Most kids look forward to growing up, to be 18 and independent. But not him. Because he knows being 18 means he'd be homeless, that he'd be out on the streets with just the clothes on his back. The only saving grace is Yongki hyung. Maybe things will be okay, he thinks, if hyung is with me. Maybe life outside the orphanage will be bearable if they are together.
There are so many kids at the orphanage, some without parents and some with parents who want nothing to do with them. But they're all desperate to be saved, without having any real hope. It's a fairytale. Some rich couple, handsome father and beautiful mother, unable to have kids of their own, come looking for a child to adopt. That they notice you right away and want to take you home and take care of you. Then you will never have to go hungry again. You can go to school and live a good life. No one wants to admit that the reality is opposite and fairytales are only in the books. In the end, Yongki knows, they will all end up the same way.
"Would you miss me?" Yongki asks him, sitting on the roof, feet dangling over the edge. "If someone wants to adopt you?"
Jongdae shivers in pleasure. Because he is still young enough to have hope, to wish for a saviour.
"I'll ask them to take us both, hyung," he says, certain that his future parents would want to take them both, that they'd see he cannot leave his hyung behind.
Yongki laughs. "You idiot, they'll never do that."
Jongdae sits down carefully besides Yongki, vary of the fall. He holds on to hyung’s elbow for safety. "Then I don't want to go," he says firmly.
"Then you're even more of an idiot," Yongki says but his eyes are soft when he looks at him. "Do you think I want to babysit you for the rest of my life?"
Jongdae grins. "When I grow up, I'll babysit you, hyung. You'll never get rid of me."
They’ve been on the streets for three years and Yongki hasn’t stopped hating it. He doesn’t know if he has the right to ask for more, but he hates it anyway. Hates half freezing to death in the winter, and being so constantly hungry. But what he hates most of all is to watch Jongdae shivering on winter nights, to hear his stomach growling when all they can afford is to share one packet of ramyun between the two of them.
But Jongdae never complains. Unlike Yongki, Jongdae has grown up to be an eternal optimist. Things will work out, Jongdae says, smiling like that bastard at the recycling center is not cheating them. Like they're not going to spend the rest of their lives being stepped on by the world. Yongki wants things to change, but nothing comes without a price and when that bulldozer smashes into their hut, he should have known it was start of the end. But like a fool he thinks maybe it is the start of everything.
He lights incense for Yongki hyung every day at the temple. He doesn’t want to believe that his hyung is dead. Instead he prays that he'll find him one day, that he hadn't lost the one constant thing in his life. He squashes down hard on the little whispers at the back of his mind that tells him it's all futile, that they should never have said yes to Kang Kilsu's offer, that because of him, hyung is dead. He closes his eyes and takes a breath, hands clenching at his sides.
Hyung, come home soon. I miss you.
He wonders about Jongdae sometimes. And if he is ever truthful with himself, which is becoming rarer and rarer nowadays, he wonders about Jongdae every day. It's only little, fleeting things. When he is having lunch he wonders if Jongdae has eaten that day, when he is sleeping he wonders if Jongdae is warm, if there is anyone with him that can keep him from being lonely.
Sometimes he wonders if he should let the past remain in the past, if he is just letting himself be dragged down by things that should not have any sway on his life now. Wherever Jongdae is, he must be okay. He is a strong, determined kid and anyone would see his value if they pause to look. So he tries to let go, to move forward and not think back.
But still, when he closes his eyes at night, the quilts warm and soft around him, he thinks, maybe it would be nice if Jongdae was with him. It would be nice to share this. After all, weren't they meant to be together forever?
He watches as Yongki hyung wraps the adhesive tape around his arm. There are so many bruises on his body, red and purple marking out all the beatings he had taken. Hyung looks different with his hair cut like that. He looks older, more serious. Jongdae likes it. Yongki hyung has always been handsome.
"You're staring, Jongdae-yah."
He looks up, face reddening. Yongki hyung smiles. "You saved my life, I owe you one."
Jongdae shakes his head immediately. "I thought you were dead, hyung," he says, and the knowledge that hyung is here, safe enough and close enough to touch, colours his voice with relief.
Yongki reaches out a hand to ruffle his hair, and Jongdae ducks his head and submits. He lets hyung lift his head with a hand under his chin.
"I missed you too, you little punk," hyung says and Jongdae leans in eagerly when Yongki kisses him. They should probably lock the door, and this is probably not a good idea in Yongki hyung's condition but Jongdae has lived without hyung too long to let caution keep him from pulling off his pants and laying down on the floor. Hyung follows him down, eyes dark and hands possessive, and Jongdae finally feels as though he can breathe.
It is strange to look at Jongdae and remember who he was, and try to reconcile that with who he is now. Sometimes it feels as though Jongdae has not changed at all, the same bright smile and earnest eyes. But then, he is also the defacto leader of a small gang and Yongki knows that makes Jongdae an entirely different person. And he himself has aspirations that has nothing to with Jongdae at all, and maybe he thinks, watching Jongdae's sleeping face, they will never be as they were.
"You're staring, hyung," Jongdae says sleepily, a small smile already on his lips. Yongki cannot help but lean into kiss him. Jongdae hums happily into the kiss.
"Because you're so fucking beautiful even in the morning," he says, lifting himself up on an elbow to look down at this boy who had followed him everywhere.
But maybe not anymore, he thinks, as he leans down to kiss him again, and Jongdae pulls him in with a leg wrapped around his hips. Maybe now we've chosen our own separate paths.
But he can never bring himself to turn Jongdae away when he turns up at his door. Maybe that’s okay, if he never stops to think about it.
He wants to build a house. A nice house with many rooms and a big garden. And boss Kang will never have to iron another shirt again and Seonhye can leave that bastard of a husband and live with them. Yongki hyung will be there too, and he will finally, finally be happy.
Everything he is doing now is the means to that end.
He can make it. Yongki is certain. In this pit of vipers, he can still survive. He's young and strong, and he will tear down these old men who think they rule everything. He will never go back to the way things were. He will never be dirt for people to step on. Whatever he has to do, whatever sacrifices he has to make, everything is a means to that end.
"Disappear, Baek Yongki," he says, the gun heavy and cold in his hand. He knows later he will probably hate himself, later he will miss hyung until his heart breaks, but now he is angry, now he is the leader of a gang that looks to a better future. Now, all Baek Yongki is, is a hurdle.
Jongdae-yah, I'm not giving up. I can't stop now. I'm sorry-
Everything he'd wanted had been at his fingertips. He'd been so close. So close.
He feels the bullets dig deeper and deeper into him.
Hyung, Yongki hyung….
Yongki waits for him at the mouth of the tunnel. There is streak of blood down his face but he smiles when Jongdae reaches him.
Hyung, what would have happened if they never destroyed our shack?
So here, we reset.