Title: Crossing Paths
Word count: 2,638
Summary: Jongwoon meets and falls for a busker with a beautiful voice, on his evening jogs at the park.
A/N: For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term 'busking', here's a Wikipedia article on the practice.
It’s a ritual for Jongwoon to go jogging every evening at the park near his house, puffing and perspiring, baked by the sun or soaked in the rain as the weather pleases. It doesn’t really matter to him, because he enjoys his exercise routine, and he doesn’t stop for anything, except the busker who sits on a bench near the end of his jogging route and sings.
Under normal circumstances, Jongwoon wouldn’t stop for anything or anyone in the world, caught up as he is in every heavy step and each painful breath. But there’s something about that busker’s voice that makes Jongwoon slow down and then stop, chest heaving, as he takes in the lovely notes of his voice.
He’s always there on most fine days, a lean, lanky young man with a rich mellow voice that puts images of smoky jazz clubs and warm caramel into Jongwoon’s mind. He’s also got the prettiest eyes Jongwoon’s ever seen, he thinks, expressive and long-lashed and strangely sad. In fact, Jongwoon’s probably more taken with his eyes than with his voice, because the first time he’d seen the busker, his eyes had locked onto Jongwoon’s face and stared at him, slightly unfocused but beautiful, blinking slowly against the sunlight behind Jongwoon, and Jongwoon had stopped and stared back.
Jongwoon never stops for more than one song, however. He listens to the busker sing, and when he finishes, he drops a few notes (he’d learned to carry some money tucked into the pocket of his jogging shorts after the first few times) into the little box on the bench next to the busker, which usually has nothing more than a pathetic handful of coins lying in it. Sometimes the busker inclines his head and smiles a little in thanks; sometimes he doesn’t, instead launching into another slow melody and appearing not to notice Jongwoon at all.
Jongwoon wishes he can stand there all day and listen to – or watch – him sing, except that the busker would probably start thinking he’s a stalker and call the police on him. He can’t help wondering more about him though – why is a young healthy man like him busking? Where does he live? Does he sit there and sing all day for an amount of money that’s probably just enough to buy him a couple of meals each day and nothing more? How does he survive?
If Jongwoon admits it to himself, that’s another reason why he doesn’t stay there listening to the busker – he shouldn’t even be having so much interest in the life of a person he doesn’t know at all.
Jongwoon’s slightly late for his jog one evening, as he’s been stuck in the office, but he sets off anyway, unconsciously running faster than usual, just so he can reach the bench where the busker is, because he doesn’t know when he packs up and leaves for the day.
He’s relieved when he reaches the spot and the busker is still there, singing as usual, voice like butter on the evening air, and he stops, panting as he tries to catch his breath, allowing the notes of the song to wash over him. Jongwoon recognizes it; it’s an old classic, slow and melancholy, and a song that he loves, and he digs in his pocket for money, pulling out more than he normally does before walking over and dropping the notes into the box.
That’s when he notices something strange for the first time; the busker’s looking straight ahead, not noticing Jongwoon right next to him, staring directly into the harsh light of the setting sun and not blinking at all. He reaches out, hand barely brushing across Jongwoon, and takes the box into his lap, where he covers it with a lid and puts it into a backpack, before fumbling under the bench and pulling out something.
And as Jongwoon watches, the busker slings his bag over his shoulder and walks away slowly, the cane he pulled out from under the bench making soft rhythmic tap tap tap sounds on the path, his eyes still wide open and staring at nothing, and Jongwoon realizes: the boy is blind.
The next day, when he stops as usual next to the busker, he bends down to place his notes in the box, but instead of just dropping them in he pushes at the coins inside so they clink against each other, and the busker stiffens, cutting his song off abruptly and turning his head in Jongwoon’s direction.
“Hello?” he says, his speaking voice slightly deeper than his singing one, but no less entrancing, and Jongwoon feels inexplicably sad at how the busker’s looking straight at him, but not seeing him.
“Hi,” he says quickly in return. “I’m sorry for startling you, I was just… giving something.” He pauses awkwardly, not sure how to phrase his words in a way that doesn’t sound demeaning.
The busker smiles though, and to Jongwoon that smile makes him look much younger, somehow, brightening his face and wiping away the sadness in his eyes, and he smiles back even though he knows the boy can’t see him.
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” the busker says. “But it’s just that there have been a few times when the money in my box was stolen, so I’m more wary nowadays.”
Jongwoon steps back quickly from the bench. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he says, and the busker shrugs.
“It happens,” he says quietly. “That’s a disadvantage when you can’t see who’s coming near you.” The sadness settles over his eyes again, and Jongwoon casts about for something to say.
“Well, you’re good,” he begins, fidgeting. “You sing really well, I like your voice.”
The busker smiles, and tilts his head in Jongwoon’s general direction. “Thanks.” He takes a deep breath and begins to sing again, voice starting out soft and swelling slowly like a wave, and Jongwoon stands stock-still, watching him, watching how he sways ever so slightly to the song, how his eyes stare ahead, perfectly-formed and beautiful but blank.
When his song ends, Jongwoon blinks away the tears in his own eyes and claps before thanking him, and the busker nods before taking up his cane and his box.
“What’s your name?” Jongwoon calls after him as he makes to walk away, and he pauses, the tip of his cane dragging over the gravel on the path.
“Kyuhyun,” he says, and Jongwoon lets out a long breath he hasn’t realized he’s been holding.
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” he promises, and Kyuhyun shrugs again before walking away slowly, leaving Jongwoon behind.
“I’m Jongwoon,” he tells Kyuhyun a few days later, watching as he packs up and prepares to leave.
“Nice meeting you,” Kyuhyun says, smiling a little, as if they haven’t been talking already every day, and Jongwoon can’t help but laugh a little at the absurdity of that. Kyuhyun’s rather taciturn though, not that Jongwoon can blame him for having his defenses up.
But this time, instead of just watching Kyuhyun as he walks away, he falls into step next to him, following as Kyuhyun taps ahead of him with his cane, mouthing silently under his breath to count the number of steps he’s taking.
“Are you going home?” Jongwoon asks, taking Kyuhyun’s arm to steer him gently in the right direction; he keeps his hand on Kyuhyun’s elbow and is slightly surprised at how natural it feels, and Kyuhyun doesn’t seem to mind either, stiffening at first but then relaxing the moment he hears Jongwoon’s voice.
“Yeah,” Kyuhyun replies, keeping on with his slow but steady pace, looking straight ahead with those beautiful glassy eyes. “Don’t you normally leave at this time too?”
"I –" and here Jongwoon pauses, not too sure what to say. He’s still holding Kyuhyun’s arm and the warmth of Kyuhyun’s skin through his t-shirt is making his thoughts a little hazy, even as the bone of his elbow protrudes almost painfully and pushes into Jongwoon’s palm.
“I was going to get dinner,” he says impulsively, noting how they’re almost at the end of the path; he can hear the cars whizzing by on the main road outside the park already, and soon enough they’ll reach the road and go their separate ways. “I was wondering if you’d like to join me?”
The soft tap tap of Kyuhyun’s cane stops, and so does Kyuhyun himself. He tenses up in Jongwoon’s hold, and Jongwoon immediately opens his mouth to sputter, to correct himself, to take back his words, but Kyuhyun turns his head towards him, looking past him at nothing.
“Okay,” he says simply, and Jongwoon coughs, his words of apology tripping over each other as they threaten to spill out of him, and for the first time since Jongwoon’s met him, Kyuhyun laughs.
He sounds like heaven to Jongwoon.
Jongwoon finds that, perhaps more than Kyuhyun’s singing, he likes to hear Kyuhyun laugh, watch how his face lights up and his eyes sparkle when he does. He takes Kyuhyun for dinner every night, making sure he’s comfortable and fully fed, falling over himself to say or do something silly, anything to coax a smile or laugh out of Kyuhyun.
Kyuhyun’s silent most of the time, but he talks enough, enough for Jongwoon to learn that he’s 22 years old, an orphan who lives alone, and he’s surviving on disability benefits and what he earns from busking.
“I was blind since birth,” Kyuhyun confides in him one night after dinner, caressing his cane with his fingers, and Jongwoon finds himself drawn by the graceful movements of his hands, almost hypnotized.
“My parents died in an accident when I was fifteen,” Kyuhyun says, smiling again, except this time the smile is bitter and tears at Jongwoon. “I’m luckier than most, though – my parents cared a lot for me, they enrolled me in a school where I learnt Braille, and when they passed away, they left me their house and a little sum of money.” He sighs and looks down, fingers trailing over the metal cane. “I’m comfortable, I guess. I like singing, and it brings me enough, and I’m happy with what I have.”
He stops there, but Jongwoon catches the words left unspoken and sees the gleam of tears in Kyuhyun’s glassy eyes, and on impulse he takes hold of Kyuhyun’s hands and presses them to his lips, placing kisses to the fingertips. Kyuhyun jerks back a little in shock, but when Jongwoon whispers hoarsely against the pads of his fingers, “I’m sorry to hear that, Kyuhyun”, he relaxes, hands limp against Jongwoon’s mouth and fingers fluttering over his cheeks as if to map out the curves of his face.
Kyuhyun likes to feel Jongwoon’s face, likes to run his fingertips from the bridge of his nose to the bow of his lips, trace the line of his jaw and rub his knuckles over the stubble at Jongwoon’s jaw before following his fingers with his lips, leaving wet spots as he hums against Jongwoon’s skin.
It’s the only way he can ‘see’ Jongwoon, even when Jongwoon’s face is mirrored in his eyes.
“I love you, Kyuhyun,” Jongwoon blurts out one day when they’re in the park and on the bench where they first met, Kyuhyun singing softly into the evening air, his voice rich and smooth on Jongwoon’s ears.
He stops singing, however, when Jongwoon says that, the notes trailing off into nothing, and he turns his head in Jongwoon’s direction, frowning.
“No, you don’t.”
“I do,” Jongwoon says, bemused. “I – I love you.”
He’s stunned by the change that comes over Kyuhyun; his expression turns frosty and he sets his shoulders squarely before bending down for his cane. Jongwoon takes it up and hands it to him, like he always does, and Kyuhyun almost snatches it out of his hands before rising to his feet and walking away, faster than he ever has, his cane making loud, angry clacking noises on the path.
“Kyuhyun?” Jongwoon calls, hurrying after him. “Kyuhyun, what’s wrong?”
He grabs Kyuhyun’s arm and Kyuhyun flings him away so fast that he almost stumbles, and before he can recover Kyuhyun snaps, “Don’t say things you don’t mean, hyung. Don’t say things like that when you know it’s not going to happen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just a blind busker,” Kyuhyun spits out. “That’s all I am. You don’t want someone like me, you want someone normal, someone you can be proud of and show off. Play with me and use me to occupy your time all you will, but don’t say that word when you don’t mean it.”
He walks off, leaving Jongwoon behind, stunned and feeling as if his blood’s frozen in his veins.
Kyuhyun isn’t at the bench the next day, or the day after, or the week after, weeks that melt slowly into months.
Jongwoon still goes there and sits every evening, straining to hear the familiar soothing tones of Kyuhyun’s voice. He never hears it, but it doesn’t stop him from going there anyway, hoping against hope to see him again.
When four months pass without Kyuhyun appearing at the bench, Jongwoon finally gives up. He puts his time with Kyuhyun aside, changing his jogging route so he won’t have to go past that old bench again, and sometimes – only sometimes, when he’s restless and tired and his thoughts well up, unchecked, in his mind – does he think about the beautiful boy with the beautiful voice and the sad sightless eyes.
It’s been a year since his last encounter with Kyuhyun, and Jongwoon doesn’t know what makes him do it, but he’s compelled to diverge from his usual route and go along that path he used to jog on so long ago, where Kyuhyun would be on the way, sitting on a small wooden bench with his box and singing.
Perhaps it’s just that he misses Kyuhyun - has been missing Kyuhyun, especially as the one-year mark of their meeting draws closer – but he wanders down that path, feet crunching on leaves and gravel, and he’s not even within sight of the bench when he hears the familiar voice floating towards him.
Almost immediately his chest swells up with excitement and disbelief, and even though it’s practically hurting to breathe and his muscles are fatigued, he puts an extra burst of speed in, sprinting until he’s at the bench, standing before it with his chest heaving, and there’s Kyuhyun, sitting on it like he used to, staring right into the setting sun and singing.
Jongwoon drops to his knees next to Kyuhyun and takes his hands in his, too overcome to speak, and Kyuhyun tenses up and snarls, "Who’s this?", but Jongwoon presses his hands to his sweat-slick face like he used to.
“Jongwoon-hyung?” Kyuhyun whispers, his eyes wide and face stunned, his fingers feeling like sticks because he’s stiff with shock, and Jongwoon can only nod into Kyuhyun’s palms.
“I’m just a busker,” Kyuhyun repeats later. “I’m just a useless busker – “ and Jongwoon shushes him with his lips, kissing him until he’s silent, his hands digging into Jongwoon’s shoulders.
“I love you,” Jongwoon murmurs. “I love you, Kyuhyun, why did you leave?”
Kyuhyun turns his head away, and that gesture breaks Jongwoon’s heart, especially when Kyuhyun whispers brokenly, “So that you wouldn’t leave first.”
Jongwoon pulls Kyuhyun’s hands and kisses the knuckles one by one. “I wouldn’t,” he says. “Kyuhyun, I waited for you for a year.”
Kyuhyun doesn’t reply, but he fans his fingers out and runs them over Jongwoon’s lips like he used to, his touch familiar and sweet, and Jongwoon, for the first time in a year, feels truly content.