The thing is that even if they don’t say it, everyone kind of thinks of Kimchee as stupid. He knows it. Jung knows it. Kimchee’s family knows it. Kimchee even plays it up half the time, because it’s easier than letting people know what’s really going on in his head. (Also, making Jung roll his eyes and go all tight-mouthed is fun.)
When he’d first met scrappy-eyed Jung sulking in the back of church under his Umma’s fussing hands, he’d never have guessed that out of the two of them, Jung would turn out to be the responsible one.
But nevertheless, at seventeen years old Kimchee quickly realized that he’d somehow slotted right into the role of the comic relief in his own life, and he figures being that self-aware means he’s not dumb. He can pinpoint the exact second it’d happened: one heart-stopping, sweaty moment when his shirt got hooked on the back of a chain link fence while he and Jung were running away from some cops who’d gotten the wrong idea about them, and he’d been jerked back into the metal mid-stride and Jung had run back to yank him off the fence and they’d barely escaped and Jung had been looking all panicked and queasy as they hid behind a dumpster, like Mrs. Kim’s galbi-jjim that they’d had for lunch was about to come right back up, and Kimchee had made some sort of stupid quip, and Jung’s whole face had kind of stopped and then rewound back up into a smile, and then a laugh, and Kimchee had thought, “okay, then.
“This is who I’m going to be.”
The moment of realization wasn’t the joke or Jung’s smile. It was when Kimchee’d gotten stuck on the fence and, in the split second before Jung realized he’d gotten left behind, he’d just been hanging there, watching Jung’s back sway into the darkness, watching Jung get away safe. That’s when he’d known.
He’s the sidekick, the funny one. The one who makes quips while Jung gets with the ladies. That’s fine. He has his role. And it’s not that he’s gotten stuck in a rut, he’s just dug his own, nice, comfortable bed in the ground. Like being buried in the sand on a beach. Like a grave.
Okay, maybe he’s in a bit of a rut.
“You never see fat Asian gay,” says Mr. Kim very confidently. “They only do the gay if they skinny Asian.”
Kimchee’s in the store to pick up some ketchup chips because he was in the area. He hasn’t said hi to Mr. Kim yet because Mr. Kim is busy denying the “gay discount” to a man who looks disturbingly like Kimchee is afraid he himself is going to look in twenty years.
The man huffs something about Mr.Kim being “worse than Grindr” and storms out of the shop without even buying his five-hour energy shot.
“What if that guy actually is gay?” Kimchee asks while Mr.Kim is ringing up his own stuff.
“I always know,” Mr.Kim says. “I have good ‘gaydar.’”
Well, what about me then? Kimchee has the sudden urge to ask. Do I get your discount, what does your ‘gaydar’ say about me? Does it work on bisexual Korean guys?
But Jung’s Appa has a way of looking at you over his glasses that makes it seem like he’s seeing into your very soul, and Kimchee doesn’t exactly want him to confirm what Kimchee has known for years: that his boner for Jung can be seen from space.
So he sweats and says nothing, and buys his chips.
“You roommate doing well?” Mr. Kim asks as he hands the bag over.
“Yeah,” Kimchee says. “Ju—he, my guy, the dude, he’s, he’s doing great. Just peachy. Thanks.”
Mr.Kim squints at him. Kimchee crab-walks to the door—breaking eye contact now seems like it would mean too much.
“Have nice day,” Mr. Kim finally says, and turns away.
Kimchee almost gets hit by a cyclist roaring down the sidewalk when he steps out of the shop, missing death by about a foot. It shocks all of the air out of him and he has to sit down heavily on the pavement outside the convenience store.
Fat, gay, and Asian. Grindr hates him, life hates him, and now cyclists do too. Though, to be fair, that’s just Toronto for you.
A pigeon with its neck all puffed up, glimmering different colours in the sunlight, comes cooing up near him, bobbing its head in a strange dance. Kimchee puts his hand out, and the pigeon inspects it, tilting its head.
“What am I doing with my life, man?” Kimchee asks.
“Getting diseases, if you touch that,” comes a voice from above. There’s an elderly white woman leaning heavily on a walker beside him, her wrinkled face shielded from the sun by a huge, floppy pink hat.
“At least she likes me,” Kimchee says.
“He,” corrects the woman. “But yes, he does like you very much. All ruffled like that? He’s looking for a mate. He likes you too much.”
Kimchee yanks his hand back, and the woman chuckles and keeps walking, breathing like Darth Vader. Kimchee’s phone rings. It’s Jung.
“Hey man, you back at the house yet?”
“Nah, I’m just grabbing chips.”
“Did you get ketchup?”
“Obviously. Wait, the chips or the actual sauce?”
“Well, yeah. Obviously.” Kimchee paused, thinking. “Is ketchup a sauce?”
“What else would it be?”
“I don’t know. It seems too thick to be a sauce though. Sauce is like, thinner, I think.”
“Please don’t start calling it a tomato smoothie or something.”
“Well, no, but it’s not a sauce, right?”
“Yeah. It’s ketchup. It’s its own thing.”
“Call of Duty tonight?”
“You know it.”
They talk for another minute about dumb shit. Kimchee’s only half paying attention to the words, more dialled into the sound of Jung’s voice. It’s kind of heavy and breathy, like he’s just finished working out, or having sex or something, and both thoughts are just as dazzling as the reflection of light on the metal signpost across the road that’s currently beaming directly into Kimchee’s eyes.
The pigeon is still there next to him when he hangs up. It coos longingly at him.
“Yeah, you and me too, buddy,” Kimchee says, and gets up to head home to his own unrequited bird love.
So maybe Kimchee is pretty dumb. Only an idiot would've let the guy they're gone over move in with them. You don't offer your spare room to the dude whose mouth and shoulders inspired your late night jerk off sessions as a teenager, not when he's straight as fuck.
Honestly, he's lucky that Jung is also stupid, because if a guy did half of the stuff around Kimchee that he does around Jung, he'd have roped himself a boyfriend or a restraining order ages ago. He literally told Jung he wore his underwear sometimes, and apart from a wrinkled forehead and a weak protest, Jung had barely reacted.
Kimchee refuses to get distracted by Jung's shirtlessness during Call of Duty that night.
"You told Shannon you're into her yet?" he says.
"No," Jung says. He's quiet for a minute, jabbing his fingers on the controller's buttons, and then— "I mean, she seems pretty into Alejandro."
"Dude, you're better than Alejandro, and she's been way into you for longer than she's been into him."
"I don't think she has."
"That's because whenever your brain starts to register that someone likes you, you just ignore it. Remember Kala? From church?"
"Shut up." Jung shoves his bare shoulder into Kimchee's, and both of their characters die horrible deaths onscreen.
"You suck," Kimchee whines.
Jung throws down his controller and grinds his hands over his eyes. Kimchee takes the opportunity to sweep his eyes quickly down his roommate's chest, lingering at the waistband of his pants, where a light sheen of sweat glistens over the red line his slacks have pressed into his stomach and hips. Kimchee is not only an idiot, he is a Bad Person.
"What I'm not even really into her?" Jung says. Kimchee snaps his eyes back up to Jung's face.
"Seriously?" he says. "You're like a yo-yo, you can't settle on one feeling. Get it together. Are you ‘ditching The Raptors’ level of ‘no,’ or are you the guy I saw fumbling like an idiot over her the other day at work?"
"You know I've never been serious with someone before, and I can't tell my boss I have feelings for her if I'm not super serious about it." Jung pauses, his hands still over his eyes. "I mean, the biggest commitment I've had to one person has been living with you."
Kimchee totally has a response all ready, but it kind of gets stuck in his throat with the idea of him and Jung and commitment. The silence stretches on too long, and Jung puts his hands back in his lap, peering at Kimchee like he’s trying to figure something out.
Or like he’s got something stuck in his eye.
“Uh, yeah,” Kimchee says belatedly. “When you going to move out anyway? You get paid more money than me now.”
“Last week you were talking about how my sweet gig gets you more salsa in the fridge and now you want me out? Talk about yo-yo-ing.”
“Didn’t say I wanted you out. Just—I know you could afford your own place now. Where you have a door.”
Jung picks at a seam on his pants. With his head bowed and his hands tipped uncertainly in his lap, he looks like a kid again, like any second now he’s going to ask if Kimchee wants to sneak out of church service to go skateboarding.
“Other than Janet and Umma, you’re the only person who has known me this long and still put up with me,” he says suddenly.
“Oh,” says Kimchee. “I always thought it was the other way around.”
This is why I’m in a rut, he thinks miserably, watching Jung’s face and trying not to look like he’s watching him. How is he supposed to move on from Jung when he says things like that and rocks Kimchee’s world without even knowing?
“Too bad we’re both straight, right?” he says loudly, throwing in a laugh for good measure. “Or else Jungchee would be ruling this city, am I right?”
He holds out his hand for a fistbump, and after a slip of hesitation, Jung grins and knocks his fist into Kimchee’s.
“But seriously, with Shannon, you just gotta watch for those three things I told you about to know whether her and Alejandro are intense yet. Screensaver pic, them being a “we”, and the whole eyes lighting up thing. Those three together are the kiss of death—that means dating with a capital D.”
“Just don’t get fired, because I’m pretty into that fancy salsa you buy these days.”
“Oh, so now you want me and my salsa around?”
“Dude, why do you think we’re still friends?”
Okay, yeah, the whole “not telling Jung he’s bisexual” thing has kind of gone too far at this point, and that’s another point in the “Kimchee’s an idiot,” column. At first it was just because he was being all internally hateful and shit like that, and denying it, and then when he was cool to chill with his bi self, it was because he was worried Jung would (correctly) think he had a crush on him if he knew Kimchee was some brand of gay, and then it was because he’d gone too long without mentioning it, and it would be weird to bring up now out of the blue. Like, “hey dude, did you know I bang guys sometimes?” No. He needs an occasion.
So step number one of getting out of his rut and getting over Jung is getting himself a boyfriend. Or at least a regular hookup. And it can’t be a girlfriend, because he’s had loads of those and, nice as they are, no girl has been able to knock Jung out of his head yet. He doesn’t know if another guy will do it, but he has to try. (He’s pretty certain it’s not a gender thing, but a Jung thing, but he’s trying real hard to deny that theory.)
Kimchee joins Tinder (because Grindr has scared him off too many times), and tries to throw himself back into that dating game. And it doesn’t even go half bad—he gets a few dates, even goes back to some of their houses for hookups that don’t really go anywhere further once morning comes around—but the problem is, Jung’s started acting weird.
Not super weird, just—kind of like regular Jung on max. Regular Jung takes off his shirt at home constantly and leaves his curtains open while he’s changing sometimes, and Regular Jung has no compunctions about getting Kimchee in a headlock when he’s wearing nothing but his boxers, but now—
Now Jung is almost always on the verge of nudity at home, and he keeps slapping Kimchee on the back and offering to do laundry and laughing at jokes even Kimchee knew were dumb as shit. And Kimchee swears he’s stopped closing the curtains to jerk off at night, because Kimchee doesn’t close his door, and he’s pretty sure those sounds he totally doesn’t listen for are getting clearer and crisper as the weeks go by.
“Is something like, up with you, dude?” Kimchee finally asks one day. When Kimchee refused to give him more room on the sofa, Jung had just sprawled across him, his legs all up in Kimchee’s lap and his butt—in only boxers, again!—jammed up against Kimchee’s thigh. He’s not pressing himself against Kimchee in that coy way people have done in the past when they’re trying to flirt with him, he’s just. Very presently there.
Jung blinks up at him. “No.”
He doesn’t even look like he’s lying. Which means whatever this is, he’s doing it by accident.
Things somehow spiral further.
They have play fights at work, because Kimchee’s an idiot who lets himself get into these situations, and although he manages to flip his way out of the first one before things got too close for comfort, the second time Jung goes for a wrestle, it turns into this horrible extended grapple. Jung’s arms, straining around him, Jung’s leg thrust between his leg, Jung’s fingers digging into him—if he wasn’t focused purely on winning, Kimchee would’ve been in deep, boner-land trouble.
After that, Kimchee takes a break on the gay Tinder to snag a girlfriend because he genuinely has an organic meet-cute moment with her at a bakery. But he botches that too, so worried that Jung will end up hooking up with her that he basically tells both of them just how hot he thinks Jung is by forcing Jung to act gross when she’s over.
“it’s clear who you want to be with,” Lauren texts him after that debacle, when he tries to smooth things over. “no one is that insecure about their roommate stealing their gf, unless they’re more worried about their gf stealing their roommate. deal with ur issues and tell him.”
She was too well-adjusted for him anyway.
Then comes the Party. They order the world’s biggest couch and Kimchee carries a fold-up door for Jung’s room forty minutes on the TTC because he’s a sucker. It’s the weirdest party ever because Jung’s being a dick over Shannon and Alejandro, and then once the whole thing is over and the cops are there, Kimchee can’t help but give in to Jung’s dumb morose face and say that the apartment belongs to both of them. He even makes some sort of stupid quip about “making it official,” like they’re getting married or something, which, what? Way to go on the getting over him, Kimchee.
It’s not that he gives up on the “acquire a boyfriend” plan after that. It’s just that finding a boyfriend is a lot of Work, okay, and playing Call of Duty on the couch next to a shirtless Jung is always going to be more appealing then Work.
And then they get newbies at the rental agency.
Everyone in the office is congratulating Kimchee on his ‘anniversary’.
“Jung and I are not dating,” he tells the fifth person to earnestly come up to him and say his relationship is ‘inspiring.’ “Do I even know you?”
“You know you don’t have to hide it,” says Janice, their new secretary. “I’m a lesbian and everyone has been cool about it. This is Canada, not China.”
Kimchee squints at her, then decides it’s just not worth it.
Jung has been hiding out washing the cars, which is weird because that isn’t his job anymore, but it means he’s missed most of the comments.
“Why is everyone being weird to me?” Jung mutters to him at the water cooler later in the day.
“No idea,” says Kimchee. He sees another person approaching them, and makes a subtle throat cutting gesture to get them to turn around.
“They think we’re dating again, don’t we.”
“No!” Kimchee says, high-pitched. “No, totally not that.” A pause. “It's exactly that.”
“Just what I need,” Jung says. He looks more upset than he usually does when this issue crops up every few months they get a bunch of new hires (there's a weirdly high turnover here). Kimchee would ask him about it, but Jung is already stomping away.
“Are you two alright?” Shannon asks, appearing out of nowhere.
“Did you tell the newbies that we were dating?” Kimchee says, suspicious.
“You and me?” Shannon says. “Why would I say that? I’ve never imagined us dating. Possibly in a threesome with Jung, but never anything more serious than that.” She stopped. “Please tell me I didn’t say that out loud.”
“Right,” Kimchee says. “No, I meant me and Jung.”
“Oh, I know you two have been on and off,” she says. “And there was that period where I almost thought me and him might be a thing. Before Alejandro, obviously. We’re going to a salsa dancing lesson tomorrow, did I tell you? I can show you pictures of the outfits we purchased in advance.”
She whips out her phone. Kimchee sees the background of Alejandro’s gorgeous face behind the keys before he gets his hands up to stop Shannon’s advance. Her eyes have gone all excited since she mentioned her boyfriend. All three signs checked off. Poor Jung, Kimchee thinks, and tries not to feel a little happy.
“I’m good on the salsa though,” Kimchee says. “Unless you got any actual salsa. Ehhh.”
She blinks at him. He drops the finger guns.
“Jung and I really aren’t dating though.”
“Really?” she says. “That’s a shame. I maybe jumped the gun with those ‘Jung and Kimchee forever’ cupcakes I served at orientation this morning, but I was really drunk last night when I made them and my therapist said that it was helpful to positively imagine an ex in a loving relationship to help yourself get over them. Not that Jung is an ex-anything. Just an ex-thing. Ex-thought. You know what I mean. Actually, you probably don’t. I don’t.”
She laughs, very fast and high-pitched.
“Anyway, you have any plans this weekend?”
“We’re probably just going to play video games,” Kimchee says slowly, feeling—as usual with Shannon—a little like he’s been hit with a bulldozer. “That’s what we did all last weekend, so.”
“Cool,” she says. “Super. No one says super. Oh my god. I’m going to go.”
“Super,” says Kimchee.
Jung usually goes to the gym after work, but for some reason, today he takes the TTC back with Kimchee. They don’t talk. Jung is breathing really odd, like a chihuahua with a piece of stolen chicken stuck in its throat (Kimchee’s cousin had a really dumb dog, okay, and he spent an ill-advised week crashing on his couch after a breakup once. Dog would stand over him, wheezing into his face in the middle of the night and hack up a bone three hours later on Kimchee's thighs. Its breathing was a very specific and memorable sound).
When they get back to the apartment, Jung just starts pacing in the middle of the living room.
“Dude,” Kimchee finally says. “You’re wearing a hole in the carpet.”
“Why would Shannon do that with the cupcakes?” Jung finally says, flopping down on the couch. “That’s so weird. Even weirder for her than usual. What am I supposed to do, just never talk to you? People keep assuming the craziest shit!”
“Sorry about Shannon, man,” Kimchee says uncomfortably. “I thought she and Alejandro were waning, but I think I saw the three things today.” He quickly outlines the screensaver, the “we” reference, the eyes. Jung just stares at him like Kimchee is missing the point.
“You’re missing the point,” he says.
“Would you calm down if I pulled up a tweet I screenshotted earlier? It’s really funny, I promise.”
Kimchee sits down on the couch next to Jung and pulls out his phone. He clicks the home button and the black screen clears into a photo of the two of them from Halloween last year, posing with their arms around each other and their cheeks puffed out in fake nausea.
“Oh my god,” says Jung. “A picture of me and you is your screensaver.”
“And you told Shannon that ‘we' did nothing but play video games last weekend!”
“Because we did!” Kimchee is starting to panic. How had Jung even heard that? Hiding behind a potted plant?
“Your eyes right now are even all, all—” Jung waves a hand around his stupidly handsome face. “All big! Like when you were trying to show what ‘lit up' eyes meant!”
“That’s ‘cause I’m freaked out, dude!”
“Yeah, well your ‘freaked out’ and your ‘eyes lighting up' faces are the exact same, like I told you earlier!”
“Can’t you just go back to your curtain room so we can pretend none of this cupcake stuff ever happened tomorrow?”
“No, Kimchee, I’m saying—we are dating!”
“No, we’re not!”
“We pretty much are!”
“I would have noticed!”
“We kept trying to tell the office we weren’t a couple, but we essentially are!” Jung’s eyes go stupid wide. “Kimchee, we schedule Pirates of the Caribbean nights.”
“That is a very heterosexual movie,” Kimchee says. “As a gay, I would know.”
Jung flails. “As a—?”
He points at Kimchee, at the ceiling, at himself, at the couch between them, as if the words he’s searching for are just hovering in the air somewhere, invisible. Kimchee is the dumbest of dum-dums in the world.
“Bisexual,” he says weakly. “Uh, surprise. Wasn’t lying! Just uh, didn’t know how to tell you?”
Jung stands up. He turns one direction, than the next. Kimchee stares at him, trying not to upchuck his lunch break pizza all down his front.
“Okay,” Jung says finally. “That—that makes things easier.”
Kimchee forces himself to his feet. He opens his mouth. Jung grabs him by the shoulders.
And suddenly—well. Suddenly Jung’s kissing him.
It’s a smash of mouths more than anything at first, Kimchee’s eyes still open, staring straight at Jung’s eyes squeezed determinedly shut. He registers first the softness and pressure on his mouth, then registers that the sensation isn't from Jung’s arm or chest or leg knocked into his face in some sort of horrible, accidentally erotic wrestling match, it’s actually Jung’s lips on his lips—and then Kimchee’s body takes over where his brain has shut off, and he’s kissing back.
Jung’s mouth comes open on a tiny bubble of shocked sound, and Kimchee’s nervous lips slip and notch just right against Jung’s, and then they’re doing it deep, the kind of kissing that draws up thick, bubbly feelings in the pit of Kimchee's stomach. Weirdly, even though Jung has to have realized by now what he's doing and just who he's kissing, it's him who is guiding it, stroking his tongue into Kimchee's mouth and demanding a response with the dirty, intent pull of his lips. Kimchee mostly just has to cling onto Jung’s stupidly broad shoulders and let himself be kissed, let himself try and figure out what exactly Jung tastes like while his head spins and his whole body goes all fizzy and dizzy like he’s three drinks in at the bar.
If this is a hallucination, it’s pretty fucking great. Which is suspicious. Great things don’t happen to the clown character.
He breaks away from the kiss. “Did you get drugged or something?”
“You kissed me.”
“I thought you wanted me to.”
“Well, obviously, I mean, look at you,” Kimchee says. “That’s why I’m worried about your mental state, dude, look at me!”
He gestures. Jung nods. “I am.”
Five minutes later, Kimchee pushes Jung off of him again. His mouth feels raw, almost. “No, seriously, what the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know!” Jung yells, which isn’t the best when he’s so close to Kimchee still. “When I picture my future, you’re just always there. And I know you listen to me when I jerk off. And the other week I thought about you wearing my underwear, and I got a boner? Which is gross, just so you know. The underwear-wearing thing. Do you wash it?”
“Not always,” Kimchee admits.
“Great,” Jung groans. “See, you’ve got me into the weirdest, grossest shit now. I found that hot. Why?”
“So you, like, like me?”
“I guess!” Jung says. He closes his eyes. “No, I’m done with that wishy-washy shit I did with Shannon. I do like you. I guess I’m bi too?”
“You just want the gay discount at your parents’ store,” Kimchee says. He thinks he might be in shock.
“We are not telling them,” Jung says, looking like he’s swallowed a lemon, but like, still somehow sexy. Asshole. “Umma would never leave us alone and would ask terrible questions and Appa would just—”
He cuts a hand through the air, and then sticks it back on his hip. He’s standing just like round 2.0 of the cardboard cutouts they made of him.
“Not until we’re like—getting married or something.”
“Getting married?” Kimchee says. “Didn’t know you were that sure about taking a ride on the old Kimchee machine.”
Jung shoves him. Normally this is when they’d start wrestling. They stare at each other instead, hands floating at their sides like cowboys in a shootout waiting to see who will reach for their gun first.
“Is this going to be weird?” Jung says. “This is weird, right?”
“Yeah,” Kimchee says.
He steps forward and takes Jung’s face in his hands, as gently as he’s dreamed of in his stupidest, sappiest moments, and kisses him. The tension slowly goes out of Jung as he kisses back. His hands go to Kimchee’s elbows, then to his hips, then down to the top of his ass, pressing in and tucking Kimchee against him.
Jung breaks the kiss with a strangled “weird,” and presses his face into Kimchee’s neck. “But good, right?”
“Oh my god,” he says suddenly. “I’m not the stupid sidekick or the pigeon. I’m the main character. I’m the dorky girl who gets the guy.”
“You’re what?” says Jung.