the sky is still painted a soft blue when jihoon slips through the bathroom door, heart knocking painfully against his chest as he sinks to the floor, limbs melding with the painted tiles as it always has. his eyes land on the tile in the corner, chipped at the edge unlike the others. he lifts it with ease, with practice, digging out the pack of cigarettes he's kept there since last year. he knows he can get caught this time, while the sun is still up, while the others are still awake, but the window is cracked open halfway like it always is, so he's sure the wind will carry the smoke away before anyone notices. this time isn't like other times though, and soon the door's being pushed open and mingyu's sticking his head in, mouth open like he was about to ask a question before he spots jihoon nestled against the corner of the shower.
it wasn't like him to forget to lock the door.
mingyu doesn't show any disbelief, his face frustratingly blank as he shuts the door behind him and seats himself next to jihoon.
there's no words exchanged, jihoon simply continues to smoke with mingyu at his side, who's presence is as strange as it is comforting.
"can you still sing tomorrow?" mingyu asks, when jihoon tucks his packet of cigarettes back into it's hiding place.
jihoon doesn't really think to ask any questions, what mingyu thought of him now that he knew, why he had stayed, if he'd tell anyone what he knew. but mingyu doesn't look like he has any answers to his questions, mingyu is just mingyu and jihoon is oddly settled with knowing that it's just that, it's just him.
he's being pulled aside after a show one night, mingyu's hand tugging his wrist as he leads them into an empty room.
mingyu's hand is still clasped around jihoon's wrist, he doesn't seem intent on letting it go soon.
jihoon shrugs. too long.
his lip twitches, almost frowning but not there yet.
"you should stop."
he doesn't need anymore than that, and then his grip on jihoon loosens and he walks back out into the world, leaving jihoon to soak in his words and his silence. the reality of the situation tastes bitter on his tongue, more than the nicotine ever did.
mingyu had asked once why he started, but jihoon couldn't answer. there were a handful of reasons, but at the same time none at all. jihoon smokes because he can. since he cannot alleviate any of the pressure on his shoulders, or lift the weight on his chest, the only thing left that he can do is smoke. he is glad, in a way, that it was mingyu who found him that day in the bathroom. he is sure if it was seungcheol with his pack mentality and chiding tone, he would've never let jihoon out of his sight again. if it was junhui with his too big heart and meddling hands, he would be taken care of, suffocated to the point of insanity. mingyu doesn't make any choices for him, let's jihoon take care of himself, gives him space and more importantly, time.
"you and mingyu seem chummy."
he quirks an eyebrow at minghao's comment, choosing not to meet his gaze as he clicks away at his computer.
he can almost hear minghao rolling his eyes from beside him.
"more so than usual. something going on?"
jihoon pauses, presses his lips together for a moment before shrugging.
jihoon knows what that hm means, so he sighs and finally turns towards the younger.
"nothing's going on, he just, understands me i guess."
"what does he understand that the rest of us, don't, then?"
"fine. let me know when you figure yourself out, hyung."
the thing is, jihoon doesn't know who he is most days. it's not a problem, not really, because he doesn't need to know who he is. all he needs is his voice and the ability to work and nothing else will matter. all he has to do is smile pretty for a camera, then problems like smoking behind bathroom doors and an aching heart for someone who's too close and at the same time too far, disappear. but then there are times, times like now where he has to think past the scripted answers and think, rely on himself for answers to questions he would never dare ask himself.
"is it hard living in a dorm with twelve other people?"
soonyoung looks as if he wants to answer this one, ears perked up and back straighter than a moment ago, but the mc with the mic is pointing it towards jihoon, and he cannot just give this question away without something seeming off.
"i don't think so."
"at first it was a little hard to adjust to, of course, but after a while we all quickly got used to each other."
it was foreign and new, and sometimes i still feel like i'm just a stranger amongst other strangers, but sometimes they almost feel like family.
"we still face a lot of problems now, like running out of food or toothpaste too fast, but after so long of fighting with each other the same things, we have learnt to resolve our fights quickly."
living with so many people for so long means you grow to hate them as much as you love them. on days where you wonder if you should even be there, someone will be there to remind you why you had chosen to be there in the first place, and you forget how much this home starts to resemble a nightmare to remember that you'd rather have this nightmare for a home than any other dream.
seungcheol nods as jihoon finishes his answer, the corner of his mouth quirking, like he had heard everything, even the things he had said in-between the lines, and agreed whole heartedly. soonyoung, from beside him, nudges him with his elbow, echoing his sentiments with a grin. jihoon doesn't bother smiling, but his thoughts are loud and clear when he nudges him back.
it's fine if he doesn't know who he is, because his friends do, his family do. he will be okay like this, with them. he can rely on them.
he smokes less. there will still be days where things are too much, or thoughts are too little, and jihoon will find solace in a cigarette and two minutes of peace, but smoking ends up getting replaced by a lot of things. smoking gets replaced by writing, as so many things have been before, and smoking gets replaced by kisses. he doesn't know how mingyu pulling him by his sleeve to kiss him breathless in-between dance practices had come to be. when he had said the only way he'd be able to quit smoking was if he found something equally as addicting but infinitely less damaging, he'd been joking. mingyu wasn't joking when he had pressed jihoon against the wall and kissed him until he couldn't form a single coherent thought.
jihoon freezes for a moment, being denied kisses was new.
"i know you just smoked, and you taste disgusting after you've smoked."
that's all he says on the subject, before mingyu leaves to join wonwoo and junhui in the living room to watch movies. jihoon frowns.
he has to go three days without smoking before mingyu agrees to kiss him again, and when they finally do, the relief that jihoon feels is overwhelming, and when he chases for more after the moon is out and everyone else is snoring, mingyu complies.
this, jihoon thinks, when he's on the brink of falling asleep, facing mingyu's closed eyes, makes him feel much better than a cigarette ever could.
quitting is a lot easier with mingyu by his side. all jihoon has to do is let mingyu know he's thinking about it, thinking about the chipped tile in the corner of the bathroom, and mingyu will waste no time in making sure jihoon can only think of him and nothing else. it's easy because mingyu is just as addicting but tastes far better than his cigarettes ever did, jihoon only regrets he hadn't found out earlier.
"you taste clean, hyung. it's nice."
jihoon laughs, his head raising from where it was nestled against mingyu's chest.
"that's thanks to you, i think."
"who knows, i might've given in just as easily if wonwoo was offering to kiss me instead."
jihoon laughs again.