Three days after the truck incident, Chanyeol purchased a train ticket. It would be lunar New Year in another day and even if he would be happy staying in Namwon he knew his father would never let him. A telegram made that much clear - that if Chanyeol didn’t come back voluntarily someone would be down to fetch him.
He packed up a few of his clothes and a book in his duffle bag before letting Ji Hyo know he would be gone for a few days. She had her hands full with Baekhyun getting into everything that she was attempting to prepare for the holiday, so she simply nodded and told him to enjoy.
He passed Kyungsoo on his way down the road, the farmer was toiling about the rice paddies– doing what, Chanyeol wasn’t sure. He had been at it for the past couple of days, heading out and measuring, inspecting, and whatever else it was that kept him outdoors from the time Chanyeol left in the morning until at least an hour after he came back.
Ever since he had seen that small smile Kyungsoo had seemed even more distant from him, even less talkative, even sterner with his looks. Chanyeol felt like he had glimpsed something he shouldn’t have– the human portion of this man– and Kyungsoo was trying to make up for it.
“If he ever knew I saw him crying that day,” Chanyeol muttered as he yelled out a goodbye and waved at the farmer. Kyungsoo didn't look up from his work, blatantly ignoring him.
Chanyeol stared at the glasses of expensive brandy perched on the silver tray– wondering how they had purchased such a luxury item while also trying to calculate how many hungry people could be fed with that same amount of money.
Soft piano music filled the large gathering room of the Park residence. Chanyeol had been back in Seoul for two days, past the New Year. The first day he had been filial, going through the New Year rituals as he had his entire life (except for when he was in Busan and his parents and sister in Japan). Now this, his last day in town, he had other things expected of him.
“We are having a get together with friends. I expect you to greet our guests, you’re the son of this family,” His father had instructed, there wasn’t an option to say no.
Chanyeol found that his tuxedo, which was made a year ago, was now loose on him. He had lost weight walking so much back in Namwon. He slicked his hair back and - most importantly - passed his mother’s inspection before being allowed to mingle with their esteemed guests.
Once the party started he trailed after his parents, trying not to look bored as his mother and father hobnobbed with the other families that had somehow made it out of the war with their fortunes generally intact. When, almost an hour after they arrived, he spotted his sister and her husband walking across the ballroom, he couldn’t help but feel relieved.
“If it isn’t the antithesis of the prodigal son,” she winked, smiling fondly at her little brother.
“Hm, yes. Something like that.” Chanyeol greeted her with a hug before following her towards a small settee. He much preferred talking to his older sister over following his parents around– and it seemed that the feeling was mutual. His brother in law jumped right into mingling and conversing with the other guests, leaving the siblings freedom to converse in private.
“I’m assuming you’re boiling up inside?” Yoora asked.
“You’re all about roughing it now, this must be torture,” Yoora laughed.
“I have grown rather fond of rice paddies, I have to admit.” Chanyeol held out his hands, now marred with callouses. “And a hammer.”
“Oh no, my baby brother is a working man now!” Yoora faked despair, putting her hand to her head like she was faint. Chanyeol tried to act amused by it all, but something about his sister’s perceptions of life – even if she was one of his favorite people – was part of a larger problem.
“Park!” A shout interrupted the sibling’s conversation.
Chanyeol’s reprieve from the wealthy friends of his family was short lived, it seemed. He tried to look friendly when he made eye contact with the young man coming his way.
It was Kim Jongin, the son of a man who often did business with Chanyeol’s father. He was Chanyeol’s age and they had attended school together when they were younger. Chanyeol hadn’t seen him since he had gone away to college and honestly he had no idea what the man had been up to.
“Jongin.” Chanyeol stood to greet his old acquaintance (they had grown distant in their teenage years, to call him a friend would be a misnomer). He had anticipated a formal greeting, but what he got was a hug. Jongin was a few inches shorter, though a lot stronger than Chanyeol, nearly crushing him with his enthusiasm.
“Yoora,” Jongin let Chanyeol go and gave a small bow to Chanyeol’s sister.
“Nice to see you.” She was skilled at looking like she was pleased to see everyone, even those she was less than fond of. In Jongin’s case Yoora was probably rather indifferent about the encounter, not being close with the man to begin with. Or so Chanyeol had assumed.
“I spent time with your sister and brother in law while I was in Japan,” Jongin informed Chanyeol.
“Ah, so you two know each other better than I thought.” Chanyeol’s family, minus himself, had left Korea when the war broke out. They had business partnerships in Japan, giving them a safe haven for the duration of the fighting. Chanyeol had stayed to attend school, moving with the other students to the safety of Busan while the fighting took place.
“I want to know what you have been doing of late, we haven’t seen each other in years!” Jongin gestured for the other two to sit, taking his place next to Chanyeol.
“I have been well. I was in Busan until I graduated, now I am staying in Namwon and helping to build a school.” Chanyeol found that he felt a measure of pride in being able to say he was now doing something, not wasting away in safety while everyone else suffered. Not doing what Jongin had done during the fighting, for example.
“Ah, studying! Your sister mentioned that.” Jongin added, “I just got back from Japan not a week ago. It is nice to be back in Korea.”
“Will you stay here long?” Chanyeol inquired, making small talk.
“Yes, my father is setting me up to operate his line of acquisitions.” Chanyeol noticed that Jongin looked proud of the fact.
“What are you acquiring?” Yoora asked.
“Farmland mostly. Now that the government is offering the voucher program it is more than attractive to buy up land and industrialize it. Got to help the rebuilding effort.” Jongin winked. Chanyeol found the way he talked about rebuilding distasteful, considering he was apparently only interested in it for his own family’s gain.
“Vouchers?” Yoora asked, taking the words out of Chanyeol’s mouth. Six months ago he wouldn't have cared so much what farmland and vouchers had to do with the rebuilding effort, but now that he was staying in the midst of farms he wanted to know.
“Hmm. Land reform. Started before the war but now that the fighting stopped we can finally do something about it. You see, it’s like this,” Jongin gestured with his hands as he spoke, “No one can own over three chanbos of land. What they had extra was sold to the government for a voucher promising payment over five years. Now that we are facing inflation the vouchers are essentially worthless – top that off with the government and their incentive program for industrialization and you can make big bucks buying up farmland. The farmers have nothing right now, which means they are selling for ridiculously cheap.”
Chanyeol didn't like the sound of what Jongin was explaining. He could hear his father in his mind saying it is business, just business. Business isn’t charity, Chanyeol.
“What does the farmer get out of it though, in the long run?”
“They go along with the industrialization. They work at it, help the country rebuild by working in manufacturing or moving to a city or something. Does it matter? If they have no way to keep their farm anyway, isn’t it great for them to be bought out.”
“And what if they don't want to sell?” Chanyeol asked.
Jongin raised his eyebrows. “You certainly seem interested in this.”
“I…” Chanyeol trailed off.
“I’m curious too.” Yoora offered, making the question less awkward.
“If they don't want to sell we can usually pressure them into it, I mean they have little choice. Land tax is astronomical and yields are bad. The Americans are giving us grain like it is an endless supply. Come this year their crops will be worth next to nothing, the land they sold to the state will never be paid, and what they do farm will mostly go to the government as it is. They sell because they know they have to. Even if they don’t want to, they need to.”
Chanyeol pursed his lips. Was Kyungsoo in this situation? Was his farm as bad off as Jongin claimed? But they had always had food on the table, it didn’t seem like they had any money troubles.
“Let’s save business talk for another day.” Jongin flashed his megawatt smile at Chanyeol. “Did you say you were staying in Namwon?”
“Isn’t that the story of Chunhyang? I mean where it is set.” Jongin looked amused. “Are you down there to find your own Chunhyang? Have a ring slipped into your hand by some country lass,” Jongin winked.
“I very much doubt that will happen.” Yoora interjected, though the reason she said it was probably understood very differently by Jongin as compared to Chanyeol.
Yoora was the only person in Chanyeol’s life that knew he preferred men over women in a ual way. He had confessed to her as a teenager, afraid something was wrong with him and needing someone to tell. He thought he needed help, a cure. Instead he was given acceptance. Yoora told him it wasn’t a bad thing, though he should be careful who he told in case others judged him harshly for it. He had kept it secret, hoping one day he would find someone who felt like he did. That day had yet to come.
“Not looking for a wife?” Jongin nodded towards where his father was standing talking to a group of middle aged men. “I was told I should get married yesterday.”
“Chanyeol isn’t in the market for a wife,” Yoora spoke for him.
“Ah, to be you.” Jongin clapped him on the back. “It was good seeing you Park, keep in touch.”
He stood up and made his way over to where his father was standing, entering in the conversation seamlessly. Once he was gone Chanyeol sat back and relaxed, sharply exhaling.
“He’s going to make his father proud,” Yoora remarked.
“Yes, he grew up to be just the type of person that would make our father proud too. “ Chanyeol couldn't add unlike me but his sister sensed it.
“You make me proud,” she said softly.
Chanyeol smiled at his sister. “Thank you.” He meant it.
Chanyeol left for Namwon the next morning, taking the train down with a sense of relief and anticipation. Relief that he was going to be away from his father and his demands (he had tried to get Chanyeol to stay incessantly) and anticipation over seeing those he left behind in Namwon. He wondered how Jongdae had spent his new year, since he wasn’t going anywhere. He wondered if Baekhyun had gotten the pocket money he had whined about. He wondered if Ji Hyo wore her hanbok. He wondered if Kyungsoo...he wondered if he had fun.
With February came slightly warmer temperatures, the snow and ice that had covered the valley melting away. Chanyeol plodded through the newly muddy road on his way back to the farm, noting that in just a few days some things had changed. Whatever Kyungsoo had been doing out in the field was being replicated by others, almost every farm Chanyeol passed he saw the farmers toiling around in their paddies. He wasn't sure when planting was, but he felt like it was later in the year. When he noticed one older couple rebuilding the bunds of one of their paddies he got the inclination that they were out repairing their fields for the coming planting season.
When he spotted the white farmhouse down the road he smiled, finding some sort of comfort in it. A comfort he hadn’t had when he went home. Yet this place, it wasn’t all comfort and ease. Kyungsoo was still depressingly harsh to him. Ji Hyo had problems and Baekhyun– well after finding his shoelaces tied together half a dozen times Chanyeol recognized him as the trickster he was.
Yet there was that feeling of comforting familiarity that he never felt back in Seoul. How odd.
When he approached the farmhouse he saw a flash of pink. It was Ji Hyo, standing on the long porch. He hurried his step, eager to say hello. Yet when he got sight of her he could tell something was wrong.
“Are you well? “ Chanyeol saw the vacant look in Ji Hyo’s eyes, the same he had seen the day he had arrived in Namwon. It was the same that expression that had been displayed the day Kyungsoo’s truck backfired. It was like her spirit had left her body, her expression devoid of feeling. She was dressed in the hanbok that she had been wearing that day too, the finely embroidered garment glaringly out of place.
“Do you think I will win?” she asked, tracing her finger on the railing of the porch. When she raised her fingertip up it was wet from the melting snow.
Chanyeol didn’t know what to do. Was this madness that Baekhyun had hinted at?
“When Seungsoo gets back we plan on having another baby,” she smiled brightly. “And to think I will still win after that. How jealous they must be, the other girls.”
She was lost in a time that does not exist, he thought. He sat down on the edge of the porch and waited, listening as Ji Hyo began to talk of her baby and how Baekhyun would be pleased to have a sibling.
He heard her heart break through her happy words– or perhaps it was his own heart breaking? To know it was all some fantasy she clung to made him sad. He wanted to bring her back, to snap her out of it. “Ji Hyo, Baekhyun needs you. Kyungsoo needs you.”
“Kyungsoo?” Ji Hyo looked thoughtful. “But he’s gone. He left for the army.”
Chanyeol heard Kyungsoo nearing, the familiar plodding step indicating as much. When he rounded the corner and saw Chanyeol sitting with Ji Hyo he frowned.
“You shouldn’t bother with her when she’s like that,” Kyungsoo instructed as he walked towards the house. “Leave her alone.”
“I was just listening,” Chanyeol protested.
“That is the worst thing you could do,” Kyungsoo spat back, giving Chanyeol a look of annoyance intermingled with disgust.
“Seosoo is that you?” Ji Hyo stared at the farmer hopefully. “Are we going to have a baby now?” She stood and ran to Kyungsoo’s side, attempting to hug him as he walked. He shoved her off of him, sending her onto the ground in the process.
Chanyeol watched as the woman fell, her hands going behind her to soften her fall. Mud splattered up as her body collided with the hard ground. Chanyeol found the entire thing pitiful. This woman, who had been so kind to him, was tossed into the dirt by her bitter brother in law. This woman, who was showing her pain the only way she knew how, was being cast aside in a flurry of anger and misdirected rage.
It was disgusting, unnerving, and it was wrong. Chanyeol had tiptoed around Kyungsoo for the last month. He had tried to ignore his anger and his biting words. He had told himself that it wasn’t his place to confront the man. He had told himself that maybe he was just reading the situation wrong. That maybe, as the coward that he was, he just simply could never understand.
Yet this single moment was enough for him to feel the confidence he had been lacking. To know that Kyungsoo wasn’t acting the way he should be acting. He was a bully taking it out on the wrong people, and Chanyeol wasn’t going to let it go. Not anymore.
“Hey!” Chanyeol rushed past him to help Ji Hyo up. She was sitting on the ground, mud splattered on her pink hanbok, tears streaming down her face. “Did you have to do that?!”
Kyungsoo turned around. “This is my family, it is none of your business, coward.” He limped into the house without another word.
Chanyeol helped the crying woman up. As soon as she was standing her tearful state changed to one of mirth. “So do you think I will win? You shall vote for me, won’t you?”
Chanyeol nodded slowly, his eyes trained on the door that Kyungsoo had walked through. He balled his hands into fists and walked into the house after him. Something had snapped inside of him, his frustrations spilling over. Weeks with Kyungsoo acting like he was the worst person on earth– weeks of Kyungsoo acting like every human being was the bane of his existence– drove him to this unbridled anger.
He found Kyungsoo sitting on the floor near the little table. When Chanyeol walked up to him, the farmer didn’t even blink.
“Do Kyungsoo, you’re the least pleasant person I have ever met.” Chanyeol spat. That got a rise out of the smaller man, his eyes widening as he looked at his boarder. “You bully a sick woman, you scowl at anyone that looks at you.”
“I have reasons!” Kyungsoo shouted back, his cheeks turning red as his temper flared. “Unlike you, you ing coward!”
“I’m a coward. I admit it.” Chanyeol pointed his finger towards the seated man, “but you – can you admit that you’re angry with the world? Can you admit that there are a hundred, a thousand, tens of thousands of people like you in this country and they aren’t acting like you are?”
Kyungsoo snorted. “Are you trying to tell me how to feel? Are you, someone who has never seen a day of fighting in his–”
Chanyeol interrupted him. “I’m not telling you how to feel. I’m trying to tell you how to treat people with basic respect. People like your sister in law, who does everything for you.” Chanyeol dragged his hand through his hair in frustration. “If you want to go forward, stop acting like this. If you want to stop now, to let your anger kill you slowly, so be it.”
“You know nothing,” Kyungsoo spat.
“I probably don’t,” Chanyeol agreed. “I’m probably foolish to say any of this. In fact, I should probably just take my things and go somewhere else.” He stalked off towards his room, his body on fire. Kyungsoo could infuriate him like no one else. Kyungsoo, the distant and angry man, could get a rise out of him like no one else. Why?
When he got into his room he pulled out his duffle bag and began shoving his belongings inside. His motions were sloppy but strong, fueled by his rage. When he pulled open a drawer to retrieve his clothing he caught his hand on the corner, cutting it. He swore under his breath and pulled his hand to him.
Annoyed he fell to the floor, slumping down and letting out a loud groan. He stared at the ceiling, his mind filled with so many thoughts it felt like his brain would implode. He stayed that way for minutes, maybe an hour, he wasn’t sure.
When he heard the familiar creaking of the door to his room, which was forever getting caught in its frame, he looked up.
The farmer was standing in the doorway, his expression serious. He didn’t say he was sorry or demand an apology from Chanyeol. It was just those two words. Those two mysterious words.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Chanyeol challenged. ”I’m a coward and all I do is meddle.”
“Just don’t.” Kyungsoo turned around and walked back down the hallway, leaving Chanyeol more confused than ever.
Why would Kyungsoo want him to stay? The rent money probably. But why was there a tinge of regret in his tone when he spoke or was Chanyeol imagining all of that? Do Kyungsoo was a constant mystery, one that Chanyeol felt like was slowly driving him mad. He knew so little about the man but thought about him more than he reasonably should.
Perhaps it was because all his life Chanyeol had been the one to keep a smile on his face. To cheer others up, to not be too depressed or take things too seriously. He never overflowed with happiness but he was unfailingly positive the majority of time. Meeting Kyungsoo was like meeting his polar opposite in every way and he just couldn’t understand the man. Even more so when Kyungsoo said things like he should stay. Was there any real emotion there? Should there be?
Chanyeol tossed and turned for a couple hours as he dissected the situation again and again in his mind. Finally he fell asleep, not ever moving from his spot on the floor. HIs dreams were filled with a large eyed man, a mystery unlike any he had ever encountered.
The next morning found Chanyeol feeling slightly embarrassed about what had occurred the previous day. He rarely if ever exploded like that, and now that he thought back on it he doubted it was his place to do so. He was staying in this house, why did it matter what emotional atmosphere clung to the residents of the home?
He emerged from his room later than usual and headed straight for the door, wanting to avoid an awkward conversation. He didn’t escape however. Ji Hyo stopped him.
She emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. The distant and almost inhuman look in her eyes was gone. She had seemingly returned to normal.
“Chanyeol, may I talk to you?”
Chanyeol nodded. He waited by the door, half tempted to make a run for it.
“I’m sorry what happened yesterday. I have these episodes, they come and go.” He saw tears form in her eyes. “Kyungsoo didn’t hurt me.”
Chanyeol held his tongue, not knowing how to respond.
“Kyungsoo doesn’t hurt me, please don’t think that.” A single tear fell down Ji Hyo’s cheek. “We have just been through so, so much.”
It probably wasn’t his place but he did it anyway. He stepped forward and pulled the woman into a hug, wanting - no, needing to comfort her. She let him, burying her face in his shirt as she cried.
I’m a fool, he thought. I said things I shouldn’t have to people that didn’t deserve it. Of course they are upset, of course they are depressed...of course I don’t understand. Of course….
“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol patted her head. “I’m sorry I yelled at Kyungsoo.”
Ji Hyo lifted her head from Chanyeol’s shirt, sniffling. “No. You shouldn’t be sorry.”
Chanyeol looked at her in confusion.
“He needs someone like you, someone who can remind him the world isn’t all dark, not forever.” Ji Hyo wiped her tears. “He needs your honesty Chanyeol.”
Chanyeol swallowed. He hadn’t been expecting this.
It was strange, Chanyeol thought, that a person who was so angry and off-putting could also be so gentle. He garnered as much as he watched Kyungsoo from afar one evening, the farmer sitting on the ground and gently rubbing a cloth over something. Chanyeol was sitting on the porch, far enough back so Kyungsoo wouldn’t notice him.
“He collects small stones he finds,” Ji Hyo explained when she stepped outside and noticed Chanyeol watching. “He polishes them and keeps them.”
He flushed, trying to pretend like he hadn’t been staring.
“Keeps them in the hutch, there are probably at least a hundred of them.” Ji Hyo sighed, “It’s a shame he won’t ever put them in the house, we could use the decoration. But he keeps them hidden away.”
Kyungsoo was fascinating like this, his head bowed in concentration, his hands moving purposefully and slowly. Ji Hyo returned to the house and Chanyeol kept watching. Why, he wasn’t exactly sure.
The more he thought about it the more he realized the farmer found beauty and tucked it away in that dark and grimy hutch for a definite reason. He found beauty and kept it for himself. Kyungsoo, Chanyeol thought, was trying to protect something he rarely encountered. Keeping it safe from the world. Kyungsoo, Chanyeol thought, was a lot more complex and maybe even caring then he gave him credit for.
On Saturday they cleaned up at the building site early, dark storm clouds rolling in and threatening to drench them if they kept working. Thankfully the storm never broke, Chanyeol making it back to the farmhouse dry and untouched by lightning. When he got to the farmhouse he found Baekhyun outside playing– which quickly turned into Baekhyun dragging Chanyeol off to play.
After a rambunctious game of tag Baekhyun suddenly ran inside to fetch “something I need to show you”. Chanyeol waited, perched on the edge of the long porch. When the child returned he was carrying a picture book that Chanyeol recognized as one that he had brought from Seoul. The little devil had taken it from his room. He sighed, but easily forgave the boy. The child sat next to him. Baekhyun scanned the page and then turned to the next, smiling brightly at the small illustration.
Chanyeol smirked as the child’s enthusiasm grew with each turn of the page. “Will you teach me?” Baekhyun looked up from the book, his eyes wide and hopeful. “To read, I mean.”
“Yes, once you’re done with your chores.” Chanyeol leaned forward and ruffled the boy’s already messy mop of black hair.
“Can I keep it?” Baekhyun held up the book. When Chanyeol nodded the child let out a noise of excitement, jumping down from the porch and running off with the volume.
Chanyeol hoped that he had this feeling once the school opened, that he could repeat this sense of satisfaction that came with getting a child interested in learning.
“You know, he can read.”
Chanyeol turned around, surprised he hadn’t heard Kyungsoo approaching. The man leaned against the side of the house.
“He can?” Chanyeol cocked an eyebrow, looking towards where the child had run off to. “The little devil,” he muttered.
“I taught him when he was four, picked it up right away.” Kyungsoo limped towards him. “So you don’t need to bother with him.”
Ji Hyo’s words rung in his ears. Be honest. “Children can always learn more. Should always learn more.”
“Why?” Kyungsoo stopped in front of Chanyeol, giving him a challenging look. “So he’s better at rice farming?”
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to be a farmer,” Chanyeol shot back. Kyungsoo snorted.
“Yes, because as you can see we are living in a world with endless opportunities.” Kyungsoo’s tone was biting. He limped past Chanyeol and headed for the outbuilding.
“You should try to give this world a chance, it might surprise you.” Chanyeol called after him. Kyungsoo didn’t turn back or otherwise indicate he had heard him.
As February turned to March, Chanyeol believed Kyungsoo would never listen.