“Seungcheol ?” Jihoon’s voice whispered. “You awake ?”
“Obviously,” Seungcheol grumbled into the phone, rubbing his fingers into his eyes. He glanced at his phone to check the time, and his screen glared ‘1:42 AM’.
“I wouldn’t answer the phone if I wasn’t,” he said with a sigh following after. He loved his friends, really, he did, but he had to start teaching them boundaries, especially when he had classes the next morning.
On the other line, there was the sound of movement before Jihoon’s voice came back again. “Listen, I need you to do me a favor .”
Seungcheol held his breath, basking in the chance to use this favor against Jihoon in the future. “What is it?” he asked.
Jihoon hesitated before saying, “I need you to pick up Jeonghan .”
“Jeonghan?” Seungcheol repeated.
Yoon Jeonghan was Jihoon’s new roommate who had come in late in the semester. So far, Seungcheol had only met him twice, and in those two times it was only because he was hanging out with Jihoon. They’ve spoken less than three words to each other. Both of those words were, ‘Hey’. He remembered the only physical factor that stood out the most about him was his long hair.
He didn’t know much else about the man except that.
“And why do I need to pick him up?” Seungcheol wondered dangerously, having a bad feeling about where this was going.
More noise in the background before Jihoon explained, “He went out about 3 hours ago without telling me, until he called me just a few minutes ago saying he was drunk and needed a ride .” It started to sound more like whining on Jihoon’s end. “Cheol, please , you know you’re the only person I know who has a car, can you just pick him up ?”
Boundaries. Seungcheol really needed to start lecturing them on that. But then, he’d also have to lecture himself on how to say ‘no’ to his goddamn friends for once.
He breathed in and let it out in a long whoosh to let Jihoon know that he’s not entirely willing to pick up a complete stranger in the middle of the night. “Fine,” he said, getting up from his warm, comfortable bed. “Text me the address.”
Driving downtown at around 2 AM, Seungcheol noticed things. His thoughts were more scattered and more irrelevant as the seconds went by trying to squint in the darkness to look for what he somewhat remembered Yoon Jeonghan looked like.
He noticed that traffic was surprisingly really light. He noticed that the bars downtown all had funky and creative names. He also noticed that god hated his ass this very moment, and decided it was a good time for a short downpour of rain, making it even harder to search for Jeonghan in the crowded street.
He had circled the block twice now and rang Jeonghan’s number, which Jihoon had texted him, only once. That conversation had been brief; Seungcheol had said that he was parked outside to pick him up and Jeonghan had only replied with a soft, “Okay,” before promptly hanging up on him. He was parked on the side of the road behind the bar’s entrance, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to an unknown beat, thinking about leaving if Jeonghan didn’t show up within the next 10 minutes, when suddenly, there was a knock on the passenger door.
Seungcheol squinted. It was Jeonghan and he let him in.
He tried to ignore the fact that Jeonghan was dripping water onto the leather seats of his car. He also ignored how Jeonghan’s shirt was clinging to his body for dear life. A fleeting worry of this man catching pneumonia entered his mind, but he ignored that as well.
It was silent with nothing but the rain in the background when Seungcheol started the car and said, “You look awful.”
Which was mostly true, though it was probably not the right thing to tell a person he hardly knew. But Seungcheol didn’t care because it was 2 in the morning, damn it. Jeonghan reeked of alcohol, his long hair was a wet and tangled mess, and his eyes were bagged like he hasn’t slept in days.
“Thanks,” Jeonghan replied, and Seungcheol praised his sarcasm. He was about to shift gears when Jeonghan caught his arm. Seungcheol felt the shiver of cold rain drops on his skin.
“Don’t,” Jeonghan stuttered. “Don’t take me back to Jihoon’s, please .”
Seungcheol moved his arm back, wondering briefly why Jeonghan called his own apartment ‘Jihoon’s’, but decided not to mention it. “Why shouldn’t I?” he asked, trying to hide his genuine worry. “Did something happen?”
This time the silence was intense when Jeonghan did nothing but stare back at him. It made his chest hurt, and Jeonghan broke the eye contact, looking down with hard eyes.
He sighed, knowing he was not going to get an answer tonight. “Okay, where am I supposed to take you then?”
Jeonghan bit his lip for a while and Seungcheol made sure not to stare.
“Can’t I just…” he started to wince. “Crash at your place for tonight?”
For Seungcheol’s friends, he’d yet been able to say ‘no’ to. But this was different. This was a complete stranger that he didn’t know nor trust at all, it should have been an easy ‘no’.
But Seungcheol took in Jeonghan’s shivering form, his tired eyes and half-hoped attempt at a smile. He realized he was in no state of mind to make better decisions at this hour.
He shook his head before finally shifting gears, cursing himself silently for making a stupid choice. He pulled out of the parking space and into the empty road before saying, “Okay,” glancing briefly at Jeonghan, who exhaled out a relieved sigh. “But just for tonight.”
“Thank you,” Jeonghan replied quietly, this time with no sarcasm at all.
It was very, very distracting knowing that there was a stranger using his shower.
After a quiet drive, Seungcheol let Jeonghan into his apartment, cringing at the realization of how messy his place actually was seeing that he hasn’t had another human being stay the night in his place since New Year’s when Mingyu, Wonwoo, and Hansol thought it was a good idea to start the year off by getting trashed. It was one of the benefits of renting out a two-bedroom apartment, even though it was a little pricier than he could afford, he was making sure it worked out well enough.
It also made it easier when he told Jeonghan he could use the spare room instead of awkwardly lending his couch to sleep on- or worse, his own room.
But when Jeonghan asked if he could use the shower, Seungcheol’s mind went blank trying to answer. The only thought that rang in his head was, this guy does not have any spare clothes . But he nodded anyway, grabbing a fresh towel and shuffling through his closet to find some shorts and a clean shirt that he hoped would fit on the man.
Now Jeonghan was in his shower. And Seungcheol was sitting on his couch, trying very hard not to think about that.
He opened his phone and, after cursing the fact that it was now past 3 in the morning, sent a quick text to Jihoon.
‘i let jeonghan stay at my place tonite’
A reply came far too quick.
Seungcheol watched the line blink for a while trying to come up with a reply that didn’t sound like he was screwing Jihoon’s roommate.
After too much hesitation, he typed out, ‘my place was closer plus its pouring out’ .
He then sent another message saying, ‘you owe me btw’ .
A couple minutes passed before he received a, ‘Fine, see you in class, don’t forget 4pm @ the studio tomorrow.’
Seungcheol swallowed his groan, completely forgetting that he had practice with Jihoon and Soonyoung after class. For the past month, the three of them have been working on this side project, creating a few new songs together. Soonyoung had come on board for only a few weeks now, giving input and suggestions whenever he could. Some days took longer than others, trying to record things perfectly or put samples together.
Seungcheol sighed. He needed at least another 4 hours of sleep right now to deal with the rest of the day.
He’s about to get up from the couch when the bathroom door opened.
There Jeonghan stood peeking from the doorway, looking better and fresher than earlier, his long copper hair shining a bit underneath the cheap fluorescent lights. He pursed his lips when their eyes met and Seungcheol looked away immediately.
His shirt looked a bit big on him, and Seungcheol knew he’s never gonna wear those shorts again.
Scratching the back of his neck he said, “Sorry, I was about to go to bed, just wanted to make sure you're alright.” He made himself believe that that was the true reason he waited on his couch for Jeonghan to be done in the shower.
Jeonghan gave him a small smile. “I’m alright.”
Seungcheol politely smiled back, “Good.”
“I didn’t know where to put my clothes so I’m letting them dry in the bathroom, I hope that’s okay.”
“Oh, yeah that’s fine.” He swallowed down the knot in his throat and stood up to go back to his room when Jeonghan stopped him for the second time that night.
“Thanks again, by the way,” he said. It was said softly, in a timid voice.
His smile grew without him knowing. “No problem,” he told Jeonghan.
Jeonghan pursed his lips again and said with a nod, “Good night.” He went into the guest room, glancing back at Seungcheol again before finally closing the door.
Seungcheol let out a sigh before burying his face in his hands. The way he looked at him felt too tense, and he knew he was going to see those eyes in his dreams.
Jihoon owed him more than this.
“So, how was Jeonghan?”
Seungcheol rolled his eyes at Soonyoung’s smirking face that was just begging for details, preferably anything gossip worthy. After recording for an hour, they sat together in the small music studio Soonyoung’s friend owned while Jihoon was busy on his laptop.
“Nothing happened,” he muttered, gathering his papers together.
It was true, though Seungcheol didn’t know why that fact wasn’t settling in yet. He had woken up to a gray morning sky and an empty apartment. If it wasn’t for the clothes he had lent Jeonghan that had been folded and laid neatly across the couch, it would have seemed like there wasn’t anyone who stayed the night at all.
He’d never let Soonyoung nor Jihoon know that it had hurt a little to wake up alone without so much as a goodbye.
“Nothing happened yet he was 45 minutes late to class,” said Jihoon without looking up from his laptop.
“Hey,” Seungcheol defended. “I didn’t sleep until, like, 4 in the morning!”
“Not like that, Soonyoung,” he shook his head before turning back to Jihoon. “I’m serious Jihoon, you owe me big time.”
Jihoon sighed and looked up. “I know,” he said it seriously this time. “And I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t think he’d do something like this.”
Seungcheol grumbled again anyhow, “What was he even doing out there so late? Did he say anything?”
“Nope,” Jihoon frowned. “He didn’t even come back to the apartment this morning. He hasn’t returned my texts yet either.”
Seungcheol kept himself from mentioning that Jeonghan had made it clear last night that he did not want to go back to his apartment at all. Still, it was something that plagued his mind. Why was he out so late, drinking when he knew he had classes the next morning, and so vehemently avoiding going back home? Wherever Jeonghan was now, Seungcheol hoped he was safe.
He also hoped he’d never see Jeonghan in person again, considering he couldn’t get the mental picture of Jeonghan wearing his shirt out of his head.
“Did he mention anything to you?” asked Jihoon, shaking Seungcheol out of his reverie.
“No,” Seungcheol lied, deciding it wasn’t his place to gossip or meddle in Jeonghan’s life. “We hardly even talked, it was late and we were both tired.”
“He’s probably sleeping in class,” Soonyoung piped up. “You know how he is.”
Jihoon hummed, but the frown didn’t leave his face. “Let’s just work on the track one more time,” he said instead. “Then we can finish up and get something to eat.”
After another half hour or so, Seungcheol walked from the studio back to his apartment, his thoughts filled with nothing but his soft blankets on his cozy bed in his quiet room. It was tiring, recording his own voice over and over again.
The streetlights near his apartment shined bright now as the sun set behind the tall, city buildings. The storm had passed during the day, and the coming night was left slightly warm as he walked.
Although the sky was dimming, he almost did a double-take when he saw Jeonghan sitting on the bench right next to the entrance of his apartment complex. There’s no denying it was Jeonghan though. His copper red hair was tied back, and he was staring at his phone with a wary look. Every few seconds or so, he’d look up as if he was waiting for someone. In between his legs on the ground was a backpack.
Seungcheol didn’t know what to do. He’d have to pass Jeonghan to enter his apartment of course, but he knew he can’t do that unseen, and that Jeonghan would catch him anyway.
At that moment, Jeonghan glanced up from his phone and their eyes met. Crap , thought Seungcheol. Jeonghan gave him a shy smile.
“Hi,” he said when Seungcheol finally approached him.
“Hey,” Seungcheol greeted back. “What’re you doing out here? Isn’t your apartment on the other side of the university?”
“Yeah, um, just this side is where the science building is, and I just got done with class, it’s a bit of a walk and,” Jeonghan paused his rambling and looked elsewhere. “I’m not really in a rush to go back home is all.”
“Ah,” Seungcheol hummed, trying his best not to say anything stupid. He’s about to make his excuses to leave when he noticed Jeonghan glancing around like earlier.
“Are… Are you waiting for someone?” he asked him.
Jeonghan hesitantly met his eyes once more. “Actually,” he said, his fingers fidgeting. “I-I was waiting for you.”
Seungcheol blinked, not expecting that. “Me? Why?”
Jeonghan hesitated again, then winced, like he was afraid of what he’s about to say.
“I was… wondering if I could stay at your place for another night?” he asked softly.
Seungcheol opened his mouth and emitted a very stupid, “Uhh… what?”
Jeonghan continued, “I mean if it’s no trouble or anything.”
“Just for tonight, really.”
“Seungcheol-ssi? Are you okay?” Jeonghan cringed. “Or am I asking for too much?”
No, it wasn’t that Jeonghan was asking too much from him. It was just that Seungcheol’s dumb mind couldn’t form straight sentences and decided that now was a perfect time to remind him of the mental picture of Jeonghan fresh out of his shower wearing his clothes.
Like hell he could spend another night of that happening again.
Seungcheol swallowed down the thickness in his throat and looked at Jeonghan again.
“Why?” he finally asked him.
And he got about as much of an answer as he did last night. A soft mumble, “I just… I don’t wanna be in the apartment tonight, that’s all.”
Really? Seungcheol wanted to ask, but he bit his tongue instead.
It didn’t settle right in his head. He knew Jeonghan and Jihoon were close enough, but maybe they were having problems that Jihoon hasn’t mentioned to Seungcheol. This was the second time he’s hearing Jeonghan say that he doesn’t want to go back to his own apartment, after all. The only difference being last night Jeonghan said it with alcohol tied in his system.
Right now, Jeonghan was sober.
He sighed before making a dumb decision, “Do you drink coffee? Let’s get some coffee. There’s a café right on the corner, c’mon.”
Jeonghan’s eyebrows rose, then he frowned, and Seungcheol knew it was because he’s avoiding an answer. “Oh, um, okay.”
Jeonghan grabbed his bag from the ground and they proceeded to walk together in silence. It wasn’t much of a walk to the corner coffee shop, and Seungcheol opened and held the door for Jeonghan, who thanked him in a small voice. The place had a classic vintage vibe that Seungcheol thought would never grow old. He loved coming here to cram his papers while the relaxing smell of coffee waded through the air. They placed their orders and Seungcheol offered to pay, but Jeonghan beat him to it.
“I wouldn’t feel right if you treated me,” he said on their way to a table. “You did let me stay the night after all.”
“Mm,” Seungcheol felt his face heat up slightly at how that sounded, and when they sat down, he took a much needed huge swing of his coffee before talking. “Listen, Jeonghan, about that…”
“Ah,” Jeonghan looked down, sheepishly. “I’m sorry. It was pretty rude of me to ask if I could stay the night again.”
Seungcheol shook his head, “It’s not rude, I’d let you stay the night again, I don’t mind really.” Jeonghan relaxed at that. Although he knew if Soonyoung could hear what he was saying he’d be bumping Seungcheol’s shoulders trying to make double-entendres and more suggestive comments about what ‘spending another night’ might mean. He also knew Jihoon would probably disapprove of whatever Seungcheol was testing here. Which reminded him,
“I just have one question though,” Seungcheol asked carefully. He didn’t continue until Jeonghan looked up. “What’s really the reason why you don’t want to go back to your apartment?”
“I already said-“
“I have a feeling it’s more than that,” Seungcheol interrupted before Jeonghan could make the same excuse again. “Just tell me already, I won’t judge, I just want to know.”
He knew he hit a mark there when Jeonghan avoided his eyes again.
“How well do you know Jihoon?” he asked instead of answering. He fidgeted his fingers and Seungcheol was more than confused.
He thought about it for a second, deciding to play along for Jeonghan’s sake. "I've been friends with him for almost 5 years now.”
He felt a small wave of nostalgia, thinking about his junior year of high school when he first met Jihoon. When he accidentally walked in the wrong homeroom class on the first day, Jihoon's laughter was the loudest from the class. Of course, he was first annoyed with the boy, but then he found him in his music class later that same day and was surprised how much they got along, their love of music being their common thread. They've been friends ever since. Seungcheol was there for Jihoon when he needed him, and Jihoon did the same for him.
But that wasn't what he should be focusing on.
"Why?" Seungcheol asked, curious where this was going.
Jeonghan avoided answering again. "How long has Jihoon... been going out with his boyfriend?"
Soonyoung? This kept getting less and less to the point. Seungcheol thought about it, racking his brain for the first time Soonyoung was introduced into his life.
Soonyoung was in Jihoon’s Music Appreciation class in his first year of college when they had met. It was a random afternoon when he was introduced to Seungcheol; Soonyoung was loud but fun for his first impression, and Jihoon had sat beside him blushing the whole time they hung out.
He answered, "Almost a year now, why?"
Jeonghan bit his lip, pausing for a moment. Seungcheol waited patiently this time. Finally, Jeonghan rushed out in one breath, "Have they always been so loud ?"
That was when his mind went blank for a while trying to catch up with what seemed to be Jeonghan's final question.
“Loud?” Seungcheol repeated. Jeonghan raised his eyebrows at him pointedly and that was when it hit him. “Oh- Oh .”
A laugh escaped him and he felt a weight lifted. Seungcheol almost thought it was something serious, but this was more hilarious.
“Are you telling me,” he said in between his small puffs of laughter. “That you don’t want to go back to your own apartment because your roommate is too loud in bed?”
Just saying it out loud almost made him laugh harder. The thought was so amusing since, most of the time, Jihoon was such a quiet and serious guy. He knew there was usually only one exception to his quietness, and that was when he laughed. Soonyoung was the only person Seungcheol knew that made Jihoon laugh any louder than anyone else.
Now there’s two exceptions. He sucked his lips to hold back his laughter.
“You don’t get it,” grumbled Jeonghan, whose ears were turning a light shade of red. “Those apartment walls are pretty thin. I just ignored it when it started happening once or twice a week, but lately it’s been almost every night, and I can’t get any sleep.” He rubbed his eyes in frustration. “My midterms are coming soon, and they’re really distracting.”
Jeonghan sighed when he saw Seungcheol still watching him with an amused expression. “I didn’t want to say anything because I know he’s your friend and all, plus it’s so awkward to bring up.”
Seungcheol understood that. He’d probably feel the same way if he had to bring up something so personal to someone he hardly knew.
“No, I get it,” he reassured Jeonghan. “But why don’t you just tell Jihoon about this? I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“I was going to but…” Jeonghan hesitated. “It’s kind of useless. I’ve been saving up and looking at other apartments, anyway. It’s just that I’ve been so busy studying I can’t check these places out.”
Seungcheol snorted and said without thinking, “Busy studying or drinking?”
Jeonghan glowered. “Okay, I admit last night I got pretty pathetic. They were really going at it and I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I left. I’m new to this part of town and I don’t know anyone else who lives nearby, so I just-“ he took in a shaky breath. “I can’t live there anymore.”
The way he said it made Seungcheol think it was more than just that. And though he didn’t judge Jeonghan’s bad decisions, since he himself was known to make dumb, pathetic mistakes just like anyone else, he couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy. He knew what it was like to have too many distracting factors and how stressful it was, especially with the test week being near. And although he’s never had a stable roommate, he felt terrible that Jeonghan was having this much trouble with his own roommate, kicking himself out of his own apartment just to get away.
He guessed he could just talk to Jihoon himself. But something bothered his mind.
Maybe it was the caffeine already hitting his system, or the way Jeonghan’s soft eyelashes accented his cheekbones too well. Maybe it was the hopeful, sad glint in Jeonghan’s eyes. Or maybe it was the small, lingering thought of Jeonghan in his clothes, sleeping just in the other room of the place that he lived in as well. It was so selfish to ask.
But he said it anyway.
“If you’re looking for a place, you can move into my spare room.”
“Really?” Jeonghan stuttered, blinking slightly.
Seungcheol gulped, realizing it was too late to take it back now. “Y-Yeah, I mean I’ve been looking for a roommate to pay half anyway.” Which was technically true, since his savings was almost running out soon. The pay at the records shop wasn’t exactly the best, after all.
Jeonghan huffed a smile, lifting a hand to cover his mouth, which Seungcheol thought he didn’t need to hide. “Yeah of course, I will,” he said. “But Seungcheol, I can’t thank you enough for offering me your place. I…” Jeonghan looked at him seriously and Seungcheol willed himself to stay still. “I don’t want to impose or anything. I know we’re not really close and all, but… you're just saving me right now.”
Seungcheol bit his lip, but smiled anyway, trying to steady his pulse. “It’s really no trouble at all.”
He silently prayed that it wouldn’t be.