growing up, growing older. an interactive fic.
One day, three years later, Jaejoong stops.
No more melancholic tunes, no more desperate pleas, no more words that cut deep into Yunho’s conscience.
Yunho thinks he should be relieved.
But he’s not.
“Marry me,” he tells her. It’s autumn in Seoul, the leaves are turning red and gold behind them, the park is empty. He has a ring, it weighs heavily in his pocket; Cartier embellished in curling golden script on the red velvet box.
She’s the Jeon Jihyun to his Cha Tae Hyun. She's the girl he's spent his life waiting for, the one with long straight hair, the cold demeanor and blazing warmth. On paper they are perfect for each other. And sometimes with her, he can laugh, smile and forget, even if just for a little while.
She looks so beautiful, more than she’s ever been, the dying sunset bathing her hair in its golden-pink glow, her eyes bright like the stars. So beautiful, Yunho almost doesn't think about the way her hair doesn’t fall quite right across her face, that her shoulders aren’t a little broader, that her eyes aren’t a little bigger. That she’s not neurotic, doesn't cook jiggae that's a little too spicy, that she doesn’t drive him absolutely, ridiculously, maddeningly crazy.
“Don’t,” she says softly, her voice echoing impossibly loud between the two of them.
“Thank you Yunho-ya, I needed someone and you came along at the right time.” She shakes her head, sadly. Out of habit, Yunho reaches to cup her cheek.
She smiles at him with watery eyes. “I wanted for this to work, so badly. But I think we both know this ring, it's not really meant for me.”
She leans in and presses a soft, chaste kiss to his mouth. “Find him, Yunho-ya. You’ve been hiding for too long.”
Just like that, she’s gone. Yunho looks at the ring box in his hand, curving his fingers around the cold box.
He drives around Seoul at night, his mind blank. The city lights are bright, and the streets are emtpy. He tries not to allow himself to examine his feelings too closely, afraid to find that he's less disappointed than he should be...that maybe he’s relieved.
The past four years, he’s been running on empty. Life goes on as it always has; the tours, the endless TV appearances, the music, the singing, the fans. They shift and merge into a ceaseless blur of empty memories. He can't remember why he's kept at it, can't remember the last time he was really, truly happy.
A familiar song comes on the radio.
It’s Hug. Yunho has heard this song a million times before -- the simple harmony, the soft cheesy pop tune, five overenthusiastic, shy voices -- but he's never allowed himself to pay attention to it. Now the song makes him ache inside, a memory of everything they had ever been, and of everything he's lost.
He goes home, the soft haunting melody of their voices playing at the back of his mind, and looks into the box he’d packed away neatly, memories from a lifetime ago he'd packed up and forced himself to erase.
He sits and really, really looks. Jaejoong is everywhere; warm golden skin in his bed, curled up in Yunho's lap watching TV, Jaejoong sitting on his kitchen counter, a warm mug of coffee in hand, his smile lazy and open.
The rush of feelings go to his head and Yunho has to sit down, chest heaving.
“I’m glad you called, hyung.”
They’re sitting in a coffee shop off the main streets of Apkujeong, Yoochun’s beanie pulled low over his head.
“I have to see him, Yoochun-ah.”
“It’s not going to work, hyung,” Yoochun says, carefully. He doesn’t take his eyes off of his coffee cup, the rim sticky with the concoction, “he’s happy now.”
Yunho belatedly notices that Yoochun’s coffee is pale and creamy. He always used to take it black. A sign of things he’s missed over the years, that maybe no matter how magical they were all those years ago, maybe all of it is just a distant memory he can’t ever get back.
He has to try.
“I can’t.” Yoochun shakes his head slowly, “you don’t know-—you weren’t there. You don’t know how hard it was for him. Watching you, wanting you to come back. He was so sure you would, he waited for you for years."
Yoochun swallows. "Please, just give him a chance. He’s only just started seeing someone and he’s happy. Really, honest-to-god happy.”
The words cut through Yunho’s heart like a knife. It was probably stupid to have thought, that Jaejoong could have, would have still been waiting. They hadn’t talked in years, he doesn’t know, he realises, with an ache in his heart, who Jaejoong is anymore.
“I just want to see him,” Yunho says, voice gentle but insistent. “That’s it.”
Yoochun sighs, fixing his gaze on Yunho for a long, silent moment. He struggles with himself, then finally pulls out a single concert ticket from his pocket.
“Just, don’t hurt him again.”
ix. collateral damage
Yihan knows they’re living on borrowed time. But sometimes, when he wakes up to Jaejoong pressed warm against him in his bed, Jaejoong’s hair fanned out messily against the pillow, his wifebeater riding up to reveal a sliver of hipbone and stomach, he can't help hoping that maybe one day, Jaejoong will start wanting a little more.
It’s eight months in when Jaejoong starts cooking again. First it’s simple cinnamon baked cookies with warm brown sugar sprinkled on top. Then croissants, light puffy and flaky, filling the apartment with their buttery aroma. They stand over the oven, picking apart the pastries with their fingers, and Jaejoong leaves careless trails all over Yihan’s floor. But Yihan doesn’t mind. Not with Jaejoong perched on his conter, crumbs clinging to his lips, laughing.
The afternoon light bathes Jaejoong's honey brown strands in a warm glow, and Yihan can't help himself, he takes a step forward, then two. And then he stands, nestled between Jaejoong’s thighs, fingers landing gently on Jaejoong’s knee, stroking the soft skin there through his ripped jeans.
Jaejoong doesn't move, doesn't stop laughing, so Yihan cups Jaejoong’s cheek, his touch feather soft and waits, waits for Jaejoong to pull back and laugh off the gesture as he always does, but this time Jaejoong does neither.
All Yihan remembers that day are soft lips, laughter and the warm smell of butter filling the room.
And the feeling that everything, everything is finally falling into place.
Yunho comes halfway through the concert, his hoodie pulled low over his face. The girls there are already hysterical, their eyes fixated on the stage where Jaejoong is standing, practically ethereal against the glare of the stage lights.
Jaejoong's hair is bleached blonde, tattoos covering his exposed skin, his eyes smudged with dark kohl. Yunho has never seen him like this, head thrown back, passionate and thrumming with life, just standing there, singing like his life depends on it.
Jaejoong deserves to be free.
And now he is, Yunho has never seen anything more beautiful.
It’s been more ten years since their debut, and since then, Yunho has stood outside tens of thousands of waiting rooms like these. Nondescript and small, but he has never felt like this, jumpy, afraid, nervous.
He stands there, watching the staff bustle in and out, fussing over clothing racks and make up. He sees flashes of Jaejoong in the waiting room as the door opens and shuts, the soft sound of his laugh.
He’s berating himself, when an older man walks out a few moments later, with a kind smile. “Sorry, Jaejoong’s done for the day. Did you need something?”
“No. No,” Yunho says with a forced smile. “I just... wanted to congratulate him on the concert.”
“I’m done cleaning up—"
The door opens and Jaejoong steps out, his hair damp with sweat, his eyeliner smudged against his cheek, his frame pale and gaunt and underfed. He’s older, they all are and it shows in his face, the creases in his forehead, the bags heavy under his eyes. But despite it all, he still takes Yunho's breath away.
Jaejoong is still looking at the other man with a fond smile.
He smiles back, reaching a hand to brush the hair out of Jaejoong’s eyes, a gesture that makes Jaejoong duck his head and smile.
The familiarity of the gesture makes Yunho’s heart break. Jaejoong does look happy.
“Come on, we’d better get going,” the other man says, taking Jaejoong’s hand in an easy gesture that suggests the gesture is common to them both, and not a secret. Jaejoong finally turns to him with a shallow bow. “Thank you for coming."
And for that one suspended moment, Yunho realizes this is it. That if he doesn't act now, he'll lose Jaejoong forever. He can't. Not without trying.
Recklessly, he reaches for Jaejoong's hand, just as the other man is turning away.
"Jaejoong ah," he begins, but then Jaejoong turns around, and their eyes meet and then the words die in Yunho's throat, because he has none. Not when Jaejoong is alive and real and palpable in front of him, not when he's so close Yunho can practically--.
“Yunho?” Jaejoong says, breathlessly.
His eyes say a million different things all at once, why are you here? what? how? thank you, thank you for coming. and maybe even, i love you.
“I saw you sing,“ Yunho says, lamely.
Jaejoong’s eyes light up.
“You. You did?” he asks, dazed. Unconsciously, he steps closer, and Yunho responds in turn.
"Jaejoong," Yunho murmurs softly, and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug. Jaejoong is here and real and warm, and he fits perfectly in Yunho's arms.
Jaejoong pulls away a few seconds later, his cheeks flushed red but he's laughing, the corners of his eyes crinkling with the strength of the emotion.
“Yunho ya,” He laughs, the term of endearment slipping out so naturally it's like he never stopped saying it. “Have coffee with me?”
“Don’t hurt him again."
“It’s time to stop running, Yunho-ya.”
“Yes,” Yunho says and pulls him close again, burying his face into Jaejoong's shoulder. “Yes. I’d love to.”
It happens one day, five months later, there’s a man standing outside Jaejoong’s waiting room, his hands shoved into his pocket, nervous.
Yihan watches the realization dawn on Jaejoong’s face, sees the light come back in Jaejoong’s shuttered eyes, sees him glow warm, and happy, and alive for the first time in forever.
And he knows it's finally over.
They spend the evening talking about everything and nothing.
The conversation flows between them as it always has, easy and comforting. They talk, they laugh, and through it all Yunho never takes his hand off Jaejoong's thigh, almost afraid he'll disappear if he does.
Yunho had forgotten what it was like to bask in Jaejoong’s sunshine. But now he's here, its addictive and wonderful and all Yunho can think about is how much he wants to kiss him.
Jaejoong’s eyes bright under the lights suddenly soften.
“Yunho ya," Jaejoong murmurs, voice tentative and worried, "Why are you really here?”
Yunho looks at the piano, theres a thin layer of dust on it, suggesting it hasn’t been touched for a while. It's a shame.
“Play me something?”
“I don’t really—“ Jaejoong starts to say, and then sighs when Yunho grins at him, and relents with a soft, exasperated laugh. “I could never really say no to you.”
The tinkling of the piano fills the room, the chords soaring and brilliant and nostalgic. It feels like a lifetime ago they sat like this, pressed close to one another, singing on an incredibly large stage, just five boys and one incredible, impossible dream.
As the song finally comes to an end, the room fills with silence, almost painful in its magnitude.
“Jaejoong--” Yunho begins.
But Jaejoong just shakes his head, pressing a finger to Yunho's mouth.
"It happened a long time ago," he says, and when he glances up, his eyes are hazy with unshed tears, "let’s not. It’s not worth it. You came back.”
"I was such an idiot--"
"Don't," Jaejoong says, voice soft and husky. "You're here now. That's all that matters."
They look at each other for a long moment; Jaejoong's eyes soft and patient, his hair golden under the soft yellow lights. The way he looks, tentative, afraid, grateful. Yunho reaches to smooth the crease from his forehead, and thinks about how much he'd like to kiss him.
Maybe Yunho moves first, his fingers curving around Jaejoong's cheek, or maybe Jaejoong does, moving the slightest inch so they're pressed against each other, nose to nose, breath to bated breath.
Jaejoong tilts his head and then all Yunho remembers is fireworks.
xiii. ground zero
They relearn each other all over again. Time has changed them both, and where Yunho was expecting to find rash, impulsiveness he finds long silences he can’t read, and a perpetual sadness in Jaejoong’s countenance.
Some nights they fight. But not as they did once, loud and angry. They tiptoe around each other, tentative, hiding behind formalities, etiquette. Like strangers too polite to hurt the other's feelings.
He can’t find Jaejoong’s coffee cups, or his forks, or plates. Jaejoong apparently has started to use the dishwasher as more than a drying rack, so Yunho opens up the machine and grabs dirty utensils sometimes without even thinking. Jaejoong doesn’t sleep on his belly anymore. Jaejoong has far more tattoos than Yunho remembers there being.
Jaejoong still cooks for five though, and the thought is comforting enough that it makes Yunho smile.
They’re strangers now. But sometimes, Yunho sees flashes of the boy he loved, in the way Jaejoong leans against the kitchen counter, hip cocked as he browses the newspaper. In the way his neck strains when he sings, in the way he glances up at Yunho from under his glasses, smile mischievous and secretive.
They’re strangers now, but Yunho finds himself falling hopelessly in love with Jaejoong all over again.
Slowly at first, and then all at once.
It’s in his little quirks and mannerisms. The way he curls up against Yunho, yawning on the couch. The way Yunho comes back some days to find Jaejoong asleep on his baby grand, sixteen pages of sheet music strewn around him. It’s the way Jaejoong still knows what to say when Yunho's world feels like its crashing down around him. It’s the way Jaejoong looks at him, and Yunho knows he’s finally, finally home.
Jaejoong kisses differently now, past impatience melting away to something deeper, gentler, more patient. Jaejoong’s kisses are a slow burn, a long scorching sensation that frays Yunho’s nerves and leaves him desperate and gasping for more, always more, more.
Jaejoong moves differently, sounds different feels different. Yunho tries not to think about all the reasons why he is, all the people that have seen Jaejoong like this, spread, wanton and so fucking beautiful.
They learn to love each other all over again, but better this time. When they fight, there are no overs, or angry storming outs, no tears, no ends, no let's give ups.
They fight the same, but now they both recognize when it's time to put away pride in lieu of something a little bit more important; to recognize that arguments are temporary, but that some things are not. Some things like love.
One night, when Jaejoong is snoring softly into his lap, the realization hits him hard and honest and obvious. Maybe at twenty four they were imperfectly in love, and they needed this, all of this, to become the people they are now; for Jaejoong to become a little less selfish, for Yunho to become a little less afraid.
“What are you thinking about?” Jaejoong asks sleepily, three months later, face tucked into Yunho's skin, his fingers curled possessively around Yunho's bicep.
The scene feels familiar, and Yunho gets a sense of déjà vu, like he’s seen this soft light in Jaejoong’s eyes before, so many years ago. That he wants to wake up with the sun in his face and that soft light in Jaejoong's eyes, every morning for the rest of his life.
“You.” Yunho murmurs, honestly, pressing a soft kiss to Jaejoong's long hair. “And how I’m never going to lose you again.”