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the things we leave behind (and what we come home to)

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Jae can’t sleep. Blankets tangle between his legs as he turns for what feels like the thousandth time that night, old couch springs creaking under the shifting of his weight. He can’t stop thinking about Sungjin, just on the other side of a thin wall, and Brian, further away than that but somehow never really absent from Jae’s mind.

He loved Brian when they were kids. That much is undeniable. And the way he feels when he’s with Brian now is incomparable to anything else he’s every felt, with Brian years ago or with anyone else more recently. Even Sungjin.

Jae holds back a groan, turning again till his nose is pressed uncomfortably against the couch cushion, arm thrown up over the back and hand dangling off the edge.

Thinking about all this only confuses him. It’s hard to classify feelings, and Jae’s gotten no better at it over the years; he was so afraid to admit that he thought he loved Sungjin, so unsure, that Sungjin had to do it first. Which is saying something, because Jae’s pretty sure Sungjin was never hugged as a child or taught how to properly express real human emotion.

If Sungjin says Jae’s in love with Brian, then Jae’s inclined to believe him.

Even admitting it to himself in his head gets Jae’s heart racing, but he can think of no better word, no other word at all to describe the way he wants to look at Brian forever, burn the lines of his profile into his retinas, feel the soft skin of Brian’s wrist under his own guitar-calloused fingertips. Is there another way to describe wanting to kiss someone goodnight and kiss them good morning again every day, forever? Is there another word that means still getting butterflies like it’s a first date when you’ve known them for your whole life? Is there another way to say that?

If there is, Jae doesn’t know it. Brian would say it’s because Jae doesn’t know many words to begin with.

So. Jae is in love with Brian, and he's not with Sungjin anymore, which means that maybe, if he can pull it together, he can tell Brian how he feels.

There's a lot that kept him from saying it, back then. He was young and afraid—afraid to tell his parents he was gay, afraid to be himself in a place that he felt like he would never fit in. Afraid that Brian wouldn't want to be his friend anymore. So he kept it in, and went away and never heard from Brian again, didn't get the answers he so desperately wanted until earlier this week.

But now—now everything's changed in the blink of an eye, and Jae doesn't know what to do.

Eventually, he drifts off to sleep despite it all, probably more from exhaustion than anything else. If he dreams, he can’t remember.

+

There’s not much to say, in the morning. Jae folds the blankets that he used for a makeshift bed as Sungjin loads his stuff into the taxi he called to bring him to the airport. There’s still a lot for them to talk about—they have their shared apartment back in New York, and the car still sitting in Kang’s Auto Repair, but both of them agreed those could be left for later, when the break isn’t as fresh.

It comes time to say goodbye, and Sungjin turns awkwardly, hands in his pockets as he looks up at Jae, unsure of what to say.

“I guess this is it,” Jae says, and Sungjin nods. “Just. Take care of yourself, okay? Take a break from work sometimes.” Jae presses his lips together nervously, but Sungjin’s expression softens at his words.

“You too,” he replies, giving Jae an gentle smile. “Don’t be a stranger, either. I know right now we probably shouldn’t see each other but eventually…” he trails off, and Jae understands.

“I’d like that,” he says reassuringly, and that’s all they really need to say. Jae walks Sungjin out, then stands on the porch and watches the taxi until it’s too far down their little dirt road to see anymore.

His mom’s come out of her bedroom by the time he’s back inside, and she looks at him with sad eyes, arms held awkwardly by her sides. Jae knows what she wants, and it’s what he wants too, so he doesn’t protest. She embraces him easily when he comes up to her, arms looping around waists and his head falling to rest on hers.

“This sucks,” he says, and she hums into his chest.

“I know, baby,” she replies, hand reaching up to stroke the back of his head like she did when he was young. “I know.”

Jae doesn’t know how long they stay like that—all he knows is that tears fall and then dry, and by the time he finally steps back to go splash some water on his face to try and feel like a real human being again the sun’s made its way all the way up over the horizon to cast bright white beams across the kitchen floor.

"Want me to make you some breakfast?" Jae's mom asks, and he can't help but nod. In the meantime, he showers, running a comb through damp hair and leaning in close to the mirror to inspect his puffy eyes and dark circles. He doesn't look good, but he supposes there's not really anyone here to care.

His mom doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t press when he comes back out, which is very unlike her. She just watches in a sort of quiet wonder as he eats, coffee cup clenched in her hand but never raising to her lips. It’s only when Jae’s scraping the last of the fried egg off of his plate that she speaks.

“It was because of Younghyun-ie, wasn’t it?” Jae’s head jerks up, and the movement is almost too harsh when everything about her is soft—the tone of her voice, the look in her eyes, the set of her mouth. He's surprised for a moment, but then everything makes sense. His mom watched them grow up, had probably seen Jae fall in love with Brian long before Jae realized what was happening for himself. Of course she knows.

“Yeah,” he admits, averting his gaze back to the plate in front of him. “Yeah it was.”

His mom hums in response, a sound that brings him back to when he was younger and she used to do that every time he answered her questions, just to make him think about what he said just a little longer. This time more than ever, Jae doesn’t want to.

“He’s a good boy,” she says, like its ten years ago and she’s talking about how he’s just destined to take over his family business, even when Jae and Brian didn’t believe it themselves. “Not that Sungjin wasn’t good, but Younghyun-ie’s always been good to you, Jaehyung.”

Jae has absolutely no idea what that’s supposed to mean.

“Thanks for breakfast,” he deflects, a skill he’s perfected after nearly thirty years of speaking to his mother and sister. Jae gets up, looping around the bar to drop his plate in the sink and a kiss on his mother’s head. “I think I’m gonna go find something to clean.”

“Jaehyung,” she says, a warning laced in her voice that makes Jae stop dead in his tracks. “You should talk to Younghyun-ie. Tell him what happened.” When Jae’s eyes widen, she’s quick to add on. “Not right now, but soon.”

“Okay,” Jae replies, with no intention of actually following through.

Still, it’s enough to satisfy his mother, and that’s what matters. For now.

+

After that, Jae doesn’t do much.

He spends most of his time in the house, and most of that time in his room, and most of that time in his bed. Work won’t give him anything to write because he’s still technically on vacation, and he can’t bring himself to write anything just for himself. He’s cleaned about as much as he’s willing to, and watched as many episodes of Friends as he’s willing to, and now he’s just sort of given up, laying on his back on top of the covers and staring at the ceiling as Death Cab for Cutie blasts from his phone speakers.

Three days into this, the call comes, and Jae picks it up without bothering to look at the caller ID.

“Jae Park?” a deep voice asks, cracking over the phone, and it takes Jae a moment to recognize it as the technician who towed his car in on their first day here. Dowoon, his name is.

“That’s me,” he answers, voice low and rough from disuse over the past 48 hours.

“Your car is ready, you can come pick it up any time this afternoon,” he says, and Jae’s stomach drops.

“Okay,” he says thickly. “Can I ask you though, is your boss in today?”

“Brian?” Dowoon asks, and Jae makes a noise of confirmation. “Yeah, he said he’ll probably be here late today. Did you want to talk to him?”

Jae makes a sort of strangled voice. “No, I was just curious,” he replies, “someone will come by to get his car this afternoon.”

“Sounds good,” Dowoon says. “Just leave the truck keys with Jihyo at the front when you come.”

“Yeah,” Jae answers in confirmation, and then Dowoon hangs up. Jae sits in bed, staring down at his black phone screen for a little while after that. Then, he gets up, running a hand through his hair to push it up and off his forehead, and goes to look for his dad.

Enjoying his day off, Jae’s father is reclined in his arm chair, a soccer game on TV seemingly keeping him enraptured. Jae disrupts that fairly easily, snagging the remote and putting the volume on mute before placing himself directly between the chair and the screen. His father makes a noise of protest, and Jae just gives him his best winning smile.

“Dad,” he starts, and his father already knows what he’s in for, because he settles back and purses his mouth. “Would you do your only, beloved son a great favor and go pick up my car from the shop this afternoon?”

“Why can’t you do it?” he asks, raising an eyebrow in question though his tone tells Jae he already knows the answer.

Still, Jae sticks to his story. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to get done here this afternoon, it’ll be so fast I promise.”

“No,” his father replies shortly, peering around Jae’s shoulder to try and keep an eye on the score.

“Dad,” Jae tries again, but his father just shakes his head.

“You’re avoiding your problems, Jae. You have to face them,” he says, and Jae groans.

“Mom talked to you, didn’t she?” he asks, and his father ignores the question.

“Go pick up your car so I can watch my game in peace, kid,” he says, and Jae gives up. He gets his stubbornness from both of his parents, but his dad’s had a lot more time to practice—he’s not winning this one.

“Fine,” he grumbles, and his dad gives him a smug smile. Jae drifts to the kitchen, pulling a water bottle out of the fridge and nearly drowning the whole thing in one go, letting his cheeks fill with water as he tries to reason out the likelihood of actually running into Brian at the business that Brian owns and runs.

There’s a chance—a small chance, but a chance—that Brian will go home before Jae gets there, or that he’ll be in his office. Or, he could stay back in the work space where Jae might not have to go.

But Jae knows himself, and he knows his luck. Unfortunately, there’s not much he can do about that, and Dowoon’s probably already passed it on that he’ll be coming in today.

Well. That’s it then. Jae squares his shoulders as best he can and heads for the bathroom, because he may be a walking disaster but at least he’s got the sense to go shower before possibly (probably) seeing the man he’s very likely been in love with for the past ten plus years of his life.

Showering and shaving really does wonders for his mood, which Jae can’t really say he’s shocked by. The bags under his eyes have faded a little thanks to the absolutely incredible amount of sleep he’s been getting, and with the dark shadow of stubble gone he’s starting to look like an actual human being again.

He spends much too long deliberating over what to wear, which really shouldn’t mean anything but somehow means so much. What kind of outfit conveys “I just broke off my engagement because I’m still in love with you but I’m totally fine”?

In the end, though, he settles with what he picked out first: jeans and a comfy XXL tee shirt, big enough to hang nicely off the curve of his shoulders and disguise the thinness of his frame. Jae’s got his wallet in his pocket and the truck keys in his hand, building the confidence to walk out of the door when something occurs to him. He splays his left palm flat on top of his dresser, eyes fixed on the smooth metal still resting on his ring finger. Then, with one decisive motion and a bitter finality, he slips it off, tucking it into the bottom of his sock drawer.

Now he’s ready.

Jae feels surprisingly calm on his way to the shop, which should have been his first clue. There’s no sign of life when he first pulls into the parking lot, but once he steps out he can hear the sound of echoing voices and clanging metal coming from inside the garage. He doesn’t bother to listen for Brian, just shuts the noise out and heads for the office.

Jihyo’s behind the counter again, legs crossed as she flips through what appears to be an old issue of Cosmo. She looks up when the bell on the door chimes, glossy hair falling into her face before she reaches up to tuck it behind her ear, smiling.

“Hey Jae,” she says politely and Jae gives her the customary head jerk of acknowledgment, fishing the truck keys out of his pocket. He places them on the counter as Jihyo reaches down, fumbling a bit before producing the Cadillac keys from the hooks that Jae knows are under there.

“Your car’s going to be around back, we can have someone bring it around or you can go get it. I assume you know your way around here well enough,” she tells him as he takes the keys from her, and he nods, lips pursed.

“I can get it,” he replies, and she gives him a cute little head bob.

“See you around,” she says as he heads for the door, and he returns a half hearted “see you” before turning his back in a way that feels oddly final.

The cars that overflow out of the garage are parked behind it in another makeshift lot, made of some gravel but mostly just packed dirt that sends up little dust clouds around Jae’s heels as he walks.

He spots his car easily, a small, shiny black dot against a landscape covered in dust and scratches. Jae heads for it, wanting to get out of here as fast as he can. Of course, nothing in his life is ever that easy.

"Jae?" He turns instinctively at the sound of his name, and regrets it immediately. Brian is standing at the entrance of the garage, hair pushed back out of his face with a backwards baseball hat and wearing a huge pink tee shirt covered in grease stains and paint. He finishes wiping his hands on a towel and then waves, which Jae returns because his mother didn't raise him to be rude no matter how heartbroken he may be. Brian starts towards him, and Jae clutches the keys in his fist like a lifeline. He wants to leave, to bolt, to run away—which is all he's ever been good at, really. But his feet don't let him. Maybe because it'd be too hard to walk away from Brian, after the last time.

The next words out of Brian's mouth are "I'm sorry," and Jae's whole body goes still. He should have known news would travel fast, damn it, now there's no way for him to control what Brian hears about him and Sungjin—

"I'm sorry about how I acted the other night," Brian apologizes, giving Jae a sheepish smile. "Sungjin—he's your fiancé, and he doesn't know me and we'd been spending a lot of time together, so I should have been more understanding. I hope everything's okay with you two, I figured since I hadn't seen you in a few days you were trying to spend more time with him." Oh, Jae thinks. So he doesn't know.

"Yeah," Jae replies, the lie easily slipping off of his tongue. "Sorry about that, I should have texted you."

"Yeah, you should have," Brian teases, reaching out to lightly smack Jae's shoulder. His smile is too bright, too much—he thinks everything's okay when it isn't.

"I have to go," Jae says quickly, jerking his thumb back behind him in what he thinks is the general direction of his car. "My parents want me home to talk some things over."

"Ah, wedding stuff," Brian nods like he understands, and Jae feels like he's drowning.

"I'll text you soon," he promises, knowing that it's hollow.

"Okay," Brian nods. He gives a little half wave and a "see you soon Jae" before he turns to head back to the garage, and it's like he takes all the oxygen out of the air as he goes. Jae has to stop himself from watching Brian walk away, forcing himself to turn and walk towards the car like a body on autopilot.

Nothing really hits him until he's in the car, leather seats smelling like Sungjin's cologne and a card with Brian’s name on it tucked in the cupholder. Tears of frustration work their way up his throat and sting at the back of his eyes with an all-encompassing heat that won't leave no matter how many deep breaths he takes. He keeps glancing to the side, making sure the door of the garage stays shut.

It does, and eventually he can open his eyes without tears welling, which is his signal to finally start the car and get the hell out of there. Jae keeps one hand on the wheel and uses the other to push his too long hair up and off of his forehead, even though it falls down immediately after. Representative of how the rest of his life is going, he thinks bitterly.

Even when he gets home, something keeps him rooted in his seat. Jae looks out the windshield at his childhood home, and it brings a bitter taste to his mouth.

A week ago, he was exactly here with Sungjin by his side, and he knew exactly what was going to happen.

Now he’s alone and he has no goddamn idea.

It’s enough to make Jae want to put his head through a wall, but that would require going inside, so he settles for reclining the seat a bit and letting his head hang off the back. He would just settle in for the rest of the afternoon, mentally rearranging his schedule full of “moping” and “complaining” to include three-ish hours of “sitting sadly in car,” but he’s interrupted by the rude buzzing of his phone in his pocket.

His heart skips, and he thinks for a second that maybe it could be Sungjin or Brian, but then he checks the caller ID and just groans. Wonpil’s name, complete with all the emojis his friend had added after it, feels a bit like a slap in the face at this point. Jae silences the call and goes right back to moping.

It buzzes again, not long after, to tell him that Wonpil left a message.

Jae takes his lower lip between his teeth before deciding to press the phone to his ear, bracing himself for what he’s about to hear.

“Jaehyung.” Wonpil’s tinny voice starts over the recording, and Jae already wants to make it stop. “Why did I have to hear that your life is falling apart from Sungjin Park? Getting information from that man is harder than pulling teeth, and that’s what you leave for me? Some friend you are. Anyway, I’m guessing you probably didn’t answer because you’re busy sleeping or feeling sorry for yourself, in which case I’m here to tell you to stop and call me back so we can actually talk and you can let out all your gross pent up feelings. So yeah, you should talk to me or I’ll come down to California to find you, which I would really rather not do because the air dries out my skin. Call me when you get this.” Wonpil’s redundancy sort of drives Jae crazy, but he gets the message loud and clear—he’s supposed to call Wonpil back.

He won’t. Not now, at least. Wonpil’s specific brand of friendship involves a lot of talking and feelings and occasional crying, the latter of which Jae tends to avoid at all costs. Jae doesn’t really know what it is about Wonpil, but he has the uncanny ability to make anyone spill their guts (which is why it doesn’t surprise Jae that he was able to pull the story out of Sungjin). Jae really, really doesn’t need that right now. Actually, he’s fairly certain that he needs exactly that, but he just doesn’t want it. Which is what actually matters.

But Wonpil is persistent, and actually more so than Jae’s previously given him credit for. He calls once more before the sun sets, and then again the next morning. He doesn’t leave another message until the fourth call, two days after Jae had been to the garage.

“Jae, you have to stop this. Call me so we can talk, please. I’m worried about you.”

Something about that message, despite how much shorter it is than the first, snaps Jae out of his weird stupor. Maybe it’s the tone of Wonpil’s voice, or the affirmation that somewhere out there is a friend who cares about his well being (maybe more than Jae himself does), but the message works. Jae plays it again as he’s getting out of bed for the first time that day despite the fact that its well past 11, and sets his phone on the dresser as he heads for the shower. There’s a certain amount of preparation he needs for this phone call, and Jae figures that following a morning routine can only help in this particular situation. Also, he’s probably starting to smell.

One shower and cup of coffee later, Jae hunches over the kitchen counter, phone out flat in front of him with his contacts open. Wonpil’s name feels like it’s staring back at him through the screen, and it’s with a racing pulse and bitten lip that he presses call.

The phone rings once, twice, and then half of a third time before Wonpil picks up. “Hyung?” he answers, and Jae lets out a breath that he’s not sure why he was holding.

“Yeah it’s me,” he answers, and he can just picture Wonpil’s wide, boxy smile that he’s sure is on the other end of the line in New York.

“How are you?” Wonpil asks without preamble, and it’s such a loaded question that Jae doesn’t know how to answer.

“You know, I’ve been better,” he says, the ghost of a laugh escaping along with the words. Wonpil just tuts at him over the phone.

“Tell me what happened,” he says, and so Jae does. It always comes back to this, with Wonpil—it always comes back to your story. Jae thinks that’s why Wonpil is the only person he talked to about Brian. Wonpil listens, and he helps. Most of the time, anyway.

It takes Jae awhile to get through it all, and Wonpil listens diligently the whole time, humming when appropriate to reassure Jae that he’s still there, and that he still cares.

When he finishes, there’s a beat of silence before Wonpil speaks. “So you’ve just been sitting in your house avoiding Brian?”

“Well…” Jae starts, trying and failing to find a way to rationalize it, “yeah.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know,” Jae replies, as honestly as possible. “I just—with Sungjin going home, I can’t take another hit like that. I can’t lose Brian too. Not when I just got him back.”

“But you still haven’t told him what happened,” Wonpil states, and Jae hums in acknowledgement. “Jae Park, you have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

“Actually I’d like to think I’m fairly experienced in the heartbreak department,” Jae replies sarcastically, and the noise Wonpil makes is half laughter and half annoyance.

“If you don’t talk to Brian, you are going to lose him,” Wonpil says.

All Jae can think to reply with is, “ouch.”

“Jae,” Wonpil starts, and Jae just knows that he’s in for the lecture of his life. “Don’t let this be a repeat of ten years ago. I don’t know if you’re still subconsciously mad at Brian for shutting you out but you can’t do the same thing to him, even if you think he’s nice enough to not mind. If you’ve forgiven him then you have to show him the respect of not doing the same thing, and there’s a difference between taking time for yourself and whatever it is you’re doing now.”

“Pil—” Jae starts, but Wonpil cuts him off.

“I’m not done. You’re treating telling him about Sungjin like it’s telling him that you’re still in love with him, which are two different things. You can tell him that you broke up with Sungjin without telling him about your feelings, if that’s what you decide to do. But it’s just going to hurt him if you don’t tell him what happened.”

“What am I gonna say, that we broke up because of irreconcilable differences?” Jae asks, slight annoyance bleeding into his voice. Wonpil remains unfazed.

“He’s not a lawyer, Jaehyung,” Wonpil chides, and Jae rolls his eyes, glad they’re doing this over the phone so Wonpil can’t see him. “Just make something up! Tell him Sungjin’s parents changed their mind about you, or his ex wants him back, or that he has a secret you just found out about. It doesn’t have to be the truth, it just has to be a believable reason. He should know, Jae.”

Jae doesn’t say anything for a minute, just presses his lips together and considers what Wonpil is saying.

“Or,” Wonpil says, and Jae braces himself. “You could do the right thing, and tell him the truth. That you’re in love with him.”

“I already told you,” Jae replies crossly, “I don’t want to risk losing Brian.”

“So your plan is to just never tell him and continue to be friends with someone you’re in love with? Watch as he falls in love and gets married to someone else? That’s how you’re going to play this?”

Jae groans, loud enough for Wonpil to hear over the phone.

“Come on, Jae,” Wonpil tells him, and his voice is softer this time. “Assess your risks. Either you lie to him, come up with a fake reason in the hopes of saving your friendship, or you tell him the truth and potentially get something great out of it.”

“It wouldn’t work out that way,” Jae says weakly.

“Hyung, don’t you think you’re somebody that he could love too?” That one question hits Jae like a bag of bricks. “You’ve either been scared or angry all your life. Don’t you think it’s time to let go of that?”

“No,” Jae answers petulantly, but his voice is too soft for Wonpil to take him seriously. Wonpil stays quiet after that, just letting Jae think for a moment.

He supposes it should feel like a betrayal to even think about it, an insult to the memory of him and Sungjin. But it doesn't. Thinking about the possibility of him and Brian, together—it feels right, like the final piece of the puzzle you find after years of digging between the couch cushions. Like a sigh of relief as you sink into your bed after a long day, like the feeling of your feet moving from hot sand to cool water. Like it's meant to be this way, all this time. Like everything else was just a placeholder.

That thought leaves a taste like vinegar in the back of Jae's mouth. It's not fair, what he did to Sungjin, to his other boyfriends—to himself. Maybe even to Brian. He didn't lie, necessarily. But isn't refusing to admit the truth just as bad?

"You figure it out yet?" Wonpil's voice crackles through the line, and Jae sighs.

"You're right," he admits, voice low and defeated. Wonpil makes a noise that sounds something like a dog toy that's been stepped on, and Jae has to hold the phone six inches away from his ear until it stops.

“So you’ll tell him that you’ve been in love with him for the past ten years?” Wonpil asks, voice giddy with excitement.

“Yeah,” Jae says, and it feels shockingly good to say that and mean it. “Yeah, I will. I’m going to tell Brian.” His confidence grows as he says it out loud, determination settling in his chest.

“I’m proud of you,” Wonpil tells him sincerely, and Jae feels a little bit of warmth rise in his throat.

“Thank you,” he says, because it’s all he can say. “For everything. Thank you.” It’s a little too grossly sincere, but Wonpil seems to appreciate it all the same.

“Unclogging your emotional backup is what I’m here for,” Wonpil replies cheerfully, ignoring Jaes under the breath utterance of gross. “Now go out and get your man.”

“Please stop,” Jae says, but Wonpil just laughs. They hang up shortly after, Jae placing his phone back on the counter in front of him as it hits that now he actually has to come up with a plan; he can’t just go storming back over to the shop. Can he?

No, he decides. He needs to figure out what he’s doing first.

That delays things another couple of days. Jae thinks himself into corners, in and out and back into the same circles of uncertainty and fear. Still, he pulls himself out of it everytime—just never enough to actually go through with telling Brian.

Eventually, it’s Brian who pulls him out of it, which Jae finds fitting. All it takes is one text to send Jae spiraling, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood as he reads and rereads the message, fingers hovering over his keyboard, unsure.

hey, i don’t want to bother you but i was just wondering when you were going back to ny. miss you, man. maybe you, me, and sungjin can get together again before you two leave?

Lying by omission is still exhausting, Jae thinks, and it’s just after that when he decides he’s had enough.

Taking the inside of his cheek between his teeth, he taps his screen a few times till he’s got his thumb hovering over Brian’s number, only hesitating a moment before pressing call. Jae blows out a long stream of air as it rings, a whole swarm of butterflies taking over his gut and twisting it in knots as he waits for Brian to pick up.

“Jae?” Brian asks as the ringing suddenly stops, voice audibly laced with concern even over the phone.

“Are you home?” Jae blurts, eyeing the car keys hanging by the door, a plan forming already as he waits for Brian’s answer.

“Yes,” Brian replies. “Did you wanna come over? Is Sungjin coming? Do I have to clean?”

“It’s just me and I’ll be there in five,” Jae says, and he hangs up before Brian can ask any more questions. It is a bit of a dick move, but he knows himself, and he knows that he has to do this before he loses the nerve again.

Jae knows that the drive to Brian’s should take ten minutes on a normal day, but he told Brian five and today is not a normal day. Besides, there’s no one to bust him for speeding on the dirt road connecting his street to Brian’s. He can barely hear himself think over the sound of the Cadillac’s engine, and Jae prefers it that way. It’s best if he can prevent himself from overthinking, and just be honest when he gets there. At least he hopes so.

Brian’s actually waiting outside when Jae pulls up, which is something Jae wasn’t expecting. Arms crossed over his chest and shoulders stretching the fabric of his black tee shirt, Brian’s eyebrows are scrunched together as he watches Jae throw the car in park from his front porch.

Well, Jae thinks. No turning back now.

“Hey,” he says as he gets out of the car, Brian’s face relaxing slightly.

“You’re being weird,” Brian replies in lieu of a greeting, waiting for Jae to join him on the porch. He makes no move to go inside, which Jae figures is just as well. There’s no one around, so out here is as good as anywhere.

“I’m sorry,” Jae apologizes, even though he knows Brian probably isn’t aware of just exactly how many things he’s apologizing for. “I’m sorry I was weird today, I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you, and I’m sorry for lying to you.”

“Lying about what?” Brian looks more confused than upset now, brow softening slightly and arms pulling in a little closer, like he’s protecting himself from something.

“Sungjin and I broke up,” Jae says quickly, watching as Brian goes from confused to shocked in a split second, mouth forming a perfect pink ‘o’.

“What—” he starts, but Jae holds up a hand to stop him.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, “but I’ve got a lot to say and if I don’t get through it I might never say it.”

“Okay,” Brian answers, giving in easier than Jae expects with a simple nod.

Jae takes a deep breath, shifting in his stance and clearing his throat before he can finally get the words out. “Sungjin and I broke up over a week ago because both of us realized that I’m in love with you and that I have been since we were in high school.” He presses his lips together as soon as the words leave, like it’ll stop him from saying something he shouldn’t. Like he hasn’t already said all there is to say.

Brian’s silent for a second, eyes widening and arms falling to his sides until he finally squeaks out: “high school?”

Jae just nods, heart feeling like it’s about to beat right out of his chest.

“You’ve been in love with me,” Brian starts slowly, making very intense eye contact that kind of makes Jae want to slither away and hide, “since high school.”

“That is correct, yes,” Jae answers, finding a little bit of joy in the way that seems to rile Brian up.

“You were engaged,” Brian says in a deadpan, somehow looking at Jae down the bridge of his nose despite their height difference. “I thought you were engaged until like. Two seconds ago. And now you’re telling me that you’re in love with me?”

“It sounds bad, I know,” Jae says, and really, he does know. It’s all he’s been able to think about, and he feels like it doesn’t bode well for him that Brian is fixating on this. So, he decides to spill a few more truths. “Being back here, with you, just made me realize that,” his voice breaks a little, and Jae has to stop to collect himself before continuing, “that I don’t want to get married unless it’s to you.” Brian is silent for a second, so Jae is quick with the disclaimer. “And it’s okay if you don’t like me like that. I can fuck off back to New York and we can pretend like I never said any of this or like this trip never even happened. We can do whatever you want. But I had to tell you the truth.”

“Did you just propose to me?” Brian asks, and Jae flushes, because of course that’s what Brian got out of all those words.

“Well you did it the last time, so I figured it was my turn,” Jae answers sheepishly. “Sorry I didn’t make you a grass ring, I was a little short on time.”

“You’re an idiot,” Brian says, and before Jae has a chance to protest Brian is stepping forward, taking Jae’s face in his hands and kissing him like it’s the last thing he’ll ever get to do. Jae is a little slow to react, but eventually instinct kicks in and he kisses Brian back, arms wrapping around Brian’s waist as he melts into the warmth of Brian’s body pressed against his.

When they pull apart, Brian just keeps talking. “‘Short on time’ you had ten years, Jae Park, how much more time could you possibly need?” Jae just laughs, and Brian pulls him back down to kiss the sound from his lips.

“Wait,” Jae says, pulling back as he tries to keep a smile from forming on his lips. “So do you like me, or do you like like me?”

Brian rolls his eyes, leaning in to nip at Jae’s lips and retreating when Jae tries to chase him for a real kiss. “I love you too, stupid. Honestly, I’m a little miffed you were going to marry someone else after you already accepted my proposal,” he sniffs, and it should hit too close to home except that it doesn’t—it just feels right. The last puzzle piece fit back into place, the final reveal at the end of the movie that makes everything else make sense.

“If I get you a real ring will that make it better?”Jae asks, and Brian nods, wiping away the fake tears from his eyes.

“I guess,” he replies before he drops the act and lets his face split into a grin. They can’t even really kiss after that because they’re both smiling too much, giddy from the release of everything, the culmination of ten years into this one moment that seems too good to be true. Everything about Brian is too good to be true, and Jae’s has to keep gripping at Brian’s waist to reassure himself that this isn’t a dream, that it’s actually happening. He sighs against Brian’s lips, and Brian gets it too.

“Married means we stay together forever,” Brian says, resting his cheek against Jae’s shoulder. “You ready for that?”

Jae wraps his arms around Brian’s shoulders, pulling him in even closer than before. “I think I always have been, even when I didn’t know it,” he answers, and Brian gives a contented hum against Jae’s neck.

“I am glad you realized it though,” Brian jokes, and Jae has to resist the urge to squeeze him in close as revenge.

“Yeah,” he agrees, pressing a chaste kiss to the side of Brian’s head. “Me too.”

Puzzle pieces, grass rings, Jae and Brian—the way it was always meant to be.