viciousness in the vulture’s ruffled feathers. Jaeyeol’s hands shot from his sides to latch onto Yoongi’s shoulders and pull him forwards so that their bodies were pressed right up against each other.

“You’re mine,” he spat, and Yoongi nodded frantically in his docile desperation to submit and appease. “Never forget that, Sugar.”

“Never.”

And with that they were gone, Jaeyeol’s tree branch of an arm snagging Yoongi’s twig-thin body and dragging it down the hallway towards the door, indifferent to his captive’s feet stumbling over the polished porcelain.

Yoongi didn’t look back. Not even once.

And as Hoseok found himself finally alone in the corridor he had walked a thousand times with a smile on his face and a spring in his step, he crumpled to the ground with a weak whimper. His legs folded under his sudden weight and he threw out an arm to catch himself against the lockers, guiding his fall and curling in on himself.

“Worthless!”

“Useless!”

“Worst mistake I ever made!”

“Just as weak as your mother!”

“I wish you’d never been born!”

It was as if he’d been watching the footage of his past. The actions, the pleas, the dominance, the aggression. It was a perfect reflection. And suddenly he was that six-year-old hiding under the bed with the baby he was desperately trying to keep silent.

His phone buzzed and he fumbled with his jacket pocket. It slipped free of its denim prison and clattered to the floor twice before he managed to secure it in his grasp.

There was one text from Taehyung.

 

From: Baby Bro

CODE PURPLE. NEED U NOW

 

But Hoseok couldn’t move, cryogenically frozen in his eternity of torturous reminiscing and trapped in the body of his younger self who had once lain on top his little brother to protect him from the drunken fists and the buckle of a belt.

His friends needed him. But Hoseok couldn’t move.

Chapter Text

              “I’m here!” he gasped out, staggering around the corner to see the kids gathered in the corridor.

He was still shaking, occasionally pushing off the wall to provide his legs with their much-needed support. If he’d been asked, he couldn’t have explained how he had managed to drag himself to his feet and somehow stumble across two blocks to make it to the hospital. The only answer he could think of would be: Jin.

“I’m here … I’m here …”

But as he finally closed the gap between them, his senses kicked in and all of a sudden, the only emotion he felt was terror.

The second they’d come into view, he knew they’d been hugging. Tae and Kook had been wrapped around each other like they could never be pried apart and Jimin was clinging to the back of Taehyung’s sweater, his face buried in the material. But he hadn’t realised how harshly they were crying until he got close enough to hear the sound of sobbing coming from somewhere within the tangle of limbs.

“Chim …” Hoseok’s voice came out as a strangled whisper, his fear intensifying when Jimin lifted his head from the embrace to reveal swollen cheeks and bulbous eyelids blushed with scarlet.

Something had happened. They’d called Code Purple, he’d been late and now something had happened.

If Jin had … If he wasn’t … And Hoseok hadn’t been here in time … If he hadn’t had the chance to …

“Chim!” he sobbed, clamping his hand to his mouth and pressing his nails into the flesh above his lip as though the physical pain could somehow numb the emotional agony that was readying itself to burst free. “Oh, God …”

He couldn’t breathe. There was a rubber band tightening around his chest, pinching and squeezing and causing the most indescribable torture. Jin couldn’t have died. Not after everything, not after ten years of brotherhood, he couldn’t have died while Hoseok had sat trembling in a school corridor.

Jimin flew at him, their bodies interlocking like they were perfectly shaped to accept each other. Hoseok felt fingers digging into the fabric of his ancient old hoodie and reciprocated the ferocity with everything he had, choking on his tears.

“I’m sorry …” he wailed into the smaller boy’s neck. “I’m so sorry … Oh, God … I can’t breathe …”

He felt Jimin draw back but he couldn’t bring himself to let go. Not until he heard those words.

“They’ve got a heart.”

It didn’t register at first. It took his traumatised, brutalised, fragmented mind several excruciating seconds to analyse each syllable before it managed to put them together. And even then, he was too numb to accept it.

“He … They … Heart …” he spluttered blankly and Jimin laughed, a splurge of snot shooting out of his nose before it was quickly swiped away by his tiny little hands.

“They got a heart!” he beamed, more tears forging fresh paths down his cheeks. “They’ve gone to get it. It’ll be here in an hour.”

“They … An hour … Here …”

“Yes!” Hoseok could no longer tell whether Jimin was laughing or crying. “Jin-hyung’s getting a heart!”

Hoseok looked over Jimin’s shoulder to where his brother and his brother’s boyfriend were hugging and even with Jungkook’s head pressed into Taehyung’s chest and Taehyung’s face turned up towards the ceiling, he could see the smiles on their tear-soaked cheeks.

They had a heart. The doctors had found a donor heart and they had gone to get it and it would be here in an hour and Jin was going to live. Five years – sixty months, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days – of torture and hell and sacrifice and it was all about to end with the lump of flesh and muscle they were bringing over in a box.

It had all been worth it. Everything Hoseok had needed to do to get them here. Every penny he’d worked his ass off for, every meal he’d skipped so Tae could eat, every despicable act he had committed that would grant him an eternity in Hell. Every last second had been worth it.

“They have a heart,” he repeated and when Jimin gave him the umpteenth nod of confirmation, he snagged the smaller body with one hand and flung himself onto the other two.

Their arms slithered free to accommodate them and they cried freely and openly and happily – truly, honestly happily – for the first time in half a decade.

“I want to see him,” Hoseok said as he finally pulled away, swatting at the tears he suddenly felt ashamed of. “He’s awake, right?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nodded, planting a kiss into Jungkook’s hair as the younger remained entwined around his body, still trembling with his incomparable relief. “He and Namjoon are talking with Dr Wong.”

Hoseok ruffled Jungkook’s hair and pressed his forehead against his little brother’s shoulder in a brief display of undiluted happiness before he cleared his throat and pushed his way into the hospital room.

Namjoon was lying on the bed, Jin leaning against his chest with an oxygen tube threaded underneath his nose, something Hoseok hadn’t seen him sporting for years. Both of them were reaching out, holding one of Dr Wong’s hands each as the wrinkled old man smiled down at them as if they were his own children.

Hoseok strode forwards, his parched lips cracking in a smile so unfamiliar to his face that it almost hurt. But it was a good kind of pain. He sat in the seat beside the bed and threaded his fingers through Jin’s hair, combing the tangles Namjoon had neglected to tame that day.

“Thank you,” he aimed at Wong with as much sincerity as he could muster. “I …”

He knew what he needed to say but at the same time, the very last thing he wanted to do was poison this euphoria they were bathing in after a lifetime of dystopia, torture and terror. “How much will it cost?”

He had to resist the urge to hold his breath. In his mind, he was already picturing the last time Jin had needed a surgery and what he’d had to do in order to pay for it. And then where he’d ended up as a result. He didn’t think he could handle another round of that.

His gaze flickered to Namjoon, trying not to portray his fear, but he was surprised when the dimpled grin on the tired face didn’t even falter. If anything, it widened.

Even Jin’s lips were twitching weakly as his eyes travelled sluggishly upwards to rest on his boyfriend’s face.

“Are you going to tell him or should I?” he rasped out, too frail to speak above a whisper.

Namjoon squeezed his shoulder and inclined his head once, indicating that his other half deserved to share the news. Jin’s skeletal hand disentangled itself from the bed covers and snagged Hoseok’s fingers as his bloodshot eyes met Hoseok’s perplexed ones.

“Doctor Wong says he wants to do the surgery pro-bono.”

Hoseok blinked. He looked to each of the three people before him and blinked again.

“Pro bono? As in … For free?”

“Yes, Hoseok,” Wong confirmed, smile stretched so wide that his wrinkles seemed to sink back into his face. It was amazing what happiness did for your youth, something eighteen-years-worth of misery had caused Hoseok to forget. “I’ve gathered a surgical team who all know Seokjin’s story, and they are more than happy to …”

He was cut off abruptly as Hoseok scrambled out of his chair, vaulted over the foot of the bed and threw himself into those withered old arms.

“Thank you,” he sobbed and he didn’t even care how pathetic and childlike he sounded as he gripped that white coat with everything he had. A thousand hugs couldn’t have even began to pay Wong back for the saintly service he was handing them on a silver platter after a lifetime of being forced to eat off the ground in order to survive. “Thank you so much … I … I don’t even have the words …”

“You don’t need them, Hoseok,” Wong soothed as he rubbed his hand up and down the boy’s quivering back. “I’ve watched you put yourself through Hell for this little family you’ve created since you were thirteen years old. I have never met a child so unimaginably selfless and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a little bit of luck.”

“Luck?” Hoseok choked into Wong’s neck. “It’s a fucking miracle. You’re … You’re an angel.”

“Steady on there,” Namjoon joked from behind them, leaning his head against Jin’s with an expression of pure ecstasy on his face. “Doctor Wong is a married man, you know.”

Hoseok took a step back, stooping to bow in a more formal display of gratitude. “Shame really.”

“Alright, boys,” Wong chuckled, petting Hoseok’s head the way a father would his young son. “We need to prep Korea’s next top model for surgery now. His heart will be here soon and we all know how much he loves to be prepared.”

He squeezed Jin’s hand and received a faint and feeble finger-wiggle in return from the paper dimensional figurine in the bed.

“Can we have a second?” Jin croaked.

“You got it.” Wong clapped Namjoon on the shoulder before he was gliding from the room with his white coat billowing gracefully out behind him. Just like a superhero. Or an angel.

Less than a second later, the kids were filing in. Their tears had dried and now each of them bore a grin their youthful faces had been way too deprived of for far too long. They each took a spot around the bed, Jimin curling in on himself by Jin’s feet while Taehyung sat beside Hoseok and Namjoon slid himself from behind the patient so that Jungkook could take his place.

“Alright.” Jin’s voice sounded like sandpaper and Hoseok almost winced, having to remind himself that all of this would be over in just a day or two. “You guys know the drill.”

“Can we not?” Jungkook whispered from where he was folded into his brother’s side, clinging to his T-shirt. “I don’t want to.”

“We agreed,” Jin pressed. “That if we ever got to this point, we would say goodbye because if we didn’t and something happened, none of us would ever forgive ourselves. This is a dangerous surgery and I, for one, want to say my piece.”

“Okay,” Hoseok sighed, repositioning himself on the chair so he could sit cross-legged. “Let’s hear it, oh wise one.”

“I prefer handsome.”

“Just talk. Before I cry.”

Jin smirked, heavy-lidded eyes blinking sluggishly before he rasped out what they prayed to God wouldn’t be his final message. His words flowed over each other and Hoseok tried not to think about how often he must have practised them to be so fluid in his croaky speech. The joker always had to be prepared.

“If this goes wrong … Wait, no, I hate sugar-coating … If I don’t survive this surgery, then you can be sad. That’s okay. You can cry and scream and break stuff until your heart’s content – or discontent, I guess – but what you’re not allowed to do is take it out on each other. You have to stick together and look after one another and be the shoulder to cry on as well as the eyes that do the crying.

And you can do all of that for two weeks. That’s all. You’re allowed to grieve and mope and be depressed for two weeks and then you move on. Do you understand me? You will not pull a Bella from “Twilight” and sit in a chair by the window for six months. And God damn you, Taehyung, for making me watch those movies.

I want you guys to live your lives for me. I’ve been in a hospital bed for two years. I’ve been sick for five. I can’t remember the last time I went to the beach or ate a hotdog or had a date with my boyfriend. So I want you guys to do all of that for me.

Chim, I want you to go to those auditions you keep turning down. Don’t think I haven’t heard you singing to me when you think I’m sleeping. Your voice is gorgeous, Mochi, so use it. Make the most of what you have for as long as you have it and never let anybody tell you that you are anything less than perfect. You’re the human embodiment of sunshine and anyone who dares say otherwise can go eat a raw octopus for all I care.

Tae, I’ve known you since you were learning to take your first steps and I always thought it was so adorable how you held onto Hobi’s fingers to help you. I remember finding a busted camera on the street and it took me months to learn how to fix it but when I did, you were obsessed instantly and I watched you fall in love with the world around you. And then you grew up and I watched you fall in love with my brother, and I am so happy that you have each other. Never stop falling in love with things, Tae. Make the most of this world’s more beautiful parts. Particularly Kook.

Hobi … God, Hobi, it’s going to be alright. No matter what outcome we end up with here, it is going to be alright. We met when we were at rock bottom. We saved each other and we built the foundations of this little family I love more than my own life. And if I have to go, I want you to stop sacrificing yourself. I know you don’t feel it but there is nobody on this planet worth more than you. Live, Hobi. Go skydiving, become an astronaut, find someone who makes your head spin. Just do something that benefits you for once, rather than somebody else.

Joon – Baby, stop crying – I love you. I don’t know how to say anything else. Love is something that has never been absent from my life. I loved my mom, I loved Kook, I loved Hobi and Tae and Chim and then I loved you but that was a different kind of love and I knew that from the moment I laid eyes on you. You’re phenomenal. Everything you had you threw aside for a guy with a failing heart. And if something happens, I want you to fall in love again. I want you to try because if you ended up alone, Joon, I … I couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t, baby. I don’t want you to be alone.

Kook. Look at me, Bunny. I want to see your face. There we go. You’re my entire world. You know that, right? I know we’ve been through Hell and I know you never had the chance to be the little kid I wanted you to be but you’ve always been the centre of my universe. And the best reassurance I could have ever asked for came to me in the form of these people. They are going to look after you better than I ever could and you are going to listen to them more than you ever did for me. Promise me you’ll reach for the stars, Bunny. If you want something, you fight for it and when you have your own kids one day, not only will you be the best father but you will have the best stories to tell them about their Uncle Seokjin who loved them even before they were born.

I love you all so much. Don’t ever forget that.”

Once he was finished, he looked like he was about ready to pass out. Too much oxygen had been expelled with every sharp breath between each hoarse word and they had all been reduced to a silently sobbing mess.

“That having been said,” Jin went on, closing his eyes as Jungkook nuzzled further into the crook of his neck. “I really hope I don’t die.”

The soggy, barely-suppressed sobs were interrupted by the apologetic arrival of Doctor Wong, flanked on either side by nurses with kind eyes and rosy cheeks.

“You ready, kiddo?” he directed at his patient.

Instead of answering, Jin planted a kiss in Jungkook’s hair, grabbed for Taehyung’s hand, looked into Namjoon’s eyes and whispered, “It’s your fault.”

And Namjoon brushed aside his tears as he pressed his healthy lips to Jin’s cracked ones before he echoed, “It’s my fault.”

“Hyung?” Jungkook whimpered as Hoseok gently levered the kid out of Jin’s bed so the nurses could take him away from them.

“Yeah, bunny?”

“If you see Mom and she tells you to go into some kind of bright white light … tell her to fuck off … tell her she can’t have you yet.”

The last thing they saw before the door swung shut and concealed their brother from view was Jin’s award-winning smile.

 

-------------------

 

            As Hoseok sat in the hard-backed chair, trying hard not to shuffle too much as he carded his fingers through Jimin’s hair, he couldn’t shake the memories of the last time they’d all sat in the waiting room together.

He knew the kid laying in his lap had only been feigning sleep so he wouldn’t need to watch Namjoon’s compulsive pacing, but he was almost certain that, by now, Jimin was completely unconscious. He envied him.

Hoseok hadn’t been able to refrain from looking up heart transplant survival rates on the internet and even though the odds were in their favour, his paranoia demon wouldn’t stop reminding him how much weaker Jin was now than when he’d gone under the knife two years ago.

And his goodbye message had sounded so rehearsed and so final. Jin was ready. He had been for a very long time. There were only a handful of reasons why he was still clinging on and all of them were in this room.

Jimin’s sudden protesting whine drew Hoseok from his agitated daydream and it took him several more moments to register the rhythmic vibration of his phone against his thigh.

“Sorry, Chim,” he muttered as he shifted his Mochi off his lap to wriggle the ancient and outdated device out of his pocket.

Jimin grunted reproachfully, still immersed in the folds of sleep, and keeled over to lie across Jungkook and Taehyung on his other side, looking remarkably like a dormouse.

Taking advantage of his newfound freedom, Hoseok pushed out of his chair and retreated into the corner of the waiting room, away from Namjoon and his anxiety and Jungkook and his puffy eyes.

He frowned in bewilderment at the unknown number on the screen and already had his finger hovering over the red button as he raised the phone to his ear, expecting a cold caller or a sales pitcher.

It was neither.

“He … L … M … Ee …”

“Hello?”

“Help … me …”

“Yoongi?”

“Please …”

Chapter Text

            It sounded like every breath caused him inexplicable agony and every time he inhaled, it was like metal grating against metal. Hoseok just stood there, clutching the phone with both hands and listening helplessly to the distorted wheezing noises on the other end of the line before his brain finally engaged.

“Yoongi, where are you?”

“’m … blee … ding …”

Hoseok was already running, blocking out Namjoon’s bewildered shout of, “Where the fuck are you going?”

He didn’t need to be reminded what he was abandoning in his impromptu quest to save a boy he barely knew. The only thought that was heaving him out of that swamp of guilt and shame was knowing that even though there was literally nothing he could do for Jin at that moment, there was plenty he could do for Yoongi.

“Where are you?”

“I … think … I think ‘m dy … ing …”

The thickness with which he spoke and the slurs that welded his words together were nothing short of terrifying and Hoseok didn’t even want to think about what kind of injuries could cause a person to produce such a pained sound.

“You’re not going to die, Yoongi,” he panted as he burst through a set of double doors and almost ran over a very affronted nurse. “I’m coming right now! Just tell me where you are!”

“84 … 849 B … 849 Bangbae … Do …” came the alarmingly feeble reply. Whatever had happened to Yoongi – and Hoseok had a pretty good idea what that was – it had left him teetering on the brink of unconsciousness and God knows what would happen if he let go.

But now Hoseok had an address. Now he could finally do what neither teacher nor student had ever dared to do: save the boy whose suffering had been laid out before the world, clear for all to see, and yet nobody even knew his name.

“I’m coming right now, Yoongi!” he repeated, powerfully pumping legs carrying him effortlessly down the stairs, into the emergency department and out into the ambulance bay. For the first time in his life, he was thankful he’d spent so much time in this hospital.

He spun chaotically on the spot before he caught sight of two green-clad people clambering lethargically into a phosphorescent metal monster crowned with blue horns.

“Wait!” he screamed, pelting towards them and disregarding their shocked expressions as he skidded to a stop and gasped out his message, waving the phone in his hand for evidence. “My friend’s hurt. His boyfriend beat him up. I don’t think he can breathe.”

The paramedics were in motion within seconds, years’ worth of training having perfectly prepared them for asking all the right questions and making all the right movements.

“Do you have an address?” the male of the two shot at him, hand already on the driver’s door.

“849, Bangbae-dong.”

“Get in.”

Hoseok didn’t need to be told twice as he scrambled into the ambulance, ducking behind the seats and crouching with the phone as the paramedics leapt into the cabin and exploded into action.

“Help’s coming, Yoongi,” he gasped into the speaker, pressing it right up against his ear so he could hear that rattling wheezing sound that confirmed Yoongi was, at least, still breathing.

“Is the boyfriend still in the house?” the female paramedic asked, flicking a switch on the dashboard that elicited a scream of warning from the sirens, causing the traffic before them to part like the Red Sea.

“Yoongi?” Hoseok called, desperate to hear even a grunt to prove the boy wasn’t unconscious. “Yoongi, are you still there?”

“ … hurts …”

“I know.” Hoseok glared at the ambulance’s speedometer, willing it to break all the laws of physics and just let them teleport. “Is Jaeyeol still in the house with you?”

He waited for what felt like an eternity as Yoongi seemed to be battling whatever it was that was keeping him from coherent speech.

“Yoongi!”

“… out … drinking …” came the glorified reply and Hoseok relayed the information to the paramedics who nodded solemnly with their steely eyes fixed on the road ahead.

“Keep talking to me, Yoongi,” Hoseok continued, silently praying with everything inside him that neither of the two very sick people in his life were going to die that night. “Keep talking.”

There came a mangled spluttering sound from the other end of the line that Hoseok assumed was a choke but at Yoongi’s next words, he realised it had been an attempt at laughter.

“I … just realised …” he gasped out. “I don’t … I don’t know … your name.”

“Then I’ll introduce myself when I get there,” Hoseok responded in a failed attempt to hide the panic in his tone. “So you’d better stay awake.”

They were almost there. They had to be. They’d been driving for hours and Bangbae-dong was only three blocks away. They had to be almost there.

“Hey …”

Hoseok barely even heard the weak stab at gaining his attention. If the phone hadn’t been stapled to his ear like it was at that moment, the whisper would have gone completely unnoticed.

“Hang on, Yoongi.”

“… Thank … you …”

“No, no, no!” He was not going to say goodbye. Hoseok was not going to listen to him die. The world wasn’t that cruel. “Hang on! Please, Yoongi, hang on!”

“ … you … t … tried …”

The line went dead.

 

--------------------

 

           Hoseok almost crushed the female paramedic as he tumbled clumsily out of the ambulance, perfectly counteracting her graceful dismount. The three of them were sprinting up the pathway barely five seconds after the vehicle had screeched to a stop in the street outside.

It was just an ordinary house. That’s what was the scariest. An ordinary house in an ordinary street with ordinary neighbours who had no idea that a few brick walls were the only thing that separated them from a teenager left for dead by the guy masquerading as his boyfriend.

If this were all a fairy tale, then they would be breaking into a malignantly sinister castle with boarded up windows and gargoyles on the battlements, stone faces stretched in distorted expressions of ferocity. But looking at this house now with the thatched roof and the baby blue curtains hanging in the windows, no one would have suspected the horrors that took place behind that door.

The male paramedic didn’t bother with knocking. They knew that the only inhabitant was unresponsive and bleeding and that was the only invitation they needed. He planted his heavily-booted foot in the centre of the door and it crashed open, flaking splinters of rotted wood fractalizing in all directions.

The first thing Hoseok registered as he followed the medics over the mouldy doormat was the smell. It was like the boys’ changing rooms after the football team had trekked in from a match, reeking of body odour and other foul things too distasteful to dwell on. There were beer bottles and fizzy drink cans littered underfoot, their contents having long since assisted the drunken fury of the fists that had rained down on Yoongi’s head and back.  

Hoseok wanted to cover his mouth and bolt right back out that door but those whisper-weak words were haunting his mind with merciless devotion.

Thank you … you tried …

And suddenly he was storming through the house, calling out with a voice that wavered in apprehension at what he could walk in on at any minute.

“Yoongi! Yoongi, it’s me! Yoongi, where are you?”

There was no reply, not even a faint thump of somebody too weak to speak but trying to draw attention to their location. Hoseok’s mind was running away with him, imagining terrifying scenes of blood and gore and eyes glazed with lifelessness.

He burst into the kitchen, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the wonky structures consisting of all the dirty dishes abandoned in the sink, neglected and left to rot. There was a stain on the corner of the table, a deep dark crimson that Hoseok knew the origin of but didn’t want to think about.

“Here! I’ve got him!”

He made it to the bathroom in less than five seconds and what he saw finally opened the floodgates to let the vomit crawl up his throat. He lunged to the side and choked until his throat burned with the sour taste of bile.

There was so much blood. So much. Everywhere. Hoseok could only remember one time he’d seen that much in one place.

“I’ve got a pulse!”

But he was alive. And he wasn’t going to be alone anymore.

Hoseok dived back into the bathroom and threw himself on his knees, skidding over the tiles that were smeared with scarlet.

The only thing Yoongi was wearing were grey sweatpants, worn and ripped and at least three sizes too big as they hung off his hips to expose far more skin than should be viewed by complete strangers. But it was the blood that had Hoseok truly fighting the urge to throw up again.

It was lathered down Yoongi’s legs, lining the inside of his thighs and there was a smudged trail leading from the bathroom door up to where the victim lay slumped against the wall with his right hand duct taped to the sink above his head. The phone was resting in his left palm but the grip was lax and the screen was black.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened and Hoseok didn’t realise he was crying until he felt the warm wetness on his face.

Instead, he forced his gaze upwards onto Yoongi’s bare chest. The skin was moulded against his bones so perfectly that each individual rib was easily distinguishable. While most people slumped in the position he was in would have had a handful of flab hanging over their waistband, Yoongi had nothing. He was flat as a board.

Hoseok knew how pale his skin was but if he hadn’t met Yoongi before today, he wouldn’t have been able to tell beneath the patchwork quilt of purple, black and blue that blossomed over his torso and arms. There was a handprint burned into his throat and Hoseok could have sworn those were teeth marks he saw indented in the flesh of Yoongi’s neck.

His chin was resting on his chest, concealing his face from view, but once the paramedics managed to slice through the duct tape and lay him on the floor, Hoseok got the first view of what Jaeyeol had done in the few short hours since he’d last laid eyes on Yoongi.

He wasn’t even recognisable anymore.

The nose no longer looked like a nose with the way it twisted in the middle and then changed directions completely, a frozen waterfall of dried blood crusted on his top lip. That exact same scarlet substance still dribbled fresh from between his swollen lips, dripping sickeningly onto the floor beside his head.

But the hardest thing of all for Hoseok was that Yoongi’s eyes were so inflamed, great indigo balloons billowing underneath the skin of his cheeks and brows, that he was sure that the boy wouldn’t be able to open them for a very long time. Those beautiful eyes, barred from the one person who had been considerate enough to admire them and their perfection.

“Breathing’s laboured. Ribs must have broken and punctured his lung.”

“BP’s 60 over 44. He’s severely hypotensive.”

“Abdomen’s rigid. Spleen may have ruptured.”

“God, he’s a mess. His boyfriend did this to him?”

“He’s too underweight. We’re going to be lucky if he makes it to the hospital.”

Hoseok snapped back into the land of the far-too-real at the volley of medical jargon rallying backwards and forwards between the two paramedics as their expert hands ran over Yoongi’s abused body.

There was already a needle in his arm and Hoseok hadn’t realised he’d been the one holding the blood bag up in the air to encourage the fluids down the tube and into the malnourished veins.

He felt like he was suffocating. If he’d have had any idea what Jaeyeol was capable of, he would have stuffed Yoongi in the boot of a car if it meant getting him as far away from that vulture as possible. He had thought he’d been doing something – he had been doing something – but he hadn’t done it fast enough and now the medical professionals were saying God was Yoongi’s only chance.

“We need to immobilise him.”

“There’s no time.”

“But his spine …”

“If we don’t get him in the ambulance now, his spine won’t matter anymore.”

And then the male EMT was gathering Yoongi in his arms, muscular thighs pushing him into a standing position without so much of a grunt. Yoongi weighed nothing. The blood bag was snatched from Hoseok’s hand before he was tripping over his own feet as he followed the morbid procession out of the house, obediently and blankly.

He was completely forgotten in the frenzy of panic that was keeping Yoongi alive. He stayed pressed into the corner of the ambulance, holding onto the handrail as the vehicle rocketed down the road with sirens screaming their desperate warning.

It was only then that he registered just how tiny Yoongi was. Not in terms of weight – because that had been obvious as soon as they’d met – but lying on that gurney without the protection of those huge sweaters, he looked so unimaginably small.

He was the same age as Hoseok and yet he was so much frailer than Taehyung or even Jimin. He was just a child. Except he wasn’t. Not anymore. That child who had smiled at Hoseok out of the computer screen in the newspaper article had died the night he witnessed the murder of his entire family.

“Stay alive,” Hoseok found himself whispering, drowned out by the laborious beeping of the heart monitor. “Just … stay alive.”  

Chapter Text

          When Hoseok finally made it back to the hospital waiting room, he pitched forwards with his hands resting on his knees and his shoulders heaving in exhausted relief. There was some terrified inkling inside of him that had insisted he would return to find his friends sobbing their eyes out with the news that Jin had slipped away on the table.

But the only thing that met him was the sight of a sleeping Taehyung resting on Jungkook’s shoulder and Namjoon sitting rigid in his chair with Jimin’s head in his lap. Both Joon and Kook looked as though they wanted to tap their feet or jiggle their legs or get up and resume their compulsive pacing but they were pinned to their seats by the sleeping kids.

But at the sound of Hoseok’s flushed, sweaty and scarlet-stained arrival, Namjoon’s eyes widened as he very gently levered Jimin off his lap and onto Taehyung’s before scrambling across the waiting room to grab hold of Hoseok’s trembling figure and guide him to the nearest chair before he collapsed.

“Oh my god,” he mumbled, his hands running over Hoseok’s body in their frantic search for the source of the blood crusted in his fingernails, smudged over his face and inked into his clothes. “Where did you go? Where are you hurt?”

“Holy shit,” came Jungkook’s soft gasp as he dropped to his knees beside Namjoon. “Are you okay? What happened?” 

There were too many questions ricocheting off the paper-thin walls Hoseok had only just managed to put up around himself and the only one that seemed to matter was the one he had himself.

“Jin-hyung?”

“No news is good news,” Namjoon responded mechanically, now lifting Hoseok’s shirt with his brow furrowed in confusion when he found no sign of injury. “Hobi, where are you bleeding from?”

“It’s not mine,” Hoseok finally supplied, taking Namjoon’s hands and pulling them from their slightly-too-invasive examination.

“Then whose is it?” Jungkook whispered with wide, frightened eyes.

“I found Yoongi.” It felt so good to say that. “He was hurt really bad. And I mean really, really bad, but they got him here in time and they took him to surgery. The doctor said that if they can stop the bleeding, he has a good chance of making it.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Namjoon interjected, face screwed up as he tried to comprehend the meaning behind Hoseok’s rambling. “Who’s Yoongi?”

It took Hoseok a second to comprehend why such a stupid question was being asked but then he remembered.

“August. Yoongi is August. That’s his real name.”

He didn’t know what kind of reaction he was expecting but it wasn’t the one he received. Jungkook actually took a step away from him, straightening up and retreating a pace or two with his face contorted into something that looked uncomfortably similar to betrayal. Namjoon was just blank.

“You … you said you wouldn’t,” Jungkook muttered and Hoseok could see the way his shoulders were starting to heave. “You promised you wouldn’t get involved.”

“He was dying, Kook,” Hoseok implored, rising from his chair and taking a step forwards, wincing when Jungkook stumbled further out of his reach. “I couldn’t leave him there. He was … It was so bad. He was duct taped to the sink and drenched in blood.”

“And you chose him over Jin?”

“No!” Hoseok cried. “But Yoongi was dying, Jungkook. And there was something I could do about it. I couldn’t do anything for Jin but sit here and pray to God that Wong does his job well.”

“But you would be with us.”

Hoseok was starting to feel an intense fear bubbling up in his stomach at the expression on Jungkook’s face. He looked like he was going to explode, his ears turning red and his jaw bulging threateningly.

“Kook, I love you and your brother with everything I have. If it had been a choice, I would pick Jin in a heartbeat.” They both winced at the poor choice of phrasing. “I swear to you, Bunny, I would do absolutely anything for any of you …”

“Really?”

Hoseok froze. The ice in Jungkook’s voice had lowered his core body temperature to below zero with merely two syllables. The seething teenager in front of him was unrecognisable as the pudgy toddler who used to cry every time Jin left the room.

“Then why didn’t you put a bullet through your brain five years ago and let him have your heart? If you’d do anything for him then why couldn’t you give up your own miserable life so that he could live his? Then none of us would be here! Jin wouldn’t be sick anymore! Namjoon wouldn’t have collapsed because he hadn’t eaten in three fucking days! And where were you, Hoseok? Where were you when Jimin started skipping meals to pay for our food? Where were you when Taehyung got mugged? Where were you when I got suspended for punching another kid after he said you only left because you got sick of my face? Where were you, Hoseok? In California flirting with every guy who looked at you? You don’t have the right to say you’d do anything for us when you left us for a fucking dance camp!”

“I went to prison!”

He hadn’t meant for it to come out like that. He knew the truth would eventually reveal itself but he hadn’t wanted it to in a hospital waiting room with two people he cared for lying unconscious on operating tables and an almost feral Jungkook spraying spittle on his face as he screamed at him with everything he had.

The notion of the kid he had helped raise thinking he’d just swanned off to the USA and left them to drown in their debts was just too much for him to bear. He thought he could handle the lie he, Jin and Namjoon had agreed to tell. He’d been wrong.

And now Jungkook was looking at him with horrified devastation and Namjoon had his face in his hands, mirroring Hoseok’s regret at their darkest secret being spilled so violently.

“What?”

The whispered words did not wander from Jungkook’s mouth as Hoseok thought they would and he turned his head to feel the final silk stitches sewing his heart together split apart.

Taehyung was awake. How could he not have been with the noise Jungkook had been making? He was standing rigidly in the middle of the waiting room with Jimin clinging onto his arm and his eyes brimming with tears.

“You went … to …” He couldn’t even get the words out.

Looking back, Hoseok wished more than anything that he had stumbled forwards and enveloped his little brother in his arms, stroking his hair and rocking him backwards and forwards like he used to do when the nightmares wouldn’t go away.

But that’s not what he did.

“Prison,” he spat in Jungkook’s face, violently shrugging off the restraining hand Namjoon laid on his arm and jabbing his finger into the maknae’s chest. “I spent two years sleeping in the same room as a guy who raped and murdered his own sister after what I had to do to pay for Jin’s LVAD surgery. So don’t you dare tell me that I haven’t done enough for this family because if Jin and I were the same blood type, I would have put a gun in my mouth and given him my heart five years ago!”

And with that, he stormed out. He couldn’t be there any longer. He couldn’t look at Jungkook’s heartbroken expression or listen to Taehyung’s crying. In ten years – one hundred and twenty months, three thousand six hundred and fifty days – he had never raised his voice at those kids. There were too many painful memories of grown men’s bright red faces screeching at him to dare let history repeat itself.

And yet he had just done exactly that.   

 

-------------------

 

            “I don’t know what it is about you,” Hoseok murmured over the steady beep of the heart monitor, watching that thin green line spiking even mountains on the screen.

He didn’t know whether it would be appropriate to take Yoongi’s hand so he picked at the bedsheets instead, trying to look at anything but the swelling and the bruises pathetically concealed by the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.

The doctors had removed his spleen. Hoseok didn’t exactly know what a spleen did but apparently, it was possible to live without one. They’d stitched up the gashes in his face, reset his dislocated his wrist, inserted a chest tube to re-inflate his collapsed lung, and as though that wasn’t enough – as though they hadn’t already ripped that spindly body apart – they’d done a rape kit for the police.

Hoseok had cried when he’d heard that. It just seemed so unfair that somebody so thin and fragile had been subjected to such torture for so long. Three years since he’d been taken and three months since he’d started showing up at school. Where had he been for the rest of that time? What had he endured?

“Actually, I know exactly what it is about you,” he continued, finding the sound of his own voice immensely comforting after the confrontation he’d had with Jungkook in the waiting room. “You remind me of me.”

There was no reply. Just the reassuring rise and fall of a battered chest.

“My dad was … my dad was a dick,” he chuckled softly to himself. He had to laugh about it. It was too traumatic not to. “He used his fists a lot, too. And my mom … Well, she … She overdosed. When I was eleven.”

He didn’t cry. It had been years since those words had brought the waterworks.

“They wouldn’t tell me if it was an accident or not. I knew she’d been using for a while but I guess there was some part of me that wished she’d pull herself together and start acting like a mom again.”

His eyes roamed over the indentation of the blankets that outlined Yoongi’s ribs and the matchstick arms laying motionless by his sides.

“I have a little brother, you know. His name’s Taehyung. He’s sixteen. After mom died, I grabbed him and I started running. I guess some part of me just realised that there was nobody out there who was going to protect us and so we had to fend for ourselves. He was so skinny when he was little. Not as skinny as you though.”

A finger twitched and Hoseok smiled. He didn’t know if it was his voice that was luring Yoongi back to consciousness but he kept talking anyway.

“Tae doesn’t remember what Dad was like. He was too young when we left. Kook’s the same. He was even littler when Jin got him out of their house. And they had it worse than we did. I think it’s because of all that that they don’t get why I needed to help you. They don’t know what it was like.”

An eyelid flickered.

“They don’t remember how terrifying it was to hide under a bed and listen to the sound of your mom screaming for help as your dad beat the holy hell out of her. And they don’t remember what it was like to walk around school with black eyes and broken wrists and have absolutely nobody try to help you. Jin understands though. Jin will get it.”

He looked at Yoongi’s face. It was only just recognisable as a human’s with the severity of the beating it had received.

“Everybody always thinks that someone else will do it, that it’s none of their business, that it’s not their problem. That’s what they tell themselves to help them sleep at night every time they walked away after catching a glimpse of the handprints on your throat.”

There was a particularly deep breath, almost like a sigh of resignation and Hoseok could have sworn he saw a pearly droplet rolling down the side of Yoongi’s bruised face.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people. I wanted to break the streak. I only wish I could have done it sooner. Maybe then you wouldn’t be hurt so bad right now.”

He looked down at his lap and a tear splashed onto his jeans, darkening the denim with its salty dew. He opened his mouth, raising his head to continue his testimony and stopped short, his breath catching in his throat.

Yoongi’s eyes were open, cracked halfway with bloodshot whites, and he tilted his head sluggishly towards the sound of the voice that had soothed him back into the world.

“Hoseok,” Hoseok choked out, leaning forwards and taking Yoongi’s hand in both of his. “My name is Hoseok.”

 

-----------------

 

          Hoseok’s chin was just starting to roll onto his chest when there was a softly tentative knock on the door and Taehyung’s head poked itself into the room. His eyes were swollen and puffy and he’d pulled his sleeves down over his hands, something he’d done ever since he was a child when he felt small and wanted a hug.

“Jin?” Hoseok rasped out, coughing slightly to clear his throat of its croak.

He’d thought about nothing else since Yoongi had succumbed to sleep again mere seconds after he’d opened his eyes, but he hadn’t dared go and find out his best friend’s predicament after what he had said to Jungkook.

“He’s out of surgery,” Taehyung whispered, edging shyly forwards with his round, red-rimmed eyes fixed on Yoongi’s mutilated face. “Dr Wong said it went well. He should wake up in a few hours. Kook’s with him but Jimin’s parents went crazy so Joon took him home.”

Hoseok gasped in relief, resting his elbows on his knees and running his hands through his greasy hair. He really needed to take a shower.

“Hyung?”

He looked up again to see Taehyung’s gaze flickering nervously between his brother and his brother’s new friend. Hoseok sighed and stretched out his arms, inviting the lost little kid to stumble around the foot of the bed and sink into his lap.

“It’s alright,” he murmured into Taehyung’s ear. “Jin’s going to be alright.”  

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Taehyung whimpered with his face buried in the crook of Hoseok’s neck and his body trembling.

Of course this conversation was inevitable. He had just hoped it could have waited until he’d gotten some sleep first. It was almost two in the morning.

“Because,” he started, shifting Taehyung slightly higher on his lap so that his leg wouldn’t go numb so quickly. “I skipped biology in the fifth grade so that I could come to that assembly your class did on heroes. And all the kids were talking about Superman and Lionel Messi and Brian Cox and then you got up with your knees knocking so loudly I could hear them from the back of the hall, and you talked about me.”

By now, Taehyung was sobbing, his tears drenching the collar of Hoseok’s shirt but he didn’t care.

“I wanted to be your hero from the moment you were born and I have tried my very best even though I know I haven’t been perfect. And so how could I tell you that I had destroyed that hero you looked up to so much? I didn’t want you to look at me and see the awful things I did and what I became because of it.”

“You’re my brother,” Taehyung wailed. “Nothing else. I don’t care what you did because you did it for Jin-hyung. You’re still my hero.”  

They sat there on the same uncomfortable hospital chair with Taehyung’s body wrapped around Hoseok’s until finally the faucets ran dry and the younger shuffled himself into another seat to give the elder’s leg a gratefully-received rest.

Hoseok checked on Yoongi again, ensuring that his heartrate was still stable and his chest was still moving in his blissful unawareness, before he turned his attention back to Taehyung.

“Tae, when did Kook get so angry?”

Taehyung smiled sadly, scrubbing his sodden face with the sleeve of his hoodie. “Just after you left,” he supplied and Hoseok felt his stomach twisting. “We wanted to get him a therapist but we didn’t have the money. Jin-hyung said he was just stressed and he’d grow out of it but …”

He didn’t need to finish his sentence for Hoseok to understand the sentiment. It hadn’t stopped. Jungkook had just gotten angrier and angrier and at some point, he would … Oh, God.

“Has he ever hit you?”

“No!” Taehyung cried, grabbing hold of Hoseok’s hands and shaking his head furiously. “Never. He would never hit anybody. He’s not his dad, hyung. He’d never be his dad.”

“Okay,” Hoseok soothed, bringing his hand up to wipe a stray tear track from Taehyung’s face. “It’s okay, Tae. Jin will be home in a few weeks and then there’s no more hospital bills. That means we can get Kook some help.”

There was a moment of relieved silence as they both accepted the truth: the only way to go from here was up.

“And you got mugged?”

Taehyung snorted with laughter, a glorious sound after a night filled with terror and sadness. “Barely. Some guy pushed me against a wall and told me to give him my wallet. I did and he bolted. Didn’t even leave a scratch. And it’s not like I had any money anyway.”

His grin suddenly faltered and Hoseok followed his line of sight to see Yoongi’s bandaged hand groping sluggishly for the oxygen mask over his face.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Hoseok assured him, reaching forward so he could help Yoongi gently remove the plastic muzzle and flick a stray strand of bleached hair out of his eyes. “How are you feeling?”

Yoongi’s answer came in the form of a weak wince as his tongue roamed over his bruised lips.

“You want water?”

Yoongi nodded and reached up with the hand that wasn’t encased in a wrist brace to accept the glass of sustenance passed to him. Hoseok cupped the back of his neck and lifted his head slightly to help him swallow, his face softening in sympathy at the way Yoongi gulped ravenously at the cool liquid.  

Once he was settled back on the pillows, his heavy-lidded eyes found Taehyung and narrowed slightly in confusion. Taehyung shuffled awkwardly in his seat but Hoseok found himself grinning from ear to ear. Every time he introduced his baby bro to somebody, no matter their status, he always felt a strong sensation of pride.

“Yoongi, this is my little brother, Taehyung.”

Yoongi’s swollen lips twitched in a bulbous smile as he raised his good hand a couple of inches off the bed, straightening his fingers in Taehyung’s direction.

Taehyung looked immeasurably relieved to be accepted so willingly as he edged forwards in his seat and reached out to take the extension of greeting, squeezing gently and smiling as warmly as he could.

“It’s nice to finally know your name,” he said and Yoongi’s distorted smile widened a millimetre or two. “I have a feeling you’re going to be part of our lives for a while.”

Hoseok had never been prouder.  

Chapter Text

            If Hoseok had been told that one day, he would troop into a hospital room with Jimin on his back and Taehyung and Jungkook marching in front of him belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” to find Jin eating a hamburger with an expression of pure bliss on his face while Namjoon sat on the sofa by the window, bending over a notebook next to a boy Hoseok had found beaten and bloody in a bathroom merely two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have believed it.

His little family had welcomed Yoongi with open arms from the beginning, right after Hoseok and Jungkook had cried in each other’s arms and apologised until they’d had no breath left inside them. He’d tried to explain why he’d broken his promise but they hadn’t let him, saying that he’d saved a life and that was reason enough.

Yoongi hadn’t spoken much since he’d woken up. He’d whispered the words ‘thank you’ as Hoseok had helped him into one of Jimin’s hoodies – the only one of them that would be of a remotely similar size – and he’d even smiled when he’d met the donor himself.

His smile was beautiful. And when it stretched to his eyes, it was nothing short of breath-taking. It had only been half a second of gummy grinning but it was enough to melt Hoseok’s heart into butter and he couldn’t help himself from beaming bright as the sun.

And the very moment he’d taken Yoongi to meet Jin after he’d been moved from the ICU, the eldest had grabbed hold of the newcomer’s hand, looked him straight in the eye and said, “You and me are survivors, right?” and Yoongi had nodded fervently.

It had only been uphill from there. Hoseok and the kids had returned every day from school to find the other three together, usually laughing about something or stuffing their faces with whatever food Namjoon had managed to smuggle up from the café. If he got caught, he knew he’d be fired but Jin hadn’t eaten a hamburger in months and Yoongi looked like he hadn’t eaten anything in months, so he didn’t care.

Yoongi loved Taehyung. His face just lit up every time the bundle of golden retriever energy came bounding into the room and Taehyung had been the first one to make him laugh. Hoseok had wondered, slightly alarmed, if there was something kindling there before he realised that Yoongi only saw Taehyung as the endearing little brother the rest of them knew he was.

Yoongi loved Namjoon, too. The first time he’d sat awkwardly in their room with them as they discussed Jimin’s crush on the new P.E. teacher, he’d peered curiously over Namjoon’s shoulder to see him scribbling down a few song lyrics that had been rattling around his brain. Yoongi had scanned them, head cocked to the side in a thoughtful gesture that had Hoseok cooing on the inside, before he had reached forwards, plucked the pen from Namjoon’s hand and finished the chorus he’d been so desperately struggling with.

There had been a moment where he misinterpreted Namjoon’s expression of shock and instantly started apologising, even backing away with his hands raised in surrender, but Namjoon had pulled him back to his seat with his face split into a huge grin and told him, quite simply, that he was a genius. From then on, the two of them had been inseparable and Jin had started to complain that he wasn’t getting enough attention from his boyfriend.

But they all knew Jin loved Yoongi too. It was just in his genes to instantly accept anybody younger or smaller into his brand new and exceptionally-healthy heart. A heart that was so strong and so comforting that Hoseok often just laid his head on his hyung’s chest to listen to the sound of it beating and reassure himself that they had made it.

“Mama just killed a man!” Jungkook bellowed as he burst into the hospital room with his arms thrown wide and his nose held aloft as Taehyung latched onto his back with an identical expression of mock tragedy.

“Put a gun right to his head …”

“If you don’t stop, you’ll be dead,” Yoongi finished flatly and Namjoon laughed.

Hoseok set Jimin back on the ground and shuffled over, grinning from ear to ear. It had taken almost ten days for Yoongi to start joining in with their jokes and once he had, they realised just how hilarious he could be.

“Let me see,” he demanded as he pulled Yoongi out of his chair and took his place, repositioning the smaller onto his lap.

Day by day, he had been trying to initiate contact of increasing intimacy in the hopes that eventually, Yoongi would stop being afraid the acts that appeared to be loving were really just an expression of obsessive desire.

He had realised how well it was working when the police came to question Yoongi and he’d begged Hoseok to stay. And once they’d learned Jaeyeol seemed to have dropped off the grid, he’d clung to him with all the strength in his slowly regenerating body, sobbing into his chest as Hoseok stroked his hair and whispered promises of protection into his ear.

Yoongi passed him the notebook and Hoseok skimmed the words, resting his chin on his friend’s shoulder and smiling softly to himself when the collarbone didn’t dig into his flesh as sharply as it had the first time he’d done that. He had the half-empty pot of French fries on the table to thank for that.

“I don’t know how you do it,” he sighed, passing the lyrics back to Namjoon who gave him a mock salute of gratitude.

“How was school?” Yoongi asked as he started playing with Hoseok’s fingers in his lap, scrubbing at the grimy nails with a look of mildly interested concentration on his face.

Taehyung gave a very audible groan as he turfed a squawking Jimin out of Jin’s bed so he could lie down in his place.

“So there’s this girl,” he started and Hoseok knew they were in for the long haul now. “And she’s pretty, yeah, I’ll give her that. At least, she would be pretty if I was straight. Which I’m not by the way. In case there was any debate.”

“There is no debate,” Jin deadpanned, prodding Taehyung in the ribs when he tried to steal some of his hamburger.

“I sure as hell hope not,” Jungkook muttered as he successfully snagged a gherkin from his brother’s meal.

“As I was saying,” Taehyung continued and Hoseok felt rather than saw Yoongi smirking fondly. “There’s this girl who would be pretty if I was straight and, somehow, she has managed to delude herself into thinking that it’s absolutely okay to go after my man!”

He stared at them all as though he was waiting for some collective horrified gasp or a unanimous cry of “that bitch!” All he got were six boys laughing at him.

“It is not okay!” he blurted reproachfully, turning to Jungkook for support and receiving a helpless shrug in return.

“I have to say I was slightly flattered, Tae.”

“No, you weren’t,” Jimin scoffed from his place at the foot of the bed. “People with a body like yours are immune to flattery because they already know they’re gorgeous.”

Taehyung pointed a finger at the smaller boy’s chest and literally growled out the words, “My man, Chim.”  

Hoseok had been so invested in chuckling at the conversation that he hadn’t noticed Yoongi’s subtle attempts to shift off his lap.

“Sorry,” he murmured, relinquishing his grip around the tiny waist and scooting over on the sofa to make more room.

“They said I could leave today,” Yoongi whispered, his smirk gone and expression suddenly laden with worry.

Hoseok frowned slightly, reaching out to take the skinnier hand. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah …” Yoongi looked so torn, brow creased and teeth biting down on his bottom lip which had only just started to heal from its trauma.

“Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you?”

He never pushed. He always let the sparrow come to him so that it would feel in control rather than dragging it by its throat like the vulture had for so long.

Yoongi spent several seconds in conflicted silence before finally answering. “I spent so long … with him …” he took a shaky breath and Hoseok tightened the grip he had on his fingers. “That I don’t know how to live my life without him. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t have anything. No house, no money, no family … I’m nobody.”

Hoseok stared at him, eyebrows creased in confusion. Had he not made himself clear? Was it not obvious?

“Yoongi,” he said softly and Yoongi raised his gaze to look at him with those eyes Hoseok found so stunning. “You’re staying with me. You have me. We don’t have money but we can make some. Our house isn’t perfect but it’s warm and safe. And I can’t offer you paradise but I can promise you a family.”

He gestured towards the others who were all cackling at Taehyung’s expense and he saw the way a tiny shred of light crept into Yoongi’s eyes.

Bit by bit, those glowing puzzle pieces had started to put themselves together and every time he received confirmation that he was cared for and protected and no longer walking on eggshells for fear of being taped to a bathroom sink, another sliver of hope joined that puzzle.

“Really?” he whispered uncertainly and then flinched when Hoseok raised his voice to the rest of the room.

“Hey, guys?” They all turned expectantly towards him. “Yoongi’s with us now, right?”

He gave Yoongi a knowing smile when there was a chorus of “well, duh” and “is that even a question?” and “don’t even need to ask”. And Yoongi looked happy – properly happy – for what was probably the first time in three years.  

“Just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll take you back to the flat,” Hoseok smiled.

Instinctively, he reached out to squeeze Yoongi’s thigh and leapt back like he’d been shocked when he saw the way the boy stiffened, eyes going wide as he stared at the trespassing digits. Thighs were still forbidden ground.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Hoseok implored, pulse rocketing with guilt and convinced he’d just set them both back several days, but all Yoongi did was take his hand and resume his consummation of the French fries on the table. 

“I’m ready,” he mumbled through a mouthful of fatty potato slices and once he’d finally swallowed the oversized mouthful, he gave Hoseok a weak smile. “As long as I’m with you.”

Hoseok’s heart gave a dizzy flutter of surprise at the casual declaration of trust coming from the mouth of a boy who had spent three years in Hell. It felt like the sparrow had just hopped willingly onto his finger and chirped its first greeting. And it was beautiful.

“Okay,” he said after managing to regain his composure. “Let’s go sign the discharge papers.”

 

-------------------

 

          Hoseok was so accustomed to passing through those hospital doors every day that it felt like second nature to him, so that was why he faltered in surprise when Yoongi seemed to have stopped dead in the car park.

He turned around and saw the way the boy stood with his sweater paws fisted in the material of his hoodie and his eyes zipping backwards and forwards between the passing people. They paid no attention to him, even with the vibrancy of the bruises still splattered over his face – it was a hospital after all – but to him, it felt like each one of them was suddenly going to morph into Jaeyeol and a hand was going to grasp at his hair.

He suddenly felt disgusting. He was free, after so long, and yet there was a strong part of him that didn’t want to be free. He was ashamed to admit that he was scared to start living a life where he could choose what he did, what he ate and where he went.

The scars that littered his skin from his thighs to his back to his face remained as a permanent window into the past that was imprinted on his mind as well as his body. And the hair that had grown so long it almost tickled his nose was still a filthy, dirty, repulsive blond colour. Like it was just yesterday that Jaeyeol had forced him to his knees on the bathroom floor and scrubbed it into his scalp. So that he would be unrecognisable.

Only someone had recognised him and just when he had desperately needed them to. The belt tied in a loop he’d concealed under the bed had started whispering words of encouragement every time he lay under those covers with that beastly body pressed up against him. Any longer and he would have thrown himself into its embrace.

But someone had found him. Someone had cared enough to try even though he’d lost his faith in humanity long ago. That someone had known exactly what they were getting into and still they had thrown themselves in front of the train to scoop him out of the way. And that someone was now standing in front of him with kind eyes and hands held out, waiting the acceptance of his contact.

He reached out and their trembling fingers entwined, wrapping around each other and confirming Yoongi’s consent. Hoseok pulled him into his chest, cupping the back of his head and hushing the hitched breaths that were hiccupped into the crook of his neck.

“It’s going to be alright, Yoongi,” he whispered. “I’m going to protect you. I promise.”

Yoongi couldn’t remember the last time someone had promised him anything other than pain. Then again, Yoongi couldn’t remember the last time someone had called him Yoongi.

“Thank you,” he gasped into Hoseok’s warm skin, feeling the tears wandering innocently down his bruised cheeks. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you or which God sent you to me but thank you.”

He could feel Hoseok smiling into his hair.

“Everyone deserves to be saved.”

Chapter Text

             Holding Yoongi’s hand felt like a dream. To have someone so small and so damaged trusting Hoseok enough to let him lead them somewhere they’d never been was so alien to him.

Jin had always been the one who had done the accepting and the “adopting” as he had called it. He was almost afraid that he was going to screw up and spook this beautiful sparrow he now carried on his finger, but as a group of drunken men hollered loudly from across the road, instead of retreating into the shadows like Yoongi would have done when they’d first met, he tightened his grip on Hoseok’s hand and curled into his side. And then Hoseok knew he would move and heaven and earth to teach this sparrow how to fly again.

“Did you know,” he started airily, trying to find some way to distract Yoongi from the chaos that was the town centre at 6pm. “That it is illegal to own more than one guinea pig in Switzerland.”

Yoongi looked up at him, face screwed up in an expression caught between amusement and confusion. “What?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok nodded confidently, starting to walk with more of a spring in his step as they crossed the road and feeling nothing less than elated when Yoongi finally broke into the smile that stopped Hoseok’s heart. “It goes the same for parrots. They need companionship to be happy and therefore keeping them on their own is harmful to their health and has been forbidden by law.”

“Why would you ever only want one guinea pig though?”

Hoseok stared down at the tiny little human shuffling along beside him, eyebrows rising in incredulity before running with the band wagon. “I know, right? They’re like little squeaky …” He trailed off, head cocked to the side in thought.

“Guinea pigs?” Yoongi supplied, letting out a little snort when Hoseok nodded with a defeated expression.

“Yeah, that didn’t really work out for me. But hey, guinea pigs!”

“Unless they have long hair,” Yoongi continued. “Then they just get it all over the place and they become slightly less adorable when you’re silently cursing their existence as you hoover every inch of the house.”

Hoseok narrowed his eyes and distorted his tone into one of mock suspicion. “Min Yoongi, have you owned a guinea pig?”

“I have owned a guinea pig,” Yoongi admitted, tensing slightly when a business man yelling at someone on the phone collided with his shoulder, but he kept walking and Hoseok was proud as hell.

“A guinea pig?” he cried out, exaggerating his horror. “A guinea pig? You only owned one?”

“Yep. Bobby.”

“In Switzerland, you’d be arrested for that.”

“Yes, that would look threatening on my criminal record: sentenced to three years in jail for not owning enough guinea pigs.”

“It’s a serious offence, Yoongi. The law has to be abided by.”

By now, he couldn’t have stopped the charade if he’d wanted to. The smile on Yoongi’s face – the pure happiness at having a conversation on the street without fear of punishment or pain – was enough to wipe a lifetime of agony off Hoseok’s slate.

“I guess that makes me a fugitive then,” Yoongi continued with a sly smirk quirking the corner of his mouth as he raised his head to look at Hoseok. “Are you going to turn me in?”

“Absolutely,” Hoseok spluttered in outrage, giving Yoongi’s hand a gentle tug to indicate they were turning down a side street. “I will not be held accountable for harbouring somebody so blatantly disregarding the law.”

His gaze wandered casually across the road and suddenly he stopped walking, an idea blossoming like a daffodil in his mind: bright and beautiful and brilliant.

“Wait here,” he said, slipping his fingers from Yoongi’s and taking a step into the road.

“Why?” Yoongi called out, a trace of panic evident in his raised tone as he stumbled forwards to snag back onto Hoseok’s hand. “Where are you going?”

“I’ll be five minutes,” Hoseok assured him with one of his trademark smiles. “Just stay right here. Trust me.”

He even touched Yoongi’s face, gently brushing a stray strand of blonde behind his ear. It was an act of intimacy he had never dared attempt and he couldn’t remember why he had thought it would be acceptable to try but there was no hint of fear in Yoongi’s eyes as that hand neared his face. It even seemed to soothe his sudden onset anxiety as he nodded his agreement and watched Hoseok walk away from him without further protestation.

Hoseok scampered nimbly across the road, turning to look back once he’d reached the other side and performing a little Charlie Chaplin hop to see that smile ghost Yoongi’s lips before he ducked into the shop behind him.

His hands wandered the shelves, fingertips dancing over each product before he found the one he wanted. He dug into his pocket and winced at the barrenness of his wallet. He had enough to make the purchase but it would mean he couldn’t eat that night.

It was okay, he decided after a split second’s hesitation. A lifetime of rationing every morsel they managed to get their hands on had taught him to eat as much as humanly possible while on school grounds and to fast when at home so Taehyung and Jungkook could fill their growing bodies. And this was an investment he really wanted to make.    

He made sure he gave the wispy-looking woman behind the counter his trademark smile before stuffing the product into his pocket and ducking back out the door. He always tried to smile at people he met. It was amazing what a flash of teeth and smidgen of happiness could do for somebody’s mood.

But as the door of the pharmacy swung shut behind him, it felt like his body temperature plummeted to below zero. And he didn’t think it was due to the weather.

Yoongi was no longer on the other side of the road.

Hoseok freaked. He’d only been gone three minutes maximum. There wasn’t time for anyone to take him. Surely not. There would still be sign of a struggle, a scream, Jaeyeol’s sadistic smirk vanishing around a corner as he snatched the delicate creature Hoseok had literally only just sworn to protect.

Not a single person on the street looked like anything had just happened. There was not a hint of distress or alarm in a single face that passed Hoseok by, pink noses buried in scarves and shopping bags clutched in hands. It was as if Yoongi had just vanished, just sunk into the pavement like he had never existed at all.

And Hoseok found himself yelling frantically as he sprinted across the road, swearing at the top of his lungs when a car only just managed to screech to a stop before it hit him. There were people staring his way, affronted by his blatant disregard of their evening peace as he screamed Yoongi’s name for the world to hear.

“Yoongi!”

He had only been gone a moment.

“Yoongi, where are you?”

He had told him to wait right here.

“Oh, God … Oh, God … Oh, God …”

He had promised to protect him.

“Yoongi!”

“I’m here!”

Hoseok spun around so wildly that he almost lost his footing on the uneven cobbles but a hand fastened around his wrist and kept him steady. A pale, skeletal hand. Yoongi’s hand.

“Oh my God,” Hoseok gasped out as he flung his arms around the smaller body, fingers curling into the fabric of Jimin’s hoodie that still stood several sizes too big for Yoongi’s malnourished frame. “Oh my God.”

“I’m sorry,” came the muffled reply buried in Hoseok’s chest and he finally drew back, breathing shallow as his heart caught up with his mind’s relief.

“Where were you?”

“There was … There was a dog,” Yoongi offered pathetically, gesturing over his shoulder to where a little girl was sitting on a bench with a beagle puppy resting its floppy head on her knee.

There was a moment where Hoseok just stared at him blankly but he finally snapped out of it when Yoongi began to adopt that expression Hoseok recognised as the one he bore when he thought he’d done something wrong and was about to be punished.  

So he laughed. And once he’d started, he found it hard to stop. He had panicked – completely and utterly panicked – and Yoongi had been petting a dog across the road. He’d thought Jaeyeol had snatched him from right under his nose when all he was doing was being absolutely adorable.

“It’s okay,” he giggled, taking Yoongi’s frightened face in his hands. “I was worried, that’s all. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s okay.”

Yoongi didn’t even object to the non-consensual touching in his relief of being pardoned from his crime. Hoseok got a glimpse of his gums as his lips stretched and he joined in with his own nervous chuckle. 

“Okay, come on,” Hoseok finally conceded, slipping his arm around Yoongi’s shoulders just to assure himself that he was safely out of harms’ way. “Home’s just a couple of blocks away now.”

He only just caught the whisper that slipped absently from between Yoongi’s lips and it blossomed a bud of warmth in his chest. “Home.”

 

--------------------

 

“I’m sorry, I know it’s small,” Hoseok admitted as he twisted the rusted key in the lock and let the door swing open. “And we don’t have any heating so it gets really cold at night but …”

He turned sheepishly to face Yoongi who was standing in the doorway, looking around at the barren space, the only artefact of which was a distastefully-coloured and very old-looking couch. The living room and the kitchen were melded together, the ugly tartan carpet ending when the kitchen tiles began. There were two doors leading off to a bedroom and a bathroom but that was it.

“It’s safe,” he said simply. “And that’s enough.”

Hoseok grinned, taking his hand and pulling him into the house so he could close the door and barricade them from the January weather. He grabbed a handful of newspapers from the mantelpiece and started scrunching them up into jagged balls before tossing them into the fireplace.

“There isn’t a TV either,” he explained as he added a few blocks of wood to the pyre, wincing when a splinter drove itself into his finger. “We had to sell it but we stopped being able to pay the electricity bill months before that so it didn’t really matter.”

He struck a match, relishing in the sizzling noise it made as the red tip burst into flame, and tossed it onto the mountain of wood and paper. For several moments, he prodded at the assortment of flammables before the orange tongues grew to a satisfactory size.

Only then did he straighten up, cracking his back and turning around to see Yoongi watching him with his arms folded over his stomach and his eyes containing something Hoseok recognised as pity. He thought it was hilarious. Someone as traumatised as Yoongi pitying someone as fortunate as him.

“It’s okay,” he said with a reassuring grin as he trekked into the kitchen and started rummaging through the cupboards. “These are the lemons life gave us and we’re just making the lemonade as best we can.”

“It looks a bit sour if you ask me,” Yoongi responded sympathetically. “Hoseok, you live in poverty.”

Hoseok shook his head as he returned with an extra-large and only half eaten bag of Doritos and settled himself on the sofa, gesturing for Yoongi to join him. “I’m practically Rockefeller as long as I’ve got my family.”

Yoongi’s troubled expression melted into one of exasperation and he hopped onto the cushions, tucking his legs underneath him and snaking his hand into the Doritos bag. “That was really cheesy.”

Hoseok watched him eat with an immeasurable sense of satisfaction. He wished he could buy him a three-course meal every day and just watch his body filling out to a healthy size again. He wished he could provide him with something more than this little nest of shivering and stomach-rumbling they had created. He wished he could give him paradise when all he could remember was dystopia.

“How did you do it?” he asked without even thinking what he was saying. Yoongi made a small noise of confusion, lifting his eyes from the cheesy triangle in his hand to raise his brows in Hoseok’s direction. “How did you survive all that time with … him?”

Yoongi’s interest dimmed and his eyes lost their inquisitive innocence as he was reminded of the hell he had endured. It was almost like Hoseok had snuffed out a candle and all that was left was a charred wick when just seconds previously, there had been a beautiful dancing flame.

“I’m sorry,” he said at once, shaking his head at his own stupidity. “You don’t have to …”

“I lost hope of getting out years ago.”

Yoongi didn’t even look up from the snack he was devouring and his tone was flat and blunt, as though he were talking about the weather. Hoseok recognised it immediately as emotional detachment. He knew plenty about that.   

“They just stopped looking for me. They gave up. Everyone who was supposed to care was dead anyway so they just stamped my file and closed the case.”

“I can’t imagine what that must have felt like,” Hoseok whispered, gaze fixated on Yoongi’s face that still bore the bruises of his most recent trauma. “To think no one cared enough to find you.”

“I thought about ending it every day,” Yoongi continued and Hoseok felt his stomach churning.

Of course he himself had considered suicide – more than he’d care to admit – but never once had he acted upon it. He’d always had something to cling onto: Taehyung, Jin, Jungkook, Jimin, Namjoon. Yoongi had had nothing.

“But I guess it was human instincts that stopped me. You know, death is bad. Death will hurt. I think I was just scared of … Giving up. It sounds stupid. I already gave up but there was something about opting out like that that just seemed wrong. Like I was betraying my parents.”

He paused, chewing on his Dorito thoughtfully.

“I begged him to let me go to school. I needed to see other people, even if I wasn’t allowed to interact with them. It took three years of … doing stuff I really didn’t want to do before he finally let me. He said if I got the grades, I could get a job and earn enough money to buy us a plane ticket out of the country. Then no one would ever find me.”

Hoseok didn’t know what to say. How could so much loneliness fit into such a small body? How could a person endure … that for over three years?

“But then you showed up,” Yoongi stated, finally lifting his eyes to Hoseok’s face. The embers were still there, even if the flames had died a long time ago. “You were my miracle.”

Words like those should have brought Hoseok to his knees, his heart halting and his face flushing, but instead all he felt was a crippling sense of shame. Before he knew it, he was pushing off the sofa and crouching in front of the fire. It was roaring nicely and needed no treatment but he needed an excuse not to have to look at a boy who had placed so much trust in him but would run for the hills the second he found out what his saviour had done.

“I’m not a miracle,” he muttered, perhaps a little harsher than he meant to. “I’m a monster.”

“In what universe?”

“Yoongi, you don’t know what I’ve done.”

Realising that he was just prodding at bits of wood with the fire poker, Hoseok straightened up and started busying himself with drawing the curtains to block out the darkening sky. The kids should be home soon.

“I know you saved me.” Yoongi still hadn’t moved from the couch, Doritos bag clutched in his hands and his jaw chomping innocently. Hoseok couldn’t look at him. He was too perfect. “I know Tae, Kook and Chim worship the ground you walk on.”

“Please, stop.”

Hoseok didn’t know why he couldn’t take it. For all the times Namjoon and Jin had told him that what had happened was not his fault, he still couldn’t bear to hear forgiveness when his sin had been so despicable. Instead, he pulled a blanket from under the sofa cushions where it was stored to keep it warm, and tossed it over Yoongi’s crossed legs.

“There’s only one bed,” he said, grateful that Yoongi had obeyed his request and feeling guilty for treating him so harshly. “Tae and Kook sleep in it so will you be alright on the couch?”

“Where will you sleep?” Yoongi whispered, clearly flustered by his saviour’s sudden mood change and Hoseok felt himself deflating.

“I’ve got the floor,” he responded, forcing a smile that he hoped didn’t portray the true extent of his exhaustion.

School had been rough that day, teachers being dicks and jocks trying to screw with Jimin again. Come to think of it, school was rough every day. He was lagging behind both academically and socially thanks to two years’ of torturous incarceration, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that, although the police had said Jaeyeol was no longer in town, the vulture would return to finish the meal it had started.

Hoseok turned away from Yoongi before he could hear the protests and tugged half a dozen sweaters and pairs of socks from the trunk of clothes by the wall. He handed several to Yoongi before starting to layer the garments on top of himself.

“You’re going to need them,” he explained as his head fought its way through the opening of his third sweater’s neckline. “No heating, remember?”

He turned away as Yoongi was dressing, unsure why when no clothes were actually being removed, but feeling the need to establish privacy. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he wriggled it out to see the text from Taehyung.

 

From: Baby Bro

Kook + I staying at Chim’s. Say gnight to Yoon for us. Luv u. xx

 

Hoseok responded his confirmation with a grateful smile. Jungkook and Taehyung spent the night at Jimin’s maybe three or four times a week and since Namjoon literally lived at the hospital with Jin, Hoseok had the house to himself more often than not.

That meant he could eat whatever he could scrounge from the cupboards with the knowledge that Kook and Tae would be getting an actual meal cooked by an actual mother in a house with actual heating where they could have an actual good night’s sleep.

It also meant Hoseok could sleep in a bed. But tonight, that privilege would be going to Yoongi.

He turned around, planning on extracting his new guest from the couch and steering him towards the promise of blankets and pillows, and saw Yoongi tugging at the overly long strands of blonde that hung down in front of his eyes. His lip was curled in disgust as he brushed the unwanted fringe aside and Hoseok instantly remembered what he’d bought on the way home.

“I have a present for you,” he said, slipping his hand up the many jumpers protecting his stomach and trying to find the right pocket that held the treasure.

“I really ought to start getting stuff for you,” came Yoongi’s mumbled response as he pulled the blanket around his shoulders to combat the cold starting to creep into the house.

Hoseok tutted in disapproval and finally withdrew his hand to hold up the bottle clutched in his fingers.

Yoongi looked up at it, eyes squinting in confusion before he registered what it was, and then his jaw dropped.

“Do you want to use it?” Hoseok asked cautiously, unsure whether the reaction he was receiving was positive or not, especially when Yoongi’s eyes were so wide, but then the sparrow nodded and scrambled off the couch with an eagerness that brought an inordinate amount of happiness to Hoseok’s heart.  

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” 

Hoseok sat cross-legged on the carpet with his back to the fire, relishing in the spread of warmth against his aching shoulders. Jungkook had told him his muscles were like rocks and Hoseok had joked that he would get an appointment with a masseuse. As if they weren’t so broke that they couldn’t even replace their tattered trainers.

But as he watched Yoongi lathering the oily liquid into his hair, scrubbing at his scalp with his fingertips to ensure every inch of the dirty blonde was tainted, Hoseok realised that he couldn’t care less about the knots in his spine and the cramps in his scapulars. In this moment, all he cared about was the slight upwards pull of Yoongi’s lips and the flawlessly long eyelashes fluttering against the smarting odour of the hair product.

“Are you done?” he asked when Yoongi’s exhausted arms finally flopped down to his side and he gave a huge sigh of relief.

“It stings,” he winced. “But yeah. I’m done.”

He straightened up, his spaghetti legs somehow containing enough strength to push himself to his feet, and held his hands aloft so they wouldn’t spread their inky disease to any of the surrounding furniture.

“Where’s the shower?”

“Oh,” Hoseok sucked through his teeth, shaking his head with his face twisted into an expression of distaste. “We don’t use the shower.”

Yoongi raised his eyebrows. “You don’t shower?”

“Of course we do! We just don’t do it here.”

When Yoongi continued to stare blankly at him, waiting patiently for an explanation, he continued.

“We have no hot water so we started using the showers at the hospital and in the school locker rooms. Now we’re pretty sure that the one here has a colony of mushrooms growing in it.”

“Then how am I supposed to wash this stuff out?” Yoongi cried, reaching his slimy hands out towards Hoseok and clenching and unclenching his fingers to highlight the sticky residue clinging to his skin. Hoseok gave a yelp of disgust and scuttled across the living room to escape the threat of being lathered in whatever that stuff was.

“You’re going to have to do it cold,” he explained as he hopped off the carpet and grabbed a washing-up bowl from the sink.

“You’re not serious,” Yoongi deadpanned, his eyes widening as Hoseok twisted the taps and released a cascade of freezing water into the tub.

“Don’t complain. Cold showers are good for your skin.”

“And bad for your chances of avoiding pneumonia.”

“Stop being melodramatic,” Hoseok chastised as the water reached the brim and he heaved the bowl out of the sink with a grunt of effort. “Come in the kitchen. I don’t want to get water on the carpet.”

“Absolutely not,” Yoongi refused, backing away with his grimy hands raised in surrender. “I said no, Hoseok! Hoseok, no means no! Oh my God, Hoseok, stop!”

The wall of water thundered down on top of his head and Hoseok leapt back, the empty bowl clutched in one hand and his lips pressed tightly together to hide the uninvited smirk trying to slide onto his face. Yoongi stood there, now on the soaked carpet, drenched to the skin with his hair dripping onto his face and his mouth open in a gaping chasm of shock.

There was a second where Hoseok’s amusement faltered and he started to wonder if he’d gone too far before Yoongi was lunging forwards and wrestling the bowl from his hands.

“You asked for it,” he threatened and Hoseok gave a yelp of protest when he saw the water sloshing back into the container.

“I had a shower earlier. I’m good.”

“Come on, Hoseok, you said a cold shower was good for your skin. And let’s face it, you could do with some help on those pores you’ve got going there.”

“I am both offended and absolutely terrified at the same time.”

“Yeah, I have no sympathy.”

Yoongi’s twig-like arms strained under the weight of lifting the bowl and Hoseok grabbed a wooden spoon from the counter, holding it out in front of him like a sword.

“Take another step … I dare you …” he hissed, narrowing his eyes in mock hostility.

“What are you going to do?” Yoongi laughed, his shoulders starting to tremble with the effort of keeping the bowl gripped in his hands and Hoseok’s anxiety for the safety of his barely-healed wrist increasing. “Bake me a cake?”

“I’ll have you know that my cakes would probably be more effective at killing you than a sword would.”

Yoongi cocked his head to the side, a habit Hoseok was finding endearingly heart-stopping, and nodded slightly as though he were considering his options.

“Shame.”

And then Hoseok was screaming in horror as the water penetrated his four layers of clothing and pierced his body. It felt like a thousand tiny buds of frost were blossoming underneath his skin, hardening his blood so that it stopped stationary in his veins and freezing his lungs to blocks of solidified muscles in his chest.

He raised his head, squinting through the torrential downpour that was tumbling from his fringe, and saw an equally-drenched Yoongi cackling hysterically with his arms clutched around his stomach as his body shivered with his own hypothermic temperature.

“Right, that’s it,” Hoseok announced, raising the now-sopping wooden spoon in a threatening stance. “I am baking you a cake and you are going to eat it and you are going to choke on the eggshells I failed to extract and you are going to beg me for forgiveness so that I can save your miserable …”

He got another face full of icy liquid before he could finish his sentence.

By now, their feet were sloshing through half an inch of water as they skidded across the kitchen floor to fight over the containers in the cupboards. The screeches grew louder and more outraged the more soaking they got but there was no end to the laughter.

And Hoseok felt free. Moments like these had become such a rarity that he had forgotten what true happiness felt like. In these precious minutes, he wasn’t a boy whose memory only stretched back as far as being the recipient of his father’s drunken rages.  He wasn’t the boy who had held a screaming nine-year-old through his night terrors while he prayed to a God he no longer believed in to end their suffering. He was not the boy who had slept on scratchy sheets in a prison cell with a murdering rapist muttering his unconscious fantasies just a few feet above him.

In this moment, he was a boy having a water fight for the first time in his life with a creature so delicate and damaged that a single smile from his bruised lips felt like it could erase the memories of that boy Hoseok used to be.

In this moment … He was fucking freezing. And so was Yoongi.

“Truce?” he stuttered through a spasming jaw and violently clashing teeth.

“Sounds good,” Yoongi mumbled back, his lips too numb to form the appropriate syllables.

“Is all the stuff out of your hair?” Hoseok asked as he shuffled into the living room and started producing as many towels and blankets as he could bundle into his arms.

“God, I hope so. I think I’ve had enough showers for a while.”

“Here.” Hoseok deposited the fluffy insulators on the couch and took hold of the hem of Yoongi’s sodden sweater, pulling it up and over his head. It weighed a tonne with its sudden density and Hoseok wondered how Yoongi’s fragile frame was still standing with three more weighing him down.

“Already undressing me?” Yoongi chattered, his trembling fists grabbing ravenously for the blanket once the only thing on his back was a damp T-shirt. “Shouldn’t you take me to dinner first?”

“I already did,” Hoseok replied as he turned away, giving Yoongi the privacy he needed to change his clothes and trying to hide the dull flush creeping up his neck at the thought of having a breathtakingly beautiful boy with every defence laid down standing just behind him. “Have you already forgotten our gourmet Dorito meal?”

“Oh, how could I forget?” came Yoongi’s snort from behind, still distorted by the uncooperative motions of his tongue. “Can I have a towel?”

Hoseok tossed one over his shoulder before he finally gave into the temptation and started stripping of his own watery attire. He couldn’t imagine Yoongi copping a peek but even if he did, he was too cold to care.

“The clothes should be dry by the morning.”

He dragged the mound of waterlogged garments over to the fire, probing the logs to fuel the dying flames, and laid them out before the crackling pyre so the warmth could suck the moisture from the fibres.

When Yoongi didn’t respond, Hoseok turned around and felt his breath sputtering in his throat.

“Did … Are you … Do you not like it?” he asked frantically, his heart palpitating in fear. He couldn’t have screwed up. Not after all the progress he’d made getting the sparrow to trust him, he couldn’t have messed it all up by suggesting something that would set him back. “I’m so sorry, Yoongi. I thought …”

“Thank you.”

Yoongi was crying. Looking into the decrepit old mirror on the mantelpiece and sobbing his eyes out with his fingers raking through his hair. The hair that had once been blonde but was now a pure black. He looked so different. He looked …

“Beautiful.”

Hoseok hadn’t realised he’d spoken out loud and instantly felt the embarrassment burning his cheeks but all Yoongi did was let out a wet chuckle, clasping his hand over his mouth as he stared at his reflection.

“Just wait for the bruises to heal,” Hoseok continued, blinking as he started to feel his own tears gate crash what should be and would be Yoongi’s moment. “And then it’ll be like he was never there.”

“No,” Yoongi whispered, shaking his head as he turned his gaze on his saviour – his radiant sunshine – his messiah, who faltered in surprise at the contradiction. “He’ll have always been there but he won’t be anymore.”

They stood there with their watering gazes locked, nothing existing in their universes except each other, before Yoongi finally broke the stalemate and pulled his hands up to tuck underneath his chin.

“Can we sleep in front of the fire?” he asked tentatively and Hoseok nodded, already gathering the blankets.

“No objections there.”

The bed would be comfier but anywhere further than five feet from the promise of residual heat gradually raising their body temperatures was out of the question, especially seeing as how violently Yoongi was shaking even with the extra layers that swallowed his tiny frame.

They congregated the blankets into a nest on the living room carpet and Hoseok dragged the duvet from the bed to add to the insulation. Yoongi wriggled into the furry folds, burrowing deep into the depths until only the top of his newly-dyed head was visible, and Hoseok found himself unable to look away from this miniscule miracle on his living room floor.

“Are you coming?” came the muffled question from within the fortress and Hoseok blanched, taking an instinctive step backwards.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to snuggle under the covers with Yoongi, wrap him in his arms and protect him from the world. He wanted that more than anything: to hold him, to keep him safe, to reassure him that his world was about to take a dramatic change for the better.

But Yoongi had been violated in the worst possible way merely two weeks ago and from the way he didn’t even seem to care, it hadn’t been the first time. The very last thing Hoseok wanted to do was invade the personal space Yoongi had only just regained.  

“I … Uh … I … Are you …?” he stuttered, wondering if he should make some excuse about … he didn’t even know what excuse he could make.

“Come here.”

A skeletal hand slid out of the blankets and closed around the leg of Hoseok’s sweatpants, pulling him gently towards him until he was forced to drop to his knees.

“Are you sure?” Hoseok whispered, wanting to know that he had given Yoongi every smidgen of control if this is what he really wanted.

“I’m cold,” was all the sparrow chirped as he latched onto the front of Hoseok’s sweater and dragged his docile body down beside him.

Hoseok obeyed, slotting his legs into the mound of cosiness and squirming on his back until he found a position that was comfortable. He had to admit, after the hypothermia he had only just been experiencing, this was heaven.

His heart stopped beating the moment that Yoongi laid his head on top of it.

There wasn’t a cell in his body that could fathom the possibility of the bruised and beaten boy who had spat the F-Bomb in Hoseok’s face all those weeks ago would be curled under his arm in a blanket burrito in front of the fire with his ear pressed into his chest.

Hoseok had always been incredibly protective. Of Taehyung, then Jungkook and Jimin, and even Jin and Namjoon were shielded behind his terrifyingly powerful instincts to defend. But in this moment when he had this boy nestled into his side – this boy with eyes coloured by God himself and jet black hair daintily dusting his milky skin – he knew that he would rip the stars from the sky to keep him safe.

“Your heart even sounds kind,” came the barely audible mumble. His breaths were evening out, the gentle puffs of air breezing over Hoseok’s skin becoming further apart from each other as the sparrow nuzzled its head under its wing and drifted off to the world where it could fly forever without getting tired.

Holy shit, was all Hoseok’s mind could process, unable to take his gaze from the natural pout of Yoongi’s lips and the stunning way his fringe grazed his forehead. I’m falling in love with you.

Chapter Text

         It was buried in Hoseok’s muscle memory to open his eyes at the first ray of sunlight clawing its way through the gap in the curtains. He was used to feeling the pinching snap of the cold gnawing at his toes and nibbling the tip of his nose first thing when he woke up but today, he felt nothing but warmth.

It took his groggy mind several moments to remember the events of the previous night and it took several more for his arm to register the wafer-thin body it was wrapped around and the fluffy head that was still resting atop his chest.  

Hoseok had to crane his neck to get a glimpse of that face he had come to think about every minute of every day. He ghosted his thumb over the darkest bruise at the peak of Yoongi’s cheekbone, still with a scarlet slit down the centre from whatever had been used in the beating.

He couldn’t imagine anyone being able to hurt somebody so perfect.

Even through three layers of thick cotton that smothered Yoongi’s body, Hoseok could feel the bones protruding from underneath the soft skin that he knew would tear like a plum at the slightest uninvited touch.

He wished he could wash that skin clean, just brush his fingers over the poisoned areas and make them shiny and new again. He yearned to return the innocence to that mind so that he wouldn’t see the flinch in Yoongi’s muscles every time the memory of Jaeyeol resurfaced. He wanted to take away all the pain and bury it deep inside himself. He had enough already. What was a little more? It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve it.

Yoongi wrinkled his nose, his top lip twitching and his eyes scrunching as he made his gradual ascent into consciousness. Hoseok had to resist the urge to lean forwards and plant his lips in that freshly blackened hair.

“Good morning,” he murmured softly, intending to soothe Yoongi’s passage to reality.

It had the complete opposite effect.

Yoongi bolted into a sitting position so abruptly that Hoseok couldn’t help the squeak of surprise that slipped up his windpipe. Yoongi’s breathing was ragged and fragmented as his legs got tangled up in the blankets and his panic only increased in his struggle to free himself.

“Yoongi!” Hoseok called out but Yoongi didn’t hear him. He finally broke out of his fabricated prison and scrambled away from the fireplace, his foot catching on the carpet and sending him crashing to the floor with a yelp of pain. “Yoongi!”

Hoseok leapt to his knees, not wanting to stand in case his height was in any way threatening. He watched Yoongi flipping onto his back, propping himself up on his elbows as he tried to retreat by planting his feet into the floor and pushing.

“Yoongi, you’re safe!” Hoseok held up his hands, palms exposed to reveal no weaponry concealed in his grasp. “It’s Hoseok. Remember? You’re at my house. You’re with me.”

The terror in Yoongi’s eyes began to dim, the heaving of his chest diminishing as tears began to trickle onto his cheeks and his face crumpled. Realisation had hit him but his mind was still confined to whatever nightmare had plagued his sleep.

“Yoongi …” Hoseok wanted to have him in his arms, to hold him and rock him like he had each time Taehyung had awoken with soaked sheets and wailing screams. “Yoongi, tell me it’s okay to touch you.”

A trembling hand reached out and Hoseok needed no more indication. He crawled forwards and enveloped the quivering body in his embrace, crossing his legs so that he could hook his arms around Yoongi and pull him into his lap.

Yoongi’s hands curled into the back of Hoseok’s jumper, his face buried in the crook of a warm neck as he speckled the skin with his tears.

“I’m sorry …” he whimpered and Hoseok gently started swaying from side to side, reaching a hand up to comb through Yoongi’s hair as he shushed softly.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, baby,” he murmured. He didn’t even know where the pet name came from but Yoongi didn’t address the matter so neither did he. “It was just a nightmare. Listen to my heartbeat and breathe with me, baby. Come on.”

He cupped his hand around Yoongi’s head and carefully positioned it over his chest, hoping that his heart wasn’t thudding as loudly as he thought it might be. He wanted Yoongi to hear the steadiness and to know that everything was going to be okay because Hoseok had him and that was all it took.

“I thought you were him.”

“I’m so sorry,” Hoseok told him, never faltering with his gentle rocking motion or his combing of Yoongi’s hair. “You weren’t ready for that. I should have given you the couch. I’m sorry.”

“No,” Yoongi whined, bringing his hands up to Hoseok’s face, his long fingers caressing the cheeks as he drew back so their eyes could lock. “It was just a moment that I was back there. I’ve … I can’t remember the last time I felt safe but …” his breaths were hitching painfully and Hoseok wanted to tell him to stop talking before he passed out from sheer lack of oxygen. “…I feel safe with you.”

They were words Hoseok would cherish forever. The only sound that held more value was the first cry that came from Taehyung’s mouth in the delivery room. That’s how much it meant to hear Yoongi confess his security.

“You will always be safe with me,” he responded immediately, brushing aside a stray tear with his thumb. “I’ll make sure no one ever touches you again.”

Yoongi gave a pathetic sniffle, screwing his eyes shut in an attempt to stem the tears but only succeeding in summoning more. Instead, he buried his nose back into the warm crevice of skin and curled his fingers around Hoseok’s neck.

“I know,” he whispered.  

 

Hoseok didn’t want to move the sparrow from its nest. Yoongi was so comfortable curled up in his lap and his head fitted so perfectly underneath Hoseok’s chin that it almost seemed a crime to disturb him. But the sun was draining their time bit by bit with the gradual height it gained in the sky of watercolours.

“Yoongi?” he breathed softly and Yoongi hummed into his chest in reply. “I have to go to school.”

He stroked various shapes into the bony back, ignoring the individual indentations of each vertebrae and rib, and began to precariously shift his legs out from under his burden. Yoongi whined in protest and Hoseok barely suppressed a coo of adoration before there was a grumpy grunt of “fine” and the sparrow uncurled himself from his human bed.

Without the weight on his thighs and the warmth of another body against his chest, Hoseok had to resist the urge to shudder against the cold. Instead, he reached over to the pile of blankets and snagged one from the congregation, looping it around Yoongi’s shoulders before clambering wearily to his feet.

The little burrito of tousled hair and puffy eyes toppled over to curl into the foetal position on the floor and that time, Hoseok didn’t bother hiding the laugh that escaped his throat.

Maybe he wasn’t a sparrow after all.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you bear a striking resemblance to a cat?” he asked as he reached for the comb on the table and began picking at the tangles in his fringe.  

There was a very distorted and disgruntled retort of, “I’m a tiger,” and Hoseok was shaking his head in infinite fondness with a smile that stretched his underworked facial muscles to their limits.

“Sure thing, kitten.”

“I’m going to rip you to shreds with my very sharp teeth and drag your mutilated carcass back to my territory so I can feast on you for days.”

Hoseok gathered the hoodies he’d laid out in front of the fire the night before. Although the flames had long since been reduced to wriggling orange glow worms amid the charred logs, the clothes had been dried perfectly. It was a good job too, Hoseok thought to himself, because they really hadn’t had that many to begin with.

With Yoongi scrunched up into a ball that barely measured two feet in diameter, Hoseok felt no awkwardness changing his clothes to give himself as fresh a scent as possible without the luxury of the hot shower all his classmates would be experiencing at this very moment.

Once suitably groomed and presentable, he stooped down to grab the corner of Yoongi’s blanket and gave it a sharp tug. It slithered off the tiny body to reveal a reproachful expression and furious eyes. The kitten – tiger, Hoseok – snatched at the comforter with fumbling paws, rolling over onto his back so he could reach further and Hoseok couldn’t stop laughing.

“You’re definitely a kitten.”

He bundled up all the blankets and crammed them underneath the sofa cushions to preserve their warmth before returning to Yoongi’s side and staring down at his indignant little pout with his hands on his hips.

“Up you get,” he ordered and Yoongi’s brows creased in confusion.

“I’m going to school?” he questioned, bearing a striking resemblance to a nine-year-old Taehyung upon hearing there was no intoxicated sperm donor to restrict their education.

“Of course not. You had major surgery two weeks ago, but I’m not leaving you here on your own so I’m going to drop you off at the hospital on my way in. And now I’m going to pick you up.”

He bent down, hooking his arms around Yoongi’s chest and lifting him effortlessly to his feet. Too effortlessly. Hoseok didn’t know why he was surprised, it wasn’t as if half a bag of outdated Doritos was going to help Yoongi gain the weight he desperately needed to gain.

To his surprise, the kitten made no protestations and instead obediently slithered into the clean clothes while Hoseok ensured the fire was well and truly extinguished. Because it would just be an insult to injury if the house burned down.

The second the front door closed behind them, Yoongi let out a squeak of discomfort as the morning January wind plucked at the skin on their bones. He turned into Hoseok, burying his face in the broader chest and squashing his arms between the two bodies, and Hoseok was reminded just how little body fat Yoongi had underneath that tissue paper tarp.

“Sorry,” he murmured, encasing the shivering matchstick in his arms and pressing their frames even closer together as though they could somehow transfer body heat through the process of osmosis. “I can get you another jumper.”

“You’re warmer.”

Was Yoongi trying to kill him? Why did he have to be so goddamn adorable? Hoseok just wanted to gather him up in his arms and whisk him away to a world of warmth and wonder. But that wasn’t exactly an option. So he did the next best thing.

“Put this on,” he ordered, detaching himself from Yoongi’s embrace and shrugging off his own coat.

“Don’t be stupid,” Yoongi scoffed back at him, his legs visibly trembling underneath him as he tugged his sleeves down over his pink fingers. Hoseok ignored his refusal, cocooning his kitten in the padded material.

“Now come here,” he didn’t even wait for a reply before he spun around, hooked his hands underneath Yoongi’s knees and hoisted him onto his back.

“Hoseok, what are you doing?” came the exasperated sigh in his ear.

“Keeping you warm,” Hoseok responded simply as he started his steady trek down the driveway until he turned onto the street. He had to refrain from commenting on just how easy it was to carry a full-grown human being on his back. Yoongi was too light. Far too light.

“My hero,” Yoongi mumbled nonchalantly and nestled the cold tip of his nose into the skin underneath Hoseok’s ear. He smiled. Hero. That’s what he’d always wanted to be.

There were early-morning pedestrians giving him peculiar glances as he strode across the road with a boy bundled in layers of fabric latched onto his back but he didn’t care. He didn’t even mind the winter wind pricking goose bumps over his body because the regular puffs of hot air buffering against his neck from Yoongi’s nose were warming him to the core.

He had been babbling on about something mundane and unimportant, so lost in his own little world he hadn’t noticed that Yoongi had stopped humming his acknowledgement every few moments. Hoseok drew to a stop and tilted his head slightly, trying to see the face squashed into his shoulder.

“You fell asleep,” he chuckled as he hitched his burden slightly higher on his hips and continued on his walk in silence.

 

----------------------

 

When they entered the hospital room, a now slightly-more-alert Yoongi having slid off Hoseok’s back immediately on command, they found a sight Hoseok realised he had never actually witnessed before.

It was so rare for any of them to appear at the hospital before school. Their visits were reserved for when the bell chimed at three o’clock, and although Hoseok had known Namjoon slept in Jin’s room, he hadn’t realised how heart-breaking it was to see it for himself.

There was an undersized cot that retracted from underneath the hospital bed, consisting of a painfully hard-looking navy blue mattress and a matching pillow about the size of a book. It was cruel really, considering there were fluffy blankets and pristine sheets just next door.

Namjoon was stretched further than its length, his bare feet protruding over the edge at the end and his head having rolled off the pillow in his fretful slumber. His arm was trapped underneath him in a way that would spark a storm of pins and needles when he finally awoke but his body was turned towards Jin and their hands were interlocked, fingers laced together in the small gap between the two beds.

Hoseok glanced down at Yoongi and pressed a finger to his lips before stepping further into the room and preparing to draw the curtains, letting the sunlight take the job of peace-destroyer.

He decided slower would be more kind so he peeled the pastel blue canvases apart and let the pale oyster in the sky above project a feeble greyish glow into the hospital room.

It was only then that he realised Jin was awake and probably had been for some time. His thumb was rubbing backwards and forwards over Namjoon’s lax hand and he was staring at his boyfriend’s peaceful expression of blissful ignorance with a kind of sadness Hoseok understood too well.

Namjoon barely ever slept. It had been a problem long before Hoseok had left for two years but there had been nothing they were able to do about it. He worked nine-hour shifts at the hospital coffee shop, spent ten hours mopping bodily fluids off the corridor floors and twice a week he dragged himself down to the elementary school to help dyslexic kids shape the words their brains couldn’t fathom. And when Hoseok had abandoned them, it had only gotten worse.

Jungkook, Taehyung and Jimin all had their Saturday jobs but being underage meant only the minimum wage made its way into their pockets and it just hadn’t been enough to keep up with the hospital bills that were leeching the money from their starving fingertips.

So Namjoon had to step up and be the breadwinner and only now did Hoseok realise what that had done to his body.

“Jin …” he whispered, rounding the bed once more so he could see his friend’s face. “His shift starts soon.”

“I know,” Jin nodded without lifting his gaze from the lips that parted a centimetre or two every time a bony chest filled its lungs. “I just want him to sleep a little longer.”

Hoseok had felt exactly the same way while prying Yoongi out of his blanket bundle that morning. Suddenly remembering who he had arrived with, he turned his head to see the smaller boy tucked into the corner of the couch with his knees pulled up to his chest. He was watching Namjoon and Jin carefully, eyes blinking sluggishly but interestedly at the pure undiluted love that radiated from the boy with somebody else’s heart. In more ways than one.

Even though they wished their largest puzzle piece would remain in the depths of unconsciousness, Namjoon’s eyelids peeled themselves apart, battling the crystallised amber nuggets that were woven into his lashes.

Jin’s lips – pinker and fuller than they had been in living memory – curved into a soft smile as his free hand reached out to finger a stray lock of black hair, thinned by years of malnutrition.

“Morning, baby,” he breathed and Namjoon gave a contented hum, snagging the fingers that weaved through his hair and giving them a gentle squeeze.

“God, you’re beautiful.”

A strangled warble had everyone in the room turning to Hoseok who fell to his knees, his hands held in front of him with his fingers curled into misshapen talons and his face contorted into an expression of great pain.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“It’s so cringey …” Hoseok wheezed, drawing in his breaths with as loud a rattle as his throat would allow, crawling dramatically across the floor on all fours and groping for Namjoon’s exposed foot. “I’m being suffocated by your love for each other.”

Namjoon kicked him in the face, a playful connection of toes and nose that wouldn’t have left even a hint of a mark but still had Hoseok propelling himself onto his back with a screech of “Assault!”

“Why are you here?” Jin suddenly questioned, as though he had only just recognised Hoseok’s presence. Albeit, he was pretty difficult to ignore at that moment but he seemed to have decided to quit the circus act and clambered to his feet so he could straighten his crumpled hoodie.

“I need you to babysit Yoongi.”

“Babysit?” Yoongi’s shrill scoff of incredulity couldn’t have contrasted more with his sleepy persona. He had settled his head on the arm of the couch but at Hoseok’s words, his body had righted itself again so his eyes could narrow with catlike ferocity. “Tiger. Remember?”

“Your hair …” Namjoon observed and Yoongi frowned at him for a moment before his fingers shot up to caress the freshly coloured tufts. Years of looking in the mirror and seeing dirty blonde would take some time to forget.

“What? Should I not have done it?” he asked sharply, his eyes switching from Hoseok to Namjoon to Jin and back again with panic conquering the glaze of his corneas.

He thought he’d sinned again. And they knew now that, for Yoongi, sinning meant penance. It would take a very long time to rectify those instinctive conclusions.

“No,” Namjoon hastened to cover up, shaking his head as he pushed himself to a sitting position and combed his own scruffy fringe out of his eyes. “You just look … different.”

“You look stunning,” Jin corrected and Hoseok grinned at him in gratitude. Compliments would help in the journey they were going to be taking from now on.

The twitch of Yoongi’s mouth was all Hoseok needed to know they had worked. Yoongi needed affection to help remind him of his importance on this planet and Hoseok couldn’t imagine tending to these requirements would be too difficult, especially if every time he obliged, he got to see that smile.

“I have to get going,” he finally confessed, using all of his willpower to slide his eyes out of Yoongi’s paralysing hold. “I need to get into the changing rooms before the jocks do if I want a chance at hot water.”

“I’ll walk downstairs with you,” Namjoon grunted as he swung his legs off the edge of the cot and started trying to cram his feet into shoes he had bought nearly two years ago. “I promised I’d help Jisoo set up the tables before the café opens.”

“That leaves you and me, Yoongi,” Jin sighed as he rolled onto his back, flexing the arm he’d been resting on top of and sinking further into his pillows. “I need someone to help me write my wedding vows.”

There was a deafening crash as Namjoon tripped over the leg of a chair and knocked it flying. He stumbled spectacularly before finally managing to regain his agility and whipping around to glare at Jin. Hoseok was just standing there, his jaw to the floor, while Yoongi’s eyes widened.

“You’re getting married?” Hoseok blurted, his tongue slipping on the syllables. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know either!” Namjoon countered, trying to split his attention between nursing his bruised foot and glowering at Jin who was shaking with silent laughter at their mixed expressions of shock.

“I’m joking,” he cackled and Namjoon visibly relaxed while Hoseok visibly deflated. “Unless, of course, you plan on proposing anytime soon.”

“You are insufferable,” Namjoon chastised but the kiss he brushed against Jin’s lips was light as a feather and laced with love.

“And you love me for it.”

“Stop!” Hoseok screeched, covering his eyes as though blinded, before turning to Yoongi. “Bucket list: we have to get married before them and be just as excruciatingly …” he glared at the couple, searching for words before he settled on, “shiny.”

He was too busy laughing at the middle finger Jin shot him, trying to cover up his own embarrassment at the words he hadn’t intended to slide so easily from his mouth, to notice Yoongi bowing his head so that his blackened fringe would hide his flustered grin.

“Alright, I’m gone,” Namjoon interjected, kissing Jin one last time as their fingers intertwined.

“It’s your fault.”

“It’s my fault.”

They finally drew apart, their fingers connected until the last possible moment, and Namjoon slung an arm around Hoseok’s shoulder to steer him towards the door. They each gave Yoongi a fist bump and left.   

Chapter Text

          “Why do you do that?” Yoongi asked the moment the door closed.

“Do what?” Jin pushed himself up on his elbows and reached out for the plump white lump on the floor. “Hand me that pillow, would you?”

Yoongi unfolded himself from the couch, retrieved the pillow and helped settle it behind Jin’s back so he could sit up a little more. Once he was satisfied, the elder shifted over on the bed slightly and patted the spot beside him. Yoongi only hesitated for a second before occupying the space, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.

“That ‘fault’ thing you and Namjoon do,” he clarified. “What are you blaming him for?”

Jin just chuckled. “Can I put my arm around you?”

Yoongi nodded and Jin slipped his arm from underneath the blankets and wind milled it backwards to slot behind the boy’s back, fingers curling around his shoulder. Yoongi liked that Jin always asked before touching him. Hoseok had a heart of gold but he was so affectionate that sometimes he forgot what Yoongi still associated physical contact with.  

“So …?” he prompted, craning his neck to look up at his hyung.

“Namjoon came into my life three months before I had my first heart attack.”

Yoongi hadn’t been expecting that. Were you supposed to apologise if someone had a heart attack? He knew you were supposed to apologise if someone died having a heart attack. He wasn’t very good at this whole empathy thing yet.

“We started dating six weeks before I had my first heart attack. When I came around from the bypass surgery, he was sitting next to me with his head resting on my arm and his fingers gripping mine so tightly that I thought I’d lost circulation.”

As he spoke, a kind of glaze coated itself over his corneas as he stared at something only he could see. There was an upwards flick to the corners of his mouth and a softness to his voice Yoongi had never heard before. He could only assume, because he had never felt it, that it was love.

“I was pretty high on anaesthesia and I told him that it was his fault my heart gave out.”

“You blame him?” Yoongi blurted out, apologising instantly for interrupting the story with his own stupid questions, but Jin’s grip on his shoulders only tightened.

“Of course I don’t blame him,” he tutted. “My heart failed due to viral cardiomyopathy. It’s a hereditary condition that weakens the wall of the muscle until it’s too thin to support the blood pressure. It took my mom six years ago. It was no one’s fault. But I told him it was his. I told him my heart had given out because it couldn’t handle how much I loved him. And then it became our thing. You’ve seen ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, right?”

Yoongi shook his head. The only movies he’d been allowed to watch for the past three years were porn, horror or something equally disgusting that seemed to feed Jaeyeol’s kink for pain, suffering and sex.

“Oh, well, it’s this cheesy love story about two kids with cancer. When Joon and I were still at school, people always compared us to those characters. They both end up dead or dying in the end so we didn’t really care for it but they had a thing too. And now every time we have to separate, even if it’s just for a few hours while he works, we have to say it. It makes him feel safe, like if I stroke out and die while he’s gone, he’ll at least have told me he loves me.”

He finished his explanation with his head settling back against the pillows, blissful gaze fixed on the plain ceiling above his head. There was a moment of silence before Yoongi finally released his iron-tight hold on his legs and laid back beside him.

“I want a love like that,” he whispered. “I want to have that in my life.”

“You will.”

“I’m broken,” Yoongi countered flatly. It was a truth he had come to accept a lifetime ago. His wings had been snapped, his spirit crushed, his strength stretched until it split down the middle like an elastic band that had been pulled too far. “No one loves a broken man.”

“We’re all a little broken, aren’t we?” Jin replied. Neither of them were looking at each other. They were too infatuated with the blank white paint above them but their minds were somewhere else, both of them envisioning different images. “Sometimes broken people can mend each other.”

“I don’t think anyone’s as broken as me.”

“Hoseok is.”

Yoongi sat up in surprise, twisting his fragile body so violently that he thought for a moment his spine might snap. “What?”

Jin was still smiling at him. How could someone smile so much? It was like he thought the world would be a better place as long as his mouth stayed taut and moulded into an expression of happiness.

“Hoseok looks at you the way Namjoon looked at me,” Jin said with a suggestive raise of one eyebrow. “And you look at him the way Taehyung looks at Kook. He wants to do more than protect you, he wants to love you but he’s too afraid to rush you into something you’re not ready for.”

He gently pulled Yoongi back under his arm against the pillows.

“Only, I think you are ready. Not for the kind of relationship most people have but for the kind where you feel cared for and safe. And Hoseok can give that to you but he’s waiting for you to make the first move.”

Yoongi had no response. Hoseok was the sun: warm and filled with life and laughter. Yoongi was just a rock that had been kicked around too many times. Hoseok deserved somebody who could make him as happy as he made everybody else and Yoongi just wasn’t enough.

“You’d be surprised what people do for love,” Jin spoke up as though he was reading Yoongi’s thoughts.

“This sounds a little like you’re about to burst into song.” They both chuckled at the quip comment.

“Namjoon’s dad is the CEO of this huge company. He’s filthy rich. The kind of rich that has a mansion and a real fur coat and a Corgi named Frederick.”

“Oddly specific.”

“And so when I got sick, he paid for the surgeries, the hospital bills, food for Tae, Kook and Hobi … Everything that needed money, he took care of.”

There was a change in Jin’s voice now and Yoongi turned his head to look at him only to see that the happiness in his eyes had became darker and duller, filled with shame and regret.

“So what happened?” he asked tentatively, unsure if he had earnt the right to ask such a personal question.

Jin sighed, a long drawn out sigh that made his entire chest heave with the effort, giving Yoongi’s body a miniscule roller coaster ride as he still laid against him. Just when he thought that he’d crossed a line, Jin continued.

“Joon’s parents … They said that I was only dating him for his money and they told him that if we didn’t stop seeing each other, they would cut him off from everything he’d ever had.”

Yoongi sucked in through his teeth, needing to make some kind of acknowledgement of sympathy even if he didn’t have any words.

“I told him to go and live his life, meet some model or movie star and have even more Corgis named Frederick but …” he trailed off and that dazed smile was back. “He said he loved me so much that he’d work for the money to keep me alive rather than just signing it out of his bank account. So he bought us the apartment and then his parents ditched him and it’s been five years … but he hasn’t broken his promise. He works like a dog day and night to make sure Tae and Kook don’t go hungry and I don’t go dead. Jimin tries to help out when he can but his family aren’t exactly the Kardashians and we never wanted to take money from him anyway. So Joon and Hobi did it all.”

“I thought stories like that only existed in fantasy films,” Yoongi said at last, feeling the urge to wolf whistle but unable to with the slowly-deflating balloon underneath his lips.

Jin gave another sigh, shifting Yoongi a little further onto his shoulder to save his arm from going to sleep. “I don’t know which holy deity was looking down on me when they gave me Joon but it made me realise that, although people can do these terrible things, they can also do these really quite good things, too.”

“Like risk their own life for a boy they sit next to math class?”

“Like risk their own life for a boy they sit next to math class.”

“And you don’t think I’ll hurt him?” Yoongi asked, feeling his fingers instinctively curl into the fabric of Jin’s T-Shirt. In times when he was the one initiating the contact, he found that he couldn’t get enough.

“Hobi’s already hurt and God knows you are, too,” Jin soothed, rubbing his thumb over Yoongi’s fidgeting hands in an attempt to calm the nervousness jittering his body. “I don’t think you could be anything other than good for each other.”

 

-----------------

 

      “Hey, kitten,” was the way Namjoon greeted Yoongi with a sly, mocking smile, when he stepped up to the coffee shop counter, getting a sigh of resignation and an eye roll in return.

“He told you?”

“Oh, yeah,” Namjoon nodded, narrowing his eyes as he inspected Yoongi. “I kind of get it now.”

“Shut up,” Yoongi sulked, folding his arms and stepping out of the way of a paying customer. “I’m only here because Jin told me I had to come and find something to eat.”

“Come on then.” Namjoon finished with the customer and opened the gate at the side of the counter, gesturing for Yoongi to enter.

“Am I allowed?” the kitten inquired, wary eyes roaming the café around him as though expecting somebody to just outright arrest him.

If Yoongi had been anyone else, Namjoon would have laughed and just pulled him inside without another word, but Yoongi was Yoongi and non-consensual rough and tumble was out of the question.

“No, but Hoseok does it all the time and you’re so thin that I could probably say I pulled you off the streets to have a brownie.”

Yoongi finally conceded, still giving the other employees nervous looks but none of them had noticed his trespassing presence and even if they did, they were so used to Hoseok traipsing in and out that it didn’t matter anymore. Namjoon always did his job and that was the only thing the management cared about.   

“Here.”

Yoongi looked up from his inspection of the cash register, something childhood him would have found fascinating, to see Namjoon holding out an entire square of condensed chocolate crumbs dusted with icing sugar. It looked incredible. It smelt unbelievable.

“Jesus, when was the last time you saw chocolate?” Namjoon chuckled before he realised his mistake and his expression fell. “Sorry.”

Yoongi dismissed the apology instantly and instead reached out to take the plate, eyes round in awe of this delicious morsel that he was allowed to sink his teeth into. Wait. Was he allowed?

He looked up into Namjoon’s expectant face, asking for one last confirmation and cringing in embarrassment when the taller boy just laughed again.

“Go on.”

Yoongi bit into the cakey cube and had to suppress a moan of pleasure that would probably have gone very misunderstood by the elderly woman taking an order for a coffee at the counter. The fudgy taste melted on his tongue, the icing sugar made his teeth tingle and the sensation of something so calorific and fattening sliding down his throat into his empty stomach was nothing short of heavenly.

He noticed Namjoon watching him out of the corner of his eye, a proud smile on his face as he envisioned Yoongi’s cheeks filling out, his stomach expanding and his thighs no longer separated by a good three inches.

Yoongi surveyed the barista at work and a frown creased his forehead. Everybody commented on how thin he was but he had never heard a single comment about the shoulder blades he could literally see protruding from underneath Namjoon’s shirt.

Without a second thought, he set the plate down, broke the brownie in half and when Namjoon had finished serving the last customer in line, he held it out to him.

Namjoon stared at the squidgy chocolate being presented by the skeleton who so desperately needed it and he shook his head.

“It’s yours. I bought it for you.”

Yoongi’s hand didn’t retract its offering and his eyes only blinked once as he held Namjoon’s stare. “Am I hesitating?”

“Yoongi, you look like you’ve been in a concentration camp.”

“And you look like you’ve been starving yourself for five years to pay for your boyfriend’s healthcare.”

They stared at each other until Namjoon finally accepted defeat and took the food. “I can’t really argue with that.”

Yoongi watched him exaggerate the chewing of the chocolate until he nodded his satisfaction and returned to his own portion, completely engrossed in his jaw exercises to notice Namjoon still watching him until the boy spoke up.

“Hey, Jisoo?” he called to the girl working at the coffee machine who raised her head with a hum of confirmation. “Can I take my break now?”

There was a cheerful chirp of, “Sure,” before Namjoon turned to his guest and beckoned him out from behind the counter.

Namjoon barely ever touched Yoongi. He had always had a habit of grabbing the nearest person when he laughed but when it was Yoongi in the closest proximity, he restrained himself. Instead, he had watched Hoseok gradually chip away at those protective barriers and grinning from ear to ear each time a particularly large chunk came away and Yoongi smiled, laughed, held a hand or accepted a hug.

“Come sit down,” he invited, gesturing towards the table in the furthest corner. He wasn’t surprised when Yoongi slid into the chair with his back to the wall. He had noticed how the boy never felt comfortable unless he was facing the door.

“Why do I feel like you’re about to chew me out?” Yoongi poked nervously, his leg bouncing under the table and his hands pressed between his knees.

“I’m not going to chew you out,” Namjoon assured as he leant forwards in his seat and rested his elbows on the table, running his hands through his hair. He was so tired. “I just need to talk to you about something.”

“You’re scaring me.”

“Don’t be scared. There’s nothing to be scared of. All you have to do is listen. Can you do that for me?”

Yoongi nodded wordlessly, biting down on the inside of his lip to avoid the tender bruising on the outside. Namjoon tried to give him as reassuring a smile as he could and sighed in relief when Yoongi seemed to relax the muscles in his shoulders.

“You’re part of our lives now,” Namjoon started. “And believe me when I honestly say, I couldn’t be happier. You make the kids laugh like they used to laugh, you make me feel like I’m not the only musical genius in our social group and you make Hoseok smile a certain smile that I haven’t seen in a really, really long time.”

“But …?” Yoongi whispered, mentally preparing himself for whatever was about to come next.

Namjoon let out a long breath and dropped his head onto his clasped hands, pushing aside a stray lock of fringe before he looked up again. “I am the protector of this family,” he finally admitted and Yoongi felt his recently laxed muscles tense again.

“And you want to protect them from me?”

“No!” Namjoon cried out, shaking his head as he backtracked frantically. “God, no, Yoongi, no. But I need to know that we’re going to be safe, all of us. And that includes you.”

Warm. That’s the only word Yoongi could use to describe how he felt at hearing himself included in the people Namjoon wanted to protect. He decided he liked the word protect. It sounded nice.

“I know that the police said Jaeyeol disappeared.”

Oh.

Well, the subject was going to surface at some point. Yoongi had just hoped it would be with Hoseok beside him, ready to hold his hand if he needed stability. Not that he didn’t trust Namjoon. He just wanted Hobi in times where he felt vulnerable.

“And I need you to know that I will fight tooth and nail for your safety but I also need to know that it won’t ever come to that. Jin is sick. He’s getting better by the day but he’s still sick and he will be for a long time. Tae and Kook are like my little brothers and when Jin was hospitalised and Hobi was arrested, I promised to put them above everything. Jimin … Jimin is a national treasure. No one can argue with that. And Hobi was shattered by what he did two years ago. He makes all these comments about tackling Chim’s bullies and breaking Professor Lau’s nose every time he gives Kook an F but after what he went through, he couldn’t hurt a fly.”

Yoongi waited as Namjoon’s speech stuttered to a stop and he spent several moments staring at the hospital lobby through the window.

“I don’t want to say this.”

Yoongi didn’t like the sound of that. Was Namjoon about to tell him to pack a bag and get on a bus?

“But I need to tell you that protecting them is and always will be my first priority. So I have to know, Yoongi … Are we safe?”

There was a silence as Yoongi lowered his gaze to the table top. He couldn’t lie. Not after everything these people had done for him, he couldn’t even consider the possibility of deceiving them.

“No,” he said. “No, we’re not. Jaeyeol stuck a switch blade in my leg so that I couldn’t move and made me watch as he slaughtered both my parents and my thirteen-year-old sister. Then he threw me in a car, drove me two hundred miles away and spent the next three years starving, beating and raping me just because I said I didn’t want to date him anymore.”

He couldn’t look at Namjoon. He couldn’t see the horror that he knew was plastered over that face so gaunt and sunken for one so young.

“We are not safe because he is obsessed with me. I don’t know where he is right now and I don’t know if he is ever coming back and considering there hasn’t been a single sighting, he probably knows the police have identified me. But I get it. I care about this family you have and I want to protect it just as much as you do. So if that means that you want me to leave, say the word and I’m gone forever.”

It was such a mundane place to be having such a brutal conversation. There was the faint hum of the radio filtering through the speakers in the corner of the ceiling and the friendly chatter of customers battling with the cheese in their paninis or hissing at the scalding coffee on their tongues.

Not a single person in this building knew that in the corner sat two boys, neither of them even nineteen years old, discussing the greatest evil that could possibly coexist with them on this planet.

And Namjoon was looking across the varnished wood at this creature who had just scraped the surface of what he had endured – over a thousand days of pain and loneliness – who had finally found a collection of people he had decided he could learn to trust and had just offered to leave it all behind to keep them safe.

It wasn’t a ploy to gain sympathy and convince Namjoon to let him stay. It wasn’t a beg for sanctuary or emotional manipulation. Yoongi was genuinely asking if he wanted him to go. And Namjoon knew that if he said yes, he would watch Hoseok’s one and only chance at true happiness walk away forever.

“I don’t want you to leave,” he whispered, shaking his head. Yoongi’s face was emotionless. “I can’t ask you to leave.”

“You can.”

“I can’t.”

“Namjoon, you look so tired.”

Namjoon felt tired, too. He felt drained, physically and emotionally. He was running on the coffee Jisoo bought him out of pity and the meals the night nurses left by his bed as he slept for the only three hours he had where he wasn’t working.

His boyfriend had been living on death’s door for half a decade. His best friend had been behind bars for a crime committed out of love and desperation. And when Jin had gotten the transplant surgery, he thought it would all get better. He thought it would be okay.

But he felt tired.

Really tired.

Like he needed to close his eyes for a really long time.

Or maybe forever.

Sometimes it felt like love just wasn’t enough.

But he wasn’t about to say all of that to this incredible person in front of him. He wasn’t going to sob out all his problems to someone whose life would always have been infinitely worse. So instead, he tentatively reached across the table, asking permission with his eyes and Yoongi gave it by extending his hand for Namjoon to take.

“I’m never going to ask you to leave,” he said slowly and pointedly, looking Yoongi straight in the eye so that he knew he was being understood. “Jaeyeol doesn’t know who we are, where we live or that you’re staying with us and the police have his face in every station window this side of Busan. He won’t find you.”

He will.

“I know.”  

Chapter Text

         Jin signed the discharge papers three days later.

Yoongi had almost finished gathering together his hyung’s stuff when Hoseok and the kids walked in to see Jin standing – actually standing – beside the bed while Namjoon helped him put on his coat.

Jimin had shrieked. Jungkook had sworn. Taehyung had burst into tears. Hoseok had been the first one to hug him. It had felt so surreal: their hyung finally leaving the whitewashed walls he had been confined within for two years.

The nurses knew their names, Doctor Wong had become the closest thing to a father any of them had ever had, one of the porters on the second floor had a special handshake with Taehyung.

They had spent more time in this hospital than they had in their own homes. Namjoon had barely even left. Jin had never left at all. To abandon everything they’d known for the last two years was both exhilarating and terrifying.

For the first time in forever, they could move on with their lives. They could have something to look forward to. Namjoon wouldn’t have to work so much. They wouldn’t have to starve again. They could maybe even buy Taehyung a new camera.

But at the same time, Jin had become safe in this bubble of IV poles and beeping machines. He was spotted by a safety net of expert hands that could slice him open and find the problem in seconds. He was still sickly and pale and wavered on his feet and now they were solely responsible for his protection.  

Those were the thoughts that plagued Hoseok’s mind as he followed behind Jin’s wheelchair with the bags swinging from his shoulders. There were now two very vulnerable people relying on him for their survival. The prospect was so daunting that he very nearly turned around and ran straight back inside the sterilised walls.

But then Jin laughed as Namjoon helped him climb into Jisoo’s car – he couldn’t possibly have walked all the way back to the flat – and Yoongi leapt onto Jungkook in a sneak piggyback attack and Hoseok saw his predicament in a different light.

A million random acts of chance had occurred to allow Yoongi to crash into Jimin and give Hoseok a reason to talk to him. To allow Jin to have had that pulmonary embolism that boosted him up the transplant list just as a new heart was coming in. To allow Yoongi to pick up that phone with his bloodstained hands and dial Hoseok’s number.

And suddenly, he wasn’t afraid anymore.

He walked behind the others – only Namjoon had been able to fit in the car with Jin and Jisoo – and watched with a heart light as air. Jungkook and Taehyung’s fingers were interlocked, woven into each other like they were perfectly sculpted just to fit together. Their eyes were locked as they dawdled homewards, irises burning with affection as they took in every detail of the face their heart had decided it was going to love forever.

They had grown up so much. When he’d left, they’d been fourteen-years-old. Moody, grumpy, still trying to figure out how to fit into their own changing bodies and convinced that the only thing in the world that mattered was sports and art.

Now they were each other’s universe. It was all Hoseok had ever wanted for them.

He switched his focus to Jimin who was literally bouncing alongside Yoongi, gripping the long slender fingers with his own little stubby ones as he babbled on and on about the new boy in his chemistry class. Yoongi was grinning back at him, not the least bit alarmed by the clingy hyperactivity of the teenager Hoseok had once known to be docile and silent, eyes only capable of looking at the floor and mouth permanently sealed.

When they’d met Jimin, he was a pencil thin and pasty twelve-year-old, scrabbling around the corridor floor for the books he’d dropped. A footballer had spat on him as he passed, a raucous cackle bellowing down the hallway alongside the sound of affectionately collided flesh.

Jungkook had picked him up, Taehyung had dusted him off and they had taken him home the moment the bell rang, presenting him to Jin with the exact words “Can we keep him?” And they had become an inseparable triangle of giggles and pranks ever since. Even when the other two started dating, Hoseok noticed that Jimin was never discarded.

And Yoongi, the boy with the bruises. The boy who had been ripped to pieces and left for dead on a bloodied bathroom floor who now walked with people he trusted enough to see his smile and hear his laugh and get to know him well enough to love him as one of their own.

Hoseok had to remind himself, not for the first time, that anything other than a platonic relationship was completely out of the question until they had enough money for a therapist.

By the time they reached home, Namjoon had already set the fire ablaze and was right in the middle of telling Jin how annoying he was while in the process of layering another blanket on top of him.

Jimin let out a cry of “I’m the best insulator” before throwing himself on top of his hyung. He didn’t weigh enough to initiate a painful landing but Jin still grunted with the added pressure on the nine-inch scar stretching down his chest. Regardless, a breathy laugh escaped his lips and he gave Jimin’s cheeks a playful squeeze.

“Shit, I forgot!”

All eyes turned from the unpacking of Jin and Namjoon’s bags to stare at Taehyung and his expression of horrified epiphany.

“Tae …” Jungkook warned, turning his back on the sofa and joining Yoongi in the folding of the newly acquired clothes.

Namjoon’s eyes were rallying bewilderedly between the two of them: at the obvious tension in Jungkook’s shoulders and the look of frustrated resignation on Taehyung’s face. “Anyone care to share?”

There was an intensely silent stalemate between the two sixteen-year-olds, each one glaring across the room at the other as they threatened and challenged with their gazes alone.

“Kook’s got a call-back for the dance academy.”

“TAEHYUNG!”

The room erupted with shrill shrieks of ‘what?’ that would have had all the dogs in the neighbourhood converging on the house and probably even a few bats turning their heads towards the sound.

“Kook …” Hoseok blurted, gesticulating wildly with his hands to fill in for the lack of words his mouth was capable of producing. “That’s amazing!”

“I’m not going,” Jungkook snapped, snatching a hoodie from Yoongi’s hands and stuffing it into a drawer. It was like someone had just blotted out the sun. What had, simply moments before, been a ray of blindingly bright light was now dim and black and ugly.

“Why not, Bunny?” Jin asked softly, trying to push himself off the sofa but giving up at one threatening look from Namjoon.

“Because I won’t get in!” the kid finally exploded, whipping around to glare at them all. “I’ve had no training. I learned from YouTube videos at Chim’s house after they kicked me off the football team. I got through the first audition on Bambi eyes alone but the second I show up at that call back, they will cut me without another thought! And do you really think we can afford it? Do you really? No, I didn’t think so! So just shut the fuck up and drop it!”

He finished his verbal tirade with a scream of frustration, an awful guttural growling sound that burst out of his mouth with all the ferocity of a lion’s roar, and a shoe went flying across the room.

The poisoned silence that followed seemed to be deafening enough to quash the sudden anger that had erupted from such a dangerously strong body and Jungkook turned back towards the dresser, bracing his hands against it and lowering his chin to his chest with an exhausted sigh.

“I’m sorry …” he murmured flatly.

Hoseok stepped forwards, readying a comforting hand for its landing on a sagging shoulder, before he heard a strangled sob from the corner of the living room. He turned around, confused, and felt guilt combusting in the pit of his stomach. Why hadn’t he noticed?

“Yoongi … Baby …”

Yoongi’s back had hit the wall, making way for his violently trembling body to slide into a ball on the floor. His hands were clutched to his chest, fingers gripping the material of his hoodie so tightly that his knuckles had been sapped of all colour, and his eyes were screwed shut, tears streaming down his pale cheeks.

“Baby …” Hoseok repeated gently, lowering himself to the floor before he closed the gap between him and Yoongi. He didn’t want to be looming over him at a time like this and he didn’t dare reach out, especially after he heard the whispers.

“Please don’t hurt me … I’m sorry … I won’t do it again … just please don’t touch me …”

“Oh, shit,” came Jungkook’s terrified voice and Hoseok felt the floor creaking as the kid started forwards. He threw out a restraining hand, ordering him to stay away and let him handle Yoongi’s flashback.

“I’m right here, baby,” he murmured, settling himself on the floor with his legs crossed and his hands resting harmlessly on his knees. “Whenever you’re ready, I’m right here.”

The last word was barely out of his mouth when Yoongi’s hand shot out and curled itself in Hoseok’s sweater. Hoseok only had time to open his arms before the smaller boy was climbing into his lap, sitting in the well his crossed legs made just like he had after the nightmare that seemed so long ago.

“I’ve got you, kitten.”

Yoongi’s sobs only intensified but the grip he had around Hoseok’s neck was iron tight as though it were a lifeline he was begging to pull him from his memories.

“There is no one in this room who wants to hurt you,” Hoseok continued, his fingers tracing circles in Yoongi’s scalp and back, feeling his own heart start to steady in relief when the hyperventilating seemed to be drawing to a stuttering stop. “Kook just got upset but he’s calmed down now.”

He glanced behind him to see Jungkook with his hands clasped in front of his face, biting down on his nails as he watched his hyung gently coaxing the boy in his arms back to reality. Jungkook and guilt were two words that should not be used in the same sentence. Coupled with his wide eyes and young face, it looked too devastating.

“Can he come and say he’s sorry, kitten?” Hoseok asked softly, taking a risk as he pressed his lips into Yoongi’s hair. It could have been very badly received but if anything, it brushed a feather light touch of calm and Hoseok had to suppress the sudden rush of his heart. He had kissed him. But he brought himself back down to earth when Yoongi nodded into his chest. “Kook, come over here. Slowly.”

Jungkook slid shamefully into view, shuffling on his backside until Yoongi could see his guilt-stricken, saucer-like eyes from where he was nestled into Hoseok’s neck. The crying had stopped but the shivering had not and it was unclear whether that was from the cold or the residual trauma.

“Yoongi?” Jungkook whispered, pulling his knees up to his chest to make himself as small as possible, even smaller than Yoongi. “I didn’t mean to yell, Yoongi. I’m so sorry. I …” He looked up at Hoseok, silently inquiring whether he was doing okay and at Hoseok’s reassuring nod, he continued. “I would never hurt you. You know that, right?”

Yoongi’s entire body shuddered but when he felt the securing hands cupping his head and rubbing his back, he nodded timidly.

“Can …” Jungkook winced at the tremor to his voice. His guilt was blinding. “Can I hold your hand?”

There was a moment of fretful consideration from the kitten in the basket of Hoseok’s arms but after his slowly-returning sanity had deemed Jungkook no longer a threat, he extended the offer of a quivering digit.

“Thank you,” the kid sighed breathlessly as he took it in both his own, stroking his fingers against the sugary skin. The spirit of a smile even visited the lower portion of his face, ghostly and transparent but present all the same. “I’m so sorry, Yoongi.”

“Go.”

“What?”

“Go,” Yoongi repeated weakly.

Jungkook’s eyes flickered nervously to Hoseok, already preparing himself to get up and leave the house forever for breaching Yoongi’s forbidden boundaries.

“You want me to go?” he asked, still holding the skeletal hand but starting to wonder if he should let go.

“Go to the audition.” Jungkook blinked. “Don’t let anybody stop you from living your life. Especially you.”  

Hoseok actually laughed, choking a chuckle out from his parched lips as he gave the kid a smug smirk. “You heard him, Kook.”

“Okay,” Jungkook conceded, his face breaking into a smile as he gave Yoongi’s hand a squeeze. “Okay, I’ll go.”

“Are you ready to get up, baby?” Hoseok asked gently, stroking his fingers through the black nest of strands. “My butt’s going to sleep.”

Yoongi unfolded his legs obediently, his feet planting themselves firmly on the floor despite the tremor ricocheting up and down his bones. Jungkook took hold of his forearms and Hoseok supported his back as they slowly levered him into a vertical position.

The others were frozen in place, too afraid to move, speak or breathe as they watched Hoseok work his magic. But at the sight of Yoongi’s swollen face and quivering body, Jin stretched out his arms in invitation to make way for the kitten that slotted himself between his hyung’s body and the back of the sofa.

His clingiest moments were always after a breakdown. From what Hoseok understood, he craved any kind of affectionate contact to distract him from the abuse that was ingrained into his skull.

Hoseok perched on the edge of the couch, reaching over Jin’s body to rub his hand back and forth on Yoongi’s shoulder before he was satisfied with the frequency of his charge’s breathing.

Only then did he raise his head to see the others waiting for their next order. It was a painful atmosphere and all Hoseok could think of to lessen the tension was to ask, “When’s the audition, Kook?”

“8:30,” Jungkook whispered shamefully, his head hanging low so that he wouldn’t have to look at the damage he had caused Yoongi’s fragile foundations.

“Wait,” Namjoon interjected, finally snapping out of his stupor. “8:30 tonight?”

“Yes.”

“That’s only in an hour!” Jimin squawked, hushing himself instantly when Hoseok gave him a look that said, I swear if you trigger Yoongi again, I will punch you. “We’ve got to go now.”

“But …” Jungkook started in frustrated protest, already formulating his excuses before he was cut off by the frail mumble buried in the crook of Jin’s neck.

“You promised, Kook.” Yoongi was glaring at him through powderpuff lids and eyelashes still salted with his drying tears. “You promised.”

There was a silent showdown: the bunny versus the kitten – or the ox versus the tiger as was suited better to their builds and personalities – but Jungkook knew he couldn’t break the culpable pact he had made mere seconds ago.

“Namjoon-hyung, can you drive me?” he surrendered at last and Jin gave Yoongi’s waist a grateful but gentle squeeze.

“Absolutely,” came the reply. “But there’s one problem …”

“You can use my dad’s car,” Jimin piped up, fulfilling his role as the ray of sunshine amid the forest of darkness they had become so long ago. “You can take a shower at mine, I’ll lend you some of my brother’s clothes and we can go.”

“I’ll stay with these two,” Hoseok offered, having remained by Jin and Yoongi throughout the planning. “You three go and support Kook.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, we need to set off right now if we’re going to make it in time.” Namjoon crossed the room in three strides, Jin reaching up from the couch to pull his boyfriend’s lips down to his own. “Rest, baby. I’ll be back soon.”

“Go be there for Kook,” Jin ordered, that gorgeous eye smile pulling at the frame of his face. “It’s your fault.”

“It’s my fault.”

And then he was shepherding the wildly excited gaggle of sixteen-year-olds out into the street with one final message shouted over his shoulder before the door closed behind him.

“We won’t be longer than three hours! If anything happens, call Code Purple!”

It would be a lot longer than three hours before he saw any of them again.

Chapter Text

        After Hoseok had locked the front door five times – they’d installed several new bolts after Yoongi had moved in – he pulled a mound of crumpled tin foil from his rucksack and picked at the burnished spikes until they unfurled to reveal a rather crushed doughnut. Most of the frosting had scraped off onto the underside of the wrapping, the sprinkles deserting with it, but the pastry was thick and doughy and made Hoseok’s mouth water just getting a whiff of the smell.

It almost killed him to tear the sacred artefact into jagged halves and hold them out to Yoongi and Jin, still sprawled side by side on the couch, but the wide-eyed look of awe on Yoongi’s face was enough to bring him back to life.

“Where’d you get that?” Jin asked, untangling his fingers from Yoongi’s hair to snag his segment of the doughnut.

“There was a sale at school,” Hoseok grinned, waving the crescent of puffy sugar in Yoongi’s face until those long slender fingers reached out for a bite. “Daehwi bought a whole box for him and us to share.”

“Little Daehwi …” Jin hummed through a mouthful of watery icing, rubbing his fingers tenderly over the skin of his eyebrow. “I miss that kid.”

“What does ‘Code Purple’ mean?” Yoongi asked as he pushed himself into a sitting position and clambered precariously over Jin’s body to come to settle on the floor so that he wouldn’t choke on his doughnut. “Wait, no. I got it. Does it mean ‘I need to see your face right now or I else I will combust into a thousand tiny pieces because my infinite love for you is so strong that it combats the laws of science’?”

Hoseok just laughed at him, sticking out a finger to snag a stray dollop of icing and scoop it into his mouth. His own doughnut was currently being devoured by the two people in front of him, not that he was about to tell them that. They’d strap him down and force feed him their leftovers.

He looked up at Jin who had already finished and was staring down at Yoongi through half-open eyes alight with warmth and fondness. “Are you going to tell him or shall I?”

“You can,” Jin mumbled, closing his eyes and letting his head loll to the side with an almighty yawn.

“So,” Hoseok started, picking at the excess icing from the tin foil wrapping and relishing in the sweet sensation melting on his tongue. “It’s not nearly as cheesy as Jin and Joon’s ‘it’s your fault’ thing, if that’s what you were thinking.”

“I was wondering,” Yoongi admitted with a nonchalant jerk of his head, jaw munching away. “But then I don’t think you could out-cheese that.”

Hoseok snorted his agreement. “I got you there. No, when Tae and Kook were young – like really young – they used to get scared a lot. Of fireworks, shouting, pretty much everything. If you dropped a glass, they screamed until they puked.”

Yoongi was staring at him with apprehensive disbelief so he clarified, “They grew out of it when they got older. It was just residual memories from the houses they were born in. Now neither of them have any recollection of anything that went on. Thank God.”

“Thank God,” Yoongi repeated under his breath.

Hoseok could sense the atmosphere starting to darken once more so he continued with his story. “The four of us lived with Jin’s mom in a hostel for abuse victims so you can bet there were a lot of outbreaks and nightmares and shouting. The kids hated it so whenever someone kicked off, Jin and I told them that we would play spies. We’d hide behind chairs and tables and fire peas at each other with these slingshots one of the counsellors there taught us to make. If one of us ran out of ammunition, we would shout ‘code purple’ and whoever was on our team had to come and give us more peas. We chose ‘purple’ because it was the colour of the carpet we played on.”

The memories were distant, having been buried so long in a box of happy things that had sat in the dark for too many years, just gathering dust. But with the webpage refreshed in his mind, he could remember the high-pitched giggles and the squeals of delight and it made him wonder what they had done to deserve the lives they’d received.

“As they grew up, Tae and Kook kept playing that game. They remembered how safe it made them feel but they forgot why we ever invented it. And ‘Code Purple’ gradually became this thing we used whenever we needed each other. It basically means: ‘come save me’.”

Something wet dribbled onto his face and he looked up at the ceiling, swearing to God that if there was a leak from a drain pipe on the roof, he would burst a blood vessel, but then he realised that he was crying.

His throat emitted a spluttered choke of confusion as his fingers swabbed the crime scene and came away soaked with evidence. “God, why am I crying?”

“Because you’re sad,” Yoongi spoke up for the first time since Hoseok had started talking, having tactfully remained silent to let Hoseok expel the emotions he hadn’t realised he’d been repressing.

“I’m not sad.”

“Your face says you are. And you know what’s good for sadness?”

There was still a golf ball-sized lump of doughnut clutched between a sticky thumb and finger and Yoongi shuffled towards Hoseok, taking his chin in his free hand.

“Up,” he ordered, tilting Hoseok’s head back and popping the spared morsel onto his tongue. “There. Pure, solid happiness.”

“Why are you so cute?” Hoseok whined, muffled and dampened due to the doughnut in his doughnut hole.

Yoongi scowled at him. “I’m not cute. I’m deadly.”

“Sure.”

He raised his head to check on Jin, suddenly realising the motor-mouth had fallen uncharacteristically silent for a long time. He was greeted by the eldest’s body turned into the sofa cushions, face buried in their vintage smell and abdomen gently palpating with drowsy breaths.

“He’s going to be exhausted for days,” Yoongi chuckled. “He’s done more exercise in the past two hours than he has in the past two years.”

Hoseok eyed the kitten fumbling with a loose thread on the carpet, so worn down over years of abuse that it had patches of whiskery baldness in its tartan scalp, and the only thing he could think of at that moment was what it would feel like to wake up with his arms around those shoulders. To hold those papery hands on a day when frost lathered the roads and rub them between his own until they were warm to the touch. To brush butterfly kisses into flyaway hair when tears were falling and affection was craved.

But those things were out of bounds and forbidden. Yoongi wasn’t ready for those things Hoseok wished he could do.

Except … hadn’t he done them already?

“You’re staring.”

Abort! Abort! Abort!

“Sorry,” Hoseok wheezed, shaking his head and combing his fringe out of his face to try and cover up his embarrassment. “I just … You’re beautiful.”

Wait. What? What the fuck, brain? 

He could literally feel the scarlet flush crawling up his neck and his face twisted into a cringing wince as he chastised his own tongue for betraying him so viciously.

“You’re not so bad yourself.”

He opened his eyes to see Yoongi eyeing him slyly, one eyebrow raised in mocking curiosity. Hoseok nearly fainted.

“I did not … I didn’t … Mean to … Fuck,” he finished with a forlorn wail, keeling over into the foetal position on the carpet and bringing his arms up above his head. “That was so not smooth.”

“Smooth?” Yoongi prodded amusedly, clearly enjoying Hoseok’s torture. “That sounds suspiciously like you’re trying to hit on me.”

“What?” Hoseok spluttered, sitting upright again and contorting his face into an expression of distaste. “Absolutely not.”

“Wow. I’m offended.”

“No, I didn’t mean …” Yoongi was still laughing at him. “You are evil.”

“Tiger,” Yoongi reminded him. His smirk, faded, however when Hoseok’s fixated gaze never faltered from his face. “Are you okay?”

The tears had paid another surprise visit to Hoseok’s cheeks and this time, he didn’t even bother trying to swat them aside.

“I just …” How could he explain it? He couldn’t find the words. “I feel … I feel so lucky to have you in my life.”

Yoongi’s eyebrows arched towards his hairline but there was no taunting mirth in his expression anymore. Now he just looked intrigued. Maybe even a little sad.

“You know that you’re the one who saved me, right?”

Hoseok sucked in a breath, pressing his hand over his pounding heart and chuckling softly at how loudly it was thumping, as though trying to escape from his chest to tell this mythical creature in front of him exactly what it wanted so desperately to say.

“I know …” he finally settled for and only realised his hands were trembling when Yoongi edged forwards and settled his palm over the vibrating digits. It gave Hoseok the strength to carry on. “But when you showed up … Or when I showed up, I suppose … Everything just got better.”

It sounded stupid. He knew that. But Yoongi was looking at him so patiently that he felt compelled to explain further. “I met you and Jin got a heart, Kook got the audition, I saw Joon smile for the first time in … in as long as I can remember and I …”

It was just words. That’s all they were. Just say it. They were only words.

“My whole life, I felt like there was something missing. I felt empty. And I thought it was because I had no parents and so I was going to feel that way forever but now …”

Just five words. Eight syllables. It was okay.

“I don’t feel empty anymore.”

He looked at Yoongi, desperately awaiting his reply, silently praying he hadn’t crossed that line they had drawn in the sand from the moment they’d met. And when glistening pearls started rolling down Yoongi’s cheeks, still tinted with the bruises left there by knuckles and boots, he truly thought he’d finally overstepped the mark.

But then Yoongi’s hands were on his face, cupping his cheeks and absorbing the tears with the soft pads of his thumbs. He raised his eyes to see his own crumpled expression reflected back at him in the watering orbs just inches away from touching him.

“I think I love you, too.”

The breath of relief Hoseok released was strong enough to make Yoongi’s eyelashes tremble, something he never would have noticed if they weren’t so close. Everything he had wanted to hear had just slipped from those lips with the bloodied slits still splitting them in two. The only thing he could possibly wish for was that they weren’t both a blubbering mess.

“Can I kiss you?” Yoongi asked in a whisper so quiet it was almost inaudible.

“I feel like I should be asking you that.”

“Nah,” Yoongi smiled wetly back at him. “I think you’re just as damaged as I am.”

And Hoseok remembered the words that had been snorted at him across a school bathroom, back when the bruises were fresh and the need to protect was one-sided.

“That was the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.”

“Just kiss me.”

“Okay.”

Hands in his hair. Tears on his face. Eyes closed. Heart hammering. Mind at peace.

Hoseok had never kissed anyone like that before. For the entirety of his life, his lips had been reserved for Taehyung, Jin and Jungkook with Jimin and Namjoon sneaking onto his ‘approved’ list every now and again. And he’d been too focused on the survival of himself and his family to invest his time in a love life. But now, in the moment where this beautiful bird was in his arms, he was so happy he’d waited.

Yoongi had never kissed anyone like that before. His first boyfriend had pinned him to the bed on their third date because he said he wasn’t ready to “bang” yet. The only lips that had ever touched his had latched themselves on without his consent. In all those times he had been coerced – beaten – into the intimate act, never had he been handled so delicately and touched so lovingly. He decided he liked it very much.

Heaven ended with the separation of their contact. With Yoongi’s breath in Hoseok’s mouth, he had been floating. He was weightless, thoughtless and when their lips were pulled apart, he thought that sensation would end. But if anything, it strengthened because now he could see Yoongi’s eyes, no longer swimming with tears but brimming with happiness.

“You were the answer to my Code Purple,” Hoseok told him, curling a stray lock of hair behind Yoongi’s ear and melting at the smile he received in return.

“And you were the answer to mine.”  

Whatever might have followed that particular confession was prevented by Jin’s soft groan from the couch as he turned over onto his other side. Hoseok puffed out a breath at his poor timing and flicked the corners of his mouth up in Yoongi’s direction before shuffling over to his hyung.

“How you doing?”

Yoongi joined him at his side and he could practically feel the worry radiating off the smaller body, mirroring his own, when Jin’s teeth started chattering.

“You’re cold, hyung?” he asked, already reaching for another blanket to tuck underneath Jin’s chin. “Yoongi, can you poke the fire a little bit?”

Yoongi made a small noise of acknowledgement before scuttling over the scratchy carpet. Jin moaned again, a feeble, constricted sound bubbling up from his abdomen as he raised a hand to his head, pressing into the clammy skin.

“Headache,” he croaked and Hoseok felt his brow crease in concern.

“How long has that been going on?”

“Since this morning.”

“Jin,” Hoseok whined, swatting at Jin’s thigh in pathetic punishment. “Did you tell Dr Wong?”

Even with the glint of discomfort in his glassy eyes, Jin managed a smile. “I wanted to go home.”

Yoongi returned to them, the flames roaring comfortably in the fireplace, projecting a wave of warmth over their crouching bodies. It did nothing for Jin’s trembling and Hoseok’s uneasiness was staring to expand by the moment.

Jin seemed to pick up on the crease in his best friend’s forehead, the teeth biting down on his bottom lip and the worried look he exchanged with Yoongi. “It’s just a headache, Hobi.”

“Okay,” Hoseok puffed out, breathing as slowly as his survival instincts would allow to try and quash the irrational terrors clawing at his insides. “It’s just a headache.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anything else.

“Do you have any painkillers in the house?” Yoongi piped up beside him, a skinny hand appearing on his shoulder to rub circles of comfort into his tense muscles. “He’s probably just feeling the effects of moving from the hospital to a house with no central heating.”

Hoseok couldn’t help the hiss of guilty frustration. “I used the last of them the other day.”

There was a moment where the only sounds were the crackle of wood popping in the blazing heat and the shaky breaths Jin was dragging painfully through his lungs. The latter was all Hoseok needed to give him the clarity to push himself to his feet and grab for his jacket.

“Your prescription should be ready by now, right? The pharmacy’s only a few blocks away. If I run, I’ll be back in half an hour.”

He yanked the zip right up to his chin and had already started towards the door before he faltered and turned around. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that Yoongi would immediately read his mind.

“We’ll be fine,” he implored. “Now go.”

Hoseok’s head snapped back and forth between the door and the boy knelt in front of the couch, Jin’s pale forehead under his palm, and he couldn’t help the slight bouncing on the balls of his feet at the indecision.

“Hoseok!” Yoongi yelled. “Fucking go!”

“I … Shit … Lock the door, draw the curtains and don’t …”

“Yes! Now go!”

“I’ll be back.”

He staggered out the front door, pressing his ear to the peeling paint until he heard every last bolt being drawn across from the other side. He whispered a silent prayer that both Jin and Yoongi would remain safe within those walls before he was pelting off down the street with his arms pumping at his sides and his feet springing off the tarmac.

He wished more than anything that he’d said ‘I love you’.

 

---------------

 

          Yoongi gathered all the blankets he could find, sandwiching Jin between them and the sofa cushions but the spasms in his arms, legs and jaw were becoming more and more violent by the minute and a thick sheen of sweat was starting to glisten on his forehead despite the chills that wracked his body.

“Jin, you’re really hot,” Yoongi cursed as he pressed the back of his hand to his hyung’s scalding skin.

“I know, right?”

At the sight of Yoongi’s expression, he tried to laugh but all that came out was a rattling wheeze. A feather had lodged itself in his throat but he was struggling to draw breath as it was so he didn’t dare try to cough and Yoongi’s apprehension was blossoming into fully-fledged panic.

“I’m really worried now, hyung,” he murmured through gritted teeth, trying to tuck the edges of the blanket underneath Jin’s body so the heat would be trapped inside. “I don’t think this is normal.”

Jin had closed his eyes several moments ago, his complexion the colour of paper, and if it weren’t for the terrifyingly rapid heaving of his chest, Yoongi would have started CPR.

“I’m calling Hobi.” He looked around, hands waving uselessly in mid air but there was no phone in sight. Hoseok had taken it with him. “Damn it!”

“Yoo …” Jin wheezed, his right hand battling out of the blanket cocoon to snag onto Yoongi’s sleeve. “Check … my ank … ankles …”

Yoongi stared at him. “What?”

“Check … my ankles …”

Bewildered but really not having anything better to do, Yoongi uncovered Jin’s feet and tugged at the cuffs of his jeans until they rode above his ankle bone.

“Shit …”

The skin had expanded to the point where the top of Jin’s socks had left lines imprinted in his calf. Yoongi didn’t know what made him do it but his fingers reached out and pressed into the swollen skin. It compressed as easily as playdough and when he drew back, the indentation did not rectify itself, leaving a finger-shaped hole in Jin’s leg.

“Shit!”

“Are they … swollen?” Jin whispered from the other end of the sofa, his eyes still closed and his breathing growing even more constricted with each syllable he attempted.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.”

He was shocked by the delirious chuckle that bubbled out of Jin’s mouth, his entire body convulsing with the effort of emitting such a strangled sound.

“I’m rejecting the heart,” he spat, feeble tone laced with spiteful disgust. “I don’t … I don’t believe it … I … I’m actually rejecting it …”

Yoongi’s eyes inflated like balloons. “You need a hospital right now.”

The hammering on the front door couldn’t have been a bigger blessing. Yoongi almost cried in relief at the sound of fists on wood as he scrambled to his feet and dived for the handle.

Each bolt succumbed to his desperation to snatch Hoseok’s phone from his hand and scream for paramedics. He had no medical knowledge. None at all. But he didn’t need it to know that Jin needed a heart that was working. And right now, that was something he didn’t have.

He wrenched the door open, his frantic words already on the tip of his tongue before he saw who really stood on the garden path. His stomach plummeted, his pulse sputtered to a stop, his eyes bulged out of his head, his lungs constricted.

“Hey, Sugar. Did you miss me?” 

Chapter Text

         Yoongi put his entire bodyweight into trying to slam the door shut but Jaeyeol’s gorilla arm impeded the attempt at a barricade without so much as a flicker in the smug curve of his frankfurter lips or the triumphant arch in his eyebrows.

Yoongi couldn’t breathe.

He had known this was coming. He had known Jaeyeol would find him but it wasn’t supposed to be this soon. He was supposed to have time to put his plan into action. But now he could smell the Cheetos and alcohol in the breath that washed over his face as the soul focus of his nightmares loomed above him.

And he couldn’t breathe.

“Aren’t you going to let me in, Sugar?”

Sugar. Never Yoongi. Always Sugar. Or Slut. Or Worthless Piece of Shit. Never Yoongi. But now he was Yoongi. Yoongi was who he had always been and now Yoongi was who he would be forever. Jaeyeol couldn’t take that from him again. Not without a fight.

Yoongi’s foot shot out before his mind had properly processed what his limbs were doing but he felt his socked toes connect with the delicate target he had been aiming for and he ran.

The language that spewed through Jaeyeol’s gritted teeth would have given a priest a heart attack but the only thing Yoongi was focused on in that moment was the boy who he genuinely feared was having a heart attack.

“Jin!” he whimpered, furious that the fear he had tried to erase from his tone was back and just as vengeful as the vulture at his door. “Jin-hyung, wake up!”

Jin’s eyelids shifted upwards half a centimetre, bloodshot whites rolling into black pupils that regarded Yoongi with fevered delirium. He let out a groan of discomfort that only intensified when the smaller boy heaved him off the couch.

“You have to stand, Jin!” Yoongi pleaded with him, ducking under his arm and trying to support all of his hyung’s weight on his weak and wavering shoulders.

He wasn’t strong enough. Jin’s legs buckled the moment he was pulled from the stability of the cushions and he sunk to the floor with a sickening thump, flopping backwards against the sofa with an exhausted wheeze.

“Jin, please!” Yoongi almost screamed, fully aware that he was crying but unable to do anything about it.

He and Jin had to be locked in the bathroom by the time Jaeyeol had recovered his composure. If they weren’t, Jin’s life would be over and Yoongi would wish his was.

“Get up, you bastard!” he screeched, hooking his arms around Jin’s middle and trying to drag him towards the bathroom door, sobbing with the effort of hauling the dead weight. Dead weight. Poor choice of words. “Come on!”

And then there were hands on him. Hands with the strength of ten men that had burned a million fingerprints into his delicate skin. They lifted him with ease, his frail frame far too inferior to resist as he was forced to let Jin drop to the floor.

“Scream as loud as you want, Sugar,” came the hiss in his ear. “But I guarantee you’ll scream louder tonight. You’ve been very disobedient.”

His feet were off the floor, legs kicking wildly in all directions and fingers clawing at the grip around his waist but his efforts were fruitless. Jaeyeol was twice his size, even with the weight he had managed to put on in the few short weeks since Hoseok had found him.

They were moving towards the door. He was going back there. Back to the handcuffs on the bedpost and the cigarette burns in his skin and the alcohol breath in his mouth as he was pinned against the wall with his hands held above his head and his tongue forced to duel with its unwanted visitor.

He was going back there.

“NO! LET ME GO! HELP ME! LET ME GO! HOSEOK! HOSEOK! HOSEOK, HELP ME!”

That was the door frame. He grabbed onto it with both hands, willing his fingertips to glue themselves into the peeling paint and never let go. But they were pried away in less than a second, one of his overly long nails snapping clean out of its bed in his efforts to hold on.

“Nice try, Sugar.”

It was dark outside. And cold. It was so cold. The arms around him were so cold. They weren’t like Hoseok’s. Hoseok’s had been warm. Now he would never be warm again.

“SOMEBODY HELP ME, PLEASE!”

He couldn’t see through the tears. He couldn’t breathe through the boa constrictor arms snaking around his chest. He couldn’t scream through the hand clamped over his mouth.

The last image in his mind before he heard the familiar sound of the rusty old truck door being wrenched open and his struggling body was tossed effortlessly inside, was Jin lying pale and lifeless on the living room floor.

He shot out of his seat, sweaty palms slamming against the window and smudging moist prints over the already-filthy glass. His fingers scrabbled for the door handle but the locks had already been clicked and the key was already in the ignition. It was over.

“I’m very disappointed in you, Sugar,” came Jaeyeol’s lazy drawl from the driver’s seat.

He looked so relaxed, one hand hooked comfortably on the steering wheel and the other curled around Yoongi’s thigh. Anyone who didn’t know him wouldn’t have been able to see the monster screaming for its release.

Yoongi knew him. Yoongi could see through that carefree façade, right to where the claws were sharpening their tips, ready to taste blood. Yoongi knew that if he survived the night, those claws would be carving pretty patterns into his body for the rest of his life, however long that was going to be.

“You ran away from me,” Jaeyeol said, as though he were surprised. “I left you all snug and cosy on the bathroom floor and when I got back, you were gone. Left quite a mess, too.”

Yoongi was hyperventilating, eyes scrunched closed and fingers white-knuckling the edges of his scratchy car seat as he tried to think of something to distract him from the hand that was crawling further up his thigh with perfectly clear intentions.

Hoseok. He focused on Hoseok. On his smile, his laugh, his jokes, his talk of guinea pigs in Switzerland and how he sounded with a mouth full of doughnut. On how his heart pounded when Yoongi had slept against it, wrapped in those arms that he had thought would protect him forever. On how his lips felt against his own: soft and wet and tasting of icing.

“I thought you loved me, Sugar. I thought we had an understanding.”

Yoongi’s eyes snapped open. He stopped hyperventilating. In three years of captivity, never had he once experienced the level of fury that was hatching deep within his gut at that moment.

He looked at Jaeyeol, body still wracked with tremors but whether it was from the fear or the newfound adrenaline, he could no longer tell. All he knew was that he was not the boy he had been before. He had met somebody who had given him hope and hope had made him strong. And strong people fought until the end.

“I never loved you,” he spat at his tormentor, his torturer, the cause of every ounce of his pain, whose jeans now bore traces of Yoongi’s spittle. “I have hated you since the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Jaeyeol didn’t stop smiling. “I’d be careful, Sugar,” he warned. “You’re already in enough trouble as it is.”

But Yoongi had made up his mind. He was never going to let himself experience the consequences of that ‘trouble’ again.

“I met someone.”

Jaeyeol’s eyes were fixed on the road, emotionless and unreadable, but Yoongi’s were fierce and fearless and fixed on the face that had loomed out of the darkness ever since that knife pierced his leg.

“Now him … Him I loved. His name’s Hoseok and he’s the best thing that ever happened to me. A billion copies of you isn’t even worth his fingernail.”

He could tell Jaeyeol was losing the control he usually tried to save until they were behind closed doors. There was a muscle bulging in his jaw from the pressure of his clenched teeth and both hands were now fastened on the steering wheel, knuckles chalk white.

“You know …” he hissed and Yoongi remembered that voice.

It was the deadly voice. The voice that administered the paralytic so that the talons could swoop in and finish the job. The voice that meant pain was going to be administered.

“Telling me all of this is just giving me more reason to track down this perfect little buttercup of yours and slit his throat. Or we could just turn around and go back for the pretty one. He didn’t look like he was going to last much longer but I could always have some fun before I put him out of his misery.”

Yoongi turned his head forwards, looking out through the murky windshield to see the trees zooming past on either side of the forest road. There were snowdrops growing in gleaming clusters at the edge of the tarmac, their petalled heads bowed solemnly towards the ground as though they were mourning the loss of an innocent life that had been so close to safety.

“You’re never going to touch them,” he whispered and he felt a smile tug at his lips. He had always liked the forest. It was his favourite place to go with his little sister when they were kids.

“I don’t think you have any say over what I do, Sugar.”

Never again would he feel helpless. Never again would he curl in on himself to protect his bones from the boots and the fists. Never again would he lie facedown on the bed covers after being beaten into submission.

He wasn’t that boy anymore. He would never be that boy again.

Not now that he knew exactly who he was.

“My name is Yoongi.”

And he lunged for the steering wheel.  

 

----------------

 

          Hoseok had never been unfit. Exercise had always been his escape from the torturous existence of his everyday life. But as he pelted down the road, swerving between disgruntled pedestrians with his footprints painting zigzag patterns on the pavement, he felt like he was breathing through a straw.

Only two more blocks to go.

He had one hand clamped over his ribs, willing the pressure he was putting on his abdomen to somehow relieve the stabbing pain underneath his skin. His legs were groaning in protest, the resilient fibres that made up his muscles beginning to rip and tear at the seams from the lack of warning.

Only one more block to go.

Jin’s prescription was pinned to his chest, his fingers clutching the pharmacy paper bag as tightly as they possibly could. The terror of letting it tumble to the floor and get crushed into powder by the tyres of a car or wheels of a bike was whispering words of warning in his ears.

The streetlamps failed to illuminate the slivers of frost crystallised into the concrete and as he rounded the final corner onto his street, the soles of his decrepit old converse slid dangerously out from underneath him.

He crashed onto his backside with a yelp of pain and that was when he saw that his front door was open. Wide open. And now he was petrified.

“No … no … no …” he could barely hear himself over the sound of his own ragged breathing as he scrambled to his feet, prescription forgotten in his panic, and threw himself through the doorway.

“Yoongi! Seokjin! Yoongi!”

There was only silence. His ears weren’t even graced with the familiar comforting crackle of the fire.

“Seokjin!”

He shouldn’t have left them alone.

He shouldn’t have left them alone.

He should never have left them here unprotected.

He should never have … “Oh my God.”

Jin had his back to him, one of his arms curled uncomfortably under his own body and his legs stuck out at awkward angles.

“Jin …”

Hoseok’s knees gave out before he even got there and he crawled the rest of the way, dragging his failing limbs across the carpet in his desperation to reach his hyung. His hand fisted in fabric and he hauled Jin onto his back.

“SEOKJIN!”

He wasn’t moving. His eyes weren’t open. He was barely even breathing.

“Oh, God … Oh, God … Oh, God … Oh, God …”

Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.

“Hyung, wake up!”

Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.

“Yoongi, where are you?”

Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.

“119, what’s your emergency?”

“Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.”

“I’m sorry, sir, are you aware that you’ve called the emergency services?”

“Please … Please help me …”

Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.

“What is your emergency?”

What wasn’t his emergency? Jin wasn’t waking up. Yoongi wasn’t even here. What if Jin wouldn’t be alive when help got to them? What if Yoongi wasn’t alive right now? What if Jungkook and Namjoon didn’t come home in time to say goodbye? What if he never saw Yoongi again? What if. What if. What if.

“Sir, what is your emergency?”

“My friend … My friend’s not waking up … He had a heart transplant … uh … three? … Yeah, three weeks ago and now he won’t wake up and he’s not breathing right and his skin’s so hot and I can’t …”

Code Purple. Code Purple. Code Purple.

“It’s okay, sir, we’ll send an ambulance. Now what is your address?”

Code Purple.

Not waking up.

Code Purple.

Not here anymore.

Code Purple.

Seokjin.

“Stay on the line, sir. We’re tracing your call.”

Code Purple.

Come save me.

Code Purple.

Yoongi.

Code Purple.

I should have said ‘I love you’.

“Help is coming, sir. Medics will be with you as soon as possible.”

Not soon enough.

 

----------------

 

         Hoseok was sobbing so hard that he could barely see the outline of the gurney Jin was laid on as it was carted down the hospital corridor by the men in green. The walls were white, the men were green, the lights were blue and all of it morphed into a frenzied haze of colour and panic and tears and fear.

He blinked and then Jin was gone, valeted through the double doors at the end of the corridor that were left swinging backwards and forwards on their two-way hinges with the squeak of shoes on polished floors echoing in the wake of Jin’s dying body.

Hoseok stood there in the middle of the hallway with his hands clasped in front of him and his shoulders hunched against the iciness in his heart. There was snot on his top lip and tears on his face but he was too numb to lift his hands and stem the streams from his eyes and nose.

Yoongi was missing. Jin was dying. The others weren’t even here. He was all alone. He had always hated being alone.

There was a panicked yell from behind him and suddenly there was an arm in his side, shoving him mercilessly against the wall to make way for a gurney carrying the next casualty of the world’s cruelty.

“Unidentified male, approximately eighteen years old. Unrestrained passenger involved in a major RTC. Car veered off the road and rolled down a bank. Driver dead at the scene. Blunt force trauma to the head, unconscious on arrival, pupils dilated and unresponsive. Went into cardiac arrest seven minutes ago.”

Hoseok caught a blur of details in the patient atop the scarlet-stained sheets. There was so much blood and so many tubes that stuck out of places Hoseok wouldn’t have wanted tubes to be sticking out of and a brace around a neck and a leg with a bloodied bone protruding from behind broken skin and a hoodie with a faded football emblem emblazoned on the front.

Hoseok had a hoodie like that.

There was a flash of black hair. Jet black. Like a raven.

And then Hoseok just knew.

“Yoongi …”

The second the word left his lips, his mind accepted the truth and suddenly he was tripping over his feet in an attempt to follow the doctors into the emergency room.

“Yoongi!”

It was him, he could see it now. He could recognise the sharpness of his jawline from underneath the oxygen mask and the half-moon curve of his closed eyelids from behind the blood waterfalling down his face. It was him but it couldn’t be him.

They’d been talking half an hour ago. They’d kissed half an hour ago. He’d had his hands on that face that was now crusted with scarlet and he’d looked into those eyes that were now depriving the world of seeing their beauty.

His eyes. The first thing Hoseok had noticed about him. The first stepping stone he’d taken on the path to falling in love. And he thought it was one-sided. He thought it was absurd and selfish but then Yoongi had told him he loved him too.

And Hoseok had never said it back.

“Yoongi! Yoongi! Please, Yoongi!”

There were arms around his chest, restraining him, overpowering his desperate struggles and ignoring his hysterical shouting that he only hoped could pierce the veil of Yoongi’s consciousness and reach him from wherever he had drifted away to.

“I’m here, baby! I’m right here! Let go of me! Let me go, I need to see him! Yoongi, baby, I’m right here!”

They couldn’t die. Not both of them. Not either of them. They couldn’t die. It wasn’t fair.

Things were supposed to get better.

Everything was supposed to get better.

He was supposed to bring Jin his prescription, wait for him to recover, congratulate Jungkook on passing the audition and then he was supposed to start his relationship with Yoongi.

That’s how things were supposed to go.

That’s what he deserved after all this time.

He deserved happiness. He deserved love. He deserved them.

They couldn’t die.

Chapter Text

         Hoseok,

I don’t really know how to start this letter. I’ve never written one before. Unless you count Christmas cards and thank-you notes but then they were always crappy and identical to each other in almost every way.

I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I’m sitting in Jin’s hospital room right now while he’s sleeping and I realised that I need to write this. I just had a conversation with Namjoon – and don’t you dare be mad at him, this was my decision – and it was a wakeup call, really.

Neither of us can deny the fact that Jaeyeol is going to come for me. We always knew that. I don’t know why we thought we could just skip off into the sunset and live happily ever after while he’s still out there doing God-knows-what to find out where I am. And once he does, Hobi, he will kill you. I’ve seen him do it before.

My family did nothing to him and he slaughtered them while they screamed. And you did do something. You saved me. In his mind, you took me away from him. In his mind, you have to die. And he knows your face, he saw you in the school after you gave me your number. You’re not safe as long as I’m around and I will not have you hurt. None of you. I can’t go through that again.

So I’m leaving. And this is my goodbye.

I got a call from my family lawyer a few hours ago and it turns out my parents had a … substantial amount of money. I knew my dad’s paycheque was huge but I didn’t realise it had so many zeroes on the end.

So I’m going to take 25% and I’m going to run. I’m not going to tell you when, I’m not going to tell you where and I don’t want you to try and find me. I want you to take care of your brother and your friends and I want you to forget you ever met me. It’ll be hard but you’ll do it and then you’ll find someone who you’ll enjoy kissing just as much as you did me, except they won’t put your life in danger.

And the other 75%, my ray of sunshine, has already been transferred to your bank account. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that you don’t have to live like that anymore. There’s enough there to pay for Tae and Kook’s college fees and Namjoon will no longer have to work himself into the ground.

Don’t think of it as charity, because I know you’d hate that, think of it as a thank you.

You saved my life, Hoseok. Not only did you pull me from that bathroom but you gave me hope. I wouldn’t have even called you if you hadn’t been so painfully annoying and persistent and … sunshiney. And don’t say it was because you know what it’s like to be abused. That’s not the reason you did that. You did it because that is just who you are.

You were my miracle.

I remember I said that to you and you told me I didn’t know what you’d done. No, Hoseok, I don’t know what you’ve done but I know surer than anything on this planet that you made up for it in every way possible.

You’re a miracle because you have endured pain and suffering and misery and all it did was make you kind. And it was your kindness that made me love you.

And I did love you. God, I did. From the moment I opened my eyes in the hospital and you grabbed my hand, I loved you so much.

So it’s because I love you that I have to go. To protect you and Tae and Kook and Jimin and Namjoon and Jin. Because I think it’s my turn to do something for you.

And, Hobi, if you see something on the news – if he finds me and he kills me – I want you to know that it wasn’t your fault. And I want you to know that whatever he does to me, you’ll still have saved me.

Goodbye, baby.

Kitten.

 

 

          Hoseok held the note away from his lap so that the tears streaming down his face wouldn’t permeate the paper and smudge the last traces he held of Yoongi: his handwriting. It was messy and barely legible but there was something beautiful about the little details. Like the loopy way he drew his F’s and the way the O’s never quite met in the middle.

He raised his head, setting the letter aside and tracing the golden engraving carved into the granite statue before him.

2001 – 2019

It wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t nearly long enough. And that line in the middle … That line was his entire life. Everything he had ever done, had ever been, had ever said was represented by that little golden dash. It should have been a trillion miles long.

“You didn’t know what was going to happen, did you?” he murmured, running his fingers over the black star-speckled stone which bore the last testimony to Min Yoongi’s life. “You thought you had time but then he came. And you did what you had to do so that you’d never live like that again.”

He knew his kitten couldn’t hear him. He was too far away, sleeping with the stars. What Hoseok was doing right now was for Hoseok and Hoseok alone. It was the only way he could cope.

“It’s okay. If I were you, I would have done the same thing. I only wish you had told me how scared you were. Then I could have at least said that I love you.

So … I love you. I love how you made me feel happy in a different kind of way than I’d ever felt before. I love how strong and forgiving you were, particularly when I messed up and took things faster than you needed them to be taken. I loved waking up with you in my arms and carrying you through the street on my back. And more than anything, I love that you were my first kiss.  

We’re doing okay. It’s been … hard. Really hard. Taehyung had it the worst. He really liked you, kitten. But he got a scholarship to art school and Kook passed that audition you made him go to. He starts at the dance academy next semester. Chim got the lead role in the school musical and Namjoon quit his job cleaning the floors. And Jin’s new heart is … It’s so strong, kitten. It’s so strong.

I wish I could have given you the world. I wish I could have made you feel as safe as you needed to feel. I wish I’d told you what I did because I know you would have put your arms around me and told me that I was still your miracle.”

He choked out a sob, swiping his sleeve underneath his nose to gather the accumulating snot.

“I’ve never told anyone this story before. Not even Jin and Joon know the full version. But … I hurt someone, kitten. I hurt someone really, really bad and I can never forget their face as they lay bleeding on that floor. I see it in my nightmares and I see it every time I look at Taehyung and I don’t think I can ever forgive myself.

It was … It was when Jin needed the LVAD surgery. He had a stroke in the middle of class and they said it was either the operating room or the morgue. So they did the surgery and they saved his life but then the insurance people were on my back and I begged them to give me some time but they just kept pushing and pushing and I was getting so desperate.

And then they said that if I didn’t pay, they’d stop Jin’s medical care altogether. They said they’d kill him, basically. And I couldn’t let that happen.”

It was getting hard to breathe but he kept going. He felt like Yoongi was sitting opposite him with his legs crossed and his fingers gripping a sugary doughnut with his lips chomping and his cheeks bulging and his eyes telling him he was listening.

“So I robbed the convenience store I worked at. I knew what time they were cashing in the week’s turnover and who would be behind the desk and what time they would be alone and so I borrowed a toy gun from this nerd at school and … and I pointed it at this fif … at this fifteen-year-old kid and told him … I told him to empty the cash register.”

The tears were coming thick and fast. But it didn’t hurt. Not as much as knowing that Yoongi wasn’t really listening.

“I swear to God, I didn’t mean to hurt him. It was an accident. He had … He had a baseball bat under the counter and … when he sw … swung it at my head … I just reacted instinctively. I … I … I k-kicked him in the stoma … in the stomach and when he fell, he hit the counter a-a-and there … there was … bl-blood everywhere and I tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t open his eyes and I couldn’t stop the bleeding so …”

He was starting to sound incomprehensible but now that he’d started, he had to finish. He had to. He owed it to himself and to that now-seventeen-year-old in the nursing home, just a drooling mess who couldn’t even go to the bathroom by himself.

“So I … I took the money and … and I called 119 and … and … Oh, God, and then I just left him there. As soon as I paid for the surgery, I handed myself into the police. I had to face up to it … There was no way I could have gone on living knowing what I did and that I wasn’t going to get punished for it. But before I even stepped into that store, I took some … some drugs so that I wouldn’t feel so fucking terrified and … the … the prosecution lawyer said I was an addict. I got two years in a juvenile detention centre. I told the kids I was going to a dance camp in California and then I just … I just abandoned them.”

He bowed his head, biting down on the collar of his hoodie as he let out great weeping sobs, not even bothering to suppress his volume. He was crying in a graveyard. Literally no one was going to ask him what was wrong.

His eyes fell on the note, left sitting delicately atop the flowers at the foot of the headstone and he grabbed for it, needing to feel it in his fingers. Needing to hold something he knew Yoongi had held.

“But this …” he said, letting the first smile of the week twitch his lips. “Knowing that you were going to love me no matter what I did … You have no idea how much I needed that, kitten. You have no idea.”

He finally clambered to his feet, his stability wavering slightly but holding his weight underneath him. He kissed the tip of his fingers and touched the blessed spot to the top of the grave, willing Yoongi – wherever he was – to feel it.

“You were my miracle, too,” he whispered. “You saved me, too. And I love you, kitten. I love you.”

Then he left.  

 

----------------------

 

          Hoseok knew the living room would be empty when he came home. Namjoon had taken the kids to watch Jimin rehearse for the school musical and they wouldn’t be back for a few hours.

He clicked the lights on the moment he stepped in, relishing the electric buzz and the illumination this house hadn’t experienced in almost four years. As he shrugged off his jacket and made a beeline for the bedroom, his hand brushed against the radiator and the warmth made it all the way to his bones.

The door was cracked open and he nudged it all the way, peering inside to see Jin lying on his back in the bed, his feet crossed at the ankles and his book propped up on his chest. At the sound of creaking wood, he peered over the top of the paperback to see Hoseok loitering on the threshold, flushed and pathetic-looking.

“Are you okay?” he asked softly. Hoseok didn’t need to tell him where he’d been. It had been exactly the same for the last three weeks.

The boy hesitated before shaking his head.

“No. I’m not okay.”

Jin tossed his book aside at once and held out his arms. It was the only invitation Hoseok needed to have him crossing the room in two strides and lowering himself onto the bed, allowing the floodgates to open once more.

“You will be,” Jin whispered into his hair, fingers rubbing backwards and forwards over the shoulders wracked with trembling sobs. He eyed the engagement ring on his knuckle as it glided across Hoseok’s sweater and the thought of Namjoon dying as Yoongi had was enough to bring him to tears, too. “We’re all going to be just fine.”

“I miss him,” Hoseok whimpered into his hyung’s neck. “I thought he was my answer to everything and I was going to be able to hold him forever and now he’s gone.”

Jin just let him cry. He just let him scream his grief and his anger until his throat was raw and his eyes ached. They had tried everything they could think of to soothe the pain Hoseok was trapped within where he woke up every night begging his first love not to die on the operating table. There was only one thing that had worked.

“Do you want to listen to him?” he mumbled, smiling softly when Hoseok nodded. “Okay, shift.”

Hoseok moved obediently, shuffling his head onto Jin’s chest and pressing his ear against the firm ribcage. The tears kept flowing but with the sound of that heartbeat – that strong marching band playing the fanfare of its survival – he felt so peaceful. He felt so safe.

“Hey, Yoongi.”