It isn’t nearly as bad as the last time. As soon as he starts to feel woozy and sick, Jiyong decides to call someone.
The problem is, who to call?
Jiyong hasn’t exactly been in contact with his friends. He’s kept his communication with Seunghyun professional. He hasn’t heard from Daesung in a very long time. As for Youngbae…
He sometimes picks Jiyong up from parties. He is the only one allowed to know, because Jiyong knows Youngbae won’t freak out on him.
And so Jiyong texts him, and the screen doesn’t even sway that much.
Jiyong gets himself outside and sits on the pavement in the middle of the parking lot. There, he waits.
When Youngbae finds him, Jiyong tries to make himself small and remorseful in hopes of cushioning Youngbae's anger, however he is clearly having none of it.
Perhaps he is the tiniest bit surprised when he picks Jiyong up and he no longer weighs like a bag of feathers, but Youngbae is entirely too pissed to comment on it.
By the time he’s loaded into the passenger seat, Jiyong is dozing off. He rests his head on the window frame, and it bounces a little as Youngbae starts the car and drives off.
“You’re hurting yourself.”
Youngbae’s voice seems to be miles away.
“And I’m sick of watching you do it.”
Headlights, street lights, traffic lights are smudged lines of colour in Jiyong’s vision. They make his head spin and hurt his eyes, so he closes them.
“I’m sorry,” he utters.
And a second later, “Take me home, please.”
* * *
The next morning Jiyong doesn’t wake up in his own home. Still, he is able to find the bathroom without much thinking.
On his knees again. But it isn’t as bad as the last time, he knows. He knows how many shots he’s taken and he knows his body well enough by now to know that ahead of him isn’t such a horrible hangover.
It isn’t nearly as bad as the last time.
That time when he met Minho.
The thought alone almost makes him sick again, so he stays hunched over the toilet for a little while longer.
Jiyong flushes the toilet and stands. He needs to lean against the wall and stand still for a while, until the wave of dizziness passes. Then he goes to drink some water, wash his face... Brushing his teeth would be great too. He knows where Youngbae keeps those little hygiene packs one gets on long flights, consisting of a small toothbrush, a tiny tube of toothpaste and some dental floss.
Just as he finishes, Jiyong hears a little cough from behind him.
He doesn’t turn around right away. He turns the water off and takes a deep breath, before very slowly straightening up and turning to face the only person he wants to see less than he wants to see Youngbae at the moment.
Hyorin is leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed, blocking the only exit. Forcing Jiyong to face her head on.
Hyorin isn’t speaking and that just might be more terrifying than if she was. She’s only giving Jiyong a look that he can’t decipher.
“I told him to take me home,” Jiyong says, because he can’t handle the silence anymore. “I meant—my home. I’m sorry.” He makes a ninety degrees bow and isn’t quick to straighten back up.
He clicks his nails against the porcelain sink while he anticipates her reaction.
“What’s important is for you to get home safely,” Hyorin speaks at last. “But you need to understand that this isn’t good for you just as much as it isn’t good for us. What you’re doing is damaging for everyone.”
At this, Jiyong bows his head, not having anything to say other than another apology. But he feels it redundant.
“We’ll be having kimbap. You know your way around, so... Feel free to join us whenever you’re ready.”
Jiyong nods. He waits for Hyorin to leave before he dares to move.
He would’ve wanted to leave immediately. Most of all, he would’ve wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation, which has already failed.
But, since he’s already here, he decided to make the most of it.
Jiyong comes down the stairs after a much needed shower, wearing one of Youngbae’s shirts along with Hyorin’s shorts, as he doesn’t have any clothes of his with him. This is somewhat of a standard procedure.
He stops briefly at the doorway of the kitchen, where Hyorin and Youngbae seem to be waiting for him. They’re seated opposite of each other, talking in hushed voices. Hyorin is hugging her knees, she’s leaning back in her chair with her feet on it, unlike Youngbae who has his elbows rested on the glass table, leaning forward.
Jiyong doesn’t want to announce his presence. He shuffles forward, letting them notice him whenever they want.
But even when they do, they don’t say much. Jiyong only feels Youngbae’s gaze on himself as he takes a seat next to Hyorin, although leaving one empty between them, which isn’t where the table is set for him.
“I can remove you from my emergency contacts,” he says, reaching for his bowl and chopsticks.
“Don’t do that,” Youngbae snaps. “Don’t guilt trip.”
“I’m not guilt tripping,” Jiyong snaps right back. “I don’t want to be an inconvenience for you and Hyorin. Asking you to take care of me whenever I get hammered is simply unfair and selfish of me. I value our friendship and I don’t want to do this to you anymore.” He doesn’t look up once as he says it, only poking a piece of kimbap until he eventually munches it down.
If he did look up, he would’ve seen Youngbae’s half pissed, half astonished gaze.
“Jiyong, you are so full of ,” Youngbae tells him.
He doesn’t respond.
“What he means is that you’re completely missing the point.” Just because Hyorin is speaking in a gentler tone doesn’t mean her words aren’t ice cold. “As friends, we’re here to help whenever we can. We would rather make sure you’re safe than ignore you for the sake of our own comfort.”
She unfolds, puts her feet back on the ground and turns towards Jiyong. He doesn’t look at her.
“The point is for you to stop putting yourself in these situations.”
Jiyong’s silence makes Youngbae even more distressed.
“At least don’t go alone,” he says. “I can’t go out every time, but there’s gotta be someone you can take out.”
Jiyong stands to pour himself a glass of water. “Like a babysitter.”
“You know what I meant,” Youngbae says tiredly.
Jiyong returns to the table and his food, silent. He can’t say that he simply goes out too often to bring someone along every time. He can’t say that he is simply too ashamed to be seen in that state by anyone he truly cares about.
The only thing he can think to say is, “I’ll be more careful.”
Hyorin’s next inquiry about Youngbae’s plans for tomorrow is a clear attempt at shifting the topic.
He doesn’t mind.
It’s oddly comforting, listening to them talk about mundane things. It feels like a little glimpse into married life, something Jiyong can’t really see himself having, not anytime soon at least.
But Hyorin and Youngbae make it seem so easy, and so, so lovely.
Jiyong only looks up from his bowl when Youngbae decides to include him in the conversation.
“Seunghyun told me you’ll be working on something.”
Jiyong wonders how many people Seunghyun has told. It probably doesn’t matter anyway, they will find out sooner or later. The world will find out.
Jiyong only doesn’t want the project to be a failure. He isn’t sure he could handle it.
He doesn’t say it, he doesn’t verbalize a single thought. He only gives a nod.
“That’s great, Jiyong,” Hyorin says, reaching out and squeezing his hand.
Even Youngbae has a little smile on his lips. “I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been waiting to hear those words. I’m so glad you’re coming back.”
The look Jiyong gives him wipes the smile off Youngbae’s face. He looks at Hyorin and in the next moment she politely excuses herself.
When she’s gone, Youngbae moves to sit beside Jiyong and asks, “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” Jiyong starts and runs a hand through his hair. “There’s just the tiniest, little problem.”
Jiyong locks eyes with Youngbae. “I haven’t written anything since before the tour.”
Youngbae frowns, as if he’s trying to make sense of Jiyong’s words. “And so? That’s hardly such a big problem. Artistic blockades don’t last forever.”
At this, Jiyong sighs. “You don’t understand.” He drops his chopsticks and sits back, gripping the edge of the table. He stares at the ceiling, trying to finally put into words that which has been on his mind for so long.
“I’ll—.” He closes his eyes and covers his face with his hands. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write the way I used to when I was—My mind is completely blank now.” He lets his hands drop. Once he’s said this, there is only one more horrible truth to speak.
“Maybe I never really wrote anything. I think it was always just the drugs.”
Immediately after closing his mouth, Jiyong regrets ever speaking at all. He wishes he could sew his mouth shut and never speak again. Because he hates it, he hates the uncomfortable silence his honesty has created.
He wants to take it all back, to say that it’s really not a big deal, but he knows it’s a bit too late for that.
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Youngbae says. “A lot of people write when high. It’s not all good.”
Jiyong gives the tiniest smile accompanied with an appreciative huff, if only not to seem like he’s rejecting the reassurance.
Youngbae rubs his eyes tiredly before he speaks, “You do realize we were friends when we were kids, right? You realize I read the first things Kwon Jiyong has ever created. You were never a ty writer. You’re experiencing withdrawal, that’s what this is, and it’s not undefeatable.”
Jiyong feels his throat closing up and he thinks he will choke unless the conversation stops right here. He isn’t ready to talk about this and he doesn’t think he ever will be.
But he’s fine with that.
He just wants to forget.
“Here’s what you do,” Youngbae then says, and Jiyong forces himself to look up, to properly accept the advice that’s undoubtedly on its way. “Write about what’s on your mind—”
“No one wants to hear that,” Jiyong cuts him off.
“Let me finish, for ’s sake.” Youngbae sighs.
Jiyong honestly has no idea where Youngbae or Hyorin, or anyone of his friends are getting the patience to deal with his .
“No one has to see it. It’s just supposed to help you get started, because there’s always something to write about on that topic. Always. Even if it’s just broken sentences. Write anything and everything you’re thinking, and go from there.”
Jiyong doesn’t think this will work, mostly because his mind is the one thing he really wants to run from, but he nods nonetheless. He appreciates the advice.
He’s thankful to Youngbae and Hyorin more than he could ever express, but the problem is that he is awful at expressing even normal amounts of gratitude.
It always ends up being a flat, nearly insincere sounding, “Thanks.”
It’s odd, what makes Jiyong smile that day. It’s a sarcastic, amused smile accompanied with a roll of his eyes while in the car, being taken home.
Jiyong simply finds it funny how formal Minho continues to be. The e-mail he sent Jiyong is so proper, it would make any high school teacher tear up.
Apparently, Minho has written more lyrics. And as much as Jiyong wants to dwell on the form of the e-mail, he knows the lyrics are what he should be focusing on.
Unfortunately, this makes him roll his eyes as well. Minho seems to be continuing his streak of love songs and it’s making Jiyong think that he’ll back out of this deal sooner than he’d thought.
When Hyorin drops him off, the sky is already fading.
That night, he once again wakes up in a cold sweat, taking a moment to calm himself down. Then, unable to resume sleeping, he lies in his bed, thinking about Minho’s newest lyrics as he stares at the light strips on the ceiling.
He’s thinking about how childish it sounds. Jiyong has never sang about butterflies in one’s stomach upon seeing someone special. And he won’t from this point on, he thinks to himself.
The song needs fixing.
* * *
Jiyong is pulled from the entrapments of his dream when his phone starts ringing. He can’t move right away. It’s agonizing, listening to such a loud noise so early in the morning. Even when he manages to get a hold of his phone, he can’t see. He tries to blink the wooziness away at least enough to finally answer the call.
“Hello?” If he wasn’t so slow and disoriented, he would have sounded irritated.
There’s the tiniest pause. “This is Minho. I was asleep when you called, so… What’s—why did you…”
Jiyong finds this most curious considering he has no recollection of ever calling Song Minho. “I called?” He huffs out, exhausted and not amused, not at all. He blinks again, lifts his phone from his ear to check his call history.
“Yes, at four in the morning.”
Jiyong stares at his screen. Minho isn’t lying. “I see. How do I say this.” Jiyong sighs. “I have no idea why I called you. I don’t remember doing it.”
Minho doesn’t know how to respond, judging by the long silence after Jiyong’s words. He clears his throat. “Sorry for disturbing you, then.”
Jiyong rubs his cheek. “No problem. See you around.”
Eight am. Jiyong wonders, is he going to continue to be woken up that early because his colleague is a damn college student, and a diligent one at that.
As there is no going back to sleep once he’s awake, Jiyong forces himself out of bed. Even if he isn’t going to be productive that day, he’s heard that taking care of hygiene and one’s looks helps create an illusion of productivity.
This is what he spends his morning on.
Standing in his living room, wearing Youngbae’s shirt that he hasn’t returned, his hair damp, contemplating whether it’s even worth trying to make breakfast for himself, something catches Jiyong’s attention.
A piece of paper lying on the couch. It’s scribbled all over, in his handwriting, however Jiyong doesn’t remember ever writing any of that. He recognizes parts of it as Minho’s newest lyrics. The rest…
It comes back to him like a brick to the forehead. It’s his corrections of the lyrics, or rather lines he wrote down to turn Minho’s original idea on its head.
He stares a little longer at the piece of paper. And he smiles.
The lines, “You’re stealing glances // Haven’t felt this nervous in a while // Before the night is over // I want you in my arms,” Jiyong fixed with simply adding, “Real love? I think I wanna just.” This is where Jiyong must have lost track of thought, or similar because the line simply cut off. And ten, a bit further, he scribbled a big, “ IT.”
There’s more on the side, lines that turned Minho’s story of a fluttering love into a story of detachment and emotional exhaustion.
Jiyong stays there, just looking down at the piece of paper, smiling and nodding to himself, before he remembers.
He takes his phone and calls Minho again.
He is confused to be hearing from Jiyong so soon. “Hello?”
“I remembered why I called you.”
“I wrote something.”
The silence makes Jiyong realize that he must have sounded silly. That Minho knows very little of his yearlong artistic blockade and has no reason to have a significant reaction to Jiyong’s announcement.
“That’s… nice?” Ah, Minho is trying. Bless his soul.
Jiyong clears his throat. “I meant, I wrote some-- corrections to your work. Didn’t I tell you I didn’t want a love song?”
“You told me to send you anything I get out, and that’s what I had.”
Jiyong nods a few times. “I did say that. Well, I turned it into something I could work with. I’ll send it over when I… tweak it a little bit.”
Jiyong pauses. He isn’t sure if he’s reading too much into it, or if he’s just heard excitement in Minho’s voice.
“Bye for now.”
* * *
Jiyong ended up being unable to return to the scrambles of the lyrics he’s started writing, and to make it something more.
And as he feels the familiar flames of frustration burning him from the inside, Youngbae’s words come back to him.
Jiyong glances at the window and sees his own reflection, faint and transparent. Can he write about what’s on his mind? Does he even want to?
He’s spent a year running from his own mind and the endless emptiness of it.
He isn’t sure that he wants to dive back into that abyss.
He’s afraid that if he does, there will be no return.
He is afraid.
Jiyong huffs. He stands up from the couch and lights another cigarette, tossing the empty pack on the glass coffee table. He paces around it, pauses in front of the window to make smoke rings that end their short lives dispersing against the glass surface.
What is on his mind?
There don't seem to be any coherent thoughts, in all honesty. Those are exactly what Jiyong has been running from.
But without getting too deep, what is on his mind?
He wants to scream.
Ever since his discharge he’s wanted nothing more, but he couldn’t.
For an entire year he’s felt nothing. Even when getting drunk to the point of incoherence, it was but the tiniest, insignificantly small fraction of the euphoria he used to be able to experience.
Day to day life brought him even less. He was always exhausted, always numb to the point where he wondered; what’s the difference between this and death?
And he never had the strength to do anything about it. Always dizzy, with a foggy mind, he had no strength to go through with any intrusive thoughts that might cross his mind.
He wants to scream. He wants to feel something, anything.
If it’s pain then so be it. If he must get himself into danger, then so be it.
He wants to feel like himself again.
That night, Jiyong is restless. There’s something burning in his chest, a want that he can’t explain. He’s written down words upon words that hold no meaning to anyone who doesn’t know his mind.
The restlessness isn’t letting him sleep. And so, Jiyong turns to the self-imposed numbness, taking the bunch of pills that always help him sleep.