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Moving On and Letting Go

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Fall 2002

The sound of crying, but not just any crying, but the sound of Taemin crying was enough to stop Jongin in his tracks.

 

The boy turned on his heel quickly to spot his friend further down the narrow alley they’d been running through, hands cupping his knee as the older boy sobbed. School had just let out, it was time for the two little primary school students to have fun, maybe even get some candy, before heading back to one or the other’s house. It was not, however, time for Taemin to be crying… not as long as Jongin could do something about it.

 

“Taemin!” Jongin rushed to his friend’s side, hands fluttering nervously around the crying boy unsure where to start. “Are you okay?”

 

“It hurts!” Taemin sniffed, face an angry red color, “Jonginnie, I cut my knee when I fell!”

 

“Let me see.” Jongin’s brow creased.

 

“No.” Taemin shook his head furiously, “It stings!”

 

“Tae at least let me look, okay?” Jongin kept his eyes trained on the boy. At age eight there was really little the boy could do but get help from an adult, but it was a noble gesture on Jongin’s part when he told Taemin to hold his hand and close his eyes.

 

“I’m going to look now, okay?” Jongin squeezed Taemin’s hand tightly and the dark haired boy nodded, eyes closed tightly. “Ready? Three, two, one…”

 

Jongin carefully moved aside the ripped material of the other boy’s jeans and frowned at what he saw. Taemin had badly cut his knee on some glass that had been in the alley, the area was skinned raw and there was still a brown shard implanted within the older boy’s knee. Jongin swallowed nervously and made the mistake of looking to Taemin who had broken his promise to keep his eyes close and was watching Jongin apprehensively.

 

“Is it that bad?” Taemin screeched, but before Jongin to open his mouth, Taemin was crying again. “I’m going to get in so much trouble! Mom told me not to wear my new jeans to school but I wanted to show you! Mom’s going to ground me now!”

 

“W-what?” Jongin blinked, staring back to the nasty gash in the boy’s knee. “Tae, you’re really hurt. I don’t think your mom-”

 

“My jeans!” Taemin sobbed, clutching pathetically at his knee once more. “Mom’s going to kill me!”

 

Despite their slight age difference, Jongin and Taemin were in the same class in school. Jongin was young for their grade but acted far older. Taemin was just the right age for their grade but acted far younger. The two had met in school and after discovering their common interest in the swings at recess, were inseparable. Their friendship was balancing act as both had very strong personalities but their differences worked to their benefit. While Taemin’s loud boisterous attitude made up for Jongin’s shyness, especially around new people, Kai’s calmness and ability to properly assess a situation made up for Taemin’s sometimes rash decision making.

 

“Hyung.” Jongin fixed Taemin with a hard look and the boy shut up immediately, embarrassed as Taemin was yet again reminded of whom was the senior in the situation. “We should go tell your mom and see if you need to go to the doctor.”

 

“But I don’t like the doctor’s office.” Taemin whispered, ducking his head, “It smells funny and the doctor has cold hands.”

 

“Well,” Jongin brushed some thing black hair from the boy’s forehead, “We won’t know if you need a doctor or not if we don’t tell your mom.”

 

“She’s going to ground me.” Taemin groaned, staring at his ripped jeans miserably and Jongin sighed.

 

“Come on,” Jongin said lightly, wrapping his arm under Taemin’s and prompting the boy to stand up, “I’ll just tell her it was my fault then.”

 

“Huh?” Taemin adjusted himself and leaned his weight against his friend. The older boy’s knee really wasn’t hurt to the point where he needed help to walk, as Jongin was assisting him in now, but Taemin liked being babied and Jongin always indulged him. Jongin pulled Taemin’s arm across the back of his shoulders and held the boy’s hand in his own while using the other to wrap around the older boy’s waist.

 

“I’ll just tell your mom that I pushed you when we were playing and that you fell. I don’t mind.” Jongin shrugged as they made their way off towards the Lee household.

 

“But then you’re going to get in trouble with your mom.” Taemin was watching his friend interestedly now and Jongin swallowed, face heating up slighting under the dark haired boy’s gaze.

 

“Like I said, I don’t mind. I’m not a big mama’s boy like you are anyways.” Jongin pinched Taemin’s side and the boy yelped.

 

“Jonginnie!” Taemin whined before breaking out into a smile. Jongin smiled back at is friend, watching how the sunlight caught the faintest highlights of auburn in the boy’s hair. Jongin took in how Taemin’s eyes sparkled when he laughed or how beautifully his pink lips spread to reveal a row of pearly white teeth. Taemin turned his gaze back to his friend and Jongin looked away quickly, confused as to why he’d been having strange thoughts like this lately.

 

“You’re the best friend ever.” Taemin grinned and Jongin merely grunted, too caught in Taemin’s smile.

 

Jongin knew he’d receive a scolding from his mother once Mrs. Lee would probably call her to let her know that Jongin shoved Taemin and cut his knee. Jongin knew that his mother would say that he’d get a toy or privilege taken away for a week but then cave after a few days just because he was such a good boy. Jongin knew all this but he really didn’t mind.

 

As long as Taemin kept smiling, as long as Jongin was the one to cause that smile, everything was fine.

***

Spring 2005

Jongin wasn’t quite sure he heard right but he smiled and nodded anyways.

 

It was during morning classes that Taemin had come running in, a goofy grin slapped on his face, as he babbled off about some sort of audition that had taken place that weekend. Auditions were common for Jongin and Taemin, after all Jongin had auditioned tons of times for roles in his ballet and jazz recitals, so Jongin didn’t see what the big deal was.

 

“Did you get it then?” Jongin asked unsurely.

 

“Jonginnie! Duh!” Taemin rolled his eyes as if the boy were stupid, “Of course I did! Isn’t it great!”

 

“Wait, is it for a show or…?” Jongin squinted and Taemin swatted him on the head.

 

“Weren’t you listening to anything I was saying? Gosh Jonginnie, you really need to focus more when people are talking to you. I went to this audition this weekend with SM Entertainment and I got selected! They already sent over a contract for my parents to look over and everything!”

 

“What? SM Entertainment? You mean like the company that made H.O.T.?” Jongin laughed, “Tae, what the fuck?”

 

“Don’t laugh! It’s true!” Taemin huffed, crossing his arms over his chest indignantly and kicking his friend lighting in the shin. “They said they’re looking for people to be in a boy’s group. I’m going to be a music star!”

 

“Yeah, yeah!” Jongin laughed, crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it as his friend, “I’ll believe it when I see it! You can’t even rap, Tae! Are you sure they didn’t mistake you for a girl and are going to put you in a girl’s group!”

 

“Jonginnie! That’s not funny!”

***

Summer 2005

It wasn’t until that summer that Jongin really started to believe the truth in Taemin’s claim. He’d tried calling over to the Lee household several times to see if Taemin wanted to hang out at the park or go to the pool, only to have Taesun pick up the phone and say that Taemin wasn’t home.

 

It went on like this for weeks and Jongin was starting to getting frustrated. It wasn’t like Taemin was his only friend, but Taemin was his best friend, and Jongin hadn’t seen him since school ended.

 

But finally, about a month into the summer, Jongin received a phone call from Taemin requesting that they meet up that night at the park to catch up. Taemin had sounded a little weird over the phone but Jongin missed his friend and was eager to ask about what he’d been so busy with.

 

And so Jongin now found himself sitting aimlessly on the swings, streetlamps buzzing in the background, as he checked his phone for the time once more. It was starting to get late and Taemin was supposed to be there fifteen minutes ago.

 

“Jongin!” A voice shouted in his ear and the boy jumped, startled eyes finding Taemin’s smiling face as he sat down on the swing besides him. “Hey!”

 

“Jeez Taemin!” Jongin clutched at his rapidly beating heart and looked his friend over, “What was that for? Don’t be such a jerk next time!”

 

“I’m sorry.” Taemin laughed, reaching out to punch his friend lightly. “I just haven’t seen you in so long and you were just sitting there...I couldn’t resist!”

 

“Yeah, yeah whatever.” Jongin mumbled, touching his fingers to cheeks to see if they were still as flaming hot as they felt.

 

“So where have you been?” Jongin kicked the side of Taemin’s swing and sent the boy spiraling. Taemin merely laughed and grabbed onto to Jongin’s arm to take him along for the ride too.

 

“I’ve been training! Sorry I haven’t had time to return your calls but it’s just they been keeping us so busy and I’m really tired when I get home at night. We start at eight so I have to take the bus pretty early and then I don’t get home until nine at night.”

 

“So you weren’t kidding? You’re actually training with SME?” Jongin said with slight awe in his voice as he looked at his friend in a new light. “Do you really think they’ll pick you to be in a group or something?”

 

“They already have started to kind of group people that they like together. I’ve been paired with this guy from Daegu during our dancing sessions a lot but we don’t really talk. He’s kind of stuck up and intimidating.” Taemin shrugged.

 

“But you do have friends there right? Everyone is being nice to you? No one had said anything mean?” Jongin asked concerned, placing a hand gently on his friend’s shoulder.

 

“Yeah everyone’s nice… well no one has said or done anything mean to me but that’s because everyone just sorta keeps to themselves. I’m one of the youngest there so it’s difficult to make friends. I don’t want to say something stupid and have everyone laugh at me.”

 

“Hmm.” Jongin was unsure what advice he could offer for that statement. “Are you at least having fun?”

 

Taemin picked up his head and shot Jongin a smile.

 

“Jonginnie! What are you, my mother? I’m fine! Don’t worry about me. So what have you been doing all summer? I remember you were thinking about joining the summer baseball team. Did you end up doing that?”

 

“Hmm? Yeah, no, err I mean, well no.” Jongin scratched at his neck. He didn’t want to say that he’d basically done nothing for the past four weeks, refusing to go outside for too long periods of time incase Taemin called. “I’ve been helping out my parents a lot.”

 

“Oh that’s nice.”

 

“Yeah.” Jongin stared down at his feet and wondered when talking had become so strained between them. “Taemin?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“We’re friends right?” Jongin whispered, peeking shyly from the corner of his eye at his friend. The boy was watching him curiously, head titled, eyes blinking rapidly in that funny habit Taemin had always had since they were little.

 

“Of course, what else would we be? You’re a like a brother to me, Jongin.” Taemin’s words were meant to comfort his friend but they only made Jongin feel agitated.

 

“There’s a girl at school who keeps walking by my house everyday. My mom says that she has a crush on me or something.” Jongin said suddenly and Taemin squinted in confusion.

 

“Huh? Who? I want to know! Is it Chan Sook? She’s always asking to switch to your team in gym class!” The older boy bubbled excitedly.

 

“Um… yeah it is.”

 

“Are you going to ask her to a movie or something?”

 

“No, I don’t think so.”

 

“Well why not?” Taemin demanded and Jongin stared at his friend for a long moment. The frustration and confusion that had been playing across Taemin’s features soon faded to a look of surprise and understanding. There was desperation in Jongin’s eyes that could not be interpreted as anything else.

 

“Because I don’t like Chan Sook…” Jongin’s heart was spasming now, blood rushing to his ears, as he internally fought over whether now was the right time to voice his feelings or not.

 

Jongin wasn’t sure when that childish admiration for Taemin, a boy who was not shy and could make friends with anyone, had morphed into deeper feelings of romance. They had been friends, they considered each other brothers, but Jongin cared for Taemin so much more than that. There was a feeling of pride Jongin experienced whenever he protected or comforted Taemin. It was as if his heart was shouting out to the world that Taemin was Jongin’s and Jongin was Taemin’s. They understood each other better than anyone else in their lives at the moment and it hadn’t taken long for Jongin to fall for Taemin. Taemin was like the best of worlds: he was a boy in that Jongin and him could go play war and roughhouse together but like a girl in appearance and one that Jongin found himself staring at longer with each day. Taemin’s hair was still relatively short but to Jongin, someone that had known him for almost his whole life, the slightest longer bit of fringe resulting from a few missed haircut appointments made Taemin look all the more feminine.

 

Now was Jongin’s chance. Now was the perfect time, during a warm lazy summer night when the stars were out and the cicadas were singing overhead, for Jongin to finally confess. He hadn’t originally planned it out this way or to for this to happen so soon, but Jongin couldn’t help but feel that if he didn’t say something now, he may not have another chance in the future.

 

“Tae,” Jongin whispered, boldly reaching out to hold the other’s hand, “I… I…”

 

The blood was pounding in Jongin’s ears now, hands sweaty, throat working against the dryness that had settled in there, as he struggled to formulate his words. Jongin knew he was shaking badly but he couldn’t help it, not when it felt like his heart was about to burst out from his chest. It was now or never, all Jongin had to do was say something. Just say something, anything!

 

“I don’t think we can be friends anymore.” Taemin said softly before Jongin could get the words out.

 

“W-what?” Jongin wheezed as if the air had been knocked from him. He let go of Taemin’s hand instantly and turned to face his friend, stomach dropping out as the older boy refused to meet his gaze.

 

It was cold. It was a numbing coldness that overtook Jongin’s body now as his mind worked furiously to process the words he had just heard. Jongin must have not been listening carefully again just as Taemin always said, there was no way that…

 

“I don’t think we should be friends anymore.” Taemin repeated, this time a bit louder.

 

“T-Tae,” Jongin said shakily, hands trembling, “I don’t understand. What… what do you mean we can’t be friends anymore?”

 

“I’m moving into the trainee dorms at SME in a week to better prepare myself. Between training and school, I just won’t have time to live like this anymore.” I just won’t have time for you, is what is sounded like to Jongin.

 

“I thought I should tell you now before the summer is completely over. Taesun told me that you’ve calling everyday and I don’t want you waiting around like that. I know it’s hard for you to make new friends but I’m really sorry, Jongin.” It was Jongin this time, not Jonginnie, or JongJong, just Jongin.

 

Taemin was being serious.

 

“We can still be friend.” Jongin whispered, eyes wide as he stared at Taemin’s hand that he’d been holding just moments ago, “We can hang out on the weekends when you come back to visit your parents or I can take the bus out there to visit you.”

 

“I’m going to start spending more time with the other trainees on the weekends so that I can have more friends for my new life.”

 

“Y-your new life?” Jongin said weakly, “But what about this life? What about the past five years we’ve been friends? What about summer festivals or going to clinic football together or weekend crafts club?”

 

“Stop it.” Taemin whispered, turning his body away from his friend.

 

“What about sleepovers or going to the beach or walking home together after school?”

 

“Stop it, Jongin.” Taemin pleaded but the younger was far from over.

 

“What about promising to be friends forever? What about agreeing to join the dance team in secondary school? What about all of that? You just can’t erase the old you, Taemin! That’s not possible!” Jongin shouted; tears that he hadn’t even realize he’d begun to shed rolling down his face.

 

“Stop shouting at me!” Taemin screamed, shaking his head furiously as he began to cry too. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Don’t yell at me!”

 

“You can’t just stop being friends with someone. It takes two people to be friends so one person just can’t end it! I don’t agree to this, I don’t agree to us stopping being friends.” Jongin said defiantly and Taemin kicked furiously at the dirt beneath the rusty swings.

 

“I just don’t want you to get hurt!” Taemin snapped.

 

“Huh?” Jongin was starting to get riled up again. Taemin wasn’t making any sense and all Jongin wanted to do was scream.

 

“You get weird when I make new friends! You’ve spent your entire summer waiting for me to call you! I am your only friend! You’re going to get hurt, Jongin. I’m making new friends at SM I have to for my career. I don’t want you getting hurt when I start hanging out with new people.”

 

“Then I’ll just be friends with them too!” Jongin tried but Taemin was frowning now, all the cheery merriness that Jongin was used to wiped from his face.

 

“And what about when I finally get placed in a group. I can already tell, Jongin, they’re starting to figure out who works well with whom. They’re rearranging the groups everyday and matching us against the other. I’m going to have to become friends with my band mates, really good friends, to further our career. Can’t you understand that?”

 

The younger boy said nothing for a moment, head hung as he clenched his fists at his sides. Taemin was talking about leaving him, leaving him to go become friends with some new people and Jongin wouldn’t be included. Taemin was going to create a new path for himself in life and Jongin wasn’t going to be any part of it.

 

“What career?” Jongin sneered before he could stop himself. It wasn’t like him to say such harsh things but anger was fueling Jongin’s words now. “You’re twelve! What career can a twelve year old have? Don’t fool yourself, Taemin, plenty of people wash out as trainees. Just because you made it past the auditions doesn’t mean that you get to become a star. If you don’t want to be friends anymore then fine! But don’t come back crying to me when your little fantasy world comes to an end! So go and have fun with your stupid new friends in your stupid new band! Because this dream of yours is stupid!”

 

With that Jongin jumped up from the swings and began to run back towards his house. He could hear Taemin’s shocked gasp when he first stood up, he could hear Taemin’s sobs as he broke out into a run, and he most certainly could hear Taemin’s angered cries after him when he exited the playground.

 

“Don’t say that! How dare you insult my dreams Kim Jongin! I will be a star you just wait! I don’t ever want to see your face again. Do you hear me? I never want to talk to you again Kim Jongin! Ever! I hate you!”

 

Those words continue to haunt Jongin for the next two years. They would wake him up night or fill his head when he sat alone in school. Life moved on without Taemin but Jongin could not seem to forget. He regretted saying those things to Taemin because they were childish but most importantly not true. Jongin admired Taemin’s dream of becoming a professional singer and dancer, it was one that Jongin shared as well. But Jongin was never as brave as Taemin, never as loud as Taemin, never quite enough for anything it seemed.

 

Jongin wanted to apologize but he didn’t know how. Often he’d walk by the Lee household and stare longingly at the window he knew used to belong to Taemin. Occasionally he’d hear from other students that Taemin would return on holidays to be with his family but Jongin couldn’t bring himself near their home at those times. Those words would chase Jongin away and thwart his attempts at apologizing.

 

For two years life went on like this for Jongin. For two years Jongin would freeze up whenever people mentioned an open audition for SM Entertainment. It would take two years for Jongin to muster up his courage and realize that he wanted the same life as Taemin. And after these long hard two years, Jongin finally made his move at the Youth Best Contest. It was finally Jongin’s turn to shine.

 

***

Fall 2007

 

Jongin doesn’t quite believe it when he hears the news. The week prior he had entered a talent contest consisting of singing and dancing run by SM Entertainment.

 

Jongin had won.

 

But now the proof of his success was here, sitting before him in the form of a perfect little sealed envelope that no doubt contains his contract for his parents to review. This was the beginning of something new, something real, and something that Jongin could be proud of. This was something Jongin had done for himself, despite his parents’ questioning if he was simply entering the contest to be with Taemin, and he had succeeded.

 

At age thirteen, Jongin has finally started to grow. He’s taller now but his body still held his lithe figure from childhood… but lithe was good. The agents had told him that. His hair had grown longer, he’d started stylizing it more now that he was to be a star, and he’d even started minding what he wore as well. It was important to make a good impression, Jongin’s parents always told him. And there was no one Jongin wanted to impress more than the panel at SME.

 

Lately thoughts of Taemin had become scarce. Jongin occasionally found himself wondering what his former friend was doing at the same moment he was but Jongin could no longer really recall what the older boy looked like. He’d been quick to put away all pictures documenting their past together and now all that Jongin could envision in his mind was silky black hair and smiling pink lips. Taemin had become a blur in Jongin’s mind and for the first ever, the younger boy felt that he was ready to move on with his life. That he now possessed the strength to move on to his new life, a life without Taemin.

 

But unfortunately it seemed that the universe had a different plan in mind.

 

It was about four months into training that Jongin had been placed with eleven other boys on a continuous basis. It was safe to assume that these boys would probably end up paired with Jongin in a group in the future but there were twelve of them in total. That was big for a group and some of the boys were Chinese. Jongin wasn’t exactly sure what the handlers had trained, or if they planned on cutting some out as time progressed, so Jongin gave it his all each and every day regardless of what kind of session it was. As Jongin became friends with this group of new boys, he started to realize what Taemin had been trying to explain before. It was fun hanging out with people who were in a similar situation as you, shared similar goals to you, and understood the extraordinary amount of effort it took to get there.

 

Jongin found himself changing. He was no longer the heartbroken little boy that had been left behind when his friend moved on. Jongin was no longer the loner kid at school that only spoke when it was to speak up in the protection of others too weak to protect themselves. Jongin began to talk more, he began to laugh more, and most importantly his dancing and singing abilities improved greatly.

 

It was about six months into training that Jongin first spotted some of the senior trainees in SME. It was a late Thursday evening, the weekend was arriving soon so many trainees were talking about plans for the weekend, when two curious heads popped in through the door. One head belonged to an older boy with cat eyes and a heart-shaped face who peeked in through the door to survey the group while the other belonged to a shorter boy with a square jaw and squinty eyes. The two whispered amongst themselves, trying and failing to be subtle, before they were ducking back out into the hallway.

 

Curious and in need of water, Jongin decided to follow them. No one seemed to really notice or care that Jongin had left the practice room as the boy was careful to trail the two older boys down the hall. He walked quietly, clenching his water bottle tightly as it offered his only excuse as to why he was walking in the same direction as the two. While Jongin was worried about being called out, he was also so desperately wanted to at least catch of a glimpse of what it took to become a senior trainee. These two boys were probably already assigned to a group and were in the middle of rigorous training for their debut. Jongin couldn’t help but hope that would be him in another year or so.

 

“Did you see that? There’s a fair amount of girls this time around.” The boy with the square jaw nudged the other. The boy with the cat eyes scoffed and shoved the other back good-naturedly.

 

“They’re younger than you Jonghyun so don’t even think about it. Besides, more than half of them are taller than you.”

 

“Hey that’s not funny!” The one called Jonghyun moved to shove the other boy again but the latter easily evaded the attack with a simple twist. The cat eyes boy laughed and Jonghyun huffed in frustration, “Kibum!” He whined.

 

“Jjong!” The cat eyes boy mimicked the other. Suddenly the boy’s eyes were darting in Jongin’s direction and the younger boy froze. He’d been discovered.

 

“Hey, you.” Kibum said and Jongin’s face burned as he quickly scurried towards the water fountain.

 

“I was just getting water.” Jongin said in a rush of words as he fumbled desperately with the faucet.

 

“Hey!” Jonghyun beamed, rushing over towards Jongin who was frozen in fear. “You’re a new trainee right? Right?”

 

“I wasn’t following you guys or anything. I just really needed water and it was in this direction.” Jongin’s face burned and Kibum laughed.

 

“Aww look at how embarrassed he is.” Kibum cooed, reaching out a hand and tenderly stroking Jongin’s shoulder. “You don’t have to be nervous. We were in your same position once too. So, what’s your name?”

 

“Uh…” Jongin snuck at glance at the two older boys, surprised that he wasn’t getting laughed at or being called a stalker. “I’m Kim Jongin.”

 

“We have the same family name then. I’m Kim Kibum and this is Kim Jonghyun.” The older boy smiled brightly and now that Jongin listened more carefully, the cat eyes boy had a slight accent. It was difficult to distinguish some of Kibum’s words but Jongin could understand him perfectly if he listened closely enough.

 

“Cool.” Jongin offered up, “So um… you guys are senior trainees, right?”

 

“Yeah we’re two years into training now. Jonghyun and I are in a group of five but the other three don’t really speak with us as much. What about you? Have they figured out where you best fit yet?”

 

“They’re still evaluating now. Nothing is final.” Jongin shrugged and Jonghyun clapped a hand on his shoulder.

 

“We feel your pain.” The boy sighed and nodded, “First year is a nightmare.”

 

“Hmm.” Kibum hummed in agreement as his eyes scanned down the hall. “Speaking of which, there’s two of our group members now. Hey Minho! Taeminnie! Come over here, I want you guys to meet someone!”

 

Jongin froze for a moment, mentally scolding himself for reacting to the name Taemin. There were plenty of people named Taemin in the world. It was a common enough name right? But then Jongin was looking down the hall to where Kibum was and his heart stuttered.

 

That was Lee Taemin walking down the hallway towards him there was no mistaking it. Jongin instantly recognized the boy’s frame and his serene smile. The boy had barely changed since Jongin last saw him but apparently Jongin had quite a lot considering that Taemin didn’t even seem to recognize him as the pair approached.

 

“Minho, Taemin, this is one of the new trainees Kim Jongin. We were just talking about how horrible the first year of training is.” Kibum gestured towards Jongin but the younger boy was frozen stiff.

 

“First year? This whole process is taxing! You’ll get through it though. I’m Choi Minho by the way.” The boy next to Taemin stuck out his hand. Jongin’s eyes rounded as he took in the features of the older boy. He was tall, a good head taller than Taemin and Jongin only came up to his chest. His body was incredibly muscular and Jongin was instantly intimidated. The boy wore a warm smile on his face, hand firmly stuck out and Jongin stared at it.

 

“You’re supposed to shake it.” Minho explained, taking Jongin’s hand in his and pumping it. “It’s a Western thing.”

 

“Minho’s a freak.” Jonghyun threw in and the taller boy was instantly rounding on the shorter, eyes burning with unspoken threats. Kibum scoffed and said something about acting like children but Jongin wasn’t exactly listening. Instead his eyes were locked on Taemin who was now staring back at him in shock, eyes round and mouth slightly agape.

 

“Jonginnie?” The words left Taemin’s lips like honey and Jongin could have melted at that moment. It was Jongin but Jonginnie, Taemin was using nicknames with him still.

 

“Huh?” Kibum was now looking between the two and Jongin just gapped at his old friend like a fish.

 

“Jongin!” Taemin squealed at his friend’s shocked expression. The older boy launched himself forward and flung his arms around Jongin’s neck. Jongin could only simply catch him and inhale the familiar scent that was Taemin’s strawberry shampoo. Taemin smelt like home, Taemin felt like home, and a lovesick smile spread across the younger boy’s face.

 

“Taemin who is this?” Kibum asked curiously and Taemin was pulling away all too quickly for Jongin’s liking.

 

“This is Jongin! We used to go to primary school and take dance lessons together! We live in the same district. Oh my god I can’t believe this! Jonginnie! What are you doing here? You’re a trainee now?” Taemin bubbled.

 

“I auditioned and got in.” Jongin said rather vaguely, “It was on a bet by some friends but I’m serious about it now.”

 

“That’s fantastic! Are they letting you dance? You have to show them your dancing if you haven’t already!” Taemin was all smiles and Jongin found himself breaking out into an uncontrollable smile.

 

This was nice; talking and catching up with Taemin as if nothing bad had ever happened between them. As if Taemin had never uttered those horrible words that haunted Jongin for two years. It was almost as if they were friends again and now that Jongin was reminded of what he had been missing, he started to crave it terribly again.

 

“Yeah I have…Have you been dancing as well?”

 

“Well now we have two dancing machines in the company now?” Kibum raised an eyebrow and Jonghyun was squinting at all of them in what appeared to be confusion.

 

“Oh! Jongin is really good at dancing! We’ve been competitive for years now and Jongin has a lot of skill.” Taemin praised and Jongin blushed, ducking his head and looking shyly at his friend. Everyone was grinning, well everyone but Minho, who was staring very intensely at Jongin now.

 

“There will be plenty of time to catch up later.” Minho spoke up, wrapping a possessive arm around Taemin’s shoulder. Jongin’s heart sank at this, especially when Taemin didn’t even seem to notice it was so natural.

 

“Ah yes. We have to get back to vocal practice but we should all meet up sometime for dinner!” Kibum smiled and Taemin nodded enthusiastically.

 

“Kibum, you forget. Jongin is probably incredibly tired after returning from practice. He’ll need his sleep to recover for the next day so going out at night probably wouldn’t be the best.” Minho smiled tightly at Jongin and the younger’s brow furrowed in confusion. Despite the older boy’s smile there was something off about that seemingly friendly advice. Minho’s smile did not reach his eyes and instead Jongin found a look of intense jealously and hostility there. The younger took a step backwards, caught off guard at such a violent reaction.

 

“That’s true.” Jonghyun hummed in agreement.

 

“Maybe on one of the weekends then?” Taemin suggested and Kibum declared that it was settled.

 

“It was nice meeting you, Jongin!” Jonghyun called as he turned to leave.

 

“If you ever need anything, you call me okay?” Kibum smiled sweetly and set off after Jonghyun. The two were halfway down the hallway when Taemin pulled out from Minho’s grasp and engulfed his friend in a hug.

 

“It’s good to see you, Jonginnie.” Taemin’s breath was hot against Jongin’s ear. “I’m so happy for you. I really am.”

 

“Bye Jongin.” Minho nodded before taking Taemin’s hand in his, “Come on, Tae. Let’s get back to practice before Jinki scolds us all for being late. You don’t want to get fined.”

 

“Ugh let’s go.” Taemin agreed, letting himself be led away by Minho.

 

Jongin stared after them, taking in everything from how utterly beautiful Taemin still was to how unsettlingly possessive Minho’s attitude towards the younger boy was. Taemin’s body gave off the vibes of being friends but Jongin could see that Minho’s intentions were quite different. The older boy unnecessarily touched Taemin more than necessary and let his eyes linger on Taemin’s mouth.

 

Taemin turned around when they were just about the turn the corner and waved merrily at his friend. Jongin waved back, smile plastered tightly across his face, while his eyes found Minho’s. Then the pair turned the corner and was out of sight.

 

Jongin sighed and began to head back towards the dance studio.