Bargaining

Silent Melody
bargaining
How could you go about choosing something that would hold the half of your heart you had to bury?
—— Jodi Picoult

“Jongdae-yah? Wake up Jongdae-yah. It’s time to go, you can take a nap in the van in a bit.” Joonmyun softly called, lightly shaking the younger boy awake, only to frown a bit at how bony the boy’s shoulders felt in his hand.

Jongdae had always been a bit thin and willowy, but ever since the boy had gotten sick, it seemed as if the had been losing quite a bit of weight. It was almost as if parts of his body were falling off him like melted wax and for someone who didn’t necessarily have any weight that he needed to lose in the first place, it was a bit worrying to the older boy. However, knowing that it was due to the boy being sick rather than Jongdae losing weight from being forced into SME approved diets or willingly choosing not to eat when he should, Joonmyun let the fact slide. For now.

If it got any worse though, then Joonmyun would take it up with the younger boy, especially when Jongdae needed to be at a healthy weight level to get better and heal. But as he thought back to what was happening today, maybe Joonmyun didn’t even have to wait to take it up with the boy. Maybe he could just ask the doctor about what he thought, easily able to bring it up in conversation and see if it was something he and the others needed to worry about or if anything could be done to reverse that weight loss and have the boy not look like a walking skeleton again.

And even though Joonmyun (and Kris) were making sure the boy was eating breakfast and dinner, while one of the managers were responsible for making sure the younger boy ate lunch, Joonmyun knew that whatever the reason for Jongdae’s recent weight loss couldn’t entirely be due to the fact that the boy wasn’t eating. He was, because Joonmyun had seen the boy eat some dinner the day before, as well as breakfast.

However, thinking back to the last couple of weeks and everything that had been happening, Jongdae’s appetite had decreased a bit. A lot of it due to the fact that his throat hurt terribly and that the boy had taken to eating softer foods that didn’t cause any more pain to his throat when he at them. And having a diet based on things like jello, oatmeal, rice, soups, ice cream, and a few other things, it was obvious that the boy was bound to lose some weight.

But how much was safe to lose before it affected his recovery?

How much was safe to lose before Jongdae turned into a little toothpick?

Joonmyun didn’t know, and feeling that it was probably best that he at least make note of the fact that Jongdae was indeed losing quite a bit a weight (even worrisome to someone who was sick), he would see what the doctor had to say. He just wanted to make sure the boy got better after all and if Jongdae’s dietary habits were indeed affecting his chances at recover, then he had to make sure that he and the others knew how to combat it well.

So continuing to shake the boy awake, he called, “Jongdae-yah, Jongdae-yah, wake up.”

Groaning at Joonmyun’s voice, the younger boy just tossed and turned in response before grabbing a pillow and positioning it over his head to block out the sound, effectively telling Joonmyun that he wanted to sleep a little while longer. He even wiggled his body under the covers eve more until barely a tuff of hair peaked out from his blanket and pillow combo. However, knowing that the boy needed to be at the hospital within the hour with him, one of the managers, and a SM representative, Joonmyun couldn’t allow the boy to do so.

Especially when the boy was still a bit worried (and still feeling a little bit of guilt at what happened, him jumping the gun when he should have) about the fan attack a couple days ago, an attack that could have ruined the boy’s throat even worse, Joonmyun had to get the boy up. Because even though he and the others had forced the boy to drink a large amount of tea with honey, as well as, making sure the boy was taking his medications and some pain killers to help soothe and bring down the swelling in the boy’s throat, a doctor was still needed. Home remedies could only do so much sometimes.

While SM Entertainment on the other hand needed more information about Jongdae’s prognosis so they could actually bring the boy back on schedules soon and make a better statement than what they had put up in the first place. Their vague words about Jongdae’s condition and lack of appearances enough to soothe most fans, but saesang fans and terrible k-netizens were a different story as neither of them had taken well to the company’s statements. Many of them pissed at what was going on and were blaming Jongdae, the other members, and even the company for letting the boy go on leave as he was.

To them, Jongdae had to be there with the other members (even if he was sick or could possibly be dying), or he was thought to be a failure or joke to the group.

So getting to the doctor’s on time and making sure the boy was awake and coherent enough for the SM representative was something Joonmyun couldn’t ignore.

“Jongdae-yah, if you don’t wake up now, I’m going to get Kris and knowing Kris, he will not be happy to be woken up at such a time. You know how much he hates getting up, especially when he’s not waking himself up on his own.

Almost snorting at the boy’s threat, Jongdae just continued to press the pillow to his head, already knowing that Joonmyun was bluffing.

Waking up Kris was almost akin to doing something similar to suicide, because not only was the man like a burly bear in the morning, but he literally scared people away with a death glare that meant years of trouble. And the only way the other man would wake up during the night is if it was because something dangerous was happening and the boys needed to get out of the dorm, if someone needed to be taken to the hospital, or if Yixing or Kyungsoo woke him up. The latter of the three were the only two of the house that could do such a thing without the older man glaring at them with an ‘I will kill you’ stare or holding a grudge for days because he was sleepy. Even Tao, who Kris doted on a lot, couldn’t even wake the other up, knowing that if he did, Kris wouldn’t want to take him out as much as he did.

So curling up even more, the younger boy just continued to ignore the other, wanting to catch up on some precious sleep rather than go to the doctor’s. Especially since it seemed that most nights he would wake up from the pain that still encompassed his throat, forcing him to stare at the wall until it seemed manageable enough for him to go to sleep. Sometimes it even felt as if he couldn’t breathe, but forcing down a cool glass of water to soothe the ache in his throat was just enough to get to morning so he could take some more medicine.

Some days (more like hours) he would feel better, the medications tricking him into thinking he was getting over laryngitis and that it was only a matter of time until he was fully healed. But it never lasted long as a spike of fresh pain would assault his sense and he was effectively forced back to lie in his bed, going stir-crazy after hours of doing nothing productive.

Wanting that extra five minutes – no, hour of sleep that was needed, he tried to go back to dreamland and sleep some more, but as Joonmyun continued to shake him awake and teasingly threaten him until he opened his eyes, he finally tore off his pillow to pull himself up into a sitting position and give the older boy above him a ‘What? I’m trying to sleep’ stare.

While Joonmyun just gave the boy a small smile, not being disturbed in the least by Jongdae’s sleepy and cute looking glare, he said, “We have to go soon and I just wanted to make sure you got something to eat, like oatmeal or some fruit, before we head to your doctor’s appointment today. You need some nutrients.”

Shaking his head, Jongdae quickly grabbed his notepad and pen, replying, But hyung, I want to sleep. Can’t I have a couple more minutes to sleep before we have to leave? I don’t need to eat that crappy oatmeal you guys got me for breakfast, it tastes like cardboard and even worse with sugar. Plus, Sehun ate all the fruit yesterday.

Sighing, Joonmyun just shook his head at the writing, not so much the fact that Jongdae had just indirectly insulted their cooking, “No, you  need to eat, especially since you need to do so for the medicine the doctor prescribed for you last time. I don’t need you possibly throwing up because you couldn’t take your medicine with food. So put on your clothes,” Joonmyun pointed to a small stack of clothes on one of the dressers, “And then we’re going to eat real quick before leaving. So if you’re not out of this room in five minutes and into the kitchen, then I’ll wake Jongin up over there and blame you for waking him up, and you know how he gets when he’s woken up. He’s almost as bad as Kris.”

Scowling at the other boy, Jongdae just slowly tore himself away from the bed to retrieve his clothes, while the older boy just smiled a bit in victory. Carefully stepping over a pile of clothes (almost to trip on a sock), Joonmyun was able to get to the door and give Jongdae the five-minute gesture.

Secretly smiling as Joonmyun stumbled to the door, Jongdae couldn’t believe how messy his hyung was. Jongin and his side of the bedroom was clean, while their leader’s  was a bit of a pigsty. Even monthly cleanings did nothing to deter Joonmyun from making a mess as a week after cleaning day, his side would be a disaster again.

Shaking his head at the older boy, Jongdae could only sigh a moment later as he silently got out of bed, trying not to show the pain that shot through his throat. Changing into his clothes, brushing his teeth, and washing his face, he finally felt a bit more awake but certainly not feeling any better.

Looking into the mirror to take in his thin body, his pale face (cheeks a bit ruddy from fever), his somewhat swollen neck, and tired eyes, Jongdae looked a mess and had been looking that way for a while now. And even though he didn’t want to go to the doctor that day, a bit afraid of what the man would have to say as his illness hadn’t gotten better in the least since the last checkup, he knew he had to see go see what was wrong with him. Even if it pained him to do so, he knew he shouldn’t try to get out of it. There really wasn’t a point in trying to avoid the obvious as Yixing had quietly told him yesterday.

Trying to give his reflection a small smile, noticing how the gesture didn’t reach his eyes, he turned away from the mirror and sluggishly made his way towards the kitchen to eat the oatmeal Joonmyun most likely made for him.

There was a dark blue bowl filled with what looked to be soggy mush and had to pass as the oatmeal waiting for him, and with a mental sigh, Jongdae sat down to force himself to eat it. Almost grimacing at the taste, he got through half the bowl before pushing it away and drinking a glass of water, letting the cool temperature soothe his throat. Grabbing the set of pills next to the bowl, he quickly swallowed them as fast as he could, his mouth tasting as if it were liquid chalk, he downed the rest of his drink.

Seeing Joonmyun smile at him from across the table proudly, he heard, “Ready?”

Nodding at the question, he stood up from his seat and followed Joonmyun towards the door, manager-hyung already waiting in the van; he put on his shoes and grabbed his things.

He still wasn’t looking forward to seeing the doctor that day.


 

“Kim Jongdae.”

Just the mention of his name was enough to make the boy slightly shiver on the inside as he tried to avoide looking in the eyes of the SM representative standing against the wall across the small room. The man might as well be right in front of him by the way he was critically analyzing how Jongdae appeared at the moment. Discomfort being the only thing the boy felt, the anxiety was even worse than it was before, he just wanted to curl up into a small ball and hide underneath the floor so he was away from the doctor, away from the representative, and away from everyone else.

He didn’t want to be here, and the fact that all eyes were on him while he was in such a miserable state hardly helped his situation at all. Especially since his nerves had taken a huge dive since he had entered those hospital doors minutes prior to being situated in a nearby patient room. His negative emotions were slowly getting the best of him and he was barely holding it together.

“Mr. Kim, on a scale from one to ten, how intense would you say the pain has been since your last check-up you had with me? One being painless and ten being completely unbearable.”  The doctor calmly asked, as he was the same doctor who had taken care of Jongdae before, already knowing that the young man in front of him was in no condition to do anything but try and control himself in front of him and the others.

To his question, it took a few moments for Jongdae to answer as he silently fidgeted around in his seat as he thought about what he wanted to answer before raising an open hand, five fingers splayed out. The number being a safe number for him to use, even though he would have liked to raise more, but the penetrating stare the representative was giving him wasn’t doing anything to make him feel better about the situation. Especially since not only was he afraid of what the doctor would say, but the was afraid the representative would take everything he learned from the doctor about him, twist it around on him, and then the next thing he knew is that he would be out of the band and back to his home with his parents’ ‘I told you so’ stares.

While the doctor simply nodded to the display, the soft squeak of his chair was heard as he scooted a bit closer to the bed to physically check the boy’s neck. The squeak almost echoed along the room as it was the only sound besides the doctor’s commentary that was heard. Joonmyun was silently taking notes of what he needed to know, manager-hyung was silently letting the doctor do his business, while the representative just stared daggers into Jongdae and listened attentively to what the professional had to say.

Reaching out to lightly touch the boy’s neck, feeling how swollen and tender it was in his hands, Jongdae easily obliged to the man’s searching fingers and raised his head to bare his neck to the other to give him more access. Minutes passed as the man continued his gentle patting and touching against the boy’s neck, the time seeming to drag on forever, before the man finally moved his chair back to peel off his gloves and grab Jongdae’s files from the counter, frowning a bit from what he had found.

“Alright, your neck is quite swollen, even with the rest and medication, that it would seem to me that we’re going to need to take some pictures of the inside of your throat to see what’s going on. It’s just a simple and short surgical procedure where we’ll be able to look at the inside of your throat in more detail. It’s relatively a simple affair where we’ll give you a light sedative, something similar to what a dentist would give you if you were getting a cavity done, and then we’ll insert a small tube with a camera down your throat to get a few pictures of you larynx to see how everything is,” The doctor gave before giving a pointed look towards the SM representative, the man being the one who was expediting the process of the procedure, before continuing on, “I know you probably weren’t expecting to hear such a thing, but since I don’t have any patients until the afternoon and since this is a rather simple procedure, we can get you behind those doors, take some pictures, and figure out how things are.”

Eyes widening at the man’s words, his heart skyrocketing at the information as even more fear and anxiety ripped through his chest with every second that passed. He couldn’t believe what the man was telling him at the moment, his hands clenching and unclenching the soft material of his jeans, knuckles going a bit white from the action. Only for him to grab his notepad a second later and write, Surgery?! I have to have surgery? What do you mean by short and simple? Why do I have to have this? What is this… Am I going now? What do you mean? I don’t understand?

Holding back a sigh, knowing how fearful the boy was last time and knowing the representative was doing nothing but escalating that fear even with his friend by his side, the doctor calmly replied, “Not that type of surgery, Mr. Kim. It’s just a small procedure as I said before where we’ll just be taking pictures of your larynx so we can see what’s going on. The procedure will let us know if you have nodes, cysts, or something like a tumor depending on what we find, and if you have any of those, then we can take care of them and get you on the road of recovery.”

“You’re going to have him go in now for that, isn’t there any precautions about doing so, like not being able to eat for so long or something?” Joonmyun asked, looking up from his own notepad, a bit curious and worried at the mention of surgery, even if it was a simple procedure.

“For what needs to be done, it’s as simple as doing something like putting in braces, but for the throat and less permanent.  I’ll just be giving Jongdae a small amount of nitrous oxide, you know what most would call laughing gas, and then put the small tube with a camera down his throat and take a few pictures. It barely takes more than twenty minutes or so, and by the time Jongdae is recovering from the sedative, I’ll have already looked at the pictures and will have diagnosed what he has.”

Nodding at the man, Joonmyun turned to Jongdae and gave his shoulder a squeeze, “You understand, Jongdae-yah?”

Looking up at Joonmyun, Jongdae wanted to say ‘no, he didn’t understand’ because even if the procedure was going to be simple, it was still surgery. It was still something that could possibly tell him things he didn’t want to hear, things that most likely meant he had vocal nodes or a tumor or something that could possibly end his singing career. And knowing that getting that type of information was possible, Jongdae didn’t want to understand something like that, because then that meant he had to understand the possibility of never being able to sing again, and that was something he would never be able to come to terms with. He was barely getting used to the fact that he could barely speak now and having his throat hurt so bad that it was like he was eating glass, it was a scary feeling.

All he wanted to do was get better and not be in front of a doctor. He wanted to go back to the days where he wasn’t battling a fever, taking his meds, going stir crazy, or having his throat feel as it did. He wanted to go back the other days where all he had to do was worry about learning Chinese or getting his dance moves correct, not sitting here waiting for the doctor to explain his worst nightmares to him.

However, knowing that it was necessary to do this procedure to give him, the doctor, and everyone a definite answer to what was going on with him, he nodded to show his understanding, but his body still trembled. He didn’t need to break down again like he had last time, forcing the doctor in front of him to strike him with a sedative to calm him down again. The representative didn’t need to see something like that, didn’t need to witness Jongdae a hair away from breaking down.

So letting the doctor go on about what needed to be done, Jongdae did his best to stay silent as the man continued to explain everything to him. The man patiently answering whatever questions he and Joonmyun had, the leader being quite logical in what he had to ask compared to Jongdae’s shaky scrawl of questions. The representative did nothing but nod here and there whenever the doctor mentioned something important, otherwise  he spent the rest of the time analyzing Jongdae and his reactions, while the manager just carefully listened instead.

The representative’s stare was so strong that Jongdae couldn’t help but be more nervous than he was by the minute, his body taut as if he was being stretched too far, while Joonmyun could only squeeze his shoulder in response to what was going on, unable to speak out like he wanted to. The representative was older and had more status than he did, and knowing the consequences of doing something like that could be bad for both of them, Joonmyun tried his best to silently tell Jongdae to ignore the man and focus on what the doctor was saying.

It didn’t last much longer as the doctor finished answering Joonmyun’s questions and turned to a nearby drawer and fished out a small gown for Jongdae to wear. Handing it to the sick boy, he said, “There’s a restroom just down the hall, go put this on and come back when you’re finished. I’ll have a nurse fetch you to get prepped for the procedure when you’re finished, okay?”

Gratefully nodding towards the man, glad to get away from the representative’s gaze Jongdae grabbed the gown and shakily walked out the room, only to fall to his knees as soon as he got to the restroom, closing the door and locked it behind him. Not caring if the floor was dirty or anything like that, Jongdae pulled his knees to his chest and laid his back against the door before giving out a shaky breath. His emotions wanted to jump all over the place, but knowing that he had to go back to the room within a reasonable time, he held his emotions in, especially since there was a small - no, miniscule possibility that nothing was wrong and that it really was just a bad case of laryngitis.

But did he believe that?

Well, not really, but to get him through the next hour or so, he would.

So forcing away his fears, his tears, and the negative emotions that plagued him, he took a deep breath and shakily let it out before pulling himself off the floor and changing into the gown. Silently folding his clothes so they looked neat, he opened the door and slowly walked back to where the others were patiently waiting for him.

“Ah, Mr. Kim, put your clothes down and sit yourself in the chair so we can prep you for surgery, okay?”

Nodding, he could only obey.


 

As soon as Joonmyun and Jongdae returned home, Jongdae barely got through the door before tears were running down his cheeks and he was shucking off his shoes to run into his room. Barreling past everyone, not caring if he answered them or not, too upset with the news, he promptly kicked Jongin out of it before closing the door, and locking it, not caring to answer Jongin's cries. Joonmyun could only wince at the concern present in Jongin's voice.

"Hyung! What's going on? Hyung, are you okay? Why did you lock me out hyung? Hyung? Seriously, are you okay? What happened?"

When the other received no answers, Joonmyun could only sigh at what happened before pinching the bridge of his nose to show his discomfort. He should have known that Jongdae would start crying when he got home, only to hide himself away so he could his wounds in private, too prideful and upset to do it front of anyone. The boy's actions causing him to worry about him, but knowing that the information they had received that day was hitting the boy hard gave him the right to cry and break down in his room.

Coupled with the fact that Jongdae had to hold in his emotions in front of the SM representative did nothing to help. Especially when the doctor had to calmly explain to the boy, whose heart was literally breaking in front of him, about what was going on was quite serious and that surgery would be needed to get rid of the nodes along his vocal folds if he wanted to sing again. Just the potential risks of surgery had easily scared the boy into submission. And seeing the boy hold in his tears, knowing that the singer just wanted to bawl his eyes out but couldn't made Joonmyun feel terrible for the other boy.

Instead, Jongdae had went stone faced and silently listened to what the man had to say, not once asking question as he had done before, too caught up in trying to keep himself from breaking down. While Joonmyun and the manager had to take everything in with a critical eye, knowing that Jongdae would need the information later when he was able to accept the fact that surgery would need to be done. The SM representative on the other hand didn't bother showing any concern to the boy whose dreams were at stake and had asked questions about what would happen after surgery, what Jongdae would need to do to get his voice back, and how long it would take until they could put him back on schedules. Not once had the man asked how Jongdae felt or what the repercussions of getting surgery would entail. All he had wanted to know was when Jongdae would be back on singing duty or if he would be able to be in EXO at all after surgery and what he would need to tell the CEO.

Just thinking about the man's cold stares and lack of concern made Joonmyun shiver.

It was as if the company didn't see Jongdae as a human being, but some kind of cash cow instead, and that was even more maddening.

So seeing Jongdae charge through the dorm and lock himself in his room was something Joonmyun had been able to predict would happen on their way home from the hospital, the boy almost tearing up at the sight of buildings through the van's window, able to hold everything in until he could be alone  was still a surprising sight to the leader. Because as soon as those tears starting falling from the boy's eyes, it made Joonmyun worry immensely and confused on what to do.

He could go get a pick and get the lock open and let the boy cry on his shoulder as he hushed his cries, telling him that things would be okay. But was it really? Was it really okay to tell Jongdae that when the risks of surgery not going well or having his voice change was quite high?

Would it be smart of him to let Jongdae be by himself, torturing himself with what-ifs and whatnot? Or would it be best not saying anything at all, but being there with him?

He didn't know, because he had never thought that something like this could happen to any of them, especially so early in the game or to Jongdae as well. Jongdae lived, eat, and breathed music, and for him to have something like nodes was almost ludicrous to hear.

It was unfair, terrible, and Joonmyun couldn't help but wonder why it was happening.

He was so deep in his thoughts, worrying over things and what he needed to do, what he needed to be for Jongdae, and what to tell him, Joonmyun literally jumped a foot in the air when Minseok saddled up beside him and poked him on the shoulder, "I take it things didn't go well at the doctor's?"

Looking over towards the older boy, eyes stricken with worry and slight depression, he gave, "No, it didn't go well at all."

"What did the doctor say?" Minseok calmly asked, big brother mode on as he noticed how worried Joonmyun seemed to be, almost feeling as if he knew the answer already just by looking at Joonmyun's face.

Averting his eyes, his gaze lowered to the floor, his expression quite solemn, he quietly began, "He has nodes."

Frowning at Joonmyun's words, Minseok couldn't help but ask, "How bad?"

However, before Joonmyun could even answer, Jongin came running into the room, face filled with worry, "Hyung, something's wrong with Jongdae? He's crying really hard and he kicked me out of the room and he won't let me in and he's crying and it sounds really bad and I don't know what to do-"

"I know Jongin, I heard, "Joonmyun softly replied, expression still solemn, "I know."

While Jongin just continued to press on, extremely worried about one of his favorite hyungs, "But what are we going to do? He sounds really sad and I don't think he should be in there by himself, hyung. What if he hurts himself or something? And you can't forget that he was crying, because you know Jongdae-hyung never cries! You need to go in there and help him, I'm really worried and I just want to make sure he's alright and-"

Eyes widening a bit at Jongin's words, Joonmyun had never thought about the possibility of Jongdae hurting himself, whether it was intentional or not. And after the boy had to hold everything in with the doctor, it was entirely possibly for the boy's emotions to get out of hand, causing the boy to do something he could possibly regret.

But would Jongdae do something like that?

Joonmyun didn't have a definite answer, but Minseok did, "Hey, Jongin, take a breath and calm down, okay?"

Seeing the boy stop his rant and do what Minseok said, the eldest male went on, "Now, I know you're worried about Jongdae, everyone is, but don't worry because Joonmyun and I are going to take care of it, okay? We'll make sure Jongdae doesn't do anything rash all right, so why don't you go do something with Sehun or Kyungsoo, okay? And if you're still worried and need someone to talk to, go to Kris. I know he's taking a nap at the moment, but just get Yixing or Kyungsoo to wake him up and you can tell him about your worries. And if he's being difficult, just tell Yixing and he'll make sure everything's okay, all right?"

Nodding at Minseok's orders but still looking a bit concerned, especially since Jongdae had been acting a bit weird lately and was quite depressed since the doctor visits and fan problems, Jongin grudgingly did as he was told. He was too worried about his hyung to readily accept that everything would be all right until Jongdae stopped crying and had a smile on his face. But knowing that Joonmyun and Minseok were going to take care of things, it would be best for him to let them handle things as Jongdae was probably more likely to talk to them about his problems than any of his dongsaengs. The boy didn’t want  to feel or be seen as weak in front of them, even if none of them would think that. So stepping down, he walked away from the two to go find Sehun, Kyungsoo, or Tao to see what they were doing.

While Minseok could only give the boy a grateful smile and push Joonmyun in the direction of his shared room, continuing to quietly ask questions about what happened and shooting looks towards some of the other members that had heard Jongin earlier, telling them that they were handling it and that Jongdae would be fine. Believing the boy's words and gazes, the rest let the two of them be, while Joonmyun just internally went over everything that happened that day, letting himself become even more worried, because he as well had to keep some of his emotions and thoughts at bay in assistance to making sure Jongdae didn't feel alone as he learned about his sickness. Or the possibility of creating more problems for them if he had ran his mouth.

It was simple company politics to let the SM representative do what he needed to do, even if he didn't care that much for the boys involved, it was something that Joonmyun couldn't help but hate to see in action. However, being in the company for over seven years, he was a bit used to seeing things he didn't want or had no right to see. And seeing Jongdae look completely devoid of himself or barely holding it together throughout the appointment was probably one of the hardest things he had to see during his time at SM Entertainment.

Training for a third of his life and having to witness friend upon friend debuting had been hard, but seeing one of his dongsaengs learn that there was a possibility that he would never be able to sing again or sing as well as he did now again made his chest throb painfully in sympathy.

It was a terrible feeling, and something he never wanted to feel, but had to feel since it was happening now.

However, even though he was feeling a million emotions that left him unlike himself, Joonmyun knew that it was nothing as terrible as how Jongdae was feeling on the other side of the locked door, the boy going through the day's events until everything became surgery, risks, and consequences he didn't want to know or go through.

To Jongdae, it was scary, painful, and something he didn't want to think about, but had to because it could possibly destroy everything he had ever wanted in life, his dreams, and livelihood.

And just the thought of what had happened made him made him  want to cry, not caring if he looked like a blubbering mess, because what he learned was something he feared and knowing that there was a definite chance of something happening to his voice was difficult to cope with...

“Jongdae? You okay?” Joonmyun quietly asked, face filled with concern as he looked the boy over. It had only been thirty minutes since he had seen the boy last and seeing him so tired - no, lifeless, even with the odd facial expressions he had on, made him a bit worried.

Yeah, just a little tired. My throat feels odd too. Jongdae tiredly wrote, the drugs still working through his system. A small smile was on his face, a gesture that shouldn’t have been there, but was because the drugs made him feel a bit loopy.

“It’s not worse, is it?”

Jongdae just shook his head, writing, My throat doesn’t hurt at all really, it feels swollen but not, I don’t know hyung, it’s just weird.

Sighing at the boy’s admission, figuring that it was just the sedative that was making Jongdae act as he was, Joonmyun silently sat down next to the boy, while their manager was off getting some coffee as the SM representative just stared at his phone. The man was taking a break from staring daggers at the singer, instead he was silently updating his CEO about what was going on.  

Minutes passed with Jongdae drawing stick people along his notepad, while Joonmyun stared at the boy with concern, only for their manager to come back and quietly talk about what was going on. The two exchanged a few words, figuring that it was probably best that they continue taking down notes about what the doctor had to say as Jongdae was in no state to do so, especially if the doctor had any terrible news for Jongdae or if the drugs continued to make the boy act as he was.

Hearing the door open and doctor come into the room with a few pictures, his expression somber, the man quickly put the pictures up on a board they had in the room that allowed everyone to see what was going on with Jongdae’s throat. Seeing cysts along Jongdae’s vocal folds, it was obvious to them that Jongdae had vocal nodes, the picture confirming everything Jongdae didn’t want to happen.

“As you can see by the pictures, Jongdae has three vocal nodes along his vocal folds, one of which is dangerously close to the recurrent laryngeal nerve, the nerve that provides motor function and sensation to the larynx. The other two are further up along his vocal folds, but the size of them is something that concerns me as well, especially since they are the reason to why Jongdae hasn’t been getting better, even though he has been resting his throat. In fact, by the size of them, it’s a wonder how Jongdae has been able to sing, let alone talk up until he was diagnosed with laryngitis a week and half ago.”

“What does that mean for the boy?” The SM representative asked, carefully looking at the pictures, already  knowing the answer, but asking anyway to see what the man had to say.

“There’s no easy way to say this, but he’s going to need surgery to remove the nodes, especially the one close to his recurrent laryngeal nerve. If that one gets any bigger than it is, it’s going to be difficult to remove it without damaging that nerve, something that could be possible right now as out of the pictures we were able to take, this is the only picture that has the clearest view of this node right here.” The doctor gave, pointing to one of the pictures on the board before continuing on, “And if it’s any bigger than what is seen now, it’s possible that it could be quite difficult to remove without cutting into that nerve.”

The SM representative just nodded, continuing to ask questions about what needed to be done, how long recovery would take, and what the boy would need to do after surgery, all the while Joonmyun and the manager carefully took notes, taking great care to write everything important down.

Jongdae on the other hand was slowly coming to from the drugs and not taking the man’s words well. All he could hear was the constant mentioning of surgery, cutting out the nodes, cutting into the recurrent laryngeal nerve (a nerve that Jongdae learned was responsible for letting his larynx vibrate and produce sound - his voice), damaging his larynx and nerves in his throat, the risk of being unable to sing as well as he did now, or the risk of being unable to produce sound at all. The words making his heart clench painfully in his chest as fear consumed him, making him want to cry out and ask the doctor why this was happening to him, why it had to be him.

However, looking over to the man that was still asking question upon question, only to look at Jongdae to see his reaction whenever the doctor said anything that could possibly stir a reaction out of the boy, Jongdae kept silent and listened to what the man had to say. Forcing himself to not break down and cry, Jongdae stared at a spot on the wall just above the doctor’s head, taking in as much information as he could before the need to cry was too much and it was better if he didn’t listen at all, knowing that Joonmyun would tell him what he needed to know later. Even though he knew enough now to put him in a panic as soon as the SM representative would leave.

Another half an hour passed until the doctor and everyone else in the room were satisfied with the information they received; the doctor scheduling to have Jongdae’s surgery two days from that day while the representative was already on the phone with the CEO. Joonmyun slowly pulled Jongdae up from the patient’s chair and herded him to the van, Jongdae rigid against his hold as he continued to hold himself together. His thoughts tornadoing inside his head, reliving the last couple of hours until he could finally break down in the confines of his room...

Crying harshly into his knees, his body forming a little ball, Jongdae  tried to make himself as small as possible. The burn from curling into himself too tightly barely registered in his mind as he continued to sob. His throat felt like it was on fire, but the pain did nothing to ground him or keep him from weeping.

He didn’t even care that he was scaring and worrying the others, letting Jongin pound on the door until his silence made him leave, because all he wanted to do was mull over things by himself. He didn’t even realize that there was a chance that Jongin would go Joonmyun or any of the other members instead of leaving him alone, that when Joonmyun and Minseok picked at the lock to let them into the room a couple minutes later, he couldn’t help but throw one of his Chinese books at them, not caring if he missed.

“GET OUT! GET OUT! I DON’T WANT YOU h-here.” He yelled, his voice giving out on him  in the middle of his screams. Coughing at the intensity of agony that lined his throat, he went to throw another book, only for Joonmyun to take it from his hand and grab his wrists to keep him from throwing anything else.

“Stop it, Jongdae, stop it.” Joonmyun shouted, “You’re twenty-one years old, no need to throw a temper tantrum, okay? I know you feel terrible right now, but you don’t need to throw books at us. We were just worried and I know you want to be alone, but you shouldn’t be left alone going through your own personal hell.”

Shaking in the leader’s hold, Jongdae just shook his head, silently mouthing ‘no, no, no, no, no,’ while Joonmyun could only look a bit helplessly at Minseok. With a nod, the oldest boy calmly walked over to Jongdae and softly slapped him on the back of the head, pulling him from his dark thoughts to look up at him, shock written over his face.

“Better?” Minseok softly asked, only for Jongdae to shake his head no, “Thought so, but you need to stop acting like a child right now. I know your emotions are all over the place and you aren’t taking this well, but throwing books at people is only going to hurt everyone even more... And the books too, okay? Come on, you don’t have to cry alone, you pabo orange...”

Looking down, Jongdae could only look a bit ashamed, tears still falling from his eyes as the eldest member crouched down to gently wrap his arms around the even smaller and thinner body of Jongdae, warm hands gently the younger male’s painfully slim back. “Jongdae-yah, you have all of us to care and love for you... Not only me and Joonmyun, but everyone else worries for you. That’s why we’re EXO, remember? We are one?” he continued to murmur softly, simply letting the singer hiccup and sniffle softly in his chest.

Too tired to keep everything to himself or even think about fighting off their care, too tired in general to do anything else but cry into the older male’s chest, he allowed Minseok to hold him. Joonmyun moved to lightly brush the boy’s hair with his fingers, knowing it to be a calming gesture, he softly said, “I’m sorry about yelling at you earlier, I know how hard this is for you and it’s literally breaking mine and everyone else’s hearts seeing you try to push us away and keep everything to yourself. I know you like your independence, but we just worry about you, okay? And I know I probably haven’t been the best leader right now to you, but I’m trying really hard to make sure you aren’t going through this alone, just as the others. You can lean on us and tell us things, we won’t think any less of you Jongdae.”

Wiggling a bit in Minseok’s hold, Jongdae moved to grab his notebook and pen, only to write:

I’m sorry. It’s just really hard handling everything and I’m really scared and I just don’t want to people to see me like this and I just don’t know how to deal. And I’m really scared about not being able to sing again, I would die if I couldn’t sing again. I just don’t know what to do hyungs? Why is this happening to me? Why do you have to be here to see me breakdown? Why?

I know your reasons, but I can’t help but want you guys to leave me be. I know you care. I know the others care, but I can’t deal when everyone is there watching me. I can’t deal with the fact that I’m just learning all of this now, that there’s this possibility of never being able to do my dreams. I thought I would be able to sing forever, to do music and finding out that there’s a good possibility that I won’t be able to do so is horrible. It’s frightening and all I want to do is cry and throw things and hurt myself sometimes because I can’t deal with what’s going on.

I can’t deal with staying cooped up in here. I can’t deal with you all looking at me in pity. I can’t deal with the others looking at me sadly, wondering when I’m going to get better when it seems as if I’m never going to get better. My throat literally feels on fire, the medications don’t work, and I can’t sleep half the time. I’m a mess and I don’t know what to do.

I just don’t know how to be happy or feel okay when everything is not okay. You all tell me things are going to be fine, that I’m going to be okay, and yet it isn’t. It hurts and I just don’t know why this happening to me, hyung. Why is it happening to me? Why can’t this happen to someone else?

Why? Please tell me why this is happening to me, to me who loves to sing, who loves music, when there are tons of other people out there that don’t need their voice. So please leave me alone...

No, don’t. No, I don’t know what I want. But I just want answers and I don’t want to feel as if I’m falling apart and I just want everything to go back to how it was weeks ago. But I know that can’t happen and it’s like I’m literally dying inside. Dying. I just can’t deal with it anymore.

Almost wanting to cry at Jongdae’s written words, Joonmyun and Minseok didn’t know what to say. However, they knew  that the boy still needed hope and that he was looking at everything in a negative light, so they had to do something. They needed to help him come to terms with the fact that everything he was thinking was based on what if scenarios that hadn’t happened yet, and knowing there was a chance for him to be perfectly fine after surgery, they had the power to cheer him up, at least for a little while.

“Jongdae, I know we can’t possibly understand what is going on and how you are feeling, but the doctor said there was a chance for you to recover and not have any damage to your voice. The risks are only thirty percent, and I know that sounds like a huge number, but you have seventy percent of nothing happening and you just have to undergo some voice therapy and rest your voice until you’re back singing with us. I know it’s scary and the possibility of losing your voice is crippling you, but it hasn’t happened yet. There is still a chance for everything to go okay and if you believe that, then it’s more likely that things will be okay. You have to believe that things will be good, because if you don’t, then there won’t even be a chance for you at all.” Joonmyun softly said, eyes showing Jongdae that he believed that good things could happen if he underwent the surgery, knowing that if he didn’t have surgery at all, there was no chance for him to continue singing.

Jongdae could only shake his head at Joonmyun’s words, knowing that Joonmyun was trying to mean well, but after hearing how somber the doctor had been, he couldn’t help but think about everything negatively.

While Minseok took Jongdae’s chin, wiped away his tears, and softly forced him to look into his eyes as he spoke, “Jongdae, you need to stop with the pity party, especially when nothing has happened yet and nothing will happen. You’re going to be fine and get through it like you get through everything, your voice is going to be just as great as it was when you sang lead a couple weeks ago. Everything is going to be fine and you’re worrying for nothing. Just think, days from now, when your throat feels better than is has in weeks, you’re going to laugh at how you’ve handled things and wonder why you had worried at all.

"You just have to believe that everything is going to be perfectly fine, because it is. And even though Joonmyun and I know you are scared, there is nothing to be scared of, except yourself and how you’re making everything seem ten times worse than it is. So stop with the crying, all right, and put smile on that handsome face of yours, because how else are you going to give Luhan and Jongin a run for their money when you look like Debby Downer right now. Plus, you’re just going to make everyone worry about you even more, so let’s stop crying, shall we?”

Giving a soft smile at Minseok’s jokes, he almost yelped in surprise when Joonmyun pulled him to him and gave him a hug, letting the boy know that even though he might not be the best at words or knowing what to say in this instance, his actions would be the thing to convince Jongdae that everything would be fine. Feeling Joonmyun’s arms wrap themselves around him tightly, only for the boy to whisper against his hair, “Minseok-hyung’s right okay. As cheesy as it sounds, but you should take your frown and turn it upside down. We just want to see you smile, especially when you shouldn’t be worrying too hard about something that’s not going to happen. You’re going to be fine, so smile, Jongdae-yah.”

Sighing into the embrace, knowing that Minseok and Joonmyun would continue to cheer him up, even if he didn’t want to, Jongdae decided that even though he doesn’t feel like smiling or even being remotely happy now, he’ll smile for their sake. Gently hugging the other back, only to pull Minseok into the hug too, he let them believe that their words were having somewhat of an effect on him.

Allowing a minute or so to pass of him taking in their warmth, Jongdae slowly broke their embrace and gave them a smile, the most convincing one he could bring himself too. The other two seeing it for what it was, knowing that they could only do so much (even though they felt like shaking the boy until he felt some sense), they allowed it to pass.

Silently brainstorming other ways to cheer the boy up, figuring if the two of them couldn’t do it alone, maybe bringing in others would help, they decided to do a small group activity instead. Maybe taking Jongdae’s mind off everything and bringing the others together for some fun, something they hadn’t done in what seemed like forever, Minseok gave a smile, “Hey, Jongdae?”

Looking up with a questioning stare he allowed Minseok to continue, “Let’s convince Kyungsoo into making some popcorn and having the guys watch a movie with us. We can even watch your favorite, The Avengers.

Grinning himself, Joonmyun continued with the idea, “Yeah, let’s have a bro night, you know, we haven’t had one of those in forever. Plus, who can say no to Tony Stark?”

Sighing at the two, hands balling themselves into little fists as the two had looked past his smile Jongdae knew they were just doing what he probably would have done in a similar situation. So he nodded.

Maybe Tony Stark would have the answers he needed.


 

As usual though, it took about 30 seconds for everyone to agree but more like 20 minutes for everyone to get settled in front of the T.V. Jongdae didn’t know if he missed this sort of suffocating love that they were giving him, but he couldn’t help but laugh along silently with everyone else as he saw one of their tallest members reaching over him with grabby hands towards the bowl of popcorn that Baekhyun was holding away teasingly.

“Baekkie~ Pwease, why can’t I have some of the popcorn, huh?!” Chanyeol moaned, his deep voice easily contrasting with the kicked puppy expression he had on.

“Not until you beg Yeol.” Baekhyun gave with a smirk, only for Chanyeol to pout even more.

“But why? Why can’t you give me a handful, it’s not like you’re going to eat all of it, and Kyungsoo made it for all of us, so you have to share!”

“Because in reality, Kyungsoo only made it for me with his super special recipe that he happens to know that I love, so get your own bowl.”

“Yah, quiet down you two, we’re never going to watch the movie at this rate!” Joonmyun couldn’t help but scold the two of them quietly with a faint smile on his face as he dragged in a few more blankets for the maknaes to sprawl out on. On the other side of Baekhyun, there was their currently stoic-faced maknae, who was just casually burying his hand inside of the bowl and eating those coveted popped kernels that Chanyeol was still whining over.

“Then why does Sehun get to eat it then?” Chanyeol continued to complain, unfazed by their leader’s scolding tone of voice as he continued to do all sorts of faces towards Baekhyun’s direction.

“Maknae rights,” the boy mumbled in the midst of a mouthful of popcorn before handing some to the Chinese maknae next to him, also eyeing the bowl hungrily before happily flopping back onto the couch.

“Guys. Shut up. Let’s just watch the movie, okay?” Their tallest member suddenly rumbled out, his voice quiet but stern, as he absently picked a piece of popcorn from Baekhyun’s bowl and added it to the small pile of popcorn in Tao’s hand, the boy happily grinning at his leader’s gesture that he couldn’t help but give the taller boy a “Thank’s Kris-ge” before snuggling closer to Sehun.

Kris’ signature scowl that was usually apparent on his face softened a bit at Tao’s gratitude as he relaxed back against the couch, Yixing nodding absently beside him in agreement to his earlier statement with eyes diverted to the book on his lap, while his ears were more or less followed along with the mayhem of the other males. Every once in a while, Kris would ask him how the book was, knowing that Yixing didn’t get a lot of time to read or discuss what he was reading with other people, the Chinese leader being the only one that was willing to listen to him softly explain what was happening in the book that he didn’t even mind the boy talking to him as the movie played. It was a testament that out of all the boys, Kris and Yixing were quite close and more often than not able to create their own little worlds together. The others thought it was cute until Kris would throw them a ‘go back to what you’re doing’ look which they would quickly look away, afraid of Kris’ wrath.

However, hearing the boy tell them to shut up and knowing just how much Kris secretly loved the movie (almost as much as Jongdae did) that for him to get involved in their petty fights whenever they got unruly, they almost immediately calmed down to quiet mumbles and shuffles here and there among the mountains of blankets and pillows to get more comfortable, knowing that if they didn’t, they would get worse than a simple scolding.

While, a few of them still unfinished with their business resorted to silent threats of strangling the other for not sharing the popcorn (Chanyeol to Baekhyun) and beating the other if he even dared to do so (Baekhyun to Chanyeol), it became relatively quiet.

Shutting off the lights as the screen began to roll, Joonmyun quickly found a spot near Luhan to sit, giving Jongdae a small smile, he turned his attention to the T.V. with the rest of the boys.

While Jongdae returned the smile before letting himself ruminate in his thoughts as the movie played out in front of him. Situated by all his friends, he couldn’t help but feel for that moment in time... He was happy. Just for a bit, he was content with how everything was, that for a few hours, he could pretend that everything was okay and that his voice was fine... That this was just another group bonding moment that they were having.

Even his usual habit of using Minseok’s torso as a pillow and the way the oldest member’s fingers gently ran through his hair only made it easier for Jongdae to force and pretend that he wasn’t going to be going into surgery in two days and that the risk of him never singing or talking again was just gnawing at the edge of his conscious. That the way that Luhan was quietly whining as he was pouting down at Minseok from the couch (Joonmyun shutting him up with a well executed cuddling session) or how Jongin was sprawled across the ground and lazily munching on the popcorn from the bowl on Kyungsoo’s lap, who was staring wide-eyed at the screen in front of him wasn’t anything different than how they normally were, that to anyone who didn’t know what was going on would claim that this was just the usual bro-night. To them, it would not be an impromptu get together that had this underlying feeling of nervousness that swamped the entire room because every occupant knew that Jongdae would be going into surgery soon and that there was a chance for the boy to never speak or sing again, it seemed normal.

All Jongdae hoped for as he watched the others slowly relax into the movie, Chanyeol so desperate for some popcorn that he started biting lightly on Jongdae’s shoulder to silently tell him that he should sneak some popcorn from Baekhyun’s bowl over to him, that things would be okay. That everything was just going to work out fine and soon... He would be able to laugh along and be as carefree as all of them had been before, all of them able to relax back and have fun doing something like watching a movie together.

It was something good to hope for.


 

“Ready, Mr. Kim?” The doctor quietly asked, preparing a syringe filled with anesthesia, flicking it to remove any air bubbles, he turned to the singer with a small smile.

“Ready.” Jongdae nervously replied, voice barely apparent, as the doctor administered the medication and had him count back from a hundred.

One hundred. Ninety-nine. Ninety-eight. Ninety-seven...

the writers' words

XiuMini: Thank you again for everyone who has wished my dad luck on his surgery, he has had a successful one and is recovering quite fast! There has not been any complications and he was even lucky enough that he could already talk the evening of the surgery itself! So I will send a kiss online out to all of you supporting this story, and please continue commenting, subscribing and upvoting! We really hope for this story to be featured... One day...

conchobar: Thanks for all the kind words, we're sorry we took so long updating, but we had to do a couple of revisions before being happy with the chapter. So thank you for being patient, I know you guys were probably dying for an update soon. However, just like the last chapter, this was a long one, so hopefully you guys aren't too mad at us for taking our time. And we hope we didn't make the diagnosis and medical stuff to unrealistic as we didn't want to disrupt the pace of the chapter, so even though I'm sure a few things seem a bit unrealistic, we hope you guys understand and can forgive us for not being experts on it.

Thanks again everyone. Please keep on commenting, subscribing, and upvoting, seriously, if you like our fic that much, comment and upvote it or even rec it to people so they can read Chen and friendship fics too. Just remember, we love you guys. :D

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We're hoping to get out a chapter by the end of May, so please bear with us! Thank you everyone for your love!
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