Step 0; prologue
“Whyyyy do I feel like shit,” Jae groans, letting all 182 centimeters of him flop onto their ratty, lumpy couch. It lets out a squeak from it’s ancient springs, and Brian snorts from where he’s sitting at his desk, not even bothering to spare a glance at Jae over his shoulder.
“Because you’re an idiot,” he states matter-of-factly, ignoring Jae’s noise of protest. “And you’re incapable of staying in relationships that have the potential to last more than three months.”
See, this is Jae’s problem. Ever since he hit college and his dating pool as someone who considers himself “bi but mostly interested in guys” expanded exponentially, he’s had trouble staying in relationships. First, there was Mark, but he ended that when he realized that two introverts with not a lot in common besides hometown don’t really have a lot to offer each other. Then there was Sam, but Jae dumped him not even a month in when they both came to the conclusion they were better off as friends. He pursued Jimin for a few months before she politely agreed to one date, after which they decided to never speak of it again. But none of those broke his heart, not really. No, the real reason for his current state of heartache is one Kevin Woo.
Kevin’s a senior, and things had been going great until he decided to do a study abroad in Korea to “get back in touch with his roots.” For six months. Thing is, Jae really liked Kevin, but Jae doesn’t do long distance. Their breakup was a tearful one, at least on Kevin’s part, and left Jae feeling empty and sad for weeks afterwards, leading to his current frustration.
“That was a hypothetical question,” Jae responds, throwing an arm over his face to block the light.
“I just don’t understand why a serial monogamist like you would break up with someone he actually likes, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” Jae hears the tell tale swivel of the desk chair, and he peeks out from beneath his sleeve to see Brian looking at him expectantly, arms behind his head as he leans back. Jae’s eyes narrow, and he tries to focus on Brian’s stupid, stupid face instead of the swell of his biceps in the ratty Ramones tee shirt he’s wearing.
“Because, Brian, it was a preventative measure,” Jae huffs, dropping his arm over his eyes again.
“Whatever man,” Brian replies with a low laugh, and Jae peeks out from under his arm again.
“Really? I am completely heartbroken and all you have to offer me is ridicule? Some best friend you are,” Jae laments, and Brian laughs again.
“Fine, let me finish this paper and then we can play Fortnite until your broken heart is mended,” he replies, and Jae smiles.
“You’re the best, Bri Bri.”
“I know,” he snorts, turning back to his laptop with another squeaky complaint from his chair.
Jae settles into the couch to take a nap in the meantime, drifting off to the sound of Brian clacking away on his keyboard.
Jae and Brian have been living together since they were randomly assigned as roommates freshman year. If you asked Jae his first semester whether or not he’d keep living with Brian for years to come, he would have said hell no–even just a few weeks into the semester their disagreements had gotten irritating enough that he was begging his RA for a roommate switch. She ignored his complaints entirely, leaving Jae and Brian to sort their shit out by themselves. In the end though, Jae supposes that was for the best–they do, in fact, sort their shit out and by spring semester not only are they civil with each other, but they discover their common interests and start voluntarily spending time together. Brian complains about his introductory business classes while Jae picks out a melody on Brian’s bass guitar, and things are good.
Neither of them could have predicted it, but they room together the next year, and this year they’ve moved into an apartment with Sungjin from Brian’s business program and Jaebum who Jae met in Music Production. Sharing a room with someone for three years lets you get pretty close, and though he won’t say it out loud Jae is damn grateful that Brian’s been by his side all this time–at least he knows this is one person he’ll never have to force out of his life in fear.
Jae wakes up and promptly gets his ass whooped by Brian at Fortnite, which is totally unfair because Brian rarely plays but somehow he’s just naturally good. Then again, Brian is sort of good at everything. Jae tells him as much, though with a bit more cursing and complaining as he lets his controller slide to the floor while he attempts to become one with their couch.
Brian just laughs, getting up to turn off the TV with a satisfying click. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever admitted than I’m better than you at something.”
“Yeah because usually you just tell me that I suck at things. Like video games, dancing, relationships…” Jae trails off, and Brian gives him a look.
“Maybe if you’d stop breaking up with nice people you could have a decent relationship and I could count you as being better at dating than me, who literally hasn’t dated since freshman year,” Brian replies, and Jae feels a bit like a petulant child underneath the weight of Brian’s gaze.
“Yeah seriously, what’s up with that?” Jae asks, pushing up off the couch so he can go hunt for something remotely edible in their sparsely populated fridge. “It’s not like you’re a troll or anything, why haven’t people asked you out?”
“Thanks for the kind words,” Brian replies dryly. “And people do ask me out, I just turn them down.”
“No one here good enough for you?” Jae jokes, turning over his shoulder to look at Brian while simultaneously fishing through the bottom drawer of their fridge to find something not expired.
Brian shrugs. “Something like that. Point is, I don’t date and I’m still better at dating than your ass. Or I’m good at not liking people at least, which seems to be your problem.”
“Then teach me your ways, oh wise one,” Jae replies, standing up with his bounty (an Activia yogurt) in his hand and closing the fridge door with a lazy hip check. “Walk me through how to get over someone and be happy living single like you.”
Brian gives a derisive snort, crossing his arms over his chest. “What is this, a rom com?”
“You mean you don’t have a little diary where you keep your foolproof plan for getting over a boy? You’re ruining my dreams, Bri.”
“You know what, just to make you happy, I’ll come up with a plan and get back to you,” Brian replies, voice dripping with sarcasm as he uncrosses his arms, leaning forward to rest his forearms on their kitchen counter.
“I knew you’d have my back,” Jae grins, ripping the top off the yogurt and taking a sip straight from the cup.
“We have spoons, you know,” Brian says, and Jae makes a face.
“It’s like you don’t know me at all, Bri.”
Still stuck in his rut, Jae’s all but forgotten his conversation with Brian when his roommate practically accosts him while Jae’s trying to cure his heartbreak by yelling at Bernard through his headset as he dies once again on screen. He hears the apartment door slam but doesn’t notice Brian approaching until there’s a notebook falling into his lap and the couch dipping under Brian’s weight as he sits down next to Jae, close enough to pinch the fabric of Jae’s sweats beneath his own skinny jean-covered thigh.
“Stop playing, I made a plan,” Brian announces, looking after at Jae expectantly.
Bidding a quick goodbye to Bernard, Jae pauses the game and tosses his console aside, happy for the reprieve from constantly getting his ass beat at games he’s supposed to be good at. However, this makes him no less confused. “What plan?”
“The plan,” Brian says, looking at Jae like he’s supposed to know what that means. “The plan you told me to come up with a few days ago? That plan?”
“Oh. You actually did that?”
Brian rolls his eyes, tapping the page the notebook in Jae’s lap is open to. “Just read it.”
“This just says ‘step 1: eat bomb food.’” Jae looks up straight faced for half a second before bursting into laughter, Brian’s face splitting into a grin. “Brian, what even is this?”
“It’s my plan,” Brian repeats, looking way too proud for the amount of effort he put in. “The best way to get over a breakup is to eat to fill the gaping void left inside you with food.”
“Are you sure you’re not just hungry?” Jae teases, and Brian smiles sheepishly.
“Okay maybe it’s that too. But seriously, eating your sadness away is an excellent first step!” he defends, standing up and offering Jae a hand. “Let’s go out somewhere. My treat.”
“You should have led with that,” Jae replies, pushing himself up off the couch, springs squeaking their obligatory complaint as he stands.
Ten minutes later finds them side by side, shoulders bumping and hands brushing as they all but meander down the sidewalk towards Jae’s favorite Korean barbecue place. It’s only a fifteen minute walk from their apartment and the bus is expensive, but that doesn’t stop Jae from complaining about being “tricked into exercise.”
“If anything, you were bribed and not tricked,” Brian offers, which helps nothing.
As usual, Brian chats up the auntie who hosts at the restaurant–they both learned a long time ago that Korean speakers in America can get preferential treatment from little old ladies who miss their sons, and Brian Kang is the picture perfect Korean-American. Tall, handsome, good grades, a charming smile, and (the thing that Jae is most envious of): fluent in Korean.
The auntie gives them a little table for two next to the window, where they get a perfect view of their rundown college town. It’s nothing like what Jae left behind in California, and even less like Brian’s hometown of Ilsan, but they’ve made a home here. The scene is a comforting one to Jae; his best friend in a hoodie and denim jacket, black hair flat against his forehead and reflecting the orange glow of the restaurant’s lamps. The music videos of up and coming Korean artists play on a projector behind Brian’s head, and Brian’s humming along to whatever’s playing through the speakers. The whole room smells sweetly of marinated beef, and Jae can understand why this was the first (and only) item on Brian’s list.
The side dishes come, and Brian lets Jae eat the whole plate of sweet pickled radish all on his own. Jae reciprocates by silently scraping kimchi onto Brian’s plate, which means a lot because this place makes kimchi to rival their moms’. That’s the thing Jae appreciates, maybe what he appreciates the most; the fact that they don’t even need to talk anymore, they’re just content to eat in comfortable silence with each other.
The time they spend together becomes evident when the meat is brought to their table–they move in a practiced rhythm, Brian flipping and Jae cutting the meat into bite sized pieces for the both of them. They eat until their bellies are full, and then Brian orders seafood noodles and they eat some more, Brian content to sit back and let Jae steal pieces of squid off his plate (eventually using his chopsticks to pick out the squid and mussels to put them on Jae’s plate for him).
“See, this was an excellent plan,” Brian beams as Jae yawns from across the table, drowsy now that his hunger has finally been sated.
“So is this it then?” Jae asks, yawn turning to a smile. “This is the end of your plan?”
“Did it work?” Brian counters, eyes bright with hope.
Jae shrugs, his gaze trained on a spot on the wall just past Brian’s ear. “I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be that easy anyway.”
Brian sits back, not looking as disappointed as Jae is expecting. “Then we’ll keep going until something works.” It’s so matter of fact, so quintessentially Brian, that Jae has no choice but to nod his acceptance. Besides, what could it hurt? If their plan works, great, and if not then at least Jae will have some fun with his best friend in his fruitless attempt to move on with his life.
“So what’s step two?” Jae asks, balling up their dirty napkins to pile on sauce-stained plates, body protesting even this small motion.
“I’ll let you know when I come up with it.” Brian smiles, soft and sweet enough to be called dessert. It’s about as much as Jae can ask for, so he simply nods again, letting his eyes close for a moment.
Eventually, Brian hauls Jae off the stool and out the door, the hostess auntie bidding them a cheerful goodbye on their way out. It’s a good afternoon.
Sometimes, Jae questions his choice in major, especially when he has to take classes in which all they do is learn about dead white guys who did nothing particularly interesting besides make music for rich people. He's dozing off in one such class when the buzz of his phone jolts him back to life (as well as makes his seatmate, Nayeon, shoot him an annoyed glare from behind her curtain of shiny black hair). He slips it out of his pocket as discreetly as he can, snorting when he sees who the notification is from.
i have a plan for u. come home for pizza?
Jae shoots back a quick as if i would ever turn down food before tucking his phone beneath his thigh and dropping his head back to the desk in an attempt to squeeze in a nap before class ends. Beside him, Nayeon sighs.
Brian's already eating when Jae gets home, even though he practically sprinted out of class at the promise of pizza. Jae drops his bag next to the TV, Brian moving his feet to accommodate Jae's presence on the couch. Wordlessly he reaches out, taking Jae's glasses off his face to set them on the table before offering Jae a slice of pepperoni and sausage. Jae accepts it, chewing for a moment before he thinks better of it. Mouth still half full, he asks, "We still have some of my medicine in the kitchen right?"
Brian nods, swallowing before he answers because he's got some semblance of table manners (even though there's no real table in sight). "Yeah, we got extra after last time with the ice cream, remember?"
"What would I do without you?" Jae asks, nudging Brian's thigh with a socked toe.
"Die, probably," Brian answers before promptly shoving another slice of pizza into his mouth.
When their fingers are greasy and the pizza box empty, Brian finally swings his feet to the floor to set the box next to their already overflowing trash can, rinsing his hands before returning to the couch with napkins for Jae and the same dollar-store notebook from the other day.
"So," he announces, "I have come up with a five step plan to cure your heartache and get you back out there again so you can find someone else to dump after the first three dates."
"Way to build a guy up, Brian, some best friend you are," Jae jokes, and Brian shoots him a smile, scribbling what Jae assumes to be finishing touches to the plan in his notebook before he shoves it into Jae's lap.
"Read," Brian orders, before remembering that Jae is still visually impaired and grabbing Jae's glasses off the table. "Sorry," he apologizes, somewhat sheepishly, and Jae snorts as he puts them on.
Clearing his throat, Jae's eyes scan the page in front of him, eyebrows raising as he gets further and further down the list. "Really? This is your plan?" "What? It's an excellent plan," Brian defends. "I thought really hard about this plan."
"Just because you thought really hard doesn't make it good."
"You asked for my help, asshole," Brian laughs, shoving at Jae's shoulder.
“Well, yeah, because you’re supposed to be better than me at this stuff. I could’ve come up with this plan. A third grader could have come up with this plan!” Jae taps at the paper in front of him, immediately leaving his fingerprints in grease right next to Brian’s list.
“Are you saying that you have the planning capacity of a third grader?”
“Brian I have the planning capacity of a labrador and you know it,” Jae deadpans, sending Brian into a fit of giggles that should befit a young kid but somehow works on his 20 year old roommate.
“Whatever, we don’t have to do it,” Brian offers as soon as he settles, reaching to take the notebook back from Jae.
“Uh uh, I didn’t say that.” Jae reacts quickly snatching the notebook away from Brian’s grabby hands and holding it up and out of reach. A devilish smile spreads across his face, and soon enough Brian’s matching him. “It looks fun. Let’s do it.”
“Okay.” Brian relaxes, falling back against the other side of the couch as his gaze drops from the notebook to Jae’s face. Even with Brian’s eyes on him, Jae finds himself missing the warmth of Brian up against his side. He laughs to himself—clearly he needs this, if he’s so desperate for human contact he wants to hug his roommate or something.
“Step two later?” Jae asks, diverting his attention to carefully ripping the plan out of the notebook, standing with an awkward clearing of his throat.
“What are you doing?” Brian asks, ignoring Jae’s question from before. Jae takes that as a yes.
“It’s not official until we put it on the fridge,” He announces, grabbing a magnet Brian got from a karaoke bar after winning music trivia night that reads “will sing for food,” and using it to secure their precious plan to the side of the fridge with a decisive clack.
Jae’s eyes skim the smudged blue ink one more time—it’s not that bad of a plan, really, except for the fact that Step 5 just reads “TBA.” But he can bother Brian about that later. For now, Step 2.
Brian has a short shift at the music store after lunch, but he’s home by five (which he announces very loudly with a slam of the apartment door and a sing song “honey, I’m home”). Jae’s waiting in their room, socked feet dangling off the edge of his bed and laptop propped open on his stomach as Dowoon, a little freshman they met through Sungjin, beats him again at League of Legends. He shuts his laptop as soon as Dowoon’s victory is clear, letting his feet hit the floor as he calls out, “You ready for step two?” he asks as Brian enters the room, shrugging his jacket off and tossing it over the back of his desk chair.
He looks up, a bemused expression on his face. “Now?”
“Why not now?” Jae counters, and Brian can’t seem to argue with that. As soon as he’s got his bag set down and his shoes kicked off by the end of his bed, he claps his hands together.
“Alright. Open your closet, let’s get rid of some stuff.”
Arguably, getting rid of the stuff Kevin gave him should have been step 1, or should’ve even been done before the commencement of the plan, but Brian knows Jae well. Well, that and they live together, which means he’s probably seen Jae longingly eyeing the mustard yellow NorCal hoodie Kevin had brought back for Jae after a visit home that still hangs in the closet.
Brian puts on some loud, sort of angry pop rock with lyrics about congratulating your ex for being a total dick, and they get to work. The hoodie is the first to go, Brian making a face when he has to tug it off the hanger. (“You’re from SoCal Jae, it’s wrong for you to wear this anyway.”) From there Jae pulls out a denim jacket that Kevin had given him because it was too big and Kevin was always too lazy to return things, and a tee shirt emblazoned with Kevin’s high school choir emblem that had somehow migrated into Jae’s stuff, probably after one of their sleepovers. Brian doesn’t seem to want to touch that one.
Brian moves from the clothes before Jae does, rooting around in the crap piled up on Jae’s desk till he finds a few Polaroids of Jae and Kevin (because Kevin was the kind of guy who owned a Polaroid camera).
“These have to go,” he announces, tossing them into their trash can before Jae has a chance to protest. “You need a clean break.”
“Well if you’re getting rid of everything, one of his travel mugs is in the kitchen cabinet,” Jae grumbles, somewhat put off by Brian’s blasé attitude. Then again, he did ask for this.
Brian’s nose wrinkles as he considers it. “The mug can stay, those are too expensive and we need them. But you aren’t allowed to use it.”
“How are you gonna stop me?”
“I’ll tell Sungjin that it’s his.” Jae almost shivers at the threat—Sungjin’s pretty territorial and as much Jae hates to admit it, their other roommate can be scary when he wants to be.
Their purge doesn’t actually last that long; Brian finds a snow globe Jae stole from Kevin’s room and a cushion compact in their bathroom that would definitely have belonged to Kevin, but other than that, there’s nothing. Brian helps Jae discard of it all neatly in a trash bag, tying it off before shoving it into Jae’s hands.
“You have to do it,” he says as way of reason. “Otherwise it’s not the same.”
Jae obliges, though not without complaint, placing the bag next to the front door with a masking tape label on it telling the next person that leaves the house to take it to Goodwill.
“Good enough,” Brian appraises with a shrug. A short pause, and then, “Hungry? We could make dinner.”
Dinner is kraft Mac n Cheese for both of them, because they ran out of instant noodles two days ago and no one had bothered to go shopping since. It’s not bad actually, especially with Brian’s child-like addition of cut up hot dog pieces and extra cheese. It’s a calm night, conversation easy and typical.
The topic of the plan doesn’t come back up until they’re both in bed with the lights off, a little past midnight.
“Hope you're excited for step three tomorrow,” Brian says, voice carrying through the dark room with a sense of promise.
“Oh I look forward to it,” Jae replies dryly, but Brian still gives him a bright, bright smile before turning over to face the wall, the outline of his back illuminated by the blue light from a phone screen.
Jae feels a small tug of guilt settle in his stomach as he goes to fall asleep.
"This is literally the most Korean thing you've ever done, and you are possibly the most Korean person I know," Jae deadpans, looking up at the flickering neon sign declaring the building in front of them as "Gagopa Karaoke."
"Don't act like you didn't grow up singing old school PSY in your mom's basement," Brian shoots back, stepping forward to open the door for Jae. "And besides, everyone knows that one of the best ways to get over someone is to sing your feelings out."
Between opening the door and paying for their room, Brian treats Jae like a proper gentleman, which is something Jae can get down with. He teases Brian about it, who just flips the laminated page of the song book with a little more force than necessary, punctuating it with an eye roll. After that though, they get into the spirit pretty quickly. Jae is content to let Brian go first, sitting back against the wall so he can feel it vibrate with the strength of the bass from their next door neighbors.
After much deliberation (and plenty of whining from Jae), Brian picks a Korean pop ballad, designed to show off his falsetto and vocal control. Jae, feeling weird just sitting there, stands so he can loop an arm around Brian’s shoulders and sway to the synth beat in the background, mouthing incorrect lyrics and making exaggerated expressions in an effort to make Brian laugh and mess up his score. Still, he sings it flawlessly.
Being here reminds Jae of one of the first things he really, truly liked about Brian: his voice. Of course, that was also a factor in their rivalry because Jae can't handle competition and the thing is that Brian's really really good. So good that Jae bugs him about dropping business for performance or music production or something to get him in the industry because there's no sense in wasting a voice like that. Brian’s too humble to let it get to him, just brushes off the compliments and goes back to singing better than half the artists on the market. Another thing that Jae really likes about him.
Brian finishes with one final scrunch of his nose on a high note, face relaxing into a satisfied smile when he receives a score of 96. "Beat that," he dares, knowing that Jae is never one to back down from a challenge. The room they're in is a little too cramped for Jae's posturing to work like how he wants it to–Brian just lets himself get pushed down onto the bench with a laugh.
"You ain't seen nothin’ yet," Jae warns, hunching over the song book with a steely determination. Like this, he can forget the whole reason they came in the first place. Just another day of JaeandBrian, BrianandJae doing what they do best.
Brian groans when the opening notes of Jae’s song choice come through the speakers, having heard the song probably about a million times since their freshman year. Jae has no shame–Daniel Caesar is a musical genius.
He shifts his weight from side to side, eyes closing as he hums through the intro, coming in with the words on screen without even having to see them. He has the fleeting thought of Kevin used to like this song too, but he pushes that down, out of his conscious as he focuses on the lyrics.
"Who'd ever thought I'd get youuuuu," Jae croons, biting back laughter as Brian sways exaggeratedly to the beat, plastic tambourine jingling softly where he's holding it up in the air. The bench creaks under his shifting weight, adding another dimension to their performance.
The song is over all too soon, and Jae presses his lips together as he waits for his score. Brian sits forward, practically crowing in delight when the screen shows a beautiful, beautiful 83.
“Impossible,” Jae says immediately. “I demand a rescore!”
“Ha! I told you you couldn’t beat me,” Brian gloats, leaning back confidently with a smirk that Jae really wants to slap right off of his annoyingly handsome face.
“Nope, I do not accept this.” Jae shakes his head, a smile finding its way onto his face anyway. “I’m going again, fuck your 96.”
“You can try,” Brian says, settling into a comfortable position with a bemused expression as Jae starts flipping through the book again.
It takes three more songs for Jae to even match Brian's score and another two to beat it, just barely scraping by with a 97. Brian takes his next turn after that and Jae does his best to sabotage by making Brian laugh–doing weird ad-libs at opportune times never fails. Unfortunately Maroon 5 never lets Brian down, and he matches Jae's 97 without breaking a sweat.
No matter how hard either of them try, either by singing like their life depends on it or sabotaging the other, they can't edge past a 97, finally calling it a night when Brian's watch beeps 1:30 and Jae's stomach starts to rumble unpleasantly.
Without even having to ask, Brian pulls into a McDonald's drive thru on their way back to the apartment, dutifully repeating Jae's order of twenty nuggets and a medium sweet tea into the microphone. For himself gets two burgers and a coke, which Jae doesn't even question anymore because it's been three years and he is now very well acquainted with the bottomless capacity of Brian's stomach. They pull into a parking space to eat, Jae slouching to prop his knees up on the dash as he takes in the lovely view of the suburban night lights, neon and flickering into the distance.
"You're a cheap date, you know," Brian remarks, mouth still half full of Big Mac as he gestures to Jae's quickly dwindling supply of nuggets. "Bet all your boyfriends appreciate that about you."
"I think it's second on the list of my good qualities, but only because of my dashing good looks," Jae replies, splitting a nugget in half before reaching across the center console to dip it into Brian's ketchup puddle.
Brian hums into his straw and they go back to eating, the only sound filling the car coming from Brian's tinny stereo. It's Death Cab for Cutie, the shit Jae used to cover for youtube in high school, and he can't stop himself from humming along to the chorus, despite having just come from singing all the air from his lungs for hours on end.
The crinkle of Brian balling up his trash is almost too loud for the quiet night, but Jae doesn't mind. That's the nice thing about Brian, he thinks. Sometimes being out with people gets overwhelming, and even if he's having fun Jae finds himself wishing that it was over, but it's never that way with Brian. Brian is–he's–Brian's steady, Jae decides, reliable in a way that Jae doesn’t know what he’d do without. He knows when to play along with Jae's energy and when to dial it back so they don't end up exhausted, and that's something Jae never expresses his appreciation for. He's got the urge, now, but he bites his tongue. Better just to thank him when their plan has been executed. He doesn't need to give Brian one more thing to tease him for–that repertoire is full enough as it is.
Brian's fingers drum along to the stereo as they drive home, Jae letting his head loll against the seat back. Not because he’s tired, he reasons, but just to give his neck some rest.
He must be more tired than he thinks, though, because somehow he's waking up, mouth snapping shut as he realizes Brian is out of the car, passenger's side door open as he reaches across Jae to undo the seatbelt.
"Come on Jae Jae, let's go inside." It's an old pet name, one Jae hasn't heard from Brian in a while. It started in freshman year, after Jae realized that calling Brian Bri Bri was a great way to piss him off and Brian had to find a way to retaliate. It didn't really work, though–Jae kind of likes it. No, he definitely likes it.
"I'm awake, I'm awake," Jae protests, swatting Brian's hands away from his lap as he swings his legs out of the car, but they're still sleep numbed and cause him to stumble a bit as he stands. Brian's warm, calloused fingers wrap around Jae's wrist and then he's a solid line of heat against Jae's side, there to steady him as they walk inside. Bratty as ever, Jae grumbles as he pries Brian's fingers off of him only to wrap his longer, slender fingers around Brian's wrist instead, finding comfort in the feeling of the veins and bone beneath his palm. Brian just snorts.
"If you were this tired we could have gone home earlier," he says, but Jae shakes his head vehemently.
"I'm not that tired and I needed this so no, we couldn't have," he replies, and Brian just gives him a sort of half smirk.
It's Brian who has to fish the keys out of his pocket while Jae stifles a yawn into his shoulder, but Jae's the one who leads them both inside and down the hallway, opening the door to their room a little louder than is maybe considerate of their two other roommates.
Jae heads straight for his bed–it’s messy, covers bunched down by the foot in a way that makes him have to curl his body to avoid fixing them. His hold on Brian’s wrist never breaks, tugging Brian down beside him. Brian fits into Jae’s bed like he’s meant to be there, a solid presence grounding Jae like nothing else. Jae’s socked feet slip between Brian’s warm calves, knees knocking and breath ghosting across the few inches of sheets between them.
“Hey,” Jae says stupidly, but Brian just smiles back at him.
“Hey,” he replies, and before Jae can think better of it he’s blurting out a question that’s been on his mind for a long time.
“Did you ever think that we’d be this close? You know, at the beginning?” The words feel surprisingly light in Jae’s dark bedroom, and he watches Brian’s expression change in the light of the orange street lamp outside their window.
“I had hopes,” Brian replies, pupils blown wide. He swallows before he continues, “but those got ruined pretty quickly.”
“I just looked so cool that you wanted to be my friend, right?” Jae jokes, grinning for what must be the millionth time that night. His cheeks are starting to hurt, but that doesn’t matter. He wants to hear the rest of Brian’s story.
“Something like that.” Brian smiles back, and Jae makes a noise of indignance when he refuses to continue. Snaking an arm between them, he pokes around until he gets one of his long fingers between Brian’s ribs, laughing at the resulting whiny “owwww.”
“Seriouslyyy,” he whines back, which just makes Brian laugh.
“Jae Park? Asking me to be serious? What world are we living in?”
"Don't be an ass." Jae prods again, Brian not even bothering to flinch away from his fingers.
Brian's tongue darts out like it always does, brushing his canines and wetting his lips while he collects what he's about to say. "I mean you're not wrong, I did want to be your friend and I thought we'd be close but all the arguing sort of threw me for a loop. I'm really glad we got past that though."
Jae hums, not really sure what to say to that, or if there is even something he can say. An apology seems out of place, now, so he settles for, "Don't you want to ask me what I thought?"
"Of me? Not really," Brian snorts. Jae nudges him again, this time knocking their knees together to elicit a laugh from his best friend.
"I'm going to tell you anyway," Jae announces, a little too loud for their current circumstances. He ignores Brian's muttered of course you are and clears his throat. He's about to get maybe a little too honest, but that's what friendship is all about, really. "I wanted to be your friend too but then I realized that you're hot and stubborn and really good at the things I thought I was good at and that scared me."
“Hot?” Brian parrots back, eyebrows raised in bemusement.
“Of course that’s what you got out of that,” Jae grumbles, failing to stifle another yawn.
“I didn’t miss the part where you said I’m good at stuff, don’t worry,” Brian replies. “Though some specifics there would be nice.”
“You know what I mean.” Jae stretches the vowels, letting his voice go a little whiny as he pushes his cheek into the pillow. “With the singing and the guitar and the…” he trails off, making a vague motion at Brian’s head in the very little space between them, “smart.”
Jae expects Brian to crack a joke at his expense, say something about how much that list is missing, but instead he just goes quiet for a second. “You never give yourself enough credit,” he says finally, eyes fixed on Jae like he can’t bear to look away. “So when I tell you that you’re great at all that shit, don’t just brush it off with a joke, ‘cause it’s true. You’re the most–you’re my best friend, okay?”
“Okay,” Jae replies, too dumbstruck to think of anything else. It’s enough for Brian though, because he nods (or as much as he can with his head on Jae’s pillow) before closing his eyes and letting out a long exhale. “You sleeping here?” Jae asks. He tries to not feel too excited when Brian replies with a muttered “yes.”
“‘Night,” he says before closing his eyes, but his ears are already filled with sound of Brian’s sleep breathing. The last thought to cross Jae’s mind before he joins Brian in dreamland is that this is the most comfortable he’s felt in a long, long time.
Shockingly enough, Jae wakes up to an empty bed, and an empty bedroom for that matter. Usually when they have their sleepovers he wakes up with a mouthful of Brian’s hair or Brian’s knee lodged in a very uncomfortable place, or on a normal morning he can still see Brian, snoring away in his bed just a few feet across the room. Waking up alone is more lonely than Jae wants to admit.
Brian didn’t make it far though, as Jae finds out when he gets to the living room and sees Brian curled up on the couch, Sungjin hovering over him as he says something in a hushed whisper.
Jae clears his throat and they both look up, Brian’s eyes going wide like a deer in headlights. “Morning,” Jae says.
Brian just makes a sort of strangled sound, but Sungjin replies with “good morning” like a normal human being. He’s got his work bag on him and he must be about to leave, because he gives Brian a pointed look before heading for the door.
“See you later,” Jae offers, just before Sungjin lets their front door slam behind him. “Wow. What’s up with him?”
“Don’t know,” Brian answers, curling a little further in on himself. Jae just shrugs, moving into the kitchen to find something that will make his stomach stop grumbling.
According to the plan, which is now ripped out of Brian’s notebook and taped to their fridge, step 4 is listed as “write a song to bitch about it.” Jae can work with that. He taps it with a finger, letting the sound of paper crinkling wake Brian up a bit where he sits looking half-dead on the couch.
“So we’re doing this today?” Jae asks, and Brian nods.
“Saturdays are best for songwriting,” he replies by way of an answer, voice still deep and thick with sleep. Jae thinks it makes him sort of a bad friend to wish that Brian could sound that way all the time. “Plus I’m borrowing one of the on campus studios from a friend.”
“Sounds good,” Jae nods, moving to the cabinet so he can toss some fruit loops into his mouth. “You hungry? Bad question, when are you not?”
Brian doesn’t even bother with a verbal response, just gives Jae some half assed finger guns from the couch. Jae moves without thinking, gently letting the cereal box fall into Brian’s blanket covered lap. Brian gives a grunt of thanks, immediately digging in to shove a whole handful into his mouth.
It takes a couple more handfuls for Brian to find the energy to get off the couch, letting Jae steal the cereal box back as he heads for the shower. Twenty minutes later has them both standing at the front door: Brian stifling a yawn in the sleeve of his denim jacket and Jae in his finest attire of adidas pants and nike slides. They’ve both got guitar cases slung over their backs, Jae’s labeled with masking tape and stickers and Brian’s set apart by his Captain America charm.
Neither of them are particularly chatty in the morning (even though it's nearly noon, so Jae's not really sure it counts anymore), but it's almost off putting how quiet Brian's being. Usually he cracks a joke about Jae's outfit, or tells him what he wants to work on as they make their way to the studio. This morning, though: nothing. Brian just trails slightly behind him, one hand messing with his phone and the other jammed deep in the pocket of his jeans. Jae makes an executive decision, changing their course slightly. Brian doesn't notice until they're standing in front of the door labeled "The Screamin' Beans."
“We’re stopping?” Brian asks, face scrunching in a way that’s half happy and half confused.
“You think I’d voluntarily lock myself in a studio with you without caffeinating you first? That’d be suicide,” Jae snorts, pushing open the door with his shoulder and holding it open for Brian with his heel. Brian ducks his head with a shallow laugh, letting the door swing shut behind him with a pleasant jingle of the bell.
The girl behind the counter is a familiar face–Sana, from Jae’s modern English literature class. She’s cute and bubbly, and always comes to class with a large latte that Jae assumes she only gets every day because of her employee discount.
“Jae!” Her face brightens when she sees him, ponytail swinging as she bounces on her toes behind the counter. “What can I get you today?”
“Large iced americano for Brian and a medium vanilla cold brew for me,” he replies easily, Brian’s order rolling off his tongue like second nature. Jae doesn’t know how Brian drinks that stuff; to him, it tastes like something that came straight of the garbage disposal. Brian, however, loves it, and if he had it his way he wouldn’t be caught dead without an americano in his hand. Jae does his best to discourage the habit, as it’s expensive as hell and probably really bad for Brian’s health. For song writing purposes, though, they can indulge.
Sana chats with Jae as she goes to make their drinks; there’s no one in line behind them, and her coworker seems to be asleep on a stool in the corner. She’s bright–Jae likes that about her, how even when she’s covering someone’s ass or giving Jae notes he missed because he was hungover she still manages to light up the room. It’s something he really should be attracted to, but for some reason he just doesn’t feel it. He chalks it up to still being stuck on Kevin, moving to pick up their drinks from the end of the counter with Brian just sort of drifting behind him.
“You good, man?” Jae asks, resting his hand on the counter so he can drum out a pattern with his fingers on the laminate. It’s been sitting with him a few days; he’ll be glad to put it out on paper when they get to the studio.
Brian’s head snaps up, and he just blinks for a bit as he processes what Jae asked. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired.”
"Well that's what we're here for, right?" Jae says, stubbornly trying to coax a smile out of his roommate.
He fails. "Right." Brian nods, lips pressed together in a sort of grimace you give when someone tells you there's been a death, not when you're talking about coffee.
Jae gives up–he shoots Sana one last smile with a thank you when she pushes their drinks across the counter, but just hands Brian his americano without a word. Brian's too polite to accept it without a "thank you," but it's still empty and sad.
"You sure you wanna do this today? We can reschedule," Jae offers once they're walking again, but Brian resists, shaking his head.
"I'm good," he insists, giving Jae a smile that's probably forced but still bright enough to rival the goddamn sun.
“Okay.” There’s nothing to do if Brian insists on lying to muscle through it, so Jae just turns his attention back to walking and trying not to trip over his own feet.
Brian’s friend is a TA for one of the music professors, and left one of the studios in the arts building unlocked and ready for them. It’s small but in a comfortable, cozy way, with a short couch along one wall and a spinning chair in front of all the sound equipment. Jae takes the chair immediately, letting it turn a few lazy circles from the momentum he creates. Brian drops his weight onto the couch, immediately pulling out his guitar to tune and and pluck at the strings idly while he waits for something to strike him. It’s a familiar routine, a comfortable one they have from writing together for two years. At this point, Jae thinks it would just be too weird for him to write properly if they did anything else.
Jae turns the rhythm from earlier into a workable plucking pattern, humming along the ghost of a melody as it comes to him. He scribbles down some ideas for chords while he’s at it, but he’s at a loss for lyrics. That sort of thing was always Brian’s forté; Jae always said if he ever gave up on business he should study literature or something, to make use of his talent for writing.
He keeps going with the music alone until he has something resembling a verse, a chorus, and the rough sketch of a bridge. Jae plays it through a few times, looking up every so often just waiting for Brian to say something. Usually he’s more present, listening to Jae’s progress and commenting when his input can do some good. Today, though, he’s quiet; just sitting wedged into the corner of the couch, playing an old song Jae knows has been done for ages but that Brian’s never stopped tinkering with.
“‘You’ again?” he asks, referencing the title Brian gave the song when he first finished the lyrics six months ago.
“It’s still not where I want it,” Brian sighs, refusing to look up from where his fingers rest on the fretboard. “I’m thinking about adding an instrumental intro.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Jae hums, plucking the same note over and over again, an insistent rhythm that grows quicker and quicker the longer they let silence sit between them.
Brian has apparently nothing to offer in regards to whatever Jae's working on, so Jae guesses he'll just fuck off then. The only lyrics that come to mind are ones about being lonely, so he pushes that task aside again to focus on fleshing out his sorry excuse for a bridge. He's torn between staying silent and actually asking for Brian's opinion on a chord progression, but breaching the awkwardness hanging between them would hurt Jae's pride more than he can handle.
After nearly twenty minutes of trying and failing to make it work, the heel of Jae's palm hits the body of the guitar in a frustrated slap, and he grunts at the sting it sends through his wrist.
"You alright?" Brian asks, finally looking up from the ink covered page in front of him. It's the first eye contact they've shared in hours.
"This isn't working," Jae answers quickly, a frown taking over his face as he gestures at the fretboard, like it's the problem and not him.
"You'll get it," Brian hums, and Jae's jaw nearly drops to the floor. "Just keep going?"
"Just keep going?" Jae repeats back, hoping that the squeaky change in his tone will convey just how ridiculous he thinks that statement is. "That's your advice for me, musical prodigy Brian Kang? 'Just keep going'?"
Brian shrugs, looking back down at his notebook and scribbling a new line beneath the mess he's already written. "You just gotta work through it, let the melody come to you. Be patient and it'll work itself out."
It's not half bad advice, but Jae's too annoyed to care. "That's a cop out answer and you're a terrible best friend," he declares. Brian nods his agreement, eyes still trained down at his lyrics. Whatever. Not like Jae needed his help to get this far anyway.
They work for a few more hours, and by around 4 Jae has something that could potentially be an actual song, if he gives it some more love (and maybe some lyrics). Brian seems to be wrapping up too, if the way he keeps playing the same intro pattern over and over is anything to go by.
"We done here?" Jae asks, and Brian nods almost immediately, reaching over the arm of the couch for his guitar case. "Wanna go get some barbecue? I'm starving."
Much to Jae's shock, Brian shakes his head. "Nah, I think I just wanna go home and sleep, I'm still pretty tired. Maybe call Bernard?"
Jae tries his best not to feel hurt, he really does. It's not a bad excuse by any means–clearly Brian's been tired all day, and his heart wasn't really in it. But for him to turn down food? Especially after Jae offered and would likely be paying? Something had to be off. Either way though, no matter if Brian's blowing him off or really just tired, Jae's still hungry and calling Bernard isn't a bad idea.
"Yeah," he replies, voice tense like his shoulders as he watches Brian head for the studio door. "I'll do that."
"See you at home." Brian leaves with nothing more than a half assed wave of his hand, and Jae is honestly at a loss. For Brian to be so quiet, not offer any unsolicited comments on Jae's chord progressions, and then turn down food all in the span of less than eight hours is so out of character that Jae has no idea what to do with himself.
Almost numbly, he pulls his phone from his pocket after locking up the studio, guitar case slung over his shoulder as he hits Bernard's contact icon with a little more force than is maybe necessary.
Shockingly, Bernard answers, and agrees to pick Jae up so they can go to Jae's favorite place. It hasn't been that long since he was last there with Brian, but Jae figures you can never have too much of a good thing.
The hostess smiles when she sees them in the doorway, reaching up on her tiptoes to pat Jae's cheek. "Back so soon? Maybe we can finally get some meat on your bones," she says. Normally comments about his weight sort of annoy Jae, but he can't be annoyed by such a cute old lady who just wants to feed him.
"What can I say, I just love the food," Jae replies, giving her his best grandma-charming smile. He knows it's no match for Brian's dimples, but he can try. The ahjumma laughs, picking up their menus and motioning for them to follow her as she leads them to their table, chattering the whole way there.
“Where is your handsome friend today? Too busy to eat?” The ahjumma’s smile is kind, eyes wrinkling at the corners as she looks back at Jae over her shoulder.
“My friend?” Jae parrots, confused for the moment it takes him to process what she’s saying. “Oh, Brian? Yeah, something like that.” He smiles back, empty though it may be.
“Tell Younghyun-ie to come back soon, okay?” She gives them one last nose-wrinkling smile as she sets the menus down on the table, leaving before Jae can answer with anything more than a silent nod.
“Should I be offended that she calls Brian your handsome friend?” Bernard jokes as they sit down, but Jae’s mind is too far away for him to laugh. “Dude. Jae. What’s up with you today?”
“Nothing,” Jae denies quickly, sitting back as a waiter quickly comes to set their table with side dishes. Bernard snatches a piece of kimchi from the plate as soon as ceramic hits steel.
“You’re lying, but whatever,” he replies, giving Jae a pointed look over his chopsticks.
There’s not much point in not talking about it, Jae figures, because he’s stressed enough that it will come up eventually anyway, so he relents easily.
"Brian's been weird all day, man. I don't know what I did wrong but it sooorta feels like he's pissed at me." Bernard nods sagely, but it's ruined by the fact that he looks a little like a large animal when he's chewing. Maybe a bear, Jae thinks.
“You probably bummed him out with your depressing ass lyrics,” Bernard suggests, not bothering to look up from where he’s begun to pile his plate with more kimchi.
Jae snorts. “Bro, Brian’s like, the king of depressing lyrics. He practically invented the modern breakup song. It’s like all he can write about is heartbreak and unrequited love. And I didn’t even write lyrics today, asshole.”
“First of all, Adele invented the modern breakup song. Second, maybe he’s bummed about a crush or something. The guy doesn’t date, but he might still feel heartbroken, you know?”
Jae considers it for a moment, swallowing a mouthful of pickled radish before declaring, “No. That can’t be it. He’s got to be pissed at me for fucking up his plan or something.”
Bernard sighs. “Whatever. Just ask him if he wants to play a game or something later, get him out of the funk. Don’t stress about it though, you and Brian are like platonic soulmates or some shit. It’ll work itself out.”
“Platonic soulmates,” Jae repeats, savoring the weight of the phrase on his tongue.
“Yeah, you’re like meant for each other or something. He’s weird, you’re weird, you guys just work together,” Bernard explains, clearly taking what Jae said as a request for elaboration.
“Fuck off, I’m not weird,” Jae replies, swallowing to tamp down the little nagging part of his brain that really likes the phrases “Brian” and “platonic soulmate” in the same sentence. He’s just lonely. That’s all it is, he’s just lonely. He can get over it–he always does.
The rest of their dinner passes fairly uneventfully, with Bernard easily turning the conversation to basketball and the craze of March Madness. The stress of Brian and his stupid plan moves to the back of Jae’s brain, allowing him to just have fun for a while. It’s nice, but when it’s over and Bernard’s dropping Jae back in front of his apartment building Jae can’t help but be taken aback by his own sense of apprehension and guilt.
Even though it’s well past 11 p.m., Brian’s still not in their room. Jae’s grateful, in a way–maybe Brian’s just getting some space to get out of his own head. Still, the room feels too empty for him to sleep well that night.
"Jae!" Jae's head jerks up at the mention of his name, hands stilling where they're shoving loose papers into his mess of a backpack. It's Sana, waving cutely from across the room as her blonde hair falls into her face. Jae meets her halfway in one of the aisles, and she produces an ID card from her purse with a proud smile.
Pressing it into his hand, she says, "Your boyfriend dropped this when you guys came in the other day, and I didn't know how else to get it back."
"My boyfriend?" Jae asks, turning the card over in his hand to see Brian's smiling face. It's an old picture, from freshman year when Brian's hair was platinum blonde with an undercut. A good look, Jae thinks. But anyway. Back to the conversation at hand. "Brian's not my boyfriend, we're roommates," he corrects easily, slipping the ID card into his pocket.
"Oh," her smile falters, turning a little sheepish. "I'm sorry, I just assumed you know, since I always see you together."
"No worries," Jae shrugs. "Thanks though, I'll get this to him." If he'll let me, he adds, but that's just in his head.
"You're welcome," she replies, giving one last smile before turning on the heel of her flats and flouncing away, linking arms with Momo on her way out.
Backpack slung over his shoulders, Jae heads for home, dread building with every step he takes. Chances are Brian won’t even be home–Jae really feels like he hasn’t seen his roommate in years, though in reality it’s only been a few days of minimal interaction.
He's trying to not feel hurt, really, but it's definitely not easy. Actually, the more he thinks about it, the more he desperately does not want to go home, until finally he just thinks fuck this. A quick change of course has him heading for Jimin's apartment instead, and he shoots her a quick text telling her he's on his way. He pockets his phone immediately, and ignores the resulting buzz. If it's her telling him to go somewhere else, then she can get over it–she's about the only friend he can trust with stupid shit about his roommate and who he knows will be home. (He actually caves and checks it no more than three minutes later–it's just her telling him that Yerin's about to leave for work and she'll leave the door unlocked.)
Jae doesn't really have a game plan. That's definitely Brian's area of expertise; Jae's always wondered if he's been like that from birth or if it's a side effect of being a business major. Either way, plans are not Jae's thing, which is why they went with Brian's plan for getting over someone–Jae didn't have one. Guess Brian's plan wasn't so great though, Jae thinks bitterly, if it resulted in apathy about his ex and his roommate avoiding him.
As promised, the door is unlocked when Jae gets to Jimin's apartment, making it easier than it should be for Jae to slam it open with a huff. Jimin's in the kitchen waiting, legs crossed as she sits on a barstool with a steaming mug of what Jae can only presume to be fresh coffee in front of her.
"So," she prompts, head cocking to this side. "What's got your panties in a twist?"
"Brian won't talk to me," Jae blurts, using his foot to close the door behind him so he can beeline for the counter, grabbing the edge with his fingers so he can lean some weight on it with a sigh. "We've been hanging out a lot recently and now he's like, avoiding me and being a total dick about it except that he's not because he's Brian so he can't be a dick and that makes it really hard to hate him even though I really, really want to."
"Hanging out a lot, like more than normal?" Jimin cocks an eyebrow. "You guys live together, how much more time can you possibly spend together?"
Jae takes a deep breath before launching into an explanation. "You know how I've been pretty bummed about Kevin leaving for Korea and all? I was teasing Brian about him never liking anyone and somehow it turned into a mission where we do a bunch of fun shit to make me stop thinking about Kevin. And it was working, I felt better, but then Brian started avoiding me and now I don't know what to do. Like, I would apologize but I don't even know what to apologize for. Sorry you got yourself stuck with me? Sorry I don't know what I did to make you mad?"
Jimin just hums, pursing her tinted red lips. Jae’s eyes flit to her fingers curling around the mug, her fake nails resembling blood stained claws just a little too closely for comfort. “You’re a dumbass,” she announces, flicking a strand of dyed blonde hair over her shoulder.
“Okay, yeah, I know that. Got anything new for me?” Jae sighs, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the counter.
“You are an oblivious dumbass who can’t tell when someone is clearly in love with him,” she replies as a way of elaboration, taking a sip from her coffee and staring at Jae from over the rim with her judgey, judgey eyes.
“What?” Jae’s head jerks up, brow furrowing as he squints. Jimin remains unfazed, cocking an eyebrow and clucking her tongue. “Wait. You don’t mean you, right?”
Jimin fakes a gag, continuing to make gross retching noises even after Jae flushes pink. “God, no,” she replies as soon as she pulls it together enough to speak. “I love my girlfriend more than life itself. No, I mean your best friend who is obviously head over heels in love with you.”
“My best friend–you mean Brian?” Jae asks, incredulous, followed by a snort. “You’re crazy. He’s not in love with me, we’re just close.”
“Yes, because giving your roommate big moony eyes and going above and beyond to help him get over the guy he broke up with forever ago is just what close friends do,” she replies, face turning disinterested again as soon as she’s done. “Honestly Jaehyung, how have you survived this long?”
“When you say my name like that you sound like my mom.” Jae’s nose wrinkles. “And I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Brian’s not even that into guys, he likes girls more.”
“The way he checks out your nonexistent ass tells me he’s into guys, or at least into you. And he’s barely dated since he met you, don’t you think that’s a little weird?” she asks. “But whatever, don’t listen to me, wreck your life.” Jimin blows out a puff of air, giving a small shrug of her shoulders. Her sharp nails drum on the counter, and Jae gulps.
“What do you want me to do, ask him about it across the room? ‘Hey Brian I know I tease you all the time for not having a girlfriend but you know what’s funny, Jimin thinks it’s because you’re in love with me. Care to comment?’” Jae can hear his voice go high and squeaky the more he talks, the more he starts to actually think about what Jimin is saying. She has a point–Brian hasn’t dated since spring semester of their freshman year, when he took Ayeon out a few times before she dumped him for a junior in the pre-med program. Jae sort of assumed Brian not dating after that was just him nursing a wound to both his heart and pride, but what Jimin’s saying...it could make sense. Honestly, though, Jae would really rather not think about it because his head is starting to hurt from the confusion and how hard he’s scrunching his eyebrows together.
Anyway, regardless of any feelings Brian may or may not harbor, there’s still the original problem of Brian avoiding him. Jae voices this much to Jimin, who just gives him another theatrical sigh.
“If there’s nothing you did to make him avoid you, then maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that he’s secretly in love with you.” Her explanation turns to a hiss at the end, and then she huffs. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have pointed it out to you if I thought you could be mature adults and deal with it on your own, but clearly you two have the emotional competence of kindergartners. Now stop wallowing in my apartment so you can go home and talk to your roommate and sort out your feelings.”
“Even if he does like me–and I’m not saying you’re right, but if he does–what makes you think we’ll do anything about it?” Jae points out.
“Uhhh, maybe the fact that you’re in love with him?” Now this, this is confusing.
“I am not in love with Brian!” It comes out a little more squeaky and defensive than Jae would like, sounding a lot more like denial than fact. Jimin gives him a look–eyebrows raised, lips pursed, head angled so Jae knows she’s looking down on him for being ridiculous.
“Jae,” she starts, and this is how Jae knows he’s in for some hard truths, “All you ever talk about is Brian. The only person you say doesn’t exhaust you is Brian. The only person you trust to be in your life and not hurt you is Brian. When I told you I think Brian’s in love with you, you didn’t think it was weird, just that he couldn’t possibly like you, which is probably what’s been keeping you from admitting your own feelings for him. If I’m wrong, and you’re not in love with Brian, then I must know jack shit about relationships and Yerin should probably dump me. But.” She pauses to flick a stray piece of hair back over her shoulder, though Jae knows it’s probably purposeful emphasis. “I’m not wrong.”
Jimin really knows how to turn Jae’s life upside down. She’s right–about all of it, she’s right. Brian is Jae’s constant, the person he wants around all the time, the person he trusts to not let him down, the person he doesn’t push away. Which is probably why it hurts so damn much now that Brian’s doing that to him.
((And Jae knows, deep in his heart, that thinking about kissing your best friend more than just once or twice should be a sign of something, but he’s always been a little slow on the uptake.))
“Shit,” he says, making proper eye contact with Jimin for the first time in minutes. “Shit, I think I might be in love with Brian.”
“Good. Now go home and tell him that.” She brushes her hands together like she’s dusting off the weight of Jae’s emotional constipation, hopping down from her stool to put the mug in the sink.
“What, you’re just leaving me to my own devices now?”
“I opened your eyes to the fact that Brian is in love with you and guided you to the realization that you very likely love him back, I’ve done more than my fair share. Jesus, Jae, you’re twenty-one years old, you should at least be able to handle a confession by yourself,” she snorts. “Now, go forth and get that dick.” Jimin punctuates with a large brandish of her not-so-large arms, waving Jae in the direction of the front door. He can’t really argue with that, so Jae picks himself up off Jimin’s kitchen counter, pausing on his way to the door.
“I don’t have to hug you, do I?”
“God no. I’d take a ‘Thank you Jimin,’ though,” she replies, arms crossed over her chest as she leans back against the sink.
“Thanks,” Jae says, sort of begrudgingly. Despite that, he means it–Jimin’s one of the only people who will truly, honestly call him out on his bullshit. He needs people like that. Which is yet another reason for him to go home and sort shit out; Brian’s been the primary keeper of that role for two years, and Jae’s not ready for him to give that up.
Jimin lets him go without another word, giving Jae a head start on stewing in his own anxiety as he heads for home. Everything is amplified when her apartment door closes behind him and he's really alone; every cell in his body starts to tell him that this is a terrible idea.
Jae's never had a good track record with relationships, even back in elementary school when he asked Yirong Chen if she wanted to go to the fifth grade formal with him. Everyone gets scared off by something: back then it was the allergies and constant sniffling, in high school it was the bad attitude and worse grades, and since he hit college it's been the whole complicated extroverted-introvert schtick that he can do fuck all about. Brian–Brian gets him, in a way that other people can't seem to do. And if he fucks that up, Jae doesn't know how exactly he'll get over it. The one person who can't be there for him will be the only one that he actually needs.
For a moment he thinks it would have been better if he'd never talked to Jimin, but he regrets the thought almost immediately. Knowing is better than not knowing, always. Jae supposes, by his own logic, that he should tell Brian. Knowing is better than not knowing, and Brian deserves to know. He deserves to know, and then they can go from there.
I can do this, Jae thinks. He has to do this.
From there, the question his anxiety starts to push is not why why why but instead how how how. Brian should be home–it's a little past five and Jae knows he doesn't work today. So, unless he's still hellbent on ignoring Jae at all costs, he should be home.
Jae decides to shoot him a text anyway, resisting the urge to smile just a little fondly at the burger emoji that takes up the top of his messaging app.
It's a simple you home? need to talk to you, but Jae has to take a deep breath before he pushes the send button, feeling as if his heart might drop to his stomach at any second.
Jae puts his headphones in in an attempt to pull himself out of his own head. He easily skips over the mp3 of what he and Brian worked on the other day, continuing to fly through his music library until he finds some relatively chill J.Cole that allows him to focus on song lyrics instead of his own thoughts.
Even the genius of J.Cole can't keep him calm when he's standing outside their apartment building, though. Jae looks up, blowing a loud puff of air out before fishing his keys from his pocket. Well. Here goes nothing.
Brian looks up with wide eyes when Jae enters, probably startled by the sound of Jae's key in the lock.
"I was just..." he trails off, motioning to the keys in his hand and then to the door, and Jae tries to not feel hurt. He was about to leave.
"Can we talk?" Jae asks. He wants to bring up the ignored text, but he figures it would do more harm than good. "You've been avoiding me lately and I wanna know what's up."
"I haven't been avoiding you," Brian denies quickly, but the flinch of his face gives him away. He's always been a terrible liar.
Jae tells him as much, dropping his bag next to the coat rack as he steps a little closer to the kitchen where Brian is still hovering next to the counter. Brian winces again, shoulders dropping as he folds in on himself, dropping his keys to the countertop and placing a protective hand over them like he's scared Jae will take them away.
"I have your ID, by the way," Jae says, fishing Brian's ID from his pocket and stepping forward to place it on the counter near Brian's hand. "Sana said you must have dropped it in the café the other day."
"Sana," Brian parrots, voice turning sour.
"What, you don't like Sana? Is that what this is, you just don't like my friend?" If Brian's been doing this just because he doesn't like one of Jae's friends, Jae might just kill him before anything can get confessed.
"No, Sana's fine," Brian replies, lying through his teeth as he reaches to take his ID. "Tell her I said thanks."
"Tell her yourself, man. What's up with you? You never do this, so what the hell is wrong? And don't–" Jae has to pause to take a breath, because he feels himself getting too angry already. "Don't say that nothing's wrong, because you wouldn't be avoiding me if nothing was wrong."
He waits, taking his bottom lip between his teeth and keeping his eyes on Brian's face. Jae so desperately wants for Brian to open his mouth and confirm everything Jimin said as true, but things rarely ever work out that way.
Brian visibly slumps, tension dropping from the broad line of his shoulders as he blows a long breath out through his mouth, cheeks puffing in a way that makes Jae’s gut twist. “This plan was a bad idea.” It’s certainly not what Jae was expecting to hear, but of all the possibilities it’s also not the worst.
“Is that it?” It comes out a little more blunt than maybe Jae is intending, but again: not the worst thing in the world.
Brian makes a frustrated noise, reaching up to push his too long bangs out of his eyes. “You never needed my help anyway, so I don’t know what we’ve been doing this shit for.”
“Of course I didn’t need your help,” Jae starts, realizing his mistake when Brian looks up with hurt eyes. He works quickly to rectify it. “But I wanted it. You’re my best friend, Brian, this was just a really, really good excuse for us to hang out and do all the fun shit we don’t have time for anymore.” Best friend feels like a bit of a lie now, with everything Jae talked about with Jimin, but he goes with it. For now.
Somehow, that doesn’t exactly work like Jae wants it to. (Really, he shouldn’t be surprised.) Brian makes an offended scoff at the back of his throat. “This is your whole freaking problem, Jae, you just lie to people and get into relationships with them and lead them on, and for what? Just to dump them a few months later? You say you’re stuck on some guy and you need my help to get over him and then we spend all our time together and sleep in the same damn bed before you go off and prove that you never needed me anyway, you’re perfectly capable of handling your emotions by yourself.” Those last few words come out like Brian’s spitting venom and he breaks, eyes dropping to the kitchen floor. Then, quieter: “I just don’t know what you want from me, Jae. Ever.”
“What, is it a problem for me to want to spend time with you?” Jae voice raises–he doesn’t mean to get upset, but it’s hard when it’s so painfully obvious that Brian thinks he’s something like a manipulative asshole.
“Yeah, because you don’t want me like I want you.” Jae’s getting really tired of things not going how he expects; his frail body can handle only so many plot twists.
He’s swallowing, looking for a good way to articulate the fact that he sort of knew that was coming but didn’t think it would actually come when Brian takes note of the extended silence, raising his eyes to meet Jae’s once again. “You knew,” Brian says, and Jae can’t pull anything from his tone–it’s deadpan, cold.
“Jimin told me,” he admits, wincing at how grade school it sounds. Before he even has a chance to elaborate, there’s a scoff.
“Jimin,” Brian repeats, voice thick, and it’s too similar to his reaction to Sana earlier for Jae to ignore it.
“Are you really going to get jealous of everyone I talk to? That’s no way to start a relationship.” Jae has to fight to keep his face from splitting into a grin–that’ll give all the fun away.
“I’m not jealous,” Brian denies quickly with a shake of his head. “It just feels like you’ll listen to everyone else’s thoughts on my feelings except me.” Jae waits for the realization. “Wait. What the hell do you mean, ‘start a relationship’?”
“You think I don’t listen to you, maybe you need to work on listening to me,” Jae says, but there’s not bite to it. Thank god Brian admitted it first, or there’d be no way for Jae to feel this confident in what he’s about to say. “I like you too, dumbass. I think I have for a long time, and I just needed some help to see it.”
“I thought you were still in love with Kevin!” Brian gestures, flinging his hand out to the side as his voice goes high and squeaky. He’s not mad though—Jae can see a smile fighting its way onto Brian’s face, despite his best friend’s efforts.
“I haven’t thought about Kevin in a long time,” Jae answers easily, and it feels good. It feels true.
Brian sputters, scrambling to find some excuse for Jae’s words to not be true. Jae knows the feeling. “What about all those other people, you never said anything about–”
“Brian,” Jae cuts him off easily, holding out a palm as an olive branch. “If you don’t want to believe me then fine, but I do like you and I think it’d be stupid of us to like each other and not do anything about it.”
Brian just stands there, lips parted like he’s ready to say something but can’t figure out what it is yet. Jae sees it for the opportunity that it is. “I want to kiss you. Can I kiss you?”
Brian exhales, setting his chin a bit higher to look Jae in the eye. “Yeah. I mean, yes, you can,” he answers, stumbling over his words. It doesn’t matter. Jae’s already crossing the little distance that remains between them, reaching out of Brian’s face as Brian’s hands easily find his waist, big and warm even through the thick cotton of Jae’s tee shirt.
Brian’s lips are soft and warm, and he gives a soft little groan that makes Jae want to pull him a little closer, kiss him a little deeper. So he does.
When they step apart again, lips spit slicked and both a little breathless, Brian cracks the biggest grin Jae has ever seen.
“Since when did you get so confident about all of this?”
Luckily, Jae understands what Brian means, and it’s a perfect opportunity to tease. “You’re out of practice with dating, maybe you could stand to learn a thing or two from me.”
Brian laughs. “Alright, you got a plan to teach me?”
Step 6; epilogue
“What was step 5 supposed to be? You have it as ‘TBA’ on the list.”
Brian’s silent for a moment, avoiding eye contact with Jae like it’ll give him the plague. Finally, after letting his mouth hang open long enough for a bug to fly in, he answers. “Set you up with someone new. I didn’t want to put it on there from the start, I thought you’d say no.”
Jae drops his head to Brian’s shoulder, adjusting his position on the couch so they’re fitted snugly side by side, like two puzzle pieces finally set in place. “I like this much better.”
“Yeah,” Brian agrees, letting his head rest lightly on Jae’s. “Me too.”