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New Chapters - Chapter Two
avarisia wrote in longleggedlove

New Chapters - Chapter Two
Yunho/Changmin
PG

Changmin works in a bookstore, where a stranger walks in one day.

CHAPTER TWO

Changmin spent the next few days moping around the store, finding little strength to continue with the last bits of his cataloguing work. He stared at the name card so much the words were practically carved into his retina, and still he pulled it out from his pocket every so often to look at it.

Kim Junsu. He kept saying the name over and over in his head, growing to like the sound of it. 

He even had a dream where he saw the broad shoulders and strong back of the handsome visitor in front of him, and called out, "Junsu!". The stranger turned around, his face surrounded by blinding white light that made his features indistinguishable, and Changmin awoke, gasping, in a state of almost painful arousal.

It took a long time before he could fall asleep again that night.

On the fourth day following the encounter, Changmin stood at the door of Park's Bookstore, staring down the deserted street waiting for the stranger's figure to materialise. He did, after all, promise to return.

Shim Changmin, what are you doing?, he suddenly thought, Standing here like a fool, waiting for some stranger. You don't even know if Junsu's really his name!

"Forget it, idiot. He's not going to come back," he muttered darkly to himself, his mood undergoing a swift about-turn as his train of thought hurtled onward, "He was just worried you'd stop him from leaving without paying you in full, that's why he said that."

Sighing, he collected himself and turned to go back into the shop.

"You really think he'll come back? What kind of naive nitwit are you?" he continued, quite unable to stop cursing his own stupidity. He threw the name card into a drawer and slammed it shut.

"You're such a failure, Changmin. All it takes is a pretty face and some sweet words to get you all wobbly-kneed and mewling like some newborn kitten. Jaejoong is right, I really spend too much time with books to know what people are really like."

He'd really worked himself up, and stormed about the store putting books back in their rightful shelves.

"Wake up! Stop dreaming! Get real!" he growled, the outbursts punctuating each book shelved.

"Wow, someone's sounds like he's really gone off the deep end."

Changmin jumped about three feet.

"KIM JAEJOONG! Will you STOP creeping up on people like that! How did you even get in without that horrible jingling device going off??"

"I have my ways," Jaejoong shrugged. He frowned, a concerned look in his eyes. "Are you okay? You don't look so good."

"I'm FINE," the younger man tried his best to keep his voice from trembling, his emotions still running very close to the surface.

"Okay, just don't go all Psycho on me." Jaejoong faked a crazed snarl and stabbed the air with an imaginary knife. "It's scary when you mutter to yourself like that." 

"Don't worry, I promise I won't stab you. That's letting you off too easily."

"How many times have I said you need to get some friends other than me and the three other imaginary ones? Talking to yourself, seriously."

"I'm not so sure. Having a friend like you has kind of put me off the whole friendship thing for a long time."

"Look who's talking! When I walk around with you outside, people give me sympathetic looks!" 

Amidst the snappy barbs he was trading with Jaejoong, thoughts of the mysterious man soon disappeared into the depths of Changmin's mind.

=========

"TEE-TEE-TAH"

Jaejoong looked up from scrutinising his eyebrows in the small mirror he was holding, and smiled widely from behind the counter. "Welcome to Park's Bookstore! How may I help you?"

"Hello. I-" The man peered around, looking like he was looking for something. Or someone. "I'm looking for... someone." He gave a weak smile. "But I don't -exactly- know his name..."

"Let me guess," Jaejoong quipped, "Maybe your height? Messy hair, thick round glasses? Long sharp nose? A rather dowdy dress sense? Doesn't talk much?"

"Um, well, maybe not quite so unflattering," the other man smiled wryly, "but yes, that sounds like him."

"I'm so sorry to disappoint you, then. He was just institutionalised. Went a bit off his rocker."

"I'm- I'm sorry? Institution- alised?" the visitor's mouth was agape in disbelief.

Jaejoong burst into cackling laughter. "Just joking! You look so serious!"

"That's not very funny."

"Ha- ha- Okay, maybe it's not. He's not in at the moment, stepped out to buy something."

"Oh." The other man's look of disappointment was evident. He fiddled at an envelope in his hands.

"Why exactly, may I know, are you looking for him? When you don't even know his name." Jaejoong peered at the tall smartly-dressed stranger curiously.

"I'm sorry, I should explain. I came last Tuesday, and bought a book, but I didn't pay in full. I'm here to pay- the shopowoner the rest."

"I see. Well, Changmin's not exactly the shopowner. He just works here. Which is more than I can say for myself. I'm just sitting here until he comes back with our dinner."

"Changmin." The man repeated softly. "His name is Changmin?"

"Yes, Shim Changmin," Jaejoong drawled, staring distractedly at the mirror again. "Do you need me to pass him a message? Or would you rather wait for him yourself? He won't be more than ten minutes."

"Um, no, I have to go, someone's waiting for me. I- Could you pass him this? And say, thank you, on my behalf."

"Okay!" Jaejoong took the envelope from the other, and tucked it under a book on the counter.

"Thank you. Please make sure he gets it. I have to go."

"Bye bye," Jaejoong waved absently.

Moments after the door swung closed, Jaejoong muttered to himself as he peered at his reflection, "What a strange man. All that talking, and he didn't once leave his name."

=========

"Jae, what's this?" Changmin held up the envelope he noticed peeking out from under a book.

"Oh, I totally forgot!" Jaejoong scratched his head sheepishly, "Some man came in looking for you. He asked me to pass that to you, and say thank you."

"Huh, what man?" Changmin could feel his heart rate accelerating.

"Said he bought a book last week and hadn't paid you in full. I can't believe you let someone do that. What if he didn't come back? You're not exactly doing a roaring business here, you know-"

"Wait, wait," Changmin interrupted. "What did he look like? Tall? Perfect hair, gorgeous eyes? Nice smile? Smart suit?" he blurted before he could control himself.

"Hmmm? Looks like someone has a leeetle crush, eh?" Jaejoong perked up, his eyes twinkling mischievously.

"Shut up. So it is him? What else did he say? What's his name?" Changmin questioned breathlessly. He could not believe that the man actually came back. Just his luck, he had to be away!

"Tell me first, why are you so excited?

"I'm not excited. Who said I'm excited?" The younger man sat himself down, willing his heart to stop racing and his gut to stop crawling up into his throat.

"Oh please, you don't really think you can fool Kim Jaejoong, do you?" He leaned over the counter and poked Changmin's shoulder with a finger. "So, you think he's hot, eh? Makes your stomach turn over and the small of your back hurt, your hands feel tingly and clammy, and your breath catch? Mmph-!"

"Just shut up, okay? I do not have a crush on him. I just- It's just we have so few customers, and he looks different, that's all." Changmin's hand tapped restlessly against the counter as Jaejoong pulled a wad of cloth out of his mouth.

"Fine. But if you don't want to be honest with me, at least be honest with yourself," the older man spat, annoyed. "He didn't mention his name at all. Seemed really disappointed you weren't around, though. I bet he'll be back."

After a long moment of silence, Jaejoong continued, "Just don't get hurt, okay? Crushes are fine, but if you hold your heart out like that, it's going to get broken, more often than not. Take it from me."

He patted Changmin on the shoulder and silently left, leaving the latter alone with his thoughts.

=========

Changmin carefully opened the envelope the mysterious stranger had left for him. On the flap was a line of crooked words that read, "Thank you for the book!" It made his heart skip a beat.

Inside the envelope was a cheque for quite a princely sum that he was quite sure no book in the shop should cost a minute fraction of. He was aghast at the number of zeros on the cheque.

His hopes of finding some clue from the cheque were dashed as it was revealed to be a company cheque labelled "Jung and Partners", with two signatories whose signatures were quite illegible.

Jung and Partners.

As Changmin stared at the cheque and name card before him, he made up his mind. Pulling his laptop over, he did a quick search and located the office of Jung and Partners.

That was where he was going to go, tomorrow.

=========

Changmin stood in front of the glass-and-metal skyscraper that was another of the multitude of buildings in the district, and looked again at the address he had taken down on a notepad. Jung and Partners was on the twenty-eighth storey of this building.

Tucking his notepad away, he took a deep breath to calm himself, and entered the building.

After exiting the elevator, he found himself standing in front of an impressively designed front counter behind which a lacquered wooden panel held the words "Jung and Partners" in great embossed golden English letters.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist behind the counter asked after he dithered indecisively for a few seconds.

"I- er- I'm looking for someone," Changmin answered nervously, pulling out the namecard, "Kim Junsu-sshi? Does he work here?"

"Ah, Junsu-sshi, yes. May I know if you've made an appointment?"

"A- appointment?" Changmin stared blankly at the receptionist, and shook his head.

"All right then, may I know what is the purpose of your visit?" She had a patronising smile and simpering voice which was getting rather annoying.

"I have something to return to him."

"Certainly. Please wait while I check with him. And what's your name, sir?"

"Shim Changmin. But just tell him I'm from Park's Bookstore."

The receptionist smiled blandly and picked up the phone.

Changmin fidgeted and peered around as the receptionist spoke in muted tones to whomever she was calling, presumably Kim Junsu. The rest of the office behind the wooden panel was protected from view by frosted glass walls with a door on either side of the panel, and strains of piano music wafted from the speakers in the ceiling.

"You don't know him? But he says he needs to return something to you. He's from some bookstore. Yes. Yes, I understand. But- yes, Junsu-sshi." 

The receptionist hung up the phone and turned to him. "I'm sorry, but Kim Junsu-sshi is busy at the moment, and he says he's never heard of your name. If it is all right, could you pass me the thing you need to return to him? I will help you pass it on."

Changmin hesitated. He could not even be sure if the man who had left the cheque was even called Kim Junsu. There was no way he was leaving that cheque with this receptionist.

"No, please, I really need to see Junsu-sshi face-to-face. It's important. Please, at least let me talk to him over the phone?"

"I'm afraid I cannot let you do that, sir. It's against our company policy-"

"Okay, when will he be free to meet me? I can wait."

"Let me check, sir. Please hold on."

She picked up the phone again and dialled for Kim Junsu. Changmin listened carefully to her conversation.

"Sir, sorry to disturb you again, it's the front counter. This Shim Changmin-sshi says it is very urgent he meets you in person. Should I ask him to wait here until you are convenient to? I understand, sir, I have communicated it to him. He is quite insistent that he sees you, sir. Yes, sir, I understand."

The receptionist turned to Changmin after putting down the handset, "He will be out shortly, sir. Please kindly wait for Junsu-sshi here."

"Thank you so much," he bowed gratefully.

He had waited twenty minutes for this Kim Junsu, and wondered how short "shortly" really meant. During the first few minutes he had looked eagerly at the doors, wondering which of the two the other man would emerge from, but after the long minutes had passed his excitement wore off and he took to flipping through the magazines stacked neatly in a corner of the waiting area.

"Okay, where is he? The guy who needs to meet me so urgently?" Changmin heard from behind him. The voice was familiar, but not in the way he expected. His heart began sinking even before he turned around and saw the face of Kim Junsu.

Kim Junsu, it turned out, was the shorter sidekick character, and not the handsome man who had left him the cheque.

He stood looking at Junsu for a long time, trying his best to hide his disappointment and irritation at himself.

At first, Junsu just frowned at him, as if trying to place a familiar face. Then his eyes lit up, and he pointed at Changmin, "Ah! The boy from the bookstore!"

Changmin nodded and smiled thinly, resisting the urge to point at the other man and saying "Ah! The irritating hungry duckbutt from the bookstore!"

He held out the envelope. "Your friend- he left this for me, at the store, when I wasn't in. I can't accept this amount of money. Could you please return it to him for me?"

"My friend... you mean Yunho?" Junsu asked, taking the envelope from him. "He's not in right now, but I'll pass this to him for you."

Yunho. Changmin felt his heart leap from where it was sitting somewhere in his heels. What a beautiful name.

"Yes, yes, please help me pass this to Yunho-sshi." He liked the way the name felt on his tongue. Yunho-sshi. "Thank you!"

"Sure, it's no problem."

Changmin bowed again, then turned and got into the elevator. As the doors closed, he whispered the name under his breath, "Yunho-sshi" and smiled.

=========

Yunho stepped out of the elevator and saw Junsu chatting with the receptionist at the front counter.

"Xiah, are you skiving again?" he ribbed, smiling. "Don't we have a meeting to attend about the Kim-Hwang case?"

"Yunho! I'm not skiving! I was just meeting someone - the boy from the bookstore, remember? He was here to pass this back to you." Junsu held up the envelope. "He said he can't accept it. You just missed him. What's his name again-?"

"Changmin. Shim Changmin." Yunho whispered. He turned and made to get back into the elevator, but was stopped by Junsu's hand on his elbow.

"Where are you going, hyung? The meeting's going to start! Let's go." He tugged Yunho gently back into the office.

"But- but I-" Yunho protested to no avail as he was dragged through the door.

=========

The next day, Changmin was busying himself in the store after classes, humming to himself,  when his phone buzzed. It was a message from Jaejoong: "YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHO JUST WALKED IN MY DOOR. COME OVER NOW. NOW! URGENT!! NOW!!!"

Changmin winced. Was it really necessary to type in all-caps?

Two seconds again the phone buzzed again: "STOP DAWDLING. COME OVER!"

Sighing, Changmin padded over to Eiskaffee, wondering who this person was that Jaejoong wanted him to meet.

When he got to Eiskaffee, he found Jaejoong engaged in gregarious conversation with another man who was seated in one of the armchairs with his back facing the door.

"Changmin! You took long enough," Jaejoong hollered way too loudly, looking a little flushed. Was he drunk? So early in the day? "Come over, let me introduce the two of you."

The other man - was it just Changmin, or were there way too many mysterious men walking in and out of his life recently? - stood and turned around as he walked towards them. He had long wavy hair that covered his forehead and nearly half his face, and was dressed a in a black T-shirt and faded jeans under an oversized red hoodie.

"Hi, Park Yoochun," he introduced himself with hand outstretched, a smile on his face.

"Shim Changmin. Nice to meet you," the younger man returned warily. There was something about Yoochun's smile that spoke of hidden depths, and without knowing more, Changmin would step carefully around this person.

Even as they shook hands, Changmin saw a frown forming on Yoochun's face as if there was an itch behind his eyes he could not scratch, and the other man whipped his head to the side as an unearthly spasm of sneezes contorted him.

"AH-AH-CHOO! KIM JAEJOONG! Ah- What- Ah-CHOO! Don't tell me- AAAH-CHOO! This- this is the boy who's- Ah-choo! Who's working for Dad? AH-CHOOO!" Yoochun had backed several steps away from Changmin and Jaejoong, and was rooting around in his pocket for something. His face looked oddly puffy, and a red splotchy rash was appearing on his right hand and forearm. 

What was he saying, about Dad? His surname.. was Park?

"Are- are you okay? Do you need any help?" Changmin reached out towards the newcomer, but Yoochun waved his hands around wardingly.

"No, no! You just stay there! I have everything under control, okay?" He pulled a long pen-like contraption out of his pocket and planted it into his thigh as Changmin gasped, and was distantly aware of Jaejoong giggling in the background.

"Kim Jaejoong!" Yoochun rasped breathlessly. "You know what it's like- my allergy! And you- you got me to- Fuck you, Jaejoong!"

"Haha- I'm sorry, Yoochun, I- haha- I just couldn't resist. And isn't it just books? Why- ha- why would you be allergic to a person?" Jaejoong wiped tears out the corners of his eyes as Changmin looked increasingly confused at the dialogue that flew above his head.

Yoochun looked remarkably better now, the rash subsiding and his breathing easing as he slumped in the opposite corner of the shop. He pulled out some tablets from his pocket and even an inhaler, popping the tablets into his mouth before using the inhaler.

"Will you please tell me what's going on here?" Changmin stared daggers at Jaejoong.

=========

Ten minutes later, the three of them were seated, with Yoochun sitting directly opposite Changmin and Jaejoog between the two. Yoochun was now wearing a mask. "I'm fine," he insisted when Changmin looked at him worriedly, feeling guilty that he had caused this stranger such distress, "I'll be okay now I've taken my medications. Just- just don't touch me, okay?"

Changmin glared icily at Jaejoong. He had better have a good explanation for all this.

"Okay, once again, I'm really really sorry for everything. Yoochun, I'm sorry for getting Changmin to touch you even though I know about your condition. And Changmin, I'm sorry that I used you to play a prank on my old friend here, without your knowing. It was wrong of me." For once, the cafe owner actually looked contrite.

"Changmin, this is Park Yoochun. If you are wondering at his surname, yes, it's the same Park as in Park's Bookstore. Yoochun is Mr. Park's son."

Changmin's jaw dropped open in disbelief. "You mean- Mr. Park has a son? Yoochun-sshi is- Mr. Park's- son?"

"Yeah, no doubt about that," Yoochun's muffled voice emerged from behind the heavy-looking mask. "Jaejoong told me there was someone helping Dad out in the shop, but I had no idea it was you. Jae always made it sound like some fuddy-duddy old man. I wish- we had met under better circumstances."

As Changmin struggled to make sense of this new development (and use his stare to kill Jaejoong, for describing him as a "fuddy-duddy old man"), Yoochun continued his story, supplemented by Jaejoong.

Park Yoochun, aged 22, was a close childhood friend of Jaejoong's; they had grown up together on this very street.

The Park family was a pretty normal family, Mr. Park running the bookstore that his father had passed down to him, and Mrs. Park a librarian. They weren't a well-off family, but they were contented with what they had, including their mutual love of books, and also their only son, Yoochun.

Things changed when Yoochun turned ten and was reading in the bookstore one day, as he often did. He suddenly became short of breath, and as Mr. Park watched in horror, the boy's face puffed up until his eyes couldn't be seen and his swollen tongue blocked his throat. Within seconds he had turned a sickly shade of blue and collapsed to the ground.

Yoochun could not remember much of what happened next, except that he stayed for a long time in the hospital, the first few weeks in intensive care, recovering from that almost fatal attack. An extensive battery of tests were done for him during that stay, and revealed that he had a rare allergy to some component in the paper or binding of books. The doctors couldn't say why or how he had only developed it when he was ten, but they sternly advised that he was not to come into close contact with books after he was discharged.

Mr. Park was already greatly distressed by his son's long stay in hospital, and now, to be told that the boy was allergic to books, and couldn't go near books, or even people who had spent prolonged periods around books to be carrying microscopic book particles on them - it was too much for him to bear.

Mr. Park faced a choice between his son and the bookstore. It should have been an easy decision for some, but not for him. In the end, his wife made his mind up for him, and left him with Yoochun in tow, giving up her librarian job.

The older man had never quite been the same after that - Jaejoong quipped that he aged 20 years in a night, much to Yoochun's distress - and would potter around the bookstore muttering to himself, scaring many of the customers away. It was a wonder the store continued surviving.

After Yoochun turned eighteen, though, he dropped out of high school and founded a company with some friends exploring the concept of electronic books, to get over his inability to touch a physical book. That venture proved lucrative, and he was doing pretty well now.

Jaejoong added at this point that it was Yoochun who had been paying the rental for the bookstore for the last four years, without Mr. Park's knowledge.

"It's nothing much," Yoochun shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "It's well within my ability to, after all, and the old man was on the brink of getting kicked out of the place."

"Why don't you go and see him? Talk to him?" Changmin blurted.

"Are you crazy?" Jaejoong answered, "Being near you was enough to make his allergy go crazy. Can you imagine what would happen if he walked into the store?"

"I- I'm sorry, but I think there must be some way for you two to meet. There must be."

"I wish there were too. But it's just too dangerous." Yoochun sighed. "I've lost count of the number of times I've nearly collapsed because someone pulled a book out in front of me. I don't go out very much, and when I do I have to make sure I bring along all my medications."

"Well, you're lucky I don't read much, aren't you?" Jaejoong winked at Yoochun and the two shared a secretive smile. There was a lot more subtext here than they were letting on. 

"But what actually brings you here today? I've worked at the store for five years, and I never knew you existed!" the younger man questioned bluntly.

"Subtle as a sledgehammer, aren't we?" Jaejoong snipped as Yoochun flinched visibly, "Don't take it to heart, Chunnie, he's like that. What we haven't told you, Mr. Inquisitor, is that Yoochun's been staying in the United States of America with his mother since he was eleven. He just flew back yesterday."

"Oh." Changmin flushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry."

"Nah, it's fine," the other man waved good-naturedly. "Just, er, don't tell the old man I'm back as yet, will you?"

"But why? Mr. Park will be so happy if he knows-" A nudge from Jaejoong cut him short, and he noticed Yoochun's troubled expression. The cafe owner shot him a meaningful glance and gave a small shake of his head, and the younger man decided not to pursue the matter any further.

Changmin knew this was not something for him to be poking his nose into, but he could not help resolving that he would do whatever he could to reunite Mr. Park with his son.
 
"Okay, you must be hungry after all that talking!" Jaejoong crowed enthusiastically, "Cheesecake, anyone?"

=========

Changmin did not linger long at Eiskaffee, getting the distinct vibe that Jaejoong wanted to spend some quality time catching up with Yoochun, whom Changmin suspected was more than just a childhood friend to the cafe owner.

As he walked back to Park's Bookstore, thinking how he could arrange for a meeting between Mr. Park and Yoochun without the latter asphyxiating or wearing a spacesuit, he abruptly noticed a tall figure in front of the bookstore, trying the door only to find it locked.

The figure had an unmistakeable silhouette. Changmin gulped as his heart galloped away, and tried his best to calm himself as the figure turned around and saw him as well.

They stood looking at each other for a long time in the light of the setting sun and the stiff autumn air.

"I-" they both started at the same time.

Yunho laughed, a warm sound that lifted Changmin's heart and made him wish he could listen to that laugh forever.

"You first," Yunho bowed his head slightly. 

"I- I'm Shim Changmin. Nice to meet you!" Changmin managed. No way they were going to go on not knowing each other's names.

"Ah, yes, we haven't been formally introduced. Where are my manners?" the older man replied with a sheepish look and a lopsided smile, "Jung Yunho. Nice to meet you."

They shook hands, and Changmin's insides tingled at the feel of his firm grip again. At least here was a person who wouldn't collapse from shaking his hand, and for that he was grateful.

"I- I couldn't accept the money. It's too much." He mentally slapped himself. Idiot, you're face to face with someone this hot, and that's all you can think to say?

"No, I must insist that you accept it. But perhaps we can talk inside the store, where it's warmer?" Yunho suggested gently.

"Ah- I'm so sorry! Yes, please come in." Changmin's face burned as he fumbled in his pocket for the keys. He was doing everything wrong.

Within moments they were seated in the store on two simple wooden stools Changmin had pulled out from behind the counter.

"I'm sorry I can't get you anything to drink, Yunho-sshi. There isn't anything in the store-" Changmin started apologetically.

Yunho smiled reassuringly. "It's fine, don't worry about it, and please call me Yunho, no need for formality."

"Please, you have to accept this cheque," Yunho continued, holding the envelope out to Changmin, "It really is what the book is worth. Please accept it."

"No, no I can't, Yunho. It's too much! And you've already given me quite enough." The sum Yunho had already pushed into Changmin's hands that day was sufficient to pay for six months' rent. "I cannot accept this. Please keep it."

Yunho frowned, then nodded. "If you insist. Then, allow me to insist that I buy you dinner, at least. May I?"

"Now?" Changmin blurted.

Yunho laughed again, and the younger man felt his cheeks warming, "If you are agreeable, why not? It's just about time for dinner, after all, and I'm starving. So, how about it?"

"Er- okay.." he replied hesitantly. "But- I'm not really dressed for-" He indicated his simple outfit of polo T-shirt and slacks under a sweater.

"Don't worry about it!" Yunho reassured him, "You look good in it, and that's what matters. Anyway, I don't think a restaurant should restrict what its customers wear when we're the ones paying."

Did he just say I looked good? Changmin wondered if his heart could survive dinner, at the rate this was going.

=========

Changmin drank nervously from his glass after they had ordered, looking across the table at Yunho. The latter had recommended a quaint family-style Korean restaurant two blocks down, and had walked there briskly in general silence, shoulders hunched against the frigid night air. Yunho kept looking at Changmin, though, that lopsided smile of his turning the younger man's brain to mush.

There was way too much awkward silence now, and if Changmin looked into Yunho's fathomless eyes one more second, he knew it would be the end of his sanity. Not that there was much of it left.

Something suddenly occurred to him, and came out his mouth before he had time to think. "Your name is Jung Yunho. Does that mean- you're that Jung Yunho? The famous lawyer?"

A frown creased the handsome man's brows and a shadowed look crept into his eyes, and Changmin cursed his stupidity for the umpteenth time that night. He had obviously entered unwelcome territory.

"Everyone calls me that Jung Yunho, as if I'm a thing. Am I not a person too?" Yunho's tone was calm, measured, but held an edge, his anger kept closely in check.

"I'm sorry, Yunho. I didn't think-"

He felt a gentle touch against his forearm, and looked up to see the other man leaning across the table, the shadow in his eyes gone as quickly as it had come, his gaze holding nothing but apology now. "No, I'm sorry, I was too harsh. Forgive me."

"It's just- I wish people could get to know me for what I am, instead of what they've heard about me. You know what I mean?" His hand was still resting against Changmin's forearm, sending jolts of electricity up to the younger man's neck.

Jung Yunho was something approaching legend in the world of litigation, having graduated from law school at the young age of 22, and in the two years since graduation, tackled uncommonly challenging criminal cases and revealed his keen intellect and quick wits in the courtroom, impressing many a judge and winning every case he had taken on. 

The new law prodigy, he was called, and many magazines had approached him to appear in feature articles, but he had refused all of them. He guarded his privacy fiercely, and was rarely photographed.

Changmin could not quite believe that this really was Jung Yunho, sitting in front of him. And he could also understand Yunho's anger at having his reputation precede him at every turn, a barrier between him and the world.

"Don't worry, Yunho. I won't let what I've heard about you influence what I think about you." Because you've already taken my heart even before I knew your name. "I- I want to be your friend."

Yunho's eyes crinkled as he smiled. "Thank you, Changmin. I would be honoured to have you as my friend." He gave Changmin's forearm a tight squeeze, then pulled his arm back as the waiter arrived with their food.

"Let's tuck in first. I'm famished!" Yunho picked up his spoon and started on his dubu jjigae.

As Changmin slurped up the last dregs of his kimchi jjigae, he realised that Yunho was barely halfway through his own food. He silently cursed his uncontrollably ravenous appetite, hoping that the other man would not notice as he quietly nudged the two grains of rice left in the bottom of his bowl. 

"Would you like more food?" Yunho waved for the waitress, startling Changmin, who waved his hands, saying a little too loudly, "No, no, it's okay! I'm full!" before clamping his mouth shut and staring at his polished-off meal in mortified silence. He wanted to sink below the table and out of sight. 

"It's okay, just order more! I insist."

Changmin reluctantly ordered another kimchi jjigae. Yunho must think him a glutton. "Sorry, I've got- a pretty big appetite," he proffered apologetically.

"Mm-mm!" Yunho shook his head firmly. "Relax, I'm happy you're enjoying the food. It must be great to have such a good appetite. Me, I get full easily, but I get hungry even faster. It's quite a pain."

As expected from a lawyer, everything Yunho said was perfectly worded, his words careful and well-thought out. He was always in control of the conversation.

However, Changmin could not help but feel that the lawyer's careful speech made him seem slightly guarded, despite his warmth. It was almost as if Yunho's true self was hidden behind a cleverly constructed wall of diplomacy.

"So, you know enough about me from the press. Tell me about yourself." the older man asked between mouthfuls of tofu. "I want to know more about Shim Changmin."

"Me? There's nothing interesting about me. I'm just-" Just a lovestruck idiot wanting you so much it hurts. "-just a student, working part-time in a bookstore. Boring."

"Don't say that. Tell me how you started working in the bookstore."

Frankly confused as to how anyone could be interested in him, Changmin gave a halting, pared-down account of his discovery of the bookstore and how Mr. Park hired him. The lawyer seemed to genuinely engaged in the story, however, and popped a question every so often for more details in the story. Changmin obliged as far as he could, determinedly staying away from the topic of his conversing handicap.

Yunho then went on to other details of Changmin's life - where he was born, where he lived, how many siblings he had, where he went to school, what he was studying. Changmin was happy to oblige - it was not difficult to answer these questions, and he felt that as he responded to the other's questions, they were both loosening up and becoming more comfortable with each other's company.

"Okay, can I take a break from the cross-questioning?" he joked, having devoured his second bowl of jjigae and taking a sip of water between questions, "I haven't asked you anything yet."

A look of alarm leaped across the handsome lawyer's face. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it seem that way, I- it's an occupational hazard."

"No, no, I'm just joking!" Changmin laughed. "Don't be so serious!"

He stopped, realising that Yunho was looking at him very intently. "What, is there something on my teeth?" He covered his mouth self-consciously.

"No, you don't. Your laugh- You have a nice laugh. I haven't heard it until now."  Yunho mumbled, strangely shy all of a sudden.

For the umpteenth time that day Changmin felt his face burning up. I would laugh any time you wanted me to. "Not as nice as yours," he blurted.

He thought he saw Yunho's cheeks redden very slightly as the other man smiled and took a sip from his own glass. 

"It's getting late. Let me send you home?" the lawyer queried, calling for the bill.

"It's okay, I usually sleep over at the bookstore anyway, it's more convenient that way." Looking at his watch, Changmin was surprised that it was indeed late. How long had they spent talking?

"Okay, then let me walk you back, at least. I parked near the store, anyway."

=========

On the way back, as they walked in the half-awkward silence of newly made acquaintances having expended the standard battery of conversation topics and not quite knowing what else to talk about, Changmin silently realised that Yunho had cleverly avoided talking about himself throughout the evening. The other man suddenly seemed even more guarded and secretive in hindsight, and Changmin dared not probe further. 

He reflected that their conversation over dinner had actually gone pretty well despite his debilitating honesty, and he was not going to ruin that just because of his curiosity. Anyway, who knew if he would even see the lawyer again.

A wave of melancholy swept through him as he realised that this might have been the first and last meal he would ever share with this man.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Yunho's gentle question broke the surface of his thoughts. They had already reached the bookstore.

"I- nothing." Changmin smiled. "Thank you for the dinner. It was delicious."

"I'm glad you liked it. It's nothing compared to the huge favour you did me by finding that book."

They stood in front of the bookstore for a few moments, looking at each other, hands tucked in their pockets and breaths making little white wisps that mingled in the cold air between them.

"Well... I guess this is goodbye, then," Changmin forced in a cheery tone of voice.

"I guess," Yunho replied softly, voice heavy with reluctance.

Their eyes locked for what felt like an eternity, each struggling to say something more but the words failing to emerge.

"G'nite, Yunho," Changmin whispered finally, and headed to the door, a voice in his mind silently screaming Ask him for his number! Are you just going to let him walk away?

"Wait." He heard from behind him, a hand on his elbow. Turning around, his breath caught as Yunho took his hand and pushed something into it.

"Call me, okay?" the other man breathed, an awkward half smile on his lips. Before Changmin could answer, he ran back to the pavement and waved his arm in a wide goodbye arc, then turned and headed to his car.

Changmin looked at the thing in his palm. It was Yunho's namecard, and it had his mobile number scribbled on it. He felt his heart clench in dizzying elation, a smile of disbelief splitting his face.

His joyous thoughts dissipated when he opened the door and turned on the lights.

Lying in the central aisle of the bookstore was the sprawled form of Mr. Park. 

~(o~~o~~o~~o~~o)~


Please read Chapter 1, if you've not already done so, before reading this!

As always, comments are love and really appreciated :)


Chapter 1 |
 


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Thanks for the very encouraging comments! Haha yes there's a hint of JaeChun there, you're right. :P

Still having a headache over Chapter 3 sigh, will take a while to post that one.

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