Paper Planes / GOT7 Oneshot / Jaebum x Jinyoung / Angst / 10k+ words
I need you in my arms
I need to keep it down
before this feeling overflows
-In medias res-
-The sky is falling down-
“Jinyoung-ah, stay with me.”
Jaebum realised his pleas were echoes going on loop, a broken record at its best—but he didn’t care. He repeated the words, grasping Jinyoung’s lax hand in his, wishing he could transfer some warmth, heat up Jinyoung’s pale cheeks and lips that was rapidly turning blue. Give Jaebum an injured bird, a cat, a dog, even a heavily pregnant cow and he would know exactly what to do—he was trained for it. But give him an unconscious Jinyoung and somehow Jaebum found himself treading above water in a sea of helplessness.
Squeezing desperately at Jinyoung’s fingers, Jaebum could feel his own pain, fear, disbelief (and something else which he refused to name) mix together like bibimbap in a ceramic bowl. This can’t be happening, he thought.
How did it come to this?
But reality hit in the form of his own damp hair and drenched clothes. No, this is no dream. This is his nightmare coming true—minutes which seemed like hours since he dove into the frigid water and dragged Jinyoung’s limp body away from its unforgiving dark depth and performed CPR on him.
Jaebum’s broad shoulders hunched further and further as the ambulance raced through the deserted streets of Seoul, its green LED lights blinking rapidly and sirens blazing at full blast. Faster, please—Jaebum pleaded to no one in particular. They turned a sharp left, and someone shoved him aside, tearing him away from Jinyoung and Jaebum panicked. He wanted to say something, to fight, to hit someone, to do anything but wait—before realising that he would only be hindering the paramedic from doing his job—saving Jinyoung’s life.
Reluctantly, he scooted away and observed in silence as the guy rolled up Jinyoung’s sleeve and added pressure unto the inside of his elbow. A long thin needle was pressed into his skin then, drawing blood. The scarlet liquid filled up the needle and Jaebum’s hope soared high, like one of Jinyoung’s paper planes. Closing his eyes, Jaebum willed away the cramped space of the emergency vehicle and recalled images of blue sky and marshmallow clouds, of paper planes in various colours gliding on air. Of Jinyoung waking up and smiling at him, dimple digging deep into his right cheek.
Hang in there, Jinyoung-ah.
Just…just hang in there, okay?...
The heart rate monitor beeped; a tiny fraction and a small jump on the screen. Jinyoung’s breaths were still shallow, his lifeline barely throbbing.
Jaebum didn’t know what else to do. It felt like the entire sky crashing down on him. Swallowing the bitter taste of regret, he began counting to ten.
And the sky continued to fall.
When he was seven years old, Park Jinyoung dropped from the sky in a ball of flames. If someone were to ask him to recall what happened that day, he would probably shake his head before quickly changing the topic. If pressed further, he would probably say he could hardly remember anything—the memories repressed in his past, buried somewhere in the cobwebs of his consciousness. But one would be wise to notice the darkness behind his eyes. The truth is, he remembered every terrifying second of it. Because Jinyoung is the type to hold onto memories and old pain like they all happened yesterday.
What Jinyoung hid from others, he carried close to his heart. If one could sift through his wallet, one would find an old photo of Jinyoung as a toddler, wrapped safely in his mother’s embrace. In the photo, his father was around late twenties, with one arm curved around his mother’s shoulder. In the photo, his parents were alive and smiling—no idea yet of the cruel twist of fate which would occur a few years down the road.
The photo, however, was a false memory—one that Jinyoung used to replace another memory; specifically of a plane crash that was featured on the night news, splashed on the front pages of newspapers for days and weeks on end, something that Jinyoung wished he could delete from his mental storage. He didn’t need to be reminded of all the charred remains, the blanket of death and despair, and his own desperate attempts to escape from the burning wreckage. The only remainder he took from that day was a fear of flying and unknown to himself, a survivor’s guilt. The rest, the doctors and science managed to fix. Broken bones learned to align themselves, falling back into place and burnt skin healed over time, his lower body crisscrossed with fading scars and uneven skin.
“You’re a miracle, little one.” His aunt kept repeating over the years, around his parent’s death anniversary. She would pat the top of his head and ruffle his hair, as if she needed to physically remind herself that he was there instead of a figment of her imagination, unlike her twin sister, who was returned to her as ashes in an urn.
I’m so, so sorry.
Jinyoung wished he could say that out loud, to confess and just get the words off his chest, but he chickened out each time, too afraid that even his aunt, the only living relative he has left, would turn against him too.
If I hadn’t ask for such a gift, they would probably still be alive. He thought, remembering how elated he was when his parents showed him the flight tickets and told him they would be visiting Tokyo Disneyland on his birthday.
Since then, Jinyoung’s birthdays turned into self-penance, as he wondered on each passing year whether his parents would ever forgive him for leading them to their untimely demise.
I’m no miracle. No, far from it…
Jinyoung thought of himself as more of an abomination; an irregularity in a world which continues to rotate on its axis whether he is in it or not. Abandoned by the sky and orphaned by the earth, Jinyoung lingered between the two planes, suspended in mid-air. He might be one of the seven who survived the plane crash, but sometimes Jinyoung wondered if it would be much better for him to perish along with his parents.
His aunt stayed with him in Seoul for a few years while he was undergoing treatment. But after the last of the surgeries, they both moved into a different world and exchanged the condo in Cheongdam-dong for his aunt’s two-bedroom house on the coast of Jeju island. Growing up by the sea, Jinyoung learned to love the water (and taught himself to drown his feelings). Listening to the roar of the ocean, he was able to momentarily forget the deafening crash and the fire that reached the skies, the multiple surgeries and the ensuing pain that followed, always waking up to the sterile smell of disinfectant and alcohol, being probed at by a team of trauma surgeons, telling him everything will be fine when his whole body felt like it was on fire.
Are you kidding me? Nothing will ever be fine. Not anymore.
The first eighteen months in Jeju, he only watched the sea from the shore, and was only able to summon enough courage to wade into the water and learn how to swim again when he was thirteen, safe in the knowledge that he could always dive into the blue-green water and all fire (imaginary or otherwise) would be extinguished. Submerged underwater, Jinyoung let the waves drown all his thoughts, wash away his pain and return him to shore in a new skin.
Jinyoung picked up smoking during high school. Unlike his peers who mostly smoked to mark the entrance into manhood, or because they revel in the taste, Jinyoung smoked for a different reason altogether.
“Since when did you start smoking? I thought you hated the stench of smoke.” His aunt asked after she caught him smoking again.
“I still find it repugnant.” He replied.
“Then? Why did you start smoking?”
“If I ask you to quit, would you?”
“Probably not.” He threw a lazy smile.
“Sometimes, I just don’t understand you, Jinyoung-ah.”
“Me neither, eemo. Me neither.”
Most times, the tobacco left an acrid aftertaste upon his tongue; bitter and unpleasant. He hated the odor that lingered on his hair, his skin and his clothes to no end. But he kept at it, forcing the unpleasant grey snake into his lungs because he knew he didn’t deserve to breathe.
Growing up, Im Jaebum was often told that his passion is his biggest strength, aside from his wide-toothed smile, that is. Jaebum doesn’t deny this, knowing very well that he didn’t do anything half-heartedly. He is as they say; the type to burn his way through things. Perhaps having faced a near-death experience at eight has something to do with that. The plane crash changed his life, or rather, the way he views life. Since then, Jaebum learned not to take anything for granted, to live each day as if tomorrow is not promised.
If anyone were to ask his peers, they would probably describe Jaebum as too nice, too kind, too generous, too forgiving. Smiled too much. Laughed too much. Sacrificed too much. Always too much.
But only Jaebum knew the truth—that he is not as they think he is. He is merely trying to make up for everything in which he was lacking. And in Jaebum’s mind, he was always lacking, will always be lacking. So he doubled his efforts to make a difference whenever he could.
Jaebum first discovered kayaking when he was 14, while on a school trip to Jeju—the beginning of what appeared to be the hottest summer of his life. They rented more than a dozen glass bottom kayaks during a group outing and he found himself paddling around in one, the waves separating him further and further from his schoolmates when a paper plane glided above his head. It was a peculiar-looking plane indeed, its wings spread out like a pelican in flight—he has never seen anything like it. The wind carried the plane forward and soon Jaebum found himself paddling in the same direction, trailing after the paper plane. It careened to the left and right, balancing itself on its extended wide wings before gradually losing traction and began to swirl downward. He reached towards it, nearly toppled the kayak in the process and caught it as it was about to hit the water. He couldn’t explain what compelled him to do so—but imagining that lone paper plane floating to its death in the vast ocean ate at him. Perhaps whoever made it had hoped someone would pick it up too.
He scanned the shoreline, trying to find the origin of the paper plane. From afar, he noticed a boy standing upon a huge boulder, staring out to sea—perhaps even at him.
"Hey, is this yours?"
Jaebum waved the paper plane in mid-air, shouting his question to the wind. The boy continued to watch him, unmoving. However, by the time he reached the shore, the boy was nowhere to be seen.
He carried the paper plane with him for the remainder of the trip, only to lose it on his last day there. One arm extended from the bus’s window, Jaebum held the paper plane against the floating sun. The plane cast a shadow across his face and he smiled, just when a gust of wind blew at the paper plane, snatching it from between his fingers. Surprised, he tried to make a grab for it but his fingers clutched desperately against thin air. The bus snaked along the beach road towards the airport and Jaebum watched forlornly until it disappeared from view. He tried to shake the feeling off, absurd as it was. But still, he couldn’t help but feel like he has just lost something.
That was the first and last time Jaebum went to Jeju. Afterward, high school passed by in a blur, like one of those silent black and white Charlie Chaplin movies. Every day was a monotony, except for the occasional time he spent volunteering at the animal shelter and the solo kayaking on Han river during weekends.
His parents weren’t surprised when Jaebum decided to study veterinary at Yonsei. They thought he always had a leaning towards that since he first brought home a paralysed kitten when he was 10 and took care of it for the next three years. But then again, his parents pretty much let him do whatever he wanted after the plane crash—almost as if they were trying to absolve themselves. The image of their only child displayed on the night news, his soot-covered face streaked with tear stains, that blank confused stare directed at the camera as the paramedic tended to his wound remained embedded in their minds. Jaebum returned from the hospital a different boy and the guilt of letting him visit his grandparents in Japan by himself gnawed at his parents for many years after that. He talked less, preferred to stay indoors more often, and the only friends he allowed around himself were furry creatures. So they were more than delighted when he began to pick up kayaking and bask in the sunlight again.
-It Rained Paper Planes-
Jaebum was walking past the library one night when it rained paper planes.
Looking up, he was fascinated by the unfolding scene; an assortment of paper planes falling from the night sky, gliding haphazardly on the warm summer breeze. They were all in different shapes and sizes; some landed on the lawn, some were stranded in tree branches, the rest panning out near his feet. He has never seen anything like it. For a moment or so, he wondered if he was imagining the whole scene in his head or if it was indeed raining paper planes.
He looked up again as a lone paper plane sashayed close above his head. He reached out and caught it. Bemused, he turned the plane over and over, studying the carefully folded piece of grey paper and wondered who made it and where it came from. Each fold, each crease, even the tip of the plane’s nose was well folded, leaving no room for error or sloppiness. His curiosity got the better of him and he decided there was no harm checking it out.
Once he reached the rooftop, he saw a figure sitting precariously at the far end of the ledge, his feet dangling in mid-air. Jaebum observed him for a while, noticed that he kept folding paper planes and hurtling them towards the sky with such vengeance as if he was angry with the clouds.
“That’s practically littering, you know.”
The figure seemed to freeze for a few seconds, before slowly turning to face him. A completed paper plane was posed in between his fingers, as a pair of eyes glistened at him in the dark.
“Didn’t know the campus employs litter police now.” The guy replied, shooting the plane straight towards him. It was a small red plane—its nose dipping sharply and its wings wrapped tight around its body, allowing it to fly with more thrust, hitting Jaebum straight in the chest before landing at his feet.
“That’s a Nakamura.”
“Nakamura Lock—simple to fold, a very good flier. Check out the flat front—specially made for crashing into an oaf like you.” The guy said with a smirk on his face.
Jaebum stared dumbfounded at the paper plane for a while, before stooping to pick it up. Closing one eye, he aimed for a distant star and shoved the plane into the night sky. They both watched in silence as the paper flew.
“Don’t you think you’re sitting too far out?” Jaebum asked.
“Am I?” The guy has the audacity to make light of his concern, which irritated Jaebum all the more.
“You’re likely to break your neck if you fall from there.”
“So? What is it to you?”
“What does it have to do with you?”
“Perhaps next time you should learn to mind your own busi—”
“I won’t let you fall.”
“Not on my watch.” Jaebum moved closer, closing the distance between them with each step forward.
“What are you? Some weirdo superhero?”
“If that’s what you need.”
A brittle laugh escaped the guy’s throat. “Well, I suggest you go elsewhere. It’s a bit too late to save me.”
“Are you…drunk or something?”
“Do you always judge other people upon first meeting?”
“Sorry..” Jaebum bit the inside of his cheek, realising he might be stepping beyond the line.
“Never mind.” The guy replied and went back to folding more paper planes.
Jaebum watched the planes take flight as the wind blew, ruffling hair and stinging cheeks. The guy was the first to break the uneasy silence.
“You can’t burn human bones to ash, did you know that?”
“Huh?” Taken aback by the sudden change in topic, Jaebum turned to look at the guy.
“It’s not that easy to get rid of a body. After the rest disappeared into fire, the bones fragments remain. Then you have to blend them, like some fucking afterworld juice.”
“…Ooh..” Should I flee now?
“I cremated someone yesterday—the only family I had left.” His voice was so soft, Jaebum strained to catch what he was saying.
“I’m…I’m sorry to hear that.”
“They’re all gone now—makes me wonder why I’m the one left behind, you know?”
Tentatively, Jaebum began climbing the ledge and scooting sideways towards the guy.
The guy didn’t answer, his eyes focused on the ground below.
Jaebum tried once again, “Hey..want to talk about it?”
“Perhaps you’d feel better if—”
“If I jump from here, how long will it take?”
“Would I even feel anything? Don’t think so.”
“…I..I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Well…you might just survive the fall.”
“Might break a few spines, ends up being crippled for the rest of your life.”
“What are you—”
“Not so appealing, you know? Having to stare out the window unable to move, when the rest of the world is running around.”
“Wouldn’t make that much of a difference to me.”
“…” Shit, what do I say now? “…Well, I’ll probably end up trying to stop you. So, scenario A, we both don’t make it and I’ll haunt your ghost for eternity. Scenario B, we end up crippled together and I’ll make you clean my pee for the rest of your life. The choice is yours.”
The guy was about to say something, before biting back his retort and releasing a hearty laugh. He laughed so hard that Jaebum wondered if he was faking it or if he was just losing it.
“Man, you totally destroyed it for me. Fine, I’m not gonna jump tonight, okay.” He gathered his stuff and began to leave.
Jaebum said nothing and watched as the guy walked away, veering down the dimly lit path towards the dormitories. Then he peered down at the ground and shuddered at his own thoughts. The library is five storeys high. A fall from that height guarantees an instant death.
Since that evening, Jaebum visited the library more often than usual.
Weeks later, he was still hanging around the library, telling himself he needed to catch up on his research materials and do some reading, but oftentimes he ended up scanning the crowd and peering in between bookshelves for the guy with paper planes.
A month later, an apple green paper plane landed at his feet as Jaebum was making his way through the open floor atrium. He looked around and tried to guess the origin of the flight based on its trajectory. Once he reached the third-floor landing, he found himself in the Literature section. The guy was nowhere to be seen.
Jaebum unfolded the paper plane and saw the message written in bold letters: CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT
After that day, Jaebum lingered around the third floor in between his classes, his nose tucked into a book but not really reading.
Another week passed, until one day a sky-blue paper plane landed in Jaebum’s lap, moments after he sat down to study the Textbook of Small Animal Surgery.
Where papers fly. 2 minutes.
Where do papers fly? What the heck is he trying to tell me?
Where papers fly…
From where does paper fly??
Surely it couldn’t be..shit! He closed his book and headed for the staircase.
“You’ve already wasted one minute.” The guy stated as Jaebum shoved open the emergency door to the library’s rooftop.
Jaebum said nothing, still trying to catch his breath.
“What do you want from me, Im Jaebum?”
“I..I was—wait, how did you know me?”
“I was just wondering whether you’re—well, whether you’re okay.”
“Whether I’m fine or not is no one’s business—shouldn’t be yours either.”
“I…I mean nothing bad..”
“Then why are you stalking me?” Anger flashed in the guy’s eyes as he turned to stare Jaebum straight in the eyes, daring him to say otherwise.
“I..I couldn’t sleep well.” Jaebum finally admitted.
“So? I don’t fucking trade in sleeping pills.”
“I couldn’t sleep well because…well, not until I know that you’re okay.” Jaebum returned the guy’s cold stare.
“Look, I don’t know why I’m like this either. It’s just—”
“What, you’re gonna tell me you’re a goddamn insomniac now?”
“No. I..I wonder about you.”
Jaebum’s statement made the guy rolled his eyes. “I don’t have time for this. You know what you need? A shrink.” The guy began to walk past him back into the building.
“Wait.” Jaebum stepped in front of the emergency door, blocking him from leaving.
“Time’s up. I said two minutes, didn’t I?” He raised an eyebrow to make his point.
“Just—well, just tell me you’re not going to do anything stupid.”
“I’m not telling a lunatic like you anything—move!”
Jaebum stepped aside, but not before losing his balance and crashing into the other guy, causing him to curse under his breath as his books dropped to the floor.
“Sorry. Here, I’ll help you.” He kneeled and collected the books, quickly shoving a light paperback into his jacket before handing the rest of them back to the guy.
“Excuse me.” Jaebum coached his lips into the most charming smile he could muster.
“Yes, how can I help you?” The librarian turned towards him, face beaming.
Jaebum placed the book on the counter. “I found this outside the library. Think someone must have dropped it. Do you think you could trace the borrower’s list? The poor guy must be looking all over the campus for this book.”
“Oh, how nice of you. Sure!” She took the book from him and keyed in the book’s serial number. Jaebum leaned over, curious.
Park Jinyoung. Student ID No. 720174. Third year, literature major. Number of books borrowed: 5.
If the faded bite marks and scars on his wrists were anything, they were visible proofs of Jaebum’s patience for saving injured strays. Normally, he is not the type to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. But neither could he ignores an injured animal’s cries for help. And that day at the library, he heard Jinyoung’s cries loud and clear, even if Jinyoung himself was oblivious to his own injuries.
However, winning the trust of a dog is easier than a cat, and Jaebum is about to discover that Jinyoung is wilder than most cats.
The best way to gain a stray’s trust is to provide it with food and water in what it considered its safest and most familiar environment. So Jaebum lingered around the library, waiting for Jinyoung to collect his missing book. Then he followed him for a while, noting the 7-11 across campus which Jinyoung must have dropped by often, judging from the too-friendly way the cashier greeted him.
After a few days of observing from far, Jaebum decided it was safe enough to make his move. He sneaked into the 7-11 moments after Jinyoung was seated at the in-store countertop with his bowl of steaming ramyun. Casually, he ambled pass Jinyoung and headed for the fridge at the back of the store. He didn’t even steal a glance at the other guy as he made his purchase and waited until Jinyoung was busy stirring the noodles, cooling it down. Three…two…one..go!
He slurped noisily at his noodles, enough to draw Jinyoung’s attention. Halfway through the cup ramyun, he imagined there must be a hole in his head from the guy’s burning stare. Still, he pretended to be engrossed in his meal. It was not until he swallowed the last strand of the ramyun that he patted his stomach, looked around and pretended to notice Jinyoung for the first time.
“Fancy seeing you here! Here, I still have some kimchi—want some?” He offered, shoving the small packet of kimchi towards Jinyoung. He didn’t wait for the guy to refuse and took his leave, pretending like he shared side dishes with strangers in convenience stores all the time.
Five days later, he settled at the same seat and cracked open a chilled can of Milkis while Jinyoung was shoving some tuna mayo kimbap into his mouth. Taken aback by his sudden appearance, Jinyoung was about to say something before he began choking on his kimbap. Leaning over, he patted at Jinyoung’s back, easing his airways. But he didn’t wait long enough to give Jinyoung the opportunity to say something. Instead, he glanced at his watch, feigned urgency at some fake appointment that he was late for and exited the 7-11. Moments before the door closed behind him, he bit the inside of his cheeks and hid his smirk when Jinyoung asked him to wait. He swiftly made his way towards a busy street and melted into the crowd.
The third time, Jaebum armed himself with a banana flavoured milk. But this time, Jinyoung was sitting there staring at the door, sipping on a bottle of banana milk, almost as if he was waiting for him to turn up. Jaebum was taken aback for a while, but he decided to play it cool and employed his second tactic. Sipping at the milk, he grabbed a packet of boiled eggs from the ready-to-eat shelf. He settled himself two seats away from Jinyoung, not sparing him a glance. As he began peeling the egg, he was very aware of the other guy staring at his every move, trying to gauge his intention.
Still munching on the first egg, Jaebum was about to shove another into his mouth when Jinyoung leaned over.
“You think I don’t realise what you’re doing?”
“Funny how we seemed to run into each other too often these days, don’t you think so?”
Cheeks stuffed with eggs, he turned towards Jinyoung and shrugged his shoulders. Oh, did we? I didn’t notice.
“If you want to fuck me that bad, you could have just asked, you know. I would probably do you once. Or twice, if you’re good.” He then slurped the rest of his drink while looking Jaebum up and down, driving home his point.
“Wh—hur??” Jaebum snorted and coughed, trying to cover his mouth but it was too late. Chunks of boiled egg and saliva were spattered all over the guy’s face.
Tell me why this chest pain
I think about you
The hurt just gains
For Jinyoung, relationships are pretty much like paper planes. Folded neatly, it might fly further, but no matter how intricate it is folded, it will drop to the ground, losing out to the pull of gravity.
He wandered from one arm to another, taking his fill and convincing himself that temporary relationships suited him best.
Mark was his first. It was an instant attraction, the electric surge undeniable. An exchange student from LA, Jinyoung thought he would be open-minded and all. But Mark was loyal to a fault and expected him to be the same. Jinyoung thought it was too high of a price to pay, despite Mark’s amazing kisses and even better blowjobs.
“One day you’ll regret it, Jinyoung-ah. Mark my words.” Mark bid goodbye as the semester (and their relationship) reached its end, embers still crackling. He was beginning to care too much, and that was never a good sign for Jinyoung. So he doused the burning embers with harshness, wounding Mark’s pride and sending him flying back to LA.
Jackson was his second. He never promised the other guy anything beyond a casual friendship and a quick fuck whenever he needed it, and at first Jackson agreed to it. But then Jackson made the mistake of falling for him, a betrayal that Jinyoung couldn’t forgive. He ended the relationship and Jackson followed him around like a lost puppy, begging for mercy and wondering why Jinyoung changed overnight.
“What did I do wrong?” Jackson asked, unable to read his mind.
“I’ve told you before, Jackson.”
“I only cared for you—”
“Well, you shouldn’t have.”
“I did warn you earlier on, didn’t I? Don’t tell me you didn’t expect this to happen.”
Jackson stopped coming around after that day, and Jinyoung moved on with his life, believing that he is invincible when it comes to matters of the heart.
Until he met Jaebum, that is. And had partially digested eggs spewed all over his face.
Coffees soon turned into dinners and sojus, with a mix of drunken kisses and clothes scattered on the floor.
Until one day, they were seated at an alcove in the library. Jinyoung was supposed to help Jaebum prepare for his toxicology quiz the next day.
“And the recommended treatment for question 18 is?”
“Let’s see..chocolate is slowly absorbed by a dog’s stomach, so I would say…emesis induction? If that didn’t work, then we go for multiple doses of activated charcoal and IV. Oh yes, also methocarbamol for tremors, and anticonvulsants if seizures develop.”
“I was right, wasn’t I?”
“Yes. Again and again. And for the record, I’m getting bored.”
Suppressing another yawn, Jinyoung began tearing up a piece of paper from Jaebum’s notes. “You see, there is this paper plane known as 'The Hammer’..”
“Hey, those are my notes for—”
“Sssshhh.” Jinyoung replied, pointing at the ‘Keep Quiet’ sign displayed in the library.
“The quiz is tomorrow, Jinyoung-ah. Give it back—” He tried to grab the torn page but Jinyoung scooted away and continued folding it.
“Here. See? This is what a Hammer looks like.” He said, holding up the newly folded paper plane.
“Great, you just tore up the first page of—”
“It flies the best and farthest.” Jinyoung released the plane and it flew with such grace and precision, straight into the 'Keep Quiet' sign.
“I can see that. Could you please stop making paper planes out of my class notes, though?”
“What else now?”
“Another question—why drag me out to help you study when you already know all the answers?”
“What’s this?” Jinyoung asked, fingers tracing a faint outline of a circle the size of a penny below Jaebum’s waist.
“Just an old scar.” Jaebum replied, pulling Jinyoung up against him.
“How did you get it?”
“Some accident when I was a kid.”
“Must have been quite serious—what was it?”
“I’ll tell you my history when you tell me yours. In the meantime, I’m cold.” Jaebum whispered, raking Jinyoung into his embrace and feigning sleep. Sinking his head into the crook of Jinyoung’s naked shoulder, he wished the guy would stop asking more questions.
Because I wouldn’t know how to answer.
They broke up once and Jaebum told himself to forget everything about Jinyoung. Two weeks later, Jinyoung slurred “You’re a fool” against his nape, while Jaebum dragged him out of a rowdy club. Jinyoung was totally wasted and Jaebum was moaning in pain after fighting off the guy who was trying to get into Jinyoung’s pants. Doused with alcohol, Jinyoung was elated to see Jaebum. His companion, not so much. Still, Jaebum wiggled himself between the guy and Jinyoung. The exchange earned Jaebum a kick to his stomach and a broken lower lip, but he managed to pry Jinyoung away and deliver him home, safe and sound.
Why do I keep doing this? Jaebum questioned himself, as the taxi sped away from the fluorescent-laden club, a sleepy Jinyoung leaning against him and Jaebum wiping the blood away from his lip with his thumb.
Come morning, Jinyoung rolled out of bed and found a handkerchief to wrap some ice with. He placed it against Jaebum’s lower lip, saying sorry over and over again until Jaebum woke up.
“Leave it. Doesn’t hurt as bad as it seems.”
“I’ve cracked my lips before—not that big of a deal.” Jaebum winked and tried to lighten the air.
“Should have let me be, you know? The guy was a Hapkido trainer.”
“I can handle a guy like that.”
“That’s the problem with you—thinking you can always handle everything.”
Jaebum winced at the pain and decided not to reply.
“Don’t you ever think..” Jinyoung’s voice faltered with uncertainty.
“What is it?”
“That I’m too much to deal with?”
“Show me your worst.”
Inching forward, Jinyoung crushed his mouth against Jaebum’s swollen lips, hard.
Stop it. You’re hurting me.
Jaebum tried to turn his face sideways, but Jinyoung palmed his face on both sides, keeping him in place.
You’re a fool, Im Jaebum. Totally a fool. Jinyoung thought, biting at the already broken lip, abusing it more.
Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am…
A tear flowed from his eyelid as Jinyoung bit harder, spilling fresh blood and swallowing it along with Jaebum’s muffled groan.
Jinyoung-ah, it hurts…
-Of Poisons and Antidote-
Jinyoung traced the skin across Jaebum’s wide shoulders, his fingers lingering around the Latin phrase tattooed in italics atop Jaebum’s skin; Sola dosis facit venenum.
“The dose makes the poison.” Jinyoung easily translated and for a moment Jaebum questioned his decision to be with a Literature major in the first place.
“Why this phrase?” Jinyoung asked, tracing each letter with much care.
“Why so curious?” Jaebum twisted his body, hiding the tattoo away.
“Why so serious?” Jinyoung fired back, rolling Jaebum sideways and revealing the tattoo again.
“It’s nothing much.”
“Funny how you decided to carry this ‘nothing much’ to your grave—come on, what is it to you?” Jinyoung persisted.
“Don’t you realise how annoying you can be sometimes?” Jaebum asked, avoiding the question again.
“Don’t you know how persistent I can be sometimes?” Jinyoung countered.
“Just a reminder for myself—there, happy now?”
“Tell me more.”
“…You’re impossible to please, you know?”
“Try harder, then.” A grin broke across his face at Jaebum’s exasperation.
“Fine! Ever heard of Hohenheim?”
Jinyoung shook his head. Hohen who?
“Von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus. This guy is like the Father of Toxicology during the European Renaissance. Quite a pioneer in his field. He believed that all things are poisonous, and nothing is without poison.”
“Uh-huh. Go on..”
“Unlike popular belief, poison doesn’t just come from poisonous plants, animals or substances. Take water, for example. While we need water to survive, water can be toxic to the human body if it is drunk or absorbed too much. The same with most substance—it is likely to produce harmful effects if we are exposed to it in high concentration.”
“So he’s saying that all things are poisonous, huh?” Jinyoung asked, moving closer towards him.
“Well, tell me then, Im Jaebum—how harmful am I to you?”
“Wh—what are you doing?”
I’m as good as dead, Jaebum thought to himself, as Jinyoung’s lips brushed against his; softer than feather, deadlier than arsenic.
-The paper plane that returned-
“Has none ever returned to you?” Jaebum asked, deftly trying to fold a paper plane but failing miserably at it.
“What has?” Jinyoung glanced over and grabbed the piece of paper from Jaebum. He continued folding it instead, much to Jaebum’s annoyance.
“Your paper planes.”
“Hmm…I can’t remember—once, maybe. I could be wrong, but I think it was mine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I made a Pelican once—basically a large aerobatics plane that can loiter long and carry a fair-sized load. Sent it flying out to sea. I’ve made pelicans before, but they all drowned in water. But this one, I found it flying around on land a couple of days later. Tried to catch it, but the wind blew it away.”
“Now this, is a Pelican.” Jinyoung held up the finished paper plane in mid-air, its wings spread out like the mighty bird of its namesake.
Jaebum tried to recall where and when has he seen such a particular paper plane before, years and years ago somewhere during what felt like the longest summer of his life—but of course it is impossible.
-My Achilles Heel-
“Wait a moment, I thought you said he was invincible?” Raising himself on his elbows, he looked over at Jinyoung, his brows furrowed with confusion.
They were laying on the floor in Jinyoung’s room, notes and books scattered all around them as he kept Jinyoung company while he was finishing his assignment. Jinyoung lectured him earlier about the Illiad, and though he is no Arts major, Jaebum believed he could have recited lines from the Greek play by heart, based on the amount of information Jinyoung has fed him.
“He was—well, supposed to be.” Jinyoung replied, fingers busy typing his essay.
“What happened then? How come he’s dead?’’ He asked again, growing more curious by the minute.
“There’s a glitch in his immortality. Remember I told you that his mother, the goddess Thestis dipped Achilles into the river Styx when he was an infant, to give him immortality?”
“Well, she forgot to dip the part of his heel where she was holding him, so that part of him remains mortal and when the poisoned arrow struck him there—RIP.”
“Anyway, so Achilles died and….”
Jaebum lost track of whatever Jinyoung was talking about after that. Slowly, he rolled on his back and stared at the ceiling as Jinyoung continued to type away on his laptop, the clack clack clack of the keyboard hitting him in waves. He wondered if Jinyoung is aware of his Achilles heel.
Well, sometimes I don’t know how to live without you.
“I think we should stop seeing each other.”Jinyoung muttered in between smokes. Lips pursed tight as he inhaled the tobacco into his lungs, dragging shallow breaths and releasing them in slow motion. The smoke wafted towards Jaebum, colouring his clothes and drenching his skin with nicotine.
Despite himself, Jaebum began to cough; a grey wispy snake wrapping itself around his throat, invading his nostrils. Breathing became more difficult, his clarity overtaken by tobacco-laced mist and the ghostly snake winding itself tighter and tighter, cutting off his air. Warm moisture pooled in his eyes. Everything grew blurry; the cup clutched with both hands, the black and white checkered tablecloth, the other patrons sitting on the roadside café, the heartless bastard Park Jinyoung sitting across the table, nonchalant.
What do you mean? The question burned the tip of his tongue, the same way fire danced with oxygen, stroking the glowing embers of Jinyoung’s cigarette brighter. He glanced down, noticed his knuckles growing white.
Instead he swallowed the retort, along with a gulp of hot Americano (and his pride). The liquid scalded his tongue, numbing the neurons. He wished it would numb his feelings too. Would it hurt less, then?
“Don’t look at me like that. Say something”.
What do you expect me to say? What does anyone say at this moment?
Time freezes in moments like this, as Jaebum discovered. His reply would be a broken egg on the kitchen floor; useless and irrelevant.
“Why?” He was curious and downright furious.
“…I’m not so sure—I mean, don’t get me wrong, the past few months have been fun, you know. I like having you around and all, but…”
You just like having me around? What am I—a goddamn puppy?
“Well..it’s just better this way, you know.”
It’s better this way? You putting me up for adoption now? Like hey, I’m tired of playing with my puppy, would you take him in?
His vision clouded with red, Jaebum reached over and plucked at the cigarette hanging between Jinyoung’s lips.
“What are you doing?” Bewildered, Jinyoung watched as Jaebum dipped the cigarette into his tall glass of iced latte, the embers drowning and dying in the sea of coffee, milk and syrup.
“Are you out of your mi—”
But Jinyoung’s sentence died an untimely death, a fire doused early. He barely managed to squeeze his eyes shut before Jaebum grabbed the glass and hurled the drink towards him. The water slapped his skin hard and he sputtered at the sudden attack. Biting back a curse, he struggled to blink at the older guy as iced coffee dripped from his hair and ran down his face in rivulets.
“Screw you, Park Jinyoung.”
Jaebum walked away and Jinyoung convinced himself it was for the better.
Jinyoung went looking for Jaebum two weeks later, walking into Jaebum’s room and of course, Jaebum relented. He always did.
Afterward, they snuggled close beneath the sheets, but Jaebum shivered despite the shared heat.
“I missed this.” Jinyoung whispered against Jaebum’s nape.
“…Is that all you have to say?”
“What else do you want to hear?”
“Tell me honestly—what is it that you missed?”
“What do you mean—”
“You know what I meant.”
Growing uncomfortable, Jinyoung began to rise from the bed, but Jaebum grabbed his wrist, pulling him back.
“What are you afraid of, Jinyoung-ah? Aside from your own feelings?”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“Tell me, what the hell are we doing to each other?”
“I don’t think—”
“What am I to you, Park Jinyoung?”
So Jinyoung said the very thing he knew would hurt Jaebum the most.
“You’re probably the best fuck I’ve ever had, Im Jaebum.”
The look on Jaebum’s face made Jinyoung wished he could retract his unkindness, but he swallowed his apology instead, bitter as herbal medicine.
“Did I say something wrong?” Jinyoung asked, pretending not to notice the slight tremble in Jaebum’s strong jaw.
“Fuck you, Park Jinyoung.” Jaebum rolled off the narrow bed and put on his clothes.
“I thought you don’t have class on Wednesday.”
“I’m late for practice. Rowing Festival is three weeks away.”
“Jinyoung-ah..”Jaebum called out, his hand pausing on the doorknob.
“Don’t come back here—ever. I mean it this time.”
The door closed behind Jaebum and Jinyoung sat back on the bed, fingering the edge of Jaebum’s pillow, thinking but where else could I go?
The next day, Jinyoung burned all his paper planes on the balcony. He folded pieces of paper into various shapes before setting them on fire, dropping them into the metal bin when the flame burnt his fingers.
Working deftly, Jinyoung folded a glider and watched as it fell into the bin, its wings burning like his insides, like his pride. He wiped away at his eyes and convinced himself that it didn’t matter. None of it matters. Jaebum was just another paper plane in transit. Yup, that’s what he is, and what he should be.
Yet, his chest ached. He imagined a plane broken in two, the cockpit and the tail scattered far apart from each other and he thought that must be how he and Jaebum were like. Nothing could patch them back into one piece.
Up in the sky, a red-eye soared by, and Jinyoung shoved a fist against his mouth.
come back before we crash.
Three weeks later, Jaebum watched from across the hallway as Jinyoung headed out with a senior from another department. He caught up to them and tugged at Jinyoung's arm.
“Can we talk?”
“Sorry, I have company.” Jinyoung replied, emotionless.
“It won’t take long—just a few minutes.”
“We’re running late.”
“For what? A fucking session?”
“Let’s not do this.’’
“Do what, exactly?”
“Hey man, ease up, will you? Whoever he wants to fuck is none of your business.” The senior interjected.
“Shut up! He is my business.’’ Jaebum growled.
“If I heard him right, seems like he is no longer your concern.” To prove his point, the guy tugged at Jinyoung’s jaw, locking lips with him as Jaebum bore witness.
All Jaebum saw after that was a red screen, as he shed skin and tore the guy away from Jinyoung. He has never considered himself a violent person, but that day, the sound of flesh hitting against bones gave him such satisfaction as he slammed his fist into the guy repeatedly.
“You’re gonna kill him!”
“I said, stop!!”
“Yaaah! Im Jaebum!!”
Jaebum heard it all, but even Jinyoung’s voice failed to reach him then—not until Jinyoung gathered his strength and bulldozed him away, sending Jaebum toppling backward and crashing into the line of flowerpots lining the stairs.
Something pricked through his flesh. The pain shot through his right arm, causing him to scream out in agony. Twisting his hand, he saw pieces of broken ceramic sticking into his palm while another long-jagged piece embedded itself deep against his wrist.
Jinyoung tried to help him up but Jaebum stopped him short in his track, cradling his injured hand away as if protecting it from Jinyoung.
“You’ve done enough, Park Jinyoung.”
He watched the light dimmed in Jinyoung’s eyes as the words escaped his lips. But Jaebum didn’t care—he was hurt too, more on the inside than on the outside.
-Planes floating on water-
The only thing Jinyoung believed he is good at is making his paper planes. Thousands of hours spent folding those paper planes into perfection should have earned him a Guinness World Record by now. So he continued to tear at his book and fold those paper into planes, even as the day darkened and the clouds gathered above in clusters, heavy with moisture. He knew it will rain soon, but it didn't matter. Hands working deftly, Jinyoung recalled the day they jumped into the frigid water and caught a nasty cold.
They were huddled together at his place, sharing a blanket that was too small to cover them both. He was about to fall asleep when he felt Jaebum tucking the blanket around his shoulders.
“You remind me of Atlas.” He whispered, stopping Jaebum in mid-action.
“And who is this? One of your ex?”
“Nice try, but no. More like a Titan in Greek mythology—deities originally worshipped in Ancient Greece. The map of the world was named after him, along with the second largest ocean on the planet.”
“Do you mean to say I’m second best? Compared to whom?” Jaebum narrowed his eyes.
Jinyoung smacked his butt and continued. “You see, there was this War of the Gods between the Titans and the newer gods, known as the Olympians. After a long ten years battle, the Titans were defeated. Some were killed, some were punished for their rebellion against the new gods. But Atlas, well he was condemned by Zeus to stand at the western edge of the earth and hold up the celestial heavens for eternity. Hence, all those statues and images of him holding up the earth on his shoulders.”
“And how does this relate to me?”
“Aren’t you doing the same? Holding up the sky on your shoulders?”
“What do you mean?”
“Atlas continued to live thinking that it was his responsibility to carry the burden of the world on his back. Basically, he lived the rest of his existence in debt. He forgot he was once a Titan.”
“You owe nobody nothing, Im Jaebum. Quit walking around acting like you have to save everyone.”
“Hey, are you asleep?"
Jaebum didn’t say a word, but a soft tap on Jinyoung’s shoulder let him know that he was listening.
“And another thing..”
“What now?” Jaebum wailed.
“What is it?”
“..Nothing. Just sleep.”
Don’t be too nice to me. I might just like you too much to let go, Im Jaebum.
Thunder rumbled and Jinyoung tilted his face towards the pregnant clouds, letting the rain wash his troubled thoughts. His head throbbed so badly—he probably shouldn’t have drunk earlier. The alcohol doesn’t help ease the pain all that much, he could still see Jaebum whenever he closed his eyes. Heck, his eyes are beginning to play tricks on him now. As the kayak passed below the bridge, he could have sworn the guy rowing it looked exactly like Jaebum.
Hell, everyone looks like fucking Im Jaebum these days.
Well, you’ve gone and done it, Jinyoung—finally. Drove about the only person who cares about you to the edge and now he’s never coming back.
Jaebum pulled back the oars and roared forward, the glass kayak breaking across the water like scissors on a piece of silk.
Some loonies should be kept indoors on nights like this. He thought to himself, as he noticed a figure sitting on the edge of the steel bridge. The guy looked like he was drunk, from the way he kept trying to steady himself.
Soon after, it began to rain. Jaebum knew it was foolhardy to row in this kind of weather. But he needed to clear his head. The problem is, the more he rowed, the more he kept thinking of the very person he wished to forget.
They were rowing on the river last September and Jaebum recalled Jinyoung spouting some lines of poetry—The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, if he remembered correctly.
“Wait, so he killed the bird because he thought it brought them bad luck?” He asked, still dumbfounded by the senseless act narrated by Jinyoung.
“Albatross.” Jinyoung corrected him.
“Albatrosses are Diomedeidae, so technically, it’s a bird.”
“Dio-me-dei-dae. Large sea birds. Mostly live in the Southern Ocean and North Pacific.”
“Pardon my ignorance, Dr. Im.”
“Even schoolkids know this fact. But you’re welcome anyway.” Jaebum grinned.
“Yaaah!” Jinyoung dipped his hand into the river, scooping up some water and splashing it at him.
Jaebum laughed, evading the water attack. “Isn’t it ridiculous, though? To place such a blame on an innocent bird? I say that he deserves to have that dead bird hanging around his neck. Teach him a thing or two about hurting animals.”
“Please, can we not include the animal abuse angle? Here I am trying to explain how that image is associated with guilt and yet you’re trying to—"
“Sorry—it came as second nature to me. Occupational hazard.”
Jinyoung sighed and gave up on decoding the poem. “So, why veterinary studies?”
“Come on, keep up with me, Mr. Vet Wannabe. Your brain cells are working slower than a tortoise today.”
“Hey, the tortoise is not as slow as you think. It’s faster than the garden snail—the world’s slowest moving animal by the way. With the top speed of 1.3 centimetres per second, it’s going to take a snail over 21 hours to move just one kilometre and—.”
“Oh please! Can we skip the Animal Planet documentary and get back to answering my question?”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re difficult to please?”
Jinyoung smirked. “You can always thank me later for keeping you on your toes. So why rescue animals? Why not treat humans?”
“Hmm.. I don’t know. No one has ever asked me that. Perhaps because I failed to save someone before?”
“Who is it?”
“Did I say that? I don’t know what I’m saying—hey, let’s head back to shore.”
“Wait, would you like to know my diagnosis of you, Dr. Im?” A cheeky smile splashed across Jinyoung’s features.
“Do enlighten me.”
“I think…Im Jaebum—you live your life too carefully.” Jinyoung said, tilting the small boat to one side by leaning to his left.
“Yaah, what are you doing?” Jaebum struggled to maintain balance as Jinyoung stood up.
Water splashed on him as Jinyoung jumped from the boat and Jaebum watched, mouth agape.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Come on! Don’t be such a spoilsport.”
“Come out of the water, it’s freezing cold, Jinyoung-ah!”
“Why don’t you drag me out?” Jinyoung taunted back.
And you live your life too recklessly, Park Jinyoung. Jaebum thought, thinking back to that day. He ended jumping into the water and they both caught a nasty cold the next day.
Shake yourself out of it, will you?
Something floated by and Jaebum thought he was seeing things. He squinted and looked again. Sure enough, it appeared to be a paper plane bobbing on the water, and not just any paper plane, but a well-made one too at that.
He was a good ten metres away when he heard the splash; of something or someone falling into the water. It took him a few seconds, but he finally made the connection between the floating plane and the figure from the bridge earlier.
His face contorted with horror, Jaebum turned his kayak around and began rowing in urgency.
Jaebum’s sky began to crash all around him.
Jinyoung’s body feels funny, even to himself. His brain seems foggy, the wheels spinning slow as he tries to recall where he is and what has happened. Everything around him is bathed in white, pristine and medical. It hurts to keep his eyes opened, so he closes them again, willing a minute or two to pass before he attempts to re-open them.
“Hey..welcome back.” A familiar voice floats from his left, warm hands reaching under the covers and grasping his.
Jinyoung’s gaze flitted to his side, Jaebum’s face looming above him, cheeks sunken and eyebags gracing underneath both eyes.
“You look…terrible.” Jinyoung says, his voice rasping against his windpipe. He wonders if Jaebum could hear him.
“Should have shown you a mirror.” Jaebum replies, a soft smile lingering on his face.
Jinyoung rakes through his scrambled brain for a clue, an ounce of memory of how he ended up on a hospital bed. He roughly recalls the paper planes, a glass kayak, the rain, his lungs squeezed out of air.
“How are you feeling? Should I get the doctor?” Jaebum sounds worried.
Jinyoung shakes his head and mouths a ‘No’. “What happened?” He asks.
“You fell into the river.” Did you, really?
“Oh..” Did I, really?
“What do you mean?”
“Before I met you. What happened?”
Jinyoung doesn’t know how to reply to such a question. What should I say?
“I need to understand why. Why did you push me away? Why won’t you allow yourself some happiness? Why you tried so hard to stop people from liking you?”
“We were doing fine, weren’t we? Before you ended it.”
Stop it. Don’t go there.
“I wanted to know why, Jinyoung-ah. You never told me.”
Can’t you see?
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“There was someone else. Simple as that.”
“Would you rather hear me cuss you out more or would you just do us both a favour and admit the truth?”
“You were beginning to like me too much to let go. That’s why you left, didn’t you?”
“Is it such a crime to like me?”
“You don’t understand..”
“Well, make me! I want to understand why you think the way you do.”
“I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve anyone.”
“Bad things happen to people who loved me—I can’t. I can’t destroy other people’s lives. I’m a plane crash, Jaebum. Can’t you see? I’m scattered all over the ground. What’s the point of you hanging around such wreckage like me?”
“…And what makes you think I’m not a wreckage myself?”
“You told me about Atlas once, remember? What you can’t see is that you’re an Atlas yourself.”
“You have no—”
“You’re right. I have no idea what happened in your life. I have no idea why you think the way you do. No idea why you would rather destroy yourself than admit that you like me. But I know this much—you’re carrying a burden which you don’t have to. Let it go, will you?
“All those paper planes—they were all you, weren’t they? Look…”
Jinyoung watches as Jaebum folds a paper plane and throws it into the air. The plane soars high, nearly hitting the ceiling before spiraling downwards. It lands silently on the floor before Jaebum picks it up.
He places the paper plane into Jinyoung’s hand. “Jinyoung-ah, even paper planes can’t fly forever.”
This time, Jinyoung doesn’t fight him back. He closes his eyes, willing a hot tear burning behind his eyelids away.
“What if I fuck this up? What if I…what if I fuck us up again? You’d end up hating me, Jaebum.”
“I thought I did too—hate you, I mean. Felt like all you did was play with my feelings, you know?”
“But after you fell into the river, you stopped breathing for a while and I…well, I thought you were dead. Nothing mattered then. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. And I haven’t been afraid for a long, long time.”
“No—hear me out, will you? Just listen.”
“I can’t lose you. I realised it then. No matter how much you push me away or try to convince yourself that things won’t work out between us. We never really tried, did we?”
“You’re afraid too. I could see it in you.”
“I was. I am still. Long ago, I promised myself I won’t let go of someone’s hand. But I got scared. I was a kid, scared of pain and fire and well, I broke that promise.”
“I’m not making much sense, am I?”
“I won’t let go of your hand. You could hate me all you want or meet someone new and break me into pieces like you always do, but I’m not going to let go. Not this time.”
Jaebum offers his hand, palm upwards.
“I trusted someone once..” Jinyoung says, his eyes searching Jaebum’s. Perhaps I could do it again.
He slips his hand inside Jaebum’s palm, fingers grasping tight.
I need you in my life
To make my heart beats
You are touching my heart
Jaebum woke up in a field of fire, as everything around him burned. Disoriented, he tried to recall why the sky exploded. The screams have died down, the panic too, dissolving into nothingness as the clouds turned dark. Black snow fell from the sky, pelting down on him like powder. One fell on his cheek, he tried to feel it, watched as the snow dissolved upon meeting his finger. That’s when he realised it was not snow but ash. Raising himself on his elbows, he began to look around and saw the gates of hell. Metal, glass, fabrics, and luggages were strewn across the field. Even the grass tasted burnt; bitter and acrid.
“Help me…” A small voice called out to him.
The boy must be around his age, his eyes widening with fear and shock at the scene unfolding before them. He was trapped beneath a piece of metal from the waist down, a wreckage of what appeared to be a fragment of the airplane’s emergency door. He reached a hand towards Jaebum, fingers shaking and trying to withstand the pain.
“Hang on, I’ll get you out.” Jaebum gritted his teeth and crawled towards the boy, inching slowly by the seconds. He tried to remove the piece of metal off the boy but it was too heavy for his small stature and his palms burned from the scalding metal. Thinking fast, Jaebum thought the best method would be to yank the boy out from under the wreckage. So he caught hold of the boy’s wrists and began to pull with all his might.
What happened next occurred too fast. A cackle of something, and then a roaring explosion as a piece of metal flung over his head. Jaebum could barely process what was happening as the fire began licking at the door. Frantic, he tugged at the boy’s hand again, but another explosion occurred close to them and terrified, he tried to retreat but the boy held at his hand, fingers grasping Jaebum’s for dear life.
“Don’t leave me, please.” The boy begged at him, liquid pooling in his eyes.
The fire grew bigger and Jaebum began to panic. “I’ll go and get help. I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
“Nooo! Please don’t go!” The boy was holding him captive with both hands now.
“I have to find help. Let go!” Jaebum screamed.
Another explosion occurred, and Jaebum could feel the boy’s grip on him loosening for a fraction. Without thinking, he took that opportunity to ease his fingers out.
The action threw him off balance and he fell backward, his body hitting metal. He heard the screams then, watched the fear and pain coloured the boy’s face as he screamed and screamed, his hands flailing in the air, begging for Jaebum, for anyone to help him. The fire began eating him up, his legs still trapped beneath the wreckage.
Groaning in pain, Jaebum tried to raise himself but a sharp pain pricking his left side prevented him from doing so. He twisted his body and noticed a metal rod embedded into his torso, just below his waistline. He was reminded of Frankenstein, and for a moment he wondered if he looked like one. His hair felt damp, and sweat trickled down his face, covering his eyesight. He wiped it away, turned his palm and realised that what he thought was sweat is blood. The last thing he heard before darkness swallowed him were the boy’s screams and the acrid taste of his own fear and failure upon his tongue.
The next days and weeks at the hospital, he was too afraid to ask the nurses about the other boy, whether he survived or not. The day he was discharged, he found out that the boy was taken to another hospital. His injuries were more serious and needed further treatment. The nurses said something about multiple surgeries, skin grafts and other medical terms too deep for an eight-years-old to fathom. What Jaebum understood was years and years of pain, as he sometimes wished he had died instead while undergoing his physical therapy sessions.
Jaebum never learned the boy’s name. Instead, he promised himself that he would live his days always trying a little bit harder, hoping one day he would be able to redeem himself one way or another.
- The end -