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A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2015-01-20 08:56 pm

A Boy Named Soo

title: A Boy Named Soo
players: Do Kyungsoo/D.O., Kim Jongin/Kai
rating: PG-13
wordcount: 6,890
summary: Misfits have to stick together.

a.n.: Written for 3daysofkaisoo. (Original posted here.)
This setting is a Western school, because that is what I am most familiar with, but there's no particular location in mind. It's not important.
Quotes and some bits of conversation are taken from/referencing to Stephen King’s Carrie. Title plays on Shel Silverstein’s poem/Johnny Cash’s song A Boy Named Sue. I combined all of the prompts, because I couldn’t get any good idea using just one, so it’s not specifically for any one prompt.
I had some help with this. My assigned beta, wuxiing, and bribed beta, sky_sail<. I couldn't have finished without you guys.

His name was Kai. I only knew because my classmates' gossiping. Normally, I'm pretty good at ignoring rumours an commentary, but this boy grabbed my attention by the metaphorical balls. I learned that he was handsome enough to have already claimed quite a few hearts, and mine was no exception.

The first glimpse I got was a long one. More a nice, long stare than a glance.

I was on my way to class, which was right next to the main doors and made the classroom unbearably hot in summer and miserably cold in winter. The doors opened as I approached—and these are not automatic; the school is to cheap and old to even install handicap access—and my feet stuck to the linoleum like all the years of spat gum were under my sneakers.

He was tall, tan and seemed to radiate his own brilliance that made the dim hallway lights flicker and shy away like candlelight. A breeze sucked through the open doors, throwing his long, curly hair around his face and sending abandoned homework to dance at his feet.

A hand lifted to push his hair off his face, and he just so happened to look up—right at me—from beneath dark brows and long lashes. In my head, my class schedule shook and wrinkled, because I was going to be late, but something between my conscience and conscious short-circuited.

He smiled. At me.

My knees weakened.


I barely managed to hold onto the last scraps of coherency to breathe a sigh of “Hi … ” because I wanted nothing more than to kiss that smile feel his shoulders beneath my hands …

Wow.” Kyungsoo snapped the book shut and tossed it onto the overflowing cart of books to be shelved. “Way to promote unrealistic expectations to the 14-17 year old female demographic.” Maybe it was romantic, and maybe a teeny weeny part of Kyungsoo enjoyed such drama, but it was mostly unrealistic fiction.

A student library aide pulled a handful of books from the opposite shelf to sneer at Kyungsoo. “Talking to yourself again, nerd?”

“Nope. Holding a séance to try contacting your dead brain cells.” He shook his head. “No luck. I did manage to find the fucks I used to give, but they're content where they are.”

The boy shoved the books back into place with an annoyed snort. “Freak.”

“I am rubber; you are glue.” Kyungsoo meandered to another section of the sloppy library and pulled a well-worn book from an eye-level shelf. He'd read it enough times to have a majority of it memorised, and he always opened to the same page, ever since accidentally sleeping on the open pages and messing up the binding.

High school isn't a very important place. When you're going, you think it's a big deal, but when it's over, nobody really thinks it was great unless they're beered up.

“Oh, Stephen King. You're so cynical and wise.”

High school sucked. With and without the crutch of drugs or alcohol.

Kyungsoo was repeating his tenth grade year. A crushing blow to his parents’ high expectations, maybe, but he couldn’t help last year's accident or the pneumonia that ravaged his lungs. Not his fault. He had help getting over the chainlink fence to the train yard.

He was a great student, otherwise. His parents were content, knowing their precious youngest was back on the straight and narrow.

Narrow, at least. The straight part was up for some debate ever since the summer before his first stint as a tenth grader. His parents shipped him off to a church camp with a bunch of other kids. Eye-opening biblical learning; the whole summer experience had been carefully edited to recount to his parents.

Some classmates went to the same camp, and rumours spread. Somehow, he was hot news. Quite popular for being so unpopular, but the attention was unappreciated.

As the bell rang, a tinny echo outside the deafened library, Kyungsoo laid the book back on the shelf and grabbed his textbooks from one of the few tables squeezed into the room. Unfortunately, none of his classes were close, but he didn't bother running like some of the students around him. Running just begged for trips and falls and breaks he couldn't afford if he ever wanted to get out of the hellhole of a high school.

In the science hall, a tall, wide boy stomped in front of him and held up his arms like he was preaching the word of God.

“Look, everyone! The wonder of our fair school: A boy named Soo!” Kyungsoo wasn’t very big and actually had a cute face—cute like the children in horror movies. There was a point in time when kids tried calling him the girl from the Grudge, but no one could think of her name, so the joke stopped. Classmates still avoided sitting near him and made their own ritual in case they accidentally made eye contact or touched him. Short people were closer to Hell, after all.

Kyungsoo bowed his head, itching to just put the kid in a headlock and put him to sleep. “You’re too kind, but I think the true wonder here is you, a boy with a rock for a brain.”

There was a rumbling to their left, followed by some shrieks and a shrill scream as something exploded and oozed beneath the door to the lab. Black gunk, burning hot and falling over itself like ocean waves, pushed the door open and reached towards the taunting boy's feet. Elephant toothpaste gone horribly wrong; Kyungsoo had something to look forward to in chemistry today.

Only Kyungsoo walked away easily, his path over the cracking linoleum swallowed behind him by sizzling and popping black.

He didn't believe in coincidence until moving when he was eight years old. Before then, he was happy, had friends, and had no worries.

Then they moved, because Mr Do got a new position at a new location. Their new house was relatively big, kind of old, and it had large trees in the backyard. A rope hung where they assumed a tire swing used to be.

Kyungsoo learned later that the previous owners had died. People at school and neighbours whispered murder - suicide, and because Kyungsoo lived there, it meant he was involved, somehow, or cursed.

No one ever said the couple died in the house, though, or even on the property. There was flawed logic going on, but no one wanted to entertain such a thought.

At first, it was just verbal teasing. Dumb kids bored with routine finding a target for venting and entertainment in the new, quiet kid. Kyungsoo told his teacher and his parents, but it was his word against a few, a dozen, and then his whole class.

He stopped telling on them. He stopped speaking entirely.

When the kids couldn't rile him, one girl pushed him. He tripped over his own foot and caught himself on his hands and knees. Hot tears welled in his eyes and dripped to the gravelly pavement, but he picked himself up and limped home with jeers and taunts of the Killer House at his back.

Somehow, three of the kids managed to scrap their hands and knees on the way home as well. They tripped or pushed one another too much and fell into the street, barely avoiding getting flattened by a FedEx truck.

They blamed Kyungsoo.

Elementary school was miserable.

Middle school didn't improve, although he found his voice again.

High school seemed to be when he came to his own. A reputation preceded him, although the city school enrolled kids from all over. He recognized a lot of them, knowing their names from class.

He never made any friends. No one wanted to look at him, much less be his friend.

It was a lonely life, but his lack of socialising gave plenty of opportunity for academics.

"The goth kid's a brainiac."

"Compared to your scores, we all appear to be Einsteins," Kyungsoo sighed, earning him a look of disbelief. "Yes, I can talk. I can hear, too. Please keep your gossip to yourselves and mind your own fucking business."

He was basically the Carrie of their school. An outcast and misfit, through no doing of his own. He just wished he had the real power she did, rather than bizarre coincidence, because the abuse he faced day after day was tiring and, frankly, getting boring. He almost preferred being hospitalised compared to walking down the halls and keeping an eye out for an errant foot hooking his ankle or a solid classroom door conveniently opening to greet his face.

His days were spent with his head down but eyes up, watchful and guarded. A lone wolf treading on unwelcoming territory out of necessity more than want.

There was a sanctuary in school, at least. Without the library, grimy and sad as it was, Kyungsoo would probably torch the building.

It wasn’t an impressive library. Floor to ceiling shelves surrounded the perimeter, overflowing with stacks on top that probably supported the second floor more than the actual joists. Books organised by title rather than decimal system sat in the interior shelves which made mazes to get lost in.

There were more easily books than interest; students only came to the carpeted cave for the mandatory print reference for the occasional essay—or if they were picked on, because no self-loving jock or prep would dare go near so many words outside their vocabulary unless absolutely necessary. No nerd or misfit was worth that humiliation and headache. Kyungsoo knew that.

A new week had dawned grey and drizzly. Kyungsoo took his mom’s umbrella, a free gift from some Catholic coalition she had joined. The halls were slick with wet footprints and mud, the long weather-resistant rug completely saturated with the slow leak from runoff outside, but Kyungsoo managed to make it to his locker without slipping or tripping, even on the stairs.

The grossest, most miserable days always seemed to be his best. He enjoyed the dismal grey; the rest of the breathing population bitched and moaned about ruined hair and wet shoes.

“He transferred in. I heard he was home-schooled until now.” Kyungsoo ignored the girls a few lockers down, piling his books in his arms and tucking a couple pens into his back pocket.

“Why would he come in now? And why here?” Why, indeed? Kyungsoo mused. It was an okay neighbourhood, but there was nothing particularly appealing. He had class with the new kid, but beyond that he was just another face in the crowd.

“Oh my God, I know, right? Hey, lemme borrow your science notes. Maybe he's delinquent, and the government's giving up on him.”

One of the girls closed her locker after checking her lip gloss in the magnetic mirror on the door. “I dunno. I heard he was pretty cute, though.” They went down the hall; Kyungsoo walked up, boots squelching softly over the wet footprints of his classmates.

He spent his lunch hour every day in the precious quietude of the haphazard library. The librarian ate her own lunch at her desk, not caring about the food or drinks students brought in as long as it was nothing nauseating. Someone had oysters and brussel sprouts once. The librarian had called their mother out of concern.

Kyungsoo kept his lunches simple. A sandwich and fruit, maybe a candy bar, occasionally leftovers from the night before. He’d asked his mom to stop making his lunches. The prayers she slipped in on cute notepaper made him lose his appetite.

Settling on the floor at the farthest corner of the library, between a unit of Ugandan politics and another of farm animal veterinary science, he pulled his homework onto his lap and worked steadily through the trigonometry worksheet, brushing away crumbs from his sandwich to he rust-coloured carpet.

The bell rang just as he finished checking his work. He gathered his things, tossed his partly eaten lunch in the trash in outside the library doors, and pushed his books back into his arms with his hip. Someone hit his shoulder, shuffling past him. “Sorry!”

Kyungsoo frowned, thankfully keeping a hold on his books. “'Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions.'”

The student paused. “I’m sorry?”

Whatever. English class awaited. Kyungsoo didn’t spare the kid a glance as he hustled past and took his seat near the back, next to a window that looked over the daycare playground that home economics kids would take teachers' kids to when the weather was nice.

The teacher half-smiled at the class as the final bell rang, a sure sign of unpleasant announcements. “First things first, class: Midterm project.” Kyungsoo joined in the collective groan of his classmates. The midterm project didn't sound difficult; at least five pages of typed analysis on a person they admired for their way of facing obstacles and succeeding in life, but it had to be done in groups of no more than three. Groups meant more than one, and me, myself, and I didn't cut it.

“It’ll take time,” she continued. “You can’t put this off. I have the rubric here,” she waved the papers in her hand, “so pick a partner or form a group, now. I’ll be writing it all down, and there will be no changes. Whoever isn’t here will be paired or grouped by my choosing.”

Students clamoured to make groups of their friends. Kyungsoo stayed in his seat and doodled in the margins of his notebook. He only came out of his wandering thoughts when the teacher called his name.


“Who's your partner?” He shrugged, and she sighed. It was as expected, but some teachers still held onto a strange hope that Kyungsoo was just joking and was actually a bubbly, friendly person with friends in every class. She looked over their heads. “Who else isn't part of a group?” No one raised their hand, and Kyungsoo sighed in relief.

The teacher was relentless, however, and compared her list to the class attendance. “Jongin, are you in a group?” Silence.

Directly behind him, there was a sharp inhale and groan—as well as a little jolt, which drove the desktop into Kyungsoo’s seat; how pleasant—and the new kid, forever more asleep than awake, shook his head when the teacher repeated herself. “You'll work with Kyungsoo, then.” She pointed to him, and Kyungsoo felt as though he'd been stabbed. Curse you, new kid, for sleeping rather than making friends.

They were given the rest of class to make plans and arrangements and clear their ideas with their teacher. Kyungsoo kept doodling in his notebook, but the little hairs at the back of his neck hissed at the weight of the stare on his shoulders. They were small; they could only handle so much.

“I don’t like working with others, so this is really not gonna work … .” Turning around was a mistake. Kyungsoo knew pickings were slim in school, being less interested in the female form and having that biblical appreciation of men, but if the new kid was the slim pickings, then Kyungsoo could accept that.

He was gorgeous. Right out of a magazine or novel. Jongin was tan, wore his curly hair kind of long, and looked right at Kyungsoo’s eyes without flinching.

“We could split the work.” His chin was on his fist, lips pulling against his fingers as he spoke. “Fifty-fifty.”

Kyungsoo nodded dumbly. Words were coming out of Jongin’s mouth, but the way they were formed was much more interesting than the actual meaning of the speech. He couldn’t think unless he looked away, so he tore his heart eyes away and looked at the old gum on the floor, flat and smooth from years of wax and washing.

Silence crept in like a fog and settled over them.

“What did you mean before?”

“Before what?” Kyungsoo glanced at Jongin, and he almost blushed when he saw Jongin still looking at him, head on his open palm, now, and looking about ready to fall asleep again.

“Something about Kool-Aid?” Jongin yawned.

Kyungsoo resisted rolling his eyes. “Apologies really have no meaning, because they’re said so often. 'True sorrow is as rare as true love.'”

Jongin nodded slowly. “... That’s really depressing.”

Kyungsoo shrugged. Depressing was kind of his thing. He looked at the rubric in his hand for the first time. “So, who should we do?”

They barely had time to get their teacher’s approval, before the bell rang, jerking Jongin's shoulders to his ears and a furious blush colouring his cheeks behind his hands. Neither boy said anything more as they left and parted in the hallway, although Kyungsoo did swear when someone’s backpack nearly separated his head from his shoulders.

As luck would have it, working separately wasn’t as easy as Kyungsoo had hoped. He’d gotten away with working solo before, whether by chance or through his classmates’ organising so that he was the only one left out, or by reporting his partner’s unwillingness to do any work. He lacked practice in teamwork, and it showed with how little he spoke to his project partner.

Jongin actually worked, though, and showed Kyungsoo his notes periodically or asked questions, which was more than Kyungsoo did, but he was always a little distracted. The more he saw Jongin, the more he became aware of him, which made him more noticeable, so Kyungsoo seemed to see him everywhere, from the bathroom to the gym and even the unloved library.

A week into their project, Kyungsoo found Jongin at a table by the window with the blinds down—with how the books arched over the window, trying to shift the blinds was too dangerous. He stood awkwardly behind a shelf, wondering why he even felt awkward enough to hide.

Head pillowed on an arm, Jongin didn't notice anything, too focused on the book on his lap, and he also wore ear buds to block out whatever breath of sound the library might utter. The sharp bzzzzzz of his phone made both him and Kyungsoo jump. He let his book close over his hand and swiped the screen, plugging his ear bugs into the phone.

“Hey, Chanyeol.”

Kyungsoo didn't know anyone named Chanyeol, but that didn't mean there wasn't one at their school. He didn't know a lot of people at school, yet they somehow knew him. He liked to believe it was his sparkling personality.

“No, I'm in the library … .” Something the person on the other end of the line said made Jongin chuckle softly—a breathy, pretty sound—and cross his arms to cradle his chin, phone propped up between his ear and shoulder. “It's not so bad, I guess, but I miss you, man.” His sighed carried loneliness and melancholy that settled heavily on Kyungsoo's chest.

Eavesdropping was plain tacky, but his curiosity kept him rooted to the spot, idly browsing books about fast food chains and illustrated encyclopedias of the fauna of New Mexico.

“It's not so bad. I'm working with a classmate on a project, but I don't think he's interested in being friends, Chanyeol. You know it'd be a bad idea, anyway.”

One-sided conversations were mysterious and frustrating. The new kid felt lonely but not lonely enough to even entertain the idea of Kyungsoo as a potential friend. Ouch.

Why should he even care? Once the project was done, they'd go back to a mutual disinterest like before. Jongin would sleep through class, and Kyungsoo wouldn't turn around.

Just completely ignore the notion that Jongin was also a living, breathing, 3D replica of a book protagonist Kyungsoo fervently denied having any interest in. That didn't mean anything. That was just fiction carefully marketed to lonely people. Reality played out much differently.

Then again, reality was lounging just a few feet from him, all sweet honey entrapment and temptation as he laughed into his arms over something the person on the other end of the line said.

“Yeah, man. I'll text you later.” Jongin tapped the phone screen and let it clatter to the table beneath his chin. He yawned, not bothering to cover his mouth.

Kicking the bottom bookshelf lightly, Kyungsoo took a deep breath and stalked around the bookshelf to the shelves behind Jongin's table. The boy's book stood upright in his hand against his shoulder, and he watched Kyungsoo calmly.

Somehow, Kyungsoo managed to trip over nothing but caught himself on the edge of the table. Ignoring the eyesmile behind him, he stared up at the highest shelf which, of course, was where the one book he wanted sat.

“Can I help?”

Kyungsoo looked over his shoulder. Jongin had stood but stayed by his chair, sort of hunched over the table as if unsure if he should sit back down again. “Glaring at the books are more likely to set them on fire than levitate them to your hands.”

Kyungsoo stared at the toes of his sneakers. His ears felt hot for some reason. Way to be a girl, Kyungsoo, he grumbled. “Top shelf. The green one.” Even with his slight height advantage, Jongin still stood on his toes to reach the book, handing it to Kyungsoo with a small smile.

They couldn't escape silence, it seemed. There had to be a limit on how long shuffling and squirming could continue until the awkward parties agreed to part. Something grabbed hold of Kyungsoo, however, and pulled conversation from his throat. “You read?”

The book Jongin was reading—actually a volume of manga up in the hundreds—sat with its pages open to the table.

“Uh, yeah. Since I was about two?”

They were really bad at this.

“Can we work together, now?” Jongin scratched the back of his head. “I’m pretty much done with my bit, and it’s not easy to actually write separately, you know? We could go to my house sometime and finish it.”

Kyungsoo didn’t want to go to his house. Alone. He didn’t quite trust himself,and he certainly didn’t trust the rumour mill, which worked faster than anything else in the school. Dragging Jongin’s reputation down didn’t really appeal to his soft side, microscopic as it was.

But Jongin was looking at him with something like hope, like a puppy slowly making a nudje of himself, and Kyungsoo refused to be weakened.

His mouth betrayed him. “What’re you doing after school tonight?”

Jongin's smile was brilliant in the murk of the library.

The rest of the day was spent on needles and pins. It was a time of firsts for him all over. Working with a willing partner, going to someone’s house without an invitation through mothers, the apprehension and want to do it, although that stayed hidden beneath the default apathy.

Jongin met him outside the school, and they shared Kyungsoo’s borrowed umbrella. The sun had decided to hide again, drawing in clouds and squeezing out a couple more hours of drizzles.

They didn't talk during the short walk to a pretty suburban area. The buildings were new within the last eight years, rather cookie-cutter in appearance with attractively manicured lawns made unique with differing shrubs, flowers, and lawn ornaments. All that was missing was a pink plastic flamingo.

Smack dab in the middle of the block, Jongin raised an arm, brushing against Kyungsoo, and pointed to a house with a bold red front door. “This is me.”

“Nice door.”

“My aunt complained about how hard it was to find the house when she first looked at the house,” Jongin explained. He held open the little picket gate for Kyungsoo to walk through first. “She's too scared of an all-glass door; their last house was broken into, so she wanted something solid but noticeable.”

Kyungsoo shook the umbrella beneath the overhang of the porch but let it sit open to drip dry near the door. He followed Jongin inside and closed the door to be greeted with the smell of lemon Pine-sol.

The house was pretty, in a very modern sort of way. Very minimal with lots of angles and neutral, contrasting colours. The kitchen looked industrial with lots of stainless steel, and Kyungsoo stayed behind Jongin when a woman in jeans and a silk blouse turned from the large stove with a pinched frown.

“Just put your things wherever.” Jongin toed off his sneakers—he didn't wear socks—and leaned around the partial wall. “I'm home.”

Whoever he saw replied, “Jongin, we got a call from school again. You failed another test.”

Jongin ducked his head and dropped his backpack to the floor to shrug off his coat. “I'm still working on catching up. I'll get it.”

The woman who walked around the kitchen island sighed and nodded, wiping her hands on her apron to run a clean hand through her hair. “I know you will. It just takes time to adjust … .” Her voice trailed off, and Kyungsoo found himself pinned by a pair of stunning walnut-brown eyes.

He bowed hastily. “Hello. I'm Jongin's classmate. Kyungsoo.”

Her hands went Lady Macbeth over her lap. “I didn't know you were having anyone over.”

“Sorry. We'll be quiet; there's a paper we have to do together. We're not given class time at all, and he lives farther from school.” Jongin nudged Kyungsoo towards the open staircase. “We’ll be quiet; it’s okay.”

She nodded, and the boys took their backpacks upstairs to Jongin's bedroom. Spacious and sparsely furnished, posters decorated the walls, folded to even reach over bits of the sloped ceiling.

Silence settled like a fog once again. Kyungsoo stood by the door until Jongin said, “Just sit wherever. Make yourself comfortable,” and promptly went on a mini cleaning frenzy to clear away laundry and a few dirty dishes. “I don't have people over; sorry.”

“It's fine.” Kyungsoo sat on the edge of the bed, bouncing unexpectedly with how springy it was, and his backpack tumbled to the floor with a solid fwump.

He thought he'd have to peel Jongin off of the ceiling with how much he jumped.

“Are you alright?”

The younger boy nodded, hand at the base of his throat. “Y-Yeah, I just … I didn't expect that. I don't like anything too noisy. It's always stressed me out.”

“Why? Because of your uncle?” Something was wrong in the house. That lady was too nice. Keeping up with the Joneses nice.

“No, but he certainly doesn't help. My uncle’s not a bad guy, but he’s really loud? You hear him before you ever see him, and I’ve never liked that. I could move back with my parents—my sisters are all out on their own, now—but they move a lot. That's why I'm repeating. I had gotten ahead with homeschooling by my mom for a while, but,” he shrugged, “everything's different, depending on where you are or who's teaching, and there's this dumb weight on making friends and doing sports at the same time, which I'm just not good at. Like, I never learned how to make friends—I was never given the chance. When finally I did, I'd end up moving, and no one means those promises about keeping in touch.

“The only one who made any effort was Chanyeol, but he's also just a town over. He wasn't even a school friend; our sisters knew each other.”

Jongin mistook Kyungsoo's silence for judgement or something, because his ears turned adorably pink. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to rant or whatever.”

“It's fine. I just never heard you talk so much.” He had a nice voice, Kyungsoo decided.

“Maybe you just never listened.” It wasn't meant to be harsh, but it made Kyungsoo's ears burn a little. He picked at the little bits of tied yarn on Jongin's quilt.

Jongin tugged his backpack onto his lap to rummage for his books and then reached to his desk for his laptop. “So how are you at typing?”

“Pretty good, I guess.” He was actually miserably slow at typing. His thoughts just took extra time to become coherent.

“I have my notes and everything all typed. If you could write it all up, we could go through it together?”

Sounded like a plan, mostly because it distracted Kyungsoo from geeking out over the other boy or just making a total ass of himself.

Jongin really had done his research, which was great, and he made points that even coincided with Kyungsoo's. He finished typing within a couple of hours, and Jongin’s aunt brought up the printed copy as well as a couple of bottles of water.

Another hour, two highlighters, three different coloured pens, and a crumpled paper ball fight later, they reviewed their final paper with satisfied nods.

A knock on the door drew their attention away from academia and towards the prospect of food. “I brought chicken, if you boys are hungry.”

Jongin was halfway to the door before seeming to remember he had a guest. “Uh, do—Do you want to stay? For dinner?”

Kyungsoo set their finished paper carefully into his class folder and slid it into his backpack as he nodded. “I am kind of hungry; thank you.” Jongin’s aunt smiled and touched Jongin’s arm briefly.

Jongin blushed, but Kyungsoo missed it.

They developed a sort of ambivalent friendship after that. Hanging out after school became habit, but they were effectively strangers within the echoing halls. The days when neither of them had activities or errands, they went to Jongin’s house. It seemed like an incredibly short amount of time until Kyungsoo found himself waking up on Jongin’s bed, falling too easily to sleep in their warm, comfortable silence or admist the soft music playing through Jongin’s laptop speakers.

Once was enough, and it was one time too many, even, but Kyungsoo did meet Jongin’s uncle one Friday afternoon.

The man was loud.

Even Jongin’s aunt had a loud laugh when she relaxed after a glass of wine, but it was nothing compared to the tornado of slamming doors, finding every-single-creaking-floorboard, and screaming jokes of his uncle.

Thankfully, he often worked late or met clients for dinner, which left a much lighter atmosphere in the house.

“I cannot believe he found someone who’d marry him. Jesus Christ.” Kyungsoo cringed at the echo of another door forcibly meeting its jamb in the rooms beneath them. “I barely said five words to him, and I already want to strangle him!” To Kyungsoo’s short greeting, the man had recited his entire day, play-by-play, complete with colourful commentary and unnecessary hand gestures that nearly broke a nearby lamp.

Jongin snorted a laugh but swallowed it and cleared his throat. “He’d probably have a really noisy death. Gurgling and squawking and dragging tablecloths down.”

“Tripping over every piece of furniture.” Kyungsoo flopped onto the mattress, hands folded over his belly.

“Falling through a window or two.”

“Down at least one flight of stairs.” It was gruesome but funny. Liberating, even, because this was the exact grotesque humour his own family avoided him for.

“Moaning and screaming about how much pain he’s in and how he’s going to call his lawyer and mother and everyone.”

“So the paramedics knock him out. Which is actually avoided as much as possible; they want you awake, no matter what. Fun fact.” He'd wanted nothing more than to pass out when he was finally found by paramedics beside the train tracks, but they kept him awake throughout the whole bumpy ride to the hospital.

Jongin collapsed against the wall, breathless and coughing from laughing. “I’ve been in a closed car with him. I’d rather knock him out and say I found him that way.”

Kyungsoo narrowed his eyes at the boy and shook his head. “Please don’t become a medic.” He looked back at the wall opposite him. Jongin's smile was just too cute. “Stick to dance; stay with what you know.”

“That’s my plan.” Jongin shifted down more until he was lounging more on his bed with his head and shoulders against the wall. He bent his knees so he wouldn't touch Kyungsoo's side.

“You have all that figured out, then?”

“Yeah, I guess. There’s still time. We’re only 10th graders.” He looked around his room. “Maybe it’ll change if I have to move again. I dunno.” He shrugged. “What about you?”

No clue.” Kyungsoo sighed. He knew what his parents wanted. He knew his teachers’ expectations. Neither were appealing or motivating. “My parents want me to go into medicine or law or something equally as respectable and boring.”

Jongin's face screwed up in disgust. “Ew. You are good with people, though. Maybe not at school, but they just don’t know you. I was scared of you, too, but you’re actually a really cool person.”

“'People don't get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don't stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it.'”

Jongin frowned. “Carrie. I don’t think that’s you.”

“I’m not a good person. People avoid me for a reason.” He wanted to be avoided. Better to be feared than loved, right? Particularly if the lover was any of the dicks he dealt with every week at school.

“You do look like a vampire or something,” Jongin mused. He sat up. “But I think they’re wrong for avoiding you. You just need to be given a chance. I’ve seen you all year, since moving here. Yeah, you’re quiet, but it’s not like you do anything.” He looked at his lap. “I really like you, at least … .”

Oh. Oh my. This was precious. Kyungsoo’s cheeks were warm, but they couldn’t compare to Jongin’s, hidden behind his hands.

He peeked and joined his hands again, bending in half like a startled coral. “Is it weird? Stop staring at me, please.”

They were given a break when Jongin's aunt knocked and peeked in, asking if Kyungsoo was staying for dinner. “It's getting late; I should actually head home. Thank you, though.” She smiled and shut the door.

The other boy pouted and sat upright, waiting until he heard his aunt descend the stairs before saying, “You just don't want to sit through dinner with my uncle.”

Kyungsoo swung his backpack over a shoulder. “You got it.” He didn't feel bad until he looked at Jongin, who sat with his shoulders hunched and hands between his knees, doing an excellent impression of a kicked puppy.

“Kyungsoo—uh … .” He started and stopped himself a couple times, finally managing to stand, which must have been related to what he was trying to say.

Kyungsoo waited.

Jongin kissed Kyungsoo's cheek. He leaned back with a dumbfounded expression and swiped at his mouth with his sleeve. White smeared across the jersey grey.

Kyungsoo blushed. His shoulders and chest tingled with heat.

“Is this makeup?” Without waiting for a reply, or even asking permission, Jongin pulled his sleeves over both his hands and rubbed at Kyungsoo's cheeks until they were rosy pink. He laughed and scrubbed harder for good measure until Kyungsoo whined about his face hurting. It really didn't, and Jongin could tell he was just embarrassed, the jerk.

He stopped his vigorous rubbing and held Kyungsoo's face in his hands. They stood almost nose-to-nose, and the realisation of their proximity drew a blush high on Jongin's cheeks as well. Eyes searched one another's faces for something. A sign. A rejection? Anything. Kyungsoo wasn't sure what he saw, but Jongin read some level of curiosity—maybe a bit of desire—that drew him closer.

They shared a few breaths, and Jongin's lips ghosted over Kyungsoo's once, twice, and he began to pepper Kyungsoo's lips with light kisses.

It was nice. Kyungsoo didn’t really think beyond that and What do I do with my hands? His weight was on the arm behind Jongin, so that left him with a free hand.

Jongin evidently had similar concerns, because he took Kyungsoo’s hand and dropped his head to Kyungsoo’s shoulder. “This is so embarrassing. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You were kissing me, and doing well, until you stopped.”

Jongin whined and hid his face in Kyungsoo’s shirt. His ears burned against Kyungsoo’s neck. “I’m too embarrassed, now.”

The feeling was mutual. Their fingers brushed against one another, fingers dancing together and apart. Kyungsoo felt his indecision to either pull away—and probably laugh whatever this was off—or stay where he was and hope the floorboards swallowed him.

Jongin finally got himself under control and sighed. “Sorry. I’m just kind of weird.”

“I think you’re saying that to the wrong person.”

“True.” Jongin laughed when Kyungsoo squeezed his hand. You don’t have to agree so quickly. “What’s with the makeup, anyway?” He rubbed his sleeve down his jeans. It was washable.

“Seemed like the thing to do.” It wasn’t like it was noticeable. Kyungsoo had gotten good at applying it evenly and not overdoing it. It added the right amount of dramatic flair to his high school performance, he thought.

“You don’t need it.” Jongin caught his laugh in his sleeve and shyly met Kyungsoo’s eye for a split second before hiding again. “You’re really cute.” He meant scary cute, but the meaning was the same. Ignore connotations. End result was Kyungsoo had big eyes, soft lips, and little freckles over his lip and under his eyebrow that had been covered by the makeup; he would be dangerously close to Too Cute, if his attitude was tweaked just a bit.

All of this was foreign to Kyungsoo. Vanity was never allowed in his family. Attractiveness was a societal construct he didn’t really follow, allowing his own bias to develop early on and settle in his mind as he aged. He preferred tanned skin and soft jawlines that were just losing baby fat.

“I should really go … . I'll see you tomorrow.” Jongin deflated a little, and Kyungsoo's heart kicked his ribs. He leaned forward on his toes to place and barest peck of a kiss on Jongin's lips, blushing very noticeably to his hairline. “Don't worry so much. I-I'll see you at school.”

Jongin's brain shut down from a healthy mix of hormones and mortification. Kyungsoo fared no better, but his brain switched to “fight or flight,” and he flew out of Jongin's room and down the stairs, pausing just long enough to say good bye to Jongin's aunt and get blown out the door by the blustery “Bye bye!” of Jongin's uncle.

He ran until he left most of his embarrassment behind but still skirted around his family and closed his bedroom door. His cheeks still felt warm when he touched them, and he rubbed his fingers and thumb together. There was no makeup on his fingertips.

As he set his backpack aside and wondered what to do so he wouldn't drive himself crazy with anxiety, his phone chirped in his pocket.

youre not gonna ignore me, now, are you?

Kyungsoo chewed his lip. Before he could even form a response in his head, another message popped up.

i dont want to apologise for kissing you.

This kid was killing him. Years of not having any outlet for any sort of emotional expression, accepting that was just how his life was meant to be, and Jongin here was dragging everything from exuberance to frustration to affection via text.

Kyungsoo took his time, but he typed out, So don't. You apologise too much as it is. and quickly added. I will see you tomorrow.

But Jongin was as relentless in needing reassurance as a puppy was in needing attention. will you go out with me?

He hadn't even sat down since getting home; Kyungsoo's knees wobbled, his thighs shook, and he sat in the middle of his floor. His guts were torn. One part instinctively said Yes! while another part hung back with a cautious But what about Mom and Dad?, because his parents—their faith, anyway—played too big a role in his life, and something as simple as dating could destroy their image of him. Maybe they wouldn't love him anymore.

Fuck it. Jongin was waiting for a reply, probably playing with his lips and chewing them sore.

Sure. I'm a pretty cheap date.

Jongin bounded up to Kyungsoo's locker before school started. He hung back, uncertain, a safe distance away, but he was drawn closer by one of Kyungsoo's rare smiles.

He hadn't slept well at all. Neither of them had, but Kyungsoo was sure Jongin had at least eaten. His own appetite was overwhelmed by the twisting inside him and the thoughts of how this time last year he had been in the hospital after nearly getting hit by a train.

The worries poofed, as if they hadn't been there at all, when Jongin smiled at him. “Morning.”


Jongin took his hand, and Kyungsoo slotted their fingers together, pushing his locker closed with his free hand. Maybe he'd find that book with Kai again, just to gloat over how much his reality was better than the protagonist's fiction.