Tao’s phone vibrates in his pocket and he forces himself to ignore it. He puts on his sunglasses as he enters the airport and hopes that no one will recognise him. He goes through the regular procedures, his mind barely focusing, a million thoughts and worries running through his head.
He finally flops down on the chair and opens his phone before he stops to think about it. He scrolls through messages and missed calls from Minseok, Jongdae, and the rest, telling himself that he will talk and explain later when he has the right words to say, when he isn't feeling overwhelmed.
His phone vibrates again. He looks at Sehun’s picture smiling at him. He remembers the day he took that picture. Sehun's hair was ruffled, he was staring at the camera trying to act annoyed from being woken up so early on his day off, but a small smile stretched on his lips right before Tao'd snapped the picture.
He turns off the phone with a little more force than necessary and stares outside the plane as people start to take their seats. The phone goes quiet but his thoughts have never been so loud.
It is only when the day is almost done that he plucks up his courage and dials up Sehun's number.
“So, you are back to China.” It isn’t a question, just a statement.
“Yeah,” Tao confirms anyway.
A moment of silence passes. None of them knows what to say.
He can hear noises in the background and he wonders what the boys are doing. If Kyungsoo has finally relented and cooked for them today or if they have been too busy and called for delivery instead. If he can focus hard enough, he can hear the muffled sounds of the TV coming from the room next to Sehun’s.
“They miss you.” Tao can almost imagine the hesitation that flickers on Sehun’s face before he continues, “I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” Tao says before he stops to think about it; before his mind reminds him of his plan to stay distant for a while. ‘It is for the best,’ he’s told himself. ‘It would make it easier.’ But it didn't. Not at all.
He hates that he just left so suddenly, without even saying goodbye to anyone, but he had to. He knows that they wouldn’t have stopped him especially after everything that has happened; that they would have said goodbye and wished him the best, but he knows that one look of sadness or disappointment sent towards him was bound to make him question his decisions again, and he has been thinking about this for weeks. He can’t turn back now.
Tao tries to imagine the rest of the members, the boys who have become his family for years. Yixing must be angry that Tao didn't tell him. Or maybe he will forgive him. Maybe he understands. Maybe some of them do.
“Junmyeon-hyung is calling; there is a meeting.”
“Okay, you need to go. Bye,” Tao says but neither of them hangs up.
“I will call you tomorrow. We...we will figure something out. I want to see you.”
“I’d love that,” Tao replies, even though he knows the slim chances of that happening anytime soon. The company is probably not going to let this go. Maybe they will ask the boys not to contact him. He swallows at the thought.
He hears someone calling Sehun’s name in the background. “Tell the rest I said hi,” Tao says. “And that…I’m sorry. Wait - No, don’t. I…I will call them tomorrow and explain. I just - I need some time.”
“It is okay, Tao,” Sehun replies softly. “We understand.”
Tao closes his eyes at that, running his hand through his hair. He desperately hopes that they do. That they will remain his friends. He can't lose them too.
“Goodbye, hyung.” And with the that, the line goes dead.
Tao lets his head rest on the chair as his hand grips the phone tightly. He is back home now, but somehow it doesn't feel like it.