Lento

Stained Glass

 

 

"So, are you ready for this Saturday?" Minseok's shoulder nudged Kyungsoo's as they sat beside each other at lunch. It was Tuesday already, which left three and a half more days of stomach-churning anxiety for Kyungsoo to somehow live through.

 

"Of course I'm not! I'm totally ed and it's all your fault." Kyungsoo glared ferociously at Minseok as he stuck a forkful of grilled chicken into his mouth.

 

"What do you mean it's my fault? You're a vocal major - you love to perform," Minseok said dismissively.

 

"In a group! I'm fine when I'm performing in a group but this is standing on a stage on my own and I am not okay, Kim Minseok. And I wouldn't even be singing this Saturday if you hadn't twisted my arm to do this."

 

"I did not twist your arm," Minseok snorted.

 

"But you specialize in twisting arms, Seok. It's a gift you have - twist, twist, twist and we all end up doing all kinds of for you that we wouldn't normally do. Am I right, Soo?" Luhan asked cheerfully as he put his tray down and helped himself to one of Minseok's fries.

 

"Of course you're right, Lu. But there's no need to sound so cheerful about it, ok? I am having a serious panic attack here. What if I get stage fright? What if I just freeze?"

 

"Are you ... Is this for real? But Soo, you don't panic. You're not a panicky person." Minseok was starting to look worried, and just a little bit guilty.

 

"There's a reason why I never audition for solos." Kyungsoo shut his eyes and sighed.

 

"But you never said anything, you ! Or I'd never have made you do it. Dammit, Soo. It's too late to pull out now, the programs have been printed. Why are you telling me this only now? Why didn't you just tell me no in the first place?" Minseok's hands clamped his forehead agitatedly.

 

"Because I thought I could get over it but I'm even more freaked out now than when I first agreed to do it."

 

"It's ... I-" For the first time in almost a decade of friendship, Minseok was at a loss for words.

 

"Don't worry, I won't pull out." Kyungsoo tried to sound as reassuring as he could when it was about as far as possible from what he actually felt.

 

"It's not about that. We'll work this out ok, Soo? I'll help you through this."

 

"Not sure how I can help but I'm here for you, man. We all know I can't carry a tune to save my ing life but I can buy burgers and brownies and get coffee for you guys while you rehearse." Luhan clapped a hand on Kyungsoo's shoulder.

 

"All those things would KILL our throats!"

 

"Fine. Bottled water and whole grains, fruits and vegetables, then. Geez, Minseok, you're so picky." Luhan did his best impression of someone "trying" not to roll his eyes, but who was actually rolling them so hard in his head they were practically detaching themselves from their sockets, and Kyungsoo couldn't help laughing. He could always count on Luhan to clear away the clouds in any situation. Every single time.

 

"You think you're funny? But you are so NOT, Lu." Minseok punched him on the arm for good measure and Luhan protested noisily about how Minseok could bloody walk his own home after all that abuse.

 

"We'll get through this together, okay?" Minseok said a little awkwardly, like he felt bad about getting Kyungsoo into this situation (but not bad enough he was going to give him an outright apology).

 

"Thanks, guys," Kyungsoo smiled sheepishly, "but I think I'll be okay. Jongin is helping."

 

"How can he help you?! He's not a vocal major! He doesn't know a thing about helping you prep-"

 

"He is helping me just fine, Minseok." Kyungsoo says it firmly, eyes steely with resolve.

 

"But-" Minseok looks very unhappy as Kyungsoo interrupts him yet again.

 

"He is helping me just fine."

 

"Okay fine. But the stage fright thing? I swear to God if you ever keep something that important from me again, I will-"

 

"So! Are we giving you a lift this evening or what?" Luhan cut Minseok off mid-sentence and Kyungsoo was grateful that he managed to distract Minseok from what would surely have been an uncomfortable interrogation.

 

 

•-•-•-•

 

Half an hour later, as Professor Cahill droned on an on about the finer points of musicianship, Kyungsoo's phone vibrated soundlessly in his back pocket. He peered at the screen as discreetly as he could, hoping no one around him would notice. He couldn't hold back the smile as he saw the selfie of Luhan's cheesy grin and enthusiastic thumbs up, and read his text message: Me when I see you stand up to Minseok!

 

With boyfriends like Luhan, who needed enemies, Kyungsoo grinned as he forced his attention back to Professor Cahill's lecture.

 

•-•-•-•

 

But you're neither friend nor foe

Though I can't seem to let you go.

The one thing that I still know is that you're keeping me down-

 

Kyungsoo faltered on the last note and his index finger slammed his iPod screen a little harder than he intended and the music cut off abruptly as he made a noise of frustration.

 

"Soo?" Concerned, Jongin looked up from the intricate network of pencil drawn lines forming the beginnings of a maple leaf lying on the pages of a journal, a still life sketch for one of his classes that he'd been working on for the past 15 minutes while Kyungsoo rehearsed.

 

"I don't know if I can do this. This Saturday thing," Kyungsoo's hand gathered his fringe into a frustrated top knot and his body radiated a nervous, agitated kind of energy even though he was standing still.

 

"Of course you can." Jongin slipped his arms around him and pressed his nose against his nape and held on tight.

 

"You don't understand, Jongin. Standing in the middle of a stage on your own with the spotlights blinding you and all eyes on you ... and those few moments of silence before the music starts? It's the most terrifying thing." Kyungsoo's voice doesn't seem full of panic or fear - just a cold, quiet kind of dread.

 

"I can't even imagine what that's like. But I do know you know this song inside out. You just have to go up there for four minutes and do what you've been doing in this room. Just four minutes before it's all over."

 

"It's not the same when there are hundreds of people looking at you, waiting for you to mess up. I can't imagine what it's like for idols who go up in front of thousands."

 

"Welllll, y'know they get paid a hella lot of money so I think it helps."

 

"That's not helping me! I'm just getting a token sum. Definitely not enough to pay for therapy, considering how much grief this performance is causing me."

 

"I think you need to get away. You're too close to this. Let's just go somewhere now. And if you want you can rehearse there too."

 

"But-"

 

"Let's just go," Jongin turned Kyungsoo's tense body around and kissed him tenderly.

 

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

 

"You'll love this place, I promise. I just need to make a phone call, okay?"

 

•-•-•-•

 

 

Jongin leaned against the wall outside the stained glass room as Kyungsoo continued rehearsing. Eyes shutting in dread, Jongin retrieved his phone and scrolled through his contacts and stopped at the name he needed. Reluctantly, his finger selected it and he typed a brief text message asking for a favor he didn't want to ask for, but which he would swallow his pride to obtain for Kyungsoo's sake.

 

Pressing send, he waited for a response - hoping it wouldn't take hours for her to see it. Three minutes passed and he sighed, standing upright so he could go back into the room. He should have known better than to expect a reply, he thought bitterly.

 

The steel door knob was cold between his fingers as he prepared to turn it, and his hand froze in surprise as his phone vibrated in his back pocket. Jongin fished it out hastily. It wasn't a message like he'd expected but a call. She never returned messages with phone calls; in fact she hardly ever called Jongin, period. What did this mean?

 

"Hello, Mother."

 

 
•-•-•-•

 

 

"What is this place?" Kyungsoo's eyes scanned the steel and glass monolith just before Jongin's motorbike dipped into the basement carpark entrance. As they'd streaked past the building, Kyungsoo had made out a stark, black and white logo featuring an interlocking K and J. In fact, the entire facade had been done in black and white, which only made all the cold steel and glass look even colder.  Before he knew it, the engine was off and Jongin was unbuckling the strap on Kyungsoo's helmet.

 

"I can do that myself, Jongin. I'm not your girlfriend."

 

"Shhh, I'm not implying you are. It's just there's no one here. I wasn't thinking. That's all." Jongin secured the helmet on the bike before flattening a few wayward strands of Kyungsoo's hair. And that was when Kyungsoo finally noticed the lines of tension around Jongin's eyes.

 

"Jongin? You okay?"

 

"For now anyway. Depends how the next twenty minutes pan out before I know how okay I really am."

 

"More mystery," Kyungsoo sighed but didn't pry. He knew Jongin would tell him when he was ready. If he was ever ready.

 

The elevator doors opened and Jongin ushered him in, his hands making subtle passes at his waist. The inside was as elegant as the building facade with its slate gray carpeting and herringbone steel panels and gleaming mirrors. Kyungsoo realized then that they'd never seen themselves in reflection, together. The intricate lines on Jongin's tanned neck looked both elegant and untamed just beyond his own pale, bare neck.

 

Slowly, Kyungsoo's eyes flickered shut as Jongin's arms slid securely around him, his hands clasped together right under Kyungsoo's rib cage.  Soo ... he whispered as his lips tattooed his neck with kisses. Exhaling, Kyungsoo sank into Jongin and reveled in the warm pressure of his chest against his back, and the possessive press of his arms around his own.

 

When his eyes opened again, it was to see their bodies irrevocably entwined and he couldn't help thinking they looked so beautiful together, and that they belonged together in ways he couldn't articulate.

 

"Where are we and why are we really here?"

 

"You'll find out soon enough. You're so impatient," Jongin sighed.

 

"I'm not going to like what's waiting for us at the end of this elevator ride, am I?"

 

"You'll be fine. It's me who has to worry," he mumbled the last sentence under his breath and a bead of worry lodged itself in Kyungsoo’s brain.

 

When they were on the 12th floor, three floors from their destination, Jongin reached for Kyungsoo’s hand, holding it tight.

 

“About my mother … she wants us to stop by her office.”

 

“Your mother? Her office? She works here?” Kyungsoo was trying really hard not to squawk but he was doing a really bad job of it.

 

“She works here? Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Jongin’s laugh sounded hollow and a little broken. “The logo you see on the elevator panel, the one that’s marked KJ? The letters stand for my parents’ surnames. My father Kim Dae Gun, and my mother Jang Soora.”

 

“, Jongin, they own this building?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

“Damn. This is just … I need a second to process the fact that your parents actually own an entire building. Like not a floor but the whole ing building?! You could have warned me or something, Jongin.”

 

“It didn’t occur to me, to be honest. I don’t come here much and I try not to think about this place at all.” Jongin’s words had a sting to them; they worried Kyungsoo.

 

“What do they do?”

 

“I dunno,” Jongin shrugged indifferently, “Construction. Engineering. Architecture. Mother is an architect.”

 

“Do they expect you to take over the business?”

 

“I think Father did for a while but my grades were in high school. They probably wanted me to get my grades up but … they were too busy with their projects and making money to do anything much about it. I was basically failing Math for most of high school, and I refused to have anything to do with Physics. For a while, Father talked about hiring a personal Math tutor – to salvage the mess I’d made of my own education.”

 

“How did that go?”

 

“It didn’t. Mother convinced him to let me be, to let it go. To let me figure out what I wanted to do after high school. That was the one thing she did for me. I don’t know how she did it because he was dead set against me doing Fine Arts. Maybe she told him I’d just run the company into the ground. Whatever she said? It worked and he’s pretty much ignored me since.” Bitterness seeped through each dispassionately uttered word.

 

“Oh Jongin,” Kyungsoo hugged him close, trying to comfort him the only way he knew how. To his relief, he felt Jongin’s body relax a little in his hold and sighed as Jongin rested his cheek on his shoulder.

 

“Anyway, long story short, they let me go to Garnier and do my own thing.”

 

“Did you want things any different?”

 

“No. Art is my thing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I would have ed everything up if my parents had really forced me to do Engineering or Architecture. Or even worse, a Business degree. I would have hated that most of all because I hate talking.”

 

Kyungsoo was glad Jongin didn’t seem to hate talking to him. He felt like he understood a lot more about the situation between Jongin and his parents now; but it only made him feel even more powerless. As Kyungsoo his hand helplessly over Jongin’s back, the elevator dinged in muted tones. Everything about the elevator was muted – all subtle and elegant and devoid of any personal touch. Like Jongin’s parents, he supposed, as Jongin’s arms dropped reluctantly at his sides. Bracing himself for another (hopefully not unpleasant) meeting with Jang Soora, Kyungsoo held his breath and stepped out of the lift with Jongin. The thick pile of the rich cocoa carpet felt springy beneath Kyungsoo’s soles, and they walked past pots of lush palms and tasteful paintings in beiges and oranges. Kyungsoo was surprised that it wasn’t as cold or imposing as the lift. It was almost welcoming and for some silly reason, this made him like Jongin’s mother just a little bit more.

 

After they’d cleared the oasis of potted plants, they walked through a frosted glass door and came face-to-face with a ridiculously pretty woman sitting at a very large desk. She was dressed in crisp, tailored red and looked to be in her thirties.  Petite with a riot of short, dark brown curly hair and eyes that twinkled with energy, the woman was practically dwarfed by the sea of wood in front of her.

 

“Um, Mrs. Lee, I’m here to see my mother,” Jongin informed her, his hands in his pockets as he stood self-consciously before her.

 

“Master Jongin! I haven’t seen you in almost a year, how are you?” She stood up swiftly, her face wreathed in smiles. “Your mother told me to expect the two of you. Just a moment please, and I’ll see if she’s ready for you.” She left in a whirlwind of brightly uttered words and sunny smiles, disappearing behind a black, oak door. In the matter of a minute, the door swung open again and the two women stepped out, slim legs moving in tandem, although Jongin’s mother had at least three inches of extra height on her secretary. Jang Soora was as stunning as Kyungsoo remembered. Wearing a sea green dress today, her hair was pinned up in some complicated coil and her feet clad in black patent leather high heels.

 

“Jongin, you’re here,” she said a little awkwardly.

 

“Mother, you didn’t have to come out. I would just have collected the keys from Mrs. Lee on my own.”

 

“I – no, it’s all right. I wanted to take you myself and I regret that I didn’t get to meet Kyungsoo properly the other day.” There was a brief flash of what looked like pain in her eyes.

 

“Hello,” Kyungsoo greeted hesitantly before bowing. He honestly had no idea how to address her and he hoped Umma never heard about this because she would have his hide for greeting an adult with just a hello. Jongin was no help as he stood behind Kyungsoo. Wordless.

 

“It’s nice to see you again.” Her smile was only slightly reserved as she bowed in return. She’s so beautiful, Kyungsoo thought as he saw pieces of Jongin in her regal bone structure, striking eyes and arresting face.  

 

“I … We should go then,” she said finally.

 

“Enjoy the view!” Mrs. Lee chirped and it occurred to Kyungsoo that he still had no idea why Jongin had brought him here. He had refused to tell him anything other than that he was taking Kyungsoo for a change of scenery – somewhere different for him to practice. And it wasn’t like he could cajole Jongin into telling now that his mother was with them. Soon, they found themselves standing silently inside the monochrome elevator as it whisked them up to the top floor.

 

 

•-•-•-•

 

 

The first thing Kyungsoo saw was the rhapsody of colors staining the pale, marble floor. A glass dome arched over their heads, with curved panels of exquisite, jewel-hued stained glass, and they walked slowly to the center before coming to a stop. 

"It's beautiful," Kyungsoo said in wonder as he looked skyward, his face soaking up color-filtered rays of mellow winter sunlight. Lead strips crept all over the glass, carving out shapes that looked distinctly like … large sweeping, pearlescent wings in golds and yellows. Kyungsoo didn’t know much about art, he never had, but even he could see the magnificence of the piece.

"I'm glad you think so. I put a lot of myself into its conception. The design is mine and I personally selected the colors for the stained glass panels." Jang Soora's voice was cultured and sophisticated and everything that was controlled. But her eyes told a different story as they tracked Jongin's quiet exploration of the area.

"I see angel wings." Kyungsoo said curiously on the heels of her explanation. It was no surprise then that Jongin was artistic - apparently he'd inherited his talent from his mother.

"Yes, those are angel wings. I wanted them especially." 

At her words, Jongin paused in mid step before resuming his progress around the stained glass rotunda. If Kyungsoo had blinked he would have missed it. But he hadn't and his heart ached for Jongin ... and he knew he was making a lot of assumptions about a situation he knew next to nothing about, but his heart ached for Jongin's mother too.

"Thank you for bringing us up here, Mother. We'll be all right here on our own now so you can get back to work." Jongin's voice was coldly polite as he remained where he was, staring out at the city skyline.

"I ... of course, I'll leave you to it then. You can give me a call when you're ready to leave and I'll see you both off. I'll be working late anyway." She was poised and elegant but clearly less collected than her son.

"That won't be necessary, Mother. We'll let ourselves out. I parked in the basement anyway."

"If you're sure," she said hesitantly as she turned to leave.

"We'll be fine, Mother," he said firmly. "And thanks again for letting us use the area."

"You're always welcome. Both of you." And with a distracted and slightly melancholic smile, Jang Soora turned and headed for the elevator. Kyungsoo watched until she disappeared behind metal doors.

"Jongin, we could still call her later. Before we leave. I think she really wanted you to."

"Not today, Soo. I brought you here for a change of scenery. A different stained glass room where you can rehearse your song. Let's not talk about my mother."

"Okay." Kyungsoo agreed reluctantly as Jongin folded his arms around him.

"Aquamarine, citrine, topaz, diamond." Jongin sounded almost contemplative as his eyes wandered to the colorful glass above them.

"Those are ... gem stones?"

"Yes. But they're also colors. Look up, Soo. Tell me what you see."

"Gold."

"That's topaz."

"I see a golden, kind of lemony yellow? Sorry, I at colors and describing things. If it were a song I could totally break it down into parts for you but images and colors? I'm just clueless."

"Citrine. The lemony yellow is citrine, Soo. What else do you see."

"Something like ... pale greenish blue."

"Aquamarine." Jongin was smiling at him with something like pride and it made Kyungsoo feel ridiculously happy.

"So the silvery gray must be diamond."

"A B+ for you," Jongin chuckled as he stood behind Kyungsoo, his arms fitting snugly around Kyungsoo's shoulders.

"Those angel wings ..." Kyungsoo said tentatively. 

"Yeah."

"You know those wings are about you, right?"

"Doubt that."

"I don't agree. How old is this place?" 

"They moved to this building ... I dunno, maybe three years ago? I've only been in this room once. When they did some fancy black tie event with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and reporters. To announce we have arrived." Sarcasm tainted Jongin’s voice, unmistakably. "I had to wear a suit and bow tie and hide the ... unacceptable areas. She had a special shirt made for me with an extra high collar so that you couldn’t see my tatts. And on the day itself, Father made Mother check that I was suitably dressed for the event. "

"What did she say?"

"Nothing much. She just said I looked handsome and fastened my bow tie and said how grown up I was now." 

"It sounds like she was proud of you."

"More like she didn't know what else to say," he snorted.

"I'm sure it's not as bad as you think, Jongin." Kyungsoo turned around so he could see Jongin's face, see the blank expression that always settled over his features when he talked about his parents.

"When exactly did you get these?" Kyungsoo's fingers trailed over the wings inked over Jongin's neck. 

"When I was 16 I think. About five years ago."

"See? That was before your mother designed this place."

"I see nothing," Jongin said dismissively before releasing Kyungsoo. "You'd better start rehearsing, Soo. Before we run out of daylight." Obviously, the discussion about his mother was done and Kyungsoo nodded before easing into a series of vocal warm ups. As he did his breathing and jaw exercises and his two octave scales, Jongin sank to the ground a few feet away and wrapped his arms around his knees and just … watched. There was no array of art supplies in front of him for once, no paper. This time, there was nothing but Jongin sitting on the floor, his eyes filled with nothing but Kyungsoo.
 

“Aren’t you going to sketch something? Or work on a drawing?”

 

“No.”

 

“But you’re watching me. It’s making me nervous.”

 

“There’ll be more people on Saturday, Soo. It’s just me now. You can do this, okay?”

 

“I hate it so much when you make sense,” Kyungsoo grumbled and Jongin just smiled one of his lazy smiles –the ones that Kyungsoo pretended he hated but which actually wrecked him, in the most complete way.

 

“Don’t you need your iPod?” Jongin asked and Kyungsoo shook his head, no because he didn’t need it.

 

“I’m going a capella,” Kyungsoo explained and then he did one last warm up before he was at last, ready to sing. Knowing it was Jongin watching him helped. It centred him and made him forget for just a moment that he’d have to do it on his own in front of a crowd of strangers. A crowd of strangers. On his own. Abruptly, the panic started to hiss and pop from inside him, bubbling up slowly, threatening to drown and overwhelm him.

 

“Soo,” Jongin was calling his name softly … Kyungsoo could hear that single syllable swimming before him, “Soo.” Gentle as the summer wind, Jongin’s hand reached calmly inside his collar, catching a pair of angel wings and taking them out so Kyungsoo could see them and remember. So he could see the wings and remember that he didn’t have to be afraid. Jongin was here.

 

“You got this,” a deep velvet voice cut through the fog surrounding Kyungsoo.

 

“You’re right, Jongin. I can do this.” A soft smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth because Jongin made everything all right. “I’m ready,” Kyungsoo announced … just before he began to sing:

 

I dig my toes into the sand
The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds
Strewn across a blue blanket
I lean against the wind

 

Pretend that I am weightless
And in this moment I am happy, happy

 

“But Soo …” Jongin whispered, confused because this wasn’t the song that Kyungsoo was practicing for the concert. This wasn’t it at all.

 

I wish you were here
I wish you were here

 

 

 

 

 

a/n: Hi everyone! I’m so sorry it’s taken me almost 5.5 months to update Stained Glass. I really really want to thank all of you for being so patient and for not giving up on me and this story. It’s taken me all this time because real life has been so busy and also I’ve been in quite a few exchanges and done a lot of betaing for other writers.

 

Mostly though, it’s taken me so long because I didn’t want to disappoint my readers and that fear kind of took away my will to work on this fic. But I managed to get over most of that and resumed work on SG a couple of weeks ago (it had been stuck on 1.8k for months ;_;). I’m just glad to be writing this story again and I hope that this chapter won’t disappoint too much when I’ve already kept you all waiting all these months. And just to be clear, this is my personal fear of disappointing - no readers have actually said anything negative about SG or said anything negative to me as a writer so yeah,  this is pretty much all me otl. This may seem like an odd thing to say but I've gotten some comments where they've been worried that other readers might have hated on the fic so just to make it clear that my readers are blameless in this delay!

 

Also, I want to thank everyone who has ever commented on or up voted this fic. It’s impossible for me to reply each comment because I’d never have time to write if I did. But please know that I read and cherish each comment. Reader feedback is always inspiring so I hope you’ll let me know what you think of this update <3

 

I wanted to get this update out in time for Christmas as a kind of ‘thank you’ to all of you. And it’s Christmas Eve today so I guess I made it LOL. Thanks again for sticking with SG and Merry Christmas to you all!

 

Okay, it’s 6.05 am here and I haven't slept all night and I’m about to fall over so goodnight/morning! Love, Adele 

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