Kibum/Donghae, PG-13, 4,230 words
Donghae is one mistake Kibum doesn't mind making.
Kibum’s first mistake was agreeing to Principal Park’s suggestion that he tutor a third year in chemistry on the self-assumed basis that if he did, she would then stop asking favors of him.
His first thought was, What’s the worst that could happen?
His second was, Kim Kibum, you’re a fucking idiot.
Though not, he soon found out, as much of an idiot as Lee Donghae, the third year he was supposed to tutor.
“Wow,” Donghae said, spilling some of the foam that lay atop his caramel macchiato as he brought the mug up to his lips and slurped loudly. “So, you must be some kind of kid genius or something.”
He held the handle of the mug precariously between two fingers. Kibum fought back the urge to insist that he wasn’t a kid, god damn it, but the swaying of the cup threatened caffeine-filled calamity all over the general chemistry textbook he’d just purchased. He sighed, loudly, and placed one hand at the side of his neck, delivering a make-do massage. Battles were meant to be taken one at a time, after all. That much he had learned.
“Donghae,” Kibum said, pointing one finger at the mug. “Lee Donghae. Put the mug down.”
Donghae shot Kibum an idiotic grin before acquiescing with a loud clack of ceramic against polished wood. Kibum flinched and surveyed the damage. A few drops of brown glared at him from the white of the textbook pages.
“When resell value for this book is shit, I’m blaming you,” Kibum said rigidly, dabbing at the spots with a napkin before slamming the book shut and sliding it back into his backpack.
“Come on,” Donghae said, eyes glinting as he reached out a hand to grab Kibum’s. Kibum shook it away briskly. Donghae’s grin grew wider. “Lighten up. Imperfection builds character.”
“Spoken like a true imperfectionist.”
Donghae rolled his eyes and grasped for his crumpled, coffee-stained sheet of binder paper. The sheet had appeared from within the depths of Donghae’s backpack already crumpled before the drink was even delivered to the table. Kibum wondered if Donghae treated all his school supplies this way. He decided he didn’t want to know.
“So before you went all tiger mom on my drink,” Donghae started.
“We were discussing significant figures,” Kibum said, pointing the tip of his pen at the numbers written in neat block handwriting across the lines of his five subject notebook.
“Yeah,” Donghae said, leaning back in his chair, crossing his legs, and then uncrossing them. “I’m not following.”
“I just,” Kibum started. “Look. We haven’t even gotten to the chemistry yet. We’ve been stuck for the past two hours on numbers and calculations. I don’t know how much I can help you.”
Donghae scrunched his face together and pulled both feet in so that the soles of his shoes were flush against the seat of his chair.
“Are you calling me a lost cause? You’re a terrible tutor.”
Kibum sighed, ran his fingers through his hair, and sighed again. He made a mental note to punch the Kibum of two days ago in the face for not requesting monetary compensation.
Kibum’s second mistake was letting Donghae eat a bar of chocolate halfway through their tutoring session. He hadn’t eaten lunch, he’d said by way of persuasion, and Kibum, in a fit of why-the-hell-am-I-even-here, had told him to go ahead, but he was crazy if he expected him to help pay. In retrospect, no sane teenager should have been that happy about being allowed to consume sugar. That should have been Kibum’s first warning.
“Kibum,” Donghae said. “Kibum. Kibum. Kibum. Bumki. Kibum.”
Beneath the palm of one shaking hand was a worksheet on chemical nomenclature. Trisodiate phosphate was written next to Na3PO4. The rest of the page was filled with squiggly lines.
“What?” Kibum said finally, willing his headache to go away. Donghae was the instigator, he decided. As far as he could tell, there was no cure.
“Can you check my work?”
“No,” Kibum said without looking up from his chemistry textbook.
“You didn’t even look.”
Kibum stole a glance at the worksheet Donghae was working on. Embarrassingly wrong answer, squiggles – was that a map of Germany over there in the corner?
“No,” Kibum said again.
“Fine,” Donghae said, getting out an eraser. “Help me?”
Kibum considered his options. He didn’t intend on tarnishing his reputation as a tutor by walking out on his tutee, no matter how hopeless the cause. The sharp glint of that butter knife was tempting, but his life was too promising to cut short. Even if it would dull the throbbing of his head.
“Fine,” Kibum said finally. “Fine. I just – you – what is the problem?”
Kibum closed the textbook and looked up to see Donghae’s face flat against the surface of the table and sighed to himself, loudly, before shoving him by the shoulder with one hand and reaching for his cell phone with the other. When Donghae came to five minutes later, Kibum strangled out a, “I think you just literally passed out from the sugar rush.”
“Oh,” Donghae said, and shook his head a bit as if to clear it. “Is that what that was.”
Kibum decided to stop counting his mistakes. It only served to make him angry.
“So,” Donghae said, hitting a leg of the table with his foot, repeatedly, “what do you like to do in your free time? You know, besides help lost causes figure out chemical reactions?”
“Stop that,” Kibum said.
“What?” Donghae said, still tapping his foot against the leg of the table.
“Oh,” Donghae said. “Okay.”
He stopped for all of five seconds before starting again.
“I said, stop,” Kibum said, annoyed, brushing back his hair with one hand and staring pointedly at Donghae.
“You didn’t even answer my question,” Donghae shot back.
“I didn’t realize you wanted an answer,” Kibum muttered before taking a red pen and crossing out Donghae’s wrong answers. Silver ion and chloride ion reacting to form silver chloride precipitate was definitely not a combustion reaction.
“Well, I do. I do, I do, I do,” Donghae said, frowning at his red-marked paper. “What is combustion then?”
“In the context of high school chemistry, it’s a hydrocarbon – that is, a compound with carbon and hydrogen – reacting with oxygen to form water vapor and carbon dioxide,” Kibum said. “And I like to read in my free time.”
“About what? Love stories? Do you read love stories?” Donghae said excitedly, continuing to write combustion next to every reaction that wasn’t clearly a decomposition.
“I mostly read about astronomy and quantum mechanics,” Kibum said, continuing to mark the paper.
“That’s not fun,” Donghae said. “Don’t you have hobbies? Do you dance? Do you sing? Do you play video games?”
“My hobby is furthering myself intellectually,” Kibum said almost aggressively. “Donghae, if the products aren’t water vapor and carbon dioxide, it’s not combustion.”
“Okay,” Donghae said slowly, and crossed out combustion in favor of single replacement. Double replacement, Kibum thought, but it was close enough. “But you’re already smart. You’re a first year who’s been taking college courses since middle school. Don’t you ever find room to breathe? Take a break? Be a teenager?”
“Teenagers make stupid decisions, have a limited lexicon, and think more highly of themselves than they should,” Kibum said. “Forgive me for not wanting to be one.”
Donghae looked thoughtfully at Kibum without saying anything.
“What?” Kibum said, caustic. The way Donghae was staring at him was unnerving, as if he were trying to understand him. He didn’t want to be understood; he was just fine remaining on the elusive side of comprehension.
“Doesn’t seem like it’d be very much fun,” Donghae said finally, “being in control of every tiny detail of your life.”
“Speak for yourself,” Kibum shot back, annoyed again, jabbing at his latte angrily with one of those tiny straws. Donghae refused to be tutored in the library because seeing so many books at one time scared him. Kibum didn’t think he was one to talk.
“You are something,” Donghae said, shaking his head. “You are really something, Kim Kibum.”
Afterwards, Donghae zipped through numbers eleven through twenty without getting a single one wrong.
The sleepover was Donghae’s idea. The clothing – “Bring pajamas – oh, and a blanket!” – and snack foods – popcorn and salt and vinegar chips and lots of it – and entertainment – “I hope you like horror movies” – were Donghae’s idea. The impromptu tutoring session wasn’t, but Kibum figured he deserved a say, considering it was Kibum’s time Donghae was monopolizing. Donghae sighed in acceptance but looked like a drowned puppy the whole while.
“So,” Donghae said. He’d made it through a worksheet and a half before the sugar from the kettle corn – if Kibum knew it had sugar he would have never allowed it – kicked in and that one foot began banging itself against the coffee table. “How does it feel to be perfect?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Sure you would. The color-coded hour-by-hour planner, the neatly ironed collared shirts, the insane handwriting–”
“I’m organized. There’s a difference.”
“Man,” Donghae said, jabbing a finger toward Kibum’s notebook, “I know organized, and you are so past that.”
“You are the antithesis of organized,” Kibum said, annoyed.
“I was talking about other people,” Donghae said. “Of course. Why can’t you just take a compliment?”
“It’s not even true,” Kibum said, poking the whipped cream on top of his drink with a straw.
“You don’t think you’re perfect?”
“Well, I do. Does that change things?”
“No,” Kibum said. He’d stabbed through the midpoint, leaving a ring of whipped cream with a coffee-colored center in the middle. “In fact, I’d like to change the subject.”
“Just not worth arguing with a guy who doesn’t know the difference between a strong and weak acid,” Kibum tried.
“I bet even you could tell that was awful,” Donghae said, putting down his pen. “What’s wrong?”
“Look,” Kibum said. Donghae stared at him expectantly. “It’s nothing.”
“No, you look,” Donghae said. “We’re ahead of schedule, right? I think we can afford to take a night off. I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”
It was Kibum’s turn to snort.
“I can’t imagine.”
“Try me,” Donghae said, slamming his notebook shut and sliding it into his backpack. He motioned to Kibum to do the same. Kibum did, albeit carefully. “What’s wrong?” Donghae tried again, and as Kibum looked up, he could see concern in Donghae’s wide eyes. His stomach did this weird thing and he suddenly felt like puking.
He didn’t. But, “I feel like puking,” he did say.
“Oh,” Donghae said. “Man. That was a lot of popcorn, but we ate it hours ago.” And then, after a silence, “I’ve never seen you smile.”
“I do too smile,” Kibum said, more indignantly than he probably intended.
“Prove it,” Donghae challenged, grabbing a handful of kettle corn before popping it into his mouth kernel by kernel. Pop, pop, pop. “See? You can’t. I’m going to make it my personal goal.”
“To make you smile,” Donghae said, flashing one of his. “But it’s okay. No pressure.”
“You know,” Kibum started after Donghae had finally broken eye contact and started examining his sock. “You know, I wet my bed until I was eleven.”
“Yep,” he continued. “I’d have dreams where I’d have to use the restroom really badly, and then, I just – would.” Donghae hid his snort – badly – behind one dirt-stained shirtsleeve. “I also picked my nose. For an embarrassingly long time.”
“Flicker or eater?”
“Neither.” Kibum pretended to gag. “I’d wrap that shit in Kleenex and throw it the fuck away.”
“That’s not so bad,” Donghae said. “And here I was, thinking I’d have to change my opinion of you.”
“So is it?”
“Is your opinion of me changed?” Kibum asked.
“Not one bit,” Donghae said, smiling softly. And then, “Hey, I’m hungry. You up for some food?”
“It’s almost one in the morning, Donghae,” Kibum said. “What’s open at this time?”
“Oh, man,” Donghae said. “Let’s switch roles for a night. I tutor you.”
This definitely wasn’t what Kibum expected from a so-called tutoring session, to be traversing narrow alleys in their pajamas with only the light from the moon and one flickering orange streetlight to guide them. Donghae knew his way – it clearly wasn’t his first time sneaking out of the house while his parents were asleep – but Kibum didn’t know if knowing it gave him any comfort.
“Ah,” Donghae said. “There it is.”
Kibum wasn’t sure what “it” was, but an unmistakable yellow M-shaped logo stared down at them from about two blocks away. He muttered something to himself about fine cuisine, or the lack thereof, to which Donghae rolled his eyes and grabbed his arm – “It’s one in the morning, Kibum. You can’t seriously tell me you’re going to be picky.”
And suddenly they were there, under the eerie glow of off-white awning lights, neon sign proclaiming, “Drive-thru OPEN.”
“Be my passenger,” Donghae said. When Kibum looked over, Donghae was squatting into a wall-less wall-sit, hands in front of him grabbing an impossibly large imaginary steering wheel.
“I,” Kibum started. “I– what– Why are you doing this?”
“Loosen up,” Donghae said with that signature grin of his. “You only get to be a teenager once. And besides, I thought you were hungry.”
“I’m not versed in the art of making stupid decisions,” Kibum muttered to himself, loudly enough for Donghae to hear.
Donghae shrugged and made a gesture of resignation.
“Suit yourself,” he said, and walked toward the drive-thru.
Kibum grabbed his sides. It was cold, and the thin layer afforded by his pajamas wasn’t doing much to combat it. The skin of his hands looked sallow under the fluorescent lights, and he felt like a disappointment. And alone. It would’ve been so easy. But then there was the other part of him that wouldn’t stop telling him that all this was stupid. Useless. Inane. That if he weren’t hunched over a desk drilling vocabulary in his brain, or memorizing physics equations, or piecing together organic synthesis, then he was wrong. That there were only two certainties in life – you were either doing the right thing or you were wrong, and if you were wrong you were useless.
Five minutes later, the warm hand on his arm again. Donghae’s smile still looked bright under the bleaching lights. His other hand held his purchase.
“Chicken nuggets,” he said. Then, a soft pressure on Kibum’s back, words spoken softly, as if Donghae had read his mind, “It’s okay. Come on. Let’s head home.”
Hearing it was a little like being stuck under water and breaking through to breathe again.
The week before finals was the busiest. Donghae couldn’t for the life of him figure out rate laws or the common-ion effect, but at least he could now tell the difference between an acid and a base. On a bad day, Kibum would remind himself that that specific piece of knowledge was general fourth grade curriculum, but even that had been difficult enough to drill into Donghae’s mind, so he just let it be.
“Perfect,” Kibum said. Donghae was lying with his stomach down on his bed, elbows digging into the comforter. For each correct answer, Kibum threw him an M&M. He rarely was able to catch them in his mouth, so a pile of candy was growing around each elbow.
“I thought you didn’t believe in that.”
“Yeah,” Donghae said, bobbing his head down to reach for the M&M’s, as if he were a living, human version of a Hungry Hungry Hippo. “When I said you were perfect and you spun some bullshit about being organized.”
Kibum sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“It’s complicated. And relative.”
“For what it’s worth,” Donghae said, mouth half full of M&M’s after managing to coax some up against his sleeve and into his mouth, “I still think you’re perfect. Even though you’re a bed-wetter and a nose-picker.”
“Was,” Kibum corrected. Donghae smiled innocently. “I don’t know though. I always find myself just short of it.”
“Maybe you don’t realize you’re on the other side,” Donghae said nonchalantly. “Throw me an M&M?”
“You’re something,” Kibum said, throwing an M&M. It almost hit Donghae in the eye, eliciting a mock scowl and more downward struggling.
“Everybody is,” Donghae said, fishing up some more M&M’s. “Hey, if I get an A on the final, will you smile?”
“I guess we’ll see,” Kibum said, and suppressed a smile.
Kibum turned to see Principal Park nod at him, her face held in a rigid expression, and thought to himself it was either Botox or he was in one hell of a fix. He figured it was the latter and gulped as he remembered seeing Donghae off to his final exam with a set of flashcards for last-minute studying, a scowl, and a, “You better not fuck this up for me.”
“Yes, Principal Park?”
At this, her facial features immediately softened.
“Donghae got an A. Good job.”
“He got an A,” she repeated, eyebrows knitting together. “I just told you.”
“Yes, but,” Kibum started. “I just, I thought.”
She frowned slightly at him.
“Okay, thank you,” he ended miserably.
He bowed slightly and took a few slow steps backwards before turning around and starting off at a run. Where the fuck was Donghae?
He found Donghae smoking alone in a corridor way off on the south side of the school. He was leaning against the concrete wall of the woodshop classroom, backpack slung sloppily on the floor next to him. Kibum suddenly felt like he was intruding on something deeply personal – he held his breath, as if that would make a difference. Surely his brisk footsteps and heavy panting would have given him away.
It was strange, to search so hard for something and find yourself inexplicably terrified upon obtaining it. He didn’t want to consider the implications.
He found himself clearing his throat. Donghae took a deep drag of his cigarette before turning his head. Upon making eye contact, the same idiotic grin took over Donghae’s face and Kibum felt a wave of familiarity wash over him. He let out his breath. Donghae bounced to his feet, stamped the cigarette out with his foot, took a strap of his backpack over one shoulder, and suddenly Kibum was face-to-face with the goofy-faced child he’d been tutoring for the better part of the semester.
“So?” Donghae said.
“You cleared your throat,” Donghae said. “I thought you were going to say something.”
“Oh,” Kibum started. “Yeah.”
“Surprised?” Donghae said, gesturing. “I mean. I’m not usually here alone, but. I mean, I swear I’m not a loser.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised this is the first time I’m talking to you on campus,” Kibum said. “But. Look. Wait, I know you’re not a loser.”
“Thought you had me figured out, huh?” A smile played on Donghae’s lips as he reached into his pocket for another cigarette.
“No,” Kibum said. It was a lie. Of course. “Look.” Donghae’s look of expectation was infuriating. “Never mind.”
“Want to bum one?” Donghae held the pack out toward him.
“No – thank you,” Kibum said, the words stilted and strange. “I don’t smoke. I–”
“Kibum,” Donghae said. His tone was softer, and when Kibum looked up he could see Donghae’s eyes filled with concern, focused solely on him. His stomach did that weird thing again and he felt like puking. “I promise that I did not fuck it up for you. Okay? Don’t worry so much. High school’s meant to be enjoyed."
“I mean, I know that,” Kibum said miserably. “I know that because you got an A.”
Donghae looked confused and reached out a hand to Kibum’s shoulder. Against Kibum’s better judgment, he did not swat Donghae’s hand away. He’d blame his confusion later. Or his distress. Something.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah,” Kibum said, “but I didn’t want you to cheat for it. God. Donghae, I swear I–”
“Kibum, Kibum, Kibum,” Donghae said, the corners of his lips turning up into a devilish grin. “I thought you were smart.”
“I am,” Kibum said, almost indignantly, and was instantly embarrassed by it. “I mean, my IQ is Mensa-level.”
“Sure,” Donghae said. “My hunger is you-level.”
“You,” Kibum said. “What?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Donghae said, rolling his eyes. “But, like I said, I thought you were smart.”
“I thought the discussion of my intelligence was concluded,” Kibum said. Donghae raised his eyebrows and grinned.
“Give me some credit,” Donghae said nonchalantly.
“You’re talking to the guy who saw you struggle with the difference between ionic and molecular compounds. I’m not sure I ever saw you come to the realization that those are different from the difference between ionic and covalent bonds,” Kibum said, digging the toe of his shoe into the loose dirt that had formed a thin layer on the concrete.
“Ionic compounds are formed from a metal and a nonmetal. Molecular compounds are formed from mostly only nonmetals,” Donghae said, counting off with his fingers.
“Ionic bonds can be understood schematically as extremely polar bonds, caused by a very large difference in electronegativity between the two atoms involved in the bond. The nonmetal will have very high electronegativity compared to the metal, so much so that the nonmetal will actually take an electron from the metal. Covalent bonds can be divided into polar and nonpolar bonds, which are also dependent on electronegativity,” Donghae said. “Easy.”
“Who the fuck are you,” Kibum muttered after an embarrassingly long silence.
“Do I need to spell this out for you?” Donghae said. He took off his backpack and sat back down with his back against the concrete wall. He motioned for Kibum to do the same. Kibum begrudgingly acquiesced.
“You know,” Donghae mused, taking another drag of his cigarette, “for a so-called genius, you’re actually rather dense.”
“Oh, thanks,” Kibum said sarcastically. “Exactly what I wanted to hear.”
“I mean,” Donghae continued, “you’d have to be not to notice that I’ve been throwing myself at you for five months. That that’s why I asked you to be my tutor.”
It must have been only a minute or two before Kibum could still his heart enough to respond, but it felt like a millennium. What was this feeling in his chest, this heaviness? Was he happy? Relieved? Upset? Scared? Why was he so scared? This was everything he was dreading, or everything he wanted, or both. Or neither. The implications remained.
“Well, that’s news to one of us.”
“It’s okay,” Donghae said, standing up again and brushing the dirt of the ass-side of his pants – and okay, Kibum couldn’t help but look and it was glorious, the ass not the pants, not that he’d ever admit to it, and oh, was that Donghae talking again– “I’m patient. Think about it.”
He flashed Kibum that lopsided grin again, and before Kibum knew what was happening, he was on his feet, and a strangled, “Wait,” escaped his lips. Donghae stopped midstep and turned back, knowing look in his eyes.
He’d definitely blame his confusion for this as well, Kibum thought to himself. He’d blame Donghae – those eyes – that feeling in the pit of his stomach – the fluttering of his heart – was he dying?
Kibum’s last mistake was taking the two steps forward and closing the space between them, grabbing Donghae’s head in both hands and pressing his lips, hard, against Donghae’s. He felt Donghae’s shoulders drop, felt his lips form a smile into the kiss, and suddenly one of Donghae’s arms had snaked its way around Kibum’s waist, the other hand cupping the back of Kibum’s neck like he was something fragile, something to be protected. Donghae pulled his head back slightly. Kibum could see the playful smile fresh on Donghae’s lips from behind his slightly fogged up glasses.
“Didn’t have to think about it for very long,” Donghae whispered softly against Kibum’s collarbone, leaving soft kisses that sent shivers up Kibum’s spine.
“With you, it’s easy,” Kibum said, and smiled.
As it turned out, the only mistake Kibum would live to regret was the first, and this was mostly because the subsequent students Principal Park coerced him into tutoring weren’t intimidated by large stacks of books, didn’t become sugar-hyper maniacs after a single chocolate bar or shaking overgrown children after a caffeinated drink, and didn’t hit their feet annoyingly against table legs. They also didn’t sneak Kibum chicken nuggets from the fast-food drive-through without using a car, nor did they mix together every flavor of frozen yogurt, cover it with gummies that became rock hard upon impact, and call it a peace offering. Kibum figured it was just as well.
The greatest liberty he’d ever taken was letting himself fall in love with Donghae. He didn’t think he had the patience to do it all over again.
“So that’s what broom closets are for, huh,” Kibum said, voice breathless, running his fingers through his hair. The door closed behind them with a bang.
“You learn something new every day,” Donghae said, intertwining his fingers with Kibum’s.
“You’re a great tutor,” Kibum said.
I love you, he didn’t say. It was nothing they didn’t already both know.