Jongin was on Taemin’s sofa again, with glasses on and staring dumbfounded at the wall.
He had absolutely no intention of going up again with Taemin because he knew where the night might end. Namely, in Taemin’s bed, though given the circumstances, it could very well be on the sofa too. They were spent from that evening, so he had the ludic notion that Taemin would rather talk or cuddle than make the first move. Sehun’s voice in his head said differently – no way, especially after kissing him, would Taemin want less. In the end, he drove at Taemin’s apartment with his heart suddenly reviving itself and drumming in his ears louder than the car’s engine. Once inside, Taemin offered him some clothes and let him use the bathroom for a quick shower. Jongin also brought his bag, so he could take out his contact lenses, and apply some eye drops because they felt dry.
While he showered, Jongin couldn’t help examine Taemin’s bath products and what else he could find. As expected, there were at least three bottles just for his hair, which explained why it looked so great. He took note of that. Jongin had also been browsing every shopping site and store possible for a Christmas present that fit Taemin, so seeing that gave him a clearer objective. Next, he jotted down in his head the hair accessories and other small details, like the pink heart stickers on the tile, worn out by steam, which Jongin scratched. Or the three polaroid photos he had stuck on the mirror, one with Taemin, one with Wonshik and another with someone he didn’t recognize – not like he could see that well in the first place, but Jongin found the perfect mix between angle and distance to distinguish Taemin and Wonshik’s features. All three seemed closer than Jongin had ever been with anyone. Jongin was slightly bitter, slightly glad that Taemin had such great friends in his life – the kind of friends he never came across. Sure, Sehun did his job, but if one would look at their pictures, you wouldn’t say they were close.
After he exited the bathroom, Taemin announced he prepared some snacks and soda, so Jongin was more than welcome to make himself feel like home. There were also some take-out menus, from which Jongin had to pick their dinner. Taemin went to shower too. The muffled noise coming from the bathroom made Jongin uneasy. Taemin was beyond that door, under a stream of hot water, exactly where Jongin had been mere minutes before, in the same spot, his sweat probably still on the shower floor.
While sitting in Taemin’s living room, wearing a stranger’s clothes that oddly fit him, with those thoughts in his head and the menus in his hands, Jongin panicked again.
Taemin was showering because they had those incidents at the skating rink, not because he had ulterior motives. He also borrowed Jongin some clothes because water ruined his jeans and socks – that one time Jongin had socks and it only made him hate them more – and the light grey sweater and dark grey sweatpants probably belonged to Taemin’s brother.
Or something. Maybe they were Wonshik’s. Their common friend had a habit of staying over during University too, yet it wasn’t the same thing. Wonshik slept over because they were going through everything together and it was often a lot of material Wonshik had to master in the shortest of time.
Why would he ever do the same at Taemin’s? Had they ever dated too?
Jongin pondered why would there be pictures with Wonshik in his bathroom. Of all places, it seemed off to store mementos in there. They probably still had some sort of connection, not just one of friendship. Maybe they loved with such ardor, it had been the hardest task to let go, so they both had one another enclosed in one of the special chambers everybody had sealed in their hearts.
Jongin too, at times, went back to the people who once occupied his chamber, who also trashed the room, for extra measure, before they left.
Yet, as much as Jongin mourned their loss, he always picked up the pieces and restored it as nothing happened, unless one took a closer look at the small scratches and hidden moldy spots. His chamber was sacred, but it couldn’t disappear overnight, yet it also couldn’t be completely remodeled just because the former renter had the audacity to leave it in an undesirable state. Jongin was the owner, after all, he had the ultimatum in what was going to happen, and he always decided to renovate to the best of his capabilities and see who else might reside in there. He sometimes wished it’d be someone better, though, someone who could treasure the chamber and help Jongin maintain it.
Taemin’s arms wrapped around Jongin’s neck and his face came close to his cheeks. He smelled fresh, citrusy, as he placed a kiss on Jongin’s temple.
“Did you pick yet?”
Jongin tilted his head, enough so he could see Taemin. He admired him. Light from behind would normally enshroud someone’s features in darkness, but not Taemin’s. He was bright as ever, with damp hair and a large smile. His eyes landed on the menus and Jongin’s too, before they were back on Taemin’s smile.
“I can’t decide.”
“Well, what do you like best? Was it chicken?”
“Yes, chicken.” Jongin had to pause. Was he too monotone? Robotic? Should he be more excited about choosing what to eat? Taemin did mention in one of their dates that he rarely ate because he was too caught up with writing, so visiting cafés and all that with Jongin also fed his otherwise neglected stomach. “Or want pizza? Chinese sounds good!”
Taemin let go and sat next to Jongin. “Are you that hungry?”
Jongin paused again. Had he forced those words out too strongly? He should act cool. Even if Kim Jongin’s natural state was usually awkwardness and over the top silliness.
“No.” He had a hefty lunch and the claws of hunger weren’t striking him yet. “But I’d like chicken if I had to choose.”
“Then chicken it is.”
“Are you sure?”
“Only if you’re fine with beer too.”
It was Jongin’s time to smile.
“I’m fine with anything right now.” Then, the same voice in his head, that often told him he was a pathetic loser, had punched him in the brain. How could he have said that? “I mean, with food!” The look on Taemin’s face made the voice louder and Jongin finally quit fighting it. He was truly a failure when it came to love lives. He might as well brick the entrance to his heart’s chamber and become a monk in the isolated mountains.
“Could I be frank?”
Jongin’s heart skipped a beat. Another when he noticed Taemin wasn’t amused, nor had he that playful tone he grew attached to during these last weeks. “Sure.” No. Jongin didn’t want to hear it. Whatever Taemin had to tell him, he didn’t want to know.
“I like you. A lot,” Taemin came closer. His palms were now on Jongin’s. “But I don’t… have a lot of experience.”
It was not what Jongin was expecting. Suddenly, his mood turned upside down and his ego inflated momentarily. Had Taemin just confessed something intimate, which showed how much he trusted him? Or was Jongin being his idiotic self?
“I don’t think you need experience.”
“Ah, but I do.” Jongin thought he really had no need. It was something you learned while practicing, not picked out of tutorials. “I really do, Jongin, and I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“There’s nothing to disappoint.”
“There you go again.” Taemin let go of Jongin’s hands. “You always say this is okay, that is okay. It’s what makes me nervous.”
“But it really is.”
“I,” their knees collided. “I’ve only had one lover before. That’s it. Just one. He was everything to me and I had a hard time after. I hadn’t dated anyone else until you came along.”
Jongin thought for a second there that Taemin was talking about . On the contrary, he was worried about his lack of dating experience, not ual experience. With that new information, he loosened up. At least his statements stayed – it wasn’t that big of a deal. Unless Taemin wasn’t telling him everything.
“Not even Wonshik?” Taemin’s face fell. Jongin knew it! All the air going through his inflated nostrils had boosted his ego even more.
“You’ve dated him, haven’t you?”
“No!” Taemin felt repulsed from the question. “I mean, there was this one time after we graduated high-school, but that’s it! No! Never!” Just like that, the voice struck through Jongin’s skull and beat the Hell out of his pride, becoming a tiny bean somewhere in Jongin’s lower intestines, expelled for his nefarious methods. “Who told you that?”
“Nobody. Just that you have his picture in the bathroom.”
“I don’t have his picture in the bathroom!”
“Yes, you do. By the mirror.”
“I don’t. Those are hairstyle ideas I got from magazines.”
“Oh.” To be fair, Jongin had terrible vision without glasses or lenses. “Oh.”
“Did you seriously think I have Wonshik’s picture in the bathroom?” Taemin . He poked Jongin’s chest with his index, suddenly grateful that Jongin broke the awkwardness between them, even if he had replaced it with something sillier.
In that moment, Jongin was examining an invisible dot on Taemin’s face, his eyes unfocused on all other features. Just when he thought his mind crashed, it suddenly regained strength. All cogs and wheels spun at lightning speed, clearing the blur that had invaded Jongin’s orbs. He was staring at Taemin’s own pair with determination, the ego again in its rightful kingdom and ruling merciless over every cell in his body.
“Wait. What do you mean that one time after you graduated?”
Taemin’s eyes too switched from sneaky to full-on alert, all of his sense activated. He snatched the menus and dashed from the sofa, a “Look at the time! Will order!” rolling out of his mouth and in the air, only a mumble by the time it reached Jongin’s ears.
Alone, still on the sofa, even more perplexed, Jongin dashed too in the opposite direction. He forgot all about manners and proper guest etiquette when he burst into the bathroom and didn’t stop until he could see those photographs again. Once in front of the mirror, he touched them. Taemin was telling the truth. It didn’t feel like a photo and the rough edges, along with the obvious – the three men were models, not Taemin and co. – made Jongin doubt everything he scanned earlier. Speaking of which, he searched for the stickers too, only to see it was dirt.
He had scratched at dirt, not hearts.
Jongin washed his hands for good measure.
By the time he wandered back to the sofa like a maniac, Taemin was waiting for him, already knowing where Jongin might have gone – mostly because he would have seen him from the kitchen if he wanted to leave. Taemin was glad he hadn’t, his voice much softer and calculated with the danger of Jongin taking back his stuff and forsaking him for the night. Still, he needed to bring forth another subject, one sparked from Jongin’s outburst.
“Are you satisfied now?” Jongin only nodded and plopped next to him. “I didn’t think you were the jealous type.”
“You keep saying that I’ll end up hating you,” Taemin opened his mouth to correct him, but Jongin was faster. “But you’ll probably hate me first.”
Jongin looked down, his hands back on his knees. Taemin had been honest from the get-go, so why couldn’t he also be the same?
“I am jealous,” it wasn’t hard to admit it in front of Taemin. The problem always relied on whether he was ready to admit it in front of himself too because there were many things Jongin had trouble accepting when it came to the many shades of his personality. When each of that shade desires to boldly stand out alone, rather than mix into a beautiful harmony, it was exasperating him. “Really jealous. I’ll hurt you one day.”
“You haven’t so far.”
“That’s because you’re truly kind and I don’t want to ruin it.”
“Why do you always have to say something positive about me?”
“Because you don’t see the good person you are. That hurts me.”
“But you barely---”
“---know you. I am aware.” Jongin gently picked Taemin’s hands and held them together. He came closer, his lips almost tasting Taemin’s. “I’m also aware that genuine kindness exists only in people who do not flaunt it.”
“You’re doing it again.”
Taemin pushed Jongin until he could nestle down on top of him.
“Being extra cheesy.”
“We should have ordered pizza then and grated me all over it.”
“Ew.” Taemin punched lightly Jongin’s chest. Jongin buried his fingers in Taemin’s locks. He pecked his lips and then he let Taemin exhaust his air through laughter. “That’s gross.”
Next, his thumb was on Taemin’s cheek, rubbing close to the corner of his mouth. The rest of his fingers extended until he cupped half of Taemin’s head and pulled him closer in another kiss.
He hadn’t had the chance to explore last time because Taemin left him hanging on the sofa and he fell asleep (the thought almost made him stop kissing in that moment too because how in the world, Kim Jongin). With Taemin again in his arms, he roamed his body, an adventurer discovering a whole new land filled with possibilities.
He began at his ear. Fingertips barely brushed over Taemin’s piercings. The back of his neck followed and his palm trailed Taemin’s locks. It reached his shoulder blades, where he rested. It was simple when seen from the outside – a touch here, a touch there, nothing fancy to disturb the slow pace adopted by their mouths. Once inside Taemin’s head, connected to all of his senses, one could finally understand that the slight pressure he applied to his neck and back and the way his locks effortlessly followed the direction of Jongin’s fingers made him tremble.
It tricked his body into believing other factors were at state, like a virus – a sudden change in heat, sudden change in the atmosphere, a fever crossing his spine rapidly. In turn, his muscles contracted. Taemin curled up on top of Jongin, wanting more and more.
He hadn’t been so close to someone in years.
Taemin abruptly ended the kiss and got off Jongin, like last time. Jongin reacted much faster. He gripped at Taemin’s arm. He didn’t want him to leave again. Taemin’s eyes weren’t benign, black clouds from deep within obscuring any trace of light from before and Jongin wondered, again, if he had gone too far, penetrated too soon the shield Taemin had been wearing since they met.
“I,” Taemin stood still.
“It’s alright,” Jongin let go. “We don’t have to do anything.”
“It’s not like that.”
“I’ve never done it.”
The doorbell rang.
“I only had,” Taemin trailed off. He didn’t know how to put it better. Opening so much to Jongin, someone that swept him off his feet and made him euphoric, also made Taemin back away before he’d fly to the Heavens with that feeling. Or it was just the adrenaline talking.
The doorbell rang again.
Taemin cursed and got up from the sofa.
He didn’t want to eat and drink anymore. If his order came, he was tempted to shut the door back in the delivery guy’s face. Taemin grabbed his wallet from his coat.
Jongin was wrong. He wasn’t a good person. He wouldn’t be where he was if he had been the saint Jongin spoke of so eloquently.
The door flung open.
Taemin gaped at his brother.