Renjun first notices something is wrong when Jisung stops coming out of his room, stops walking through the apartment seemingly just to take stock of things, stops meandering into the kitchen to refill a water bottle or eye the food in the fridge and cupboard without actually getting anything to eat, stops knocking on Renjun’s door and interrupting his reading to talk about some thing or another that’s on his mind.
It’s not entirely suspicious at first, because Renjun is busy with coursework and Jisung is as well, but after more than a few days of a strange silence settled over the apartment, the absence of Jisung’s presence — familiar and cozy like autumn leaves skittering down the sidewalk in a lazy breeze and hot tea with melted honey — starts to make itself known. One day Renjun opens his bedroom door to head to the bathroom and catches a glimpse of Jisung disappearing into his own room again, and realizes with a start that it’s the first time he’s seen Jisung in nearly a full twenty-four hours.
There’s something about living with another person (or with many other people, but right now Jisung is the only roommate Renjun has) that catches Renjun by surprise now and then, because he’d grown up an only child and was all too used to being alone at home: the fact that you can be so physically close to someone, and yet still wholeheartedly feel the ache of missing them. Renjun realizes then, caught in the hall between his room and the bathroom, that he misses Jisung, even though he’s only a few doors away.
It’s a strange thing for Renjun, noticing this all of a sudden. He’s used to missing his parents, his grandparents, his friends from school, but those are all conscious. They’re far from him—a long walk or a bus ride or even an airline flight away, so it makes sense that he misses them when he hasn’t seen them for a while, hasn’t been around them in a while. But this? Missing Jisung when he’s right here within reach? This settles uncomfortably in Renjun’s gut.
Right there in the hall he considers walking down to Jisung’s door and knocking, saying hello and asking him how he’s doing, but Renjun discards the thought with a sigh. Jisung must want to be alone now, if Renjun hasn’t seen him out and about lately. Renjun should respect his privacy and leave him in peace, no matter the fact that there’s an oddly shaped dent in his heart that feels an awful lot like it could be smoothed out with a quick smile from Jisung, the soft sound of his voice as he goes off on a tangent about some show he’s watching now.
So Renjun uses the bathroom and then heads back to his bedroom with nothing more than another glance down the hall towards Jisung’s room, but he leaves his door open, just in case.
He doesn’t know why he’s been closing it these days anyway.
A day later, Renjun bumps into Jisung in the kitchen. Jisung gives him a thin-lipped smile that doesn’t reach his eyes, and turns into the fridge, hiding behind the open door. Renjun watches him—his shoulders slumped and his back curved like he’s trying to shrink, the hood of his sweatshirt hanging over his head as if to hide him. Jisung moves slowly, shuffling feet and clumsy hands as he pulls a tupperware out of the fridge and grabs a spoon from the cutlery drawer. He doesn’t meet Renjun’s eyes again before disappearing back to his room with the food, the soft click of his bedroom door the only goodbye Renjun gets.
Worry drips down the back of Renjun’s neck like he’s standing under melting icicles, head tipped back to catch each droplet. He wonders, briefly, if he’s done something wrong, but that seems like a self-centered thing to think. He wonders next whether he’s reading too much into this, because of course sometimes even he grows quiet and keeps to himself—but still, his gut twists.
He decides to trust it.
Friday falls two days after the fleeting encounter in the kitchen. Renjun has barely seen Jisung since. Hasn’t spoken more than three sentences to him—not for lack of trying, but because Jisung vanishes before Renjun can figure out what he wants to say, and Renjun still hasn’t worked up the conviction to knock on Jisung’s door and see if he can draw him out of this shell he’s crawled into.
Renjun is determined now, though. He sets up camp on their couch — secondhand, but surprisingly comfortable despite the sagging of the cushions — and sits with his laptop balanced between his crossed legs, waiting for Jisung to emerge from his room.
Two hours after sitting down, and three episodes into a youtube series about paranormal activity across the world (it should be homework, but Renjun feels too distracted to focus), Renjun is finally rewarded by the sound of Jisung’s quiet footsteps on the floor. Renjun pauses his video as Jisung walks into his line of sight, and tries to keep his face calm and open as he catches Jisung’s attention.
“Jisung,” he says, hoping his voice comes out at just the right level of soft, “hi.”
Jisung’s head turns Renjun’s way and he blinks, as if surprised to have been addressed. “Hi?”
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in a while,” Renjun says. “I was wondering if you wanted to do something? We could watch a movie or anything you want?”
“Oh.” Jisung blinks at him again, caught off guard. “I’m not… I would… I’m kind of in the middle of something now. Sorry.”
Renjun tries not to let the disappointment show on his face. “Okay,” he says with a small smile. “Just thought I would offer. If you ever want to do anything, you can just come ask.” He hesitates for a moment, I miss you, stuck on the tip of his tongue. He holds it there like an ice cube between his lips, melting cold down his throat. He doesn’t want to make Jisung feel guilty for wanting time to himself, for having his own life outside of Renjun. They’re just friends, after all. Close friends, but still. It’s not like Renjun is his keeper.
“Thanks,” Jisung says. He sounds quiet, small, and even the way he carries himself makes him seem like he’s shrinking. Like if Renjun stood up and walked over to him, maybe Jisung wouldn’t tower over him. It makes Renjun want to frown, want to pry, but then Jisung is walking away, continuing whatever he came out of his room to do, and Renjun respects his space, so he goes back to his youtube video in silence.
Renjun is quietly stubborn though—this won’t be the last time he tries to coax Jisung out of his room, into a little bit of quality time. He’ll keep trying until the ache in his chest at the thought of Jisung finally subsides, until the gray cloud of missing Jisung dissipates.
Until he sees Jisung smile again and mean it.
On Saturday night, Renjun makes dinner. He’s not the best cook in the world — not even close — but when he sets his mind to it and follows instructions carefully, he thinks the result is far beyond anything a microwave meal or instant ramen could be. It’s not entirely uncommon for him to cook like this, but he’s never done it with the intention of luring Jisung out of the cave of his room before. Usually he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, just shoots Jisung a text to let him know there’s food if he isn’t drawn out by the smell of the chicken or the sound of the rice cooker beeping. Usually.
But now Renjun feels much more purposeful.
Killing the heat under the pan of chicken fried rice, Renjun walks down the hall and knocks gently on Jisung’s door. For a moment, there’s silence, and then—
“Yeah?” Jisung’s voice sounds muffled through the door.
“I made dinner,” Renjun says into the wood. “I don’t know if you’re hungry, but there’s plenty for you.”
Another beat of silence. “Okay,” Jisung says. “Thanks.” Silence, again.
Renjun sighs. He turns away from Jisung’s door and pads back to the kitchen to dish out a helping of dinner onto a plate for himself. Instead of retreating to his room to eat like he often does, Renjun sets his plate down on the small table in the main room, and brings his laptop over so he can get some work done while he eats. While he waits to see if Jisung will come out for food.
Ten minutes after sitting down, halfway through his plate of dinner, Renjun looks up from his computer screen at the sound of Jisung’s door opening behind him. Renjun doesn’t twist around to gawk at him, but he watches out of the corner of his eye as Jisung approaches.
“You’re eating out here?” Jisung asks, surprise coloring his tone.
Renjun takes this as his cue to finally turn and face Jisung, tracking his movement across the room as he heads towards the stove for the pan with dinner in it. “Yeah,” he says. “I thought a change of scenery might be nice.”
Jisung spares him a quick look before angling away so he can shovel food into a bowl for himself.
Renjun presses on. “If you’re not busy, we could eat together if you want. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever. We could catch up.” It’s like deja vu—the other day all over again.
Jisung pauses, cradling his dinner bowl in his hands. Maybe he recognizes this request from days prior as well. He must, right? “You want to?”
Renjun nods. “If you’re not busy?”
Jisung hesitates a moment longer, then— “Okay,” he says, sinking gingerly into the seat across from Renjun. He sets his bowl on the table with a soft clack of glass on wood, and stares down at the food in it. “Thanks for making dinner.”
“No problem,” Renjun says, taking another bite. He closes his laptop and slides it to the side so Jisung doesn’t feel slighted, second to anything.
Jisung takes a tentative bite as well, and makes a soft sound of appreciation. When he finishes chewing, he looks up from the bowl to meet Renjun’s eyes. “It’s really good.”
Renjun smiles. “Thanks. I’m glad you like it.”
Jisung nods, and grows quiet again as he carries on eating.
Renjun pushes a diced piece of chicken around on his plate. “What have you been up to these days? You’ve been holed up in your room for like two weeks.”
Jisung’s jaw freezes mid-chew, and he stares down at his bowl. A beat passes, and he resumes chewing, swallows, and shrugs. “I guess school’s been really piling onto me. Been busy.”
“Ah,” Renjun nods. He’d guessed as much, but still… he’d experienced Finals Week Jisung last semester, and even that hadn’t been quite like this. There’d been less silence and emptiness and more Jisung lying on the floor in the hallway and moaning about like a ghost because, in his words, I may as well already be dead.
And Renjun doesn’t want to pry, but he cares about Jisung, and he’s getting worse at ignoring the faint twinge of worry in his stomach every time he glances at Jisung’s closed door. So he asks, “Anything else? You know I’m all ears if you ever want to talk about anything.”
Jisung smiles, tight-lipped and thin. Even as his lips curl, he looks a bit melancholy. “Thanks for offering,” he says in a soft voice. Nothing more. He takes another bite.
Renjun nods, bites his tongue and goes back to his food. They eat in silence—everything quiet in the apartment but the soft hum of the air purifier in the far corner of the room. Renjun finishes eating, but lingers at the table with his empty plate in front of him and his laptop closed and pushed to the side, waiting until Jisung is nearly done. When Jisung starts to look like he’s nearing the bottom of his bowl, Renjun finally stands, clearing his plate and washing it in the sink, loading it onto the drying rack on the counter. When he turns around, Jisung is scraping the bottom of his bowl.
Renjun walks back to the table, slowing when he reaches Jisung. He lifts a hand to ruffle Jisung’s hair affectionately. Jisung tips his head back to look up at Renjun, and Renjun’s hand settles at the nape of his neck. There’s a question in Jisung’s eyes, so Renjun offers him a small smile and says, “I’m here, Jisungie. If you ever need anything, all you have to do is ask.” Then, so the words don’t weigh on Jisung in a way Renjun doesn’t want them too, he adds, “Even if that means keying someone’s car or slashing their tires. I know how to do that stuff without getting caught—just say the word.”
Jisung laughs lightly through his nose, and his eyes shine as he looks at Renjun. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says. “Thanks.”
Renjun nods. “Anytime.” And then he settles back into his seat, lets Jisung get up and clear his bowl and disappear off to his room again. Baby steps, he thinks. Baby steps.
On Sunday, Renjun gets home from grocery shopping at sunset. He unloads everything and then heads to his room and crashes face first onto his bed, ready to cat-nap before attempting to be an adult again for the rest of the night. Face buried in his pillow, he almost doesn’t hear the floor creak. Almost.
Renjun lifts his head, squinting, and finds Jisung standing in his open doorway.
“Sorry,” Jisung says, “I didn’t mean to bother you.” He takes a step away, and Renjun bolts up.
“You’re not bothering! What’s up?”
Jisung freezes, hesitating. Renjun gives him an encouraging nod. “I just…” Jisung trails off, so Renjun scoots forward to the edge of his bed and nods again. Jisung sighs. “Can I… have a hug?”
Renjun blinks in surprise. The moment of confusion must read as uncertainty, because Jisung’s face drops and he backs up, raising his hands as if in surrender. “You know… nevermind. You don’t ha—”
“Of course!” Renjun cuts him off, standing and walking over to him before he can run off. “C’mere.” He holds out his arms and pulls Jisung in gently by his shoulders. Jisung exhales, and Renjun wraps his arms around him, holding him close, resting his head on Jisung’s shoulder.
Jisung is tense at first, but when Renjun doesn’t let go, he starts to soften. His arms circle Renjun’s middle, hands fisting in his shirt, and he sags against Renjun. It’s like he’s shrinking in size to fit better in Renjun’s arms, breathing slowly as Renjun rubs one of his hands carefully against his back.
For a long time, Jisung says nothing, so Renjun stays quiet as well. He’s just about to break the silence, when Jisung sniffs, and Renjun realizes he’s trembling like he’s on the verge of tears. He hugs a bit tighter, asks, “Is there anything I can do?”
Jisung shakes his head. “This is good,” he mumbles thickly.
So they stay there, Renjun holding Jisung as he clings to him, gathering himself together, until Jisung lets out a little whine about his back hurting. Renjun loosens his grip and leans away, tilting his head so he can look at Jisung’s face even as he tries to hide it in his fringe. “Do you want to talk?” Renjun asks.
Jisung considers, but shakes his head. “Just don’t want to be alone,” he admits. Renjun thinks he hears a silent anymore, tacked onto the end.
“Okay,” he says. “C’mere, then.” He shifts his hands from Jisung’s back to his forearms and tugs lightly, leading Jisung across the floor until the backs of his legs hit the frame of his bed. “Do you want to keep hugging?”
Jisung shifts his weight from foot to foot, and nods without meeting Renjun’s eyes. “If it’s okay.”
“‘Course,” Renjun says, dropping down onto his bed and rolling to the side so there’s room for Jisung next to him. Jisung settles gingerly at his side, and Renjun scoots closer, until he can wrap an arm around Jisung and settle his chest against Jisung’s back. Again, Jisung seems to shrink himself as he curls up in Renjun’s arms. He lets out a breath, and some of the tension leaves his body as he starts to relax again.
“Thanks,” Jisung murmurs once more.
Renjun hums, forehead resting comfortably against the muscle between Jisung’s shoulder-blade and spine. “Told you—it’s no trouble. I’m here, and I was gonna nap anyway.”
“Still,” Jisung insists.
Renjun feels blindly for Jisung’s hand, holding it in his own when he finds it. “Whatever you need, Jisungie. Whenever you want to talk, I’m all ears. And if you don’t want to talk, that’s okay too. If you just want company, you always know where to find me.”
“Yeah,” Jisung breathes.
Renjun lets his eyes fall shut. “I’m here for you. My door is open.” He pauses to yawn. “Love you.”
Jisung exhales, and his breathing evens out. “Love you, too.”
They fall silent, and Renjun drifts off to the sound of Jisung’s breathing, and his heartbeat.
When he wakes, Jisung will have slipped in and out of sleep as well, and he’ll be ready to talk—just a little bit, just to explain what’s been going on in his head recently. Renjun will listen, will hold him again as he blinks furiously but doesn’t quite cry. And when it’s all over and Jisung heads back to his room, he’ll leave his door cracked open. Just enough.
They’ll take baby steps. Go day by day.
Renjun will be there.