Fresh spring air blew through Kim Taehyung’s light, turquoise-coloured hair as he walked along the quiet sidewalk. The midday sun in the cloudless sky shone brightly upon the lone boy. The light from its rays highlighted strands of his bouncy, fluffy hair, which gave the boy a breathtakingly angelic look to any passers-by. His big brown eyes scanned the tall, stone walls with neatly-kempt green ivy that hung down its length.
The familiar walls he walked along made up the boundary of his home away from home: the town’s Traditional Korean Gardens. Nearly every day—despite rain, shine, hail or snow—Taehyung would visit the gardens and spend his time roaming the grounds at a leisurely pace. With the amount of time he had spent there, he could probably walk around the entire place blindfolded and not once step on any plants, run into structures, or fall into any ponds.
Since Taehyung had been a little kid, he had walked the same ten-minute route to the Korean Gardens. While he may walk the same path alone these days, he knew in spirit and in soul he was never alone. And although he missed his grandparents being by his side with him in the beautiful gardens, he knew they both were in a much better place. As he looked upon the entrance in the far distance, happy memories resurfaced of his times spent there with them.
Taehyung’s bright, brown eyes looked up at the hands of his grandparents holding each of his tiny hands. Laughter filled the quiet sidewalk as the trio walked side by side. The low voice of his grandfather as he softly explained the importance of someone taking care of the gardens for future generations. The kind words his grandmother told him as she gently ran her hand through his soft hair while he laid his head on her lap. The last smiles he ever saw his grandparents give as they sat shoulder to shoulder in their wheelchairs while overlooking the last sunset they were to ever witness at the very same place they had met.
The Traditional Korean Gardens held a special place in Taehyung’s heart. It was one of the only things he looked forward to in his lonely life. A soft sigh left his pink-tinted, slightly plump lips as he allowed those treasured memories to fade. His brown eyes travelled along the ivy-covered stone wall once more as a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. Soon, he would cross the entrance and be filled with a calmness only this place could give him.
In the distance, not too far off from the entrance, Taehyung saw a small group of eight boys heading in his direction. His heart instantly dropped, and his palms grew sweaty. He knew exactly who they were and what was about to occur. The group pounced on any opportunity to gang up on him. They had never been kind to him, and nothing he had done changed for them to leave him alone.
Taehyung grasped the strap of his black messenger bag tighter in his hold. The cool spring air seemed to disappear while the sunlight bore down upon him in hot waves. His inner anxiety swelled as his eyes locked with the leader and main initiator of the group. The taunting cheers from the group filled the previously quiet streets. The horrifying sounds oppressed his will to run away in the opposite direction; instead, they beckoned him towards the only safety he knew.
“Well, well, well,” sneered Lee Ji-Hoon, the leader, as he sauntered up to Taehyung until he was face-to-face with him. His light brown eyes sparkled with joy as he thought about how he would soon be inflicting pain on his victim. “Who do we have here? Guys, look who wants to have some fun with us.”
“Leave me alone,” Taehyung said weakly with his tearful eyes locked on the concrete pathway below his feet.
“Awe, does the little queer flower boy want to be left alone?” Ji-Hoon jeered at the top of his lounges, and the group around him laughed just as loudly.
“I’m not queer!” Taehyung yelled as his head snapped up at the familiar taunt. It didn’t matter how much he would deny the mocking remark. They would always call him that. “Just leave me alone, Ji-Hoon. Go find someone else to pick on today.”
As Taehyung went to step around the group, two arms grabbed him from behind and held him firmly in place. A hot breath brushed against the back of his neck as he squirmed in the grasp, desperate to get away, but he ultimately failed against the strength. The other seven boys surrounded him, trapping him in a circle. It was a cruel stark reminder of how outnumbered he truly was in this situation.
“Now, now,” Ji-Hoon lowly tsked directly into his ear, his hold slightly relaxed once Taehyung had stopped resisting. “That’s no way to treat your Hyungs, now is it? Be a good little flower boy today, and we won’t be here long. We’ll be on our way, and you can return to being the little loner you are.”
“Over here, gay boy,” a voice of one of the lackeys called out.
Ji-Hoon forcefully turned Taehyung in his arms to face the short, overweight kid who had spoken a moment ago. Instantly, Taehyung’s body became tense as he waited for the oncoming blow from the other boy. He had been through this many times to know each of them would get a few punches in before leaving him alone with their sick satisfaction fulfilled for the time being. And sure enough, a mere second passed before the lumpy fist connected with his clothed stomach.
The force from the punch almost left him breathless. It obviously had landed on something it shouldn’t have. Another right-handed punch came before he had a chance to recover, one of many more to come. This time it landed upon his left cheek. The blow had enough force that it sent both Taehyung and Ji-Hoon stumbling backwards a few steps. Only the taunting laugh of the entire group filled his ears as he was once again forced to turn towards another one of the boys.
Punch after punch hit him, and each blow took a piece of his heart. His body ached from the physical abuse as he tried to endure it for a little longer. His mind focused on the beautiful ground a few metres down from them. The thoughts of being in the gardens kept him from giving in to the cruelty and breaking down in tears. And ultimately, it was that thought alone that pushed him to finally make his move to freedom.
Taehyung could feel Ji-Hoon’s arms relax and fall away from his body. Now free from his captor, he took the opportunity to do something he had never done in all the years he had been the victim of this group. He fought back. Taehyung turned on his heel and swung his own fist with as much force as he could muster. His knuckles connected in a sickening crunch squarely on Lee Ji-Hoon’s nose.
Everything around Taehyung seemed to slow down as the leader stumbled back with his head held in his hands. All the sounds around him disappeared, while time froze completely as his wide eyes stared at Ji-Hoon’s bent form in shock. All seven of his lackeys suddenly gathered around their leader to help him tend to his bleeding nose. Taehyung didn’t waste another second. He turned on his heel and ran with every fibre of his being toward his sanctuary.
“Yeah! You better run, fucking faggot! We’ll get you next time!” yelled Ji-Hoon, his voice quickly fading the further the distance between them.
Heavy footsteps, pounding heartbeat and laboured breaths dominated his hearing as Taehyung ran as fast as he could towards the entrance of Korean Gardens. He did not dare turn to look at his tormentors, afraid he would either see them coming or that he would fall and they would capture him again. Even above his panting, he could still hear all eight boys jeering and taunting him. Tears swelled in his eyes, and he fought to hold them back. So close. He was so close to his safe place.
The second Taehyung passed under the curved, red-tiled archway that connected the stone walls, a sense of serenity washed over his aching body. His tear-filled eyes roamed the calmingly still grounds as he came to a halt a few meters inside his safe haven. He wiped away the slight sweat that had built up on his eyebrows. The chill spring breeze returned, cooling his overheated body and entering his burning, oxygen-deprived lungs.
Disbelief and shock ran rampant in his mind. Never before had he fought back. He had always been so compliant in their beatings, relenting to his fate. He didn’t know he had that side in him. Part of him couldn’t believe he had been so brave to finally give them a taste of their own medicine. But another part of him, a much larger one, knew he would pay big time for laying a hand on Ji-Hoon.
Taehyung’s body automatically moved on its own while his mind lingered on what had just transpired. It took him down one of the many gravel paths on the grounds. His eyes wandered the picturesque landscape before him. The trauma from moments ago began to be erased the further he walked in the calming gardens. He smiled as he walked past one of many ponds. This particular one happened to be filled with tones of large koi fish of all colours.
A large Beot-Kkot tree with light pink flowers loomed above the peaceful pond. Taehyung watched as a few of its flowers drifted downward, carried gently by the soft breeze, to settle upon the surface of the water below. A smile graced his lips from the tranquillity of his surroundings. Nothing but the sounds of nature filled his ears while he continued to walk along the gravel trail.
His eyes wandered along the beautiful rows of white, pink, red, orange, yellow and purple coloured tulips. The flowers were well-maintained by the groundskeepers, proven so by the stench of the freshly laid fertiliser mixed with soil that suddenly filled his nostrils. On the other side, opposite the tulips, were Maehwa trees after Maehwa trees lining the edge of the path. Its long branches filled with both partially and fully bloomed flowers. The light pink petals reminded him of the popular Korean Plum Liquor tasting drink named Maehwasu.
Taehyung spent another ten minutes leisurely wandering the pathways of the gardens. He stopped to smell the delicate scent of some Magnolia flowers and the fresh aroma of some Gaenari, or Forsythia Koreana, petals. He briefly rested under the old stone structures covered in rows of neatly-maintained green ivy. He crossed the red-railed, wooden bridges over a few ponds and stopped to stare into the calm water below. His entire body, from head to toe, had become relaxed and filled with calmness; the soreness erased from his mind for now.
He made his way over to one of his favourite places in the gardens; a secluded Beot-Kkot tree on top of a small hill. Taehyung lowered his body until he sat with his back against the firm wood of its base. He took a moment to wipe away the remainder of his sweat and bathe in the pure serenity the Korean Gardens fed him. His soul slowly became rejuvenated and replenished after such an intense interaction.
Sparkling brown eyes overlooked the grounds below him. He could see the bloomed yellow Sansuyu trees, the tips of the branches reaching high into the air. The short Royal Azalea shrubs—differing in pink, white and purple—grew in small patches amongst the grounds. And the bright yellow flowers of the Yuchae trees towered over many of the small flowers and shrubs in the far distance. This was home, his home, his safe place.
After he soaked in the soothing sight and sounds for a couple of silent minutes, Taehyung took off his messenger bag and opened it. He fished out his notebook and pen before he pushed the bag to the side. He flipped open the notebook and shifted through the many filled pages until he came to the next empty one about halfway in. A small smile graced his lips as he re-read the last part he had written, remembering why he had started to write that story.
‘His dyed light pink, shoulder-length hair was sprawled out amongst the luscious, green grass. The most carefree smile crossed his chiselled face, the same face that must have been perfectly crafted by god himself. Bright, blue eyes twinkled breathtakingly from the light that shone on us. And when he lazily turned his head towards me, those same breathtaking twinkles in his blue eyes instantly captured my heart from where I, too, laid sprawled out alongside this angel sent to earth.’
Not only two days ago had the most captivating, most stunning, most astonishing stranger walked along the paths of these gardens. The entire time, Taehyung had silently sat and observed him. He had wished he had the confidence to talk to such a breathtaking stranger. But instead, he watched from a distance until he had left the gates, likely to never return again. With that image burnt in his mind, Taehyung continued to write.
‘Neither of us could speak a word as our eyes stared deeply at each other. My heart danced around in my ribcage from the sight before me. It felt like those perfect eyes were discovering every aspect of my soul without needing to hear any words. A shiver ran over my entire body like a river flowing downstream. He was affecting me, had my every nerve on edge, and not a single touch was needed.’
A soft sigh left Taehyung as he imagined the scene in his head. He looked upon the grounds below him and envisioned the stranger and himself, enacting what he had written down near the Koi pond he had first stopped at. An action he’d never dare perform himself, for he was in deep denial. But one in which he could freely write about and not feel guilt since he had long ago convinced himself it was merely for the creative writing course he partook in.
However, his moment of daydreaming was interrupted by three familiar faces swiftly walking through the Korean Gardens. His breath caught in his throat as his eyes widened in fear. Ji-Hoon and two of his lackeys seemed to be heading in a beeline straight toward him. Taehyung forced his eyes down to his notebook, his blank eyes staring at the page, and his mind raced with anxious thoughts. Perhaps Ji-Hoon had sought him out to get revenge for what he had done earlier. Perhaps the leader couldn’t wait until the next time after he was humiliated in front of his group.
“Yah! Flower boy!” angrily boomed Ji-Hoon’s out-of-breath voice as soon as he got within earshot.
Fear-filled eyes snapped up to lock on Ji-Hoon’s angry, contorted, red face. Taehyung grabbed his messenger bag as he hastily stood. He fumbled with the zipper before he shoved his precious notebook and pen away. Before he could even think of running, the three boys had sprinted up to corner him against the trunk of the Beot-Kkot tree.
“Where do you think you’re going, flower boy?” Ji-Hoon breathlessly sang before he clicked his fingers. The boy to Taehyung’s right pounced forward and forcefully snatched his messenger bag. The boy chucked the bag towards the leader, who caught it with a dark smirk on his face. “Why, what do we have here? Huh? Anything important I should know about?”
“There’s nothing in there. Just stop, Ji-Hoon Hyung, please,” Taehyung pitifully pleaded despite knowing his pleas would fall on deaf ears.
“Did you hear that, boys? The queer said please,” mocked Ji-Hoon before breaking out in a laugh alongside his two lackeys.
“Please,” he desperately begged as he took a step forward.
The moment he moved, the two other boys took two threatening steps toward him. Their taller stature left him feeling insignificant and powerless. With his head bowed to hide his fear, he stood still and waited for whatever was to come next. Ji-Hoon and his group had never touched any of his personal artefacts. They had only ever taunted him with words and beat him up. This. . . This was uncharted territory he knew would leave him distraught on a whole new level.
“Do you boys feel like hearing what flower boy has written in his notebook?” asked Ji-Hoon with a vindictive tone.
“Yeah!” the one to the left of Taehyung replied instantly.
“No! Please don’t!” Taehyung pleaded once more with tears that quickly formed in his eyes.
“The most carefree smile crossed his chiselled face, the same face that must have been perfectly crafted by god himself,” Ji-Hoon read aloud in a professor-like tone. “Wow. I was only joking when we called you queer. Didn’t realise you actually were!”
“I’m not,” Taehyung stiffly retorted.
“Your writing begs to differ, flower boy.” Ji-Hoon and his two lackeys laughed. “Listen to this, boys. You’ll never believe what he wrote after that. A shiver ran over my entire body like a river flowing downstream. He was affecting me, had my every nerve on edge, and not a single touch was needed. I don’t know about you boys, but that sounds something a faggot would say, right?”
“Right,” replied the boy on the right.
“One hundred percent something a faggot would say, flower boy,” jeered the boy on the left.
“I’m not gay!” yelled Taehyung as the hot tears that stung his eyes finally fell on his flushed cheeks.
“Sure, keep telling yourself that,” said Ji-Hoon as he rolled his eyes. He lazily flipped through the notebook before he stopped, grabbed a page and ripped it out. “I’ll keep this for another day.”
“Stop!” Taehyung desperately cried as he watched Ji-Hoon pocket his work.
Ji-Hoon ignored his words as he continued to flip through the notebook with a contemplative look on his face. His eyes lit up as he stopped on another page. Again, he ripped the page from the book. Instead of pocketing it as he had done with the previous one, he tore it up into small pieces. The entire time he had an evil smirk plastered on his face as he sprinkled them over the grass.
Each tear ripped Taehyung’s heart apart as the process was repeated with three more pages. Tears steadily streamed down his face while he watched all his hard work over the last year be destroyed in a matter of seconds. A burning heat started to overtake his body as anger settled in. Without a thought, his body lunged forward towards his main tormentor. His sight narrowed with rage, and the only thing on his mind was to stop the emotional abuse Ji-Hoon inflicted upon him.
Two sets of arms harshly gripped him and pushed him back against the tree trunk. Taehyung’s ears rang slightly after the back of his head hit the wood with force, and his already tear-impaired vision became even cloudier. His ears were filled with the sound of paper being torn as he finally let out his first sob ever in front of the group. His breath hitched in his throat before another gut-wrenching sound escaped him.
“Wow boys,” remarked Ji-Hoon with surprise. “I think we finally broke flower boy. After eight long years. . . we, yes, we finally broke our little queer flower boy.”
Taehyung closed his eyes in defeat as he stood pinned to the tree listening to the haunting words and agonising sounds of his work being destroyed. Sobs wracked through his tired body, much like how Ji-Hoon tore through his precious writing. He was essentially witnessing his heart and soul being dismantled before his very tear-filled eyes. And there was not a thing he could do to stop it.
“Huh, who knew that flower boy really liked to write about boys,” mused Ji-Hoon as he stopped to read yet another work from the notebook. “Is anyone else as shocked as I am that flower boy is a queer through and through?”
“I’m not surprised,” spat the boy on the left, his hold on Taehyung’s arms tightening painfully. “I can practically smell the gay rolling off of him.”
“I’m. . . Not. . . Gay. . .” Taehyung managed to force it out in between distraught sobs.
“So you’ve said,” huffed Ji-Hoon with annoyance as he discarded the notebook and bag on the ground behind him. “You’ve said that a million times, yet the evidence is stacking against what you are saying. Just admit you’re gay. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’ll just help me sleep better at night knowing I was right about it all this time.”
“You’re a sick bastard,” whispered Taehyung as he began to control his sobs, his anger bubbling closer to the surface as he stared into cold, brown eyes.
“What did you call me,” harshly whispered Ji-Hoon as he advanced like a hunter on the kill, his eyes dark and his face shrouded in shadows. “Say that again. I dare you.”
“You’re,” despite the shiver of fear that ran down his spine, Taehyung repeated in an angry whisper, “a sick bastard.”
As expected, a punch landed on his stomach a mere second later. Ji-Hoon’s light brown eyes had grown dark with anger. There was a glint of something dangerous that swirled within the brown. It sent a wave of fear through Taehyung’s body as nothing had ever done before. Blow after blow followed, barely a second in between each hit. All he wanted to do was fold in on himself and drop to the ground, but he was held firmly in place by the two boys as they watched their leader go to town with sick smirks on their own faces.
Hot tears rolled down Taehyung’s face the longer the relentless attack went on, impairing his vision. It quickly became a struggle to draw in a decent breath of air. The force of the punches dispelled any air that entered his body, leaving him gasping pathetically. The bark of the Beot-Kkot tree dug painfully into his clothed back and where his arms were pinned against it by the two lackeys. He was sure he’d be left with many bruises, possibly even cuts, by the end of this bashing.
“Get off of him!” a voice suddenly yelled from not far away.
The two sets of hands that had held Taehyung in place withdrew without hesitation. His tired body fell to the ground the instant his weight was no longer being supported. Through his gasping breaths, he heard heavy footsteps rushing in his direction. As Taehyung curled up into a small ball with his hands cradling his tender stomach, he wondered who could have possibly come to his rescue.
Through tear-filled vision, Taehyung managed to distinguish the silhouettes of six men as they sprinted up the small hill. The strangers came to a halt directly in front of Ji-Hoon and his two lackeys. All nine boys stared at one another, their chests heaved from physical exertion and pure adrenaline, and even from where he lay on the ground, he could feel how thick the air was with tension.
“Come on, boys,” Ji-Hoon huffed cockily. After eyeing the strangers up and down, he began to walk away with a smirk. He turned around with a satisfied look and eerily said, “See you next time, flower boy.”
Relief flooded through Taehyung as he simply lay on the ground and watched the trio walk away. But the feeling was short-lived. He was harshly reminded of what had transpired when a piece of torn paper got picked up by the wind and floated towards him. A soft sob left him as he reached a hand out to his precious, destroyed work. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly as more tears flowed down his cheeks. His heart felt like it had been ripped, much like the paper. He had paid the ultimate price for trying to protect himself.
“Hey, are you okay?” a gentle voice asked, followed by footsteps.
Taehyung flinched as a hand tenderly brushed against his arm. He opened his eyes slowly and stared at the person, who was now crouched in front of him. His breath hitched as his eyes landed on a familiar face. The same shoulder-length, pink hair. The same perfectly hand-crafted face. And even though the stranger no longer had the blue contacts, Taehyung could tell they were the same eyes, just now full of worry. He stared in shock at the stranger he had only minutes ago been writing about.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” the most beautiful sounding voice said softly to Taehyung. It was as if the stranger spoke cautiously to not scare him like he was a fragile doe in the wild. “Here, can you sit up?”
The stunning stranger outstretched his hand for Taehyung, who looked directly into those worry-filled, beautiful brown eyes. Hesitantly, he reached out his hand, and with a slight shake, his hand touched the other boy’s warm one. An instant wave of electricity shot through his entire arm. At that moment, Taehyung couldn’t look anywhere but at those captivating brown eyes right in front of his face. The stranger simply stared back at him. Neither boy moved, time around them seemingly frozen.
“Is this your work?” a voice behind the beautiful stranger asked. “Did those boys destroy it?”
Both boys snapped out of their daze as Taehyung was finally helped to be sat up straight. He wiped the dried tear stains with his shirt while he looked at the one who had spoken. The dark blue-haired boy was squatting beside all of the scattered paper. In his hand was a single torn piece, twisting it as he inspected it. Taehyung tried to hold back more tears as he, too, picked up the piece of paper that had drifted towards him.
“Y-Yeah, they ripped up some of my writing,” he said softly with a slight quiver.
“I’m so sorry,” the pink-haired stranger whispered before gently placing his hand on Taehyung’s right shoulder.
The rest of the group stared down at him in a mixture of pity, shock and concern. The one who held the piece of paper began to pick up more of the scattered work. And soon enough, all five of the boys were collecting the torn paper while Taehyung and the pink-haired boy sadly watched on. The cool spring breeze made the task difficult for the group; in any other circumstance, Taehyung would have laughed at the comedic scene before him.
His heart painfully dropped. It felt like it had been split between the sorrow of his tarnished work, the uneasiness and fear of Ji-Hoon returning to finish what he had started, and the gratitude for these kind strangers. He felt like he could cry from pain. But, at the same time, he felt like he could cry from gratitude. He had been through so many different emotions in the past hour that he couldn’t even begin processing the events from earlier.
Tears began to fall rapidly, no matter how hard he tried to hold them back. Ashamed to cry in front of complete strangers, Taehyung buried his face in his hands as he felt a soft squeeze from the pretty pink-haired boy beside him. It had all been too much. Years of torment led him to this moment, bruised-bodied and broken-hearted. He was at the mercy of these strangers, all of his trust fully in their hands.
“Hey, it’s okay,” the sweet voice quietly coaxed him to calm down. “You’re safe now. We are here. Those boys are gone.”
Hearing those words strangely comforted Taehyung. Through the burning pain in his lungs, he forced himself to take long, deep breaths. With the back of his sleeves, he wiped his weeping eyes and the fresh tear tracks. A shiver ran down his spine as the boy beside him slowly dragged his hand up and down his back. His red, puffy eyes finally turned to the side to lock eyes with the sad brown eyes.
“Aw, you poor thing.” The boy crouched beside him shifted to kneel instead. “Come here.”
With one knee behind Taehyung’s back and one knee touching the side of his leg, the pink-haired boy used his free hand to wipe the remaining tears away. The hand that had been caressing his back moved to the back of Taehyung’s neck and gently pulled him against the firm chest. Two strong arms wrapped around him as his head nestled under the boy’s chin.
“Everything will be okay, I promise,” whispered the other boy as he tightened his hold.
“Let the boy breathe, Jimin,” an amused voice said before another equally handsome, brown-haired boy squatted before him. In his hands were Taehyung’s notebook and black messenger bag.
“He needs a hug, Jungkook. Leave us be for a second,” said the boy that Taehyung now knew as Jimin.
“Of course.” The handsome Jungkook warmly smiled directly at Taehyung. “Just give me a signal, and I will drag him off of you.”
Taehyung smiled at the wink directed his way and couldn’t help the small chuckle that left him as Jimin reached over to playfully hit Jungkook on the arm. At that moment, as he watched the two strangers interact, an intense wave of familiarity and calmness washed down his entire body. Chills ran over him, causing goosebumps to rise. The hair on the back of his neck and his arms stood straight.
“You’re such a brat,” huffed Jimin in feigned annoyance before he turned his attention back to Taehyung. Jimin wrapped his arm around him once more and rested his cheek upon the top of Taehyung’s soft, turquoise hair. “Don’t mind him. He’s just jealous.”
“Am not.” Jungkook rolled his eyes, and a fond smile formed on his face, a twinkle in both his brown eyes.
“Would you two behave for a few minutes?” sighed the dark blue-haired male as he walked up to the trio. In his hands were every piece of paper the group had collected. “Sorry about them. Here, we managed to grab all of it.”
With hands held out, the new male carefully transferred the torn paper into Taehyung’s shaking hands. Jimin pulled back from him slightly and squeezed his shoulders as a supportive gesture. Even though sorrow filled him as he looked at his work, he could feel a strong collective sense of agony from all six strangers at what had transpired. And knowing that he wasn’t alone helped Taehyung bravely reach forward and slide the pieces of paper into his messenger bag Jungkook had opened for him.
A soft and shaky exhale left his lips as he watched the pieces fall into the dark abyss of his bag. It would never be the same. He could never rewrite the ruined work in the exact same way. His precious work that he’d spent hours on, while not entirely lost, would be forever lost in its original form. And that was what hurt him the most. Not the physical or mental abuse those boys had subjected him to but the emotional abuse of destroying something so valuable and dear to him.
“What’s your name?” the dark blue-haired boy softly asked, his eyes full of pity.
“Taehyung. I’m Kim Taehyung,” he quietly replied as tears brimmed in his eyes. It was hard for him to take his eyes off of his bag.
“I’m sorry about everything that has happened to you, Taehyung. But it’s nice to meet you. My name is Kim Namjoon,” the dark blue-haired boy said before outstretching his hand.
“Thank you,” said Taehyung as he reached forward and took the offered hand. “Thank you all for your help.”
“No need to thank us.” Jimin smiled as he pulled back, stood up and stretched his arms. “I’m just glad you are okay.”
“Y-Yeah,” whispered Taehyung as he sadly looked down at his lap.
“Can you stand up? Do you need a hand?” asked Jungkook with a slight tilt of his head.
“I’ll be fine,” Taehyung reassured before he hoisted himself up from the ground and brushed off the grass from his pants and shirt. “Thank you again.”
“It’s okay, honestly,” Namjoon said as he and Jungkook stood. The silence continued as Jungkook simply stared at Taehyung. Namjoon rolled his eyes and shoved Jungkook slightly to prompt him to hand over the bag and notebook. “Jungkook, give Taehyung his stuff back.”
“Ah, sorry, here you go.” Jungkook blushed as he handed the two items over.
“Thanks.” Taehyung bowed as he grabbed his stuff.
“Would you like to come and hang out with us for a little?” asked Namjoon kindly.
Taehyung blushed from the kind offer. “Oh, no. No, I don’t want to impose on you guys. I should probably go home and get some rest.”
“Of course, we understand.” Namjoon nodded and smiled in return.
“It was nice to meet you all. Thanks for helping me. I hope you all have a good day,” Taehyung respectfully said as he bowed profusely despite how sore his body felt from the earlier onslaught of abuse.
Taehyung smiled as all six of the boys bowed in return. He slung his bag around his shoulder, safely stored his notebook away and turned around after he directed one last smile toward both Jimin and Jungkook. He had only made it a few steps away from the kind group of strangers when he froze mid-step in complete and utter fear. His body felt numb, his breath left his entire being, and his eyes widened at the sight that had caused such a powerful reaction from him.
“Wait!” cried out one of the males who hadn’t spoken yet.
“What’s wrong, Jin Hyung?” another unfamiliar voice asked.
“Taehyung, those are the boys who hurt you, right?” the voice supposedly belonging to Jin asked.
Still frozen in fear, all Taehyung could do was nod in response. Jimin and Jungkook immediately walked over to him and placed each one of their arms around him. His body was forcibly turned around by the two, but his eyes were still locked on the sight of Lee Ji-Hoon and his two boys as they smirked up at him from afar. A wave of dread washed over his body, causing him to shiver slightly. The memory of the attack was still so fresh in his mind.
“Ignore them,” whispered Jimin as the two led Taehyung back to the group. He squeezed Taehyung’s arm tightly as a silent reminder they were there for him. “You’re okay. You are with us.”
“O-Okay, yeah,” Taehyung whispered. Tears filled his eyes again. “If that’s alright with you all, can I stay with you?”
“Absolutely! Of course!” said Jungkook before anyone else could reassure Taehyung.
“We were just about to sit at one of the Koi ponds before we saw what was happening to you,” Jin said as he walked closer, coming to a stop beside Namjoon. “Would you like to go hang out with us there? Get comfortable and rest for a bit?”
“Sure.” Taehyung numbly nodded as he fought away the tears.
The two arms around him stayed in place as the group of seven began to walk down the hill. Namjoon and Jin silently led the way, while the rest followed, equally as quiet. Lucky for Taehyung, his body was being guided by Jungkook and Jimin as his mind was far from the present moment. He was completely consumed by the faces of his tormentors, their image carved and burned into every dark crevasse of his mind, not a single place unmarked by their terror.
“Hey, I’m Jung Hoseok,” a voice said suddenly, bringing Taehyung out of his mind and back to the present. “It’s nice to meet you, Taehyung.”
To his left, walking beside Jimin, was a blond-haired boy with a bright smile and beautiful brown eyes. When Taehyung looked into Hoseok’s eyes, he felt an instant connection with him. Within those sparkling brown eyes, he could see the genuineness and caring nature of the male plain as day. The longer he looked into those eyes, the more he felt safe. The more he felt protected. The more he felt he could say anything to this stranger without a single judgment ever being made.
“Likewise,” Taehyung said.
“I know this may be a bit of a sore spot right now,” Hoseok hesitantly began to say with a slightly sheepish look, “but I was wondering what you were writing? I saw a few words as we were cleaning it up, and I have to admit, I am intrigued.”
“Oh.” To say Taehyung had been taken aback by the question would likely be the most accurate statement anyone could ever make. “Well, I mainly write short stories, just about anything that comes to mind really. Inspiration finds me easily here in the serenity of these gardens. It’s always so peaceful and quiet. Well, it was until today.”
“I’m so sorry that happened. I could only begin to imagine what you’re going through. I was also wondering if you’d let us read some of your work that wasn’t damaged? A few of us write as a hobby, and some of what I saw seemed so captivating.”
“Uh, sure. I guess that would be okay,” Taehyung replied as a light pink colour stained his cheeks.
“You’re so cute when you blush,” cooed Jimin as he removed his arm that had been protectively holding Taehyung and reached up to pinch his rosy cheek.
“So cute,” agreed Jungkook as he reached up and ruffled Taehyung’s turquoise-coloured hair.
“T-Thank you,” Taehyung said as he hung his head from the embarrassment of the attention. He could practically feel his cheeks burning as they continued to walk in silence. Both arms returned to protectively hold and guide him.
The group came to a stop moments later on the grass beside the very same Koi pond Taehyung had admired after he first stepped inside the walls of his sanctuary. And as he looked back on how much things had changed since he was last there an hour ago, it sent a wave of gratitude coursing through him. He had met two clingy strangers who gushed over him, three down-to-earth males, and one quiet, black-haired, unnamed boy whose help did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
As the group stood still, overlooking the Koi pond, Taehyung finally felt safe and protected for the first time in a very long time. While some uncertainty and awkwardness still hung in the air from Taehyung’s side of things, he could already feel the acceptance and warmth from the six boys surrounding him. Part of him dreaded to think what would come of him once he ultimately left their company, likely to never cross paths with them again. Surely he would continue to fall victim to Lee Ji-Hoon and his lackeys.
“Let’s get comfortable,” Namjoon said with a content sigh, already moving to sit on the ground. “I’m sure you are tired and sore, right, Taehyung?”
“Yeah,” he quietly said, nodding and sitting.
The group had formed a small semi-circle as they settled down. Namjoon sat at the end, closest to the Beot-Kkot tree that loomed above the pond, with Jin sitting close beside him. The black-haired boy sat next to Jin with Hoseok on his other side. Taehyung sat between Hoseok and Jimin, with Jungkook completing the semi-circle next to Jimin. Some of the boys remained cross-legged, while others leant back on their palms and stretched their legs out in front of them.
As Taehyung took off his messenger bag, a light pink petal from the Beot-Kkot tree caught his attention. The petal mesmerisingly drifted from side to side as the gentle spring breeze brought it to rest in the middle of the group. A small smile graced his lips as he fondly looked at the lone petal surrounded by such kind-hearted and genuine people. He amused himself with his thoughts, likening himself to a flower petal, despite the hatred behind the taunt of being called ‘Flower Boy’ by his bullies. Perhaps he could reclaim and reinvent the meaning of the nickname.
“So, has that ever happened to you before? Those boys ganging up on you? It sounded like they knew you,” Jimin asked after the silence stretched a little too long for his liking.
“Yeah, I know them pretty well.” Taehyung sighed as he looked at his lap in shame. “Ever since high school, they have been targeting me. You only saw three of them, but there are usually eight. Ji-Hoon, the one who spoke, is like their leader. A-And the reason those three came after me was I punched Ji-Hoon earlier to escape from all eight boys on my way here.”
“Jesus, you mean they had already ganged up on you before we saw what those three were doing to you?” asked Hoseok with shock written over his face.
“Yes,” whispered Taehyung with a slight nod, his eyes never leaving his lap.
“You must be purple and blue all over, right? Are you in pain?” Jimin shifted closer and swept some of the turquoise strands from Taehyung’s face.
“I’ll be fine. I always am,” he said, his voice shaking. He tried so hard to fight back the tears as he sent a sad smile toward Jimin, unconsciously leaning into the hand that still cupped his face. “Today, they took it to a whole new level by touching my notebook. That is the thing I worry will be hard to recover from. The physical pain does not equate to how unbearable the emotional pain is.”
“And has anyone ever stood up for you? At school? Out in the streets?” asked Hoseok. He, like the others, was afraid they already knew the answer to that question.
“No, never. I’ve never had friends. I haven’t even had acquaintances, if you could believe that.” Taehyung laughed at how pitiful he sounded, even to his own ears. “No, you guys are the first people to ever step in and help me.”
“I’m so sorry. That’s horrible. You shouldn’t have to go through that.” Sorrow laced Jungkook’s quiet voice as he looked at him with sad, brown eyes.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s okay. That’s just the way my life is.”
“Whoa, you’re so strong,” whispered Jimin, his eyes shining with admiration as he reached forward and caressed the back of Taehyung’s neck.
“I wouldn’t say that but thank you,” he shyly whispered, the earlier blush returning in all its glory.
“No, Jimin is right. You are really strong,” Namjoon said as he watched the interaction with hidden interest.
Taehyung blushed harder at the attention. He hung his head as he heard them chuckle from his evident signs of embarrassment. Beside him, Jimin cooed and shuffled over so that they sat side-by-side with their hips touching. The pink-haired boy slung his arm around his shoulders and quietly cooed at him.
“Do you come here often?” curiously asked Jin to break the silence.
Taehyung nodded in response. “Almost daily.”
“Wow! Really?” Namjoon couldn’t believe his ears. “Well, it was lucky Jimin brought us here today. Even if some,” the blue-haired boy shot a look towards the unfazed black-haired boy, “weren’t so keen on visiting. Jimin only found this beautiful place two days ago.”
“Yeah, so lucky.” Taehyung nervously gulped as he looked at the ground, guilt creeping up behind him at having known this information already.
“Since you have never had a friend, do you always spend your time by yourself here?” Hoseok asked as he cocked his head to the side.
“Yes,” he answered with a strained smile.
“Do you ever explore other places?” asked Jin with a frown. “I know you must like it here, but there are so many more places to visit and hang out in this town.”
“No, not really. I like to stick to this place. I call it my home away from home. I’ve seen this place grow and change over the years. I’ve always felt at ease and safe here, so why bother going elsewhere? Especially when I’ll be alone, anyway.”
“Well, from now on, I’m going to drag you to new places,” Jimin said, pulling Taehyung closer. “And you can drag me here any time you’d like.”
“Yeah, come hang out with us,” Namjoon said. “At least promise you’ll meet with us five times at five different places. If you get sick of us, we’ll leave you alone.”
“You just seem like a nice guy, and we don’t want you getting left behind or forgotten, especially with people like that Ji-Honey guy or whatever around. It would hurt us to know something bad happened to you,” Jin sincerely said, his face also sporting a genuine smile.
“I-I promise.” Taehyung relented to the pressure, a part of him swelling with pride for being brave and trying new things out of his comfort zone.
“You won’t regret it. I promise you,” Jimin whispered as he briefly squeezed his arm tighter around Taehyung, then settled down with his head resting lightly upon Taehyung’s shoulders.
The pair stayed in that position as the group around them began to talk amongst themselves. Taehyung blushed at the constant physical contact between himself and Jimin. It felt oddly satisfying to have someone to actually lean on instead of usually being by himself 24/7. His light brown eyes scanned the group, and he frowned as his eyes landed on something he hadn’t noticed. His heart skipped a beat before it began to pound wildly in his chest.
“Do you mind if I look at some of your work?” Jimin suddenly asked, startling him from his trance.
“Huh?” Taehyung asked as he turned his wide eyes to Jimin. “Oh, yeah. Sure.”
As Taehyung reached into his messenger bag and fished around for his notebook, his eyes couldn’t help but travel back to the two boys holding hands and quietly gazing into each other’s eyes. His fingers brushed against the familiar material before he grabbed it and pulled it out. Almost reluctantly, he handed his precious work over to the angelic pink-haired boy.
“Jungkookie, come here,” Jimin softly called as he patted the ground beside him.
Taehyung barely registered what was happening beside him as his eyes stayed glued to Namjoon and Jin. The two sat with their hands interlocked, leant against one another, as they deeply stared into each other’s eyes. His heart loudly pumped in his ears, his mouth hung open slightly in wonderment, and his eyes were wide with surprise.
“I know, gross, right?” The black-haired boy tsked, which brought Taehyung out of his daze. “Yah! You two, knock it off! No one here wants to see your disgusting public displays of affection.”
“Oh, shut up, Yoongi!” Jin rolled his eyes as he turned to glare at the black-haired boy. “If it was you and Hoseok, you’d rip my ear off for even saying such a thing. Treat your Hyung with respect and mind your own business. I’m sure your boyfriend would love some attention instead.”
“Jin Hyung has a point, Yoongi.” Hoseok chuckled as he shifted sideways and laid down, his head falling on the black-haired boy’s lap. “Pay attention to your boyfriend.”
“Brat,” huffed Yoongi in annoyance as he tilted his head towards the sky, but nonetheless, reached a hand forward and softly stroked Hoseok’s hair.
“Sorry, you probably weren’t expecting that,” Namjoon said with a sheepish smile as he looked over at the red-faced Taehyung. “Jin and I are in a relationship. So are Yoongi and Hoseok. And Jimin and Jungkook. Hopefully, that won’t be a problem.”
“Oh,” said Taehyung, his heart dropping as he listened.
Why did his heart drop at the new information? Why should Taehyung care about a stranger and who they were dating? He shouldn’t. And that was the problem because he did care. His heart felt like it had been broken all over again as he looked at the pair beside him. Both Jimin and Jungkook looked up at the mention of their names.
“Huh? What was that, Hyung?” Jimin asked with a tilt of his head.
“I was just telling Taehyung how we are all in relationships. He looked surprised when he saw Jin and me,” Namjoon explained to the pink-haired boy.
“Ah, okay.” Jimin smiled before leaning towards Taehyung, his lips hovering inches away from Taehyung’s ear, his hot breath glossing over the sensitive skin. “Those four are in exclusive relationships, whereas Jungkookie and I are open to. . . shall we say. . . others?”
Taehyung watched with a surprised expression as Jimin pulled back with a grin. His face flushed even more when he witnessed before his very own eyes as the other boy confidently sent a wink his way and merely turned around to keep reading through the notebook. He continued to stare at the pair beside him as he processed the information and his confusing feelings.
His heart shouldn’t be beating a million miles an hour from those words sinfully whispered to him. But it was. He shouldn’t have had goosebumps when he felt the warm breath tickle his neck. But he had. His mind shouldn’t have gone blank after the flirtatious act directed at him by another male. But it had. Yes, he had written about such things in his notebook, such things including the stranger now known as Jimin, but that didn’t mean it reflected how he truly felt. Right?
“Pink hair and blue eyes,” Jungkook mused, catching Taehyung’s attention.
Panic flooded him as he helplessly watched Jimin and Jungkook read the very last story written in his notebook. Sweat formed on his hands as his body started to burn with an intense heat. The seconds seemed to drag on before the pair finally lifted their eyes to him. Both had identical, knowing smiles on their faces before Jimin reached out to him and engulfed him in an enormous hug that ended up pushing them both to the ground.
Taehyung laid flat on his back, his breath taken by the stunning silhouetted angel that hovered above him. Jimin shifted the messy turquoise hair out of Taehyung’s eyes. His fingers lightly traced the sides of his face before his small hand cupped the bright, rosy cheeks. Unconsciously, Taehyung’s tense body relaxed at the soft, warm touch, his eyes fluttering close briefly.
“Don’t hurt him,” Jin said from somewhere to the side, yet the voice sounded far from Taehyung.
“I would never hurt him,” whispered Jimin, his brown eyes roaming Taehyung’s face, making him feel bare and exposed. “I would never hurt something so beautiful.”
Time slowed as the gap between Taehyung and Jimin seemed to grow smaller. His heartbeat rapidly pounded in his chest as he stared between those intoxicating eyes and pink, plump lips. His eyes fluttered as the distance was closed, and the softest touch he had ever felt grazed his right cheek. Electricity shot through him at the contact, causing him to quietly gasp. He didn’t dare open his eyes as he felt movement near him, and suddenly, the second pair of lips brushed against his left cheek.
“Absolutely perfect.” Taehyung barely registered Jimin’s whisper as he felt him lean back, the weight on top of him disappearing.
“Utterly precious.” The second pair of lips withdrew, and he heard shuffling nearby.
Two different hands grabbed onto each of his hands. Jimin and Jungkook squeezed his hands, coaxing Taehyung to sit up. But they didn’t know he was currently in a state of utter bliss. Everything, for the first time, felt right. Nothing about what had just happened felt wrong or dirty. At that moment, he came to the realisation he was indeed gay.
All of Taehyung’s suppressed emotions and thoughts broke free as he accepted who he was. All his internalised homophobia slowly faded into the background, the lingering electricity a stark reminder of how right it was. It was okay that he liked boys. It was okay that he wrote about boys. It was okay that these two male strangers made him feel flustered. Taehyung knew it would be okay now that he had come to accept himself.
“Are you okay? Did they hurt you?” Namjoon’s concerned voice floated to his now crystal clear hearing.
“I’m fine.” Taehyung opened his eyes and sat up slowly with help from the two beautiful people sitting on either side of him. A small smile spread on his face as he looked around the worried looks of the group. “I’m great.”
“I think we found a keeper.” Jimin hugged Taehyung tightly, while Jungkook nodded and rubbed Taehyung’s back soothingly. “He’s so cute, Kookie!”
The group laughed and relaxed back into what they had been doing before the small antics of the trio. Taehyung couldn’t help but bathe in the serenity. As he sat in the arms of the two clingy strangers, staring ahead at the Koi pond, he reminisced on how drastically his life had changed thanks to today. He had overcome some fears of his. He had stood up for himself. He had lost, and more importantly, he had gained.
Another stray petal from the Beot-Kkot tree fell towards the ground, and something suddenly clicked in place for Taehyung as he watched it fall—almost sending him straight into tears. Here, in this very spot, had been the place his grandparents had met. Here, in this very spot, had been the place his grandparents shared their last smiles together and watched the sunset for the last time. He felt the raw emotions resurface from that beautiful night and couldn’t help the happy tear that fell down his cheek as he realised one more thing.
Because it was here, in these very gardens, that he had been saved by these six kind-hearted men. It was here, in this very spot, that he found what he hoped would be lifelong friendships. It was here, in this very spot, that he came to accept who he was and was always meant to be, no longer afraid of the taunts. And it was here, in this very spot, that Taehyung may have found something more than friends for the first time.
And if this wasn’t destiny and fate, just like his grandparents, he didn’t know what was.
Author Bangtan is a passionate writer who has been writing for many years. He has released stories mainly in the BTS and Harry Potter fandom, as well as a book full of original short stories. His greatest hope is to be able to write meaningful stories and deep characters the audience can connect with. Bangtan originally published “Flower Boy” on Wattpad.