「 beginning。 」
Under the table, a hand brushes against his - and he smiles.
The gesture alone comforts him, simple as it was. They should have been paying attention to the choreography breakdown or at least glance at the stage layout blueprints scattered between lyric sheets. But the rhythm of two pulses falling into tandem - accelerando, staccato, tremolo, finale - makes him hesitate, turns his gaze to the soft grin on the older boy’s lips (hidden by a free hand hovering over a sight that put the beauty of famous paintings and the grandest of symphonies to shame), and transforms the quiet moment into the perfect interlude.
Soulmates, he used to believe, didn’t exist in reality.
But someone like Kim Jaejoong should be forbidden to exist as well, he thinks. Jaejoong remains as much an enigma as any ethereal being, transcends the borderlines of delicate and resilient because of who he is, who he slowly but surely grows into his role and simply is. Jaejoong laughs when others laugh, sheds tears almost never yet empathizes with strangers over stories happy and sad. Jaejoong accepts others without question but struggles to see the good in himself, holds humility above all his other vices.
He is far from perfect, far from angelic - they both know all too well - but to Yoochun, the purest and truest side of Jaejoong emerges when they are alone at times like these.
At times like these, when the low vibrato in their exchanged whispers of assurance (if you’re tired, Yoochunah, nap on my shoulder— but— don’t worry, everyone’s busy worrying about what manager-hyung has to say…no one will notice) reverberates in a corner of his heart and rings true to his quiet wishes for companionship.
At times like these, when the cleft of Jaejoong’s shoulder becomes a perch for tired souls to rest their weary wings (perhaps they’re a bit like birds, Yoochun thinks, traveling here to there and wherever else obligation bids them venture) and for selfish dreamers like him who craves acknowledgement above all else.
At times like these, with their hands entwined and pulses nearly synchronized (legato, harmony to melody, a subtle prelude leading to a quiet refrain), Yoochun thinks there’s nothing quite like the beginning of a friendship building slowly into love - as the beginning, like Jaejoong, is always beautiful.
「 of borrowed clothes and finding warmth in the cold。 」
It was cold and Yunho was wearing not one, but two scarves out.
Changmin thought it was ridiculous. No, Changmin knew it was ridiculous – and, for the record, it made the taller man look ridiculous, too.
But as the group’s resident maknae he didn’t have the heart to say so to Yunho’s face, trailing behind the older one as they walked outside to the van that would drive them to the airport.
(Besides, it was so much more amusing to let him go and see the comments on the fan sites later about his choice of clothing.)
“Changmin-ah.” Yunho suddenly stopped, pulling him aside with a worried expression before they stepped past the curbside. “Are you sure you won’t be cold dressed like that?”
To this, Changmin gave a cursory glance to his own clothes: a turtleneck sweater stretched over a white dress shirt, slightly obscured by a tan trench coat, and dark slacks tucked into high-top black boots.
“I’m fine. Not cold at all.” Turning to the vehicle still waiting for them further up the street. “And you sound like Jaejoong-hyung when you talk like tha—”
But Yunho tugged on his sleeve, gentle but ever-firm, bringing youngest back to his side with an exasperated sigh and a click of the tongue.
“Changmin-ah,” Yunho said in his best Leader voice, “which scarf do you like better out of the ones I’m wearing? The blue or the brown one?”
For a moment, Changmin wanted to roll his eyes. But he knew better than that after six years of living with Yunho. Next to the group umma, Yunho was fanatical when it came to keeping the other members healthy. Even at the expense of his own health, he would put the rest of them first.
It reminded Changmin – who let his eyes slowly flutter shut, cold air swirling around his face, wondering what the other three members in Japan were doing right now – of why they were here in the first place.
“…I’ll take the brown one,” Changmin decided at length. “The blue one looks better on you, anyway.”
Yunho smiled, unraveling the brown scarf from around his neck only to move closer to Changmin to wrap it, still warm, around his.
“That’s okay,” Yunho chuckled, staving off Changmin’s protesting hands and complaints that he wasn’t a baby and he could handle putting on a scarf himself, “this one looks better on you, besides.”
Changmin knew it was okay to roll his eyes now. “Hyung, can we go now? Driver’s been waiting for us longer than he’s probably getting paid for.”
“Yes,” Yunho answered with a slight grin, squeezing Changmin’s gloved hand briefly before walking on ahead, “we can go now, Changmin-ah.”
(Once they started down the street toward Gimpo Airport, Changmin decided that maybe Yunho’s fashion sense wasn’t so bad after all.)
「red, white, and you。 」
White was a color Jaejoong could never get used to.
Even after weeks & weeks at an internship at a local hospital along with months and months of formal & informal training, he still wasn’t. Even after years now in his position – a senior practitioner at a renowned clinic – the stark color haunted him.
He couldn’t put his finger on why exactly, but it was the biggest reason why overall color scheme in his office was a dark royal red.
Red was a color he always loved. From the time he was a child to the time he graduated medical school, he always called it his favorite.
Red was a versatile color in both meaning and everyday use; to Jaejoong, though, it was the color of life, passion, and love. It was a color that could be – and felt, to him at least – both feminine and masculine; it had no limits, like blood’s flow through veins and arteries.
Like he longed to be. Free-flowing. Free-moving. To feel alive and beautiful and loved, like the red he adored so much.
But one day, while he was out on his lunch break, Jaejoong came across a man wearing a red scarf who quite literally took his breath away.
It wasn’t that the doctor only stopped short that December day because the other man was handsome. That wasn’t what drew him closer, made him stride right over to the man who was feeding the ducks some of his sandwich crumbs and laughing to their eager quacks, drew him closer and closer to this man like a moth to the flame. Or maybe, just maybe, that was the deeper reason for it.
This man – a head taller than him, with his red scarf and a gentle smile and a booming laugh – reminded him of a dream he once had.
It was a recurring dream he had when he was a young boy back when he lived in Chungnam.
He dreamed of an ocean that slowly turned white, seafoam slowly swallowing the rich hue of the waves. And it frightened him for some reason, the very sight of it making him shudder & quake.
But then – just as he was becoming cognizant that this was a nightmare & he struggled to awaken – a pair of warm hands covered his eyes, and a strange sort of rush passed through his ears, like the wind’s gentle caress meeting the shoreline’s crest, flooding through his senses until the blackness blotted away into a fluttering and bright-burning red.
Jaejoong wanted to sit next to this man on the park bench where he was perched, whose very presence reminded him of the person in his dream, the one who hid the disappearing water away from view and turned his world into red.
Foolishly, he wondered if the man would turn him away, thinking that somehow, this man would be able to sense his thoughts and would leave before they even had a chance to talk. Instead, the man with the red scarf – who looked him in the eye without hesitation and flashed him a genuine smile at the question – did the exact opposite of what Jaejoong feared he would do: he shifted slightly left and patted the space to welcome Jaejoong.
“Have a seat,” said the grinning man, with his neatly styled hair and a throaty chuckle, “Doctor.”
It was only after Jaejoong settled down beside him that he noticed the name tag (albeit covered by the red scarf) that read ‘Doctor,’ too.
At an off-time like this, the park was filled with all kinds of people. But Jaejoong couldn’t focus on anything else but the man before him.
“You’re Doctor Kim, right?” The practitioner in question turned slightly to his right, surprised by the taller one’s casual speech. “Everyone talks about you at our branch…’The Man With The Softest Touch,’ according to all the interns.” A hand, outstretched.
“The name’s Jung Yunho. I just transferred to Seong-il Hospital two months ago from Gwangju.” Jaejoong shook his hand, surprised when Yunho seemed rather surprised by the action. “Wowwww, they weren’t kidding…”
Jaejoong peered at him, lips pressed into a tight line. Forgetting formalities, he snapped, “Who wasn’t kidding about what?”
A slight twitch of Yunho’s lips later, he pressed his nose into the fabric of that red scarf, still not letting go of Jaejoong’s hand.
“You’ve got a strong grip,” murmured Yunho, fingertips grazing the inside of the other doctor’s open palm, “but your hands are so soft.”
The remark was bewildering enough, but the genuine awe in Yunho’s voice made a sudden warmth fill Jaejoong’s cold cheeks.
“Is that…supposed to be a compliment?” The other doctor chuckled, letting go of Jaejoong’s hand and getting up slowly from the bench.
“You’ve done so much work in your life…your reputation for always being able to diagnose patients, no matter what, precedes you. And yet…your hands are warm and soft. Like they’ve never been affected by anything before, let alone by your patients.”
For a brief moment, a very brief moment, Jaejoong remembered why he had walked up to Yunho in the first place. Because of his premonition, because of his dream, because this man – with his red scarf and his gentle aura and, apparently, a philosopher’s soul, drew him in.
But…it was almost ironic, Jaejoong realized with an ear-splitting smile and a light titter, standing to face a sheepish Yunho head-on.
Though he had been the one curious all along, not knowing who this man with the red scarf was, it was Yunho who seemed the most intrigued.
The very thought of it – Jung Yunho, a man who was taller than him yet his junior in experience and in this city, who worked at the hospital all the nurses said was the clinic’s biggest competition, and who was handsome and confident enough to be a model – was almost laughable. Jung Yunho, a man with a predilection for feeding ducks on his lunch break and red scarves, was interested in getting to know him.
And he was just a doctor who never wanted to be one, loved the color red, and – after 25 years of living – still couldn’t figure himself out.
So he took one step closer, reaching out to straighten Yunho’s scarf (the fabric was smoother than he expected, woven material still resonating with the taller man’s body heat), wondering why it was that momentary encounters like this meant the most.
Just like in his profession, Jaejoong found there was nothing more bittersweet than knowing a ‘hello’ would soon give way to ‘goodbye.’
“It’s flattering that you think so highly of me,” Jaejoong murmured, almost inaudible against the rush of frosty wind that blew past them, “but you should give yourself a little more credit too, Yunho-sshi.”
When his gaze lifted from his scarf to the other doctor’s eyes, Yunho looked stunned, mouth hanging half-opened as if struck by a sudden realization.
“I’ve heard you’ve made quite an impact at Pyungsil since you transferred there with your unmatchable bedside manner…” Jaejoong couldn’t help but laugh when it was Yunho’s turn to blush, though he was obviously rather pleased with himself to have warranted such praise. “So don’t compliment someone who hardly deserves it.”
“But you do deserve it,” was Yunho’s immediate reply – surprising them both, by the looks of it. It seemed Yunho wanted to take it back until a brief pause gave way to a firm nod of the head. “It’s always humility that makes people who get down on themselves the hardest, but it’s always nice to hear it from someone else, isn’t it?” Yunho gave another sage nod. “‘Have faith in yourself’…’I believe in you.’”
“But we barely know each other, Yunho-sshi.” It might have been silly to point it out, but the words were reasonable enough.
It wasn’t the resulting silence that left Jaejoong at a loss for words in the end. It was Yunho’s reaction, looking away and out into the courtyard area where a couple of ducks still lingered nearby, probably hoping their plaintive looks would garner them more food.
But Yunho wasn’t looking at the ducks. His eyes were on the sky – on the offcolor gray sky hanging overhead – and it was only then that Jaejoong took notice of the roughness of Yunho’s visage, illuminated by the pale droplets of snowflakes dropping from the canopy of trees: the sharply sloping angles of shadows between cheekbone and jawline, the faint scar visible only when one stood closely enough, the prominent mole barely disguised by what looked like makeup. It made Jaejoong wonder if he wasn’t the only one with things to hide.
It made Jaejoong wondered if there was truth to Yunho’s words – if being close to strangers this way could do something for them both.
“Well,” said Yunho at length, hands wringing themselves together (out of nervous habit, perhaps) before turning to Jaejoong again with a disarmingly bright grin, “then let’s get to know each other better from here on out, yeah? So we won’t be strangers anymore.”
One heartbeat later – like a butterfly close to falling on a flower unexpectedly coming into view; flutterskipland – Jaejoong smiled too.
“Yeah,” Jaejoong felt himself nodding in agreement as well, standing a bit straighter and teeth beginning to show past heaven-turned lips. “That sounds good…not being strangers anymore. Being friends.”
(But in his dream, Jaejoong knew, the person who reminded him of Yunho – perhaps Yunho – was much, much closer to him than a friend. Not a brother, not a lover…but something else entirely.
But what else, the older doctor’s conscience plagued him, could they have been, then?
What else could they be, Jaejoong wondered – in the dream, in a past life, in the future?)
「 (before we) walk away。 」
Sometimes, Yunho wished he could turn back time.
There were just so many things that he hadn’t done yet, so many things he had always wanted to do back when he was younger and he had no idea where life would take him. There were just so many things he wanted to do, but he pushed them to the back of his mind each and every time they arose – because he knew it was impossible to change his fate now.
Things already seemed to be at a standstill in his life now.
He wasn’t even past thirty yet, but maybe this was what people attached to the slow, painful process of growing up. Still. If this was growing up, he wondered, why did his heart ache for all those missed opportunities?
It wasn’t like he missed that much, but all the little things that piled up were starting to weigh heavy on his mind. Day in and day out, he thought about what he would wish for if he had the power to do anything he wished. Like make the world spin the other way. Or turn back time and go back to a particular date and time.
Or – if only there was a such a thing – closing his eyes and living out life through his dreams. That would be a nice life, indeed.
(If only, he thought. Wouldn’t that be nice.)
Sometimes, Changmin wished he hadn’t passed the audition.
He would have been through with high school for sure, and he probably would have been halfway done with college by now, halfway to a degree in something prestigious like law. He would have gladly gone through his education, but he hated to linger on the possibility for too long or too deeply – otherwise, he knew his mind would linger on other possibilities, too.
Things could never, ever be that simple in life.
He was a sensible person, but maybe there were some things he regretted doing in the past. Then again. What sensible person out there, he wondered, who didn’t think about what could have been?
Of course, he always could just quit and go back to school, but he would lose all the little things that he loved about his life now. Every night, he thought about what he could have done, what he could have been, as an attorney. Or a schoolteacher, like his parents. Or a wandering philosopher, wise beyond his years.
Or – if only such a profession existed – a lawyer-schoolteacher-philosopher-singer extraordinaire. That would be the best thing in the world for him.
(I’d be the best there ever was, he thought. He just knew he could.)
Sometimes, Jaejoong wished he could stop time.
There were just so many moments he would love to freeze, to capture in the palm of his hand and engrave them to last forever, like tattoo ink stained on his still-beating heart. There were just so many moments he wanted to last, but he knew it was just another impossible wish that would never be granted – just like everything else he wished for nowadays.
The realization always made him start to regret his choice to stay.
He had thought about leaving so many times, but maybe there was more than a few reasons why he hadn’t left yet too. Still. If this was giving up, he wondered, why did it feel like he was giving up a part of himself, too?
It wasn’t that he regretted becoming an idol, but all the little things that he loved about it just couldn’t outweigh what made his eyelids heavy at night. Day in and day out, he counted his blessings and tried to imagine a world without TVXQ. Or a world without song. Or a world that didn’t spin and change the seasons.
Or – as foolish as it was – a world where the five of them were the only ones left to survive on earth. It seemed like paradise, really.
(If only, he thought. Wouldn’t that be grand.)
Sometimes, Yoochun wished he could sleep forever.
He wasn’t asking for death, of course, nor was he asking for anything to send his body into a dramatic or a post-traumatic form of shock or vegetative state for good. He was just asking for a reprieve from constantly feeling tired, but he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving behind so many people he would miss if he was gone.
If he could, he would have taken them to sleep with him.
He had always been a bit of a dreamer, but lately he didn’t know where these strange dreams were coming from. But then again. dreams were an extension of one’s waking life, so what if he was dreaming about all these things because he was really missing out?
Of course, if he was really missing out on the finer things in life, then he had no idea what he could do about it. Every night before he went to sleep, he prayed, hoping it would offer him some answers to why his heart felt so empty nowadays. Either answers or guidance in the right direction. either guidance or…something to help him get through the day.
Or – if only it were possible outside of his dreams – a chance to start his life all over again. That would be all he would ever ask for.
(That would be a dream come true, indeed, he thought. He just knew it would.)
Sometimes, Junsu wished he could forget the past.
There were far too many things he wanted to erase from his mind, to let the memories go and never retrieve them again, let them set sail and float on the river of his subconscious. There were just too many things he would rather let go entirely, but he knew it would be as if the events had never even happened – and that would mean he’d have to leave the people who were involved, too.
The realization always made his thoughts stall and hesitate.
He had thought about living on his own, but maybe that wasn’t the right way to go about things. After all. Wasn’t there a deeper reason, he reasoned, why five people could have come together and become like brothers the way they had?
It wasn’t that he believed in fate, but something like that surely had to explain how he had gotten closer to these four other men than he ever had anyone in this entire life. Day in and day out, he wondered how long they could last like this. wondered how far they could go before five stars fizzled out and dissolved into the greater space of matter. Wondered if anything was meant to last forever.
Or – as childish as the thought was – if their story could be told for generations after this. It would make a great tale about what hard work and love and faith could accomplish.
(Maybe, just maybe, he thought. Maybe in another lifetime.)