Pairing: Jongin/Junmyeon (with side Xiuhan and Chanbaek)
Genre: romance, drama, smut, catboy!au, bookshop!au
Length: Chapter 4: Letting Go, ~2.6k words
Summary: Bookstore owner Junmyeon hires catboy!Jongin as a live-in shop assistant. Junmyeon's wary of intimacy but Jongin is determined to get past his defenses.
"My heart might be bruised, but it will recover and become capable of seeing the beauty of life once more. It's happened before, it will happen again, I'm sure. When someone leaves, it's because someone else is about to arrive--I'll find love again."
- Paulo Coelho, The Zahir
Gauging from the tension that gripped Junmyeon's whip thin body, and the way his fingers worried at his sideburns, Jongin knew immediately that Junmyeon and the man he was talking to used to be a unit--just as his gut told him that the tall man nearby was the wedge that had driven them apart. Carefully, he placed the two cartons of milk back in the chiller and returned to where Junmyeon was locked in some form of silent conflict with...Baekhyun. His ears had picked out the name enunciated in Junmyeon's quiet, dead voice and all his protective instincts had come rushing to the fore. He'd reached Junmyeon by the time Baekhyun introduced the gangly man Chanyeol. As Junmyeon reluctantly shook the flame-haired man's hand, Jongin slid a possessive arm around his employer's shoulders and introduced himself to the two men who had made such a wreckage of Junmyeon's equilibrium.
To Jongin's relief, Junmyeon's heartbeat began to slow down a fraction and he felt the smaller man's shoulders relax a little as he leaned gratefully into Jongin's strength. Like two mislaid puzzle pieces that had found each other and slid into place--connecting like they’d always been meant to connect, Jongin thought, as he tightened his arm in a clear and obvious stake of claim.
"Nice to meet you, Jongin. How do you and Junmyeon know each other?" Baekhyun sounded and appeared nonchalant as he questioned Jongin but his eyes revealed a deep-seated curiosity. Fishing was fishing and if it was something juicy he was looking for, Jongin had no problem giving it to him.
"We live together." Jongin's words were deliberately loaded and while his smile was civil on the surface, it had a menacing undertone which he could tell Baekhyun had picked up on. Chanyeol gave a muffled cough which reeked of embarrassment--he, at least, seemed more repentant about the role he must have played in Junmyeon's past heartbreak.
"I see. I suppose Junmyeon has told you we used to live together?" Baekhyun dropped the bombshell slyly and waited for their reactions.
"I have not." Junmyeon finally spoke up, his voice strong and clear as Jongin gave his shoulders a reassuring squeeze. "It was nothing worth mentioning."
"Nothing at all." Jongin agreed. "It was nice meeting you, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, but we have to get going now." Jongin said firmly just before he guided Junmyeon away from the Cereals aisle of the supermarket. He could feel the two men’s eyes following their progress and he was even more determined not to let Baekhyun discover just how shaken Junmyeon actually was. Still in a daze, Junmyeon's feet began moving towards the exit but then Jongin's lips were suddenly right up against his ear, almost making contact as his whiskey smooth voice said, "We can't leave yet, Junmyeon. We need to at least grab a few things now and go pay for them so your ex won't know how badly he's unsettled you."
"He hasn't ..." Junmyeon tried to deny that he'd been disturbed by the encounter but he stopped when he realized there was no point. Jongin could hear his heartbeat after all so he couldn't have hidden his stress even if he'd wanted to.
"Never mind all that. Let's just forget about him and start thinking about the milk," Jongin said gently, his mouth close, so close to Junmyeon's ear--and just like that, all thoughts of Baekhyun and Chanyeol scattered like a flock of startled birds taking flight. All he could see and register and feel now was Jongin.
"Milk?" Junmyeon couldn't comprehend what Jongin meant as he struggled not to respond to the sensations Jongin's proximity were evoking. Chuckling, Jongin whispered, "Did you want to get full cream or low fat high calcium?"
"I think I might need full cream milk after the day I've had today." Junmyeon said with a nervous laugh.
"It'll be okay. Now let's go get that milk." Jongin led him to the dairy chiller, never releasing his hold on Junmyeon's shoulders and to his relief, the older man allowed it. He'd overheard the hushed conversation between the two men they'd left abandoned in the Cereals section, but he decided that Junmyeon didn't need to hear about that. He didn't think the other man could cope with any more emotional turbulence tonight.
"Well, Baek, it looks like your ex has moved on. And his new boyfriend is really good looking, too." Chanyeol had stated with some measure of amusement.
"He's a cat. I never knew Junmyeon was into cats." Baekhyun sounded and looked a little tense as he said it. Jongin's hackles rose as he got ready for the signature heartbeat patterns for revulsion or anger which he sometimes heard from people who feared or hated cats. But what he heard instead was jealousy. And that was probably even more vexing to him because he didn't want Junmyeon's ex having any residual feelings for him. He didn't want Baekhyun coming anywhere near Junmyeon after he'd obviously messed him up so completely.
"I can't say much about whether Junmyeon is into cats, but that cat is definitely into Junmyeon. Just saying."
"Shut up, Yeol."
"Why are you so upset by this? It's been three years. You should be happy Junmyeon has moved on."
"Who says I'm not happy?" Baekhyun snapped in a blatant show of displeasure.
"Whatever you say." Chanyeol shrugged, not sounding too happy himself now. And that was all Jongin heard as they moved out of earshot. He did not like what he'd heard. He did not like it one bit. But his priority now was to look after Junmyeon - he would worry about Baekhyun later. From what he'd observed, the latter was a manipulative young man and Jongin was not going to allow him to get close enough to hurt Junmyeon again. Ever.
They ended up leaving the supermarket with milk, beef medallions, portobello mushrooms, assorted vegetables, juice and bags of fresh fruit--everything but the breakfast cereal Junmyeon had specifically gone out to buy. Junmyeon was still somewhat shell shocked and mostly reticent but for the most part, Jongin managed to distract him with stories about the time he'd worked in a manga lending library in Seattle and how he'd hated the constant, energy sapping drizzle and just life in the big city in general. The anonymity and caginess of most people he'd encountered there over a two month period had made him feel disconnected from everything. Life in the big city just wasn't for him and Seattle was the last big city Jongin had lived and worked in.
When they got home, Jongin commandeered the kitchen after ordering Junmyeon to his room to rest. And it was testament to just how upset Junmyeon was that he actually went to his room without any protest.
The achingly fresh portobello mushrooms were sautéed to juicy perfection, and the steaks pan fried till they were tender and succulent. And Jongin also prepared a small garden salad, but he had a feeling Junmyeon wouldn't have much of an appetite.
As he'd predicted, the older man ate little more than half of his share and even that small amount seemed to tax him. Junmyeon complimented Jongin on his culinary skills and that was pretty much all he said for the entire duration of the meal, but Jongin didn't press him for conversation. He knew that small talk was the furthest thing from Junmyeon's mind right now. It was the second quietest meal they'd shared in two weeks - that morning's breakfast being the quietest.
After dinner, Junmyeon insisted on washing the dishes and Jongin let him since he seemed to need the distraction. As soon as he was done though, he hastily made his excuses and disappeared into the bathroom for his shower while Jongin gave a long and worried sigh.
That night, in the privacy of his own room, silent tears of desolation forged wet silvery tracks down Junmyeon's cheeks. Knowing now what he knew about Jongin's hearing, he told himself to stop. But a needy, reckless part of him wanted Jongin to hear him, wanted Jongin to come and hold him--comfort him somehow. For the meantime, he was rolled up tight in his light blanket because he'd always done that since he was a little kid--Junmyeon had always wrapped himself up in his bedding when he was sad or upset. And this was why he was currently a human burrito in the middle of summer--never mind that he was a fully grown, 27 year old adult male.
The knock on the door, when it came, was so soft Junmyeon almost missed it.
"Junmyeon, can I come in?"
"It's not locked." His voice was a little muffled by the blanket he'd wrapped himself up in.
"Are you ...? Can I sit down?" There was no answer but Jongin seemed to take the slight movement of Junmyeon's head--barely visible above the fabric he'd cocooned himself in--as a yes. The mattress sank a little as Jongin sat carefully beside him. The other man's back was to him as he faced the open window.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Jongin's hand settled on what he hoped was Junmyeon's shoulder.
"No. Not ever." Junmyeon sounded miserable and helpless and nothing at all like the cool, collected and distant Junmyeon he'd lived and worked with for two weeks now. Jongin couldn't see his beautiful, pale, heart shaped face, but he knew Junmyeon's eyelashes probably still glistened with the moisture of recently shed tears. His primal need to protect was all-consuming, but there was something else inside Jongin that wasn't about instinct and all about emotion as he ached to see Junmyeon suffer.
"Listen, I was thinking ... why don't we carry on reading Like Water for Chocolate? I brought the book with me just in case. But we won't take turns to read tonight. I'll read and you listen--does that sound like a good idea?"
"Yes." Junmyeon said without hesitation, sighing with relief. He was glad for any kind of diversion and he closed his eyes as Jongin turned on the bedside lamp--only opening them completely when his eyes had adjusted to the light. Then the night was filled with the mellow, husky notes of Jongin's voice as he resumed the love story of Tita and Pedro--taking up where they'd left off the night before when they'd been unexpectedly overcome by lust.
Junmyeon stared out at the stars as he did almost every night, but tonight was subtly different as his consciousness soaked up the beautiful words spoken in Jongin's rich voice, and drew comfort from the soothing touch of Jongin's palm as it stroked calming circles onto his back. Part of him wished there weren't so many layers of cloth forming a barrier between his body and the warmth of Jongin's palm, but no ... his heart felt too raw and tender right now to have any kind of carnal thoughts and Jongin seemed to know this instinctively as he let Junmyeon have the breathing room he seemed to need.
He should probably have stopped Jongin from touching his back, and two days ago, he definitely would have resisted him. But everything had changed now. Junmyeon's body craved the weight of another's touch--needed to feel the pressure of another's skin sinking into his skin and pressing into his bones. His body craved Jongin's touch and refused to let him evade it. So Junmyeon had just let himself embrace the cat's gentle stroking. As Jongin's calming voice weaved itself in and out of Junmyeon's consciousness, he could feel his eyelids getting heavier. But he managed to keep himself awake long enough for Jongin to reach the end of the chapter.
"Are you still awake? It's late, we'll continue reading the story tomorrow, okay?" Jongin suggested and Junmyeon nodded his head.
"Goodnight, Junmyeon." Jongin couldn't stop himself from caressing Junmyeon's raven black hair and he tried to imbue the gesture with all the concern he felt for Junmyeon. He knew how cautious the other man usually was so he didn't try to say or ask too much. "If you need me, just call out my name and I'll come immediately. Do you understand?"
“Yes,” was all Junmyeon said. But when Jongin started to stand up and leave, he felt a hand grip his elbow lightly, "stay." Jongin could sense how weary Junmyeon was, physically and emotionally, so he sat back down without hesitating.
"Do you want to carry on being an Egyptian mummy or shall I take that blanket off you so we can cover ourselves with it?"
"I suppose we need a blanket." Junmyeon said quietly and Jongin slowly and carefully unraveled the layers of fabric that bound his limbs.
"Is there a reason why you're all wrapped up in your blanket?"
"I do that when I want to hide from the world." Junmyeon confessed and Jongin realized that that was the single most intimate detail he'd ever shared about himself.
"Well, you won't need a blanket tonight." Jongin said as he pulled away the last corner of the blanket from beneath the weight of Junmyeon's reclining body. He'd been lying on his side since Jongin entered the room and he was finally lying on his back and facing him. Gently, Jongin's fingertips feathered their way across the salty trail of dried tears on his cheeks. Concern was etched into every line of Jongin's handsome, young face and Junmyeon felt bad for worrying him so.
"I hope you'll tell me one day ... about how you got hurt. But for now, just sleep." Then he turned Junmyeon's slender body on its side again and spooned him from behind, creating a warm, living blanket around his body and his damaged soul. Junmyeon wanted to weep when Jongin's right arm fit snugly just beneath his ribs and he dropped the lightest of kisses on his shoulder. It had been so very long since he'd been held like that. And thinking back, Junmyeon was almost sure no one had ever held him with this kind of tenderness and care. As Jongin nuzzled his neck and settled his long, leanly muscled length against Junmyeon's much smaller frame, he whispered, "Just sleep." And a few more slivers of ice in Junmyeon's chest melted and evaporated and he couldn't bring himself to even care that his walls were coming down. One brick at a time.
He'd spent three years keeping people at arm's length and he was tired. He was so, so tired and all he wanted now was to sleep and to be cherished. All he wanted was Jongin so he could forget the pain of the past, and forget how Baekhyun had scarred him. He just needed the pain to stop so his brain and his heart could just rest and he could just be. And, really he just wanted Jongin.
More than anything else, he wanted Jongin.
The thought echoed in his mind as his eyelids fluttered shut and he nestled into the sanctuary of Jongin's chest and arms ... and slept.