"We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
Times forever frozen still"
Author's Note: just thought those song lyrics fit this fic perfectly~ heheh. so i wrote this quite some time ago but only posted it on tumblr for the anon who sent me this prompt. i don't know why, probably because it's angst... i'm not that happy/satisfied (and maybe a lil uncomfortable) with what i wrote. angst is just really not my forte. i'm posting it now though, mainly because i like to keep my fics as organised as possible. it bugs me that i haven't posted this on aff/lj and so i'm finally doing it now. don't really like the title either but oh well, i just really wanted to post it and make sure i have this listed as something i wrote before i share my next fic. so here it is. thanks for finding your way here! it's definitely something different but i still hope it won't be too bad a fic!
ps: (I guess I should put this here just to be safe) warning: character death(s).
Kibum wakes up with only one thought in his mind.
It’s more a fact than anything else. Kibum finds himself void of any emotion when he realises he’s still existing, still breathing. There’s no sign of relief, happiness or gratefulness. If anything, he feels surprisingly sad, almost devastated to be alive for another day. What’s worse, he doesn’t even know why he’s feeling this way.
Kibum takes in a deep breath slowly, steadily, lets the air fill his lungs completely as he adjusts to the brightness in the white room of the nursing home he has been living at for far too long. It feels like he has slept for ages and yet, he can barely keep his eyes open. His eyelids are heavy, his bones aching, his body weak and it’s then Kibum remembers all this comes with old age. Looking down, he raises his hand just a little, enough to see how wrinkled his skin has become. Kibum doesn’t even want to look in the mirror to see how the rest of him looks and realise how much he has actually aged. Clearly, the mirror would simply reflect an image which would remind him that he has lived a life long enough to leave the world with no regrets.
What would he know of regrets though? Kibum thinks. He tries to remember, but nothing appears in that useless brain of his. Everything seems like a faraway memory. It’s all of fuzzy details and blurred images that don’t even make sense to him. It’s just too painful for Kibum every time he tries to recall, painful enough for him to not even have the will to try. Deciding that sleep is his best escape from reality, Kibum lets out a defeated sigh and closes his eyes once more.
“Good morning Mr Kim! How are you feeling today?”
It feels like he has just blinked when Kibum opens his eyes again and sees a nurse smiling at him with a tray of food in her hands. Weakly, he sits up and replies on instinct.
Kibum’s angry because he’s alive. He’s angry because the nurse sounds too chirpy for his liking. He’s angry because… he just is. Just like a teenager who’s all fired up to rebel against the world. How ironic.
“How about some breakfast?” The nurse places the tray on the over-bed table and adjusts it for Kibum to eat comfortably, “Would this help? We have pancakes, fruits-”
Seemingly used to Kibum’s attitude, the nurse simply smiles and takes the food away, placing it on Kibum’s bedside table instead.
“Alright then,” She moves the table away before opening the bottom drawer of Kibum’s bedside table and takes out a large mint box that has seen better days.
“I guess this would help…”
“This…” Kibum frowns as he takes the familiar box from the nurse and stares at it.
It’s large, covering his entire lap, and yet considerably light.
Kibum knows what it is but at the same time, he can’t be too sure.
Understanding that the box has all the answers Kibum needs, the nurse grins.
“I’ll leave you to it, Mr Kim. Call for me if you need anything alright?”
“Yeri.” The nurse offers her name with a cheeky grin, “Buzz me and I’ll appear like a genie.”
Yeri leaves without expecting a reply from Kibum. It’s a routine she goes through every day ever since he had been assigned under her care a few months back. If there’s one thing she has learnt from the senior nurses that would help her in her care for Kim Kibum, it would have to be how the mint box works like magic in helping the old man remember.
That’s what is inside the mint box. There are so many of them – hundreds of Polaroid pictures – that Kibum feels tired just thinking about going through the contents of the box. Yet, his instinct tells him he has to; he needs to. The photographs aren’t nicely arranged in photo albums but they’re bundled together in mini stacks according to year, each pile secured by a black elastic band with a tag that indicates the year. Kibum searches through the box for the oldest photos and finds that the earliest one was taken in 2017.
It’s of a man on the street. A man who probably didn’t know he was being photographed, a man who Kibum didn’t even want to take a photo of if the caption “photobomb >:(” in black marker on the white space of the polaroid says anything. If Kibum understands his 26 year old self well, he probably just wanted to take a photo of the snow-covered street then.
Kibum wonders why he had kept this photo when it’s obviously a ruined shot. He gets his answer in the next second when he takes a closer look at the man in the photo.
He’s incredibly handsome.
Although it’s not the shot Kibum wanted to capture, it’s undoubtedly a beautiful shot nonetheless, one that deserves to be featured in a fashion photo shoot. It makes Kibum want to get to know the man in the photograph and so he continues looking through the photos, hoping the beautiful stranger would appear again.
It’s in the 2018 stack when Kibum finds a photo of them together with the caption “FIRST DATE”, bold and capitalised. The smile captured in the Polaroid is the same smile Kibum has on his face now as he admires how good they look together. Kibum in his late twenties must have been delighted to go out with a guy that looked so attractive in photos, maybe even more delighted than how the Kibum now feels the moment he realises they didn’t remain as strangers or friends as he flips through more photos.
If only he could remember the details…
Strangely, Kibum isn’t frustrated at his useless old brain for not remembering. His photographs give him the answers he needs. They tell him a story, not just any old story but what seems to be his love story with Minho.
Choi Minho is his full name, and also apparently, the love of his life. Kibum finds out when he comes across a polaroid of the man alone by himself, a selfie of sorts where he is smiling so widely at the camera. “최민호 LOML ♥” fill the white space in a handwriting that definitely does not belong to Kibum. Something tells him that it’s Minho who wrote it. And well, even though Kibum has trouble remembering, his intuition is rarely wrong.
It warms Kibum’s heart to see how happy his life appears to be as he looks through photo after photo. Of course, Kibum isn’t that ignorant to believe that his life is all that perfect. Obviously, the photos are only of happy memories, captured to last forever. No one in the right mind would take photos when times are rough. Still, Kibum likes to think that he has been blessed to live a life with Minho who is seemingly his soulmate. He doesn’t actually believe in the idea of soulmates but it feels like an appropriate word to describe their relationship since Minho appears at least once in each stack of photos year after year ever since he was first photographed in 2017. Evidently, he was (is?) a significant part of Kibum’s life.
So where is Minho now then? What happened to them?
A sudden sense of urgency sets in and Kibum anxiously rummages through the box for the most recent set of photographs. To his surprise, he ends up finding one set of Polaroids that are left unlabelled. Frowning, Kibum slowly looks through the photos and finally sees how much he has aged. And it’s not just him who resembles a grandfather.
Minho does too.
It takes less than a minute for Yeri to come rushing into his room as if an emergency has happened.
“Mr… Kim… you…”
While trying to catch her breath in between words, Yeri suddenly stops speaking when she sees that Kibum is safe and sound, and looking as healthy as he can be. She slowly takes in a deep breath before letting it all out in one go before regaining her composure.
“With the way you were buzzing me, I thought…” The nurse doesn’t continue her sentence as she shakes her head and smiles, “How can I-”
Offended by her smile, Kibum glares at his nurse and interrupts her, “Where is he?”
“Where is who?” Her patient’s unexpected question catches Yeri off-guard.
“Him!” Kibum points at the photograph in his hand before gesturing at the entire box of photographs, “Minho… Choi Minho. Where is he!?”
Yeri’s face pales in an instant. The senior nurses haven’t told her much but she recognises that name. It belongs to another resident of their nursing home who is currently being closely monitored by the visiting doctor for it seems that his condition has turned critical just this morning. Putting two and two together, Yeri knows she can’t afford to alarm her patient and tries to think on her feet.
But it’s all too late.
Kibum’s eyesight may be failing but he doesn’t miss the sudden change in the nurse’s expression. Almost immediately, there’s a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that makes Kibum feel like throwing up.
“Mr Kim…” Yeri tries, “Please calm down-”
“Answer me!” Kibum shouts with all his might, “And don’t even think about lying to me if you don’t want to send me straight to my grave!”
With those words, Yeri is left with no choice.
“I’m sorry, sunbae, I know I shouldn’t have brought Mr Kim here but he-”
“If anything happens to him, will you be able to shoulder the responsibility?”
“Ladies… it seems to me that Mr Choi is holding on because of him. It may be the last time they’ll see each other. Even if Yeri-ssi didn’t bring Mr Kim here, I would have asked for him to come.”
There’s a conversation going on outside Minho’s room but Kibum can only hear muffled sounds. In fact, he’s barely registering any sounds that are going on in the world outside the room. The conversation between the doctor and nurses is the least of Kibum’s concern because right now, it’s just Minho and him. All of Kibum’s attention is on the man who is lying in bed, conscious enough to look at him with a weak smile on his face.
Kibum doesn’t know why he reaches out to take Minho’s hand in his but he does. He even finds himself naturally leaning forward just so they can be a little closer to each other.
Minho nods slowly, “You… remember?”
“Not so much…” Kibum admits honestly as he smiles bitterly and explains, “But the photos…”
Minho’s smile grows wider, “I knew they’ll lead you back to me.”
The sadness in Kibum’s eyes breaks Minho’s heart.
“Don’t be, my love.” Minho holds Kibum’s hand just a little tighter (but Kibum can barely feel the difference), “We’re okay… more than okay.”
“Of course.” Minho reassures, fighting to keep his eyes open, “Always have been… always will be.”
“I love you.” Kibum says instinctively and before he can think it through, goes on to ask, “Promise… Promise you’ll wait for me?”
With the same smile Kibum has seen countless of times from the photographs, Minho takes one final breath and nods.
With that, Kibum watches as Minho stops fighting to hold on. He lets his eyes close, lets Kibum’s hand go and finally goes to rest.
But Kibum doesn’t let go.
Kibum stays beside Minho and treasures this moment where he can remember the man he has loved for his entire life.
“A letter?” Yeri looks at the envelope that her sunbae has just passed to her, “For me?”
“Mr Choi left it for the nurse in charge of Mr Kim so it’s only right that you read it.”
Although still confused, Yeri nods, “I will.”
Sorry that I don’t know your name but I hope this gets to the right hands. Let me introduce myself, my name is Minho and Kibum is my husband. I wish I didn’t have to write this letter but I know that my days are numbered. Fate is cruel. As much as I want to take care of Kibum myself, my health doesn’t allow me to. So thank you, thank you for taking care of Kibum for me. Even if you’re only doing it because it’s your job, thank you for making sure that he is living well when I can’t be by his side any longer.
I never thought that I would end up writing a letter like this but I now realise how important it is to make sure that everything is taken care of even when I'm gone. Others write wills, I write this… this request for you to help me do a little something. I'm not afraid of death but I am afraid of leaving Kibum in a world where I do not exist. I am afraid that he will remember. Forgetting means he will never find out about me and grieve over my death. It’s better this way. I don’t want him to live the rest of his life in a cycle where he wakes up, remembers and realises that I'm not around anymore. It pains me to leave him, but it’ll hurt even more if I didn't leave first.
So please. Please make sure the box of photographs is taken away from him once I leave. I know the nurses see the box as their life saver when it comes to Kibum but no, it won’t be what it is now once I pass away. Please keep our photographs safe for me and bury the box when Kibum leaves. I know it will be tough for you to take care of Kibum without the box but trust me, it’s easier to deal with a grumpy Kibum than a Kibum who hides his sadness and shuts himself out from the world.
There’s so much more I would love to ask for you to do for Kibum but if I start, I know this letter would be hundred pages long. So this is all I ask of you. Please do this for me, please store our memories away from him because sometimes, it’s easier to forget.
Thank you for reading this and I do hope you’ll carry out this wish of mine.
It’s 7.23am when Yeri creeps into Kibum’s room the day after Minho passed away to carry out the old man’s only wish.
The room is dimly lit but it’s bright enough for Yeri to see that Kibum has fallen asleep, lying upright in his bed, with the mint box of photographs on his lap.
It’s 4 minutes later when the young nurse realises that Minho has taken Kibum away with him and all they leave behind are the photographs that show how fate (and love) works in mysterious ways.