The only time Jiyong is comfortable being anywhere else in his house aside from his bedroom is at night.
At night, when the rooms are pitch black, only with shapes to be made out, when it doesn’t hurt to look. All of the rooms are decorated in a palette in which white dominates. Maybe that’s the solution; maybe Jiyong just needs to redecorate, this time using some palettes with slightly darker colours that don’t reflect as much light. Maybe then it would be more bearable spending time outside of his bedroom.
But not now.
He’s been exhausted lately.
Waking up in a cold sweat has become sort of a routine at that point. Scrambling to sit up, Jiyong automatically starts those breathing exercises he’d been taught for these occasions. A routine.
As anxiety inducing as they are, the dreams never stick around in his memory. A few minutes after he wakes up the swirl of colours, the twisted figures and otherworldly sounds remain, slowly fading all the while.
Usually, he goes for a walk; to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the balcony. Tonight is no different.
But as he returns to his room, ready to try sleeping again, his eyes settle on his phone. As he stares at his phone, and it stares back at him, he remembers the still unopened attachment that Seunghyun sent yesterday, or the day before.
I wanted you to hear some of his stuff. I think you’ll like it.
Jiyong has been putting off opening any of the audio files with Minho’s name on them, be it because he generally doesn’t like being exposed to new things, or because he’s afraid that he’ll actually like it.
Were it not for this late night confrontation with his phone, he probably would have put it off for much longer.
This way, he grabs the device from the nightstand and a pair of headphones—he’s alone, yes, but it’s the dead of night, and any sound let loose feels like a violation, even to Jiyong, who is wide awake. Besides, he has no idea what to expect of Minho’s music. Is it something worth blasting in one’s house?
Jiyong settles on the couch with a pillow under his head. He takes a deep, bracing breath before opening the first audio file.
His gaze is trained on the city lights in the distance, visible through the large window before him. His expression is a slight grimace, because he isn’t sure Minho’s voice is something Jiyong is a big fan of.
But, as much as he hates to admit it, they do have similar styles, just as Seunghyun has said.
When the first demo ends, Jiyong only knows that the song hasn’t made him feel anything. He forgot it as soon as it ended, in fact. The only thing remaining is the distinct sound of Minho’s voice that Jiyong still isn’t sure he likes at all.
…Then again, perhaps it was simply the fact that the song didn’t match the mood. It was energetic, a rhythm to dance to, a bit too much for a quiet night.
The next song is the complete opposite. Minho’s rap is much closer to singing, his voice doesn’t have that whiny sound to it, rather it’s low and soothing.
While Jiyong listens to this song, the strangest thing happens.
His gaze spontaneously goes out of focus, and the city lights smudge. His eyes slide shut, his head lulls to the side.
The next morning he wakes up well rested and with no lingering nightmares.
* * *
Even though he was late, he is still waiting for Minho to show up.
Everyone who knows Jiyong knows that he’s often late. But today, the reason for his being late was a bit different than usual.
While assembling an outfit for the day, Jiyong noticed something odd. He was trying on some of his favourite clothes that he hasn’t worn in a while, and it was while wiggling into his leather pants that he noticed how they didn’t fit as loosely anymore.
It turned out that a lot of his clothes didn’t. Now he seems to actually fit into them, rather than the fabric hanging off of his frame lumpily.
He was sitting on his bed with his pants pulled up halfway and stared at his thighs. It took him a while to move again, to continue his persistent efforts to fit into the leather pants.
When he did it, he stood up and walked over to the mirror in his closet. What took up most of his time was staring into his reflection, at the tattoos on his arms that seemed to have stretched out.
He almost cried. He had been trying to gain weight for so long, and he was finally seeing results. He still despised his body, his own reflection still sickened him, but… there was progress.
When he finally snapped out of the daze, Jiyong ended up grabbing a green satin shirt and a blazer to complete the final version of today’s outfit.
Now Jiyong is clicking the green button on his sleeve against his glass, his eyes trained on the flickering candle light in the middle of the table for two.
Why was it even lit during the day? Must be for the aesthetic.
With these thoughts Jiyong is trying to drown out the noises of the fine people all around him, and their tedious conversations.
He is nearly relieved to see Minho making his way over. At least he’ll have someone to talk to.
Minho pulls the chair up with his foot before he even considers it might be rude to do so. He immediately rests his elbows on the table, slouching forward, which prompts Jiyong to sit back in his own chair.
“Do you wear that thing everywhere?” Jiyong says, grimacing at Minho’s leather jacket.
“Am I going to listen to you complain about my jacket every time we see each other?” Minho raises his eyebrows.
“Not until you start wearing something else.”
“It’s my favourite one. I hope my jacket doesn’t affect your ability to do your job.”
Jiyong doesn’t respond to this. He glares at Minho.
And that brief expression of panic is what makes Jiyong crack a tiny smile, although it fades quickly.
“Alright then, Minho Song. Before we start, there are a few things we need to clear up.”
Minho nods, drumming his fingers against the white tablecloth.
Jiyong now leans in, mirroring Minho’s gesture of resting his elbows on the table.
“Back at the club, did you know who I was?”
At this, Minho backs up a little. The tapping of his fingers, the ‘thud’ sound his rings make on impact, become more rapid as he contemplates his answer.
“Yeah,” he says at last.
Jiyong slowly clenches and unclenches his fist. “Thought so. But I assume you didn’t know about Seunghyun’s plan? You were pretty surprised when you saw me at his office.”
“I didn’t know,” Minho confirms. “He only told me he had something big planned for me, he didn’t tell me what.”
Jiyong nods a few times, lips pursed. Then he looks straight at Minho. “Here’s the deal: you and I never saw each other at that club. We met when Seunghyun called us over to reveal his master plan, that was the first time we ever saw each other. I do hope you haven’t gone ahead of yourself and told someone about your heroic act.”
Saying this, Jiyong reaches for his glass and takes a small sip.
As fidgety as Minho seems, his gaze is quite steady, and so is his voice when he speaks, “With all due respect, I have better things to do than telling people about meeting you in a toilet.”
Jiyong feels a jolt in the inside of his elbow, a need for an action, one that would likely end with sake all over Minho’s clothes and shattered glass.
But he doesn’t act on this urge. He’s learned to ignore it.
“Forgive me for being paranoid and looking out for myself, but you could have taken advantage of my position. With all due respect, I don’t even know you.”
Minho nods slowly. “...I understand your concern. But Mr. Choi trusts me—”
Jiyong waves dismissively. “Which is the only reason we’re conversing right now. And if you want this conversation to continue, if you want any other conversation between us to take place, you need to know the correct answer to this question: how did we meet?”
Minho doesn’t respond right away. He crosses his arms and audibly cracks each of his knuckles, all the while holding Jiyong’s gaze. “At Mr. Choi’s office, when he revealed his collaboration plan to us.”
Jiyong hates how much this one sentence makes him relieved. He hates that he can feel his shoulders relaxing, and his arms beginning to shake from how tense he’s been until that moment.
“So, you and I will be working together,” Jiyong now begins, “Assuming that we manage to put some songs together. Before that I want to know who I’m working with.”
Minho opens and closes his mouth as if unsure what to say. In the end he opens his arms in a shrug kind of motion, “I haven’t speed dated before, I’m not sure what to say.”
Jiyong curses himself for smiling at this. Before he gets to answer however, the waiter interrupts them by bringing the starters Jiyong has ordered.
Minho zones out while plates and bowls get arranged on the table between the two; edamame, agedashi tofu and cucumber chashu rolls. Before the waiter leaves, Jiyong stops him and asks Minho what he’s drinking.
The younger noticeably panics at this sudden question and hastily orders himself soju to avoid any prolonged awkwardness.
Jiyong isn’t a sadist, he swears. He wouldn’t expect a college student such as Minho to pay in an overpriced restaurant that Jiyong himself has chosen to have the meeting at, catering to his own budget.
But perhaps he’ll let Minho boil in anticipation for a little longer.
Plopping a piece of tofu into his mouth, Jiyong gestures vaguely, “So far we’ve only exchanged formal information. There has to be something you can tell me.”
Minho purses his bottom lip in thought. He fumbles with the zipper of his ridiculous leather jacket and Jiyong wants to slap his hand to make him stop.
“Well… I’m a student at Korea National University of Arts—”
“Well, there’s a surprise.”
Minho snorts. “Okay, what else. My family lives in Yongin, so I’m staying in the student dorms. My roommate is my childhood friend actually—”
“Is music your passion or something? Your biggest dream, that kind of thing?”
Minho sits up a little, squints at Jiyong. “Are you so bored that you need to interrupt with your own questions?”
Jiyong pauses for a second, then nods, sipping his sake.
Minho only exhales loudly. “Yeah, music is my passion. Ever since I was little…” He trails off and continues to squint Jiyong’s way, though this time besides judgment, there is also skepticism in that look. “Will you actually listen?”
Pressing his lips together, Jiyong tilts his head to the side and gives a small, one shoulder shrug. “I’m trying to find out more about you, and maybe get entertained a little. I appreciate how you naturally swerved into talking about your friend, but I’m not working with him, am I?”
“Fair point,” Minho says after a little nod. “Well… I love creating, I think that’s it. I always have. It just took me a while to figure out what it is that I'm good at… It wasn’t that difficult to discover art, but music was… I guess, because I’m a creator, not so much a performer.”
“Yet here you are.”
“Yet here I am.”
Jiyong wants to ask Minho, if he isn’t a performer, how will he go through the promotions for their upcoming collaboration? However, he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. As of now, they have nothing but an arrangement. Jiyong hasn’t written anything in over a year. All of this seems very uncertain to him.
But that is exactly why Seunghyun has set him up with Minho. It’s because he believes that this rookie has some new insight, ideas that could resurrect and boost Jiyong’s own creativity.
He hates being treated like a lost cause. These days it’s been happening a lot.
Still, nestled somewhere behind Jiyong’s many layers of pride, sits the relief brought by the fact that Seunghyun hasn’t given up on him completely.
Better to be in need of resurrecting, than be abandoned.
Jiyong sits forward and picks up a cashu roll, starts nudging the cucumber off another one with the tip of the one he’s holding. The words are on the tip of his tongue, just about to burst and spill from his lips, but there is still something keeping his mouth shut. He simply doesn’t want to say what needs to be said, ask what needs to be asked.
And for a little longer, he doesn’t.
“You’re making me feel bad because I’m the only one eating.” He plops the cashu roll into his mouth. “Don’t be rude.”
It’s things like this that keep throwing Minho off; how quickly Jiyong jumps between topics. It makes him raise his eyebrows until he can make sense of what Jiyong is saying and respond accordingly; truly amusing to watch.
“Don’t apologize, eat.”
Admittedly, Jiyong did say this leaving no room for refusal, but he didn’t actually expect Minho to be compliant.
And in this silence that falls upon them, as the chatter of people, the clicking of their cutlery and laughter starts to raise in volume, Jiyong feels more and more pressure to just spit out the sentence that he’s been keeping in his mouth this entire time, unsaid.
He takes a deep breath, a sip of his drink. When he can’t handle the silence between them, and the unbearable noise around him anymore, he lets it out,
“Seunghyun has sent me some of your stuff to listen to.”
Jiyong doesn’t look at Minho’s reaction. He keeps his eyes on the plates before him, contemplating whether he should be the one to get the last piece of tofu.
Even though he hasn’t been looking for a reaction, he hears it. He hears the zipper of Minho’s jacket being pulled up and down.
Yeah, he should have the last piece of tofu.
“Have you listened to anything?”
“I have.” Another deep breath. It’s better to say it quickly and move on. “You’re good.”
The clicking of the cutlery returns and Jiyong starts to bounce his leg. The tedious conversations are filling his mind and he wants to yell at everyone to shut up.
“...Thank you,” Minho says at last.
Jiyong leans in, placing his palms onto the table. “Yeah, so I was wondering what you were thinking for your solos?”
“Oh, uh…” Minho is fidgeting again and Jiyong’s leg at that point hurts from the bouncing. “I have some lyrics… I could show you, I guess? I’m not sure where it’s all going yet, I just have some things written down.”
“That’s good,” Jiyong hurries him.
Minho reaches into his bag and gets out a notebook, but since he keeps looking through his bag Jiyong can only assume that wasn’t what he was looking for.
But Jiyong is a little impatient, so he decides to see what Minho has in the notebook currently sitting between the two of them, a bit farther from the plates.
Jiyong takes the edge of a paper that is sticking out a little, and starts to pull it up, thereby opening the notebook.
Before he gets to see anything however, Minho slams his hand right on top of it.
“You never touch a man’s sketchbook,” he says, raising his eyebrows.
Jiyong removes his hand from it and raises his arms. “Sorry…”
And so Jiyong is left to keep bouncing his leg while he waits for Minho to find his papers. When he finally sets them on the table, Jiyong sees that they’re sketchbook papers ripped out of the sacred notebook Jiyong isn’t allowed to touch.
Jiyong takes one of them, which is apparently acceptable, unlike touching the sketchbook itself.
He is faced with what he assumes is the chorus, and verses scribbled around it. It's an odd structure to go through for sure.
While he reads through it, Minho's soju arrives. That way he has something to do instead of playing with his goddamn zipper.
The second paper has less written on it, and is quicker to go through. After he does this, Jiyong sets them both down in front of himself, sips his drink while looking them over.
“I don't get it,” Jiyong speaks, looking up. “You have a way with words, you're a good writer. Why do you only write about love?”
He notices Minho gripping his glass as if he’s trying to choke out the poor thing.
“Well these—aren’t really about love.”
Jiyong waves dismissively. “It’s only a different kind, still love.”
“I don’t think you were paying attention.”
Jiyong rolls his eyes. “Fine, have the last word. I suppose I’m just baffled by the lack of variety in your themes.”
Minho taps his fingers against the glass for a moment. “I don’t think this is the time for me to experiment. It’s your big comeback, but it’s only my debut.”
Jiyong purses his bottom lip and nods. “Alright, fair point.”
Perhaps Minho gets insecure in the brief silence that occurs between the two of them, because after a minute of him tapping his fingers against the glass, with the rings clicking loudly, he says,
“Do you think I should do something different?”
“Oh, no,” Jiyong reassures. “I l—I like it.” He clears his throat. “I’m curious to see what you’ll do with what you’ve got.”
Minho nods sharply, and Jiyong sees his shoulders relaxing. He feels a bit bad for the kid.
“And what about you?”
Jiyong pauses with his glass halfway to his lips. “What about me?”
“What about your solos?”
Jiyong gives up on this sip, instead simply placing the glass back down. “I have an outline.”
“So, you’ve got nothing.”
Jiyong’s gaze snaps up. “I guess you can say you’ve given me reverse-inspiration. Thanks to you, I know exactly what I don’t want to do.”
As Minho keeps giving him that uncertain, and perhaps a little bit judgmental look, Jiyong starts to feel uneasy. Like he owes Minho an explanation.
He’s better than this.
Still, underneath that look, he caves,
“I’ve been away for over a year. And I’m… still not fully back. You’re gonna have to give me some time.”
At this Minho’s gaze softens and he gives a small nod. Another tap to his glass. “So no love songs from you.”
Jiyong shakes his head.
“Isn’t your most famous song a ballad?”
Jiyong hates the cockiness in Minho’s tone. He shifts in his seat, rests his cheek in his palm. “Untitled is bull.”
Minho grins. “I guess everyone writes what sells at some point.”
“We do,” Jiyong agrees. He picks up the menu that has been sitting there, abandoned, while him and Minho talked. “But I think I've had enough talk about work.” He hands Minho the menu.
He doesn't take it.
Jiyong exhales through the nose. “Don't look so panicked, Minho. It's all on me.”
Hesitantly, Minho does take the menu. And still, he picks one of the cheapest items on it.
Oh well. Getting him not to shy away from spending Jiyong's money is something they'll have to work on.