I wrote the end first.
"You can't protect me from everything. I've gotta make my own mistakes." Youngjae's voice was as soft as ever, but there was no mistaking the frustration in his eyes.
Daehyun opened and closed his mouth, denying the truth. "I don't want you to get hurt." Even as he said it, he knew it was a poor excuse.
Youngjae stopped pacing. "Sometimes you have to get hurt. Everybody gets broken a little at some point. If we don't get a little broken, how can we know when we're whole? Sure, nobody wants to be broken, nobody wants pain in their lives, but they sure as hell want happiness, just like I do. I'd just rather get the breaking done and over with."
Daehyun processed what Youngjae was saying at a much slower rate than usual. All this talk of breaking and pain made his heart hurt. Did Youngjae understand that if he got hurt, Daehyun would hurt too? But then, it worked in reverse. There was no mistaking the hurt in Youngjae's eyes whenever Daehyun was recovering from yet another of his mistakes, but his friend was always there, not to tell him off, but to pick him back up again. Maybe that's how he should work too. Daehyun hated that idea.
As he continued to process, Youngjae had taken up the pacing. "You know, you're like how I used to wish my parents were."
Daehyun looked up from the ground in surprise.
Smiling wryly, Youngjae resumed pacing, using his hands to gesture aimlessly along with his words. "Yeah, you're like an overprotective parent. You seem to think that if you just tell me over and over than the fire will burn me if I touch it, that I'll never want to touch it. But you of all people should know that we always want to touch that fire. And until I get burnt a little, I'll just keep wanting that.
"I'm not like you. I can't just get used to burning. I'm not resilient like you are. Or maybe I am, but I haven't learned how. I can never learn how if I have nothing attacking me. In the past, I had stuff knocking me down, but I never had someone to pick me up. There was nobody resilient to compare myself to besides my parents, but I didn't want to be like them. They endured things like stone, and I don't want to be stone.
"But now, I've got something to fall back on, someone to pick me up. So you gotta let me touch the fire once or twice, let me burn just a little. Then when I'm hurting you can swoop in and tell me off and hold me and be the protector. But only after I know what burning feels like, what breaking feels like."
Youngjae let out a breath it seemed he'd been holding in. "'Cause now, now I know what being whole feels like. I've just gotta learn to treasure it." He stopped pacing in front of Daehyun, who was currently overwhelmed by Youngjae's strength.
This was the kid who'd always been wary, been distant, been far to easy to knock down, and here he was knocking down the one who'd vowed to always pick him up, to strike first so that he didn’t have to pick him up. He felt proud and sad and happy and upset and something he didn't have a name for but that was making his heart beat rather unsteadily.
Daehyun raised his hands to cup Youngjae's face, leaning forward a little so that their foreheads touched. He thought he could hear both their heart, slightly unsteady, but still beating strongly.
"Youngjae," he breathed.
Youngjae hummed softly in response, not trying to move away.
Daehyun smiled slightly. "I'm not trying to be an overprotective parent," was what he said, but he meant a lot more, an apology, a promise, a need for Youngjae to understand like he always did.
"I know," Youngjae answered, his voice soft as ever and hiding more much than understanding in those two words. He gently pried Daehyun's hands away from his face. "You were trying to be a friend."
"I am your friend." Daehyun paused, still holding Youngjae's hands. "Aren't I?"
"You are." Youngjae smiled, that soft and sweet smile that Daehyun loved so much, so that he had to smile back and it felt like all was right with the world.
"You're my best friend."