Kyuhyun arrives in Paris on a rainy January morning. It’s warm for this time of year – hasn’t snowed in almost a month – but the low-hanging rainclouds over the city follow him until he arrives at the foreign exchange student check-in office at la Sorbonne.
It’s raining by the time he exits the orientation hall, and Kyuhyun arrives at the dorm soaked, making way too much noise as he drags his suitcases into the room. He startles when his roommate, who he hadn’t even realized was there, sits up from the bed, rubbing his eyes blearily.
“Sorry,” Kyuhyun says, and manages to string together a series of words in French he hopes is something close to “I didn’t know you were sleeping,” which is about as sophisticated as his French could get.
“It’s alright,” his roommate says. “Let me help you,” and proceeds to help Kyuhyun unpack with too much energy for someone who’d been asleep less than five minutes before.
Kyuhyun learns that his roommate’s name is Zhou Mi, is studying voice as well, and has been here since the start of the fall semester in September. That’s all they manage in French before they figure out that Zhou Mi speaks enough Korean to communicate that way instead.
Zhou Mi’s Korean is atrocious. Kyuhyun and Zhou Mi’s combined French is worse though, so it’s the kinder thing to do, and they both download Korean-Chinese dictionaries onto their phones and frantically point at the translation when they hit walls in their communication.
Zhou Mi likes Super Mario and Kyuhyun likes Starcraft, and they don’t have much else in common besides music, but Kyuhyun can’t help but find that he enjoys spending time with Zhou Mi anyway.
For one, the music is enough – a language unto itself.
For another, there’s a certain universality in joy that transcends the need for words.
There’s nothing quite as breathless as being at the top of la Tour Eiffel as dusk settles over Paris and the tiny lights blink into life across the city, reflecting in the Seine.
“If Paris is the city of love, it seems almost a shame not to find yourself a love story here,” Zhou Mi says.
“Do you find yourself wanting?” Kyuhyun asks.
“Maybe,” Zhou Mi says, and they leave it at that.
On the weekends, they go to la Louvre and le Musée d'Orsay and Centre Pompidou and the Rodin and then the Louvre again, and walk up the Champs-Élysées, past l’Arc and towards the Ferris wheel and la Place de Concorde, trotting over any of the paths and bridges Adele had bled her heart out on. Over one weekend, Zhou Mi drags him onto a train to Versailles and back the same day.
They drink their way around le Quartier Latin, pregaming heavily and fitfully ignoring the obscene costs in bars when it suits them.
Between all this, they somehow manage to fit in classes and recitals.
Zhou Mi’s French improves only marginally and his Korean by leaps and bounds. Kyuhyun’s French barely improves, relying heavily on Zhou Mi’s translation when they go out.
Sometimes, he pauses to think about what Zhou Mi had said that day on the Eiffel Tower, but every time he thinks: I wouldn’t trade any love story in the world for this at all.
It all comes to a head mid-April.
The main benefit of drinking in the Latin Quarter is obviously not the overpriced alcohol but the distance to their dorms.
Zhou Mi drinks too much, half-slurring some mixture of Chinese and French and Korean that barely resembles a string of thought but sounds desperately homesick or heartsick or lyrical. Kyuhyun helps him back home with relatively little difficulty even though Zhou Mi’s draped all over him and unsteady on his feet.
“Kuixian, I don’t feel so well,” Zhou Mi says when they’re a block away from the dorms.
“We’re almost there,” Kyuhyun says.
“No,” Zhou Mi insists, and tries to right himself, dragging Kyuhyun to a stop. “Why don’t you—you don’t like me.”
“Of course I like you,” Kyuhyun says, exasperated. He’s going through an awful lot of trouble to help Zhou Mi back into his own bed for someone who supposedly doesn’t like him.
“No, I mean—” Zhou Mi makes an exaggerated hand motion, and huffs. Then, he leans down and firmly presses his lips firmly against Kyuhyun’s.
For a second, Kyuhyun can’t even process what’s going on. When he does, he jerks back, wide-eyed.
“You’re drunk,” he says.
Zhou Mi frowns. “I didn’t have that much—”
“You’re drunk,” Kyuhyun says again, and drags him inside by the wrist.
“You can’t just—”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Kyuhyun insist and pushes Zhou Mi into his own bed, pulling up the covers over him.
“Yeah,” Kyuhyun lies and turns off the light.
Kyuhyun wakes up early and sets out ibuprofen and water on Zhou Mi’s night stand for when he wakes up.
It’s raining, but Kyuhyun needs to leave so he borrows Zhou Mi’s horrifyingly cheerful red umbrella and steals out the door.
He fumes as he walks along the Seine, splashing across puddles carelessly.
The rain doesn’t let up and neither does his anger, but eventually his stomach’s annoyance starts to overpower his heart’s. He stops by a local patisserie and buys two croissants, reflexively, and has already paid when he realizes.
Zhou Mi is already awake when he gets back to the room, staring at him wide-eyed when he walks in.
“Sorry, I needed to—“ Kyuhyun says, trailing off, and lifts the pastry bag.
Zhou Mi’s still frowning, and Kyuhyun heads towards him, gently sitting down on the edge of Zhou Mi’s bed and taking out a croissant before handing over the bag.
“Thanks,” Zhou Mi says and they eat in silence.
After a while, Zhou Mi asks, “Did anything happen last night?” and Kyuhyun internally scrambles to quash his panic.
“You threw up on my shoes,” Kyuhyun lies, not that Zhou Mi would be able to tell after he’s walked across a dozen puddles. His shoes have certainly seen better days.
“Oh, sorry,” Zhou Mi says, sounding weirdly disappointed rather than apologetic.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Kyuhyun’s not… avoiding Zhou Mi, per se, but he’s not exactly not avoiding him either.
“Are you mad at me?” Zhou Mi asks, eventually. “I can buy you another pair of shoes.”
“It’s okay,” Kyuhyun says. He feels guilty. There’re only a few weeks left in the semester and he wants to make the most of the time he has left with Zhou Mi.
There’s no time to go out anymore, anyway, with all the exams and Kyuhyun cramming for the French he hadn’t picked up over the past four months, and rehearsals and recitals and final practicums.
He and Zhou Mi have a duet, something that seemed like a beautiful idea some months ago but now just feels like a personally-inflicted punishment for a transgression his past self just knew he would commit. Still, it goes off without a hitch, Zhou Mi’s lilting tenor anchored by the strength of Kyuhyun’s baritone, and their voices are harmonious in a way that juxtaposes the tempestuousness of their relationship.
Kyuhyun thinks, it seems almost a shame to not have found himself a love story here, in the city of love.
In a blink, the semester’s over, and Kyuhyun is trying to stuff all his newly-acquired souvenirs and gifts into the crevices of his suitcase in between what he’d originally brought with him.
Zhou Mi, dutifully, helps him pack, his own flight not leaving for another couple of days.
“I’ll miss you,” Kyuhyun says, earnestly, and find that he can’t hold himself back, now that there’s nothing left to hold onto.
“Me too,” Zhou Mi says, more subdued.
They make the usual promises to write and call and keep in touch, and Kyuhyun knows he’ll do his part, but all of a sudden, he’s unsure if Zhou Mi will.
Zhou Mi helps him take his suitcases downstairs and helps him hail a cab for Charles de Gaulle.
“Thanks for everything,” Kyuhyun says and really means it. He tries to go for a hug, but Zhou Mi simply holds out his hand to shake, and Kyuhyun can’t help but pull back, stinging.
“It’s been a lot of fun, Kyuhyun,” Zhou Mi says, and his smile is warm and genuine.
As the cab is pulling away, Kyuhyun looks out the window, back at Zhou Mi’s figure as it becomes smaller in the distance, and suddenly thinks, I should have kissed him back.
Kyuhyun settles back into the mundanity of his life without much hassle, but there’s a certain jarring shock to be back in a place where everyone can understand him without much difficulty.
Kyuhyun writes. He writes no less than one email a week and seventeen letters, and makes sure to call at least twice a month.
Zhou Mi, while not returning his fervor, is no less enthusiastic in his responses: He’s back in China looking for a job. There are some promising leads in Beijing. Occasionally, Zhou Mi WeChats him pictures of food he’s eating.
Kyuhyun doesn’t know how to say, “I’m sorry,” and, “I was wrong,” and, “I wish we could’ve had our love story.” So, he doesn’t.
Kyuhyun doesn’t visit, but he wants to. Zhou Mi insists he wait until he’s finished with his second-to-last semester and Zhou Mi is settled in Beijing.
He doesn’t get the chance.
“I’m thinking the week after New Year’s?” Kyuhyun says, looking at airfares online. “That way, we’ll be able to spend some time with our families first, and the flight prices will be down by then.”
“You should save your money and focus on school,” Zhou Mi’s voice says to him across the phone.
“I miss you, though,” Kyuhyun insists. “It’s been more than half a year.”
“Kyuhyun,” Zhou Mi says, all the lightness going out of his voice. “I have a boyfriend now.”
Kyuhyun’s heart stutters to a stop. “Really?” he grits out, trying for nonchalant and landing nowhere close. “I’m glad.”
“We’re moving in together, in a couple of months,” Zhou Mi continues. “Rent is expensive in Beijing, so you understand. We’re trying to save money.” He doesn’t say, “My boyfriend wouldn’t like it if I had someone else over for that long.”
“Oh,” Kyuhyun says. “Yeah.” He huffs out a breath. “Maybe, later then? Next year?”
“Maybe,” Zhou Mi says. “Maybe we’ll come visit Seoul.”
“Maybe you should take him to Paris, then,” Kyuhyun says, and it’s a little angry, almost petty.
There’s a long pause.
“Sorry,” Kyuhyun says. “That was uncalled for.”
Kyuhyun can almost hear Zhou Mi smile over the phone. “No, not to Paris. Maybe to Shanghai – isn’t that supposed to be the Paris of the East?”
“Yeah,” Kyuhyun agrees, noncommittal.
“We’ll always have Paris,” Zhou Mi says, and Kyuhyun feels his heart constrict painfully.
“We’ll always have Paris,” he repeats. “But that’s not enough, is it?”
“No, it isn’t.”
Kyuhyun struggles to figure out what to say next. “So it’s like this, then,” he settles on.
“C'est comme ça,” Zhou Mi says, lightly, following with, “Sorry, I have to go now. Au revoir, Kyuhyun.”
“Zaijian,” Kyuhyun replies, clutching his phone too tightly but managing to finish their little joke.
How lovely it is, Zhou Mi had once remarked, that two languages and cultures that developed so differently could bid goodbye the same way: this is not the end – until I see you again.
Now, at the definitive end, it’s the last thread Kyuhyun has to cling to, maybe too desperately, too futilely.
He thinks about the last time he had seen Zhou Mi in person, his figure fading smaller and smaller into the background as the taxi pulled away – about the flatness of static and low resolution across cheap webcams, the softening of details over time, and the slow erosion of memory.
Kyuhyun wonders, now, if he’d be able to hold onto those longer if he’d had the sensation of touch to go with it, if he’d been able to run his fingertips across the planes of Zhou Mi’s cheeks, allowed his lips to ghost over the hollows of his face. Wonders if he’d even have to be here wondering about it, if.
Over the Lunar New York, Zhou Mi sends him a postcard, red and vibrant with Zhou Mi’s cutesy handwriting in Hangul, wishing him a happy spring festival.
A year ago, Kyuhyun had arrived in Paris where the rain was warm against his skin and had not thought, my life will never be the same again.
Kyuhyun tucks away Zhou Mi’s post card.
This year’s spring, Kyuhyun thinks, will be cold.
Chapter 2: Coda
Chapter by kitschful
Snippet inspired by coley_merrin's comment: what-might-have-been's
What-might-have-beens take up most of his time when he thinks of Zhou Mi now, but he still tries to write emails regularly (letters felt too... close, after). Sometimes though, he indulges himself in the memories of warm coffee and buttery pastries, climbs to see churches and hear organists play the heartbeat of the city, twining melodies of warmth and passion swirling above captivated crowds.
But memories are things from the past and he thinks maybe it's time to leave them there. He loosens his grip on the paper he's been holding for the past fifteen minutes and slowly raises it to the board, pins it with a lonely tack. Let's his hands fall, takes a deep breath, turns around and walks away.
"Duet partner wanted. Match with round baritone voice, fourth year, looking for a long term partnership."