i'm too good at leaving love.
kris/suho; past!lay/suho — nc-17 — angst — language, sexual content — 23569 words
post disbandment!fic. "I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there."
kris/suho; past!lay/suho — nc-17 — angst — language, sexual content — 23569 words
post disbandment!fic. "I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there."
Joonmyun needed to find himself.
When Suho wasn't needed anymore and he was forced back into his lonely shell of Joonmyun, the regular man with little natural talent and too much puffed-up ambition, he crumbled into a life he didn't know how to live anymore.
He travelled across the country for five months and looked for meaning in the nooks and crannies of every place he went to. He absorbed silence and inhaled emptiness until he felt a semblance of himself peeking through the layers of masks he wore for years. When Joonmyun let go of his need to be Suho, he began to live again.
He came back to his world, his reality, and it took time for the world to adjust to him. It took time for him to greet his family the way he did before; it took time for him to call up the other ex-members to eat with them and to laugh with them as they had before. He looked across the table and noted the empty chairs—one for Yixing who was working in China again, and another for Kyungsoo who was busy filming for another film bound to be commercially and critically successful.
Kyungsoo was the first person to call Joonmyun when he got back to Seoul. Joonmyun could hear the tired smile in his voice as he asked Joonmyun about his travels, about his experiences, and about him in general. "What are your plans now that you're back home?"
Through the phone, Kyungsoo wouldn't see how Joonmyun flinched at the word "home." Seoul wasn't home; the various airplanes in various airports they visited over nine years as robots weren't home; even the apartment that Joonmyun left to collect dust didn't invite him in warmly as he dropped his bags by the door.
"Are you coming back to the industry?" Kyungsoo sounded distracted. He must have been taking a break during filming. "It was a big deal when you announced a hiatus; I’m sure a lot of companies are still looking for your talent."
Joonmyun scoffed. "That's not entirely true." Repress your inner cynic.
He bristled at Joonmyun's tone. "Maybe not in the music industry, but acting treated you well." He paused, likely due to someone calling his attention. "You could try again. I have some contacts—"
"I appreciate that, Kyungsoo. I really do. I just—" Joonmyun didn't know why he felt so lost at the moment. Kyungsoo was offering to help him build his career again, to help him get back on his feet. He needed that more than ever. "I need more time to think my life through. It's been a long nine— no, fourteen years.”
"I understand. When we all came home separately after that press conference… I didn't really know where to go. I didn't know if I wanted to keep going now that I could call it quits without anyone telling me no," Kyungsoo said. "Give yourself some more time. I'll wait when you're ready for something."
He hung up before Joonmyun could thank him insincerely. Joonmyun hated how that door was always open to him. He hated how it tempted him to escape his role as Joonmyun so he could crawl back into Kim Joonmyun, an experienced actor who was versatile and handsome enough to be considered a B-list star on his own. Now that he didn't have EXO and SM tacked onto his image, he had a wider range of opportunities to pick from.
When Kyungsoo arrived at dinner, two hours late with a blooming bruise on his arm after a stunt gone wrong, he took one look at Joonmyun before breaking into a huge smile. "I'm so glad you're back," he whispered. "I've been stuck with most of these idiots for months."
Baekhyun hit his arm and handed his phone to a waiter. "Alright, take a seat. Should this picture go on my fan café or does someone need publicity for something?"
"It should go to Joonmyun's," Sehun said. "He's the reason why we all got back together."
He shrugged. "Alright. Sir, could you sit at another table and take a picture of us sneakily? Just while we're laughing, thanks." They all posed as they were used to, with fake laughter in the air and fake smiles plastered on their faces. Kyungsoo sat beside Joonmyun, pretending to be in conversation with him.
Joonmyun could only imagine the reactions of the netizens: "he lost weight," or "he gained too much weight," or "what a failure; he probably didn't fight for EXO at all," even if it had been over half a year since the official disbandment. Joonmyun was still dirt in their eyes, but the years of experience made Joonmyun grow into that role in the band. He took all the criticism from the company, from the broadcasting stations, from the staff members and managers, and especially from the fans.
He was the leader. The only one they had. He would have to do.
Later that night, Kyungsoo was at his apartment to spend the night. The silence was a little awkward, and Joonmyun found himself staring holes into the carpet that came with the living room set he bought. Kyungsoo put his phone on vibrate and buried under the cushions.
"Tell me, how are you?" he asked.
Joonmyun blanked out. "I don't know."
"What do you mean?" Kyungsoo cocked an eyebrow. "You can't just not know."
He rolled his eyes. "I've never known, Kyungsoo. I was told to smile, I was told to be somber, and I was told that nothing else mattered other than putting on a good show and making sure no one else would leave. To answer your question, I don't know."
"I actually understand that. I went through that too." Kyungsoo raised his eyes to the ceiling. "You know what got me back to myself? Work."
"Why are you trying so hard to get me back?"
"Because I was in your position. I thought if I took a break, I would have enough time to think about where my life was really headed. But I spent more time sulking and brooding than I did thinking," said Kyungsoo. Joonmyun looked away, shameful and tired. "I'd rather try something now instead of waiting for myself to be ready when I know I never would be."
A week later, Joonmyun signed a contract with the agency Kyungsoo was part of.
Two months later, he got a role in a TV drama with several B-list actors with semi-decent, clichéd plot and the promise of mediocre success.
It didn't shoot him up to stardom, but it did get him enough attention to book a few more roles for the next year or so, ranging from small movie roles to temporary spots in variety shows and contests. Hosts would poke at his past as an idol, and he would respond by laughing and glossing over the adversities he faced in his nine official years as an idol.
He appeared on a reboot of Healing Camp one time, finally talking about his five months alone in the country. He talked about loneliness, about missing the constant presence of his brothers in his daily life, and about the loss of direction for a while. He wandered because he never had the opportunity, even though he touched almost all the corners of the world in his nine years as an idol.
"When you've given so much of your time to an occupation, to a role that you have to fill, it's a little difficult to fill that hole in your life when it's over," he said. The hosts praised his sincerity, and his fans grew as soon as he mentioned his "brothers" once more. Even after all this time, EXO still defined him and his career.
It took him two years to grow into a comfortable level in his career where he could take side roles that weren't so good or take roles in movies that didn't do too well and it wouldn't adversely affect him too much. He ventured into indie films and cheesy drama roles and anything he was interested in, and as long as he got paid, he wouldn't really mind.
Junghwan, his manager, dropped a stack of papers on his coffee table one day. "I have good news."
Joonmyun cocked an eyebrow at him. "That's rarely ever actually good."
"I know, I know, but I mean it this time." Junghwan beamed at him. "It's a lead role."
Joonmyun glanced at the stack of papers. "It's a lead role in a movie that involves…?"
"A love triangle."
Joonmyun groaned as Junghwan picked up the top of the script. "You know I hate love triangles! It's difficult enough to fake chemistry with one girl—"
"'Two childhood friends vie for the affection of their common thread,'" Junghwan read. "'The themes involve long-term unrequited love, maturity, and the value of friendships over time.' It doesn't sound that bad."
"It sounds like two adults are going to be fighting for the love of their friend like high school kids who can't keep their pants zipped!" Joonmyun sighed. "Is the writing any good? The director?"
"We've got a star-studded cast and crew here, Joonmyun," said Junghwan. "All it needs is a charismatic lead to fill in the role of—" he flipped a bit more, “’Yoon Junsoo, a businessman who spent most of his life traveling abroad for work. He came back to Seoul for a taste of home and for a chance for a life that he never dared to take before.'" Junghwan nodded. "I told you; it's not that bad."
Joonmyun sighed, took the script from him, and started flipping through the dialogue. "I'll give it a chance."
Junghwan cheered, but Joonmyun didn't even notice him leave. He imagined himself as this character, someone so detached and lost in life suddenly wanting to settle down with someone who he always overlooked. He was such a fake, so undeserving of someone who kept a part of herself hoping for her love to return to her.
Yet this Junsoo knew his life was growing too unhappy for him to control. Somehow the thought of love with this Song Jihyun, someone who was only in love with the thought of the past him without truly knowing who he was at the moment, hit him harder than he thought.
"'A love that lingers at the back of her mind, impossible to get rid of. She will always wonder about the 'what if' situations when it involves him,'" Joonmyun read, "because there is always a kind of love that wasn't meant to be pursued or one that wasn't meant to last."
He sighed. In taking this role, it helped to know exactly where these characters were coming from. He was there. He knew what it was like. And as much as he didn't want to, he knew he had to live in that pain again.
Joonmyun walked into the conference with a humble gait and the eyes of a tired man. He shook hands with staff members and mingled with his co-actors while they waited for the entire cast to arrive. The female lead, Kim Eunhye, greeted him with a smile and an awkward handshake.
She was a relatively new actress, fresh on the scene when Joonmyun came back from his hiatus. She was younger than Joonmyun by a few years, but the lines around her eyes spoke of a different tale. He knew she was involved in scandal after scandal, but her career never stopped growing because of talent that the hateful public couldn't deny.
"The last love triangle drama I did…" Eunhye closed her eyes and shook her head. "It didn't end well."
Joonmyun chuckled. "Don't worry; I've had my fair share of trainwrecks." He looked around at the people in the room. Acclaimed writers, producers, and a director that was known for bringing out the best from the entire cast, even from the actors with the smallest roles. Why they all came together or signed up for such a simple story, Joonmyun would never know.
"Hopefully this won't be one. I've had several trainwrecks in a row and I'm really not hoping for another scandal to bring me up," she whispered. Joonmyun remembered when SM would pay media outlets to release a scandal about one of the members for publicity, with or without their consent. They would all stare blankly as their phones were taken away from them; the managers said it was a precaution and a way of protecting them from the hate they were all going to receive.
Joonmyun stood up. "I'm going to the restroom. I hope we'll be complete by the time I come back."
"We're just waiting for one or two cast members, I think," Eunhye said. "The other male lead."
He nodded before walking away, glancing at his manager for a moment. Joonmyun was lost in thought as he walked to the male's restroom, forgetting to bow at the staff members he met along the hallway. God, wouldn't it be funny if that caused a scandal calling him an ungrateful, rude diva? It wouldn't be the first time.
As he walked to the sink, he itched to turn on the faucet and wash his face, but he had a bit of makeup on and it wouldn't be attractive to walk back into that conference room with trails of BB cream rolling down his neck.
He caught movement at the corner of his eye. He waited for the shadow to emerge from the bathroom stall and approach the light by the counter before he could react. And it was… a reaction, to say the least.
It felt like seeing a memory come to life, although it was little faded and unnerving. His heart didn't stop, his mind didn't blank out, but Joonmyun did feel a weight on his shoulders suddenly come back to life, pressing him down until he had to place his palms flat on the cold surface of the counter to hold himself up.
Their eyes met through the mirror. Joonmyun looked away.
"This is too fucking dramatic for me," whispered Joonmyun. He turned to leave, but a sound of protest held him down. Was it hot? He was starting to feel a bit lightheaded…
Yifan's voice grew deeper over the years, if that was even possible. When Joonmyun looked at his reflection—he was too afraid to meet his eyes again—he saw the evidence of exhaustion and age chiseling his features further, and the hint of a smile lingered on his lips. Joonmyun couldn't say the same for himself.
Yifan sighed. "It's been nine years. Could you at least—"
"That's exactly why I can't deal with this right now, Yifan," he interrupted, the name rolling off his tongue as smoothly as it did the first time. "Everyone's waiting for you at the conference room. Wait a few minutes after I leave."
"Joonmyun," Yifan said softly, right before he could open the door and escape from the room that was growing stuffier after each second. "I didn't know you were the other male lead."
"Neither did I." Maybe I wouldn't have taken the role if I did.
He coughed. "Really? If I had known—"
"You'd run away?" Joonmyun turned around and pressed his back to the door. "You'd reject it? You'd be too scared to face me, so you would continue running away and pretending like nothing ever happened."
Yifan stared at him, eyes cold. At first he approached Joonmyun with caution, but as Joonmyun shut him down, he knew he wasn't going to get a warm reunion. "You're right. You always were."
Joonmyun couldn't just embrace him like that. It was almost ten years since he left; Yifan was finally allowed to work in Korea again. It didn't matter. Joonmyun hated that they could move in the same circles again. He hated that right now, at this very moment, he couldn't swallow his pain and his bitterness and put on a mask of professionalism. He would reserve his energy for that in front of others, in front of the cameras.
When they had no audience to cater to, Joonmyun couldn't hide how much he hurt.
When they only had their true selves to show, Joonmyun couldn't pretend that Yifan didn't just leave the group; he left the burden that they shared all on Joonmyun's shoulders to bear. That was the weight that crashed down on him as soon as their eyes met for the first time in nine years.
And Yifan left him, alone and lonely, cradling memories that lingered in his mind, on his skin, in every lonely corner where they shared soft smiles and warm kisses while pretending that it wouldn't end, it wouldn't have to. Not again.
That wasn't a promise that they could keep.
"Wait a few minutes after I leave," Joonmyun repeated. He left Yifan there, staring at a corner away from the space that Joonmyun left by the door. Joonmyun didn't have time to process what happened before he had to put his mask back on in the conference room.
Yifan came in a few minutes later, just as he said, with that smile of his that Joonmyun… missed. He missed his gummy smile. Although he was still stinging with the lingering loneliness from the past nine years, he let himself into the festive mood of the conference room. He listened to the speeches of the director and the writers and all their hopes for this movie.
They had new copies of the script, and Joonmyun smiled at Eunhye before they began reading for a chemistry test. His experience with voice acting and ballad singing over the years helped him emote through his voice, letting just the right amount of feeling into his words without warping the message. Eunhye's muted enthusiasm related perfectly to her character, Jihyun, and they knew something good was coming out of this movie.
And Yifan, as he read his lines, approached his skeptic, hopeless romantic character with a touch of humor and a well of emotion that was deep as the rumbling of his voice. Erik Yang was meant to be pitied, but Yifan made him more endearing and charming in his own right.
Who Jihyun would choose wasn't meant to be an easy choice because both of the men in her life gave her the happiness she wanted and needed. And there was never really a right person to choose.
The difficult scene to read was the fight between Erik and Junsoo. They had to show that despite how they were fighting for Jihyun's affection, they still had a friendship that ran deeper than their situation. They had memories and a relationship that couldn't be broken by a girl they both held a flame for. Even if it would break Erik to have the woman he loved taken away from him without her ever knowing what he felt, he wouldn't break the more important relationship just for her.
The irony lied in their backstories: Junsoo left them, again and again. Erik was the one who stayed and weathered in inheriting his parents' small business and having small dreams and living a small life that paled in comparison to the fun that Junsoo had all over the world. And yet they connected every time Junsoo came back for a few weeks or so.
Joonmyun laughed when he first read their character descriptions; he hoped Yifan felt guilty after it.
The director asked them to stand, act out the scene the best way they could. This scene was filled with the most tension, the climax of the entire movie. They needed to know if Yifan and Joonmyun could tell that story with just their words and the look in their eyes.
"You don't love her the way I do," Erik said, voice cracking with desperation. His fingers clenched as he held back from shoving Junsoo away.
"You don't know that." Junsoo stepped forward. "I’m not afraid to make her happy because I know I can. And I'm not afraid to tell her that I will be there, unlike you who's been hiding behind your friendship for years. I leave and you're pining after her; I come back and you're still rooted to the exact same spot you were in a year ago!"
"Because you don't know what it's like to rupture a relationship that's just— it's always been this way! And I can't change that," said Erik, stepping back to start pacing. "You're on and off in our lives. If you come in there and tell her you love her, she'd swoon in a second. If I tried, she'd stare at me as if I went crazy in the blink of an eye."
Junsoo held him by the arm to stop him from moving. "You don't know that."
"Are you telling me to try?"
Junsoo chuckled, surprised that Erik would jump at the opportunity so quickly. "I'm telling you that you could have, long ago, and you wouldn't be this afraid now. You dug yourself into a hole, but now you're stopping someone who wants to take a chance, to make her happy just like you."
They stared at each other. Erik closed his eyes as Junsoo let go of his arm. His fingers twitched again; he itched to push him aside and run to Jihyun before he could have time to regret his decision, but Junsoo was right.
“Give me a chance," Junsoo said. And he was right.
Everyone in the room clapped as they broke character and shook hands. Joonmyun gave Yifan a soft smile as they took their seats. Joonmyun's manager clapped his back and gave the casting director a knowing look. "Was I right, or was I right?"
She laughed and conceded. "Fine, you were right; Joonmyun fits Junsoo perfectly."
"And that tension between you two?" The director sighed in appreciation. "You can't fake that. It was beautiful," he looked around at the room, "and that was just a reading of the script! Can you even imagine the potential in this room growing in the next few months or so?"
They all clapped, and this time, Joonmyun could find it in himself to join in the atmosphere genuinely. He looked at Yifan again, and his mask faltered for a second.
Joonmyun found it difficult to pull away. It's as if he was calling Joonmyun to come closer, to let him in again. They needed some vulnerability to shine through their characters, and they knew just how to bring it out from each other. It worked. They worked perfectly, as they always did. Joonmyun couldn't bring himself to deny it.
You can't fake that. You can't fake tension that's real. You can't fake pain that's been there for so long. They worked well because they worked with feelings that were from a well of emotions too deep to be seen.
When they all parted ways, Yifan handed Joonmyun a calling card with a hesitant look in his eyes. "We need to talk."
"I don't need it," Joonmyun admitted. "I always knew where you were, how to contact you."
Yifan narrowed his eyes. "Then why didn't you?"
"I didn't think I was the one who had to make the first move, if there were a need to," Joonmyun said. He put the card in his pocket and stepped away.
"Joonmyun," Yifan said, closing the distance between them again, "it's going to be a long—I don't even know how long this'll be. It's difficult for me to talk to you like this—"
"Don't you think it's difficult for me to be put into a situation like this?"
"—pretending that we weren't at least friends," Yifan continued. "Ignore what I did, ignore our relationship, ignore everything I've done wrong then until now. We were at least friends, weren't we?"
Joonmyun sighed. "If you're asking if we can go back to that, I don't know what I'm going to say."
"I'm trying, Joonmyun. Give me a chance," he repeated from their practice earlier. That made Joonmyun smile a bit, just the slightest tug on the corners of his lips.
"And give me some time," Joonmyun whispered.
Yifan's face tilted to meet Joonmyun's eyes better. "It's been nine years."
"Exactly." Joonmyun fiddled with the hem of his coat. "And after all that, I still feel like I need more time. You and I, we've both changed. We need to come to terms with that. I need to come to terms with that."
Yifan stepped back, farther and farther from Joonmyun until his scent, his eyes, his— everything finally stopped invading Joonmyun's senses. "I'll see you soon."
"You too," said Joonmyun. He watched Yifan walk out of the building and into his car, looking back at Joonmyun just once. They only needed more time.
Joonmyun needed to feel again.
He needed late night conversations and soft kisses in dark corners and small smiles when no one else was looking. He needed a flutter, a spark, a flame that consumed him until he felt like he was flying again.
He needed to know that he wasn't devoid of love, that he could get it and give it back without hesitation. He needed to break the chains that seemed to tie him to one person, someone that held him back even if they haven't said a word to each other in years.
On his worst days, Joonmyun's hands would itch at his phone. It would taunt him, tempt him to dial Yifan's number or at least send him a voice message. Sometimes, Joonmyun cracked and tried to do it.
"This sucks," he started once. He was tired and a little tipsy, and the members left him at his room when he started rambling and slurring. Now that he had some liquid courage in his system, his words wouldn't stop as soon as he started recording.
"I miss you. It's starting to feel stupid because it's been six months and we haven't said a word to each other. I don't know if you've tried— I don't even know if you still care." Joonmyun gulped. "We're all exhausted. It's not your fault." He chuckled. "It's funny how I can say that now. It's been so long, I…
"I loved you," Joonmyun whispered. "And I don't know if I was reading the past five years wrong, but I was really hoping you loved me back."
He chuckled, started laughing so hard until his stomach hurt and tears pricked his eyes, though he didn't know if it was because of laughter or the overwhelming sadness that washed over him at the thought of his five years with Yifan.
Joonmyun paused, stopped the recording, and threw his phone all the way to the other bed across the room. He curled up into himself, clutching his sides as his laughter dissolved into soft sobs muffled into his sheets. It's been months, but he was still crushed at Yifan and Luhan, two friends that decided they would cut themselves out of everyone else's lives.
They informed the company almost a month before they wanted to do it, but that leeway between their meeting and the official media announcement that they would depart from the group was always the most difficult. They dealt with choreography changes and line redistributions. They dealt with grudges and sentimental goodbyes.
Joonmyun dealt with a broken heart.
A few months later, he found the recording uploaded to his cloud drive. Joonmyun was tired and lonely enough to start talking to a hypothetical Yifan again.
"We're in London again," he whispered to the phone. "I remembered, uh," Joonmyun smiled, "how you led me around that night. Even though you didn't know anything about the place before, you made it a point to hold my hand and drag me everywhere."
He remembered how Yifan held him the way he did in front of thousands of people onstage. They laughed and blushed, but Joonmyun felt at home whenever he had Yifan's touch to guide him.
"The fans were rowdy, and we've all been so tired. I can't really go out with anyone without getting mobbed." He sighed. "I miss our time here. You kissed me in the middle of the sidewalk, and I—" Joonmyun chuckled, "I was so terrified of someone seeing us. But it was perfect. It was worth it."
The next time he opened the file again, it was on his twenty-fourth birthday. "I miss our birthday parties. You always took my gifts too seriously even though we said we would stop when we debut together." Joonmyun leaned against the stack of gifts he got from his fans. "It's funny how we always said we'd debut together and stay together.
"It's funny how some of those things changed."
He stopped after that. He never deleted it, but he never wanted to hear his voice cracking that way again. He never wanted to feel that vulnerable, talking to the silence that surrounded and overwhelmed him. When he closed the file one last time, he told himself that it was the last time he would ever think of Yifan. If Yifan was allowed to walk out of their lives…
Joonmyun was going to let him.
Walking into the set for the first time was always an exhilarating, nervous feeling that thrummed through his body. Joonmyun smiled at the staff members and stressed assistants that he knew he'd be meeting almost every day for the next few months. Junghwan led him to a small dressing room, and he was relieved to have a little private space.
"I'm glad they found a commercial space with enough extra rooms," Junghwan said while closing the curtains. "This would be a nightmare if you had to share a room with someone."
"True," whispered Joonmyun. He sat on the couch at the corner of the room and went through the script in his tablet. They were going to film the bulk of the scenes that would take place in their apartments for the next week or so. At least it required little movement through sets, and since they rented an entire floor of a commercial space, they had free security and rooms for every major cast member.
His makeup artist came in a few minutes later and started working on him while he was memorizing his lines for today. Haneul chided him for sleeping late again as she concealed what little could actually be seen of his dark circles. "Your face makes more money than I do while fixing it."
Joonmyun chuckled. "I really don't know if I'm supposed to take that as a compliment or an insult."
"Both," she teased, and she concealed one last dark spot before setting his makeup with a mist. "All done. Junghwan should be out there screaming for you by now."
"Thanks," said Joonmyun.
As soon as he stepped out of the room, he made eye contact with Yifan who was being fanned by his assistant beside the water cooler. They nodded at each other, and his assistant took off the clips holding his hair up before he stood and she couldn't reach his head anymore.
"Day one," Yifan said to Joonmyun. He grimaced in response. "Eunhye's scheduled for shooting later. We're doing the telephone scene now."
"I heard," Joonmyun said, quiet and disinterested. "Let's just go."
Joonmyun felt Yifan's fingers itch to stop him, maybe hold him by the wrist like how he always did, but their comfort in predicting movements somehow hadn't faltered yet. He stepped forward too fast for Yifan to touch him, and Joonmyun looked back for a second before motioning to the room at the end of the hall where they were going to film their scene.
"Come on," he said.
Yifan sighed and put on his cool mask, the one that kept him detached and safe for many, many years. "I know."
Even though Joonmyun was terrified of it at first, acting with Yifan was easy. It almost felt like they were falling back into an old pattern: taking up characters that were far from the truth, but the lie felt real enough that they were living in it so effortlessly.
When Joonmyun took up the character of Suho, he was afraid that he was forming into someone he didn't know at all. He smiled at everything and took everyone's shit as if it was a part of his duty as a leader to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. He took it all in stride until it became too much.
Then his pillar fell too, and he learned to just give up.
When Yifan left, Joonmyun quit pretending that he was some sort of guardian for everyone to throw shit at without him complaining. He started showing his real self as Joonmyun, stopped being so uptight and self-deprecating, and felt like his idol life was actually worth living.
Yifan handed him a glass of water after a particular scene that took them a few takes to nail. They sat stiffly in plastic chairs lined up by the hallway, bowing to staff members after a long day of filming.
"Are you going home?" Yifan asked. After a week and a half of working together, Joonmyun could say that he didn't feel like running away from him anymore. Even as they sat with their backs ramrod straight facing slightly away from each other, he didn't bristle at the sound of Yifan's voice.
He shook his head and threw the empty cup in the bin. "One last solo night scene in my room."
"Sounds interesting," said Yifan, and Joonmyun couldn't help but chuckle. "Sorry. Couldn't resist."
Eunhye passed by them and paused awkwardly as they shared a look. "Uh, I'll see you two tomorrow?"
"Yeah, get home safe," Joonmyun said with a smile. She waved at them both and walked into the elevator. An assistant announced that filming the last scene for the day would start soon. He stood and stretched. "That's my cue."
Yifan held his wrist as he passed by, the other hand tossing his cup into the trash bin. "Have coffee with me later?"
Joonmyun raised an eyebrow and shook his hand off. He didn't want to talk about how Yifan's long fingers felt against his cool skin. Not tonight. "It's almost ten in the evening."
"Let's stop pretending that we can sleep before one in the morning, with or without caffeine in our system." Yifan looked down and smiled. "You still have insomnia too, don't you?"
Joonmyun sighed. "Haneul's always scolding me for it." He considered for a second. "Alright, after my last scene."
Yifan smiled. "I'll be in my dressing room."
Junsoo was in bed, dangling his phone over the edge. His fingers would brush past Jihyun's number again and again, but he never got the courage to press the screen and call her.
"It's late. She won't even pick up," he told himself. Junsoo groaned, rolling around in bed. Their conversation earlier in the day was still fresh in his mind, and he would never forget the way she smiled up at him as he asked her out.
But he saw how furious she was when she caught him at Erik's, arguing to the point of screaming at each other. Jihyun stepped between them, her back towards Erik, all her anger directed towards Junsoo. Because she loved Erik, it was the only reasonable explanation.
What was he going to do now?
He called her, but she was probably asleep. It went straight to voicemail. Knowing that he could stop at any time, he started speaking.
"I'm sorry about today. You were right; I was being childish. As much as I want to drag Erik into this again, that would be the stupid thing to do." He paused (and smiled softly at the ceiling, as per the director's instructions.) "You should have seen yourself, how strong and loud you were. I was a little afraid, I admit.
"But you were amazing. You're so brave and… just strong. Like nothing in this world will ever stop you when you have something to stand for. I never saw you like that before; I feel like I missed out on that particular transformation." Junsoo sat up, pausing to think of what to say. "I want to be there next time. I'm not… afraid of staying."
He sighed, deleted his message, and buried his phone under his pillow. "This is stupid." Junsoo chuckled and turned over to smother himself with a pillow. "I'm so stupid!" he yelled into the fluff. (The camera panned out then, until the lights turned off and the director yelled, "Cut!")
Joonmyun lied down on his dressing room couch, face planted in the cushions. It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to a long bath and less work tomorrow. The hoodie he put on haphazardly was bunching up underneath him, and he turned over to fix it.
He was surprised to see Yifan standing by the doorway, car keys in hand. "Well, you look dressed enough. Let's go."
Joonmyun looked down at himself. "This is dressed up in your eyes? I have an idol image to take care of, you know," he teased.
"We both know it's been a long time since we had to deal with that ridiculous image," said Yifan, leaning against the wall. It was a dull blow, but Joonmyun sighed in agreement. "Come on; the coffee shop I usually go to is about to close."
Joonmyun texted Junghwan as they walked down to where Yifan's car was parked. From what Joonmyun could remember, he had only been back in Korea for a few months, flying to and fro China when he had business to attend to. He was just building his image here again; it would make sense that he would choose a car that was modern but nondescript.
They found themselves in silence as Yifan drove through the streets. A new idol group's song was playing on the TV in the dashboard; Joonmyun recognized one of the members as an SM trainee who had been with the company for a few years before EXO disbanded. He probably cracked at the pressure and moved to another company. Joonmyun couldn't blame him.
"Familiar face?" Yifan asked, looking at Joonmyun briefly as he spoke. He turned on the autopilot function and started watching the performance. It clicked. "Familiar feeling."
"We were once that young," said Joonmyun. Sensing the heavy atmosphere, he tore his eyes away from the screen. "We were once that good at dancing."
Yifan laughed. "Neither of us was any good at dancing."
"But we tried!" Joonmyun looked down and smiled at his lap. There was a particularly good memory he associated with Yifan and dancing, but when he looked back up into Yifan's eyes, he felt a pang of nostalgia that weakened his smile.
The car stopped as soon as the silence started making Joonmyun itch to say something, anything. Even if they were together almost every day for an entire week, it was still difficult to meet Yifan's eyes sometimes. They were always so warm to Joonmyun before, but the gap between them sent shivers down Joonmyun's spine. It was like staring at a ghost.
The late night café was warm, and Joonmyun stumbled into a booth to ward off the fall chill. The remaining baristas were about to ask them to leave, but they saw Yifan and simply smiled while turning on one of their machines. Yifan ordered something for both of them, and Joonmyun trusted that he would still know Joonmyun's preferences somehow. At least that hadn't changed.
What had changed was how Yifan held himself in public. With just a few customers still having a late cup of coffee and some staff members cleaning tables and turning off lights, Yifan sat tall and proud, holding a cup in his insanely large hands.
"You know what's strange?" Joonmyun asked. Yifan cocked an eyebrow and took a sip. "You hate coffee shops."
"What?" Yifan put his cup down on the saucer and leaned forward. "Since when?"
"When we were dating as trainees." Joonmyun wasn't too careful with his volume; the other customers left already and the baristas were just minding their own business. "You hated it when we went out and had coffee."
Yifan shook his head. "No, I hated it when you paid for our dates. I could handle myself, Joonmyun."
"If you had a problem with me being a good boyfriend, you could have said so," Joonmyun said, his tone soft and borderline flirty. Maybe.
"You'd get mad," Yifan chuckled, "because I'd be belittling you for being little."
Joonmyun's expression dropped. "Is that how you saw me?" he deadpanned.
Yifan laughed openly, his familiar gummy smile refreshing Joonmyun's memory of the many times they shared these little arguments. It's nice. Joonmyun leaned back against the couch, his cup slowly growing cold as they bickered bit by bit. It's an easy way to fall back into something comfortable, and Joonmyun found out more things about the new Yifan he was having a cold cup of coffee with at eleven in the evening.
This Yifan liked his coffee as strong as he could; he was even more tired than he was before. This Yifan took his appearance more seriously than he ever did before; he knew his face was his livelihood, not his talent or acting chops. This Yifan hated the internet and all its dangers; he knew the damage that an army of dedicated antis could do.
This Yifan was softer around the edges, a little muted even if he was already quiet before. This Yifan still didn't like crowds, didn't want to socialize all night even if they tried giving him a party boy image long ago.
This Yifan was enjoying his night. This Yifan was making Joonmyun laugh again. This Yifan put his cup down once and didn't pick it up again, too engrossed in the way Joonmyun would share stories of stupid things he did years ago, adventures and misadventures alike.
Then Joonmyun stopped talking. He stared into Yifan's eyes. Over the course of the night, they stopped reminding him of a ghost. Bit by bit, he was seeing this New Yifan staring at him with mirth in his eyes, content at how Joonmyun grew animated when he became comfortable.
Joonmyun wondered what was going on in that mind of his. "What are you thinking about?" he asked, a little too directly. Yifan jumped a bit and picked at the edge of the table.
"Something you did for me a long time ago." He looked away. "Something I couldn't forget."
Yifan sighed, shifting position so he didn't have to face Joonmyun directly. "When I ran away the first time, you chased after me. All the way in Canada." He looked into Joonmyun's eyes. "Do you remember that?"
"How could I forget?" Joonmyun took a deep breath. "I was terrified, Yifan. That was the first time— the thought of you just leaving, without even saying anything… It was terrifying."
"You know how it was," Yifan said, urging Joonmyun to bring himself back into the state of mind of someone who was still too naïve to accept that being an idol was nothing like what they spent years training for. "I knew I wasn't meant for the idol life even from then."
Joonmyun looked down, playing with his fingers. "I didn't want you to waste years of training just because it wasn't what you expected. We weren't doing well, our debts were piling up, but I couldn't have dealt with that without you."
"And you got me back," Yifan said, smiling softly. "I was actually happy we got back together when we did."
"Wait, what?" Joonmyun shot him a curious look. "We didn't—"
"We got back together when we were alone in Canada, Joonmyun." Yifan shifted in his seat. "You remember this."
"We reconnected when we were promoting together," Joonmyun said, trying to clear up his memory. It was so long ago… "It was right before our first win."
Yifan shook his head. "I clearly remember that year when we broke up before debuting. It was… awful and sad and so, so lonely. And when I was dealing with stress and disillusionment, I always thought, 'I wish I had Joonmyun right now.'"
"And what exactly happened that got us back together?" Joonmyun was starting to hide his face behind his hands, embarrassed at the thought of what his twenty-one-year-old self did to bring Yifan back to Korea.
"We were, uh," Yifan rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, "in my hotel room. It was the day before you had to go back to Korea. I'm happy I even got you for almost a week."
"Oh god," Joonmyun whispered. "Don't continue."
"For the record, you kissed me first," teased Yifan, glad that the memory wasn't too painful to bring up. He was walking on eggshells after starting the conversation, but the sight of Joonmyun's embarrassed flush kept him comfortable enough to start teasing.
"And you begged me to stay with you," Joonmyun shot back. "You were all teary and sad, and you hugged me like a madman."
"Do you remember what you said then?" Joonmyun shook his head, but he almost didn't want to know. Yifan leaned forward and whispered lowly, "You'd sleep with me if I promised to come back with you the day after."
Joonmyun snorted. "There's no way I said that!"
"Yes, you did," Yifan insisted, and the laughter was bubbling in his throat. "I mean, it's a horrible story to tell the kids, but—"
Yifan stopped himself there. The joke flew past Joonmyun's ears as he grew pensive, thinking back at that night with Yifan. When the haze of ten years finally lifted, he could easily see himself in that dark hotel room, eyes soft as he started packing again.
Yifan was standing behind him, throat constricting him from saying something to stop Joonmyun. But as soon as Joonmyun finished packing and turned to say good night to Yifan, they both couldn't breathe.
It had been almost two years since they broke up, and the past year wasn't filled with much happy memories and success. They were SM's least successful debut so far, and the pressure was always on the leaders to bring out the best in their members. Yifan was miserable, and Joonmyun could see that every time EXO-M went back to Korea during a break from their activities.
Joonmyun couldn't deny it now: he was the one to make the first move. Joonmyun cradled his tired face then, pulling him in for a soft kiss. Yifan did hold him like a madman, like someone drowning who just found his lifeline again. Joonmyun felt the same way; he was so tempted to run away with Yifan, to live this quiet life where they could just forget this stupid idol business and move on with their lives.
But Joonmyun chased after Yifan for a reason, not because their managers told him to. Traveling halfway across the world to bring someone back into a life they didn't want to live wasn't part of his job description. He needed to bring Yifan back to reality, to a life where even if they weren't happy, they had each other.
"I’m sorry," Yifan had said. His hands were cold at the side of Joonmyun's hip, shaking as he held the back of Joonmyun's neck. "I'm not good enough for this. Not good enough to be an idol, not good enough for you—"
"Don't," Joonmyun warned. His hand moved downwards, and their fingers linked neatly. It wasn't the first time they held hands like this on that day, but it never failed to bring warmth back to Joonmyun's face. "I didn't come all this way just to let you go. Come home with me."
"I don't know where home is, Joonmyun," Yifan whispered against his forehead. Joonmyun felt strands of his fringe stick to his forehead, damp with Yifan's tears. He cracked; Joonmyun felt that with each quiver of his lips.
"Come home. With me," Joonmyun repeated. Yifan closed his eyes and let his hands wander, tracing the curves of Joonmyun's face to the bony points on his body. He let both of his hands hold Joonmyun's, both of them still shaking as he opened his eyes.
Joonmyun stared into his eyes, earnest smile crawling past the nerves that kept him rooted to his position. "Promise me you'll come home, and I promise that I'll stay."
"With you. Wherever we are. Even if it means the entire world's against us. Even if this has to happen every single time we start questioning our decision to stay." Joonmyun pressed their bodies together, tiptoeing to get a better angle at Yifan's lips. Yifan's eyes shut again at the sensation of Joonmyun's breath ghosting over his lips. "I'll stay tonight. Just… promise me you'll come home. Please."
Joonmyun snapped out of his reverie then and there. He could clearly remember the salt on his tongue, tears and sweat mixing into every feverish kiss they shared that night. He was gentler with Yifan, but he knew it was because both of them were about to break from within. And after that, the two of them stared at the ceiling and talked. Just talked. All night until they couldn't keep their eyes open.
The next day, Joonmyun woke up to the sound of Yifan struggling to zip his bag, smiling softly at Joonmyun with puffy eyes when he got up to give him a good morning kiss. The rest was history.
And now they were alone in a coffee shop with baristas about to escort them out, staring at the swirls in their now-cold cups of coffee. Joonmyun tried to say something, but it got caught at the back of his throat, along with that familiar taste of salt that he reunited with on the night that Yifan told him he was going to leave for good.
"I made up my mind," Yifan said, "as soon as I saw you in the airport."
Joonmyun looked up at him with a curious expression. "What do you mean?"
"The moment I saw you there, all tired and sleepy but still determined to see me—" He stopped to take a breath. "I knew I had to come back. If I knew that you'd go halfway across the world to bring me back, if there was someone there who cared for me the way you did, I wouldn't have left in the first place. As soon as I saw you, I was thinking of buying a ticket right there and then."
To Yifan's surprise, Joonmyun just laughed. His soft chuckle filled the silence in the coffee shop. "You made me go through all that," he ducked his head to hide his smile, "when you knew you were coming back anyway?"
"Hey," Yifan started, "consider it a vacation."
Joonmyun snorted again, rolling his eyes. "The only one we ever had."
"Until Amsterdam." It brought a smile to Yifan's face and a passive expression on Joonmyun's. Yifan had the liberty of looking at that as some kind of lovers' getaway; Joonmyun could only remember staring blankly at the ceiling when they returned to Amsterdam for some photoshoot or whatever.
"A conversation for another time," he said. Joonmyun slid out of the booth, smiling at the barista who was awkwardly standing behind them. "Thank you for your service."
"We'll come again," said Yifan, all smiles as well.
The walk back to the car was quiet but peaceful. Joonmyun felt like they said enough to each other for the day. It was the most contact they had in weeks. Joonmyun sat in the passenger's seat, humming along to the late night reruns of music shows on Yifan's dashboard. He directed Yifan to his apartment and sighed in relief as they finally arrived.
"Thanks for tonight," he said. Politely. It was the most he could say.
"Yeah?" Yifan was staring at him with that pensive expression again. It made Joonmyun squirm and open the door in haste. Yifan sounded like he was about to say something, but the atmosphere in the car was starting to get stuffy and Joonmyun was having none of it.
"Good night." Then he turned away.
Joonmyun collapsed on his bed that night, barely remembering to strip off his clothes. What was he feeling? Was it… freeing to be able to talk to Yifan like that again? They teased and joked and had an honest recalling of a critical moment in their lives, and Joonmyun felt just a little bit lighter.
He had been running from those memories for years. Then Yifan suddenly barged back into his life, all long limbs and tired eyes and awful gummy smile, and Joonmyun felt a dam burst. He was smiling and laughing and crying all at the same time, and the ghost from his past sent him a message on his phone:
“Hope you had fun. I missed talking to you. Missed having a good friend around. Let's meet up for coffee tomorrow?"
Joonmyun wiped his tears away, trying to come up with a reply.
“I did. Tomorrow, coffees on me." He stopped there, thinking of something to say. He could stop there, ignore half the message, and move on without a hitch. But even as he already sent the message, he couldn't stop himself.
“I missed this too."