Brian can still feel the weight of the girl’s stare on the back of his neck. It’s hard, unwavering almost, certainly uncomfortable enough to have him quickening his step in an effort to get away.
He just wants to get out - get away. The students crowding the hallway are all looking at him, looking at her, at the way she seems so defeated. Brian knows because he caught a glimpse of her expression just before her smile faltered enough for the guilt to sink in and he turned away.
The whole thing is a downright mess, one Brian knew was a long time coming and one that he still chose to ignore in hopes that it would solve itself given enough time. Of course it didn’t - of course - and now Brian has to deal with the stares and the whispering and the uneasy feeling coiling tight inside his stomach.
His shoulders are tense, expression closed off. It’s enough of a warning for the others students to back off and make space for him. Brian marches down the hallway. He just wants out to get out, get away, he needs to-
The boy comes crashing into him before he has time to react. Brian stumbles back, caught off guard by the body that all but slam into him, shoving him backwards. Instinctively, Brian puts a hand around the other boy’s arm to steady them both, keep them from falling to the ground.
Biting down on a grunt of pain from the dull hit, Brian huffs out an annoyed, “hey, watch where you’re-”
The boy looks up, a flash of dark hair and even darker eyes. His gaze flits to him for a second before moving away to stare past his shoulders. He shrugs Brian’s hand off with a sudden, jerky movement and then he’s gone, walking away before Brian has the chance to demand an apology.
“Hey!” Brian shouts after him because he’s frustrated and uncomfortable and itching for anything to let it all out on. The boy though, he doesn’t turn around, just keeps on walking. Brian hurries after him, hands tight at his side to keep them from shaking, nerves frayed at the edges, looking to snap, finally.
Brian reaches him before they boy can disappear down a corner. “Hey!” he calls out again, grabs the boy by the shoulder’s and turns him around when he still doesn’t get a response. “I said, watch where the fuck you’re-”
Brian’s doesn’t get to finish, his next words dying swiftly on his throat when he sees the boy reach up to tug a pair of earphones Brian hadn’t noticed away from his ears. It’s quiet as the other boy’s eyes travel down to the tight grip Brian has on his shoulders, then up to Brian himself. He raises an eyebrow up at him, just this side of mocking.
“I - sorry,” Brian forces himself to grit out. It leaves a bitter aftertaste in his mouth, the way the boy just keeps on looking at him, never saying a word. Brian doesn’t like it, feels himself tense and tense and tense because the students are all staring again too, looking at him reproachfully, judging, and Brian - Brian just wants to get out, get away.
“Sorry,” he says again - “just - shit, sorry,” - misses the way the boy smiles up at him, just a tad amused, a tad knowing, because Brian’s already turning around and walking away.
His name is Dowoon. Yoon Dowoon.
Brian doesn’t know how he didn’t recognize him before, back when the boy bumped into him a week ago and Brian messed up like he always does and lashed out. They share a class - math, the one they share with the girl too, the class where she first started looking at him and hoping and everything suddenly became a problem.
Dowoon doesn’t talk much, doesn’t talk at all really, so maybe that’s why. The boy seems to fade into the background, only making his presence known through the giggling gaggle of swooning girls that have taken to following him around. Still, Brian already feels more partial to the kid than he does to rest of the school.
The students have them both already labeled and firmly packaged into the not approachable box, after all. Admittedly, Brian’s case has more to do with him defaulting to insensitive asshole when caught out of his comfort zone - which involves things like speaking about feelings or speaking with girls or worse, speaking about feelings with girls - than the aloof air the kid has going for him.
Right now though, Dowoon has lost that distant look. Brian watches him with a detached sort of curiosity as their teacher drones on and on. Dowoon sits exactly one seat to the right from Brian’s own desk, far enough from the front of the class for their teacher to miss him dozing off.
But then the teacher calls on him and Dowoon doesn't wake up. The class swivels around, curious, watching. The teacher calls on Dowoon again and still, the boy sleeps on, head firmly pillowed in the circle his arms make, head turned away.
Before Brian can think much about what he’s doing, he reaches out. Hesitantly, he drops a hand on Dowoon’s shoulder and shakes him lightly, just enough to snap him back to attention.
Dowoon looks up, blinks slowly up at Brian, whose hand is still curved around Dowoon’s shoulder. Once, twice, and he still doesn’t look away, even when their teacher calls his name again.
“You’re up,” Brian says, nodding his head to where the teacher is waiting for Dowoon to solve a problem on the board.
There’s a crease on the boy’s cheek, red against the pale of his skin and patterned like the knits of his sweater. Brian swallows. “Go,” he urges and watches as Dowoon’s eyes slip to his lips for a heartbeat before the boy turns his head towards the front of the class and sees the exasperated teacher holding out a piece of chalk towards him.
Without a word, Dowoon stands up and heads to the board. He solves the equation fast, faster than anyone would have expected and then walks back to his seat, ignoring the way the class claps and whistles for him.
When he sits back down, it's with a careful nod in Brian’s direction. Caught off guard, Brian manages to smile in response, just a quirk of his lips to show that it’s okay. They’re even now, he thinks. Brian made amends.
Dowoon stares at him for a second, dark eyes focused and steady before he breaks out into his own kind of smile, a small one, more of a promise of what it could be than anything more present.
Still, Brian thinks, it’s okay. They’re fine now.
Brian is late for dinner but, as the situation stands, he’s really past the point of caring.
He’s still aching with frustration, running on a heady mix of unease and regret, the same awful mess that made him fuck up and hurt the girl again. Brian can admit that he acted like a downright asshole. He had smirked and teased and wound the poor girl up so much until she had looked ready to crack, clutching at her broom like it was the only thing keeping her from screaming out in frustration.
Brian almost wishes she had. It would have made things easier for him, certainly. If she had screamed at him, called him out on his behavior, then Brian could have snapped back, make her see sense; make her realise the he wasn’t the perfect guy she had painted him as, the kind that only needed a little bit of fixing up before being introduced to the parents.
But she hadn’t, so Brian had done what he did best and avoided the problem by covering it up with snarky jokes and a handful of smirks. And, eventually, when that hadn't worked, he had taken the low road and left her alone while he got out - got away.
The arcade is almost empty by this hour. Brian is thankful for that, he needs the mindless sort of quiet that comes with places like this.
There’s only Brian, the owner who’s bustling somewhere in the back, and a guy that looks haggard in the worst of ways lingering around, frazzled and wild enough in the shadowed set of his eyes for Brian to know that he means trouble.
Still, Brian is set on keeping his head down and out of other people’s business. Today’s been shitty enough as it is and Brian is here to unwind and forget. So he turns back around and slips what little change he finds in his back pockets into the biker game by the corner of the arcade and forces himself to focus.
It’s only after he’s played a few rounds hat Brian notices the kid killing time by the other end of the arcade.
Dowoon is here, he realises, wonders how he didn’t spot him before. Brian’s been seeing him everywhere lately at school, turning down corners, hiding from his followers; anywhere, everywhere.
Brian watches him play for a while, feeling almost fond as he forgets the day’s worries and just watches Dowoon instead.The boy is staring intently at the screen of the arcade game, completely focused on winning his fight. Brian would think him expressionless, blank almost, but there’s a little frown wrinkling his forehead, belying his frustration. It’s cute, telling enough of a mark for Brian to realise that he’s more into the game than one would think at first glance.
Brian sees the guy coming before Dowoon does.
“Hey, fucker.” The words are spit out with enough scorn to make Brian’s hackles rise. It’s the guy from before - of course it’s him- and he’s looking straight at Dowoon, stalking closer towards him, trouble in every step he takes.
“Hey, brat - fucking look at me - I’m talking to you.”
The guy is close to Dowoon now - too close, just a few steps away and looming even closer. Still, Dowoon doesn’t look away from his game, eyes firmly locked on the screen.
Brian briefly wonders if the kid has a death wish of some sort, acting like he doesn't know the guy is there, ignoring all the threats the man is lashing out at him, voice loud enough to echo and ring.
Brian doesn’t know much about Dowoon. They’re classmates, maybe-friends, if the way they have taken to acknowledging is anything to go by, but they haven’t exchanged a word. Brian has tried to, awkward and stilted as his attempts were, but he isn’t exactly well-known for making friends, after all, and well, Dowoon doesn’t seem to keen on helping him out either. He always has his earphones in, shutting out the world with music Brian has never gotten close enough to hear.
Still, when the punch comes flying, Brian is there to stop it.
The guy smells like a bad case of hangover - breath stale and sour when he breathes out in surprise all over Brian’s space - and he has about the same strength of one too. Brian catches him by the wrist, forces his arm back before it can touch a hair on Dowoon’s hair.
Dowoon stands up suddenly, eyes shifting around hurriedly as if he were just now realizing the situation and - and oh, Brian thinks,stomach sinking, how was he so stupid not to see it before, when all the clues were right there. Dowoon’s lips part in slight surprise when he sees Brian - locked in a shaky standstill with the drunken man and then - and then he turns on his heels and leaves.
He fucking leaves.
Brian only has the time to huff incredulously at the sheer nerve of the kid before the punch comes, sending his head snapping backwards and all thoughts of Dowoon and his dark, dark eyes out of his mind.
The owner steps in before the fight can get too out of hand but by the time he finds them Brian is bleeding from a split lip and he has the guy’s face pushes against the biting metal of the arcade game, struggling to break free of his hold.
The owner snaps something at him, scandalized and just this side of afraid. Brian snaps something back. Ultimately though, he lets the guy go because the owner is threatening to call the police on him and Brian really has no reason to draw this out when Dowoon is not even here. Honestly, who even does that?
So Brian leaves. The corner of his mouth is pulsing enough to ache and the sour taste of blood still lingers stubbornly on his tongue from where the man got in a sloppy hook. His shirt is rumpled and stained red around the collar and Brian just wants this day to end already.
He’s half-heartedly trudging his way home, scuffing his shoes against the cracks he finds on the pavement and wondering when his day went from shitty to downright hellish, when he sees him.
Dowoon is sitting by a plastic table out into the street, looking, at first glance at least, content and completely at ease as he sips on drink he probably bought from the corner store. Brian blinks, blinks again, and then huffs.
“You,” he says as he takes a seat in front of him, making sure he’s facing Dowoon head on, and points at his bloody lip, “have a lot to answer for.”
Dowoon takes a long sip, loud and just this side mocking. Brian has a feeling the kid is laughing at him from behind his straw. He shrugs then, playing up the disinterest. Brian would buy it but he knows now, sees the way Dowoon’s eyes linger, the way he watches his lips.
“You’re-” Brian starts, finds that it’s hard to say it with Dowoon looking at him like he’s waiting for him to gather enough courage. “You’re-”
“Deaf,” Dowoon croaks out, voice raspy with disuse. He talks like he’s playing a guessing game, unsure and shaky in his pronunciation, stilted too, but he’s talking and Brian finds himself wanting to hear more. “Say it.” Dowoon gestures at his ears, hands flitting around like they want to spell the words logged on his throat, painted sentences Brian won’t understand. “It’s- it’s okay.”
“I’m-” I’m sorry, is what Brian intended to say, but he’s not, not really. He has no reason to be sorry for Dowoon, who looks amused more than anything else, still sipping calmly on his drink. “I didn’t know,” is what he settles for in the end.
Dowoon shrugs. It’s no big deal, the gesture says. Still, Brian feels like it is, not for the reasons Dowoon may think, though.
“I’m glad, though, to know now,” Brian says, smiles in the same breath because for him it is a big deal, it means understanding Dowoon a bit better than he did before. “Now I realise you weren’t ignoring me.”
“I was,” Dowoon says, chewing on the words, taking his time with each of the words, voice rough like gravel but more than welcomed nonetheless. He smirks too, well-meaning enough for Brian to huff out an incredulous laugh and point at his bloody lip.
“I took a punch for you,” Brian reminds him, finds himself fighting off a smile when Dowoon raises an eyebrow at him, plainly stating I didn't ask you to. And fine, maybe he didn’t, but Brian wasn’t going to let him get beaten up while he just stood there and watched. He may be an asshole, yeah, but he’s not going to let someone get hurt when he can do something about it. “A thank you would be nice, at the very least.”
Dowoon stares at him for a moment, eyes settling on his lips for a bit longer than necessary, maybe, before he reaches into his pocket, places a packet of tissues and - is that an egg? - on the table in front of him.
Brian stares at it, snaps his head up not a moment later when he hears a deep, stuttering sort of sound. It’s - it’s Dowoon’s laugh, he realises as he watches Dowoon’s eye crinkle softly at the corners, watches how his shoulder shake in mirth.
Dowoon stops when he sees him staring. Brian catches a glimpse of the red tips of his ears when Dowoon leans forward to push the egg closer to him.
“Here,” he says softly, pointing at his own cheek. Brian complies, holding the egg against his cheekbone like all the ajummas tell little children to do to their scrapes and bruises.
They're quiet as Brian places the lukewarm egg against his bruised cheek. Brian has never been comfortable with silence, never really knew what to do with it when he found himself caught in it, but Dowoon is still drinking from his straw and looking content as he watches Brian watch him in return. He’s smiling too, the curve of it highlighted by the fluorescent lights of the store behind them both and Brian can’t help but smile back, even when it aches and pulls at his bruised skin.
“I have to go now,” Brian says regretfully after enough time has passed for them to begin shivering in the cold and the corner store to close. “You should head home too. But I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
Dowoon nods, swift and firm, and something in him, some lingering doubt, eases at the gesture. Brian stands up, waves him goodbye, regretful to leave but finding comfort in the thought that it’s only few hours until he sees him again.
Brian’s a few blocks away when he hears the hurried steps. He turns around, alert, only to find Dowoon hurrying towards him, a somewhat sheepish expression on his face as he comes to stand next to Brian.
“What are you-” Brian starts to question, doesn’t get really to finish because Dowoon places his palm over his mouth to stop him, warm in the cool nighttime air.
When he’s sure Brian won’t speak, Dowoon brings his arms out, spreading out his palms out and placing them one on top of the other and shaking them once. Brian watches him, commits the movement to memory as Dowoon gives him one last smile and turns on his heel and walks away.
“Hey!” Brian calls out to him when he sees him leaving- “hey, wait!” - before he realises how stupid he’s being and huffs out an annoyed breath. Honestly, who does that? Brian won’t play along, he’ll ask Dowon what he meant tomorrow. He can wait.
(Later, after a hurried search on the internet because Dowoon is a brat who likes to play games and Brian is weak, so weak, Brian recognizes the gesture for what it is.
Arms out, spread palms.Thank you.
Brian laughs, long and unburdened and thinks that he can’t wait for tomorrow to come.)