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Almost There

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It was getting dark, and the winter cold was turning Renjun’s fingertips red, his breath steaming the air as he waited for his train. This was the third transfer. The last transfer of the trip.

Almost there.

But almost felt far away when hypothermia was so close by.

An old woman took the seat beside him, a kindly smile on her face as she watched Renjun rub his hands together. “Did you forget your gloves?”

He forced himself to smile. He was kind of worried his chapped lips would scare her away, but he made an effort anyway. His mother had raised him to be polite to his elders, even if his lips looked like they’d fought a cheese grater and lost. “I lent them to a friend, and he forgot to give them back.”

The woman nodded. She pulled her bag onto her lap and began to rummage. “I have a spare pair of mittens in here somewhere, let me get them for you.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t!” Renjun objected. His mother raised him to be polite to his elders, not to take mittens from old ladies that needed them more than he did. “Thank you, but really, I’ll be okay. I’ll be home soon.”

“Until then, you need to cover your fingers. You’re still young, but when you’re my age you’ll be wishing you took better care of your skin and your nerves.” She ignored his attempts at refusing the mittens and placed them firmly in his lap.

He looked down at them. Santa was on one, Rudolph on the other. They were red, and each cartoon figure had a red pompom nose. “Ma’am, I appreciate your generosity, but-“

“Take them. My grandson thinks he’s too cool for presents from Grandma, and I’d rather see them used than go to waste.”

Old lady manipulation at its finest. How could he say no to them now? He put them on and wiggled his fingers. “Thank you so much. This is very kind of you.”

She patted his knee with her own gloved hands, smile widening. Weirdly, the expression reminded Renjun of Donghyuck, sweet and kind and slightly sly. Maybe Donghyuck was destined to be a manipulative old lady. It didn’t seem so farfetched.

A train pulled in, slowing to a stop in front of their seats, and the old woman wobbled to her feet. “This is me. Take care of those mittens, won’t you? I’ll know if you don’t, and I’ll haunt you once I finally kick the bucket.”

It startled a laugh out of him, and before he could think about it he was taking her bag and helping her towards the train, where a man stood next to the door, ready to help her aboard. “I’ll take very good care of them, and I’ll wear them whenever it’s cold. Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome.” She took the conductor’s hand and climbed onto the carriage slowly, then turned back to Renjun to take her bag and stare at him intently. “Are you courting? The grandson that’s too cool for mittens is on the market for a boyfriend, and none of the men he’s brought home have been as cute as you.”

Maybe this old lady was Donghyuck. Renjun patted her hand. “I’m sadly in a very committed relationship with the love of my life, but if he annoys me, I’ll keep in mind that I know a woman who would be a fantastic grandmother-in-law.”

She grinned, and then the door was closing.

Renjun stepped away from the platform and waved her off with his mittened hand.

 

-

 

JM: Day 4. One of my nostrils has succumbed. Breathing is laboured. I don’t have long left.

RJ: A bad cold is all it takes? If I’d known I would have started deliberately sneezing on you years ago. I can’t believe Chenle is the one that kills my boyfriend and not me.

JM: Pity me please. I only have one nostril!

RJ: I do pity you, but it’s not for the cold. Baby.

JM: YOUR baby.

RJ: You are. Have some more medicine, then get back into bed. Stay warm.

JM: You really care me…

RJ: I do.

JM: Not to be needy but I could really use a Renjun cuddle right now. A Renjun touch. A Renjun glance, even ☹

RJ: [Image attached]

JM: !!!!!!!!! THAT’S MY GORGEOUS BOYFRIEND!!!!

JM: I’m down a nostril but up considerable serotonin

JM: Are you on a bus?

RJ: Yeah. Just got some groceries.

JM: I need to come over when I’m better, I miss your cooking. I miss you.

RJ: I miss you too. Just focus on getting better, okay? Don’t worry about anything else for now.

JM: Okay. I’m gonna take a nap. Get home safe, Junnie <3

RJ: I will. I’m almost there. X

 

-

 

As soon as he pocketed his phone he put the mittens back on and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. Despite the train’s heating, he was cold to his core, and every little warmth helped. That old woman must have been a saint.

Couldn’t be Donghyuck, then, as much as they seemed one and the same in Renjun’s exhausted mind.

How long had he been travelling now? He’d finished his last lecture at three, then ran home to pack a bag. The first train left at four, and it was nearing ten now. Six hours of travelling in the dead of winter, trains slowed because of snow and ice, a perilous journey for a man that was probably so out of his mind on flu medication that he wouldn’t recognise his boyfriend in the flesh.

Still. It would be worth it, even if Jaemin really was the snotty sludge he described himself as. Renjun didn’t care; he had definitely seen worse. After four years, he was fairly confident he’d seen Jaemin’s best and worst, and a cold landed somewhere fairly middle ground. It wasn’t as good as graduation day, when they were riding the high of their bachelor’s education and their love, and it wasn’t as bad as he day he realised they’d be long distance during their masters. It was in the middle, lower but not lowest, because even with a blocked nose and a rattling cough, Jaemin was still Jaemin, and that meant that Renjun wanted to be right there with him, stroking sweaty hair away from his sweaty forehead, pretending to ignore his complaints only to do exactly what he wanted without making any eye contact.

It’s how they were.

How they’d always be.

Renjun jolted when the train began to slow, hurrying to the doors before he missed his stop.

As promised, there was a lone car idling in the parking lot, lights on.

It was just starting to snow again as Renjun hurried over, toes cold even through two pairs of socks and his docs. By the time he made it to the car, his glasses had fogged considerably and his teeth were chattering.

Jeno took one look at him and laughed, though it wasn’t unkind. “Long day?”

“Very,” Renjun said, pulling the door shut before tossing his bag onto the back seat. “How is he, really?”

“It’s a bad cold, I won’t pretend he’s doing great,” Jeno said, pulling away from the lot, “But he’s okay. Sleeping a lot.”

Renjun hummed, rubbing his mittens together. “Can we stop and get some vegetables on the way back? I want to make him something to eat.”

“Donghyuck made some soup already. I dropped it off on my way to pick you up, so it should be on the stove for you to reheat.”

Maybe Donghyuck was a saint. “I love your boyfriend.”

“Me too,” Jeno said easily. “He’s pretty lovable, despite the evil outbursts.”

“How are you? Both of you?”

“What, you’re going to pretend Donghyuck doesn’t call you every day to tell you?” Jeno smiled, soft. “Sweet. We’re doing fine, thanks. My internship is kicking my ass, but it’s interesting. Donghyuck spends more time in the library than at home, but once his exams are out of the way I’m going to take him on a trip. Don’t tell him.”

“I won’t,” Renjun promised. “That sounds good. You both need a break.”

“Yeah. You as well, right? He said that your exams are coming up soon too.”

“Next week.”

“And you’re here?”

“Of course I am.”

Jeno shook his head, rueful. “When he’s better he’s gonna kick your ass.”

“Don’t pretend that he could.”

Jeno laughed. “Okay, good point. But he’ll sulk at the very least.”

Renjun shrugged. He knocked his head against the window and watched the dark streets pass. “I can deal with the sulking, as long as he’s healthy. That’s my priority.”

 

-

 

Jeno dropped him off at the door and left his key in Renjun’s mitten. “Don’t lose it,” he said.

“You know I won’t.”

“Yeah, but I had to say it.”

“Say hi to Hyuck for me, won’t you?”

“Sure. Think you’ll be up for coffee tomorrow? He wants to ask, but he won’t actually do it because he’s worried about intruding on your time.”

Renjun laughed, fond. “I’m sure I can make time in my busy schedule of wiping Jaemin’s nose to get coffee with my best friend. Tell him I’ll meet him at Starbucks at three, like we used to.”

Jeno glowed. “Okay, I will. Have fun, Junnie. Good to see you.”

“You too. Thanks again for picking me up.”

“Any time.”

And then Jeno’s car was pulling away, and Renjun was on his own, finally home and full of purpose.

He let himself into the forth floor apartment as quietly as he could, but even when his boot hit the floor with a thud, Jaemin didn’t stir. His bedroom door stayed closed, and he didn’t call through like he usually would if Jeno got back late.

Certain he had some time, Renjun went through to the kitchen first to reheat the soup. When he checked the pan he saw dak gomtang and sent up a silent thank you to Donghyuck, whatever he was doing, whatever chaos he was causing.

Only once the soup was warming did he start to de-layer, first the coat and hat, then the scarf, then one pair of socks, then the jumper, until he was left with his long-sleeved shirt and the jeans he’d travelled in, a single pair of socks, and the mittens. He couldn’t bring himself to take them off yet.

Then it was time to see Jaemin.

It had been two months since the last time they’d been able to meet up in person, and Renjun felt every day of those two months as he padded down the hall towards Jaemin’s room. Two months without Jaemin was two months too long.

When Renjun pushed open the bedroom door, Jaemin was just a lump under the sheets, the only movement the slight rise and fall of his breathing. There was a pile of used tissues on his bedside cabinet and a half empty glass of water.

Renjun took a seat on the side of the bed closest to the sentient lump, and finally pulled off one of his mittens. He stroked a hand over what he assumed was Jaemin’s back. “Baby, wake up.”

Jaemin made a quiet, muffled noise. “No thank you.”

It made Renjun laugh. “Wake up, Jaemin, come on.”

It took a moment, but his head emerged from the blankets, eyes narrowed as he tried to focus. “Wh- Renjun?” His eyes shot open. “Renjun?”

“Hi,” Renjun said, fighting back whatever besotted expression was trying to climb onto his face. Jaemin’s hair was stuck to his head in the front and a tangled mess in the back, his cheeks were ruddy, and his nose looked raw. He looked like garbage. Renjun had never been happier to see such a mess. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like I’m high,” Jaemin said. His voice was wrecked, scratchy and painful sounding. He sat further up the bed, barely blinking at all, like Renjun would disintegrate if he wasn’t being stared at. “How are you here?”

“A lot of very slow trains.”

“But your exams-“

“Are next week. I’m prepared for them Jaemin. Don’t worry about something like that.”

“But…” he trailed off, lost. “But you’re busy.”

“I am,” Renjun agreed. “Taking care of you when you’re ill is a lot of work. I imagine I’ll have my hands full for the weekend.”

“The weekend? The whole weekend?”

“My train back is Monday morning.”

“You’re actually here? Did snot cut off my oxygen supply? Am I hallucinating?”

“I’m here,” Renjun said. He waved one hand. “Do you like my new mittens? An old lady gave them to me at the last train station.”

“I can’t focus my eyes well enough to see them properly,” Jaemin admitted. “Ask me again tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Renjun said, impossibly fond. “Can I kiss you?”

“No! I don’t want you getting sick!”

“I take multivitamins. I’ll be fine.”

“No,” Jaemin stressed. “Not with your exams next week. I don’t want you to risk it.” 

“On the forehead, then?”

“Only if you hold your breath. Don’t inhale my miasma.”

Renjun smothered his laugh against Jaemin’s forehead. He kissed him gently and felt the way Jaemin melted beneath him, like that one point of contact was all he needed. Maybe it was. It felt that way for Renjun.

He pulled back reluctantly. “There’s some soup warming, do you want some?”

Jaemin cringed. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not-“

“I didn’t make it, Jaemin. Hyuck did.”

“Oh thank God,” Jaemin breathed. “Okay, I’ll have some.”

Renjun pouted.

“Baby, you’re the best thing in the world,” Jaemin said, linking their hands together. “But your soup sucks.”

“I know.”

“Nothing else sucks,” Jaemin said. “I think having a grand total of one flaw, and that flaw being a lack of soup skill, is pretty good going.”

Placated, Renjun leaned forward to kiss his forehead again. “Missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Jaemin said. “I can’t believe you’re actually here, Renjun, what the fuck? You must have travelled for hours.”

“It was worth it.”

“I love you,” Jaemin said, ill and too honest. “I love you more than anything. I’d live off your soup to show you just how much if you asked me to. Please don’t ask me to.”

“I won’t,” Renjun laughed. “I’ll go get you a bowl now, okay? Get comfortable.”

By the time the soup was warmed through and in two steaming bowls, Jaemin had made his way into the lounge and bundled himself onto the couch. “Let’s watch a movie,” he said as Renjun passed over one of the bowls. “I’ll probably fall asleep, but I want to try.”

“Sure,” Renjun agreed, taking the tiny space that hadn’t been swallowed by blankets. He took a sip of the soup and groaned. “Fuck Donghyuck, why is he so good at cooking?”

“He’s good at everything. He was put on this earth to humble everyone else.”

Renjun nodded, taking another sip. It was definitely better than the last soup he’d attempted to make, but then, most things were better than that. Just the sight of it had Mark almost in tears.

Jaemin flicked through Netflix, unfocused. “The Kissing Booth? Clueless?”

“Ten Things I Hate About You,” Renjun said, making a decision since it would have taken Jaemin another twenty minutes.

“Good idea,” he said, switching to Amazon Video.

They watched the first ten minutes in near silence, eating until their bowls were empty and Renjun got antsy enough to clean them up. “Want a lemon tea while I’m in the kitchen?”

“Please,” Jaemin said, scrubbing at his face. The back of his neck was red, a sure sign of his temperature.

“Take another pill,” Renjun said, putting his hand against Jaemin’s forehead. “You’re burning up again.”

Jaemin nodded, docile, and paused the movie to go and find his meds.

By the time he stumbled out of his room again, there were two mugs of tea on the coffee table, and Renjun had rearranged the blankets so that Jaemin could lay down.

Jaemin climbed onto the couch and immediately snuggled close, head on Renjun’s lap. His eyelids were already drooping, but Renjun pressed play on the film and sat back anyway, one hand on Jaemin’s side, the other stroking through his hair.

“Thank you,” Jaemin murmured, hushed. “Thank you for coming. Thank you for being you.”

Renjun smiled, glad Jaemin couldn’t see just how pathetic the expression was. “Who else would I be?”

“Anyone else. If you were anyone else, I wouldn’t love you like I do.”

“Sappy.”

“I know,” Jaemin said. His eyes had closed, the film entirely forgotten. “I just love you.”

Renjun hummed. “I love you too.”

“Can’t wait until you’ve graduated. Can’t wait to live with you again.”

Renjun smiled again. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. “Almost there.”