(Second story of Apathy; part of the Brotherhood series)
The weekend before finals arrived. It was a Sunday afternoon and he was spending it in the living room with YooMae beside him watching cartoons. It was one of those July afternoons that warranted nothing but laziness, leisure. It practically demanded that one walk rather than run; sit rather than stand. Kyuhyun had left Sungmin the previous Wednesday and had made it his prerogative to avoid any chances of them running into one another. However, it seemed to Kyuhyun like he was just slugging through the day, as if he were merely doing the motions of each day without conscious thought.
Actually, the only thing Kyuhyun truly thought over those past few days was Sungmin. Did he know? If so, what did he think? He sighed heavily. Both of his brothers had gone through the same thing, the only difference was that Kyuhyun didn’t know how he felt about Sungmin.
Sungmin felt with strong emotions. He swung back and forth through emotions like a pendulum and half the time Kyuhyun couldn’t keep up. Sungmin had turned on him so quickly that afternoon after the girl had confessed, who’s to say what would happen once he knew the truth. However, it was Sungmin’s strong feelings that trouble Kyuhyun.
With any other person, if Kyuhyun was around them for a long enough time, he would begin to have problems deciphering which emotions were his own. With Sungmin, Kyuhyun struggled long and hard to separate their feelings. Sungmin’s emotions were too strong, too vivid for Kyuhyun to push away and he wasn’t sure if his own feelings of liking were his own.
Oh yes, Kyuhyun liked Sungmin, he realized it the second week they were together. He realized it as he observed Sungmin silently, taking note of every detail of his face, every movement, every breath. He realized it as he waited by the elevators, startled to realize that he was feeling anxious and anticipation and - yes -, even hope. He realized it when he acknowledged that those three feelings were often accompanied by a fourth and it was a combination he had learned to dread, to practically loathe and yet… And yet as he was on the other side - the giving side; the feeling side - he realized not only was the hybrid not so bad after all, but he also realized at some point he had come to like the other man.
But was his infatuation enough? Was it enough to suddenly entrust a sacred secret to a practical stranger?
“Won for your thoughts?” Kangin plopped down on the other side of YooMae.
Kyuhyun leaned his head against the back of the couch, closing his eyes, “I wish you had telepathy so you could just read my mind.”
“If you insist,” Donghae said as he sat down on the adjacent couch.
Kyuhyun opened his eyes and raised his head, startled to see both of his brothers with him, “I thought you two were out?”
“We were,” Kangin replied,
“But we both realized something wasn’t right with our little brother,” Donghae explained, a light teasing tone in his voice,
“And as big brothers, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to come home,” Kangin smiled at him.
Concern. The amount of that emotion should have suffocated Kyuhyun as he usually felt whenever large amounts of emotions bombarded him. However, he didn’t feel as such, instead, he felt as if he were blanketed, as if the emotions protected him. As his pale blue eyes swept over his brothers, he realized that he was protected and by more than just mere emotions.
Kyuhyun sighed as he leaned his head back once more, but this time he gazed up at the ceiling, “I think this is something I need to deal with by myself.”
“What? I tried to deal with my issues myself and you practically -”
Kangin raised a hand to silence his other brother, “If that’s how you feel, Kyu… the Brotherhood will be here when you begin to think otherwise.”
He had anticipated argument. He certainly felt the agitation and wariness that often accompanied it. He immediately raised his head and stared at his brothers, confused. As he looked at them both, even Donghae who had obediently grown silent. He realized then why they weren’t going to argue, it’s because they were all part of the Brotherhood.
As children, the three of them were bullied because of their blue eyes, and even the smallest difference amongst children warranted bullying. Kangin had protected them like the big brother he was, never hesitating to get into a fight on their behalf. They were practically outcasts and thus, they created the Brotherhood. It represented a bond all three of them shared because of their estrangement from the other children, because they were all different, because they all protected a special secret and because they all protected each other.
As they grew up and began to break away into their own social lives, the need for the Brotherhood dissipated. It wasn’t until two Marches ago when their parents died that the Brotherhood had been resurrected. The Brotherhood had comforted Kangin when he lost so much and had saved Donghae when he trusted no one. The Brotherhood had done so much for his brothers, but Kyuhyun was no fool.
His brothers had called upon the Brotherhood when they needed it because that’s how they were. They weren’t children anymore, they couldn’t run to one another’s aid anymore. If one needed the Brotherhood, they had to come to them. They had to be a man, take the responsibility to say ‘I need help’.
Kyuhyun gazed at his brothers, he couldn’t. He couldn’t ask for help. If he did, he’d never grow up. All his life he had been the youngest. He had been babied by his parents and brothers. Even after his parents died, Kangin had taken over and Aunt AhMae had always been around as well. No, he couldn’t ask for help.
“I don’t need any help,” Kyuhyun began slowly, “But… I’d appreciate some advice.”
“Ask away,” Donghae grinned.
Kyuhyun repressed the urge to roll his eyes. His brother was too obvious and, since he had regained control of his telepathy, too Donghae. Kyuhyun felt the urge to smile, he liked his brother like that.
“How did you guys decided to tell our secret?” Kyuhyun asked tentatively, his resolve wavering but forcing himself to hold their gazes.
“I had no choice, I revealed my powers to Eeteuk on more than one occasion,” Kangin replied, “He was pretty much drawing his own conclusions before I even said anything.”
Donghae nodded in agreement, “I slipped up bad with Shiwon. If I didn’t tell him the truth, it meant having to avoid him and I didn’t want to do the latter.”
“Did you reveal yourself to Sungmin?” Kangin asked encouragingly,
“How?” Kyuhyun turned his eyes to Donghae.
Little fires lit in those blue-green eyes, “I don’t need telepathy to know,” he scowled, “Sungmin’s the only person outside of the family that you speak to, let alone hang around for more than five minutes with.”
Kyuhyun shook his head, “Well… I didn’t reveal myself exactly. I stated his feelings and… and they were private feelings.”
Kangin raised an eyebrow, “It’s not like Sungmin-sshi’s the greatest person at hiding his feelings. Eeteuk told me how after every practice Sungmin still gets scolded by his coach for showing too much emotion during matches.”
“Definitely,” Kyuhyun nodded in confirmation, “If you kept up in tae kwon do, hyung, you would’ve been able to defeat Sungmin almost immediately.”
Kangin crossed his arms, “I probably still could.”
Ignoring his brother’s apparent injured ego, Donghae prompted, “Stating what Sungmin feels isn’t really slipping up Kyu. If he’s so obvious about his emotions in the first place, he probably gets told what he’s feeling all the time.”
“But… but this…” Kyuhyun let out a frustrated sigh as he jumped to his feet and began to pace, “You know, there’s a reason why guys don’t talk about their feelings and it’s a horrible joke that I get landed with empathy.”
“Will it help you if I divulge a well-known fact that Sungmin’s gay?” Kangin asked lightly as he pulled YooMae onto his lap after realizing she had been shifting every time Kyuhyun walked into her line of vision with the television.
Kyuhyun stopped in his spot and spun around, “He is!?”
Kangin looked up at him innocently, “You didn’t know? You’ve tutored him for a month now and you didn’t know? Everyone knows. Damn, even I knew.”
“Of course you would! Eeteuk knows the ins and outs of sports at S.M. U.,” Kyuhyun stated, crossing his arms loosely about his torso.
Kangin rolled his eyes, “I knew when we still lived in Incheon. There was a lot of controversy the year Sungmin became captain. Apparently a senior on the team was jealous that he got captaincy and spread rumours that Sungmin was gay. Instead of denying it, Sungmin admitted to it wholeheartedly -”
“He would-” Kyuhyun muttered,
“And then suddenly all these schools were withdrawing from matches if Sungmin was in attendance. S.M. U.’s tae kwon do team was on the brink of suspending Sungmin from the team-”
“Just because he’s gay?” Donghae gaped,
“Because other teams weren’t comfortable with that,” Kangin stated, “The only reason that Sungmin wasn’t suspended from the team was that the former captain returned and demanded a match with Sungmin. The ex-captain was three years Sungmin’s senior, ranked fifth in all of South Korea, ranked tenth in the world.”
“What happened?” Kyuhyun asked,
“Sungmin defeated him in a fair match,” Kangin recalled, “After the ex-captain’s challenge, those who were ranked first through fourth stepped up, almost as a united front. If this sophomore could defeat the fifth rank, then they wanted a taste of the challenge. Sungmin didn’t defeat the top three, and he just managed to defeat the fourth rank. Apparently the match against the third ranker was just as close.”
“So he proved himself,” Kyuhyun prompted,
Kangin nodded, “The top four issued a statement that if such foulness continued in the world of tae kwon do, they would each transfer to S.M. U. and join forces with Sungmin. Obviously they couldn’t have such strong fighters all join S.M. U.’s team, especially since S.M. U. was already internationally known for their strength. After Sungmin’s first competition, he proved again that his sexual orientation meant nothing and put to rest most of the unease.”
“Only most?” Donghae asked,
“There are still some fighters that refuse to fight him, some schools that withdraw the moment Sungmin’s name appears on the roster,” Kangin explained, “I may not do tae kwon do anymore, but it doesn’t mean I don’t keep up.” He glanced at his brother, “So, want to share your feelings now?”
Kyuhyun narrowed his eyes, “No.”
“And after I revealed such vital information,” Kangin sighed in mock disappointment,
Kyuhyun stood akimbo, “All of South Korea apparently knew that Sungmin’s gay!”
“You didn’t,” Donghae pointed out, a lop-sided grin on his face,
“Well now I do,” Kyuhyun defended,
“Does it change anything?” Kangin wondered. If Kyuhyun wouldn’t talk about what he knew about Sungmin’s feelings, perhaps he could figure out Kyuhyun’s feelings.
Kyuhyun sighed as he turned away, “No… It doesn’t change a damned thing.”
Donghae and Kangin sat there in silence with YooMae as they heard Kyuhyun make his way up the stairs, most likely on his way to disappear into his attic apartments.
Finals passed quickly for Kyuhyun, they always did. He went in, wrote them and left. He never had a passing thought about final exams, he just did them and continued on with his life. Summer break began and as July slipped into August, he was sure that it was the hottest summer he had ever experienced in his nineteen years of life.
Kyuhyun was in the backyard with a small wading pool. YooMae crawled around the water that barely reached her waist even as she sat in the purple, plastic, inflatable pool. Kyuhyun sat on the grass nearby, his back to the hot sun. Cross-legged, Kyuhyun was playing with blades of grass as YooMae played in the shallow water. He was content with the silence in their yard, the only emotions intruding were YooMae’s and they consisted of happiness and wonder.
He felt the jolts of excitement even before the glass doors in the living room slid open and a familiar voice called at him, “KYUHYUN!”
He slowly looked up, not surprised to see Sungmin was there. However, he asked all the same, “What are you doing here?”
“One of your brothers let me in,” Sungmin explained, “The one who isn’t an archer.”
“Donghae - and I mean what are you doing here?” Kyuhyun asked. They hadn’t seen each other - let alone spoken to one another - in three weeks. To have him suddenly burst through his house and into his backyard was a little more than random.
“Oh yeah,” suddenly Sungmin’s face lit up with so much joy and excitement that Kyuhyun was sure he hadn’t felt so much of these emotions since two Marches ago.
Then again, the last time had been when his mother was sure she was going into labour. It had been a dark, story night and his parents had climbed into the family car and driven to the hospital. They would never drive back.
“I got my grades back!” Sungmin exclaimed, pulling Kyuhyun out of his reverie, “And I can go to nationals!”
“You got a 70 in calculus?” Kyuhyun gaped. Sungmin had improved quite a lot over the four weeks of tutoring. However, Kyuhyun hadn’t expected more than a 60 for the other man. A 60 certainly wasn’t a 70, but it would’ve been enough that his other grades could pull off the 70 average he needed.
“Even better,” Sungmin beamed at him, his fox-like eyes glittering with happiness, “I got a 72!”
Kyuhyun felt an odd lightness. It swelled his heart but made it seem lighter. It filled his body with warmth and Kyuhyun was silent as he tried to identify this emotion. When he finally did come to name it, Kyuhyun wasn’t sure what startled him more: that what he sensed was pride, or that the pride was his own for Sungmin.
“That’s great, Sungmin-sshi,” Kyuhyun gave him a small, awkward smile. He wasn’t sure how to treat these emotions. It felt weird to Kyuhyun. Ever since his powers had awoken, he vowed he would remain honest about his feelings no matter what. However, because of his sensitivity to others’ emotions, the only thing he realized that helped with his empathy was to become apathetic. He was more than certain that he had felt pride over the years, but after so long of not indulging himself of caring about other people - save the Brotherhood- he wasn’t sure how to act anymore.
“Yeah… so… it’s been awhile,” Sungmin stated quietly as his excitement dimmed. He stuffed his hands into his shorts’ pockets, looking around the yard seemingly curious about the very plain and very bare backyard.
“If I recall correctly, last time we saw one another, you said I was rude, nasty, self-centred and I do remember arrogant being tossed around,” Kyuhyun said, his voice flat as his gaze returned to his sister. YooMae had paused in her play, sitting in the pool and just staring at the new stranger.
“And if I recall correctly, I remember asking you a question,” Sungmin said tentatively as he returned the little girl’s stare and offered a smile.
“You mean that ridiculous question if I was psychic?” Kyuhyun forced a chuckle, “I assure you if I were telepathic, I’d being plans of overtaking the world.”
Sungmin returned the laugh, “Yeah, it was a pretty farfetched question. You know… when you didn’t answer I had thought that was your yes.”
Embarrassment. It sent a warm feeling into Kyuhyun’s body but it wasn’t the same as that of affection or love. Instead, it was an uncomfortable warm. It made his heart beat in an odd staccato and made his head feel as if it were jumbled.
Kyuhyun laughed in response. He didn’t want to say anymore because he wasn’t sure how to allude the truth as he had just done. He gestured to a patch of grass beside him, “You can sit down,” Kyuhyun invited, his voice nothing but bland,
“I wouldn’t want to impose-” Sungmin began,
“I assure you, you won’t,” Kyuhyun stated, a slight warmth in his voice as he added, “besides, if you just keep standing like that YooMae will never continue playing.”
Sungmin obliged, pulling up his knees and wrapping his arms around his upraised legs. At the same time, YooMae turned her big black eyes on her brother. Hearing her name she stared at him questioningly.
“What are you looking at monkey?” He asked teasingly.
As if knowing she had just been called a tree-climbing, branch-swinging animal, she swiped her hand at the surface of the water causing some of it to spray at her brother. As Kyuhyun wiped his face with the back of his hand, YooMae let out a laugh that bubbled from her tiny mouth. Kyuhyun eyed her suspiciously as he dipped three fingers into the low water and threw a bit of water her way. Her mouth dropped in shock and when Kyuhyun was sure she’d start laughing, the corners of her mouth dipped forming a small, perfect, upside-down U. She let out a cry as tears sprung from her eyes.
Immediately, Kyuhyun grabbed his sister from the pool and hugged her to his shoulder, swaying his upper body and rubbing her back to soothe her. “The little monkey’s a spoiled princess,” Kyuhyun said apologetically to Sungmin. Upon hearing that name again, YooMae bit down on Kyuhyun’s shoulder with the few teeth she had already gained. Letting out a yelp seemed to stop her tears because she started laughing at her brother. Kyuhyun held her up and away at arm’s length, “I blame Kangin for letting you get away with so much stuff already… and Donghae buys you all those toys.”
“I’m sorry, Kyuhyun,” Sungmin said suddenly.
Kyuhyun placed YooMae back in her pool before turning his confused gaze to the other, “What? Why?”
“Anyone who saw you just now could not deny that you are none of the things I accused you of being,” Sungmin explained, hugging his knees a bit tighter, “It’s just that whenever we have our tutoring sessions you show no emotion - at all. You even speak in a slight monotone. Then when you rejected that girl so ruthlessly…”
Kyuhyun shrugged, “You made a judgement based on what you were given. It’s not your fault.”
“It is… but I think I can blame you too,” Sungmin stated, but he avoided Kyuhyun’s gaze. Instead, he watched YooMae with supposed interest, “I just thought you were… well… boring. And then I thought you were vain… Now I see that you’ve been hiding who you really are.”
“I hardly doubt-”
“Did you know that when you laughed at me a few days ago, that was the first emotion you ever displayed around me?” Sungmin interjected, “Then I come here to your house and it seems like you’re struggling to keep yourself expressionless, to keep your voice even. Just now when I saw you interacting with your sister, I don’t know how, but it felt like that is the real Ju Kyuhyun.”
Confidence. It was always a tricky emotion, Kyuhyun thought. In the right situations it had a proper place. If not in the right situation, however, it was accompanied by arrogance. This feeling, however, was like a stone wall. It was strong and immoveable from its position.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kyuhyun stated briskly as he stood up, picked up the pink towel beside him and scooped up YooMae from the pool in one go. Holding her cocooned in her towel, he turned towards the house, “If you’ll excuse me it’s almost time for YooMae’s nap.”
Hesitance. Kyuhyun didn’t expect that emotion to make an appearance, but it did. It enveloped Sungmin so much that Kyuhyun began to grow curious as to what Sungmin was deciding upon. He had expected frustration, annoyance perhaps even offence but not hesitance. Kyuhyun felt as if he were knocked off balance once again. The whirlwind that was Sungmin seemed to draw him in and then unbalance the scales of Kyuhyun’s world. From experience, Kyuhyun had begun to predict - quite accurately - how people would react in certain situations. From newer experiences, all of Kyuhyun’s predictions were never right when Sungmin was concerned.
Kyuhyun stepped towards the house and silently begged Sungmin. Begged him to make his decision already. All the while, Kyuhyun hoped that whatever it was Sungmin was hesitant about, in the end he would choose something that would bring Sungmin closer to him.
Kyuhyun felt a hand cup his shoulder. Relief. It washed over Kyuhyun like a cool rain on a hot day. It knocked him over like a powerful wind on a calm day; it was his own relief.
“Kyuhyun-” Sungmin began,
“You’re saying things that don’t make sense,” Kyuhyun stated with a slight sigh, “How would you know who I really am just from meeting thrice a week for four weeks? It takes more than a few hours a week to know a person.”
“That’s what I’m asking for now,” Sungmin replied, “I’ve seen glimpses of who I think is the real you… let me get to know you so I can know if I’m right or not.”
Kyuhyun stared at him for a pregnant pause. Sungmin wasn’t asking for a lot, in fact, he was asking to be his friend just as the girl had a few days ago. As YooMae began squirming in his hold, he thought of what to do. All instincts told him to refuse him as he did that girl. Something else, something deeper and more vital was telling him to do otherwise.
Sungmin slanted his fox eyes at him as his hand tightened its grip on Kyuhyun‘s shoulder, “You’re not going to give me some cheesed out story of how our friendship is going to play out, are you?”
“I’m hardly going to tell you the same thing I told that girl,” Kyuhyun said, his blue eyes narrowing,
“I find that difficult to believe,” Sungmin admitted, watching Kyuhyun sceptically now. After all, he still hadn’t answered Sungmin’s challenge.
“Besides,” Kyuhyun pulled away and headed back into the house, slipping through the glass doors of the living room.
“Besides what?” Sungmin dashed after him, careful to shut the door behind him.
“She’ll get sick!” Donghae accused upon entering the living room. He practically snatched YooMae from Kyuhyun, “She was out in that pool for hours!”
“It was one hour,” Kyuhyun retorted, crossing his arms,
“She could’ve gotten sun stroke!” Donghae exclaimed as he hugged his sister to him,
“I covered the pool with my shadow,” Kyuhyun replied,
“She could’ve drowned!” Donghae stated accusingly,
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “The water was a few inches high. Just take her if that’s what you’re going to do and make sure she naps.”
“Geez, you’d think he were the hyung,” Donghae muttered to YooMae as he walked away, heading to the upper level of the house.
Kyuhyun plopped down on the couch. He leaned his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes lightly, “I don’t know what’s more exhausting sometimes… my brother or you.”
“What were you going to say earlier?” Sungmin asked tentatively,
“Huh?” Kyuhyun raised his head and looked at Sungmin,
“Before your brother came in, you said ‘besides’,” Sungmin prompted,
“Oh… that,” Kyuhyun’s gaze dropped to his own hands which were clasped lightly in his lap.
Surprise. It leaked from Sungmin and swirled around Kyuhyun. He daren’t move, not even breathe as he waited. He could never predict Sungmin’s reactions like others. So, when Sungmin was feeling something as flamboyant a feeling as surprise, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Surprise was a wildcard to Kyuhyun. It could cause a person to act differently than they usually would or cause them to act just as they always did. It could evoke negative or positive feelings. With that wildcard in Sungmin’s hands, Kyuhyun felt himself on edge with anticipation.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Sungmin stood there silently, watching the younger man. There was a vulnerability to him that Sungmin had never witnessed before and somehow he felt he was seeing something more private than the laughing Kyuhyun. He felt as if he should turn away, forget what he was seeing and yet, he felt drawn to it. He felt the urge to comfort and assure the other, to ask what it was that made him so. Somehow, perhaps his instincts, Sungmin knew that he himself was causing this rare reaction from Kyuhyun.
“Kyuhyun… why won’t you answer me the same way you answered that girl?” Sungmin asked quietly as he walked until his legs almost touched Kyuhyun’s.
Kyuhyun felt his face burning. This wasn’t right, he wasn’t supposed to be feeling this. Other people were supposed to feel this for him, not the other way around. Why was it with Sungmin things weren’t the same as they were for other people? Why couldn’t he keep away from Sungmin? Why couldn’t he remain apathetic?
A thumb and forefinger trapped Kyuhyun’s chin and tilted it until he was starring up at Sungmin. He opened his mouth to say something but before he could, Sungmin swallowed his words with a kiss. At that moment, Kyuhyun felt so many different emotions whirling around him, them, everywhere. Everything was warm and hot and burning. Everything was thrumming, humming, pounding. However, Kyuhyun couldn’t discern one emotion from another. He couldn’t tell his from Sungmin’s. All he could think of was that Sungmin was kissing him and he had no inclination of stopping him.
Kyuhyun couldn’t sleep. After the kiss, Sungmin had promptly left without so much as a goodbye. He had sat on the couch in silence until Kangin had come home and asked about dinner. The rest of the day had passed before Kyuhyun’s eyes and before he realized it, it was almost two in the morning and he was lying awake in his attic room.
When their aunt had bought them the house beside her own in Ulsan, each brother had overtaken their own level of the house to call their own. Kangin had thought he had been sneaky in getting Donghae and Kyuhyun to not choose the basement, but Kyuhyun had felt otherwise. Kangin had focused his thoughts on other things to put off Donghae’s telepathy, but Kyuhyun had sense his emotions. He had relented however, not wanting to burst his brother’s bubble. Thus, he had chosen the spacious attics to become his haven.
He lay there now, clad in just his boxers and a wife-beater. To save on their bills because they all knew their aunt secretly paid for them, they opted out of air conditioning during the summer which made different levels of the house different temperatures. The basement where Kangin kept his room was almost an icebox during the summer. The level above the ground level was Donghae’s and also where YooMae’s nursery was located. It was warm, but not a stifling sort. The attic was always hot since, unfortunately for Kyuhyun, hot air rises.
He lay in bed, the three windows in the attic all opened completely to keep him sane. No matter what he turned his mind to, whether it be how he ended up with the attics or why it was so hot in the attic, all of Kyuhyun’s thoughts kept returning to Sungmin and that kiss.
Excitement. It flowed through him like tiny little bubbles that burst and tickled. It warmed him like drinking hot tea mixed with thick honey. It coursed through his body and he found it even harder to remain impassioned, harder to not smile.
Fear. It rose through the floorboards and seeped into Kyuhyun, disrupting his peace. It was such a sharp jolt of it, that he sat up immediately. It meant one thing if Donghae was feeling fear in the middle of the night. He swung his feet to the ground and padded towards the hole in the ground that led to stairs to the second level; thankfully it was surrounded by railings should Kyuhyun ever wander about in the dark. He came into view of the second floor just as the light in the bathroom he shared with Donghae turned on.
Sighing quietly, Kyuhyun took a seat midway down the wooden stairs, crossing his arms loosely above his knees. Kyuhyun understood others’ feelings but he knew he had it easier than Donghae did. Donghae’s telepathy when out of control made him know others’ secret thoughts. After their parents died and Donghae couldn’t wield his newly powered-up telepathy, Donghae had suddenly seen into the thoughts of those he called his friends. Those thoughts weren’t those of true friends and had left Donghae shaken; so much that every once in awhile - even now, more than a year later - he remembered it in his dreams.
The bathroom light turned off and Donghae stepped out into the corridor clad in just a pair of pyjama bottoms. Almost instinctively, he looked towards the attic stairs and offered a small smile, “Sorry Kyuhyun,” he said tentatively.
“It’s okay… are you okay?” Kyuhyun asked quietly. Ever since Kyuhyun realized what it meant for Donghae to feel fear in the middle of the night, Kyuhyun had always sat on these steps and waited for his brother to cross back into his room.
“I am,” Donghae insisted,
“What prompted it?” Kyuhyun inquired, “You haven’t remembered it since… since the last school year ended.”
“I ran into someone from Incheon who’s down here for vacation,” Donghae answered as if it explained everything and, in truth, it did.
“Was it one of the people who were at the mall that day?” Kyuhyun wondered,
Donghae shook his head, “Someone else. She was a friend from elementary school, actually.” He laughed in spite of himself, “You know I never realized it until now but… once I entered high school and I didn’t have to be around those bullies anymore I had forgotten the few friends I did have from elementary school. I was so popular that I didn’t care that I had lost touch with those few people from childhood.”
“And now? After what happened last year?” Kyuhyun prompted lightly,
“Popularity isn’t everything,” Donghae shrugged simply, “She wants to meet for lunch in a few days… catch up.”
“I’m damned scared,” Donghae laughed lightly as he raked a hand through his short black hair that he had cut at the beginning of summer break; he was still getting used from not feeling his old shaggy hair.
“You’ll be fine,” Kyuhyun smiled,
Donghae blinked, “Are you smiling? Perhaps I’m even more scared now.” When his brother shot him a hard stare, Donghae laughed softly again, “You know, that Sungmin guy left pretty abruptly today.” He peered at his brother through the dimness of the hallway, “Anything happen?”
Kyuhyun felt the rush of wanting to say anything and everything to his brother. Over the past few months since Donghae had gained control of his telepathy, it seemed to Kyuhyun that his brother’s older self had returned. However, at the same time Kyuhyun didn’t want to say anything. Yes, things had gone well that afternoon, however they could’ve gone better.
He ended up sighing slightly, “Yes… I lied to him,” Kyuhyun stated; “I’m… going to bed.”
Donghae nodded as Kyuhyun slowly rose and disappeared up the stairs. Frowning slightly, he continued to his room, closing the door behind him. He padded towards the bed and was startled when he noticed the other person in his bed was awake and staring up at him,
“Did I wake you up?” Donghae asked as he stretched his arms to the ceiling before falling back onto the mattress beside Shiwon.
“Yes, but only because I wanted to make sure you were okay,” Shiwon, who stayed at their house during school breaks, said,
“I am,” Donghae turned his blue-green eyes towards the ceiling, knowing his brother was up in the attic and definitely not sleeping; “But I don’t think Kyuhyun is.”
“Why? Did something happen?” Shiwon asked, sincerely concerned for Donghae’s brother,
“Well, remember how I said he was tutoring that Sungmin guy?” Donghae asked,
“And how you and Kangin think Kyuhyun’s fallen for him?” Shiwon stated,
Donghae nodded, “Yes and he just told me that he lied to Sungmin earlier.”
“That’s no way to treat a person if you want to be with them,” Shiwon said matter-of-factly before immediately adding, “And I only lied to you because I had to.”
“So… do you think Kyuhyun may have a reason to lie?” Donghae asked,
Shiwon shrugged as he turned his back to Donghae so he could sleep again, “Kyuhyun’s always seemed like a pretty independent person. So meddling in his business won’t help.”
“But that’s the thing,” Donghae sighed heavily as he laced his fingers between his head and the pillow, “Kyuhyun’s always depended upon me and Kangin. It was only after Mom and Dad died that it all changed.”
“Then just wait for him to come to you guys. If you force him to, it’ll only push him farther away,” Shiwon advised, “From what you’ve said, it seems like something is keeping Kyuhyun from being honest with that Sungmin person and from talking to you and Kangin. You’ll just have to wait until that something goes away.”
Donghae let out a frustrated sigh, “It’s different with Kyuhyun. He’s our baby brother and we can only wait for so long.” He slowly closed his eyes as silence fell and he heard the even breathing of Shiwon. He remembered the small smile he had witnessed in the dim hallway, “Only for so long…”
Kyuhyun closed the oven door and turned towards YooMae who was chewing on a teething cracker in her crib that Kyuhyun had moved into the kitchen. Kangin was out looking for a part-time job, feeling guilty despite their aunt wanting to completely care for them. Donghae had gone to the cemetery as he did once in awhile to visit their parents’ graves. Although they grew up in Incheon, their mother’s family had been from Ulsan. Donghae had often gone to the cemetery when he couldn’t control his telepathy because no one was around in the cemetery. After he gained control, he still visited the cemetery once a week to visit their parents. With the house to himself and YooMae, Kyuhyun decided to experiment in the kitchen.
“Just a few minutes and we’ll have a cake… I hope,” Kyuhyun said as he turned on a timer and set it on the kitchen counter. He walked over to his sister’s crib and snagged one of the crackers, chewing on it thoughtfully as he patted her head, “Ready for a nap?”
She shook her head as she tried to grab at the cracker her brother had taken.
“Fine, you can stay and play here,” Kyuhyun said as he leaned over the railing.
He straightened as he handed over the remainder of his own cracker to his sister. He headed back to the kitchen island where he had been mixing his ingredients. Soon, he began to make vanilla icing for his cake. Since coming to Ulsan, all he had was school and home. When he realized cooking was like math with purpose, he began to study cooking shows and observe his aunt cooking in his spare time. What Kyuhyun realized after his aunt let him prepare dinner by himself for the first time a few months ago, was that he didn’t like reading from a recipe as he cooked. He liked to cook from memory, from knowledge. It gave him a sense of control when he had it no where else.
He was licking off a dollop of icing from his spatula when he heard the doorbell rang. He stepped into the main corridor and felt it immediately. Only one person felt so much. He opened the door, a corner of the spatula still pinched between his lips. Kyuhyun said nothing, merely left the door open and retreated back into the kitchen.
“What’re you cooking?” Sungmin asked as he approached and stood on the opposite side of the kitchen island.
“A cake,” Kyuhyun explained after tasting a bit more of the icing. He reached out the spatula to Sungmin, “Want to try some?”
Sungmin wrapped his hand around Kyuhyun’s. He pulled the spatula closer to his mouth but then kept pulling until Kyuhyun’s upper body was practically on the counter. Sungmin brushed his lips against Kyuhyun’s, a speck of icing melting between their mouths. When Sungmin released him, Kyuhyun straightened immediately, dropping the spatula into the mixing bowl.
“Good icing,” Sungmin smiled, his fox-like eyes dancing,
“Damn flirt,” Kyuhyun scowled as he turned and switched off the timer as it rang. Grabbing the oven mitts, he pulled the pan out of the oven and placed it on the stove to cool.
Kyuhyun spun around, dropping the mitts in the process. He stared at Sungmin who was blinking towards the crib. Kyuhyun ran around the island so he could see the crib and just stared. YooMae had her arms stretched until her hands were gripping the top of the crib and she was staring up at him with teary eyes,
“Kyu!” She cried again.
Throwing down his apron on the kitchen island, Kyuhyun picked up YooMae in his arms, “I’m your first word!? I’m your first word!?”
In reply she laid her head on his shoulder, her small arms wrapping around his neck and arm.
“Oh, Kangin and Donghae are going to be jealous,” Kyuhyun chuckled softly as he went over to the kitchen table and sat in a chair.
Sungmin slipped onto a stool by the kitchen island, leaning his back against its edge as he watched Kyuhyun, “Seems she shows her true self around you too.”
Kyuhyun shook his head as he crossed one knee over the other, one hand gently patting her hip to lull her to sleep; “YooMae doesn’t have a hidden side. Besides, it’s probably just luck since lately I’ve been with her the most. Had she chosen to speak a few months ago it would’ve been Kangin’s or Donghae’s name easily.”
“Kyuhyun… what are we?” Sungmin asked him.
Kyuhyun blinked, “What?”
“Are we tutor and student? Sunbae and yoobae? Acquaintances?” Sungmin prompted, “I don’t even need a title, I just need to know where you stand.”
“Well. We used to be tutor and student. Then you technically fired me,” Kyuhyun drawled as he felt YooMae’s head begin to lull on his shoulder, so he held her more securely, “Then a few days ago you appeared at my house then kiss and ran. A few minutes ago you kissed me again. Where I stand is a victim of sexual harassment.”
“I hardly harassed you!” Sungmin exclaimed,
“I don’t know Sungmin… I was an innocent bystander merely minding my own business and on two separate occasions you attacked my lips,” Kyuhyun said as he stared at him simply, his tone flat. “And, last time I checked, I was straight.”
Shock. It was always a peculiar emotion to Kyuhyun. It was as if he were running and then suddenly a wall was erected before him and he had to halt immediately. However, the motion of his body continued and he slammed into the wall.
Embarrassment. Kyuhyun never enjoyed feeling this emotion the most. Anger, sadness, he could withstand those. But embarrassment was uncomfortable. This was the second time he felt the emotion from Sungmin and he found that even more disconcerting. So, he decided to banish those feelings from him;
“Interestingly enough, you’re not the first guy to confess to me,” Kyuhyun commented flippantly as he stood up and moved towards the door that headed to the dining room. Sungmin followed him through the dining room and then into the living room. He laid YooMae on the couch to sleep comfortingly then sat on the couch beside her,
“At S.M. U.?” Sungmin asked, his voice edgy as he sat on the couch adjacent to them,
“The first was when I still lived in Incheon; I was in high school… but yes, there have been a few at S.M. U. as well,” Kyuhyun answered simply.
Jealousy. It sparked through the air and dispelled all the other emotions that had previously flowed through and around Sungmin. It was like a sharp blade that burned Kyuhyun from within. Kyuhyun locked eyes with Sungmin and he saw the jealousy light fires in his fox-like eyes; saw the way he clenched his fists until his knuckles whitened. He definitely did not need empathy to tell that Sungmin was jealous.
Kyuhyun felt a mixture of emotions within him. He felt an odd warming at knowing that Sungmin was jealous on his behalf. Elation, he decided. He also felt the need to soothe the jealousy in Sungmin, convince him there was no need to be jealous. Protectiveness, he identified. His blue eyes swept over Sungmin and thought he looked appealing in his quiet jealous. Endearment, he thought. Indeed, one reaction from Sungmin was creating a number of reactions within Kyuhyun.
What startled Kyuhyun wasn’t that he was reacting to Sungmin when he allowed himself to react to no one else. No, he had already succumbed to the idea that he couldn’t help himself around this man. What startled Kyuhyun was that he had felt jealousy within his ex-girlfriend and he hated what it did to her. His decision was to break up with her to alleviate her turmoil. With Sungmin, Kyuhyun still felt protective, but at the same time he knew the jealousy wouldn’t change Sungmin; he was stronger than that.
Kyuhyun stood and walked over towards the glass doors that opened to the backyard. He turned, leaning his back against the cool glass as his eyes laid on the back of Sungmin’s head as he sat still on the smaller couch. “It’s been well over a year since I lost count how many confessions I’ve gotten since coming to S.M. U.”
“It’s a wonder how you’ve remained single up until this point,” Sungmin practically growled his words, his fists clenched at his sides as he remained immobile on the couch.
“I just didn’t feel that way for anyone,” Kyuhyun replied matter-of-factly as he slowly approached the back of the smaller couch. Strange, how even when speaking of others’ feelings he could talk so evenly, as if he were talking about the weather. “But you know… the one person I did feel that way for never confessed to me.”
“They’re a damn fool not to,” Sungmin muttered bitterly. He felt he was jealous, damn, he was burning with jealousy and he knew it’d be written all over his face; it was why he refused to look back at Kyuhyun. He’d be too embarrassed to show such a face to the other man. At the same time, he couldn’t fight the feelings. Whoever it was that managed to catch Kyuhyun’s attention was lucky and the bastard probably didn’t deserve Kyuhyun.
Kyuhyun laid his hands gently on Sungmin’s shoulders and leaned until his lips were at the other’s ear, “Then look in the mirror and tell yourself that.”
Feeling as if cool water poured over him, cleansing him of his jealousy, Sungmin turned his head towards Kyuhyun’s accepting the first kiss the younger man offered him. After a moment, Sungmin broke the kiss, twisting in his seat to look at Kyuhyun properly,
“Does this mean…?” He let his question hang in the air between them.
Kyuhyun couldn’t help himself, as always around Sungmin. He smiled at him, “I used to be straight. So you better take responsibility.”
Sungmin stared up at him. Kyuhyun had smiled in his presence before, but it either was not a true smile or it wasn’t aimed at him. This smile, so pure and so definitely for him knocked Sungmin off balance. He had found Kyuhyun attractive the first time Kyuhyun opened the door to him. Kyuhyun had a rounded jaw which made him look delicate and firm at the same time. He had rounded cheeks that were meant for a smiling face. Kyuhyun had the element of youth with adulthood in his features.
What was even more impressive to Sungmin were Kyuhyun’s eyes. Kangin had dark blue eyes like the night sky with nothing but stars and the moon to light it up. Donghae had the most startling eyes of aquamarine, as if one were seeing into tropical waters. But Kyuhyun’s eyes, they were the most beautiful to Sungmin. They were the palest shade of blue Sungmin had ever seen. The younger man’s eyes were like the sky on a winter’s day which seemed perfect for Kyuhyun; it matched his personality perfectly: warmth frosted over.
As if not helping himself, Sungmin reached out. Cupping the back of Kyuhyun’s neck, he moved, kneeling on the couch so he was at a higher level and pulled Kyuhyun’s lips down to his own. He would melt Kyuhyun’s icy exterior no matter what it took.
Kangin and Donghae didn’t know what to make of what happened in the last two weeks of summer break. All they knew was that something had happened and their brother seemed even more complex than before. They would catch Kyuhyun smiling to himself more often, which in itself was a rarity. Donghae had walked into the kitchen one evening and caught Kyuhyun humming to himself - humming of all things! In some ways they felt better because Kyuhyun seemed to be closer to his old self than he had been in over a year now. However, he wasn’t all smiles.
There were times when Kyuhyun would be silent. He would go for days without speaking a single word to either Kangin or Donghae. Often if he was in the house, if it wasn’t time for cooking, he’d be up in his attic. Kangin had woken in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. He was startled when he entered the kitchen and Kyuhyun was sitting at the kitchen table in the dark. Kangin asked no questions simply because he knew Kyuhyun would give him no answers.
Yes, the complexities that surrounded their little brother seemed to have increased. While he seemed lighter then before, he also seemed a bit darker as well. What worried the two the most was that there was no middle ground with Kyuhyun. His moods swayed like a pendulum going from secret smiles and soft laughter to cold disposition and endless silences.
The second semester had already begun. Kyuhyun was in the living room with YooMae when Donghae entered. Donghae went and sat on the smaller couch and watched the television screen. He wanted to talk to Kyuhyun, but he was hesitant. He wasn’t sure what kind of mood his brother was in today. Because it was close to the archery nationals and Kangin had got a spot in the tournament once again, it was just Donghae and Kyuhyun who travelled to and from school together since Kangin trained in the early morning and late after school. Kyuhyun had spoken a bit to Donghae, not enough to denote a happy mood, and more than enough to mean a dark mood.
“Just say or do whatever it is you want to say or do,” Kyuhyun said finally, his eyes sliding towards Donghae.
Donghae sighed, “You’re the most generous in the Brotherhood, Kyuhyun. You offer us help, you make us talk and yet when it’s you with the problem you close up. You won’t let us help, you won’t talk to us.”
Kyuhyun stared at him a moment before answering, “I’m not generous at all, hyung. I help because it is my duty as your brother to do so. I help because I love you and Kangin. I make you talk, however, because I’m selfish. If either of you keep to yourselves, bottling it up, do you know what that does to your emotions?”
Donghae shook his head.
“It piles them. It increases their intensity. In turn, that causes me more stress since my empathy makes your emotions like my own. So, I make you talk because it releases those emotions; because I want to get rid of them,” Kyuhyun admitted, “I make you talk because I don’t like how I feel.” He pulled YooMae into his lap when she began swaying with fatigue, “Oh, I know that I do it because I care, because I really do. But first and foremost, it’s because I’m selfish.”
“Then surely you know not talking to us is making your own feelings plague you more!” Donghae exclaimed,
Kyuhyun said nothing, but Donghae noticed the shadow pass over his pale blue eyes.
“You once said that you don’t know me anymore and how that scared you, Kyu… After Mom and Dad died, you withdrew emotionally from everyone. That was fine, though, because at least I could guess about you, I could predict how you were. But lately, the past few weeks I can’t even do that. Your moods go from cloud nine to down in the dirt and I can never anticipate how to act around you,” Donghae admitted, his voice low and shaky, “At least before I knew you withdrew because you protected yourself. But when you withdraw from me - from the Brotherhood - I don’t know what to think. We - above all others - understand what you’re going through-”
“DO YOU?” Kyuhyun demanded. He swore when YooMae jolted awake before falling back asleep in his lap. He turned his gaze away from his brother as he continued, his voice quiet but firm, “Do you understand? Do you know what it’s like to have emotions and not know if they’re your own? Do you know what it’s like to feel for someone and not even know if it’s real? Do you know what it’s like to have to emotionally withdraw yourself because that’s the only way you can have some semblance of peace?”
“For months I blocked myself from the world too!” Donghae grounded out,
“Yes, but at least you could do so fully! I can become as apathetic as I want and in the end I still can’t hide from the empathy! I can’t fight it so completely as you did your telepathy!” Kyuhyun hissed, “There is no complete escape for me, hyung. And at least with your telepathy you knew which thoughts were your own. With my empathy I can’t tell. I become too tuned with the emotions of others that I’m saturated by emotions until the line between mine and theirs is blurred; until the line between mine and theirs no longer exists and that’s not fair.”
Donghae said nothing as Kyuhyun shifted their sister onto the couch so he could stand. He walked over to the glass doors that led to the backyard. He leaned his forehead on the cool glass, “I feel anger when I’m not angry. I feel sadness when all I want to do is laugh. I feel anxiety when I am calm and collected. Through it all I don’t even know how I feel anymore.”
“But it’s always been like that for you. It’s only lately that your behaviour’s changed… something changed lately, didn’t it?” Donghae asked hesitantly, “With Sungmin, right?”
At the sound of that name, Kyuhyun felt his heart begin a painful beating, pounding and pounding until he felt the hot sting of tears in his eyes and a lump rise into his throat until he felt suffocated. Kyuhyun blinked back the tears. He couldn’t say anything so, he strode out of the living room, slipped on his shoes and left the house.
He didn’t know for how long he had been walking, but in the end, he was at S.M. U. He was near the north gate which was close to the recreational centre. He knew Sungmin would be done his practice around that time, so he headed towards the north gate to go visit him. As he drew near, he saw a car parked by the curb. He saw Sungmin emerge from the gates and opened his mouth to call to him.
Anticipation. It sped up his heart beat, made his need for air increase. Happiness. It warmed his body, his soul and made him feel lighter than he had just a few moments ago. Love. It burned within him, it - love? Kyuhyun faltered. This was the first time he had felt this emotion around Sungmin, but why did it hit him now? He stopped in his tracks, just a few metres from the north gate. Of course, these feelings were not his. These feelings, felt so strongly were Sungmin’s. But… but why?
He watched as the driver’s side of the car opened it’s door and a young man stepped out. Not even bothering to close the door, he ran around the car and pulled Sungmin into an embrace. Sungmin had looked stiff at first then hugged the other back. However, he stepped back almost immediately and spoke to the other man. The other man laughed in response and soon Sungmin was laughing too.
Kyuhyun felt the love so palpable he had to look down to make sure he wasn’t actually wrapped in a thousand blankets. It warmed him so completely and yet Kyuhyun felt a slice of pain shoot through his body. Sungmin didn’t feel that way when Kyuhyun was around. Oh yes, Sungmin was infatuated and certainly lusted, but love? Not once had Kyuhyun sensed that emotion from the other man. So then why? Why around this other man did Sungmin feel such explicit and complete love? Why did this other man receive such an emotion from Sungmin when Kyuhyun, the one person who would detect the emotion most accurately, not even get a hint of it?
Kyuhyun took a step backwards. Of course he didn’t receive any. All of Sungmin’s love belonged to this other man. Kyuhyun mentally scolded himself the fool. He had fallen for Sungmin, knowing full well he was a flirt. He had allowed himself to be drawn in, allowed himself to feel and, like he always predicted, he got hurt.
The movement caught Sungmin’s attention, as it would for anyone who practiced tae kwon do. He turned towards Kyuhyun and saw the emotion so clearly written on the younger man’s face that at first he was startled. Never before had he seen such evident expression on the other’s face until that moment. What startled him even more was which emotions he saw there. Sungmin saw hurt, betrayal and anger. His eyes locked with Kyuhyun’s and the other turned and ran.
Swearing, Sungmin ran after him. He willed his body to move faster and faster until his muscles cried from the sudden exertion after an already tiring practice. Damn Kyuhyun ran fast. However, Sungmin was still faster. They had reached the east gate of campus when he was in arm’s reach of Kyuhyun. His fingers wrapped around Kyuhyun’s arm and yanked him to a stop.
“Let me go!” Kyuhyun cried as he turned around to face him, trying to pull his arm away, “You love him, don’t you!?”
“I…” Sungmin stammered, he couldn’t lie; “Yes. Yes but-”
“Then let go of me!” Kyuhyun exclaimed,
Sungmin only grabbed his other arm and pulled Kyuhyun closer until their lips met. He pressed his lips firmly against Kyuhyun’s in an attempt to calm him, to make him pliant. Kyuhyun shoved him away with both hands causing Sungmin to stumble back a few paces until he regained his balance.
Kyuhyun stared at him now with watery, pale, blue eyes and tracks of tears forming down his cheeks, “You’re hurting me,” Kyuhyun cried when Sungmin took a step forward,
“I’m not even touching you!” Sungmin defended, holding his hands up to support his words,
“You… you don’t have to,” Kyuhyun replied, his voice hoarse and broken. He turned to run when he collided into another body, bigger and stronger than his own. He looked up through a veil of tears at his older brother, fresh from his own archery practice. He saw a movement behind Kangin and saw Eeteuk also there.
“Kyuhyun?” Kangin stared down at him.
Concern. Anxiety. Protectiveness. It flowed through his brother like a strong river’s current. Pain. Betrayal. Anger. Kangin’s emotions were no match for his own which enveloped him so completely he barely felt it as Kangin stepped in front of him, blocking him from Sungmin. He barely heard Kangin telling Sungmin to leave, barely heard the retreating footsteps of Sungmin.
“I’ll tell Donghae to come with the car,” Eeteuk said as he pulled out his cellular phone and walked a few paces away to give the brothers privacy.
“Kyuhyun,” Kangin said, turning to his brother, but Kyuhyun was long gone from words.
Kyuhyun felt himself floating in a world of his own where, for once, it was just him and his emotions. His body physically ached and a palpable pain stabbed him in the chest. He felt ice cold all over and was oblivious to those around him. He wasn’t sure how much time passed when finally Donghae pulled up to the east gate with their car. Kangin guided him into the back seat before turning and saying bye to Eeteuk. They were driving now but Kyuhyun was barely aware of his surroundings. All he could hear was Donghae’s voice, thick with guilt as he repeated over and over again,
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry, Kyu.”
(The Last story of Apathy)