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Jongin likes to believe that you don’t need the excuse of a New Year to start over; you can do that with every new day. You can change the direction your life is going at anytime you want without needing the excuse of a New Year.

Even so, he must admit there is something about the New Year’s celebrations that has him feeling as if he can start again with a clean slate, like he can leave the burdens of the past year behind and make this year better. Sure you can change your life with any new day, but there’s something about a whole new year that is especially exciting, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t look at this as a new beginning.

It’s approximately ten minutes before midnight now. He shrugs on his denim jacket and grabs a bottle of beer from his fridge. After some brief reconsideration, he decides to grab two, just in case.

Slipping on his shoes, he steps out of his apartment window and onto the fire escape, and thinks briefly that the next time he’ll be in there, it’ll be a brand new year. It’s brisk out tonight, the city below him as loud and colorful as ever. His apartment building isn’t in the main heart of it all, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about not getting any sleep tonight.

He pulls himself up the fire escape, shoes clanking against the metal, step after step and floor after floor until he finally reaches the small ladder that he uses to pull himself to the rooftop. He nestles the two bottles of beer into his jacket and wonders if he can handle that much alcohol, even with the excuse of celebration.

It’s easier to hear the city when he’s up this high. As expected, it’s louder than usual tonight, the rush of cars and occasional honking distant from deep in the city.

What is not expected, however, is the figure standing at the edge of the rooftop.

Jongin blinks. No one but himself liked to frequent the rooftop much, considering it isn’t the most desirable place to hang out. It is New Year’s though, and the fireworks are due to set off when the clock hits midnight, so he understands, though he wonders why this stranger isn’t at some countdown party like normal people would be. Still, he feels awkward as he approaches the edge of the rooftop and the stranger that stands there, faced against the horizon with his hands in his pockets.

In the most inelegant and awkward way, Jongin clears his throat, which ultimately earns the man’s attention. The stranger turns his head in surprise at the sudden appearance, brows raised.

"Hello," Jongin greets with a genial smile as he comes to stand besides him, some feet away. It’s hard to see this stranger’s face in the dark, but the city grants him some kind of light, revealing that the man is someone he has yet to meet in the building, which can only mean one thing.

"You're the new neighbor, right?" Jongin asks after seconds of silence. The other man turns to him again, that same mildly surprised look on his face. It takes a few more seconds before the man's face falls, and he says something - in English.

Jongin is surprised, but even though he can't understand him, he nods nonetheless, understanding that the man probably couldn't speak Korean. The man seems to be searching for a word, and says it - "Hangul," he says, voice deep, then he makes a cross with his arms, face apologetic.

"Ah," Jongin says, smiling as an assurance that it was alright. After the other man smiles back in gratefulness, they both turn to face the city skyline again, shivering slightly in the cold. The silence between them is somewhat awkward, so Jongin mentally rummages through the English phrases stored in the back of his memory.

"What is your name?" Jongin asks the best he can in English. His voice is shaky and unsure, but the man besides him seems to understand with ease.

"Kyungsoo," he says with another small smile. So he is Korean, Jongin thinks. He's probably moved from another country, an English-speaking one that he must have grown up in.

"Jongin," he introduces himself, pointing a finger to his chest. Kyungsoo nods in understanding and turns away to face the city again. That awkwardness creeps back into the air around them, and Jongin desperately tries to think of what other English he can throw out, but then he begins to get the idea that maybe Kyungsoo might not want to talk in the first place. After all, he is here on their apartment rooftop, probably ruffled that his solitude was barged in on. Jongin contemplates leaving and simply watching the fireworks from his window, but he figures it would probably be even more awkward if Jongin were to just leave after making brief conversation with Kyungsoo.

So he purses his lips and sucks it up, glancing at his phone to check the time - 11:56 pm. Four minutes. He opens his bottle of beer and remembers the extra bottle he stuffed into his denim jacket before leaving his apartment. He figures it wouldn't hurt to distill this tension.

He pulls it out by the neck, opens it, and offers it to Kyungsoo, who once again looks mildly surprised. Kyungsoo takes it hesitantly, bowing his head a bit in a gesture of thanks of some sort.

11:57. Jongin grows impatient. It's these last few minutes of the year that are always the slowest, time clinging onto the year almost desperately before thrusting them into a whole new one. Jongin needs this new one. He needs a new start, a reason to begin again. This will be a better one. He's sure it is. He will make it better.

11:58. The purple lights of the city are brighter than they usually are, though that's no surprise, given the occasion. Seoul is more alive this night every year than the others. There are traces of gold here and there, but for some reason - with the crisp dark blue of the night - all of the lights glow purple.

11:59. Jongin's heart races, and he begins to hear the faint crowd of people deep in the city counting down. Kyungsoo besides him shuffles with the wind.

12:00. The first firework soars into the air, but Jongin can't watch as it bursts into the night sky, because Kyungsoo is holding out his bottle of beer to Jongin, neck out. With a smile, Jongin clinks bottles with Kyungsoo, and they drink, gazes drawn back to the now explosive skyline. It's loud as hell, but worth it - neon blues, yellows, and reds bursting in the sky as the faint sound of wild cheers brim beneath the explosions. Jongin smiles to himself at the sight, and something in him lifts at the thought of a new year in front of him.

The stranger besides him is smiling too, bottle in hand, and Jongin is surprised when their gazes meet amidst it all. He becomes entranced when he sees the color of the fireworks reflected in Kyungsoo's brown eyes, feeling suddenly warm in his chest. Kyungsoo smiles wider now, and it's then that Jongin realizes he's been staring too long, clearing his throat and turning away to face the fireworks in the city again. He hears a chuckle besides him, and promptly reddens, hands fidgeting with the label on his beer bottle.

"Happy New Year," Kyungsoo is suddenly saying - but in shaky Korean. This brings Jongin's gaze back to him, and he purses his lips before nodding and forcing a smile, willing away the heat in his face.

"Happy New Year," he responds softly.

And with that, they each take another sip of their respective bottles, eyes drawn back to the fireworks display with promises of a better year.

 

 

He came in from America, according to Yifan.

The multilingual giant had chatted up Kyungsoo and helped him move into his apartment, which lies to the left of Yifan’s, whose apartment lies to the left of Jongin’s, leaving Kyungsoo two doors down from him.

“He’s teaching English here,” Yifan explains. “Just moved in last week, I think, and he starts in about half a month, after holiday season passes.”

Jongin hums, stuffing his laundry into the washer. “I met him on New Year’s eve. He seems nice.”

“He is,” Yifan assures. “He’s quiet. That’s understandable though, considering he probably doesn’t know anyone here. You should try and befriend him more, I know no one else in our building will.”

Jongin huffs out a scoff. “Right. Like I can hold an English conversation.”

Yifan shrugs. “Well, you can try. He knows a little Korean - like, the basic phrases. I’m sure you guys can get by somehow. He needs more friends here to help with the change.”

“I hardly know how to talk with people who do speak Korean,” Jongin says with a self-deprecating chuckle.

“You are awkward,” Yifan admits. “Hey, but he is too. Match made in heaven.”

Jongin rolls his eyes, dumping detergent into the washer.

“Why don’t you befriend him?”

“I’m not as likable as you,” Yifan says, though Jongin knows it’s just an excuse to not put in the effort.“You’re all, you know, eye smiles and romance novels and cheesy jokes. He’d take to you. Everyone does.”

Jongin huffs with a smile. Yifan makes him out to be more than he really is, but he supposes it couldn’t hurt to try and befriend the new guy. He seemed nice enough. And Jongin gets it, really - being alone in a new place is never easy.

“Alright,” Jongin gives in. “I’ll talk to him sometime.”

 

 

The aroma of dry seasonings come as smoke wisps that now drift off aimlessly into the night. Jongin leans forward to get a whiff of it, and smiles. He had not eaten at all since lunch, so it’s a little more appealing than it would usually be.

He’s on the rooftop tonight, his mini gas stove lit with a pot of boiling ramen on top. It’s warm for a January night, but he’s not complaining. He stirs the noodles with a pair of chopsticks, his other hand balancing a book on his knee as he reads and simultaneously cooks. It’s a point of silly pride, being able to multitask like this.

He tests a noodle by pulling it up with the chopsticks and sliding it between his teeth, but before he can even chew up - he suddenly has a guest.

A head pops up from the fire escape that leads to the roof. Jongin sees midnight black hair and a pair of curious eyes framed with blocky glasses. The stranger walks up more until his entire upper half is visible - and it’s Kyungsoo, dressed in a sweatshirt and clutching a notebook to his chest.

“Ah,” the man says upon seeing Jongin. “Sorry,” he says in English, and Jongin can understand that at the very least. He says something else in English now, but it’s a bit more complicated. However, judging from Kyungsoo’s apologetic face and the way he makes to move back down the fire escape, Jongin suspects he thinks he’s intruded.

He almost lets the man leave, until he very briefly remembers what Yifan had told him.

Befriend him. He might be lonely.

Jongin can’t help but empathize.

“Uh, hey!” Jongin shouts before he can leave. “Kyungsoo!”

The other man’s head pops up again, just half his face visible.

“Um,” Jongin says quietly. “Eat?”

He points to the pot of boiling noodles on the gas stove, hoping Kyungsoo gets the message. Slowly, the man steps further up onto the roof, looking wary and unsure. He eyes the roof around them, gaze drawn towards the straw mat Jongin’s set out over the concrete, the books he has in a pile nearby, and shoes that rest by the mat, stuffed with socks. The noodle packaging lies crumpled besides Jongin, next to another unopened pack of ramen.

Kyungsoo smiles modestly, nodding his head in understanding. Jongin senses that there will be a lot of awkward gesturing and nodding tonight.

The man takes a seat on the straw mat, toeing off his shoes and tentatively lowering himself besides Jongin.

Jongin hands the lid and chopsticks over to Kyungsoo, who eyes it in surprise. There’s this strange moment then, where Kyungsoo doesn’t know whether Jongin is trying to hand him the chopsticks, or feed him personally. He leans in a bit, as if going to take the noodles into his mouth, but pulls back in sheer awkwardness. He decides to simply - in the end - take the chopsticks and pot lid to feed himself.

Jongin feels that same awkward tension in the air again, the one that had been prevalent on New Years. Nonetheless, he smiles at Kyungsoo, watching as he eats up.

“Good?” Jongin asks. Kyungsoo - mouth preoccupied - manages a thumbs up. He hands the pot lid back to Jongin, cheeks stuffed with noodles, and Jongin smiles at the sight.

It’s quiet for most of the night, aside from the faded traffic coming from the city beyond, but Jongin doesn’t mind. He’s not always one for conversation anyway. Kyungsoo doesn’t seem uncomfortable either, eating up heartily when offered the chopsticks. There are brief awkward periods, but overall, it’s surprisingly comfortable. At one point, Kyungsoo makes a very loud slurping noise as he struggles to get a long piece of ramen into his mouth, and Jongin bursts into small laughter, which of course, only makes Kyungsoo laugh in return. Jongin burns himself with the boiling water on occasion as well, and Kyungsoo would look at him with concerned eyes before the former assures he is alright.

By the end of the night, Kyungsoo helps him roll the straw mat up and place it aside all the other junk on the rooftop. They clean thoroughly, because Jongin has been reprimanded by his landlady before for leaving a mess on the rooftop, even if he’d meant to clean it up in the morning.

By the time they are back in their hall, it’s still quiet between them. There is the stiff and obligatory tension that is ever present between two newly met acquaintances, but Jongin doesn’t think it has anything to do with the language barrier between them. In fact, he thinks it might be a little easier for him to befriend Kyungsoo because he’s always been a rather bad conversationalist.

As they approach their respective apartments, Jongin turns to give Kyungsoo a parting smile, ready to unlock his door and get a good night’s sleep, until Kyungsoo is calling him back.

“Jongin.”

There is a strange look in Kyungsoo’s eyes when Jongin turns to face him. It seems like he is trying to say what words cannot.

His lips pull into a soft smile. “Thank you,” he says softly, and in Korean.

Jongin is taken aback by the unexpected gesture, but nods anyway, returning the smile and mustering up as much warmth in it as he can.

When he enters his apartment that night and shuts the door, he feels that warmth himself, bubbling in his chest and making him feel a little fuzzy.

 

 

“Come again,” Jongin says with a friendly smile, handing the woman her book. She leaves, tucking the book under her arm.

No one appeared to have been waiting behind her, so Jongin takes a moment to relax and lean against the counter. The ever-present scent of coffee and printed paper are pleasing, and does wonders to his anxiety when he actually takes a second to immerse himself into his surroundings. It’s near closing time in the shop, and though Jongin loves his job, he wants to go home and eat yet another pack of ramen, though perhaps in the comfort of his own apartment this time. It had been considerably chilly out tonight.

A customer comes up to the checkout counter then, with a single book. Jongin’s always wondered how people can come in and buy only one book when they are surrounded by so many different worlds and characters, all at a hair’s width away. They have much more willpower than him, despite not having the best salary.

It’s when he meets eyes with the customer that a smile involuntarily grows on his face.

“Hi, Kyungsoo,” he says in English, and Kyungsoo looks surprised as well. He always seems to appear surprised around Jongin.

Looking for words he can not think of, Kyungsoo points to Jongin, then points towards the checkout counter between them, as if saying, “You work here?” He does it with a curious little tilt of his head, and he is wearing those glasses again, but paired with a hoodie this time.

Jongin nods in response, smiling as he moves to scan his book. Flipping it over - he sees that it is, unexpectedly, a Korean language dictionary.

He smiles even wider now, taking his glance up to Kyungsoo, who now shoves his hands into his pockets and smiles back sheepishly.

Jongin stuffs his book in a small plastic bag, waving him goodbye when he shoots him a last smile. For some reason, the whole encounter has him feeling ridiculously warm even if very few words were exchanged. Something about Kyungsoo himself is just warm, from his blocky glasses to his pleasant smile all the way to his cozy looking wardrobe made up of sweaters.

Kyungsoo’s making an effort to learn Korean, it seems. Maybe soon enough, Jongin will be able to have a substantial conversation with him that’s not all awkward smiles and tentative nodding. Perhaps he should broaden his horizons and make an effort to become more fluent in English as well.

So before he and his other late-night coworkers lock up for the night, he rings himself up, purchasing an English teaching textbook. He’d always been meaning to learn anyway. Kyungsoo is just a catalyst. A really cute one.

 

 

 

Today, he has a pile of laundry waiting for him.

He whistles a tune as he rides the elevator down to the laundry room, basket full of clothes held against his hip. He hasn’t seen Yifan in a few days, he muses. He hasn’t seen Kyungsoo either, the last time being at the book shop. Funny he ponders over this, because it’s Kyungsoo himself who stands pulling his clothes out of a dryer when Jongin reaches the laundry room.

The man spots him and raises himself to smile brightly at Jongin, eyes crinkling, and Jongin is a little in awe.

“Jongin,” he greets. Then, Kyungsoo’s eyes widen, like he’s remembered something, and he moves to grab a book that rests on top of the dryer. As he flips through it frantically, Jongin eyes the cover and sees that it’s the Korean dictionary he’d bought. Jongin chuckles, finding the man endearing, and moves to the closest washer.

“H-how are you, Jongin-ssi?” Kyungsoo asks in tentative Korean, his eyes scanning the pages. Then he lifts his head to eye Jongin in worry, like he might have said it wrong. Jongin chuckles once more, beginning to fill the washer with his clothes as he responds.

“I’m good, Kyungsoo. And you?” he says in Korean. At this, Kyungsoo furrows his eyebrows before he’s flipping through his book frantically again, presumably looking for the translation. Jongin is laughing fully now, setting his clothes aside to approach Kyungsoo. He shakes his head softly and smiles at him, lowering his book.

“It’s okay,” he says in English now. Then, he reaches for his phone in his pocket, bringing up a translator and typing in ‘I’m doing well. How are you?’ into the box, and presses the translate button before handing it off to Kyungsoo.

The shorter takes it hesitantly, and reads, chuckling at this much too complicated means of communication. Jongin eyes him fondly as Kyungsoo types in a response before handing his phone back to him.

‘I’m good too. I’m trying to learn Korean.”

Jongin smiles. With Kyungsoo, there always seems to be an involuntary quirk of Jongin’s lips, like it comes so naturally and effortlessly.

He types in a reply without thinking much. “I can tell. I picked up an English book too, so I can talk to you easier.”

The moment he hands it off to Kyungsoo to read, Jongin feels himself redden. Kyungsoo’s brows raise upon the response, and he glances at Jongin with a quizzical look in his eyes. Suddenly, Jongin feels foolish; for all he knows, Kyungsoo is learning Korean to make his new life here easier, not for conversation with Jongin.

He fidgets as Kyungsoo types out a reply and hands the phone to him, suddenly wanting to disappear.

“I want to talk to you easier, too. That would be really nice.”

Jongin reddens again, but for a different reason this time around. He clears his throat, hoping it isn’t obvious, but judging from the way Kyungsoo chuckles at him, it must be clear how taken aback he is. With that, Kyungsoo crouches to pull his basket up against his hip, giving Jongin a nod and the warmest smile as he makes to leave the laundry room.

“Bye, Jongin,” he says, in Korean. His voice is always so incredibly deep and timber that it never fails to have shivers running up Jongin’s spine, and he wishes he could it hear it more often. It’s funny, because this is one of those rare times where Jongin actively wants someone to talk to him, and it happens to be with the one person he can’t exactly have a proper conversation with.

He smiles and waves at Kyungsoo, watching as he leaves and deciding that he should definitely get started on that English textbook soon.

 

 

 

 

The night after, he is warm and comfortable in his own home, book in his lap and the television’s volume on low just for white noise. He finds the most comfort when he is lounged across his couch like he is now, woolen blanket over his lower body and mind immersed into another world. Today is a fantasy, an adventure. Those are the most thrilling, to him. Enough to take his mind off of things.

The protagonist has just come across a strange and wary creature when there is a knock on Jongin’s apartment door. Jongin’s eyes flash towards the clock hanging crooked on his wall. It’s eight in the evening. Who would be visiting at eight in the evening? As far as Jongin remembers, he’s given his monthly rent to the landlord already, and Yifan is out with some friends tonight. So as he raises himself begrudgingly from his comfortable spot on the couch, he’s left to grumble as he walks over to the door, dragging his blanket and book with him.

He swings it open, and is met with Kyungsoo’s eyes that appear even wider due to the glass in his eyeglasses, as well as the man’s soft little smile. Kyungsoo is holding a Tupperware container, filled with what appears to be tteokbokki. There’s a hopeful look in the man’s eyes, and the corner of his lip twitches up as he gets words out.

“Hi, Jongin,” he says in Korean. There’s that deep timber to his voice again, and Jongin feels it shoot down his spine once more. “Uh…” he next mutters, then he points a finger upwards, glancing up. “Rooftop?” he says feebly, voice small. There’s a faint dusting of pink across his cheeks, barely visible under the dull yellow glow of the hallway lights, but Jongin sees it anyway. He feels himself heat up as well, thinking about how Kyungsoo came over to specifically ask him if they can eat on the rooftop. Together. There’s that warm feeling flooding his chest again.

Nonetheless, Jongin smiles and nods, remembering his promise to befriend the man. With the way Jongin seems to be naturally drawn to him, it’s not a hard promise to see through.

 

 

Kyungsoo lays the container of tteokbokki between them, and Jongin sets up the gas stove, setting the pot full of water onto it. As they wait for it to boil, they will eat at Kyungsoo’s tteokbokki, and Jongin wants so desperately to ask if Kyungsoo made it himself or if it is store bought, but he didn’t bring his phone with him for the translator. And anyway, it would get tiring, having to converse with a translator all the time.

So when Kyungsoo hands him a pair of chopsticks and gestures for Jongin to have the first bite, he does gladly, and is met with a spicy and vibrant taste. If Kyungsoo made this himself, Jongin is impressed. It is softer and more explosive than street vendors’ tteokbokki, and he finds himself going in for another bite.

Kyungsoo gestures at the corner of his own mouth, and hands Jongin a napkin, chuckling. When he smiles like this, his cheeks go round and puff out, and Jongin is a little distracted as he takes the napkin. Nevertheless, he wipes at his mouth, and promptly earns an approving thumbs up from Kyungsoo, who’s still smiling all radiant and completely oblivious of the warmth stirring in Jongin’s chest.

Under his breath, Jongin hums a mellow tune of a song he’d been listening to for a while. He is in a strangely giddy mood, smiling and humming softly to himself as he hands the pot lid full of noodles over to Kyungsoo, who dumps the noodles into the tteokbokki and mixes it. Jongin chuckles.

“Wait,” Kyungsoo says, handing the pot lid back to Jongin and reaching for his back pocket, pulling out his phone. He scrolls through it quickly.

It isn’t long then before a familiar tune flows through the phone speakers, and it only takes a second before Jongin realizes it’s his song - the one he’d been humming just now. Kyungsoo grins knowingly at him, before setting his phone aside and digging into his ramen-tteokbokki combo.

And so they eat their impromptu dinner peacefully under the starless night, the placid melody of what appears to be a very mellow playlist drifting off into the cool air. Jongin finds it odd that it’s never quite uncomfortable between them, not really. There are things to fill the silence - the boiling of the water, the clanking of their chopsticks, the music wafting through the night. There are the lesser things too, not quite as loud - like the smiles they share, the comfort in the other’s presence, the way Kyungsoo steals glances at Jongin that the latter finds curious, but he’d be lying if he said wasn’t sneaking in looks as well.

 

 

Some nights later, they stick a movie in Jongin’s television. It’s a Korean one, but Jongin’s set it to have English subtitles so that Kyungsoo may subsequently enjoy the movie while learning a bit more about his native language. Jongin gets to read the subs and pair them with the Korean too, so it helps him as well. They’ve made some sort of progress on their attempts to becoming more fluent for the other, but they both know there is a long way to go before they can have a proper conversation. Anyway, there is no rush. Like Jongin already knows, words aren’t the base of their odd friendship-slash-relationship and have never been, as proven by tonight as they watch a nice comedy together.

There is a comfortable, friendly space between them on the couch, one that Jongin tries not to overthink. Earlier, they’d had some soup Jongin had made, and it was nice to have a dinner that wasn’t overly salted and made on a small gas stove. While having the night sky above them as they eat is nice and pretty, it’s equally nice to have a dinner away from pesky mosquitos once in awhile. It’s not as if they have dinner together every night - sometimes Jongin eats alone or with his friends, and Kyungsoo eats with his co-workers. The younger would be lying if he said he didn’t look forward to whenever they did eat together, however. That’s all they seem to know how to do together, he thinks to himself with a laugh. Eat, listen to music, and watch movies. That’s perfectly fine, he knows. He can’t help but yearn for more though, and this is where learning each other's languages come in hand.

No rush, no rush, no rush, Jongin reminds himself. He might believe their friendship isn’t based on words anyway, but he is also afraid that Kyungsoo will realize just how utterly terrible Jongin is at conversation. He’ll realize that he’s quiet in nature and incapable at finding the right words.

Jongin swallows nervously. Maybe, along with English, he should pick up a thing or two about socializing as well.

 

 

“Hey, it’s Jongin.”

There’s a pause on the other line, before the woman speaks up again. “Oh. Hi, Jongin.”

“Hi. Can you, ah, can you put mom on the phone? Or dad. Doesn’t matter. I just - I just want to wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh, I’m - I’m not over at their house today, actually.”

There are familiar voices in the background anyway, reminiscent of Jongin’s childhood, and he shuts his eyes.

“Okay. That’s okay. Sorry for bothering you. Happy Valentine’s Day, Jihye.”

“Yeah, okay. You too. Bye.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

Jongin sets his phone down, feeling slightly nauseated.

Jihye is always over at their parent’s house on Valentine’s Day. Every single year. Not one was missed since she moved out.

Jongin, on the other hand, has missed all of them since he moved out. If they actually let him in the house, maybe he would make the effort to visit them, like he did the first few years before ultimately giving up.

Heaving out a sigh, he lifts himself off the couch and shrugs on a jacket. He needs some company tonight - not necessarily in a romantic or physical way. Just in a friend way.

Two minutes later, he’s knocking at Kyungsoo’s door with two bottles of beer in his hand. It opens to the man himself, sans usual glasses and sweater. Instead he’s in a black t-shirt and his hair is wet, a small towel wrapped around his nape.

Kyungsoo glances at Jongin, then to the bottles of alcohol in his hands. In immediate understanding, he gives him a little smile, and nods.

 

 

It’s a starless night, a black and blank canvas hanging over them.

Jongin deems it amazing how far they’ve come without hardly speaking a word to each other. Then he supposes that friendships shouldn’t rely on words anyway. Just the other’s presence and how you feel with them. In this case, Jongin feels like words wouldn’t do it justice.

There’s a calm sheen aura that settles around them, lethargic and undisturbed. The city beyond is an expanse of multicolored lights that span the horizon, dotted along tall buildings. As always, the faint noise of traffic, even this late at night, is ever present, making Jongin feel even more unsettled. The city is constantly restless, as is Jongin.

Quiet stretches between them, but as always, there is nothing uncomfortable about it, or awkward. Jongin doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence between them when he’s with Kyungsoo, and somehow, he knows Kyungsoo feels the same. There is an unspoken agreement between them that acknowledges how quiet they can both be. Sometimes, all you need is a bit of company.

There’s a nudge at his arm, and he lifts his head, met with Kyungsoo’s worried expression. The man tilts his head in question, brows drawing together in concern. Jongin must be giving off a more somber vibe than usual tonight.

He shakes his head, dismissing it with a solemn smile. It’s not worth it, he thinks. Still, Kyungsoo nudges him again, a brow raised this time. He gestures, pointing to Jongin, then to himself, and finally, to his own ear.

You talk and I listen.

Jongin appreciates the gesture.

He chuckles bitterly, because Kyungsoo will not understand him and yet he is willing to stand here and listen. Kyungsoo just smiles reassuringly, and Jongin finds comfort in it anyway. If he goes off though, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop, the emotions pouring out until he’s an empty shell. At this point, maybe an empty shell is better than the flurry of emotions that storm within him.

“I don’t know,” Jongin starts, swallowing. Maybe it will be okay to vent to Kyungsoo, to just get it all out. He has nothing to be afraid of. He might even feel better afterwards.

“I’m not...I’m not on good terms with my family, I guess. I haven’t been for a while now. See, I - I dropped out of college in my second year when I realized that I really didn’t want to become a pharmacist like my parents wanted me to. I just...just sat in my room one night thinking over it and imagining my future and… it honestly looked so hopeless and unhappy. I couldn’t imagine doing something that didn’t make me happy. So I dropped out. I guess I should have told them I dropped out. My sister found out, and then she told them, which of course, just made a bigger mess than it would have been originally if I just bucked up and told them.”

He’s almost rambling. It’s then he realizes how much he’s had to say all this time, all kept within himself, curled into a tight ball deep in the pit of his chest. He doesn’t want to chance a glance up at Kyungsoo just yet, for fear of what he may see.

“They didn’t approve, of course, when I got a job at the bookshop. They - they said it wouldn’t lead anywhere and you know what? I was fine with that. I love working at the bookshop. It’s just a building but I feel like I’m in a whole different world when I’m in there. I love reading to the kids when it’s story time, I love setting up the donations program and giving free books to families who need a bit of stories in their life. I feel like - like that’s my calling. Bringing joy to people’s lives by sharing these stories with them. I don’t feel bad about dropping out anymore, because I’m so happy with what I’m doing right now. I just feel terrible that I don’t actually...have a family anymore.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t - can’t - understand a single word he is saying, and yet the look he gives Jongin is sympathetic, eyes gleaming with concern. Jongin thinks about what Kyungsoo would say if he could understand, but he decides he doesn’t want to know. After all, the point of this is to vent, to unleash whatever is on his mind without any judgment.

“I hate feeling like this,” Jongin says, tone hushed now. “But I really want them to understand me, or at least try. I miss them. But I can’t sacrifice my future for something that I don’t even want to do. Sorry.”

Silence is drawn between them, Jongin’s last words hanging in the cool air. Kyungsoo has his gaze elsewhere, and he looks like he is in thought, his brows furrowed.

Jongin is suddenly feeling dread well up in him, and it’s not an unfamiliar feeling. What the hell was he thinking? He’s probably overshared, despite the fact that Kyungsoo can’t understand a word. It doesn’t matter. It’s in his tone of voice, it’s the anguish in the words he spouted, it’s the tense mood he’s caused to settle around him, and now he’s made things awkward. To him, it seems that way.

Kyungsoo seems to think differently. It only takes a few more seconds of silence before the man is suddenly approaching Jongin - and enveloping him in a hug.

Jongin is stiff at first. He is taken aback, shocked, surprised, every single word there is for the way his eyes widen and chest constricts. This hug is kind, this hug is comforting, like the feeling of finally resting your head after a long day. This hug is loose, but it’s sweet. It’s unexpected, but not unwelcome, and maybe even a little needed.

Jongin manages to snap out of it enough to hesitantly bring his arms around Kyungsoo. There’s something stirring in him yet again, because it is as if Kyungsoo is trying to make up for the lack of words by this gesture. It is like he is saying ‘it’s okay’ without the words that would mean very little. Words are just words, after all. Anyone can say those words in particular.

This, though - it’s sincere, and it’s Kyungsoo showing Jongin that it is okay rather than telling him. Kyungsoo doesn’t even know why Jongin is upset; he only knows that he is. An inexplicable emotion overwhelms him. When his chest seems to loosen, it’s only then he realizes how constricted and tense it’s been all night - like all the weight has been lifted, like all the lingering thoughts that eat at him are suddenly gone, at least temporarily.

“This is okay?” Kyungsoo asks quietly in shaky Korean. His tone is soft and warm, and Jongin wants to melt in it, wants to dream of it, wants to hear it all the time.

He smiles over Kyungsoo’s shoulder, a little sadly, but thankful all the same. “It’s okay,” he murmurs, and he starts to truly believe that it is.

 

 

 

 

Under a cerulean sky, Jongin lays on his side across his straw mat, hand holding up his head as he fiddles with a pen. Kyungsoo sits in front of him, in his familiar fluffy woolen sweater, jeans, and socks that wiggle with his toes when a breeze comes by. Kyungsoo’s notebook lies in between them, marked with lines and x’s and o’s.

After Kyungsoo draws an O in the upper right corner, Jongin frowns and places his X in the only spot left, leaving them with another tied game.

This draws a laugh from Kyungsoo. “One more?” he asks. His Korean pronunciation is improving, Jongin notes with a strange surge of pride. He nods in response, watching as Kyungsoo draws another set of criss-crossing lines on the page.

The late spring wind is gentle against them this evening. It’s just about time for the sun to set, and Jongin and Kyungsoo are anticipating it as they tie yet another game. Eventually, they toss the notebook aside and shuffle up to the edge of the roof where the sun edges against the horizon. Jongin pulls his jacket tighter around himself, stuffing his hands in his pockets and nuzzling into the collar when a particularly forceful wind comes by. Kyungsoo shivers besides him, and they meet gazes, smiling softly.

The sky purples with the sunset, soft pink fading into hues of orange and yellow. There is a sense of peace to it all, a feeling of weightlessness, the kind of starstruck tug in the gut that leaves Jongin in awe, and even a bit nostalgic. It is akin to those moments that are melancholy in nature, bittersweet, heart lifting and heart pulling at the same time for whatever reason.

And Jongin thinks no words are needed anyway. Sharing this moment with Kyungsoo is enough. Even if there are no thoughts shared, the presence of the other will always be enough. His peace, his quiet nature, the dreamy look in his eyes as the sun goes down. The soft and airy smile on his face, that magical sensation that settles around them when the colors of the sunset surround them. It says more than words ever could.

And yet, only words can say what Jongin wants to next.

“Kyungsoo.”

The smaller glances up curiously, brow perked in question. The words get clogged in Jongin’s throat, but miraculously, he manages to summon up the bravery to get them out.

“I really like you,” he says, his English stiff, and made even more so by his jumbled up nerves. He takes in a deep breath, and goes for the plunge. “Would you… would you go out with me?”

Now both of Kyungsoo’s brows raise, but in surprise, and Jongin’s nape prickles with worry. His heart thunders in his chest, and he swallows nervously.

And suddenly, miraculously, the corners of Kyungsoo’s lips are turning up sweetly, softly, just enough to make Jongin relax a little. Then he’s smiling, eyes crinkling, and god, Jongin’s pretty sure his heart just stops altogether.

“You like me?” Kyungsoo asks, his smile never wavering.

Exhaling a little in relief at what seems to be a positive reaction, Jongin nods, smiling sheepishly. Kyungsoo ducks his head then, as if to hide the way his smile grows larger, and Jongin promptly melts.

“I really like you too, Jongin,” Kyungsoo says under his breath. “I would love to go out with you.” He says this last bit in Korean, and it has Jongin nearly swooning.

“Really?” he asks, voice picked up in hope.

Kyungsoo laughs a little anyway, amused and endeared. “Yeah. I like you a lot.”

And because Jongin isn’t sure how to say ’that’s a relief’ in English, he settles with sighing in comfort and content, feeling as if something heavy has been cordially lifted off his shoulders and he can finally breathe. Though, that may not be true, seeing as it is hard to catch a breath whenever he is even around Kyungsoo.

He seems amused by Jongin’s obvious relief, and chuckles to himself quietly, shuffling closer until they’re arm to arm and facing the sunset. Kyungsoo pulls his hand out of his jacket pocket and holds it up, like an offering. Jongin’s heart jumps in his chest when he realizes what he means.

So he does the same, pulling his hand out, and placing it in Kyungsoo’s, dropping them so it swings between them, fingers intertwined and hearts interlaced.

 

 

Kyungsoo has a mellow taste in music, as Jongin has learned. It’s exactly the type of music Jongin would assume he likes, and well, Jongin likes it too. There’s a nostalgic, almost bittersweet element to these songs, and truly, his playlists are beautiful, telling stories all on their own.

It’s still early, much too early for the bookshop to open just yet, so Jongin and Kyungsoo are leant against one of the shelves, sitting on the carpet with a few inches between them. They’ve each got an earbud in one ear, as Kyungsoo manages the music. He’s meant to be at work in half an hour, but he followed Jongin all the way to the bookshop, and here he is, another one of his mellow, acoustic playlists ringing pleasantly in Jongin’s ears. It’s quite appropriate for a slow morning like this.

Jongin leans his head back against the shelf, pulling his knees up to wrap his arms around them. An indulgent smile grows on his lips, and he shuts his eyes, letting the music take him to another place.

He loves having Kyungsoo besides him like this, even if just to listen to the same song, as if they’re sharing something special. As if Kyungsoo is communicating with him and telling him things without words, but instead with the feelings that Jongin get from just listening to these songs.

It’s a nice way to start a day, he thinks. It may not seem like much, but his heart feels content and full inside his chest, and after reading so much about love all his life, he finally gets close to what it may feel like. It’s the prickling on his nape when Kyungsoo gets a little close to him; it’s the magical and mysterious way the man can both speed up and slow down his pulse. It’s the way his music makes him feel as if there’s depth to this shallow first layer of life, and Kyungsoo is introducing him to all these layers.

He turns to look at Kyungsoo then, and is surprised to see him staring back. Kyungsoo seems surprised too, because he promptly turns red and ducks his head, clearing his throat. An amused chuckle comes from Jongin, but it’s shy all the same still, and he ducks his head soon after too.

A new song is just beginning to play - one of Jongin’s favorites on this playlist - when there’s a voice ringing throughout the building.

“Jongin? Are you here yet?”

Eyes widening in alarm, Jongin pulls himself off the ground quickly, the earbud falling out of his ear and cutting off the music. He stands just in time for his manager to turn around the corner of the bookshelf and spot them.

Qian crosses her arms, brow arching once she spots Kyungsoo, who now brings himself to stand too. He awkwardly bows at her, face reddening for an entirely different reason now.

“Who is this? We’re not open yet.”

“My friend,” Jongin stutters out. “I’m sorry. I thought it’d be okay if he just came in for a little bit before we opened.”

Qian’s brow arches further up. “Friend, huh? What made you think it would be okay?”

Jongin is taken aback. “I - I’m sorry, I know it was stupid of me-”

“Jongin,” she interrupts, intimidating brow finally falling and a smile gracing her face instead. “I’m just messing with you. It’s okay. But! Don’t make it a habit, okay?”

Jongin nearly chokes. “Yeah, yeah, of course. Sorry. This is Kyungsoo, anyway.”

She greets Kyungsoo with a friendly smile. “This is the guy you’ve been gushing over right?”

Suddenly, Jongin is thankful that Kyungsoo cannot speak Korean. He reddens anyway.

Qian laughs at his response, waving them bye as she heads to the back. Kyungsoo bows in respect once more, and looks at Jongin in confusion, eying his heated cheeks thoughtfully. Jongin simply shakes his head to dismiss the topic, but the way Kyungsoo’s lips turn up into a small smirk besides him makes him think the man has a feeling what Qian said anyway.

 

 

 

They like each other. That’s established. Jongin doesn’t have to wonder what those lingering glances from Kyungsoo mean anymore, or why Kyungsoo always likes to sit so close to him. He likes Jongin, and Jongin likes him, but the fact that they are dating seems to be the only thing that’s changed.

He doesn’t mind, either. He likes knowing that they are together in that sense. He would simply like to do more things with him that a couple would do.

Like kissing.

That would be nice.

Except Jongin is perpetually awkward, and Kyungsoo has made no move on him, so he assumes he is the type to take it slow. Really slow.

Plus, it doesn’t help that he’s come to the staggering conclusion that he really doesn’t know much about Kyungsoo at all. All he knows is how Kyungsoo makes him feel, but in the end, he knows next to nothing about where the man came from, who he is, and most importantly, what’s on his mind.

The poetic side of him would say that he knows Kyungsoo just from knowing his music, that he knows who Kyungsoo is just by them spending time together and vibing off each other, but well, no one ever got through a relationship by just vibing off the other.

Nonetheless, Jongin thinks it’s nice that they’ve gotten to know each other through their music and just their presence. Sometimes the smaller things mean a lot more anyway. What Jongin likes about Kyungsoo is his quiet yet strong presence, his sweet smiles, and the warm feeling that stirs in his chest when he sees the man in his familiar blocky glasses and sweaters. He wants to know more, though. He wants to like everything about Kyungsoo. He wants to listen to his stories and hear his voice. He wants him to do the talking instead of his songs, as nice as they are.

These days, instead of daydreaming at work, he has headphones in his ears - sometimes listening to Kyungsoo’s playlists that he’s secretly recreated onto his own phone. Most of the time, however, he listens to the English-teaching audio he’d purchased. Qian has caught him once or twice quietly muttering words just to test his pronunciation, and he’d duck his head in embarrassment before getting back to stocking the shelves.

The rooftop of the apartment building used to be solely Jongin’s spot, but he finds himself unbothered that it’s becoming their spot. They eat dinner up there on the warmer nights, mutually (and wordlessly) agreeing that it’s much nicer to watch the sunset as they eat instead of being cooped up in one of their apartments. When they do dine inside, they pop in a movie - either English with Korean subtitles, or Korean with English subtitles so that they can both experience the film while learning the language.

And other times, they sit quietly in each other’s presence, music crooning softly from Kyungsoo’s phone as they stick their noses in language books. Sometimes it’s silly, the fact that they are both learning a language when in truth, only one of them needs to learn - but they would both like to make the effort for each other. It wouldn’t sit well with Jongin if Kyungsoo is the only one learning. He wants to put in work for their relationship too; he wants to meet Kyungsoo halfway.

He feels like he’s in school all over again - reading these English textbooks, writing down words to get them to stick in his memory. It’s hard work, especially because the English language can be quite tricky sometimes, but when he remembers that Kyungsoo is going through it as well, and right besides him too, it makes him feel a little better. At the end of all of this, he will be able to hear his deep, timber voice more often, and they can communicate in ways other than music playlists.

It’s true sometimes - words aren’t everything. But Jongin needs to step off his cloud of pretentiousness and ground himself every once in a while to remember that, hey, he wouldn’t even know Kyungsoo’s name if it weren’t for words.

He wants to know Kyungsoo more, he really does; he likes him a lot. He likes his blocky framed glasses and tentative, yet warm, smiles. He likes his sweaters and how snug he looks in them. He likes the dreamy look in his eyes when they watch the sun set. He likes everything about him, from his manners to his aura that effortlessly draws him. There is just something about him that is so endearing and makes Jongin feel ridiculously fuzzy inside, but Jongin cannot place what exactly it is.

This is a prime example of a situation in which Jongin would deem words useless, because surely none can describe what he feels for Kyungsoo.

 

 

Jongin would like to argue that no, he did not ask Yifan to accompany him and Kyungsoo to a pojangmacha just to be their translator, but rather, it’s because he misses spending time with his friend and would simply like for him and Kyungsoo to get to know each more as well.

(Okay, he kind of did want him to act as a translator of some sort. Don’t get him wrong - Jongin and Kyungsoo are actually both improving on the languages they are learning, but there are still gaps they have yet to cover, and Yifan will be there to help cover those gaps. Anyway, he seems perfectly willing. And Jongin misses him, really.)

The grill sizzles between the three of them, warming them against the brisk late spring night. The tent hangs over them, the clatter of the back kitchens meshing with the chatter of the few people at nearby tables.

Jongin, being the youngest of them, continuously tries to pull the tongs away from Kyungsoo whenever the latter goes in to cook the meat. Kyungsoo would shoot him a sheepish look after, and Jongin would just shake his head fondly and flip the meat himself, a little amused at Kyungsoo’s tendencies to want to take care of everyone.

And Yifan would look on, a mock-disgusted look on his face at the flirting that happens before him.

“I think I made a mistake in third-wheeling with you guys tonight,” Yifan says in Korean, throwing his head back with a shot of soju. “I’m way too single for this.”

Jongin laughs, placing a well-cooked piece of beef onto the tall man’s plate for him. “Thank you for coming with us, anyway,” he says. Kyungsoo nods his agreement, shooting Yifan a grateful look.

“You guys are paying, right?” Yifan asks, a joking tone to his words, but Jongin nods anyway.

“Eat to your heart’s content.”

“I was joking but, if you say so,” he chuckles, throwing the piece of beef into his mouth with a pair of chopsticks. “So, what is my purpose here?”

Kyungsoo shrugs, and takes the opportunity to practice his Korean pronunciation. “Just have a good meal with your friends,” he says, a mock-innocent smile on his face.

Yeah, right,” Yifan says. “I’m only here to translate for you guys when you need it. But I mean, I’m getting free dinner so I’m not complaining.”

“Good,” Jongin says with a chuckle. “Get used to these free dinners. At least until Kyungsoo and I become fluent.”

From then on, Yifan doesn’t accompany them every time they are together - only some nights. And the nights where he is absent, Jongin will admit, there are times he doesn’t know what Kyungsoo is trying to say, but they push through it anyway. They are getting there - slowly. They’re at a better place than they were before, anyway. Eventually, the subtitles come off the movies they watch every Friday evening, which definitely makes it some work if they want to understand whatever the characters are saying.

They fall into an easy routine - Jongin takes Kyungsoo out to lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Kyungsoo walks home with Jongin from work on the days he has later classes. Often, Kyungsoo involves himself with the bookshop as well if he arrives a little early. He’d even suggested an arts and crafts session for one of the Family Fun Nights, and they had walked home covered in glue and feathers. Sometimes, Jongin will read to the kids and Kyungsoo will make the sound effects accordingly, such as a troll in rage, or an old magician casting a spell. Or - much more preferred by the children - he will dress up and act out the scenes with Minseok and Seungwan as Jongin reads. It’s largely known between everyone at the bookshop that Jongin is the most beloved reader - he is enthusiastic and vibrant and colorful, and knows just how to get the audience oohing and ahhing.

They have Senior Fun Nights as well, where the senior citizens in the retirement home nearby come over for a much more subdued (though no less fun) reading. The seniors have actually admitted to preferring Kyungsoo to read to them because of his low voice that strikes them with emotion and feeling, which happen to be suitable for the sort of books being read to them as compared to the children. It helps him with his Korean as well, so who is Kyungsoo to deny their requests?

Qian jokes that she should be paying Kyungsoo too, but the latter assures that no, this is all for fun on his part - that he likes doing this, likes putting smiles on people’s faces, and Jongin falls for him a little more.

 

 

Tonight, Jongin is putting on a puppet show for the kids, reenacting a scene from one of the recently trending children’s books.

“You’ll have to get through me!” he says from behind the puppet theater, voice lowered to something gruff and rough. Minseok crouches beside him with the knight puppet attached to his own hand.

“A meager dragon like you is no match for me!” he says, his voice loud and proud. In the background, Qian turns up the background music to go with the scene, which Jongin knows is just the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song.

“You will regret your words, tiny knight!” Jongin roars, then he brings up a stick with a piece of paper attached to it, flames drawn on, lifting it near his dragon puppet’s mouth to mimic the illusion of his dragon breathing fire.

And with that, they collide their puppets dramatically just as Seungwan lowers the curtain on the puppet theater, thus earning a long groan from the children.

“Will our knight defeat the dragon and rescue the princess? Will he save the day and the kingdom? Well, my dear children, you will have to find out next week!” Seungwan announces, flourishing the cheap plastic wand she’d gotten at the dollar store. She bows at the children, her fake, flimsy wings falling loose behind her. Jongin laughs as she struggles to fix them without the children noticing, adjusting her tutu over her jeans.

“Is the fairy godmother having trouble with her wings?” Jongin chuckles.

Seungwan rolls her eyes and waits for the children to disperse before she scowls at him. “You try wearing these all night.”

“My throat hurts from playing the gruff-voiced dragon, so I’ll gladly switch.”

“Jongin in the fairy costume,” Minseok says, coming up to throw an arm around him. “I want to see that.”

“I’d make a better dragon than you anyway,” Seungwan teases, pulling the tiara off her head and placing it on Jongin’s instead. He readjusts it to fit properly, flashing her a cheeky smile.

The children return to where their parents sit some distance away, and Jongin watches to make sure they’re all safe and with an adult. Among the parents, he spots a familiar face, but it’s definitely not a father of one of the kids.

Smiling in glee, Jongin makes his way over to Kyungsoo.

“You’re early,” he says. “We don’t close for another half hour.”

“That’s okay. I can hang out here until you’re done.”

“Actually!” calls a voice, and they turn to see Qian cleaning up the theater area with Minseok. “You can go home early if you like, Jongin. You’ve been working overtime a lot lately, anyway.”

“Can I really?”

“Yeah, of course,” Qian says. “Don’t get used to this, though.”

“I won’t,” Jongin says, and he bows at her, grateful. “Thank you, Qian.”

She waves him off with a smile of her own. Everyone else bids them goodbye as Jongin grabs his jacket and keys, set to leave with Kyungsoo. When they step outside, it’s brisk for a summer night, but Jongin is just glad he doesn’t have to walk home alone.

“The puppet show was really cute,” Kyungsoo says as they walk along the pavement.

Jongin hums, chuckling a little. “Thanks. It’s actually based off of a story I wrote for the shop. Spoiler alert: the dragon overpowers the knight, and the princess ends up saving him and the kingdom. In the end, she marries the baker’s daughter.”

Kyungsoo’s timber laugh starts a funny tingle in Jongin’s nape. He finds that he really likes hearing Kyungsoo’s deep laughter, and even just him speaking is nice to hear. It’s a pleasant change from the quiet between them at first.

“Nice,” Kyungsoo says. “I’m always here for a gay plot twist,” he says. He gestures to the top of Jongin’s head, warm smile on his face. “I like the crown.”

“It’s a tiara, actually. I’m the prettiest fairy in all the land.”

“You are,” Kyungsoo laughs, brushing aside Jongin’s bangs with a finger. “I love seeing you at work. Like you’re in your element. You’re great at writing.”

Jongin shrugs modestly. “Thanks, but I - I guess I’m not so much into writing, just more into storytelling. I like sharing great stories, and I love telling them to the kids. I want to encourage imagination and creativity in them. This world is becoming a place where the arts don’t seem to matter much anymore, you know.”

“Now that we can actually talk to each other, I’m realizing that everything you say is so interesting. Inspiring. I’ve always liked you, but I - I really like you now. Like, more than I was prepared for.”

Jongin can't help the smile that forms on his lips. Kyungsoo's words are unexpected, but they are appreciated, and he feels himself getting a little fuzzy in his chest. He means to say something, but soon realizes that in the time he's spent gushing over these words, Kyungsoo is probably expecting a reply of some sort.

“Tell me if I’m overstepping any boundaries,” Kyungsoo says.

“No - no boundaries overstepped,” Jongin says with a chuckle. “I really like you too. Sorry, I just - wasn’t expecting that.”

“Was it weird? Did I make it weird?”

Jongin laughs, chest rumbling as they pause in front of a pojangmacha. He turns to face Kyungsoo, corner of his lip turned up.

“Kyungsoo,” he says fondly, finding it in himself to be brave and reach over for the other’s hand. It’s only a simple, loose tangling of the fingers, but it makes Jongin’s heart stutter all the same. “I really, really like you too. So much.”

“That’s a relief.”

“What do you mean relief?” Jongin laughs. “We’ve been dating all this time, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, but, I don’t know - I thought that maybe now that we can talk to each other you’d realize how terrible I am at conversation and regret everything.”

“You seem pretty capable to me,” Jongin hums thoughtfully. “And hey, I’m no social butterfly either. You don’t need to worry. I’m actually kind of boring, in retrospect.”

“You take that back,” Kyungsoo demands playfully.

“Seriously,” Jongin claims with a smile. “Give it more time and you’ll get bored of me, eventually.”

“I really doubt that.”

Jongin just shakes his head softly, fond smile still adorned. As if to assure him a little more, Kyungsoo wraps his hand around Jongin’s properly, palm against palm and fingers intertwining.

“You’re amazing, Jongin,” he says quietly, lifting his head so their eyes meet.” Don’t say that about yourself.”

“Only if you promise not to bring yourself down too.”

“Deal.” Kyungsoo smiles, gentle laughter bubbling out of him in the most endearing way. He gestures towards the pojangmacha. “Let’s eat. My treat?”

I mean, if you insist,” Jongin says with a cheeky smile, allowing Kyungsoo to drag him into the street stall - fingers still locked.

 

 

They often switch between Korean and English when speaking to each other, sometimes unaware that they are even doing so. Their sentences started out small and unsure at first, but the change is evident. Now they speak a little more confidently, and their reading skills in the other language have improved as well.

Which means Jongin finally doesn’t have an excuse for Kyungsoo not to read his writing anymore.

After much insistence by the older, Jongin finally lets Kyungsoo read his short draft of his princess story that the puppet show is based on.

They’re sat in Jongin’s living room, on his couch as Kyungsoo reads the draft on the former’s laptop, while Jongin tries to ignore this fact, watching the movie on the television to assuage his nerves.

“Jongin, you should publish this, seriously!” Kyungsoo exclaims. This is maybe about the third time he’s mentioned it, and every time he has, Jongin cringes inwardly.

“I’ve thought about it, actually,” he shrugs, leaning back in the couch. “My sister is a publishing agent. It would be pretty convenient if only we were on speaking terms.”

Kyungsoo frowns, lowering his head. “You don’t talk to your sister?”

Jongin shakes his head, reminding himself that when he had ranted to Kyungsoo about being distant from his family, they didn’t know each other’s languages just yet. “I don’t. We haven’t had a proper conversation in a while now.”

“Oh, that’s…”

“Sad, I know.”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Kyungsoo defends. “And well, you don’t have to go to her for an agent.”

“I know, but - I’m just...afraid, kind of. I mean, my stories have never been heard outside of that bookshop… How would it be received? What if - what if it actually sucks?”

“It doesn’t!” Kyungsoo exclaims. “The kids loved it, didn’t they?”

Jongin shrugs once more. “I want to publish it. I really do. I want to write books for kids. But that can wait.”

Kyungsoo sighs in resignation, nodding. “Well, whenever it happens, I’ll support you no matter what.”

“Thanks,” Jongin says, offering a tight smile and moving to lean his head against the older’s shoulder. “You’re the best.”

Kyungsoo presses his cheek against Jongin’s hair in return, humming. “I’m your number one fan, you should know that by now.”

 

 

It was a long day at work, but Jongin reaches the rooftop of the apartment building in anticipation of seeing Kyungsoo. It’s pretty routine for them to meet up in the evenings now, whether to study up on their respective languages, or to simply enjoy the other’s presence.

“Were you the fairy today?” Kyungsoo asks when he arrives, gesturing to the glitter that decorates Jongin’s skin. “Either that, or you went to a rave.”

Kyungsoo already has the straw mat laid out, plus a blanket unfolded since it is edging towards autumn and the nights are turning brisk. He has music crooning softly from his phone too, the familiar acoustic playlist wafting through the night.

“I was the fairy,” Jongin says with pride, chuckling. “I made a damn good fairy, too.”

“I bet,” Kyungsoo laughs, brushing the remains of glitter away from Jongin’s face. “How did the kids react to the princess saving the day?”

“They loved it,” Jongin gushes. “Some of the parents...not so much, but we were defended by the parents who did like the twist, so - yay. I wish you were there to see it.”

Kyungsoo frowns. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay!”

He hums, the frown still evident on his face before he picks the subject back up. “You should publish your work, Jongin. It’d be controversial, but widely appreciated by the right people.”

Jongin shrugs. “I don’t know. I told you. That’s new territory for me. I’m so used to writing for the kids that I’m not sure how well it would be received outside of the bookshop.”

“I know, I just - I don’t like seeing your talent go to waste.”

“It’s not going to waste,” Jongin defends, wrinkling his nose. They begin to settle themselves on the mat, Jongin sitting besides Kyungsoo’s laying figure. “The kids at the shop get a real kick out of my stories, so you know… This is fine. For now.”

Kyungsoo gives in with a sigh, pursing his lips in acceptance. “But one day, right?”

Jongin shrugs once more, moving to rest his head besides Kyungsoo’s. The latter wraps the blanket around them, but only up to their waists. “Maybe one day,” he concedes.

They are quiet for a while, Jongin simply letting the pads of his finger tips trace lightly over Kyungsoo’s palm, before the latter would chuckle and claim it tickles.

“Why did you move here?” Jongin asks. He meets Kyungsoo’s curious gaze. “Was it just the job opportunity?”

“Partly, I guess,” Kyungsoo responds. Now he begins to play with Jongin’s fingers. “But mostly for another reason. Back in America, I was...I was kind of aimless. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was fresh out of college with a degree I didn’t know what to do with. I kind of slacked off for a bit. I drank a lot with my friends, had very small side jobs that weren’t going to lead anywhere. So when my friend told me he had connections, I took it. Not just for the job, but for the experience. I came here in hopes of looking at my life in a new way because I wasn’t taking it very seriously back then.”

“And did it help? Moving to Korea to find your motivation, again?”

Kyungsoo chuckles lowly, and his voice turns soft. “You can say that.”

“That doesn’t sound so sure.”

“Trust me,” Kyungsoo says. “I’ve found my motivation.”

“Yeah?” Jongin asks.

The soft, slightly muted melody flowing from Kyungsoo’s phone is all that is heard between them as Kyungsoo remains unresponsive. Jongin turns his head in curiosity, taking note of his thoughtful gaze directed at the stars.

“Yeah,” he says finally, though his tone of voice has noticeably softened.

Silence falls between them once more, as they fall into the night of scattered stars and softly played classics. Kyungsoo’s muted response gives Jongin the sense that there is more to what he means, but he doesn’t dwell on it.

“When I first moved here, I was terrified,” Kyungsoo continues. “I didn’t know the language, and I’m not too much of a people person - so I had no clue how I was going to handle teaching. It all worked out, though. Thanks to you.” Kyungsoo smiles fondly. In response, Jongin gets tired of the fumbling with their hands and moves to hold Kyungsoo’s completely, fingers intertwining as he returns the smile.

“Sometimes I do feel as if I’m wasting my time too, though. With my career, I mean. I have so many expectations to fill and I have yet to even reach them. I just… I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with my life sometimes.”

“Well, that’s okay,” Jongin assures. “No one does, really.”

“But I mean… it was always the standard to grow up, go to college, get a major degree in something, and excel. I’m still wondering where I am on that timeline.”

Jongin furrows his brows, frowning a bit. “Well, you gotta set your own standards, don’t you? You decide your own success. You don’t go by what society tells you to. Go at your own pace. Honestly, just - just do what it takes to make you happy. Are you happy?”

Kyungsoo smiles softly. “I am. I like where I am, truth be told. It’s a hell lot better than where I was before. I just feel like I need to do more in order to be seen as important by the people around me.”

“It doesn’t make you unimportant. If you’re doing what makes you happy then...what the hell, right? After all -” he pauses, dragging his gaze back to the night sky scattered with stars. “I’m pretty happy with this. It’s beautiful.”

He glances back at Kyungsoo, who watches the stars with fond eyes, corners of his lips tilted up slightly. Then he’s turning away, smile growing wider.

“You’re incredibly wise for your age, aren’t you?”

“Ah,” Jongin mumbles. “Not really. This is just something I’ve mused over my time in college. Do you...do you remember that time I was rambling off about something but you couldn’t understand me then?”

“Yeah?”

“I was telling you about my parents. About my family, about how they didn’t like what I’m doing for a living right now.”

Kyungsoo’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“Yeah. But I mean. There’s not really anything I can do about it, so. All I know is that I have to think of my happiness too. So I dropped out of college and got a job at the bookshop, and I am so, so happy there. That’s what I mean, Kyungsoo. You can’t be trying to meet other people’s expectations, only to be disappointing yourself in the end. You are the person that matters the most in your life. It might sound selfish,” Jongin laughs a little, “but this is coming from someone who’s been pushed around all his life, and when he finally decides to put himself first, suddenly everyone thinks he’s a fuck-up.” He realizes his language, and ducks his head in embarrassment. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Kyungsoo laughs. He purses his lips in thought then, musing over what Jongin’s expressed.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re selfish at all. It’s not selfish to think about yourself and want to make yourself happy. And god, Jongin, you’re literally one of the most considerate and kind people I’ve ever met. Don’t even put your name and ‘selfish’ in the same sentence. Selfish would be only caring about yourself, but you - you care about everyone around you.”

Kyungsoo laughs a little then, eyes sparkling. “And you’re right, too. Why am I stressing over something I don’t even want?”

“We find ourselves ashamed or embarrassed if we’re not at the level of our peers, but like I said before, we define our own success. And it’s okay to not be sure what exactly our definition of success is, yet.” Jongin lowers his head, sheepish. “There’s no rush. I have this stunning view for the time being.”

“I really admire your outlook, Jongin,” Kyungsoo says. “We get so wrapped up in coming out on top, but you - you do your own thing. I think that’s really cool.”

Jongin chuckles. “It’s not that cool. I just - I strive to be happy, on top of all things. That’s what matters the most.”

“Well, I think that’s pretty damn cool,” Kyungsoo says, nudging Jongin playfully.

Their laughter dies out soon after then, lost amongst the quiet, empty sky. It’s breezy tonight, the late summer night chill making Jongin drowsy. He vaguely notes Kyungsoo’s hand reaching over to pull the blanket higher up Jongin’s chest, until it meets his chin.

“Well, I think you’re pretty damn cool,” Jongin says, his tone of voice lowering and eyes beginning to drift shut. There’s a low chuckle besides him, and a long pause before Kyungsoo says right back -

“Not as cool as you.”

It’s whispered. Jongin barely registers this as he begins to drift off into that hazy stage between sleep and consciousness. The last thing he recalls is fingers brushing lightly against his forehead, pushing the strands of hair aside, and finally - the gentle press of lips on the skin above his brow.

 

 

His skin prickles as he blinks his eyes open, body sore and tired. The first sensation to hit him is the early morning chill, and it’s then he realizes - they’re still on the roof.

He widens his eyes and lifts his head, gazing at his surroundings and struggling to come back to reality. It still feels like a dream somehow, his mind foggy and fuzzy.

Kyungsoo is still dozing besides him, sleeping peacefully despite the cold weather and the cement ground beneath the straw mat. Jongin realizes it’s early morning, the sky halfway between a dark navy and a lighter blue - which of course can only mean a sunrise.

“Kyungsoo,” Jongin whispers, nudging the man awake. He doesn’t budge, and Jongin can’t help the smile that grows on his lips in fondness. He almost doesn’t want to wake Kyungsoo up because of how content he looks, but he knows that Kyungsoo will never let him live it down if Jongin’s let him miss this.

“Kyungsoo,” he tries again, wrapping a hand around his shoulder and shaking a little. At this, the man shifts at least, breathing in and brows furrowing in confusion. Finally, his eyes blink open, but they are narrow.

“Hm?” Kyungsoo hums, squinting at Jongin in puzzlement.

“Time to wake up.”

“We slept here?” Kyungsoo asks, groaning and stretching. Jongin chuckles at his catlike movements, nodding and bringing a hand up to cover his own yawn.

“The sun is rising,” Jongin says afterwards, voice rough. Kyungsoo blinks again, looking at Jongin through narrow slits, then to the light in the sky.

“Hurry, before we miss it,” Jongin says, wrapping his fingers around Kyungsoo’s and tugging lightly. There is another groan from the older before he pulls himself up. Together, they drag the mat out closer to the edge of the roof, but on the opposite side from where they usually sit because, today, they will watch the sun rise instead of set.

It is a quiet dawn. The sky is pale blue now, looking almost gray. The sun peeks out beyond the horizon, greeting the city. Kyungsoo’s hair sticks up from sleep. His eyes are narrow, and a fist rubs at them sleepily. Jongin coos at the sight, smiling affectionately, before he drags his gaze to the sunrise again.

It’s cold enough to bite at their dry skin, so Jongin reaches behind them to grab the woolen blanket. Without hesitation, he drapes it over his and Kyungsoo’s shoulders, wrapping them in warmth. Kyungsoo moves in closer in order to fit. Their thighs and shoulders are pressed together as a result, the blanket hung around their huddled and freezing bodies. The warmth of the blanket is nice, but Jongin thinks the heat radiating off of Kyungsoo is even better.

They’ve watched plenty of sunsets, but something’s special about this sunrise. The city is still asleep. There are no clouds, just Jongin and Kyungsoo and the vast sky, the quiet between them calm and pleasant. There is a sort of lethargy in the air between them, given that they are tired and weary from sleep. Even still, Jongin feels strangely full in his chest.

The sky turns cerulean above them as the sun takes its rightful place in the sky. There is a tranquility in the way time seems to slow with every passing second. The placid sunrise is unhurried, and suddenly, it feels as if reality is the dream. What Kyungsoo and Jongin have now is a blanket of serenity and contentment draped over their tired bodies, aching with the ghost of concrete beneath their backs. The early morning wind breezes past them, pushing their hair away from their faces.

A hand entwines with Jongin’s. Jongin glances down, and back up at Kyungsoo who’s gaze remains on the rising sun. There’s a content little smile on his face, soft and subtle, maybe still tired. A surge of warmth shoots from where they touch, out to every nerve in Jongin’s body, but in the most pleasant yet heart-stopping way. A smile makes its way onto his face as well, and he drifts his gaze back to the bright sun. It shines onto their cold skin - golden, warm, acting like a second blanket. The city gradually awakens beneath it all, succumbing to the dawn. And Jongin and Kyungsoo remain huddled in a small woolen blanket on a very cold rooftop, hearts warm at just the presence of the other.

“I want to thank you, Jongin.”

The taller turns his head at the unexpected words, quirking a brow.

“If it weren’t for you, I’d be alone,” Kyungsoo says quietly, eyes still set on the sun. “I’m actually at a place in my life where I feel...okay. Happy.”

It’s then that Kyungsoo decides to turn to him, sheepish smile on his face and red in his cheeks despite the cold. “So, you know… Thank you.”

Jongin has to will himself to keep from doing the thing he so desperately wants to do right at this moment. It seems perfect as well, like a scene straight from a romance - the sun rising, the sky pretty and pink over the kindling city, the brisk autumn wind forcing them closer for warmth. And Kyungsoo looks far too irresistible as well, his hair matted from sleep, eyes still narrowed and puffy, lips a shade pinker than usual. It would be so easy, to simply lean over and eliminate this infuriating space between them, to wrap his hand around Kyungsoo’s warm cheek and pull him even closer.

But he doesn’t. He swallows down the urge, and smiles instead. This time, it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

“You’re welcome,” he says. “You always are.”

“You sound surprised,” Kyungsoo notes.

Jongin shrugs a bit, but very subtly. “I just - I just can’t fathom this, actually. I don’t understand really. You’re kind of...way too good and deserve someone who’s better company than plain ol’ me.” Jongin chuckles in a self-deprecating manner, shaking his head at how pathetic he sounds.

It’s quiet for a while, and Jongin stills at the lack of response he gets from Kyungsoo.

“Jongin,” comes from the man besides him, and Jongin forces his head up, unsure what to make of the stern tone in Kyungsoo’s voice.

The older is expressionless, face blank, but his eyes are soft despite his tone. Kyungsoo waits a beat of a moment, before reaching a hand up to wrap it around Jongin’s cheek. A thumb caresses the skin of Jongin’s cheekbone fondly, and then it happens before Jongin can even prepare.

Kyungsoo kisses him deep and patient, lips molding around his slowly. Jongin is slow to take in what is happening, but he finds himself kissing Kyungsoo back not long after, eyes falling shut and feeling as if his chest is going to explode. He lifts a hand to rest at the side of Kyungsoo’s neck, pressing himself closer to the man as their lips meet again and again and again.

It’s very much worth the wait.

Kyungsoo pulls away before Jongin is ready for him to (they’ve got several months to make up for, after all). He keeps his face close, however, eyes flickering around.

"You’re the most interesting man I’ve ever met, Jongin,” Kyungsoo murmurs. “You’re the best company I’ve ever had. For god’s sake, we became friends and started dating before we could even properly talk to each other. You were there for me at a very difficult time in my life. You stepped out of your comfort zone just to befriend me, because you knew how it felt to feel alone and you didn’t want that for someone else. I mean, what part of all this does not say how amazing of a person you are? Do you understand yet? I’ll put aside an hour every day for the rest of my life just to tell you how amazing you are, if that’s what it takes.”

Jongin swallows nervously, heart tightening at the unexpected words. He isn’t sure what to say, so he says, quite stupidly - “An hour is excessive.”

“An hour is not nearly enough, actually,” Kyungsoo chuckles, pulling away further now and dropping his hand to Jongin’s shoulder, massaging it lightly. “Hey, scratch that. You don’t need me to tell you how amazing you are. I want you to know it. I don’t want you to be seeking assurance from me or anyone else but yourself, because in the end, you are the only permanent figure in your life. I want you to be happy with yourself.”

“You’re right,” Jongin decides, voice breaking. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. In a way, I’m thanking you, for being such a wonderful person, so all I want to hear back from you is you’re welcome.”

Jongin clears his throat awkwardly, before stuttering out, “Uh… You’re welcome?”

“That’s a start, I guess,” Kyungsoo laughs.

Their eyes meet again when Jongin lifts his head, fond smile adorned. It’s gotten considerably warmer since they’ve woken up, but Jongin might be able to attribute that to the heat stirring in his chest. It only seems appropriate then, for Jongin, to lean in once more. His nose grazes against Kyungsoo’s, and his forehead rests against the older’s; for a second, they simply breathe the other in, hearts thumping abnormally fast before Jongin shuts the distance between them again, lips meeting and folding into each other.

It’s insane, how crazy Kyungsoo makes him, how his touch can ignite his nerves and make him feel as if he is going to burst into flames any second. As full as his chest is whenever he is around him, at the same time, he feels weightless - light and airy, like nothing can touch him so long as he has Kyungsoo in his arms.

As they part, the sun fully rises, though Jongin thinks the radiance of Kyungsoo’s smile is by far more bright and beautiful than the sun can ever hope to be.

 

 

Jongin will never tire of the way the sky pinks and blushes as the sun makes it way down past the horizon.

For the first time in a while, he feels more connected to sunrises than to sunsets. He looks forward to new days instead of the day ending. He has Kyungsoo besides him for both, and it’s unbelievable how happy he is, even if something deep down is telling him there’s something else missing.

Nonetheless, his days are filled with Kyungsoo’s smiles, Kyungsoo’s kisses - cheek or otherwise, Kyungsoo’s stories of his students at work. Just Kyungsoo, who’s gotten more lively and personable as they spend more time together, and Jongin feels himself doing the same. Opening up to him, revealing a side of him that he doesn’t really do for anyone else. Kyungsoo draws it out of him so easily.

Tonight though, Kyungsoo seems different. A little distant and distracted. He may simply be tired from work, but Jongin senses it’s something else, and it has him feeling anxious.

“Is something wrong?” he asks, raising his hand to feed Kyungsoo a piece of kimbap.

The older sighs before opening his mouth and taking the food, shaking his head after in a response to Jongin’s question. He chews, cheeks puffed out and Jongin would coo usually, but he finds himself more unsettled at the stoicism on Kyungsoo’s face. The latter glances down at the assignments in his lap, grading them. He continuously clicks his red pen over and over again, a gesture of unease. Jongin wants to ask him again, but he doesn’t want to push.

They eat quietly as Kyungsoo grades his students’ work, until eventually, he clicks his pen closed for the last time and looks up at Jongin in resolve.

“Jongin, I should - I should tell you something.”

The tone in Kyungsoo’s voice says a lot already, and Jongin picks his head up in worry.

“Yeah?” he asks.

Kyungsoo exhales heavily, looking nervous. “I kind of...did something.”

“What did you do?” Jongin says. He swallows the food in his mouth and gazes at Kyungsoo.

Kyungsoo spares him a nervous glance, setting his pen down to fumble with his fingers instead. He takes a moment to himself, quiet stretching between them before he speaks again, voice small.

“I - I got in contact with your sister,” he says.

Jongin blanches.

Kyungsoo takes the silence as a gesture to go on, even if Jongin is internally begging him not to.

“And I might have...sent her your princess story. The children’s story. To see if she’d be interested in representing you as your agent.”

What?

Kyungsoo swallows, finally brave enough to meet his gaze. “I’m sorry, I just - I want to see you happy, Jongin - and not this pseudo-happy appearance that you seem to have taken on -”

“Woah,” Jongin stops him. “Pseudo-happy appearance?”

Everything is happening too fast.

“Well, I mean…” Kyungsoo starts, “I know you love working at the bookshop, but this isn’t just about that. It’s about getting back in touch with your family too. You’re lonely, Jongin, I know you are. You can have five friends or fifty, but I feel like you’d be lonely for as long as you are without your family.”

“I’m sorry but...how can you assume that? They’ve made it clear that they don’t need me in their lives.”

“Your sister was willing to read it. That means something, doesn’t it?”

“You did this without my permission, though.”

“I know, and I - I’m really sorry, okay? But you never would have done it, or you wouldn’t have let me do it if I asked you.”

“Kyungsoo…” Jongin starts quietly. “Who even says I need it done at all?"

“Jongin, honestly… You want this. You said you did! You said it would be a dream to

“But on my own terms, Kyungsoo!”

“Well, I’m sorry, Jongin, but were your ‘terms’ ever going to let you do this? Be honest. Step out of your comfort zone like you did for me when I first moved here. Do that for yourself, Jongin. Why is it so hard for you to believe you’re a good person who deserves this?”

Jongin is quiet, lowering his head. “Because I don’t,” he whispers. “I don’t deserve more than this. I don’t deserve my family, I don’t deserve - you. I’m selfish, Kyungsoo. I chose my own path and let them down, and - and if I sent in that draft, that would be like the final nail on the coffin. My sister - she’ll probably laugh at me and my work. She’s probably celebrating the fact that she’s lived a more successful life and is the favored child.”

“Hey -” Kyungsoo interrupts. “It’s not fair to you or her to assume that. She was really genuine when I emailed her, alright? She asked me how you were doing. I think you’ve let this sit in your mind for so long that it’s starting to eat at you and affect you negatively. Please just be open to this, Jongin.”

“I can’t, the damage is done, I just - I can’t do anything about it. And I’m scared, what if - what if my draft sucks -”

“It doesn’t! Jongin, your story is amazing and creative! Why is that so hard to see?”

“I’m sorry,” Jongin sighs. “We literally learned entire languages for each other and yet, we still have communication problems.”

At this, Kyungsoo drops his head, adam’s apple bobbing in his throat before he forces words out. They sound strained. “I know I should have talked to you first. But you’re so stubborn, Jongin, you would have never sent that draft no matter how much I tried to talk you into it. I just want you to be happy.”

Jongin isn’t sure why he feels himself getting emotional - and not in the sentimental way. It is in the way where he feels as if Kyungsoo has betrayed his trust, where he lets those gnawing thoughts deep down rise again to eat at him.

“Am I not good enough like this?” Jongin asks.

“What?”

“Am I - do I embarrass you? Do I need to be a best-selling author for you to be proud of me?”

“Oh my god, Jongin.”

“I’m sorry if I do, I - I’ll try to do better -”

“Stop it. We both know it isn’t me who thinks that. This is stemming from the fact that you think you aren’t good enough. God damn it, Jongin, you’re amazing and more than enough, why can’t you see that?”

Jongin runs a hand through his hair and shuts his eyes, feeling something well up in his chest, and it isn’t very pleasant.

“I’m sorry,” is all he can say, before he’s doing what he does best - running away.

He hears Kyungsoo call him one last time as he runs down the fire escape. He isn’t sure what he’s running away from exactly - confrontation, the argument that was surely about to ensue, Kyungsoo witnessing how vulnerable Jongin can be.

He is just feeling too many things at once, and he doesn’t need any of it.

 

 

Jongin begins to get used to his apartment again.

When he isn’t at work, he is in there.

Hiding, mostly.

Being a coward.

Avoiding Kyungsoo -

Who has called him and texted him countlessly for the first day after their little scuttle on the rooftop. After that day, however, the texts and calls lower to maybe thrice a day.

Simple things.

Kyungsoo asking Jongin how his day was.

Kyungsoo reminding Jongin to eat and drink and read his favorite books.

Kyungsoo repeatedly apologizing.

Jongin avoids them all, not even clicking the notifications, but he feels his chest tighten with each one. He still isn’t quite sure what to say. He knows he’s being an asshole by not replying, but he’s just…conflicted, and still kind of angry, frankly.

He knows Kyungsoo meant the best when he sent his sister his story draft, but it still rubs him the wrong way that he did it without his permission.

Still, he wanted his happiness only.

Or the thought remains…

That he might want more of Jongin, might want to have an boyfriend that’s not just a bookshop employee.

Jongin disregards that completely. That isn’t fair to Kyungsoo. Kyungsoo is not a shallow person. And anyway - he’d been right. It’s Jongin who thinks that. It’s Jongin’s parents who think that. It’s Jongin’s successful sister who thinks that.

He cannot assume everyone else does.

He likes working at the bookshop. He loves storytelling, in whatever form it may be. Yes, it is a dream, perhaps a desired endgame, to be a published author, but his fears hold him back, while Kyungsoo is pushing him forward.

One night, some nights after he’s started avoiding Kyungsoo, he picks up his phone and reads through the messages Kyungsoo’s sent.

And replies.

I’m well, thanks. I hope you are too.

I’m eating and drinking and reading my favorite books.

And I’m sorry, too.

 

 

It’s still strange.

They exchange cordial, stiff messages occasionally, but nothing like the usual teasing jabs and texts of fondness. Simple how was your days and I hope you ate wells are enough to suffice. They aren’t ignoring each other at the very least.

Jongin hasn’t seen Kyungsoo in person for a while now. He hasn’t offered, he hasn’t gone to the roof, and he thinks Kyungsoo might not believe he has that right yet.

Sometimes, they go days without talking. There’s a strain on the relationship now, and Jongin knows they need to fix it if they have any desire to save what they have.

He does.

He really does.

He likes Kyungsoo a lot, and spending all this time apart has proven just how much he does, issues aside.

After a full day of no texts from Kyungsoo, he gets one, late at night just as he’s about to sleep.

It appears to be only a photo - a screenshot of an email. The screenshot comes with no other context, but Jongin can already assume what it is.


Re:Re:Re: Please read this
Recipient: dokysoo
Sender: kimjihye87

Well, Kyungsoo, I can honestly say that I am impressed.

I wasn’t expecting much when you mentioned it was a children’s book. However, I did it for my brother, feeling as if I owed it to him, and now I find myself pleasantly surprised.

I’ve never read a piece of his work. He was very private as a teenager, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found though, was extremely refreshing and creative. The plot itself is ordinary upon first glance, but even so, there’s a magical refreshness to the writing style that gives it a little spice, a little originality. I was drawn very quickly into this world. The humor is suitably placed, as are the morals and themes that this story represents. As I got further and further into the story, I was realizing how different it really is - almost as if it is fooling you into thinking it is one thing, but surprising you that it is definitely better than you thought. Jongin’s writing is effortless, clean, and poetic, and yet, still very suitable for a child’s reading level.

I am very interested in representing him, if he so wishes for me to. If this is the case, I will discuss this in further detail with him personally.

I would like to express my greatest thanks for sending me his draft.

I would also like to thank you for the other email you sent me. You’re right. I should make an effort to reconnect with my brother. I would tell you to tell him that I’m sorry, but this is something I must do in person.

Regards,
Kim Jihye

 

 

 

“Soooo…” Yifan drawls, tapping the table with the edge of his soju cup. “He went behind your back and sent your gay princess story to your sister?”

Jongin nods, pressing his chin into his folded arms. It’s quite empty tonight, the other tables barren with only a few people dotted around.

“That was pretty shitty of him, eh?” Yifan says, throwing his head back for a shot. “But I mean… he had good intentions. I think that’s what matters the most, right?”

“I know, I know,” Jongin sighs. “And now that my sister actually seems to want to publish my book, I’m starting to realize that - yeah, this is exactly what I wanted all along.”

Yifan quirks an interested brow. “Really?”

“Yeah. I do want this. I didn’t realize how much until I saw what she said about my draft. I got really excited at just the prospect of being published, of getting the chance to share my stories and ideas. I think - I think I just needed to get over myself and whatever I was afraid of and just go for the plunge, like Kyungsoo did for me instead.”

“I see,” Yifan says, folding meat into a wrap for Jongin, since the latter doesn’t seem too intent on trying to feed himself. “What are you saying then?”

“I’m saying maybe I’ve been restraining myself too much,” Jongin says. “I’m - I’m a good storyteller, damn it.”

Yifan chuckles. “This is new. I like it though. It’s better when you’re hyping yourself up instead of bringing yourself down. Damn straight you are. The best storyteller in Seoul.”

“I wouldn’t say best, I mean - I’m sure there are others who-”

“Aaaaand, we’re back,” Yifan says. “Confident Jongin was nice for the two seconds he was around.”

Jongin rolls his eyes, and sits up straight then, chuckling a little at his friend’s antics.

“So what happens next then?” Yifan asks.

Jongin purses his lips in thought. He thinks it’s about time he starts making decisions for himself. It’s time for him to stop being so passive, to start taking action.

“I take the step forward,” he says. “I’m done being afraid.”

 

 


Recipent(s): kimjihye87
Sender: jonginkimm

Hi, Jihye.

It’s me, Jongin.
I just wanted to thank you for everything you said about my draft. It really means a lot to me.
And I am interested in a contract. I would be honored to have you as my agent.

And I’m sorry too.

Jongin.

 

 

Jongin makes his way up the fire escape with a shaking heart, nerves acting up. He keeps pulling his phone out to look at Kyungsoo’s response over and over.

To: Kyungsoo
Hey. Meet me on the rooftop?

Fr: Kyungsoo
...I’m already here.

He pulls himself up the last step and spots Kyungsoo at the edge of the roof, arms crossed on the bannister. The sun has set already, so the dark of the night is all that surrounds them as Jongin makes his way over.

“Hi,” Jongin says nervously, leaning against the bannister besides Kyungsoo.

Kyungsoo straightens at his arrival. “Hey,” he says. He sounds relieved, his voice a bit perked.

“First of all-” Jongin is quick to start, loosening his nervous fist, “I’m an idiot, alright-”

Kyungsoo interrupts him with an exasperated eyeroll. “No. We’re not doing that. We are not starting off like that. ’First of all’, you aren’t anywhere close to an idiot. Second of all, we’ve both been doing pretty dumb things, but that doesn’t make us idiots or bad people. And third, I - I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it by now, but I’ll say it until I’m sure you’re alright with it. I shouldn’t have went behind your back like that and sent it to her without your knowledge. There were better ways of approaching you, I know that now. I was just running on an impulse and the desire to see you happy.”

“I am happy, Kyungsoo. You were wrong when you said I was...faking happiness. That kind of hurt. I am happy. I’m happy with you.”

“I’m sorry I said that,” Kyungsoo ducks his head. “But there’s a... solemnity to you, I can’t explain it.”

“That would be the loneliness,” Jongin says with a bit of a self-deprecating scoff. “I’m afraid that’s one thing you were right about.”

“It was insensitive of me to bring that up.”

“You were right, though.” Jongin fumbles with the hem of shirt uncomfortably before speaking again. “Anyway, I didn’t call you up here to talk about that night. I wanted to say I’m sorry too. I’m sorry for being a jerk that couldn’t spare a minute to talk things through with you, for being so - so afraid. And I wanted to thank you. Really. I thought over it, and you’re right. I would have never took that step. I kept putting it off, saying I’d do it next week or the next month, but it never happened. Maybe I needed a little kick in the right direction.”

“So does this mean…?”

“I’m taking it,” Jongin grins. “I emailed Jihye and told her we can meet up and talk more about it.”

“Jongin,” Kyungsoo gapes, before his eyes start crinkling and his lips turn up into a grand smile. Before Jongin knows it, he’s got his arms full of the older, his face buried in Kyungsoo’s neck and body wrapped in his warmth.

“I’m sorry,” Jongin muffles, “for being such an ass about everything.”

“No, oh my god,” Kyungsoo says, pulling back. “You were right in being mad at me. I’m still mad at myself for how I did it, I really should have just talked to you about it.”

“I’m the most stubborn person alive, Kyungsoo. I don’t think I would have done it just by you trying to convince me. I’ve been so immature, and these few weeks without you felt so weird but I just - god, I’m such an asshole.”

“If anyone, I’m the asshole,” Kyungsoo mumbles. “You weren’t ready and I was so determined to see this through that I went behind your back. Come on, Jongin. Your anger was valid.”

“But your intention was good, Kyungsoo.”

“And - and when you didn’t answer my texts and calls, I - I thought you finally got tired of me, I thought you were just waiting for me to eventually give up and leave you alone-”

“Stop,” Jongin interrupts. “I will never get tired of you. You need to stop thinking that, please. I’m sorry I made you think that.”

“I’m sorry, too. For everything.”

“Don’t be,” Jongin murmurs, pulling Kyungsoo into his chest again. “You are…amazing, Kyungsoo. You have the biggest heart, you’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met, you’re kind and always so supportive. You’re unselfish, you’re grateful for what you have, you’re always willing to help, and I think that’s so inspiring. I admire you so much.”

Kyungsoo lowers his head before he’s nodding in resignation. “What would I do without you,” he says quietly.

“Prosper and flourish, probably,” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo snaps his head back up to glare at him.

“You can’t put yourself down either. Unallowed.”

“Fine,” Jongin gives in. “Only if you say good things about yourself from here on out.”

“And promise that if we have something to say or if something is on our minds, we will say it instead of avoiding each other.”

“I promise,” Jongin says. “I’ll tell you everything.”

They share smiles of agreement, before Kyungsoo tugs Jongin’s hand into his own and faces them towards the city again. His face falls into a thoughtful expression. “I’ve actually been doing some thinking for myself too,” he says. “I decided that I’m going to go back to school.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah. I still want to teach though; I really like it. But I want to teach at universities, so I’m going to try and get my PhD.”

Wow,” Jongin gushes. “Look at you, going to get all smart and stuff.”

Kyungsoo laughs, cute little smile adorned. “I just - I didn’t want a job just handed to me, I felt like I needed to work for it. So I’m going back to school, part time.”

“I’m happy for you,” Jongin says, leaping forward to pull Kyungsoo into another hug. “You deserve this.”

“I still have to see if I’ll be accepted, Jongin,” Kyungsoo chuckles against the fabric of Jongin’s shirt.

“You will!” Jongin exclaims, pulling back again. He looks Kyungsoo very determinedly in his eyes. “I know you will.”

Kyungsoo chuckles and nods, laughing when Jongin pulls him back in for yet another hug. The way his face squishes up when he’s laughing like this has Jongin feeling weightless and so, so in love.

Really, Jongin is head over heels, and it’s about time Kyungsoo knows just how much. He pulls away, a sudden wave of apprehension rushing through him.

“Well,” he starts, gulping nervously, “since we’re going to tell each other everything on our minds from here on out, I, uh - I have one more thing to tell you. I was gonna wait to tell you this, but now’s as good a time as any, I suppose.”

Kyungsoo’s brows raise curiously, and he waits in anticipation. As nervous as he is, the next words come easily for Jongin.

“I love you. I really love you.”

There’s a prickling sensation to Jongin’s skin upon finally being able to utter the words. He feels his heartbeat picking up in his chest, and it’s suddenly a little hard to breathe, because he’s anxious and nervous, yet so in love above it all, and it’s an odd array of emotions to experience at once.

Kyungsoo’s mouth parts in surprise, and it’s clear he hadn’t been expecting this.

“...Me?” Kyungsoo manages, voice small and feeble.

“Yes, you,” Jongin chuckles. “I really love you. This might sound presumptuous of me, but uh… Can I assume you feel the same way?”

Kyungsoo lets out a little bark of a laugh, but it doesn’t sound condescending.

“God, of course I do,” Kyungsoo says. “I love you so much, you don’t even know-

He interrupts his own sentence by reaching up to kiss Jongin, the first kiss they’ve shared in a while.

“Sometimes I feel like I love you isn’t enough either,” Jongin mutters between kisses. “You mean so much more to me than that, so much more than words can even say-”

“Jongin,” Kyungsoo is saying now, lips curved in a sweet little smile. His fingers come to wrap in a fist around the fabric of the younger’s shirt, keeping him from pulling away. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “I understand.”

His heart stops at those words, and his throat dries.

Words may fail him, but perhaps his heart can do the talking for him. So he pushes down that anxious feeling welling up in his chest and leans forward again, drawn in by warm eyes and plush lips. Pushed by the cool air of the night, guiding him to seek warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

“Thank you so much for even considering me, Jihye,” he says, clasping his hands together.

“Of course,” she says, offering him a smile as she toes her shoes on. “You’re my brother, and I have faith in you. Your draft is amazing. And one more thing -”

Jongin waits, watching as Jihye lowers her head and tucks her hair behind an ear.

“You’ll always have a family, you know that, right?” she says. “Mom and dad - they’ll come around eventually. Until then, you have me, and my husband - he’s always liked you - and my twins.”

Jongin gapes. “Your twins?”

She nods, a bright smile on her face. “I’m pregnant,” she says. “And I want you to know that we’ll involve you a lot more - we’ll invite you over for birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s... These kids will need their uncle. They’ll need a little color in their lives, a little imagination. So you have us, okay? And you always will.”

“Really?”

She nods. “And your boyfriend is welcome, too.”

Jihye peers around Jongin to wave at Kyungsoo on the couch, who gives her a smile in return.

“I’m really sorry, Jongin,” Jihye continues, “for being so distant these past few years. I let mother and father decide how I should think, and I can’t express my apologies enough. This is a new start, though! I hope you can forgive me, and I hope you can forgive them too. They’re being ridiculous. They just don’t know it yet.”

“I appreciate this, Jihye. Thank you.”

“It’s not a problem,” Jihye says, then her shoulders slacken and her professional demeanor falls, something youthful and playful in her smile. “Anytime, bro.”

Jongin chuckles, and waves her a last goodbye as she promises to check up with him soon and send him the details later on his possible new career. As the door shuts behind her, Jongin feels as if something has been lifted off his shoulders, something that’s been weighing him down for quite a while - and it feels amazing to have it gone.

There is the sound of light footsteps behind him, and he feels arms wrap around his waist and a chin dig into his neck.

“Seems like everything’s coming together,” Kyungsoo murmurs. Jongin can hear the smile in his voice, and it makes him smile in return. He rotates in Kyungsoo’s arms to face him.

“It would seem so,” Jongin agrees, lips quirking up.

“I’m happy for you,” Kyungsoo says. “You’re getting to do what you love. I mean, you always have, but this time - you’re going to be making a lot more people happy with your own stories.”

Jongin nods, and he ducks his head, unable to hide the utter glee in his smile. He’s sure he’s grinning like a maniac right now, heart full and content.

“Only maybe,” Jongin clarifies. “It depends on how good my book is.”

Kyungsoo hums, and brushes a finger through Jongin’s bangs. “Well, I know it’ll be amazing. A best-seller. Inspiring to children and families everywhere. You have a gift, Jongin. The world is about to witness it.”

And truly, Jongin is so grateful for Kyungsoo’s never ending support.

All this time he’s debated the importance of words, but without words, he wouldn’t be able to tell stories at all. Even his and Kyungsoo’s story - one that lacks words in itself - needs words to be shared, ironically. Words have the power to weave and create and recall, words can declare and devote and dedicate; they can - if used correctly - express oneself.

That said, Jongin thinks it’s okay to not rely on them. After all, he’s still at a loss for the appropriate words to describe how he feels towards Kyungsoo, though he thinks ‘I’ and ‘love’ and ‘you’ are the closest he will get, and even that is not nearly enough.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because however strongly he feels, he is sure that Kyungsoo knows nonetheless - Kyungsoo, who now leans up to kiss him deep and passionate, hand in a tight fist around the fabric of his shirt. Jongin kisses back just as fervently.

The last words for this particular chapter of their story is as follows: the future is bright, they are happy, and they have the love of their lives by their side. Call them impatient, or perhaps just passionate, but they cannot wait to write the next page, and this time - together.