Word count: 5,205
Summary: After two years apart, it's amazing how easy it is to fall back into the old routines of being best friends. The thing is, Jonghyun isn't here to be Key's best friend again.
A/N: This was my entry for the kpop_olymfics for Team Future, prompt Oh! by SNSD. I am so clever you guys, I actually used the prompt in the fic hur hur. I hated every part of this fic as I was writing it but now I...don't mind it. It's kinda funny, I guess. I like it. Almost.
The plane lands at six in the evening, three hours late. "I'm sorry," is the first thing he says when he gets through the passport control, stuck behind a family with three excited children who all inexplicably have tiny American flags grasped in their tiny hands. Key -- tight shirt, tight jeans, long black hair with electric blue streaks, still pretty pretty perfect pretty -- waves his apology off.
"I got Starbucks," he says. Without the crackle of long distance phone calls, his voice sounds both familiar and strange. "Watched the world go by. There's a woman wandering around dressed in yellow cargo pants, she looks like a giant walking banana."
"Nice," Jonghyun says. By now they've come to an unspoken decision to walk to the front entrance of the airport. "Better or worse than Juliette?"
"Worse," Key says immediately. "Much worse."
Once during a phone call Jonghyun had teased Key about bringing some pictures of his Juliette days, blowing them up and posting them around his campus. He'd smiled as Key had shrieked about hanging up right there and then, threatening to cancel the visit they had planned. He wonders now, realising that he's never thought about it before -- what do Key's new friends call him? It feels weird to think that he has friends that Jonghyun doesn't know about.
Key replies to the taxi driver's question as to where they want to go, something in English; Jonghyun can recognise the address as Key's, but the short conversation after flies right over his head. The taxi pulls out of the airport exit, straight into rush hour traffic; a direct consequence of the flight delay. Key settles back in the seat, seemingly used to traffic on this kind of scale. He has a metal chain around his wrist, kind of the heavy looking type, which is weird, since he never used to go for chunky jewellery.
"You're sure you don't mind me staying at your place?" Jonghyun asks. The words stumble out of his mouth, feeling awkward; how could Key possibly mind, when they had lived together for so long? But things are different now. He has to be polite and think about how he is possibly intruding on Key's new life here.
"Don't be a moron," Key says, dismissive. "Why would I mind?"
"You have a flatmate, he might not want me there."
"Daniel doesn't care. He's Video Tech, they're totally chill."
Jonghyun doesn't know anything about that, never having met any video technology majors when he was in his part-time music course in Korea. He envies that Key actually has the time to get to know the people in his university.
"It must be weird," he says, thinking aloud, "to be somewhere and having no one know who you are."
"It's weird," Key agrees, "but not necessarily bad."
Jonghyun had spent eight years in the eye of the public, first with SHINee and then as a solo artist after the group split. He doesn't remember what it's like to not walk down the street and be recognised by everyone around. He doesn't remember what it's like to go for a meal and not be hounded or recorded. He doesn't have a clue what it must be like to go class and actually be able to pay attention to what the teacher is saying.
"How do you cope?" He feels it's a legitimate question because this is Key, for god's sake. It's like God looked at him as a baby and decided that his purpose in life would be to be the center of all attention, and how can Key be Key if he's not fulfilling that purpose?
Key shrugs his shoulders. "When people aren't fawning over you all the time, you tend to become less of a jackass."
"...Are you calling me a jackass?"
"Once a jackass, always a jackass."
"Oh, fuck off, at least I didn't get a reputation for freaking girl dances."
"It was a concept," Key protests.
"No, don't even lie, that was a lifestyle choice."
The cab driver seems to hate them. He glares at Jonghyun as Key collects the change and thanks their driver, and Jonghyun has no idea why, but puts it down as a New York thing. Maybe everyone just hates everyone else in New York.
He hates the climb up to Key's fifth floor apartment, since there isn't a lift and he's dragging his giant suitcase up behind him. Key is still talking to him, but his replies are pretty short, as he tries to maintain his energy; by the time Key's opening the door to the apartment, Jonghyun wants to crawl into bed. He leaves Key calling to his flatmate and drags his case into the room that Key now lives in.
It's basically another student's bedroom, cream walls and nondescript carpet, a bed that's slightly bigger than a twin but not quite a double jammed into the corner. The desk is piled high with marketing strategy books and his laptop, left open, is covered with outfit designs. Jonghyun dumps his case and peers covertly at them; it seems he favoured either muted pastels or bold contrasts. It made sense, since both have always looked good on him.
"Yeah, so," Key says, coming back into the room, "Dan is spending the night with his girlfriend or something, so we can -- why do you look so guilty?"
"Uh," Jonghyun says, stepping away from the desk. "No reason?"
"They're my designs for the fashion show at the end of term."
"Oh." Jonghyun smiles sheepishly. They stare at each other. It's kind of awkward.
"I'm hungry," Key decides. Jonghyun exhales, thankful that the silence has been broken.
They end up at a bar somewhere near Key's apartment block. It's clearly a bit of a dive but the drinks are cheap and in the end, that's all that really matters. Two hours and quite a few drinks later, it kind of feels like they've never been apart.
"Look," Key says, or more slurs. "It's just science. There is a scientific basis behind it."
"Just because it's called colour science, doesn't make it a legitimate science," Jonghyun argues. He brandishes his beer bottle, as if by knocking Key out with it, he can prove his point. "It's not like physics or chemisth -- that other one. That one with the liquids."
"That one with the liquids," Key mocks. "A cornerstone of science boxed down into five words."
"You think there's scientific reasoning behind which colours look good together," Jonghyun points out. "Your opinion doesn't count for anything."
"Yoogeun understood," Key says snootily. "Red is apple, green is watermelon. Would you eat watermelon with apples?"
"Yes," Jonghyun says seriously, "sometimes you can get these, like, fruit mixes--"
"What the -- for fuck's sake, that's not what I'm--"
"You're the one talking about science! And I just happen to have evidence that proves your thesis wrong."
"Color wheel, Jonghyun," Key says loudly, overlapping him. "Someone took years of research and analyzed the crap out of it and came up with these rules that red is opposite of green, purple is polar to yellow, and if you mix them all together, you get brown, and you know what brown is? Ugly, Jonghyun. It's ugly."
"...You're kind of a geek, did you know that?"
Key pulls the cushion out from the stool he's been sitting on it and flings it at Jonghyun's face. Key was never as good as Minho at these things, but he'd always been remarkably good at flinging things at his face and hitting square on target. Jonghyun pulls the cushion into his lap, one of his knees bent and his foot on the chair.
"The colour wheel," Key says, terribly poised and correct, "is an important part of an artist's life."
"Dude, you're a fashion student. You go around being a fag for a living."
"There's a feather boa in your wardrobe, Key, don't think I didn't notice."
"Okay, that," Key says heatedly, and he's possibly even blushing, "that was a joke present, Dan got me it for my birthday, last year, that one that--" That Jonghyun forgot. Well, it's not that he forgot, Key just thinks he forgot, because the present arrived late and so Key thinks that he posted it late, when he really didn't, the postal service just sucks. Key likes holding grudges though, even if it means that he has to twist reality in order to do it. "He got me that boa and I figure it might come in handy in an assignment."
"Your assignments include scoping out gay clubs? Because that's the only place I've ever seen a pink feather boa."
"Jonghyun, if you've seen a feather boa in a gay club, that implies that you've been to a gay club."
"Yeah well," Jonghyun says, coolly raising an eyebrow, fingers reaching out for his drink, "you'd be surprised at the places I get to." Key gapes, and Jonghyun knocks back his drink in triumph.
"The problem with this apartment block," Key is complaining as he trips up yet another step, "is that there are far too many stairs."
"You should have got a place with an elevator," Jonghyun says, Key's arm over his shoulder, half-dragging his drunken ass up the fifty billion flights of stairs that seem to stand between the reception desk and Key's apartment.
"A place with an elevator," Key explains, with an air of explaining something very simple to someone who is also very simple, "would have been too expensive."
"You," -- Jonghyun is huffing with exertion now -- "spent your youth in a Korean boyband, and you're complaining about not having enough money."
"Korean boyband, you fuckers took all my money."
"We did not--"
"Also fuck you, I'm not old."
"What are you -- oh, right, well, if I was calling you old then what the hell does that make me?"
"My sugar daddy!"
Jonghyun drops him on the floor.
Five minutes later, just after Key slammed his apartment door in Jonghyun's face, and then opened it again after Jonghyun hammered on it and threatened to wake everyone in the building, they're stumbling around Key's kitchen/living area, both of them hissing drunkenly at each other to shut the fuck up and neither of them actually shutting the fuck up. Key points vaguely to his couch, mumbles something that sounds like, "Sleep there ohmygod my fucking teeth feel like, like, a toilet," and Jonghyun replies, "how do you know what a toilet tastes like," and Key says, "no really, when did you go to a gay bar?" and Jonghyun says, "anyway I'm not sleeping on the couch, I'm short but I'm not that short."
"What, you can't sleep in Dan's bed, he'll have locked his room."
"Are you stupid, I'll just sleep in your bed with you." He falls into Key's bedroom door while trying to find the door handle. "I mean, come on, we used to do it all the time, it'll be far more comfortable."
"Well, okay, just because I'm not sleeping on my own couch, and" -- Jonghyun changes direction, lurches for the bathroom -- "no, no, get the fuck away, I need to brush my teeth."
They have a fight in the doorway, which Key wins because Jonghyun is laughing too hard to retaliate properly. He slides down the wall and his stomach hurts by the time Key comes out, blows peppermint scented air in his face, and then flounces into the bedroom. Jonghyun struggles to his feet, realises his toothbrush is still in his case which he hasn't unpacked yet, figures what the hell, and goes into the bedroom too.
"Don't look," Key warns, already with his shirt half unbuttoned.
"What makes you think that you have anything I'd want to look at," Jonghyun says, pulling his t-shirt over his head and tossing it onto his case, starting on his jeans.
"You're the one who admitted to going to gay bars."
"Do you have to make this more awkward than it needs to be."
"Yeah," Key is saying as he pulls on a pair of pyjama bottoms, and Jonghyun falls face first in his boxer shorts onto the bed, "I am purposely making this more awkward, because it's not like you're not my best friend who is half-naked in my bed. That's just not awkward enough for me."
"Jesus fucking Christ, at least the never shutting up part is the same," Jonghyun says, right before Key pushes him further across the bed and flops down next to him, laughing as Jonghyun pulls his arm from under his back. Key turns into him ever so slightly when Jonghyun tosses said arm across Key's stomach, just like they always used to do.
Suddenly, Jonghyun remembers the real reason why he's come to America.
Walking through Central Park the next day, sunglasses over their eyes despite the low cloud, Jonghyun says, "I think I need coffee."
"But Central Park," Key says weakly. "I have an itinerary."
Jonghyun takes the piece of paper in Key's hand, pulls a pen out of his pocket, crosses out "Central Park" and writes in "coffee". He hands it back. "There."
"I hate you," Key says.
"Coffee!" Jonghyun yells, and surges off to find the nearest Starbucks. A woman walking her dog next to them eyes him warily. Key groans with embarrassment and slinks after him.
Starbucks is crowded with loud students and business men talking on their phones. The steady stream of English makes Jonghyun's head pound even harder, and the smell of the coffee isn't helping his nausea any. Once seated with a regular coffee -- he couldn't understand what the drinks were, so he just got something simple -- he slumps over the table and almost sends his cup flying. "Never drinking again," he moans. Key moves his cup -- something frothy -- out of his way, lifts it to his mouth, sips at it, and then grimaces.
"I think we need food, not coffee," he says.
"I want rice cakes," Jonghyun says miserably. Key kicks him under the table. "Fine, what do you suggest we do for breakfast?"
"Waffles," Key says, leaning back in his seat. "Bagels. Toast with strawberry jam."
"You're so American," Jonghyun says, not sure whether he means it as an insult or not. "I think I'm going to throw up."
Half an hour later, after they'd had waffles (and Jonghyun had thrown them back up again), they're back in Key's apartment. Jonghyun is sprawled out on the sofa, staring blankly at the television, not understanding a word of the English. Key has his laptop open on his lap next to him, working on a spreadsheet for his economics class. "You suck," he mutters, as a woman bursts into tears on the screen, and some blonde haired guy shakes her, rather too violently for Jonghyun's taste.
Looking over, Jonghyun wants to say that Key looks really good in glasses -- as if on cue, Key pushes his frames up his nose -- but instead he says, "Careful, I'll throw up on you."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Key says darkly. Jonghyun grins, reminiscing for a moment of all the times they've drank together, and all the times that Jonghyun has thrown up on Key's shoes, either on their way home from whichever bar they'd found themselves in, or the next morning in the dorm. He pats Key on the shoulder.
"There's a reason you're my best friend," he tells him. Key bends over his screen to hide his smile.
There's the sound of a lock in the door, and then someone, a male, calling out, "Kibum?" It's followed by something else, something English, and Jonghyun should really know, it's not like he's completely useless at English, but somehow his brain just won't connect. Maybe it's protesting against the thought of Key being here. A guy appears in the room, dumping a couple of brown paper bags on the counter of the kitchen, and turning to face them. He's good looking in an American kind of a way. Looks like he probably plays a sport like football or baseball, with short brown hair and strong looking forearms. Even though Jonghyun knows that this is just Key's roommate, he still can't help feeling slightly intimidated. He probably won't even come up to this guy's waist.
Key slides his glasses from his face and shuts his laptop. "Dan, this is Jonghyun," he says. "Jonghyun, Dan."
"Hi," Dan says, holding up a hand in greeting.
"Hello," Jonghyun says awkwardly in English, ducking his head in a half bow. Dan begins taking things out of the bags and putting them away in the fridge and the cupboard, talking to Key. Key talks back. It's not like Jonghyun should really be surprised, especially since Key was always good at English and he's been living in America for two years now, but still, it's a shock at just how fluent Key is. Jonghyun probably isn't even that good at Mandarin, and he's had three solo singles released there.
He realises in the short silence that seems to fall that Dan is staring at him expectantly. "Huh?" he says, and Key laughs at him, poking him in the side.
"He asked if it's true that you're a singer." Jonghyun nods his head. Dan says something else, and this time Key rolls his eyes as he asks, "And if it's true that we really used to be in a band together. Like I faked all those YouTube videos."
"Does he want me to sing to prove it?" Jonghyun says, joking, but Key nods his head, eyes suddenly wide.
"Sing your next release," he says. "Quickly, I want to hear it."
Oh, the fucking irony. Of course Key would want to hear it, since Jonghyun pretty much wrote the entire song about him. He wrote it one night after talking to Key on the phone, inspiration striking where it hasn't done for months, and it's not his usual ballad because songs about Key have no place being ballads. He's not ballad material, he's strong bass lines and synthesizer and catchy choruses. He sings the chorus, avoiding Key's eyes, and when he's finished Key is grinning, and Dan looks shell-shocked.
"It reminds me of SNSD's Oh," Key says. "The bit about changing and growing up. It sounds different to the past" -- he begins mock counting down his fingers -- "gazillion ballads."
"Do you want me to punch you in the teeth?" Jonghyun asks, raising a fist.
Dan says something. Key says something back, laughing, and then Dan leaves the room, and goes into his bedroom. "He says he believes you, but he figures we should be able to spend some time together, so he's going to hang at his girlfriend's place for the rest of the two weeks."
"Oh," Jonghyun says, and doesn't add great. The thing is, that's playing right into his hands.
But a week later, he still hasn't made a move. Jonghyun wonders when he turned into such a horrific coward. He's totally ashamed of himself, but the thing is, the way the light catches the blue in Key's hair when he leans forward in the restaurant they're eating dinner in, it's hard enough to remember how to breathe, never mind work out how he's supposed to say all those things that he came to America to say in the first place.
"I never asked about the others," Key muses. "I mean, I keep up with news and stuff, but I haven't spoken to them in a couple of months. Jinki-hyung have any plans for a comeback soon?"
"No," Jonghyun says with a sigh. "It's a shame, but what with Jyu-young landing a new drama role, Jinki decided he'd rather spend some time with his daughter, you know? She's two now, got the biggest eyes in the world. Sweet as sugar. Clearly does not take after her father."
"Dramas, CFs, he's just got a permanent place on a radio show with Krystal. He's doing well. Minho might be getting a movie role, but I couldn't work it out, he had to be really vague."
"I watch Star King sometimes," Key says. "You remember how he used to never say a word? I just can't believe it."
But Jonghyun remembers when Key never used to say a word, back when they first met, the new, shy boy in the company. No one else remembers a shy Key, but Jonghyun does. Jonghyun remembers. And he remembers the way Key hadn't said a word when Onew had announced his engagement, and it hadn't been until later that he'd said congratulations. Key had been quiet -- they'd all be quiet when Minho had said that he intended to go into the army sooner rather than later. That had been that, the end of an era. The end of SHINee. And Key hadn't said a word to Jonghyun when he'd applied for fashion school all the way in New York. Key hadn't said a word.
"Yeah," Jonghyun says, storing away the way Key's fingers play with the stem of his wine glass in the back of his mind, like a video clip saved to his favourites, "I couldn't believe it either."
He sits down to compose, the song he wants to write on the tip of his tongue; he wants to write about the way Key's hair looks in the morning, or about the way he mumbles sometimes in his sleep, or maybe even about each of Key's designs for his runway show, how intricate and perfect they all are.
The song can't get past the tip of his tongue. It's funny, because he had thought that simply being around Key would be enough to inspire him, but it seems that's not enough.
"Key," -- his fingers turning down the volume on the television -- "Key, can I talk to you?"
"Not now," -- Key's fingers sketching out a design on paper, eyebrows furrowed because he can't work out which shade of green to match with the brown skirt -- "I'm busy, Jonghyun, later?"
Only later ends up being on the night before Jonghyun has to go back to Korea, the night of Key's end-of-year showcase. Key has been so busy trying to prepare for it that Jonghyun just hasn't managed to work out how he was supposed to tell him -- or at least, that's been his excuse for not having brought up the whole reason why he arranged this trip to America to hang out with Key. It had been a trip filled with hidden intentions, nothing innocent in it whatsoever, but now it's his last day and he has done fuck all.
His hands are sweating. He hasn't felt like this since the second time they had to perform Noona Is So Pretty (he can't remember the first time), and all he's going to do is tell Key exactly, exactly how he feels and has always felt, and it's not going to be difficult because this is Key and they're best friends and it will always be fine between them.
He groans. Key glances at him, annoyed. "Stop making noise," he says around the pins in his teeth. The model that he's fixing an outfit onto is a skinny little bitch, but is soon snapped into place by Key. Jonghyun hadn't understood what he'd said, but he'd recognised the tone of voice. It was nice to know that you still couldn't out-bitch Key.
"But I have something to tell you," Jonghyun says, drawing on all the courage that he has in every tiny cell of his body. "Something important."
"You should be taking your seat for the show," Key says. "Not hanging around backstage." He accidently stabs the girl with a pin. She yelps, and he glares at her. "Stop being such a baby," he mutters in Korean, bending his head so he can add the finishing touches.
Some random guy shouts from the other side of the room. From what Jonghyun can make out, they've got five minutes left.
"Would you go?" Key hisses, turning around to push at him. "I did not arrange for you to have a front row seat just so you could miss the show."
"You didn't arrange that," Jonghyun says. "The university arranged that. Because I'm famous."
"Fuck off," Key says. "Go on, get out."
"No--" Jonghyun catches hold of Key's wrist before he runs off to attend to some other fashion disaster. The girl in the blue and yellow outfit nearby looks at them curiously, clearly not understanding anything they're saying. Good, because Jonghyun doesn't want this getting out. "Key, I really need to talk to you."
"Can't it wait, hyung? I'm kind of busy."
"No, because I leave tomorrow, and I -- I need to tell you because it's important and I can't put it off anymore. Because I have always put it off, and I can't keep doing that."
Key sighs. He's got no idea. "Fine. What is it?"
"Key. Kim Kibum." Jonghyun steps forward; holds Key's fingers in his hand. "I love you."
A girl over in the corner screams something at a guy, angry. The girl beside them is still staring at them curiously. Key doesn't look shocked or surprised or even happy. He doesn't look much like anything. It is, for the first time, impossible to tell what Key's thinking from his face. Eventually, he sighs, and runs a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. "Listen," he says quietly. "Hyung, we'll talk about this later."
"You don't believe me," Jonghyun says, dropping his hand. "Because I do--"
"You're a moron." Key both looks and sounds incredibly disappointed. "I don't have time for this. I'll see you after the show." He leaves before Jonghyun can grab him again.
The climb to Key's apartment is filled with him talking excitedly about the show, and Jonghyun nodding and saying "Mhm," in all the right places, or at least, where he assumes are the right places. They haven't talked about what Jonghyun said backstage, either because Key never paid that much attention to begin with, or because he's purposely ignoring what Jonghyun said.
"So it went okay?" Key is asking as Jonghyun closes the apartment door behind them. "I think it went okay. They seemed to like my outfits. I just, I need a good grade. It'll be pathetic if I come all the way to America and don't pass top of my class."
And that, that is where Jonghyun is supposed to say something about how Key has come all the way to America and yet he's still a competitive bitch, and something about being no better than Minho, something, anything at all, but he can't think of what to say, so everything falls silent.
Key shuffles his bag from his shoulder and drops it on the counter. Some of his papers fall out and float to the floor. He avoids Jonghyun's eyes as he says, "I'm going to take a shower."
"No." Jonghyun blocks his exit route because they're going to talk about this, damn it. "Did you even think about what I said, backstage?"
"No, I didn't," Key says. He folds his arms and taps his foot on the floor. "Will you move?"
"Key, I was being serious."
"You were being a moron. A honest-to-god idiot."
"I wasn't!" Jonghyun feels like slamming his hand against the door frame. Maybe that would gain a reaction; he's never seen Key so in control of himself. "I'm not so much of an idiot to not know when I'm in love with someone."
"No, but you are enough of an idiot to not realise when the moment has already passed and it's too late."
That knocks the wind right out of Jonghyun's sails. "I would have noticed," he splutters. "I would have noticed something like that!"
"Two years ago," Key says. "When you didn't stop me from leaving."
That is one of the most unfair things Jonghyun has ever heard, and he's still part of SM Entertainment, so he's heard his fair share of unfair things. "How was I supposed to stop you from leaving?" he asks. "What was I supposed to do? You were my best friend, I couldn't exactly tell you to not run off to America, that wasn't my job. Besides, you wanted to leave!
"But you never even pretended like you cared!"
"Of course I fucking cared!" Jonghyun shouts. "How could I not care when it felt like everything was just falling apart around me, the people I cared about most of all in the world turning their backs on me to go do god only knew what! You never told me what you were going to do, and then it was too late, I couldn't do anything to stop you."
"I was scared, okay?" Key shouts back. Jonghyun snorts a little, because Key is only scared by bungee jumps and rollercoasters. "Don't fucking laugh at me, Jonghyun, because I was so scared of what was happening. I knew you'd be fine, there was no doubt of your solo career but I didn't want that, and I needed to find something before it was too late."
"I was--" Jonghyun's voice has dropped; the sudden quiet is just as scary as the shouting. "I wanted...a duet thing, you know? We could have been a duo. I wanted that but I couldn't work out how to ask you without spilling everything I felt about you and then I turned around and you were just gone." They stand in silence for a long time. Key's hand is shaking as he lifts it to his face to scrub the tears away from his eyes. Jonghyun lowers his voice. "Kim Kibum, I fucking love you. Don't hold the fact that I didn't realise it when I was stupid, immature, self-obsessed nineteen year old against me, please."
Key's laughter sounds thick, like his voice when he says, "You weren't the one with the girl band dances as your concept."
Jonghyun smiles. "It was a lifestyle," he says, "not a concept." And he steps forward. That really seems to be all it takes before they're kissing, Key pressed against the counter top, his hands in Jonghyun's hair. Key's bag gets pushed off, and the papers go flying around the room. Somehow, they don't pay too much attention to it.
He wakes up with Key's nose pressed against his collarbone, and scrambles upright, searching for some paper and a pen. Key groans as he pushes him off, rolls into the middle of the bed as Jonghyun snatches some writing equipment off the desk. "What the hell are you doing?" Key asks.
"Writing a song," Jonghyun says, scribbling down lyrics about rosebud lips and butterfly kisses and silky skin. It's cliche as fuck but maybe that's simply the point.
"You're naked, you know," Key says, then hums in the back of throat. "Come back to bed."
"So," Key says. His smile is as bright as the camera flash from a fangirl taking a picture less than one hundred feet away. "You'll call me."
"I'll call you," Jonghyun says, right before he steps through passport control.