"See you in the afterlife," Kibum says.
it doesn't matter if i can't say anything as long as i can see you,
even if i cannot have or touch you.
- approval (jun suh)
There are many times in which Kim Kibum meets Kim Jonghyun, but this is the first time of the first times.
It is the Sunday after Kibum has just turned ten, and his mother gives him a few coins. "Go buy whatever you want," she says, smiling. Kibum, elated, skips out of the house happily, the coins clutched tightly in the hollow of his hand. Perhaps it was an apology gift - they hadn't had enough money the other day to get him a proper present, so instead they'd given him a few sweets bought at the provision shop just around the corner with the last of his father's salary for the day. Or perhaps it was a thank you gift - Kibum hadn't complained, had just grinned and said thank you, content with four sweets because it was his only birthday present.
Kibum wants to buy a lollipop, so he walks jauntily across the road, neatly navigating through the flow of people, the throng of the crowd.
His lollipop is strawberry-flavored, and he grips it tightly, afraid that the slightest loosen of his grip will send his snack tumbling to the muddy ground. When someone bumps into him from the back, he turns around to glare at the person.
"Oh," the boy says, scratching his head. "Sorry."
"You nearly made me drop my lollipop!" Kibum accuses angrily.
The boy backs away from him, hands in front of him. "Hey, hey," he says. "Calm down."
"I hate you!" Kibum says pettily. He crosses his arms over his chest, the half-eaten lollipop still in his hand. He jerks his head away, avoiding the stranger's gaze.
Kibum waits for another apology, another acknowledgment of the grave mistake he had made (his lollipop had nearly dropped, okay!), but what the boy says is unexpected.
"I'd eat it now if I were you," the boy comments.
Kibum refuses to meet the boy's gaze. "Don't tell me what i should or shouldn't do," Kibum snaps.
And then the rain pours. Kibum stands there in the rain with his wet lollipop, mouth hanging open in shock.
They are soon friends. The boy's name is Kim Jonghyun, and he is a year older than Kibum, although his mental age seems to be five years younger.
"Stop staring," Kibum snaps whenever Jonghyun turns eager eyes on the food stalls beside them.
"The food looks nice," Jonghyun says pitifully.
Kibum gives a huff of annoyance. "Of course it looks nice," he says. "The point is, we don't have money."
"We do!" Jonghyun insists.
Kibum stares at him disbelievingly. "This isn't a game, Jjong," he says patronizingly. "We need real money."
"Yeah," Jonghyun says. He points at the ground, where a coin is shimmering under the afternoon sunshine. "See?" He bends down to pick the coin up, rubbing it clean of mud with his raggedy shirt.
They go searching for the most worthwile food to spend the coin on - it had to be filling, yet tasty at the same time. They end up eating ramyun, Kibum watching Jonghyun eat with a hungry look in his eyes.
When Jonghyun finishes half of the bowl, he pushes it to Kibum. "Here," Jonghyun says generously. "You eat."
Kibum's eyes widen. "But you were the one who found the coin."
Jonghyun smiles. "So I get to decide who eats it," he says. "And I want you to eat it."
When the Japanese come, Kibum turns to Jonghyun, his eyes wide. He has a hand clamped over his mouth, because it would obviously be very bad if he screamed out loud. They are hidden behind a wall, peeking out to see the soldiers marching past.
"Jjong," Kibum says. His voice is trembling, and he doesn't bother to conceal his fear, because who would at a time like this?
Jonghyun grips his hand tighter, their clammy fingers sticky and warm together. "I know," he says.
Jonghyun doesn't tell him it'll be okay, because Jonghyun doesn't like to lie, especially not to Kibum. Because there are times when Jonghyun is strong enough for the both of them, but this is not one of those times. Because Jonghyun is probably just as scared as Kibum is, because the panic in his eyes betrays the smile on his face.
"It'll be okay," Kibum tries. It's a sorry excuse of a statement, and his voice is too husky and his hands are shaking, but Jonghyun looks at him with hope blooming across his face. It's a lie, but sometimes lies are what they need in order to get through life.
"I know," Jonghyun repeats. Kibum dodges his gaze and stares at the ground, at his scuffed and dirty shoes, at anything but Jonghyun. He hears a tiny sigh, feels the breath rush out of Jonghyun's mouth, and prays as desperately as he can that what he'd just said would be the truth.
Kibum can't understand a word they're saying, but he knows that this is bad, very bad indeed. He is in a group of boys around his age, and the soldiers are speaking to one another with solemn faces. When one of them adjusts his gun, Kibum flinches.
Then there is a familiar presence by his side, and Jonghyun is tugging his hand. "You're here," Jonghyun says. "Oh God, why are you here?"
His eyes are so wide, so bright, and Kibum swallows. "I don't know," he says. "We're going to die, right?"
"Maybe - a way -" Jonghyun starts, and his voice trails off, leaving his sentence - his lie - incomplete. Kibum rubs at the wetness on his cheeks, holding his head high. There are so many things he hasn't done. He is still seventeen, for God's sake, too young to die, right? He hasn't gotten married, or the child that he wants, hasn't seen more than this part of the country. He cannot die now, but there is no way out of this.
They come closer, guns glinting in the late evening sunshine. "Close your eyes," Jonghyun whispers in his ear, and Kibum does as he's told, squeezing his eyes shut. Jonghyun's hand is clutching his so tightly there will probably be marks left behind even when the life in him has vanished.
Anytime now. "Kibum," Jonghyun says, soft and shaky, and in this instant Kibum realizes that there are so many important things he hasn't told Jonghyun, like sorry for being a brat, thank you for being my best friend for always being here by my side, I love you always have always will.
Jonghyun lets go first. The sound of the gunshot is deafening, but Kibum keeps his eyes closed, continues gripping Jonghyun's still-warm hand, and then he falls.
one point five"Kibum-ah," Jonghyun says, and Kibum just stares. "Kibum? It's me."
They are surrounded by mist so thick Kibum can barely make out Jonghyun's features, but this is Jonghyun's voice and Jonghyun's smile and the Jonghyun that he loves, and Kibum takes a step forward, a tiny sob gathering at the base of his throat.
"How touching," someone says, and Kibum freezes. A man materializes into view, wearing a wide but slightly eerie smile.
Jonghyun closes the distance between the two of them, pulling Kibum close. "Who are you?"
"The one who gets to decide your futures," the man says. Kibum represses a shudder, the man's red eyes piercing as he looks at the two of them with that creepy smile.
"What futures?" Jonghyun wants to know. "This is the end, right?"
The man laughs a little, his eyes flickering. "No," he says. "This is the beginning."
"Of your next lives, of course."
They exchange glances. Jonghyun's mouth is slightly agape, but he recovers quickly. "We're going together," he says. "Wherever we're supposed to go, we'll do it together."
"Like I said," the man replies, his grin widening. "I'm the one who gets to decide, not you."
"Please," Kibum says, finding his voice. He swallows. "We haven't gotten the chance to be together properly."
Jonghyun looks at him, and Kibum manages a smile. "I love him," Jonghyun says strongly, and Kibum's heart flips a little in his chest - but wait, does he still have a heart?"How touching," the man says. "But no."
"One more time," Kibum says. Jonghyun ropes his fingers around Kibum's hand, and it gives him the courage he needs. "One more chance."
The man softens a little. "I'm only doing this because I want to watch the drama that's going to ensue," he tells them. "But anyway, you'll forget everything. And I can't ensure for certain that you'll meet each other again, or even fall in love."
"I'll find you," Jonghyun says. Kibum jerks his head up, startled. Jonghyun's gaze is earnest and sincere, and Kibum smiles at him through a thin film of tears. "I'll find you, wherever you are."
See, the thing is, Kibum is positive he'd know Jonghyun anywhere, that he will be able to recognize Jonghyun no matter what form he is in, that at the very least he will still stop and stare because this is Kim Jonghyun, his best friend, the one who was meant for him right from the very start.
"See you in the afterlife," Kibum says.
There is a transfer student. His name is Kim Jonghyun, and Kibum doesn't really know anything about him and doesn't bother to find out. Jonghyun is one year older than him, so Kibum doesn't really see him around often, but enough to know that this boy has a friendly smile and an odd quality that makes him feel incredibly familiar.
Sometimes in the cafeteria, he feels like someone is looking at him, and when he turns he manages to meet Jonghyun's gaze for a while before they both turn away with electricity zinging through their veins. Kibum doesn't mention this to anyone, because who would believe that Kim Jonghyun, resident popular boy, was gay? And anyway, even if Jonghyun was gay, why would he be interested in Kibum?
So Kibum shuts him out of his mind, even though sometimes at night there is a niggling feeling that he is letting something very precious go without a fight.
It is a car accident. He only hears about it on Monday, with different variations of the same story floating around. Some say he died upon impact, others say he is still in the hospital. But they all have the same basis of fact though - Kim Jonghyun was in a car accident on Saturday night.
Kibum is stunned, of course. Any normal person would be, except no normal person would be running out of class with tears in his eyes to flag a cab and rush to the general hospital for a boy he barely knows. When he arrives, there is a crowd - Jonghyun has only been in this school for less than a year, but he's won over more than half of the school's hearts.
"What," Kibum says. He clears his throat, and taps a senior's shoulder. "What happened? Is he okay?"
She turns to him, tears silver against her pale cheeks. "Anytime now," she breathes.
Kibum squeezes through the crowd, presses his fingers against the glass separating him from Jonghyun. The older boy is lying on the bed looking incredibly fragile, with machines surrounding him and making him look smaller than ever.
"Did you know him?"
Kibum lets out a breath, watches it fog up the window. He thinks about those cryptic glances they've always exchanged in the cafeteria, thinks about the way there always seems to be so many things he wants to tell Jonghyun but has never gotten the chance or courage to say. He thinks about how Jonghyun feels like home, like a best friend, like he was meant for him right from the very start.
"In a way," Kibum answers. "I guess I did."
She doesn't say anything, but he can see her reflection in the glass, quiet and still. He closes his eyes. Please be okay, Kibum thinks. I haven't even talked to you before, not once in my life.
In the room, Jonghyun's eyelashes flutter just the slightest, a shadow.
Kibum attends Jonghyun's funeral dressed in black from head-to-toe. Jonghyun's family is greeting friends and relatives, their eyes red-rimmed, their smiles wavery. Kibum doesn't say a thing - what would he say, anyway? I'm sorry for your loss. Your son was amazing. I didn't even know him, I don't know what I'm doing here.
When he is leaving, he turns around one last time. He didn't know Kim Jonghyun, but they'd had a connection, one that only existed between the two of them in a crowded high school cafeteria. One that needed no words or explanations.
Jonghyun would have been a great best friend, Kibum thinks. But Jonghyun is dead and Jonghyun is not his best friend, and there is nothing Kibum can do to change that. Kibum walks out into the frosty winter air, pretends the tears come from the cold.
Kibum gets married when he is twenty-five. His wife is a pretty little thing, with smiling eyes and dimples. She is sweet and nice and can cook the most amazing dishes, and Kibum feels like she can make his day better just by waiting for him to get home after work.
There is something missing, though. Kibum likes her just fine, but there are no fireworks when he kisses her or makes love to her, no quickening of his heartbeat or invisible, no-words-needed conversations between them. Their relationship is nothing like the way it is described in novels or dramas or movies, they have no ups or downs. If Kibum could describe their relationship, it would be one straight, single line - plain and simple and straightforward.
But love doesn't have enough power to make a relationship last forever, so Kibum takes what he gets and doesn't wish for something more. He has a pretty wife who cooks for him and is there waiting for him to get home after work, and that's all he needs, really.
Sometimes he thinks of Kim Jonghyun, and wonders what he would have grown up to be like. He thinks about their silent conversations and aching familiarity, and can't help but to compare this to the marriage between him and his wife.
But Jonghyun is dead and Jonghyun is not his lover, and there is nothing Kibum can do to change that. His marriage with his wife lasts until they die from old age, and in his last few minutes on earth Kibum thinks about all the things he never got to do and all the words he never got to say. But somehow he wants to die, wants to see what's there for him after this, wants to meet a particular person he never got to talk to in this lifetime, wants to ask for another chance, another time.
two point five
There are some changes in Jonghyun's features, but this is Jonghyun's voice and Jonghyun's smile and the Jonghyun that he loves.
"Kim Kibum," Jonghyun says quietly. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting."
Kibum is seventeen again, with his heart accelerating and face smooth and unblemished. "Jonghyun," he says, swallowing. "God, I'm so sorry."
Jonghyun doesn't say anything, just stands there watching Kibum with his head tilted slightly to the side. Kibum takes a step forward, reaches out to grab Jonghyun's wrists. "You found me," Kibum whispers. "You found me, but I couldn't remember you."
Another chance, another time. Another lifetime that didn't work out. Kibum shutters his eyes closed, thinks about all the time they could have spent together had he gathered up the courage to talk to Jonghyun, the future they could have had together."I told you," the man with the red eyes and too-wide smile says. "Doesn't it hurt more, knowing that you could have had it all, but didn't?"
But I had to try, Kibum wants to tell him. Because Jonghyun is worth the fight and the pain, don't you see?
"One last time," he says instead. "Please. One more chance."
The man regards him for a while. "One last chance," he relents. "The very last one."
Jonghyun tugs Kibum until he is facing him. "You're sure," he says. "You're sure we can do this."
Kibum nods. "Third time lucky," he promises, and Jonghyun laughs.
His name is Kim Jonghyun. When he sings it's as if he collects all the light in the entire world and gathers it in his voice and eyes and smile, and Kibum thinks that if he debuts, he'll probably steal half the nation's hearts.
"Hey," Jonghyun says one day. "You're Kibum, right?"
Kibum nods, offers an enigmatic smile. "And you're Jonghyun."
"Hyung," Jonghyun adds, and Kibum laughs.
So this is how they become friends. Whenever Kibum is around Jonghyun there is a feeling of ease that makes it perfectly alright for him to loop his arm through Jonghyun's or lean his head on Jonghyun's shoulder or run his fingers through Jonghyun's hair.
They train together and talk about futures and debuting and a life onstage. They talk about being in a group together, practice their best smiles for the camera, hang around with the seniors asking for tips and begging them to teach them the latest dance moves. They are partners in crime and best friends and with Jonghyun, Kibum feels like he can do anything.
When their debut performance is over and they are backstage removing make-up and peeling off sweat-soaked outfits, Kibum turns to Jonghyun, lips curved into a smile. "Congratulations," Kibum says.
Jonghyun laughs. He's wearing a simple T-shirt and jeans and his hair is all messy, and there a few pimples on his chin. Somehow he seems brighter than he had before under the lights onstage, because this is the real Kim Jonghyun with his wide and easy smile, his best friend, the one who was meant for him right from the start."You, too," Jonghyun says. He is smiling in a way that makes Kibum's heart flip a little in his chest, the adrenaline coursing through his veins again.
"Why, thank you," Kibum answers, grinning. Jonghyun reaches out to brush a strand of hair out of Kibum's eyes, adjusts his collar and tugs at his shirt until it's riding properly on his jeans.
"Thanks," Kibum says, and Jonghyun's eyes are alive.
There are two Jonghyuns right there in the bathroom with him. Kibum takes a step backward and another, but finds he is pressed right against the wall and there is nowhere else to go. Jonghyun plants his hands on both sides of Kibum's head, and Kibum slides lower in an attempt to escape out of Jonghyun's hold, but Jonghyun has pressed a knee between his legs.
"Jjong," Kibum tries. "We can't do this." He tilts his head away, but in the mirror, he can still see Jonghyun. Everywhere he looks, he sees Jonghyun.
"Kibum," Jonghyun says, his voice a little hoarse. "You don't understand. It feels like I've waited forever for you, for this. To be able to tell you how I feel."
Kibum shuts his eyes. The truth is, he knows exactly how Jonghyun feels, knows and understands and feels the same. "The group. The others. We can't risk their futures for this, we can't."
He pushes Jonghyun's arms away, opening the door of the bathroom and slipping out, the taste of salt worming its way into his mouth.
Things are awkward. Jonghyun doesn't try to strike up a conversation with him, and Kibum doesn't either. The others pretend they don't know anything, but it's obvious from their worried exchange of glances that they have some sort of idea as to what is going on.
Kibum has taken to watching Jonghyun all the time. He notices the littlest details he's never managed to catch before, how Jonghyun's eyes dull a notch when he stops smiling, how he flicks his hair out of his eyes every five minutes, how he has got to be the most perfectly imperfect person alive. How Kibum wants to hold his hand again and brush his fingers against Jonghyun's cheek and rope an arm around Jonghyun's shoulders.
Tonight he can't fall asleep no matter how hard he tries, so he pads outside and slumps down on the couch, wondering how he's managed to single-handedly screw up his life. A creak startles him, and he looks over to see Jonghyun stepping out of the room, wearing only his pajama bottoms.
They don't say anything. Jonghyun tugs the door closed and stands there looking at Kibum, and out of the corner of his eye Kibum notes that there are no stars out tonight, because they are all gathered in Jonghyun's eyes.
Jonghyun doesn't move, and Kibum knows this time it's his turn to fight, to make the first step. So he gets off and walks over to Jonghyun, chin held high. "Can we be selfish for once?" Kibum says, smiling wryly.
Jonghyun cracks a smile. "If you want," he says.
"I want to," Kibum tells him. "I want you."
Jonghyun laughs a little into the quiet of the night. "Has that ever been a problem?" He says, closing the distance between the two of them and re-stealing Kibum's heart all over again.
"Bye," Jonghyun says, smiling.
"Why do you have to go?" Taemin whines. "Do you really have to leave Korea?"
Minho smacks Taemin's head lightly, then slides an arm around his shoulders. "Don't be a brat."
"But I'm not," Taemin insists. "It's unfair. Why do you both have to go?"
"Because they love each other too much to be apart, obviously," Jinki says, half-laughing. Kibum elbows their ex-leader, who manages to bang into Jonghyun's suitcase while attempting to dodge away from Kibum.
Jonghyun successfully rescues it before it hits the ground, setting it upright again. "How are you going to survive without us, hyung?"
"I survived more than ten years without you, I'll have you know," Jinki says."More than ten years of an incredibly sad life," Kibum corrects, but smiles at Jinki anyway.
A group of girls crowd around them to ask them for autographs at the boarding gate, and they exchange glances and laugh. This is what Kibum wants, really, to be in the spotlight without the exhaustion and pain, to be with Jonghyun through it all.
The plane dives through the clouds, and Kibum catches Jonghyun staring at him. "What?" Kibum says, self-conscious.
"Nothing," Jonghyun says, amused. "I wasn't even looking at you."
"Liar," Kibum retorts. He crosses his arms.
Later, Jonghyun leans over and whispers I love you into the shell of his ear when he thinks Kibum is asleep, and Kibum cannot fight the smile that takes over his face.