- Part 2.
The church bells are loud and ironically familiar, and Kyungsoo shades his eyes before even opening them. He doesn't know if he wants to open them.
“What happened to taking me back right then and there?” Kyungsoo mumbles.
Suho's voice echos against the walls of the church when he speaks. “You remember that?”
Kyungsoo blinks himself awake then, and Suho's hair is still a bright red around the edges, warm and a little bit unreal—in all the time travels, the sex, the way Jongin had stumbled home that night without Sehun in tow, the way Baekhyun had taken a short look at them, at Chanyeol and Kyungsoo, before climbing up to his own bunk and falling into a quiet sleep.
Kyungsoo must look like he won't be talking, because Suho continues, almost flustered then, “About that, I, um.” Then, he just finishes with a laugh, and Kyungsoo smiles up at him, biting his lower lip and letting his eyes flutter shut for a moment.
“I knew you didn't have it in you,” Kyungsoo says, and Suho doesn't reply, instead just ruffling Kyungsoo's hair. “So what happened?”
“Stuff happened,” Suho says, and the fountain is still running, maybe a little stronger this time, water splashing up over Kyungsoo's shirt and face and over the stone walls, landing on the overgrown brick pathway snaking around it. It's another sunny day, maybe a little cooler this time, sun hiding for a split second behind the clock tower before disappearing behind the high walls of the church. And the clock strikes, maybe a little later this time, ringing not half as many times and letting the sound drift into the wind instead of leaving it to settle there, settle over the empty courtyard.
“Like what stuff?” Kyungsoo says, and Suho tilts his head toward the doorway, door open and a low chatter coming from inside. The speeches haven't started yet.
“You'll see,” he says, and Kyungsoo feels Suho's presence kind of drift away then in a drawn out second, letting the air fill in the space he'd left.
And Kyungsoo knows that Suho won't be coming back.
The steps coming from the doorway are too long, a bit too heavy to be Baekhyun's, and Kyungsoo sits up, the blood rushing through his body as if he'd been asleep for not a second, but eight years, eight lucky years. “Hey,” Chanyeol calls, and Kyungsoo blinks a couple times before he can focus—Chanyeol's walking toward him and reaching his arms forward just the slightest.
“Hey,” Kyungsoo replies, his voice hoarse.
“We're waiting for you,” Chanyeol says, and his voice echos more than the clock tower ever could.
Kyungsoo lets out a sigh before standing up, his legs shaking as if Chanyeol had been there with him, touched him just yesterday. “I know,” he says, and Chanyeol reaches a hand expectantly toward him—and Kyungsoo imagines that this, this is the face, this is the expression Chanyeol has when he's waiting for Kyungsoo to finish, waiting for Kyungsoo to maybe give him a chance today, not knowing that it's Kyungsoo who's been waiting for Chanyeol to just turn around. Kyungsoo furrows his eyebrows and glances at the hand, then back up at Chanyeol's face, and Chanyeol makes a cute frown, then reaches forward and takes Kyungsoo's hand firmly.
“You don't have to be so cautious,” Chanyeol mumbles, but there's a smile in it. “They know.”
And Kyungsoo has no idea what Chanyeol's talking about so he just goes with it, feeling a warm jolt.
Kyungsoo looks down as they step into the doorway, not really willing to look anyone in the eye; he sees Sehun's partner's soft fluff of hair out of the corner of his eye, Sehun chatting with someone on his right as she listens on, nodding; and Jongin staring up at the stage with his elbows on his knees, alone, Jongin in the second row and a couple empty seats in the first. Out of the corner of his eye.
When Chanyeol leans down, his lips touching the shell of Kyungsoo's ear, and mumbles, “You're beautiful,” Kyungsoo finds it in himself to look up.
And the scene unfolds in front of him, pieces falling together like a puzzle, wherever they fit in a scene behind a glass display, Baekhyun on stage with his pretty, dark-eyed, dolled-up bride, and Chanyeol leading Kyungsoo by the elbow toward their seats in the front row.
Baekhyun waves to them, motioning Chanyeol onstage for a short speech about happiness and nostalgia, and the picture on the screen is one of Baekhyun and Kyungsoo and about most of Chanyeol's face, the whole left side scrunching up in a silly smile, drunk on pleasure.
The picture only comes back to Kyungsoo then, taken during their last days at SM then stuck in a photo album that they leafed through titled Spare Pictures. Spare Pictures had been a thing made up by the five of them—since Jongin and Sehun weren't graduating just yet, they still had their cameras and unlimited film, so they'd take pictures of Baekhyun and Chanyeol and Kyungsoo for them to finally keep for themselves—a photo album was something that Baekhyun had asked his sponsor for; his sponsor, he'd found out, was a nice woman, and they'd developed a nice little relationship over the years, to the point where Baekhyun would ask and she'd give without question.
It had been cool that night, cool for June and just a couple days before Chanyeol and Kyungsoo had sex, just a couple days before everything would change—fall apart for some, come together for others. Sehun seemed suddenly interested in documenting everything, and Baekhyun teased him for it, saying, “I didn't know you had it in you, you know, emoting.”
Jongin rolled his eyes, turning a glass of water around and around on the small folding table they'd stolen from one of the abandoned classrooms and moved to their dorm in the last few months. Then, though they hadn't known at the time, SM was already going under, moving classes together, and Kyungsoo swore he'd noticed some of the junior session students suddenly disappearing, and the thought still scares him. Because there had been rumors, too, about child donations and how painful they could be and why people didn't try them, but SM and the guardians couldn't possibly abandon all those classrooms—about half by the end of it—and still be able to fit the entire student body in the remaining rooms.
“He's sentimental,” Jongin said. “You'd know, if you hung around him long enough. He can get annoyingly—”
“Shut up,” Sehun said, and Chanyeol laughed, crossing his legs underneath the table.
“Yeah, I would if you'd just save it for your girlfriend,” Jongin snapped back, a little too harsh, and Baekhyun laughed then, but it had come out a bit forced.
“It's not my fault you're a jackass and no one wants to be with you,” Sehun said, snapping a picture of Chanyeol's unmade bed. “Be grateful that I put up with you.”
“You know,” Baekhyun said, turning to Sehun, “It's kind of funny that all these years, you've been so mean to Jongin and so nice to everyone else and we've never said anything about it.”
Sehun got flustered then, muttering something along the lines of, “That's what best friends are for, right?” He motioned to Baekhyun, Chanyeol, and Kyungsoo then to look at him and smile, and Jongin, on the other side of the table, leaned back onto Chanyeol's bed, his hands behind his head. Sehun hummed in satisfaction at the picture and put in on the nightstand to develop, along with the hundreds of other pictures he'd already taken, and he said to Jongin, softer that time, “Well, it's not like you have to get married, anyway.”
Jongin didn't move, even after Sehun went over and sat down next to him, twisting open a bottle of soda. Baekhyun frowned and shrugged, lifting his feet onto the bed. “I heard we do.”
Kyungsoo's head had snapped up then, and Chanyeol turned in mild interest, first to Kyungsoo, then to Baekhyun.
“I heard if you don't get married, you don't get a marriage delay,” Baekhyun continued, wringing his hands.
“Well, that would make sense,” Jongin drawled, still looking up at the bottom of Baekhyun's bunk.
“You don't even know what a marriage delay is,” Baekhyun had said. “I mean, I heard if you don't get married, you become a carer earlier and your donations and stuff will come ten years earlier and then you'll—”
“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol said, his voice low in warning.
“What? They know about donations and stuff, right?” Baekhyun said, eyes flicking up to look at Chanyeol, and Sehun looked between them, hands folded tensely on his knees.
“Baekhyun, we don't learn about that until the last year of senior session,” Kyungsoo said softly, and Baekhyun pressed his lips shut.
Baekhyun had opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, repeating the action several times before looking away.
Each school, for lack of better term, did it differently, educating students on caring, donating, completing—SM chose to wait until the end of senior session, the last year at SM, known as the 'curse year', because it was the year that people changed, students changed, and no senior session student was permitted to tell any younger students why, or what would happen after leaving SM. It was an unspoken rule, too—after all, no one wanted to be questioned about that, about death. Everyone changed in a different way—some people more, some people less, some became angry and bitter, some became caring and sentimental, it was all based on priorities and what went on inside your head that exact moment when the Guardian, Miss Jessica in their case, told you what was in store, the moment she said, slowly, so that you could take it all in, “Your organs, like your lungs, and your stomach, and your heart, will be given away.” The moment she said, “And then, you'll die.”
You learn the terms 'donation' and 'completion' later, the euphemisms that make things sound as systematic as they are, and also a lot gentler. It's mostly to make it easier for the Guardians to talk about it—donating, like sponsors donating money to SM, or completing, as if simply completing an assignment or an exam.
“Well, just be careful about it, okay?” Baekhyun said then, softly, and Kyungsoo to this day doesn't know whether Jongin had heard or not.
“It's midnight,” Kyungsoo had said. “We should get to bed.”
“Long couple of days ahead for us,” Chanyeol added and splayed his hands across the table, as if examining them for blemishes.
“I like that picture,” Sehun says today; Kyungsoo hears him whisper it to his partner, and she laughs lightly. “No one got cut out or anything.”
Sometimes, in those moments, Kyungsoo wonders if they know, if they'd done it too, gone back and fixed the little things, like chopping Baekhyun out of the picture or refusing to cut Kyungsoo's hair. Sometimes, in other moments, Kyungsoo wonders if it'd been real at all.
It's later, during the reception and after Baekhyun and his partner had said their vows and stared lovingly into each others' eyes like a real, picture-perfect couple, and after all the photos had been taken and stored away, when Kyungsoo catches Chanyeol's elbow and murmurs, quietly, just to him, “We can't get married, can we?”
It's late evening by then, and Chanyeol sighs, setting an empty champagne glass down and turning to Kyungsoo, putting his hands on Kyungsoo's shoulders in a familiar motion. He's taken to resting them there, letting the weight fall, and Kyungsoo likes it, likes knowing that Chanyeol is there. “Nope,” he says, a little cheerful like the Chanyeol Kyungsoo is used to. Kyungsoo lets one side of his face go into a grin. Chanyeol, after senior session, had been the type to get sentimental about it, tugging Kyungsoo toward him every opportunity he got and sometimes even, in the middle of the night, nudging Kyungsoo awake and mumbling, “I don't want you to die.”
“Complete, Chanyeol, complete,” Kyungsoo always corrected, but Chanyeol never repeated after him.
Sehun will be the next of them to get married, and Kyungsoo thinks that Sehun might plan an autumn wedding, because Sehun likes autumn and Sehun's partner even looks like autumn in that pretty way of hers. Baekhyun had chosen a hot summer night, and Kyungsoo takes his jacket off and drapes it over the white fence of the park Baekhyun had booked out. They're away from the crowd, Chanyeol and he, and Chanyeol reaches forward to touch Kyungsoo's temple. “You know what year it is, right?” Chanyeol says, and Kyungsoo's mouth drops open for a moment before he realizes that Chanyeol means something entirely different.
Two years—two years is all the time they get to be carers, not including the usual marriage delay, of course, before moving on to donations, and usually, the donations will last about six months or so, depending on the donor. Two years is the maximum allotted time, anyway—you could always become a donor early, but Kyungsoo has yet to hear of anyone who's done that. “Kyungsoo,” Chanyeol says, his hair still that warm brown that he'd taken a liking to, falling over the side of his face in straight, almost impossibly silky strands. “Will you be my carer?”
Kyungsoo bites his lip and looks away—it isn't particularly surprising, somehow, even after not having 'seen,' really, Chanyeol for the past year or so, or however long it's been since graduation. It's the way Chanyeol speaks, gentle in the moments that he has to be, that makes Kyungsoo say, “Isn't there some other way, isn't there a—”
“Kyungsoo, this isn't any easier for me than it is for you,” Chanyeol says, his voice flat but odd, as if he's hiding something. Kyungsoo looks up, and the light from outside illuminates parts of Chanyeol's expectant face that Kyungsoo doesn't want to see. He can see it, anyway, if he closes his eyes. “Kyungsoo—”
“Yes,” Kyungsoo says, and Chanyeol takes the half step between them and wraps Kyungsoo in a hug that seems like it lasts the entire night.
(Being Chanyeol's carer, of course, means watching him die.)
(“Complete, Kyungsoo,” Chanyeol corrects when Kyungsoo brings it up. “Complete.”)
Chanyeol has a good body—not very coordinated, but good stamina, and the doctors nod at him approvingly the first time Kyungsoo walks him in, their fingers just touching. He goes through all sorts of medical examinations, and when Kyungsoo leaves that night, the car steering wheel familiar in his fingers, Chanyeol waves at him from the doorway in a hospital gown thrown over his clothes, a silly grin on his face that looks too eager.
The first donation goes smoothly, and Chanyeol recovers in a matter of days, and Kyungsoo usually visits Chanyeol in the afternoon, and they even have sex sometimes with the wind blowing curtains through the open window. Chanyeol has an unnecessarily large room all to himself, and he only occupies about half of it, spending most of his time at the bed or at a small desk where he goes through the Spare Pictures album. The five of them had unanimously agreed to give it to the first to become a donor, and Baekhyun even wraps it up all nicely and offers to buy a new album because the edges are a little worn, but Chanyeol won't have any of it. He's grown sentimental over the years, and the physical album itself almost means more than the pictures.
They flip through that album together sometimes, and Kyungsoo always likes to look a bit longer at the end pictures, the one he hadn't been there to take, and Chanyeol laughs at him for it. “Those ones are the most recent ones! Why don't we look at the really old ones we barely remember anymore?” But Chanyeol is never forceful with Kyungsoo, and just puts a hand over Kyungsoo's when he's fingering the edges of strange, but calm, warm pictures that almost feel like family to him.
There's one in the back, taken a bit after Sehun and Jongin had finally graduated—a picture of Jongin, standing next to a nearly unrecognizable part of SM, a part of SM that had already been half torn-down at that point—Jongin, all dark and tired, and Kyungsoo always likes to skip that one and turn his eyes to Sehun instead, whose sullen face had finally lit into a nice smile next to that pretty, puffy-haired girl who'd later become his wife. But Kyungsoo's eyes always end up sort of drawn to that picture of Jongin, almost as if they want Kyungsoo to hurt, to feel it—to feel what, he doesn't know, maybe some back part of his mind knows.
Maybe Jongin had told him something that Kyungsoo hadn't really been there to hear.
“Kyungsoo,” Jongin had said one winter day at SM, some time during Kyungsoo's senior session after Chanyeol and Kyungsoo had regularly begun 'seeing' each other in secret. They'd been alone, Jongin and Kyungsoo, after some final exam that they'd finished early, and were lying on their beds in their dorm, trying to catch up on much needed sleep but being bombarded by leftover images of cat anatomy and physiology instead. “Kyungsoo,” he'd said again, his voice hoarse and sounding on the verge of cracking.
“Hm,” Kyungsoo had grunted in reply.
“You never told anyone about me and Sehun, right?”
Kyungsoo had shifted then, the comforters suddenly becoming too hot and him, suddenly feeling trapped, crowded in that chilly room of just the two of them, Jongin expecting a response and tapping his toe against the foot of his bed impatiently. Kyungsoo whispered, “No.”
Jongin paused, then mumbled, “You know we were never together, right?”
“I know,” Kyungsoo had said. “Doesn't Sehun have a partner now, anyway?”
But Jongin hadn't answered. “Good,” he said after a moment. “Because that's gross, you know, me and him.”
Kyungsoo had pressed his face into the pillow, breathing out a sigh that lingered between him and the pillow, lingered there all hot and stuffy. Then, he'd said in a voice unfamiliar to him, as if someone else were speaking, “There are always other fish in the sea.”
He'd heard a shift then, a movement of head against pillow, and to this day, he doesn't know if Jongin had shaken his head no, or if he'd nodded yes.
“Hello?” Kyungsoo says one day, on the phone, when he hears the other line answer, but no one responds for a while—which is just like Jongin, if Kyungsoo thinks about it. Kyungsoo is parked outside Chanyeol's hospital on a November afternoon, just after leaving the hospital room empty; Chanyeol has a donation today, and Kyungsoo, leaving behind some fresh fruit and Chanyeol's favorite childhood snacks, calls Jongin from the number he'd finally gotten from Sehun that morning. “Hi, it's Kyungsoo—”
“I know,” Jongin says. His voice has gotten lower over the years, or Kyungsoo's just not used to hearing it on the phone.
“H—how are you?” Kyungsoo says after a while, holding his cell phone with both hands.
“Fine,” Jongin replies.
“Do you have a partner?”
Jongin pauses for a moment, then says, “Yeah. She's nice. You should meet her, she's real nice. But you're busy—”
“No—I mean,” Kyungsoo says, letting out a filler laugh. “If Chanyeol didn't have an operation today, you know I'd be there in a second.”
“I know,” Jongin says again. Then, he pauses, before mumbling, “When are you not working?”
“Jongin, you know how being a carer is,” Kyungsoo says, sliding down in the car seat. “I have work every day. You'll have to come visit Chanyeol if you want to see me.”
“I don't want to see Chanyeol,” Jongin replies. “Just you.”
Kyungsoo sighs. “Can't.”
Jongin's voice is oddly clear over the phone, the area around him quiet, as if there were no one there at all. “Listen, Kyungsoo,” Jongin says after a moment. “I have to go.”
“Okay,” Kyungsoo says, torn between wanting to let Jongin go, wanting to let what they've become over months of lost contact go, and wanting to hang on to the last bit of SM still in them—both Baekhyun and Sehun had left the country with their partners a little while ago; it's a customary thing to do, with ten years, might as well go out and see the world and see places you'll never have to meet again, not as yourself, at least. “Shouldn't you be traveling?”
“I have to go—”
“Wait,” Kyungsoo says, hearing Jongin's voice go distant. “Wait, just. Just, take care, okay?”
A pause, then a low, “Okay.” Then, a quiet laugh from Jongin's end—Kyungsoo hears the smallest bit of the Jongin that used to shout meaningless curses across the field when playing soccer with Sehun and some of their friends, the Jongin that used to ride on the shoulders of his team and then jump down to secure his spot at his dining table, the one that filled up first, the Jongin that used to call Kyungsoo over and ruffle his hair and bully him into taking hundreds of unnecessary pictures of them. “You always worry too much,” Jongin says.
“Well,” Kyungsoo says, feet pressing the pedals down alternately, “when people don't hear from you in a couple months, they tend to—”
“Sometimes, no news is good news,” Jongin says, and with that, he hangs up.
Kyungsoo bathes in the sound of Jongin's voice for a short moment, hearing it echo through his phone and then through his ears, wanting to just hold it there.
Kyungsoo doesn't think to call the number back until several weeks later, some time in early December when he's sitting in the hospital room with Chanyeol, who's recovering from a third donation. The display says Private, more or less, and Kyungsoo gets a woman's voice. “Hello, Seoul National University Hospital, can I help you or direct you to a room?”
Kyungsoo's breath catches in his throat for a moment, and it doesn't come out again until the woman repeats, “Hello?”
“Um, yes,” Kyungsoo says, his voice hoarse. “I—I'm looking for Kim Jongin. He called me from this number some time ago, and—”
“Oh,” the woman interrupts, her voice dropping. “I'm sorry, Kim Jongin completed about two weeks ago. The entire staff heard about it—really painful last donation. They're working on—”
Kyungsoo hangs up then, slamming the phone onto the receiver, and Chanyeol lifts his head up to give him a look, a knowing look, another look that inquires but never demands.
It's snowed once this winter, around the middle of November, then not again, temperatures dangling just above freezing and the air dry and hinting nothing of even rain, or sleet. Chanyeol has the window open, and Kyungsoo walks over to shut it—slams that down, too, the sound echoing through Chanyeol's room. Jongin always liked it cold, and Kyungsoo waits for his breath to slow into shaky, quiet hisses before he makes his way over to Chanyeol's bed.
“Last time,” Chanyeol says, his eyebrows furrowed in thought, “Last time, he said you worried too much, didn't he?”
“I didn't worry enough,” Kyungsoo says through gritted teeth, and Chanyeol holds Kyungsoo's shoulders, over grown hands gone a little bony.
Kyungsoo will probably remember this conversation the best.
It's some time in January, and Chanyeol has his knees under the blanket pulled up to his chest, and head in his arms, chin resting on the back of his wrist. “Remember that time you told me that this was all a redo?” he says, and Kyungsoo, sitting at the desk and facing away, facing anywhere but at Chanyeol, tenses, then nods just the slightest bit, but Chanyeol has always been observant when it comes to Kyungsoo, noticing the smallest of movements. “Is it still a redo?”
“No,” Kyungsoo says.
“What was I like before?”
Kyungsoo shrugs and turns around in the chair, looking at Chanyeol across the room. “The same. But married. To a tall, serious girl.”
Chanyeol smirks, then laughs, burying his head into his arms again after a moment. “The complete opposite of you.”
“I'm serious,” Kyungsoo says, and Chanyeol rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” he says, and Kyungsoo smiles, tilting the chair back and forth with his feet. “How did I get to like that girl?”
“I don't know,” Kyungsoo says. “I kind of spaced out after you met her. You just always insisted that I'd like her if I gave her a chance.”
“Which you never did.”
“Nope,” Kyungsoo says, and Chanyeol laughs again, patting the space beside him, and Kyungsoo follows on command.
It doesn't end up snowing much that winter at all, but a thin sheet covers the window that day, leaving the sky whiter than grey, and Kyungsoo thinks it looks nice. Calm. “I'm glad,” Chanyeol mumbles, and when Kyungsoo turns to look at him, he notices then how small Chanyeol's gotten. How small he looks, curled up in a hospital bed with a wheelchair just beside it—arms thinned, legs bony, and a ridge of a spine running down his back, under the hospital gown. His hair is black again, the dye running out, black and thin, the edges wispy under Kyungsoo's fingers. “I'm glad you went back,” Chanyeol finishes. “And fixed things.”
Kyungsoo bites his bottom lip again before answering. There are days when he's glad—and there are days when he isn't, because, in a sense, he's killing him, killing Chanyeol. Today's a special day—a day when Kyungsoo isn't glad, but he purses his lips for a moment, then says, “I'm glad, too.” And Chanyeol sees right through it, throwing an arm around Kyungsoo's shoulders and nodding enough for both of them, nodding to himself quietly until the sky darkens and Kyungsoo has to leave.
Kyungsoo will probably remember this conversation the best, because it's the last.
He drives past SM in the early spring, his last donor, a small, quiet girl, completing after her peaceful but fatal second donation, and the grounds are light green, the skeleton of a building still there, but growing over with ivy and other plants. It's so thin that it looks like a pencil drawing, half erased, but Kyungsoo drives past it anyway, looking this time, over the hill where Chanyeol should be, lying in the grass close to where Kyungsoo's feet are. Kyungsoo is turning in his car tomorrow and checking into the nearest hospital, but he drives fast, only slowing to the speed limit as he passes SM, wanting to be as far from Seoul as possible, as gone as possible before he's actually gone.
i hope you enjoyed this! this is actually my exo otp. i wish more people would write it. ): thank you for reading!
this au was inspired by (and much was borrowed from) kazuo ishiguro's never let me go, as well as the japanese drama, proposal daisakusen. the catalyst that got me thinking about this entire idea, though, goes to katy perry's 'the one that got away'. i was listening to it on the plane /o/ don't judge /o/