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Breathe For You

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Junhee stared at the building through the car window, turning his phone over in his hands nervously. He was really starting to regret his decision about this. The decision to do this was a lot easier than actually doing it. He had expected a medical building or even a hospital – not a small unassuming structure hiding on a back street.

“Do you need help in?” Sehyoon asked gently. He had been patiently and silently waiting since they had pulled up to the building. They had already been sitting there for at least 5 minutes, and Junhee hadn’t even begun to broach the idea of getting out of the car.

“No, I—” He swallowed. “I can do it.” He paused, tilting his head at the grey building. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

“Yeah, Kwan gave me the address.” Byeongkwan had set everything up for Junhee. In all honestly, Jun could have cared less which PT he went to. He just wanted to get this over with. The younger had wanted to come with them, but he had an important test that afternoon that he had been up late cramming for. “We can reschedule, you know? If you’re not up for it.”

In response, Junhee grabbed his crutches with a sigh. “No rescheduling.” He pushed the door open and began the process of getting out of the car. “I’ll text you when I’m done?”

“Okay.” Sehyoon nodded. “If you need anything—”

“I’ll be fine, Yoon.” Jun forced a smile. He had to be. He promised he would do this. So, he was going to do it. Even if he hated every second.

 

By the time he made it in the building, he felt his arms shaking and sweat at the back of his neck. The inside was just as unassuming as the outside. A large room, blue mats covering the floor, standard looking gym equipment lining the walls – and it was empty.

“Hello?” He asked to nobody. He waited a moment, then heard a rustling noise, followed by a man coming through the door at the far end of the room.

“Hi!” The man greeted with a gentle smile. “You must be Mr. Park.” The man stopped in front of him, giving a respectful bow. Jun cleared his throat, keeping himself composed at the extremely attractive man in front of him. He didn’t leave the house much these days, and he definitely hadn’t gotten any action since before the accident. So yeah, he was a little affected when he saw a hot guy. Especially a tall, golden skinned, obviously fit, hot guy. The man wore a black t shirt, snug enough to show off his broad shoulders, and track pants that fit is thighs like a glove. Junhee must have looked like a slob next to him, though to be fair, he looked like a slob next to most people these days. He hadn’t bothered putting in his contacts that morning, his wire frames perched on his nose. He wore the same grey sweatpants that he wore 5 out of the 7 days of the week, and a t-shirt with a hole in the collar. His hair was probably a mess, not bothering to style it after his shower that morning. Hey, but at least he showered.

“Um, I’m here to see Dr. Lee?”

“Oh, you can just call me Donghun.”

Junhee paused, surprised. He definitely expected someone a bit older. Kwan had said he found the best PT’s in Seoul. There was no way this guy fit that bill; he couldn’t have been much older than Junhee. There was something else too. Junhee found it hard to interact with people in his current condition, the main reason being the sheer amount of pity in their voice, their sad eyes, and the way they couldn’t help but stare at the missing part of him. But this man didn’t do any of that. He maintained eye contact with Junhee, seemingly not even noticing how he was balancing on one leg, rather than two. His voice was steady, friendly, and his eyes – well, they looked sad, but not because of Junhee. They were naturally downturned, and so very soft that Junhee felt that he could drown in them.

“You’re Dr. Lee?” Junhee raised an eyebrow at the man.

“Donghun.” He corrected. “And yes.”

“Oh, okay.” Jun swallowed, gripping his crutches tighter, really starting to notice the weight of his own body.

“Sorry, I would bow or shake your hand but—”

“Of course, why don’t we sit down? And we can get started.”

Dr. Lee—Donghun guided him to a table in the corner of the room, with a few chairs around it. Junhee sighed with relief as he sat down, and watched as Donghun opened a laptop.

“So, for the first session I’d like to get an idea of why you’re here and what you’re looking to get out of it. And of course, try to understand the level of pain and discomfort you feel. That will help us develop a plan for you and set some goals.”

“Okay.” Junhee nodded, not mentioning that there was no need to develop a plan, because this was likely the first and last time that he would be here.

“Great.” Donghun gave small smile. “So, Mr. Park, what brings you here?”

Junhee was taken aback by the question, confusion only growing at the genuine expression on Donghun’s face.

“Are you serious?” He stared at him, blinking. Donghun frowned at that.

“I’m serious.”

Junhee was used to people only ever seeing his disability, it was somehow even stranger having someone not seeing it at all.

“Well, it might be the fact that I don’t have a leg.” Junhee said bitterly, angry that he was being made to say it out loud. It was always something that was there, impossible to ignore every minute of every day. When something was so obvious, it didn’t really need words.

“You’ll need to be more specific.”

Jun gaped at the man. More specific? What did that even mean?

“More specific?” Junhee crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair, feeling irritated. “Well, my knee, calf, and foot seem to be missing.”

Donghun sighed.

“Mr. Park, I’m not asking you what your injury is. I have copies of your medical files.” He explained. “I’m asking why you’re here.”

Junhee squinted at the man, not saying anything. Honestly, because he really didn’t know what to say. Donghun eventually gave small smile, shutting his laptop and turning his so he was facing directly toward Junhee.

“I know this isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about.” He started, his voice gentle.

“No, it isn’t.” Jun said before Donghun could continue.

“Well, then…” Donghun leaned to rest his forearms on his knees, eyes on Junhee. “I’ll tell you why I think you’re here.” Junhee kept his eyes averted from him, clenching his jaw. If this man thought he knew anything about him just by looking at some medical records, he was sorely mistaken. Jun stayed silent. “Your body is weak. Probably partly because it never fully healed from the infections, and partly because you haven’t done anything to strengthen your muscles since you were admitted in the hospital. I can tell you’re not very mobile and you’re easily exhausted. It’s obvious you haven’t done any therapy in a long time, if at all. I don’t know what your goals are, only you can tell me that. But I’m sure you would at least like to walk from the car into this building without feeling like you’re going to pass out.”

As Donghun spoke, Junhee clenched his jaw tighter. He wasn’t wrong about the weakness of his body. But hearing him say it only made Junhee angrier about his situation, and angry about being there.

“You’re wrong.” Junhee answered still looking away from him.

“Okay.” Donghun leaned back. “Then tell me.”

“I’m here because I made a promise to someone.” Junhee looked at the doctor. “So, can we just get this over with? Then I can leave and never come back here again.”

Donghun looked pensive for a second, seeming unaffected by Jun’s words. He hoped that he had gotten his point across well enough. He hadn’t expected that the first question he would be asked was his motive for coming here. The doctors at the hospital limited the conversation to ‘How’s your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?’ and giving him bland looking pamphlets on various exercises.

“Hm.” Donghun hummed. “Has anyone every talked to you about prosthetics?”

Junhee stared at him, surprised by the question and change of subject.

“What?”

“Prosthetic limbs? Has a doctor every talked to you about the process of using one?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Well, because as you so elegantly put it—you seem to be missing a knee, calf, and foot.” His words shocked Junhee, not expecting Donghun to use his own crude words against him. Before he could retaliate, Donghun continued. “Look, Mr. Park, I see a lot of patients. A lot of patients who work their asses off every day for a chance to get back to even a fraction of the function they used to have. So, I really don’t have time for someone who has zero desire to be here.”

“I…” Junhee shut his mouth, trying to get his bearings. His hopes that this would be a boring chat was being crushed by the second. He felt like Donghun was trying to get something out of him, though he wasn’t sure what it was. All Junhee felt was anger. This man didn’t know anything about his life, so he shouldn’t pretend like he did.

“If you don’t want to be here, you should have never come at all.” Donghun said seriously.

“I know that.” Junhee bit. “But try telling my friends that.”

“And you think they’re going to be satisfied with you only attending one appointment?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but we agreed if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t come back.”

“Fair trade, I guess.” Donghun crossed his arms. “Though I’m sure your friends didn’t account for your lack of effort.”

Junhee felt his patience wearing thin with this man. He obviously had no qualms about overstepping his boundaries as a doctor. He wondered if he pushed his other patient’s buttons this way.

“You think it’s easy for someone like me to make an effort?” Jun rolled his eyes.

“Someone like you?” He asked curiously.

“Yeah, a cripple.” Junhee glanced away.

“First of all, we don’t use that kind of language here.”

“Yeah?” Junhee noticed the irritation on the doctor’s face, and felt a flame within his belly. “What about invalid? Or gimp? Or one of my personal favorites, ‘poor, poor boy’.”

“Mr. Park…” Donghun sighed, obviously effected by Junhee’s choice vocabulary. Junhee felt something twist in his chest, like a feeling of victory, that he was able to bother the man in such a way. “…I’m not going to treat you any differently than anyone else. You happen to have a physical disability, which keeps you from living your life the way you used to. It doesn’t warrant you special treatment or least of all, my respect.”

Junhee felt a pang at that. It was the first time someone was saying this to him. Ever since the accident, all Junhee had wanted was to be left alone. To not gain attention due to his injuries. To have people actually look at him like a person, and not a person with a missing leg. He was so sick and tired of the sadness and pity in people’s eyes. He hated that others felt they had to treat him a certain way just because they had something he didn’t.

Since the accident, he had become a shell of a person. The smiling, carefree Junhee had all but died in that hospital bed. If he was being honest, he had become a little bit of an asshole. But it didn’t matter how terrible he acted, how rude he was – people were nice to him because he was a poor boy missing a leg. But now, he had someone sitting in front of him, telling him that if Junhee was going to act that way, then he wasn’t worth his time.

Before he realized what was happening, a laugh bubbled from Junhee’s throat. A genuine, pure laugh that he didn’t even know he was capable of anymore. Donghun, on the other hand, did not seem amused.

“Did I say something funny?”

“No, I—” Junhee felt the smile on his face widen, as he tried to catch his breath. “Sorry.”

“As I was saying,” Donghun started, ignored the smile on Junhee’s face. “I won’t treat you differently. When you’re here, those slurs aren’t allowed. If you want to my help, that’s great. But we’ll need to get into the nitty gritty of any physical issues you have. And if you don’t want to be here, please let yourself out.”

Junhee bit his bottom lip, feeling light from his outburst. And also feeling….intrigued? Only moments ago, he had felt his anger building toward the other man, trying to push his buttons. What he didn’t expect was that the doctor would actually react. Jun was amused, and for a second, he felt like a regular person again.

“I don’t want to be here.” Junhee finally said, honestly.

Donghun sighed, obviously disappointed.

“Fine. You can sit inside until your ride is here. I’ll be in my office.” He reached for his computer and started to stand.

“Wait.” Junhee found himself speaking with little thought. Donghun froze, staring down at him expectantly. Jun swallowed, not really sure what he was doing. This could be over. Dr. Lee could go back in his office, Jun could call Sehyoon, and then he would never have to see or speak to another physical therapist again. But then…there was something tugging at him. Something inside him wanting to chase that light that had bloomed in his chest as he laughed. Something that didn’t want his interaction with the doctor to end here. Something that craved his old self – his old self that could easily laugh and joke with his best friends. “I don’t want to be here. I came here because my best friends wanted me to.”

“Okay.” Donghun said slowly, prompting Junhee to continue.

“But maybe…maybe you could just tell me a little bit about….” He waved his hand. “…all of this.” He felt almost embarrassed to be asking, despite this being the exact reason they were both here. Donghun sat back down, a soft expression on his face. His eyes glistened naturally, making Junhee’s chest feel tight. Junhee avoided his gaze, looking down at his lap, and pulling at a loose thread on his sweatpants. “I don’t want to talk about me yet. I know that’s….I know you said we need to but—”

“Hey.” Donghun said gently, compelling Junhee to look back up at him. “I can do that.”

Junhee nodded. And listened, actually listened to every word that came from Donghun’s very distracting lips. He listened and still felt pessimistic and bitter—felt as is this wasn’t for him at all. But there was also a miniscule part of him that felt the tiniest spark of hope. Maybe it would be just enough for him to hold on to.