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knowing you is like knowing me (but easier)

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Jiwon has never looked so shaky.

Sungmin only sees her partially, the left side of her face blocked from his view, but he picks up on the way she’s blinking a little too much. He picks up on her (seemingly steady) hands that are resting on her lap, the way her fingers will not stop shaking no matter how tightly she clasps them together. He purses his lips in concern and tries to stay seated.

The final verdict is finally going to be declared any minute now, and Sungmin can’t focus on anything other than Song Jiwon. The past few months have been arduous, to say the least. He’s never lost more sleep or seen more of Jiwon. They’d been spending nearly every night in the office, scouring the internet for everything and anything that could help build their case. Sometimes they’d get a few hours of sleep, most of the time it would be in intervals of minutes throughout the day.

Once, Sungmin had fallen asleep at their worktable and had been awoken at nearly 4 in the morning because Jiwon had accidentally put her phone on speaker and the dial tone had rang right beside his ear.

“What are you doing?” He’d mumbled, eyes nearly squinted shut as he lifted his head off the desk.

“Making a call, sorry,” she’d told him with a sheepish grin. He’d taken a drowsy look at his watch and had shoved it in her face, trying not to let his eyes shut.

“No one’s gonna pick up at this hour.”

Jiwon’s eyes had widened and she’d quickly ended the call, keeping her voice low as she said, “I lost track of time, I guess.”

Sungmin had wanted to get upset, he really did. But Jiwon looked exhausted, despite her attempts at maintaining some semblance of normalcy. She’d abandoned bright and cheery, but she could do normal, she’d told him the other night.

“Just… go to sleep for a while, okay? I’ll take over.” And despite how badly he wanted to go home and crawl into his own bed, he’d gotten up and flicked Jiwon’s forehead so she’d get up and sleep in the break room. He’d taken a minute to rub his hands over his face before he started to type at the computer. Jiwon had woken up only 3 hours later and had brought the two of them coffee. Before Sungmin could even fit in a thanks, she’d grabbed her phone and a notepad and had walked out of the workroom so that she could call whoever she wanted to call.

It was times like those that Sungmin couldn’t believe that was the same Song Jiwon he'd known for nearly 3 years.

“All rise.”

Sungmin stands without thinking and then his brain catches up with his body. They’re about to hear the final verdict. He can’t help the ball of nervous energy forming in the pit of his stomach, and then he looks across at Jiwon. Jiwon, who has stood up and placed her trembling hands palm-down on the table to support herself. Jiwon, whose entire frame is tensed. Jiwon, whose eyes are rimmed with red but do not leave the judge, daring him to speak.

And he doesn’t know if it’s allowed, but he’s so close that he figures it won’t matter if he gets a little closer. So Sungmin silently steps around the barrier separating him from Jiwon and stands beside her. She doesn’t bother looking at him, but when he hesitantly places his own hand on top of hers to stop it from shaking, she latches onto it with her other hand as if her life depends on it. She makes a sound as if she’s about to say something but one look and Sungmin knows if she speaks now, she’s going to break down crying. So he lets her clamp onto his hand and tells himself to remove his feelings from the situation. Right now, Jiwon desperately needs a friend, and that’s what he’s going to be.

There’s a hush that falls across the room as the Judge stops speaking to someone off to the side and faces the front. Jiwon is digging her short nails into his hand now, but he doesn’t notice, his heart is beating too fast with anticipation.

“The Jury finds the defendant guilty on all charges.” And the world is right again.

One side of the room bursts into cheers and applause and Sungmin is smiling too but then Jiwon nearly collapses onto him and he’s holding her by the shoulders to keep her upright. She’s a wreck, choked sobs escape her mouth and her face is scrunched up in relief and exhaustion and grief and so many emotions it’s hard to decipher which one is most prominent. Sungmin stumbles a little while holding her up and tries getting a firm grasp on her but she turns towards him and plants her head on his chest, looking down at the floor as her shoulders shake.

“Finally,” she says between sobs, a whimper more than anything. Then she’s repeating it over and over again in a whisper and Sungmin doesn’t know how to deal with this Jiwon, whose head is pushed right over his racing heart, whose loud cries have now been reduced to silent tears. He maintains his neutral expression (he knows that letting Jiwon knows he's sympathizing with her will only make her believe he pities her) and slowly brings his arms up to her waist and tugs her into him. A hesitant hand pats Jiwon’s hair.

“You did well, Song Jiwon,” he says in what he hopes to be a calming voice, not looking at her. His eyes remain trained on the man who’d put them through all of this in the first place who is now being escorted out of the room.

Sungmin uses his hand that isn’t on Jiwon’s waist to tap her shoulder, “Hey, he’s leaving.”

Jiwon looks away from the floor and her tear stained face is set with determination. She isn’t crying anymore. She twists in Sungmin’s hold and he lets his hand slide across her back to land on her hip. She has her back to him, but Sungmin knows there’s fury in her eyes. Jiwon watches her former teacher leave the room in shame and right before he leaves, they make eye contact.

“Burn in hell,” Jiwon says in a tight voice. And by the older man’s narrowed eyebrows, Sungmin knows he is able to make out what she said. He exits the courtroom, and Jiwon’s anger visibly rolls off her body. Sungmin watches the back of her head tilt towards his hand that is still resting on her hip and she pats it twice before managing to say in a somewhat normal voice, “Just because I’m emotional doesn’t mean you can take advantage of me, punk.”

Sungmin immediately takes his hand away but then Jiwon turns around and smiles at him. A real, genuine smile. The smile that he has only seen imitations of in the past few months, and he finds himself giving her a small smile back.

“Not that I would mind, though. You obviously can’t control what you feel in your heart,” she tells him in classic Jiwon manner. And Sungmin is just so glad she’s back. Jiwon had rounded up all the broken pieces throughout these last few months but now, now she was finally putting them back together again.

Sungmin rolls his eyes, small smile still on his face. “No, I obviously can’t... how do you feel?”

“Like I want a beer. Or 50.”

"Oh, sure. And if you blackout, who’s going to take you home, again?”

Jiwon bats her eyelashes in an attempt at aegyo, “You?”

Sungmin, surprisingly, laughs and he can tell that although she’s trying, Jiwon is still very tired. She seems to sober up for a moment and looks at him with a sincere smile, “Thank you, Sungmin-ah. You didn’t have to support me the way you did. The way you’ve always done, really. You’re one of my best friends and I hope you know that I’ll never take you for granted.”

Sungmin just waves her off with a scoff, although he feels his heart grow warm. “Actions speak louder than words. How about you show me you’re grateful by having drinks with me at my place?”

He almost doesn’t say it, but it’s just a friendly gesture. To Jiwon, at least, it’s always been a friendly gesture. She looks relieved, for once, at the prospect of not having to go to a bar and nods. They walk out together while bantering back and forth.

“You should dress up more often, you look good in a suit.”

“Oh, my apologies, I’ll try coming to court more often.”

“You don’t want to compliment my attire? Have my womanly charms rendered you speechless?”

“I swear to god I’ll drive off without you.”

It feels good like this, Sungmin thinks. It feels good.

 

They don’t talk much in the car so when they finally reach his apartment, Sungmin isn’t surprised to find Jiwon asleep in her seat. She’s had a long day. No, she’s had a long few months. If there is anyone who's allowed to finally take a rest after all that, it's her. Jiwon had worked tirelessly on the case and hadn’t spared a single second to take care of herself.

Sungmin thinks back to the later stages of the trial when Jiwon would forget to eat sometimes. Sungmin had gotten fried chicken and when he noticed she wasn’t eating, he held a wing up to her mouth.

“Bite,” he’d said as if it were an inconvenience.

“You like me that much, Sungmin-ah?” Jiwon had murmured distractedly as she crossed something out of her journal and scanned the pages next to her.

Sungmin had sighed and then grabbed her chin, turning it to him. “Shut up and eat the food. You don’t even have to hold it. Just… bite.”

Jiwon, not even taking her eyes off the papers, had taken a bite. They’d finished off the chicken that way, Sungmin holding wings up to her face as she worked and waiting until she said she was full before finishing off the rest himself.

Sungmin watches Jiwon breathing and decides he’ll give her a few more minutes before bringing her up to his place. She could crash on the couch for the night and head home tomorrow, drinking was clearly out of the picture now. Just as he takes the keys out of the ignition, Jiwon stirs and opens her eyes. Sungmin immediately looks away from her and out of the window.

“We here?” She asks, yawning.

“Yeah, I was just about to wake you. Do you just wanna crash here for the night?”

“What about drinks?”

“Do you still want to drink?”

“Not really.”

Sungmin rolls his eyes, “That’s what I thought.” He steps out of the car and closes the door behind him, waiting for Jiwon to get out so they can walk into the building together.

When they start walking, Sungmin says, “You should call your roommates and let them know you’re here.”

“Oh, right.” Jiwon dials her cell and holds it up to her ear, waiting. Sungmin punches in the code to his building and they make way to the elevator.

“Madam Jung, are you home?... Has it?.... Well, I’ll make sure to never stop calling you that again…. I’m not coming home tonight….. sorry, I completely forgot you guys were there so I just left….. Sungmin….. yeah, the friend who’s not just a friend-”

At this, Sungmin turns to look at her, but only for a moment. The elevator arrives just as Jiwon laughs about something and they step into it.

“-don’t worry we’ll use protection-”

Sungmin coughs loudly, choking on nothing.

“… okay, okay… sleep well… hm?........ I -…. yes, thank you.” Jiwon voice grows fond and she smiles when she ends the call.

“Why are you like this?” Sungmin asks as they step out of the elevator.

Jiwon stops walking and gives him a look of disbelief, “Did you… did you actually ever come to understand how I was involved in the case or…”

“Alright, alright, shut up, I get it,” Sungmin shakes his head and pulls out the keys to his apartment. He fiddles with the lock and asks Jiwon, “What did they say?”

“She said they spent some time looking for me in the crowd but noticed I wasn’t there anymore and assumed I was discussing something with the lawyer, so I told her I was with you. Then… she told me she was really proud of me.” Jiwon is seemingly still thinking about it because she’s smiling when she enters the apartment.

They spend 20 minutes or so getting comfortable, Sungmin changes into comfortable clothes and when he notices Jiwon rolling her shoulders wearily as she sits on the couch, he throws her an old t-shirt of his and asks her if she wants shorts or sweatpants. She asks for sweatpants, clearly relieved to be able to change out of her suit.

It’s not that he’s considerate or anything, but Jiwon's clearly been stretched as thin as possible today so he decides that just this once, he’ll give her the bed. She tries to refuse but he isn’t having any of it.

“Now listen, I put clothes on your back and I’m giving you a bed to sleep on but only if you agree to stop giving me wedgies.”

Sungmin is leaning on the door frame with his hands in his pockets and watching Jiwon tie her hair up into a ponytail as she sits cross-legged on the bed.

“Forever? No deal, just let me sleep on the couch then.” Jiwon shrugs her shoulders in an I-guess-it-must-be-done way and moves to get off the bed. Sungmin gives her a look of mock annoyance.

“Oh just stay put, will you? Fine, for as many months as we worked on this case. What was it? 5? 6?”

“5 months, 13 days, 21 hours, 15 minutes and counting.” Sungmin flicks his eyes up to her face and lets them fall back down again when he sees how strangely nostalgic she looks. Almost as if she’s looking into the past and thinking, with a relieved sort of happiness, how far they’ve come.

“It’s over, Jiwon-ah," Sungmin reminds her. "Go to sleep. Get some rest. If you need anything in the middle of the night, don’t wake me up or I’ll kick you out.”

Sungmin turns to walk out but stops in his tracks when he hears, “You sure you don’t want to sleep here, too?” It’s the “too” that does him in. He spins around.

Jiwon is wearing a teasing smile and he knows she’s just referring to that one night they spent in a motel, but then she says something more, “I wouldn’t mind, really. You might, of course, but I promise I won’t do anything. You’ve been working just as hard as me and you just spent 40 minutes driving home, you deserve a bed, even if you won’t let me sleep on the couch.”

He shouldn’t do this. He really, really shouldn’t. But he’s quite tired, and exhaustion seems to catch up to him all at once so he decides not to refuse and turns off the lights, leaving them both in the dark. Jiwon, upon hearing Sungmin’s footsteps approaching the bed, claps her hands together and says, “Attaboy!”

The sheets rustle as Jiwon buries herself under them and Sungmin carefully gets under the covers as well, making sure to avoid all body contact with Jiwon.

“You can get closer, I don’t bite. Plus, if you fall off the bed at night, I know you’ll just blame me,” Jiwon says in a muffled voice, her face planted in a pillow. Sungmin shimmies in closer and lies on his back, hands folded atop his stomach, almost perfectly mirroring the last time they’d shared a room together.

He doesn’t flinch when Jiwon’s foot bumps against his shin as she rolls to face him, but his hands clench tighter together on his stomach.

“Do you think she’ll be able to rest easy now?” Jiwon almost whispers. Light is streaming in through the window and Sungmin can vaguely see her face. She looks thoughtful, eyes not really on Sungmin, but a wall past him.

And because Sungmin knows Jiwon, he replies almost immediately without having to ask who she’s talking about, “Yeah. You stayed solid through everything, and it paid off. She’ll definitely rest easier now that he’s going to jail and you’ve brought her to justice – brought all of them to justice.”

Jiwon nods a couple of time, clearly more for herself than Sungmin. “I think I’ll be able to rest easier too.”

“Good. It's what you deserve.”

There’s a lapse of silence between them in which Sungmin thinks about Jiwon. She’s been too hard on herself ever since she found out about this whole thing, so he’s glad she doesn’t feel so guilty anymore. At the same time, he worries if she’ll ever be the same again. She’s showing signs of reverting back to how she was before, sure, but there’s something more tactful and careful about her. Something hesitant. Sungmin is no Psychology major, but he knows some changes in behaviour are good and some are bad. This one seems to lean more towards the bad side.

Jiwon makes the same jokes as before with the same delivery as before but her heart seems less into it, and if Sungmin really observes hard, he can tell that she doesn’t seem quite certain about anything anymore. He wonders if she’ll ever be able to grow out of that, if she’ll be able to be in a relationship like she thought she wanted for so long.

He thought he’d seen it first back so many months ago, when he’d gotten beaten up by the guy who Jiwon had told him to prevent from entering the teacher’s house.

They’d been sitting on the curb and Jiwon couldn’t stop apologizing.

“God, this is such a mess, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to get so hurt, I didn’t mean for you to get so involved. Sorry, sorry, I’m really so sorry.” Jiwon was shaking her head and fumbling for something to put on Sungmin’s cuts in her bag, she pulled out a tube and gently turned Sungmin’s head towards hers.

He’d been in pain all over, and the last thing he’d wanted was to be touched at that moment. But when Jiwon’s fingers touched the corner of his lips, it was as if all the pain had disappeared from his body. He’d looked straight into her eyes and there’d been a brief moment where he thought she’d kiss him. There’d been a brief moment where he wanted to kiss her. But Jiwon had pulled away, and Sungmin had wondered why.

“Does it hurt a lot?” Jiwon asked, an apologetic look on her face.

Sungmin reflexively responded sarcastically, “Why? Are you going to say it hurts for you too?”

Jiwon shrunk into herself and Sungmin tried to fix it, tried finding the words to tell her it was okay, but all he could say is, “My life has been a shitshow since I met you.” He didn’t mean it, but at the same time, he did. If anything, he knew Jiwon would welcome the honesty.

It had surprised him to find that above anything else, he was most angry about the fact that Jiwon kept getting herself into these situations.

“I’m sorry,” she’d told him, fiddling with the tube, “But I have nobody else to ask but you.”

And just like that, Sungmin’s anger had disappeared.

It was a small moment, now that Sungmin’s thinking about it, but it showed that Jiwon had changed in subtle ways. His train of thought is still on whether or not she’ll feel comfortable in a relationship from now on when he says, “What did you mean earlier, when you told your roommate that I was a friend but not a friend?”

At first, it doesn’t seem to weird for him to ask her that. In his head, it’s a reasonable question based off the thoughts that have been circulating in there. He quickly realizes though that, without context, it’s pretty weird. He’s lying in a bed with her, for god’s sake, he doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

Beside him, she scoffs half-heartedly and challenges him, “Why, do you want to be something more?”

Clearly, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable if it’s coming from him. He knows Jiwon is just kidding, but he can’t help feeling a little nervous at the way she says it.

“Come on, just confess your feelings. I know you want to!” Jiwon sings. For some reason, sleep has decided to leave her in exchange for being able to tease him. Sungmin sighs impatiently and props himself up on one elbow so that he’s leaning over Jiwon.

“Song Jiwon I swear to god if you don’t shut up-”

“I’m undeniably attractive, and my personality? Wonderful! I’m surprised you’ve been able to hold it in for so long but I admit I’m impressed that-”

“Jiwon!” Sungmin is growing more and more impatient by the second.

“-you had the self-control to not jump me every time you saw me and…”

Sungmin watches as Jiwon keeps speaking and in a split-second decision he decides to shut Jiwon up the only way he thinks is going to work. He leans in and kisses her mid-sentence.

Almost immediately, Sungmin pulls away – not enough to be unable to feel Jiwon’s breath on his face, though. He feels like he’s invaded her space, like he’s betrayed her trust, like he’s gone against some unspoken agreement. He feels like he’s lost his best friend.

Jiwon doesn’t say anything, just looks at Sungmin in shock.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, “really, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have done that to you without asking and you probably feel really uncomfortable right now.”

“Then ask.”

Sungmin is surprised to say the least. He searches her eyes for disgust or discomfort but only sees Jiwon. Familiar Jiwon.

“I – okay. Can I kiss you?”

Jiwon grins then, a big, wide, bright smile that has Sungmin grinning back. “I’ve been waiting to answer that question for years,” Jiwon says before sliding her hand behind his neck and pulling him in for another kiss, a proper kiss.

When they break apart, Jiwon tugs Sungmin down and maneuvers herself into his side, lying her head on his arm. He’s looking at her fondly and he wonders why he hadn’t done this earlier. Jiwon, who’s looking right back at him, smiles in a way that makes her eyes curve into crescents.

“That was nice,” she says. Then a little bit cautiously, she adds, “But I hope you know that I – I’m probably going to need to take things slow. Just because of… you know.”

Sungmin just rolls his eyes and presses his forehead to hers for a brief moment before he kisses it and says, “I know, Song Jiwon.”

He knows.