there were a lot of things about cho kyuhyun that he couldn’t really seem to let go — the smirking, the sheer amount of food he could eat in one sitting, the way his eyes squinted blearily after too much gaming, his thighs — but his stubborn pinkies seem to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
A/N: For vintagentleman and her love of Kyuhyun's pinkies, which sadly, did not make much of an appearance in this chapter. I'm not entirely happy with how this turned out, especially the end of this chapter, but I was sick of seeing this gathering dust on my desktop. Somehow, it also ended up being really long, and I'm too lazy to read it over again, so I apologize for any really obvious errors. I will be the first one to admit that I know next to nothing about China, so if I did anything egregiously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. Happy (late) New Year and I hope you enjoy!
One | Two |
For a few days, Zhou Mi didn’t go out. It was raining outside, pouring actually, and every time he saw the clear trails the droplets made on the windows, all he could think about was being in the shower, naked and crying like a stupid child, with the water dripping down his face until it ran cold against his scalp, because he’d never felt numb like this, so removed from his own feelings that he barely even heard the way his sobs were echoing against the tile of the shower, and when he remembered that, anything he might have had to do outside the walls of his tiny apartment didn’t seem so important anymore.
It was Sungmin that got to him first actually.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” he said over the phone, and Zhou Mi held it awkwardly in his hand after having retrieved it from where he had dropped it on the bathroom floor several days earlier.
“Yeah, I… haven’t really felt like going out recently.”
“I heard from some of the other guys that you haven’t been answering your phone, so I just thought I’d check up on you.”
“If I didn’t answer their calls, what made you think I would take yours?”
“Oh, I didn’t.” Zhou Mi could hear a smile in his voice and couldn’t quite work out why as Sungmin went on, “I just thought it was impolite of me to come over without calling first.”
“Wha — “
There was a knock at the door and Zhou Mi flung it open to reveal Sungmin, phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder, holding out a bag of cookies and a travel tray of coffee cups like a peace offering.
“Are you still alive?”
“Barely,” he snatched one of the coffees and stepped back to let Sungmin inside.
“No one had heard from you in a week and I came over to make sure you hadn’t slipped and killed yourself in the shower or something.”
Zhou Mi thought about saying that he nearly had and then backtracked quickly, nerves suddenly zinging to attention in alarm. “Hang on, a week?”
“Well, four days. We were getting kind of worried though.” He saw the look on Zhou Mi’s face and reassured him, “I told our professors that you were deathly ill. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay.” Zhou Mi sat down on the couch and took a sip of the drink he was holding, wrinkling his nose. “You gave me your hot chocolate.”
“No, we both have hot chocolate because coffee is bad for you and chocolate cures everything. Now, want to tell me why you’ve been playing shut in?”
“I — it’s nothing.”
“It’s Kyuhyun, isn’t it?”
Zhou Mi didn’t say anything but he felt his lips go thin and pale.
“It’s like that then.” Sungmin sat back as though he had found at what he’d come for and Zhou Mi bit at the edge of his mouth as though hoping to bring back some of its color.
“Is he… Have you seen him at all?”
“No, he’s been as unreachable as you have, though that’s become kind of a pattern over the past month or so anyway. Ever since he got a girlfriend really.”
And slowly, like old paint stripping off a wall, bits and pieces of the story came out of Zhou Mi’s mouth until Sungmin had gotten the whole picture: the party, Sooyoung, the phone call.
The whole thing, Zhou Mi realized, was so much more simple, and yet so much more convoluted, that he ever thought before.
Sungmin didn’t say anything for a while, fiddling with the lid of his hot chocolate and biting his lip like he was thinking while Zhou Mi sat wishing he wasn’t so tall so he could sink into the couch and escape from the world forever.
“You know what sucks the most about heartbreak?” Sungmin suddenly asked, still not looking at him. “That no one else cares. I mean, they do, in a way. Everyone likes to see the face of someone who’s been so completely emotionally destroyed that they barely even made it out of bed that morning at least once or twice in their life — I think it helps people remember to be thankful for what they have — but after a day or two they’re sick of it, like it’s a TV show and they’re ready to change the channel, to see what else is on, and no one else cares anymore, because they don’t want to be reminded of something so sad and disappointing, so soul-crushing. They just want to be happy.
“And then there’s no more excuses for looking awful, or not doing your work, or not wanting to go out drinking with your friends even though they said it was on them, and somehow, you’ve become this pathetic thing in their eyes. You’ve become that person, that emotional warning label that they mutter about to their friends when they talk about falling in love: you’re the the one who just cant let it go.”
Finally, Sungmin looked Zhou Mi in the eye. “Kyuhyun’s a jerk for putting you through all this, but you’re stupid for going along with it too. Don’t let yourself fall down too much, Zhou Mi. You’re better than that.”
And it seemed like callous advice, not really like Sungmin at all, and Zhou Mi really did think it was for a while, but then, the next day when he woke up and almost couldn’t find the energy to even roll over, he thought, no one else cares why I don’t want to get up today. And that thought, that no one else had to know, that he was more than just someone who had had his heart broken, that he wasn’t just someone who couldn’t let it go, got him through getting ready for class. He still didn’t think he could stomach breakfast and he knew his cheeks were too hollow and his eyes looked too swollen for him to appear completely okay, but he wore his favorite winter outfit, scarf wrapped tightly around his neck to keep himself warm, and the layers helped him feel a little more armored to face the outside world.
He would go to class and he would work hard, and he absolutely wouldn’t let what had happened ruin anything else.
At first, Zhou Mi was afraid he might run into Kyuhyun, or even worse, that Kyuhyun might seek him out, but when he accidentally caught Kyuhyun’s eye across the street a few days later, his first reaction had been to straighten his spine and look away like he had never seen anything. He didn’t want to see Kyuhyun, didn’t want to talk to him, to hear him say he totally understood one more time.
He and Kyuhyun weren’t friends anymore, they weren’t anything, and so Zhou Mi decided he didn’t see anything either.
The rest of the semester passed by a bit like a caterpillar might, parts of it clumping together tightly, almost moving too fast, before stretching out for long, seemingly interminable stretches of time, until Zhou Mi was carefully folding clothes into a suitcase and begging a ride to the airport that evening from Kangin over the phone.
“Yeah. My flight leaves at six,” he said, shoving at the top of the suitcase for a few seconds before finally giving up and sitting on it to get it to close. “Mmhum, I just need to run to the store to pick up something and then I’m all ready. Yup, great! Thanks Kangin!”
Hopping off the now barely zipped luggage, Zhou Mi grabbed his jacket and headed off to the convenience store around the corner. His phone buzzed again, and he answered it to hear Leeteuk giving him the third degree about his trip on the other end.
“I told you last week!” he laughed, picking up a package of gum from the wire rack in the corner. “Yes, I’ll be in China for the summer, Kangin wasn’t lying to you.”
Leeteuk said something else as Zhou Mi turned to walk to the register, but he froze when he locked eyes with Kyuhyun standing at the end of the aisle, looking a bit like he’d been struck by lightening. It had been months since he’d even seen Kyuhyun, let along talked to him, but there was very little chance he was going to be able to get out of this one.
“Leeteuk?” Zhou Mi said faintly, “I think I’m going to have to call you back,” and without waiting for a reply, he hung up.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Kyuhyun’s hair seemed longer and the circles underneath his eyes looked darker, but that might have just been wishful thinking.
“China?” There was something strange about his voice, something strained and thin and Zhou Mi clutched his package of gum tightly.
“I’m going back home for the summer.” He made an attempt and sounding cheerful, “I got a job on the radio helping host a show!”
“But you’ll be coming back for next semester. You have to finish your degree,” he said flatly. Kyuhyun’s phone beeped, but he ignored it, staring at Zhou Mi with this implacable expressing that made him want to shake him until showed something.
Instead, he shrugged, trying to be casual. “If this goes well, I probably won’t. Experience tends to count for more than a degree in this sort of thing. So. Yeah. I — “ Kyuhyun’s eyes were hard and black and Zhou Mi took a deep breath, pushing out before he had a chance to change his mind, “I’m sorry we haven’t been talking.”
But Kyuhyun’s face had gone suddenly as cold as his eyes and he waved the apology away, almost sneering.
“Whatever. Congrats on the show and everything.” This time, he glanced down at his phone when it beeped again and when Zhou Mi saw his pinky sticking out of the grip, just like he always remembered it doing, something in his chest squeezed and he thought frantically, oh god, I’m still not over him, because it was always the tiny details like that that he never forgot. “Look, I’ve got to go meet Sooyoung. We had plans.”
Then Zhou Mi nearly reached out, like he expected a hug, and Kyuhyun just looked at him, seeming almost angry or disgusted, and the expression had Zhou Mi frantically trying to figure out if he’d done something wrong. The clutching in his chest was getting tighter and tighter, almost like an iron band around his heart.
Kyuhyun said flatly, “I’ll see you around,” and walked away, disappearing out the door of the shop. Zhou Mi felt his shoulders droop.
Staring down at the package of gum in his hand but not really seeing it, he muttered lamely, “‘Bye.”
***Somewhat unexpectedly, Zhou Mi started seeing someone while he was in Beijing during the summer. Liu Chao was younger than him, close to Kyuhyun’s age, but that was where the similarities ended. In most other ways he was like Zhou Mi. They were both almost too thin, and tall — in fact, for the first time in his life, Zhou Mi almost felt normal when he stood next to Liu Chao — and fashionable, though his style tended to be a bit quieter and less outgoing than Zhou Mi’s, much like his personality.
They’d met when Liu Chao had come into the radio station to meet up with one of his friends, who just so happened to be the DJ that worked right before Zhou Mi’s show. There was just something about him, hair colored a bright reddish orange and a small smile perpetually gracing his lips, that drew Zhou Mi in and when they were together, they just seemed to fit.
It was good, and they got along well and they could hold hands in taxis and call each other ‘my boyfriend’, and Zhou Mi was lucky that someone as great as Liu Chao wanted to be with him. In fact, everything in China was going really well. It was good to be able to see his parents more often, and to get to play with his dog, and to not have to worry about whether he had used the right word in a conversation, and most of all, he didn’t have to feel anxious about the possibility of running into Kyuhyun at the local convenience store.
“You sure don’t waste any time, do you?” Sungmin said over the phone after Zhou Mi told him about he and Lui Chao’s latest outing. There was a lot of muffled noise coming through the phone and when Sungmin called out, “It’s nothing, Zhou Mi’s just got himself a boyfriend already,” he figured that it was because he was hanging out with some of their friends. At Sungmin’s declaration, the background noise went quiet for a moment before exploding into a flurry of questions.
Zhou Mi laughed a bit, imagining the chaotic scene but then something inside of him went cold at the thought that that Kyuhyun might be there, that he might have heard that. “Sungmin, it’s not — “ he drew a quick breath and continued more quietly, “It’s not because of… that. I really like him.”
“Of course it’s not that,” Sungmin reassured him, but Zhou Mi thought it sounded a little hollow, possibly because he wasn't even sure he believed it himself. There was a loud crash on the other end of the line and Sungmin said distractedly, “Crap, Donghae just broke Ryeowook’s favorite bowl, I’d better go. Send me a picture of him, I want to see this guy!”
“I will! Tell everyone I miss — “ the line went dead and Zhou Mi set down his phone with a sigh, trying to decide which was worse: that he wasn’t sure if Kyuhyun had been there to hear what Sungmin had said, or that Zhou Mi kind of wished he had.
Typically, Heechul didn’t even bother announcing to Zhou Mi who he was when he called the next day — not that it really could have been anyone else. Another nice thing about being back in Beijing meant that he and Heechul got together every week or so, and Zhou Mi was surprised at how well he seemed to have adjusted to living here. The again, it was a bit of an open secret that where Heechul was concerned, Han Geng was like magic.
Heechul’s voice came through the speaker of Zhou Mi’s cell phone sounding almost offended and speaking in rapid Korean, “Sungmin said you’ve got some hot new boyfriend and he’s been showing the picture you sent him around and everyone is insisting that I’ve simply got to meet him and give them a report.” He seemed to be determined not to let Zhou Mi get a word in edgewise and chattered on imperiously, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. I am extremely offended and you have to make it up to me. Our bar, tomorrow night. I’ll bring Hannie along and they can chat while I get a look at him.”
It was probably better that Heechul met Liu Chao sooner rather than later, Zhou Mi thought, so there would be more time for him to get used to someone new. Heechul was very decided on the people he let be his friends and didn’t much care for expanding his circle.
“Are you really going to give them a report?” Zhou Mi bit his lip and couldn’t stop the thought of what Kyuhyun would say if he ever heard about it.
“Hell no, but if he’s as hot as Sungmin was blithering about, then I definitely want to meet him. Plus, it’s an excuse to get Hannie out to a bar. He never wants to leave the house after he’s done with work.”
Zhou Mi tried to pull his mind away from Kyuhyun, from Korea and how things had been back there, answering almost absently, “I’m sorry his new job is so tiring.”
“Oh it’s not so bad. Because what I really mean is that he never wants to leave the bedroom.” He could hear Heechul practically leering through the telephone and made a face, momentarily forgetting his friend couldn’t see it. “China has done him so good, you know, I think there’s something in the water — “
“And I’ll add that to the list of things I really never wanted to know.”
Heechul cackled and then crowed, “I expect to see you there! And your new manfriend — I need to pass judgement.”
Zhou Mi’s laughter was a little choked. It had been ages since he had to introduce a boyfriend to anyone, and of course this time it had to be Heechul. “I would ask you to behave and not do anything too outrageous but — “
“Yes, yes.” He could practically see Heechul waving him off like a fly through the phone. “I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”
The line went dead and Zhou Mi laughed a bit more, humorlessly, before flipping his own phone closed.
When they met up at the bar, Heechul somehow managed, for the first time in Zhou Mi’s entire time of knowing him, not to be deliberately inflammatory during the introductions — though he credited the fact that Heechul’s Chinese was just as limited as Liu Chao’s Korean for this more than anything else. Once he and Han Geng were chatting easily away in Mandarin, Heechul sidled up to him and said slyly, “He’s definitely hot, I’ll give you that. And tall.” He rolled his eyes, “Just what the world needs: another Chinese giant.”
Zhou Mi laughed, knowing that Heechul didn’t really mean it.
“He’s not what I expected though. When you said you were bringing someone, I mean.” Heechul fiddled his drink and then looked at him shrewdly out of the corner of his eye, as if he was about to say something that would garner an violent reaction. “I thought you’d be with someone a bit more like Kyuhyun.”
Zhou Mi’s hands fumbled on his own glass, nearly knocking it over, but managed to straighten it at the last second. “Oh,” he choked out, “So… so Sungmin’s told you then?”
“Told me!” Heechul practically shrieked and whole bar turned to look at them, including Han Geng and Liu Chao. Heechul didn’t even bother to wave them off and just went on, “He didn’t have to tell me anything. I saw you two leave my party together, remember?”
“We didn’t leave together! We just kind of — kind of — “ Heechul stared at him, unconvinced, and he finished lamely, “left together.”
Han Geng’s eyes seemed to widen a bit and Zhou Mi knew he had understood. He looked at his friend pleadingly, and soon Han Geng had distracted Liu Chao again with another drink.
“That’s what I thought.” Heechul sat back, with a feline grin on his face that made him look a bit like the Cheshire Cat. “And Liu Chao seems nice, and he’s certainly hot enough for you, just… I hope he makes you happy or I’ll have to spread lots of nasty rumors about him and make sure he never dates again.”
“No, no,” Zhou Mi laughed again, nerves still a bit jittery, and waved his hands to dissuade Heechul from his revenge plotting. “I’m happy.”
“Good.” He finished his drink and crunched an ice cube thoughtfully. “You know, Sungmin did say things weren’t looking too good for Kyuhyun and his girlfriend. Something about her being too clingy? I didn’t get the specifics.”
“Oh.” His ears seemed to go hollow for a moment, all the sounds of the bar muffled like the were underwater. That meant Kyuhyun was probably unhappy. Something tugged in his chest, like a hook attached to some fishing wire, and he felt himself go pale.
Heechul was eyeing him again, even though he was speaking nonchalantly, and Zhou Mi struggled to keep an impassive face. “But that’s just too bad, since you’ve found someone else.”
He shrugged, but it felt stilted and his voice sounded thin even to his own ears. “Yes, that is too bad.”
“Here.” The new drink Heechul had just gotten from the waitress was set in front of Zhou Mi with a dull thunk. “You look like you could use this more than me.”
Something warm touched his arm and he looked over to see that Liu Chao had slid back next to him, smiling almost hesitantly.
“Are you okay?” he asked in Mandarin, when Heechul’s attention was captured by Han Geng.
Zhou Mi nodded, moving so that he could thread his fingers into Liu Chao’s, palm against palm. “We were just talking about things back in Korea.”
He tried to ignore the whispered conversation going on behind him in Korean, even though he thought he heard his and Kyuhyun’s names several times. Instead he rubbed his thumb against the back of Liu Chao’s hand and looked up at him through his bangs. Sometimes Zhou Mi still forgot that with him he had to look up instead of down.
The whispers seemed to be getting louder and not much like whispers at all and Zhou Mi caught the phrases ‘really nice guy’ and ‘jerk with a girlfriend’ and, his stomach turning as he heard it, ‘Sooyoung’. Suddenly standing up, he cut in, “I’m kind of tired. Is it okay if we head out now?”
They’d barely been there for over a half an hour, but Liu Chao nodded agreeably, standing as well and something in Zhou Mi’s heart twisted. God, he was so lucky, what was he doing?
Heechul and Han Geng looked surprised, but agreed, Heechul insisting that Zhou Mi owed him dinner for this and Han Geng telling him it was nice to see them both.
In the cab on their way home, he and Liu Chao sat closer than strictly necessary, hands intertwined, and Zhou Mi studied him as he looked out the window. The brightly dyed color of his hair was faint in the dimness, but each time they passed a sign or a streetlight, light cutting through the dark of the car, the silver of his earrings glinted brightly. As if he felt Zhou Mi studying him, Liu Chao turned and smiled at him.
“You friends seemed nice.” Zhou Mi laughed, not knowing if ‘nice’ was exactly the right word to describe how Heechul had been that night, and Liu Chao said, “Turns out Han Geng’s mother runs my favorite restaurant.”
“We’ll have to go visit then. You’ve always talked about wanting to take me there.”
Looking pleased, he squeezing Zhou Mi’s hand and for a few moments they sat in silence again. The cab pulled up to Liu Chao’s address, and letting go of Zhou Mi’s hand to dig though his pockets for cab fare, he asked, “Did you want to come up?”
Zhou Mi thought fleetingly of that night last winter, where he’d been the one asking that question. For some reason, this felt so different. He knew he could refuse if he wanted, but maybe different was good. Things hadn’t worked out for him before and things were going so well here. He needed to stop ruining them by dwelling on what had happened in the past to see if there was even a chance of him getting over it and moving on.
Liu Chao’s expression was smiling and open as he pushed open the cab door, waiting for an answer, and Zhou Mi found himself nodding. They both stood together on the sidewalk as Liu Chao fumbled for his keys and Zhou Mi watched the cab drive away, light flicking on to show that it was vacant.
As Liu Chao lead him up the stairs, both of them laughing about the trouble he’d had with the locks, he thought, no matter where you go, taxi cabs are the same in every city. It was just the people riding inside that made them different.