It was worse than Chanyeol ever imagined. He found his parents– the once vivacious and healthy couple, always infallible in his mind, laying weak and so very thin. He found his sister, his rock, his strength, barely holding on.
The doctor said it was influenza, extremely contagious and deadly. Chanyeol was told to keep his distance from his parents so he wasn’t infected. He didn’t listen, staying by their bedside as much as he could which wasn’t as often as he liked.
The business needed him. There were phone calls and appointments. Government deals and buyouts. Chanyeol had to have a few suits made so he could be presentable as he took his father’s place. Suddenly he was reading contracts and looking for the best possible terms. Suddenly he was his father.
His mother died at one in the morning two weeks after he returned to Seoul. His father held on for three days more, wasting away as he could no longer eat or drink. Chanyeol and Yoora were at the funeral hall for almost a week when everything was said and done.
As July turned to August, Chanyeol found himself alone.
It was mid-August when he realized it had been a month and a half since he left Namwon. He was too busy and still struggling with the death of his parents to notice the time that had passed. He kept the small stone Kyungsoo had given him in a drawer in his room so he wouldn’t lose it, but while he used to take it out every day he didn’t look at it anymore.
There was simply no time to think of anything but business when he had so much to figure out. His father had left half-finished business agreements, vague instructions, and a large fortune that needed to be managed. And Chanyeol found himself slaving away to understand it, to keep Yoora going with what they had left. To make it out of the dark period of their lives relatively unscathed other than the gaping hole that was once filled by their parents.
And yet, when he was alone at night he felt empty. He wasn’t happy, he was surviving. And then, only then would his mind wonder to Namwon, to a white farmhouse with a family he loved. To a man he loved. Because in the recesses of his mind he had known it for a while, and now that he was gone he could admit it to himself. He loved Kyungsoo, and that made the pain even worse.
He hoped Kyungsoo was happy, that the crops were doing well. He hoped Baekhyun had enrolled in school, he hoped Ji Hyo was having less episodes. He hoped Jongdae was enjoying teaching. He hoped and he hoped and that would only add to the depression he was trying to ignore.
As August turned to September, Chanyeol pretended everything would be okay.
Chanyeol’s brother in law started helping out in the business in late August, finally taking his investments and merging them with the same legal entity as Chanyeol’s parent’s business. He was a partner now and his help was invaluable. Chanyeol’s workload lessened as he had a more experienced person to help him.
With more free time came more time to think, which in the end meant more time to be sad. Chanyeol debated writing a letter or sending a telegram to Kyungsoo but he thought it would make things worse. If he was feeling at all what Chanyeol was then it would be opening the wound.
That all changed one day in September when Chanyeol was leaving the bank. He had come to deposit the latest payment for a government contract, a bi weekly occurrence that was so routine now he knew the bankers by name.
As he walked towards the door he passed the small line of other customers, not bothering to look over until his name was called. Well, to be more specific his last name. “Park!”
Chanyeol stopped in his tracks and turned to see Jongin staring back at him. He had a mind to keep walking and would have if Jongin hadn’t immediately followed up his shout with, “Turns out I’m the winner in the end.”
He looked smug, full of himself, and it grated on Chanyeol. He didn’t want to give Jongin the satisfaction of asking how he had won, but at the same time he wanted to know. “How?”
“That farmer of yours is selling me his farm, couldn’t keep his fields going this year. See, I was right. Good thing I can buy it for half what I offered him earlier. Thanks for helping me with the deal.”
Chanyeol felt faint. Kyungsoo was selling the farm? The crops failed?!
The farm was everything to Kyungsoo, something he would never ever part with. It was his lifeblood, what he worked for day and night. And he was selling it?
Chanyeol ran from the bank, not staying to listen to anything else Jongin had to say.
Yoora was seated in her parlor when her brother arrived looking disheveled. His hair was windblown and his tie had been loosened. One look at him and she could tell he was angry.
“What is it?”
“Yoora, I need to go. I need to go back to Namwon,” he was breathless.
“For how long?” she asked.
“Forever,” Chanyeol answered, his voice raw with emotion.
Chanyeol took the train back, the fastest method of travel since recent rains had washed out some of the roads to Namwon. He moved his knee up and down incessantly the entire way there, nervous he would be too late. In his hand he rolled the small stone back and forth, cold against his palm as his heart beat erratically.
He tried to send a telegram before he left Seoul but he couldn’t be sure it got through, lines were down because of the storms too.
When the train stopped he grabbed his bag and rushed to get off, disembarking before anyone else. Unlike the first time he had arrived in this place he didn’t have to ask where to go. He didn’t have to take note of everything, he didn’t have to wonder what was in store for him as he trudged up a country road.
This time he was running through the town, as fast as he could go. He took a chance by rushing into city hall, hoping Ji Won was there. The village head looked terrified when Chanyeol burst into his office and asked “Can you drive me to the farm?”
“I didn’t know you were back.” Ji Won stood up to shake Chanyeol’s hand.
“Please, I need to go now.” Chanyeol bowed, “Sorry it is urgent.”
“I think Kyungsoo is in town if you are looking for a ride. I saw him go into the bank earlier.” Ji Won was clearly concerned. He was looking at Chanyeol like he was a crazy person.
“The bank?” Chanyeol squeaked, feeling dread overtake him. Did that mean he was going there to sign away the farm?
He turned around and rushed out of city hall, almost running into someone as he entered the marketplace. He kept running until he was rushing through the doors of the bank. He stopped and looked around wildly. “Is Do Kyungsoo here?!” he shouted to the shocked bankers.
When they didn’t respond right away he shouted his words again, fear overtaking him.
“Chanyeol?” Kyungsoo emerged from a door in the back of the bank, his eyes wide as he looked at the man. “What are you doing here?”
Chanyeol rushed to him, stopping in front of him he doubled over, his breathing heavy from all the running. “Did you sell the farm?” he asked through ragged breaths. He felt like he might pass out at any moment.
“I was about to sign the deed over,” Kyungsoo said softly. “How did you find out?”
“Don’t do it.” Chanyeol braced his hands on his knees and looked at Kyungsoo. “I have enough money, I can pay off your loans, and I can help you keep the farm. Don’t sell.”
Kyungsoo furrowed his brow. “I can’t let you do that. I can’t accept your money.”
Chanyeol gave him a pained look before he reached into his pocket. He pulled the stone out and it towards Kyungsoo before whispering, “I came back and I am staying.”
Kyungsoo stared at the shiny pebble, his eyes going wide for a moment. He looked from the pebble, the tiny stone he had found on the land that meant so much to him, up to the man he had given it to. The man who through six months had come to mean a lot to him too. The man that he used to hate.
In the city of lovers, history could be a conflux of folklore, of distorted beliefs and silly love stories. It could be a farmer’s daughter finding kinship with a romantic myth so she could give credence to her crush, ignoring the fact it was never going to be consummated. It could be a man who lost everything thinking this was the place to fall in love. It could be a lot of things, but this, this was them. This was their version.
Kyungsoo held out his palm, letting the stone drop into his hand. “Alright,” he whispered. “I’ll accept your help.”
Chanyeol smiled, his heart swelling at Kyungsoo’s agreement. The happiness that had left him seemed to rush back at once. After going into the back room of the bank and seeing a very pissed off Jongin, Chanyeol pulled out his billfold and deposited the money needed to pay off Kyungsoo’s loans and keep the deed in his name.
When they walked out of the bank twenty minutes later Kyungsoo was smiling.
“Let’s go home,” he said to Chanyeol.
Chanyeol nodded. “Yeah, let’s go home.”
As September turned into October, Chanyeol came home for good.
Chanyeol spent most of his evenings at his desk, grading papers. He had been able to assume his own classes as soon as he was back, finding that Jongdae was unable to locate another teacher so they were all overextended. He loved teaching, something he realized the first day he stood in front of his pupils and introduced himself. It helped, he supposed, that one bright eyed little boy was in his class, raising his hand and calling him Uncle when he knew the answer to a question.
He had been back in Namwon for almost a month, and he couldn’t be happier. His brother in law had assumed the business back in Seoul which was the right choice for everyone. He was suited for it and liked doing it, while Chanyeol only found the entire thing depressing and stressful.
Kyungsoo had been busy cleaning up the fields and the failed crop. It was the heavy rains that had washed the fields out, causing the rice to die. It spelled disaster for the farmers and while Kyungsoo was no longer in debt he still had a struggle ahead of him.
He wouldn’t take anymore of Chanyeol’s money, which Chanyeol finally accepted. It would be a tough winter but with enough hard work they would get through it.
There were still wounds here, scars on the earth and on the humans that dwelt there. But they were healing, as each day passed a future was possible. As each day passed, the memories no longer controlled the present. And it was all possible because they were together.
Ji Hyo was getting better too, it seemed, even though the summer had been rough. She hadn’t had an episode in almost two months Kyungsoo reported. Chanyeol wondered if that had anything to do with the fact Jongdae liked to stop over from time to time, chatting with her until she blushed. Apparently Jongdae had started visiting shortly after Chanyeol left, stopping in as a way to say hello to those who were so nice to his friend. It was an odd pairing but if it made them happy he was okay with it. Jongdae was a great guy after all.
And in the evenings, even though the weather was getting cold, He would sit on the porch with Kyungsoo and his old guitar. When everyone was in bed and darkness had descended they would dare to kiss, but never for long.
It was always going to be something that they had to hide, Chanyeol realized. They would never be able to be open about their relationship, but it was the reality of the situation. They still held hands in public, because friends did that. They still looked at each other with love, because that just couldn’t be helped.
And at the end of October, when Seungyoon’s engagement to a neighboring farmer was announced, they talked about it as they cuddled under the autumn stars, their relationship safe under the darkness of night.
“I bet she thinks it is fate,” Kyungsoo laughed into the crook of Chanyeol’s neck.
Their height difference made cuddling somewhat difficult, Kyungsoo complained. But to Chanyeol holding the smaller man in his arms, with Kyungsoo’s head resting on his shoulder, the logistics were just perfect. Absolutely perfect.
“I assume she does,” Chanyeol agreed.
Silence hung in the air after that, punctuated by a whisper that had Chanyeol’s face heating up.
“I love you, Park Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo whispered into his shirt.
“I love you too,” Chanyeol responded, planting a kiss on Kyungsoo’s forehead.
Secrets could be the worst things in the world, but for them it was going to be a way of life. And they accepted that, lying in a desolate field outside of Namwon. Because knowing their love would be hidden was better than knowing it would never exist, never come to fruition.
As October turned into November, two men prepared to spend the rest of their lives together.