One drowns in reality and the other relishes it, but it's not long before you don't know which is which.
days like these, the rain isn’t enough. the smell of sulphur and sadness as drop after drop hits the ground wafts into the air, and it’s a comforting scent that could lull jongin to sleep any other day. but not today. not today.
sometimes he gets into these moods, you see. all positive and cheerful (as cheerful as jongin can be) one moment, and then bam, quiet and moody the next.
luhan always claims that it’s his monthly period, usually accompanied by a muffled laugh that reminds jongin of fairy dust and the little bells that tinkle whenever you enter a convenience store.
except it isn’t monthly - jongin isn’t lucky enough - and he doubts every woman falls into a spiral of self-pity whenever their monthly cycle strikes. he’s got firsthand accounts. (he’s got four sisters.)
“hyung, what are you doing?” a voice calls out. jongin jolts out of his little mood, focusing on that one spot on the wall of the dance studio. sehun’s looking at him with brows furrowed, blond bangs falling into his eyes and head tilted to a side.
it’s easy to plaster on a smile and say everything’s alright, so jongin does just that.
life would be a lot easier if people were all the same. sure, it would be kind of boring, jongin thinks, but it wouldn’t be so bad if everything was predictable and routine. there’d be no surprises.
“hello, my name is kyungsoo,” the boy greets. “what kind of bread are you looking for? today’s special is the cinnamon swirl.”
oh. right. he almost forgot, he’s at a bakery. sehun’s on his right and luhan on sehun’s, their arms tangled together in a strange, strange knot and the sides of their body pressed up against each other. they’re in public, but they don’t care, not these two. it’s a happy little bubble that they live in.
sehun and luhan don’t hear the boy. they are still in that bubble, and sehun’s pulling luhan along to go look at the pastries.
“ah, i'm not looking for anything,” jongin says. “my friends are. but, thanks.”
the boy gives a nod. but he doesn’t smile, not even with those pretty heart-shaped lips of his. jongin didn’t notice at first because the boy’s voice was pleasant and lilting and smooth, but he wears no expression except one of conjured politeness. if he smiles, jongin thinks, he wouldn’t even have an eyesmile, not with those gigantic eyes of his.
“sehun, you need to make up your mind,” luhan titters. he mimicks checking the time even though his wrist is bare and pale. “your hyungs are busy, busy, busy.”
sehun might as well be plastered up against the glass displays with how close he’s getting to the cakes.
“i recommend the chocolate bomb,” kyungsoo says. oh, when did he get over there. “it’s our weekly special. very popular.”
jongin peers at the price labels. it’s a simple thing, a dark brown dome with a biscuit base, and the most expensive one by far.
he chuckles to himself, but it’s loud enough that kyungsoo hears and when those wide, wide eyes of his point toward jongin, jongin feels something other than dread rise in his chest. curiosity. intrigue. interest.
jongin is a fan of routines and patterns, so, the next time tuesday rolls around, he figures he might as well head back to the bakery. make it a regular thing.
this time he is without sehun and luhan, the diabetes-inducing couple, but he rationalises that he simply wants a loaf of bread and a cup of coffee - long black, no sugar, to-go - and, maybe, if he’s feeling generous, he’ll buy a chocolate bomb for sehun.
“hello, my name is kyungsoo,” kyungsoo greets. “what kind of bread are you looking for? today’s special is the cinnamon swirl.”
it’s the same boy from last time. the same kyungsoo. he looks the same, too: large eyes, cupid-bow lips, and round cheeks that jongin really, really wants to pinch.
“i'll have the sourdough and a coffee - no cream, no sugar - to go,” jongin says. he hopes he doesn’t sound too bored or sad or angry or depressed. the mood he was in last week faded away by friday, but occasionally remnants of the familiar gloominess would pop up when he least expected it. “and a chocolate bomb, too.”
“alright, sourdough loaf and black coffee, no sugar,” kyungsoo says. he directs those eyes toward jongin and doesn’t smile, but jongin swears his eyes are saying something. “we don’t have the chocolate bomb this week. it was last week’s special.”
jongin frowns. “it’s okay, then.”
jongin leaves with a loaf of sourdough - sliced thinly, as requested - and a steaming cup of coffee. he’ll give the loaf to his neighbours. he takes a whiff of the coffee; it smells nice, but doesn’t everything that kill you smell nice too?
he leaves the coffee on the sidewalk. he doesn’t drink coffee.
the next week, jongin goes back to the bakery.
he asks for sourdough, a coffee and a chocolate bomb. they only have the first two.
he leaves with a loaf of sourdough and a coffee, but reaches home with only the sourdough.
the next time jongin sees kyungsoo, it’s not at the bakery. jongin is practising after hours again, cooped up in the little dance studio which the rest have long since evacuated in favour of a hotpot dinner. he sees himself in the mirror, all long lithe lines and smooth moves, ignores the dark circles and protruding collarbones.
“oh, sorry, i thought this was the office,” a familiar voice says.
jongin pauses for a second - half-annoyed, half-pissed off - and turns to look at the intruder. it’s kyungsoo. jongin wonders if he should acknowledge that he knows him, since it would be awkward if kyungsoo doesn’t recognise him, and so he falters and stumbles over his words before kyungsoo kindly interrupts.
“you’re the guy, right?” kyungsoo asks. he smiles. “sourdough and coffee guy.”
jongin can’t reply, because kyungsoo is smiling. he smiles like a little child, and jongin was right, he doesn’t have an eyesmile; but kyungsoo doesn’t need an eyesmile, not when he has this.
after what was probably a long while, jongin answers, “yeah, you’re kyungsoo, right?”
kyungsoo beams. wow. “you remembered me! what’s your name?”
“i'm jongin,” jongin says. “are you looking for someone?”
“hi jongin.” kyungsoo steps into the room, closing the door behind him. the chatter that had been trickling in dies down. “i have two friends from the vocal department. baekhyun and jongdae. have you seen them?”
“no, sorry.” jongin knows of those two. they joined the school only a couple of months ago but were already loud and boisterous and simply belonged, unlike jongin, who cooped himself up in the dance studio. “this is the dance wing. you should try the vocal section.”
“i can take you there,” jongin says. he pauses for a second, frowns to himself. since when did he help people? he barely even talked to them. they’d take one look at him in one of those moods and run in the other direction. “i've just finished anyway. just let me change out first.”
“really? thanks!” kyungsoo beams, the third smile jongin sees that day.
jongin peels off his sweat-laden shirt and, as quickly as humanly possible, throws on another one. he’s thankful that kyungsoo doesn’t blush. it would have made him blush as well.
the walk to the vocal wing is silent, but jongin likes silence, so he’s okay with it. baekhyun and jongdae - both shorter than jongin but with personalities twice as large - are hitting high notes in the practice room.
“d.o.!” baekhyun shouts, as soon as he spots his friend. he sprints over to the door and flings himself onto the small boy. “sorry, jongdae and i are almost done.”
“d.o.?” jongin asks.
kyungsoo shrugs. “it’s a nickname they give me. my family name is ‘do’.”
“it sort of looks like you,” jongin says. “large eyes. ‘D’ and ‘O’.”
jongdae walks over with baekhyun in a headlock. he looks at kyungsoo, then at jongin. “how do you know kim jongin?”
“he’s a regular at the bakery,” kyungsoo says.
jongin normally wouldn’t ask, but he’s feeling emboldened by kyungsoo’s smiles today. “how do you know me?”
“everyone knows kim jongin,” jongdae says, flashing a cheshire cat grin. “you can dance very well.”
jongin falters. he keeps to his studio, no reason for any person who isn’t a dancer to know of his existence.
he doesn’t remember what happens next, but he is sure that jongdae and baekhyun and kyungsoo file out to wherever they’re going, saying ‘thank you’s and leaving jongin alone.
jongin sees kyungsoo a lot more. he heads to the bakery every tuesday, and now, kyungsoo greets him without an introduction but with a smile.
kyungsoo also comes around to the studio very often, too. his little head pops into the dance studio for a couple of minutes before retreating to the vocal wing with his friends. jongin would talk with him and he’s thankful that he is never in one of his moods whenever kyungsoo is around.
the first production is coming up soon, and jongin is cast as one of the leads. everyone is confused about the story, because there is none. there is no plot. no deep meaning. just dance, dance, dance.
“what characters are we supposed to portray, then?” sehun asks. he’s the only one who dares.
their instructor glares at them. “it doesn’t matter, this is a school production. it’s not even ballet or contemporary or jazz.”
“so we just learn our choreography and go?” sehun asks.
“yes, yes,” the instructor huffs.
jongin is a little disappointed, because he always enjoyed immersing himself in his characters. they can’t speak with their voice, but they speak with their dance. when he is rehearsing or performing, he transcends into another world; a fantasy world, but a world nonetheless.
“what a waste of time,” sehun complains, as they are heading to the bakery to meet luhan. “no one’s going to take it seriously.”
“not with that attitude,” jongin says. he sees kyungsoo behind the counter. “hi kyungsoo.”
“hi jongin.” the boy’s head pops up, a grin on his face. his eyes fall on sehun. “hi jongin’s friend.”
“you know the bakery boy?” sehun asks, suddenly excited all over again. “that means we can get discounts!”
“oh yeah, we have the chocolate bomb today,” kyungsoo says, ignoring sehun. he points toward the brown dome lying in the display case. “only one left. i convinced them to bring it back since it was so popular.”
jongin cracks a grin. “how thoughtful.” sehun looks at jongin with raised brows, looking eerily similar to a pale, fluffy puppy.
afterward, when luhan has arrived and the three of them settle at one of the too-small tables tucked in a corner, sehun turns toward jongin with such suddenness that jongin almost falls out of his seat.
“doesn’t he come over to the studio very often?” sehun asks. “are the two of you close?”
luhan places his small hands on his boyfriend’s shoulders and pull him back, smacking the back of the blond’s head in the process. “don’t be so rude.”
“are you? are you? tell me,” sehun whines. really, a puppy. a whiny, whipped-by-his-older-boyfriend puppy.
“he comes to find jongdae and baekhyun from the vocal department,” jongin says.
“yeah, but why does he go to the dance studio then?” sehun asks. “taeyeon - that’s the receptionist, by the way, since you never bother remembering people’s names - says he always pops in whenever you’re alone. are you doing something illegal?”
luhan smacks sehun again.
jongin frowns. are they? talking isn’t illegal, right?
“are you friends?” luhan asks.
friends. what are friends? are sehun and luhan friends? no, they’re boyfriends. that’s different. are jongin and sehun friends? jongin and luhan? jongin and kyungsoo?
“maybe?” jongin shrugs. “we talk a bit but we’ve never hung out.”
sehun and luhan nod. jongin lets out a small breath he didn’t know he was holding in. at least he could still fool others. maybe, this way, he could fool himself too.
the first time they hang out is a friday night. kyungsoo’s head pops into the dance studio for the second time that day, something that’s never happened before.
“jongin, are you free right now?” kyungsoo asks.
“kyungsoo? what are you doing here?” jongin is panting slightly, spent from the hours upon hours of dancing. “i thought you were having dinner with your friends.”
“yeah, they ditched me to go to some vocal department thing.” kyungsoo pulls a face. well, he doesn’t so much pull a face as he does simply pout and turn his lips downward, but jongin thinks it is adorable and mentally files it away it as kyungsoo’s ‘face’. “so, you want to have dinner?”
jongin thinks. their instructor had told them last week that they wouldn’t be playing characters, but today, he’d suddenly pulled a fast one and said jongin would be playing ‘kai’. kai, a charismatic, sexy dancer whose tragic past is fodder for romance and adventure, but ultimately dies trying to pursue his passion. and so he’d even skipped lunch to practice, to immerse.
but it’s kyungsoo. jongin never says no to kyungsoo, can’t say no.
“just let me change out first.”
jongin peels off his sweat-laden shirt and, as quickly as humanly possible, throws on another. kyungsoo makes a small sound like a hamster choking.
“are you okay?” jongin asks. kyungsoo’s face is red. that choking must have been worse than it sounded.
“yeah, yeah, i'm fine,” kyungsoo says. he clears his throat. “let’s go. there’s this place near the bakery that’s good and cheap.”
this walk is not as quiet as their first. kyungsoo initiates conversation, and jongin continues it, which is more than can be said for many of his other social interactions. jongin learns that kyungsoo is older than him by two days (”ha, i’m your hyung!”), that kyungsoo likes cinnamon swirl bread and lattes and is in the vocal department at another school.
“can you sing?” jongin asks.
“of course i can,” kyungsoo says, looking mildly insulted. “i did just say i'm in the vocal department.”
“i mean, right now,” jongin says. he really, really wants to hear kyungsoo sing.
the older boy looks down and jongin thinks he’s flushing, but can’t quite tell under the dim lights. then he looks up and nods.
kyungsoo’s voice is good. more than good, actually. it’s not as stable as baekhyun’s or as high as chen’s but jongin knows enough to understand that this is a voice that will make it big one day. it is a voice that reminds him of summers as a kid, lounging in the park with a faceless friend, of warm coffee and windchimes and the smell of rain.
jongin finds himself clapping as kyungsoo finishes. the other boy smacks his arm playfully and jongin returns the grin.
“that was great, kyungsoo.” jongin really, really means it.
“you mean, kyungsoo-hyung,” kyungsoo-hyung says. all of a sudden, there it is: sass. “you know, you’re the only one that calls me that. everyone else is ‘d.o.’ this, ‘d.o.’ that. even teachers.”
“that makes me special then, doesn’t it?” jongin laughs. somewhere in the euphoria of having kyungsoo actually sing for him and being with kyungsoo, he registers that it is the first time he’s laughed in a while, the first time since rain hit the pavement. kyungsoo breaks down too, for some reason or another, and there they are, two maniacs laughing on the sidewalk at eight on a friday night.
jongin does not know what he had for dinner that night but he knows that kyungsoo was there, that he gave up on trying to use formal language with his hyung, that they laughed and talked more than they ate.
“are we friends?”
kai is confident. kai is alluring, charming, unshakeable, everything jongin is not. kai has the world in the palm of his hands, and the one thing he is missing is the one thing he is chasing - an enigmatic, unnamed lover, one that glides away from kai and slips out of his grasp every time they come close, leaving slivers of petals and want in his wake.
and so, kai dances; he moves his body, some moments fast and quick with the suddenness of a cheetah after its prey, and at others, smooth and languid and seductive.
to the audience, the mysterious lover is faceless, nameless, voiceless, but not to kai. not to jongin.
he visits the bakery. he has not been keeping track of how many times he has done so, but he is sure that he can no longer do so with his fingers.
the smell of coffee, bread and cinnamon hits him the moment he enters. he's alone again this time, no sehun and no luhan.
"hello, my name is d.o.," the boy greets. "what kind of bread are you looking for? today's special is the cinnamon swirl."
he remembers this greeting. it is a familiar one, one that tugs at his heartstrings, though not as much as the voice and the face and the boy do. he is a small, pale waif of a thing (though with lovely thighs and pinch-able cheeks), one that he has come to know very well over the last few days? weeks? he can't quite recall.
"i recommend the chocolate bomb," d.o. says. "it's our weekly special. very popular."
he does not realise that he has been staring for a while. then he smiles, the unease from before ebbing off to give way to something other than dread.
"oh, it's alright," he says. then he realises something, why he felt something was off. "you have the chocolate bomb again? didn't you just have it last week?"
d.o. laughs. "you must have gotten it mixed up."
ah, of course. he has been pretty muddle-headed these days. he laughs along with the wide-eyed boy, relishing in the idea of a comfortable conversation.
"anyway, what'd you like?" d.o. asks. "i'm on barista duty today."
"look who's been promoted," he replies, giving a mock salute. d.o. throws him a fake glare. "anyway, i'll have a coffee and a sourdough."
"no cream, no sugar, to go." he bites his lip, ponders for a second. "slice the sourdough thickly too, please."
"black coffee to-go and sourdough, thick slice, coming up."
when d.o. hands him two paper bags, one lined with sourdough and the other, a steaming cup of coffee, he gets a sudden surge of courage, one that spurs him on.
"hey, d.o.," he begins. he hopes he doesn't sound too desperate, too pleading. "would you like to come to my dance showcase? it's in a couple of weeks at the school."
"of course! i'm looking forward to it."
the smile that appears on d.o.'s face is blinding, and he cannot help but think that it suits those lips very, very well. he thinks that he returned the smile, but he is not very sure.
he leaves the bakery a happy man, sipping coffee as a matching grin spreads on his face.
it's another one of those days that baekhyun and jongdae have abandoned kyungsoo for another vocal thing. the news is unsurprising to jongin (it is, after all, showcase period for the school, with concert week after week, culminating in a giant concert at the end of everything) but annoying to kyungsoo, who latches on to the dancer after he realises he's been ditched.
and this is how jongin ends up with kyungsoo on a friday night for the second time. it's a different diner from the first time. this one is nearer the school and so they run a higher risk of running into someone who (kind of) knows who jongin is (but not really) and jongin is getting a bit nervous.
"you look so tense," kyungsoo comments, after they've finished their food. "have you been sleeping enough?"
jongin lets his shoulders drop. he didn't even know they'd been tensed up. "ah, no, i'm fine."
"oh yeah, i've been meaning to ask, when's that showcase you've been practising for?" he asks.
"i thought i've told you already?" jongin asks, slightly puzzled. "it's in two weeks' time."
"you must have gotten it mixed up," kyungsoo replies. then he smiles, a small one, one that doesn't reveal his teeth and so doesn't transform his mouth into that funny rectangular shape that baekhyun once made fun of (and ended with him getting hit by kyungsoo). "i'll be there."
jongin is certain that he smiled back, and for once, he's not afraid that he's smiling too widely, that someone will judge him. because this is kyungsoo, and kyungsoo is kind and good.
"is that... kim jongin?" someone calls out. jongin closes his eyes, hoping that maybe if he did so, that person would go away. it's a familiar voice, one that triggers not dread or joy but something in between. sehun's annoying face appears in front of him. "what are you doing here! i can't believe this, you're out on a friday night."
jongin lets out a loud sigh and opens his eyes. unfortunately, sehun's still there, luhan beside him. near them are two faces, one familiar and the other not quite - baekhyun, and a tall guy with big ears and crazy eyes.
"sehunnie, don't be annoying," luhan chides. he pulls sehun away slightly but it doesn't help much.
"yeah, sehun, listen to your boyfriend," jongin frowns. he looks at the other three. "hi luhan-hyung, baekhyun and baekhyun's friend."
tall guy waves. "i'm chanyeol."
baekhyun has chanyeol's hand in his and a gigantic grin on his face. he's not looking at jongin; instead, he's locked in some kind of staring war with kyungsoo, though the latter definitely isn't smiling at all.
"kyungsoo," baekhyun starts. "i thought you had something on tonight?"
kyungsoo glares at the boy, and jongin notices that baekhyun's wearing an obscene amount of eyeliner. chanyeol's wearing an uncomfortable smile, luhan is trying to pry his nosy boyfriend away and said nosy boyfriend's not budging.
"alright guys, let's go to our seats," luhan announces. he tugs baekhyun away before kyungsoo's hands lunge for his neck.
kyungsoo's eyes are still narrowed at baekhyun, who walks backward and sticks his tongue out.
"do you want to get out of here?" jongin asks. he can feel four pairs of prying eyes, and he doesn't like it, not even with kyungsoo here.
kyungsoo sighs, nods and smiles. he looks right at jongin as he does so and it makes jongin's heart swell up with something that's definitely not dread. they get up at the same time and as they leave the place, jongin swears he catches sehun's wink.
it's the second time that jongin catches himself walking with kyungsoo along a poorly lit street on a friday night, stomach full, chest full. he remembers the previous time, how he never got to ask kyungsoo three words: 'are we friends?' instead, he whispered it as kyungsoo left, whispered it to the dark, to the outline of a boy he wants to know.
now, though. now is different. he can feel it. it's similar to the previous time, but now the air is charged with something: familiarity, comfort. he doesn't know how long they've spent walking around, eager to get away from the artificial lights and prying eyes of the diner, talking and laughing about god knows what.
"it's getting late," one of them says. the other agrees, and they both decide that it's time they get home before either of them gets mugged.
now, though, the two are walking home together. some stroke of fate has them staying in the same neighbourhood - a mere four blocks from each other, and jongin thinks, all this while, he was only four blocks away from wide eyes and heart-shaped lips - but whose cruelty kept them from ever crossing paths before.
eventually, they hit a fork, and it's where they must separate.
he can't quite see kyungsoo in the dark but he's certain that the boy is smiling, because he feels a grin forming on his own face too.
"are we friends?"
"of course we are."
kyungsoo smiles, so bright that it blinds jongin, even when the night is jet black.
dancing is the one thing that both kai and jongin share. when the music starts, the boy in the mirror is no longer kim jongin, it is kai, who is much better at what he does than jongin. when the music starts, the beat begins, each step and each movement is a carefully choreographed orchestra that speaks volumes with a single tap, a single turn. this particular one tells a tale of love, loss and everything in between; it starts with a crescendo (jumps, leaps, turns) and ends with a whimper (silence).
stories are not just told through dance, they are lived.
the night is dark and they can barely see their ten fingers, let alone each other, but that doesn't stop them from trying.
the wide-eyed boy places a lingering kiss on his jaw, one that sears the outline of heart-shaped lips onto his skin and leaves his own heart in a swell of something whole and good and in a million pieces.
"are we friends?"
"what do you think, kai?"
the next few days are a whirlwind of charged emotions and lithe limbs flaying about. where the dancers were nonplussed about the 'no story' performance a mere while ago, they now scurry about the studio soaked top to toe in sweat, snapping at anyone who dares interrupt their practice.
jongin sees this, and jongin (sort of) understands. he was not the only one to be given a storyline. the others, too, have stories to tell.
as usual, though, jongin is the only one who stays till late. only the back lights are left on and the receptionist has left and so have all the dancers, filing out in a sea of chatter and anxiety and quiet, subdued hostility. the past few nights kyungsoo's popped in as per normal, left him a greeting and a pleasant feeling in his chest, and tonight is no different.
jongin's just finished a particularly tough segment. he's still reeling from the sensation of not being kai.
"jongin-ah!" kyungsoo calls out. he's long since given up on knocking.
jongin is still in a bit of a haze, but he's present enough to hear the nickname that kyungsoo's suddenly given him and that lovely feeling, the one that makes his chest swell just so, comes flooding in as it's done so everytime he hears his name slip out of those lips.
kyungsoo walks in, undeterred by the lack of response. he can tell jongin is panting, sweaty.
"i realised we don't have each other's numbers," he says. "here, lend me your phone, i'll key my number in."
the wide-eyed boy stands a few feet in front of the still-reeling dancer, looking expectant and, of all things, a little nervous. jongin can tell; he can tell from the way kyungsoo leans on one leg a little more (he usually has great posture, an even balance on both lower limbs) and the way kyungsoo is chewing on his lower lip.
usually, jongin would smile a little, tell his hyung to wait a moment and march off to get his phone. but there is a sudden surge of courage, one that prompts him to take a step closer to the smaller boy and smile. (and he can see the smile, the smile does not look like his. the smile looks like a smirk, and he does not smirk.)
"i'll just key mine in first, then," he says. the words that come out are not his. he takes kyungsoo's phone right out of his hyung's grasp - a simple iphone, one that's been out for a year now - and he notices the slightly surprised look on kyungsoo's face. "there you go, all done. just drop me a text and i'll save your number in."
kyungsoo blinks once, twice. it is funny, jongin thinks, as he watches those large eyelids flutter open and close. he thinks, if he had a lover, he would want a lover as endearing as the boy standing in front of him. but he quickly pushes those thoughts away, because thoughts of lovers and romance are for the strong and opportune and charismatic, and jongin is none of those.
"sure," kyungsoo smiles, and it's one of those large smiles that hit you right in the gut. "do you want to grab dinner?"
jongin is taken aback. it is a thursday night, and usually nothing different or special happens on thursday nights - only on fridays, where kyungsoo will invite him out for dinner and he will accept cordially. he wants to say yes, yes, of course he wants to grab dinner with kyungsoo-hyung, but he is not the same boy who walked up to kyungsoo a minute ago, knowing full well that the dim lights capture the sweat beading on his collarbone just right, not the same boy who dared to smile wickedly and smirk and take the first step.
and so, he doesn't answer.
"It's alright if you're not free! just a thought."
jongin wants to shout out no, no, of course he is free, this is kyungsoo-hyung we're talking about. he wants to reach out and stop the boy who's inching toward the door, inching away from jongin.
he clears his throat. "sorry. tomorrow, then?"
kyungsoo beams again, one of those rare rectangular smiles of his that gets jongin right in the gut and the chest and everywhere else.
"whoa, your hair."
jongin lifts a hand up into said hair automatically, fingers threading through the newly bleached strands. his once relatively normal brown locks are now a startling shade of silver, a stark contrast against his dark skin, and he is not used to the strange stares he gets as he walks down the street. jongin doesn't want to turn heads.
"it looks stupid, i know," jongin sighs.
sehun frowns a little, mouth contorting into that strange shape that looks as if someone's suctioned his lips off, scrunches his nose.
"no, it doesn't look bad. just different." then he waggles his eyebrows at jongin, who returns the look with a deadpan expression. "i'm sure kyungsoo-hyung will have something to say about it."
oh, right. fuck. the fact that he's got a dinner session (date? no, no. jongin doesn't date, jongin never dates.) with kyungsoo later completely slipped his mind the moment the instructor had strolled up to him and sent him to the hairdresser's. he looks like some sort of freakshow, fresh from the pages of some cliche dystopian novel, or the silver-haired protagonist of an anime, and he just knows that kyungsoo will laugh at him and wonder how someone so stupid and dumb was ever allowed in the wide-eyed boy's presence.
jongin doesn't want to think about what will happen, though, because it will just make him more depressed. as much as the uncertainty of the future irks him, he would much rather have that than picture a condescending look on kyungsoo's face. (because it is not the kind of look that suits him.)
"what did luhan say about yours?" jongin asks, pointing at sehun's new hairstyle. they'd been seated beside each other at the hairdresser's for two hours, sehun supplying the conversation and jongin supplying the sanity.
sehun shakes his head vigorously, letting the newly dyed rainbow strands fall in front of his eyes. his hair is green and blue and red and yellow and pink, like someone spilled a whole carton of skittles onto his head.
"he hated it," sehun says. but his voice holds no hostility or sadness or disappointment. instead, there is mild amusement underlying his words, and it is times like these that jongin thinks sehun is actually more mature than he acts. "but i convinced him to dye his hair pink, anyway. to match."
"he actually agreed?"
"i can be very persuasive." there it is again, that knowing look. then sehun smirks, arches a brow. "maybe kyungsoo-hyung will match with you too."
he glides across the wooden floor, enjoys the silence that comes with being the only one left. this is how it always is, is it not? to be the last one standing, to be the last one on stage. the music is secondary to the freedom and fluidity that comes with the movement of his limbs; and he watches, watches as his body twists and bends to the sound, marvelling at the sheer wonder of it all.
his hair is a different colour now. he does not know why, just knows that it has transformed from its previous dull brown to an eye-catching silver. he thinks it makes him look a little mad, but figures that it does fit in alarmingly well with his personality.
the song reaches its peak just as his world shatters.
"what happened to your hair?"
the questioning voice is a familiar one, and he smiles to himself as he remembers that the very mouth uttering those words once rested themselves on the side of his jaw.
he is frozen in the middle of his pose, arms stick straight by his side and gaze forward, staring into the mirror. his eyes follow as the boy enters the studio, closes the door quietly, walks toward the dancer. their eyes meet in the mirror. a chill runs up his spine, one that is tantalizingly delicious and sends his heart and mind into a frenzy and makes him want more.
d.o. stands behind him, and he is small enough that the dancer's frame almost completely enshrouds his. the wide-eyed boy reaches a hand up into the dancer's bleached hair, runs his fingers through the threads as though caressing silk, letting the strands fall apart in his hands just like how the dancer's heart falls apart in his eyes.
"you could match, you know."
he blinks, and the next second, the wide-eyed boy with heart-shaped lips no longer has a head of typical black hair; instead, his locks are a deep maroon and styled into an undercut. he wants so badly to thread his own fingers through the red strands - and because this is real - he does.
"what happened to your hair?"
kyungsoo's questioning voice is familiar but the tinge of incredulity not so, and jongin wants to hide his face in his hands but he cannot because that would be embarrassing. as usual, he is the only one left, so kyungsoo freely enters the studio, closes the door quietly and walks toward the dancer.
"it's for the performance," jongin explains. he is sure his words come out shaky and soft but his heart is thumping too loud for him to hear anything, even his own voice. "it looks stupid, i know."
"no, no. it looks good," kyungsoo reassures. he reaches a hand out tentatively, as if making to reach for jongin, but then retracts it and jongin wants so, so badly to tell him no, don't go. his voice is hesitant. "can i touch?"
he can't quite feel kyungsoo's fingers because they are on his hair (not his scalp) and his hair is made up of dead cells (at least, that's what luhan-hyung once said), but it sends a shiver down his spine regardless, one tantalizingly delicious and he swears his heart is thumping so loud he is certain kyungsoo can hear it.
"even though it's bleached, it still feels so soft," kyungsoo remarks, almost absently, eyes still staring at jongin's new hair. then he removes his hands, and jongin has to clench his fists to stop himself from reaching out. "i'm thinking of dying mine too, actually. what colour would be good, you think?"
the words slip out before jongin even notices, and he is certain they - like the smile from yesterday - are not his.
"red, of course."
it will all be okay, it will all be okay.
jongin paces along the corridor. he is the only one still pacing back and forth, the only one who still doesn't have control of his nerves. his hair is already done, silver strands stuck up this way and that, make-up plastered on by some person or another. it's just this performance, then the next, then it's kai's turn.
he picks at his fingernails; they've gotten shorter, stubbier from the last time he's seen them. (it was a while ago.) the skin's peeling off around the edges, pink flesh from underneath peeking out. he fidgets, frowns, leans against the wall for a second only to start pacing back and forth again.
he catches sight of himself in the mirror; there is a strange look in his eyes, he thinks, one that is almost feral. his cheekbones are more prominent than ever, courtesy of the heavy make-up and unforgiving lighting; and there is a strange smile on his face, one that he does not feel himself wearing.
it's been eight days since he dyed his hair.
he sees kyungsoo almost every day now. fridays are no longer the only days they spend together. on tuesdays, wednesdays and even thursdays, the boy doesn't merely pop in for a quick chat; he extends an invitation to dinner, one which jongin accepts because he can't find it in himself to refuse. the receptionist (jongin can't remember her name, doesn't want to) gives them a strange look he can't decipher, a mix between a smile and a smirk, every time they walk past.
he knows that over dinner, they talk, but all he can remember is kyungsoo's laugh. just his laugh, his smile, and the fleeting touches whenever their legs meet under the table or when the elder leans in ever so slightly into his side.
but time spent with kyungsoo is time not spent dancing.
and when he doesn't dance, it makes kai angry.
"that was great!" kyungsoo cheers.
they're backstage now, the show finally over. the performers are being showered with roses and daisies and flowers of all kinds; jongin sees sehun locked in a kiss with luhan, sees baekhyun and jongdae milling about with the other vocal kids. it's a huge commotion of noise and celebration and euphoria, and jongin tries to stand straighter, tries to immerse himself in it.
"thank you," jongin says.
he blinks, and for a moment, he swears kyungsoo's hair is red.
then the smaller boy is stumbling onto him, arms wrapped around his neck in a tight hug. jongin feels his entire body stiffen up, feels his muscles lock into place. a few seconds pass before he returns the hug, and he hopes kyungsoo doesn't notice his hesitation.
he takes a quick look around; no one seems to be noticing them, and that is a good thing. jongin doesn't like prying eyes.
he catches the sight of himself in a nearby mirror, one studded along the perimeter with tiny light bulbs, and there is nothing out of the ordinary. that is a good thing.
that is what he thinks it will be. when it is over, everything will be okay.
the day before the performance, he heads to the bakery. (he still can't, for the life of him, remember its name.) he straightens up as he enters, eyes forward and shoulders back, anticipating the sight of a familiar wide-eyed boy and a comforting grin, one that sends his chest into a swell of emotions and quells the butterflies in his stomach.
but he looks around, and for a moment he thinks he has gotten everything mixed up again; but no, kyungsoo is not there.
the whispers taunt him. they come from all directions. they start slow and soft, but the build-up is quick and sudden and swift, and the cacophony of faceless voices becomes one that he cannot get out of his head. it is impossible to decipher what the voices say, not when each overlaps with the next and forms a mass of noise that emanates nothing but hostility and condescension; and if there is one thing he can hear clearly, it is the sneers that underline the whispers.
he can hear the sound of footsteps. someone is rushing toward him, even though he is lying face-down on the ground and the music is still playing and he has to get up and finish this. but he cannot move, and try as he may, he cannot will his limbs to move.
mind over matter, people say. what bullshit.
the faces are blurry, and he thinks there are more than two, but he cannot be sure. these days, he cannot be sure of anything. he feels someone hoist him up bridal-style, feels the sudden sinking of his stomach as his body rises above the ground, his neck resting in one hand and his legs hanging off the other; this person is tall, he thinks. they must dance elegantly and gracefully.
it is only then that he finally registers the pain coming from his waist. it starts out small, minute, but spreads quickly across his entire lower back. even though he is moving nary a muscle, every second there is a sharp spike of pain that leaves him cringing. and he thinks he is crying, but he can't tell. (because tears are for the weak, you see. and while jongin is weak, kai is not.)
and the music, it fades away just as the voices started - gradually, with a dying whimper.
"jongin," kyungsoo greets. his smile is a small one. "how're you doing?"
the light coming from behind him casts a halo around his head, illuminating him in a soft, warm glow. how fitting, jongin thinks, that kyungsoo is an angel. he certainly looks and sounds like one.
"okay," jongin croaks. he is surprised at the hoarseness of his own voice. "where am I?"
kyungsoo hesitates. his features freeze into place, and he slowly takes one, two steps back.
"am i okay?"
no answer. another step back.
don't go, please, don't go, where are you, where am I?
"you idiot," sehun says. he flicks jongin on the forehead and it fucking hurts.
he tries to reach over and punch the younger, but it only serves to exacerbate the pain in his waist. he knows better than to let it show, though.
"what the hell, sehun."
"what the hell, indeed. you're such an idiot," sehun replies, frowning. "if you were injured you should've said something."
"huh, injured? i'm not injured."
jongin feels the pain in his waist, knows there is pain, but he knows that it is not an injury. injuries are for the weak.
(but, wait. he is weak.)
"you're delusional, i swear," sehun sighs. he sits down at the foot of jongin's bed, and it is only then jongin realises he has been lying down all this while. "how long has it been hurting?"
"no, no," jongin laughs. "i'm not hurt. i'm fine."
sehun gives him a quizzical look and reaches over to flick jongin's forehead again. this time, it doesn't hurt as much.
kyungsoo comes to visit him a little later in the day. the elder is wearing his bakery uniform - albeit without the apron, which jongin is mildly disappointed by - and he comes bearing gifts.
"i come bearing gifts!" kyungsoo announces.
"thank you," jongin says.
he doesn't know if he should pretend everything is okay, or pretend everything is not. collapsing on stage isn't exactly the best way to make a good impression. he usually doesn't care about making good impressions, but for kyungsoo, everything is an exception.
kyungsoo lays his gifts out on the table by jongin's bedside. there's a small bouquet of flowers - chrysanthemums and daisies - and a small box of something or another.
"i've got your sourdough bread and chocolate bomb," kyungsoo smiles. there is a sort of melancholy to today's smile, unlike the unadulterated happiness that jongin usually detects. "you were good."
"thank you," jongin says. "i messed up, though."
"you shouldn't have performed if you were injured," kyungsoo says. he's frowning, and this frown is similar to sehun's, this frown doesn't make jongin feel good at all. "you should have rested."
"i wasn't injured," jongin insists. "i'm not injured."
"tell that to the boy who collapsed on stage, then."
kyungsoo's voice is louder now, his brows furrowed and the upset on his face even more pronounced.
now, it is jongin's turn to frown. he tilts his head to the side and throws kyungsoo what he hopes is a puzzled look.
"that wasn't me. that was kai."
Kyungsoo is the kind of boy who tiptoes through life with an air of caution. He looks before he leaps, thinks before he speaks, makes sure that every step is calculated three times over.
And so he stares at his patient, appraising and dissecting and looking for something - anything - that makes sense.
"What do you mean, Jongin?"
The boy sitting on the hospital bed, body curled unto itself, is nothing more than a shell. Jongin - or is it Kai, now? - sits up, fingers grasping the sheets so tightly that his knuckles turn white, and looks Kyungsoo straight in the eye.
"That wasn't me, that was Kai."
"No, Jongin," Kyungsoo says. He slows his words down, drags out the syllables and tastes the boy's name on his tongue. He may be new to this job, and Jongin may be the first patient he's ever had, but he graduated at the top of his class with good reason. "You are Jongin, and you fell down just now."
Jongin shakes his head violently. There's a furrow between his brows as he stares at Kyungsoo, and the elder is momentarily stunned by his unflinching gaze.
"Kai fell down, and someone helped him up," Jongin insists. "I think it was Sehun or Luhan, but I can't be sure."
It is times like these that his words seem lucid but don't make sense.
Kyungsoo lifts a hand slowly, rests it on Jongin's forearms. The younger's fists immediately unclench, blood rushing back to his hands, and Kyungsoo can't help the slight smile that finds its way onto his face.
A good doctor wouldn't touch his patients, but Kyungsoo never claimed to be one. The first couple of times he initiated contact - a shoulder rub here, a slight nudge there - the boy would stiffen up immediately, shoulders tense and rigid. But now, he has taken to Kyungsoo like flies to honey, relishes in the small touches that are given out like candy on Halloween. It's one of the reasons why Kyungsoo is the only one assigned to him.
"Sehun is under probation, and Luhan's discharged," Kyungsoo says. He wants to add 'for now' at the end, but he doesn't.
(Because they all find their way back here eventually, no matter how long it takes, their minds and thoughts too jumbled a mess for society.)
"Don't you feel the pain, though?" he asks, gesturing toward the boy's waist. His torso has been bandaged up thoroughly, and Kyungsoo knows that underneath the gauze lie bruises and scars.
"It's not from falling down," Jongin explains. He talks slowly, conscientiously, as if explaining to a child. "It's from practising too much. But it's not an injury, you know. I can still dance."
"Sure," Kyungsoo smiles.
From what he's heard, Jongin used to be quite the dance prodigy back in his day. Then the darkness crept in and flipped a switch, lodged it in place such that there was no going back.
Sometimes, when he's patrolling the grounds, he sees Jongin around - occasionally with Sehun or Luhan flanking him - and the boy will break into dance. He dances to the sound of the breeze and the low buzz of chatter and the shrill screams of another. He dances to nothing and everything.
This injury is one sustained from one such incident. Kyungsoo watched silently as Jongin twisted and turned, tripped over nothing and landed on his back with a loud thud. He watched as the nurses, Baekhyun and Jongdae, rushed forward and carried the boy, princess-style, to the infirmary.
"Be sure to rest up, okay?" Kyungsoo says. "I'll make sure the kitchen prepares cinnamon rolls for you."
He reaches a hand forward, ruffles Jongin's hair - it's a lot shorter now, the locks forcibly snipped off after they found the boy with half his head shoved down a can of white paint, claiming it's for his next showcase - and lets his hand caress the side of Jongin's face just so.
"Okay, Kyungsoo," Jongin smiles.
It's one of those smiles that reaches the eyes, almost convinces Kyungsoo that the boy is just as normal as he is. (That's not saying much, though.) It's entirely different from the confident smirks that occasionally appear, accompanied by an air of arrogance and unprecedented forwardness. This smile reminds him their walks around the grounds, talking about nothing and everything, laughing until their sides hurt.
His other fist is no longer clenched, Kyungsoo notices. The sheets aren't bunched up, knuckles no longer white. A wicked grin creeps onto the boy's face. Kyungsoo hears his own heart racing, feels the shiver of pleasure rush down his spine.
If he wasn't insane, Kyungsoo thinks, I'd fall in love with him.
Jongin - no, Kai - leans forward, a predatory glint in his eyes. Kyungsoo is completely still, his heart a mess of apprehension and curiosity and desire, head tilted to one side as he appraises the other.
A finger brushes itself across Kyungsoo's lips, thumb darting into the small space in between. Brazen and full of adrenaline, Kyungsoo gives the callused tips an experimental lick, his own fingers itching to do something, anything. They're still staring at each other, neither willing to back down.
It is over as soon as it begins. Kai leans back onto the bed, arms behind his head and an annoyingly satisfied smile on his face. Kyungsoo gives a small smirk of his own, one that hints at a promise and a future that is as uncertain as it is bleak.
He gets up and leaves, turns back one last time to see Jongin still staring at him. Their gazes lock, and once again it is a tug-of-war between the two. It is a game that produces no winners, no losers, only frustration and fleeting moments of bliss that slip away as soon as they start.
The boy smiles.
"See you tomorrow, Kyungsoo."
A/N: holy shit it's finished. thank you for all your feedback, subscribes and votes; every single one of them means a lot to me and I'm glad you found this story interesting enough to read. it's a bit of a mindfuck. look up the dictionary definition of paramnesia, and take it as you may. :')
explanation of the story (warning it is LONG):
jongin was a patient with a mental illness all along; he stays at the hospital, sehun and luhan are fellow patients. the bakery is synonymous with kyungsoo's office, the dance studio with the grounds (i.e. outside of the ward, where he dances and basically spends all of his time). baekhyun and jongdae are nurses. kyungsoo is a psychiatrist. his first day at work = first time jongin meets him at the 'bakery'. (soo likes to offer him cinnamon rolls, bread and coffee during their sessions.)
because this is a hospital of my own conjuring, patient and doctor are allowed to interact freely; soo tries to help jongin's condition by establishing a somewhat more friendly relationship with jongin, talking with him and basically being friends. this, of course, becomes a more sexual/romantic/????? thing as time goes on, as illustrated by jongin's fantasies (find out which of them are real lol) and soo's pov. all scenes from chapters 1 to 4 in jongin's POV are a distortion of reality.
all scenes from chapters 1 to 4 in jongin's POV are a distortion of reality. essentially, there are three 'realities': the actual reality is one where he is a patient in the hospital (1), the second layer is that of kim jongin the dancer (2), and the third is kai (3). in chapters 1 to 4, all paragraphs are either 2 or 3. you can tell it's 2 because jongin is referred to as jongin, and kyungsoo as kyungsoo; for 3, kai/jongin's name is never stated outright in the narrative - only in quotes - and kyungsoo is referred to as D.O. instead. that's why certain instances play out differently, e.g. chapter 2 where jongin thinks he told kyungsoo the date of his showcase when, in actual fact, it was only in his head (i.e. reality 3) that that happened.
basically if you look through you'll be able to discern 2 from 3 though ultimately, 1 is the actual one. ...yeah I'm quite confused too but this is a mindfuck fic for a reason so