Title: Love is a 9 Letter Word: Heartache
Pairing: one-sided Sungmin x Kibum
Genre: high school AU, angst,
Summary: Kibum had always been there for him so even if he no longer needs him, Sungmin will be waiting.
Part 2 in my Love is a 9 Letter Word Drabble Series. The prequel is here.
Sungmin had always known he was different than other boys from a very young age. It wasn’t that he didn’t like sports or dinosaurs or all those stereotypical “boy” activities and interests. He did, and he was good at them.
Sungmin supposed that being so good at them was the reason that no one questioned his oddities as a child. Sports and martial arts were manly, even if cooking and pink and loving bunny rabbits were not.
He wasn’t singled out for his peculiarities till junior high, when boys talked about liking girls and Sungmin realized that he didn’t. When wearing pink was considered girly and “different” and being different automatically made you a target.
The bullying began then, too.
It was hard, at first, and he cried a lot. He didn’t know what was wrong with him and he tried to change because he hated the looks of disgust he got. He hated himself more than anything else, because if everyone said it was disgusting, than it must have been, right?
He was disgusting, they told him so. And he believed them because no one said anything different.
He contemplated suicide more than once. He sat in the bathtub angry tears making hot tracks down his cheeks. But he never got further than that. He knew that even if he died…it wouldn’t change anything.
It would prove everyone’s point, that he was filth and didn’t deserve to live, that he was different and disgusting.
So he cried at home and smiled at school and life went on, for the most part. He’d gotten used to the bullying, and it became routine. There was only a certain group that singled him out now. Everyone else had learned to ignore him. He wasn’t worth their time because he was below them.
In his last year of junior high, a student transferred into his grade. He came from California, in the United States. His name was Kim Kibum. Sungmin had had crushes on boys before, after he’d realized that he liked them more than girls, and it wasn’t difficult to like Kim Kibum.
He was an all-around perfect student: athletic, popular, attractive, smart. He joined the soccer team. He got perfect grades, he held the door open for girls. Boys wanted to be him, girls wanted to date him, and Sungmin could only admire him from afar.
He knew better than to approach him. Kibum would think the same way as everyone else. He would find Sungmin disgusting. And for some reason, the thought of someone like Kibum hating him was worse than the rest of the school despising him.
The first time that Sungmin actually met Kim Kibum, face to face, was when he was being slammed against a locker by the usual gang of homophobic bullies that enjoyed tormenting him.
“I thought we told you to get the hell out of this school? When are you going to learn that we don’t need fucking fags like you here?”
Sungmin didn’t say anything, merely clamped his mouth shut and tried not to grimace at the way the locker handle was digging into his back.
“Don’t get too close to him. He’ll probably try and kiss you.” Another jeered, even as the first continued to grind Sungmin’s back against the locker with his foot. He could see the dirt from the boy’s shoes rubbing off on his uniform.
“I don’t think he’s interested in you. I’m pretty sure he has better taste than that.”
Sungmin turned to see who was talking and his eyes widened in shock. Kim Kibum stood a few feet away, holding his sports bag, an annoyed look on his face.
“What the hell do you want, Kibum?”
“Let him go.” Kibum looked pointedly at Sungmin and then back to the bullies. “It looks to me like he doesn’t want to be here.”
“No one asked you. Don’t think that you own the place just because the girls like you. You’re as much of an eyesore as he is.” One of the boys announced.
Sungmin bit the inside of his cheek as the heel of the boy’s shoe dug into his shoulder. Kibum glanced at Sungmin and then back at the group of boys. “I could care less what you think of me. But class is starting soon. You’re going to make him late.”
The boys hesitated, unsure, before the main bully took his foot off of Sungmin’s shoulder with a final, painful kick before he huffed, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Che. Let’s go.” The other boys followed, leaving Sungmin and Kibum alone.
Kibum watched them until they turned the corner and then looked back at Sungmin. “You ok?”
“I…” Sungmin swallowed. He refused to look up at Kibum, his gaze trained on the ground, bangs hanging in his eyes and hiding his face from view. “I’m fine.”
“Next time, hit them.” Kibum announced.
“I’ve seen you in gym class before. You’re strong, so next time, hit back.” With that, Kibum shouldered his sports bag and continued down the hallway, leaving Sungmin to stare in his wake.
The bullying didn’t stop just because Kibum had stood up for him. At first, it actually increased. Boys were angry—and girls too, because their Kibum oppa talked to him and not to them—and Kibum didn’t come to his rescue every time.
It was stupid for him to assume that Kibum would always be there to make sure it didn’t happen. It wasn’t like he was obligated to do anything in the first place. He was simply a good person who had fought off bullies picking on someone weaker. That was it. Nothing more.
There was no special meaning behind it. Kibum was just a nice person.
That both made Sungmin happy and sad. Happy that there was someone out there like Kibum, someone who would stand up for others, stand up for him. And sad…because to Kibum, Sungmin wasn’t special at all.
He probably didn’t even know his name.
But he’s seen you in gym before. He said so. He recognized you! But that still didn’t mean that Kibum knew who he was. Sungmin could recognize people in his school that he didn’t know the names of. Kibum’s words had stayed with him long after the boy had disappeared. Sungmin had always known he could fight back, but he’d never thought that he…had the right too.
There was something wrong with him, right?
But Kibum had said to fight back. Sungmin sighed to himself, slumping down onto a bench near the track. He doesn’t know what I am. If he knew…he’d definitely tell me to fuck off and die. It had to be that he didn’t know about Sungmin’s “interests”. There couldn’t be any other reason that he’d saved him.
He didn’t have time to contemplate much else, because suddenly he was wet, very wet. He coughed, trying to brush his now sopping wet bangs out of his eyes in time to see two boys holding a now empty bucket, grinning maliciously.
He was on the first boy before he knew what he was doing. Years or martial arts training made it easy. One of the boys was skinner and smaller than he was anyway. He punched him in the face and the boy fell to the ground with a cry.
He pushed the second one and climbed atop him, fingers digging into the white fabric of his collar as he pulled him up and punched. Again. Again. He heard the other boy shouting, yelling for him to get off. He grabbed his arm but Sungmin pushed him away and continued his onslaught.
He’d made them pay. They deserved this. All of them. He’d hit until the boy stopped moving! Stopped breathing! He was sobbing as he punched, teeth clenched, grinding so loudly his jaw ached.
Suddenly he was being pulled off. He tried to shake the person off but their grip was firm, arms locking in place across his chest, dragging him backwards, “Idiot, you’re going to kill him!”
Through the haze of adrenaline and fury Sungmin recognized the voice and slowly stilled in Kibum’s arms. “K-Kibum.”
“Idiot.” He heard Kibum grunt, “Are you calm?”
Sungmin didn’t trust his voice, so he simply nodded. He felt Kibum let go of him and as the warmth left he slowly came back to his senses. The boy he’d been punching was lying on the ground a few feet away. Sungmin couldn’t see his face, all he could see was blood and dirt.
Kibum had knelt next to the unconscious boy. “He’ll be ok. You broke his nose.” He knelt down and picked the boy up. “I’ll take him to the nurse.”
Sungmin blinked, still lying on the ground, bangs still dripping with dirty water, tears continuing their path down his cheeks, face smudged with dirt and snot. He was sure he looked disgusting.
He began to cry all over again, as he watched Kibum struggle to carry the boy across the track field to the school building. He didn’t know where the other bully had gone after he’d shoved him away, but none of that mattered. He hiccupped, once, twice. Today was a horrible day. The one person in the school who didn’t hate him probably despised him now. His father had always told him to never hit someone weaker than you, but he’d been so angry…he choked back another sob, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
He didn’t hear Kibum come back or notice him at all until the other boy had knelt down to where he was still sitting on the ground and brushed his wet bangs out of his face. “Are you alright?”
Sungmin blinked, eyes wide, as he stared into Kibum’s face. He didn’t answer, just continued to hiccup. He’d stopped crying, the tear tracks had dried on his face, clean streaks against the dust that had stuck there during his earlier scuffle.
Kibum pursed his lips, looking worried, before he reached into his sports bag and pulled out a towel. He began wiping at Sungmin’s cheek. “He didn’t hit you, did he?”
“N-no.” Sungmin croaked, voice dry.
“When I told you to fight back, I didn’t think you’d go ballistic…guess you’ve been holding it in for a while.” Kibum finished in a sympathetic whisper.
Sungmin didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t know what to think. Why was Kibum here? Why had he come back? “W-why?” He managed to sob out.
Kibum had been focused on wiping the blood off of Sungmin’s face—not his own, the bully’s—but looked up at Sungmin’s question. “What do you mean?”
“Why did you save me and talk to me a-a-and you don’t even know what I am!”
Kibum’s face was expressionless, before a small smile spread across his lips and he lifted his arm over his mouth as he laughed into his sleeve. Sungmin just stared helplessly. Why was he laughing? Kibum finally put his arm down and went back to cleaning Sungmin’s face. “You’re a human, at least, I assume so.”
“But I’m…I’m gay.”
“So?” Kibum shrugged, handing the towel over to Sungmin. “Here, you can get the rest, right?”
“I’m dirty.” Homosexuality was a sin, he’d been told that countless times.
“Of course you’re dirty. You’ve been rolling around on the field. You have grass stains on your uniform too. Your mom is going to be pissed.” Kibum was rummaging through his bag. He paused, turning back to look Sungmin in the eye with another small smile—the kind that made Sungmin’s heart stop and his mind go blank. “If hating people is a sin, how can loving them be? We don’t choose who we fall in love with.”
Sungmin fell in love with Kim Kibum on that day.
Sungmin knew his love was one-sided from day one. Despite Kibum’s acceptance of Sungmin’s homosexuality, he himself was straight. Sometimes Sungmin wondered how he could stand the ridicule and scorn of the rest of the school. They’d learned of Kibum and Sungmin’s “friendship” the next day.
At first, everyone assumed that Sungmin had seduced Kibum. He’d been bullied even worse than before, until Kibum had punched a boy in the face and broken his jaw. He’d been suspended, and at that time, the entire school came to the consensus that he was just as disgusting as Sungmin, despite how wonderful they’d thought he was before.
Kibum said he didn’t care. It was their last year of junior high. They wouldn’t see any of them in high school anyway.
For Sungmin, it was enough to follow behind Kibum loyally. He didn’t care if his love was unrequited because Kibum was his in a way that Kibum would never be anyone else’s. They were best friends. Brothers.
He was the only boy in Kibum’s life, even if he wasn’t his love boyfriend. It was enough.
Then they’d gotten to high school…and they had met Lee Donghae. Donghae had known Kibum before he’d gone off to California. They’d been neighbors, childhood friends since they were three. Their friendship renewed immediately, and Sungmin felt as if he’d been pushed to the back.
But it was ok. He was still there, Kibum still smiled at him. They shared a secret, that bond of their last year of junior high that Donghae didn’t have. They met Yesung and Ryeowook and later Henry.
And Kibum needed him. In their gang, he was the most powerful fighter, the one that Kibum said he wanted to watch his back in a brawl. Not Donghae. Him.
And it was him that stayed with Kibum when Donghae and the others stopped talking to him. When Kibum went out with Donghae’s ex girlfriend, when Donghae accused him of stealing her away, Sungmin’s loyalties never wavered.
Kibum told him his secret, the truth, and even though Sungmin knew that Kibum was torn by Donghae’s hatred, he silently reveled in that confidence, in their closeness. He wondered if it made him a bad person.
Everything was fine…until a new student transferred at the end of their senior year.
Sungmin smiled cutely at Changmin, batting his eyelashes at him from where he sat across the lunch table. “Changminnie-ah…”
Changmin raised an eyebrow at his antics. “No.”
Sungmin pouted. “Why? I just want a little bite! Ahhhhhhh.” He opened his mouth.
Changmin sighed, before he held out his chopsticks and the shrimp tempura held there. Sungmin leaned over the table and grabbed it happily, chewing with a bright smile on his face before he spared Kibum a glance and noticed that the other boy was looking at something across the cafeteria.
He followed Kibum’s gaze and saw Donghae and the rest of their old friends…and someone new. He blinked, eyes narrowing before he leaned closer to Kibum, their cheeks brushing. “Who is that?”
“New kid, I guess.” Kibum murmured, but his gaze never left the boy. Sungmin had never seen that kind of look before. Kibum blinked, as if he realized that he’d been staring, and went back to his lunch. Sungmin continued to stare at the boy.
…new kid, huh?
The new kid’s name was Lee Hyukjae. He was unnaturally skinny, awkward, with wide, terrified eyes and a gummy smile. If Sungmin had to describe him with one word, it would have been “unattractive”. If he were allowed three it would have been “not good enough”. Not good enough for Kibum, who paid more attention to the boy than Sungmin would have liked.
“He’s a dancer. He and Donghae made a dance team. I think that Shindong boy joined.”
“Choco-pie Donghee?” Sungmin opened his eyes and looked over at Kibum. “He can dance?”
If Kibum realized that Sungmin was trying to get off of the topic of Hyukjae than he didn’t mention it. He simply leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, as if resuming his nap. This had been the two’s routine since they’d cut off their friendship with Donghae and the others. They usually skipped first and second period and napped, or took care of a rival school’s gang that tried to get on their territory.
“His locker is next to mine, but he hasn’t even noticed.”
“Maybe he has and he doesn’t care.” Sungmin shrugged. Why do you care? He’s just an anorexic monkey. And you like girls. He opened one eye to peer at Kibum and paused, his smile fading as he noticed the disheartened look that crossed Kibum’s face at his words.
Sungmin’s chest began to ache, just a little. He smiled again, “Maybe he’s just stupid. He seems like the oblivious type. Try talking to him next time.”
“…you think so?”
“Yeah.” No. Don’t talk to him. Because if he talks back to you and smiles, you’ll leave me, won’t you?
Sungmin hadn’t expected Kibum to take his advice…or to look so crestfallen afterwards.
“Donghae told him.”
Sungmin blinked, taking out his headphones and setting his chair back down on four legs. “What?”
Kibum opened his history textbook and flipped it open to a random page, before reaching into his bag for his notebook. “…Donghae told him about me. He hates me now.”
Sungmin swallowed, throat tight. Was it right for him to be happy about that? No, it couldn’t be. He shouldn’t be happy. “…I’m sorry.”
“Donghae’s problem with me is between the two of us.” Kibum hissed angrily, “Why does he have to involve someone else?”
“Why do you want to get to know Hyukjae so badly, anyway?”
Kibum blinked, eyebrows scrunching in confusion, as if he didn’t understand why Sungmin would ask that kind of question when the answer was obvious. “…because I want to be Eunhyuk’s friend.”
The nickname made Sungmin’s blood go cold. “O-oh.” He smiled weakly. “I see.” He turned away, pretending to look for something in his backpack, so that Kibum wouldn’t see him clench his eyes shut and will himself not to cry.
Eunhyuk…Kibum only gave nicknames to people he liked. To the girls he liked. Girls that Sungmin hadn’t cared about because none of them could replace him. They were girls and couldn’t understand Kibum the way he did.
And Kibum was straight. He had to be. He liked girls and only girls.
…but he didn’t. Even if he hadn’t realized it yet…he liked Hyukjae, in that same way he liked girls. In the way he couldn’t like Sungmin.
Sungmin hadn’t meant to attack Donghae. He’d meant to go to the table and tell Hyukjae the truth, that Kibum was a good person. If he were truthful, he’d gone to scare him off.
But then Donghae had said those words, and they’d hit home. “Just because Kibum won’t fuck you doesn’t mean you can be a bitch to everyone else.” It had hurt because it was true and Sungmin knew it.
And then Kibum had punched him. Kibum had never hurt him before, never lifted a hand against him. The punch had been like a splash of cold water to the face. It had woken him up to the reality of his situation.
Kibum did not love him. Kibum loved Hyukjae. Sungmin had lost…
“We don’t choose who we fall in love with.”
He hadn’t chosen to fall so hard for Kibum…and Kibum hadn’t chosen to fall in love with Hyukjae. And if Sungmin truly loved Kibum…he would make him happy.
Because even if Kibum didn’t choose him, he would always be there, waiting.
The roof was cold, but Sungmin barely noticed. He stood with his back to Hyukjae, staring out across the school grounds.
“…so…um…” Hyukjae began to break the silence, voice hesitant, scared, cowardly.
Sungmin bit his lip to say something he could regret and instead managed, “Don’t hate him. He isn’t a bad person.”
Hyukjae blinked. “Huh? Who?”
“Kibum.” Sungmin turned to look at him. “Kibum’s not a bad person. No matter what Donghae says, he’s not a bad person.”
“But he stole Donghae’s girlfriend.” Hyukjae blurted out, and he must have seen Sungmin’s eyes flash in anger because he paled.
Sungmin’s jaw tightened and he had to keep himself from hitting Hyukjae. No, Hyukjae didn’t know. He couldn’t hit him…he had to do this for Kibum. “It isn’t like that. Donghae got it wrong.”
“Kibum and her…they never actually dated.” Sungmin murmured. “She told Kibum that she only dated Donghae so she could get closer to him. She was going to break up with Donghae after she confessed to Kibum.”
Hyukjae stared at him, as if he didn’t comprehend.
“Kibum didn’t want Donghae to know. So he told her not to tell Donghae. Then he broke up with her after Donghae found out that the two were “dating”.” Sungmin continued softly. Inwardly, he scoffed. How dense are you, looking at me so stupidly. I hate you because you don’t deserve him. You aren’t good enough and yet he chose you…over me.
“…why does he think I need to know…?” Hyukjae had wondered aloud, and Sungmin knew that he hadn’t meant to say it so that Sungmin could hear, but he answered anyway. “Because Kibum likes you.” The words stuck to the roof of his mouth and he had to force them out through sheer willpower.
“He…wh-what?” Hyukjae managed to get out, looking dumbfounded.
“He likes you.” Sungmin repeated. “So I want you to know he’s not a bad person. He isn’t. So don’t hate him.” Please don’t hate him. Even if I hate you, don’t hate him. Even though a part of him wished that Hyukjae would…because then maybe Sungmin would stand a chance.
Hyukjae was blushing, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he spat out, “I’m a guy and he’s a guy!”
Sungmin rolled his eyes. “You’re such an idiot.” He looked him up and down. “…I don’t know why he likes you. You look like an anorexic monkey and when you walk, you bob your head like a chicken. And your smile is all gums. You aren’t cute at all.”
He left Hyukjae on the roof.
Two days later, Kibum walked into school with a bruised cheek. Sungmin had panicked. “What…what happened?”
“Yeong High attacked Hyukjae.” Kibum grunted, ignoring Sungmin’s fussing. He looked livid. “They were trying to get to me and they attacked him. Idiots.”
Sungmin didn’t say anything. His hand recoiled from Kibum’s cheek.
“He…he said he wasn’t gay.” Kibum finally whispered, and the look on his face almost torn Sungmin’s heart in half. He looked scared, vulnerable. “He said he wasn’t gay so I…I didn’t say anything. He obviously doesn’t like me.” He looked down at the ground.
Sungmin swallowed. “…you never know.” He whispered. “He might like you and was too scared to say anything.”
“If he was too scared to say anything it won’t matter if I confess or not. He’ll say no.”
“I like you.” Sungmin regretted it the moment the words passed his lips.
Kibum looked up at him, gaze guarded. “What?”
“I like you.” Sungmin repeated softly. He’d said it once, there was no turning back now. “I always have.”
“…oh.” Kibum murmured. He didn’t look uncomfortable, or angry, like Sungmin had feared. He nodded at him, before he bent to tie his shoe. “I see.”
“I don’t expect you to return my feelings.” Sungmin continued hurriedly. “I knew you’d never like me like that so I didn’t say anything before but…I just think you should know. I like you and that won’t change, no matter what. Nothing will change.” We can go back to you not knowing. We can pretend I didn’t say it at all, just please don’t hate me.
Kibum gave a soft smile. “Thanks, Sungminnie.” Kibum stood, and turned just as the group of Yeong High boys appeared at the gate.
“Let’s settle this.” Their leader announced.
Kibum turned to Sungmin. Sungmin flashed a bright, cheerful smile. “We can take them.”
Kibum smiled back. “Yeah. Definitely.”
The wound never healed, and no matter how many times he looked at the two together, the familiar anger and jealously would creep up on him.
But Sungmin smiled, because Kibum was smiling and that’s all that mattered to him.
Even if Hyukjae wasn’t worthy and his feet smelled and he tripped over air and he wore tight pants because he thought they were cool but really made him look like a skeleton…Kibum liked him.
“We don’t choose who we fall in love with.”
That much…was obvious.