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Jihoon had spent three months between projects which could only mean one thing: endless boredom. On the plus side, his last client had paid him a nice sum of money so that his roommate, Soonyoung, couldn’t complain about late bills - if he was the type to even notice, anyway.

Ever since Jihoon was little, he had dreamt of becoming a writer. He begged his parents to buy him notebooks and pens to scrawl down his stories and this didn’t cease as he grew older. If you were ever looking for Jihoon, you would most likely find him huddled by a window somewhere, hastily scribbling down his ideas before they left his brain. He wrote short stories, near-novels, poems and more in as many genres as he could muster. Jihoon was pretty good at it too. He made it to a good university and achieved the highest grades before graduating with a degree in creative writing.

The only issue Jihoon had was self esteem. He was terrified of anyone reading his work. When a school bully had found his poem and read it out loud to the people around them, Jihoon had cried and screamed for him to give it back whilst they laughed at his depressing metaphors. Maybe that was what had prolonged his fear of his beloved works becoming attached to his name. It worked out fine though because Jihoon found a job as a ghostwriter shortly after graduation. Soonyoung did too, and since the pair were close, they moved in together.

Now Soonyoung discovered Jihoon lying on the living room floor with his legs against the wall and his arms spread out like he was creating a strange snow angel. Indoors. His roommate chuckled when he saw him.

“Should I ask?”

“Best not,” Jihoon said. He followed it with a sigh. “How’s your work going?”

“It’s okay.”

“What is it?”

“Murder mystery.”

Jihoon groaned. “Ugh, I’d love to write a murder mystery. Why won’t anyone pay me to write them a murder mystery? Why won’t anyone pay me to write anything? It’s been three months!”

“They’re saving you for something good,” Soonyoung insisted as he walked into the kitchen, “you’re wasted on those YouTubers that nobody’s heard of.”

Jihoon sighed. He turned his head to watch his roommate pour himself a bowl of Weetabix. It was a little difficult when the kitchen counter looked down on him and the sofas stood in the way. He was mostly looking at cupboard doors.

The kitchen was tucked into the far left corner of the room from when you walked in the front door. The oak counters cornered into a sort of U shape, with a breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the living room. In the living room, there were two grey sofas with red cushions thrown over them. None of it was part of a matching set so it was all vaguely different shades that kind of bothered both of them, but neither wanted to splash out on replacing a perfectly good couch and/or cushion and so neither said anything. The coffee table was white but you could hardly see it through both boys’ scraps of paper and empty mugs scattered across it. Fairly sized windows overlooked the grey, dull street where nothing happened apart from innocent passersby and a million pigeons. Down a short hall there was a small bathroom and two fairly equal sized bedrooms. Overall, it was a nice enough place. Pretty bland, but they could do a lot worse, especially in London.

“Have you eaten?” Asked Soonyoung.

“Does gingerbread count?”

“It does not. Jihoon, you have a gluten intolerance.”

“It’s minor!” Jihoon argued as the lover of gingerbread.

Soonyoung rolled his eyes and poured him a bowl of cereal that wouldn’t anger his intestine. His roommate finally moved from his weird position and sat at the breakfast bar to eat after a small thank you. Soonyoung disappeared to his room momentarily to grab his laptop. Jihoon watched him type between bites with jealousy.

“Do you wanna know who I’m writing for?” The writer asked.

“You aren’t supposed to tell anyone,” Jihoon said.

“It’s Zoella.”

“Dude!”

Soonyoung kept typing, unbothered. “And you know that actor, Kim Mingyu? The one who played Becca’s boyfriend in Pitch Perfect?”

Jihoon frowned. “That wasn’t Kim Mingyu.”

“Yes, it was. Anyway, you know his book that came out last year? I wrote that.”

“You are going to get yourself into so much trouble,” Jihoon said in disbelief, “and it isn’t just because you think Kim Mingyu played Jesse in Pitch Perfect.”

“He did!”

Jihoon rolled his eyes, finding it best to ignore Soonyoung’s stupidity. That was what made him a decent ghostwriter - he had no idea who anyone was.

After breakfast, Soonyoung moved to the couch to work. His roommate returned to the floor, this time huddled in a ball, to flick through his phone. He screamed when it began to ring.

“Hello?”

“Jihoon! I have a project for you.”

It was his agent, Irene. He sat up abruptly.

“Holy shit, I’m listening. I’ve been so bored, you have no idea.”

“It’s only been three months! Anyway, I was waiting for something good for you. This one is good. It’s an autobiography for– hold on, are you near anyone?”

Jihoon got up and hurried to his room. “Not anymore.”

“Okay. It’s Choi Seungcheol.”

Jihoon’s jaw dropped. Choi Seungcheol? Global superstar Choi Seungcheol? top of Hollywood, Oscar nominated, lead role of every hit film in the last five years Choi Seungcheol?. The one who every girl swooned over and to be honest, Jihoon understood the appeal of? The world had practically watched the star grow up through screens. Even Jihoon always liked to flick the TV on and see him filling any role. It wasn’t often that a blockbuster film had somebody who looked like him.

“The Choi Seungcheol wants me to write his autobiography for him?”

“That he does,” Irene confirmed, “there’s a restaurant booked for the two of you on Wednesday evening. Il Piacere, 7pm.”

She went on to discuss the size of quote Jihoon should offer and all of the other boring things, but the writer just stood in his room in shock. The Choi Seungcheol was so lazy that he wanted little plain Jihoon to climb into his mind and write about his life? The guy wasn’t even that old. Overall, Jihoon was just confused.

“You’ll need to get close to him,” Irene said, “and meet him often. Not just to learn about his life and everything he wants to say, but you need to understand him, his mannerisms, his way of speech, and God knows what else. Your writing has to sound like it’s from his heart. This is too huge to fuck up.”

“I understand. God, thank you for this, Irene.”

“I hope it makes up for the three months of rest?”

“And all of the gingerbread I ate,” Jihoon added. “I really, really appreciate this, Irene. I won’t fuck it up.”

The call ended and Jihoon stared at his bedroom wall, his heart thudding with excitement, his thoughts swirling with fear.

“Soonyoung,” he called, “I’ve got something big.”

Chapter Text

“Can I please know who it is?”

Jihoon rolled his eyes as he munched through a packet of popcorn. His roommate hadn’t left him alone about it for the last few days. Sure, maybe it was his fault for telling him about the project, but he hadn’t expected this much passion.

“Look, I’d get into serious trouble if I told you,” sighed Jihoon.

“But–”

“You tell me about your clients, yeah, I noticed. But I don’t ignore rules!”

“You eat gluten!”

Jihoon snorted. “You would too if your gluten free gingerbread was £1 per biscuit.”

“I’ll allow that,” Soonyoung chuckled and hopped up onto the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, Jihoon threw himself on the couch. His popcorn almost went everywhere.

Dinner was tonight and Jihoon was terrified for it. He had looked up the restaurant only to discover that it was an incredibly fancy, expensive Italian restaurant. If his last project hadn’t left him with a rather comfortable sum then he would have sobbed at the meal prices. Jihoon had also had to buy himself the best suit he could find/afford. It had been hanging in his room ever since - he couldn’t risk a single crease.

Time kept on ticking as time so often did. Jihoon took a shower to viciously scrub himself down and emerged incredibly pink, although suspiciously smooth. Turns out he had needed a good exfoliation. He styled his hair into a neat side parting and dabbed on some light makeup. Jihoon smiled at himself in the mirror. He scrubbed up good. Soonyoung oohed as he walked outside.

“I feel underdressed,” Jihoon said, wearing a smart black suit.

Soonyoung looked over and scoffed. “You look fine. Where’s this restaurant?”

“Kensington.”

“Oh. I understand the concern.”

Jihoon couldn’t help but chuckle. He grabbed his black satchel that cost far too much just to hold his fresh notebook and a pen, said goodbye to his roommate and then left for a stupidly rich area of London. His flat was in Greenwich: a comfortable area of the city. He had grown up in the countryside and swore he would never live in a city, but then Jihoon quickly grew tired of commuting to the capital everyday and moved in with his best friend instead. It wasn’t too bad here.

One thing Jihoon did hate about London though was the tube. Driving around the city was often a nightmare and public transport was far easier, but it didn’t mean he didn’t wish he could drive everywhere. He didn’t have a license, but still. He despised the rush hour on the underground, packed like sardines between what felt like millions of people and counting his blessings on the rare occasions that he got a seat.

For once, as he stood between a dozen people and held onto the railings for dear life, Jihoon’s biggest concern wasn’t his hatred for the underground. It was the fact that he was on his way to meet a celebrity a million times bigger than anyone he had met before. Back when he first got the job three years ago, Jihoon had felt intimidated by a youtuber that one in fifty people had heard of. Now he was twenty minutes away from meeting the biggest actor in Hollywood and expected not to forget everything he was meant to say and to stay calm.

Jihoon already knew a few things about Choi Seungcheol from passing gossip, of course. He had started as a child actor in a sitcom that Jihoon’s parents liked - he watched it indirectly a few times growing up. Somewhere in his teens he had moved onto blockbuster films after a ten year success of the TV show, where the whole nation had watched him grow up. Now girls swooned over him and to be honest, Jihoon understood the appeal. Seungcheol had 190 million followers on Instagram and a similar figure on Twitter. Any film he was in required a scarily high budget whilst any show he guest starred in experienced skyrocketing ratings for the particular episode he was in. Cancel culture hadn’t even touched him yet so the sky was the limit for the star. And Jihoon was about to meet him.

It was almost an hour to Kensington from Greenwich, with two stops that Jihoon needed to switch at. He had never even been to Kensington before but he knew it was sickeningly rich. Whilst Greenwich was kind of nice looking in a “please appreciate our weird futuristic aesthetic” way, Kensington was the beautiful part of London that was probably what Americans meant when they said they dreamt of living in London. Jihoon felt incredibly intimidated as he walked through the streets full of tall brick buildings and black cabs. His outfit was easily the cheapest out of everyone he passed. Jihoon tugged on the bottom of his blazer with an insecure frown. Nausea was violently growing inside him.

Il Piacere, the Italian restaurant that Seungcheol had booked, was a fifteen minute walk from the tube stop. Jihoon was glad that he left earlier than he felt he should have - it had worked out well. The restaurant housed itself in a tall building built from dark red, and black trimmings lining its corners, coloured in paint that probably cost more than his monthly rent. Gold lettering reading Il Piacere swirled above the double glass doors. Jihoon took a deep breath and entered. The hostess looked him up and down.

“Do you have a reservation?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Um, yes. Under Ch-Choi Seungcheol?”

After spelling ‘Choi’ out to her, the hostess took him to the table for two. The actor was yet to arrive. Jihoon distracted his pounding heart by watching the world go by outside the dark tinted windows. Needless to say, the restaurant was incredibly fancy. Its theme was a bronze colour with golden hanging lights and velvet seats. It gave the impression of a filter that was too good for even Instagram. It was bursting with life as rich people chortled about their sons William and John and their daughters Beatrice and Penelope or whatever. Jihoon felt very out of place. He couldn’t wait to go home already.

“Are you Lee Jihoon?”

Jihoon looked over and saw the one and only Choi Seungcheol standing by the table. He stuttered out that that was right and before he could stand up to shake his hand, Seungcheol had sat down.

He was gorgeous on screen, and gorgeous in person too. Dark locks were slicked back into a neat side parting. His dark eyes held a dozen stars within them and he had dusted on some light brown eyeshadow. His red lips, which were kind of iconic, were plumper than ever. His navy suit put Jihoon to shame with the top few buttons of his white shirt undone. What let Seungcheol down though was the intimidating poker face he wore as he looked his writer up and down.

“You look cheap,” he commented bluntly. Jihoon turned red.

“I– uh…”

“So where do we start?”

“Um,” Jihoon pulled his notebook out as he thanked God he wasn’t someone to sweat a lot. It meant he fainted in extreme heat, though. He flicked to the first page, using his work to distract his nerves. “I usually start with a quote based on the word count. With an autobiography–”

“Would a hundred do it?” Seungcheol asked, unbothered. His eyes were unimpressed and his eyebrows were raised. “A hundred grand?”

“I– well, yes?”

Jihoon was a little stunned. The most he had ever earned before was about £50,000 and that was his last project. It had been a long novel, too. He got the impression though that Seungcheol was just throwing his money around to speed the dinner up and avoid lengthy negotiations. That or he was a little insane.

“Good. What next?”

Seungcheol spoke as though the dinner was an inconvenience. He had been there for a minute and already he seemed bored, hardly looking at Jihoon and instead staring around the busy room. This appointment was his request, his booking, and yet he acted as though he had been forced into it against his will.

“Um… well, we need to discuss the payments. It’s probably easier for both of us to pay it through installments throughout the project.”

“Monthly?”

“Sure.”

“How much per installment?”

Jihoon was usually okay at taking the initiative in this situation but with Seungcheol’s bored eyes on him, he felt like he was being an inconvenience.

“Whatever works for you.”

Seungcheol took a brief moment to think about it.

“Well, my publicist said this would probably take a year,” he calculated out loud, “how’s ten grand a month?”

“...you know that’ll end up around £120,000 that way?”

“Are you complaining?”

“No,” Jihoon said quickly, “I’m just checking that you knew.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“I don’t think you are.”

“Good,” Seungcheol said coldly and the writer wanted to cry.

A waitress came by with menus and a jug of ice water without either of them even asking for it. Jihoon thanked her shyly whilst Seungcheol said nothing at all, instead briefly scanning the menu. Jihoon read it too, desperately looking for ‘gluten free’ because he wasn’t prepared to pay for a meal that would just make him ill, even if it was relatively mild. Plus he had a bad history with any rich meats so even on the plain dishes he had to remain cautious - one time he had eaten at a five star restaurant as a teenager and vomited afterwards on the carpet. Alas there was nothing Jihoon-friendly so the boy decided to starve instead. Seungcheol glanced at him expectantly but the boy couldn’t tell what he wanted from him. His order or more information on the project?

Seungcheol called the waitress back over without any consultation, answering Jihoon’s question for him. He ordered whatever ravioli di aragosta was and Jihoon quietly passed.

“Can’t you afford it?” Seungcheol asked casually. The writer’s cheeks burned.

“I can’t have gluten and rich meats make me sick,” he mumbled.

“Hm.”

Their menus were taken out of the way and Jihoon nervously fiddled with his pen, clicking the lid on and off as a sort of coping mechanism.

“Stop that,” Seungcheol said, “it’s annoying. Do you have anything else about my book?”

Jihoon cleared his throat. He stared at the paper before him. “We need to arrange appointments so that I can get to know you and you can tell me any details you’d like in the book. So interviews, basically. Something like this does require extensive knowledge of course, I don’t happen to know much about your life–”

“Wikipedia could give you a headstart.”

Jihoon couldn’t tell whether or not he was joking so he chose to ignore it. “I also need to understand your tone of writing and speaking, sort of like a style, so that people will genuinely believe that it’s your work from your heart.”

“You can get that from interviews, can’t you?”

“No. Not at all. People have the conception that who you play yourself up to be in interviews may not be who you are behind the camera and this is why people read autobiographies. They want to know the real you. I can’t get that from online resources. I need to know you or else the reviews will be terrible and it could give the game away.”

The actor rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll speak to my agent and she’ll tell you what dates I’m free for whatever it is you want.”

“Seungcheol,” Jihoon said, trying to perfect the glare that his client held, “if you want your book to succeed then you need to take this seriously and dedicate a fair lot of time to it. You already know that this will take a year. That’s a year of hard work from both of us, not just me and my googling.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

Seungcheol’s gaze had once again left his writer. Instead he was watching a couple on the other side of the room as they chatted happily and flirted with rosy cheeks.

The meal was brought over surprisingly quickly and Jihoon felt more awkward than ever. The plate also had barely anything on - how was Seungcheol getting his money’s worth? He made a mental note to google why restaurants did that later.

“So…” Jihoon spoke up, fighting the urge to click his pen, “is there anything specific that you have in mind for the book at this point? Like titles or ways you want to start, anything like that?”

“You’re the one writing it, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes, but you might have–”

“It’s your book with my name on it,” Seungcheol looked up, “do whatever you want, I don’t care. Just make me look good.”

Jihoon tried to ignore his hostility. He hoped that once they got to the “research” stage then Seungcheol would take the talking lead so that all the writer had to do was take notes.

“Our agents can sort the contract out–”

“I know,” Seungcheol cut him off, “I know how these things work.”

“Just checking.”

“You don’t need to check.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

Seungcheol finished his meal before long, which wasn’t difficult considering the size of it. It could have hardly fed a toddler. Still, he waved over the waitress to clear the table before pulling Jihoon’s notebook towards him to check what he had written. He nodded then slid it back without a word.

“Anything else?” The actor asked.

Jihoon launched into the boring stuff: digital or physical (physical, “obviously”), the feedback process, and the target date for which Seungcheol had only had what his agent had given him: 28th April next year. It was late April currently so Jihoon agreed that it would work out fine. He was to send Seungcheol the file monthly so he could give feedback and approve/disapprove of anything. Jihoon got the feeling that the star would be a harsh critic.

“So we’re done?” Seungcheol asked/declared. He called over the waitress for the bill and the two left together.

“It was nice to meet you,” Jihoon said. He went to shake Seungcheol’s hand but he ignored it and instead waved down the next cab. His goodbye to Jihoon was nothing more than a simple nod.

The writer walked home glumly with his satchel clasped tightly in his hand. He wished the journey home was shorter, especially as he had to miss the first train in order to get a quieter one. The tube came every five minutes but Jihoon had that anxious feeling where his heart was punching his chest and it made each second as long as a lifetime.

Already the idea of seeing Seungcheol again made him want to vomit. He had assumed (or had he hoped?) that Seungcheol would be kind and ordinary, but he was full of himself and rude. The guy probably treated every employee like slaves to the point where he hired a ghostwriter because he couldn’t be bothered to write it, not because he didn’t trust his own skills.

It was a huge relief to arrive home. It was half nine and somehow Jihoon was exhausted both physically and mentally. Soonyoung was sitting on the couch typing away on his laptop. He grinned at Jihoon as he walked in.

“How was it?” He asked keenly.

“Eh,” Jihoon said, shrugging off his blazer.

“What were they like?”

“Eh,” Jihoon said again, “it really felt like he was looking down on me. Called me cheap. Asked if I was too poor to get any dinner when everything just contained gluten.”

“Ugh. Dick. Who was it?”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Jihoon laughed. Soonyoung chuckled with him, finished his sentence and closed his laptop.

“So did you eat?”

“Nope. I did eat a little before I left though, just in case. If I’m hungry tomorrow then I’ll just eat more.”

Soonyoung frowned but didn’t argue. It was easy to worry about Jihoon. He seemed to do a half assed job at looking after himself so Soonyoung always tried to check on him regularly without being annoying. Jihoon even had phases where he wouldn’t care about what he could and couldn’t eat and then lie in bed in pain - he was very clever, obviously.

Jihoon retreated to his room and changed into his pyjamas before tucking himself into bed. He suppressed the urge to google Seungcheol’s wikipedia out of pettiness and instead continued a show on Netflix. It was difficult to concentrate when the year ahead of him was weighing on his mind. At least he was getting paid a lot, he thought to himself, and that made Jihoon feel better.

Meeting Seungcheol again was a bridge to burn down later.

Chapter Text

Jihoon was given the name of a café for their next appointment. He had already googled it and any food he could eat was pretty boring plus he knew the sizes of these posh meals, so he had already decided that he would have lunch before he left for Kensington. Overall, he was sort of dreading it. What would he even wear?

“Soonyoung,” Jihoon piped up halfway through a bag of popcorn, “what’s the dress code for a café in Kensington?”

His roommate hummed. “Smart casual.”

Helpful.

Jihoon had even been shopping the day before to buy a better look. He ended up with one overpriced plaid blazer. The aim was to avoid a celebrity calling him cheap again but Jihoon knew it would most likely fail.

He stressed and worried, pairing several outfits together and trying on a million things. Everything looked either like a wannabe or just plain ugly. Somehow, Jihoon felt that he didn’t have the face to dress up nice. He always looked like a child going to a fancy restaurant with his mum. Jihoon sighed and sat on the edge of his bed for a little while. Finally he got up and into jeans, a plain tee and his blazer.

A knock on the door prevented him from staring endlessly into the mirror until he hated the way he looked. Jihoon jumped and turned towards the sound.

“Is lunch at one?” Soonyoung asked as he opened the door, “because it’s a quarter past twelve.”

Jihoon swore. He thanked him hastily, grabbed his satchel and ran out the door. He didn’t stop running until he made it to the train. The first one was packed like sardines but the writer squeezed in anyway. His heart was thudding. Hopefully Seungcheol would be understanding, right?

The boy made it to the café twenty five minutes past one and wanted to cry. He hurried to the table in the far corner where Seungcheol was already glaring at him.

“I don’t like to be kept waiting,” he said.

“I’m really sorry,” Jihoon replied, “I just lost track of time. It won’t happen again.”

“Shouldn’t you be more professional than ‘I lost track of time’?”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Seungcheol rolled his eyes. “Right.”

Jihoon opened his notebook and clicked his pen. He dated it at the top, a habit he had never dropped from school, and then looked expectantly at Seungcheol.

“I think it’s best to start with what you’d like in the book,” he said, quickly getting to it, “sections, key events…”

“Childhood, adolescence, adulthood.”

Jihoon blinked. “Great. What do you want me to start with?”

“What do you think?” Seungcheol asked, apparently full to the brim with sarcasm.

“Well, you don’t have to start with your birth,” the writer told him, trying his best to remain polite, “your introduction could be anything that’s important to you or something about how you’ve grown up in the spotlight or anything career related.”

“Whatever works,” Seungcheol said, taking a menu from the side of the table. Jihoon skipped doing the same.

“So you want it to be chronological?” He checked.

“It’s an autobiography, what else would it be?”

“Right.”

A waiter came over and asked if he could start them off with some drinks. Seungcheol asked for a water, Jihoon asked for a coke, and then since Seungcheol was ready he ordered lunch too. He raised his eyebrows when Jihoon skipped again.

“Do you not eat or something?” He asked insensitively.

“...I have a gluten intolerance.”

Unsurprisingly, Seungcheol didn’t seem to care. He just looked back at the notebook.

“Do you have any ideas on how to end it?” Jihoon tried, “like obviously we can’t just finish it with where you are now. We need some sort of outro maybe of what you’ve learned over the years, what you want to do next, a reflection–”

“Jihoon,” Seungcheol cut him off. “I don’t give a fuck what you do with this book. You’re the writer. I give you information, you write, that’s all we need. Do what you want. Do what works best. I don’t care. Just make it good.”

“…I just don’t want to write a book that you hate.”

“Well, that’s what the feedback’s for, is it not?”

Jihoon sighed. He supposed so.

“Should we move onto the information stuff then?”

“Is there nothing else?”

“Not if you don’t care.”

Before either could say anything else, the waiter arrived with Seungcheol’s lunch. Why were these posh places so fast? No wonder celebrities could be so impatient. Everything arrived in less than a second.

Jihoon stayed quiet for a little bit and fiddled with his pen until the actor gave him a look. He put his pen down and fiddled with his hands instead. Once again, he was looking forward to going home. The money made it worth it at least, he reminded himself, and he would get some good savings out of this project. A year of pain for a good treat.

“Do you want to start with really early life stuff?” He quietly piped up, “like where you were born, what it was like… your roots and all of that? Or would you rather start with your first life event like your first role, first call or–”

“Early life,” Seungcheol chose quickly. Jihoon nodded and noted it down. Finally, he thought, some progress.

“So literally when you were born?”

“Does that work?”

“Yeah.”

“Then sure.”

Seungcheol was a little distant, stabbing his salad with his fork. He wore a glum expression now like he had irritated himself as well as Jihoon. He kept looking towards the door, too.

Both of them jumped when somebody ran towards their table, staring at Seungcheol with wide eyes. Seungcheol quickly sat up and he smiled at the fan, who asked if he was who she thought he was in disbelief and then asked for a photo and an autograph. He obliged and he was friendly enough - quite nice, actually. For her picture, Seungcheol managed a genuine looking smile. He asked about her day too and what she did for work. Impressively two faced, Jihoon thought to himself.

“We need to do these privately next time,” Seungcheol said. Jihoon nodded, wondering why neither of them had realised that earlier.

They didn’t discuss anything else in case someone overheard, especially now that they had confirmation that someone here knew them. It turned out neither were the type for conversation so Seungcheol hurried with his food and paid the bill. The two barely said goodbye either. Jihoon started his long journey home with a sigh. What a waste of time, he thought to himself.

He hoped that Seungcheol truly had lived an interesting life so far. At twenty-five years old, he must have had extensive experiences to already warrant an autobiography. Jihoon had never paid much attention to him before. He was a very talented actor though and Jihoon liked some of the films he was in. His childhood TV show was alright too. Jihoon wasn’t much of a film or TV person really.

Soonyoung wasn’t writing for once when Jihoon made it home. His roommate was watching Monsters Inc instead. Jihoon shrugged off his blazer before settling down next to him.

“He was the same as the other day,” Jihoon said, “before you ask. Except this time he got recognised so that was fun.”

“You probably shouldn’t discuss a ghostwriting book in public.”

“Yep, we got that now. I probably would have noticed if he wasn’t so… god, I don’t know. He’s like casually cocky and rude.”

Soonyoung nodded. “Yeah, I get it. I’ve had a few clients like that. Is he paying you a lot at least?”

“It’s too much for me to want to tell you,” Jihoon said, “it feels braggy.”

“Well, my biggest was eighty grand. Now you.”

“No.”

“Ugh.”

Jihoon chuckled. He was fond of Soonyoung’s determination. He was never annoying about it either - it was always funny to Jihoon.

The pair met in university and grew close quite quickly. Their rooms were next to each other in their accommodation halls as first years and since they were on the same course, they originally bonded through studying. Jihoon followed Soonyoung around like a lost puppy and whenever he didn’t, Soonyoung followed Jihoon around like a lost puppy. Any party Jihoon went to was Soonyoung’s fault whilst Soonyoung ended up at a book club because of him. The pair made sure to find houses together for their second and third year and had been roommates ever since - six years, now. It made Jihoon feel old to think about it.

“Hey, Hoon?” Soonyoung piped up, “do you want to do something with me tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Jihoon nodded with a smile.

Chapter Text

After brainstorming/googling some things to do, the pair settled on going to see a film. Jihoon let Soonyoung choose what they saw. He chose whatever Calling My End was and when Jihoon googled it, he saw that the lead was, of all people, Choi Seungcheol. The cocky bastard would love this.

Soonyoung made breakfast and lunch as he so often did whenever he suspected that Jihoon wasn’t eating properly. Jihoon was always grateful but a little confused, unaware that Soonyoung paid so much attention to him. It was nice, though. If he noticed its frequency he would have shown his appreciation more, but Jihoon never really knew what was going on so that was that. He just went with whatever was happening and tried to smile through it.

“Ready to go?” Soonyoung asked. Jihoon nodded although he didn’t even have socks on yet. His roommate was used to it and waited patiently by the front door. The younger of the two joined him shortly and they headed out.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been out,” said Jihoon.

“Yeah, I’m sorry that I’ve been so busy.”

Jihoon shrugged. “It’s alright. Congratulations on your employment.”

“And congratulations on yours,” Soonyoung replied with a chuckle.

They decided to walk to the cinema. It was just a thirty minute walk and they both preferred to avoid the underground if they could. The underground was nearly always full of clammy, sweaty people doing an excellent impression of a tin of sardines and overall, it was very unlovable. The shortcuts through random neighbourhoods that had taken three years to memorise were much better.

“Didn’t you have a date the other night?” Jihoon piped up, “how did that go?”

Soonyoung shrugged. “It was alright. She was cute but I wasn’t really feeling it. I don’t think she was either.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Nah, it’s okay. What about you? How’s your love life?”

“Empty,” Jihoon responded, unbothered. He wasn’t too fussed. He hadn’t dated anyone in about two years and he was perfectly fine with that. His own company suited him well enough. Sure, it would be nice to have someone to hold, but Jihoon believed that love would find him when it found him.

“You should really get out more,” Soonyoung said, “it would be good for you.”

“I’m happy as I am.”

His friend hummed. “I don’t know. You don’t seem happy.”

“Don’t I? I’m fine.”

Jihoon easily understood how Soonyoung had come to that conclusion. He wasn’t much of a person. When he wasn’t writing, he was binging Netflix or eating gingerbread or staring at nothing whilst losing himself in his thoughts. Soonyoung was his only friend and his sole hobby was also his work. Jihoon used to play a few instruments but had given it up somewhere along the line and his favourite guitar now gathered dust in his closet. His self worth was determined by the success of the books he wrote. He had a sketchbook that he doodled in sometimes though, so there was that. And Jihoon liked walks, and he loved his bike, so he did get out. He said that last part to Soonyoung who fondly rolled his eyes.

“Cycling isn’t sociable,” he told him.

“That’s why it’s so good!” Jihoon exclaimed, “and now if I sit a certain way that tenses my leg up in the right way, I’m even toned.”

“I’m so proud of you,” his roommate said sarcastically with a playful nudge. Jihoon shoved back twice as hard. “But seriously, you need some other friends.”

“I don’t need any more. You do nicely.”

“Cute,” Soonyoung smiled, “but it’s not good to rely on one friend. Go to a class or something. Meet people.”

Jihoon shrugged, not really fussed. He wasn’t really a people person. He had never been one to have many friends - he didn’t make any in primary school and awkwardly hovered between friend groups throughout secondary because he didn’t quite fit in with anyone. It used to upset him, but he felt better now that he had Soonyoung. He was always there for him, he kept him company, he made him laugh, and that was all Jihoon had ever wanted.

It was nice to reach the cinema because it brought an end to Soonyoung’s protective lecture. Soonyoung kindly paid for both tickets for the film.

“That Seungcheol actor’s in this,” Soonyoung said as they found their seats, “the guy from Titanic.”

“The guy from what?”

“Titanic.”

“That was Leonardo DiCaprio– Soonyoung, what?”

“I distinctly remember it was Choi Seungcheol,” Soonyoung laughed, “I’m not that stupid.”

Jihoon shook his head. It was probably best for his sanity to leave it.

Calling My End was a film about some guy finding himself after his partner’s death. Seungcheol took the lead role as Daniel Harp, the depressed widower. It was heartwarming, emotional, touching, and all of that stuff. Seungcheol was pretty good in it and it took an incredible amount of self control for Jihoon to not turn to Soonyoung and say it’s funny that he’s a bit of an ass in real life. Instead he kept a straight face and reacted accordingly to the film’s events.

“Seungcheol’s quite hot, actually,” Soonyoung said after the film, walking out of the cinema. Jihoon chuckled.

“Is he on your celebrity crush list now?”

“Yep.”

Jihoon rolled his eyes with a smile. Soonyoung’s celebrity crush list was miles long by now. If you asked him who was on it, he just panicked because he couldn’t say all five hundred names and they weren’t ranked, so who would he say?

“Oh, speaking of celebrities,” Soonyoung said, “when’s your next meeting?”

“Tomorrow afternoon,” the boy sighed.

“Well, you sound thrilled.”

Jihoon rubbed his face. “It’s just that the last time I saw him he snapped at me and said he doesn’t care what I do with his book because I’m the writer. All I did was ask if he had anything in mind for it. Tomorrow I’ve got to ask this guy about his childhood and he’s probably going to tell me to read his wikipedia and make up the rest. Did I tell you that when we met he kind of expected me to have read his wikipedia?”

“He probably uses it as his ID,” Soonyoung joked. Jihoon just rolled his eyes.

“I bet he can’t even drive,” he said, “both times we left there was already a cab waiting for him. He probably pays a fuck ton for drivers to wait around to take him home.”

“Would he like to hire you one so you don’t have to spend an hour on the tube?”

“God, I wish.”

 

Jihoon wished for it even harder when he failed to get a seat on three trains in a row that he had twisted his ankle running down the stairs for. At least he wouldn’t be late for global superstar Choi Seungcheol this way. However, if his ankle still hurt later then Soonyoung was going to be on his neck for a week. It was giving him an annoying limp.

The address given was an apartment in Kensington which Jihoon could only assume was Seungcheol’s home. He was surprised that he was already trusted with that information but then again, he was also holding one of the biggest secrets of the actor’s career. Jihoon gave the address to a cab driver to give his ankle the chance to not die for a few minutes.

Seungcheol’s street immediately made Jihoon’s bank account feel empty. It was lined by white Georgian houses, each accented by tall white windows and beautifully fancy trimmings between each floor and up the walls. Each building was accessed through concrete stairs leading to presumably a lobby. Black fences made of iron lined “front gardens” that were, of course, just a petite portion of land dedicated to nothing but plants. The street was strangely empty for no parked cars lined the pavements.

Jihoon’s cab stopped in the middle of the street outside one labelled ‘Millenial Haus’ and the writer got out, handing over the money he owed. He climbed up the stairs and buzzed on the button for apartment 3A. It was 3A, wasn’t it?

“Yep?” Seungcheol’s voice ran through the small speaker surprisingly quickly. Jihoon had assumed that he took his sweet time with everything.

“It’s Jihoon, we have an appointment?”

The speaker buzzed and the door clicked, signalling that it was unlocked. Jihoon pushed it open whilst his heart threatened to break through his skin. He entered the apartment’s lobby which was quite spacious for absolutely no reason. There were two options to reach upstairs: a marble staircase or the elevator. Jihoon chose the elevator to aid his fresh baby limp. And also Seungcheol’s flat was on the third floor.

The doors opened up to the third floor hallway and the boy took a moment to take it all in. Never before had he felt so intimidated by a hallway. The walls were painted a plain shade of grey and lined by dark marble, and the trimming between which was simply gold. Not even the carpet could be simple: brown with a thick white stripe running down the middle. There were two apartments on this floor. The doors were dark wood and a panel of similar material sat above them, reaching up to the ceiling. Jihoon saw the wooden panel with “3A” written in a lit up gold in the middle of it and knocked on the door.

Seungcheol opened up quite quickly. At least if he was going to get annoyed at Jihoon’s lateness before, he was fast himself.

“Hi,” Jihoon said awkwardly. Seungcheol nodded at him instead of speaking and let him in.

They walked through the entryway and turned the corner past what Seungcheol said was the bathroom. Immediately, he was welcomed into the living room. Two grey sofas and an armchair formed a square around a dark oak coffee table. The wall behind it was painted a darker shade of grey and it was decorated with two circular mirrors. The wall opposite held a large flatscreen TV. Behind the living space, kitchen counters of the same colour scheme lined the wall. The fridge was one of those that was hidden behind a camouflaged door and there were two ovens at eye level. There was also a kitchen island, of course. A dark dining table filled the remaining space and glass doors led out to a balcony.

“This is fancy,” Jihoon said, eyeing the paintings that filled empty walls. There was a white door behind them and Jihoon asked where it went.

“That’s my room.”

“And what’s that door there?” Jihoon asked, turning around again and pointing at the door just a little way to the left of the TV and what he calculated was next to the bathroom.

“A guest room,” Seungcheol said and then added, “you’re very curious, aren’t you?”

“I’m a writer, I’m designed to ask questions.”

“Are you putting my guest bedroom in my book?”

Jihoon smiled. “That’s the name of it. Guest Bedroom.”

“That’s shit.”

“Yeah, it was a joke.”

“It was shit. Why are you walking funny today?”

“Fell down some stairs,” Jihoon said as he wandered closer to a painting. His ankle was already better than before at least. The limp had gone from pretty bad to almost gone and he had been hoping that Seungcheol wouldn’t notice.

“Oh. Well, sit down.”

Jihoon supposed that that was Seungcheol’s version of kindness and made his way to the sofa. He pulled his notebook from his satchel whilst Seungcheol silently made them drinks, except that once he came over he realised he hadn’t quite made drinks at all. He had set up mugs and little pots of coffee, tea, milk and sugar. As he went to bring the boiled kettle over too, Jihoon wondered why he did this little get up instead of just asking what drink he wanted. It saved either of them venturing back to the kitchen, he guessed. Jihoon was just impressed that Seungcheol didn’t have a butler for these things.

“Help yourself,” the guy said with an expressionless tone. They each started making themselves a drink. Seungcheol had a black coffee without any sugars and Jihoon made himself a tea with milk and two sugars - polar opposites, he noticed. He took a few sips then balanced his notebook on his lap.

“Where are we starting?” Jihoon asked, putting the lid on the back of his pen.

“At the start.”

Jihoon blinked. “Alright. Where were you born?”

“Watford, London.”

“Any siblings?”

“Yeah, Seungwoo. He’s two years older.”

Jihoon nodded as he noted it all down. “Are you close?”

“Nope,” Seungcheol said, sipping his coffee with a tongue in cheek.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jihoon told him but the star rolled his eyes.

“Don’t pity me.”

“Okay. Sorry.” He kept going. “Did you have a nice house?”

“A flat.”

Jihoon sighed. He wrote it down as a new bullet point then turned to his client. Seungcheol stared back with raised eyebrows.

“I need you to work with me,” said Jihoon, “and elaborate more when I ask you something. We have a year to get this book done and if you keep giving tiny answers to questions, then we won’t be done in time. I need you to take initiative, okay? Please?”

Instead of answering, Seungcheol stood up. He walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge to grab a bottle of brandy. He poured it into a small glass before taking a swig.

“I was born in Watford, London, to Korean immigrant parents. They got divorced when I was one. My first memory is in a park when I was playing with my brother and some woman was talking to my mum and pointing at us. She was a talent scout and she got me my first role in a commercial for an activity garden that we could never afford ourselves. This was in 1998 and I was two and a half. I did a million commercials after that and then my mum found me an audition for the family sitcom ‘Three & Us’ where I played the eldest of three children adopted by a young couple.”

Jihoon tried to catch up with his notes whilst Seungcheol chugged the rest of his brandy.

“It was my breakthrough role,” the actor continued, “and I haven’t stopped acting since. Is that what you wanted?”

“Thank you,” Jihoon said quietly, “it’s a start.”

Seungcheol poured himself another drink. He had apparently abandoned his coffee. Jihoon sipped his tea, feeling a little awkward.

“If you don’t care for this book, why did you ask for it?” He asked. Seungcheol leaned against the kitchen counter holding his fresh glass.

“I didn’t,” he admitted, “my publicist told me to do it. I didn’t want to, so I hired you to do it.”

“Does your publicist know?”

“Her idea.”

Jihoon sighed. He put the lid back on his pen.

“Well, we’ve signed contracts now,” he said.

“That we have. Look, it’s fine, I’ll do it. What else do you want from me today?”

Jihoon shook his head. He shut his notebook and put it away. Seungcheol watched with furrowed brows, a little confused. He swallowed the rest of his drink whilst Jihoon wrapped his hands around his mug of tea.

“We’ll continue another day,” he said, “now you’re drinking. I don’t want to risk you saying anything you don’t want me knowing because I’ll just be writing it all down. I’ll see what I can do with what I’ve got now and we can add to it later, okay?”

Seungcheol nodded. He stared at his glass then put it down, returning the brandy to the fridge. Jihoon meanwhile was trying to figure out if he could do anything with the simple paragraph of notes on his page.

“Are you anywhere near finding my tone yet? My style or whatever shit you spewed out the other day?”

“I think that’s going to take us a while.”

The writer finished his tea as swiftly as he could. Seungcheol was still staring at nothing. He tapped his finger against the glass with a frown. It was almost like he was doing an impression of Matilda and trying to practice his telekinetic skills.

“Is Friday still good for our next appointment?” Jihoon asked.

“It has to be.”

The writer nodded. He got up and grabbed his satchel.

“See you Friday,” he said, and saw himself out.

Chapter Text

Jihoon woke up tired, which felt like a scam. He got out of bed only to discover that his twisted ankle was still a little sore two days later, which felt like another scam. His third scam of the day was Soonyoung already up and eating breakfast even though it was 6:30am and being up and ready at 6:30am was Jihoon’s thing. He liked the morning peace.

“Morning, bedhead,” Soonyoung said through a mouthful of toast, “how’s your ankle?”

“Same as yesterday,” Jihoon replied. He tried to flatten his hair but he knew it was no use. Once the back had decided to flick up for the day, there was no returning.

“Hm. If it’s still sore in a few days then maybe you should see your doctor. Jihoon, you can’t eat that.”

Jihoon’s hand was in the box of cheerios. He looked Soonyoung in the eye as he shoved them in his mouth.

“I don’t care if my intestine stops working, I really like cheerios.”

Soonyoung rolled his eyes with a fond smile. Somehow Jihoon was endearing even when going into almost too much detail about his dodgy digestive system. The boy hopped onto the kitchen counter and sat cross legged to eat his dry cereal.

“I have to be at Kensington for three today,” Jihoon told his roommate, who just nodded.

“Are you tired of the commute yet?”

“So tired. I don’t get why it takes so long. Kensington’s literally just across the Thames.”

“The switches, I guess. I don’t know, London’s weird.”

Jihoon wasn’t a massive fan of London. He was only here because it was convenient for work and now for the next year, even Greenwich was going to be a nightmare. This was his fourth scam of the day and it wasn’t even 7am yet.

The day passed slowly and without event. Jihoon had already typed Wednesday’s notes into the start of a book but it needed a lot of cleaning up and added details, which was impossible to do at this point in time. All Jihoon had to skim through the hours was Netflix. Even Soonyoung had something to do today - he had left for another date. At least one of them was getting themselves out there.

Jihoon left early for Kensington and decided to walk to Seungcheol’s apartment to A) pass the time but also B) save money. Even a short cab ride cost a fortune and when Jihoon didn’t have a fixed income, he tried to save even the little pennies. Currently Jihoon was too afraid to open his bank account because he wasn’t sure if Seungcheol had transferred anything yet and £10,000 was a lot of money to be checking for. The only thing Jihoon ever spent money on was food and rent anyway so it didn’t matter.

It was nice to finally reach Seungcheol’s swanky apartment. He was silently let in after confirming his identity to the doorbell/speaker just like yesterday. This time, he looked properly around the lobby. Its floors were grey tiles and the walls were similar. Two white sofas were pushed against the walls on each side and large plants sat between them, making it perfectly identical. Why did a lobby need a sofa? Or so much decoration in general?

He made his way to the third floor. Seungcheol’s front door was already slightly open. Jihoon was starting to question the guy’s safety awareness; not only did he quickly trust Jihoon not to leak his address online, but he also just left the front door open as if he believed nobody would enter unless invited because everyone were, in fact, vampires.

“Hellooo,” Jihoon called somewhat cheerfully as he walked inside. He shut the door behind him.

Seungcheol didn’t reply, but Jihoon found him in the kitchen making drinks. Properly, this time. He handed one to Jihoon without a hello.

“Tea with two sugars. That’s what you made the other day, right?”

Jihoon blinked with surprise. He paid attention? He remembered?

“Yeah. Thanks.”

The two made themselves comfortable on the sofa. Jihoon sat rather formally with perfect posture whilst Seungcheol sat cross legged. He looked nice in black jeans and a tight white tee tucked into them, with a dark belt finishing the look. A blazer was thrown over the back of the sofa - probably the rest of the outfit. He looked nice as he was, though. Jihoon felt too formal in his own blazer and shrugged it off.

“How long have you lived here?” He asked, trying to get to know Seungcheol in a way that wasn’t through interviews.

“Four years.”

“Oh, nice. Do you like the neighbours?”

Seungcheol shrugged. “New one moved in last year. He’s alright.”

Jihoon had never even spoken to his neighbours unless one of them had taken in a parcel for the other. He was impressed by even Seungcheol’s short opinion.

“How’s your ankle?” Seungcheol asked, surprising the writer again. He blinked back then looked at his sore leg.

“Much better, thanks.”

The actor nodded and sipped on his coffee. His eyes were caught on the nearest painting. It was a close up of a highland cow with bright skies and green grass behind it. Jihoon followed Seungcheol’s gaze and stared at it too. It was a nice painting. Cows were cute.

“Do you like cows?” He asked awkwardly.

“Yeah? I have a painting of one, don’t I?”

“Yep,” Jihoon sighed, “sorry. Stupid question. Erm... I was terrified of cows as a kid. No proper reason except when I was about four months old, one jumped into the street in front of me and my mum and obviously I don’t remember this because I was four months old and asleep, but that story was enough to terrify me. I got over it though because I like doodling little cartoon cows and then the next time I saw a cow I was like ‘huh, cute’ and they don’t bother me anymore.”

Seungcheol slowly nodded. “I, uh, don’t have much experience with cows. Hey, where’s your satchel?”

“Left it at home. I figured that we need to know each other more to make you more comfortable with opening up, so. No notebook. And if that was a bad idea then I can take notes on my phone.”

Seungcheol nodded once again. “So we’re just… hanging out?”

“Yep.”

The star grunted and stood up. He headed over to the balcony where he opened both doors. It was a warm day so Jihoon wasn’t about to complain. Then Seungcheol pulled a small box from the kitchen counter, took out a cigarette, stood on the balcony and lit it. Jihoon watched with a look of disgust that made Seungcheol laugh.

“I take it you don’t smoke,” he said between amused puffs.

“I despise cigarettes, actually.”

“Ah,” Seungcheol flicked some ash off the side of the balcony, “one of those people.”

“I’m just not a fan of involuntarily secondhand smoking.”

“Oh, one of those people,” the actor grinned, clearly entertained. Jihoon scowled back. “It’s just a stress release. Relax, Hoon.”

“I relax with gingerbread or something. Have you tried eating an entire tub of ice cream in one sitting? It’s great for your mind.”

“Mm. Not for the body though.”

Jihoon rolled his eyes. “You’re damaging your lungs anyway.”

“No, I mean my agent would kill me if I gained weight.”

Seungcheol turned away from him to lean over the balcony, flicking ash over the side as he did so. He took a long, deep puff of his cigarette. All of a sudden, he looked to be lost in thought. Jihoon stood up and hovered near the balcony doors.

“I’m sorry if I upset you,” he said quietly. Seungcheol glanced over his shoulder.

“I’m not upset.”

“Okay. Good.”

Rather hesitantly, Jihoon stepped out onto the balcony. The view was prettier than he expected. He had assumed there would be more houses and there was in the distance, but behind the apartment suite was a large green park. It was difficult to see behind several trees but that was probably a good thing for privacy and all that. Jihoon took a seat on the dark iron chair in the corner. The balcony itself was quite plain - like Seungcheol had never gotten around to decorating it.

“I hate London,” Jihoon said as a fantastic attempt at conversation.

Seungcheol hummed. “Me too. You get a good buzz from it though. Countryside parties are a bit shit.”

“See, I don’t party.”

“Shame. Are you too shy or something? You seem shy.”

“Do I?” The writer was a little shocked by that comment but then again, he didn’t perceive himself well at all. He barely knew what he looked like. He had thought/hoped that he came off fine. “I mostly just don’t know the right people. Actually my roommate goes to parties sometimes. I stay home. Yeah, I’m just not a party person.”

“Do you even drink?”

Jihoon snorted at the idea of him drinking. “Nope. My tolerance of it is horrific. I go all red and I almost completely bypass tipsy and just get drunk on two drinks.”

“God, that sounds fun to witness,” Seungcheol said with a playful smile. He finished his cigarette and put it in the ashtray on the table beside Jihoon. The boy hadn’t actually noticed it before.

Now that he wasn’t smoking, Seungcheol perched himself in the other chair. They both avoided each other’s gaze and stared awkwardly at the view instead. Seungcheol was fiddling with his hands.

“I, uh… I’m actually having a few friends over this evening for a party. You can stay for it if you want. There’s only three of us if your issue with parties is people or something.”

Jihoon thought about it briefly. Soonyoung did say he needed to get out more plus how often did he get invited to a celebrity’s party? “Yeah, okay. Thanks.”

The party was at eight so they had four and a half hours to kill. A few minutes were spent with Seungcheol awkwardly offering Jihoon a cookie, the boy politely declining, and then Seungcheol getting through several cookies alone. Unfortunately it didn’t take Seungcheol four and a half hours to eat several cookies.

The star got up off the sofa after a little while and disappeared into his bedroom. He returned with two caps and two pairs of sunglasses before chucking one of each to Jihoon. He didn’t catch either. Seungcheol blinked at him, unimpressed, then put the sunglasses on and followed it with the cap.

“You don’t want to be seen by the paps,” he said, “come on.”

Jihoon followed him out the door even though he had no idea where they were going. Seungcheol led him down the road and around a few corners. His car was parked in one of many locked garages that almost formed their own street. He entered a code, the door opened, and Jihoon’s eyes widened as he stared at the black BMW. Whilst Seungcheol climbed in, Jihoon was hesitant to even open the door - didn’t want to get his filthy fingerprints all over it. Of course he sucked it up and got into the passenger’s seat. The car had blackout windows so Seungcheol had already taken off his “disguise”. Jihoon did the same.

“Take that blazer off,” he said.

“Hm?”

“It looks cheap. Take it off.”

Jihoon raised his eyebrows but he shrugged it off anyway. Seungcheol took it and threw it into the back seat.

“I was going to take you to an art gallery or something,” Seungcheol said, starting the car, “but maybe we need to take you shopping.”

Jihoon scoffed. “You know, you were nice for about five minutes.”

“I am being nice,” Seungcheol snapped, “look at it my way. My jeans alone cost £880 and–”

“–my £75 blazer will embarrass you?”

“Listen to me. Answer me this, okay? How much are your clothes worth? Be honest.”

Jihoon scowled as he did the maths. “About… £200? Including shoes and blazer.”

“See, my outfit cost at least £3000. Now imagine being pictured next to me. Imagine the tabloids figuring out the price difference and that your entire outfit cost one eighth of my jeans. You would be torn to shreds. Sure, they’d put it nicely and say actor Choi Seungcheol shows no class discrimination and has friends from all backgrounds, but wouldn’t you feel like shit?”

The more Jihoon realised he was right, the darker his scowl grew. He just wasn’t a fan at having his clothes insulted even if it was a funny way of looking out for him. He sat silently whilst Seungcheol dialled a number.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice rang through the car’s stereo.

“Hi Linda,” Seungcheol said nicely enough, “are you free?”

“I can squeeze you in if you’re quick. My next client’s at half four.”

It was half three now so Seungcheol agreed. Jihoon had no idea who Linda was and he was too afraid to ask. Instead he kept his eyes on the dashboard, feeling smaller by the second. In fact, Jihoon was beginning to feel a little sick. Fancy shopping, a mystery Linda and an upcoming party? Yikes.

Seungcheol found a place to park in a secure multi storey car park. Jihoon tagged along behind him as they walked across the streets in their caps and sunglasses. Had they not spoken in the car, Jihoon wouldn’t have been experiencing any crushing self consciousness upon his shoulders. Now he looked everywhere for hidden paps. Seungcheol noticed and chuckled.

“Calm down,” he said, “or you’ll just bring attention to us.”

“You’re not walking with a global superstar in cheap clothes,” Jihoon hissed. This only brought another smile to his face.

Seungcheol slipped into a store so quickly that Jihoon didn’t even catch the name of it. The star looked around for a moment and then a young blonde woman appeared with a bright smile. She wore denim jeans and a white t-shirt, which Jihoon felt was obviously very fashionable. Her name badge read ‘Linda’. Fucking Linda.

“Seungcheol!” She beamed, “what can I do for you?”

“Jihoon here needs a bit of fixing up.”

Linda finally acknowledged Jihoon’s existence then and looked the boy up and down as though she was scanning him. She wore a frown as she did so.

“Yes, he does a bit, doesn’t he? What are we after?”

Jihoon looked helplessly at Seungcheol.

“Smart casual,” he answered for him, “his t-shirts will be fine, they’re just t-shirts, but he’s going to need some better everything else.”

“I don’t think I can afford any of this,” Jihoon muttered. Seungcheol didn’t appear to hear him as he and Linda started scanning shelves. Linda asked for Jihoon’s measurements whilst they did so.

The boy turned over the price tags and wanted to cry. His face was bright red with embarrassment. He would’ve loved to know what was going through Seungcheol’s head when he decided to bring him here.

Jihoon got shoved into a changing room with multiple button ups, two blazers, two pairs of trousers and a pair of black slides that he had chosen himself. He was asked to model everything so that Seungcheol and Linda could make decisions. The boy kept his scowl as he pulled his jeans down and the fancy trousers up. Seungcheol yelled from behind the curtain to tuck every shirt in. Jihoon called back that he had already been planning on it.

The first look was a white button up with a grey swirl pattern across it. Linda oohed at it but Jihoon hated it so that was that. It didn’t look good with either blazer on top in his opinion, so he placed that shirt in the ‘no’ pile in his changing room. The next one he did like - it was navy with thick red stripes lining it vertically and white stripes in between those ones. Seungcheol approved of it too so Jihoon didn’t even bother with Linda’s opinion. The other shirt was plain black and the other trousers were too, but they had pinstripes going up them. In the end, Jihoon settled on the plain trousers, the striped button up and the black blazer over the navy one. Seungcheol dragged the boy with the items to the till before Jihoon could even add up the prices.

It was £3300. Jihoon took a deep breath but before he could take his wallet from his pocket, Seungcheol had whipped out a black mastercard.

“With the trousers,” he said as he inserted his card, “you can tuck any nice tee into those and you’ll look great. I’ll trust you to work the shoes out.”

“Seungcheol, you can’t spend that much–”

The payment was accepted and Seungcheol removed his card.

“It’s nothing.”

Jihoon walked back to the car in shock. He held his paper bag tightly in his hands and he kept peeking inside it. Was Seungcheol insane? He had to be, surely. Three thousand pounds…

Jihoon was so distracted that he walked into the car. Seungcheol had watched him approach it with his head down and now he cackled at the boy’s confused expression.

“Who put that there?” Jihoon asked.

“Just get in, you idiot,” the actor chuckled.

Jihoon got in as per instruction, gently placing his bag of things by his feet as if they were fragile. They were to him. If he spilt something on any of it he would probably cry for decades.

Once they were back at Seungcheol’s, Jihoon slipped into the marble bathroom to change for the party. He went for the striped button up look, swapping his converse for his black slides. He felt like a new person.

When Jihoon came out, Seungcheol was sitting with a cigarette on the balcony. He had kindly shut the doors this time so no smoke could get in. Meanwhile, Jihoon phoned Soonyoung.

“Hiya,” he greeted, “I’m at a party tonight now so I don’t know what time I’ll be back.”

“Holy shit! The celebrity’s? That’s so cool, Hoon! Don’t get too drunk. You know that the trains stop at midnight, right?”

“I do, thank you, Soonyoung. And I’m not drinking so don’t worry about me.”

“Alright. Have fun!”

Jihoon hung up just as Seungcheol walked in. The guy checked his watch.

“We have time for dinner,” he said, “do you want to go to that Italian restaurant again?”

“Sure, but I can’t have gluten.”

“...that stuff’s in pasta, right?” Seungcheol asked, then sighed when Jihoon nodded like he was the one being inconvenienced. “Google somewhere you can eat, then.”

“I don’t trust my restaurant judgement.”

Seungcheol sighed again. He leaned on the arm of the sofa. “Uh… try L’ultima Cena.”

Jihoon asked how to spell it and then googled the menu. He scanned through as quickly as he could to lessen Seungcheol’s annoyance. They had a few gluten free dishes so Jihoon announced his approval and the two returned to the car with their incredibly effective disguises. Jihoon walked with more confidence this time.

“Do I need to get some celebrity walk down too?” He asked jokingly as they got into the car.

“Just don’t dither about and you’ll look fine.”

It was difficult to dither about when Seungcheol walked so fast. He kept his back straight and head high so Jihoon followed his lead into L’ultima Cena.

“Table for two?” Seungcheol asked, taking off his cap and sunglasses. Jihoon did the same as the host took them to a table. Once sat down, Jihoon tried his hardest to maintain his posture. Seungcheol, of course, had already mastered the act.

A waitress came over very quickly for the pair to order drinks and hand out the menus. They each ordered a coke. Jihoon already knew what he was having but he looked at the menu anyway, trying to feel okay about the prices. He wasn’t going to let Seungcheol pay for him again.

“Do you take your dates here?” Jihoon asked half jokingly and half curiously. The actor hummed.

“I don’t really date. I just have a lot of one night stands that don’t go any further.”

“Really? Have you ever dated?”

“Well, yeah, but it never felt right so I stopped.”

“Any relationships?”

Seungcheol nodded. “I’ve had three girlfriends. Not all at once. I didn’t feel much with any of them and my schedule’s too busy to try properly to find someone. If someone comes along then that’s cool but I’m not actively searching, you know? I haven’t been for a while.”

Jihoon was the same, minus the busy schedule. He wasn’t fussed about dating at all.

“What about you?” the actor asked, taking the boy by surprise, “have you got anyone?”

“Nope. My last relationship was two years ago. He broke up with me and I was devastated for a few months and then I haven’t been fussed about dating since. Coincidentally. He didn’t break me or anything. I just realised my own company’s pretty good so I’m happy whether or not I find someone.”

“Yeah, I get you.”

Jihoon had been a little bit nervous with the whole “he” pronoun thing there, but Seungcheol didn’t bat an eyelid. He had definitely noticed - his eyebrows had raised slightly when Jihoon implied a boyfriend - so Jihoon overall was now feeling relieved. As rude as Seungcheol could be, at least he had decent morals.

Their drinks were soon brought over and they ordered their food. Jihoon went with the spaghetti bolognese that wouldn’t kill him and Seungcheol chose a dish that Jihoon couldn’t pronounce. He asked to keep the menus which confused both Jihoon and the waitress, but she let him anyway. Seungcheol stood the menus in the little wooden stand and placed it on the edge of the table beside Jihoon.

“It’ll hide your face a bit,” he explained, glancing to the side, “there’s paps.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Anxiety rushed to the boy’s chest but he tried to brush it off.

Seungcheol nodded. He spoke quieter now. “How many people know you’re a ghostwriter?”

“M-my parents and my roommate.”

“Will they put two and two together if photos get out?”

“Uh… maybe. They can keep secrets though. My roommate’s a ghostwriter as well.”

“Okay. Good. What does everyone else think your job is? Just a writer?”

Jihoon blinked. He fiddled with his hands. “Uh… I don’t have anyone else.”

“Oh,” Seungcheol said, “oh. Sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I only hang out with two people as well. Mingyu and Wonwoo. Do you know them?”

The writer did know them. Kim Mingyu and Jeon Wonwoo were other actors, and he remembered Soonyoung revealing that he wrote the novel Mingyu brought out last year. They, too, were very high profile. In fact the three were kind of iconic together. They were frequently seen with each other and Wonwoo and Mingyu even had dating rumours, which Jihoon didn’t quite believe now that he had met Seungcheol personally. He didn’t seem to be the type to allow being a third wheel.

Seungcheol started rambling about how he knew them now. They had met during the production of some film five years ago. Jihoon had seen the film once around when it came out but couldn’t really remember it now. He liked it, he knew that much. The trio had been through a lot together and they rarely went a day without speaking. Apparently Wonwoo gave pretty good life advice. He also wrote some pretty poems, according to Seungcheol, and the others constantly encouraged him to publish them. The man was too shy about his personal hobbies, it seemed.

Their food arrived and the two dug in. Jihoon wished he understood why posh restaurants put so little on the plates, but he ate without complaint. It tasted good, at least.

“Do you eat out a lot?” Jihoon asked, fiddling with his fork. He needed the conversation to keep going so that the presence of the press didn’t scare the shit out of him.

“Once a week, I’d say? I can’t always be bothered to cook, so.”

“You cook?”

Seungcheol frowned. “Yes, I cook. I’m not one of those bratty rich people who refuse to do anything for themselves.”

“I didn’t think you were–”

“Then why were you so surprised?”

Jihoon wriggled uncomfortably in his seat. His heart was eating him alive. “Okay, I’m sorry.”

“And I do my own washing, if you’re interested in that too,” Seungcheol continued defensively, stabbing his pasta with his fork, “I don’t hire maids or butlers or anything like that. I do things my way, okay?”

Jihoon nodded with the same expression of a deer in headlights. “Okay. I’m sorry. I-I wasn’t looking down on you or anything, I just… celebrities, y’know?”

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to live like them.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

Thankfully, Seungcheol dropped it. A glance to his left was all it took to wipe the frown from his face. The paps must’ve still been waiting around. Jihoon meanwhile concentrated on his breathing.

They asked for the bill and split it. It stung a little to pay so much for a meal but at the same time, Jihoon felt quite fancy. It was oddly nice being a wannabe rich man. However, he did feel some impending anxiety for the party that was just around the corner.

“Put your cap and sunglasses on now,” Seungcheol advised before they even stood up. He was still glancing at the paparazzi nearby. He put on his own disguise and guided Jihoon out of the restaurant with a brisk walk. The boy was trembling.

Cameras snapped as they ventured out onto the streets. Seungcheol swore under his breath and apologised. Silently, he was panicking over a lack of security. He didn’t do this often but usually it went okay. He had been hounded once before and he really hoped that poor Jihoon wasn’t about to experience it.

“Ready?” Seungcheol asked quietly. The writer looked at him with confusion, and then he ran. Jihoon spluttered with laughter as he followed. It took a whole five seconds before he had to stop, take off his slides, then catch up.

They ran around the corner and into the parking garage where Jihoon had a tough time following Seungcheol between cars. He was only little - it wasn’t easy to see over the large fancy vehicles that all looked the same. At least they seemed to have lost the paps. Finally they both made it to Seungcheol’s car and climbed in hurriedly.

“I think my foot might be bleeding,” Jihoon wheezed. The actor chuckled.

“Please don’t get blood in my car,” he said with a sheepish smile. Jihoon responded by slipping his shoes back on. God forbid he got blood in a car like this.

“Does that happen a lot?” Jihoon asked as Seungcheol started the car.

“I guess. I should’ve called my security, I’m really sorry, Hoon.”

“It’s fine.”

The actor didn’t say anything else but he wore a mildly stressed expression. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove. He had noticed the colour that drained from Jihoon’s face and the way that his breathing had grown more laboured.

They made it back to Millenial Haus without disaster or inconvenience, except for a bit of traffic. Jihoon was growing quite nervous. It was seven now - celebrity guests were due in an hour. He started fiddling with his hair and anxiously checking his reflection. Seungcheol meanwhile was getting drinks ready. He was pulling out bottles of various alcohols from his fridge and arranging shot glasses as well as a normal glass each. He didn’t notice Jihoon slipping out to the balcony.

Parties had always made Jihoon feel nervous, among other things. During university, whenever any of his flatmates had a party he would lock himself in his room with his laptop and headphones for a distraction. He despised people and he despised noise. An accurate description for Jihoon would probably be a gremlin - he loved hiding in his room with his blanket and the only light shining from his laptop. Social interactions had never been his specialty.

The sound of the door opening was accompanied by the sound of a lighter being flicked. Jihoon moved as far back as he could from the smoking Seungcheol who only gave him an amused look.

“What are you out here for?” He asked.

Jihoon shrugged. “Some air, I guess.”

“Alright. Well, Wonwoo said they’re leaving soon.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

The buzz of the doorbell made Jihoon’s stomach turn. What was he meant to do with himself? Sit? Stand? The result was awkwardly hovering between the kitchen and the living room whilst wondering why he was born. He found himself chewing on his knuckle as Seungcheol spoke into the speaker and opened the front door. His guests arrived shortly after.

Kim Mingyu and Jeon Wonwoo walked in, reeking of rich confidence. As soon as he saw them, Jihoon felt incredibly grateful for his new clothes. Mingyu wore a navy v-neck sweater with white stripes along the hem, tucked into black trousers with a smart belt whilst Wonwoo looked mildly more casual in black jeans, white tee and a mustard yellow cardigan. They spotted Jihoon quite quickly. As they made eye contact, Jihoon wanted to throw up.

“Who’s this little mouse?” Wonwoo asked, smiling at Jihoon kindly. It was a pleasant surprise to the boy who turned bright red. Seungcheol introduced him.

“That’s Jihoon.”

“Hi, Jihoon,” Wonwoo said, “you look terrified.”

Mingyu scoffed then turned to Seungcheol. “Where did you pick him up?”

“Oh, he’s my writer. He’s not a party person, bear with him.”

They each nodded and Jihoon took it that they knew about the ghostwriting thing. Seungcheol must trust them a lot, he thought to himself.

“Are you drinking?” Wonwoo asked. Jihoon shook his head.

“I’ll stay sober with you,” Seungcheol called from the dining table. Mingyu had placed his bag on top of it and was taking out a few things, including a packet of colourful tablets that widened Jihoon’s eyes.

“What are they?” He asked Wonwoo.

“Ecstasy tablets,” he told him, “they make you all giddy and happy and that kind of stuff.”

“Can I pass?”

“Of course you can.”

Jihoon could probably do with a mood booster at that current moment but he was too scared to try anything. If he couldn’t handle alcohol, then he wasn’t about to try and handle drugs.

Whilst Wonwoo joined Mingyu at the table, Seungcheol walked over to stand with Jihoon. The boy was focusing on the music and hoping that that would make him feel better. It didn’t. His stomach continued to turn whilst his heart beat twice the speed of the music.

“I probably should’ve warned you that sometimes Mingyu brings drugs,” Seungcheol said. Jihoon shrugged.

“Wouldn’t have made a difference.”

The star hummed. They both watched the other two down a pill each and pour themselves a shot.

“You can join them if you want,” Jihoon said, “it's fine.”

“Nah. You look too awkward to leave out.”

“Thanks?”

Seungcheol chuckled. They continued watching his friends like parents watching over their children. The two were already having a nice time, at least. They were pouring more shots.

“Would a shot make my nerves go away?” Jihoon asked.

“Probably.”

Slowly, Jihoon approached the table. He was desperate not to look bad in front of fancy people. He wanted to make a good impression and hovering with fear wasn’t going to do anything for him. The boy hadn’t even touched alcohol since he was about nineteen.

Mingyu looked him up and down with raised eyebrows once Jihoon had joined then. He stared back, trying to seem indifferent, but he was shaking.

“You don’t even look old enough to drink,” he said.

“I’m twenty four.”

“Hm.”

“Leave him be,” Wonwoo told him, and then Mingyu passed Jihoon a shot.

“Take this,” he ordered, “let’s see if you can handle it, hm?”

He kept his doubtful eyes on him as Jihoon threw his head back and downed the drink. The boy didn’t even know what it was - it was just something blue. It burned the back of his throat. Jihoon gagged and spluttered. Wonwoo rubbed his back, promising him that he would get used to it. Mingyu just rolled his eyes.

“Try harder. Here, take another.”

Jihoon did. It burned the same as before but this time he didn’t gag.

“Slightly less pathetic,” Mingyu commented.

“Leave him alone,” Wonwoo said, a little more crossly than before. Mingyu raised his eyebrows and Jihoon took it as a way out, but not before a glass had been pressed into his hand.

He returned to Seungcheol with the glass of whatever that Mingyu had given him now. He managed a slightly less nervous smile.

“Your cheeks are pink already,” Seungcheol noted.

“Yeah, I told you I don’t do good with alcohol.”

“So why are you drinking?”

“Because I don’t want to feel awkward.”

“Alright. Just, like, take it easy.”

Jihoon did not take it easy. He finished his drink quite quickly and Mingyu poured him another, encouraging him to take more shots too. For a while Wonwoo and Seungcheol exchanged looks but it wasn’t too long until Wonwoo was too drunk to notice and/or care. Seungcheol didn’t feel attached enough to say anything either. Jihoon continued chugging through gin and whiskey and shots of vodka until he could no longer process the music around him, everything spun, and every little thing was funny.

Jihoon stumbled over to Seungcheol who was leaning against the wall, looking effortlessly cool. He raised his eyebrows at the boy.

“Hey, party animal,” he greeted.

“You’re pretty,” Jihoon told him, his speech slurred.

“Thanks.”

“I mean it,” the writer insisted, “your lips are very… lippy. They remind me of cherries.”

Seungcheol blinked. “I think cherry is in the lipstick shade name, actually. I’ll check later or something.”

Jihoon hummed and leaned on the wall space beside him, nearly falling in the process.

“I watched one of your films the other day,” he revealed, “the end one. When you… call your end? That one. My roommate said you were hot. I’d tell you that I–” the boy hiccuped, “–I agree, but you’re cocky enough.”

“Oh, I’m cocky, huh? Have you met Mingyu?”

Jihoon took another sip of whiskey. “I am terrified of him.”

Seungcheol nodded. He understood. Mingyu used to scare him a little bit too. He was gorgeous and he knew it. He saw why millions of people globally loved him and thought that he was gorgeous, charming, wonderful. Wholeheartedly, Mingyu believed that he deserved the adoration and he kind of did (he was nice deep down) but there was no need for him to be so obviously self aware. The guy looked down on others and didn’t bother to hide it. He only acted humble when around fans.

“He grew up rich,” Seungcheol told Jihoon quietly, “do you know his parents? Eunkyung and Sangwook Kim?”

Korean actors. Jihoon nodded.

“Yep. They moved to L.A and popped Mingyu out, then dolled him up into an actor himself. I think he even had roles in films as a baby which is odd because I thought they only ever used twins. Anyway, they moved to London for his acting roles, hence the American twang in his accent. All he’s ever known is fame.”

“Bastard.”

Seungcheol chuckled. “See, at least I had humble beginnings.”

Jihoon hiccuped again before replying. “Do you even remember your humble beginnings, Mr Choi?”

Seungcheol either ignored him or didn’t hear him over the music blasting through his speakers. Jihoon rolled his eyes and looked back at Mingyu, who was giggling in Wonwoo’s arms.

“That’s pretty gay,” he said.

“Yeah. They are gay. Don’t tell the press.”

“That would be–” hiccup, “–that would be cool though. Iconic actors are gay together. I’d’ve liked to see that growing up. I’m gay. Did you know that I’m gay?”

“Uh,” Seungcheol scratched his neck, “you implied having an ex-boyfriend earlier so I kind of knew?”

Jihoon sighed. He looked at the two in each other’s arms, smiling and laughing with each other. He remembered when he got his first boyfriend and it took three months to work up the courage to hold his hand in public. It took even longer to kiss him in public and even longer than that to tell his parents about his relationship. Jihoon said all of this to Seungcheol in a slurred ramble.

“I think if I had them when I was a teenager,” he said quietly, hiccuping in between, “then it would’ve been easier to come to terms with myself.”

He tried to take another swig from his glass and swore when it was empty. Seungcheol watched him stumble to the table for a refill. He had no idea how much the boy had consumed now, and it was harder to judge when Jihoon was such a lightweight. Wonwoo and Mingyu were half as drunk as he was and they started before him - plus they were high.

Mingyu looked at Jihoon with a raised eyebrow (an apparent classic) as he approached. His bloodshot eyes were unnerving.

“You’re quite a lightweight,” he scoffed.

“Shut up,” Jihoon mumbled.

“You’re not enough of anyone to talk to me like that.”

The boy glared at Mingyu before grabbing a bottle of whiskey and filling his glass. Suddenly, he felt like he needed to impress him.

Jihoon downed two or three drinks plus another shot. That was about as much of Mingyu’s company that he could bear so he proceeded to nearly fall over on his way to Seungcheol. His vision was incredibly blurred. All he could see was colours as the world spun around him. Music pumped through his body as though it was his heartbeat and the bass was consuming his mind. As he approached Seungcheol, something that must’ve been the floor grew closer. Before it could hit him though, someone’s hands were holding onto his upper body and keeping him steady. It was Seungcheol. Seungcheol who was frowning at him. Was he irritated?

“You’ve had enough now,” he told him.

Jihoon looked up at him and his eyes grew glossier than before. “Are you mad at me?”

“What? Where did that come from? No. I’m just a bit worried–”

“I just want to have a nice time, please don’t be mad at me,” Jihoon begged.

“Maybe it’s best that you go home. You’re overwhelmed.”

“No,” the boy whined, tears almost falling, “Soonyoung’s going to be livid.”

Mingyu overheard then and waltzed over with a grin slapped across his face, almost like he was proud of himself. He held a bottle of gin in his hand and tilted it towards Jihoon’s glass. It probably had enough left in it to fill it up.

“Let him drink, Cheol,” he said, “he just wants to be like us. It’s cute, isn’t it?”

The taunting annoyed Jihoon but all he could do was look helplessly at him. Mingyu just laughed. Even Wonwoo smiled.

“You’re not used to our lifestyle, are you?” Mingyu asked, cocking his head, “is it nice? Here, let’s play one of our drinking games.”

“He’s had enough,” Seungcheol argued sternly.

So many emotions suddenly flowed through Jihoon at once - he wanted to be like them, he wanted to impress them, he wanted Mingyu to stop looking down on him so much. But then Seungcheol must be mad at him for getting too drunk, he had most likely ruined the guy’s plans since he was the reason Seungcheol stayed sober, Wonwoo pitied him, Mingyu hated him and Mingyu thought he was pathetic and Mingyu was terrifying but maybe Mingyu wanted him to have fun and Jihoon was actually annoying and ungrateful and...

Jihoon broke down crying.

The sobs shook his already unsteady body so much that the boy collapsed into a heap on the floor, his head bowed. Mingyu burst out into more laughter but Seungcheol knelt down with him.

“You need to get home,” he said gently.

Seungcheol dragged poor Jihoon up, asked the other two to be responsible, and grabbed his keys as well as earlier’s shopping bag. The boy was still crying so hard that he could hardly walk amongst the alcohol in his system. Seungcheol groaned, putting an arm around him for support.

“I’m sorry,” Jihoon sobbed, “I’m really sorry.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know,” and for some reason this only made the boy cry harder. He sank to the floor again as the elevator started going down. The double falling sensation scared the shit out of him.

“Why are we moving?” He asked, and it took everything in Seungcheol not to laugh.

“It’s just a lift, kiddo, it’s okay.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Seungcheol half dragged Jihoon out before they shut again - he was half on his feet and half kneeling. Seungcheol stood him up properly before venturing down the street to his garage. The cold air was a shock to Jihoon’s system that helped to calm him down. He was only sniffling by the time they had reached the car.

Once inside (and Seungcheol double checked that Jihoon had done up his seatbelt), the actor leaned over to open the glove compartment. He pulled out a water bottle and a plastic bag. They were from a convenience store trip that morning.

“Sip slowly on the water,” Seungcheol advised, “and if you’re gonna throw up then throw up in the bag. What’s your address?”

“I-it’s, um…” Jihoon’s head was so foggy that it took a moment to retrieve any information, “number six… Riverview Apartments, Greenwich.”

Seungcheol typed it into his GPS, confirmed the postcode and then started the forty minute journey. He offered for Jihoon to choose the music but the boy just shook his head. Seungcheol sighed and shuffled his Spotify ballad playlist.

“I don’t like Mingyu,” Jihoon mumbled.

“He’s nice deep down. Once you get close he would do anything for you.”

“He’s snobby.”

“I– yeah.”

“You bought me a shirt that cost, like, a thousand pounds and he still looked down on me. Oh god, do I look like a wannabe?”

Seungcheol assured him that he didn’t before the boy could start crying again. He hated it when people cried. He never knew what to say.

“I think it was more so how obviously nervous you were that gave it away,” he said.

“I’m sorry. I do that. By the way, your music sucks.”

“Thanks. You did have the option to choose.”

“Ugh.”

Jihoon shuffled in his seat. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he stared out of the window at the passing buildings. Seungcheol reminded him to sip on his water so he did so, but it took a moment to figure out how to twist the lid open. Seungcheol briefly considered pulling over to do it for him but the boy managed in the end.

“When’s the last time you got drunk?” He asked curiously.

“Uhhhhh,” Jihoon dragged out the sound for a bit too long, “when I was nineteen? Soonyoung took me to this party and I–” hiccup, “–had a few drinks. Am I pathetic?”

“No.”

“Mingyu said I was pathetic. I think. Well, he definitely thinks it. And he’s some mega celebrity so he’s always right, right? He knows pathetic people when he sees them.”

“You’re not pathetic,” Seungcheol sighed, “you’re just inexperienced. Look, if Mingyu bothered you so much then I can have a word with him–”

“No! He’ll hate me more for bitching about him. I bet he’s bitching about me.”

Tears fell again and Jihoon couldn’t be bothered to wipe them away. He really, really wanted Seungcheol and his fancy friends to like him but he couldn’t figure out why. Maybe he just wanted to fit in with this man that he had to get to know and hang out with a lot for the next year. He had spent his entire school life as an outcast and Jihoon didn’t have it in him to go through it again.

“I feel sick,” he mumbled.

“Plastic bag,” Seungcheol said quickly, “throw up in the plastic bag.”

Jihoon buried his face in the bag as if he was trying to suffocate. Unsurprisingly, it only took him a minute to stop because he couldn’t breathe.

It was a forty minute drive to Greenwich, a journey which wasn’t too bad, but forty minutes was a long time to manage a drunk passenger. It was difficult for Seungcheol to keep an eye on both Jihoon and the road. Luckily the boy seemed to be okay, aside from the sniffling and general unhappiness. He just kept bitching about Mingyu. Seungcheol couldn’t entirely blame him - he didn’t like the side of Mingyu that he saw today either. He was always cocky but Seungcheol had never seen him so… uncaring.

At some point, Jihoon grabbed Seungcheol’s phone. It was currently a red light so he shoved it in front of his face to unlock the face ID, then was so proud of this idea that he just giggled. Seungcheol was worried until he realised Jihoon was just changing the music. The boy put on Taylor Swift and then put his phone down again.

He had shuffled her entire discography but skipped the slow, depressing ones. Jihoon then sang along somewhat quietly, cheering himself up with his own distractions. He carried on like this until they arrived at his home.

“Is this it?” Seungcheol asked. He looked up at the beige brick building. Jihoon felt insecure. It looked fine, but compared to Kensington it was absolute shit.

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

Seungcheol got out first and opened Jihoon’s door for him. The boy climbed out still holding the water bottle, plastic bag and his shopping bag now filled with this morning’s original outfit. It felt like he had been away for days.

Jihoon had to sort through the fancy bag in his hand to find his keys, left in his blazer pocket. He fumbled with them for a good minute. It was difficult to remember how a key worked when the only thing in your head was a cloud full of tears. In the end, Seungcheol gave up and took them from him, unlocking the door for him. He guided Jihoon into the lift and the boy slapped all of the buttons. Seungcheol sighed.

“What floor do you actually live on?” He asked.

“Mm… uh… third?”

Seungcheol puffed his cheeks out and nodded. He waited until the elevator pinged open for a third time and then took Jihoon’s arm to drag him out. He found the door with a silver six written on it and unlocked it, pushing it open just a little bit.

“You’ll be okay?” He asked. Jihoon nodded firmly.

“Yep. Tell Mingyu he sucks.”

“Alright. Well… take it easy.”

Jihoon was left alone. He watched Seungcheol opt for the stairs and even though his back was turned, Jihoon gave him a little wave before entering his apartment.

Soonyoung must have had an early night because all of the lights were out. It was quiet and lonely. Why was he so alone? Did he have to be? Why did Seungcheol leave? Maybe it was because he was still mad at him for getting too drunk. Or maybe he agreed with Mingyu and thought he was pathetic.

Jihoon couldn’t see in the dark and on his way to his room, he tripped over something or other and landed on the floor with a rough thud. His ankle began to hurt again. It was apparently the evening’s second last straw and Jihoon broke down into sobs once again. He spent his last ounce of energy sitting up and leaning against the sofa, then let himself cry helplessly.

He just wanted to have a nice time. That was all Jihoon wanted. A desire to be someone had suddenly overwhelmed him. He was so simple and plain and tonight he had realised just how much he hated that. Now he couldn’t even walk through a dark room without hurting himself and all Jihoon could do was cry. He really was pathetic, wasn’t he?

Jihoon had never felt so alone. He longed for Soonyoung to wake up and comfort him and just be there for him. But Jihoon just cried and cried into the night, muffling his sobs with his hands.

Chapter Text

Jihoon woke up in bed and in a great deal of pain. His head was violently throbbing whilst a rough ache in his ankle decided to attack him too. He rolled over, the world spun, and all Jihoon could do was throw up.

“Shit,” he groaned.

His door was opened gently by Soonyoung.

“Did you–” he saw the mess on Jihoon’s bed and smiled pitifully, “ah, you did. Here, I’ll clean it up. Get into something comfier and lay on the sofa or something. How’s your head?”

“Killing me,” Jihoon mumbled. If he wasn’t so groggy he would have had it in him to thank him. He grabbed his pyjamas from under his pillow and got changed whilst Soonyoung collected clean sheets from the cupboard outside. Attempts at walking showed off a returned limp and the boy sighed. Once changed, Jihoon found it within himself to hang his clothes up.

“Where did the outfit come from?” Soonyoung asked, walking in.

“Uh… I looked cheap, so… shopping.”

“And how much did you spend on that?”

Jihoon grunted in response. His head hurt too much to recall yesterday’s details. Mingyu came to mind. Scoffing and laughing… The boy sighed as he left his room to grab a glass, fill it with water and swallow an aspirin. Then he took the fluffy blanket from the back of the sofa and settled down with it. Soonyoung reappeared a few minutes later. He sat on the other sofa with his laptop, promising to type quietly. Jihoon thanked him now.

“Did you hurt your ankle again last night?” Soonyoung asked, “you’re limping.”

Jihoon had no idea. Yesterday was incredibly foggy.

“Well, it hurts, so I must’ve done.”

“Hm. Well, be careful. I found you slumped against the sofa this morning by the way. That was weird.”

The boy tried his best to think how and why he ended up on the floor. How did his day go from start to finish? Shopping… dinner… paparazzi… meeting Wonwoo and Mingyu… anxiety and Mingyu encouraging him to drink…

Jihoon frowned as a few blurry memories of Mingyu came back to him. He could remember how he had looked down on him and how he was betting that Jihoon couldn’t handle a shot, and how he had tried to prove him wrong. He must’ve gone a little too far for his low standards.

“There were two other people at this party,” Jihoon mumbled, “and one was such a dick. Big star, too. He was so full of himself. He was why I drank so much. I thought we were past the bullying age, what is this? I’m too old for this shit.”

Soonyoung was frowning. “He forced you to drink?”

“He just thought it was funny,” the boy said, rubbing his eyes, “it’s not a big deal.”

“Didn’t anyone say something?”

“His partner did. He just ignored him. A-and the other one, uh… my client? That one? I remember him taking me home.”

“Well, that was lovely of him,” Soonyoung said sarcastically. Jihoon fiddled with his blanket.

“He’s not that bad actually. Relatively speaking. He bought me those clothes. He said my stuff looked cheap and the press would tear me to shreds if we got pictured so he spent like three grand–”

“I wouldn’t call that nice,” his roommate cut in, “it sounds like he doesn’t want to be seen with anyone less than him to me. Why did you go shopping anyway? Aren’t you meant to be interviewing?”

“Getting to know him first.”

Soonyoung hummed. “Well, I don’t think I like him.”

“I don’t know whether or not I like him. He seems sweet after Mingyu.”

Talking was making his head worse so Jihoon closed his eyes and said nothing else.

He must’ve fallen asleep because Soonyoung was cooking when he next opened his eyes. After checking the time, Jihoon gathered that he was making brunch. His head throbbed slightly less now so he slowly sat up. Soonyoung heard the ruffling and turned around to smile at him, asking how he was feeling. Jihoon mumbled something that kind of resembled “bit better, thanks”. His phone was dying so he somehow found it within him to collect his charger from his room.

As Jihoon unplugged it, he noticed a slip of paper on the floor, just a little way away from yesterday’s shopping bag as if it had fallen from it. A number was scrawled across it in black biro. Written equally as messily underneath was Seungcheol’s name. Jihoon found himself smiling. He sat down to steady his head whilst he entered it.

But what contact name should he use? ‘Seungcheol’ was too much of a risk because if Soonyoung saw a notification, then he would never be able to shut up about it. It would risk the whole anonymity. Jihoon racked his brain for something random, something that didn’t even reference him yet still reminded specifically Jihoon of him. The only thing that came to mind was Italian restaurants. Then for some reason, Jihoon thought of cherries. He typed in ‘cherry’ with the cherry emoji and saved it. Perfect.

Jihoon limped back out to the living room, which annoyed him. It just felt like another twist though so he tried his best to ignore the ache. Soonyoung, who was just putting plates of food on the table, looked over with concern.

“I’m fine,” Jihoon muttered before he could say anything.

“If you insist. Come and eat something. It’ll help your head.”

Jihoon was hoping to have a moment to text Seungcheol, but he also found that he was incredibly hungry so he sat down with a thank you. Soonyoung had made a full English with bacon, eggs, sausages and baked beans. The boy wasn’t too sure if he could manage it all but he would certainly try.

“Ch– Cherry left me his number,” Jihoon said as he dug in, trying out the new nickname.

“Cherry?”

“Yeah, I’m calling him Cherry so that I don’t accidentally say his name.”

Soonyoung chuckled. “Alright. I don’t think I’ve ever had a client’s number. I usually contact them through their agent.”

“Me too, but he gave it to me, so y’know.”

“Weird. Someone like him isn't going to be lonely, are they?”

Jihoon shrugged. “He did throw a party for only two other people. I think it’s just that I suggested getting to know each other before interviewing. He seemed really funny about me just questioning him right away.”

“Didn’t this Cherry realise what he was hirking you for?”

“I’m not convinced that this book was his idea,” Jihoon admitted, “he already snapped at me that he doesn’t care what I do with it and that it’s just my book with his name on.”

“There’s pros and cons to that kind of attitude,” Soonyoung told him, “you know that novel I wrote for Kim Mingyu? He was really… he barely spoke to me about it, to be honest. He just said he wanted something mystery related, didn’t really elaborate, then gave me so much criticism for everything I sent him as if I was supposed to read his mind. I liked the freedom I got otherwise.”

“I remember you complaining at the time,” Jihoon said with a small smile. Suddenly he was itching to tell him that Mingyu was the one at the party, he was the one who pressured him and he was the one who made him feel so small. Instead he kept his mouth shut and focused on eating.

Jihoon didn’t quite manage his full plate before he felt too sick to eat anything else. Soonyoung understood and told him that he had done well anyway, so whilst he took their plates into the kitchen Jihoon lay back down on the sofa with his blanket. He pulled up Seungcheol’s number and overthought the message.

“How professional do I need to be when texting Sssscherry?”

“Did you have a stroke?”

“Yes.”

“Does his name start with S by any chance?” Soonyoung asked with a smile and widened eyes.

“His name’s Cherry! What do I text him? You know how I type in all lowercase - should I not do that?”

His roommate shrugged. “I think you can be casual. You’ve been drunk with him.”

Jihoon hummed. That was true. He settled on a simple ‘hi, its jihoon’ and then put his phone down. Soonyoung sat on the other sofa before putting on a Marvel film, aiming to distract Jihoon from both the throbbing in his head and the stress of texting the Choi Seungcheol. Usually he loved Marvel films, but today he couldn’t focus. In the end he pulled his blanket up to his chin, rolled over to face the back of the sofa and closed his eyes.

“Should I turn the TV off?” Soonyoung asked gently.

“I’m listening to it.”

“...okay.”

 

Throughout the day, Jihoon’s headache gradually subsided and within time he could stand without feeling sick or dizzy. He ate a spot of lunch and even managed dinner too. Seungcheol was yet to reply to his message though. It was fine, he told himself, but at the same time it made him worry. Had he said something weird last night that was making Seungcheol avoid him? No, it was fine, the guy was probably just busy. Seriously, had Jihoon said something weird?

A dab of pain brought Jihoon out of his panicked trance. He looked at the knuckle of his thumb only to find that it was now bleeding - he hadn’t even realised he was chewing on it. Jihoon sighed and sucked the blood away.

Why did he care about Seungcheol so much anyway? The guy was cocky and full of himself, and he looked down on Jihoon by calling him poor. Sure, the fashion had a decent excuse, but Jihoon remembered quite clearly when he mocked him in the restaurant by asking if he couldn’t afford anything on the menu.

Yet somehow Seungcheol was still kind. He paid for Jihoon’s overpriced clothes and he ensured that he made it home safely last night. Jihoon had a vague memory of Seungcheol being the one to suggest that he had had enough last night and thus he should go home, and if he was an entirely cruel person then he would have left the boy to it.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with Seungcheol himself and it had more to do with Jihoon’s yearning for validation. Maybe he just needed Seungcheol to like him. But why? Seungcheol lived a life so different to Jihoon’s, one where he was constantly praised or insulted everyday and where he had to choose very carefully who to associate with. And after years of being an outcast Jihoon almost believed that if he could be accepted by someone like Seungcheol, then nobody else could touch him.

This realisation hit him like a punch in the gut and he flopped against the sofa. Soonyoung asked if he was alright, glancing over with raised eyebrows, and Jihoon responded with a dramatic sigh.

“You’re worse than my mum,” he told him. Soonyoung just laughed.

Jihoon’s phone finally buzzed as he was tucking himself into bed. Thankfully it was Seungcheol and the message simply read ‘Hi. Sorry, busy day’.

And Jihoon, being the petty bastard that he was, turned his phone off and went to sleep, leaving the message for the morning.

Chapter Text

Jihoon had spent three months waiting for a project and now that he had one, he still had nothing to do. He texted Seungcheol for his email address and sent across the bit he had done so far, and he had received incredible feedback including two sentences only : “Yeah that’s good. Thanks”. They didn’t say much to each other despite exchanging numbers. After leaving Seungcheol’s text overnight to get back at him for taking all day to reply to Jihoon’s first message, the boy had only sleepily put back “thats ok dont woryr”, typo and all, and he wanted to die. Anyway, the point was that Jihoon was bored.

In the end, Jihoon grabbed his plain black bicycle that leaned against the wall by the front door. Cycling had always been a stress relief for him. His dad used to take him on long bike rides at the weekends and the habit just stuck. It was more difficult now that he lived in London, but Jihoon knew the quiet roads and safe cycle lanes after multiple trial and errors throughout the last few years. Mostly, Jihoon used the hobby to clear his mind. His thoughts and worries were brushed away by the wind and by the end of it, he always felt more peaceful.

Jihoon stopped for a rest at Greenwich park. The place had always confused him. It was a large stretch of greenery with a white observatory at one end, and then there were skyscrapers in the background. He felt that the contrast was questionable at best. Still, it was somewhat pretty and the sun was shining down in the early May warmth so Jihoon gently placed his bike on the grass and sat down. He watched the clouds for just a moment until he noticed the muffled buzzing coming from his backpack. He unzipped it and took out his phone. Seungcheol was calling.

“Finally,” he said down the line, “I’ve called three times, what could you possibly be doing?”

“Sorry, I was cycling–”

“Anyway, I’m bored. Meet me at my place?” It sounded more like an order than a request.

“...sure, but I’ll be an hour.”

“See you then.”

And Seungcheol hung up. Jihoon blinked and hopped back on his bike, a little confused but a little pleased that Seungcheol had chosen him to hang out with. He probably just didn’t have anyone else, but still. Actually, a big celebrity must have someone else. Why Jihoon?

Jihoon cycled home as fast as he could and changed into something that Seungcheol would probably be happier with - his new, expensive trousers and a white tee tucked into them. He matched the fit with his comfortable slides. Jihoon wasn’t sure that they were worth as much as they cost, but he wasn’t the one who paid for them so he wasn’t about to complain.

He called out to Soonyoung in his room that he was off to Kensington and then left, texting Seungcheol that he would probably be about 40-50 minutes now. The guy didn’t reply - he just left him on read. Jihoon tried not to let it bother him as he started his long journey on the train.

Jihoon arrived in the promised time frame. He paid for a cab this time to ensure it, but also because his ankle was still sore, which annoyed him as always. He went up in the lift and stepped out. Finally Jihoon was beginning to feel a little braver in this building as he adjusted to its fancy decor.

The boy wasn’t prepared to encounter another human though as somebody left apartment 3B. He had somewhat long hair that was bleach blonde, reaching his chin at the front and nearing his shoulders at the back. A t-shirt and jeans hung down his slim figure, thankfully a very normal outfit that didn’t make Jihoon feel like shit. In fact, he almost felt overdressed. The man’s round dark eyes blinked at little Jihoon. At that moment the boy realised who he was and his stomach filled with fear.

“Is this apartment block just full of celebrities?” He asked, exasperated. The words just slipped out of his mouth and Jihoon suddenly felt as though he might throw up as his heart raced. Pop star/actor Yoon Jeonghan just laughed.

“This floor is, yeah,” he said cheerfully, “are you visiting Seungcheol? How do you two know each other?”

“Uh, we’re friends.”

“Cute. Where’d you meet?”

Jihoon wanted to die. Luckily Seungcheol opened his door then and quickly spotted his neighbour. The relief Jihoon felt was intense as he had no idea how to respond to Jeonghan’s question.

“Hey, Cheol,” Jeonghan greeted, “I think I’ve scared your friend?”

“That might just be his face,” Seungcheol told him. Jihoon tried his best to look normal. He was beckoned inside and the boy limped across and into Seungcheol’s flat. The actor frowned as he shut the door.

“You’re limping again,” he said, “what’ve you done this time?”

“I was hoping you could tell me that, actually.”

Seungcheol just looked confused. “You were fine when I left you. Bit emotional, but fine.”

“Well, I woke up hungover and with a sore ankle. Wait, I was emotional?”

Seungcheol nodded. “You cried a lot. I think Mingyu upset you.”

“I remember Mingyu upsetting me but I didn’t know I cried.”

“A lot.”

The boy went red and apologised. Seungcheol shrugged, unbothered. Jihoon’s tears didn’t affect him.

Seungcheol told the boy to rest his ankle whilst he made drinks. He had Fanta in the fridge so they each had a glass. A cold drink was necessary in the warmth of spring. Jihoon especially hadn’t quite recovered from the heat of crowds on the underground, so the cool liquid was the best thing he could ask for at that moment.

“Did I do anything embarrassing when I was drunk?” Jihoon asked between sips. Seungcheol hummed.

“Not really. You just complained about Mingyu, cried, then said my lips were like cherries which was good because the lipstick shade’s called Cherry Berry.”

Jihoon turned red whilst he realised that must’ve been where he got Cherry from for his contact name. It all made sense now.

“Oh, but you did go on a bit about how much you wanted to see gay people in films growing up.”

Jihoon groaned. “Sorry about that.”

“No, it’s fine. I get it.”

Jihoon looked at him then and Seungcheol had turned a little paler. He wriggled uncomfortably in his seat.

“Well,” he continued, “I don’t– you know, I can– I…”

“Cheol–”

“I’m not gay,” he snapped defensively.

“I didn’t say you were, I was going to say it’s okay.”

“Well, I know that it’s okay to be gay, I just–”

“No, I mean what you said was okay. I get what you were saying.”

“Oh. Right. Well, good.”

To escape the uncomfortable vibe between them, Seungcheol got up and headed to the balcony, lighting a cigarette as soon as he was outside. He leaned over the fence whilst Jihoon fidgeted awkwardly. In the end, he went to sit with him like he usually did.

“I liked the Taylor Swift you played in the car,” Seungcheol said quietly.

“I played Taylor Swift?”

“Yeah. I kept it on on the way home.”

Jihoon couldn’t help but smile. “Any favourites?”

“Uh… the one about a thousand cuts?”

The boy’s smile turned into a grin. He didn’t expect Seungcheol to enjoy anything on the pink, summery, lovey dovey album let alone that specific song, but it was a pleasant surprise.

“I like that one too.”

“Jeonghan could probably get you a signed album from her or something,” Seungcheol said.

“That’s pretty cool.”

“Do you want me to ask?”

“No, no, it’s okay. But thank you.”

Seungcheol finished his cigarette and flicked it in the ashtray. Then he walked inside, disappearing into his room, and returned with caps and sunglasses for the pair.

“Where are we going?” Jihoon asked as they put them on.

“Art gallery.”

“Alright.”

Jihoon followed him out the flat, down the road and into the car. Seungcheol put Taylor Swift on aux, which made the boy smile. He started the car and got going.

“What music do you usually listen to?” Jihoon asked.

“Uh… the radio. I’ve always been too busy to listen to full albums or anything. Oh, that reminds me - when’s our next official appointment?”

“Thursday.”

Seungcheol just frowned. He developed a sort of light glare as he stared at the road. Jihoon decided to test his luck. He was feeling brave.

“If you don’t care about this book, why did you hire me?”

“Hey,” Seungcheol said sternly, “why I do what I do is none of your business. You don’t understand any of it, okay? Anyway, I do care about the book. I just don’t care what you write or how you write it or whatever.”

Jihoon took deep breaths. He needed to clarify some lines. “So I can say you have a nicotine addiction and get high with your friends?”

“Absolutely not. I have a reputation here. I just don’t like how personal you try to make it.”

“Okay,” Jihoon said, glad that they were getting somewhere, “so you want it career based?”

“Yes.”

“Cool. But we do need a few personal anecdotes so people know you’re human and that.”

“We’ll worry about that when we get there.”

“Okay.”

Seungcheol looked uncomfortable now and Jihoon felt kind of bad, but it was a conversation that they had to have and he was relieved to now know how to avoid Seungcheol snapping at him, despite the fear within his chest. He couldn’t help but wonder why Seungcheol preferred to be so private though for an autobiography. Maybe it was simply because growing up on screen didn’t allow for much privacy and he liked to control what he could. Yeah, that made sense.

“I don’t know anything about you,” Seungcheol said suddenly, “what’s your life like?”

Jihoon blinked. “Uh… boring.”

“Any siblings?”

“No.”

“Close with your parents?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s something.”

Jihoon smiled and nodded. He had always considered himself lucky for that. Whilst his life was bleak, he got on well with family and he took it as a blessing. He was very grateful for his parents.

“Give me a life story or something,” Seungcheol requested. He must’ve been bored.

“Uh, okay… I was born in Brighton–”

“The gay capital, right?”

Jihoon chuckled. “Yep, Soonyoung jokes that if I was born elsewhere I would have been straight. Anyway… I don’t know, there isn’t much to say. I struggled in nursery because I was too shy and my parents raised me bilingual, so we spoke Korean at home and English outside except I never spoke outside so I was kind of left understanding English when spoken but then tried to answer in Korean. So that was confusing for everyone involved and I only made one friend at nursery. We drifted away at primary so that was great because everyone already had their friendship groups and I had just lost mine. Also, I went to this school on Brighton’s outskirts so it was this cute little village school, but then that meant I looked different to everyone else and they picked on me.”

“Did secondary go any better?”

“Nope. That’s kind of why I started writing, actually. I had nobody to hang out with so I needed something to do.”

“When did you meet Soonyoung then? Uni?”

Jihoon nodded. “Yeah, we lived in the same flat during first year.”

Seungcheol didn’t reply, focusing on the road, but his mouth was slightly agape as though he was considering saying something. Finally, he did.

“I had no friends as a kid either,” he admitted, “except costars who I do love now, but… casual friends would’ve been nice. Then I was completely homeschooled. Mum did try to take me to a friend’s party once when I was about six but I was already so different to the other kids that we just didn’t get on.”

“I guess you can’t comprehend fame when you’re six.”

“Exactly,” Seungcheol confirmed, “I remember I kept asking them what shows and films they were in and they were just confused and then eventually thought I was a show off, but I genuinely thought everybody was like me and I was trying to be friendly.”

“That’s quite sad, actually. Sorry you didn’t get a childhood.”

“Eh, it’s fine. It got me money to support a family with and that my kids can inherit so that’s cool.”

Jihoon couldn’t help but smile. He always found it cute when someone discussed a future family like that, like it was their dream. It was even sweeter when it was somebody who was totally not normal yet aimed for normal goals like everybody else did.

“You want kids?” Jihoon asked.

“Yeah. I’ve always wanted them by age thirty really but I’m twenty-six in August and I’ve never met a girl I actually like.”

“Well, that’s okay. There’s time.”

The open rambling surprised Jihoon greatly, but he was enjoying it so he wasn’t about to tell him to stop.

“I mean, I wouldn’t want to marry someone unless we had been together for at least four years and I don’t want kids until I’m married just because. So there isn’t time, really.”

“Very few people stick to their plan, it’s alright.”

“Yeah. Sorry, I don’t know why I’m rambling. Forget I said all that.”

“Alright,” Jihoon said with a soft chuckle.

A comfortable silence fell between them whilst Taylor Swift sang about being fearless in the background. Jihoon started comparing their lives and their drastic differences, wondering if Seungcheol had ever even been to Brighton without it being for work purposes. There were so many normal things that he had probably never done.

“Have you ever been to Tesco?” He asked randomly. Seungcheol looked confused.

“Maybe as a baby? Why?”

“Just wondering,” Jihoon said, looking out the window. “Soonyoung - my roommate - once tried to spend twenty four hours in a twenty four hour Tesco.”

“Did he do it?”

“I think he got kicked out. I don’t know what for.”

Seungcheol laughed. His laugh was pretty like a bird’s song. Apart from half the words that came out of his mouth, Seungcheol was likeable. You just had to stay on his good side. Jihoon was learning how to stay there now, taking notes as he went along. Anything too personal was a no-go zone, but he was yet to figure out what classified as too personal.

“Can you speak Korean?” Jihoon asked out of curiosity.

“I’m literally in Korean films, Jihoon.”

Oops.

“Yeah, I don’t watch Korean films.”

“Neither. I’m just in them.”

The art gallery Seungcheol was thinking of was in Kensington so the drive was only about twenty minutes with traffic. This was why Jihoon didn’t bother learning to drive - the tube was often quicker. Still, he said nothing as Seungcheol pulled into a car park.

They slipped their disguises on for the street and walked together. Jihoon had to walk double his normal pace to keep up with Seungcheol and he was careful with his posture after “you need to be picture perfect at all times” was hissed in his ear. It was difficult to be picture perfect when a sore ankle stopped you from walking adequately.

“How do you live like this?” Jihoon asked.

“I’ve never known any different.”

They unveiled their faces in the gallery for three reasons given by Seungcheol: 1) you can’t wear a hat indoors, 2) you can’t wear sunglasses indoors, and 3) nobody cares about you in an art gallery. People were always too busy staring at some splatters of paint thrown at a canvas and trying to figure out what part of childhood it represents to see who’s around them. Jihoon took it that he wasn’t a fan of abstract art.

Seungcheol wandered around poised with a glamorous aura that Jihoon couldn’t live up to. He tried his very best but to no use. All he was doing was following Seungcheol as he examined canvases upon the walls and it looked more like he was mocking him. In the end, Jihoon just stayed in one spot, chewing on his already sore knuckle. He zoned out, eyes fixated on the floor. The only thoughts going through his mind was gentle counting as his heart pounded for seemingly no reason. When Jihoon looked up, Seungcheol was gone.

Fuck.

He swivelled around as he searched desperately for his “friend”. Instead all he saw were privileged folk much better than him and looked down on his type. He didn’t belong. His outfit might as well have been scraps compared to the ladies’ neat dresses and the men’s posh blazers. Jihoon was like an imposter - even more so without Seungcheol by his side. He was nothing but a fish out of water to the same extremity of a fish in space.

The boy couldn’t move. He stayed glued to the spot as his heartbeat quickened and his breathing grew more rapid, tears brimming embarrassingly in his eyes. He wanted to puke. Waves of heat overcame him as the world seemed to close in, getting closer and closer whilst his breath got harder to catch. Even the slightest footstep was overwhelming. People spoke quietly but it caused Jihoon’s ears to explode, like he was being stabbed in his head.

“Jihoon? There you are! I’ve been– shit, are you okay?”

Thankfully, it had only taken Seungcheol a few minutes to realise Jihoon was missing and turned back to look for him. Now he wasn’t sure what to do. The boy stood still, hand in his mouth, blood running down his hand. Seungcheol pried it out.

“Hey, it’s alright. Try to breathe, okay? In and out. Let’s get you some air.”

Seungcheol put a hand on Jihoon’s back and guided him back outside. He had only made it to the first room so at least there wasn’t far to go. Once they were back on the pavement, Jihoon sank to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, “I keep ruining things, I’m sorry.”

“No, no, you’re alright,” Seungcheol insisted, kneeling down with him. He put his cap and sunglasses on but left Jihoon without after scanning for any press. Somehow he felt that the boy might feel better without. The world was overwhelming enough without the extra effects of keeping your face hidden.

Within five minutes, Jihoon’s breathing had steadied and everything made a little more sense. Seungcheol asked if he was ready to stand, the boy said yes, and they slowly headed back to the car. Jihoon leaned miserably against the headrest whilst Seungcheol scanned his phone for gentle music.

“Would you feel better going home?” Seungcheol asked, “I’ll drive you back if you like.”

“I don’t know,” Jihoon mumbled, “Soonyoung’s home and he always knows when something’s wrong and he can be so overbearing…”

“I don’t have any company due so you’re welcome at mine until you feel like you can face him. How do you usually get home? Train? Okay, I don’t think you need that. I’ll drive you back whenever.”

“No, don’t worry, it’s a long way–”

“I’ll drive.”

Jihoon wasn’t in any shape to argue so instead he said a small thank you. His hands were still shaking. He shut his eyes and focused on the gentle Taylor Swift album that Seungcheol had kindly put on. It was ‘folklore’ and it was one of Jihoon’s favourites. He didn’t realise how comforting that album was until that moment.

“What happened in there?” Seungcheol asked. Jihoon opened his eyes.

“I don’t know. Lost you. Panicked.”

“Do you get anxious a lot?”

“Kind of? I don’t do well in crowds or unfamiliar situations, or just stuff I don’t do often. Like I can go for a bike ride and not worry about other people or I can manage self-scan at a shop, but if I went to the counter to pay I think I’d get overwhelmed.”

Jihoon couldn’t even go food shopping alone for that reason. With a trolley of food, you couldn’t go to self-scan. He also felt like he couldn’t go to self-scan with even a full basket so he didn’t do that either. He got his food through Soonyoung, checking receipts to pay him back. He usually went to the store with him, at least, because he didn’t entirely trust Soonyoung to get the right stuff. If he asked him to buy Cheerios he would probably come back with gluten free cornflakes. Fair, but harsh.

“You need to get out more,” Seungcheol advised, “you’ll feel better.”

“Yeah, that’s what Soonyoung says. But then I try new things and one little thing goes wrong and I.... God, I’m pathetic, aren’t I? I’m sorry.”

“You’re alright.”

They made it home just as they reached Jihoon’s favourite track but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he followed Seungcheol into his flat. Seungcheol unlocked the door and opened it, telling him to go in whilst he spoke to Jeonghan quickly. Jihoon did so. He didn’t really know what to do with himself. He hovered awkwardly in the living room, wondering what Seungcheol was talking to Jeonghan about.

The guy came in about a minute later. He glanced at Jihoon still standing before softly chuckling and telling him he’s allowed to make himself at home - but no shoes on the sofa.

“So you can handle meeting celebrities in restaurants,” Seungcheol said, slightly amused as he opened the fridge to pour glasses of Fanta, “but an art gallery is too much?”

“Meeting celebrities is my job. I had a panic attack before meeting my first client though. First few. But then I got used to that and gradually moved up the ranks, if you will, so I’m used to it now. I’m not used to being surrounded by rich snobs who think they’re so much better than me because they went to private school.”

Jihoon didn’t have the guts to admit that being in public with Seungcheol was beginning to stress him out too. He was quickly becoming very paranoid about paparazzi, especially after the other night’s dinner. Anyone seen with a celebrity should be perfect, glamorous and elegant. Jihoon was none of those things. He was literally limping.

“Well, we’ll try again another day,” Seungcheol decided.

“Yeah. I’m sorry that I ruined it.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’ll still be there next week. You know your thumb’s covered in blood, right?”

Jihoon looked at his hand. He had known - he could taste it when he was biting into it - but he didn’t realise how much blood there actually was. Scarlet liquid has seeped out of the tooth shaped dent he had created, staining the skin and looking a lot more sore than it was. Jihoon headed into the bathroom to clean it off. When he came back, Seungcheol had placed a box of plasters on the coffee table. He wrapped his thumb up with a small thank you.

“Is your roommate going to question that?” Seungcheol asked, “what’s his name again?”

“Soonyoung. He might do, I don’t know.”

The actor resumed the album from earlier and briefly disappeared into his bedroom, returning with a book and settling on the balcony with open doors. It was almost like he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with casual guests, let alone one who just had a panic attack in an art gallery. The breeze was comforting at least. He moved outside and even after Seungcheol had finished his cigarette, they remained in the sun.

“You get a pretty sunset view here,” Seungcheol said, “I’ll have to send you a picture.”

“That would be nice.”

They sat out for the best part of an hour until they could feel their skin burning, then headed back inside. Seungcheol asked if he wanted to go home yet and whilst Jihoon was actually indifferent, he said that he probably should. Seungcheol grabbed the keys and they left the flat. Thankfully there was no Jeonghan in the hallway this time.

The two seemed to have found comfortable silence and ran with it because all they had in the car was Seungcheol’s shuffled music, which was quite a lot for an hour long drive with current traffic. Jihoon almost fell asleep. In fact he kind of did - he was in that state where his eyes kept closing and for a few minutes he did doze off before opening them again with a start. Seungcheol paid no attention.

Eventually Jihoon did fall asleep. Once they reached his flat, he was gently shaken awake by Seungcheol. He was confused for a moment before looking around and gathering awareness of his surroundings. He stretched and rubbed his eyes.

“Thanks, Cheol,” he mumbled sleepily, “sorry again.”

“It’s alright. Take it easy.”

Chapter Text

Jihoon didn’t tell Soonyoung about his panic attack. He told him about the art gallery, but lied and said they walked through the whole exhibition before Seungcheol took him home, describing the pieces as “a little dull” and “overhyped”. Luckily Soonyoung fell for it.

“Is he still an ass?”

“Eh.”

Now a few days later, Jihoon’s ankle was finally better. It was Thursday - appointment day. Usually Jihoon only felt a little bit nervous for appointments, but so much caution was needed for Seungcheol that his heart was pounding. He could handle being with him casually but professional settings were yet to go well. At least it was at his flat still. He had promised to cook dinner.

Jihoon arrived at 5:30pm wearing a t-shirt tucked into his usual trousers. He hoped Seungcheol wouldn’t mind the repeated outfit. Before he saw Seungcheol though, he bumped into Jeonghan sorting his mail in the lobby. The guy shot him a friendly smile.

“Hiya,” he greeted, “you alright?”

Jihoon nodded awkwardly, trying and failing to not look afraid. He rushed into the elevator to avoid conversation. Once upstairs, he saw that Seungcheol had left his door open again.

“You’re asking to be killed or robbed with that door,” he said as he walked in.

“Eh,” Seungcheol shrugged, fiddling with the oven, “that’s alright. Although one time Vernon came and stole my sugar. I’m doing lasagne tonight, is that okay? It’s gluten free. The box is just there if you don’t trust me.”

Jihoon checked the box but only because he felt invited to. Sure enough, it was gluten free.

“Thanks, Cheol. Means a lot. Who’s Vernon, by the way?”

“You don’t know Vernon? Aw, man. Vernon’s cool.”

He didn’t elaborate. Helpful.

Jihoon hovered awkwardly around the kitchen counter as Seungcheol prepared plates. He asked if he needed any help but only received a no, so he continued to stand around as a signature move. Seungcheol chuckled when he finally noticed.

“You can sit down if you want.”

“I– yeah, but you’re not sitting down, so…”

“Is this an anxious thing?”

“I guess. I don’t know, I just feel awkward if I’m on the sofa and you’re all the way over here…”

“There are stools on the other side of that island you’re leaning on.”

Jihoon peaked over the kitchen island and whispered an ‘oh my god’ out of exasperation. He circled over and sat down. Seungcheol passed him a glass of coca cola before turning back to the dish.

“Where’d you learn to cook?” Jihoon asked.

“...my mum?”

“Oh, right. I assumed that your schedule growing up would have been too busy for–”

“Don’t assume things about me.”

“Sorry. Uh… do you have any fun anecdotes about that? For the book?”

“No? I asked her how to turn an oven on, she taught me how to turn an oven on and then I found some recipes. Nothing exactly happened.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Jihoon opened his satchel and took his notebook out, grabbing his pen as well. He had scribbled down some questions in advance but he didn’t want to ask any of them.

“Um… so… w-what was your first role?”

“I’ve told you this.”

Jihoon blinked. He stared blankly at his piece of paper before flicking back a page or two. Sure enough, he had brief notes about a commercial for an activity garden in 1998. Past Jihoon had also scribbled down that Seungcheol’s family couldn’t even afford the product he was meant to advertise. It wasn’t enough to write about.

“Well, do you have any more details?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know… did you like filming?”

Seungcheol took plates and napkins over to the dining table. “Yeah, it was fun. We were really poor – three of us in a tiny two bedroom flat – so it felt like a luxury, you know? We couldn’t afford most of the toys they made me advertise so I loved acting as a kid.”

“What else did you work with?”

“Um… some power ranger figurines… water pistols… chocolate coin maker…”

“Holy shit,” Jihoon said as he noted them down, “I always wanted a chocolate coin maker!”

“Oh, good. You can bullshit how I felt filming that advert then.”

The writer smiled as he made notes. Seungcheol, with nothing else to do now everything was prepared, pulled himself onto the kitchen counter opposite the island to sit with his legs dangling off the edge.

“Then Three & Us was in 2000, right?” Jihoon asked. Seungcheol nodded.

“Yep. With Lee Seokmin and Lee Chan. They’re not related - the surname’s a coincidence. Anyway, Mum started sending me to auditions for bigger roles when I was about four and that was the one that worked.”

“Did you like it?”

“Loved it,” Seungcheol said with a reminiscent smile, “You know, Chan was one year old when we started that show and I adored him. He was such a cute baby. Or toddler. Whatever you call a one year old. Seokmin was cute too, of course. He was three, I think? I loved them like actual brothers. And I never saw my real brother and my mum was more like an agent so that show was my family, really. Don’t write that last bit.”

Jihoon did as he was told. It was nice to actually be getting somewhere - he now had material to write with. This would cure the boredom.

“Are you three still close?” He continued once he had caught up.

“Uh… I think those two still talk all the time. Chan’s only had supporting roles since and Seokmin moved onto the West End. I was the only one who got big so… I drifted away. Although we still speak occasionally and we pick up where we left off.”

“That’s nice at least.”

Seungcheol nodded with a close-to-blank expression like he was entering deep thought. The writer meanwhile was still jotting down bullet points. It was his first full page from Seungcheol and that made him happy. After several failed meetings, this progress was glorious. He couldn’t wait to start writing.

A timer on Seungcheol’s phone made them both jump. It was for the lasagne. He hopped onto the floor with his bare feet creating a sort of pitter patter sound as they slapped onto the tiles. Then he opened the oven and Jihoon got a lovely whiff of the cooked meal, his stomach rumbling accordingly. It looked good with bubbling cheese and herbs scattered across its top. Seungcheol left it on the table to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, he started serving chopped salad onto the two plates, inviting Jihoon to sit down. The boy moved over hungrily.

“It smells amazing,” he said.

“I try.”

Soon the meal was cool enough to eat and the two dug in. It tasted even better than it looked and Seungcheol couldn’t hide his pride when Jihoon complimented his cooking. They ate in silence for a few minutes until the writer continued the interview.

“I think we may want a lot for Three & Us,” Jihoon said, “since it was your breakout role. But I think the best idea for now is to get a rough outline rather than slam loads of details down on random areas. So what came next?”

“My first film,” Seungcheol replied, “Spire of the Light. I was sixteen. It took a lot of adjusting to, actually. I missed the boys and filming movies is pretty different to shows. I get more tired with movies because you move locations a lot rather than working entirely on sets so it was definitely more draining.”

“A shock for you?”

“Completely. I think Three & Us is still my favourite project to be honest. Don’t write that. That’s just for you. I tell everyone else that my favourite was whatever my latest thing was.”

Jihoon smiled and nodded. In one hand he held his fork poised in midair whilst the other held the pen. He asked a few more questions about Spire of the Light and Seungcheol gave a few more answers until finally he told Jihoon that maybe they should stop for a bit so that the boy could actually eat. Seungcheol hadn’t eaten much either. Interviews over dinner never really worked and yet Jihoon kept doing them.

They finished eating, had seconds, then Seungcheol cleared the dishes away. The pair settled on the sofa with the actor tucking his knees beneath his chin like a child. He blankly watched Jihoon reopen his notebook.

“Do we have time to just… stop?” He asked quietly. Jihoon blinked at him.

“What do you mean?”

“If we don’t do any more today, will that fuck us over?”

“Um… I guess we would just have to catch up later.”

“I’m fine with that. Let’s just chill.”

“Okay,” Jihoon said, confused but willing. He put his notebook away again. He sat with his hands beneath his thighs as though it was a comfort thing whenever he felt a little out of sorts.

It was a while until either of them said anything. Seungcheol seemed content with simply sitting in silence, the only sound being the clock on the mantelpiece. He looked lost in thought. Jihoon, curious as ever, wished that he could read his mind. He knew that if he spewed out anything along the lines of ‘penny for your thoughts’ then his head would be bitten off.

“Why are you staring at me?” Seungcheol asked. The boy blinked - a common response apparently.

“I don’t know. You look nice, I guess.”

“Do I? Thanks. I felt like my hair wasn’t behaving today.”

Seungcheol’s hair was fluffier than usual but up until then, Jihoon hadn’t really noticed.

“It looks nice,” he said.

Seungcheol smiled and thanked him again. Jihoon hated to feed his ego but he did look good today in a dark red button up. At least he hadn’t given any cocky response.

In the end, they put a film on. The actor remained sat cross legged up on the sofa whilst Jihoon still felt utterly unable to make himself at home here in a glamorous Kensington apartment. He sat neatly with his legs crossed and his hands around a glass long after it was empty. The film was an action film that he wasn’t really interested in and judging by Seungcheol’s face, he wasn’t either, but there wasn’t much else to do.

The silence returned when the movie finished. They made small conversation on it. Jihoon said that was good and Seungcheol agreed, then moments later mumbled that he thought it was a bit shit actually and Jihoon agreed.

A buzz from the door made the boy jump. Seungcheol looked at his Rolex watch and he looked guiltily at Jihoon.

“Mingyu and Wonwoo,” he explained, “I didn’t realise what the time was.”

“It’s okay,” Jihoon replied as Seungcheol went to answer, “is it another party?”

“Yeah. You’re welcome to stay if you like.” The star pressed the receiver and his two friends confirmed that it was them. “Come on up.”

“I think I’ll get going,” Jihoon said quietly. His stomach was already beginning to feel weird.

As he approached the front door with his things the other two entered and Mingyu smirked at the boy. He looked him up and down, eyeing the satchel.

“Running away?” He asked.

Jihoon returned his satchel to the thin table that stood against the wall with spite, suddenly deciding to stay. Seungcheol raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

“I lost track of time so nothing’s set up yet,” he said, “sorry about that.”

“We can help,” Wonwoo said after a kind hello to Jihoon.

The four of them each helped to set drinks up on the table and cups and glasses. Mingyu had brought drugs again - as you do - and this time it was tablets, powder, and weed.

“Are you drinking this time, Cheol?” Mingyu asked, “or are you babysitting?”

“I’ll drink,” Seungcheol replied without hesitation that to be honest, Jihoon would have appreciated. Now he had to drink too.

Like last time, they started with shots. They did them in the form of a drinking game. It was Never Have I Ever and death had never felt so appealing to Jihoon. He hoped he could take a shot before the anxiety kicked too hard.

“Let’s start easy for the baby,” Mingyu said as they all took their places on the sofas, shots on the coffee table. “Hmm… never have I ever… said the wrong name in bed.”

As Jihoon wondered how Mingyu defined easy (was it what Jihoon would have done or what he considered basic?), Seungcheol took a shot. The boy raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t look at me like that,” the actor said, “you know that I sleep around.”

“I- well, you said you’ve had one night stands but I didn’t exactly read into that.”

“Hm. Okay. Never have I ever… gone back to an ex.”

Wonwoo and Mingyu took a shot each. They looked at each other and giggled. Seungcheol leaned over to Jihoon and briefly explained that they had broken up before, gotten with someone else and then came running back to each other. Jihoon appreciated the context.

It took a few rounds for Jihoon to take a single shot despite his desperation to ease the anxiety. Mingyu was beginning to smirk every time the boy didn’t drink, amused by his lack of experience. It didn’t help the nausea in the slightest. The one that got him in the end was editing selfies. They all took a shot for it so it wasn’t even impressive. At least Jihoon’s reason was that he had dirt on his cheek so he edited it out rather than the other three each admitted to FaceTune.

“You must be lying,” Mingyu said to Jihoon after a few more rounds without him taking a shot.

Even Seungcheol chuckled. “Yeah, I guessed that you were dull but this is more than I thought.”

The comment wasn’t much, but somehow it hurt. Just when Seungcheol had grown a little more open, a little kinder and more understanding, he took a stab. Jihoon scowled and stood up. He made his way to the main table, poured a glass of whiskey and chugged it down in one. It burned and tasted disgusting and he had to try hard not to cough or splutter.

“That’s the spirit,” Wonwoo said. Mingyu got up and poured the boy another.

“Having a drink with Jihoon,” he chanted with a gleam in his eye and the others joined in, “‘cause Jihoon is our mate. Having a drink with Jihoon, he drinks it down in eight!”

The three counted to eight and Jihoon threw his head back to down it. His eyebrows were furrowed with concentration. Despite his hard work, Jihoon didn’t quite manage it in eight seconds and Mingyu booed as he finished it. Seungcheol was laughing too. Why did that hurt so much? He poured another drink.

Whilst Mingyu challenged Jihoon to eight seconds again, the other two started meddling with god knows what. Jihoon got through his next glass in more than eight seconds again and then someone passed him a joint. He passed it back quite quickly.

“I’ll stick to the drinks, thanks,” he muttered.

Once they had gotten all they could out of it, Seungcheol started cutting lines of coke with a card. He looked at Jihoon who stared back and raised an eyebrow before turning back to the kitchen counter and stopping at three lines. The three used a rolled up note to snort one each.

“Well, I love the smell,” Jihoon said awkwardly, speech slurring. All he got was a blank stare. He poured another drink.

Now the others were high, Jihoon more or less had the alcohol to himself and God did he need it. Being drunk last time was okay because Seungcheol was chilling with him, but now Seungcheol was laughing with the others and out of his mind. His once pretty eyes were bloodshot and Jihoon hated to look at him.

“Baby Hoonie’s all grumpy,” Seungcheol giggled. Jihoon’s scowl grew colder. The star glanced at a smirking Mingyu. “Lighten up, kiddo. Do you wanna prove Mingyu right?”

“Mm? Prove me right?” Asked Mingyu.

“He thinks you think he’s pathetic.”

“Ooh. Glad he noticed.”

Alone with shaking hands, Jihoon took more shots.

Slowly, as the alcohol sinked in, the music’s lyrics stopped making sense. The world began to spin whilst waves of heat shuddered through him every minute or so. It was good. It took the anxiety away and he was able to finally feel something else. He was still nauseous but it was different now and his head was too full of cotton wool to notice anyway.

The alcohol wasn’t making him enjoy himself so the boy went back for more. He gave up on the glasses and went for an entire bottle of whiskey. Seungcheol raised his eyebrows.

“What?” Jihoon snapped.

“You’re a little weak for that, sweetheart.”

“Oh, fuck off,” the boy said bravely although his words slurred into one and he hicupped afterwards, “stop being such a dick. Why are you so horrid to me? You were just getting nice too. Why did I think you could be nice? You’re a dick. You’re so two faced as well, what the fuck is up with that?”

“Aw, diddums,” Seungcheol pouted.

Jihoon's eyes filled with tears and he turned on his heels, heading straight for the door. No one tried to stop him and that hurt. He made sure to slam it behind him.

Jihoon stumbled down the streets of London tripping over every pebble on the path. His foggy head forgot that taxis existed so he risked his life getting to the train station whilst everything spun around him. He got there in the end though and collapsed in a seat. At some point, the brimming tears had begun to fall down his cheeks and now he was more pathetic than ever, drunk and crying on the train at almost 11pm.

Why was Seungcheol so complicated? Did he have to be? When it wasn’t book-related and the two were alone, Seungcheol was perfectly fine. Maybe even nice. But if Jihoon was trying to do his job then he got yelled at, snapped at, given a cold shoulder. And with Mingyu around as well as the company of drink and drugs, he was that version of himself no matter the conversation.

Maybe it wasn’t Seungcheol. Maybe it was Jihoon. Afterall, he was the same boy who couldn’t even make friends in nursery. The same boy who became known as the class bookworm in year six because he read when nobody wanted to hang out with him. The same boy who was mocked because of his writing, bullied because he was different, jeered at because he didn’t fit in. Maybe it wasn’t Seungcheol at all. No, it was Jihoon.

He was completely and utterly pathetic.

Jihoon spent both train journeys sobbing and wishing somebody would ask if he was okay instead of giving him odd looks. The sobs turned to gentle sniffs as he walked the familiar path home. He kicked every stone in sight as though his misery was their fault.

It took ages for Jihoon to find his keys in his pocket and longer still to get the key in the door. He fumbled for a solid minute until his kind roommate opened it for him.

“There you are!” Soonyoung said, “I tried to call you– Christ, you look like a mess.”

“He’s such a dick,” Jihoon mumbled with a hiccup as he was swept into a hug, “fucking Cherry. I hate him. Him and his stupid friends and stupid parties and stupid drinks and stupid drugs and stupid me.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Soonyoung soothed him, “it’s okay.”

The comfort brought back the sobs. Usually he hated hugs but now he wrapped his arms around his friend as tightly as Soonyoung held him and cried into his chest. His friend rubbed his back and rocked him like a baby until he had let it all out and pulled away.

“Get to bed, Hoon,” Soonyoung said softly, “you’ll feel better in the morning. After the hangover.”

“You know I’m drunk?”

“...yes, Hoon.”

“Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for. Get some sleep.”

Chapter Text

Soonyoung must have lied because Jihoon did not feel better in the morning. Instead his head was pounding and his body threatened to vomit at every movement. Worst of all he quickly realised that he had left his phone and satchel at Seungcheol’s. He emerged from his room with a scowl.

His roommate had gone out. Judging by the lack of available breakfast, Jihoon assumed/hoped it was food shopping. At least they had plenty of aspirin - it was a must have for roommates who each got migraines. Jihoon threw two down with a sip of water and returned to his room, waiting for the agony to pass. It was boring without a phone so he moved to the sofa for television amusement instead, turning on a show with no volume and subtitles. He wasn’t even watching. Last night was hot in his mind.

Once again Jihoon couldn’t remember most of the party. He had no idea how he got home and he couldn’t recall leaving. All he knew was that he had felt lonely whilst the others got high. Next time he got surprised by a party, he thought to himself, he really needed to stand his ground by going home. Even if Mingyu judged him.

One set of memories that stood out to him though was Seungcheol’s smile at every jeer that Mingyu made. How he had called him a baby and judged him when he tried to drink and mocked his hurt. The pain came back to him and Jihoon groaned, rubbing his face. He had reacted so childishly too. It was like alcohol took twenty years off of him.

Soonyoung got back before too long. He held several orange plastic bags in each hand that, thankfully, confirmed Jihoon’s food shopping theory. He greeted Jihoon with a grin as he walked straight to the kitchen.

“Hi,” the boy mumbled.

“Hiya! How’s your head?”

“Mm. It’s alright.”

“Well, you look like death,” Soonyoung said cheerfully. He started unpacking the food. Usually Jihoon would have helped but due to obvious reasons, this time he missed out.

“I need to go back to Ch– Cherry’s place later,” he sighed, catching himself before he said ‘Cheol’, “I left everything behind but myself.”

“At least you remembered yourself.”

Now choosing to ignore the pounding headache, Jihoon decided to head off to Kensington sooner rather than later. Soonyoung called that he was welcome to take his car as he left but he was far too anxious to accept. A big killing machine on the road? No thanks. Getting his license was the biggest waste of time/money he could have ever made.

Jihoon couldn’t help but overthink as he got on the train. Seungcheol definitely wasn’t nice enough to drive his things back, was he? No, the guy would be far too hungover and whatever the drug equivalent was. Was there a drug equivalent? What were the after effects of drugs? Jihoon vowed to never find out. All he knew was that Seungcheol sucked. He tapped his foot to the beat of his heart to let out the stress. His head was getting worse though.

He wasted money on a cab to Seungcheol’s place. The boy was getting worse at talking to the drivers. He felt awkward when he held his hand up and stumbled over his words as he gave him the address. Sat in the back seat, Jihoon chewed on his knuckle to calm himself down. Seungcheol was absolutely destroying his confidence and he blamed it entirely on his lack of predictability. He was walking on eggshells all of the time.

Next thing he knew Jihoon was at Seungcheol’s apartment building. His stomach was turning like he was about to throw up and he desperately hoped that he wouldn’t. He pressed the button for 3A, taking deep breaths.

“Hello?” Came Seungcheol’s groggy voice.

“I, uh, it’s–”

“Jihoon?”

“That’s the one.”

Instead of inviting him in, Seungcheol simply unlocked the door as per usual. Jihoon headed inside. Also as per usual, the door to the star’s flat was already slightly ajar so that anyone at all could just slip inside. Jihoon shut it behind him.

“You left your stuff behind,” Seungcheol told him from the kitchen counter. He looked a mess.

“Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”

“I guessed. I’m not stupid. You look terrible by the way.”

That was very bold coming from Seungcheol, Jihoon thought to himself, but he said nothing. The actor’s hair was all over the place and dark circles highlighted the area beneath his eyes. He was in silk pyjamas at least - impressive. Jihoon was in joggers and a tee.

“Yeah, I feel it,” he said as he scanned the room for his things, desperate to leave. It was difficult when everything was spinning. The boy leaned against the wall and closed his eyes for a moment. Christ, had his hangover turned into a migraine? Was that a thing? He knew nothing.

“Your satchel’s on the table by the door and your phone’s on the coffee table. Also, if you’re going to throw up please throw up in the bathroom.”

“Okay,” Jihoon said quietly and made his way to the bathroom. It annoyed him that Seungcheol was back to being… okay. Not horrible. Just okay. He sat/fell onto the cold tiles and sat cross legged, staring at the toilet. A minute later he was retching into it.

Seungcheol finished stirring his coffee and then poured Jihoon a glass of water with ice from the fridge. The boy had left the door wide open so slipped in silently, making the boy jump. He placed the cold glass beside him.

“Take sips,” he instructed. Jihoon did so and then threw it up again. Seungcheol told him again to sip, not chug, and the boy whined that he was sipping. The actor just chuckled.

“I’ll go in a minute,” Jihoon mumbled, speaking at a lower volume so as not to trigger any more throbbing, “when this passes. I wasn’t this bad last time.”

“My headache stopped an hour ago if that’s of any reference to you.”

“This just feels like a migraine now. I’m sure my last hangover was gone by this point. Would trains make a hangover worse? I definitely feel worse than when I left.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had a migraine.”

“You privileged bastard,” Jihoon muttered and then lay down on the floor. Seungcheol smiled, amused.

“How are you gonna get home?” He asked, “I can’t drive you. I don’t know what’s still in my system.”

“I don’t need your help,” the boy muttered, “I’ll take the train like I planned to.”

“You’ll die. Ooh, I’ll pay for a cab.”

Jihoon thanked him, unable to argue when he felt like this. The throbbing was so much worse now. He couldn’t bring himself to say another word. Moving felt impossible.

“This probably isn’t the best place to lie down,” Seungcheol said, apparently unable to read Jihoon’s mind, “you can rest in the guest room for a bit if you want.”

He didn’t wait for a response. Seungcheol just got up and grabbed Jihoon’s arm, therefore pulling the boy up as well. Jihoon blinked rapidly as he took slow steps out of the bathroom. Spinning, spinning…

Jihoon woke up on the floor but it felt like a cloud. Specks across the carpet were suddenly fascinating. He focused on them without even acknowledging what they could be. Then he was lifted up - like magic - and he couldn’t see the specks anymore. Blurred colours moved past him and then Jihoon felt himself being lowered onto an even better cloud. He heard the soft padding of feet as he slowly came to his senses. Jihoon finally remembered that he was at Seungcheol’s and then he realised that he must have fainted.

Seungcheol entered the room again with his glass of ice water in one hand and a damp flannel in the other. This he folded up and, after pushing Jihoon’s hair back, placed it on the boy’s forehead to cool him down.

“I wouldn’t have pulled you up if I knew you would faint,” he said, maybe as his own way of apologising.

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault. Hey, maybe you’re best staying here until you feel better.”

“That can take a few days,” Jihoon mumbled, his eyes shut.

“Can it? Shit,” Seungcheol scratched his neck. “uh…”

“I’ll text Soonyoung.”

Once Jihoon had recovered a little, he did just that. Seungcheol grabbed his phone from the living room and handed it to him. It was difficult to type while holding his phone above his face but he managed it eventually.

jihoon
say i had a migraine
would u pick me up from kensington

It took less than a minute for Soonyoung to reply.

soonyoung
yes
what’s the address

jihoon:
thabk u ur insane

Jihoon sent the address across (with Seungcheol’s permission out of paranoia), put his phone down and closed his eyes again, hoping to fall asleep.

He must have succeeded because when he next opened his eyes, it was to Seungcheol gently shaking him awake. The boy blinked several times before looking at him.

“Soonyoung’s outside,” Seungcheol said with a gentle tone.

Jihoon slowly got up, taking it easy. Seungcheol kept a hand on his back as they walked through the apartment just in case the boy fainted again. He felt like it was definitely possible so he was grateful for the support. Seungcheol grabbed the boy’s satchel, simultaneously opening the drawer and stuffing something inside.

“A surprise for when you get home,” he said quietly in case Soonyoung could hear him from the other side of the door. He stood out of the way to hide himself as Jihoon opened it.

“Thanks for everything,” the boy said with a weak smile. Seungcheol nodded back. Classic.

“How do you look worse than when you arrived?” Soonyoung asked as Jihoon closed the door behind him.

“Thanks. I fainted.”

“Oh, shit.”

Soonyoung put his arm around Jihoon’s waist to steady him and the boy found that he did need it. He held onto his friend as they made their way into the lift. He leaned heavily on the bar along the mirror.

Their method of support continued until Jihoon was in the car with the seat pushed back so that he was mostly lying down. Soonyoung kindly kept the radio off so that Jihoon was treated to silence. The throbbing in his head had gotten so much worse since waking up, let alone since this morning. The boy closed his eyes once again and hoped to fall asleep once again. Usually his migraine remedy was painkillers and a nap, but this time that had failed him miserably.

“Cherry watched me throw up today,” he mumbled like a child reporting his day to a parent. His voice was so quiet that it was hardly audible. He wanted to act okay so as not to worry Soonyoung but he was, in fact, dying.

“That’s always great. Was he a dick about it?”

“No. He got me water with ice and carried me to the guest room when I fainted. And he got me a gift. I’ll look when I think I can sit up without dying.”

“Sounds like he’s fucking with you,” Soonyoung frowned. He was quiet for a moment then asked, “what happened last night that upset you so much? You came home crying.”

“He was just… taunting me, I guess. Like Mingyu was last time.”

“Mingyu?”

Jihoon’s eyes shot open and he swore.

“I didn’t say that,” he said, “forget that.”

“Christ, you’ve been partying with Kim Mingyu?”

“Shut up! I’m going to sleep.”

Soonyoung raised his eyebrows, impressed. If Jihoon didn’t have a migraine he would’ve asked a lot more questions about knowing Mingyu. He had written his novel a year ago and hated the guy himself. How did Jihoon manage to make a connection with him and why was the world so small?

Judging by the soft snores that left the boy’s lips, Jihoon did manage to sleep on the way home despite already sleeping for an hour previously. When he woke up this time Soonyoung was just parking the car. Jihoon rubbed his eyes and slowly sat himself up. He stayed still for a moment to wait for the throbbing to hit. It came down like a hammer to a nail and he grimaced. Soonyoung opened the door for him. Like earlier, he let him lean on him all the way to his bedroom. He left the boy in peace with a cold glass of water with ice from the freezer that just didn’t taste the same as Seungcheol’s.

Jihoon sat in bed propped up against pillows. He took gentle sips of his drink and then opened up his satchel. Stuffed above his notebook was something wrapped in white tissue paper. Jihoon slipped it out with care. He unwrapped it side by side rather than tearing through the paper.

It was a copy of Taylor Swift’s evermore. The album cover featured the singer stood with her back facing the camera, dressed in a red plaid coat and blonde hair laced in a French braid. ‘Taylor’ was written in black sharpie to the left. Jihoon took the booklet out of the case and held it up to the light - the pen shone in streaks. It was real. It was a signed copy.

Jihoon returned the booklet to its original place with great care and picked up his phone. He tapped onto his messages with Seungcheol and texted immediately.

Jihoon
i love it

Jihoon
thank you sonmuch

Jihoon
you sidntn havw to do this

Seungcheol replied within a few minutes.

Cherry 🍒
That’s ok, knew you’d like it

Cherry 🍒
Also are you having a stroke

Jihoon put back ‘yes i smell burnt toast’ with a smile. He did like Seungcheol sometimes.

Chapter Text

“Jihoon?”

“Mm?” The boy hummed. He was sitting in a chair by the window with his laptop on his lap, notebook on the window sill. Soonyoung was vibing on the couch eating his way through a share packet of Doritos.

“Was Mingyu the one who pressured you to drink?”

Jihoon sighed. It had been a few days since he had let that slip and it hadn’t been mentioned until then, so he was rather hoping that Soonyoung had let it go.

“Why do you care? You don’t still see him.”

“Well, no, but I’m curious.”

The boy sighed again. “Yeah, it was him.”

“Not surprised. I hated working with him. He’s really…”

“School bully-ish?”

“Oh god, yes,” Soonyoung agreed without hesitation, “a spoilt brat. Never been told no in his life.”

“Even Cherry bitched about him a tad,” Jihoon told him with a smile. His friend cackled.

They had been taking it easy together since Jihoon’s accidental night out. It had taken three days for his migraine to completely wear off and the boy had chosen today to be a final day of rest just to make sure he was okay. That had involved postponing today’s meeting with Seungcheol and that had involved an almost panic attack that Soonyoung had to calm him down from. It was all for nothing because in the end, Seungcheol was understanding.

Jihoon had started a new hobby that consisted of pretending his anxiety wasn’t getting worse. He had been socially anxious since a teenager, sure, and his panic attacks began in sixth form, and they were absolutely more common now but that didn’t mean anything, right? It was only because he was getting out more, venturing further, meeting more people. It was only natural that his anxiety would become more prominent.

“Do you want to go for dinner tonight?” Soonyoung asked. Jihoon’s heart dropped.

“Uh…”

“We don’t have to, it was just an idea. If you don’t feel well–”

“No, it’s okay,” Jihoon insisted, “I was just being pathetic, I’ll go.”

Soonyoung frowned with furrowed brows. “You’re not pathetic.”

“Okay. Sorry. Let’s go out.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Let’s just get a takeaway or something.”

Jihoon sighed and agreed. Why was his heart pounding? That wasn’t an argument, so why was his heart beating so fast?

To distract himself he turned back to his work. He was trying to turn the other day’s scrawls into first person paragraphs but it was difficult when he didn’t yet know Seungcheol’s way of speech. He didn’t have the energy to watch interviews or any behind the scenes footage of the star online plus he really wanted it to be authentic. Learning Seungcheol’s personality through a screen wasn’t authentic at all.

Soonyoung ordered Chinese food at 5pm for them both, deciding what Jihoon wanted for him as per request. He settled on his favourite chicken chow mein with prawn crackers and chicken balls for them each to share, even if most of it contained gluten. Jihoon loaded his plate before returning to his original seat by the window, eating whilst he worked.

“Come relax,” Soonyoung whined, “take a break. You’ve been working all day.”

“Yeah, because we’re behind,” Jihoon said through a mouthful of noodles.

“You’re just stressing yourself out.”

“I’m fine. I like my job - I’d quit otherwise.”

“I know, I know, but… try to stick to normal working hours.”

Jihoon scoffed. “I started at lunchtime. Today’s too doomed for normal working hours already.”

Soonyoung gave up. His friend could be stubborn and he didn’t have the energy to argue with him. When Jihoon was set on doing something his own way there was nothing you could do to change his mind. Not even his anxiety weakened his stubbornness. So as a result, Jihoon had only moved from his spot at the window to go to the bathroom. Otherwise he had been typing, scanning his page, typing more, proofreading, editing, restarting, for the past six hours without a break.

“I’m seeing Cherry tomorrow,” Jihoon said, “lunchtime.”

“Okay. Don’t stay out all night again. You worry me when you do that.”

“It’s lunchtime.”

“Okay. Still. I feel like I don’t see you much anymore.”

Looking up from his laptop, Jihoon frowned. “I was just between projects before.”

“Yeah, but usually meetings are weekly. You see this guy all the time and he keeps getting you drunk and–”

“I’m not a baby,” Jihoon snapped, “let me work how I want, okay? This is how I’m going to get a good project done for him.”

“Quite frankly, with how you say he treats you I don’t think he deserves a good project–”

“I’m earning a lot for this. If I do well then don’t you realise how much that’s going to help my career?”

“You can help your career without ruining yourself.”

“I’m not ru– why are you saying this?”

Soonyoung stabbed his food with his fork. “I’m just worried about you.”

“Well, don’t. I’m not your child. Don’t control my life.”

“I’m not trying to control your life.”

“Good.”

Jihoon turned back to his writing with a scowl. Then that funny feeling returned - his stomach was swarming with butterflies and he felt a little sick. He took his laptop and his dinner to sit by the window in his room instead. Then came the hot flushes. Jihoon opened the window to combat it. It didn’t help. Then his hands were shaking, his lungs couldn’t catch a deep enough breath and the world was closing in on him whilst his thoughts began to race.

Even Soonyoung thought he was pathetic. He thought that he couldn’t look after himself, that he needed help, that at the age of twenty four he was only as good as a child. And now he had snapped at him and Soonyoung probably hated him. That was even more childish, wasn’t it? He had the temper of a child too. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. Of course Mingyu laughed at him.

Of course Seungcheol laughed at him. Any act of kindness was pity - of course it was. Why would global superstar Choi Seungcheol want anything to do with little writer Jihoon if not for work? Their frequent “hanging outs” were work related, or he was a last resort. Seungcheol had only asked him over the other day because he was bored. He didn’t genuinely care. And Soonyoung was right - Seungcheol was just fucking with him. The gift was to buy his interest, to buy his care, to keep him from giving the project up.

Jihoon couldn’t breathe. He folded in on himself, curled into a ball, and sobbed. He couldn’t do anything else. His lungs were desperate for air and Jihoon just couldn’t get it to them. It felt like he was going to die. Parts of him wished that he would.

“Hoon?”

His bedroom door opened and Soonyoung slipped inside. Jihoon didn’t even notice. He only noticed when he was pushed to sit up right and Soonyoung’s phone was held out in front of him. He had pulled up a breathing exercise gif. It was just a point turning into a triangle, then a square, a pentagon, and so on and so forth, but Jihoon tried his best to sync his breathing to it. It took a minute to stop sounding like he was choking then eventually as the shapes grew, Jihoon managed to inhale. The shapes retracted and Jihoon exhaled.

Eventually, the world stopped pressing down on him whilst his heartbeat went back to normal. Jihoon rubbed his eyes as his friend rubbing his back.

“I’m sorry if I triggered that,” Soonyoung said quietly, “I was just looking out for you.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry. And don’t apologise for that.”

Miraculously, Jihoon managed a small smile. He took his fork and fiddled with his food.

“I’m okay now,” he insisted.

“Sure?”

“Yeah. I was just… having a moment. Moment done.”

“Okay, well, you know you can talk to me, right?”

“I know. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Jihoon
are we working oe hanfing out

cherry 🍒
You have got to type more carefully
Hanging out

Jihoon nodded to himself and finally got out of bed. He stretched hard enough to make his bones crack before outfit hunting. His fancy black trousers were troubling him. He couldn’t wear them again but what else did he have that was suitable? Jihoon sighed, rummaging through his closet. Today he seemed to be in the mood for the dungarees that Soonyoung bought him last Christmas but they also felt like a death wish. He found a white sweater to go underneath then anyway. The outfit was thrown onto the bed to start up a ‘thinking’ pile. His fancy trousers were also thrown next to it with several of his best t-shirts. Jihoon wasn’t really feeling any of it. He went for the dungarees and moved onto his casual makeup.

“You look nice,” Soonyoung told him from the couch as Jihoon emerged from his room now in a rush. The boy whizzed to the kitchen to pack lunch.

“Thanks, it’s a risk,” he said, picking up a different gingerbread man than usual. “What the fuck is this?”

“Gluten free!”

“What the fuck? I mean, thank you, but what the fuck? He’s so ugly.”

Soonyoung giggled. Jihoon’s usual gingerbread men were pretty with icing whereas these ones were plain and actually a bit deformed. Its face looked like it had been marked into the dough with a knife. Jihoon, always one for equal rights, wrapped one in tinfoil anyway along with a bag of popcorn. He was meeting Seungcheol at lunchtime so he had no idea if they were even eating, but just in case he decided to bring food he could have.

“Right, I’m off,” he said, chucking his lunchbox into a plain black backpack.

“Good luck.”

“Cheers.”

I’ll spare you the travel details and assume you get the gist - London underground, sweaty, crowded, long journey, blah blah blah. Then an hour later Jihoon was feeling underdressed in fancy Kensington. He walked the expensive streets, taking the odd photo here and there when something that looked nice caught his eye. Used to the directions now, Jihoon made it to Seungcheol’s without trouble, although his breathing had definitely turned a little more rapid since getting off the train.

Jihoon pressed the buzzer, told Seungcheol it was him, then made his way up the elevator and to the actor’s flat, where once again the door was left slightly ajar.

“Are you hoping to be robbed?” Jihoon asked as he came in.

Seungcheol was sat on the floor folding shirts. “I’m very indifferent, actually. One time I did that for Chan though and Jeonghan came in and stole my teabags. He ran out.”

“Valid reasoning. Did you see him come in?”

“Yeah, he just showed up and looked me in the eye as he opened my cupboard and took my teabags.”

Jihoon chuckled as Seungcheol looked up at him. His eyes trailed from the boy’s head to his toes. Jihoon gulped.

“Cute,” Seungcheol said before turning back to his laundry.

“Do you think so?” Jihoon asked, his voice going embarrassingly high pitched, “I wasn’t sure. It’s not very… high end. Or is that why it’s cute? Is that the cute you meant? Like–”

“You look nice, Jihoon.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

Seungcheol took his pile of clothes and stood up, disappearing momentarily into his room and shortly re-emerging.

“I was thinking we could go to the Kyoto Gardens today,” he suggested, “they’re Japanese style.”

“Ooh. Nice.”

“I bought us a packed lunch to eat there. Google said your special bread is disgusting so I just made a pasta thing for both of us.”

Jihoon couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Cheol. It means a lot.”

“Mm. I just don’t like eating alone.”

They each had a coffee before going. Then without saying anything, Seungcheol stood up, put his shoes on and opened the door, waiting for Jihoon to follow suit. He did so with a little jog.

“Have you ever been to the Kyoto gardens?” Seungcheol asked in the car.

“Nope. I’ve never really been anywhere. I could show you around Brighton, though.”

“I haven’t been to Brighton since I was little. I was five, I think? A little while before Three & Us started. I don’t really remember it.”

“Mm. It’s really nice. We should go some time.”

Seungcheol didn’t reply, which sped up Jihoon’s heartbeat for some reason. Was he wrong to suggest it? No, it was fine. He was just overthinking.

On the short journey there, Jihoon started googling their destination. He had only vaguely heard of it before. He was sure Soonyoung had been on a date there once in a previous relationship. Google presented it nicely and Jihoon approved of Seungcheol’s standards, which he had rightly assumed were very high. Maybe Brighton wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Seungcheol parked in a private car park a short walk away. He turned around to grab something from the back seat but patted around and swore instead.

“I left our sunglasses and hats at home,” he said.

“Shit.”

Seungcheol leaned back and sighed. “Are you okay with that?”

Jihoon nodded even though his heart was already pounding. “Do you think you’ll be recognised?”

“Always am. Just… hopefully it doesn’t draw up a crowd.”

Seungcheol glanced at Jihoon’s outfit as he spoke. Then he shot a small, almost reassuring smile at the boy and climbed out of the car. Jihoon followed with a deep breath.

“If a fan does talk to me,” Seungcheol said, “and they ask for a picture, offer to take it for them. If they don’t ask for a picture and just chat then you stand out of the way.”

“Unassociate myself?”

“That’s right.”

“Okay.”

They walked through a black gate amongst a white wall which had ‘Holland Park’ written on it and soon they were wandering around the beautiful gardens, accompanied by families thankfully minding their business and the sound of trickling water. Brick or stone paths showed the way between ponds and waterfalls, lined with large, flat rocks and greenery filling any empty space. Tall trees of red, amber and green towered over and created some much needed shade under the hot sunlight. Stone lanterns were dotted about here and there.

“Pretty,” Jihoon breathed. Seungcheol smiled.

They found a stone bench to sit on, tucked between some trees so as not to attract any unwanted attention. Seungcheol unpacked the two pots of tomato pasta and their forks, handing one of each to Jihoon. They ate with only quiet chat to keep the peace of the Kyoto gardens.

“Did you get taken to places like this growing up?” Jihoon asked between mouthfuls of pasta. Seungcheol shook his head.

“I was always too busy to go anywhere,” he explained, “so my days out were premieres or little kiddie interviews with the boys et cetera, et cetera.”

“Sounds boring.”

“It was,” Seungcheol chuckled, “all I ever wanted was to go to a fun fair and instead it was like ‘ooh, Seungcheol, come here and get your picture taken with Tom Hanks’. Who the fuck is Tom Hanks? I don’t know, but there’s a picture of a seven-year-old me with him somewhere.”

“Oh, he’s Woody from Toy Story.”

“I’ve met Woody from Toy Story? Nice.”

Jihoon pulled his phone out and searched the internet for this picture. He found it before long and smiled. It was from 2002 and Seungcheol was dressed in a plaid shirt thrown over a plain tee, both of which were too big for him, and Tom Hank was leaning down to put an arm around the little boy. Baby Seungcheol did look a little lost.

“You were cute. Still are.”

Seungcheol glanced over and Jihoon turned red.

“Sorry, that fell out.”

“It’s fine. I get that a lot.”

They finished their food and continued wandering. The path led to large stones scattered across the river which a young child was in the process of hopping over. Nobody else was really around. Seungcheol slowed down and once the family were a way away, Seungcheol jumped across each stepping stone too. He hopped all the way to the other side then turned around with a wide grin at Jihoon. The boy grinned back.

“Come on over,” Seungcheol called. Jihoon jumped over, a little more cautious than the actor did. He had leaped across fearlessly but Jihoon was a little more careful - one stepping stone at a time.

The second Jihoon made it onto the opposite path, Seungcheol went back the way he came. Jihoon followed again and it turned into a game of cat and mouse - Seungcheol jumping across each step and Jihoon spinning around to chase him. They spluttered with laughter and their smiles were wide.

“Cheol, Cheol, stop,” Jihoon wheezed, “there’s signs everywhere asking to keep the peace.”

“No one’s around.”

“That we can see.”

Seungcheol stopped anyway and waited for Jihoon to catch up for the last time. Then they went back to walking like normal. Soon there were people around them again, spoiling everything.

They strolled peacefully side by side now. When the sun was out from behind the clouds, it was quite hot and Jihoon felt overdressed for the weather. He rolled his sleeves up and down as the sun went in and out, making Seungcheol chuckle each time.

“Pick a temperature, Hoon.”

“It just keeps changing.”

Seungcheol patted him on the back as if it would help and then the two returned to their comfortable silence. It was nice. Lovely, even.

“Oh my god, are you Choi Seungcheol?”

A young woman had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, gawking at the actor who was trying to enjoy a scenic walk. Nevertheless, Seungcheol put on his charming smile.

“That I am.”

“I love your work so, so much…”

She started rambling and Seungcheol nodded along, still smiling. Jihoon awkwardly hovered to the side, looking around. Then the fan asked for a picture and Jihoon’s breath got hitched in his throat.

“My friend can take it for us,” Seungcheol told her, making eye contact with Jihoon. The boy nodded and took the girl’s phone. He captured three pictures in total.

Once she was out of the way a few others followed. An almost crowd had now formed in the middle of the wide brick path. They each told the star that they loved him in Three & Us, his most recent role in Calling My End was one of his best, and whatever else they wanted to tell him. Jihoon took pictures for each of them whilst imagining his favourite breathing technique gif in his head. He reminded himself that nobody was taking any notice of him - not when the Choi Seungcheol was right there.

Finally it settled down and Seungcheol briskly walked on. Jihoon jogged to keep up.

“Sorry about that,” he sighed, “how’s the anxiety?”

“Manageable.”

“Okay. Let’s go before it gets worse.”

Jihoon wasn’t sure whether “it” was his anxiety or the fans, but either way he agreed. They rushed back to the front gates, thankfully being near the end of the gardens anyway, and were greeted by multiple paparazzi. Seungcheol cursed under his breath.

“Seungcheol!”

“Seungcheol, on your left!”

“Seungcheol, who’s your friend?”

Jihoon quickly wanted to cry. He looked at Seungcheol with desperation.

“Keep your head low and ignore them,” Seungcheol mumbled.

He put an arm around the boy to keep him close as people with cameras crowded around and followed them as they walked. Jihoon’s world was spinning again. Expanding shapes, expanding shapes, expanding shapes… breathe in and out, in and out, in and out. It wasn’t really working.

“Not much longer,” Seungcheol assured him quietly, “you’re doing good.”

Those three words meant the world to Jihoon. He let them play on repeat in his mind. He was doing good. It was fine. Everything was okay. He was doing good.

Seungcheol opened the car door for him and stood in the way of the cameras as Jihoon climbed in. The boy was grateful. He quickly pulled up his favourite gif after doing up his seatbelt. The world seemed to be closing in on him and it was terrifying and hot and there was no oxygen for him and…

“It’s alright now,” Seungcheol said once inside the car, “we did it. What are five things you can see?”

“What?”

“I don’t know, Google says it helps with panic attacks. Five things, go.”

“Um…” Jihoon looked around, “my shoes. Chewing gum pot. Do they have to be little things or does the dashboard count?”

“Just anything you can see.”

“Okay. Dashboard. Steering wheel. You.”

Seungcheol nodded as he started the car. “I think feeling is next. What are four things you can physically feel?”

Jihoon struggled with that one (“I can only really feel the chair and my feet on the floor”) but Seungcheol said it didn’t necessarily matter if he could feel it right now - the only thing that mattered was that it calmed Jihoon down. His next two answers were allowed to be things he could feel if he wanted to, but couldn’t feel them at that current moment.

“You’re doing great,” Seungcheol told him.

They moved on to three things he could hear, two things he could smell then one thing he could taste.

“I did see one that changed one thing you can taste to one good thing about yourself,” said Seungcheol, “which kind of makes more sense to me because the only thing I can taste is my tongue.”

“Yeah, I can only really taste my tongue,” Jihoon agreed, but he was struggling to think of a good thing about himself that wasn’t cocky. “Um… I guess my hands are nice.”

“They’re very dainty, aren’t they?” Seungcheol glanced over as Jihoon held his hands out in front of him, “very fairy-like.”

“You look at my hands?”

“Well, I was just watching over you at that first party, so. I noticed.”

“Thanks for noticing my best feature.”

Seungcheol frowned. “You don’t like anything more than your hands?”

“Not really. I don’t dislike myself, I just think I’m very average looking, you know? Except my lips. They’re a little weird. If I’m not wearing makeup then it looks like my top lip kind of fades into my skin.”

“You wear makeup?”

“Foundation and lip tint. Oh, and I fill in my eyebrows.”

“I didn’t notice, to be honest.”

Jihoon nodded happily. “Good. I want it to look natural.”

“Wait, are your lips fake?”

“Oh, I just cut them out with the foundation. Like painting over where it fades. So kind of. It doesn’t even fade properly, I’m just naturally very red and it goes red above my lip so…”

“That’s cute. Like natural blush?”

“Yep. Makes me look even more like a kid.”

Jihoon tried not to ramble as Seungcheol’s words began to echo in his mind. Cute? He couldn’t have meant that tauntingly, right? Not in that context.

“I don’t think you look like a kid,” Seungcheol offered, “you definitely look young but I’d guess twenty?”

“I’ll take that,” smiled Jihoon. He watched trees pass through the window for a while before speaking again. “I got asked for an ID trying to buy scissors two months ago.”

“...how old do you have to be to buy scissors?”

“Eighteen.”

Seungcheol started laughing. “Oh dear. I remember when I was eighteen I started using my wikipedia page as ID.”

“Did it work?”

“No.”

Ten minutes passed and then they were back at Seungcheol’s apartment. Jihoon was much calmer now and very proud of himself for avoiding a fully blown panic attack, even if he had come close and even if he had needed help. That didn’t mean he wasn’t still worried though. He eyed every corner as they walked from the garage to the front door.

“Will they publish those pictures of us?” Jihoon asked quietly as Seungcheol opened the door to his flat. The guy sighed in response.

“I’ll speak to my publicist,” he promised, “and we can try to avoid it.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry that you got put through that,” Seungcheol said, turning to face the boy with an earnest look in his eyes, “all of it. I’m sorry we can’t do anything normally.”

“It’s okay.”

The actor tapped his fist on the nearest wall out of frustration.

“I’d love for us to go somewhere and be left in peace but I just… I don’t think that’s possible. I haven’t been left in peace since I was five years old. I want to show you shit and know that it’ll just be the two of us and that we won’t be followed and that you don’t have to worry about anything but… none of that can happen. And I’m sorry, Hoon, I really am.”

Jihoon was a little taken aback. Just a few days prior he was being an ass to him, and now he was so… whatever this was. “It’s okay, Cheol. It’s not your fault.”

Seungcheol turned away from him then. He seemed to rub his eyes or something but then he sniffed. Jihoon approached to put a hand on his back as an act of reassurement. Seungcheol shrugged him off.

“I’m fine,” he muttered.

“Are you crying? Where’s that come from?”

“I’m fine,” Seungcheol snapped. He shot a teary eyed glare at the boy who cowered back. “I’m going for a cigarette.”

The guy did as he said he would and this time, Jihoon remained in the living room. He sat down and brought up the shapes gif. Inhale, exhale. In and out. In and out.

For an actor, Seungcheol didn’t seem to be great at controlling his emotions. There was a saying that celebrities got stuck at the age they became famous - maybe Seungcheol never got the chance to grow up, at least emotionally. He supposed that was why he was so two-faced. And the more Jihoon thought about that, the less bad he felt for himself and more so for Seungcheol. It must be hard, in some ways, to live his life. But then again he didn’t really know any different.

Seungcheol returned after a few minutes and walked straight to the fridge.

“Do you want some whiskey?” He asked.

“No thanks.”

“Why? ‘Cause Mingyu isn’t here to pressure you?”

“It’s different at parties. You don’t want to be the only one not drinking at a party.”

Seungcheol hummed. “Maybe I should invite Chan next time. He doesn’t drink. He’s too scared he’ll become addicted.”

The star sat down beside Jihoon with his glass of whiskey and took a swig.

“Doesn’t everyone worry about addiction at first?” Jihoon asked.

“Yeah, but Chan’s very… he’s depressed, basically. It’s why he won’t do drugs either. The high you get from it worries him, you know? And he takes shit from Mingyu for it so he probably wouldn’t come if I invited him to a party…”

“Is Chan nice? Like, genuinely nice?”

Seungcheol was quick to nod. “Oh, he’s lovely. You two would get on really well.”

“Has he done anything since the show ended? I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else.”

Whilst Jihoon spoke, Seungcheol chugged his drink. Jihoon watched with a mildly amused expression.

“He didn’t until he was eighteen, I think,” he said, “then only took on side roles. On purpose. He declines bigger roles. I should probably call him later - it’s been a few months.”

Jihoon nodded. He would like to meet Chan one day, he decided, even if he did feel a bit sick thinking about it already.

As Seungcheol poured another drink, Jihoon realised that in a weird way he did enjoy his company. It felt like a culture shock but that was what made it interesting. He almost couldn’t get enough of Choi Seungcheol.

Chapter Text

“I think I know who your celebrity is,” Soonyoung said two days later.

Jihoon chuckled as he took a carton of apple juice from the fridge. “Oh yeah? And who might that be?”

“Choi Seungcheol. Either that or this guy looks just like you.”

Soonyoung directed his phone at Jihoon. It was open onto an article of two men who seemed to be outside Holland Park. The shorter of the two was dressed in dungarees, his head ducked low. The taller had his arm snugly on his back.

Jihoon rushed over, tripping on the way there, taking Soonyoung’s phone. The article was titled ‘Choi Seungcheol spotted with arm around mystery man’. As Jihoon scrolled he skim read what they had to say. They had decided that Jihoon was dressed effortlessly in simple dungarees and appeared camera shy, that Seungcheol was showing a protective side, that maybe they were new colleagues for a new film. And as Jihoon scrolled lower, he found pictures of them jumping across the stepping stones at Kyoto Garden. They were beaming at each other, eyes full of glee. The pictures were annoyingly nice, at least.

“I need to go,” he said due to unrelated reasons.

He rushed out of the flat with his phone and keys. The boy was still in comfortable shorts and a t-shirt but he didn’t have time to worry about that. He suddenly wished he had some guts on the road so that he could’ve taken Soonyoung’s car but alas, he threw himself on the train. Jihoon’s phone was glued to his hand so that he could focus on his precious breathing gif but it wasn’t working. He tried to think of absolutely anything else which was remarkably unsuccessful, so then the boy didn’t know what to do. Jihoon found himself googling Seungcheol’s name.

There were only a few articles about the two but that was enough. Comments were asking who he was, why they were so close, whether they were colleagues then worse, whether they were a couple. “Look at the spark in their eyes,” one comment read, “and then how protective Seungcheol is of him on the street. Would friends do that?”

“Yes,” Jihoon muttered under his breath, “obviously.”

He kept flicking through the comments even though he knew it was the worst thing he could’ve done at that moment. A few almost made him laugh such as “seungcheol threw the first brick at stonewall”, but then some were saying that boys can have fun together without being gay so aggressively that it actually came across as homophobic. Someone said Jihoon was cute, someone else said he was probably Seungcheol’s brother (a reply to that one argued that Jihoon didn’t look old enough to be Seungcheol’s only brother who was older than him) and to his surprise, someone was convinced that Jihoon was Chan even though the two didn’t look alike.

Then something caught his eye. It read “if I looked like that I’d hide from cameras too”. Jihoon couldn’t help but fixate on it. He had never thought that he was ugly - just plain. Now though… if that was someone’s first impression of him…

Originally Jihoon had thought that the pictures could have been far worse but now he scrolled back up and hated himself. His side profile was off and he suddenly despised the teardrop shape of his nose. His jawline was weird, his face too round, his eyes too small. And god, he needed to do something about his hair. Maybe it needed more styling. Jihoon looked as pathetic as he felt.

Deep breaths, he told himself.

The train reached his stop and Jihoon stood up for it. His feet didn’t seem to reach the floor though. Something shifted as he rose. Suddenly he had disconnected from the world and his body moved of its own accord - Jihoon no longer felt in control. His heart pounded but it didn’t feel like his heart. In fact, he barely felt anything at all. He was almost numb apart from this sort of weird feeling that was so out of body that he couldn’t even reach it.

Whilst still walking on a cloud, Jihoon made it onto the next train. He watched his hand scroll through more comments once seated. Some people did think he looked sweet in his dungarees but others said he looked embarrassingly poor next to Choi Seungcheol, as if the actor was doing charity work or Jihoon had won one of those “spend the day with this celebrity” competitions. No emotions hit him, but the detached feeling somehow found a way to increase.

Soon he was at his usual station and floating between busy people desperate to reach their own destinations. He emerged outside and the hot air bypassed him completely. Jihoon didn’t even notice how heavily he was breathing. Muscle memory moved his legs down looming streets that no longer felt familiar. As he approached Seungcheol’s building, his hand reached out to brush against the decorative railings.

It was cold. Jihoon stopped walking and just held on to the railing. He blinked as though he had just woken up, focusing on how the metal felt in his hand. His feet were back on the ground. A light breeze ruffled through his hair. Jihoon blinked a few more times then looked around. Finally he realised where he was and finally he realised how abnormal the journey here had been. What was that? He shook his head like he was getting rid of it and kept going up to Seungcheol’s building door. His hand trembled as he pressed the buzzer.

“It’s Jihoon,” he said shakily. He was let in.

“I’m so sorry,” Seungcheol said as he opened the door a minute later, “I did talk to my publicist, I swear to God–”

“It-it’s okay, Cheol. It’s not your fault. What do we do?”

Seungcheol rubbed his face. He headed towards the kitchen and Jihoon followed as per usual.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said, frustrated, “we just… wait for it to pass. Wait for it to get buried with something else.”

Seungcheol poured himself a brandy. He held it out to Jihoon who hesitated, but in the end he shook his head.

“Did you see the people saying we’re a couple?” He asked. Jihoon nodded.

“I saw it in the comments.”

“It’s all over Twitter.”

Fucking Twitter, Jihoon thought to himself. Why couldn’t they just shut up and let the world be?

“It’ll fizzle out, right?” The boy tried, his voice quiet. He didn’t want his face associated with the Choi Seungcheol. He didn’t have the guts for that.

“Well, yeah,” Seungcheol took a swig of his drink, “but I can’t have people knowing– thinking that I… that I’m gay, I…”

He had this sort of desperate look in his eyes that Jihoon couldn’t quite identify. His hand held the glass so tightly that his knuckles were white and the glass was threatening to shatter. He slammed it down on the counter. Seungcheol turned away from Jihoon, rubbed his face and turned back around.

“Jihoon, I’m bisexual,” he said. The desperate look was still in his eyes. Then finally Jihoon understood it. It was the look of someone who had spent years in denial, years closeted, years of hating himself for who he loved. It was the same look that Jihoon had worn when he came out to Soonyoung five years ago. He knew it all too well.

“Oh, Cheol, it’s okay–”

“I’ve never said that out loud before.”

“It’s alright–”

“You can’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t,” Jihoon promised, “it’s not my place to. Hey, it’s okay.”

Seungcheol had started crying. He pressed down on the counter to steady himself as his shoulders shook. Jihoon walked over, albeit startled by the sudden breakdown, and rubbed his back. This time, Seungcheol accepted the comfort.

“I want to ignore the men part,” he sobbed, “I can’t like men. Not me. It’s fine for anyone else, just not me… if they know I’m bi then I’ll struggle to get roles and everyone will be so disappointed because I’ll fail. The actings fine, I fucking hate my job, but I can’t fail. I can’t let everyone down. My mum gave up everything for me to have this life and I can’t ruin it. This ruins it. I wish I was straight. I have to be straight.”

Jihoon wasn’t sure what to say. He continued rubbing his back and letting him cry it out. It was nice to be distracted from his own issues but this was a lot - and he hadn’t expected any of it.

“There’s a lot to unpack there, Cheol.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. Don’t bottle things up. You can talk to me. I’m literally a ghostwriter - keeping secrets is my job.”

Seungcheol managed a smile and nodded. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

“How are you not having a panic attack right now?” He asked.

“Because you’re distracting me. Don’t change the subject.”

Seungcheol sighed, picking his drink up again for another swig. “I’m fine, Hoon. Ignore everything I said.”

“What, ignore that you’re struggling to accept yourself and you hate your lifelong career?”

“It’s complicated.”

“That’s why I’m suggesting that you talk about it.”

“You’ll just put it in the book.”

“No, I won’t. And I can’t publish any of it without your consent with the regular updates, can I? As I said, I can keep a secret. You can talk to me, Seungcheol.”

Seungcheol stared as though he was considering it. Then he treated himself to more of his drink instead.

“Thanks, Hoon.”

“I mean it.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Good.”

They each leaned against opposite counters. Whilst Seungcheol sipped through his drink, Jihoon stared into space. There was just an almost comfortable silence for a minute or so.

“I can see the difference in your lips,” Seungcheol said quietly, “you know, without makeup.”

“I’m very pink, aren’t I?”

“Very rosy cheeked,” he agreed, “it’s cute.”

“My nose is just… entirely pink.”

“Your lip does fade into your skin.”

A little embarrassed, Jihoon rubbed his hand against his nose.

“Yeah, I didn’t have time to do my makeup today. Soonyoung, my roommate–”

“Every time you mention him you explain who he is.”

Jihoon’s cheeks burned a brighter pink. “Sorry. Soonyoung showed me the article and I ran.”

Seungcheol burst out with laughter. “You just ran?”

“Well, I said I needed to go and I left.”

“I bet he suspects nothing.”

Jihoon smiled. “Yeah, that cat’s out of the bag. It’s okay though - he can keep secrets when he has to. He tells me everything about his clients eventually but only because I’m a ghostwriter too so even if I did tell, I’d probably lose my job.”

“Only Chan, Mingyu and Wonwoo know you’re my ghostwriter,” Seungcheol said, “I trust them with my life.”

“Really? Even Mingyu?”

“Yeah. I know he’s shit to you but he’s good to me. Although he did introduce me to drugs actually…”

“You were kind of shit with him when you got drunk,” Jihoon mumbled, unable to completely hide his hurt.

“I was? What did I say?”

Jihoon tugged on his ear as a nauseous feeling grew. “Called me dull because I wasn’t taking any shots in never have I ever. Called me a baby too whilst saying I didn’t want to prove Mingyu right when he called me pathetic and something like ‘oh you’re too weak for these drinks sweetheart’. It’s probably pathetic for me to get upset but…”

“Okay, the dull comment was a bit shit,” Seungcheol admitted, “so I’m sorry for that. I don’t remember saying it but I’ll take your word for it. The other two I do remember and I didn’t mean them like that. The Mingyu one? I was trying to get you to stick up for yourself. And the other one I was trying to help you out because I was worried. I’m sorry that they came off wrong. I never want to upset you, Hoon. I like your company, I really do.”

“Really? I’m not a hundred miles below you?”

“If anything, that’s why I like being with you. I get to feel normal, you know? Less pressured. Unless we’re working on the book and then I do feel pressured. My life really isn’t worth writing about, I’m just doing what my agent told me to do.”

“Well, I’ll make it all up to make it interesting,” Jihoon promised with a smile. Seungceol smiled back.

“And you won’t tell anyone that I’m… I’m bi? Not even Soonyoung?”

“Not a soul,” Jihoon crossed his heart as he said it then jokingly added, “because otherwise you’ll fire me and I want the money.”

Seungcheol chuckled and nodded. He looked much better than he did a few minutes prior. Jihoon felt better too. The nauseous feeling had quickly faded away which was good because he was afraid of that funny feeling from earlier returning, although he had no idea how that had started exactly.

Suddenly he remembered the comments on his appearance. He tugged on his ear again.

“Cheol? Can I ask you something? You’ll probably laugh at me but…”

“Go ahead. I won’t laugh.”

Jihoon rubbed his nose. “How do you, uh… deal with hate comments?”

Seungcheol looked at him with pity. “You’ve already seen hate comments?”

“Yeah. Bashing my appearance and my outfit. Sorry, I know it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. The main trick is to not look at any comments. But once you’ve already seen them I find that it’s best to talk over them, if that makes sense. If they say you’re ugly and that’s what you think when you look in the mirror, then tell yourself that you’re handsome or whatever. And also, remember that some of those are probably from those creepy jealous fans who get possessive over celebrities. Why would you listen to them?”

The boy smiled. “Yeah. Thanks, Cheol.”

“‘Course. You can talk to me about anything if you need to.”

“Ah, yes, me and my normal people problems.”

Seungcheol chuckled. “I’ll try to understand.”

He pulled out his box of cigarettes and said he was going out to the balcony. Jihoon followed, taking his usual seat. The sunlight was soothing. He took a deep breath and soaked it in. He was growing somewhat accustomed to Seungcheol’s lovely home, getting used to it and getting comfortable. His fine taste was still quite alarming though. The bathroom was all marble and it was surprisingly intimidating for a bathroom.

Seungcheol seemed to be appreciating the view, leaning over the railings like usual. Birds tweeted prettily in the nearby trees, cars honked and children yelled with glee as they played in the park nearby. You couldn’t see them thanks to tall looming trees, and Jihoon realised then that he had been imagining them like children from the 1800s: boys in knee high socks and shorts, girls in petticoats. Somehow when he thought of rich folk he thought of old fashioned, it seemed. He blamed it on the history nerd within him.

“Do you live here all the time?” Jihoon asked, “or do you have other homes elsewhere?”

“I have a house out in the countryside,” replied Seungcheol, “in Surrey. A place in L.A. And a villa in Greece. The countryside house is my favourite. I stay here for work purposes - and L.A - but when I have a load of time off, then I’m down in Surrey. Greece is for any free weeks in the summer.”

“So this is your business home?”

“Exactly. It’s nice enough, at least.”

“It’s very swanky.”

Seungcheol finished his cigarette and flicked it into the ashtray.

“I should really give this up.”

“Yep,” Jihoon quickly agreed. He followed him back inside. All he ever did these days was follow Seungcheol, it seemed. But he was beginning to truly enjoy his company and when he spent a few days without him, he almost missed him.

“I’ve got dinner with Mingyu and Wonwoo tonight,” Seungcheol said, “if you’d like to join us.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Jihoon replied, “but thanks. I’d better get going. I just felt like we needed to talk about the… the articles. Face to face.”

“Yeah. I’ll speak to my publicist again and see if we can bury it quicker with anything. I’m really sorry that your face has ended up online with me.”

“I’ll get over it,” the writer sighed/hoped, trying to avoid another panic attack, “they don’t have my name at least.”

Seungcheol opened the door for him as Jihoon slipped his shoes on. “Promise me you won’t look at more comments, okay? And ignore what they say.”

“I’ll try. Oh, and Cheol?”

“Hm?”

Jihoon looked around to ensure that the coast was clear before saying what he wanted to say. “I’m proud of you.”

Seungcheol blinked, a little stunned. He just nodded with a quiet “thank you”. Jihoon spotted him wiping his eye as he closed the door.

The funny feeling didn’t return on his way home, thank God. It had terrified him when he had come out of it and it still scared him to think about now, but he refused to tell anyone. They would probably think he was being dramatic. Maybe he was being dramatic. He hoped so.

Soonyoung was pleased to see him when he finally returned home. He had been worried after he had turned a little pale and rushed off.

“Hey! Did you go to Cherry’s?”

“I did,” Jihoon replied.

“Is Cherry Mr Choi Seungcheol?”

“Well, I can’t really deny it now, can I?”

Soonyoung snorted. “Is everything alright? You feeling okay? Why was he holding onto you like that, by the way?”

“Yes, yes, and to protect me from the press. He knows I get anxiety.”

“That went well.”

Jihoon managed a smile. “It’ll be okay. I trust him.”

Chapter Text

A new story came out thanks to Seungcheol posting a throwback picture of he, Seokmin and Chan as kids. It sparked new rumours of a Three & Us reunion for some reason, so it did the trick. That was until Seungcheol posted a picture a day later of himself in a restaurant, presumably from his dinner with Mingyu and Wonwoo, where he wore dungarees with a cream sweater and captioned it with ‘Dungarees are stylish and full of effort’ along with a lipstick print emoji. Then the articles were saying “Choi Seungcheol hits back at headlines about mystery friend” and it gave Jihoon a panic attack that Soonyoung had to calm him down from. It was going well.

For that, Soonyoung was furious at the actor, especially since Jihoon had revealed that the guy knew about his anxiety. He argued that Seungcheol shouldn’t have expected anything other than a panic attack from the boy but Jihoon just mumbled that he was only sticking up for him. He knew that Jihoon was sensitive.

“He’s just trying to help,” he said, but that didn’t satisfy Soonyoung at all.

Jihoon had an appointment with Seungcheol just a few days later. He had always thought that Seungcheol’s schedule must be somewhat empty to be able to see Jihoon so frequently, and now that the boy knew he actually hated acting, that made more sense. Maybe that was why he had taken on the book project: if he wanted it to look like he had written it himself, he needed time off. He didn’t want the book. He wanted the time off.

Soon he was at Seungcheol’s door and nervously ringing the buzzer as per their usual routine. The door was open and Jihoon entered the open apartment door upstairs. He smiled when he saw him sitting at the table.

“Hiya,” he said, “whatcha doin’?”

“Reading,” Seungcheol said, “let me just finish my paragraph.”

Jihoon did so. He placed his satchel on the coffee table meanwhile.

“I got you something,” he said as Seungcheol folded his page and closed the book. His eyebrows were raised with surprise. Or was it expectancy? It was something, probably.

“Oh?”

Jihoon opened his satchel and pulled out an A5 sized flag on a white plastic stick with three striped colours: magenta, lavender and blue. He held it out with a timid smile.

“What is it?” Seungcheol asked, taking it curiously.

“...it’s the bisexual pride flag.”

“There’s a bisexual pride flag? I thought there was just the rainbow.”

“That’s just LGBT in general. This one’s yours.”

Seungcheol took the flag and held it almost with uncertainty but mostly as though he was admiring it. Then he smiled the shyest of smiles.

“Thank you. I’ll put it in my room, though. I don’t think I’ll be out to anyone else for a while.”

“That’s okay. It’s yours to do whatever you want with.”

“Do you have a flag? You’re just gay, right?”

“I am and we do.”

Jihoon pulled it up on his phone and showed Seungcheol quite happily. Seungcheol gave him his approval and then disappeared to find a place for his new little flag in his room. Like always, Jihoon followed as though he was a lost puppy.

He had never seen Seungcheol’s bedroom before. It had grey carpets and white walls. A king sized bed with a navy leather bed frame stood in the middle of the room and dark wood bedside table on either side. Three pictures of the beach were hung above the bed on the wall in equal spaces apart. A tall window offered natural light from the left, with white drapes flowing past it. There was also a chest of drawers covered in expensive colognes and notes whilst a narrow mirror stood beside that. It looked incredibly comfortable.

“God, this is nice,” Jihoon said. Seungcheol smiled.

“It’s not too dissimilar from the guest room,” he stated almost humbly.

“Yeah, but everything was spinning when I saw that room so I didn’t really see it at all– do you have an en suite?!”

“Yes,” Seungcheol chuckled. Jihoon had just spotted the door to the right.

“Is it all marbley like the main one?”

“Yes. Black and white theme. You can look if you’re that curious.”

Jihoon opened the door and gasped. It was glorious. White tiled walls, black tiled floor, and one of those sinks that was unreasonably large. Its top was white and the surface beneath it was black marble. The toilet was shiney white porcelain and tucked into the corner was a shower that was far too fancy. Inside it the plain tiles became marble too and the shower door was all glass, lined in black like it was just a window pane.

“What was the need?” Jihoon asked in awe.

“I don’t know, it came like this,” Seungcheol said and moved to the sink. He tucked the flag behind the mirror so that it pointed out at a slant. He said it was probably the safest here. Jihoon understood.

“I realised I was gay when I was fourteen,” he said a little awkwardly because he felt the need to say something about it, “and the first person I came out to was Soonyoung when I was nineteen. I had a panic attack over it and he had to calm me down and then I just… spat it out.”

Seungcheol nodded, silent for a moment. This was unknown territory to him. “I… I guess I’ve known since I was about the same age. Just didn’t fully admit it until I told you.”

“And I thought five years closeted was hell.”

Seungcheol sighed. “I don’t usually let myself think about it because then I start convincing myself that I actually have a preference for men and I feel sick and… are preferences a thing?”

“Yeah, you can have a preference. Soonyoung prefers men too.”

“He’s bi?”

“Yeah. He’s very open about it. He tells people at the first chance he gets to weed out any homophobes but he’s not had much trouble at all.”

Seungcheol was rubbing the back of his neck, staring at the flag. His expression was blank with a tinge of sadness. Jihoon wanted to help but he wasn’t too sure how, so he figured that maybe Seungcheol could get through it himself like Jihoon did. He knew he was there for him and sometimes that was enough.

They went back to the living room and sat together on the sofa. Seungcheol connected his phone to a speaker and shuffled his music on a low volume.

“I liked your dungarees post,” Jihoon said, “on Instagram.”

“Oh, I, uh… yeah. I got annoyed at the press for a bit, so…”

“Although you kind of stole my outfit.”

Seungcheol saw Jihoon’s little smile and chuckled. “It was a good outfit.”

“And now people think we’re a couple again.”

“The headlines are saying friends. That’s what I’m focusing on. Shit, you didn’t get worked up, did you?”

Jihoon fidgeted. “I was fine.”

“Sorry,” Seungcheol sighed, knowing better than to believe him. “I’ll ask next time. Hey, can I have your username? I have a private account we can follow each other on.”

Soon jihoonuji had a follow request from csctmdcjf, which confused Jihoon for a moment until Seungcheol pointed out that it was his initials followed by writing his name in hangul but on the English keyboard - the ‘t’ on the English keyboard was in the same place as the ‘s’ on the Korean keyboard and so on and so forth. Jihoon’s username was just his name followed by his childhood nickname.

“Uji?” Asked Seungcheol, “that’s cute.”

“Yeah,” he nodded, face burning, “it’s short for ‘our Jihoon’ in Korean. My parents write it in hangul so it doesn’t really look good in English but…”

“You could do what I did. Or sometimes Korean gets romanised with different letters, you could use that.”

Seungcheol opened up his notes and wrote ‘Woozi’.

“Like that.”

“But then people would call me woozy.”

“True,” Seungcheol hummed, but Jihoon noticed him changing his name in his contacts to ‘Woozi’ which he thought was cute.

“You’re Cherry in my phone,” he revealed shyly, “like a code name.”

“Where did Cherry come from? Cheollie?”

“...no, but that works too. I think it was from your lipstick shade.”

“Ah,” Seungcheol nodded knowingly, “that’s sweet. I like that. Cherry.”

Seungcheol turned to his phone and started to create a memoji for Jihoon. Once the boy noticed, he returned the gesture.

“Why does it look more like you if I make you a child?” The actor giggled.

“Oh, shut it,” Jihoon laughed, although when he made his own he also found it best to make it a little younger to make his face shape look more accurate.

“I can’t find a mullet hairstyle.”

Jihoon turned red. Soonyoung called his hairstyle a mullet as a joke and to be fair, it was short at the front and long at the back, but it was only because he went a while without a haircut then decided he liked it longer at the back. “There is one. Let me find it for you.”

Jihoon found it and then soon, their memojis were done. They sent each other messages with them as they pulled cute and/or funny faces with them. Seungcheol was delighted to discover that they worked if you puff your cheeks out.

“We actually have work to do,” Jihoon said after a while, but he laughed as he spoke.

“Oh, I know.”

Eventually they stopped procrastinating and Jihoon took out his notebook. Seungcheol ran his hands through his hair with a sigh.

“Where are we up to?”

“Spire of the Light.”

“Ah. Yesterday’s Stranger was next. I was eighteen and it was a murder mystery: my first leading role in a film.”

“Did you kill them?”

“No, my best friend did.”

“Ugh, spoilers. I haven’t seen it.”

Seungcheol chuckled. Jihoon was already writing.

“Do you want to just… word vomit about this project? I’ll note down what I can and text for anything I missed.”

“Uh, okay… well, I only had one audition for that. They asked me to do it so I did. I went for the one audition where they just shoved a script into my hands. I’d never seen it before so I improvised, they liked it, and then I was Eric Smith from Yesterday’s Stranger. The main cast hung out a lot to get to know each other because then our acting would be more fluid…”

Seungcheol kept rambling, saying anything relevant that came to mind. Soon Jihoon had two pages full just for the one film. Finally the book was getting somewhere.

“I don’t think I could get that much for Three & Us,” Seungcheol admitted, “I don’t remember most of it very much. I remember the later seasons really well but the first few are really blank and I mix it all up.”

“Have you watched any of it back?”

“No. I watch stuff at the premieres and then I don’t watch them again. I hate seeing myself on screens.”

“Can I put that?”

“Sure.”

Jihoon wrote it down. “Can I ask you something?”

Seungcheol nodded.

“Is this project an excuse for you to take a year off from acting?”

The star scratched his neck as he considered his reply. “Well… Wonwoo convinced me to do it and said I needed a break because I work hard and that translated to… I should do it because I don’t want to do my job.”

“How long until people would find it reasonable for you to retire from acting?”

“...when I’m old.”

Jihoon sighed, exhausted for him. “That’s not living, Cheol. That’s just shit.”

“Yeah, well. Mum gave up all of her time and my brother to give me this, so here we are.”

“Your brother?”

“He grew up with my dad instead.”

“Are you close with your dad?”

“Um… I got too busy with Three & Us to see him regularly.”

“That really sucks. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Seungcheol shrugged with a fake smile, “I have three homes and money to last me a lifetime so my childhood isn’t exactly an issue.”

Jihoon sighed and looked at him with pity that he would’ve hated to receive himself. “Don’t dismiss your issues because of other privileges.”

“It just sounds ungrateful, doesn’t it? It’s stupid for me to complain.”

“No. You’re allowed to feel what you feel. Go to therapy.”

Seungcheol snorted. “I’m fine, thanks. You go to therapy.”

“Don’t uno reverse me,” Jihoon said, trying not to laugh. Seungcheol responded by saying that he hadn’t played Uno in years and next thing they knew, he had found an A4 sized pack of Uno online and had ordered it. Procrastination at its finest.

“I’ll have to get the boys together and you,” Seungcheol said, “and we can play giant Uno.”

“What, Mingyu and Wonwoo?”

Seungcheol looked offended. “Seokmin and Chan.”

“Oh! Sounds good.”

Jihoon mentally noted that ‘the boys’ = Seokmin and Chan and Wonwoo and Mingyu were… anything else. It was cute that he referred to them as such. Whenever he spoke about them, Seungcheol developed a twinkle in his eye.

“How often do you speak with Seokmin?” He asked, “as often as Chan?”

“We speak here and there. We’re still close though - we just pick up where we left off. He sent me a weird meme this morning actually. It had a fish from Spongebob and something about milfs?”

“‘Man I Love Fish’?”

“Yes!”

“Soonyoung loves that meme a worrying amount.”

“I think Seokmin does too. He’s really sweet, but the type that makes you worry. I feel like he’s always going to get scammed. He’s nice to everyone and doesn’t get angry and can’t stand up for himself. The amount of times he cried on set when the director criticised him… you know, he and Chan were the best thing this career got me. Better than the riches. I should really talk to them more.”

“Invite them over for dinner,” Jihoon suggested, “on… Tuesday.”

“It’s Friday.”

“Plenty of time.”

If Jihoon gave himself three days to organise dinner, he would probably die from a heart attack. He assumed the actor had some guts though.

Seungcheol sighed. “I’ll text the group chat.”

He did so and within half an hour, his two friends had agreed to coming over for dinner on Tuesday. Seungcheol looked a little happier for it even though he wasn’t sure what he was going to make.

Then, unfortunately, they needed to get some more work done. They were a month in now and Jihoon barely had anything. Seungcheol told him about premieres, what it was like as a child versus as an adult, how most older people still associated him with Three & Us and were always shocked to see how he had grown. He spoke about how the internet exploded when he had his first shirtless scene and his lines included swearing, how many articles spoke about how he had grown and judging how he had grown up, and how he was actually rather uncomfortable with how many journalists said you could always tell he would “grow up to be sexy” since his child TV show started. Jihoon learned about behind-the-scene anecdotes and how they kept the kids going even when they were tired and grumpy. Sometimes they had to incorporate the grumpiness into the script. In fact, half of the show was improvised thanks to handling three young children as part of the main cast.

They had four pages when Jihoon said they had enough for today. Seungcheol looked relieved.

“I’ll send you this month’s installment later,” he promised, “I think I’m overdue.”

“That’s okay. As long as it gets to me eventually. Although I think I need to buy more clothes, I can’t keep wearing these trousers.”

“More dungarees.”

“I actually found these beige trousers for about £200. Hopefully they meet your approval.”

Seungcheol blinked like he forgot that £200 was actually a fair bit of money. “Send me a picture when you get them. Ooh, do you want me to send you things I think would suit you?”

“Yes please. I have barely any concept of what looks good and trying new things without validation makes me nervous.”

“Everything makes you nervous.”

“It really does.”

Jihoon packed his things up and stretched. Then he picked up his satchel, placing it in his lap.

“Do you need to go?” Seungcheol asked. The boy nodded.

“Yeah. I promised Soonyoung I’d be home around five for dinner. He’s getting fish and chips.”

“I’ll drive you home,” Seungcheol offered.

The two left after Jihoon asked if he was sure. Seungcheol had plenty of time on his hands and nothing to do so he was very happy to help him out and Jihoon was very grateful.

“You can join us for dinner if you like,” Jihoon said, “now that Soonyoung knows that you’re Cherry.”

“I’d better not. Thanks though. Oh, that reminds me: I’m having another party tomorrow night, if you’d like to come.”

“...sure. What time?”

“Seven.”

Jihoon nodded with a smile, even though he had only accepted the invite out of panic.

They listened to Taylor Swift on the journey home. Seungcheol had fallen in love with her album ‘Lover’ and Jihoon didn’t blame him. Music made the journey pass quickly even though few words were exchanged between the two. Then Jihoon was back in the comfort of his own home where he sat with Soonyoung for no longer than ten minutes before the guy popped out to buy dinner.

Whilst on his own, Jihoon opened up his laptop and typed ‘Choi Seungcheol interview’. He clicked on the most recent one from three months ago. In it, Seungcheol was dressed in a navy blazer suit with his top buttons undone, his dark hair slicked back. He was kind, energetic and friendly. This was nowhere near the Seungcheol he had first met, but he was getting there. He was getting more comfortable and that was nice.

“So what has been your favourite role?” The interviewer asked, leaning forward with interest.

“I actually hated them all,” Choi Seungcheol replied with a straight face. Then he laughed with a grin. “I’m kidding. I don’t have a favourite. They all mean so much to me and they all mean something different…”

As Seungcheol kept going about how every role formed a piece in his heart, Jihoon watched whilst biting his nail. On the surface, the man on the screen was a cheerful celebrity who was content and in love with life. But the blankness in his eyes was a gateway to the Seungcheol that Jihoon was beginning to know. When he said he hated every role, that wasn’t a joke. What was a joke was the ramble that followed. None of it was true. The Choi Seungcheol caught on camera was not the true Choi Seungcheol at all.

And now that had been pointed out, Jihoon couldn’t unsee it.

Chapter Text

Party at seven. Party at seven. Party at seven.

Jihoon felt sick. What the fuck was he going to wear? He couldn’t wear that one pair of trousers again. To switch it up, he paired his black skinny jeans with his fancy striped button up and hoped that none of them remembered him wearing it before. He did his makeup with more effort than usual, applying a little more lip tint and actually bothering with eyeshadow. Soonyoung looked him up and down when he emerged from his room.

“What’ve you dolled yourself up for?” He asked, “you look nice, but why?”

“Party at Cheol’s. I’m leaving in half an hour.”

“Another one? Hoon, these never go well.”

“Only because I’m not used to them.”

“You have anxiety.”

“I’m working through it! I studied psychology, I know how fears work. This’ll help.”

Soonyoung laughed but it was more with him than at him. “You studied that years ago, what do you even remember?”

“Phobias. And attachment with babies for some reason. Oh, and that guy who just shoved a load of people in a fake prison to test social roles and the participants fucked around and created police brutality.”

“And the Oedipus complex?”

“I’m trying to suppress that one, actually.”

“I wish I could.”

Jihoon snacked on some rice cakes, mostly out of boredom, then decided to leave a little earlier than he needed to. Soonyoung wished him luck and the boy laughed nervously. His heart was already racing. He tried his very best to ignore it, to breathe, to get through it.

Mingyu was going to be there. He had to face Mingyu. This time he really didn’t want to drink, and Mingyu was going to dig his nails in and probably pressure him into drinking, call him pathetic, compare him to a child, that he wasn’t good enough to hang out with them and he was better off alone at home, continuing to be antisocial because he was too weak to handle anything else.

He made it onto the train just in time. A woman gave up the priority seat for him, saying that he looked a little pale. Jihoon managed a smile and thanked her although now he just felt guilty. He wasn’t unable to stand. He was just anxious. He was selfish, lazy, pathetic.

Just a minute ago Jihoon could feel his feet on the floor. Now his feet were floating. He was floating. He couldn’t feel anything and it didn’t bother him at all.

Jihoon didn’t really walk off the train. He just moved. Muscle memory controlled him and got him to the next station, onto the next train, and he collapsed into a seat on the thankfully emptier train.

He wanted to go home. Going to Seungcheol’s for a party felt like drowning. All sound was muffled as though he really was drowning. Mingyu was hot on his mind and he wouldn’t leave him alone - and that was without him even being there. Jihoon couldn’t breathe.

At some point Jihoon arrived. Time wasn’t passing anymore. Jihoon simply… was. He was just being. He buzzed on the 3A button, he wandered inside, he slipped through the open door all without anything touching him, without feeling anything.

“Look who it is!” Mingyu exclaimed, having already arrived with Wonwoo. Jihoon blinked at him.

“Hey, Hoon,” Seungcheol greeted with a smile, “you alright?”

Their voices were funny. It was like Jihoon’s ears were blocked. He heard them and he could understand him, but something wasn’t quite right. Jihoon was incapable of acknowledging the difference though and he nodded.

“Sure? You look a little startled.”

“That’s my face, is it not?” Words fell out and Seungcheol chuckled.

“I guess so.”

They started drinks quite quickly and Mingyu had already pulled out pills. They were pretty and pink. Little pink circles… Mingyu noticed him watching and offered the bag to him.

Jihoon watched his hands open the packet and take one. He chose one that had been broken in half but he didn’t really care. Mingyu called him weak (“damn, starting with half strength?”); Jihoon tried his best to ignore it. He didn’t know what the tablet would do, in half or in full, but he hoped that it would make him feel alive in a better way than alcohol did. It looked like the esctasy tablets that he had seen before. That stuff made you happy, right?

“Aw, he’s growing up,” Mingyu cooed. Seungcheol looked over and his eyes widened.

“Hoon, that’s a bit of a strong start.”

“Let him,” Mingyu said, but Wonwoo was frowning too. Jihoon made eye contact with Mingyu.

“D-do I just swallow it?”

“Yep.”

Jihoon did so. He didn’t taste any of it.

“I’m staying sober for him,” Seungcheol decided out loud. Why did he care? Wonwoo nodded and Mingyu rolled his eyes.

“He’ll be fine. He only took half. Like a good boy.”

“Sorry, but if he’s getting high for the first time then someone has to look after him.”

“Why do you care so much? He’s just your writer.”

Jihoon heard all of it but nothing really entered his cloudy mind. He went and sat on the sofa, drawing his legs to his chest and resting his chin on top of his knees. He wasn’t too sure what to do with himself. Seungcheol sighed and sat with him.

“You’re acting a little off,” he said softly, “is everything okay?”

“It’s just the usual, don’t worry about me. Go have fun - get high or something.”

Seungcheol went to say something but hesitated and then said nothing at all. Instead he just watched the other two swallow their own (full) tablets, thankful that Jihoon was sitting still and staying safe for now at least. He kept a close eye on the boy and waited for the ecstasy to kick in.

Everything felt bizarre. The music and everyone’s voices were muffled as though the words were floating. It was audible and Jihoon understood, but he had to focus harder than usual. He still couldn’t feel the carpet beneath his feet. He couldn’t feel the sofa beneath him either. Everything was just… weird. Yet somehow, only an ounce of him noticed and the rest of him brushed off that ounce.

It took about twenty minutes for the ecstasy to have an effect. He slowly grew more fidgety and looked around more, moving to sit normally and leaning forwards to watch Mingyu and Wonwoo as they sat on the counter drinking and swinging their legs.

“What does he see in him?” Jihoon asked, “Wonwoo, I mean. In Mingyu.”

“Well… he is nice,” Seungcheol replied, “just… not to you. They’re a good match really. Mingyu’s always been there for him and he would do anything for him.”

“Hm. I don’t like Mingyu.”

“I know you don’t. He looks down on a lot of people, not just you. If you have his approval then he’s a sweetheart. That’s why I hang out with him. I have his approval.”

“He’s a dick.”

Seungcheol smiled. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Soonyoung hates him too,” the boy kept going, “he wrote his book last year.”

“That was Soonyoung?”

“Mhm.”

“Okay, then shut up because if Mingyu overheard that he would make sure Soonyoung never gets another project.”

“See? He’s a dick.”

“To be fair, Soonyoung shouldn’t have told you that and you shouldn’t have told me.”

“I don’t care right now.”

“I guessed.”

Jihoon looked at Seungcheol then. “You can be a dick too sometimes. I hated you when we first met.”

Seungcheol took a long, deep breath. “I know. It all just comes out. It’s not on purpose–”

“You just accidentally told me I looked cheap and spoke rudely?”

“I was stressed. You know that I don’t want to do this book. And the cheap comment was looking out for you. The press…”

“Your idea of looking out for someone is very different to mine.”

“Well, we live very different lives, don’t we, Lee Jihoon?”

“Mm.” The boy rearranged himself to sit cross legged. “I like you now, though. You’re nicer than you were. You’re very pretty too, did you know that? You probably did. You’re told that everyday.”

“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.”

Jihoon considered it for a second before shaking his head. “I’m too round. I look like a loaf of bread.”

Seungcheol stifled a laugh. He didn’t agree but it was a funny thing to say.

“And that’s an issue because… you’re gluten intolerant?”

“Ugh,” Jihoon suddenly flopped against the back of the sofa like a child, “I hate being gluten intolerant. It took me a year to figure out why I was so ill and I lost so much weight and I’ve only recently really gained any back. I starved myself to stop myself from getting ill, you see. I still don’t eat enough. I’m just not used to it. Except I’m hungry all the time and then on a day I do eat enough I just feel sick and bloated and… ugh.”

“How long has it been?”

“Few years.”

Seungcheol blinked. He wasn’t used to a chatty, mildly oversharing Jihoon. “Well, that’s not good. Try to eat little and often - you might feel less sick.”

The boy hummed, unbothered in this strange state. His senses still didn’t seem to be working and still, Jihoon didn’t particularly notice. Somewhere within him he knew that he wasn’t quite right, but now he was blaming it on the drugs.

“Do you get high a lot?” He asked.

“Uh… well, we tend to do this weekly, so I guess it depends how you define a lot.”

The other two wandered over then. They sat on the other sofa and Wonwoo started dealing out some cards out of nowhere. Jihoon read the box that had been placed on the table: it was Cards Against Humanity.

Mingyu leaned over and placed something in his hand. Jihoon looked to see another half of a tablet.

“You seem to be doing okay,” he said, “do you want to try more?” Wonwoo glanced over from his cards.

“Jesus, Mingyu, leave him be,” he lectured.

“I’m just helping him have fun!”

Seungcheol went to take the tablet back but Jihoon was too quick. He had placed it in his mouth and swallowed it.

“I want to have fun.”

Seungcheol stared in disbelief and then at Mingyu.

“You– he– fucking hell, Mingyu!”

“Hey, he could’ve said no–”

“He has anxiety, he’s not going to say no! Stop taking advantage of that for your own amusement!”

“I’m not going to step on eggshells for a grown adult.”

“Oh, come off it, Mingyu,” Wonwoo snapped, “just leave the poor thing alone.”

Mingyu shut up in a huff. Now he wore a thunderous scowl. His boyfriend? Partner? Romantic interest? Wonwoo. Wonwoo handed around the piles of playing cards he had sorted and everyone checked out how good their deal was. Jihoon was already giggling but only because the words were swimming.

They played a good, long game. Mingyu cheered up after five minutes and he played some decent cards, but it was Wonwoo who was winning. Jihoon was a close second. Anyone who knew him could easily tell he was on something because usually during Cards Against Humanity, he was too anxious to play any good (and therefore very risky) cards. Meanwhile, everytime Mingyu chose Jihoon’s as the best he tried not to look annoyed about it and vice versa. Jihoon was very pleased if Seungcheol was the winner of his rounds.

You could almost pinpoint when the second half of the tablet kicked in. Jihoon suddenly started giggling louder, harder and more often, vibrating as he placed his cards down, collapsing on Seungcheol’s shoulder with laughter. Seungcheol rubbed his back each time with a slightly worried smile.

Wonwoo won with fifteen cards. Mingyu celebrated with a hug and a kiss whilst Jihoon was just glad that it wasn't Mingyu who had won. Whilst those two started chatting with each other, Jihoon flopped onto Seungcheol’s lap. His eyes did tell him that was laying on Seungcheol’s thighs but he couldn’t feel his warmth. He held his hands out in front of him. They didn’t feel like his own. They hadn’t done since he was on the first train. He was merely watching them as an outsider. He was watching himself as an outsider.

“Can I tell you a secret?” He asked quietly.

“Of course.”

“I don’t feel right.”

Seungcheol put his hand on the boy’s arm and rubbed it reassuringly.

“In what way?”

“I don’t know.”

His friend frowned. “I think it’s probably the ecstasy.”

“Soonyoung’s going to kill me. He’s so protective and he worries about me so much. If he finds out I’ve taken ecstasy… I need a drink.”

Jihoon scrambled up but Seungcheol quickly grabbed hold of him.

“Hoon, no. Go to bed. Ecstasy can make you anxious – sleep it off.”

“You’re mad at me.”

“No,” Seungcheol sighed, then made eye contact with Wonwoo.

“Shall we go?” He asked, more like he wanted to. Maybe he was worried about the combination of Mingyu and Jihoon or something - I don’t know, I’m narrating Jihoon’s life, not Wonwoo’s.

“Probably best. Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. Look after Jihoon.”

As Mingyu got up, he made eye contact with the boy. It felt cold, disappointed, shameful. Jihoon looked away. When the two were out of the door and Seungcheol stood him up, his legs were like jelly. The star guided him to his own bedroom and all Jihoon could do was watch his body move.

“Stay here tonight,” Seungcheol said, “tell Soonyoung you were drunk. It’s okay.”

He sat Jihoon down on the edge of the bed as he rummaged through a drawer. After judging Jihoon’s size, he grabbed some sweatpants that were a little too small for him and a random t-shirt.

“Change into these,” he instructed. Jihoon took his shirt off there, unbothered in his current state, and Seungcheol turned around to offer some privacy. He gave him a minute and Jihoon was now standing with his own clothes in his arms. Seungcheol’s clothes looked adorably massive on the boy’s small figure.

“I’m sorry,” Jihoon mumbled.

“What for?”

“I don’t know. I’m just sorry.”

“You don’t need to be.”

Jihoon just nodded. He stood limply, staring at the floor.

“Will I remember this tomorrow?” He asked softly. Seungcheol gave him a gentle smile as he nodded.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I don’t really want to.”

“Well, save that worry for tomorrow, yeah?”

“Okay.”

“Let’s get you into bed. God knows you need it.”

Jihoon padded behind Seungcheol and followed him through the living room and into the guest bedroom. He saw the large bed and climbed in without much thought. He didn’t notice Seungcheol smiling fondly at him.

“You know where I am if you need me,” he said.

“Mm.”

“Sleep well, Hoon.”

“Mm.”

Seungcheol flicked the light off and shut the door. Jihoon wasn’t particularly tired so he stared at the light beneath the crack in the door. Everything was silent which was nice after the weird muffledness of earlier’s party. The funny feeling was still there although Jihoon remained unable to realise that it was abnormal. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

Jihoon tossed and turned for what felt like forever. Sleep wouldn’t come. The elatedness that had entered his mind eventually left and Jihoon lay still, staring at the ceiling. He was in a starfish position and yet he didn’t take up even half of the king sized bed, it seemed. Somehow the boy was unable to appreciate the luxury of it all. Now he just felt like shit and the anxiety wouldn’t leave him alone.

His heart was racing like a violent drum. The evening played over and over in his mind - every look from Mingyu and every detail from the way Seungcheol argued with him. A small rift seemed to have been created and Jihoon only felt guilt for getting in the way. Now Mingyu really would despise him - especially because he had ended the night early.

Eventually Jihoon climbed out of bed and opened the door as though he was a restless child. He quickly spotted Seungcheol, who was sitting on the sofa and watching television. He heard the door open and glanced over.

“Hey,” he greeted, “are you alright?”

“Can’t sleep.”

“Mm. Ecstasy does that sometimes.”

Jihoon placed himself next to the actor and watched TV with him. It was Three & Us. It was early on in the episode so there wasn’t yet too much plot for Jihoon to grasp. The two parents were currently in the oak themed kitchen discussing their youngest son’s troubles at school. It was good that they had kept the kids’ names the same for the show - the child actors didn’t get confused and neither did the drowsy Jihoon.

“How old were you all in this one?” He asked, his voice soft.

“Uh… Chan was five, Seokmin seven, me nine.”

“Cute.”

Little baby Seungcheol appeared on screen within a minute or so. He was dressed in a t-shirt that was a little too big and khaki shorts that came to his scraped knees. His hair was messy in a sweet way, his cheeks plump and eyes sparkling.

“Seokmin’s stuck in Chan’s Spiderman costume,” the little boy reported.

“Wasn’t planned,” narrated the real Seungcheol on the sofa, “he tried it on and got stuck and when you’re working with kids you don’t have all day, so we had to improvise.”

“Do you watch this a lot?”

Seungcheol shrugged. “Sometimes. I get nostalgic, I guess.”

“I’ve never actually seen this properly,” Jihoon said, “as in start to finish. My parents liked it so I kind of watched it when it was in the background. Usually I was just… playing with toy cars instead or something.”

“I always wanted toy cars. Did you have one of those car mats? And the little plastic cars?”

“Yeah, I did. Didn’t you?”

To his surprise, Seungcheol shook his head. “I didn’t really have toys or get gifts or anything. I think my mum just thought that the money I earned would be good enough but as a kid you just want a toy car, you know? I never got that.”

“What did you do at home?”

“Um… well, I had a lot of interviews and premieres and things. When I was home I was doing schooling. Otherwise the toys I got were fancy stuff like big Lego sets that frustrated me or the climbing frame we had in the garden. I liked my crayons the best, I think.”

“I bet you had every Crayola colour available.”

“I… yeah. I did.”

Jihoon just smiled. He didn’t have a lot of energy in him to do so or say much else. Seungcheol moved his blanket to share with the boy. He could tell that the ecstasy had worn off now and the comedown had already begun, so for now he let the boy just rest in the late night living room glow. It was nice and cosy - the only sound, aside from the TV, was the faint cars on the streets outside. Jihoon sat still and stared blankly at the screen.

“How are you feeling?” Seungcheol asked.

“I don’t know.”

“...better than bad, I suppose.”

“Mm.”

Neither said much else. Peacefully, they watched the episode before them. Jihoon slowly relaxed against the sofa and sleepiness finally came over him. He sank lower until he was almost leaning on Seungcheol instead. The guy didn’t mind. He thought it rather sweet. He let him be until he noticed the boy’s eyelids fluttering.

“I think you might be able to sleep now,” said Seungcheol softly. Jihoon’s eyes snapped open.

“Mm.”

The boy rubbed his face with the ball of his thumb as he stood up and stifled a yawn.

“Night, Cheol.”

“Sleep well.”

Jihoon stumbled towards the guest room and climbed back into bed in the dark. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was fast asleep.

Chapter Text

Jihoon woke up feeling exactly the same but this time, he wasn’t sure where he was. He looked around at the white walls and the white curtains, then stared at the white door. Why was the room so white? Even the foot of the bed was beige. Brown plaid cushions were placed on the loveseat at the end of the bed although they didn’t quite belong. Neither did the red throw beneath those. After the visual exploration, Jihoon remembered he was at Seungcheol’s. He rubbed his eyes with a yawn.

He lay motionless for a while, staring at the sun’s glow from behind the curtains, until the door was gently opened. It was Seungcheol checking up on him, of course.

“Morning,” he greeted, “how’re you doing?”

“I’m okay, thanks.”

“Do you feel like breakfast yet?”

“Mm. Not really. But thanks.”

“I’ll ask again in a bit. You look absolutely exhausted.”

Jihoon felt it. It wasn’t like a hangover though - it was somewhat rough fatigue. He rubbed his eyes again and sat up. After checking his phone, he discovered that it was 9:03am and that he had missed four calls from Soonyoung, the most recent being five minutes ago.

“Did you sleep well?” Jihoon asked sleepily.

“Yeah, fine, thanks,” replied Seungcheol as he walked over to the window. He opened the curtains to let the late-May sunlight in.

The light hurt and Jihoon blinked. He felt grateful for it though because it seemed to bring him to his senses. It came slowly - he could feel the slight pain in his eyes and then the strands of hair against his fingers when he ran them through. Seungcheol opened the window and the breeze was welcoming. It was like Jihoon had woken up again.

Then, it hit him properly. The funny feeling had paid him another visit. A part of him already knew but the rest of him was startled.

“You okay?” Seungcheol asked when he turned around. He saw Jihoon blinking as he fiddled with the corner of the duvet.

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Alright. Well, you should probably give Soonyoung a call. I bet he’s worried.”

Seungcheol left the boy to it. Jihoon spent a little while longer squeezing and rubbing the duvet, letting himself just… feel it. He was no longer watching himself. He was himself. He was back in control.

Jihoon got out of bed and padded into the living room. From there he ventured out onto the balcony. Seungcheol was busy pouring a glass of apple juice so Jihoon had it to himself. He shut the doors and leaned against the railings. They were already warm in the early morning sun. He closed his eyes and soaked in the gradual return of his senses.

Seungcheol joined him shortly, handing him a glass of juice. He had one for each of them. They sipped away and admired the view together.

The peace was interrupted by Jihoon’s phone ringing. He picked up with a racing heart.

“Hello?”

“Jihoon! Where the fuck are you? I’ve called you so many times.”

It was, of course, Soonyoung.

“I’m at Cherry’s,” Jihoon said out of habit, then he turned red in front of Cherry himself.

“What did you stay the night for? Did you get black out drunk or something?”

“Something like that. I had a lot.”

“You don’t sound hungover.”

“I fake it well, you know what I’m like.”

“Okay, well, when will you be home? I’m worried.”

Jihoon shrugged before realising Soonyoung couldn’t see. “Whenever I feel well enough for the journey home.”

“Was Mingyu there?”

“He always is.”

“Did he make you drink?”

Jihoon suddenly remembered Mingyu’s encouragement with the ecstasy pills, how he passed more of it to the boy and how that had pissed Seungcheol off.

“He was fine. I’m gonna go, Soon, I’m tired.”

“Okay. Don’t be home late–”

Jihoon hung up. He put his phone back on the table and sighed. Soonyoung’s protectiveness was starting to get old and while it used to be sweet, it was annoying now.

Then suddenly Jihoon was watching himself again. Something had taken away his power - his limbs were no longer his own and he was no longer attached to himself. Something, somewhere was pounding but Jihoon’s head was too full of cotton wool to place it.

“Do you want a cigarette?” Seungcheol asked.

Jihoon looked over with a mildly confused look.

“I was joking,” Seungcheol said, “it’s a stress reliever and you look stressed– okay, it wasn't funny.”

“Sorry.”

“You have got to stop apologising when there’s nothing to apologise for.”

Jihoon opened his mouth and Seungcheol quickly said, “don’t apologise for that.” The boy gave him a small smile instead. He wasn’t capable of much else.

They stayed outside for a little while. Seungcheol had a cigarette himself, angling it so that the smoke didn’t blow in Jihoon’s face, which the boy appreciated. Secondhand smoking always pissed him off.

“How many of those do you have a day?” He asked curiously.

“Uh… it varies. Just a few though usually. I’ve been meaning to quit for a year now and just… haven’t got around to trying to.”

“Can’t you just… stop buying them?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Seungcheol chuckled.

Instead of saying anything else, Jihoon tried to think back to last night. He could recall Mingyu pressuring him as always, for which Seungcheol yelled at him… but nothing else would come to him. It was like his memories had been locked away and the key was out of reach. He placed the blame on the ecstasy.

Soon Seungcheol returned indoors to make breakfast. He made pancakes and it surprised Jihoon to come inside and discover, thanks to the flour on the side, that they were gluten free.

“You don’t have to eat much if you don’t feel up to it,” Seungcheol said, already putting a plate of food together, “but you’ll feel better if you eat something, I promise.”

Jihoon nodded. They sat at the table together and dug in. Whilst Seungcheol ate quite quickly, the writer fiddled with his fork, stabbing it into his sliced pancake over and over. His fingers were weird, somehow. Were they always so… little? So childlike? Were they really his own?

“Jihoon? Are you okay?”

Seungcheol’s words were muffled, like Jihoon was underwater.

“I’m okay.”

“Well… eat up, then. I promise you’ll feel better.”

Jihoon finally put some food in his mouth but it didn’t taste of anything at all. Every chew felt animated and it was difficult to swallow. Slowly, he managed to finish a whole pancake before giving up.

“Better than nothing,” Seungcheol smiled kindly, but Jihoon only felt guilt.

“Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for.”

Whilst Seungcheol took their plates to the kitchen, Jihoon leaned his elbows on the table and held his head in his hands with his eyes closed. It was as though he was floating. Floating somewhere that he couldn’t name… somewhere unidentifiable… somewhere unfamiliar, somewhere new, somewhere strange. He didn’t know how long he was floating for. Time had become nonexistent.

“Are you sure you’re alright, Hoon?

“Mm.”

Seungcheol watched with concern. The boy was frozen as though Medusa had struck. He wondered if it could be a panic attack and he tried asking, but Jihoon didn’t appear to hear him. At least he wasn’t shaking. He was just sitting there in his own world.

“I think I’m going to get you home,” he said gently, “you’re not quite right.”

Jihoon took a moment to move. The words didn’t register right away. They swam around and Jihoon had to catch the meaning of them. He stood up and missed the worried look of his friend. Seungcheol put an arm on his back, a plastic bag in his hand, then ensured that he put his shoes on before guiding him out of the flat, into the elevator and onto the streets. Before they went outside though, he slipped sunglasses and a beanie on him before putting on his own.

“Just in case,” he said.

Jihoon blinked as his warped world suddenly turned dark. His legs kept him moving, unbothered.

Soon they were in the car and Seungcheol took both of their disguises off. He quickly noticed that Jihoon’s eyes were just as glossed over as before. Maybe he was simply daydreaming, Seungcheol thought. He certainly hoped so.

He played Taylor Swift for the journey but Jihoon barely reacted. The boy was just staring at his feet. He was struggling to convince himself that they were truly his.

“Jihoon?” Seungcheol spoke up, glancing over at him, “you’ve not taken anything today, right?”

After a second of deciphering what that meant, Jihoon replied with “no.”

“You’re sure? Mingyu didn’t slip you anything last night?”

“Only that one pill.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ll tell me if there’s something else, right? I won’t get angry and I won’t be upset and I won’t tell Soonyoung. I won’t tell anyone. You can talk to me.”

“I know.”

“Good.”

“Thanks, Cheol.”

“Of course.”

Jihoon leaned back against his chair although needless to say, he hardly felt it. He was still floating.

Soonyoung was going to kill him. If Seungcheol thought he was on something, then what would his roommate say? But then maybe Jihoon had taken something. He couldn’t remember. There was only now. ‘Before’ no longer existed.

They were in Greenwich within the blink of an eye which was weird for an hour long journey. The only part of it that Jihoon could remember was some story about a guy called Vernon. Who even was Vernon? Anyway, Seungcheol got out of the car before Jihoon could even recognise that they were home, then Seungcheol had hold of his arm and was pulling him out.

“Have you got your keys?” He asked.

“Somewhere,” Jihoon mumbled. The boy was still in Seungcheol’s oversized clothes so whilst they walked inside, he rummaged in the plastic bag of his original things until he found his keys.

“It’s number six, right?” Seungcheol checked. Jihoon blinked and then nodded.

To what would have been Jihoon’s surprise at any other time, they walked together to his home. Seungcheol even opened the door for him, not caring that Soonyoung was most likely inside. He knew about him anyway. Soonyoung looked up from his laptop on the sofa and widened his eyes when he saw Choi Seungcheol, then the look turned into confusion.

“Hi,” Seungcheol greeted a little awkwardly, “he’s not really been himself for the past hour or so, so I just wanted to make sure he got in safe.”

“Maybe he’s still drunk,” Soonyoung suggested.

“I think it’s the hangover,” lied Seungcheol, “he’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“Okay, well, thanks for bringing him home. Do you want a drink or anything?”

“No, no, that’s alright,” Seungcheol said, looking around the humble flat. He had never put much thought into the differences in their home lives. “I’d better get going. Take it easy, Hoon, okay?”

“Yeah,” Jihoon replied, not really sure what he said, “thanks for… everything.”

“Of course. Look after yourself.”

With a final wave, Seungcheol left the flat, leaving the two friends alone. Soonyoung was watching Jihoon with a cocked head.

“You look really out of it,” he commented with an unsuspecting smile, “maybe you should lie down.”

“Yeah. Might take a nap.”

“Good idea. Whose clothes are you wearing, by the way?”

Jihoon looked down at the limbs that weren’t really his.

“I have no idea.”

 

It took a few hours for Jihoon to slowly feel back to normal again. All he did was lie still with music on and eventually, the beat of the songs started to resonate with him and when he wriggled his bare feet, he felt that lovely soft feeling of the sheets rubbing against his skin. Jihoon noticed his hand in front of him and was pleased that they were his own.

But what was that feeling, and why wouldn’t it leave him alone? It was more than a feeling. It was like he was being taken over, like he was being haunted. Jihoon decided to brush it off in case he brought it back again.

Jihoon padded into the living room, appreciating the carpet beneath his feet. Soonyoung asked if he was feeling better and it was nice to be able to honestly say yes.

“Have you eaten today?” His roommate asked, “or has the hangover been too bad?”

“Uh… I’ve had a pancake. I’ll make some cereal. Why don’t they make gluten free cheerios, by the way? I want some.”

“Better than no food, I guess,” said Soonyoung. He was currently sitting/lying on the sofa in a way that looked as though he had thrown himself on, his laptop on his lap as always. Jihoon couldn’t remember the last time he had seen him not writing.

The boy perched on the other sofa with a bowl of cereal in his hand. Now that he could access his mind again, Jihoon thought back to last night. The weird feeling had been haunting him then too - but at least last night the ecstasy had gotten through. He remembered being clingier and giggly, rambling to Seungcheol and so on. Suddenly, he remembered telling Seungcheol that Soonyoung was the author of Mingyu’s book. At least Seungcheol had already known it was ghostwritten, he told himself, so it was okay.

“Seungcheol’s getting nicer,” reported Jihoon, “he stood up for me in front of Mingyu yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s good. I’m glad he brought you home and didn’t just leave you on the doorstep as well - he has some morals.”

Soonyoung sounded bitter so Jihoon didn’t say anything else. He had no idea whether the grudge was reasonable or not. Maybe he was just upset that they were seeing less of each other.

“We should do something together,” Jihoon suggested, “tomorrow or something. Like shopping? I need some new clothes.”

“Yeah, we should. Don’t you need to go somewhere high end now though? So you meet Seungcheol’s standards?”

Jihoon missed the sarcasm.

“Preferably, but it’s okay. I ordered some jeans for £200 yesterday morning.”

Soonyoung looked over in horror. Jihoon had already managed to reassure himself that it was okay because he was earning so much monthly at the moment. Plus, he had to spend a year in Seungcheol’s world and he knew he would feel a lot better in clothes that were… closer to his standard. He definitely needed more tops though.

“Don’t change yourself for him, okay?” Soonyoung advised, “you’re only working for him for a little while, it’s not worth it.”

“I’m not changing.”

“Okay, good.”

Chapter Text

It was nice to go out with Soonyoung and not worry about what he wore. He wasn’t living up to anyone’s standards but his own and enjoyed throwing a t-shirt over some jeans without much thought. Soonyoung drove them into the city to a high street that they used to go to a lot when they were younger. They had stopped doing a lot of things when Jihoon’s anxiety got worse, then even when it improved before they never got back into the flow of things. Now his anxiety was worsening again and it was now they chose to go out again.

“Where to first?” Soonyoung asked, looking around the busy street.

Jihoon hummed. “I don’t mind. You choose.”

Soonyoung happily led him into a store and they browsed for a while. Nothing really tickled Jihoon’s fancy though - all of it would get him mocked by paparazzi. None of these thoughts were reported to Soonyoung, of course - Jihoon just simply shrugged at everything that was held up unless it was for Soonyoung, in which case he nodded eagerly.

Jihoon wandered into somewhere so high end that he had never even looked twice at it before. His friend followed with a frown. They both browsed and Jihoon tried not to wince too hard at the price tags.

“Don’t spend all of your money in here,” Soonyoung warned, “these jeans are the same price as our rent.”

“It’s okay, I know how to budget. I’ve already set rent and food money aside.”

Soonyoung didn’t have much else to argue so he watched his roommate flick through the options. Jihoon held various things up against him, asking Soonyoung for his thoughts, but the guy only nodded with a slight frown which made Jihoon feel too unsure about anything, so he eventually tried to trust his own judgement.

Jihoon felt like a wannabe in here and he hated it. It would be worth it in the end when he visited Kensington in Kensington-worthy clothes, but for now he had to keep pausing to take a deep breath and check that he could still feel everything.

Eventually Jihoon took some jeans, shirts, and a jacket to the counter to pay. It totalled to far too much so he avoided eye contact with Soonyoung and inserted his card into the machine. He suddenly wondered how often rich people used contactless - surely they were always spending over the amount that contactless allowed.

“Well, that hurt,” Jihoon said as they left, carrying his new shopping bag.

“It hurt me too. You’re insane.”

“Thanks.”

Jokes aside, Jihoon did now feel a little better. In Kensington he was always self conscious, aware that he didn’t look like the right social class to be there. Anyone who glanced at him probably thought that he was an unsuccessful wannabe but now Jihoon felt like he could play the part. He just had to ignore the concern of Soonyoung judging him.

“Do you need any fancy shoes?” Soonyoung asked him now.

“I think my Converse are good enough. And my Doc Martens.”

“Yeah, they were definitely expensive enough.”

“You can afford this too,” Jihoon suddenly snapped, “you tend to earn more than me.”

Soonyoung only gave him a confused frown. “I guess? It doesn’t matter, Hoon.”

“Then stop acting like it does.”

“I didn’t mean to. Buy what you want.”

Jihoon nodded as his hands began to tremble. Soonyoung was probably annoyed with him or at the very least, upset that he had snapped at him. Normally Jihoon was quiet, timid by nature, and now look what he had done. Soonyoung was walking with a frown and refusing to look Jihoon in the eye. His pace was steady like he was marching away the frustration.

Eventually, Jihoon stopped noticing and the panic within seemed to have left. The issue was that everything within seemed to have left. Soonyoung looked over at his friend to see him zoned out, staring blankly at the ground as they walked. He chuckled, unaware that Jihoon wasn’t doing so good.

“Hey, whatcha thinkin’ about?”

Jihoon took a moment to respond. “Not a lot.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

The boy tried to smile reassuringly but it only felt alien to him. He had to remind himself how - lift the corner of your lips, Hoon, not too much, just a bit. Was that a smile? Soonyoung didn’t give him any odd look so he assumed that he succeeded.

“Where next?” He asked. As the definition of indifferent, Jihoon shrugged.

They walked a little further until Soonyoung found a store to visit. The pair wandered around, picking up various shirts or jeans and Soonyoung held them up against himself in the mirror. Jihoon, meanwhile, was confused by his own reflection. Who was that guy? Well, he knew it was him, but… he didn’t seem real. Was it really him? Did it have to be? That man in the mirror with tiny eyes and dark floppy outgrown hair dressed in something plain was really him. Yet Jihoon wasn’t in control of him. He didn’t have the remote. His floppy limbs moved by themselves without warning and it kind of confused the boy.

“Come on,” Soonyoung appeared, playfully hitting the boy on the back of the head, “I’m gonna go pay.”

Jihoon found himself following aimlessly. He moved like clockwork with no conscious decision - it just happened.

Soonyoung paid and they left. Their next stop was Gregg’s because he fancied a sausage roll, so he got one for each of them. Jihoon merely held his in his hand. The scrunch of paper bag almost startled him and the hot food almost made it to his skin. Then he bit into his sausage roll and thanks to its heat, it burnt his tongue. These sensations slowly worked together to sort of wake Jihoon up. A little while later he noticed the feel of the sun on his neck and the chatter going on around him and the hum of passing cars. It was very much like gradually waking up.

“Can we sit down?” Jihoon asked Soonyoung. His sudden awareness made everything a little overwhelming. He just wanted to breathe.

“Are you getting a stitch?” Soonyoung asked with a soft laugh, but found a bench for them to rest on anyway. There they watched pigeons bounce by on the grey pavement and trees sway in the breeze. Whilst Soonyoung had already wolfed his food down, Jihoon ate in little nibbles.

The strange feeling was beginning to scare him. In the midst of it, he knew something was wrong but he could never place his finger on it. Then afterwards, when his senses were in order and his hands felt like his own, he realised how bizarre the world had just been. Jihoon didn’t like feeling unable to control his own body. He wanted to feel like himself. Why did it keep happening?

Jihoon thought through every time it had happened and anything those situations had in common. When his photos were in the press… the party… the morning after the party… after what had almost been an argument…

And suddenly Jihoon realised that since this had started, he hadn’t had his usual type of panic attack. Everytime it had happened, he had been anxious. Maybe that was it. Maybe they were panic attacks. A peculiar form of panic attacks. Yes, that made Jihoon feel better. It was nothing to worry about.

“You okay?” Soonyoung asked. Jihoon blinked.

“Yeah, I’m good. I burnt my tongue though.”

“Did you try blowing on it? The food, I mean?”

“Unfortunately I chose to tackle it like an adult.”

They went around a few more stores and Jihoon managed to stay with it. He took constant deep breaths to ensure that he wasn’t panicked, basking in the feeling of his feet on the ground. Then finally Soonyoung asked if he was done, Jihoon said yes, and the two made their way back to the car.

Once home, Jihoon lay his new things out on the bed. He chewed on his knuckle then took a photo of it all to send to Seungcheol and ask for his approval. His purchases included a new navy button up, two overpriced t-shirts, jeans, and two jackets. Shortly after, Jihoon received a text from Seungcheol.

cherry 🍒
Nice
Good choices
Mirror pics?

Jihoon couldn’t help but grin. Seungcheol’s approval meant the world to him and only once he had read the text several times did he feel okay to try it all on. He felt awkward taking pictures in his narrow mirror so Jihoon hid his face behind his phone for each one, modelling various outfits to the best of his abilities. Sending them made him nervous. Reassuringly though, Seungcheol was kind in his replies.

cherry 🍒
Be confident, you look great

Jihoon could have melted. He sat down practically cradling his phone with a soft smile. A compliment from the Choi Seungcheol was the greatest gift he could ever receive. Coming from someone of such high status who also didn’t hold his negative opinions back in the past, a compliment from Seungcheol must be true, Jihoon thought. So he reread that text over and over until it was still visible when he closed his eyes, and it was still on his mind when he went to sleep that night.

Chapter Text

The next time Jihoon saw Seungcheol was Wednesday for lunch. Soonyoung had a lunch date which meant he could drop the boy off at a closer station, which was always nice. It didn’t make much of a difference but Soonyoung felt nicer for it and Jihoon wasn’t about to take that away from him. Also he had “treated” himself to a long bike ride that morning with the reward of aching muscles so even though Jihoon would never admit it, saying no to Soonyoung was actually rather difficult.

Jihoon wore the new beige trousers he had ordered online with one of his new t-shirts and in a strange way, Jihoon felt both more confident yet more shy than usual. Was it the outfit or was he getting better? He wasn’t sure. Either way, he made it to Seungcheol’s and Seungcheol grinned when he saw him.

“Hey!” He greeted cheerfully, “you look nice.”

“Oh, thanks. You’re in a good mood.”

Seungcheol shrugged as he began making the writer a cup of tea. “I guess. I don’t know, I saw the boys last night and it was really nice so I guess the feeling carried over.”

“Good!” Jihoon was genuinely happy for him. He looked around and spotted large colourful cards scattered on the coffee table. “Did you play giant uno by any chance?”

“We did. We played four games and Seokmin came last every time.”

Seungcheol finished making their drinks and carried them across to the coffee table. He had to place them between any gaps in the cards.

“Oh, and they asked about you,” Seungcheol said casually.

“They did?”

“Yeah. They asked who I had my arm around in those pictures from the press and I kind of wanted to die. Not because of you. I-I don’t mind being associated with you, it was the… the bi thing. But I just said it was my friend Jihoon who was very nervous and camera shy and then they teased me for being soft, so it was okay. How have you been?”

Jihoon blinked, surprised by the turnaround. He had been too busy thinking about how nice it was that Seungcheol spoke so much without being prompted now. Did that mean he was growing comfortable with him? Jihoon almost smiled.

“Uh… yeah, good, thanks.”

Suddenly he wanted to tell him about the strange panic attacks, like he wanted it off his chest. And sure, that would be nice, but Seungcheol would probably think he was being dramatic. He would probably be right, too. So Jihoon said nothing about the bizarre state that took control of his body whenever he got too anxious.

“You know, I haven’t had a proper panic attack in a while,” Jihoon told him instead.

Seungcheol smiled and it seemed genuine. “Really? That’s great, Hoon. So you’re getting better?”

The boy hesitated. “Yep.”

Unfortunately, his friend raised an eyebrow.

“Honest,” Jihoon added.

“...okay. I worry about you, Hoon.”

“Why? You… you didn’t care so much before.”

Seungcheol shrugged, staring at his coffee. His ears were turning pink. It was quite cute actually. Wait, why was Jihoon thinking he was cute? No, he wasn’t cute. Just his blushing ears.

“I have always cared,” the actor admitted quietly, “I’m not an asshole. At least I don’t mean to be. I know sometimes I say things and it comes out so badly wrong that it’s difficult to see that I was trying to be nice - like when we first met and I called you cheap but I was just worrying about the press and what they’d think of both of us… then when you got high you told me that I’d been shit to you and I hadn’t realised how awful I really had been. So, I, uh… I just want to make sure you know that I do care about you and I want you to be okay.”

Where had that come from? Now Jihoon’s cheeks matched Seungcheol’s ears. The boy rubbed his nose as he always did when he felt shy and they both refused to make eye contact. They did glance at each other, just at different times so that their eyes never met.

“I care about you too,” Jihoon said softly, “and, uh, don’t worry about how you acted when we first met. I can be a dick when I’m stressed too. You should’ve seen me in GCSE art class. Oh my god, did you do GCSEs?”

To the relief of both of them, who were each embarrassed by even an ounce of affection, the conversation changed to their education. Seungcheol did do his GCSEs and studied PE, business, French, and even art. He didn’t do so well though - he was too busy with work to actually study for them. His A-levels in PE, business and English literature went similarly and he seemed quite ashamed of himself.

“Well, it’s turned out okay,” Jihoon said reassuringly.

“Yeah, I know but… you know. Chan did really well with his but that’s because he stepped back. He got no lower than a B.”

For Chan, Seungcheol spoke with pride. It was sweet how much he cared for his friends - for “the boys”.

“And Seokmin?”

“Cs and Bs,” Seungcheol replied, “and he worked ever so hard for them. They’d like to meet you actually. I told them about you after they asked who the man in the picture was.”

“Do they know I’m your ghostwriter?”

“Yep. Oh and if you do all meet each other, I promise it won't be a party. Chan doesn’t really like parties. Although he is coming to Friday’s if you’d like to come. Seokmin won’t be there though.”

“Sure,” Jihoon said, panicking. He didn’t want to attend any party.

Luckily the pair were actually supposed to be working so Jihoon could distract himself with his notebook. Seungcheol watched him click the pen open. He sighed.

“Where are we?”

“Uh…” Jihoon flicked to the right page before saying, “we’re up to your twenties but the last thing we discussed was Three & Us so ramble about whatever you want and I’ll get it down.”

Seungcheol sighed. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

“God, I don’t know. Um…”

“Do you have any fun anecdotes? Anything with the boys, or…?”

“What, like funny stories? Uh… none of them are really long enough. They’re just like Seokmin walking into a doorframe and falling flat on the floor or breaking sets.”

“Well, if you give me several things I can write a paragraph discussing the certain events.”

Seungcheol thought for a moment then did so. Jihoon ended up with many stories to sprinkle in: when Seungcheol taught Chan to shave, the time he got chased by a tiny white dog whilst filming (the one from his teens), when Seokmin crashed his bike and destroyed part of the set… the list went on.

“Do you like cycling?” Jihoon asked, latching onto the bicycle story, “because I do. We could go on a ride together.”

Seungcheol fiddled with his hands. “I, uh… I never learnt how to ride a bike.”

“Oh. Well, that’s okay. I can teach you.”

“I’d have to take you to Surrey for that if you’re serious,” chuckled Seungcheol, “just to make sure the paps don’t see.”

“‘Global actor Choi Seungcheol fails miserably at coordination’”, Jihoon joked, imitating headlines.

“The dating rumours would be horrific.”

“You’d have to come out. As a bi-cycle.”

Seungcheol looked mildly confused but then he groaned. “A bi– Jihoon… you’re better than this.”

The boy sat with a gremlin-like grin, pleased with his awful attempt at a pun. It was oddly nice to bond in this way. It was like they were finally friends and Jihoon realised that he actually really wanted that - Seungcheol was lovely when they were casual with each other.

“Do you want to go to Surrey?” Seungcheol suddenly asked, “it’s just that I miss my house there. It’s really out in the country, you see, so I actually have privacy. There’s plenty of guest bedrooms you can choose from. You could stay for a weekend or something and we could get some work done or you could go on bike rides or…”

“...I can make global actor Choi Seungcheol the best cyclist in town,” Jihoon said with a shy smile. “Th-that sounds really nice. I’d like to.”

Was it a trap? Seungcheol was suddenly being so strangely kind to him. Staying in Sussex felt like a big offer - a big jump from where they currently were in friendliness levels. Jihoon didn’t want to complain since he was flattered, but words just fell out.

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

Seungcheol looked a little guilty. He struggled to answer. “...I want to make up for before, I guess. But also, you said you’ve never really been to places so… I want to show you places.”

It was difficult for Jihoon to not smile and/or blush. He did both and stared at his hands as he fiddled with his fingers.

“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give back,” he said softly, “except Brighton, but I don’t think it would go very well…”

“We can try. If you’re up for it.”

Jihoon nodded with a small smile. “I’ll think about it.”

They had to get back to work. Jihoon wanted to sit and talk forever but of course it wasn’t practical, so the light interviewing continued instead.

Seungcheol spoke for almost two hours and it was the largest amount of notes Jihoon had ever gotten from a session. He beamed as he closed his notebook.

“Remember when you asked if we could slack off and I said we would have to catch up later?” He said, “well, I reckon we’re catching up.”

“Really? Thank god.”

Jihoon smiled as he closed his notebook. He adored his job, of course, but he much preferred hanging out with Seungcheol for some reason. In fact, he almost preferred his company to Soonyoung’s. He cared about him but not in an overbearing way and Jihoon was beginning to realise that he couldn’t get enough of it. Why?

“I’d better go,” Jihoon said with a sigh, as though he was sad to be leaving. His tone surprised even him. “You know what Soonyoung’s like.”

Seungcheol nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. I’ll ask my agent for my schedule and send it to you. For Surrey.”

“That sounds good.”

Jihoon couldn’t stop thinking about Surrey for the entire journey home. Why did Seungcheol want him there? He knew that Seungcheol had said he wanted to take him places, but this felt oddly kind. Was he planning a murder or what? Or maybe it was simply that their standards were different. To Jihoon, a weekend in Surrey was a grand gesture. But for Seungcheol, maybe it was on the same level as going for coffee.

Even so, Jihoon was pleased to be invited. He was trusted enough to not just enter Seungcheol’s private home - his real home, where he felt comfortable - but to stay there for a weekend. Finally they could get to know each other without a fear of being disturbed. He was desperate to get to know Seungcheol for who he was. He didn’t want to know Choi Seungcheol, the boy who grew up in front of the world. Jihoon wanted to know who he really was. His little habits, his natural mannerisms, the person he had grown into rather than the star he had been shaped into.

Because the Seungcheol he knew so far was wonderful. Sure, they had a rough start, but now he was kind to him and looked out for him, standing up for him in the little ways that mattered, seeing the boy home when he was in a bad state and letting him stay when he needed to without hesitation. In his own way, Seungcheol was sweet. Some things came out wrong but he always meant well.

And Jihoon liked him for him. It wasn’t just because he was paying him so much money or that he had paid for his expensive clothes or anything like that. He truly liked being with him because he was kind, because he cared for him without being overbearing, because he showed an interest. He paid attention to the little things. When they first met, he had set up drinks so Jihoon could make his own and then memorised exactly how he liked his tea so that he could recreate it later. It was lovely that he listened to the music he knew Jihoon liked and tried to quietly sing along despite not knowing the words. Jihoon wasn’t even sure if he knew he was doing it. And he liked the way his eyes shone when he laughed and his gummy smile. He liked his effortlessly styled hair. He liked his plump ruby lips. They were cute. Seungcheol was cute.

As the train reached his stop, Jihoon had a horrible thought.

He had a crush on Choi Seungcheol.

Choi Seungcheol who was miles out of his league. Choi Seungcheol who could pick anybody in the whole world and would never choose Jihoon. Choi Seungcheol who most likely saw him as nothing but a stress relief. And Jihoon had only gone and fallen for him.

Jihoon stumbled off the train and up the stairs whilst his lungs begged for air. He couldn’t like Seungcheol. Not like that. It would inevitably end in pain. So for now Jihoon let his knees give out and he sat on the pavement, perched at the bottom of the staircase that was the train station entrance. Hot waves brushed over him with a pulsing sensation, in between which he was oddly cold. He couldn’t catch a breath deep enough but he tried anyway, picturing his beloved shapes in his mind. When that didn’t work Jihoon looked around instead to mentally note five things he could see. Then he moved on to four things he could touch, three things he could feel, two things he could smell and one thing he liked about himself. This time he chose his hair. It was cooperating nicely today.

With a shaky breath, Jihoon used the railings to hoist himself up. He refused to glance at anyone walking by in case they were giving him an odd look. He didn’t want anyone to disrupt the progress he had already made from his somewhat small panic attack.

Foolishly he hoped that Seungcheol liked him back, as if he stood a chance. The guy could only just admit that he liked men. Plus he was probably only so open with Jihoon because Jihoon didn’t matter. In a year’s time they would be done with each other and never speak again - he was a temporary friend, someone Seungcheol could throw away.

But Seungcheol worried for him. He cared for him. They were friends now, right? If Seungcheol just wanted to throw him away then he wouldn’t take him to Surrey. That was something. That was a nice step.

Jihoon wasn’t even sure if he wanted a relationship with this man. He was so fond of him and when he suddenly thought about kissing those pretty lips, he had to tell himself to stop so that he wouldn’t grow desperate, but he could never be comfortable in a relationship with a global superstar. Jihoon could never live up to him. They didn’t match at all. And what with Seungcheol so deep in the closet, he would probably only aim for women anyway.

The realisation that Jihoon liked him as more than a friend followed by the idea that he stood no chance was overwhelming. His breathing grew worse again. He focused on everything around him, silently listing everything he could see and hear as well as how his feet felt on the ground. He wasn’t floating yet. He wasn’t hyperventilating yet either.

Jihoon reached his home and sat on the front step, pulling up his precious shapes gif and watching it for a little while. Once he was feeling a little better he ventured inside as though nothing had happened.

Chapter Text

“A few days in Surrey?”

“A weekend,” Jihoon confirmed. Soonyoung was staring with boggled eyes.

“That’s… odd? But nice. Will anyone else be there?”

“No, just us.”

Soonyoung now looked more flabbergasted than before. He tapped the spoon against the pot (currently he was cooking dinner) and thought the details through.

“Why does it sound romantic?”

Jihoon frowned. He was sitting at the counter and now he stared at it with a puzzled expression.

“It’s not romantic, is it?”

“Well, is he gay?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” lied Jihoon. “I think… I think his standards are just different, you know? He said it’s quiet and private there and I guess after we got snapped by the paparazzi twice… it’s the best way to hang out that he can think of, maybe?”

Soonyoung looked away from the oven and towards his friend. The boy’s cheeks were burning scarlet. He was chewing on his knuckle too, tapping his foot against the stool’s footrest.

“Why so flushed?” He asked, “you’re burning up. Is it because I suggested romance?”

Soonyoung’s eyes suddenly widened and in response, Jihoon vigorously shook his head. The speed had only confirmed it so now the boy wanted to die.

“No,” he said before Soonyoung could say it.

“You–”

“No.”

“Jihoon!”

“I’m going to hurt myself, I know,” Jihoon sighed. It had been a day since he realised it himself and he hadn’t gone five minutes without hating his heart for choosing Choi Seungcheol of all people. Even Soonyoung probably would have been a better choice.

“Well, he wants to spend a weekend alone with you in private,” Soonyoung offered somewhat bitterly, “that sounds like a good sign to me.”

Jihoon shook his head again. “No… he’s just being nice. I’m miles out of his league.”

“I don’t know, opposites attract.”

“Why are you encouraging me?”

“I’m not,” insisted Soonyoung, turning back to cooking dinner, “would you prefer it if I told you that I agree with your earlier statement, that you will just end up getting hurt?”

“...do you agree?”

“Well… I… Doesn’t matter what I think. You’re an adult, Jihoon. Make your own mind up.”

Jihoon blinked, dazed by the mixed response. He was quickly distracted by dinner being served - still boiling hot. The boy was impatient and quite used to a burnt mouth though so he ate anyway. Soonyoung sat down beside him.

“So I should go?” Jihoon asked through a mouthful of steaming spaghetti.

“If you want to,” was his roommate’s reply.

Jihoon nodded. He did want to. Of course he did. A few days undisturbed with Seungcheol sounded lovely, even if it was intimidating at the same time. But he had helped him when he was drunk and when he was high, aka some of his lowest lows, so it would be okay. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.

“Cherry can’t ride a bike,” Jihoon said chit-chattily to get rid of his nerves,, “so I said I’ll teach him. Can you fit a bike in a car?”

“Yeah, but you might want to take the wheels off. Does Seungcheol have a bike?”

“No.”

“Would he like to borrow mine?”

Jihoon panicked. “Uh, it’s okay, don’t worry yourself–”

“Is that your anxiety speaking?” Soonyoung said, stifling a laugh, “I’m guessing you’ll want to cycle together so you’ll need two bikes. Take mine, Hoon, I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure?”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course I am. As long as he doesn’t break it.”

“He can use mine.”

“...you’ll have to adjust the seats then.”

Jihoon nudged him. “Shut up.”

His friend pulled out his phone and googled ‘Choi Seungcheol height’. He let out a little “ooh, my height” that brought a playful scowl to Jihoon’s face.

“He can use my bike,” Soonyoung assured Jihoon, “if they’re posh enough for him.”

It was meant as a joke but Jihoon started pushing his fork around instead of eating. All he could think now was that Seungcheol probably thought he was pathetic for his cycling. There were always better things for a celebrity to do, most likely, otherwise he would have learnt how to ride a bike by now. The boy could hardly remember Seungcheol’s reaction to the suggestion anymore - it was being overtaken with dread and worry.

Jihoon left his unfinished dinner on the side and grabbed his keys, shoving them in his pocket.

“I’m going for a ride,” he told Soonyoung.

“Don’t forget your helmet.”

“I’m avoiding the roads.”

Jihoon left with his bike before he could be lectured further, although he was all for safety and that. He just didn’t find it necessary for cruises in quiet spaces.

The breeze as he cycled down quiet pavements was incredibly soothing for his worried mind. It was like washing away his thoughts. Temporarily, it took everyday things out of his head and all he could focus on was the movement and judging the buildings around him, wondering what it was like to live there and what kind of people lived there. Sometimes he would wonder if they were happy and then assess his own happiness. He didn’t like those times. They weren’t as fun.

After half an hour Jihoon stopped by an empty bench to rest. He leaned his bike against it and sat down. The cycling wasn’t enough to help today.

Did Seungcheol like him? It didn’t sound plausible. A kind, generous nature didn’t equal a crush. Something told Jihoon that maybe a crush could explain why Seungcheol had switched so quickly from dick to friend, but he shot back at himself that actually, Seungcheol had just been nervous the first few times and nerves didn’t look good on him. He would never like a meek thing like him. He could do so much better for himself. And anyway, Seungcheol was so insecure over his own sexuality that even if he did like Jihoon, he would never admit it. This crush was nothing but a dead end.

Seungcheol terrified the boy then with a sudden burst of texts. Jihoon jumped out of skin and grabbed his phone as a hot wave overcame him.

cherry 🍒
This weekend is probably my only clear weekend for a while knowing the guys, they’re in Tenerife for a week and once they’re back they’ll probably want to be back on the booze with me. Then of course the boys are discussing arrangements so it looks as though my upcoming weekends will be incredibly sociable so unless you want to wait a few weeks this weekend is the only time that’ll work

cherry 🍒
Sorry, didn’t mean to write that much

cherry 🍒
I panicked I guess

Jihoon couldn’t help but smile, although his fingers shook as he typed a reply.

Lee Jihoon
yeah next weekend is good, u mnow i only have one other firebd haha

Lee Jihoon
sorry had a stroke

Lee Jihoon
was rhat readable

Lee Jihoon
sorry

cherry 🍒
It’s okay, you make me laugh

cherry 🍒
I’ll pick you up at 3pm Fri, is that okay?

Jihoon replied that it was, taking great care to spell everything correctly. Then he sat and smiled at how Seungcheol said that he made him laugh. His cheeks flushed pink.

To wash the colour away, Jihoon climbed back onto his bike and began his journey home. He was a good forty minutes away now but he didn’t mind at all. It was therapeutic to let his mind go blank and focus on nothing but the breeze and the pretty trees around him - if his stupid brain would let him, that was.

The bliss didn’t last forever though. As Jihoon rode into more familiar territory, a car came seemingly out of nowhere, requiring an instinctual swerve from the boy to avoid being hit. He hit the pavement instead as the car tooted their horn and he tumbled onto the rough surface. Jihoon remained still for a moment, trying to catch his breath. It was difficult to catch your breath when you suddenly weren’t in control of your body, though.

His limbs worked together to stand the boy up and Jihoon must have decided to walk the rest of the way home, as that’s what his body did. He watched his feet trundle along the path. Jihoon noticed the blood trickling down his leg, but he didn’t quite acknowledge it. It was impossible. Anyone else would’ve been thinking about how close of a call that was and thanking God that they were alive, but Jihoon was just shaking. His head was blank.

He was home before long. Instincts or muscle memory or something allowed him to lean his bike against the hallway’s wall, tucking it neatly beside Soonyoung’s.

“Hey, Hoon– Christ, did you fall over?”

Soonyoung was staring at Jihoon’s bloody leg from the couch. Jihoon looked at it too, and his leg sort of swung out to see the cut better. It was on his knee. It wasn’t that bad, really - it just seemed that his blood was quite passionate.

“A car came so I had to swerve,” words fell out of Jihoon’s mouth, “and I fell on the pavement.”

Soonyoung read his dazed tone to be that he was startled from the small/nearly bad accident and quickly got up, taking the boy into the bathroom after a second of rubbing him on the back. His protective nature didn’t take long to kick in.

“You need to be more careful. And you didn’t have your helmet…”

Soonyoung’s worried lecture bounced off of Jihoon’s cloudy brain. His words were muffled as though he was above water and Jihoon was swimming. It felt rather like he was swimming too, actually. But really he had been sitting down on the lowered toilet lid so that Soonyoung could mop up his knee. His other one was a little scraped too, but it was barely bleeding so all it received was a dab of antiseptic. Usually that stuff stung. It didn’t today.

“Hey,” Soonyoung said, rubbing the boy’s arm, “you’re okay now. Don’t worry about it, alright?”

The boy nodded but according to his roommate, he still seemed to be in shock. He trundled off to his room after thanking him. Walking was even stranger now with a freshly stuck plaster limiting his mobility. It gave him a funny limp that as I’m sure you can guess, he didn’t notice.

Jihoon climbed into bed and lay still. He didn’t know what he was doing but then again, he didn’t quite know a lot at the moment. That car kept popping into his mind when he closed his eyes though, the horn echoing, and something somewhere began to pound.

To distract himself, Jihoon thought of the upcoming trip but it didn’t stop the pounding. But he discovered that he was looking forward to this trip and so for that, he let himself sink into daydreams about what they might do whilst they were there.

Chapter Text

Jihoon didn’t begin to feel better until Seungcheol picked him up. He sort of drifted towards the door when it rang to unlock the building door for him, then drifted in and out of his room again to grab his bag and open the door.

“Hi,” Seungcheol smiled, “you ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

“You okay?”

Jihoon nodded and then turned back to Soonyoung to say goodbye. His roommate was awkwardly hovering nearby, mildly starstruck and mildly third wheeling.

“Uh, Jihoon nearly got into an accident the other day,” he said casually, “and he’s been a little funny since so…”

Seungcheol raised his eyebrows, concerned, as Jihoon cut his friend off.

“I can tell him things myself. I’m not a kid.”

“Okay. Sorry. Have a nice time.”

The two left (with a bike each) and Seungcheol looked at Jihoon with worry as they entered the lift. His eyes were glazed over as though he was in another world, his skin pale and expression blank.

“So what was the accident?” He asked in the hopes that talking about it would make him feel better.

“I was on my bike and I turned the corner and a car came out of nowhere. It’s fine. I’m fine. I cut my knee but I’m fine.”

“On the car?”

“No, I crashed into the pavement.”

“Ah. That was lucky. I’m glad you’re okay.”

They ventured out of the lift and into the street where Seungcheol’s car was waiting. The wheels had already been taken off of the bikes so Seungcheol, being quite muscular, took it upon himself to lift both bikes into the back seat and slot the wheels in wherever they fit. Next Jihoon threw his bag in the boot before Seungcheol opened the passenger door for the boy, closing it once Jihoon was inside like a true gentleman. Jihoon smiled a shy thank you with red cheeks. It was nice to feel the heat in his face. Oh.

Next, the boy held his hands out in front of him and wriggled his fingers. They were his again. It had been a while since they were his.

“You alright?” Seungcheol asked, looking over as he got in himself.

“Yeah, I’m good,” was the boy’s more honest reply.

“You do that a lot recently - staring at your hands like you just found them.”

Jihoon gave him a mildly startled look. How was his description so accurate? He had no way of knowing what was going through his mind and yet he voiced it perfectly. Maybe it was some actor thing.

“Oh,” he said, “well, I’m okay. Promise.”

“...you know you can talk to me, right?” Seungcheol started the car, “you don’t need to fake being okay around me. I can tell when you’re not yourself. Are you anxious or something?”

The boy fidgeted. His hands were once again looking less like they were his. Jihoon kind of wished Seungcheol would leave him to it, but the other side of him was flattered that he cared.

“A little.”

“Okay. Five things you can see?”

Jihoon sighed but appreciated the help.

“Um… my feet…”

He got through the five then the next four, three and two. For one thing he liked about himself, Jihoon went for his hands again.

“You said that last time,” Seungcheol whined.

“I’m just very indifferent about myself!”

“Then pick something random. Fake it ‘till you make it or whatever.”

“Okay. Then, um… my eyes?”

“Yeah,” Seungcheol agreed, “your eyes are cute.”

Jihoon’s face burned brighter than it ever had. He could only just get a ‘thank you’ out. His obvious nerves caused Seungcheol to softly chuckle at him.

It was just over an hour’s journey to the star’s house in the country. Jihoon hadn’t left London in years so he enjoyed watching skyscrapers turn to trees and motorways to quiet roads surrounded by fields and other greenery. It was almost like coming home, although Brighton was an hour away even from here. Still, a peaceful wave overcame the boy.

Eventually, after driving through roads sandwiched by trees and random houses, Seungcheol turned left to large steel gates that were left open. They carried on more trees and fields before finally they were stopped by another large black gate where the road turned to tiles. Whilst Seungcheol got out to unlock it, Jihoon peered through the thin bars at the house before them.

It was massive. The oversized driveway led either to the front door of a triple door garage. Both the garage and the house were built from red brick, accented in white. The front double door was in the middle of the building, and several windows were dotted on either side, probably the width of three Jihoons each. Neatly cut grass filled any non-paved gaps and a gate hidden amongst a bush led presumably to the back garden. It wasn’t a house. It was a mansion.

Seungcheol parked in front of one of the garage doors and the two climbed out. Jihoon peered up at the house with wide eyes and his mouth in a slight ‘o’ shape - he couldn’t help it. He was more than impressed.

“How many bedrooms?” He asked.

“Twelve.”

Jihoon whipped his head around so fast to look at his “friend” that he almost got whiplash. “Who needs twelve bedrooms?”

“Well, when I bought it the logic was that I could throw huge parties,” Seungcheol replied, rubbing the back of his neck, “but I only furnished some into actual bedrooms. The rest I’ve transformed into other things and I ended up only bringing people I actually trust here anyway, so that’s Mingyu, Wonwoo and the boys.”

“Right… and how many tennis courts?”

“Just the one.”

“And pools?”

“Three. One outdoors, two indoors.”

“And what is the need?”

Seungcheol chuckled. “Comfort.”

The boy followed him to the front door and Seungcheol unlocked it. He held one door open for Jihoon to go through. He did so and continued to nosy around.

The hallway was probably as big as his flat’s living room. It was furnished by a rug and a thin table leaning against the wall, with a few knickknacks sat upon it and a mirror above. Opposite, a wooden L-shaped staircase led to the next floor. A circular table stood in the middle of the room with a bouquet standing in the middle.

White glass doors on each wall led to countless (it was probably about five) other rooms. Jihoon, a little overwhelmed, chose the nearest one on the right. It led him to the living room that was absolutely the size of his entire flat. Seungcheol leaned against the door frame as the boy explored, eyeing the three grey sofas surrounding a fireplace and another three red ones nearby surrounding a TV. He found another door and went through. It was a sort of games room. Couches sat below the windows and a pool table filled the centre.

“Fancy a game later?” Seungcheol asked. Although he had never played before, Jihoon nodded.

The next door to the left led him into a bathroom, which he more or less ignored, and exited to go through another one. There he found a barroom and he responded the same way as he did the bathroom. Finally he reached a room of interest, which was an (obviously) oversized dining room with a table that seated twelve. From there he found the kitchen. The lighting stunned him. Above each oak counter was glass, overlooking the garden that Jihoon tried to ignore so that he would be surprised by it later. The oven that was the width of two ovens was settled into the kitchen island whilst two (two!) refrigerators filled corners. A kitchen sink had a pretty window view but a dishwasher stood nearby of course, so its purpose was defeated.

“Do you clean this place yourself?” Jihoon asked. Seungcheol turned pink.

“No, I actually have a maid for this place. I just let her know when I’m staying and she’ll come every other day, but otherwise I think she does maintenance weekly or something.”

“And I bet you have a gardener,” the boy added, glancing outside.

“Yep.”

Jihoon found yet another door but it took him back to the original hallway. He hummed and followed through to the left side of the house. He immediately gasped.

It was a white conservatory. The walls and ceiling of it were more glass than window pane. The only thing in it was a rug, some plants and a dining table for eight. Then from here, Jihoon found the indoor swimming pool which was oddly similar, except the flooring was tiles and obviously there was a fucking pool in there and some chairs with towels hanging from the back of them.

“You brought swimming trunks, right?” Seungcheol asked. Jihoon could only just bring himself to nod.

The next room along earned yet another gasp from the boy.

“You do not need a fucking library.”

“Oh, I do. I come in here a lot.”

Two walls (the one with the window and the one with the main door) were covered in full bookshelves. There was also a cosy fireplace and green velvet sofas. Jihoon decided he quite liked it. Hopefully he could remember how to get to it - it seemed ideal for his panic attacks.

Then, because Seungcheol wouldn’t be rich if he didn’t have one, there was a home cinema. Jihoon rolled his eyes and passed through. Now he was back where he started.

“Upstairs?” He asked.

“Sure. Garden for last?”

“Sure.”

Jihoon climbed up the staircase. He was met with so many doors that he kind of wanted to cry. He looked at Seungcheol with an expression of bewilderment.

“That one’s a spa,” the guy said with a smile as he pointed, “I think. Hang on.”

He walked over and opened the door. Jihoon caught a glimpse of oak panelled walls and massage tables.

“Yep. Then that one’s a bathroom, that’s another lounge but it overlooks the garden and there’s a piano in it, that one’s the room Chan always stays in, the gap between doors is his ensuite then that’s Wonwoo and Mingyu’s, that gap is their ensuite…”

Seungcheol switched walls.

“Seokmin’s room, you can guess what the gap is, guest room, another main bathroom that doubles as that room’s ensuite, another guest room with a separate en suite, and then that one’s mine.”

“Ensuite gap?”

“Of course. Lounge that faces the front of the house, gym, another guest room.”

“And you need all of this?”

“...I want it.”

Jihoon smiled. He decided not to peek at these rooms so that he didn’t spoil any more of the garden for himself. He followed Seungcheol back downstairs and back into the kitchen, then through some doors that blended into the walls that were actually windows.

It led onto a tiled patio. To the right was the outdoor pool, complete with sun loungers. Two steps straight ahead led up to the next level, which was just acres of grass and a pretty gazebo dotted to the side. Seungcheol led him to the left where they stumbled upon a walled garden. Inside were more paths and more grass. Bushes acted as a divider and behind it were two neatly cut lawns, the path cutting through the middle. A square pond stood in the middle of the whole thing. Of course it was surrounded by tiles to walk on. Jihoon noticed a sort of tower built on the corner of the walls, and a journey up the stairs (that were hidden behind a brick arch) showed him a lovely decking on top and gorgeous countryside views. He walked back down with a wide eyed look at Seungcheol. Then at the end of this garden was what Jihoon had originally assumed to be a brick annex, but upon further inspection he realised it was another indoor pool. This one had a glass roof as well as the half glass walls, similar to the other.

Next was the tennis court. Seungcheol took him out of another black gate and then it was only a short walk to the fenced off court.

“Do you actually play tennis?” Jihoon asked.

“Yes, I do,” Seungcheol said, a little defensively, “and I’ll beat you later.”

“Yeah, I’m really bad at tennis.”

The actor smiled. “This court doubles as a skating rink too.”

“You roller skate?”

“Yeah. With Seokmin and Chan. It was something we used to do each week when we were kids. What size feet are you?”

“Seven.”

“Ooh, you can borrow mine.”

Jihoon snorted. “Do you want me to break my limbs?”

“Yeah, maybe that car the other day was enough,” Seungcheol chuckled.

“I honestly didn’t see it coming. It scared the absolute shit out of me.”

Then suddenly Seungcheol’s arm was around him, his hand rubbing his shoulder reassuringly. It only lasted a moment but it almost knocked the boy out.

“It’s okay, I believe you.”

The two returned indoors for a game of pool. Jihoon had never played before so Seungcheol had to explain the rules. You could only hit the white ball, avoid the black ball at all costs (if you knock it in the other one wins, unless it’s your final ball) and the rest Seungcheol chose to explain as they played. He let Jihoon go first and tried not to laugh as he tried to figure out how to hold the cue stick. His wingspan turned out to be a little too small to hold it comfortably in any position. The result was the feeblest hit ever.

“Can I try again?” He asked in a small voice.

“Oh, bless you. Of course you can.”

Jihoon’s second attempt had a similar result and he chewed nervously on his nail. Why was he so pathetic?

“Here,” Seungcheol said, leaning his cue stick against the wall and walking to Jihoon, “try placing your left hand like this and lean the stick on it like so…”

With his help, Jihoon managed a better hit. A striped ball entered the pocket too.

“There,” Seungcheol smiled, “now you aim for the striped balls, I aim for the dotted ones.”

“I’m sorry I’m so bad.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Chan’s terrible and it took me a while to get the hang of too.”

Seungcheol’s hit was so excellent that Jihoon tried to hide behind his cue stick. A yellow dotted ball flew into the pocket and annoyingly for Jihoon, the black ball teetered on the edge beside one of his striped ones.

“If you hit that in, I win,” Seungcheol warned, “so be careful.”

He had a second go (a perk of getting one in) and that, too, was a good shot. Jihoon sighed and analysed the table for his next move. Of course, it went terribly. He took a deep breath. Anyone else would’ve been able to laugh at themselves but the boy’s heart was pounding.

“You’ve improved already,” Seungcheol told him.

Jihoon stood back and watched the actor’s stance as he made his next move. He leaned confidently, bending his torso to reach the table. For a moment Jihoon struggled to not stare at the man’s biceps. He could only move on when he noticed how nice his hands were, one placed on the table to lean his cue stick against. Oh, how Jihoon wanted to hold his hand…

In Seungcheol’s kind company, Jihoon’s nerves fizzled away and soon he managed to laugh at his bad attempts. The actor was relieved - he had been trying hard not to laugh before.

Jihoon won when Seungcheol accidentally hit the black ball into a corner pocket. He threw his arms up with glee whilst wearing a confused expression that made his friend laugh.

For dinner, Seungcheol had the bright idea of making their own pizzas from scratch. Jihoon was confused as to how there was food in the house but it turned out the actor had been there for two days already. He had bought plenty of gluten free things to keep Jihoon going. The boy was grateful - he had been worried about that. He didn’t like being ill when he wasn’t in his own home.

“Have you ever done this before?” Jihoon asked as he beat his mixture.

“No, but I’ve always wanted to. Chan used to make pizza all the time with his family and I’ve never really had anyone to do these things with. With anyone else it just feels like I’m copying Chan, you know?”

Jihoon, paranoid by nature, did know.

“My mum liked to bake with me almost every weekend growing up,” he told him, “so I can’t cook many meals but I can make you some cakes, brownies, a pie, shortbread, muffins, bread…”

“So everything you can’t have?”

Jihoon chuckled. “Gluten free ingredients exist! But yes. Actually, I have never been able to master the art of a gluten free pastry. But I’m not really a pie person so it doesn’t matter.”

“Really? I love an apple pie.”

“I’ll make you one one day,” promised the writer. Seungcheol thanked him with a sweet smile.

Despite neither making pizza before, both turned out quite well. They sat up at the kitchen counter to eat. They had each used Jihoon’s special flour and the boy apologised in advance for if it tasted strange, but he was pleasantly surprised by it actually being nice.

“I genuinely haven’t had pizza since I was about twenty,” he said through a mouthful.

“How have you survived?” Laughed Seungcheol, “was it worth the wait?”

“Absolutely.”

Jihoon wasn’t used to eating much so half of his pizza filled him up. Seungcheol frowned.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you finish a meal. Unless it was a tiny restaurant one.”

“I’m sorry,” Jihoon said, going to take another slice out of guilt.

“It’s okay, I just worry about you.”

The pair were quiet for a moment as Jihoon nibbled on his food. His stomach was turning a little from both dinner and guilt.

“Is everything okay with your roommate?” Seungcheol piped again in a gentle tone, “because when I picked you up you seemed a little off and now you seem better, so if you’re not faking being okay, is it something to do with him?”

Jihoon quickly shook his head. “No, Soonyoung’s fine. A little overprotective but he doesn’t bother me. I guess I was just a little nervous about coming here but now I’m here, I’ve realised it’s fine. I don’t know.”

“Do I make you nervous?”

The boy thought about it. The answer was both yes and no. Some aspects of Seungcheol’s life could be a trigger whereas Seungcheol himself was the only person who could completely calm his panic attacks down.

“Um… no. I think you help more than anything. Your lifestyle absolutely terrifies me - like the press and such, but you yourself don’t make me anxious at all.”

Seungcheol nodded, somewhat relieved.

Once Jihoon (finally) got through his current slice of pizza, Seungcheol took the plate and wrapped it in cling film before leaving it in the fridge for later. Then, as per the actor’s suggestion, they went to the home cinema to watch a film of Jihoon’s choice. The boy went for the second Guardians Of The Galaxy for the soundtrack. Seungcheol brought crisps and poured out some fanta with ice for them both. Usually he would’ve added a blanket too, but it was early June and pretty hot, hence the ice. Jihoon snuggled up anyway, curling into one of two long red couches (the one at the back for the best view). Seungcheol made himself comfortable beside him.

They started the film with half a metre between them and somehow finished with their knees touching. Neither minded. In fact, each was secretly enjoying the slight contact. They looked at each other and Seungcheol smiled. Jihoon turned scarlet.

“N-now what?” He asked. Seungcheol shrugged.

“Wanna chill in the living room for a bit?”

“...which one?”

Seungcheol nudged him with a chuckle. “C’mon.”

They went to the main one downstairs. Seungcheol only stayed on the sofa for a moment before hopping up again, remembering that he needed to get Jihoon’s bag out of the car and shut the main gate. Jihoon told him he could get it but he was only met with “no, it’s okay, you’re the guest” etc, etc. So the boy stayed seated whilst Seungcheol did everything he said he would do. Whilst he waited, he found himself scrolling through Seungcheol’s private Instagram. It was fun now recognising the backgrounds in some of the posts. Some of them must have been taken in the upstairs rooms that he was yet to see, as he recognised the view and the design but not the rooms themselves.

He heard the front door open again and quickly swiped off. Seungcheol soon returned to the seat beside him unsuspectingly.

“I put your bag by the stairs,” he told him, “and I opened the doors of the guest rooms you have to choose from. What time do you usually go to bed?”

Jihoon blinked. “Um, ten.”

The actor raised his eyebrows. “Ten? Oh, bless. Is that why you always text me at six in the morning?”

“You notice that stuff? Oh. I’ll try stay up later tonight.”

“Go to bed when you want to, Hoon, it’s okay.”

A comfortable silence fell between them which meant that Jihoon was left to his thoughts. Instantly his thoughts flicked back to the last few days, although he couldn’t really recall most of that time. His head had been taken over by clouds yet again. They corrupted his whole body and his whole mind so that Jihoon no longer felt like himself. It couldn’t be a panic attack if it had lasted three days, could it?

“Cheol?” Jihoon said quietly, “you know how you said I could talk to you about anything?”

“Yeah? What’s wrong?” Seungcheol repositioned himself to face him whilst the boy nervously chewed on his lip.

“Um… well… it’s just that… lately I’ve been having these weird sort of… phases, I guess? I think it’s what you meant when you said I don’t seem myself sometimes. I thought that they might be panic attacks but one time it lasted overnight and one started after I nearly got hit by that car on Tuesday and it only stopped on the way here. It’s why I stare at my hands like I do. It feels like… like they’re my hands again. I mean, like... I guess I… sorry, it’s hard to explain.”

“Take your time, it’s okay.”

Jihoon nodded. He continued. “I feel detached from myself, basically. I think that’s the best way to describe it. It’s like I’m not controlling myself anymore and instead I’m watching my body move, and I can’t really feel anything and every sound is muffled and listening to somebody speak is harder and words slip out of my mouth without me even planning them. Everything just… happens. And I don’t even notice when it’s happening. I only notice afterwards. I’ve lost count of how many times it’s happened now. I think the first time was after those paparazzi pictures came out and I was on the way to yours. And I also had it at the last party, the one when I got high, and that lasted until the morning and it stopped for a while then it came back again. I’m not sure if they’re panic attacks or if they’re in place of my panic attacks because I’ve only had one since these started happening but it is when I get anxious…”

“I don’t think they’re panic attacks,” Seungcheol told him gently, his eyebrows furrowed with oddly comforting concern. It let Jihoon know that he was listening and that he cared. “I think you might be dissociating, Hoon. I’ve had it before. It was triggered by drugs for me, but I’m sure that it’s a seperate thing too.”

“Do you think it’s just an anxiety thing? That it’ll go away?”

“I think you should see a doctor, Hoon.”

The boy wriggled uncomfortably, fiddling with his fingers.

“Do I really have to?”

Seungcheol rubbed Jihoon’s arm reassuringly.

“I’ll pay for you to go private.”

“What? No, it’s fine–”

“The NHS has long waiting lists, Hoon. If these episodes are lasting several days then I think it’s worth skipping past them.”

“Well, I-I can pay for myself. I’m not poor in real people’s standards.”

Seungcheol chuckled. “I know you’re not. But if I pay for it you’ll feel more pressured to actually go, right?”

The boy sighed. He had him there.

“I’ll transfer some money for it,” Seungcheol promised, “and give you my doctor’s details. Or would you prefer Chan’s? He gets on well with his and he’s had his fair share of mental health issues, if that makes you feel any more assured.”

“I-I don’t mind.”

“I’ll ask Chan.”

“Thank you.”

Jihoon hugged his legs whilst Seungcheol sent a text to Chan. His lip was bleeding now so instead of chewing it, he was sucking the blood away.

Soon the contact details of Chan’s doctor were written in Jihoon’s notes for him to call when they were next open on Monday, or Seungcheol had offered to do it if the boy was too nervous to. Jihoon told him that he would keep that offer in mind.

“Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me,” Seungcheol said softly.

“Thank you for caring. And helping.”

After another short but comfortable silence, Seungcheol flicked on the TV, mostly for background noise. They bonded now in peaceful vibes, both relaxed on the same sofa and either scrolling on their phones or staring into the abyss. When Jihoon did that though, Seungcheol gently nudged him with his foot to check he was okay. Each time the boy pulled a face in response that made him laugh.

A funny feeling followed. It wasn’t his dissociation or whatever - it was that feeling of dread that liked to follow him around. It made him homesick, desperate to settle on his own sofa or crawl into his own bed. Here he felt like an inconvenience. Now Seungcheol was worried about him. It felt nice in a way, but it also struck Jihoon with guilt and he wished he hadn’t said anything.

After much stress and worry over what was nothing really, Jihoon was sleepy by ten o’clock. His eyes kept slowly shutting before he realised he was falling asleep and quickly opened them again. Somehow he had ended up leaning on Seungcheol, but the guy didn’t seem to mind.

“Go to bed, Hoon,” the guy prompted. Jihoon gave in with a yawn.

Seungcheol followed him upstairs, deciding to relax in his own room until he was tired himself. He also carried the boy’s bag up to Jihoon’s room of choice. He looked around each one and settled on his favourite by judging the vibes. It had white walls, oak furniture, and the king sized bed was covered by sage plaid sheets. A door to the right led to an en suite bathroom.

“Sleep well, Hoon,” Seungcheol said with a smile.

“You too.”

Jihoon took his little bag of toiletries and set his toothpaste and toothbrush out in the oak themed bathroom. It had its own bathtub against the wall and a shower in the corner. The window was half covered by a blind, which Jihoon rolled down to reveal a sunflower pattern. It was much more homely than Seungcheol’s flat in Kensington.

Once his teeth were brushed and he was in his pyjamas, Jihoon settled into bed. He just about had enough time to think to himself how comfortable he was before he fell asleep, peaceful snores escaping his lips.

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, Jihoon woke up early: 6:17am. He rubbed his eyes and looked around, forgetting where he was for a moment. Then it clicked and Jihoon lay back down. He spent ten minutes admiring how comfortable this bed was and how soft everything felt, ten minutes scrolling social media on his phone, then sat up to scroll some more. The boy wasn’t too sure what to do with himself. He didn’t feel like he could just get up first in someone else’s house.

Eventually Jihoon got out of bed and perched himself on the window seat, nestled against some green and yellow cushions. The garden looked gorgeous in the early morning glow. Light danced on top of each water feature, leaving the boy temporarily mesmerised. It really was lovely here, and so, so quiet. Even his childhood home on the outskirts of Brighton hadn’t been so peaceful - then of course there was London, and as a result Jihoon had never slept as well as he had last night. Yeah, okay, Seungcheol absolutely did not need a house like this, but Jihoon was grateful that he had it anyway.

After a little while, he spotted Seungcheol, still in his pyjamas, walking across the garden and disappearing into the old-fashioned rounded gazebo. He hadn’t even heard his bedroom door open - maybe the rooms were soundproof. Jihoon stayed where he was for five more minutes then wandered downstairs and into the garden to follow Seungcheol’s footsteps.

Seungcheol was sitting on the bench that followed the shape of the gazebo inside. A lit cigarette was in his hand. He smiled when he saw Jihoon and lowered his cigarette to avoid blowing smoke into his face.

“Morning,” he greeted.

“Morning,” the boy replied, perching beside him, “are you up early?”

“Yeah. I ended up falling asleep early.”

“Sorry.”

Seungcheol blinked at him. “Why are you apologising?”

“I don’t know. I made you go to bed early.”

“You went to bed early and I decided to go to my room and I fell asleep by accident. It’s not a problem and it’s not your fault either.”

The boy nodded, tugging on his ear. “Right. Sor–”

“Nope.”

Jihoon rubbed his nose and stared at the trees in the distance. Birds’ songs filled the silence, as did the soft rustling of leaves. It was therapeutic for the boy’s nerves.

“I really like it here,” he told Seungcheol.

“Oh, good. It’s better than Kensington, isn’t it?”

“So much better.”

For breakfast, Seungcheol made pancakes. They were his favourite. Jihoon only got two down him and the actor had the rest. He didn’t mind but the boy couldn’t help but feel like he was being ungrateful.

Seungcheol had taken out the bikes and wheels and left them in one of the garages last night, so once he was dressed, Jihoon went out to reattach the wheels. It took a while for him to unlock the garage door - the lock was pretty stiff. Eventually he managed to take them outside (being careful not to hit Seungcheol’s car) and perched himself on the driveway with his tools. The sun was hot on his back so a part of him wanted to take his shirt off to cool himself down, but he left that kind of arrogance to Seungcheol. He also wasn‘t the biggest fan of his figure.

Soon Jihoon had two bicycles ready to go. Seungcheol wandered over then. He had previously spent a minute watching from the doorstep, which had made Jihoon nervous and he kept dropping his tool.

“Have you ever used one of those bicycle machines at the gym?” Jihoon asked.

“‘Course. I know how to pedal.”

Cocky Seungcheol had made a small comeback but it didn’t bother Jihoon like it used to.

“Okay, so you’re halfway there. The other half is balancing and I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know how to teach you because I learnt it when I was five.”

“It can’t be that hard, surely. I don’t get how it stays up but it can’t be that hard to do.”

“Probably speed,” the boy guessed, “you just push yourself off and pedal and somehow you stay up. Wanna try now?”

Seungcheol nodded, unbothered. Jihoon lifted up his roommate’s bike to the right way up (it had previously been upside down, stood up by the seat and handlebars) and the actor walked over to collect it. Jihoon climbed onto his own.

“Squeeze both breaks to stop,” he said, “and to start, keep one foot on the ground and one foot on the pedal. I think you’ll want your dominant foot on the pedal, at the top–”

“I can pedal, Hoon.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s alright. C-can you go first? So I can watch?”

It was only then that Jihoon realised why Seungcheol was being off again with him; he was nervous. Nerves were why he had been so horrible at the start and now with that request, it clicked.

“Of course,” Jihoon said, then added, “you know, you will fall.”

“Shouldn’t we learn on the grass then?”

“Uh… I guess we could. It won’t be as smooth though and probably more difficult–”

“So it has to be the driveway?”

“It’s probably ideal. You’ll be fine, I promise. I packed our helmets if you want them.”

“It’s okay.”

Jihoon nodded. He turned away and pushed himself off. He cycled to the gate before turning around and stopping back where he started, this time facing Seungcheol. The boy smiled encouragingly.

“Your turn.”

Seungcheol, seemingly unphased, set off quite well. He quickly wobbled though and put a foot down to stop himself as though he had been startled.

“It’s alright,” Jihoon promised, “do you want me to hold on?”

“What?”

“I can hold on to the back of the seat to steady you if you like.”

“I can do it, thanks.”

Seungcheol tried again and the same thing happened. Before the writer could interfere, he tried a third time. This time he did it for about five seconds before falling.

“Almost!” Jihoon called, putting his bike down while Seungcheol checked his hands for grazes. He was fine so he let Jihoon help him up. “I’ll hold on this time.”

The guy didn’t argue. He positioned himself once more and Jihoon held onto the seat as promised. Seungcheol kicked off, pedalled, and the boy jogged to keep up. He gave it ten seconds before letting go. Seungcheol made it another three then fell. Just like before, Jihoon came over to help him up.

“You said you’d hold on,” he whined.

“Sorry, I thought you had it. I won’t let go this time.”

Jihoon kept his word for a while longer then let go again. This time, Seungcheol was a little more successful, although turning at the gate stumped him a little and he ended up on the ground. He got up, Jihoon held on, he fell, repeat. Each time Jihoon let go and each time Seungcheol made it a little further.

When Seungcheol managed a full circle by himself, he stopped out of shock and beamed at Jihoon.

“I did it!”

“You did it!”

Jihoon grinned as Seungcheol cycled in two more circles with obvious pride in himself, and Jihoon was proud of him too.

After unlocking the gate, they cycled together down the long, deserted road leading to the house as per Seungcheol’s request - he wanted to truly see how far he could get. Jihoon made him go in front so that he could see that he was okay. Seungcheol’s ears turned pink from the care. The man did wobble a bit here and there, but each time he put his foot down, composed himself, and continued. Jihoon wondered if the perseverance came from being a celebrity - he probably wasn’t used to being bad at something.

“I’m starting to see why you like this so much,” Seungcheol called behind him. Jihoon grinned.

“It’s like therapy.”

“You should go to therapy.”

“Well… everyone should.”

Seungcheol rolled his eyes with a smile as if Jihoon could see either.

It was easily the nicest ride Jihoon had ever been on. It was lovely not to worry about cars (especially after last time) and for the ugly buildings to be replaced by scenic grass and pretty trees. The birds’ songs were actually audible without the sound of vehicles nearby or in the distance. London’s mugginess was absent in the hot air too, which always improved everything.

When they returned, the pair were hot and sweaty so that called for a cold shower. Jihoon slipped back into his fancy ensuite for the snazzy shower in the corner. He had packed his own shampoo, but it looked as though there was no need judging by the toiletries on the shelf. However, anxiety was an irrational bitch that scared Jihoon into thinking that somehow Seungcheol would know that he used his shampoo and would be angry about it, so he stuck with his own.

He stepped out of his room with a fresh face and hair still a little damp only to nearly bump into Seungcheol, who blinked at the boy curiously.

“What’s your skincare routine?” He asked.

“Um… none.”

“You bitch. Your skin’s incredible.

“Excluding the pinkness?”

“That’s more like natural blush,” Seungcheol said, “it’s cute.”

Surprising nobody, the natural blush increased. Jihoon decided to delay putting his makeup on and followed Seungcheol downstairs. It was only 9:30am - they had the whole day ahead of them. They repeated last night and relaxed on the sofa for a bit. Jihoon settled down amongst the white cushions, closing his eyes and taking in the luxurious treat that was this house. Seungcheol looked over and chuckled.

“You look so cosy,” he told him.

“You have a very cosy home.”

“Do you think so? I always worry that it’s a bit show-homey.”

“Oh, no, it’s glorious but in a nice way. I can’t believe you can tolerate Kensington when you have this.”

Seungcheol shrugged. “Kensington’s convenient for work. You’re the only work I’ve got but still.”

“Stay here,” Jihoon said drowsily, apparently knocked out by their little outing, “I’ll find a way.”

“There’s no tube here.”

“I can drive. I’m too anxious to and I don’t have a car but y’know.”

Seungcheol raised his eyebrows with surprise. “You can drive?I can’t even imagine you behind the wheel.”

“Well, I’ve not driven since I was about… twenty? And that was borrowing my parents’ car to nip to the shops, so.”

“And that’s just because you’re anxious?”

Jihoon opened his eyes and stared at the guy on the opposite sofa. “It’s terrifying. You’re responsible for controlling this killing machine–”

“Most people can get over that.”

“I’m not most people.”

“You’re not like other boys,” Seungcheol chuckled with a teasing gleam in his eye.

“No,” Jihoon laughed too, “I’m not.”

The actor continued to smile. He looked down, then back at Jihoon again. “I think… I think you’re better.”

The boy was far too stunned to reply. He stared back with his mouth agape. He was… better? Better than other boys? What did that mean? He must have been joking. There was no way that Seungcheol was serious, although his ears were red and he was fiddling with the neck of his shirt like he was nervous. But Jihoon was just Jihoon. He was nobody.

Neither said anything else. Jihoon continued to stare at nothing, questioning anything and everything, until the bike ride caught up with him and he fell asleep with his limbs spread out on the sofa. Seungcheol noticed and found a thin blanket to lay over him.

 

When Jihoon next woke up, he was instantly confused. The bright sun from earlier had vanished and in its place were dark clouds. The tweeting of birds had been replaced by rain pattering against the windows. Where had the sun gone?

The living room was empty. Yawning, Jihoon got up and headed to the kitchen for some water to wash down that after-nap taste. He watched the rain fall outside as he sipped on it. It was bouncing rather aggressively on the pool and then rather strangely, Seungcheol was swimming. Jihoon blinked as the guy leaned backwards, allowing himself to float.

He put his glass down and took the nearest jacket, fighting back against his paranoia for once. He couldn’t go out there without a coat so Seungcheol couldn’t blame him, right? So with a deep breath, Jihoon went outside.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he asked Seungcheol, yelling slightly to account for the rain and slight distance.

“Feeling things,” was the star’s reply, then he added, “don’t put this in my book.”

“I’m going to be honest with you, Cheol, this is something I would’ve done when my mental health was at its lowest.”

Seungcheol stopped floating and began to tread water instead. “Well, I was out here anyway and it began to rain and I wanted to swim, then I thought that rain is wet and pools are wet, so does it really matter?”

“Are you okay?”

“No. Get in.”

“Cheol…”

“Can you swim?”

“Yes?”

“So get in.”

It was difficult to resist Seungcheol’s grin but the thought of stripping off to swim turned his stomach upside down so he shook his head.

“Oh, come on! Boring.”

The rain had calmed down since they had been talking. Seungcheol looked up and then back at Jihoon expectantly as the sun came out.

“It’s getting brighter,” he said encouragingly.

“Later,” the boy replied, “when it’s dry.”

He returned inside and hung the soaked jacket up. Jihoon finished his glass of water before refilling it again.

The weather seemed to improve quite quickly but then that was probably because Jihoon had slept through most of it. Whilst Seungcheol came in (dripping wet) Jihoon went up to his room to do his makeup at last. He didn’t like being barefaced in front of a celebrity. His usual look was quite simple, except it became a million times harder when his hands were shaking.

The boy was distracted by his phone ringing. Soonyoung. With dabs of foundation on the back of his hand, Jihoon answered. He put it on speaker.

“Hey!” His friend greeted, full of energy, “how is it?”

“It’s amazing,” Jihoon quickly replied, “guess how many bedrooms.”

“Five.”

“No.”

“Eight?”

“Twelve.”

“Oh, holy shit! Is there a pool?”

“Three. The kitchen is the size of our main room area thingy with our living room and kitchen. He has a whole library, too. Oh, and he can ride a bike now!”

“Is he treating you well?”

Jihoon dabbed his blender on his hand to collect foundation, then dabbed it around his face as he spoke.

“Yeah, he’s really nice now. We made gluten free pizza and he made me some gluten free pancakes this morning. Oh, and then he said I was better than other boys? What the fuck does that mean?”

“...context?”

Jihoon filled him in. Casual conversation, joking around, blah blah blah.

“He sounds gay. It’s that or he’s fucking with you to make you stick around.”

“Do you think?”

“I don’t know. He needs you to write his book, doesn’t he?”

Jihoon sighed. He finished with his foundation and moved on to dabbing colour onto his lips.

“I mean, you had a rough start but he needs his book so he’ll be nicer now to make up for it. Then if he’s dating someone normal then that’ll do wonders for his image. He’ll look humble. And if it’s a man then he’s gay or queerbaiting.”

“That’s… harsh.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

Jihoon frowned, staring at the floor.

“I’m going to go,” he mumbled, and he hung up the phone.

What was Soonyoung’s problem? Sure, Seungcheol had been shit when they met, but he was really sweet now and he wished his roommate could see that. He didn’t need to look after him like he did - he was almost being smothered. A part of him told him that Soonyoung was making some good points but he refused to give into them. He didn’t want to.

Jihoon finished his makeup and went back downstairs. He got a glance of Seungcheol as the guy disappeared into his own room, presumably to get changed again. They remet in the living room.

“Fancy a game of pool?” Seungcheol asked. Jihoon faked a smile and nodded. He felt like he was going to vomit.

Seungcheol wasn’t faking the kindness, was he? Could he put it past him? Jihoon thought of when he laughed at him with Mingyu. No. He shook it off. He was just trying to blend in. He was nervous and he was rude when he was nervous. Nothing more, nothing less.

Jihoon focused on the game and eventually he felt better through forgetting about it all. His pool skills had improved tremendously thanks to figuring out the best way to position his hand. Seungcheol pulled him in for a side hug and told him he was proud of him, tripling the boy’s heart rate.

They played three games, of which Jihoon won two. He suspected that Seungcheol was taking it easy on him but he said nothing, of course, and basked in the victory. To celebrate they warmed up last night’s pizza for lunch. Seungcheol kept glancing out of the window as they ate.

“It’s pretty dry out there now,” he said. Jihoon looked too, only to find that there were no clouds to be seen.

“You have to wait for an hour after eating to swim,” he replied teasingly.

“So do you want to swim in an hour?”

“Sure.”

Jihoon did not, but he could tell that Seungcheol was eager and he so wanted to please him. He spent the next hour distracting himself by listening to the guy chatter away about other things, mainly the music he liked. It turned out that his favourite was Declan McKenna and Jihoon almost exploded. Soonyoung didn’t care for him so he had never had anyone to bond with over this artist. It was lovely to find things in common with Seungcheol even if they did disagree on the best album.

Then, unfortunately, the actor disappeared to collect some towels for them both. Jihoon went upstairs to change into his red swimming trunks. He couldn’t help but stare at himself in the mirror. Usually he was very indifferent about his figure but now that global superstar Choi Seungcheol with his glorious biceps and perfectly toned abs was about to see him, his feelings changed. You could just about see the outline of Jihoon’s ribs on his shirtless body. His arms were noodle-y and hung limply by his sides. There was nothing to show at all.

Jihoon sort of hugged himself as he made his way outside, hiding his ribcage. Seungcheol sat on the edge waiting for him with his beautifully broad shoulders and smooth abs. He let his arms fall to hide how insecure he felt. The poor thing was trembling even in June’s heat. He sat down opposite Seungcheol, his legs dipped into the water, and by default he ended up sort of twisting his arms around himself again to hide his torso.

“All good?” Seungcheol asked. The boy nodded. “You can swim in a shirt if you feel better that way.”

Jihoon rubbed his nose. “I’m fine.”

“...okay.”

Seungcheol pushed himself into the water but the boy didn’t yet have it in him to join in, even though he knew that the water would help to hide his bare body. He had moved his arms again now to appear more confident but it was like he was frozen by fear - he just stared at a sparkle of light on the water, unmoving, unfeeling.

“Quick! Five things you can see!”

Jihoon blinked, dazed. The actor’s voice sounded strange again. His eyes moved to Seungcheol, who was gently splashing water across to hit the boy’s knee. He hadn’t even noticed.

“Um… you. The water. Patio. Clouds. The sun.”

“Four things you can feel?”

“Water. How hot it is. The patio. And my heart’s going pretty fast…”

“Three things you can hear.”

“Water,” Jihoon said again, “‘cause you’re splashing it about. Birds. Can I say water again? I can hear the water features.”

Seungcheol nodded. “That’s fine. Two things you can touch?”

“Water,” repeated Jihoon and his friend chuckled, “and the patio. Again.”

“And something you like about yourself.”

Jihoon looked at his legs in the water, then scanned his body again. Seungcheol said to lie and to fake confidence if he didn’t have anything…

“I like my figure,” he said, but neither really believed that. Seungcheol smiled anyway.

“Take some deep breaths,” he instructed next, then added “are you feeling better? You looked like you were dissociating again.”

Jihoon didn’t say anything. His usual method hadn’t worked at all. Seungcheol’s next words were just as fuzzy as everything else.

“We don’t have to swim if you don’t want to.”

Jihoon shook his head. He gave himself another moment to breathe before slipping into the water. Seungcheol grinned.

“Welcome!” He said.

The cold water was a shock even if Jihoon had previously had his legs in anyway. He gasped out of surprise, although he got used to it soon enough and he was able to relax, happy to let the water hide his skin. It had pulled him out of his blip.

Seungcheol splashed him and caught the boy in the face. The boy shook his head in response like a wet dog, spitting out the bit that got in his mouth whilst Seungcheol spluttered with laughter. Jihoon got him back though.

“I hope your makeup’s waterproof,” Seungcheol said as he launched his next attack. Jihoon ruined it though by diving underwater. He was followed by the star as he went in circles to get away. Eventually they both had to emerge to breathe.

Jihoon pushed his hair back with a bright smile, his anxiety almost entirely replaced by joy. His smile was mirrored by Seungcheol, who looked gorgeous as the sun lit up the water drops on his tanned skin, making it seem as though he was glistening. He was so pretty. And those lips…

“Do you play volleyball?” Seungcheol asked, seemingly random.

“Uh… well, I like volleyball.”

“Do you want to play? I’ve got a net we can set up.”

Jihoon nodded and they both climbed out of the water. Seungcheol disappeared inside to open a cupboard in the hallway (leaving a trail of water behind) and returned outdoors with what could only be a net in a white bag. He gave it to Jihoon to set up whilst he hunted for and reinflated a ball to play with.

“I’ve not played since university,” warned Jihoon.

“Well, were you good?”

“...it was the only time people wanted me on their team so I can’t have been terrible.”

“Then I’ll have to up my game,” Seungcheol said as he threw the pumped up ball into the water. He helped Jihoon with the net so that it stood on the edges of the pool, splitting it into two halves.

The ball was on Jihoon’s side to start with so he took the first throw. He held the ball out, curled his fist, and hit it as well as he could. Seungcheol threw himself backwards to return it. He missed anyway. The ball fell behind him.

“Sorry,” the boy said automatically.

“Why are you apologising for getting a point?”

“I feel like I’ve inconvenienced you.”

“Your win isn’t my loss.”

Jihoon blinked, trying to figure out what that meant whilst Seungcheol collected the ball and hit back. Pure instinct allowed the boy to close his hands around each other and throw them upwards to wack the ball back to where it came from. Volleyball was far more difficult in the water so he missed the next one. They went again.

Seungcheol won by two points, and he humbly blamed Jihoon’s loss on his shorter height as well as his lack of experience in water volleyball. The boy wondered why he was reassuring him so much, but in the end he just smiled and congratulated his success.

They climbed out of the pool and Jihoon was pleased to be able to wrap a towel around his shoulders and hide his figure again, even if he had eventually forgotten about his insecurities momentarily.

Jihoon collected his phone to see a few missed calls from Soonyoung and some text messages. Whilst Seungcheol lit a cigarette a little way off, Jihoon read through them.

soonyoung 🐯
Please pick up

soonyoung 🐯
I’m sorry if I upset you

soonyoung 🐯
I hope ur okay

Jihoon just rolled his eyes. He was growing sick of Soonyoung’s boldness, how he felt he had the right to criticise Seungcheol’s every move. It was him who was messing with the boy’s head, not Seungcheol. Seungcheol looked after him far better than Soonyoung ever did - Soonyoung had never even been able to calm down one of Jihoon’s panic attacks and he would never trust him to talk about his dissociation.

“Alright?” Seungcheol asked, appearing next to him. He must have finished his cigarette quickly.

“Yeah,” sighed the boy, “Soonyoung’s being a pain.”

“What’s he doing?”

Jihoon forgot that people were curious by nature and he would be inquired further. He scratched his neck. “He’s just… I don’t know, being a dick, I guess.”

“Ah, yeah. He doesn’t like me, does he?”

“I… He… He just knows what you were like when we met and refuses to believe that you’re not like that now.”

“I was horrible, to be fair. I’m really sorry about that.”

“It’s okay, you were stressed.”

“That’s a shitty excuse though.”

“Well… I forgive you. You’ve made up for it now.”

Seungcheol managed a little smile. He had been feeling increasingly guilty for a while.

The rest of the day went just as nicely as the first half of it, minus the dissociation. They went for another bike ride in the evening as the sun set. The sky became a beautiful mix of red, orange and yellow which gave the world a golden tint. Seungcheol stopped and lay his bike down gently on the grass, then sat beside it. Jihoon did the same.

“What are we doing?” He asked.

“Appreciating the view,” was the answer. Jihoon smiled as Seungcheol wriggled closer to him.

“How long have you lived here?”

Seungcheol hummed, calculating. “Three years, I think?”

“And you went all of that time without cycling down this pretty, silent road?”

“...yeah, I think I might buy a bike.”

Jihoon leaned back on his hands and watched the silhouette of a flock of birds fly across the sky. He realised that there was nobody else that he’d rather be here with. It might as well have been heaven.

“Hey,” he said, nudging the star, “happy pride month.”

“Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Hoon. You too.”

Chapter Text

Sadly, Sunday was Jihoon’s last day in Surrey. He woke up at half five for some reason and gave himself an hour to enjoy the comfort of the king sized bed, spread out like a star fish and then nestled cosily beneath the sheets, hugging the duvet to his chest.

Finally Jihoon got up, overcoming the strange anxiety he had over being the only one awake in this massive house that wasn’t his. He found himself in the library and scanning the titles on the shelves. There were far too many for Seungcheol to have actually read, but some had fallen over as though the one they were leaning on had been taken out.

To his surprise, most of the books were actually aimed at teenagers. There were the “modern classics”, as Jihoon called them, such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent series. Then there were multiple titles by authors like John Green and Michael Morpurgo, Wonder, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and various others that made it seem like more of a school library than a celebrity’s. Jihoon was a slut for The Mysterious Benedict Society though so he picked it up and started reading it. He only meant to go through the first page but he stood for a while as he got through the first two chapters, then he settled on the nearest sofa.

“Comfortable, are we?”

Jihoon jumped. He looked up with the same expression as a deer in headlights. Seungcheol was leaning on the doorframe, still in a white tee and plaid pyjama bottoms.

“S-sorry–”

“No, it’s fine. I don’t mind. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said it like that. What are you reading?”

Jihoon held the title up for Seungcheol to see. He nodded his approval.

“Sorry that it’s all kids books,” he said.

“They’re good books, to be fair.”

Seungcheol nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I can’t… I really struggle with adult books. I liked reading as a kid but then I got too busy after about thirteen, so my reading level got stuck there. I can manage scripts, they don’t tend to be complex, but then with entire adult books...”

“I get you,” Jihoon reassured him, “it’s okay. They’re still good books. I loved this one when I first read it. I bought it again a while ago and finished it in a day.”

“Yeah, that’s a favourite,” Seungcheol came over to sit next to him. His ears were red and he fiddled with his hands. Bravely, Jihoon rubbed his arm.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he told him.

“Yeah. I don’t know, Mingyu gives me shit for it.”

“Oh, fuck Mingyu. He’s a pretentious twat. Old money, right?”

Seungcheol couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, he is. I shouldn’t gossip but he and Wonwoo haven’t really been getting along lately. They keep arguing. I was here for a day until I got a text from Wonwoo asking if he could stay at my place whilst it’s empty to get away from Mingyu.”

“Oh, that sounds bad.”

“It is. I was up texting him last night. Wonwoo, not Mingyu. You’re not meant to take sides in these things but I’m taking Wonwoo’s side.”

“Can I ask why they’re arguing all of a sudden?”

Seungcheol sighed. “I think Wonwoo’s just growing sick of him. Both bored in the relationship and also because Mingyu’s really two faced. He treats Wonwoo like a prince and he’s nice to me, but then he looks down on everyone who’s even slightly less rich or famous. Like he sees everything as a hierarchy. It’s partially why I don’t see Chan often anymore - Mingyu likes to swing by and he targets Chan almost as badly as he targets you.”

“So Chan used to visit a lot?”

“All the time. He’s coming over tomorrow actually - he’s staying for the week and Seokmin’s joining on Wednesday.” Seungcheol suddenly turned to Jihoon then. “Do you want to stay tonight? Then you can meet Chan at last and I can ensure that you do ring the doctor and I can help if you struggle… sorry, am I being weird?”

Jihoon chuckled fondly. “I don’t know. I-it would be nice to stay an extra day. If you really don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t. I really like your company, Hoon. You’re one of the only people I don’t feel pressured with.”

Jihoon smiled. “Really?”

“Yeah. You’ve pretty much seen the worst of me already so I don’t have a lot to lose.”

The boy was bright red. He fiddled with the page of the book as he tried to gather some words.

“I always feel better when I’m with you,” he said softly, “like… I feel more assured when you’re around. Which is weird, really, because going to see you used to really stress me out and I do always worry about whether I look too scruffy when I’m with you and that I’m not on your level, but then I’m actually with you and we’re talking all of those worries go away and I feel okay. And also… you’re the only person who’s ever been able to help with my panic attacks.”

“Really? I just googled it.”

Jihoon smiled again. “Then thank you for googling it. I-I really appreciate what you do for me.”

“I just care about you.”

“And I appreciate it.”

A comfortable silence fell between them. Eventually Jihoon turned back to his book whilst Seungcheol read over his shoulder.

“They’ve turned this book into a Disney+ series,” he said eventually, “but I’m too afraid to watch it because I don’t want it to ruin the images I have in my head.

“I don’t even have Disney+.”

“You can have my login. I’ll text it to you.”

He did it right away. Jihoon glanced at the notification and smiled at Seungcheol’s password: CheolChanSeok2000. It was the start year of Three & Us and of course, the cast.

Jihoon downloaded the app and logged in whilst he remembered. Seungcheol told him to make his own profile in addition to the four already there: him, Chan, Seokmin and fucking Vernon. Seungcheol’s picture was Sully from Monster’s Inc which made the boy laugh, Chan’s was Forky from Toy Story and Seokmin’s was Doug from Up. Jihoon opted for Baby Yoda.

“Oh, a Star Wars fan?” Seungcheol asked.

“No, I just think Baby Yoda suits me.”

“He does.”

There was also someone called Vernon on the account with the profile picture of Stitch. Jihoon asked who it was and it turns out he was just someone Seungcheol worked with once. Jihoon moved on.

Jihoon checked out the adaptation of the book and frowned. The characters had been portrayed terribly, in his opinion. He complained about it and Seungcheol agreed.

“We could watch it together later,” he suggested anyway.

“I’d like that.”

Seungcheol smiled. A moment passed until they spoke again.

“Do you want to go out for lunch today? Rather than stay cooped up here all weekend. I googled some cafés and there’s plenty of Jihoon-friendly ones to choose from.”

“You can choose one. I’m indifferent.”

“I always choose. It’s your turn.”

Eventually Jihoon did choose and a few hours later (it was early when they discussed it) they were in Seungcheol’s car driving into town. It was thirty minutes - Seungcheol lived very out of the way. He didn’t even have neighbours.

It was a lovely café in a quiet town. They sat in a corner outside to avoid any attention and luckily the waitress didn’t recognise the star. Seungcheol ordered a bacon salad whilst Jihoon just panicked and asked for “the same as him”.

“I haven’t been out like this in years,” he said quietly, tugging his ear.

“Why’d you stop?”

“Uh… my boyfriend broke up with me. I haven’t had a reason to go out for lunch since.”

“Not with Soonyoung?”

“He prefers takeaway.”

Seungcheol hummed. “What was your last relationship like?”

“It was nice while it lasted,” Jihoon shrugged, “but I spent the entire thing worrying about how I came across. Then I was absolutely crushed when he broke up with me, got over it within six months and now I think we were a terrible match. What about you?”

“My last relationship? Uh… I don’t know. I didn’t really like her but she liked me and she was really sweet. I think I only ever liked her as a friend and I mixed it up.”

“How long ago was this?”

“A year ago now? We broke up last year in March. I’ve had, uh… plenty of one night stands since. One was a man actually.” He lowered his tone at that part. “But I stopped all that a few months ago. Got bored. Sex is boring. Surely everyone’s exaggerating it.”

“Oh, Cheol…”

“What?”

“They’re not.”

“They have to be. It’s shit. I asked Wonwoo and he was all like ‘no it’s great, I love it’ but I just don’t get it.”

“Me neither,” Jihoon said, nerves suddenly growing, “but that’s because I’m asexual.”

“You’re what now?”

“Asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction.”

“That’s a thing?”

Jihoon nodded. During that short window of silence as Seungcheol stared confused at the table, the waitress brought their food over. They both thanked her.

“But you’re still gay?” Seungcheol asked.

“Well, yeah. You have the romance and then the sexual stuff. I only get the romance.”

“Oh.”

Seungcheol now looked deep in thought as he slowly dug into his food.

“I think I’ll save that thought for later,” he said. Jihoon chuckled.

“Take your time, it’s okay.”

Silence fell as the two ate. The food was good, and thankfully not too expensive. It was quite humble for Seungcheol.

“You’re cute,” Seungcheol said suddenly. Jihoon looked up with an almost fearful look.

“I am?”

“Yeah.”

Seungcheol wore a pretty smile that made the boy feel nervous. He thought he was cute. And he was looking at him like that. Jihoon’s head began to spin ever so slightly.

“Th-thank you. So are you.”

Seungcheol beamed and Jihoon’s heart fluttered.

“You look like you’re about to pass out,” he said softly and Jihoon managed to laugh. Seungcheol rubbed his arm comfortingly, but he was chuckling too.

“You just caught me off guard, that’s all.”

“Aren’t you used to compliments?”

“Not really. You must be, though. You don’t need me to tell you you’re pretty.”

Seungcheol shrugged. “A comment from you feels more real than teenage girls screaming at my “duality” or something. Like yeah, sometimes I’m frowning and sometimes I’m smiling, what do they expect?”

“You’re literally an actor.”

“Exactly!” He laughed. The feeling of making Seungcheol laugh was like no other and Jihoon decided that he wanted to live on it. He practically melted before him.

They chatted comfortably as they ate and then went on a walk around town. The pair stuck close to each other, their hands brushing, occasionally nudging the other with a playful grin. A part of Jihoon wanted to hold his hand but the idea of it almost made his heart explode, so he decided against it.

The town was pretty. It was quite old, shown by Tudor style buildings of black wood and white paint. Ivy crawled up most brick buildings and nature calmly took over front gardens too, so that it looked more aesthetic than messy. They only passed a few people and none of them took any notice of the pair.

“Do you come here a lot?” Jihoon asked. Seungcheol shrugged.

“Sometimes with the boys. I only come here with close company, really.”

“And no one bothers you?”

“Only the odd person. They mostly leave me alone which is lovely. I think they all know me by now so they don’t make any fuss. Plus there’s a lot of old people who have absolutely no idea who I am and I love it. Sometimes I’ll nip into the post office to send something and the old lady there gives me boiled sweets and calls me a “sweet young lad”. I love her.”

They kept walking for a while. The town fizzled into a cute village, characterised by small schools and pretty fields filling spaces. There was one field quite hidden by trees but when Jihoon peered through the wooden gate, he noticed it was actually a playground with swings, a large slide, a climbing frame and a roundabout. Surprisingly, it was quiet.

“It’s a hot day, where are the kids?” Jihoon asked.

“The beach probably.”

“Did you ever have the time as a kid to go to playgrounds?”

“Not really.”

Jihoon raised an eyebrow. In return, Seungcheol rolled his eyes but he was smiling anyway. He opened the gate.

“Welcome to childhood,” the boy said as they wandered in, “where first?”

Seungcheol went for the climbing frame. It was bright red and formed a dome that was a little taller than even him. He mumbled something about how little kids were allowed to climb so high. He put a foot on the first rung and scrambled up to the top. Jihoon was afraid of heights but he followed anyway.

“The swings were always my favourite,” he said, “but I was always scared that I’d swing over the top. I’d get too high and scream.”

“Did you ever fall?”

“No, but I jumped off of a climbing frame from the top once and broke my arm. I cried my eyes out and the other kids laughed at me. But of course I cried - my arm was literally bent and it really hurt. I’ve been scared of heights ever since.”

Seungcheol put an arm around him with a soft chuckle. “Sorry, is this bringing back bad memories?”

“It’s okay,” the boy laughed, “it’s been a while.”

“How do you get down, actually?”

Jihoon shrugged. “That’s why I jumped.”

Seungcheol looked around. Of course the solution was to turn around and just climb down, but he wasn’t sure how to go about turning around - he had no experience.

“Well, we’re bigger now,” he concluded before standing himself up a little, edging himself down to a less spherical point, and jumping. He landed smoothly on the ground.

“Eight year old me could never,” Jihoon called.

“How about twenty-four year old you?”

The boy didn’t reply. He was calculating. He really didn’t want to try and turn around from up here. Sure, they were only about six feet off the ground, but it was still nerve wracking for him.

Jihoon edged himself down a few rungs like Seungcheol did. From there, he stared at the ground and gulped.

“Three,” he mumbled, “two, one…”

The boy leaped forwards. He didn’t land as well as Seungcheol did (he fell on his knees), but his limbs were all intact and nothing was even grazed. Seungcheol lent him his hand to pull him up.

“You did it!” He exclaimed. It took a second for him to let go of his hand. “You’re not hurt, right? Shit, your leg’s bleeding.”

Jihoon looked down. It was just the knee he had cut when he fell off his bike several days ago.

“Oh, that was just a scab. It’s okay.”

“So you’re good?”

“I’m good.”

Seungcheol chose the swings next. There were four in total, so he just went for the closest ones with the blue frame. Jihoon followed happily.

He felt safe in Seungcheol’s company now. There was something so warm about him, something that allowed him to relax. Maybe it was how keen he was to help with his anxiety or maybe it was how vulnerable Seungcheol had been with him once or twice before, or vice versa. Either way, here with him in Surrey, Jihoon felt like weight had been taken from his shoulders.

“There’s this one film of yours,” Jihoon said as he sat down, “and I don’t remember anything about it except for this one scene on some park swings. I don’t know when it came out, what the plot was, not even a single word in the title, and to be honest I’m not a film person so I didn’t even like the movie as a whole. But I remember this one scene of you and this girl and I’m sure that I only remember it because you looked so good in this red and white outfit: white jeans and a red button up tucked in, and your hair was longer and curly. You looked so cool and you weren’t even trying. You were everything that I wanted to be - I wanted to be you so badly.

“In my early teens I developed this need to be liked by everybody that then eventually turned into anxiety after I realised that that was impossible and retreated to my room. Then in my first year at university, there were five of us in this flat, right, and three of them - two girls and this really cute boy - watched so many of your films. They always talked about how hot you were and how much they loved you whilst at this point, I barely even had Soonyoung. I probably would have been better if they weren’t racist and kept saying I looked like you. I looked at you with so much jealousy, like you had everything I ever wanted. I thought you had it so easy and now I see that you’ve never had it easy at all and that’s really strange to me. You’re a really good actor, Cheol.”

Seungcheol was swaying gently back and forth, listening intently whilst keeping his eyes on the ground. He looked at Jihoon then.

“We’re very different, aren’t we?” He said. Jihoon agreed.

“I think that’s partially why I like you. I just… think you’re interesting. Not in the “ooh, he’s rich and famous” way. Call me an English major, but you seem complex to me.”

“You would say that, you write biographies for a living.”

“I’ve only ever done one, actually. Usually I write fiction. And the autobiography I did was someone old and boring.”

“Mine’s boring too.”

“That’s why we need anecdotes,” Jihoon teased, beginning to rock himself back and forth. Seungcheol did the same.

They swung for a while, trying to see who would get the highest. It was Seungcheol, of course - Jihoon scared himself.

“We should go,” the actor said as they slowed down. He glanced over to a bush but Jihoon couldn’t catch what he was staring at, so he assumed it was a squirrel or something.

“Bit hot, isn’t it?” He said cheerfully.

“Are you feeling okay?” Seungcheol checked, eyes wide with concern.

“Fine,” the boy shrugged, standing up.

Seungcheol put an arm around him as they walked now. Jihoon liked to think that he was using worry as an excuse to get close but of course his self esteem wouldn’t let him believe it, so he shrugged the thought off.

They stayed intertwined nearly all the way back to the car, only letting go because it was getting too hot. Once they were home they dipped their legs into the pool and then Seungcheol served some ice cream, suddenly very worried that Jihoon would overheat.

“Have you told Soonyoung that you’re staying an extra night?” Asked Seungcheol. He had already updated Chan of the new plans.

“No. I think he’ll be annoyed.”

“Then maybe don’t tell him. Be reckless or whatever.”

“Then he’ll be really annoyed. Either way I think I’ll have a panic attack.”

“I can do it if you want,” offered Seungcheol with a mouthful of strawberry ice cream, “through your phone.”

Jihoon shrugged and handed his phone over. “You know my mannerisms well enough?”

“Probably.”

Seungcheol ended up with a simple “hey, staying an extra night now” which sort of embarrassed Jihoon. Was it really that easy?

“Not enough typos,” he critiqued jokingly.

“Okay, hang on.”

He switched some letters around so that instead of “now” it said “nwo” and Jihoon gave him his approval with a laugh. Then it was sent and the boy tried to focus entirely on his cold treat and the water on his legs.

“How’s your little acting break going?” He asked.

“Well, I’ve not had a drink for a week since I’ve been here,” Seungcheol said, “so I’d say I’m doing better.”

“Do you drink everyday? Or did?”

“Pretty much. It wasn’t an addiction - I was just always trying to feel something. Usually I feel quite indifferent with everything, you know?”

“And how are you now?”

“I’m happy. Thanks for making my weekend good.”

“Any time,” Jihoon smiled.

They watched the series on Disney+ that they had mentioned earlier. It was tolerable to Jihoon but then he didn’t like watching many things, so his bias wasn’t the best to rely on. Seungcheol couldn’t even make his mind up. Too many little things went against what the book said but as a whole, it was alright.

The day finished beneath the stars because it was a clear night and Jihoon was a Londoner, so the stars were a luxury. He flopped on the back garden’s grass and stared up at them with awe and wonder.

“I went through this rocky phase where the only time it felt like I could breathe was by stargazing,” Seungcheol said quietly, “I tried to kill myself around then.”

Jihoon turned to face him so fast that he almost pulled a muscle in his neck. “Jesus Christ, Cheol–”

“Don’t make a fuss. I don’t want a fuss.”

“So why did you tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Seungcheol mumbled, “only Chan knows so I guess I just… wanted someone else to know.”

“How’d you do it? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“A shit ton of ecstasy. Mingyu left some behind and I just… went for it. It wasn’t planned, I just suddenly thought about my life and decided I couldn’t do it anymore and swallowed a load of tablets. But nobody had heard from me for a few weeks so Chan was really worried, came over to check on me, and found me almost dead in my room.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Uh… three years ago? It was in the Kensington flat.”

Jihoon was staring with a pitiful look that Seungcheol hated. He avoided his gaze.

“Are you doing better now? You got help?”

“I never got help but I’m getting better,” Seungcheol said, “Chan always begged me to go to therapy or see a doctor but… I don’t know. I’ve always been too scared to. I just feel ungrateful, you know? My mum pushed me into acting jobs so that I could have a good life with lots of money only for me to hate acting and hate fame, even though without her doing that I would probably be dirt poor right now. It’s ungrateful. And I’m honestly this close to talking to some money person about whether I could retire now but then I’d let her down. I’d let everyone down. So instead I just plod along being ungrateful for everything I’ve got.”

“It’s not ungrateful,” comforted Jihoon, “you’ve been forced into a life you never asked for. You’re allowed to be upset.”

It was a while until Seungcheol said anything. Eventually he wriggled closer to Jihoon so that they were almost touching.

“Okay, well,” he said, pointing up to the night sky, “that’s Sagittarius…”

Jihoon couldn’t help but laugh, amazed by this man who could switch the conversation from his suicide attempt to constellations. He took in every word he said until finally it was revealed that Seungcheol didn’t know shit and “they’re just stars, see what you want to see. Draw a frog or something”. They drew a frog together. Its result was playful bickering over where the eyes were as they tried to figure out what each other were seeing.

Jihoon fell asleep after a while, his head nestled against Seungcheol’s shoulder. Seungcheol did plenty of rambling before he noticed soft snores escaping the boy’s lips. He didn’t mind. He found it sweet. Carefully, he scooped him into his arms and carried him up to his room. It was difficult to open Jihoon’s bedroom door with him in his arms but he did it in the end, only to knock the boy’s head on the doorframe. Jihoon’s eyes fluttered open.

“Shit, sorry,” Seungcheol apologised softly, “you fell asleep outside.”

Instead of responding, Jihoon just hummed and tucked his head into Seungcheol’s chest. He was asleep again in an instant.

Seungcheol tucked the boy into bed with the window wide open and the fan on since it was still boiling even at midnight. He tiptoed out of the room without a sound.

“Sleep well, Hoon,” he whispered, and gently shut the door behind him.

Chapter Text

Jihoon woke up still in yesterday’s clothes, which was a little confusing. He blinked, dazed by the fan blowing cool air into his face. After a while a memory came to him from the previous night - he was in Seungcheol’s arms. He shrugged it off. Must’ve been a dream.

The boy got up and like yesterday, he ventured down to the library. The Mysterious Benedict Society was exactly where he had left it. He picked it up and continued to read.

Two hours later, the boy was about halfway through. Jihoon rubbed his eyes. What time was it? All he knew was that he had woken up at half six.

He checked his phone only to discover a terrifying notification from the News app: Choi Seungcheol spotted on the streets with male beau. Instantly he tapped onto it before the words could fully process in his mind.The article was full to the brim of the pair walking side by side (with and without Seungcheol’s arm around him), eating lunch and grinning at each other, even the moment Seungcheol had rubbed his arm and the pair sat on the swings. Jihoon felt sick. He hadn‘t even noticed any cameras. Then he remembered the glance Seungcheol had made through the trees before saying they should leave and the nausea grew more violent.

Immediately he jumped from the sofa (not bothered by the book crashing onto the floor) and rushed into Seungcheol’s bedroom. The guy was sprawled out, his duvet only hiding half of his bare torso. Jihoon didn’t take any notice. Instead, he shook him awake. Seungcheol blinked groggily at him.

“Mm? Hoon? Is everything alright?”

“No, look.”

Jihoon shoved his phone in Seungcheol’s face, whose tired frown turned into a pale, worried expression.

“I didn’t see them at the café,” he said quietly, “I thought they only got us on the swings.”

“Where even were they?”

“I don’t know, Hoon, they’re creepy like that.” Seungcheol rubbed his eyes. “I did speak to my publicist last night but I told her it was just the swings. This is so much worse.”

He regretted that last sentence when he looked up at poor Jihoon. The boy was as white as a sheet, visibly shaking and his thumb was bleeding as he gnawed on the knuckle.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Seungcheol said, getting up and gently prying Jihoon’s hand from his mouth, “it’ll be okay. It was okay last time, wasn’t it? Let’s wash your hand before you bleed on your clothes.”

He started the 54321 method once they were in the bathroom, leaving the door open so that Jihoon could look at more things. He was desperate to keep him in reality.

“I can see the sink,” the boy mumbled, “a-and blood. Tap. A flag.”

The bisexual pride flag Jihoon had given Seungcheol now stood in a jar on the guy’s bedside table. Jihoon was staring at it through the door frame.

“Your bed. A photograph.”

“That’s really good, Hoon,” Seungcheol reassured him as he opened up a cupboard in the corner and grabbed a plaster, “now what are four things you can feel?”

“I feel really, really sick,” Jihoon said, and his legs buckled beneath him. Seungcheol sat with him. He took his hand and wrapped the plaster around his thumb.

“What else?”

The words just went through the boy, who was now staring at Seungcheol’s legs. His eyes were glazed over like there wasn’t a single thought behind them. Seungcheol swore under his breath. If nearly getting hit by a car triggered a three day long episode, what would his face plastered on the internet as Choi Seungcheol’s lover do?

As Jihoon began to gnaw on his index finger, Seungcheol felt as though he had no choice but to turn to Google. All of the solutions offered were sensory and communicative, but he felt like they weren’t going to work if Jihoon blanked on being asked what he could feel.

“Let’s go to the kitchen,” he said, taking Jihoon’s hand and pulling him up. The boy followed without a word. Seungcheol was a little worried about how he would cope with the stairs, but he managed fine.

Once in the kitchen, Seungcheol dragged the boy to the freezer. He sat down on the floor and Jihoon followed suit. Then he opened the freezer door and let the cold air brush over them.

“How does that feel?” He asked, pulling on the bottom drawer.

“Weird.”

“Yeah? Try focusing on it.”

Jihoon did so but the sensation only lasted a second. Then it was gone and all there was was fog. That was until he watched his (?) hand being pulled away from him and something was placed in it. The sudden temperature in his hand shocked him.

“How’s that?”

“Fucking freezing,” Jihoon replied with a gasp. Seungcheol had placed multiple ice cubes in his hand.

“Focus on them. Describe them to me. How do they feel? What do they look like?”

“It’s stinging - it’s that kind of cold. I think they’re melting already. And they look like glass, and they’re colourless.”

“Do you feel better?”

Jihoon looked up at Seungcheol. “I think so. Thank you.”

He kept the cubes in his hand but put his other one beneath it to catch the dripping. Then it occurred to him to lean over the sink with them and he got up, Seungcheol following close behind.

“The pictures will fizzle out eventually,” he said, although his voice was shaking a little too, “and I’m sure my publicist will phone soon. Do you want me to put her on speaker so that you can hear her and get some reassurance from her?”

Jihoon nodded, but he didn’t want to focus on himself. He was worried that he would dissociate again. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Seungcheol lied, “it’s okay.”

“They’re outing you.”

“Then maybe Hollywood won’t want to hire a gay actor,” replied Seungcheol, “which is a great tragedy that I really care about. Look, I don’t want to be afraid of being outed all the time. We’ll let them think what they want to think, okay? You have nothing to worry about. It’s me that they really care about. They don’t even know your name.”

Jihoon nodded with a gulp. He continued to focus on the melting ice cubes in his hand. He passed them over to the other when he felt like he was getting too used to the sensation.

“Chan will be here in a few hours,” Seungcheol said, glancing at the time on his phone, “he’ll serve as a distraction.”

“I think I might ring the doctor as a distraction actually,” the boy told him with a small smile.

“...personally I think that I should do that for you.”

“Uh… probably. The last time I tried to make an appointment I cried for ten minutes beforehand.”

Seungcheol rubbed his back comfortingly.

“It’ll be okay, I promise. I’m going to get dressed, will you be alright?”

The boy nodded. “I’ll change too once these have melted.”

“Yeah, sorry for giving you so many.”

Jihoon chuckled. “It’s alright.”

His hands started going numb so after a minute or so of standing alone, Jihoon dropped the ice cubes into the sink and went upstairs to change.

Now in fresh clothes, Jihoon felt a little bit better. He left his room and saw Seungcheol’s door was wide open as he walked past. The guy was sitting on the edge of his bed with his phone in his hand. Jihoon leaned in the doorframe, watching him dial a number. Seungcheol smiled reassuringly at him.

“Hi, I’d like to book an appointment on the behalf of someone else, is that alright?”

It was funny watching someone as famous as Seungcheol switch to a sort of customer service voice with formal speech. Jihoon never would have expected it from a celebrity.

Soon he had an appointment booked for Tuesday morning and had confirmed that he was allowed to be there with him. Of course Chan would be around then, but he figured that Jihoon could stay another night and he could drop him home after the appointment and Chan would understand the need. They each knew that if Jihoon went alone, he would probably dissociate and then the appointment wouldn’t go too well.

“I like your flag in here,” Jihoon said in a small voice, clearly trying to change the subject from appointments to avoid panicking.

“Oh, thanks. I figured I’d rather have it where I feel is home.”

“Cute.”

Seungcheol stared at the A5 sized flag for a moment longer.

“I don’t know if I like girls,” he admitted, “but that makes me feel guilty because you see all these bisexual pride posts discussing how bisexuality isn’t a phase on the way to identifying as gay.”

Jihoon shrugged. “Your mistake isn’t going to invalidate anyone, Cheol. Think of the label as a stepping stone - not the actual sexuality.”

“Mm. I don’t know. All I know is that I definitely like men. I’ll think some more about it.”

Jihoon couldn’t help but feel proud of how far Seungcheol had come with accepting himself in such a short time. He had gone from barely being able to say that he liked men out loud to saying it quite quickly, quite casually, without hesitation.

“Oh, I researched asexuality last night,” Seungcheol piped up again.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think it sounds like me. I guess I feel a little less broken, which is cool.”

Jihoon smiled. “All those years of one night stands wasted.”

“Eh, they all passed the time.”

“Did you ever enjoy it?”

“Uh… I’m indifferent. It’s kind of boring but not the worst thing ever. Have you ever…?”

“Nope,” Jihoon shook his head, “I’d rather die– sorry. It’s partially why my last boyfriend broke up with me. He wanted a sex life but I was grossed out by the thought.”

Seungcheol looked like he was about to say something, but he never did.

It wasn’t too long until Seungcheol’s publicist rang. Her name was Annie and apparently she was really nice. Jihoon had spoken briefly with her once before when he was first hired. They sat cross legged on his bed together, his phone in between them on speaker.

“Seungcheol, I don’t understand how you keep doing this.”

“Hey! This is only the second time!”

“Put this with the dungaree incident. How does that look?”

Seungcheol sighed. “I don’t care if people think I’m gay, I just don’t want Jihoon dragged into it. He didn’t ask for this.”

“Well, to be honest, Seungcheol, if Jihoon doesn’t–”

“He’s right here.”

“Hi, Jihoon. If you don’t want to be photographed with a celebrity then you shouldn’t be going out and about with a celebrity.”

Jihoon rubbed his nose anxiously. “Yeah, I get that. Um- w-will this matter with the ghostwriting thing? Will they figure it out?”

“When a celebrity puts a book out they are always accused of ghostwriting, I doubt they’ll put two and two together like this. At least not in a way they can prove.”

“Hey, Annie,” Seungcheol piped up like he had had an idea, “you know when some celebs go out with their kids and paps blur the kids’ faces out? Is there any way we can do that with Jihoon?”

“It’s a bit late now, isn’t it?”

“I know, but I’m not going to let the stupid press stop me from living my life so what else can we do?”

Annie sighed over the phone. “I’ll look into it for you. We can probably tip them or something. How are you, Jihoon?”

“I’m okay–”

“He had a panic attack,” Seungcheol said.

“Oh, bless. I’ll try to get a story out about one of my other clients to try and bury this, okay? Seungcheol, don’t you do anything. Anything you post will just get accused of trying to hide the rumours. I don’t know how you got away with it last time. Also, can I just ask - are you two…? Because I can’t deny that it looks like it.”

The two looked at each other awkwardly.

“No,” Seungcheol said, suspiciously quickly, “strictly colleagues.”

“Ah, and that’s why you were on the swings.”

“Shut it, Annie,” laughed the actor shyly, his ears red.

“Okay, okay. So I’ll sprinkle out stories about my other clients over the next few days and we’ll let this blow over, alright?”

“Thanks, Annie.”

“Thank you,” Jihoon added quietly. They said their goodbyes and hung up.

Seungcheol took Jihoon’s hand and shook it playfully. Jihoon looked at him with a soft smile.

“It’ll be fine,” Seungcheol reassured him.

“Yeah.”

They sat still for a little while, just chilling on the bed. Then Seungcheol realised thanks to the hollow feeling in his stomach that they hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. Jihoon followed him downstairs like a lost puppy.

“What do you want to eat?” Seungcheol asked.

“I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“I still feel sick, Cheol.”

“It’s probably hunger,” he lectured, “you eat nothing.”

Seungcheol made up some (gluten free) cereal with a glass of water for the boy anyway. Jihoon only got two mouthfuls down him before he gagged, holding his chest with his hand as if it would make it better. He sipped his water instead for a little bit. Then silently, he moved to the nearest bathroom and sat on the floor by the toilet whilst his stomach turned and his heart thudded. A funny feeling developed at the back of his throat and then Jihoon did actually throw up, alerting Seungcheol to rush in and rub his back.

“Alright?”

“Mm.”

“Try and eat more later,” Seungcheol recommended, “to sort of catch up. It’s okay. Can you still feel everything?”

“It’s getting foggy.”

“Can you pick an object and describe it to me?”

Jihoon chose a potted plant in the corner. He described its long leaves and the ridges in the white pot, how the branches looked and the dirt. Seungcheol dragged it closer so that Jihoon could feel it too.

“Does that help?” He asked.

“Yeah. Th-thank you.”

“Of course. Thank Google.”

 

Seungcheol popped out to open the gates to the driveway and at ten, Chan arrived. Jihoon hovered awkwardly in the hallway as the actor opened the door.

“Hey little one!” Seungcheol exclaimed cheerfully. He wrapped Chan in a bear hug, which the boy returned.

“Hiya, Cheol.”

They came out of the hug and turned to Jihoon, who was fighting the urge to gnaw on his knuckle again.

“You must be Jihoon,” Chan smiled, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“You have?”

“He doesn’t shut up.”

“Chan…” Seungcheol looked at Jihoon with red ears. “It’s all good, I promise.”

The boy nodded, unable to speak.

Chan was a little younger than Jihoon yet he was a few inches taller. He had a soft face with dark eyes and cute lips (not a touch on Seungcheol), and he naturally looked quite friendly. He dressed casually in shorts, a tee, and a button up thrown over the top. He didn’t seem like a celebrity at all - but then again, Chan did sort of hover on the edges of spotlight, only taking side character roles in non-major films. Jihoon almost felt as though he could relax with him.

“Have you seen the news?” Chan asked.

Never mind.

They headed to the kitchen as they spoke with a tub of brownies that the boy had arrived with.

“We’re trying not to think about the news actually,” replied Seungcheol with a glance at Jihoon.

“Ah. Probably for best - people can be brutal.”

“What are they saying?” Jihoon asked, earning a glare from Seungcheol.

“What did I tell you about the comments the first time?”

Chan smiled at the pair. It was cute to see Seungcheol so protective of someone.

“You’ll want to avoid Twitter,” he said as Seungcheol started making drinks, “it’s trending, so.”

“It’s trending?” Jihoon’s eyes widened.

Seungcheol gave him a odd look. “Of course it is.”

“...bit arrogant, Cheol,” Chan said with a small laugh.

“Sorry.”

His friend looked at Jihoon apologetically then. “Just tell him off when he’s like that. He won’t mind.”

“It’s okay. He used to be worse.”

Seungcheol’s ears were permanently red by this point. He handed glasses of cold cola around, which Jihoon held tightly to ensure that he could actually feel everything. He was still shaking and he wished that he wouldn’t.

The trio went outside to sit down at the outdoor table. Even on the cream sofa beneath the parasol’s shade, it was fairly hot. Chan suggested swimming later to cool off. Jihoon wriggled uncomfortably though, causing the two friends to exchange looks.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Chan said.

“No, it’s okay,” Jihoon insisted, “you two can. I’ll sit out.”

“It’s no fun if someone’s left out. We’ll think of something else to do.”

Great. Now he was an inconvenience. He looked fearfully at Seungcheol, almost as though he was begging for help. Why did Chan have to be so nice? It only made him feel worse.

“We could play tennis,” Seungcheol suggested, “or volleyball.”

“I-if you want… if you want to swim, you can swim. I don’t mind.”

Eventually the two decided to play water volleyball together so that Jihoon could be a referee if he felt like it, but flexibly so that he was able to zone in and out. The boy ended up cross legged on a sun lounger, hunched over his phone to create shade with his body whilst he scrolled through Twitter. Of course, he landed on the trending page. ‘Seungcheol’ and ‘Seungcheol gay’ were both in the top ten. Jihoon couldn’t help himself. He tapped on ‘Seungcheol’ at number 3.

@cheolsdesire
so happy that seungcheol has a twink for a bf <3

@3andcheol
seungcheol gay ugh i fucking knew it so hot for him

@seungcheolsmile
Why is Seungcheol dating fucking Gollum

@chchcheol
they look so happy together omg the way seungcheol looks at him?? STARS IN HIS EYES

@callingmyseungcheol
seungcheol could do so much better than that LMAO that boy looks like a rat

@seungcheology
LOL as if seungcheol would go for a man like that IF he was gay. look how cheap and weird he looks

@cheolseungiohc
WTS!
seasons 1-10 box sets of three and us
seungcheol is gay with a small man so i’m selling

@chhhhhheol
honestly that boy isn’t good enough for our seungcheol, he isn’t worth it at all, look at his hair?? ugly ass mullet,, next to cheol his clothes look like they are from a charity shop thats so embarrassing for his ugly ass

Jihoon kept reading but the words stopped stabbing and any nice comments stopped giving him that funny, but pleasant, feeling in his chest. The sun wasn‘t hot on his back anymore, someone else was scrolling through Twitter for him, and cotton wool was being stuffed into his head. He kept reading.

“That counts! I get that point!”

“It doesn’t count if it bounces from the net onto my side!”

Seungcheol huffed. “Hoon, what do you think?”

He turned around to see the boy still hunched over, seemingly in his own bubble, rhythmically swiping his phone’s screen. He wasn’t taking any notice of them.

“Jihoon?”

Nothing. It was like he hadn’t heard him. He was mesmerised by his device, stuck in its world.

“Does he have headphones in?” Chan asked. Seungcheol shook his head. He got out of the pool and walked over to Jihoon after briefly drying himself off. He nudged the boy’s arm, finally getting his attention.

“What are you up to?” Seungcheol spoke softly as he checked out what Jihoon was browsing on. He saw the tweets and sighed. “Oh, Hoon.”

As Jihoon looked up at him, Seungcheol’s suspicions were confirmed by the blank look in his eyes. He sighed again.

“I’m going to get you some ice.”

He took Jihoon’s phone with him. The boy watched him walk inside and then watched him through the large windows. His phone was left on the kitchen counter. It remained there even when Seungcheol came back out with ice cubes in his hand. He took Jihoon’s hand and tipped them into it.

“What’s that like?” He asked hopefully.

“Nothing.”

Seungcheol perched next to him. He glanced at Chan who was sort of awkwardly swimming in one spot, unsure what to do with himself. In the end he sat on the edge and kicked his feet about.

“What does it look like?” Seungcheol asked Jihoon meanwhile.

“Ice?”

Seungcheol sighed once again. It wasn’t working this time - the boy still looked out of it.

“Chan, do you want to get the water pistols out?”

Chan grinned eagerly. “Obviously! Please tell me you have water balloons?”

“I think I do.”

Seungcheol dragged Jihoon up, causing him to drop the ice cubes on his foot in the process. The boy barely noticed.

The next thing he knew a blue water gun was pressed into his arms by Chan and he held it with confusion for a moment, like he was figuring out what it was. Still grinning, Chan pretended to aim and even exclaimed a little “pew, pew!”. Jihoon almost found it cute. Instead, he just stared with furrowed brows.

“Oh, he faints in the heat by the way,” Seungcheol called, filling up some water balloons into a tub beneath an outdoor tap.

“Is that why he looks so dazed?”

“Uh… no. He’s dissociating.”

Chan put two and two together and quickly understood the assignment. Whilst Seungcheol filled up a bucket with water and went inside for something or other, Chan jogged back a bit and without warning, he squirted Jihoon with his pistol. The boy just blinked. Then he aimed too and got him back. He didn’t really mean to - his body just… did it.

Soon Seungcheol joined them and caught Jihoon on the back of his neck. He spun around, aiming for the face in return. It was fun for Seungcheol and Chan. For Jihoon, it wasn’t anything. It was merely something that was happening.

The two friends were quite dedicated to the game. As Jihoon tried to make sense of his own hands moving, Seungcheol and Chan hid behind tables, chairs and bushes. It sort of became hide and seek - Jihoon searched for them and they squirted at him from wherever they were hiding.

After several rounds, Jihoon wasn’t much better. Seungcheol walked back to the perimeters of the house where he had left the bucket. He glanced inside it before carrying it over. Jihoon was busy being distracted by a flock of birds, unaware of Seungcheol creeping up behind him whilst Chan refilled his gun.

Then all there was was an icy cold sensation dripping down him. Jihoon gasped with shock. His eyes were squinted to keep the water out as he just stood there, acknowledging what just happened.

“How’s that?” Seungcheol cackled. Chan was laughing too.

“Oh my god– oh, bless him.”

“Did you feel that?” Asked Seungcheol, putting a hand on the poor boy’s back. Jihoon could only nod. He pushed his soaking hair out of his face.

“So cold.”

“Yeah, I let ice cubes melt in it.”

Jihoon rubbed his face with his hands, apparently forgetting that they were soaked too. Then he held them out in front of him and wriggled his fingers.

“Okay?”

Jihoon looked at Seungcheol and nodded. He shook his limbs out and no one could tell whether he was checking they worked or if he was simply working through dog-like responses to dry off. His t-shirt was sticking to him uncomfortably now. He glanced at Chan. As kindly as possible, Chan’s topless body wasn’t anything particularly special. Not compared to Seungcheol’s perfect figure. Jihoon tested himself and took his shirt off. Seungcheol chucked a water balloon at him shortly after.

“I’m just making sure you’re still with us,” he joked.

“I’m fine,” insisted Jihoon. He aimed his gun. Seungcheol ran.

Jihoon seemed to recover fairly quickly thanks to good distractions, although he did take a few second breathers here and there. An intense water fight even managed to distract him from worrying about how his figure looked and whether Chan was judging him. But Seungcheol loved Chan and that was helping too - the boy trusted his judgement more than anything.

Eventually the three slowed down, out of breath and assured that Jihoon was doing better. The boy offered to refill their drinks. Suddenly he was almost obsessed with stimulating his senses. He appreciated how cold the bottle was and the contrast as he walked back into the sun. The other two were back at the table in a comfortable silence.

“I like your eyes, Jihoon,” Chan commented as the boy put their drinks down, “they’re pretty.”

Jihoon stood stunned. Was it a pity compliment? It was probably a pity compliment.

“Oh-I, uh- thank you.”

Chan smiled in response. Seungcheol suddenly “oohed” as if he had remembered something, and he had.

“Shall we make a start on those brownies?” He asked. Chan nodded eagerly. The eldest of the three went to get the tub from the kitchen whilst Jihoon sat down with his hands around his glass.

Seungcheol reappeared with a plate full of home baked brownie squares, complete with icing sugar sprinkles on top. They looked delicious. Jihoon tried not to stare at them so that he didn’t feel sad about not being able to have any.

“Why did I need to make them gluten free, by the way?” Chan asked as he grabbed one, and from that question Jihoon took one too with relief, “you’re not on some gluten free weight loss diet, are you? Because those really don’t work–”

“Hold your horses; Jihoon’s intolerant.”

“Oh! Good for you, Hoon. How’s the bread? I’ve heard it’s awful.”

“I toasted gluten free bread once and it tasted squeaky,” Jihoon said before biting into the chocolate treat and nearly choking with amazement. They were incredible. The inside was the perfect level of gooeyness - not anywhere near soggy, but nowhere near dry either.

“What are these made with?” He asked.

“Just Lindt dark chocolate. And rice flour from Sainsbury’s.”

Seungcheol relaxed next to Jihoon with his arm across the back of the couch behind the boy. It only took a moment for him to adjust himself so that his hand was on Jihoon’s upper arm, his thumb rubbing his skin up and down. Jihoon’s breath got hitched in his throat. He was all too aware of Chan’s glances.

“Does Soonyoung know you’re here again tonight?” Seungcheol asked him, completely indifferent about their affectionate positions. It occurred to Jihoon then that maybe he was just trying to offer some sensory stimulation - yes, that was it.

“No.”

“Did he mind you staying last night?”

“I don’t know. I swiped his notification away before I could read it.”

“Ah, yes. Self care.”

“Who’s Soonyoung?” Chan piped up. Jihoon sighed.

“My roommate.”

“Is he nice?”

Jihoon just shrugged. “He can be annoying sometimes but he means well. He hates Cheol though.”

“What, like he disapproves of him for you?”

The two looked at each other then back at Chan. Chan stared back. His eyes were a little wider than before.

“Sorry, that just fell out.”

“I’m not even out to you,” Seungcheol laughed nervously.

“I’m sorry, I– wait, so it’s true?”

Seungcheol took his arm off of Jihoon. “Well, we’re not–”

“No,” Jihoon shook his head, “we aren’t–”

“We’re not much, but I am… yes. Maybe bi, not sure. But men? Yes. Jihoon? I– uh, pffft.”

Chan was trying not to laugh. “Alright. Well, I’m really proud of you, Cheol. And happy for you… both? I’m happy for whatever you two have going on here.”

Whilst Jihoon felt unable to move, Seungcheol furrowed his brows but smiled at the same time.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m just saying, I can see why the press think you’re a couple,” Chan shrugged, grabbing another brownie. He had a teasing gleam in his eye before adding, “and you two look good together.”

“Do we?” Jihoon asked too quickly with obvious surprise. He thought they were an awful match visually. In the photos, Seungcheol outshone him by far. He had this magnificent way about him, a sort of awe striking energy, and he effortlessly looked as though he owned the place. In contrast, Jihoon cowered behind poor posture and a blank face, with scruffy clothes in comparison, and a clear lack of confidence. For personal reasons, it was embarrassing to be seen beside Seungcheol.

“He really does talk about you a lot,” Chan revealed to Seungcheol’s horror, “all nice things, of course - I think trying to say a bad word about you would kill him.”

“Chan, please shut up,” begged the star, looking between his friend and Jihoon. The latter was staring at nothing - like he was dazed. “I think you’re startling him.”

“I’m okay,” Jihoon said quickly. He didn’t quite believe it though. The information was overwhelming. Seungcheol spoke about him, and it was all good? Plus, when asked if they were an item the response was “we’re not much”. “Not much”. He didn’t say nothing - he had said “not much”. Not much implied that there were foundations, that there was a start, that something was blossoming and something had just begun. There was something rather than nothing.

And then they looked good together. They seemed like a couple. They acted like one and they looked like one and everyone believed that they were one, and Seungcheol’s concern was keeping Jihoon safe - not the fact that he was being globally outed.

Did Seungcheol have a crush on him?

Jihoon said nothing as he suddenly stood up and left the table. He rushed inside, upstairs, and into his room where his lungs began to close in on themselves. The boy collapsed to the floor as everything decided to hit him at once; how Seungcheol’s kindness all made so much more sense now, how he didn’t mind that they were mistaken for a couple, how he described them as “not much” rather than nothing. Then there was the fact that the whole world thought they were a couple now and they knew his face as Seungcheol’s beau.

And then there was Soonyoung. The words from the other day swirled around and around in his head… he was playing with him. He was leading him on. He was queerbaiting the world and using Jihoon as a publicity stunt. Chan was in on it and trying to make him stay, too.

And Jihoon was pathetic for falling for it. He was wrapped helplessly around Seungcheol’s little finger, blinded by awe and wonder and attraction, all so that Seungchel could break his heart when the book’s year was up.

No, Seungcheol liked him, right?

This was why he needed tomorrow’s appointment. Tomorrow all of his issues would be looked at, his panic attacks admitted to and dissociation confirmed. It would become official that he was weak, pathetic and useless. Worst of all, Seungcheol would be there with him to hear about each and every one of his issues and how stupid he was. If he truly did like Jihoon, then he wouldn’t after tomorrow.

All Jihoon could do now was cry. He sobbed his little heart out, leaning against the door and his arms flopped uselessly on each side. His whole body shook with every sob like a violent earthquake as his lungs fought for air. The boy’s head was bursting at the seams, unable to cope with how much it was trying to process at once. Why was he like this? Why couldn’t he just get on with things like everyone else?

There was a soft knock on the door.

“Jihoon?”

Seungcheol. Of course. Now he had heard Jihoon’s cries and probably thought that he didn’t like him back and-

“Oh, Hoon, I’m sorry. Chan is too. I’ve never told him about how you struggle because that’s private, you know, so he didn’t realise all of that would… I’m sorry. Can you let me in? I want to know that you’re okay. You don’t have to cry alone. That said, I know sometimes you need to be alone so… you can tell me to fuck off if you like. I won’t mind, I promise. Healthy boundaries and whatnot.”

Jihoon continued to cry. His kindness was making him feel worse and now guilt was eating at him too. Why was he so ungrateful? Seungcheol was trying to care.

“Okay, look. Here’s my plan. It can go one of several ways: either you let me in and we can talk, or I can just sit with you, whatever. Whatever you need. Or you tell me to leave you alone and I leave you alone and check back on you later if you don’t come out. Or the last option is I sit here until it’s been far too long to leave Chan alone downstairs and I check on you later. Which do you prefer?”

Jihoon couldn’t speak. Between sobs that hurt his throat and shaky breaths, no words could escape. For several minutes he sat on the floor and wrestled with his emotions.

“I’m really sorry,” he managed eventually.

“For what, Hoon?”

“...everything is so much.”

“I know. It’s okay. If you want, I could take you home–”

“Can you… can you stop giving me more options? Just… I don’t know, decide something for me.”

“Alright. Um… stay tonight. I’ll drop you home after your appointment like planned.”

“And what am I going to do now?”

Jihoon leaned his head against the door, still sniffling. Little did he know that on the other side, Seungcheol was mirroring his actions.

“You’re going to take deep breaths,” he replied, “and count down from ten.”

Jihoon did so. It didn’t feel like he could breathe deep enough but he tried his best. Then he slowly counted down from ten.

“Now what?” He asked, his voice less wobbly.

Seungcheol thought for a moment. “You’re going to open the door, come downstairs, and relax in the library with a book. Then once you– or if, that’s fine too - you’re going to join Chan and I for lunch. Would you like me to decide what you’ll eat?”

“Yes please.”

“Okay. Well, we’ll be outside. You can just come join us when you’re ready. It’s uh… it’s one o’clock now, so if you’re not with us by three we’ll go ahead and I’ll bring you something, how does that sound?”

Jihoon nodded, pulling on his fingers. “Good. Th-thank you.”

He took a few more deep breaths and stood up. Before he opened the door, the boy shook his hands out in front of him. Then the door was open and Seungcheol was wrapping an arm around him, rubbing his back reassuringly.

“Everything that Chan said,” he spoke softly, “ignore it. Especially anything about us if… if that doesn’t align with… if we aren’t on the same page.”

“I think we’re on the same page,” said Jihoon in a very small voice. Seungcheol looked over with a smile. Of course, his ears were hot pink. His arm around him became a little more secure.

As Seungcheol continued into the kitchen, he let go of the boy so that he could slip into the library. The room was exactly as Jihoon had left it that morning which felt so long ago. He picked up his book from the floor, opted for the window seat (that looked out to the side of the house, not the garden) and threw himself into the fictional world aimed for kids.

 

It was a quarter to three before Jihoon a) felt well enough to go back to the others and b) could bring himself to go back to the others. He marked his page and put the book gently on the seat before walking out to the back garden. Seungcheol and Chan were laying leisurely on lilos in the pool, engaging in some conversation about something or other. Seungcheol grinned when he saw Jihoon.

“Hey!”

“Hiya,” Chan called. Jihoon awkwardly waved. Seungcheol slipped himself off of the lilo.

“Are you feeling better?” He asked as he swam to the edge and climbed out.

“Y-yeah, thank you. I’ve almost finished that book.”

“Oh, nice one.”

Jihoon tried his best to avoid Chan’s gaze - he probably thought he was pathetic. He gnawed on his knuckle (the index this time) as the three ventured into the kitchen. Seungcheol caught him and frowned.

“Hey,” he said, gently taking his hand out of his mouth, “you’ll make it bleed.”

It already was bleeding. Seungcheol sighed. He grabbed the box of plasters from the side (still there from nursing Jihoon’s thumb) and he wrapped up the boy’s finger.

“I can barely move half my hand now,” he whined. Seungcheol chuckled.

“Then find a better comfort.”

“I don’t know much,” Chan said, “but surely all you’re doing is making him move on to the next knuckle.”

Jihoon pointed at him whilst looking at Seungcheol to show that he had made a good point. The guy blinked back.

“Yeah, well… heals faster with a plaster.”

“It’s pretty rare that it does manage to heal,” the boy shrugged. Chan looked oddly impressed.

“And you’ve not been to therapy yet?”

He shrugged again. “I got a bit better.”

“When did it start getting worse?”

“April.”

Seungcheol looked over. “When we met?”

Jihoon was suddenly flooded with guilt. “I- uh… around then.”

Chan smiled kindly. It almost made him feel better. “I take it you’re who Cheol was asking for my doctor’s details for? Yeah, you’ll be okay. She’ll probably refer you to therapy. The first session’s terrifying but after that you get used to it and it gets easier. Oh, and you’ll probably start a diagnostic process so that’s fun. If I could do it at twelve you can do it now.”

“Twelve?”

“Yep. After Three&Us ended.”

The two sat down together at the counter.

“That must’ve been tough. I can’t imagine doing something like that for my whole life then just… stopping.”

“Yeah, it was a shock. The other two are like brothers and I saw them everyday and then I didn’t and… yeah. I struggled. But I think we all did.”

“Don’t invalidate yourself,” Seungcheol scolded, turning the oven on to cook.

“If anything I’m validating you.”

“I didn’t develop depression and step out of acting for several years when that show ended.”

“No, but you’ve endlessly thrown yourself into projects and had your fair share of shit.”

Seungcheol hummed. “I guess. Right, we’re doing picky bits for lunch, Hoon, because it’s really fucking hot.”

“Okay, Mum.”

Seungcheol blinked. Chan chuckled though.

“Was that mumsy?”

“...yeah, that’s a mum thing. Picky bits for a meal on hot days.”

“Oh,” Seungcheol looked a little confused with a hint of sadness that made Jihoon feel bad. “Yeah, no, my mum never really cooked. I was on set most of the time and at home we… we had our own cook, so.”

Seungcheol looked embarrassed to say it so they let the conversation move on.

Lunch became a joint effort. Someone had the bright idea to fry up some chicken, pepper and mushrooms to put in wraps so Jihoon took control of that. Chan made himself responsible for potato salad then helped Seungcheol with taking things in and out of the oven. All three of them set up the table with bowls, plates, cutlery and glasses before sitting down to tuck in.

“Everything’s gluten free,” Seungcheol said, “so don’t worry, Hoonio.”

There was a lot to take in there.

“You don’t have to worry so much,” the boy said timidly, choosing to ignore the nickname, “I’m okay with some gluten.”

“Well, still. Look after yourself. Even if it’s minor, you’re meant to avoid it for a reason, right? Whether it’s mild or severe pain.”

“...it’s only moderate,” Jihoon mumbled. Seungcheol rolled his eyes with an amused smile.

It was strange to Jihoon that he had had to inform Seungcheol that he was gluten intolerant three times and then he had quickly become quite dedicated to ensuring Jihoon could eat freely. He began to wonder exactly when Seungcheol began to crush on him. That thought made his heart thud so he distracted himself by making a wrap.

After eating they perched amongst the grass to play giant Uno, procrastinating on clearing the table. The sun beat down on them and when Jihoon stood up to collect his drink, his head spun and his body swayed. Seungcheol rushed up to help him inside. The boy was fine after a moment (I will break the fourth wall to say he truly was fine) but he enjoyed the star’s arm around him so much that he let him help anyway. The game resumed in the living room with Jihoon flopped on the sofa and a glass of ice water by his feet.

Somehow through general conversation Jihoon found out that Seungcheol had never seen some of the most iconic kids’ films. Chan had seen some, but only as he caught up as a teenager, he said. So whilst they ate Chinese takeout for dinner, Jihoon opened up Disney+ to put on Cars.

“Is that Owen Wilson?” Seungcheol asked the boy five minutes in, “I’ve worked with him before. He’s cool.”

“Wooow.”

“Yeah! That’s exactly how he- I- oh.”

As Jihoon smiled fondly at him, Seungcheol put his arm around his shoulders. It caused the boy’s heart rate to skyrocket but at the same time it felt quite nice, so he snuggled into him with his head on his shoulders whilst Lightning McQueen yelled “Kachow!” from the TV. Jihoon wished he could stay in that moment forever.

Chapter Text

For the third day in a row Jihoon made the most of his luxurious bed before heading down to the library. He had several notifications from Soonyoung - some angry, some worried. Jihoon responded to all questions and concerns in a simple message: “you dont need to worry about me so much, im an adult”. He immediately felt sick so he distracted himself with the last few chapters of his book.

“You like this room too, huh?”

Jihoon looked up as Chan walked in. His hair was fluffy and all over the place and he was in sweatpants and a t-shirt, clearly having not been awake for long. He started scanning the shelves for something to read himself.

“I can breathe here,” Jihoon replied quietly. He felt okay being honest with him - Chan struggled mentally himself anyway.

“Yeah, I get you. We’ve been through some shit together here. Seungcheol calls it the room to soothe the mentally ill. It’s where he overdosed, actually. He told me he told you that. I think.” He saw Jihoon’s widened eyes then added, “I hope.”

“He said that was Kensington.”

Chan seemed to do some calculating before he said anything else. “I guess he didn’t want to ruin this room for you. Don’t tell him I told you.”

Jihoon looked around. It did ruin it a little bit. The once cosy room was now haunting and uneasy. Now when he looked at the sofa opposite, instead of picturing a Seungcheol wrapped up in blankets with a kids’ book, he saw a version of Seungcheol who was so in pain that he felt his only option was to dance with death.

“It must’ve been tough,” he mumbled. Chan sighed as he sat down.

“He’s, uh… he’s incredibly private sometimes. He never wants anyone to know he’s struggling. That was how I found out that he hated acting and being a celebrity and himself and everything. So yeah, awful. Massive shock. Nobody else knows it happened. Well, it leaked, but as a general accidental overdose.”

He had opened up to Jihoon relatively quickly, the boy thought to himself, but then again he had come out in an emotional outburst so maybe that was what opened that door.

“Is he better now?” He asked.

I think so. I will say though, he’s gotten a lot better since he met you. I think you give him something to look forward to and you actually make him happy. He really likes you. So, uh… thank you. I’ve spent years trying to show him that sometimes things are good and you manage to show him without even trying. And I’m not even mad - I’m just relieved that his eyes shine when he laughs again now.”

Jihoon didn’t know what to say. Stunned, he stared at the floor.

“I-I don’t even do much for him.”

“He’s never really known a non-celebrity before. I think that was what started it; you show him what normal is.”

It was difficult not to smile. The boy shyly scratched the back of his neck.

“He said he only brings close people here,” he said, like he was asking for confirmation.

“Yeah. If he only thought of you as his writer he would only be dragging you to restaurants or something.”

“Gluten-full restaurants.”

“Gluten-full restaurants,” Chan nodded with a laugh. “Yeah, I wasn’t surprised at all when he came out yesterday. It was getting obvious from talking about you.”

Jihoon smiled. His cheeks were so red that he looked sunburned.

“I don’t think I talk about Cheol much. My roommate hates him, so. H-he just insists that he’s using me and queerbaiting the public…”

Chan raised his eyebrows. “Seungcheol wouldn’t do that. Not in a million years. Your roommate needs to see the way he looks at you or shut up.”

“God, I’d love for him to shut up every once in a while.”

“Who needs to shut up?”

Seungcheol walked in with a yawn. He smiled at his two friends bonding on the sofa before joining them.

“Jihoon’s shitty roommate,” Chan replied nonchalantly.

“Oh, yeah. Soonyoung.”

“He means well,” Jihoon argued with a sense of guilt. Soonyoung had done so much for him and this was how he paid him back.

“I don’t doubt that,” said Seungcheol, “but don’t you think he’s a little controlling? He treats you like you’re a teenager entering a rebellious stage.”

“Only because he knows I’m anxious and I don’t get out much.”

“Still. You’re twenty four - don’t let him treat you like you’re fourteen.”

Squirming, Jihoon didn’t reply. Soonyoung meant well. He wanted Jihoon to be okay. But then surely he could see what he was doing to Jihoon? He doubted himself constantly and going to see Seungcheol remained daunting because he was so scared that what Soonyoung told him would turn out to be true. Maybe Jihoon would reach the same conclusions alone but it was worse coming from someone else.

The three went to the kitchen to have breakfast together and then Jihoon packed his things up and dismantled the bikes. They had to leave at half nine.

“I’m starting to feel a bit sick already,” Jihoon mumbled as he and Seungcheol put his things in the car.

“You’ll be okay. I’ll be with you, remember?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you do hugs?” Chan asked, coming out to say goodbye. Jihoon wasn’t a hug person at all. He felt bad saying so though so he said yes hesitatingly. Chan didn’t get the hint and pulled him close for just a moment. “It was lovely to meet you! Seungcheol gave me your number so I’ll message you if that’s okay. It’d be nice to keep in touch.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. It was nice to meet you too.”

Jihoon decided that he liked Chan as they got into the car. He was also sad to be leaving - he didn’t realise how badly he had needed a getaway until he received one. In some ways it was insanely stressful but in other ways it had really helped. He was able to clear his head. Plus, now he knew his crush wasn’t a dead end.

“Remember to tell them everything,” Seungcheol advised as he drove, “especially if they ask about triggers for dissociation because they might notice things you haven’t.”

“I know, I know.”

“And focus on your overall anxiety. This isn’t just for dissociation.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you still feeling alright?”

“Yep.”

As always, Jihoon was gnawing on his knuckle. He had to resort to the second knuckle of his index finger now - the first two were protected by plasters. Whenever it stung, it helped him to check he was still feeling things.

Unfortunately, the long journey was filled with good music that Seungcheol cheerfully sang along to so the journey passed far too quickly. He parked in the doctor’s office's car park and then looked at Jihoon, who was staring out the window.

“I can see a teenage girl crossing the road,” he said quietly, “and a pigeon picking at crumbs. Faded paint lines on the road. A speed bump. I can feel butterflies in my tummy and the edges of my shoes on my ankles. I can feel your hand on my leg. And my pulse. I can hear birds, cars, and chatter. I can smell your cologne and your car freshener. And something I like about myself is… my patience.”

Seungcheol continued to rub Jihoon’s leg with his thumb. “Are you feeling more ready now?”

“I think so.”

“Then let’s go.”

Seungcheol got out first whilst Jihoon didn’t move an inch. His door was opened for him and a hand was offered. He took it with a shy smile and got out of the car. They kept hold of each up until they were inside the brick building. Seungcheol spoke to the receptionist for him and then they were directed to the waiting room full of leather chairs with tables decorated by magazines between them, potted plants filling corners. Jihoon pulled up his shapes gif.

“What’s that?” Asked Seungcheol curiously.

“Helps me breathe.”

“Ah.”

Jihoon remained engrossed in it until the wooden door nearby was opened and a woman (Dr Oakley) called him in. Seungcheol squeezed his hand reassuringly. They were directed to Dr Oakley’s office and sat down as she typed into her computer.

“Okay,” she started, “so you’ve come here for symptoms of anxiety? Would you like to build on that?”

Jihoon nodded. Seungcheol had resorted to rubbing his back already.

“Um… so…” The boy rubbed his nose. “Sometimes I just get really nervous, and when it happens my heart races a lot and I feel sick, and like I can’t breathe deep enough. Then usually it turns into a panic attack where it’s those symptoms again but a million times worse and I get dizzy and really hot in flushes… usually it’s social situations that I’m not really used to. Like, I can cycle or go to self checkout because I’ve managed to do it so many times that it doesn’t scare me anymore. B-but then I’ll do something different like go to a museum and have a panic attack or I can’t ask for help at a shop without feeling like I’m going to be sick.”

“How long have you been experiencing this?”

“Um… eight years.”

Seungcheol was prodding his back now as if to remind him that he had missed a bit. Jihoon wriggled uncomfortably.

“Would you say it’s worsened over that time?”

“Yeah. It-it was as bad as it is now for a few years through uni but then I got the job I’m in now and it settled down after a while. I think it was because I never went out if it wasn’t for work and never tried to meet new people. But it’s gotten a lot, lot worse since… April, I’d say.”

“Worse how?”

“More panic attacks more frequently. But, um… instead of panic attacks recently I’ve been getting… like…”

He looked at Seungcheol for help. The words were in his head but they wouldn’t reach his mouth. Seungcheol nodded.

“He described it to me as feeling disconnected from himself,” he stepped in, “like watching yourself, did you say?”

Jihoon nodded. At the best of times his brain didn’t want him to remember what exactly was wrong, but it was coming back now. “Yeah. And everything sounds muffled and I can’t feel anything when it happens. It’s like my head’s full of cotton wool and someone else is controlling me. I only come out of it randomly or by triggering my senses with ice or something.”

“And this has replaced the panic attacks?”

“Kind of. I still get panic attacks sometimes but a lot of it’s that.”

“Okay. And have you noticed any triggers?”

“Just… stress in certain social situations and that kind of thing.”

The doctor nodded. She wore a small frown. She asked some questions about his job, social life, and any other mental health issues such as sadness or even memory issues and whether he had a variety of other symptoms. He was also questioned about anything he found helped. She noted it all down before turning back to Jihoon who was, surprisingly, chewing his knuckle.

The conclusion was generalised anxiety disorder which made Jihoon want to throw up. Seungcheol still held his hand though, which helped.

“And the disconnection you described is a dissociative disorder,” explained Dr Oakley, “specifically depersonalisation-derealisation disorder. We can treat the anxiety with medication like SSRIs and also use cognitive behavioural therapy for both the anxiety and the dissociation. Given the severity of the symptoms, we’ll start with both treatment options. Does that sound alright?”

Jihoon couldn’t breathe but nodded anyway as Seungcheol rubbed circles into his back.

“I know it’s a lot to process. If you’d like, you can take a minute outside?”

“I’m okay. Th-thank you.”

Dr Oakley promised to refer him to a therapy clinic, wrote him a prescription to try out and then he was free to leave. Seungcheol took his hand and he clung to it gratefully. Once outside, he was pulled into a tight hug.

“I’m so, so proud of you,” Seungcheol said.

“Thank you for helping.”

“Of course.”

They were back in the car before either said anything else.

“I’ll pay for your therapy sessions,” Seungcheol said as if it was nothing.

“What? No, Cheol–”

“I insist. I want to. If you feel that bad you can pay me back for this appointment and we’ll leave it there. I only take bank transfers.”

“But I don’t know your account details.”

“Why do you think I only take bank transfers?”

Jihoon blinked blankly, a little confused. It took a minute to realise that Seungcheol was being kind.

He was suddenly hit with guilt that Seungcheol did so much for him and he couldn’t give back. He had bought him clothes, driven him around, taken him to fancy gardens and art museums and his house in Surrey and even somehow got him a signed Taylor Swift album. Jihoon could never return it. There was nothing he could give to impress him - the best he had was the playground he had dragged him into.

What did Seungcheol like? Seungcheol liked normal. Non-celebrity things that he had missed out on as a kid, like simple playgrounds. What was something normal that he had probably never gotten to do?

“I want to take you to a funfair,” declared Jihoon.

“Yeah? Why’s that?”

Jihoon shrugged. “You told me once that that’s all you ever wanted to go as a kid. Plus, you take me places. I want to take you places too. I want to do nice things for you like you do for me but all I’ve got is things everybody else does that I don’t think you ever had time for.”

“I have always wanted to go to a funfair,” Seungcheol said with a smile, “with the big wheel things? Bumper cars and candy floss?”

“Yeah!”

“I’d be up for that.”

Jihoon found himself grinning. Then he remembered something massive and it faded. “But the press…”

“I can throw them off,” Seungcheol told him.

“…could you have been throwing them off this whole time?”

“The street photos, no. The gardens? If I’d thought about it. The park? Probably. If you take photos yourself and post them fast enough, then they can’t sell their pictures because tabloids could get them for free. Only thing is is you’d have to be in them.”

The boy rubbed his nose. “I’ll think about it. Think it through… how do they find us, anyway? Like, how do they keep cropping up? It’s creepy.”

“Kensington is a rich area with a lot of celebrities so they tend to be around anyway,” explained Seungcheol, “one person will see you and then they leak your location to other paps.”

“And you just live like this? All the time? They somehow find you and you let it happen?”

Seungcheol sighed. “I’ve got to let some of it happen. My agent will slip my location to them sometimes and it gives me good publicity, especially if I’m somewhere normal. That’s probably what happened in Surrey. My good reputation gets me hired and she gets a percentage of money I earn, so. Leaked locations.”

“I thought she was nice.”

“She’s the best I’ve had. I’m sorry, Hoon. As much as I want to… I’ll never be able to protect you from the press. It comes with me and God, I wish it didn’t.”

Jihoon just nodded. Knuckle in mouth, he stared out of the window. He was thinking. His eyebrows were furrowed. Then Jihoon moved his bleeding hand away from his lips and spoke.

“You can post pictures of me,” he said, “you said you being gay would stop you from getting hired in Hollywood, right? And you don’t want to get hired, right?”

“Hoon…”

“My face is already online. More pictures won’t do anything. Just… as long as they don’t connect my face to a name.”

“Okay, then first of all change your profile picture on all of your socials so that your face isn’t clear. Secondly, don’t ruin your life for me. If I come out officially then in some ways it would only do me a favour and push me more into the spotlight. Imagine how Twitter would respond to that - especially with photos of you. I think you’re just having a brave minute and if I said yeah, sure, plaster your face on the internet if you want, then tonight you would regret it and freak out.”

Jihoon flopped his head against the car seat in a moment of frustration. He was probably right.

“Would it have to be my face?” He asked, “to get in the way of the press selling pictures? Like, could it just be our hands, or…?”

“Hands could be anyone,” sighed Seungcheol, “you’d have to be identifiable as the guy from the articles. I could try the corner of your face if that would be okay with you.”

“And you really don’t mind the world knowing you’re gay? Or bi, whatever?”

“Well, as you said, it’s too late now.”

“I think you’re having a brave minute.”

Seungcheol chuckled. “Yeah, I probably am. Look, think about this some more - a lot more - and tell me in, say, a month. And if you’re still happy to have your face connected to me further then we’ll go to the funfair and post our own photos. How about that?”

“Okay.”

 

Seungcheol parked up outside Jihoon’s apartment building and neither wanted to say goodbye. Jihoon got out first and collected his bag from the boot whilst Seungcheol took the bikes out.

“Is it easier to put the wheels back on and then take them up rather than take it all back separately?” He asked, hoping to procrastinate. Jihoon immediately put his bag down, took his tools and sat on the pavement to put the bikes back together.

“Do you want coffee when we’re inside?” Jihoon asked, “or do you need to get back to Chan?”

“Uh… I suppose Chan won’t mind if I’m twenty minutes later. It’s already been a few hours.”

So once the bikes were put together, Seungcheol carried one upstairs to Jihoon’s flat. The boy’s hands shook as he unlocked the door.

“You drink tea, right?” He asked suddenly.

“I’m fine with whatever you have.”

“We have both.”

Jihoon opened the door then and looked up worryingly but the flat was empty.

“Soonyoung?”

Nothing.

“Nice,” Jihoon said. He put his bag by the door, Seungcheol leaned a bike against the wall then went back for the other. Jihoon got started with drinks.

Seungcheol was back within a minute and Jihoon missed him for all of it. Why was it so nice to see him again? It was only a minute.

“Hi,” he said when he walked in.

“Hello. What colour is Soonyoung’s car?”

“Red.”

“I think Soonyoung might be home.”

“Ugh. I thought we’d managed to miss him.”

Sure enough, Soonyoung came through the door before long. He was more than pleased to see Jihoon and scooped him into an unwanted hug, holding him too tightly. He took no notice of Seungcheol.

“I’ve missed you! Did you have a nice time?”

“Yeah, yeah, it was great. Cheol can ride a bike now and we swam and yeah, it was really nice.”

“Aw, I’m glad.”

Jihoon pulled away and made Soonyoung a drink too, leaving his friends to awkwardly acknowledge each other. Neither said anything. It was painful.

“So you’re a writer too, huh?” Seungcheol tried.

“Yeah.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah.”

Dear god. Jihoon rubbed his nose and hoped to die, sure that Seungcheol was now regretting saying he would stay for a bit. He was certainly regretting offering.

Jihoon gave Seungcheol his drink first and even took a sip of his own before handing Soonyoung his, since that meant something apparently. It felt petty and it was supposed to be.

“I saw the news,” Soonyoung said between sips, “you looked like you were having a nice time.”

Jihoon nodded. “Oh, yeah, we were just fucking around, really. Although I did jump off of the climbing frame and didn’t break my arm.”

“Six year old Jihoon would be so proud.”

“I thought you said you were eight?” Seungcheol piped up.

“Yeah, I was eight.”

Soonyoung raised his eyebrows and then hid his face with his mug as he took a noisy mouthful of his coffee. Jihoon wandered over to Seungcheol and whispered “feel free to run” in his ear. The actor smiled in response.

“Hoon makes a good pizza from scratch,” he said, hoping that that would start a proper conversation.

“Oh. Whenever I suggested doing that he’s said no.”

Seungcheol chugged his drink down. The atmosphere felt as though it was full of knives and he needed it to end - partially for all of their dignity and partially because Jihoon was growing increasingly pale.

“Well, I’d best be off,” he said, “it was, uh, nice to meet you, Jihoon’s roommate.”

“...nice to meet you too.”

Jihoon followed him out the door to say a proper goodbye in private. He wanted to give him a hug but he was far too nervous.

“Thank you for helping at the appointment and for giving me the most amazing time,” he said, “it was lovely and I’m not just saying that. If I were you I’d never stay in Kensington. I would never even leave that library.”

Seungcheol smiled. “I’m glad you like it. Oh, I am in Kensington for the weekend though - party on Saturday. Starts at seven. Chan, Seokmin, Wonwoo, Mingyu. And I hope you.”

Still not used to being deemed worthy enough for his parties, Jihoon nodded timidly.

“I’ll be there.”

“Good. I look forward to seeing you. And, uh, good luck with Soonyoung. I don’t really want to rush off but…”

The boy sighed. “No, yeah, I’d do the same. Enjoy your freedom.”

Seungcheol chuckled and then did something peculiar - he cupped Jihoon’s cheek and softly rubbed his skin with his thumb. It went sparks flying through his entire body.

“I’ll see you Saturday.”

And with that, he disappeared downstairs. Jihoon had to return inside where Soonyoung now sat on the sofa with a book. Jihoon awkwardly cleared his throat. He had to know, didn’t he? He would get mad if Jihoon didn’t tell him right away.

“I, uh, I went to a doctor’s appointment today. Cheol came for moral support which was nice.”

“Oh. How did that go?”

“Okay but I believe I officially got diagnosed with anxiety and also depersonalisation-derealisation disorder. Which is a dissociative disorder. I have a lot of disorders.”

“Hold on,” Soonyoung turned over to lean on the sofa and face Jihoon, “you’ve been dissociating? And you didn’t tell me?”

“I didn’t really tell anyone,” shrugged Jihoon. “Cheol only knows because he actually took notice of when it happened and so he got it out of me.”

“Oh, so Seungcheol gets to know everything about you and how you’re doing but not me? Not your closest friend of eight years, but some guy you’ve worked with for two months–”

“Seungcheol isn’t just some guy. And you told me that I need to get out more and make friends but now I have, you’re mad at me for it?”

“I’m just upset that you trust him more than me.”

“You spill all of your company’s secrets, why the fuck would I trust you?”

Soonyoung stared at him then, his gaze cold.

“So you don’t trust me at all,” he said slowly, “but you do trust some fake celebrity who’s using you for media attention?”

“Just shut up,” snapped Jihoon, “you don’t know what Seungcheol’s been through–”

“Oh, boohoo, he grew up rich.”

“He’s grown up miserable and has only recently accepted that he’s gay - you should understand that - and is horrified by the media attention we get! His family’s shit to him and he’s hardly close to anyone. You don’t fucking know him! He’s good to me and he looks after me without making me feel like a kid like you do. He’s protective without being overprotective and trapping me, like you do.”

That was enough for poor Jihoon and he grabbed his bike and left the flat with a slam of the door. The elevator lowering unusually did nothing to his stomach and he didn’t even notice the motion sickness it gave him. Then Jihoon was on his bicycle, with no breeze brushing his skin and no wind zooming past his ears. Just… an unpeaceful peace.

Chapter Text

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday. Jihoon was relieved that at last it was Saturday - party day, Seungcheol day. No other emotions really hit him, much like the fan that he only knew to be whirring beside him by looking at it. It had been like this for three days now and Jihoon was none the wiser.

Also for three days, Jihoon had been avoiding Soonyoung despite his friend’s attempts to talk. He silently cooked his own meals (often wearing headphones) and had actually made a stash of snacks in the corner whilst he bonded with Chan over text. Chan had messaged on Tuesday evening and they had spoken a surprising amount since, and trial and errored some memes to discover each other’s sense of humour. It was pretty similar. Jihoon never really laughed though, although sometimes it seemed as though he was supposed to. It was nice that Chan approved of his snack stash at least - Seungcheol did too. Jihoon sent his new friend a message now.

cheol’s jihoon
what are you going to wear tonight

chan
fuck knows
this is the worst part of any party
ill keep u updated

cheol’s jihoon
ok cool

Jihoon got up and sighed. He headed to the kitchen to pour himself some cereal, then retreated back to his room. He debated telling Seungcheol about the argument but worried that he would only blame himself, so he didn’t say anything at all.

The day passed slowly with each hour lasting a year. He watched several films and started a new TV show in that time, even though he did actually have a book to write. It was fine, Jihoon’s distorted brain seemed to decide - he had ten more months to finish it.

He received a photo of Chan’s outfit at around 4pm which gave Jihoon two hours to find something he felt okay in and show Chan for confirmation. He needed to impress Seokmin today. If Jihoon could have felt anything, he would have been worried. Instead he stared blankly at Chan’s white tee tucked into black jeans. With that, Jihoon went for his beige jeans and a white button up with thin grey stripes on it, putting more effort than usual into his makeup. It was then that Soonyoung knocked on the door.

“Jihoon? We really need to talk.”

“Yeah. You can come in.”

Soonyoung did so. He sat on the edge of the bed and watched Jihoon dab on eyeshadow, sitting cross legged on the floor and staring in the mirror. Contrary to Jihoon’s belief, he noticed something was off and guessed it was dissociation. The problem was that he didn’t know what to do to help - he wasn’t educated on it - so he simply hoped he would get better anyway.

“You know, you can’t keep hiding away.”

“I’m not. I just want alone time.”

“You’re acting childish.”

“Self-fulfilling prophecy. Sociology, interactionism. Labelling theory.”

“I know what a self-fulfilling prophecy is,” Soonyoung scoffed.

“Alright. I have a party tonight–”

“I don’t care, stop deflecting. Look, I know you like this guy and I’m so glad that you’re happy, but I just don’t think he’s very good for you.”

Jihoon shrugged. “You’ve met him twice. If you knew him like I do then maybe I’d listen to you.”

Something somewhere was beating rapidly but Jihoon was unable to take much notice of it. It was just… there.

“Yeah, okay, I don’t know him,” Soonyoung admitted, “but I know you and I can see how much worse you’ve become mentally. Fuck, Jihoon, you dissociate now. That’s new, isn’t it? You were doing so much better, Hoon, and he tore all of that to pieces.”

The boy winced. Was that what was happening? It must be. Everything was weird and he definitely didn’t feel very… associated. His hands weren’t his, that was for sure.

“The press and his lifestyle did that. Not him. Not Seungcheol. It’s getting easier.”

Soonyoung sighed.

“I really don’t want you to go to any party tonight,” he said, “not when you’re not right now. You’ve never come back from those parties okay and–”

“Please stop controlling me,” Jihoon mumbled. He wasn’t sure if it was aimed at the fog or his roommate.

“I’m just trying to help.”

“You’re not,” the boy dropped his brush into his makeup bag so suddenly that it startled Soonyoung, “Please let me be my own person.”

Soonyoung stared blankly for a moment before standing up and heading towards the door.

“Fine. Kill yourself for all I care. Just don’t make me say I told you so when he hurts you.”

He slammed the door behind him and it almost scared Jihoon. Almost. Instead the boy remained on the floor, watching absolutely nothing at all, unmoving with his lip tint in his hand. Jihoon stayed there for god knows how long until finally he checked the time and saw that he should have left ten minutes ago. Mindlessly, he left now instead. He didn’t even check to see if Soonyoung was there. He didn’t bother saying goodbye, either.

An hour later, Jihoon was finally in Kensington and at Seungcheol’s building door. He rang the buzzer, said that it was Jihoon, and he was let in. The usual routine. Instead of leaving his flat door open though, Seungcheol actually met him there and pulled him in for a hug.

“Hi! You okay?”

“I’m good.”

As they pulled away, Seungcheol finally looked him in the eye. His eyebrows slowly furrowed.

“You look a little out of it. I’ll get you some ice.”

Seungcheol headed to the kitchen area and Jihoon emerged from the hallway. He was instantly met by Chan’s gaze, who waved so wildly that it was comical. Lee Seokmin beside him looked between the two with an amused smile. Jihoon’s legs wandered over.

“Jihoon, right?” Seokmin asked and Jihoon nodded.

“Seokmin?”

“Yep. It’s nice to finally meet you! Seungcheol’s told me so much, honestly, he can’t shut up. We don’t mind though - it’s okay. Kind of endearing. Very sweet–”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Chan chuckled. Jihoon just blinked, dazed. Chan did notice the weird look in his eyes but he chose to ignore it. He knew Seungcheol was on it.

Wonwoo and Mingyu came over then. Jihoon hadn’t even realised they were there before - where did they come from? It didn’t matter. He and Chan made eye contact as Mingyu opened his mouth.

“Hey, kid. You drinking tonight– ow, what was that for?”

Wonwoo had nudged him. He smiled kindly at Jihoon.

“Do what you want, it’s okay. Chan doesn’t drink and I don’t think Seungcheol is tonight. Ooh, speak of the devil. Fancy seeing you here.”

Seungcheol had popped up with ice in his hand. For a moment he considered putting it down the back of Jihoon’s shirt, but he handed it over instead. Maybe he should have put it down his shirt since it just did fuck all.

“Does that feel like anything?”

“Not really,” Jihoon replied, but he knew that it should. A part of him was trying to scream and fight the fog yet it was absolutely impossible.

“Um… okay, well, lay off the alcohol tonight. And the drugs.”

“Ecstasy made me feel a bit last time.”

“Yeah, great, so did ice cubes but they aren’t working now, so don’t try the ecstasy.”

“Or the cocaine,” added Mingyu with a sly grin. Wonwoo whacked him round the back of the head.

Jihoon mumbled something about being an adult. He didn’t even know what he said exactly so how the fuck would I know? He did grab a shot of vodka against Seungcheol’s advice. It was weird without the burning down his throat. And of course, after that, he grabbed another.

After a while everyone was lost in their own thing. Seungcheol was deep in conversation with all of his guests except for Mingyu and Jihoon. Mingyu was standing alone at the kitchen island lining up some white powder with his card. A pack of straws sat beside him. He wasn’t alone for long as Jihoon’s little legs found their way to him.

“Can I try some?” He asked quietly. Mingyu raised his eyebrows.

“If you really want. I’m guessing you’ve never done it before?”

“No.”

“Here, I’ll teach you. The best way to take it is to snort it - I’m sure you know that much. That’s why it’s in these thin lines. You only want to do one line, okay?”

“So why are there three?”

“Me, Wonwoo, and now you. Alright, so you take a straw - paper straws for the environment and all; if you’re gonna get high you might as well save the turtles–”

“Actually a little bit of an ableist solution to plastic waste,” Jihoon said, brave in his foggy state.

Mingyu frowned. “What? Never mind, I’ll google it later. Anyway… hold one end of the straw to your nostril, like so. Then inhale really hard through your nose and swoop the other end across a line. Like this.”

He did it like it was nothing. Jihoon held his straw as he watched, trying his best to take even a single mental note.

“Now you.”

Jihoon nodded. He followed Mingyu’s instructions like clockwork and went for it. His nose twitched like a rabbit afterwards.

“Good!” Mingyu exclaimed, “you got it. That’ll kick in soonish. Half an hour tops. Takes about ten minutes for me, I’d say.”

“Can I still take ecstasy? That helped me feel more alive last time.”

“Uh… yeah. Just be careful. Take half of one, alright? And don’t tell Seungcheol because he’ll kill me.”

He wandered back to Wonwoo, probably to tell him the coke was ready like it was dinner. Jihoon moved closer to the plastic bag on the other side of the kitchen island. Maybe his fuzzy ears hadn’t quite caught Mingyu telling him to take only half, or maybe he just didn’t care. Either way, Jihoon swallowed two. And with that the boy returned to Seungcheol.

“Hey, you alright?” The star asked, putting an arm around him.

“Mm. You?”

“Yeah, yeah, fine.” Then Seungcheol leaned in and asked in a hushed tone, “is everything okay with Soonyoung?”

Jihoon blinked at him and then nodded, which was obviously very convincing. Seungcheol just sighed.

They sat down together and Jihoon cuddled into him. Chan tried his best to bring him into their conversation with Seokmin but he was close to unresponsive, overwhelmed by the muffled words and getting confused by the music playing. He was waiting for the drugs to kick in but his mood seemed too stubborn to change. His dissociated walls stood too high. Ironic.

“Your hair’s getting long,” Seungcheol commented. It was then that Jihoon realised he was fiddling with the back of it on his neck.

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to book a haircut.”

“It looks nice.”

Jihoon shook his head. He started jogging his leg as he watched Wonwoo and Mingyu take more shots. He was itching to join them and in the end, he did. He ignored Seungcheol’s call to take it easy.

“Hey, kid,” Mingyu greeted, “you coming back for more?”

“Yeah.”

“Has anything kicked in yet?”

“No.”

“Not even the shots?”

“Not really.”

“Your tolerance is rising,” Mingyu said, impressed, but Wonwoo was frowning beside him.

“You don’t look quite right, Hoon,” he noted with concern.

“Probably the coke,” Jihoon shrugged. The reply earned Mingyu a glare from his partner.

“Jesus fuck, Mingyu–”

“He asked! He can make his own choices, fucking hell.”

Whilst they bickered, Jihoon downed two shots. Then he stumbled back over to Seungcheol, who stood up and caught the boy as he tripped over thin air and started giggling as a result. He mumbled something about big feet and giggled harder.

“I can’t feel them,” he said into Seungcheol’s chest.

“It’s alright, Hoon.”

“Okay.”

Jihoon sat down with him, the other two joined the four, then Seungcheol dealt cards for giant Uno in an attempt to draw attention away from Jihoon’s state. It was more fun with more people, without a doubt. Nobody minded that Jihoon played terribly - it was clear that he wasn’t in the best state of mind. At least he came fourth which was impressive for someone who was high, drunk, and dissociating.

Seungcheol’s phone rang on the table and he looked at it with a sigh.

“It’s my agent. Sorry, I need to take this. Will you be alright, Hoon?”

“I’m a whole adult,” the boy whined.

“Okay.”

Seungcheol slipped into his room to answer it. Shortly after, Jihoon mumbled that he wanted some water and went to the kitchen. He poured himself a glass then leaned against the counter with it. It might as well have not been in his hand as he couldn’t feel it - he only knew it was there because he was looking at it. Not even a sip of it stimulated his senses. Why wasn’t anything working? Sure, he was giggly and couldn’t walk straight, but all of that just happened. He still wasn’t in control. So when no one was looking, he grabbed more tablets from the counter and swallowed them, unsure of how many he even took. It didn’t matter as long as it worked.

Jihoon returned to the group and sat down with his glass of water, which he placed on the table. Chan asked if he was okay and he lied and said yes.

“Do you want to dance?” He asked. Jihoon blinked before accepting the offer, of course a little dazed. Chan took him by the hand and pulled him up. He grabbed the other one and sort of pushed them back and forth until Jihoon smiled, finding his body moving to the music by itself and thinking it was rather funny. Neither were trying very hard. It was just some fun. After a while, Seokmin joined in. Jihoon had forgotten that he was there too. Who was Seokmin again?

Seungcheol smiled when he came out of his room and saw the trio. It was nice to see his friends bonding, so cutely too. He snapped a picture on his phone.

“Alright, I’m tired,” Chan said after a while. Seokmin nodded and agreed.

Jihoon didn’t really notice though and kept nodding to the beat alone, swaying here and there. Slowly he began to feel more than a little off. His surroundings zoomed in and out whilst a single step was enough to make him trip. His head hurt, everything was blurry, and his heart was going insane. It was almost like someone was pounding against his chest. Seungcheol glanced over and his eyes widened.

“Jihoon?”

The boy was visibly clammy, his skin white. Seungcheol stopped the music both to focus on him and in case it was overwhelming him. He rushed over and caught Jihoon just as he collapsed.

“Hey, hey, hey, talk to me. Hoon?”

Jihoon couldn’t speak but he rested his head against his chest as Seungcheol slowly lowered to the floor, holding him close. He was hot to the touch. Seungcheol softly asked him to say something but the only response was a muddled murmur that didn’t resemble any words at all. Seungcheol made eye contact with Chan, who then said in a shaky voice, "he looks how you did."

Seungcheol nodded. He looked how he had felt that night.

"Mingyu, do you know what he's had?"

"Uh… coke and ecstasy."

"How much?" Seungcheol's tone was frustrated as he held Jihoon's barely conscious body, gently shaking him as though it would keep him awake.

"I don't know. Only one line, I'm sure, he did it with me. And he asked if he could take ecstasy and I said only take half of one but I didn't see him take it so I don't know if he took more, or..."

"He must've done," Wonwoo said, "look at the state of him."

Jihoon's blinking was getting slower and slower by the second, struggling to stay awake as Seungcheol begged him to stay with it, to say something, that it would be okay.

"How could you let this happen?" He asked Mingyu angrily whilst Jihoon's breathing quickly grew more laborious. It was growing difficult for his lungs to do their job.

"Why are you putting this on me?" Mingyu snapped back, "there's three other people here and you're the one who left him."

"I think Chan might be having a panic attack," Wonwoo added his two cents.

"Oh, who cares?" Mingyu groaned, "he has Seokmin."

Seungcheol mumbled that it was okay but nobody knew who he was talking to. He dialled for an ambulance but he didn't dare take his eyes off of Jihoon. The boy was significantly weaker than even two minutes ago, his breathing shallow, his chest hardly rising. Slowly, his eyes shut.

"Jihoon? Jihoon!"

Chapter Text

Jihoon lay still. So, so still. Colour was yet to return to his cheeks so his skin blended into the hospital gown and the pillow beneath his head. Various tubes pumped various fluids through his veins and a cannula into his nostrils provided oxygen. He hadn’t woken up since the party but Seungcheol ran circles into his cold hand anyway, more as a comfort to himself than anything else. The guilt was eating him alive. This was all his fault.

He should have kept an eye on him. He knew Jihoon wasn’t right, that he wasn’t thinking straight, yet he left the room and let him be. Jihoon had trusted him to look after him and he had let him down in the biggest way possible. His vulnerability would have been obvious to anyone and Seungcheol still failed. He should’ve known what would happen.

Gradually, Jihoon’s eyes fluttered open. For a second he stared at the ceiling and then shut them again. The darkness was nicer. The squares above were too weird. What was that beeping? He managed to open his eyes again. All he saw was white. Then Jihoon glanced to the right and saw Seungcheol, who was lost in the boy’s hand, still circling it with his thumb like he was memorising all of the lines of his palm. He looked up and their eyes met. Seungcheol smiled softly. That was enough for now and Jihoon went back to sleep.

When he woke again two hours later, things seemed to make a little more sense. The first thing he remembered was Seungcheol so he found his gaze once again. The man had barely moved.

“Hey,” Seungcheol said in an almost whisper.

“Hi,” Jihoon managed to reply, his voice hoarse. It was then that he realised how sore his throat was. “Where… where am I?”

“In the hospital, love. You overdosed. Just, uh, just a tad. But you’re okay now, I promise. They just need to monitor you for a while.”

“Oh. Okay.”

He barely registered the pet name.

“How are you feeling?” Seungcheol asked, pushing the boy’s hair out of his face and then continuing to stroke his head. It was soothing. Jihoon wanted to close his eyes again.

“Throat hurts.”

“Yeah, they shoved charcoal down it to make you throw everything up.”

Jihoon acknowledged none of that. He just stared with a dazed look at Seungcheol, enjoying the physical comfort. This weird state was nice in a way - it was just him and Seungcheol without any worries in his little foggy mind.

It didn’t last long as he involuntarily grew more aware of his surroundings. The heart monitor became annoying and the IV in his hand ached. The oxygen tickled his nose, too. Everything began to swarm him. Jihoon tried hard to block it all out.

“How long was I out for?” He asked.

“Only for the night,” answered Seungcheol, “but still a while. You woke up for a moment then fell asleep again. It’s, uh, half eleven now. In the morning.”

“Have you been here all night?”

“Yeah, of course. I couldn’t leave you.”

Jihoon managed a weak smile. “Thanks. Means a lot. Soonyoung’s going to kill you.”

“Oh, I know,” Seungcheol replied with a sheepish smile, “he doesn’t even know yet.”

“Is telling him up to me?”

“…if you unlock your phone I could do it for you. I’ll even say it’s me on your phone. With your permission.”

Instead of a proper reply, Jihoon responded by finding his phone on the side table, unlocking it and handing it over. It took Seungcheol a while to think of exactly what to say and what would make both of them look best. It was incredibly difficult to say “hi, five people failed to see your beloved roommate take a shit ton of ecstasy even though two of us knew very well that he was dissociating”. In the end, he managed something that was probably the best he could do.

Jihoonie
Hello, it’s Seungcheol
Jihoon overdosed at the party last night and we had to call an ambulance, but thankfully he’s fine now, all stable, talking, etc
I’m really sorry you didn't find out sooner but we have no method of communication so this was the first opportunity I had now that Jihoon’s awake and could let me in to his phone. I’m so, so sorry that I let this happen. None of us expected that anything like this would occur and if we had known what he was taking, we would have stopped him. I honestly didn’t think anything would happen and I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

“Bugger,” Seungcheol muttered, “forgot to say which hospital you’re at.”

Jihoonie
He’s staying in Kensington Park Medical Centre for a little while to be monitored. They don’t know how long for yet but shouldn’t be more than a few days

Jihoon sighed. “He’s going to come visit me, isn’t he?”

“Don’t you want him to?”

“Not really. We… we argued pretty bad after you left the other day. It’s why I was dissociating. Holy shit, it’s stopped.”

Seungcheol rubbed his hand with a reassuring smile. “It’ll be fine. He’ll take it out on me, I’m sure - not you.”

Seungcheol’s - no, Jihoon’s - no, their text message went unreplied, but it was opened. It only made Jihoon feel worse. It was like he was burning up, getting ready to explode.

A nurse entered and was pleased to find Jihoon awake. She checked his vitals, asked a few memory questions, and left satisfied. She did say she would be back to take some blood later though. Jihoon tried not to think about it. He had to have blood taken a few years back but he fainted and had to have it done again later. It left him with a fear of needles.

“Aren’t I in trouble for taking drugs?” He asked Seungcheol once alone. The actor shook his head.

“If you got arrested after you get medical help for taking drugs, nobody would get medical help, would they? So they don’t care. They just had to know you took ecstasy, cocaine and vodka in order to treat you correctly and all that jazz. It’s like in this case a hospital stay is the punishment. Funky, right?”

“So funky,” Jihoon chuckled. He rearranged himself slightly then fiddled with the corner of his itchy blankets. “When can I go home?”

“I don’t know, my love. They kept me in for a few days.”

“Great.”

“It’s alright if you have nice company,” Seungcheol promised, but that earned a groan.

“I’ll have Soonyoung.”

“He means well, I’m sure. He has the right to be mad at me anyway - I really… I really fucked up. I’m really sorry, Hoon. I should’ve looked after you and that phone call could have waited and–”

“Cheol,” Jihoon cut him off softly, “I made my bed and I’m lying in it, okay? It was my choice to get drunk and high. I was just trying to feel something. I’m not your responsibility, I’m my own.”

“I know, but… you were an inch from death, Hoon. It was fucking terrifying, and I could have prevented it and I should have paid more attention to you and…”

“Seungcheol, it’s okay,” Jihoon said sincerely, holding his hand back at last, “worrying won’t change anything. It’s fine.”

Seungcheol nodded at last but still wore a glum expression. He cheered up a little bit when Jihoon miraculously found the confidence (and the strength) to kiss his hand. Not a word was spoken afterwards but they both turned red.

Not enough time passed until the door opened and Soonyoung emerged. He was incredibly quick to shoot a glare at Seungcheol. Jihoon squirmed.

“You’re very bold to still be here,” Soonyoung said coolly.

“Leave him alone,” the boy begged, his voice weak and heart monitor racing.

Seungcheol sighed. “Look, you’re getting him worked up.”

“Well, he wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for you. I didn’t like you in Thor and I sure as hell don’t like you now.”

“…I can leave.”

“I think that would be best.”

“Soon, please don’t be like this.”

“He nearly killed you!”

“You’re the one who told me to die,” Jihoon snapped, “to kill myself for “all you cared”.”

Seungcheol’s jaw dropped as Soonyoung just stared. The heart monitor was increasing pace. Other than that, there was just a chilling silence.

“You know that I didn’t mean that,” said Soonyoung finally, “I was angry, I…”

Jihoon looked at Seungcheol - his safety, his home. And he was still watching his best friend of eight years with horrified eyes. It hit him then that he couldn’t handle this much longer. He couldn’t handle the conflict. It was too much. These two people were the most important to him, and yet it was like a venn diagram - Soonyoung was one circle, Seungcheol the other, and only Jihoon could wriggle in between. That gap was tight. It was suffocating.

“Can you leave?” He asked weakly, “b-both of you? You’re stressing me out and I want to be alone.”

Seungcheol was the first to react. He nodded and rubbed the boy’s hand before letting go.

“Whatever you need.”

“I’ll be outside,” Soonyoung mumbled. And finally, Jihoon was given some space.

The idea of Seungcheol was beginning to make him feel sick. He suddenly understood where Soonyoung was coming from and realised that maybe he wasn’t in the wrong at all. Since he had met Seungcheol, his anxiety had quadrupled in severity plus the dissociation had begun. He couldn’t handle his lifestyle. He couldn’t go out with him without worrying about the press and then what people would think, what they would say. They could never be a good match.

Jihoon really, really liked Seungcheol as a person. He was so pretty and so sweet. He understood him and he knew that he would do anything to protect him, and that last night wasn’t his fault at all yet it was oddly endearing that he put Jihoon’s safety on himself like that. Their hands fit together like a puzzle. Nobody could ever make Jihoon feel as good as Seungcheol did.

But they couldn’t carry on like this.

In some ways, Seungcheol was damaging him. Maybe he was the right person at the wrong time. His heart was ready but his head was not. Maybe therapy would help. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe he would be like this forever. Maybe he needed to manage it alone, but maybe that was impossible and maybe he needed Seungcheol. Maybe there was only one way to know for sure.

 

A day passed slowly as ever, slightly sped up by Jihoon’s frequent naps. When he woke up late Monday morning, it was to the door opening and a visitor slipping inside with a bouquet of flowers. Mingyu. Jihoon blinked with confusion. Was he hallucinating? That seemed likely. He was was pretty exhausted.

“Hello?”

“Hi,” replied Mingyu quietly, all so real. “I, uh…” He awkwardly held out the flowers. Jihoon took them.

“Thank you. They’re very pretty.”

“Yeah. I-I tried.” Mingyu sat down and fiddled with his hands. “Sorry if this is weird. I was just worried and I wanted to see you and I felt bad because–”

“Don’t tell me you’re blaming yourself too.”

“Well, I–”

“Just leave it, Gyu. It’s okay.”

“Alright. It’s just that, you know, I’m the one who–”

“Mingyu…”

“–who pushed you too far and I see that now and I’m sorry–”

“It’s not your fault,” sighed Jihoon, but Mingyu kept going.

“I don’t just mean last night,” he said, “I mean every night. Every party. It all led you here. A-and I’m sorry that it took Wonwoo yelling at me all the time to get it through to me.”

Jihoon said once again that it was okay, a little tired of comforting people when he was the one who almost died. He tried to sway the subject a little bit.

“Do you live with him?”

“Uh, yeah. About ten minutes away from Seungcheol. Cute little flat.”

“Little?”

“...no, it’s three floors.”

“Ah,” Jihoon chuckled.

It was strange to be getting along like this. He had never really had a proper conversation with Mingyu and he never expected the first to be in hospital. Right now, he wasn’t so bad. Jihoon’s heart was still quickening though.

“When can you go home?” Mingyu asked. Jihoon shrugged.

“A day or two, I think they said. They still want to monitor my vitals or whatever.”

“They’re not quite right yet?”

“I don’t think they like my blood pressure. I don’t know, they said a lot of words.”

Mingyu nodded with a smile and a silence fell between them. Surprisingly, it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was just… fine. Neither really felt anything, and not in the dissociative way.

“Seungcheol’s outside by the way,” Mingyu said at last, “in the waiting room. He wasn’t sure if he was welcome again yet.”

“Uh… yeah. I want to speak to him.”

Mingyu nodded. “Alright. I’ll leave you to it.”

Jihoon thanked him again for the flowers, which were still on his lap and smelt amazing. Mingyu left and within a minute or two, he was swapped for Seungcheol. It was both a relief and a nightmare to see his sweet face again.

“Hi,” the actor greeted with a smile.

“Hi,” replied Jihoon, then after a moment he said, “Mingyu was a nice surprise.”

“Yeah, he surprised me too, actually.”

“He apologised.”

“Bloody hell, really? I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say sorry in my life.”

They both chuckled for a moment. Jihoon moved his flowers to the bedside table. Rather annoyingly, the heart monitor amplified how terrified he was. At least nausea could be kept secret.

“We need to talk,” he said with a dry mouth.

“Okay.”

Jihoon rubbed his nose then gnawed on his knuckle for a second. It was difficult to gather the strength.

“I think… I think we should keep it professional. Like, us. I just think we’re hurting each other and… we aren’t… we aren’t ready for each other. With you finding yourself and my mental health, it seems like more harm’s being done than good. So-so, I reckon it would be best if we move back a bit and… and focus entirely on the book. And not worry about anything else.”

It was several seconds before Seungcheol could muster a reply. Finally, he managed it.

“Okay. If… if that’s what you want. If that’s what you need. That’s fine, Hoon. Professional only.”

“I’m sorry, Cheol.”

“It’s what you need. That’s fine.”

Jihoon looked down so that he couldn’t see the tears in Seungcheol’s eyes and that Seungcheol couldn’t see his. Already, he was regretting his decision. He heard Seungcheol sniff.

“This isn’t related to the overdose,” Jihoon added, his voice shaking.

“I know, Hoon. It’s okay.”

“I do like you.”

“Hoon, it’s fine. Honestly. I get it.”

It didn’t feel fine at all. Seungcheol stood up.

“I’ll leave you in peace,” he mumbled. “G-get well soon, okay? Look after yourself.”

And with that, Seungcheol left Jihoon alone.

The only thing the boy could do was cry. He didn’t want to cut Seungcheol out - that was the last thing he wanted. But maybe it was the right thing to do. Seungcheol deserved better and Jihoon didn’t deserve someone as good as him. Most definitely, Jihoon wasn’t in the right frame of mind for any relationship. He was far too weak. He didn’t want Seungcheol to have to carry his burden on top of his own and worry about him when maybe one day, Jihoon would get better and they would come back to each other.

Just maybe.