Siwoo's eyes shot open, and he gasped and choked like a drowning man, hands scrambling for purchase, for—
Yoobin had been next to him.
He hadn’t been feeling well all day since he changed to some ridiculous diet plan. The sasaeng fans that chased them on the highway didn’t help at all with the stress of preparing for the next comeback either.
In a flash, a burst of glaring lights and flying glass had assaulted Siwoo’s vision. Yoobin had looked at him then with terror in his normally blank eyes, and Siwoo thought that he had even tried to reach out for him before he found himself running on that never-ending track field.
No matter how hard he tried, Siwoo couldn't get Yoobin's pale face out of his head. He only hoped he was okay.
“—woo-yah, what’s wrong?” a distant voice pierced through the fog of Siwoo’s memories.
His heart sank. It didn’t sound like Yoobin or the others. Were they okay? Did they get hurt? Where were they?
Siwoo reached out and blindly grabbed whoever knelt by his side. He could barely see through the darkness until a small lamp flickered on. A whimper of discomfort punched out of his throat. Why did there have to be so many damn lights everywhere he went?
“I’m here for you, honey.” A cool, calloused hand stroked his now shorter hair. Unconsciously, Siwoo relaxed under the familiar touch. No one had ever touched him to comfort in so long, not since he had left home.
He realized he was on the couch in his aunt’s living room. Her blurred face came into focus after Siwoo regained some of his bearings. He furrowed his brows, confused. “I—Imo?”
That didn’t make sense. He’d been in a car on the way back to the dorms from the MV shoot. His aunt should be at the apartment he bought for her in Seoul where she’d spoil her family in peace and comfort.
“What—Am I—” Siwoo paused, staring at the familiar ceiling of his aunt’s home. Shouldn’t he be in the hospital instead? The car clearly collided with something. He had felt the glass and pain searing through his stomach like a hot knife. That was too vivid to not be a hallucination.
“Are you okay, Siwoo-yah?” his aunt whispered, caressing his hair. It was soaked along with his neck and face. He wasn’t sure if it was from sweat or tears. “Where does it hurt?”
“I don’t know.” Siwoo didn’t want to talk any more than he had to.
He didn’t know whether to feel humiliated, terrified, or frustrated. Everywhere hurt. His legs burned as if he’d gone on an endless sprint across hot sand. His head throbbed from the sound of squealing tires and metal shrieking against metal. His hands trembled without stopping—until his aunt gripped them gently in her own, clasping them almost like in prayer.
“Siwoo-ya, I’m taking you to the hospital."
“No!” Siwoo closed his eyes and tried to focus on his aunt’s steady breaths.
He attempted to gain some semblance of awareness. Was this a dream, or was everything he’d been through a dream?
Yet he remembered the songs he sang and danced to onstage, the melodies echoing against every corner of his mind in a dizzying symphony; the other members’ faces etched with both jubilance and scorn, too real for him to have made up; the fans that screamed and chanted his name from a sea of blue lights, so many to not be a real delusion; and his cousins who managed to grow up well, their smiles brighter than any star.
Ah, he remembered now.
“What day is it?” Siwoo croaked out.
He was tempted to ask what year it was, too, but didn’t need his aunt putting him in a psych ward. He panicked her enough as is with his mental breakdown (and the whiplash of a possible, out-of-a-fucking-webtoon regression).
Sighing, Siwoo turned to his aunt who looked younger under the light. It was strange to see her like this. She'd grown so much gray hair from overworking that he had brought her to a popular hair salon after his group’s debut album became an instant success. It ached his heart to see her so exhausted again.
“I’m okay,” Siwoo said, his breath shaky. “I’m okay now, imo. I…just dreamt of umma.”
His aunt scowled whenever anyone mentioned her older sister as usual. While Siwoo could use his past nightmares as a temporary crutch for now, he could only use it as an excuse for so much against his aunt. She knew him better than he did; after all, she raised him since he was eight-years-old.
“Can you just…stay a little bit until I go back to sleep?” he said, avoiding her eyes. “I don’t need the hospital.” He just needed his aunt, even for a little while. "I promise."
His aunt sighed. “Alright.”
She patted Si-woo’s blanket like she used to when he'd been distraught from a difficult day as a child. The soft thumps were a soothing beat to Siwoo’s ringing ears.
He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but everything finally became quiet.
* * *
“Oppa, aren’t you gonna eat?” Park Eunji, Siwoo’s youngest cousin, poked his ribs with her elbow.
It was so strange, and nostalgic, to see her so small and young again. She had her father’s twinkling eyes whenever she grinned and long thick hair she coiled into a braid today. She had flourished in the future and successfully pursued her dreams of becoming a doctor.
Ah, right. He had to figure out how to help her and Eunyoung attend hagwon again.
“Siwoo-yah,” his aunt said with a concerned frown, “are you alright?”
Siwoo placed his egg roll in Eunji’s bowl, to her delight and confusion, then took a sip of water. “I’m fine. I just don’t have much of an appetite.”
Eunyoung gasped dramatically from across the table. “You, not hungry? Alright, fess up. Who hurt you? I’ll drag 'em out by the hair for you.”
Eunji choked on her breakfast. “U—Unni, that’s supposed to be my job!”
Their mother, Park Hyunjung, raised a brow. “I thought we agreed on passing the morning without any talks of violence before.”
"Umma, family's gotta protect each other! That's what appa said!"
"Since when did you get the courage to talk back to your mother like that?"
"I'm just telling the truth!"
“Hey, oppa,” Eunji whispered as her sister and mother bickered in the background. “You’ll be fine today. You don’t need to be nervous. You’re better than a lot of those wannabes, anyway, so don’t worry!” She gave him a thumbs-up.
Siwoo blinked. “What are you talking about?”
Eunji shot him an incredulous look. “Your audition, remember? It’s today." She patted his shoulder. "Don’t worry. I won’t tell umma or appa, but you have to tell me how it went later, okay? You promised."