Baekhyun wakes up to a spider on the ceiling.
(With as much dignity as possible, he squeals like a little girl.)
“Kyungsoo,” he whines, obnoxiously, dragging out the ‘oo’, and Kyungsoo in the room over unceremoniously opens the door with a gritted what.
“There’s a spider.” Baekhyun pouts and points to the arachnid on the ceiling with eight, spindly long legs. Kyungsoo grunts.
“You’re an adult,” he says flatly. “Deal with it.”
Kyungsoo shuts the door behind him with a click of finality. Baekhyun whines some more before getting dressed and pretending to not keep an eye on the spider as it crawls along the ceiling, humming along to the chorus of rhythm after summer that he has stuck in his head.
Junmyeon doesn’t take them out to breakfast --despite having promised to, yesterday.
“Hyung,” Baekhyun says seriously, because first a spider and now this? His day can’t get any worse. “What do you expect us to eat, pocket lint?”
“I was thinking cereal, you know, like a normal human being.” Baekhyun’s protests of we’re not normal are cut off by Chanyeol patting his shoulder.
“There, there,” he consoles. “You can deal with being a commoner for an hour and thirty-three minutes.” Baekhyun knows Chanyeol specifies the extra three because Baekhyun hates any number that doesn’t end in zero or five, at least when it comes to scheduling. Seriously, manager-hyung had handed them a timetable for the month with breakfast/getting ready penciled in for an hour and thirty-three minutes every morning. Why thirty three? Baekhyun hadn’t stopped complaining for weeks.
“I want eggs,” Baekhyun whines, for the umpteenth time that morning, and pats his own stomach empathetically. Jongdae shuffles in from his own room down the hall and begins making coffee from the shitty, packeted powder that every hotel resists the urge to make you pay extra for. “Jongdae, tell Junmyeon-hyung he should treat us to breakfast.”
Jongdae blinks for a few seconds, slowly, the words processing through his brain before he says, “No.”
“Why is everyone in this group against free breakfast?” Baekhyun throws his hands into the air.
“No one’s against a free breakfast,” Kyungsoo says from the fridge, taking one of the overpriced bottles of water and drinking from it freely since it’s the company’s money, for once, on promotion with the tour. “Jongdae just hates giving you what you want.”
“I am a delight,” Baekhyun insists.
“A delightfully annoying nuisance, yes.” At those words Baekhyun stands in Jongdae’s face and, pulling a fully certified puppy look, clasps his hands together, bottom lip jutting. “Get out of my face, your breath stinks.” Jongdae’s avoiding eye-contact, putting a decent amount of space between them, but truth be told, Baekhyun’s way too hungry and way too not-awake enough to wonder what that means. Jongdae’s been weirdly spacious, these days --Baekhyun just chalks it up to stress.
Instead of worrying, though, he mumbles, “It would smell like eggs if somebody just bought me breakfast--”
“Not happening,” Junmyeon replies cheerily, and takes one of the hotel room keys off the kitchen counter. “We all need to go soon anyway, plenty to do before the concert tonight.”
The concert tonight, right, Baekhyun’s stomach does that little twist it always does when he’s nervous. Even after years of performing, the jitters never truly go away, and Baekhyun’s always worried something is going to inevitably go wrong, even if it never does.
“Fine,” Baekhyun relents, sighing, and settles for a few pieces of fruit in the twenty-two minutes of breakfast time he has left. It’s not as filling or as satisfying as eggs, but maybe it’s better, in the long run, if he doesn’t puke on stage.
Baekhyun really misses the love me right era. Pinstripes hadn't made him want to die.
“What is this.” He says, and it’s not really a question as he looks at his ensemble for the opening number. Wearing a chain on a ring from his lip and a full leather ensemble was cool and all during the music video and whatever, but on stage, Baekhyun’s ninety-nine percent sure he is going to fucking die.
“Could be worse,” Minseok mumbles, and sure enough, Baekhyun’s is bad, but at least it’s not putting him in a forever state of a nip-slip.
“Wow,” Baekhyun returns, genuine, eyeing the amount of tears Minseok has. “At least you won’t overheat?”
Minseok hits him over the back of the head.
Dress rehearsal goes well enough. Turns out they’ll get to discard their hideous monster costumes once they’re done opening with a bang, and their stuff for the rest of the numbers isn’t too bad, mostly just light t-shirts and jeans.
Still, Baekhyun’s got this instinctual feeling nagging in the back of his head like something’s going to go wrong --but nothing has happened, as of yet.
The pre-concert interview goes well enough. Junmyeon smooth talks their concept and then makes a dad joke, Jongdae effortlessly says that his dad jokes aren’t funny, Sehun confesses their undying love for their fans, and Baekhyun and Chanyeol take unsynchronised turns tossing in a one-liner every now and then, even if Chanyeol slips up once and accidentally curses, they simply promise to not put the footage in the final cut.
“So what do you do in your spare time?” the interviewer asks, eyebrows waggling. “If you have any, of course.”
It’s one of Baekhyun’s designated questions, so he answers it as per regulation.
“With our schedules we don’t really have much time to ourselves,” he manages to make it sound as least dead-inside as possible, mentally reading off script. It’s one of the redirect type questions. “But if we can, we usually play games together or watch movies, D.O-ssi even cooks.”
He expects the interviewer to go for the bait, but instead he just arches an eyebrow, Baekhyun smiling up at him even if Kyungsoo’s sending him death-glares from his left.
“Oh?” The interviewer says. “So no time for a love life or anything too, right?”
“Unfortunately not,” Baekhyun replies sweetly, but feels his smile turn acidic. At least the interviewer has the decency to not make a Taeyeon comment.
All-in-all, it’s one of their better pre-shows, Baekhyun thinks, and doesn’t find it too bad even as the camera follows them all the way backstage, forcing them to talk about themselves even when they have more pressing matters to deal with.
The concert starts off without a hitch. The fans are screaming, numbering in the thousands, and the cameramen from the special show they’re doing for the concert kind of get in the way backstage, but not enough to actually prevent any of the members from missing their cue on stage. Baekhyun nearly groans into his mic when he shimmies the leather pants off in favour of actual dancing pants, thankful that monster had gone off. It’s always hard to do a song that’s more auto-tune than one would expect, but they’d found their balance.
Nothing goes wrong until el dorado. It’s always fun to perform an all time classic, and it always seems to make the fans shit their pants as soon as the track starts playing, even if it’s not that good of a song. They’ve gone all out this year, with a huge, contraption built at the back of the stage where each member has to stand in these light-boxes so only their silhouettes are shown as they dance with each other separated by metres of space in mid-air. Whenever it’s someone’s line the box lights up enough to show their face, and if Baekhyun’s eyes are hurting during the chorus while his box is lighting up all strobe-style, the rush from performance is enough to put it aside.
Baekhyun’s high-note is quick approaching, and this, he realises belatedly, is what’s going to go wrong. He’s going to miss the high note and be forever remembered on the internet as being flat as fuck --ass and voice both. He can see the headlines now.
Problem is, Baekhyun hits the note easy, and all his split second worry about fucking up and disappointing the fans goes away as he cruises through, joining back into the dance line once his high note is over.
Then, nine metres in the air, trapped in a light-box, Baekhyun falls.
Baekhyun wakes up to a spider on the ceiling.
“Thank fuck,” Baekhyun groans, pressing his hand against his head. “What a shitty dream.”
It had been more like a nightmare, in fact, like one of those ones you see before properly sleeping, where you’re falling in slow-motion before your entire body jolts and suddenly you’re awake again, even if you’d never felt the impact.
“Kyungsoo,” Baekhyun whines, dragging out the ‘oo’ until Kyungsoo comes in from next door, unimpressed. “There’s a spider.”
Kyungsoo sighs. “You’re an adult--” he starts, but Baekhyun remembers this not working in the dream, so he pulls the sheets further up his body to mimic a kid scared of the monster under his bed.
“I can’t get out until it’s gone.” He pouts, and Kyungsoo sighs before standing on the foot of Baekhyun’s bed and squishing it under a tissue.
“There," he says, placing the tissue in a bin. “Now get up.”
Baekhyun whistles along to the part from el dorado he has stuck in his head, relishing in the freedom of being able to get dressed without having to keep an eye on a spider.
“Change of plans,” Junmyeon starts, when Baekhyun shuffles into the kitchen. “I can’t take you out to breakfast today.”
“Hyung,” Baekhyun says seriously. “What do you expect us to eat, dust bunnies?”
“I was thinking cereal, you know, like a normal human being.” Something at Junmyeon’s words has Baekhyun fucking shivering at the uncanniness of it, and that’s before Chanyeol’s patting his shoulder.
“There, there,” he consoles. “You can deal with being a commoner for an hour and thirty-three minutes.”
Now this is just fucking weird.
Baekhyun tries to offset that feeling of something being wrong but he can’t, not when everyone’s playing out their parts exactly as they had in his dream last night, and not when he looks up at the massive light-box tower during the dress rehearsal and feels nothing but the distinct sensation of falling.
It doesn’t help when Minseok says his costume ‘could be worse’, it doesn’t help when Jongdae says Junmyeon’s dad jokes aren’t funny during the interview, and it doesn’t help on stage when Baekhyun hits the note in el dorado despite worrying that he won’t, and then panics as he rejoins the last dance line.
It doesn’t help when, midway through a move, Baekhyun loses his balance, and suddenly begins to fall.
Baekhyun wakes up from adrenaline, heart pounding, face sweating, and to a spider on his ceiling.
“Kyungsoo,” he whines, and drags out the ‘oo’. “I thought you killed it already.”
“What?” Kyungsoo asks, as he stumbles into the room and blinks up at the spider Baekhyun points to, dumbfounded. “What are you talking about?”
“The spider…?” Baekhyun tries, and Kyungsoo just rolls his eyes.
“You’re an adult,” he says harshly. “Deal with it.”
Baekhyun buttons up his shirt with the chorus of el dorado running through his head, staring up at the spider on the ceiling and thinking, please don’t tell me this is really happening.
“Change of plans,” Junmyeon says, as Baekhyun walks into the kitchen and sits down, trying to stop his whole body from shaking. “I can’t take you out to breakfast today.”
The words barely even register as Baekhyun feels the blood leave his face, hands shaking.
“What? No witty complaint about eating dust, or something?” Junmyeon steps forward and presses the back of his knuckles against Baekhyun’s forehead. “Are you feeling alright, Baekhyun?”
Baekhyun smiles forcedly, even if he does flinch at the touch, and lies.
“Of course hyung,” he says, and pushes Junmyeon’s hand away. “Just sleepy.”
For dramatic effect, he yawns. Jongdae is still weirdly quiet while he makes instant coffee, but Baekhyun’s mostly wishing that that doesn’t become a constant, in whatever weird thing is happening, right now. Jongdae being quiet isn’t a normal sort of thing, and Baekhyun could do with a whole lot more normal, he’s beginning to think.
Baekhyun sighs as he clips on the lip ring and chain.
“Mine could be worse, I know,” he tells Minseok, right as he turns around to show off the tears in his costumes, and Minseok’s mouth snaps shut, blinking adorably. It would be a lot funnier if Baekhyun wasn’t too busy having a fucking crisis because his day is repeating itself for the third fucking time, like it’s set on loop.
Baekhyun’s spent enough time playing video games and watching shitty tv shows in his youth to know how this sort of thing works, and time only fucks itself up when something broken demands to be fixed. So, Baekhyun thinks, what is it that needs fixing?
The answer is pretty obvious.
Evidently, Baekhyun falling off the stage isn’t meant to happen, since that’s when the day seems to restart each and every time. By the time it gets to the high note in el dorado, Baekhyun nails it again, and when it’s his turn to join back in the dance line, he doesn’t, just stands stock still until he doesn’t fall and joins back in again once he deems it safe.
They make it all the way through the number, in fact, and Baekhyun’s breathless with relief. Even if he’d looked like a fool on stage for a few seconds, at least he’s alive.
There’s a metal stairway set up at the back of the light-boxes, which is how they’re meant to get down. On the second step, Baekhyun slips, the railing breaking, and before he knows it, he’s falling.
“You’re supposed to be dead,” Baekhyun says dramatically, to the spider on the ceiling, like a plot twist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. He drags himself out of bed, buttons up his shirt, and prepares to face the day again for the fourth goddamn time.
Baekhyun tries fucking every complaint that he can pull out of his ass in order to stop them from putting him up there. He plays the acrophobia card --which, is a legitimate thing that he has-- the injury card, the laziness card, and even the blatant refusal card, but apparently Baekhyun’s destiny is meant to be played out at the top of that fucking light-box, because one of the tech guys end up carrying him bridal style up there during the dress rehearsal.
This time, he nails the high note, skips the part in the dance line, and even on the way down he takes his time with each step, watching carefully and avoiding the rail when he knows it will break. He makes it all the way to the bottom, in fact, rushing through a costume change for the next song, all before he trips on a chord backstage.
This, Baekhyun thinks, is fucking stupid, because it’s not like he’s going to die from tripping over. Everything decelerates into slow-motion, just like a dream, and before Baekhyun can even throw his arms out to brace himself, he falls.
“Fuck me.” Baekhyun tells the spider on his ceiling vehemently, and is disappointed when it doesn’t web down and bite him to death, or something. He just wants his suffering to end.
So maybe falling off the stage isn’t really the broken part, Baekhyun’s beginning to think, because no matter what he does there always simply turns out to be another failsafe a few steps ahead that forces the loop to reset.
Baekhyun tries everything he can think of before realising that maybe the only reason he’s falling is because the universe wants to reset, so he’s determined that something else must be broken.
Problem is, in all his reliving of the same day over and over, Baekhyun’s quickly learnt how out of place everything is, and it’s impossible to know which parts need fixing. It could be anything from Junmyeon not taking them out to breakfast to the curse Chanyeol accidentally says in the interview pre-show. It could even be something backstage, or in the crowd, that Baekhyun’s meant to notice but can’t, and he’s suddenly lost in the hopelessness of it, in the endless possibilities.
Well, he thinks, at the very least, he’s got a lot of time to work it out.
What Baekhyun has begun to notice, however, is that there are certain events he simply can’t avoid.
Like the dressing rooms with Minseok, or getting in the light-box on stage, Baekhyun’s slowly realising that no matter what he does to avoid them, he always gets pushed back into them somehow, like the universe wants him to be there.
So Baekhyun plays along, and wonders if it’s some sort of clue. Obviously the broken thing is EXO-related, otherwise it wouldn’t be Baekhyun who has to deal with it, so that at least allows him to narrow it down to someone in the group, surely.
The thing is, they’re a group of socially repressed idols, so they’re all dealing with problems all the fucking time, and Baekhyun’s not exactly someone who can just cure them spontaneously --at least not in one day, even if the day is forever stuck on loop.
But he tries to anyway.
Baekhyun ends up spending at least one day each on the other eight members to figure out what’s wrong, and always blatantly asks what’s bothering them most before trying to fix it. Junmyeon’s stressed in general, Chanyeol’s throat is sore, Minseok’s worried about the CBX stuff they have tomorrow --or, what should be tomorrow-- Jongin’s cramping up, Sehun thinks his hair looks stupid, Kyungsoo is freaking out about balancing his schedule between acting and EXO, Yixing’s worried he’s getting too old, and Jongdae is… Jongdae is…
“I’m fine,” Jongdae insists that morning, frowning, and it’s not the first time Baekhyun has spent the loop trying to worm it out of him and ultimately failing. “I don’t know why you’re so worried.”
“We’re idols, Jongdae,” Baekhyun says carefully. “We’re never fine.”
“Well, yeah,” Jongdae replies, rolling his eyes. “But I’m not more not-fine than usual, seriously.” That sentence has Baekhyun repeating it several times in his head, just to make sense of it. “So stop bothering me and leave me alone you clingy puppy.”
Baekhyun pouts, and when Jongdae tries to close the door in his face, Baekhyun shoves his foot in the gap.
“Jongdae,” he says, and meets his eyes. “You’re my best friend. You can tell me anything, you know that, right?”
Jongdae looks caught off-guard, which hurts Baekhyun more than he thinks it should, but ultimately he nods slowly, hesitant.
“Of course I know that,” he replies. “But I promise I’m fine.”
Baekhyun lets Jongdae close the door, stranded in the hallway, and it is, Baekhyun thinks, a very obvious sign from the universe that whatever it is that’s broken, Jongdae’s definitely involved.
By the time Baekhyun realises it, he’s beginning to lose count of how many times he’s lived the same day over and over, he snaps.
“I’m stuck in a time loop," he tells Jongdae, before either of them can go to the kitchen to hear Junmyeon’s disappointing news about breakfast. “And I’m pretty sure the reason I can’t break out of it has to do with whatever’s bothering you, so can you like, tell me, please?”
Jongdae’s face twists, leaning forward like he’s searching for a hidden camera. “What is this, a variety show?” But Baekhyun’s pulling his I’m serious face, the one he and Jongdae save for each other only behind the curtain, and it obviously has Jongdae conflicted. “What are you talking about?”
“Show me what’s in your pockets,” Baekhyun insists, and when Jongdae doesn’t oblige, he enforces it again until he relents, sighing. There’s 2500 won, a receipt from a gelati store from last week --or, what should have been last week-- a hotel room key-card, and a piece of lint shaped like the continent of Australia.
“I’ll show you.” Baekhyun mumbles, marching off, and if Jongdae avoids him for the rest of the loop, well, it’s no more so than usual.
“Yeah yeah you can’t take us out to breakfast whatever,” Baekhyun waves his hands as he walks past Junmyeon, stomping down to Jongdae’s room and leaving Junmyeon’s pretty mouth half open. He knocks, once, twice, three times, before Jongdae looks startled and blinks.
“I’m stuck in a time loop,” Baekhyun starts. “And you don’t believe me, because you think this is a variety show or something, but I can prove that this has happened before because I know exactly what’s in your pockets.” Jongdae opens his mouth, brow furrowed, but Baekhyun starts listing off the items one by one before he can continue.
“Okay, that’s fucking creepy,” Jongdae mumbles, as --after Baekhyun insisting he does so-- he sorts through the things in his pocket, Australia-shaped lint and all. “But what do you want me to do about it? Won’t the loop reset and I’ll forget anyway?”
Baekhyun has to stop himself from crying because it feels so fucking nice to have someone believe him and to just... to just not feel so alone, in this stupid mess he’s ended up in.
“There’s something bothering you,” he tells Jongdae, through a clogged up throat. “And whatever it is, you never tell me, but I’m pretty sure it’s the thing that the universe wants me to fix.”
“Oh,” Jongdae says, like he knows exactly what Baekhyun’s referring to, and swallows, licking his lips. “I’m pretty sure that’s not it.”
“Jongdae, please,” Baekhyun whines, clasping his hands together. “If you tell me maybe I can actually fix this and you’ll eventually forget you told me anyway in the next loop, so--” he’s stepping forward, to put his hands on Jongdae’s shoulders, but he ends up tripping instead, on an untied shoelace.
Fucking hell, Baekhyun thinks, and then falls.
No cheating seems to be the obvious message from that one, Baekhyun thinks. Every time he does something wrong, the universe forces him to reset, and evidently, telling Jongdae… that, is a part of it. Or at least, forcing him to tell Baekhyun the problem is.
If anything, it’s only further cementing the fact that Jongdae is related to the brokenness. Baekhyun’s never had the loop restart itself at any point before the concert, previously.
Still, no matter how hard he tries, he’s not working the answer out of Jongdae, so he turns to other desperate measures.
“Jongdae seems kind of weird recently, right?” he asks Minseok while they’re getting into their respective costumes. “I’m not imagining things?”
Minseok purses his lips, conflicted, and makes a strangled sort of noise.
“He’s… dealing with things,” Minseok says, softly, and fingers the hem of the hole above his left nipple. “It’s not really my place to say.”
“Ugh,” Baekhyun grunts, clipping on the lip ring. “Jongdae won't tell me either, and I thought we were best friends.” He frowns, and realises it bothers him, like, a lot. Jongdae and him have always been close, ever since auditioning together, and Baekhyun’s always taken comfort that he can tell Jongdae anything --after all, he even believed the time loop thing, and Baekhyun’s not even sure he would believe that.
So what is it, exactly, that Jongdae can't tell Baekhyun? Baekhyun thought they were… better than this. But what could be so goddamn bad that the universe won’t even let Baekhyun continue onwards without working it out?
“It's not that simple, Baekhyun, it’s… Complicated.”
“Too complicated for me, but fine for you, right?” Baekhyun hates the way his voice sounds, because he’s never angry, but he’s just so tired. Tired of hurting, tired of living like someone else’s puppet, tired of living the same day over and over and losing hope that he'll ever break out of it. Minseok doesn't deserve the brunt of that, though, even if he’ll forget it in approximately six hours when Baekhyun falls on stage.
“Sorry,” Baekhyun apologises, lamely, and sighs. “i just… I don’t have an excuse for that. Sorry.”
Minseok purses his lips, and smooths down Baekhyun’s ruffled collar.
“It’s okay, just…” He bites his lip. “Just have some tact about this sort of thing, alright?”
Baekhyun doesn't know what Minseok means by this sort of thing, but his mind snags on it for the rest of the loop, haunting him even when later that night, he gets on stage, and braces himself for the fall.
When Baekhyun wakes up, he doesn’t go to the kitchen, or Jongdae’s room, or even Kyungsoo’s, to beg him to get rid of the spider. Instead, he just leaves the hotel, ignoring every voice that tries to ask him what he’s doing, and pulls the face-mask tighter around his chin.
He orders a three-course meal.
It’s been… what? Two weeks? Three? He’s started to forget how long it’s been, living the same events out over and over, and somewhere along the way he’d started re-counting in the same number, counting backwards, counting in pairs, just so it wouldn't feel like it's been as long as it has. He shovels as much food as he can into his mouth, relishing in the taste and the feel of it, and orders bowl after bowl of rice because Baekhyun doesn’t need to watch his diet, and, well, rice.
No matter where he goes, the universe doesn’t try to get him to reset. Baekhyun walks around the city, faceless, and when he checks the time on his phone there’s a million and one notifications waiting on the lockscreen, so he drops the device into the gutter. No one recognises his face because anyone who would knows that he’s meant to be at the sky dome, preparing for the night, and what sort of idol would skip their own concert? It’s practically a death wish.
Still, Baekhyun basks in it, in the sun on his skin and the wind in his hair and the feeling of rebelling --both SM and the universe-- of being cut off from the world, watching as the day continues on even long past the point where it would usually reset. He wonders if the show will go on, if his bandmates are panicking, or if they’re eerily calm and have given up hope, simply going to continue the concert without their lead vocalist. Baekhyun spends the night by Banpo bridge, watching the coloured water dance through the night, and the sun rises before he can even realise it --the next day has begun.
It’s funny, he thinks, that the universe won’t let Baekhyun ask Jongdae for the truth but it will let him run away, let him discard his worries and panics and let time continue flowing. Yet it’s stupid, because Baekhyun knows he can’t continue like this. He knows he can’t let time continue to go on, because sooner or later whatever Jongdae has broken is going to bite him in the ass, and the consequences he’s going to face for skipping out on their fucking concert are… not going to be bearable, if he chooses to live through this time.
Baekhyun sighs as he watches the sun pass over the horizon line all too quickly, and then he just laughs into the wind, pulling his face-mask down so he can feel the cool air around his teeth. He laughs, and then he keeps laughing, and then he laughs some more, because it’s all too fucking ironic that Baekhyun finally found a way to break out of the loop, and he’s not going to take his chance.
Baekhyun stands, toes edging the line, and he laughs once more as he swings his legs over the side of the bridge, and jumps.
He doesn’t feel himself hit the water.
There’s a new-found sort of freedom and determination in knowing that Baekhyun has the ability to break the loop if he so chooses, and it energizes him in ways that makes it feel like a bucket of ice water has been dumped over his head, clearing his thoughts. Baekhyun will break this loop --properly-- or die trying.
With newfound conviction, Baekhyun gets dressed immediately and swings open his door, only to find Jongdae at it, hand frozen mid-knock. Baekhyun’s never left his room this early, before, in any of the loops, so he hadn’t even known this was an event that occurred.
“Oh I--” Jongdae fumbles, and pulls his hand back down hurriedly, squashing it behind his back. “I was just um. Going to see if you’re awake. Which you are so. Great. That’s great.” He turns stiffly, to leave, but Baekhyun snatches his wrist.
“You know you can tell me anything, right,” Baekhyun says, softly, and feels his grip tighten. “We’re best friends Jongdae. I’m not going to judge you for anything. Ever.”
“That’s sort of the problem,” Jongdae mumbles, smiling weakly, and before Baekhyun can do anything about it, Jongdae’s snatching his own hand back and walking away, leaving Baekhyun and his eight-legged friend alone in peace.
Baekhyun decides to name the spider Monshi, because it’s anything but fluffy, Baekhyun loves irony, and he’s decided the spider is a friend, rather than an enemy, in these trying times. Or time, singular, since it’s just the one day, forever stuck on repeat.
This time around, Baekhyun bolts out of bed as quick as possible in order to catch Jongdae mid-knock again, frozen, and he pulls him into his room.
Jongdae blinks, stumbling in an attempt to regain balance from Baekhyun’s pulling, and then he says, “You have an opiliones on your ceiling.” Before Baekhyun can even say what he’d been meaning to.
Baekhyun opens his mouth, closes it. “A what?”
“An opiliones,” Jongdae answers for him, matter-of-factly, and stands on the foot of Baekhyun’s bed to brush the… opili-whatever into the palm of his hand. “They’re a type of arachnid."
Baekhyun flinches back from the whatever in Jongdae’s hand; as much as he’s gotten accustomed to Monshi’s presence --oh god, the name has actually stuck-- he’s gotten accustomed to it being very far away from him on the ceiling.
“I thought it was a spider,” Baekhyun blurts, as Jongdae twists his hand as the opiliones crawls around and around and around, like it’s stuck on a loop.
“Common mistake.” Jongdae laughs as it tickles the gap between his fingers. “They’re not venomous, and they can’t even bite, they only have two eyes and you can tell it’s not a spider because it only has one body part, see?”
Jongdae holds his hand up, and Baekhyun wants to flinch back, but this is Jongdae --his best friend, Jongdae, who gives ghosts hand warmers, who believes in time loops, who falls asleep on rollercoasters, who always gives room for Baekhyun to trust him and has never shown him otherwise-- so instead Baekhyun holds his hand up, and lets the opiliones walk awkwardly across his palm. It tickles, Baekhyun thinks, and Jongdae makes some joke about Baekhyun’s fingers being spindly enough to be an opiliones, but he’s too busy staring in fascination at the harmless creature standing on his knuckles.
It’s funny, Baekhyun thinks, that a bad omen can suddenly become good, when seen from a different angle. He’s spent so many mornings waking up to the sight of Monshi on his ceiling, he’d thought he’d learnt everything there is to learn about this one, never-ending day.
As Baekhyun’s eyes flick up, he meets Jongdae’s, and they smile in unison. Something low and warm stirs at the bottom of Baekhyun’s gut, and he wonders how much more he can learn, throughout this day, over and over again.
Baekhyun dedicates the day over and over to Jongdae and nothing else, clinging to him like crazy day after day after day to no avail. Whatever’s gotten to Jongdae, though, he never budges, and it feels like Baekhyun is making no progress no matter how many times the loop restarts.
Instead, however, Baekhyun finds he gets to learn something new about Jongdae each and every loop, no matter what --like his weird love of arachnids, the moles he hides behind his sideburns, and the distinct guilt he feels taking anything from the hotel bar fridge, even while knowing that he’s not the one paying for it.
Baekhyun starts clinging to Jongdae in each loop because Jongdae is interesting, familiar and unfamiliar all at once and it makes something in Baekhyun stir-awake at the realisation of it, as he spends loop after loop after loop on autopilot wondering why he wants to hold Jongdae’s hand up and see if it fits as well between Baekhyun’s fingers as Jongdae fits into Baekhyun’s upside down life.
“Chanyeol’s going to swear in the interview today, isn’t he?” Minseok asks, while he slowly fiddles with the zippers on his too-tight and too-torn pants.
Baekhyun blinks, and Minseok just laughs, shakily.
“Man,” he says, and scratches his cheek sheepishly. “I just had the weirdest sense of deja vu.” It’s like whatever sharpness had been in his eyes before has fogged over, though, and it’s the sort of thing you don’t realise is missing until it’s gone. “What was I talking about?”
(Baekhyun ends the loop early that night by jumping from the stair railing side-stage. Something in his gut feels off-put by Minseok’s comment and, well, truth be told --he’s really fucking sick of performing the concert’s setlist.)
Sometimes, Baekhyun forces the loop to reset by telling Jongdae everything, by blurting it out on his doorstep just to watch the conflicted emotions pass by his face all before tripping and restarting. It’s sickeningly relieving, in some way, and all it does is make that sleepy thing in his chest more awake, some sort of sick fondness at Jongdae’s somewhat stunned but gradual acceptance.
Other times, he just clings to Jongdae stupidly, being overly-touchy and whiny in an attempt to drag whatever’s sinking inside of him out. It’s silly, he knows, but Baekhyun finds that in every single loop, no matter what, it’s always Jongdae who’s never constant, who never reacts the same way regardless of the repeated action, and it’s the only comfort he’s able to find in a world that he’s beginning to accept no longer has any.
It’s always Jongdae who Baekhyun finds himself leaning against, pulled towards, and he’s not sure how much of this is him and how much of this is the loop desperately wanting to be patched up.
“Have you ever been in love?” he asks Minseok, while they’re getting into their stage costumes together. Baekhyun can be an idiot sometimes, but he’s not that much of an idiot, and the way he feels towards Jongdae… well, natural or not, he’s pretty sure he knows what it is. It’s only in the ensuring time loop that he finds himself feeling it, though, and it scares him, to think that it’s only happening because of him losing his sanity.
“With what time?” Minseok jokes, and laughs a self-deprecating thing. Maybe that’s the answer, Baekhyun thinks, because being stuck in the same day on auto-pilot really has given him the ability to think, to feel, to no longer push away everything he’s been shouldering for the past five years and just look at everything inside. “I’d pencil it in for that two minute break between lunch and dance practice, but I’m pretty sure that’s allocated travel time.” Minseok’s fingers fidget on a button, lips pursed. “Is this about Taeyeon?”
Baekhyun nearly doubles over from coughing or laughing or some sort of noise in between. “What? ” he manages to splutter, and pounds at his own chest just to get the air out. “That was like, two years ago, dude.”
“Well sorry.” Minseok pulls a pouty face that makes Baekhyun want to go onto his knees to apologise for nothing in particular. “It’s just so sudden… you’ve never really spoken about anyone else?” He pauses again, watching Baekhyun carefully, and then suddenly says, “Is this about Jongdae?”
Baekhyun freezes with the lip ring pinched between his second and third finger, and he swallows before replying. “Why would you say that?”
Minseok shrugs, and the movement is awkward, stilted. “I’ve seen the way you look at each other, it’s…” He shakes his head. “Well, you say you’re best friends, but it doesn’t really feel that way…?”
“The way we look at each other,” Baekhyun repeats, and something within him just clicks. “As in, us. At each other. Not just me. At him. But us. Both. Towards the other.”
Minseok’s eyes go wide as he realises his blunder, and Baekhyun nearly screams.
“I can’t fucking believe this,” he says out loud --either in pure exasperation or excitement, Baekhyun himself doesn’t know-- but something feels properly shifted back into place and Baekhyun is going to fix this.
When Baekhyun had realised something was broken, he didn’t think that meant Jongdae’s heart.
Or maybe it’s his own heart --not that it had ever been broken, per se, but just. Oblivious, maybe.
“I like you,” Baekhyun says, as he swings open the door to Jongdae’s half-frozen fist in mid-air. “I like you so fucking much.”
“I--” Jongdae starts to say, but Baekhyun is pulling him inside while simultaneously pushing against him and this --this, here-- this feels right, somehow, like the stars are aligning, like the universe is healed, like everything is fixed.
It isn’t until later, when they’re pushing each other against the bed, that Baekhyun trips with his pants caught around his own ankles and he thinks, fucking seriously?
So maybe the confession needs to be bigger, or more explosive, or more well thought-out, or something, but no matter how Baekhyun does it, the result is the same: immediate reset.
He tries confessing sweetly, he tries it harsher, he tries plunging his tongue down Jongdae’s throat the first chance he gets, he even tries fucking kissing him right on stage, in front of thousands of fans, squealing the top of their lungs back as Jongdae just pushes away with eyes wide because they’re on stage and he’s not stuck reliving the same day over and over. Jongdae thinks there are actual consequences, to these sorts of things, and Baekhyun ends up laughing in front of a million EXO-L’s because he’s forgotten what consequences even feel like.
No matter what happens though, the reset is almost always immediate, and Baekhyun can never talk to Jongdae about his feelings because the talking never comes, it’s always just falling, and falling, and more falling.
Baekhyun used to have a fear of heights --now he’s just afraid of never hitting the ground.
Somewhere along the way, Baekhyun gives up.
Maybe Jongdae isn’t the problem --maybe there’s not a problem to begin with-- maybe the universe is just fucked up and Baekhyun is caught in its own little petty revenge scheme, getting back at him for killing a butterfly when he was a child, or some shit.
Either way, when Baekhyun gets out of bed, he shuffles Monshi onto the palm of his hand and places him on the window sill, watching the opiliones scuttle away lazily. He waits for Jongdae’s shadow under the door to move onwards before going to the kitchen, and before Junmyeon can even open his mouth, he beats him to it.
“How about I take us all out to breakfast instead, hyung?” Why should Baekhyun care, really, when the loop’s going to reset and he’ll get his money back anyway. He might as well enjoy something different for a change, and he’d yet to take everyone out to breakfast, at any stage in the loops, so maybe he’ll get some new interactions. Like unlocking new dialogue content on the fiftieth replay of a game.
Plus, he still really fucking feels like eggs.
“Um. Sure?” Junmyeon says, and Baekhyun announces it to the rest of the group.
They only have a scheduled hour and thirty-three minutes, but they’re used to eating efficiently, and the waitstaff are pretty good about serving a group of nine celebrities before the rest of the restaurant. Baekhyun says they can go all out since he doesn’t care, and Chanyeol makes sure that they do, ordering a near hundred-course meal that they shovel through with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine.
Baekhyun’s not that hungry, though, so he just settles for fried eggs on toast, perfectly hitting his cravings.
“Hey, hyung?” Baekhyun starts, turning to face Minseok. “I think you look good in your costume no matter how many tears they’ve put in.”
It’s the first time he’s ever said anything about it in any of the loops, and Minseok flushes.
“Oh,” he says, cheekbones pink. “Thanks?”
“No problem,” Baekhyun replies, and clips on his lip ring.
“So what do you do in your spare time?” The interviewer asks, eyebrows waggling. “If you have any, of course.”
“We spend what little free time we can together,” Baekhyun answers, even though he knows it’s off script. “Even this morning, we only had an hour and thirty-three minutes, but we still had a great breakfast together. It’s funny how you can spend an infinite amount of time with each other, but never get sick of one another, you know?”
He feels rather than sees his bandmates giving him weird looks from across the panel, but Baekhyun pays it no mind, continuing to smile.
“Oh?” the interviewer says. “So no time for a love life or anything too, right?”
“If it comes up, it comes up.” Baekhyun shrugs, still smiling. “It’d be hard to make it work, but I think, if two people really like each other, then everything will work out, right?”
The interviewer makes some quip about Baekhyun being quite the guru, Chanyeol never missing on the opportunity to join in on the joke, and if Jongdae’s sending him weird glances from the side, Baekhyun only turns to meet his eyes, smiling all the same.
The concert goes off without a hitch. Baekhyun nails the high note in el dorado, meets back in with the dance line, and when he expects to hit the bottom he just… never does. It never happens. Baekhyun had spent the equivalent of months thinking that something in the universe needed fixing, but maybe the problem was that Baekhyun had started seeing things as broken to begin with.
That, or he’d just really been destined to eat eggs this morning.
Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and still Baekhyun is afraid that every morning he’s going to wake up to an opiliones on his ceiling --but he never does. Instead, he just spends his time with his bandmates --his family -- and relishes in the feeling of the sun rising differently every morning, of time continuing to flow. He’s starting to wonder if the loop had ever happened, or if it’d just been some sort of weird dream to begin with --he even googles it, in his lowest moment, but the results are nothing but fictional.
The feelings for Jongdae never go away, though, and whereas Baekhyun had been scared of them from fear of resetting the loop, they don’t go away, and it’s not that Baekhyun would exactly call the universe faithful but, well, maybe it’s a sign, that things can only go forward, now.
Problem is, things are a lot harder to do, for Baekhyun, when he realises he has to actually face the consequences.
“Can you… not look like a kicked puppy,” Kyungsoo tells him, while it’s their turn to make breakfast, shooing his hands away from stirring the soup pot so he can take over. “Your lovesickness is going to be contagious.”
Baekhyun chokes. “My what.”
“Oh please,” Kyungsoo rolls his eyes. “You can fool fans all you want, Baekhyun, but I know that look.” He points his wooden spoon at Baekhyun’s face accusedly. “You’re the moodmaker and you’re bringing down the mood, so stop it.”
“What do you want me to do, exactly?” Baekhyun asks obliviously, and Kyungsoo shoots him a look that’s somewhere between wanting to die and wanting Baekhyun to die.
“Confess to Jongdae, obviously.” This time, Baekhyun actually chokes. “Oh come on, you two have been in love with each other for years, it’s not my fault you only just realised, apparently.” Kyungsoo shakes his head, but it’s in fond amusement, which is kind of scary. “Do you even know the reason why Jongdae hates giving you what you want?” At Baekhyun’s still in-shock face, Kyungsoo hits him. “It’s because he hates the fact that he wants to give it to you. Because he’s in love with you. And unlike somebody, he’s been aware of that fact for a very, very long time.” Kyungsoo sighs. “Unfortunately, he’s not smart enough to realise you feel the same way.”
“It’s--” Baekhyun wants to finish with not that easy, but he knows it is, because during the loop he’d done it a hundred million times, all the while knowing that he’d never actually have to deal with it. He’d grown so accustomed to living his day on repeat, that he’d actually sort of forgotten what it’s like to deal with the future. He knows the way he and Jongdae feel for one another is real, and strong, and that’s not what worries him. What worries him is what comes next. They’re idols, not teenagers, they’ll never be able to kiss in public, or say that they love each other outside of closed doors, and they’ll probably barely even be able to be affectionate with their own goddamn group, let alone a backstage crew, or something.
It’ll be like everything in else in their goddamn life --coming with consequences-- and Baekhyun doesn’t think there’s any point in dating someone like Jongdae if the whole world can’t be jealous of him for it.
Except that’s petty, he knows, and stupid, and not the case at all, because Jongdae is Jongdae regardless of what comes next and what gets made public --Baekhyun knows that loop or no loop, he’ll be worth it every single goddamn time.
Baekhyun grimaces; both in the realisation that he’s actually going to fucking do this, and the realisation that Kyungsoo is right. Neither is particularly more comforting than the other.
Baekhyun had tried a myriad ways of confessing during the loop, but none felt more proper than this.
“I’m in love with you,” he tells Jongdae one night, while they’re curled up together watching a movie, Jongdae’s head on Baekhyun’s chest, and Jongdae sits up from the surprise of it, blinking.
“You--” he falters. “--What? ”
“Well,” Baekhyun feels his face going warm. “Maybe I’m not like… fully there but I’m? In like with you?” Once his mouth starts moving, it’s almost impossible to stop, his brain suddenly losing control of all motor functions. “I mean, I love you as my friend, obviously, and I say that every day but like. As a potential boyfriend --if that’s what you want-- I’m kind of in the process? Of being in love with you?” Baekhyun swallows, gaining more conviction. “Like, I’m falling in love with you but I’m… I’m still falling. I haven’t hit the actual in love part yet, but I… I really want to Jongdae. I want to be in love with you so bad and I want to be with you so bad but I guess what I’m really trying to say is--”
Jongdae kisses him.
“Shut up,” Jongdae breathes out, both hands around Baekhyun’s face to pull him closer. “Just shut up. You’re such an idiot. Oh my god.”
“You’re an idiot too,” Baekhyun replies, breathless for no reason, smiling despite himself. “Liking me for all this time and never saying anything.”
“Not my fault you’re oblivious,” Jongdae bites back, and then literally bites, nipping Baekhyun on his bottom lip until he’s pouting and pulling back. “We could already be in love right now if you weren’t so slow on the uptake of liking this--” He gestures to himself arrogantly; Baekhyun snorts. “--you idiot.”
“You still like me though,” Baekhyun says pointedly, and this time leans in himself, fingers curled at the back of Jongdae’s neck as he kisses him gently, softly, longingly. This too, somehow, in its own way, feels like falling, but better. Baekhyun’s feet have gone out, and he’s losing balance, but Jongdae’s there with him, tumbling together, and they don’t know what sort of consequences are waiting for them at the bottom, but it’s easier, knowing that they’ll face them together.
Something also feels infinitely better about kissing Jongdae, Baekhyun thinks, when he knows they’re both going to remember it in the morning.