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Time Underwater

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He wasn’t sure how long it had been.

Seungsik stood under the constant stream of water, filling his lungs with steam and expelling every breath like they weighed him down. Every few minutes he reached back and bumped the nozzle more and more, unsure if he was running out of hot water or if he was simply getting used to it.

It felt good, the searing burn against his back. It was something close to feeling alive, whatever that was. He rolled his eyes at himself for being so dramatic. It wasn’t that bad, he was just tired. But he was always, tired wasn’t he?

He couldn’t say when his last full night’s sleep was, but then again, he hadn’t been counting. He knew it was Friday because he was home, and didn’t feel that faint sickness in his gut that came from knowing he only had a brief window to breathe before he needed to be asleep to wake up in time for work again. He only had two nights a week that he didn’t feel the sense of dread that came from constantly glancing at a clock. Four hours. Three hours. Two hours. One hour. If I skip breakfast, thirty minutes. If I pay for a cab I could sleep in…

He let out a loud sigh and slumped over. Two nights of peace, and he spent one of them there where time couldn’t find him. He wasn’t sure how long it had been, but frankly he didn’t care. 

“Seungsik, you okay?”

He winced and straightened up. He must have been in there a while for Sejun to check up on him. Ah, I’m being an inconvenience. He probably needs to get in here, but I’m in the way.

“I’m almost done,” he called back, and then he was stuck because now that he said it out loud, he had to get out. He had to pull himself away from the water and go back into the real world, but he just did not want to…

“I thought you fell in,” Sejun shouted with a half laugh. 

Seungsik looked up at the ceiling, the water spilling onto his face and grimaced. “Nope! Thanks for checking!”

Sejun knocked once to let him know he was leaving, and Seungsik closed his eyes. He took a breath and dragged himself around to turn the water off. He wasn’t ready to leave yet, but he supposed that he had steamed enough. 

The silence once the water stopped running was jarring. He realized just how alone he was in there without any noise or music to keep him company. He considered pulling up a playlist to fill the space while he dressed, but he knew himself. A few seconds in while he was feeling that way, and he would become restless and unsettled. He didn’t want to make himself worse.

Instead, he stepped out onto the kitty bath mat he bought a few months before that he thought brightened up the bathroom. Why did a bathroom need brightening up? He wasn’t sure, but Sejun liked it too so it was no one else’s business. They could decorate their own bathrooms in gloomy serious navies and creams if they wanted to. He and Sejun had a cat rug and matching kitty toothbrush holders. He smiled faintly. He wished they held the power to make him smile for real. Maybe tomorrow after he slept…

He wasn’t sure why he did it, but he lazily lifted his arm up and pressed the tip of his finger against the fogged mirror leaving a firm dot. He moved his hand across the glass and left another one so that two flat eyes stared back at him. He then dragged his finger across the bottom in a downward facing arch and then returned to what he was doing as if nothing happened.

He grabbed a towel off the rack and gave his hair a tussle. He didn’t feel like drying it so he let the strands fall over his ears while he patted himself down. He faced the mirror as he dried himself off, starting with his shoulders. They were beat red and possibly blistered, and he supposed he overdid it.

He wasn’t the kind of person to stare at himself, but he noticed that he lost some of the progress he had made on broadening his shoulders at some point maybe in the last few months. He and Sejun used to go to the gym downstairs together all the time and compete to see who could lift the most like a couple of high school jocks, but he hadn’t felt like going in a long time. He wasn’t sure how long it had been, but then again, he hadn’t been keeping track.

The small tattoo on his ribs that no one knew was there had begun to fade. Even though he kept it out of the sun, the pigments inside didn’t seem to want to stick like they were crawling to get away from him. He didn’t blame them.

He shook himself. Tattoo pigments didn’t evacuate. He knew he was being ridiculous. The truth was, he spent the whole time jerking away from the machine so the artist couldn’t get the tattoo down like he was supposed to. Still my fault.

He took a heavy breath and squeezed his eyes shut. He was making himself worse. He knew what he was doing, and yet he couldn’t stop, but he supposed that as long as he kept it to himself, it was okay. As long as he didn’t burden anyone else, he could think and do whatever he wanted. It was fine.

He finished toweling himself off and hung it back on the rack. He pulled on a pair of boxers and a pair of red plaid pants and a t-shirt and gave himself one last look now that the steam had cleared, erasing the face he had drawn. There were bags under his eyes and creases around his mouth that he didn’t remember being there before. He looked older and like someone else. One of his parents maybe. Not him. That person in the mirror didn’t look like him at all no matter how many times he poked and stretched his cheeks and lips. It was like he was wearing a rubber mask from a costume store and not his own skin, but he supposed that as long as his hair didn’t fall out too, it was something he could live with. That person wasn’t him after all. It couldn’t be.

He left and walked down the hall, calling out casually like nothing was on his mind as he wandered towards his room. “Bathroom’s free!”

He closed the door behind himself before he could hear Sejun answer and turned off his light. He replaced it with the lamp next to his bed so that he wouldn’t be submerged in total darkness in case there were any ghosts around and rolled himself onto the mattress, choosing to lay on top of the covers presumably for the rest of the night, too tired to climb under his blankets.

He thumbed at his phone idly, spending more time looking at the thumbnails on youtube than actually watching the videos, but a half an hour later he had a visitor that dared to steal his attention away from his very important task of doing nothing.

“Hey, come watch a show with me,” Sejun said, sticking his head in without bothering to knock. “I’m bored.”

Seungsik groaned and rolled over to bury his face in one of his pillows. “I’m sleeping.”

“No, you’re not,” he said, tugging on one of his feet. “Come on. Please, please, please, please, please, pl–.”

“Alright,” he lifted his head up with a pout. “Alright, alright, I’ll come watch something with you.”

Sejun let out a small celebratory cheer before leaving Seungsik to figure out how to make himself get up by himself. It was a difficult task, getting out of bed when one didn’t want to, but he eventually gathered his strength thanks to the nagging fear that if he didn’t move soon, Sejun would return and plop himself down on top of him with all of his weight. Although, maybe compression was what he needed then.

He regretfully left his room and made his way into the living room where Sejun was already on the couch. His hair was damp too, but unlike Seungsik, he didn’t look like he had been busy trying to become a raisin. He patted the space next to him.

Seungsik sat and slumped back into the cushion. He watched the black screen intently, waiting on Sejun to put something on.

“What do you want to watch?” Sejun asked.

“I don’t care.”

Sejun hummed. “World news?”

“That’s fine,” he said, not really paying attention.

“Oh god, it’s worse than I thought,” he sighed deeply. “Okay, you like Hyori’s right? Yoona or IU?”

“Yoona,” he said idly. “I like when they get snowed in.”

“That’s,” Sejun paused. “Specific.”

Seungsik nodded, still staring at the blank screen, and Sejun didn’t say anything else. He pulled up Hyori’s Homestay and switched it to the second season so Seungsik could watch the snow. Seungsik wasn’t sure why they weren’t watching one of Sejun’s shows, but for some reason he found himself having a hard time using his words to ask.

“I think I like the IU season,” Sejun mused.

“Then put that one on.”

“No you like this one,” he said. “I just think it’s funny when she naps. Because same.”

Seungsik laughed weakly. “Yeah, me too.”

Sejun paused for a moment, this time longer than the last. “Bro, do you need a nap?”

“What,” he laughed fully that time.

“It’s okay if you’re not doing well,” he said as he leaned against his shoulder. The warmth of another person was something Seungsik hadn’t felt in a long time. Not that he wanted Sejun to hug him, but maybe if… no, he couldn’t ask him for that. That would have been weird. But still the relief he felt just by having some kind of human contact that wasn’t a stranger bumping into him on the bus was enough to make him lightheaded. “I mean, we all get weird, right?”

“Yeah,” he said before he realized what he had agreed with. “No, wait, I’m fine, really! I’m doing great.”

“Lying to me is a waste of time,” he looked up at him close enough that if it had been anyone else, he might have become flustered.

“I’m not lying,” he insisted.

“I saw the frowny face.”

“What frowny face?”

“The one you left for me to see when I got out of the shower,” Sejun said. “Scared the shit out of me, you know. I thought a ghost did it!”

“Maybe a ghost did do it.”

“Don’t say that, you know how I feel,” he mumbled.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “There isn’t a ghost.”

“Thank you.”

“Probably.”

“Don’t do that,” he shifted closer, mildly afraid.

“Sorry,” he laughed. “I’m fine. It was just a thing I drew. It didn’t mean anything.”

Sejun hummed and nodded, resting his head back on his shoulder. After a moment, he continued. “We’re out of hot water.”

“Sorry,” he said quietly.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m only saying something because I’m worried about you.”

“You don’t need to worry about me.”

“You think I’ma just let my friend cry alone in the shower like he’s filming a music video and not say anything?!”

“I did not cry!” Seungsik almost shouted. “What kind of person do you take me for?”

“A cry baby,” he teased. 

“When have I ever cried,” he grumbled.

“That’s true. Maybe you should give it a try and see if it helps.”

“I don’t know how to make myself cry.”

“Think of something sad,” Sejun suggested.

“Like what?”

“Like me moving out.”

Seungsik laughed brightly. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I could have two bedrooms!”

“Hey!” He shouted. “I am a wonderful roommate! A delight! A joy to have!”

“Fine,” he conceded. “You’re a good roommate.”

“Thank you,” Sejun folded his arms across his chest. He shifted away, and Seungsik felt himself lean towards him, searching for the heat, but before he could find it, Sejun sat up and turned towards him startlingly fast. “Let me see you.”

His hands went to Seungsik’s face so fast that Seungsik didn’t have a chance to turn away. They were cold against his cheeks, but it was nice. Sejun’s brow furrowed as he scanned his face looking for something that Seungsik was sure wasn’t there because if he recalled correctly, the face he wore wasn’t his own anymore.

Sejun scowled. “It’s worse than I thought.”

“What?”

“We’re going to have to get you to the doctor immediately,” he said seriously.

“Why what’s wrong,” Seungsik sat up.

“You’ve got a bad case of sad bitch disease.”

Seungsik giggled. “Did you just call me a bad bitch?”

“No!” Sejun shouted, mildly distressed. “I said sad!”

“I’m pretty sure I heard bad somewhere in there,” he teased him.

“You need to get your ears checked, I said you’ve got a bad case of the sads.”

“Should I do that while I’m at the doctor for being such a bad bitch?”

Sejun groaned and dropped his head down on Seungsik’s shoulder. He punched him in the chest lightly, not enough to cause any real pain. “Just watch your show and leave me alone.”

“How are you gonna watch like that?”

“I’m not,” Sejun said, his voice muffled.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a coddling voice, patting his back. “I know you’re just trying to help, but I’m fine. Really.”

Sejun sat back and brushed himself off. “You’ve got a case of the gloomies, bro. What am I supposed to do? Slide a muffin under your door and pretend I don’t notice?”

“I don’t think a muffin would fit under my door.”

“I could make it fit.”

“Is that a threat,” Seungsik giggled. “You gonna shove a muffin under my door?”

“I will!” Sejun shouted. “Watch me!”

“You don’t have any muffins,” he pointed out.

“I will go make some!” Sejun cried out. He stood up and marched towards the kitchen.

“You can’t cook,” he shouted happily. He jumped up off the couch and followed him to continue his teasing. “I want a muffin, make me one!”

“You just said I can’t cook,” he scrunched his face up as he slung Seungsik’s puppy apron over his head. “Move aside, I’m baking.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” he laughed. “What if you burn the kitchen down? Then what will we do?”

“I’ll just put the fire out with your tears,” he grumbled. “Where’s the muffin mix?”

“I did not cry!” Seungsik shouted, punctuating every word. “And we don’t have any muffin mix.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I didn’t buy any and you can’t cook.”

Sejun paused. “Oh.”

He lifted the apron back up over his head and draped it over the kitchen chair.

Seungsik reached over and grabbed it and handed it back to him. “We could make them from scratch.”

Sejun looked at him in awe. “You can make muffins without muffin mix?”

“I mean we just gotta put the stuff that would be in the muffin mix in the bowl,” he said, making a shaking motion with his hands.

“Do we have the stuff that goes in muffin mix?”

Seungsik twisted his mouth and moved towards the cabinets, finally having a sense of purpose for the night. He was going to make muffins for Sejun so Sejun could shove them under his door. 

Wait.

Seungsik shook himself. They were going to make muffins together to eat like normal people. But there was only one problem.

He wasn’t sure they had what they needed to put something together.

“Pull up a recipe for me,” he said as he rifled through the cabinets.

Sejun walked to the couch and grabbed his phone and trotted back. “Do we have any chocolate?”

“No.”

“Strawberries?”

“Nuh uh.”

“Ch-cheese?” Sejun stuttered

“Cheese muffins?” 

“With… ham….?” 

Seungsik turned back at him and grimaced. “Bro, you sure?”

“It says so right here! Ham and cheese!”

“Let me see that,” Seungsik said, taking his phone from him. “Shit, you’re right, but like why?”

“I don’t think I want ham and cheese muffins,” Sejun frowned.

Seungsik twisted his mouth, looking at the recipe like it was going to change into something that wasn’t as suspicious as ham and cheese muffins. 

“We have honey?”

“Honey muffins?”

“I guess,” he shrugged.

Seungsik hummed and scratched his chin. “I guess honey muffins might work.”

Honey muffins did not work. Somehow all the honey they added to the batter sank to the bottom of the pans and melted into a big sticky mess which made their muffins unretrievable by normal methods. What was worse was that while they were baking and waiting by the oven like it was going to get up and walk off if they left the room, Seungsik missed his beloved snow episodes.

Unable to get their muffins out of the pans, they carried the pan into the living room and set it down on the floor on a potholder in front of the tv. They scooped their muffins out with spoons with glops of honey hanging off the ends that clung to the metal below in thin golden strings. With milk, the muffins almost tasted like muffins, but even if they weren’t fit to share with anyone else, he was happy that Sejun and he had made them. He felt better and not as tired as he was before even though it was close to midnight.

Sejun didn’t ask him about his mood again, content to snack on their creations while they watched Hyori’s in (mostly) silence, both agreeing that the guests in the first season were much more charming than the second, but Sejun did admit that the snowy episodes were his new favorites.

After he had enough, his back started to ache from sitting on the floor after a long week so he moved back up the couch, taking a seat on one of the far sides so he could slouch over onto one of the armrests. Sejun followed soon, but instead of sitting on the other side, he shamelessly stretched out along the width like a cat, dropping his head on Seungsik’s leg like it belonged there.”

“Excuse me,” he said down at him.

Sejun patted his stomach. “I’m too full. I must lie down.”

“You’re going to get indigestion.”

“No I’m not.”

Seungsik laughed and dropped his head over onto his propped arm. Sejun shifted comfortably, and Seungsik was sure he saw him close his eyes. He wanted to ask him if he was going to take a nap there, but Sejun had worked hard cheering him up. He deserved a good rest, and Seungsik appreciated the warmth of another person too much to say anything that would make him feel like he had to get up.

After a few episodes, he reached up to the back of the couch to pull off a blanket. He dropped it over Sejun who he was almost positive had fallen asleep by how long his breaths were. It was nice, he thought, to be a person who someone else could feel comfortable enough with that they could sleep next to him without needing to ask for permission first or worry he was going to draw weird things on their face while they slept.

He supposed that that meant that the person he was was a good person, and maybe he really was himself after all. All he needed to do was wipe away the fog from the mirror to see that the distortion that looked back at him wasn’t him at all but just a tired, blurred copy that made him feel like he couldn’t ask for help.

Sejun couldn’t fix things, but he could press his head against his leg and use up all their honey in a failed baking experiment, and he decided that that was a good enough distraction to say that he had helped him in his own way. If anything, in a small way, Sejun had filled the tiny crack in his heart with his own love and friendship that had formed when he found it the hardest to love himself. It would take time to put himself back together and a lot of hard work, but he was happy that he had a friend who cared and wanted to be there for him even though he didn’t know how.

He wasn’t an expert, but Hyori’s Homestay and bad muffins seemed like a good place to start.