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We are nowhere and it's now: Part 1

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Fic Title: We are nowhere and it's now
Main Character: Taecyeon
Pairing: Taecyeon/Minjun; hinted Taecyeon/Nichkhun
Warnings: suicide attempt, depression, character death, Jackson
Word count: 29002
Prompt 1: When you come back down, if you land on your feet I hope you’ll find a way to make it back to me.
Prompt 2: http://kanashikute.tumblr.com/image/18238047557
Prompt 3: The perfect moment
Author's Note: screams and hides chanyeolanda I love you, thank you for being my beta and also y'know... for taking over my pinch hit bc I'm useless and stuff!

WINTER 2011


It starts with the first snowfall of December. Wooyoung is wearing a Christmas themed turtleneck sweater that is so incredibly awful Taecyeon actually feels good about his mismatched neon socks.

They’re both tired, exhausted and you can see it but they always find comfort in the rare alignment of their (rare) lunch breaks.

'How do the boys at the precinct feel about that woollen monstrosity?' Taecyeon breaks into a Cheshire cat grin and Wooyoung appears to be ruffling up his plumage as he grumbles something about suing him for slander and then proceeds to unzip his backpack, retrieving a small blue lunchbox.

'How’s Seyoung doing?' Taecyeon enquires, watching intently as Wooyoung shakes his dosirak around violently, contents making a weak squelching plea against such mistreatment.

Wooyoung always gets giddy whenever he speaks about her, his eyes sparkle as he guides Taecyeon through his girlfriend's most recent adventures at the international school she taught at and Taecyeon's laughter fills in the designated silences.

It's the kind of day where Taecyeon's thoughts are rambling- the kind of day where it's all shades of grey.

Stuck between licks of monogamy from his past and chill of the aircon Taecyeon finds himself re-emerging into reality as Wooyoung's phone gives an innocuous buzz.

'Oh, Khun-hyung.' Wooyoung turns away, as if attempting to hide the conversation between Taecyeon's roommate and himself. He can almost picture it, he's almost 90% sure Nichkhun is giving Wooyoung the details of gathering in their apartment that naturally he was the last to know about and as Wooyoung hangs up he only confirms his suspicions.

'So I guess I'll be seeing you on Wednesday, hyung.' and Taecyeon tries his best not to let his expression fall into a solemn one but Wooyoung has already read it all from his eyes.

'Aren't you working?'

'Does Khun ever plan these things when I am? I think he enjoys depriving me of sleep.' Taecyeon laughs and to his surprise it's not the humourless kind; he wonders if maybe he appreciates Nichkhun's insistence on reaching his social quota deep down. 'But wait, what's Wednesday? The 23rd right?'

Wooyoung shakes his head, setting his spoon aside, 'It's the 21st. I'm working a 24 hour shift on the 23rd.’

Taecyeon winces.

--

It's December 19th and Taecyeon's fumbling for his car keys; it's funny how his fingers only lose their surgical steadiness the moment he changes out of his scrubs.

His limbs are heavy as he wanders into the convenience store barely a block away from home, he thinks he should have maybe gone home first and taken a walk but he’s sure Nichkhun will reprimand him for his lack of cardio anyway.

There’s a flickering light above the aisle he finds himself in and a friendly face to his left.

‘Oh, hyung.’ Chansung’s smiling right beside him, he’s long and tired looking but that was pretty much Chansung’s everyday state.

Three months since their last run in and all Taecyeon can manage is a garbled how are you; Chansung doesn’t seem bothered however, he gets it because he’s been busy too and life tends to lean towards getting in the way.

They travel through the aisles, Chansung’s basket fills up and Taecyeon’s arms stay empty and Chansung laughs because things have changed so much since high school, it used to be the other way around-

‘But either way I’ll stay pay for it,’ Chansung laughs, and Taecyeon tenses slightly before continuing the playful banter.

‘I had to save for med school, Chansung-ah.’

Chansung sets his hand on Taecyeon’s shoulder, and it’s warm and Taecyeon wonders why he even felt so defensive in the first place.

‘How’s life in the stock market?’ Taecyeon asks, watching the way Chansung’s eyes almost blindly scan the shelves in front of him.

‘Boring, you know, but it’s a job.’ He’s practically sweeping the shelf clean of instant noodles, but then his eyes light up. ‘I’m still volunteering though, at Sucho.’

‘Oh?’ He waits for Chansung to fill in the blank, gently elbowing his ribs.

‘I’m still considering full time.’ And as Chansung regales Taecyeon with the details of his last call out, he realises that they might just be the same stupid kids they were all those years ago, so quick to don a cape and run out into the night at the first sign of trouble.

‘Did you just finish up your shift now?’ Chansung asks, checking his watch and wincing as Taecyeon mumbles out a confirmation.

‘I suppose it must be common practice now.’ Taecyeon’s perplexed for a moment, until Chansung lifts up his wrist to show off the time, and maybe it’s already December 20th or at least it’s two hours and fifteen minutes in.

There’s a flood of relief when Taecyeon realises he has an excuse for not walking - and even so he’s pretty sure he’s reached his daily goal anyway, because he’’s been wandering around the small corner shop for at least ten minutes with Chansung.

‘I don’t normally end quite this late, but Casualty was pretty hectic last night and Seulong was off- I reset a broken nose.’ To Taecyeon that was something exciting, as someone who had once aspired to specialise as a cosmetic surgeon but Chansung’s wrinkling his own nose so maybe a change in topic is necessary.

‘How’s that foreign fiancé of yours?’

‘She got signed to one of those big companies, hyung!’ Chansung’s sporting that same brand of proud glow that Taecyeon had seen on Wooyoung only a few days prior and it’s like the world is just recycling his emotions because there’s this tug he feels below his second rib, at the base of his heart, and it just feels as human as taking a deep breath.

‘So when can we expect to hear her first single?’ Taecyeon’s half joking, but Chansung beams brightly anyway, explaining that she was still just a trainee finding her feet.

The two of them are at the till now and Taecyeon’s cradling sandalwood scented shower gel and a liter of 2% milk, that’s been out of the fridge long enough for the condensation to have dampened his shirt, in his arms as Chansung searches through his pockets for his wallet, with little success.

‘Need some help?’ Taecyeon asks, setting the milk down and digging in his pocket to retrieve his own wallet.

‘Hyung, I can’t expect you to pay for my fiancé’s midnight snacks,’ Chansung half smiles, still patting himself down on the off chance his wallet had taken up residence somewhere on his body.

‘I’ve gotta start paying you back some time.’ Taecyeon sets his shower gel down too, and grins at the unimpressed looking cashier, ‘We’re together. Here.’

Just as Taecyeon’s about to hand over his card, Chansung locates his wallet in his back pocket and completes the transmission so fast that he doesn’t even have a chance to protest.

‘You’ll have to make it up to me in another way, hyung!’ Chansung sticks out his tongue, and Taecyeon slips his card back into his wallet with slumped shoulders.

‘How about spending some time with my dazzling self?’ Taecyeon offers, eyelashes fluttering.

‘Well I’ll see you on Wednesday anyway.’

‘Khun’s always a step ahead of me, huh.’

--

Taecyeon’s up the fifth flight of stairs, and he finds Nichkhun really is always a step ahead of him as he spots long limbs and glowing strips of reflective tape.

‘Can you get the door?’ Soft voice, Nichkhun’s smooth boyish features get highlighted in the dim light and Taecyeon rushes forward, keys at the ready. ‘I need to disinfect desperately.’

Light floods their living room as soon as the door’s open and Taecyeon sees the blood under his nails.

‘Some tourist had an epileptic fit,’ Nichkhun explains as he washes his hands. ‘He collapsed and hit his head on the sidewalk.’

‘Didn’t you have gloves?’ Taecyeon asks, slipping past Nichkhun and setting down his newly acquired shower gel on the rim of the bathtub.

Nichkhun shakes his head. ‘He was a walk-by. Found him on my way to fetching dinner and had to hold C-Spine for half an hour.’

‘Awkward angled landing I guess?’

‘That and I didn’t have any of my kit with me and my German is a bit… lacking- did you really buy more shower gel?’ Taecyeon glances between the shower gel and Nichkhun, unsure of what exactly was happening.

‘Yes I did?’

‘Taec, we have about eleven bottles.’

Taecyeon looks around the mostly barren bathroom. ‘This feels like a trap.’

Nichkhun turns the faucet off so tightly that his hand is momentarily discoloured, before he turns and opens the mirror cabinet with a tug that naturally sends the contents to the floor with a loud clatter.

‘I see your point.’

They laugh as they pick up the bottles together the sound of a bike accelerating overwhelms their laughter and Nichkhun tenses up. ‘That sounds like an accident waiting to happen.’

‘Are you still on call?’ Taecyeon asks, and Nichkhun responds with a tired nod. Taecyeon presses the palm of his hand against his forearm and it’s like the wind never stops blowing for him.

Nichkhun’s out the door barely ten minutes later, responding as Taecyeon collapses on his bed falling asleep on impact.

--

Taecyeon sleeps through his alarm, but doesn’t make it through the flurry of phone calls Junho sends his way. He doesn’t even shower, just splashes his face with cold water and makes his way to hospital in what must be his record time.

‘Don’t feel all proud of yourself,’ the dark haired nurse Lee says bluntly, ‘You only made it here on time because all the working Joes have already been at work for the past two hours.’

It’s just one of those mornings; Junho’s in a fantastically foul mood and the only emergency call Taecyeon gets beeped for ends in his patient signing himself out, opting to rather see his GP for treatment.

It’s around about lunch time when Junho shows signs of perking up, he’s leaning against Kwon’s desk reading through patient reports he shouldn’t be reading through and Taecyeon is desperate to avoid the interns at any cost because Jackson appears to have taken an extra dose of annoying.

‘Taecyeon-ah, I didn’t know you were on today.’ Kwon says, between sips of vanilla heavy tea.

Junho just looks Taecyeon up and down before wrinkling his nose, ‘Hyung, if you have nothing better to do… why not go take a shower? I’ll call you if there’s an emergency, not that you ever answer your phone though.’

Taecyeon finally clicks as to what his offence was. ‘Sorry Nuneo, I’ll make it up to you.’

‘You can make it up to me by showering, you look like the walking dead and you’re definitely not in the right ward for that.’

Taecyeon walks away to a melody of quiet giggling.

--

He could only really avoid the inevitable for so long he realises between a forkful of pasta and a loud, boisterous voice yelling out, ‘Sunbae!’

It’s just Jackson, with Mark trailing quietly behind him but it’s enough to put Taecyeon on edge, right up until the two of them quietly take a seat. Jackson pours through his notes, even though he was loud he was definitely dedicated, and Mark strikes up a conversation.

‘Seonsaengnim, I was wondering,’ the redhead trails off, voice deep, ‘Are you happy? Do you think you made the right choice career wise?’

Jackson elbows Mark in the ribs and Mark bows. ‘I’m sorry, I realise it’s a personal question- I just.’

‘It’s okay,’ Taecyeon nods as he sets aside his fork, to look at Mark. ‘I’m sure you two have much greater ambitions than being a second rate on call doctor, just follow through with you think will make you feel accomplished and there’s no right or wrong.’

‘I’m going to be the best surgeon this country has ever seen.’ There’s fire in Jackson’s eyes as the words leave his mouth and Taecyeon almost misses the burn of ambition.

‘What about you Mark?’

‘I think I might finish up stateside, specialise in paediatrics,’ Mark says, but there’s no flame in his eyes, just a softness and Taecyeon wonders just how far Mark will get.

--

The more Taecyeon thinks about it, he’s not lonely because he’s never alone and when the days get hard he can rest his profile in the crook of Nichkhun’s neck and feel like he’s at home, but god damn it he feels empty at the close of every day.

--

It's December 21st and Taecyeon just wants to sleep, though at 14.37 Nichkhun informs him he has had quite enough sleep and not enough shower. Taecyeon supposes Nichkhun might be right, he's still in scrubs and he reeks of disinfectant but in that moment, but Taecyeon is still tired; it's as if the all the sleep he'd missed out on since the dawn of his journey in medicine had finally found him and decided to never let him go.

'Taec, I need you to make the soy dressing for the salad,' Nichkhun calls from the kitchen, his voice wavering somewhat; it's like he almost regrets it but Taecyeon's already up and padding through to the kitchen, dreams of dreaming on hold.

By the time Taecyeon reaches Nichkhun, the shrill sound of his work phone shoots through the small apartment and whilst Nichkhun is scrawling out details to forward on to whoever was first out that day Taecyeon awkwardly toys with the perilla leaves he assumes Nichkhun had set out for the salad.

Eventually Nichkhun sets his phone aside, after finding out that naturally he'd have to take his own vehicle to a call because first outs were busy with an eight car pile-up on the freeway.

'I thought you weren't on shift today?' Taecyeon turns to look at Nichkhun, fingertips pressing into the counter.

'I wasn't but Fei called me while you were sleeping and asked me to cover for her-'

'Don't you just have RV-2?'

'It's just an allergic reaction.' Nichkhun stares hard at the post it note, details sloppily scrawled down and nearly illegible.

He's gone with a promise of returning as quickly as he can as Taecyeon's eyes scan the post it note. The victim's just across the way, but she's also a three month old baby and it was a query. Not set in stone.

Taecyeon hears the weak howl of a siren as Nichkhun sets off, wind quickly swallowing up any noise and he takes this opportunity to go and shower off all thoughts of why they do this every day.

--

Nichkhun returns with tired eyes, much like the ones Taecyeon was wearing barely an hour prior but he shakes off the melancholy as he changes out of uniform and greets Changmin at the door.

It’d been nearly two years since Taecyeon had last seen him, he’s a welcome sight and to make matters better, he’d come with a watermelon as his partner.

‘Oh, hyung. Let me get that.’ Taecyeon’s quick to pry the brightly coloured giant out of Changmin’s arms, though Changmin was never particularly keen on carrying it in the first place so he happily relinquishes it from his grip.

Taecyeon slices the watermelon up into small bite sized cubes and Changmin watches on, amusement playing across his face.

‘If only you had done this more when you were pre-med, we would have seen each other a lot more,’ Changmin jokes, popping one of the more misshapen slices into his mouth.

‘No eating in the library, hyung.’

Changmin pushes his glasses up further on the bridge of his nose and snorts, and Taecyeon would be willing to bet his car that Changmin was still just as strict as he was then, if not more so because back then he was just a third year and now he worked there full time.

Taecyeon’s shoving the slices into the freezer, there’s not much inside other than empty ice trays but somehow he still can’t quite get it right until a knock at the door attracts his attention, the plate is skewed and the bright pink cubes are slipping but it’s hardly the end of the world.

Chansung arrives next; his fiance nestled underneath his arm like a shy child. Taecyeon’s met her once or twice before over the years, but for the life of him he can’t remember her name.

Nichkhun luckily doesn’t give him the opportunity to be caught up, because he’s swiftly pulling the two of them into a hug. ‘Chansung-ie! Charné! It’s been too long!’

Charné slips away into the kitchen, a packet rustling loudly in her hands, and when Taecyeon looks back at the two males he sees the way Nichkhun’s hand is still lingering on the nape of Chansung’s neck. They’re quiet, and then Chansung is wrapping his arms around Nichkhun’s torso and rocking him from side to side. ‘Hyungnim, smile! The world isn’t so bad.’

Curiosity, and a strange feeling in the pit of Taecyeon’s stomach get the best of him and he finds himself next to Charné. She’s battling with the packet, trying to unknot the handles of the bag. Taecyeon nudges her with his shoulder and takes over.

‘Congrats on your contract,’ he smiles. ‘Your parents must be really proud.’

Charné tenses up for a moment, but then she’s smiling and nodding. ‘I hope so.’

Taecyeon recalls their last meeting, at her engagement party and how she had spent the better half of the night talking his ear off. She’s a little different now, almost softer and delicate; she gives off the feeling of being moments away from blowing away at any second.

‘Are you okay?’

Charné nods. ‘I’m fine, it’s just the schedule I’m on is very tiring. This is my first day off in two months.’ There seems to be more she wants to say, but Taecyeon doesn’t pry. He just pats her on the head a few times for good measure before declaring his undying love for her and the fried chicken she’d brought along; the cut throat sadness that had a hold on the air almost instantly disperses.

There’s not even a knock at the door this time, just the sound of it being forced open and Taecyeon thinks that it could only be one person.

‘No hawkers!’ He hears Changmin yell from the balcony and he’s chuckling to himself as he lets Jinwoon in. He’s got his guitar bag on his back and when Taecyeon puts his hand on his shoulder, he can still feel the heat from the sun on his hoodie.

Chansung almost instantly unglues himself from Nichkhun’s side and attaches himself to Jinwoon, thick fingers ruffling Jinwoon’s already messy brown hair.

The sun is already sitting low in the sky, generously visible from their balcony; Taecyeon smiles to himself as his eyes trace the horizon, already speckled with fake light. This skyline and the way the sun appeared to almost burn through the metropolis of the great Kangnam area come 6.52 PM was what he lived for.

--

It’s already dark when the last three guests finally put in their appearance; the drink Taecyeon had been nursing ended up half spilled as Junho rushes past him and into the kitchen and Wooyoung apologises with a tired smile.

‘I’m so sorry Taecyeon, Junho made these amazing desserts but the traffic was so bad on the way here that they started melting in the car,’ Seyoung says, looking inexplicably contrite.

‘It’s not the end of the world, Seyoung-ah.’ Taecyeon pushes the door closed. ‘It’s just a shirt change.’

‘If anything it’d be an improvement,’ Junho says, glancing at Taecyeon. ‘How long have you had that shirt for, hyung?’

Taecyeon looks down, fingers tugging unconsciously at the semi unravelled hemline; stippled grey with a unreadable caption emblazoned across the chest. The shirt used to read "The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart", a quote from an old German movie.

Taecyeon remembers the words so clearly, but the acquisition of the shirt is blur.

‘I remember you wearing it back when we were in high school,’ Chansung chimes in, disrupting Taecyeon’s train of thought.

‘I’m surprised it still fits you, hyung,’ Junho smiles, eyes turning into crescent moons. ‘You were just skin and bones back then.’

‘I’m still skin and bones,’ Taecyeon shoots back, and as he mindlessly searches through his closet for an alternative his mind can’t help but stumble back to thinking about procurement of his shirt.

--

The evening’s drawing to a close, Charné’s fallen asleep with her head on Changmin’s shoulder much to Chansung’s dismay and Taecyeon finds himself tuning in and out as Junho and Wooyoung have a battle of strangest work stories.

Junho’s in the lead, and his competitive drive pushes him to bring out the story that even makes Taecyeon wince; so instead Taecyeon finds himself staring at Nichkhun and he realises he isn’t listening either. Nichkhun is so withdrawn he doesn’t even seem to notice until Seyoung is clapping him on the shoulder as she tries to hold back her laughter.

‘He clearly didn’t know his way around the bedroom,’ Junho says, smiling viciously; Taecyeon’s stomach churns a little as he recalls some of the stories Kwon has told him about Junho as a bed partner.

‘I guess he liked it, so he put a ring on it.’ Jinwoon laughs and Junho sends him the most affronted look he can summon up. Seyoung is seal clapping and keening into Wooyoung’s side and even Nichkhun’s cracking a smile that lasts right up until he turns the deadlock.

‘Night Taec,’ Nichkhun says, brushing past Taec as he heads toward his room.

Taecyeon stays still for a moment, eyes following Nichkhun’s retreating figure before he lifts his hand up lamely and flicks at the light switch.

Unsure footsteps and he finds himself outside a door he feels the need to knock on, and when no answer comes he lets himself in anyway.

‘Khun, are you-’ Taecyeon trails off as he sees Nichkhun sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at him blankly. ‘Are you okay?’

When Nichkhun doesn’t respond, Taecyeon repeats the question in a whisper and Nichkhun shakes his head before lying back; his eyes are trained on the ceiling, the wall, anywhere but Taecyeon.

Taecyeon desperately searches for the right words; words of comfort, words without an underlying accusation, words to help but comes up with nothing more than, ‘I’m right here.

Nichkhun doesn’t even seem to hear him, so Taecyeon admits defeat and collapses on his own bed; and it’s not until he’s nearly drifting off that he feels Nichkhun settle down beside him. They lie in a comfortable silence with their feet occasionally brushing together and Taecyeon’s nearly gone again; but then Nichkhun speaks up or maybe he breathes out the words, barely audible but Taecyeon catches them. ‘It just gets to me sometimes.’

--

Taecyeon wakes up before his alarm, but Nichkhun is long gone. When he looks out the window it's overcast and even though he's warmly tucked away in his comforter, he still feels a chill race down his spine.

The apartment is full of an empty silence, broken in stutters by the world outside and its great propensity for finding a way in.

Taecyeon's phone lights up and he watches as it nearly buzzes right off the table before he even thinks about answering. It's Junho calling, checking up on him and he's almost taken off guard when Taecyeon's voice croaks out a good morning.

'Oh hyung, you actually answered,' Junho says, almost sounding proud. Taecyeon laughs, but the laughter is short lived.

'It's the interns last day in Casualty before they move on, come in early.' And Junho's gone, just like that.

--

It's a long commute to work that day, long and loud. Impatient drivers hooting in offbeats as different radio stations almost sound like they're battling for domination of the airwaves.

Taecyeon doesn't really mind traffic, gives him a chance to eat some of his watermelon cubes and play punch buggy with himself; there aren't many of the German made vehicles on the road however.

He's barely through the hospital door when he spots Junho, he's leaning against the reception desk with a smile that renders him legally blind Taecyeon's sure of it; he can't help but find himself staring as he watches the way Junho brushes imaginary dust off the shoulders of Jaebum, eyes zoning in on the way his fingers linger on the head admin's forearm.

There's that feeling again, at the base of his heart but Taecyeon just shakes it off; he's about to make himself a cup of coffee when Junho finally notices him, running over to him with an almost giddiness painted across his face.

'How long has that been going on?' Taecyeon asks, he's almost shocked as he watches Junho's expression sour until he remembers it's the fickle nurse Lee he's talking to.

'I don't know what you're talking about,' Junho responds, and Taecyeon just chuckles to himself.

--

It's a slow day, not just for Taecyeon but for everyone in Casualty. Junho's missing in action, and Taecyeon can only assume he's talking to Jaebum again; of course Junho would go for the one four years his junior.

When Taecyeon looks up from his mug, he sees the back of Jackson; shoulders straight with mismatched socks visible between the line of his scrubs and his sneakers.

'There's not really much for you to do, unless you want to clean bed pans,' Jihyun informs Jackson, who yet again has Mark filling in as his shadow for the day. Taecyeon chuckles to himself as he sees the way Jackson's spine curves into a slump of resignation and before he knows it, he's got his hand on his shoulder.

'Hey, you two. Let's go get something to eat,' Taecyeon says, as he guides the two of them out of the hospital, pausing briefly before looking back at Jihyun. 'Just page me if you need me.'

'Seonsaengnim, is this really okay?' Mark asks, but they're already out the door and piling into Taecyeon's car. Jackson yells shotgun, but he's already well settled in the front seat with his safety belt on and Taecyeon can't hold back a chortle.

Where he wants to take them is actually in walking distance, but it's too cold to be walking around so he doesn't tell them; he just drives the long way around before he finds himself attempting parallel parking outside their destination.

'Sunbae, this is literally about a kilometre away from the hospital,' Jackson remarks as he undoes his seatbelt.

‘So you caught me out.' Taecyeon laughs as he gets out of the car, checking the narrow street for any signs of traffic before crossing the road. Mark is trailing closely behind him, but Jackson is still lingering near the car.

'Do you not lock your car?' He calls from across the street. Taecyeon shakes his head and Jackson just shrugs before he heads over to them; Taecyeon wonders if he should tell him that his car hasn't locked since he was pre-med- he doesn't of course, instead informing Jackson that his car had a central locking system.

'Where are we going?' Jackson asks, looking around. Taecyeon points up towards the sign in front of them. 'Miu... Miu?'

'A friend of mine owns this place, they make the best food you could ever even imagine,' Taecyeon explains as he pushes open the door.

It's as cosy and warm as he remembers, but he's greeted by an unfamiliar face. He checks her name tag, Hyunyoung.

'I'm sorry sir, we're not open just yet,' she says, tucking her hair behind her ears; her expression is unreadable.

'Is Suzy not here yet?' Taecyeon asks, and Hyunyoung almost visibly brightens.

'Oh, you know Suzy? She's running a bit late but she should be here soon.'

'Are you Charné's replacement?' Taecyeon asks, Jackson and Mark slip past him and settle down at a nearby table.

'Wow, you haven't been here in a while, huh?' Hyunyoung laughs, and Taecyeon notices the way that Jackson can barely take his eyes off of her.

'I'm an ex regular,' Taecyeon says sheepishly.

'I came in as an accountant when Charné was still here, probably somewhere midway through 2010?' Hyunyoung informs him. 'Can I get you guys anything?'

'I thought you weren't open,' Jackson pipes up.

'Well you're already seated, so we might as well open up early.'

Taecyeon settles down beside Mark, and Hyunyoung hands out menus before she disappears.

'It's nice seeing an English menu,' Mark says quietly, almost to himself and Taecyeon nods.

'I haven't spoken English in almost two years,' Jackson says with a sigh.

'You went to an international school, right Jackson?' Jackson nods. 'And you were living in California?'

'You lived in Boston for a few years, didn't you?'

'I was there for high school.'

'Why'd you come back to Korea? You could have done medicine in the States surely?' Mark asks, adding in a hasty seonsaengnim at the end.

'It just always felt more like home here,' Taecyeon says. 'I like the people and the food and the feel of the streets, you know?'

A small cursory nod from Mark, and Taecyeon's about to ask him why he chose Seoul but Suzy's at the door, arms full. He quickly excuses himself and opens the door for her, helping her offload on the counter.

'Taecyeon-ah!' Suzy launches at him as soon as her arms are free, and Taecyeon prods her in the temple.

'Suzy-ah, you look like a drowned rat.'

'Do you want to die?' Suzy makes a fist and punches Taecyeon's ribs, and then she notices Jackson and Mark and then she's straightening out Taecyeon's shirt, 'Ah, sonnim. It's good to see you again after such a long time.'

'Oh, these are my interns. Mark and Jackson,' Taecyeon says in English.

'Oh! Michael Jackson~' Suzy laughs, throwing out some tribute dance moves and Taecyeon rolls his eyes.

'Suzy-ah, stop.' Taecyeon plants his hands squarely on her shoulder blades. 'Go make us some tteokbokki, please.'

Suzy shoves Taecyeon's hands off. 'Yah, Dasom-ie isn't here yet.' She heads off to the kitchen anyway, and Taecyeon sits down again. Mark and Jackson are lost in a discussion, and almost out of nowhere Jackson declares himself to be the best surgery Seoul will ever see.

Mark's snorting into his hand. 'Jackson-ah, actually the best surgery is...' Mark presses his index fingers to the corners of Jackson's lips and tugs upwards and Jackson just gives him a deadpan look. 'Tuan, please.'

'Mark, you said you wanted to go into paediatrics if possible?' Taecyeon asks, Mark's hands are back in his lap now.

‘Only because he has a thing for the nuna in the paediatric wing.' Mark elbows Jackson and glares at him for a bit.

'Seonsaengnim, don't misunderstand I-'

'I think you'll do well in paediatrics,' Taecyeon says, and Mark's taken aback for a moment but then he smiles warmly and Taecyeon.

'Thank you, seonsaengnim-'

'Please call me hyung, seonsaengnim is so formal,' Taecyeon says with a whine and then Jackson's laughing.

--

They get back to the hospital, tummies full to bursting and run straight into Junho. His arms are folded across his chest, and he doesn't look particularly impressed and Taecyeon's quite sure he can hear Mark whimpering.

'Why didn't you tell me you were going to see Suzy, hyung?' Junho pouts, but Taecyeon just claps him on the shoulder with promises of next time.

Time in the emergency room almost flies by, there's a smattering of patients near the end of Taecyeon's shift. There's nothing too serious, a couple stitches and the removal of an ankle cast and he's already halfway home.

--

December 23rd and Taecyeon's paging through old patient reports as Nichkhun fills in blanks for Seulong.

'Male. 31. Tried to jump off of Mapo Bridge and hit one of the base columns on his way down-'

'Another one? These jumpers are getting a bit... was a suicide attempt or a punctuation?' Seulong barely looks up and Taecyeon fights with himself to shut them out, to just concentrate on his coffee and breathe and-

'Attempt. Open fracture, definite concussion-'

'Doctor Lim, Huisong-ie in room seven has gone into cardiac arrest...' Junho slips in between Seulong and Nichkhun. 'Taecyeon-ah, please prep Seulong's other patient for surgery he's needed for a resus.'

Taecyeon barely gets through patient Kim Minjun's file before he's standing before him, gormless. His arm is already in a splint, staring off into nowhere but reclining comfortably nonetheless.

'How are you feeling?' Taecyeon asks, at a loss as of how to move forward.

'Mostly with my fingertips,' Minjun replies, wiggling his fingers on his unsplinted arm.

Taecyeon smiles to himself, eyes trained on the chart before him - searching for a way to make it better for him.

'I've only ever broken a toe before,' Minjun says, slowly sliding his feet off of the bed and looking up at Taecyeon.

'This is a bit more serious,' Taecyeon says gently, his eyes scan Nichkhun and Junho's messy collaboration of notes once more and then his heart falls.

profession: concert pianist.

'Did nurse Lee explain to you what will be happening?'

Minjun nods. 'What are the success rates of getting my arm fully functional again?'

damaged tendon, possible nerve damage? unable to assess, patient uncooperative.

'You should be able to remove your cast in about six weeks’ time, but let's first see how the surgery goes. You're in good hands - I broke my humerus about two years ago and doctor Jung was my surgeon-'

Taecyeon stops in his tracks as he notices a despondent look glaze over Minjun's face. He puts his hand on his shoulder and clicks to see if he's going into shock again but instead of dilated pupils Taecyeon sees pinpricks and a somber expression.

'What's your name?' And Taecyeon realises he hadn’t even introduce himself.

'Doctor Ok... Taecyeon. I'm Ok Taecyeon,' he says, drawing back - eyes glued to Minjun's chart again.

02-312-3456 - only contact number he's willing to part with - brings up what sounds like his own voicemail. family unknown. no emergency contact

'Doctor Jung is ready,' Junho says, tugging the curtain aside to reveal Jihoon and Seulong. 'Kim-ssi, are you good to go?'

Minjun gives a weak nod before he's lying back down on the bed and Junho is wheeling him away.

'Oh, hyung- was the resus a success?' Taecyeon asks, hand on Seulong's shoulder.

Seulong shakes his head and before Taecyeon can utter a word of comfort he's half-way down the hall and Jihyun is ushering him back to his ice cold coffee.

--

‘Kwon-ah, can you please get me Jang Huisong's file?' Taecyeon’s not quite sure what he’s doing, why he’s prying but he can’t help it.

‘He was declared about an hour ago, Taecyeon-ssi,’ Kwon says, eyes glossy; He’s one of the few that’s never been good at holding it in and Taecyeon thinks he’s all the more stronger for it; 8 years and countless losses, and yet he’s still here.

‘He was one of the freeway pile-up victims right?’ Taecyeon asks.

Nurse Jo nods. ‘I really thought he was going to pull through, he was just a kid.’

just a kid

--

It wasn't the first time Taecyeon had dealt with suicide, it was to be expected in the country with the highest suicide rate world-wide but this was the first attempt he’d ever dealt with; his previous two never stood a chance, self-immolation and poisoning left too late but somehow patient Kim Minjun had made it. Taecyeon briefly wonders if he made it because he wasn't initially his patient, as if a person's fate changed if they had him as a doctor but he shakes the thought away and he recites the follow up procedure for his arm.

Minjun doesn't want to go to the psychiatric ward, his attempt gets labelled as a freak accident, but somehow Taecyeon convinces him to go and see their resident psychologist at least once.

And when Taecyeon shuts his eyes later that night, inexplicably patient Kim MInjun’s face is the only one that occupies his thoughts.

--

Taecyeon turns 31 on the 27th of December; it’s nothing to write home about and all his birthday cards say he’s 33 years old anyway- except of course for the one from Jackson, it calls him sexy sixty.

He initially stops in at the hospital for the briefest of moments, only coming into to do a follow up on one of his patients but his patient doesn’t show until well past twelve. He’s met with choruses of well wishing, a kiss on the check from Jihyun and a punch on the arm from Minyoung.

It’s just blood test results, something not even in his usual line of duty but the results are positive and his patient is smiling and relieved; but Taecyeon can feel the weight of Junho’s glaring eyes on his back.

‘You weren’t supposed to come in, hyung,’ Junho informs him, eyes following the retreating form of Taecyeon’s patient before snapping back to stare hard into Taecyeon’s.

Taecyeon likes to think it’s just an investment in his patient’s emotional well-being, wanting to share the happiness and that’s what he tells Junho but as he’s walking out the doors of the hospital, he can’t help but think that maybe his interests lay in a patient not his own.

Taecyeon’s birthday falls on a Tuesday, but Nichkhun plans a small get together with promises of quiet and intimate; however it’s not until late in his week day birthday that Nichkhun tells him to get dressed.

It’s a mostly silent drive, the aircon in Nichkhun’s car is on too strongly and there’s just this dense cycle of icy stale air that invades Taecyeon’s airways and makes him feel queasy; however Taecyeon is certain that they’ve nearly reached their destination as he sees the warm lights of Suzy’s café a couple meters ahead.

It’s almost an identical cast to Nichkhun’s get together barely a week prior, granted there were a few additions but there was a happy warmth that burned through his core upon seeing the friends that had become fixtures of his life.

Bora’s there in place of Jinwoon, she’d come bearing a small gift bag and a fist bump from her brother and when Taecyeon hugs her in gratitude, her hair smells like fire and honey.

Somehow Jackson wrangled an invite as well, Taecyeon spots him pushing up the corners of Hyunyoung’s lips with his fingertips; he can’t hold back as he notices Mark appear behind him, whacking him on the shoulder three times for good measure.

It’s dimly lit and the tables are all pushed together in attempt to make one mega table, and even though the snow is heavy outside and Miu Miu is poorly insulated, not even the slightest bit of a chill made it through, not until it was well into the night and Taecyeon’s face meets butter icing.

After that, the cold slowly whittles down the guests until just five are left; Suzy gives a tired yawn and then they’re down to four and their venue has changed; Nichkhun attaches himself to Taecyeon’s side and he smiles to himself because they’re practically mirroring the way Seyoung is clinging to Wooyoung, and as usual Junho is distant and Taecyeon’s heart beats hard as if to punctuate the realisation.

There’s one last spontaneous burst of the birthday song, complete with a key change halfway through and they find themselves heading home.

When Taecyeon falls asleep, all that’s on his mind is Junho but as soon as his rem cycle kicks in Minjun is too quick to replace him.

--

It’s still dark when Taecyeon arrives at the hospital, dark and cold; the wind seems to follow him as he makes his way to the front desk. Jaebum’s lips are pressed in a tight line, eyebrows furrowed as he taps away on the screen of his phone; he only notices Taecyeon when he’s already looming over him.

Taecyeon’s height is of the looming variety, so it’s no surprise that Jaebum jumps when he eventually realises he’s there.

‘Taecyeon-hyung,’ Jaebum says with a nod and a cough. ‘Didn’t see you there.’

Taecyeon hadn’t really noticed it until then, the similarity in mannerisms and the fox like appearance; before Taecyeon can even catch himself he’s staring and Jaebum’s sending him a confused smile.

‘Excited for the new year?’ He asks, not entirely sure where to direct his gaze.

Jaebum hums out a soft affirmation, and Taecyeon awkwardly taps on his desk before walking away to try and get his head straight. Junho doesn’t give him the chance however, because he’s soon accosting him in the corridor.

‘What are you doing?’ Junho asks, looking relatively bewildered. Junho’s still in casual clothes, long red scarf swallowing up his chin and wildly unbrushed hair.

‘I was going to ask Jaebum-mie something, but I’ve gone blank,’ Taecyeon says, he’s only half lying.

Junho blinks at him, insecurity seems to flash through his eyes for a moment but then he seems to shrug it off. 'I bet it was about that patient of Seulong's, Kwon told me that you asked about him.'

Taecyeon mind goes blank, but he nods anyway. Junho seems like he's in a better mood now, withdrawn but that was just Junho's style.

'Have you eaten yet, hyung?' Junho asks, fingers self-consciously patting his hair into submission. Taecyeon shakes his head. 'I'm going to go to Suzy's place, she made croissants. What to join?'

'I've got some reading up to do, so I think I'll pass,' Taecyeon replies, and Junho pouts a little but then shrugs.

'More for me, see you later hyung.'

Taecyeon finds himself the quietest corner of Casualty, and then he’s on his phone on a medical reference site. He’s completely engrossed until he feels a hand on his knee. He looks up into the eyes of Jihyun, she’s quick to take her hand away with a chuckle.

‘Taecyeon-ah, if you’re not busy there’s already a patient or two in need.’ Taecyeon glances out of the window, the sky is still a dark grey; it looked like the day was going to be a long one.

--

It’s somewhere between stitching up a patient with an evisceration, with Jackson as his assistant because Jihoon was missing and wheeling a boy with a cracked rib back from radiology that Taecyeon sees a flash of Minjun. He’s with Seulong now, but Taecyeon can’t stop help himself in thinking about if he came with anyone.

Minjun’s skinnier, even though it’s been just over a week since he came in and the bags under his eyes are painfully prominent. Taecyeon starts to make his way towards him, but then he feels a hand on elbow this time and it’s Junho. ‘He’s bleeding internally, Taec. We need you, stat.’

And just like that, Taecyeon’s lost in a sea of patients for so long that he misses the in office countdown, and by the time he’s free Minjun’s nowhere to be found.

--

Taecyeon’s lost for the first days of the new year; he’s left feeling like he’s been robbed right up until he realises that Minjun would have to come back for his second follow up; somehow he just can’t seem to get him out of his head.

It’s not an attraction in as much as a concerned obsession. Taecyeon sees parts of himself in Minjun and it scares him; but Minjun doesn’t show up for his follow up and that terrifies him more than anything.

It’s already well past midday, and Taecyeon can’t wait any longer, can’t hover around the hospital under false pretence of seeing some made up patient; he changes out of his scrubs and back into his casual clothes.

Even though the snow is thick on the streets, it’s a little warmer so Taecyeon doesn’t have to beat the crap out of his heater to get it going. He knows Wooyoung’s still on shift, so instead he opts for a somewhat longer drive.

When he gets to Seoul National University’s Kyujanggak, he finds Changmin practically cross eyed as his eyes scan the book in his hands.

‘Oh, Doctor Lee! Do you need assistance? Is it a spinal injury?’ Taecyeon asks playfully, crouching down beside Changmin.

Changmin chuckles, setting the book down on his desk. ‘Actually it’s a facial injury, and you can help.’

Taecyeon grabs a nearby chair and settles down, facing Changmin. ‘What do you need me to do?’

‘I need you to hold a magnifying glass for me,’ Changmin says, he turns in his chair, reaching for a small red tin embellished with nonsense English words, and once he’s secured it in his grip he sets it down beside the book and opens it.

There’s a small semi rusted scalpel, a black tube much like the kind one would have kept film rolls in and a thinly bristled paintbrush and nestled between all the bits and pieces there’s the magnifying glass. Changmin hands it to Taecyeon after he sets the other contents aside on the table as neatly as he can. Taecyeon’s about to ask what surgery they’d be performing, but then he notices how detached the book is, it’s not quite ready for rebinding but it’s not going to hold itself together much longer without proper care.

like minjun

The words dart through his mind so quickly that Taecyeon almost doesn’t quite register what he’s thought until the momentum’s enough to knock him back in his seat.

‘Are you okay?’ Changmin doesn’t look up, eyes trained on angling Taecyeon’s hands to sit in the most convenient position. Taecyeon hums an affirmation, but really he’s not entirely sure.

Changmin’s quick but cautious as he makes the incision, and Taecyeon comments that the surgical world will never know that the marvel that’s sitting right under their noses.

‘Some things just aren’t meant to be, Taec,’ Changmin says, the page nearly separated completely from the cover. ‘Books are a sanctuary for me, and also they don’t spout blood out when you cut them so there’s that.’

‘Is this where you thought you’d end up, hyung?’ And this time Changmin looks up at him, a contemplative look on his face.

‘I never really had expectations of where I thought I’d end up,’ Changmin admits. ‘I’ve never been one for expectations; I’ve always preferred the idea of chasing down dreams as they come to you.’

Taecyeon nods, it’s a sobering thought realising that you’ve never reached for your dreams only ran after expectations that might not have even belonged to you. ‘When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?’

‘Is this sixty questions?’ Changmin laughs, turning his attention back to the final corner of the cover. ‘When I was five, I wanted to be a belly dancer-’

Taecyeon nearly drops the magnifying glass on the spot he snorts so hard, but Changmin steadies his hand and continues, ‘And when I was twelve I was convinced I was going to be a singer. I even joined the school choir.’

The cover is finally completely detached, and Changmin sets aside the scalpel gently. ‘I grew out of such thoughts because the trend was pretty idol boy singers and I didn’t quite fit in, but then I had just finished middle school I started listening to this Japanese jazz fusion band called Casiopea. They had a name like the constellation but too many of the members wanted to shine like stars-’

Changmin gently pops the cap off of the tube and after cleaning of the paintbrush on his shirt, he carefully dips it in. ‘I realised I also wanted to shine brightly, so I started learning how to play bass and that was a dream that lasted even through my military service.’

Changmin delicately dots out his name as he continues. ‘As soon as I left the military and headed home, decided to study. I clung tightly to the dream of my youth, but this reality that you see now replaced it, almost devoured it.’

Taecyeon nods, gently placing the magnifying glass beside the scalpel.

‘You see, what I’ve learned from my experiences… We grow with our dreams, and sometimes we even grow out of them but if you squander your time chasing meaningless things you just begin to dream meaningless things, and that’s if you even dream at all.’

--

When Junho’s birthday rolls around, Changmin’s words are still weighing heavily on Taecyeon’s mind.

‘I feel like a learner driver,’ Nichkhun says as he pulls out of the garage. Taecyeon laughs, surprised Nichkhun’s car is even still running but his heater works better than Taecyeon’s so it’s hardly any competition.

‘Should we stop off to get him a cake or something?’ Taecyeon asks Nichkhun as he checks his phone for the time. It’s 8.59 AM.

‘I think Kwon and Jihyun said that they were sorting that out,’ Nichkhun replies. The traffic flow is congested, so Nichkhun takes the lull as his chance to switch on the radio. A-Ha’s Take Me On blasts through his Kia.

‘Aw man, I wonder if Wooyoung requested this for Junho’s birthday,’ Taecyeon says as he turns up the volume until the car is just throbbing with the high tempo.

‘He should have gone for a Prince song then!’ Nichkhun laughs, but sure enough as soon as the song comes to an end, a velvety voice fills the airwaves.

‘That was A-Ha’s Take Me On requested by a JWY for Lee Junho, happy birthday Lee Junho! Nichkhun and Taecyeon high five, but then suddenly the traffic is moving swiftly and Nichkhun nearly crashes trying to catch up.

They both fall back into their seats, and Taecyeon thinks this might be the happiest he’s felt in a while. Maybe chasing moments like these should be his dream.

--

When they arrive at the hospital, albeit about an hour later than anticipate, Junho is nowhere to be seen but that’s okay; it’s been a long time since Nichkhun last visited the hospital and Kwon’s practically lighting up with joy; even Minyoung comes down from paediatrics to say hello.

Junho reappears, a tiara settled rather lopsidedly on overly tousled hair and he kind of lights up as he spots Nichkhun. ‘Oh, Khunnie-hyung!’ Junho kind of nestles under Nichkhun’s arm and then Kwon’s glancing around the mostly empty ER.

There’s only one occupied bed, and Seulong appears from behind the curtains showing Kwon a huge thumbs up as he bursts into song.

It’s almost on command, as soon as the singing starts Junho’s smile falters and turns into an expression that almost looks painful to pull off, it’s somewhere between a grin and disdain and it only becomes more intensified as Jihyun appears carrying his cake, a valiant 32 perched atop the creamy sponge.

Junho’s quick to swap the numbers around and as Jackson challenges this with a grin, Junho laughs and smears icing across his philtrum, but this does nothing more than restart the merriment.

Taecyeon’s eyes are crinkling as he smiles, but suddenly his smile falters. Seulong’s patient. He can’t even stop himself, bold strides and then he’s frozen and he can only see him in his periphery but he’s so sure it’s him and he’s so torn between relief and concern and just as he’s about to pluck up the courage to say something, say anything there’s an arm on his elbow and Nichkhun is dragging him away.

--

It’s just a lunch, a get together because he hasn’t seen Fei in longer than he can recall. Just a chance to clear his head.

‘I just finished my ALS course again,’ Fei says between mouthfuls. ‘It’s strange being on the road without Nichkhun though. His replacement is a terrible driver. He’s this goofy ahjussi called Park Jinyoung.’

When Taecyeon doesn’t say anything, Fei sets aside her chopsticks. ‘You didn’t know, did you? I’m so sorry, Taec.’

‘It’s okay, nuna,’ Taecyeon replies, giving her the most reassuring smile he can muster. ‘Just don’t tell Khun that you told me okay.’

Fei nods, and Taecyeon’s sure he can hear her quietly reprimanding herself.

‘Nuna, seriously don’t start to worry now,’ Taecyeon says as he steals a noodle off of her plate. ‘If you worry too much, you might look your actual age soon.’

Fei snorts and kicks him under the table. ‘Ok Taecyeon, I will never age.’

--

When Taecyeon gets back home, Nichkhun's not there; the lights are all off, which isn’t surprising because the sun is still setting and the sky is a smog tinged orange.

It’s too quiet, too empty and Taecyeon’s almost too tired to wait up; he passes his time by idly flicking through channels, and when nothing grabs his attention and he feels his consciousness slipping he gives up on waiting on Nichkhun, and maybe it’s for the best.

--

February 11th and Taecyeon’s half speeding to the hospital. Wooyoung’s in the passenger seat next to him, safety belt secured so tightly across his chest that Taecyeon’s fairly certain his breathing is constricted.

‘I can’t believe that crappy company of his stole him away from us on his birthday.’ Wooyoung says as he fiddles with the dial on Taecyeon’s radio, nothing quite seems to suit his taste so they’re stuck with quiet static for most of the drive. ‘Charné wants us to all go over there tonight anyway, Skype call him or something.’

‘Isn’t it going to be incredibly early there? What’s the time difference? Thirteen- maybe fourteen hours?’ Taecyeon asks. 'Surely the greatest gift one can give Hwang Chansung is a few more hours of sleep.'

Wooyoung laughs, "You've got me sold, hyung. Too bad I already agreed to go through. Join me?'

Taecyeon shakes his head. 'Can't, I need to talk to Khun. I'm sure it won't be that bad, you and Charné get along like a house on fire.'

'I hope no one mentions that,' Wooyoung snorts and Taecyeon glances at him, confused.

'Oh hyung, you can't tell me you haven't heard the story of how the two of them met!' Wooyoung sounds genuinely shocked. 'I've heard it thirty times at least, one time they even told the story together and acted it out and I nearly lost my lunch.'

‘Wooyoung, I bet you secretly love the story, it's probably better than the story of you and Seyoung-ah,' Taecyeon chuckles.

'Ok Taecyeon I will arrest you,' Wooyoung says, only half joking. 'Seriously, we do not speak of that story. It was a dark time for all involved.'

'Arrest me like-'

'I have my gun on me you know,' Wooyoung threatens, his weak attempt at pokerfacing cracking into an embarrassed laugh. 'Can't we just forget that, act like Seyoung-ie and I met in a grocery store trying to buy the same ice cream or something.'

'That's a terrible story- oh we're nearly there.'

Wooyoung's mostly silent until they're out the car, and then he's hesitating at the door. 'Hey, hyung. Is Junho working today?'

Wooyoung almost looks nervous.

'He works most days,' Taecyeon says with a shrug. 'Why? Did something happen?'

Wooyoung shakes his head, but Taecyeon can see the way he tenses up as he holds back. 'Just, tell him I'm sorry. For everything.'

'It's nothing serious right?' Taecyeon asks, and when Wooyoung hesitates to answer Taecyeon thinks relaying his apology might... not be for the best.

'I just really messed up,' Wooyoung says, and then he's off into the hospital and Taecyeon's not quite sure how to move on. Why did those two always get so weird around birthday times?

Taecyeon's lost in a daze of silly theories, and he's not sure if he's seeing things but he's sure he's just seen Minjun slinking past. He counts the days in his head, it must be time to remove his cast.

--

Junho's deep in conversation with Jaebum when Taecyeon finally locates him, they're in the break room and as soon as Taecyeon clears his throat to announce his appearance. Jaebum's quick to put his hand on his chest. 'Oh Taecyeon-ah, you gave me such a fright.'

'Am I interrupting?' Taecyeon asks, feeling a little bit of guilt well up in the pit of his stomach.

'I was just about to go actually.' Stiff, awkward steps and then Jaebum's gone with Taecyeon settling in his spot.

'Nuneo, are you alright?' Junho nods, but he doesn't really look like he is; he looks tired and broken.

'Taec, I don't want to talk about it.' Junho says, voice strained.

'I saw Wooyoung-'

'So he told you-'

'No no, he just. He told me to tell you he's sorry, that he knows he messed up-'

'And what? He couldn't have just said it to my face? Are we in grade school?' It's so subtle but it's there, the way Junho lights up a little more.

'He's probably still in radiology if you want to go beat him up or something,' Taecyeon says, and somehow that even gets a laugh out of Junho.

'I think I might do just that,' Junho says, a sly smile on his lips. 'Thanks hyung, really. I'm glad I have you in my life.'

'Junho-ah, I-'

'If you tell anyone I said that, they won't believe you so don't even try it!'

--

Taecyeon's so close again, but he just can't seem to engage. The words just don't seem to come up. Minjun's got his earphones in, so he's not even listening to the way Seulong rambles on.

He's just endlessly watching from the side-lines, and he can't help but loathe the way the those words sum up his life over the past few years.

--

When Taecyeon gets home, Nichkhun's already made supper- or at least he ordered pizza and it smells so good that until halfway through his second slice he almost forgets to chew.

'Did you skip lunch again?'

'Breakfast too,' Taecyeon grins sheepishly, and Nichkhun snorts.

'I wouldn't smile too much right now if I were you.'

'Why? Do you not like see-food?' Taecyeon says, sticking his tongue out and Nichkhun just whacks him on the knee.

'You're supposed to chew eat mouthful 36 times,' Nichkhun chides. Taecyeon makes a point of chewing extra loudly after that.

He waits to swallow before he speaks again. 'I missed this.'

'Me too,' Nichkhun says, smiling; but after a few moments pass the smile falters. 'Listen, Taec. I have something I have to tell you.'

Taecyeon swallows hard, fighting the way the words build up in his throat. i know, i know, i know.

'I've... Well I've dropped from going on runs.'

'Do you mean like the exercise or the hopping into the back of the ambulance and jetting off at high speeds.' Taecyeon jokes, not sure what else to say.

'It's something I've been thinking about doing for a long time, y'know?' Nichkhun says softly. 'Things could get so bad, never as bad as when I was with Metro's ambulance as a BAA but... Whenever things got like that, there was always something that would happen that would make me fall in love with the job again.'

Nichkhun's voice grows softer as he continues, 'And lately... those moments are happening less and less and it was just getting harder and harder to pick myself up after each... loss.'

'Nichkhun-'

'Doing office work pays a lot less, but I can still make my half of the rent-'

'Are you kidding me?' Taecyeon scoffs, tugging Nichkhun into a hug. 'I don't care about your money, I care about you and- why didn't you just talk to me? Tell me that you felt this way?'

'You have a lot on your plate too, Taec,' Nichkhun says, straightening up only to be plunged into another bear hug moments later.

'Taec, I saw the way things changed for you with that attempt off of Mapo.'

Taecyeon freezes, it's like the blood's running cold in his veins.

Nichkhun pulls back. 'Taec, are you alright?'

'I just- didn't know it was apparent,' Taecyeon mumbles. 'I was barely aware of it myself. I mean sure he's on my mind a lot but-'

'Sometimes we just see pieces of ourselves in places we'd never expect.' Nichkhun pats Taecyeon's back soothingly. 'Come on, eat up.'

'I've lost my appetite,' Taecyeon murmurs, but just then his stomach growls and gives it all away.

'Nice try.'

--

When Taecyeon arrives at work, he finds Jackson half way through a semi decent bout of seemingly spontaneous dance; he comes to a stop in front of Taecyeon after one very emphatic pelvic thrust.

'Good morning Sunbaenim~! Ok Taecyeon!' Jackson wheedles, attaching himself to Taecyeon's side. 'How's my favourite ER doctor doing?'

Most people who reach this point look like they're barely living, but Jackson's almost glowing. Like he's in his element.

Jackson doesn't give Taecyeon a moment to gather his thoughts before he's whispering in his ear. 'Guess who got a fellowship position~!'

Taecyeon's genuinely happy for Jackson, but he can't help himself from wondering about Mark and when he verbalises this Jackson's eyes soften ever so slightly.

'He dropped out. I can't seem to get a hold of him.'

Taecyeon's mind briefly shoots to the darkest corner of possibility, but Mark's almost too timid. Too soft but not soft enough.

'I don't think we should worry too much, this world just wasn't the right one for him.'

Taecyeon nods, wondering if maybe this world wasn't the right one for him either.

PART 2

* * *