Chapter 1: prologue.
this was like a breath of icy air. all ceased talking. they felt that something was on the point of occurring.
It’s the same thing every time.
He sees rubble falling from the window and ricocheting off the street, crumbling buildings that look warped in the muted sunlight. Behind him, there’s cheers and chanting, loud enough to break through his own thoughts, ringing in his ears. He hears everything. He knows nothing.
Shapes are all he can make out, bodies swaying against candlelight, his own hands blurring on sight, everytime he tries to look at them. There’s nothing but shadows, ghosts of something that existed a long time ago and is now gone, and he chases after them, tries to grasp at anything he can. He feels like his feet are glued to the floor, eyes wide open and wild as he watches them come and go, these silhouettes he can’t quite name, can’t quite touch, can’t quite figure out. They have no features and yet they look so familiar, calling to him from behind a dam that won’t break.
He hears that voice, then, clear as a new day that never seems to come. He hears talks of war, revolution, bayonets and flags to be raised, and he says nothing.
He gets another drink.
The wine is too bitter, too red and too thick. Droplets fall from the edge of his cup, hitting the old wooden table, spreading through the veins on its surface. He closes his eyes. Feet stomp on the fragile floor, there’s a crack and a round of curses, the voice calling for order. The wine winds its way to his head, and he can’t make out words anymore.
He wakes up.
Chapter 2: one.
thank you maddie for beta-ing !
now let's get into the meat of things.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
yes, i have the spleen, complicated with melancholy, with homesickness, plus hypochondria, and i am vexed and i rage, and i yawn, and i am bored, and i am tired to death, and i am stupid! let god go to the devil!
There’s a bead of sweat rolling down his forehead, between two strands of hair, and he wipes it away with his hand. He squints at his phone screen, trying to chase the brightness away. It’s 8:52AM, and he’s got three missed calls, all from the same person.
This doesn’t bode well. Still, he manages to push his exhausted body off the mattress, sitting up in bed as he fumbles with the touchscreen, hitting “dial” before he can chicken out. It takes only a second for the call to go through, and he hesitantly puts the phone to his ear.
“Kang fucking Seungyoon.” Jinwoo’s voice says on the other end, only a hint of fury betraying his glacial tone. “Do I need to schedule an appointment to talk to you?”
Seungyoon sighs, running a hand over his eyes. “No. Sorry. Got in late yesterday.”
He had no reason to, but the prospect of cheap convenience store beer and the muddy slope of the local park seemed more alluring than an empty bed, so that’s where he’d ended up, barely finding his way home at the end of the night, teetering on the edge of morning.
“Well get it together. You know how stressful this all is for me. This is easily the biggest opportunity of my entire career - entire life, even.”
Still trying to chase sleep and push the dream away, Seungyoon coughs. “Sure.”
“Oh, sorry.” Jinwoo spits out, “Kwon Jiyong is only the most en vogue fashion designer of the last ten goddamn years! Did you know IU wore a dress personally designed and hand-sewn by him for her - sold out, might I add - tenth anniversary concerts? His stock is through the roof. He could buy my business ten times over if he wanted.” he’s speaking so fast that Seungyoon can barely keep up, but he chalks it up to the stress Jinwoo has been under.
The Choi-Kwon wedding is regarded by everyone, especially people Seungyoon can’t even muster the energy to care, or even think, about, as the socialite event of the year. They’re the richest and most famous of the rich and famous, a union so ideal it could have been written up by a best-selling author. Even Seungyoon, who would almost pride himself on avoiding as much of the real world as possible, knows who they are.
Jinwoo said he had no idea why his wedding planning business had been chosen when so many others specialize in celebrity weddings, another tragic instance of selling himself short. It was a bad habit he’d developed in college and sadly kept, despite everyone around him exhausting themselves to put in front of his face the fact everyone but him seemed to be aware of that he, in fact, has a tendency to excel at everything he does.
That he turned his childhood passion for the language of flowers into a thriving business was just another of the countless things that proved it.
“Yes.” Seungyoon mumbles, already wanting to get the conversation over with. Admittedly, he knows he should be grateful Jinwoo even bothered to try calling him back for whatever he needs, with how much running around he’d been doing. He hears a long sigh on the other end, and doesn’t need to be in the same room as Jinwoo to know the other man is currently sitting with his head laying perfectly still on a tabletop.
“Sorry.” Jinwoo whines, “it’s just, the media is already starting to report on the event, you know? So my name will be out there, alongside theirs, and I cannot afford to fuck any of it up. I mean…”
Even with Jinwoo's usual preparedness and practical mind at work, he’d been bending over backwards to meet the list of demands given by the couple. Seungyoon was pretty sure Jinwoo had never even met either of them, and perhaps that was for the best.
Seungyoon finally musters the strength to get out of bed, stretching out as much as he can before he indulges Jinwoo again. “I know. It’s fucking impossible to look anywhere without seeing a headline about it.”
There’s a commotion on the other end, Jinwoo yelling something about napkins, and Seungyoon takes the opportunity to turn on his old coffee machine. It makes the same sound he imagines the first plane to have taken off probably made when it crashed, and he almost misses Jinwoo coming back on the other end.
“You’re going to have to deal, because I need you for it.”
The coffee is too bitter and he’s pretty sure he just swallowed a mass of undissolved powder, something getting stuck halfway down his throat, the pungent taste overwhelming him and almost making him retch. Seungyoon can barely process all these informations at once. “What.”
Jinwoo makes the noise he always makes when he pinches the bridge of his nose, and continues. “They’ve invited their friends Taeyang and Daesung, you know, the multi-platinum singers whose albums Mr Choi produces,” he adds for emphasis, as if trying to scare Seungyoon into understanding the gravity of the situation, “to perform at the wedding. Except the guitarist they booked bailed on them - can you believe that?”
No, not really, because Seungyoon can’t imagine why anyone would pass on such a high paying job, but he knows that’s not really the reason why Jinwoo sounds like said guitarist just insulted his entire family and spit on his cats. So, he entertains Jinwoo’s apparent confusion about the fact that not everyone’s lives revolve around Kwon Jiyong and Choi Seunghyun. “No fucking way.” he deadpans, taking another sip of his definitely awful coffee. He isn’t sure all the sugar and cream in the world could save it, at this point.
“Anyway. I need you to replace him.” Jinwoo announces unceremoniously, like it’s a given fact that Seungyoon will take the job. “I’ll send the sheet music and guides to your email.”
Seungyoon nearly spits out his coffee - though he wishes he actually did. “Wait- are you sure? You know big events like this aren’t my forte, not sure I clean up how these people need me to.” he pads across the floor to his closet, feels his facial expression turning into a grimace when he sees his only dress shirt crumpled on the floor next to a half-empty pack of guitar strings.
“Don’t worry about that. Just learn the songs and show up on time on the day of the rehearsal.” Jinwoo hurries through the sentence like he wants to get away from the responsibility he just deferred. “And of the wedding.” he suddenly adds, and the sheer panic in his voice, for a moment, makes Seungyoon burst out laughing. “Please, please be on time.”
“I- I guess I’ll have to.” Seungyoon says, and he hears a hurried apology and the click of the call going out.
“Well fuck me, then.” Seungyoon mutters under his breath. He throws the rest of his would-be coffee down the sink, watching the tar dissolve against the bottom of it when he turns the water on. It goes down the drain like it never existed in the first place.
Only then, something on his outstretched arm catches his eye.
In the middle of his forearm, no bigger than a thumbprint, there’s a dark mark that almost looks like a wine stain. The sight of it sends a shiver through his body, images flashing behind his eyes for a moment too long. He loses his balance, only managing to hold on to the sink for a moment before he stumbles backwards, hitting the small of his back on the table.
“What the-” he tries rubbing at the mark, but it doesn’t budge, no color left on his fingers. It doesn't hurt when he presses down on it either, despite how much it looks like a bruise, and Seungyoon chalks it up to one of many things that went wrong, somewhere along the way.
On the calendar sitting against the wall on his drawers - he never bothered putting it up, too much hassle for something that wouldn’t last, in the end - there’s a session penciled in for 11AM, recording for some variety show theme song, the kind of job that makes Seungyoon want to blow his brains out from how dull and contrived it always is. It’s only the growing pile of bills he keeps right next to the calendar, like a grim reminder of the vicious cycle of existence, that motivate him to jump in the shower and then head out for the day.
The mark doesn’t run out even under scalding hot water.
For as long as he can remember, Seungyoon has hated doctor’s waiting rooms. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair and waiting to pay a ridiculous amount to be told he is dying just a little faster than expected is something he’s always thought he could do without, prepared to head towards his final destination either way.
Still, he’s sitting here, under the bleak neon lights, getting stared at by a ridiculously small child, a hand instinctively covering the mark on his arm.
He’d tried to scrub it away, with soap and shampoo and dishwashing liquid, pushed harder onto it every time, the lack of pain and refusal to disappear driving him up the metaphorical wall and slumping against the rundown tiles of his shower wall.
Every night he lets himself fall away to sleep, consciousness drifting back to that room, the wooden floor cracking under every step, making him feel like he’s about to go through it, no idea where the fall might lead him. He sees the palms of his hands, they’re stained with ink and more rugged than he ever remembers, and they’re not his, but he feels them when they land on a red-clad shoulder and it shrugs him away.
He stumbles backwards, a chair breaking his fall. All around him are voices so loud they’re almost deafening, but he can’t make out any words. There’s faces he knows, he definitely knows them, but then they turn to him and he can’t see them, their existence is only doubt and emptiness, and he stares into the aching void.
He can’t explain away the overwhelming feeling of grief when he wakes up, or the tears pooling at the corners of his eyes, and he still can’t explain the mark, even two weeks later.
He hates the unknown.
A neon lamp creaks overhead as the door to the practice opens, a short, stumpy man walking out of it with a clipboard in hand. “Mr Kang?”
Seungyoon rises from his chair in one movement, and he suddenly becomes aware of how sweaty his palm has gotten, where it was pressing against the mark. He lifts it up with a surge of hope, only to find that it’s still there, as dark and present as the first day. He wipes his clean palm on his jeans, feet dragging across the carpet.
The office is too stuffy, and it smells like the medicine his mom used to put on him when he’d scrap his knees playing outside - he’s happy now more than ever to have renounced any kind of outdoor activity, because the smell makes him gag immediately. Still, he tries to breathe through his mouth as the doctor motions for him to sit down, with a smile too wide it can’t possibly be genuine.
“So what brings you here?” the doctor asks, voice awfully sweet. He’s got his legs crossed and his hands holding his knee, and Seungyoon shudders at how incredibly condescending everything about him is.
Still, he pulls the sleeve of his jumper up, to above where the mark still is, stubborn as the first day. “I noticed this… thing, a week ago. I just want to know what it is. Can’t really afford to lose an arm.” Seungyoon’s not sure why he feels the need to humor the man sitting across from him, and he can physically feel his upper lip curling in disgust as the doctor laughs heartily and pulls his chair closer to examine the mark.
Letting strangers touch him is always an unpleasant experience, but he wants this over and done with before anyone can ask questions, so Seungyoon grits his teeth and lets it happen, shivers running up the nape of his neck when the doctor’s rough fingers rub and press down on his arm, a vein bulging in the crook of his elbow.
“Mr Kang… This is a tattoo.” the doctor takes his glasses off, folds them up neatly on top of his desk. “It seems healed, as well.”
The words ring out in Seungyoon’s ears for a moment as he tries to process them. He’s never gotten a tattoo in his life, even in his drunkest nights he’d always stashed himself away from the world instead, fingers tangling in the strings of his guitar. It’s not a tattoo. It can’t be.
“That’s… literally impossible.”
The doctor huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re going to have to believe in the impossible then. There’s no sign of any infection, the ink is dark and pretty deep beneath your skin, but it was all done according to procedure and it looks like it has healed already.”
The buzzing between his ears come back. Seungyoon starts feeling dizzy, confusion at the discovery and anger at how casual the damn doctor is being, everything takes over him and before he knows it, he’s stumbling out the door without even mumbling a word. He thinks he vaguely hears something about his bill being mailed in three to five business days, but the vice around his lungs is so tight that it might just be another hallucination.
It’s almost a miracle that his feet carry him out all the way into the street. He tries to breathe but the late summer air is still heavy, going down his throat like liquor, his frantic heart stuttering for a few more minutes, eyes fixed on the odd patterns of the sidewalk.
He’s not quite sure how he gets home, a recollection of subway signs and holding himself up against the doors of the train, but he passes out on his bed as soon as he reaches it, images of full glasses and raised fists dancing in his mind all night.
“So do you have a tattoo or not.” Jinwoo asks, picking at his sandwich like someone put glass shards in it.
Seungyoon shifts uncomfortably in his seat, cramped between the table and the wall. He’d rather not be out when he doesn’t have to, but Jinwoo wanted to check up on his rehearsal for the wedding, and Seungyoon knew better than to upset him during a prep rush. The fact that he’d mastered the songs in one afternoon, trying to distract himself from that night’s dream by making his fingers bleed on the strings, was a detail Jinwoo didn’t have to be made aware of.
“Looks like it. It’s fucking freaky, like, I can’t make sense of it at all. It’s like I forgot a whole chunk of my life.” Seungyoon stirs the ice cubes in his drink, watches them melt against the glass. “I don’t want it.”
There’s a silence as Jinwoo bites into his sandwich, a tomato slice escaping from the other end and narrowly avoiding falling onto his lap. “Well, you could always get it covered. Or removed.”
“What in the world makes you think I can afford either of these things?” Seungyoon snarks, flicking a droplet of water from his straw in Jinwoo’s direction only to see him squirm as it lands on the lapel of his jacket. “Unless you know people who do charity…”
At that, Jinwoo straightens up in his seat like he just had a stroke of genius. “Actually,” he says, fishing his phone out of his pocket. “I saw an article in the local paper this morning about a shop that has special offers for cases like this.” Seungyoon doesn’t have time to ask about the tone before Jinwoo shoves the phone’s screen nearly against his face. “Regrets, bad party decisions, tattoos that ruin your professional life, things like that.”
The implication that he even has a professional life to speak of is as flattering as Seungyoon knows he’s going to get, so he takes it with an eyebrow raised in amusement.
On the screen is the homepage of a tattoo shop’s website, in deep greens and rich browns with a golden font that reads, “Jhonny’s Den”. There’s a caricature drawing of a cat right underneath, and a one word name: Mino.
“Why did you even bother writing that down?” Seungyoon can’t help but ask, because he’s never known Jinwoo to have an interest in tattoos.
Jinwoo slowly lowers his phone, hand dropping on the table. “I… I’m not sure, actually.” he says, tremors taking over his voice for a split second. “I just did.”
Seungyoon doesn’t ask any more questions, because he decides he can only deal with so much weirdness before he starts losing his mind.
The phone disappears back into Jinwoo’s pocket as quickly as it had come out, and Jinwoo resumes fiddling with his meal, becoming very taken with a stray piece of lettuce. “You should go.” he says absentmindedly, not looking at Seungyoon. “Get this over with, yeah?”
It’s a slow day, it always is at this time of year.
People coming back from extended vacations and lavish trips rarely have the money to spare on what he has to offer, and so Mino spends his afternoons drawing, while Jhonny lounges and purrs on a corner of the table.
No one is tending the front desk, because Bobby is currently sitting at his workstation practicing on orange peels and pig ears, but it’s ok. The bell by the door is enough to alert them, and for now they’re content with letting the steady buzzing of the machine lull both of them into the sense of security and comfort they’d come to find in the shop.
Mino had opened it four years prior, after leaving the shop where he’d learned everything, finally ready to take a step out into the open. The locale was decrepit, barely fit to rent at all, but there had been something about the energy, the street it was on, the panes of glass in the front that let at least some light shine through no matter the weather, that had made Mino sign the lease as fast as he possibly could. Everything in that shop, every piece of furniture, every wall decoration, every pen holder and every unusual trinket, had been chosen and curated to his taste, to the tune of what makes his heart beat. It’s not the fanciest, or the most popular, but it’s his, and Mino still feels the same pride as the first day every time he unlocks the door in the morning.
Bobby had come to him after two and a half years, hungry to learn and work, and reminded Mino so much of himself that there had been no other way than to hire him. The small pink, white and blue flag in the pen holder on the front desk is his, a sign of acceptance for all to see. He’s a fast learner, and though Mino has never been too confident in his ability to teach, it seems Bobby picks everything up as soon as it’s presented to him. Mino let Bobby tattoo him one night after closing, his steady hand a pleasant surprise as ink seeped beneath skin. He’ll be ready soon, just a little more, and then maybe he won’t need Mino anymore, but Mino hopes he’ll stay just the same.
The afternoons they spend like this, each in their little world but still together somehow, brings it all home.
It’s not unwelcome, but definitely unexpected, that the bell rings at that moment, someone pushing the door and shuffling inside with a mumbled “hello”.
Bobby is on his feet in a matter of moments, hastily turning his machine off and greeting the customer at the same time with a toothy smile. Mino leans back in his chair, stares at his unfinished piece for a moment, fray lines and rubber dust marring the paper. The urge to clean it up makes his fingers twitch, but Bobby calls for him before he can do anything at all.
“Hey boss. We got a special case.”
It’s so familiar, as always, and Mino can’t help but huff out a laugh as he walks to the front desk, eyes meeting the shape of his new customer against the dying sunlight. He’s tall, slender with legs that go on forever, but it’s his face that intrigues Mino the most, how his fingers dance nervously against his jaw as he waits, the slope of his cheeks and his lips almost like a painting, perfect lines that Mino wants to recreate on paper. He’s got faint purple shadows under his eyes but they still shine, a candle burning beneath his heavy eyelids.
“How can I help you?” Mino says, resting his elbows on the counter. From up close, he can see farther in those eyes, and there’s something that begs, ‘don’t let go’.
The customer fiddles with the sleeve of his jumper, his gaze barely meeting Mino’s. “Yeah, uh, I heard you do tattoo cover-ups?”
“Sure do.” he takes a clipboard from under the counter, hands it over to the customer. “Can you fill this up for me? I’ll be right with you.”
Cleaning up his work station gives Mino the two minutes he needs to shake how familiar the man looks to him, how his eyes seemed to have called for him, a message lost in time. He pulls up an extra chair from the closet and sets it up, motions for Bobby to pass the customer along.
“Right this way, sir.” Bobby stands as straight as he can, almost comically so, as he points the man to Mino’s desk. They both try to ignore him and Bobby pouts, only for half a second before he hurries back to his orange peel.
The buzzing of the machine comes back to break the silence right as the customer sits down, handing his form to Mino without a word.
“Okay.” Mino calmly and carefully scans the page over, making sure everything is in order. “Seungyoon. What's the issue.”
Seungyoon shifts, looks over his shoulder at where Bobby has his back to them, like he wants to make sure he's not listening in. Then he pulls at his sleeve, slowly uncovering smooth skin and deep blue veins, until he stops and then…
Mino has to look twice to be certain his mind isn’t playing tricks on him.
He knows this tattoo.
He has this tattoo.
Back when the world was a blur, this shape and color was all he could make out. A trace of what he was doing to himself, the only thing to still remind him of the visions - the dreams, or were they reality? He’d given up on making sense of any of it. They come to him again and again, nightmares of blood and dirt, bodies falling all around him as he’s powerless to stop them, to stop any of it from happening. He isn't sure, even now. He drowned them out in anything he could find, wine and liquor and spirits, anything to numb the ache that spread through his heart, every time he opened his eyes because of another gunshot, another cry of anguish, another splatter of blood across his cheek. He tried to wipe it away but nothing was there, except the still-warm, uncomfortable feeling of something that only may have happened.
All of it remains a mystery deep in the confines of his mind, and even the pages after pages he blackens in ink to try and remember every detail never seem to give him much of a clue. He’s always liked ink the best, he thinks, a lot more than alcohol anyway. His new and shiny sobriety chip is pinned to his bag, the days since carved into the leg of his work station. His eyes find them almost on instinct, trying to shake the sense of deja vu from the man sitting across from him, from the stain on his arm.
“So.” he says, trying to lit his head up to resume a normal, profesional conversation. He can feel Bobby’s eyes burning into him from the front desk. “You… want to get it covered up? That’s really dark, I might have to build around it instead.”
Across from him, Seungyoon clicks his tongue, visibly annoyed. “This is going to sound crazy,” he says, scratching the back of his head. “But I don't even know where it came from. I just want it gone.”
“You don't… Know?” Mino is puzzled, his curiosity instantly awakened. “What do you mean.”
“I mean I just woke up one day and it was… There. For some reason. Look man, I don't want to think about it, life's fucked enough as it is. It's just weird and I don't want it.”
There’s no way he could have meant any harm, Mino thinks, because he doesn’t know, he can’t know, but it still stings. He pulls at the sleeve of his jacket, over the arm that bears the tattoo he put on himself a little over two weeks ago, to celebrate his one year sober.
The one that looks like a wine stain.
“Can I take a picture?” he asks, trying to remain professional, trying to remember he’s here to help and not ponder on why a stranger shares the mark he thought was so personal to himself. “I don’t think I can really do anything today, I, erm, I’ll have to try and draw something up, see how I can make it look good, you know?”
Seungyoon frowns and sighs, drops his gaze towards the mark once more. “Sure.”
He doesn't seem convinced, but he extends his arm toward Mino all the same. The angle and the light are odd, not good enough for a clear picture, so Mino decides to reach out, his hand barely closing around Seungyoon's arm to turn it the right way. His thumb brushes against the tattoo, and a rush of adrenaline pumps violently through his veins and to his heart.
Across his open eyes, he sees a flash of red and green, and it looks exactly like the dreams he's been trying to make sense of, except now he's awake, and it feels as real as it ever has. Eyes fixed on Seungyoon's arm still, he hears the other man's breathing hitch.
In that moment, Mino knows Seungyoon felt it too.
He doesn’t ask, doesn’t want to pry into someone else’s life like this, but the pad of his thumb is burning as he holds Seungyoon’s arm in place, just long enough to take one, two, three pictures. He tries to steady his hand, to align his breathing with the click of the shutter, and once he’s satisfied enough with both he lets go, but the warmth remains.
“Thanks.” he says, and realizes that he’s barely whispering it. “I have your email, so I’ll be in touch, yeah?”
Seungyoon doesn’t seem all there, not anymore. “Yeah. Yeah, OK.” he stumbles on simple words, rises to his feet on shaky legs. “Thanks, see you later.”
If the situation were any different, Mino thinks he’d probably be a little upset at the lack of any manners, but he just watches Seungyoon go, like all the answers are written on the expanse of his back. Seungyoon steps out into the street with a chime of the bell and then he’s gone, like he was never there.
As is often the case, it’s Bobby who breaks the silence. “O-kay, that was weird. What the hell happened?” he sing-songs, blissfully unaware, as he turns on his stool to face Mino.
“Look at this.” Mino holds his phone up. He’s not sure sharing this with anyone is going to help make any sense of it, but the thought of keeping it to himself weighs on his heart too much. Bobby waltzes over to him, snatches the phone from his hands and furrowing his brow as his eyes meet the picture.
“What.” he says, flatly, enough for Mino to be unable to decipher whether Bobby shares his state of shock, or simply thinks it’s a practical joke. “This is… uh...”
Mino takes his phone back, locking it to try and keep the image away. “You were there when I gave myself that tattoo.” he pulls his sleeve up for emphasis, the mark still fresh and tender after healing. “Same spot. Same size, same color, same shape, and he says he doesn’t even remember getting it? How do you forget getting a tattoo? It’s not like it’s an immediately done deal, how does he not remember the pain, the healing process” he gestures at his own tattoo. “The ink bleeding out onto his clothes, the-”
He has to stop to catch his breath, and only then does he look up to find Bobby staring at him with a worried look in his eyes. “Let’s go home.” he says, holds a hand out to Mino with a gentle smile.
If there’s one thing Mino can say for certain about Bobby, it’s that the boy has the kindest soul he’s probably ever met. There’s not a bad bone in his body, Mino has known this from the start, when Bobby had shown up on his doorstep with an overflowing portfolio and the sincerest smile Mino had ever seen. If the situation initially seemed humorous to him, Mino is grateful Bobby has the presence of mind to know when things get serious.
They clean up the shop in silence, only Bobby’s intermittent whistling of whatever song he listened to on the way to work that day breaking the heavy, empty silence, and Mino finds it’s a welcome respite from his own thoughts.
thank you very much for reading !
if some things seem unclear to those who know the original material, i promise everything has a reason ;)
Chapter 3: two.
thank you very much to gaelle, kat and vai for helping to develop this story, and thank you gabi for beta-ing this chapter!
once again, tre, here's to you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
the needle which moves round the compass also moves in souls. each person was taking that step in advance which he was bound to take.
Sleep becomes a battle again.
Mino wakes up three times in one night, every night of the week, after Seungyoon’s visit. Everytime, there’s sweat pooling in the small of his back, and a knot in his throat like a scream is stuck there, a warning or a cry of anguish for something lost. Everytime, when he falls back asleep, he’s thrown into a tornado of fire and rust, heavy footsteps resonating on the inside of his skull.
He feels the emptiness in his heart, but as he tries to find answers, he’s still in the same spot.
A few appointments come fill up his calendar, and he tries to focus on those. The sound of his pencil scraping against paper is another one of those that he finds comforting, ink closely following, sweeps of black and grey. Mino likes ink, because it’s certain, and because it’s real. It doesn’t go away and doesn’t betray his senses or his memory, and he holds onto it for dear life, even if everytime he closes his eyes, he sees it swirl into shapes he doesn’t recognize.
Even as he tries to drown himself in his work, he can’t deny the call of his stomach when it starts rumbling, the familiar pang of hunger warping his insides. He drops his pen reluctantly and pets Jhonny’s head, smiling at the way she purrs disinterestedly, stretches her back legs out and over the edge of the desk.
“I’m heading out for lunch before my next appointment,” Mino calls, snapping Bobby out of the almost worrying, trance-like interest he takes in the home decoration magazines they get for waiting customers. “You want anything?”
Bobby barely lifts his gaze from the article on recycled fiber pillowcases he’s reading. “Uh, yeah, can you get me a pack of Maltesers and a Monster Ultra Blue?”
Mino thinks he must have misheard, because even though Bobby is barely an adult and likes living on the edge, there’s no possible way he can think of that as lunch. “Excuse me?” he inquires, his hand already on the door handle but a look he hopes says ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’ directed at Bobby, who flips a page in his magazine and starts chewing on a pen.
It’s becoming clearer by the second that nutrition comes second to eco-friendly bathroom rugs, so Mino just sighs and decides he’ll have to switch his hat from employer to concerned parent once again. If he hears Bobby shout out a hurried “Thanks” as the door closes, he just smiles and keeps it to himself.
There’s a tiny convenience store just a block away from the shop, with an okay coffee machine and a collection of sandwiches and salad bowls Mino had cycled through within a week and a half of moving. He gets three chicken-parmesans and two cappuccinos, chucking Bobby’s special order in his cart as an afterthought, and grabbing a four-pack of powdered sugar doughnuts off the clearance rack. So much for telling Bobby to watch his health, he thinks, but he doesn’t have time to go back on his decision before the cashier rings his items up, the beeping of the barcode reader and simple niceties the only sounds either of them make.
A look at his phone when he gets out tells Mino he has ample time to make the simple detour he wants to, one he hopes will help him clear his mind, if not once and for all, enough to get himself back on track for a little while.
At the end of a street, just a few minutes from the convenience store, there’s a large red brick house that sticks out like a sore thumb in the washed out grey architecture of the city. The only outward sign of modernity is the automatic door that was installed just a few months back, and it still takes Mino aback when it opens at the barest touch of his hand against the button.
A bells rings out when he steps in, the young woman at the counter flashing him a knowing smile before she turns to push the door behind her. She sounds out, “Mino’s here!”, lets a few seconds pass by before she turns back and lets the door fall close behind her. “He’ll be just a minute. We have a new resident this week, still needs a bit of easing into everything.” she says, and as if on cue, there’s a loud bark followed by muffled coos and a choir of whines.
When the noise dies down, the door swings open once again. “Who needs children when you have dogs.” a man says, wiping his hands down on his already-dirty t-shirt. When he looks over the counter and spots Mino, a bright smile takes over his entire face. “Hey! Long time no see, you bastard!” he shuffles from behind the counter, taking long strides towards Mino.
Mino opens his arms as much as he can, balancing the plastic bag and the coffee tray, but welcomes the man’s embrace all the same. It’s awkward and Mino can almost feel the cardboard tray slipping from his grip, but his friend lets go and retrieves it for himself, sniffing one of the cups with enthusiastic interest.
“Oh, thank fucking god. Song Mino, you’re my hero, you know that, right?” he beams up at Mino, breathing in the coffee fumes again before taking an experimental sip. “Yeah, that’s the stuff.”
Mino watches his friend’s coffee ritual with the same amused smirk as he always does, exchanging glances with the girl at the front desk. She rolls her eyes and gets up from her chair, leaning over the counter. “Hey, Hoon. Why don’t you introduce Mino to our new friend?” she jerks her head towards the door behind her. “They just ate so they’re not gonna be aggy, I promise.”
“Can’t promise the same.” Mino jokes, and he gives her a nod before letting himself be dragged behind the door.
It’s only one of many doors they’d walked through together.
If university had taught Mino one thing, it was that the people you run into in the library at hours he prefers not to remember aren’t always the ones you expect. Maybe it was a twist of fate that inspiration never struck for his traditional drawing assignment that week, but the shelves of the animal biology section of their campus’ old, worn down library brought something entirely different with them.
Sometimes Mino wonders if his life would have taken another path entirely, had he not decided to step out of his dorm that late, if his footsteps had taken him to the other end of the library, if Seunghoon hadn’t decided he was done with his mandatory maths class paper and chosen instead to read up on the history of cross-breeding. He wonders what would have happened if, even as he walked down the aisle in search of something to spark his fire, he’d walked right past Seunghoon. But something had drawn them together, and Mino’s endless curiosity and interest in his fellow men had led him to the floor of the library, ruining his art supplies as he drew fantasy creatures on Seunghoon’s arm as the other smiled that impossibly bright smile.
The possibilities of his existence having taken any other direction are endless, Mino knows this much. But he’s decided a long time ago that he isn’t interested in finding out what his life would be like without Seunghoon in it.
Seunghoon was a firecracker even back then, a rambunctious individual whose free spirit was less an indicator of his abilities than simply the fuel for them. His ability to take everything in stride is something Mino always wishes he could take for himself, but he still finds comfort in Seunghoon’s presence in his life. Always better than letting himself be consumed by a feeling of inadequacy, though he’d left it behind long ago.
“So what brings you to our humble abode?” Seunghoon asks as he pushes the door open, lets Mino go first. The moment he steps over the threshold, Mino remembers that Seunghoon really does live in what is, for all intents and purposes, an alternate dimension.
There’s a pump bottle of hand sanitizer on the windowsill and Mino hands Seunghoon the bag, lets his friend rummage through it before he hears the cry of joy that signals he’s either found the sandwich, the doughnuts, or both. There’s a salve of yaps and barks, Seunghoon laughing as he sing-songs before sitting down on the steps leading to the yard.
“Nah, sorry. You don’t see me eating in your bowls now, do you?” he says, and then he gestures to Mino to come sit next to him. “They’ll get over it in two seconds.” and then he points at a small brown poodle that Mino assumes to be the new resident, attempting an approach to the rest of the pack. "They have business to attend to."
That Seunghoon would end up working at an animal shelter was something Mino thinks he always saw coming without ever really realizing it, even when he thinks back on the first night they’d collided. His heart is too big to keep for himself, after all, and his spirit always carries him wherever he can make a difference.
Mino takes a bite of his sandwich and lets his gaze wander out to the backyard, where a particularly large and fluffy dog that might as well be a wolf is rolling over onto its back, tentatively letting two small curly paws pet at its stomach. “Am I even supposed to be here, really? You do this all the time.”
“Ah, doesn’t do any harm.” Seunghoon says, gesturing at the closed gate between them and the dog pen. That he would seemingly routinely break some rules of the job to help his friends was another thing no one who knew him could be surprised about. “Besides, you look like you need it.” he adds, breaking off a chunk of doughnut. “These dreams again?”
Mino shakes his head and takes a sip of his coffee, the bitterness lodging somewhere behind his jaw. “Weirder. Scarier, almost, honestly.”
Seunghoon snakes an arm around his shoulders, brings Mino tumbling against him. He radiates warmth, he always has, and it’s more welcome today than ever before. He smiles brightly, powdered sugar smeared around the corners of his mouth and not a care in the world about it.
“Tell me everything.”
So Mino does.
He recalls how Seungyoon had walked in the shop like he wasn’t sure how his steps had led him there, how he’d held everything within himself, stood in front of Mino like a ghost bathed in light. The image still doesn’t leave him, carved into the inside of his brain.
“He had that tattoo. The same one, just…” he pulls on his sleeve, the fabric ghosting over his skin before it reveals the stain. “Exactly the same. And he said he doesn’t know where it came from, either? That doesn’t make any fucking sense, right?”
He lifts his head again to face Seunghoon, who just stares at him for a moment, both eyebrows raised high up on his forehead. Mino scoffs. Of course it’s too impossible to believe, he can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t look at him like he’s absolutely lost his mind if he’d just told them the same thing. He catches his breath, heat creeping up his spine when he realizes his voice broke on his last words and that he’s out of oxygen, nothing else but his crazy story to show for himself.
“That’s…” Seunghoon starts, and Mino almost decides to leave. “Incredible… I think?”
The words hang in the air for a moment, and Mino has half a mind to just wave his hand and chase them away. Before he can do anything though, and perhaps as a show of mercy, Seunghoon shoots him a comforting smile and hands him the last doughnut from the pack. “Man, how come the cool stuff always happens to you?” he says, slurping loudly on the last of his coffee. The sound is met by a few playful barks, but the dogs go back to their own games as quickly as they came.
“You don’t think I’ve lost my mind, then?” Mino asks tentatively, toeing the line between wondering if he’s blowing things out of proportion and believing that Seunghoon is just as insane as he is.
Seunghoon punches his arm, softly enough that it doesn’t hurt but with enough force that Mino feels himself being knocked backwards. “No, I don’t. I mean, I do agree that it’s weird - like, really weird - but… It also can’t be a coincidence. I don’t believe that for one second.” He leans back, hoisting himself up on his elbows, leaving Mino hanging to his every word. When he sees Mino looking at him like his eyes are going to bulge out of his skull and roll down the rest of the steps, he takes a deep breath. “Listen. We’ve seen a lot of weird shit in our days, right? I’m just saying… This isn’t like the rest. I have a feeling…” he stops, as if trying to find a way to describe exactly what kind of feeling, but the precision never comes.
Something tugs at Mino’s heart all the same at his friend’s words. “I wonder… There was something else. When I touched the tattoo I- I felt something. I saw something.” He doesn’t need to look to know Seunghoon is staring, eyes intent and burning as they can often get. “And that’s what scares me. That guy, I think he has something to do with…”
Even after years have passed and he’s fought off the demons and the weeping ghosts, Mino finds that the words stay stuck in his throat. Thankfully, even after years have passed, Seunghoon still knows how to find them for him.
“Your dreams, right?” he straightens up to lean his head on Mino’s shoulder, keeps his voice soft and mellow. He doesn’t push further, doesn’t try to sneak a glance, his eyes following the movement behind the gate of the dog pen.
Mino feels like something has sunk deep in his heart, realization dawning on him. “I know it sounds completely-” he stammers out, but Seunghoon winds their arms together, holding tight.
“Don’t say that again. Don’t quit while you’re ahead.” he keeps Mino’s arm in his, the comforting warmth of his presence at Mino’s side. “There’s so many damn things in this world we can’t explain. If you think there’s even a sliver of hope you could understand what’s been happening to you… You have to go for it.”
Before he says anything else, Seunghoon pushes himself to his feet in one swift motion, pulling Mino up with him. He turns so Mino is facing him, unable to look anywhere but at his face, and the determined grin adorning it. It’s one he’s seen so many times on Seunghoon, and it has always meant so many things at once, that he knows all he can do is wait for what comes next.
Thankfully, Seunghoon doesn’t keep him waiting for too long. He grabs Mino by the shoulders, his grip still as strong as the first day they’d shaken hands, and gives him a nod. “Hey. Trust yourself, man. That tattoo… I know what it means to you. It’s too important. I know you're afraid of going back to... that place but - I believe in you, okay? You got this. Don't let your doubts ruin you.”
He gives Mino’s shoulders a gentle squeeze and then lets go, before retrieving the plastic bag and shoving it in Mino’s hands again. “Now get out of here, the canine world needs me too you know!”
Mino lets himself be walked to the door, and he waits on the threshold until Seunghoon disappears into the backyard again, whistling as he goes to call for the dogs. When he’s sure everything is safe and sound, he steps out onto the street, a renewed spring in his step from Seunghoon's words, the reassurance that looking for answers is the right things to do. His phone buzzes with a message from Bobby asking about his lunch, the spell of organic scent diffusers lifted from him at last, so Mino marches on his way back to the shop, his head lighter and his mind on fire.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon,” Jinwoo remarks over his cup as he flips through a color chart with more shades of yellow and ochre than Seungyoon even knew existed.
Seungyoon thinks he doesn’t necessarily want to be here in the first place, because the big empty halls Jinwoo works in most of the time tend to make him more nervous than anything else. The way Jinwoo’s words echo off the bare walls doesn’t help, and Seungyoon squirms on his feet.
“I went to that tattoo shop.” he says, hoping to tear Jinwoo’s attention away from the positively ridiculously long guest list he’s going through, names written and scraped off the seating chart a hundred times over.
Surprisingly enough, it works. Jinwoo points an inquisitive finger towards Seungyoon’s arm, rounding the table to meet him. “So what happened? Is it… fixed?” he speaks low, as if trying to protect a grave secret.
A moment passes and Seungyoon thinks back about his meeting with the tattoo artist - Mino, his name was Mino, Seungyoon remembers, and he doubts he could ever forget. He remembers how Mino had looked at his tattoo like he’d seen some ghost of a past he’d rather forget, how his mind had caught on fire when Mino touched it, touched him. It had seemed to Seungyoon like someone had lit a fuse between them and let it explode without a care in the world.
If he closes his eyes, right now, he’s sure he’ll see the vision again, the hand and the back and the candlelight, all of it. He’ll see it and his mind will be alert, he’ll be awake, just like he was when Mino touched him.
He still can’t make any of it make sense.
“Not really, no. Look, something really… strange, happened.”
Jinwoo cocks his head to the side, staring at Seungyoon through a frown. “Again?”
Seungyoon knows he really can’t blame Jinwoo for that kind of reaction. He certainly wasn’t expecting for the situation to get even more peculiar, much like he wasn’t expecting for the owner of a random tattoo shop somewhere on the other side of the city to trigger the very thing he’d been trying to avoid. But the universe seems to have it out for him, somehow, so he just nods at Jinwoo, not quite knowing what to expect in return.
A young man walks in pushing a cart full of flowers, some in delicate arrangements and others in messy bouquets to be put together later, and Jinwoo’s gaze follows him, softening considerably as he takes in the colors and scents. He stops the man and his convoy, murmurs a few quick words that send him running away for something else. Delicately, Jinwoo picks a few flowers from their respective bags, holds them up in front of him. In all the time he’s known Jinwoo, Seungyoon has never been able to understand how he can be so different and yet so contained in a single person.
“They gave me free reign over the arrangements,” Jinwoo sighs, touching a daisy to his lips. His smile says everything, and he seems to get lost in space for a moment. “So, tell me what happened.” He snaps out of it, lays the flower samples out on the table.
It takes some twists and turns, and great pains for Seungyoon to recall as Jinwoo looks at him with an increasingly aggravated expression on his face, but he gets to the end of the story. He feels almost exhausted as the final words are drawn out of his mouth, the memory of Mino’s thumb burning into his skin coming back to him as vivid as it had been since that day.
Jinwoo slumps back in his chair. For a moment, he says nothing. Seungyoon watches him as he seemingly goes through as many emotions and inner monologues and questions as someone possibly can in a few seconds, and really, he can’t blame Jinwoo for being that confused by the whole thing.
“That…” he starts, straightening himself up and brushing his hair out of his eyes. Seungyoon can tell he’s trying very hard not to explode. “That’s not… That’s not what I was expecting. At all. And I’m not really sure what I was expecting in the first place.”
Seungyoon huffs, folds his hands in his lap, his eyes not meeting Jinwoo’s. “Maybe I should just live with it. Pretend it’s not there.” He moves a hand to slide two fingers under the sleeve of his hoodie, finds the mark easily enough. He doesn’t want to think about what that means.
“That’s not going to solve anything though, is it.” Jinwoo stands up suddenly, grips the edge of the cart with both hands. He keeps his eyes fixed on the flowers as he speaks, and they’re tinted with melancholy. “You’re going to have to face this. For once in your life.”
There’s something in his voice that tells Seungyoon he means it as a piece of advice rather than an accusation. Running away had always seemed so easy after all, a much preferable solution to facing all the dreary bullshit life always seemed to have to offer. He can’t help but laugh, a nervous reaction when he realizes that Jinwoo’s way is, as is often the case, the only way.
“I liked you better when you were playing with daisies.” Seungyoon says, mechanically brushing down the front of his jeans as he gets up to avoid looking at Jinwoo.
“Cut the snark, Seungyoon.” Jinwoo takes a step towards him, planting both feet firmly on the ground. “I know you’re terrified by everything you can’t control, but don’t pretend this is something you can just brush away.” He takes Seungyoon’s hand, something soft and delicate slipping from his palm. “Stop resigning yourself to the life you think you’re condemned to.”
Seungyoon stays there, pinned in place by something he can’t see but can feel on his shoulders. Jinwoo shoots him one last look before returning to his flowers, his expression unchanging as he scribbles something on the clipboard attached to the cart and lets his fingers linger on the petals of a gardenia. He’s lost in thought, gone into his own world already, so Seungyoon takes his leave, murmuring a bashful ‘thank you’ as he passes by.
When he gets to his bus stop, Seungyoon realizes his hand has been closed tight since Jinwoo held it. He winces when he opens it, his tendons finally relaxing after the pressure he’d inadvertently put on them. In his hand, in the middle of his palm like a promise, there’s a crumpled up poppy, its petals quivering in the evening wind. It looks so fragile and yet its red color strikes deep in his heart, stark and powerful against his skin. It’s the same red he sees in his dreams, the same one he tries so desperately to reach for but can never touch.
A petal flies away. Seungyoon closes his fist around the rest and shoves it in the pocket of his hoodie right as the bus arrives.
Even with his head thrown for a loop, Seungyoon wakes up the next morning.
He has no dream that night, or at least none he can remember, nothing left in his mind as he stirs awake, except the usual weight of nostalgia on his chest. He doesn’t think he can get rid of it any time soon.
The coffee machine barely starts, and the first sip makes Seungyoon wish it just hadn't. He's got to be at the studio soon anyway, and there's a perfectly good, non-seemingly-jet-fuel-powered coffee machine there. So he just downs a glass of lukewarm water and winces when he turns the shower temperature down, letting cold water wash over him despite his best judgement and the freshening air outside.
There are no desperate messages from Jinwoo on his phone when he gets out, but he can’t avoid the buzzing reminder that today is another dreary day of playing used up chords for whichever low-budget drama needs them.
Being a studio musician isn’t something Seungyoon had ever really imagined for himself. The worn-out songbook abandoned at the foot of his bed reminded him of that every day, when he would go over melodies he wrote in high school, unable to make sense of them. He signs up to open mic nights sometimes, when the idea of having his songs judged by total strangers doesn’t make him want to throw the whole world away, but they never come to fruition. Inevitably, he ends up sitting on the floor of his apartment, chasing the spark that will turn everything on its head.
But being a hopeless artist doesn’t pay, so he shrugs his jacket on, fist closing around the nickels in his pocket, picks up his guitar, and heads out to the studio.
Beehive Studio isn’t, all in all, a bad place to work at. All of the equipment works, which isn’t something Seungyoon is able to say about some of the clubs he’d played at, the building doesn’t look like it’s about to fall apart, and the people who work there aren’t as detestable as the rest of the entire world, if only slightly more eccentric.
There’s a creaking noise when Seungyoon pushes the door open, sure, but he attributes it to the dropping temperature and doesn’t think too much of it, his attention immediately turning to the rapidly closing elevator. He calls out, almost tripping on his own feet as he tries to catch it, and surprisingly enough, the door winds back up and opens for him.
Inside the elevator, Seungyoon drops his guitar case down to the floor to catch his breath, and when he turns to thank his savior, he’s greeted by Hyoseob from down the hall, with a dopey smile on his face.
“Almost lost you there, man!” Hyoseob says, his newly blue hair flashing against the neon lights. “Recording with Jiho today?”
Seungyoon slumps against the wall as he watches the numbers go up. “Yeah.” he says, as seven turns into eight. “Nice hair.”
Hyoseob beams at him. “Thanks! Wanted to try something new, well, since we’re sending my demos out later this week…” he trails off, almost as if a gentle voice in his head is telling him not to brag.
Seungyoon doesn’t care. He really doesn’t. Or well, he wishes he didn’t, but there’s still something that twists deep in his heart when he hears Hyoseob talk about this, about the success he’s chasing after. He knows it’ll be well deserved, of course it will, but Seungyoon would also be lying through his teeth - and to himself - if he said he wasn’t intensely jealous that Hyoseob unlocked what he’s still desperately searching for.
“That’s cool, man.” Seungyoon grits his teeth instead, because even he’s not bitter enough to try and rain on anyone’s parade. “We all know you’re going to hit it big.” He tries to sound like he means it, because really, he does, but he’s not used to saying these kinds of things, so he just goes silent for the rest of the ride, tries to concentrate on the numbers.
The elevator door opens with a familiar ding, and Hyoseob gives Seungyoon’s shoulder a friendly squeeze before he heads off to his room, on the other end of the corridor.
Walking towards Jiho’s studio, Seungyoon passes the break room, spots Dongwook with his feet tucked under him on the sofa, earphones plugged in, chewing a pencil as he hunches over his notebook. He looks so deep in thought that Seungyoon tries to slip into the room without being noticed, padding across the carpeted floor to the coffee machine. He keeps his back to Dongwook, hoping his guitar case will shield him, counting the seconds the coffee cup takes to drip down, the sound of the last drops on the surface of the cup like a beat without a melody. It’s not the best, but it’ll do.
Stirring the foam away, Seungyoon reminisces on how Dongwook used to sit in on their recording sessions, observing Jiho at work, intermittently scribbling some verses down as they came to him. He stayed until he found what he was looking for, and though he still works with Jiho now, from time to time, Seungyoon knows he’s found his own path to walk on.
Another one of them.
The faces that inhabit the place are like ghosts in motion to Seungyoon, and he watches them move on to a higher place while he’s stuck in limbo. None of them use the names he knows them by outside of these walls. They’re all crafting newer, perhaps better, lives for themselves, outside of the confines of the lives of ordinary people. Seungyoon wonders, sometimes, if it’s as easy as changing your name. Yeah, maybe he could try that, and then everything would fall right into place.
He doesn’t have time to reflect on that, so he just downs the rest of his coffee and tries to leave the room unnoticed, but Dongwook pulls an earbud out as he passes out the door and greets him. “Jiho’s already in!” he says, shoots Seungyoon a smile. Seungyoon nods in acknowledgement, turning his attention to the door just a few feet away.
The first time he’d walked through it, he hadn’t known what to expect from the small sign on the front of it that said ‘Woo Jiho, Head Producer’. His past experiences hadn’t exactly been the best, and here, on the 12th floor of an unknown building, Seungyoon had hoped, if not for a hero, at least for someone who’d understand his plea as a musician.
Sure enough, Jiho didn’t fashion himself to be a hero. He took on all challenges, big and small, and even the jobs Seungyoon thought of as dreadfully mundane seemed like a new adventure to Jiho. He’d say it’s always a good day to learn a thing or two, and Seungyoon would just nod and keep tuning his guitar while the rest of the staff rolled in. Of course, music remains at the center of all things, and if anyone passed through this studio, to record or to work, often both, they’d come to him for advice eleven times out of ten. He built the studio himself, from one room at the end of a badly lit hall, to the entire floor, equipped rooms with his hard-earned coin and invited anyone who wanted to create.
Today still, he’s as affable as can be, but once the mics and mixing table are turned on, he'll be another person entirely. Everyone around - even the employees from whatever companies are on the floors above and below - know of his talent, and if some said it was God-given, he’d simply smile and shrug them off, and keep on working instead.
When Seungyoon pushes the door open, Jiho already looks like he’s been here for hours. “Hey. Reporting in.”
“Sweet.” Jiho says, rising to his feet. From over his shoulder, Seungyoon sees an unfamiliar face. “We’re starting in fifteen, so if you want to grab another coffee or need to piss, the time is now.”
Seungyoon shakes his head. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to how candid the man can be. “Who’s this?” he jerks his head towards the stranger sitting in a corner of the room. There’s something familiar about him, in the way the light from inside the recording booth hits his features just the right way to give Seungyoon deja-vu.
“Oh, right.” Jiho gestures for the stranger to join them. “Hanbin, this is Seungyoon. You’re going to see him around a lot. Seungyoon…” Jiho clasps a hand on Hanbin’s shoulder, and Hanbin smiles, an earnest and boyish smile. “This here is Kim Hanbin. He’s studying music production, so he’s going to intern here for a while.”
“Nice to meet you.” Hanbin says, holding a hand out to Seungyoon.
Their handshake is short and awkward on Seungyoon’s end, but Hanbin’s hands are warm enough to make him forget.
Jiho plops back down in his seat, makes a vague hand gesture towards Hanbin. “He showed up on my doorstep fresh as morning dew, look at him, I couldn’t turn him away.”
Like a child being dropped off at school by an overbearing parent, Hanbin pushes Jiho’s hand away with a shy grin and returns to his seat, burying his nose in his notes. Seungyoon feels for him for a moment, then Hanbin straightens up as the other musicians begin arriving, and the way his gaze changes sends a shiver down Seungyoon’s spine.
They all set up in silence, only the sound of sheet music being spread out and flipped resonating against the glass. From the other side of it, Seungyoon can see Jiho explaining something to Hanbin, their hands traveling up and down the soundboard. The headphones covering his ears are too tight, like a carnival claw around his head, but he shakes it off and keeps plucking at the machine heads, his nails catching on the strings as he listens for the right tune.
The buzzing sound of a mic being turned on resonates in his hears, and then, so does Jiho’s voice.
“Okay, all set?” he asks to no one in particular, and they all nod at him through the glass. “Awesome. Let’s go.”
He turns the mic off and lifts his arm up, ready to give them the start signal. Next to him, Hanbin watches attentively, and his eyes meet Seungyoon’s.
The guide track kicks in.
Seungyoon feels the strings of his guitar dig into the flesh of his fingers, over where they’re already rugged and raw. He tries to keep his eyes on the sheet music, but he can’t help finding Hanbin’s gaze on the other side of the glass.
His heartbeat picks up. The music blurs in his ears.
He closes his eyes.
There’s a flash of dust and thunder and he’s here again, in that room, feet rushing across the floorboards. There’s a commotion, bodies that try to block his path, but he pushes through them like they’re made of smoke. Near the window, he sees a figure clad in red, standing tall against the dying light. He expects to look at its face and see nothing but void.
He sees Mino there instead, clear as day.
Wordlessly, he extends a shaky, helpless hand.
It feels warm here, like this is everything he’s been chasing after, all this time.
He breathes out shakily, trying to find the beat of his own heart. He smells gunpowder and fire brewing.
A single shot rings through his ears.
The world goes black.
hello, milo there!
i've been so amazed at the response this story has gotten already, im so grateful for everyone who has clicked and read through, and left kind & encouraging words! thank you!
Chapter 4: interlude.
i wanted to get this out a little earlier this week but i had some health issues and needed to push it back, thank you for being patient TvT
many thanks to cody for beta-ing and helping with the structure!
i hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
there is nothing like dogma for bringing forth dreams. and there is nothing like dreams for engendering the future.
Long nights at work don’t bother Hanbin. They never did when he was hunched over the keyboard he got for his fifteenth birthday, in his too small childhood bedroom, eyes straining over his computer screen to make sense of the beats and melodies. Now he’s in a fully equipped studio with more gear than he could have ever dreamt of, left in charge of going over the day’s recordings while Hyoseob practically dragged Jiho outside, reminding him that while music feeds the soul, his body still needs sustenance whether he likes it or not.
Life here can be hectic, Hanbin has learned, and people lose track of themselves. He’d seen it happen just a week prior, watched as Seungyoon’s eyes glazed over and he collapsed, crashing to the floor unceremoniously. How they’d managed to salvage his guitar was a miracle, but Hanbin finds himself stuck on those eyes, how they’d looked straight through him, pierced his soul with anguish and fear.
He recalls it like it was yesterday, because the feelings haven’t left him yet.
If anything they’re more present than ever, every time he closes his eyes and lets himself drift off to sleep. So, Hanbin welcomes nights like these, because they let him occupy his mind with something other than the whirlwind of red and worn out paper. He finds himself scribbling outwords that don’t rhyme in his notebook, and symbols he doesn’t recognize in the margins of its pages. Everything, Hanbin thinks, can be chalked up to lack of sleep.
But everytime he slips away from reality, he sees a familiar shoulder slope, a back turned to him that he wants to reach out to, hands grabbing at nothing in his sleep.
He lifts his eyes from the console slowly, into the empty booth where Seungyoon had been standing. His hand twitches with the urge to move, to go somewhere. He’s not sure where, but every morning on the way to the studio, his feet lead him a little further from the path without him realizing it until he snaps his head up and sees an unknown street name or metro station sign.
Someone knocks on the door, and Hanbin swivels around in his chair to find Jiho leaning in the doorway, looking unusually sheepish. “Go home man,” he says, looking Hanbin up and down. “You look ragged.”
Hanbin knows Jiho says this all in good faith, because he has to be aware he’s not looking that good himself. Part of the job, he’d say, and everyone just accepts it because it’s useless to try and tear him away from his work.
“What time is it?” Hanbin asks tentatively, because he hasn’t looked at the clock for what feels like hours.
Jiho looks up at the wall where Hanbin knows the digital clock is, and his face contorts into a grimace. “Er. Almost 3AM.”
Of course it is.
Hanbin drags a hand across his face, pushes the chair away from the console. His vision is hazy and he barely makes it to his feet, realizes how tired he really is when the blood rushes to his head. He rubs his eyes to try and stay lucid for a moment longer, meets Jiho’s apologetic gaze.
“Can I sleep in the break room? I can’t catch any buses or trains back home until the morning.” Hanbin hears his own voice breaking, hoarse with exhaustion.
Jiho nods, “Sure.” and excuses himself, says he’ll close up shop after Hanbin is done.
He’s got to stop doing this, probably, because he won’t be able to afford losing this much sleep when he goes back to school. But somehow Hanbin finds more comfort within the studio’s walls than his tiny suburban apartment, so bundling up on the break room’s sofa with his jacket thrown over his upper body is good enough. The clock ticks, and sleep catches him easily.
When Hanbin opens his eyes, it’s with a disappearing image of Seungyoon’s own, crying out for help.
His watch reads 9:32AM, and Hanbin would almost panic if he didn’t find a note from Jiho stuck to the table urging him to get some rest and come back in the afternoon. There’s a bottle of water and a cereal bar next to it, both welcome offerings to Hanbin’s dry throat and empty stomach. He feels like he’s been running and screaming all night, and there’s a soreness in his side that he can’t tell the exact origin of.
He just assumes it’s the sofa - and makes a mental note to not tell Jiho, because he’d made such an effort making the break room comfortable - and downs the entire bottle before shoving the cereal bar halfway in his mouth, crumbs falling on the carpeted floor as he chews.
At this hour of the morning, he should probably be going home to try to chase the night away. He doesn’t even realize that he’s gotten into the elevator until it reaches the ground floor, and when he’s out on the street, the morning sun bright and cold high in the sky, it points in an unfamiliar direction.
So Hanbin walks. He doesn’t know how long, or how far, or even why he trudges past so many bus stops and train stations, unwilling to get on his way home. Streets weave around him, labyrinthine but never treacherous, until he steps out into one he’s sure he’s never set foot in before.
Down near the end of the street, there’s an old building and when Hanbin looks up, it's as if he's opening his eyes for the first time in a long time. He sees the glass panes in front of him, and the tattoo shop sign above.
He takes a deep breath.
An open book on a table, words he can’t decipher blurring in his vision, ink staining the pages. There’s clamoring next to him but it feels so distant, voices melting away as the wind blows out a candle. Shadows gather near the window and he watches them, unable to move.
Unable to do anything when the cannon sounds.
Jinwoo wakes up in a cold sweat, bolting upright to make sure his bedroom is still there.
The giant wedding book – everything he could need to know, from color palettes to dietary restrictions to the strangely comedic annotations left by the best man – is still there on his nightstand, taunting him as the days trickle down.
The mirror in the corner of his room tells him his face is still his own and his hands are still his own, hair sticking to his forehead with sweat, palms clammy and trembling. His shirt is sticking to his skin, an uncomfortable feeling that almost starts to feel comforting because it's real, and he can feel it, and he's not falling through the cracks in the floor anymore.
“Fuck's sake.” he mutters under his breath, pinches the bridge of his nose to try and recenter himself. “He really got to my head, uh…”
The walk to the bathroom is quick and painless even after what he'd felt in the dream, and the creases under his eyes are the only trace that it even happened. He'd seen the same on Seungyoon, and after seeing and feeling what Seungyoon had seen and felt every night for so long, Jinwoo feels a pang of guilt in his chest at having been so harsh towards him.
Work had taken over his life in the past few weeks to the extent that Jinwoo didn’t think he dreamt anymore. If he did, he couldn’t remember it, lost between three dozen champagne flutes and a box of embroidered napkins. Reality didn’t leave much time for dreams.
But dreams always find a way.
The first one had left him thinking he’d just eaten something bad, or drank too much coffee during the day. Jinwoo reasoned as much as he could, that the stress of his job and his growing worries for Seungyoon had just gotten to his head. When it happened again the following night, and every night since then, leaving him with a heavy melancholy, Jinwoo had given up on excuses. He didn’t even feel the tears that streamed down his face as he got lost staring into space one day at work, not until his colleague had asked him if he wanted to take the day off and suddenly Jinwoo had felt the warmth on his skin, tracks already drying and leaving nothing in their wake.
His reflection shows him pale skin under neon light, a drop of sweat rolling down the side of his face, and he can feel it straining and dripping, the sensation far too unpleasant to just stand there and take. He rubs it away with his hand, dragging against the skin of his cheek, tries to wake himself up again. Everything feels like he’s back in the dream, and yet all of it is too real.
Calling Seungyoon to tell him about it would be an option, obviously, but the clock reads 2:47AM, and Jinwoo knows Seungyoon already has a hard enough time finding sleep as it is. A passing thought tells him that maybe Seungyoon would welcome a respite from the dream, but he brushes it aside, refuses the possibility of ruining even the chance that Seungyoon is having a peaceful night for once. Not after...
Jinwoo shakes his head and turns the tap on, the sound of cold water running replacing the echo of the cannons. He splashes some on his face, rubs the remnants of sleep from his eyes, and rounds the corner to the living room to check on Rey and Bey, the two felines sound asleep at this hour for once. He envies them, in a way, wonders if cats have dreams like this. He delicately pets each of their heads, careful not to rouse them from sleep, and throws his jacket on. Maybe the night air, finally fresh at this time of year, will help.
There’s no mercy when the bullets fly, only flashes of light and bodies falling around him as he throws everything in sight, his hands going through a table and shards digging into his skin. A deafening sound comes from a stairway he cannot see, steps coming closer and retreating as the building collapses.
He feels himself slipping further and further, running across a floor that collapses with every step.
His heart feels like it drops in his stomach, and then next moment, Seunghoon is awake, halfway on the floor. Adrenaline rushes through his veins, pulsing in his lungs and his throat, an inexplicable rush that leaves him breathless.
Propping himself up on his elbow, he searches for something, anything, in the darkness across the room. At the foot of his bed, he finds Haute, wide awake and staring at him, beady eyes full of concern.
“Hey. Worried about me, yeah?” Seunghoon extends a hand to beckon the dog closer, and Haute trots across the comforter to lodge himself under his arm. “I think I am too.”
Images rush through his mind as he tries to piece the dream back together, but they vanish and crumble, leaving him with nothing but a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach and the imprint of someone else's bloodstain behind his eyelids. Haute nudges at his bicep, burrowing in the crook of Seunghoon’s elbow. “What would I do without you?” Seunghoon huffs, scratches the top of Haute's head.
He'd adopted Haute directly from the shelter, after months of bonding with the animal day after day. Haute would follow him around all day, as if he had imprinted on Seunghoon, and Seunghoon had joked with Mino that Haute had adopted him rather than the other way around. It certainly always felt like it. The first day he'd taken Haute home, as a hopeful trial that they'd get along even outside the sheltered environment where they'd met, Seunghoon had known it was a partnership built to last.
On days and nights when things went awry, Haute always seemed to know, and his presence was more comforting to Seunghoon than he could ever express in words.
Right now, it's about the only thing tethering him to reality.
Seunghoon screws his eyes shut tight, tries to chase the traces of the dream away, but they linger and he wonders how Mino has done it all these years. He understands why Mino had tried to numb the pain and the fear, how things had gotten as bad as they did. He respects Mino even more than he thought was possible for getting himself out of it.
The dreams of the past few nights are enough to make his mind race a mile a minute, Haute's reassuring whines and nudges barely getting through to him as he stares off into space.
Seunghoon closes his fist around the comforter, feeling the fabric between his fingers. It’s soft and slightly worn, an old one he’d brought from his parents’ house when he’d moved for university. In his hand, it feels much different from the rubble he’d been holding moments before, bloody knuckles gearing up for another desperate punch. Looking around his room, he sees everything where it should be, neatly in its place, swallows hard when he remembers the chaos in the street, how the world seemed to be crashing down at his feet. The image fades as his mind awakes, and his knuckles turn white from the grip.
When he realizes he's been sitting here doing nothing, Seunghoon's instinct kicks in. He smacks his cheeks hard enough to make a sound ring out throughout the bedroom, Haute looking up at him in surprised confusion.
“Enough of that!” Seunghoon announces to no one, or perhaps to himself. “Let's go for a walk, what do you say?” He jumps out of bed, Haute sauntering after him into the doorway. “That's my boy.” Seunghoon smiles at the vehement enthusiasm, and they’re both out the door in no time.
Sure enough, the air hits Jinwoo's face and he breathes it in, hoping to renew something inside of him.
The streets are barely lit but he knows the way, following the lamps through the alley next to his building. It's quiet, and somehow that's reassuring, the silence of the city like a cocoon of reality, far from the dream he'd rather forget.
He walks past his office and through the marketplace, neon signs powered off and grates closed, a few scattered receipts and footprints from the rain the only sign that there ever was life here. Jinwoo inhales as much as he can, tries to recenter himself on this street, in this life.
If there ever was another, he thinks he might have already seen it, and the thought scares him to death.
There's a park at the end of the marketplace where he and Seungyoon went sometimes in the summer, in their university days, before the reality of growing up took a hold of them both. He still remembers sitting on the bench over the slope as Seungyoon strummed away, the season fleeing in front of their eyes.
Neither of them realized that, back then. They thought they were immortal somehow, that only music and flowers mattered and that they'd carry them home in the end. But everything faded, and somehow now both of them are left with this hole in their chest where something unnamed and precious used to be.
Jinwoo feels tears welling up in the corners of his eyes when he realizes this is what Seungyoon has been living with.
Coming up on the park, his feet strain against the concrete as he walks up the path where he and Seungyoon used to run to secure their spot. He doesn’t have the strength to do that right now, maybe not ever anymore.
“We can’t go back, eh...” Jinwoo whispers into the wind, barely hears himself say it. The moths gathering around the streetlight buzz for a moment. Talking to himself has never been a habit until now. Maybe it’ll have to be if only to shut down the white noise in his mind.
Slowly, he tries to close his eyes, to remember the better days that were left behind. All he sees behind his eyelids are bloodied hands, crazed eyes looking for an escape, calling for rescue. Jinwoo opens his eyes to find the concrete, spotless and muted, but the image lingers like an afterthought, something he feels like he’s forgotten a long time ago coming back to him.
The sound of his own breathing is too loud in the empty air.
Slowly, he starts hearing footsteps, louder and louder, coming from the other end of the path. A quick look at his phone tells him it’s coming up on half past three, and Jinwoo instinctively retreats in on himself, ready to run.
Instead, his attention is piqued when a small gray dog scuttles into view, thin legs carrying it across the concrete. There’s no leash around its neck but Jinwoo can hear labored breaths coming up after the dog, a shadow hovering under the moonlight and the lamppost.
“Goddamn, what’s got you so agitated at this hour?” a voice calls, and even before its owner comes into view it rings out in Jinwoo’s ears, loud and brash and so familiar.
Something washes over him, a wave of heat creeping up his neck when the voice grows closer, calling after the animal who’s happily jumping up to try to catch a moth.
“Guess I’d rather work up a sweat that way.” the voice resonates, bouncing off the concrete and ringing in Jinwoo’s ears.
Jinwoo takes one look at the man in front of him, and he feels like someone has thrown a brick through his chest. He stands still, averts his gaze to look past the man’s silhouette, far into the distance.
Three steps close the gap, and the man kneels down to retrieve his dog, hoisting the animal in his arms with its paws up in the air. “Stop scaring people! We are good upstanding citizens!”
He shoots Jinwoo an apologetic look, his gaze lingering for a moment, and mouths, “Sorry.” before heading off, taking long strides to the park’s exit.
The light above him flickers, and Jinwoo feels himself shiver all over when he realizes the man is gone. He turns around to watch him go, barely catches the line of the man’s shoulders as he disappears into the night.
Like every Friday, Bobby opens the shop alone.
He gets there at 10, unlocks and opens the metal gate as he hums under his breath. He’s not sure where he heard the song, but it’s catchy, and that’s what matters.
On Fridays, Mino leaves him in charge for an hour while he attends his weekly meeting. His sponsor says he doesn’t need it anymore but Mino goes all the same, and Bobby doesn’t think much of it. He’d seen the worst, and is simply happy to be along for the best. The shop always feels a little empty without him, but he’ll be there by noon and life will continue on its way.
Going through the schedule for the day, Bobby notices a paper sticking out of the planner, hidden between two pages months away from the date. When he unfolds it, the first thing he sees is a name: Seungyoon, the memory of the day he’d visited rushing to Bobby’s head, the way Mino had sat there, eyes lost to the void. Seungyoon hadn’t come back since, so Bobby assumed he wanted nothing to do with the shop - and with Mino, as cruel as it sounds. He doesn’t throw the file away, assumes Mino has his reasons for keeping it.
Whatever they may be is a mystery to Bobby, only deepening as he recalls the dream he’d had that night. Nothing had ever felt like it, and upon waking up Bobby had hoped nothing ever would again, heart beating a frenzy against his ribcage, where the scars run along his chest.
He didn’t bring it up to Mino. Not that day, and not every day after when it kept happening and Bobby could only try and draw out what he saw, out of focus scenes scribbled in pencil taking up the pages of his sketchbook over the past few days. Silhouettes of familiar strangers, the tables they’d sat on, the moon high in the sky.
But he can’t draw the sounds he hears, infants wailing in the windows, scattered exclamations and cries of agony as bullets cut through the air. He can’t even pretend to forget.
He didn’t bring it up to Mino, because he can read a room, and thinks he’s pretty good at reading people, and he knows Mino has enough to deal with. If they can solve everything by themselves and be none the wiser, maybe life can keep going.
The file lands in the client address book, and Bobby turns the music on in the shop to clear his thoughts. There’s no appointment until 1PM, and Mino isn’t letting him tattoo yet anyway, so he has time to draw, or practice, do anything to fill the time he has to spend alone.
He doesn’t like being alone.
“It’s you or me, there can only be one.” he mumbles at an orange he pulls from the kitchenette, nails digging into its skin. It’s too early in the morning for pig skin, and that way Bobby knows he can also send a picture to Mino and reassure him that he’s eating fruits.
Flipping through his sketches looking for something to tattoo, Bobby finds one of the strangers he’d seen in his dreams, one that always seemed to come back, standing close without everletting themself be touched. Broad shoulders that form two perfect lines when Bobby traces over the sketch with stencil paper, eyes strained on the shadows he’d drawn on the stranger’s back.
The tattoo machine buzzes along with the music. Bobby hunches over the orange peel, holding it down with the fingers of his other hand as ink splits into the ridges, fraying away before fading. It reminds Bobby of how everything had started to turn and disappear, before he opened his eyes. He leans back on his stool, admires his handiwork. Not the best, but not too bad for first thing in the morning when his head is spinning.
“Who are you…” he touches over the lines, wipes the excess ink away. It smudges over the surface, leaving Bobby’s question up in the air. He stretches, decides he needs coffee before he lets the sketches and the memories lull him to sleep on the job.
When he gets up, something catches his eye over the counter, outside on the street. The sun decided to come out and play today so he has to squint to see, makes out a human shape behind the glass. Whoever it is is simply standing there, just shy of the pavement, unmoving.
Usually he’d ignore it, go about his business and hope the stranger just takes the address of the shop and walks away. It’s happened before, and Bobby reckons it’ll happen again. He wants to move to the kitchen, get caffeine pumping through his veins, but the light shining down on the stranger beckons Bobby closer.
He walks until the stranger notices him, furrowing his brow to try and shield his eyes from the sun so he can see their face. Eventually, he does, and the air is knocked out of his lungs.
“I know you.”
thank you very much for reading !
we will come back to our fated protagonists very soon...
Chapter 5: three.
first off, i'd like to apologize for taking a bit more time than usual getting this chapter out - i've just started a new job and so i've had to focus on that, and i haven't had as much time to write. i've worked out my schedule now though & everything should be fine!
many thanks to everyone who keeps checking on this series, i hope you enjoy this one~
thank you to cody for beta-ing !! ily !!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
at that epoch, which was, to all appearances indifferent, a certain revolutionary quiver was vaguely current. people were undergoing a transformation, almost without being conscious of it, through the movement of the age.
With no idea of where he is going, his feet heavy and the ground still crumbing beneath, he’s running like hell, smoke and gunpowder filling his lungs, his mind alert to every sound.
There’s nowhere to go.
He realizes that quickly as he hears another round of bullets fly, as a mother wails and a shadow falls. He can’t recall how many times that has happened anymore. He keeps running.
On his way to a door - it could be any door, lead to anywhere, but somehow he knows it’s the one he has to go through - he passes someone and recognizes their slighter frame, their melancholic eyes. But he has no time to stop, can only keep running like hell, through the door and to the end of the room, where the stairs are already broken.
Splinters go through his hands and his legs as he climbs, reaches the steps one by one. He needs to get up there. He doesn’t know why.
The light nearly blinds him. He wants to cover his eyes, but he still looks head on, and he knows he’s found what he’s been looking for.
Mino is there.
Everything is red.
His back hurts. His head hurts. His throat is parched and raw and he can feel something creeping up his sinuses, only accentuating the migraine that’s been lodged at the forefront of his brain for the past few days.
Still, despite the physical pain he’s in, his mind manages to be worse.
Seungyoon can’t remember the last time he had thought about anything else but the image of Mino in his dream, and he just stares at the ceiling waiting for the minutes and hours to pass. When he looks around his room, he can see his guitar, taunting him, a string still missing after the incident.
All he remembers are the hushed murmurs of the people and paramedics around him as he came to on the couch in the break room, how Hanbin had looked at him, fear taking over his eyes.
The ambulance had driven him back home and left him there, with strict orders to rest for “at least three days, more if you can afford it.” With the way life is going, Seungyoon thinks one more terrible day, or three, just adds up to a tally he’s lost count of.
The intercom buzzes and Seungyoon painfully rolls out of bed and drags himself across the room to push the buttons and let whoever is here in. He doesn’t have the strength to even wonder right now, has a stare-off with his coffee machine while he waits.
He really has got to throw the damn thing away.
There’s a knock on the door, and then another, in a rhythmic pattern Seungyoon thinks he's heard before. When he opens the door, feverish hand barely holding onto the knob, he finds Jiho standing behind it, looking at him with an expression halfway between concern and pity. Seungyoon hates it. He lets it slide.
“Hey.” Jiho says sheepishly, handing Seungyoon a brown paper bag. There’s a giant glazed pastry and a large size juice of some kind inside, and Seungyoon doesn’t know whether to be grateful for the food or cry because it’s not coffee. “How are you holding up?”
Seungyoon stands aside to let Jiho in and closes the door before making a beeline for his bed. “I’m… holding. I guess.”
Jiho pulls out a chair, brings it close to the bed. Seungyoon watches him move across the room, but it’s almost as if he’s not there. The juice turns out to be orange and passion fruit, and even Seungyoon’s coffee-deprived body accepts it as clearly what he needed. It goes down easy and the freshness spreads throughout his body, Seungyoon finding himself heaving a sigh of relief after he’s downed almost half of it in one go.
“How do you know Mino?”
The question comes like a lightning strike, leaves Seungyoon paralyzed where he’s sitting. He wants to turn and face Jiho but he can't, like his body doesn’t dare to. He can feel Jiho looking at him, waiting for an answer, any kind of answer. Seungyoon doesn’t know how to tell him that he doesn’t have one.
He swallows hard. In the corner of his vision, he sees Jiho leaning forward on his elbows.
“I thought I saw it when the paramedics intervened, and now, I’m sure.” he says, reaching a hand out towards Seungyoon’s arm. “I knew I saw that tattoo somewhere. Mino...my friend Mino has the same.”
Wait a minute. His friend Mino? Seungyoon takes a few seconds to process the information, how ludicrous, and impossible, and so incredibly obvious that Jiho would know the man who’s been haunting Seungyoon’s dreams. He’s stopped believing in coincidences.
Seungyoon leans back in bed, but still avoids meeting Jiho’s eyes. “I… I don’t know him,” he mutters, and it feels like a lie in his mouth. “And I don’t know where this came from.”
His hand closes over the mark on his arm, pressing down hard until he can feel his heartbeat beneath his skin.
“You know,” Jiho’s voice is firm, and Seungyoon wonders how he can be so calm when things are spinning out of control. “Mino has been tattooing me for years now. You get to know someone when they spend countless hours stabbing you repeatedly.”
Seungyoon squeezes his eyes shut and wishes Jiho would just get to the point already.
“When I saw that tattoo on your arm I thought my eyes were just deceiving me, that my mind was playing tricks because of the panic in the room. But I see it now, and I just want to know,” He takes a breath. Seungyoon holds his. “Why you have the exact same tattoo as him. If you even know how much it means.”
At that moment, Jiho’s words burn into Seungyoon’s skin. He feels a wave of heat creeping up his spine, uncomfortably seizing around his neck. His breathing staggers, and he opens his mouth looking for oxygen and something to say. Nothing comes, and Seungyoon sits there, palm warming up against his arm, unable to process the information. He doesn’t look at Jiho, but knows that if he closes his eyes he’ll see Mino, so he just stares off in the distance between his bed and the wall. Maybe if he stays silent long enough, Jiho will just give up on him and leave.
Jiho, as with any other situation in life, doesn’t budge.
“It’s not my place to tell you what happened to him, or what this tattoo represents for him,” he’s out of view but Seungyoon can hear Jiho move, and sure enough, he’s sitting on the bed with him in a second. “But the night you collapsed… You saw him, right?”
Seungyoon feels like his heart is going to explode, his brain going into overdrive trying to understand how Jiho could possibly know this, if he’s making an educated guess, or maybe even- “How..?” Seungyoon spits out without meaning to, feels a lump swelling in his throat.
“Because I saw you. Both of you.” Jiho’s voice drops lower than Seungyoon has ever heard it. “You and Mino, you were in my dream. I watched you, reaching out to him. Like you’d known him forever. It was the only thing I remembered when I woke up.”
Nothing makes sense anymore. Words and images ring out in Seungyoon’s mind, and he wracks his brain trying to grasp at threads that are unraveling in front of his eyes.
“I’ve only ever met him once…” Seungyoon hears his own voice straining, unable to produce more than a barely audible murmur. “I’m- I’m just as clueless as you are.” he finally admits, his eyes meeting Jiho’s.
The other man deflates ever so slightly, a nervous laugh escaping him. “I figured as much.”
He stands up, stretches with his hands behind his head. Seungyoon’s gaze escapes to a corner of the room while Jiho walks to the door, but he can’t avert his attention from Jiho’s voice.
“Come back to work when you’re ready. We’ve all got stuff to deal with.”
‘Just don’t let it linger.’ stays unspoken as Jiho closes the door behind him, unwilling to pry further. Seungyoon is thankful, as he’s been before, for Jiho’s practical mind. He lets his head fall back, stares up at the ceiling where the only shapes he sees are water damage and yellowed patches of paint, and decides he needs another day.
Seunghoon comes to him, this time.
He shows up as Mino is about to clock out for lunch, Bobby deep in conversation with a potential client at the front desk. The bell rings and when Mino looks up he sees Seunghoon’s slender frame in the doorway, notices immediately that his friend is wearing a smile that’s not quite genuine.
“Care for some friend time?” Seunghoon calls across the room, shifting from one foot to the other.
Mino raises a finger at him, still hunched over his table. “One minute.”
If it takes more than that, Seunghoon doesn’t complain. He holds the door for the client on their way out, pads across the floor to the front desk to greet Bobby. The two of them fall into a conversation as Mino shrugs his jacket on, and he’s there with Seunghoon in no time.
“Should I bring something back?” he asks Bobby. “An actual lunch, I mean.”
Bobby whines and hangs his head with a laugh. “Well, nothing for me then.” he jabs a thumb behind him towards the kitchenette. “I brought some stuff from home today, don’t worry boss. Enjoy your break.”
Mino and Seunghoon exchange a look and then nod at Bobby, taking turns to pat his head and ruffle his hair before they head out. He offers it like a kid heading off to school, and Mino finds it so bizarrely adorable that he can’t resist.
There’s a salad bar down the street that Seunghoon insists is way too posh for either of them but they still go, because Mino offers to pay and advises that he needs to eat cleaner anyway. Part of his new healthy living situation, he explains, tapping at the sobriety pin on his bag. Seunghoon just gives him a knowing smile as they grab the brown paper bags and weave through the growing queue, off through the marketplace.
When they get to the park, Seunghoon’s expression darkens. On a day like this, when the weather is colder but the sun is still high in the sky, it’s unusual and enough for Mino to worry.
“What’s gotten into you?” Mino preens as he pops the lid of his salad box open. “I thought I was the one having an existential crisis.”
Seunghoon snorts softly. “Yeah. About that.”
Immediately, Mino’s mind begins racing.
“I’ve been, well. I’ve been having these weird dreams recently.” Seunghoon says it so matter-of-factly that Mino can’t even react. “Same as yours, actually.”
Seunghoon isn’t looking at him. He’s chewing mechanically on an olive, looking off into he distance, across the concrete paths and the yellowing grass. Images race through Mino’s mind, all the ones he can remember from all these years of nightmares, and he wonders which ones Seunghoon saw, if they’re latched onto his brain like a parasite.
“But that’s not all that happened.”
The more Seunghoon speaks, the more Mino wonders if he’s forcing himself to keep his voice even and his eyes wandering, for fear that everything will break loose if he acts any other way. He wants to ask about it, know what went down to make Seunghoon act like this, so far from the man he’s known all this time.
Thankfully, Seunghoon doesn’t keep him on the edge.
“Remember how you met that guy, that uh…”
“Seungyoon.” Mino spits the name out like bile. He resents himself for it.
“Right.” Seunghoon takes the bag off his lap, puts it down next to him on the bench. He drags a hand down his face and looks up to a unlit street lamp. “The other night, I woke up after a dream and… To be honest, I was kind of afraid to go back to sleep.”
Mino had spent so many years convinced that ‘fear’ wasn’t even part of Seunghoon’s vocabulary that the revelation leaves him breathless.
“I came out here, actually,” Seunghoon leans back against the bench, his eyes still fixed on nowhere. “And there was this guy, I- I just crossed paths with him really, didn’t even stop to talk, not even to think, but. I knew him. When I saw his face I just recognized him, somehow, and I knew it wasn’t from school, or from work. He was there, man. In my dreams. I didn’t know until I saw him here but now I’m sure of it.”
It’s too much information at once, Mino’s heart beating a mile a minute against his ribcage. A dark and warm feeling lodges itself deep in his chest. “You didn’t… stop him?”
“Ah. You see…” Seunghoon brings his knees up, hugs them to his chest. “In those dreams, I’m… Violent. Dangerous. I look down at my hands, if they’re even mine, and they’re scrapped up and covered in blood.”
His voice quivers. Mino knows he’s trying to get the words out before he loses the courage to do so.
“If he knew me too, if he recognized me… I didn’t want to take the risk of scaring him. He looked… Frightened, already.”
Never one to discredit other people’s feelings, Mino still can’t quite believe what he hears. His Seunghoon isn’t violent, and he certainly isn’t scary, and yet looking at him now it’s evident that Seunghoon believes himself to be both, his brow creased and stuck in a mix of worry and dread. Looking at him, Mino realizes things are spinning out of what little control he still had on them, and it makes him want to point fingers at the sky, at whoever up there is responsible.
“You’re not like that.” he says, because he still believes it. “You would never hurt anyone.”
Seunghoon chokes something back. “I don’t want to.”
“I know.” Mino says, and he wraps an arm around Seunghoon’s shoulder, brings the man closer to him. Seunghoon sniffles and then, improbably, yet so typically, he laughs.
He leans his head on Mino’s shoulder, their lunches long forgotten. “We’ll get through it, yeah?”
Mino isn’t used to being the one people rely on. He never felt himself strong enough for that, always too afraid of not being able to come through and let people down. But this started with him, and he refuses to let it get the better of him, of his family.
“We will.” he says, and is surprised at how resolute his own voice is. “We always have.”
Hours later, Seungyoon is still sitting where Jiho left him, hands splayed out in his lap as he tries to forget everything he’d learned. He realizes soon enough it’s not that easy, not when Jiho’s words still resonate against his skull, not when he can’t escape the sight of the mark in the corner of his eyes.
Restless, he still tries to sleep, despite knowing what may come. When his eyes fall shut he sees Mino, looking out the window that now looks too familiar, too real almost. The lean curve of his shoulders relaxes when he breathes out. It’s quiet in here now, too quiet to be true, too calm to be a good sign. Seungyoon feels himself move towards Mino, but the floor falls through under his feet, and he jolts awake again.
The mark hurts. Blood rushes to Seungyoon’s head and pain flares up under his skin where the wine-red stain is, like something is burning a hole through his flesh.
Without meaning to, he finds himself wondering if Mino is feeling the same thing, in this moment. If he also falls asleep knowing he’ll end up back there, if he also wakes up with that ache in his chest. It’s not dull anymore, not dormant like it used to be. It pierces through Seungyoon’s lungs and he doubles over, clutching his sides, arms wound tight around himself to try to find a semblance of balance even as he still feels like he’s falling.
Seungyoon’s phone buzzes against the bedside table, and he’s hesitant to pick it up until he sees Jinwoo’s name on the screen. His contact picture flashes, taken on their graduation day, one Seungyoon knows his friend would probably rather have erased off the record but that he keeps fondly all the same. If he’s going to see anyone, or even talk to anyone right now, it might as well be the person who knows him best.
“I’m here.” Seungyoon mumbles into the receiver after he picks up, immediately slumping back against the pillows.
Immediately, he hears something in Jinwoo’s voice that tells him something isn’t right either. “Hey. Are you home right now? I’m sorry I didn’t come visit you yesterday, I know I should have, but I still have a lot on my pla-”
“Just come over, OK?” Seungyoon interrupts. He’s never liked to make people worry about him, much less the person who had already spent the better part of the past six years doing just that. “I know you’re busy. I’m not on my deathbed either, so just show up whenever you can.”
Jinwoo sighs on the other end, long and breathy. “Okay. I’m two blocks away. You hungry?”
He hasn’t looked at the time all day, lost in illusions. When Seungyoon checks, he realizes it’s almost 8PM, and he hasn’t eaten all day since Jiho left, and yes, he is terribly, annoyingly hungry.
“Yeah,” he returns to the call. “Just get whatever. I’ll pay you back.”
He can hear Jinwoo hurrying even over the phone, his breathing coming in short. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll be here in twenty.”
Sure enough, like clockwork, Jinwoo calls at the interphone twenty minutes later. He’s never been late in his life, not that Seungyoon can recall, and not that he can relate either. Two more minutes and he’s on Seungyoon’s doorstep, shoving a large paper bag in his hands.
“I’m still sorry I couldn’t come yesterday,” Jinwoo says, slipping into the room. “This should last you at least for tomorrow, too.”
Seungyoon is about to reply that it’s fine, really, but can’t help but notice the purple shadows under his eyes and his unkempt hair, two things that are so uncharacteristic of Jinwoo that they’re more worrying than anyone could know. Of course, Seungyoon isn’t just anyone to Jinwoo, and he picks up the signs right away.
“Are you… How are you doing?” Seungyoon reaches out to place a hand on Jinwoo’s shoulder when the other man pulls out a chair to sit at the ridiculously small table.
There’s no immediate answer, only Jinwoo dropping his face in his hands, shoulders trembling. When he looks up at Seungyoon, he’s on the verge of tears, eyes shiny and already red.
“How do you do it? How… How have you done this, all these years?”
Jinwoo’s voice cracks halfway through, loaded with pain and regret, and Seungyoon almost falls to his knees. He manages to keep himself upright long enough to fall back on his bed instead, his body suddenly too heavy to bear.
“Not you. Please.” Seungyoon’s own voice is shaky, begging whatever higher power is putting them through this to at least please, please spare Jinwoo.
Slowly winding back in on himself, Jinwoo touches a hand to his mouth, barely making himself audible. “I never knew… How bad it was, how bad you had it, I can’t believe- I can’t believe it took the pain reaching me too to realize.”
His gentle face twists into a grimace as tears well up in the corners of his eyes, run down his cheeks in a race against gravity. “How can it have been like this.” he’s sobbing now, covering his mouth to try and stop the hiccups and the high pitched breathing. “How did we-”
It takes all of his practically non-existent strength, but Seungyoon pushes himself to his feet, unable to look at this scene any longer. He wraps his arms around Jinwoo, his legs barely holding him up. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” he repeats, over and over, because this has got to be his fault, how can it not be, when the problem started with him and he ignored it for so long. Jinwoo breaks down, hides his face in his hands again and all Seungyoon can do is stay with him, stroking Jinwoo’s hair until he breathes in shakily, sniffles as he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand.
When Jinwoo’s tears stop, Seungyoon collapses on the floor, a hand still gripping Jinwoo’s arm as he goes down.
The mark burns, worse than before, hot candle wax pressed into his skin.
“Hey,” Seungyoon lifts his head to check on Jinwoo, “it’s just a bad dream.” he says, trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
Jinwoo goes limp in his chair, shaky hands brushing his hair out of his face so he can regain a semblance of composure, even know. As always, Seungyoon has no idea how he does it. His eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, yet Jinwoo manages to swallow the rest of his tears, picking a napkin from the takeaway bag and drying his cheeks with it. The deafening silence in the room is only broken by his and Seungyoon’s stuttering breathing, their hearts waiting for something.
“Bad dreams pass.” the lie of it makes Seungyoon want to scream, because these haven’t stopped in years, and maybe they never will, but he’ll do anything to make it better for Jinwoo.
“They’re not…” Jinwoo mutters. He stops as if tasting the words in his mouth, trying to think of the best way to say them. “They’re not dreams.”
The last word is barely a whisper, lost to the walls of the room. Seungyoon frowns, dread creeping up his neck.
He knows what Jinwoo is about to say.
He doesn’t want to hear it.
It takes a deep breath and closed eyes for Jinwoo to finally say it. “Yoon, I think they’re memories.”
Mino’s last client leaves right on time for closing.
He washes and wraps the fresh ink up, goes through his routine of delivering the necessary aftercare instructions, rings them up, and sends them on their way. No matter how long he’s been doing this, seeing a customer leave his shop happy always fills him with a certain kind of pride he holds close to his heart.
Bobby is already wiping the floor when the bell rings out to signal someone has gone through the door, and Mino doesn’t expect it to ring again until the morning, busying himself with the day’s paperwork instead.
Neither of them pay much mind to the taxi that pulls up outside of the shop, because this is still a residential area, and they deal with the inhabitants’ comings and goings often enough. The taxi takes off without Mino ever lifting his eyes from the accounts.
Half a minute later, the bell rings again, and his attention is torn from them for good.
“What the-” Mino mumbles, taking in the silhouette in his doorway.
The man turns around, a bright smile on his face, the same Mino had always cherished. “Surprise!”
“Pyo Jihoon, you sneaky bastard!” is all Mino can think to say before he rounds the front desk, practically jumping in Jihoon’s arms. “I thought you weren’t coming back until next week!”
Returning Mino’s hug seems to take precedence over any kind of answer, Jihoon swinging them around for a few moments before they part. Mino thinks his face is going to hurt from smiling later, but he couldn’t care less.
“Something came up.”
Whatever that something is can wait, Mino naively believes. He hasn’t seen Jihoon in months, his friend gone on another adventure somewhere halfway across the world, the camera always slung across his chest no doubt full of images the likes of which most people can only ever dream of.
Mino used to see them too, crawling around the city with Jihoon as teenagers with their first, admittedly somewhat shitty cameras, capturing anything that caught their attention. Now all he dreams of is cracked buildings and crumbling bodies, images he wouldn’t wish on anybody even in their nightmares.
He chases the thought away best he can, locks the door behind Jihoon after inviting him in. This is no place for sorrow tonight.
“Actually,” Jihoon says, fiddling with one of the new hanging plants Mino and Bobby had installed just days prior, “I thought you’d like to hear it.”
The tone of his voice catches Mino off guard, sends shivers down his spine.
“I was traveling down Europe, you know? Stopped in Paris for a few days - you should see it, it’s even better than we imagined.” Jihoon stops, as if giving Mino a few minutes to remember the way they’d pin a world map up on the wall of Jihoon’s bedroom and mark all the places they wanted to go. Paris has always inexplicably drawn them in, a bright red X spotlighting it over all other locations. “I booked a room in some small hotel in the heart of it, I wanted to get up close and personal with the city, you know? The staff told me it had been rebuilt after the revolution. It still felt different than the rest.”
Jihoon takes a few steps to sit at Mino’s workstation, careful not to touch anything. He’d made the mistake once and knocked over an entire bottle of ink and a few sterile needles, rendering all of them completely useless. Mino had to spend the entire following week reassuring him that it was an accident and he could make up for the loss while Jihoon came up with increasingly creative ways to give back. Jihoon’s perennial bad luck had always been a subject of discussion, though even with all the recurring incidents, he never seemed to waver in his determination. He’d always managed to keep his head high and pursue his goals, rising above whatever improbable situation the universe decided to throw him in.
Somehow, he was the rock Mino had always needed, the one he’d clung to when he fell off the deep end. Jihoon always made himself available to be relied on, a lighthouse in the eye of the storm.
“When I was there,” Jihoon continues, hands folded in his lap. His expression is almost too grave, one Mino hasn’t ever seen on him before. “I had some… peculiar dreams.”
Mino feels himself deflating like a hot air balloon, hurtling towards the earth. He wants to speak but his mouth feels dry, something that tastes oddly like guilt stuck in his throat.
“You were there too.”
They both give pause, a moment to breathe the information in. In the corner of his eye, Mino can see Bobby has stopped cleaning in favor of listening in, and he really can’t place the blame anywhere but on himself.
“There were… a bunch of other people, too,” Jihoon continues, undoing the button on his jacket like he needs more room or oxygen. “That I didn’t recognize, but I felt like I knew.”
Jihoon doesn’t need to mention Bobby for Mino to know he was one of these people. He’d seen Bobby too, in the recent weeks, showing up and causing a ruckus as the faceless crowd cheered, making them turn their heads to Mino for want of more.
In the dream, he could never give them what they wanted.
Mino opens his mouth to speak, but it takes him a second to get the words to form, to finally spit them out for the world to see. “You’re not the only one this has happened to.”
He feels like he’s sitting on that bench with Seunghoon again, chills creeping up his spine and dread settling deep in his stomach, realizing there might be more people he can’t save. Jihoon raises an eyebrow at him, but his expression still softens somehow, hands playing invisible notes on the soft fabric of his dress pants.
“You know Seunghoon right, from university? Him too…” Mino says, draggings his hands down his face.
From the corner of the room, Bobby’s voice comes, raspy and still not quite broken. “Me too.”
Both Mino and Jihoon whip their heads around to look at him, Bobby slowly walking up to them, coming into the light. His head is slightly bowed, as if he wasn’t sure whether to intrude, afraid of making the situation worse. Mino extends a hand to him, purses his lips to try and stop himself from crying.
“I saw you too, man, and someone else,” Bobby starts, picking at the skin around his nails. It’s the only way he’ll ever let his nerves show. “I didn’t recognize him at first, but then,” he swallows hard, tries to psych himself up. “He showed up here.”
Bobby’s eyes find the door, looking out onto the dimly lit street where night has fallen now, dark and deep and so inviting somehow. Something flashes over his eyes, like the ghost of what - who - he once saw.
“I know it sounds impossible, I was sure I’d never seen this guy before, but I still- I knew him. I know I did.”
Mino needs to sit down. It’s happened again and the room is spinning around him, the lights from the ceiling are too bright, too harsh and they burn. So do Jihoon’s eyes on him, so do Bobby’s words in his ears.
“And you know,” Bobby continues, as if dealing a final blow he isn’t even aware he’s capable of. “I never used to have these dreams. It only started after that guy showed up. The first night, after he came here. After you saw that tattoo on him.”
All of this shouldn’t make sense, and yet Mino can’t help but try to put it together in his mind. He squeezes his eyes shut, remembers the way Seungyoon’s skin had felt under his hand, how images from his dream had flooded his vision for a moment.
How he’d known, deep inside the most secret confine of his heart, that Seungyoon had felt and seen them just the same.
“When was it.” Jihoon’s voice suddenly rings out, echoing off the walls.
Mino doesn’t need to check the files to know. He remembers the date so clearly it might as well be tattooed on his body. It escapes his lips before he can think, before he can do damage control and avoid causing even more hurt than he believes he already has.
Jihoon rises to his feet, taking a few long strides across the room to pull Mino into his arms, a warm hand in the middle of his back telling him not to blame himself. He wishes it were that easy.
In the middle of it all, Bobby still watches them. He takes a step forward, reaching his own hand out to Mino’s shoulder, squeezing just firmly enough to let Mino know he’s in this with him. Both messages get through Mino’s cloudy mind and he straightens up, remembering Seunghoon’s words like he’s also here in the room with them.
“The man who came here,” Mino turns to Bobby, looks right into his eyes. “Who was it?”
Bobby’s breathing hitches. “Said his name was Hanbin. That he had no idea why he came but he just felt like he had to. Believe me it sounded just as weird back then as it did now but then, he told me-”
“That he saw you. Right?” Mino finishes the sentence, almost certain now that he needs to hear it.
“Yeah. And when I saw him on the curb, I knew he was the man from my dreams. I don’t know why. I just knew.” Bobby says, leaning back against the front desk. There’s the barest sheen over his eyes now, that Mino knows he isn’t too proud to hide.
Silently, while Bobby and Mino are lost in thought and revelation, Jihoon rummages through his bag that was left at the door. He returns with a pamphlet, the corners bent and torn, something written on the front with a crude sketch below it. It’s an old building seen from the street, a window visible on the first floor that Mino recognizes immediately.
“This is the place I stayed at, in Paris,” Jihoon muses. “Used to be known as ‘Café Musain’. This here,” he points at the blurb on the back of the page, “says most of it was destroyed during a revolution. It was bought and turned into a hostel but the first floor has a memorial for the people who died there.”
Bobby cocks a pierced eyebrow in Jihoon’s direction as if he can’t believe the man would stay at a place where people died. A second passes, and his expression immediately changes from surprise to shock, his eyes meeting Mino’s as realization dawns on them.
“Wait. You don’t think that-” Bobby blurts out. He stops mid thought as Mino holds the pamphlet close to his chest.
“The people who died there, uh.” Mino repeats, barely above a whisper. He lifts his head to take in the two men here with him, his lifelong friend and his protégé, that life seemed to have put on his path simply because they had to be there for each other. He thinks of Seunghoon and their improbable meeting, of how Seungyoon had wandered into his shop and practically begged to be saved.
Something opens in him, a distant light that calls for answers, finally erasing the questions that had locked him in.
He exhales a shaky breath. Both Jihoon and Bobby are stuck there, hanging onto his every move, waiting for his next words. Mino knows this but he still takes the moment in, reaching his hands out to them, hoping to ease their worries. He feels strangely light, better than he has in a long time.
“Thank you.” he finally says, and watches as Jihoon and Bobby’s expressions soften from concern to relief. “I know what to do now.”
Against his and everyone else’s better judgement, Seungyoon goes back to work.
He accepts the worried cajoleries from Hyoseob and Dongwook when he runs into them in the break room, barely avoids Jiho’s as he rushes past him in the studio to get into the booth. Setting up in there, he tries his hardest to avoid Hanbin’s gaze, even as he feels it following him.
After everything that’s happened, the last thing he needs is pity.
That job had been on the table for weeks, and Seungyoon almost had to hang up on Jiho mid-sentence when he’d called to say he was coming in for it, because Jiho wouldn’t stop trying to dissuade him. Seungyoon had found the image of Jiho telling someone else they need rest so comically ironic, and he simply announced he was coming, as firmly as he could, until Jiho gave up and gave in. For once, his work ethic seemed to have worked against him.
“Are you sure you’re going to be ok?” Jiho still buzzes in from behind the console. “We can take breaks anytime. Or you can still change your mind, I have a guy on backup.”
Seungyoon ignores him, keeps on tuning his guitar. He hasn’t touched it since the incident and yet it feels warm in his hands. As his hand fidgets with the machine heads, he wonders how Jiho can be sitting here, acting like nothing happened, like that conversation never took place, like they don’t have to stand on the opposite sides of the glass knowing what the other has seen.
Cursed professionalism, Seungyoon thinks. He lifts his hand to alert Jiho, who turns the mic on.
“I’m good to go.”
Recording goes smoothly this time, only the chords resonating in Seungyoon’s mind. He sees nothing when he closes his eyes, and feels nothing except the vibrations of his guitar in his hands. It feels so normal. It feels like something’s missing.
Three quarters of the way through, Jiho gets a call and excuses himself to another studio, leaves Hanbin in charge. Seungyoon still doesn’t look at him, flips through the sheet music instead.
Hanbin buzzes in.
“It’s all the same shit anyway.” he says, leaning over the console to try to catch Seungyoon’s attention. “You won’t find what you’re looking for.”
“You say this like I even know what that is.” Seungyoon snarks back.
Hanbin says nothing. He folds his arms over his chest, still looking straight ahead. Seungyoon feels trapped, there in the booth, but he also feels safer perhaps than if he were out there within Hanbin’s reach.
Still, he feels like the walls of the booth are closing in on him.
“Are you really feeling better?” Hanbin’s question cuts through the air and through the glass. “Or are you just pretending this isn’t happening?”
Seungyoon takes a step back almost without realizing it. “What isn’t happening.”
“I saw you in a dream, you know. You looked… Worse for wear.”
His throat feels tight. Seungyoon closes his hand around the neck of his guitar so tightly that he can feel the strings digging into his skin. This has got to be some sort of sick practical joke played by a universe that wants to see how fast it can make someone lose their mind.
“Are you fucking serious.” Seungyoon says in monotone, unable to choose between the emotions he’s going through.
Hanbin, as seems to be his way, doesn’t let up. “Do you know someone called Mino?”
“I went to his shop. Nice place. Nice… people.” a contrary expression takes hold of Hanbin’s features for a split second. “But I don’t know why I went there. All I know is that I saw you, in my dream, clear as if I’d been awake, and then I ended up there.”
Seungyoon isn’t sure if he wants to vomit, faint, or run away. It might be all three at once, or one after the other. The order doesn’t matter.
“The clerk told me you’d been there.” Hanbin finally says. His gaze is still fixed on Seungyoon. The weight of it nearly pierces through Seungyoon’s chest.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.” Seungyoon heaves a dry sob, pleads with Hanbin.
“The truth.” it comes out of Hanbin’s mouth like a bullet. “If not to anyone else… You owe it to yourself.”
There’s a tremor in his chest where Seungyoon thinks his heart used to be, a long time ago. He screws his eyes shut and is surprised to find that no tears come running down. Even after all the running, he has to admit that maybe, Hanbin is right.
“I’m not sure what the truth is anymore.” Seungyoon gathers up his last bit of honesty. “But I saw him. This fucking mark this- this tattoo,” he rolls up his sleeve, lets Hanbin sees what he’s been trying so hard to hide and forget. “I went to his shop to get it covered, and when we were talking, he touched it and I realized…”
Maybe here, when the mics are off, he can finally bring himself to say it. “I realized that I didn’t want to get it covered. And I don’t fucking know why, or where it came from, or what it means, but ever since that day I’ve been… I’ve been seeing him. These dreams were already bad enough but now I feel like I’m trapped in them, and he’s there but I can never-”
“You can’t reach him.” Hanbin finishes for him. “I saw you try.”
Seungyoon wants to fall to his knees and scream to the earth and the sky to just let him go.
Instead, he walks towards the glass, guitar still hanging from his shoulder. His fist hurts when it hits the window into the other side, and it doesn’t budge. “I just want to be free from this, from all of it.”
There’s still the console between them but Hanbin reaches a hand out for a moment.
“You know… You may not be able to reach him in your dreams,” he says, his voice softer and calmer. “But he’s here in our reality. That’s where you should go.”
“I can’t.” Seungyoon mutters. He doesn’t even know if Hanbin can hear him, which makes it easier to say, “I’m terrified of what I’ll find out.”
“And yet,” Hanbin’s finger is still on the mic button. Damnit. “You running away from all this isn’t going to solve it either.”
Seungyoon hates knowing that Hanbin is right.
“I’m not even sure I can fix this-”
“And what if you can?” Hanbin interjects. “All of this, everything that’s been happening… It started with you and him.”
Someone knocks, and Hanbin lets go of the mic button to answer. Seungyoon watches the line of his back as Hanbin opens the door, exchanges a few words with the intruder.
It takes him right back to that place, and he can’t take it anymore. When he breathes in, his lungs feel like they’re opening anew.
next time: everything unravels, and everything falls into place, all at once.
thank you very much for reading!
Chapter 6: four.
hello everyone... i thought i had my schedule under control but i guess not, i'm really sorry for getting this out late ;v;
i'm quite proud of it still so i hope you enjoy!
thank you to cody for beta-ing <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
a fit of drunkenness reaching its end resembles a curtain which is torn away. one beholds, at a single glance and as a whole, all that it has concealed. all suddenly presents itself to the memory.
Seungyoon knows where he has to go. He turns the business card in his hand relentlessly, watches it flip between his fingers, the phone number and address going in and out of view every few seconds, taunting him. He doesn’t even need them, knows the way there like the back of his hand already, from that one time, like his footsteps burned a trail in the concrete. Sitting at his tiny table, head to head with a cup of coffee he’s trying to summon the courage to drink, Seungyoon knows where he has to go.
Going there is a different struggle entirely.
Hanbin’s voice telling him to reach out echoes in his mind endlessly, and Seungyoon knows he should, needs to, if he ever wants to see the end of this. What it is still escapes him, and he hopes Mino has the answers. He just wishes they didn’t scare him that much.
“Get a hold of yourself.” he says out loud, even if his own voice barely sounds convincing.
His phone sits untouched on the table, open to Jinwoo’s number. After Jinwoo had come to him, broken down in front of him in a way he’d never seen before, Seungyoon had wanted, desperately, to keep him out of the ever spiraling situation. But the truth, as Hanbin had forced him to confront, is that none of them can be disconnected from this.
Maybe he can just delay it for just another day, give himself and Mino the time to untangle all these threads and make everything painless for their friends. A little more suffering doesn’t seem that big of a deal, right now. Just another day in the life.
Thinking over the whole situation, he’s back in the recording booth with Hanbin, the younger man’s eyes piercing through his core, pushing him over an edge he’d been teetering on for too long. Seungyoon’s fingers move across the screen on instinct, scrolling through his contacts until he finds Hanbin’s number. He’s never called it before.
He figures now is as good a time as ever.
Mino hesitates for a long time, looking over Seungyoon’s file.
He hasn’t had the heart to throw it away, and he’s not sure why. It’s only a piece of paper, but all he knows about Seungyoon, the one who lives now, here at the same time as him, is on there. His handwriting, the smudges at the bottom of the page, how he’d crossed out the information boxes instead of checking them, all of it are just a few of the small things Seungyoon does, and Mino wants to know all of them.
Scanning over the form, he sees Seungyoon’s number, his hand twitching towards his phone.
He’d like to tell himself he’s in control of the situation now, that he knows what to do, but the truth is he wants to see Seungyoon, wants to finally meet him again.
For real, this time.
Bobby passes by his desk, almost snatches the file from his hands. “You’re overthinking this by like, a lot.”
“I don’t want him to freak out, if I call… I mean, he already seemed so shaken up, you know?” Mino holds on. The numbers blur together the more he looks at them.
“Yeah, I know. I was there.” Bobby quips. “And trust me, a lot has happened since then.”
Mino knows that. He remembers Bobby telling him about his fortunate encounter, right here, about how someone had come to open his eyes. He remembers Jihoon stepping out of that taxi and back into his life with answers he never thought he’d find. A lot has happened, but he hasn’t seen Seungyoon again. He can’t help but wonder, as he wakes up at night, how the other man is feeling, if he’s awake too and wondering where to go.
“I think we’ve learned by now that what needs to happen, will happen.” Bobby adds, almost ominously. He gently takes the file from Mino’s hand, folds it away in their address book. “You can’t lose faith in that now.”
He knows Bobby is right. Even if he feels like he’s spent the past few days going through the motions as he waits, he knows that whichever paths have to cross will cross eventually. He’s got enough reason to believe it by now, and all he can do is wait for his own path to finally find its match.
The shop looks exactly how he remembers it. Walking into it the first time had been an almost surreal experience, and Seungyoon had wondered, on his way there today, if it would look any different because the first time factor had worn off. Walking next to Hanbin on the cold street, he wonders if the younger man is wondering the same, if he feels the same.
As it turns out, the oddities cabinet and the designs on the wall are still the same, and the lights overhead are still the same, and Seungyoon wonders if Mino is still the same, too. Maybe this, and him, can be the only constant he needs.
He expects a chill when he walks through the door. Instead, the place is warm and inviting, music playing over the speakers, the steady, quiet buzzing of a machine coming from somewhere behind a desk. The bell over the front door is still ringing from when they opened it, and Hanbin brushes past him to lean over the desk, get the attention of the young man hunched over what, to Seungyoon’s curious horror, looks like a pig’s ear.
“Bobby. I’m here.” Hanbin calls out, and then he turns to look at Seungyoon for a brief moment. “We’re here.”
The buzzing stops.
Swiftly, without a word, the man stands up, all tools and designs abandoned on the table. His shoulders lift up several centimeters as he breathes in, and then he turns towards Hanbin, a smile taking over his entire face. He mouths a thank you and then strides up to Hanbin, pulls him up in a hug that looks like they haven’t seen each other in years.
Hanbin keeps a hold of Bobby’s hand when they pull apart. “Is he here?” he asks, a tinge of hope in his voice that Seungyoon doesn’t miss. This is why they should have planned this, he thinks, because maybe he’s standing here waiting for Mino to show up and put his mind at rest, but he’ll have to wait another dreary day.
“Just in the storage closet!” Bobby replies, jerking his chin towards a door at the back of the room. “He’ll be out before you know it.” His piercing eyes find Seungyoon, because he’s not talking to Hanbin anymore.
As he shifts from foot to foot, waiting for what feels like hours, Seungyoon notices a shape moving in the corner of his vision, circling around him. He looks down at his feet and finds a cat, looking up at him, small eyes casting a strange shadow over him. He’s never been a cat person.
“She doesn’t bite.” a voice calls from the back of the room. Seungyoon would recognize it anywhere.
When he looks up, Mino is standing across from him, leaning against a doorframe that Seungyoon assumes must lead to whatever dimensional rift he stepped out of. The cat brushes against Seungyoon’s leg and he almost jumps out of his skin, tries not to engage her when she mewls a broken sound up at him.
Apparently, that’s all the time needed for Mino to walk the length of the room and now he’s standing in front of Seungyoon, as real as the first time they’d met each other here.
“I knew you’d come here.” Mino says, extending a hand towards Seungyoon. His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, and Seungyoon can see the mark - the tattoo - clear as the first time he’d spotted it on himself. “Seems like this life has a way of pulling us together.”
If Seungyoon didn’t know any better by now, he’d probably add ‘whether we like it or not’. But he restrains himself, looking over at Hanbin, who shoots him a look of approval and encouragement.
He hasn’t rehearsed anything to say to Mino, because he thought maybe, just like how something seemed to have unlocked when they met, the words would flow without restraint or hesitation once they would come face to face again. But Seungyoon is standing there, the cat still ominously peering up at him, and he can’t even find a way to begin.
Mino’s hand is still held out to him, so Seungyoon thinks it’s a start and he takes it. It’s warm, and Mino’s handshake is firm and strong and certain, all the things that Seungyoon has forgotten how to be. It lingers on for a moment, neither of them willing to let go of each other.
Bobby and Hanbin are looking at them, silent save for the sound of a breath they let out when Seungyoon and Mino finally part. With how heavy the air in the room is, and with so many people anticipating his next move, Seungyoon thinks he should feel a lot more anxious and scared than he does.
But somehow, even with his reservations, even with the doubt still gnawing away at him, he know this is where he should be.
“I’m sorry it took me so long.” he says. His own voice dies in his throat as he feels tears pricking behind his eyelids.
The same warmth from the handshake lands on his shoulder. “Clearly,” Mino says, and Seungyoon can hear he isn’t managing to keep his composure either. “We both needed time. A lot of it.”
The last words echo in Seungyoon’s mind when he remembers what Jinwoo had told him. He’d been turning the information over in his head and trying to tell himself that it doesn’t make sense, that something like that isn’t even possible, that Jinwoo was simply in a state of shock. With each passing hour, the simple yet impossible truth of it had become clearer and clearer, none of them able to deny it anymore.
Now he sees that Mino believes it too, and there’s nothing more Seungyoon can do than try to wrap his head around it.
Before he can reply, Seungyoon hears the bell ringing, feels a chill on his back that tells him someone has just come in. He expects Mino to fly off to take care of a customer, but instead he turns around and comes face to face with Jinwoo.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, incredulous, only then taking notice of the man Jinwoo came in with. “And who is...this?”
Jinwoo sighs, doesn’t look at Seungyoon when he speaks. “An old friend.”
He doesn’t need to say anymore for Seungyoon to know what he means.
“I’m Seunghoon.” the man offers his hand much like Mino had. It’s callused and not quite as warm, but Seungyoon feels like they still fit together in a way. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I’m sure you have.” Seungyoon quips almost automatically. He supposes Seunghoon must be a friend of Mino’s, that he’s heard tales of Mino’s dreams, or even that like Jinwoo, he has been seeing them too. Seungyoon thinks that nothing would surprise him anymore. He has to know. “How do you…” his hand waves between Jinwoo and Seunghoon. “How do you know each other?”
Seunghoon gives him a smile that’s stuck somewhere between relieved and melancholic, and he presses himself against Jinwoo’s side ever so slightly. “We ran into each other.”
He pauses, and Seungyoon hopes he isn’t going to leave it at that.
“That was the first time, yes.” Jinwoo continues for him, looking around the room. He nods at Bobby and Hanbin when he spots them, but his eyes go no further than a little over Seungyoon’s shoulder. “In that park, you remember the one, right? Our spot.”
Seungyoon doesn’t know whether he should be offended that Jinwoo thinks he would ever forget, or that he now seems to share that spot with someone else.
“We missed each other, the first time.” Seunghoon echoes. “So I went back.”
Mino scoffs from where he’s standing. “This guy… He went back every single night for what, five days? Just waiting. Hoping.”
“And then you came back.” Seunghoon turns to Jinwoo. Their eyes meet, and Seungyoon sees something in Jinwoo’s that he doesn’t think he’s ever seen before. It makes his heart tighten in a pleasant way. “I knew you would.”
Jinwoo’s expression breaks out into a smile in spite of himself, and Seungyoon has seen enough fake smiles from his friend to know this one is genuine. “When we ran past each other and I let him go,” Jinwoo says, chews on his lower lip to give himself time to find the right words. “I felt like I forgot something important there . I tried to ignore it for days.” he turns to Seungyoon, his voice tinted with self-deprecation. “You know me, I’m very good at ignoring problems if I want to. I think I needed those few days to realize this isn’t a problem at all.”
“So you did go back.” Seungyoon thinks he knows how the story ends, with both men standing here in front of him, but he wants to hear it from Jinwoo.
“I did.” Jinwoo doesn’t keep him waiting. “And sure enough, he was there.”
Seunghoon looks immensely proud of himself as Jinwoo speaks. Behind them, Mino laughs, and he calls for attention.
“Okay. Enough postponing the inevitable.”
Everyone falls quiet, and Seungyoon closes his eyes.
“No backing down now,” he hears Hanbin say, and isn’t sure if it was spoken out loud or if he just imagined it. When Seungyoon opens his eyes, he sees Mino in front of him, a gentle smile on his face, so different from the primal hunger he’d seen in his dreams. Time really does change everything.
“Let’s take it back to the start.” Mino says, gesturing to the leather seats near the door for everyone to take. He remains standing, like he wants to see everything at once, get a clear picture of things. “Finally.”
Jinwoo gulps. “All of it?”
Turning to reassure his friend, Seungyoon sees that Seunghoon’s hand is inching towards Jinwoo’s already, their fingers linking together for a brief moment. Reassurance washes over Jinwoo’s face as it happens, and Seungyoon wonders what they talked about, out there in the night.
“I think we need to finally put all the pieces together.” Mino smiles again, like he’s trying to gently push all of them towards a realization he’s already had. He leans over the front desk and retrieves something, a worn out pamphlet in a language Seungyoon tries to make out from afar. “And I think this might help.”
Seungyoon takes the paper without a word. One look at it is enough to send him spiraling back down through images and sounds, his mind racing. Jinwoo chokes back a sob. Seunghoon takes a deep breath. Bobby and Hanbin cling to each other, in their corner of the room.
“You recognize it, right?” Mino speaks out. He already knows the answer.
“Where…” Jinwoo trails off. He touches the front of the pamphlet, not taking it from Seungyoon’s hands.
Mino leaves them to it. He doesn’t say anything, for a few long seconds, until Seunghoon leans back in his seat and sighs, eyes lost to nowhere. “There’s always destruction.” Seunghoon says, wringing his hands. “I don’t really understand… Where everyone’s running to. Or what they’re running from. But I’m fighting back.”
“We all are.” Hanbin adds without missing a beat. “That’s all I see sometimes.”
Seungyoon hears a cannon fire in the back of his mind.
“You’ve never been inside?” Jinwoo turns to Seunghoon, eyes pleading.
Seunghoon huffs. “Not when it was whole. If it ever was.” he looks up at the ceiling like he’s trying to picture the place. “How was it?”
A shiver runs up Seungyoon’s spine as he listens to them talk about this so casually, like it was just a few years ago and they were all running wild like the wind. As if maybe, Jinwoo is right, and his own fears are true.
“Warm.” Bobby makes himself heard again, voice tinted with melancholy. “It’s… It was home.”
It’s too much for Seungyoon to take. He sees candlelight flicker, the murmur of conversations past getting louder and louder in his brain. It echoes around his skull, the speeches and the laughter and the rumbling cheers, and he can almost make out words for the first time, and it’s too much, too invasive, too noisy, too real.
His head feels like it’s about to split open.
“It’s not! It can’t- it can’t be, it’s just some fucked up game someone’s playing on us, whatever’s up there, they’re screwing with us and you’re all falling for it?” Seungyoon feels his breath running out, but he can’t stop himself. “There’s nothing! We’re all just here to suffer like this, and then-”
“And then we die.” Mino interrupts him, calm, but not cold in the slightest.
Seungyoon’s heart is caught in his throat, and he’s unable to say another word. He can hear Jinwoo’s silent sobbing, sees something moving in the corner of his eye that he assumes is Seunghoon, wrapping himself around Jinwoo without a sound.
From the floor, the cat is staring up, tail slowly wagging up in the air. She knows too, and Seungyoon hates it.
“You ever wonder why we never get to see how it ends?” Mino asks, his voice forcing Seungyoon to look at him. “Why we’re stuck seeing the same things? Why we never wake up satisfied?” he speaks like he knows exactly how Seungyoon has been feeling all this time, and Seungyoon knows that he does.
Mino takes a step towards him, grabbing his arm. His fingers are mere inches away from the mark and already, Seungyoon feels his skin burning up.
“That place,” Mino says, soft and low. “Something happened there. A conflict. A revolution.”
He looks over Seungyoon’s shoulder. From behind them, Seunghoon lets out a nervous laugh, rocking in his seat. “Would explain the blood.”
“We needed to survive,” Bobby calls out and they all look to him. His hands are balled up into fists at his side. “Because we needed to see a better day.”
Jinwoo looks up. “But we never got the chance. Not back then.”
“Hey! These better days are now.” Bobby smiles, picks up his flag from the pen holder like he’s trying to lift the mood of the entire room. The pink and blue blurs in Seungyoon’s vision.
Mino calls him back to clarity.
“He’s right, you know.” his eyes are gentle but Seungyoon can see the same fire he’d seen back then, near that window. “I don’t know why but it seems like we were given a second chance.”
In any other time of Seungyoon’s life since the dreams started, none of this would have made any sense to him. He wouldn’t have been able to accept it as the truth even if it had been presented right in front of him, because nothing like this happens in the real world, and even if it did, it certainly wouldn’t happen to someone like him. The universe surely has better things to do than to cater to his sorry excuse for an existence.
And yet standing here, Mino’s hand on him, with Jinwoo there, and Hanbin there, and everyone on the same wavelength, it seems like he might have come into the world for a reason after all.
“Memories, uh.” he says, unable to decide on an emotion. He feels stunted and stuck, still trying to process the truth of his entire life up to this point. Then he decides there’s something he has to do first. He turns to Jinwoo, taking in his messed up hair and bloodshot eyes and says, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, the first time, I didn’t want to believe you, I-”
“It’s ok, Yoon.” Jinwoo sniffles a bit but he straightens up, true to himself. “I don’t think anyone would have believed me.”
Seungyoon wants to retort that out of anyone, he should have, but he knows it’s no use arguing with Jinwoo when he’s decided to put someone else first, or anytime at all.
“It took me a while to accept it too, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.” Hanbin chimes in. “I don’t know why, or how, but these dreams… They’re the lives we led before.”
He lets everyone take it in for a second.
Bobby fiddles with the flag still, huffs as a smile forms on his face. “I hate to think that life did have a set plan for me after all, but that’s how we were all led to each other, right?” He grins at the group. Seunghoon lifts his fist in the air. “So it turned out alright.”
Jinwoo exhales a laugh that Seungyoon had missed terribly, and he takes everyone in it with him. Watching them all finally come to terms with their fate, accepting the path the universe had sent them on, one that led to each other, Seungyoon thinks he’s ready to make his own peace with it.
“I want to know.” He tells Mino, and Mino alone, looking right at him. “How it ends. Show me.”
Mino smiles at him and Seungyoon swears he can see the shadow against the window forming behind him. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing his eyes have shown him.
“Together.” he says, his hand moving up Seungyoon’s arm until it almost reaches the mark. He offers up his own for Seungyoon to take, and to touch, and then he nods. “At last.”
Seungyoon gives in. He presses down on Mino’s tattoo at the same time that Mino’s thumb burns a hole through his skin and then, when he closes his eyes, there’s a flash of light and a cloud of smoke.
Weaving through the shapes of fallen friends, he doesn’t dare to look down, too afraid of who he’ll see. He can feel their presence still as it lingers all around, bodies still warm and eyes wide open, looking towards a future that never will be.
He’s running up the stairs, after someone, only their shape visible against the setting sun.
When he reaches the top, the first thing he sees is a line of bayonets at the end of loaded shotguns, an orderly, deadly parade.
Across the room, against the open window, he sees Mino. And then, he sees himself.
Someone brushes past him and stops in their tracks. He’d recognize these shoulders anywhere. Today, they’re not wearing red.
Together, they watch him slowly walk across the room, his hands up, his eyes wild and pleading when he looks at Mino.
Mino looks back with nothing but gentle understanding. They exchange a few words that make everything make sense.
When Mino’s gaze finds the barrels again, it turns to molten hot steel.
He raises his fist in the air, tight around a red cloth, a flag hanging proudly on the altar of freedom.
Their hands find each other.
The world stands still for once, as the marksmen take their shot.
Mino doesn’t falter. Neither of them do.
The dying light surrounds them as they take their last bow.
The come down is more brutal than expected.
Mino had prepared for this experience, as much as he could, trying to remember how it had felt when he’d touched Seungyoon the first time, but there’s nothing in this world, or even the next, that could have prepared him for what he saw.
He looks over at Seungyoon, eyes blown wide and tears running down his cheeks. He looks like someone who hasn’t cried in a century.
“You…” Mino tries, in vain. He needs to breathe. He needs to take a step back, but he’s never wanted to be closer to someone.
He can see Jinwoo and Seunghoon staring at them, Bobby and Hanbin bewildered and waiting for the next move. Mino knows he has to make it. And he knows he has to start where it hurts the most.
“You died with me.” he says as bluntly as possible, because they need to go through this.
Seungyoon doesn’t try to dry or even hide his tears. He touches his own mark, like he’s finally accepting it.
“I died for you. That… that was enough.”
Mino’s fist closes around nothing, but he still sees himself holding that flag. Finally, everything comes to him and everything makes sense, pieces clicking together in front of his eyes. The revolution Jihoon mentioned comes back to him, a tremor taking over his body as he remembers running in the streets, voice hoarse from rallying everyone around him. He remembers fighting like a wild beast, climbing up a barricade, overlooking the street as he looked a certain death in the face and survived.
He didn’t get so lucky twice.
“I wanted… I didn’t know what I wanted.” Seungyoon stutters, trying to turn away. Mino knows neither of them can. “Nothing mattered, in that life. The world was just going to fall apart anyway, no matter what we did.” He says it not with resignation, but because he finally sounds ready to move past it. “But then when I saw you I knew, maybe, there was a reason I was there in the first place. You- you were the only thing I was ever able to make sense of.”
At their feet, Jhonny purrs loudly, weaving herself around Seungyoon’s legs. Mino smiles down at her, figures she must have known, that maybe even she was there back then, hanging around a street corner and watching them burn their lives away.
Huddled together behind Seungyoon, their friends all look on, breathing a little easier. Jinwoo holds the pamphlet tightly against his heart, Seunghoon looks over at them, a smile on his face, his arm around Jinwoo’s shoulder. They’ve fallen together so easily that Mino understands why poets talk about fate. Near the front desk, Hanbin and Bobby watch the scene, and they look exactly how they did back then, backing Mino up in his endeavors, two pillars to build a free world upon.
Mino has known Bobby for years, in this life, seen him go through every change imaginable, everything that Bobby had wanted to show him. He strived to overcome and Mino knows, just as he used to, that a better future also starts with him.
“We’re going to try again.” Mino says as he kneels down, pets Jhonny’s head. She pushes into his touch, finally content. “Get it right this time.”
Seunghoon rises to his feet with a groan. “So that’s what it is. A second chance.” He joins Mino in petting Jhonny, grins when she playfully nips at his knuckle. “You knew, right? Smart girl.”
“So it’s true cats have nine lives… I wonder how many she’s seen us through.” Jinwoo finally speaks up.
Maybe that’s a question they can ask each other another time. It’s already strange enough to grasp that they were given a second chance. Mino thinks about the lives they could have led, if they’d known better, if they’d fought harder, if they’d stood a chance at all. He shakes his head, recenters himself on the present.
For now, this life will do.
Jinwoo puts the pamphlet down on the desk, smoothes it over with his hand. His fingers linger on the image on its front. “You should keep this. For memory's sake.”
“So where do we go from here?” Hanbin inquires, loud enough to get everyone’s attention on him. Mino follows his gaze all the way to Seungyoon. It isn’t as harsh as it was when they walked in, now simply thankful and almost proud, in a way. Mino can’t wait to remember more about Hanbin.
To be honest, he isn’t sure. There seems to be so many things to do, so many things to catch up on and discover about themselves and each other, that it overwhelms Mino and he has to take a step back as he looks over at each of them.
Just like they did when everything ended, Mino and Seungyoon find each other, locking eyes across the room. For the first time since they met in this life, Seungyoon smiles, soft and earnest.
Together, they can begin again.
thank you very much for reading~
next time, life begins.
Chapter 7: epilogue.
and here we are, finally at the end.
or is it? i feel like we've taken a journey with these guys, but it's still only just beginning.
thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, to gaelle, kay, vai & chaser for helping with this story down to the fine details, to cody for being such a wonderful & thorough beta, and to everyone who has read this fic and has gone on this journey with me.
now, onto the epilogue!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
for the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies. even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.
For the first time in a long time, Seungyoon wakes up in a warm bed.
As the days pass it still feels strange, a little too lucky, that Mino’s path and his own met again like this. With time, Seungyoon learns to stop questioning it, and to enjoy it instead.
He enjoys the way Mino always seems to have a notebook on him somewhere, even if it’s a small one he fishes out of his jacket pocket, a ragged little pencil following suit as he sketches Seungyoon over dinner. It’s nothing fancy and it’s the way they both like it, holed up in the corner of a family-owned eatery, meat sizzling on the hot plate and Mino whining for Seungyoon to please just pose for two minutes, really, the beef can wait.
They re-learn each other, the quirks and flaws that stopped them before, and the ones that they’d never gotten to know.
As they walk together with only the night as their witness, Seungyoon weaving through the streets he knows, he lets Mino see that what he means is real, he feels the warmth of Mino’s hand in his and wonders how he could have ever forgotten it.
When he opens his eyes, the first thing he sees is the slope of Mino’s shoulders, the line of his neck as he stirs against the pillow. Seungyoon barely has time to trace the tattoos he can see, following the curves with his eyes before Mino greets him.
“Watching me sleep?”
Seungyoon leans back on his elbows, shoots Mino a smile. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
Mino laughs and pulls the comforter up over himself, only the top half of his face peeking out. Seungyoon can still see the smile reaching his eyes. Eventually he emerges, an arm hugging the comforter to himself, the other reaching out to Seungyoon.
“At least say good morning.” Mino muses, voice still hoarse from sleep.
Emboldened by Mino’s request, and by Mino’s gentle gaze on him, Seungyoon swoops down to press a kiss to the spot where Mino’s jaw meets his neck, hoping to tickle him on the way. Mino giggles, a hand grasping Seungyoon’s shoulder to keep him there even when he pulls away.
Seungyoon gets them coffee from the shop around the corner, his machine finally discarded earlier in the week, after it produced a pitch black goo more comparable to petrol than coffee. Mino sips his slowly, leaning back and holding the cup to his chest in silent acknowledgment of the cooling weather.
In the quiet comfort of the room, of each other, Seungyoon takes a final leap of faith.
“So I figured I should probably ask you,” Seungyoon says, unsure of how to word the question without sending Mino running. “This tattoo- your tattoo. What does it mean?”
Mino looks up at him, throwing his head back a little as he lets out a sigh. “I thought you might want to know.” He extends his arm out for Seungyoon to get a clear view of the tattoo, dark and bold in the middle of Mino’s forearm. “When the dreams got too much to bear, I… I tried to find a way to forget. I wanted so badly to just have one dreamless night, to knock myself out and rest for once, but once turned into everyday, and the dreams always came back, and then it was just. A cycle that I couldn’t break out of.” he pauses to gather his thoughts, and Seungyoon thinks his heart is going to shrivel up and die in his chest. “Not without help, anyway.”
He touches his tattoo, the dark red ink disappearing under his fingers for a moment. “This was… a way to commemorate getting out of my own hell.”
This doesn’t feel right, Seungyoon thinks. He remembers seeing that, hands that once seemed too far away to be his own, but always holding a glass, liquor fueling the embers of a fire that just wouldn’t start up again. The memories are clearer now, and he hangs his head at the irony.
“I think that’s how I used to cope with you.” he remarks.
Mino huffs, fingertips playing against each other. “Guess I picked up your bad habits, uh?” Where Seungyoon expects to hear bitterness in Mino’s voice, there’s only acceptance. “I’m not as virtuous as I used to be.”
“We’ve all changed.” Seungyoon takes Mino’s arm in one trembling hand, relieved when Mino doesn’t pull away. “That’s why we’re here, right? Why were were given a second chance. To move forward.”
He barely recognizes himself in the words he speaks, and Mino smiles, bright and earnest.
“Look at you. Finally letting the world in.”
Seungyoon feels himself blushing to the tip of his ears when Mino sits up to meet him, mirroring his movements as it touches the mark on Seungyoon’s arm. It still feels warm when he does it, but it doesn’t burn anymore. “Letting me in.”
There’s barely any space left between them, but Seungyoon lets Mino play the game, lets him take the time to come to him. He’s guarded himself for too long. This is something he wants to enjoy, every second of it rekindling the flame inside.
When Mino finally kisses him, Seungyoon melts into him, exhales all the pain and the grief to breathe in new oxygen. He doesn’t remember how long he’d chased something like this, stopped counting somewhere along the way. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Somewhere, halfway between Mino’s lips and his own, Seungyoon hears something, a melody winding its way through the back of his head, around the butterflies in his stomach. He pulls away to find Mino breathless and unrelenting, as beautiful as he was that day against the setting sun.
Only now, something starts.
“What’s gotten into you?” Mino quips as Seungyoon nearly faceplants off the bed, reaching for his guitar.
The scratches where it fell give it character, Seungyoon decides, running his hand over them before his fingers find the fret. He strums a few chords, feels Mino’s eyes on him and his smile as he finds the right ones.
“Tell me what you think of this.”
“Stop squirming.” Bobby says, trying to remain serious as he traces a gloved finger over the stencil. “Do you want this or not?”
In the corner of the room, Mino hides his smile behind his hand as he surveys operations. This is the first time Bobby’s ever going to tattoo someone, after all, and his client couldn’t be more important.
Bobby adjusts his seat and revs up his machine, a few pushes of his foot on the pedal enough to make Hanbin almost jump in the chair. “Just breathe. The more nervous you are, the more it’s going to hurt.”
“Are you sure this spot is ok?” Hanbin asks, trying to mask the anxiety in his voice and doing a terrible job of it. “For a first time?”
“It’s a tattoo, man.” Bobby shoots him a look that says, ‘you know what you signed up for.’ “It’s going to hurt regardless of the spot.”
Hanbin swallows hard. “Right. Right.”
“As long as he hasn’t started,” Mino calls, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re welcome to back out. No refund on your deposit, though.”
Hanbin whines, fully aware that the two tattoo artists are having a laugh at his expense. He wants this, he’s sure of it. He’d brought the idea up to Bobby a week from the day they’d all gathered here to lay out the map to their own lives, seven days that had been enough to make up his mind.
He wants this, and he wants Bobby to be the one to do it.
“Just… go ahead.” he sighs, gripping the chair’s armrest. “I trust you.”
Bobby smiles and he starts the machine, buzzing filling Hanbin’s ears as it gets closer to his skin. He tries to breathe in deep and thinks about Jiho’s advice when he exhales, keeps a slow, steady rhythm as the needle breaks through.
“Fu-” Hanbin whimpers, but he stops himself, concentrates on inhaling, exhaling, one after the other. No rush.
He’s not going to lie, this hurts . The first few strokes of the needle feel like someone is cutting him open, setting fire to his flesh. There’s a knot stuck in his throat and he’s starting to see white from how tightly shut his eyes are, but he doesn’t say a word.
Still, the buzzing stops.
“Hey.” Bobby nudges him with his shoulder. “You holding up OK?”
Hanbin wants to grit his teeth and tell Bobby to keep going, but he cracks an eye open and sees the look of genuine concern on Bobby’s face. So he exhales, tries to stop himself from shaking.
“You’re doing good. It’s me, I think I didn’t prepare enough.” he says, a pitiful little laugh escaping him.
Bobby leans back, still holding his machine. A drop of black ink drops from the tip of it onto his jeans, but if he notices, it doesn’t seem to bother him. “That’s fine. I know it’s shit advice but, keep breathing like you’re doing, try to concentrate on that. And I’ll be as gentle as I can. Okay?”
From where he’s watching, Mino doesn’t say anything but he gives both of them a nod and a thumbs up. Hanbin knows he’s closely watching how Bobby is doing, and he wants to tell Mino that Bobby is doing everything he can, that Mino should be proud of his apprentice. He figures Mino already is.
“Okay.” Hanbin says, his eyes locking with Bobby’s for a moment. Bobby smiles at him, warm and bright and reassuring as always, and then he starts the machine back up, puts it to Hanbin’s skin.
It doesn’t hurt any less, but somehow, it feels more bearable. Bobby soothes him every few seconds with cold water on a tissue to wipe the ink away and help with the inflammation, and soon Hanbin falls into the rhythm of his own breathing, stealing glances at Bobby. He looks deep in concentration, tongue caught between his teeth as he inks line after line, leans back to make sure he’s doing well.
Soon, Hanbin feels like there’s nothing left in the world but the buzzing, the sound of their breathing, dueling rhythms meant to find each other, and Bobby’s capable hands on him.
If someone is going to burn eternity into his skin, he’s happy Bobby is the one.
The intercom rings right as Jinwoo pulls his shirt over his head.
He gives himself a quick look in the mirror, fixes a few stray strands of hair, and wonders why he feels so bothered by them all of a sudden. When he pushes the button and Seunghoon’s voice comes over the speakers, there’s a flutter in his chest that helps Jinwoo remember.
“You ready?” Seunghoon calls, in the sing-song tone Jinwoo knows is his default.
In any case, he has to be. He hasn’t done this in years, not since his professional life seemingly swallowed any hope he had of a personal one. And yet, here he is, a few days before the biggest event he’s ever organized, letting a man he’s barely starting to remember sweep him off his feet.
Maybe he does need the fresh air, but the truth is, Seunghoon could be taking him anywhere and Jinwoo would still be along for the ride.
“I’ll be down in a minute.” he says, and Seunghoon happily hums as the connection cuts out.
Right. No more time for existential questions, wondering if it was also like this back then, with Seunghoon taking all the risks that Jinwoo desperately wants to. Maybe revolution made them bolder, but the thumping against Jinwoo’s ribcage feels new too, a feeling that he wants to follow.
When Jinwoo gets to the ground floor of his building, Seunghoon is out front leaning against a black motorcycle, a smile on his face as he turns a helmet around in his hands.
He must see the anxiousness that Jinwoo was trying so hard to not let show on his face, because Seunghoon takes a few steps towards him, helmet hanging from one hand while the other takes Jinwoo’s. “Don’t worry, I’m a safe driver.” His thumb smoothes circles into the back of Jinwoo’s hand. “I’ve only ever gotten into like, two accidents.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Jinwoo spits, pushing Seunghoon away until he hits the bike. He’s trying hard to be serious but the grin that takes over Seunghoon’s features is too hard to compete with. “Just get us there, will you?”
“Yes, my liege.”
The wind blowing past them erases all of Jinwoo’s fears. He’s got his arms clenched around Seunghoon’s waist, watches the city roads expand in front of them over Seunghoon’s shoulder. Jinwoo never wants it to stop.
They drive past the park, to somewhere safer and smaller, where the world can’t reach them for a moment. There’s another at the edge of the city, surrounded by a ring of trees that are turning red and gold, setting fire to the grey sky. It’s not so cold yet, but Jinwoo pulls his jacket tighter around himself when he has to get off from the bike and away from Seunghoon’s warmth.
He doesn’t have to miss it for long, because Seunghoon slings an arm around his shoulders and pulls him in close, right at the edge between the street and the pebble path in the park. Jinwoo hears dry leaves cracking under their feet as Seunghoon gets closer.
“Walk with me?” he says, and when Jinwoo looks up at him he finds the same softness in Seunghoon’s eyes that he saw that day when they’d met again, finally led to each other because that’s what was always supposed to happen.
Jinwoo sometimes wonders what would have come to pass if he hadn’t started feeling this way about Seunghoon, if he’d just remained scared and helpless. He’s happy he’ll never have to find out.
His own arm winds around Seunghoon’s waist, keeping him close like this. They both know the universe isn’t going to separate them again, but they’ve got so much lost time to make up for, so many things they want to live now that they have the chance. Seunghoon’s hands aren’t as rough as they used to be, and Jinwoo’s mind is sharper somehow, but they both fall back into each other, easy as breathing.
There’s no one around to keep them on their toes, just the autumn breeze making leaves dance at their feet, a whirlwind of color, red still like the days they lost. It seems like the only thing that hasn’t changed, but if it comes with peace of mind rather than the sound of gunshots, Jinwoo will gladly take it.
“Hey.” he calls for Seunghoon, the other man seemingly also lost in thought. So Jinwoo decides to play a little, twists his hand to poke Seunghoon’s side and get his attention.
Seunghoon looks at him, and there’s still a flame in those eyes that Jinwoo wants to fan. “I’m here.”
He stays right where he is when Jinwoo leans up, breathing fire into his lungs when their lips meet, a warmth that spreads through Jinwoo’s body. They let themselves linger, Jinwoo’s fingers tracing the lines of Seunghoon’s face, committing all of him to memory.
Now, he has time to remember.
Mino stays over most nights, but Seungyoon still finds it hard to deal with the loneliness when he doesn’t. Maybe because he’s not used to suddenly having so much movement and so much warmth in his life, too used to coming home to an empty apartment and deafening silence. Thankfully, as he seems to have one for everything, Mino promises he has a solution for that.
“I know you’re going to find what you need.” he says, early afternoon, the winter sun high in the sky. He’s got Seungyoon’s hand firmly held in his, leading the way as always.
Seungyoon can’t do anything but let himself go with it. “I’m not even sure what you’re talking about.”
Mino just squeezes his hand and walks closer to him, through a deserted street - everyone’s already done with lunch break, it seems - and to the end of it, where a red brick building stands proudly, as if it knows how much it stands out in the grey landscape.
When he sees Seunghoon behind a counter, smiling from ear to ear, Seungyoon is even more confused than he thought possible.
“Is this a matchmaking situation?”
Seunghoon stifles a laugh and leans over the counter to greet Mino. “Jinwoo’s already a handful and a half, thank you,” he says, the fondness of his smile betraying his attempt at snark. “But I suppose you could think of it this way, just, not with me.”
This time, Seungyoon definitely has no clue what Seunghoon is talking about. Still, he moves forward as Seunghoon beckons them behind the counter and opens a door Seungyoon had barely noticed was there.
Behind it, there’s a large yard, doghouses and feeding bowls lined up all around it, and then there’s all the animals, a wider variety of dogs than Seungyoon has ever seen, happily playing around, some napping, some curiously trotting up to the three of them. Seunghoon saunters down the few steps leading into the yard, playfully roughhousing with a few of the bigger canines before he stops near the fence, kneeling down to greet a small brown poodle on four shaky legs.
“Hey buddy.” he says, and then turns around to call for Seungyoon and Mino, a sign of his hand telling them to be careful. The dog bows its head, pushing timidly against Seunghoon’s knee. “I want you to meet someone.”
Seungyoon stays behind, watches as Mino pets the dog’s head and his back, small touches that seem to put the animal at ease. He really has a hand for everything. The dog relaxes under their ministrations, eventually, and Seunghoon turns back to Seungyoon, nodding at him to come closer.
“His name’s Thor. We welcomed the little guy a while ago. He was... worse for wear, to say the least.” Seunghoon says, a dark veil falling over his eyes for a second. “Used to be kept in one of those fucking breeding mills. They were going to put him down but we had a bed open, so we took him instead. Thankfully.”
It’s evident in the way Seunghoon speaks that the situation would have torn him apart, and Seungyoon also feels his heart aching for the dog, a skinny body wobbling back and forth between Seunghoon and Mino.
The dog’s small eyes are staring up at him, asking Seungyoon when he’s going to come and give him some love too. Even with the strangeness of the situation, Seungyoon doesn’t have the heart to deny him. He joins Seunghoon and Mino on the ground, extends a hand, and Thor immediately rests his head there, nuzzling into Seungyoon’s palm.
Now, he understands what Seunghoon said.
“He was lost… kind of like me.” Seungyoon says without thinking, scratching Thor’s throat.
Seunghoon smiles. “Now you get it. What do you say about adopting him?”
He knew the question was coming, but Seungyoon is still taken aback. He hasn’t known how to take care of himself for years, and isn’t sure he could be left in charge of another living being. But another part of himself is pushing him to say yes, to welcome the animal into his life and make the effort to give him the home they’d both been denied.
“Of course,” Seunghoon continues, as if he’s reading Seungyoon’s mind. “We’re going to do a trial run first. See how you two get along, how things go at home. Though, I have to say, you seem like a promising match already.”
“I’m jealous.” Mino adds, sitting cross-legged on the ground and touching Seungyoon’s hand where it isn’t petting Thor. “But I’m ready to make sacrifices.”
Seungyoon feels like he’s holding the whole world in his hand, fragile but ready to grow. “We’ve made enough of those already.”
The grey skies outside don’t seem so sad from here.
All of them have invaded Jinwoo’s apartment, animals included, peaceful even though Jhonny is already trying to impose her rule. Thor and Haute tentatively play, pawing at each other’s sides while the cats just stare, lounging in a corner of the room. There’s a ridiculously big bouquet of flowers sitting in a corner, a present from an overly self-satisfied Seunghoon, who had thrust the bouquet in Jinwoo’s hands before using it to hide behind as he kissed him.
Everyone had seen, and no one had said a word, save for Bobby’s hushed hollering.
“I’m so happy this is finally behind you.” Seunghoon says, fiddling with a souvenir Polaroid from the Kwon-Choi wedding that Jinwoo had attached to his fridge. “And that it went well, of course.”
As expected, the wedding had made headlines everywhere possible, with several outlets praising the organization and decor. Jinwoo’s flower arrangements had made their way to the pages of the magazines, his name in small print next to them, the newlyweds posing against the picturesque backdrop.
Now that it was over, Jinwoo could finally breathe, his cheeks filling up again already, his eyes regaining their sparkle. Seungyoon watches him move about the party, tending to the guests and almost slipping into work mode until Seunghoon catches him around the waist and whispers something into his ear that makes Jinwoo go several shades redder than Seungyoon has ever seen him.
The intercom rings and two minutes after Jinwoo answers it, there’s a knock on the door, Hanbin, Jiho and Jihoon tumbling into the apartment one after the other, all of them greeting Jinwoo with a tight embrace and congratulations.
It would have been such a surreal scene, just a few weeks ago, but now Seungyoon just revels in the fact that their group came together again like this, around drinks and candles, just with the certitude of another day coming.
They have so many things to look forward to.
“Sorry we’re late,” Jiho says to anyone listening, rummaging through his bag. “Had to pick these up from the press.”
He brandishes a small stack of CD cases, and Seungyoon’s heart jumps in his throat at the sight.
They’d spent a week holed up in the studio, Hanbin dropping by to offer a pair of fresh ears from time to time, until finally Jiho played all the songs back to Seungyoon and he’d sat there, eyes closed, his music finally complete.
“Is this what I think it is?” Bobby calls from his seat on the couch, Hanbin stealing a sip from his drink.
Seungyoon looks back to Mino, who lifts his glass of sparkling water in encouragement. He knows the songs have come a long way since he’d first heard them, sitting on Seungyoon’s bed.
When he holds the CD in his hand, fingers tracing over the cover image, Seungyoon can’t help the way his throat tightens. “Thank you.” he whispers, trying to force his voice past the incoming tears.
“I think the pictures came out really well.” Jihoon muses.
Seungyoon touches the image of his own face on the front of the case. He's never liked seeing himself in pictures, but somehow Jihoon's lens seemed to have found something in him he thought he'd lost for good. “They did. And I don’t say that often about myself.” He lets out a small laugh, presses the CD to his heart. “Really, I can’t thank you enough-”
“No problem, man.” Jiho interrupts. “I can’t wait for the world to hear it.”
There’s a round of quiet cheers and “me too”’s, Mino walking up to Seungyoon to press himself to his back and wrap an arm around his chest. “It's all in your hands now.”
“Okay.” Seunghoon’s voice echoes through the room. “A toast! If anyone has anything else to celebrate, say it now!”
Bobby jumps from the couch, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket. He brandishes a small, brand new ID card, the laminated plastic shining under the overhead light. “I finally got to change my name!” he announces, his face splitting from ear to ear into a wide smile.
Cherry on top, Seungyoon thinks, as Mino ruffles Bobby’s hair.
It doesn’t take much more for Seunghoon to take the bottle of champagne out of the fridge. Jinwoo takes the occasion to refill Mino’s glass, jumping a little as Seunghoon pops the cork off the bottle and foam comes spilling down his hand.
“Seriously…” Jinwoo shakes his head, bursting out laughing a second later and bringing Mino down with him.
When he’s got a glass in hand, Seungyoon lifts it in the air along with everyone. He looks around the room, sees Bobby in Hanbin’s lap, Jiho and Jihoon leaning against the wall, Seunghoon and Jinwoo tangled together.
He sees Mino when he turns back, close and real. It takes only a step to meet him, in the center of the universe.
Seunghoon clears his throat, waits for everyone to be ready.
Something passes through the air.
They hold their heads high.
“To the future!”
thank you so, so, so much for reading to the end!
i actually can't believe i've managed to finish this. it's my first ever chaptered fic, and my longest complete work by a long shot, and i'm so proud of myself for seeing it through! i hope everyone enjoyed it~
thankyou, truly, to everyone who clicked, read, left kudos, left some nice words in the comments, really, you make everything worth it <3
with all my love,