Kyungsoo knew that Kris and his gang would laugh when they saw him. When he woke up that morning and saw his face in the mirror, he almost laughed at himself. His nose was swollen, his eyes circled by bluey-purple bruises. It wasn’t pretty. But it wouldn’t be going away for days, so he rejected his mother’s offer to stay home that day. No need to miss a day for being ugly.
When he got on the bus, Sehun was already there of course, and his eyes widened in concern at the sight of him. Kyungsoo hadn’t even sat down and Sehun was fussing over him. Eventually he had to tell the younger boy to shut up, that he was perfectly fine and he needed to mind his business. Sehun pouted but stopped talking, but he took his hand and Kyungsoo couldn’t be bothered to tell him off for that too. There were a few boys on their bus, one of which was Yixing. He got on after Kyungsoo, and their eyes met, but Yixing gave no reaction.
Walking through the halls at school, naturally everyone stared at him. A few even asked what happened. But Sehun just kept him close, hurrying him along to his locker. Seeing Luhan, Sehun stared longingly from a distance but still stayed with Kyungsoo, until Kyungsoo told him to go see his boyfriend. He didn’t need protection.
It was hard to ignore all the whispering around him, knowing everyone was talking about him. All throughout the day, whenever he walked by voices grew hushed and eyes stared. When Kris saw him, he laughed and asked “What happened, Kyungsoo?” mockingly, but Kyungsoo didn’t respond to him. At lunch, their table kept shooting glances his way, although Jongdae was missing, only showing up for the last few minutes with Minseok. When Chanyeol nudged Jongdae and pointed at Kyungsoo, both he and Minseok looked towards the almost-empty table (it was just Kyungsoo and Joonmyun today). Minseok’s eyes widened at the sight, and he said something to Jongdae before hurrying over. He didn’t stay for long, just asking how Kyungsoo was feeling today and looking very guilty until Kyungsoo brushed him off and said to go back and sit with Jongdae; he kissed Kyungsoo’s cheek and returned to the other table, Kyungsoo staring after him in complete confusion.
“Why is he so nice?” Kyungsoo wondered, gently reaching up to touch where Minseok had kissed him. What was the point of it? His kindness made him so vulnerable, it really wasn’t his best move. Did he not realize that?
“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Joonmyun muttered.
“You’re nice too,” Kyungsoo noted. “Why? What do you think it does for you?”
“Being nice isn’t about getting something,” Joonmyun sighed, not seeing why he should have to explain this. “It’s just about caring about other people.”
“People will take advantage of you,” Kyungsoo argued. “They’ll hurt you.”
“That’s what trust is about, Kyungsoo. You trust someone not to hurt you, and they give you that same trust. That’s called love.”
“It’s childish,” was all Kyungsoo had to say.
His afternoon went as usual for the most part, with Jongin and Tao snickering at him in his math class, and Jongin saying loudly, “He’s more of a panda than you are, Tao!” causing the whole class to laugh. But after his last class, when Kyungsoo went to his locker to pack his bag, he opened the door and a note fluttered out. He picked it up, and it was just like the note he’d found in his book days before. A scrap of paper, with that same handwriting, and just one line again.
“I’m sorry you’re hurt. I hope you heal quickly.”
It was a bit more heartfelt than the last note, but Kyungsoo still just thought it was weird. Was Sehun behind this? No, it wasn’t like him, and he couldn’t have written the first note. But then, who? He supposed it didn’t really matter, but once again, he pocketed the note.
The rest of the week was uneventful. The one day there was no soccer practice at lunch, Luhan sat with Sehun, his back to Minseok, who was sitting with Jongdae as usual. Kyungsoo just observed their attitude, finding them so peculiar. When Minseok noticed Luhan holding Sehun’s hand, he took Jongdae’s in his own. Soon Jongdae had his arm around Minseok’s waist, and Minseok was leaning his head on his shoulder.
“It almost seems like he actually likes Jongdae,” Kyungsoo said aloud to himself. Almost. If he could just take his eyes off Luhan for a moment. And then, surprisingly, he did, and Kyungsoo couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. The three boys at his table saw and turned to look at the couple, wondering what could have surprised Kyungsoo of all people. But Minseok’s innocent eyes were staring up at Jongdae’s as the younger’s hand slipped under his hyung’s chin and he pulled Minseok’s face closer, into a kiss. Sehun’s eyes rolled, Luhan’s jaw dropped, and Joonmyun smiled.
“Almost,” he teased Kyungsoo. And Kyungsoo almost believed that he had miscalculated Minseok.
The next week of school brought with it new terrors. Kyungsoo’s bruises were fading to a greeny-yellow now, but that was the least of his problems. His small friend circle was full of drama, and he started finding himself in the library more frequently during lunch than the cafeteria. But the worst thing to happen was math class.
Kyungsoo thought he’d liked his math teacher, but she betrayed him on that Monday morning. She assigned a project due two weeks from that day, and it was a very interesting project – to build a small model of a plane (that they would have to research) that would be able to fly. She gave them a motor, batteries, wire – the rest of the materials they would get on their own. Then there was a bunch of calculations of flight in theory and practice that would have to be done, and five-pages of written work explaining the process and methods as well as a conclusion. It seemed easy enough – very logical, not much to it; Kyungsoo could have it done in a week, easily. However, the teacher was forcing them all to work in pairs. And she was choosing the partners.
When Tao was paired with someone who wasn’t Jongin, he complained, but was ignored. But when the teacher told them that Jongin was partnered with Kyungsoo, there was an uproar. Jongin and Kyungsoo both objected, Jongin asking to be put with “anyone but that loser”, and Kyungsoo pleading not to be stuck with Jongin, who wouldn’t do any of the work. Not that Kyungsoo cared about that, he just needed an excuse not to be stuck with him. She was firm though, and told Jongin he would have to do some of the work too, and the partners were final. Then she told them they were going to the library to begin their research, not letting the boys complain anymore. At the library, Jongin stayed around Tao while Kyungsoo found the book he would need, sitting in the corner of the room between two bookshelves and cracking it open. It didn’t take long for their teacher to yell at Jongin to go work with his partner, and he grudgingly went over to Kyungsoo.
“Why are you sitting on the floor?” Jongin grumbled, a bit of his arrogance gone being separated from his friends. Kyungsoo didn’t answer, continuing to read the book about types of planes. “If we’re going to work together, you have to talk to me.” Still no response. Jongin sighed, sitting on the floor across from Kyungsoo. After a while, he continued, “Look, I don’t want to work with you anymore than you want to work with me, but I don’t want to get in trouble either, so let’s just do this. I don’t care if you don’t talk to me unless it’s about this project – actually, I’d prefer that – but we have to do this together.”
Kyungsoo glanced up from his book finally, staring at the boy who looked very uncomfortable, cramped tightly against the bookshelf as if trying to keep as far away from Kyungsoo as possible. He didn’t really care what Jongin wanted, but to get a good mark, they had to both contribute, so he did his best to put aside what a douchebag Jongin was and tried to work with him.
“It would be best to do this one.” Kyungsoo turned the book around to show Jongin the page he was looking at. “It’s a pretty simple model, and the dimensions of the original plane are listed. It would be easy to have a 30:1 ratio – that would be the best size for the motor to fit.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jongin nodded, likely not following along at all.
At the end of the period, the teacher told them that they would have no class time to work on this, and Kyungsoo could have screamed. This meant that he would have to work with Jongin after school. That was just crossing the line. But he knew there would be no point even arguing it with his teacher. Seeing Kyungsoo, she added, “Both partners should have a copy of the notes, handwritten – and I know your writing Do Kyungsoo, so don’t bother trying to just write two copies. I will call your families if I suspect you two aren’t working together.”
The end of the day came too soon after that, and when he walked past Jongin on his way to his locker, he heard him telling Kris that he wouldn’t need a ride home tonight, making the excuse that his mom was coming to pick him up. And Kyungsoo knew what that meant, and he considered running to get his bus so Jongin couldn’t follow him, but he knew that wouldn’t be any better for him than it would for Jongin. So he slowed his actions, dialing the numbers on his lock very carefully, shoving book by book into his bag one by one. Sehun came by and told him he was going out with Luhan tonight, so he wouldn’t be on the bus, which was a relief. And Kyungsoo just waited, waited for the boy he didn’t like to awkwardly approach him. But Jongin never showed, and after a few minutes, Kyungsoo couldn’t care anymore. It was only when he got on his bus and saw Jongin already there that he remembered – Yixing was on his bus too. Had Jongin told Yixing where he was going? And if so, would Yixing rat him out? This seemed unlikely; Yixing was a quiet type, he probably couldn’t be bothered to.
Yixing always sat near the front of the bus, Kyungsoo and Sehun near the back. He was ignored by Jongin as he passed, but that was fine. Maybe he would continue to ignore him and wouldn’t notice when Kyungsoo got off. But when Yixing got off the bus, and there was only three other boys left plus him and Kyungsoo, Jongin looked back to make sure Kyungsoo was still there. When the bus stopped again, Kyungsoo got up and Jongin quickly got off before anyone noticed him, Kyungsoo slowly following behind. As the bus drove off, leaving them in the dust, Jongin avoided meeting Kyungsoo’s eyes and instead took his first look at Kyungsoo’s house.
“You live here?” Jongin sounded slightly awed. “It’s pretty.” Kyungsoo didn’t answer, walking towards the door. His mom greeted him as he took his shoes off at the door, and then she noticed Jongin.
“We have to work on a school project together,” Kyungsoo explained coolly before she could ask.
“Oh, well, would you like to stay for dinner?” his mother asked Jongin.
“No,” Kyungsoo answered firmly, making his way to his room. “He wouldn’t like to stay for dinner.” There was no way Kim Jongin was staying to eat his food in his house with his family. Kyungsoo plunked down on his bed, Jongin entering the room after him and looking uncomfortable.
“Close the door,” Kyungsoo told him. It was Kyungsoo’s pet peeve to have his door left open. Jongin closed it, and then sat at the chair at Kyungsoo’s desk. Kyungsoo pulled out his sketchbook, feeling nervous to have it near Jongin. “I need to calculate the dimensions and sketch this out. You can copy my work when I’m done.” Jongin just nodded, pulling out a notebook and then waiting awkwardly. Kyungsoo put Jongin in the back of his mind and started writing down the rescaled dimensions of this model plane.
“Don’t you want a calculator?” Jongin asked.
“Calculators slow me down,” Kyungsoo said shortly. Unlike Sehun, Jongin wasn’t someone who understood that a lack of response meant to stop talking. The only way to shut him up would be to answer him. “Don’t talk to me when I’m working.”
After a few minutes of silence, Kyungsoo quickly copied what he’d written on another piece of paper and gave it to Jongin, so he could begin sketching. But shortly after, Jongin spoke up again.
“I think this is wrong,” he told Kyungsoo.
“The length of the plane’s body, it should be 42 centimeters, not 44, shouldn’t it?”
Was Jongin actually questioning Kyungsoo? Kyungsoo, the smartest kid in their grade, as if he could actually make such a simple miscalculation. But Jongin’s eyes were serious, so Kyungsoo humoured him, checking over the equation. And of course… he was right? Kyungsoo had made a mistake. He could see exactly what he had done wrong, and it was just a tiny thing, but… Jongin had noticed that?
“It’s no big deal,” Jongin said as Kyungsoo crossed out the 4 and made it a 2.
“I know that,” Kyungsoo scowled, fuming. He couldn’t believe he’d been shown up by Kim Jongin. But Jongin didn’t mock him or even say anything more on it, he just continued on copying Kyungsoo’s work.
It took Kyungsoo a while to sketch out the different angles of the plane – partially because he was still frustrated by his mistake and Jongin correcting him – but when he was done, he went to rip the pages out of his sketchbook for Jongin to copy.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jongin said. “I can draw it myself. I already started.” Kyungsoo held back a smirk. If Jongin’s art was anywhere near as bad as Kris’, Kyungsoo would get a good laugh from his drawings.
Kyungsoo’s mom came in with drinks for them both, which Jongin thanked her for.
“That’s a good drawing,” she told him. “Are you two doing an art project?”
“Math,” Kyungsoo corrected. What was she talking about? “We’ll be out in the garage mostly, building a model airplane that we have to fly and study in flight. Thanks for the drinks, mom.” She understood the hint to go away, and Kyungsoo got up to take one of the drinks off the desk, glancing at Jongin’s drawing. And wow, it was good. Well, it wasn’t bad. He wouldn’t let himself admit that Jongin could draw well, but it was a nicely done plane. At least you could tell it was a plane. But he wouldn’t give Jongin the satisfaction of being complimented. He didn’t deserve it. Instead he just sat back down on his bed, secretly observing Jongin like he did everyone else. This Jongin was very different than the one who hung out with Kris and Tao and the others. This Jongin was quiet, humble, smart, artistic. And almost … nice. It annoyed Kyungsoo a lot. Either he was just pretending to be nice towards Kyungsoo, or, much more likely since you couldn’t pretend to be intelligent and artistic, he pretended to be a jerk all the time with his friends. Which made Jongin very pathetic in Kyungsoo’s eyes.
But maybe it was smart. Hadn’t he just the other day been saying how Minseok was weak for being too nice? Maybe Jongin knew it was a weakness, and he was being just hiding it well. And if that was so, Kyungsoo had to admire that. Why was he letting his guard down now though? Perhaps because he didn’t see Kyungsoo as a threat. Because Kyungsoo was small and easy to beat up, because Kyungsoo didn’t say much of anything and wouldn’t feel the need to tattle, and if he did, who would believe him? Kyungsoo was not someone who had to be worried about.
And Kyungsoo would most definitely use that to his advantage.
Sehun wasn’t on the bus the next morning, which didn’t really worry Kyungsoo, but somehow made him feel a bit betrayed. But Sehun couldn’t be expected to tell him everything he was doing all the time. Surely he would explain in great detail his reason for not taking the bus as soon as Kyungsoo saw him.
But Sehun wasn’t waiting at Kyungsoo’s locker for him like he usually did either. Maybe he wasn’t at school today… But no, as Kyungsoo approached their science class alone, he caught sight of his younger friend standing outside the door way, and he wasn’t alone. He and Luhan stood, Luhan’s arms wrapped around the younger’s waist, on his toes to press his Sehun’s mouth to his own. Sehun was glowing, and Kyungsoo was sure he was wearing one of Luhan’s shirts.
“See ya later, babe.”
“Bye, hyung. Oh, hey Kyungsoo!” Sehun was blushing but he was even more cheerful than ever. Kyungsoo felt an oncoming vent from his friend, but Sehun seemed to be holding back for once.
“Something you wanna tell me, Hoonie?” Kyungsoo asked. Sehun’s eyebrows raised – because Kyungsoo didn’t ask; he didn’t ever have to and he wouldn’t ever anyways – and he smiled from ear to ear.
“I – I’ll tell you about it at break,” Sehun promised, sounding nervous. As if Kyungsoo didn’t know, as if he couldn’t guess. But Sehun was so excited and nervous and … different. Maybe he was imagining it, but it seemed like Sehun was more mature somehow.
Their break came soon enough, and as they walked through the hallways, Sehun quietly but animatedly explained what had happened.
“I went over to Luhan’s last night. He helped me with my homework. And then we had dinner. And then… we watched a movie. It wasn’t very exciting but… it got more exciting towards the end.”
“What happened at the end?” Kyungsoo wondered, not sure where this story was going anymore.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it.” Oh. Oh. That’s what he meant. It hadn’t been the movie that was exciting… “I slept with him, hyung! I was afraid but he made it so perfect. I think he loves me. I’m just… I’m so excited!”
“Sehun… that’s – I’m sure that’s great but – it’s been a week. Have you even gone on a date?”
“Of course we have, hyung! More than one,” he added. “And we may have only been officially dating for eleven days, but I’ve liked him for over a year, and he’s liked me for a while too.”
Sehun was like a thirteen year old dating for the first time (well, he was dating for the first time but he was a sixteen year old). And Kyungsoo was still having trouble believing that Luhan really liked Sehun. But… he had with him. Would he really go that far to make Minseok jealous? Or had Kyungsoo just been misreading him this whole time, and he really did have a thing for Sehun? Maybe, like that calculation error he’d made last night… Maybe Kyungsoo wasn’t as smart and observant as he thought he was…
“Yeah. Maybe you should find yourself someone, hyung. You could really do with being happy. You should find someone who makes you happy. What about Joonmyun hyung, maybe you and him-”
“No,” Kyungsoo cut him off, not even wanting to think about what his friend was suggesting. “Definitely not. We’re friends. Nothing more.”
“Well, maybe you could go to a girl’s school, meet someone there… People who are lonely get sad, hyung.”
“You’re only sad if you depend on others to make you happy.”
“I guess so…” Sehun didn’t seem very convinced, but he didn’t seem to want to keep talking about it either. “It wouldn’t hurt to have someone who can make you smile though, hyung.”
Every day after that seemed the same. Sehun never came in the cafeteria anymore. Minseok never sat with them after soccer. Jongin never talked to Kyungsoo in math class, but they never disappointed the teacher either, both having work to show her from their project every day. In the mornings Sehun wouldn’t be on the bus, wouldn’t go to Kyungsoo’s locker to wait for him; in the afternoons Kyungsoo was on the bus alone and Jongin got off at his stop with him, while Yixing never seemed to tell anyone about it. They spent an hour or so a day in the garage, working on their plane, not talking. Jongin was pretty helpful, and had his nicer persona at Kyungsoo’s house. At school, Kyungsoo was nothing to him. But Kyungsoo was playing him, very, very slowly. Every day, he was cold as ever, but every day he would pretend to slip up, and say something to Jongin that was almost nice. He wanted the boy to believe he was only trying to keep up the mean act at home. Because Jongin was nice when his friends weren’t there, and that vulnerability screamed at Kyungsoo to be taken advantage of. On Friday, he even stepped up his game a little, saying “bye” to Jongin for the first time instead of just closing the door in his face. He played it up by looking down as if it was awkward, and closing the door quickly. He was sure Jongin fell for it.
Jongin would come over in the afternoon on Sunday, which left Kyungsoo free for a day. The plane just had a few final details and it would be done. They could probably finish their project in another week, and then they wouldn’t ever have to speak again. But on Saturday night, there was a horrible sound in the garage and Kyungsoo’s heart dropped because that was definitely the crunching and snapping of wood, specifically, a wooden plane. His plane. And it was already too late when he saw it in a hundred splintered pieces, wrecked under his dad’s car. It was an accident – his mom had moved it earlier in the day while she was cleaning and had forgot to put it back in place, so when his dad drove the car into the garage when he got home from work, he accidentally destroyed it. Kyungsoo could have cried. All his hard work, and now he had to start all over…
Explaining it to Jongin the next day was hard. His mom apologized over and over and Jongin told her he forgave her, but Kyungsoo knew he was just as disappointed as him. Now they would have to be together even longer.
“It’s no big deal, Mrs. Do,” Jongin assured her. “I’m sure since we already made it once, it’ll be easier this time. Right, Kyungsoo?”
“Uh, sure, yeah.” This was true. Since they’d written down the process of how they’d made the plane originally, they could just follow those instructions and redo the whole thing.
“Too bad,” Jongin uttered as he looked over the wreckage of their work, left alone in the garage. “It was almost done. Some of the pieces are still useable.”
“Let’s just try to fix it,” Kyungsoo sighed, going over his notes to see where he needed to start again. Jongin picked up the plane and started taking it apart. “Don’t touch it.”
“I have to help,” Jongin reminded him, taking the pages of notes from Kyungsoo’s hands to look over. He watched in annoyance as the boy engrossed himself in the pages, so different from how he was at school; Jongin never wrote notes in class or did the work – he always bullied someone else to do it for him. But maybe he actually did do the work, he was just “too cool” to say it. The behavior was childish and it just made Kyungsoo dislike him more. He snatched the papers back, reading them over and not caring if it bothered him. Jongin just sighed, sitting on the stool beside the work bench and waiting for Kyungsoo to start doing something.
Eventually they got to work, Kyungsoo ordering Jongin to work on the body while he shaped the wings. They were quiet, the only sounds coming from the tools they used. They worked for hours, and Kyungsoo’s mom brought them sandwiches around six o’clock.
“Thank you, Mrs. Do,” Jongin said, bowing his head as he took one of the sandwiches. Kyungsoo’s remained untouched. After Jongin finished eating, he just sat quietly for a few minutes, then spoke. “I guess I should go home.” Kyungsoo’s eyes flashed to the other boy, but this was the only acknowledgement he got from him. “Do you think we could finish it tomorrow?” Kyungsoo nodded his head once. They didn’t have a choice. They still had to test it and then record it in flight. “I’ll uh, see you, then.”
See me? You’ll see me at school and you won’t acknowledge me at all. He didn’t understand how the mind of Kim Jongin worked.
Monday morning started out unusually, as once again there was a note in Kyungsoo’s locker. This time it said, “You have beautiful eyes, and hands. Your eyes and hands are perfect.” Pardon? This was quite a different note from what he’d gotten before, but the style was the same. They’d gotten from being kind to… flirting with him? That was a bit… forward. Well, maybe not entirely, since they weren’t exactly saying it to his face. But it was starting to bother him now, so he wrote a new note and stuck it on the front of his locker before heading to class.
“Who are you?”
To his amazement, when he next saw the note, the familiar writing had appeared under his own writing. A response, that was just three letters.