Actions

Work Header

anything hurts less

Work Text:


 

The world ends on a Tuesday morning when Baekhyun wakes up with a sore throat.

Like most apocalypses, however, Baekhyun doesn’t realise the world is ending, and chalks it all up to staying up too late practicing with Heechul for SM’s humiliate-Baekhyun’s-gaming-capabilities-event/League tournament. It’s a pretty common occurrence for someone whose entire life practically stands on his vocal chords rather than legs, so Baekhyun doesn’t think anything of it, just makes himself a hot chocolate like his mom used to back home, but with hot water instead of milk, because dairy is bad for singing.

When Jongdae comes downstairs, and Baekhyun replies to his greeting with a croaky ‘good morning’, Jongdae says, “Woah Baekhyunnie, you don't sound so good.”

Self-consciously, Baekhyun rubs at his throat, and replies, “It’s just a cold I think. Stayed up too late screaming at Heechul hyung’s excuse for an ADC.” He smiles weakly.

The pretty, pretty corners of Jongdae’s mouth turn downwards for the splittest of seconds, but then he’s telling Baekhyun to get better soon with a friendly thump on the shoulder, and the rest of Baekhyun’s worries melt away.

 

 

 

 

 

It does not turn out to be a common cold.

The pain doesn’t even go away late into the week, where the nine of them stand in front of the mirror practicing Monster for the 39483409324th time, and Baekhyun tries not to think anything of it, but it nags at him. It’s been a tough year between the Ex’act comeback and CBX’s launch, and the stress has built up on Baekhyun’s shoulders, weighed him down.

He can feel those worries, even now, clawing at his throat as they try to drown him. He wants to voice them, throw a joke around or laugh just to get them out, just to release the pressure, but when he does his voice is nothing but a faint croak and he realises that he can’t.

Baekhyun, in his weakest moment, mid-dance, begins to panic.

 

 

 

 

 

It takes a while for Baekhyun to find air again before Minseok is shaking his shoulders and telling him to breathe in-between Junmyeon’s frantic what’s wrong ’s. It’s not until he opens his mouth and says my voice and it sounds more like a strangled, broken guitar string snapping rather than a human being talking that both their eyes go wide in realisation.

Minseok drives him to the doctor the next morning.

It’s early, so no one is awake (predictably) since it’s a rest day, and Minseok takes quiet, careful care in making Baekhyun coffee just the way he likes it.

It’s supposed to be a comforting gesture, obviously, but it only makes Baekhyun feel worse because he can’t say thanks or delicious or even tease Minseok for the lick of hair at the back of his head that won’t flatten down until at least ten a.m. Baekhyun is forced to sit in the silence, and he hates it.

The waiting room isn’t much better either, listlessly drumming his hands on his thighs while glancing around at the linoleum floors. Minseok is calm and sleepy beside him, silent, and Baekhyun’s envious of his demeanour until he realises that Minseok’s not the one missing his most important feature. This would be like the equivalent of Minseok waking up without abs, Baekhyun wants to joke, but he fucking can’t.

(Stop talking, Junmyeon had said, slowing Baekhyun’s panicking breaths, until we find out what this is, you need to stop talking. We can’t risk it.)

(We. Baekhyun’s not the only one who’s going to suffer from a lost voice.)

The longer he waits, the shorter his breathing becomes, and the more he urges to open his mouth to drown out the silent, strangling panic that’s sneaking up on him inch by inch with something. But he can’t, because for all Baekhyun knows his voice could be gone forever, and then their entire group would be losing yet another member, which --in all of Baekhyun’s modesty-- they can’t afford to.

EXO could be losing one of their token vocalists, but Baekhyun stands to lose a whole lot more.

(His job, his friends, his voice.)

“Baekhyun?” The doctor asks, and Minseok glances up at her.

“Do you want me to come with?” He asks gently, prodding at Baekhyun’s hand. Baekhyun shakes his head.

He’s standing to lose a lot right now, but what little pride he has left is not a part of it.

“So you can’t speak?” The doctor asks, since she’s been EXO’s physician for a while now, able to skip most of the smalltalk and basic questions, not that Baekhyun can reply in detail. Hesitantly, he nods. “Try to.” She says.

“Hello.” He says, but it mostly sounds like some sort of obscene creature screaming.

“Oh.” The doctor replies, and purses her lips.

They do a couple of other tests, poking, prodding, and Baekhyun has to nod or shake his head at any of the symptoms she lists off, simply because she says it’s going to be easier if he doesn’t use his vocal chords at all. Eventually, after some careful thinking of what to do next, the doctor shoves a tube down Baekhyun’s throat.

“Ah,” she says, in realisation, and points to a weird, white thing sticking out amongst the pink of Baekhyun’s throat as he sits uncomfortably, deep-throating a camera in front of his GP. “You have a vocal node.”

Baekhyun chokes.

The doctor pulls out the camera quickly, enough for him to splutter and cough and try to get his breathing under control, and she simply pats at his back sympathetically. 

“Luckily it’s not too big,” she continues, rewinding the footage and freezing it on the fucking node so that Baekhyun can stare Satan right in the fucking eyes (or lack thereof.) “And it’s a simple surgery to get it removed--” Baekhyun’s eyes widen at surgery. “--but the waiting list is probably two to three weeks?”

Baekhyun tries to make a strangled noise despite himself --but ultimately fails. 

I’m a singer! He wants to scream. Not a dancer, or a visual, or a rapper, but a fucking vocalist, he can’t afford to wait two fucking weeks at minimum to get his entire life back. He wants to scream all of it, naturally, but he can’t, and the weight of not being able to talk for weeks slowly begins to settle.

The doctor doesn’t even notice his panic because she’s too busy examining the node on screen, and in the silence, who would know any better.

 

 

 

 

 

She repeats to Minseok most of what she’s told Baekhyun already, simply because Baekhyun can’t fucking do it. She slots him in for surgery three weeks from now with a specialist at the hospital, and tells him that he can’t talk even once leading up to it, or he’ll risk the node getting bigger, and therefore harder to remove, and therefore risking his voice entirely --aka, his life.

It’s fine, Baekhyun thinks, with a I-want-to-die smile plastered on his face, three weeks is nothing in the scheme of things, right?

(Wrong.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the other members are sympathetic about it instead of teasing --even Chanyeol seems to understand, for once, which is wild-- and they tiptoe about him a little too much, which is kind of annoying, but Baekhyun enjoys the babying more than he’ll ever admit to. Even Kyungsoo, who usually never bats an eye at Baekhyun’s loud whining, seems to quietly make him honey and lemon tea, whenever he gets the chance. Baekhyun hates the taste, but he drinks it nonetheless.

The only one who doesn’t tiptoe around him is Jongdae, who’s as loud and nasally as ever, and threatens to punch Baekhyun even if he simply opens his mouth to yawn, just in case he tries to talk. It’s kind of weird, because Jongdae ends up having these one-sided conversations when they hang out and saying the punchlines that Baekhyun no longer can, but he doesn’t mind it, necessarily. It’s the same as when they always hang out --albeit they do it even more than usual because Baekhyun is mute and clingy-- but there’s something heavy sitting in the air that Baekhyun had never noticed over the noise before, thick and tangible between them. Jongdae's loud enough to cover it up most of the time, though.

It’s almost nice to have the title of Beagle taken off of him, Baekhyun thinks, for once --less stressful, somehow. It's purely Jongdae’s now. And Chanyeol’s, he guesses.

But the problem with being a Beagle is that it doesn’t lie in his voice but in his blood, and Baekhyun grows frustrated with each passing day from being unable to joke or even ask for things without gesturing wildly. It grows so frustrating, in fact, that Jongdae comes home one day and slams a stack of animal shaped stationery paper in front of him and holds a black marker out.

“Come on,” he says, taking the seat next to Baekhyun on the sofa and still waving the pen in his face. “You’ve wanted to say something to me all week, haven’t you? I dunno why you didn’t think of this earlier.”

Baekhyun stares at the paper dumbfounded, and gingerly takes the pen from Jongdae’s hand. What he’s wanted to say all week, has been thank you, because Jongdae has managed to fill the silences that Baekhyun no longer can, and it’s been nice in a weird, different --but kind of good-- way. He’s been there for Baekhyun in ways that the other members don’t understand and even now he’s helping Baekhyun somewhat, with getting his voice back. (He doesn’t know why he hadn’t thought of this before either.)

Instead, though, Baekhyun writes your hair looks stupid with a middle part and snickers silently when Jongdae rolls his eyes, self-consciously brushing the dark locks out of his eyes --he doesn't really mean it, though; Jongdae always looks good.

 

 

 

 

 

Not talking, Baekhyun can manage --if only due to Jongdae’s sharpie and a pack of dog shaped sticky notes-- not singing, however, turns out to be a lot harder than expected. 

It’s one thing to sit silently on the bus while Jongdae and Minseok battle for highest-note-king for the 3942347234th time, another to sit, silently, through vocal warm-ups back stage and even the live show later when their manager won’t let Baekhyun perform.

“Vocal rest is important,” he’d said, sternly. “But so is physical rest. I’m not putting you out there until you can sing again. There’s no point.” 

Naturally, Baekhyun had swallowed, and agreed, because there’s no point in having a singer up there who can’t sing, or an argument with no voice, and the prospect of dividing his lines between Minseok and Chanyeol makes more sense than lip-syncing, anyway. Their manager is right in every sense of the word, but it doesn’t make Baekhyun feel any less like a waste of space.

Backstage is a little too quiet even with the fans screaming at a pitch that the human ear shouldn’t be able to register, though, so Baekhyun tortures himself by standing side stage and mouthing along to the lyrics every time it should have been him singing. It had taken quite the pen-and-paper argument just to be allowed to come to the concert rather than staying at the dorms, but he’d chalked it up with a promise of staying silent and having the opportunity to see EXO perform live, for once --maybe brush up his choreography subconsciously while looking for gaps in their performance. 

It hurts a little less after a while, at least, and it's almost enjoyable to see what they all look like when they perform. That is, until they pull a proper 2013-throwback, and start performing what is love.

Baekhyun thought they were done with the mess that had been the MAMA era, seriously, but then Jongdae’s belting out his notes with Kyungsoo instead and Baekhyun thinks, oh.

He sounds better when he sings in Korean --Baekhyun’s always thought that though, probably because he understands jack-shit in mandarin even after two years of learning it and Jongdae’s confidence with the language is sub par on a good day-- but he also just sounds better with Kyungsoo, somehow. Kyungsoo’s always talking about how Jongdae picks up the high-note slack better than he and Baekhyun ever have, and it shows, as he belts out the lines that are usually Baekhyun’s without so much as breaking a sweat or showing a single vein.

Baekhyun can’t put his finger on it, but something about the performance is just… beautiful. Their voices sound better together than they ever have with Han or Baekhyun respectively, harmonious in their duet, and in the hot, yellow light of the spotlight, Jongdae shines --well, he’s always shining, as a side effect of his leaking talent, but something about tonight is different when Baekhyun’s watching quietly and relaxed from side stage, rather than sweaty and frantic in the back. It’s easier to appreciate Jongdae in the silence, even if the music is anything but.

Tell me what is love, Jongdae belts, the finishing note to it all, and Baekhyun thinks, oh.

 

 

 

 

 

“What did you think?” Jongdae asks, beaming backstage once the concert wraps up, and in their weird, psychic-twin way of knowing, Baekhyun doesn’t have to ask what he’s referring to.

You were good, he writes, and feels something in the pit of his stomach stir when Jongdae grins sheepishly at him. He tears the note page aside. But I would’ve been better.

Jongdae punches him. It's well deserved.

 

 

 

 

 

“You’re so weird when you’re quiet.” Kyungsoo comments monotonously as Baekhyun helps in the kitchen by washing the lettuce leaves diligently. Sitting still is almost harder than staying silent, and Baekhyun’s stuck with this constant urge to help out the team in anyway he can, especially since he’s been letting them down ever since getting this fucking lump in his throat, creating more work for the rest of them where they have to pick up his slack.

Baekhyun looks up, blinks, and quirks an eyebrow. How so?

“I don’t know,” Kyungsoo replies awkwardly, tips of his ears turning red at Baekhyun’s questioning gaze. “You just seem… sadder?”

Baekhyun swallows.

“You used to be so loud and rambunctious--” Kyungsoo is the only person below the age of seventy who uses rambunctious. “--but without sound you’re just kind of…” he trails off, blushing again, and digs his hands into the rice he’s washing just to hide his face. “I guess you, Chanyeol, and Jongdae are all the same with that sort of stuff, I just hadn’t noticed until now.”

Baekhyun’s stunned for a moment, caught off-guard by how even the ever-obtuse Kyungsoo has seen through him on this regard, and also by the mere fact of it. Silence is suffocating, silence makes a person think, and thinking leads to a whole lot of things worse than what noise can bring. Music has always been a part of Baekhyun’s life, but that’s only because he’s always thought there’s music in more than just… well, music. There’s music in everything, if you search hard enough, in the bubble of the broth on the stove, in the clashing of Kyungsoo’s pots, in the high-pitched squawking of Jongdae’s laugh.

Without his voice, he can’t make proper music, and without his music, he’s nothing.

Baekhyun’s got a lot more time to think to himself in all the consuming quiet, too, about how his nose is too wide, about the way his heart pounds every time he thinks of Jongdae, about how the surgeon could slip and he could lose his voice forever, lose his spot in EXO, lose everything he’s ever come to love and hate all at once.

There are a lot of things that Baekhyun has noticed, in his all new found silence. Things he’s been putting off thinking about for a very, very long time.

Instead of saying any of this, however, he simply scrawls out how could I be sad when I have Kyungsoo-ya~ on a pug-shaped sticky note, and bites his cheek to stop the screams as Kyungsoo chases him around the kitchen with a frying pan.

 

 

 

 

 

“There’s nine members of EXO, right?” Jongdae asks the variety show hosts, and the camera zooms in funnily as they exchange a glance as if to say, duh. “But that’s incorrect, actually.” 

The shot replays, once, twice, three times, for that special, variety show brand of drama, before Jongdae snorts and says. “The tenth member is Baekhyun’s voice.” 

The hosts burst into laughter.

“I’m serious!” He says, and leans forward in his seat, smiling his charming, cheshire’s grin. “Baekhyun’s so loud it’s like having two extra people in the room, so with his sickness, it’s kind of weird to see him so quiet.” 

Jongdae recites the story of getting Baekhyun a pen and paper because he was so sick of the room being empty, and the hosts laugh charmingly as he explains he got puppy ones since they reminded him of Baekhyun. He wraps the anecdote up by making up some story about how Baekhyun dangerously misuses his new position, and Baekhyun snickers into his collar because it does sound like something he would do.

“We should all pray for his health, right?” The host --the younger one that Baekhyun can never remember the name of-- asks. Jongdae nods, clapping his hands together.

“Baekhyun,” he starts, diligently. “I’ve always told you to be quiet--” the hosts giggle. “--but this isn’t exactly what I meant. Get better soon.” He smiles directly into the camera, surprisingly earnest, and Baekhyun wonders if this is how Chen fangirls across the world feel, every single time.

(His chest constricts even as Jongdae makes up some joke about stealing Baekhyun’s vocal lines from him and doing a better job at it. Baekhyun expects the pressure around his heart to release, eventually, but it never does.)

 

 

 

 

 

They finish up one of their first performances of the year, and last performances of the era before they go on some mysterious hiatus only to be back mid-year with yet another comeback. Most of the other members are filming, travelling, or working on solo-albums, but Jongdae, Baekhyun and Minseok are confined to Korea for an extra week because they have CBX business to attend to. EXO gets a rest, but CBX’s season only started in October, so they’ve got a while to go, yet, even if it is just a mini album.

Minseok and Jongdae handle the radio shows that Baekhyun’s supposed to be attending too, and Baekhyun follows them all like some sort of groupie. At night, the three of them bicker over what movie to watch, with Minseok pulling hyung status each and every time, and the dorm feels kind of empty without six other members filling up the space, but the combination of Minseok and Jongdae’s laugh is loud enough that it doesn’t feel that way. Baekhyun had thought it would be harder than this, to stop himself from laughing, but he’d never really realised how forced most laughter is anyway, until now, where a smile feels like enough.

“You have nothing on next week, right?” Jongdae asks, right as Minseok clambers up to bed because he’s actually a responsible adult, and Baekhyun shoots Jongdae a silent --but very judging-- look, since he obviously has nothing. “I mean, I know you have surgery on Saturday, but Minseokkie-hyung’s going to visit Han-hyung and since we get a break too, I was wondering…” His rambling is really cute. Baekhyun wants to punch himself. “Do you wanna come to my house in Siheung for a while?”

Baekhyun raises both eyebrows.

“I mean, you can always go back to your parent’s place if you want but I figured it’d be better than your grandmother’s house since the countryside is kind of… and without your voice I just-- I just thought--” Baekhyun, unsurprisingly, is speechless. “--I just think you shouldn’t be alone? It’s too quiet that way.” Jongdae avoids his gaze by staring at whatever infomercial is playing on screen. “My mom’s been dying to have you over more and you’ll really like the city, I think.”

There are a million quips on the end of Baekhyun’s tongue. Already meeting the parents? Is one. Take me out to dinner before you take me home, Jongdae-ya , is another. But Baekhyun’s not supposed to voice his thoughts, anymore, so instead, he smiles despite himself, and nods.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to travel places when EXO’s on a hiatus so they don’t have to make public service announcements about when and where just so they can get bombarded by teenagers screaming. They get driven in a company van all the way to Jongdae’s childhood home, and even though the street is empty Baekhyun can’t help but look around suspiciously, waiting for fans to tackle him to the ground.

“Moooooom!” Jongdae calls into the house, kicking off his shoes. “We’re here!”

Jongdae’s mom comes trotting down the stairs, a decent head shorter than Jongdae, and when she sees Baekhyun, she smiles.

“Baekhyunnie!” She cries, and pulls him into a big hug that has Jongdae’s smile growing wide at the startled look on Baekhyun’s face. “It’s so nice to finally have you here!”

Baekhyun opens his mouth instinctively before thinking better, and scrawls a quick thank you for taking care of me on a poodle sticky note, thrusting it outwards as he bows. Jongdae’s mom takes the piece of paper gratefully, and flusters. Her smile is the same as Jongdae’s.

“Take his bags up,” she whispers harshly, after hugging her son, and Jongdae whines all the way up the stairs until he kicks the first door on the right open and dumps Baekhyun's suitcase right there and then.

“This is my room…” he says, kind of sheepishly, and Baekhyun glances around with a grin on his face because it’s obvious Jongdae hasn’t changed the decorum since moving to live in the dorms with the rest of their group. His bed sheets are navy blue with bright pink pigs dotting around the hem, and his walls are covered with posters for bands that had been big hits back in the day, which now has Baekhyun wondering where most of them disappeared to, anyway.

There’s a pink blanket with flowers on it thrown across a chair facing the window, and a thin mattress on the floor, and Jongdae rubs the back of his neck before saying, “Sorry, we don’t have a guest bedroom.” 

Baekhyun rolls his eyes; Jongdae and him have slept together hundreds of times --but for some reason the phrasing of this thought makes him flush in the silence. He scrawls out we’ve shared rooms before pointedly on a greyhound’s belly, and Jongdae laughs.

 “You’re right,” he agrees, his smile still off somehow in a way Baekhyun can’t place. “Just trying to be a good host.”

Try harder, Baekhyun writes, waggling his eyebrows, and Jongdae says, “you know what? I’ve changed my mind. You can sleep outside.”

Baekhyun laughs silently.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongdae’s mom is an excellent fucking cook.

Baekhyun can’t stop eating, and can hear Minseok in the back of his head chastising him for how much exercise he’s going to have to do to make up for this. Can’t stop, won’t stop, he replies to imaginary-Minseok’s voice, and wolfs down another massive mouthful of kalguksu.

Obviously you didn’t get your cooking skills from your mom, he writes pointedly, sliding the note sideways to Jongdae’s spot across the table until he scrunches up the note and flicks it at Baekhyun’s forehead in retaliation. Jongdae’s a good cook, actually, a really good one, but he doesn’t need to know that.

Jongdae’s mom laughs when Jongdae repeats what the note had said aloud, and Baekhyun flushes at his rudeness and kicks Jongdae underneath the table subtly for being a tattle tale. Jongdae kicks right back.

“Well thank you, Baekhyunnie,” she says, smiling that Kim family smile that makes their cheekbones even more prominent and reaches all the way up to their eyes. “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. Sorry that you have to put up with my son just to get some good food.”

Baekhyun’s eyes widen at that and he’s biting his lips to stop a smile as Jongdae whines out mooooommmm whyyyyy. The wink is a little unexpected from a fifty-something-year-old woman, yet Baekhyun can’t help himself but laugh.

Baekhyun hasn’t felt anything as normal and natural as sitting around the dinner table with Jongdae and his mom, but he finds it’s the most comfortable he’s ever been in a long, long time. Even without Jongdae's dad or brother around, it still feels pretty simple, and he's spent enough late nights of Jongdae talking about his family to know it's not a subject to be touched --Baekhyun understands; his relationship with his dad isn't great either.

The Kim’s aren’t quiet even when their mouths are full, and Baekhyun wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

 

 

They stay up too late playing Mario Kart together on Jongdae’s --get this-- fucking gamecube, but Baekhyun’s glad they’re playing something with controllers because they're a lot easier to hit a person with than computer mice.

“Ow ow ow I surrender I surrender!” Jongdae’s screaming even as Baekhyun tackles him to the couch by hammering the hilt of his controller into Jongdae’s torso, pinning him down between his knees as punishment for cheating during the race by tickling Baekhyun so much so that he'd driven off the map. “You win you win!”

Baekhyun, victorious, sits back on his heels and grins. Jongdae’s mom walks past, smiling, bidding them a good night, but doesn’t tell them to be quiet. Baekhyun thinks he’s going to learn to like Jongdae’s mom a lot more than he already does. 

“You can get off of me you know,” Jongdae mumbles, head turned to the side, and Baekhyun hadn’t even realised he was still straddling him until he gets off completely and mouths sorry repeatedly. He wants to make a joke or something, just to get rid of the awkward silence in the air, but he can’t, so instead he just feels his face go very, very red for no apparent reason.

Jongdae massages his own thighs, wincing. “Your ass is so boney, it’s like it's made from shards of glass.”

Baekhyun makes a very appropriately horrified face, and smacks Jongdae with his controller. Ass. He mouths, turning up to his nose.

Jongdae says, “I know you don’t have one, what’s your point?” Sneering, and the tackling cycle begins anew.

 

 

 

 

 

They decide to risk going out and even catching public transport if only because they’re both going a little stir-crazy doing nothing but playing video games and pretending they eat less food than they actually do, making a mutual agreement of never telling Minseok about any of this, ever. It’s going to be risky to go out in public, but without body guards or cameras around giving away their status, they’ll probably blend in better than usual.

Baekhyun pulls on a face mask, sunglasses, and a bucket hat, opening his arms wide to say how do I look?

Jongdae snickers, understanding even through Baekhyun's mutism. (They've gotten good at the talking without words thing --they always have been.) “Like a celebrity that’s trying too hard to blend in.” He reaches forward and takes the sunglasses off Baekhyun's face. “The hat’s enough to hide your eyes, and without makeup on no one’s going to recognise your ugly mug anyway.”

Baekhyun punches Jongdae’s shoulder a little harder than usual, if only because being called ugly hurts a little more than usual, for some reason, even if he’s heard it a hundred times, fifty of them being said un-earnestly from Jongdae’s three-shaped mouth.

“What about me, though?” Jongdae asks --after whining-- opening his arms much the same, and Baekhyun tilts his head in assessment. He’s got a black face mask on to Baekhyun’s white, with a snapback to shadow his face. He looks more like a weird pseudo-fuckboy than Jongdae --who, in hindsight, is an actual fuckboy-- so Baekhyun swaps the sunglasses Jongdae had plucked off of him for the snapback, and reaches up to smooth the strands of hair that stray from the momentary hat hair. 

He’s a little bit closer to Jongdae than he needs to be, for something like this, but Baekhyun doesn’t think he imagines the way Jongdae shivers when he smooths down the stray hairs in his sideburns, fingers brushing against his cheekbones. He can’t see Jongdae's expressions through the sunglasses and face mask, but in the thick, heavy silence, the hitch in his breath is nothing but audible.

Suddenly flustered and out of place, Baekhyun takes a step back, and pats the top of Jongdae’s head like a doting mother as if to say My little chen-chen~

Jongdae slaps his hand away and scowls. “One centimetre taller,” he says. “One.”

Baekhyun snickers, and just like that, whatever had been sitting between them in the silence disappears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siheung is still a big city even if it’s not Seoul or even Bucheon, but Jongdae had been right in his assumptions that Baekhyun would like it. Then again, Baekhyun likes all cities, and he’s pretty sure he’ll enjoy himself no matter the location so long as he’s with his best friend. 

Still, Siheung is rushed and bustling and Baekhyun loves it, loves how easily he and Jongdae blend into the crowd and don’t even get second glances because they’re just more people passing through the city. Everything is so large and loud and Baekhyun can't get enough, because even though it's smaller it still has more character than Seoul does, somehow, less soulless. Seoul-less. It reminds him of Jongdae, funnily enough, maybe not the loudest of loud, but certainly the most enjoyable, and Baekhyun wants to learn about Siheung from the inside out, just to see what other similarities they might have.

They end up going out for lunch at a BBQ place that has booths rather than open tables because they’re both too worried to show their faces, and afterwards they go for gelato in a parlour that’s playing cherish and Baekhyun kicks Jongdae underneath the table when he sings Baekhyun’s lines instead of his own.

All in all, it’s a really, really nice fucking day, and it’s good just to do normal things like shopping and eating in public even if the least normal part of it is Baekhyun having to pass a note at Jongdae’s face every couple of minutes. Funny thing is, Jongdae seems to know half the things Baekhyun’s going to write before he even pulls out the paper, so it sees less usage than Baekhyun had expected it to.

By the time they get back home --or, er, to Jongdae’s house-- they’re both practically dead on their feet, and they spend five minutes just giggling on their beds because they went out in public today without a single person recognising who they are and it feels so fucking good

“How was your day?” Jongdae’s mom asks, later, dishing up a heaping pile of spaghetti with so much garlic bread that Baekhyun doesn’t know what carbs are anymore and doesn’t care. “Did you have fun?”

Jongdae excitedly tells his mom about their day out and how he’s pretty sure they didn’t get caught even once --although they’ll find out in the morning on naver or weibo or something, probably. He’s like a little kid reciting his day at school sparing no details, and Baekhyun can’t help himself at the smile that passes over his face while watching Jongdae talk animatedly.

Jongdae’s foot finds Baekhyun’s beneath the table but neither of them pull away. Jongdae’s mom catches Baekhyun’s smile slowly growing and her eyes begin to twinkle, Baekhyun looking away quickly, flustered --Baekhyun doesn’t know why he feels like a kid caught with his hand stuck in the cookie jar, but he does.

The next day there’s about thirty different photos of Baekhyun and Jongdae on their little date, and it deflates the mood a little bit, but it’s not too bad. Most of the shots are far away and really, really, grainy, and most of the comments seem to be arguing whether it’s really Baekhyun and Chen on a date or not. Baekhyun used to feel angry at how much his life has just become a game to these people, but now it just makes him tired.

“Morning,” Jongdae slurs, yawning, and Baekhyun pouts while pushing his phone into his face, showing Jongdae the photos of them from yesterday and trying not to focus on how cute Jongdae is when he's sleepy. He sighs. “Can’t say I’m surprised, but…” Jongdae frowns; at least he feels the same way Baekhyun does, but, then again, it’s not like they’re never not on the same wavelength. 

Baekhyun pulls his phone away, and Jongdae groans as he slams himself back into the pillows, picking up his own phone to scroll through in morning ritual.

Baekhyun bites his lip when Minseok sends a text through and can’t help but laugh silently at his hyung’s little hope you had fun on your date~ with a selfie of him and Han making peace signs while eating breakfast together in what could easily constitute as a date by a fan’s standards. He tells Minseok as much, and laughs at the reply.

Don’t be jealous just because my date is cuter than yours

Baekhyun bursts into quiet, breathy laughter, shoots back a no one is cuter than chen-chen~ and if Jongdae’s staring at him while he laughs at his phone, he doesn’t notice.

 

 

 

 

 

Even though it’s only Autumn, it’s fucking freezing.

Baekhyun and Jongdae decide to stay in and watch a movie after their spectacular failure of a subtle outing, curling up on the couch under three blankets each even with the heater blasting, but they're still both chattering despite themselves.

“I’m so cold,” Jongdae whines, and groans some more before eventually giving up altogether and pulling up Baekhyun’s covers to they can share warmth. He rests his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, and it’s far from being the first time they’ve lied together like this, but without Baekhyun being able to crack a joke about whatever’s on screen, it feels different in an inexplicable way. His heartbeat is pounding loudly in his ears, and he can’t laugh obnoxiously to cover it up, forced to deal with the unsteady beat so much so that he can’t even focus on the movie.

By the time the first movie of their marathon ends, Jongdae is already asleep, and Baekhyun rolls his eyes fondly because this was meant to be a marathon but Jongdae’s already passed out. He could move just to wake him up and put in the next movie they have lined up, but instead he just rests his cheek on the top of Jongdae’s head, and becomes lulled by the heaviness of his breathing as Jongdae snores.

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday night, Baekhyun’s stomach begins to act up.

It’s not really that surprising considering he has to go to fucking surgery for his --arguably-- most important body part tomorrow, but he doesn’t want Jongdae to think it’s his fault, or something, so he --unsurprisingly-- keeps quiet about his panic. At breakfast he picks around his food instead of eating it, too afraid that it’s going to come right back up the moment he swallows, but without sound he can’t hide the paleness of his face, and Jongdae reaches out to brush their hands together comfortingly.

“C’mon,” he mumbles, and his long, slender fingers wrap around the width of Baekhyun’s wrist, tugging him away from the breakfast table. “Thanks for the meal, mom, Baekhyunnie and I are gonna go for a walk.”

“Stay safe, kids!” She calls as Jongdae runs to grab their coats and helps Baekhyun into his, as if they’re ten instead of twenty-four. Jongdae insistently pulls Baekhyun down the street, and doesn’t let go until they’re in the wide, open space of the park at the end of the road, and even then Jongdae keeps their shoulders pressed firmly together.

They end up doing stupid things in the park, like playing with the neighbourhood dogs and skipping stones across the man-made lake, a little frozen around the edges. It’s early on a Friday so the park is mostly empty, and with their scarves wound tightly around their neck to hide their faces Jongdae pushes Baekhyun into a swing and laughs when he falls onto his knees trying to jump off.

They play like they are ten instead of twenty-four, and, despite himself, Baekhyun doesn’t think about what awaits him tomorrow for the rest of the day.

As soon as dinnertime hits, however, Jongdae has to take a quick call with their manager about some OST he’s doing, or something, so Baekhyun just sits restlessly in the living room drumming his fingers on his thigh. In the silence of his loneliness, waiting for Jongdae to finish up, he realises what awaits him tomorrow, and suddenly the floating smell of fried onions doesn’t seem quite as tantalising.

Baekhyun knows why the surgery scares him, and he takes comfort in it, somehow, in knowing why his panic exists and how logical it is. The surgery rarely has a failure rate, especially with a node so small, but the possibility is still there. Baekhyun might lose his ability to sing forever, and he doubts that SM will ever put him in the dance line, even if his moves have improved over the years, it’s more likely he’ll just get kicked out or forced to retire. 

But there’s something else that scares him about tomorrow, too, because tomorrow’s also the day they all start heading back to Seoul and start working on some stuff for their next comeback. Tomorrow’s the day Baekhyun and Jongdae go home, to their over-crowded dorm, and the heavy, invisible thing has been sitting in them between the silences needs to stay in Siheung, for the sake of their team.

And that’s what Baekhyun’s scared of most, somehow, because they need the memories they’ve made together here to stay here, just as dusty and unused as Jongdae’s pig bedsheets and outdated band posters, but the real problem is, is that Baekhyun doesn’t want them to.

Jongdae’s mom catches him doing nothing on the couch, and quirks an eyebrow identical to Jongdae’s.

“Be a dear and help me set the table?” She asks, and Baekhyun’s thankful for the lack of silence, so he obliges.

The kitchen is loud between the pot boiling and the rice cooker’s timer, the slam of knife against a chopping board, the clink of plates and metal chopsticks as Baekhyun places each item on the table. Jongdae’s mom even hums while she cooks, filling up the quiet space, and Jongdae might not have gotten his mom’s cooking skills, but he definitely got her voice.

“Jongdae’s never told you why I’ve always wanted to look after you properly, has he?” She starts suddenly, hooking her apron over the back of the kitchen door, and Baekhyun blinks up dumbly. “It’s because I’ve always wanted to say thank you.”

Baekhyun falters, caught off guard by the gratefulness of an elder, and Jongdae’s mom even fucking bows which has Baekhyun throwing out his hands and floundering around more than usual.

“You’ve always taken good care of my son,” she starts, thankfully standing straight again, and Baekhyun just shakes his head frantically before Jongdae’s mom catches his hands in her own and forces him to look at her, all the way down there. “I still remember the day he got back from his first audition, and talked all about some Byun Baekhyun whom he knew for sure was going to get in instead of him, but he didn’t even seem upset, because he was happier for you than he was for himself, even if you’d only known each other for a day.” Baekhyun flushes at this, never having heard such a side of the story. “Idol life isn’t easy,” she says, slowly, but not patronisingly so --for obvious reasons. “And I’ve always wanted my Jongdae to be happy, but that’s hard when you live a life as busy as yours.” Her hands move from Baekhyun’s hands to his face, cupping it tenderly, like a mother to her own son. “So thank you, Baekhyun, because I’ve never seen Jongdae happier than he is when he’s with you. Thank you for taking care of him.”

Baekhyun, unsurprisingly, is speechless. 

She pats his cheek for good measure, letting her hands drop, and it’s just in time for Jongdae to stumble into the dining room to ask, “What’re you guys talking about?”

“Nothing, sweetie,” she says, and throws Baekhyun a piercing, Kim family gaze, that makes him feel as transparent as glass.

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner passes loudly as Jongdae and his mom bicker with Baekhyun’s occasionally sardonic notes thrown in in between. He’s still not super hungry, although he does eat a little, but, surprisingly, this time around, it’s not the surgery he’s worried about. 

I’ve never seen Jongdae happier than he is when he’s with you, plays on loop in the back of Baekhyun’s head like the verse of a song whose choreography he’s trying to nail, repeating over and over, with each time making his stomach coil that much tighter. Baekhyun can’t even work out if the news makes him happy or just downright anxious, and he’s not sure why the thought of Jongdae liking him above anyone else feels so much better when it comes from someone who would know him best.

After dinner, they make another loud show of cleaning up, and Jongdae squeals when Baekhyun flicks dirty dishwater bubbles at his nose, retaliating himself accordingly. His mother sighs, exasperated, and kicks them out of the kitchen because they’ll just end up making more of a mess.

Dejected, they trail up stairs, and Baekhyun gets a surprise when instead of going into Jongdae’s room like he figured they would, Jongdae curls a hand around his wrist and whispers follow me.

“Don’t tell mom about this,” he mumbles, as he pulls down an attic ladder with one of those sticks with a hook on the end, and gestures for Baekhyun to go up.

The attic is dusty and clearly under used, with cobwebs in every discernible corner and moving shadows that Baekhyun is going to pointedly ignore. Jongdae, however, ever the steel-heart, doesn’t even flinch as he finds a cellar spider on his shoulder and simply flicks it off.

It takes all of Baekhyun’s willpower not to squeak. He’s always louder when he’s nervous, or in this case, scared. Thinking to the coil of his stomach that still hasn’t untwisted ever since dinner, it might be a bit of both.

“This isn’t the main attraction though,” Jongdae teases, winking, and Baekhyun swallows as Jongdae pulls out a tiny metal step ladder and opens a hatch in the ceiling. There’s a little landing on the top of the roof, barely larger than two metres squared, and they both have to huddle together just to stay grounded, especially while Jongdae closes the hatch. 

“Mom always tells me not to come up here, so I try to make sure she doesn't find out,” he mumbles, by explanation, and Baekhyun isn’t too scared of heights, thank god, but he can understand where her worries might come from. “I used to come up here all the time whenever I was worried about something.” He continues, voice still reluctant and soft in ways that Baekhyun rarely sees, and he tips back his head so much that his throat is bared and his adam's apple bobs with each word. Baekhyun’s never wanted to taste anything more than the exposed, pale flesh of Jongdae’s neck.

Uh-oh.

“There aren’t any stars, but I still think the view's kinda nice,” Jongdae admits, and Baekhyun cranes his neck upwards to join him, blinking at the thick, dark clouds that float across the sky. In the distance, the city skyline can be seen clearly, lighting up the horizon. “I came up here after the first day of auditions, you know?” Jongdae laughs, and Baekhyun can’t help but smile. “I wonder how eighteen year old me would react now, if he saw where we’re at.”

Baekhyun laughs breathily at that, wondering the same thing. How would eighteen year old Baekhyun feel if he found out he could have everything he’d ever wanted, only to stand at the precipice to lose it all from a fucking lump in his throat, with the undying, desperate urge to kiss his current best friend on the mouth --the very same boy he’d met at auditions all those years ago. 

Somehow, Jongdae seems to understand Baekhyun’s thoughts --or at least, the first few, hopefully not the last one-- because he hugs his knees to his chest and shoots Baekhyun a sidelong glance, smiling.

“I know you’re worried about tomorrow,” he admits, and Baekhyun shifts, uncomfortable from feeling scrutinized. “But you don’t need to be.” 

Baekhyun blinks.

“I know you think your voice is all you have, Baekhyunnie, but it’s not, and you’re as much of the part of EXO as the rest of us, singer or no.” He bumps their shoulders together, and Baekhyun wants to look away just to hide the red on his face, but he can’t. He'd known he's been transparent, if Kyungsoo's callout had been any indication, but this is a whole other level entirely. “The surgery will be fine, and you’ll be back to being a beagle in no time, so stop worrying. It doesn't suit you at all.”

Baekhyun huffs despite himself, and Jongdae searches his face curiously.

What if it doesn’t, Baekhyun thinks, what if it’s gone forever and they kick me out, what if no one cares about me anymore because I’m no longer loud, or funny, or talented, he gulps, and wonders if Jongdae can actually read his mind. What if I lose my voice forever

“Even if you do,” Jongdae answers, mumbling. “You’ll never lose your friends.” He pauses for a minute, biting his bottom lip, and says, “You’ll never lose me.”

Baekhyun kisses him.

Baekhyun kisses him, and then panics, unsure of why he’d done such a thing but unable to pull away. He keeps his eyes open, watching Jongdae’s reaction carefully, and his eyes go wide before slipping closed and he’s fucking kissing Baekhyun back.

Fuck anything about their relationship, or their career, or their dynamic on the team; Baekhyun doesn't care anymore. It’s kind of fucking weird to be kissing a dude, Baekhyun thinks, even weirder that it’s Jongdae, but it also feels right somehow, in the weirdest sense of the word. His lips are chapped and cold from the chilled air, his mouth a contrasting wet warmth, but even with his mouth occupied Jongdae is not a silent kisser, groaning in satisfaction as he winds his hands into Baekhyun’s hair to tug him closer. Baekhyun’s breath, in return, hitches, and he lets out a contented sigh as Jongdae’s hands move to his cheeks to cup them gently.

Finally,” Jongdae mumbles, like he’s been waiting for this for fucking ever, and Baekhyun realises that he actually kind of has been, too. He wonders when he’d first started liking Jongdae, if it had been the slam of puppy-shaped paper in front of his face or the smile of an awkward eighteen year old wishing him luck on his audition, but either way Baekhyun’s been wanting this for a long, long time, and it wasn’t until the loudness of his want was no longer drowned out by his own voice that he could properly notice it.

Baekhyun is loud, Baekhyun’s want is louder, but his need is even quieter.

Jongdae moans again when Baekhyun --ever the self indulger-- moves his lips under Jongdae’s ear and then gently down the side of his neck, tasting sweat and salt and cologne and nipping at the flesh. Baekhyun’s done… things like this before, and he’s wanted like this before, but he’s never needed anyone in his life like he needs Jongdae, never needed to hear someone else come apart beneath him as much as he needs to hear Jongdae right fucking now.

But it isn’t until Jongdae’s hand is at Baekhyun’s groin that he realises as much as he needs, he can’t, because it takes every single cell in his body to focus his power into not groaning.

And this, Baekhyun thinks, is not how he wants their first time to go. He wants Jongdae to know how good he feels --how good he makes Baekhyun feel-- and the only thing he wants to use to say it with is his voice.

Jongdae, oblivious to Baekhyun’s sudden one-eighty, keeps palming at his shorts, and it isn’t until Baekhyun wraps his hand around Jongdae’s wrist and croaks out, “Jongdae.” That he stops. So much for a vow of silence.

Jongdae freezes, and pales, and then realising his blunder pulls back and puts what little distance he can between them, fumbling and apologising profusely .

“I should’ve asked oh my god I’m so sorry Baekhyun oh my god--” 

Baekhyun kisses him, softly, just to shut him up. 

It’s too dark to write anything down, much less read it, so Baekhyun does his best in communicating what he wants to say anyway.

It’s fine, he says, with a kiss to the lips, I want you , he says, with a kiss beneath Jongdae’s ear, but I don’t think I can have sex with you without risking my voice, he finishes, by cupping Jongdae’s face with his right hand. Jongdae, ever the psychic twins, leans into Baekhyun’s touch. The I want you to hear how much I love you goes unspoken.

“Okay,” Jongdae says eventually, gently. “If you’re sure.” 

Baekhyun gives Jongdae one last open mouthed kiss before they head back inside, and he doesn’t need to see Jongdae’s face to know that he'd understood what it means.

Thank you is one translation.

We’ll finish this later is another.

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun wakes up from surgery feeling like shit.

The first thing he wants to do is ask for Jongdae, who’d promised he’d stay in the waiting room outside, but even that’s impossible, because the surgeon said he’d have to stay on vocal rest for another month. A fucking month. At this stage, Baekhyun’s not even sure if he cares about his voice or not, because he wants to fucking scream and so help him god he will.

Even feeling the hangover from anaesthesia, though, Baekhyun’s never felt as giddy as he does when Jongdae reenters and immediately links their hands together, soothing his thumb over the tops of Baekhyun’s knuckles. It’s a strangely quiet gesture for the two of them, but Baekhyun’s slowly learning to like silence these days, bit by bit.

Over the next few weeks the members come back to the dorm one by one, trading stories about where they’ve gone and what they’ve been doing. Jongdae and Baekhyun have a silent agreement to keep whatever had happened to them back in Siheung under wraps, but Baekhyun’s not sure if that means it’s staying in Siheung, or just staying between them.

It makes him nervous to reach out to touch Jongdae, in fact, from fear of revealing too much, and it isn’t until Jongdae kisses him a week later when everyone’s gone to bed that Baekhyun’s worries melt away in the overcasting shadow of his need.

However, vocal rest is still very much a thing that Baekhyun has to do, and it’s funny that he’s considering throwing away his chance of proper recovery --and therefore his career- just to help Jongdae get off.

Jongdae pulls back, realising that they’re going far enough that it’s going to be hard to come back, and Baekhyun sulks into his shoulder as Jongdae just laughs beneath him. (Baekhyun bites his neck for good measure --but he’s pretty sure Jongdae feels more enjoyment from that than any sense of being punished.)

The next morning, Minseok gives him a smug smirk, and Baekhyun flushes beneath the weight of his gaze, even when he mumbles about time into the rim of his coffee cup.

 

 

 

 

 

After the month that Baekhyun will always refer to as the most agonising period of his life, Baekhyun visits the vocal specialist for --hopefully-- the last time.

All eight of his fellow members come to accompany him, moving their schedules god only knows how so they can sit out in the waiting room and bicker, as loud as ever, and it makes Baekhyun wonder how he could have ever possibly thought these people would leave him just because he no longer had his voice, when they’d stuck by him for so goddamn long anyway.

The specialist doesn’t want nine people crammed into her office, though, but Baekhyun insistently tugs Jongdae along, with a look that says family on his face. She sighs, but lets him in. 

They fill out some paperwork, do some scanning and examining, and eventually the specialist nods and says, “try saying something.”

“Jongdae…?” He tries, unsure, if only because it’s the first thing that comes to mind, and Jongdae, at the sound of his own name, fucking beams

“It will be croaky from disuse,” the doctor explains, smiling. “But the more you talk the better it will get, so I think you’ll be better in no time.”

Baekhyun, smiling still, thanks her profusely --silently only because it’s a hard habit to break. 

Outside, the eight members cheer at Baekhyun’s smile, and they’re all hugging and patting at him until Junmyeon squeezes too tight and Baekhyun squeaks out, “Can’t breathe.”  That’s when the cheering starts all over again, because they’ve all missed Baekhyun’s voice just as much as he has.

It’s a surprisingly hard habit to break, Baekhyun thinks, to remind himself that he can talk now whenever he wants to --but he finds that he wants to somewhat less, too. There’s something nice, somehow, in just sitting back and letting the others muck around, in watching instead of participating --or forcing himself too, simply because of his image-- and it’s so loud in the car back to the dorms that no one notices Jongdae intertwining his and Baekhyun's fingers together in the back seat, grinning at each other like the lovesick fools that they are. 

They have to wait until past midnight for everyone to go to sleep just so they can get some space to themselves. Minseok’s mysteriously vacated the floor because he’s 'suddenly experiencing the urge to sleep early', and Baekhyun hopes he doesn’t sleep worse because of it. They’re lucky to have such an understanding friend in their life, even if he is kind of unsubtle, but Baekhyun’s pretty sure both he and Jongdae know for a fact that Minseok deserves the world and then some.

Still, in the darkness of their room and the quietness of their muffled moans --Baekhyun has his voice back but they still have two floor-mates to consider-- Baekhyun can finally say what he’s wanted to say ever since getting his voice back.

“I love you,” he mumbles, into the curve between Jongdae’s shoulder and neck, but it doesn’t feel as dramatic or different as any other time they’ve said it because they’re best friends  --they say it all the damn time anyway. He'd expected to feel something different, maybe, but there's always been this warmth in his chest because of Jongdae, and Baekhyun thinks that just because they’re suddenly kissing or whatever, it doesn’t change the meaning behind it. 

Jongdae kisses him, closed-mouthed and quiet, and Baekhyun doesn’t need to hear him say it back, because he knows Jongdae feels the same way regardless. The silence is enough, for now.