Alfred F. Jones and Yong Soo Im had been inseparable since the second grade. One early afternoon in September, Alfred had been on the blacktop during recess, sidewalk chalk in hand, drawing strange figures.
Yong Soo ran up to the crouching boy with no purpose in mind. "Hey!" he practically shouted.
Alfred stopped his drawings and looked up from his spot on the ground. "Hey," he replied.
"What are you drawing!" the other boy asked in the same loud voice.
Alfred shifted and sat on his butt. "The consolations."
"What's the consolations!"
"They're the shapes that the stars form in the sky! The one right here is Gemini," Al answered as he pointed to the "consolation" next to him, drawn in yellow. It was a pretty accurate diagram for an eight-year-old. "That's the Big Dipper an' the Lil' Dipper," he continued, pointing across the blacktop to two constellations drawn in blue.
"Why are you drawin' the stars?" Yong Soo asked, scratching his head.
"Because, I love spaaaaaaaace!" Alfred hollered. "When I grow up, I wanna be an astronaut and go to Venus. I wanted to be a cowboy, but Momma says no one does that anymore. What do you wanna be when you grow up?"
"Hmmm…I never thought about it before. My big cousin Yao is almost a grown-up and he's really good at math, so I think he's gonna be a math guy. He's really smart. Y'know, most other kids always ask me where I'm from!"
Alfred shrugged. "That's kinda rude of 'em. My momma an' Rick sez never do that."
At the end of the school day, Yong Soo's big cousin came by to pick him up, and Alfred and Yong Soo said "'bye, seeya tomorrow" to each other.
From that day on, they came as a pair.
They often visited each other's home; Alfred met Yong Soo's cousins and second cousins because they were always around, and Yong Soo met Alfred's small family of his mom, stepdad, and stepbrother.
Yong Soo's big cousin Yao was around most, along with Yao's little brother Li Xiao. Yao was in the eleventh grade at the high school, and Li Xiao was in kindergarten. Yong Soo's second cousin Kiku was in the seventh grade, and Alfred liked messing with him the most. Al learned all sorts of new things from his friend's family, and he was always welcome at the Im residence. Al had even taken to giving Yaong Soo's mom hugs when he arrived and when he left.
In school, they were quite often grouped together. The pair was normally rambunctious but admittedly very intelligent. They came up with the craziest ideas and made sure they came into fruition.
When their names were spoken, it was often as "Al and Yong Soo," in conjunction with each other. When Yao graduated from high school, Alfred had been invited to the party. And Yong Soo had been right: Yao was going to be a "math guy." That year, Alfred had also been chosen as "student of the year" for third grade (the others had included a kid named Ludwig in fourth grade and a kid named Lukas in fifth grade).
In middle school, Alfred suddenly got really popular, despite being a nerdy little dude with glasses. He joined the basketball team but still had time to make straight A's and, of course, hang out with 'Soo. The kids they had gone to elementary school with had told their middle school teachers "Al and 'Soo are practically married, you can't split them up." And at first the teachers had tried, but the two gravitated towards each other.
Upon entrance to high school, Alfred still wanted to go to space, and Yong Soo still had no idea what to do. The two of them were absolutely psyched about high school though. Alfred's stepbrother, Matthew, was hoping to be finally separated from the two, so he latched onto a nice sophomore named Tino with a funny accent; with Tino came the juniors Berwald and Lukas (whose younger brother was friends with Li Xiao, Yong Soo's little cousin) and the senior Mathias. It was an odd group, but Matthew didn't mind, as long as he was away from Alfred.
Al joined the football team and became a rising star, while balancing honors classes and lots of friends. Meanwhile, Yong Soo cheered him on from the side while trying to get into AP classes early (and eventually joining the cross-country team).They were both popular, but still a pair. If inviting one to a party, the other should be expected too. The "married" joke continued to be made.
Within circles of friends, dating started and drama happened. Rumors started spreading about Ludwig and Feliciano; Erzsebet came out of the closet as bisexual; even Matt had started getting close with this guy called Gil. But through it all, Al and 'Soo stayed on the sidelines and laughed. All they needed was their bromance.
One night towards the end of freshman year, Yong Soo was over at Alfred's house, having dinner with the family, which was not at all unusual.
"So, Al, Yong Soo, how are things going with the rest of your friends?" Mrs. Williams asked after swallowing a spoonful of corn.
"Oh, same old, same old, y'know? So-and-so likes this person, blah blah blah," Alfred replied with a roll of his eyes.
"Do you know anyone graduating?" Alfred's stepfather asked.
"Mathias is," Matthew replied.
"Oh that's right!" Mrs. Williams replied. "Is he having a party?"
Matthew huffed a laugh at his stepmom. "Of course he is. And you know, he promised Lukas they'd be staying together no matter what."
Mrs. Williams frowned. "Hmm. Are they really sure that'll work out?"
Matthew shrugged. "Who knows? Mat is stubborn enough."
"So," Mrs. Williams turned to Alfred and Yong Soo, "are you two planning on doing any dating?" She winked.
Alfred choked on his meat and had a coughing fit. He took his glasses off and placed his head on his arm, which was resting on the table. "Holy mackerel, Mom," he groaned.
"Sorry, I was just asking! Apparently not…"
"Now, Angie, they're just fifteen!" Alfred's stepfather spoke up. "Let them have fun with their friends and focus on their grades."
"Thanks, Rick," Alfred groaned, his face still hidden. Yong Soo was smirking.
"So, Matt, about you and Gil," Mrs. Williams continued.
Matthew blushed heavily. "There's definitely nothing going on."
"Okay, Tino and Ber."
"They're practically already married," Alfred replied, his voice still muffled.
"Uh…Emil and Li Xiao?"
"They're like thirteen!" Matthew protested.
"But if they don't end up married, then something's up!" Yong Soo chimed in.
"What about Gil's brother?" Rick contributed. "Ludwig?"
"And Feliciano! Oh, and Feli's brother too. Isn't he graduating?" Angie added.
Alfred lifted his head. "One: we don't talk about Lud and Feli, because no one really knows what's going on either. Two: yes, Lovino's graduating, and yes, he's still with Toño. Can we not talk about this anymore?"
"Okay, fine, but one last question. What about your other cousins, 'Soo?" Angie asked.
Yong Soo snickered. "Oh, please, they've got their heads in their studies, and too many sticks shoved way up their—"
"Alright!" Rick interrupted. "Enough about dating, and finish your supper."
Most of the rest of high school passed breezily for them (including Matthew). Alfred ended up being a football star and straight-A student; Yong Soo breezed through AP courses and earned 4s and 5s on the exams; and Matthew was editor of the yearbook their senior year. Alfred was one of the most popular guys in school, and Yong Soo was his faithful sidekick.
When they graduated, however, a party was not thrown. Alfred and Yong Soo had been invited to several, of course, but they decided to spend the summer as bros; Matthew spent time with Gil, his now-boyfriend, who had graduated the year before.
Al and 'Soo were going to the same university; Alfred was studying astrophysics, and Yong Soo said he was going to do "something lame like marketing." Alfred had most of his tuition covered by scholarships, while Yong Soo had a full ride.
The unbreakable duo did, in fact, stick together during college, and the "married" joke was still alive. When they weren't together, another friend would ask, "Hey, don't you have a life partner to get home to?" The two best friends made friends in their own areas of study, who would often become friends with the other. Years later, they were still "Al 'n 'Soo." When they upgraded from on-campus housing to a two-bedroom apartment, naturally they lived together. It quickly turned into something resembling a bachelor's pad.
"Hey, are you going to Al 'n 'Soo's this weekend?"
"Oh god I gotta tell you what happened at Al 'n 'Soo's the other day…"
"I have to go soon, Al 'n 'Soo are having a Lord of the Rings marathon party, and I don't want to miss Bilbo's birthday party."
The two of them had grown into very attractive young men, a far cry from the nerds with braces who had played Yu-Gi-Oh! in sixth grade. They still played the game, of course, and Alfred still preferred glasses to contacts, but they were both the subjects of many a silly crush. The duo were either oblivious or just ignored it.
But then friends started getting married. Friends from high school. Friends who had been together since high school. The first pair to get married was Lukas and Mathias, who had defied all odds and had stayed together through college, had graduated, and then had moved to Oslo. Yong Soo had found out from his cousin Li Xiao, who was dating Lukas's brother Emil.
The Bondevik-Køhler marriage had launched a series of engagements and weddings. Alfred Franklin Jones and Yong Soo Im, meanwhile, entered no long-term relationships; their bro-hood was just enough for them.
Yong Soo graduated a year before Alfred. Berwald and Tino, who had married not much longer after Mathias and Lukas, had adopted. Matthew, Alfred's stepbrother, was living together with Gil, who was still his boyfriend. Ludwig and Feliciano were finally together; and Lovino and Antonio were as good as married.
Yong Soo and Alfred still lived in that same apartment, which had really become a bachelor pad. They had movie posters up on the walls and Lord of the Rings action figures on display. Their dishes didn't match, and they'd gotten an armchair from a yard sale. In front of the television (the most expensive thing in the entire place) were a Nintendo 64, a Sega, a Game Cube, and an XBOX 360.
One afternoon, Alfred came in to Yong Soo staring at the blank TV screen, a grim look on his face.
"What's up, dude? Felly-tision probs?" Alfred asked, slightly concerned.
Without looking at his friend, Yong Soo replied in a monotone, "Yao came out."
"Heavens to Murgatroyd! Seriously?"
"Yeah, man, and he's been shacking up with someone too."
Alfred ran his fingers through his hair, a bewildered look on his face. "Is everyone I know gay?"
"Don't know. Why?"
"Kiku's got himself a man too," Alfred sighed, dropping his bag and flopping onto the couch beside his roommate. "And the worst part is he's hot as hell."
This time, Yong Soo snickered, erasing the dazed look on his face. His eyes flickered up to the "Official Bro Code" posted on the wall beside the television; the "Bro Code" had been written by Matthew's cousin Francis, who was often mistaken for a man-whore, but actually had a strict set of personal rules. After all, who likes a man that acts like a Neanderthal? No one, that's who.
The same night, Alfred was on the futon in his bedroom, reading up on some research, except actually not. He thought mostly of his best friend, who was in the other room with loud music blasting through his rather expensive speakers. Yong Soo, who walked around the apartment in nothing in boxers, showing off his nice chest and gorgeous shoulders, and…
"I am so gay," Alfred groaned, his face hidden in his book.
Two rooms over, Yong Soo had music playing, but he had no idea what was even on. He was too busy moping over his dumb best friend, and those dumb blue eyes, and that dumb fantastic butt, and that stupid smile.
"I am so screwed," Yong Soo sighed.
It took a week.
Alfred was relaxing on the couch watching TV. He was exhausted from papers and quizzes and exams; he was so close to graduating.
Yong Soo launched himself and landed square on top of Alfred.
"Jesus Harvey Christ, dude! You're not eleven anymore! You just can't do shit like that anymore!" Alfred cried, groaning in pain, as Yong Soo laughed his ass off and sat on his best friend's stomach.
"How's class going, man!" Yong Soo asked through bouts of laughter.
"Shitty as hell, so glad I'm on the final stretch, oh man…" Alfred said in a strained voice. "Get off my goddamn stomach, ass, swear to God you weight like three hundred goddamn pounds."
"What a wuss!" Yong Soo cackled, and plucked Alfred's glasses off his face. "No way, Alfredo Sauce."
"You're the worst, the absolute worst. Jesus David Christ."
Yong Soo suddenly stopped laughing. "Oh. Shit. I'm sorry!" He jumped off. "Am I crushing your organs? Did I break anything? Are you okay?"
"Yes I'm okay! I—"
"I read something the other day about asphyxiation, and maybe—"
"Wow, 'Soo, shut the fuck up."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!"
"Move your fat ass out of the way! And give me back my glasses! I can't see the news!"
Yong Soo finally shut up and dropped said glasses back on their owner's chest. He moved over to sit on the ancient armchair.
Alfred spoke up after a while of silence. "You know, I don't actually think you're fat."
Yong Soo didn't reply. He kept his eyes on the sports segment of the news, even though he didn't give a shit about it.
Alfred continued. "In fact, I—Never mind. That's dumb."
"Tell me." Yong Soo demanded.
"Tell me! Please!"
Do it! Tell me! Or I'll jump on you again!"
"No, you douchebag!" Alfred rolled over and hid his face in the back of the couch, but then quickly changed his mind. "Oh goddamn that smells."
"Tell me what you were gonna say, you dick! No take-backs!"
"I'm not gonna do it!" Alfred shouted while getting up and running off, Yong Soo chasing him.
They were twenty-three years old, and they were acting like a day hadn't passed since they'd met.
Alfred ran for cover in the bathroom, and locked the door, just barely escaping. He sat on the floor, pulling his knees up to his chest, and listened to his best friend-slash-crush outside.
"What were you gonna say?" Yong Soo shouted through the door.
Alfred heaved a pathetic sigh and pressed his face to his knees. "I was gonna say I think you're pretty hot," he said in a muffled voice.
"What was that?"
Alfred lifted his head. "I said you're hot, goddammit!" he called almost desperately.
"I told you I think you're pretty attractive, now stop fucking with me!" Alfred said in a louder, shakier voice.
"Oh goddammit all to Hell," Alfred said into his knees.
"Unlock the door."
"Noooooo…" Alfred whined.
"Unlock it, Al."
I am such a pussy, Alfred thought as he unlocked the door.
Yong Soo opened the door, crouched to Alfred's level, and stared at him. "Look at me."
"You sure are one demanding sumbitch. Fine."
Yong Soo gazed into Alfred's eyes. "I think your booty's pretty fly, too."
"Jerk!" Alfred pushed 'Soo over. "Don't make fun!"
"You reckless moron! I wasn't making fun!"
"Then what were you doing?!"
Yong Soo decided to sit and cross his legs. Two mostly-grown adults sat on the bathroom floor, one of whom was sulking. "Okay, so like, I'm pretty into you, and uh." He cursed in Korean. "I'm asking if you're into me too."
"Maybe I am," Alfred told his knees.
"Sorry, you're gonna have to speak up."
"Then maybe you shouldn't listen to your music so loud. Or yell so much. Geez Louise."
Yong Soo laughed. "You're such a dork!" he proclaimed, then said in a calmer voice, "That's one thing I really like about you."
Alfred nearly choked. "Help. I'm having feelings."
Yong Soo wrapped his arms around Alfred's torso as Alfred burrowed even further into himself. "Big baby."
"Feelings are bad, rockets are good," Alfred whined, quoting something he'd said more than a decade before.
"C'mon, Alfredo Sauce. Stop being dumb," Yong Soo admonished, and took his arms from around Alfred. "Sit up. Look at me."
"You're so bossy," Alfred muttered, but complied. They faced each other.
"Um." Al fidgeted awkwardly under Yong Soo's gaze. "Can we, like. Kiss?"
It was 'Soo's turn to wuss out. He blushed heavily. "Do you really want to?"
"If you'll be my boyfriend and go out with me 'n stuff."
Alfred slowly leaned over Yong Soo's lap, then rushed into it and clumsily bumped his lips onto Yong Soo's. Alfred pulled away and said in a hushed tone, "I'm not very experienced at this."
"At least you're pretty," Yong Soo deadpanned in the same hushed tone.
"You're still a douchebag."
"Why are we whispering?"
Alfred kissed him again, this time with more ease. He rested one hand on Yong Soo's shoulder while the other held the side of Yong Soo's face. They stayed like that for a while, just sitting on the bathroom floor and kissing in complete silence.
After what felt like several hours but couldn't have been longer than twenty minutes, Yong Soo pulled away forcefully, and said with an impish grin, "How about a handjob?"
Alfred punched Yong Soo in the arm, and then said, "Wait. For whom?"
Yong Soo thought it over, then waggled his eyebrows. "Both of us?" he suggested.
"Okay, fine, but then you're taking me out to dinner."