Minghao wanted to strangle whoever had the bright idea to arrange their photoshoot on top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles in the middle of the summer; he also wanted to share choice words with whoever made the executive decision to dress him in a turtleneck, trench coat, and long slacks. The sun was beating down on the group with no mercy, the boys fleeing under the small staff tent for cover each time they had a break in filming.
He crouched under what little space was left underneath the cover, Joshua perched next to him, downing a bottle of water. He vaguely registered him remarking to a staff member that this was one of the hottest days he ever experienced in Los Angeles. The latter had sweat coating his entire forehead and neck. Unlike Minghao, luckily, Joshua’s hair was slicked back against his head while Minghao’s bangs fell against his forehead, almost matted to his forehead with his sweat. He felt the head seeping down into his core, and he desperately tug at his thick woven collar in an attempt to let his body breathe. He was so focused on trying to cool down that he nearly failed to notice Joshua holding out an uncapped water bottle his direction.
“Hao? You good?” he asked, tilting his head at the latter. Minghao shook clear of his thoughts and nodded in response to the elder’s question, taking the water bottle with little hesitation. He was parched, and he had already downed two of the disposable bottles given to him by the staff. He threw his head back and gulped at the bottle, the cheap plastic crinkling beneath his tight, sweaty grip. Water dribbled past his lips and down his chin, soaking into the fabric of his turtleneck.
“Easy, you’ll choke,” Joshua laughed from beside him, taking a drink from his own bottle. “It’s so hot. I’ve never felt a summer like this before.” With that, the elder tilted his head back, resting his weight back on his hands as he savored what little breeze there was.
Minghao cleared his throat, finishing the bottle with a curt gasp. He wiped at his mouth and neck, swiping away the cool water that lingered there. It wasn’t enough. He had been through three bottles now and none of them had managed to make him feel satisfied. His mouth was endlessly dry, and the buckets of sweat sticking to his underarms and lower back made his clothes stick to him as if there were an extra layer of his skin. All he wanted to do was shed off the layers and lie in an ice bath. “Los Angeles sucks,” he said through gritted teeth. He was both joking and serious. Joshua, luckily, didn’t seem to take it personally as he hummed in agreement, taking another drink from his own bottle.
He respected his hyung. After all, he had been one of the few to welcome him warmly as soon as he had joined the group. Joshua was always a warm soul-- someone who would be unexpectedly caring, reassuring, and brotherly right when one needed him to be. Minghao was relieved to have him by his side, and the last thing he wanted was to somehow offend him. But he couldn’t help but be frank: Los Angeles sucked right now.
“Minghao-ssi,” their manager called, beckoning him over with the wave of his hand. Reluctantly, Minghao stood and took a step out from under the tent. Joshua wished him good luck, but his mind hardly registered it. It was a photoshoot, so there wasn’t anything too difficult or challenging for him to accomplish. All he had to do was stand there-- in the blistering heat-- look pretty and pose. Easy.
He stood back to back with Junhui, their heads resting on each others’ shoulders as they stared up into the sky. Minghao felt his cheeks flush and his face heat up as he stood there, sweat dripping off of him in buckets while he waited for the photographer to grab the shots he needed. The two did several more poses together, and each one had Minghao screaming internally for mercy. He usually held amazing patience when it came to photoshoots-- the photographers often took more photos than they truly needed-- but today, his patience was running dreadfully thin. He was far too hot and he wanted to shed off his jacket and sweater so badly, but he had to endure.
Just for a bit longer, he assured himself as they assumed another pose, this time sitting on the blistering concrete with their legs entangled. It was too hot for this. Too hot. After what felt like hours smoldering in an oven, he heard the final shutter of the camera before the photographer called for Junhui to exit the scene. Minghao was left alone for his solo shots, and the makeup artist swept in with a cloth to dab at his sweat and reapply the makeup that was slipping off of him in this heat. He wanted to run away, crawl beneath the tent and hide for the rest of the shoot, but he couldn’t. After all, Joshua, Junhui, and the others had managed to get through their solo and partner shots without complaint. He should be able to do the same.
Toughen up, he hissed to himself as the makeup artist finished up, scurrying off back to the tent. As the photographer called for the shoot to begin, he posed and paced across the rooftop, tilting his head back, staring into the camera-- doing whatever the director asked him to. Somewhere during the agony, his head began to throb. It was an intense yet dull pain drumming behind his eyes, causing them to water as he glanced up towards the sky. He blinked the tears away, trying to ignore the way his eyelids grew heavier with each passing minute.
In reality, the shoot probably hadn’t lasted longer than a few minutes, but with his smoldering headache and the immense humidity, it had felt like hours. He was sweating so much that he could feel the moisture accumulating in his sweater beneath the jacket. He cringed at the disgusting sensation. The directors dismissed him, and he staggered as he stood from his position and wandered back to the tent. The headache was assaulting him in every way imaginable-- the excited chatter of some of his other bandmates, the piercing, commanding voices of the producer, photographer, and director all set him off in every way imaginable. Every sound and light caused the pain behind his eyes to surge, the torment now thrumming throughout his entire skull. He could feel his pulse in his forehead. He cradled his head in his hands as he sought refuge beneath the tent, taking his past spot next to Joshua, who had hardly moved since Minghao got up for his individual photoshoot.
“Minghao,” someone called. It sounded as if someone was trying to talk to him underwater. “Hey.”
He raised his head, meeting Joshua’s worried, hollow gaze. “Yeah, hyung?”
Joshua lifted a hand that came to rest on his shoulders. He rubbed at the tense, sore muscles around his neck for a moment, his eyes scanning him up and down once or twice. Minghao pretended not to notice. “You’re sweating a lot, ” he remarked, cringing. “You should take off your jacket before we do the dance shoot. It will be hell dancing in that thing later if you don’t cool down a bit.”
Despite every instinct in his body screaming at him to do as the elder said and strip his coat off that second, he paused and shook his head. He ran a hand through his hair, finding that it was practically dripping wet. “My sweat stains will be so bad right now,” he said as an excuse. It wasn’t entirely off. But a large part of it was Minghao was embarrassed. Sure, it was a fairly hot day and they were all sweating, but no one else seemed to be in nearly as much discomfort as Minghao was. Maybe he was being dramatic?
Joshua frowned at him-- a genuine frown, which is something that Minghao saw rarely -- and his heart dropped into his stomach. He knew it was an idiotic decision, but his pride was larger than his concern at the moment. Also, there were only two or three solo photoshoots left before they were going to film the dance scenes. It wouldn’t be too much longer until all of them could retreat to the bliss of their air conditioned hotel rooms.
Thankfully, the last few shoots seemed to fly by as they sat beneath the tent, shielded from the sun. In the time he spent in the shade, his headache started to ease up, which he was immensely grateful for, and the sweat that seemed to be ingrained in his skin started to fade. That wouldn’t last long, though. As soon as Mingyu and Seungkwan wrapped up their solo photoshoots, the director called for all thirteen members to assume position for their dance. They’ll only run through it a few times, the camera director promised, because it was far too hot for them to be stuck on that rooftop any longer than they already were. Almost ready to cry, standing in the center with the heat beating down on his back, Minghao mentally cheered. All he had to do was get through a few runs of the dance, through this blistering heat, and he would be free. It would be okay.
The first run-through was uneventful, save for the fact that his headache started to return with a vengeance. He downed another water bottle that a staff member handed him before he was forced to return to position to take the choreography from the top. Everything, even his hair, felt too hot and he couldn’t escape. The headache was so intense that each time he tilted his head too fast during the dance, a dizzy spell overcame him. The concrete beneath his feet would falter and seemingly tilt on its axis before he’d somehow regain his balance, his heart lodged in his throat. The lightheadedness only worsened through each take. It was never ending. He wasn’t sure how many times they had gone through the dance, but it couldn’t have been too many right? But on the other hand, Minghao was losing track of his feet beneath him, his head was exploding with blinding pain, and his calves started to cramp up in a way that they hadn’t since he first started dancing.
His muscles wouldn’t relax, even when he sat on the ground between takes, water bottle clenched in his shaking hands. The cramps spread from his legs to his lower abdomen, one so strong that he nearly doubled over, gasping at the pain. The others stood around him, oblivious to his condition on the ground-- or at least so he thought-- until he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He flinched, whipping his head around his shoulder to see Joshua, staring at him with wide, worried eyes as he knelt down beside him. “Minghao, seriously, slow down,” he said, taking the empty water bottle from Minghao’s hands and replacing it with a fresh one. He couldn’t look at his hyung, but he could feel the worry bearing into him. He felt it like an added weight on his shoulder blades.
“I’m fine,” he insisted instinctually, shaking his head. “I just… overheated a lil, I guess.” Joshua scoffed at his response.
“A little?” he echoed. “It’s a record high for Los Angeles and you’re wearing a turtleneck-” Joshua was cut off mid-sentence when Minghao decided he had enough of listening to Joshua’s worrying and stood up quickly. Too quickly. The world spun around him, the blood rushing from his head down to his feet, causing his entire body to run cold. He shivered before he lost his footing underneath him and tilted to the side.
Minghao didn’t even realize what was happening-- everything was taken over in a blur as the dizzy spell knocked him sideways. He was expecting to hit the ground, but instead felt Joshua’s arms wrapped around his middle, fingers gripping him so tightly it almost hurt. He couldn’t find his voice to complain.
“Take it easy, huh?” he said through the ringing in Minghao’s ears. “Don’t you think you’ve put yourself through enough?”
There was a cold hand on his forehead, and the touch was so soothing that Minghao pitched forward and pressed his forehead into the sensation. It was a brief second of relief before a shiver racked through his body, followed by a sharp shudder that made his jaw click.
Suddenly, Joshua was yelling at someone-- the manager, Minghao vaguely registered. He could feel all of the others’ eyes on him, burning into him like lasers. Their gazes alone were almost enough to worsen the blistering heat that was clinging to his skin like plastic wrap. It was inescapable. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself, but right now with his legs like jelly, stomach cramping, and head throbbing, he couldn’t find it in himself to particularly care. Joshua’s arms were the only thing keeping him upright, but he wanted to escape. It was too hot-- far too hot. He couldn’t get out. The sweat was sticking to his skin. Disgusting.
Joshua shifted, his arms still securely locked around Minghao’s torso and keeping him upright. However, the sharp movement caused his stomach to lurch and a hot snake of pain to coil up in his lower abdomen. Another strong cramp seized his stomach. Before he could stop himself, Minghao pitched forward and vomited all over Joshua’s arms and onto his shoes. Shame burned on his cheeks, which were already deeply flushed from the heat. He wanted to apologize to his hyung-- he hadn’t meant to be sick. He hadn’t meant to be so weak, but he was so nauseous; he registered in the back of his mind that he was starting to shiver. That’s odd. Wasn’t he blistering just a moment ago?
Despite the vomit on his arms, Joshua help Minghao tightly, his eyes as wide as plates. He didn’t understand how the younger’s condition could have deteriorated so quickly, but he knew he had to act fast before his condition worsened. There was a sudden yet smoldering bout of rage in his chest that he couldn’t control, and unfortunately the other members started to crowd around them as his blood began to boil. The other members stood around them in a crowded circle, and Joshua clenched his teeth. “Back off!” he yelled at the younger members. “Give him space! Back off.” Seungcheol stood behind Joshua, a hand on his shoulder while he ignored the younger’s bark to take a good look at Minghao.
His face was ashen against the jet black of his sweater, save for the bright red smelting on his cheeks as if he had an incredibly high fever. At this rate, Seungcheol was sure that he did, but he could hardly get a step closer without Joshua shooting him a warning glare, his sullied arms wrapped around Minghao.
Before he could speak, the manager was pushing through the slowly thinning crowd. He pushed past Junhui, who was trying to get closer undeterred by Joshua’s command. He was talking to Minghao in a hushed voice, whispering things in Chinese that sounded like words of comfort. He recognized the term Didi; Junhui repeated it over and over, his voice trembling until the manager finally ushered him away and stepped up to Joshua.
“What the hell is going on?” The manager demanded, taking in Minghao’s sickly appearance with wide eyes. Joshua knelt down, Minghao’s knees practically worthless beneath his weight now as Joshua lowered him to the pavement, resting his back and head in his lap, trying to avoid getting vomit on him. The manager dropped to his knees beside him.
“It’s too hot,” Joshua said, his heart caught in his throat. He stared at the manager with fear settling in his gut. He had witnessed plenty of his dongsaengs fall ill-- even Jeonghan and Seungcheol a time or two-- but nothing ever seemed quite this extreme. He realized his hands were shaking. “He’s too hot. He’s too hot.”
The manager was already on the phone with someone, and Joshua desperately hoped it was an ambulance. Minghao was nearly lifeless in his lap, his face twitching with painful grimaces as cramps seized his stomach and legs. “It’s likely heat exhaustion-- if not stroke,” the manager said, pocketing his phone after a minute. He looked up to the leader who still stood behind Joshua, looking down at the scene with an expression of shell-shock. “Seungcheol-ah, carry Minghao under the tent and grab as many cold water bottles as you can. Try to cool him off.” He then turned his attention to Joshua, who seemed gutted at the idea of Minghao being taken from him. His fingers absentmindedly tightened around his dongsaeng.
An assistant flurried over as Seungcheol pried Minghao, who moaned as another wave of nausea overtook him, away from Joshua. The assistant crouched in front of Joshua as Seungcheol moved underneath the tent and wiped at his arms with a large, damp towel. He sat there obediently, arms outstretched as the assistant help him wipe off as much as she could that wasn’t already staining his clothes. The assistant was talking to him, her lips trembling and eyes wide as she stared at Joshua with a pleading expression swimming in her eyes. Joshua couldn’t bring himself to full awareness, focusing on the disgusting feeling of sweat clinging to his neck, back, and arms. He tried squinting through the sunlight to catch sight of where Seungcheol had disappeared with Minghao, but he couldn’t see them-- the assistant was blocking his view, her hands on his shoulders now.
“Joshua-ssi,” she pleaded, giving his shoulders a small jolt. He blinked and stared back at her, flicking his tongue to wet his chapped lips. “Let’s get under the tent and get you changed into a clean shirt,” she insisted, moving to hook her hands under Joshua’s elbows to help him stand. “Minghao-ssi will be alright, come on.”
Numbly, he followed her back towards the tent where Minghao was laid back on the pavement with his own jacket pillowing his head from the rough ground. His condition seemed to have horribly deteriorated from the last moment Joshua saw him-- his face was ashen save for an intense, feverish flush at the crest of his cheeks. His bottom lip was so cracked and dry that Joshua worried it would bleed if he did as much as twitch his lip.
Minghao tried blocking out the endless noise and commotion that surrounded him on all sides. Each word someone spoke, their voice pitched with worry, send a horrific stabbing pain through his temples, as if a hot iron bar was being shoved through the skin slowly. He overheard the manager talking a few feet away on his cellphone. “We’re going to the hospital. No… No, I have it under control, but it’s just a precaution. I want to make sure he recovers quickly for the next… Yes, sir, I understand.” With that, the manager hung up, brows pinched as he pocketed his cellphone.
Minghao stirred where he laid against the ground, his eyes struggling to open. “Hospital?” he murmured, lifting an arm sluggishly to hide his face from the prying eyes surrounding him on all sides. The last place Minghao wanted to be was the hospital; all he wanted was to crawl into bed and hide away from the other members and staff who were staring him down. He wasn’t sure who was surrounding him anymore, but he could hear Joshua-hyung and his manager’s voices radiating from somewhere above him. He wished they would be quiet for a moment, so the pounding in his head and the ringing in his ears would calm down.
“Yeah, buddy,” the manager murmured, brushing the back of his hand against Minghao’s forehead, wincing at the heat. He wasn’t sure if it was just heat exhaustion or if Minghao had some kind of bug that the other members were doomed to catch. Either way, he had an obligation to make sure the younger was safe. He knew rushing to a hospital would send a shockwave of worry and unease among the group, but the manager had little choice. “We just gotta make sure you’re alright. The others will go back home, and you’ll be home too before you know it. I promise.”
“No,” Joshua protested, leaning forward to grab the manager’s attention. “Can… One of us should go with him to the hospital right? At least Seungcheol or Jeonghan. So he’s not alone.”
“He won’t be alone,” the manager said. “Me and some other staff will make sure he’s safe and wait for any treatment. You and the others will go back home, no argument.”
“Joshua. No,” he snapped.
Minghao wanted to open his mouth-- he wanted to protest and tell the manager to let Joshua come with him to the hospital. He didn’t want to be alone. He felt fingers snake into his hand, the skin incredibly cool compared to his own burning skin. He signed with relief and twitched his fingers around the hand, squeezing the palm weakly. He heard Joshua saying something to him-- though he couldn’t decipher what it was-- and he figured the hand in his own must belong to his hyung. He felt Joshua’s other hand brush against his cheeks, and he was startled to feel wetness clinging to his cheeks.
“Don’t cry, Hao, you’re alright,” Joshua murmured, his finger brushing against the side of his face. Had he been crying? “You’re a little sick right now, but we’re gonna take you to the doctor and you’ll feel better real soon, ok?”
Joshua continued murmuring words of comfort, but Minghao couldn’t be bothered to listen to them carefully. The coolness of Joshua’s hands on his face was enough to allow his exhausted mind to slip into unconsciousness. The heat was seeping into his skin like hot coals, but the strength of the anchor tugging him into nothingness was too strong for him to resist.
When he came to, he was in his own hotel bed-- which came as a surprise to him. He felt the familiar weight of his own blanket resting in his lap, and he could smell the subtle lavender scent from the air diffuser across the room. A gentle but cold breeze danced over his skin and tousled his hair--he cracked his eye open to see a large box fan set up across the room aimed directly at his bed. Craning his neck, he looked across the room to see the black-out curtains pulled shut. How long had he been asleep?
He lay on the bed for a few moments, letting his eyes flutter shut as he savored the light kiss of the fan’s air against his skin. It was heaven compared to the way his skin seemed to boil before he blacked out. He struggled to remember what had happened; he could recall starting to feel sick and collapsing, as well as his manager mentioning that they were going to the hospital. Had they actually gone? He was disrupted from his thoughts by a soft knock on his door.
Whoever it was didn’t wait for a response, and soon he saw Junhui standing in the doorway, his eyes wide and mouth agape. “Hao? You awake?” he called, softly shutting the door behind him as he stepped into the dimly lit room. He had a large glass of water and a straw in his hand. “How are you feeling?”
Minghao, still exhausted yet thrilled to see Junhui, moved to sit up, shifting his hands behind him to push up. He winced, the inside of his elbow stinging with pain as he bent his arm. Confused, he pulled it back to see a small square of gauze taped to his inner elbow.
“Careful,” Junhui insisted, placing the glass of water down and rushing over to Minghao’s side. “They gave you an IV at the hospital, so it’ll be sore. Stay lying down for now.”
“Hospital?” Minghao croaked. His throat felt like sandpaper now that he paid more attention to it. With each passing second, the fogginess around his mind seemed to clear bit by bit, and he became truly aware of the true pain and discomfort plaguing his entire body.
As if he could sense his little brother’s pain, Junhui smiled sadly and moved to sit beside Minghao on the bed. He picked up the glass of water again, inching it towards Minghao’s chin where the straw poked at his incredibly dry, chapped lips. “Drink first, Didi.” Junhui said it in Chinese. The familiar sound settled his hammering heart. Wordlessly, he drank. The cool liquid down his throat was both painful and relieving, soothing the harsh burn deep in the back of his throat.
Before he could drink too much, Junhui pulled the glass of water away and placed it back down on the bed-side table. “The doctor said not to let you drink too much. Just small sips for now,” he insisted. Minghao threw him an incredibly puzzled face, not quite coming to terms with that fact that somewhere among his deep sleep, he had been in and out of the hospital. He didn’t remember any of it.
“When I say hospital, it was more of a 24-hour clinic,” Junhui explained, gently easing Minghao back down against the mattress. He rested his fingers on Minghao’s arm. “You were really out of it. It scared me. It scared all of us.”
Minghao couldn’t remember much past being way too hot and suddenly feeling dizzy when all he was trying to do was get through the shoot without losing it. Apparently, he didn’t do so well at that. “I don’t remember. What...What happened?”
“Heat exhaustion, according to the doctor. Almost at heat stroke, but Joshua and the managers managed to get you under cover and cooled down a bit before it got too bad,” Junhui explained. Minghao could see the worry and fear engraved into Junhui’s brow, and he immediately felt guilty for bringing that worry upon him and the other members of the group. He remembered vaguely Joshua’s concerned voice and hands hovering over him. He wondered silently where Joshua was.
“You just need to rest and cool down,” Junhui said. He reached up and brushed aside Minghao’s fringe, exposing his forehead. “And drink fluids. You should be okay in a day or two.”
“What about the shoot?” he asked, eyes wide as it dawned on him that they never finished filming the choreography for the day, nor was he confident that any of his photos turned out decently when he was seconds from collapsing from
of all things.
Junhui tilted his head at Minghao. “Don’t worry about that,” he insisted. “The managers rescheduled the choreography shoot in a high-end dance studio in downtown L.A. It has air-conditioning.”
Despite the pain in his throat, Minghao let out an airy, pained laugh. “Thank God.”
“I’ll let you sleep a little bit more, it’s only 8:00,” he said. “You need your rest. Try to drink some more water if you can.”
Minghao settled back into bed without much complaint. While it frustrated him that he let down all of his members in their shoot in Los Angeles of all places, he was far too mentally and physically exhausted to do anything more than rest back against the mattress and let the cold air ease his burning skin.