theme: o40. Skin
(Part of the For Two Series.)
One of Seoul’s most popular evening restaurants, Suju went almost into a frenzy when they celebrated the twenty-third birthday of the owner. Many were surprised at the young age of the restaurant owner, especially since he had such a mature personality and a built as sturdy as any man in the army.
The restaurant was closed that evening, a private celebration being held for the owner and only his friends and family. The head chef, Hankyung offered to cook all of the meals that evening as a birthday present and to allow the rest of the staff enjoy the celebrations as well.
“Shiwon, what’s Heechul doing?” Kibum, the sous chef, whispered as he came and sat in a stool at the bar where the owner was,
Shiwon turned his head away from the bartender whom he had been talking to, “Kibum-sshi?”
“Yes, it’s me,” Kibum replied to the owner who had been blind for six months already,
“Is my mother sitting at the piano and Heechul’s still on his hands and knees bowing?” Shiwon asked as he picked up a wine glass,
“Yes,” Kibum said as he glanced at the baby grand piano that was situated to one side of the restaurant. Sitting on the bench was an older woman and before her was one of Suju’s popular waiters, Heechul,
“He’s begging for my mother’s forgiveness,” Shiwon said after taking a slow sip of his wine, “His reason for needing her forgiveness is because of him, she won’t have grandchildren by me,” Shiwon explained, instinctively turning his head towards where the piano was, “And the fact that I can’t see.”
The bartender accepted Shiwon’s empty glass, “Do you think he needs forgiveness?”
Shiwon scoffed, “No, and neither does my mother, she’s just having fun. If my father were still alive, I’m sure he’d be right there beside my mom.”
“Happy birthday Shiwon-sshi!”
Shiwon turned towards where the voice came from, “Kyuhyun?”
“Yes it’s me!” The head host of the restaurant straightened from his bow, “I swear hyung, you must look not a day over 18!”
Shiwon grinned, dimpling, “You want a raise don’t you?”
“Just a little one!” Kyuhyun laughed melodically as he looked around, “Where’s Shindong and Ryeowook? Don’t tell me you have them working tonight.”
“They offered to help Hankyung with the food,” Shiwon defended as he nudged the sous chef beside him, “since Kibum won’t help him.”
Kibum rolled his eyes, “He brought this on himself.”
Kyuhyun smirked when he caught the slight blush in the sous chef’s cheeks. Kibum and the head chef, Hankyung had been together for a year and half now, and although Kibum tried to keep their relationship - and the fact that they now lived together for half a year - everyone in the restaurant already knew. Kyuhyun said another greeting to the owner before heading into the back and entering the kitchen.
A Chinese chef who mastered the culinary arts in China, Hankyung had come to Korea to take on the country’s cuisine just a year and half ago. The head host watched as Hankyung moved back and forth around the kitchen, handling several woks and pots on several stove tops - all on his own. To one side, two young men were dishing out food on plates,
“People are hungry!” Kyuhyun barked the order,
Startled, the two waiters spun around, breathing easier once they saw who it was,
“You know I hate what you do that,” the smaller of the two muttered petulantly as he turned his back to Kyuhyun and continued plating more food,
“Aw Ryeowook-hyung, you know I’m just kidding,” Kyuhyun grinned as he came and stood beside him, “But I managed to scare Shindong-hyung too!”
The bigger of the two men threw Kyuhyun a look, “I was concentrated and you startled me… that’s all.”
Kyuhyun went over to him and swung an arm around his shoulders, smiling, “You know I’m just kidding Shindong-sshi!”
Shindong looked away, continuing his work as his skin gained a healthy pink glow.
The sun was on the horizon when the last of the guests were disbanding from SuJu restaurant.
“I’m sorry you guys have to work after celebrating,” Shiwon apologized.
The cleaners waved him off, insisting it was fine, then went about their business to clean the restaurant and kitchen before the restaurant opened that evening.
“See you later tonight, Boss?” Kyuhyun grinned as he came towards Shiwon,
“Of course,” Shiwon replied as Heechul joined them by the piano, “Heechul?”
“Your mother’s a cruel woman,” Heechul muttered as he crossed his arms and smacked away the open hand Shiwon held out to him,
Shiwon laughed heartily before pushing away from the piano, “Come to my place for a few hours’ sleep before work?”
Heechul rolled his eyes and sighed as if exasperated, “I suppose.” He glanced at the head host, “Aren’t you heading home too Kyuhyun?”
“Ah, I will in a moment,” Kyuhyun said absent-mindedly as he gazed down at the piano keys before him.
Heechul’s eyes wandered to Kyuhyun’s fingers which barely kissed the black and white keys. On each of his ten fingers were bandages that wrapped from base to the tip of his fingers. He asked Kyuhyun months ago about his injuries, but more of the fear associated with them rather than what had happened. Something that injured all of the young man’s fingers was not something Heechul wanted to know about.
As the pair left, Kyuhyun was left standing before the piano, his fingertips just grazing the glossy tops of the piano keys. He took a deep, steadying breath and allowed his eyes to close -
“Do you play, Kyuhyun-sshi?”
Startled, Kyuhyun spun around, instinctively pocketing his bandaged fingers, “Ah, Shindong-sshi, you scared me,” He gave him a small smile,
Shindong approached him as he pulled on his jacket, “So do you? Play, I mean?”
Kyuhyun glanced down at the piano, a look of longing lighting his eyes, “I’ll see you later.” Another small smile and he turned to leave.
Before he could process any thought, Shindong reached out and grabbed Kyuhyun’s shoulder, stopping him, “Yes?” Kyuhyun looked at him expectantly,
Shindong swallowed hard. He suddenly found it hard to breath and he was sure his hand on Kyuhyun’s shoulder was shaking. Just to be sure, he retracted his hand immediately, “Um… that is… See you tonight at work!” Shindong gave him a broad smile before turning on his heel and bolting towards the back.
Shindong kept going and didn’t stop until he reached the employee’s entrance at the back of the restaurant. He sighed heavily as he leaned his back against the entrance door and breathed in the cool April air. He stayed like that, his eyes shut tightly until he could breath normally and the pounding in his chest calmed.
Six months he had been employed at Suju restaurant, initially as a temporary replacement for Heechul who had left for a month for surgery. However, when Heechul returned as a waiter, Shiwon decided to keep Shindong permanently. As Shindong continued working there, he suddenly realized a change. It had been subtle in its movements, and when Shindong suddenly realized it, it had already happened.
As he served his tables, he’d catch sight of the handsome young man standing by the host’s podium at the front doors. He’d catch Kyuhyun give guests a winning smile that warmed their hearts. He would hear Kyuhyun laugh and it sounded better oft times than the music Shiwon would play on the restaurant’s piano. Shindong soon found himself, most nights, just hoping to catch sight of Kyuhyun as he worked. A lot of patrons commented on and fawned upon Kyuhyun’s handsomeness, especially when he was collected; they always melted whenever that smile of his would break his calm expression - first starting out small and then spreading like sunlight.
Shindong sighed heavily. This would not do. He could not and would not, fall in love with Kyuhyun.
A few days later, Shindong was leaving the locker room. As he was tying his black apron around his waist, he was suddenly pushed against the wall. He went to yell when a hand clapped down over his mouth,
“Shh!” Heechul hissed as he looked to the side where the employees’ entrance was. “If I let go will you yell?” Shindong shook his head, so Heechul dropped his hand,
“What’s going on?” Shindong asked quietly as Heechul continued looking out the door’s window,
“Kyuhyun’s been out there yelling for the past ten minutes,” Heechul explained,
“At who?” Shindong asked as he tried to look out the window as inconspicuously as the other waiter,
“Sungmin-sshi,” Heechul said easily as he crossed his arms loosely when he turned away from the door.
Suddenly Kyuhyun opened the door. Before he completely entered he turned back,
“And I’d appreciate it next time if you stayed out of my business!” Kyuhyun exclaimed, his voice a fierce growl,
Shindong caught sight of whom Kyuhyun had apparently been arguing with. A young man stood at the bottom of the steps of the entrance, arms crossed angrily at the head host. Short black hair and fox-like eyes, the young man appeared to be the same age as Shindong,
“All I was doing was ANSWERING THE PHONE!” He argued back before turning on his heel and stalking off.
Kyuhyun slammed the door behind himself and pushed both his hands through his hair. He sighed heavily when he noticed Heechul and Shindong standing not-too-far from him. He gave them a small apologetic smile before pushing past them and disappearing into the locker room.
Shindong nudged Heechul as they walked to the front of the restaurant, “Who’s Sungmin? His brother?”
Heechul laughed, “No, his boyfriend. You didn’t know?”
Shindong shook his head, suddenly feeling a heaviness in his chest, “How long have they been together?”
Heechul thought about it a moment before answering, “Umm… well, Kyuhyun’s been here since we opened four and a half years ago, but he was still single then - and straight. So, sometime less than that.”
Shindong merely nodded his understanding, suddenly not trusting his voice.
During his break, Shindong slowly made his way to Kyuhyun who stood by the host’s podium. As Shindong watched Kyuhyun all night, he noticed that the popular host gave nothing beyond the common courtesies. He would smile briefly at the customers, but they would never reach his eyes.
“Hey, let’s go on break together,” Shindong suggested as Kyuhyun was straightening a stack of menus,
Shindong threw an arm around his shoulders and began pulling him away, “C’mon, it’s obvious you need a break and perhaps a friend to talk to?”
Kyuhyun hesitated a moment before saying nothing and allowing himself to be dragged away.
They sat on the steps of the employees’ entrance during their break. The night was cool for April, but the skies were clear and the stars twinkled like a million candles. Shindong said nothing, waiting for Kyuhyun to talk. He wouldn’t ask when it was unwelcome, but he would listen when it was needed.
“If someone asked you to do something, but you were scared to do it… what would you do?” Kyuhyun asked quietly as he stared at the dinner roll in his hand. On the way out, Shindong had grabbed them some dinner for their break.
Shindong blinked, thinking a moment. Is that what happened? Had that Sungmin person asked Kyuhyun to do something? What could it have been if the two had been a couple for almost two years? Shindong felt a storm within him. He tasted a bitterness whenever he thought of Kyuhyun with that other man and yet he felt horrible when he saw Kyuhyun upset. Not wanting to help Kyuhyun in his relationship and yet wanting to help Kyuhyun as a person, Shindong answered,
“It would depend on what it is,” Shindong replied casually, hoping that Kyuhyun would tell him what it was that Sungmin asked of him, “And who was asking me.”
Kyuhyun was silent a moment before speaking, “Sungmin is.”
“Is it fatal?” Shindong inquired,
“Detrimental in anyway?”
“Of course not,” Kyuhyun laughed softly, the first genuine smile of the evening; “What kind of guy do you think I would date?”
“Well what does he want you to do?” Shindong asked finally.
Kyuhyun grew quiet and the remnants of his smile remained on his lips. Leaning his elbows on his knees, Kyuhyun held out his hands for his own inspection, his bandaged thumbs slowly caressing the other wrapped digits; “Did you know what Shiwon-sshi hired me as at this restaurant before it even opened?”
“No…” Shindong replied, patiently waiting for the answer,
“I was to be the pianist everyone heard playing every night, even though when I applied it was to be a host,” Kyuhyun replied, “Shiwon had read my resume and although I applied to be a host, he wanted me to play the piano.”
“So you do play?” Shindong prompted,
“He plays beautifully.”
Shindong’s attention snapped towards the new voice and saw the man from before standing just a few feet away from the steps; Sungmin.
“I used to play,” Kyuhyun gritted as he got to his feet, instinctively shoving his hands into his pockets.
Sungmin stared at Kyuhyun a moment before sighing heavily, “Can we talk?” Kyuhyun turned to leave, “Please.” Kyuhyun froze, but didn’t turn around.
“Go and talk to him,” Shindong insisted, avoiding the twisting of his heart. He knew if he wanted to be with Kyuhyun, then Sungmin was an obstacle, but he also knew that he would not play the devil’s advocate. The way Kyuhyun was reacting to Sungmin at the moment, Shindong knew that Sungmin would bring about the end of their relationship without Shindong’s help.
Kyuhyun sighed and turned back, descending the stairs and then sitting back on them. Shindong turned and walked back into the restaurant. However, the moment he entered, he pressed back against the wall, falling into the shadows.
“All I did was answer the phone when they called,” Sungmin said simply.
“I don’t see why they would tell you everything unless you asked them,” Kyuhyun shot back; his voice quiet but laced with anger.
“True, and I’m sorry I invaded your privacy, but I do not regret asking,” Sungmin replied, “Had I not asked, you wouldn’t have told me anything.”
“Because it doesn’t matter! I don’t want to go back there and anything you say won’t make me,” Kyuhyun grounded out.
Sungmin sighed heavily, “They’re not even angry you left, Kyuhyun. They want you to come back. Do you know how many people leave like you did? But hardly any of them have anything to come back to - you do!”
“I… I can’t,” Kyuhyun said, his voice barely above a whisper and the strength from his voice suddenly gone.
A silence fell upon the two and Shindong waited for more. What were they talking about? Where did Kyuhyun leave? Why didn’t he want to go back? He thought it over, could it be Kyuhyun left home to be with Sungmin?
“Please…” Kyuhyun was now pleading, “Please… just let it go. I just can’t… Please Min… Please.”
Shindong chanced looking outside the door’s window, but immediately turned away and went back to work. His heart couldn’t take seeing another kiss like those two were sharing in the moonlight on the back stairs.
A week passed before Shindong ever saw Sungmin again. When he did, they ran into each other outside the owner’s office that was located by the employees’ entrance.
“Ah, Shindong-sshi,” Sungmin greeted, “We’ve never been introduced - I’m Sungmin.”
Shindong gave him a slight bow of his head, “What were you doing in there?”
Sungmin glanced at his back where the office door was, “Oh, Kyuhyun’s sick, so I came to tell Shiwon-sshi myself.”
“You couldn’t call?” Shindong asked, suspiciously,
“Well, I had to force Kyuhyun to stay home. Apparently a fever’s not enough to keep him from work,” Sungmin rolled his eyes, “And he attacks me every time I get near the phone to call. That and… I actually wanted to talk to you, if you have time?”
Shindong glanced at his watch and was sorely tempted to deny this man - the ‘other man’ - any time of his day. However, when he looked back at Sungmin, he cursed himself. A look of such frustration and worry was evident on the young man’s face that Shindong had to comply, knowing that Sungmin’s feelings must concern Kyuhyun. Shindong nodded and followed Sungmin out the back doors.
“So… why did you want to talk to me? We’ve only met once and… it could hardly be considered a real meeting,” Shindong said as they stepped in the late-afternoon air,
“Because when Kyuhyun wouldn’t talk to me, one word from you and he agreed to it,” Sungmin explained quietly; Shindong did not miss the hint of resentment in the other man’s voice.
Shindong shrugged his shoulders, “I’m just a friend who listens to him when he needs me.”
“Then… then maybe he’ll think about something if he hears it from you,” Sungmin said as he crossed his arms, leaning back against the railing of the stairs, “Obviously you’ve noticed the bandages Kyuhyun wears on his hands.” Shindong nodded, his curiosity piqued; “Well, because of those injuries he stopped playing piano.”
“What’s the big deal-”
“He’s amazing, Shindong,” Sungmin said, his voice suddenly filled with strength and a fire that Shindong couldn’t quite place; “The way he plays it just… it seriously just shakes your entire being. He was a famous prodigy growing up and even though it’s been five years since he stopped playing, he’s still getting offers. He got an offer from SM Academy of Fine Arts. Kyuhyun’s a third year in university already, but they still want him. A world-renowned school like SM Academy will let Kyuhyun reach his dream-”
“If Kyuhyun stopped playing because his injuries, then isn’t it cruel to make him play in spite of them?” Shindong shot at the boyfriend, “It sounds like to me that you’re pushing your own dreams for Kyuhyun onto him and that’s just not right!”
“But I’m not!” Sungmin threw his arms in the air, “Kyuhyun’s injuries are healed! He wants to play again - I know he does!”
“If he doesn’t feel that they’re healed then maybe you should just leave him alone!” Shindong defended angrily at this man’s persistence; how was he supposed to hate Sungmin when it was so obvious that Sungmin was a good guy?
Sungmin sighed heavily as he ran a hand through his hair, “You have no idea how much Kyuhyun is letting go to waste… You have not a clue what Kyuhyun is capable of doing,” He turned his back on Shindong, “Thank you for at least giving me a chance.”
Shindong watched as Sungmin began to leave. As much as he wanted to hate this man before him, as much as he wanted what Sungmin had, he still called out to Sungmin, “I’ll… I’ll talk to him.”
Sungmin looked over his shoulder at Shindong, his jaw slightly dropped in shocked. Suddenly, a smile formed on the other man’s face, his fox-like eyes shining, “Thank you Shindong-sshi. This is Kyuhyun’s dream - I promise you.”
As Shindong headed back inside the restaurant, he took a steadying breath. Glancing back out the door, he was just in time to see Sungmin disappear from sight, “Yeah…” Shindong muttered to himself, “And he’s my dream…”
It wasn’t until the following Sunday when Kyuhyun returned to work. He wore a mask over his nose and mouth at all times since he still coughed, but the patrons didn’t seem to mind. If anything, Shindong noted, the women only fawned upon him more in his weakened state.
“I’m surprised you didn’t stay home if you’re still sick,” Shindong said later that evening as they were having their dinner break, sitting on the back stairs;
“Well, after today I won’t be working for a few days because I have a paper due for school,” Kyuhyun explained, “So I wanted to get at least one night of work in before then.”
“But still, if you’re sick - you’re sick,” Shindong scolded, “You should’ve stayed home.”
“Sungmin wanted me to, but I wanted to work. I even told him if I didn’t work another day I wouldn’t be able to pay my half of the rent,” Kyuhyun laughed softly as he spooned some rice into his mouth,
“And what did he say to that?” Shindong asked lightly, masking his true curiosity in the matter. If a situation like rent could come between the two, then maybe -
“He said then he’d pay my half of the rent,” Kyuhyun replied while chewing still, “Honestly, I could live with Sungmin without paying half the rent, but I told him if he didn’t let me pay for half the rent then I would go move with my parents to Jeju island.”
“How long have you lived with Sungmin?” Shindong asked,
“Five years,” Kyuhyun answered.
“Wasn’t that when you stopped playing…” Shindong paused as Kyuhyun immediately shot him an alarmed look,
“How long have you been with him?” Shindong asked, hoping to distract Kyuhyun from his previous slip-up,
“Three years,” Kyuhyun answered as he stopped to take a drink from his pop can,
“Not two?” Shindong inquired, remembering what Heechul had told him.
Kyuhyun shook his head, “Three. We’ve been friends for nearly ten years, though.”
Shindong felt that heaviness in his chest again. How was he supposed to compete with ten years when he could only claim six and a half months? He sighed heavily when he noticed Kyuhyun staring at him confused,
“Something wrong?” Kyuhyun asked,
“Ah, I was just wondering about your hands - how they got injured,” Shindong blurted out - anything to move away from what he was thinking. However, from the sudden shuttered look in Kyuhyun’s eyes, he regretted his words.
“Five years ago, I was attacked,” Kyuhyun said quietly as he put down his plate on the step below him and retreated back into the restaurant without finishing his dinner.
Shindong did not follow.
When Kyuhyun got home, it was close to three in the morning. He tossed his jacket and bag onto the couch then walked over to the balcony door. He took off his uniform shirt and dropped it to the ground. Clad in just his dress pants and a black wife-beater, he leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the balcony doors; he had been running a fever all night. He touched his hands to the glass and felt the cold seep through the thin bandages and sooth his fingers. Sighing, he turned his head enough to see one of his hands against the glass; he needed to change the bandages.
He was in the bathroom, unbinding the last of his fingers when he felt the air change around him.
“I’m sorry if I woke you up,” Kyuhyun apologized quietly,
“It’s fine,” Sungmin replied, “Let me do that.”
Kyuhyun closed the lid over the toilet bowl and sat down as Sungmin moved around the bathroom for the bandages and scissors. The twenty-three year old was dressed in powder-pink flannel pyjamas. He found it amusing that Sungmin’s favourite colour was pink, even Sungmin’s friends from the med school he attended, teased him; but they all knew that was the most feminine thing about the serious, take-charge young man. Not to mention they were all secretly afraid of his martial arts skills.
He placed his materials on the shelf above the sink. Then, Sungmin touched a hand to his own forehead and his other hand to Kyuhyun’s forehead, “Your burning… I told you to stay home,” Sungmin scolded lightly, as he reached over to the medicine cabinet and handed a small bottle of pills to the younger man,
“It was just a few hours,” Kyuhyun replied as he took out two small pills and swallowed them with some water that Sungmin held out to him, “besides, I’m off for the new few days because of that assignment. I can rest then.”
After putting the glass of water and medicine to the side, Sungmin pushed his sleeves to his elbows to no avail; the pink pyjamas were two sizes too big for him. He sighed with frustration before kneeling before Kyuhyun and taking one of his hands into both of his. Gently, he began to wrap a finger in a fine bandage,
“It’s been five years,” Sungmin said quietly, “Don’t you think it’s time you stopped doing this?”
“If you don’t want to do it for me, then go back to bed,” Kyuhyun snapped as he moved to stand up.
Sungmin grabbed his wrist and forcibly pulled him back down to sit. Without looking at him, Sungmin continued his ministrations; “When it first happened you couldn’t do this yourself and I told you that for as long as you asked it of me, I would gladly do this for you,” Sungmin recalled softly, gently as he handled Kyuhyun’s hands with all the care in the world, “But it’s been some time since you needed this of me, but I still did it because you asked.”
“Just hurry, I have an early class tomorrow,” Kyuhyun replied irritably,
“You know… SM Academy called again,” Sungmin continued on as if Kyuhyun hadn’t retorted at him;
“Damn persistent this year,” Kyuhyun muttered.
Sungmin stopped his work and finally looked up at Kyuhyun; “This wasn’t the first time they’ve called for you?”
Kyuhyun glanced at Sungmin then looked away, shaking his head; “Once a year for the past five years, they’ve called me… With such an internationally famous school like theirs, you’d think they could preoccupy themselves with other pianists-”
“Obviously, it’s because you’re the best!” Sungmin exclaimed, jumping to his feet suddenly. He stared down at Kyuhyun, “You were the best and you still are - and they KNOW it!”
“You know it too,” Sungmin insisted, holding Kyuhyun’s chin between his thumb and index finger and making him look up at him, “You know it.”
Kyuhyun sighed as he wrapped his arms around Sungmin’s waist and pulled him against him, leaning his forehead against Sungmin’s chest, “Min… give me time,”
Sungmin sighed heavily as he moved to pull away, “I’ve given you five years,”
Before Sungmin could step to far away, Kyuhyun grabbed at his hand, his fingers barely closing around Sungmin’s; “I can’t hold onto you tighter than this… so please don’t try to walk away.”
Sungmin pried Kyuhyun’s hand from his own, but kept his hold on Kyuhyun’s hand. He brought the bandaged fingers to his mouth, pressing his lips lightly against the tips; “You can hold onto me much tighter than this… you’re just scared to,” Sungmin murmured against his fingers. He moved his hands to Kyuhyun’s face and cupped his hands around the back of his neck, “Whether you stay scared or you overcome your fear - I’m not going to leave you.”
Kyuhyun closed his eyes, accepting Sungmin’s kiss.
Sungmin broke the kiss, straightening to his full height. He grabbed Kyuhyun’s wrist and pulled him up to his feet, “Let’s go to sleep,” Sungmin said quietly, leading him out of the bathroom, “You have an early class tomorrow.”
Kyuhyun let himself be led to their bedroom, still bemused that his lethal boyfriend’s favourite colour was pink. As he lay in bed with Sungmin, Kyuhyun found it hard to sleep, despite knowing that in a few short hours he’d have to awaken and go to class. He recalled his conversation with Shindong and felt his blood run cold in remembering the final moments he spoke with his friend.
“Min… are you awake?” Kyuhyun muttered,
“Now I am,” Sungmin murmured, turning so his back was to Kyuhyun, “I have an anatomy class in the morning. I need sleep so I’m fully attentive and you have-” Sungmin stopped immediately when he felt Kyuhyun’s arms slip around him tightly and felt Kyuhyun bury his face into his back, “Kyu… Did something happen today at the restaurant?”
“No… I just remembered…” Kyuhyun swallowed hard, “That night…”
Sungmin turned in his arms and held Kyuhyun’s head against his heart, “Why didn’t you say so sooner? What caused it?”
“A friend asked about my injury,” Kyuhyun said quietly, clenching his eyes shut;
Sungmin only embraced him more securely, more protectively, “Try to go to sleep… I’ll wake you up for school.”
“But you need to sleep to,” Kyuhyun began to protest,
“It’s okay,” Sungmin insisted, pressing his lips to the top of Kyuhyun’s head; “You’re more important.”
That evening, on his way home from a night class, Sungmin stopped by the Suju restaurant. Clad in jeans and a pink golf-shirt, Sungmin stepped in, adjusting the strap of his mail bag that draped across his shoulder.
Sungmin approached the host’s podium, “Ah, Sungmin-sshi!” The young man standing there greeted, “You know Kyuhyun doesn’t work.”
“I do, Ryeowook,” Sungmin agreed, “Actually, there was someone I wanted to talk to, can you get him for me?”
Ryeowook, who was a waiter at the restaurant but filling in for Kyuhyun temporarily, nodded, “Who do you want to talk to?”
“Shindong-sshi,” Sungmin replied. He stood there quietly as Ryeowook immediately left. A few moments passed and Ryeowook returned with the requested waiter,
“You… wanted to talk to me?” Shindong asked hesitantly,
Sungmin nodded, “Do you have a few moments?”
Shindong glanced over towards the restaurant, “Yeah, we’re slow tonight.” He untied his apron and handed it over to Ryeowook, “We can go sit by the bar, all the customers are in the lounge tonight.”
Sungmin merely nodded and followed Shindong over towards the bar.
“Anything to drink, Sungmin-sshi?” The bartender asked,
“Just some water, Eeteuk-sshi,” Sungmin replied.
After Eeteuk gave him his drink, he moved away, sensing the two wanted to talk privately.
“It seems everyone here knows you pretty well,” Shindong noted casually,
“I’ve been with Kyuhyun since before he started work here… after work parties and such, I’ve gotten to know some of the staff here,” Sungmin explained easily before pausing and taking a slow sip of his ice water,
“So… why did you want to talk to me?” Shindong asked tentatively,
“You were the one to ask Kyuhyun about his injury… weren’t you?” Sungmin questioned, startled at the bite in his own voice,
“I… I hadn’t planned to, but it slipped out the other night,” Shindong admitted, “How’d… how’d you know?”
“Because ever since Kyuhyun’s worked here, no one has ever asked him how he got the injuries to his hands,” Sungmin replied, “And I made sure it remained that way.” He took a drink of his water; “People wonder when they see his hands, no doubt, but they’re always too scared to ask him about it. So at work get-togethers and parties, they’d ask. I would tell them it’s not my place to tell, but to not ask Kyuhyun about it also. Even the staff here who Kyuhyun and I have come to consider as friends, such as Eeteuk and Heechul do not know how he got those injuries.”
“And you haven’t gotten around to telling me not to mention it to Kyuhyun?” Shindong assumed,
Sungmin nodded, “Something like that. I have a feeling even after I’ve said this, at some point, you’ll ask him again.”
“I would never-”
“No matter… you had the gall to ask him and whether it was by accident or not, it may happen again,” Sungmin paused to drink more water, swishing the cold liquid in his mouth before swallowing;
Shindong had the urge to hit this other man for assuming that of him, but contained all those urges when Sungmin continued,
“I’ll tell you how Kyuhyun got those injuries.” Sungmin did not face Shindong, but merely concentrated his fox-like eyes on the half-empty glass of water in his hands. Slowly, with his right thumb, he began to rotate the glass in his hands; “Early in Kyuhyun’s life, his parents realized that he had a natural talent for the piano. Not only did he have natural talent, but he had good ears as well. When they placed him in formal lessons, his teacher only confirmed their beliefs. By the time I met Kyuhyun, he was ten years old and already mastered grade 10 in piano. They said he was well on his way to becoming a world-renowned pianist. When it was time for him to enter high school, Kyuhyun was offered a full scholarship from SM Academy for Arts.”
“Isn’t that a university though?” Shindong questioned,
“Predominantly that’s what it’s known for, but they do have high school and even elementary classes,” Sungmin explained, “However, those are very exclusive and usually the kids in those classes belong to families that own several properties and perhaps an island or two. That’s why it’s known more for a university since by then, most people can apply for university grants and such.
Kyuhyun, however, was offered a scholarship when he turned 14, something that hadn’t been done in years. I believe he’s still the last one to receive one even though six years have past,” Sungmin stated; “The cases in the past with scholarship students is that they’re either at the same level as those in their year or below. With Kyuhyun, he still dominated his class, despite not having the intense training given to those other students since -most likely- they were in golden diapers.”
“He was top of his music classes?” Shindong inquired, awed at this piece of information,
“He was top of the school when it came to piano,” Sungmin corrected, pausing to drink more water; “He was very reserved about his talent, never playing unless asked to and never boasting about his skill. The only time the other students found out about his skill was at an annual competition held at the school. A doting professor entered Kyuhyun into it and in the end, Kyuhyun won, beating out even senior university students.”
“You mentioned he was a famous prodigy… but his skills… hearing this still startles me,” Shindong said quietly, “This was all six years ago… and he stopped playing five. What happened in his first year of school?”
“After that competition, he gained a lot of rivals - some more… explicit than others,” Sungmin replied, suddenly gripping the glass in his hands, “At the end of the year, there’s a school showcase where people can perform to receive offers - sort of like… a live demonstration of their resumes for jobs or even other music schools around the world. Kyuhyun would never go for one of those unless he was a senior for high school or university… someone - be they a fan or a rival - signed him up for the end-of-year showcase.”
Sungmin downed the rest of his water in one gulp then held the glass in his hands once more, “When one attends SM Academy, they can choose to live at home or on campus. When Kyuhyun joined the Academy, his parents moved to Jeju island to start a business there, a dream of theirs. The night before the showcase, Kyuhyun was waiting outside his dorm for me to pick him up… he was jumped by about five people.”
“Right in front of his dorm? Was no one around? What about security?” Shindong demanded,
“With money, a person can accomplish anything in those situations,” Sungmin answered darkly, his hands tightening around his empty glass; “We found out later that an email had been sent out, threatening students to go near that area around that time. All the students at the academy had been sent that email - all except Kyuhyun. The security guard who was to be patrolling that area was also bribed.”
“What… what happened?” Shindong asked hesitantly, his voice suddenly quiet,
“He was beat up horribly… and each of his fingers were individually broken… in several places,” Sungmin swallowed hard, trying to steady himself as he noticed his own hands were slowly shaking; “I got there and got all of them, knocking them all out… but by then, the damage was done. The doctors said it would take months for his fingers to heal and even more time for them to regain their strength… and even longer for them to reach a ‘normal’ skill level.”
“When… when his hands healed, what did Kyuhyun do?” Shindong inquired,
“He dropped out of SM Academy and joined a normal high school, here in Seoul. By then I was moving out on my own for university, so he came and moved in with me,” Sungmin answered, “He’s never played so much as a note since that night.”
“What happened to those bastards?” Shindong said in a low growl, a fiery urge suddenly lighting within him,
“Because I was able to knock them all out before they could run away - the five that jumped him - the police were able to uncover all of those involved in the scheme, including the security guard. It seems several upperclassmen were worried that their chances during the showcase were in danger because of Kyuhyun, so they hired some teenage thugs. In all, eight people were charged; the five thugs, the security guard and two upperclassmen - Kyuhyun sent all the money to his parents,” Sungmin explained, “But there were three other students that weren’t charged.”
“They grew up with a golden spoon in their mouths. The situation never touched them,” Sungmin stated, his words laced with dark bitterness, “Well… except for when I caught them on campus a few days after the trial.”
Shindong blinked, “What did…” He trailed off, remembering Kyuhyun mention once that his boyfriend was skilled in martial arts.
“Let’s just say the money mommy and daddy didn’t have to pay for charges, probably went to plastic surgery,” Sungmin sighed heavily, “when Kyuhyun was attacked… it was over six years ago when he was fifteen. Even though he’s twenty-one now… well… getting jumped by five people and… and having your dreams ripped from you like he did… he won’t soon forget that night.”
Sungmin released his grip on his empty glass, sighing irritably at the cracked glass that had been hidden by his hands, “Sorry Eeteuk,” he muttered when the bartender came over. He stood from his stool and turned to leave, then stopped, “Now that you know what happened… I hope you won’t mention it to Kyuhyun ever again.”
“I… I won’t,” Shindong replied, “but Sungmin-sshi… knowing all of this, why do you insist he return to SM Academy?”
“It’s been six years, but they still want him. It may have been six years since he last played, but I know that deep inside, he’s still as gifted as he once was,” Sungmin said, adjusting the strap of his mail bag,
“But to make him go back-”
“He wants to go back,” Sungmin interjected, turning his head to look at Shindong, “He’s just scared-”
“I would be too if I were ambushed when I was fifteen,” Shindong defended angrily,
“He’s not scared of getting attacked again. Yes, that memory still shakes him, but his fear of returning to SM Academy lies in playing. He was once considered the best and he’s scared that if he returns to the music world, that he’ll disappoint,” Sungmin stated fiercely,
“He doesn’t have to impress anyone,” Shindong retorted,
“He’s never cared about everyone’s opinion,” Sungmin argued, “He doesn’t want to disappoint his own expectations of himself. He’s scared that once he’s before that piano again, that he can’t live up to what he once was. He’s scared of all the pressure.”
“Can you blame him? He was injured - thoroughly, from how you say it,” Shindong stood from his own stool, now glaring at the other man,
“He can’t hide behind his injury forever if he ever wants to go back to playing,” Sungmin said in a low growl, “He’s got the skill, he’s got the talent, all he needs is the motivation to play again. I’m merely giving him the push that he’s too afraid to give himself!”
“Maybe you should back off and let him go at his own pace!” Shindong defended, “Who are you to do this to him!?”
“I’m his boyfriend! I love him! I want what’s best for him!” Sungmin exclaimed, “Who are you to say all of this? You’ve known him what - a few months? You don’t know what he’s been through to get to this point! What, you think just because you have a crush on him, your opinion suddenly matters?”
“What are you…”
“I’ve seen it how you look at him and when spoke just now,” Sungmin stated, his eyes narrowed, “You know nothing of Kyuhyun. You have no right to say anything. All these years it’s been me that’s been by his side, so don’t you dare presume that you know more or better than I do.”
Sungmin looked over his shoulder to the bartender,
“Are you crazy? Have you forgotten this is a restaurant?” Eeteuk hissed.
Sungmin looked around the restaurant, realizing that the patrons present had begun to turn their attention to the heated conversation between him and Shindong that had turned into a full-blown yelling match.
Sungmin was startled when he saw Kyuhyun walking towards him from the kitchens, pulling down the mask he wore away from his nose and mouth; “You don’t work tonight,” Sungmin muttered,
“No, but I was picking up my schedule for next week. I was talking to Kibum in the kitchen when we heard yelling,” Kyuhyun searched his face then looked past him to Shindong who was avoiding his eyes, “What happened?”
“I’ll see you at home,” Sungmin murmured, “I’ll leave through the back entrance. Sorry to cause trouble Eeteuk-sshi.” Sungmin gave a slight bow to the bartender before brushing past Kyuhyun and stalking off towards the back of the restaurant.
As everything settled around them, Kyuhyun made to leave when Shindong reached out and grabbed his arm. Kyuhyun looked over his shoulder at him,
“What, Shindong-sshi?” Kyuhyun questioned as he pulled his mask up again, in time for a cough,
“Can… can we talk?” Shindong asked,
Kyuhyun gave him a confused look, “Can it wait? I have to go talk to Sungmin.”
“You’ll see him at home-”
Kyuhyun shook off Shindong’s hold on his arm; “Look, Sungmin is a person who never expresses his anger. Only in the extreme cases does he ever yell. For some reason he felt the need to yell tonight and I need to go find out why.”
“You can just ask me,” Shindong stated exasperatedly, “I-”
“No,” Kyuhyun said sternly and immediately bolted the same way Sungmin had left.
Shindong sighed heavily as he sat back down at the bar;
“What was that about?” Another waiter came by the bar, glancing back and forth between Eeteuk and Shindong;
“Well, Yesung, it seems Kyuhyun’s made a choice he didn’t realize was there,” Eeteuk said easily as he picked up the glass Sungmin had broken. His eyes moved from the cracked glass to the seated waiter, “Hmm Shindong-sshi?”
“What are you still doing here?” Yesung questioned,
“Eh?” Shindong looked up at him, “Should I… go after him?”
Yesung blinked, confused, “What? I meant your break is done. I covered your tables, now go back to work so I can break.”
“Ah…” Shindong nodded absentmindedly as he slowly stood up from the stool. He glanced a moment at the bartender’s knowing glance before turning and continuing about his business.
Kyuhyun reached their apartment before he saw Sungmin again. When he entered, Sungmin was sitting in the living room, staring at a blank television screen. On the couch, arms crossed, Sungmin exuded a dark aura. Kyuhyun unwrapped his scarf and took off his gloves, glancing towards the other man as he took off his coat.
“You’re sick and you still went out,” Sungmin said in a scolding tone, not even looking over at him,
“It’s May and I wrapped myself like it was still winter,” Kyuhyun defended as he pulled off the face mask, dropping it on the dining table with his other stuff, “Min… at the restaurant-”
“Take your medicine and go to bed,” Sungmin instructed curtly; “You won’t be able to concentrate on your paper if you’re sick.”
Kyuhyun glowered at him even if he didn’t see, “Actually, I wanted to take a shower - if that’s okay with you,” Kyuhyun replied mockingly.
Sungmin said nothing, so Kyuhyun stormed off to the bathroom, the door slamming behind him.
Kyuhyun stood beneath the stream of water, eyes closed as he rinsed the last bit of soap from his body. He heard the door open but thought nothing of it, he and Sungmin used the bathroom with one another for years without caring what the other was doing. However, he was startled when the door to the shower opened behind him.
“Sungmin, what are you doing?” Kyuhyun asked when he turned around to face him.
“Forgive me,” Sungmin murmured as he closed the glass door behind him despite still being clothed in jeans and his pink golf-shirt, reaching out and cradling Kyuhyun’s face in his hands,
“Why? You didn’t yell at me,” Kyuhyun stated simply before accepting Sungmin’s kiss. He broke the kiss, “Min, you’re still dressed! And I’m still sick!”
“I don’t care,” Sungmin replied as he pressed Kyuhyun against the tiles of the shower, his lips capturing Kyuhyun’s immediately,
“Min,” Kyuhyun pulled his lips away from Sungmin’s insistent ones; “Min… Min!” He pushed Sungmin away, “The tiles are cold on my skin!”
“Then you come to me,” Sungmin offered huskily, holding out his hand to Kyuhyun. Kyuhyun took it and immediately Sungmin pulled him against him. “Are you done your shower?” Sungmin questioned, his lips on Kyuhyun’s hot forehead as he nodded, “Then let’s go to the bedroom,” Sungmin suggested as he pulled away from Kyuhyun and stepped out of the shower.
Kyuhyun turned off the water and stood in the doorway of the shower, “I have to dry off, Min, or I’m going to get even more sick,” Kyuhyun protested as he reached for his towel.
However, Sungmin intercepted his hand and grabbed the towel before he could. He opened it up for him, welcomingly. Kyuhyun stepped out of the shower as Sungmin draped the towel over his head and shoulders, rubbing his hair vigorously. He wiped Kyuhyun dry quickly - too quickly for Kyuhyun’s liking - then secured the towel around his hips before turning to leave.
“Min, your clothes are soaked,” Kyuhyun reminded warningly as he followed Sungmin to the bedroom, “You’re probably drenched to the bone.”
Sungmin stopped by the laundry basket in their room and smirked at him as he peeled off his golf-shirt from his torso, “You’ll want me wet for what I’m going to do to you tonight.”
Kyuhyun swallowed hard as Sungmin began to undo his soaked jeans; “But… I… I have a fever.”
Sungmin chuckled softly, his fox-like eyes holding a peculiar light, “That’s never stopped us before.”
Kyuhyun was in high spirits when he returned to work a week later, his paper done and handed in and his health at its peak. It was a Monday and not many people visited the night restaurant on that day of the week. The front of the restaurant was pretty much scarce when Shindong left the change room to go home. He had left his apron on one of the tables after putting up the chairs, so he went to the lounge to retrieve it. Upon entering, he was startled to find Kyuhyun sitting at the piano, his bandaged hands in his lap.
The place lit by only moonlight, Shindong tentatively walked over to him. They didn’t speak often that evening, but when they did, there didn’t seem to be any hostility in it.
“I do miss it…” Kyuhyun muttered as he withdrew his hands from his lap and gently laid them on white keys, “For all my denials and refusals from offers… I miss playing.”
“Have you said this to Sungmin?” Shindong asked quietly,
Kyuhyun shook his head, “No… I don’t have to.”
I’ve understood your heart too… Shindong slowly came and stood beside the piano, “Was the last time you played, truly before your injury?”
Kyuhyun shook his head again, “About… about a year after the injury… actually, during my interview. Shiwon-sshi noted on my resume that I had attended a music academy and asked I play for him. At the time I didn’t wear bandages yet to support my fingers for strength, so he had no reason to worry… When I began playing, my fingers hurt so much… and were so stiff. I could barely play five bars before I stopped.” Kyuhyun smiled softly to himself, “That’s when he agreed that I was right, I was good for the job as host… The next day I started wearing the bandages and he never asked me to play again.”
“Kyuhyun… is Sungmin asking you to go to SM Academy still?” Shindong inquired hesitantly, not wanting to estrange them further than how he already felt;
“Everything Sungmin has ever done was always for my sake,” Kyuhyun stated quietly, escaping the question for the time being; “He’s persistent and irritating and fiercely dedicated to his beliefs-”
“Can’t that be a bad thing?” Shindong questioned casually,
“I suppose… but fortunately, the same can be said about his love… and what he loves… who he loves,” Kyuhyun stated, “Shindong… if you can bear with me, I’d like for you to hear me play.”
“But… but why?” Shindong gaped, “After all this time…?”
“Because I hope that this will help you understand Sungmin better,” Kyuhyun said simply, his eyes glancing at him briefly before returning to the black and white keys before him; “I love Sungmin with all my heart… and you’ve come to be a good friend of mine, Shindong-sshi… so next time if - by chance - you argue with Sungmin again, I want you to understand where he’s coming from.”
“Kyuhyun, I’m sorry-”
“I don’t need an apology,” Kyuhyun insisted immediately, “And I appreciate your argument with Sungmin because it means you care about me. I’m fortunate to have a friend like you, Shindong-sshi.”
Such a word as friend had never pierced Shindong’s heart so much in the past until that moment. He swallowed his words and the tears he felt, allowing them to suffocate along with his heart. He said nothing, could say nothing. Instead, he stood there and watched as Kyuhyun began to play.
Kyuhyun took a deep, steadying breath before his fingers pressed the piano keys down. Slowly, his fingers began to dance along the keys, switching between black and white, extracting a melody from the piano that could only be described as bittersweet. At that moment, it felt as if all his emotions that had been churning within him were suddenly turned into music. Everything he had felt since he first laid eyes on Kyuhyun was suddenly swirling about him and engulfing his senses.
So this is what Sungmin was talking about…
Shindong noted that at times the younger man’s fingers fumbled, or the tune began disjointed because of Kyuhyun’s awkward movements, and yet, the song that was being played out swept over him and conquered his very soul.
He heard movements by the bar and glanced over, but no one was there. He heard more noise and glanced over towards the front door; standing close to the host’s podium was Sungmin. He stared at Sungmin, but Sungmin only had eyes for the pianist. Slowly, ever so slowly, Sungmin made his way towards them. As he drew closer, Shindong realized that Sungmin had tears in his eyes. By the time Sungmin reached them, his tears were already following a course down his face.
Sungmin laid his hands on Kyuhyun’s shoulders and pressed his lips to the top of his head; “Stop… that’s enough.”
Kyuhyun stilled his hands, “But… Min?”
“No playing until you’re done with rehabilitation,” Sungmin said quietly, sternly as he straightened, “The school’s paying for everything, so… don’t push yourself.”
“School?” Shindong questioned, glancing back and forth between the two,
Kyuhyun nodded, smiling up at him, “I’ve decided to accept the offer from SM Academy of Fine Arts… they’ve chased after me for five years… I thought maybe it’s time I’d let them cool their heels.”
“But.. You’re in school,” Shindong stammered,
“I’m finishing off the semester in my current university, then I’ll start again in the fall semester,” Kyuhyun explained, “All the while, I’ll be going to rehab to regain the strength and ability in my fingers again.”
“Ah… so does Shiwon-sshi know?” Shindong asked, self-consciously taking a step away from the piano,
Kyuhyun shook his head, “I’m not leaving. I’ll stay on but I’ll probably step back to part-time especially if I’m going to be in rehab, so he’ll have to find another person since I work full-time right now.”
Shindong nodded his understanding as his eyes wandered. They travelled from Kyuhyun’s face, to the hands on his shoulders and finally to the owner of these hands. As he locked eyes with Sungmin, he noticed the knowing light in those fox-like eyes. Sungmin didn’t move an inch, didn’t even change his expression and yet, Shindong felt that somehow Sungmin’s stance had grown more possessive of Kyuhyun.
“Well that’s great, Kyuhyun,” Shindong said after a brief moment of silence. He smiled as best he could, “It seems Shiwon-sshi will have to look for two replacements now.”
“Two?” Kyuhyun stared at him, confused, “What do you mean?”
“Well, I graduated last month from university,” Shindong explained with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes; “And with my marks, I was accepted to my first choice university in America.”
“America!?” Kyuhyun gaped at him, “What are you going to do there?”
“Business management,” Shindong replied, “The reason I applied here at Suju was because I heard rumours about Shiwon-sshi. I heard that this restaurant actually started out as a project at school and suddenly it turned into a business and became a success. All his hard work into making his school project into a reality… well, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Shindong looked around the dark, empty restaurant front, “I’ve always wanted to own my own business, run my own restaurant,” he laughed softly, “Even if it was just a noodle cart… Anything that would give me a feel of independence… something that would make me feel like I created something spectacular.”
He took a steadying breath before looking back at the couple, “I’ve been in school for business for four years now, but as I feel that our corner of the world is slowly being westernized, I thought it best to attend school in America - New York - and broaden my experiences. I’ll come back one day and hopefully be able to open up my own restaurant as Shiwon-sshi has. When an opening came up a few months ago for a new waiter, I jumped at the chance, especially since Shiwon has hired only once since the restaurant first opened and that was after the head chef left a year and half ago.”
Shindong smiled to himself before turning to leave, “Have a good night, you two.”
When Shindong was gone, Kyuhyun glanced up at Sungmin, “Min…”
Sungmin removed his hands from his shoulders and crossed his arms loosely about his torso, “It’s fine,” Sungmin insisted with a small smile, “I don’t mind. Shindong has been a good friend to you these past few months, I’d even be mad if you didn’t go after him.”
Kyuhyun smiled as he stood from the piano bench, “Call a taxi and I’ll meet you out front,”
“We’re not walking home this early morning?” Sungmin asked as he took out his phone, raising it to his ear,
Kyuhyun shook his head before briefly brushing his lips over Sungmin’s; “It’s been a long night at work. All I want to do is go home and sleep,”
Sungmin nodded his understanding, waving his hand to shoo Kyuhyun away.
Shindong had opened his car door in the employee parking lot behind the restaurant building when he heard his name. He turned around just in time to see Kyuhyun running down the stairs of the employee’s entrance. When Kyuhyun reached him, the younger man was red in the face from his sudden exertion,
“Kyuhyun, what are you doing?” Shindong asked, amusement lighting his eyes,
“You… leaving… is it… really … just for school?” Kyuhyun inquired as he began to regain his breath,
“W-w-what?” Shindong stammered, gripping the top edge of his car door tightly,
“Are you leaving for school? Or is there another reason?” Kyuhyun prompted, “Is it because of me?”
Shindong gaped at him, startled suddenly, “Did… Sungmin?”
Kyuhyun shook his head, “No… No, I’ve… I’ve always known.”
“But… why didn’t you ever say anything?” Shindong questioned, “If you’ve always known how I felt, why didn’t you ever mention it?”
“Because you didn’t,” Kyuhyun countered, “And I was scared that if I brought it up, it would make things awkward between us. Shindong, you’ve come to be one of my really good friends these past six months; the last thing I wanted was for there to be distance between us.”
Shindong searched the other man’s face a moment before nodding slowly, glancing past Kyuhyun instead of at him; “Yes… you’re part of the reason for me leaving.” Shindong took a steadying breath, “I cherish your friendship deeply, Kyuhyun… but I find I’m not strong enough to be around and have these feelings…”
“But you shouldn’t leave because of that,” Kyuhyun insisted,
Shindong finally locked eyes with Kyuhyun, his eyes brimming with hot tears. He smiled sadly, “It hurts too much to stay here.” Shindong laughed in spite of himself, swiping away his treacherous tears, “Look at how weak I am, crying like some love-sick puppy.” He looked at Kyuhyun again, forcing the last bit of his strength into a genuine smile, “I’ll be okay, Kyuhyun-sshi.”
Kyuhyun immediately pulled Shindong into an embrace, “You’ll keep in touch right? Won’t forget about us when you’re all the way in New York?”
Hesitantly, Shindong returned the hug, “Yeah… I’ll keep in touch.” As they slowly stepped away from one another, Shindong tilted his head and regarded Kyuhyun a moment, “Sungmin… he’s a good guy.”
Kyuhyun offered him a small smile, “Yeah, he is.”
Shindong turned back towards his car, his hand gripping the top edge of his door tightly, “Then… then I won’t regret leaving.”
“You don’t have to leave,” Kyuhyun said again, “We were friends before any of… this complicated stuff happened.”
“No we weren’t,” Shindong swallowed hard, forcing himself not to turn around to face him again, “I… I fell in love with you on first sight.”
“Don’t say it,” Shindong interjected, his voice suddenly quiet, “Because… because you’re not… because you have no reason to be.”
Kyuhyun reached out to him, but before he could, Kyuhyun slowly retracted his hand, pocketing it instead. He stared hard at his friend’s back, “I’m still-”
“Please,” Shindong pleaded softly, his voice breaking, “Please don’t…” Shindong bit hard on his bottom lip to stop the scream that wanted to escape his body. He clenched the door hard to stop his body from shaking; “If… If you don’t say it… then I can’t be rejected.”
Kyuhyun was startled at his words and suddenly felt a deep sadness for his friend. He took a deep, steadying breath to keep himself from crying also, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kyuhyun replied as casually and as calmly as he could, “I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Shindong shut his eyes tightly to stop the tears from falling. Somehow, hearing Kyuhyun’s kind words made it even harder to not cry than if Kyuhyun had apologized; made it even harder to leave than if Kyuhyun had confessed a love for him.
“Good…bye,” Shindong said, forcing a strength into his voice, “Jo Kyuhyun.” He slipped into his car and closed the door firmly after him.
Kyuhyun watched silently as Shindong started the engine then drove off without so much as a backward glance or a slight wave of his hand. He just left.
Kyuhyun waited until Shindong’s car had left his sight before he turned and left. He walked around the Suju building to the front where Sungmin was waiting with a taxi,
“Did you get to say goodbye?” Sungmin asked as he held the door open for him,
“No,” Kyuhyun said simply.
He slipped into the back of the taxi, Sungmin coming in after him. As the taxi drove off, Kyuhyun caught sight of a car parked around a corner they passed. The driver’s head was bowed against the steering wheel and Kyuhyun felt it looked familiar. He looked out the back window until the car was no longer visible;
“But he said goodbye to me.”