Pairing: Kai/Kyungsoo, Kai-centric
Summary: Kyungsoo falls apart inside his own head, and Jongin can only watch from the sidelines.
Warnings: Highlight (negativity towards mental illness, implied character death)
Word Count: ~10,200
A/N: Originally written for kpop_ficmix for the wonderful hotarumyst (a remix of her brilliant The Implications of Telepathy). ♥
Jongin doesn’t know the first time it happens. Actually, Jongin can’t even remember the exact moment until he reads an entry in Kyungsoo’s diary, and then it comes back to him in vivid detail.
It’s only later, years later, when EXO are long disbanded and all the members are pushing thirty-five, when Jongin’s retired from his solo career, that he’ll re-open Kyungsoo’s diary and label this as the moment it all began to fall apart.
This is how it all starts:
When the twelve members of EXO board the plane to Thailand, they’re expecting some kind of heat, but what hits them is totally unexpected. Thailand is humid, stuffy, the summer air still and unbroken by any hints of wind. While Jongin’s admittedly not a big fan of the cold, he’s even more averse to the heat. At least inside the buildings, things are more bearable—Jongin survives the radio and variety shows they’re made to perform on, and EXO-K are given a rare Sunday off. Joonmyun insists that they all go out and explore the wonders of Thailand. Chanyeol and Baekhyun bound along enthusiastically, and even Sehun’s usually emotionless face is betraying signs of a smile. Jongin’s not so keen. He just wants to sleep in the hotel.
Kyungsoo stays with him.
Kyungsoo sprawls on their hotel bed, face-down, unspeaking. The air-conditioning’s not working, so the hotel staff have brought in a junky old fan to appease them. The hum of the fan in the background drills into Jongin’s brain, a mindless drone, meditative. Jongin plants himself down next to Kyungsoo, hands naturally finding the back of Kyungsoo’s neck, squeezing the curve between his neck and his shoulders. The members are all tired and stressed and strapped for cash. Massages seem kind of altruistic—and Jongin is feeling rather apologetic towards Kyungsoo today for keeping him behind like this.
Jongin’s muscles ache and his joints strain as he shifts from his lazy position on the bed and digs his knuckles in particularly deep. He winces. Yixing always complained at Jongin to back off when Jongin started “attacking his neck” in the dance practise room. Maybe I’m going too deep, Jongin thinks. He lightens the pressure.
“You’re not,” Kyungsoo says, breaking the silence. “Go on.”
The fan stalls and clatters to a halting stop.
“What?” Jongin asks. He’s acutely aware that Kyungsoo’s suddenly spoken up out of nowhere, but who knows? It’s late, they’re both tired, and god knows how early they have to get up tomorrow morning to board the flight. Maybe it’s the heat talking. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe Kyungsoo’s gone crazy and he’s talking to himself. It’s not really a big deal.
Kyungsoo doesn’t elaborate. Jongin furrows his brows and kneads harder.
Thirty-five degree celsius heat, a foreign country, and a broken fan.
Jongin can’t wait to be back in Korea.
Jongin only figures it out later, weeks later, when they’re back in their dorms in Seoul and he’s curled up in the corner of their dorm room in a pile of pillows, listening to music on his iPod. Yixing had given him the track after one of their late night practises. Jongin’s not entirely sure what all the lyrics are, Chinese syllables jumbling in his mind, but after listening to EXO’s own songs on repeat for hours, nursing a back injury, anything that doesn’t remind him of the blue and white clouds in the practise room is a welcome change.
The pile of pillows are like a little fort, protecting him from the outside world. No matter how many times Kyungsoo’s nagged at him to replace the pillows, after he’s kicked them off the bed in his sleep, Jongin refuses.
“Why’s your volume so high?” Kyungsoo calls from the bathroom. Jongin twitches. One of his eyelids flutter open. It’s very strange. Kyungsoo’s never had a problem with Jongin’s listening to music before.
“It’s not.” Jongin lowers his iPod volume slightly and curls back into the pillows. The cushions are soft and yielding, unlike the harsh wood of the practise rooms. At least his back feels a bit better today.
“You’re going to go deaf.”
Jongin frowns. He takes off his headphones and holds them away from himself, listening intently. The music’s not that loud—he can barely hear it from an arm’s length, so there’s no way that Kyungsoo can hear it all the way in the bathroom. Jongin purses his lips. He remembers the little offhand remarks that Kyungsoo made earlier this morning, to Jongin’s own half-formed thoughts—no salt in the eggs, Jongin, you’ll ruin the taste; Baekhyun will kill you if you touch his laptop, don’t do it—and a sudden burst of irritation flares inside him. It could just be Kyungsoo finally cracking under the pressure of EXO, and needing to take it out in some way, but whatever the case, Kyungsoo’s nagging sure has gotten worse lately.
“Your nagging’s gotten worse lately.”
“Yeah, because saying it twice has double the effect,” Kyungsoo mutters, sounding almost angry.
“I only said it once,” Jongin retorts defensively. He glances up at Kyungsoo, guarded. Kyungsoo’s a great roommate most of the time, because he’s the only one who really understands Jongin. All the same, it’s difficult when Kyungsoo, deliberately or by his nature, picks at little things; turns the other members’ words on themselves and ends up dragging them into things they don’t want to be involved in.
“I’m not,” Kyungsoo says, very slowly, looking Jongin right in the eye, “dragging anyone into things intentionally.”
Not dragging—Jongin’s train of thought halts, alarm bells ringing in his head—intentionally. Holy shit, Kyungsoo.
“Holy shit, Kyungsoo.”
Kyungsoo holds his gaze for a second longer before breaking it and pursing his lips. Jongin sits there, cradling his headphones in his hands. Holy shit. It wasn’t a figment of Jongin’s imagination. Jongin’s rather sure, now, that Kyungsoo—
Kyungsoo turns around and faces away from Jongin, slamming a hand against the doorway. Jongin’s heart thumps. It’s always Kyungsoo with the misfortune. The weird oddities. How the fuck do these kinds of things happen to him?
“When has this happened to me before?” Kyungsoo snaps. Jongin blanches. Kyungsoo buries his head in his hands, rubbing furiously at his face.
“Look at me.” Jongin gets up from the floor and strides over to Kyungsoo. He grabs Kyungsoo by the shoulder and turns him around. Kyungsoo doesn’t meet his eyes. Jongin holds Kyungsoo firm, peering at Kyungsoo. He concentrates, thinks of EXO, thinks of their hours perfecting themselves in front of the mirrors, thinks of the other members—Chanyeol’s annoying laugh, Baekhyun’s inability to shut up, and—Jongin winces—to himself, and all his injured glory. “What am I thinking?”
Kyungsoo shakes his head sadly and pushes past Jongin, out the door.
His eyes linger on Jongin’s waist for just a second too long.
It’s one thing to be sharp, and another thing to be a mindreader.
Jongin had always thought that Kyungsoo was observant. Kyungsoo’s definitely good at reading people and their subtleties, knowing exactly when Jongin’s upset and when Joonmyun’s in need of help—but when it’s like this, when Jongin’s own brain is laid out like a map for Kyungsoo to trace the path of every conscious thought, it gets more than a little bit unnerving.
Nothing is private. Everything is in the open. Kyungsoo will absentmindedly respond to things that Jongin hasn’t said, hasn’t even thought about saying. Half-fleshed out thoughts.
Jongin’s the one who has to room with Kyungsoo.
It’s fucking terrifying.
“Hyung,” Jongin whispers to Yixing on his mobile. “Just suppose—suppose that you’ve been hearing voices inside your head? Of other people’s thoughts?” Jongin’s hiding out in the company van, making a frantic call when Kyungsoo’s at his singing lesson, and Jongin can only hope that four walls and a soundproof vocal studio are enough to block out his thoughts. Jongin considered talking to Joonmyun, letting the cat out of the bag, but god knows Joonmyun would just scratch his head, smile in puzzlement, and do nothing about anything. Yixing’s a safe—safer—option. The M members are far away, across-an-ocean far away from Kyungsoo’s mental prying, and Yixing keeps Jongin’s secrets well. At least this way, Jongin can convince himself that he’s not blowing up the situation.
“But I do all the time,” Yixing says, sounding amused. “Jongin-ah, you know, I always hear Kris’ voice torturing me inside my mind, shouting at me for forgetting my passport or something. Has Kyungsoo been nagging at you to put your clothes away again?” Jongin doesn’t say anything. Yixing chuckles. “You’ll get used to it. Take it as a learning experience. Like a new language!”
Somehow, Jongin doesn’t feel like it’s quite the same, but he hangs up and says—well, thinks it—to Kyungsoo anyway, slowly and deliberately, the next time they cross paths.
Kyungsoo only responds with a wan smile.
“Mindreading?” Lu Han whistles. “Wow, Jongin, I know they told us that we had superpowers, but I don’t think that actually exists.”
“Say it did. Say that you heard other people’s voices inside your head.”
“Well, if I could mindread, I’d probably use it to blackmail everyone. Find out all their deepest darkest secrets and make them offer goods and/or services to appease me.”
“You are a horrible human being,” Jongin says, moaning. Lu Han chuckles.
“But Jongin,” Lu Han says, turning serious, “if you’re really hearing voices in your head, maybe you need help. Professional help. It could be that—that mental disorder. What’s it called? Schizophrenia?”
“It’s only hypothetically,” Jongin emphasises. “No one’s going crazy, hyung.” He hangs up.
Jongin catches Kyungsoo huddled in the corner of their room with his head cradled in his arms. His bed is unmade. Jongin puts a hand on Kyungsoo’s shaking shoulder. Lu Han’s right. Maybe it is a mental illness; he needs help, he needs—
“You sure you don’t need to see a psychotherapist or something?”
“This isn’t a mental disease. And what’re they going to do, they’ll just tell me I’m insane.” Yeah, well, maybe you are going a bit insa—“I’m not insane, Jongin.”
Shit. “Damn.” Lu Han’s right. Blackmail. Secret-digging. You could do so much. “This is dangerous.”
Jongin slumps near the mirror, turning the music off. Sehun stands in front of him, holding a towel out to Jongin, mopping the sweat off his brows. It’s been two weeks since Kyungsoo’s…condition has revealed itself to Jongin. Amazingly, none of the other members have yet caught on, but this, Jongin thinks wryly, is because Kyungsoo’s closed himself off. He’s talking less at dinner, talking less in the waiting rooms, keeping conversations with the other members to a minimum. “You brat. Call me hyung.“
“Hyung. What’s up with you and Kyungsoo-hyung?”
Jongin frowns for a split second, before smoothing out his expression. “Nothing.”
“It’s not nothing,” Sehun says. “He’s been acting weird for a few weeks. And at breakfast this morning—there’s something weird going on between you two.”
Jongin made a point to think about wanting milk this morning. Kyungsoo wordlessly passed it to him. Jesus, you scared me. Pass me the cereal. Pass. Spoon? “Get your own.” What if I asked for my iPod? “I’d rather not have your music ringing in my ears for the next couple of days.” The rest of the members shot Kyungsoo weird looks, Joonmyun chewing his cereal particularly slowly.
Jongin chucks his towel at Sehun and walks back to the stereo. “It’s really nothing. Don’t worry about it. Let’s get back to dance.”
The next morning, Sehun sits at the far end of the table, in the seat furthest from Kyungsoo. He glances up periodically at Kyungsoo, eyebrows furrowing.
He’s figured, Jongin thinks. He’s figured.
Jongin feels like every day is a test. Every day, he’s testing himself, and testing Kyungsoo.
If he wasn’t conscious about his own thoughts before, jumpy at every moment, he sure is now. A month of being around a new and upgraded Kyungsoo has taught him to be aware, alert, realising that at any moment, Kyungsoo could be foraging into the depths of his mind.
Jongin feels safer when they’re in dance practise, because all that Jongin can think of during those gruelling yet satisfying hours is the music, the steps, the one-two-three-four of the bass pumping through the speakers. He does feel sorry sometimes, when that sharp, stabbing pain shoots through his waist as he overexerts—every time that happens, Kyungsoo winces along with him, clutching at his lower back.
“Get better, for my sake,” Kyungsoo mutters. Jongin laughs. It’s fucking painful. It’s not something Jongin would wish on his worst enemy, but that’s what came with the idol contract. Injuries and insecurities.
(Looking at Kyungsoo, it was only a matter of time before insanity joined the list.)
EXO-K travel to Beijing in late in September to attend an award ceremony. The moment they escape the horde of screaming fans at the airport and meet up with the M members at the hotel, Kyungsoo immediately freezes next to Jongin. A sharp intake of breath.
“Hey!” Lu Han greets. “How was the flight?”
Kyungsoo’s eyes dart to Lu Han, visibly alarmed. He stares, rooted to the spot, then looks at Sehun, then at Jongin so helplessly that Jongin’s mind goes into overdrive, shit, what happened, are they thinking about something weird, did they figure something out?
“Jong…in? You okay?”
“Great,” Jongin answers quickly. He grabs Kyungsoo by the arm. Kyungsoo’s shaking now. The room’s gone quiet, and all the members are watching the two of them silently. “I’m—I think he’s feeling a bit sick. We’re gonna go to our room.”
Thirty-five degree summer to twenty degree autumn.
Three months, and his roommate is without a doubt, growing crazier by the day.
“Lu Han knows,” Kyungsoo mutters to Jongin. He buries his head in his hands. “Sehun told him and he pieced it together with your little phone conversation.”
“—I read minds, remember. I don’t want him to know, Jongin, I don’t want any of them to know. It’s bad enough that you think I’m going crazier by the day—”
Jongin makes a sound of protest. “I never said that.”
Kyungsoo looks at him tiredly. “You thought it, just then. You can’t lie to me. I don’t need another ten voices telling me the same thing.”
Yeah, okay, and that’s why you freaked the fuck out ten minutes ago with all the fucking members in the room watching, real subtle—
“—fucking hell, Jongin, I didn’t mean to freak out.”
“And I didn’t mean to say that,” Jongin says emphatically. “I didn’t mean to say it, Kyungsoo, and normal people don’t respond to things they can’t hear, so if you don’t want them thinking you’re insane, then stop reacting to it.”
“Stop reacting? I don’t have a choice whether I hear it or not.”
“What am I supposed to do about that?” Jongin snaps. “You know all the things I think before they’re even halfway out my mouth. Before I even decide I’m going to say them. Christ, Kyungsoo, it’s not like I want to think that you’re crazy or anything. I can’t…lie in my own head.”
Kyungsoo laughs bitterly. “I know. Trust me, I know.”
I’ll bet you do.
“Whatever,” Kyungsoo says, walking to the door. “It’s not like you’d understand. We’ve got to go to the salon. The award ceremony starts soon.”
Jongin’s distracted the entire evening. On the red carpet, he steals glances at Kyungsoo, monitoring his expressions. It’s minuscule, but Kyungsoo’s expression changes every so often—an eyebrow twitch, a jerk of the lips, a gritting of teeth—reacting to things that Jongin will never be able to hear. When they settle into their seats and the lights dim, Kyungsoo’s expression instantly morphs into one of relief.
Kyungsoo’s right. Jongin doesn’t understand.
Jongin’s not the person who has suddenly acquired the ability to read minds. He can only imagine being in Kyungsoo’s shoes—and he knows just how frustrating it gets when others act like they understand, when they really have no clue. When he’d been chosen as the face of EXO, the other trainees had looked at him with scorn and envy in their eyes. “It figures,” they’d said, “he’s SM’s golden child, he was always going to get it,” but they didn’t know about the late nights alone, fists smashing repeatedly into walls, perfecting that triple pirouette.
Kyungsoo might not have understood Jongin’s frustration then, but he’d been there with the bandages and salve at two in the morning, silently and unquestioningly wrapping Jongin’s hand. Kyungsoo’s the only one Jongin was ever really comfortable around; the one who knows how to put up with Jongin’s petulance, Jongin’s ups and downs, Jongin’s temper tantrums. Things that Joonmyun—quiet, lenient, pushover of a leader Kim Joonmyun—still can’t deal with.
A wave of guilt hits Jongin. Kyungsoo’s never demanded anything from him. Kyungsoo’s only given.
Jongin could at least deal with this much.
“Stop feeling so bad. Your guilt is clogging up my system.”
“Jesus.“ Jongin jumps in his seat, turning slightly to face Kyungsoo. Kyungsoo’s wearing a weary smile. “Jesus, Kyungsoo, don’t do that.” Some group wins an award, and everything is lost in the applause.
“Sorry. About this, and about before.”
“You look good in a suit, by the way.”
So do you. I mean it.
Kyungsoo smiles, for real this time.
“Did you tell Lu Han?”
“Maybe. So what if I did?”
“Could you do me a favour? Don’t tell anyone else. Please.”
September. October. November—icy cold, warmed up only by long hours spent on choreography. Promotional activities for EXO’s first full album are back-to-back and preparations for end-of-year ceremonies and performances are piling one on top of the other.
Jongin worries about Kyungsoo. He worries that Kyungsoo won’t be able to handle the crowds. Kyungsoo tells Jongin that he’d rather be preoccupied with activities and drowning in a cacophony of fans’ voices than back in the dorm dealing with Baekhyun and Chanyeol’s graphic thoughts about the porn they’d found on Joonmyun’s laptop. Screaming crowds are not a problem. Real sounds merge with thoughts to make one huge mass of incoherence.
The problem is when it’s just Jongin and Kyungsoo in their beds during the long nights. The thoughts before sleep are the most haphazard, and the little control Jongin tries to exert over them during the day completely falls away. Kyungsoo will shift in the bunk above his, groaning, and then Jongin will think of things that he himself didn’t know he wanted, and maybe he himself doesn’t mean, but forces to the forefront of his mind anyway.
If Kyungsoo knows, he doesn’t let on. Jongin’s thankful for that much.
It happens again when Kyungsoo and Jongin are in the dressing room and Kyungsoo’s changing his pants. Jongin turns around, catches a glimpse of Kyungsoo’s naked legs, and suddenly his mind flickers—lips, collarbones, chest—
This time, Kyungsoo’s violent coughing fit betrays him.
“Shit, sorry,” Jongin mutters. He stumbles into the clothing rack, knocking it over. Kyungsoo looks over at him, wide-eyed. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to think of it or anything, it just kind of happened…”
“Are my lips really that pink?”
The question catches Jongin off-guard. “Huh? Y—yeah, they’re…” Pink and plump and heart shaped and really nice, Kyungsoo, sometimes I want—”Goddammit, Kyungsoo, you asked that on purpose.”
There’s a low chuckle from Kyungsoo. “I gotta make the most of this ability. Personal lie detector. It’s pretty fun to see you squirm.”
“You’re not freaked out?” Jongin asks. “What I was…you don’t want to run away from me?”
A bark of laughter. “I’m a mindreader, Jongin. You’re the closest friend I have here. Don’t you want to run away from me?”
Jongin gets Kyungsoo back. If Kyungsoo could read thoughts, then surely, Jongin could think things—or, more specifically, make Kyungsoo think things.
Joonmyun’s wearing a ridiculous pink t-shirt at breakfast. Jongin conjures up a mental image of Joonmyun in a pink tutu, complete with a sparkling tiara and Joonmyun’s trademark smile. Kyungsoo bursts out laughing and sprays his milk all over the table. “Fuck you,” he says under his breath, “I really didn’t need to see that.”
“See what?” Joonmyun asks. He no longer sounds puzzled, just weary. Kyungsoo’s always saying things out of the blue, responding to nothing. They’re used to it.
Kyungsoo shakes his head. “Nothing.”
Jongin’s grin practically reaches his ears as Kyungsoo grabs him by the arm, yanks him into their room, and closes the door behind them. “How was that?”
“You gave him peacock eyelashes,” Kyungsoo says, still laughing. “Jongin, I don’t think his legs are that shapely.”
“It’s not all bad, is it,” Jongin says. Kyungsoo’s laughter tinkles in his ears. It’s been a while since Jongin’s heard it.
Jongin’s woken up one morning by a sharp gasp and an entangling of smooth legs. Fuck, too early, too cold, stop rolling around.
“Are you okay?” The bed rocks. Kyungsoo’s voice is shaky.
Jongin’s hand slides off Kyungsoo’s face. Frown. What are you going on about, of course I’m—
“What the fuck, Kyungsoo? Why are you up so early?”
Hey, that’s—what happened?
“I blacked out for a second.”
It’s not Kyungsoo’s voice. It’s not Kyungsoo, who’s sleeping next to Jongin in his bed, who’s been sleeping in Jongin’s bed for weeks now, because winter’s warmer with two bodies—no, it’s Joonmyun’s voice, floating over in echoey undertones from the shower a room away.
Kyungsoo’s never reacted so violently to a voice in the next room before.
Cold chills run down Jongin’s spine.
It’s getting stronger. Kyungsoo’s losing it.
Jongin rubs his eyes and groans, sitting up. Kyungsoo’s biting his clenched fist, face pale. He curls into a little ball on his half of the bed, and Jongin gently pries Kyungsoo’s fist away from his mouth and holds his hand. Kyungsoo’s skin is clammy.
“He…” Kyungsoo lets out a shaky breath. “Blacked out. I blacked out.”
Kyungsoo’s not fine.
End of year promotions finish without a hitch. Jongin’s back injury resurfaces with all the rehearsals they’re forced to attend, but he supposes it’s a small price to pay for being in one of the most visible rookie groups of the year.
There’s a new year’s party for all the SM staff and artists.
Kyungsoo stays in bed, refusing to move. Jongin doesn’t question him. It might be better for him to get some rest, alone, without five other minds clouding his space.
Jongin looks up from where he’s standing by the door, a flute of non-alcoholic champagne in hand. Joonmyun’s in front of him, a tacky-looking blue drink held between two fingers. Sehun’s eyeing the hors d’oeuvres to the side, and Baekhyun and Chanyeol are admiring the champagne fountain in the middle of the room.
“Hyung. What’s up?”
“Kyungsoo.” Jongin freezes. Joonmyun smiles disarmingly. “This is a company event. Where is he?”
“Not here,” Jongin says, taking a swig of his drink. “You know that.”
“Is he back at the dorm?”
“Probably. Why do you care?”
Joonmyun’s smile droops. “Kyungsoo’s acting really weird lately, Jongin. You’re his roommate. What’s wrong with him?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with him, hyung,” Sehun says, walking up and looping an arm around Jongin’s shoulders. Jongin tries to shrug him off, but Sehun’s a lead weight. “He’s crazy. He’s gone fucking nuts.”
“Language, Sehun,” Joonmyun scolds gently.
Sehun rolls his eyes. “You know it’s true, hyung. I’m pretty sure he can read mi—”
“—Sehun. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be alone,” Jongin says, a bit desperately, trying to cut Sehun off. Baekhyun and Chanyeol have moved next to Joonmyun now, curious at the scene.
Sehun frowns. “Stop defending him. He’s insane.”
“He’s not insane, Sehun,” Jongin says. By this point, Jongin’s not sure if they’re his own words or Kyungsoo’s. No one else speaks up for Kyungsoo anymore, so he’s taken on the role of defending Kyungsoo. “Kyungsoo just didn’t want to come tonight. Is that such a big deal?”
“It is when he doesn’t want to come to anything anymore,” Chanyeol mutters. “When was the last time any of us have properly talked to him? I haven’t seen him at breakfast for a month. Dinner for two. I swear he’s trying to avoid us.”
“He looks at me strangely whenever we’re in the vocal studio together,” Baekhyun pipes in. “Intensely. Like he’s studying me.”
Chanyeol snorts. “Maybe he’s fallen in love with you.” Baekhyun hits him on the arm.
Joonmyun frowns. “No. Not just that. I feel like he’s distancing himself from everyone.”
“Except for Jongin,” Baekhyun says. He turns to Jongin accusingly. “You two have some kind of weird roommate thing going on. What’s up with that?”
“It’s not some weird roommate thing,” Jongin protests, but it’s too late—the others are all deep in conversation, bringing up strange instances between him and Kyungsoo, little moments that Jongin had never thought highly of before. It’s four against one. Jongin’s never been good at debates.
Kyungsoo’s still in bed when Jongin gets back to the dorm. He’s curled up, back turned to the door. Jongin enters quietly, and sits down on his half of the bed.
“I see they talked about me,” Kyungsoo says, without shifting an inch. Jongin twitches, heart jumping a beat, but it’s no longer as unnerving as it was when it first started. Jongin’s embracing the idea that none of his thoughts are private anymore. Still, there’s no telling which thoughts Kyungsoo will choose to respond to.
“Y—yeah, we did. Sorry. Joonmyun-hyung ask—”
“—I know. It was only a matter of time.”
Jongin laughs loudly and deliberately. He can’t even get a full sentence out today. Why bother explaining things to Kyungsoo anymore? His own voice is an unnecessary addition to their conversation.
He takes off his shirt and hurls it to the floor.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to do this. And pick that up and put it in the laundry.” Kyungsoo’s still facing the opposite wall.
Yeah. Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.
Jongin slides under the covers, curling into Kyungsoo. He tries to think of happy things, like backrubs, mucking about the practise rooms as trainees, childhood and carefree days, but the silence is suffocating.
Kyungsoo starts to lose it, slowly but surely.
Jongin can only watch from the sidelines with sad fascination.
Kyungsoo and Jongin’s joint birthday celebration had been an hour of uncomfortable tension. The members were fine with Jongin, but entirely unsure how to deal with Kyungsoo. The fans noticed. There’s no way they missed it—the awkward silences, the members’ lukewarm responses to Kyungsoo’s answers, the fact that Kyungsoo only said three lines at his own birthday party. Jongin trawled the web the day after, during the half-hour break at the salon, and saw a list of posts on their fancafe about the event. “Did EXO-K have a fight?” “Is…D.O.-oppa sick!?” “Is this another T-ARA case??? Bullying in SM?????” “Kyungsoo’s acting strange…I’m worried T____T”
“Let them think what they want,” Kyungsoo says, “rumours are just rumours.”
“They’re not when it’s true,” Jongin mutters. Kyungsoo doesn’t respond.
Jongin tries in his little ways to help. He somehow convinces Kyungsoo to join the rest of the members at breakfast again, in a futile attempt to alleviate the discomfort that’s driving a wedge between them all, but Kyungsoo’s wide-eyed gaze is as disconcerting as hell. Kyungsoo’s chewing, pushing his food around the plate, but his eyes fix on Joonmyun with a strange intensity, only shaking his head and looking back at his food when Joonmyun clears his throat uncomfortably. By then, the air is positively choking with uneasiness.
“Kyungsoo,” Joonmyun begins gently. “Is something the problem?”
“No, hyung,” Kyungsoo says, picking at his scrambled eggs, “it’s just—don’t worry. You look fine; stop worrying so much about your hair.”
“What the fuck?” Baekhyun says. Chanyeol sniggers a bit, but Joonmyun’s certainly not laughing. Jongin closes his eyes and lets out a long breath.
“No one asked,” Sehun finally says. “No one asked, hyung, so don’t answer.”
Jongin comes up with his own explanation when their manager buys them a large fish for dinner as congratulations for winning their first music show award. Kyungsoo’s like a fish, wide eyes, gaping mouth, who’s been thrown into a river of acrid, polluted water, and has no choice but to breathe it in. The toxins are poisonous, assailing him and filtering through him until he’s as indistinguishably toxic as the water around him.
It’s fucking miserable.
Chanyeol snaps at Joonmyun partway through practise, and Jongin feels his stomach twisting. This scenario’s becoming more and more common. The members are unsure where to direct their uneasiness, so they take it out on each other. Chanyeol’s always been easily set off, a loose cannon, just like Jongin himself.
Kyungsoo leans against the wall, hands held to his ears.
“Hey,” Jongin says. Kyungsoo closes his eyes. “Hey,” Jongin repeats. “Cut it out. What’s going on?”
Kyungsoo’s voice is shaking. Jongin can only imagine the portion of the argument he’s missing, that’s happening inside the other members’ heads—that Kyungsoo is, without a doubt, seeing in real-time. “If I had a thousand won for every time you—”
“I didn’t sign up for this.”
Neither did I. “EXO?”
“No. You know very well what I mean.”
Yeah. I. Telepathy. Shit. What—I don’t know. The other members are silent, Baekhyun staring at Chanyeol through the mirror, Chanyeol resting his forehead against his upper arm in the corner, Sehun scrolling through his phone, Joonmyun emanating fury from the middle of the room. Jongin bites his lip. “Can you turn it off?”
It’s the wrong thing to say. Kyungsoo gives him an incredulous look, turns and braces himself against the mirror behind him.
He laughs, and laughs, and laughs, and everyone else is staring now too, bewildered, but not entirely surprised at Kyungsoo’s manic outburst. The laughter sends chills down Jongin’s spine.
Kyungsoo is fucking falling apart.
Jongin grabs Kyungsoo by the shoulder hard enough to bruise, and drags him out of the practise room, wondering whether to slap Kyungsoo and tell him to snap the fuck out of it, or just let it ride out. The winter air is cold and raises goosebumps on Jongin’s skin. Jongin pushes Kyungsoo against the brick wall by both shoulders.
Red, puffy eyes, gasping for air, hair dishevelled. Fucking hell, Kyungsoo, and you said you weren’t insane.
“I’m not insane, Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, still laughing.
Jongin wants to believe him, he really does, but if this isn’t insanity, then Jongin’s not sure what is.
EXO get a three-day break after promotions for their full album. The members can’t wait to get away from SM, get away from the dorms—or rather, get away from a certain person in the dorms.
Kyungsoo leaves in the morning without so much as a word.
Jongin finds it when he’s rummaging around the drawers looking for the pair of gloves his mother had knitted for him. A small, inconspicuous book stuck in the slat of the bottom drawer, filled with Kyungsoo’s neat handwriting.
29/07/12: Hot, humid Thailand. Stayed with Jongin in the hotel. Swear I’m hearing things today—maybe it’s the heat.
24/07/12: I’m mental. I can hear thoughts. Jongin’s music. It was something in Chinese. What the fuck is happening to me?
Jongin gulps. Kyungsoo’s diary, documenting all the little things that he’s seen, heard, observed, with his ability. Jongin flicks over the pages, only scanning briefly, not wanting to intrude on things that he has no right to know, because it’s not just Kyungsoo’s thoughts here, it’s everyone’s, and he’s not sure that he wants to know everything. He flips to the last entry.
14/02/13: It’s getting stronger. I’m getting memories—some nice, most tragedies. It’s Valentine’s Day and I can’t stop it. All I can hear in my head is flashes of Joonmyun and his one-sided love. Sehun lamenting that he still hasn’t had his first kiss. Moments of Chanyeol, when the company broke him and his girlfriend up, even though he’s sleeping around now. Baekhyun at nine years old, getting rejected by his crush for his best friend. Jongin and…that brat. He’s lucky he doesn’t have any bad memories of Valentine’s Day.
Jongin laughs despite the sickening churning in his stomach.
I’m a part of these memories. I want to fix them, but I can’t. I want to talk, but I can’t. All I can do is—
Jongin slams the book shut and puts it back in the drawer, afraid to read any more. It’s spiralling out of control, frighteningly fast. Only a few months ago, Kyungsoo had told Jongin that he could only hear the loudest thoughts, superficial ones on the surface, but now, it’s everything below the surface, into the depths of the subconscious memory.
It’s a dirty, dark, twisted place.
There are stray thoughts, suppressed negativity, murderous intent, fears and insecurities—the concentrated toxic waste in the river—and even Jongin himself isn’t quite sure of what’s lurking underneath the surface of his own mind.
Both of Jongin’s sisters pull him into big hugs when he arrives at the door. Jongin tries to shake them off; instead, they push him towards the washing room and tell him to help out with the laundry. Jongin grumbles, feigning petulance, but he’s glad to be back home, even if for a little while.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Jongin’s eldest sister chastises at dinner, waving a pair of chopsticks in front of Jongin’s face. Jongin blinks and shovels in a mouthful of rice. He’d been thinking about Kyungsoo again. His sister regards him with suspicion. “Are they overworking you?”
“Your face colour doesn’t look too good. Here, have some fish. It’s fresh.”
Fish. The eyes of the fish stare back at him, glossy and bulbous, dead, and Jongin has to suppress the urge to vomit. His sister looks alarmed.
“What’s wrong with you? You gotta take care of your body, Jongin-ah.”
Jongin shakes his head and smiles, swallowing bile. “I’m fine, noona. Don’t worry about me.”
He lies in bed that night and he remembers the times when he tossed and turned in bed, a persistent stinging pain in his waist—when he looked at the pile of pillows in the corner of the room, a permanent fixture, and saw Kyungsoo there with his eyes shut and hand clutching his waist, rocking back and forth.
Kyungsoo’s own pain—plus everyone else’s pain. Kyungsoo’s own insecurities—plus everyone else’s insecurities.
Jongin knows all about the ‘shared income, shared burden’ clause in their contracts, but he’s not sure that this burden is what the company meant.
Three days passes too quickly. They’re back in the studio before they know it.
“How was home?” Jongin asks Kyungsoo cautiously.
Kyungsoo smiles back. “I didn’t go. Stayed at a hotel. Don’t want to be a part of my parents’ memories now, do I?”
Jongin’s learnt by this stage to moderate his thoughts. It’s tiring, practising control all the time—control in his steps, control in his thoughts—but if it makes it any easier for Kyungsoo, he’s willing to at least attempt it.
It’s hard, though, in both senses, when he can’t seem to stop thinking about long legs and naked bodies moving on top of each other; moving on top of him. Jongin’s a normal teenage boy; it’s a basic carnal desire, and fuck, his body is reacting way too strongly to the images he’s creating inside his head.
Don’t think about your hard-on, don’t think about your hard-on, don’t think about your—
“—I don’t care what you think about,” Kyungsoo says, tapping away at his laptop, sounding slightly amused. Kyungsoo’s voice suddenly breaking the silence sends a thrill through Jongin, and he’s even harder than before. Kyungsoo lets out a short, uncomfortable cough. Jongin’s eyes travel to Kyungsoo’s crotch. There’s a tent forming there too.
“You probably should,” Jongin says, flickering his eyes back up to meet Kyungsoo’s, licking his lips.
On the simplest level, Jongin feels sorry for Kyungsoo, being tormented endlessly by thoughts, memories and more thoughts. He deserves a break—and, Jongin thinks, it’s not like Kyungsoo doesn’t know about Jongin’s vivid imagination. He’s probably seen every fleeting thought that Jongin’s had about him, and every single moment when Jongin’s imagined Kyungsoo in ways that weren’t exactly PG rated.
So Jongin gets out of bed and walks up to Kyungsoo, grabbing him by the t-shirt and yanking him off the seat. “Sorry, I’m not dealing with this by myself.”
“It’s okay,” Jongin mutters. He pushes Kyungsoo into the bathroom, locking the door. “You’re so wound up. I’m doing you a favour.”
Then they’re inside the cramped shower cubicle, and Jongin’s naked, and Kyungsoo’s naked, and the water is pounding his back, burning hot, steam obscuring his vision. Jongin turns Kyungsoo around so Kyungsoo’s back is pressed against his own chest, wraps one hand around his own cock, and wraps the other around Kyungsoo’s.
“—it’ll help. Trust me.” Jongin’s voice comes out in breathy grunts, husky and hoarse. Kyungsoo leans his head back against Jongin’s shoulder and grips the shower curtain in his fists. “You’ve been driven out of your mind lately.”
Kyungsoo tenses underneath him, and even obscured by the steam, Jongin can sense that Kyungsoo’s not entirely into it. Jongin concentrates, thinks about how much he wants it, how good it feels to have real contact, to have Kyungsoo’s cock heavy in his hand, to make Kyungsoo feel just that little bit better and relax a little bit more. Kyungsoo shudders, a low, throaty moan escaping from his lips as Jongin pumps them both in varying rhythms, a thumb rubbing against the head of Kyungsoo’s cock. Kyungsoo turns around, fingers clawing, digging into Jongin’s upper arm, biting his lower lip, and Jongin squeezes his eyes shut and banishes everything but pleasure, heat, and want from his mind, stroking both of them harder, faster, until the tension builds up in a tight knot in his torso, and he releases with a loud groan.
Kyungsoo comes at the same time—the exact same time. His breathing is heavy in the echoey walls of the cubicle.
It matches Jongin’s.
“How was that?” Jongin asks, thighs shaking. The pounding water is deafening. Jongin’s almost glad he can’t see Kyungsoo’s expression now.
“Yeah. Good.” Kyungsoo yanks the curtains aside. “I’m gonna—I’m gonna get out now.”
Shit. Maybe that was—“Sorry.”
“No. It’s not you,” Kyungsoo says, drying himself off. He smiles a twisted smile. Jongin feels a horrible lurch in his stomach. “It’s me. It’s always me.”
Jongin’s afraid that things will get awkward afterwards—actually, he’s pretty much certain of it—but Kyungsoo simply tells Jongin not to worry, and to forget about it. Jongin’s still the only person Kyungsoo voluntarily talks to. So, nothing much changes. Jongin stays by Kyungsoo’s side, like he did before, and keeps everything a secret.
But truth be told, Kyungsoo’s own attempts at hiding his ability aren’t really working.
The members might not know for sure what’s up with Kyungsoo, but they’ve gotten a pretty good idea, and they’re all surreptitiously trying to avoid Kyungsoo. Sehun’s been at it for the longest, ever after the breakfast incident. Chanyeol tries to get out of the dorms as much as possible, booking modelling gig after modelling gig, some of which Jongin’s also booked for. Joonmyun and Baekhyun, the most tolerant, tried to include Kyungsoo when they could, but that outburst in the dance studio clinched it for them, and now they stay away. When EXO-K had to promote with the M members, the M members tried to make polite conversation, but that fell through and eventually, they’d given up too. Even Yixing, the most tolerant out of the twelve, finds it difficult to deal with Kyungsoo.
“Is Kyungsoo okay?” Yixing asks, and Jongin can only sigh and shake his head. “Is it permanent?”
“He’s—” Jongin licks his lips. “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent.”
“Is everyone still…avoiding him?”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
Yixing laughs. “Lu Han knows everything about everyone and their mothers. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone else. It’s strange he’s like this. Mindreading seems pretty cool to me.”
“Seems,” Jongin echoes. “Only seems.”
It’s a hot, stuffy summer day again, the air-conditioning broken, when Jongin walks into the corridor and hears two voices coming from the living room. Sehun’s and—Kyungsoo’s.
“You sound like a psychopath.”
“What’s going on?” Jongin says, stepping into the living room. Kyungsoo’s three steps away from the other door, hand outstretched. Jongin gulps. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard you talk to anyone.”
“He thinks he can run,” Kyungsoo says, incredulous. He points to the door furiously. His eyes are glazed, a manic fire to them. “He thinks he can run from this. Fuck him, because I can’t run from this.”
A pause. Jongin’s not sure how to respond. “They’ve been avoiding you for a while now,” he says. He puts his hands in his pockets, and shrugs his headphones off so he can hear better. “You’ve been too wrapped up in yourself to notice.”
“Wrapped up in myself?” Kyungsoo hisses. “I haven’t heard anything but people for the past year, Jongin.”
Jongin can imagine. People everywhere, and a mind that can see through the thickest skull. The problem is not hearing what’s inside, but understanding, or even caring. “You’ve heard, but you haven’t listened.”
Kyungsoo slams his fist against the wall. Jongin flinches, surprised. Kyungsoo turns around, eyes accusing. “Are you telling me to fucking embrace this, Jongin?”
“Not embrace it,” Jongin says slowly. “But it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. You’re going to have to live with it.” Jongin’s words sound a lot more nonchalant than he feels. Kyungsoo glares at him and pushes out of the room.
Jongin sits down at the table, laughing at his own absurdity. Who could embrace it? Who could voluntarily let something akin to a universal signal receiver be hardwired straight to their brain? Everything’s forced on Kyungsoo, thrust upon him, injected into his eyes, his ears, his memory, his brain; a hypodermic needle administering insanity.
And he’d just told Kyungsoo to live with it.
Three company officials drop by two days later and take Kyungsoo away, for a psych examination. He doesn’t come back.
“I had to tell them,” Sehun mutters, as all of the members are gathered in the living room. “I couldn’t stand having him in the dorm any longer.”
“It was you?“
Sehun looks at Jongin. “Yeah, and?”
Jongin punches Sehun in the face.
“Stop!” Joonmyun shouts, as Jongin grabs Sehun by the collar and yanks him up, “please, don’t fight!” but it’s no use. Jongin throws another punch, and Sehun’s grabbing and yanking at Jongin’s hair. Baekhyun and Chanyeol are looking on, horrified.
“Why do you care so much?” Sehun spits, pinning Jongin down to the ground with a knee. Sehun’s nose is bleeding. Jongin winces. “He won’t fucking talk to us. It’s not like he’s really one of our members anymore anyway. I don’t care if he’s the lead singer. We have Baekhyun-hyung.”
“Shut up,” Jongin says. He pushes Sehun off him. Baekhyun helps Sehun up, and Jongin struggles to stand up. “Shut the fuck up, Sehun, you don’t know what it’s like.”
“W—We’ll just have to wait for the company’s decision,” Joonmyun says, putting a comforting hand on Jongin’s shoulder. “I don’t know what’s going on either, but it’s okay. As long as he’s not leaving EXO, he’s still one of us. He will be, until the end. Yes?”
The company tells the members it’s ‘extenuating circumstances’. More people come in the following days and lug Kyungsoo’s stuff out of the dorm.
Jongin tosses and turns in bed. Kyungsoo, the only trainee who hadn’t scorned and resented him for his high status in the company. Who hadn’t blindly dismissed how difficult it was to learn eleven new pieces of choreography in the span of two weeks for MV teaser shootings. Who was willing to cook him food at odd hours in the morning when he was hungry and exhausted from spending hours in the cold, in front of a camera.
The room is too empty and too silent without Kyungsoo next to him at night, muttering answers to his unspoken questions.
Jongin adamantly convinces himself that he’ll be able to survive in this dorm even if Kyungsoo isn’t here next to him.
Days become weeks, months. Jongin’s lonely. The upside is that now he has a room to himself, but he’s used to the warmth of Kyungsoo next to him, used to the tangle of Kyungsoo’s legs in his, and used to Kyungsoo being able to hear his every single thought. Silence is disconcerting, for an entirely different reason now.
Kyungsoo comes to the public performances and showcases, but skips all the interviews and variety shows. His private dorm is a small one-bedroom apartment, with a small stack of books and magazines in one corner. He was never that fond of books, he says, but he’s grown to rely on them, and it’s the best way of passing time and filling up his mind with content that isn’t other peoples’ thoughts. He can’t read the thoughts of fictional characters.
“You’re hopeless,” Jongin mutters as he delivers even more magazines. Over the coming months, with each visit, Kyungsoo’s room turns into a mini-library, stacks and stacks of books and magazines piling up in the corner, teetering precariously.
“You know, you’re kind of like a magazine yourself,” Kyungsoo murmurs into Jongin’s neck, huddled up to him on the sofa during a cool autumn. “I try to read you, but it feels like I never hit the same article twice.”
“How deep,” Jongin says, only half-sarcastically. They fall asleep like that, magazines sprawled on the duvet. In a way, it’s like a romance that Jongin’s never had the opportunity to have. Apartment dates. Speechless communication. A connection that he’ll never have with anyone else.
“672,768,000 breaths in our lifetime,” Kyungsoo reads out loud from his newest book. “3,027,456,000 heartbeats. How do they even calculate this stuff?”
“I don’t know,” Jongin says. Kyungsoo sighs, kicking him gently. Jongin grins. “Hey! I really don’t know.”
“I know. I wasn’t really asking. I just wanted to hear your voice.”
Then, Kyungsoo doesn’t turn up to a performance. EXO-K wait backstage nervously, extra jumpy and extra tense, an entire member and lead vocal short.
“What the fuck,” Chanyeol says, running his hand through his hair. “What the fuck is going on with Kyungsoo?”
“Baekhyun,” Joonmyun mutters, “you’ll have to sing both parts. Can you do that?”
“Yeah.” Baekhyun gulps. “Yeah, I’ll try.”
“Irresponsible,” Jongin hears Sehun mutter. “Insane.”
Baekhyun develops vocal nodules after a month. The company attempts to rotate Jongdae and Lu Han from EXO-M to fill in the empty space that Kyungsoo’s left, but it’s impractical with all the flying back and forth. Lu Han’s body can’t take it and he falls ill after the first three weeks, so the company decides to scrap it all.
EXO-K are told to relearn the choreography for a five-person formation. Their singing parts are reallocated.
Three months. Kyungsoo still doesn’t turn up.
“You’ll have to think outside the box,” Jongin snaps in a fit of frustration one day. Kyungsoo’s sitting in his chair. Jongin notices that he’s not reading anything, like he normally is when Jongin comes to visit him.
“Don’t say that again,” Kyungsoo says, jaw clenched.
“They were attacking you,” Jongin protests. The members are getting more and more vicious lately. Baekhyun even suggested that Kyungsoo might need to be shipped to the mental hospital from the way he’s acting, and Jongin had half a mind to punch Baekhyun in the face, just like he’d done with Sehun a year ago. He’d restrained himself. He’s not a child anymore. He’s twenty-three, getting old in the industry.
“Let them,” Kyungsoo replies, and smiles. His eyes are dead. “It’s getting worse.”
Jongin frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I can hear them again,” Kyungsoo says.
Silence. Oh. Oh. Kyungsoo’s radius has expanded.
“What happened to your novels?” Jongin look around the room. He picks up a random book and pushes it under Kyungsoo’s nose, a bit desperately. Kyungsoo only laughs, voice humourless. Jongin drops his hands, letting the book fall to the floor, pages crumpling and wrinkling. Kyungsoo bends down to pick the book up and dust it off.
“A novel only entertains you for so long.”
It’s three days before Chuseok. Chanyeol hands are shaking as he sits down at the table and clasps them together.
“What did he say?” Joonmyun seats himself, resting his chin on his hands. Jongin bets he doesn’t actually care anymore. Everything’s a formality now. Kyungsoo hasn’t been around for close to two years.
“He—” Chanyeol bites his lip, “—he says he’s quitting.”
There are no large reactions, and no surprise. They all knew it was coming. Jongin clears his throat and looks up at Chanyeol. “What did you say back?”
“Nothing. Literally. I didn’t say a word. He was replying to my fucking thoughts over a phone,” Chanyeol explains, thrown off. Jongin smiles wryly. So Kyungsoo’s finally, finally, revealed it.
“Telepathy,” Jongin muses. “Hm. So he can hear as far as the dorm now.”
“Fuck,” Chanyeol says, looking at Jongin in alarm, “you knew?”
“I lived with it for five years.”
“You knew about Kyungsoo?”
“I did too,” Sehun mumbles. Everyone except Jongin turns to stare at Sehun. Sehun looks back at them guiltily. “Four years. Remember? I told the company.”
“Four years, huh,” Joonmyun mutters, looking a little pale. “Wow. Wow. So that was why they took him away.”
“Well,” Baekhyun says after a moment’s silence, “what happens now?”
Jongin carefully studies everyone—sunken eyes and sallow cheekbones and lifeless motions. Honestly, all the members are tired of it. They’re not shiny idols anymore. It’s been five years, and there are hundreds of newer groups in the market, including the two groups SM had released in the years following EXO. EXO-K as a group don’t have a competitive foot in the industry anymore. It feels like the right time to go their separate ways.
Jongin stands up.
“If he’s gone, then I’m gone as well.”
EXO-K disband two months later, unceremoniously.
EXO-M stay on, still content to promote as a group. They’re under different contracts, have a solid market in China, and the Chinese public love the Chinese members. They’ve also never had a mindreader in their group to make things extra difficult for them, Jongin thinks wryly, but even then, he knows that’s not it. M were always stronger to begin with, closer with each other, with a fundamental bond that EXO-K lacked.
Joonmyun takes up a directing role in the company, leading the promotion team for SM’s next boyband. Chanyeol becomes an B-list model and C-list actor, signing a modelling contract with an underwear company. Baekhyun goes solo, releasing two moderately successful albums and featuring on a bunch of OSTs, but he strains his voice and needs surgery to remove the resurgence of vocal polyps. He doesn’t recover. Sehun gives up the glamour and buys an ice-cream franchise instead. It’s less stressful.
Jongin sticks with Kai, and sticks with dance.
Solo artist Kai does well. In the span of two years, he grabs the lead role in five dance musicals, promotes two full albums, three minialbums, and shoots for countless magazines and CFs in a handful of different countries. It doesn’t matter that he can’t really sing. It’s his face and body that sells.
Kyungsoo’s flown far away to a residence in the middle of nowhere, a huge white castle surrounded by nothing. It’s three hours by car. SM had let Kyungsoo take a private jet as a proper goodbye.
“I’m dying from the inside out,” Kyungsoo says, the third time Jongin goes to visit him, between a musical and a CF shooting. Kyungsoo can apparently hear voices from as far away as Chuncheon now. His power’s still expanding, with no stop in sight, and it’s killing him from inside. Just like the fish in Jongin’s mind, swimming upstreams in polluted waters—Kyungsoo’s struggled and struggled, and is struggling, but the poison’s invaded him.
“We’re all dying,” Jongin says, in an attempt to comfort Kyungsoo. Technically. It doesn’t work. He tightens his arms around the pillow from the sofa as he watches the corner of Kyungsoo’s lips droop. “It’s nice out here. Quiet.”
Kyungsoo smiles tersely. “Don’t come back.”
Jongin leaves early the next morning, without further questions. He plugs in his iPod to fill the silence during the drive down the 40km driveway back to civilisation. The songs are still the same: songs from his sister, songs from dance practise, songs that Yixing’s given to him—and the iPod’s the same scratched Nano he’d had as a trainee. At least after all these years, there are still constants in his life.
He gets a text when he’s filling up petrol at the nearest station. This—it’s the same Chinese song from eight years ago, isn’t it?
Jongin turns twenty-eight. He has a tour around ten cities in Korea.
Jongin turns twenty-nine. He shoots a bizarre wildlife documentary sponsored by MNet in the Australian outback, narrowly escaping being bitten by a snake.
Jongin turns thirty. He holds three concerts in Japan. He slips and falls on his last stage.
Jongin turns thirty-one. He’s in chronic pain. Doctors tell him his waist is beyond repair and he’ll need to stop dancing. The company considers this a violation of a conditional clause in the contract. They terminate it.
Jongin turns thirty-two.
The last time it happens, Jongin doesn’t know.
The last time it happens, Jongin’s thirty-three, jobless, his former roommate and bandmate only a shadowy afterthought in the back of his mind; a fragment of his youth. He lives for the sake of living, putting spring years behind him like a hazy dream.
Some nights he’ll wake up with a sharp shooting, stabbing pain in his back, sudden clarity, and be reminded of wide eyes and pink lips and shared burdens. Some nights he’ll pace around in his empty apartment, wistful and regretful and thinking about back-thens and what-ifs. Some nights he’ll think about long naked legs and skin on skin and then jump in his seat, as if expecting a familiar visitor inside his head. Every time Jongin lets his mental defences down, he wonders if Kyungsoo’s sitting there, in his white castle of books and magazines and movies, zoning in on every little thing inside his mind.
He receives an email from Sehun one summer day, when he’s sweltering in thirty-five degree heat, inviting him to dinner. I’ve called all the other members.
EXO-K are seated around the round table, in smart ties and suits, by the time Jongin arrives. There are cordial greetings. They’ve changed. They’re all familiar, yet all strangers.
“Hey. Where’s Kyungsoo?” Joonmyun asks.
“Not here,” Jongin says, taking a swig of his drink. Joonmyun forms an ‘O’ with his mouth and grips his own cup. It’s a rush of déjà vu. Jongin glances up at Sehun. “He wasn’t included in ‘all the other members’, was he?”
“I don’t have his details,” Sehun says calmly, picking at his fingernail. “He’d never come anyway.”
“Is he still living in that place in the middle of nowhere?” Baekhyun waves his hand. “Hey, Jongin, have you been to visit?”
“Oh. When was the last time you saw him?”
“…five years ago.” It’s not that Jongin doesn’t care, it’s just that he’d gotten busy, and he simply didn’t have the time to spare. Kyungsoo’s place was miles and miles away from any city, and every time Jongin meant to visit again, new schedules popped up. Next time, he promised, next time. Always next time.
“His insane white castle filled with books and magazines,” Chanyeol mutters. He slams his hand down on the table. “God, imagine where we could be if he’d just quit earlier instead of dragging it out for five years.”
“Maybe we could’ve won a couple more awards,” Baekhyun muses. He reaches up to his throat. “Maybe my throat wouldn’t be so screwed up covering for him.”
Joonmyun’s uncomfortably silent.
“It’s not his fault,” Jongin defends. They’re too callous. He’s feeling sorry again. “It’s not his fault, so don’t talk about him like that.” He’ll visit Kyungsoo tomorrow.
The food arrives. It’s fish—salmon, charred almost black. Its beady eyes stare at Jongin.
Sehun pulls a face. “Waiter,” he shouts, pointing to the dish. “What is this? It’s burnt. Inedible. Why do you think we’d want this?”
Jongin flicks on the TV the next morning. News.
A white mansion in the middle of nowhere, burnt to ashes. No survivors.
A small diary: the only thing the rescue team found, stored in a heat-proof box.
A new text. 1:14AM.
Thank you for trying. Thank you, Jongin, but I’ve had enough.
Jongin closes his eyes. Fuck. Fuck, he thinks, fuck, fuck, fuck.
Too late. There’s no one on the other side.
a/n: ;_________________; hides under a rock. thank you lovely betas for handholding or i really would've thrown myself off a cliff while writing D: