'I need a shot of Voltaren, or vodka,' Suzy whines as she presses her face against Taecyeon's arm. 'Why do they both have to burn so much?'
'You just need a good night's sleep, and maybe a day or two off,' Taecyeon laughs.
'That's what I'm doing, except I keep... visiting people. I think I have a social addiction.'
'That's pretty normal considering you thrive off of your customers, if only you could give some of that addiction to Taecyeon though,' Nichkhun adds, shooting his head around the corner.
'Are you becoming anti-social again? Is it because I don't visit as much?' Suzy asks, pinching Taecyeon's cheek.
'I'm not- I'm not anti-social I'm just busy. Casualty is draining.'
'Don't I know it,' Suzy says wistfully. 'I remember when I was in recovery you barely even dropped by to give me my oddly flavoured jelly despite me being... what were the words you used? Your favourite patient ever?'
'Well I thought it was safe to assume since you came with shortcake you would have also brought something for yourself to eat? You weren't even supposed to eat, you were scheduled for a surgery!'
'Your ankle was broken three places, it was practically mangled.'
Suzy looks distant for a moment, she's thinking back to when it happened; Taecyeon notices that this time her smile doesn't falter, it stays in place and maybe finding new dreams really is apart of growing up.
'Oh, I almost forgot.' Suzy jolts up, digging through her bag. 'Changmin gave me a book for you to read.'
'It's about this mob dude who feels caged in but he doesn't even realise it until he becomes complacent or whatever,' Suzy says, handing the book over to Taecyeon with a shrug. 'It's a memoir thingie.'
'So eloquent, you should really write book reviews for a living.' Taecyeon traces the cover with his fingertips, it's a rather simplistic, a large garden and a grandiose estate but the title is shared with a poem Taecyeon remembers reading in high school. not waving but drowning.
‘Hey, gramps, don’t you think it’s about time you retire?’ Jackson says to Jihoon one day over lunch; Taecyeon snorts so hard he’s sure he’s going to get a nosebleed.
Jihoon’s expression is mostly unreadable, and for some reason Jackson takes this as Jihoon’s silent agreement. ‘You’re a cool guy, Jung Jihoon. See, I’d definitely make a great head surgeon. Top of the chain.’
‘You need to see a head surgeon,’ Jihoon says, words rigid and stiff; Jackson’s torn between fear and amusement.
Taecyeon laughs, but he’s quick to turn his attention back to the book from Changmin; he’s lost in 19th century and even though it's not the same picture, the emotions seem to be on replay regardless of the date, regardless of circumstance.
Wooyoung's Korean age is 33 now, but Taecyeon thinks he still looks like he's in his first year of high school.
Wooyoung invites him over under the pretenses of a small get together, but when Taecyeon arrives he finds that it’s anything but and he tries to challenge Wooyoung on it but he silences him with a promise that he’ll find out soon.
Taecyeon looks around, all familiar faces happy and chattering- everyone except for Junho who looks lost and uncomfortable; arms across his chest and almost glaring at anyone who would dare start a conversation.
Taecyeon's barely said his greetings, in fact he's only said hello to the hosts but he decides to skip the pleasantries and make a beeline for Junho.
'Junho, they need you back at the hospital. In ICU.'
'What?' Junho gives Taecyeon an incredulous look.
Taecyeon pulls Junho into a close hug, lips against his ear as he says, 'You don't have to do this to yourself, just go home. I'll cover for you.'
Junho's the first to pull back, the fastest. He's bristly and tense, but he looks somewhat relieved. 'Tell them I say congrats.'
Taecyeon pours himself a glass of water, and when he looks back Junho's already long gone.
Wooyoung's about to tap his fine crystal wine glass with a fork, but Seyoung's faster; she's quick to grab the fork and set it aside and then she gives pulls a whistle out of her pocket.
It's just a short shrill shriek, but it's enough to attract the attention of most. Wooyoung clears his throat in a way that implies he brought on the silence and Seyoung laughs, linking her hand with his.
'Seyoung-ah and I have an announcement to make-'
'Is nuna pregnant?' Jinwoon asks loudly, quick to gain an offended look from one of Wooyoung's work mates. Jia punches him on the arm. Hard.
'It's similar-' And this time Wooyoung gets punched on the arm, Seyoung waves her hands around.
'Please don't misunderstand!'
'We're getting married,' Wooyoung says, voice loud over the laughter that had ensued. 'Or, well. We're already married.'
There's light applause and then Wooyoung speaks again, 'Just because we already had the wedding, doesn't mean you should skimp on wedding gifts- or engagement party gifts- or birthday-'
The rest of his speech is swallowed up by birthday well wishing and congratulations. The rest of the evening is devoured by dim lights and French 80s remixes; Taecyeon barely makes it until 9.38 PM and then he's gone.
When Taecyeon gets home, Nichkhun's just gotten back from the office and it feels a lot like that one night all those months ago, but there's no blood under Nichkhun's nails and he's already half way through unlocking the door.
'Oh Taec,' Nichkhun's almost startled when Taecyeon appears next to him. 'Back so early from Wooyoung's birthday party?'
'It was too loud, guess I'm getting old.' Taecyeon laughs. 'Actually, it turned into a post marriage engagement party.'
Nichkhun looks confused for a moment, but then it's replaced with a flood of realisation. 'Ah, so he finally told everyone. What better way, I guess.'
'Mass email- wait. What? How did you know?'
'They needed a witness,' Nichkhun laughs. 'Well, actually they needed two.'
'You guys never tell me anything,' Taecyeon whines, but then a feeling of panic comes over him. 'Who was the other witness?'
'Junho,' Nichkhun says, expression softening.
Taecyeon closes his eyes and almost forgets how to breathe. 'When?'
'A day or two before Chansung's birthday, I think.'
Nichkhun turns 32 on the hottest day Taecyeon has ever lived through, the air is heavy and the only place that was even habitable is the bathroom, where he and Nichkhun sat on the rim of the bath and soaked their feet.
'Well this is certainly one way to spend a birthday,' Taecyeon chuckles and Nichkhun leans forward to flick water at him.
'Birthdays have gotten tiresome lately, look at how Wooyoung's turned out and I wasn't even there.'
There's a moment of silence, and Taecyeon's sure Nichkhun is thinking of Junho too.
'That hardly counted as a birthday anyway,' Taecyeon says, almost to himself. 'You've been pretty secretive though, what are your plans for the day now that it's here?'
'I didn't really plan anything,' Nichkhun admits. 'Just scheduled a Skype call with my parents.'
'Aw, you just wanted to spend some one on one time with me didn't you?' Taecyeon teases as he leans against Nichkhun.
'That depends on how willing you are when it comes to baking me a cake,' Nichkhun almost cackles.
Taecyeon lifts his head from Nichkhun's shoulder and he's about to respond, but then he notices how close their faces are- how close their lips are.
'Khun, I-' Taecyeon can't concentrate, can't find remember the difference between rational and irrational because in this moment they're close enough to hear the way their hearts are beating in sync, Taecyeon's close enough to see Nichkhun's pupils dilate, close enough to feel the way Nichkhun's skin temperature is a few degrees lower than his; they're close enough to share breaths, close enough to kiss-
As Nickhun pulls back ever so slightly and set his hand on Taecyeon's, he remembers that they're close enough to know better too.
Taecyeon admires the contrast between their hands, the way Nichkhun's skin is so light against Taecyeon's and his fingers are so long, despite Nichkhun being ever so slightly shorter.
'What type of cake do you want?' Taecyeon asks, looking up with a smile.
Nichkhun looks thoughtful, lips pressed together as he mulls over the question. 'Why don't we make it together? We can wing it!'
Two hours later and the two of them realise that winging it is something one should never do when it comes to baking, but somehow it's still edible and only the one side is lopsided and Taecyeon assures Nichkhun with a bit of icing on it'll be like they bought it from a store.
'I hate wearing a tie,' Taecyeon groans, shifting around in the grumpily in the passenger's seat.
'Unfortunately it's kind of necessary, we are going to a wedding after all,' Suzy laughs, reaching over to pinch Taecyeon's cheek. He's quick to whack her hand away, too quick.
'Eyes on the road.'
'As if a small ding on your car would take away it's aesthetic value,' Suzy says as she checks the rearview mirror. 'Your car has no aesthetic value.'
'Neither does your mom.' This is not one of Taecyeon's proudest moments.
'There's nowhere to park,' Suzy says, pouting to herself as she leans forward to peer around.
'Why not just park a block away,' Taecyeon suggests. 'We can walk.'
'I don't want to look all sweaty in their wedding photos,' Suzy shoots back as she puts the car into reverse; Taecyeon is fairly certain that she's parking illegally.
'If my wheels get clamped-'
'I'll call my darling mother to come fetch me, then you can get the walk you've so clearly been craving.' Suzy hops out of the car, neatening the hemline of her dress.
It's bright and warm outside, the sun is more comforting than vicious and Taecyeon thinks that they couldn't have chosen a better day for an outdoor wedding.
Taecyeon and Suzy walk in sync, mostly in a comfortable silence until Taecyeon speaks up. 'What if I take off the tie and just undo a few buttons?'
'Then you are no longer my date,' Suzy says decidedly, she glances over at Taecyeon who's already stuffing his tie in the backpocket of who she can only assume is Chansung's little brother, Changhyun. 'Oh come on, Ok Taecyeon. You look like a gigolo.'
'A gigolo who can finally breathe,' Taecyeon says, punctuating his sentence with a deep breath as he slings his arm over Suzy's shoulder.
Suzy's quick to elbow him in the ribs and attach herself to the first familiar face she spots (Kwon).
Taecyeon shrugs, slipping his jacket off and hanging it over the back of a seat he's fairly sure doesn't belong to him, it's only for a moment however- until he's rolled up his sleeves and then it's hanging over his arm as he tries to locate Nichkhun.
When Taecyeon finds Nichkhun, he's leaning against the trunk of an alder-leaved whitebeam, grey suit nearly blending in with the bark. Fei's standing close, drink mostly gone but she's smiling.
'Oh, Taec! You're here,' Nichkhun smiles, patting Taecyeon's arm before taking a measured sip from his glass.
'Just arrived, Suzy ditched me before we even said hello to anyone,' Taecyeon runs his fingers through his hair, grinning sheepishly. It's cold in the shade of the tree.
'She's probably trying to find Min,' Fei says, turning to face Taecyeon. 'Minyoung-ie's finally brought her boyfriend out of the bedroom and into the open. Suzy's been curious about him for months. I should probably go find her, excuse me.'
Fei wanders off and Taecyeon draws Nichkhun out of the sun, thinking maybe it's time they find their seats.
'I don't look like a gigolo, do I?' Taecyeon asks as they settle down, flooded with relief to see the only labelled seats are the front row, designated for the parents, the wedding party and the photographer who was also apart of the wedding party.
'Do you want to look like a gigolo?'
'Who wants to look like a gigolo?' Taecyeon snorts, waving Suzy over as soon as they make eye contact. She sticks her tongue out at him in response.
'There's that one guy Chansung works with, Siwon or whatever his name was,' Nichkhun chuckles, and then Suzy's settling down beside Taecyeon.
'What about Siwon? Is he that guy with the moustache?' Suzy asks, shooting a subtle glance in the direction of who she was talking about.
Nichkhun nods. 'Taecyeon was just commenting that he'd make an excellent male escort.'
Taecyeon elbows Nichkhun, but now Suzy's blatantly staring at the guy. 'It's a shame he went for the creepy kind of moustache, he'd be a ten if he was rocking some all over stubble.'
Suzy and Kwon are quietly making bets on who will cry first, Kwon's leaning towards Charné but Suzy insists the money is on Chansung- loser has to hit on the moustached one until he either shaves or leaves.
Taecyeon thinks they're both wrong, because the bridesmaid cum photographer has been teary eyed since Charné walked down the aisle but Suzy shoots back that gigolos aren't eligible in such challenges.
Chansung barely makes it through his vows before he's sniffing loudly into the microphone and apologising, and Suzy bounces around in celebration.
'You're a terrible person, monopolising in another person's pain, Bae Suzy,' Taecyeon whispers.
'Those are happy tears,' Suzy insists.
'I'm talking about Kwon.'
'He's also crying happy tears.'
'You're unbelievable,' Taecyeon laughs, glancing back over his shoulder before turning his attention back to the I Do's- but suddenly his entire body is rigid and tense.
'Taec, are you okay?' Suzy asks, looking concerned.
'I'm fine,' Taecyeon says with a small nod, 'Just thought I saw somebody that I knew.'
‘That’s quite the dress you have on there.’ Suzy says, eyes twinkling.
‘The designer I used to intern for when I first moved to Seoul made it for me.’ Charné twirls, the lightly imprinted target the hip of the dress is mesmerizing, but Taecyeon’s brain is still stuck on that face- it can’t possibly be.
‘Charné, do you know a Minjun?’ Taecyeon asks quietly, whilst Suzy is distracted by stalking Minyoung’s boyfriend.
‘There’s my piano teacher,’ Charné says, pursing her lips as if trying to recall an important fact. ‘Well, he used to be but he doesn’t play much anymore. Why do you know him?’
Taecyeon shakes his head, but Charné’s already disappeared into the crowd. He’s hasn’t felt this lost in ages, lost in a room filled with familiar faces.
Taecyeon decides a drink is long overdue as he heads over to the bar, Bora’s there leaning against the counter and Jihoon is leaning against her, fiddling with the ends of her hair.
When Taecyeon reaches for a glass, Bora half shoves Jihoon away. ‘Taec, if you tell anyone about this, I’m going to set your apartment on fire and then when it gets called in, I’ll tell everyone it’s a hoax.’
‘There are babies in my building, Bora.’
‘Does it matter? I won’t say a word, other than you two suit each other and you should brace yourself because one of my interns is after Jihoon’s job.’ Taecyeon’s glass is almost overflowing with red wine, but he catches it in time; he takes a cautionary sip before he lifts it up.
‘Oh, that kid Jackson?’ Bora says, glancing over to where Jackson was slow dancing with Hyunyoung (despite a relatively upbeat song being played). ‘Yeah, I don’t think it’ll even take that long. That kid’s passionate.’
‘No loyalty,’ Taecyeon chuckles.
‘Damn straight,’ Bora says with a grin, and then she’s sauntering off.
Taecyeon turns his attention back to nursing his drink, settling himself down on one of the bar stools. He thinks about what he might say on the off chance he sees Minjun again, but there aren't really many words past a simple 'Hi' that come to mind.
Suddenly he feels a tap on his shoulder, he turns his head to see the woman he recognises as Seulong's wife (and one of Charné's bridesmaids) holding out her glass for him to take.
'I need you to keep this for me,' she says, attempting to look serious (really, she just looks grumpy). 'This is of grave importance.'
Taecyeon nods as she wanders off, looking down at the drink that was now occupying his previously free hand- the contents both look and burn very clearly like vodka.
Taecyeon's never been one for vodka.
'Had a rough day?' Changmin asks, taking a seat beside Taecyeon.
Taecyeon looks confused for a moment, but then realisation dawns in the form of Changmin tapping his wine glass gently.
'What did you think of that book?' Changmin asks, turning to top up his drink.
'It was...' Taecyeon tries to find the right words to explain, eventually his mind settles on one word. 'Relatable.'
Changmin nods, and then they're both distracted by Jia pushing away Jinwoon with a scowl on her face.
'Jinwoon, if you try touch my ass one more time I swear I will go get my gun and shoot off your left nut. I don't care if I'm your girlfriend.'
Jinwoon pouts. 'But baby-' As Jinwoon steps towards her, he loses his footing and crashes on all fours. Jia's already strutting away, but Bora's keening into Jihoon trying to hold in guffaws of laughter.
'Ah Jinwoon, never one to disappoint,' Taecyeon chuckles. The music grows softer and slower, even though Taecyeon can barely read music the tune feels like it's ingrained in him- like it's a small part of him that had once been stolen, now returned.
'They look happy,' Changmin says, glancing in the direction of the bride and groom. 'They suit each other well.'
Taecyeon nods in agreement. 'They were definitely destined for one another, they contrast but also compliment each other well.'
'Give it maybe another year, and it'll only get better,' Changmin comments thoughtfully.
There's a tap on Taecyeon's shoulder again, it's Seulong's wife again. 'Hey can I have my-'
Her words fall short as she notices the empty glass on the counter. 'You brute, you were meant to be my cupholder.' She almost sounds upset, but then she taxes Taecyeon by claiming his glass and almost downing the contents.
A few minutes later, she's bobbing along completely to her own rhythm and Seulong putting his blazer around her shoulders. 'Dreadfully sorry about this, she doesn't hold her liquor very well.'
'I hold it perfectly, unlike the cupholder here.'
'Good night, Taecyeon-ah. Enjoy your evening,' Seulong says with a smile as he wraps his arms around his wife (having to bend rather low to do so) and leads her away from the crowd.
'This reminds me, I should go find my date,' Changmin says, standing up and smoothing out the creases on his shirt.
'Oh, who'd you come with?' Taecyeon asks, ever curious.
Changmin stares at Taecyeon, almost dumbfounded. 'My girlfriend of nine years.'
'You don't always have to be so evasive!' Taecyeon calls after him.
Taecyeon realises he's spent most of the afternoon, now evening seated at the bar and he decides maybe it's time for him to explore for a bit. He doesn't get very far, finding himself near the tree he had found Nichkhun leaning against earlier- except this time he finds Junho smiling to himself.
'Nuneo, what are you doing out here?' Taecyeon asks, marvelling at the way the dim warmth of the fairy lights the tree had been adorned with made Junho seem almost inhuman.
'Finding the motivation to leave,' Junho murmurs, kicking himself up out of his leaning position. 'It's not going well.'
'Did you have the delight of meeting Seulong's wife?'
'She was a contributing factor to my current state, actually,' Junho says with a sly smile, that Taecyeon seems to miss the meaning of.
'Junho, she's a married woman,' Taecyeon says quietly, still not fully understanding.
'And I'm a very gay man, so kindly get those thoughts far away from my aura-'
'Oh. Oh. I see,' Taecyeon mumbles, not sure where to look.
'You don't have to treat me any differently just because I'm high, Taec,' Junho sighs. 'Unless it involves getting me a slice of that wedding cake because I missed out on that and it looks all kinds of heavenly.'
'Why don't you get it yourself?'
'Because I'm deeply rooted to the earth right now, you see.'
Before Taecyeon can stop himself, he's staring down at Junho's feet and even though the lighting isn't wonderful he's almost certain Junho's shoelaces are undone.
'I'll go get you some damn cake.'
'And at least three macaroons.'
Taecyeon hasn't seen Wooyoung since the night of his birthday, so when he runs into him on his way to fetching Junho a collection of sugary delicacies it's almost awkward.
'Oh, hyung! I haven't seen you in a while,' Wooyoung says. 'I missed you.'
Taecyeon skips the pleasantries, unable to keep up that facade. 'Wooyoung, why didn't you tell me just how badly you had messed up?'
'I-' Wooyoung's caught off guard, but he bows his head- almost unable to meet Taecyeon's eyes. 'I've just continuously made things worse for him, haven't I?'
'Does Seyoung know?' Taecyeon asks, almost hating how angry and confrontational he was sounding. Wooyoung's not a bad person, he's just. An idiot.
Wooyoung nods his head, finally looking Taecyeon in the eye. 'I told her about it after the party.'
'I hope she beat the crap out of you.'
'She made me sleep on the couch for nearly three weeks!'
'That's- not enough of a punishment for your crimes,' Taecyeon says suddenly, putting his hand on Wooyoung's shoulder. 'To repent you need to do the following. You need to set aside your judgements, and your police morals.'
Wooyoung looks like he wants to interrupt at that point, but Taecyeon silences him. 'Just when it comes to the person involved, you need to turn a blind eye okay. Agreed?'
Wooyoung nods, and Taecyeon continues. 'Okay, so what you need to do is go over there and find the nicest looking piece of cake and at least five macaroons that are in perfect condition- slightly crumbled is a no-no. Oh and a glass of water. And then once you have all of these things, and only once you have them all-'
Wooyoung pulls a pen out of his pocket and scrawls down Taecyeon's list, and Taecyeon nods in approval. 'You'll need to go and locate Junho. He should still be outside, underneath one of the trees. Secondly, you need to hand him the food and then lastly, you need to tie his shoelaces.'
Wooyoung pauses mid word to look up at Taecyeon. 'What?'
'Due to his current state of mind, he's under the impression he can't move.'
Wooyoung nods as if that's something completely normal for Junho, and Taecyeon has a moment of questioning the company he keeps.
'Anything else?' Wooyoung asks, pen already back in his pocket.
'Just talk to him, and maybe once you're done go find Jaebum and ask him to get Junho home.'
'Junho's pseudo boyfriend.'
'... Lim Jaebum.'
'One of many brands of Jaebum, but yes that's his surname.'
'He's my cousin.'
'Wow, Junho really doesn't stray far from the tree.' in more ways than one
Taecyeon's almost ready to call it a night, half of the guests have faded away and Chansung and Charné have been missing for the past twenty minutes, but no matter how hard he looks he just can't seem to find Suzy.
He spots Dasom sitting at one of the mostly empty tables, lost in conversation but if anyone would know where Suzy was it was sure to be her.
He collapses down in the seat beside him, suddenly aware of how much walking around he'd accomplished in such a small space. 'Hey, Dasom-ah. Have you seen Suzy?'
'Oh, doctor Ok! It's you.' Taecyeon glances past Dasom, feels his stomach drop.
'Minjun.' No formality, no honorifics, no words.
'Oh, you two know each other?' Dasom asks, moving her chair out of the way to make Minjun more visible.
'He was briefly my doctor,' Minjun explains. Taecyeon still is at a loss for what to say, he struggles to take it all in; Minjun's body language is withdrawn, but he's back to a healthy weight and there's something about his eyes.
Every time he glances at Taecyeon, he loses the will to breathe.
'Minjun-ssi, could we- could we talk?' Taecyeon asks, fingers nervously clawing at his pants.
Minjun nods. 'Sure, hey Dasom I'll be back shortly and then I'll drop you off at home.'
Taecyeon and Minjun walk to the end of the field, where the reception was held. There are a few chairs scattered around, and Minjun settles down himself neatly. He pats the seat beside him.
'I'm glad to see you.' Taecyeon says quietly, rubbing his hands together as he sits down. The air is colder now, and Suzy (wherever she may be) has his jacket.
'Still alive, you mean?'
'What? No- I mean yes- I mean.'
'You've crossed my mind a few times as well, doc.'
Taecyeon's practically shivering as he begins his second search for Suzy; he eventually finds her curled up next to an amplifier half asleep.
'Suzy-ah,' Taecyeon murmurs, shaking her shoulder gently.
Suzy looks up at him, rubbing her eyes blearily. 'Time to go home?'
'Time to go home.'
They meet again in spring on the top of Namsan tower, and as Minjun is peering over the edge Taecyeon holds his breath, because amidst all the dwindling city lights all Taecyeon sees is his uncertainty and fear and it's like looking into a mirror, right until someone shatters the illusion; a loud tourist bumps shoulder blades with Minjun and he's pressed up against the railings breathing frantically as he tries to hold himself together but that moment never comes.
Instead, Taecyeon finds himself with his hand on his shoulder and Minjun just falls into him like a child with his heartbeats punctuating his dry sobs.
Deep breaths later and they're sitting on a concrete bench and Minjun can't bring himself to so much as glance in Taecyeon's direction but their hands are tightly clasped together, fingers interlocking almost painfully.
'I thought I was okay,' Minjun says eventually, he’s calming down now; breathing nearly completely even.
'There was no way you could have anticipated that happening,' Taecyeon says, at a loss for words. 'Don't beat yourself up for it.'
He feels Minjun tense beside him and as he pulls away his hand, it's almost like he pulls away completely and shuts Taecyeon out on the spot.
It's quite something, watching the way Minjun interacts with an old friend. Taecyeon attempts to pay attention to whatever it is Chansung is saying, but instead he finds his eyes back on the way Minjun reaches out without words, just subtle gestures and how he's almost overwhelming in the way he's silently screaming for help.
It’s almost like Charné is blind to it all, but maybe she just isn’t looking.
She smiles at the right times and when she gently pats his wrist, he doesn't shy away, he hardly even jumps.
Chansung is babbling inanely about how their honeymoon was, a trip to some island where it looked like the sun was swallowed up by the sea when it set.
Minjun doesn't engage with Taecyeon, only when it's polite, only so no one catches on. The lack of acknowledgement burns through Taecyeon, but for Minjun's sake he keeps it in.
A new batch of faces in Casualty for the next fifteen days; only two of the interns catch Taecyeon's eye.
There's a boy called Jinyoung and he's soft, quick to mothering the other interns and then there's Youngjae, he's got a strange confidence but he's riddled with self doubt.
Both of the boys have that self assured determination, the fire that Jackson had and Taecyeon wonders how far they'll go.
It's slightly more relaxed this time around, each group of interns are more and more on the ball each year; Taecyeon hardly has to step in at all, he's thankful because this gives him time to think through how to fix things with Minjun- if he can fix things with him.
Taecyeon's lost in the book he still has yet to return to Changmin, lost in the familiarity and the feel of the pages and above all else, lost in an open bird cage where he's hesitant to take flight.
When Junho traipses into the break room with his arm slung around Youngjae's shoulder, Taecyeon nearly chokes.
'Favouritism is wrong,' Taecyeon sings, and when Junho looks up he's quick to turn his grip on Youngjae into a headlock.
'Oh, I guess I should introduce you,' Junho says with a grin, setting a flailing Youngjae free before he settles down beside Taecyeon. 'This is my baby brother. Couldn't you tell? Look at this face.'
Youngjae offers up a small wave, as if to confirm his identity and Taecyeon chuckles.
'This punk’s ambition is to become a pathologist,' Junho says. 'Creepy, right?'
Taecyeon thinks about the current team of pathologists, a colourful group (to say the least) from Japan and shudders. 'I think you'd definitely do well in such a path. Maybe you'd scare less family members, even.'
December rolls around faster than usual, too fast; this whole year has flown by at the speed of light, and now Taecyeon's being quizzed about birthday plans.
'So what do you want to do tonight?' Junho asks, using Jihyun's shoulders as an armrest.
'Sleep,' Taecyeon says thoughtfully.
'You never disappoint, Ok Taecyeon.'
When Taecyeon gets home, the apartment is warm and it's a nice contrast to the wintery evening outside.
'Hey Taec is that you?' Nichkhun calls from the kitchen.
'Nope, it's just some thug that has your house keys!' Taecyeon says, grinning as he attaches himself to Nichkhun's side. 'So, what are you making?'
'Seaweed soup,' Nichkhun says, but then he turns around. 'Nah, just kidding, I'm making you spaghetti bolognaise.'
'You are too good to me,' Taecyeon murmurs into Nichkhun's ear. He's quick to pull back and see where he can help out.
'I'm already mostly done,' Nichkhun says, he reaches for a fork and gives the spaghetti a swift stir.
'I think I'm going to go have a shower,' Taecyeon says, after checking that there really is nothing for him to do. 'One of Jackson's patients vomited on me.'
Nichkhun shoots Taecyeon a disgusted look over his shoulder, before he turns back to his cooking.
They eat in comfortable silence, and Nichkhun's the first to excuse himself.
'I have stock take tomorrow morning,' he says apologetically.
Taecyeon shakes his head. 'Don't worry about it Khun, I have a long overdue date with my bed anyway.'
'Happy birthday, Taec.'
Taecyeon awakes to a cacophony of English and Thai, and for a moment he's almost panicked by all the foreign voices until he remembers Nichkhun's family are in town.
After a quick wash up, he pads through but it's just Chereen and Nichkhun, settled comfortably against each other as they watch. 'I didn't take that long, did I? Where did everyone go?'
'Everyone's went to get lunch, and of course Nichan mentioned getting lunch at Miu Miu-'
'Like he always does when he's here,' Chereen chimes in.
'Typical,' Taecyeon chuckles. 'Why didn't you two go?'
'Needed to catch up,' Nichkhun says with a smile.
'I guess I'll see you later tonight then.'
Taecyeon doesn't really know where he's going but his feet seem to know his destination. There's a chill in the air, but the sun is filtering through the clouds and it tricks Taecyeon into feeling warm.
The mind is quick to see the dark, but when there's light it's just as swift when it latches on.
Taecyeon sees a flash of red fly by, and he can't help the way his hand shoots out to try catch it; instead of catching a flash of red he catches the sleeve of Mark's hoodie and for a moment Mark looks so startled that Taecyeon thinks he might have made a mistake.
'Seonsangni- hyung,' Mark says, turning to face Taecyeon before he rakes his fingers through his hair. 'I thought you were going to rob me.'
'Times are tough, even for doctors you know.' Taecyeon jokes, relinquishing his grip on Mark's sleeve. 'Are you going somewhere?'
'It's my lunch hour, but I'm just a bit lost,' Mark says, a small smile playing on his lips.
'How does street food sound?' Taecyeon asks.
'Delicious and easy on the pocket, I'm in!'
They sit next to each other on a bench, Mark with his cup toast steaming up the air and Taecyeon with a small cluster of bungeoppang..
'We should have gotten some dakkochi,' Mark says between mouthfuls and Taecyeon nods in agreement. 'I guess we can go back though.'
‘What are you doing now?’ Taecyeon asks, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
‘Now? I’m… regretting not buying a soda or something?’ Mark replies, uncertain until he realises what Taecyeon had meant. ‘Oh, uh. Right. Sorry. I’m teaching at a preschool.’
‘That’s quite a change, but I guess you were the intern that wanted to go into paediatrics,’ Taecyeon smiles. Mark looks happy and healthy, like he’s slowly finding his feet whilst helping others grow into their shoes. ‘How’d it happen?’
‘I was working as a teacher’s assistant in Seongnam, at one of the middle schools and I don’t know I guess it just felt… like a step in the right direction?’ Mark laughs, running his fingers through his hair again. ‘I took a short teaching course and applied at most of the schools in the Gyeonggi-do area, but only one school got back to me.’
‘The preschool you’re at then?’
Mark nods, bursting out into a bright smile. ‘The teacher I worked for recommended me. She told the preschool about my experiences with interning in Jongro.’
‘I guess experience like that is definitely a plus?’
‘Seven years of studying amount to nothing more than a BLS if you’ve never gotten your license,’ Mark grins sheepishly. ‘But you don’t really need more with kids this age, they’re pretty good at telling you where it’s hurting.’
‘Do you regret it?’ Taecyeon asks, noticing matted neon pink paint in Mark’s hair.
‘Well, I mean. Regret is practically humanity’s second heart isn’t it? Sometimes it’s beating, and sometimes it’s not.’ Mark takes another bite of his toast before he continues, ‘Sometimes I regret dropping out right at the end but other times, I regret wasting all those years when all I needed was always there.’
‘There are some days where I’m mopping up snotty noses and it’s not really much different from being in the hospital, and I miss it then because I could always convince Jackson to do it in my stead-’ Mark pauses as Taecyeon leans forward to pick the paint out of his hair. ‘And maybe I could definitely live without my class’s love for finger painting me.’
Taecyeon nods and Mark laughs, ‘I guess that was a bit of a contradictory answer, but for the most part I don’t regret it.’
‘I think this suits you, even the paint,’ Taecyeon says, smiling until his vision has been compromised. ‘What was the name of the teacher you worked for? Just out of curiosity.’
Mark’s eyebrows furrow for a moment as he tries to recall. ‘Seyoung? She was Park Seyoung when I was working for her, but she got married.’
Taecyeon smiles to himself. ‘What a small world we live in.’
‘What about you, hyung?’ Mark asks, though there too many variables so he clarifies. ‘Do you regret not taking it further?’
‘I love it when your family visits, Khun,’ Taecyeon sings as he opens the overly stocked refrigerator.
‘Liar, you only love it when they leave,’ Nichkhun shoots back with a laugh, legs dangling as he sits perched on the kitchen counter.
‘Did you hear that Jinwoon started a band?’ Taecyeon asks as he pours himself a glass of milk. ‘Bora says they’re terrible, but Jihoon says that they’re the best thing since Guns ‘N Roses which really just means that they’re probably pretty average with-’
‘Taec, did you see that there are apartments up for rent in Songdo?’ Nichkhun asks, and Taecyeon nearly drops his glass on the floor.
‘You want to move?’ Taecyeon asks, shocked.
‘I’ve just been thinking about it, you know. The office has always been more in Incheon than in Seoul and-’
‘You’ve been thinking of this, but you only mention it when you’ve already found a place?’
‘I just saw the ad online earlier, it’s not set in stone-’
‘Have I done something wrong?’ Taecyeon asks, trying to swallow down the panic that is suddenly building up in his system. ‘Is this about what happened on your birthday? Because I’m-’
‘Taec, it’s alright,’ Nichkhun says, hopping down from the counter and walking over to Taecyeon.
‘You’re one of the few constants in my life, Khun,’ Taecyeon says quietly as Nichkhun wraps his arms around Taecyeon’s waist. ‘I know one day you’ll leave this place but I just always had hoped that that day would coincide for us, you know.’
‘And there’s a good chance it will, buddy,’ Nichkhun says, clapping him on the back. ‘I’m sorry about… I shouldn’t have said anything if I wasn’t serious about it.’
‘Even if you’re not serious about it, just… talk to me.’
Nichkhun nods, before he sneakily slips Taecyeon’s glass out of his hand and downs the remaining liquid. Taecyeon snorts at him, but Nichkhun just sticks his tongue out. ‘I thought Seulong’s wife decided you were a cupholder.’
Taecyeon hasn’t seen Yoon Doojoon since med school, hasn’t thought of him since then either but when he invites Taecyeon to lunch out of the blue Taecyeon is almost too quick to agree.
'Who was that?' Nichkhun asks as Taecyeon slumps down on the couch next to him.
'Do you remember Doojoon?'
'He did live on our couch for give or take two months, Taec.' Nichkhun chuckles to himself. 'Do you remember? We'd barely moved into this place.'
Reruns of poorly dubbed American comedies and toasted cheese sandwiches flash through Taecyeon's mind when he thinks back to that time, it all seems so alien to him, something so vivid and even though he knows he was there he feels out of place.
'He wanted to meet up to get a bite to eat, he's just driven up from Jinju,' Taecyeon says.
'All the way from Gyeongsang? That's quite the drive, I'm surprised he's- wasn't he staying in Goyang though?'
'No clue,' Taecyeon says with a shrug, groaning as his phone buzzes on his stomach. 'Why don't you join us?'
'I would but Fei's coming over.' Nichkhun yawns and glances over at Taecyeon. 'You don't remember what he looks like, do you?'
'No I-' Taecyeon glances at his phone, opening up the message. 'Okay, fine. I have no clue what he looks like and he doesn't use any SNS and seriously, Kwon needs to stop sending me game requests on Line because it's stressing me out.'
Nichkhun chuckles at Taecyeon, before he reaches for his own phone. 'He has KakaoTalk.' Nichkhun shows Taecyeon his profile picture, symmetrical and serious looking. 'He sends you hearts on Anipang on the hour though.'
Taecyeon catches a cab to the restaurant Doojoon wants to meet up at, and on the drive he tries to remember what he can about him; small meaningless facts pop into his head like the way he only studied medicine because his parents thought gym teacher was hardly a worthy aspiration for their son, he remembers Doojoon being a year younger and he remembers him being loud and surprisingly clingy.
Taecyeon wonders if Doojoon is having the same thoughts about him, trying to recall the way he remembered him. there's not much to remember.
Doojoon is waiting outside when Taecyeon's cab pulls to a halt in front of his destination. Taecyeon only realises it's raining when he sees the umbrella in his hand.
'Hyung!' Doojoon is smiling when he opens Taecyeon's door, and Taecyeon's quick to pay the taxi driver before he gets out, feeling more relaxed as the familiarity of Doojoon sinks in.
'It's been a while hasn't it?' Doojoon chatters away excitedly, barely letting Taecyeon get a word in edgeways before they're settling into a booth and he's struggling to close his umbrella. 'What have you been doing with yourself?'
'Working in the ED,' Taecyeon says, wisely making the decision to keep it short because Doojoon's already talking again, but this time to the waitress.
'Two beers please,' Doojoon quickly checks out her name tag. 'Jimin. Taecyeon, what do you want?'
'I'm fine with just water,' Taecyeon says quietly.
'Two glasses of water then, scratch the beers,' he says, turning his attention back to Taecyeon. 'Sorry, you were saying? I'm not usually this talkative, I'm just a bit hopped up on exhaustion and I had one of those energy drinks that tastes like cheap perfume mixed with gasoline.'
Doojoon overwhelms Taecyeon, pushes him into a corner without even being aware of it.
'If you're tired, we can do this another night if you want-'
'You mentioned ED? What's that like? Long hours?' Doojoon shoots out a small thank you as Jimin sets down the two glasses, before he turns to look at Taecyeon.
'It's not so bad once you get used to it,' Taecyeon says, he thinks about him quietly to himself for a moment before he adds, 'I think I'd miss it if I were to go without those hours y'know?'
'That's a shame,' Doojoon says, taking a small sip of his water. He drinks his water like wine, Taecyeon's almost sure he sees him swirl the contents of his glass around.
'What about you? What are you doing?' Taecyeon asks.
'I have my own practice in Goyang,' Doojoon says. 'It's the second one I've started up actually.'
'Oh, wow. You must be doing well then,' Taecyeon says politely. 'Congrats.'
'Yeah I'd say that was fair,' Doojoon nods. 'Do you want to get something to eat? Should I ask for a menu?'
'They make a really good potato soup here,' Taecyeon says, and Doojoon nods. 'And their calamari is pretty great, really spicy-'
Doojoon puts his hand on Jimin's shoulder as she's walking past and he's quick and quiet when he orders, turning his attention back to Taecyeon as soon as he's finished his water. 'Have you ever thought about going private?'
'I think every doctor thinks about it at least once or twice in their career,' Taecyeon says, unsure and hesitant.
'I guess the third time would be when one solidifies their stance on the matter, huh?'
'I guess that's a fair enough assumption,' Taecyeon says.
'Where are you?'
'Well past the third time, but I've got my eyes set on something else.'
When their food arrives, Doojoon acts like their earlier conversation had never happened and he's asking about Changmin and Nichkhun and Taecyeon realises that the only thing they have in common is a past he can barely remember.
The evening closes with promises of a phone call, but when just an extra life on Anipang comes through Taecyeon doesn't really mind; sometimes people from the past are destined to stay where you first found them.
When Chansung says he's coming around with promises of good news and ice cream, Wooyoung is willing to bet his car that the news is pregnancy.
'I'll take that bet, wagering my soul- my eternal soul to the winner,' Jinwoon says, looking up from his guitar. 'I bet that Nichkhun knows.'
Wooyoung almost flies to Nichkhun's side, covering his face with his hand. 'Nichkhun, do not reveal what you do or do not know until Chansung has dropped the pregnancy bomb, okay.'
'Sure,' Nichkhun says, gently shoving Wooyoung away. 'You guys are idiots though.'
'That practically gives it all away,' Wooyoung says with a whine, falling in to a defeated slump.
'Or does it?' Nichkhun says, wiggling his eyebrows.
'Hyung!' Jinwoon cries out, sounding betrayed.
'You kids are so noisy,' Taecyeon groans. 'Do you want to die?'
'When did you become such a grandpa?' Wooyoung asks, whacking Taecyeon on the arm. 'I thought that was Khun-hyung's thing.'
Nichkhun makes an offended noise, but then Jinwoon's grinning from his armchair. 'Khun-hyung just dresses like a grandpa, it's different.'
Nichkhun's about to throw a pillow at Jinwoon, but he's saved by a loud knock at the door.
When no one shows any sign of getting up, Taecyeon goes to let Chansung in.
'You-' Taecyeon looks Chansung up and down in shock. 'You need a shower.
Chansung's about a hundred times darker than a trip to the surface of the sun could have made him, and Nichkhun refuses to even let him sit down in that state.
'Maybe there was a fire?' Jinwoon suggests quietly, once Chansung's in the shower.
'During office hours? I think not.' Wooyoung scoffs at Jinwoon, and then he falls silent.
'Think you just realised what it is he wants to share?' Taecyeon asks, grinning.
Wooyoung's quick to bang on the bathroom door. 'Chansung-ah, please tell me you impregnated your wife before you quit!'
'Hyung, please tell me you knew all along,' Jinwoon says pleadingly, settling between Nichkhun's legs.
Nichkhun silently reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. He taps the screen a few times before he's scrolling and then he's showing Jinwoon the screen.
[09.38 AM] Chanbear: Hyung! I took your advice and made some changes in my life. You wouldn't believe what I've done ㅋㅋㅋㅋ ^o^
Jinwoon collapses on the floor in a heap, and Wooyoung rushes over to the read the message himself. 'You call him Chanbear? Really?'
'It used to be Chanbear with three hearts and a star,' Taecyeon chips in, and as if the words had somehow summoned him Chansung appears dressed in an amalgamation of Nichkhun and Taecyeon's clothes.
Chansung throws himself down in the armchair previously occupied by Jinwoon, hair still sopping wet and dripping but Wooyoung assures Nichkhun that it'll dry with a soft pat on his knee.
'Wooyoung-ah, did you say something while I was in the shower?'
Wooyoung perches on the arm of Chansung's seat and whacks him on the arm. 'Don't be so informal. I asked if you had impregnated Charné yet?'
Taecyeon stifles a laugh by pressing his face against Nichkhun's shoulder, but he's laughing at the bluntness of Wooyoung too.
Chansung almost looks shocked. 'Hyung, she's debuting in under two weeks- have you ever heard of a pregnant idol?!'
'Sunye?' Wooyoung suggests weakly.
'She didn't debut pregnant.'
'That is- that is a fair point.'
Chansung explains that there are a few licenses and courses he has to get underneath his belt before Sucho will take him on full time. He tells Taecyeon that each day the office became more and more stifling, like it ate away at his lung capacity and Taecyeon wonders what the escape route might be when almost every aspect of your life leaves you with that feeling.
The days Jackson is on duty are the days Taecyeon wished he had gone into private practice when he'd had the chance.
Taecyeon could handle his loudness, his overpowering confidence that came from his extroversion, his propensity for dancing at inappropriate times but he just couldn't look past the pang of jealousy he felt whenever Jackson was called in for surgery.
'It's not too late you know,' Jihyun tells him as she presses the back of her hand to Taecyeon's patients forehead. 'She's still fevery, but I think she's been through the worst of it now. I'll tell Kwon to contact her family.'
It almost leaves Taecyeon breathless, the realisation but Casualty barely offers him a chance to think before there's a new face demanding his attention with complains of severe abdominal pain.
Autumn rolls around and Jihyun's words are still weighing heavily on Taecyeon's mind. He thinks of Jihoon, he hesitated before he headed in that direction but he took the first steps boldly. He thinks of Jackson, who walked in the the Jongro branch of Seoul National University Hospital like it was his destiny. He thinks of himself, life full of meek living and fulfillment of expectations that weren't his own.
Taecyeon's been fixated on what he can't do for so long he'd almost forgotten what he was capable of. Maybe a fellowship would be the first step towards finding a dream.
Taecyeon's walking back to the hospital after lunch with Suzy when he spots Changmin walking arm in arm with a girl he'd never seen before.
'Hyung!' Taecyeon calls, running over to the couple. 'Who's this?'
The girl smiles widely, the kind of smile that makes it seem like she's sparkling. 'I'm Hyojung, Changmin's girlfriend.'
'I-' Taecyeon's gaping but he can't help it.
'This is my friend Taecyeon,' Changmin tells Hyojung, and her mouth forms a small 'o' shape.
'Oh, you've told me about him!' She says, smiling again. 'He's the one who didn't believe I existed.'
'Sorry about that,' Taecyeon says, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. 'Hyung's always told me great things about you, there's just never been concrete evidence of your existence until now- you're not a paid actress are you?'
Hyojung laughs, and it's only when she rests her head on Changmin's shoulder that Taecyeon joins in.
'Oh, I have that book with me if you want it back,' Taecyeon says, patting the shoulder strap of his backpack.
'I think you'd be better off keeping it, your library fine is astronomical.'
'Didn't Suzy take it out first?'
'Taec, she's been taking books out in your name for as long as you two have been close,' Changmin laughs.
Time always seems to fly by so fast, so soon Taecyeon is running off to the hospital far later than he should be and Changmin and Hyojung are long gone with promises of meeting up for dinner whenever he gets home.
It's somewhere around 10.39 PM that they arrive and Taecyeon's dribbled enough on Nichkhun's shirt to have made it partially transparent.
'Living the life, huh Khun,' Changmin chuckles as he lets himself in, Hyojung trailing behind him with a tray.
'We picked up some sushi on the way, spotted an amazing special,' Hyojung says as she sets the tray down on the coffee table and rushes back to close the door.
'It looks delicious,' Taecyeon comments sleepily, finally having built up enough energy to sit up and stretch.
Hyojung and Changmin sit cross legged on the floor facing the couch as Nichkhun slips forward and hands out the chopsticks. 'This looks delicious.'
'Food,' Taecyeon mumbles to himself, slipping down beside Nichkhun and picking up his chopsticks. 'This looks truly splendid.'
'So I guess Taecyeon finally believes you now?' Nichkhun laughs.
Hyojung leans forward to pour everyone a drink, both hands steady and firm. 'So was I what you expected?'
'Not at all,' Taecyeon admits with a grin. 'Even though Changmin-hyung could probably charm the Queen of England-'
'Oh come on, set the bar higher,' Changmin says, feigning indignance.
'I was always expecting him to invite me around and show me one of those hugging pillows.'
Changmin's speechless, but Hyojung can barely contain her amusement. 'Please may we eat well, especially poor Taecyeon whose brain seems underdeveloped.'
'I don't think you ever told me how you two met.' Nichkhun says, but what's curiosity for him sends Taecyeon on into the deep end.
we met in the emergency room after minjun tried to become a statistic.
'Taec, are you okay?' Changmin asks, looking concerned.
'I'm just a little light headed, hyung.' Taecyeon says, standing up. 'I think I'm going to turn in, sorry.'
He falls asleep with Minjun on his mind, for the first night in months.
Taecyeon's gets a little snappier as winter draws near and as much as he'd like to blame it all on his newly developed toothache, he knows it all boils down to one name, two characters firmly imbedded into his mind.
'What's with the face, Taec?' Minyoung asks, peering up at him.
'Toothache,' Taecyeon replies, hand going up to his jaw. 'Hurts like a bitch.'
'I have a great dentist you can go see,' Minyoung says, throwing in a dazzling smile to punctuate her point. She doesn't give Taecyeon much time to respond before she's scrawling down a phone number and a name on the back of his hand.
'I have some ibuprofen if you want,' she offers and Taecyeon side-eyes her.
'Save me the lecture, they hardly need to be but I got them prescribed,' Minyoung interrupts. 'I'm just saying if you want them, they're there.'
'I don't want to make whatever's wrong any worse just because I can't feel it you know,' Taecyeon replies.
'Fair enough, but if it's a bacterial infection or an inflammation it'll take it down so there's that.'
'Min, I think we should swap certificates,' Taecyeon mutters with a smile. 'You're definitely the better doctor between the two of us.'
'You'd be a terrible nurse, you're not ready for such responsibility,' Minyoung chuckles. 'You should just talk to Jihoon about a fellowship, it's a waste being cooped up in a teaching hospital if all you ever do is teach and never learn.'
'Is surgery simpler than the entirety of your job?' Taecyeon asks, trying to keep his breathing steady despite the way his heart is suddenly beating in his chest.
'Most.' Minyoung grins, and before she leaves the break room she looks over her shoulder. 'Give Hanbyul a call sooner rather than later, most of the patients in Casualty are scared for their lives enough as is.'
Minyoung's boyfriend is a lot louder and a hell of a lot more Australian than Taecyeon had expected when he had made the appointment with his secretary.
Hanbyul doesn't make a point of talking to Taecyeon, at least not until Taecyeon's unable to reply.
'So what seems to be the problem today?' Taecyeon attempts to gargle out his symptoms, but it's mostly ineffective so he moves to point at the issue tooth.
Hanbyul smacks his hand away lightly. 'Let's just have a look then.' He then proceeds to poke around Taecyeon's gums until he hears an indignant squawk. 'Is that where it hurts or did I nearly trigger your gag reflex?'
Hanbyul prods the place one more time and Taecyeon lets out a throaty groan as his eyes tear up.
Hanbyul strokes his hair for a bit. 'It's okay, big boy. Just breathe. I'll make it all better.'
Taecyeon really begins to question Minyoung's taste in men.
'Okay, Taecyeon, was it?' Hanbyul disappears from view for a moment before popping back with what looked like a piece of foam. 'I'm going to squeeze some of this onto my finger and rub it where it hurts okay.'
Taecyeon's not sure which feels stranger, the gloved finger in his mouth or being spoken to like a baby by someone younger than him but eventually he feels nothing at all and Hanbyul has fallen mostly silent.
It's barely five minutes later and he's gargling with the sweetest tasting mouthwash that has ever existed, any pain a foggy memory.
Taecyeon nods. 'What was the problem?'
'Tiny little cavity, but it's all sorted now.' Hanbyul smiles as he helps Taecyeon up. 'Just don't drink or eat anything with too much of an extreme temperature for the next... let's say hour or so? And then it'll be like nothing ever happened.'
'How'd you meet Minyoung?' Taecyeon asks, not sure why the question felt the need to shoot itself out of his mouth like that.
'Oh, Min?' Hanbyul says, collapsing down onto his desk with a thump. 'I assisted in the removal of her braces when I was in middle school.'
'That's... romantic,' Taecyeon laughs.
'I asked her out for the first time when I was doing a deep bleaching on her teeth,' Hanbyul says, gazing out the window lost in thought. 'She just couldn't resist... or you know. Talk.'
‘You mean to tell me you two have been dating since you were in middle school?’
‘On and off, mostly off until recent years,’ Hanbyul informs him. ‘High school was a dark time for me.’
It's another one of those days where the flow of patient seems endless, dog bites, broken bones and burst capillaries.
'Taec, we're sending another patient your way,' Jihyun says, out of breath from running back and forth. 'She's 24, mother says she has a huge laceration on her left wrist.'
When the patient is ushered in, Taecyeon's washing his hands and putting on a new set of gloves. The girl is pale and shaking and Kwon is quick to guide her to an open bed.
'Stay with me, Sunyoung-ah,' Kwon says softly, clicking his fingers before he pats her face with a damp cloth. 'It's going to be all right.'
Sunyoung's breathing is uneven, fingers draped protectively over a homemade tourniquet.
'Kwon, get that off of her quickly,' Taecyeon says, coming over to examine her hand.
'Can you still move your fingers?' Sunyoung nods.
'Okay, it's going to hurt but I need you to wiggle them for me,' Taecyeon stares down at her wrist, uncovered it was about three inches long and barely shallow enough to have missed her tendon.
Sunyoung touches her fingertips together as per Taecyeon's instructions, tears welling up in her eyes as the pain spikes through her.
'Taec, we need you for a resus,' Junho beckons, popping his head around the corner.
Taecyeon's not sure why he glances at Sunyoung but he does and then he struggles to look away from the feeling of rejection etched across her face.
'Just get one of the interns to deal with it.' Junho looks hesitant. 'Junho, just do it. One patient at a time, they can handle it. Hurry.'
Taecyeon turns to look at Kwon, 'Is everything ready?'
'Mostly,' Kwon says, setting a small metal tray almost overflowing with disinfectant. 'We just need to put the surgical sheet and we're good to go.'
'Okay, Sunyoung-ah,' Taecyeon says softly. 'I'm going to slip this onto your arm now but until I tell you, you can't touch your arm okay.'
Sunyoung nods, eyes following Kwon as he leaves the room.
'How did this happen?' Taecyeon asks as he gently runs gauze damp with disinfectant across the wound.
'It was just a mistake,' she says quietly, voice silvery from disuse.
'Just a second okay, I'll be right with you,' Taecyeon says, and as he turns his back Sunyoung lets out a soft sob.
'Please don't tell them what I did,' Sunyoung cries, brushing her fringe away from her face. 'Please, I can't stay here overnight. They can't know what I did wrong.'
'Sunyoung-ah, I promise I won't do anything without your permission.'
Sunyoung reaches out and grabs his hand, she's cold and clammy but Taecyeon squeezes her hand. 'It's going to be okay, I'm not even going to leave the room, okay? I'm going to just stick my head out the door and ask Nurse Jo something okay?'
Sunyoung nods, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.
'Kwon-ah!' Taecyeon calls, sticking his head out of the door, though Kwon is out of sight. Jihyun is within earshot however and she comes rushing over.
'Do you need something?' She asks as she ties up her hair. 'Kwon's assisting with a resus.'
'Do you know if my patient has already gone for x-rays?'
'Still dealing with the 24 year old? She's already gone, results came back clear. Kwon was supposed to tell you-'
'It's not the end of the world,' Taecyeon tells her, but then his mind flashes back to her bandage. 'Why didn't anyone rebandage her?'
'She refused,' Jihyun says quietly. 'Her mother was with her and I don't think she wanted her to see.'
Taecyeon nods, and then Jihyun's gone.
When Taecyeon closes the door, Sunyoung sits up. 'Is everything okay doctor-'
'Sorry, I've made a habit out of not introducing myself,' Taecyeon says with a tight smile. 'I'm Ok Taecyeon.'
'Okay, I'm going to numb your arm now so I can do sutures, and it's going to hurt a little but I'm going to numb the area around your wound before I inject inside of it,' Taecyeon explains as he cleans the jagged cut one more time.
Sunyoung's eyeing the small mountain of bloody gauze cautiously but she nods anyway.
'Okay, Sunyoung I'm going to need you to tell me what happened. Just talk to me and don't even look at your arm okay,' Taecyeon says softly as he examines the needle.
'I just got overwhelmed after a fight with my boyfriend,' Sunyoung says, she's tearing up again but Taecyeon's not sure if that's because of the feeling of the needle underneath her skin or having to remember. 'I wasn't trying to kill myself... At least not actively.'
'He just left, and it's like the words he had said were just hanging over me,' Sunyoung says with a sniff. 'We were never the type of people to fight like that, until it wasn't just hurting each other it was breaking each other.'
Taecyeon nods, lifting up a pair of tweezers. 'Can you tell me if you can feel this?' He prods around the wrist, carefully at first but then he tugs at the skin.
'I can't feel anything at all,' Sunyoung says, pointedly turning her head away.
'Okay, I'm going to start stitching you up now,' Taecyeon says as he readies the hook side of the thread to puncture her skin. 'Are you ready?'
Sunyoung nods. 'It had felt like this day was almost becoming inevitable.'
It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and Taecyeon wonders what it's like. If it's just an idea, a method of pain relief, a desperate plea for help that you try swallow down that jumps into your mind one day- that takes control.
'It almost became more ingrained into me the more I forced myself not to do it,' she says quietly. 'I'd run away and just hold on tightly to myself, but then I'd get... I'd get hit with this darkness that sat on my heart and I'd been doing so well, I hadn't succumbed at all until... until-'
Sunyoung's crying again, breaking a part in front of Taecyeon.
'Sunyoung-ah,' Taecyeon says gently. 'It'll all come together, even if it happens slowly and even if it's hard getting there. Things will get better okay?'
Sunyoung's rubbing her eyes again. 'I'm sorry, I'm such a mess.'
'This isn't something I can prescribe,' Taecyeon says quietly, already on the seventh stitch. 'But if there's one thing you take away from this, tell your family and tell your boyfriend because getting through this by yourself is going to be even harder if you put up walls.'
'I don't want them to think this happened because of them,' Sunyoung says quietly. 'I know where the blame lies and it's squarely on my own shoulders.'
'I'm sorry if I sound preachy... but just. Try let them in, and if they react badly at first... they're just scared. They don't understand where you are and what you're going through.'
Sunyoung presses her lip together, eyes concentrated on the ceiling as she thinks it over and Taecyeon can only hope that she'll be okay.
19 stitches and a tetanus shot later Taecyeon's feeling drained but Sunyoung's mother is with her now and Taecyeon's almost ready to leave, ready to go home; but there's one name on his mind that's made its home in the center of his limbic system.
'Junho, I need you to get a file for me,' Taecyeon says quietly. Junho looks up at him, lost. 'I need you to find me the emergency contact number for Kim Minjun, he was a patient who came on the 23rd of December 2011-'
'Can I ask why?'
'Can I ask you to not?'
Junho's hesitant, and he's nearly given up but then he's reading out the number and Taecyeon almost misses the first three numbers as he writes them on his hand.
'Thank you Junho,' Taecyeon says, and he means it.