mearii87: Happiness Is (Part 1/2)
Author: mearii87 —
Pairing/Focus: Jaejoong/Yunho, Yoochun/Changmin, OT5
Final word count: 16,660 words
Summary: Jaejoong thinks he's happy.
A/N: Just a disclaimer: while certain events are meant to mirror things in real life, there isn’t one entity meant to represent SM/Avex/CJes/Prain or the entertainment business at all. Also, while I metaphorically deal with the lawsuit, this is not meant to favor one side over the other, but rather illustrate that in my head, I want them to be happy, regardless of how it ends.
Jaejoong never thought he’d meet his Compatible like this.
The Measurer is whirring and sputtering as it deliberates the color and make of Jaejoong’s soul, spewing smoke and flakes of metal out of every crack and crevice it has. He takes a gratuitous step backwards to avoid being splattered and almost collides with his possible Compatible-To-Be. He is steadied awkwardly before his Maybe Compatible sidles off to the side.
Jaejoong had imagined this moment many times, standing excitedly next to an adult, a child, waiting to see if their souls were Compatible, waiting to see if he had found the person he would be with for the rest of his life. He had never imagined literally running into this man and finding that their souls had mixed together and refused to let go.
A passerby had smiled knowingly at them as they had awkwardly tried to keep their colored auras from blending and pointed them towards the nearest Measurer and now--now Jaejoong’s stomach is in knots as he waits and wonders and worries.
The Measurer spits out a column of smoke and Jaejoong watches the light blue color of his soul shine through the clouded glass before being engulfed in the red of his Maybe Compatible’s soul. Jaejoong slides the line of his sight left and finds his Maybe Compatible staring back unabashedly.
Jaejoong almost looks away. But there’s something adorable about the way Maybe Compatible is shifting his weight and so Jaejoong musters his courage and smiles. Maybe Compatible grins back and Jaejoong feels a happy warmth spread down to the tips of his toes.
It might not be so bad after all.
The Measurer lets out a loud, off-key squeak that signals the end of the soul analysis. A slip of paper prints out and hangs ominously, blowing slightly in the breeze, waiting for someone to grab it. Jaejoong reaches out a trembling hand and tugs it away, careful not to rip it, just in case they have to keep it with them forever. Maybe Compatible’s hand is on his shoulder and Jaejoong can feel their colors swirling at the contact. "You look at it," he whispers and tries to pass the paper off.
“Together,” Maybe Compatible says, and his smile makes Jaejoong think that whatever that little slip of paper says, it’ll be okay. “Ready?”
Jaejoong nods and they glance down simultaneously as Jaejoong turns the paper over. He squints at it in the sunlight.
99.999999% Compatibility. Well, Jaejoong thinks. That's. That's just.
A hand latches onto his and squeezes. His Compatible is smiling.
“Let’s get some tea or something,” He offers, the dark and sturdy red of his soul tingeing pink. Jaejoong reaches out and brushes his hand through it, watching in fascination as it swirls around his fingertips.
“My name is Yunho,” his Compatible says and Jaejoong can’t take his eyes off the steam that rises from Yunho’s cup and spills around the faint glow surrounding him.
Yunho smiles again and Jaejoong looks down at his cup, totally at a loss for words. What does one say in a situation like this? What do you ask someone you hardly know? How old are you? What station did you grow up at? Where are you caretakers? What’s your favorite color?
“Does it bother you?” Yunho asks.
“What?” Jaejoong keeps his gaze on his teacup.
“That my soul is red. Some people don’t like it because--because of the sand. People usually avoid me.”
Jaejoong thinks of the red sand that makes up their world before shaking his head. “I think your soul is beautiful.” He glances up and is surprised to find Yunho staring at him with something akin to awe in his face. “I mean,” Jaejoong mumbles, “It’s so rare. You should be proud. I’m proud,” he adds and they smile at each other.
Jaejoong pretends that it’s not ridiculously awkward.
They drink the rest of their tea in silence before Yunho asks, “Now what?”
They look through the list of train stops together. They try to stay out of everyone’s way, huddled together at the station and looking at the posted stops up on the wall. Jaejoong’s come the furthest out of both of them and he points out the stations that he’s visited, albeit by walking since he couldn’t go by train. Yunho says that he’s from several stops in the direction Jaejoong is heading. Or rather had been heading.
“Good to know you would have eventually bumped into me even if I hadn’t left,” Yunho teases and Jaejoong hides his embarrassed smile behind his hand. “What do you think of this stop?” Yunho asks, and Jaejoong’s grateful for the change in topic, “It’s several stations away from where I grew up so it’ll be new for both of us. We can--spend some time there.”
Jaejoong lets his fingers glide over the worn photo by the station name and he smiles. It looks nice enough, clean and well kept. “I like it,” he says.
“Come on,” Yunho grabs his hand, “I think we’ve waited long enough to be able to ride the trains. Let’s go.”
Jaejoong grins at him, and they present their Compatibility slip to the Conductor who smiles and welcomes them onboard. Yunho carefully tucks the slip back into a buttoned pocket and let’s Jaejoong climb on board first.
Jaejoong’s dreamt of riding the trains all his life. Reserved for Compatibles only, he’s formed an image of them inside of his head, built out of stories that he’s heard by firesides and cups of warm tea. With Yunho’s hand in his, Jaejoong is giddy beyond belief and he can hardly believe that he’s walking through the narrow train corridor looking for a compartment. A compartment to share with his Compatible.
Yunho squeezes his hand like he’s thinking the exact same thing, and they grin at each other.
“Move along!” A voice shouts, and Jaejoong is pushed aside as a man with a bright green soul blows past them. Jaejoong doesn’t realize that he’s pressed up against Yunho, with his face in Yunho’s shoulder, until the man’s long gone. Jaejoong blushes as he steps away.
“Let’s find somewhere where we can stare in awe and not get killed,” Yunho suggests. His tone is light and Jaejoong grasps his hand again as they head carefully down the aisle.
Halfway down the train, they have yet to find any compartments. People stare at them as they walk by, a few people pointing, some whispering behind their hands.
“Why are they staring?” Jaejoong asks, clutching Yunho’s arm closer.
“Ignore them,” Yunho says, like he’s used to it.
Jaejoong manages to until they come to the last car and decide to ask another pair of Compatibles if they wouldn’t mind sharing a compartment until the next stop.
They walk into the first one on the right, sliding the door open. Jaejoong tries to smile invitingly at the man and woman seated close together by the window.
“Would you mind if we sat here? There’s no space anywhere else. Just until the next stop.”
The woman stares at them shrewdly, “No offense,” she says, “But even if I did want to share a compartment, I certainly wouldn’t share it with someone who has a red soul.”
Yunho looks like he expected this and turns to leave. Jaejoong frowns, “That’s not very nice.”
The woman raises an eyebrow. “Red souls aren’t very nice,” she says, “It’s very cute that you’re sticking up for a Compatible you obviously just found, but I don’t have time for it. Go bother someone else.”
Jaejoong opens his mouth to retort, positively furious, but Yunho’s hand on his arm stops him. "Hey," He whispers into Jaejoong's ear, and tugs him away, "Come on, we'll find a compartment." He laces their fingers together. Jaejoong sends a final glare towards the older Compatibles before following Yunho further down the hallway.
"Wouldn't want to share anyway. I don't know why we even bothered to ask."
Yunho laughs and Jaejoong forgets about the incident all together.
The last compartment is empty. Jaejoong doesn’t know what kind of sign it is, because it’s dusty and clearly hasn’t been used in months, but neither of them mind too much. It’s theirs for however long they want it, with its faded brown cushions, dirty cobwebbed windows, and cheap aluminum flooring.
It’s not ideal for sleeping, but they somehow manage, legs tossed up on the bench opposite them, leaning tentatively on each other’s shoulders. Jaejoong weaves the tips of their fingers together, telling himself it is only so that he can watch their souls swirl and meld: red, blue, pink, blue, purple.
It makes Jaejoong happy and he imagines that his life will now be everything he has dreamed.
Jaejoong wakes up with his head on Yunho’s lap and his hair being stroked away from his face. He shifts subtlety.
“Are you awake?”
Neither of them move, save for Yunho’s hands on Jaejoong’s head. It feels wonderful; Yunho’s fingers work with the white noise of the train, lulling Jaejoong back to sleep.
He sighs and sits up, rubbing his eyes before leaning over Yunho to peer out the window. Not that he expects to find anything unusual or different. Red sand is still slipping past them and stretching out into the grand nothingness beyond the trains and stations and small towns surrounding them.
“It looks the same,” he says.
Yunho’s hands hover tentatively on Jaejoong’s waist as the train rattled. “It does. We passed a station a while back. It looked very unpleasant.”
Jaejoong rests his arms against the sill, propping his chin up on them. “Are you uncomfortable?” He asks, belatedly thinking that maybe Yunho didn’t like to have people leaning over him.
“No,” Yunho assures him with a brush of fingers up Jaejoong’s spine, “This is nice.”
They don’t talk too much after that. Jaejoong watches the world pass by them, noting the odd tree sprouting from the ground or loner trekking beside them, the rush of wind from the train causing their clothing to swirl around their bodies and souls.
They’re barely visible and Jaejoong realizes how insignificant he had been to the people who might have seen him, a quick flash of his blue soul as they glance past their Compatible before being forgotten.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Just,” Jaejoong begins, “How all of a sudden everything has changed.”
“For the better?” Yunho asks.
It’s a bit early to make assumptions, but Jaejoong’s had this warm fuzzy feeling since he first saw their positive compatibility strip and it hasn’t gone away. He thinks that’s a good sign.
“Yes,” he says, “For the better.”
They get off at the next station to eat. Their compatibility slip gives them unimpeded access to food and it turns out to be the best meal Jaejoong’s had in a long time. He relishes being able to sit down and have dinner presented to him rather than having to either scrounge for a meal or cook something of his own.
Afterwards, they manage to get their hands on some cleaning supplies and haul them onto the train, moving quickly to the end of their car and into their compartment. They start at the top and work down, not cleaning too thoroughly, seeing as they’ll be getting off in a few days, but they eradicate the cobwebs and scrub at the window so that they have a better view.
Somewhere in the middle of swabbing the floor, Jaejoong gets a wicked idea in his head and he grins to himself, dipping a rag into the water and flinging it at Yunho’s face.
It’s a little gross. The water’s dirty and sudsy, and Yunho blinks in surprise as a little foam gathers on his chin before dripping off.
And then it’s an all out war. Jaejoong can’t breathe for laughing as water and soap and rags are flung back and forth, leaving in their wake a mess bigger than the one they had been trying to clean in the first place.
Jaejoong is grinning as Yunho finally envelops him in a hug, crushing the breath from him as they stand in murky puddles that slosh with each jolt of the train.
“I’m glad I found you,” Yunho whispers.
“Me too,” Jaejoong replies, and pulls far enough away to dump the remaining pail of water over Yunho’s head.
The train makes a few more stops before they have a fully clean compartment. When they arrive at the station where Yunho had lived for most of his life, Jaejoong says that they can stay for awhile, if Yunho wants. But he doesn’t. He rests his chin on Jaejoong’s shoulder as they look out the window, watching people get on and off the train and move about busily.
“It looks like a very nice place to live,” Jaejoong says, smiling at the pristine rows of blue and yellow flowers, the red sand kept back neatly by white bricks that make up the paths leading further into the maze of buildings.
“It is,” Yunho smiles.
Jaejoong falls asleep against Yunho’s shoulder as they pull away, comforted as Yunho’s hand curls around his.
The next few days pass by in a blur, filled with food and Yunho and laughter and Yunho and stations and Yunho. Jaejoong doesn’t ever remember being so happy.
“Two more stops,” Yunho whispers.
“Let’s get something to eat at the next one,” Jaejoong suggests, “Just to stretch our legs.”
It’s a good idea, and Yunho agrees, smiling so brilliantly that Jaejoong has to look away. “You’re glowing more than usual,” he mumbles into Yunho’s shoulder, and Yunho laughs, stroking back the hair on Jaejoong’s forehead.
“It’s your fault. My soul really likes you, what can I say?”
“You like me though, right?”
Yunho’s arm slithers around Jaejoong’s middle to hold him tight.
“Yes. I like you a lot.”
The stop is a little grungy.
Jaejoong begins to search for some place to eat while Yunho runs to use the bathroom. The station is relatively small and the path leading to the town behind it doesn’t look well worn. Jaejoong does not think that’s a good sign. So he plops himself and their bags down at a table in an outdoor café and waits, thinking that they’ll just have to eat quickly. By the look of things, the food isn’t going to be very good either.
When a café worker bustles up to him grumpily, Jaejoong’s suspicions are confirmed, and he eyes the options warily, finally settling on the simplest menu item and hoping that it will be a passable meal. The server leaves, and Jaejoong sits back into his chair carefully, afraid that it might crack under too much pressure. It looks old and worn and in desperate need of a new staining, or even a painting--anything to seal the flakes of wood that creak every time Jaejoong takes a breath.
He amuses himself with it, trying to make it squeak out a song, until Yunho comes back from the bathroom. It takes Jaejoong a few moments to notice that he’s tugging along a boy by the hand.
Jaejoong stands up.
The boy’s hair is dark and sticking up at odd places on his head, and his clothes look so ragged Jaejoong wonders why they haven’t yet fallen off. The color of his soul is a warm, dark brown that reminds Jaejoong of cocoa and chestnuts.
"I found him hiding in the bathroom," Yunho says, when they’re standing in front of Jaejoong like conductors lined up for inspection.
That’s when Jaejoong notices the blood splattered onto the thin clothing and the bruise forming on the boy’s cheek. Jaejoong looks down to where Yunho is holding tightly onto the boy’s hand and then back up to the boy’s frightened face.
"It's alright," Yunho prompts, "This is Jaejoong.”
The boy fishes around in his pocket for a few seconds before emerging with a pad of crinkled paper and a worn, stubby pencil taped around the middle. He begins to write and Jaejoong meets Yunho's gaze, his heart squeezing painfully for a moment.
I'm Junsu, the paper reads.
“Hi, Junsu," Jaejoong says and manages a small smile.
"I thought that maybe he could have dinner with us," Yunho says, and his eyes are pleading.
Jaejoong can’t find it in himself to say no and he wets a napkin as Junsu sits down, pressing it to Junsu’s face. They ask for ice when their server comes back and by the end of their meal, which Junsu shovels into his mouth like he’s never had food before, the bruise already looks better and Junsu has a permanent place in Jaejoong’s heart.
Junsu isn’t really a boy. He’s a year younger than Jaejoong, and according to the people Yunho’s talked to, he used to have a voice.
Yunho tells him that Junsu lost his Compatible a few months ago to a train accident. “He was thrown down onto the tracks because he was sticking up for some kid,” Yunho whispers, “the train didn’t even stop, just rolled right over him. Junsu hasn’t spoken a word to anyone since it happened. He just wanders from station to station, getting jobs, scrounging for food. He gets beat up all the time because he’s a Bereaved soul and doesn’t want to stay with the rest of those who have lost someone.”
Jaejoong swallows his tears. It explains the bruises. Bereaved Compatibles (alone because of the death of their companions or some sort of forced separation) are not supposed to travel. They are supposed to stay at the Bereaved’s Station at the beginning of the line and not bother anyone. Bereaved Travelers are commonly beaten and tortured, especially by station masters.
Jaejoong watches Junsu dab at his face in the mirror and Jaejoong wonders how he’s supposed to just leave in the morning. He wonders how anyone has just left.
Yunho’s fingers tighten on Jaejoong’s arm. “I was thinking,” he begins.
“Let’s take him with us.”
Yunho’s blinking rapidly when Jaejoong turns to look at him. “Yes,” he finally says, “Yes.”
They find the nearest Measurer at the Station and print out another slip for Junsu to keep, proof that he is actually traveling with them and not some freeloader trying to rest his feet. He clings mostly to Jaejoong, which Yunho pretends to be mad about (“Because I found him, Jaejoong!”) but isn’t really; Jaejoong and Junsu connect like trains and sand, little pieces of the world that have always belonged together and always will.
“It’s different than with you,” Jaejoong whispers to Yunho, who has spent the last hour assuring Jaejoong that he isn’t at all jealous, “You are--a part of me. Like another soul attached to my body that I know I can lean on and love forever.”
He only realizes what he said after Yunho falls asleep and Jaejoong spends the night mortified with himself and wondering how he’ll ever look Yunho in the face again.
Fate solves this problem for him when he wakes up and finds himself sprawled across Yunho with his nose pressed into a squishy cheek.
Jaejoong pretends to be asleep until he feels Yunho wake up and carefully maneuver him to rest on the bench. Jaejoong feels Yunho’s hand brush against his hair and he subtlety tries to bury his head in his arms.
“We’ve stopped at our station,” Yunho murmurs into Jaejoong’s ear.
“I’m going to go find us lodging. I’ll come back to get you.”
“‘Kay,” Jaejoong mumbles, and rolls over. He feels a little guilty letting Yunho go out on his own, but he reasons that someone has to stay with Junsu, so he relaxes into the cushions of the compartment bench and falls back to sleep.
He wakes up to to Junsu poking him in the cheek and he groans, squinting at the light streaming through the window.
Junsu holds up his pad in front of Jaejoong’s face. Yunho came back. He said to go to the Inn in the middle of town. He’s already brought our bags there.
Jaejoong smiles and sits up, stretching. “Did you go outside?”
Junsu shakes his head.
Jaejoong looks out of the window. It’s not exactly what he had expected--it looks dirtier and there are a lot of people milling about the streets. Junsu takes his hand as they watch for a little while.
“I guess we should get off before the train leaves,” Jaejoong muses, and they share a smile as they lace their fingers together.
Jaejoong throws one last look at the compartment he had called home for a good length of time before they walk away. Junsu lets go for a moment to write furiously, are you sad?
“Not really,” Jaejoong says, “I’ll have the memories forever. And we’re going to make new ones,” he adds, “with you.”
Junsu smiles as they step off the train together. They consult a map posted on a wall by the stop listings to find the road they need and then head off together, diving into the busy town and hoping that they don’t get lost. Thankfully, there are a few signs indicating the direction of the station’s single Inn and that helps.
Junsu clings to Jaejoong's hand as they weave their way through the dirty street, studiously ignoring the peddlers shoving wares under their noses. Jaejoong glances back and finds Junsu's eyes screwed shut, his nose wrinkling as he presses into Jaejoong's side. “They won’t hurt you,” Jaejoong assures him, “You’re with us now,” and he glares at a man giving both of them a lewd once over.
Jaejoong senses Yunho just before seeing him and Yunho smiles as Jaejoong and Junsu walk up to him.
"I've got us a room," Yunho says brightly, “As well as some food."
Junsu finally breaks out into a grin and he transfers his grip from Jaejoong's hand to Yunho’s sleeve and tugs impatiently.
“I see how it is,” Jaejoong grumbles, and Junsu’s eyes flash with amusement as Yunho laughs.
The inn is a little run down, but it’s warm inside and there’s a cozy fire burning in a corner fireplace so Jaejoong thinks it’ll work out just fine.
The front desk Yunho leads them up to is tucked up against a grand staircase that isn’t actually as big as it looks. The man behind it smiles at them, sweeping his hair back from his wide forehead.
“This is Yoochun,” Yunho introduces them, “His compatible used to be the station master here.”
“This place has become a shit hole since he decided it wasn’t worth his genius.” The man leans over the desk to grin, “Which it’s not.”
“Oh,” Jaejoong says carefully, slightly cowed because stations masters (even former ones) are never things that should be underestimated.
Junsu whimpers quietly and hides a little bit further behind Yunho’s arm.
“Don’t worry,” Yoochun says, “Changmin won’t treat you like how I imagine the other station masters might. I promise you’ll like him. Now, where did I put it?’
Yoochun started digging through the piles of papers on his desk before emerging triumphantly with a set of keys. “The small one is for your room and the larger one is for the front door. We lock it up at night but with this you won’t have to worry about sleeping on the streets.”
He hands the keys to Yunho and then smiles at Junsu. “So what’s your name?”
Junsu’s lip trembles a little before he pulls out his notebook and taped pencil to write carefully, Junsu.
Yoochun reaches for a pen and paper of his own, you need a new pencil.
Jaejoong thinks that maybe Yoochun went a little bit too far but Junsu smiles and Jaejoong almost chokes on his own tongue as a pleased rumble emits from somewhere in Junsu’s throat.
Jaejoong blinks disbelievingly at Yunho whose jaw has gone slack.
“Changmin will be home soon. Can you cook?”
Junsu shakes his head and then points at Jaejoong.
“You cook?” Yoochun clarifies.
“I,” Jaejoong stutters, “Sort of.” He had learned to cook by necessity, staying in inns like this one as he trekked alongside the train tracks, “Yes, I guess.”
“I can’t,” Yoochun shrugs, “Changmin can’t--well. He can, but he usually doesn’t want to be bothered to feed everyone. How about I give you commodities only older Compatibles would get and you can make dinner for five in return?”
“Um,” Jaejoong says.
“Yes,” Yunho answers for him, gripping Junsu’s shoulder hard. “Yes, that sounds perfect.”
“Wonderful,” Yoochun grins again and takes back the keys from Yunho’s slack hand and replaces them with a different set. “You can go to the top floor. The kitchen is just around the corner.”
They’re about to head up the stairs, after parting pleasantly with bows and smiles, when Junsu abruptly turns around and writes something down on a sheet of paper in front of Yoochun.
Yoochun reads it and then shakes his head, allowing his gaze to slide over Yunho and Jaejoong before falling back to Junsu. “I don’t mind red souls at all.”
Junsu writes another word.
“Changmin doesn’t either,” Yoochun assures him.
Junsu smiles as he runs back to Yunho, looking up at him as if to say, Okay, I approve. Jaejoong felt something tingly spread through his limbs as Yunho let his arm drop across Junsu’s shoulder. They couldn’t have picked a better traveling companion if they had tried.
Their room is more luxurious than anything they’ve ever stayed in before. Feather mattresses and pillows cover a large bed with a quilt as thick as Jaejoong’s head. There’s another bed off to the side that, while not as big, is just as comfy looking and Junsu immediately falls onto it, his smile nearly splitting his face into two.
“Never leave me,” Jaejoong moans into a fluffy pillow, “I want to look forward to this someday.”
Yunho laughs and stretches out beside him. “I don’t remember the last time I had a bed,” he says, and reaches out to pull Jaejoong close, tucking his chin onto Jaejoong’s head.
They lay silently for a few minutes before Jaejoong sits up and looks over at Junsu who’s already fallen asleep. “That sound he made,” Jaejoong starts, and looks down at Yunho.
“He was obviously really amused,” Yunho says, linking his fingers with Jaejoong, “Maybe it was his way of laughing.”
“A stranger making him laugh before us?” It’s a little disappointing, if Jaejoong is going to be honest with himself.
“Be thankful,” Yunho chides. “I’m hungry. Let’s go scope out the kitchen.”
They leave Junsu a note that Jaejoong covers in far too many hearts and smiley faces and make their way downstairs, avoiding Yoochun as they notice him accepting a warm hug from someone that can only be Changmin, if the way their souls are reacting is any indication. The light they emit wherever their bodies touch is unparalleled, Yoochun’s blueish purple against Changmin’s soul that shimmers somewhere between a deep sea green and a dark emerald.
Yunho steers him away and Jaejoong heaves a dramatic sigh when he finally locates the food pantry and finds it mostly empty.
“I have full faith in you,” Yunho says.
He can’t make much with what this inn has, but he manages to scrounge enough food for a basic meal. He makes a large pot of rice because he knows that there must be other guests staying the inn besides themselves and Jaejoong would hate to see anyone go hungry. He knows all too well what that’s like and seeing as he’s using most of the food that isn’t spoiled, it’s only fair.
Jaejoong puts Yunho to work cutting vegetables and by the time Junsu wanders down, his hair messy from bed, looking bright-eyed and ready to take on the world, Yunho’s only cut half of what Jaejoong put in front of him.
“Help him,” he directs Junsu, “He’s as slow as molasses.”
Yunho whines but the look on his face makes warmth spread through Jaejoong’s stomach and he blushes, choosing to turn his attention back to his meat so that he doesn’t cut off his finger accidentally.
They arrange the meat nicely on plates, side dishes next to them and a huge bowl of rice in the center of the table. Jaejoong drapes cloth over the food so it doesn’t get cold but he doesn’t have to worry about it. Yoochun and Changmin both come in smiling, their hands clasped together and their souls creating little lightning storms where they touch.
Yunho greets Changmin warmly and Jaejoong finds himself already liking the former station master when he makes no remark at all about the color of Yunho’s soul. The fact that Junsu had already asked Yoochun if it would bother Changmin or not doesn’t seem to be something Junsu remembers when actually faced with him. He cowers behind Yunho, just his eyes poking over Yunho’s shoulder.
Yoochun cocks his head and then reaches out a hand to stand Junsu in front of Changmin.
“You must be Junsu,” Changmin says, and he smiles.
Junsu swallows nervously and then nods, shrinking back against Yunho’s chest.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Changmin assures him, “I think it’s wonderful that you’re still traveling.”
Junsu regards him warily for a minute before pulling out his paper and pencil. Really?
“Yes,” Changmin nods, “Yoochun was right. You do need a new pencil.”
He rummages in his pocket for a moment before emerging with a freshly sharpened pencil. Junsu looks at it in awe for a minute before hurriedly scribbling, For me?
Jaejoong pokes Junsu in the side when he doesn’t immediately move to accept the gift.
Thank you, Junsu writes with his new pencil, and Yunho tosses the old one into a trash can as Jaejoong herds them to the table like a sheep dog.
Junsu doesn’t sit next to Changmin but he isn’t shaking. Jaejoong suspects that the hand Junsu is keeping in his pocket is holding tightly to the gift while he tries to make a decision about whether or not Changmin is playing a prank. Jaejoong would like to think that he’s not, and convinces himself of it as he watches Yunho barrage Changmin with questions.
Jaejoong finds it all very dull, and so he focuses mostly on Yoochun and how he can’t seem to keep his hands off of Changmin for very long. Where Jaejoong’s and Yunho's souls slide together and meld without anyone realizing that it’s happening, Yoochun and Changmin spark, an almost (but not quite) harsh grating that they seem to find terribly satisfying. Jaejoong watches as Yoochun is entirely entertained by the little flares of light that go off whenever he touches Changmin's shoulder or forearm or fingertips.
He thinks that they can’t have been together for very long if Yoochun is still amused by it, but Jaejoong is surprised to discover that it’s been several years since they printed their first slip.
“I accidentally lost it after the first couple days,” Yoochun admits, as Changmin rolls his eyes, “So now he holds onto it.”
Jaejoong blinks as light flashes around their entwining hands he wonders, how on earth do they fall asleep?.
They stay with Yoochun and Changmin for a whole week.
Junsu warms up to Yoochun very quickly, though he is still a little reserved around Changmin. Jaejoong is grateful for the distraction because with Junsu occupied he has less to worry about and he is able to have time alone with Yunho.
Not that they do much of anything but walk the streets and not that Jaejoong is at all complaining, but he sees how Yoochun and Changmin look at each other, sees how their faces brush when they bend down to pore over Changmin’s books together, and thinks that it would be nice. Not that what he and Yunho have isn’t nice, of course. Jaejoong’s happier than he ever had been.
“I was thinking,” Yunho says one night as they weave around the stalls of goods and wares being sold at prices they can’t yet afford.
“The last time you said that,” Jaejoong teases, “We ended up with Junsu. Have you found another stray?”
“No,” Yunho stutters, “No I haven’t--but, it’s about Junsu. I don’t think he’s--well, I know he hasn’t been to see his Compatible’s grave.”
Jaejoong stops by a cart selling cases to hold Compatibility strips and frowns. “Oh.”
“Since he’s traveling,” Yunho says, “The station masters wouldn’t have allowed him to go. I thought, maybe, we could take him. So he can visit.”
Normally, Bereaved Compatibles are able to visit the Grave Station at least once a year, so long as they comply with the Master’s rules and don’t travel. Seeing as Junsu hasn’t been complying, it’s a safe bet that he hasn’t visited, and it makes Jaejoong’s heart ache just a little bit more.
“He’ll have some closure,” Jaejoong nods, “I think that’s a good idea.”
Yunho wraps an arm around Jaejoong’s neck and pulls him close, smiling into his hair. Jaejoong slips his arm around Yunho’s middle and they continue down the street. “You’re perfect for me,” Yunho declares.
“Because I agree with you all the time?” Jaejoong asks.
“It’s not that you agree with me, just that we think the same things. I’m glad.”
Jaejoong squeezes Yunho’s torso because he doesn’t know what to say and Yunho seems to accept it, moving the conversation onto, “Ooh look, here are some clothes our Compatibility will buy us, what do you think?”
They end up with several new outfits for themselves, as well as few things for Junsu, and leave a very happy shopkeeper waving at them as they head back to the Inn.
Junsu’s writing back and forth with Yoochun when they walk inside and he immediately eyes the bag with interest.
“Yes, we got you clothes,” Jaejoong says, and Junsu leaps at him.
His enthusiasm is all the thanks they need and they smile as he whizzes around the room before tearing up the stairs to change.
They follow at a slower pace, their legs tired from walking, and Junsu’s already changed by the time they make it up to their room. Jaejoong puts their purchases away as Junsu writes about how good the new clothes smell, and how soft they feel, and can he please burn everything else that he owns?
“If you want,” Yunho says, propping himself up against the bed’s headboard. “Come here first, though.”
Jaejoong sits next to him as Junsu makes his way over and curls into both of them, pen and pad of paper held at the ready, appropriately sensing a serious discussion.
“We were thinking,” Yunho begins, and then he clears his throat. “When your Compatible died,” he asks, “Did you visit his grave?”
Junsu’s eyes go wide.
“Because we were talking and if you wanted--if you would like to, we can go there so you can pay your respects.”
Jaejoong supposes that he should have expected the tears, but he’s a little surprised when the pencil almost flies into his face and Junsu tries to hold onto him and Yunho at the same time. He’s silent, for the most part, but his labored breathing is audible as Yunho moves closer and Jaejoong combs his hair.
They take it as a yes.
Jaejoong’s not sure how it happens, but somehow, in between cooking dinner for five and telling Yoochun that they’re leaving to visit the Bereaved Grave Station, Changmin invites himself along.
“You’ll never get in there without a station master anyway,” he says, and Yoochun nods in the background.
“We’ve been meaning to leave for a long time,” Yoochun says, “We’ve just never had a good reason.”
“You don’t mind, right?”
“But,” Jaejoong starts, and then realizes he has no argument and wonders when the two grinning fools in front of him wormed their way into his heart.
Surprisingly, before anyone can ask Junsu, he brings it up himself, you’re coming with us, right? scrawled anxiously across half of a page and shoved in front of Yoochun’s face. He looks momentarily surprised, but then smiles and says, “As if we could say goodbye to such a handsome face.”
They mostly pack light, Changmin the only exception. He has a trunk full of books and other expensive station master things that he does not feel comfortable leaving behind. “You never know what we’re going to come across,” he explains and Yoochun just shrugs when Jaejoong gives him a look.
“Just humor him,” Yoochun whispers, and pretends not to hear Changmin growling behind his back as they get on the train.
The Conductor gives both Yunho and Junsu a wary once over, but says nothing as Changmin ushers them on board, his green soul taking on a dark hue in a type of warning.
Changmin had reserved a big compartment for all five of them that’s more like a small flat than anything else. Three beds, a bathroom, a sitting room, and a miniature kitchen, all stuffed into the front of the train. One bed is separated from the other two in a small compartment of its own and Jaejoong doesn’t mind when Yoochun claims it for himself and Changmin. Jaejoong sometimes gets the impression that they do things together they’d rather no one else see.
With Junsu flopping down on his bed in glee and Yunho holding out his arms for Jaejoong to join him in their fluffy comforter, he is now quite sure that his life is perfect.
Changmin manages to acquire them enough food for the trip and Jaejoong spends a lot of his time in the kitchen, reading cookbooks Changmin brought along, trying out new recipes and combinations of food that have lots of Compatibles wandering by to peek in through a window or stop by the door to catch a whiff of his concoctions.
We should charge people for food, Junsu writes and Yoochun laughs himself silly as Yunho pouts and says, “No amount of money is worth Joongie’s food.”
“I don’t want to sell it,” Jaejoong says, “It’s made with love. It won’t taste as good to strangers.”
He pretends that he doesn’t see Yunho’s grin splitting his face, but is secretly pleased.
“I don’t want people traipsing through here,” Changmin adds, “What if they try to steal something?”
Yoochun laughs and shoves his shoulder, setting off sparks, and they have an impromptu pillow fight that ends with them wrapped around each other on a couch, having what is obviously an intimate conversation no one else is supposed to hear.
So Jaejoong just watches.
They can sometimes sit for hours in the compartment, with Changmin reading and Yoochun touching or Yoochun sleeping and Changmin stroking his hair or more often than not, the both of them bouncing their fingers off one another, never bored of the little flashes of green and purple light.
Sometimes, when Junsu is looking through Changmin’s books and Jaejoong is sorting through a mess in the kitchen and Yunho is out checking train station maps, Changmin and Yoochun slip into their adjacent compartment and the light emitting around the cracks of the doors is blinding. Jaejoong has to look away for fear of losing his sight.
"My own set of fireworks," Yoochun sometimes mumbles pleasantly and his words send ripples of purple and green across Changmin's skin.
Junsu watches them for a few hours the first day of travel, but then he gets bored, and writes to Jaejoong about all the things they’re passing. Changmin has to get off at each Station and sign something as is required of former station masters and he sometimes takes Yoochun and occasionally Junsu with him. They come back with food and stories and Junsu always arrives with hugs, his arms solidly around Jaejoong, clinging like a leech.
Yunho pouts but Jaejoong always feeds him first, so he doesn’t complain.
One particular stop that Jaejoong will always remember, Changmin and Yoochun are late coming back. Junsu is already asleep, curled up into his blankets and breathing quietly, entirely at peace.
Yunho is cleaning the dishes because Jaejoong doesn’t usually like to (“I just cooked a huge meal! I don’t want to be on my feet anymore,”) as he sighs and hums and stares out the window, waiting for Changmin and Yoochun to return.
“I hope they make it before the train leaves,” Jaejoong grumbles.
Yunho says something from across the room but Jaejoong doesn’t hear him. He thinks it must have been unimportant because Yunho doesn’t repeat it, so Jaejoong goes back to watching the street lamps cast a glow in the dark and the moths start to gather around them. He used to want to be one of them, thinking that their lives were so much more uncomplicated than his, but now he is happy. Now he only wants to be Kim Jaejoong because Kim Jaejoong has Yunho. Yunho and the three other members of their makeshift family that make his life a little more beautiful.
Jaejoong is about to turn away and go cuddle up to Yunho when he sees Yoochun and Changmin walking back slowly, hand in hand. An unknown emotion settles in the pit of Jaejoong’s stomach. The way they look at each other makes him blush, and his heart leaps up to his throat as Yoochun suddenly tugs on Changmin’s hand and there’s a flash of light as Changmin presses up against him and they clutch at one another in the shadows.
A hand ghosts gently over Jaejoong's shoulder before grasping onto it, and Jaejoong feels Yunho wrap an arm around him. They watch Changmin kiss down Yoochun’s throat and then nudge up his jaw to capture his mouth again.
Jaejoong sighs quietly.
"Do you want that?" Yunho asks.
Jaejoong's stomach tightens as Yunho's breath skitters down his neck. He turns, smiles faintly, and raises an eyebrow. Haven’t I made that clear enough?
Maybe it’s because of Junsu and their ability to now read faces and expressions much easier without having to actually talk, but Yunho seems to understand Jaejoong’s silent question because he smiles. A beat, two, and Yunho tugs him closer, his breath fanning across Jaejoong’s face, their mouths aligning for a second that seems an eternity before Jaejoong tilts his chin and their souls brush. Skin touches, color flares, and for a moment (or two or five or eight hundred thousand,) Jaejoong feels perfect.
It’s a little awkward afterwards, but only because Yoochun walks in on them and whistles loud enough to wake up Junsu. Jaejoong’s face is so red he’s sure it’s going to burn right off.
“About time,” Yoochun drawls, “I thought we’d reach the end of the world before he kissed you.”
“Okay,” Changmin says, “Time to sleep. Let’s go,” and he pulls Yoochun out of the compartment. Jaejoong still notices his grin, though, and he groans because he is sure that neither of them are ever going to let it go.
Junsu blinks at them from his bed. He smiles and then wraps himself back into his blankets and falls asleep, breathing evenly.
There’s a loud whoosh in his ear and Jaejoong jumps before realizing that Yunho had let out a breath. “I thought,” he says, “Junsu--I worried,” he finally admits, “I worried that seeing us would make it worse for him.”
“Me too,” Jaejoong admits.
And maybe, he thinks, that’s why they waited so long before doing anything about the fluttering of their hearts whenever they shared a smile.
Jaejoong doesn’t mind so much. “It was worth it,” Jaejoong says as Yunho puts the lights out and tucks himself around Jaejoong, their hands gripping in the dark.
Yunho’s kiss shows him that he agrees.
It’s a long way to the Grave Station. It’s at the end of the Main track, after all, and no sane person would want to travel past it onto the secondary track. There’s nothing worth noting past it. Jaejoong gives it no thought as they race towards the last station.
By the time they get there, Jaejoong’s yelled at Yoochun for leering at least a dozen times, cooked so many meals he’s lost count, and read through all of Changmin’s cookbooks and books on Bereaved souls and books on the color red (amounting to roughly several dozen.)
Changmin gets off the train first, heading straight to the station master and arranging accommodations as well as permission for Junsu to visit his Compatible’s grave. It’s an hour before he comes back, looking very pissed off.
Jaejoong tries to ask him about it but Yoochun makes an X at him behind Changmin’s back and shakes his head.
Junsu doesn’t see it, however, and he bounds up to Changmin, tugging anxiously on his sleeve.
“Bastards,” Changmin hisses, making Junsu recoil, “No, not you. Stupid, idiot, station master, I hope he dies a horrible death.”
Junsu frowns and then digs out his pad of paper. I can’t go?
“You can,” Changmin says, “But you are going to stick close to me.” He looks at Jaejoong and says, “You stay at the station with Yunho, unload our stuff with Yoochun and get it to the inn. And then stay inside.”
Jaejoong involuntarily takes a step back.
“It’s just,” Changmin tries to explain, “The station master is an asshole.”
“We’ll get everything off the train,” Yunho assures Changmin, “You go ahead with Junsu.”
Junsu looks frightened as Changmin takes a hold of his hand. “You sure you want to do this?”
Jaejoong swallows as Junsu nods.
“Do not let go of me,” Changmin says.
Jaejoong tries to give Junsu an encouraging smile as they leave.
“Don’t worry,” Yoochun says, “Changmin’s pretty kick-ass, and I mean that literally.”
It does not help Jaejoong’s nerves.
Their first problem is that Changmin does not tell them where the inn is. The town is bleak, with many buildings pressed in on one another, but they’re empty, few people actually in sight as Jaejoong, Yunho, and Yoochun haul their luggage and Changmin’s trunk out of the train and into the shadow of the station.
Jaejoong sighs as they stand there awkwardly, watching the train pull away, the conductor obviously in a hurry to leave.
“It’s a grave station,” Yoochun mutters, shouldering a pack, “So disrespectful.”
Yunho studies a map posted on a wall for a few minutes as Jaejoong glares at a passerby giving them a wide berth. Yoochun pats his shoulder.
“I think it’s just straight up the main street,” Yunho says.
They manage all their baggage in one trip, snagging a low cart that they toss most of it into. There is hardly anyone out on the road but if Jaejoong looks hard enough, he can see eyes peeking out at them from behind window curtains and the cracks in doorways.
They walk for a half mile before Yunho announces that clearly they’re on the wrong road or they passed the inn without realizing it. “I’m confused,” he says.
Jaejoong does not like the idea of stopping in the middle of the road.
“Let’s ask someone,” Yoochun says.
“Um,” Jaejoong says, because sometimes Yoochun forgets that his former station master Compatible is not with him, and it gets him into trouble. “I’m not sure we should.”
Yoochun ignores the warning and begins to search someone out, finally spotting a man sitting in a chair outside one of the doorways. It did not make for an inviting picture, but Yoochun goes for it anyway, his soul glinting harshly against the drab colors.
“Hello,” he says pleasantly.
He receives a bitter glare.
“We’re looking for the inn,” Yoochun says, “Did we pass it?”
The man’s frown deepens as his eyes slide over Jaejoong and then finally Yunho. “I don’t particularly want to talk to you.”
Yoochun blinks. “Well, then you can point.”
“No. Please get out of my line of sight. I don’t want to have your bad luck catch,” the old man says and his soul turns from a bright yellow to a more sickly yellow-green as he sneers. “Red souls are always so unlucky.”
Jaejoong frowns at the man and his soul curls around Yunho protectively. “If you could just direct us to the inn,” Jaejoong says, “we would appreciate it.”
The man scoffs. “I’m sure you’ll find it. It’s red,” he says, “Just like you.”
Jaejoong desperately wants to hit him, the man’s old age be damned, but Yunho holds him back. “It’s not worth it,” he whispers, “Let it go.”
“I can’t,” Jaejoong says, and struggles.
“Please. For me,” Yunho says, “Just forget it. It’s not a big deal.”
Jaejoong feels a bit like crying and he has to swallow hard. “It’s not fair. It’s not your fault.”
Yoochun looks mildly disturbed and he loops an arm around Jaejoong, sandwiching him between himself and Yunho. “Let’s just keep going. I’ll make Changmin yell at him later.”
They pick their belongings back up and shuffle on, finally finding the inn tucked away in a very dilapidated part of the town. It is indeed a faded red, though it seems like rather than being painted that way, the constant exposure to the sand (and no one to properly clean it up) was the most likely explanation for its color.
Jaejoong brushes his hand over the wood as they walk inside, thinking that his blue soul looks much better against Yunho’s red than against the inn’s.
The person at the front desk gives them a very wide berth, handing over a key with his arm stretched out as far as it would go, as if Yunho’s red soul would catch.
“Why are they so superstitious?” Yoochun mutters, “This is ridiculous.”
Their room was thankfully one of the better ones because of Changmin’s influence, but it certainly isn’t good. There aren’t any curtains; only two beds, the covers and pillows looking as though they haven’t been cleaned in years.
“Ew,” Yoochun says. “This is unacceptable.”
“I don’t think it’s going to get better,” Jaejoong says.
He approaches a bed warily and tosses the covers back. There aren’t any bugs, and after a thorough inspection he feels a little bit better and lays down, trying not to breathe too deeply. There’s a smell in the room that isn’t particularly pleasant.
“I do not want to stay here for very long.”
He feels the bed dip and his soul reacts as Yunho wraps himself around Jaejoong. “Me neither,” he says.
The three of them fall asleep curled around each other and only wake up when Changmin and Junsu come back. Junsu’s face is swollen and his eyes are red. He climbs onto the bed and all five of them cocoon him with their bodies as he cries silently onto Jaejoong’s shoulder, his heaving breaths the only sound.
Yunho finally gets up and announces that he’s going out to get food.
“We need to eat,” he says, and leaves, his vacated space filling quickly with body parts that had been previously falling off the bed.
There’s enough room for Junsu to bring out his paper and pad and he tells Jaejoong and Yoochun about the grave, about how some very nice people were keeping care of it for him but it wasn’t as pretty or shiny as the others. But that was okay, because it is Hyukjae’s gravesite and it is perfect, set on a hill, pointing up towards the blue sky. Hyukjae loved the sky, Junsu writes, He loved the color blue. His soul was the prettiest blue in the whole entire world.
Junsu had never told them his Compatible’s name until that moment and Jaejoong feels a little like crying as he meets Yoochun’s eyes and they squeeze the breath out of Junsu’s lungs.
“We love you,” they whisper, and then they do cry as Junsu hugs them back.
It’s a mess of emotion before Changmin sits upright suddenly and swears. “I should have gone with him.”
There should have been a moment in which Jaejoong tries to think of who Changmin meant. But there isn’t. Even before the sentence is fully out of his mouth, Jaejoong knows that he means Yunho and as Jaejoong remembers the old man who hated the color red, his stomach sinks to the floor.
“Yunho,” he whispers, and has a need to feel his Compatible’s soul.
All four of them fumble down the stairs, almost clambering on top of one another in their hurry.
The few stragglers in the hallway get out of their way as they peer through doorways. Jaejoong belatedly remembers that Yunho had left to get food. “Kitchen,” he gasps out, and he’s the first person there, coming to a horrified halt as he takes in Yunho pressed up against a wall with a knife perilously close to his middle.
The man with the sickly green soul is the knife’s owner and he is sneering at Yunho.
“Hey,” Yoochun says, hoping to get the man’s attention. Jaejoong finds that he can’t say anything, his tongue suddenly thick and heavy in his mouth. He can smell his own fear.
The man turns, sees the four of them standing there helplessly and doesn’t even blink as he flings his arm out and stabs Yunho, the knife in the perfect center of his stomach.
Yoochun lunges as the man darts away, barely escaping Yoochun’s outstretched fingertips. Changmin catches Yunho as he collapses and presses Jaejoong’s hands to the wound. “Hold that. Hold it tight, I’ll be right back.”
Yoochun is screaming in frustration, torn between racing after the man or staying behind to help. Changmin solves his dilemma and shoves him at Junsu, causing a spark so bright, light is all Jaejoong sees for a good minute and a half. Green, purple, white, all different shades of the two colors bouncing off the backs of Jaejoong’s eyelids as he tries to keep himself under control, as he tries to hold himself together and keep his terror from spilling out of him. He focuses on anything but the feeling of wet skin and cloth underneath his fingers, gritting his teeth.
Junsu is straining against Yoochun, mouthing Hyukjae Hyukjae Hyukjae, silent tears streaming down his face. It scares Jaejoong because it’s not Yunho’s name.
Junsu should be saying Yunho’s name. Junsu should be worried about Yunho. Jaejoong tries not to think of the implications of Junsu recalling his former Compatible as Yunho bleeds his life out onto the Inn’s floor, his soul losing its color even as Jaejoong screams his name over and over and over.
No one is helping them, no one is looking at them, and for once in his life, Jaejoong hates the way the color red looks as it seeps around his fingers that are pressed against Yunho’s side. “You’re not allowed to leave me,” Jaejoong whispers, “Do you hear me? You’re not allowed to leave me here by myself.”
Yunho takes a gurgling breath.
Changmin comes back and shoves Jaejoong aside, opening his books and yelling for Yoochun to come and help.
Jaejoong holds Junsu and the two of them cry together, silent and loud, shaking as Junsu fears that Jaejoong will be like himself and Jaejoong fears that Junsu will never heal.
There are streaks of bright red on Junsu’s back where Jaejoong holds on too tight.
If, he thinks, if he does end up like Junsu, he’d rather have his heart burst. Jaejoong’s life without Yunho’s smile or soul seems meaningless. He can’t understand how a person could stick a knife in someone’s stomach, especially Yunho’s.
Jaejoong needs him. They all need him, and it’s kind of a weird thought to have. Jaejoong had never needed anyone in his life before until now. He needs Junsu silly antics and messy handwriting, Changmin’s answers for everything, Yoochun’s gentle heart, and Yunho’s love; Jaejoong knows he needs that, wants it, wishes for it, would die if he didn’t have it.
“Don’t leave me,” He mutters in Junsu’s hair.
Junsu seems to misunderstand and he struggles for a minute with his arms.
I’ll never leave you.
It makes Jaejoong feel better.