(Phase 2 of the Scarlet Night series.)
Phase Two: Consequences of Knowledge
Second week of March 20XX
He cared about Kyuhyun, damn it.
He cared about Kyuhyun and that should count for at least something, shouldn’t it? But no, Kyuhyun was hiding something about his health problems from the previous year. Granted, they hadn’t spoken for the past two years while he was away at college, but before that, they had been close. Two years before even that, before he had moved away they were practically inseparable. He watched out for Kyuhyun as if they were more than friends, as if they had no one else.
Sungmin paused in his musings, paused in his progress as he walked down the hall towards the dining hall. He caught sight of a familiar face coming from the opposite wing, Kyuhyun walking at her side. He watched as she spoke without stopping, the tone of her words being displayed clearly on her face.
No, he was wrong. Growing up, he had no one else. Growing up, Kyuhyun had her.
He may have known Kyuhyun since before he could remember, but he knew her for almost just as long. She had burst into Kyuhyun’s life when she was five and Kyuhyun was six – an age before girls had cooties – and from that moment on, whenever she was around, he saw a different Kyuhyun compared to when it was just the two of them.
Sungmin continued walking, having the new purpose of intersecting their path on the way to the dining hall. He and Kyuhyun had been close – closer than most brothers – but he was aware that Kyuhyun didn’t tell him everything. With her, however, Kyuhyun spoke freely without any hesitance. He knew she knew what Kyuhyun was hiding, after all, wasn’t she the one to stop Heechul from saying more the previous week in the nurse’s office?
The question, however, was if she’d tell him. If Kyuhyun and she told each other everything while they were growing up, she told him nothing. Well, not nothing, because sometimes Kyuhyun wasn’t around, but close to nothing.
Trapped in his musings, Sungmin hadn’t realized he had slowed down and, thus, failed at meeting them before reaching the double doors that led to the dining hall. He quickly followed after them.
The dining hall was the equivalent to a cafeteria, the difference was that SJA’s ‘cafeteria’ was more akin to a five-star restaurant; not to mention it took up the space of one-fourth of the central wing’s ground floor, and SJA was not a small-scale building. Within, circular, dark-cherry tables were spaced in the large room (much like the table of a normal high school’s cafeteria would have), each table having ten seats. Smaller tables were scattered around the perimeter of the room seating two people each.
Sungmin watched as the pair instinctively went to one of the smaller tables where two plates were already set for them. He stood just inside the doors, presumably doing monitoring duty, but as his gaze swept over the entire dining hall, his attention was always focused on the two students he had known since he was a young boy.
He watched as Taeyeon spoke animatedly, her hands doing as much talking as her mouth. The only time she didn’t seem to be talking was when she was eating her breakfast or drinking her juice. Sungmin noticed, however, that while Taeyeon was vitality incarnate, Kyuhyun was more withdrawn, only smiling or nodding in response. What he also noticed was that Kyuhyun barely touched his food. The younger man would take a sip of water from time to time and picked up his toast for a bite now and again; that was all.
As breakfast progressed, he silently willed Kyuhyun to eat more. If the young man had been sick last year – six months was it? – then he should still be recovering. If he was still recovering, Kyuhyun needed all the strength he could get. Sungmin inhaled sharply; what if Kyuhyun wasn’t recovering? What if he was still sick?
He watched, silently praying, as Kyuhyun picked up his toast, raised it to his mouth but then put it down again. That was the last time he saw the younger man even reach for his dishes. Before breakfast was done, Sungmin left the dining hall so he could go to his classroom ahead of his students. On his way there, he thought of what to do, what to say.
He cared about Kyuhyun and that should count for something.
“The moral of the story is to not touch fire with your bare hands,” Sungmin walked away from the chalkboard, dropping his piece of chalk onto the ledge, “You have ten minute until the bell, but class is done… so be quiet and leave early for the lunch hour.” The students began to cheer, “SHH!” He hissed, “What did I just say about being quiet?”
As the students began to pack up their belongings, Sungmin went to his desk at the front of the classroom, presumably flipping through his learning plan. Periodically, his eyes went to the one student who wasn’t rushing to pack up his things and leave. The student sat near the back of the classroom along the wall opposite of the windows. In fact, the student was flipping through his notes while the others began to trickle out of the room. Only after the bell had rung, when the classroom was empty save the two of them did the student stand from his desk and began packing up his things.
Sungmin slowly made his way over to him, leaning his hips against the desk next to the student’s, “Not so excited on leaving class early?”
Kyuhyun didn’t even look up, “Why pack up and try to push through a crowd to leave when I just have to wait a bit and then I can leave at my leisure?”
“Certainly different from the Kyuhyun I knew,” Sungmin said, “He used to be the first one to do anything, was so impulsive that I always had to hold him back. He –”
“Died a long time ago,” Kyuhyun interjected. He sighed heavily as he looked up, “After you moved away, I was alone… I was in the house more than ever and apparently my parents didn’t like that so much and that’s part of the reason why they chose this school to send me to. I had all this energy and I couldn’t do anything with it… so I learned not to get excited, not to have too much energy because if I did, I’d just get in the way or cause trouble somehow.”
“What about in school?” Sungmin asked tentatively, “Surely –”
Kyuhyun laughed bitterly, “This is the second week of school already, Sungmin, are you telling me you still don’t know what kind of kids go to this school?”
“Rich snobs or smart snobs,” Sungmin sighed,
“And those who weren’t snobs eventually conform to the majority so that they could belong,” Kyuhyun said as he closed his satchel and slung the strap diagonally over one shoulder, “If I wanted to fit in without conforming, I had to keep my mouth shut.”
“I’m sorry,” Sungmin said quietly,
Kyuhyun raised an eyebrow, “What for?”
“How hard it’s been for you… I never realized… You always had all this money, I just assumed…” Sungmin locked gazes with the younger man, “I should’ve kept trying to keep in touch with you.”
Kyuhyun shrugged, crossing his arms loosely about his torso, “Friendship is a two-way street. We both failed.”
“Kyuhyun, I want what we used to have. I want the best friend I used to have when we were kids,” Sungmin said,
Kyuhyun blinked, slightly taken aback by the sudden declaration. He offered a small, sad smile, “It’s not that easy –”
“Why the hell not?” Sungmin demanded,
“You’ve changed, I’ve changed –”
“Are you still you?”
“Are you still the Kyuhyun you used to be? Your morals, your principals – are those still the same?” Sungmin questioned. At his nod, Sungmin added, “Those haven’t changed for me either. Despite how we’ve grown and changed, Kyuhyun, if those things – the basis of what makes us who we are – remain the same, then we can become friends again.”
“But how I’ve changed makes things difficult,” Kyuhyun sighed, raising one hand and spearing it through his own hair, “I don’t… I don’t trust people as easily as I used to, Sungmin. As much as I know who you are and know that you’d never betray me, there’s still a part of me that is wary and… and that’s the part that’ll make our friendship difficult to rekindle.”
“Kyuhyun, I have never warranted your distrust. I have never betrayed you –”
“But others have,” Kyuhyun interjected, “Others who have known me better, who were supposed to love me better… they have betrayed me and because of that… It’s hard for me… it’s hard for me to trust anyone; it’s not just you, Sungmin.”
“What about Taeyeon?” Sungmin asked in a challenging tone, “Nothing has seemed to change between the two of you. In fact, you two seem even closer than before. How has everything changed except for that?”
“Because when everyone was turning their back on me, when I had no one else, Taeyeon was by my side,” Kyuhyun explained quietly, a peculiar fire in his dark eyes, “I wouldn’t have survived last year without her strength.”
“Kyuhyun… what happened to you last year?” Sungmin asked hesitantly, knowing he was pushing his bounds,
Kyuhyun blinked as he turned to leave, “I was sick. You know that already.”
“But what was it, Kyuhyun?” Sungmin prompted, following him towards the door, “You were sick for so long and to be alone during that time…” He took a deep steadying breath before asking, “Are you still sick?”
Alarm widened his eyes as he turned back to face him, “W-What?”
“Are you still sick?” Sungmin asked again, slowly backing Kyuhyun up against the wall, “I saw you at breakfast Kyuhyun, you only had a few sips of water, maybe a slice of toast… If I think about it hard enough, I could probably count the amount of times I’ve seen you in the dining hall these two weeks with just my fingers.”
“If I’m not hungry, I’m not going to eat,” Kyuhyun stated, a fresh edge to his words,
Sungmin placed both palms against the wall on either side of Kyuhyun’s head, trapping him, “Kyuhyun, if you’re still sick, let me help you. Let me show you that I won’t abandon you, that I won’t leave you again. I never realized it until I saw you again last week, but my childhood revolved around you, Kyuhyun. The years I spent away from you, I never realized what was missing, never realized that the continuing hollowness I felt wasn’t just from the death of my parents, but from losing you, too.
“I can’t… I can’t tell you,” Kyuhyun said as he tried to move away from Sungmin’s imprisoning arms, a distinct feeling of claustrophobia sinking in.
“Why not? Kyuhyun, I can handle it whatever it is,” Sungmin insisted, locking gazes with the younger man, not allowing him to look away, to run away anymore, “What is it? Depression? Cancer? Are you going blind? Deaf? Are you losing your memory? You can tell me.”
“Sungmin, it’s hard for me… to trust people,” Kyuhyun stated steadily, quietly, “So let me trust you on my own time. Please, don’t push me.”
“But you’ll try? We’ll try to make this work?” Sungmin asked, after a moment of silence,
Kyuhyun sighed heavily before answering, “Yes.”
A knock on the door caught their attention and Sungmin instinctively stepped away from Kyuhyun, remembering belatedly that at SJA they were student and teacher, not just two kids on the playground. Both men looked to the doorway where a third man stood,
“I’m sorry, was I interrupting something?” The literature teacher asked casually, “Kim Taeyeon-sshi was looking for Jo-sshi. She was so distressed I offered her my help.”
Kyuhyun nodded a silent goodbye to Sungmin and left the classroom, the teacher following close behind. As they walked, Kyuhyun realized the teacher never left his side, following him everywhere,
“I don’t need a bodyguard,” Kyuhyun stated defensively,
“It looks like you needed one back there,” the teacher said simply, shoving his hands into his pants’ pockets, “You know, if you were being harassed by teachers –”
“Sungmin is my friend from childhood; he would never hurt me,” Kyuhyun said immediately, angry that this teacher, whom he had only known for two weeks, was presuming such things; even angrier that his heart had begun to race the moment he had seen him.
“I’ve seen brothers turn on each other… one destroying the other,” the teacher said quietly, his words floating to Kyuhyun despite the other students and teachers walking the halls towards the dining hall,
“Nothing… just that… you can’t trust everyone,” the teacher said, his voice suddenly calm and cool, belying the easy smile on his face.
Kyuhyun glanced at him from the corner of his eye before stating baldly, “I don’t trust everyone and if I’m being honest, I don’t trust you, Seonsaeng-nim.”
The teacher opened his mouth to reply, when Kyuhyun’s name was called and they were swiftly interrupted. The pair stopped as Taeyeon ran up to them, the headmaster slowly pacing himself behind her.
Taeyeon put her hands on her hips, “What took you so long? I got worried and I couldn’t remember what class you had last –”
“You know I had biology. We even talked about it during breakfast,” Kyuhyun said, raising a questioning eyebrow.
She looked away, “Well, let’s go get some lunch okay?” She turned to the teacher and headmaster, “Seonsaeng-nim, Headmaster Park, thank you,” she shot them both a bright smile before taking Kyuhyun’s hand and pulling him away.
The headmaster and literature teacher stood there in silence as the corridors slowly emptied themselves. They stood, side-by-side, silent, no sign of animosity or amicability between them. When they were completely alone, only then did their silence break.
“If the Agency sent you, then I cannot interfere,” Headmaster Park stated, “But if you go around harassing innocent students –”
“Kim Taeyeon-sshi asked for my help –”
“Then you’ll have more to worry about than just some case you’re on,” the headmaster finished as if he hadn’t interrupted at all,
“It is my job to protect these students,” the teacher argued,
“And it is my job to protect these students from the likes of you!” The headmaster exclaimed as they still stood side by side, not looking at one another.
“Don’t tell me you’re still upset about your boyfriend,” the teacher scoffed,
“He was innocent! He never hurt anyone!” Headmaster Park defended, finally turning to look at the teacher,
“He was a liability!”
“He wasn’t even given the chance to prove the Agency wrong!”
“It was a chance we couldn’t take!” Headmaster made to leave when the teacher suddenly grabbed his arm, stopping him, “He was a vampire, Eeteuk-sshi.”
“Then I hope to God, Zhou Mi, that you fall in love with a vampire so then you can understand,” Eeteuk said bitterly, eyes narrowed dangerously as he yanked his hand from the other man’s grasp, “Then you can see that it’s more than worth the risk.”
Zhou Mi crossed his arms over his chest, “Vampires lose their humanity the moment they are created – their blood lust takes over and they’re no longer the people they once were,”
“Then help protect and preserve what humanity they have left rather than killing it off while killing the monster!” Eeteuk exclaimed,
“You think you can do that with a vampire?” Zhou Mi challenged,
“A pureblood, maybe not… but someone who’s been created – those bitten by purebloods – then, most definitely,” Eeteuk replied, conviction in his voice and expression,
“Then you’re an idealistic fool,” Zhou Mi stated,
Eeteuk’s eyes narrowed just a bit, a small smile forming, the dimple appearing viciously, “And you’re just a fool.”
It was on the weekend when Zhou Mi next encountered the student, Jo Kyuhyun. Zhou Mi was late heading down to dinner from his room, but he took his time. The past two weeks seemed to have flown by so quickly and yet, he had to keep reminding himself of why he was there. Every time he got up to teach, for that moment, he’d forget what his real job was; for that moment, the students were safe.
He sighed heavily as he entered a stairwell in the central wing to head down to the first floor. He paused to look out a window in the stairwell. The sky was clear, displaying an indigo, velvety sky pierced with twinkling diamonds and a crescent moon. It was times like these, when he just looked up at the sky and felt a calmness wash over him. The world and his life could be chaotic, but the sky – the night sky – was always calm and cool. To him, the night sky was stability.
He heard the familiar sound of a body falling to the ground. Forced out of his reverie, his reprieve, Zhou Mi peered over the banister to where he heard the sound. At least two floors down he saw three forms moving and, from what he could tell and hear, they were fighting. Suddenly, he was running fast, his heart beating rapidly as he descended the stairs with great speed. The last staircase, he jumped down to the landing from half-way up, immediately pulling off the closest person from the other two.
When the students realize who it was, they immediately stopped and that’s when Zhou Mi identified them. There were two boys from the third-year, a boy on the ground from second-year. The person he held was none other than Kyuhyun. What startled him, however, was that the other three boys were ruffled, their clothes ripped, their lips bleeding, more than one eye was already blackening – he didn’t even want to take a closer look at the boy who had fallen down. Kyuhyun, on the other hand, was practically pristine. Other than his wrinkled clothes and his bleeding knuckles, the younger man was unfazed.
He stared at the students, “What’s going on here?”
“He attacked us!” One of the third-years pointed at Kyuhyun,
“BULLSHIT!” Kyuhyun exclaimed as he attempted to lunge at the accuser. However, the boy stepped back and Zhou Mi kept a firm grip on his arm and shoulder.
“It’s three against one and you’re telling me that he attacked the three of you?” Zhou Mi questioned. When the boys said nothing, he continued, “I suggest you go where you need to go, gentlemen. And I assure you, the headmaster will hear of this.”
The boys picked up their fallen comrade, scoffing at Zhou Mi’s words before exiting through that landing’s door. Only after the door closed after them did Zhou Mi release his hold on Kyuhyun.
“What the hell was that?” Zhou Mi demanded then, completely forgetting – for once – that he was a teacher at SJA,
“You were upset when I didn’t fight back,” Kyuhyun defended as he pretended to dust off his uniform,
“I didn’t think you’d pulverize the kid… all three of them,” Zhou Mi stated with a shake of his head,
“I told you I’d kill them,” Kyuhyun threw him a dark glare before turning his attention to his split knuckles,
“That’s not the way to deal with bullies,” Zhou Mi sighed,
“What? You expect me to let them beat me up like last time? Or perhaps I should just walk away? That’s what I did last time and I landed on the bathroom floor, barely able to walk,” Kyuhyun practically growled, “I fought back this time and maybe now they’ll see why I wanted to walk away before.”
“You know I have to report you to the headmaster? Self-defence or not… I still have to report it,” Zhou Mi sighed, rubbing the back of his own neck wearily,
“Like I care,” Kyuhyun snapped, “You heard those idiots… they could commit murder in front of the whole school and their parents will still pay for their innocence. That’s why they can do this… that’s why they know they can do this.”
“What about your parents? If you go to this school then your parents must be loaded,” Zhou Mi stated,
“How do you know I’m not some child genius?” Kyuhyun challenged as he pulled off his sweater-vest and wiped off the blood from his knuckles with it. At Zhou Mi’s silence, he chuckled slightly, “Yeah… it was because of my parents I got into SJA.”
“Well, then they should be able to pay your innocence too, right?” Zhou Mi prompted,
“But I don’t want them to,” Kyuhyun said, “I don’t want to be like the rest of the kids that go to this school. Besides,” he continued, suddenly completely absorbed in cleaning off his hands, “they wouldn’t want to pay anything for me anyway.”
Zhou Mi looked at him, confused. Kyuhyun looked up at him during the silence and suddenly, found he couldn’t look away. Zhou Mi threw him a silent question with his eyes and Kyuhyun felt as if he were going to answer, could feel the words forming in his mind, dancing on his tongue and lips.
“Kyuhyun?” Kyuhyun finally looked away as Taeyeon entered the stairwell through the second-floor door. She looked at Zhou Mi hesitantly before she stated, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere… and I saw some guys walking down the stairs and hoped you’d be on this floor.”
Zhou Mi was silent as Kyuhyun turned to Taeyeon. He watched as she pulled off his sweater-vest to reveal one of his hands. She peered at his hand then up at him, her big eyes full of concern. She offered a small smile, “At least you fought back this time. This is easier to see than the bruises over your torso.”
Zhou Mi said nothing, but was intrigued to find out that she was talking about his bruise-covered torso. And, from the sound of it, she had spent some time looking at it, perhaps even after they left the nurse’s office together. “Well, Kim-sshi, you seem to have everything under control,” he nodded a silent goodbye and made to move.
On his way to the door, Zhou Mi caught Kyuhyun’s eye. For that moment, he felt his heart slow down, possibly even stop. For that moment, it was too hot and he couldn’t breathe. For that moment, he forgot everything. For that moment, it looked like Kyuhyun was about to say something. When he said nothing, Zhou Mi opened the door and slipped through. However, he kept the door open barely a hair’s breadth.
“What happen?” Taeyeon asked,
“I snapped in the worse way… Taeyeon, you shouldn’t be with me,” Kyuhyun stated, “I’m still agitated and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“And I don’t want you taking your rage out on other students. I told you Kyuhyun, I’m not leaving you – I’m not your parents.”
There it was again, Zhou Mi thought, what was it about Jo Kyuhyun’s parents?
“Thank you,” came Kyuhyun’s silent, grateful reply,
“What do you want me to do? How do you usually calm down?”
“Honestly? Video games – they make me focus on something else,” he laughed in spite of himself and Zhou Mi found himself forcing himself to ignore the way the sound of the younger man’s laugh was like warm honey.
“There are no video games at SJA,” Taeyeon laughed in return and Zhou Mi ignored the fact that her laugh had no affect on him.
“Take me to Sungmin,” Kyuhyun said,
Zhou Mi’s ears perked up at the teacher’s name and he forcibly pushed away any acknowledgement of how he ached at hearing that name on the younger man’s lips.
“He has video games?” Taeyeon asked,
“No, but at least if I get mad at him, he’ll fight back,” Kyuhyun explained,
“I can fight back,” Taeyeon replied, “You taught me how, remember?”
“But I don’t want to put you in the position where you have to. You mean too much to me Taeyeon… you’re all I have left,” he said quietly and his tone, his words, made Zhou Mi’s chest clench painfully.
Subtly, he allowed the door to close the rest of the way. He turned and walked off, forcing himself not to look back.
(Phase 3: Crystal Confidences)