genre: fluff, angst, romance
words: 14,985 w
summary: Jaejoong is an artist touring Japan with a broken heart; Changmin is a business manager on a holiday to get off from work. Somehow, they meet in the foreign country. And somehow, they click.
A/N: secret santa for jirurukyungmi! merry christmas and i hope you like it!
Jaejoong doesn't know what he's doing here.
He's sitting at the very last seat of the coach carrying nothing but his tiny backpack and a broken heart in hand. He glances out of the coach and sees the autumn leaves floating down in the distance, like orange, yellow and brown snowflakes falling into his hands. It reminds him a little of Seoul; Japan does, with almost the same temperature and the same type of people strolling down the streets and really, the Korean couples on the coach aren’t really helping much either in Jaejoong's attempt at forgetting everything. And Jaejoong wants to forget. He wants to forget the messy break up, the tears and everything else that wasn't perfect in his life back in Korea. So here he is, with a tour group travelling along Tokyo and experiencing the flashing lights of Shibuya and everything that shouldn't be the same as Seoul. Except for the fact that the tour he had signed up for was meant for couples. A few days ago, Jaejoong might have been counted as one, but now, as the coach begins to set off with only one empty seat (the one that is next to him), Jaejoong doesn't really know anymore.
It's obvious that Jin's never coming.
Honestly, Jaejoong feels very stupid. He's not even in Seoul anymore; he had boarded the plane with the entire group and left for Japan. They aren't even at the airport anymore, and yet he's still waiting for Jin to show up. He feels so very much like a fool, waiting for someone who’s never going to turn up. If Jin were willing to pass on a trip that he had paid a few thousand dollars for, it was clear that he doesn't want to have anything to do with silly, silly Jaejoong anymore. Jaejoong sighs. He clutches a little tighter onto his backpack, onto his heart, and tells himself to let go. He tells himself to enjoy this holiday, even though there isn't any Jin beside him, even if there isn't an intact heart left in him to race or beat faster for him to feel. He turns back to the window, and sees a lone maple leaf break from its branch and glide against the wind. It's alone, Jaejoong notices, as it makes its way to the ground. That's how Jaejoong's going to be, he decides, just like that floating maple.
It's alone, but it's perfectly content the way it is.
They arrive at their first stop a little after an hour. Jaejoong remains awake the entire journey despite the fact that the bus trip had not been a short one. He glances briefly at the stirring heads and the rubbing of eyes at the front as everyone begins to snatch their jackets and cobble down the steps. Jaejoong waits until the last person has left, before he stands up and makes his way down. The Rainbow Bridge, his tour guide proclaims enthusiastically as she brandishes an embarrassingly huge flag of her tour agency towards the bridge in front of them. Clearly, Jaejoong thinks, that this place is a sham to lure more tourists into Japan, because Jaejoong really doesn't see what's so spectacular about the 'Rainbow Bridge' in the first place. In fact, it looks like any other bridge in the entire world, with grey arcs and concrete slabs holding it down. Everything's a dull grey and white, and Jaejoong thinks that a person must be really, extremely colour blind to appreciate this bridge. He fishes out a camera from his pocket and slides it open to snap a few pictures, just for the sake of being a tourist. Jaejoong tries very hard to find the most artistic shot he can take with the bridge, constantly pacing about and crouching or tiptoeing to get the perfect angle, but in the end, it is just a very ordinary picture when he previews it after a snap. So he huffs and sticks the camera back into his pocket, before heading to the nearest slab of stone he could find. He sits down on it and crosses his legs, trying not to think of how Jin would have reacted to this bridge, and struggling, very hard, not to feel a slight tinge of envy at the loving couples scattered in front of him.
They're a little more enthusiastic than Jaejoong, making 'oohs' and 'ahhs' when called for, or when a particularly huge lorry passes the bridge. A man saunters towards Jaejoong, with his girlfriend nervously trailing behind. Jaejoong looks up and finds a camera thrust into his face by the couple. 'Could you help us take a picture?' the man asks, and really, by the tone of his voice, there's no way Jaejoong could have said no. Besides, he's going to be travelling with the couple for the next five days, and he doesn't want to make enemies out of them right from the first day. So Jaejoong simply nods and takes the camera before getting up. The couple edges closer to the bridge and points Jaejoong to a spot, just so they could get the best angle for a picture perfect moment. However, Jaejoong doesn't really know why though, as standing in front of a grey bridge against an equally grey sky isn't much of a Kodak moment. Nonetheless, he steadies the camera such that both their faces and the bridge fits into the small screen and counts 'Hana...Dul...Set' before he presses the capture button.
Snap. The flash ignites and sears the couple's eyes, causing them to blink at the moment of capture. They frown in disappointment when Jaejoong reveals the picture he had taken, as their eyes had been shut and the girl's face had curved into an awkward smile. She shoots a pleading glance at Jaejoong, and Jaejoong doesn't have much of a choice except to retake the picture for them.
They huddle closer together now, as if the contact would give them the determination not to blink when the camera flashes again. Jaejoong positions the camera to his eyes as he stabilizes his hand for the shot. He looks at their faces on the camera screen, seeing their warmth and love from the way they stand and how their hands interlock. He sees how, even though the bridge's just another dull slab of concrete and the sky a gloomy shade of grey, that their matching jackets and smiles somehow made the picture a lot brighter than the ones he had taken. Jaejoong takes a deep breath and forces himself to focus again, preparing for the countdown.
“Hana,” Jin's face flickers in his mind and his smile clouds his eyes. Jaejoong's feet shuffles.
“Dul,” His own laughter rings in his ears as a mini scene from his memory decides to play. Jin was tickling him on a lazy Monday on their couch in their house and when everything had been theirs and not just Jaejoong's. Jaejoong squints and tries not to let the tears out at the very thought of missing the other. His hands tremble.
“Set,” and his mind returns to the previous Christmas when Jin had kissed him under the moonlight and falling snow. Jaejoong tries to push the button amidst his trembling hands, but fails and drops the camera and his tears instead. The couple stare at him in shock when the camera falls to the ground with a sickening thud, and the man eyes him with such a deathly glare that Jaejoong doesn't even know whether he should apologize at all. He eventually does anyway, though he is met with a huff and a little apologetic glance from his girlfriend. Jaejoong hastily palms his tears away, and squeezes his palms in frustration for being unable to move on after they have left with a slightly scratched camera in hand.
They board the bus shortly after an hour, with Jin still burned cruelly at the back of Jaejoong's head, unwilling to let him go, even in spirit.
Changmin sets his luggage down at the corner of his room in his hotel room, just beside a cupboard, before scrutinizing the interior. He lets out a satisfied grin when he spots the complimentary soap bottles placed on the bathroom counter – one less thing for him to worry about in this foreign land. Changmin paces quickly to the window and draws open the curtains, taking in a deep breath when he sees the skyline of Shinjuku splayed right in front of him. It's as if breathing in Tokyo air was different from that of Seoul's. Perhaps it's something to do with Changmin's excitement, and how he's not Shim Changmin, the manager that a few hundred rely on. Here, he's just a strange Korean in a Japanese speaking nation.
He settles onto the bed with a satisfied flop and spreads his fingers until they touch the edges, allowing himself a silly grin to decorate his face. This is it, he thinks. Finally, he has a small breadth of space to breathe, to enjoy, to live. He silently thanks Yoochun for the brilliant idea, for teaching him how to be selfish for once. All his life, it had always been for the company, and Changmin's always doing things for someone else, but never for himself. It's only until his best friend, Yoochun, forces him to a wall when he discovered how many nights Changmin had spent sleepless, that Changmin had truly thought, and considered, of doing something for himself. So Changmin had dropped his work, packed his suitcases after booking a plane ticket to beautiful Japan and had never looked back ever since. Now, he feels happier than ever.
After Changmin's done swimming in glee while lying on the soft blankets, he gets up, and grabs his coat and a tiny map of the JR lines. Then, he half-marches and half-skips out of his hotel room, ready to explore Shinjuku and more of Tokyo at large. And for the first time in his entire life, he doesn't have the nagging feeling of work weighing his footsteps or having to face the incessant phone calls, emails and everything that he utterly abhors.
Changmin grins as the glass doors of the hotel slides open, introducing the whirring of pachinko slots to his ears. The sound feels foreign to him – Seoul's never had any buildings filled with pachinko machines – but it feels good. It feels good, Changmin thinks, that for once he doesn't have the answer to something and for once, he doesn't know anything about what's in stored for him.
Life is good for once.
They arrive at their hotel rooms a little after dusk, or 4:00p.m. rather, because dusk in Japan isn't exactly rather late, given its current season. Jaejoong immediately grabs the hotel key assigned to him and scoots off to his room, barely hearing the meeting time before the elevator door closes. Eight in the morning, he repeats in his head, silently telling himself not to be late. The doors open, and he trudges to his hotel room with a luggage in tow. Of course, it shouldn't come as a surprise when he sees a double bed instead of a single one after he has slided the card at the door and entered the room. It was a tour meant for couples after all, and moreover, Jaejoong had registered as a couple. It just isn’t fair that his had decided not to come. Well, it's good in a way, Jaejoong thinks, as it means that he gets the whole room to himself.
Jaejoong lets out a dry chuckle. Who is he trying to kid?
He grabs his wallet and deliberately leaves his coat behind when he heads down to grab some dinner. Tonight, he feels like getting cold, to let the chill run up his spine and maybe, awaken his sleeping emotions so that he can feel love again. Tonight, he feels like suffering. Maybe, if he does that, then he could at least understand how Jin had felt on that Sunday night when too many tears had been shed.
Jaejoong ends up at some food stall tucked away in some corner of Shinjuku he has stumbled upon by accident. He tries, in very broken Japanese, and orders the first thing he sees on the menu, even though he doesn't really know what it is, and a bottle of sake. He knows it isn't really a good idea to get himself drunk in a foreign country, but really, when the heartbreak's too large to bear, the only thing that he could really do to stay together and not break apart is to let out his sorrows.
What better way to let out one's sorrows than to drink?
So he downs cups and cups of sake and nibbles on a little udon (when the waiter had served him, he realized, to his relief, that he had ordered udon and not some strange concoction) while he slips into the comforts of alcohol. The world appears fuzzy for Jaejoong and a little blurred too, perhaps by his tears. Together with the effects from the alcohol, Jaejoong's never felt this free in his entire life. It feels as if he's floating in a world filled with only lights, and he laughs at that thought after he pays the bill and heads off into the Tokyo night. The people swarm past him in a blob of black under the hazy influence of alcohol and sorrow, but Jaejoong somehow makes out a silhouette very much like Jin, and he doesn't know why though – it might have been the sheer longing for him again – but he silently follows the 'Jin' he believes wherever he goes.
And so Jaejoong hobbles past traffic junctions, twists and turns, ending up at some hotel he really isn't familiar with. It is only as they ride the elevator together that Jaejoong finally gets a good look of the person he's been following (to which, he also notes, is very oblivious). The curve of his cheekbones is too round and his eyes too narrow, which make Jaejoong realize that he really isn't Jin after all. He finally snaps out of his reverie and childish thoughts of ever getting Jin back, and starts to cry when the elevator door opens with the man heading out. He takes a step, then two, out of the lift and tries to steady himself. Alcohol grants him no such reprieve though, so he ends up slipping into darkness at the third level at an ungodly hour of the night.
Changmin's grown a new fascination for the Japanese as he explores Shinjuku. Honestly, he thinks, the place has an endless amount of shops and people that it's giving him quite a headache. Even after spending the afternoon walking around the core of Shinjuku, he hasn't really made a significant progress – there's still the underground shops waiting to be explored and the tiny streets that beckoned. But he tries to cover as much as he can anyway, and takes his time while doing it – it's a holiday after all. Changmin buys a few souvenirs and albums he sees in the HMV for Yoochun and even some merchandise from the Jump shop just for the heck of it. He even visits the Metropolitan Center just across the street from his hotel, and raids some of the bookstores for manga. Not that Changmin really reads manga, but what's Japan without buying manga?
He decides to snap a series of pictures of himself at such places, just because it's fun, and it would serve as a great memory. Completely ignoring the strange looks he is getting from onlookers, Changmin steadies the camera with one hand and waves with the other. He grins as the flash goes off and a picture of him next to the mime is safely stored: temporarily in his memory stick, but permanently in his mind.
Changmin walks and walks until his feet turn sore, where he then heads to the nearest restaurant and orders a bowl of yakisoba. He silently thanks Yoochun for the Japanese lessons he gives Changmin during random moments at work, as at least now, he manages to build a mutual understanding between him and the waiter. He glances briefly out at the window as he waits for the food to come, and subconsciously notes the gradually darkening sky. After the food comes and he's finished with it, Changmin makes his way back to the hotel, unwilling to face a night out in a foreign country.
It comes to a surprise when the elevator doors open at his level and he sees a man lying unconscious at the corner of the lift lobby. It doesn’t help either, that the man is indeed one of the most beautiful ones he has ever seen, with the palest complexion like snow and full, pink lips curved into a troubled frown. It is worrying him too, the frown, and the fact that he is sleeping at the lift lobby. Changmin cautiously steps closer, and the redolent scent of alcohol overwhelms him. He flinches away and pinches his nose, before trying to drag the man out of the lobby and perhaps into his room. The sleeping figure remains insistent on staying put though, as he constantly snatches his hand away from Changmin's grasp, and even snuggles closer to the corner of the place. Changmin stares at him for a while, reluctant to let a person sleep in such a public area. He contemplates at his choices, before letting out a helpless sigh, and takes out his coat. Changmin then blankets his coat around the stranger's body, and takes one last look at him before heading off for his room, silently praying that the man (and his coat) would be there the next day.
Changmin goes to bed restless, head filled with thoughts about the strange, yet beautiful stranger who is probably still sleeping at the lift lobby. He tries not to let himself worry for the other; he is a stranger after all. But he fails. Because no matter how much Changmin had wanted to get away from his work life, he cannot shake away the Changmin who wants to care for every little matter in the company and every person in his life.
That's who he is, after all.
Changmin doesn't sleep well that night, and wakes up early the next morning just to go and check on the beautiful stranger before the staff and cleaners come on their rounds. He finds him at the same place he was the previous night, except that this time he's a little more curled up and clutches onto Changmin's coat as if he's having a bad nightmare. Changmin cautiously approaches him yet again, as if he's afraid that the slight footsteps might awaken the stranger. Changmin doesn't know why he's caring so much for someone he's just met, but maybe that's just his personality after all, so he treads ever so softly towards him until he reaches a respectable distance, before he attempts to pry his coat off.
The man still reeks of alcohol, Changmin thinks. But he doesn't assume much, and instead begins his task of getting his coat back. Of course, it would smell like alcohol too, but Changmin doesn't really care; as long as the man gets a little warmth for the previous night, he's okay with it. Changmin sighs. He's long resigned to the fact that he can never stop caring for others, the trait too drilled inside of him by work and a very helpless Yoochun. The man flips over the moment Changmin attempts to snatch the coat away, and Changmin is met with a sight that makes his breath catch and his cheeks flush.
He properly sees the features of the stranger now – his well-defined cheekbones and pale face, coupled with huge eyes and full, cherry red lips. What makes Changmin stop though isn't the beauty of the man, but the very fact that he can still see the trail of tears glistening against the fluorescent lights. It must have been a really bad dream, Changmin thinks. His face is still curled into a grimace and the tears still flow out every once in awhile as Changmin stands there. Somehow, a part of him that holds his concern for the other man has now amplified, as Changmin cannot help but wonder what a person like him is doing here, and why he would be crying ever so sorrowfully at the lift lobby of a hotel where he has slumbered.
Still, his need for his coat outweighs his concern for the stranger, so Changmin tries yet again to ignore the tracks of his tears and wrench his coat away. The first time he pulls, the stranger lets out a soft snuffle before curling up into a tighter ball. Changmin sighs in frustration. He bites his lips, steadies his hand again, and then he pulls even harder than before. The stranger unfurls, but still he clings onto the coat ever so tightly, as if it was the only thing he ever had in the entire world that felt like comfort.
It's a pretty hilarious sight, Changmin thinks mildly when he starts on his third attempt. Really, two grown men – one of which still sleeping on the floor of a lift lobby – fighting (unconsciously or not) over a plain, brown coat. Nonetheless, Changmin really, really needs his coat. Or he'll freeze to death and get laughed at by Yoochun when he returns to Korea with a terribly red nose and icicles on his ears. Okay, that isn't going to happen anytime soon, but Changmin is indeed in terrible need of something to keep him warm. So Changmin pulls and pulls extremely hard just to pull his coat away. Now he is uncaring of whether the man would wake up or how his reaction would be, because keeping warm is still his first priority over pretty much anything else.
It is only on his tenth attempt that he successfully gets the coat away. However, when he had let out one last yank, the man is startled awake and immediately bolts towards the wall when he sees Changmin standing precariously close to him. He blinks once in surprise, and then a second time to gather his surroundings, before he officially, in Changmin's mind, flips the fuck out.
“Oh my god,” the stranger says as his eyes examined his surroundings with a frantic pace. “What the fuck am I doing here?” He trains his eyes towards Changmin, a little accusingly even, as if Changmin's the one to blame for his shit, the only one who can give him the answers he needs.
Korean, Changmin silently thinks. He's Korean too.
“I-” Changmin starts. Inside, he huffs in frustration and annoyance at the glare that the stranger is shooting him. It's not his fault that he had winded up at some lift lobby he doesn't know of. Hell no, Changmin isn't willing to take the blame, no matter how much trouble the stranger is in. “Look, I don't know what you're doing here, why you're here and-”
“What time is it now?” the man cuts in abruptly, and Changmin squinches his nose in irritation. There's a limit to how far his patience would go to, and certainly, the beautiful stranger that was once asleep hadn't been as annoying as he is awake. Still, Changmin checks his watch and says, “Eight.” Changmin thinks to himself that he really needs to stop being so helpful.
“Eight?” he asks for confirmation, and Changmin nods curtly once. “I- wait – it's eight?!” the man says with a hint of urgency, and this time Changmin nods, a little uncertain at what reaction he's going to be shown next, as the once annoying stranger is now reduced to a blubbering mess of panic.
It's a rather explosive reaction he gets after.
The man lets out a muffled scream of terror as his face scrunches into a horrified expression. He clasps his cheeks, realizing his tears just at that moment and begins to wipe them off hastily. Then, the man stands up and clings onto Changmin's hand in desperation, and the latter knows that whatever's coming next isn't really going to sit well for him.
“Could – could you direct me back to my hotel?” the man asks pleadingly, his eyes growing larger by the moment, and it strikes Changmin just how captivating the stranger's eyes are. Changmin tries terribly not to stare into them too much, or it'll definitely affect his judgement, and also because he doesn't want to be labelled as a weird, creepy person.
“What hotel are you staying in?” Changmin finally asks after a moment of contemplation. The man casts a glance to his left, then to his right, and rolls his eyes before letting out a dry chuckle. “Definitely not this one.”
“You-” Changmin starts, a trickle of annoyance already stemming from his mind with this stranger.
“I-” the stranger frowns, and he ponders for a little while until his face lights up again. “Prince Hotel. I am staying in the Prince Hotel.”
The name rustles a sense of familiarity to Changmin, and he scrunches his eyebrows as he ponders, trying to recall where he had seen such a hotel before. The previous day's activities flash in his mind, as he backtracked the events that had unfolded, before he opens his eyes when he recalls the name.
“But that's – that's on the other side of Shinjuku,” Changmin protests. “How did you manage to end up here?”
The stranger rolls his eyes again and folds his arms. “If I knew how I had ended up here, would I be asking you for directions?” He scoffs.
He stops. And abruptly swivels to meet Changmin’s eyes. “I'm sorry,” he says this time, words laced with an apologetic smile. “I really sound like an asshole, don't I?”
Changmin laughs then, a little in surprise and a little in amusement. He silently wonders how sudden the man's personality changes are, and simply lets out a plain nod to confirm his statement. The man chuckles in embarrassment, and apologizes again for his behaviour, as if he had caught himself in the middle of a sentence and had reflected on his actions. Changmin merely shrugs it off, and tells the man to follow him.
They make their way down the elevator in an awkward silence, before the man breaks it with a question.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
Changmin is startled. “I'm...leading you back to your hotel?”
“No,” the man laughs at Changmin's misunderstanding of his question. “I mean, what are you doing here, in Tokyo, in Shinjuku? You're Korean, aren't you?”
“Oh,” Changmin replies, feeling a little stupid. He briefly stares at the descending floor numbers, and turns to face Jaejoong. “I'm here for a holiday... you know? To get my mind off work.”
“That sounds nice,” the stranger smiles bitterly, as if in envy over the simple reason Changmin had chosen to come to Tokyo. Changmin is slightly rattled by his reaction, and his curiosity spikes. “What about you?”
The stranger's eyes widen as if he had never expected Changmin to ask such a question. He shuffles in his feet in unease and looks to the ground. “I-” he starts, and the elevator dings. Changmin swears he hears a sigh of relief as they proceed out and to the streets.
Changmin decides to drop it, and instead tells the man to follow him close behind, for fear that he might lose him in a city like this. Shinjuku's a busy place – the busiest, in fact, in Tokyo, and Changmin doesn't want to risk another episode of the lift lobby, even though the victim might not be him this time.
They make small talk along the way, and soon enough, Changmin feels comfortable with the stranger to tell him about stupid Yoochun, his stupid work and everything else that he finds stupid. The man lets out an unrestrained laugh when he complains about Yoochun's antics, and Changmin is silently stunned for a second by the intensity of his laughter, and how his mouth curves into such a beautiful smile. The stranger tells him about his best friend too - Junsu - and how he works for a radio station as a DJ who deals with love problems. Yet at the mention of love, his face suddenly darkens. And Changmin immediately assumes that love's probably the reason why he was crying in his sleep. His heart lets out an unconscious ache.
Finally, they arrive at the hotel, but that's only after they have chatted for a significantly long time – in between traffic lights and along the streets. Changmin looks at his clock once, eight forty-five, he unconsciously notes, and realizes that the walk took longer than he had expected. Perhaps they had been too caught up with their conversation that their footsteps had slowed. Whatever it is though, the man did not look like he was in much of a rush when they had been walking towards the hotel, and so Changmin really doesn't think of much when the man walks into the lobby and towards the check-in counter.
Later though, when he doesn't reappear after a long time, Changmin cannot help but worry again. And so, he heads into the hotel. There, he sees the man, who is now very frustrated from the way he clenches his fists and shouts at the receptionist. When Changmin inches closer, he hears more of the conversation and catches a few words, and soon, he manages to piece together a vague story of what was going on. Apparently, the stranger he met is part of a tour group, who had stupidly left him behind and could only return the day after tomorrow, as they're already in another city.
Luckily, the receptionist speaks Korean, Changmin thinks, and then he closes in the distance between the two of them before placing a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. The man swivels around in annoyance, but his expression immediately softens when he sees Changmin.
“What am I going to do now?” the stranger asks helplessly, and a little desperate too. “I don't know a single word of Japanese,.I don't know my way. I don't know a single fucking thing of this country. Oh god, why – why am I so helpless?”
“I-” Changmin starts hesitantly. I don't know, he wants to say. But then he stops himself – perhaps out of pity, or perhaps because he sincerely enjoys this stranger's company. He sighs once at himself, a little helpless as well, at his personality of not being able to leave such people alone, and then he faces the man once again. “You could – you could join me in sightseeing first? I mean – I know a little Japanese and – and if you don't mind-”
The man's eyes light up in surprise and appreciation and he rushes forward to hug Changmin there and then. Changmin desperately tries not to blush, but fails so obviously. So when the stranger tells him that he's going to dash up to grab the stuff he needs, he leaves Changmin with a very dark red flush on both of his cheeks.
They introduce themselves on the train ride to Mitaka. For the fun of it, Jaejoong doesn't reveal his name, and instead, they play a little guessing game.
“What's your name?” The (very kind) stranger asks Jaejoong as he clings onto one of the handrails and stares idly at Jaejoong. Jaejoong is rather tickled at his expression, and decides to poke fun of him a little.
“What do you think my name is?” Jaejoong replies with a teasing smile. He rocks in sync with the train as the man's face flits from one of surprise to contemplation. Inside, Jaejoong is rather excited at what his response would be. He doesn't know if it's because he finds this entire thing fun and a little absurd, or if it's because he genuinely enjoys the other's company.
“I-” the stranger frowns. He stares at the trees whipping past and the tiny houses from a distance, as if it'll give him a little inspiration, or a suitable name for Jaejoong. Jaejoong frowns too, in the time he takes to ponder, and breaks the other's train of thought lest the silence grows to be too stifling. Jaejoong hates it when it gets too quiet. It reminds him too much of the times he spent alone in this world.
“You look like a Max,” Jaejoong says with a grin on his face, a little reserved though, unsure of the other's reaction. It's only been a day since they've met after all, and no matter how much Jaejoong feels comfortable with him, it doesn't mean that they understanding each other's personality.
“Max?” His eyebrows quirks; intrigued. A moment later, he is laughing, as if amused by Jaejoong's wild guess. Jaejoong stares at him, waiting for him to simmer, a little afraid that he had taken offence to Jaejoong's guess. However, the stranger merely nods his head and grins. “Max's fine. Max's good, actually,” he says, and Jaejoong lets out a breath he doesn't know he's been holding. He wondered why though, and unconsciously concludes that he had really valued the other's opinion and reaction towards him.
“What about me, Max?” Jaejoong emphasizes on the last word teasingly, and he merely smiles. Jaejoong notices how his eyes go mismatched – one curving into a crescent, when he smiles. He thinks it's the most adorable smile he's ever seen.
“Youngwoong,” he replies. Jaejoong splutters.
“Youngwoong, as in – you mean – a hero?” Jaejoong's eyes widens in shock, a little flabbergasted by the man's guess. He receives a nod of affirmation as a reply, and also a helpless shrug.
“You asked me to guess.”
Jaejoong is genuinely tickled, after mulling over his new nickname for awhile. “Hero,” he says, mouth curling into a lilt. “I like it.”
The train rocks back and forth, and they sway together with it. This time, they are both smiling in amusement and with a newfound liking for each other. Jaejoong suddenly wishes the moment could last a little longer. He scrutinizes the other's features when the latter glances towards the buildings flitting past the train and notices the worrylines, the slight wrinkles from stress and also, how achingly beautiful the other is. His heart clenches, and he determinedly casts his gaze at the same buildings the other is looking at, now a little wary of his emotions.
And so that's how the stranger becomes Max, and Jaejoong becomes Hero.
They arrive at Mitaka after changing stations and riding the train for a few more stops. They're still a little awkward – anyone would be actually; silence punctuates their conversations occasionally, though it gradually grows to be less frequent. Changmin scrutinizes his map for a while, and patters down the stairs, with Hero trailing behind. Hero, he thinks amusedly. He doesn't know what had possessed him to come up with such a name, but guesses that it did kind of suit him after all. After they pass a supermarket, he finally spots the sign that he was looking for, and smiles in satisfaction.
He doesn't know if Hero's a fan of what they're going to be visiting, but Changmin's a little reluctant to change the schedule just so that it fits the both of them. He's really been looking forward to exploring and finally stepping into the museum that he had been longing to visit ever since Yoochun had raved on and on and forced him to watch Spirited Away. So he feeds Hero a little information about the museum as they are walking, still keeping an eye out for the signs that show the arrows pointing to his destination.
Along the way, Hero spots a bakery tucked away in between apartments and a Lawson. He tugs Changmin towards it, curious and oddly fixated by the tiny wooden birds decorating the interior and the aroma wafting towards them. Changmin takes a sniff, and nods eagerly, also tempted by the smell. So they grab a few pieces of bread, still warm, and continue walking. Hero buys Changmin a gingerbread man with a smile on its face crafted by icing, and two eyes – one a little odd with a haphazard blot.
“It looks like you, when you smile,” Jaejoong says when Changmin brings it out to take a closer look at it. Changmin huffs, pretending to be offended, though the smile on his face pretty much ruined the entire facade. And Jaejoong merely beams in response.
Jaejoong learns about the place they're heading to from Max as they are walking. Studio Ghibli, Max tells him. The studio that has produced so many wonderful movies, each accompanied by affectionate touches and strong underlying themes. Max tells him about Spirited Away – the protagonist, Chihiro, whose parents were consumed by greed and turned into pigs, and about Ponyo, the goldfish princess who fell in love with a human. Jaejoong finds the stories a little strange though – he's never heard of any movies with such unique storylines before. So he remains a little skeptical of the entire journey, choosing instead to chomp on the walnut bread he had bought that was shaped like a delicate flower.
When he reaches the museum though, the skepticism immediately disappears and is instead replaced by feelings of amazement and sheer wonderment.
It's a rather ordinary building from the outside even though it's painted an odd shade of yellow. However, when Jaejoong's past the gates, he gets a rather huge shock upon seeing a humongous stuffed animal staring at him through the windows of a Ticketing counter. Max laughs at his reaction when Jaejoong spots the thing, and tells him that it's called Totoro, from the movie My Neighbour Totoro. Jaejoong is amused by the obvious name of the big fluff ball, and hurriedly tries to keep up with an excited Max as they head into the museum.
Jaejoong's genuinely amazed and surprised when they are inside – the intricate and colourful murals on the wall adding on to the dreamlike atmosphere of the entire place. It's as if Jaejoong's revisiting the cartoons he used to watch when he was a child, and he tells Max just that, only to be waved off with a laugh.
“Their movies are too good to be compared with the cartoons you've watched,” Max says airily, prickling Jaejoong's curiosity. He really needs to see what's so great about this studio and its films, from the way Max gets so hyped up over it. If it's good enough to elicit such a response from Max, then Jaejoong truly wants to find out how it is like.
So they tour around the museum for a while, with Max rushing to the exhibits and exclaiming loudly at the sheer genius or the backstory of a sculpture, like the one of the elongated robot up on the rooftop, which was apparently from some movie called the Castle in the Sky. A castle in the sky, Jaejoong thinks, and scoffs a little, the skeptic within him refusing to succumb to Max's ravings. He still tries to appear to be interested though, as Max had indeed been such a lovely – the loveliest, and kindest person he's ever met, to have accommodated so well with Jaejoong's abrupt appearance and even let silly Jaejoong stick with him even though they've just met. Hence, he does in fact try to inquire about certain facts regarding the studio, and gradually finds himself becoming truly interested and amazed by the sheer genius of the director.
They watch a short film after they're done with exploring the museum, and Jaejoong's pretty excited by it too. They've gotten tiny snippets of the film as the entry ticket, to which Jaejoong finds really adorable and creative. Max continues to fill him in about how some of the works are produced, and also about the short films. Apparently, they air a different one every day, and today's mini film is about a rain cloud that fell in love with the sun. Jaejoong's heart prickles a little when he hears that it's a romance film, but nonetheless, he remains excited and eager all the same.
The film starts with little Totoros bouncing by the side of the screen, which unfolds out to a breathtaking scenery of mountains and storm clouds rolling by the distance. Jaejoong watches, enraptured by the detail and the art, and inside, he silently admires and finally agrees with Max over the brilliance that is produced by this studio. Later though, as Jaejoong watches as the rain cloud cries in pain of not being able to see the sun, he is involuntarily reminded of himself, and soon, instead of focusing on the rain cloud, Jin begins to cloud his mind again.
When it ends, Max swivels excitedly to face Jaejoong, wanting to reaffirm the loveliness of the film. Jaejoong turns to meet his gaze, and smiles weakly in return as he sees Max's expression change from excitement to horror.
Jaejoong's crying, and he can't help it.
Changmin doesn't know what to do when he sees Hero softly sobbing as the rain cloud turns fluffy white and ends up with the sun as the credits roll. He stops for a moment, unsure of how he should act – Hero's still a stranger to him after all. But then he remembers how comfortable they are together and how Hero's been nothing but an open bundle of fluff and spontaneity, so he casts all reservations away and gently extends his hands forward, using his thumb to rub his tears away. Hero appears shocked at first at Changmin's reaction, but then slowly melts into his touch. They sit in the cinema for awhile, with Hero sobbing and Changmin gradually pulling him into a hug, until the staff comes and chases them out. Changmin immediately drags a still crying Hero out of the museum, and to the park beside it where the leaves are still a brilliant orange. He sits Hero down on one of the benches he finds before he takes his seat beside him. There, he whispers a 'It's okay,' even though he doesn't really know what had happened, and Hero just buries himself in Changmin's shoulder and cries even more.
“I miss him,” Hero says in between tears. “It hurts. It really, really hurts.”
He raises his head to meet Changmin's gaze then; his eyes are unsure and full of sorrow. Changmin tilts his chin, and straightens himself to steady the gaze. Somehow, although it's a rather inopportune and inappropriate moment, Changmin finds himself admiring Hero's beauty even more, and inconceivably, his heart races a little faster. Inside, his emotions are stirring. Outside though, he continues to hold Hero's gaze as the tears trickle down his hand, and Changmin somehow begins to hate the person with a dreadful intensity – the person that made him so heartbroken,so in pain.
“If you think he's the sun to you, and you're the rain cloud,” Changmin starts, earning a flash of surprise from Hero at using the analogy from the short film they've just watched. He nods though, when Changmin makes that statement, and Changmin is immediately confirmed of the fact that Hero's hurt is all due to love.
“It's okay,” Changmin whispers. “Because not every rain cloud falls in love with the sun.”
“This one did though,” Hero says helplessly. He bites his lips in anxiety, and hastily looks away, for fear of the situation turning awkward. Changmin too, does the same thing, because no matter how many secrets and things they're spilling about themselves and how they seem to fit, they're still sort of like strangers after all.
“But,” Changmin says. “What's amazing about a rain cloud is that it drifts. It drifts; it looks around and sees everything. The sun's not the only thing it sees – it's not the only thing you see. There are so many wonderful things out there, and one of them is just right for a rain cloud. One of them is the perfect fit for you. It might not be the sun, but it's out there. So really, all you have to do is be like that rain cloud, and ride along with the wind till you find someone whom you love.”
Hero's eyes widen at Changmin's speech, and somehow Changmin feels a little stupid and anxious at spouting those words at Hero. It's crystal clear that he's been watching too many films and surely, Hero's going to find him weird now. However, he does nothing of that sort, and instead starts to laugh. Soon, Changmin finds himself buried in Hero's warmth, as he had leaned in for a tight hug, clinging onto him and refusing to let go.
“Thank you,” he whispers the words onto the jacket Changmin's wearing. Somehow, Changmin also feels the curve of a smile pressed to his chest. “Thank you so much.”
And that's all Changmin needs to make sure that he's okay.
They retire to the hotel early, at his insistence of course, as Changmin could feel that Hero's not in much of a mood for further sightseeing. He is met with protests from Hero though, when he buys dinner from a convenience store and drags Hero back to the hotel. Hero doesn't want to ruin Changmin's holiday, at least, that's what he was told, and somehow, Changmin doesn't really mind. He doesn't know why he isn't angry at him for screwing up his much needed rest, or for barging into his vacation like that. Instead, he is genuinely pleased to have Hero's company, and treats him more like a best friend than anything else. Well, a very attractive best friend, Changmin amends. He can't deny the fact that he does have a little crush on Hero, though he isn't planning to let him know any time soon.
Somewhere along the way when they're walking back to Changmin's hotel, Hero stops midway and stares at Changmin, a little frightened.
“Can I – I – I don't want to go back,” Hero mumbles nervously.
“Go back?” Changmin tilts his head, unsure of what he had meant.
“The – the hotel,” He replies, slightly shivering. “I don't want to be alone.”
“Oh,” Changmin says stupidly. Oh. And then he is met with another anxious and broken gaze by Hero.
“I'm sorry for ruining your holiday and oh – I don't know what I'm saying, asking you to let me stay... I – I should go,” Hero abruptly swivels away, as if he's realized how ridiculous and terribly desperate his request might have sounded. Changmin would have none of that though, as really, apart from the fact that they've just met and how they don't really know each other, Changmin truly wants to have Hero by his side. So he grabs onto his hand while Hero starts to walk away and yanks him closer than before.
“You're an idiot,” Changmin bluntly states. Hero's eyes widen in surprise at Changmin's statement, but he chooses to remain silent.
“Of course you're staying with me.”
Hero smiles then – it's a small one, but Changmin thinks it's a start. He honestly doesn't mind Hero staying in the same room with him for the night even though they are kind of like strangers, and strangers don't usually stay in each other's rooms the first day after they meet. But Changmin feels that he's special. Hero's special.
This might be fate, he thinks idly, as they trudge back to the hotel, with Hero clinging silently to his arm, as if the physical contact would give him some comfort. It's not that Changmin believes in fate – he doesn't, in fact. But after today, he isn't that sure anyway. What were the odds of meeting an absolute stranger but yet have the feeling that he's like your best friend? Pretty damn low, Changmin thinks, and so he silently thanks the stars above for their meeting.
In the skies, the stars wink back.