The Starting Line
Jonghyun isn’t sure when it started.
It might have been when they first met. Kibum was a skinny boy, like himself, both of them wearing clothes that was too baggy, their matching cold expressions too forced to be genuine, and deep down both of them knew the other had to be scared shitless. They exchanged stiff greetings and Lee Soo Man clapped them both on the back, saying something about the future. Jonghyun could barely think about the future when the present was terrifying enough.
It might have been the first time Kibum laughed at something he said. There was nothing particularly special about the laugh; it was short, almost too loud, and accompanied by a shake of his head. Even so, Jonghyun felt like the funniest person alive at that moment, felt a bit more special than he had whenever he’d made anyone else laugh. It was a good feeling. He decided he’d try to make Kibum laugh more often.
It might have been the first time they took a picture together. They had been spending more time together, and Kibum had suggested they take a picture using Jonghyun’s phone, because it was a newer model and Kibum had just gotten his hair done and really, he wanted to look as good as possible. Jonghyun had agreed, like he found himself doing no matter what Kibum suggested, and they had taken a picture.
Kibum had stared at it carefully, his eyebrows crinkling and head tilting ever so slightly to the left. Jonghyun watched him with a smile.
“Ok, I approve.”
Jonghyun laughed. “Oh, thank goodness.”
Kibum nodded, either not noticing the sarcasm or not caring. “We look good together.” he said offhandedly, walking out of the bathroom without sparing Jonghyun another glance.
A good half-minute passed before Jonghyun lifted his phone to his face, pressing a button to make the black screen disappear. The picture showed up again, and Jonghyun stared at it for a moment.
“Hm,” he chuckled to himself. “Crazy kid.”
Without sparing it any thought, Jonghyun set the picture as his wallpaper.
They really did look good together.
It might have been the first time they held hands. They had been in the aisle of some convenience store looking for a new toothbrush since Kibum had thrown his in the toilet when they‘d gotten in a fight. Kibum had called him over from the next aisle, shouting excitedly about some new flavor of candy. Jonghyun, still quite pissed about the toothbrush and having a difficult time finding a decent one in the small selection the store offered, pointedly ignored him.
It didn’t take long for the younger boy to stalk his way to the personal hygiene aisle and glare at Jonghyun. The glare progressed to a dirty look accompanied by furious toe tapping.
“I was calling you.”
“I’m kind of busy in case you haven’t noticed.” Jonghyun looked at the same toothbrush a fifth time. He never understood how the other boy could get over fights so easily.
Kibum scoffed. “There are six toothbrushes, hyung, it can’t possibly take this long to choose one.”
“I’m taking my time.” Jonghyun said, not even sparing Kibum a glance.
A minute passed, and Kibum continued to stand there, watching him carefully look at each toothbrush, taking two of them off the rack to compare them side by side.
“I’m rolling my eyes at you just so you know.”
“Good for you.”
“Ugh, this is ridiculous,” Kibum snapped, grabbing the four toothbrushes and yanking away the two in Jonghyun’s hand.
“What the fuck-”
“You can decide at home, god knows you’re just doing this to pay me back.” Kibum explained in an annoyed huff. “Now let’s go.”
With that, he grabbed Jonghyun’s hand and pulled him towards the counter. He was about to call Kibum a name - bitch, jerk, prick, it didn’t really matter which one - but instead he stared down at their joined hands. It was the first time they’d ever held hands before. It felt strange.
Kibum had paid, like he said he would, and when Jonghyun had stood there, he’d simply pulled the older boy along, again by his hand. Kibum did it so naturally, one would think they’d always been holding hands.
It became normal from then on. After all, it wasn’t completely abnormal for boys to hold hands, especially when they’d been friends for over a year and lived together - was it? Jonghyun would often tell himself that they were like brothers, so things like holding hands and falling asleep on each other’s shoulders, was normal. Kibum was like the brother he’d never had.
Jonghyun was sure that if he had a brother, he’d hold his hand just like this. He’d get a warm feeling in his stomach because this was his brother, right? And he loved him. So it was normal.
That feeling was normal.
He was normal. They were normal.
It might have been the first time he’d seen Kibum cry. He knew he cried, Jonghyun himself had cried sometimes, when everything felt like it was too much and debut would never come and all he wanted was to be in his room at home taking stupid pictures and texting his friends. Still, actually seeing Kibum cry with his own eyes was an unsettling experience.
He was sitting up on his bed with his legs crossed, phone open, and a video message from a woman Jonghyun knew to be Kibum’s grandmother playing. The volume was turned all the way down, but the way Kibum’s mouth barely moved along with the woman on screen, Jonghyun knew he must have memorized the short message. Kibum had to have known he was there, but did nothing to acknowledge his presence.
Jonghyun thought there was something different about the way Kibum cried as he watched that video that set him apart from everyone else. He didn’t cry beautifully like the actresses in movies; his nose was red, eyes were puffy, and every so often his face would crumple in on itself. Kibum was as messy a crier as anyone else.
Still, even so, Jonghyun thought that there was something so tragically pretty about the way Kibum cried. It was the strangest thing. On one hand, he wanted to make sure Kibum never cried again, but on the other, he thought he could watch him cry forever. He didn’t say that, would never say that - in fact, he didn‘t say anything. He simply continued to watch him in silence, giving Kibum the space he needed but still not quite able to pull himself away from the sight. Kibum either didn’t notice his staring or didn’t mind.
Eventually, Kibum closed his phone and dried his eyes. The two sat on the bed in a comfortable silence, no words needing to be exchanged. A few minutes passed before Kibum fell onto the bed with a loud sigh, and Jonghyun followed him without needing to be asked. Kibum was asleep first, his head on tucked into Jonghyun’s shoulder and their fingers loosely linked together on the bedspread between them.
That night, Jonghyun didn’t fall asleep until much later.
It might have been the first time he called him by that nickname. They had been living with the three other boys who would make up their yet-to-be-named group, and a couple of trainees for a few months at that point. Jonghyun had been surprised by how well they all clicked. Taemin quietly accepted his role as the youngest, Minho was like a big brother figure, except he was younger so it was a bit strange, and Jinki was fun to mess around with, but there was a quiet authority he held with the rest of them.
Jonghyun was happy to find that he shared a passion for singing with Jinki. Up until then he didn’t have anyone his age to work on singing with, so his times practicing with Jinki were a welcome reprieve from stuffy old vocal coaches. Kibum was still his closest friend, but he seemed to be more interested in spending his spare time with fashion magazines and the internet than he was with discussing vocal techniques.
It happened a night like any other, when the five boys were watching some action movie Minho had picked out. Taemin and Jonghyun were sitting on the floor while the other three sat on the couch, Jinki in the middle with Minho and Kibum on either side of him.
Suddenly, a socked foot nudged Jonghyun’s back. He looked back and saw Kibum looking at him, before jerking his head in the direction of the kitchen.
“Go get me some popcorn, Jjong.”
Jonghyun sighed and stood up. He was about to take a step before it registered. “Jjong?”
Kibum looked up at him questioningly.
“Is that..” Jonghyun started, but was cut off by Jinki.
“A nickname!” Jinki laughed and smiled brightly, all of his teeth showing. “I like it, Jjong. Jjong.” He said it as if testing the way it felt on his tongue.
“Don’t.” Kibum said to Jinki. Minho took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling, while Taemin turned around to watch the three of them unabashedly.
Jinki seemed confused. “Don’t what? I wasn’t laughing at the name, Kibum-ah, I think it’s nice.”
“Since when it that my nickname?” Jonghyun asked.
“Don’t use it, Jinki-hyung. I made the nickname, I use it, and nobody else can. Come up with your own nickname, you guys are close friends, right? I‘m sure you can come up with something.”
Jonghyun crossed his arms. “Kibum, hello?”
“Well if it bothers you that much.” Jinki shrugged, his smile from before gone. “I won’t use it.”
“It does, and thank you.” Kibum huffed. Both boys turned away from each other on the couch.
“What?” Kibum snapped at Jonghyun, who raised his eyebrows. “hyung.” he added lamely.
“Come to the kitchen, I need help with the popcorn.”
Kibum rolled his eyes but followed anyways.
“What was all that?” Jonghyun finally asked while the popcorn popped slowly in the microwave. He was facing Kibum, both hands on the counter behind him. “Hm?”
“I just didn’t want him using the nickname, okay? It’s mine, I came up with it.”
“Yeah,“ Jonghyun nodded. “And since when are we five?”
“Oh, fuck you.”
“Really, Kibum. That was a prick thing to do, even for you.”
Kibum smiled mirthlessly as he scoffed and shook his head, leaning against the counter next to Jonghyun and folding his arms. The pops became more frequent as the silence between them stretched on. When Kibum spoke, his voice was low and his words sounded like they were chosen too carefully.
“It’s just. You guys are always together now, I hardly hang out with you anymore. I‘m getting sick of - I‘m just tired of it.” At Jonghyun’s questioning look, Kibum pushed away from the counter and ran a hand through his hair. He began to pace through the small kitchen. “It’s always, hey Jinki, wanna practice singing? And hey Jinki, wanna see these lyrics I wrote? You don’t have time for normal stuff because all you think about is music and singing and it’s like you’re not even my friend anymore.”
“Is it?“ Kibum stopped mid-pace and turned to look at Jonghyun. “I don’t think so.”
Jonghyun watched Kibum carefully, not moving an inch when the microwave beeped.
“So the nickname-”
“It’s my thing - our thing.” Kibum answered as if it were the most obvious thing on earth. “Something nobody else touches but me.” At this, the younger boy looked away, staring at some spot to the left of Jonghyun.
Jonghyun has the vague feeling that something major had happened just now, but he didn’t know what, and he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to think on it long enough to figure it out. Instead he nodded in understanding and stepped over the clap the other boy on the back.
“Okay then, it’s our thing. You‘re such a girl sometimes, Kibum-ah.”
Kibum pushed him away with a dirty look and a swear word, turning around to leave the kitchen.
“And apologize to Jinki. He’s not used to your bitchfits yet.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Kibum waved a hand over his head.
“Jjong…Jjong,” Jonghyun said to himself, absently pouring salt over the popcorn. “Huh.”
He decided he liked it.
While Jonghyun doesn’t know exactly when it started, he knows when it really began. And like everything else that happened between himself and Kibum, he had no choice but to go with the flow.
He was been writing lyrics on the living room floor at 3am-ish on an early Wednesday, rolling onto his back then back onto his stomach, then onto his back again. He was stuck on final line in the chorus, which was becoming increasingly frustrating since the first lines had come to him easily. He was so wrapped up in it that he didn’t even hear Kibum shuffle into the room, and didn’t know he was there until the other boy grabbed his pen from his outstretched hand.
Jonghyun picked his head up from the hardwood floor. “What the - Kibum?”
“You know we have to be up at 7am, right?” He wagged the pen in the older boy’s face.
Jonghyun groaned and let his head drop onto the floor with a dull smack. “I know, but I almost have this line,” he tapped the notebook. “I just need like five more minutes. It’s like, right there, on the tip of my brain or something.”
“Right,” Kibum frowned. He pulled the notebook to himself and read, mouthing the scribbled lyrics. As he read, his frown deepened.
“Jjong, what’s this song about anyways?”
Kibum whacked him with the notebook. “Obviously. I meant what kind of love.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, with the first part you can tell it’s a guy sad about leaving his girl behind, but then the chorus is about the meaning behind a kiss. It makes no sense. You’re kind of a shitty writer, has anyone told you that?”
“Fuck you,” Jonghyun sat up, snatching the notebook back. His words were harsh but the half smile on his face said there was no real hostility behind them. “You’re not understanding. See, the guy has to leave his girlfriend behind, but the part where it says ‘with a final press of our lips I say goodbye’ before the chorus, you’re supposed to get the idea that it’s the final kiss. The chorus is about everything the kiss conveys.”
“Conveys?” Kibum looked at him skeptically.
“Yeah, like,“ Jonghyun tried to explain. “the final kiss between them says everything. It shares their feelings, their past, and the certainty that they’ll never forget each other.”
Kibum raised a single eyebrow. Jonghyun suddenly felt a bit silly.
“But yeah, whatever, I’m having a hard time writing it, so leave me alone okay?” Jonghyun spoke quickly before snatching his pen back and laying down on his stomach, more than a little embarrassed.
Kibum had went quiet after that, but hadn’t moved from his spot next to Jonghyun. The older boy didn’t know if he should say something, so he began to scribble in the margins while he tried his hardest to think about the lyrics and not let his mind wander to Kibum, who was always such a distraction somehow. No matter what they were doing, Kibum was distracting him with something else. Whether it be his laugh, a joke, his smile, an angry huff, Jonghyun noticed everything. He wished he didn’t. Too much time was spent thinking about the other boy as it was, and Jonghyun knew it wasn’t normal. He wasn’t stupid. And there he was, thinking about Kibum once again when he was supposed to be writing a love song. Perfect.
He had cursed himself four times and drawn two boom boxes and a little solar system when Kibum spoke.
“I have an idea.” Kibum said, barely above a whisper, and Jonghyun could tell that he was much closer than before. He hadn’t even heard him move.
The words were simple enough, but they were spoken with a quiet, practiced ease. A subtle tension slowly crept up between them in that moment. It wasn’t new; it had been coming and going, becoming stronger when Jonghyun would mention how pretty a girl in a movie was, or Minho would look at the both of them holding hands on the couch and shake his head with a quiet smile, or they‘d share chopsticks and Taemin would say ‘it‘s different when Kibum-hyung and Jonghyun-hyung share - maybe they should do it somewhere else, because ew.’ and everyone would laugh, but the growing tension between the two would just get thicker.
Kibum didn’t say anything else, and Jonghyun found himself inexplicably silent. All he could do was lay there staring at the paper, not really looking at it at all.
“Look at me.” It was somewhere between a request and a demand, and both of them knew that Jonghyun couldn’t deny Kibum for long.
Jonghyun exhaled and turned to face Kibum, who really was much closer than before, his eyes a bit wider than usual, and Jonghyun noticed his hands fidgeting nervously on the floor.
“What is it?”
“I have an idea.”
Jonghyun forced a nervous smile. “I know, I got that part.”
“Don’t hate me.”
“What?” Jonghyun didn’t have enough time to think on it before Kibum’s face was right in front his. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t move.
And then Kibum screwed his own eyes shut and kissed him.
Jonghyun was too stunned to move, too stunned to do anything but blink stupidly while the other boy continued to press his lips to Jonghyun’s gently. Time became an afterthought; it was as if it didn’t matter anymore or mean much to begin with. They could have been like that for a second or ten minutes, Jonghyun couldn’t say. His mind was filled with more things than he could comprehend, and yet he couldn’t pull out a single one from the bunch, or put any of those thoughts into action.
Finally, Kibum pulled away, and Jonghyun wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved. Kibum always seemed to have the upper hand with him, and this time was no different.
“So,” Kibum said, licking his lips and moving away. Jonghyun’s eyes were drawn to the movement. “Um, I hope that helps with the song.”
“The song.” Jonghyun couldn’t think of anything more coherent to say.
“Yeah. And. Yeah.” Kibum laughed, and it was so forced Jonghyun winced.
He looked more vulnerable than Jonghyun could ever remember him looking. Even the one time he’d cried in front of Jonghyun had been nothing like this. Kibum was offering something, and it was up to Jonghyun whether or not he wanted to take it.
He sat up and reached a hand up to touch Kibum’s face, smiling shakily when the other boy winced, as if afraid the hand was meant to push him away. When his fingertips carefully touched Kibum’s face, a million reasons why he shouldn’t be doing this went through his head.
You’re both boys.
You’re in the same band.
Everyone knows who you are.
It’ll never work.
Think of Jinki. The trouble he’ll have to go through.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
And yet, the feeling of his fingers on Kibum’s skin felt more real than any of those reasons. Nothing else mattered.
Jonghyun leaned in and kissed Kibum, slowly at first, losing himself when a warm tongue suddenly pushed past his lips and slipped into his mouth. He groaned, pulling Kibum closer and feeling a warm jolt in his stomach when the other boy moaned something that sounded a bit like “Jjong” into his mouth.
When he fell back onto the floor and took a flushed Kibum with him, rolling him over and kissing along his jaw line down to his collarbone, the heated whispers of his nickname driving him crazy, he wondered if they were moving too fast.
Then, Kibum bit his earlobe, and he realized it took them too goddamn long to get here and he really could care less.
A half hour later found the two of them in their pajamas in Kibum’s bed, their hands fit together like they were made for just that purpose. They would take things slow, because they had no reason to rush.
“When did you know?” Kibum whispered, his foot absently playing with the bottom of Jonghyun’s sweatpants.
Jonghyun didn’t have to ask to know what the other boy was talking about. “I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “What about you?”
“Same.” Kibum said. There was something like a smile in his voice, and it made Jonghyun smile sleepily, his eyes becoming heavy.
“What do we tell the guys?” Kibum asked. Jonghyun could hear the fear in his voice, and he turned to plant a noisy kiss on Kibum’s forehead.
“Tomorrow, Kibum-ah. We’ll think about it then.”
Jonghyun drifted off, his hand still in Kibum’s, the other’s steady breathing calming him as it always had.
It didn’t matter where it started, because they began with a kiss in a quiet room at an ungodly hour of the morning.
And that’s what really mattered.
lkzxclvkjskdj idk ;_;