The boulder was back. And, Deer God, if it didn’t move, Kai was going to die of asphyxiation soon. He figured the fetal position wasn’t the ideal position for him to be in when his chest was heaving from the effort of trying to breathe. But he refused to release himself for fear of his heart breaking apart.
It wasn’t fair that his memories suddenly fell on him all at once, that he had to be overwhelmed by every single emotion he’d ever felt all at once. That was way more than was legally allowed. Not to mention it occurred in the middle of the night, and he’d been awake for probably six hours by then, writhing and gasping in his bed the whole time.
Kai rolled to his knees, gripping his sides while attempting to stop hyperventilating. Why was this happening? He was shaking violently, and he knew it had nothing to do with any manner of his post-hypothermia flashbacks. The air in his apartment was stifling hot; maybe that attributed to the suffocating feeling.
He managed to stumble out of his bed. The thermostat was in the hallway, but that wouldn’t work quickly enough. He reached the living room window and threw it open. The cool breeze rushed in, spiking all of his senses. Taking in deep breaths, he slid to his knees on the hardwood floor.
Kai heard the lock on the front door turn. He spun around to see who it was just as the door opened.
There, silhouetted against the mid-morning sunlight in the doorframe, was Lee TaeMin.
Kai suddenly forgot how to breathe again.
It seemed like TaeMin hadn’t noticed Kai’s figure in the middle of the living room. He kept his gaze down as he slipped out of his shoes in the entryway, shutting the front door behind him. When he did look up and realize Kai was staring over at him, he froze.
“TaeMin-hyung…” Kai uttered, his voice next to inaudible.
TaeMin seemed to go through a flurry of thoughts as he hesitated in the entryway, one foot still halfway in one shoe. He finally settled on a light smile and stepped past the threshold.
“Oh, JongIn-ah,” he greeted. “I guess you can see me now.”
Kai slowly pushed himself to his feet. “What are you talking about?”
“This past week,” TaeMin said as he settled himself onto the sofa, “ever since you came back, I came over to visit you just to see how you were doing. But each time it seemed like you weren’t all there, like how you were back at the house in Gangwon.”
He stared off to a corner of the living room, unfocused and reminiscing. “I only got to come up maybe once a week. Each time I saw you, it was like you were still delirious. I was afraid I was wrong in not taking you to a hospital soon after… But…” TaeMin returned his gaze to Kai. “It looks like you’re alright now.”
Kai had no words to speak, only able to stare dumbly at his senior who sat calmly before him.
“Come here,” TaeMin said, extending an open hand. “Let me see your knee.”
The familiar phrase shot like ice through Kai’s heart, but he found himself shuffling towards TaeMin without protest. Since there was nowhere else to go, he slumped onto his sofa on the cushion next to where TaeMin sat. As TaeMin moved from the sofa to crouch on the floor, Kai’s heart jumped into his throat as TaeMin rolled up his pant leg to expose the healing wound.
The elder nodded in approval. “Oh, you’ve been taking care of it properly. That’s good.”
“So then it was you,” Kai murmured. “You were the one who cleaned it up when it happened.”
Without making eye contact, TaeMin nodded again, still inspecting Kai’s leg. “I freaked out so much. Imagine being in my shoes, seeing you for the first time after you came back but unconscious and bleeding out on the kitchen floor. I thought I was gonna have a heart attack.”
Kai let TaeMin roll his pant leg back down before he spoke again. “Hyung… Tell me why…” TaeMin’s expression stayed neutral as he stared in silence at the hem of Kai’s pants. “Please… I have to know. Why did you want to break up with me?”
Still in silence, TaeMin rocked back from the balls of his feet to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of Kai. He seemed to consider his answer for a while before he finally lifted his gaze to meet the youth’s eyes.
“I was scared,” he answered steadily. “I was scared of what you were scared of. I thought I would be overtaken by your fame.” TaeMin quickly continued when Kai was about to interject. “It’s silly, I know, but it’s a phobia I can’t seem to get over. So I was selfish and ended it before I could get in too deep.”
He lowered his gaze almost in shame. “I didn’t think you would be hurt so badly. If I had known things would turn out like this… I’m sorry, JongIn. I really am.”
More chills ran through Kai’s body. The words weren’t matching up with the inflection. It wasn’t turning out how he wanted. And suddenly, much too quickly, TaeMin was rising to his feet, a withdrawn expression on his face.
“No…” His first protest was a mere whisper. “No… Hyung… TaeMin-hyung!”
He seized TaeMin’s wrist before the senior could walk out of reach. TaeMin attempted to pull away, but Kai just gripped even tighter, jumping to his feet.
“Let go, JongIn,” TaeMin said without looking in Kai’s direction.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, TaeMin-hyung,” Kai pleaded. “I’m still here. We both are here. Why are you doing this?”
“JongIn-ah, I told you. I can’t – ”
“There wasn’t anything wrong with us, right? We can still work it out.”
TaeMin tried again to pull his hand from Kai’s grasp. “JongIn…”
“Just listen to me, please!”
“Let go, JongIn!”
“TaeMin-hyung, I still love you!”
The world seemed to collapse upon TaeMin’s shoulders at the sound of those words. As his upper body sagged, his shoulders hunching forward, he finally looked back at Kai. The desperate expression on TaeMin’s face tore at Kai’s own emotions.
“JongIn-ah…” TaeMin’s voice was cracking hideously. “Please don’t do this…”
“No… Hyung…” Kai wrung his hands around the elder’s. “I can’t just let you go. There’s no way I could forget about you. There’s no way I could even think of leaving you. Even if there’s a chance that I might, we can talk about it. Don’t be so afraid of what might happen, okay? I still love you right now. Just think about us right now. Please…”
Both were shaking. Both were barely managing to breathe. Yet neither could make the move to close the distance between each other, one too scared to move forward and the other too scared to go back.
Kai swallowed hard to keep his voice steady. “There’s a reason you kept coming back, right? Why you came to see me even after I came back from Gangwon. Why?”
“I was just…” TaeMin visibly struggled. “…obligated to. I got you into that mess, so it was only my responsibility to help you out. Jjong-hyung, MinHo-hyung, JunMyeon-hyung...They’d never forgive me if something happened to you because of me.”
“That can’t be all… Come on, hyung!”
“Don’t be so conceited!” TaeMin spat. “Just stop it!”
The sudden hostility in his tone forced Kai to finally let go and reel backwards. Immediately, TaeMin’s fierce persona fell away, and the world fell upon him again. He looked old and exhausted, refusing to fight anymore.
“Just… let me go, JongIn…”
He turned again to trudge to the front door. Kai was frozen in place as he watched TaeMin’s back get farther and farther out of reach. His mind snapped back into gear when TaeMin was just one stride from the entryway.
“TaeMin – ”
The muffled silence clouded his senses. Kai watched his hand reach out to grab at TaeMin’s jacket, his fingers almost missing the hem in the back. The pull brought TaeMin to a stop. They gazed at each other’s pleading, desperate faces for elongated seconds. In the silence, TaeMin turned to fully face Kai.
He reached out and pulled Kai to him in a crushing embrace. Kai squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in the crook of TaeMin’s neck. But TaeMin’s arms loosened too quickly. He stepped back, his hands lifting to gently cup Kai’s cheeks, and he brought his lips to Kai’s.
It didn’t last. It was almost a fleeting touch, something Kai couldn’t be sure even happened. But he knew it did from the lingering feeling on his own lips, the taste of tears he hadn’t even realized were running from his eyes. Too soon, TaeMin was backing away, his own eyes glistening at the edges.
Too soon, TaeMin was turning away, clumsily shoving his feet into his shoes without bothering to tie them properly.
Too soon, the front door opened and shut, and Kai was left alone in the silence.
He fell, succumbing to the weight of the boulder once again.
“JongIn! JongIn-ah! Are you there?!”
“Yah, JongIn! What happened?!”
“Hyung! Yah, hyung!”
“Damn it! I knew telling him was a bad idea!”
“Then why’d you tell him, pabo?!”
“You were the one who told me to!”
“JongInnie? Come on. You gotta get up. Kim JongIn…”
The follow-up with the doctor didn’t turn out well. Even though Kai had recovered enough physically, his mental state had deteriorated in the last days of his break. He had no explanation for the doctor. He had no words for anyone. He had returned to that blank, lifeless-doll state that he was before his trip to Gangwon which set the members on edge.
There was always someone to chaperone him, regardless of where he was. SeHun volunteered to let Kai stay with him, monitoring his every move and making sure the bathroom door stayed unlocked in case Kai happened to be under the water longer than usual. When they went out to eat, SuHo and KyungSoo alternated shoving food into Kai’s mouth until the youth looked like he was close to expelling it back out. He was aware enough, though, to hear the doctor say if there weren’t any better results in the following week, he’d have to see a specialist.
It’s not like he wanted to be a bother. He just wanted to wallow in the darkness for a little longer.
Kai managed to start getting his act together, actually trying to participate in practice and managing to listen to a sentence or two as the members talked. SuHo took him aside every so often to ask if he really was okay or not.
“I’ll get there someday…” was what Kai would always mutter.
Eventually, the results were satisfactory enough. The doctor permitted Kai to properly get back to work, and things managed to get back to normal. Kai made a scripted PSA about his absence, fabricating some lie that no one would really believe, giving out sweet-but-empty words of thanks to his fans for their well-wishes.
Then came the day for their first stage appearance as a whole, six-man group since the Gangwon incident. The members jittered about in their green room, fussing and playing like they used to. Kai was trying to scratch his eyelid without mussing the makeup the artists had just applied on him.
A crew member stuck his head in the doorway. “EXO-K on standby!”
They dutifully filed out the door, adjusting their gaudy costumes along the way. They pushed themselves against the wall to make space for extremely energetic TaeTiSeo as they skittered past in their high heels and short-shorts. They continued through the building to the dark backstage of the main hall.
The six boys loitered behind the curtains, listening as the MCs’ voices echoed loudly through the monitors on the stage. Kai watched as ChanYeol continuously pestered BaekHyun and KyungSoo. SuHo tried telling them to stop once, but gave up when he was blatantly ignored.
They hadn’t even realized who was walking off stage until they were face to face with the five members of SHINee.
The eleven males stopped immediately. Even the coordis stumbled from the tense air that rose between them. They were so used to the label-mates playing at first sight that the icy atmosphere shocked them out of words.
Kai’s hands balled into his fists and willed himself from hyperventilating. He didn’t want to be there. He wanted to be back at SeHun’s apartment – or his own – and continue his wallowing. He didn’t want to have to look into the nervous eyes of JinKi or JongHyun or KiBum or MinHo or –
Before their eyes met, TaeMin quickly looked away and continued to walk, sights trained on the floor ahead of him. JongHyun pinched his lips together and trotted forward to catch up with the magnae. MinHo and KiBum quickly followed suit, but only JinKi managed to shed an apologetic expression with a quick dip of his head before he, too, left to join s.
There were hands all over him. It took Kai a while to realize all of the hands belonged to the five members. He didn’t want to look at them for fear of seeing pity or unease or general awkwardness. He didn’t need that right now. So he swallowed back the acidic bile that had been rising from his stomach, grabbed hold of two hands (he didn’t look to see whose hands they belonged to), and pushed his feet forward to the fiery stage.
A/N: What I learned from writing this fic - definitely, definitely, definitely, definitely begin with the end in mind OTL Things probably turned out all bonkers and weird because I kept changing things in the middle of writing. At first, TaeMin actually was a ghost. And then he wasn't. And then this was gonna happen. And then it didn't. And then I at writing. Oh wait. I always at writing OTL
Well, I'm very happy if you have enjoyed~ Bad ending, I know. But this is how I wanted it to end. Angst fic is angsty \o/ Sorry for the fail-romance and awkward-angst. My style is more along the lines of Cassiopeia. Speaking of! I've already begun drafting ideas for new fics! One is a mystery, one is a TaoHun-oneshot request, one is... I don't quite know how to label the genre but it's LayKai, and one is psychological thriller.
...why did I come up with so many ideas all at once? OTL This is gonna .
Once again, I hope you enjoyed my oneshot.not! It was fun to write, and I hope you stick around for my future works!