—Three years prior; Ten days after Tao’s departure—
Adjusting to life in China was odd. Tao was used to speaking in Korean so it took a while for him to adjust back to Mandarin. He had no friends at school since he transferred in at the shittiest time ever—during the last few weeks of his final year in high school.
On the bright side of things—despite being lonely—Tao didn’t have to deal with any slut shaming. Nobody really knew him, so no one knew about the photo.
It was a cool evening when Tao decided he didn’t want to stay cooped up in his grandparents’ house anymore. A few days ago, he was rummaging around the house’s storage room and found a deflated basketball. Asking a few cousins here and there, Tao was able to restore the ball to its glory.
Getting up from his bed, he walked over to his room’s small closet and took out a simple white shirt and basketball shorts, which he later changed into. Taking the basketball from the side of his bed, Tao exited his room and made his way through the hallway and into the front of the house.
As he was leaving, his grandma asked him where he was headed off to and he politely told her that he was just going to go a nearby basketball court for a while. After that, he was out the door and walking on the black, worn out road over to the basketball court around a few blocks down.
Tao was alone at the court. There was a playground nearby with younger kids, but there was nobody around his age. Like in school, Tao was alone. Though it had only been a week or so, he had already adjusted to being a desolate figure to the majority so being alone didn’t bother him as much anymore.
Thirty minutes of solo shooting and lazy dribbling, Tao found himself a companion—one that he wasn’t expecting to have. As he took the ball, raised it over his head in preparation to shoot it again, he heard someone clear their throat and rustle the gate fence to the court behind him.
Tao froze as he turned his head. His grip on the ball broke and he almost dropped it. His gaze was fully set on the figure. “Wu!?”
The outburst came out violent. It came out with anger and shock with a razor sharp edge to it. It was so sharp that Kris winced a bit when Tao said his surname that way. He knew he deserved it and it was only proper, but that didn’t mean that the jab didn’t hurt.
“Hey…” Kris awkwardly greeted, curling his fingers on the fence. When Tao didn’t respond and continued to stare at him as if he was a mirage, he swallowed and moved onto the court. “Can I join?”
Tao watched as Kris slowly made his way over to him. He brought the ball down to his chest with his hands strongly gripping onto it as if ready to use it as a weapon. “No!” Tao spat. “What the fuck are you doing here, Wu!?”
Kris stopped. “I came for you, because…argh!” Kris swept a hand through his hair; frustrated. “Because what are you doing here, Tao? Hm? In China? Thousands of miles from your friends, your parents, everyone that’s ever loved you, and—”
“—and you,” Tao added. “You forgot to add yourself to the latter that I wouldn’t have to see anymore…And don’t forget to add every bitch and bastard that made a fucking comment on that photo that you fucking took, which you told me you deleted, you asshole!”
Tao’s jaw locked. “But honest to god, why the shit are you here? Are you a fucking stalker now?”
Kris creased his brows. He clenched his hands, feeling nervous. “You need to come back.”
Tao scoffed before whipping Kris a glare. “Back? Back to where? That stupid as fuck high school? And get what? Have people label me? Have people—”
“Who the fuck cares about those people, Tao!?” Kris snapped.
Angry, Tao threw the ball, aiming for Kris’ head, but Kris caught the ball in time. “Easy for you to say! You were the one behind the camera! You were the one who sent that shit to everyone! You’re the one who lied to me!” Tao’s chest heaved as he couldn’t control the rage infuriating inside of him. “Any reason for you being here is invalid. Go back home because I don’t wanna see you.”
Kris held the ball at his torso. “I didn’t send that photo to anyone. I did delete it.”
“Obviously you didn’t,” Tao spat exasperatedly. “Because everyone got that photo…and you were the only one who had it.” After a momentary stare-down, Tao tsked. “You’re wasting your god damn money anyways. I’m not going back.”
Kris stood there for a moment. “I’m not being completely honest…”
“Hn,” Tao said, rolling his eyes. “Are you gonna confess to the mass—”
“No! Listen! For the last time, I didn’t do it!” Kris snapped. “And by ‘honesty’, I was referring to why I’m here.”
Tao frowned. “I don’t care—”
“I came here for you,” Kris said, interjecting in Tao’s rejection. “I didn’t send that photo. Why would I, Huang? Why the fuck would I gladly share a photo of you naked when the only eyes that should ever be on that body are mine!?”
Tao kept his stance despite Kris’ possessive words. “How should I know? I don’t know what runs around that fucked up head of yours—”
“Considering you and I have been conjoined by the hips for months, I would think that by now you would.” Kris threw the ball back at Tao. “By now I would think that you’d know what kind of person I am.”
Tao glowered at Kris, giving him sharp looks in the eye. “Well, I thought I knew,” Tao said, grunting as the ball shoved itself in his hands. Then, retaliating, he shoved it back at Kris. “But I was wrong—”
“You’re not wrong when it comes to what you think I am, Tao,” Kris said, keeping the ball at hand. “What you are wrong about is accusing me of the incident. You’re also wrong for leaving your god damn friends weeks before graduation. You’re wrong for going to an extreme measure just to get away from me. You’re dead-pan-fucking wrong if you think that it’s perfectly fine to leave people who love you behind just because of a few snarky assholes that would’ve shut that fuck up if you just came to me and asked me to beat them up for you!”
“How thoughtful of you,” Tao sneered. “A few fucks here and there and suddenly you’re like an overprotective boyfriend.”
“Aren’t you what?”
“Your overprotective boyfriend.”
Tao was taken aback for a second. “No. You’re not. Even if you were before, you’re not now.”
Kris’ grip on the ball in his hands got tighter and tighter. “We’ll talk about our damn relationship status later. You just need to go home and come back to Korea with me.”
“How many times do I have to say this!?” Tao cried. “I’m not going back to that hell hole!”
“You’ve got people like me, Chanyeol, Kai, and Sehun to back your shit up!” Kris argued. “No one’s going to say shit or lay a fucking finger on you, damn it!”
Tao couldn’t argue with that. Kris and his gang of kings could silence the hell out of anything. “I’m not going back, Wu…”
Kris’ fingers clenched. “If you don’t want to go back because of a few assholes, then come back in a few weeks after you graduate.”
Tao shook his head. “No…”
“Why not?” Kris glowered.
“Because I don’t want to be around you anymore.”
Kris would’ve been lying if he said that the statement didn’t hurt. He decided to ignore the feeling. “Tao—”
Finally moving from his stance position, Tao moved around Kris. “I’m going home.” Then he stopped. He walked over to Kris even though he didn’t want to. “Basketball.”
Looking at the ball in his hand, Kris saw an opportunity. He held the ball out, but made no attempts to throw it over to Tao. Annoyed, Tao stalked over to him and attempted to snatch the ball quickly, but at the last minute, Kris moved his hand and used his other to grab Tao by the wrist, pulling him more towards him.
Tao, in response, immediately pulled out of Kris’ grasp and stole the ball back. “Go back to Korea, Wu…” he muttered before turning back and walking back home, leaving Kris to watch him as he went.
—Three years prior; 13 days after Baekhyun’s departure—
Chanyeol got his ass out of bed that morning, finally being able to pull himself out of his depressing shit hole that he called his “room”. He went to school feeling lighter in spirit having bought a plane ticket to go after his “I love you, but I’m leaving you forever” vixen. Chanyeol still had this brooding look on his face, but Kai and Sehun dismissed it knowing that Chanyeol was making obvious progress just by being at school.
All his inner enthusiasm for his flight that following weekend was crushed when he got home. Not even five minutes after entering his own house, his mother called him aside into the living room.
His dad told Chanyeol to sit down, so he did. He sat in a chair adjacent to the couch his parents occupied. A second after, his dad handed him a piece of paper. Taking it cautiously, Chanyeol held the paper in front of him. He creased his brows—frowning—at his parents before his eyes dropped down to the paper as he focused in on the words.
It was only about two sentences in before Chanyeol’s jaw dropped to the floor along with the piece of paper. “A confirmation page…on the cancelation of my god damn credit cards…” Chanyeol slowly said as irritation rose. “What the hell?”
“Before we go any further,” his dad started, “We saw that you also booked a flight to the States?”
“—We canceled your ticket,” his mother interrupted.
Chanyeol felt like his body was on fire. He shot up from the chair and restrained himself from the thought of murdering his own parents. “What the fuck did you do that for!?”
Frowning up at him, his mother explained. “Because you’ve become erratic and out of control. Sit down!”
“No!” Chanyeol snapped.
Kneading his knuckles, his dad stepped in. “Chanyeol, these past few weeks, you’ve been wayward. Your grade reports aren’t what we want you to have, and we keep getting calls from the school concerning you…Graduation’s coming up and you better pick up the slack if you want to walk on that stage.”
His father continued. “Concerning your credit cards, you won’t get those activated back on until…well, we don’t really know when.”
“I’m almost legal. I’ll just open up my own account,” Chanyeol retorted.
Shaking his head, his father said, “You should know by now that you’ll have to repay the credit card companies back. You don’t have a job. Where will you get the money?” When Chanyeol couldn’t necessarily open his mouth to respond to that, his father continued. “You’re right. You’re almost legal. Adding to that, you’re graduating soon. I think it’s time for you to take up real responsibilities. No more of this…this slacking off. No more parties. None of that.”
“What is this? Am I placed under house arrest?” Chanyeol said through gritted teeth.
His father sighed. “Let’s clear this out for you, Chanyeol. For the remainder of the time, you will not have your credit cards. You will do as we say and finish strongly in school. Perhaps, once school finishes, we’ll consider reactivating your cards. If you don’t want us in control of your cards, then feel free to open up your own account when you’re out of high school,” he said, motioning his hands. “But you’ll need a job to pay those debts back because in the real word, real people have real jobs to pay off payments.”
“Fine,” Chanyeol snarled as he angrily plopped back down in his seat, gripping the arm rests. “I’ll find a job.”
“Honey, there’s no need for that,” his mom said sweetly. “You’ll work for the family company. Of course, you’ll have to start near the bottom to learn the ropes. And also, the plane ticket…” She sighed. “We honestly don’t know what that’s for, but your father and I agreed that you are not going anywhere outside of Korea any time soon.”
“You’re right. Neither one of you know what that ticket’s for!” Chanyeol spat. “I need it to find someone.”
“Who’d be all the way abroad for you to find?” his mom asked, creasing her brows.
Reluctantly, Chanyeol muttered, “Baekhyun…”
His parents blinked. His mother was the first one to speak. “Baekhyun…Your little boyfriend?”
Chanyeol mentally groaned and rolled his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Is he the reason why you’ve been moping around the house and at school?” his dad asked.
Chanyeol gave a small nod, but avoided looking at his parents.
His mother let out a sigh before slowly getting up. “Maybe cancelling your ticket, your credit cards, and not allowing you to go after your little boyfriend’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe you need a little time apart.”
The moment Chanyeol’s eyes set on Baekhyun manning the front, smiling and wooing his customers to buy into his sweets, Chanyeol felt the urge to suddenly rise from his seat and do a dramatic stomp to the front. He almost acted on this urge if it hadn’t been for Sehun, who knew his friend well enough to grab him by the wrist.
“Don’t,” Sehun mumbled.
Chanyeol never tore his eyes from the front and his heart never stopped racing. He tried to pull away from Sehun’s grasp, but Sehun only gripped tighter. “Let go, Sehun,” Chanyeol warned.
“You look like you’re gonna push every man, woman, and child just to get to him right now,” Sehun said. “I’m not going to risk having you make a scene.”
Chanyeol was finally able to look away from Baekhyun to throw Sehun a menacing look. “You risked that just by bringing me here.”
“I brought you here for good reasons,” Sehun refuted. “I’ll let you go only if you don’t run off.”
“Run off?” Scoffing, Chanyeol frowned. “I’ve had enough fucking ‘run offs’ in this stupid lifetime. I don’t wanna waste my time with anymore.”
Nodding, Sehun let go. “Good.” When he saw Chanyeol sit back in his seat again, Sehun was finally able to let a breath out, not having to worry about Chanyeol getting up to punch—or kiss—Baekhyun in front of customers.
After a while, a silence passed between them as the rest of the shop bustled with people eating and talking. Then, Chanyeol glanced to Sehun. “How long have you known? About this? About him…”
Sehun shrugged, leaning against the back of his chair. “Luhan started working here two weeks ago…So roughly about two to three weeks, I guess.”
No one knew how much Chanyeol wanted to throttle the bastard sitting next to him. He couldn’t help it! Thoughts were just shooting right through him! He could’ve seen Baekhyun weeks ago! He could’ve apologized. They could’ve talked. They could’ve been fucking together again…
Trying to keep his cool, Chanyeol bitterly asked, “And you decided to keep this shit from me because?”
Sehun scoffed, cocking his head at Chanyeol. “Everyone figured that Baekhyun didn’t want to see you so soon.”
“Everyone?” Chanyeol couldn’t help, but feel like there was some sort of god damn conspiracy against him.
Sehun paused for a while, giving Chanyeol that stupid blank look that he was known to have in their high school years. After waiting an entire millennia, Sehun shrugged. “Kai and Kyungsoo might’ve known longer than Luhan and I.”
Fuck the world. Fuck Oh Sehun and his boyfriend. Fuck that fucker Kai and that doe-eyed bastard Kyungsoo.
It took everything in his power to not murder anyone right then and there. There was no word to describe the irritation and murderous feelings that Chanyeol had at this revelation. His head was filled with hypothetical statements about what could’ve been if he had known way back when the bastards he dared call friends knew.
“What…the fuck,” Chanyeol hissed, keeping his voice low for nearby customers. “You fuckers knew and decided to leave me out!?”
“Like I said, we didn’t think Byun wanted to see you so soon.”
“Three years and three fucking months, brat!” Chanyeol angrily cried. “How much more time do I have to wait before I can stop walking through life without him!?”
“When he’s ready,” Sehun simply stated. “Sunny mentioned your outbursts to me and I told Luhan, who ended up telling Kyungsoo and Kai. We met up and decided that it’d probably be good for your mental health to stop thinking that Byun’s dead and gone. This is to reassure you that he’s fine.” Sehun paused. “What you’ll do next is entirely up to you, but don’t do anything during hours.”
Chanyeol moved his eyes back to Baekhyun, who was putting colorful bakery in a to-go box. He clenched his hand, while roughly rubbing his fingers together. “I just—Fuck…” Chanyeol ran one free hand through his hair. “When does this place close?”
“Six-thirty,” Sehun replied. “If you’re planning on fucking after you two make up, don’t. He needs to open shop tomorrow. He can’t be limping like he’s disabled from you ramming up his ass.”
“Ha,” Chanyeol dryly said. “Funny.” He shook his head before he threw a sharp glare at Sehun. “I’m still fucking pissed.”
“And I’m still Oh Sehun who doesn’t necessarily give a shit,” Sehun retorted, raising his brows. The attention he had on Chanyeol left as Sehun caught Luhan walking up to them from the corner of his eye. Ditching the careless look on his face and replacing it with a smirk, Sehun gave a nod to his boyfriend.
“Hello,” Luhan hummed as he set the tray he had in his hands onto the table. “I made you guys sandwiches in the back even though we don’t sell them. So, be quiet. If anyone asks, you brought these in yourselves.”
“Thanks,” Chanyeol said smiling up at Luhan, who smiled back.
“It’s nothing,” Luhan replied. After he finished putting each food and drink in front of the two, Luhan took the tray back in his hands. He watched Chanyeol momentarily only to see the guy keep glancing to the front for obvious reasons.
After a while, Luhan asked, “Are you okay, Chanyeol? Seeing him, I mean…”
Letting a second past, Chanyeol nodded. “Yeah…I’m fine.”
“That’s good.” Before Luhan left, he had to stick another word in. “I’m sure when Baekhyun takes a break from serving people and actually takes the time to look around his own shop, he’ll see you and be pleasantly surprised.”
“Or die from a heart attack,” Sehun suggested otherwise.
“Or that,” Luhan agreed. “Well, I have to get back behind the counter. I’ll see you later, Chanyeol. Sehun, when you get home, leave your shoes neatly at the front, please. It’s annoying when you just decide to put them in—”
Rolling his eyes, Sehun pushed against Luhan’s legs from under the table. “Love you, too.” Shaking his head, Luhan left the table with a grin on his face.
After he left, Chanyeol asked for clarifications. “Six-thirty?”
“Yep,” Sehun said, lifting up the sandwich from his plate. “Every day—oh, wait. No. Baekhyun’s open every day, but Sunday.”
“Sunday?” Chanyeol frowned. “What happens Sunday?”
“Baekhyun doesn’t open,” Sehun replied before taking a bite. Chanyeol had to wait for him to chew and swallow because getting a continuation. “He volunteers that day.”
Chanyeol didn’t know how to feel about the fact that Sehun knew what his vixen did with his time. He would’ve been lying if he said that it didn’t annoy the shit out of him. Nonetheless, Chanyeol had to ask further on. “Volunteer where?”
“Kyungsoo’s daycare center,” Sehun said nonchalantly.
“Daycare…” Chanyeol slowly repeated. “With kids…”
Shrugging, Sehun replied, “I don’t know. Byun likes helping and being around clingy creatures.” Then Sehun glanced at Chanyeol, looking at him up and down. “Kind of explains why he stuck around with you back in the day.”