Pairings: JaeMin, HoSu, JaeSu (past), YooMin bff
Genre: Romance, Angst, Drama
Summary: They both gave up on love, one thinking that he doesn’t deserve it and the other unable to let go of a painful past. As Changmin and Jaejoong slowly discover in the other something they weren’t aware they needed, they don’t know yet that their growing feelings will get tangled in a web of secrets. And that it may change everything in a merciless fight between truth and power.
XVI. This dream I'm carrying with me, and telling its own story
"Put the red one more on the left Yun! More! More! A bit on the right now!"
Yunho sighs, exasperated.
"Megu, just make up your mind already! That thing isn't exactly light you know."
He's holding a huge ribbon at arms' length as Megumi is supposed to tell him where to hang it in the school's gymnasium. They have been decorating the place for two hours already, and while his colleague and friend is having the time of her life screaming orders from where she's safely standing on the ground, he'd like to get over with it already. Jung Yunho isn't afraid of heights, thank you very much, but that damn stepladder isn't as stable as he'd like it to be, and he'd rather be alive at the end of the day.
"Okay, okay… Just leave it here you lazy ass!"
"What?! Nobody's here!"
Yunho sighs, carefully climbing down the steps and letting out a sigh of relief when he's back on dear earth for good.
"Don't say I didn't warn you if a parent comes to see you one day asking why his 5 years old son wants to know what a 'jackass' is."
"It's the Korean for acrophobia."
"I wasn't scared!!"
"You were all sweaty and trembling, my manly Yunnie" Megumi singsongs, making a face at him.
Yunho scowls and ignores her, gathering the remaining ornaments they won't use for this year's Christmas celebration instead. He'll see where to put them to decorate the classrooms, or if the school allows him to, he'll give it to the children who want to bring some home.
Megumi starts doing the same on the other side of the room, humming a random Christmas song and not worried at all that he's sulking.
She knows Yunho can't stay mad at anyone for long, and even less at her. She's been here for him for years now, and they know each other by heart. They met not long after his parents' death, the hardest time of Yunho's short life, and the lively Japanese teen managed to bring back his smile and laughter from wherever he had forgotten them.
They stayed glued to each other afterwards, growing up and becoming adults together. When Megumi was hired as a teacher in Minato Ward Primary School for Korean children, Yunho applied for a post in the same establishment. The Japanese administration refused at first, which wasn't really surprising. Most officials there have a very clear idea of how non-Japanese people should adapt to their country, and that includes leaving all education matters for children coming from foreign countries to Japanese teachers only.
So he was properly dumbfounded when he received a letter from Minato Ward’s administration a few days after his job application was refused, asking him to go to the school for an interview and quick test. Yunho passed both with flying colors and got the post at last, glad that the luck lady was finally on his side. He's working along with his friend for a job he loves in a place where he can see himself in every kid blabbering in an endearing mix of Japanese and Korean. What more could he be asking for?
“It looks good, what do you think?” Megumi asks him from across the room, hands on her hips and a satisfied look on her face.
Yunho looks up from the box he was going through and smiles, nodding in agreement. The usually dull place is now filled with colors, red, golden, green, silver. Fake present boxes and huge ribbons hang from the ceiling and they put the drawings made by the kids on the walls, along with stars shapes he spent hours carving in multicolored shiny papers. The huge Christmas tree will arrive on Monday and they will decorate it together with the children, and everything will be ready for D-day on 23rd.
"… Though I still think that the red one should be more on the right."
The young woman grins at him before breaking into a huge yawn, totally inelegant but it still triggers a similar reaction for him. It's Saturday morning and the two of them were here at dawn, designed volunteers as the youngest ones in the staff for overtime at work to prepare for the Christmas party. Yunho stretches his arms above his head, feeling exhausted already and hungry enough to eat even some of that awful mashed potatoes thing they serve them on Tuesday in the school's cafeteria.
"I think I'll go back to sleep" he says.
"And I'm probably going to do the same, if Kyouhei let me that is…"
"Uhhhg I certainly don't want to hear about that."
"Glad to know that you aren't interested."
"He smells. And he doesn't shave more than once a week. And I'm pretty sure he's only interested in you letting him squat in your apartment. You should get rid of him Megu."
The expression on Megumi's face turns a bit tensed and Yunho immediately becomes concerned, knowing all too well she is not one to ask for help even if she really needs it.
"Do you want me to talk to him?"
She smiles, shaking her head in answer.
"It's okay Yun. I'll do it myself."
"You know I don't mind right? I'll gladly do it actually…"
"That's what I'm afraid of" Megumi answers, chuckling but looking more confident now. She tucks her hair back behind her ear looking intently at him, half thoughtful, half amused.
"I'm not fifteen anymore you know."
"But you still don't know how to choose a good guy."
"It's cos I enjoy seeing you kick ‘em away from me."
"I know, I know. I'll throw Kyouhei out of my place with all the required screams and tears…"
"Shut up. Then I'll waste my paycheck on ice-creams and chocolates and get fat in front of the first lovey-dovey drama I see on TV, which shouldn't be too difficult to find…"
"…and when I'm done wallowing in self-pity, I'll go hunt nice boys who won't dare to look me in the eyes and ask for permission before they kiss me. Alright?"
Yunho can't repress a laugh and nods.
"Call me when you get started with the movies phase. I'll send Su over to give you a hand with the ice-creams."
"God no. Last time he changed the channel when I left to replenish my stock of tissues and I got stuck in front of a soccer match for two hours."
"Why do you think I told him to go see you that day?"
Megumi hits him lightly on the arm, laughing for real now, and Yunho lets her, relieved that she's back in high spirits.
"Just call me if you think you need help okay?"
"I will, dad. God, you are impossible Yunho."
"I'm worried that's all."
"You have many things to worry about before you get all upset for me. How is Jun-chan doing?"
Yunho sighs, forehead creased as a frown appears on his face.
"Still anxious. I told him he didn't have to see Jaejoong if he wasn't ready but…"
"But Jun-chan being Jun-chan, chances that he gives up are about the same as me finding a rich, caring guy who will send me flowers once a week. Am I right?"
Yunho exchanges a smile with her as they make their way back to the school's gates.
"Don't worry too much Yun. He is stubborn and has a one-track mind, but that makes him one of the strongest persons I've ever known. He'll be alright whatever happens."
"I know that. But this is really important to him, and maybe I'm being a pessimist here but I'm nearly sure things won't go well…"
"Then you'll do what you do best, which is picking up pieces of hopeless fools like he and I and patch everything up nicely."
"Is that a compliment?"
"Crap, I just didn't say that then."
Megumi stops at the gates, looking at him with a smile but her eyes serious.
"He'll be alright Yunho. Don't worry. And if it becomes too much for you to handle, just send him to me and we'll do a tissue and ice-cream session together. I'm even ready to sacrifice a bit of sanity and let him watch soccer if he wants to."
"I hope it doesn't come to that, you don't have much sanity left already."
She stabs his side sharply in retaliation but Yunho doesn't care, feeling much better and confident than a few minutes ago. They part at the school's entrance, after he asks Megumi one last time if she wants him to deal with Kyouhei and she threatens to throw him in the Sumida.
Yunho heads back home at a slow pace, enjoying the quiet streets and cold weather. The sky is cloudy and holds promises of snow very soon. He thinks back of what Megumi told him, mentally taking care of Kyouhei in ways that justify his friend's reluctance to let him deal with her (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend. His thoughts jump to her last words after that, about Junsu, and Jaejoong, and the unknown lying in front of them all. It will be a weird Christmas, no matter how things turn out on 23rd.
But then again, ever since he met Junsu, Christmas has always been a bit special.
Last year for instance, his boyfriend tried to make him a surprise. He wanted to welcome him home with their small apartment fully decorated and mood all set for a nice, comfy evening together, which was a great idea. The initial good intention turned into a disaster when Junsu tinkered with his dead set of fairy lights and ended up nearly burning down the whole place. The building had a black-out for a full three hours and their neighbors ignored them for months afterwards.
The year before, Junsu had wanted to go near the Rainbow Bridge and see the fireworks in Tokyo Bay. He got lost in the crowd though, and they spent most of the evening on the phone trying to find each other. When he finally saw Junsu again, the younger man was close to tears and it took his warmest Yunho-made hug and more than a few kisses to bring a smile back on his face.
And the year before that was when they met.
Yunho still remembers every detail. The buzzing crowd, excited kids running everywhere, the loud chatter of adults' conversations, the anticipation and warm atmosphere. Junsu was there as Kim Industries' representative, as the successor of the company which provides the school most of its funding. Yunho had been quickly introduced to him at the very beginning of the evening, and his eyes hadn't left the younger man afterwards.
Junsu spent the Christmas party doing all the wrong things.
Talking animatedly with the children rather than their parents. Laughing out loud and clapping all the way during the kids' show, much to the staff's surprise and under the disapproving stares of the oldest people. Blurting out silly jokes in broken Japanese, and at the same time struggling to remember the correct wording and pronunciation of greetings and polite conversation.
Going to the front of a Japanese officials-filled room for an impromptu Korean version of "Silent Night, Holy Night" that sent shivers down in spine with the emotions Junsu's voice carried effortlessly, straight to his heart.
Yunho was already a bit in love after a mere two hours, and he couldn't quite believe his luck when he found himself appointed as Junsu's personal translator after the guy in charge had to excuse himself because of too much sugar-heavy candies. They kept in touch during the days that followed, meeting often and talking about anything and everything, until it became obvious to them both that the attraction they felt for each other was going beyond friendship.
The rest wasn't as easy. It involved Kim Jaejoong and Junsu's father. A company's future was at stake, facing vague dreams and newly born feelings. There were tears and screams. Anger. Doubts. Waiting. Regrets. But all this is history now, and Yunho would gladly go through it all again as long as his reward is the same at the end of the day.
It doesn't change the fact that this particular Christmas will see them face at last the only shadow that's preventing his boyfriend from being truly happy. Yunho hopes against all hopes that Jaejoong will put an end to the guilt and regrets, that he will see the sincerity and care in Junsu's heart, and that he will finally let go of his resentment. He hopes that Jaejoong will forgive, at last.
He hopes, but he knows somewhere that he's hoping in vain, and that they will more likely celebrate Christmas this year again with a heavy heart.
Changmin is sitting face-to-face with a black coffee, staring at it like it holds all the answers in the world in the hotel’s nearly deserted breakfast room. The whole Kim Industries team will go back to Seoul in a few hours but he’s already ready, he woke up early and the thoughts plaguing his mind made it impossible for him to go back to sleep.
He went downstairs for breakfast but once there, he realized he wasn’t even hungry and settled for a coffee instead. Said coffee has been left untouched, as Changmin had just been stirring it for at least fifteen minutes now, following the black liquid’s moving patterns around his spoon.
He can’t wait to be back in Seoul, those four days of respite are really needed, and Yoochun’d better have readied himself for long counseling sessions because there are so many things going on in his head that he has trouble keeping track of it all by himself.
Some of those are nothing new, that good old fear for example. He’s stopped wondering about what he felt for Jaejoong too, and trying to stifle it isn’t an option either. No, he feels unsettled because of more recent changes that the last evening with the older man made obvious.
Where Jaejoong's distress should have broken Changmin's heart a little further, it strengthened it instead. The only thing he needs to keep going is a semblance of logic, and he found it in the other's pain, as selfish as it sounds. If he can be the person who'll allow Jaejoong to heal and free himself from the past, like Yoochun is being for himself, then he won't ask for anything more.
He has a reason for wanting to stay around Jaejoong, a reason that's more important than feelings that won't be returned and fears that may never leave him. He has a reason, and Changmin finally feels at peace.
But it goes deeper than that.
The past days had him facing some of the last feelings and parts of himself that Yoochun never managed to make him accept; he went through it all on his own, the hard way, and he doesn’t know if it’s enough but he faced them at last.
And he’s surprised to discover what resulted of it. It feels like he’s watching his reflection in a mirror for the first time in weeks and he can’t recognize the person he sees here.
There is something beyond the fact that he’s different. There is a story that could be written, a story where loving a man isn’t something to be ashamed of and that even his inner evils can’t go against. A story where he could win.
Changmin feels somehow confident for the first time since he met Jaejoong, and it’s enough to make him look back at things he’d have never dared to touch a mere few weeks ago.
The choice he made to cut ties with his family. His reasons for not deserving love. His own ability to care and support someone.
The burden on his heart is still here, but he’s finally looking its way and even started wondering if he could possibly lift it.
“Good morning Changmin-sshi.”
He startles, abruptly drawn out of his thoughts, and looks up to see Seol-Bin near him. She looks pretty awful, he thinks absentmindedly as he greets her back, hangover not doing any good for her usual half haughty, half bitter expression.
“Ready to leave already?” she asks.
“I woke up early” he answers, wondering why she’s even speaking to him in the first place.
“You’re early too” Changmin says, feeling somehow forced to continue the conversation since the woman doesn’t look like she wants to leave him alone.
“Oh, I woke up with a bad headache and couldn’t go back to sleep.”
His brain provides him with many more or less nice replies involving alcohol and hangover and what were you expecting? But Seol-Bin is scrutinizing him in a greedy sort of way that’s definitely making him uncomfortable and he chooses to keep silent.
“I heard you left early yesterday?” she asks abruptly.
He doesn't like the triumphant gleam in the woman's eyes at all, and he hurriedly tries to find an excuse to stand up and leave before she can speak again. Quick.
"Sorry I have to-"
"So you really went with Kim Jaejoong-sshi?"
Too late. Too late but he has to fight it. He has to.
"Wow I knew you were together…"
Seol-Bin's smile widens but it's not kind or approving, not at all. Hungry. Rapacious.
"And to think you seemed so correct… Is that why he hired you Changmin-sshi?"
Everything stills around Changmin.
His surroundings become deadly quiet, melting into vague shapes and colors, all senses focused on Seol-Bin’s avid eyes and her moving mouth. She’s talking but he doesn’t hear it, thoughts tied to her previous question and its implications. He was aware of how members of their team were looking at him and the reasons behind it, but they never confronted him directly with it before. It’s worse than everything he imagined.
With a sinking sensation, Changmin realizes that unlike in nightmares, there is no waking up this time, no escape. Changes or not, he’s not ready to face others yet, not when he’s barely begun facing himself. Seol-Bin is talking and talking and he thinks he hears his name amidst all the words coming from her mouth, and maybe Jaejoong’s too, but he can’t make sense of what she’s saying. He knows what’s coming next and he can just wait for it, wondering with resignation when will panic hit full force this time, unable to move or talk, stupidly frozen on spot.
There’s already a familiar pressure in his chest and behind his eyes, air makes itself rare, his throat tied in a knot and hands tightened into fists to prevent them from shaking. Seol-Bin’s voice is far, distant, threatening but not as much as the knowledge that it’s happening again.
Maybe he should close his eyes and if he keeps them shut long enough, when he opens them again Seol-Bin won’t be here and he can pretend it was all just a dream.
“Changmin-sshi?! Are you okay?!”
There’s something on his arm, and his first thought is that they are going to hurt him, to punish him, but he can’t move and run, paralyzed on his chair and eyes unfocused as he’s staring at Seunghyun before him.
“Eh! Changmin! Can you hear me??!”
He blinks slowly until his surroundings become less blurred, and he recognizes Jaejoong’s assistant in front of him, his face screaming concern and a hand on his shoulder. Seol-Bin stands behind him, watching them, and she looks puzzled and a bit scared. He blinks again, shapes and colors taking back their original place and his vision returns to normal, his body barely relaxing.
Relief instantly washes down the assistant’s face, and he turns to say something to Seol-Bin that Changmin doesn’t understand. The woman leaves them a few seconds later and that’s enough for him to start breathing more easily.
“There, take your time Changmin…”
Seunghyun looks a bit freaked out and Changmin can’t exactly blame him, but he’s already feeling better, panic stifled before it could completely take over him.
“You scared me…”
Changmin feels the hand leave his shoulder to come to rest on his fists, gently loosening his clenched fingers. Seunghyun stays silent, visibly aware that he needs a little more time to recover. He does his best to control his breathing again and to get rid of the last ties of fear, slowly coming back to himself.
“It’s okay Seunghyun-sshi. It’s… it’s gone.”
“You are sure? You are still rather pale…”
“I-I’m good. Really.”
Seunghyun nods but doesn’t leave, scrutinizing his face with a worried expression.
Changmin swallows, trying to come up with a coherent explanation but he can’t think properly, still shaken.
“It’s nothing. It… it happens at times.”
“… Is it because of something Seol-Bin told you?”
He can’t, he can’t explain, and Seunghyun’s questions start to make him anxious again. Thankfully the older man seems to notice and he nods once, removing his hand from his.
“Okay, okay, I understand. You don’t have to tell me.”
Seunghyun sighs, nervously smoothing his hair back in place.
He notices the sudden familiar use of his name but it doesn’t bother him, it feels safe, comforting.
“I don’t know if it’s related to what just happened, but I wanted to tell you… Don’t pay attention to it.”
“The rumors… gossips… whatever. They don't know how hard it can be to undergo that, and Seol-Bin is the worse among them. It’s like a day without spitting venom on someone is a wasted day for her.”
Seunghyun smiles faintly and Changmin just nods in answer, staring at the older man.
“I’ve seen Jaejoong-sshi struggle with that for months and he’s used to it by now, but I guess it’s not the same for you and I thought you should know… it’s not worth worrying about it.”
“I know that.”
“But sometimes it’s better to hear it from another person, right?”
Seunghyun’s smile widens and Changmin nods again, at loss for words and a warm sensation settling in his stomach.
“Since we're speaking about that, maybe it's not the right moment, but I want you to know… I truly appreciate you Changmin, for your work of course but also for how you’ve been supporting Jaejoong-sshi since you arrived here. He seems happier recently, and I believe it’s mostly thanks to you.”
Changmin is staring at Seunghyun in open disbelief and the older man lets out an embarrassed chuckle, straightening up to stand again.
"Sorry if it came out a bit weird, I'm not good with that kind of talks, but I still needed to tell you."
"I… thank you… Seunghyun-sshi…?"
"Can you… can you not speak about what just happened to Jaejoong… I mean Jaejoong-sshi?"
The assistant frowns a little and stays silent for a while before answering, Changmin anxiously waiting for his answer.
"Alright I won't tell him… but he'd want to know it if Seol-Bin or one of the others are making it hard for you."
"It's okay they didn't… they didn't really do anything."
"Then it's alright. I don't know what happened but you should get some rest in your room before we leave, you still don't look well."
"Good. See you later then."
Changmin wants to thank the older man but Seunghyun is already leaving the room, crossing it in a few decided strides and disappearing inside the hotel's lobby.
The premises of the previous panic attack are already forgotten, the warmth left by Seunghyun's words real and solid in his heart instead. He still has trouble understanding it, why people would want to help and care for him in the first place, and it makes the assistant's support all the more precious to him.
But above all…
"He seems happier recently, and I believe it’s mostly thanks to you."
Changmin looks down on his cup of cold coffee, hoping that the few people around him can't see the bashful smile on his face. That smile is one of the things that changed ever since he met Jaejoong, and maybe it's the only one that really matters.
Note: Update was delayed a little, sorry... m(-_-)m No real JaeMin here but I still hope you enjoyed it~ ^^
I didn't make deep researches on panic attacks... Just that they can be triggered when you're confronted with the object of your phobia, so let's say Seol-Bin's stupidity is a nasty thing enough for Min to turn in a trembling mess? >__> Same for education in Japan... the bit with Yunho having trouble to be hired because he's Korean is entirely from my mind, just so we're safe here ^^;
And the Sumida is Tokyo's river.
And Yoochun wants me to tell you that he'll make glorious comeback next chapter~ XD
Thanks for reading! ♥~