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walk the wire

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it's sometime just past midnight. they're in a barely put together, hole in the wall kind of hideaway, shielding themselves from the biting cold of open-air. the place is dirty and worn-down, family owned and family run. it's an awful place to land really, a little bit too close to the bad side of town for comfort. but brian has grown fond of it over the last few months, forced to become a regular after his wallet started protesting anytime he went anywhere remotely fancier.

thing is, danji offers cheap kimchi and even cheaper soju. thing is, they're just trying to kill time, waiting for the rain to stop pouring so they can return to their shitty apartment and even shittier heating without having to sprint across the wet pavement to avoid catching a cold.

brian is scribbling scattered notes in the folds of his napkin, watching as the blue stain of the ink spreads and spreads and spreads still until there's barely a trace left of the idle thoughts he had been trying to put into words in the first place. his shirt clings uncomfortably to his skin, sticky and rain-wet. he can hear jae tapping his chopsticks against the table's edge, purposefully building a counterpoint to the incessant ticking of the clock that’s hanging somewhere around, counting down the minutes as they crawl by and the rain keeps on falling.

it's sometime just past midnight. they're both barely put together and trying to kill time when jae opens his mouth and says:

"marry me."

brian stops. his pen hovers a few inches above the thin napkin before he sighs and lets it fall to a patch of white that isn't stained dark with his not-words just quite yet.

"what," brian takes a bite out of his stale bulgogi, forces himself to swallow it back with a bitter shot of soju. "no first date?" he asks, reluctantly amused.

jae huffs indignantly, the sound muffled from the way his cheek is pressed against the palm of his hand, glasses crooked. "don't be an ass, c'mon," he mutters. "i'm paying for the first two rounds. your food, too."

jae motions to the many empty shot glasses littering their table. there’s too many - way too many, especially for a thursday night, especially when they both have an early class tomorrow. the empty glasses could, potentially, explain why jae is asking brian to tie the hypothetical knot with him. still, this is weird, even for jae, who brian has come to learn fits weird a bit too well.

"consider yourself properly wined and dined,” jae says, grinning at him behind the cup of his palm.

"how classy of you, hyung," brian snarks and flags down the bored-looking waitress standing by the back of the counter. he asks her for the check, ignores the way her eyes linger just this side of too long on the curve of his shoulders and the dip of his collarbone. "and why exactly are you asking me to marry you?" brian asks, points at the older with his chopsticks accusingly. "i thought jimin was the one for you."

"jimin's nice, man. jimin's great,” jae says. “but we figured pretty early on that we were better off as friends." he sighs then, a quite little sound that gets lost in empty space. he doesn't look sad about it though, merely resigned. brian takes another shot.

"so," brian says and reaches for jae's napkin when he finally runs out of space on his.

"so," jae repeats, still looking intently at him, determined. brian shifts in his seat, suddenly restless.

through the foggy cloud of alcohol swirling slowly around his head brian dimly registers the look in jae's eyes, recognises it as something dangerous. at least something to be wary of, certainly.

because that there, that's the same look jae got before he switched majors from political science to music composition three semester in after what brian likes to call his just-turned-twenty crisis; the same look he got before he decided it would be a great idea to drag brian to a nearby skate park and teach him how to do an ollie at three in the morning.

brian still has a scar running from the tip of his ring finger all the way down to the bony curl of his wrist to show what came out of it. the scar's faded now, pale white and all but invisible to anyone who doesn't know it's there. brian traces it with his thumb absentmindedly and jae begins to explain.

"look man," he says, pushes his glasses up the crook of his nose with the rim of his glass before he brings it to his lips and downs what's left of the alcohol sitting there in a single swig. "you just ate what was left of my bank account and rent is due in one week. i'm as broke as you are close to getting your trust fund back. that means we'll probably starve to death by the time midterms roll around if we don't fucking do something about it. this is me doing that. so, marry me."

jae leans back against his seat, hands splayed out to show the palms of his hand. all cards on the table. which okay, fair enough.

brian knows, objectively, that jae's right. they're both barely scraping by, fighting tooth and nail to keep their asses out of debt, but brian can admit that it's not looking well for them.

brian's part-time job at the uni library doesn't do much more than cover for their day-to-day expenses and what's left of his trust money is rapidly dwindling down to a big, dangerous zero. jae does some of odds jobs here and there, most of which he finds on craigslist. but he's a senior now, which means he's also neck deep in schoolwork. they can't rely on that money anymore. brian knows that. objectively.

still.

"you do know that marrying me doesn't get you access to my parents' bank account, right?" brian tries to tone down the bitterness cutting his voice thin with a half-assed smile. it turns out looking more like a grimace than anything else.

"i know." jae grins then, a flash of white teeth that always promises trouble. it's the same grin he got seconds before he pushed brian off a fucking ramp and send him crashing down to the hard cement of the skate park. "but it does mean that we can apply for the uni's financial aid program."

"that," brian says after the waitress is done taking their empty plates and out of earshot again, "is illegal."

"and?" jae shrugs, unconcerned. brian sighs. "c'mon, dude. think of all the stuff we could buy with the extra money. those stainless steel bass strings you've been drooling after? yours. think about it, man," jae croons, leaning forward so that his face is inches away from brian's own, breath ghosting over brian's lips as he says, "we could even fix the heater."

brian pushes at jae’s shoulders. the older goes slumping back down to his seat, smirking at him over the rim his glasses. because well, that sounds... worryingly appealing. brian would certainly like to stop shivering every night, stop having jae press his cold toes against his calves when he slips into brian's bed at night in an effort to fight off the biting cold of their apartment.

still.

"so what?" brian asks, tries not to scowl when jae's grin grows bigger, self-satisfied; no doubt having caught on the fact that brian is actually considering his new brand of crazy. "we go, get married, cash in. and what? what happens after?"

"divorce is a thing now, you know," jae says, like it wouldn't bother him at all to be twenty four and a divorcee. "it wouldn't change anything. we already live together and there’s no reason for it to turn awkward. it’s just a piece of paper. maybe a ring, just to sell it. it can't be that hard to convince the person they send over to check on us that we are actually in love."

"if it's hookups you're worried about, then don't,” jae goes on, a smirk tugging at his lips. brian snorts. "i don't mind you cheating on me, honest-" he laughs, "-just tell me when the mistress will be home. ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente. you know how it goes."

brian doesn't, not really. he gave up on the idea of a relationship a few good months ago, too swamped with work to put much effort into looking for one. never mind actually keeping it for longer than a few weeks. brian's last boyfriend was another business major he met in one of his friday classes.

boyfriend, well, that’s kind of a stretch.

jaebum had broken up with him three weeks after their first date, quick and painless. brian certainly doesn't begrudge the guy for it. after all, brian had spent most of the time they were supposed to be together either slaving away in the library or locked away with jae, eating himself sick on greasy take-out and failing at writing anything more than a couple of scattered verses.

"you're a nice guy, younghyun," jaebum had told him when he finally got fed up of the lack of attention on brian's side and called things off. "but i can't be with someone who clearly wants someone else."

"what?" brian had asked, tried not to show how off guard the other had caught him. not because of the breakup, no. brian had seen that coming from miles away, had been expecting it way sooner, frankly. but because of the reason. "i don't - i don't want anyone."

"but you do," jaebum had answered, sure and final. "it's fine. no hard feelings. i guess i was kind of doing the same."

"right." brian hadn't known what to do, so he'd reached out his hand and said, "friends?"

"course," jaebum had replied. "friends." and that had been that.

(it hadn’t been, not really. not nearly. not at all. but that - that comes after.)

brian has only ever had his own fist for company for an embarrassingly long time now. of course, jae doesn't know that, mainly because brian refuses to tell him. like he said, it's embarrassing and brian is not above a few white lies to save his dignity. but jae's right. doing this - getting married- it wouldn't have to change things. it’s just a piece of paper. they could continue on as they have for the last three years. just, well, richer.

"so," jae says again and smiles at brian, half a eager, half smug. he already knows what brian is going to say. "you're in, right?"

"yeah," brian relents, ignores the sudden loop of this is bad, this is so bad, you fucking idiot you goddamn stupid fool running circles around his head. he feels the stainless strings under his fingertips, the warmth of a well-heated apartment and the taste of actual food on his tongue and says, "i'm in.” prays that he doesn’t regret it.

"great. awesome. this is going to be so good," jae preens, shuffling to his feet and taking a quick peek through the window. "the rain's stopped. let's go home, we've got a wedding to plan."

"we is too many people," brian grumbles but he still follows after jae. he stops though, turns back to their table and picks up the filled napkin before slipping it into his wallet.

"c'mon!" jae calls from the door when he sees brian lingering around, hoodie up and hands stuffed deep into his pockets to keep his fingers from turning blue. "my balls are freezing, dude. hurry."

"don't whine at me," brian bites back, making a show of moving as slow as he can. "i'm not your wife."

"yet." jae crackles and slips out of the door into the blurry blackness of the night.

 

jae and brian get married exactly three days later on a dull, grey, wednesday morning.

jae, of course, doesn't even have the decency to show up on time. he comes shuffling into city hall half an hour later than he should be and sheepishly presses a kiss to brian's forehead in a mockery of an apology.

"got to sell it," he whispers against brian's temple before he pulls away. brian just snorts at him in response.

from the side, brian sees jaebum shoot him a look, one that brian got far too familiar with in the brief span of their relationship. it’s half exasperated, half amused and a whole you’re in deep shit, dumbass.

brian digresses. it - this, getting married - it’s no big deal. he and jae have been friends ever since brian’s freshmen year where jae somehow got roped into taking charge of brian’s orientation group and found out that brian was from old america’s better neighbor, which apparently made them instant friends. they’ve been living together for two years now and brian plans on keeping it that way until he graduates. jae is easy, comfortable. familiar. brian doesn’t like change.

(“things are going to change though,” jaebum had said when brian called him up to ask him to be his witness. it had taken a lot of convincing and brian insisting over and over again that he wasn't drunk - at least not anymore - to get him to accept. ultimately, jaebum had agreed because he’s a nice guy like that and probably one of the few close friends brian has that would go along with this, if only because he likes seeing brian make stupid choices and pulling him out of them to lord it over him later.

“you can’t expect your relationship with him to stay the same,” jaebum had told him. “you’re getting fucking married to the guy, younghyun.”

“i know,” brian had answered. “but nothing’s going to change. it’s jae.”

“that’s exactly what i’m worried about,” jaebum had said before he’d told him he’d be there and hung up.)

nothing changes. they sign a few papers, recite some things back and watch as the bored looking bureaucrat lady goes through the mechanical process of stamping things down.

when it’s time for the witnesses, dowoon - their poor dongsaeng who jae probably had to threaten so that he would show up - swears that they are both deeply in love with one another. jaebum, for his part, solemnly tells the wrinkled bureaucrat that they are completely faithful to each other. brian just signs where he’s told.

"i gotta head to class now," jae tells him when everything’s done and they’re legally, bindingly, married. "our honeymoon will have to wait till after i'm done with this presentation. sorry sweetheart." he laughs then, claps brian on the shoulder once before he says, "hand in the application for the financial aid program, yeah?"

“i’m not your secretary, you know,” brian deadpans as he waves goodbye to jaebum, who insists on shooting him one of those looks again. brian pretends he doesn’t see it. dowoon is already gone, having promised to meet him for coffee after brian’s classes were done at the small café where wonpil works at.

brian doesn’t doubt it for a second that dowoon is heading straight there already to tell wonpil all about his change in social status. wonpil will, of course, tell sungjin, who’ll in turn flip the fuck out when he hears about it. brian wants to a be in a public space when shit hits the fan, if only so he can keep the drama to a minimum.

"course i know." jae smiles back, easy as you please. "you’re the handsome trophy husband whom i was lucky enough to marry.”

"you'll sleep on the couch if you keep being an asshole,” brian informs him seriously. it’s punishment enough. their living room has a horrible draft and their couch is moldy and full of loose springs. once, dowoon spilled cheap beer on it during a party. they were never able to get the stain out. now it smells like hangover.

jae grimaces. "see, acting like a proper husband already.”

"hyung, i swear to god-"

"fine, fine. i'll drop them off myself," jae relents. "don't wait up for me though.”

“why?” brian asks. he doesn’t know why exactly, but it bothers him a little. he had thought that he and jae would spent the night in. bicker over video games, fight over take out. the usual. “got a date tonight?”

“ouch. you think i would be so low as to cheat on you on our first day as newly-weds?” jae asks in return, trying to look sad but not making it halfway with the way he can’t seem to stop smiling. “is that what you think of me?”

“pretty much, yeah.”

“okay, double ouch,” jae whines. “no date though, if you must know. i’m just meeting up with jimin.”

“jimin?” the name tastes odd on his tongue, wrong almost, which is completely fucking stupid. brian likes jimin. the girl is straightforward and snarky, always knew how to keep jae on a tight leash. brian had honestly thought those two would go a long way. apparently not though, because jae is married to him now and has a not-date with her. brian doesn't stop to think why the thought of it makes him so damn pleased.

“yeah, i’m heading to her dorm after class.”

“so i’m not getting locked out of the apartment tonight?” he asks, the question more serious than he had meant for it to sound.

“honestly, brian. it’s not like that anymore,” jae rolls his eyes. “besides,” he adds, wriggles his eyebrows. he looks stupid, dumb. brian can’t help but smile. “if i'm christening our apartment and its fixed heating it's gonna be with my husband.”

“in your dreams, maybe,” brian snarks back, ignores jae’s you bet, baby and says, “just go hand the forms in. i’ll see you later.”

“yeah, we’ll have to do something to celebrate. next friday maybe,” jae says but doesn’t elaborate, already hurrying away to get to class on time.

brian watches him go. there’s a voice in his head telling him that things are going to change, that he should be careful, but it sounds too much like jaebum for brian to take it seriously. so he doesn’t.

(he should have.)

 

“you,” sungjin tells him in no uncertain terms the moment he steps a foot into their apartment friday night, “are a goddamn idiot.”

“hello to you to, hyung. why yes, i did have a good day, come on in,” brian snarks. he takes the six pack from sungjin’s hands, waves the older to the living room where the rest of them are and then heads to the kitchen.

“idiots don't get proper greetings!” sungjin calls out to him. brian just waves him away.

from the kitchen, he hears sungjin’s voice getting louder, no doubt having caught sight of jae and started chewing him out too. brian picks at the green plastic covering the beers until it gives, tries not to laugh when he hears jae’s indignant yelling rise in pitch.

it’s been awhile since they’ve all gotten together. their different schedules had been doing their best not to match up and succeeding terrifically at it. brian’s marriage it’s nearing its two week anniversary now and he hasn’t seen sungjin in all that time. he got his share of angry texts and harried calls of course but brian knows that sungjin prefers to scold when he can actually see the person he's nagging wilt and deflate. which just means the older’s anger at this little stunt of theirs has had the time to grow and fester.

still, brian can tell by the way sungjin seems to calm down suddenly that wonpil has returned from the bathroom. deciding that it’s safe to head back out now, brian takes three beers with him and plops himself down on his moldy couch, kicking his feet up so that they rest on jae’s lap, who is much too drunk to care.

“give me one of those,” sungjin demands. brian complies. he hands sungjin one of the lukewarm beers and watches, amused, as the older takes a long, hard swig. “you goddamn idiots,” he says after, “you stupid fools. who in their right mind does this?”

“ugh,” jae mumbles from where he’s sprawled out on the couch. his glasses have slipped so far down his face that they’re sitting by the curve of his mouth now. brian watches how they move when he speaks. “you’re too loud and that’s old news.”

he’s right, in a sense. jae and brian have been married for one week, four days and six hours. not that brian’s counting mind you. he’s just keeping track of time to show jaebum that he was wrong and brian was right, ha.

because it’s been one week, four days and six hours (almost seven now. brian would know for sure if the clock would just stop wobbling already) and nothing's changed. jae is still jae and brian is still brian and they’re still both brianandjae. perpetually stuck together and teetering on the wire of too close but never once falling over.

except they’re married now, brian thinks as he steals a swig of jae’s beer and imagines he can taste the older on the mouth of the bottle. they’re married and jae framed the flimsy piece of paper that makes it all official and put it up in their living room wall so brian can stare at it when he’s getting progressively drunker and thinking stupid thoughts like changing majors too and the taste of jae on his tongue.

“seriously though,” wonpil asks then and brian blinks back to reality. “isn't this like a big deal?” he sounds concerned, just a bit. brian blames it all on sungjin.

wonpil’s opinion on their marriage has shifted a lot. he had been delighted at first, couldn't seem to stop laughing when he saw them together. then, he turned petty, demanding to know why he hadn’t been invited and why dowoon had been the one they called. apparently, brian mourns, he’s in serious mode now.

“it is a big deal,” wonpil insists when he gets no answer. he’s sitting on the floor, crossed-legged and hazy-eyed from all the alcohol, frowning just the slightest bit. his head is resting on sungjin’s knees and he keeps playing with the braided string wrapped around the older’s ankle; an anniversary gift for their first year as a couple. brian knows because he was the one wonpil dragged all around hongdae trying to find the perfect gift.

it’s disgustingly sweet. but - but nice somehow. brian kind of wants that for himself. or maybe he just drank too much.

“nah,” jae answers, tugging brian’s feet higher up his lap so he can reach for another beer because brian insists on keeping the one he stole. “it’s just a formality.”

“it’s a mistake,” sungjin snaps but he settles down, carding a hand through wonpil’s hair to keep himself calm. it’s so cute. brian thinks he may throw up. “i can’t believe you got dowoonie to help you out with this.”

“i just signed a few things,” dowoon mumbles from where he’s laying behind the couch. there’s at least three cans of beer stacked on top of his stomach, wobbling with every breath dowoon takes.

“you lied to the government, dowoon-ah,” sungjin mutters darkly.

“jae hyung promised he would treat me to the steak place by the art department if i did though,” dowoon mumbles, turning around to look at jae, sending all the empty cans rattling as he goes. “you will, don’t you, hyung?”

“course i will, brat. i have money now,” jae answers gleefully and his glasses slip, finally. brian stretches, reaches out before he can think much about it and places them back on jae’s nose. the older blinks at him for a moment, surprised, before his lips curve up and up and up. “thanks babe,” he says

“you're welcome,” brian mutters back, suddenly feeling a little too hot around the neck.

“oh,” wonpil says, eyes wide. “oh.”

“what?” sungjin asks, but wonpil just shakes his head in response.

“nothing,” he says, shoots brian one last look, (brian is beginning to hates those, he doesn’t think wonpil is cute anymore) before he turns around to peek over the couch and asks dowoon if he knows what he wants to major in yet.

by the time all their friends leave, brian can no longer tell if he’s speaking korean or english. either way, he’s slurring, stumbling over his own words and probably butchering both languages. jae seems to find it funny because he keeps on laughing, a high stuttering sound that makes brian dizzier than the alcohol in his veins.

“hey. hey, come here,” jae whines when brian makes to head out of his room. it had taken him a good ten minutes to drag jae all the way from the living room to his bedroom. the older boy is lanky and especially clingy when drunk. his limbs had been everywhere, slowing brian down and turning him clumsy. brian thinks he can see a bruise beginning to darken jae’s temple from where brian had accidentally knocked his head against the doorknob.

now, jae’s face down on his bed - unmade, because he’s a firm believer of the whole why do it if you’re just gonna sleep in it in a few hours thing and looking up at brian from under his dark lashes.

“what?” brian asks, hovering by the side of the bed.

“come here,” jae says again and this time brian can’t pretend he didn’t hear it. jae pats the side of the bed, tugging the covers down so brian can climb in. “c’mon, man.”

brian does. he slips on the bed next to jae, feels the older turn around to face him even if he doesn’t quite see it in the almost-darkness of jae’s bedroom. “it’s freezing,” jae says by way of explanation, pressing his feet against brian’s calves like he always does.

“it is,” brian agrees though it’s very much not. they had the heating system fixed two days ago, knowing they could afford it. jae’s bedroom is warm, a bit stuffy even because their apartment is tiny, their bedrooms’ even more so, and the only window it has won’t open.

brian can feel jae’s breath ghosting over his skin, can hear his pulse thrumming just a few inches away from brian’s own. brian makes an effort to remember it, thinks he may use it as the beat of all the songs he will never finish.

“do you regret marrying me?” jae asks, out of the blue and so damn quietly brian thinks he didn’t hear anything at all in the first place.

“do you?” jae prompts again when all brian does is breath. in. out.

“no,” brian answers finally, finds that he believes it more than he had thought. “no, hyung i don’t regret it.”

sungjin had called it a mistake and maybe he’s right, maybe it is a mistake. but just today brian had woken up to the sounds of the shower running and jae’s excited yelling - it’s hot, brian. holy shit, we have hot running water. jae had been so goddamned happy about it all and brian - brian doesn’t regret it.

“i didn’t even buy you a ring,” jae mumbles, the sound muffled. he sounds dejected, like it actually bothers him to know that brian doesn’t have a ring to wear.

“but you did.” brian's mouth feels stuffed full of cotton. he feels clumsy, awkward in his own skin, but jae sounds so sad. brian wants to make it go away. “look, hyung. look.”

brian has a scar running from the tip of his ring finger all the way down to the bony curl of his wrist. he traces it with a finger, startles when he feels jae do the same.

“oh,” jae says and this time it sounds almost like a realisation, the kind you can only have in the blurry hours of not-quite morning, the ones that creep on you like vines or wintertime cold, refusing to let go. “i did, didn’t i?”

“yeah.” brian swallows. “and you know i’m always losing my rings and earrings and shit so this is better, really. i can’t lose this one.”

“you do always lose your shit,” jae mumbles. then, “it’s kind of lame though. don’t you want a diamond or something?”

“my scar it’s not lame, fuck off,” brian grouches, defensive. “besides,” he adds when jae barks out a sleepy, drunken laugh. “it’s your fault i have it in the first place.”

“bull. i taught you well. you just suck at skating.”

brian keeps quiet because he kinda does. brian remembers that night, remembers the cold and the bite of the wind as jae dragged him out of their apartment and down seoul's night-lit streets towards an old skatepark. the older had spent hours teaching him how to stand and how not wobble before he decided to go down the tough-love road and promptly pushed brian off a ramp.

brian had fallen on his hands and jae had laughed and laughed until he realised that brian’s shirt was stained red and that he was bleeding and that the bleeding wasn’t stopping. jae had come running then, taken his jacket off to wrap it around brian’s hand where a broken beer bottle had nicked him when he fell.

they had spent an endless hour in the er after that. jae had cried a little when the doctor came to stitch brian’s wound close, like it hurt him to watch brian hurt even though brian hadn’t felt a thing himself. later, he had denied it. but brian still stands by it that he saw those tears fall.

“i’m a sucky husband,” jae sighs, flops over so brian sees the pillow creases marring his cheek and the bruise forming around his temple.

“maybe,” brian answers because maybe this was a mistake but - “but i’d marry you again, hyung. no regrets.”

“no regrets, huh?” jae asks, voice dipping and slowing with the telltale drag of sleep. “no regrets,” he repeats. “that sounds nice.”

 

midterms roll around before brian can think much about what it means.

he spends long, trying hours studying, drowning himself in coffee to keep his high gpa where it is. his parents are looking for reason to stop paying for his tuition, after all. brian doesn't want to give them the satisfaction even if business administration is dull and screams of the kind of nine-to-five future that brian dreads.

jae studies too, though his kind involves way more winning and late night cramming and brian dragging him to bed and forcing him to stay there until he stops muttering about adaggios and chords under his breath.

still, everything's good, everything's fine. brian aces his eco test and does his best to forget all about that drunken night. jae doesn’t bring it up, doesn't even mention it in passing. brian thinks that maybe he forgot about it, that maybe it got lost somewhere in between the blurry haze of alcohol and the cold cut of lucidity.

but it’s good, it’s fine. brian indulges himself and buys those stainless steel strings, goes to the music shop and buys some picks too. still, jae doesn't bring it up. but it’s good, it’s fine because brian is good at pretending and that’s what he intends to do. so he does.

it’s fine. except because it’s not.

“should i- should i do something about it?” brian asks, a little bit lost and whole lot confused. jaebum snorts at him from over the rim of his cup of coffee.

they’re both huddled by a corner booth at the café where wonpil works at, only there’s no wonpil behind the counter today, just the guy jaebum is crushing on. lowkey stalking too now, apparently, if the way he keeps on asking brian to move his head this way and that to get a better look at the guy is anything to go by.

“i told you this was a bad idea,” jaebum says, smug. brian fights the urge to hit him in the face and wipe that smirk off. “things did change.”

“but they didn’t,” brian insists because that’s the thing that has him so concerned in the first place. nothing’s changed. jae is still jae. he’s still prissy and grumpy in the morning, he still steals all the hot water and forgets to buy toilet paper even when brian reminds him to. but now - now when jae goes to bed brian has to stop himself from following after him, has to remind himself that he's not allowed to because jae hasn't fucking said anything.

“just talk to him then,” jaebum shrugs. “it's not that hard.”

just then, the cute barista comes over to their table. jaebum visibly straightens, sitting taller on his seat. brian snorts.

“do you want another one, sir?” the guy - youngjae, his nametag reads - asks jaebum brightly.

“what?” jaebum blurts out, blinking wide-eyes back at him. “oh yeah, another one would be great,” he gets out even though his drink is way too expensive for an uni student and his mug is not even half-way empty yet.

“right away then!” youngjae chirps before he steps away and goes to work behind the counter.

“not that hard, huh?” brian drawls and this time, he’s the one who smirks.

“shut up,” jaebum shoots back, flushed and caught. “you're way worse than i am.”

“maybe,” brian sighs before he sees the clock hanging on the wall behind jaebum’s back and he realises the time. “apparently, i’m also late. i’ll see you later.”

“later, yeah,” jaebum mumbles, already back to staring at youngjae as the younger boy works on his drink.

brian drops a few bills down on the table to cover for his part and heads for the library. he's got the afternoon shift today, which means the place will be crowded and brian will actually have to work, as opposed to the night shifts he does on tuesdays where brian can write lyrics behind the counter and no one will give him shit for it.

he’s right, unfortunately. the library is packed to the brim and brian is swept into the bustle as soon as he steps a foot inside. he mans the photocopy machine for a while before jinyoung, a psychology major who brian knows through jaebum only, comes to tell him there’s books to reshelve.

so brian goes and drags the library cart in search of the right shelves, tries not to think of jae and fails.

mostly because he’s here.

brian does a double take, sees that yeah, that’s jae alright and then hauls the book cart closer to the table where jae’s is pretending to study. pretending because he has his glasses on and brian knows he never wears them when he actually wants to focus.

brian is going to go and say hi and he’s going to be cool about it because things are good and they’re fine. besides, he has to remind jae to buy milk because they ran out of it this morning after jae’s failed attempt at making breakfast pancakes.

but then there’s the sound of footsteps, the telltale click of high heels against the library’s wooden floor, and brian sees park jimin.

then he sees red.

jimin smiles at jae. jae smiles back. she takes a seat in front of him, takes out her books and says something that has jae laughing, open and high and much too loud for a library. brian wants to go there and say something about it but his hands are shaking and he wants to sink to the floor too because jimin is leaning forward an jae is too and it looks intimate and personal and wrong.

it’s not like that anymore jae had said when brian asked him if he and jimin were still together. brian had asked and jae had said no and then he cracked a joke about sex and their marriage and made brian think that it was okay because it wasn’t like that anymore.

but brian can see jimin scowling at jae, exasperatedly but still so clearly fond, and jae looks soft in his sweater and happy in the curl of his smile and not even remotely close to not like that anymore.

it’s choking and twisted and unfair. brian knows it’s jealousy but refuses to admit it because he has no right and no goddamn reason to be jealous in the first place. jae made it plenty clear that their marriage wasn't going to stop him from hooking up, left the way open for brian to do the same. but when jae said that it was over brian had believed him, like he always does.

(he shouldn't have. he shouldn’t have because jae also said that things wouldn't change. but things have changed, at least for brian, and now he’s left breathless with the realisation that maybe he’s little bit in love with his best friend.

maybe a little bit too much.)

 

brian doesn’t remember the walk home.

he remembers what came before - leaving the cart behind, telling jinyoung that he was going ando that he was going now, not caring that his shift wasn’t even close to over yet. he remembers what came after - slamming the door to their apartment close so hard that it rattled, seeing the couch and the stupid marriage certificate hanging from the wall and feeling stupid and defeated all at once.

his shirt is wet, clinging to his back. his hair is wet, too, dripping rain drops down his spine. it’s raining, brian realises, and the muted sound of water hitting window glass suddenly sharpens into white noise.

brian is cold and numb and he doesn’t feel his fingers anymore. he’s standing in the middle of their living room, brain going in circles around around around; trying to catch up to the fact that somehow, someway, brian got married to his best friend, the ones he’s been in love with for what? how long has this been going for? how long has he-

i can’t be with someone who wants someone else jaebum had said to him, close to seven months ago and brian hadn’t understood anything back then, but-

i won’t let you fall, jae had said, more than a year ago. brian could feel his pulse beating under his wrist, stuttered but steady under brian’s tight grip as he teetered - on the skateboard but on so much more too. i won’t let you fall jae had lied before he pushed at brian’s back and send him tumbling down the ramp, crashing fast, then falling slow.

the door to their apartment opens, closes.

“what are you doing here?” jae asks. he’s dripping water everywhere, ruffling his hair around to get the drops out. he’s shivering too, because for all that he’s been living in seoul for five years now he’s still la raised and stands by it that things like umbrellas and rain coats are stupid and meant for the weak. “i thought you had a late shift in the library today.”

“i did.” brian swallows, watches as jae kicks off his muddy boots. brian should say something about that. jae’s getting sludge and rain water all over their hallway and brian knows that’s a bad idea because they both hate cleaning up and the mess will probably stay there for weeks before one of them gets off their ass to do something about it and-

“hey, you okay?” jae is closer now, merely a few steps away. brian doesn’t know when he moved but he can hear radiohead’s high and dry coming out of the earphones looped around jae’s neck, can see the raindrops on his glasses and the concerned slant of his mouth. “you look a little faint.”

“I’m-” in love with you. i’m stupidly in love with you but- “i’m fine.” brian coughs, swallows. tries again. “just cold. how’s jimin? i - uh, saw you both at the library.”

“she’s fine,” jae says absentmindedly. “but you’re obviously not. you should change before you freeze over. your lips are blue, babe.”

“don’t call me that.”

jae stops, going still before he turns towards him from where he had been ruffling around their drawer for a blanket and quirks an eyebrow up at him.

“got a problem, sweetheart?” jae asks, grinning. joking. it - it bothers brian more than it should. jae’s been calling him all sorts of disgustingly sweet pet names ever since they got married. brian found it annoyingly embarrassingly at first but then it became just another jae-thing jae did, just another quirk of their relationship, another layer, another word for them. but now brian can’t help but wonder if jae calls jimin babe and sweetheart too.

“i know i’ve been working hard lately, and you’ve been taking care of the kids so well honey, but-”

“don’t,” brian says and it sounds strangled. something about the mess of emotions that’s twisting inside of him must spill out, bleed into his expression, because jae stops.

“brian,” he says more careful this time. “are you sure you’re okay?”

“yeah,” he says, takes a deep breath. he’s not okay, he’s not. but he has to be. jae’s back together with jimin and brian can do nothing about it. so he nods, shoots jae a smiles, quick enough to reassure but not long enough for jae to see it strain and flicker.

“i’m fine,” brian says. “just a little cold.”

 

“younghyun, would you please at least think about it?”

“no, mom,” brian says into the phone, trying to squint through the fog clinging stubbornly to the streets as he walks home. “i’m not thinking about it cause i’m not doing it. just like i didn’t last time.”

“she’s a nice girl,” his mother insists. “you would like her.”

“i bet she is,” brian sighs into the phone. “still not going.”

“honestly, younghyun-”

his mother goes on but brian doesn’t hear her. he holds his phone away from his ear, far enough for her words to become static, easy to ignore. he doesn’t want to hear her wax poetic about her friend’s daughter or whoever she’s trying to set him up with this time around.

brian opens his apartment door one-handed, leaves the grocery bags in the kitchen and heads for the fridge to grab himself a snack. his mother is still prattling on, doing her best to pretend that brian is very much not straight and set him up with a good christian lady of seoul society.

brian fights down the urge to hang up on her. that would be rude and unpolite and brian still needs his parents to pay for his tuition, after all. he can’t afford to upset them anymore than he already does, though the urge is strong sometimes. his parents are anything but accepting of his sexuality, which is, ironically, one of the reasons brian ended up marrying a guy in the first place.

“we’re cutting you off your trust fund until you stop with this nonsense,” his mother had informed him solemnly the day after brian came out to them. he had gone up to his family home for winter break and put off telling them that he was gay until the night before he was to leave because he knew something was bound to happen. because he was scared and vulnerable, too. but he doesn’t like to talk abou that. so he doesn’t.

his father, stone cold, had nodded besides her. there had been disappointment in his eyes, something very akin to disgust too. brian had stopped looking then.

“you can figure out how to pay for your debts alone,” his mother had told him. “if you insist on being- being-,” she hadn’t been able to said it. that word.

after that, brian had grabbed his bags and slammed the door behind himself, forced himself not to look back and just keep on walking.

(after that, jae had met him at the train station back in seoul. he had taken him home and stayed up with him until brian was done raging, until he had yelled himself hoarse and the skin over his knuckles had turned raw from all the times brian had punched the wall in a nauseous jumble of anger and frustration and hurt.

jae had been there, like he always was. but brian doesn’t like to talk about that anymore.)

“it would do you good, younghyun,” he hears his mother’s voice drift over the phone. “listen to me.”

brian only half-hears her. there’s a post-it note stuck to the fridge, its bright neon-pink offset by jae’s messy handwriting scrawled in black marker. going to jimin’s. be back later. remember to buy coffee. coffee’s important brian.

brian brings the phone closer to his ear.

“what did you say her name was again?”

“nayeon, she’s a sweetheart. you’ll love her, younghyun,” his mother says, delighted. “oh, i’m so glad! i’ll tell her mother to set you up, you won’t regret this.”

he probably will, brian thinks. but then he sees neon pink and thinks that he doesn’t really care anymore.

 

nayeon is nice. she’s pretty, polite, has a bit of an overbite that brian can tell she’s self-conscious about.

brian picks her up at seven on the dot and takes her to a movie, some rom-com based off a book based off an impossible love that gives brian an excuse not to talk to her for about an hour and a half.

then, because nayeon is nice and she really deserves better than this, brian takes her to a dinner and pays for her milkshake.

“business major, right?” she asks, smiles sweetly up at him. “that’s cool, lots of job offers.”

brian nods, plays with the fries on his plate until they resemble a pentagram with a few missing chunks. “yeah, it’s a stable career,” he says, means not by choice. means, it’s not music. “you?”

“undecided, though i’m thinking teaching. maybe. i don’t know yet.”

“you’ll figure it out eventually,” brian says. it’s a token piece of advice. he’s sure nayeon must have heard the same many times over but she still smiles at him, gives a hopeful nod. she’s nice, brian thinks. but she’s not him.

you’ll figure it out eventually. brian himself heard it said too many times to count. he had been hesitating between contemporary music production and songwriting when his father told him to quit playing and shipped him off to business.

it’s not like brian hates it. he doesn’t it, it can be interesting sometimes. but brian has a notebook filled with scattered melodies, filled with napkins turned blue with not-quite words. what-if, he thinks sometimes, was close to figuring it out once, after jae did it himself, but never really had the guts to go through with it.

“it’s been nice,” nayeon says. they’re standing at the entrance of the dinner now, caught in that awkward stage where the date is ending but isn’t quite there just yet. “thank you, i had fun.”

“i’m glad,” brian answers, thinks nayeon understand the lack of a me too because her smiles dims a little, turning just this side of resigned. “i’ll see you around.”

“yeah, see you,” nayeon says. brian waves at her goodnight one last time and then starts the slow trek home.

there, he finds the lights on. jae is laying in the middle of their living room floor, right between their couch and their flimsy coffee table. his glasses are crooked and he has an arm resting over his chest, clutching at the empty air over his heart.

brian steps closer. he nudges jae with a foot, hears the other grunt before he moves a bit to the side, leaving enough space for brian to lay down beside him.

“bad day?” brian asks.

“the heater broke again,” is all jae says.

“fuck.”

“yeah, fuck,” jae mumbles. he throws his hands up, “what’s good about being married if i can’t even sleep without shivering?”

brian shrugs, the move awkward and stiff because jae is pressed right against his side, ankle to shoulder. what’s good about being married, brian thinks, turns his head around to stare at the slope of jae’s nose, the frown on his forehead. what’s good about being married, he thinks, when all it’s done is cause brian trouble.

still.

“i don't regret marrying you,” brian murmurs, finds that he still believes it more than he should.

“glad you think so,” jae snorts. “just don’t let jimin hear you said that. she just found out about it, like yesterday, and already chewed me out for it, told her girlfriend all about it too and those two together, god, man-”

“her what?” brian asks, feels like the room is suddenly so much more smaller than it was before, like all the walls had suddenly taken a collective step forward. “her what?

“girlfriend, man,” jae explains, hands gesturing around aimlessly. “i told you, remember? when i said we figured out that we were better off as friends? well, turns out she found out she's a lesbian, which is super cool and everything but it still kinda stings that she realised it after sleeping with me, you know? not that i’m not happy for her - because i’m all for accepting yourself and shit. still, ouch.”

jae’s rambling. jae’s rambling but brian is still stuck on the girlfriend part because if jimin has a girlfriend then that means-

“so you’re not dating?” brian asks, turning on his side to look at jae, an eager kind of urgency making him restless, hopeful. “you and jimin, you’re not together?”

“what part of lesbian is it that you don’t understand, brian?” jae huffs. “honestly, were you even listening to me right now? what kind of husband are you?”

“shut up,” brian says, voice shaking. “shut up, oh my god. just shut up.”

jae glares at him from under his crooked glasses, opens his mouth to retort, but brian kisses him before he can.

it’s wet and messy and their teeth clack against each other’s but it tastes so much like a finally that brian can't bring himself to care. jae makes a surprised sound in the back of his throat before he seems to realises that it’s brian he’s kissing and he melts, sinks down against the floor and reaches for brian moments before brian reaches for him.

“well,” jae says after brian’s pulled away. “that was, uh, something.”

“i thought you were in love with her,” brian says. he’s still clutching at jae’s shirt, refusing to let go. “all this time, i thought you were in love with her.”

“pretty sure you got the wrong person there,” jae mumbles dazedly. he’s staring at brian, at his lips. “pretty sure i’m in love with you.”

“why didn’t you say anything then,” brian snaps, hands tightening their grip on jae’s shirt because - “why didn’t you fucking say something.”

“i don’t know,” jae blurts out. he looks miffed now. brian wants to punch him, kiss him too. “you were so off after that night, wouldn't look at me and kept avoiding me so it thought-”

“that’s because you didn’t you say anything.”

“maybe we should go see a marriage counselor,” jae offers, looks kind of serious about it too. “i think we have some communication issues we need to go over.”

you think,” brian snarls before he’s kissing jae again. slower this time, more careful, but still with the same kind of urgency from before because this -them- it has been building up for a long time now, teetering on the wire, waiting for them to fall.

they’re falling now, but brian isn’t scared. even if jae lied when he said that things wouldn’t change, even if he lied when he said that he wouldn’t let brian fall, even if brian is falling, it’s okay.

jae’s falling too.