9 |seven|

ChangBin opens the door to their apartment and motions me inside. I look to where I left Taro, but come up empty. My chest tightens immediately. Where did he go? I can't do anything without him. I can't sleep. I can't face people. He's my rock.

My eyes fall on JiSung. He sits on the far end of the couch with Taro in his hands. He looks him dead in the eyes before spinning him around and placing him in his lap. He pats his head before smiling to himself.

I let out a soft sigh of relief. He's not gone. He's still here. I allow the little bit of confidence I've gained from the past day control me and make my way back to the couch. I sit down and extend my leg out for Chan.

He kneels down in front of me while the others gather around to watch. Chan delicately lifts my pant leg just above my knee. A frown falls over his face.

"You said it wasn't bad. Did you even look at it? There's a huge bruise." Chan scolds me as JiSung leans forward to get a glimpse.

"Exactly, it's just a bruise." I quickly lower my pant leg before JiSung can see.

"Ice." Chan glances up at Felix and Felix scurries toward the kitchen.

"Sit here." JiSung gets up and motions toward the far end of the couch.

I hesitantly do as told. JiSung places Taro in my lap before grabbing a throw pillow. He gently lifts my leg and places the pillow beneath my knee. He takes the ice pack from Felix and sits on the ground in front of me.

"Do you want anything to eat?" SeungMin asks as he lingers next to the snack table they managed to put together.

I shake my head in dismissal. JeongIn and Felix fall down on the floor in front of the tv. They fiddle with a gaming console of some sort for a moment before settling on a game.

I jump the moment JiSung places the ice on my knee. He looks up at me concerned. I glance away, not sure as to how to play it off as nothing.

"I'm sorry." JiSung mumbles as he shifts his legs beneath him.

He can't be comfortable. The way he's sitting looks almost painful, but I know he won't do anything about it. He feels bad for hurting me, so he'll endure his own pain to try and lessen mine.

"I'm okay, really." I repeat for what feels like the millionth time.

I can see the urge to say more in his eyes, but he just can't seem to do it. I sit upright and place my hand on the opposite side of the ice pack. He looks at me confused.

"I don't need the ice. It's really not that bad." I carefully take the ice pack out from under his hand.

JiSung swallows hard. He doesn't know how to respond. His flustered state makes my heart skip a beat. He reminds me so much of myself it's scary. He's so outgoing on shows. He's so talkative and playful, but being face to face with him, I know there's more to him than that.

"Who's winning?" Chan asks as he squeezes on the couch beside MinHo and HyunJin.

"Felix is. Did you really not already know that?" ChangBin chuckles as he wraps his arms around Felix. He rests his chin on Felix's shoulder and smiles.

JiSung's eyes don't seem to want to leave my knee. He's too focused on trying to find a way to make it better. I swing my legs off of the couch and pull my phone out. I point toward my phone and hope he gets the idea. He pulls his own phone out, not exactly sure as to what I was hinting at. I open the app and begin typing.

Me: it's okay.

Me: I'm on medicine for this.

Me: it doesn't hurt much.

I watch him watch me, still unsure as to what I want. I turn my phone just enough for him to see the app. His face lights up and he quickly unlocks his own phone. I know he can't respond, if he does, everyone would see it, but at least I can let him know that I really am okay.

He glances around the room to ensure no one is paying much attention to us. He holds his hand out for my phone. I hesitantly give it to him. He's going to see my home screen. He's going to regret everything, but it's the least I can do for making him worry so much.

A soft chuckle slips passed his lips, earning a couple of glances from the others. He quickly clears his throat and hides my phone from their view. Once they look away, satisfied, he starts typing something on my phone. He hands it back to me before going back to his own phone.

I look down at my phone in confusion. I'm not sure exactly what he did, but he seems pleased. My phone vibrates in my hand and I glance down to see a new Kakao message. I don't talk to anyone but MinJi on Kakao, who could it be?

I close my eyes tightly and press my lips together firmly as I try to ease my racing heart. It's JiSung. He added me on KakaoTalk. I click on his message and read it over a few times, unsure as to if I'm reading it right.

JiSung: Don't lie. It hurts. I saw it. It looks painful.

I glance up at him to see his eyes once again on my knee. I roll my eyes and begin conjuring up a response for him.

Me: not really. I take more medication than you can ever imagine for my pain. So this isn't that bad. I've had worse.

JiSung hesitantly scoots closer to me. He glances up at me for approval before carefully lifting my pant leg. He runs his cool fingers along Emmy bruised skin. I notice Chan watching him, but he doesn't say a word.

I want to say I hate the touch, but I don't. He's so gentle it feels like the soft caress of butterfly wings. Of course, they're theoretical butterfly wings. I would never in a million years willingly be within twenty feet of any flying insect.

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He grazes his fingertips over a sensitive area, but I do my best to keep my pain hidden. If I react, he won't believe that I'm alright. He'll think that I'm lying.

JiSung reaches over to pick up the ice pack again. Without warning, he places it back on my knee. I hiss softly, shocked my the sudden cold. Everyone turns to look at us. I can sense JiSung's unease, but he doesn't move. He continues to hold the ice to my skin as firmly yet carefully as possible.

"I—I should go." I do my best to slip out of JiSung's reach without hurting him. I grab Taro and my phone and move as quickly as I can through the maze of boys.

Before anyone can object, I'm in the hall on the verge of tears. It always comes without warning. I'll be fine one moment and the next it feels like someone has their fingers wrapped around my neck. I press my back to the wall and hold Taro tightly against my chest. I slide down the wall until I'm sitting on the ground. I can't stop the tears from coming.

Being there with them—being around people who seemed to really care about me—it made everything feel too real. I'm so used to being in a bitter world that my dreams are the only place I feel safe and secure. Sitting with them, I felt kind of normal for once. I felt like I had friends—that I wasn't an outcast that people were afraid of at times. I hit my thighs as I slowly begin to rock back and forth.

I'm far too weak to make it to my room. There's no way my mind would remain calm enough to enter the code to even step foot into the apartment. So, I'm stuck here. I'm stuck here hoping no one comes looking for me. My hopes fade faster than I had anticipated as their apartment door creeps open.

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