Title: Better (1/2)
Word Count: 3,000+
Summary: If I kiss you where it’s sore, will you feel better?
Thick and heavy raindrops beat against the glass of the window, and they slide down to collect with the previous raindrops on the windowsill overlooking Downtown Manhattan. The usual bustling, busy streets of New York City were replaced by a quiet, gloomy atmosphere. The rain drowns out all of the nightlife noise Jongdae would have heard if the apartment he currently resides in were fifteen floors below them. At times like this, it’s a blessing to be childhood friends with Kim Joonmyeon. Being childhood friends with Joonmyeon hasn’t always been easy for Kim Jongdae, who when growing up, was the complete opposite of prim, proper, sophisticated.
That isn’t to say that he was an “ audacious good for nothing delinquent”, as Joonmyeon’s grandparents referred to him as, rather than calling him by his name. Apart from occasionally pranking classmates with two of their other friends, Jongdae was an extremely well behaved, respectful student and consistently obtained the top grades in his class. But in the eyes of Joonmyeon’s extremely high strung and upper class family, he would never be as refined as was necessary for their 'little prince'.
Sitting hunched over a rather large textbook on quantum mechanics, Jongdae is studying for a final that he isn’t going to take for another three weeks. He often wonders why he’s doing this if he’d much rather be majoring in photography. It’s never too late to change his major and he could do so in a blink of an eye if he so chose to, the memory of his old, worried high school counselor naggingly reminds him of the fact every single day since he graduated.
Jongdae has never been one for wasting his time or efforts, and would much rather be doing something he was one hundred percent sure of and passionate about instead of half-assing every step along the way.
But the image of Joonmyeon—impressed and proud beyond belief of Jongdae, for Jongdae—manifests in the nearest corners of his mind and clings desperately, tenaciously to the pale bone walls of his skull. The desire for cheeks flushed with pride encompasses his entire being. All Jongdae can think of is being good enough, being accepted by Joonmyeon’s family, being perfect for Joonmyeon, being just right for Joonmyeon to rely on, just as he’s completely relied on Joonmyeon’s support for the past ten years.
Each painstakingly exhausting step along the road of a path Jongdae didn’t know he was walking on until it was too late, until he was far too committed and in far too deep, would lead toward eventual and absolute bliss.
Or at least that’s what he hopes.
He had already done so much that, evidently and unfortunately subsequently, it would be an absolute shame and waste if he stopped now.
Jongdae had skipped his junior year of high school and was placed in Joonmyeon’s extremely small senior class just so they could sit next to each other during the ceremony, just so they could graduate together, just so they would be the first the other would hug after receiving their diplomas, just so they would be able to do it all over again at the same college. Jongdae remembers the after party just as clearly as the graduation ceremony itself. His mind and train of thought had persistently drifted off and blurred together everything that didn’t pertain to physical contact with Joonmyeon or the proud look on his parents’ and older brother’s face.
The after party took place at Minseok’s incredibly quaint and homely apartment. It wasn’t anything spectacular but it was the best his older brother could do before he moved to China with his boyfriend Luhan the following month. There had been alcohol, of course, as any after party should have. Although Jongdae’s family had a history of being able to handle large amounts of alcohol, it was a surprise when they found out he was unmistakably an extreme lightweight when Jongdae had become remarkably tipsy after downing three cans of disgustingly, slightly warmer than room temperature beer. Jongdae, not so surprisingly, was also an incredibly talkative and affectionate drunk, constantly hugging or nuzzling one of the three other men in the apartment.
It was only until Joonmyeon snapped out of trying to watch and understand whatever college football game was on and noticed it was 5:00 A.M.—Luhan and Minseok were sprawled across the floor, fast asleep, drooling onto each other and snoring loudly—did he decide that he should take Jongdae back to their shared apartment.
Lugging an absolutely shitfaced Jongdae through the gradually brightening streets of downtown Manhattan had been no easy feat. It had proved only more difficult when he had to drag him through the lobby and up to the apartment while Jongdae insisted that Joonmyeon was going to “support and comfort me in my most fragile state.” and that “I didn’t know you were such a naughty man, Joonmyeon. It’s kind of hot. But only kind of. You’ll need a lot more to woo me.”
It was only until he had managed to get the both of them into the apartment as safely and quietly as humanly possible that Joonmyeon had roughly grabbed a slightly sobered up Jongdae by his shoulders that he had finally managed to stop blabbering for more than two minutes.
“Jongdae, go change into some more comfortable clothes, alright? You can just take my bed and I’ll sleep on the couch with a few blankets, alright? You know where everything is, right?”
Nodding lethargically, Jongdae looks Joonmyeon in the eyes and leans forward, gathering the smaller man in a warm embrace and placing his nose in between the small junction where his shoulder and neck blend into each other seamlessly, nuzzling slightly. “Thank you…”, it’s only when Jongdae’s voice cracks and his button down dampens slightly, does Joonmyeon notice that Jongdae’s crying, or extremely close to doing so, “Thank you so much Joonmyeon, you don’t know how much you mean to me…you really don’t. I’m so glad I could graduate with you. Let’s do this again soon.”
Chuckling lightly, Joonmyeon pats Jongdae on the shoulder. Letting his hand trail down Jongdae’s arm, Joonmyeon rubs it gently and pecks the side of the younger’s head affectionately.
“You’re drunk, Jongdae, just go change into some clothes and we can talk about how grateful you are in the morning, alright?”
Humming affirmatively and squeezing Joonmyeon's body tightly towards his once more, Jongdae stalks off down the hall and to the right, into his own eventual bedroom. Flipping on the light switch, he stares blankly at his bare bedroom, occupied only by a small pile of clean albeit slightly dusty clothes and an old, far too small box spring mattress. Bending over just enough so the tips of his fingers brush the soft cotton of an old oversized t-shirt and a rolled up pair of navy boxer shorts, Jongdae hooks the clothing onto his fingers. Walking out of the room and back towards where he knew the other would be, Jongdae pouts up at Joonmyeon and lifts his hands, clearly displaying the articles of clothing he had picked up.
Joonmyeon’s arms are crossed and there’s a small knowing smile when he sees that Jongdae had returned to him so quickly, clothes not yet changed. Fighting back a chuckle, Joonmyeon quietly pads over to Jongdae with bare feet.
“Do you need help with that, Jongdae?”
Three and a half months afterwards isn’t yet finals week for Joonmyeon and Jongdae. They’d had three weeks left, but with the environment the harsh reviewing and studying created, it might as well have been. Stress levels, as well as tensions were uncomfortably high as one would try to help the other cram in as much information from their first semester as possible.
Joonmyeon’s finals were drawing much nearer than Jongdae’s. And the fact was brought up to Jongdae every time he’d ask the older to go out and relax.
This, unfortunately, was one of those times.
“Jongdae, for the last time, no, I am absolutely, positively one hundred percent sure that I cannot go out to watch a movie with you today. My finals are in a week and I have to study in order to not fail. Go out with Yixing or something, anyone but me.”
Jongdae finds it hard not to stare at Joonmyeon in anything but shock, and perhaps a small amount of anger. Yixing has been Jongdae’s best friend other than Joonmyeon for about five years now, but he’d already graduated college, had moved back to China with his boyfriend Sehun the year before. But the two hadn’t been able to bask in the other’s presence properly in so long, that a slight rift has formed between them. Jongdae would have thought Joonmyeon would remember.
“Yixing’s gone..Joonmyeon. He moved to China last year. Before our graduation... I’d expect you to at least remember that, whether or not you’re distracted by studies. Or is your pretty head shoved so far up your ass and into your textbooks that you don’t remember important fucking details about anything other than your dumb fucking politics?” Jongdae’s fury caused his question to come out more so like a statement, but it had done it’s job and had sharply cut through to Joonmyeon, immediately garnering his attention. Jongdae watched as Joonmyeon looked up and behind him, glaring at Jongdae darkly.
“Not right now, Jongdae. We can talk when my finals are over. Now, go.” Joonmyeon’s voice trailed off as he turned the page of his textbook and jotted down brief notes of what he deemed important. Crossing his arms and leaning against the doorway to Joonmyeon’s bedroom, Jongdae stubbornly roots himself to his spot with a pout and glare at the older.
“You’re overworking yourself. Movies aren’t long, just relax for an hour or two with me. I’ll even let you pick the movie.”
“I’m working just fine, Jongdae. We can just buy the movies when they're in stores.”
“But you need to relax. What’s an hour or two going to-”
Joonmyeon sighs loudly, exasperated.
“I asked you to leave, Jongdae.”
Huffing quietly, said man tightens crossed his arms, effectively stretching the sleeves out. The apartment is always far too warm for him to dress properly during the cooler seasons. Jongdae refuses to lift his heated gaze from the other’s hunched over form.
Sighing loudly, Joonmyeon slams his textbook closed and more or less charges at the younger, who by then had gently padded over to and sat down on Joonmyeon’s bed. Joonmyeon purses his lips as his eyes diligently begin searching Jongdae’s own, flicking back and forth between the right and the left.
“What do you want from me, Jongdae? Why won’t you let me study? Why won’t you let me succeed?” His voice is pleading, desperate, as he grabs Jongdae by the collar of his shirt.
“Because you always do just fine-” Joonmyeon’s voice is hysterical as he cuts Jongdae off before he could finish, “Doing ‘just fine’ is not my goal Kim Jongdae. Your view on how and whether or not I “succeed” doesn’t matter because you’re not the one I’m trying to impress and succeed for. I don't do this for you, Jongdae."
Jongdae bites his tongue, refuses to ask if Joonmyeon isn't working hard for him, then who is it for, and why.
"Or is it because you’re… You’re bitter? Jealous? Jealous that my attention isn't constantly on you? Grow up, Jongdae. You're not a little kid anymore.”
“ No...no it’s not! Where did that even come from? That’s bullshit, hyung, you’re so stressed out you’re delusional. Why won't you just take a goddamn break?”
Jongdae is absolutely shocked, completely taken aback, and confused at the least. He’d not once implied he was envious of Joonmyeon’s ever present ability to do well and succeed, had never been anything other than ecstatic when the older had, and he’d thought his constant affections and praise had shown that.
“ Then what is it, Kim Jongdae?” Joonmyeon snaps at him with thinning patience, ignoring everything Jongdae had said and leaning forward with flared nostrils, brows furrowed. The stress of finals has finally gotten to him it seemed. Joonmyeon’s fist roughly skids past Jongdae’s right cheekbone, his overpriced high school class ring digs into and scratches at Jongdae's skin. Joonmyeon's fist collides violently with the wall. Joonmyeon’s yelling drowns out the thud of his fist’s impact with the dry wall.
Jongdae fights the urge to stare anywhere but Joonmyeon’s eyes and a heavy, uncomfortable stretch of silence falls between the two.
“ Jongdae?” Exhaustion leaks through the cracks in Joonmyeon’s strained voice. He’s stopped yelling.
Jongdae could feel the pain of his cheekbone beginning to swell and fought back tears at the dull throb more so than the thought that Joonmyeon, the friend he’s looked up to for years, just punched him in the face. Jongdae stares stubbornly ahead, far past Joonmyeon, through Joonmyeon. Jongdae watches as Joonmyeon’s eyes flick between his own and his injured cheekbone. The fire in Joonmyeon’s eyes slowly begins to cool and settle down around the same time he releases the collar of Jongdae’s shirt from his hold.
With brows furrowed in worry and regret, the anger in them had dissipated long ago, Joonmyeon opens and closes his mouth but before apologies can flow out from and rush past his lips, Jongdae bolts up from Joonmyeon’s bed. Jongdae storms out of the room, a slam of the front door, and the muffled jingle of his keys locking the front door indicating that he had subsequently left the apartment.
Running a hand down his face Joonmyeon stalks back over to his desk, shoulders and head hung low. As Joonmyeon seats himself back into his plush desk chair, he closes his eyes and rubs at his forehead, at the stubborn migraine festering restlessly beneath the surface and pounding harshly against his skull.
The sight of tears swelling in Jongdae’s eyes and the bruise slowly forming on his cheekbone painfully burns itself into the back of Joonmyeon’s eyes, ingraining itself in his memory. It flashes overbearing neon signs and bright, luminous balls of light behind his eyes. The recent memory glares stubbornly, accusingly up at him like an old scar.
The way he yelled at Jongdae takes him back to when he was younger. He was in his junior year of high school, still remarkably bright-eyed and eager to learn, to accomplish great things. But his midyear exams had been taking place, he'd had projects worth eighty percent of his grade due the same week he'd had his exams. Joonmyeon had locked himself in his bedroom once school was over, refused to communicate with anyone save for when he would deny any offer of help with a sharp ,"No."
Joonmyeon's neighbor and classmate, Kyuhyun, had made the same mistake Jongdae had, had asked Joonmyeon to go out with him for a couple of hours while he was in the middle of studying for his largest exam that would take place during christmas break. Joonmyeon had undoubtedly snapped at the older boy, first vocally, then physically. The impact of Joonmyeon's knuckles against the bridge of Kyuhyun's nose and his eye came as a shock to both of the young boys.
Joonmyeon had never hit anyone before, much less Kyuhyun, who he respected immensely. That night was the night before christmas break and was meant to be celebrated with sighs of relief, but after Kyuhyun went home with a black eye and bloody nose, the night was full of Joonmyeon’s guilty, sorry sobs. Joonmyeon never spent time with or even saw the older boy again.
He realizes now that Kyuhyun cutting him off was his fault, he also realizes now that punching Jongdae was also his fault. But if only Jongdae hadn't provoked him, he wouldn't have laid his hand on the younger man. If Jongdae hadn't provoked him, and so then Joonmyeon wouldn't have punched the younger.
Joonmyeon tries to soothe himself with that thought but his efforts are fruitless. Joonmyeon snaps his eyes open as a fleeting moment of irritation before the guilt takes its toll and washes heavy over him. Running a hand down his face, he immediately resumes studying for his finals.
He and Jongdae can settle this when finals are over.
Jongdae didn’t really have a plan when he rushed out of their shared apartment, just that he needed to get away from the older. Jongdae also, didn’t really have anywhere to go. Minseok, Yixing, and Luhan weren’t even in the country anymore. He didn’t even have his wallet to take the subway to Brooklyn to go visit Kyungsoo.
In the end, Jongdae spent an hour or two wandering around. He eventually wound up underneath the rounded stone arch of the engineering building at campus after texting and receiving a reply from Chanyeol stating that he was at a night class. Shivering and bouncing from one foot to the other, Jongdae wraps his arms around himself, trying to keep in as much warmth, before checking the time on his phone.
The rain had lightened up reasonably but it was still freezing as Autumn paved way for Winter. Perhaps running out of their apartment building in a thin pullover and a pair of sleep shorts hadn’t been the smartest idea. But Jongdae hadn't been thinking about it when he ran out of their apartment, hadn’t been thinking about anything really.
Chanyeol stumbles out of the large double doors with red, swollen lips, blotches on his throat, and messy curls of strawberry blonde hair sticking up at odd angles and clumsily shifting his backpack onto both of his shoulders. Gripping the straps tightly, Chanyeol’s eyes brighten tenfold when he spots Jongdae. Mustering up a small smile Jongdae allows Chanyeol’s gangly arms to enclose around his waist and pull him into Chanyeol’s open puffer coat. Jongdae relishes in the comfort and the physical warmth that the younger radiates.
The two waddle down the mixed stone and marble steps of the engineering building before Chanyeol sheds off his coat and hands it to Jongdae. Chanyeol fumbles through his backpack for his umbrella while Jongdae pulls on the coat, basking in the slight shelter it provides for him. Despite it not being meant to, it goes far past his knees. Despite the light drizzle, Chanyeol opens his umbrella and stuffs his hands into the pockets of his pullover. Chanyeol glances over at Jongdae before sniffing slightly and looking ahead.
“So, what happened?”
Glancing back at him, Jongdae watches as light bounces off of the umbrella and through it, leaving a red tint on Chanyeol’s face. Jongdae pays no mind to the constant muffled, gentle and faint vibrations of his cell phone.
“Nothing much.” Jongdae’s voice is quiet when he dips his chin into the collar of the gigantic coat. The thin lining of short fur tickles his skin. He shrugs. Chanyeol glances at him again before patting the smaller man’s back and resting his hand there.
“Okay...” Chanyeol trails off and hums in reply, shuffling a little bit closer to Jongdae before they start walking away from campus and onto the gloomy and humid but busy, crowded streets of New York City.