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The Properties of Breathing

Chapter Text

Breath.

 

In.

 

Breath.

 

Out.

 

Breath.

 

In.

 

Breath.

 

Out.

 

Yoon Bum was acutely aware of the magical properties that came with breathing. That at once, when he focused on the delicate rise and fall of his chest, his thoughts would disappear. Or more accurately, after hours of training, his reactions to his thoughts would float away with them. His overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and fear would be, for one beautiful moment, unimportant. That for one beautiful moment, he had a clear perspective and understanding of the universe. 

 

The more he practices this magical secret that his therapist bestowed onto him, the more he felt that he could be prepared for any situation. For when his nightmares bleed into the daytime, for when his need to obsess twitched at his fingers, and for when he felt too paralyzed to act.

 

And it was this precise moment when he looked at a seemingly inconsequential door that held a person with consequential impact on his whole being, that he was most grateful to his Therapist Koogie for this gift.

 

Because after counting his breaths for a total of 569 times did he feel prepared enough to knock on the door. With this momentum propelling him forward, he found himself prepared to greet the woman who was a striking feminine reflection of himself. He was even able to force away from the whiplash of nostalgia and trauma that threaten to unravel his progress when confronting a living reminder of a past he worked so hard to forget. Instead, he put on his carefully crafted mask of brevity and smiled familiarly to a woman he thought he would never see again.

 

“B-Bum?”

 

“Hello Eunseo, it’s been too long”

Chapter Text

 

They sat in the living room with a large side window revealing a peaceful sight of snow lazily dusting the outside crepid street. Bum was seated in a plushy chair in front of the window, watching the frailer women dutifully pour him a cup of boiling tea. He received it with an insitincial ‘thank you’  that was returned with a instilled polite nod.

 

The sunlight warmed the back of his neck as the cup heated his nippy fingers. If he wasn’t on the brink of a breakdown, he would have felt incredibly calm while sipping comforting chamomile.

 

However, he wasn’t in his cozily cramped apartment enjoying a hot drink on a cold day with his roommate. No, as he watched his sister bring the kettle back into the kitchen Bum was acutely aware that he was an invader in a potentially dangerous environment. He tried his hardest in that little time in between her absence and the inevitable confrontation that would occur to regain his courage.

 

When she gracefully sat down in front of him Bum was struck with how familiar Eunseo looked.

 

She looked exactly as Bum remembered. Her features was the epitome of youthful elegance. However, it wasn’t the upward lift of her lips or the almond shape of her eyes that strikingly matched the tattered family picture Bum stashed in his apartment drawer.

 

No, it was the bruises.

 

Scattered brushes of bruises proudly marking her delicate features. Phantom bruises on the precipets of healing. Bruises like the ones their unc-

 

“You look well Bum”

 

Her voice was both soft and cold. Conversational and accusatory. Pleased and brimming with emotions Bum didn’t know how to acknowledge.

 

Bum wanted to politely return her compliment. Bum wanted to answer her unvoiced questions. Bum wanted to find out whose hand marked her frail throat. Bum wanted to do so much of what he had planned when first at the door.

 

However, all he could do was act on autopilot.

 

“T-t-thank you nuna”

 

She grimaced at the word, her haunted expression looking one of anguish that forced Bum to jump into action.

 

“Oh, I am so incredibly sorry Eunseo I didn’t mean to ass-”

 

She held up a slim hand, the tinkering sound of her laughter a musical sound that assualts Bum with nostalgic memories he hadn’t even remembered he had forgotten. 

 

“It’s okay Bummy I just- haven’t heard that term in a while” she smiled at his flustered expression.

 

“I haven't heard that nickname either” he shared her smile, feeling similar pain and comfort in an endearment he had long forgotten. Maybe they could actually succe-

 

“So, why are you here?”

 

At once the mood shifted.

 

Eunseo seemed unaware of his internal turmoil as she calmly sipped the tea while Bum fidgeted in his seat, internally repeating the script him and his therapist crafted.

 

“Well you see uh, I ah well it’s a funny story actually, um after- well actually um where to begin let’s see uh-”

 

“Breath Bummy you look like your going to pass out”

 

Her cold hands captured his, Bum blinked dumbly at the sight. It was a cold shock into his system.

Breath.

In.

Breath.

Out.

Bum distantly watched his fear drift anyway with his self-deprecating thoughts. Outlining her pale bony knuckles, he began.

“Well, I’ve been seeing a therapist for quite some time and I think I’m ready to finally talk to you, well, about the past. Or not even that past but more so I guess, just to talk to you because after hearing about Granny’s passing,” Eunoseo flinched harshly, some of her hot tea spilling onto her lap, however she remained unfazed no longer meeting his eyes. He could see the haunted expression on her face and cursed himself, clearing his throat to regain her attention he hoped to finish quickly and salvage whatever he could after his mistake, “anyway what I want to say is that I c-came to the realization that due to our er unfortunate upbringing I don’t well- um blame for - you now ... anyway what I mean is" he breathed deeply, I realized that I really miss you and I want to potentially rebuild our relationship... If that’s okay with you?”

Bum winced at his butchered attempt, it sounded so much better in the safety of his therapist office. 

Oh no

It wasn’t the response he had hoped for but he was prepared for it nonetheless. Sighing sadly, he resignedly met her eyes. 

However, seeing her comically wide in horror, wasn’t the reception he has anticipated.

“Shh,” she silenced him quickly before he could voice his apologies. “You have to leave, now

Bum nodded, feeling the tendrils of fear and depression enter him. While he had known her rejection to rekindling their bond was a possibility, this petrified state she was currently in was not something he had accounted for.

Was she afraid of him? The realization hurt a larger part of him than he realized.

She hurriedly ushered him out of the room before jumping at the sound of the door bell. The way in which her owlish eyes stared at the door with unadulterated fear put together the puzzle pieces in Bum’s mind. Craning his neck to peek through the living room window he saw a run down car now parked in front of the house, it was a car Bum distinctly remembered not being there when he first arrived. Eunseo shuddered beside him, seemingly unable to move as the ringing became more insistent. The overwhelming feeling of her horror suffocated him.  It struck him how familiar this scene played out, the two of them huddled together watching the door as they awaited their uncles arrival.

However, it wasn’t like when he was young. Bum’s uncle was not behind the pounding door. Bum was not a scrawny malnourished 10 year old boy. And Bum wasn’t the one hiding behind his older sister this time, feeling Eunseo shivering body still cowering behind him forced Bum back into the present. Without thought, he reversed their roles.

Eunosea had protected him so many times before she left. This time, Bum would do the same, and unlike the past, he would make sure to stay.

“Is this the person who hurt you”

Bum’s voice sounded foreign to his ears, the voice he crafted with his therapist. Strong and hardened, the voice of someone who wasn’t afraid. The voice of someone Bum still strived to be.

“Bum?”

Her eyes were glassy before she blinked away tears, lips twitching in an unconvincing smile. 

“Oh, no, it's nothing just my husband I hadn’t realized the time! How silly of me. I don’t think he would be particularly fond of unexpected company so maybe if you could leave thro-”

“Is he the one hurting you?”

She paused following Bum’s gaze as he stared fiercely on the dark marks adorning her pale arms..

“N-no of course not! It’s nothing really,” Eunosea pulled down her sleeves, “I just-”

“Fell?” he replied dryly, meeting her wide eyes. It was how strange how quickly different he felt in this moment despite how identical this felt to nightmares.

“I-it’s not the same Bum” the pounding echoed, Bum could hear the shouting of a man behind the door. Her eyes seemed so old for someone so young, Bum felt himself grow in size. Compelled by rage he was too afraid to touch in his therapy sessions. He never realized how powerful it felt to be this angry, how strong he felt to finally confront this side of him that demanded blood.

He tenderly held her face, lost in the trauma of the past or the present, Bum couldn’t tell. Her eyes snapped to his, it felt like Bum was comforting the broken boy he used to be, seeing him only served to remind him that he wasn’t that boy anymore. 

Nuna”, unshed tears clung to her eyelashes at the name, “it’s okay, I’ll protect you this time”

Bum could feel her hot tears travel down his hands, he barely hear her words over the intensifying shouting.

“I-it’s my husband b-but it’s fine Bummy I swear he just get drunk sometimes and I know how-”  Bum didn’t listen, empathy fueling his blistering rage where all he could hear or see was red. He took her admittance as permission. He nodded gravely and released her face, moving towards the door..

Eunseo seemed to crumble onto herself when Bum walked past her with a whispering last word of comfort, his face twisted into a harsh scowl that was unfitting his youthful face.  She collapsed onto herself, sobbing desperately, pleads to stop going ignored.

Before opening the rattling door the glinting light of a metal bat innocently resting on the wall caught his eye. It felt cold and sturdy to the touch, naturally fitting in his palm.

Bat nonchalantly propped on his shoulder, his smile was wide and feral as he opened the door,  “Hello maehyeong, I think it’s time for us to have a family chat”

Chapter Text

 

Eunseo’s husband was the type of man whose youthful vigor was squandered after a hard life. As Bum looked up at the towering man unimpressed, he could see the handsome person Eunosea’s husband used to be. Now, this man seemed to be a relic of himself: a large potbelly, unhealthy pallor, and a rough fearsome face.

It was uncanny how much he reminded Bum of his uncle, it was so strange how Bum felt unafraid.

Bum knew he wasn’t an intimidating sight. He was shorter than most males his age, was cursed with a perpetual youthful face, and had features that have been routinely referred to be more feminine than masculine. He tried to offset this: eating more, sleeping more and even running with his roommate on occasion but his efforts were futile. Despite being more well-fed and rested than he has ever been in his life, Bum was very aware that he still didn’t have a stature that struck fear into others and had vivid undereye bags that confessed to nightmares that still stole away hours of sleep. Bum’s awareness of these disadvantages made him extra vigilant to stay away from wary individuals in order to prevent any physical confrontations. Today he broke all of his preventative measures, quite literally facing a man who screamed danger and held an uncomfortable resemblance to the monster still lurking under Bum’s bed.

“Who are you?” the man squinted down at Bum, the overwhelming sour smell of alcohol burning Bum’s nostrils.  

He didn’t await a response, quickly dismissing Bum to scowl at the cowering figure down the hall. His face puckering with anger.

“You cheating on me again bitch?” his voice was slurred and his body was tense for a fight. As he maneuvered into his home, he found himself blocked out.

The drunken man looked down at the metal bat, now poking deep into his abdomen, following it up to the pale hand holding it in a tight grip, to the skinny boy glaring up at him with menace in his almond-shaped eyes.

“I already told you maehyeong. I don’t know if your either too drunk or stupid to listen. I’m that bitch’s ” he spat the term into the ground, “brother and I think me and you should have a talk about how you're treating my dear sister”

The taller man looked at him quizzingly before barking out a nasty laugh.

“Listen, kid, I don’t know what lies she’s been spewing but she’s absolutely crazy that one. Now” he sighed tiredly before pushing away the bat with ease, “leave my home namdongsaeng before I-”

He finished with a pained grunt, holding his bruised stomach looking up in surprise on the ground at his brother-in-law (someone he didn’t even know existed till this very moment) standing at the door entrance.

“No, I think it’s time for you to leave. Come back when you're sober and not a dick”

The boy propped the bat on his shoulder, stuck his tongue out at him and shut the door with a loud slam.

Xxx

It took the man approximately two minutes for him to knock once more on the door. This time with such violence that the door rattled under his fist. 

Bum was immensely happy for the adrenaline still pumping in his veins.

He could hear his sister calling at him, however, blood was rushing to his ears. He couldn’t focus on anything than his wrath. Each ominous knock was another memory Bum was forced to acknowledge.

His uncle at their door, his uncle's hands, his uncle’s sour br-

Bum didn’t realize he opened the door until he could feel the hot breath on his forehead. Bum saw the fist raised up to attack, he had seconds before being hit.

He didn’t realize he had struck his brother-in-law with the bat until it vibrated in his hands and ears. There was a pained groan, stumbling feet, raised arms in surrender. But Bum couldn’t focus on anything besides the sound of metal colliding with solid flesh.

It was exhilarating, it was overwhelming, it was terrifying, it was-

BUM!

Bum blinked down seeing his brother-in-law, once a terrifying reminder of his past, now bloody and bruised at his feet. 

He felt his sister’s hands timidly took the bat from Bum's quivering hands, her eyes wide and staring at him with fear.

Bum numbly watched the bat be taken from him, now slick with blood.

Bum couldn’t hear his sister, trying to cease the shaking in his hands.

He never felt something so powerful before.

Still looking down at the groaning and crying man, a smile stretched on its own accord across his lips.

“Dad? Mom?”

His eyes snapped up, there was another on the scene.

It was a teenage boy, muscular and lean, and strikingly handsome in a way the groaning man used to be.

Bum felt the bile rise in his throat, the smile quickly vanishing when reality sunk in.

It was the eyes that stopped him in tracks. Indecipherable black eyes that trapped him still.

With the adrenaline finally leaving him, Bum’s eyes rolled up to the back of his head. The last thing he saw before harshly hitting the hard ground was the penetrating darkness of those obsidian eyes.

Xxx

This was not exactly how Bum was hoping to meet his nephew. He didn’t even think about the chance he would have a nephew, but if he had, he would have certainly not planned meeting on him this way.

Bum tiredly opened his crusty eyes, rubbing his sore head. There was a thunderous pounding behind his temple.

He whispered out his friend’s name: promising his roommate, himself and the moon that they would never drink again. If their sadistic boss tried to trick them into another round of shots, Bum would kindly give him the finger.

Speaking of his friend where was Hyunwoo? Or better yet, where was Bum?

This wasn’t his cramped tiny living room, looking at the night sky through the large win-

Eunseo

Bum jumped up, which only caused him to curse and grab his head. At once, he remembered exactly where he was and why he was here.

He and his therapist definitely didn’t plan for this type of outcome.

“Bummy?”

He squinted in the dark trying to make the outline of his sister when the living room lights suddenly came on. 

“Sangwoo!" he heard his sister gasp, "I didn’t see you there,” Turning to the sound, Bum jumped a second time realizing his nephew was sitting directly across the couch. His black eyes watching him.

Bum’s cheeks heated without his consent feeling heavy eyes on him. This was the first time he was actually meeting his nephew and he was sullying it all up. First, the poor boy saw him beat up his father and now he witnesses Bum acting like a hungover fool. 

“Oh um hi,” Bum smiled timidly at his stoic nephew. The boy, who must have been in high school or even college judging by his stature, looked almost otherworldly. Blessed with inheriting the strong handsomeness of his father and the inviting beauty of his mother.

Knowing that this was his nephew made Bum sit up straighter under the assessment. The residual trauma his own uncle inflicted on him and sister was something Bum would always deal with (a fact he had come to terms with), but this day felt like a test of Bum’s strength. First meeting his sister, then meeting her uncanny similar abuser, and now discovering he was an uncle. Bum decided then and there that he would be the best uncle there ever was. He smiled wider, fighting back the need to retreat the longer the eyes remained on him.

The boy, Sangwoo, remained silent watching Bum with an intensity that made nerves curdle in Bum's belly. 

“Who is he?”

His voice sounded older than Bum’s, rich and deep. Bum felt proud of how intimidating his young nephew was. He wouldn’t have to worry about wary men but-

Bum’s eyes widened in concern, maybe he did have too after all. Maybe Sangwoo suffered like his sister. Bum bit his lips in worry, not realizing his sister was calling out his name.

“Bum?”

Bum knew his cheeks were a worrying shade of red at this point as he blinked at his sister's nervous face.

“I was just telling Sangwoo that your his uncle” her smile twitched uncomfortably, Bum knew his matched hers as he looked back at his expressionless nephew. The poor boy was probably guarded fearing that Bum would hurt him too, Bum’s smile increased tenfold. 

“It’s so lovely to meet you Sangwoo I’m Bum”

“She said that already”

Bum’s outreached hand was left awkwardly hovering in the air. Chuckling nervously Bum scratched the back of his neck and returned back into the seat.

“Um ahah of course, silly me, I am so happ-”

“Why are you here? How come she never mentioned you?”

Bum looked helplessly at his sister unsure how to explain a decade of abuse to an impressionable young boy.

“Oh! Well, Bum and I had a little falling out when we were younger and Bum wanted to come by to apologize!” 

Bum blinked dumbly at the explanation however her pointed cough forced him to shake away his thoughts and offer a strained smile at his nephew.

“Ahah yes it was a - big fight but after a lot of thinking I realized I miss my dear sister and I didn’t even know she had a child! I would have been sure to come by much sooner if I had heard. This was all my fault I am so incredibly sorry about all of this”

His sister nodded her head in acceptance at his rueful bow while Sangwoo only raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Yes, well all is forgiven and I am so happy you are here! Right Sangwoo” Bum flinched at the sudden cold hands on his shoulder as his sister sat next to him before looking at Sangwoo imploringly.

“Are you homeless? Is that why you came back? Did you beat-”

“No!” Bum frantically waved his hands, eyes wide and earnest, “No, I mean I know I don’t look like it” Bum looked down at his dirty uniform (he really should have showered before impulsively driving down here, maybe even brought some flowers or a card at least), “I do have a home” he laughed nervously, “I just really realized how much I wanted to share my happiness with my sister and when I saw her bruises and saw your father I just” Bum looked off feeling ill with how uncharacteristically violent he was, “snapped?”

Sangwoo’s expression once more left Bum still, there was something gleaming in his eyes. Something suspicious, something dark, something that made shivers rattle down his spine.

However, as Sangwoo opened his mouth to interrogate further they were silenced by the pounding sound on the door.

An ominous sound that pierced through Bum, without the help of adrenalin or rage to comfort him, Bum felt all too uncomfortably aware of how vulnerable he was at this moment.

“Maybe it’s a salesman?” Bum chimed hopefully. The resounding thunder of the knocks was answer enough. “They’re very persistent” he chuckled nervously. 

Sangwoo and his sister didn’t seem particularly responsive to his feeble joke. His sister remained immobile, flinching at each loud knock that echoed through the room. His nephew watched Bum with clinical silence. Bum couldn’t quite understand the expectation written Sangwoo’s face but it made Bum gulp and stand nonetheless. He promised to be a better uncle. Even if he only just met his nephew, Bum knew he had to do more for Sangwoo than was done for him. He had to become stronger than he truly felt.

Bum found himself walking to the door, his sister moves to wrap a tight arm around a still Sangwoo, who remained vigilantly watching his trembling uncle approach his furious father.

“H-h-he said he would come back b-but I didn’t think-” Eunseo whimpered as the knocks become more booming. Sangwoo looked at the now clean bat, laying innocently on the living room table, Bum took it with an unreturned nod. 

Breath.

In.

Breath.

Out.

Breath.

In.

Breath.

Out.

It took Bum approximately 321 breaths before he found his hand around the doorknob, bat steadily resting in his other palm, raised and ready.

Bum distantly watched his fear float away and cleared his mind for one blissful moment.

Bum now had a plan. A crudely drawn plan in place. But a plan nonetheless.

If he could suppress the father, or more realistically, distract the father long enough for-

“Sangwoo” Bum’s voice was confident and unfamiliar. He turned his head looking at his Nephew staring at the door. Seeing his nephew, hiding from another drunken monster, ignited rage in him that only served to soothe Bum in his decision.

Bum wondered if maybe his therapist would be proud of the progress Bum seemed to be making, instead of running away from his past he seemed to deal with it face on today.

“Sangwoo,” Bum’s voice took one of authorities when the boy remained unresponsive. Sangwoo eyes snapped to his, “it’s okay. I need you to call the police please”

“They won't come in time, they never do.”

The boy’s voice was different from the sure tone a moment before. It sounded so haunted .

“Just call them please, tell them there’s an intruder on the property and in bad condition”

Before Sangwoo could question him, Bum gripped the cool and steady bat, lifting it up to strike and opened the door.

Xxx

Bum managed to get a few good licks in but was quickly overwhelmed. Eunosea’s husband, while appearing battered and bruised from today’s encounter also seemed to have rage propelling him. Bum’s confidence was quickly snuffed out when the bat was snatched away from him. Looking at his uncle , Bum hysterically feared that maybe he didn’t escape after all. That maybe he was back at home, back under his uncle’s-

Bum heard his sister shouting in the background but was overcome by the full assault of his brother-in-law’s wrath.

It was agonizing .

The bullish man was screaming words at him but Bum couldn't hear anything besides the crescendo of fists. Maybe his eardrum was ruptured, it sure felt like his lungs were. 

It went on for a horrific length of time, maybe minutes, maybe seconds but to Bum who was curled up into a ball, it felt like a lifetime.

Bum could feel each fist and each swing of the bat as it collided with his body.

Bum didn’t realize he was crying until he was drowning in his tears.

Bum didn’t realize he was screaming until his throat was hoarse.

Bum didn’t-

It stopped. Bum blissfully thought that maybe he really did die.

There was the penetrating sound of the bat crashing onto the floor beside Bum’s head.

Then broken-groveling, whimpering, shouting, and screaming.

Blinked open swollen eyes, groaning and coughing up what felt like his whole spleen. Shakingly lifting himself up with the wall, it was like he was trapped in his memories.

There was a monster on top of his sister, Eunseo’s pleads on deaf ears, greedy fist pounding into her soft flesh.

Then Bum saw himself Sangwoo.

Bum saw his uncle brother-in-law making his way to the boy. 

Bum didn’t realize he was moving until the bat was in his palms once more, curving so perfectly into his hand.

Bum didn’t realize he was behind his uncle brother-in-law , until he saw Sangwoo’s eyes meet his own. Obsidian eyes widening in-

There was a sick sound of the bat colliding so viciously with a human skull. 

The abuser stopped, gripping the back of his profusely bleeding head, and looked down at a brutalized Bum.

His uncle took stumbling steps towards Bum, Bum never felt so prepared in his life.

Stance strong, bat raised, and smile wide.

“Don’t touch my nephew”

The man fell with a loud thud.

Bum blinked down at the now unmoving lump, the bat still hovering in the air awaiting its target.

Bum poked the fleshy back frowning when it remained still.

The taste of disappointment lingered on his tongue.

There was an invasion of red and blue lights in the living room, the shrill sound of the sirens echoing in the room.

Bum felt someone’s arms on his shoulder, shaking him into the present.

Sangwoo, the dark eyes piercing at him. Bum remained frozen, swearing he saw something in that dark abyss. Something-

Bum swayed dangerously on his feet, adrenaline finally abandoning him to deal with the damage.

Sangwoo’s face moved out of view as Bum found himself falling backwards.

Bum braced himself for the impact only to find himself cocooned in strong arms.

Looking up his breath stolen from him by the face of someone so handsome it hurt .

The officer frowned concernedly at him, glasses glinting under the siren’s light.

Bum could hear a calm voice asking him questions but Bum couldn’t think of any response.

On the brink of unconsciousness, he could only voice the one thing on his mind.

“You’re hot”

Bum saw the officer’s face cheeks redden, opening his lips to-

Darkness.

Chapter Text

Bum was going to have a much needed conversation with Hyunwoo about his endless alarms.

Currently said alarm was beeping insistently by Bum’s ear. Bum didn’t mind when Hyunwoo would share his bed as Bum was very aware of his roommate’s nightmares and they helped abait Bum’s own, but what Bum did mind was when Hyunwoo would sleep through his countless alarms. They would disturb Bum’s much needed sleep, continue for a horrific length of time, seemingly turn off for a blissful moment, only to return with a new equally irritating alarm demanding Bum's attention. And it was always Bum who would have to answer it’s call as Hyunwoo would be too busy sleeping to even notice the agony Bum was enduring, such as it was this time.

“Hyunwoo” Bum grumbled sourly, patting the left side of the bed to find his Roommate’s cursed phone. 

Silence.

Hyunwoo ” he hissed, unwilling to open his eyes and let go of the precious tendrils of sleeping luring him away. He desperately wanted to follow it but the beeping beside his bed was cruelly forcing him to remain in the present.

After an uneventful search for the phone Bum sighed tiredly, now opting to just let his Roommate deal with the beast. However, as he patted the cool bed sheets, he frowned finding it empty. 

“Hyunwoooooooooo” he whined, using his hands to cover his ears. “Hyunwoo if your going to sleep in my bed please just remember your stupid alarms” 

Silence.

“I mean I don’t even understand why you have so many of them. We both know your not going to wake up ugh just accept it and-”

Silence.

Usually Hyunwoo would respond to Bum by now. Their apartment was minuscule and Bum's pull out couch was in the living room meaning they were constantly able to hear the other's presence. This was both reassuring and at times uncomfortable when Hyunwoo would bring home ‘guests’. However it was unsettling silent in the apartment save for the alarm that was still shrieking in the night. Did Hyunwoo leave his phone at home? That was strange, it was glued to his hand-

“Hyunwoo?”

Bum timidly open his eyes, squinting at the dim fluorescent overhead light. He blinked himself awake.

He wasn’t in his cozy small apartment.

Looking at the source of the alarm he was puzzled to see his arm connected to a hospital monitor. Sitting up with a groan he winced grabbing his bandaged belly, why did he feel like he got hit by a bus? 

He scrubbed away his crusty eyes, trying through blurry vision to take in in the clinical hospital room.

There was a curtain dividing his section, dim lights buzzing over head, a persistently beeping monitor, a large window beside him giving him a beautiful view of the city as the morning sun was about it make it's entrance, chairs lined across the wall and a pers-

Bum was quite embarrassed by the inhuman squeak that left his mouth when he saw the figure sitting in the last chair. 

Oh no was it -

His cheeks flushed without his consent when he quickly realized that the person that remained silent during Bum’s humiliation was just his young nephew Sangwoo.

Meeting the obsidian eyes that were intently watching him caused a vague overview of the previous day’s events to come back. Bum chuckled weakly and rubbed the back of his neck. He really hoped him waking up in confusion and in turn embarrassing himself in front of his nephew wouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

“H-Hello Sangwoo” he smiled meekly at the quiet boy. The whole predicament was so unreal, and seeing the boy made the full reality of Bum’s new responsibilities settle over him. Bum was an uncle now. He would have a chance to move past the horror's his own uncle had inflicted on Bum. He smiled as wide as he could despite his split lip, opening his mouth to start their new relationship on a high note.

“You almost killed him”

Bum’s mouth snapped shut at the pointed statement. Sangwoo’s tone was conversational but his piercing eyes studied Bum with such a cold intensity it made goosebumps instinctively rise on his arms.

Bum frowned wondering who the boy was referring too, the day only coming back to him in foggy pieces. However, the eyes of his nephew remained penetrating, demanding a response that Bum didn’t have. Bum worried what the poor boy was hoping to find as the silence between them became suffocating. He was both terrified and impressed by his nephew, and the fact he was even terrified of him only made the boy more endearing to Bum. His strong little nephew, he would never have to worry-

“Oh dear” Bum shook away his thoughts, truly remembering what happened.

The pounding of the door, the bat in his hands, the sound of solid metal on flesh, his sister on the ground, his uncle brother-in-law approaching his nephew, the blood on the bat.

He rubbed his temples as a headache was making itself known, suddenly he became acutely aware of his battered state. Oh no, his poor nephew he must have been so terrified seeing his uncle (someone he never even knew about) unceremoniously barging into his life and beating up his father. 

“I’m sorry” Bum croaked, looking earnestly into the cold eyes.

There was a puzzled look of disgust on the boy’s face that Bum couldn’t understand.

“Sorry?” Sangwoo sounded so disappointed .

Bum winced at the reprimanding look, before continuing on.

“I’m sorry for scaring you like that, I-I never meant to make you afraid b-but I just saw the bruises and I guess I just -”

“Snapped?” the boy finished with a raised brow, reminding Bum of yesterday’s same claim. Bum hung his head in shame. He was messing up once again. The boy must see him as a monster, Bum was already becoming like his uncle.

“Would you have killed him?”

Bum’s head snapped up. Profuse denial on the tip of his tongue but the boy’s abrupt change in demeanor stopped him. Sangwoo was no longer stoic, he was leaning towards Bum, hands resting on his knees as his eyes feverishly searched Bum’s stunned expression for something. It made the goosebumps instinctively return on Bum’s exposed flesh, made his heart pound in his ears, and his breath catch in his throat.

For a strange reason as Bum own wide eyes met his nephew’s, he felt like prey . Like he was under a microscope. Like he was meeting the eyes of an unhinged deity and he found himself speaking without realizing it.

“Yes.”

Bum snapped a hand over his traitorous mouth. He wouldn’t have killed his brother-in-law, would he?

Flashes of the boorish man beating his sister assaulted his vision. Seeing the beast approaching his poor nephew made that foreign rage ignite inside him once more.

He would have.

And that sudden realization terrified Bum.

However this discovery had to take the back burner to a more pressing manner. Namely salvaging whatever little scraps of his relationship with his nephew he could. Bum was screwing this whole thing up astronomically. He just confirmed the boy’s fears! The boy would never forgive him, never trust him, the boy would always be terrified of-

A slow smile crawled across Sangwoo’s face. It made Bum’s spiraling thoughts immediately cease at the breathtaking beauty of it lighting up the boy’s handsome face. It made Bum smile hesitantly back, unsure of this sudden change but appreciating it nonetheless. 

However Bum didn’t know why the tingles remained on his arm as his nephew continued to smile at him.

Why a primal instinct was tensing up his limbs in preparation to retreat.

Why a small part of him noticed that the smile was bit too big and his nephew's eyes were bit too excited at the admission.

———

“Oh! Bummy your awake!”

Bum jumped at the sudden intrusion as his Nephew re-donned his stoic mask. Bum grinned nervously at his sister, shaking away his unfounded fear away. Sangwoo was his nephew , just a little boy that in no way deserved such a visceral reaction.

Eunseo matched his weak smile, her bandaged arms holding up two steaming cups of coffee. Bum couldn't fight off his frowned at the bandages, finally taking in her marred face that igniting the rage once more.

It was an unfamiliar feeling but one he found immensely soothing.

It allowed Bum to finally shed away all of his previous discomfort and to smile at Eunseo with more courage. 

“I’m sorry Bum if I had known you were up I would have gotten you a cup too. I can still go get one let me just-”

Bum raised up his skinny hand, “no, no, it's totally okay Eunseo” he spoke gently as she awkwardly nodded before sitting beside Sangwoo.

Sangwoo sipped the coffee, eye’s not leaving Bum.

Sangwoo just seemed to have a strong preference for eye contact, that was something Bum just had to get used too. He was sure of it.

There was a awkward silence as they all settled into pace, thankfully Bum wasn't the one who had to break it.

“How are you Bummy?” 

“I’m good!” he winced at his saccharine tone, “er how are you?”

“Im good too” she looked down at her coffee as a tense silence once again filled the air, Sangwoo’s gaze remained locked on his uncle. Guilt flooded Bum's senses, recognizing the fear in her demeanor. Remembering how he acted before, what she saw, what he would have done. He shivered not having rage comfort him this time, only self-hate. Clearing his throat he tried to remember his therapist teachings. It took him exactly 23 breaths until he had the courage to ask her again, hoping his face looked more reassuring than he felt.

She timidly lifted her eyes, the apprehension in her gaze hurt. It wasn’t the same nervousness that he saw yesterday, questioning his sudden arrival. No, this was the look he saw her give their uncle. Hesitation at the possibility of pain, and the fact that she thought he could be capable of hurting her like that left him cold.

She has good reason too, you little freak.

The voice of his uncle taunted in his ears, he thought he had moved past the internal voice. 

Of course he hadn’t, he couldn’t do anything he was-

“to be quite honest Bum I’m a little … confused” Bum blinked away his thoughts, forcing himself to focus on her timid voice. Guilt churned in his stomach, “I didn’t even know you were coming and then all of what happened … it’s just I never saw that side of you” Bum looked down ashamed, playing with the frayed edges of his bandages, “and while I appreciate the gesture Bum you can’t just do that I mean what are we going to do when-”

“He protected me” Sangwoo’s harsh tone cut off his mother’s nervous ramble. Her eyes and well as Bum’s quickly snapped up to puzzlingly look at Sangwoo, who looked like the pinnacle of a dutiful son.

“He protected us from him ” his eyes and shoulders turned away from the pair fearfully, igniting Bum’s protective instincts. He found an unknown part of himself missing the cool steady feel on the bat’s handle in his hand.  It seemed to have ignited Eunoseo’s instincts as well as she delicately laid a protective arm around his shoulder that Sangwoo quickly nuzzled into. They fit into place like a perfect puzzle.

A part of Bum felt both touched and pained at the sight, reminding him so much of forgotten memories.

“I won't let him hurt you” whispered into the Sangwoo’s dyed hair, “Your father doesn’t mean to be like this, he just needs … support but don’t worry sweetheart he won’t hurt you or he-”

“Doesn’t mean it when he does” his hollow voice felt like lighting striking in the room.

Bum and Eunseo collectively winced at the veiled accusation.

You’ve said this before. 

You’ve lied like this before.

Bum felt like an vouyer of his own memories, how could this scene play exactly as it did when he was younger? Huddling into his older sister for love and protection. Battling his youthful hope that believed her words with the jaded scars that constantly reminded him they were false.

His hands twitched for the bat, the sweet taste of copper on his tongue, he was back in front of his uncle brother-in-law, protecting himself his nephew.

He never felt so powerful than in that moment, so strong, so -

“Bum actually protected us, Bum made sure he would never hurt us again”

Obsidian eyes snapped towards his. Bum felt as if Sangwoo could read his twisted thoughts, his bloodthirsty need for vengeance.

There was a gleam in Sangwoo's eyes that Bum didn’t understand. The same gleam he saw before. A cheshire cat grin spread across Sangwoo’s face as he regarded his uncle.

“I know sweetheart but-”

“But he actually was able to protect me” Euonseo flinched trying to catch Sangwoo’s eyes but it appeared Snagwoo didn't notice, still observing his uncle with that feverish smile. “That’s great isn’t it? That he was able to protect me from dad’s beating when you couldn’t?”

He looked down at his mother, his expression one of innocence that didn’t realize he was driving a knife into his mother’s heart. Bum twitched awkwardly, empathizing with the look of utter guilt and failure on his sister’s face. He knew that feeling very well. After hearing of their grandmother's untimely death by their uncle’s hand, it was the same expression he wore when he looked in the mirror. If he wasn’t so selfish when they had taken him away …  even if she couldn’t save him, he could have saved her. 

Bum watched as Sangwoo remained oblivious. Bum couldn’t blame him, the poor boy was merely a baby. How could he know he was plunging the knife deeper the longer he spoke.

“I'm so happy he was there to save me, aren’t you eomma ?”

“Y-yes of course dear” she smiled feebly, tracing her son’s face but Sangwoo moved out of reach looking once more at Bum.

Euonseo followed her gaze, her expression not matching the charming one of her son. Bum fidgeted under the attention, guilt and nervousness apprehending him to the spot.

Sangwoo looked down expectantly at his mother propelling her into action, “t-thank you Bum.” There was a pause, Sangwoo innocent enquiring eyes remaining locked onto his mother’s confused ones. After a brief moment, she finally lowered her head, “for protecting my son w-when I c-c-couldn’t”

Her admittance made Sangwoo smile approvingly, rubbing a soothing hand on her emaciated back. Their positions were reversed, as she leaned into him. Two puzzle pieces perfectly in place.

“Ah it’s no problem!” Bum fumbled awkwardly in his spot, his smile twitched uncomfortably. “I didn’t do anything really it was nothing! You did so much more and and I’m so sorry you had to go through that plus I mean it was really nothing I remember all the times …” Bum internally cursed catching Eunoseo’s wide pleading eyes. Sangwoo’s own earnest eyes, narrowed slightly at the silent conversation between the brother and sister. Bum forced himself to continue forward, hating his aberrant blabbermouth, “b-but don’t thank me. I don’t deserve it I swear. Please, I know you would have done the same noona” he smiled softly at his sister. Tears gathered at her lashes at his solemn expression. They shared a profound silence with the echoes of their past ringing in his ears. He hoped she could understand how much he forgave her for what happened, how much he wanted to start again, how much he loved-

“Don't be silly, she wouldn’t have ” Sangwoo interjected with a soft chuckle regarding Bum with an endearing smile. Whatever expression that was blooming delicately in his sister's eyes disappeared in an instant. 

She looked up horrified at her son whose captivating smile turned into a confused frown at his mother’s dejected expression. “You haven’t been able to kick out dad since he started hitting us when I was a toddler.” Her shoulders collapsed on herself as her hand was carefully extracted from her son’ shoulders only to be trapped in Sangwoo’s palms. “You were too afraid to stand up to him for years eomma. No matter how many times he mistreated on us, hurt you, or even hurt me .” She looked down, the shame radiating off her made Bum’s own cheeks redden. “But I don’t blame you, I know that you were scared of your husband that’s fine. I’ve accepted that about you” Sangwoo touched his forehead to his mother’s bowed head as he hugged her. His voice remained so soothing. For a strange moment the scene reminded Bum of a Cobra hypnotizing their meal into a lullying calm before they devoured them whole. 

Shaking away his irrational thoughts, he really needed to stop watching animal documentaries with Hyunwoo late at night, Bum almost missed Sangwoo’s whispered word into his mother’s straggly hair. “That’s why you used to -” he giggles, an an unsettling sound that sound that causes the same cold goosebumps to erupts on Bum’s open flesh. Bum notices the way Sangwoo’s grip on his mother tightened, his knuckles turning white. Eunonseo seems unfazed as she begins sobbing once more into her unmoving son's solid chest. Like a Cobra on the brink of devouring their prey. “I would have been forced to do something about him and y-” 

Suddenly Sangwoo stops. Only the sound of Eunseo incoherent sobs fill the air. Bum didn't realize he was holding a breath until he lets out a sharp gasp when Sangwoo’s eyes suddenly snap to his. 

Still resting his angelic face on his mother’s bowed head, Sangwoo’s obsidian eyes trap Bum in place.

For some bizarre reason Bum felt like he was the prey in the Cobra’s grip.

“but my hyeong came for me and beat me to it”

Timidly matching his nephew’s smile, he didn’t want to question why dread coiled in his belly the words.

-------

Chapter Text

The moment was saved by the unexpected arrival of an elderly nurse loudly swishing back the hospital curtain.

She jumped at the collective eyes on her.

“Oh! pardon me. I didn’t realize we would all be awake” She chirped moving towards her patient with a breezy chuckle. However hearing Eunseo’s soft sobs paused her movements.

“Are you alright dear?” she turned towards the woman immediately searching through her many pockets for a spare tissue. Her maternal instincts kicking into high gear as the young mother harshly wiped her eyes and attempted to lull her crying into soft hiccups.

Sangwoo immediately broke his eye contact with Bum to smile welcomingly at the nurse. The reaction was instant, she became flustered under the beaming grin, tissues dangling uselessly in her hand.

Bum was ashamed at the part of himself that felt relief at the respite. His silly reaction was surely due to the head-trauma he endured yesterday. Bum knew Sangwoo didn’t intend to hurt his mother. He was only a child careless with his words. It also wasn’t Sangwoo’s fault for having a fondness for eye-contact. Sighing in disappointment, Bum knew he had to get himself together. Behaving so irrationally would ruin whatever tentative bond they were forming. Internally reminding himself to schedule an appointment he almost missed Sangwoo loudly calling out his name.

Unable to prevent his flinch, Bum flushed hotly finding his nephew’s watching him with an endearing smile.

See, how could a boy with the face of an angel ever cause such fear?

Bum smiled on impulse, never feeling more proud then when Sangwoo nodded approvingly at the action.

“I was just telling Seo-yun here that we were all just so happy to see you awake and well. It’s clear to see your under great care” he bowed his head graciously at the nurse. 

The nurse giggled fixing her grey hair, “oh it’s no problem whatsoever dear boy.” Smiling to herself she cleared her throat before turning her attention back to her skittish patient,  “You raised quite a charming young boy Mr. Yoo”

“Oh er t-thank you” Bum replied automatically at the compliment as the nurse began working wincing at his mistake. “Um er I mean I shouldn’t be praised we just met today,” Bum’s eyes widened in horror, “not not that Sangwoo isn’t a wonderful young boy! He really is! I am so happy to have him as my nephew b-but the praise should be reserved for Eunseo-” Bum’s nervous ramble trailed off realizing that Sangwoo’s side that was previously occupied by his mother was now empty.

In fact his sister was nowhere to be seen in the room at all.

 “Eomma went to the restroom. She didn’t want to embarrass herself anymore in front of company”

Sangwoo answered Bum's unspoken thoughts flippantly, before returning his conversation with the blushing nurse.

Bum bit his lip at the news, averting his eyes and playing the tarred edges of his bandages. He was unable to prevent the surge of self-hatred he felt. If he hadn’t opened his mouth Sangwoo wouldn’t have accidentally misspoke and Eunseo wouldn’t be trying to console herself in private.

As he reprimanded himself, the kind nurse efficiently checked the blood pressure of a dazed out Bum. She wasn’t too concerned for the sudden silence marking her patient off to be more of the ditzy type. Plus it offered her more opportunity to chat pleasantly with his handsome nephew. She noted how the teen’s eyes would continue to linger on his oblivious uncle as they talked, tracking each absentminded movement Mr. Yoo made.

Her heart swooned at the sight, what a sweet and protective boy. When she finished, reluctantly leaving the unaware Mr. Yoo and his lovely nephew she was surprised when the teen stopped her outside of the room. Her maternal instincts kicked in once again seeing his distressed expression as he politely asked for the man’s medical forms. Protocol required that she deny such a request but the boy was just so worried for his uncle’s wellbeing that it broke her maternal heart. As he pointed out Mr. Yoo must be suffering some kind of ailment that would cause him to enter such a stupor. The nurse paused her refusal, peeking her head into the room to see Mr. Yoo still pouting at his bandages, so deep in thought he didn’t even realize he was alone.

So Seo-yun followed her gut, making sure no one was around this early in the morning and ‘accidentally’ left Mr. Yoo’s file open while the teen took quick photos its contents.

As the moment lingered on the sweet boy was even considerate enough to worry about her getting caught, sending her on her way with a pleased smile that made her feel young again.

She sighed under her breath as she continued her rounds, if only her grandson shared his manners.

----

Bum really needed to improve his spacial awareness skills because one moment he was combatting the urge to insult himself with concentrating on his breath in order to regain clarity only to suddenly squeak when finding his Nephew’s face close to his.

“You should really stop spacing out hyeong people are going to think your an idiot or something”

Bum forced away the automatic hurt he felt, the boy was just being honest. Instead he focused on the wonderful hope he felt at the term of endearment. Older brother , bum never thought he would be accepted so quickly.

“T-thank you for the advice Sangwoo I appreciate it”

Sangwoo looked puzzled at his bashfully smiling uncle before shaking his head and turning to slide a hospital chair beside the bed. The screech of protest against the tiled floor made Bum wince, but Sangwoo was unmoved gracefully lounging on the chair with the regality of a prince.

Bum fidgeted under his nephew’s inspection, grasping so desperately for any branch of conversation that would foster their good spirits. 

“U-um so your in school?”

Sangwoo rolled his eyes, Great job Bum.

“So you would have killed him”

Bum eyes widened in horror at his apathetic nephew. Bum could have sworn he saw a gleam in his eyes that left Bum experience the uncomfortable feeling of prey once more.

“You don’t have to lie uncle, it was a statement not a question”

Sangwoo’s stoic face didn’t match the feverish look in his eyes. Maybe it was Bum’s experience with his own uncle that made him acutely aware of the clashing expressions. His uncle’s eyes would betray his intentions every-time they were in public. His uncl-

Of course. How could Bum be so dumb .

Sangwoo’s stoicism broke when Bum suddenly trapped the boys warm hands with his bony cold fingers.

The confused frown Sangwoo adopted when looking at their intertwined hands broke Bum’s heart. With the rising sunlight behind Sangwoo’s angelic face, Bum truly noticed the deep bags underneath the boys beautiful obsidian eyes. It contrasted so harshly with the youthful beauty of his features. Matching the dark shadows under Bum’s own eyes.

“Don’t worry your safe. I’ll protect you Sangwoo”

The blank expression on his young Nephew’s face did make Bum’s reassuring smile wane bit (Sangwoo’s eye contact was something he really needed to get used too).

Nonetheless, Bum squeezed the unresponsive hand. He shouldn’t expect Sangwoo to immediately break down an open up to him (even though Bum can’t deny he hoped for that outcome). Bum was too aware of how long it took him to trust the authorities when he was first taken away. So many false promises and greedy hands. However Bum eventually found Hyunwoo and after many years away from his uncle he now knows that there are people out there who do care.

Sangwoo only had Eunseo, and while Bum loved his sister, it took Bum a long time to overcome his own bitterness and resentment. Seeing her in the same state she left him made Bum now only feel overwhelming compassion and guilt. However while he ached for her, he felt like he never truly understood someone more than when he looked at his impassive little nephew.

All the pain the boy must have witnessed, have endured. Echoes of Bum’s past made his eyes sting in sympathy. It was almost like he was staring at a reflection of his younger self. He could have sworn he saw a flash of distrust or something more in the dark abyss of the boy’s eyes, but he didn’t want to push it.

Eunseo wasn’t able to escape her past after all, but he would make sure she would. He would make Sangwoo she would too.

And maybe, just maybe, if he could free his nephew from the pain afflicted by his father … maybe Bum would finally be free from the pain afflicted by his own monster as well.

Offering one more squeeze he released the warm hand, only to let out a sharp gasp when his hand was unexpectedly trapped in his nephew’s harsh grip.

He winced automatically in pain but seeing the action and looking at his nephew’s indifferent face made him want to cry in joy. However, Bum didn't want to ruin the moment with his blubbering so he opted for weak sniffles.

“You’ll stay”

A demand, not a question that Bum immediately responded with an enthusiastic yes.

The satisfied smile Bum received felt like sweet wonderful hope.

And if the boy’s eyes appeared too intense, expression a tad manic, and the grip painfully tight it ... Bum knew it was Sangwoo way of showing Bum that he slowly trusting him.

And Bum would make sure to fulfill his promise and be worthy of the boy’s precious trust.

---

It was at that moment when Eunseo returned back to the room.

She paused at the sight, clearing her throat to catch their attention. Sangwoo’s face reverted back to a mask of a dutiful son.

“Do you feel more rational now?”

Bum frowned in concern seeing her flinch, her red rimmed eyes looking away in shame.

“Uh yes I’m sorry Bum I shouldn’t have acted so …”

She trailed off seeing her son’s hand intertwined with her brother's. Her beautiful son almost hovering over the frailer man with a daring look in his eyes. She didn’t know why the image made her feel scared worried jealous mad off.

Bum saw the expression on his sister’s face as she stared at their intertwined hands. Flushing brightly he tried to move his hand away for some reason feeling caught doing something he shouldn't. 

However Sangwoo's grip became unyielding forcing Bum bite back a whimper of pain and cease his moments. The poor boy didn’t quite understand his strength or the look of distrust in his mother's eyes.

However, that didn’t stop Bum from feeling uncomfortable under his sister’s heavy stare.

“As you were saying eomma”

Both siblings collectively blinked at the teenager, looking encouragingly at his mother.

Eunseo gave the hands one last lingering look before awkwardly fidgeting in front of the pair. She looked like a child apologizing in front of their disappointed parents. Bum intervened immediately.

“It’s really okay Eunseo, there's nothing to apologize for. I’m just happy you're feeling okay” he hoped his expression was comforting, however whatever reaction he was aiming for was futile when Sangwoo chipped in. 

“It’s really not okay Bummy” Sangwoo interrupted with a patronizing smile that didn't match his clipped words. Eunseo seemed crumple onto herself, a strange look on her face at the nickname. “It wasn’t very nice to be so unappreciative, remember eomma you taught me that”

They shared a silent conversation. Bum never felt more like an intruder in his life. Sangwoo eyes crinkled kindly while Eunseo’s face was twisted with confusion, anger, sadness, jealously and more.

 However Eunseo was the first to retreat, looking at the ground in humiliation.

“You’re right ae-in” she sighed tiredly looking pleadingly at her son whose eyes appeared more menacing than kind. “I’m sorry Bum I was just worried about what will happen to Sangwoo and I when his father is ...” she trailed off, peeking a fearful look behind as if her husband would come barging through in any moment.

Bum wanted to reach out to her, his poor sister.

Maybe if Bum was smarter, planned his actions more logically then maybe he could have -

 “I’ll protect you noona”

He would, he promised Sangwoo and he will make the same promise to Eunseo. And he will be sure to never break that promise, ever.

Her disingenuous smile couldn't hide how little she believed in that statement, but Bum swore to himself that will gain her trust. She couldn’t save him back then, but he could her now.

“That’s sweet Bum but-” her eyes looked too old for her youthful face, aged by too many hardships for too many. “I mean I don't even know what we are going to do when the rent's due”

“I’ll pay for it!” 

Eunseo jumped at the loud shout making Bum grimace apologetically before frantically looking at both of them. Eunseo remained weary but Sangwoo appeared dispassionate as if he expected such a response.

“That’s very sweet but I don’t think that-”

“No I can!” Bum cleared his throat, flushing at his over enthusiastic reply before looking beseechingly at his sister, “I make a lot of tips! I can afford it Eunseo I swear to you that I can. whatever it is I’ll pay for it”

He would, he would take double shifts, do anything and everything. He would fix this, he would fix them.

She appeared a little taken aback with his earnest reaction. Bum took that as a good sign, as soon as he left the bed he would head straight to work. Maybe find a second job if needed.

Bum broke the eye contact when he felt his hands suddenly being released. Stretching his strained fingers, he caught Sangwoo confidently walking over to his hunched over mother, placing a warm hand on her shoulders. 

Eunseo was so much smaller than her son, quickly melting into the embrace. She leaned her head into his chest shuddering when he petted her hair like a prized pet.

“It’s okay eomma. See Bum is going to help us. Right?”

Bum flinched when the obsidian eyes snapped to his, feeling like voyeur getting caught watching a couple's intimate moment. 

“Y-Yes of course” Bum hated how timid his voice was. Clearing his throat he puffed out his small chest, “of course. I will provide any support you need!" 

“But what will happen when your father is released?” Eunseo whispered into the crook of her son’s neck, seemingly no longer aware of Bum’s presence.

“It will be fine. Like the police said we’ll get a restraining order and a lawyer to get support from the bastard”

He sounded so confident like a parent calming their child as he led her to the chairs lining the hospital room. 

“But-”

It will be fine” his voice was more direct, a parent now irritated with their stubborn child.

She shrunk at the curt tone, her hand reaching for his.

“Thanks to Bum everything will be different now.”

Her hand fell to her side.

Sangwoo sat his mother down. Looming over her and placing a solid hand on her flail shoulder ,“I know you’re still afraid. Like I said before, I forgive you for always being too scared to change anything” she averted her red-rimmed eyes to the ground bowing her head in shame. “But Bum wasn’t scared and that’s really nice of him. Right?”

The sun was high in the sky now. It bounced off Sangwoo’s marbled features, making him look ethereal while his shadow engulfed the cowering woman looking up at him imploringly.  Like Michael offering support to a fallen soul.

Or Lucifer beguiling his next victim.

Bum shook away his unhelpful thought, he must have suffered a more damaging head trauma than he imagined.

“Right” Eunseo offered feebly, it must of been Bum’s imagination that saw the hand on his sister's shoulder tighten. “t-thank you Bum we are in your debt”

Bum squirmed when her she looked at him with tear-stung eyes, his cheeks becoming alarming red.

“No, no like I said it’s-”

We went over this already ” Sangwoo dark voice closed Bum's mouth with an audible snap. It felt so laced with menace, it made Bum instinctively cower away. He must have imagined it as Sangwoo turned towards him with a light affable smile. See, Bum must misheard the tone.  The shivers that rattled violently down his spine were merely due to the air conditioner in the room. “People really are going to think your slow if you make everyone repeat themselves all time”

Sangwoo's light chuckle felt so misplaced with the insult but Bum timidly joined in anyway. The boy just really wanted Bum to feel appreciated is all. The gesture, while unneeded, was undoubtedly very kind. Bum just couldn’t stop his stomach churning with guilt at how it was at his sister’s expense.

But not wanting to hear that voice again inconvenience his nephew again, he opted to remain silent.

Sangwoo seemed pleased with that decision looking back his mother, who was watching the exchange with an unreadable expression.

“We should head back to the house eomma I need to go to school and you need to get Bum’s room ready”

Both siblings looked at Sangwoo with confusion, however it was Eunseo to voice it.

Sangwoo sighed in disappointment at her question, "Bum's obviously going to stay with us now" Eunseo opened her mouth to protest but Sangwoo shook his head in disapproval walking away from his mother before she could speak to loom over his uncle's bedside with an apologetic smile.

“Don’t worry Bummy I’ll talk to her about it on the ride home”

Bum felt at a loss of words, blinking dumbly at Sangwoo who grabbed his hand in order to squeeze it reassuringly. “I’ll get her around”

Sangwoo sounded as if this was a conversation they had behind his mother’s back, judging by the look Eunseo shot in Bum's direction, she thought so too.

“Um-”

“Get some sleep Bummy”

“B-but-”

Sleep .”

The boa-constrictor grip on his hand tightened until Bum couldn’t fight back the whimper this time.

At the sound, the grip lightened. Sangwoo’s eyes crinkled kindly bestowing his bewildered uncle a tranquil smile, “you’ll worry me if you don’t prioritize your health hyeong”

Sangwoo, returned to his silent mother who was sitting and passively watching the exchange. Bum recoiled under her stare. Eunseo looked so betrayed.

Bum wanted to tell her that he didn’t gossip with her son behind her back, that he would never want to intrude negatively in her life, that he doesn't want to cause any more innocence than he already had, that he would protect her always but progress their relationship at her pace.

He wanted to say so much but as Sangwoo moved towards his mother, helping her up with gentle hands and blocking her from his view, Bum strangely found himself unable to speak.

Sangwoo guided his mother out of the room, acting as a crutch for her to lean on as they left Bum with parting words of pleasantries.

Eunseo’s blank expression contrasted greatly with her son’s. 

When the finally left, with Sangwoo giving Bum one last departing beam so beautiful it instantly made Bum feel at ease, Bum convinced himself his previous instinctual need to run and hide was all in his head. 

He was just being irrational. It was just a small miscommunication issue that could easily be resolved. That he wasn’t afraid.

As he laid in bed, counting his breath until he feel to sleep he refused to acknowledge his throbbing hand.

Or the vivid red marks from Sangwoo’s bruising grip.