Pairing: Main: Jongin/Junmyeon, Side: Baekhyun/Chanyeol
Summary, potential warnings: Junmyeon isn’t a bad boyfriend but lies are sometimes easier to live with than the truth.
Junmyeon isn't a bad boyfriend.
Jongin reminds himself of this simple lie as he sits alone at the kitchen table, facing two plates of cold pasta and the candles that had been spent as the hours of the evening passed. He doesn’t feel a single hint of sadness in his body. In the years spent living with his boyfriend, he’s seen this picture so many times before that he’s become accustomed to it.
Jongin stands, picks up the plates from the table, and dumps its contents in the trash. This meal would be meaningless if it wasn’t eaten by the two people it was made for. He turns the faucet on, and cold water rushes out into the sink as Jongin dumps the plates in, not bothering to scrape off the remains of the food in the plates.
Silence fills the empty apartment and for a moment Jongin feels out of place inside his own home. What was once warm and comforting is now nothing but a painful reminder of what was lost. Home doesn't feel quite like home anymore.
Jongin slips his fingers into the knot of his worn-out tie and loosens its hold from his neck, his enthusiasm in reliving the past having died out with the candles. He walks to the bathroom, his steps slow and stiff, and he’s soon facing the image of a man in his late twenties, trying so hard to be eighteen once more.
His reflection in the bathroom mirror is one of weariness and fatigue, time having been a war won just barely. How Jongin wishes he could be young again, to relive his past with the same naivety and energy that brought smiles to his face, that brought him to his friends. That brought him to Junmyeon.
A thump on the floor and Jongin notices he'd knocked over the toothbrush cup onto the floor. Their cup. Jongin looks down and sees his bright red toothbrush laying alone on the tiles. Just like it's owner; alone.
Jongin nearly clears the rest of the bathroom sink when the sound of the apartment door opening reaches him. He breathes twice to relax the nervousness in his shoulders and the spark inside his chest ignites into an ember, the edges of his lips curving in hope. The man in the mirror has a shine in his eyes and Jongin cheers himself on.
His eyes do not leave the floor as he steps out into the living room with feet that are betraying him. When he finally does look up, he sees his Junmyeon in familiar clothes, the sweat stained tee with a foreign phrase screaming loudly across the front and a pair of loose fitting sweatpants. He's bent over the fridge and Jongin can easily make out the outline of his hips from here.
For a moment Jongin imagines Junmyeon is young again, eyes smiling brightly in crescents to match the equally brilliant smile he carries. He's trying to make Jongin guess what kind of surprise he has for him and Jongin is trying hard not to burst out laughing at the obvious bouquet of roses sticking out from the back of his jeans.
Jongin guesses wrong on purpose and Junmyeon feels a proud moment when he pulls out his bouquet in an over dramatic reveal, complete with a 'ta dah' and a 'do you like it', both in an endearingly high pitched voice that Jongin wishes he could hear again. He's accepting the bouquet with a bow and a thank you and then he's pulling Junmyeon in for his own surprise.
"Hi," Jongin manages to pull out a greeting after a few minutes.
"Hi," Jongin repeats, louder this time.
Junmyeon slams the fridge door closed with a beer bottle in his hand, the cap already pulled off with his teeth. The same war on time that took its toll on Jongin had completely devastated Junmyeon. Eyes once filled with childlike vigor are now dull and worn out, ruins of a battle lost. A free hand runs across a mean stubble, grown merely out of laziness, and somehow Jongin still finds it charming.
He's looking straight at Jongin and it isn't the same man in his eyes. The Junmyeon of yesterday no longer exists.
A swift chug of the orange liquid makes a trickle run down Junmyeon's throat and he catches it with his hand as he exhales in satisfaction. Their eyes are watching each other the entire time, as if they're trying to say words they're too afraid to speak. He spares Jongin no more time as he makes his way into their, his, bedroom, knocking his boyfriend roughly in the shoulder with his body.
Jongin keeps his lips shut tight, arms pressed into the sides of his suit like a kid who knows he's in deep trouble. He feels young again, but not in the way he wanted. Still his eyes are dry and he doesn't feel sad.
The sun's departing behind the trees as Jongin hears the clear signal of the end of his shift, his coworkers already saying their farewells as they punch out. Throwing his gloves down onto his workbench, Jongin stretches for a bit as he waves off his work friends as they leave before him. It isn’t the most glamorous nor the most comfortable job in the world, but working in this factory is one of the reasons he has food to put on the table.
Leaning back in the aging office chair, Jongin looks up at the ceiling and counts the number of ways his life could have been different. Maybe if his cards were dealt differently he'd be in some expensive penthouse working in some top name company as a choreographer, somewhere where the cameras find even him interesting enough to follow around.
He'd be laying on his bed with bones aching from a different kind of work, eyes worn out from entirely different reasons. When he felt like he couldn't go on to tomorrow, he'd get a call from Junmyeon wishing him the best of luck and how proud he was of the work he was doing. In both dreams and reality, Jongin is missing Junmyeon's warmth, but the difference is, reality has taken it away from him in a much harsher way.
As soon as Jongin reaches the familiar welcome mat of his apartment a couple of street crossings later, he notices a faint banging from inside. His mind knows it's one of Junmyeon's angry fits and he's hesitant to enter his home, keys jingling loudly in his shaky hand. Whenever Junmyeon is angry, it isn't a good sign.
It takes a couple of attempts to unlock the door, and when he finally does, Jongin makes sure to keep his eyes focused on the hallway as he closes the door quietly behind him. He hears it clearly now; Junmyeon's shouting from his bedroom with the door wide open. Even from here Jongin can tell it's clear Korean he's yelling, so he assumes Junmyeon must not have been drinking today.
"--don't call here again!" There's a click followed by a soft thud on the floor.
For a few minutes, there's nothing but heavy breathing coming from Junmyeon's bedroom, but then his breaths begin to hitch and is slowly replaced by faint sobs. Jongin isn't sure what to do, but he's quickly walking, running to the bedroom and stops when he's face to face with Junmyeon.
The wrinkles beside his eyes are more pronounced as he looks like he'd been screaming and cursing for hours. It's not that far off either.
"Junmyeon, I-" Jongin begins, but his words don't come out fast enough and he’s cut off as Junmyeon shoves past him down the hallway. "Who was that?"
Junmyeon stops walking.
"What were you yelling about?" Jongin's holding his hands together at his hips. "Junmyeon, if they--"
"Please shut up." Junmyeon's voice is rough and scratchy, hints of venom in his words. "Stop asking questions."
Jongin is speechless. He doesn't reply as he catches himself feeling lost in a world he doesn't recognize anymore. Why can’t everything just go back to the old days when they were happier and things were much simpler, when time wasn’t something he took for granted and he didn’t feel like an outsider inside of his own home?
His mouth opens to try to form words to stop Junmyeon as he heads out of the door, but there’s only silence between them until Junmyeon slams the door shut.
Restocking the fridge with new groceries used to be a job Junmyeon volunteered for with much enthusiasm, but like the rest of the chores that he used to do, Jongin started to do them himself when they stopped getting done. His regular visits to the family convenience store down the street have become a routine he enjoys after the tiring hours of work.
Basket hanging off of his arm, Jongin strolls through the aisles for his cooking staples and simple microwavable dinners for Junmyeon, whose cooking ability seems to have disappeared completely. A hunt for a few stalks of green onion leads him to the vegetable section and his eyes feel lighter when he sees a familiar face.
"Ah! Jongin!" the man brightens up immediately when their eyes meet up. "It's good to see you! Shopping for Junmyeon again?"
"Yes," Jongin replies after a few seconds.
"Man, I hope he's paying you for this," a throaty laugh fills the corner. "That job of his must really pay well if he's too busy to come shopping with you these days."
More white lies. Jongin locks his fingers together as he tries to keep a smile on his face.
"What does he do exac--"
"So are you cooking for yourself, Baek?" Jongin cuts Baekhyun off, and he reaches for the onions off to the left and tries to occupy his mind with finishing up his groceries. Baekhyun watches him carefully and nods with an agreeing smile.
"What, do I not look cut out for cooking or something? I've actually gotten better since the cup noodles!" Baekhyun has a proud look on his face. "Managed to not burn the stove this whole month."
"That is pretty impressive."
"Chanyeol says my food tastes pretty good now, though he did say my food tasted good back then, too." Baekhyun's smile thins. "Actually he pretty much inhaled anything I put on a plate."
"Chanyeol? Wait, you guys are still together?" Jongin’s voice can’t hide the disbelief he feels.
"Don't think I can stay in a relationship either?" Baekhyun sounds mad, but there's playfulness in his words. "We're actually playing a game to see who can wait the longest before breaking up with the other."
"Anyways, he's taking his sister out for some bonding time so it's just me tonight for dinner." Baekhyun is looking directly at Jongin now. "Just me. By myself. All alone."
Jongin tries not to look up at Baekhyun, but he slips up and gets caught in Baekhyun’s well-practiced kicked puppy act with no hope of escaping. Baekhyun hasn't aged one bit since their schooldays, both in appearance and in personality. Jongin breathes out a defeated sigh as he tightens the hold on his basket.
"Baekhyun, I don't suppose... Would it be okay if I joined you for dinner today?"
"What? Jongin, please, we both have boyfriends."
Jongin pouts his lips at this. It wasn’t his idea in the first place.
"I'm just messing with you." Baekhyun laughs as he nudges Jongin towards the check out. "I think it would be nice to catch up on some things. I want to know how Junmyeon’s doing too."
Jongin struggles to put a smile on his face upon hearing this. Baekhyun’s too excited to notice.
It takes a few hours for Jongin and Baekhyun to get dinner preparations done, a good chunk of that time spent arguing over what kind of meal they should make. A few 'do you remembers' later and they decide to make curry rice after Baekhyun pulls out the “this is my house so I get to choose” card.
Baekhyun's apartment is a lot bigger than Jongin remembers it being the last time he was here; of course, the last time he visited Baekhyun's apartment was when he helped him move in during their second year of college. There are many photos of their old friends who went off to do greater things in life all over the place, and Jongin feels sort of proud when he sees a picture of him among them.
Baekhyun is humming a radio pop tune in the kitchen as he's chopping up some vegetables and Jongin has an urge to throw pencils at him. He feels like they're teenagers again, cramped up in their dorms with empty stomachs and unfinished projects. Baekhyun had a reputation of being extremely focused on schoolwork, practically living and breathing his studies, while Jongin just did what was necessary to pass.
It wasn't until one of their friends pointed out how lonely Baekhyun looked and set him up with that giraffe-human hybrid that Baekhyun started to become more open and fun. Baekhyun was always playful, but Chanyeol had a way of bringing excitement out of him. Baekhyun's sarcasm had also multiplied ever since then.
"So how is Junmyeon these days?" Baekhyun asks loudly without looking away from his curry pot. Jongin had forgotten all about Junmyeon the whole time he was here and he wishes he wasn't reminded.
"Good," Jongin replies to nobody.
"Just good?" Baekhyun mocks him as a kettle starts to whistle. "He can't be just good. Chanyeol's morning breath is just good. Wait, let me take that back - that was supposed to be insulting."
Baekhyun's laughing to himself but Jongin can't bring out any sort of smile on his face. He can't really tell Baekhyun what's going on between him and Junmyeon because it's too complicated.
It's easier to just lie and say he's busy all the time than say that Junmyeon would rather spend time outside with other people than be at home with his boyfriend. It's easier to say Junmyeon is too busy in the office than to say he doesn't pick up Jongin's calls or answers his texts. It's easier to say their relationship is fine than to say their relationship is falling apart.
Baekhyun finishes up the curry after a few minutes of conversation. It wasn’t as much of a conversation - it was more like Baekhyun going on about all of Chanyeol's bad habits and Jongin pretending to listen, nodding along and murmuring assent every few seconds. Jongin notices that the curry looks a bit angry in the pot, and he's a bit unnerved at the fact he thinks it looks angry. Baekhyun brings out two plates of rice for them and scoops some curry onto Jongin's plate, eager for his friend to try out his cooking.
Jongin eyes the bubbling red liquid on his plate and he's happy it hasn't jumped out and tried to bite his face off yet. He really shouldn't be watching any more of those indie horror films at night. It takes all the willpower he can muster to plunge a spoonful of curry into his mouth and he's immediately hit with a punch of extreme spiciness.
"Spi-cy," is all he can manage before his tongue starts to feel the heat.
"Yes. Spicy is good?" Baekhyun is nodding but his face looks unsure. "Oh."
Jongin's sitting on the couch later with a few empty bottles of water on the table, a fresh bottle in his hand as he swears to never touch Baekhyun's cooking ever again. He remarks how lucky Baekhyun is to have a sink drain for a boyfriend. If Baekhyun's eyes rolled any harder they would've spun out into orbit.
"Actually a sink drain is a pretty good description," Baekhyun agrees. "I can dump anything in his mouth and he wouldn't complain."
Baekhyun's wiggling his eyebrows and Jongin feels a bit of the curry starting to make its way back up his throat.
"On a list of things I don't want to hear ever again."
"He really does have a big mouth though."
"Anyways," Jongin sits up from his slouch. "I'm glad he makes you happy still. I mean it's really nice to see a couple that's this happy."
"We on some soap opera now?" Baekhyun's laughing softly to himself but stops when he notices Jongin's expression. "Is something--"
Baekhyun is cut off by a short jingle from his cellphone, a pop girl group from back when they were teenagers. Jongin shakes his head. Baekhyun is excusing himself as he answers his call, stumbling out of the living room with quick hellos and Jongin can tell Chanyeol is on the other end.
It must be nice, he muses, to have someone that makes an attempt at helping the relationship move along instead of having to try to support it all on your own. Jongin peeks out into the hallway and sees the smile Baekhyun has on his face and he can feel himself forgetting the last time Junmyeon made him feel that genuinely happy.
When Baekhyun finishes his call with a goodbye and giggles, he's sliding back into the armchair with a grin on his face and laughter that he’s very poorly attempting to hide. It's amusing. Jongin finishes up his water and places the empty bottle near the other bottles, forming some sort of pyramid with them.
"So," Baekhyun chirps up quickly and Jongin swears if his was voice any higher the windows would've shattered. "Do you have any plans for this weekend?"
"None that I can think of."
"Chanyeol said he wants to know if we could have a double date with you and Junmyeon. Maybe a dinner and a movie. Just like old times, you know? There's a really good rom-com playing this Saturday."
Oh. It's been a while since Jongin has gone on an actual date with Junmyeon. They live together, but that doesn't mean they spend any time with each other. Junmyeon's as much of a secret to Jongin as Jongin probably is to him.
"I'll ask Junmyeon if he'll have time."
"He works on weekends too? Damn, I hope you guys can make it. It's been too long since we've all been together! Is Junmyeon still the same frat boy I remember him being?"
"Not really," Jongin grinds out. "He's changed."
"Well I hope he didn't mellow out due to boredom. We're not getting any younger."
Jongin doesn't meet Baekhyun's eyes as he gets up to leave.
"Thanks for the dinner, Baekhyun." Jongin bows fully before heading to the door.
"Yeah. This was pretty fun. I'll text you guys what place we'll be at for dinner."
Jongin nods and barely makes it a few steps away from Baekhyun's apartment before he's stopping.
"Hey, Baekhyun," Jongin turns to look straight into Baekhyun's eyes. "Have you and Chanyeol ever fought?"
"Fought? Well, I guess sometimes the guy gets on my nerves and we argue and stuff but I think that's pretty normal in a relationship?"
"But nothing too serious?"
"No?" Jongin thinks he can sees thought forming in Baekhyun's eyes, like he's trying to examine Jongin closer. "Nothing like that. Why?"
"It's nothing.” Baekhyun's grown to know that when Jongin says that it means he shouldn't press on about it, and he doesn’t. "Goodnight, Baekhyun."
Jongin waves him off as he turns to head back home.
It's late in a Saturday evening when Jongin's on his phone outside of the restaurant with a distant Junmyeon on the other end, frustration building up in them both. The dinner's in a few minutes and Junmyeon is nowhere to be seen, again. This is something Jongin had anticipated, but it didn’t mean it hurt any less.
"You said you would be here." Jongin's posture is uncomfortable, his arm crossed over his chest, wrinkles forming in the white dress shirt he pulled out of the deep end of his closet. It's been so long since he's worn it and a few specks of dust that had survived the earlier cleaning littered the fabric.
"This is stupid," Junmyeon's voice is angry, and if it already wasn’t, slowly becoming it. "There are better things I can be doing on a Saturday night."
"Better things than be with your friends?" Boyfriend, Jongin means. "They really want to see you. They miss you."
I miss you.
"I said no, Jongin."
"You said yes earlier."
"I never said that!"
"You said it Thursday when I was on my lunch break and you said ‘sure, whatever’ when I brought up the double date thing."
"That wasn't a yes."
"Junmyeon," Jongin feels like he isn't talking to a grown man anymore. "Just try to be here. Please."
Nothing came out from the other end of the line for some moments, and Jongin sighs and slams down the phone, all the while telling him to forget it. He looks into the restaurant’s front window and sees Baekhyun and Chanyeol sitting at a table in the far end, two empty chairs in front of them.
“Oh no, we're waiting for our friends!” is what they're probably saying to the waiters right now, which makes Jongin’s stomach tighten. He wipes at the dirt on his shoulders and makes his way to their table with the brightest smile he can muster.
"Sorry guys," Jongin apologizes as genuinely as he can. "Junmyeon can't make it. He's... busy. With work."
"What?" Chanyeol exclaims loudly, and Jongin takes a moment to remember how surprising it is. Chanyeol looks more or less the same as what Jongin remembers him, his old guitar playing heartthrob look being traded for a quiet and cleaned up appearance. Big glasses frame his face and Jongin feels he must congratulate Baekhyun later for taming the beast.
"He said to go on without him and to enjoy dinner," Jongin lies. "He's really sorry he can't make it."
"But I put on my best suit and everything," Chanyeol's whining and out the corner of his eye Jongin sees Baekhyun's laughing. "I even styled my hair up for him!"
Chanyeol does a brisk motion with his hand over his hair and Baekhyun shakes his head before stopping Chanyeol's rant with a quick peck on the lips. It quickly shuts him up and Chanyeol's smile is bigger than when they first got here. Jongin tries to hide his growing jealousy.
"Did you guys already order?" Jongin smooths out the fancy scented menu in front of him and tries to give it a once over for something to eat.
"We were gonna wait for Junmyeon to get here before we ordered, but..." Baekhyun tilts his head. "I guess we can order now. Do you already know what you're gonna get?"
"Not yet, but I think I'll just get whatever you guys are getting. I mean, if you guys are getting the same thing."
"I... Okay," Baekhyun looks amused and he's soon waving the waiter over for their order. "We'll be having the seafood alfredo.” he says whilst pointing at Jongin and himself.
"I'll have the linguine pescatore and we're all just gonna have water?" Chanyeol's asking Jongin for his choice and he receives a nod in reply. "That'll be it.” Chanyeol says as he gathers up the menus in one swift motion before sending the waiter off.
Even though they are already working adults at a respectable restaurant, Chanyeol and Baekhyun still act like a couple of lovestruck teenagers, Jongin notices.
Baekhyun can't seem to stop messing with Chanyeol's glasses, bringing it upon himself to push them back whenever he sees them sliding down Chanyeol's nose. Chanyeol retaliates by pinching a spot on the back of Baekhyun's neck that makes the other duck away quickly with a giggle.
If there was a way to absorb a person’s happiness and transfer it to yourself, Jongin would’ve already chosen Baekhyun and Chanyeol as targets for it because every second he’s watching them be happy with each other is a second he wishes he could be that way with Junmyeon.
"So what's your job Chanyeol?" Jongin asks after a few glances down at text messages that don't exist.
"Me? It’s just a boring desk job, nothing special. But I tell people I work as a bartender ‘cause that sounds much more exciting." Chanyeol's flashing his teeth again. "I was supposed to be working there today but I took some time off for this guy right here."
"Of course you did! I mean who wouldn't want to leave work for me?" Baekhyun's playing with Chanyeol's fingers.
"So yeah, that's pretty much it."
"What does Junmyeon do?" Baekhyun asks without looking up.
"I..." Jongin looks down into his lap. "I don't know actually."
“Come on, Jongin! If you can ask about my boyfriend it’s only fair I ask about yours.”
“I really don’t know.”
"What?" Baekhyun's looking straight at him now when he lets go of Chanyeol's hand. "What do you mean you don't know?"
"I really don't know what his job is?"
"He didn't tell you?"
"He, well, not really."
"What does that mean?"
"Look, can we talk about something else?"
"Jongin," Baekhyun folds his hands on the table and Jongin can feel the seriousness in his tone. "Look I didn't want to ask earlier because of the curry thing but--"
"Aw, man, I'm sorry about that," Chanyeol's shaking his head. Baekhyun glares at him but returns his focus on Jongin.
"Is there something wrong? With you and Junmyeon, I mean?"
"Baekhyun," There's growing desperation in Jongin's voice but Baekhyun keeps his focus on him firm. "Can we talk about this another time? Please."
"Is this something serious?"
"I don't want to talk about it." Jongin hangs his head down in an attempt to hide in this restaurant. He wonders if it's possible for him to leave dinner without paying for the food that he ordered.
"Fine," Baekhyun pulls his hands back and brushes one through his bangs. "Jongin, whatever's going on between you and Junmyeon, I'm here to talk."
"Me too," Chanyeol's nodding in strong agreement. "When I'm not busy with work anyways. But I'll try!"
"Oh wait. So does this mean Junmyeon isn't at work right now?" Jongin shoots him a hardened look and Baekhyun puts his hands up in resignation.
The pasta arrives a few minutes later, just after Chanyeol began to talk about crowded sidewalks and how there would be more free space if everyone began to walk sideways like crabs, and Baekhyun gives a very audible ‘thank you’ to whatever god was looking out for him.
It's a bit difficult to be satisfied with food when your mood is down and Jongin feels that whatever excitement he had for this dinner has long since departed. He picks at the mussels in his pasta with his fork and tries to think about what Junmyeon could be up to at this very moment.
His imagination brings up so many different scenarios and he ends up scraping his fork audibly against his plate when the anger starts to set in. Baekhyun and Chanyeol must've felt whatever Jongin was feeling because they paused in their scarfing down of pasta to give him looks of concern. It isn't comforting in the slightest.
"I think," Jongin's already standing up from his chair. "I need to leave. I’m sorry about this."
Fingers fumble into his pocket for a wallet and he's pulling out a twenty dollar bill to give to Baekhyun, along with his apologies. Baekhyun takes it from Jongin with a bit of hesitation and before he can say anything to him, Jongin's already out of the restaurant.
When Jongin gets home, he doesn't bother with taking off his clothes as he heads straight for his mattress, falling onto it with no resistance. Soft footsteps echo outside of his room but he finds himself with no energy to confront Junmyeon for his actions. He’s tired, growing older by the day, and he’s wondering if this fight is really worth fighting still.
The moon is staring at him through the window, and it feels like it’s judging him for his actions. Jongin shrivels up in it's presence, curling up into a ball like a child lost in the world.
Bird calls wake him the next morning, but Jongin feels no difference from the previous night, being unable to get much sleep from thinking too much about his life. Waves of thoughts hit him hard in the head and he’s jumping quickly off of his bed, heading for the bathroom for a bit of liquid therapy.
He splashes his face with water a couple of times and as it’s dripping down his face, he stares at himself in the mirror. It starts to sink into him that his friend, the one he’d been lying to finally knows, or at least suspects, that there is something wrong between him and Junmyeon.
The facade of everything being alright and happy in his relationship is starting to crumble, and he’s beginning to feel crushed - crushed under the weight of disappointment and regret. If Baekhyun was angry with him, he doesn’t know what he would do. The thought of more people being angry with him makes his breathing labored.
Loud knocks banging through the front door interrupt his thoughts and Jongin composes himself as best he can to answer. Without much thought on changing out of his dinner attire Jongin steps to the front door and opens it for a surprised Baekhyun.
“Jongin I...” he starts, but then he takes in Jongin’s appearance. “You didn’t change out of your clothes?”
Jongin blinks twice and does a sort of guilty face while stepping back so Baekhyun can enter.
“Never mind that.” Baekhyun crosses him arms. “Jongin, I wanted to talk to you about last night.”
“It’s nothing. Really.”
“Cut the crap, Jongin. I’ve known you for a long time. A very long time. And I know when something’s eating you.”
“Jongin, enough!” Baekhyun’s shouting now. “You are my friend and I hate seeing you like this. So whatever’s going on, just please tell me? What did he--”
Jongin’s voice cuts through the air with ease and Baekhyun is silenced, his arms falling slowly back to his sides. His dry eyes are starting to find water and Jongin feels the tears starting to form. He rubs at them quickly with trained movements and he turns away from Baekhyun in shame and frustration.
“Is that what you wanted to hear?” Jongin is hurt now. “Me and Junmyeon, I don’t even know. I thought if I pretended everything was okay then things would just get better but they haven’t.”
Baekhyun tries to pat him on the arm but Jongin steps out of his touch.
“I can’t even talk to him anymore without one of us ending up angry. He won’t let me in. Like we’re not even close anymore.”
“I don’t know and that’s what’s upsetting me the most. That he won’t talk about it. He’d rather go out and drink than try to help us.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Too long.” Jongin rubs at his eyes and settles onto the couch with fingers pressed into his temples. “I don’t know if he even loves me still.”
Jongin lets out an empty laugh when he hears the word leave his lips. Baekhyun pauses for a moment, unsure of what to say when the information settles into his thoughts. He does the first action that comes to his mind as he brings Jongin in for a tight hug. Jongin doesn’t resist as he buries himself in his friend’s embrace.
The following week was nothing more than a parade of grueling work days as Jongin tries to balance his two jobs with the frequent text messages from Chanyeol and Baekhyun trying to be therapists.
Chanyeol’s the one who sends the most texts in his attempt to make up for his lack of free time because of his job. Most of the texts are simple quick messages of ‘you can do it!’ and ‘i believe in you > u <’.
He appreciates the concern they’re giving but there’s a part of him that still feels it would’ve been better if they didn’t know the truth, whatever the truth was, because Jongin is still unsure what the whole situation is.
Still, the concern is nice.
It’s an off suggestion from Chanyeol that leads Jongin to cleaning himself up as he brushes past men and women in a well-polished bar a couple of blocks from his apartment. The 88 feels more of a relaxing hangout than a bar to Jongin, but as it’s his first time being here, he probably can’t tell the difference.
Meandering through the rows of booths, Jongin meets Chanyeol at the bar, the giant greeting him with his trademark smile and wave as he finds an empty stool off the far right. Cleaning mugs and glasses behind the counter, Chanyeol looks surprisingly younger than before, suited up in a vest and bowtie that makes him look like a waiter more than anything else.
“Welcome to the 88!” Chanyeol does a grand sweep with his arm to the rest of the bar, and the patrons that were sitting next to Jongin decide to move onto a booth.
“This place looks really great.” Jongin rubs at his chin.
“Yeah, I know.” Chanyeol titters into his sleeve and Jongin catches a few young girls staring in the corner of his eye. “We have good drinks here so feel free to get comfortable.”
“Anything you recommend?”
“Depends on what you’re trying to do tonight.”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been out drinking, so maybe just something simple?”
“Simple, huh?” Chanyeol gives an over exaggerated expression of hard thinking. It’s followed by an equally as ridiculous expression of realization and he gives Jongin a wink before dashing away to mix his drink.
Jongin settles into his stool and tries to relax into the atmosphere, the soft piano melody playing in the bar setting up a sort of mellow mood in it’s customers, Jongin included. Jongin feels a bit out of place among the many couples and groups of friends chatting up in the booths and aisles, mainly because it seems that he’s the only person here without a partner.
The only person here he knows is Chanyeol, but Jongin only knows him through Baekhyun and he isn’t sure exactly how strong their friendship is. It feels that they are acquaintances, at most; strong ones, but still not close friends.
As if the mere thought of him initiated a summoning call, Chanyeol glides back to the far end of the counter where Jongin is sitting, an empty martini glass in one hand and a shaker in the other. A few seconds of shaking and lazy smiles and the glass is being filled up with a very light yellow drink.
Jongin is about to reach for the drink when Chanyeol motions for him to wait with his hands as he pulls out a champagne bottle from the stack behind him. The white liquid floods into the glass and a fountain of foam slowly dripping down the sides when the drink is complete.
“This is called a flirtini.” Chanyeol pushes the drink towards Jongin with another wink. “Don’t worry, I’m not coming onto you or anything.”
“Wasn’t on my mind,” Jongin quips as he slides his fingers around the glass. A smile is added to cushion his comment and Chanyeol joins him with a smile of his own.
“I hope you enjoy it. There’s pineapple juice in it so don’t drink it if you’re allergic.”
“If you need anything else, I’m just a call away.” He clicks his tongue into a smirk and he’s being hailed by a lady down the counter.
If there’s something positive Jongin can say about Chanyeol, it’s the way he’s able to make someone feel comfortable in his presence. Behind all of the theatrics and fanfare there’s a genuine soul and it only makes sense he does so well in a sociable job such as this.
He’s also sure Chanyeol would never try to give him any sort of poisonous drink. Jongin pauses, unblinking, eyeing the drink with close inspection like it might jump at him the second he turns away. When he assures himself that if he were to succumb to this drink that Baekhyun would come to his aid and pummel Chanyeol senselessly, he brings the glass to his lips and takes a quick gulp.
His first thought is that it’s sweet and fruity tasting, but his eyes widen when he feels a bit of a punch as it trickles down his throat. His second thought is that he’s still alive.
The flirtini is delicious, he thinks, after a few more satisfying swigs until the glass is empty with the beads of liquid on the sides of the glass collecting into puddles inside. All his senses and motor functions are still with him, so his drinking skills haven’t dulled over the long period of his alcohol drought.
A return to drinking must be done slowly and reasonably. One drink feels best for the night, Jongin decides, and a very delicious drink at that. It’s been weeks since this relaxing sensation has appeared in his body and Jongin feels himself actually having fun, his worries drifting away and out of his thoughts.
“Having fun, are we?” Chanyeol slides back to Jongin after fulfilling a few alcoholic requests amidst the racket. Jongin turns to meet his bartending friend in the eyes and he can’t help but let loose a chuckle.
“I actually am.” Jongin props his chin on his hand. “I probably needed this.”
“Yeah?” Chanyeol’s cleaning out a glass with deft hands, eyes focusing on a particularly difficult spot. “I’m glad I brought you out there then.”
“You gave me the idea,” Jongin corrects. “But yeah, thanks.”
“No problem. Oh!” Chanyeol nearly drops the glass he’s working on before he reminds himself why he asked his friend out here in the first place. “I’d like to talk to you so--.”
Chanyeol waves over one of the other bartenders behind the counter and Jongin cranes his head slightly to look up at the guy. His presence is intimidating; he isn't on his toes and he's towering over most of the people in the bar. The features on his face are sharp and piercing; Jongin doesn't want to say mean because he doesn't even know the guy that well.
“Wu Fan, can you take over for a bit?” Chanyeol grins at him but the other bartender looks unamused. “Just for a few minutes or so.”
Wu Fan’s eyes focus on Jongin and it’s unnerving how they look like they are judging him, like an old college professor he wishes he didn’t remember at the moment. He pauses, blinks for a few moments, and then walks away to start mixing the next order.
Chanyeol nudges at Jongin’s shoulder before leading him over to one of the empty booths at the far corner of the bar, away from the crowd who are too preoccupied with whatever was showing on the TV. This all feels very natural, and Jongin is inclined to think that this is something Chanyeol’s done numerous times before.
"Waiter, over here!" One of the guys standing off the sides of the counter perks up and quickly skips over. This person is short and has an incredibly innocent face, Jongin notes, from the way his face is round and childish to the way his eyes are sprung open like saucers. If he wasn’t wearing a uniform, Jongin probably wouldn’t have guessed he worked at the 88.
"What can I get--oh." The waiter's bright face sinks into a face of worry. "Chanyeol, I thought you were working?"
"I am, Kyungsoo. Just helping a friend out for a bit, is all." Chanyeol nods towards Jongin, but it's obvious there's nothing but confusion in the air. "We'll have a couple of glasses of water."
"Chanyeol," Kyungsoo starts but after a brief glance over at Jongin he shakes his head before heading back to get the glasses.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"What? No, don't worry about it. Kyungsoo's always like that to new people around here. Or maybe just people with me? I'm not quite sure yet."
"Right." Jongin leans back into the booth. "So what did you want to talk about?"
"Well it's..." His voice quiets down into a hush. "It's about Junmyeon."
This catches Jongin's attention immediately and he's sitting up straight, ears tuned into completely to Chanyeol's words.
"You see, he's been coming here. To the 88 I mean. Recently. He's been looking really down lately - like every time he comes here it's like watching someone trying to escape."
"I don't know, I mean he's--"
"No I mean, why are you telling me this?"
"I don't know.” Chanyeol looks hurt and it isn’t a face Jongin likes one bit. “I just thought this is something you should know and maybe if you knew, then maybe--"
"You thought wrong."
Jongin starts to get up from his seat but he's stopped when Chanyeol catches him by the arm, a look of desperation in his eyes. He isn't sure what exactly Chanyeol is trying to achieve with this but he resigns to hear him out.
"Jongin I'm sorry. For lying earlier."
"I just didn't want to meddle in with whatever problem you guys were having. It didn't feel right for me to say anything."
"But you're saying something now."
"Baekhyun told me about what happened so I figured this is something I should be talking about. Face to face, not over text messages. I'm not doing this so I feel better. I'm doing this because you're my friend too."
Jongin raises an eyebrow but before he can respond, Kyungsoo is turning the corner with glasses of water in hand. The tension in the air is obvious and Kyungsoo feels it immediately as his smile stretches across his face, attempting to dilute the strain he's starting to see. Chanyeol offers a weak smile in return, but Jongin doesn't bat an eyelash and keeps his eyes trained on Chanyeol, waiting for what he's going to say next.
"Uh... If you two need anything else." Kyungsoo is shrinking into his suit with each word.
"Thank you." Chanyeol relieves him of more stress and sends his waiter friend away with another smile. Jongin pulls his glass in slowly but doesn't drink from it, instead crossing his arms, his whole body trying to shield himself.
"What exactly did Junmyeon say to you?" Jongin asks quickly and Chanyeol stares at him in mid sip.
"Do you really want to know?"
"Don't play games Chanyeol . If you're going to tell me, just tell me."
"Okay. Well." Chanyeol sets his glass back in the middle of the table. "He didn't talk much when he was here but he did say some stuff about how he was..."
"Depressed?" Jongin's arms slowly unfold back to his sides. "That's sort of what I was getting from him. He looked really, really sad whenever he was over here. I'd serve him beer and he'd start to talk about personal things. He’d mutter about how he hated his life and how he hated that his parents were putting so much pressure on him."
"He didn't talk you about this?"
"Obviously. I didn't know about any of this. I just thought..."
"Look, Jongin." Chanyeol folds his hands above the table and looks straight into Jongin's eyes. "I'm sorry for butting in and I know it's not my place to say this but... Please don't get angry at Junmyeon."
"You're right. That isn't something you can say."
"Yeah, I'm sorry."
"Listen, just..." Jongin runs a hand through his bangs and shakes his head. "I'm not mad at you. Just don't say anything else okay."
"Did you hear what I just said?" Jongin says it firmly but there's no anger in his words, just sadness. Chanyeol tries to apologize again but he catches himself and stops just when his mouth opens, and opts for nodding his head instead.
The trip back to the apartment after the 88 is a long and tiring one, aches showing up in places Jongin didn't know they could appear in. There are so many questions that he wants to ask Junmyeon now, the main one being why it was so difficult for him to talk about his problems with everyone, even Jongin? Especially with Jongin.
Between the two of them, Junmyeon used to be the active one in the relationship, the person that would actually be vocal about any problems that needed to be addressed. That was such a long time ago that it seems more like something Jongin's mind made up to believe it used to be real.
Jongin steps aside as a young couple strolls out of the apartment next to his, giving him polite nods as they walk by. He returns the politeness with a brief smile before returning to his own apartment, focusing on what he wants to say to his partner.
It feels different walking into his apartment now that he has new thoughts flowing through his mind, a new perspective. If this was any other night, it would be only too easy to just walk straight into the guest room and avoid conversation. But today feels different.
The apartment is cold and quiet when Jongin walks inside, the only signs of life being the faint glow of light behind the bedroom door. With each step closer to it, the shouting from inside becomes louder. Jongin’s scared, but he doesn't turn away, not this time.
He knocks a few times on the door when he's standing in front of it and he hears Junmyeon's voice get quiet, followed by a quick click on the phone. When the door swings open Jongin takes a moment to take Junmyeon in completely, his face and his expression and how he seems to have been screaming for hours again.
"Was that your parents?" Jongin asked immediately. Junmyeon breaks into a coarse chuckle, too tired to fight. "I'm serious."
"Why does it matter to you?" Junmyeon answers roughly and tries not to look at Jongin directly.
“Junmyeon, please talk to me.” Jongin’s voice is low but strong, different from the last time.
“Get out of my way.” A quick shoving of shoulders and Junmyeon’s on his way towards the kitchen, a determined Jongin following after him with fists clenching.
“Junmyeon, enough.” Jongin pushes the refrigerator door shut when Junmyeon tries to look through it for a drink. “Why won’t you talk to me?”
“Where are the drinks?”
“Is that all you care about?”
"There is none."
"Where the f--"
Junmyeon's shouting now as he swings over the dinner table, knocking over the few drinking glasses onto the ground, shattering on the sides across the floor. He's about to head back into the fridge when Jongin quickly steps in front of it to block him. Junmyeon doesn't look at him and keeps his gaze low in his panic, biting his lower lip like a child being scolded.
“I didn’t buy anymore because I’m tired, Junmyeon! I’m tired of you avoiding me and turning over to the alcohol for company! Why can’t you talk to me about what you talked to Chanyeol about? I thought we were partners?”
“You...” Junmyeon looks up at Jongin slowly with weary eyes. “You talked to Chanyeol?”
“Yes. I did.”
"Because I love you," Jongin is too quick to reply. “I’ve always loved you, and that hasn’t changed.”
Jongin studies Junmyeon's lips for a few seconds and trails his face up to his eyes, ones lost and unsure of themselves. The phone ringing cuts through the silence and both men are startled, Junmyeon more than Jongin as he almost drops the phone like it suddenly caught on fire.
It's reflex that helps guide Jongin forward to help him with the phone, and before he knows it, he's already holding Junmyeon's hand like it was made to fit in his. He realizes immediately how long it’s been that he actually touched Junmyeon from how foreign but familiar his hand feels.
When Jongin glances down to the phone, he immediately recognizes the name of the person calling: Junmyeon's father. It doesn't take much for Junmyeon to start cracking when Jongin meets his eyes again, the wrinkles falling into his temples. His eyes start to well up and it’s the first time in a long time that Jongin sees the person he fell in love with again.
"You could've told me what you were going through," Jongin whispers to Junmyeon before he pulls him in for a tight hold. "I would've listened if you gave me the chance. I want to help you but you have to let me in, Junmyeon."
Junmyeon says something quietly and Jongin strains to understand it but he thinks it's an apology.
“Do you love me?” Jongin regrets asking but the words leave his lips before he can pull them back.
There isn't an answer but a slow nod into his shoulder from his boyfriend lets Jongin know the clouds in the sky are finally departing.
"To tell you the truth. I was scared." Jongin's arms around Junmyeon pull tighter. "I was scared you hated me."
"I..." Junmyeon's voice is ragged and it becomes harder to understand when his tears start to fall. "I never meant--"
"It's okay, Junmyeon."
"I'm so sorry."
"I was afraid. Of everything." Junmyeon lets the phone slip out of his hand and fall onto the ground with a loud bang. "I'm so sorry."
Junmyeon breaks into a mighty sob and Jongin keeps his embrace tighter for him, pulling the shorter man in closer, a hand on the back of Junmyeon's head. Nothing but apologies fill the apartment and Jongin closes his eyes, letting loose a breath he had been holding in for a very long time.
"Why was your father calling?"
Jongin is looking straight into Junmyeon's eyes as they sit across from each other on their bed. It's late into the morning when they settled down from the tears and it's only the moths and stray cats that are still awake with them in their neighborhood, the sun still far from presenting the next day.
"He..." Junmyeon bites his bottom lip. "He called because he wanted to remind me of what a failure I was and how the other people my age are all successful and living the correct lives."
Junmyeon pulls his knees into his chest and he's sixteen again, a teenager afraid of his own shadow.
"Correct lives," Junmyeon repeats with a sad laugh. "I don't know why this is so funny to me."
If he bit his lip any harder it would've drawn blood. He only stops when Jongin places a hand on his shoulder and keeps it there, the touch comforting and helping in more ways than he realizes.
"I'm sure that has more meaning than he wants to admit." The phone lays silent between them on the mattress and Junmyeon is fighting the urge to throw it out of the window. "Mother feels the same way. They're like two bodies sharing the same thoughts, the same ideas."
"This has been going for a while, hasn't it." It isn't a question. Jongin doesn’t need to ask - he already knows the answer.
"I'm sorry for pushing you away." Junmyeon looks like he's ready to shed more tears but Jongin shakes his head and beams at him with a smile. "I was jealous."
"Jealous? Of what?"
"Me? But why?"
"Because you're too good."
"Junmyeon..." Jongin doesn't know what to say in response to this as he draws his hand back from Junmyeon's shoulder. Junmyeon pauses to look at him before he coughs out a laugh that breaks into a whimper.
"And I'm a failure."
"But you aren't."
"I said don't Jongin."
"You're incredible, Jongin, and what am I?" Junmyeon's laughing through tears now. "Nothing. Couldn't live up to my parents' expectations. Couldn't get the job I wanted. Or even a regular job at that. I'm worthless. I don't deserve you. I--"
“Junmyeon, you’re such an idiot.” Jongin sighs. “You aren’t worthless. I didn’t fall in love with you because you could’ve been something. I fell in love with you because you are something. You’re special. To me.”
“But I can’t--”
“It’s okay. Did you really think my life was that impressive? There’s so many things I wish I could’ve done but didn’t have the chance to do. But it’s okay because I have you and I think my life couldn’t have been more correct.”
“It will be okay, Junmyeon.” Jongin reaches over to cup Junmyeon’s cheek in his hand and it doesn’t take much for the older man to relax into his touch. “Trust me.”
“I’m sorry. For everything I’ve put you through.”
“It’s all in the past now. I’m here to help you whenever you need it Junmyeon. But, you have to let me in. You have to promise me you won’t bottle things up if they’re hurting you. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
“Promise me Junmyeon. Promise me you’ll let me in.”
Junmyeon cups the hand Jongin has on his cheek and curls his fingers over them, the spark in his eyes finally lighting in what seems like centuries, a survivor pulled out from the ruins.
“Do you know what movie this is?” Chanyeol’s voice booms throughout the theater and a few couples around them start to stare at him and whisper amongst themselves. One kid tries to shush them and Baekhyun’s yelling at him about how the movie hasn’t even started yet.
“I don’t know, but Jongin said it’s supposed to be a really horrible rom-com so it should be right up our alley,” Baekhyun answers while nuzzling into Chanyeol’s arm. “Speaking of where is he?”
“Jongin? He said he’d be here before the movie starts," Chanyeol answers as he starts to play with Baekhyun's fingers.
“Well we’re one Jongin short right now.” Baekhyun punches Chanyeol's arm lightly and tries to look back over the seats to see if there's any sign of Jongin anywhere.
“Sorry I’m late, " a voice calls from behind them.
Baekhyun and Chanyeol crane their heads back to watch Jongin walking towards them from the middle aisle, a box of popcorn in hand and a smile on his face, both being offered up as covers for his tardiness. Baekhyun doesn’t buy the smile but gladly accepts the popcorn as he places it in his lap for easy consumption. Chanyeol tries to reach for some but is quickly swatted away when his hand gets dangerously close to Baekhyun’s lap.
“I hope you guys don’t mind that I brought someone with me.”
Jongin’s smile grows wider when he brings Junmyeon over by the hand. This brings out a faint blush from Junmyeon that is quickly denied when it’s pointed out by Baekhyun, Jongin barking at him to leave his boyfriend alone. It feels like they're teenagers again on their first movie date, except this time intead of Junmyeon leading Jongin over to a quiet seat in the corner, it's Jongin taking the lead as he guides Junmyeon over to sit beside him.
"You still look the same Junmyeon," Baekhyun chirps in between mouthfuls of popcorn.
"So do you," Junmyeon replies. "Still the same brat I remember you being."
"I try my best."
Baekhyun and Junmyeon start to converse in front of Chanyeol, catching up on their lost lost time, and Jongin pulls on Chanyeol's shoulder so he bends back.
"Don't think I ever said thanks, so thank you," Jongin whispers to him as more couples enter the theater. Chanyeol's mouth opens to reply but he smiles back with a wink before pulling Baekhyun in close with his arm.
The trailers for the movie start up as they get comfortable in their seats. As the lights start to dim, Jongin feels happiness flooding into his body. He feels young again and this time it is exactly how he wanted it. Jongin doesn’t realize it at first but notices he hasn’t let go of Junmyeon’s fingers since they sat down.
When he tries to let go, Junmyeon holds on tighter and Jongin smiles, knowing that they’ll be alright.
A/N: A big thank you to Christian and Taylor for betaing and listening to me scream and cry ;