Title: the heart where I have roots
Word Count: ~50,000 words
Warnings: [Click: Spoiler]non-exo character death
Summary: jongin hadn't realized what chanyeol would give up for them both to be happy.
Author's Note: i took two of your prompts and smushed them together with another little (big) twist, and i hope you like it OuO (see the end for one additional note.)
"Oooh, Paris," Sehun says. "Fancy. Research for yet another novel where the protagonist is living in a post-romance world and falls in love with art theory instead of a person?"
He moves to sit with his legs crossed daintily, like they're at a posh restaurant instead of the tiny bunsik restaurant near his and Zitao's apartment complex.
"No one asked for your opinion," Jongin says, running a hand through his hair. "If you must know, I'm writing about a woman who travels to France to study French ballets and, like, finds the inspiration to dance again while she's there. And I'm hoping to find some inspiration there myself."
His phone vibrates. Chanyeol. I found an article about cute animal clothes. Thinking of you.
"Wow," says Sehun. "How will you find a way to make that story tragic?" He pokes Jongin's cheek with his chopstick, smearing stew on his skin. "Is her true love going to leave her for someone else on the eve of her first return performance?"
"I never should have let you read my first novel," mumbles Jongin, stabbing at his omurice.
"Yeah," Sehun says. "You shouldn't have. Post-romance." He shakes his hair out of his face. "What the fuck does that even mean? Only you would come up with some pseudo-intellectual dystopian anime-derived explanation for how you've spent years not getting laid."
"It wasn't about sex," says Jongin, taking his spoon and scooping up a huge bite of egg and rice. "It was about love, and the way we throw the word around without meaning, and how, in the end, we're all looking for practicality above romance." He chews slowly, to buy himself time. There's no one else in the bunsik restaurant with them, and the TV playing above the kitchen is showing a program Sehun likes way more than he likes Jongin. "I wasn't writing about our world, anyway, just a theoretical one. It was a story, Sehunnie."
His phone again.Also lab-tech brought fried chicken for lunch. Are you jealous? Jongin smiles, and types back: no, at lunch with sehunnie, he's cooler than you.
"A story that made you famous," says Sehun, looking away from the TV and back at Jongin. "I suppose people empathized with a character who’s afraid of being lonely instead of looking for love." He's only teasing, same as he always does, but Jongin slumps down in the uncomfortable plastic chair and crosses his arms, omurice forgotten. "Or they envied a character who didn't believe in love." Sehun squints. "Are you sure it wasn't autobiographical?"
"Of course not. I believe in love," says Jongin. "I just don't believe in it for me anymore."
"That sounds wonderfully misanthropic." Sehun gives him a deadpan look of superiority. "Wow, Jongin, you have such a positive outlook on your love life."
"Why is it that every time I have a conversation with you or Zitao these days, it comes back to me being single?"
"Because we're worried about you," Sehun says. "Or, well, Zitao is. I'm only moderately concerned, but you know how it is: Zitao's worry is infectious, and when he's worried, I don't get sleep, which is something that affects my happiness."
"You're a real friend, Sehun." Jongin pulls a face. "You really go that extra meter for a pal."
"I try," says Sehun. "But no, seriously, Jongin."
"There's no reason to be worried," replies Jongin. He picks up his spoon again and resumes the casual deconstruction of his rice omelette. "I'm not lonely. And there's nothing wrong with choosing to be single. You don't need a significant other to live a fulfilling life, and not everyone gets that kind of happily ever after!"
"While normally that would be true," Sehun says, stirring his stew and pursing his lips like he tastes something sour, "and is true, for plenty of other people…"
"Let it go, Sehun."
"Not you, Kim Jongin. You've always been a romantic, even back in middle school, scowling at rom-coms but writing love letters to cute third-year girls in your secret diary."
"It was secret for a reason, Sehunnie—"
"Then you shouldn't have left it out on your desk in plain sight when we had sleepovers," Sehun says unapologetically. "My point is, Jongin, that if I looked up ‘believes in fairytale romance' in the dictionary, up until about four years ago, it would have been your picture there next to the definition."
Jongin's stomach revolts. "Please don't do this."
"Okay," Sehun says. "I won't. But you write these sad stories about love that doesn't work out and people who don't believe in it and it worries us, because you won't talk about what happened with you and Soojung and--"
"It's because real life isn't a fairy tale," Jongin says. "Sleeping Beauty never wakes up."
Sehun's mouth becomes a thin line. "Sorry," he mumbles.
"Stay out of my business," says Jongin. "I'm perfectly fine the way I am."
Sehun watches him, and Jongin sighs.
"I have my family, and Taemin, and you guys, too. I have Joonmyun-hyung and Chanyeol-hyung—"
"Ah," Sehun says, subdued moment passing as he becomes the cat who got the cream, "you do have Chanyeol-hyung, I forgot."
"No you didn't," Jongin mutters. "Asshole. You were lying in wait to make something out of nothing."
"What does Chanyeol-hyung think of your determination to never fall in love again, hmm?"
"I doubt he has an opinion on it," Jongin says. His omelette is cold now, and much less appetizing. Grease congeals on top of the egg and on the plate underneath it.
"I doubt that he doesn't," replies Sehun. His hair falls into his face, and this time he uses his hand to push it back. "After all, it's not like you don't write him into every single one of your books like some creepy confession letter."
"I don't know what you could be talking about," says Jongin, and he averts his eyes.
"Poor Chanyeol-hyung," Sehun says. "His only flaw is his terrible taste in men."
"It's not like that." Jongin tries to infuse as much insistence into it as he can, but he flushes pink and pouts, and Sehun laughs, returning to his food. "It can't be. Stop instigating," Jongin says, after a while. Sehun pins him with an even stare. "Really. I'm happy with the way things are, Sehun."
"All right," Sehun says, with an arched brow. "I'll get off your case. For now."
"Thanks," Jongin says wryly, and then he glances at the clock on the wall and chokes. "Shit, I'm late! Joonmyun-hyung is going to kill me!"
"Naw," Sehun says, waving his hand dismissively as Jongin drops ten-thousand won, enough to pay for both their lunches, onto the table. "He'll just think about it as he smiles paternally at you. You'll be fine. He's not Kyungsoo-hyung after all."
"Later, ass," Jongin says, wrapping his scarf around his neck and buttoning his coat as he walks out of the restaurant with a quick bow for the ajhumma making kimbap at the front.
"Tell Chanyeol-hyung to call me," Sehun yells after him. "You'll see that mad scientist way before I do!"
"Yeah, yeah," mumbles Jongin. "Text him yourself, punk."
He checks his phone. You don't actually think Sehun is cooler than I am, it says. Jongin laughs.
As he shuffles into the rush of people on in the subway boarding the Line 2 train heading down toward Samseong station, Jongin thinks about his upcoming travel plans. He's leaving in two days for Paris, and he hasn't packed or printed out any of his itinerary information, probably because he'd only decided three days ago and Chanyeol and Kyungsoo haven't had a chance to double-team him into hyper-organization yet. Chanyeol's work at KRIBB means he's always in team management mode, and Kyungsoo finds a natural joy in telling Jongin what to do.
He's taking a 10:15AM plane with Air France. He'd looked up flights on a whim a little past midnight, and woken up with the airplane tickets waiting in his inbox.
The travel agent he'd called the next day had taken care of everything else. ("It's a good thing," Taemin had said, "that they're used to idiots like you planning things last minute," when Jongin had called his best friend to tell him. "You'd better bring something nice back for me. And your mom, too, I guess.")
His sister had asked him which came first: writing a novel about Paris, or wanting an excuse to travel to Paris, and Jongin had told her he wasn't quite sure as he swallowed and tried not to think about plans he'd made a long time ago.
And this morning he'd called Joonmyun to ask if there was any way they could change their appointment, and Joonmyun had, as usual, been extremely obliging, especially after Jongin had told him why.
Of course, after Joonmyun was so accommodating, Jongin is late.
Three stops from his, at Jamsil, there's a flux of people getting onto the train, and Jongin almost misses the vibration of his phone.
Are we still on for tomorrow?
Jongin smiles. Chanyeol always asks, like they don't meet up every single Thursday. Jongin likes that Chanyeol never assumes. Taemin shows up at his house at eleven at night without calling and puts his feet on Jongin's table, and Chanyeol double checks that he has the right time when Jongin invites him four days in advance, and usually also brings food.
no, i've changed my mind, Jongin types back. i never want to see you again
So, I'll see you at 7, then? :3
Jongin starts to respond, but it's his stop, so he tucks his phone away and walks out into Samseong station, the heat of the train left behind in the chill of the station as he walks up the stairs and out onto the street.
Even at midday, with the sun out, it's bitterly cold. Jongin shoves his hands into his pockets as he walks down towards Joonmyun's office.
When he arrives, Joonmyun is putting something into a file cabinet, hunched over the open drawer and wriggling his butt to horrible Christmas music.
"Christmas was three weeks ago," Jongin says, and Joonmyun jumps before turning around quickly, laughing.
"Jongin, you surprised me," he chides. "And you're late."
"I know," Jongin says. "I somehow got trapped in an intervention at a bunsik restaurant."
"Zitao has been calling everyone trying to figure out the last time you went on a date," Joonmyun says. "I told him that you were an adult and could make your own romantic decisions."
"At least you realize that, hyung. I am twenty-nine," Jongin says. "I have at least earned that power, right?" He unzips his coat and takes off his hat, running a hand carelessly through his hair.
"That's a nice scarf," says Joonmyun. "I haven't seen it before."
Jongin fingers the knit of it, smiling. "Thanks," he says. "It was a gift." He sits down in the chair in front of Joonmyun's desk, and Joonmyun sits down behind it.
"Congratulations on your new release hitting shelves," Joonmyun says. "I saw the poster in the bookstore window on my way into work this morning. There was this adorable gaggle of high school girls taking pictures of it on their mobile phones. You're a big shot now, huh?"
"Couldn't have done it without you, hyung," Jongin replies, and Joonmyun gives him a tiny little smile as he looks through the stack of papers on his desk and pulls out a purple folder. "Is that mine?"
"Sure is." Joonmyun always edits by hand, leaving notes in his tiny neat hangul in the extra-large margins, like Jongin, did you mean to change tense here or Jongin, this character is ruder than Sehunnie! or help, i'm smiling into my teacup! and all of them are really cute, in a Joonmyun way. "Are you ready to talk about the next one?"
"Yeah," Jongin says. "What do you think?"
"I think," Joonmyun says, "that if you weren't already going to Paris for research, I'd send you there myself." He sighs. "There's also the end, Jongin."
"The end?" Jongin shifts uncomfortably. "What about the end?"
"It feels unfinished. Like you didn't know how it should end, so you gave up."
That's truer than Jongin wants it to be. "I'm working on it. Maybe I just need to experience the story more to make it feel more real, and then I'll know how it's supposed to go." He hopes so. As he'd started the last chapter, he'd realized that the story was lacking the finish it needed: the finish that his novels are known for. "I think… Don't you think it needs a happy ending?"
Joonmyun studies him for a moment, before folding his hands together and sighing. "That's not for me to decide, Jongin."
"But you think it does, don't you?" Jongin has never really written a happy ending before, even in the stuff he never even dreamed of trying to get published. He'd written a sad ending, for his first novel, and an open ending for his second, leaving people debating in Daum forums over whether things had turned out all right in the end or not. Even in the shorter things, happy endings have always eluded him, feeling like so much sand on a beach, easily washed away in the ocean of his metaphors and cynicism.
"I've left you some general revision notes for the beginning sections, that take place in Seoul," says Joonmyun, after a long pause. "Would you like to go through those?"
"Sounds good." Jongin leans forward. "I value your opinion."
"I know," Joonmyun says. "That's why I still edit for you."
"You still edit for me because it's your job now," says Jongin, and Joonmyun laughs.
"It didn't have to be," Joonmyun reminds him. "Out of all those manuscripts I was shuffling through when I first started working here, I chose yours."
"Thank goodness," Jongin says, thinking back to the day he'd put that very first manuscript in the mail, after he'd gotten the request from Joonmyun to send the rest of it. Chanyeol had taken him out and gotten him drunk afterwards, and then he'd stayed with Jongin the whole next day as he threw up. He'd felt too ill to be nervous. "I was terrible at school. I don't know what I'd be doing now, if it wasn't this."
"I knew quality when I saw it," Joonmyun says, patting Jongin's hand. "And I still do. So believe me when I say chapter one needs a lot of work."
"I know," Jongin says. "I'm going to have to overhaul the whole thing."
Joonmyun hesitates. "Your main character…"
"What about her?" Jongin asks. "Do you not like her?"
"I like her a lot," Joonmyun says. He taps his fingers on the edge of the table before he leans forward, his hair falling into his face as he gives Jongin his most knowing of smiles. "Is she based on someone?"
"Who would she be based on?" Jongin asks, frowning. "I hadn't really planned on her being modeled on anyone." That's not exactly true, but he doesn't want to explain.
"She reminds me a lot of you," Joonmyun says. "I thought that might be why the ending feels so unfinished."
"Because I'm so unfinished?" Jongin blows his hair out of his eyes. "Gee, thanks, hyung."
"No," Joonmyun says, smile gentling. "It's because the lesson that Hyejeong has to learn is one that you haven't learned yet."
"What lesson is that?" Jongin plays with the end of his scarf, running the weave of it between his fingers.
"That it's okay to try again," replies Joonmyun, and Jongin looks away. "Or, you know, something like that."
"Let's start with chapter one," he says quietly, and Joonmyun nods, opening his purple folder and leaning back in his chair.
"You look down," Taemin says, when Jongin lets himself into his apartment, all three of his dogs crowding up into his space. Monggu needs a haircut, his curls matted, and Jjangah seems completely invested in chewing on the hem of his pants as he tries to take off his shoes. "Weren't you with Joonmyun-hyung this evening?"
"Why are you here?" Jongin asks, walking barefoot into his living room and setting his bag down on the table, unwinding his scarf to hang it over the back of an unoccupied chair. "You need to let me know when you're crashing."
His phone vibrates. It's Chanyeol again. It's a link to a review of Jongin's new novel. Can I read this, or will there be spoilers?
Laughing, Jongin replies i dunno, hyung, live dangerously and tucks his phone away again.
"I'm sorry," Taemin says. "I was unaware you had a social life for me to interrupt."
"Just because I'm not constantly going out like you," Jongin says, "doesn't mean I can't be busy." He sets his takeout, for one, on the table, and Taemin laughs.
"Oh, gosh, Jongin, I didn't mean to interfere with your up-close-and-personal night with old episodes of Card Captor Sakura."
"Shut up," Jongin says, taking off his coat and throwing it at Taemin's face. "I meant that I have to pack tonight."
"I know," Taemin says. "For your information, I came to help."
"The last time you helped," Jongin says, "you took everything out of my closet, threw it all on the floor, and then called Sehun to whine about how you'd never seen anyone in the world who owned so many ugly pairs of harem sweatpants."
"I'm prepared this time," Taemin says. "Plus, I'm wiped from dance practice, I don't have the energy to take apart your closet." He opens up Jongin's dinner and starts to eat it. "What's with the sad face, though?"
"There's something missing from my draft," Jongin says. "The new story I'm working on." Joonmyun had been kind but firm about it: what Jongin has is not up to standard, and needs a complete rewrite.
His phone vibrates. He fumbles for it with one hand as the other snatches a piece of tangsuyuk from the open container on Taemin's lap, getting the orange sauce all over his fingers. The pork is crispy. I'll save it for after I read, then. I'm going to pick it up tomorrow on my way to meet you. Is the Coffee Bean all right for you?
"What's it about?"
"I don't think I know," Jongin says. "Maybe that's the problem." wherever you want, hyung
"Stop texting Park Chanyeol and come eat pork with me," Taemin says. "How can you write a story and not know what it's about?"
"Sometimes you don't figure it out until the end," says Jongin. "Like... it was staring at you the whole time, but you only really realized it when you looked back on it. ‘Oh, is that what this was about?'"
"When things stare at me for long periods of time," Taemin says, "I close my curtains and call the police."
"You're not helpful." Jongin slumps onto the couch next to Taemin, cradling his phone as he waits for Chanyeol's reply. See you there, Jonginnie ♡
"What do you want from me? I'm a dancer. I don't write novels. That's what you do." Taemin smiles, and shoves a piece of pork into Jongin's mouth. "Go to Paris, have a blast, come up with some amazing idea while you're there that blows everyone out of the water again."
"Is that a vote of confidence?" Jongin asks, and Taemin chuckles.
"Well," Taemin says, "We've been friends since we were twelve, and you haven't choked yet at this novel thing."
"Gee, thanks," Jongin says, but he does feel a little better. "Don't eat all my food."
"We can always order more."
The problem is this: Hyejeong's story isn't much like any other story Jongin has told before. Maybe that's why he so desperately needs to get it right, but can't seem to find the center thread.
"It seems to me," Lu Han had said, when Jongin had showed him the first bit of a draft, "that you're writing a love story."
"It's not a love story," Jongin had said. "It's a story where there's love, but then there isn't, and she has to keep going on despite that."
"The professor she meets, in the second section. She's totally going to fall in love with him."
"No, she totally isn't. That's not why he's there."
"Why is he there, then?" Lu Han had asked, genuinely curious, and Jongin had bitten his lip.
"I'm not sure yet. When I figure that out, I'll let you know."
"It's just like your real life, Jonginnie," Lu Han had said, and Jongin had scowled at him until Lu Han reached over and ruffled his hair. "All the pieces are there, but you…"
"Yeah, yeah." Jongin had shrugged away from Lu Han's touch. "Never mind."
Jongin had lain awake that night, though, contemplating what he wanted this story to say, and all he could think about was that, at the end, Hyejeong would be doing what she loved, but there would always be a missing piece of her heart.
Jongin wonders if Joonmyun is right, and Hyejeong is Jongin, looking down the road at a future that will never be quite as full as everyone else's.
"Hey," Jongin says, smiling as Chanyeol walks up to him, glasses slipping low on his nose and jacket buttoned all the way up. "You're early."
"I'm always early for you," Chanyeol says, and then his smile gets broader when he looks down. "You're wearing the scarf I gave you."
"It's winter." Jongin flushes slightly under the scrutiny. "It's not a big deal."
"I like it when you wear the things I give you," Chanyeol says. "It makes me all warm and fuzzy."
"Stop making it weird," Jongin replies, and Chanyeol laughs before shaking the Bandi & Luni's bag in his left hand. He opens it and pulls out the contents for Jongin's inspection.
"It looks like you've got another bestseller," Chanyeol says, holding Jongin's new book, shiny cover fresh from the packing box. "It was a struggle to find a bookstore that wasn't sold out of every single copy. I bet it's because your picture's on the inside flap."
"Shut the hell up, Chanyeol." Jongin has never let Chanyeol have an ARC, and never let him read anything he's writing early. He doesn't know why. Maybe because it's tradition, for Chanyeol to go out and buy it on the day it comes out, and Jongin likes their traditions. More likely, it's that Jongin wants what Chanyeol sees to be the perfect final draft, because Chanyeol, of all his friends, has the most discerning taste in literature, and Jongin wants to put his best foot forward, every single time. He wants Chanyeol to love his novels because they're good, not because Jongin wrote them. "Have you started it yet?"
"I'll have to wait until I'm in the mood," Chanyeol says, laughing. "They always leave me a little teary-eyed."
"You get teary-eyed when you watch other people get hurt in dramas, Chanyeol." He smiles to soften it, and Chanyeol beams back at him. "Don't pretend that compliment means anything. I bet you say that to all the writers you know."
"But I'm not their biggest fan." He puts the book back into his bag and leans forward to drag Jongin into a hug. Jongin's face mashes into his neck, and he gets a hint of a new aftershave. Chanyeol hugs too hard, so Jongin hits his back as a warning to let go, and then shoves him off. "Not like I'm yours." Jongin takes a deep breath as Chanyeol throws an arm over his shoulder and leads him toward the coffee shop.
"I don't know," Jongin says. "Some of those girls lined up overnight at my last signing. You might have some competition for that spot."
Chanyeol rolls his eyes as he picks up a tray, starting to fill it with sweets and breads. "Nah," he says. "I've had the biggest fan position on lock since second year of university." He laughs, catching too much attention, and Jongin picks up his own tray, moving away so he'll stop picking up hints of Chanyeol's new scent.
"Did you change brands?" Jongin asks. "Of aftershave, I mean." He keeps his gaze resolutely focused on the two pastries in front of him.
"You noticed?" Chanyeol's voice is warm honey with pleasure, and Jongin flicks his gaze to the menu, ordering a caffè latte as they move down the line toward the register.
"When you hugged me," Jongin mumbles. "It was different from last week."
"I ran out, so I'm finally using the stuff Kyungsoo gave me for that gift exchange last year." Chanyeol shrugs. "I kind of like it. Do you?"
"Doesn't matter if I like it," Jongin says. "Smell like whatever you want." He fumbles for his wallet, but Chanyeol shakes his head and pays the cashier for both of them. He nudges Jongin with his elbow toward their usual table, and Jongin follows.
"How's work?" Jongin asks, expecting Chanyeol to start overflowing like a man-made lake in rainy season with research anecdotes, but Chanyeol shrugs.
"It's all right," he says. "We're working on something new. It's sort of a secret."
"Sounds dangerous," Jongin says, frowning. He wishes he had a pen. Drawing on Chanyeol's receipt would give him something to do with his hands, and Chanyeol saves his receipts and records all his purchases in spreadsheets so it would be something for him to laugh at, later.
"Aw, Jonginnie, are you worried about me?" Chanyeol taps the toe of his shoe against Jongin's under the table. "It's not dangerous. Not really, anyway. It's just a new procedure that will make life easier for a lot of people."
"I'm not worried about you," Jongin says. "You've always been able to take care of yourself. You're the genius, not me."
"Only one of the people at this table is famous, though, and it's not me~" He says it as though he's singing, and Jongin kicks him, laughing anyway because Chanyeol is silly and cute. That's why Jongin has kept him, all these years. That, and Chanyeol's unwavering devotion to meeting every Thursday and hugging Jongin hard enough to break bones, that had led to texting everyday and a friendship that sometimes feels like the closest one he has.
Jongin rolls his eyes, because Chanyeol's face had been plastered all over the internet news trends when he'd made key strides in treatment as the member of an Alzheimer's research team only a year and a half out of medical school overseas. "Everything you say is stupid. I was wrong. You're not a genius."
"Don't be mean to me, Jongin." Chanyeol gives him a big lopsided grin.
They chat about inconsequential things, like Jongin's agent's baby, and the new apartment Chanyeol is buying, closer to his job and coincidentally further away from Jongin. "That's too far for me to drop in on my way back from Joonmyun's," Jongin complains, and Chanyeol's whole face lights up. Jongin's heart squeezes.
"It's a big place," Chanyeol says, "but it's nice. The neighborhood can't be beat, and it's not like I can't afford it." He chuckles. "Not like I spend money on anything else. And it has a really nice kitchen."
"I've been thinking about moving," Jongin says. "My neighbors are so loud."
"You should move in with me," Chanyeol says. "I'll have the space."
"There are such things as leasing contracts, Park Chanyeol." Jongin watches as Chanyeol stares at his coffee, swirling it around and debating with himself over more sugar. He's so transparent, sometimes. "I have one on my current place."
"So buy out of it," Chanyeol says. "What could be more fun than living with me?" Jongin leans back in his chair and eats to avoid saying anything sharp, like how Chanyeol never keeps his voice down when he sings along with his guitar or how Chanyeol is they kind of guy to bring home stray animals and people without warning, or how Jongin writes best in absolute solitude and Chanyeol makes solitude impossible with the way he crawls into Jongin's space with the constant hugging.
"I can't move right now," Jongin says. "I'm going away for a while."
"On a trip," Jongin says. "Research for my new novel."
Chanyeol crosses his arms. "A trip? Since when?"
"Since three days ago. I meant to tell you. I'm going to Paris."
"Paris?" Chanyeol sighs. "I want to go to Paris."
"You'd only go if you found magical coupons that said fifty percent off for the airfare."
"That's probably true, but I'd go if you were going." He frowns. "And you are going. I'm jealous." He licks his lips and then does this goofy thing with his eyebrows, wiggling them playfully. "Any hints on what you're working on right now?"
"No," Jongin says. "But, well… I am going to Paris."
"That doesn't mean you're writing about it." He suddenly reaches across the table and wipes Jongin's lower lip, pulling back with pastry cream on his thumb. "If you are, I guess that's a good enough reason to go on such short notice."
"Can't write about somewhere you've never been, right?"
"I'm not so sure about that," Chanyeol says. "After all, people write about space."
"That's fantasy, Chanyeol." Jongin sighs.
"And on a metaphorical level, you write romance novels, and you claim you no longer believe in love."
"That's not true." Jongin scrapes at the bit of pastry that sticks to his tray. It's sticky caramel, that Chanyeol likes and Jongin only tolerates. He's not sure why he got it, when he knew Chanyeol was only going to eat it off his plate. It isn't like Chanyeol doesn't have his own tray of pastries. It could be that buying pastries he won't eat is a tradition now too. "I just don't think I'm meant for it."
"That's because you're stubborn." Chanyeol smiles at him, softer this time. "Don't worry, it's one of your good qualities. I wish you didn't feel that way, though."
"I know, I know, I've heard it all before." Jongin shrugs. "The point is, I'll be gone, and after that, I'll still have the lease on my place. Find someone else to take the extra room in your apartment."
"Or I could just wait for you to come back," Chanyeol says. He's playing with the stirrer, the cap of his coffee long since abandoned and now making an extra large hockey puck for him to slide across his tray. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather live with than you. How long are you going to be gone?"
Ah, and there it is; he's been waiting for it. That familiar lurch in his gut that Jongin thinks is guilt. Sometimes it leaves him feeling flushed, too, especially under the full weight of Chanyeol's stare. He thinks about Sehun yesterday, over lunch. What does Chanyeol-hyung think of your determination never to fall in love again? and he swallows. He can pretend as much as he wants to that he doesn't know, but then he's lying to everyone, and most of all himself.
Suddenly, it seems like too much to bear, the weight of ignoring it and ignoring it, and Jongin thinks he should maybe... He grips the end of his scarf and kneads it between anxious fingers.
"I'll be gone for a month, Chanyeol."
Chanyeol's lips part in shock. "A month?" He looks down at his tray. "I'll miss you a lot." His thumb drags along the tray’s edge. "What will I do with my unlimited texting plan?"
"Besides, I don't think that's such a good idea," Jongin says, finally, fingering the scarf around his neck. It sort of smells like Chanyeol, which is odd, because though it hadn’t had tags when he'd gotten it, he’d known it was new. "Us living together, I mean."
"Why not?" Chanyeol asks, eyes shiny and lips split in his familiar uneven grin. "I already know everything terrible about you, and I practically live with you during your deadlines anyway. You have nothing to hide. I have seen you at your worst, and you know I make great seafood stew."
Jongin clutches at the pocket on the front of his hoodie, staring at his coffee instead of at Chanyeol. It's starting to get cold. He takes a deep, calming breath. "Because living together might mean something to you that I don't want it to mean, hyung."
He looks up just in time to see Chanyeol's lovely smile slip from his face, eyes shuttering. Jongin buries his nose in the scarf, and wishes he could close his eyes and make himself disappear.
"Oh," says Chanyeol, and Jongin winces. "I…" His voice is so unsteady, and Jongin watches him with horror as he tries to moderate it.
"Yeah," he says. "I just don't want to… I don't know. It just seems like a bad idea."
"It doesn't have to be," Chanyeol says, too late to sound as careless as he tries to make it. "It doesn't have to mean something. Anything, really. I just thought it would be fun."
Jongin isn't oblivious. He knows that Chanyeol, well, likes him. Has liked him for a long time, maybe even since they'd met, Jongin stumbling his way through college by the skin of his teeth as Chanyeol basked in the glow of still being a big fish, even in a really big pond. Eight years is a long time to be liked and never notice, even if for a few of those years they'd lived on opposite sides of the world. Jongin did not become an author because he's unobservant.
When Chanyeol touches Jongin's elbow to get his attention, or stares at him for just a moment too long, it would be impossible not to notice.
"Maybe it would be better if you found someone else to share your place with," Jongin says, stomach twisting. "That's all."
Chanyeol's shoulders hunch forward, and Jongin watches him surreptitiously, his face tilted down toward the table. It's amazing, sometimes, to watch the way Chanyeol forces his shoulders back, and makes himself grin. Jongin can't do that. When he's upset, it's like there's a dark raincloud following him around, but Park Chanyeol just makes his own sunshine. It's one of the reasons Jongin always wants Chanyeol around.
He's not making any sunshine right now.
"I always figured you knew," he says. "That I…" He laughs, dryer than usual. "I sort of thought you would have shut me down a long time ago, but you never did."
"I thought you would get over it," Jongin admits. "So I'd never have to. Sometimes…" He swallows. "Sometimes I thought maybe I was being arrogant, and I had it all wrong. It's not like I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it's not like you aren't popular enough with other people." There's that woman, Jongin thinks, at Chanyeol's lab, who gives Jongin a searching look every time he drops by unannounced for lunch and watches after them longingly, and the woman at the stationery store that they always drop by when either of them needs a new specialty pen. Jongin is sure there are men like that, too. Men that are better for Chanyeol than Jongin is. "Plus, you know I'm not--"
It's the line he's memorized by rote. Jongin isn't looking for a relationship. The words get stuck. Chanyeol deserves better than a line, but Jongin hadn't expected to talk about this today, and his words are always better when he writes them down.
Chanyeol shrugs, everything about him reading casual except the hand that shakes holding his cardboard coffee cup. "You're not as easy to get over as you think you are." He takes a sip of his coffee, and Jongin swallows again. "I'm not… expecting anything from you, Jongin. I'm your friend, that's it, I know that." Chanyeol shakes his hair, and the dark strands catch on his ears. "I didn't stick around because I wanted more from you; I stuck around because your friendship means a lot to me."
"Okay," Jongin says. "I… It's only ever going to be like that, Chanyeol. I'm sorry, if I…"
This was supposed to make Jongin feel better, but it doesn't. Instead he just feels horrible, and he can't stand the look on Chanyeol's face: It's the fake one Jongin remembers from that one party in college, when some guy on Chanyeol's basketball team had called him a fag, and Chanyeol had pretended it didn't bother him at all. It's the fake one that means Chanyeol doesn't want sympathy, or pity, but he's hurting, and Jongin hates that it's him who’s put that look on Chanyeol's face this time.
"No, no," Chanyeol says. "It's not your fault, Jongin. I'm just…" Chanyeol's eyes are a little wet, Jongin notes, and he shivers. "You've never even said you were into men. I never assumed… I mean, I always knew it was one-sided, especially since…" The corners of his mouth pull down again. "It's just harder hearing it than I thought it would be." He makes a show of looking down at his watch, an exaggerated motion that wouldn't even have fooled a stranger. "I've got to go back to the lab. Our annual conference is only a few months away, you know, and... We're about to make a breakthrough, so we're all putting in extra hours. I’ll probably be too busy to hang out much, anyway. I won't even see my bed." His Adam's apple bobs. "I'll see you next Thursday?"
"I'll be gone," Jongin says softly. "On my trip, remember?" Chanyeol's mind is a trap, and the fact that he's rambling means that mind is somewhere else.
"Right," Chanyeol says. "Right, yes, of course. I'll see you when you get back, then." He grins again, but Jongin can see right through it. "You can come check out my new place with Kyungsoo."
"Sure," Jongin says. "I'm sure I'll see you as soon as I get back."
"Great!" Chanyeol says. There's caramel from Jongin's pastry at the corner of his mouth. "Bye, then. I'll let you know what I think of your novel! You can sign it for me, then, right?"
Jongin thinks he should maybe say something-- another apology, a plea for Chanyeol to still be up for coffee at midnight before deadlines when he gets back— but Chanyeol is gone, not having waited for an answer, and Jongin is left to clean up both trays as Chanyeol disappears into the night.
Don't worry, Chanyeol texts him, ten minutes later, in perfect grammar with perfect punctuation, I'll be sure to get over you by the time you get back.
i'm sorry, Jongin types back, i shouldn't have said anything and ruined it, right? and Chanyeol, for the first time in a long time, doesn't reply to Jongin's text at all.
Jongin leaves for Paris at seven the next day. Kyungsoo drives him to the airport, grumpy and displeased about seeing that hour of morning.
"If you hadn't fucked with Chanyeol's feelings, I wouldn't be doing this."
"I'm trying not to fuck with his feelings," Jongin says, kicking at the dash. Kyungsoo looks ready to pull off the road.
"If you kick my car again, Kim Jongin, I will throw you in the fucking Han river with lead weights on your ankles and watch you drown. It is too fucking early in the morning, do not test me."
"Where would you get the lead weights?" Jongin mumbles.
Kyungsoo honks at another driver before he hisses "you don't know what I keep in my trunk" at Jongin, and turns up the radio.
A few minutes later, when he's more awake, Jongin dares to turn the radio back down, and Kyungsoo heaves an expectant sigh. "What is it, Jongin?"
"How do I fix this?"
"What is there to fix?" Kyungsoo says. "Just give him some space. He's Chanyeol. He's hopelessly devoted to you, like that dog from Up or something, and he's never going to give up your friendship because of this."
"You didn't see his face," Jongin says. "It was…"
"I did, actually," says Kyungsoo. "Baekhyun and I spent the night at his place. With sleeping bags and soju. Baekhyun and I talked a lot of shit about you, but Chanyeol is, as you know, your biggest fan."
The soju explains most of Kyungsoo's mood. He's glad Chanyeol had someone to talk to, though. Jongin had spent the night alone, face buried in his pillow, trying to forget the wet sheen of Chanyeol's eyes. He'd checked his phone, too, but Chanyeol hadn't texted him, not even by two AM, which is when Chanyeol usually sends him silly, half-lucid texts about some new rock artist he found on one of his late night forum searches.
He rubs his hands on his jeans and looks out the window.
"Do you think I'm cruel?"
"It's isn't cruel not to return someone's feelings, Jongin. No one blames you for that, not even Chanyeol. Especially not Chanyeol." Kyungsoo gives him a side eye.
"Then why do I feel like I was cruel?"
Kyungsoo seems to think about it carefully, his expression guarded, like he's trying to be less blunt than usual. "Honestly?"
"Yeah," says Jongin, "honestly." He braces himself.
"Cruel isn't the word I'd use." Kyungsoo leans back stretching while keeping his eyes on the road. "I think that, because you care about him so much, you don't like the guilt that comes along with knowing you hurt him, even if it's not your fault."
"Yeah." He blinks. "That… makes sense?" It does make sense, but Jongin's not sure it explains the complicated mess inside him right now.
"Does it?" Sucking on his lower lip, Kyungsoo hesitates. "May I ask you a personal question?"
"Are you going to throw me in the Han if I say no?" Jongin says, trying to laugh but not quite succeeding.
"You know you're wearing the scarf Chanyeol gave you again, right? You've been wearing it every day since you got it."
"I like it," Jongin says. "I'm allowed to like a gift I was given."
"You smell it, sometimes, when you aren't paying attention," Kyungsoo says. "Did you know that?"
"It smells like Chanyeol," says Jongin. "I can't figure out why."
"He made it," says Kyungsoo. "He knit it for you. Of course it smells like him."
"That's—" Jongin hadn't known that, but it makes sense. Chanyeol's good at that stuff. It's weird, to imagine Chanyeol knitting this scarf for Jongin between whatever wild experiments he gets up to in his lab, hair pushed back from his face with his glasses and all of his posters of outer space on the walls behind him. It's an adorable image, and despite everything, it makes Jongin smile.
"It's not just the scarf," Kyungsoo says, with frustration, and Jongin returns his focus to his friend. He hopes Kyungsoo doesn't drive them off the road. "It's about the mug he gave you on your 'friendship anniversary' that you never let anyone else use, and the fact that he keeps a toothbrush at your house so he can sleep over when you have deadlines, because you can't write without his presence when you're stressed." Jongin's eyes widen. "It's about the fact that you hold his hand at the movies, and text him every day so you know how his day has been. Don't you get it?"
"You don't understand," Jongin says. His voice sounds so small, but he doesn't know how to make it louder.
No one really understands, but Jongin doesn't expect them to, not when it's so twisted up and complicated in his own mind that he doesn't understand it himself.
"I'll believe you if you say that all you want from Chanyeol is friendship," Kyungsoo says. "No one can tell you what you're supposed to feel, Jongin. I'm just saying that if that's true, you should have been more up front with Chanyeol, when you realized how he still felt about you. He wasn't going to go anywhere, and you know it. He didn't go anywhere the entire time you were with Soojung, did he? He stayed, because he cares about you as a person, Jongin. You're one of his favorite people. But you should have let his heart go if you didn't want it."
"How was I supposed to do that?" Jongin asks, but it's mostly rhetorical.
"I think you know," says Kyungsoo, answering anyway.
A terrible silence descends between them, as Jongin searches for the right thing to say. Kyungsoo has never had a problem, like the one Jongin does, of finding exactly the right words to say to get to the heart of the matter. Kyungsoo has definitely gotten right at Jongin's heart, too, slicing him open and stabbing him with the horrible truth.
"Maybe I do," says Jongin.
"I'm still not so sure, though," says Kyungsoo, "that you don't..." He trails off, and Jongin lets the conversation die, knowing better than to push with Kyungsoo.
For a while, they just listen to the music, Jongin doing his best to untangle his thoughts as Kyungsoo drives.
"I thought he would drive me to the airport today," Jongin says, eventually, turning away from the window. "And I could talk to him again, face to face, before I left for a month, you know?"
Kyungsoo puts on his blinker to switch lanes as they drive across the gray landfill of sludge and ice leading to Incheon Airport. "I wouldn't let him do it," he says, after a long silence. "My word is law. I'll let him pick you up, though."
"Okay," says Jongin. "I'm… I'm sorry. I know this is a mess for all of our mutual friends, and I don't know why I chose now to do this, only I started thinking and then talking and I couldn't stop--"
"It's because you knew you were leaving, and the selfish part of you wanted to run away from the consequences." Kyungsoo shrugs. "It's understandable. All people are selfish, even sweet guys like you." He drives steadily forward, a little faster on the long straight stretch of the bridge. "But we should try harder not to be selfish with the people we're closest to, don't you think?"
"I know that," Jongin says. "I do."
"Good," Kyungsoo says. "Try to remember it, then."
Kyungsoo leaves him at the check-in with his two suitcases and his carry-on duffel. Chanyeol would have stayed and talked to Jongin until he'd had to go through security, but Kyungsoo is not Chanyeol. No one is Chanyeol.
Pulling out his phone, Jongin sends Chanyeol a text: you'd better not be too hungover.
There's no response, so he writes another. staying under the name kim jongin at hôtel le bristol if you ever want to talk He spells the French name carefully using Roman letters, and then sends it, turning his phone off and scrubbing his face with his hands.
"Kim Jongin leaves a mess in Seoul and escapes to France," he narrates under his breath, like the start of one of his books, and then his check-in desk opens, so he grabs his suitcases and joins the line, ignoring the strange look from the woman who'd been sitting across from him as he waited.