death is the sudden stop, the pull into the void, the slow disintegration of your life into dust and ashes. it is the inexplicable emptiness that leaves you suspended in a spiderweb — only there are no strands of silk. there is nothing.
coming back to life, though, that's something.
A/N: inspired by this awesome edit, by tb-cont on tumblr (click at your own risk, as there are spoilers). a big thank you to my friend melissa for basically teaching me physiology 101 and for all her encouragement (even when she knows zero about exo. mel, you're an angel), to els for helping me get into the right flow for this, and to all of my dear friends, both in kpop and out of it -- you're all insane for putting up with me why are you still here omg ♥♥♥
best if read while listening to Funky Porcini's This Ain't the Way to Live.
warnings: character death
Death is nothing, Junmyeon knows. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no film of your life flashing before you in triple time, no pearly gates padded with clouds.
Death is the sudden stop, the pull into the void, the slow disintegration of your life into dust and ashes. It is the inexplicable emptiness that leaves you suspended in a spiderweb — only there are no strands of silk. There is nothing.
Coming back to life, though, that’s something.
The day that he starts at the new hospital is the first time Junmyeon sees him. He’s fiddling with the pens in the pocket of his white coat when he looks up to see a man exiting a room down the hallway. He’s slim and dark haired, pulling gloves over his hands, probably leather like his jacket and black to match the rest of his outfit. The whole ensemble seems a bit edgy for a hospital visit and Junmyeon can’t stop himself from staring. As though he senses he’s being watched, the man turns, makes eye-contact with Junmyeon and something — a chill, a pull, a suffocating weight — passes over him.
He gasps for air for a moment, blinking rapidly as his sight blurs, but by the time he’s gotten ahold of himself again and been able to refocus, the man is gone.
The second time he sees the man happens much the same way as the first. He’s just dropped some paperwork off and is leaning against the nurse’s station when the man walks out of a room to his left. He’s wearing white pants today, but the leather jacket is the same and his black gloves are clutched in one hand, and there’s just something so familiar about him that Junmyeon finds himself tapping the man on the shoulder before he even realizes he’s moved.
When he turns, Junmyeon realizes that his assumption that the man was his age may have been wrong. In fact, he has a sort of ageless face, his gold skin smooth and crease-free and there’s a plushness about his mouth that makes Junmyeon think that despite his height, he isn’t a man at all, but a boy.
“I’m sorry, I just — I feel like I know you from somewhere.” Junmyeon flushes at how much that sounds like a pickup line and the man hastily tugs on his gloves, turning to study Junmyeon’s face properly.
“You do look familiar,” he says in a low voice and Junmyeon’s breath catches, having braced himself for rejection. The man-boy’s eyes flick down to the name embroidered on his white coat. “Dr. Kim?”
“Junmyeon,” he corrects, not quite sure why he’s giving his first name, and then starts when the man-boy smiles, impossibly white teeth showing behind his lips.
“Junmyeon,” he says, as though testing how the name feels in his mouth. He holds out a gloved hand for Junmyeon to shake and the leather is chillingly cold against his palm. “I am Kai.”
Junmyeon is six when they bury his sister. The coffin is small, just big enough to hold her tiny body, and it doesn’t take very long for it to be lowered into the ground as the priest speaks tonelessly in the background. The sound of dirt hitting the wooden lid sticks in the back of his throat and sinks heavily to the bottom of his stomach.
He looks up at his parents, the collar of his suit stiff and tight around his neck. His father’s face is blank, hands clenched into fists next to his pockets, while his mother’s fingers are twisted into the fabric of her skirt. That doesn’t stop them from shaking. She is white-lipped, and Junmyeon wishes he were tall enough to reach up and wipe away the tears that silently trail down her face, ruining her makeup.
He thinks of his baby sister, locked away forever underneath a layer of earth, of his parents, carefully oblivious of one another as his mother’s high heels sink slowly into the damp turf of the cemetery. He is caught standing between them, fingertips cold as they hang by his side, and he wishes someone would notice and hold his hand.
He decides death must be very lonely.
There's something odd about the way Kai moves. It's almost too smooth, no jostling or roughness, hardly even footsteps, even though he always seems to be wearing heavy leather boots that should weigh his feet down. He moves so lightly that Junmyeon feels like he’s made of stone in comparison. It's almost, he thinks as he watches Kai move to sit across from him in the hospital cafeteria, as if instead of having to push past all the molecules of air like most people do, he simply moves around them.
Junmyeon shakes his head and asks a question that’s been bothering him. “How old are you?"
“Does it matter? Age has very little bearing on things in the long run."
From this angle, hair draped over his forehead and lips impossibly soft and full-looking as he presses them into a pout, eyes wet and round, he seems so young that Junmyeon quickly asks, “You’re not in high school, are you?"
Kai throws back his head and laughs, the inside of his mouth slick and pink against the white of his teeth, and he runs a hand through his hair to push it away from his face. The sound rakes chills up and down Junmyeon’s spine.
“Do I look like a high school student?" Kai asks, his Adam’s apple bobbing under the skin of his throat.
“No.” And like this, hair pushed back and his skin crinkling at the corners of his eyes, he doesn't. “Are you in college then?"
“I'm not in school." He still looks amused by Junmyeon’s questions, tilting his chair back slightly so that its balanced on two legs.
“So what are you doing here?"
He fiddles with the cup in front of him with a gloved hand like he’s trying to word his answer carefully. "I'm paying people visits."
And then everything, his clothes and the careless way he moves, the way he never leaves the same hospital room twice, fits into place. “Oh, I see. Some kind of community service, right?"
Kai cocks his head to the side curiously, as though he doesn’t understand and something in Junmyeon’s heart flutters, the wings of his pulse beating against his ribcage.
“You got into trouble with something,” Junmyeon clarifies, “Your motorcycle maybe?”
“My motorcycle,” he repeats thoughtfully. “What makes you think that?”
Junmyeon gestures widely, trying to explain. “The boots, the leather jacket, the gloves. It’s a little … edgy for a hospital employee.”
“I’m definitely not a doctor, if that’s what you mean.” Kai flexes his fingers within his gloves, watching the leather stretch across his knuckles. Looking back at Junmyeon, he smirks. “But I do work with people.”
“Jinah,” he asks the pretty nurse who is in the middle of her rounds, “Have you seen Kai around anywhere today?”
She looks at him strangely. “Who?”
“You know, the guy I sit with in the cafeteria sometimes. He’s here a couple times a week. Wears a jacket and leather gloves?”
Shaking her head slowly, Jinah says, “Sorry, I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Junmyeon lets her move on, making a mental note that she doesn’t seem to be very observant, and his phone beeps, calling him to another patient.
Junmyeon dies when he is twenty-five years old.
He’s in his second year of medical school, exhaustion and medical terms seeping right into his bones and he’s spent so much time with his textbooks that he thinks he can practically taste their ink through his fingertips. He lives with two roommates in a too-small three bedroom apartment across town from the university.
It is dusk and he is driving on the highway, rounding a curve and the sun flashes for a moment over the horizon, blinding him. His tires squeal on the pavement as he tries to brake. There is another set of lights, headlights, speeding towards him through the windshield too fast to avoid.
Metal crunches and the world rolls, and there is tearing, breaking, the space around him collapsing as the glass shatters over him, shards of rain. He tries to take a breath, but there’s no space for his ribcage to expand. There is another loud noise, a smash, and then there is nothing.
Junmyeon is lying in bed one afternoon, a few weeks after meeting Kai, reveling in the way the plush comforter had poofed out around him as he flopped down onto the mattress. His sweaty skin sticks to the fabric in a way that’s just on the edge of uncomfortable.
He tries to jog a few times a week to help reduce his stress levels. The last thing he wants is to end up like so many of the hospital practitioners before him, with high blood pressure before the age of thirty-five — the product of academic stress that graduated into intern stress, and then moved up to professional stress. It was something they refused to let go, fingers fisted tightly around the concept of working well under pressure like a prize.
The afternoon is quiet, early summer sun seeping through the shades and he lies still for a minute, feeling his heart pump blood through his body, even down through his toes and in his fingertips. His pulse slows gradually, the beat thrumming in his ears and when it evens out, he takes several deep breaths, preparing to head to the shower.
When he stands, though, there’s something that makes him pause.
Junmyeon knows that after his accident, he’s lucky to be able to run at all, to have been able to finish school and become a doctor, to be alive, but the fullness of his recovery has made it too easy to forget how fragile his body is, what it’s been through.
Curious, he fishes his stethoscope out of his bag and slips the eartips in place, pushing his shirt up to his armpits to expose his chest. Taking hold of the stem, he presses the rounded side of the diaphragm to his ribcage, just above his heart.
His fingers clutch at the tubing. There is a sound, right on the fringes of the slow steady pumping of his heart, almost like the sloshing of a washing machine — the sound of liquid reluctant to leave its enclosure, spilling back into the chambers of his heart.
Murmurs aren’t completely uncommon in healthy people. There’s no real reason for him to worry. But with his history, the fact that his heart is already damaged because of his accident years ago — the thought makes him go cold as he remembers the sound of erratic heartbeats, of pressure, like a hand squeezed around his heart.
He listens again.
There is a quiet, low slosh followed by a higher pitched one, like two different voices whispering to each other across his chest.
That’s my blood, Junmyeon thinks, hands gripping the stethoscope hard to stop his fingers from shaking as he lowers himself onto the bed again. The words mitral valve and holosystolic and murmur burn through his eyelids like neon. There are diagrams and vocabulary lists and audio files flashing through his mind, all parts of a mental catalogue he had created during medical school, and he’s sure he knows exactly what is happening.
When you’ve already died once, the feeling of your life slipping away is a hard one to forget.
Junmyeon finds out later that after the accident, his heart had stopped beating for almost three minutes before he was revived, body going cold on the pavement as the paramedics arrived. He was a miracle. A modern-day Lazarus.
Inside his mind, though, death had been dark and endless.
He does the ECG himself one night, after his shift is over and the nurses are all distracted by their rounds.
Junmyeon has already taken off the leads and is staring at the display numbly, trying to swallow around the word abnormality and what that might mean, when he hears Kai call his name from the doorway.
Clearing the display with a firm keystroke, Junmyeon turns to him. “It’s a little late for you to be here, isn’t it?”
“I only come by when I’m asked.”
“Who were you visiting today?”
“A woman,” he rattles off, as though he had memorized it from a list, “mid forties, three kids and a husband, stage three breast cancer.”
“Oh. I hope she pulls through.”
Junmyeon blinks at Kai’s callousness, but doesn’t ask what he means by it. It’s likely that the woman’s illness has been deemed terminal and she’s chosen to wait out the clock in the hospital instead of at home.
They end up, like they always do, in the hospital cafeteria, sitting across from each other at one of the small tables off to the side. Kai has slipped his jacket off to reveal a close-fitting black sweater underneath, collar bones jutting out from underneath its edge.
Junmyeon swallows and asks, “Is Kai your real name?”
“People call me a lot of things. That is what I call myself.” Kai seems to have a habit of fiddling with his cup of tea as though he isn’t quite sure what to do with it. It’s a strangely attractive quirk and his leather gloves only serve to make it more so.
“Did we ever figure out why we recognize each other?”
“I think it’s from back when you were in college.”
Junmyeon can almost taste the lie and argues, “You’re too young to have known me then.”
Kai looks down at himself, amused. “Am I?”
“You’re avoiding the question again.”
“You’re the one that keeps on asking inane questions in the first place.” Junmyeon frowns and Kai leans forward, asking, “Tell me honestly: if you only had one chance, is that what you would choose to ask? A human’s lifetime is less than a hairsbreadth in the timeline of the universe. I’m old enough. That is all that matters.”
“Where are you from then?”
Kai still looks less than pleased but answers, “Up north, and then I moved down south.”
“South of what?”
Smirking as though he knows Junmyeon won’t like his answer, Kai says, “Places.”
“I don’t know why I even try to talk to you. We just end up going in circles.”
“It’s because you find me interesting, the same way I find you interesting. We have a mutual understanding.” He pauses thoughtfully. “Besides, it’s not as if you’ve told me much about yourself.”
“Fine. Ask away.”
“What were you doing before I saw you with that machine earlier?”
“I was…” — looking at my heart, trying to figure out if I’m going to die — “looking for something.”
“And what did you find?” Kai’s face, his skin and eyes, suddenly looks as though it’s been desaturated and all the gold and brown has been taken out, sallowing his features and making his irises glittering and dark in the fluorescent lights of the cafeteria.
It seems they’re both guilty of having things they don’t want to talk about. Junmyeon straightens his shoulders uneasily and cryptically
It feels strange to be in the hospital without his white coat on, his arms cold in the air conditioning and Dr. Byun Baekhyun in front of him, wringing his hands.
“After your accident, the heart tissue was damaged and — “
“I’m a doctor too, Baekhyun. Don’t tell me what I already know,” Junmyeon snaps, and then sees the look on Baekhyun’s face and regrets it immediately. “I told you about the mitral valve murmurs and my ECG,” he says a bit more calmly, “so what did the echo say?”
Baekhyun wrings his hands a bit harder. “It’s been ten years since your last echo, so it’s hard to be sure of the exact rate of any changes,” He lets his hands go and looks at Junmyeon straight on, “but the walls of your heart have thickened considerably. I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to notice any problems — “
The heart flutters, the shortness of breath — if Junmyeon is very honest with himself, he should have noticed, instead of just attributing those things to his inexplicable and unhealthy fascination with Kai.
“So I’ve got HCM,” he says tonelessly, picturing the chambers of his already fragile heart shrinking in size, the muscle trying to grow in an effort to push more blood around his body and damaging itself in the process. Back in school, when they’d learned about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it had reminded him of “The Grinch”. A heart that could grow two sizes in a day, his study group had joked.
Now, though, it doesn’t seem so funny.
Baekhyun is nodding, his face solemn. “I can prescribe some beta blockers, and I know you already watch the sodium in your diet, but while your body is still in the compensatory phase, you should think about requesting some time off, or ask to be taken off of emergency rotations — “
“No.” The word is so sharp that they both jump a little. “I don’t want anyone to know about this.” He looks at Baekhyun fiercely. “You have to promise me you won’t say anything.”
“You know I won’t. But Junmyeon. ” He pauses, as though something might break if he doesn’t choose his next words very carefully. “This — you can’t just ignore this. It’s not just going to go away.”
Junmyeon’s heart is beating in his throat and he clenches teeth. It is a reminder that his body has betrayed him after all this time.
“With the myocardium hypertrophied to this extent, there’s only so much that can be done. I — I don’t want to say this, but you might not — “
“I told you not to tell me things I already know, Baekhyun.”
He snatches his white coat from the chair and puts it on, movements jerky and uncoordinated. The metal of the doorknob is as cold as his fingertips as he yanks the door open and walks out into the corridor, leaving Baekhyun standing helplessly in the examination room, the word “live” still hanging unheard in the air.
The coffin is much bigger when his mother dies, just a week before his eighteenth birthday. Not much else is different about this funeral from the one they had had for his sister, though: the collar of his suit is still too tight and his hands empty. He notices his father standing stonily on the opposite side of the open grave. Junmyeon hasn’t seen him since the divorce ten years ago and new lines have sunken into his face, the hair at his temples now stained white.
Afterwards, he comes up to Junmyeon and when they shake hands, he notices a new gold band on one of his fingers, warm and smooth against the coldness of his own palm.
Junmyeon doesn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry,” his father apologizes, years too late, and Junmyeon feels his jaw tense. “I understand that she was — “
“Don’t,” Junmyeon interrupts. “You weren’t around. You don’t get to talk about her.”
He has the decency to look cowed. “I know I haven’t been… I haven’t seen you in a long time, but you’re starting college next year, aren’t you?”
“Seoul National University. Pre-med.”
“National University, wow. You’ve done really well then.” The silence that settles is heavy and Junmyeon can only remember the day the divorce went through, how empty the house had been, how his mother had cried for weeks, as though someone had died. “With your mother gone, I wanted to — I’d like to pay for your schooling, anything else that you might need.”
His suit is expensive, specially tailored, and his teeth are blindingly, clinically white. Junmyeon has spent the last ten years with a mother half lost to depression, working two jobs along with school and studying at night until he had almost gone blind and had to get glasses.
“I’ve got a scholarship,” he says, instead of, I hate you because you left us.
“Medical school, then. An apartment, books, a car, anything. It’s the least I could do.” His father looks at him beseechingly. Junmyeon thinks about making him pay for everything, about taking all his money and bleeding him dry. Then he comments proudly, as though he had something to do with it, “My son, a doctor.”
Junmyeon takes the business card his father offers, paper stiff and expensive between his fingers. “Okay. I’ll let you know.”
Junmyeon’s father invites him over for Christmas and Chuseok and every other holiday after that. The notes and phone calls come from his father’s secretary and Junmyeon lets the envelopes collect dust in a box under his desk and the voicemails sit unheard in his phone’s inbox. He’d rather spend the holidays with his friends, with people who actually know him.
The only letter he ever opened was the first one — a glossy holiday card featuring a picture of his father with his new family. His second wife is beautiful and much, much younger than Junmyeon’s mother had been. The size of the diamond flashing from her left hand is almost as distracting as her surgically perfect smile and there is a girl with a pink bow in her hair standing hand in hand with her little brother. Those are my half-siblings, Junmyeon says to himself, stomach twisting painfully. They look spoiled and perfect.
Junmyeon is sick in the toilet after he opens the card. He lets the taste of the acid linger for a moment, the tile of the bathroom cold against his knees, making him shiver. Standing up, he calmly rinses out his mouth and moves to put the note in the garbage. A long string of numbers and a scribbled note on the back of it catch his eye: Use this for anything you need.
It is an account number at a swanky bank and when he looks it up on his computer, the number of zeros at the end of the balance makes Junmyeon’s head spin. It feels like blood money. As he crumples the card in his fist, Junmyeon tells himself that his father is dead and that this is his inheritance.
Junmyeon’s back hits the wall of the stairwell hard, Kai’s gloved hand around his upper arm like an iron vice.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Kai practically snarls into his ear and goosebumps burst out all over Junmyeon’s body, causing him to shudder.
Moments before, he had been getting some test results from one of his interns, a pretty girl called Miyun, who had a pair of big round eyes and a long mane of shimmering black hair that she tied up during her shifts. She had smiled at him, hand on his arm and the warmth of her fingers bleeding through the fabric of his white coat, and Junmyeon had smiled back, had told her a joke to make her laugh and lean into him. Then, all of a sudden, Kai’s hand had replaced hers, ice cold and too strong to fight off, and Miyun had watched, baffled, as he was dragged away down the corridor.
Kai’s leather jacket is zipped up to his collar, leaving only the golden column of his throat exposed and something, Junmyeon doesn’t exactly want to examine too closely what it is, starts to unfurl in his belly, hot and slippery, at the sight of Kai’s skin.
“I wasn’t — “
Kai pushes forward until their bodies are flush, touching from knee to chest, and stares down at him. “Don’t lie to me.” Junmyeon can almost see his own reflection in Kai’s dark irises and feels his hand, the one not holding Junmyeon in place by his arm, snake down to grip the bone of his hip. He digs his thumb into the flesh there, causing Junmyeon to make a small, pained sound that came straight from that hot, slippery place under his navel. “You were flirting with her, weren’t you?”
Their bodies are pressed so close together that when Kai shifts slightly, the material of their pants drags against each other, leather against khaki. Junmyeon’s teeth clench and he can almost put a name to the feeling now, torn somewhere between fear, excitement and arousal. Kai is smiling now, lips spread wide and plush-looking, and Junmyeon has the irrational urge to feel that mouth moving against his, to taste the skin of Kai’s neck between his teeth.
The hand on his hip moves inward, towards the zipper of his pants. “Who is this for then? Her or me?”
Kai presses the heel of his hand against Junmyeon’s half-hard member almost brutally and he can’t stop the desperate sound that leaves his mouth. “You,” he chokes out, cheeks flushing.
His zipper is undone slowly, tooth by tooth, and Junmyeon is suddenly so desperately, painfully turned on that he thinks he might cry if Kai doesn’t touch him. He gets his wish, Kai’s hand sliding past past his pants, fingertips skimming the outline of his cock through the material of his boxers.
“That’s right,” Kai breathes into his ear, voice low as Junmyeon lets out a quiet whine when Kai takes ahold of him fully. “This is mine. You belong to me.”
Junmyeon’s head falls back against the cold wall of the stairwell but he can see Kai’s face through the fringe of his eyelashes. The other man’s eyes are fixed on Junmyeon’s throat, possibly watching his pulse hammering through the artery in his jugular and for a moment, Junmyeon almost thinks Kai will lean forward and bite it, dig his teeth in and tear his throat apart.
He doesn’t, tearing his eyes away from Junmyeon’s neck to look down to where his hand is moving inside Junmyeon’s pants. The hand stills for a moment almost causing Junmyeon to let out another whine, canting his hips forward as a silent plea, but then there is a slight brush of air and he can feel Kai’s fingers touching him, finally, through the slit in his boxers. The moan he lets out when he realizes that Kai still has his leather gloves on is loud enough to make Kai remove the hand on his arm to press it over Junmyeon’s mouth.
“You mustn’t be loud,” he says, the skin across his cheekbones shimmering faintly as though he were blushing, and Junmyeon moans again, the sound muffled by the material of the glove against his lips.
Then Kai drags his other hand up, a long pull from balls to tip, and Junmyeon goes limp against the wall, surrendering himself totally to Kai’s gloved fingers. He wants to come so badly there are tears pricking at the back of his eyes.
The smooth feel of the leather against his sensitive skin is maddening and if Kai hadn’t had him pinned so tightly, mouth still covered and the material of the glove growing damp from the desperate, muffled noises Junmyeon can't stop himself from making against it, he would have been thrusting against Kai’s hand, trashing uncontrollably until he reached his peak.
“I want you to come for me,” Kai growls, sounding almost out of control for the first time, and he shifts again, groin pressing into Junmyeon’s hip hard enough for him to feel the hard shape of Kai’s cock moving against him. “I want to see you so full of life that you can’t stand it.”
Shit, he’s — Junmyeon tries to think, but then Kai does something different with his hand, the fabric of his glove now slick with Junmyeon’s precum, dragging his fingers up the shaft tightly and twisting, and Junmyeon comes, vision going white and rainbow behind his eyelids and he screams loudly in the back of his throat. Kai continues thrusting against his hip, his own breath hitching as he spreads Junmyeon’s cum all over the palm of his glove, and when Junmyeon opens his eyes, Kai is staring down at him with such intensity that he is afraid his body might shatter.
He’s never wanted to touch anyone so badly. He wants to feel the soft skin between Kai’s fingers, the tendon that attaches his leg to his hip, the patch of skin right at the base of his spine. He wants to catch Kai’s mouth with his and never come up for air. Kai’s whole body seems to shudder as he leans forward, towards Junmyeon’s gloved-covered mouth, and Junmyeon’s eyes begin to slid shut. Then he sees Kai’s lips press against the back of his own hand, kissing it, separated from Junmyeon only by his own skin and tendons and bones, and Junmyeon kisses the leather-clad palm that is against his mouth fiercely, tongue licking at the fabric and teeth biting as he imagines what it would be like if Kai did the same things to him. His lips feel numb with the idea.
There is a muffled cry and Kai’s body shudders violently again, pelvis stuttering in its rhythm, and then all that’s left is Kai’s panting breath against the skin of his throat, the sound echoing hauntingly in the cold air of the stairwell.
One night in July, the elevator in his building is broken, so Junmyeon climbs up the stairs to his apartment, feet dragging from exhaustion because of the long shift he’d just finished. He decides after the third flight that he must be really out of shape because his heart his hammering in his chest, a stitch in his side slowly beginning to pinch, only it's not in the usual place, below his ribcage. It’s higher up, near his shoulder, a painful pressure he can’t escape from, and as Junmyeon starts in on the fifth flight, his sight goes grainy and white. He clutches at his left shoulder, knees buckling and the ground rushing up to meet him before he can stop it.
There is an sickening crack and everything stops.
Junmyeon’s dream starts at the hospital. He runs into Kai in the hallway, his gloves firmly in place just like always, except this time, he has a sleek black motorcycle helmet under one arm. Junmyeon knows then that it’s a dream because Kai has always expressed a kind of amused unconcern for anything Junmyeon had to say about bike safety.
“Are you busy?” he asks and there’s something different about his eyes too, as if the irises have gone so dark they blend in with his pupils.
Junmyeon shakes his head even though he’s a doctor at a city hospital, where it’s always busy, and suddenly they’re outside in the parking lot. Junmyeon looks down to see that his white coat has been replaced by tight dark jeans and a jacket he’s sure he doesn’t own.
The night is damp and Kai slings his leg over the motorcycle that is in front of him, sleek and black like the helmet he had been holding, which has suddenly disappeared. “I want to show you something.”
He climbs on behind Kai without a word, their thighs pressing against each other and Kai’s back is cold against Junmyeon’s chest through their clothes.
“What about the helmet?” Junmyeon asks. “What did you do with it?”
Kai laughs, gloved fingers wrapping around the handlebars. “Don’t you want to feel the wind through your hair?” And then he says more softly, “Don’t you trust me?”
Nodding, Junmyeon curls his fingers tightly into the fabric that covers Kai’s hips and the engine starts, carrying them out of the parking lot. Kai takes the corners almost too fast, making him hold on tighter and the longer they drive, the bike purring beneath them as the city flies by, the more Junmyeon thinks Kai might be not completely sane.
They're stopped at a stoplight, two large city streets crossing each other in a blinding smear of color, when he takes the chance to ask, “Where are we going?"
Kai’s head turns, hair wild from the wind and his skin ghostly in the streetlights. The light changes to green over his head and Junmyeon asks more urgently, "What did you want to show me?"
Kai blinks unnervingly slow, focused on Junmyeon’s mouth, and there are cars flying past them, making the air shudder. They're both in all black, he realizes — jackets, bike, hair — like an invisible oil stain on the pavement, impossible to see in the starless night light of Seoul. Kai leans in to kiss him and when their lips touch, his eyes slide shut and it's as if his whole body liquifies, turns to dust. He is suspended in thin air.
Kai’s mouth burns like dry ice.
Then there are headlights shining brightly through his eyelids and Junmyeon remembers metal crunching and the world rolling and thinks he knows how the next part goes.
The hospital gown he’s given leaves him feeling naked and no matter how many blankets he piles on, Junmyeon can’t seem to get himself warm. Bored of everything after two hours, he finds himself walking around the hospital during the night time lulls, feet quiet and bare on the tile floors as he avoids the nurses by ducking into vacant rooms.
He pretends it’s normal for him to be so out of breath from just walking down a hallway and sometimes Junmyeon stands, the back of his neck and arms flush against the cool surface of the wall, and wills his heartbeat to steady itself. It always does, but in the end, he knows the final rhythm is always too weak — pumping blood more feebly through his body than the time before. The sweat at his nape always cools while he stands, clammy and awful, and he wipes it away, not wanting to be reminded that his little nighttime strolls now seem to count to his body as rigorous exercise.
Being trapped in his room so much must be doing something to him though, because instead of cardiac arrhythmias and saving lives, all Junmyeon seems to think about is what it would be like to hold Kai’s hand.
One day, while he’s still in the hospital recovering from having hit his head on the stairs of his apartment building, Junmyeon wakes up and his chest feels so heavy he almost can’t breathe. Baekhyun answers his message and comes to tell him what he already knew, a speech laced with the words dilated cardiomyopathy and cardiac failure, and Junmyeon knows that from now on, he won’t be able to leave his bed.
He wakes some nights to find Kai sitting in the chair across from his bed wordlessly, eyes studying him like black coals in their sockets.
Finally Junmyeon asks him, “What are you doing here?”
Kai shrugs, the silver studs of his jacket shining harsh in the light. “I told you: I pay people visits.”
Junmyeon remembers the suffocating press of Kai’s gloved hand to his mouth, the shudder of his body as he came, and for some reason his body goes cold at the memory. He rolls over, showing Kai his back. “Well you don’t have to come see me. I just want to be left alone.”
As always, Kai moves silently across the room and Junmyeon jumps when his gloved hand draws a line from his throat to his forehead, brushing some of his hair back. Junmyeon’s heart is doing its racing thing again, pulse flying through his veins and he can’t seem to draw a breath. It suddenly strikes him how strange it is that Kai’s body seems to have no temperature at all.
Kai looks down at Junmyeon’s body, sallowed and thinning from his sickness. Junmyeon can feel himself slowly wasting away, time eating his muscles and bone marrow, digesting them into dust and nothingness — just like his baby sister, like his mother, like his mind had tried to do to the memory of his father. He feels very fragile all of a sudden.
The hand stills on his hair and Junmyeon swallows a dry sob as Kai tells him quietly, “No, you don’t.”
He moves down the corridor slowly, less than half the speed he would have taken before, back when he was a doctor at this hospital, rather than a patient. The air of his room had become still and oppressive, and even though Junmyeon knew he wouldn’t be able to go far, it is late and the halls of this wing are mostly empty, giving him a chance to move about without being caught. The chill of the tiles against the soles of his feet is a welcome feeling after being cooped up in his room all this time, and sometimes Junmyeon thinks that even though he’s so awfully tired, he can’t sleep for one more minute.
Sleeping is all he seems able to do these days, his short waking moments filled with the kind, pitying smiles of nurses and Kai’s face, unreadable as always from his place in the far chair.
Ahead, Junmyeon can hear voices coming from one of the rooms and he slows his footsteps, ears straining to hear.
The first voice is an old woman’s, trembling with age and sickness as she asks, “Will it hurt?”
Junmyeon thinks maybe she is talking about a surgery or some kind of test until he hears the other voice say, “Of course, but not for very long.”
A chill runs through him. It is three o’clock in the morning and that’s Kai’s voice inside the woman’s room. Junmyeon walks up until he can see the hospital room through the shades in the window. Kai has his back to the door, leather jacket zipped tight against his torso like always, and in front of him is a frail-looking woman, hair grey with age and her arms both stuffed with tubes that connect her to the machines beeping next to her bed. Kai moves forward as he continues, “You’ve lived a very long time, though, and the older you are, the easier it seems to be to give life up.”
He raises a hand as if to comfort the woman, whose expression shifts from one of fear to something more like peace, when Junmyeon realizes with a start that Kai has taken off one of his gloves.
“Let go,” Kai presses his fingers lightly to the woman’s neck and her eyes still as he tells her. “Be at peace in me.”
The machines beside the bed, which had been faintly beeping in a steady rhythm, flatline with a harsh tone and Junmyeon watches as Kai steps back, flexing his bare fingers, almost as if he’s savoring the unbound freedom of the open air, before pulling on his glove again.
Somehow, Junmyeon forces himself to move a few paces back into an alcove, hand over his mouth to muffle the sound of his harsh breathing as Kai steps out of the room, boots stepping soundlessly against the tile.
Junmyeon sees Kai’s hand, the one he’d touched the woman with, ball into a fist at his side, before he raises it, and with a silent snap, Kai’s very existence is torn from the air.
Coming back from the dead isn’t what Junmyeon would have expected. Anyone else might have said the same though — might have looked for fireworks or angels or divine light from above — but what he feels most is the weight, the terrible heaviness of living.
There are sharp sparks in his chest — or at least, what will be his chest, once his body has pieced itself back together, like the shards of a porcelain vase being mended with superglue. It hurts, the way each seam fuses, and he shudders violently.
There’s something missing, Junmyeon realizes as he comes back into himself, and the sparks start again, fissions of searing heat that try to jumpstart his heart. The beats begin, but they’re erratic, uneven in his throat and belly, because there is still a great pressure on his chest, as if there’s an invisible hand around his heart, unwilling to let it go. The muscle spasms again and suddenly Junmyeon remembers that he has lungs. He gasps, ribcage expanding to its limit, and the hand releases. The chambers of his heart fill with blood and pump it out in a grudgingly slow tempo.
The accident comes back to Junmyeon in flashes: the sunlight over the horizon, the windshield shattering around him and how after that there had simply been nothing for a long time.
There are voices, screams in his ears and his eyelids raise to show him the face of a paramedic, defibrillator pads in his hands. Behind him is a crowd of people, held back by the arms of police and firemen, and the smashed, overturned body of his car. Junmyeon can smell gasoline on the asphalt and tries to focus on the faces, wondering if there is anyone there that he knows.
All the faces are unfamiliar.
The paramedic is asking him questions, taking his pulse with cold, steady hands, and Junmyeon’s eyes settle on a boy in the crowd. He’s unsure why he picks that particular face, except that it is almost painfully handsome, slick, dark hair stark against gold skin, and then he realizes. It’s because the boy is the only one wearing a smile. His eyes look surprised, almost amused by what he’s seeing, and he brings a leather-clad hand up to press at his lip thoughtfully. When he sees Junmyeon staring, he brings the hand down, away from his mouth. Junmyeon blinks, and then the boy is gone.
Junmyeon’s father sends flowers after the accident, when he’s still in the hospital. The doctors tell him he’ll make a full recovery but will always have to be careful because of the tissue damage from when his heart had stopped beating. Junmyeon grits his teeth through the pain of three broken ribs and a head injury and throws the flowers in the trash.
He wonders if his father knows that calla lilies are what you send when someone’s died.
He has only ever seen Kai without his gloves on once before the night when he had pressed his bare fingertips into the woman’s neck. Junmyeon had been rushing to an emergency call, eyes on the display of his phone, and had turned a corner, running smack into Kai as he exited a room to the left.
They had both stumbled, Kai pressing his palm to Junmyeon’s chest to steady himself before snatching it back as though he’d been burned. The look in Kai’s eyes was frightening and Junmyeon’s heart had seemed to stall and skip a beat.
“Sorry,” Junmyeon had said after righting himself, adjusting the collar of the shirt he wore underneath his white coat, which had been pulled out of place by Kai’s grip. Kai had tugged on his glove almost angrily, staring down at the dark material as though he’d never hated anything so much. Junmyeon’s phone had beeped again, and Kai’s head had snapped up.
“You’d better go,” he had said, his voice sounding strange, almost missing the hard, metallic quality it had normally. His face had looked almost guilty before he turned and walked swiftly away down the hall, leaving Junmyeon behind, chest heavy as he tried to catch his breath.
Several days after his slow night walk through the hospital, Baekhyun comes to tell Junmyeon quietly that he’s contracted pneumonia, his lungs filling slowly with fluid just as his blood is slowly flooding the chambers of his heart.
He lies awake a few nights after that, trying to listen for the slosh of liquid in his heart, the shuddering of his drowning lungs as he tries to draw a breath, eyes fixed on the patterns of the paneled ceiling above his bed.
After some minutes, or maybe even hours, of this, there is a movement in the corner of his eye and Kai is there. His leather jacket is undone, dark sweater showing underneath. It must be cold where Kai is from, Junmyeon thinks randomly. That must be why he dresses the way he does. Kai reaches up to comb his hair back from his face and his bare hands catch the fluorescent light.
Fear rises in Junmyeon’s chest when he meets Kai’s eyes and something passes between them — a chill, a pull, a suffocating weight — a realization of knowing on both sides.
“You’re — “ Junmyeon chokes on the word, but Kai nods as he steps up towards the bed.
“Yes.” He reaches out towards Junmyeon’s neck. The skin of his hands is flawless and young-looking, nails well-kept and shining dimly in the light.
Junmyeon shivers slightly at the thought of what those hands have done, all the people they have touched and taken — of where he had wanted them on his own body. “Wait.”
“I think I’ve waited long enough.”
There is something feral about Kai’s mouth now, his teeth almost too white and sharp-looking, and his eyes are hungry, but the fear curling in Junmyeon’s gut is muted by the fact that in spite of all that, Kai is still terribly, painfully beautiful. His voice vibrates with the fluid drowning his lungs as he asks, “What’s it like?”
“You know what it’s like: you’ve been there before.”
Junmyeon can’t seem to find the breath to ask his last question, one he’s not even sure he wants the answer to: will you be there?
Instead, he looks up, pleading, and Kai sees the question in his eyes, knows what he wants somehow. Nodding to himself slightly, he leans down. Junmyeon thinks of his dream, remembers Kai’s dry ice mouth, the disintegration of his life into dust and empty air. Kai’s breath is cold on his cheeks and Junmyeon can feel it starting: the slow suspension of his soul in nothingness. Letting out a sigh, his eyes flutter closed as Kai kisses him for the first time.