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It's Better When It Feels Wrong

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A raven haired five-year-old boy sat in the back seat of a case worker's car as it pulled up to a stop in front of a two-story home he'd only been to a handful of times before. The yard was slightly overgrown, and the only sign that people lived there was that the front door was open, courtesy of a man in his mid to late thirties, standing in the doorway with his arms folded over his chest. An elderly woman sat on a rocking chair on the left side of the porch, appearing to be reading something. The fact that neither of them moved once the vehicle parked threw up a few red flags for its driver, but she pushed those thoughts aside and turned the car off. This was the boy's new home, now that his late parents' wills had been taken care of. The case worker turned to smile gently at the young boy in the back.

"Bum, sweetie?" She wondered. "Are you ready to go inside?"

Bum clutched a stuffed white rabbit close to his chest, staring at her with big doe eyes while he shook his head no.

"Why not?"

"I don't want to be here...I want to go see mommy…" He sniffled.

"Honey…" Her heart dropped. "We've been over this many times. Your mommy and daddy are no longer here. You can't go see them."

"Where did they go?" Bum sniffled, wiping his eyes on a too large grey sleeve. "Why couldn't they take me with them?"

"Bum…" She sighed. "If you went with mommy and daddy, you wouldn't be here right now. I'm glad you're here, Bum."

"I'm not!" He cried. "I want mommy! I don't like uncle! He's scary! He looks at me funny!"

"Now, Bum, I'm sure it's all in your head…"

"No!" Bum shouted. "He always gets mad when I come with mommy and daddy to see him! He doesn't like me either! I don't want to stay with him!"

"Please, don't make this difficult, Bum." She opened her door and stepped out, opening the young boy's door. "I know changing things like this so quickly can be very scary. But sometimes things seem scary at first but are actually really fun!"

"Like what…?" He sniffled.

"Well...like going to the doctor and getting a freeze pop! Or going to the zoo to look at the lions and tigers."

"And bears?"

"Oh my."

"Huh?"

"Never mind, hon." She stated. "I'll check up on you from time to time, so you won't get lonely, okay? If anything happens that makes you feel uncomfortable, or that you don't like, you can tell me, okay?"

"Promise?"

"Promise."

"Pinky promise…?" He held out a frail pinky to her.

"Pinky promise." She latched their pinkies. "Be a strong little boy for me, okay?"

"O-Okay…" Bum nodded and unbuckled himself, still clutching tight to his rabbit.

The worker helped him out before she opened the trunk and gathered what remained of the boy's belongings; two black trash bags of clothes and a little backpack of toys and necessities he'd both taken from home and got from the foster care center he was placed in. She would be lying if she said she didn't feel bad for the little orphan. She didn't really have a good feeling about the home he was going into, especially when his uncle had protested so loudly against having the boy anyway; claiming he'd just be a financial burden. His parents' death benefits quickly cured that talk, but she could tell he still wasn't happy to have poor little Bum along. Bum put the backpack on his shoulder, clinging tightly to the edge of her sleeve as she carried the bags to the house, putting on a fake friendly smile.

"Good morning, Mr. Yoon, Mrs. Yoon." She greeted.

He nodded at her.

"Good morning." The elderly woman greeted, patting her knee. "Come sit with Granny, would you, Bum?"

He nodded slowly, joining her and letting her help him onto her lap. She hugged him as she rocked, humming a soft tune to him. The worker helped his Uncle bring the bags up to Bum's room on the second floor. It had the bare minimum in it to keep him comfortable-bed, dresser and closet half-full of clothes, a table, and a small chair with it-but it was all the city required for it to be deemed a suitable atmosphere for the child. Suitable being an almost laughable term. The blankets didn't look heavy enough to cover a dog, let alone a young child. Thankfully, Bum had a small blanket the foster home was able to let him take with him when he left.

"This is his room." The uncle stated. "Just like they asked, furnished enough for him."

"I see that you've done an excellent job." She nodded. "I know the transition isn't easy…"

"When does the first check come?"

"Excuse me?"

"My brother's benefits were to be paid out on a monthly basis to take care of the kid. I can't take care of him if I don't know when my check is coming."

"By all due technicality, sir, the checks are Bum's. You're just in care of them."

"Is he going to drive to the store and buy the groceries? Is he going to write the checks for the electric company and the heating company? I think not."

She sighed, knowing there wasn't much of a chance to reason with this man. "I suppose you're right." She admitted defeat instead. "I know this entire situation isn't easy. Losing your brother and his wife the way you did, having Bum thrust into your arms." She pat him on the arm. "It gets easier in time. He's an easily frightened boy. Try not to judge him too harshly."

"Hm." He grunted.

She gave one last sad look at the room that was to be Bum's from now on before leaving. Outside, Bum was watching a young brunette boy next door playing with a couple cars in the grass. His grandmother was knitting something instead of reading, watching the boy.

"He's quiet." She informed.

"Good." Uncle snorted.

"He's still traumatized, I believe." The worker admitted, hugging herself. "The incident…"

"I don't wish to talk about it." Grandmother stated. "My poor, fragile heart. Don't want me to be next, now, do we, dearie?"

"Of course not, my apologies." The worker flushed, handing Uncle a card. "I'll be back weekly to check up on him, see how his transition is progressing. Should you need anything in the meantime…"

"Just make sure I get my check."

"Yes, sir." The woman shuddered inwardly as she knelt with Bum, a large hand on his rather small shoulder. "Bum? I have to get going."

"Already?" He sniffled at her. "But…"

"I'm sorry, honey. There are a lot of other little kids that need my help today. I'd stay with you all day if I could." She ruffled his hair. "You be a good boy for your uncle and grandmother, okay? I'll be back in seven days."

"Okay…"

"Remember what we talked about." She whispered, before standing. "Good luck to you both. I shall see you shortly." She bowed to the adults. "Farewell."

"Goodnight, dear." Grandmother stated.

"Hm." Uncle grunted.

The worker left to her car. She couldn't get out of there fast enough. At the next red light, she hung her head against the steering wheel and cried in shame until the impatient car behind her honked. When she turned the corner, she had a feeling she wouldn't be seeing Bum weekly for too long.

"I'm going out." Uncle informed, snatching his keys off the hook inside by the door. "Don't call me unless it's a dire emergency, like the kid lost a finger or something."

Grandmother scowled, her friendly demeanor gone. "It's his first night here. The least you could do is respect your brother enough to not drink tonight."

"Same way my brother respected me by having the brat with that tramp?"

"Heo!" Grandmother scolded, standing. "Don't speak ill of the deceased that way…"

"Whatever." He scoffed, walking down the pathway leading to the driveway.

Bum watched his Uncle leave, grandmother following and shouting at him the entire way. She sighed when his car finally backed out of the driveway and drove off.

"I'm going to go make dinner." She announced as she went inside. "Whether or not he eats with us is no concern of mine. You may stay out here or come inside. Don't bother the neighbor boy. He's only there for the summer."

Bum nodded as she went in.

"He's annoying." A voice informed.

"Huh?" Bum stood on the railing of the porch to look over and see who had spoken.

The brunette boy was no longer moving his cars around and was instead sitting with his hands outstretched behind him, legs crossed in front.

"Your Uncle." He informed, blinking slowly. "He's annoying."

Bum looked down and away. "I don't...I don't like Uncle…"

"I don't think anyone does. Not if he acts like that." The boy informed.

Bum just stared at him.

"What's your name?" The boy asked.

"M-My name…?" Bum wondered. "Um...it...its Yoon Bum…"

"You live here now?"

"That's what the lady said…" Bum spoke softly. "My mom and dad died…"

The boy raised an eyebrow but didn't ask anything or offer a sorry like all the other people in his life had so far.

"Oh Sangwoo."

"Huh?"

"That's my name." The boy informed. "Sangwoo."

"N-Nice to meet you...Sangwoo…"

"How old are you?"

"I'm five…"

"Younger than me." Sangwoo sighed, pushing himself to sit up. "It's boring here. No one to play with. But it's better than being home."

"Why?"

"Why is it better? Or why am I not home?"

"Uh...b-both…"

"Why it's better isn't your business. Mom and dad go away every summer, so they send me here."

"You can't go with them?"

"No."

"The lady says I can't go with my mom and dad either…"

"You'd have to die."

"Yeah…"

"I think dying might hurt."

"Th-That's what the other kids told me…"

"Where?"

"The place I lived before this…"

"Where's that?"

"I don't remember…"

"Hm." Sangwoo just stared with his dark eyes. "Do you...wanna play…?"

"Huh?"

"Play." Sangwoo said it slowly as if he thought Bum couldn't understand him. "Do you want to?"

"Granny says I'm not allowed to bother you…"

"But I'm bored."

"S-Sorry…"

Sangwoo stood up and walked over to him, climbing up on the back side of the porch railing.

"I'll come bother you, then."

Bum giggled. The other boy was amusing.

"You laugh like a girl." Sangwoo accused.

"S-Sorry." Bum giggled again. "I can't h-help it…"

"You say sorry a lot." Sangwoo blinked. "It's annoying…"

"Does everything annoy you?" Bum stuck his tongue out.

Sangwoo gripped the top banister and leaned backwards. "I guess." He informed. "Except auntie. She doesn't annoy me."

"Is that who lives there?"

"Yeah, auntie and uncle." Sangwoo stated. "But he's…"

"Annoying…?"

"Now you get it." Sangwoo smirked. "There's never anything to do around here." He pulled himself up and grinned at Bum. "But now you're here. So, I guess it's not so boring."

Bum blushed as he looked away. "I'm...happy that I'm not boring you…"

Sangwoo chuckled. "I am, too." He stated. "So…I ask again...do you wanna play…?"

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot, first names of Bum's grandmother and uncle, the case worker, and Sangwoo's auntie and uncle. Everything cannon belongs to Koogi. I make NO money off writing this.

000

 

Bum's first week at his Uncle's flew by quickly. The woman from the city came to visit around noon that Saturday. Bum was playing tag with Sangwoo on his lawn when the car pulled up, making Sangwoo suddenly stop dead. Bum slammed into his back.

"A-Ah!" Bum cried out. "Sorry! Why did you freeze?"

"That lady is back." Sangwoo replied. "Isn't she looking for you?"

Bum turned and waved happily at the woman. "I think so!"

"Bum, how nice to see you!" The woman walked across the Oh's' grass without asking, making Sangwoo's top lip twitch a little as he backed away. "And you have a friend?"

"Uh...y-yeah...!" He confirmed, shaking his head. "This is Sangwoo! He lives there!" He pointed at the house, almost smacking Sangwoo in the face as he swung his arm.

The older boy ducked back from the arm and brushed it away.

"Watch it!" He complained.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Sangwoo." The woman smiled at him. "I'm glad to see that Bum has someone his age to play with."

"I'm not his age. I'm six."

"You know, when you're older, you'll be happy that you look younger than you are." The woman chuckled, patting Sangwoo on the head in a way he didn't like. "Is your Uncle home, Bum?"

"No, he went out with his friends..." Bum stated sadly. "I don't like when he goes out."

"Why is that?" The woman wondered.

"Granny always fights with him when he goes out. She doesn't want him to, but he doesn't want to be here because of me..."

"Because of you? Why do you think it's because of you?"

"Uncle says so! Says he'd stay home if he didn't have to look at me every day...he calls me the brat." Bum looked away, rubbing his left upper arm. "I told you he doesn't like me..."

Her heart sank. "He's just grieving, Bum. I'm sure he doesn't mean what he's saying. He's just sad that your mommy and daddy aren't here anymore, too. He'll come around."

"I don't think so..." Bum gulped. "They fight louder when he gets home...it keeps me up at night..."

"Louder?"

"Uncle parks funny, too..."

"I'm sorry?"

"He's a drunk." Sangwoo snorted. "That's what uncle says."

"Sangwoo!" Bum laughed, not knowing what the other had really said.

"What?"

The woman smiled gently, though she was a little confused how the older boy could be so blatant like that. Apparently, he got it from his Uncle, since he was okay with calling the other man a drunkard in front of his nephew.

"Is that who you live with, Sangwoo?"

"Just for summers."

"I see." She stood. "I'd like to go inside, Bum, if that's alright. Is Granny home?"

Bum nodded. "She's watching her stories. I thought you could only read a story."

Sangwoo rolled his eyes as the woman chuckled at Bum's innocence. She ruffled his hair before going up to the house.

"Don't you know anything?" Sangwoo wondered. "It's not a real story. It's a TV show. Old people call them stories."

"Oh." Bum shrugged. "It's still weird!"

"Yeah..." Sangwoo nodded, looking away. "Hey, I'm bored with tag. Let's do something else."

"Like what?"

"Come on." Sangwoo grabbed Bum by a thin wrist. "Damn, you need to eat."

"Sangwoo, that's a grown-up word..."

"So?"

"You're not grown up...you're only a year older than me!"

"But...that just means I'm more grown up than you."

"Oh...right." Bum giggled as Sangwoo rolled his eyes and led him towards the back yard.

Chapter Text

Bum didn't know what to do when he heard his uncle angrily storming up the stairs. He dropped the crayons he was coloring with and rushed into his closet, jumping in under the trash bags from the foster home to hide. The door to his room opened while he covered his mouth with his hands, trying to hide his breathing and stop himself from crying in fear. Soundless tears streamed down his face.
"Bum!" His uncle called, speech slightly off. "Where the fuck are you, you little shit? Come out of hiding and face your...hic...Uncle...!"
Bum squeezed his eyes shut and trembled, not realizing it was making noises as he moved against the bags. His closet door was angrily ripped open, and a bag was yanked away from him. Bum cried out in surprise when he spotted his uncle leering at him. He reeked of something Bum didn't recognize, but the smell made him sick.
"What are you doing in there?" Uncle wondered. "God damn kid...I'm not in the mood for hide and seek. Get out here. Now."
Bum scrambled to his feet, toying with the end of his shirt as he stood there under his Uncle's gaze. He looked at the floor as he fidgeted his feet against one another. Uncle just stared at him, swaying a little as he stood.
"Tch, filthy brat." He complained. "Go take your damn bath, would you? You're stinking up my house."
"S-Sorry...uncle..." Bum bit his lip.
"Better be." Uncle snorted, ambling to the doorway. "And get your ass in bed."
"B-But its only six...!"
Uncle glared. "Did I stutter?"
"N-No..."
"No, I didn't. That's right. Get your ass in bed after your shower." Uncle slammed the door so loudly, it felt like the whole house shook.
It took Bum a moment or two to realize that it was him shaking, not the house. He saw a light dancing on the wall of his room. Confused, Bum followed its path to look outside. At the window, he spotted Sangwoo sitting on his window sill, flashing a light in his room. Bum lifted the window with some difficulty.
"Sangwoo?" Bum wondered.
The older boy shut off the flashlight. "Heard yelling. You okay?"
"I-I'm fine...! I don't know why Uncle is mad, though..." Bum sniffled.
"Wipe your nose, would you? You're sensitive..."
"But...I..." Bum wiped his face with his sleeve. "Uncle says I have to have a bath and go to bed."
"This early?"
Bum nodded. "S-Sorry, Sangwoo...I wanted to play..."
Sangwoo shrugged. "It's fine." He stated. "Early bedtime. Boring." He sighed. "We can play tomorrow, okay, Bum?"
"Y-Yeah...tomorrow!"
"Bum!" Uncle called. "Who the fuck are you talking to? Don't make me come up there!"
Bum winced. "I have to go. Sorry, Sangwoo!" He pushed the window shut as quickly as he could without slamming it and pulled the curtains closed.
Sangwoo watched his friend's window until he couldn't see his shadow moving around anymore. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back as his arm holding the flashlight dangled uselessly to his side. How boring.
000
The first thing Sangwoo noticed when Bum showed up on his doorstep the following morning was the one thing the younger boy hoped he wouldn't pay any mind to.
"That lady won't let you live there anymore if she sees that." Sangwoo warned. "What happened?"
Bum put a hand over the bruise on his cheek, pulling back when Sangwoo reached to touch it.
"N-Nothing..." Bum replied. "I just made Uncle mad and..." He sniffled. "I ran away and tripped on some toys I didn't put away."
"You and I both know you don't have any toys."
"No! I have Bun-Bun. And my coloring books and crayons." Bum objected, shaking his head. "A-And other stuff...! But I can't bring them outside, and Uncle says you can't come over..."
Sangwoo rolled his eyes. "Always following the rules. Boring! Come on, Bum. Live a little."
"I live enough!"
Sangwoo chuckled as Bum stuck his tongue out at him. "Put that away. I don't know what you've been doing with it."
"I've been talking with it."
Sangwoo blinked, a lazy smile crossing his face. "Say, Bum, can you ride a bike?"
"Duh, of course I can ride a bike!" Bum boasted. "I...just...don't have one..."
"My old one is too small for me." Sangwoo pulled Bum towards the tool shed by the wrist. "You can use it."
"A-Are you sure...?"
Sangwoo nodded. "Just leave it here so your Uncle won't be a jerk."
"He's a jerk no matter what I do..."
"Good, you know that!" Sangwoo laughed, pulling the shed open.
Two bikes sat inside, one bright red and new, while the other was worn and blue. To Bum, it was the best thing he could have ever seen.
"I-I get to use that...?" He wondered, taking a cautious step closer. "But...it's so cool..."
Sangwoo cocked an eyebrow. "It's just a bike...an old bike."
"It's still cool." Bum wrapped his arms around Sangwoo's middle. "Thanks, Sangwoo!"
Sangwoo threw his arms in the air, a little surprised when the other launched at him. He just stood there, unsure of what to do next. Should he hug the other boy back? Shove him away?
"Uh..."
Bum let him go, breaking into the biggest grin the other boy had ever seen on his face. "Where are we going to go?"
"There's a big hill down the road." Sangwoo nodded right. "I like going down it. Let's go."
"Okay!"
Together, they wheeled the bikes out onto the grass and down to the sidewalk. Sangwoo brushed dust off his bike's seat.
"You sure you can ride a bike? I don't have to teach you?"
"Dad taught me." Bum huffed, going silent after that.
Sangwoo didn't say anything more as the ravenette hopped onto his bike and started pedaling.
"C-Come on." Bum put a foot down to stop himself. "I don't know where I'm going..."
Sangwoo laughed, getting onto his bike. "Follow me. Oh, and Bum?"
"Y-Yeah...?"
"Try not to fall too far behind."
"Huh?"
Sangwoo raced off, laughing. "Come on, slow-poke!"
"H-Hey, no fair!" Bum hopped onto his bike and began chasing the older boy, laughing all the way as the wind blew his hair from his face.
For the first time since he moved to his Uncle's house, he felt like he was soaring.

Chapter Text

Bum and Sangwoo lay on their backs in the grass towards the end of the summer that year. Fireflies danced around them, and stars sparkled in the sky. Sangwoo's aunt and uncle were hosting a block-wide late-night cookout complete with campfire and fireworks to celebrate their nephew's last night with them. Bum's uncle had managed to stay sober and not go out with his friends for the night, while Granny chatted with an elderly couple from down the road. Bum's case-worker had even come earlier in the evening to do her weekly check in on him.

"I can't believe tomorrow is the last day of summer vacation..." Bum whined, turning his head to face Sangwoo. "I don't want to go to a new school...what if...what if they don't like me?"

"You worry a lot." Sangwoo informed. "But you'll be fine, Bum."

"But...you won't be there...I won't know anyone..."

"You'll be fine." Sangwoo repeated. "It's just kindergarten."

"But..." Bum looked away. "I-I guess you're right."

Sangwoo flipped onto his stomach. "I don't want to go home in the morning..."

"Why not?"

"I told you. It's better here." Sangwoo looked away, laying his head on his arms crossed under him.

"Oh..." Bum felt bad for his friend.

Sure, he'd be alone in a new school with new people he didn't know, but Sangwoo was going back to a home he hated living in. It was worse for him. He knew people, but he didn't want to be there with them. Bum thought that was a worse fate than being stuck with new people.

"But...you'll be back soon...right...?" Bum swallowed hard. "You come every summer...right...?"

Sangwoo turned to look at him, still laying down. "Yeah, you know I do." Sangwoo stated. "But between now and then, it sucks."

"Sorry, Sangwoo...I wish I could go with you..."

"No...you don't..." Sangwoo pushed off the ground to sit up. "I'm bored just laying here. I'm hungry."

"O-Okay...I could eat, too..." Bum sat up, patting his growling stomach.

"Weirdo." Sangwoo complained, standing and offering Bum a hand. "But I guess you're my weirdo, so I'm stuck with you."

Bum flushed, taking the hand and letting Sangwoo pull him to stand. "Yeah...I'm stuck with you, too..."

The moment Sangwoo's parents pulled up to get him, it was like a switch was flicked and the boy changed personalities. He grimaced when his mother rushed to hug him.

"Sangwoo!" She greeted. "How's my wonderful little guy, doing?"

He snuggled into her arms despite the look on his face. "I'm fine, mom..." He greeted.

His father didn't get out of the car.

"Are you ready to go?" His mother asked.

"I guess..."

"Did he behave?"

"Oh, yes." Auntie giggled. "Sangwoo had a great time with us. Didn't you, sweetheart?"

"Sure did." Sangwoo replied.

Bum watched in silent fascination while Sangwoo interacted with his mother. He was a completely different person when his mother was there; being friendly and polite. It made Bum concerned, in a way, but he was just happy that even though Sangwoo hated where he was going, he seemed to like the woman picking him up to bring him there.

"Bum!" Auntie called to him, waving. "Don't just stand there! Come say goodbye!"

"Since when has Heo had a child?" His mother asked.

"Oh, that's his nephew, Bum. He's living with them now. Since...the accident..."

"What accident?" Sangwoo asked.

"You know what accident."

"No I don't. Bum didn't tell me..."

"His parents got into a car accident, Sangwoo." Auntie stated. "Bum's father got him unbuckled and made him get out of the car, but he was busy helping Bum's mother when..." She shook her head. "It's not something for you to hear, honey. It's why Bum's parents aren't here anymore."

"He was in the accident?" The mother asked. "How is he not traumatized?"

"He is...I think he just suppresses the memories." Auntie plastered a smile onto her face when Bum got close enough to hear. "Bum! This is Sangwoo's mother. She's here to take him home."

"H-Hi..." Bum greeted.

"Nice to meet you, Bum!" His mother hugged the smaller boy. "Thank you for keeping my Sangwoo company. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you again next year. Won't you, dear?"

"Sure will, mother." Sangwoo glared at Bum, as if daring him to say anything about how he was acting.

"I'll be happy to see him next year, too." Bum grinned. "We had loads of fun!"

"I'm glad."

His father honked the horn. "Get your asses in gear!" He shouted out the car window. "We're going to hit traffic if we don't get moving now!"

"He's right, dear." Auntie hugged Sangwoo's mom, then him. "We'll see you next summer, okay?"

"Okay...thanks for having me." Sangwoo replied.

The women went to bring his bags to the car, chatting as they did. Bum nervously rubbed his left arm and looked away, biting his lower lip.

"You have something you wanna say, Bum?" Sangwoo wondered. "You only bite your lip when you wanna say something..."

"You're...you're like a different person when your mom is here..." Bum muttered. "It's weird."

"I guess I'm just a weirdo too, then."

"No, you're...!" Bum breathed a sigh of relief when he realized the other was just joking with him. "Y-Yeah...my weirdo..."

Sangwoo laughed until his father honked again and shouted at him. "See you, then..."

"Yeah...next summer..."

Sangwoo held out a fist to Bum. The other looked confused before hitting it with his own fist.

"There you go..." Sangwoo shoved his hands in his pockets and trudged after his parents.

Bum stood with Auntie and watched them leave until he couldn't see the red taillights anymore. She ruffled his hair and went into her home with her husband, who hadn't said a word throughout the entire exchange, just watched with his teeth grit and jaw set. Bum sadly walked up the stairs to the porch.

"What's wrong?" Granny asked.

"Sangwoo gets to go home with his parents...but he doesn't want to..."

"That's not your problem, Bum."

"I want to go home with my parents...but I can't..."

Granny scowled. "Come on." She ushered him inside.

His childish concerns could wait. In the Ohs' car, Sangwoo slumped down in his seat. The silence in the car was deafening. He almost wished his father would start screaming or his mother would break down into tears over her little baby boy having found such a nice new friend. The putrid scent of cigarettes filled his nose and he almost gagged as he watched his father use his mother's arm like an ashtray to snuff out the stick.

"Ow..." She muttered.

He slammed on the breaks. "Did you say something?" He asked.

"N-No, dear!" She replied quickly.

"I thought so." He huffed, glaring at Sangwoo in the rearview mirror. "What are you looking at?"

"I missed you..." Sangwoo muttered.

"Pansy." His father complained, driving again.

Sangwoo rolled his eyes when he was certain he couldn't be seen. He caught a glimpse of Bum standing with his aunt before the car fishtailed around a corner and took the home away from hell from his sights. Two hundred and seventy-two days left until he could return to his truer family, to his weirdo.

Chapter Text

Bum stood nervously with his teacher as she introduced him to the class as being new to the area. She had said that most of the kids there went to preschool together.
“I hope you’ll treat him just as nicely as you do with everyone you know already.” She smiled. “Bum, why don’t you have a seat in that open spot?” She pointed to a front table seat.
“Y-Yes…” Bum trudged to his seat and sat down.
The classroom had a large play area with more toys than he’d ever seen in one spot before, a reading corner filled with bean bag chairs and bookshelves with thick picture and reading lesson books, a door that was marked bathroom, and six tables with five chairs each scattered around the room. Bum was seated with two girls with long brown hair, a chubby redheaded boy, and a dark-haired boy wearing a hat. He didn’t say anything as he sat down, keeping his eyes on his feet, and then the table.
“Where did you come from?” One of the girls asked.
“Huh?” Bum wondered. “M-My uncle’s house…?”
The girls giggled. “You’re dumb.” The other girl commented. “Where did you live before you moved here!”
“O-Oh...t-the foster home…”
“You’re a foster kid?” The redhead wondered, chewing on his fingernail. “Your parents don’t want you or something?”
“N-No...they’re dead…”
“I’m sorry…” The other boy muttered.
“Thanks…”
“Alright, children.” The woman grinned. “I’m Miss. Hee but you can call me Miss Chiun. I will be joining you on your journey through the school year. I hope we will all have a wonderful time together.”

 

000

On the playground later that day, Bum sat on the swings, slowly sliding back and forth without gaining any height or speed. Sangwoo’s auntie had taken them to the park over the summer a few times. Swings were Sangwoo’s favorite, but Bum liked the slide the best. The line for the slide was too long for him to go near it, so he took residence up on the swings alone.
“Bum?” Miss Chiun greeted, kneeling. “Why don’t you go play with the other kids, honey?”
“I’m fine...” Bum muttered. “I don’t...I don’t know anyone…”
“Would you like me to introduce you to some children?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m not supposed to bother people.”
“I’m sorry?”
He giggled. “I’m just kidding!” He lied. “I’m okay, really! I’m used to being alone. I mean...I mean I don’t really have friends...home...so…”
How could Sangwoo pull off the entire two different people thing so long when Bum couldn’t even manage to lie for five minutes?
“I’m sure you had friends at your old school. What did you do together?”
“I don’t have friends...just...just Sangwoo…”
“Is that an...imaginary friend…?”
“Huh?” Bum asked. “No! He stays with his aunt and uncle during the summers. We played together this year.”
“Oh, I see.” She smiled gently. “Well, what did you two do together?”
“Everything! We played with play dough, and rode bikes, and played tag and hide and seek…” He paused. “We were always together...I’m scared without him here…”
She frowned. “I’m sorry you’re scared, Bum.” She informed. “I think you’ll have a good time here. Everyone is nice.”
“Y-Yeah…”
She ruffled his hair as she left to go tend to a little girl crying because she scraped her knee. Bum noticed the kids he had to sit with staring at him and whispering. He offered a meek smile but looked away. Why did they have to whisper?
“Hey!” The one girl greeted, and she walked over. “Saw you talking with teacher.”
“Y-Yeah...she said I should go play…”
“So, go play.” The redhead leered. “Come on, we’ll play with you.”
“R-Really…?” Bum wondered.
“Yeah, really.” The redhead smirked. “I’m Dongyu. That’s Jieun, Eun, and Seok.”
“B-Bum…”
“We knew that.” Jieun rolled her eyes, hands on her hips.
Bum could tell instantly that they weren’t going to get along.
“S-Sorry…” He replied.
You say sorry a lot. Hmph. Annoying.
“Come on.” Eun pulled him off the swing. “Let’s go play.”
“O-Okay…” Bum let the other kids lead him across the playground to a big tree.
“Can you climb a tree, Bum?” Dongyu wondered. “I can climb trees.”
“I...I don’t have any trees to climb…” Bum muttered.
“Lame.” Dongyu pulled himself onto a low branch.
“Wow, Dongyu, you’re like a gymnast or something.” Eun grinned.
“Nah, I’m just bigger than you!”
“Yeah! A lot bigger!” Seok jiggled the other boy’s stomach.
“Hey!” Dongyu complained, almost falling off the branch.
With the exception of Bum, who was quite nervous around them to begin with, the others laughed. Dongyu flushed red and climbed higher.
“I dare you to come up here and say that, Seok!” He teased.
“No way!” Seok replied. “I can’t fit up there!”
“I bet Dongryu’s going to get stuck!” Jieun mocked, sticking out her tongue. “Big boys belong on the ground. Not in trees!”
“Shut up, Jieun! Mom says it’s not nice to make fun of people for being big!”
“I’m not making fun of you! I’m teasing you!”
Bum rubbed his arm and looked away. He wasn’t comfortable with these kids. Sure, they had attitudes like Sangwoo’s default one, but they weren’t Sangwoo. He couldn’t tell what they were thinking like he could with his friend.
“Hey, Bum, why don’t you go up and get him?” Seok wondered, shielding his eyes from the sun with a hand. “You’re skinny enough to fit!”
“I...I don’t know…” Bum replied. “I don’t really climb…”
“Don’t be such a baby!” Jieun taunted. “Seok will help you up. Then you just gotta go higher. It’s not hard!”
“Then why don’t you do it…?” Bum muttered.
“What was that?”
“I said I’ll do it…” Bum corrected himself.
“Yeah, I thought that was what you had said.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Go on, Seok. Help him up.”
“Why do I have to?” He complained.
“Because you said you were gonna!”
“No, I didn’t! You said I was gonna!”
“Same thing!” She whined. “Just do it!”
“Fine!” Seok groaned, cupping his hands. “Here, Bum, stand here.”
“But...i-is that safe…?”
“Who cares?” Eun wondered. “Just do it. Quick, before teacher sees!”
“Okay, okay…” Bum stood on Seok’s hand with one foot, using his shoulders for support.
“Now jump. I’ll push, and you grab the branch.” Seok ordered.
“Okay…”
Bum jumped when he felt Seok give him a little push. He gripped the branch with his arms and kicked his legs, trying to get up more.
“Hey, watch it!” Seok complained as Bum almost hit his face.
“S-Sorry…! I’m try-trying…!” He tried to pull himself up, but his arms were too weak to hold him. “I...I’m slipping…!”
“Come on; just do it!” Dongyu shouted down at him. “It’s not hard! Don’t be pathetic!”
“I-I’m not…! I’m really…!”
Bum’s arms slipped from the tree, though he tried desperately to grab at it with his thin fingers. He felt himself falling towards the ground and landed on his back as his so-called friends moved out of his way. Jieun played with her fingernails as Bum blinked away the pain.
“You okay…?” Seok wondered, leaning over him. “That was a far fall…”
“You didn’t...c-catch me…” Bum complained.
“He said he’d help you up!” Jieun wagged her finger at Bum. “Not that he’d help you down!”
Tears welled in Bum’s eyes as he sat up, back screaming at him in pain.
“Gonna cry?” Eun wondered, poking his cheek. “What a crybaby.”
“I am not…!” Bum complained, wiping away his tears. “That hurt…!”
“Whatever.” Jieun replied. “I’m bored with the tree anyway. Let Dongyu hang up there like a fat monkey! We’ll find something else to do!”
“Don’t call me fat!” Dongyu shouted at her as he started to climb down the tree. “I’m going to get you, Jieun!”
She squealed, grabbing Eun’s hand and pulling her with her. “He’s gonna get his gross fat boy cooties all over us!” She complained.
“Hey!” He roared, finding the ground finally and chasing after the squealing and giggling schoolgirls.
Seok shook his head as he watched, looking down at Bum when he got bored.
“Aren’t you getting up?”
“It hurts…” Bum whined.
Seok shook his head and put his hands in his pockets, walking after his friends.
“Wait…!” Bum reached out towards them. “C-Come back…!”
Seok threw a hand in the air to dismiss him as he disappeared around the corner towards the playground. Bum just sat there and cried a little, rubbing his sore back.
You were wrong, Sangwoo. I won’t be okay here...I don’t even have real friends...not like...you…

Chapter Text

Crashing plates, loud cries to get out, and angry screams weren't something that a six-year-old should have been accustomed to. But as Sangwoo doodled on the side of his reading assignment, he realized he heard those noises a lot more in his life than other kids probably did. His friends didn't have parents that fought. Why did he? Not that he considered them to be good friends, anyway. He'd get bored of them eventually. Not like Bum. That kid was endlessly entertaining, though his apologies and crying were annoying. At least he'd be there when Sangwoo went back for the summer.

"Where's that good for nothing kid?" His father shouted. "Sangwoo! Get the fuck down here and clean up this mess your mother made!"

"Leave him out of this!" His mother weakly fought back. "He doesn't need to see you like this, Daeshim!"

"Shut up!" A slap. "Sangwoo! I won't call you again! Get your ass down here, you worthless brat!"

Sangwoo groaned, realizing it would be over with sooner if he just went and did what his father asked. He'd pretend not to notice his mother's bruised cheek and split lip. He'd pretend it wasn't her blood his father made him get on his hands and knees to scrub away. He'd pretend the smell of bleach wasn't overwhelmingly disgusting and that shards from the broken plates on the floor weren't digging into his skin.

"Sangwoo!"

He rushed downstairs, acting as if he was really in a hurry. "S-sorry, father...!" He threw himself at the bigger male's feet. "I was d-doing my homework, like you asked..."

"Well, now you're here cleaning, like I asked." He mocked, grabbing a fistful of Sangwoo's hair and shoving his face to the floor. "See the mess?"

"Y-Yes..."

"Daeshim, stop!" His mother grabbed his arm, but he flung her away to the floor.

"I'll deal with you later. Fucking bitch." He complained. "You know where the bleach is. Get to work. It better be spotless when my game is over, or it will be your blood you're cleaning next. Understood?"

"Y-Yes, father...!"

His father pushed his head against the floor once more before grabbing his mother roughly by the arm. "Come with me..."

"No...no..." She complained, digging her heels into the ground to try and stop him. He gave her a rough tug and shoved her into the living room.

"You know what to do." He snarled. "Unzip it. Now."

Sangwoo pretended not to hear his mother's muffled cries for help, pretended not to hear the lewd things spewing from his father's mouth. He crawled to the cabinets under the sink, eyes on the floor so he wouldn't have to see the graphic display in the living room. He knew his mother's eyes were on him, pleading for him to get the sense to run away and get help. He never would. What was the point? Mother would just lie when help arrived, so his father wouldn't haul off on her, would bribe him to be quiet with a few bucks in change or extra TV time after school the next day. Just like she did every time someone got concerned enough to call the police. Useless pigs.

He took the bucket from under the sink and stood to put water in it. The container of bleach never looked so welcoming before, but he pushed the dark thoughts to the deepest recesses of his mind. No matter what he thought, he couldn't act on it. Not when he had a sweet ravenette waiting for another summer.

000

Bum winced as his uncle cracked a belt across his backside, shouting out in pain. If she heard his shouts, Granny did nothing about it as she worked on dinner. It was the fourth time that month he'd gotten in trouble at school. All he wanted was to get the other kids to like him, even if that meant doing crazy dangerous things for Jieun or hoarding his snack and saying he never got one so Dongyu could have another later. He knew they were just using him to get things, but he longed for acceptance so much that he was willing to give it. Helping them slip a whoopie cushion onto Miss. Chiun's chair and then taking the fall when Jieun blamed him and he didn't have the brains to say it wasn't his idea was the straw that pushed his uncle over the edge.

"Didn't you learn last time, boy?" Uncle hit him again with the belt. "Stop fucking up!"

"I'm sorry...!" Bum cried. "I just...I just want to make friends...!"

"So, you become their patsy?" He didn't know what that meant, and he was certain his uncle knew that. "You're pathetic." Another slap. "How that neighbor boy tolerated your stupid ass for so long, I'll never know!"

"S-Sangwoo..." Bum muttered.

"What?"

"H-His name...it's Sangwoo..."

Another crack. "I don't really care." Uncle made him stand, giving one last slap to the back of his knees and almost making him tumble down. "Quit fucking up. Next time, you won't get away with so little punishment." He stood, putting his belt back on before leaving.

Bum sank to his knees, pushing the fatty parts of his palms into his eyes and weeping.

"I just want people to like me...why doesn't anyone like me...?" Bum cried.

No one...only...

Sangwoo.

Chapter Text

Sangwoo practically threw the car door open when his parents brought him to his aunt and uncle’s the day after the last day of school the following summer. His aunt and uncle greeted him with hellos, but he rushed past them to Bum’s house, taking the steps two at a time and pressing repeatedly on the doorbell.
“Bum!” He greeted. “Hey, Bum, you home!?”
Auntie laughed. “He’s happier to see his friend than us. I think I should be insulted.” She told his mother.
His mother chuckled a little, tugging the collar of her dress closer to her neck to hide a bruise on her chest.
“I think you should, as well.”
The door to the Yoon residence opened and Bum launched himself out the door at his friend.
“Sangwoo, you’re here! You’re finally here!” He greeted, not even flinching when he looked up at Sangwoo and the older boy tched at his black eye.
“What the hell…?” Sangwoo wondered. “What happened to you?”
“Huh? Oh!” Bum let him go and hid his eye with his hand. “Nothing! I got in a fight at school...that’s all…”
“Fight…?” Sangwoo blinked.
Bum wasn’t the fighting type. Which meant someone had hit him. The urge to vomit rose in his throat, but he bit it back.
“Did...did you win…?”
“No.” Bum laughed. “Like I could ever win…”
“Yeah…”
“What happened…?” His mom whispered to the other woman.
“I asked him when he went to get the mail yesterday. He says he got into a fight at school.” She replied, rubbing her arm nervously. “I don’t know anything else, and his uncle won’t say anything. Granny, neither.”
“Poor thing.”
“Hm...almost makes me wonder if that’s really what happened…”
“What?”
“Nothing.” She shook her head. “I don’t want to keep you too long, hon. You’ll miss your flight.”
“Right!” Ms. Oh smiled, slapping her forehead. “I almost forgot. We’re not taking a flight this year. No big vacation for us. Just a nice quiet trip up north. By car.”
“Oh, well those can be great, too…Sangwoo isn’t going with you…?”
“He lives for summers here...I couldn’t take that away from him...we don’t mind. Really.”
“Hm.” Auntie smiled. “Well, enjoy your trip!” She waved at her husband. “Uon! Get Sangwoo’s bags!”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes, dear…”
“Men. Gotta tell them the simple things, hm?” Auntie laughed.
Sangwoo’s mother merely smiled. ”Sangwoo…! We’re going now!” She called to her son.
“Hold on, Bum.” He rushed back to her. “I’ll miss you.” He told her, hugging her waist.
“I’ll miss you too, my sweet Sangwoo.” She kissed the top of his head and, for the briefest of moments, he feared he’d never see her again. “Until August…!”
“August.” He nodded, smiling. “Goodbye, father! I shall miss you as well!”
His father waved a lit cigarette at him. Sangwoo watched his mother and father drive away.
“Bum, would you like to join us for dinner?” Auntie wondered.
“Oh...th-thank you…” He replied.
“I know your Uncle won’t be home for a few days, so no one can tell you no.” She winked. “You two have fun. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
They watched her leave.
“Hey, Bum?” Sangwoo wondered.
“Yeah, Sangwoo…?” Bum asked.
“Is that really what happened to your eye?”
“O-Of course not…” Bum didn’t speak for a moment. “Uncle hit me…”
Sangwoo watched his friend walk away, turning to give him a reassuring smile as he walked towards the backyards that the boys claimed as their own the summer before. He growled at the idea of Bum’s uncle hitting him like his father hit his mother. A fist formed at Sangwoo’s side and he resisted the urge to punch the mailbox. How could anyone hurt someone so sweet, so innocent, like that? He wasn’t certain if he felt sorrier for his mother or his weirdo.

000

Summer always seemed to end much too quickly. Bum loved the summer. Sangwoo was there, his uncle hit him less because he couldn’t blame it on school incidents. It was heaven. Bum and Sangwoo were roasting marshmallows at the annual end-of-summer/farewell-Sangwoo block party. His uncle didn’t attend that year, going fishing with his friends for the weekend instead. Sangwoo was happy for that. He didn’t know if he could hold back from hitting the guy if he showed his face. Bum had eventually opened up to him and told him about getting spanked with the belt, getting screamed at and smacked around when he cried, how the kids at school were always mean to him. At least Sangwoo could escape the horrors of his family home with class. Bum didn’t even have that luxury.
“Hey, Bum?” Sangwoo wondered.
“What is it?” Bum blew on his marshmallow to cool it to eat.
“You know what you told me, about the kids at school?”
“Y-Yeah…?”
“Don’t let them, okay?” Sangwoo took out his marshmallow and blew on it as well. “They think it’s funny, but you keep getting hurt.”
“It’s okay…”
“No, its not.”
“They don’t pay attention to me if I don’t...I don’t have friends at school, Sangwoo. I’m not like you...I…”
“What kind of friends would cause you this much pain in the first place?” Sangwoo shook his head. “It isn’t worth it, Bum. You can’t please someone who’s never happy.”
“I guess…” Bum bit his marshmallow. “‘I’ll try not to let them drag me into things anymore.”
“Good...I don’t like seeing you hurt…”
“Huh?”
“Nothing.” Sangwoo put a new marshmallow on his skewer as he chewed on the other one, holding the skewer up. “Next summer.” He promised.
“Next summer.”
Bum clicked his skewer with Sangwoo’s as fireworks blasted into the night sky.

Chapter Text

When Bum stopped being a stool pigeon for the other kids, the teasing started to flare up more and more. He hated when they called him names and picked on how weak he was for getting upset. He hated how uncle complained when the principal called to say he was worried about Bum. He hated everything about school and the school year, except for the last day. The day the torment would end for the year and the day before Sangwoo would come home. Home. Bum wasn’t certain when he started considering his best friend’s house his home, but it had to be somewhere between second and third grades. Auntie always had him over for dinner when Uncle was gone for a few days and sent him home with leftovers for Granny. Sangwoo’s Uncle talked to him once and a while, but he didn’t interact with the other man much. Sangwoo didn’t either. Sangwoo said it was because he looked too much like his father for his uncle to handle, and that he understood because he hated his face, too. A blushing Bum had admitted he liked Sangwoo’s face, which made the other a bit happier with himself. It became a ritual almost for Sangwoo and Bum to spend the entire last day of summer together, from the crack of dawn until the end of the party. Bum would try not to cry when his only friend left with his parents, and Sangwoo would try to pretend he didn’t know the other was going to cry in the first place. They used flashlights to alert each other at night if they wanted to talk. When uncle was complaining about noise, they’d hold up pieces of paper with short messages on them to show each other and communicate that way. They’d implemented a can and wire communication system until Bum’s uncle saw it and ripped it down for being unsightly. Sangwoo would rush to Bum’s doorstep to ring the bell the moment he got out of the car when he was dropped off, but after second grade, Bum was always waiting before he could press the button. He’d launch himself at Sangwoo for a hug, and they’d say goodbye to his parents together, then rush off to play. At the end of the summer party, they’d give each other last words to get through the school year with and hold a toast of some kind to next summer.
The summer after third grade, they sat on the swing set Sangwoo’s uncle had built them the year before in the backyard, watching the adults talk and eat their food around the fire and grill.
“Sangwoo…?” Bum wondered, laying back on his swing.
“What?” Sangwoo asked.
“Can I ask you something?”
“You just did.”
Bum giggled. “No, silly. Something else.”
“What?”
Bum spun in a circle, twisting the chains before he let himself spin out. “Do you...do you think we’ll always be friends…?” He asked.
“Huh?” Sangwoo wondered. “Why are you asking me this?”
“Just...the last day at school, Hyuel and Korain got into this huge fight over a girl and they’re not friends anymore. But they’ve been friends since preschool. I never see them apart at school...but Hyuel said I never want to see you again and Korain said that would make my life the best. So, they’re not friends. But...that’s never going to happen to us...right…?”
Sometime during his story, Bum had stopped spinning and was now digging a toe into the dirt under them nervously.
“That’s a...what a…” Sangwoo huffed. “Over a girl? Gross.”
“Right…?” Bum laughed. “But...that doesn’t…”
“We’ll always be friends, Bumi.”
Bum blushed at the semi-familiar nickname. Sangwoo had started calling him that two summers ago, but it still made him feel weird to be called that. To be called by that name that only Sangwoo called him.
“Forever…?”
“And ever.”
“P...Pinky...swear…?” Bum opened one eye as he held a pinky to Sangwoo.
“God, you’re needy.” Sangwoo joked, looping their pinkies. “Pinky swear, alright? We’ll be friends forever and ever. Happy now?”
Bum giggled. “Yes…”

000

The following summer, Bum didn’t hear a car pull up to the neighbors’ house at the usual time. He figured traffic may have been a factor, so he sat near the door and waited for Sangwoo to show up. And waited and waited. He checked the clock and frowned when he realized he’d been waiting two hours.
“I don’t think he’s coming this year.” Granny informed, appearing in the foyer and wiping a dish with a cloth. “You’re wasting your time.”
“He always comes during the summer. The same day, the same time.” Bum complained. “He’ll be here…”
“And until he is, you’re going to just sit there like a faithful dog?” Granny groaned in frustration. “Fine, be that way. But don’t come crying to me when your uncle comes in and beats you for blocking the door like an idiot.”
Bum glared at his grandmother’s retreating back. He knew that she knew about the abuse but wasn’t going to say anything because his uncle was taking care of her. He sighed and looked out the window, hoping that Sangwoo had come but he just hadn’t heard the car. He didn’t give up until an hour before his uncle was supposed to be home.

Chapter Text

When Sangwoo didn’t show up at the usual time the next day, Bum went to Auntie and Uon’s house to find out where he was. He knocked three times and waited patiently until Auntie opened the door.
“Oh...Bum…” She seemed disappointed. “You’re here…? But why?”
“Um...where’s Sangwoo…?” He asked. “Did I...did I miss him…?”
“I haven’t heard from anyone, and the phone is disconnected.” Auntie sighed. “I don’t think he’s coming this year, sweetie.”
“But...but he always comes here during the summer...he said we were going to...going to be friends forever...but...he’s not coming…?”
“You’re still the best friend he’s ever had, Bum, remember that.” Auntie pat him sadly on the shoulder. “Just because he’s not here, it doesn’t mean you’re not best friends. Okay?”
“O-Okay...should I...should I just wait, then…?”
Auntie smiled sadly. “We can wait all we want, Bum, but something tells me we’ll have to just get through this summer like we do the rest of the year; without him.”

000

When another summer came and went without Sangwoo reappearing and explaining why he hadn’t come the year before, Bum found he had no choice but to accept the fact that his best friend wasn’t going to be there with him anymore.

Chapter Text

Somewhere between being miserable that Sangwoo wasn’t there and trying to find other ways to occupy his time, Bum managed to become friends with a boy in town that went to a different elementary school but ended up in his homeroom in seventh grade. Yang Seungbae was a good friend, but he was nothing like Sangwoo. He didn’t come over during the summer, barely associated with Bum outside of classes and maybe lunch. He was too busy with his best friend, Kyung, to be outside-of-school-friends with the ravenette. Not that Bum minded. The only person he cared to hang out with outside of classes was Sangwoo, but it had been almost a decade since they saw one another last. Bum wondered what he looked like all grown up, what he was like. Did he still do the two-personality thing like he did as kids? Did he still like getting dirty and playing rough with friends? Did he still like the swings and grape popsicles? Did he think of Bum? Did he forget him? He knew that he’d never know, and it was unsettling. Auntie had said that it was like the Ohs had dropped off the face of the earth. She had tried to call Sangwoo’s school a few times after the first summer he didn’t come to visit to see about his attendance, but they had said they couldn’t tell that information to someone over the phone, and only Sangwoo’s parents in person. Bum stopped going to her house for dinner the year he accepted Sangwoo wasn’t coming anymore. Going there was too painful of a memory for him. Long nights of sending messages through the windows and days riding bikes around town and down the big hills, memories of promises they made every summer and cool places Auntie took them to plagued both his sleeping and waking mind. Once uncle learned that Sangwoo wasn’t going to come around and ask questions anymore, he had no qualms against beating the tar out of his nephew for even the smallest transgressions, like not putting enough salt in the soup. No one at school cared enough to ask, not even Seungbae and Kyung. He was still bullied and teased at school, though it was dulled a bit if Seungbae was around, since he had a personal zero tolerance policy for bullying.

When high school came around, and people started dating, Bum started feeling left out. Even Seungbae and Kyung had come out of the closet after showing up at homecoming holding hands in freshman year. Yet Bum was left alone without a friend, let alone a love interest. A few girls had confessed to him, but they all turned out to be elaborate plots to tease him more, so he stopped listening after a while. A couple guys had tried too, and Bum immediately shot them down, knowing that was just another trick, too.

Jieun and Eun were still inseparable, joining the cheerleading squad together and sitting together in almost every class. Dongyu and Seok were still their friends as well, though Jieun’s joking about Dongryu’s weight didn’t wane as they got older and he joined the football team to bulk up. They rarely gave Bum the time of day, unless Jieun wanted to try to use him for something or he somehow humiliated himself in class and she was there to witness it.

Bum didn’t go to school social events, and despite his coach’s prodding to join the track team, he adamantly refused because Uncle said no and threatened to beat him to the brink of death if he ever asked again. Granny started making excuses for his uncle, doing whatever she could to get Bum to just accept his fate as his uncle’s personal punching bag and to forgive him for hurting him, when he was in middle school. The youngest Yoon tried to ignore her, but when she said that it had to be done because Bum just didn’t listen, he started to resent her. He was only six when his uncle started assaulting him. How did any six-year-old deserve that? How was any of this his fault? He’d realized that Sangwoo had been right and that his uncle was a drunk in sixth grade, when his uncle started using him as a personal butler to bring him and his buddies beer from the fridge when they had card night at the Yoon residence.

For the most part, he kept to himself outside of Seungbae and Kyung unless he was forced into a group for a project or on a team for gym class. He always changed in the bathrooms attached to the boys’ locker rooms so no one would see his injuries from his uncle and his rather pathetically skinny frame. That started some rumors that he was changing there so he wouldn’t get turned on by the other boys in the locker room, and some that he was born a girl and didn’t want anyone to know. He ignored them for the most part, though it did sting when a certain f-word with three letters was tossed his way. He wasn’t exactly certain what he preferred, but a part of him was pretty sure the only person he’d ever felt differently for was Sangwoo. But they were best friends, and he didn’t even know Sangwoo anymore, much less what gender he preferred. Then again, Seungbae and Kyung were best friends and look where they ended up. But that was because they both felt the same. Unless he saw Sangwoo again by some miracle, he’d never know if he had a crush on his friend or if it was reciprocated if he did. But still, the word was terrible, and he knew it hurt his classroom friends to hear it.

000
Getting a transfer student in the middle of the school year was such a strange event in the area that it raised eyebrows and threw about rumors that spread faster than wildfires. Bum tried to pay no mind to it, even when he spotted Jieun and her crew with an unfamiliar face framed by dyed blonde hair and a black undercut. Downcast chocolate brown eyes seemed familiar, as did the smile on his face when he laughed at something Jieun said. But that was impossible, there was no way that Bum knew him. The ravenette looked down and moved out of the way so the group could pass. Jieun had her hands around the new man’s bicep. Bum could have groaned if he didn’t mind people staring at him. Looks like she’d already found someone to sink her claws into. As the day went on, Bum realized he didn’t have any classes with the new kid, but he did see him with Jieun and her group at lunch, so that was probably the only time they’d see one another that wasn’t just passing in the halls.
“See the new kid yet?” Kyung wondered.
“Yeah.” Bum replied. “Jieun’s already attached to him.”
“Poor bastard.” Seungbae commented.
“Seung!” Kyung scolded.
Bum giggled. “He’s not wrong, though.”
“I know, but still!”
“Didn’t she just break up with that one guy? Chul?”
“Yeah, a couple weeks ago, I think. He was complaining in the locker room, saying she gave it up for him a lot and now he had to go back to his hand.”
“Gross.” Bum complained.
“Keep things like that to yourself when you hear them, please.” Seungbae adjusted his glasses.
“Hey, if my poor, innocent ears have to suffer, so do yours!”
“There’s not a damn thing innocent about you.”
“I could say the same for you! Only innocent one here is Bum.”
“W-What…?” Bum sat back a little. “Innocent? Me? What do you mean innocent?”
“If I have to explain, then you proved my point.” Kyung pat Bum on the head. “Innocent little Bum.”
“Shut up.” Bum slapped his hand away as the new kid passed with Jieun.
She laughed out of nowhere. “You’re so funny!” She told him.
“I...didn’t say anything…” He gave the trio a small smile as they passed, shrugging about Jieun.
Bum shrugged back, not sure why he felt the need to do so.
“I feel bad for him already.” Kyung stated. “Poor thing has no idea what he’s getting into.”
Neither did Bum.

Chapter Text

Bum hated the rain. The school buses were his own personal hell, so he was left to walk home for forty-five minutes. When it rained, it made his walk home that much more miserable; the bus was almost a better option. At least it wasn’t snow, he thought about a month after the new kid showed up. Still, he stood on the front steps of the school under the awning to prevent himself from getting wet. He looked around, hoping maybe Seungbae or Kyung would see him and offer him a ride, since he knew Seungbae drove.
“Ugh, this rain’s going to destroy my hair.” Jieun complained as she exited the school. “I’m so glad you drive, babe.”
“Yeah, me too…” The new guy responded.
It was well established after about a week and a half that they were together. Since no one really talked about him, and Jieun only ever called him pet names, Bum had no idea what his real first name was. It was annoying, but he’d had no reason to need to know it. It wasn’t like they had classes together or anything.
“Oh, look. It’s Bum.” Jieun dragged him over. “What are you doing? Staring like some kind of creeper?”
“I’m looking for Seungbae and Kyung…” Bum replied softly, looking away when she got in his face.
“Why?” She asked. “Oh, right, you walk home like an idiot and don’t want to be caught in the rain. How silly of me. Well, enjoy standing here all night while I’m getting a nice warm ride home from my boyfriend. Right, babe? You’re going to bring me home?”
“I guess.” He replied.
“What do you mean you guess?” She gaped.
“I’m kidding...relax…” He put an arm around her waist. “How far do you have to walk?”
“Forty-five...”
“Who cares?” Jieun interrupted. “I know you’re new around here, honey, but Bum is kind of the biggest loser the school has to offer.” She made an L on her forehead with her fingers. “Isn’t that right, Bum?” She pinched his cheek.
He pushed her hand away. “Come on, Jieun, I don’t want to deal with this...you’ve left me alone since he came here...can’t you just ignore me again…?”
She pouted. “God, you’re no fun. Stopped being fun a long time ago. Boring.”
Bum rolled his eyes. “You just say that because I’m not your personal errand boy anymore.” He accused. “Can you just take her away, so she’ll leave me alone...please…?”
Her boyfriend cocked an eyebrow. “Errand boy?” He asked. “Come on, Jieun, he wants to be left alone. Don’t be mean.”
“Oh, stop it. You’re silly.” She giggled at him.
“Once again, I didn’t say anything funny...”
“Well, have fun walking home in the rain. Alone. Just like you’ll always be. Alone.”
“Thanks for the free clairvoyance.” Bum rolled his eyes again. “I should put in a good word for you, hang posters or something. Get the word out.”
“You should. Make yourself useful for once.” Jieun giggled. “Though that would require a photo of me, and I wouldn’t want to give you something to fantasize over.” She poked his chest. “Oh, wait...you’re not into women...I forgot.” She flipped her hand around.
“I’m not…” Bum sighed in frustration. “I’m not gay, Jieun. I’m not attracted to anyone, alright? I don’t like other people…”
“And other people don’t like you. Feeling’s mutual.”
“I’m glad you speak on behalf of everyone. Saves them the time and effort.”
“I’m just a nice person like that.” She pat his shoulder. “If you’d stayed on my good side, you’d have known that, too.”
“I wasn’t aware you had a good side.”
Her boyfriend snickered, stopping and whistling innocently when he realized she noticed and glared at him. Bum gave a small smile. For being with Jieun, he was a decent guy. At least, he seemed like one. Then again, he could be doing what Jieun did as a kid and trying to get him to let his guard down. The idea twisted Bum’s stomach into an ugly knot.
“I should get going…” He muttered, starting down the stairs.
“You want a ride?”
“Huh?” Bum looked back up at the couple. “M…Me…?”
“Yeah.”
“Hold on a second.” Jieun complained. “Babe, he’s a loser. It would kill our reputations to be seen with him!”
“Wouldn’t it also destroy your good citizenship for the squad to ignore a classmate in obviously desperate need?” He asked her, tilting his head sideways. “Come on, it’s just one ride. It can’t hurt. I’d feel bad; making him walk that long in this...”
“I-I don’t need…”
“He’s right, he doesn’t!” Jieun huffed. “Honey, it’s really cute that you think it’s a good idea, but it’s not. Just pretend you didn’t see him; that’s what everyone else does.”
“Well, I’m not everyone else.”
“If you two are going to fight over it; don’t.” Bum told the new guy, giving him a small, reassuring smile. “I can make it home. If the rain gets too much, I’ll hide out in a shop.”
“See? He’s got a plan. Let it go.” Jieun complained. “And by it, I mean him.”
“Hey!” Bum shouted.
The boyfriend rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so mean, Jieun. Just this once. Please? So, I don’t feel like an asshole for not helping?”
“Fine, if it makes you feel better…”
The boy smiled. “My car’s this way. Silver Toyota.”
Bum waited until they passed and followed at a decent distance. Jieun quickly climbed into the passenger seat and threw her bag behind the driver’s side. He took that as his cue to get in behind her and did so. The car roared to life and the boy hastily backed out of his spot so fast that Bum fell over, not having a chance to put on his seatbelt. He fixed himself and buckled up.
“Drop me off first.” Jieun stated, checking her phone. “Mom needs me.”
“Alright.” He nodded. “Do you mind, Bum…?”
“No…she probably wants to get away from me anyway.”
“That wouldn’t be wrong, no.” She giggled annoyingly and adjusted her hair in the mirror hidden in the visor. “But when I tell you to, close your eyes. I don’t want you knowing where I live.”
“I don’t care where you live, Jieun.”
“Good. Because I don’t want you knowing.”
Her boyfriend sent Bum a sympathetic look in the rearview mirror that made his heart stop. Oh god, he was not attracted to Jieun’s boyfriend. No way.
“Close um!” She whipped around to make sure he did, staring at the closed-eyed boy until the car stopped. “Don’t let him open them until you drive away.”
“Fine.” The boyfriend rolled his eyes. “See you tomorrow.”
“I’ll text you later.” She kissed his cheek, leaving behind a bright pink sparkly kiss mark.
He watched her leave. “You can open your eyes; she’s gone...do you wanna sit up front…?”
“No, no, I’m fine.”
“Sure?”
“I guess I could...but then she’ll know I opened my eyes and…”
“Climb over the seat. She won’t be any wiser. Come on.” He pat the seat.
“O-Okay…” Bum did as told, unsure of why he was following the other’s orders.
Was he going to fall into the same trap of doing what was asked of him in a pathetic attempt to get friends? No. He had Seungbae and Kyung. He didn’t need other friends; especially not people that associated with Jieun and her merry band of assholes. He watched the other male rub off Jieun’s kiss mark, seeming disgusted.
“I hope this comes out of my clothes…” He complained.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t…” Bum muttered.
“I guess.”
The ride continued in silence.
“Oh...I forgot to tell you where I live…”
“I know where you live.”
“You do…?” Bum swallowed hard.
This was it. He was going to be tossed into the garbage dump or something ridiculous like that, wasn’t he?
The boyfriend nodded. “Mhm.” He stated.
“O-Oh…”
“Aren’t you going to ask how I know?”
“H-How do you know…?” Bum closed his eyes tight, prepared for whatever might come his way.
“You think I don’t see you leaving your house every morning? Rushing out while your Uncle screams after you? Sneaking out to throw away the trash in the middle of the night?”
“You’ve been stalking me…? But...but why…?”
“Nah, not stalking.” The boy responded, chuckling as he turned up the car’s heat. “Just things you notice when you live next door to someone.”
“Oh...but how did you know about my...my uncle…?”
“Seriously? It’s not clicking yet, Bum?”
“What isn’t clicking?”
“Bumi...come on…”
Did he just hear what he thought he heard?
“Wh-What did you call me…?”
“I said, come on, Bumi. It’s gotta be obvious now.” There was a mischievous glint in his eyes as looked out the corner of them at Bum. “Or has someone else been calling you that while I’ve been away? I’m a bit jealous, I must admit. I thought that was our thing.”
“S-Sangwoo…?” Bum wondered. “Is it...is it really you…?” He leaned closer to get a better look at the young man next to him.
“As I said...who else calls you that, hm…?” He asked. “One of those guys you sit with at lunch? Your new friends? You couldn’t have...forgotten about me, could you have…? Because I never forgot…”
Bum resisted the urge to launch himself at the driver. “It’s really you…” He touched the side of his face instead. “It’s you, all grown up…” He laughed. “I can’t believe it...you’re back...but...how…?”
“I live with auntie and my uncle now.” Sangwoo admitted.
“F-For real...? Not just for the summer…?”
“It’s not summer, is it?”
“You know what I mean!” Bum covered his mouth at his outburst. “I just...you’re home…”
“Home?” Sangwoo cocked an eyebrow. “I guess I would call this place my home, sure.”
“They didn’t...didn’t tell me you were coming…”
“I asked auntie not to.” Sangwoo admitted. “I wanted to surprise you, but I’m a grade ahead of you, so I don’t see you.”
“Oh, right, you’re older.” Bum flushed.
That was why he didn’t see Sangwoo anywhere. His schedule was completely out of line. Jieun or one of her friends had probably been tasked with guiding him around, so that was why he was with them although they were in Bum’s grade.
“Imagine my surprise to see you today, all grown up.” Sangwoo chuckled, looking Bum dead in the face for the first time as they stopped at a red-light. “Still the same overly skinny kid I grew up with, aren’t you? Pardon Jieun’s bitchiness...I wasn’t aware she was this bad when I agreed to go out with her…”
“Why did you…?”
“I don’t know...I’m bored, I guess...but seeing how she treats you…”
“No, don’t think that!” Bum ordered as a car honked when the light changed.
“Think what?” Sangwoo wondered. “That I don’t like how she treats you, and it’s making me see what a total bitch she is?”
“That’s...not where I thought you were going with that…”
“Where did you think I was going?”
“That you don’t like it, so you were gonna...I don’t know...dump her or something…”
“Nah, she’s too entertaining to kick to the curb.” Sangwoo shrugged. “Yet, anyway. You’re far more interesting than she is; always have been.”
“Sangwoo...you know she’s one of the ones that I told you about, right…? That made me do things for her and then got me in trouble for it?”
“I…thought her name sounded slightly familiar.” Sangwoo admitted. “But no matter...talking about her bores me.”
“Everything bores you, Sangwoo.”
“I suppose.” He chuckled. “Except you.”
“Yeah, except me…”
“How have you been, Bumi…?”
“I-I’ve been okay...I’ve got friends...we don’t hang out outside of school or anything, but I’m not alone in classes anymore…”
“The ones you were with today?”
“Yeah. They went to a different elementary school.”
“I see.”
“And they’re together.”
“Oh?” Sangwoo asked. “Hm, interesting, I guess.”
“Not really. Just a fact.”
“How are...things at home…?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary...uncle still overreacts about everything and beats the shit out of me, but I’m pretty sure you knew that…”
“Yeah…”
“How about you…? How are things with Auntie and your uncle…?”
“Fine. I’m adjusting, I guess. No different than when I spent summers there.”
“Makes sense…”
“Aren’t you going to ask me the obvious question, Bumi?”
“And what is that, Sangwoo?”
“If I have to tell you, it’s not obvious.”
“...” Bum paused. There was always one question on his mind concerning the other. “Why didn’t you come back…?”
“There you go.” Sangwoo praised, patting Bum’s knee. “Using your head.”
“Well?”
“Well what?”
“Your answer, Sangwoo…? Why didn’t you come back?”
“Uncle and my dad got into a fight. Something about dad thinking it was pathetic that auntie ordered him around once and a while. I don’t quite remember. All I know is father said I won’t be going to live with someone who can’t learn to keep his broad in line.”
“That’s...that’s awful...they didn’t get along, so he didn’t let you go…? That’s horrible...it’s not your fault! Or mine, for that matter! Why were we punished?”
“My father will inflict suffering on anyone he can, even when the full blame rides on his shoulders.” Sangwoo scowled. “Or, should I say, he would inflict suffering?”
“Past tense?” Bum questioned. “If he didn’t want you here for summers anymore...why send you now...?”
“I’d say I finally pissed him off enough to make him want to get rid of me, but even you would see that was a lie.” Sangwoo replied. “He’s dead.”
“What?” Bum blinked. “Since when? What happened? Oh, Sangwoo...”
“That’s my name, yes.” Sangwoo laughed at his own joke. “Mother went off the deep end; finally got sick of my father beating the fuck out of her...raping her…” He paused. “I came home to find them both dead. Mom shot dad, then herself, they said.”
“Dear god.” Bum covered his mouth and looked away. “Sangwoo, I’m so sorry…”
“I guess she had written a will that had me going to my aunt and uncle if I wasn’t eighteen yet when she died.” Sangwoo shrugged. “They didn’t know, but that’s what the city said, and they weren’t going to question it. Auntie’s been up my ass, asking questions, checking in on my mental state every day.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Annoying…”
“At least she cares…” Bum paused. “Granny says it’s my fault uncle beats me…”
“What?” Sangwoo scowled. “Are you kidding me?”
“Says that if I learned my lesson, he wouldn’t do it. That he’s had a hard life, so I should forgive his anger.”
“Yeah, because your life has clearly been all sunshine and rainbows.” Sangwoo sneered. “I’m sorry, Bumi…” He put the car in park on the side of the road and ran a hand through his friend’s hair. “I should have been here with you…”
“You didn’t have a choice…” Bum leaned into the other’s touch.
It had been such a long time since anyone had touched him in such a gentle manner. Granny hadn’t hugged him after the day he started living with her and his uncle, and his uncle only knew how to hurt him. He missed this.
“I didn’t have to go home with them that year...I never had to. Auntie would have let me stay if she knew what really went on in that house of horrors…”
“Did...did your father hurt you, too…?”
Sangwoo shrugged. “Yeah, he went off on me quite a bit. Mother tried to shield me, but it was pretty hard to when she was ninety-five percent unconscious and he was forcing me to clean her blood off the kitchen floor.”
“Sangwoo...I…if I had known, I…”
“You couldn’t have helped me, Bumi. Look at you...you can barely help yourself…”
“I don’t care enough about myself to help me. But...you…”
Sangwoo leaned a little closer. “Yes, Bumi?”
“You’re my only friend, Sangwoo...you always have been...I’d do anything to protect you…”
“You’re...my only friend, too, Bum.”
“No, I’m not...you’ve got Jieun and her friends…”
“Disposable.” Sangwoo pressed their foreheads together. “I can ditch them in a heartbeat...just say the word…”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that, Sangwoo…” Bum’s left hand held Sangwoo’s cheek. “You’d be a loser like me...they’d turn on you...make your life hell…”
“I don’t care...you’re worth it…”
“W-Worth it…” Bum tilted his head to the side a little as Sangwoo leaned a bit closer to his lips.
“So worth it…”
Neither moved for a moment until Bum came to his senses and pulled back, pushing Sangwoo away lightly.
“You’re…” He took a breath. “You’re with Jieun...that automatically disqualifies me as a friend…”
“I told you, I’m willing to ditch…”
Bum placed both hands on Sangwoo’s mouth. “Don’t...don’t say that…” He ordered. “I don’t want you giving that up for me...we’re neighbors again...isn’t that enough…?”
“How did you not realize I was here?” Sangwoo wondered. “You haven’t seen the light in my room at night?”
“I don’t…” Bum looked away. “Uncle moved my room to the basement...said my room was too nice for a little shit like me…”
Sangwoo grit his teeth. “I see...how are we going to send each other messages now?”
Bum giggled. “I’m not sure…”
Sangwoo brushed bangs from his face. “You still giggle like a girl…”
“I can’t help it.” Bum informed. “Uncle says he wishes I was a girl so he could put up with me…”
Sangwoo rolled his eyes. “Stop equating everything back to him, would you? Annoying.”
“If I annoy you so much, why are we friends?” Bum teased.
“Because you’d be fucking lost without me.”
“Oh, and you wouldn’t be lost without me, too?”
“I seem to be managing on my own just fine...unlike you.” He winked.
Bum giggled. “I guess you have a point.”
He should have pulled away when Sangwoo’s hand rested on his cheek again, but he didn’t. Bum closed his eyes and leaned into the other’s touch. It felt so good to have his friend back, to make physical and emotional contact with him was a gift he’d thank God for a thousand times over if he believed in such a thing.
“I missed you, Sangwoo…”
“I missed you, too, Bumi…”
They sat there in silence.
“I should go inside…” Bum muttered.
“What time do you have to be home?”
“Six...dinner is at seven, and I have to help granny cook…”
“Come inside for a bit?” Sangwoo nodded at his own house. “I’m sure auntie would be happy to see you...keeps asking if I found you yet.”
“S-Sure...but won’t Jieun…?”
“She won’t know. It’s not her business what I do once she goes home.”
“I...er...sure…?”
“Great.” Sangwoo beamed, letting him go and grabbing his bag. “Come on.”
Bum followed suit, rushing to the front porch with his friend, bag over his shoulder. They both stopped on the top of the steps, leaning onto the poles supporting the roof on either side and laughing. Bum wiped water out of his face, pushing his bangs to the side to frame his face.
“Heh.” Sangwoo pulled Bum to the door. “Reminds me of a couple times in the summer…”
“Riding our bikes home in the rain...auntie shouting at us to strip because we were getting her floor wet…” Bum grinned. “G-Good times, Sangwoo…”
“Yeah, you can say that again.” He opened the door. “Yo, auntie! I got company!”
“Oh?” She greeted, wiping her hands on a towel as she came out of the kitchen. “You finally brought your girlfriend over…? That’s not your girlfriend.”
“No, it’s not.” Sangwoo informed.
“H-Hi, auntie…” Bum greeted.
She dropped her towel. “Bum!” She greeted, rushing to him and pulling him into a hug, “I haven’t seen you in such a long time. I was worried something had...no, never mind that.” She brushed his hair back. “You’ve gotten so big...I’m glad Sangwoo finally found you. Sneaky Bum, hiding like that.”
Bum laughed. “I didn’t exactly know he was here…”
“How did...never mind…” She shook her head. “Not important. What’s important now is that you’re both here...welcome home, Bum…”
He felt wetness on his face, and it wasn’t from the rain. “It feels good to be back, auntie…”

Chapter Text

Granny was sitting in the living room, staring at a blank TV when Bum finally left the Oh residence to return home. His uncle's car was still missing, so he wasn't home yet. She glared at him.

"It's eight." She complained.

"Sorry, Granny." Bum held out a tray covered with aluminum foil. "F-From auntie."

"Auntie?" She seemed surprised. "Oh? What are you doing over there? You never go there anymore…"

"He's...he's back, Granny...Sangwoo…"

Her jaw set. "The nephew?"

Bum nodded. "My friend, Granny. He gave me a ride home from school today."

"You didn't mention him being at your school before…"

"That's because I didn't exactly know that he was there." Bum flushed. "He's a grade higher than me, and Jieun only calls him by these annoying pet names, so…"

"Jieun? Min? The girl that you said causes you so much trouble years ago?" Granny chuckled. "Is that his girlfriend?"

"Y-Yeah...but I don't think he wants to be with her all that much...seems annoyed by her…" Bum rubbed the back of his neck.

"At least, unlike you, he's got someone. Though, that's embarrassing. Living here your entire life and having no girlfriend, no friends at that, to show for it."

"I have friends...they just don't come here…" Bum cleared his throat. "And Sangwoo is here. I'm never alone if he's here…"

"Hm." She nodded. "Just don't get too close. I wouldn't want to see you get hurt."

"More than Uncle already hurts me…?"

"Go take a shower and get your ungrateful ass in bed." She stood angrily, slowly making her way towards the kitchen with the leftovers to heat up. "Your uncle didn't have to take you in, Bum. Be glad that he did...who knows where you would have ended up. And besides, if it weren't for your uncle you loathe so much, you wouldn't even know the boy."

There she went again; giving him the guilt trip that he didn't need. He waited until he heard her pressing buttons on the microwave and the machine beeping in response to her commands before going the opposite way to the stairs to the second floor to do as he was told. Showers were the only time he was allowed up there anymore. He'd take his time to revel in the familiarity of it without his uncle breathing down his neck but being up there held one too many painful memories. His former room had a nice dent in the door where his uncle got mad, he had locked it and kicked it as hard as he could in an attempt to break the door down. It was once filled with the minimal things to keep him alive and social services off his Uncle's back. Now, it was just a room where Uncle kept things he had no room for elsewhere, and where he and his friends played cards while Bum ran around like a maid, getting their beers and foods, and cleaning their messes. Uncle thought it was funny when his friends smacked Bum's backside, but the ravenette was tempted many times to dump drinks over the heads of the ones that tried. He knew that doing so would only anger the easily angered drunkard further, so he refrained.

Bum shuddered and hugged himself as he walked to his bathroom. Inside he showered, enjoying the feel of the warm spray rushing over his badly bruised body; the black and blue marred disaster that made up his frame was something he hated looking at, but he knew he'd have to at some point. Bruises were fading, and most would become nothing while his uncle was away, but the ones that remained made him shake to the core. No one would want to be with someone who looked like he did anyway, he decided, so it didn't matter if the wounds faded or not. Girls, and guys probably, wanted guys like Sangwoo, not him. Guys who were well built and didn't get beat up by their own uncles and were good looking. They didn't like guys that were too skinny and got hurt easily. They didn't like guys whose eyes were heavily bagged, sunken in from nights of staying up to make sure someone wasn't about to touch them in their sleep. Forever alone seemed to be the theme of his life, with or without Sangwoo next door.

Sangwoo.

He'd grown into such a fine young man. Bum would be a fool to not realize that, even though he wasn't attracted to the other in any way, shape, or form. But when they were close in the car, when Sangwoo was just close enough to kiss him, something inside him snapped and made his face flush. Considering that Sangwoo was dating Jieun, he couldn't say he was too surprised. If she had seen that, she'd have thrown a fit so big that it would make World War III, if there ever was one, seem like children fighting over a ball. Then why did the idea of Sangwoo kissing him sound so right? Could he be…? No, no way. He didn't have feelings for Sangwoo. No way. They were just friends, and he'd missed him so much...even if he felt that way for Sangwoo, he was clearly taken and not into men. Unless he was bi, but Bum wasn't about to ask him to be sure before he made a move or made his opinion clear.

000

Laying in his room with one arm under his head, and the other slipped into his pajama waistband, Sangwoo couldn't get thoughts of Bum out of his mind. He wasn't trying to think of him in any manner, and he tried really hard to think of Jieun, but she just didn't do it for him. She was fun to play with, to keep around, but he wasn't really attracted to her. He'd probably have to tell her at some point, but he couldn't just do it right after getting with her and, more specifically, reconnecting with Bum. How suspicious would it look if he dumped her because of how she treated a kid no one really paid attention to? Without Bum in his life, he'd been able to try and find a new identity for himself. He no longer had his best friend to run to during the summer and unload all his bullshit baggage onto. He had to deal with his own demons, as violent and deeply ground as they were, and make friends he had an actual interest in keeping. He'd learned to tailor his reactions and his entire existence based on who he was attempting to use to keep up appearances with. Like with his parents and auntie and uncle, he could change himself at the tip of a hat to better fit in. For the most part, at school, it worked. He got some friends he could tolerate the existence of for more than just a few minutes and managed to find time to hang out with them outside of school, between the final bell ringing and his father's strictly enforced curfew that he never dared miss. From what he'd heard from Jieun and the other underclassmen she associated with, Bum had managed to do the opposite. He kept himself isolated from his peers, only hung out with those two other boys during school hours and didn't bother trying to wear a mask to hide his true nature. Though, truth be told, he probably did a little bit between his uncle and other people.

Sangwoo found himself often attracted to the darker souls; people who were the black sheep, the unwanted. And Bum fit that description to a T. Despite himself, he let Bum's name escape his lips in a whispered moan. He sped up his ministrations, imagining it was Bum encasing his length, making him feel so good. He imagined the ravenette eagerly swallowing his length, chocking slightly at the length of it, bobbing up and down the stalk as he massaged the fleshy sack underneath.

"Bum…" Sangwoo moaned, speeding up his hand.

He could practically feel the other's breath ghosting along his skin, his lips, his hands. In his mind, he knew that it wasn't reality. But he couldn't help but fantasize over the first real friend he ever had, the kid that peaked his interest when he was six and never let go. Fuck Jieun. The only person that could ever get him going that way was Bum. He knew that to be true. And yet…

Chapter Text

Bum tried to avoid looking directly at Sangwoo’s house the next day when he left to go to school. He’d had dreams of the other student the night before, and he felt as if looking towards where he lived might somehow summon the half blonde. His efforts were in vain when he heard the front door open.
“Bum!” Auntie called. “Don’t you leave for school without saying hello!”
“Oh, don’t be such a pain.” Sangwoo told her, inching his way around the woman. “Morning, Bum.”
“M-Morning.” Bum watched as the other teen practically hopped down the stairs to him.
“Want a ride?” Sangwoo asked.
“Don’t...aren’t you picking up Jieun?”
“No.” Sangwoo responded. “Her father insists on bringing her because he assumes I’ll run late.”
“Oh okay...but won’t she freak out if she…?”
“If you’re that worried,” Sangwoo sighed, “I can drop you off around the corner…”
“Yeah, sorry, I just don’t want to ruin things for you.”
“Would you stop?” Sangwoo rubbed the back of his neck. “Putting yourself down is damn annoying…”
“Ah, sorry.”
“You still apologize a lot.”
“Shut up…”
Sangwoo laughed, patting him on the back. “Come on, let’s go, then. Later, auntie.” He waved at her.
“Have a good day at school, boys!” She waved.
Bum waved back. “Thank you!”
Sangwoo clicked a button on his keys and the car made a blip sound. Bum climbed in the passenger seat and buckled up as Sangwoo did the same. He drove a little bit from their homes before sighing.
“She’s overcompensating.” Sangwoo complained.
“I’m sorry?” Bum cocked an eyebrow as he turned to face the driver.
“Auntie. She feels bad for not seeing me all these years, and worse so with my parents being dead finally, and she’s being overly nice…”
“She’s always been overly nice…” Bum paused. “Because she knows my Uncle treats me like shit…”
“Yeah, she’s nice normally. But when something bad happens, she’s right up your ass.”
“I’d rather have something else up my ass…” Bum muttered, looking out the window.
“Well, then, good to know.” Sangwoo cleared his throat.
“That was a joke…”
“I’m aware...you’re gay…?”
“No!” Bum glared. “I’m...not into anything, really...it was just a joke, god…”
“Relax, I’m just teasing.” Sangwoo shook his shoulder. “It’s not my business anyway.”
“You’re my best friend…” Bum paused. “If I was going to bring someone home, I’d rather not sideswipe you by bringing home a guy out of the blue…”
“I’d...rather you not be sideswiped by who I bring home, either…”
“Well, since its Jieun…”
“Yeah. I know you don’t like each other…”
“You know what a psycho she was towards me when we were kids.”
“I’m not excusing her, but you didn’t discourage it…”
“I know…” Bum looked away. “Never mind.”
“Sorry…”
“Now who’s apologizing…”
Sangwoo laughed, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, yeah, zip it, Bumi.”
“Make me…”
“Nah, I’m driving.”
“Scared?”
Sangwoo pulled over to the side of the road, leaning close to Bum again once he put the car in park.
“Of what?” Sangwoo asked. “You? That’s laughable.”
“Oh, so I’m not intimidating?”
“Not by a long shot, Bumi~”
Bum glared but rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. “I know that…”
“Then don’t get offended.” Sangwoo grabbed the smaller boy’s chin and turned it to face him. “I don’t mean anything by it, and you know it.”
“S-Sangwoo…” Bum pulled away. ”People will see…”
“And? I’m not doing anything.”
“I just…” Bum unbuckled as he bit his lip. “Thanks for getting me to school…”
Sangwoo looked up, cursing under his breath as he realized how close they were to the school.
“Yeah, no problem…”
“I’ll see you later, okay?” Bum opened the door. “Don’t worry about getting me home. I can walk.”
“Bum…” Sangwoo grabbed his arm. ”If you think you’re going to cause me problems with Jieun by me giving you a ride, get over it, alright? She’s going to have to accept it that we’re friends…”
“We’re best friends, Sangwoo...and we’re always going to be...right…?”
“Right…?”
“Then whatever Jieun has an issue with, she can plain go fuck herself.”
Sangwoo smirked. “Damn straight, since I’m never going to.”
Bum laughed. “Good to know, Sangwoo.”
“Shut up and get out of my car.”
Bum laughed, slamming the door shut. He watched Sangwoo drive off, slipping on sunglasses as he did so. Bum watched until he could no longer see the car’s tailpipe before slouching down and sighing.
“Who’s the guy?” A voice asked behind him.
Bum turned to see a shopkeeper who had offered him water when he stopped outside her store panting after school.
“My new neighbor.” He answered.
“He dropped you here and not at school?”
“His...er...girlfriend...kind of hates me.”
“I see...Shame. Here I thought you were going to actually have a friend.”
Bum laughed. “He’s been my best friend since we were kids, actually. He just moved back.”
“Ah, I see.” She smiled gently. “Well, I’m glad he’s back for you then. But to drop you off just so she won’t notice…”
“No, it’s nothing like that. He said she needs to get over it. I just don’t want to cause him problems.”
She rolled her eyes. “Calm down.” She ordered. “If he’s your friend and doesn’t care what she thinks, you shouldn’t care either.”
“That’s...just the way I am.” Bum adjusted his backpack strap. “Eventually I’ll get over it, I guess. He just got here and…”
“Whatever your excuse is, Bum, I don’t want to hear it.” She giggled. “I saw the way he looks at you.”
“What?” Bum laughed. “What are you talking about?”
“If you can’t figure it out, you’re blind, Bum.” She pat him on the head and vanished back into the store.
He rolled his eyes and started off towards school. He’d have to pay more attention to how Sangwoo looked at him now if he was going to figure out what she had meant.

000

Sangwoo gripped tight to the steering wheel as he sat at a red light. Why was Bum so worried about what Jieun thought? She was just some dumb broad Sangwoo pretended to be interested in. She’d thrown herself at him a few times already, but he faked being into the idea of waiting until marriage to get her off his back. He didn’t care about when he got laid, but there was something about Jieun that turned him off even before he knew how she treated Bum. Yet the night before, thoughts of Bum filled his mind while he got off in the privacy of his own room. There was something about the other boy that he was somehow attracted to, he couldn’t deny that. He almost found himself wishing that Bum was coming out to him earlier. Call him crazy, but he’d feel a lot less guilty about fantasizing over the other if he knew Bum might possibly do the same over him. The car behind him honked when the light turned green, earning a middle finger from Sangwoo as he started moving. Damn Bum, interrupting his waking day as well as his nights.

Chapter Text

000

Walking home sucked, Bum realized this every day and this one was no different. The weather was fine, so he wasn’t worried about that. He just hated having to walk so far. Why couldn’t his uncle be like other guardians and pick him up at least once and a while? He sighed as he leaned against a fence that surrounded the local park. A little break would recharge him enough to make it back home, but it left time for people from school to come across him and cause him trouble. When he heard a car horn, he groaned in frustration; realizing his fears were coming to fruition.
“I don’t want any...trouble…?” He looked at the car and realized it was familiar. “Sangwoo?”
The half blonde was practically leaning out the passenger side window. “Hey.” He greeted with a smile. “Do you want a ride?”
“Where’s Jieun?” Even as he asked, Bum found his feet were moving towards the car.
“Dropped her off already.” Sangwoo replied. “I figured you might still want a ride.”
“You came back for me?” Bum felt his heart swell. “That’s a waste of gas…”
“I can afford gas, Bum; chill out.” Sangwoo pushed open the door.
Bum caught it and opened it up enough so he could slip in. “Thank you, Sangwoo...I appreciate it.”
“Yeah, no worries.”
Sangwoo waited until the door shut before driving off. “You’re not busy after school, are you?”
“Just homework...why…?”
“Wanna go for a walk? For old time’s sake?”
“A walk?” Bum cocked an eyebrow. “Like...a bike ride…?”
“Yeah.”
“I don’t have a bike...just the one you gave me…”
“You still have that damn thing?” Sangwoo laughed. “Talk about living in the past, Bumi.”
He flushed. “You weren’t here...I didn’t have much to remember you by.” Bum fished out his wallet and opened it, pulling out a photo from behind his ID.
“Damn.” Sangwoo whistled when he stopped at a light long enough to get a good look at the photograph. “That’s the year we met, isn’t it? The end of summer party?”
Bum nodded. “Yeah, auntie took it…”
“I remember.” Sangwoo chuckled. “Mine’s in my wallet, too…”
“Heh.” Bum flushed, looking away. “We’re...a lot alike, aren’t we…?”
“I’d say so.” Sangwoo nodded his confirmation. “So what do you say? A walk? There’s a big hill with our names on it…”
“I hate to tell you, Sangwoo, but that big hill isn’t so big; not anymore.”
“I suppose not.” Sangwoo admitted. “But it’s still ours…”
Bum smiled gently feeling giddy. Who needed a lover when they had a friend like Sangwoo around?
“Yeah, Sangwoo...ours…”

000

Having Sangwoo around when he was home was like a heaven sent for Bum. His Uncle had realized after a couple days that Bum was coming home later and later, often from the neighbor’s house, and that meant something was keeping him there again. Bum let out a gasp of surprise when his Uncle grabbed his hair in his rough fist when he was closing the door one night.
“Where have you been? Dinner’s in half an hour…” His gruff voice barked in his ear.
Bum resisted the urge to shudder, knowing it would only fuel his Uncle further.
“I-I’m sorry...Sangwoo was helping me with homework…”
“The neighbor boy is back?” Uncle didn’t seem to hear past his name. “Fucking figures.” He shoved Bum’s head away roughly. “Keep a better eye on the time, you stupid little shit. Go cook…”
“Y-Yes, Uncle…”
Bum watched the already inebriated man stumble away. Granny stood in the doorway leading to the kitchen.
“I told you that you’d piss him off one of these days.” Granny snorted. “Having friends isn’t fit for someone like you, Bum.”
“Sangwoo thinks otherwise...the counselor thinks otherwise...so does that shopkeeper that helped me one day, and auntie…”
“She’s not your aunt, so stop calling her that.”
“She’s asked me to, and I’ll do what I damn well please.”
“Tch, brat. No wonder your uncle’s so sick of you. You like it better over there? Then why don’t you just stop coming back?”
Bum glared as she trudged off towards the living room, probably going to pop on her stupid soap operas he’d come to hate over the years. He sighed in defeat and hung his coat and backpack up. His feet slipped out of his shoes and he made his way to the kitchen. Uncle hadn’t specified what to make that morning, so he’d just have to make due with whatever he had. From the bags on the counter, he had an idea that Granny went shopping. He doubted it was to make dinner time easier on him. He was finished with enough time to breathe for five seconds before uncle appeared in the kitchen, rudely demanding a plate be made and brought to him upstairs in the spare room.
“Your old room. Got it?” He asked.
“Yes, Uncle.” Bum replied, glaring daggers at the man’s back as he left.

000

Next door, Sangwoo ate his dinner with mild disinterest. His uncle was working late to cover for a coworker, so it was just him and auntie.
“Something on your mind, Sangwoo?” She asked gently, knowing that prodding too much would make him clam up.
“Not really.” He replied. “Just thinking.”
“About…?”
He looked up at her with a small, false smile of sincerity. “I’m not happy with Jieun. Her voice grates on my ears, and the way she treats Bum…” He paused. “Sometimes I want to smack her, but I won’t be a woman beater; not like my father…”
She paused eating. “I...had a feeling something strange was going on...but your mother wasn’t about to speak up, and I couldn’t force you to…”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure that I would have either way.”
“I suppose…” A pause as she chewed her food. “If you’re not happy with her; leave her. I haven’t even met her, but if the stories I’d heard from Bum are true, I’m pretty sure I never want to…”
“She wants me to come over for dinner to meet her parents Friday night...I’m not sure if I have the strength in me to fake a night with them…”
Auntie chuckled. “It’s just one night, dear. If it’s uncomfortable, use it as an excuse to dump her.”
“I’m pretty sure she’d use me dumping her against Bum, blaming him somehow…” Sangwoo paused. “I can’t say he isn’t a factor here…”
“Because of how she treats him?”
“Not just that…”
“Then what...oh…?” She wiped her mouth. “Is he aware…?”
“What? That I’m attracted to him? Fuck no.” He waited for her to scold him for cursing before speaking again. “I’m pretty sure I’d scare him off. He’s so timid…”
“Not when you’re here. Believe me, Sangwoo, it was worse when you were gone. I haven’t seen that boy smile in such a long time...not that I see him often. He keeps to himself.”
“Because of his uncle.”
“I can’t stand him…”
“I’m ninety-five percent sure that Bum can’t either.” Sangwoo admitted. “And I’m pretty sure he’s getting hurt…”
“That’s been my suspicion for years, but he won’t confirm it.”
“That black eye he had when we were kids...the second year I came to visit while he was here?”
“He got hurt at school. A fight, right?”
“His uncle did it.”
“When did he tell you this?”
“That same day...when we were alone…”
“And you didn’t say anything…?”
“What could I have done, hm?” Sangwoo slumped in his seat. “It’s bad enough I have feelings for the guy, but if I had told on his uncle, I’m pretty sure he’d never be allowed to see me again…”
“It wouldn’t surprise me…” She sighed. “Some things are better left unsaid, I suppose...I just hope it hasn’t gotten worse over the years, you know? I’m pretty sure his uncle wouldn’t do anything if he knows you’re around because you’d catch onto it.”
“I guess the drunk isn’t such a dumb fuck after all.”
“I’ll excuse the language this once, Sangwoo, but that’s it.” She wagged her fork at him. “Look, it comes down to this. You’re happy with Bum, you’re not happy with Jieun. You’re with her to protect him from backlash if you were to break up and she blamed him. You’re so concerned with taking care of Bum that you’ve forgotten to take care of yourself…”
“I’m taking care of myself...you think I want to feel like this for the guy? I don’t. He’s my best friend, and we’re both dudes.” Sangwoo stated. “I guess a part of me is with Jieun to keep that other side of me to myself…”
“So...is it just Bum...or…?”
“Just Bum...I’m not into guys. Never have been...but there’s just something about him…”
She pat his hand gently. “Whatever you decide on, Sangwoo, I’m here for you, okay? Both of you. If you want to stay with Jieun and be miserable, be my guest. But I’d be lying if I said the only people that would be happy if you two ended were you and me.”
“What are you talking about…?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“I’ve seen the way Bum looks at you when he thinks no one is looking. It’s the same way your uncle looks at me, that you look at Bum...if you told him how you feel I’m rather certain it would be...reciprocated…”
Sangwoo flushed, finally eating some of his dinner. “Thanks, auntie…”
“Of course.”
Their dinner finished in silence, and even as his uncle came home and started a conversation about the lack of sense of the other drivers in Seoul, Sangwoo found his thoughts drifting to Bum. Was auntie right? Did he like him as well? Only one way to find out…

Chapter Text

Next door, Sangwoo ate his dinner with mild disinterest. His uncle was working late to cover for a coworker, so it was just him and auntie.
“Something on your mind, Sangwoo?” She asked gently, knowing that prodding too much would make him clam up.
“Not really.” He replied. “Just thinking.”
“About…?”
He looked up at her with a small, false smile of sincerity. “I’m not happy with Jieun. Her voice grates on my ears, and the way she treats Bum…” He paused. “Sometimes I want to smack her, but I won’t be a woman beater; not like my father…”
She paused eating. “I...had a feeling something strange was going on...but your mother wasn’t about to speak up, and I couldn’t force you to…”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure that I would have either way.”
“I suppose…” A pause as she chewed her food. “If you’re not happy with her; leave her. I haven’t even met her, but if the stories I’d heard from Bum are true, I’m pretty sure I never want to…”
“She wants me to come over for dinner to meet her parents Friday night...I’m not sure if I have the strength in me to fake a night with them…”
Auntie chuckled. “It’s just one night, dear. If it’s uncomfortable, use it as an excuse to dump her.”
“I’m pretty sure she’d use me dumping her against Bum, blaming him somehow…” Sangwoo paused. “I can’t say he isn’t a factor here…”
“Because of how she treats him?”
“Not just that…”
“Then what...oh…?” She wiped her mouth. “Is he aware…?”
“What? That I’m attracted to him? Fuck no.” He waited for her to scold him for cursing before speaking again. “I’m pretty sure I’d scare him off. He’s so timid…”
“Not when you’re here. Believe me, Sangwoo, it was worse when you were gone. I haven’t seen that boy smile in such a long time...not that I see him often. He keeps to himself.”
“Because of his uncle.”
“I can’t stand him…”
“I’m ninety-five percent sure that Bum can’t either.” Sangwoo admitted. “And I’m pretty sure he’s getting hurt…”
“That’s been my suspicion for years, but he won’t confirm it.”
“That black eye he had when we were kids...the second year I came to visit while he was here?”
“He got hurt at school. A fight, right?”
“His uncle did it.”
“When did he tell you this?”
“That same day...when we were alone…”
“And you didn’t say anything…?”
“What could I have done, hm?” Sangwoo slumped in his seat. “It’s bad enough I have feelings for the guy, but if I had told on his uncle, I’m pretty sure he’d never be allowed to see me again…”
“It wouldn’t surprise me…” She sighed. “Some things are better left unsaid, I suppose...I just hope it hasn’t gotten worse over the years, you know? I’m pretty sure his uncle wouldn’t do anything if he knows you’re around because you’d catch onto it.”
“I guess the drunk isn’t such a dumb fuck after all.”
“I’ll excuse the language this once, Sangwoo, but that’s it.” She wagged her fork at him. “Look, it comes down to this. You’re happy with Bum, you’re not happy with Jieun. You’re with her to protect him from backlash if you were to break up and she blamed him. You’re so concerned with taking care of Bum that you’ve forgotten to take care of yourself…”
“I’m taking care of myself...you think I want to feel like this for the guy? I don’t. He’s my best friend, and we’re both dudes.” Sangwoo stated. “I guess a part of me is with Jieun to keep that other side of me to myself…”
“So...is it just Bum...or…?”
“Just Bum...I’m not into guys. Never have been...but there’s just something about him…”
She pat his hand gently. “Whatever you decide on, Sangwoo, I’m here for you, okay? Both of you. If you want to stay with Jieun and be miserable, be my guest. But I’d be lying if I said the only people that would be happy if you two ended were you and me.”
“What are you talking about…?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“I’ve seen the way Bum looks at you when he thinks no one is looking. It’s the same way your uncle looks at me, that you look at Bum...if you told him how you feel I’m rather certain it would be...reciprocated…”
Sangwoo flushed, finally eating some of his dinner. “Thanks, auntie…”
“Of course.”
Their dinner finished in silence, and even as his uncle came home and started a conversation about the lack of sense of the other drivers in Seoul, Sangwoo found his thoughts drifting to Bum. Was auntie right? Did he like him as well? Only one way to find out…

000

Bum stared at Sangwoo as they sat in his parked car in the same spot he’d been dropped off in before.
“You...you’re serious…?” Bum wondered.
“Yeah.” Sangwoo agreed.
“Why...would she…?” He flushed and looked away finally. “You and me…?”
Sangwoo bit his lip in the corner. He shouldn’t have pinned it all on his aunt, he should’ve came out and just said hey, I’d rather be with you than Jieun, but he didn’t. Bum was too precious to him to risk losing him over something like this.
“I don’t know…”
Bum looked away, covering his mouth with a hand. Did auntie know? Did Sangwoo like him that way? Was that why…? No, impossible. He was with Jieun; he liked women. But he’d openly admitted he’d never have sex with her, so maybe…
“You...you’re straight, right…?”
“Uh...yeah, I guess...?”
“Guess?” Bum turned to look at him. “What do you mean I guess?”
“I have no issue dating women...just the idea of sex with one…” He shuddered. “Particularly Jieun…”
“She gets around, so you’re probably safer saying no to her.”
“I wouldn’t dream of saying yes.” Sangwoo admitted. “It’s bad enough I’m being dragged to some fancy dinner at her place tomorrow after school…”
“Oh?”
“To meet her parents or some shit. Showing me off like I’m some kind of trophy she has no right to…”
“I have more of a right to do that than she does, and I’m not with you…”
“Do you...want to be…?”
“You think auntie’s right, don’t you?” Bum flushed. “Am I that obvious…?”
“I guess I do, I mean...wait, you’re serious?” Sangwoo’s eyebrows rose. “You do…?”
“I...I think…?” Bum flushed. “I don’t know...you make me...make me feel strange and I...I don’t know...” He paused. “But...you’re with Jieun…”
“I’m aware.”
“We can’t be together…”
“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt me…”
“Sangwoo, are you encouraging me to help you cheat on Min Jieun?” Bum almost fell over laughing.
The blonde couldn’t be serious. This had to be some strange, elaborate dream.
“Maybe…?” Sangwoo looked away. “I don’t know…”
“Then I guess we’re both dumb shits, huh?” Bum giggled. “I don’t know and neither do you.”
Sangwoo chuckled. “You’ve got a point.” He turned back, brushing bangs gently from Bum’s eyes. “If you’re okay with it...then I am, too…”
“Okay with being your side piece?” Bum laughed, leaning back in his seat and pushing the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Yeah...yeah, I’m okay with it. Fuck Jieun.”
“You really hate her, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” Bum snorted. “She’s got you, and I d…”
Sangwoo smirked. “There it is…”
“Shut up, we’re both going to be late...we can talk about this tonight, okay?”
Bum gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before blushing like a cherry and escaping the car before Sangwoo could comment on it. He watched the other flush and duck into a shop. Leaning his head on the steering wheel and gripping tight to it, Sangwoo couldn’t help but laugh hysterically, almost feeling like he was about to tip over the brink to insanity. Bum liked him. He honest to god liked him, and Sangwoo knew he couldn’t lie to him to save his life. And he wanted to be with him, regardless of whether or not he was with Jieun. God have mercy. Sangwoo composed himself, chuckling as he drove away.
Bum leaned his back against the shop door, panting and staring at his feet. Sangwoo asked him to be together, to help him cheat on Jieun. He kissed him-nevermind the location!-and Sangwoo didn’t try to hit him. He felt almost giddy. The guy he was ninety percent sure he was in love with wanted to be with him. Someone chose him over Jieun. Someone who liked him as more than a friend? He laughed nervously to himself, slinking down to the floor and holding his head in his hands as his laughter grew stronger. The shopkeeper looked at him with mild concern as she made him a drink she knew he liked. Thank god no one else was in the shop.
“Are you alright, Bum…?” She asked. “You’re scaring me…”
He looked up at her, grinning ear to ear. “I think I’m in love…”

000

Bum tried to look at anything that wasn’t Sangwoo when he came across him at school. He felt like if he did, anything could make him seem suspicious. Jieun’s friends were idiots, but helping her split him and Sangwoo up and stop them from being friends sounded right up their alley. He gave Sangwoo a brief smile when he walked by at lunch, but that was about it. His friends must have noticed something was off about him, because they shared a look before Seungbae cleared his throat.
“Are you...alright…?” He wondered.
“Huh? Yeah, why?” Bum asked.
“You’re acting off…” Kyung commented. “Like avoiding Sangwoo…”
“Avoiding him?” Bum asked. “No, I’m not…”
“Everyone knows he’s been giving you rides home. Now you won’t even look in his direction.”
“I just...I don’t want to cause trouble...I know it makes Jieun mad…”
“So? You don’t like her.”
“Yeah...but he’s my friend…”
Seungbae rolled his eyes. “So for his sake, you’re avoiding him?”
“No...just not…” Bum sighed, slumping down in his seat. “I met someone…”
“And…?” Seungbae wondered.
“He...er...Sangwoo knows who it is...and...I don’t know, I’m worried I may have freaked him out with it...I guess I’m being an idiot.”
“Why do you think that?” Kyung wondered. “She’s one of his exes or something…?”
“He…”
“Oh!” Kyung laughed. “Well he doesn’t seem to give a damn about Bae and I, so…”
“Stop calling me that, would you?” Seungbae sighed. “You know I don’t like it…”
“You know it’s funny.” Kyung chuckled, leaning his chin on his hand. “Your name sets me right up for it~”
“That’s...why I hate it…” Seungbae adjust his glasses.
“Anyway.” Kyung turned to Bum. “Relax. He’s your friend, he’s not going to care who you’re with if you’re not getting hurt.”
“Y-Yeah, I guess…” Bum tried not to jolt when Sangwoo pat him on the shoulder as he passed.
“See? Everything’s fine. Don’t worry so much.” Kyung waved it off.
“I-I’ll try not to.” Bum couldn’t help but stare as Sangwoo walked by with Jieun.
This was going to work. He could make this work. He and Sangwoo could have an affair behind Jieun’s back, and she’d be none the wiser. She was a bitch, but she was a dumb one at that. This would work, and Jieun could go fuck herself.

Chapter Text

Sangwoo didn’t know what Bum’s problem was, but he realized his friend was trying to avoid him all day. Did he freak him out by asking this? Bum seemed like he was okay with it, but maybe it was just part of Bum’s insatiable need to please people in order to keep friends. But didn’t he realize by now that he didn’t have to do anything for Sangwoo to get him to stay friends with him? They already promised to be friends until the day they died, and even though it was just some juvenile pinky promise in the backyard, he damn well meant it. He gripped tight to the steering wheel out of frustration as he drove back to the park from dropping off Jieun. He had to keep a level head about this. His father’s anger lived on through him, but he wasn’t going to be like that. Bum was his best friend, and soon to be lover. They’d talk this out rationally. If it wasn’t really what Bum wanted, he would drop the subject and wouldn’t approach it again. If it was what he wanted, they’d go from there and figure it out. He smiled gently and eased up on the wheel when he noticed Bum waiting under a tree for him. Bum seemed a little happier than he did at school as he climbed in.
“Hey, Sangwoo.” He greeted happily.
“Hey...you’re...in a better mood…” Sangwoo returned a smile.
“Oh! You noticed, huh…?” Bum rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry...I just couldn’t trust myself to not give myself away...I’m...kind of a wreck when it comes to relationships…”
“I thought you’ve never been in one, Bumi.”
“Well yes, but I mean...I’ve had crushes before…” He fiddled with the hem of his shirt. “And been completely obvious about it, I guess…”
“I see.” Sangwoo chuckled. “Don’t worry yourself so much, Bumi.” He squeezed his knee. “We got this…”
“Yeah…”
“I thought I weirded you out or something…”
“What?” Bum laughed. “No, no of course not! I mean...I don’t know if we can pull this off, but I hope we could...I mean…” He looked away. “I don’t know what I mean…”
“Auntie’s going out with friends for the night...we can talk about it when we get home. She should be leaving soon.” He tossed Bum his cell as it buzzed.
Bum opened it. “Auntie texted; said she’s leaving...damn you’re good…” He dropped the phone into the cup holder.
“You have no idea.”
“S-Sangwoo…!”
The blonde laughed, making Bum smile and giggle a little in response. This was going to work. He knew it.

000

Bum never felt more awkward than he did sitting on Sangwoo’s bed about an hour after they’d gotten to the house. Auntie had left hot chocolate half finished and cookies on the kitchen table for them. Bum took the drink and politely refused the cookies. He was too nervous to put much in his system; even the hot chocolate was probably going to make him puke. He and Sangwoo were just sitting in silence, enjoying their drinks, doing everything they could to avoid looking at one another. The silence in the air was heavy and deafening, but Bum couldn’t bring himself to break it. Sangwoo did by setting his cup down on his nightstand and drumming his fingers on his knee. Bum watched him do so, sipping down the rest of his.
“So…” Sangwoo began, pausing when he realized he didn’t really have all that much to say.
“Yeah…?” Bum asked.
He shrugged. “What the fuck are we doing, Bum?” He ran a hand through his dyed hair.
“Your guess is as good as mine…” Bum muttered. “You asked me to go behind Jieun’s back with you and I agreed...I don’t think either of us were thinking this morning…”
“I was.” Sangwoo replied. “Call me crazy, Bum, but I was being honest this morning…”
“So was I…I hate her...but I don’t know if I can do this.” Bum sighed, stretching his legs. “I’m too nervous as it is...I just…”
He felt a hand on his shoulder and followed it up to Sangwoo’s face. The blonde was smiling gently at him.
“If you don’t think you can do this, then don’t, okay? I’m not going to be mad. We can just put this all behind us.”
“You’re sure…?”
He nodded.
“I…” Bum paused. “S-Sangwoo…?”
“What is it?”
“Could I…could we just...just once...er…?”
“What, Bum?”
“Before I decide to back out...an experiment…?”
“Experiment? Like what?”
“K...um...Kiss...me…?”
Sangwoo paused for a moment before breaking into a small grin. “Yeah, I can do that. Sure…”
Bum closed his eyes, puckering his lips. Sangwoo laughed.
“Damn, you’ve never been kissed before, have you?”
“Well...uh...no.” Bum opened one eye.
Sangwoo lay his palm flat against Bum’s cheek. “Let me guide you then, alright…?”
“O-Okay…”
Sangwoo leaned in closer like he had the first day Bum was in the car with him. Bum flushed, part of him hoping Sangwoo would move away like he had last time, too. That part of him was silenced and a bit confused when Sangwoo instead closed the gap and gently pressed his lips to the ravenette’s. Bum shivered in his friend’s arms, but when he tried to pull away, Bum pulled him closer by the biceps and kissed back, harder. Sangwoo seemed surprised, but he still kissed back, responding to the move of the other’s lips. Shit, for not being kissed before, Bum seemed to know what he was doing once he started. Sangwoo pulled him a little closer by the waist until the lithe male was straddling him, his neck twisted back at an angle so he could meet the other’s lips. Sangwoo ran one hand through raven locks while he gripped tight to Bum’s hip bone. Bum moaned, lips parting enough for Sangwoo to dip his tongue inside, tasting the remains of Bum’s lunch on his tongue as they connected. Bum felt his eyes roll back in his head. Not bad for a first kiss, not bad at all. Oh, who was he kidding? Sangwoo was frigging good. He moaned into the kiss again, arching his back as Sangwoo laid back against the pillows, pulling Bum with him. The ravenette’s skinny arms barely held up his weight as he leaned over the other, trying not to lose concentration and come falling on top of the best thing to ever happen to him. They separated and Bum pressed his forehead to Sangwoo’s, panting.
“Shit…” Bum cursed.
“Not bad...for a beginner…” Sangwoo responded, brushing Bum’s bangs from his face.
“Beginner, huh?” Bum wondered, pressing his lips gently to Sangwoo’s again.
The blonde kissed back, a bit surprised when Bum pulled away, gripping his lower lip in his teeth and giving it a tug as he did so. Sangwoo moaned, arching up against the other in response. Bum pulled away, letting Sangwoo’s lip go. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say the other was enjoying their interactions a little too much.
“Shit…” Sangwoo muttered.
“Y-Yeah...shit…”
“I love you.”
“What?” Bum pulled away slightly. “What did you say, Sangwoo…?”
“I said, I love you.”
“You...you do…?”
“Yeah…” Sangwoo nuzzled into Bum’s shoulder a little. “I know that’s a little much to be saying right now, but…”
“I love you, too…!” Bum blurted before he could stop himself. He sat back, hands flying to cover his mouth as he did so. “I…I didn’t...I shouldn’t...I’m sorry!”
“Sorry?” Sangwoo laughed. “I said it first...why are you…?”
“I don’t know...I’m not used to this…”
“To what?”
“Affection…” Bum bit his lip. “You’re sure, Sangwoo? You’re sure you want to hook up with me behind Jieun’s back…?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything…”
“Then...I guess…” Bum leaned down to press a kiss to where the other’s neck and shoulder met. “Let’s do it…”
“You’re certain?”
“Absolutely…”
“I love you, Bumi…”
“I love you too, Sangwoo…”

000

All motion in the Oh household stopped dead in its tracks as Bum and Sangwoo stared at auntie. Bum blushed bright red, afraid to move away from the kiss he and Sangwoo had been sharing before she walked into the room.
“About time.” Auntie chuckled, patting Bum on the head as she passed. “Just don’t have sex on my couch.”
“Auntie!” Bum complained, pulling from Sangwoo finally.
The blonde’s fingers held tight to Bum’s left hip, rapping a steady rhythm against the flesh.
“Can you go?” He wondered. “We were in the middle of something…”
“You have a bedroom to use, you know.” Sangwoo’s uncle commented as he shook his head. “We have the decency to not go at it on the couch…”
“We didn’t think anyone would be home so soon…” Bum admitted, wiping a bit of drool from the corner of his mouth.
“Clearly.” Uncle snorted.
“Oh, leave them alone, dear. We were young and in love once, too.” Auntie winked. “I’m just glad I walked in on the two of you and not you and Jieun. Blech.”
Bum and Sangwoo laughed as Auntie and uncle went into the kitchen together.
“Sorry.” Sangwoo lay his head back on the couch. “I really thought they’d be later…”
“It’s okay.” Bum moved away from him, climbing off the lap he’d been previously kneeling over. “I still love you.”
“I’m honored.” Sangwoo ran a hand through the other’s hair. “I love you too, Bum.”
“You’re so cute together, you know that?” Auntie commented, putting a plate of cookies in front of them. “Nice to see you two both smiling for once.”
“I’m always smiling when I’m with him…” Bum cleared his throat. “You...you’re okay with this…?”
“You two being together? I believe you wouldn’t be if I hadn’t influenced it, so yes. I’m fine.”
“Pretty sure it’s our decision, actually…” Sangwoo informed.
“Yes, but you wouldn’t have made a decision if I hadn’t caught you in a corner.”
“What is she talking about…?” Bum wondered.
“Sangwoo? You didn’t tell him…?”
Sangwoo flushed. “That whole conversation may not have been all her fault…”
“You blamed me?” She shook her head. “Be a man, Sangwoo, and own up. He was so embarrassed to admit he was in love with you. It was cute.”
Bum laughed at the obvious discomfort on his boyfriend’s face. “You ass.” He hit him with a throw pillow.
Sangwoo slapped it out of his hand, grabbing his wrist and pulling him into a rough kiss. Bum moaned, fingers ghosting into Sangwoo’s hair.
“Hey, I don’t need to watch.” Auntie scolded. “How did she take it?”
“Who?” Sangwoo wondered once they separated enough that he could talk.
“Jieun…?” Auntie wondered. “How did she take getting dumped for Bum?”
“Uh...I didn’t exactly…” Sangwoo rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m still with her…”
“You’re cheating?” Uncle asked, emerging from the kitchen. “Oh Sangwoo, I am surprised at you.”
“That rhymed…” Bumi giggled, earning a gentle swat upside the head from Sangwoo.
“If I dump her for Bum, she will make his life even more of a living hell than it already is. No offense.” Sangwoo informed.
“None taken.”
“So instead you’re going to go behind her back and date Bum, though you’re publicly dating her?” Uncle asked. “And you’re okay with this, Bum…?”
“I hate her.” Bum admitted. “I don’t care if she finds out, really...I don’t care if he dumps her for me or doesn’t...we’re together...that’s all that matters.”
Sangwoo’s hand gripped his knee in a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
“I know what I’m doing.” Sangwoo defended himself. “When the time is right, I’ll toss her to the curb. Or let her decide to toss me aside; whichever comes first.”
“I doubt she’d ever let you go, hon.” Auntie informed.
“If I piss her off enough, she might.”
“Kiss Bum in front of her and that should do the trick.”
“I cannot believe you’re condoning this…” Uncle shook his head. “, no, I do believe you are. Look, Jieun sounds like a selfish little pain in the ass. I don’t blame you for not wanting to deal with her drama by dumping her ass. I really don’t. Just don’t get yourselves hurt in the process, alright? She’s got nothing to do with me, so I don’t think I care what happens to her. With you two, I give a damn.”
“Then understand that being with her makes me miserable, but if it’s going to protect Bum, I’ll put up with it for a bit longer. In the meantime, he and I are happy together. No harm, no foul.”
Uncle shrugged. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, son.”
Sangwoo rolled his eyes. “I don’t expect you to understand…”
“You’re right; I don’t. Just be careful, okay?”
“We will.” Bum confirmed. “Promise.”
“Pinky promise.”
Auntie held her pinky out, face serious.
“Seriously?”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
Bum laughed, hooking his pinky with hers. He offered his free one to Sangwoo. The blonde rolled his eyes, laughing as he linked his pinkies with each of their free ones.
“Pinky promise…”

Chapter Text

The following night, Sangwoo stood awkwardly on the front doorstep of the Min residence, wearing a dark suit with an open blazer and blood red tie. He held some flowers in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. Uncle had insisted on the wine, and auntie had insisted on the flowers. The fact that Bum had practically pounced on him before he left had his confidence through the roof as he waited for the door to open. If Bum thought he looked good enough to throw himself at, hopefully the Min family would be impressed as well. The door finally opened and Jieun was on the other side. She wore an open pink cardigan over a slightly formal green dress. Her hair was pulled back and she had painted a bright pink heart under her eye, fingernails done up in blue with purple and orange gems. Sangwoo bit back bile at the sheer gaudiness of the outfit as a whole.
“Oh, Sangwoo...you look amazing…” Jieun looped her arms around his neck. “Oh, my parents are going to love you as much as I do. So handsome…” She leaned to his ear. “I’ll give you a nice little present tomorrow if tonight goes well.”
“Jieun, stop. I told you no…”
She started to speak, but was interrupted by a woman clearing her throat.
“Oh, mommy! I didn’t hear you.” Jieun smiled at the woman behind her. “Mommy, this is Oh Sangwoo. Darling, my mother.”
“A pleasure, Mrs. Min.” Sangwoo bowed slightly, offering the flowers. “These are for you.”
“Thank you. “ She took the gift. “They’re lovely. Welcome to our home. Please, come in.”
“Thank you. What a lovely home you have.” Sangwoo shuddered inwardly.
This was painful.
“Why, thank you. My husband designed it.”
“He has great taste.” He slipped out of his shoes and followed the Min women down the hall.
Sitting in a lounge-style room was a man with short greying hair and glasses, reading something in the newspaper.
“Dear?” Mrs. Min greeted. “Our guest has arrived.”
“Excellent!” He folded the papers, standing. “Min Sujin.”
“Oh Sangwoo.” Sangwoo shook the hand outstretched to him when the older male stood up.
“Nice grip you have there, Sangwoo.” He stated.
“Thank you…”
“Welcome to our home. Dinner will be ready soon. Why don’t you and I sit and have a chat? Jieun? Go check on the desserts, would you?”
“Yes, daddy.” She curtseyed, bowing slightly for him before she left.
Her mother followed, scolding her for running in the house.
“Please, have a seat.” Mr. Min motioned.
“Thank you, sir.” Sangwoo began to do as told. “Oh, how foolish of me.” He smacked his forehead. “My uncle gave me this for you.” He handed over the wine.
“Ah, a lovely spirit.” Mr. Min put it on the table at his side. “Give him my thanks, would you?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Now, let’s cut to the chase.”
“Sir?”
“My daughter is very fond of you.” He started. “You seem like a nice young man, raised right...but I need to give you the standard father talk before we continue tonight. If you find my line of questioning offensive, or feel you can not hold up to our standards for our daughter’s suitors, you are welcome to leave. No questions asked.”
“I understand…”
“What’s the first thing you noticed about my daughter…?”
“Her personality, of course.” Sangwoo stated. “She’s very sociable. It’s pleasant.”
“I see...have you and my daughter engaged in any...unorthodox...activities…?”
“I’m not sure I…?” Realization hit. “Oh no, no.” He shook his head. “I don’t believe in doing that kind of thing before you’re married.”
“No? Not a lot of young men think that way anymore.”
“Well, Jieun managed to find a rarity, then.”
“She definitely did…” He paused. “Why did you move here?”
“Ah, that’s a sore subject…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “My mother...she went over the edge and murdered my father, then took her own life. Their wills entrusted me to my aunt and uncle. They live about half an hour south of here.”
“Oh, my condolences.”
“Thank you.”
“Did they say why…?”
“I’m not really sure I’m comfortable answering that one…”
“Family secret. Okay, got it, won’t ask again.” He made a check in the air as if he were crossing it off a list of acceptable questions. “So none of those activities before marriage...what are your intentions with my daughter…?”
“Well, I would like to take her out. A dinner here and there, maybe the movies. Something nice we can do together that she would like.” Sangwoo shrugged.
“Would you consider marrying my daughter one day…?”
“Hey, now, I’m a high schooler. Marriage is the last thing on my mind.” Sangwo admitted. “But I suppose one day, I could see her walking down the aisle…”
Fuck that. He’d marry Bum before he married Jieun. Bum...in a wedding dress...the idea almost made him giddy. Such easy access if they wanted to fool around at the reception.
“I see, I see.” He nodded. “Now, I have to give you the standard warning. Break her heart, I break you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of hurting her.”
What she didn’t know about his post-school activities wouldn’t hurt her, after all.
“Good.” He nodded. “I suppose you’ve passed my test. But do not get comfortable.”
“Of course not, sir…”
“Good.”
“Dinner is done, daddy!” Jieun bounded into the room.
“Excellent!” He roared. “Come, Sangwoo, let us feast!”
“Yes, sir.” Sangwoo bowed his head a little. “It would be an honor, sir.”
Jieun clung to his arm the moment her father left the room. “Well? Does he like you?”
“I think he approves…”
She squealed. “Oh, this is wonderful! We can go on actual dates now. I can’t wait!”
“Me neither…”
She pulled him towards the kitchen.