Title: Across the Line
Chapter: [8 / ?]
Genre: AU (flangst, romance)
Summary: When you're a kid, no one tells you how hard it is to grow up; how easy it is to forget who you are. But if you don't know who you are anymore, how are you supposed to deal with all the lines?
Hate/Love Real/Fake Hero/Enemy Lust/Madness Lost/Found Past/Future
Hate/Love Real/Fake Hero/Enemy Lust/Madness Lost/Found Past/Future
It's a strange new world across the line, but two men are going to have to cross it if they ever hope to find their answers—and each other.
A/N: This chapter ended up being too big to post as one, so here is the first bit. ^^
Jaejoong stared up at the shelf, at all the shining treasures he couldn’t reach. Even if he stood on the bed he couldn’t reach the dark wood so he did the only thing he could—he used his eyes. At least on the bed he could see better.
He swayed carefully on his perch on the lumpy mattress and examined each beautiful trophy lined up across the shelf like proud, shining soldiers. He had a box full of toys back home but they were nothing compared to these things. Even Santa couldn’t get you these; you had to earn them when you were really, really good at things. They were special.
Jaejoong wanted one so bad!
Jaejoong leaned up on his tippytoes to see them better. They all had a big square base and then on top of that the golden figures were standing on different coloured boxes. “Red…Blue…Par-pul…”
Jaejoong’s feet reached the end of the bed and he stopped before he fell off. Why wasn’t his grandmother’s bed bigger? He wanted to see the green one!
Moving back up the bed, he stopped in front of the red one and leant forward as far as he could without losing his balance. The golden person was leaning back and holding a tennis stick above their head, ready to hit an invisible ball. Jaejoong wondered if their arms moved up and down like his batman figurine. He could make a ball for them to play with. Batman was much shorter than the golden person though. He might need to help Batman levitate so they would be even…
Jaejoong carefully examined the other golden people to see if there was anyone smaller who could play with his Batman but they all looked the same. All but one trophy at the very end, which looked different to the others. There wasn’t a golden person on it, there were just two tennis sticks crossed over like two lollipops making an X. Those tennis sticks were much bigger than the ones the golden people were holding; they were even bigger than Batman’s arms! He didn’t know why that trophy was different to the other ones, but he decided it was really cool too. He would ask his grandma about it. Maybe she’d even let him touch it…
A shadow appeared near him and he realised too late who it was. He jerked back in guilt, lost his footing, and fell onto the mattress right onto his bum! He could feel butterflies hitting the side of his stomach but he turned his head to face the shadow anyway—it was always best get it over with, even though his cheeks were really hot now.
“Little Man, what are you doing in my room?”
Jaejoong knew he wasn’t supposed to be in his grandma’s bedroom—at least not by himself. His mother told him it was rude, that he had to always get permission from the room’s owner before he could enter it. But Grandma was different. She had rules, but she would always bend down to whisper in Jaejoong’s ear when no one was around that he could try it anyway—their little secret. She had never caught him in her room before though… He knew it was wrong, that it was a risk, but part of him relied on that twinkle in his grandma’s eyes.
With his body still frozen still, he searched her face now for the signs—the slight softening of her eyes, the small smile—and he was relieved to find that yes, she didn’t mind this secret visit.
“I like your room,” he announced.
“Do you, Little Man?”
“Mmhmm!” Jaejoong nodded his head vigorously. Then he scrambled back up onto his feet.
His grandma examined his perch on her bed and then her eyes moved to the shelf nearby. With a knowing smile, she walked over and stood by the bed, next to Jaejoong. Her head was only a little taller than his while he stood on her bed, but her arms were so much longer; they could reach the golden treasures with ease.
Jaejoong looked on with a pout. It wasn’t fair that his arms were so short. Sometimes at night he would pray to the man in the clouds to help them grow whilst he slept. In the mornings he’d rip the sheets off and extend them but they’d always look the same. His father told him he wasn’t allowed to have long arms yet because he was only useful when he could reach the things his father dropped behind the desk or behind the couch. That was because only Jaejoong could fit through the small cracks. It was a nice power, Jaejoong had to admit, but longer arms would be cool too. He could be like his go-go-gadget action figure and extend his arms whenever he wanted to. He could still be useful for his father then.
He watched his grandma’s hands run gently across the shelf. “Which trophy would you like to see?” Her face was all lit up and rosy, like showing Jaejoong her collection was the most exciting thing in the whole wide world. Jaejoong understood that; it was like when he showed her his marble collection and she got down on her knees and picked each one up with envy. His car set too! The things they both collected were cool and it was exciting to share. His mother and father were never as impressed though, so he always made sure to keep his collections for his grandma only.
“I want the red one and the green one and the little one!” he said and then beamed when he saw his grandma start to pull them down for him.
“The red. The green. The baby.” Once they were all collected, the trophies lay nestled in his grandma’s arms. “Let’s sit down and look, shall we?”
Jaejoong nodded. He couldn’t look away from the treasures in his grandma’s wrinkled hands. He didn’t even know if he was sitting in the right spot or if his grandma had meant another room—he hoped not, the bed was comfy and quick. But it was okay because his grandma sat down next to him on her bed and held the red one out to him. He took it from her eagerly but then heard his mother’s displeased voice in his head and he looked up at his grandma. She only smiled at him and he smiled back in relief.
The trophy wasn’t as heavy to hold as he had expected but it was so tall. It was as long as his elbow! Jaejoong touched the golden figure’s head and felt the smoothness. Then he felt the little squares on the round part of the tennis stick beneath his fingers. He ran his fingers down the sparkly red pedestal, and then he felt the dents of letters written across the gold rectangle on the base.
He stared up at his grandmother. “What does that say?”
She leaned in close; she smelt like flowers, like the white ones in her garden. Then she read it out to him. “Women’s champion. 1979.” She then held up the rest of the trophies he had picked out and read all of the writing on them too.
Jaejoong nodded. “That’s good.”
His grandmother laughed and ran her fingers through his hair. “Yes, it’s good.”
“Why is that one different?” He pointed at the smallest one. Finally he could know.
“Oh, this one?” She smiled at it fondly before she handed it over to him. “It was a smaller competition. It’s a lot older than the rest too.”
Jaejoong nodded and ran his fingers over it with care.
“It is also yours.”
Jaejoong looked up from the golden X of the crossed tennis sticks—definitely as big as Batman’s arms—and gazed with big eyes at his grandma. He did not understand; how could this one be his?
“I want you to have this one,” his grandma said. “It reminds me of you. Keep it safe. I know you will—I trust you.”
“I can keep it?” Jaejoong asked, just to be sure. He couldn’t believe something so wonderful could actually be true.
“Yes you can, Little Man. It can be the start of your own collection. When you are old enough to win your own, you can put them on a shelf with this one just like I have.”
“Yes!” Jaejoong exclaimed. “I will, Grandma, I will! It’ll be awesome and we can have a matching set!”
His grandma chuckled. “Not quite, sweetheart. You’re a boy. You’ll get ones with a boy on them.”
“Those aren’t boys?” His eyes were wide as he looked at the two tall trophies in his grandma’s hands.
“No, darling. Look closely.”
She moved it up to his face and he peered at the golden head. “It’s a boy!” he insisted. His grandma was trying to trick him. He was too smart for that though.
“She has a ponytail, Little Man.”
“Boys have those too!” he insisted.
“Not normally.” She gave a chuckle and muttered, “Boy oh boy, we see what we want to see, don’t we?” Then she looked back at him. “She has bumps on her chest. Do you see? Boys don’t have that. She’s wearing a skirt too.”
“Oh.” Now he could see.
“On boy trophies, they wear pants. Just like you.”
“’Kay,” Jaejoong nodded. “Then I will collect pants. You collect the girls.”
“It’s a deal.” She was smiling when she shook his hand.
For the rest of the day Jaejoong didn’t let go of the present his grandma had given him. For nap time, he sat it next to his pillow and watched it until he got too sleepy to keep his eyes open. Then when he got home, he laid it carefully on his desk, right in the middle.
He was going to get lots of them. Just like Grandma.
Jay looked away from the shelf and over to the woman who loved him most in the world. “Nothing.” It sounded more like a question than a statement—not that any alternative would have fooled his grandmother.
“I can’t remember the last time I found you in here.”
Jay looked around the trophy room; one wall for his grandmother’s collection, two walls for his. Each trophy was carefully placed and dusted. Each framed photo on the wall was straight and shining. This was a room with a lot of pride in it; a grandmother’s love for her grandson.
It was also a biography of his life. The beginning, and then each year until his eighteenth—the beginning of the end. There were dozens of trophies and huge blown-up photos hanging on the wall of him holding some of them. There were also replicas of the more prestigious ones he had won but hadn’t been allowed to keep. ITF Junior runner ups… ITF Junior winners… There were also some framed newspaper clippings that were yellowing, and if you looked close enough—which he wouldn’t—you could see text that raved about his advancement to number one junior male in the world.
His grandmother had only moved into the townhouse two years ago but she had set all of it up with loving care. It was always relevant for her. Achievements were hung up or displayed, not kept in a cupboard—that was her rule. So she had taken all of it and did what he couldn’t. She said she was just minding them for him, like how he had taken care of her baby trophy when he was four. His collection, all of it, would be here in her good hands until he was ready to take it back.
“In fact,” his grandmother continued, “I normally keep the door closed when I know you’re coming over.”
She did. He came here nearly every morning before work and the door was always closed. As it had been today. Which she knew. It was her way of asking without asking.
“It’s been a while,” he said.
“I thought I’d come look at it. Pay homage…before I have to play dumb.”
He saw her confusion and gave a small smile. “I was asked by Seunghyun to play some tennis with the club for a special event to celebrate the opening of our second court.”
Something flashed across his grandmother’s face but she caught it in time and buried it beneath her usual nonchalance. As always, Jay was thankful for her tactfulness. He didn’t want to watch any of her hope be crushed. The racket he would be picking up would be with Kim Jay’s hand, not Kim Jaejoong’s. Convincing his muscle memory of that, however, was another challenge…
“So you are playing a bit of tennis again then?” This time he could hear the hope in her question and his chest tightened.
“Just for one day.” That was an explanation fit for the tea and coffee that was doubtlessly going cold in the living room. He led the way out of the trophy room and softly shut the door behind them.
The living room was also immaculately clean. No housekeeper did it—just his grandmother’s determination and care.
He waited for his grandmother to slowly ease herself down onto the couch and then sat down next to her. The couch’s print was too floral for him to appreciate but the pale blue throwovers hid most of it from sight. That wasn’t the only colour in the room; the walls were as outrageous as his grandmother—a dark shade of plum. Then there was caramel in the kitchen, azure in the bathroom, teal in the trophy room and pink in her bedroom. Each room’s designated colour made a very strong statement, but to her credit they all worked.
He blew on his coffee out of habit as he looked around and then finally began to fill his grandmother in on their 100 Days event plans. She listened with rapt attention as she sipped at her tea. She let him explain it without a word of interruption but Jay could see the fire in her eyes. It made him smile. He could imagine how much he veins were thrumming with the deep-seated love she had for the sport. He couldn’t wait to deliver the final line.
“But we were wondering…would you be our umpire?”
She took another sip of tea but Jay could see the slight tremor of the cup against her mouth. “An umpire?” Her fingers slowly stroked the rim of her floral cup. “For yourself, Seunghyun, Jung Yunho…and Yoochun?”
“How much will you pay me?”
Jay tried not to spill any coffee as he laughed. His grandmother’s relationship with Yoochun was as healthy as anyone else’s, but it was also a taxing one. Yoochun loved it when Jay’s grandmother played the scolding grandmother card on him so he often upped the ante to provoke her. Fortunately, she loved him just as much and was all too happy to call out his crap.
“How much are you asking for?” Jay inquired with a grin.
“Hmm.” She ran her hand over the floral armrest and smoothed down he blue throwover. “I’d be the umpire for three gentlemen and a monkey. And my grandson and said monkey will be running around in skirts?”
“You didn’t need to point that one out, dear.”
And Jay laughed again.
“Honestly,” she said, “it’s like my trophies all over again.”
It took a moment for him to recall the reference and then he was grinning. “I do have quite the affinity with female tennis figures.”
“You do? This is news for me, dear.”
Jay almost spilled his coffee all over his lap when he sprung forwards in a bout of laughter. This little firecracker beside him had not dulled at all with age. The firecracker gene had skipped a generation—his mother couldn’t be more opposite—but it had found him. His mother had never understood it, never had a bond like he and his grandmother had. Perhaps that was why she had been swept away by her asshole husband.
Granny Kim was the strongest woman in Jay’s life. His rock. His crutch. Without her he didn’t know where he’d be. He’d needed that strength growing up. His mother had never stood up for him, not even for the smallest things, not even when his father overstepped the line. His grandmother had though, and that was why his father had never gotten along with her—he could never control her. Well, Jay thought as he swallowed the rest of his coffee down, his asshole father had finally pulled the strings hard enough and they had both fucked off with the excuse of retirement. At least this way he got to keep their furniture for the club. He figured he and his grandmother were far better off without them.
And his grandmother at least took his sexuality seriously and without judgement—like most of the things in his life.
Jay turned to his grandmother and his lips twisted into a smirk. “I do have an affinity for female tennis figures,” he repeated. “But true to my word, I work hard to collect the boys.”
“And break your grandmother’s heart, not providing her with grandchildren.”
“First, you’re speaking in the third person. Second, I provided you with Yoochun.”
“How could I forget?”
He smirked at her until her bony hand cupped his jaw and pulled his cheek over for a kiss. Then he beamed.
“So will you be our umpire?”
“I would be delighted to.”
This time Jay was the one to put down his coffee mug and gently kiss her cheek. She found his hand and covered it with both of hers. His grandmother rarely spoke affection out loud. You felt it more than anything, but you never doubted it. That was her way. She had brought Jay up with a thousand unspoken words and now it was a language they both shared.
He did not want to steal all of the credit for her happiness though. “Actually, Jung Yunho was the first to suggest you. He’s heard all about you.”
“And I about him.” She saw his face and gave him a knowing look. “Not under this roof. I tend to bump into his parents quite a bit at the grocery store.”
“Yes. Almost every week. A lot of us have our routines, you know?”
“What do you even talk about?”
“His career. How he’s going.”
“Really? He didn’t seem to know you.”
“He’s not here long enough, is he?”
“That’s true,” Jay conceded. Then frowned. “They could have at least invited you over to dinner with him or something if they knew how supportive you are behind the scenes.” He moved to drink some more coffee and then remembered he had already finished it. Now he was unsatisfied on several levels.
“Oh, they have offered something like that this time.”
Jay stopped and looked at her. The fact that she had said it quietly only made it feel worse. “What? They did? Why haven’t you gone?” He didn’t really need an answer to that though; he’d known it almost as soon as he had finished asking. And from the look on her face, she hadn’t bothered to hide much of the truth either. “Why?” he asked again.
“I see them nearly every week. There’s not much need to extend that time.” That was a bunch of baloney.
“He goes grocery shopping with them?” Jay asked doubtfully and she gave him another look. He dropped his eyes and then gazed at the opposite wall. He couldn’t believe it, that of all the iron ladies in the world, his grandmother had turned someone down—because of him. Because of a dumb, unfounded grudge that she knew was just a dumb, unfounded grudge.
The strongest woman he knew was scared—of him. Because of him. Because he had run away. He thought she had trusted him again; he had visited her here almost every day since he’d come back to Korea, but the threat of how he’d react to one lunch had made her decline it? Because what? If he thought she was favouring Jung Yunho, he would just pack his stuff up and disappear from her again for another four years? Had he really traumatized her that badly?
Of course he had. They had been each other’s everything and he had left. She hadn’t known where he went after military service anymore than his parents had. She had had nowhere to send mail to, no phone to call, no way of knowing whether he was safe. And as hard as he’d tried to be a normal, reliable grandson again after his grandfather had passed away, the way he must have always shut down at the mention of Jung Yunho… He wouldn’t have trusted himself not to leave again either.
“I’m not like that anymore…” he said quietly and then locked eyes with his grandmother. “I was young when it happened—it happened because I was young. It was all too much and I didn’t know how to handle it. Naturally, that meant I handled it all wrong. But no matter how crap I feel, I would never leave you again. I think that’s what’s called being an adult,” he said with a wry smile. “And you should never tiptoe around me. You shouldn’t decline dinner invitations with probably really nice people just because you’re worried I’ll blow a fuse. And not over Jung Yunho. He’s…” Jay tilted his head, looking for the words. He was just delaying the inevitable. He was an adult with balls, he could just bloody say it already. “He isn’t actually all that bad.”
He looked up and found his grandmother smiling at him. “What?” he asked but she just shrugged daintily and reached for her teacup. “What?” he repeated.
“Nothing, dear.” And then she was sipping from the little floral teacup. What a ruse! Jay knew there was no tea in there anymore.
Jay leant back in his chair and tried not to scowl. So he had mentioned Yunho’s name without sounding like he wanted to rip off his neck, it wasn’t a big deal. She had always known he didn’t actually hate him anyway. There was no need to be so amused by the whole sulking brat admitting to his errors routine.
“Well.” She lowered the empty teacup again. “With all this in mind, I look forward to finally meeting the Jungs’ son. As your umpire.”
Oh god, the 100 Days event. What was his grandmother going to be like when she saw him talking normally to Yunho? Was she going to stuff her handkerchief half down her mouth just not to laugh? His grandmother was always tactful but if she had her heart set on teasing someone, all that flew out the window. And if she was playful, things could slip. His chest tightened and he closed his eyes briefly. “Please…” he said softly. “Please don’t tell them about me.” It was maybe an unnecessary request but he needed to know.
His grandmother looked at him for a long moment, her face as empty as her teacup and Jay felt the tension in his chest tighten further. The question may have come a little out of the blue, but both of them knew it had been lurking for a while. Jay also knew that blank expression on his grandmother’s face; knew what it meant. He never liked to see his grandmother upset, even more so when it was because of him.
Jay’s grandmother was a very reasonable lady, as understanding as she was strong. She had always respected all of his unspoken wishes. But this omission, this new life, Jay knew, was something even she struggled to accept. The day he had changed his name had gravely hurt her. She had raised a child, Kim Jaejoong, and given her everything to him. He would always be Jaejoong to her; she would never let go of that even though he had. She loved all of him more than he ever deserved.
The end of his career had been traumatic and she’d watched him fall, but he had hidden the worst from her. If she’d ever seen the way he’d acted in Australia… That was a secret he’d take to his grave. In some way, she knew though. That damn connection they had… Still, having a vague idea about it and knowing the exact details were very different things and he’d never let her know the full truth.
Regardless of how badly he had gone off the rails though, changing his name and becoming someone else had been his only life raft at the time—and that was something she was very aware of. Out of respect for that, she rarely slipped up and called him Jaejoong, but neither had she ever called him Jay. Now he only heard terms of endearment or ‘grandson.’ That had been her compromise; that had been all she could handle. It was always going to be a sore spot. More than even the room full of trophies.
She hadn’t answered his request though. Which meant she wanted more.
“You don’t have to call me ‘Jay’ but…please don’t call me ‘Jaejoong’ in front of them. I’m not ready for them to know… Not yet.”
They shared a look for a long moment and then a hint of resignation broke through the blankness on her face. She looked sad but she squeezed his hand. “Then I won’t say a word.”
He nodded slowly. His chest was still tight as anything but it always was when it came to this. After a moment he moved his coffee mug and her teacup out of the way and set them down on the coffee table. Then he curled up in the chair by her side and rested his head on her shoulder.
The second half of this chapter is almost done. A bridging scene was annoying me so I thought I may as well post the first part of the chapter whilst I wrestle with that section in the second half. It needs to be perfect, let's just say that. ^_~
Now who wants to squish little Jaejoong's cheeks with me?
Current Music: Hi-5 -- Dream On [Little Jaejoong POV]