Sometimes Seoul is a little too far away.
Ju Won blames it on the mountains and the reed fields that he has to scour on a daily basis these days.
Although, he can't say he minds it. There's a little bubble of satisfaction that builds in him, everytime something is out right. Someone returned home safe. They keep him afloat on his way back to his apartment.
But sometimes, on days he's stretched too thin across the quaint town with one too many stubborn teenagers who think stealing is a cop out for a better life he finds his eyes drooping on the highway.
Ju won's usually the kind to grind through and get to the end. Nice and proper, a quiet end to an eventful day. A year ago, he'd probably have gone through, neglecting the strain as just something to put up with.
But now he finds himself veering off the highway on a detour easily.
A lot had changed within a year, he thinks as he passes the signboard that tells him that welcomes him to his destination.
Recently, there's an alternate ending to his days. One that is loud with shadows under faulty streetlights and cheshire smiles that he's long past being unnerved by. He finds himself at the steps of the local butcher shop which has its lights switched on despite being far past the closing hours. He walks in without any semblance of hesitation.
There's a chorus of surprised noises as he steps in and a grumble from the counter that they're out of new bowls. But Ju won doesn't mind. Not in here anyway. A chair is pushed out without any questions. A space made for him, that seems more natural to inhabit than his own apartment sometimes.
"Well, Inspector Han, this is a surprise." draws a voice at his side when he sits down after greeting everyone.
Ju Won turns his head to the side and smiles.
"It's good to see you too, Lee Dongshik."
He drives them back to Dongshik's place without any awkward conversations. They ironed those out the first few times Dongshik invited him over when he figured that Ju won was having a bad day or on the verge of propelling off the road at night.
Ju won is pleasantly surprised when he touches the sofa and it comes off clean. He vets the area with his eyes. It seems that the dust was staying off even without him complaining under his breath. Perhaps being a civilian gave Dongshik enough time to actually dust his house.
"Please, make yourself at home." He hears Dongshik murmur behind him.
"You never needed an invitation before." He snipes, his tone lilting with amusement.
"Well maybe you should have locked your doors properly ." Ju won huff. He sits down on the worn out sofa. "And answer the door when someone knocks."
Dongshik laughs, delighted by his peevish tone. Strangely enough, it doesn't grate on his nerves like it used to.
Well , he thinks. The lack of mental acrobatics they used to play probably has a big part to play in it. He finds himself shaking his head, letting the laughter warm the room without paying it much mind.
Dongshik makes coffee and comes out of the kitchen to pick up a box sitting on the bookshelf. He waves it at Ju won who blinks in confusion.
"Since you're always complaining." He says as explanation before tearing the tape off.
( Ju won can't help but wince slightly as half the top layer of cardboard comes off with it. )
After a few seconds of struggle Dongshik pulls out a ceramic mug. He holds it towards Ju won.
" What do you think?" he asks with a smile.
Ju won blinks. The mug is blue with an outline of a grumpy cartoon cat face in the middle. It's utterly childish and is the kind of thing that he'd never buy for himself.
And yet he finds it impossible to feel a fraction of dissatisfaction when he knows that Dongshik went and got him his own coffee mug.
"Well? Do you like it? I got it on discount so don't try to pay for it." He blinks. He hadn't realised he was wandering. Dongshik stands in front of him. He taps on the little cat face. "Doesn't he look cute? " he says while looking at Ju won, smiling. Maybe Ju won's hazy with sleep but he's pretty sure he's not talking about the mug.
Ju won hopes that his ears aren't as warm as his heart felt.
"Yes." He says finally, after he regains his ability to speak. Dongshik smirks triumphantly before heading back into the kitchen and Ju Won sits down, straightens his sweater and pulls at his sleeves. Very cute.
He finds Ju Won asleep on the sofa when he comes back into the living room after laying out a futon.
Dongshik shakes his head at the motionless figure.
Ju Won doesn't wake up when he sits next to him. He chalks it up to exhaustion but there's a little voice at the back of his head that tells him it's something more. He remembers a time when the other wouldn't even dream of turning his back to Dongshik. He smiles at the memory.
It was fun, albeit exhausting at times to have someone to be wary of.
Although , He glances at Ju Won with his face soft with sleep. He can't say that he minds the change. A part of him wants to let him sleep, put a blanket over him. But the room gets cold at night and that's all it takes for him to wake Ju won up.
Even though he had spent enough nights on the same sofa and come out just fine before.
"Inspector Han." He calls out but gets no response.
"Han Ju won." Nope. Nil. He tries twice without so much as a twitch from the other and decides to change his tactics.
He pokes Ju won's cheek and stops a smile when Ju won remains blissfully ignorant. He pokes his cheek again. You know, for kicks.
Ju won frowns slightly, but didn't wake up. It's ridiculous how he finds this endearing. He thinks turning fully to face Ju won. Utterly ridiculous. He's been smiling this entire time with no one to see and he's not sure if he can stop. Maybe he doesn't want to.
Now that he's not half out of his mind trying to catch the scumbags that killed his sister and he's done running after every clue he finds, he can actually sit here. Be present without having his mind linger in the shadows.
He can simply stay here, next to him, without thinking of the next step, without thinking of how it'll inevitably play out.
And he quite likes it . This... calm . One that is different from what he felt alone, two years ago.
It doesn't seem to grow cold with time. No matter the amount of times Ju won's visited.
Maybe he's a human hotpack.
He smiles. He could get used to it. Sitting next to Ju won now feels like he's under a blanket on a rainy day and the last thing he wants to do is get out.
He waves a hand in front of Ju won's face and sighs.
"It looks like our young master is out cold." he says to himself . You leave me with no choice. He reaches out, hovering his index finger in front of Ju won's forehead "Ju won - ah" he says, louder this time. He's had his fun and he needs someone to use the futon he spread out oh-so laboriously. "Time to wake up." He flicks Ju won on the forehead.
Dongshik smirks as Ju wons eyes stretched open at the sudden attack.
He didn’t hit too hard but it seems to have done the trick. Ju won stares back at him, dazed and unblinking. It makes Dongshik want to flick him again. He earns an affronted whine when he does.
"Come on." Dongshik says, getting up before he caves in for good. "Don't make me worry and go sleep in the room." Ju won glares up at him, keeping a hand over his forehead.
"I'm quite fine here." He huffs, crossing his arms and settling back into his seat. Dongshik scoffs. "Well I'm not fine with it." He retaliates. Ju won closes his eyes, steadfast in being a nuisance. Possibly payback for the forehead flick. How petty.
Well, two can play that game. Dongshik isn't one to give up some good fun either.
"Oh?" He leans down, leaving a hair's breadth between them.
His grin widens as he sees how Ju won's eyebrows twitch even though his eyes remain shut.
Persevering. Dongshik notes. Really, Inspector Han you are far too fun to tease .
"Does the young master need to be carried to his royal chambers?" He sings songs.
He watches as Ju won sighs, pursing his lips and mustering as much disdain as he can into one breath of air.
It's too bad that Dongshik already caught the rapidly fluttering eyelashes that made their presence known for a fraction of a second before Ju Won smoothed it out to his preferred state of unaffectedness.
He opens his eyes, meeting Dongshik with a deadpan expression.
"Don't ask questions that you can't follow through on." He states and Dongshik laughs out loud, This kid. There is no way he's giving him the last laugh. Dongshik’s pretty sure they might both have a bit of a problem with letting things go.
"Well we wouldn't know until we try now, would we?" he says, cracking his knuckles and bending down. Juwon ducks out just in time, landing on his back on the floor. Dongshik peers over his shoulder and smiles.
"Inspector Han, I'm hurt." He says, pushing himself up with his hands. "Don't you trust me?"
"Physical force, how crude." comes the response from the floor.
Ju Won gets up, dusting himself off in an attempt to retain some of his dignity.
Dongshik’s quite sure he left his own at the door when he decided to bet his life on getting someone to bed.
"You weren't playing fair."Ju won says with no real bite, still dodging his question.
No matter. Dongshik thinks. The increased irritability is answer enough.
Perhaps this is their own way of communicating.
Dongshik shrugs. " All's fair in love and war, Inspector Han. " The phrase lingers in the air for longer than he intends when Ju won simply stares at him. As harmless as it was, Dongshik finds himself wanting to reel it back up. But he lets it stay, too curious to know what he'll pull up with a little patience and some signature foolhardy courage .
Then Ju Won gives him a smile of his own and everything settles back down enough for him to breathe easy.
"I'll keep that in mind, Lee Dongshik - shi" Ju won says, before walking out of the room and it's a ripple on a still lake. He lets out breath and listens to the door click shut outside the living room. Maybe he wasn't dreaming up what he's been seeing after all.
Change catches Ju won unawares when he's reaching for his sweater from his side of the closet.
He stares at the space cleared out for him, one that he's neatly organised with clothes folded into neat squares, tucked away and snug in the wooden partitions like they belonged there. Dongshik’s own clothes are in precarious towers, saved only by the fact that they're squashed together at the other end.
He finds himself staring at it till his vision blurs everything together as he tries to put a finger on how it makes him feel.
Or more accurately. as he tries not to panic at how used to that feeling he's slowly becoming whenever he notices the crannies carved out of Dongshik’s life and his own for that matter to make space for one another.
It's almost unconscious, which makes it all the more easier to miss when he's not truly paying attention.
It's his own set of cutlery, an extra set of blankets, the soju Ju won keeps buying despite not liking the flavour one bit and the considerable stock of instant noodles in the cupboard over his kitchen sink. They're worked into their everyday life like the hatching on a canvas. Unconscious, obvious yet purposeful strokes, hiding in plain sight.
The line in between the two halves becomes indistinct and Ju won finally blinks when he hears Dongshik call from outside.
He pulls the sweater over and walks out before he spends the morning being fascinated by a bedroom closet.
Donghik returns to the station after about a month and Ju won is less likely to catch him with nothing to do anymore. A month of doing next to nothing seems to have made Dongshik take the long routes in patrols, spend more time bringing the neighbourhood housewives to justice and recertify his reputation as the local mad policeman.
Well y ou're not the only one with work. Ju Won thinks when his calls get redirected to voicemail once again.
Admittedly, he should have left a bigger gap than five minutes between the three calls but he never knows with Dongshik.
("Does it ever cross your mind that I'm pretty capable of taking care of myself?" Dongshik had once asked when Ju Won questioned why on earth he had searched the streets alone in the rain for a run away elder.
Ju Won had looked pointedly at his undried hair and muddy shoes and told him to stop kidding himself.
Dongshik gets lost in everything he does, no matter how small it is .
It's something Ju won is both trying to emulate and wants to be wary of. There's only so much you can hold onto with two hands. It's best not to fool yourself thinking that you've got eight more to use when they give out.
Still, he can't deplore the need to do something.
Not when he's guilty of having done the same. Be it illegal wiretapping or shooting at his own father, at the end of the day, at least a shaking hand is better than one gone numb from never being willed into motion.
And what's the point of doing anything if you aren't going to carry through, to the proper end?
And he finds himself back in the same circle of logic. So Ju won can't say anything.
But he can give a pull back to center or force a look in the mirror and make sure that Dongshik doesn’t drown in his own bleeding heart.
Donghik would disagree, but Ju Won knows it takes a different kind of person to help the people that shunned him for most his life. Lee Dongshik is impossibly kind .
Ju Won would possibly never say it out loud.
Maybe if he swallows down his own embarrassment.
One day. )
Maybe if he actually answers his calls-
His eye twitches when his phone buzzes five minutes later. The display shows one new message from Dongshik.
Ju Won refuses to look at it until he takes his lunch break.
A few miles away in Manyang Dongshik blinks at his screen. One unread message.
"Yah, Ji hoon - ah" He calls out. His patrol partner glances at him briefly. "What is it, hyung?" he asks before returning his focus to the road.
"Can you make a call for me?" he asks .
Ji Hoon rolls his eyes. "Hyung." He says, tiredly. "I'm not going to call inspector Han." He continues before Dongshik speaks. "Just answer the call."
Dongshik hums, tucking his phone in his jacket pocket. "I sent him a message."
He hears Ji hoon groan.
"Hyung-" They break so hard at the red light that Dongshik jolts in his seat. Ji hoon turns to face him with a desperate look on his face.
"Just tell him that you caught a cold." He pleads.
Dongshik scoffs. This kid.
He clicks his tongue. "It's barely a sniffle." He mutters when Ji hoon doesn't drop his stare.
It is. An aftereffect of running around with no umbrella. It's not life threatening.
("Clean towels in the patrol car, didn't I tell you they'd be useful?" he can practically hear Ju won)
"It just comes through worse than it is. " He finishes, clearing his throat.
"There's no need to worry anyone." Curse Ju won and his obsession with details, he'd probably pick up the extra gravel in his voice and rub it in his face for a good week or two. And Dongshik Isn't about to just hand over gloating privileges.
Ji hoon smiles at him, unconvinced. "Of course," He says. " If it's no big deal, you could just tell him? Can you not? " he asks. His smile turns teasing. "He seems to care."
Dongshik stares at him for a second before whacking him lightly on the head. Ji hoon yelps.
"Hyung!" He cries, ready to launch into his complaints but the light turns green and he's forced to let it go while Dongshik cackles next to him.
Ji hoon scoffs. " Sometimes I wonder which one of us is older. " Dongshik hums , closing his eyes.
"Keep this up and you're going to be driving back as well."
He does tell Ju won eventually. When he shows up unannounced at his door with cough medicine.
"Officer Oh told me." He says, unamused. "You're sick."
This is possibly Ji Hoon's little revenge. He'll get him tomorrow, but for now he lets Ju Won in with a shrug.
"Oh my," He drawls. "Did you come running here with just that?" He grins. Maybe he should thank Ji Hoon, for the perplexed look on Ju won's face.
Ju won narrows his eyes. "Very funny." He deadpan which only makes Dongshik grin wider. Ju won scoffs. "Well, it seems that you're perfectly fine."
He still slips through the entrance and walks into Dongshik’s house as if it's natural. As if there's no reason not to.
Dongshik coughs, wincing a little at the soreness in his throat. Ju Won looks over his papers and sighs. "Clean towels in the patrol car, didn't I tell you they'd be useful?" he asks.
Dongshik would tell him to shut up but every snide remark that Ju won makes is washed out and softened when accompanied by hot tea and takeout noodle soup. So Dongshik lets it happen, adding a jab or two of his own about how concerned Ju Won seems when he wants to mix things up.
Ju won hands him the medicine that Dongshik tossed on the sofa.
"Take some before bed. You've got work tomorrow." Dongshik scoffs.
"I could simply not go to work tomorrow." He muses following Ju won into the kitchen. He leans against the kitchen door frame while Ju won sets about meticulously rinsing and drying the dishes.
Dongshik finds it interesting how loosely Ju won moves around his house, shoulders relaxed, hands holding onto the rim of a bowl without the usual expression of mild disgust that he has on whenever they eat out. Interesting .
( Although, to Ju won's credit Dongshik hasn't caught the expression sticking for long recently.)
What's also interesting is that Dongshik buys bleach and tissues in bulk and dusts his house on the weekends to keep it that way.
Ju won doesn't look up. "Skipping work during your probation doesn't seem smart." He says.
"I could come up with something." Dongshik says, playing along. "Creating reasonable doubt. It's a speciality of mine."
Ju Won aims a look at him over his shoulder before going back to the dishes. Dongshik closes his eyes and relaxes against the wall. The clinks of ceramic and the spray of water play like white noise in his ear.
"Well, I suppose you can always not go." Ju won begins, pulling off his rubber gloves. Dongshik cracks open his eyes to see Ju won turning around, grimacing as he cracks his head to the side, trying to ease out the stiffness.
"I'll just work with Officer Oh on my first day then."
There's a couple of faces that Ju won doesn’t recognise when he looks in through the tempered glass doors.
Albeit, it's a given. With all that has happened Ju won's a little surprised when he sees how little things have changed beyond that.
The clunky old computers that give grief to anyone and everyone who tries to use them, the blue blankets shoved to a corner on the seats lining the side because the heating is redundant present themselves in his view.
A picture of the past, worn out at the edges. It's exactly as he left it and in a strange way he finds comfort in it.
He thinks back to the first time he came here. How he found everything about Manyang too slow, too tedious and coyling.
"Well? Anytime now." Dongshik quips behind him, cutting his nostalgia trip off short. How on brand of him.
"You still haven't gotten over your habit of staring through the windows have you?"
Ju Won rolls his eyes. "I'm observing." He glances back at the other. "You can't talk." He says. Dongshik raises his hands slightly, in surrender.
The door squeaks as he pushes it open. It's someplace no one would want to return to, Ju Won thinks. If they were in their right mind.
Gwang Young almost spills his perfectly brewed coffee when Ju Won walks in.
The plastic cup wobbles precariously on the table top that it's unceremoniously plopped onto. Senior Inspector Gwang Young blinks vigorously as if the sight before him is a fever dream to wake up from.
"Ji hoon ah." He says, voice racked with confusion . A head peaks out from behind one of the computer monitors. "Yes, hyung?"
Gwang Young points a finger at Ju won. "I think I'm seeing things."
Ji hoon follows suit, eyebrows shooting up in surprise. "Inspector Han?" he asks.
Ju won takes a quick look at everyone and gives a small bow. He thinks he hears Gwang Young squeak.
"It's good to be working with you again." He says. Ji hoon gapes at him.
" You're the new transfer?" he exclaims, jumping out of seat. The other two officers inch away from him slowly.
Ju won nods and narrowly avoids being tackled into a hug as Ji hoon halts in front of him, as if struck by a memory. "Right," He says, letting his arms drop. "Minimum contact." He gives Ju won a little salute instead.
"It's good to have you back Inspector Han."
Ju Won lets himself smile. This felt different to the last two times he set foot in this station. There's no lingering apprehension, no unshakeable need to not slip up.
No secrets to break into. He's woven in along with the rest.
A piece of a patchwork quilt that spans across reed fields and mountains and Ju won lets himself be pulled back in. He's no stranger to Manyang anymore.
The feeling that pulls in his chest is too new to pin down properly. It's the same calm that settles in him at the scent of detergent and packs cheap instant noodles.
Coming Home. Ju Won thinks dimly.
Perhaps, that's what it is.
"It's good to be back." He hears Dongshik scoff next to him .
"You speak as if you haven't been here in years, you visited often enough to be a local resident anyway." he says teasingly. "Has our Ju won gotten soft?" Ju won shrugs, unfazed. "Perhaps" He says, returning his gaze.
Why can't you cut ties, Inspector Han?
They threw him a welcome party which to Ju won didn't seem like anything but a typical dinner at Jae Yi's shop.
"An excuse to drink on a weekday." is what he tells Dongshik he believes it to be when they make their way to the butcher's shop.
Dongshik laughs. "You're sulking because you don't like to drink." He points out.
He pats Ju won on the back . "What are you going to do, Inspector Han? Run away?" he asks, tone light with good humor. Ju won turns away but does nothing to shrug off the hand on his shoulder.
"I guess I'll have to endure it." He says, face set with mock seriousness.
He sighs. "I guess I should get used to this." He sees Dongshik smile in the corner of his eye. "Your sacrifice will not be forgotten."
It doesn’t take long for Ju Won to regret his decision. As he always does.
It's truly become a pattern in itself.
He stares at his untouched glass of soju wondering if being drunk would save him from the seemingly endless ramble Detective Kwak goes on.
("Rough day at work." Ji Hwa says as explanation after the detective iterates on himself even after he's asked to calm down. "It's been one too many all nighters and dead ends." She sounded exhausted so no one pressed beyond that. Juwon is surprised they showed up at all. Not that he isn't grateful but he's beginning to wonder if the lack of self preservation is a Manyang exclusive characteristic. )
The glass of soju glints invitingly under the yellow light, but he persists.
For multiple reasons.
One of them being the fact that he's not fond of soju in the first place. He had one glass, purely as a courtesy and decided to keep it at that.
That and the man in front of him.
He looks at Dongshik, who's running his finger over the rim of an empty soju glass. His eyes are distant, softened by a memory.
Ju won frowns. Its familiar expression. From the whole of two times that he's gotten drunk in front of Ju won
(Or more accurately, the two times that he's caught Dongshik drunk when he didn’t expect Ju won to visit.)
Dongshik is a quiet drunk. He curls inwards, letting his mind wild without the fetter of reality keeping the more unpleasant thoughts pushed back.
As they should be.
There's no point tormenting yourself over the things of the past.
But then again, when has there ever been a point with such thoughts? They haven't faded. For him at least. How could they?
He thinks of Nam Sang Bae. As wretched as he felt and how many times he regrets his decisions he doesn’t think he wants to forget .
He doesn’t think Dongshik wants to either.
Time remedies the bitterness but the shadows seem to linger. They come back to light during the most unexpected times. One can only play it through and hope they don't linger for too long.
But there are better, kinder ways to remember than through one too many drinks on a late night.
Detective Kwak is talking about how this one suspect almost led them on a wild goose chase but it's easy to know what Dongshik hears.
Too late. Already gone. Breathing under the tiles.
And there's nothing Ju won can do except take him home and give him a bottle of water when he wakes up.
The 'party' dies down when they run out of meat. Everyone disperses and Jae Yi holds out a package to Ju Won. "It's passed all the sanitary regulations." She says, raising an eyebrow when Ju won looks at her questioningly.
Ju Won takes it. It weighs heavy in his hand.
"Go make yourselves some soup tomorrow morning" She says and shoos Ju won away before he protests.
Ju won drives them back, subtly trying to figure out what on earth's on Dongshik's mind along the way.
He hears Dongshik sigh, long and hollow and Ju won decides to abandon his plan on playing silent support.
"Whatever you're thinking, Don't." He says, keeping his eyes on the road. "It's -"
"Not my fault?" Dongshik inquires, voice neutral. Ju won glances at him.
"It's nothing you can change now." Dongshik watches him, curious. Ju Won looks away.
"And the only people who should suffer are the ones who are responsible for the mess in the first place." He says.
The ones that started everything.
Dongshik raises his eyebrows .
"Of course. I do know that." Dongshik says calmly, as if he's the one trying to soothe Ju won and not the other way around. It makes Ju Won's eye twitch.
"Then don't go - what was it? Overboard with the guilt all by yourself." He says. It comes out more forceful than he intends. There's a pause before he hears Dongshik make a sound of amusement.
"Are you worried about me, Inspector Han?"
Ju won sighs, exasperated. " Yes , I am ."
Dongshik makes worrying too easy. There's a stretch of silence as if Dongshik wasn't expecting that answer. Understandable . Usually, he would have played it off, denied it for the hell of it.
But sometimes things need to be said out loud for them to take shape and occupy space.
And if the silence is anything to go by, perhaps he succeeded in making a dent in Dongshik’s self imposed winter.
It's something he needed to say.
He just hopes it's something Dongshik needed to hear as well.
It's a little while afterwards when Dongshik chuckles.
Ju won's a bit scared by how relieved he feels when he hears it. Like a knot untying , the air lightens and loosens.
"Ah, how wonderful it is to be young." Dongshik hums. "So full of energy to spare for every little thing."
Ju won glares at him. "You're changing the subject." He states flatly.
"Firstly, this is not a waste of my time." He says, refusing to be deterred. He grips the steering wheel tighter.
"What's done is done and maybe it wasn’t ideal. But we didn't get to choose our circumstances did we? All we got to do was bring it to its end in the best way we could."
He loosens his grip and breathes in. "Secondly, I was simply stating the Obvious." Dongshik looks at him like it's anything but. "Anyone would be concerned if they see you staring out the window like you want to jump out of it for the entire car ride."
Dongshik laughs, a bit more warmth seeping into his tone.
"Of course," He agrees, smiling . "Thank you for your concern Inspector Han. " Dongshik’s voice is soft, devoid of his usual mock and aside from calming his mind, it does strange things to Ju won's heart.
Juwon coughs, embarrassed.
"Then do everyone a favour and don't beat yourself up over it." He says. "It's not worth it."
"Oh? Since when did our Ju won become so wise?" Dongshik exclaims. "I'm touched."
Ju won sighs. " It's the truth."
"If you say so."
"Lee Dongshik -"
Dongshik quirks his head towards Ju won. " Ju won - ah, I know that everything is not my fault." he says.
"The wrongs I've done, I've paid for." Ju won glances at him. His disbelief must have shown since Dongshik shakes his head with a little laugh.
"I've done enough reflecting in the past year for me to accept what happened." He says dismissively.
There's a short pause before Dongshik speaks again.
"Sometimes I remember - Yoo Yeon, Min Jun, Chief Nam and its -" He sighs. "Sad." He says, looking forward at the road in front.
"It's not always sad memories, really most of the time it's little things, happy spots. Like how hyung brewed tea near perfectly," Ju won slows down, there's barely anyone on the road at this time so he lets his eyes stay on Dongshik. His eyes are glazed over, like he's looking down some other road, far in his mind.
" Then it suddenly strikes. They're gone. Yoo Yeon isn't out there, just as old as me and it's just-" He smiles wryly, as if he can't believe what he's saying either, as if he can't figure out what exactly he's feeling. "-Sad."
Ju won blinks. The car goes over a bump and everything jolts for a second before coming back to place.
"Oh." He says.
It's not like he could say much else. He can't tell Dongshik not to remember. To banish the memories of the people he loved.
He thinks of his mother. A hand that's reached out to him in his dreams and pushed him away in his nightmares. In his reality. He thinks of the stain of his father's presence that made his smiles whenever he used to look back, bitter for the longest time.
There's no sanctuary from memory. At least, none that Ju won could find.
"I'm sorry." He says, finding his voice. It comes out rough and choppy.
"I shouldn't have jumped into conclusions." His mistake. A little knot forms in his chest at the thought of his own lack of foresight. Guilt. For forgetting, that there are more things than the murderers and their crimes.
He jerks slightly when he feels Dongshik’s hand pat his shoulder.
"It's alright Ju won ah." He says. "It is." Dongshik iterates, shutting Ju won up before he can speak.
He smirks, leaning back in his seat.
"Besides, jumping into conclusions is your thing isn't it?"
Ju won bites his lip and lets him have it.
They don't speak during the remainder of the journey.
It's not suffocating. Ju won realises.
Dongshik’s leaning towards the window with bleak eyes that shake when ghosts flit across them from time to time.
No. Ju Won thinks. It's not suffocating. What he feels is closer to powerlessness.
He'll stay, moving through the road until it ends. A passenger at the wheel, driving through through the familiar darkness until time passes and it's left outside when the lights eventually come on.
Dongshik pulls Ju Won down on the bed next to him when he tries to leave.
"You're not going to get any sleep if I let you go." Dongshik muttered when Ju Won tried to sit up.
"You'll just be brooding in your room."
Ju won scoffs. "I will not be brooding."
"Then you can leave if you want to." Dongshik says lightly, closing his eyes. The response is immediate. An easy retreat that Ju won's not used to from the other.
Ju Won looks at Dongshik in disbelief. Sometimes he wonders who the younger one is. "Switch off the lights when you leave."
He looks at Dongshik, who turns over to his side. His back curls away from Ju won and he can't see Dongshik’s face.
Juwon expects it'll look like he's resting peacefully. Unbothered.
"Really," He sighs as he gets up and walks towards the door.
" I'll be back with a blanket and a pillow." He says and leaves with the light still on.
With Ju won back Ji hoon is exiled to the backseat, an opportunity he uses to object Dongshik’s taste in music without the danger of being attacked and dozing off.
It's a slow, cold morning. The town seems to have barley awakened and the streets are relatively empty given that it's a Sunday.
Ji Hoon's in the convenience store to pick up some snacks while Ju Won and Dongshik stand outside.
Dongshik walks across the length of the store while Ju Won stands in the corner, twisting his feet to coax the numbness out of his legs. Dongshik finally comes to a stop next to Ju Won and blows out a breath, staring out into the misty morning cloak laid over the outskirts of Manyang. Ju won frowns.
"Why don't you have your jacket?" He asks. "The weather advisory clearly stated that it was going to be cold." Dongshik looks at him like he grew another head.
"Who actually watches the weather advisory?" He asks, turning back to the scenery with a sigh. "Besides, this isn't too bad." He turns to Ju won with a smirk and a teasing glint in his eye.
"Is it too cold for our Seoulite?"
Ju Won rolls his eyes. He's about to reply when he hears a scream out in the distance. They look at each other.
"It didn't sound like far." Ju won says. Dongshik nods in agreement and then they're both sprinting out into the street.
They find the source in the first alleyway they look into. There's a man holding a hand over a woman's mouth.
There's a manic look in his eyes and a knife in his hand. Ju Won spots an angry red bruise on the woman's arm and feels sick in the pit of his stomach. He hears Donghik shout next to him and they both look over at the officers. There's a split second of silence before the man utters a curse, staggers back before making a run for it.
"I'll follow." Ju won calls out and followed before Dongshik could say anything.
Dongshik looks at the rapidly receding figure in front of him and his first impulse is to follow after him. To punch the grotesque leer out of that man's face.
Then he remembers the woman, a girl really he thinks on a second glance almost the same age as - he clenches his jaw.
This isn't Minjun, focus .
The main difference being that she's alive. And needs immediate attention.
He's not going to make the same mistake again. Jun won can handle himself. He can catch the perpetrator. He pushes back the thoughts of a dead body, ignores the echoes of a gunshot that ring in his mind. This is different.
But he had a knife. - And Ju Won's a police officer. He knows how to handle a knife. He breathes in slowly.
Dongshik had another job to do. He shakes his head. So he crouches down, trying not to startle her.
"Hey there," He says softly, pulling out a handkerchief when he notices the steady trickle of blood on her forehead.
"Are you okay?"
Once he's sure she's gotten her wits about her Dongshik leaves the girl with Ji hoon to wait for the ambulance and takes the car along the path Ju won disappeared on.
He hasn’t driven that far when he finds Ju won, on the side of the road. He kneels over the man to cuff his hands behind him.
Dongshik pulls over a little up front. Relief pools in at the sight of him, diluting the memories of a night gone wrong back into transparency.
Ju won seems a bit battered, leaning against a telephone pole nearby but he's alive. Not on the floor.
"Took you long enough." Ju Won says, looking up from his seat on the floor when Dongshik makes his way to him.
"Well you did leave without me." Dongshik says. "It took me a while to find you."
He wants to tell him off for running after an armed criminal alone, to tell him not to be so foolhardy. But he also knows it'll be futile. It's what had to be done. This is their profession after all.
He finds comfort in the fact that Ju won is probably the last person to underestimate a situation and would probably never do something without at least giving it some thought. But then he remembers his infuriating inability to back down and Dongshik's back on square one. All he can hope for is that he won't be too far away to help him, even begrudgingly.
I will never disappear from your sight. He remembers Ju won saying that, desperate water sticking to his face like tears. He smiles.
Sentiments are mutual between partners, it seems.
His shoes are scuffed. Dongshik notices. There's dust on his clothes, probably from the scuffle. Yet Ju Won doesn't seem to be bothered by it. He's sitting on the floor for. Something he would have avoided like the plague under usual circumstances.
Dongshik stares, surprised . Ju won raises an eyebrow, "What?" he asks, patting his hair down from its windblown state.
How is this the same person who didn't want to go into the convenience store because the glass panes didn't look spotless?
The contrast makes him smile, half in disbelief and half in fondness.
" You've truly changed haven't you?" He can't help but murmur.
The wind blows across the street, carrying his words away with it. Ju won frowns, not having caught what Dongshik said.
"What?" he asks. Craning his neck further and Dongshik is overtaken by a sudden impulse to ruffle his temporarily set hair.
Maybe later. When they don't have a man to arrest. He puts his hands in his pockets and shrugs.
"Look at you putting yourself on the line for your duty." he says jokingly.
Ju won sends him a deadpan stare. Dongshik smiles in return.
Ju Won gets up pulling the man up along with him.
"Is she alright?" he asks. Dongshik figures he's referring to the girl.
"Ji Hoon's with her." He says, switching his focus back to the case and away from the growing warmth in his chest.
"She's fine. A bit too shaken up to speak. Minor bleeding but nothing else." He eyes the man. His head hangs limply. "Nothing I could see." He says measuredly. "Let's get him in the car."
The man looks around in a daze when Ju Won gives him a push to walk forwards. He turns back with a curse , eyes widening when he catches sight Ju won's face.
"You." He exclaims, craning his neck further. "I've seen you." Dongshik scoffs, pulling him away from Ju won.
"That's enough of that." he says to no avail. The man grins. "You're the Police chief's son aren't you? Ah-" he pauses, "the former chief."
Dongshik sighs, pulling him towards the car. "My ,aren't you a chatterbox?" he mutters. "Let's hope you keep it up at the station."
The man laughs. The sound is unhinged. It grates on Dongshik's nerves. The man sways on his feet precariously. It makes Dongshik wonder if he's not quiet at this moment.
"Why? Did I say something wrong?" he says, words slurring towards the end of the sentence, deliberately trying to egg Ju won on, who simply stares at the man unblinking, expression unreadable.
" You can wipe that look of disgust from your face." He says, jutting his chin out. "Isn't that rich? You're father's a crook and you think you're above me?" He sighs, "Really, can a little misunderstanding on the street even be compared to what he did." He asks, mock dripping off his words. "I barely did anything hmm?" The sky above them is gray, the sun hidden in the clouds. Thunder rumbles in the distance.
Dongshik tsks, putting a forceful hand on the man's shoulder. A warning. His blood boils and all he wants to do is sucker punch the man in the face but he reigns it in. He doesn't need to make it easier for him to get bailed out.
"Where does this ridiculous confidence -"
"That's right." Dongshik’s head jerks up when Ju Won speaks.
Ju won walks forward, straightens his spine and stares down at the man. "My father is in prison." He says, leaning closer, face set and an unbothered smile quirking at his lips.
"I put him there." He says.
"So you don't have to worry about my conscience, I lock up the bad guys you see." He leans away and then pauses as if he just remembered something.
"Ah," He says, brows furrowed in mock concern. "What happens next, I hope you don't misunderstand it."
Dongshik’s just about caught the end of the sentence when Ju Won's shoes came in swift contact with the man's knees, tripping him over.
The man goes down with a surprised yelp. He falls on his side with a dull thud.
" My foot slipped." Ju won says , a little breathless.
He's wild-eyed when he looks at Dongshik, as if mutely looking for a sign of disapproval. Dongshik regards the man with raised brows.
"I thought you'd kick him harder." He says, glancing at Ju won who makes a noise in his throat which sounds like a choked laugh before smoothening his expression.
"Whatever do you mean, Dongshik shi." He says dryly despite the mirth shining in his eyes. "It was merely an accident. " He sounds so vindicated that Dongshik can't help but chuckle .
The man groans but doesn't get up. Probably drunk. Or high. He thinks, recalling the swaying steps from earlier.
Dongshik knows a trip-up isn't enough to knock someone out , or do any serious damage.
Besides, Ju won wouldn't have done it without running the outcomes in his head. So he lets him stay there. Dongshik isn't the pinnacle of conventional justice himself.
He lets out a sigh of relief.
"Well since he finally shut up, moving him would be easier." He says, stretching out his arms before bending down to pull the man up again.
"A little help would be nice."
"Just so you know. I wasn't upset at the remark about my father."
Ju Won, shuts the boot and comes around with two bottles of water. He gives one to Dongshik and proceeds to wash his hands with the other.
The words are thrown out lightly, seemingly without any regard as to how they would be taken but Dongshik isn't an idiot. Ju won's expression is smooth, betraying no emotion.
"I know." He cocks his head to the side, observing him curiously. Ju won doesn't look at him, remaining obstinately fixed on scrubbing his hands with a handkerchief .
Did he expect him to not believe him? Jin won's seeming indifference made him strangely vexed.
Does Juwon expect Dongshik to not to trust him? Was it supposed to be a given that he would disagree and that Ju won should accept whatever scorn that would be placed upon him?
"It was just that he called it a misunderstanding-" Ju won continues. He scrubs at his hand more vigorously despite there being no more dirt left.
Dongshik can’t help but scoff. He leans against the car, taking a swig of his own bottle.
"You don't have to explain yourself to me Han Ju Won." He says, looking up at the graying sky overhead.The sun shines through translucent clouds casting a dim yellow glow upon them.
Ju won glances at him. "I didn't want you to misunderstand." He states slowly, after a while.
"And why would I?" He asks, "Actions speak louder than words anyway." He says as Ju won finally looks at him.
"You said it yourself didn't you? That you put him in prison?" He smiles to himself. "You even cried. In the rain." He points out.
Juwon makes a strangled noise "I did not cry-"
"You were ready to shoot. "
"That was because -"
He smiles to himself. "You could have let it pass by."
"I would never -" Ju won interrupts. Dongshik chuckles. "Exactly."
"You're a good person Ju won ah." He says. "You haven't done wrong by me."
The words fall softly. He states it the way one would speak of the sun being a star and the ground beneath them being solid.
It is as honest a truth to Dongshik. One that makes the unexplainable feeling he's been trying to put a word on suddenly so very simple. Dongshik turns to look at Ju won.
Ju won is silent, eyes focused faraway in the reeds beyond the narrow strip of road. He's stopped rubbing at his hands where the skin had turned slightly red with the excessive force.
The wind blows through the reeds and raindrops splatter onto the tarmac.
Ju Won looks up at the sky, wincing. He looks over to Dongshik "We should go-" He starts, clearing his throat. Dongshik kisses him.
The rain falls heavier and feels his hair droop with rain water. The wind nudges them closer and after a short moment Ju won kisses him back.
Ju won's in his apartment when he gets a call from Hyuk.
He comes here occasionally. mostly to pick things up , occasionally visit his grandparents or to clean for when they do visit, having a place in the capital has its benefits .
Today was none of those.
Today he's here because Dongshik’s with his mother.
Ju Won had visited her with him earlier in the day. He had reached out for Dongshik’s hand almost instinctively when she looked at his son like he was a stranger.
" It's quite alright. '' Dongshik says, sounding resigned. " It's quite normal."
Ju Won pushes aside the small inklings of his own guilt and makes barebones comments about the weather when Dongshik needs a distraction and keeps him company when he takes his mother for a stroll in the clinic's garden.
He's not sure if he's doing everything wrong but he tries not to think about it too much.
It's late in the evening ,Dongshik leaves to speak with the doctor and Jv won's left under a tree with Mrs. Lee .
The old woman pats his hand. Ju won starts, surprised by the action but lets her take his hand in hers. She puts a peeled orange in it and tells him that she had a son as well. Ju won keeps his expression mild despite the dread that settles in his bones.
Get it together. He chides himself. He really doesn't need another crying incident for Dongshik to rub in his face.
He clears his throat . " He is a good person." he manages.
The woman nods absently. Ju won's not sure if she hears him at all. He spots Dongshik walking towards them, hands in his jacket pockets.
" Here he is right now." he says when Dongshik steps next to him. Dongshik quirks an eyebrow at him, hoping for an explanation.
Ju won shrugs not quite sure how to explain their exchange.
"You gave him an orange." Dongshik exclaims once he notices the fruit. Ju won smiles sideways at the balant betrayal in his tone.
He breaks off a segment and puns it in his mouth smugly. Dongshik scoffs.
" My son, he is a good person. " Ju Won almost chokes on his orange when she speaks abruptly.
Dongshik freezes besides him. " he is kind isn't he? my Dongshik. " she inquires , gazing somewhere faraway.
Dongshik seems to have turned into a statue next to him. His fingers tremble enough for Ju won to declare a hail mary and clasp his own hand around them.
Ju Won clears his throat. " Yes." he says looking directly at Dongshik. "Grossly so. " It makes Dongshik laugh so maybe Ju won is doing alright.
Donyshik sends Ju won home, barring his protests.
" I could stay here." Ju won says. He's not sure if he should leave Dongshik. The lines on his face look more renounced under the harsh hospital lights. He looks washed out.
" You probably won't get any sleep."
"And if you stay, you're not going to either," Dongshik points out effectively shutting him up. He pats Ju won on the shoulder. " There's no use having two sleep deprived drivers ." he says . " Go get some sleep."
He couldn't stay in Dongshik's place.
There were too many memories encased there.
A time capsule with faded photographs and old fashioned wallpaper that held too many fingerprints . Dongshik hadn't wanted to change most things about the place and the story it told had made its presence known more intensely today. He had felt its presence.
Ju Won had spent fifteen minutes staring at the same spot on a wall before he had picked up his keys and left , thinking that a drive would do him good.
In the end Ju Won had ended up in Seoul , going through his mail to have something to do and Hyuk calls and asks him if he's busy.
Usually, he would have refused either ways but tonight he figures a distraction would be good.
" I didn't think you'd come." Hyuk exclaims. Ju won shrugs. " I was in the area." He ignores the curious look Hyuk throws him, taking a sip of his whiskey. It burns pleasantly as it goes down. The bar is relatively empty, it almost always was. It generally catered towards the
Hyuk orders them some food, shaking his head when Ju Won says he's not hungry.
" It's my treat," he says . He smiles , straightening his shoulders. " Hyung got his paycheck today." Ju Won shakes his head .
" Please get a girlfriend and gloat to them," he says.
Naturally, Hyuk pounces on this, turning the request on its head. " I could tell you the same thing." he says, pointing his fork accusingly at Ju won. " For how long are you going to brood alone?"
" I don't think that's the most pressing matter in my life ." Ju won says, feeling a bit caught out since that was exactly what he had been doing.
"Besides, I don't really care for dating, not right now." He continues, keeping his voice neutral. It's technically not a lie, but it's not the whole truth either.
He thinks of Dongshik, the callike smiles, spontaneous madness and hair curling in the rain. What do you call that? They've never really spoken about it. Ju Won simply exists around Dongshik , like it's natural. It's effortless and they wander back to the same place at the end. His reverie is broken when he remembers the kiss.
He talks a long sip of his drink in an attempt to hide the instantaneous embarrassment that ran through him like lightning.
They hadn't spoken about that either . There wasn't a need to. Neither he or Dongshik acted if it never happened. It simply stayed. Tucked away on that roadside with the rain that fell , making plants out of the seeds that had always been there.
He takes another sip of his drink, slower this time, to regain his composure. The carved ice clinks resoundingly in his ear.
" Don't set up any blind dates." Ju won warns belatedly.
Hyuk raises an eyebrow. "I'm not that jobless ." he says. " I have other things to do, you know."
The self important tone makes Ju Won roll his eyes .
Hyuk smiles conspiratorially . " But I do know this- "
" No." Ju won deadpans . Hyuk laughs.
It's a recent development, Ju Won thinks. Seeing this candid side of his former tutor isn't something he was used to growing up.
Hyuk seemed to be doing better now that he isn't following Ju won's father , cleaning up after him. Albeit, he is still insufferable. Especially in how he prods at Ju Won's life, seemingly unaffected by the withering glares Ju won aims at him.
" So , how are things in Manyang?" he asks, once their food arrives. He serves Ju won before he serves himself, one of his nicer habits that seems to have not changed. Ju won shrugs. " Quiet." he says, "far too much soju for one town. "
Hyuk raises an eyebrow. " Not too quiet I hope," he says. " I don't want you dying of boredom."
" I didn't say it was boring." Ju won counters.
" I didn't think you were the type to enjoy the rustic scene. '' Ju Won shrugs, he didn't think he would either. It isn't to say that were times he wished things moved slightly faster , but recently he's been falling in pace, feeling his shoulder's loosen and it's not a wholly unwelcome change.
"People change ." he says, " I'm sure you can attest to that, hyung."
Hyuk nods, his expression thoughtful. "Speaking of which," he looks up at Ju Won.
"Have you visited your father?" he asks.
Ju Won shakes his head. " No." he says.
If Hyuk didn't expect the answer , he didn't show it. Although Ju won is quite sure that it's obvious.
"Do you want to?" Hyuk asks , carefully as if he was talking to a child. Ju Won closes his eyes for a moment. "No." he says tiredly. " I have nothing to say."
Hyuk frowns , unnecessarily concerned as usual. " Are you sure ?" he asks. Ju won doesn't reply, choosing to cut into his steak instead. Hyuk sighs.
"Don't hold onto hate,Ju won ah" he says. " It'll just eat at you. ''
Ju Won laughs, it's a sharp noise. " You should tell that to him , hyung." he says dryly.
He feels a childish satisfaction when the other realizes what he meant.
It doesn't last long , however and is soon replaced by the general weariness this subject brings about.
He had gone to visit , once.The other hadn't wanted to see him. Ju won doubts he's repenting. Knowing his father he's more likely refusing to see what caused a blot, a stain on his perfect picture. Unable to believe that Ju won had it in him to carry through for someone beyond himself.
He didn't know why he'd done it, when he had deliberately kept away from Dongshik during his imprisonment. Dongshik going to prison felt like a cruel joke . It was the unwanted answer to a complicated problem.
His father, on the other hand-
he wished he could say that it was complex, wished that there was a silver lining. But the reality was simple, untwisted. He'd killed, walked on away and let hell unfold around him.
" Ju won-" Hyuk begins, but Ju won stops him. " It's alright , hyung." He recalls Dongshik echoing the same words earlier and smiles sardonically.
Maybe this is what he meant. The understanding that somethings can't seem to be mended , conceding to the fractures .
But Dongshik has hope , in his long gazes and unshed tears for his withered mother.
Ju won, on the other hand ,can't seem to hope or grieve.
There's only a murky feeling, a shadowy blanket thrown over his head .
He shakes his head, picking up his fork even though his appetite has let him.
" Let's eat."
" Don't be a stranger and call me sometimes" Hyuk reminds him as he leaves. Ju Won nods, not wanting to listen to another lecture. He doesn't hate Hyuk, but it's often a tossup , to see how long his patience would last.
He gets into the car and leans against the headrest.
He weighs the box Hyuk had given him in his hand. " An early birthday present. " he had said, not failing to mention his promotion along with his wishes. Ju Won had accepted it with a muted thanks. He hadn't expected anything.
Can you cut ties ?
Are you sure? Hyuk's voice echoes in his head.
Quite . he answers himself, setting the box aside. He starts the car and drives off.
Outside the window the sky is pitch black.
There's a long horn that wails in the distance.
From his vantage, the city seems subdued. Cut off. The hectic lights don't reach him. It leaves him with the feeling of aloneness that he's gotten unfamiliar with as of recently.
He takes the watch out of the box, laying it down on the table. It's a simple design, a matt finish in the strap.
Ju Won decides that he likes it. He makes a mental note to thank Hyuk later.
He falls onto his bed and checks for any messages.
Nothing. The corners of his vision blur. He frowns.
Perhaps he drank too much than he thought he had. Sleep . He decides. You have somewhere to be tomorrow. For a brief moment he wonders if they could go somewhere, a walk down to the lake but he shrugs it off. He's long since kept away from sentimental expectations on his birthday.
Besides, Jun won reasons, He'd probably be tired. They could do that some other time.
"Are you sure? Don't hold onto hate Ju won ah."
It isn't hate. Not really. His father made him weary. Like scraping at a brick wall and only being left with bloody scrapes, the more effort you put in.
He'd seen him during the trail, with his face of stone, completely closed off. He'd looked at Ju won with disbelief and contempt. As though he's not sure how he exists.
There was nothing they needed to know from each other. Ju won couldn't forgive him and he figures from the indifference his father showed him during the investigation, that the feeling's mutual.
So justice was a betrayal, he knew this.
But it was that not carrying out what's right would have been a greater treachery. One that he wouldn't have been able to live with.
Not one to out value in family are you?
It's an absurd thing, to him, to put blind faith in someone. Something he still couldn't see how Dongshik does.
Maybe Ju won has no senses for such matters. Family couldn't be chosen.
Or maybe you can. He corrects himself, thinking of the people around the table at the butcher's shop .
He thinks of how he came back, for himself. The Ju won he found in Manyang.
And for them.
He'd like to chose who he'd put his faith in.
And he had made his choice when he put his finger on the trigger and shot next to his father's ear.
He's not going back on it.
Phantom gunshots echo in his ears.
He sighs, he really isn't helping himself. His hand hovers over Dongshik’s contact. A sudden desire to hear his voice bubbles at his throat. but he backtracks at the last, feeling foolish. He sends him a text instead.
When should I come pick you up?
There's no immediate reply which Ju Won takes as actually Dongshik sleeping. He feels ridiculous for hoping otherwise.
Sleep. Juwon clicks his phone shut. None of these thoughts are going to do him much good.
He stares at the ceiling for an hour before sleep settles his mind and mercifully takes him away.
Jun won wakes up with his phone blaring in his ear. Dongshik cheerily informs him that Ju Won can come around in a few hours. Ju won mumbles a confirmation, wincing at the ebbs of yesterday's alcohol induced headache pulses at his temples.
The moon is still visible out of place , opposite the sun and the lighter sky when Ju Won arrives at the clinic. He parks his car and waits at the steps. He feels better, refreshed by the cold morning air.
He spots Dongshik after a few minutes, walking out the main gate and nods in acknowledgement when Dongshik sees him.
"My aren't you a sight for sore eyes." Dongshik comments sarcastically, pointedly looking at Ju Won who's dressed from head to toe in variations of gray.
"What grave did you crawl out of?" Ju Won rolls his eyes, trying not to think about how Dongshik’s gaze lingers on his mouth.
"A new watch?" Dongshik inquires, nodding at his wrist. Ju won blinks, surprised. "I didn't -" He brings his hand up for closer inspection. "Oh." He must have put on by accident. He had left both of them on his table. He adjusts it on his wrist, disconcerted. "I suppose so."
The conversation from last night replays in his head. Perhaps he's more affected than he thought he was.
Dongshik snorts. "You suppose so?" he leans closer, peering at Ju Won's face curiously. "Did it happen upon your wrist by accident?" He asks.
Ju Won averts his eyes. "It was a gift." He says stiffly, hoping to end the conversation.
Dongshik's eyebrows climb higher. "An admirer?" He asks, lips quirking with mock. Ju won scoffs. It's the furthest from what he'd call Hyuk.
"Hardly." He says. "No one of the sort." Dongshik shrugs, seemingly pleased by the answer. Ju won pretends not to notice.
He gestures to his car. "Shall we?"
Dongshik grins, leaning forward on the balls of his feet. "Most certainly."
He looks alright. Ju Won thinks after a brief inspection. Dongshik's eyes are red rimmed but not alarmingly so. He seemed than better Ju won thought he'd be.
He had come fully prepared to force Dongshik to sleep but maybe he'd actually thought about himself for once.
The thought rests pleasantly in his heart, putting him at ease.
"Ah," Dongshik looks up at Ju won as if he suddenly remembered something. "We have to make a stop on the way, you don't have anything to do today do you?."
Ju won blinks. "Not really."
Dongshik smiles wider. "Excellent," He exclaims.
"It's quite important, you see."
Given the excitement, Ju won expected they would go somewhere more interesting than a supermarket.
Maybe he's in a dire need to restock on ramyeon. Ju Won thinks. Which is possibly a matter of great importance to Dongshik. He's as picky with the noodles as Ju won is with his wine, which is to say, very.
He hangs back, wheeling the cart as Dongshik walks in front examining the fresh greens with the same focus that one would have when going through a case report.
His confusion increases when he's at the checkout counter and there's everything but ramyeon in the cart . He squints at the items on the conveyor.
Everything looked, uncharacteristically healthy . Usually he'd have to pull the cart back into the aisle to pick most of these things up.
"You don't even drink milk." Ju won comments as Dongshik put a carton on the counter. "It's for the cat." He says.
Ju Won shakes his head, moving Dongshik aside to set the rest of the items on the counter, driven impatient by the slow pace.
"There's a cat? What cat?" he asks, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe his hands once he's finished.
Dongshik smiles mysteriously, regarding Ju won with faint amusement.
"What cat indeed."
They arrive at the house well into the morning.
"You didn’t stay here last night did you?" Dongshik asks abruptly. They're in the living room and Ju won starts, looking over at Dongshik in surprise.
"How did you -" He stops halfway, seeing the look of triumph on Dongshik’s face at the confirmation.
Ju won straightens his shoulders. "A cheap trick." He says stiffly.
Dongshik shrugs. "A reasonable guess." He corrects, "Everything is exactly where I left them."
Dongshik points at a throw pillow on the floor near Ju Won's feet, then at the papers from their recent case strewn across the table. " I highly doubt you'd have left those alone."
Ju won purses his lips. "Hyuk called me over." He says. "We had dinner." Dongshik raises an eyebrow, leaning against the wall. Ju Won could see that Dongshik doesn’t believe it but he stares back, steadfast.
He could simply tell Dongshik the truth. That he had felt suffocated by his own existence when he walked in here yesterday. But he keeps the words back resolutely. He doesn't want Dongshik to feel sorry for anything. It's something he's going to have to work through. For both their sakes.
Dongshik hums, his expression thoughtful.
"Well." He says at last, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "Let me know next time." He says, unusually sombre.
He holds Ju won's gaze. "All I have to tell you is what you already know." He says. His expression is bleak. Was he disappointed? Ju won's breath catches in his throat.
I know that you're not the one who did it but I can't bear to see your face-
The people who do wrong are the only ones that need to be arrested.
In his head, he knows that it's not his fault. He isn't guilty of anything but association. He technically shouldn't feel bad.
He is not his father. He'd caught the criminal. It felt wrong, feeling bad.
Everything that he had pushed out of his mind seemed to swirl in a flurry in his head. They blend out into one incoherent stream of dread. His father's face distorts, memories of blood on his hands, the cold water when he dived into the lake only to pull out a corpse.
Could it have been avoided? Had he looked a bit closer to himself? His lungs seem to have constricted, as though he isn't allowing himself to breathe. He tries to take a step and stumbles on that cursed pillow-
And Dongshik catches him by the shoulders. He holds him up while Ju won tries not to breath in like a dying fish.
Ju Won closes his eyes, in an attempt to calm down but it has the opposite effect. It only makes him notice his quickening heartbeat more, making his lungs further.
He can't seem to breathe -
"Breath, Han Ju won." He feels before he hears. Dongshik's hand is on his nape, fingers tracing small circles on his skin and Ju won clings to it like a lifeline. An anchor that brings him out of his own head.
He lets himself loosen.
" Breathe , Ju won ah." He hears Dongshik say again.
Ju won breathes out shakily, pushing out the air that he choked on. As the minutes tick on the circles turn into small soothing pats on the back of his neck. The living room comes back into focus and his panicked thoughts dim and he's lulled into a sense of calmness by the rhythmic touch.
"You don't need to be hard on yourself, Ju won ah." He hears Dongshik say. "Emotions can't be controlled. There's no right or wrong to them."
He opens his eyes and looks at Dongshik. His eyes widen when he realizes how little distance is there between them.
"You should let them out." Dongshik continues, pulling Ju won up with him.
"At least then we can sort through them." He says.
Ju won gulps, feeling his heart beat faster for a different reason. Dongshik’s expression is soft, eyes curved with silent conviction and Ju won wants to sink into it.
And he does.
He nods jerkily. He feels lightheaded, suddenly weightless. He sways, leaning down to rest his forehead on Dongshik’s shoulder.
Dongshik lets out a surprised chuckle, but doesn't move out of the way. He reaches out to pat his shoulder assuringly. The material of Dongshik’s jacket isn't the most comfortable, the angle is awkward, but Ju Won finds himself unwilling to move. He feels Dongshik's shoulder raise with a sigh.
"My," He hears Dongshik’s voice muse in his ear after a while. "Affectionate today, are we?"
Ju won doesn't look up. "You don't seem to mind it." He retorts boldly, possibly due to some divine power acting through him. Dongshik's long suffering sigh tickles his ear.
"What have I gotten myself into." Dongshik murmurs before he whacks Ju Won lightly on the head. "Didn't a wise man once tell you not to go overboard with that guilt of yours?"
"The wise man is a nutcase." Ju won corrects dryly.
"You're equally mad for repeating it then." Dongshik retorts, voice lilting playfully.
Ju won smiles into his shoulder, full and earnest.
"Then we're both mad together."
"Have you had breakfast Ju won ah?" Dongshik asks as they carry the groceries into the kitchen.
It's a while after Ju Won had calmed down.
Dongshik had insisted that he could manage by himself but Ju won ignored him. He needed something to do, to stop the embarrassment of what happened from settling in.
Ju Won shakes his head. He hadn't had an appetite nor the time when Dongshik had called and woken him up at the break of dawn. Dongshik, possibly releasing this, ducks head sheepishly.
"Well then, I'll make some for both of us." He says, rolling up his sleeves.
"I can help." Ju won offers. Dongshik looks at him, amused. "You can help by staying away." He says.
" What if a certain delicate young master faints when I'm seasoning the soup?" He blinks, mock innocently, waiting for an answer.
Ju won glares, but there's no heat in it.
"For the record you don't decide to feel lightheaded." He mutters, needing to say something and marches out of the kitchen.
Dongshik cackles follow him out. He shuts the door of the bedroom and huffs, flinging his coat on the bed.
There's a hand in his hair, soft and uncalloused. It feels like his mother's. Her voice is quiet as a breath, sings a song he can't seem to recognise. It's too distant, had it been a memory. The lullaby settles over him, soporific. Light dances over his closed eyes.
It feels warm.
He opens his eyes easily.
They flare wide, at the sudden light and Ju won realises that he had fallen asleep without intending to.
He rubs at his face as he sits on the bed. Strange. He thinks, looking around the room in a daze. That it was here.
Not the apartment, where he has some of her things.
Remnants of the dream envelope him like an embrace. He touches his head distractedly.
It's been a long time since he had last dreamt of his mother.
Dongshik at the table when Ju won wanders out of the room. He's changed out of his previous outfit into a blue sweatshirt that Ju won swears he has duplicates of.
Ju won catches a whiff of the food set out as he enters the living room. He eyes considerably large spread behind the other and wondered if there'd be anyone joining them. Dongshik is turned away from him, leaning over the table, examining it's contents.
"Oh, you're finally awake." Dongshik speaks without looking behind, as though he sensed footsteps behind him. " You seem to need it so I didn't wake you."
"I didn't realise that I fell asleep." Ju won says, chagrined.
He wonders if Dongshik had eaten already, though by the looks of the dishes, it seemed unlikely. A glance at the wall clock tells him he's been out for almost an hour. Not long, then. He thinks, feeling relieved.
He turns around at Ju Won's response, shaking his head. "It's alright, it gave me some more time." He says, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm a bit rusty."
Ju Won raises an eyebrow, glancing over at the table and back at Dongshik. "Rusty." He echoes sarcastically, "I suppose it's pretty small for a buffet."
Dongshik shrugs, eyes curving at the roundabout flattery that he's gotten to know at Ju Won's brand of affection. He claps his hands, "Now, if you'd do the honors," He says moving aside.
Ju won's about to sit down, the chair pulled out halfway when he notices the bowl set in front of him. Seaweed soup. He blinks. Curls of steam float up into the air.
Ju Won observes them, transfixed by the movement.
He looks over at Dongshik as he starts to speak without thinking about it, moving on autopilot.
"Now I know that you aren't a fan of things dunked in water but, " Dongshik says. He smiles slightly. His eyes twinkle in the light, lines creasing on each side.
"-Happy birthday, Han Ju won."
Ju Won feels out of breath and far too full at the same time.
How had he known? When was the last time he's had this? It's not an uncommon birthday tradition, yet it doesn't strike at any memories. It's nothing he should have longed for yet -
It's a breath of air. The clouding steam makes the hair on his arms rise.
No. He realizes, belatedly.
The pleasant shock that courses through him is entirely because of the present. Because of this one person. He grips the frame of the chair in front of him.
"Ju won ah?" A hand blurs in front of him, wiping away the fog that he'd been lost in.
Ju won blinks, realising that he's been staring at Dongshik without saying anything for the past few seconds.
"How did you know?" he asks, unable to keep the bewilderment out of his voice.
"I looked at your records the first time you arrived here." Dongshik says, matter of fact.
"You weren't the only one who did their research."
Of course, Ju Won thinks. That makes sense.
The first time he had come to Manyang. He remembers being haunted by Dongshik’s laughter, dragged out of his usual calm with his ludicrous mind games. Then everything had caved in on itself and Ju won had found himself alongside him, digging out skeletons.
Ju won can't help but think how long ago that seemed.
It's been almost two years. He notes vaguely, in the midst of his reverie.
But he had remembered.
"So," Dongshik leans against the table, relaxed and easy. "Do you like it?" Ju won is transported back to a darker space, with its enclosing walls where he'd seen an approximation of the same stance. It had been a careful concealment back then. Intended to drive out his sense.
But now, there is no menace. It carried nothing beyond what it plainly seems to be. It doesn't make Ju Won want to run but stay. For as long and as close as he could.
He looks Dongshik straight in the eye. "I like it." He says, closing the distance between them. Feeling his heart kick drumming in his chest when Dongshik doesn’t move aside. "I like it far too much." He says. Dongshik smiles.
"The feeling's mutual, it seems. "
Ju won kisses him this time. Leaning down, hands resting on either of Dongshik. He kisses fervently, trying to convey everything he can't seem to put into words. It's a far cry from the day out on the off road. Dongshik meets him halfway without preamble, pulling him closer by the waist.
Ju Won runs his hands through Dongshik's hair, finding it surprisingly smooth. He gasps as Dongshik bites the corner of his mouth. Ju won retaliates pushing further against the table, driven reckless and heady on the feeling of Dongshik’s smile on his skin.
He chuckles when they break apart to breathe. Ju won flushes as he feels Dongshik's breath tickle his nose. It makes his heart twist.
"That wasn't very proper, for a young master." Dongshik quips, eyebrows raised and eyes glinting.
Ju won shrugs. "I have been driven mad." He deadpans. Though he can't say he minds it.
Dongshik hums thoughtfully , as though contemplating the idea before grinning. "Well then, let me accompany you." He says, twisting them around until Ju won's pressed against the table instead.
"Do I have a say in this?" Ju won asks, playing along. Dongshik kisses him on the cheek and Ju Won freezes, ears turning red at the chaste affection. He stares, stunned as Dongshik smiles triumphantly. "I'll take that as a yes." He says, leaning down to kiss Ju won again and all Ju won can think of is how warm he feels.
His hands find their way around Dongshik and hold him close. Closer than he'd ever held anything before.
At some point they find themselves in the bedroom. Ju won is not sure how they managed without knocking into anything, but there they were nonetheless. He rests his head on the bed frame, eyes closed.
The initial heat had dissipated, leaving them in a languid calm.
"Thank you," Ju won says. "For remembering." Dongshik raises his head, turning towards him.
He shrugs, eyebrows raised in mock seriousness. "Well, to be honest I almost forgot."
Ju Won shakes his head. "Insufferable." He mutters to himself.
Dongshik gasps. "I'm hurt, Ju won ah." Ju won lets himself enjoy how easily his name rolled off. He sits up straighter. "We should eat, Lee Dongshik-shi." He says primply. Dongshik scoffs.
"Would it kill you to be less formal?" he asks, pulling on his sweater.
"What else could I call you?" Ju won asks, shrugging.
Dongshik sighs dramatically. "Whatever, forget about it."
Ju won smiles, feigning innocence . He gets up, straightening the collar of his turtleneck. He crosses his arms over each other.
"Let's go eat then, hyung." He says, leaning down towards Dongshik who's seated at the edge of the bed.
He smiles internally when Dongshik looks at him eyes wide with surprise before it changes into something more quiet. More happy. A second passes and Dongshik laughs.
" Well wonders never cease it seems. " He muses.
He's about to push off the bed when the door opens. "Hey, Dongshik hyung are you in here? -'' A voice bursts into the room. Ju won starts, almost losing his balance. Dongshik's hand shoots up to steady him which leaves them in a more compromising position than a few minutes ago when Ji hoon spots them.
"Dongshik hyung- Oh." Ji hoon freezes in his tracks. His eyes blink rapidly, as if unable to process what he's seeing.
Dongshik sighs, long suffering. "Ji hoon ah." He draws, letting go of Ju won's shoulder. He holds onto Ju won's hand instead. "Has no one taught you how to knock?"
Ji Hoon's eyes flit between the two, before landing on their hands. He claps a hand over his hand.
"HYUNG" He exclaims. Dongshik raises his eyebrows , as if daring him to continue.
"I-um. I'll be outside ugh , hyungnim" He adds for good measure before retreating back as quickly as he came in.
"Well," Dongshik says, getting up. "I suppose we should go outside."
" They were holding hands. " Ji Hoon's voice carries through the door.
Ju won winces. "Or we could say here." It seemed better than whatever fate that lay outside.
Dongshik laughs. "Tempting," He says. He narrows his eyes at the door."But I don't want Ji Hoon finishing the food."
"I did put effort into it." Dongshik says.
He looks down at Ju Won's wrist. "Although I'm not sure you prefer it." He huffs. Ju won bites back a smile.
Perhaps this is how birthdays are supposed to be. Childish affections set out to smother him.
"I'm not sure." He says, playing at indifference. Dongshik scoffs.
"I guess I'll have to see for myself." He walks towards the door. "Shall we?"
Dongshik steps next to him, eyes glinting.