A year later...
Someone tapped his shoulder. Daniel spun around, instantly stepping away from the person.
If he hated anything, it was meeting people at parties. He hated it when people recognized him, which made it difficult to go out, something Daniel had started doing more often those days. People recognizing him as Bloo and trying to talk to him… it happened from time to time.
But this… This was a familiar face.
Familiar red and black hair, although this time with eyebrows.
“Bloo!” Nicholas exclaimed, opening his arms, but not going in for a hug. “Bloo in Wonderland! Fancy seeing you here!”
Daniel blanked. All he could do was stare. He hadn’t seen Nicholas in over a year, not since everything that had happened between him and Jinyong. Seeing him here now, he was like an apparition. Had he drank too much? Was this real?
“This is my favourite club,” Daniel stuttered out at last.
“Oh, I know,” Nicholas said with a big grin on his face.
Something was off about this response. Other than the fact that Nicholas was quite clearly hammered, Daniel also didn’t like the way he said what he said. It made him take a step back.
“I came hoping to see you,” Nicholas elaborated, stepping forward so that Daniel could hear him at all. Then he added, “I’ve kinda missed you.”
Daniel’s chest tightened, he looked at Nicholas almost apologetically. It was difficult to admit, but Daniel had missed him too.
Then something came over him, something that caused a wrench in his gut. The gentle swelling of his heart was gone, replaced with bubbling frustration. “Aren’t you doing well enough with Jinyong? I thought you didn’t need me.”
“Hey, hey,” Nicholas raised his arms, the liquid spilling from the glass he was holding. “I know you’re upset. I didn’t—I really wanted us all to be friends. But it was really not up to me, the two of you went off and parted ways. I just—I followed the contract, y’know? I… You two put me in a tough spot. I had to choose.”
When Daniel looked at Nicholas, he was overcome with guilt for what he’d said. Nicholas, he… he looked genuinely distraught. Having put his arms down he was swaying, gripping the bar for balance.
“I know… I’m sorry, Nick. We… Things just exploded out of control.”
Nicholas shrugged one shoulder. “I just don’t want you to be mad at me.”
“I’m not,” Daniel assured. Hesitantly, he reached out and squeezed Nicholas’ arm. He smiled at Daniel.
They stayed together. They stood by the bar, ordering drink after drink, talking as much as they could over the music, their throats aching from yelling. At some point Nicholas got tired of it and left his glass on the bar, then took Daniel’s wrist. He leaned in close, said in his ear, “Let’s go dance.”
Daniel stopped to think about it and decided that he was just buzzed enough to agree. He let Nicholas drag him down the stairs and into where the crowd was the thickest.
Daniel didn’t like crowds. Not when he was sober, at least. Now he didn’t mind, he didn’t mind the lack of air, he didn’t mind the bodies pressing up against him, the sweat that gathered at the back of his neck. He danced, swayed, lit a cigarette and did his best not to burn anyone around him.
He let Nicholas hold his waist, drag his hands up his sides. Daniel pressed back against him, resting his head on Nicholas’ shoulder. It was like old times.
Nicholas grinned. “You’ve gotten touchy,” he said into Daniel’s ear.
“I don’t mind so much now,” Daniel said.
Nicholas spun Daniel around. He took the cigarette from his hand, finished the last drag and left it in a nearby ashtray. He s his arms around Daniel’s waist, pulling him close, so close that he was completely pressed up against Nicholas. Daniel’s heart raced, he kept his hands on Nicholas’ chest and didn’t look at him.
“How about this? Do you mind this?”
Daniel shook his head.
“What about…” Nicholas tipped Daniel’s chin up. “...this?”
It took Daniel a second to realize what was happening. Nicholas’ lips on his, moving slowly and steadily, parting Daniel’s own.
Daniel wanted to, he wanted to so badly, but he couldn’t let himself enjoy. There was something nagging at him. He pushed Nicholas away.
“What are you—what the !? Aren’t you with Jinyong?”
Daniel couldn’t read Nicholas’ expression. “Jinyong?” Then he laughed, a bit hysterically, his entire body shaking with the intensity. “We’re just colleagues! Do you not remember how he hated me?” Nicholas sighed, laughing still. “Jinyong! He only has eyes for you!”
Daniel stared. “...me?”
Nicholas shrugged. “Just my observation.” He let a moment pass. “So… are we good?”
Daniel nodded slowly. This time, he was the one to lean in.
Daniel realized quickly that he’d been missing out, going to parties and clubs without anyone to make out with. He’d needed this. He’d needed hands on him, someone’s tongue between his lips, being pressed up against a wall and held.
But a moment came when Nicholas pulled away abruptly, hand resting on the wall by Daniel’s head. He stared at the ground, shaking his head.
“What’s wrong?” Daniel asked, worriedly wrapping an arm around Nicholas’ waist.
“Bathroom,” he said, and started making his way through the crowd without waiting for Daniel. He had to do his best to follow.
He reached the bathroom a bit after Nicholas. By the time Daniel arrived, he was already on his knees, gagging over a toilet. Daniel approached, helping him up once he was done.
Nicholas washed his face, drank some water. He stood over the sink, arms shaking as he gripped the edge. “I need air,” he said at last. This time he took Daniel’s hand before he started pushing his way through.
They managed to get out after a few minutes of pushing and squeezing past people. Daniel breathed in the fresh air, his head cleared a little.
Nicholas leaned against the wall, and as soon as he did, he slid down onto the ground. Daniel crouched down next to him, holding him by the shoulder.
“I’m tired,” Nicholas muttered.
“Imma lie down…”
“What the f—no, not here, hey—”
But Nicholas was not listening. He slid sideways, falling heavily onto the ground. Daniel stared in awe. He had no idea what to do. He looked around, but the street remained empty.
He attempted, in vain, to shake Nicholas awake, and what he ended up doing was sitting on the ground with Nicholas’ head in his lap. He was half awake, though all he did was groan occasionally. He couldn’t get up.
There was only one person Daniel could think of to call for help. However, he really didn’t want to talk to Jinyong.
But he had to do something . And that was exactly what he needed to do. Daniel sighed, placing a protective hand on top of Nicholas’ head.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Help’s on the way.”
And so Daniel found himself in the backseat with Nicholas’ head once again in his lap. Jinyong drove in silence. The silence turned into anxiety in Daniel’s gut. He kept himself busy with running his fingers through Nicholas’ hair, just trying to calm himself down. He tried his best not to focus on Jinyong.
When they arrived, Jinyong carried Nicholas by throwing him over his shoulder. A little perplexed and disoriented, Daniel only followed him into the building.
It was much nicer than the one the two of them had lived in, Daniel noted. Much cleaner, in a much better neighbourhood. However when he walked into the apartment, he saw that it was only a little bigger than theirs had been. Jinyong lived alone, Daniel realized.
The kitchen and the living room were joined together. One side was the kitchen, with a little table that had three chairs around it. A couch, a TV, a tiny balcony overlooking the street below and the small park between buildings. Three doors were on the other side, presumably leading to the bedroom, or bedrooms, and the bathroom.
Though only a little bigger, the apartment was definitely nicer. The furniture was newer, more expensive by the looks of it and there was no mouldiness or chipped walls, probably no malfunctioning toilets either.
Jinyong put Nicholas down onto the couch into a sitting position. “Sit with him,” Jinyong told Daniel, “And do not let him sleep.” Then he disappeared behind one of the three remaining doors.
Daniel did so, awkwardly. He had never been the one to take care of a drunk person, he was always the drunk person.
He too had picked up the habit of going out drinking every other day, drinking in his free time at home, drinking whenever he was out with anyone as well. It wasn’t the healthiest habit, Daniel was aware, but he found himself needing the feeling. His medication was useless. He needed something else to lift him up. At that point, he could no longer go to sleep if he wasn’t drunk.
In any case, he knew exactly what Nicholas was going through.
Nicholas’ head fell onto Daniel’s shoulder. His eyes were closed and lips parted. Daniel immediately started shaking him.
Nicholas groaned in protest.
“Hey, you can’t sleep. Jinyong said you can’t sleep, remember?”
“But I’m tired,” Nicholas whined.
“I know. You just gotta stay up a bit longer, okay?”
Jinyong came out of what turned out to be the bathroom with a tab of black pills that he threw onto the coffee table in front of Nicholas, then went to get him a glass of water. Nicholas took one of the pills with the water. The way he moved, mechanically and without much thinking, made Daniel think that this had become some sort of standard procedure for the two of them.
“You’re not sleeping until you’re no longer sick, you hear?” Jinyong said, leaning in as if scolding a little child.
Nicholas nodded, already dozing off in his upright position. Jinyong snapped his fingers in front of his face.
“I’m awake,” Nicholas muttered, blinking slowly.
Jinyong sighed, landing heavily onto the couch next to Nicholas, sandwiching him between himself and Daniel.
He took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up.
It seemed that he no longer needed Daniel’s help. Besides, Daniel really didn’t want to stay in Jinyong’s apartment.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll get going…”
“Oh no,” Jinyong said. “You’re drunk too, you didn’t drive here, how the do you think you’ll be getting home?”
“I’ll just call a ing taxi,” Daniel snapped.
“You’re staying the night, until you feel better.”
“You’re still babysitting me, I see.” Daniel crossed his arms, but he didn’t move. Truth was… he was tired. Thinking of going home right now, it seemed like such a hassle.
Jinyong didn’t respond, only rolled his eyes.
Daniel looked at Nicholas, who was struggling to stay awake.
“What’s been going on with…?” He left the sentence hanging in the air.
Jinyong spared Nicholas a glance. “What’s been going on…” He sighed. “He goes out drinking every night. Every. Single. Night. I can’t get him to stop.”
As worried as Daniel was, there was a familiar push-back to Jinyong’s own worry. “Why would you be stopping him?”
Jinyong stared at him as if he was insane. “He’s my colleague and--friend. I care about his well being.”
“But it’s not your job.”
“Maybe, but—I want him to be okay! Not only that, but working with him has become so ing difficult. He’s always either drunk or hungover.” Jinyong sighed, shaking his head. He gave Nicholas, who was half asleep, a sideways glance. “He’s so ing talented, but he’s wasting away.”
Daniel let that sink in. True though it may have been, he still felt the need to defend his standpoint, having been the target of Jinyong’s worry and attempts at control for so long.
“You know what your problem is?” Daniel said slowly.
Jinyong rolled his eyes. “Please, do tell. That’s exactly what I need right now.”
Daniel ignored the sarcasm of the statement and went on, “You get way too attached, way too quickly. And when you do, you start living people’s problems as if they were your own.”
At this, Jinyong went quiet. He said nothing for a couple of drags.
“You and him are the type of people who don’t take care of themselves. Someone has to,” Jinyong said quietly.
“You’re just stressing yourself out. We’re ing adults, we don’t need you to babysit us.”
“Then learn to take care of yourself!” After saying this, Jinyong suddenly stood up and began pacing the room.
Daniel saw it then. The tension in his shoulders, the shaking of his arms, the bags under his eyes. He was thoroughly exhausted. And it occurred to Daniel that taking care of an alcoholic was probably not the easiest of tasks, while also trying to make it in the music industry.
It also occurred to him that one must really care about someone to sacrifice themself like that for their wellbeing.
He felt a sting of guilt, an uncomfortable sensation right underneath his sternum.
He swallowed. “Sometimes… People just don’t care about themselves. It’s… tied to self-hate and a low self-esteem. And no matter how many people around them do care, they can’t bring themselves to… to be gentle with themselves.”
Jinyong stopped pacing right in front of Daniel. “Do you think I don’t know that?” He said quietly. “I grew up with you. I know how your mind works. You think I don’t, but I do. And you keep shutting me out because you think I don’t understand.”
Daniel shrank. He put his feet on the couch and hugged his knees. He had nothing to say.
Jinyong didn’t address him again. He kneeled in front of Nicholas, gently cupping his cheek.
“Hey,” he called.
Nicholas’ lashes fluttered, he shifted a little and opened his eyes.
“How are we feeling?”
“Mhm,” Nicholas uttered. It took him a second to find any actual words, “Better. Tired.”
“No longer sick?”
“Let’s go to sleep then.” Jinyong stood up and picked Nicholas up with ease. He carried him off to what Daniel assumed was the bedroom.
Soon, Jinyong returned to the living room and sat back down on the couch. He lit another cigarette.
“You’re a good friend, Jinyong,” Daniel said quietly.
Jinyong sighed tiredly. “Yeah. Sure. I just wish I’d been a better friend to you.”
“Don’t blame yourself for me leaving,” Daniel spoke carefully, observing Jinyong’s profile, expecting a negative reaction.
But Jinyong only calmly exhaled smoke. “I know very well that you simply got stuck in your head and convinced yourself that we didn’t want you, even though it was just your projection. But still…” He paused to take a drag. “I wish I’d been able to support you better. To make you realize that whatever your anxiety was convincing you of wasn’t true.”
Daniel was just about to speak when Jinyong continued,
“But I do blame myself for the kiss.”
Daniel’s head spun. “Don’t—bring that up. You know I don’t blame you for that. You know I don’t take it against you. You know I would have left anyway.”
“I know,” Jinyong said quietly. “But back then, I knew you liked Nicholas. And I didn’t.”
Daniel was quiet. “Didn’t? What about now?”
Jinyong didn’t respond. After twenty minutes of silence, Daniel realized that he would get no answer.
Daniel looked away and smushed his cheek against his knee. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “For leaving.”
Jinyong didn’t say I forgive you . He stood up. “We can talk tomorrow. You’re sober enough to dress yourself, are you?”
“Then I’ll give you something of mine to wear to bed and I’ll take the couch.”
Nicholas was asleep in his clothes, apparently something that Jinyong was too tired to fix. He lay on his side, clutching the blanket, lips parted and breathing audibly. Before turning away from him and dozing off, Daniel ran his hands through Nicholas’ hair one last time.
When he awoke the next morning, Daniel was warm. His head hurt, he felt sluggish and dizzy, but he was warm. Because, he realized, he’d been embraced. Both he and Nicholas must have moved throughout the night because they now lay in each other’s arms. The position made Daniel flush and he immediately started thinking of the best way to move away without waking up Nicholas.
Then again with how much he’d drank the night before, it was unlikely that a nuclear blast would wake him up. Daniel was able to slip out of Nicholas’ hold with ease.
Going out into the living room he came across Jinyong, in a chair by the open balcony door, having a cigarette. There was a pillow and an unmade blanket on the couch which led Daniel to believe that Jinyong did sleep the previous night.
Daniel approached from behind and rested a reluctant hand on Jinyong’s shoulder.
“Good morning,” he said after clearing his throat.
Jinyong nodded in response.
“Did you sleep?”
Jinyong tipped his head back, looking at Daniel upside down. He smiled. “Enough. Don’t worry.” Then he brought his free hand up and rested it on top of Daniel’s.
Not knowing what else to say, Daniel said, “Nicholas is still asleep.”
“Yeah, he would be,” was all Jinyong said.
“You’re upset with him?”
Jinyong huffed at that.
Daniel stood there, unsure what to do.
Then it occurred to him. There was really only one thing to do.
He came around to stand in front of Jinyong, then wrapped his arms around him.
Jinyong exhaled. Careful not to not to put out his cigarette against Daniel, he hugged back.
Gradually, Jinyong’s grip tightened. Daniel could soon feel him shaking. He cradled Jinyong’s head, kissed his forehead.
“Are you hungry?” Daniel asked, pulling away to look at Jinyong. “I’ve been cooking for myself recently, I can make us something.”
Jinyong nodded, shrugged.
Daniel leaned in and kissed his cheek, then went to the kitchen. Checking Jinyong’s fridge, Daniel saw that there were ingredients for a solid haejangguk. He got to work.
When he was done, Daniel set the table for three. Just as he was doing this, movement could be heard from the bedroom.
Nicholas emerged, leaning in the doorway. He took a look at the small table and sat down on one of the chairs. He didn’t start eating, only stared ahead of himself.
Daniel wasn’t sure what to do now. He sat down beside Nicholas and said a hesitant, “Good morning.”
Nicholas completely ignored him. Still staring ahead, he said, “Please don’t go,” and Daniel wasn’t sure who he was addressing.
Jinyong was the one to respond, after shaking ash off his cigarette. “Unlike you, I keep my promises.”
Daniel looked between the two as if observing a tennis match. He was confused, but he knew better than to ask. He already felt like he didn’t belong there, like he was witnessing something that was only for Nicholas and Jinyong to hear. So he shrunk in his spot, not moving a muscle.
“ Please . We need each other, I—I need you.”
“I know,” Jinyong said. He put out his cigarette and stood up. “That’s exactly why I have to leave. You won’t learn otherwise.” He finally turned to face Nicholas, although the other was still staring ahead. “It’s not just about you either. I… I can’t keep doing this. I’m exerting myself for your sake and you just…” Jinyong made a helpless gesture.
“How many of your apologies do you think I can take before it’s time to do something!?” Jinyong sighed. “Listen, Nicholas. It’s over. You can give me a call once you’re sober.”
Nicholas didn’t say anything else. When Daniel took a look at his face, he saw that Nicholas’ eyes were glistening.
He began eating. Daniel followed his example. Jinyong joined them soon after.
They ate in silence.
After he was done, Nicholas got up, gathered his things and left without a goodbye.
Daniel looked at Jinyong. “You won’t really leave him?”
Jinyong put his chopsticks down, chewing slowly. “You were right. I do get too attached. I do live people’s problems as if they were my own. I’m done doing that.”
“You know, I didn’t mean—”
Jinyong shook his head. “The last time, I told him that if this happened again we’d be done until he got sober. I’m not going to be a pushover anymore. I said what I said and I’m sticking to it.”
“But… He just might need a friend right now,” Daniel muttered.
“Will you decide!? Just last night you were telling me about how I get into other people's lives too much, and now you want me to do exactly that!?”
Daniel leaned away from Jinyong. “Jesus, fine, I’m sorry. It’s… it’s just a ed up situation, okay? There’s no right answer—”
“No . So maybe you can stop giving unsolicited advice since you don’t know about the situation.”
Daniel slowly stood up, going to put his bowl and chopsticks away. Then he stood by Jinyong.
“You’re angry right now so I won’t take any of this to heart. I just want you to know… I’m glad we got to see each other, even under these circumstances.” He paused, rubbing the back of his neck. “Give me a call if you’d like to hang out, when you’ve chilled out a little.”
“Sure,” Jinyong muttered, poking his food around and not looking at Daniel.
“I’ll get going,” Daniel said.
“Do you need a ride?” Jinyong asked.
“I’ll call a taxi.”
And that was the end of it.