Jiyong trots down the hallway towards the studio. The sound of soft rnb music reached him even as he was stretching in bed, too lazy to get up. He figured he’d give Minho some peace to work.
But he’s finally up now, slipping quietly into the studio.
Minho jumps a little, turning around. “Oh! Morning.” He offers a bright smile. “Did you sleep well? Hopefully better than yesterday..”
Jiyong gives a strained smile and nods. He hasn’t slept very well tonight either, but he doesn’t feel like getting into it.
To deflect the subject, Jiyong raises his mug. “Thanks for the coffee.”
Every day the past week Jiyong has returned from the bathroom to a mug of coffee on his nightstand as well as his bed made. The culprit is sitting on the spinny chair, having turned his back to the canvas, smiling.
“I told you already, there’s no reason to thank me,” Minho says. “It’s the least I can do to make it up to you.”
“And I’ve told you,” Jiyong counters. “There’s no reason to make anything up to me. It’s my pleasure to have you here.”
Minho shrugs, a gesture that suggests he will definitely continue being Jiyong’s morning maid.
“Speaking of which,” Jiyong says. “Are we doing it today?”
Minho’s smile fades as he gets into his serious business mode. “Yeah. I don’t see why we wouldn’t finish everything today, after all we have only one song left. I’m actually gonna be done with this—” he gestures behind himself, “—soon so we can go into the studio.”
Jiyong nods. “Lovely. In that case I’ll be downstairs, just shout when you’re ready.”
“Oh, you can stay if you want.”
Jiyong doesn’t need to be told twice. He only goes to his room to grab a pack of cigarettes. Back in the art studio, he sits on a beanbag in the corner and watches Minho paint.
It was the two of them that decided to put that beanbag there. It was because Jiyong had grown the balls to tell Minho that he enjoys watching him paint. Minho then said that Jiyong was one of the few people he felt comfortable watching him work. So they figured they could bring one of the beanbags from Jiyong’s room to the studio so that he could sit around and watch when there was a chance for it.
Jiyong gets through a few cigarettes before Minho goes away to wash his supplies and Jiyong gets up to help him get everything in order. Once that task is done, it’s time to record Superstar.
“What are you smiling about?” Jiyong asks, smiling himself over his water bottle.
“I just can’t believe we’re done soon. As soon as you’re done with this song…”
“I know, I know,” Minho cuts in, putting away the headphones. “But I mean our part of the conception of the album is soon done.”
Jiyong tilts his head. “Well, that’s technically true. But we still have to record the promotional material. Not to mention promotions themselves.”
Minho sighs deeply, beginning to spin his chair left and right. “Yeah…”
Minho nods. “A little. Honestly, performing itself seems less scary than the possibility of me ing up during a photoshoot or MV shooting. And both are scary.”
“I understand. You’re new to this, it’s normal to be nervous.” Jiyong walks over to the other chair and falls into it, causing it to spin. “But you won’t be doing it on your own. You’ll have me and an entire crew of people who will all be there to help you and tell you what to do. You’ll be just fine, kid. There’s no way you can mess this up.”
Minho’s chair comes to a slow stop facing Jiyong’s own. “...Thank you. I really—I hope everything goes well.”
“It will.” Jiyong flinches as something crosses his mind. He catches Minho’s gaze and says, “And please, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to me. I’ve been around the block, you know? I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this since I was literally a kid. It’s incomparable, as it should be. In your own right, you’re doing just fine. But we’re a completely different system, you and I, you get me?”
Minho is frowning, but he nods. “I think so… Yeah.” He nods again. “Thank you. Thank you, Jiyong. It’s good enough knowing that I won’t be alone.”
Jiyong is already thinking about the next thing to say to fill the silence when Minho chimes in,
“On a brighter note, I’ll be dyeing my hair black for my debut.”
Jiyong raises his eyebrows, smiling. “Oh? I thought we’d be matching cus I’ll be bleaching my hair.”
“What’s wrong with a little variety?”
“True. We don’t want you looking like a mini Kwon Jiyong.”
Minho nudges Jiyong with his foot, but bursts out laughing nonetheless.
* * *
“So, are you satisfied with the album so far?”
Jiyong’s scalp burns just a little. It’s the waiting part of the bleaching process. Chaerin is sitting in an armchair in the living room, waiting for a response. Daesung is on the floor with Jiyong. Daesung is the one who’s bleaching Jiyong’s hair. He looks at Jiyong, curious to hear his response as well.
“Good.” He goes quiet. “Great, actually. Better than I expected.”
Chaerin is smiling. Daesung as well.
“I knew it,” she says. “I knew everything would be fine.”
Jiyong taps a rhythm on his thigh. “I actually…” He huffs. “You can’t tell Seunghyun about this.”
Daesung raises his eyebrows, but says nothing.
“He was right.”
Chaerin bursts out laughing. “No worries, our lips are sealed!”
Jiyong shoots her a look, but swiftly returns to staring at the carpet.
“He was right about what?” Daesung prompts.
Jiyong takes a moment to question whether to get into this, but then he decides that he has to, now that he’s brought it up. He tells them about him meeting Minho, about meeting him once again in Seunghyun’s office, about Seunghyun’s prediction that working with him might be helpful to Jiyong.
“And it was,” he says. “I needed that kind of push, I guess.”
Daesung and Chaerin both nod understandingly.
“Well, we may not be allowed to admit what you’ve just told us, but Seunghyunie definitely deserves praise. I’m glad he gave you that deal, I’m happy you’re finally back to doing what you love.”
Daesung nods in agreement. He rests a hand on Jiyong’s thigh. “Are you feeling any better?”
Jiyong bites his bottom lip. He wishes people wouldn’t act like there’s one singular cure to depression. Just because he returned to making music and somewhat of a social life doesn’t mean he feels good.
Then again… as much as it kills him to admit it, it’s better. Better doesn’t have to mean good.
“A bit better,” he mutters.
Daesung doesn’t say anything else, he just hugs Jiyong. Chaerin stands up from the armchair to join in.
* * *
Another day, another nightmare.
Jiyong hasn’t slept. He wears sunglasses in the middle of January to hide the bags under his eyes before the makeup artists make him look presentable.
Him and Minho have finished recording. Minho’s finals season has ended as well, and he was finally feeling the least bit less stressed. This meant that it was the perfect moment for them to start with the shoots and MV filming.
As he sips on his third coffee that morning, the words of their artistic director pass through Jiyong’s mind, hardly sticking. He’ll know what to do when the time comes, but right now his brain is unable to process information.
The only thing reaching his brain is the sound of Minho’s badges being clicked together. He can feel Minho’s own anxiety seeping into his system. Never before has anyone been able to pass their anxiety onto Jiyong this much.
He’ll have to talk to Minho about it.
Jiyong waits for the first opportunity to excuse them both, saying that he needs to have a word with his colleague.
Jiyong takes Minho by the sleeve and drags him towards the nearest changing room in the establishment and slams the door behind them both.
Minho is pale like porcelain. He trembles, continuously clicking the two badges on his bag together. “What?” He stutters. His eyes are wide, as if he’s expecting something awful.
“Dude. Are you okay?” is all Jiyong says though.
And as soon as he does there are tears in Minho’s eyes.
“Oh boy,” Jiyong mutters to himself, watching Minho trying to keep himself together. “It’s okay to cry, you know, if you can’t talk now…”
And Minho does. He breaks down, burying his face in his hands. Jiyong can’t do much but watch his shoulders shake, listen to his choked sobs.
Jiyong just stands there, a weight pressing down on his chest. He rubs at his sternum as if it would alleviate the pressure.
“It’s—It’s gonna be okay,” Jiyong tries. He hesitates, hastily debating whether it would be appropriate.
But Minho cries so intensely, his breathing hitches so horribly that Jiyong must do something.
He reaches out, resting his hand on Minho’s shoulder. He gently rubs Minho’s back like he has back in his house when Minho’s was having a panic attack. He doesn’t seem to mind the contact, but nothing happens for a while.
It takes time for Minho to stop crying. He wipes his eyes a bit too long once he’s finally stopped.
“You don’t have to hide,” Jiyong says, attempting to sound compassionate. “I noticed that something was wrong so I wanted to… I don’t know. Is there any way I can help?”
Minho shrugs, still hiding his face in his hands, still trying to play it off like he’s wiping his eyes. “I’m nervous… I know it’s ing stupid, I know I’m being dumb but I’m so ing nervous—”
“It isn’t stupid,” Jiyong says. “It’s completely understandable to get nervous over something like this. It’s alright to be anxious about this, Minho.” Jiyong racks his brains for something smart to say, anything that might put the younger at ease…
“I’ll be with you through it, okay? If it helps… You’ll have me, the photographer, the artistic director, everyone helping you with what you need to do. You won’t be lost for a second there, I promise.”
Minho stares at the ground, at the wall, everywhere except for Jiyong.
“Is there anything else bothering you?” He prompts.
But before Minho gets to speak the door swings open. Their art director, the lovely Lee Soonyi stands in the doorway with quite the smug smile on her face. Behind her, Seunghyun stands shaking his head, trying to wordlessly communicate to Jiyong that he’s sorry, that he’s tried to stop her.
Jiyong gives a little appreciative nod to his efforts. He appreciated the few minutes he and Minho got together, even though they apparently needed more.
“Alright, alright,” Soonyi says. “You can share that dressing room, but we need to get started now.”
Minho’s eyes widen and Jiyong raises his eyebrows. Minho says, “what?” at the same time as Jiyong says, “excuse me?”
Soonyi gives no further explanation, just a wink. Behind her, Seunghyun face-palms.
And so preparations ensue.
As it turns out, Minho and Jiyong are given the dressing room to share. It’s quite bigger than some Jiyong has been in, but he still finds it unnecessary. Still, he dismisses it as Soonyi’s attempt at humour, perhaps even an attempt at breaking the tension.
Jiyong avoids mirrors like the plague. He doesn’t want to look at himself and his broken body. He lets himself be assisted with getting dressed but refuses to look at his reflection until the outfit is fully on.
When he’s halfway into his pair of skinny jeans, he hears Minho’s voice from behind his back,
“You look so good.”
Jiyong trips, nearly falling over. He’s helped up by one of the assistants and he has to put up with shaky hands until the jeans are all the way on.
“Thanks,” he mutters, not turning around.
It’s only once they get their hair and makeup done that Jiyong gets to have a proper look at Minho.
He’s a vision. This simple styling looks amazing on him; the white tank top with a print and the flannel shirt that falls off his shoulder leave his tattoos on display. A thin silver chain dangles around his neck. His newly dyed black hair is slicked back, letting his undercut be seen. This way more of his face is visible as well. Jiyong has never seen his lovely sharp features so clearly. Minho usually wears his bangs over his forehead, letting them fall into his eyes and obscure his face.
Jiyong doesn’t let himself dwell too much on the fact that Minho’s legs look terribly slim in those skinny jeans, or the fact that despite that, his looks pretty cute in them.
Unfortunately Minho must have sensed eyes on him as in the next moment he turns, catching Jiyong’s gaze before he has the chance to look away.
Jiyong offers a smile instead of trying to play it off. “See what you can look like when many professionals get involved.”
Minho blinks, brows furrowed. Seunghyun comes up from behind him and rests a hand on Minho’s shoulder.
“That’s his backwards way of complimenting you,” Seunghyun tells him.
Jiyong doesn’t deny it. “You look amazing,” he says.
Minho offers an excited little smile. “Likewise.”
Minho still fidgets while they listen to their instructions. To make him stop, Jiyong unthinkingly reaches for Minho’s hand. The younger doesn’t protest. He squeezes Jiyong’s hand tightly.
Jiyong is now completely determined to show Minho that photoshoots aren’t a big deal, that they are, in fact, fun. He makes a point to joke around with the photographers and Soonyi, to mess up a few times and play it off, to be there for Minho when he’s feeling particularly anxious.
And Jiyong is pleased to see Minho gradually opening up, to see the anxiety seeping out of him and going down the drain. In fact, once he isn’t stiffly following Soonyi’s instructions, he manages to give his poses a character of their own.
“You’re actually pretty good at this once you loosen up,” Jiyong whispers to Minho as they stand back to back like Soonyi has told them.
To this Minho replies only with tipping his head back and resting it on Jiyong’s shoulder.
“That’s perfect!” Soonyi exclaims, clapping her hands. “Let’s try one with Minho sitting on the bed,” she says next when the shots were taken.
* * *
“I thought I’d die.”
Minho has been rambling about his experience ever since they entered the dressing room. Jiyong doesn’t mind. Minho’s giddiness brings a smile to his lips that won’t seem to go away.
“But it was okay in the end! I was just nervous about how the clothes would look on me. It’s not something I’d usually wear…”
Jiyong nods. “I understand you completely.” He wants to say more, but he doesn’t want to open that can of worms, not yet.
They both continue changing in understanding silence.
When they get out, changed into their comfy clothes, Seunghyun steps in between them, wrapping an arm around each of them.
“Good job boys!”
Jiyong rolls his eyes, but says nothing. He simply can’t remember the last time Seunghyun has called him a boy.
“How about we go get something to eat? You two must be starving. I know I am.”
Jiyong is starving. He doesn’t know why these schedules must always take place so early in the morning. He hardly has the time to eat when he needs to be at the studio at 6 am and by the time the shoot is finished he is famished.
But Seunghyun’s idea shoots a sting of worry into Jiyong’s abdomen. He immediately looks Minho’s way, just as he says,
“I think I have some plans.”
“You think? Do you or don’t you?” Seunghyun asks, still speaking lightly, oblivious to the problem.
Jiyong wanted to talk to him, but he wasn’t sure it was his place. In all honesty he has just made an assumption based on a comment of Minho’s. Maybe he was just projecting his own fears onto the kid, so he didn’t want to spread panic for no reason.
“Can’t you make some time for your boss and colleague?” Seunghyun says.
Minho’s shoulders tense. He’s staring ahead. “I really should go, actually. I need to study and…”
Jiyong looks at Minho, attempting to read his expression. “Want me to drop you off?”
“Hey, hey, you can’t blow me off too!” Seunghyun complains.
Jiyong throws him a look. “I’ll be right back. Call Youngbae, Daesung and Chaerin. We should restore our tradition of going to Chen’s, yeah?”
When Seunghyun gives him a skeptical, questioning look, Jiyong only smiles.
“I’ll be there, I promise,” he says.
“Alright… See you later.”
In the car, the clicking of Minho’s badges can be heard again. He must be able to tell that something is coming.
“I guess I just thought your compliment was off,” Jiyong says as to put Minho out of the misery of waiting.
“I just liked your outfit.”
Jiyong sighs. “Not that. What you said when we were in the dressing room. You know, getting dressed.”
Minho facepalms. He leaves his hand on his face, covering his mouth. “I am so sorry about that. It was inappropriate and I shouldn’t have said it and—”
“What exactly were you complimenting?” Jiyong cuts him off.
“Wh-at?” Minho stutters.
“You just said I looked good. What did you mean by that?”
Minho doesn’t speak. “I was…” He falls silent again. “I was complimenting your body.” He chokes a bit on the last word and coughs to cover it up, unsuccessfully.
Minho starts to apologize again, but Jiyong shakes his head.
“You know I’m the last person to mind compliments, Minho. Even that kind. But it’s a bit concerning. What—do you even find attractive in someone who’s underweight?”
“I’m sorry,” Minho repeats. “I didn’t know.”
“How didn’t you know? Like it’s a secret that I’m a ing addict!”
“It—it slipped my mind—”
Jiyong takes deep, calming breaths. He doesn’t want to be angry with Minho, he doesn’t want to upset him.
“It’s fine, Minho. Just—It’s concerning, you know. If that’s what you find beautiful. You shouldn’t. You—” He sighs. “You shouldn’t look up to me in anything, but especially this.”
Jiyong gives Minho the room to deny it. To say, “But I don’t look up to you or your body. It was a lapse in judgment.” Perhaps Jiyong was mistaken.
But Minho says nothing.
“I lost so much weight during the worst of my addiction.” Jiyong has to clear his throat after hearing the weakness in his own voice. He didn’t expect this to be so hard to say. “The symptoms of withdrawals and being underweight got all mixed up, obviously, but… I remember being cold, all the time. I remember shaking and being so god damn weak. I was always sick so even when I tried to eat I’d just throw everything back up. It was not fun. Getting to the body I have now was not fun.”
Minho stays quiet. When Jiyong throws a glance at him he notes how he’s hugging himself.
“It was torture. And the fact that you find a tortured body beautiful is concerning.” Jiyong swallows. “I haven’t been all that… diligent in my recovery. But this is the one thing I actually wanted to recover from. I hate my body. My reflection makes me sick. And for you to say that I look good…”
“I didn’t know,” Minho repeats, shakily.
“It’s fine,” Jiyong says, matching his tone. “Just… Please, for the love of God, reevaluate your aesthetic standards for others and yourself. Especially yourself. If you look up to people like me, you’ll hurt yourself. Get some ing help.”
Minho only nods.
Jiyong knows he won’t.
Hearing about Seunghyun’s overdose didn’t make Jiyong want to go to rehab. He doubts that just telling his own little sob story will be enough to make Minho want to get help either.
But what else was he supposed to say? It isn’t his problem anyway.
Minho bounces his leg.
Jiyong knows he won’t.
Hearing about Seunghyun’s overdose didn’t make Jiyong want to go to rehab. He doubts that just telling his own little sob story will be enough to make Minho want to get help either.
“Like that’s easy,” Minho mutters.
“I know it isn’t,” Jiyong says, “But—”
“No, you clearly don’t.”
Jiyong stares at Minho for a second before returning his gaze to the street ahead.
“You clearly don’t know anything, Jiyong. You think just telling me to reevaluate my aesthetic standards will fix things? You think that’s the only problem here? That I was influenced into this? You have no ing clue what it’s like. It’s not just about—aesthetics, it’s—”
“Calm the down,” Jiyong says, attempting to keep his own voice steady. “I know it’s not just that, but what you said was really messed up! It’s definitely a part of the problem, that ed up mindset—”
“I know that! I know and I already said I was ing sorry for saying that! But , Jiyong it’s not just about looks! You’re not gonna fix me by telling me all this bull!”
“I’m not trying to fix you! Your eating disorder isn’t my ing problem!”
“Then why are you up my about it!?”
Jiyong slams the breaks, not having noticed a red light. Both of them jolt forward, then slam back into their seats.
“You just don’t get it,” Minho spits. “You don’t know what it’s like, struggling to lose weight. You had it easy.”
Jiyong turns slowly, looking at Minho wide-eyed. “I had it easy? I had it easy!?”
In that moment, Minho realizes what he said. His lips part, all anger seeping out of him, replaced with remorse. “I’m sorry, I only meant—”
“I know what you ing meant.” He unlocks the car. “Get out.”
Minho doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t try to apologize again. He only scurries out and away.
When he gets home, Jiyong doesn’t want to change. He’s afraid of looking at his body.
He stays up almost the entire night, recalling his fight with Minho. Overthinking everything he said, wondering if he’d been too harsh, or too stupid.
No. No, he was ing right.
He just tried to help, to point out a negative mindset that was not helping Minho’s case. It isn’t his fault that Minho misunderstood it as Jiyong putting aesthetics into the center of his problem.
He just wanted to ing help. It isn’t his fault that Minho got so defensive so quickly.
He keeps going back to that comment… You had it easy.
To this day, Jiyong is haunted by those days he spent chained to the bed, struggling to even inhale that which was keeping him going. Barely moving unless he was high. Constantly in pain, with only a few hour bursts of relief.
He had it easy.
That night, pacing around his room with a cigarette in hand, Jiyong thinks for the first time that perhaps rehab wasn’t such a bad idea.
The next day, Jiyong tries to take a shower, avoiding every single mirror in his house. But he does catch a glimpse of himself. And when he does, he breaks down.