Hoseok was always one to look for the silver lining in any situation. Missed the bus? At least it’s a nice day to walk. Exam the next day? At least he’d be getting it over with.
Kicked out of the house? This was a hard one, but Hoseok thought of it while he was carrying his single suitcase up the creaky boarding house stairs: at least he didn’t have very much stuff. It would be a simpler life. People said downsizing was good for you, anyway.
Still, throwing his suitcase on the bare mattress in his rundown new bedroom, it all came crashing down on him at once: this was the new reality. No more cushy, rich life as the daughter of a university professor. No more of mom’s homemade breakfasts, no more housekeepers to make his bed and gather his dirty laundry, no more coming home from school with Taeyeon in tow and kissing in the privacy of his bedroom, whispering and sharing secrets and giggling over stupid jokes. Everything would be different now. Hoseok was free to be himself, but everything else was going to be harder.
“I don’t know how you fit all your clothes into that one bag. You don’t need anything else, do you? I have tons of clothes. I sew, too...” Seokjin’s voice was too chipper for the mood, and it hit Hoseok like a blow to the chest. He couldn’t break down in front of Seokjin. Seokjin had been the one to inform him that the boarding house where he lived had one empty room - they were classmates and acquaintances, nothing more, but he’d even let Hoseok sleep on the couch there until he got official permission from the landlord to move in. Seokjin was nicer than Hoseok deserved.
"I didn't really bring much. It made the move easier." He scratched the base of his neck, asking, "Do you know when the landlord's around? I feel like I should really get to know 'em, I don't think I've ever met them, which is weird considering I'm gonna start renting a room?"
Seokjin waved his hand dismissively; "She's hardly around, you shouldn't worry about her. Me and Joon handle the rent for her, anyways. We're practically her employees - she owns dozens of buildings all over Seoul, this crummy little house is the least of her concerns.” Without being asked, Seokjin opened the curtains and lifted the window pane; the sudden gust of fresh air made the stuffy little room seem worlds better. “I’ve wanted to get to know you better, ever since you sat in on our club meeting at the end of last semester. Why don’t you come more often?”
Because he didn’t even know what he was doing there, Hoseok thought to himself, feeling stiff with discomfort once again. Seokjin didn’t have to specify what he was talking about; he wasn’t shy about the fact that he was the president of the campus’ gay-straight alliance, and his roommate Namjoon was the club treasurer. Hoseok had only gone once.
He wasn’t sure that there was a word to fit what he was. Gay, but not really. Trans, but not really. His mind hung in limbo. All he knew was that kissing Taeyeon, holding her hand, it had made him wish that he really was a man.
“Maybe I’ll start coming for the new school year,” he offered quietly, managing a smile. “Things got hectic…”
“Yeah. I can understand that.” There was something like pity in Seokjin’s eyes. Of course stuff had gotten hectic; Seokjin probably knew that from watching Hoseok scouring the bulletin boards in the student center for apartment listings. He’d slept in the library the night before, he had bags under his eyes. He never thought he’d become a charity case. He went silent, not sure how to proceed, but wishing they could talk about anything else.
Suddenly, something foreign tickled Hoseok’s nose. Smoky, vaguely sweet. “Do you smell, like…”
“Mothballs? Yeah, this room has been empty for a few months, so it might be a little--”
“No. I smell... patchouli?”
Seokjin sniffed the air, then nodded in confirmation. “I think the girl who lives across the hall burns incense. Yeah, I forgot to mention her, sorry. She’s kind of weird - sometimes we hear her play music, but we’ve only seen her in person two or three times.” Seokjin shrugged. “We’re not sure if she stays out for days at a time, or if she shuts herself in her bedroom.”
“Oh, yeah?” Hoseok knew it was crazy, but he already liked her, just from the incense. It smelled a little like the scented oil that Taeyeon dabbed behind her ears. He wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or a bad thing, in the end. “What’s she like?”
“She’s tall and she’s really pretty. Skinny, big boobs - probably fake.” He lowered his voice to a whisper at this, not wanting her to hear them through the wall when she was obviously home. “I think she’s a model.”
Tingles of apprehension made Hoseok shiver. He hadn’t realized that there was a fourth room in the boarding house, much less that a girl would be in it. Girls-- he couldn’t help but see them as something of a forbidden fruit, for as much as he liked them (which was a lot), girls always looked at people harder. Friendships with men were simple to maintain. But relationships with women… well, women always wanted to be close, affectionate. He thought of Taeyeon the first time they’d met in the crowd at a hip-hop show; how she hadn’t even known his name when she slipped her arms around him and told him how much she loved his dancing.
“Oh-- Joon just texted me,” Seokjin announced, swiping on his phone. “He’s downstairs. Says he got groceries and takeout. Do you want to come eat with us?"
It was just a formality, Hoseok knew. The awkwardness between them didn't go unnoticed, especially when he could tell that Seokjin was trying to grasp at what he should say next.
But Hoseok was lonely, as much as he didn't want to admit it. He missed being able to live under the same roof as his parents, he missed the spontaneous dates Taeyeon would initiate when she'd show up unannounced at his house, he missed being close to someone, anyone. So, even if it was just a formality, he had to keep himself from sounding too eager as he agreed; "Sure, food sounds good right now, thanks!"
Seokjin smiled, seeming relieved. "Joon's a little awkward around new people-- we both are. But, we're really pumped about having another guy living with us. At least, just to give us a new cute face to look at every day.~"
Hoseok's cheeks went immediately red as he followed Seokjin. "You're not flirting with me, are you?"
"I am, but it's nothing serious. I love flirting with cute guys. I'm already taken, though, hope you're not heartbroken!"
"Maybe just a little," he teased back with a little smile. Even with that awkward start, Hoseok could already tell that he was going to like his housemates.
Maybe I should stop smoking in my room so much. I wonder if everyone else would complain about the stink. Yoonji smothered her cigarette in the ashtray nearby, and reached instead for the cold coffee right next to it.
A regular person would be concerned by her cigarette and coffee diet, but it wasn't like she could bring herself to eat with her rampant anxiety. The start of school always left her feeling sick with anxiety, and she felt it ten-fold now that she was returning after a semester break.
Besides, this was what the other models did, and they were still walking around, getting shit done. Yoonji wasn’t even that skinny, by model standards - though she was thinner than the average woman, and tall, too, long arms and legs. Hormones had worked their magic on her hips, but it had taken surgery to get the C cup bust that she’d desired - some days, she liked the effect in the mirror better than others. Her long, jet black hair was pulled up in a messy bun, with loose strands framing her pale, bare face. She was wearing stained old sweat pants and a sports bra. She looked rough. Tired.
“You don't need anyone else,” she whispered, maintaining eye contact with her reflection in the tall mirror mounted on her door. “You’re strong. You’re fierce. You’re going to get through this.”
It had been her mantra for the last few weeks, though she wasn’t sure how effective it was. Still, Yoonji had to get herself hyped up, somehow, to be self-reliant. She didn’t have her parents anymore, she didn’t have Jimin. It was just her, and she had to be strong enough to be okay on her own.
Yoonji sighed as she glanced at the clock. She had to get ready for work.
Going out was a process. First were her clothes: a simple black dress, strapless, with sheer tights and black dress shoes (never, never heels - she felt like a monster in heels). Next was makeup: she kept it simple, since she would have it redone for the photo shoot, but she simply couldn't leave her room without it. Mascara, red lips, a touch of blush to cut her pallor. Finally, she brushed and straightened her hair, which came just past her shoulders.
There were a thousand things wrong with her face, but that would have to do. She stuck out her tongue at herself. Ugly.
She wasn't sure what she was expecting when she made her way downstairs to head to the subway station; there, at the table, were three men enjoying pizza together. Two of them she'd seen when she barely moved in, but the third, she assumed, was the new guy that was supposed to occupy their last empty room. He's cute.
"Oh!" One of them flashed her a smile, she was sure it was the president of the gay-straight alliance. "Hey, uh--...?"
"Yoonji," she supplied quickly.
"Hey, Yoonji! This is Hoseok, our new housemate. He just moved in today."
"Welcome," she greeted, though she felt quite out of place. Hoseok already seemed comfortable around the other two men, which probably meant that they were already friends to begin with.
Hoseok swallowed the mouth-full he had, before asking, "Do you wanna come eat with us? We saved you a few slices!"
Yoonji's cheeks flushed red, and she was glad that she'd worn makeup to hide the fact. "I'm actually on my way to work, so… I'll get some when I come back, thank you."
Without another word, she was out the door. When she had first moved in, the two men already living there seemed to be hardly around. It was weird, being invited to eat so suddenly. I don't even know their names, except for Hoseok. And he's only been here a few hours.
She laughed to herself-- maybe he was just as lonely as she was.
Hoseok wasn’t sure how many times he had dreamed this dreadful moment.
It started off so perfect, with his arms around Taeyeon, her lips on his neck, his hands on her waist - and yet, Hoseok’s skin prickled with unease, his unconscious mind remembering what would come next. The door unlatching, wood sliding across carpet, Taeyeon’s cry of alarm - and then a full panic as all hell broke loose.
“Jung Hyuna, what in the world are you doing?!”
And then Taeyeon, the way her hands had shoved back against Hoseok’s shoulders, with no trace of the compassion from before-- “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”
“What’s wrong with you! What’s wrong inside your head?!” Hoseok had made his mother snap plenty of times before, but never like this. He could practically see the steam coming off of her. “Or are you trying to get back at me for something? Are you trying to show me how much you really hate me? Which is it, Hyuna?”
Those were his two choices. Either he was sick in the head, or he was an ungrateful, antagonistic daughter. His chest burned with the effort of drawing air past his tears. “Mom, I tried to tell you before! I’m not a girl-- I don’t know what I am, but I’m not a girl.”
“Do you know how stupid you sound?! Stop lying!” The words had stuck with him, repeated verbatim every time he played the scene in his head: Stop lying. How could he be anything but a girl? How stupid was he?
His mother had always had a temper, but she had never put her hands on him before that day. Yanking him up by his shirt, slamming him into the door, bruising his face and swelling his lip, all the while demanding, stop lying, stop lying. She hadn’t given him a chance to explain that this was his truth. She didn’t stop for anything - it had taken his father to hold her back.
“Maybe you should go.”
Hoseok could only hope that he woke up before this part of it all. Reliving the beating was one thing, but reliving the rejection was an even harder pill to swallow. During the day, Hoseok could have sworn that he’d moved past his loss; at night, when the dreams came, that was when he realized that he hadn’t yet finished his mourning.
Fuck. God fucking damn it. I hate waking up like this, it’s always the same.
Hoseok might as well just get used to the idea of waking up with his chest imploding every morning. He figured having a new place to call home would help ease the discomfort of being disowned, but he wondered if there was truly a remedy that existed for it.
The only thing that seemed to help the ache was drinking something warm to comfort his senses, so it was that urge that pulled him out of bed at ass o’clock. Seokjin and Namjoon were asleep in their shared room, and Hoseok was glad they weren’t there to see his moment of weakness; I’d rather die than have them see how truly fucked up I am in the head.
But he wasn’t completely alone for long. The front door opened and in came Yoonji, looking just as bewildered as he was sure he looked. After all, this was only their second meeting, and it was happening at dawn, when no one had a real reason to be awake. “Welcome home. Do you want some tea?”
“Not really,” she quipped, a clear indication that she didn’t want to stick around and chat. She definitely knows her worth. She's not being polite just because she has to. I wonder what she's like, I wonder what type of person she is.
It always started that way for Hoseok; they always started innocent, curious, and then he'd find himself suddenly slammed with feelings. Girls were the worst offenders-- they were so easy to want and cherish, he was bound to get himself in trouble at some point.
"I'll make another cup. You don't have to drink it, but I put too much water in the kettle anyway, so you can take it if you want." Hoseok didn't watch for a reaction - for fear that she'd somehow be clued into his sudden liking to her - but he sure wished he had. "Are you a student at the nearby campus? Namjoon and Seokjin are both in the arts department, which makes me feel a lot better about being a dance major! I don't know what you do, but you seem artsy."
“Dance major? Huh.”
What does that mean? Hoseok watched as her expression lit up ever-so-slightly with interest, but she didn’t seem too thrilled to disclose,
“I’m in music production. I started school a few years ago but dropped out. My advisor hasn’t stopped riding my ass about applying for scholarships to finish my degree, so… yeah.”
“Wow, gorgeous and smart? Is there anything you can’t do?”
“What--?” Yoonji burst into a sudden laughter, and she hid her grin behind her hand. Maybe Hoseok was delusional with exhaustion, but he was pretty sure he saw a blush coat her cheeks, and he couldn’t help but swell with confidence. She was beautiful when she smiled. “I’m far from gorgeous. I’m completely smashed, I’m sure my makeup’s a mess, and I’m fucking exhausted, I don’t know where you’re getting ‘gorgeous’ from, because it ain’t me.”
Hoseok shook his head; “Nah. All women are gorgeous. You especially.” He could feel his cheeks flushing with embarrassment.
“God. Okay. I’m too tired to argue with you, so I think that’s my cue to leave. It was nice talking to you, Hoseok, as bizarre as this whole exchange has been.”
He waved her off, yet despite her cold exterior, he was left feeling hopeful by it all.
How surreal had that been? How otherworldly? And yet, Yoonji was inclined to believe Hoseok. Maybe she wasn’t gorgeous, but he sure thought that she was, and that was enough.
She thought about it through most of the night, and she found herself thinking about it again the next morning, as she lay in bed sulking. If she was so gorgeous, then maybe he’d stop in and pay her more compliments later. And if she had to flash a little cleavage to make that happen, maybe it would be worth it.
Suddenly, the sound of the shower turning off registered in her mind (she hadn’t even heard it come on in the first place!) and a moment later, she heard Hoseok’s bedroom door close. He was awake, getting dressed-- while she was laying in unwashed sheets, wearing a faded Tupac t-shirt and probably radiant with grease. Gorgeous.
There was no time for a shower, but Yoonji was determined to make it work. Her hair looked presentable enough in a bun (couldn’t even tell that it was knotted); clothing was also a no-brainer when you wore nothing but dresses. Light blue was nice, not too gloomy - and it was a V-neck, too, always a bonus.
Then it just came down to make-up, which was always where Yoonji began to second-guess herself. When she modeled, she had make-up artists to take care of her. Alone, she felt helpless.
Anyway, make-up can’t fix everything. Your jaw. Your nose. Yoonji sighed as she looked in the mirror, examining her face this way and that. She could almost hear Jimin giggle. Your man-hands. No hiding those.
When the knock came at the door, Yoonji was still applying her blush, and she cursed under her breath. There went her plans. He was going to see her with pieces missing. Incomplete, imperfect. A flimsy excuse for a woman. She huffed. “Yeah? What is it?”
“It’s-- It’s Hoseok? From across the hall?” Like there was any other Hoseok. Fool. “Is it okay to come in?”
“Sure, it’s unlocked,” Yoonji replied impassively, setting down her make-up brush.
When Hoseok came into the room, though… it was hard not to be kind of impressed. Honestly, she hadn’t really looked at him too hard before, but he was cute, for a guy. He had pretty eyes, cute dimples when he smiled - and damn, his arms looked good in the black sleeveless top that he wore. He was thin, but clearly toned. Ah, right, he was a dancer.
Upon seeing her, instantly, he blushed. “Hey… I, uh, I was wondering if you had to work today? Or if you’d want to come shopping with me, maybe? Classes start tomorrow, I still need some notebooks and stuff…”
Shopping? How pure. Yoonji couldn’t remember the last time a guy had asked her to go shopping with him. And Jimin had never been much for public ventures. It made saying yes tempting, but the thing that stopped her in her tracks was the realization that classes started the next day.
Yoonji might have been a musical genius, but school scared the living shit out of her. It was enough to ruin the moment that she’d so craved, of Hoseok noticing her outfit and taking her all in. Her mind was elsewhere, completely. I have to finish school soon, which means I'm gonna graduate soon. And then what?
Kill myself, probably.
She felt herself deflate, and she couldn't even force any sort of emotion into her voice as she finally answered, "I have everything that I need. I'll just stay home."
Hoseok didn't seem fazed-- instead, he blushed again and asked, "Would you come with me, anyways?"
"Just because I wanna spend some time with you."
That definitely wasn't what Yoonji was expecting. She felt flustered when she looked at Hoseok, and despite everything, she couldn't help but find him cute. Men weren't her thing, usually. But there was something different about Hoseok, something alluring, something she just craved.
"...Or you can stay home, I don't wanna seem pushy!" He amended it with a strained smile. "Up to you…"
Yoonji was anxious by the thought of school, and anxiety always made her feel uglier than usual. But who could deny Hoseok with a smile so bright?
"I guess I could use the fresh air. As long as we're home at a decent time. I'll need my beauty sleep tonight."
The first few days of the semester were always hectic and tiring, so Hoseok was at least a little prepared to not see Yoonji. She seemed especially stressed, for whatever reason, even when he'd been trying to cheer her up with stupid jokes. He'd even offered to buy her some comfort food when they were out shopping, but she'd refused everything.
Maybe she's shy, is what he told himself. It helped ease his own anxieties.
But after a week of not seeing her, Hoseok was feeling restless; she was around, evident by the incense she'd burn when she was home, but she didn't seem inclined to talk.
Hoseok wanted to talk. He wanted to know everything about her, if he could; he wanted to see what she looked like when she genuinely laughed, he wanted to know what excited her and what pissed her off, he wanted to know what the fuck she was doing in a place like this and where she was going next. Maybe even if he could go with her.
It’s fucking dangerous to get this attached to girls. Didn’t I already learn that?
And so one night, when his evening class let out early and he just so happened to smell the musk of patchouli in the hallway, he turned his back on his own door and knocked on Yoonji’s instead. He could hear music inside, faint - hip-hop music, he realized. She was so fucking cool. He took a deep breath, ran his fingers a couple of times through his messy hair, and knocked on the door before he could chicken out.
Ten seconds passed, fifteen, twenty. Was she really in the practice of leaving her music on when she wasn’t home? Or maybe she’d fallen asleep. He knocked once more, tentatively, and almost immediately the door flew open. Yoonji’s red dress was wrinkled, like she had indeed been asleep; her thick black hair was up in a high ponytail, and though she wore lipstick, her eyes were obscured by a large pair of sunglasses.
Instantly, Hoseok began to laugh.
“What’s funny about this? You just woke me up from a nap. I didn’t have makeup on,” Yoonji grouched, though her lips twitched up halfway to a smile. “I don’t have classes on Fridays, remember?”
“Well, you must have homework, right? I was thinking we could study together,” Hoseok suggested bravely, before quickly going back to teasing-mode, “You don’t need make-up on around me. I think you’re cool no matter what.”
“Then you should think I’m double cool for wearing sunglasses inside,” Yoonji insisted stubbornly. “I’m a trendsetter. Anyway, what gives? You and I aren’t in any classes together, so how could we do homework together?”
“I just--” God, she knew just how to get him. Hoseok sighed in defeat. “I was thinking we could do homework in proximity with one another, how’s that? I have to read this really long, really awful book on the history of ballet. What do you have going on?”
For a second, just a second, Yoonji looked just as nervous as Hoseok felt - her teeth dug into her bottom lip as she considered him. Finally, she stepped aside to let him into the room, where her laptop sat on her bed, with one of her beats open and in the works. In the windowsill, a half-smoked cigarette smouldered in an ashtray. “Napping, huh?”
“Shut up,” Yoonji mumbled, sitting on her bed, and Hoseok awkwardly did the same, since there was nowhere else. “It’s not, like, a guy thing. Or a you thing. Nobody sees me without make-up. It’s a rule. So don’t get offended.”
“Oh. Okay.” Hoseok blinked. He’d never understood the appeal of make-up. His mother was always buying it for him, and it would sit in his room, untouched - he hadn’t taken any of it when he left home.
“And don’t think that I’m trying to impress you, either. I don’t care what you think of me.”
Hoseok smirked, unzipping his backpack to pull out his reading. “Good to know. Although, honestly, I’m pretty impressed by you. You’re like, the least intrusive roommate ever. I wish we saw you more.”
“I’m the least intrusive, so you wanna intrude into my space instead?” Yoonji guessed, and Hoseok had a hard time figuring out if she was upset by it or not. It wasn’t until she snorted and shook her head that he realized she was taking it in good sport; “Guys have the most fucked up logic, I swear. I bet this is just another one of your ploys to get me to not be a useless bum in my room?”
“Well--” His face flushed with color, and he forced his eyes to his book instead. “I just wanna spend time with you. You seem really cool, I don’t understand why you spend so much time alone here. Seokjin and Namjoon wanna get to know you, too, but they’re scared of bothering you.”
Yoonji grabbed her laptop, almost protectively. “Huh. I figured they’d be bored of me by now. I mean-- there’s not much to get to know. I’m not sociable.”
“You’re cute, though.”
“You’re a bad flirt. I almost can’t stand it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy like you.”
You probably haven’t. There’s so many things that are fucked up with me, I’m surprised if you’ll want anything to do with me once you find out about them. Hoseok had to swallow back the bile in his throat. “See, this is even more reason to hang out together! You can get to know me more.”
“Uh,” she hid her laugh behind her hand. “Uh-- Okay? I mean, I don’t think I’ve been asked so straight up like this. Geez…” Yoonji’s smile was dazzling; Hoseok wished he could take a picture of it. “Anyways, what’s that reading about again?”
Modeling was empowering-- or at least, it was supposed to be. Modeling had brought Yoonji great confidence at some point, even while she first started transitioning. The industry was cutthroat, too real for some people, but if it had done one thing well, it was showing Yoonji all the little intricacies of passing seamlessly.
Of course, there were always assholes.
This time it was a photographer; his eyes had lit up the moment they made eye contact, but Yoonji wasn't prepared for the words that came out of his mouth.
"Not to be rude, but… you’re kind of tall for a girl.” Yoonji was unprepared for the statement, out of nowhere, and she couldn’t keep from pursing her lips - the photographer only grinned, his suspicions confirmed. “Don’t worry. I won’t out you to anyone. We should get drinks after this. You’re really beautiful, you know… I’ve never hooked up with a girl like you. Are you pre-op? I’ve always thought that would be kind of sexy…”
And by "drinks," he meant "fuck." Yoonji wasn't naive, she knew when she was being fetishized, and it always sent her reeling.
Of course I'm only wanted because I'm trans and a fucking spectacle to people. Who would actually want me for me?
Yoonji was hoping for a quiet night back at home, but of course everyone had to be present at the kitchen table. She was going to ignore them until she heard the telltale signs of someone crying-- Who?
"C'mon, hyung… You'll find another guy," one of them - Namjoon? - soothed as he rubbed his back.
Who she assumed was Seokjin was slumped over the table with his head covered by his arms. Hoseok was there too, across the table, watching Seokjin with pity. “Guess guys can be just as hard to deal with as girls, huh?” It was a weak attempt at a joke, even he seemed to realize that as he reached to take Seokjin’s hand in solidarity.
“Guys are worse,” Seokjin mumbled. “Especially when they cheat on you with girls, because they were never into you to begin with. I guess I got to be a fucking novelty again.”
Fuck. I’m there with you, dude. I’m sick of being a novelty. Yoonji wasn’t expecting the moment to hit so hard; it delayed her from running towards the stairs, as usual, and she knew there was no escaping once Hoseok looked up and made eye contact with her. “Hi, Yoonji. You’re back kind of early tonight…”
Yeah. Didn’t feel safe to go out drinking with the other staff. That photographer wouldn’t have been able to keep his hands off of me. As much as Yoonji wanted, needed to be desired, she couldn’t bring herself to submit to that. Her insides felt like they were boiling with tucked-away anger, and she bit her lip slightly to keep herself in check. “Yeah. It was a quick shoot,” she said simply, stepping into the kitchen doorway. “I didn’t mean to overhear, but, um… I’m really sorry that that happened to you. Men are horrible when it comes to getting laid.”
Seokjin lifted his head, just a little bit. A tear dripped off the tip of his nose, and it was all Yoonji could do not to embrace him and comfort him - she hugged herself, instead, trying to subdue the feeling. “It’s not like I’m not used to this. I’ll be okay.” he mumbled. “I’m just tired of guys lying. Telling me they love me and shit. It’s exhausting. I wanna get drunk.”
Namjoon was the one who made the move to hug him, delicately, around the waist. “Don’t say that,” he begged quietly. “We care, hyung. I promise.”
This is too heavy. Something about it made Yoonji’s skin practically itch, and she dug her fingernails into her palms. “Drink the first night, sure, but make sure you don’t wallow in it tomorrow,” she suggested boldly. “You’re fucking fabulous. Don’t let one deluded guy make you feel like shit.” Her eyes locked with Hoseok’s - she, too, wanted to go lock herself in her room and get drunk and forget, but maybe, for once, there was something less self-destructive she could do. “I’m going upstairs. I have my early class tomorrow, so I’ll see you guys in the morning…” Hoseok's gaze lingered on her, and she did a quick head tilt in the direction of her room, a silent command; follow me.
Hoseok's eyes had gone wide with understanding, but there were no signs of him budging from the table when she'd left. She figured Hoseok had enough tact to not come right away-- at least, not with Seokjin still grieving. So it gave her a few minutes to clean up and even to reapply her makeup.
I have to look like an untouchable bitch. I can't let what that asshole said affect me. I'm way stronger than this.
When Hoseok finally let himself in - no knock this time - he seemed on edge, almost as if he wasn't supposed to be there. "Yoonji?"
"Shh." She pressed herself against him and wrapped her arms around his neck; he stood still, didn’t protest, nor did he jerk back when her lips met his. If she was reading every interaction right, Hoseok was into her, maybe even had a crush on her. He wanted her.
Or, at least she thought he did.
"Yoonji, I'm sorry--" Hoseok pushed her away from him.
"I'm sorry, I'm not into freaks like you," probably. It made her feel sick to her stomach, and she was about to kick him out when he took a shuddering breath. Suddenly, she realized he was on the verge of tears.
"I-- I don't wanna lead you on," he mumbled quickly. "There's something you should know about me. I'm-- I'm actually not a dude. I don't know what I am, but I was born as a girl, and-- I know I'm definitely not a girl. I'm like, this sort of freaky in between…" He kept his eyes low; "I-- I'd understand if you don't wanna do things with me anymore…"
Yoonji was at a loss for words. She wasn't expecting the confession, especially when Hoseok passed so well as a guy. He was Yoonji's height, way taller than all the girls she knew, so it never crossed her mind that he was anything but a cis guy.
But strangely, it was relieving, too. Because he won’t see me as a freak. Maybe he’ll be the only person.
"So, you're non-binary, or something?"
Hoseok finally looked at her with wide eyes. "There's-- there's a word for this?"
She nodded, trying to encourage him with a smile. "And, just so you know, it doesn't change how I feel about you. I'm bi, and trans. I can try and help you figure out what identity you're most comfortable with, if you want… But don’t call yourself a freak. There are lots of people like you. Like us."
Hoseok responded by reaching up to cup her face, running his thumbs so gently over her cheekbones, as though he were trying to reassure himself that she was really here in front of him and not a mirage. He kissed her this time, shyly - and for the first time in a long time, she was kissing someone without wondering what they would want in return.
Hoseok was prone to crushes. Taeyeon had hardly been his first - but she had been the first person to return the feeling, at least for a little while. It had been pure, unfiltered infatuation. It had been blissful.
With Yoonji, it was harder to tell what they had; clearly, she had some measure of feelings for him, because she was grabbing him by the arm and pulling him into her room more often than ever. Sometimes they would talk, but more often, they would kiss and touch - in fact, Hoseok had a suspicion that she would have allowed him to go all the way, if he didn’t get so nervous every time.
It was fucking hard to take his hands off her when he had her half-dressed and breathing hard against his chest, but she never seemed upset, either. More like amused. His apologies made her snort, and she would always shrug her shoulders. “Don’t be apologetic, you don’t owe me anything. I have a vibrator for this very reason.”
The truth was, he hated his body - or, at least, he hated the way that his body made people look at him. Ever since he’d hit puberty, his body made him self-conscious. He hated taking off his binder, and he was certain that he couldn’t do it in front of another person. He was thankful that he was tall, but he hated his slender legs, his soft thighs, his narrow shoulders. He hated when men took second glances, eyeing him like a buffet.
It made him feel like an even worse hypocrite, too, when he snuck glances at her short skirts and tried to envision what was underneath.
Everything Hoseok did throughout the day was in anticipation of his evenings: Hoseok would arrive home exhausted, but Seokjin would almost always have dinner on the stove when he walked in, or Namjoon would bring home takeout from his part-time job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. They would study (barely) and watch whatever music show was airing that night, he and Seokjin make tea with way too much honey to actually be good for them, and they’d loudly and badly sing along with every song that they knew. Then Yoonji would come home later, usually made up from a photoshoot, sometimes carrying the stale-smoke-and-liquor smell of the bar down the street. She’d perch on the edge of the couch, make small talk, lust after the idols on whatever variety show they’d flipped onto, and then finally tug on Hoseok’s shirt discreetly as she stood to head upstairs. That was his cue to follow, if he wanted, and there was no way he’d walk away from that. Namjoon and Seokjin would give each other amused glances, but Hoseok was too enamored to care.
On one night in particular, Yoonji came home early - their music show was still going, Hoseok had a half-finished paper due the next day. Seokjin, to his left, gave him a little jab with his elbow. “Your woman’s home. Hey, are you guys actually officially dating or anything? You’re both so tight-lipped about your private lives. Meanwhile I spill my guts and cry into your shirt every other day.” At the sound of her bare feet crossing the hardwood, Seokjin called, “Hey, Yoonji!”, but she didn’t even stop and pretend to care for a moment. Instead, she stomped up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door, and the sound made Hoseok’s stomach drop. She’s mad at me.
Helplessly, he looked to Seokjin and Namjoon, wondering what to do. Namjoon tilted his head in the direction of the hallway. “Go see what she needs,” he murmured gently. “We’ll wait here.”
Outside Yoonji's door, Hoseok hesitated, listening carefully - he could hear rummaging inside, the slamming of the closet door, the stomping of angry feet. Yoonji was so noisy when she was mad. In lesser circumstances, it was cute, but when she was this angry, he almost didn't want to know why.
"Yoonji… Noona? Are you okay?"
"Leave me alone. I'm fine."
Hoseok sighed. Something had already told him that she would be difficult. "I don't think you are. Can I come in?"
"Why do you care?!"
He blinked, feeling like he wanted to cry. Are we really this distant? Have all these nights meant absolutely nothing? "Because… If I can make you feel even 1% better, then I want to do it. I hate seeing you sad. I want to make you smile."
Yoonji sighed. "Come in," she mumbled, but as he opened the door, she turned her back to him, adding, "Don't look at me. I look like shit. I hate people watching me cry." She took a gulp from the bottle of whiskey in her hand.
Hoseok had to wince. He felt apprehensive all of a sudden, not knowing just how Yoonji’s anger boiled over. Was she violent? Would she just cry it all out? The uncertainty made his stomach twist, but he knew he at least had to try to help her now that he talked himself up. “I won’t look, then… What’s wrong, though? Did something happen at work?”
“No, it’s just--” She slammed the bottle down on the desk a little forcefully. The noise made him jump, and when she turned, he shielded his eyes with his hands to avoid seeing her. “It’s just, my fucking ex has been messaging me like crazy today, all of a sudden. We didn’t have a good split. It’s making me so sick, I fucking hate her.” She sighed, and she stomped towards her closet once again and rummaged through the pile of clothes there. “My anxiety’s through the roof. I feel like I’m going to puke and die.”
“Don’t puke and die, you’re too precious.” Hoseok couldn’t help it, he had to take a peek at her; she was beautiful, even when she was having a meltdown. Girls are so dangerous. They make me stupid. "Is she threatening you?"
"No, she's just--" Yoonji groaned and visibly deflated. Her shoulders shook, and Hoseok wasn't sure if she was crying or angry, but her voice shook with tears; "She triggers the shit out of me. She was-- so emotionally abusive, all because I transitioned before her. She-- sh-she passed, she just refused to see it. And she took it all out on me, and made me feel like shit, constantly. Like if it was my fault she thought she was ugly." She sniffled and wiped her tears quickly. "I made her feel like shit so she returned it ten-fold, but-- I didn't mean to, I-I loved her…"
"God, Yoonji… I'm so sorry…" Hoseok felt choked up. He couldn't imagine what it would've been like to be in her shoes, with another trans person tearing you down because of their own insecurity. Especially not my girlfriend. I'd probably feel so worthless. "Can-- can I hug you?"
"I don't care," she bit, a scathing remark. Yoonji seemed so guarded that Hoseok felt some apprehension as he came close to her and pulled her into a hug. He was expecting resistance, maybe even for her to lash out, but she melted right into his embrace. She was all softness and warmth - despite her breath reeking of alcohol, her hair smelled sweet, like honeysuckles.
"You don't have to be alone anymore, you know," he found himself whispering. "I'm here for you."
"It's not like we're actually together. You shouldn't worry over my problems." Yoonji seemed to have used the last of the energy that her anger had given; now she simply sounded deflated. It might have stung a little, hearing her say so plainly that they were hardly anything to each other, but Hoseok took the blow without flinching.
"Doesn't matter. You could tell me you hated me and never wanted to see me ever again, and I still wouldn't make you be alone during something like this."
"Anyone ever tell you you're too nice? It comes off… super fake." Yoonji reached up to adjust her sunglasses, and a few moments later, she finally gave up and removed them completely. Her eyes were ringed with the faded remains of her makeup, tears clinging to her lashes. Hoseok couldn't help himself, he leaned in to kiss the corner of her eye, feeling damp skin beneath his lips. She hiccuped, weakly, which Hoseok felt guilty for finding adorable.
I never had this with Taeyeon. I was infatuated with her, but we never had moments like this. All we had were moments with our tongues down each other's throats. He'd looked for those little moments of emotional connection - they were there if he squinted - but it seemed that he didn't have to struggle in order to connect with Yoonji.
"I don’t know what you expect to get out of this," Yoonji whispered, once her breathing had calmed. "I’m fucking broken. Girls piss me off because of Jimin. Boys make me feel unsafe, because…” She trailed off, and then laughed humorlessly. “Point is, you don’t have to stick around just to be a nice guy.”
"I'm not. I don't like 'being a nice guy.' They're usually the worst assholes. That isn't me." He squeezed her gently. "I just like getting to know people that interest me. And you're-- so interesting to me. I wanna get to know you, and pick your brain, and see what makes you tick. Sometimes I feel like you're making me go crazy with how much I like you…" Hoseok had to blush. He sounded so needy, Taeyeon would think I'm fucking stupid. I hope Yoonji doesn't…
But there was no indication on how his confession made her feel. She didn't seem elated, or upset, or… anything, really. Instead, Yoonji placed a hand on his cheek - he'd braced himself for a slap - and thumbed his cheekbone gently. The touch was welcomed-- Hoseok found himself quite touch starved, after all.
"You're really cute, Hoseok…" She smiled faintly, and when she kissed him ever so gently, Hoseok swore he felt sparks. He was used to the domineering kisses she'd give him, the ones that would often lead to them gasping for more.
But this was sweet. Hoseok didn't want to think too much of it, he knew his mind would twist it and spin it into something that it wasn't-- but I'm sure this is love. This is definitely what love feels like.
It always happened like this when Yoonji was upset: she’d go against her better judgment and stay up way too late, scrolling through Instagram and chain smoking cigarettes if she had them, or messing with music on her computer until dawn. She might have been a musical genius, by the words of her private instructors, but when writer’s block came, it hit her like a brick wall.
With a dejected groan, Yoonji closed her laptop and stubbed out her cigarette, glancing at the clock on her phone. It was 4:30 in the morning, and she had class the next day. Story of her life.
Hoseok had promised, quite unnecessarily, to stay up with her until she was ready to sleep. “No, seriously, you shouldn’t,” she said a few times, but he was insistent that he didn’t want to leave her alone. Of course, as predicted, he’d fallen asleep in her bed, his phone still clutched in one hand on the pillow, and his mouth fallen open comedically.
God. He’s so cute, so fucking cute-- I wonder if he knows. Were all those adorable smiles and clumsy compliments all part of a strategy to get laid? Yoonji couldn’t possibly imagine that.
She turned off the light first, and then closed the curtains, before finally shedding her dress and tights. Fuck, this was Hoseok. I trust him. She tossed aside her bra soon after; usually, being nearly naked made her feel sexy (especially now that she had a body that would make other women weep), but crossing the room to join Hoseok in bed wearing nothing but her panties, she felt weirdly shy.
Of course, as soon as she tugged some of the blankets from his grip, he stirred. His eyelids fluttered and he mumbled an inaudible protest, rolling closer to Yoonji to try and reclaim what she’d taken. Instantly, her face flushed, and she gave him a little push the other way. “Give me room. I need to sleep. I have class in like five hours.”
“Mm… ‘kay…” It was funny, most peoples’ voices were lower in the throes of sleep, gravelly, even; Hoseok, without making any effort to lower his voice, had a surprisingly soft and sweet timbre to his mumble. He rolled obediently over again, but Yoonji’s added weight on the bed was enough to startle his eyes open. One look at her, topless from the waist up, seemed to startle him, and he half-pulled back. “Oh… s-sorry, you scared me…”
“It’s okay,” Yoonji murmured, suddenly feeling strange and a little uneasy. “I’ll put a shirt on if you want. I get warm, so…”
“No, it’s okay. It’s fine,” Hoseok interrupted before she could finish, making her have to laugh softly. “You don’t need to worry about freaking me out. It’s my own body that freaks me out…”
“Mm. I know what that feels like,” Yoonji said softly, wrapping her arms around Hoseok and drawing him close. There was no use in telling him that he was gorgeous as he was, or telling him not to worry. She could remember feeling like a puzzle piece jammed into a space that simply wasn’t right. Maybe she couldn’t help him, but she could sure empathize. “Just so you know, nothing about you freaks me out. I think you’re great. Your feelings are valid, but I still think you’re great.”
“Hah. Thanks,” Hoseok answered simply, arms wrapping around Yoonji’s waist protectively. “You stayed up really late, huh… you’re going to be tired.”
“I know. I’m dreading tomorrow,” Yoonji whispered honestly, something that made her feel quite small. Except for in the dark, Yoonji would never admit to being afraid of anything. “Hey… Hoseok?”
Yoonji closed her eyes, feeling faintly stupid as she asked, “You like me, right?”
Hoseok’s gulp was so loud, she heard it, no exaggeration. “Of course I do. I thought you knew that, and that’s why we spend so much time kissing,” he finally teased in response.
“Yeah, but do you like me as a girl that you just make out with?” Yoonji demanded. “Or like a girlfriend? That’s always the big question. Like, would you be embarrassed to take me home to meet your parents? Hypothetically, obviously.”
Even in the dark, she could see Hoseok’s eyes go round. “Is this a joke?” he asked after a moment, uncertainly. “You don’t really think-- that you’re only something physical to me, do you? I thought I made it clear enough how much more I think you are, noona…”
"I know, but-- It's different hearing it," she huffed. "I can tell myself whatever I want, however much I want, but it wouldn't be the same hearing it come from your mouth. I don't wanna delude myself into thinking something that's only going to hurt me in the end…"
Hoseok's expressions softened, and he cupped her cheek, almost apologetically. "I like you, a lot. I have a big, big crush on you. You're not just some conquest, or something. I think you're super awesome, and deserve only good things, and you make me stupid with how cute you are…"
Yoonji couldn’t help but smile, and she leaned forward to bump her nose against Hoseok’s. “So why haven’t you asked me out yet? That’s supposed to be the boy’s job,” she teased softly.
“Because I’m not a boy. I’m a… nothing. People don’t want to date people who can’t figure out their shit.”
The sentiment made Yoonji’s heart ache, and she squeezed Hoseok’s hands tightly. “How do you know? Don’t speak for me.” She paused to brush her lips gently against Hoseok’s; the gentle, fleeting contact gave him a moment of chills. “You should ask me.”
And then Hoseok grinned, and the light from it filled her up, made her heart flutter. Hoseok made her feel special, but he also made her feel normal - her ex had done neither, and she didn’t realize how starved for it she was, not until she heard the words; “Will you be my girlfriend, then?”
“Yes!” The word was absolutely redundant - they’d both known what the answer would be - but Hoseok kissed her firmly before she could laugh about it, and it was the most magical thing. Yoonji felt like something was being filled, like Hoseok was smoothing away the cracks in her body that Jimin's destructive jealousy had left behind.
She felt emotional, way too emotional for her own comfort, and she tried quelling it by pulling him into another kiss. Hoseok always felt safe, always helped bring her back to baseline, and she knew that it was an easy way to heartbreak. But I don't care. I just wanna have him.
"Noona, I thought it was your day off?" Hoseok scrunched his nose in confusion as he walked in on Yoonji doing her makeup. As far as he knew, she had nowhere to go that day, and he felt little pinpricks of anxiety at the thought of her having to leave.
"It is," she confirmed softly. "Doesn't mean I can't still wear makeup though! I look like a troll today."
And there it was. Another fracture Jimin had left behind, and Hoseok had soon learned that Jimin had left a lot. They were subtle things he only picked up on because Yoongi allowed him to be close; needing makeup because she felt ugly, covering up because she felt too slutty, exposing herself because she felt she wasn't womanly enough, the chain smoking when she was stressed.
At least, he thought, the makeup was harmless. Hoseok was proud of the fact that he'd helped her cut down on cigarettes and drinking and extreme diets-- "You're going to kill yourself like this, noona. I need you to be alive."
Yoonji had been stubborn at first, claiming that nothing was going to happen to her, that she was indestructible-- but she at least promised to try for him. They both knew that she'd be lying if she guaranteed him to turn a 180, and really, all Hoseok could ask of her was to try and take care of herself for his sake. It would hurt too much, too damn much, to have another relationship torn away, especially with a person who understood him so completely.
And this, he knew, was Yoonji trying. He could see she had debated smoking, evident by the incriminating pack of cigarettes on her bed, but the room didn't reek like an ashtray.
"Do you want me to splurge on you today? I know we did a meal prep for this week, but… I'm feeling something tasty. Pizza? Fried chicken?"
“Don’t waste your money on me. If we’re going to eat that many calories, let’s just have instant noodles,” Yoonji replied, pursing her lips a bit in an expression that Hoseok found particularly adorable.
“It’s not a waste! Besides, I just got paid,” Hoseok grinned, hugging her from behind and instantly seeing her face soften in the mirror. His heart skipped a beat, and he smiled as he nuzzled into her soft hair. “You’re so precious. Come on, you went through all the trouble to put on makeup, anyway. Shouldn’t we go out?”
“You’re a dork,” she relented at last, shrugging Hoseok off gently as she stood up and grabbed her purse. She was an absolute vision in yellow - he’d never seen her wear it before, though he could distinctly remember telling her that it was his favorite color. The realization made his insides turn to mush.
Working through school wasn’t exactly easy, but since he had to do it, Hoseok was thankful that he’d gotten a job as a bartender. He wasn’t a big drinker, but he liked to mix drinks, and he liked to socialize with mostly everyone. His boss said he was a natural, and his boss didn’t seem to give compliments easily.
It was the end of a slow shift, a Wednesday night - at 11:45 on a Wednesday, anyone with half a brain was trying to get to sleep, because Thursday morning would be there before they knew it. There was an old man ordering a steady stream of beer at one end of the bar, and Hoseok hovered close enough to refill his pint when he needed it, but mostly he was able to zone out while he cleaned and listened to the drone of the radio. The other bartender had taken the opportunity to step out for a smoke; it wasn’t like he’d be necessary.
Then the front door opened, and he had to blink himself back into focus. A woman stood before him, pale and petite, with a cascade of long black hair and a soft lavender cardigan over a simple pink dress. She didn’t look quite like the bar type, and she didn’t look like she was eager for conversation, either, by the way her forehead furrowed.
“What can I get for you?” Hoseok asked cheerfully, leaning on his side of the bar. “Blended drinks are 15% off tonight! Want something sweet?”
“I’ll just have some whiskey, I think,” the woman replied without much thought. “On the rocks.”
“Coming right up!” Hoseok scooped some ice cubes into a lowball glass, adding with amusement, “You’re the type of girl that gets right to the point.”
“I came to get drunk, so I might as well,” she smiled faintly, handing over her money in exchange for the drink. Despite her cardigan sleeves, it was easy for Hoseok to spot the faded pink scars on her pale wrist, slicing from one side to the other - he must have stared for a second too long, because even though he tried to busy himself with putting the whiskey away, she pulled her sleeves protectively down her wrists. “Hey-- this might be weird, but I know you from Min Yoonji’s Instagram account. There’s a couple pictures of the two of you… she’s an old friend of mine, I check in on her from time to time. What is your relationship with her?”
“Oh-- you’re a friend of Yoonji’s?” Hoseok’s eyes widened, and he tried not to blush at the blunt question. He hated how easy he was to blush when the subject was about his girlfriend, but it was hard not to think about her soft skin, her flowery body wash, the way she seemed to radiate warmth like a human heater. “She’s my girlfriend. We’ve been dating for around a month now? Or at least, we’ve only been official for a month. We were kinda dating before that…”
“A month,” she repeated again, her lips pursed. “Interesting. Has she been busy lately? I’ve been trying to get in contact with her, but she hasn’t really gotten back to me. I’m starting to think she’s ignoring me…”
He frowned. “I’m sorry, but what’s your name? Yoonji doesn’t really talk about her friends much, so I’m just really curious…”
She set her glass down, before answering, “I’m Park Jimin. Me and Yoonji used to date, we dated for two years until she broke up with me.”
This is the shitty ex? Hoseok never would’ve guessed from seeing her; she passed seamlessly, and he had to wonder where the nasty jealousy Yoonji described had come from.
“I take it Yoonji’s told you about me by your expression.” Jimin hummed and rolled her eyes. “She’ll talk about me but she won’t talk to me. That’s kinda fucked up if you ask me. I just wanna talk, I don’t wanna fight. She kinda owes it to me, she never let me explain myself.” Her eyes seemed to pierce right through him when she met eyes with him; “You understand, right? Wouldn’t you want her to let you speak your piece if she were to break up with you?”
“I--” Hoseok’s stomach felt hot with anxiety. “I-- I’m sorry, I don’t want to answer this. I don’t feel comfortable, a-and trust me, I’m not trying to pick sides…”
“Don’t say that. It’s natural to take your girlfriend’s side. It’s not like you know me,” Jimin replied as though it were obvious, extending her glass out for a refill. Hoseok found himself fumbling as he obliged.
What am I supposed to say? Yoonji would hate this. Hoseok took a deep breath, trying to will himself to stay calm. Finally, he murmured, “Yoonji’s had a hard time since you broke up. That’s all I know. Her self-esteem--”
“Her self-esteem has always been shit. I’m sure I wasn’t much help, though.” Jimin rattled the ice cubes in her drink, eyes averted from Hoseok’s. She didn’t seem like the type who would admit easily to wrongdoing, but Hoseok knew that posture, that stance. She’s ashamed. She knows.
“No. You really weren’t.”
“It’s hard to have a girlfriend who seems perfect, seems like she has all her shit together,” Jimin murmured, almost inaudibly over the radio nearby. “Especially when you’re a fucking mess.”
“Believe me. I know.” Hoseok managed a little smile. He really did know. “I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll pass on your message, all right?”
Jimin’s eyes narrowed a little, but her expression was utterly unreadable. “Promise me that she’s in good hands now, then. I know how you men can be.”
It was funny, how it became Hoseok's instinct to correct people these days. I'm not a man. I don't know what I am. But then again, why couldn't he be? He didn't have to be anyone's textbook definition of a man, but maybe it was time to give some thought to transitioning.
"I promise. I wouldn't do anything to hurt Yoonji noona. If I ever did, I think she'd rip my dick off, so there's that, too…"
Jimin smiled faintly, sipping her drink once more. "That's my girl," she said simply, and then fell silent.
Jimin was polite and well behaved, but Hoseok's anxiety only deepened as he received a text from Yoonji: "just left work. Let's walk home together. I'm coming to get u" He should've given her a heads-up of who'd she'd encounter at the bar, but it didn't feel like it was his place to do so. Yoonji hadn't even given him so much as a name to his ex, and Jimin seemed civil enough not to blow things over at a bar.
His phone remained in his pocket, where he'd claim it was for the last twenty minutes so he couldn't check his messages.
"Hoseok~," came Yoonji's warm voice as she entered the bar. His co-workers knew her already, and were pretty friendly with her whenever she waited for Hoseok's shift to end. It only took a second, though, for it to register in her mind who exactly was sitting at the bar.
Jimin looked like a deer in headlights, despite seeming so cool and level-headed about knowing Hoseok; maybe I should've told her that Yoonji was coming, maybe she would've left.
"What the fuck are you doing here, Jimin…?"
She half-lifted her glass; "What else would I be doing here? I'm drinking." She drummed her manicured nails against her glass. "Can we talk, babydoll?"
The nickname seemed to do damage, and Yoonji scowled. She always looked so pretty and put-together after work, but seeing her demeanor change made Hoseok physically recoil, despite if not being directed towards him. "I'm not your babydoll anymore. And I have nothing to say to you."
"Even after everything? Our relationship wasn't all fucked up, was it? Don't you remember that-- that I was the one who took care of you after your surgery? Can't you at least give me five minutes?" All the fight had been punched out of her, though. She was making herself smaller, trying to hide into herself. "Yoonji… unnie, please…?" Jimin suddenly looked to Hoseok; "Can't you tell her something? I'm-- I'm not all bad, right? You've talked to me!"
Hoseok felt his face redden with how quickly Yoonji's eyes snapped onto him. He didn't want to say anything, he didn't want to get involved in this. But Jimin just threw me under the bus, I hope Yoonji won't be mad at me. His hands raised defensively, and he kept his tone surprisingly even as he said, "Sorry, but we really have to go home and sleep soon. We have class really early in the morning…" He grabbed his backpack from nearby and sling it on his shoulder, but he felt something akin to pity as he walked by Jimin's slumped form. Yoonji had already gone out ahead of him, so he took the moment they had alone to reassure, "Maybe she'll text you in a few days, once she's calmed down and she feels up for it. Sorry, Jimin-- I don't want to get involved, it's not my place…"
"It would probably help," she mumbled bitterly, but there was no bite to her words.
Stupid Jimin. Stupid fucking bitch. She must've stalked us on Instagram, she always does that to the people she's hung up on. Dumb bitch. Dumb stupid bitch.
Yoonji's mind was reeling with the thought of Jimin, and it was making her sick to her stomach. She couldn't hold a conversation with Hoseok-- she was far too upset, and all she wanted to do was go into her room and get comfortable and sleep the night away, maybe even skip class in the morning when she inevitably woke up feeling worse than before. The only person she could bear to see was Hoseok, but even he was walking on thin ice, at no fault of his own. It was just when her skin felt like it was crawling, it seemed like everyone was out to get her.
And of course, that included the universe; she felt even worse when she toed off her slip-on shoes only to realize that Namjoon and Seokjin were huddled up on the couch, watching TV together. Normally, she'd stay and chat for a minute or two - mostly as a formality - but formalities be damned.
"Welcome home," Seokjin called out, way too cheerily for it being past midnight. “Come join us! We got popcorn and Coke, we’re watching a really good movie.~”
“Oh, nice!” Hoseok seemed content with sitting on the couch next to their other housemates, despite how much she wanted to go to her room with him and cry. It was frustrating, the fact that Hoseok wasn’t a mind reader and that she couldn’t mentally chew him out without looking like a dick to Seokjin and Namjoon.
So, begrudgingly, Yoonji took the seat next to Hoseok and leaned on him for comfort. The movie seemed to be nearing its climax, evident by all the drama surrounding the main character, and as much as she didn’t want to, she found herself becoming engrossed in the plot. Yoonji was always more sentimental than she would’ve liked to be, and fictional characters instantly pulled her into their universe, always as a form of escape. She hated how deeply she felt for people who weren’t real-- because when the main character sat there sobbing over their lover’s dead body on the TV screen, Yoonji found herself choking on a sob, and hiding in Hoseok’s shoulder.
Hoseok shifted, first away from her in shock, and then closer to embrace her. “Babe-- what’s wrong? Are you okay?” His voice shook with nerves, and his questioning alerted their housemates that something was wrong.
Yoonji’s face flushed in embarrassment when she heard Namjoon question, “Do you need some tissues? Some water?”
Seokjin stood and disappeared into the kitchen, silently retrieving water and tissues, and she took the items unenthusiastically; “Here… drink some. You’re crying pretty hard-- do you wanna talk about it? Is there something going on?”
“There’s-- so much going on,” she choked out, before turning her attention to the glass of water she was given. Yoonji drained as much as she could before taking a deep breath. “I always think I’m okay, but then-- b-but then my fucking ex always comes and ruins everything. And-- I think she permanently fucked me up, because I still hate my body, I still hate myself… Modelling made me feel good pre-transitioning, but now-- it doesn’t help, I feel so fucking ugly, a-and I don’t know how much of it I could blame on Jimin… I don’t know-- I don’t know what to do anymore, how to help myself…”
“Well,” begun Namjoon, almost uncertainly, “I know that this has a lot to do with the way you view yourself, but for what it’s worth, I think you’re a very pretty girl… Not just in a cute way, your figure is super attractive, and I’ve seen you turn heads on campus, and you’re also super funny and fun to hang out with, and when you get started on talking about music, you, like, completely light up and it’s so contagious, and--” He cleared his throat, clearly flustered by his rambling. “I feel like, eventually, your ex’s wounds on you will heal and fade away, and I hope that you’ll find your self-confidence some day soon. You have a lot to be confident about, Yoonji.”
“And if your ex tries messing with you, I swear I’ll kick her ass. I don’t care if I get arrested. You’re super precious to Hoseok, and he’s precious to me, so I’ll kick anyone that hurts either of you two.” Although Seokjin was mostly kidding, he knelt in front of her and offered his most sincere smile. “I promise you, we’ll help you however we can. I’m an expert on shitty exes, and I know how fucking damaging they can be, so I wanna help lessen that pain, at least just a little.”
“Me too,” Hoseok whispered, tightening his hold on her. Yoonji felt silly, all of a sudden, for losing it in front of everyone-- but she was also relieved by the fact that there finally seemed to be people who genuinely wanted to ease her burden.
"Guys, I'm sorry-- I shouldn't be crying like this over a movie. You're going to miss the end!" Yoonji protested, dabbing her tears away - though her makeup was already ruined, her delicacy wasted.
"You're more important to me than any movie," Hoseok insisted firmly, kissing her on the temple and making her blush. Sure, Namjoon and Seokjin had to know what was going on when they were alone in her room, but Hoseok had never kissed her in front of them. It was embarrassing, but only until she realized the gravity of it: he's not the least bit ashamed of me.
Feeling giddy, she hugged Hoseok and hid her face in his shoulder, and she felt even giddier at Seokjin's good-natured teasing: "You guys are so freaking pure. Oh, and Yoonji, you owe me one for finding and delivering your soulmate to you."
"Oh my god, hyung, stop." Hoseok protested the declaration bashfully, but Yoonji only smiled. Being somebody's soulmate had seemed so beyond her grasp, but nowadays, it seemed vaguely possible that she and Hoseok could belong together.
Hoseok hadn't meant to fall asleep in Yoonji's bed - she liked her space and usually refused to share a bed so early in their relationship, but this time it had been a genuine accident for them both. They'd slipped upstairs after the movie, Yoonji had taken a swig from her flask to soothe her nerves (Hoseok couldn't blame her), and as always, it didn't take much for her to coerce him into bed to make out for a little while before he went to his room. With other couples, making out led inevitably to having sex; funnily enough, for them, it always led to cuddles instead, when they'd get tired of kissing and just hold each other.
That was when it happened, when Hoseok fell asleep, fully dressed, binder and all. It had happened a handful of times before, but never like this, where a deep breath woke him with searing pain in his ribs.
Too tight. It's too tight-- I can't draw a proper breath. He nearly panicked, but he still tried to get up slowly, to avoid jostling Yoonji too much. He made his way to his room, trying to loosen the garment on the way, but the pain felt like deep bruises. His muscles ached. The sensation, coupled with the stupidity he felt for letting it happen, made him want to cry.
Removing the binder didn’t do much to help the pain. In the dark, Hoseok couldn’t see himself, but he knew to expect bruises. The problem was, how would he put on his binder to go to class later that day? How would he go to work without it? The thought filled him with absolute terror. People would look at him and know. It would be just like his middle school days, when all his guy friends suddenly took notice of his body and couldn’t take their eyes off of it, when all the girls would whisper, “Jung Hyuna is so lucky. I’ll never have a body like that.”
“Lucky, my ass,” Hoseok hissed through the pain, sitting on the bed and burying his face in his hands. “I never fucking asked for this.”
“Seokseok?” Yoonji’s voice startled him from the doorway, low and hoarse with sleep. He could barely make her out in the dark, but he folded his arms self consciously over his chest anyway, trying not to breathe too fast and cause himself any more pain. “Everything okay?”
“Y-Yeah. I’m fine,” Hoseok said quietly, unable to muster much conviction. Why am I even bothering to lie about it, though? Yoonji of all people would understand. Yoonji knows I’m not okay. Hoseok blinked hard, wiping the tears from his eyelashes. “Actually… I’m not fine. I’m tired of living this way.”
“What way?” Yoonji pushed the door open enough to slip into the room. The moonlight from the window illuminated everything, including her face - including Hoseok’s half-naked body, which Yoonji had never seen before. The sight seemed to startle her, but her eyes didn’t dwell on it. A look of understanding came to her face, and she nodded slowly. “It’s hard to feel okay when you’re in the wrong body. If you’re sure that this isn’t right for you, maybe it’s time that you talked to someone. A therapist.”
“But I’m not sure about anything,” Hoseok insisted, wiping tears furiously with the heels of his hands, so that Yoonji couldn’t see them. “All I know for sure is that I’m not a girl. I’m not sure if that makes me a man, though. I feel like I’m somewhere in between, whatever that means.” He sighed, slowly lowering his arms, wincing at the little gasp Yoonji made when she saw the angry red marks from his binder. “I hate having breasts. I was the first one in my class to get them, and all the boys would stare. The male teachers would even stare. When I was in fifth grade, my teacher called home and told my parents that I needed to start wearing a bra, because I was becoming a distraction to the class. That’s so-- dehumanizing. Like I grew these fucking things on purpose. So I started binding them and I cut my hair short, and-- I always hung out with guys, so I talked like a guy, anyway. It just all felt natural to be that way, but that doesn’t mean I want to go the whole way and have a full beard and a penis. I think that would be just as weird. I just want to… exist, without people staring at me.”
Yoonji took the spot beside him on the bed, pulling him into a gentle hug, her cheek pressed against his forehead. “I won’t say that I can relate. After all, I paid a lot of money for mine, so naturally I don’t mind the stares.” She laughed weakly, but rubbed his back in a consoling way, adding more seriously, “You don’t need to fit one mold or the other. You should just be whatever you feel is right. You could have a breast reduction without getting a full-on sex reassignment. You could start taking testosterone without committing to becoming a hairy, muscly pig. No matter what you decide, I’m still going to want you.”
“I don’t understand why.”
Yoonji scoffed. “Because I’ve always hated my body, and I still hate it even now, but you still tell me I’m beautiful. On the days when I feel ugly and manly and disgusting, you make me feel like a queen. You need someone like that too, you know. Someone to tell you that everything about you is okay. Beautiful, even.” She kissed him on the cheek, then, and the fact that he could feel her lips smiling made him smile a little bit, too. “I happen to think you’re incredibly handsome, you know.”
Hoseok chuckled, immediately, but that didn't mean that he felt better. "I don't know. It's different when I tell you, because… you are beautiful. I'm just… I don't know, I feel like I'm ugly."
"But you're not. Not to me, at least. And you know I'll rip anyone's head off if they tell you anything bad about yourself." She stood and left the room for a moment before coming back with a small jar. "Can I rub this on your bruises? It should help with the pain…"
"What is it?" he asked, but the pungent smell of mint hit his senses as soon as it was unlidded. "Oh, sure," he mumbled a second later. As he had expected, he had difficulty laying down, with his muscles protesting any sort of movement.
Yoonji leaned down to kiss his forehead before rubbing some of the applicant onto her fingers. "Don't worry," she joked, "I'm not some pig. I won't stare at you."
"I wouldn't mind if you stared," Hoseok answered softly, but honestly. He winced when she started rubbing her fingers against his bruising, and he felt the coldness almost immediately. If it didn't help with the pain of bruising, it at least would help keep his mind occupied.
Yoonji kept the pressure of her hands light, her caresses gentle. The soft rhythm of her breaths and her hands soothed him, and Hoseok’s eyes were beginning to feel heavy. Just as he had resigned to the idea of falling asleep again, Yoonji broke the silence in a whisper: “I’m sorry that I can’t take your pain away. But I’ll try as hard as I can. If nothing else, I’ll distract you.”
"That's so noble of you, noona," he teased softly, with a hint of a smirk on his face. "It just sucks."
"That we both hate our bodies. I mean, objectively speaking, I think you're beautiful. And I'm sure you think I am too. But neither of us can see it." He winced when she went over a particularly nasty bruise. "I just wanna be at a point in my life where I'm okay with myself. I don't even have to love myself, I just wanna be confident."
Yoonji nodded, and she reached for a baby wipe nearby to clean her hands with. "Maybe we just have to love each other extra hard to make up for our self-hate. God knows my body needs love, and-- and yours does, too." She pressed her lips into a thin line; "You know, if it was anyone else giving you these bruises, I'd have stabbed them already. Take care of yourself."
"I know-- I am. It's just, I fell asleep in it like a dumbass. I didn't realize how long I've been wearing it, I guess. And now I won't be able to until the bruising heals, and now everyone's gonna be able to see my tits. Ugh." Hoseok hid his face behind his hands. "Fuck having tits. I guess I can, like, not leave my room for a few days. At least until the pain's better. But I like work, I like working…"
"We'll figure something out in the morning," she reassured before Hoseok could spiral even further. "It's ass o'clock right now. I need my beauty sleep." As carefully as she could, she crawled into bed beside him and wrapped an arm around his waist. The scent of her body wash was comforting, and he could only close his eyes.
"Okay." Hoseok turned to face her and pressed his face into her neck, closing his eyes. "You-- you make me feel so safe."
Yoonji chuckled, and Hoseok shivered as she lovingly ran her fingers through his hair. "Good. That's what I'm here for."
"We've only been together for a couple months, but it feels like much longer. She puts me at ease. She makes me feel like I'm normal. I didn't realize how much I needed that."
Putting his feelings in words for the therapist had been terrifying, but Hoseok felt better for braving it. As he watched Yoonji from her doorway, applying her makeup carefully for their dinner date, he replayed his own words in his head again, and he couldn't help but think of a million things he left out. Like how her laugh made him feel happy and silly all at once. Like how he had this urge, sometimes, to pull her into his body and squeeze her tight and protect her from everything, including herself. How borderline insulted it made him when he called her perfect and she scoffed or rolled her eyes, because it's true, why can't you see it?
"Wow, creeper. Why don't you take a picture?" Yoonji smirked only subtly, applying a hint of blush to her pale cheeks.
"You know I never have enough pictures of you," Hoseok teased back, going to sit on her bed as he watched her at her vanity table. "I was just thinking."
Hoseok shrugged, trying to downplay his little stab of anxiety as he admitted it: "I just got back from my first therapy appointment. She seems pretty okay." When Yoonji glanced at him in the mirror's reflection, he added quietly, "She said there's lots of people like me. Non-binary. She suggested this internet forum where I could talk to other non-binary people… I told her I have a good support system, though! And the cutest girlfriend in the world!"
“Ew. Your girlfriend is gross,” Yoonji declined playfully, fixing her bangs with her fingers before finally deciding that she was done. Turning in her chair to face Hoseok, she added softly, “I’m really proud of you, Hoseok. You’re so much stronger than me. Honestly, you remind me that I should start therapy again. Jimin’s left me all kinds of fucked up…” She smiled slightly, a bit sadly, and looked down at her phone as she murmured, “She and I talked on the phone for a little while today. It went okay, but… I don’t think I can let everything go so easily. I don’t know. Do you think this is even a good idea?”
Hoseok frowned a little, making himself comfortable in her bed. “Well, let’s see. Since I’ve spoken to a therapist for approximately one hour today, I’m probably pretty qualified to counsel you myself, right?”
Yoonji giggled. “Absolutely. What’s your expert opinion, Dr. Jung?”
“Two things,” Hoseok decided after a moment of thought. “One-- people change all the time. I’ve changed a lot since I met you, haven’t I? And I’ve seen you change, too, right in front of me. And I bet losing you has changed Jimin. Made her think about what an absolute shithead she’s been to you.” He sighed. “Two-- she said all those things to you out of insecurity, didn’t she? Because she was worried that you were going to be too good for her once you transitioned?”
Yoonji’s mouth twitched, a brief struggle not to frown. “I guess so. That was her excuse.”
“She said those things out of insecurity,” Hoseok insisted, nodding confidently. “She’s jealous of you and she’s full of shit. Nothing that she’s said to you was true. I think that fact takes away a lot of her power, don’t you? If she ever tries to hurt you again - you know it’s out of anger, and jealousy, and her own fucked up issues.”
“Yeah, well. I wish she didn’t have those fucked up issues to begin with.” Yoonji turned back to her reflection, and Hoseok didn’t miss the way her eyes moistened with tears; she had to blink hard to avoid letting them fall and ruining her freshly applied makeup. “She has two weeks until her bottom surgery, and I told her I’d help her if she needed it. Then again, she has a new boyfriend now who’s apparently great, so I doubt she will…”
“...but she’s lucky to have the option. You’re a really good person, noona.” Hoseok smiled. “I’m glad you’re there for her. That makes me feel a lot better about everything. I think everything’s gonna be okay.”
“I hope so.” Yoonji sniffled, fanning her face to dry the tears that clung to her eyelashes, and that was the end of it. Hoseok wished he could become emotional as gracefully as his girlfriend did. “Then all we need to worry about is Namjoon and Seokjin. I swear to god, you could cut the sexual tension with a knife.”
“Seokjin told me that he doesn’t feel like Namjoon’s type,” Hoseok reported, shrugging. “I just had this conversation with him last week. He said he thinks Namjoon is into handsome, muscular bara men.”
“Horseshit. We need to work on that, before the two of them end up with the wrong people,” Yoonji decided, standing up at last and selecting a pair of shoes. Simple black heels, scarcely an inch; Hoseok had encouraged her to buy them, because it was just an inch, because Hoseok was taller than her anyway, and anyway, did it really matter that she was a tall girl? She looked damn good in them, and he liked the way that she looked at her own legs in the mirror, with approval.
“Do you really believe in ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ people?” Hoseok asked quietly. “Are we with the right people?”
“I do. And I think so,” Yoonji said softly, blushing as she met Hoseok’s eyes, and then quickly shaking her head. “Why are you under my covers and everything? Aren’t we going out to eat? You promised me sushi!”
"I'm dressed already," he defended quickly. "I'm ready to go! It's cold, that's all." Reluctantly, he sat up and grabbed his wallet from where it was at on the nightstand. A smirk played on his lips, and he gently teased, "You ready to go, princess?"
Yoonji laughed; "I'm gonna kill you!"
"And… you're done!" Yoonji pulled back with a big smile on her face. "Congrats! Your first dose of T is done with! How do you feel?"
"Like you just stabbed my thigh with a needle," he pouted. Then, as he put a band-aid on the sore spot, he added a little more thoughtfully, "And I'm super stoked! I don't care about the facial hair or anything, I'm just pumped for when my body realizes that I need a second puberty and my fat starts redistributing and my voice gets deeper. I wonder how deep it'll go!"
"You can always go to a voice coach. Honestly, Jimin coached me." Yoonji said it so casually that Hoseok nearly missed it; it was the first time he'd heard Yoonji mention Jimin without reacting. "But I think you already pass wonderfully. You'll only get even more handsome!"
“Yeah? You think?”
Yoonji smirked, stealing a kiss from Hoseok’s lips. “Look at you, fishing for compliments,” she teased. “Well, I’m not going to give in and tell you how drop-dead gorgeous I think you are. I don’t want you getting a big head. Put some clothes on and we’ll go cuddle in my room and watch some TV.”
Hoseok laughed, hurrying back across the hall to Yoonji’s room in nothing but his binder and boxers. Yoonji was changing without shame, pulling on nothing but an oversized t-shirt of Hoseok’s that she had confiscated for sleeping. When she turned back to him, Hoseok had simply opted to remove his binder, dropping it wordlessly to the floor.
For the first time that he could really tell, Yoonji blushed. She pursed her lips, trying to suppress it, but her eyes scanned his nearly-naked form anyway. “Do you wanna borrow pajamas? Or are you a nudist now?”
“It’s warm in here,” Hoseok answered simply, slipping into the already-unmade bed and patting the space beside him. “Besides… with you, it doesn’t really feel that strange to be naked, you know?” He made no move for the remote as Yoonji joined him - there was something more pressing on his mind. “Noona, do you miss sex?”
Yoonji blushed again, this time more obviously. “What does that even mean?”
“I mean… we haven’t done it yet. I was wondering if it’s driving you crazy.”
Yoonji scoffed, as though it were a silly question, but she snuggled up to Hoseok’s body anyhow as she answered, “I can get myself off easily. But I can’t cuddle myself. That’s my priority.”
Now it was Hoseok’s turn to blush, and he reached for the remote to turn on the TV as a distraction. Still, in the lull between commercials, he murmured, “I think we should do it. I-I mean-- I’m comfortable with you. You like my body. That means a lot…” Yoonji seemed stiff, uncertain, and Hoseok quickly amended, “It doesn’t have to be tonight. Or any time soon. I just...want you to know that I'm ready.”
Hoseok had to look away to preserve his sanity; the physical closeness he was used to, but the emotional intimacy was a lot. The last time he'd bared his soul to someone, he'd come to regret it. It still hurt, even with all the patching that Yoonji had done to his heart.
"Are you sure about it, though?" Yoonji asked, a slight waver to her voice. "I don't want to push you. I don't want to make you dysphoric…"
“I’m sure you won’t,” he encouraged softly. He took her hands and gave them a squeeze; “I trust you not to hurt me, and I know you’ll take it slow and-- and more than that, I wanna do it with you. You make me feel better about myself. And--” Hoseok swallowed, but there was no uncertainty in his voice as he confessed, “and I love you. I wanna do this because I love you, and I wanna give myself to you.”
Yoonji’s eyes immediately went wide, and her cheeks and the tips of her ears turned bright red. It made Hoseok’s heart skip a beat, feel a sense of uncertainty, and made him swallow hard.
I fucked up my relationship again. Great.
But Yoonji didn’t reject him as he’d expected-- instead, she hid her face behind her hands and squealed softly.
“Uh--?” He reached for her, but before he could touch her, she abruptly put her hands down and looked him straight in the eyes.
“You’re seriously driving me nuts. Like, seriously.” She laughed breathlessly, and Hoseok was surprised to feel her hands shake as she reached to cup his face. “I love you too, actually. I just-- I didn’t know when to say it. It felt too soon, but… I love you. I love you a lot.” Yoonji pulled him into a sweet kiss, but once it was over, she hid in his neck and laughed. “You make me so nervous sometimes, you know that?”
“I didn’t,” he murmured, a hint of a smile on his lips. “But I’m glad. It’s unfair that you always make me flustered.”
It was really weird, when Hoseok stopped to think about how much his life had changed in a little less than a year. He really thought, when he’d been kicked out by his parents, that it’d be the end of the world for him, especially without Taeyeon there to support him. It was surreal, to think that he'd once thought that feeling was love.
Love was Yoonji's arms around him, the warm smell of patchouli that clung to her skin and the sighs of her breathing behind the drone of the TV. They'd both needed anchors, something stable to tether themselves to - but even if we float away, at least we're together. Hoseok ran his fingers over her's, feeling her two hands laced together at his hip, as if daring him to pry her off.
And as he found himself doing more and more often, he smiled.