It’s the moment after that brings relief, not the act of it or the adrenaline or the red welling across his thighs. It’s the moment after. Like a come down after a high. Everything is far away and distant, off where it can still be seen but hazy, almost untouchable: cloud-like, a fog, mist over running water, condensation on a mirror, breath breathed in cold air. Constant in it’s soothing fluidity, in the way it hazes reality, in the way it coats the firecrackers in Taehyung’s lungs and the ringing in his ears.
The moment after is why Taehyung thinks he does it. The moment after is the part that feels the most dream-like without being asleep, is the part he feels most disconnected from the world he was forced into - from the life he was forced to live. The moment after doesn’t feel real, is too hard for Taehyung’s once panic-muddled, singular focused brain to comprehend. Although, maybe that is the adrenaline.
Either way, it’s guiltily peaceful.
Taehyung sits there, back against the wall, blood running across his thighs, and breathes. He can breathe.
Fuck, he can breathe.
Then there’s a knock at the door, and suddenly he can’t again.
Taehyung knows it's Jimin even before his soft voice questions through the door, “Taehyung-ah? Are you alright?”
Jimin is safe. Always has been. But Taehyung’s breath hitches anyway, because he’s a mess. A fucking mess. Of blood and bitterness. Of body the canvas and blade the brush. Over. Over. Over. And it’s not all happening again but it also is, and all Taehyung can do is look at the three new lines on his skin and watch red seep up from them in droplets and think why.
“Tae,” Jimin sounds more worried this time, voice edging on panic, “Tae, I won’t come in if you don’t want me to, but I need to know… I need to hear you say something, okay?” He tries again, “Are you alright?”
This time, Taehyung manages a hoarse, quiet, “No,” and he hates the way it leaves his lips, hates the way it hangs there, stale and reluctant and fearful. It’s Jimin, he has to remind himself. Jimin is safe. Jimin loves him, won’t judge him for this, won’t get angry, won’t force him to get up when he’s not ready.
There’s a faint sigh through the bathroom door, one of understanding, thankful that Taehyung answered but laden with his reply.
“Okay. Can I come in?”
“No.” Taehyung says this a little more forcefully, panic creeping up his spine. He pushes himself further back against the wall, braces his right arm on the lip of the tub, and takes a breath.
Jimin won’t. Taehyung knows.
“I won’t then,” and it’s like Jimin knows about the spike of anxiety, because the cadence of his voice goes smoother, like silk sheets and flower petals and honey in spring. Taehyung hears him move, shift on his feet outside the door. He imagines Jimin’s palm on the wall, the other at his side, maybe in his pocket, eyes trained on the door, on Taehyung who’s beyond it. Taehyung wonders what he’s thinking, wonders why this moment weighs as heavily as it does.
The bliss of afterward is gone.
It’s just Taehyung and his new cuts alongside scabs from last week and scars from last year and Jimin. Jimin who’s there for him. Jimin who he won’t let in.
Taehyung lets air fill his lungs: in for four, out for six. From the diaphragm, not the stomach. Calmly, deeply.
“Did you relapse?”
A laugh bubbles up in his chest, but Taehyung swallows it, says instead, “I’m not sure it can be called relapsing anymore.”
Jimin hums, “Recovery is difficult, Tae. Were you triggered by something?”
“No. I don’t think so… No, I just - wanted. I just wanted it,” the admission comes with another breath, another wave of oxygen, another calm distraction from the red drying on his thighs, the blade he tossed in the trash beside the tub, “You think this is really recovery, Jimin?”
Silence sits between them for a moment, and Taehyung thinks it to be the eye of a storm. The pull of a wave before it crashes. The moment the moon leaves the sky for the sun to take its place. The moment before, rather than the moment after. Sharp edges and dread and failure. The taste of vanilla extract, sweet smelling but bitter. The scent of rotting wood. Of body the canvas and blade the brush. Of relapsing isn’t recovering and hurting isn’t healing. Of Jimin telling him no, this isn’t, like so many others would.
(Jimin isn’t like others, Taehyung often forgets.)
Finally, “Well, what is recovery, Taehyung? What does recovery mean to you?”
“Not doing this anymore. Not self-harming. Not being unable to get out of bed. Not avoiding friends and family, avoiding you.” His thoughts have edges now, sharp with guilt and malice and all the things he despises about himself, about who he is and what he does and why he does this.
Jimin deserves more than him, surely. More than this.
Jimin is a sky full of stars, is twinkling light and loveliness, is the snowfall in Busan winters. He’s the warmth of a hot cocoa mug and the comfort of a weighted blanket. He’s sunset, all peach and daffodil and blush, a myriad of colors. He’s moonlight, gentle and reflective and tender amongst everything surrounding him. Jimin is sightless smiles and full body laughter and small hands. A ship in the night, on calm seas, stopped for Taehyung, by Taehyung, supporting Taehyung.
“We can work on that… but I think recovery is about more than that, Tae. Can I tell you what I think it means?”
“I think recovery means living. Means living to the best of your ability. Means being mostly happy but knowing it’s okay to sink into what used to be every now and then. Recovery is about asking for help when you need it, is about failing and getting back up. It’s about moving forward with the memory of your struggles, not moving on from them completely. It’s about acknowledging temptation and what you used to do and using better coping skills to combat that. Recovery isn’t linear. Recovery isn’t a destination. It’s a long, winding road. It brings obstacles and tools to overcome those obstacles.”
Jimin pauses, takes a breath.
Continues, “Recovering means to keep moving forward. To try and hurt and heal and go through absolute shit and move forward with it. I think - I think that’s what recovery means, Tae. It’s not somewhere you have to be. It’s a path you aim to follow as best you can. It’s recovering more than recovery.”
The bathroom light flickers. Taehyung looks at the door, chest hurting, thighs stinging, hands tangled in his hair.
And he cries.
“How do I keep going? How do I keep fighting this?” His voice breaks and his tears taste salty on his tongue, but it feels like trying, feels like asking for help, feels like managing how he can.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Jimin tells him. Taehyung hears rippling water and dancing wind in his tone. A hand gently comes to rest on the door, and Taehyung hears it press against the wood slightly, trying to reassure as Jimin continues, “But we can find them.”
Jimin’s safe. Jimin’s a harbor. Jimin’s a place to go for help even if he can’t give much. Jimin’s reassurance for the battle Taehyung has to fight: support, encouragement, and love. Jimin can’t solve anything. Jimin is there to do the little he can, nonetheless.
Taehyung picks himself up off the floor, winces at the stretch of cut skin, and opens the sink cabinet to find a clean cloth. He wets it under the sink, lets the running water soak it before wringing it out and letting the excess drip off. “Sometimes it’s all I can think about,” he admits quietly, sniffling as he dabs away the blood on his thigh, “I don’t want to, but I also do. It feels more like a need now.”
Through the door, “I know.”
He hisses at dabbing one of them, knows it was the first, was the deepest, was the one he cut when he was most desperate for the feeling. It won’t stop welling up with blood, and Taehyung - one hand pressing the cloth insistently against it - leans over, curls in on himself a little.
It’s the moment after that brings relief. The aftermath of that relief is what negates that feeling, what makes it pointless, what causes Taehyung’s thoughts to spin and spin and spin in an upset whirlpool of edges and burning and guilt.
“It won’t stop bleeding,” saying it feels wrong, feels criminal, burrows deep and sharp and shameful. The crying comes back with vigor: silent: tears down his cheeks, salt on his tongue, red in his eyes.
“Do you want me to help?”
After a moment of hesitation, heartbeat pounding, Taehyung nods, whispers, “Please.”
He moves out of the way as the door opens inward, allowing Jimin ample space to enter. It’s only the two of them in their apartment, but Jimin closes the door behind himself anyway, as if it’s closure keeps out other dark whispering things and burdens Taehyung can’t handle right now. It’s considerate. Jimin is always considerate.
Jimin wears his favorite shirt, the loose white v-neck Taehyung sometimes steals from him, and a soft pair of sweatpants, black in color. The silver of his earrings glimmer in the light, twin hoops just big enough to catch the eyes. Taehyung’s focus latches onto these things, to the understanding in Jimin’s chestnut gaze and the worry that tightens the line of his soft pink lips too.
Resting a hand on the small of Taehyung’s spine, Jimin gently urges him to sit and helps him hop up on the vanity counter.
After a moment, Taehyung draws back the damp cloth, and he watches the minute change of expression on Jimin’s face: the crease of his brows.
Jimin is careful when he takes the cloth from Taehyung. Jimin is careful when he rummages through the cabinet until he finds a big enough bandaid in their mess of a bandaid box to cover the cut. Jimin is careful as he dabs it again, the bleeding slowed but not stopped.
As Jimin - carefully - puts it on, Taehyung clears his throat, tries to speak through tears, “It won’t stay on for long, you know.”
Witness to all his scars, all his scabs, all his open wounds, inside and out, Jimin tells him, “I know,” and presses a gentle kiss to his forehead, “But it’ll work for now.”
“Alright…,” a pause, a hesitation, a waver, “You can be upset, Jimin.”
It’s almost too much when Jimin meets his gaze, “I’m not, and I don’t have any right to be.” And that’s the final straw.
Taehyung closes his eyes, finds Jimin’s free hand and holds it tight in his own. Intertwines their fingers. Leans forward until his head rests against Jimin’s shoulder. Cries.
This is recovery too?
“This is recovering too.” Jimin whispers, and he kisses his hair, lets him cry, and holds him close. His other palm is upon Taehyung’s back, rubbing soothingly up and down, all fluid motions, like the waves under the tides of the moon. His smell is of lavender oil and tea tree shampoo and freshly done laundry, and Taehyung lets Jimin - who he is, wholly - calm his sobs, lets him embrace the shudders and inward curve of his shoulders. Jimin’s skin is warm, and Taehyung swears he can feel the warmth of Jimin’s palm through the sweatshirt he’s wearing. Swears Jimin will have to wash this shirt again after Taehyung’s done crying.
When Taehyung does stop crying, he doesn’t feel much better, if at all. The cuts still burn, and the scabs of older ones are beginning to itch, and his head hurts.
“What do you wanna do now?” Jimin brushes Taehyung’s fringe out his face.
The specifics don’t matter. Taehyung just wants to rest. His mind and body are tired, and firecrackers no longer pop in his lungs, and a blade is no longer pressed to his skin, and all Taehyung wants is rest.
“Then let’s rest, Tae.”
Briefly, Jimin’s lips touch upon his, chaste and sweet, and Taehyung loves him.
Jimin steadies him when he slides off the counter, bare feet hitting the floor. He’s only wearing boxers and a sweatshirt, so when they leave the bathroom, cold air raises chill bumps on his skin: quickly resolved when Jimin guides him to the couch and drapes a blanket over him as he lays down.
Taehyung tucks the blanket around himself, winces when it brushes his thigh, and rests his head on Jimin’s lap when he sits down, feet propped up on the coffee table. Jimin picks up the remote from the arm of the couch and turns some drama on the television.
Life goes on.
Recovering goes on.
“I love you,” Taehyung says as he closes his eyes.
Jimin’s fingers card through the curls of Taehyung’s hair, says softly back, “I love you too.”
(It’s not about how far Taehyung has to go to reach recovery. It’s not about when his cuts heal and his scars fade over time. It’s not about being healed and feeling whole and being cured.
It’s about walking the road of recovery. Of recovering. It’s about when he looks at his scars in the future and moves forward with them. It’s about healing and asking for help and doing what he can. About trying. About resting when trying is hard. About recovering as a whole, as a journey, as a timeline.)
There is no after with recovering as there is with self-harming.
There’s just life, moving forward, recovering: a process.
A journey worth walking - in the face of difficulties and in the revel of successes.
Recovering more than recovery.