Summary: When the world lost EXO, Park Chanyeol lost himself.
The good thing about Mobit is that there is a secret room within the tiny cafe (behind the kitchen) shielded away from prying eyes and two ton DSLRs of rabid fangirls. Unbeknownst to the patrons, Park Chanyeol sits in the private room on the floor, cross-legged, eyes fixated on the kitchen back door as he waits for the door to swing open and reveal his appointee.
It’s quiet, but Chanyeol is already used to deafening silence. He thrives in such conditions because his apartment is nothing but silence. The rowdy, cheery atmosphere is long gone, has been for two years. Two years is a lot of time for someone to adapt to a different environment they’re thrown into.
But it’s late Friday afternoons like these that spark a little bit of the old flame in him back to life. Chanyeol monitors the door expectantly. There is this voice at the back of his head chanting he will come he will come for the next few minutes until it becomes true.
The door opens. Do Kyungsoo trudges in, tiny pot of cactus in hand as he shakes off snowflakes trapped in his mop of black hair.
Last week, if Chanyeol’s memory has not failed him, he recalls it was a packet of xeriscape seeds.
“For you.” he smiles, cheeks tinged pink from the biting cold.
Chanyeol accepts the gift, albeit hesitantly. Cactus. In winter. Okay.
“Gee, thanks. Let’s just hope it doesn’t die.”
Kyungsoo rolls his eyes. Chanyeol pretends to unsee and sips on his ocha.
“So how’s xeriscaping going on?”
“Xeriscaping. The mini garden I planted at your windowsill a few days ago when I went to clean up.”
“Oh.” Um, oops. How does one say in a polite, pleasant manner that he left it to fend for its own and die?
Friday afternoons are their time. They rendezvous at Mouse and Rabbit and Kyungsoo comes bringing peace and news, usually about Jongin, and when Jongin is mentioned news of Sehun will naturally surface, which then leads to Luhan being the topic of the dinner table and then in turn Yixing and Minseok's current whereabouts in this foreign yet familiar place called Seoul.
They talk until their cups of hot ocha turn cold. It’s the only time Chanyeol can find someone who is finally free to let time waste away into dust along with him.
But not today. Kyungsoo isn’t much of a talker today, he sits on the cushion staring at the table most of the time. And when he’s not the singer is tapping on his touchscreen presumably sending text messages to Jongin who is most likely in the SM building dealing with aspiring brats waiting eagerly to debut and shine under the spotlight right now.
Chanyeol checks his wristwatch for the seventh time that hour. It’s almost six. Time is up. Another Friday wasted. He doesn’t know how many Fridays he’s let slip from his fingers. Sometimes time passes by so fast in a blur he’s given up hope on catching up because he’d only get left behind again.
“I think I’ll get going now.” he says, standing up from the cold hard floor and shuffling awkwardly to the entrance.
“Sorry,” Kyungsoo apologizes sincerely, “it’s just that today was the day. You know how Jongin gets when today comes every year.”
“Yeah, today.” Kyungsoo regards him seriously.
“Chanyeol you haven’t forgotten, have you?”
But Kyungsoo doesn’t need Chanyeol’s response for an answer, because he won’t get one anyway. The look of fear and dread in Chanyeol’s eyes is enough to tell the singer that Chanyeol’s heart has left them to survive alone on this lonely planet called Deletion.
“Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo’s voice cracks. His mobile rings. It’s from Jongin but he doesn’t bother picking up, “we disbanded on this day two years ago. How could you forget?”
He forgets his keys. Sometimes Chanyeol forgets his dinner too, because when living alone without a manager one tends to stray away from supposed timetables and ignore the correct ways of life. He forgets the most basic of things in his daily life to be honest - wallet, jacket, etc.
But Chanyeol forgets other things too. He forgets why he comes home to an empty apartment when it used to be a rowdy place for twelve hungry men and four exasperated managers, he forgets why everyone isn’t calling everyone to hit each other up for reunions, sometimes, he forgets why EXO isn’t here anymore.
The only thing he doesn’t forget is to forget.
(Because remembering is too painful. And Chanyeol’s afraid he can’t take any more pain or he’ll break.)
do you remember that time we-
Throwback into Thursday, or any other day - the yesteryears they all forgot and the time that slipped through their fingers like sand, so fine that it can’t possibly be grasped. Park Chanyeol isn’t known for his dainty fingers fit for a lady, he has drummer arms, guitarist hands, calloused and rough from strumming monel strings on old electric guitars. They simply cannot contain the sands of time and memory.
“Chanyeol are you okay?” Kyungsoo asks. Again, Chanyeol can’t remember a time when the former was ever absent from his life, apart from pre-trainee days.
So, Chanyeol swallows his spit and nods like a man but lies like a coward.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” He says.
“Okay. You have a radio programme now, don’t you? First week?”
Seunghwan hyung is there waiting for him when Chanyeol steps into the KBS building lobby. His nerves are tangled into deadly knots the coordi noonas despise so much, and today seems to be a day of meeting past acquaintances if Chanyeol could say so. First Kyungsoo, now Seunghwan hyung.
“Chanyeol-ah,” his ex-manager does the bro code handshake with him. Chanyeol reciprocates, simply because without the man in front of him he wouldn’t even be standing here waiting for his turn to sub for Kim Kibum’s M4U.
And when he gets shuffled into the room and notices the microphone at the table, a wave of nostalgia hits him. Chanyeol flies back two years ago when he used to deejay during late nights, reading messages and being just Chanyeol. Park Chanyeol is used to being Chanyeol, so when they took Chanyeol away Park Chanyeol feels exposed to the cold chilly air respired by a broken band. He shies away and hides himself from the world, with nothing but his old blanket back at home for the first few weeks, until his noona dragged him back from delving deeper into hermit life for the saints.
So now, here he is, being fussed over by coordi noonas for lip balm and concealers and scriptwriters over pages and pages of words waiting to be broadcasted to the entire population of Seoul.
Crisp A4 sheets stare back at him. The squiggly lines of Hangul taunt him. Chanyeol stares at the window where the open studio is bare and empty, not a single soul standing out there looking at him. He feels so alone.
He wants to cry.
omg chanyeol-oppa came back!!!!
chanyeol-oppa was on radio!!
omg oppa’s voice!!!!!!
I MISSED OPPA!!!!!!!!!!
chanyeol oppa I love you!!!!!!!
“Printed a whole sheet of comments while you were wrapping up.” Seunghwan dangles a piece of paper in front of Chanyeol’s face while they ride the elevator down to the lobby. Perplexed, he takes it hesitantly and arranges his facial structure into what it seems to be a (constipated) smile.
“Thank you hyung,” he conveys his gratitude as sincerely as he can. Seunghwan is pleased.
“Let’s take the back door, pretty sure the fans are already crowded somewhere waiting to take pictures of your pretty face. I can see the headlines now, Park Chanyeol, back in the industry. Mark my words boy, it will decorate the front page of the entertainment section tomorrow.”
56 printed comments later, Chanyeol checks his phone and discovers that 박찬열 is trending worldwide on twitter and ranked 4th on the Naver search engine. ‘Tis an unexpected achievement, Chanyeol is oddly nervous and jumpy about it.
“You did well today kid, the PDs were really satisfied. Ratings are slightly lower than usual but soon they’ll go up like a rocket! We didn’t publicise much anyway.”
“Thank you Seunghwan hyung.”
“No problem, just looking out for you the best I can. It’s too much of a waste to let your talents sit and gather dust back home.”
That’s what SM told me five years ago.
Nevertheless, Park Chanyeol is a grateful humble soul. He waves the man goodbye before making his way back home on the quiet streets of Seoul in midnight by foot. The chilly wind bites into his parka and skin, the cold too much to be shielded away from. Strange, he’s always been a fan of the cold. He used to turn on the air-conditioner full blast back at the dorms during summer, until B-
“Oh shit I’m so sorry!”
“It’s oka- Chanyeol?”
Wait, this voice, he’s heard it before. It’s-
5’7, sharp cheekbones, delicate, pianist fingers... yes, it’s him. Definitely him.
“Oh my god, it is you!” An amused smile lights up across the shorter’s face. Chanyeol doesn’t need street lamps to look at Baekhyun’s face, that tiny smile on tiny lips is enough to drive away the darkness around them and set sparks off in metal hearts.
Chanyeol blinks. He looks around. The world has suddenly gotten a few shades brighter and he wants to know why.
“Are you waiting for someone?” Baekhyun snaps his fingers and drags the tall giant of emptiness back to reality.
“Huh? Uh, no. I was just going home.” Lame, lame Chanyeol.
“I didn’t know you had schedules at KBS! Oh but wait that’s because I haven’t seen you since forever! How long has it been since we met? Eight months? A year and a half?”
“I guess so.” Chanyeol really doesn’t know, he’s lost track of days spent in loneliness the moment he chucked his calendar into the dumpster.
“So how’ve you been big guy?” Baekhyun punches his arm playfully. Chanyeol winces, he doesn’t know why it hurts. Pain aches everywhere in his body, especially his chest. And the sight of Baekhyun grinning back at him makes it worse. Why is Baekhyun so happy to see him again?
“Chanyeol? You okay?” The smile is gone. The pain worsens and hits him like a two ton sledgehammer right in the balls.
Suddenly, the beat of a drum cuts him off. It sounds so familiar Chanyeol swears on his dead grandmother’s grave he’s heard this before, and the answer dawns upon him the moment ‘chogiwaaaa-” plays in the background before it stops with a swipe of the finger across the screen.
“Oh shit.” Baekhyun mutters, “Hello? Yeah. I’m on my way- no it’s not the sasaengs I’m- yeah yeah I’ll be there soon just hold on-”
Chanyeol watches on as his old flame waves goodbye before walking past him and disappearing back into the darkness.
Back home, that night, he tries to recall the lyrics and searches for the words that fit the beat of the song. But it’s no use; he falls asleep by the time the chorus starts playing in his head.
The next morning, the aching pain in his chest hasn’t gone away.
It started with Yifan leaving. Even when the giant came back, things never were the same again. Team dynamics, recording sessions, one day everyone realised EXO just wasn’t EXO anymore.
Chanyeol can’t remember the last person he fought with before SM started terminating their contracts one by one. He doesn’t want to anyway.
It is too painful, and Chanyeol wants to forget the pain.
The next time fate dictates that Chanyeol and Baekhyun meet, a week has passed. They bump into each other, again, on that deserted street where for some curious reason zero sasaeng fans loiter around waiting for their precious oppas.
The radio show has just ended. Chanyeol is on his lonely way walking home when he spots the shorter two miles away. It’s hard to miss someone you know when the streets are so painfully empty.
Shit shit shit time to make his getaway-
Too late. Suddenly Baekhyun has locked eyes with a panicking Chanyeol and his pace speeds up five times faster than usual until he almost collapses into the taller upon sky high impulsive force.
“We didn’t manage to catch up the other day. And after I left I regretted so much for not staying around I’m so glad we bumped into each other again today!”
“You weren’t, by chance, gonna run away were you?”
“Uh, no? I was just... uh...”
“Did you know that Yunho and Jaejoong are finally getting married?! And Changmin as best man! I mean, gosh, never in my life would I have thought SM would approve of this!”
“Um, yeah. I... sort of know. Kyungsoo told me.”
Baekhyun freezes for a split second.
“I didn’t know you and Kyungsoo talked.” he comments.
Oh shit, was Chanyeol not supposed to say that?
“It’s just a couple of times. He talks more than me most of the time anyway.”
“So you’d rather talk to Kyungsoo than talk to me? Or anyone else for that matter.”
It becomes strangely quiet all of a sudden. When Baekhyun stops talking and starts staring at his phone, Chanyeol doesn’t know what to say to make the conversation flow again.
He doesn’t like this. The awkward silence between two people. Seeing Baekhyun again reminds him of the old times they used to share, the constant bicker and chatter they used to have when things were fine and the threat of separation was far from worry.
Where did all of these moments go? Chanyeol would like to know.
“I gotta go now, midnight recording’s starting soon.”
Chanyeol nods. Of course, everybody’s gotta go, nobody ever stays. He’s learned it the hard way.
“Bye.” He doesn’t bother raising a hand to wave. But Baekhyun lingers around for a few more seconds, eyes peering at Chanyeol for a very long time.
“You used,” he pauses for a while, “to smile more.”
“Happy virus. That was the term you coined for yourself, wasn’t it?”
Happy virus. Happy. Chanyeol is anything but happy now. He even wonders if it’s in his dictionary of emotions in his head.
“Say, let’s go for a drink sometime next week, just the two of us catching up on old times. Does Monday night sound good to you?”
Chanyeol stares. Baekhyun patiently waits for a response. It’s amazing how one person can have this endless amount of patience for someone who can’t even form a coherent sentence to carry out conversations for five minutes.
“Or we could schedule it on Tuesday? I have a morning recording on Wednesday, but I should be fine.” Baekhyun offers. He looks so sincere sometimes Chanyeol wonders what did he ever do to deserve such kindness. The smile on the shorter’s face brings back this sense of familiarity that makes his bones tingle.
Why are you so nice to me?
“Monday’s fine, I guess.”
“Awesome. I’ll see you then.”
At night, when Chanyeol is in the bathroom brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed, The Smile creeps back into his mind. Baekhyun’s kind eyes announce their return to haunt him in the mirror. He seems to appear everywhere Chanyeol goes. Weird.
“You used to smile more.”
The statement frustrates him. He looks back at the kind eyes to seek consolation, but they have already disappeared.
“Okay, spill,” Baekhyun exclaims after downing two shots of soju and slamming the glass on the table, “what have you been up to recently?”
They are at the bar, and thankfully the crowd is thin and too caught up in their own matters to notice them sitting in a seclusive corner. It’s been a while since Chanyeol’s gone anywhere except for the private gym he consistently visits, and hence he shies away from the crowd and awkwardly sits in his chair trying as much as possible to hide his 6’1 self away from the world.
“Yah, Park Chanyeol, are you even listening?”
“Yeah, I am. Um, I haven’t been doing much.”
Baekhyun gives him his trademark impassive stare. Chanyeol remembers because he’s been on the receiving end of it for many times.
“I did a radio show. Am doing one now, I mean.” Chanyeol tries as much as he can to elaborate. This is progress, on some days he doesn’t even speak five lines the entire day before going back to bed.
“Obviously. I haven’t tuned in to find out how you’re doing though. Are the noonas and PDs nice to you?”
“So you like it?”
“It’s okay, I guess.”
Baekhyun sits back and reclines against the back of his chair. He folds his arms and frowns. Chanyeol gulps. What has he done wrong again this time? Is there a mirror where he can check his facial expression? Lips turned right side up?
“You know I’m not close to any of the KBS producers right? Okay maybe some, but I swear I won’t tell any of them if you have bad things to say! You know you could always tell me the shit they do, just like how you used to do when we filmed for Music Bank.”
“I don’t really remember to be honest. They’re pretty okay, really.” Chanyeol says apologetically.
“Mmhmm, so no complaints there huh? What about your other schedules? You must have some gossip or dirt on the PDs you hate!”
“I don’t have any other schedules. At least not yet.” and not for the next few years Chanyeol thinks.
Baekhyun raises his brows, but if the shorter has any snide comments he must’ve kept it to himself, because the next moment he’s chatting about some MC function taking place next week and asking for Chanyeol’s opinion on what he should wear, the theme being retro and all.
“I’m aiming for funky look, afro wig, neon suit, what do you think? I have to get the PDs to notice me or I’m never getting that raise for the rest of my life.”
“I dunno, just wear what you like?”
And when Chanyeol is halfway through focusing on the way Baekhyun’s adam’s apple bobs up and down sexily with each word (oh no what’s this? some stupid side-effect of alcohol???), Baekhyun suddenly leans forward and snaps his fingers in front of his face. Chanyeol blinks and meets with curious eyes peering back at him.
The shorter clucks his tongue. “You know, you used to jump or fall off your chair when I did that.”
‘Used to.’ Why is everybody using that phrase nowadays? Is this the time for a reminiscence of the past? Era of romanticism?
“What’s up with you today? Bad day? Stepped on dog poo?”
“What? No!” In fact, today has been a smooth day. He’s done his laundry and sat on his chair staring at the unpowered TV thinking about nothing at all until it was time to leave. Pretty smooth if you ask him, he’s had worse days.
“Then? Why aren’t you talking? You love talking, back then you’d yell at me to shut the fuck up so you could talk more.”
Chanyeol squirms in his seat. It’s so weird to have the spotlight focused on him. When he meets up with Kyungsoo, the latter pretty much chats all the way and all Chanyeol has to do is stare and nod and pretend he gives a fuck.
“Chanyeol, you missed two of my album launchings, a few SM parties thrown by Jungsoo hyung and Jonghyun hyung, a couple of invites to wedding dinners by prolific VVIPs like Shinhwa, where were you all this while?”
Rotting, dying, fading away.
“What happened to you?”
Chanyeol tries sifting through whatever that’s left in his bucket of skeleton and soul. Sadly, even the dust collected amounts to less than a gram of flour on the weighing scale. It is this empty.
“I don’t know.” is all he says.
Baekhyun leans forward and places his hand on Chanyeol’s. It’s cold, but somehow it gives Chanyeol strength to find the road that will lead him to the answer.
It’s all about EXO, has always been.
“Sometimes,” he pauses to swallow the lump of discomfort down his trachea, “things change.”
Things progress little by little after that. They exchange numbers when it’s time to go home. And when Chanyeol keys in his number for the tiny guy, Baekhyun exclaims (slightly) loudly.
“You changed your number!”
“You had like, an insane amount of ones and twos in your old one! You could’ve told us you switched! Makes contacting you a whole lot more easier to be honest.”
“Duh. How else would we ever tell you about functions and reunions?”
“See ya Yeol! I’ll text you when I arrive home, so you’d better do the same!”
But it seems like giving Baekhyun his number is a big mistake. For the next few days, Chanyeol’s phone buzzes incessantly every single minute. His inbox is filled with messages of ‘stupid PDs’ and ‘break time now. Minho-hyung is at it again’ and so many more Chanyeol thinks Baekhyun can’t possibly think he would keep track of, can he?
i can’t make it to our drinking session on wednesday. sorry.
Chanyeol bites his lip. Hesitantly, his fingers tap on the touchscreen to key in his answer.
He adds a smiley face behind just for extra measure - to avoid misunderstandings, he tells himself - as he hits the send button. How true are his thoughts? Chanyeol doesn’t know.
One fine afternoon, just when Chanyeol is snuggled in bed and ready to have his afternoon cat nap, his mobile vibrates again. It’s an MMS containing two photos, one of them the T-junction at the end of his street and another of his apartment building.
I’m outside your house yo!
Three angry knocks pound on the door.
open the door u dumbass!!!
“What the fuck?” he curses, swinging his legs over the bed and running to open the door before it breaks into two. He barely has enough to pay for his rent, let alone maintenance fee.
The doorknob twists and the door swings open, revealing a puffy-poofed Baekhyun standing at the hallway, earmuffs at both sides of his head and cheeks tinged pink from the biting cold.
“You punk it’s fucking cold let me in first!”
The taller shuffles aside awkwardly and invites the freezing man into his apartment. He winces at the pitiful state his home is in, dirty laundry draped over the lonely couch and comics scattered all over loose parquet floorboards.
And it’s worse when Baekhyun removes his coat and shakes all the snow to the ground. Crap, Chanyeol will have to clean it up later. He forgot where he put the mop.
He’s shutting the door when Baekhyun’s voice suddenly breaks the silence of the room.
“This is you,” he says, looking at the cactus perched on the windowsill all by its lonesome self, “all prickly and dying.”
Chanyeol frowns. “Did you just compare me to a cactus?”
“Yes I did. Now come here and give it some drops of water. Cacti still need water to survive you know?”
And when they’re done and the pot of cactus has quenched its thirst, Baekhyun demands a grand tour of the threshold. Chanyeol denies, not only because his apartment is in a mess but also because he’s uncomfortable with the singer peeking into his life that he’s shielded away from the world for almost three years.
“Fine, whatever.” The shorter turns around and walks in circles around the living room. He inspects the bookshelf by the dusty TV.
“Where are our albums?” he frowns.
“Albums?” What albums? Chanyeol hasn’t even stepped into a recording building for three years until last Friday.
“MAMA, Wolf, all our hits, the compilations. I can’t find them anywhere.”
Oh shit. Truth be told, Chanyeol doesn’t know where they ran away to. One day he’s packing them into his suitcase and the next day they’re gone.
He feels oddly detached about this. It kind of worries him somehow.
“Never mind,” Baekhyun waves when Chanyeol fails to respond, “remind me to bring you my solo albums the next time I visit.”
So while Baekhyun continues to prowl and inspect the premises, Chanyeol watches him awkwardly by the door. But he must’ve lost focus at one point or another because suddenly the shorter has his old guitar in his hands. The grin on his face is so wide and it blinds him.
“Your old guitar!” Baehyun exclaims and gives it a gentle strum, Chanyeol winces at the horrible cry it makes, “okay it needs some tuning.”
Serious tuning, Chanyeol thinks when his guest struts over to the couch and sweeps all the dirty clothes onto the floor so he can sit.
Baekhyun rests the dusty guitar on his lap and beckons Chanyeol to join him.
“Come here.” he says.
Chanyeol is hesitant, but when Baekhyun pats the empty spot beside him on the couch Chanyeol walks over (albeit reluctantly) to watch Baekhyun fiddle with the guitar. The singer’s fingers are obviously not accustomed to holding and strumming guitars. Baekhyun has perfect pianist fingers, he plays the piano better than anyone in EXO except for Yixing. And fingers that can fly across ivory keys and run through sharps and flats are not, in Chanyeol’s opinion, fit for heavy guitar playing.
Baekhyun should stick to scales and arpeggios, he sucks at strumming strings.
After five minutes of watching the shorter idly plucking nylon strings and failing to catch a consistent rhythm, Chanyeol sighs inwardly and offers his hands.
Baekhyun is all too happy to hand the instrument over.
“Remember how you used to call it Dara?” The tiny man sniggers.
Chanyeol is sorely tempted to scoff, but he focuses on finding the familiar feel of the right amount of force to create enough friction between his thumb and the guitar strings instead. Each time he brushes his thumb over those six strings, something warm seeps into skin and stays.
It feels warm, real, and bright. Suddenly he is brought back to his youthful days when he used to perform in his school band for special occasions.
“Do you remember Live High by Jason Mraz?”
The memories pour out from within. Chanyeol knows it all too well.
Baekhyun doesn’t spare him a second before humming the tune. Chanyeol tries to catch up and follow, and at first he fails horribly but through time and a couple more duets with Baekhyun’s perfect pitch as his guide, he gets the hang of it and plays. Not professionally nor brilliantly, but steadily.
It is the first time in years Chanyeol feels peace, even if it is only for a while.
ChanBaek’ wasn’t always really ‘ChanBaek’ forever, nothing about them was ever smooth sailing even during the start of everything when SM presented the idea of OTPs and titanic ships that would never sink.
Chanyeol wouldn’t consider ‘ChanBaek’ a titanic ship if he were asked the question. It was a royal, grand start, they were one of the pioneer ships in EXO along with ‘HunHan’ and ‘KaDi’, but they’ve had countless whirlpools sucking them in and spitting them out like machines on a roll sometimes Chanyeol still wonders why the fangirls stuck by them even when they stopped the fanservice. Delusional? Insane? Surely the fans must’ve known the whole ‘ChanBaek’ thing wouldn’t have lasted.
Chanyeol remembers the fights. He remembers the last-minute discussions of which hand to hold and what time to turn around in sync, all of them staged, save for the occasional spontaneous actions that popped up out of the blue.
Did they ever had moments that didn’t include snide comments and calculative glances thrown each other’s way just to outbest others?
So, curiouser and curiouser, Chanyeol reboots his old MacBook, types ‘ChanBaek’ in the search bar and hits enter.
He scrolls past several old excited comments, unbothered by some of the rated comments here and there that he’s used to seeing back then when EXO was still one.
We are one, huh?
It’s pointless. EXO won’t come back just by looking at fantaken photos on the internet. Chanyeol should’ve known better. Three years and he hasn’t learnt his lesson.
And when he’s about to exit the browser and shut down his laptop, a photo captures his interest.
Dated back in November 2012, two days before his birthday, they imitated Internet War. Chanyeol remembers the humid air in Bangkok, the smell of musk and sweat in the air onstage. It was one of their spontaneous acts, Chanyeol had just been getting ready to get onstage when Baekhyun pulled his arm down so he could whisper in his ear.
“Let’s do Internet War.”
“What the fuck Baekhyun you want to handcuff me?” He was so stupid back then.
“You dumb shit. I’ll call you over when the time is right.”
It might be staged, and they might’ve giggled like dumb girls and failed to hide their grins so horribly, but Chanyeol remembers the moment when Baekhyun slid his hand and lowered his head, something sparked within his heart. There is something so beautifully blissful about the moment they rested their heads together and closed their eyes, as if for that split second the stage was theirs, the world for them to roam and own.
Chanyeol had opened his eyes a beat earlier than Baekhyun, and the image of Baekhyun standing there, eyes closed and looking so serene, haunted him for a very long time until it got swept away along with the dying embers left behind by EXO.
Something pricks his eyes. Chanyeol shuts down the laptop and goes to sleep so Baekhyun can visit him in his dreams.
The next morning when he wakes up, he realises that his pants and bed are wet. Chanyeol buries himself beneath his blanket in shame.
“The fanservice, did it ever mean anything to you?” Chanyeol asks one evening when they’re hanging out at the bar.
After blinking at the taller for a minute, Baekhyun smiles and lowers his head to let thin lips meet with the rim of his glass of soju. It’s a secretive, knowing smile. Chanyeol’s heart skips a beat at the slightest thought of touching those soft lips with his fingertips.
“Who knows. Maybe.”
Baekhyun is everywhere he goes, which despite not being many places, still takes up a large part in Chanyeol’s pie chart of Mindless Things To Do Every Day. Every day, when Chanyeol isn’t looking focusing, Baekhyun pops up at a random corner of his living room and invades the crevices of his mind, stealing the spotlight and just pretty much staying there for the rest of the day until Chanyeol meets Baekhyun again in the evening for beer, or tea, depending on the latter’s mood.
“And so I told the sasaeng fan to fuck the hell off and leave me alone!!!” Baekhyun yells, slamming a dainty fist on the table.
Some distant memory at the back of Chanyeol’s mind tells him to keep calm, because Byun Baekhyun is one hell of an angry drunk, and if Chanyeol is not mistaken Kim Jongdae was at the receiving end of a long-deserved knuckle sandwich a few years ago when EXO sailed the dark waters of testing their alcohol tolerance limits.
Chanyeol glances at the two bottles of soju beside a dazed Baekhyun faceplanting on the table and stifles his laughter with his palm.
Suddenly, Baekhyun’s head snaps up. “You did not just laugh at me.”
What?! No! Since when does Chanyeol ever laugh?! Never!
“I didn’t!” He protests.
And later, back home, Chanyeol stares into the mirror by the sink. He forces his cheek muscles upwards, revealing pearly whites behind perfect lips. The man in the mirror holds his stare steadily.
It felt so right back then in the bar, but now it feels all so wrong. As proven, Chanyeol cannot smile anymore. The momentary happiness is gone. It’s all just facades behind human-like features of perfection moulded by experienced surgeons back at the hospital.
When Chanyeol flinches, the man in the mirror flinches as well.
Guess it wasn’t so perfect to begin with after all.
“So, I listened to your radio show,” Baekhyun announces one day when they’re hiding in their seclusive corner in one of the Apgujeong bars.
“Why would you?” From the other side, Chanyeol frowns. He dislikes the idea of high profile all-round entertainer Byun Baekhyun tuning in to his crappy radio segment that for a number of unknown reasons have not been getting rave reception recently. The PDs are kind of miffed. Chanyeol has to avoid accusatory stares thrown his way every time he talks to the scriptwriters for some clarification.
“Your radio segment is crap.”
“Yeah, gee, thanks.”
“You know you can do better than that! You used to do loads better than just droning on and on about mindless things and sticking to the script.”
“Used to.” Chanyeol talks to no one but his shot of soju sitting innocently on the table.
“You sounded so dead.”
“Maybe I am.” He comments bitterly.
“Chanyeol what the hell?”
“What the hell what?”
The sound of the chair scraping against the floor drowns in Baekhyun’s increasing volume. The atmosphere of the room heats up rapidly like a pan on fire and no amount of ice and water can cool it back to how it originally was.
“You are better than this.” Baekhyun slams his palms on the table.
“How would you know?” Chanyeol growls, hands clenched tightly into angry fists. Breathe, breathe, do not fall into this pit of anger. It’s a trap, everything’s a trap. Who knows how long Baekhyun must’ve waited for this chance to ambush him and scream at him for all that’s happened?
Chanyeol feels betrayed. The moments they spent together for these few weeks, he thought they were real and would last.
“Why do you subject yourself to this kind of shit and misery?!”
“This isn’t shit! Stop yelling at me!”
“Look at you right now! So fucking broken and-”
“The Park Chanyeol I know would never be like this!”
“You used to do so fucking well! Back when EXO was still-”
“Shut up SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!”
“Stop talking about the past now!” he bellows, “stop talking about how Park Chanyeol used to be like this how Park Chanyeol used to be like that and all that fucking bullshit! I can’t be like that anymore! EXO is gone, gone gone and fucking gone and will never come back again. Stop talking about it like all of you never left and-”
“Is that what all of this is about.” Baekhyun’s flat tone whips at his side but Chanyeol’s on a roll, he won’t let Byun Baekhyun pull the brakes and stop him and he’ll be damned if he does because Chanyeol’s had enough.
“Does it even matter to you? How you guys left and never looked back, how everyone just stopped talking to each other like three years of bandhood and those endless days of training didn’t mean anything to all of you? You all didn’t even give a fuck-”
“Park fucking Chanyeol stop all this bullshit for god’s sake.”
“You weren’t even there! Bet you were so secretly happy that you could go solo, with the amount of requests all the fucking shows wanted you to star in I bet you were so fucking glad that EXO would disband-”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“-you weren’t even in the dorms for most of the time! What did all our years of friendship mean to you, huh? The skinship? The late-night talks? Some fucking sanitary pad that you can flush down the toilet?”
“Jesus why do I even bother with you-”
“THEN DON’T. GO ON. LEAVE ME. Nobody asked you to barge into my fucking life and act as if we’ve been hanging out since forever-”
“Is that what you think of me?! Some stupid bastard who leaves his friends to die-”
“You most certainly are! Don’t you dare deny it!”
“For the love of god what the fuck is wrong with you?! Is it wrong of me to want to catch up with someone I like when he’s been isolating himself for three fucking years disappearing into thin air?!”
“Every fucking thing is wrong with me! You want the truth? Fine. I can’t be the fucking Happy Virus you all want me to be, I can’t be some stupid goofy Park Chanyeol that you all think I am. I’m so fucking sick of all this. I can’t even make people laugh anymore. I can’t even fucking smile to save my own life anymore. This is me right now okay? You happy? I’m not. I’m sick of everything. I’m sick of waiting for EXO to be back only to leave again. I hate this. I hate all of this fucking bullshit-”
“Chanyeol put the glass down-”
“-so fuck EXO. You all will just leave and-”
“I said put the glass down now!”
“AND DAMNED IF I FUCKING DO!”
“YAH PARK CHANYEOL!!!”
“I’M JUST SO SICK OF EVERYTHING!!”
“Chan- Oi Chanyeol! Chanyeol come back!! Oh fuck.”
Anguish and despair, hopelessness and the crumbling of what little stability he has left, Chanyeol breaks. Falls. The door slams shut deafeningly behind him but doesn’t stop the trail of sadness from following close behind.
This time, when they fight, there is no Jongin or Kyungsoo to stop them, to pacify things and smoothen the rough edges out into flat surfaces. Chanyeol explodes like the ball of supergiant he is and shrinks back into an expanding black hole in the aftermath.
There is no supernova, Chanyeol, with all his angular spikes of sadness and rage, explodes into nothing.
He barely registers screaming, muttering, Baekhyun's impassive face, the only thing he registers when he gets home is the dampness of his cheeks and the liquid that has soaked in his shirt.
That’s the thing. People leave. They always do. Chanyeol doesn’t want to be left behind again, so he seeks shelter from the world and leaves before it happens to him.
Chanyeol remembers crying to sleep many times. Since he’s met Byun Baekhyun, Chanyeol has started to remember a lot of things. It’s like the goddamned spell locking in the memories broke and now Chanyeol is left wincing in pain among the abundance of pain.
And for those times, when he wakes up the next morning, he’s pretty much okay. The storm would’ve calmed, fences fixed and pieces and bits of memories swept back into the closet bearing his pain.
However, what Chanyeol doesn’t remember is waking up to the constant vibration and incessant ringing of his phone by his bed. His phone hasn’t rung this long in three years.
Also he doesn’t remember waking up to dark skies where the sun doesn’t shine. He checks his clock.
What the hell.
“This is insane.” he mutters before his face plops back into the soft comfort of his 100% cotton pillow.
Pretty soon after, when Chanyeol is close to slumberland, the ringtone stops playing. But then comes the set of furious knocking pounding against his apartment door.
“Park Chanyeol!” Kyungsoo’s voice floats from somewhere afar.
Stupid Kyungsoo and his weird antics. Chanyeol pushes himself out of bed and hurries to the door before the superintendent throws him out for disrupting the peace within the building. He has lost too many things, and he can’t lose his home because it’s the only place left he can go back to.
“You son of a bitch-”
“Whoa!!” Kyungsoo suddenly lunges forward and Chanyeol barely dodges a tiny fist flying towards his face.
“Kyungsoo what the fuck?!” he shouts at the shorter who is standing in front of the front door, seething with pure rage.
“Me?! You mean you! Haven’t you realised what you’ve done?!” Kyungsoo all but screams at him.
“What the fuck did I do this time?!”
“What the fuck did I do this time he says. Jesus.” Kyungsoo pinches the bridge of his nose and heaves a terribly long sigh.
“You don’t punch someone when you enter their house!”
“And I did because you fucking deserve it! Chanyeol, for god’s sake you smashed a bottle of beer in a bar in public! And Baekhyun was there!”
“So what if Baekhyun was there?! You don’t know-”
“Use your brains goddamn it! What is the public going to think of Baekhyun?! What if it appears in the news that he smashed the bottle?! You know the media, it would tarnish his reputation and ruin his career! It will kill him. And you! Don’t get me started on you and your attitude. You’ve gone too far.”
“Who the fuck would stay and try to pull you out of your stupid hole if they never liked you?! Stop pushing away the people who love and want to help you for god’s sake! Stop being so stubborn dwelling in that bubble of angst of yours and acting like a kid! Can’t you see that you’re hurting everyone including yourself?!”
“What are you yelling about?!”
“You hurt Baekhyun!”
“He hurt me too! All of you did!”
“I don’t- ugh. Park Chanyeol I swear to sweet Jesus I will skin you alive. I can’t deal with you anymore. It’s hard enough to always be the one talking and trying and if you’re such an unappreciative bastard, I’d rather spend my time on someone sensible who actually wants me.”
I want you.
“Fine, then leave.”
No tears shed. Don’t worry. The only thing that falls into pieces is the thought that Kyungsoo actually cared. Well, maybe he did, just not enough.
Chanyeol watches as the door closes shut. he stands at the centre of the room, shoulders slumped and this sense of emptiness creeping back into his soul. Strange, he didn’t even realise it was gone. When had it ran away?
He’s busy trying to figure out the fact when had the emptiness left when someone knocks on the door again.
Maybe it’s Kyungsoo. Maybe he has come back to apologise for screaming and let Chanyeol back to his heart. But Chanyeol doesn’t dare confirm his speculations. He’s afraid of disappointments. So, in the darkness of the living room, he stays rooted to the ground where he is and waits for the door to open itself.
He’s wrong. It’s not Kyungsoo.
But there is something weird about Baekhyun, something that doesn’t look right. But Chanyeol can’t tell when the former is standing in the darkness.
“Chanyeol.” He says quietly.
Said man keeps quiet. He’s afraid that if he speaks, nothing but sadness and despair will tumble out and infect the singer.
Sadness, depression, they are so contagious.
“Chanyeol say something.” Baekhyun tries again. This time, he takes a step forward and stands under the moonlight. Chanyeol gasps silently.
On the singer’s face is a patch of wire gauze taped securely and firmly onto his cheek.
You hurt Baekhyun.
Baekhyun cuts him off by waving his hand nonchalantly in the air.
“I’m still angry with you, but don’t worry about it. It’s on SM’s bill.”
He hurt Baekhyun. It must have been the glass shards. They must’ve bounced back and cut Baekhyun’s face. Guilt wraps itself around him like a cobra and prepares to ingest his 6’1 self with its own kind of hydrochloric acid - tears.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cut you.”
Baekhyun sighs exasperatedly like someone who has been doing it an insane amount of times for the past three weeks.
“I realised that it was an extremely brash action to have done and I-”
“Stop. That’s not what I want you to apologise for.”
Chanyeol does as he’s told. When the last echo of his voice fades away, all that’s left is silence and the distance between them across the room. Quietly, Baekhyun shuts the door behind them and looks at the taller. He looks very tired. Baekhyun always was the number one victim of sleep deprivation. His cheekbones are as sunken as ever and the bags under his eyes are nothing compared to Chanyeol who has had plenty of sleep during these three years.
The industry forces them into submission and unhealthy diet plans that make them lose weight faster than any slimming programme ever could.
And standing a few feet away in front of him, Chanyeol thinks Baekhyun’s weight has decreased further ever since the last time he’s managed to monitor the latter’s diet. The details suddenly jump out at him. Chanyeol doesn’t know why he’s only picking them up now when he’s been seeing Baekhyun almost every day for the past two weeks.
They are so close yet so far apart.
“I don’t understand.” For the first time since he can remember, Chanyeol speaks the truth.
“Of course you don’t.” Baekhyun mutters, shaking his head. Chanyeol feels something sharp pricking his useless lump of cardiovascular muscle that only knows how to keep him alive. It hurts to think that perhaps, Baekhyun has given up on him too, that right now he’s just here to say goodbye and leave Chanyeol alone for the rest of his life. Suddenly, the images of their moments spent together for the past few days swirl into existence in front of him.
Baekhyun’s smile, his voice, his cold fingers, the touch of his skin against Chanyeol’s, aren’t all these the little things that have been driving his life somewhere for the past two weeks?
“It’s like you pull people in but then push them away. You want them to stay but you make them leave. That’s you, Chanyeol. You’ve been like this for three years, aren’t you sick of it already?”
“We miss you Chanyeol. EXO misses you, hasn’t been the same without you ever since.”
“But EXO is gone! EXO died the moment we disbanded! We aren’t together anymore! No one has time for anyone else, nobody keeps us together anymore!”
He should stop. He must stop rambling. If he rambles Baekhyun might leave again and the thought of that makes him want to cry and he must not cry.
“Nobody wants to talk to anyone anymore.”
It’s like waiting for rain in the Sahara Desert, hopeless and pointless.
“That’s not true, Chanyeol.” Baekhyun says calmly. But instead it drives Chanyeol even more frantic and crazy he’s about to collapse into a fucking wall. Even the tears have left him. What does he have left except for an empty broken heart?
“You’ll leave again.”
“How would I know?”
Steadily, Baekhyun crosses the room and closes the distance between them. He is so tiny standing in front of Chanyeol, staring at him from below with such overwhelming emotions Chanyeol can't quite exactly pinpoint at this moment.
"Come closer," Baekhyun whispers as he slides his arms across Chanyeol's neck and pulls him down so close their faces and bodies are pressed against each other's without an inch of empty space left to fill.
Until Chanyeol forgets what it's like to breathe again.
Chanyeol remembers nights like these. He remembers the nights when everything was still fine and EXO still stood strong, a time when everyone could afford to spare their night with each other swapping stories in their dorms.
They don’t kiss or fuck then, but the atmosphere- the sentience of the room is still the same.
Chanyeol hadn’t known it back then, but now that he does, and when he looks into Baekhyun’s eyes that night, he realises that it has been there all along. Everything about Baekhyun is still the same, the feeling of love and acceptance, it’s all still there waiting for him.
Internet War flashes across his mind.
“How long?” He asks, fingers brushing across the patch of wire gauze as gently as he can.
Baekhyun shakes his head and lets his hand slide down to the waistband of Chanyeol’s pants.
“Just shut up and kiss me.”
Come late morning, for the first time in three years Chanyeol awakens to someone in bed with him.
"What are you doing?" he asks when he sees Baekhyun propped against the bedpost, fingers twiddling and tapping what it seems to be his phone.
"Oh I'm sending a message to my manager."
"With my phone?!"
"Yeah," the shorter turns around to stare, "to tell him that you wish to have Byun Baekhyun grace your crappy radio show with his presence and boost the ratings!"
"Also, I've taken the liberty of adding everyone’s number to your contacts, and I daresay compared to your old phone the amount of people in your phone has dwindled significantly."
"I haven't been contacting-"
"Also, it seems that you are organizing a road trip for EXO, and Luhan is your second supporter for this event, the first being me."
"How would Luhan know it's me anyway why would he want to talk to me-"
"Because it's you! Chanyeol, EXO hasn't really left, you did. You changed numbers and never told us to keep in touch with you anymore and we don't know what to do."
Chanyeol figures that the look on his face must’ve been so pathetically pitiful and confused because suddenly, Baekhyun’s gaze softens and his cold hands reach out to touch Chanyeol’s cheeks.
“Chanyeol Chanyeol Chanyeol,” Baekhyun sighs, “everyone is sad over the disbandment, has been for three years, so it’s not only you. But just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean we’re over it. We all think about the What Could’ve Been, the endless possibilities, but then life goes on, we do as well. We all find other things to keep ourselves occupied and we still stay in contact. We reach out to seek each other, we don’t stay in silence and hide while waiting for other people to find us. We just do our best under given circumstances to find happiness and solace.”
“But I can’t find Happy Virus back, I can’t find it anymore.” A tear slides down his cheek.
“Chanyeol, you don’t need to find Happy Virus, you just need to find you.”
“Oh look!” Baekhyun exclaims suddenly when they’re about to exit the threshold.
“The cactus! It’s blooming!”
“So?” Chanyeol doesn’t get it. Years and years of friendship and sharing dorms and sleeping in each other’s beds and he supposes he never will.
Baekhyun looks up at him, his eye-smile is as kind and as wide as ever.
“There is hope.”
until my life is over
until the world ends
we will be together.
–dear my family, smtown