The silence was unbearable. Kyungsoo’s eyes stared in dull fashion at the wall across from him, waiting for the time for his name’s calling. To his right, the secretary of the office read her materials carefully, quietly leaving nothing but the ticking of the clock to occupy the auditory space. The subscriptions on the racks were months behind the current events, and for that reason, they held no true value for him.
When his time finally crept, his name fell from the woman’s lips, and Kyungsoo gave her a brief smile as he rose from his seat and entered a hall leading to his therapist.
The contrast between Chanyeol and Kyungsoo was sharp and clean. Dating the student body president had not been as internally stressful as it was to even look in the direction of the basketball star. For every second he stole watching the giant from afar, ten more seconds were stolen realizing multiple eyes judging and eyeing him with cloaked motives. However, the audience he had did little to nothing to intimidate him. He knew it’d do him no good to push Chanyeol away. The other wouldn’t have it. Proven time after time, Chanyeol was persistent, though subtle, for every time Baekhyun slipped even an inch from his grasp in fear of the repercussion of their relationship, he would pull him back.
Sitting on the edge of Baekhyun’s bed, Chanyeol watched as the brunet gently removed his shirt, dropping the piece of clothing near his feet. The curves and edges of his body revealed. His skin soft by the touch of the seeping sun.
Chanyeol kept his hands on his lap, caged together in polite rest. His lips were in a thin line while his eyes made the unsure decision to watch as the other changed. Thoughts scurried in his mind only to be forced out by his better conscience.
“So, this concert,” the jock said, ending the prolonging silence. “Is it for a band you really like?”
“I reserved these my spot months ago, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun answered, looking at him through the mirror. “Yes, I like them. A lot, actually.”
Glancing at the black shirt hanging on the back of the chair set near the study table, Chanyeol smiled. “I see. Are you going with anyone?”
“No, but I mean…” Reaching over, Baekhyun took the shirt into his grasp and put it on.
It didn’t occur to Chanyeol as to what kind of shirt it would be until Baekhyun’s arms and bare sides were out for the world to see. The thick bracelet bands around the brunet’s wrist and the dark, black leather pants, however, pulled the look into a full circle, and left the tall latter breathless.
“I shouldn’t spend too much time on my hair. It’s bound to get horrible.” Baekhyun turned himself toward Chanyeol’s view. “Good?”
In the opinion of his boyfriend, the brunet’s appearance was better than average, better than good. There was a possibility that it was even unimaginable even in his dreams. Unable to keep his lips from escaping in bliss-like control, Chanyeol’s grin broke out wider.
“Better than anything I’ve ever seen before, actually,” the giant responded, setting his hands on his knees before rising. “And I wouldn’t lie about that.”
“I think there’s some type of social expectation that you have to tell me what I want to hear. Are you sure you’re not just kissing up to me?”
“If I was kissing up to you, you would know it. Promise.”
Heaving out a breath, Baekhyun concealed his smile. “Then, thank you,” he said, cocking his head up at Chanyeol. “Now, what’re you going to wear?”
Just inches from setting his hands on the brunet’s shoulders, Chanyeol paused, thrown into a whirl. “What?”
“You. You need an outfit.”
“Wait, but why?”
“Chanyeol, you’re coming with me,” Baekhyun plainly said. As the blank stare he received began to sink in, the brunet reached up and pinched the jock’s chin. “Last minute invite. I hope you don’t mind. I was going to ask you a while back, but… well, never mind why, actually. Nerves, I suppose.”
Sheepishly, Chanyeol kept grinning to a point where Baekhyun had no other choice but to retract his hand. It was apparent that the gesture gave the latter too much pleasure to indulge in and, frankly, a heated light blush swept across the brunet’s face.
“You’re right,” Chanyeol started. “It is a little late notice, but… I don’t have a shift today and there’s no practice.”
“I already know, Chanyeol. I checked before trading my old ticket.”
Drawing back, Chanyeol’s lips thinned, eyes in complete confusion. “Trading? You traded?”
“I bought a...better seat before,” Baekhyun told him, stepping away as he made the trip to his closet. Crouching on the floor, he pulled a box from beyond the dark part of the space, and as he did so, Chanyeol watched in silence. “But then I decided that maybe you should come with me, but, you know. When supply’s down and demand is high, tickets are an ass to find, and if you do find them, they’re worth more than what you want to pay. Besides, I didn’t think it’d be fun going to a concert while sitting an entire stadium away from each other, so I just… traded what I had for two seats instead of one. It wasn’t hard to do, anyways. Lots of people want… expensive things, especially if all you have to do is trade the tickets you have that are farther away from the stage.”
With the expectation of how the other would react, Baekhyun shook his head, standing upright, box in between his hands. “I bought you a shirt. I mean, regardless of whether or not you have anything to wear, it actually won’t matter because we’re too far for them to even see, but at least you’ll fit in.”
Stumbling on his feet, Chanyeol staggered to return to his senses as he met Baekhyun halfway. “Baekhyun, I—”
“Oh, and just… don’t say anything. Take it and say yes.” He opened the box and pulled a matching, but larger version, of the shirt he currently wore. “Do you need to call your parents to let them know? I already asked them beforehand, but if you need the second confirmation, then—”
Physical interaction between them was not rare in the recent days, but there was still a discomfort when approaching the odd situation of being hugged and picked up off the ground by a man much taller in comparison. Baekhyun made a piped sound the instant his feet were no longer in touch with the floor and immediately gave Chanyeol an expression of feigned annoyance. “Chanyeol, put me down.”
“When you make me feel high up all the time?”
“I think that’s just because of your height.”
“I think it’s because of you.”
Rolling his eyes, Baekhyun put a hand against the latter’s cheek, pushing his head away and ultimately forcing Chanyeol to set him back down. “So, are you coming?”
“Is this like a date, then?”
The thought never truly occurred to the brunet. To him, it was an outing, an event that he felt he wanted, at least, a bit of company, and Chanyeol happened to be the obvious answer. But that was what the giant was recently. The answer. Whatever it was that Baekhyun had the need for, Chanyeol was always either the solution or the guide to the end.
He took the empty box and let it fall to the ground, making a soft thud as he forcibly placed the black shirt in Chanyeol’s hands. “We can leave in an hour. And to answer your question, sure. This can be a date by definition.”
Unraveling the material, Chanyeol drawled his eyes on the print. Baekhyun kept a close eye on the jock’s expression, but found teasing happiness rather than wavering confusion. “I get the feeling that you were too shy to ask me directly so you went to all this trouble behind my back for all of this, but that’s alright. I still love you.” He paused for a moment, realizing a small detail. “This shirt has sleeves?”
Nodding, Baekhyun confirmed the obvious. “It is. Why? Is there something wrong with it?”
“No!” Chanyeol quickly assured. “It’s just that...I thought we’d have matching sleeveless.”
“I didn’t know if you liked that kind of stuff.”
“Don’t you like my arms?”
“Don’t try and amuse me, Chanyeol.” Looking down at the shirt, Baekhyun pursed his lips. “So, you want to wear something else?”
“Actually, can I see your scissors?”
Aggression could consume; it could motivate. A mix of both pushed Kyungsoo to visit a place he had long left behind in pursuit of the interests of others. With a cap kept securely on his head as he entered the underground gym, he gripped tightly on his backpack’s strap. It was discomforting to enter the place he used to love and pass by the faces he once knew, but he had no other choice. He knew nothing else besides that gym and the field.
The muffled voices of others on treadmills, ropes, and other equipment brought a sense of nostalgia, pulling him back when it was all part of his life, but he refused to acknowledge the feelings for an elongated period. Kyungsoo quickly entered the secluded area for the heavy weight punching bags.
Setting his bag down beside his feet, Kyungsoo sat on the bench. Taking a roll of fresh bandage, he forced himself to ignore the smell as he pulled it apart and began the work on his knuckles. The action required him to take notice of his hands, the details of countless paper cuts and fragility. The white material covered his marks, eventually creating thick protection. He repeated the process with the other.
The hanging bag was his enemy. It was every nightmare, every fear. It had the face of his mother, his father, and even Baekhyun. As a whole, the bag represented everything that kept pushing him to the brink of insanity, teetering on the line of life and death. It was his depression, his anger, and his only weapons were his hands, bandaged thick but weak within.
His hair had no order, roughed in all directions that seemed to fall in neutral place. The white shirt on his back clung to nervous and anticipating sweats, and Kyungsoo stared at the bag for what seemed like a dark eternity, hating it, loathing it, until it snapped him.
With fists curled into tight, dangerous grips, he swung with his right, swinging the bag to the left. It sent a shocking sensation up to his shoulder, but the pain was addictive. A rush overcame him and he craved the feeling of release and hurt mixed in two. Kyungsoo swung again, but this time, made no change to pause and order his hits. He just moved.
All his rage roared out through his hands, beating the bag with every blow to the nearest one. He licked his dry lips, but took no break in his assault. He was torn from reality, only noting the burning fire in his lungs that he refused to relieve. Kyungsoo cried with every hit, screaming to himself in the isolate room, muttering curses under his breath and inaudible apologies he never had the courage to say in sober times.
The mirror that hung on his bathroom wall revealed a monster, but as Kyungsoo’s eyes caught sight of himself in the reflecting glass behind the swinging bag, he saw a broken child unable to cope with the reality of loss, consumed by vanity and arrogance with a heart too broken to mend by ordinary means. The image gave him no satisfaction. One tore him, the other mocked. So Kyungsoo blacked out.
His senses were focused on the bag and the undertaking of his hands. The images rendered gone from his mind, especially as he began to tire. With every punch, he felt weakened emotionally more than physically. There was a feeling of bitter satisfaction. The heavy feeling within his chest left in slow progress, but he could sense the vulnerability within him begin to stretch its way for an appearance.
Kyungsoo blamed them all for their faults. All of the countless lies, the promises left unfulfilled, the countless apologies. Everything. His eyes burned, tears flaming the rim of his waterline.
His shoulder hurt; his hands hurt; he hurt as a whole. Kyungsoo whimpered at the impact of his last thrusting hit before falling back on the ground and softly crying against his bandaged hands.
The mirror in front of him called his name, but he rejected the invitation. There was no desire within him to witness the proof of his broken state. It was screaming at him to look, but he had no business bearing witness to an image as obvious to him as the dark he dwelled in. Aching and wet with the perspiration of his body, Kyungsoo finally raised his head at the light padding sound from behind only to scowl through blurry eyes at the figure that stood just feets away.
“Do you always cry when you come to the gym?”
The remark bore no life. Kyungsoo stood, chest still heaving with his blood red eyes and angered expression. “Just because you were born with a mouth doesn’t mean you should talk at every chance you get.”
Within seconds, the president became aware of the other’s appearance. A black top, revealing both arms paired with nothing but sweats and tennis shoes. His hair was a mess with a towel hanging around his shoulders. Hastily, Kyungsoo drew his attention back, standing in a tense stance, fists still curled.
“Don’t stop abusing the equipment just because I’m here.” Leaving his post, Jongin eyed the latter as he walked to the speedbag. He stopped just inches from the spot when he asked, “Where’re your gloves?”
Keeping to himself for the moment, Kyungsoo’s lips remained together without of a response. Jongin took no light of the situation and turned his body towards the brooding male.
“Are you deaf?”
Kyungsoo ignited. “Who the hell are you asking whether I’m deaf or not?”
“I asked you,” Jongin said slowly and harshly, making the other feel like a disciplined child, “where your gloves were.”
“I don’t use them,” Kyungsoo replied back in spite.
“You should be.” Glancing at Kyungsoo’s hands, Jongin scowled in distaste. “You really think that’s going to keep your knuckles from being sore? If you punch hard enough, you might even break a bone.”
“Yeah, well, that’s really none of your concern, is it?”
“As a regular here? It is.” Jongin fell silent until he surprised them both by approaching the defensive latter. “Give me your roll."
"Kyungsoo, I said to give me the bandage roll."
"I remember clearly asking you why."
His patience depleting, Jongin grabbed Kyungsoo's wrist, pulling it up, showcasing the brittle hand. "Your wrapping is absolute garbage. It's too thin and look. Spaces. Openings. Who the hell helped you with this job?"
Taking his hand back, Kyungsoo used his other to push the soccer captain away. "Don't touch me. I can't even step out of my damn house without knocking into you, can I? Give me a fucking break, Kim. If you're not going to mind your own business, I'll leave."
"I don't mean to push you to that point. Take this as a kind gesture from one athlete to another, then."
Jongin meant to touch the president's hand again, but Kyungsoo struck him, closed hand hard on the male's face. Stumbling, the captain cursed as he felt a throbbing pain rush to his lower jaw. He put a hand on the impacted area, rubbing the feeling away until he felt nothing but numbness.
"You're a mess, Kyungsoo."
His head began to hurt, hands shaking at the realization of his action. Kyungsoo stood with his feet planted like concrete to the ground. It became difficult to draw the line between right and wrong, truth from lie. Even physical conditions became harder to diagnose. The root reason for his heart's erratic beating swung back and forth between his activity and the rage he felt for the man in front of him.
"I don't know what the hell you're doing here, but you need to fucking think for once," Jongin said, voice dark and sharp as his face gloomed. The calm demeanor disintegrated and Kyungsoo saw a side he had never grasped the chance to witness before that moment. "You won't accept help at all, can you? Is it hard? Do your knees get fucking weak just thinking about saying yes!?"
Jongin jabbed him, taking fist and targeting Kyungsoo's chest. The landed on his right shoulder. It was hard, just enough to render Kyungsoo gasping, hand grabbing the source of the ache. He fell back, arm scraping the wooden bench beside them. Scare tactics never rendered him fearing of the unknown, but Jongin was another entity. His face was shadowed by the fluorescent lights above them and Kyungsoo was blinded. Retreating back to the dark, he shut his eyes, tightening his jaw in the anticipation for more blows to the chest, but the hit never came.
"Open your damn eyes, Kyungsoo." It came like an order, and the smaller male was reluctant to give compliance. When his eyes finally adjusted back to reality, he saw a calloused, rough hand held to him. "Take it or stay this way. It's your choice."
Defiant by nature and trust torn by nurture, Kyungsoo shook his head. "I can stand up on my own."
"Take my hand, Do."
"I don't need you, Jongin." Spoken like a whisper, Kyungsoo's eyes impaled through his. "I don't need anyone."
The statement settled, but Kyungsoo made no physical effort to either reach for the hand or push himself upright. Jongin’s eyes softened, but the stern features of his face remained.
"You can't fix what's broken when you're just as a wreck as the thing you're trying to put back together. Kyungsoo, you're a terrible person, and I hate what you are now." Lips tightly pursed together, Jongin maintained eye contact. "You used to play soccer, so you know as well as I that you can't win a game by yourself."
"I'm not playing a game, and this isn't the goddamn field." Kyungsoo put a hand on the bench, but Jongin harshly slapped it off. "You fucking—"
"Your pride's going to kill you one day and no one's going to feel sorry for you, you know that? Because by the time you die, you've already pushed everyone so far out reach, no one's going to reach for you ."
Heat rose to his chest, and a stinging sensation came to his brimming eyes. The grin on his face as sinister as it was miserable. "You think you know everything, don't you? Like some fucking savior. I'm not a cause for you to help and I'm not a pawn in your sick little social experiment, Jongin. You want to push me around acting like you know what the hell goes in my mind? Fine. But don't bust your shitty head in my life like I need you. Who the hell are you trying to look good for? Baekhyun? So you can make me seem like a pitiful son of a bitch in front of my own friend?"
“Life was better before you and him! It was better! Now you're here talking shit about me trying to fix what's broken, well at least I'm trying!”
“Trying? You’re not even trying to listen to what I’m trying to say.” Faith wavered, and Jongin gave break to his effort. He took a seat on the bench, eyes stuck on the latter who took the opportunity to sit upright. He looked like a fuse, burning, and Jongin didn’t dare touch the fire again.
The atmosphere became suffocating but neither made a move to escape it. Kyungsoo withdrew his eyes, focused on the still floor. His fists had unclenched, head hung and down. Jongin averted his own focus, watching as other people went on with their business in the main enclosure, silently thankful for the boxing station’s own isolated room. He caged his hands together, fingers interlaced with elbows set on the knees. His shoulders remained in a slant, and when he finally broke their ghostly silence, he spoke softly.
“I used to admire you. Second year, I was new. I don’t think you remember me, because why would you? You were captain, first string. I was the new transfer who could only make second.” To his left, he heard Kyungsoo rustle, but took no cause to confirm. “You used to be great. I don’t think a second year student’s ever been captain, but you were. Actually, you were it one minute, and the next, you weren’t.”
Although unmentioned, Kyungsoo knew the time frame being told; it was the summer he let his passion pass.
“I never understood why you left. You talk about people leaving you all the time, well, shit, didn’t you do the same?” Jongin held his tongue. “You came back and you were different. Just slightly off. Never took an interest in the sport again, and I could only watch you pretend you were some perfect student set on a pedestal. I admit, I started to hate you. At first, it was because you left the team. You know, the team went to complete shit. But over time, I just hated every part of you. Everything about you was just terrible. It’s like you died.”
“Maybe I did.” Jerking his head up, Jongin turned his face too see Kyungsoo watching him. “Maybe I did die.”
“You want to know what it’s like to be something you don’t want to be? People will watch you with expectations, and it’ll tears you apart like a goddamn dog…” Kyungsoo kept steady. “Things happened and I couldn’t ignore it. People, my parents, them. I had responsibilities, Jongin, and you might just think I’m some fucking pessimistic asshole, but I took the lesser of two evils… You don’t know what it’s like to be in my shoes. I’ve torn myself limb from limb just for the hope that things’ll stay intact, because it’s all gone down to hell.”
“But you’re not keeping anything together, Soo. You’re breaking it all down.”
“You don’t understand. You never will.” His voice wavered, and Kyungsoo tightened his jaw. “You can’t expect a flower to grow under a constant roof of clouds and darkness. By the laws of nature, it’s difficult. It’ll grow within limits, but not to its full potential. And since you mentioned it, I left the team because that part of me was garbage… You can’t serve two masters at once, and the sooner you understand that, the better you’ll see through my eyes.” He paused. “I killed him. That summer, I committed suicide to that part of me and I killed him. That person represented a part of me they didn’t want, so I got rid of it…All his hopes and dreams, I burned them all and I watched him die.”
“Because I didn’t need him...and they didn’t want him. That’s why.” Glancing at his knuckles, Kyungsoo finally noticed the feeling. Bitterly, he laughed. “Well, would you take a look at that...They’re bruised.”