Title:The Closer You Get, The Harder I Fall
Pairing: Jongin/Joonmyun (with bff!sekai)
Length: 8456 words
Warnings: age switch, beer & general awkwardness
Summary: Joonmyun’s had a dead-end crush on his best friend’s older brother Jongin for years. Things get complicated when they end up as roommates.
Notes: A belated birthday fic for my baby bear, Kim Jongin
Half of Joonmyun's worldly belongings landed on the floor with a loud thunk. It was the second time in three years he'd moved, and hopefully, this would be the last time for a while.
"That's everything?" Sehun’s voice made him jump as he appeared in the doorway unexpectedly. His best friend was tall, just over six feet, with wide shoulders that had looked awkward for most of his skinny adolescence. But Sehun had gained muscle in the right places after high school, and now had the kind of body girls sighed over and other guys envied. Joonmyun had given up being envious a long time ago. He'd never be as tall or as broad as Sehun, or his brother Jongin, and he was okay with that.
"If you need a toothbrush, or shampoo, there's a 7-eleven down the road. Or you can just ask Jongin for some. I'm sure he'll have spares. He's um. . .anal like that."
"Anal?" Joonmyun asked, body tensing.
"Okay, maybe anal is too strong a word. He's super organized and never runs out of supplies. And he likes things to be in the right place," Sehun said before chuckling like he was recalling some private joke.
Clutching his hair in frustration, Joonmyun started pacing the small room, trying his best not to yell. "You know I'm the messiest person alive! Did it not occur to you that your bro being a neat freak is crucial info you should have shared with me? Like it's conceivable that Jongin and I are the last people on earth who should be sharing an apartment? OH MY GOD?"
"I thought you knew,” Sehun said with a bemused smile. “His room was always crazy neat when we were in high school."
Joonmyun tried to find solace in the fact that Sehun didn't look worried at all. Except, he looked way too amused by this whole scenario.
"I never saw the inside of his room. He always had the door shut and there was that sign that said KEEP OUT. TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT? It wasn't exactly welcoming?"
"Yeah, well. . .now you know. He kinda likes things to be in their place and hygiene is important." At least Sehun had the decency to look slightly sheepish. "But I'm sure you'll make things work! And this apartment is so near your office. Think of all the time and money you'll save."
“He's going to throw me out by the end of the week,” Joonmyun predicted with ominous certainty.
“He won't!” Sehun protested before desperately extolling the many virtues of sharing an apartment with Jongin. Sehun had gotten engaged to his girlfriend Hyemi two months earlier, and they'd just moved into a trendy loft two streets away. That left Jongin in need of roommate, but it had taken Sehun three weeks to persuade Joonmyun to take over his old room.
Joonmyun knew he should be focusing on all the advantages of living here, but all he could think of was throttling Sehun. From there, he naturally progressed to mental images of Jongin throttling him when he inevitably messed up the apartment. Either way, things didn't look good for him.
"This apartment is so close to campus. I don't get why Jongin couldn't find another roommate? Why me?"
"Well, he knows where your parents live for one. Like if you thrash his place, he'll know where to find you," Sehun joked.
"I'm being serious, dammit!" Joonmyun punched his shoulder.
"Okay, okay! Just let me organize my thoughts," Sehun gave him a placating smile—not that it was placating Joonmyun at all. He needed to know what so-called defects the other candidates had so he could gauge how much shit he was in.
"Right. The first dude? Jongin complained he had greasy hair, stains on his shirt, and smelt like hadn’t bathed in a week. NO WAY he was sharing space with someone who was that laid back with personal hygiene."
Joonmyun pulled a face. "I think I’m pretty clean but maybe not clean enough for him? He’s totally gonna decide I’m too laid back too and throw me out. I just know it."
"Jongin isn’t. . .” Sehun paused and sighed, “he's not so bad once you get to know him. He just has really high standards for himself, and that kinda spills over into his expectations of others. But you won't find a more loyal friend—or brother. He's a good guy. He just um. . .takes time to warm up to people is all."
"Well, he’s had ten years to warm up to me, what the hell!" Dragging the back of his hand over his forehead, Joonmyun asked, "What about the second guy? Or was it a girl?”
"Guy. They just happened to all be dudes. Jongin doesn't actually care whether he gets a male or female roomie—as long as they pay their share of the rent."
"So what was the second guy's sin?"
Crossing his arms, Sehun leant against the doorway and bit his bottom lip thoughtfully before answering, "Chain smoker. He had nicotine stains on his teeth—hands shook through the entire interview. Jongin was worried he'd smoke in bed, fall asleep, and burn the place down."
"Fair enough. Applicant number three?" This wasn’t so bad, Joonmyun tried to reassure himself. He could do this. He could share an apartment with Jongin without getting thrown out.
Sehun’s eyes crinkled with mirth. "Jongin showed him the duty roster, like who would clean on which days, etcetera. And the dude said, you mean I'll have to clean. . .? Jongin was like, okay, we're done."
"Chores are. . .that's how sharing a place works. Like I'm untidy but I do like my home to be clean." Joonmyun let out a long exhale of relief. This was going to be fine. Living with Jongin was something he could do.
"See? Nothing to worry about. You guys will be great together! You'll never want to move out!" Sehun sounded just a little bit too cheerful to be sincere but whatever. He’d moved in and he’d just have to deal with it.
It was going to great. Living with Jongin was going to be great. Just great.
Joonmyun couldn't have been more wrong.
Living with Jongin wasn't hell exactly, but Joonmyun never felt completely relaxed. His previous roommates hadn't cared when he left things lying around, but he wasn't comfortable doing that here, not when he knew Jongin was irritated by mess.
After a long day of meetings and projects, and the stress of dealing with colleagues and clients, Joonmyun really needed to be able to. . .well, dump his shit anywhere he liked when he got home. But he couldn't do that anymore, and it was wearing him down.
There was a long list of do's and don'ts—most of which were reasonable and nothing Joonmyun couldn't manage. But it was a long list, and some items just seemed nitpicky to him. Honestly, what was wrong with throwing a wet bath towel on the floor and leaving it there to dry?
"Everything," Jongin had said with frown. "Wet towels are depositories for fungus, mold, and bacteria. Just use the towel rail, Joonmyun. That's what it's for."
Sighing, Joonmyun had picked up the towel, and dutifully draped it over the steel rail. One day he’d forgotten, and he’d found his towel draped neatly on the rail—the terry cloth stretched out so flat, and so symmetrically that he knew he hadn't been the one to fling it there. Later, Jongin had grumbled ominously about towel rails being put on this earth for a reason. Joonmyun wisely withheld comment and worked harder at remembering.
It was tiring.
Jongin also insisted on dishes being done right after they were used—which was fine, except when Joonmyun was running late for work. Surely leaving dirty dishes in the sink never killed anyone, he’d asked. But Jongin had explained, with a firm voice and serious expression, that cockroaches were the scourge of the earth. And if Joonmyun kept leaving dirty dishes around, the apartment would be overrun with cockroaches by the end of the month.
Sighing, Joonmyun had dutifully washed his milk-splashed cereal bowl, spoon, and coffee mug while Jongin sat at the pine breakfast table, sipping his Earl Grey. On Day 5 after moving in, Joonmyun had overslept. He’d left stained coffee cup clattering on crumb-covered dish as he sprinted out of the kitchen. That night, he’d come home to find everything washed and put away, and guilt had formed in his gut like a cold, hard stone.
At dinner, he’d braced himself for sarcastic remarks about him paying for the exterminator, but Jongin had only asked him to pass the salt and then they’d talked about work and family and other mundane things. The stone in his gut had grown to the size of a rock by the end of the meal. With a sigh of resignation, Joonmyun had begun setting his alarm a half hour earlier.
But the most stressful part of living with Jongin wasn’t that he’d had to check his messy ways or that he’d had to start waking up earlier. The hardest part of living with Jongin, was Jongin himself, because Joonmyun had had a low key crush on him since high school. By some miracle, Sehun had never picked up on how awkward Joonmyun got around Jongin. He could only hope that Jongin was equally oblivious, because after eight years, this was clearly a crush going nowhere.
Jongin was only two years older than Sehun and himself, but he had always been so mature and distant that it felt more like a five year gap. Jongin hadn't hung out with them much, spending most of his time in his room—which was a blessing since being near him turned Joonmyun's ears scarlet and destroyed his ability to form coherent sentences. It hadn't helped that Jongin was tall, lean, and broad in the shoulders, with sherry-colored eyes that often frowned at him.
Eventually, Jongin had moved to the city for college and Joonmyun hadn't seen much of him for the next six years (well, except for summer holidays. Summer holidays had been such a challenge). Until now. He’d assumed his crush on his best friend's older brother had faded and died a natural death, but now Jongin was everywhere, all the time. And Joonmyun had discovered, to his horror, that his crush on Jongin was very much alive.
It was an extra special kind of torture sharing space with someone who only saw him as his little bro's best bud. On the one hand, he was constantly in Jongin’s orbit and got to see a lot of him. But on the other, having him so close by only made Joonmyun want him more.
But you can't have more, Joonmyun heard the tiny voice in his head, and his hands curled into fists.
"—Joonmyun?" A deep, familiar voice cut into his reverie.
"Yeah?" Joonmyun tried his best to sound nonchalant even though the way Jongin said his full name always tugged at some part of his chest.
"I’m going out on the balcony to have a beer. Wanna join me?" Jongin was standing in the doorway to his room, hands in his pockets. He should have looked relaxed, but something about the set of his shoulders hinted at tension.
"I'll be there in a minute—just need to save some files," he said with false cheer.
Joonmyun had no files to save. He hadn't even been using his laptop. He'd just been sitting there, thinking about how lame he was for crushing on his roommate. But he needed a few minutes to just. . .collect himself? Not make a total fool of himself? Not puke? They'd been sharing the apartment for two weeks, but this was the first time Jongin had initiated something out of their ordinary routine. He needed a moment.
I can do this. I can go out on that balcony and be an adult.
Who was he kidding? He was totally going to be a nervous fifteen year old. Joonmyun groaned, tiny waves of mild panic creeping over him.
"Well. This is kind of awkward," Joonmyun announced, after five minutes out on the balcony. He'd been sitting there, agonizing over whether to say something, or just continue to sit there in strangled silence. Why had Jongin even asked him out here if all they were going to do was sit there, and drink, and say nothing? He might as well have had his beer alone.
"Shouldn't we be saying things or, or. . .conversing or something?" he'd asked, finally. What was there to lose? He'd made everything awkward anyway.
"Only if you want. I'm not really. . .good at that kind of thing."
"Conversing?" Joonmyun raised an eyebrow curiously—forgetting for a moment that he was talking to his crush.
"People find me abrasive," Jongin said honestly, shrugging as he took a sip of Miller's. "It's just easier to not say anything unless there's something important that needs saying."
"You mean like asking me not to leave my towel on the floor?"
"What?" Jongin frowned in surprise before he caught the joke. He cracked a smile and it was the first time Joonmyun had seen it in the two weeks he'd lived here. "Yeah, exactly like that. Trust me, fungal infections are nasty."
"Does that get tiring? Having to have everything in its place? Like a little mess never killed anyone?" Joonmyun watched him curiously.
"I just. . .don't like mess. I never have. I was that kid who sorted his Lego blocks according to shape and color—in that order. It kind of evolved from there, I guess," Jongin said, shrugging.
"I'm sorry I'm not neat. I hope that having me around doesn't stress you out too much. I was that kid who left his blocks everywhere—on the couch, on the dining table, the floor. The number of times my mom yelled at me because she stepped on one of my blocks in the dead of night."
"Don't leave things on the floor for me to step on or trip over and we should be good.” Joonmyun couldn't tell if Jongin was serious or joking—he was too enthralled with Jongin’s eyes watching him, too distracted by his wry smile.
Tearing his gaze away from the attractive man before him, Joonmyun stood up abruptly. He leaned over the balcony rail—taking in the blanket of lights laid out on the earth, and the one twinkling at them from above. It was a clear night, and the late summer breeze kept the air just cool enough that Joonmyun's shirt didn't stick uncomfortably to his back.
"I'll try to be less messy but I'm never going to be you," he said quietly.
"I don't expect you to, Joonmyun. I never expected that from Sehun either. I just, well, complained when he left his crap around the apartment or left food and drink out. I didn't think less of him because he got a little messy from time to time. I just told him when things needed tidying up—just like I do with you."
It gave Joonmyun some relief that Jongin didn't expect more from him than he'd expected from Sehun. But at the same time, there was the knowledge that Jongin probably saw him as an extension of Sehun, a second little brother he had to sort out. It created a bitter pang, deep in his chest.
"Thanks, I guess. . ." Joonmyun's voice faded into the night—eaten up by disappointment.
"I swear it's getting hotter every summer," Jongin grumbled from his corner of the balcony, and Joonmyun imagined him taking a swig from the dark brown bottle in his hand.
"I was just thinking the temperature tonight was just nice."
"I'm sure your dream destination is somewhere hot."
"It's Santorini Island, how did you guess?" Joonmyun turned to face Jongin, a laugh hovering on his lips.
"You used to be a human burrito in winter. I could barely see your face for all the scarves and beanies and earmuffs. It makes sense you'd prefer some tropical island resort." Jongin was grinning now and it made him look so boyish and so handsome that Joonmyun felt lightheaded.
"You don't like tropical island resorts? What's your dream holiday destination then?"
"The Ice Hotel in Finland."
"Sounds cold enough to freeze your nuts off," Joonmyun shuddered.
"Basically. I'm not sure what I'd actually do when I get there, but it's something I need to see and experience. A bucket list thing. I want to see the structure for myself—see how the hotel is built. An architectural geek-out holiday," he explained, a little embarrassed by the admission.
Jongin was an architect by profession, and it seemed by passion too. Joonmyun wondered what it was like to be passionate about work that way. He supposed he enjoyed being a graphic designer—but it was not something he enjoyed so much he’d choose to go somewhere on holiday specifically to study things that would hone his design skills. It was just a job; it paid the bills, and that was it.
I guess architecture is more than just a career for you.
For a single moment, Joonmyun was overcome by a flicker of envy. Would he ever feel this committed to anything?
"Are you planning on going anytime soon?" Joonmyun leaned back against the balcony rail, taking a thoughtful sip.
"Actually, I'm planning on going next year. Been saving up for a while. I might have enough by then." Jongin raised the sweating beer bottle to his lips and drank.
"That's great! I doubt I'll be doing Santorini so soon.” Joonmyun turned to face the night sky again so he wouldn't be tempted to stare at Jongin.
"I'm sure you'll make it there soon. What’ll you do when you’re there?"
"You shouldn't have asked me that because I have this detailed itinerary all planned out—" Joonmyun began excitedly, and it was only much later, when they were walking back into their respective rooms, that Joonmyun realized they'd continued talking long after the beer was gone. Jongin had actually been conversing—not just saying things that needed saying.
Joonmyun kept turning that thought over and over in his head as he lay in darkness. They’d had an actual conversation—one that had his mind restless and his heart thrumming. He wanted it to happen again, but in the same heartbeat, he was terrified it would only make him fall harder. But for tonight at least, they'd just been talking for the sake of talking. That had to mean something, didn't it?
Joonmyun really needed it to mean something.
"Dude, you've been staring at the same spot on your screen for three minutes. Are you waiting for it to give you answers to the mysteries of the universe?" That acerbic wit and deep voice. It could only be Kyungsoo.
"It's too early in the morning for that much sarcasm, man." Joonmyun lay his cheek on his desk, peering blearily at his colleague.
"You're either hungover or you've got boyfriend trouble—but your eyes aren't bloodshot so I'm gonna go with the latter."
"Too early in the morning," Joonmyun groaned.
"Talk. We're on a tight deadline. Get it out of your system because we can't afford to have you spending hours staring at your screen doing shit all. Talk."
"I hate you."
"I hope it helped you to say that," Kyungsoo snorted. "Now that we've got that out of the way? Talk."
"I really, really, really hate you, okay? I just want to make that clear. But fine, I'll talk. Let's say, you've had a crush on someone for like. . .years. And you thought you'd gotten over them, but suddenly you have to spend lots of time with them and your dumb crush floats back up from whatever depths it had sunk to and now, all you can think about is them."
"Must be the new roomie, then. That's the only new element in your social sphere," Kyungsoo announced with annoying certainty. He could be irritatingly perceptive.
"It doesn't matter who it is. What the hell do I do?"
"Tell him you like him, to be honest. If you've liked him for as long as you say, you might as well. What's the worst that can happen? He doesn't like you back and he tells you and you move on," Kyungsoo advised with a shrug.
"How do you move on when you still have to share the same apartment? It would be hella awkward," Joonmyun lay his forehead on the desk.
"You're assuming he doesn't like you back."
"He doesn't like me back. There are literally no signs," Joonmyun groaned.
"Maybe he's just covering his trail really well. Tell him. Live a little. But anyway, whatever happens, I need you to be two hundred percent focused on the Heavenly Homes account now. Roomie will have to wait." Kyungsoo gave him an awkward pat on the back before leaving his cubicle. “I’ll be back with coffee. Meanwhile, you can peel your face off your desk and get to work.”
Kyungsoo was not one for sugarcoating and Joonmyun was used to his ways. He really did have to focus on their team project i.e. make cheap looking houses look classy and expensive. Anyway, work was the least of his problems. It was the fear of blurting his feelings out to Jongin that was killing him.
He just had to figure out a way to not like Jongin so he could continue to enjoy the benefits of living ten minutes' walk from his workplace. Because if he didn't succeed in extinguishing his inconvenient feelings, he might just have to find some place else to live.
Joonmyun didn't want that.
For the next six weeks, the roommates co-existed in a peculiar state of limbo where Joonmyun pretended he wasn't pining. He tried his best to follow the house rules, but of course, he messed up now and then. Sometimes Jongin called him out on it, but mostly, he just quietly fixed it. Jongin was also spending less and less time in his room, and more time in the common areas with Joonmyun. They’d even discovered they both liked Bones and CSI: Las Vegas. It was actually kinda nice spending time with Jongin. It was nice in a way that made his chest ache.
It also confused the hell out of him. He was used to Jongin being distant and irritable, not approachable. Since their bonding-over-beer-on-the-balcony session, Jongin had become less guarded, less aloof around him. Sometimes he said things that needed saying and other times, the two men could talk and discuss and contemplate the world over a meal or beer or coffee. And each time they they spoke to each other for longer than just a few hurried minutes, Joonmyun's heart couldn't help unfurling its delicate wings in a kind of cautious hope.
He hated that Jongin made him so unsteady. Sure, he'd had crushes on guys in college and even dated a couple, but they never once made him feel like someone else was at the wheel. And Jongin didn't even have to try. He wore clothes that were incredibly bland, and he wore his dark hipster frames like they were a shield against the world. He had gorgeous dark hair, but he kept it short and nondescript. Then there was his guarded, sometimes prickly personality. On the outset, Jongin really didn't seem to have that much going for him, and yet, Joonmyun couldn’t get enough of his company.
Two weeks ago, he’d found a copy of Architectural Design Daily on the breakfast table, folded open to page 32. It was a three-page article on Santorini, and a grin had broke out on Joonmyun’s face that had lingered for most of the day. When he thanked Jongin at dinner, he’d looked flustered. “I just happened to see it,” he said before changing the subject. Last Friday, Joonmyun was taking his last spoonful of mango yogurt when he was struck by this niggling feeling that he'd left the water running, and sure enough, he’d left the tap on. When he got back to the kitchen, Jongin was gone. Joonmyun’s clean coffee mug and spoon lay dripping on the drying rack, and there was no sign of his empty yogurt tub.
They were little things that made Joonmyun hope that maybe he was more than just a roommate to Jongin, and had him seesawing between hope and insecurity. But well, he would just have to deal. Sighing, he turned the key and pushed the front door open. Toeing his shoes off, he walked further into the cool cave of the apartment. He wondered where Jongin was.
They usually had dinner at home a few nights a week, but Jongin had texted him earlier: Deadline at work. Won’t make it back for dinner. Jongin usually did the cooking because Joonmyun had five dishes he could cook reasonably well and they'd worn out his repertoire within the first fortnight of his moving in.
Sarcastically, Jongin had suggested that Joonmyun should think about making time to watch the Food Network every now and then, and Joonmyun had given him the finger in reply. Jongin had just laughed and taken over most of the cooking duties, while Joonmyun got away with doing the dishes. Of course, Jongin had turned out to be a superb cook. Like Joonmyun needed a reason to like him more.
As he walked further into the apartment, Joonmyun heard voices coming from the dining area. The thing was. . .Jongin never had anyone over except Sehun, and the second voice in the apartment wasn't Sehun's. In fact, it wasn't even male. Chest contracting, Joonmyun approached the dining room.
Was Jongin seeing someone? He'd never heard Sehun mention a girlfriend or a boyfriend, but why had he assumed there wasn't one? Maybe Jongin had a girlfriend who lived out of state and they Skyped each other every night and she was here to visit. Maybe she was some crush he'd asked over for. . .He couldn't even finish the thought as the tightness in his chest intensified.
Jongin and a woman with long, blonde hair were poring over blueprints, heads bent close in deep discussion. They were so engrossed they didn't even realize there was a third person in the room. Then Jongin was pointing at the scale model of a seaside resort he'd been slaving over for weeks and the woman straightened, hand on hip. With high cheekbones and hazel eyes, she was stunning. Worse still, she looked like a nice person—someone Joonmyun would like hanging out with. He had no doubt she was someone whose company Jongin enjoyed. He gripped the straps of backpack, knuckles turning white. Dammit, why was this shit happening to him?
"Joonmyun, you're back." Jongin looked up from the charts spread out across the table. He frowned slightly, like his eyes were struggling to focus. "Have you eaten? There's some pizza left if you're hungry." Jongin's eyes were red and bleary—like he hadn't slept much the night before. Joonmyun wanted to ask if he was all right, but. . .no, he couldn't.
"Nah, I'm fine. I grabbed a burger on the way home. You guys should just keep that for later. For when you. . .y'know, get hungry or something." Joonmyun glanced at the woman, who’d looked up when Jongin started talking.
"Hi," she greeted, waving at him with a warm, if slightly distracted smile on her face. "I'm Soojung."
"Hi, I'm Joonmyun," Joonmyun replied, trying his best to give her an enthusiastic smile.
"You sure you don't want some pizza, Joonmyun?" Jongin was frowning again and Joonmyun couldn’t figure out why he was doing that—just like he couldn’t figure out why Jongin still called him by his full name when practically the entire known universe called him Myun. Was it something to do with his need to have things in order? His name had to be said in full and not in pieces? But he’d heard him call other people by their nicknames and some of them hadn’t even known Jongin as long as Joonmyun had. It troubled him. Maybe he’d ask Jongin about it one day. Or not, he thought moodily.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’m just gonna head to my room. Good luck finishing everything,” he said as he scratched the back of his neck, his eyes trained to the ground. “So, I’ll just. . .go,” Joonmyun said before ducking his head and making a hasty exit.
It was only when he reached his room that he realized Jongin hadn’t introduced his project partner to him properly. He hadn’t explained if she was a girlfriend or just a colleague or someone from another company. He wondered if this had been due to defective social skills (highly likely) or the fact that Jongin had just been too tired to think about social niceties.
Joonmyun sighed; he really hadn’t liked how tired Jongin had looked.
He peered at them from inside the kitchen as he poured water into his mug—the liquid sloshing up and over the sides as his eyes focused on the two architects in the dining room instead of the glass carafe he'd taken out of the fridge.
If Jongin and Soojung were flirting, they were being very discreet. In a kind of intellectual trance, they switched between keying things into their laptops and feverishly scribbling notes on paper and blueprints. At one point, Jongin tucked his short pencil behind his ear. It made him look young—vulnerable, almost. Joonmyun couldn't remember ever seeing Jongin look this way. When he'd run out of water and excuses to hang around the kitchen, he'd walked past them on the way to his room. No one noticed and Joonmyun told himself that it didn't sting at all.
Joonmyun had breakfast with a zombie. He'd taken one look at Jongin’s ravaged state and made him a cup of double strength Earl Grey. He grunted something that sounded like thanks when Joonmyun slipped him a bagel generously slathered with cream cheese.
"You eating tonight?" Joonmyun asked as he watched Jongin take sleepy but hurried bites of bagel.
"No. This whole week is looking like last night. Some design issues we need to work out." Frustration stained his words and carved lines into his forehead.
"If you need me to cook—?" Joonmyun offered as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.
"Nah, that won't be necessary. But thanks. Soojung and I will just grab something quick or call in."
"So she's coming over again?"
"Yeah, we have to get this thing sorted by Friday morning no matter what," Jongin said, sighing before he took a sip of tea.
"Is she your colleague? You never actually said."
"What, Soojung?" Jongin asked before swallowing the last of the bagel. "She's been my colleague for two years. We work well together. Same design approach and work ethics, I guess." He ended his explanation with a small, exhausted shrug.
"Do you guys hang out a lot?" Joonmyun asked, feeling very much like he was trapped in a scene from a clichéd teen movie.
"Hang out? We go to the movies sometimes, and architectural exhibits. Do things with other people from work." Jongin was watching him now. His eyes had gone from bleary to alert—curious even.
"You're not dating, are you?" Joonmyun's left thumb stroked the back of his right hand—short, jerky movements that did nothing to calm him. "Not. . .that that's any of my business."
"Sometimes, I get the feeling Soojung might be interested, but—" Jongin let his words trail off like he'd been about to say something before thinking better of it.
"But?" Joonmyun looked up at him expectantly.
"Let’s talk about this later. I-I have to go." Jongin stood up all of a sudden and began reaching for his breakfast things.
"It's okay, I'll wash those. Just go to work," Joonmyun insisted and it was testament to how worn out Jongin was that he didn't even argue. With a heavy heart, Joonmyun watched as Jongin left the kitchen, looking weary and drained.
Are you interested in Soojung, too?
Joonmyun had a feeling he wouldn't like the answer to that question.
Joonmyun let himself into the apartment after standing in the corridor for about a minute. He'd had a difficult day at work because the houses that Heavenly Homes built were anything but heavenly, and making them look idyllic had used up every ounce of energy he possessed. Now, he’d have to watch Jongin and his colleague working together—possibly falling for each other a little, or maybe even a lot.
He found them in the kitchen this time—heads bent over takeaway containers. He arrived just in time to see Soojung expertly plucking a piece of meat from Jongin's ramen. His roommate didn't react, like it was something natural that happened all the time. Deciding he'd seen enough, Joonmyun left quietly before either of them noticed he was in the room.
Joonmyun had told himself he wouldn't go outside. It wasn't like this was a train wreck he couldn't stop himself from gawking at. Yet he found himself in the kitchen with a glass in his hand, a mere twenty minutes after he got home. He sipped the water very slowly, straining to hear voices from the dining room. There was nothing but the tapping of laptop keys being hit. At least Jongin and Soojung had registered his presence this time—throwing preoccupied hellos in his direction as he’d walked past them earlier.
Half an hour later, he was back in the kitchen. Joonmyun usually just grabbed an apple or a pear from the refrigerator and stuck it under running water for a few seconds. Then he'd fling off the water and start taking bites out of it. But tonight he felt an inexplicable need to meticulously peel his apple, and cut it into neat slices. Once he’d finished with one apple, he decided he might as well peel and slice another two for Jongin and Soojung. It seemed petty not to do so and besides, Jongin might not have had time to eat any fruit in the last few days with his hectic schedule. He knew he was being pathetic, but Joonmyun placed the indigo-colored dish of apple slices on the table anyway.
“Joonmyun, thank you so much!” was Soojung’s effusive acknowledgement of his gesture, while Jongin mumbled something that sounded like thanks. Feeling self-conscious because of Soojung’s warm response, and slightly aggrieved because of Jongin’s tepid one, Joonmyun retreated to his room. Making a frustrated noise, he back dived onto his mattress. He knew Jongin was tired and stressed but it wouldn’t have killed him to show a little more gratitude or enthusiasm or. . .something.
He reached for his phone and speed dialled his best friend.
Hearing Sehun’s low, deep voice usually calmed him, but now it just reminded him too much of his older brother’s voice.
“Jongin. . .he’s dated right?”
“Probably? I mean I’m sure he’s dated. He’s twenty-seven and he’s not a complete troll. So I guess yeah?”
“What do you mean probably! Has he or hasn’t he?” Joonmyun was trying really hard not to sound mad but he was pretty damned sure it wasn't working.
“Why is this so important you had to call me at ten-thirty at night and yell at me?” A note of suspicion had entered Sehun’s voice.
“Think! Has he ever mentioned liking someone called Soojung?”
“Oh, I know Soojung. They work together, but he’s never said anything about liking her. . .but you know Jongin—he isn’t exactly the gossipy type. Why so curious? Is there anything you need to tell me?”
“Nothing,” Joonmyun said quietly.
“Dude, I’ve known you for ten years. Nothing, my ass. Tell me.”
“I. . .I’ll tell you when I figure things out.”
“Wait, do you have a thing for Soojung? I mean I didn’t know you liked girls but you could, right?” Sehun asked curiously.
“But why are you asking about her then? Unless. . .oh my God. You like Jongin? But you’ve never—you didn't even want to move in with him! I had to force you.”
"Would you want to move in with someone you like, who doesn't like you back?" Joonmyun asked, sighing loudly. There was a pause on the other side, before Sehun cleared his throat.
"I thought you were just worried you guys would clash because you're messy and he's not. I never expected you to be—" There was silence on the other end of the line, and Joonmyun could just picture Sehun gesticulating wildly while he struggled to find the right words.
"Into him? Yeah. Not exactly something I wanted either." Joonmyun’s eyes traced the swirling patterns on his bedroom wall—it beat trying to figure a way out of this shitty situation.
"I really didn't see that coming." Sehun sounded kind of shell-shocked. "Have you told Jongin?"
"He's definitely not interested, so I'm not gonna make things awkward by telling him I've liked him since high school."
"Dude," Sehun said softly, his voice tinged with sympathy. “That long?”
“Pretty much,” Joonmyun admitted—shutting his eyes and feeling sorry for himself.
“I’m sorry I never picked up on it. I mean, I don’t know what I could have done if I’d known but maybe I could have done something?”
"Nah, it’s cool. It’s not exactly something I wanted anyone to know,” Joonmyun said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I just hope Soojung won't be around here all the time though. I mean if they hook up. That might suck."
"I don't know what to say, man. I've lived with the guy for years and he's never brought anyone home. Maybe he's never dated all this time, and maybe he's dated loads of people. I just. . .don't know. He's my brother—I should have asked."
"Don't ask," Joonmyun said—eyes heavy with despair as he shut them.
"Myun?" Sehun’s voice was full of concern.
"Don't ask him about Soojung, and especially don't tell him about me."
"But what if he—" Sehun tried to protest.
"I'm not sure I could handle knowing for a fact that your brother isn't into me. Some things I’d rather not know. Y’know what I mean?" Joonmyun’s fingers curled and uncurled around a section of bedsheet.
Sehun didn’t sound happy about it but he stopped pushing the issue. Feeling like he’d already confessed too much, Joonmyun wished him a hasty good night and ended the call. Just like that, he was alone again—lying in his room with his phone cradled in his hand, the screen dark and empty.
I should switch off the lights and sleep.
I should stop moping.
Joonmyun knew there were a lot of things he should do. But in the end, all he did was fall into a fitful sleep, with the lights blazing overhead.
His sleep being as disturbed as it was, Joonmyun heard the knocking almost immediately. Harsh light poking at his eyes, he just lay there for a few seconds, refusing to answer. But the knocking started up again and he knew ignoring Jongin was childish and stupid.
“It’s not locked,” he answered finally, his voice reluctant. Lifeless.
The door opened to reveal a drained looking Jongin in navy blue cotton pajama pants and white tee. His hair was still damp from his shower, and he wasn’t wearing glasses for a change. He was so beautiful, and Joonmyun‘s heart twisted with a yearning so deep it threatened to spill over and make itself heard.
“Hey,” Jongin said as he sat down heavily on Joonmyun’s swivel chair and wheeled it closer to the bed.
“You met your deadline?” Joonmyun asked, a little overwhelmed as there was only a foot of space separating Jongin and him.
“I wish!” Jongin answered, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “But we'll get there. In the end.”
“Was there something you wanted to tell me? It's late.”
“The thing is, I don’t have the time or the headspace to talk about this now, but. . .I don't think it can wait,” Jongin said, dragging his hand through his hair in frustration.
“Okay, but I still don't know what this is about. Did I leave anything lying around? I’ll take care of it tomorrow. I'm not dealing with that shit now.” Joonmyun hated how bitter he sounded but he was too wrung out to care.
“You looked upset earlier—when you gave us the fruit,” Jongin said as he regarded him with guarded eyes.
“Maybe,” Joonmyun shrugged.
“Is it because we’re taking up space outside and you feel you can't use the sitting room or the TV? It's your apartment too, Joonmyun. You shouldn't feel like you can't use any part of it. We wouldn't even be here but it's too noisy at Soojung’s place, and some people got mugged outside our office building this year. At night, I mean. It was just safer, more conducive to work here.” Jongin watched him intently the entire time he was speaking.
Feeling even more tired now than he had earlier, Joonmyun rested his right forearm over his eyes. “You don't need to explain. It’s no big deal.”
“You're upset. I want to know what’s upset you,” Jongin insisted but Joonmyun said nothing—turning to face the wall instead.
“Is it because I said Soojung might be interested in me?” Jongin’s voice was quiet, and his hand, warm on Joonmyun’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I didn't finish my sentence this morning.”
“What were you going to say?” Joonmyun turned to face Jongin. His heart was a hummingbird, its wings beating urgent and quick.
“I was going to tell you then that I wasn't interested in her, but I changed my mind because I didn't want to do it on three hours’ sleep. I wanted to do it when I didn't have this dumb deadline on my mind, because you deserve more than a hurried explanation.” Jongin's eyes were tired but somehow lit with emotion.
“Okay, you're not into her, I get it.”
“It’s a little more than that, Joonmyun. She never had a chance because I was already into someone else.” Jongin’s expression was so serious and so tired that Joonmyun just wanted to tuck him into bed and make him sleep, even though he both wanted and didn’t want to know who Jongin was into.
“I’m glad you have someone you like, Jongin. Truly. But it’s late and we could both do with some sl—”
And then it happened. Calm and sure, Jongin took Joonmyun’s hand, and slid his palm over his, "I know my personality sucks, and I'm cranky and picky, but maybe, could you—Joonmyun, would you consider being into me?”
“I—” Too shocked to speak, Joonmyun just looked down at Jongin’s hand, wrapped securely around his own. Was Jongin into him? He barely even dared voice the thought but Jongin taking his hand in his—it had to mean something, didn’t it? Heart in his throat, Joonmyun sat up in bed and turned to face Jongin. Their knees bumped each other, giving him a jolt. “I don’t understand,” Joonmyun said in a voice that was soft and more than a little breathless.
“I know you hate the cold and you’d rather go to sunny Greece, but would you think about going to Finland with me? We could stay at the Ice Hotel, and maybe spend a night in a glass igloo? I know it’s a lot to ask but, yeah." Even with how tired he was, Jongin’s skin seemed flushed—like his words had taken a lot out of him.
"Are you. . .Jongin, are you asking me out? In a really roundabout way?" Joonmyun stared at him, lips twitching as he tried not to smile. Jongin's cheeks were endearingly pink as he gripped his knee with his free hand.
"I guess you could say that. I actually have quite a bit of vacation money put away because, well, I've never been much of a big spender. And I probably have enough saved up for Santorini too," he said as he stared at their linked hands.
"Jongin, are you trying to sweep me off my feet?" Joonmyun leaned forward so their noses were almost touching.
"I'm not one for grand gestures so no, I'm not trying to sweep you off your feet," Jongin muttered. "I am, however, asking you to go on a holiday with me. If that means we need to date first, then yeah, I guess I'm asking you out. Wow, I am totally screwing this up. Sehun’s always said my people skills suck. There's so much truth in that."
"Yes." Joonmyun managed to utter only that single word because his hummingbird heart was trying to beat its way right out of his chest.
"Yes?" Jongin looked up, his expression anxious. "Yes, you'll go to Finland with me? Yes, you'll date me, or yes, my people skills suck?"
"Yes to everything!" Joonmyun laughed and suddenly they were bumping noses as their lips met in a shy, awkward, breathy, first kiss that tasted of peppermint toothpaste and teenage crushes.
"You mean that?" Jongin sounded both elated and unsure as he ran his thumb slowly over Joonmyun's mouth. The brief flash of vulnerability made Joonmyun’s heart ache.
"I really do, Jongin. I've had eight years to think about it, so yes! Yes, I’m sure."
"Eight years?" Jongin asked and there was no hiding the shock in his voice.
"Yeah, about that. . .I've kind of had a crush on you since high school. I tried really hard to hide it, and I guess it worked."
"I never had a clue. But I guess you didn't either,” Jongin said with a wry smile.
"What do you mean?"
"I've liked you since my first year of college. I came home that summer and things were different. You were just Sehun's friend before, and suddenly, you weren't. Maybe it was because I went away and realized that every time I saw and did new things, the person I wanted to share them with wasn’t Jongdae—even though he was supposed to be my best friend. I just kept seeing your face when I was away. And I really, really wanted to see you, and talk to you. I wanted to all the time. But when I actually got home for the summer and you came over to hang out with Sehun, when you were actually right there in front of me, I couldn't deal,” Jongin said, looking down with a sheepish smile on his face. “So I just hid out in my room like an idiot instead of spending time with you and getting to know you."
Joonmyun’s lips parted in wonder, "But you never said anything and you growled at me all the time. I thought you hated me!"
"My people skills suck—I don't know how else to tell you this more clearly. If you date me, you need to know that I will often say things that piss you off. And you also need to know that I don't do romance. I'm twenty-seven and set in my ways, but I'll try to wear down some of my edges—for your sake. But there are certain things I can't change. You have to be okay with that,” Jongin said as he reached out to cup Joonmyun’s cheek. Joonmyun liked that his palm had calluses—he liked that the skin wasn't all smooth.
"I've been okay with your shit for years,” he pointed out.
"Yes, you have," Jongin smiled, his fingers tenderly brushing Joonmyun’s cheek.
“I suppose I could put up with it for a few more years,” Joonmyun said grudgingly even though his heart was bursting with more warmth than it could contain.
“Only a few more years? I’m kinda wounded, Joonmyun.”
“You’ll just have to convince me I want to keep you for longer,” Joonmyun said with a confidence he was still struggling to feel.
“Fair enough,” Jongin chuckled just before his lips slid over Joonmyun’s in a quick, shy kiss.
“I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time but why do you call me Joonmyun when we’ve known each other forever? I mean everyone we know calls me Myun except you.”
“Because no one else calls you that. I like being the only one to call you that.”
“I thought you said you didn’t do romance,” Joonmyun teased.
“I don’t!” Jongin looked almost indignant.
“Calling me Joonmyun because no one else does? I think that’s kind of romantic,” Joonmyun grinned, and this time, he was the one who caressed Jongin’s cheek and his strong jawline.
“I am never romantic,” Jongin insisted—but he leaned in and kissed him anyway. And Jongin’s lips pressed against his, his tongue moving gently against his, his arms folded around him—all this was more than Joonmyun could ever have hoped for and he never wanted it to end.
“I want to make out all night, but I have to be up in three hours and the project is due in two days’ time and ahhh, this is so frustrating,” Jongin groaned as his mouth trailed tired kisses on his neck. How could Joonmyun have forgotten that Jongin hadn't slept enough all week?
“Making out can wait,” Joonmyun turned so their foreheads touched and they lay facing each other on the bed, chest-to-chest.
“I don’t want you think that you’re less important than work, because you’re not.” Jongin said as his lips brushed Joonmyun’s cheek.
“I know, Jongin. And making out can wait. I mean, I’ve waited eight years on you so what’s a couple more days?” Laughing, Joonmyun brushed silky, dark hair off Jongin’s forehead. He’d somehow always known Jongin’s hair would be soft between his fingers and he’d been right.
“That’s true. But we can cuddle, right? Tell me quick so I don’t pass out before you give me your answer,” Jongin said sleepily as he draped an arm over Joonmyun’s back.
“Yes, we can cuddle,” Joonmyun answered and then he laughed as he heard the sound of Jongin’s gentle snore. “Making out will definitely have to wait,” he said as he snuggled closer to his roommate.
A/N: Comments and kudos are very much loved!