Pairing/Focus: Jongkey, side Onho
Summary: As an omega, Kim Kibum, grows up sequestered from the rest of society at an academy that grooms its students to be the perfect companions for the wealthy alphas that run the country. However, he still believes in the power of choice, a belief which causes him trouble when he runs into Kim Jonghyun, heir of one of Korea's top chaebol families and an alpha who believes in power rather than choice.
Author's Note: This fic is a fill for this prompt over at the Jongkey Kink Meme. I originally didn't want to write any omegaverse fic because I thought it would be too similar to something else I'm working on. However, the plot bunny got me hard.
This will be long (it's the only way I do things), so please bear with me on the world-building.
Also, no, there is no tiger fucking in this story. The title refers to the Korean proverb, "speak of the tiger and it will come". So basically the Korean version of "speak of the devil".
Lastly, this is unbeta'd so advance apologies for spelling and grammar mistakes.
Kibum is nine years old when he first encounters a collared omega.
It’s a crisp October day and his family is one of the many that flood Juwangsan National Park to view the brilliant autumn foliage blanketing the landscape. Kibum, who has never exactly been the outdoorsy type, endures the long hike up and down the mountain without a single complaint only because his father promised him ice cream if he did. When they finally make their way back to the car, though, he’s so exhausted he passes out right away in the backseat only to be awoken what feels like a second later.
“Where are we?” he asks, rubbing his eyes blearily. In the distance, he can still hear the roar of cars speeding down the highway.
“At a rest stop,” his mother answers. “Your dad needed to use the bathroom. Do you want something to drink, honey? There’s a convenience store nearby.”
Kibum nods, yawning. His throat feels scratchy from thirst and the aching muscles in his legs could use the stretch.
Hand in hand, he and his mother head into the store. He snags a bottle of apple juice and a chocolate ice cream bar after remembering his father’s promise. His mother picks up some coffee for her and her husband.
They’re in line behind a young woman buying some emergency pantyhose—there’s a long, ragged run up the pair she’s wearing—when the bell above the door dings and another customer walks in.
The man who enters is young, tall but in lean way that suggests that he hasn’t completely finished broadening out. A pair of ratty-looking jeans hang low on his hips, and he’s wearing a rumpled grey t-shirt, the logo worn beyond recognition. There are dark crescents underneath his eyes that hint at prolonged exhaustion, and his skin is a little too pale, like there’s not enough blood circulating in his veins.
In Kibum’s eyes, the stranger doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but for some reason, his mother stiffens when she sees him.
She’s not the only one. It’s like an electric current passes through the room, jolting every adult into abrupt hyper-awareness of the newcomer’s presence.
Kibum watches as the young man heads towards the back of the store. He slides open the door of one of the refrigerators lining the wall and casually pulls out two bottles of soju.
“Kibum.” His mother’s hand settles on his shoulder and squeezes. “You shouldn’t stare.”
It’s not like he’s the only one. There are five other people in the store besides him and his mother: the middle-aged cashier, two teenage boys eating ramen at the back table, a man in a suit standing in the snack aisle, and the young woman in front of them in line. All of them have their eyes fixed on the new arrival, some more discreetly than others.
The young man passes Kibum and his mother on the way up to the check-out counter. As he brushes by, Kibum feels his mother’s fingers dig slightly into his shoulder. He looks up and sees the light catch on something around the man’s neck.
It’s a thin strip of metal no wider than Kibum's littlest finger. The battered metal band is a faded dark red, the color of wilted roses. There’s an engraving on the side.
The man cuts into the front of the line, unceremoniously plunking his two bottles on the counter. To Kibum’s surprise, neither his mother or the young woman in front of them protest the sudden intrusion. It’s like they’re both making a concentrated effort to avoid interacting with him.
“Two thousand won,” the cashier says. Her voice is frosty and her mouth is drawn in a thin line of displeasure. Kibum wonders what the stranger did to warrant such unmasked contempt.
The man is in the midst of opening his wallet when the businessman in the suit walks up to the cash register and lays down two thousand won notes.
“Here,” he says. “It’s on me.”
He smiles, but it’s a strained expression, the corners of his mouth twitching ever so slightly. His suit jacket is unbuttoned, revealing a wrinkled blue dress shirt underneath. He’s wearing dark slacks that need hemming. He looks like your average salary man.
“No thanks,” the younger man says cooly. He doesn’t even glance in the other man's direction, just shoves his money back towards him.
“But I insist.” The man in the suit is leaking a foul, oily desperation, a putrid scent that makes Kibum want to bury his face in his mother’s skirt to block it out.
The younger man scoffs, throws a few of his own bills on the counter and makes to leave.
He doesn’t get very far. The older man grabs him by the wrist.
“What? My money’s not good enough for you?” There’s a frantic, dangerous edge to his voice that makes Kibum tense. His eyes look a little unfocused and he’s breathing heavily like he can’t get enough oxygen in his lungs.
“Darling,” the younger man drawls, his eyes narrowing, “don’t even pretend like you could afford me.”
The older man’s face contorts into an ugly scowl, purpling with rage as he spits, “No wonder no one wanted you.”
The younger man’s mouth curls into a wry smile. “And you don’t? Can you even smell yourself? You’ve been hard ever since I walked in here.”
“You son of a bitch!” The older man grabs him by the front of his shirt. The cashier screams as he throws the younger man onto the counter. One of the bottles of soju crashes to the floor and shatters. Kibum’s mother grabs him by the wrist, practically dislocating his shoulder as she yanks him back. He spills juice all over himself in the confusion.
What is happening?
The two men grapple for a moment before the man in the suit lets out a savage growl and slams the younger man’s head on the table. Dazed, he goes limp, and in an instant, the older man is all over him, lining their bodies up, pinning the other man down with his weight. Kibum sees him bury his face into the younger man’s throat right before his mother claps a hand over his eyes. It doesn’t stop him from hearing the harsh, shuddering breaths or the guttural moan that escapes the man in the suit.
“What the hell is going on here?”
That’s his father voice. His mother uncovers his eyes just in time for him to catch his father striding into the store and over to the commotion at the counter. In one swift motion, he pulls off the man in the suit.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” The man’s face is so twisted with rage that he barely looks human.
Instead of answering, Kibum’s father pulls back his fist and punches the other man in the face. He flies back, hand clutched to his nose, blood leaking through his fingers.
“Shit! You broke my nose!”
“That’s not the only thing I’ll break if you don’t get the fuck out of here,” his father snaps.
Kibum’s mouth drops open.
His dad just said ‘fuck’!
The man glowers for a moment but Kibum’s father stares him down. Eventually, he gathers himself up and heads out the door, glass crunching under his heels. Right before he exits, he shoots the young man sprawled on the counter one last glare, a look roiling with disgust and a twisted kind of hunger.
Once the man in the suit is gone, Kibum’s father approaches the other man and pulls him up.
“You’re not hurt or anything are you?” he asks, his eyebrows creased with worry.
Gingerly, the younger man gets to his feet. He looks a little shaken but otherwise intact. The skin on his throat is a bit red and shiny with something Kibum suspects is saliva.
“I’m fine.” He laughs, a brittle, jagged sound that makes Kibum flinch. “So much for my day off, huh?”
Kibum’s father's still seems concerned.
“Look, son.” Kibum knows that voice; it’s his father’s lecture voice. “I’m not sure what your situation is, but you should get yourself to a shelter or something. They’d take care of you there. Maybe find you a bond-mate so things like this don’t happen anymore.”
The younger man doubles over with laughter like Kibum’s father has just cracked a hilarious joke. “Sorry, pops.” He taps the metal ring around his neck, his smile awfully hollow. “I’m damaged goods, see?”
Kibum’s father doesn’t get a chance to protest. The other man swipes the remaining soju bottle off the table and—without so much as a goodbye—strolls out of the store.
Kibum's father looks over at his mother, his expression grim.
“I really wish there was something we could do for kids like him,” he says wistfully.
“Don’t bother,“ the cashier sniffs. She steps out from behind the counter, broom in hand. “He and a bunch of his kind work at a cathouse right off the highway exit. The owner usually keeps them penned up during the day, but sometimes they come out and every time they cause me trouble.”
Kibum’s family helps her clean up the mess caused by the scuffle. In the end, she gives them their drinks and ice cream for free.
As they walk back towards their car, Kibum asks, “Dad, what’s a cathouse? Is that like a place where you keep cats?”
“Yes.” His father shoots his mother an amused grin. “Something like that.”
“And then he hits the other man like ‘Bam!’”
Kibum is retelling the story of his father heroics to Taemin, his next-door neighbor. A little while after supper, the younger boy had come over to play, so he took it as an opportunity to spread the tale of his father’s feat of bravery.
“The other guy tries to take a swing at my dad, but he misses! Then my dad flying jump kicks him in the face! There was blood everywhere!”
Okay, so maybe he was embellishing the truth with a few things that didn’t exactly happen, but all story tellers have some creative license, don’t they?
“And then what happened?” Taemin asks, his eyes huge with wonder.
“And then.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “My dad uses the word.”
Taemin frowns. “What word?”
“You know,” he urges, “the bad one.”
Taemin continues to stare at him blankly.
Kibum sighs. Sometimes having a best friend who’s two years younger is beyond frustrating. Sure, the unadulterated hero worship is nice, but there are just so many things that Taemin doesn’t know.
“Never mind,” he continues. “Anyways, my dad throws this man out of the store and goes over to the other guy and helps him up.”
“Did he thank your dad?” Taemin asks.
“Uh, no. Not exactly.”
Taemin looks offended on Kibum’s father’s behalf. “Well, that’s rude. Your dad just saved him!”
Kibums scratches his head. “He was kind of weird actually.”
Taemin cocks his head. “What do you mean?”
“Well, he was wearing this strange ring around his neck. Maybe it was a necklace, but I don’t know why he would wear it because it was ugly and it didn’t look very comfortable. Also, there was just something different about him. It was like…” He thinks for a moment, trying to grasp for the right words to describe the effect the young man had on the room. “You know how Mindy likes to sit next to the window and watch the birds outside?”
Taemin nods. Mindy is Kibum’s cat, a fluffy, silver Persian that bites and scratches everyone besides Kibum—which of course means that he loves her to pieces.
“It was like this guy was the bird and the other guy was the cat. The way he looked at him was so intense it was kinda freaky. Like he wanted to eat him or something.” He wrinkles his nose. “Come to think of it, I think he actually licked his neck.”
Taemin’s round face scrunches up in disgust. “Ew. Why?”
Kibum shrugs and folds his legs underneath him. He picks up one of the puzzle pieces lying abandoned on the floor. “I don’t know. Grown-ups are weird like that.”
Taemin nods in silent agreement.
Like most children, Kibum learns at a young age that some people are alphas, some are betas, and very few are omegas. He’s not sure, though, what exactly it means to be one or the other. The grown-ups around him aren’t keen on giving details and what little they do offer about the subject matter always turns out to be mystifyingly vague.
He knows for a fact that both his parents are alphas because they tell him so. However, when he asks what makes a person an alpha, they remain elusive.
“It’s something you’ll know when you’re older,” his mother informs him as she sets the table.
“Will I be an alpha too?” he wonders.
His father ruffles his hair. “There’s a good chance you will. These things usually get passed down the dad’s side. Since I’m an alpha, you’ll probably be one too.”
His answer doesn’t fully satisfy Kibum’s curiosity, but it does quell some of his worries. He’s seen the boys at school roughhousing, shoving and punching each other while proclaiming their impending alphahood. It’s reassuring to see that real alphas like his parents aren’t such hooligans. Kibum prefers to play with the girls, who are just as bossy but less prone to leaving him bruised and dirtied.
In the fifth grade, he and the rest of his year start attending a mandatory class called “Adapting to Adolescence”, which ends up being just as dry and boring as its name suggests.
For the first few months, they endure a seemingly endless barrage of personality evaluations and IQ tests. Becoming a grown-up apparently involves answering a bunch of random questions about his preferred leadership style and trying to make sense of lots black and white squares and circles. What puzzles Kibum is that unlike his other tests, he doesn’t get to see any of his results. This bothers him only because whenever he shows his parents a good test score, they reward him with a hundred won. In fact, neither he nor his parents are privy to his exam results, but since his mother and father don’t seem too concerned about the matter, he takes their cue and doesn’t trouble himself too much about it.
After a few months, the tests finally come to an end. However, just as he thinks they’re going to get a break from all the tedium, he and his classmates are put into smaller groups split by gender and then herded off into separate rooms to begin the second stage of the course.
Every session they’re assigned a worksheet with diagrams to complete. The assignments all accompany an educational film series titled “Change Can Be Great!” Each video is narrated by an annoyingly exuberant cartoon tiger named Horannie who covers a vast variety of teen-related topics ranging from gang violence to dealing with academic stress.
There’s one dedicated to the physical changes that occur in boys during puberty, but it doesn’t provide Kibum with any information he didn’t know before. He’s not stupid. He doesn’t need an overly enthusiastic animated cat to tell him that his shoulders will broaden and his voice will deepen as he ages. All he has to do is look as his father or any other man to figure that out.
Some of the videos are more bewildering. By far, the most bizarre film is “Facts About Pheromones“. The main point of the film seems to condense to “It’s not polite to sniff people without their permission” which makes Kibum ponder a) why would anyone not know that and b) why would anyone feel compelled sniff another person in the first place?
Like most of his classmates, Kibum finds the whole affair dull and tedious, which is why he barely pays any attention the day the teacher pops in the dreaded DVD once more and clicks on the eighth chapter in the menu, “There’s a Place for Everyone!”
“Hi, kids!” says Horannie with his usual, irritatingly false cheer. “Today we’re going to talk about alphas, betas, and omegas!”
“Now that you’re growing up, you’re probably wondering what kind of adult you’re going to be. Will you be an alpha?”
The scene flickers to a shot of an office where a middle-aged man and woman in hilariously outdated hairstyles and business attire wave happily at the camera.
“Or a beta?”
Two workers wearing protective eye gear put down their soldering irons and give two thumbs-up.
“Or an omega?”
The scene changes to focus on a smiling man and woman, each cradling a sleeping infant.
“Just remember, it doesn’t matter who you are because there’s a place for everyone!”
Kibum zones out within the first five minutes, concentrating instead on doodling a vast fleet of space ships and armies of warring robots riding astride fanged unicorns along the margins of his paper. Right before class ends, he hastily scribbles down a few half-halfheartedly answers and turns in his assignment.
When she reads his answer, his teacher has a good laugh.
Define each of the following:
Alphas – bossy and talk too much
Betas – boring
Omegas – lazy and stay home because only alphas like them
When Kibum is eleven, his parents take him to Seoul where they visit a Jackson Pollock exhibition. Afterwards, as they’re eating lunch in a restaurant nearby, he informs them that he’s going to be an artist.
“Even I can paint better than that,” he boasts haughtily.
His parents are amused enough by his proposal that they sign him up for weekly drawing lessons at an art academy.
At first, Kibum is thrilled to join the class. However, he quickly tires of the rote exercises the instructors force him to do. There are only so many times a person can draw circles before going crazy. He soon learns—to his absolute horror—that he’s not even allowed to use color until his third year.
Art without color? What madness has he gotten himself into?
Luckily, his parents let him drop the class and encourage him to exercise his creative sensibilities outside the classroom. They convert the extra bedroom in their apartment into a makeshift studio and buy him an easel and a set of acrylic paints. Kibum spends hours holed up in there, lost to time as he makes lines and shapes bloom beneath his brush, savoring the way they eat up the white of the canvas.
Soon, his budding interest spreads to other parts of the apartment as his paintings infiltrate the walls of the living room, the kitchen, his parents’ bedroom. His father even hangs a large portrait Kibum paints of Mindy in his office because it makes him laugh every time a client asks him why his family’s cat is pea green.
The only space that remains free of Kibum’s paintings is his own bedroom, which he dedicates to artists and artworks that catch his eye. Postcards of Cezanne’s still lifes and Jasper Johns’s collages slowly speckle the area above his desk. He robs his father's printer of all its ink the day he discovers Odilon Redon, whose pastels he plasters all over his closet doors, the images like teardrops collected from a weeping rainbow. A large poster of Franz Marc’s Tiger hovers above his bed, greeting everyone who enters with its stern, cryptic yellow eye. He tacks a reproduction of De Kooning’s Woman I on his door but takes it down the very next day after he has nightmares of being eviscerated by unseen forces.
Kibum curates his room with a child’s instinctive, magpie-like sensibilities, and within a year, all four walls of his room breathe a kaleidoscope of colors.
The adults who chance upon his collection and his paintings are always quick heap astonished praises and gushing compliments upon him and his parents.
“What a precocious boy!” they exclaim.
“If only my child were this creative,” they sigh.
His parents glow faintly at their words, immensely proud of their budding young artist.
At the age of eleven, Kibum’s future is looking very bright indeed.
In the middle of June, a student disappears from Kibum’s class.
Her name is Kwon Hyewon, a shy, demure girl who often came to school with lopsided pigtails. She and Kibum were never close, but she sat for a portrait for him last spring during recess. She had a charming, crooked smile that he had wanted to commit to paper.
She was a pale slip of a girl, one who rarely made a fuss over anything and never caused anyone trouble. Still, everyone notices the fact that one day she’s there and the next day she’s gone. Her little cubby has been cleared out and her nametag stripped from her desk.
Her sudden departure is the hottest topic of that day, and eventually the teacher gathers all the children in her class together to address the rumors before they get anymore out of hand.
“As all of you have noticed, Hyewon is not in class today.”
“Is she sick?” Kibum asks.
“Is she dead?” a considerably less tactful student blurts out.
“Jaebum!” Mrs. Ryu shoots him a withering glare. “What a terrible thing to say! Hyewon is not sick and she is most certainly not dead. She had to leave because she was chosen to attend a special school.”
“What kind of school?" a girl inquires.
“A school that can better cater to her needs,” Mrs. Ryu explains. “A school for omegas.”
Kibum and the rest of his classmates immediately start muttering among themselves. He never knew that omegas had to leave their regular schools, though it would explain why he's never met a teenager who identified as one. What sort of special needs did omegas have anyways?
The students have more questions, but their teacher passes them over in favor of giving them a lengthy lecture on respecting other people’s privacy and the ruinous effects of thoughtless gossip. By the end of her tirade, her students are willing to drop their line of questioning in order to escape and make it to lunch on time.
It doesn’t take very long for Hyewon and her messy pigtails and her rare, imperfect smiles to slip from everyone’s minds.
Sixth grade turns out to be a more stressful version of fifth grade. On top of having to deal with a new battery of tests, everyone is getting increasingly anxious about middle school. There’s a sense of impeding loss that permeates everything as students prepare to abandon the comfortable familiarity of the people and place that have grown close to them in order to enter a new stage in their lives and greet a sea of unknown faces.
Kibum worries about a lot of things. He worries about the school he’ll be attending and the color—please, anything but grey—his uniform will be. There aren’t any co-ed middle schools in his area, and having been a part of the girls for so long, he fears he won’t fit in at an all-boys school. He worries he won’t be able to make any new friends. He worries more that the old ones will forget him.
His worries, small and insignificant as they may be, grow into a cloud of dread that looms over him, oppressive and inescapable.
He paints to distract himself from the uncertainties of his future. By now, he’s moved on to watercolors, a medium he’s finding exceptionally hard to control. He makes one muddy painting after another until he finally gives in to a fit of frustration and throws out all the pigments except for one tube of red. He commits himself to red, exploring the range of feelings he draw out of a single color.
“Picasso had a blue period,” his father chuckles, examining the bundle of brilliant red sunflowers his son has just finished painting. “I guess you can have a red one.”
Kibum’s anxiety bleed through his brush. There’s a restless urgency buzzing underneath his skin these days, like he’s constantly charged with a surplus of energy, a fuse waiting to ignite. He feels like there’s an immense, unnamable force building up inside of him, contained only by a thin veil of flesh.
Sometimes he’s seized with the urge to scream just to feel his lungs wring themselves empty. On one occasion, when both his parents aren’t home, he gives in to the impulse and scares the living daylights of his cat. A minute later, the wife of a neighboring family is pounding on his front door, worried someone’s been murdered.
His parents notice his new listlessness and suggest that he gets out of the apartment more. Kibum, however, spurns their advice and instead, locks himself in his small studio, pouring himself into the reds of his canvasses.
His brush unfurls waves of red as soft as the blush of a newborn child and as dark as the heart of a rose. He paints lines of fire, zigzags that crackle with livid energy, and then soothes them with water until they mellow down to faded, feathery scars. Sometimes his reds are violent, pulsing with discontentment and malevolence. Other times, they’re lush, velvety, and wanton, hinting at some intimate pleasure he has yet to experience but is starting to recognize with an instinctive wrench of want.
He turns twelve on the twenty-third of September. He tells himself that it’s just another candle dripping wax on his birthday cake, but there’s a sense of finality that accompanies the age, something he never felt while eleven.
“Do I seem different to you?” he asks Taemin. It’s the night of his birthday and all the other guests have left, so it’s just the two of them huddled in front of the television.
The other boy looks over and squints at Kibum. “No. Should you?”
Kibum studies his knees, unable to come up with adequate words to describe the storm bottled up inside of him, the way he feels impatient all the time for something he can’t quite put his finger on.
“No,” he sighs, resigned. “I guess not.”
Two days later, he wakes up with an excruciating cramp in his abdomen and bile rising quickly in his throat.
Mindy darts off the bed with an angry hiss as he hurriedly throws off the covers and stumbles to the bathroom. There, he drops to the floor, legs curling underneath him, and leans against the toilet bowl, panting heavily. There’s a blinding pain in his lower abdomen, like someone reached in, clenched their fist around his insides, and yanked.
“Honey?” His mom knocks on his door. “Are you up? Breakfast is ready.”
“Mom.” He groans as another wave of pain passes through him. “I don’t—I don’t feel so good.”
“What? What’s that?”
He doesn’t answer because all of a sudden, he’s heaving up the last of his dinner from the night before.
He’s still wrapped around the toilet bowl when his mother enters. He hears the door open and her sudden, sharp intake of breath.
“Kibum?” She rushes over. One of her hands pushes aside his sweaty bangs, the other rubbing soothing circles over his back as she murmurs, “Oh, darling. It’s alright. It’s alright. Shhh, I’ve got you.”
He can tell from the slight tremor in her voice that she’s having a hard time believing her own words.
Eventually, when there’s nothing left in his stomach to expel, she leads him to his bed and tucks him back in. She makes him take a few pain relievers and drink some water and strokes his hair as he falls asleep.
He dozes fitfully, drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point, he hears his mother’s worried voice leaking through the cracked door of his bedroom.
“Of course I’m sure,” she hisses, sounding impatient and a little frantic. “He reeks so badly I barely even recognized him at first. I’ve called the center and they told me they’re sending someone right away. We can’t handle this by ourselves.”
When Kibum wakes fully, it’s to the touch of a cool, damp washcloth being pressed to his forehead. The late afternoon sun is shining through the slats of his window blinds. There’s an unfamiliar woman sitting beside his bed.
“Who are you?” he croaks. His head feels fuzzy and the world has gone slightly blurry around the edges. His pajamas are soaked with sweat.
The stranger smiles. She’s smells strange, clean and crisp like mountain air with a lingering trace of something sweet. He breathes in and feels his muscles go loose, his tension unknotting as her warm, soothing scent wraps around him.
“Your mother called me,” she says. “I’m Mrs. Hwang . I’m here to help you.”
“Are you a doctor?” He wonders why his mother didn’t take him to the hospital like that time he got the stomach flu and vomited everything he ate. Maybe this is more serious. Maybe he’s dying.
She wipes away some of the sweat beading on his forehead. “Not exactly. I’m a counselor. I help children like you who are different, whose bodies are starting to wake up and change.”
“Change?” he asks, still groggy.
“Yes, you’re an omega, Kibum. You’re going through the symptoms of the first stages of heat.”
Omega. The impact of the word is dulled by his confusion.
“But I thought I was going to be an alpha,” he protests. “Like my dad.”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, we all thought the same thing.” A small smile tugs on her lips. “You gave all of us the slip, Kibum. If we had known what would happen, we would have been better prepared.”
“I don’t want to be an omega,” he moans, turning away from her and curling around his pillow. He wants to be an alpha like his parents. Being an omega felt miserable.
“I’m sorry, darling, but you have no choice.” She sounds genuinely sympathetic. “It’s already been decided for you.”
It takes three days for his heat to pass, time which he spends in a medicated haze. Everyday, Mrs. Hwang administers two shots, a sedative along with something she says will help quell the strange, burning ache eating him up inside.
Both his parents drop by to check on him, but he finds their smell so sharp and overpowering that he gags and has to fight the urge to wretch as soon as they enter the room. Mrs. Hwang quickly shoos them away and opens a window, clearing the air of their intrusive scent.
It gets worse before it gets better. On the second day, he’s hit with a fierce fever that leaves him so overheated he wants to claw out of his own skin. He sweats his way through two pairs of pajamas and doesn’t refuse Mrs. Hwang’s assistance when he fumbles with his own buttons, too delirious to concern himself with modesty.
That night, his dreams are bizarrely vivid.
He dreams that he’s on his back, lying naked on a pebbled beach. The sun beats down upon him mercilessly, but instead of burning, his body just absorbs all the heat, gathering it up until his flesh feels like its going to rupture like the skin of a volcano. However, every time he feels close to bursting aflame, the scorching sensation gets chased away by the cool rush of the tide climbing the shore. It continues like that for a long time. He lies immobile, suspended in a tug of war between the sun and the sea.
When he awakens, his fever has broken. His thighs also feel sticky and slick. He’s too weak to give much more than a soft mewl of protest when Mrs. Hwang pulls down his pajama bottoms and underwear, her movements careful and clinical as she uses a wet cloth to wipe away the mess.
A flood of shame makes his face go hot as he’s pierced with a barb of self-directed disgust. He sniffles, his eyes prickling with tears.
“I’m sorry.” He fumbles with the words. In his dazed state, his brain is having a hard time finding his mouth.
Mrs. Hwang gives him a sharp look. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. There’s nothing wrong with you, Kibum. This is the way you were made.”
He wants to object to that statement, but he feels too wrung-out to manage an argument. Instead, he sighs, lets her finish cleaning and dressing him, and sinks back into sleep.
He doesn’t dream this time. When he wakes again, he feels much more clear-headed and alert than he has in days.
Mrs. Hwang looks up from her book when he stirs. “How are you feeling?” she asks.
Kibum clears his throat. “Better.”
It’s true. He no longer feels like he has fire running through his veins and the terrible pangs in his lower abdomen are gone. His limbs feel a bit like mush, though, and it takes some assistance for him to sit up.
Mrs. Hwang fluffs his pillow and slides it behind him. “Would you like something to eat? Surely you must be hungry.”
His stomach rumbles loudly before he can give a verbal answer.
“Alright then,” she laughs. “I’ll get you some breakfast.”
She goes out and comes back with a bowl of chicken rice porridge and a tall glass of orange juice. He can smell his mother’s hands all over the food. Her smell is no longer offensive like it was a day ago when the whole world felt too crowded with too many scents sledge-hammering his skull.
“I can smell her,” he tells Mrs. Hwang, as she helps him guide the spoon to his mouth—his hands are still a little shaky. “On the food. I can smell a little bit of my father too.”
“Yes, that’s all very normal,” she assures him. “Your sense of smell will be much broader now. Not as strong as an alpha’s, of course, but you’ll be able to identify people by their scent now.”
“You smell different from them,” he remarks. He’s gotten used to her scent over the past couple of days. “You smell good. Like—like, I dunno, something gentle and kind.” He flushes, unable to express eloquently how her scent envelops him, warm and welcome, the way it eases his nerves and makes him feel safe and serene.
“That’s because I am different from them. I’m an omega like you,” she says.
“Do I smell like you then?” He gives his armpit a cursory sniff and grimaces. He needs a shower.
She laughs. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to detect your own scent. Not yet anyways. Now hush. You need to eat.”
He obeys and eats ravenously. When he’s done, Mrs. Hwang sets aside the bowl and picks up something that Kibum hadn’t noticed sitting beside her chair. It’s a small, leather briefcase.
“I have some very good news for you, Kibum,” she says, flipping open the two metal latches.
He perks up. Any good news now would be a welcome relief from the misery of the past few days.
She opens up her briefcase and pulls out a piece of folded paper. She hands it to him, and he sees that it’s a brochure.
Under the bold title lies the gleaming façade of an immense white building set against a backdrop of mountains. When he opens the pamphlet, he finds blocks of text interspersed with photographs of students—both boys and girls—studying, drawing, singing, playing badminton, flashing victory signs, and laughing.
“Daegu’s omega council has reviewed your file and they’re very impressed with you, Kibum. They’ve decided that instead of going to the local omega school, they’re going to send you to Inje.”
Kibum turns over the brochure. The back is littered with a couple dozen bright logos. He recognizes a few of them: Han Foods, Media Corps, KBB.
There’s also the school’s address in fine print on the bottom.
“It’s in Gangwon province,” he says. He’s never been there before but he knows it’s a long ways from home.
“Yes, it’s far from here, but it’s the best omega school in the country. Your parents were thrilled when they heard you received an invitation. They only admit about twenty students a year, which means you are very, very lucky.”
Kibum doesn’t feel lucky. He feels lost and wretchedly abandoned. His parents want to give him up to this foreign faraway place with its neat, immaculate buildings and its smiling strangers.
“Why can’t I stay here?” His voice cracks as panic wells up inside him at the prospect of leaving everything behind: his home, his family, his cat. He can’t leave Mindy. She hates everyone except for him.
Mrs. Hwang’s expression grows grave. She clasps his small hands in hers.
“Listen, Kibum,” she says carefully. “You’re not being punished. Your parents want what’s best for you and they want you to have the best future possible.” She tucks a lock of his hair behind his ear. It’s a gesture that reminds him jarringly of his mother. “You’re an omega and that makes you special. There are people out there, bad people, who will want to take advantage of the things that make you unique, and they’ll hurt you if you’re not careful. You’ll be safe at Inje. It’s one of the safest places young omegas can go.”
“I don’t understand,” he says brokenly. Why would people want to hurt him? He hasn’t done anything wrong.
She sighs deeply, sounding weary and worn-out. For the first time, he sees the bags under her eyes, how she must have slept very little while she was attending to him these past few days.
“You will soon, little one,” she says softly. “You will soon.”
He leaves for Inje three days later.
In the interval, his mother cooks all his favorite foods and his father takes time off from work to stay home with him. It’s nice having all their attention focused so singularly on him, but at the same time, it’s a little claustrophobic. When he asks if they can go outside and play in the park, the look of horror that seizes their faces quickly makes him drop the idea.
He doesn’t go back to school. In fact, he’s forbidden from stepping out of the apartment, though he doesn’t see how the world could have suddenly become so explosively dangerous within the past week.
They do take him along on a day trip to visit his grandmother—his only remaining grandparent—at her house in the countryside. She sweeps him into a crushing hug and cries when he arrives at her doorstep. For once, he doesn’t mind her pickled cabbage smell or the way her sweaters itch against his skin. He notices for the first time how her natural alpha scent has worn thin with time, no longer as sharp as his parents’. He clings to her, relieved that there’s someone solid and warm and clearly genuinely upset that he’ll be leaving.
Taemin visits him to say goodbye, but he looks just as bewildered as Kibum feels about the whole sitauation.
“I heard that you’re moving away to go to a new school,” he says. “Why? Did you get in trouble at your old one?”
“I wish things were that easy,” Kibum mutters. He doesn’t know how to begin explaining the changes that have overturned his life, and he doubts that Taemin will understand any of it. It never occurred to him how astonishingly neutral the other boy smelled. He supposes he must have been like that as well before this entire omega business reared it ugly head.
It takes him only an hour to pack for Inje since he’s only permitted one small suitcase. He’s told that the school will provide most of the necessities he needs. He takes a few pairs of clothes, his sketchbook and pencils, a framed photo of his family, and the stuffed rabbit Taemin gave him as a goodbye present. He considers for a wild moment the idea of smuggling his cat but eventually thinks better of it. Mindy would never forgive him and he wants to leave her on good terms.
The day he leaves is punctuated by random jags of crying from his mother, who gets triggered by the oddest things like when Kibum forgets to put the milk back in the fridge or when he’s tying his shoelaces.
His father is faring slightly better, but even his smile is a bit wobbly around the edges when he helps Kibum get his things into the car. “Got everything, kiddo?”
Kibum just nods silently and hands him his suitcase to stow in the trunk.
The drive up to Gangwon province is quiet. He spends the majority of it with listening to music, sleeping, and watching the scenery pass by, his eyes growing wider and wider as the mountains steepen and the forests thicken, becoming wilder.
It’s almost dusk by the time they reach Inje The first part of the academy that Kibum sees is the wall, an enormous concrete construction the height of three men and topped with barbed wire.
That hadn’t been in the brochure.
He and his parents have to flash identification and invitation letter at two separate checkpoints before they’re finally allowed into the main complex. As they drive up to the school, they pass under a huge arch crawling with withered wisteria branches that half-cover the words engraved in the stone.
Welcome to Inje Academy
- Inje is a real place in Korea. I've never been there, but I chose it because it has a very low population density and is very, very remote.
- Jonghyun's POV is next.
NOTE FOR THOSE OF YOU UNSULLIED ENOUGH NOT TO KNOW WHAT OMEGAVERSE MEANS:
You might want to go read up on it here before you go ahead and challenge-accept this fic. It may save you some frantic back-pedaling once the sexy times actually get started.