Rating: PG for possibly disturbing content
Word count: 3.6k
Summary: For Junmyeon, forgetting is the hardest part. Implied Suho/Kai.
note: originally written for seoulfulness, with this prompt: as they disembark from a plane after returning to korea from overseas all the members except for one begin to experience amnesia. the farther they travel from the plane the worse it gets. slightly tweaked (for canon and grammatical errors) and expanded; here for safekeeping.
i don't want to get over
The first thing that goes wrong is Kyungsoo, who turns to Junmyeon and says, "Wait, did we just get to China?"
They are in the tunnel between the plane and the airport. If Junmyeon cranes his head slightly over Chanyeol's shoulder, he can see the other six band members up ahead, Kris's forehead almost touching Tao's as they examine a selca, Lu Han prodding Minseok's stomach with the rolled up stub of his ticket and being told off by Yixing. Suddenly Chanyeol's grin is in Junmyeon's face as he whips around to look at Kyungsoo, eyes wide as if he thinks Kyungsoo is losing his mind. "We're already back in Korea," Chanyeol says with a chortle. "Did you get too much sleep on the plane or something?"
"I just thought—" Kyungsoo says, rubbing at his face, and Baekhyun thumps him on the back.
Jongin slings a casual elbow on Kyungsoo's shoulder, yawning. "Coffee, coffee," he mutters, sing-song, and Kyungsoo retorts, "Didn't you already have some before we got on the plane?" and Jongin leans in close, tells him, "I meant for you."
Junmyeon smiles at them both. He takes a deep breath, getting ready for the swarm of fans waiting with macro lenses and heartfelt screams, and pulls slightly ahead the other five, a leader the way he thinks he should be: out front, ready, pushing. Later he'll realize this is the last moment they're truly united, the last moment he could have said "we are one", and meant it. If he'd known, he would have stayed behind, put his fingers through Chanyeol's hair, pressed his cheek to Jongin's, held his breath and took it all in: Baekhyun lightly smacking the back of Kyungsoo's head with his passport, Sehun antsy as he does a little half-dance, trying to get closer to their China counterparts.
But Junmyeon doesn't know, couldn't have known. So he pushes ahead after their manager, surging forward. They are only a few steps away from the end, and Junmyeon hurries them along.
It hits Sehun after customs.
"I hope we do well on Happy Camp," he says, one hand loosely clasped around Lu Han's elbow. Lu Han gamely lets himself be dragged back from where he'd been having an animated conversation with Yixing, who shrugs with a little smile when he catches Junmyeon watching them. He wonders if it's lonely, sometimes, being Yixing, always watching people come and go in his life, and if that's something, maybe the one thing, he and Yixing had in common. Within seconds, though, Baekhyun has latched onto Yixing, tugging at his backpack straps. With twelve people, Junmyeon thinks, it's never hard to find company.
"Is your brain a sieve? We just finished filming Happy Camp," Jongin snaps. He is tired and only half pretending to be grumpy, in one of those prickly moods that alternately makes him cling to Junmyeon for attention or flinch away when touched. Junmyeon tenses, automatic, waiting.
"Yeah, okay, very funny," Sehun retorts. "We just got here. Where did we film it, in the airport bathroom?"
"What's wrong with you and Kyungsoo today?" Jongin teases.
Sehun relaxes his grip on Lu Han, and Lu Han touches Sehun's waist, beams at Sehun the way he always does, confused and slightly indulgently. "We're all just tired," Lu Han murmurs.
"Let's just get to the cars, okay?" Junmyeon adds. Lu Han throws him a distant smile, turning back to unhook his deer plushie from where it's caught on Sehun's belt, and Junmyeon relaxes. He looks for Kris, but what catches his eye is Tao, still standing at the customs exit. Ahead of Tao, Baekhyun and Yixing are beckoning with both hands, like Junmyeon sometimes does with a reluctant Monggu. Tao takes a few steps towards them, then turns around, almost in a circle, looks over his shoulder before going back to staring determinedly at the gates. Junmyeon chews on his lip, unsure whether to smile or worry. Even further up ahead, Chanyeol and Kris are waving everyone towards their vans, but no matter how loud Kris calls Tao's name, it doesn't seem to reach the boy.
"Hachiko," Lu Han jokes as he and Sehun brush past Junmyeon towards Kris, and Junmyeon makes up his mind. He laughs, and gamely goes to fetch Tao.
By the time they're in their vans, Junmyeon isn't laughing anymore. Baekhyun falls asleep on Jongdae's shoulder the minute they hit the highway, but wakes up with a start halfway through the ride. "Hey, are we—hey," he says, squinting up at Jongdae's face. "Sorry for falling asleep on your shoulder."
"Why are you apologizing?" Jongdae laughs.
"Usually it's rude to fall asleep on a stranger," Baekhyun says. In the stunned silence that follows, he brushes off Jongdae's shirt shyly, looks around."Hey, I think I might—you're Junmyeon, right?" he says with a friendly wave in Junmyeon's direction.
"Baekhyun, are you feeling okay?" Junmyeon tries, reaching with for Baekhyun's forehead. He halts when he catches Baekhyun automatic jerk backwards, away from his hand.
"Is this some prank that Chanyeol thought up?" Jongin asks, leaning over the back of Jongdae's seat to prod Baekhyun on the shoulder. "You can tell us. We won't admit you spilled the beans."
Baekhyun blinks at them all, smile faltering. "Who's Chanyeol?" he asks.
"Don't joke," Jongin grumbles. "Here, you and Kyungsoo are in on it—"
"I really don't know what you're talking about," Baekhyun says, voice breaking a little into something high and uncontrolled. "Who's Kyungsoo?"
His voice is too loud. Junmyeon thinks of the first time they met, how Baekhyun's voice filled the room during their introductions. Would make a good vocalist, Junmyeon had thought. Loud enough for a stadium of fans, for any faulty sound system, loud enough to reach everyone, and still sound good. It reaches him now, too clear for mistakes. Baekhyun stares back at his bandmates, hesitant, wanting to please, and Junmyeon wishes he could tell Baekhyun what to do that would make it better. He wishes he knew what was going on. Tell me it's a joke, he pleads silently into Baekhyun's gaze. But Baekhyun merely stares back, silent, disturbed. Perfectly genuine.
It works systematically. By the time they get to the dorms, six months are gone. By dinner, the last year is gone. Baekhyun treats Junmyeon's insistence that they're SM's newest boyband with good-natured suspicion, and asks to go home whenever there's a break in the conversation. Chanyeol gets Jongin and Baekhyun to sit down and play video games with him, to break up the tension, but he laughs only half-heartedly, and mostly with Jongin, whom he still remembers. Kris disappears into the EXO-M dorms with Lu Han and Yixing for a pow-wow. When they emerge, Kris is brooding, and Lu Han asks Sehun if his teaser has been released yet. Junmyeon volunteers to get dinner and convinces the managers to let EXO-M eat in the EXO-K dorms. They sit, all twelve of them awkwardly silent over plates of fried chicken. Eventually Jongin just gets up, dumps his uneaten food in the trash, and vanishes into the dance studio. He and Yixing stay there until 2AM, until they no longer remember their routines. Junmyeon lies awake and listens to Jongin's uncertain footsteps, the door of each room opening until Jongin finds the one with the empty bed. Minseok wakes up in the morning and is unable to communicate with Tao, who has lost all his Korean. "You should have made a 'call me oppa' joke," Junmyeon tells him over breakfast, trying for levity, but Minseok just stares at him blankly. No one remembers except for Junmyeon, and he's not the kind to laugh at his own jokes.
Six hours: a full year. The second day: two years. The end of the week: a full three years. It tapers off after that. Jongdae sketches a curved line approaching a penciled mark for "4 years?" on a Post-It note. Junmyeon finds it in the trash the next day. He folds it into little squaresand flushes it down the toilet. He alone speaks to their managers for the first week, trying to head off the eventual discovery. But on Friday Kyungsoo disappears from the building, doesn't answer their calls, and their manager is the one who finds him hours later milling by his old high school, looking for a way to get in. Kyungsoo doesn't recognize their manager, of course. "You're from SM?" he had asked. Then, "What's that?", just like it was 2010 and he was being scouted all over again.
The following week SM makes a quiet announcement that both EXO-K and EXO-M are taking some time off to focus on their album. They act as if there will still be a comeback, but by then Tao and Baekhyun have already gone home. Junmyeon keeps counting the days until it's his turn.
He's not sure he's grateful that his turn never comes.
It would be better if the memory loss were permanent, one sweeping wave that pushed ever further backwards. Instead, it flickers. Kris calls them from Canada a week later, and it is a farce of their old international phone calls, but he and Junmyeon both end the conversation in tears anyway. Jongdae comes to visit the dorms a few days later. They all go out to lunch and even though midway through, he and Chanyeol have to be reintroduced, by the end of lunch they are friends nevertheless. But the absence eats away, like acid working on glass. It takes their memories, and it takes the memories of their memories leaving.
After Kyungsoo had packed up his things, Sehun and Chanyeol piled up their mattresses in Jongin's room, as if they were refugees waiting for deportation. Without Baekhyun or Kyungsoo, Chanyeol clings to his first years as a trainee with Jongin. Sehun seems to treat it like an unusual form of summer camp. On occasion Junmyeon will find them huddled together in the common room, making impersonal jokes, sniggering at Chanyeol's impressions. When no one else follows his lead, Junmyeon has to swallow hard to keep himself from screaming.
Yixing and Lu Han are the only members of EXO-M left, but for appearance sake, SM forces them to keep their dorms. "We get along," Lu Han tells Junmyeon every time he visits. "Surprisingly well for two people who don't know each other," he adds, mouth pressed together in a tight smile. Junmyeon wants to tell him, they shouldn't keep you here like ghosts, but on rare moments of clarity, Yixing confides, "I don't know where Lu Han or I would go."
"You could go home," Junmyeon tells him. "To your family."
"This was supposed to be home," Yixing reminds him. "We were supposed to be family. Meetings every week, remember?"
Junmyeon does, of course. It's the only thing he's good for these days.
Sometimes Jongin wakes up in the middle of the night screaming for Suho. His memories of Sehun will be the last to leave, but "my memories of you are the only ones I have of being Kai," he says, bundled under three blankets at four in the morning as Junmyeon sits next to him, not touching. In the dark, Sehun peers at the two of them, groggy and curious. His hair has gotten much longer. No one is allowed near them for photographs anymore, and their hair grows back to pre-debut levels, dark and unstyled.
Junmyeon remembers Kai. Kai, who seemed to exist before EXO, who in the beginning built the mythos of EXO. Kai, who had taken the pieces of Jongin, smoothed them out until there were no imperfections, doubled in on himself until he was almost bigger than Jongin. He remembers the way Jongin would sometimes flash between himself and Kai, would sometimes look up one second as Kai and be sulky, irritating, mischievous Jongin the next. Jongin, who had curved his lips up in a little smile as he said, "I'd rather bend, not break."
Is this bending? Junmyeon wants to ask. Is this bending until you had to break, because there was nowhere else to bend? But if he asked, Jongin would only look up at him and say simply, sincerely, "When did I tell you that?" Or maybe, more scarily, "What are you talking about, hyung?"
Mostly, Junmyeon keeps out of everyone's way. There's a few attempts at keeping up a pretense: SM lets him MC Music Core once, he's a surprise guest on a Super Junior show. He answers some fanboard emails. They even get him to forge a few from the other members. Kyungsoo's is the easiest. Chanyeol is almost impossible to imitate. Sehun answers his own as a joke, and no one seems to be able to tell the difference. "So you were a natural," Junmyeon teases.
When Sehun smiles in delight, it hurts.
SM drops the full album in August anyway, without much fuss. Junmyeon manages to listen all the way through the first track before he has to turn it off. He drops in on a trainee dance practice, wastes a few hours dancing until his legs are too tired to move. When he comes back to the dorms, "Baby Don't Cry" is blaring at full volume. Yixing is fiddling with his guitar, noodling along with the melody, and Lu Han is boiling water for tea. "Whose CD is this?" Lu Han calls out from the kitchen. "They're good. I like them."
It's you, Junmyeon wants to tell him. You were always solid, always good. But the loss eats away at him too. It's been almost two months. He's gotten tired of fighting it, so he says nothing.
By September, Junmyeon is relocated to the trainee dorms. He's given his own room, and no one speaks to him. Junmyeon knows that the rumor is EXO fucked up, that one of them went psychotic, that the group couldn't hold together under pressure. He is a bad luck charm. Seven years, they whisper behind his back, and look what happened. He knows, realistically, that they can't make him debut with another group. The other eleven may have forgotten, but the industry won't.
In October, President Lee sits Junmyeon down, a new copy of Junmyeon's contract between them. "Take some time to think about it," Lee Soo-Man says. "I know you probably feel it's time to move on too."
"I still want to be an idol," Junmyeon says desperately. "I don't need more time. I've always wanted to be a part of SM."
"I'm sorry it came to this," is the only answer.
In the silence before he's dismissed, Junmyeon turns to look out his window. He wonders if he is going to live a life of sympathy forever. Sympathy for the wasted seven years, sympathy for the erased year. It's the only thing anyone thinks he deserves.
Outside it is grey. As if he were living in a movie, it starts to rain. When the rain stops, he thinks, I'm going to go back, and everyone will be there waiting for me, and it will be one big, long, four month joke. Chanyeol will be waiting, because he can never keep a secret to himself for long. Kyungsoo will try to make it up to me by giving me the largest servings at dinner. And it'll be as if nothing happened, it'll be as if we came back from China, and everything was a dream.
Junmyeon doesn't want to admit it, but it's harder these days to believe he isn't the one who is crazy. He wakes up some mornings thinking that this is the real reality, that he lived in a dream for seven months, seven months where they told him he was an idol, seven months where he had finally, finally made it. Seven months, seven years. It took less than seven days for that to all get erased.
He makes his way reflexively to the old dorms. When he opens the door to the empty rooms, he thinks for a fleeting second, here it comes. It's finally his turn, and for a moment or two, he welcomes it. But in the end, it is just muscle memory. It is only his memory, and everyone else is gone.
The last Junmyeon sees of anyone is Lu Han. It is a crisp autumn afternoon in Myeongdong. He is at a Starbucks', ordering coffee the way Jongin used to drink it. Outside, the crowds are moving past, and one of them, Junmyeon realizes, is Lu Han. His hair is darker now, grown out past his ears. He is still smiling vaguely, and his face is still luminous. Junmyeon wonders if there are any scouts in the area and what Lu Han would say, if they approached him. If, maybe, there was a chance they could start all over again, one more time.
But Junmyeon is twenty-one, and Lu Han is twenty-two. Junmyeon has a contract that's waiting for his signature to be voided, a shoebox full of old photoshoots, fans who would remember him if he ever looked up and smiled. Yixing and Tao are back in China, perfect strangers. The last Junmyeon heard from Kris, he was in Canada. Kyungsoo, Baekhyun, and Sehun went back to school, and one of them is even an exam student. Chanyeol went into media with his sister. Minseok never kept in touch. Jongdae's family won't let him. Junmyeon can't bring himself to ask about Jongin. The only thing he knows is that Jongin is no longer with SM either.
Junmyeon alone is still standing there, waiting. The barista calls his name, Kim Junmyeon-sshi? He can't hear her. He's remembering Lu Han's goodbye party, he and Lu Han are belting out igeonmaneun algoga, and Yixing is laughing at them, saying, who do you think you are, the next Super Junior? It is the dead of summer, it is July, Jongin is screaming, Suho, Suho. It is the last day of his previous life, he is seeing Tao standing at the customs gate, waiting for a Kris who has already left. He is standing at the gate, waiting for a past that is already gone. It's time, Lee Soo-Man is saying, to move on.
When he gets back, he pulls out his cellphone and starts dialing the number of Lee Soo-Man's secretary. His phone background is still set on a high-definition picture of all twelve band members bowing on Happy Camp. It takes Junmyeon a full minute to finish dialing. He ends up using a landline to make the call. Their old manager is the one who finds the crushed cellphone under the kitchen sink a few days later, as he helps Junmyeon move out.
For Junmyeon, forgetting is hard. Every time he thinks memory has laid itself to rest, it comes back like a punch to the stomach, sharper and clumsier each time. Karaoke with college friends, a girlfriend who admits to following SHINee, a cashier at a convenience store who squints at him and says, you look familiar.
He comes across a message board for SM Town. One of the threads asks, does anyone know what really happened to exo????
who cares, someone snarks.
SME ALWAYS TREATS THEIR ARTIST POORLY MAYBE THEY DECIDED IT WASN'T WORTH IT AND SM PUNISHED THEM BY FORCING THEM TO NEVER TALK ABOUT IT WE'LL NEVER KNOW, someone else rages.
it's like they all mysteriously died, another former fan writes. i worry about them still.
Junmyeon clicks on the comment box, types out, It would have been better if we did die. The cursor blinks at him accusingly, daring him to him to say it. He stares back. Eventually, he turns off his computer without posting anything at all.
He takes up running. Golf is too sedate, gives him too much time to think. He won't touch anything that needs music, can't even run with his headphones in. The pounding of his heart and his ragged breath still takes him back to the stage, singing, if only we can all be thankful for the blessed days that grant us life.
Some nights he wakes up screaming Jongin's stagename. In his Seoul apartment, with no one else around, the name is swallowed up, and only Junmyeon hears it.
He tries to write everything down, every little thing. Kris gently mocking Chanyeol's opening, I love you all extremely extremely much, and everyone laughing. The Beijing showcase, when Lu Han looked up as I said he was beautiful. Chanyeol staring at the fan wearing a mask with his face on it before cackling in delight. Minseok making his "baozi" face on Chinese television. Jongdae's eyes, glittering, the first time he sang live on stage. Kyungsoo slapping himself during a radio interview. Baekhyun gleefully ruining a solemn moment with his Christina impression. Jongin laughing as he tosses Tao's panda over his shoulder. Yixing running away from fans after dancing, his embarrassed smile dimpled on one side. But was it the left side? Was it the right side? Who was wearing the fringed shirt last, Jongin or Lu Han? Who was it who liked the color white, Sehun or Kyungsoo? Who was it who always sleeptalked, who was it who always forgot their lines during interviews, who was it who was always off in one corner, idly dancing as he waited for the others?
Junmyeon could pull up the pictures he's saved in a password-locked folder, reread the interview transcripts and magazine scans buried deep in his personal computer files, but what difference would it make? Already the memories are fading, the way they should, slowly and bitterly with disuse, and there is nothing to replace them. There will be no one to remember after Junmyeon. The fan sites, the uploads of hard-earned fancams, the Baidu cafes — all of them have, month by month, disappeared. Junmyeon imagines there is a void, a monstrous mouth in the center of his life, and everything he ever loved has fallen into it. Soon he'll follow. He wonders what is worse — forgetting as they did, or forgetting as he is now.
But for the moment, he remembers, and keeps remembering. Guardian Suho, leader Suho, remembering. Junmyeon, the only one remembering, pushing ahead, pushing forward, left behind, still remembering.
I live in a city sorrow built