Summary: Hope is the dream of a waking man, and it’s hard for Kibum to sleep when he can’t stop staring at the stars.
Author’s Note: After throwing around many ideas, I went back to the lyrics and the second supplementary prompt! Team Future is the best team that a hyperventilating writer could ask for. I love you!! A special shoutout to my scream team R(omeo) and J(uliet), for the skype plotting. And naturally to Mx2 for beta work.
Prompt Used: T-ARA- Day by Day
Kibum would find it easier to wake up if he had ever truly gone to sleep.
He'd memorized the pattern of the spackling on the ceiling by three AM. He’d memorized the shadows cast by his screensaver by four. As the light of dawn had crept in, his eyelids had finally gotten too heavy to lift, and he’d spent the next hour memorizing what the inside of them looked like.
It had been like this for months. Not more months than Kibum could count (nineteen), but more months than Kibum wanted to count.
In the beginning, he’d tried counting sheep.
Now, he knew there weren’t enough sheep to convince his brain to shut off. Now, one day blended into the next. A day that never ended. Tuesday every goddamn day.
Somewhere along the line (and he had lost track of exactly when) he had developed an insomnia intense enough to keep him up for weeks, watching the world through shadowed, blurry eyes. It would have been useful, back in the day, when scrambling out of bed to get to another four a.m. rehearsal had seemed both an unbearable punishment and a matter of course.
It was still useful now, though, with Kibum’s deadline coming up, and Tokyo Fashion Week looming on the horizon.
Kibum heard his doorknob turn, and he closed his eyes. Two sets of feet padded toward his bed. "If either of you jump on me," he said, "I'll eviscerate you with a tube of mascara."
"Someone's grumpy this morning," Jonghyun said cheerfully. "You're always so delightful before eight." Roo yipped in agreement, and Kibum heard Jonghyun bend down to scoop the daschund up.
"I'm too tired to roll out of bed."
"You left a giant sparkly note on the refrigerator that says don't forget to wake me up, dumbass, so I'm not leaving until you rise and shine."
Kibum had known the refrigerator was the best place for that note. He congratulated and cursed himself in the same breath. "I hope lightning hits you on your way to work."
"Do you say that to all your friends, or just me?" Audaciously, Jonghyun bounced onto the edge of Kibum's bed.
Groaning, Kibum opened his eyes as Roo started to lick his face, just like Commes Des used to do, before Kibum gave both Commes Des and Garcons to his grandmother back when schedules had gotten too rough. He’d thought they would remind her of him. "Just you." He rubbed at his eyes. They were too dry. He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken out his contacts. He was pretty sure there were a million eye diseases you could catch from that, and he could only hope that red, infected zombie eyes wouldn't clash with the Versace sweater he'd planned on wearing today.
"You love me," Jonghyun replied. "Who wouldn't?"
"Someone normal." Kibum felt twice his age. He was sure he could hear his bones creaking as he stretched. He thought he might have slept a couple of hours last night. It was all hazy, though, lost in between the greater stretches of time when he’d been awake. He should see a doctor. "Someone with sense."
"That counts you out, then," said Jonghyun, shaking his butt in an imitation of Roo’s cheerfully wriggling hindquarters. "I don’t think we’ve qualified since Lucifer."
"I think you’re forgetting Juliet." Kibum swung his legs over the edge of the bed, ‘accidentally’ kicking Jonghyun in the process. "Do you want me to make you breakfast?"
"I’m not Taemin," Jonghyun answered. "I’ll never say no to you making me breakfast." He caught himself. "I mean…"
"I think we've still got rice, and I could make omelet?" Swiping at his lips with a dry tongue, he hoisted Roo into his lap. "Is that enough?"
"Should be." Jonghyun was staring at Kibum contritely. Kibum ignored it. It was all water off a duck’s back when he was this tired. "I’ve only got recording until noon."
"In plenty of time for lunch, then." Kibum nodded, and all the loose globs of what used to be his brain sloshed forward and back. "That’s good."
"Are you busy today?" Jonghyun trailed behind Kibum as he walked toward the kitchen of their shared apartment.
When things had ended, in a flash of scandal, fate had rolled the dice and left Jonghyun and Kibum still together. No dorms, anymore. Only Jonghyun was still a singer, anyway. They didn't need dorms when only one of them was back and forth from the studio on a regular basis.
Kibum liked this apartment. He forced himself not to pay attention to the unassembled boxes leaning against the wall, but the familiar dip in his stomach reminded him of things upcoming.
"My deadline is soon," Kibum said, cracking the eggs into a bowl. He took a chopstick and beat the yolk as Jonghyun slid up onto the counter. "I’ll probably work on my article all day."
"You asked if I was busy." Kibum poured the egg into the hot skillet. "I am."
"That’s good," Jonghyun said. "I won’t be home for dinner."
"I’m getting used to that," said Kibum, looking up at Jonghyun with a smile. "You just use me to cook your breakfast." Jonghyun beamed at him, so Kibum poked him, too hard, with a finger in his chest. Jonghyun mimed like he was going to bite Kibum in revenge. It wouldn’t have been the first time Jonghyun went through with something like that, so Kibum quickly retracted his hand, turning back to the egg. It was ready to flip.
"You’re almost being nice, lately. It can only be true exhaustion. You should sleep," Jonghyun said. "If you get the time."
Kibum rolled the egg with the spatula, into the cylinder he’d perfected the first time Taemin had leaned into Minho and whispered I miss my mom.
He couldn’t wash rice, but he could do this.
"I’ll sleep when I’m dead." Sprinkle pepper on top. Kibum could do this with his eyes closed. He basically was.
"The way you look," Jonghyun said, after a tense silence, "that’ll be pretty soon."
Kibum turned off the eye of the stove.
Well, that's nice and grim.
"Sit down at the table, not on the counter. Who even knows the last time you washed those jeans." Kibum looked at Jonghyun out of the corner of his eye. It always took Jonghyun longer to formulate his thoughts than other people. Kibum had gotten used to it a long time ago.
"How long have you not been able to sleep?" Jonghyun reached out toward Kibum and plucked at his shirt. Kibum concentrated on putting the omelet on a plate. "You’ve looked so tired for so long."
Forever, Kibum considered responding, but that wouldn’t be true. He’d slept best when he’d held the night stars in his arms.
"It’s just hectic," he said instead. "I’m not an idol anymore. I’ve fallen out of the practice of keeping crazy hours."
Jonghyun seemed to contemplate Kibum's answer for a few seconds before deciding to accept it. Kibum’s eyes were too sticky. "It’s like riding a bike," Jonghyun said. "You never forget how to survive on a whole lot of nothing."
"The only kind of bike I ride is the one at the gym," Kibum said as Jonghyun wrapped one arm around him and one hand around the handle of the refrigerator, where Kibum’s note still sparkled out at them both. "Get off me and get the rice."
"Yes, sir," Jonghyun said, and Kibum swiped his tongue across his grimy, unbrushed teeth and grimaced.
"Shut up," Kibum muttered, setting the plate on the table. "Eat, and don’t be late."
Kibum turned the page in his journal. "What’s the point in making a list for this?" He swallowed, throat dry, and started a new, more useful page.
Kibum did not feel guilty.
Guilt had nothing to do with anything, and it hadn't been his fault.
Kibum left an hour after Jonghyun, climbing into his car and staring out at the sunny, early March day. It was colder than he’d expected, but he just blasted the heat and pulled his knee socks up higher.
Kibum was an expert with the details. He had his whole day meticulously planned out down to the drive time between his appointments and necessary coffee breaks. Schedules had always, in his mind, fit together like puzzles, and it was easier when you had as many hours in a day to play with as he did.
His eyes were still dry, and he didn’t want to risk being too sleepy to drive. He’d read, somewhere, that being sleepy while operating a motor vehicle was even worse than being drunk. But Kibum hadn’t slept well in so long that he had mastered staying awake behind the wheel.
He didn’t have to pinch his arm, or anything juvenile like that. (Minho used to pinch Jonghyun’s arm, though, back when Jonghyun would start to snore on the short trip from the dorm to the agency, over and over again until Jonghyun’s arm was covered in red splotches and Taemin was stifling his laughter behind both hands.) He just set his phone to play Ke$ha and turned the volume high enough to drown out exhaustion and sang along to songs that never played on the radio anymore.
He had three interviews today. For the first one, he was meeting an interviewer at a collection shoot. He was pleasantly surprised to walk onto set and see a familiar face among the models.
Kim Hyeongseop sat in one of the prep chairs.
"Long time no see," Kibum said, sitting down on a vacant stool.
"Someone is too busy traveling around the world being absolutely fabulous," Hyeongseop said, and Kibum rolled his eyes. "And I'm very sorry about that. I can’t help it if I’m so in demand. I’ll try to make more time for you, love."
"I haven’t felt much like clubbing lately, anyway." Kibum organized his notes as Hyeongseop turned to look at him.
"You look horrible," Hyeongseop said, as soon as he saw Kibum. The make-up woman smacked his shoulder, and chided him for moving.
"You might have perfect cheekbones," she said, "but they’ll look horrible covered in eyeliner."
"I’m sorry, noona," Hyeongseop said, with feigned contriteness, and Kibum smirked. "But Kibum, you look positively jaundiced." He was careful to hold still even as he gave Kibum a critical once-over. "Are those shorts made of rayon? Lie to me and tell me you were involved in an orgy last night and you’re just too worn out to care about how you look right now."
"They’re deconstructed silk," Kibum corrected. "And okay, sure, there were two sets of twins and a stripper." He waved his hand. "I’m here on business, not pleasure."
"The designer is over there," Hyeongseop said, pointing over toward where a small, balding man was purple-faced and arguing with a tall, buxom photographer. The make-up woman slapped his hand and hissed. "Sorry, sorry."
"Thanks, Hyeongseop," Kibum said, rooting through his messenger bag for his phone. He scrolled through his apps to find his recorder. "Dinner during Tokyo Fashion Week?"
"Only if by dinner you mean partying and if you promise to not wear those shorts," Hyeongseop said. "And to take a nap. I don’t party with extras from the 1978 version of ‘Dawn of the Dead’."
"It’s a deal," Kibum said, and then he approached the bickering subjects of his interview.
"Excuse me, sir?" Kibum said, immediately focusing on the small man. "I’m Kim Kibum with Vogue Korea, and I’m here to ask you a few questions about what you’ll be showing at Tokyo-Mercedes Benz Fashion Week?"
The lights fluctuated, and Kibum knew how hot those lights felt, when they shone on you. Sweating under heavy make-up and smiling as the clothes clung to you.
It was cooler, behind the scenes. He had only learned that when he started writing and working off camera.
Kibum had never imagined himself as a writer. He’d always thought, when SHINee was over and done, he’d already be in his thirties, and he’d get an MC spot or something like that. He’d thought, by then, enough of SHINee’s brand of idol would have aged out of the system that there would be some sort of trajectory to follow, and he’d just fall into that path naturally.
It turned out, though, that there were too many idols, and not a single one of them knew what they wanted to do after their fans were old enough that they took their paychecks home to families instead of to the local music store to buy five copies of their favorite boyband's latest album.
And SHINee hadn’t gone out with a final mini and concert tour. SHINee had gone out with a scandal that had been followed by a great and terrible quiet.
The first thing Kibum had done, when their manager had called to tell him that there was going to be a meeting with the boss with that tone of finality, was get the hell out of South Korea. He’d packed a single suitcase and gotten on a plane at two in the morning to California. Because it was familiar. He’d studied there when he was younger. He had booked a hotel room for a month and a half, and rode out the media storm in another country, without telling his friends or his family where he’d gone. He had turned off the internet, and lived, for that time, in the sort of seclusion that was supposed to bring revelations but in the end only gave him too much damn time to think.
But while he was there, he’d started to write. About places he visited during the day, a knit cap pulled down over his ears to hide hair that was rapidly fading from bright copper to orange. About why he visited. About what music and clothing were popular and why. Stuff like that. He’d meant it only to be a log, so he could tell his loved ones, the few of them he had kept close, this is where I went, and this is what I did. This is still who I am. For his grandmother, maybe, who was probably worried sick about him.
Only it turned out that Kibum had been really good at that. At writing about the things he liked. And a year later, when his first article, on the current fashion trends in San Francisco, was printed as a guest feature in the Korean Vogue, Kibum realized he had somehow found a trajectory, after all.
He would be first at something again, with the whole writing thing. It would be like winning the music show triple crown during comeback week, only less ephemeral. Less likely to disappear with no warning.
"Writers are a type of artist, right?" Minho had said, looking at Kibum over his coffee, a while after Kibum had returned. Minho had rings under his eyes from a night shoot. High Cut, Kibum had heard. Not from Minho. Minho’s version of being in communication was not hitting ‘Decline Call’ when his phone rang. "It figures."
"What’s that supposed to mean?" Kibum had responded.
Minho had looked Kibum up and down. "Only idols and artists can get away with that kind of outfit."
Minho was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt with these horrible, worn out boat shoes. Kibum had shuddered, and had written an article for GQ the next month on how boat shoes were definitely on their way out.
"You haven’t changed as much as I feared," Jinki had told him over the phone a few weeks later. "Minho is pretending to be angry, by the way, about the shoes article." The media had immediately picked up that Kibum was teasing Minho with the article, and it had been splashed across a lot of the popular news shows for a solid three days. Kibum had… enjoyed that.
"What do you mean by that?" Kibum had held the phone closer to his ear. He wasn't sure if Jinki was trying to be offensive or not. One never knew, really.
"You've been kind of... strange. Quiet. I was worried. But even after all these years, you still need to be the center of attention."
Kibum had always known that about himself. He looked in the mirror and recognized that need to not be forgotten. To not be less than everyone else.
"I relish attention," Kibum had said. "Because I deserve it. That’s what makes an idol, though, right?"
He had remembered late nights in the dance rooms, being second best at his specialty and having to live with that, and thinking this is what makes an idol then, too.
"I have filming tomorrow," Jinki had said, intruding on Kibum’s thoughts. "I’m going to hang up. I have to wear a yellow suit today, can you imagine? I thought I was past that time in my life."
"You’re never past that time in your life," Kibum had replied. "I’ve always thought you looked excellent in yellow."
"Well," Jinki had said, "you always thought we looked excellent in plaid with polka dot detailing, so I can’t trust you."
"Careful," Kibum had smiled, remembering the way Minho had sent him a selca of himself scowling. "My word is fashion law, these days."
Kibum had written a more subtle article the following month, also for GQ, on yellow being the new ‘it color’ for men to prove his point. Jinki had sent him a text that said haha, jackass, but there had been no news coverage about that.
Jonghyun’s first solo album had come out four days later, and Kibum could only remember an album cover with five. They had not started out as best friends, or even friends at all. Kibum had thought of them as coworkers. They’d barely known anything about each other, in those early interviews. Things had changed, after seven years together. Looking at that solo cover, with Jonghyun's vacant, dopey face, Kibum had felt, suddenly, very alone.
Another name to look out for at 2019’s Tokyo Fashion week this year is none other that Seoul’s own Kim Hyun-Ah. A former idol, this sex symbol parlayed her iconic image into a booming fashion line, creating high-end designs for women that are sure to turn heads on the runway. In a meeting with her a week before the big show, she told me "red is very in this fall, and women are going to be looking more powerful than ever."
Kibum rested his head on the cool wood of his desk. "No more," he said to himself, but then two hands landed on his shoulders and started a slow massage. "Don’t distract me, I’m on a deadline."
The Tokyo Fashion Week article was due to his editor at Vogue in three days. "You’re going to give yourself an ulcer," said Jonghyun. "Just imagine your stomach lining slowly dissolving. If that’s not inspiration to chill out, I don’t know what is."
"It wouldn’t be the first time," Kibum said distractedly, taking another sip of coffee. The coffee wouldn’t help with the ulcers or the insomnia, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, but it would help with getting the last of these transcripts done.
"It wouldn’t," Jonghyun replied, and Kibum narrowed his eyes at his computer.
He knew Jonghyun was referring to back then, the summer of 2016. Kibum didn’t want to think about that. Deadline. Fashion Week.
"I have work to do," Kibum said. "And I thought you wouldn’t be home for dinner?"
"Kibum, it’s midnight." Roo had started her wheezing dream yelps a few hours ago, and Kibum had thought even Roo is getting old, going to bed so early.
"That explains why it’s been dark so long," Kibum said. "I’m almost done." Lie.
"Get some sleep," said Jonghyun. "I mean it."
"I thought I was the nag," Kibum said. He’d gotten over that tendency, mostly. After all, just because Kibum had the obsessive need to control every aspect of his life, it didn’t mean he needed to inflict it on anyone else, even if they sorely needed the help. Especially Jonghyun, whose version of hygiene was mostly going into the bathroom to stare at his abs and then exiting the bathroom shortly afterwards, hair a messy mop in that non-cool I-did-it-like-this-on-purpose way, and his teeth gleaming brightly from off-brand toothpaste like they weren’t rich enough for the shit with extra fluoride in it. "Wasn’t that my role?"
"We aren’t in a boy band anymore, Kim Kibum. We don’t need roles. Everyone can be the mom or the dancer or the lead vocal." Jonghyun laughed. "Besides, someone needs to take care of you." The hands disappeared anyway, and Kibum heaved a sigh. "Well, maybe not everyone can be the lead vocal."
"You can’t even wash your own jeans!" Kibum said, too tired to work up to a good bluster, but it was to Jonghyun’s closed door. Two of the unassembled boxes had slid down to lie flat on the floor. Kibum stood up and stretched, before walking over to the boxes and stacking them all neatly back against the wall. "Well, maybe not everyone can be the lead vocal," he mocked, before smiling fondly at Jonghyun’s closed door.
Jonghyun meant well, but no one needed to take care of Kibum. And Kibum should have been better at taking care of--
He went to bed, and he didn’t sleep. The spackling hadn’t changed since last night. There still weren’t enough sheep.
On the nights that Kibum did manage to fall asleep, he had the worst dreams.
He would wake up, but it would be years and years ago. Minho would be asleep in the bunk above him, Jonghyun having driven him out, his snores like a revving lawnmower, and Taemin would be asleep next to him, face scrunched and restless in slumber. Kibum would lean forward and kiss him on the forehead.
Baby, wake up, he would say, and Taemin would open his eyes and look at him crankily.
What are you doing in my bed? Taemin would ask, and Kibum would laugh, and ruffle Taemin’s hair.
You’re in my bed, and Kibum would delight in the way Taemin blushed. Were you having a nightmare?
Yes, Taemin would reply, after debating with himself. I woke up and all of this didn’t exist.
All of what?
SHINee, SM, all of it. He would look so young. Kibum would push Taemin’s hair out of his eyes and smile at him softly, a way he’d never smile for anyone else. Kibum, wrapped around Taemin’s finger. Kibum, vulnerable uniquely for him. This. This right now.
I thought you hated this, Kibum would reply, and Taemin would look down, fixing his eyes on the collar of Kibum’s night shirt instead of Kibum’s face. Me babying you.
I would miss it, if I never had it, Taemin would say, after Kibum’s heart had beat four loud, fast times. I would miss you.
That’s when Kibum woke up, every time, in a cold sweat. It always felt like Tuesday. That’s when Kibum realized, every time, that it wasn’t a dream, but a memory.
Kim Kibum swallowed his anxiety, and did not feel guilty.
Coffee. Writing. Coffee. Phone calls. Writing. Coffee.
Amber’s hair was almost down to her mid-back, now. It swung down over her shoulders as she leaned forward to look Kibum in the eyes.
"Are you sure you have time for lunch?" she laughed. "You keep looking at your phone."
"E-mails from my editor," Kibum said. "And I have to eat sometime. I might as well do it with a friend."
"And you chose me," Amber said. "How cute. I feel all special."
"This is partially business, I’m afraid." Kibum replied. "Can you watch the dog while I’m gone?"
"Roo?" Amber looked at him quizzically. "I’m confused. Is Jonghyun going with you to Tokyo?"
"No," Kibum said. "But he’s very busy lately. With wedding stuff. And the move. I don’t want Roo to pee all over the floor and then starve to death just because her owner is an imbecile."
"Ah. The move." Amber added more parmesan to her spaghetti. "And how are we taking ‘the move’?"
Kibum tried not to bristle and reply with we aren’t doing anything. "I hear you guys are putting out a new mini this month," said Kibum.
"You gonna be okay in that big condo all by yourself?"
"I hear the concept is cowgirls."
"Chanyeol is looking for a roommate now that EXO is out of the dorms. I know you always got along with him. You've got that weird attachment to large-eared boys, so wanna live with one? Ryeowook's on the market for a roommate, too—"
"I hope your video doesn’t start some awful trend for cowgirl boots. It would kill my soul to write about them as something in—"
"Everyone else lets you talk over them," Amber said, in clear, straightforward English. "But I won’t. Let me be frank. Are you all right?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that?"
"Because you look like hell, Key," Amber said. "Seriously. And don’t give me any mess about deadlines. You’ve looked like hell for a while now. Years now." Kibum resisted the urge to correct her. To tell her it had been twenty-three months and thirteen days since... To tell her that Kibum had been stuck in that Tuesday since… "I’m not trying to insult you, but ever since you came back from that disappearing act, to who-knows-where… You’ve been half as funny and half as pretty."
"It’s not anyone’s business," Kibum replied coolly. "Everything is fine. Great. I’m happy. Life is good." It was. Kibum had a career and friends and his grandmother to visit on the weekends. He had fashion and travel and plenty of money to spend on them both. Good. Great. Spectacular.
All anyone could ask for. All Kibum would admit he needed.
"We’ve all heard that before," Amber said, her eyes far away. "I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong. Look how that turned out. SM family down another band and you off the grid." She frowned at him. "Nobody else has the guts to tell you that something is seriously wrong with you."
"It’s mild insomnia," Kibum said, staring down at his pasta and willing himself to eat it because it was pretty and expensive. "Nothing that requires an intervention."
"This isn’t an intervention, you fussy manchild," Amber said, disgruntledly. "This is a friend asking what she can do to help." She tilted her head and smiled sadly. "I’m worried. And I don’t want to lose you like we lost… I don’t want you to fade away before our eyes."
"I never fade away," Kibum said, shoving his fork into his pasta. "I make sure of that." Speak louder. Play it up. Be the best at this, and no one would forget him.
"Come down to the agency building and dance with us next Monday," Amber said. "It’ll be fun. Like old times."
"Don’t say old," Kibum said. "You know I have a complex."
"You have four days off before you head to Tokyo, right? We’re trying to put together choreography for the Golden Week specials. I’m just shifting through music, but some of the others are coming." She tugged on the neck of her T-shirt. "It would be good practice for How to Succeed in Business…"
The musical that Lee Sooman wanted him to appear in. The musical that was supposed to put SHINee’s Key back on stage for the first time in over two years. Kibum was still under contract for another seventeen months. He wasn’t sure he was allowed to say no. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to say no, yet. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to say yes.
"I don’t really dance anymore," Kibum said, pushing pasta around on his plate a little more for good measure. "I don’t sing or dance or appear on variety shows. I’m not an idol anymore, Amber." He chuckled, dry and raspy. It wasn’t an attractive sound. He’d have to practice it. "I’m retired."
"Retired or no, you loved those things," Amber said. "You loved being an idol." She licked tomato sauce off her lips.
"I did," Kibum said. "But what’s the point?"
Amber shook her head, and Kibum thought she looked kind of sad. "It certainly seems like you’re fading away to me."
Kibum turned in his article sixteen hours before deadline.
Minho was a horrific actor. Kibum had never beaten around the bush about it, in public or in private. Minho’s ability to show emotion was closer to that of a marble statue than Jang Dong Gun, and Kibum could only blame his continued drama successes on the superiority of his physical build. Tall, dark and handsome made up for a lot in the world of popular television, even if Minho spent most of his on-screen time looking like a particularly attractive human vegetable.
He changed the channel, and found himself staring at Jinki’s stupid smiling face. From Minho the inexpressive to Jinki the charmingly weird MC. Even though SHINee had been… over for two years, Kibum was still spending his afternoon with the members. Figured.
They were playing a game that Kibum was sure he played, once upon a time when SHINee appeared on every variety show SM landed for them. Tug of war over a huge inflatable pool of hot soapy bubblebath. Taemin and Jonghyun had loved that game, and he remembered Taemin’s wide shiny eyes as Kibum had wiped the suds off his nose. Don't get the soap in your eyes.
Something hit him on the back of the head. A pair of dirty socks?
"You're disgusting and under-evolved," Kibum said, as Jonghyun laughed.
"Go out and get a life," Jonghyun said, and Kibum scoffed, not bothering to turn around and look at him. He could sense the tragic smirk on Jonghyun’s face, and he wasn’t in the mood to look at it. "You’ve turned in your article. No excuses."
"Pardon me," Kibum replied, fixating on Jinki’s overly exposed teeth as he pushed at Noh Hongchul, knocking him into the tub, "but which one of us goes to parties while the other makes deepdish pizzas and eats the whole thing after taking a picture with it and his dog?" Kibum turned to look disdainfully at Jonghyun.
"That was a great picture," Jonghyun defended, scratching the back of his head and looking like a strange cross between a chimp and a toothbrush. "And which one of us is getting married while the other watches Minho’s horrible drama on television?"
"It might be true," Kibum admitted, "that I am in a low point in my life right now."
"Watching Minho’s dramas is probably a sign of mid-life crisis." Laughing at his own joke, Jonghyun cocked his hip. "Or a feeling of intense desperation."
"And to think I just survived the quarter-life crisis," mused Kibum, laughing even as he switched off the television. "Perhaps I’ll go for a walk." He stood and stretched, pulling the kinks out of his back and blinking the spots from his eyes.
"Take my dog?" Jonghyun asked. He looked at Kibum pleadingly. He’d been asking him to do that a lot lately. Kibum had the sneaking suspicion Jonghyun was planning to leave the pup with him when he moved out. Like he thought Kibum might get lonely.
Kibum pointedly did not look at the boxes by the door. "Fine," he said.
Kibum was, maybe, worried too. That he might get lonely. That when he was alone all the time there’d be too much space in this big place meant for two, for all his thoughts.
More sheep would fit if the bedroom next door to his was vacant.
"Kibum…" Jonghyun hesitated, his mouth an ugly slash of a frown, "about your insomnia… Don’t you think…" He stopped. Hesitated. Steeled himself. "I’ve been wondering if it was about the band, or about Taemin." He curled and uncurled his fingers. "I’ve been wondering if you thought, I guess, that everything that happened with Taemin was your fault, or something dumb like that."
Kibum’s nerves had not felt frayed moments ago, but now he was close to sparking. In the back of his mind, he could see Taemin’s face, when he’d looked at Kibum and asked him, with his eyes, to just… Kibum swallowed, and then pursed his lips. "No. Everything is fine," he said.
Kibum did not feel guilty.
"Is it?" Jonghyun shrugged, slipping his hands into his pockets and offering up a sideways smile. He leaned against the doorframe of his bedroom. "I wish you were happy, that’s all."
"You’re happy," Kibum said. "We can’t all be happy. There are no one-hundred percents in life." He crouched down to snap the leash onto Roo, who had come running, albeit less frantically in her old age, on her tiny legs as soon as Kibum had slipped into his shoes.
"Sure there are," said Jonghyun, grabbing Kibum’s gaze and holding it. "When we were SHINee, everything was about the one-hundred percent. Every performance, every appearance, every recording…"
"We aren’t SHINee," Kibum snapped. "There is no SHINee. There was. But now there isn’t." Roo’s butt had been shaking in excitement, but it slowed. Her ears drooped along with Jonghyun’s shoulders, and Kibum felt like he had punted two puppies instead of one.
"There will always be a SHINee," Jonghyun said. "1000 years, ~always by your side~"
Kibum snorted. "You’re sickeningly earnest."
"You’re predictably cold, stone-heart." It was Jonghyun’s attempt at bringing back an old joke. It made Kibum think of better times. He wasn’t sure if that was good or if it hurt.
"I pride myself on it." He injected teasing into his voice, making sure to smirk. "Besides, part of my mystery, as I age, is my whole detached shtick."
"You’re so full of yourself." Jonghyun straightened his back and attempted another smile. It held, this time.
"Of course I am," said Kibum. "That’s why we work so well, you and I. Birds of a feather flock together."
"Peacocks, the both of us," Jonghyun agreed, as Kibum opened the door of their condo and stepped out into the chilly hall.
I’ve been wondering if you thought, I guess, that everything that happened with Taemin was your fault, or something dumb like that.
Something dumb like that.
’Like this, hyung?’ Taemin had asked, his hand as tight as Kibum liked it and his mouth parted with exertion. ‘I just want to make you happy, hyung.’
Kibum didn’t feel guilty.
(Yes, he did.)
He remembered the first time.
"He’s too cute for you to hate him this much," Jonghyun had whispered, and Kibum had clenched his hands into fists.
"I refuse to be beaten by a nine-year-old kid."
"A really cute kid. And he’s twelve. Only two years younger than you," Jonghyun had said. "And you’re not being beaten." He’d grinned. "He got in first, you know."
"I’m supposed to be the best dancer trainee," Kibum had said. "Not Lee Taemin." First his name, Kim Kibum, and now his talent. There was always someone else, someone first, someone better.
"You can both be the best dancer?" Jonghyun had ventured. "There’s no law that says—"
"Shut up," Kibum had hissed. Lee Taemin had looked up from tying his shoelaces, then, and smiled warmly at Kibum. Kibum’s chest had spasmed, and he’d frowned even harder at the boy. Taemin had quickly bowed.
"Please take care of me," he’d said, and Kibum had felt himself react to the softness of the boy’s voice and the way his hair had hung in his face.
"We will," Jonghyun had said. "I’m Kim Jonghyun, and this is…"
"Kibum." With an unflinching coolness, he’d stared the boy down. "I hear you’re a dancer. I sincerely hate that."
"I am a dancer," Taemin had replied hesitantly. "I hear you are too?" He’d sounded unsure. Kibum had sincerely liked that.
"Kim Kibum has a heart of stone," Jonghyun had said. "If he has one at all. Don’t take it personally."
"Don’t you forget it," Kibum had warned, and the boy had laughed. It had been a nice sound. That spasm again. Kibum hadn’t understood it.
"I won’t," Taemin had said, smiling hopefully. "I hope we can work well together."
I will protect you, Kibum had thought against his will, because Kibum was not nice. Not kind or soft. Kibum had no time for things like this.
"Maybe," he’d replied, and Taemin had reached out and wrapped a hand vice-tight around Kibum’s heart.
"Amber is going to be stopping by every day to check on Roo and make sure she isn’t dead." Nine pairs of underwear. Nine pairs of socks.
"I’m not going to let my dog die from neglect. By the way, do people ever tell you that you have control issues?"
"A couple," answered Kibum. "Why?" Ten shirts. Two blouses. Three jackets.
"No reason," said Jonghyun. "Just wondering." He ran a hand through his hair. The red was growing out. "I lived in this condo alone with Roo before you moved in, you know."
"I know," Kibum said. He’d come back from California as lost as he’d left, and it had been Jonghyun, not anyone else, who had pulled Kibum back into routine. Anchored him. "But it was only, like, two months. And things were different then. You weren’t bogged down with wedding plans."
"You have a safe trip, okay?"
"I will," Kibum promised. "I’m not you. I’m not going to get so wrapped up in my Twitter that I forget to get on the plane."
"That was only once."
"It’s shameful that it happened at all, though."
"Why are you so mean to me, though?"
"You make it so easy." Kibum zipped his suitcase. "Good luck feeding yourself while I’m gone."
"Segyeong won’t let me starve."
"Pity," said Kibum. He surveyed his luggage thoughtfully.
"Hey, Kibum." Jonghyun was loitering in the doorway. He seemed nervous, or anxious, maybe.
"I wanted to apologize."
"For what?" Kibum had forgotten his extra pair of sandals. There was probably more room in his carry-on than in his suitcase at this point. "Annoying me while I’m trying to pack?"
"For bringing up Taemin, yesterday." Kibum stilled. "I shouldn’t have."
"Only, when all of that stuff happened, with the press and everything… You just… disappeared. No one could find you, Kibum. We didn’t know if you were dead in a ditch somewhere, and no one could find Taeminnie, either, and we all knew how much you tried to look after him." Jonghyun scratched at his chest like a caveman. "It was scary. And…"
"And?" Kibum asked impatiently. "And what?"
"Not all of you came back, from wherever you went," Jonghyun finished.
"Everything is fine," Kibum said, when the silence became too crushing to bear. "We’ve all changed since then." He frowned. "Although Jinki assures me I'm still an attention whore, and Jinwoon agrees."
"I guess so," Jonghyun said. "Anyway, I wasn’t trying to make things worse by bringing it up. But if you ever want to talk…"
"I always want to talk," Kibum said. Then, more quietly: "But probably not about Taemin."
"Yeah," said Jonghyun. "Okay. Have a good flight."
Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a rented car had given Kibum plenty of time to think.
Or to remember things.
It hadn’t been serious, at first. It had been a fifteen year old Taemin who was curious, and a Kibum who didn’t want Taemin to experiment with anyone else. (A Kibum who couldn’t say no.) Taemin’s lips had been plush and slick and inexperienced in the dark of their common room, and they had stuck to Kibum’s strawberry gloss-slick ones.
Kibum had thought, with a fluttering in his chest right where one might expect to find his heart, that he would not mind staying like this, legs and arms entangled, for as long as Taemin would like.
"Hyung," Taemin had whispered, "teach me?" He had batted his eyelashes and no one could ever say no to Taemin, because no one ever wanted to say no. Not even Kibum, who had been the most resistant, at first, to Taemin’s charms.
Kibum hadn’t wanted to say no, anyway, not when he had the chance to be the first person Taemin ever touched. The first person Taemin ever kissed. That part of Taemin would always be his, no matter what.
"All right," Kibum had replied, letting himself pull Taemin so close that he couldn’t tell where one of them ended and the other began.
"I don't want a fantasy romance like those in the movies. I’d prefer a realistic and truthful relationship," he’d said, later, in the interview they’d had for the September 2009 issue of COOL.
Taemin had looked at him, when he’d answered, with shining eyes, and Kibum had thought, for a moment, that a little bit of fantasy wouldn’t be so bad after all, before common sense had overridden the stray idea.
One of the things Kibum had written in his journal, while he’d been in California, had been a list of all the ways he just didn’t work right anymore.
19. Seventeen is too young to have so much common sense<.
It had been a long list.
Hyung, Taemin had said, that Tuesday, why won’t you just--
Often, Kibum considered that the insomnia might be withdrawal. That he couldn’t sleep because he’d roll onto his side and smell Taemin’s scent in a place he’d never lain and see Taemin’s smile when it had been so long since he’d seen Taemin at all.
It was Tuesday, over and over and over again, and day by day, like a man thirsting in the desert, Kibum longed for…
There was probably an idol handbook. Kibum was sure there must be. He bet Leeteuk-seonbaenim gave readings of it by night to a disinterested audience of his jaded and debauched bandmates before he’d left for the army, and had had it read to him over and over again when he’d come back to remind him of who he used to be.
Kibum was sure it must exist, and in the front of it, on the very first page, in bold, yellow highlighted type, it said "don’t fall for another idol, because it will hurt and hurt and hurt, and never stop hurting, you complete idiot."
Kibum had his own imaginary copy of that mythical bible, and he chanted sections of it to himself every night after Taemin fell asleep, hair spread out like a halo around him and Kibum sucking that innocence away with every wayward touch to his brow.
In the back of the book, in smaller type, it probably said: everything is a competition, and don’t lose to Lee Taemin.
Kim Kibum had a heart of stone.
He had wanted Taemin because he was pretty, and Kibum coveted pretty things.
He had wanted Taemin because he was soft and new, and Kibum liked being the first one to have something that everyone else would die to have.
He had wanted Taemin because the way Taemin said hyung (he said it differently to each of them, and the way he said it to Kibum was the most reverent, the most intimate) and the way he looked at Kibum made Kibum feel like he was more than anyone else could ever be.
"The article looks great," his editor said. "I’ll expect the follow up by mid-April."
"Naturally," Kibum said. "I’ll write it as soon as I get back."
"It’s like you don’t sleep," his editor replied, her voice pleased on the other end of the line.
Kibum laughed, brittle, swishing his coffee around in his cup. "I’ll only be accessible by e-mail starting tomorrow morning," he said.
"Enjoy the shows," she said, and Kibum smiled. He kicked a stone from the sidewalk into the street.
"I always do. Fashion is my only love."
"That’s what worries me," she joked. "Are you after my job?"
"Not immediately," Kibum reassured her. "I’ll wait a few more years."
"Good," she said, and Kibum took another sip of coffee. She thought he was joking, but Kibum never joked about things like that. Goal-setting was an important part of success. "Travel safe."
Goal-setting? he could hear Taemin whispering against his sternum.
It’s good to work toward a fixed goal, Kibum had replied.
A fixed goal? A mouth had traveled down his chest. Taemin’s tongue had darted out from between his full lips to draw a wet circle around Kibum’s belly button. Can you guess what my goal is?
Yes, Kibum had said, tangling his hands in Taemin’s hair as Taemin had pressed his tongue to the bundle of nerves on the underside of Kibum’s cock. The sofa fabric chafed Kibum’s thighs. Pleasure.
Taemin had always learned so fast. Sometimes, Kibum hadn’t been sure who was teaching whom. Can I… Sometimes, Taemin had looked at Kibum like he’d known exactly what he was doing.
Kibum had bit down on his own hand to keep his moans from waking Jinki up.
Some days, there was nothing stronger than Kibum’s memories. The glitter and the glow and the fan chants so loud his eardrums threatened to burst. The hum of the choreography through his sinew and into his bones and the lyrics of their latest song on the tip of his tongue.
He’d thought the lines would start to get blurry, and that maybe Taemin’s face would start to fade as time went on. But things were only blurry when he opened his eyes, still exhausted, contacts fused to his irises and vision destitute.
"I just want to sleep," Kibum said, and perhaps, he thought, this was his punishment for pretending to have a heart of stone when Taemin had opened up his chest and looked inside.