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I Know That Face

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Life is a funny thing.

 

People have been making a huge deal out of everything – of order, of rules, of boundaries, of religions and yet, in the aftermath of his death, in this so called after life, Chanyeol realizes that the afterlife is basically just another transit. A temporary stop, a pause in a different plane that one person would have to go through before they can move on to the next phase.

 

To be exact, what awaits after death is a train station.

 

It's fucking unbelievable that what comes after his death is a soft cushioned bench in a cabin of a train's passenger car, where outside behind the barred windows are just pure bright light. It's not that blinding, as much as it reminds him of an operation theatre.

 

Confusion is probably an understatement for the torrent of emotions that swirls frantically under his breast. Like a hurricane, overwhelming. Choking. It’s too much. Chaotic.

 

But he's dead.

 

He died.

 

Chanyeol knows he's dead. The gunshot still rings in his head. He remembers sticky red hands. His own red hands when he touched his chest before the world turned black.

 

Except now, that expensive black suit he'd worn is still pristine, just like the black silk dress shirt he’d had on beneath. No holes from the gunshot. They are dry with no remnants of blood. Of his blood. Good as new. He paid a whole lot chunk of money for it. A lot of people bled for that money.

 

He was not a good man when he was still alive.

 

Yet, there was no fire or three-headed dogs or weird looking creature awaiting for him now that he's dead. Only the inside of a train's cabin that houses him.

 

When he stands, he feels no different than when he was alive. No changes. His height is still the same, the light bounce of his hand stitched Italian shoes are still the same, the suit that fits his body just right still feels just as comfortable.

 

A train conductor in a navy blue uniform with gold trimming is waiting for him when he exits the train. He has sharp big eyes and pale skin. His hat matches with his uniform, and on his chest is a name tag plated in gold says that his name is Doyoung.

 

He has black hair and his voice is melodious when he scribbles something on the clipboard in his hands and says, "Welcome to Limbo, ticket holder Mr. Chanyeol, Park. Please head towards the exit, where beyond are many establishments you can seek for a shelter before your next departure."

 

"What trip?" Chanyeol asks, voice throaty from disuse, and Doyoung smiles tightly at his question. Like Chanyeol is a child, and his question is just too stupid to be entertained by the adults.

 

"For the next phase, sir. Rebirth. Now please, you're holding the line." He says.

 

There's no one else behind him. Chanyeol would know. The cabin was empty. But he doesn't want to argue. It’s strange. Chanyeol has always been a man with wild temper. Easily triggered. He wonders if death had fucked him in more ways than one. This Doyoung person might sound polite, but it all screams passive aggressiveness to him.

 

Chanyeol looks up. The walls of the station are made of brown bricks. They look just like any other train station he's been to. The clock is digital, red blinking 00:00, unchanged, unticking. Next to it is the arrival and departure board. There's nothing on it. Only an endless line of 0s.

 

There's an overhead mirror hanging at the edge of the station. Reflected in it are two lone figures. The train conductor Doyoung and Chanyeol himself. Chanyeol’s hair is still the same platinum shade he's had at the time of his death. The two buttons of his shirt had been ripped off when he tried to outrun the gunman and it showcases his fair chest for the world to see. But he still looks just as good. Just as handsome.

 

He sees the green exit sign by a huge archway just next to the mirror. He heads there. Not because he wants to go there, but simply because he feels compelled to do so. Like there’s a silent order in his head, where his body knows to take him there without him having to think. Death is a funky thing.

 

What waits beyond the archway is just another tunnel. It's dark. He can barely see anything. But here, it's strange. Because while he swears that he had been alone at the station back then, he can hear the footsteps of a crowd alongside his. Once he reaches the end of the tunnel, it's to a sight of one long stretch of a street that continues on from the tunnel.

 

It starts with birch trees, rows of them lining on both sides of the street as he walks down. When he turns around and looks back, all he can see is thick white mist with one blob of a black hole that had been the tunnel he came from.

 

He decides to look away and proceeds to walk along the street, and he finds it strange how there are many obstacles lain in the middle of the road. Golden coins, silver, rock, bags of rice, running livestock like chicken and cows and pigs going crazy, roaming around aimlessly.

 

Then the scenery changes and it just gets stranger. What used to be trees are replaced with castles. Red big castles, manors and mansions with red palanquins and servants standing by it dressed in white. Unmoved and doll-like. There are even more ridiculous things going around then. Women in red wedding dresses, men and women in white ancient garments. Just going from one spot to another, looking and looking for something. Even stranger things are left stranded and abandoned in the middle of the road. Messy. As if it fell down from the sky. Forgotten and left there.

 

The sight changes again. What replaces the ancient castles are mansions, glamorous in marbles and high black pointy gates. The ones that look like the type typical celebrities would live in. And what’s left in the middle of the road now is even more ridiculous. Cars, just good cars sitting around, marble statues and even an ice-cream machine at one point.

 

The whole street, if not, would give off a nice suburban neighborhood vibe. Where each residence was built on its own plot of land. Only here, it seems more like a junk graveyard full of brand new unused things.

 

Mansions followed by bungalows, the type that he'd seen in movies, of Hollywood with palm trees in its massive courtyard, Maseratis and Mustangs parked in their driveways.

 

It feels a lot like a walk down memory lane, reminds him a lot of those glamorous Hollywood mausoleums Sehun once told him about. It's a walk down different eras.

 

The only thing all these establishments have in common is their state of occupancy. They seem abandoned. Empty. Like doll houses.

 

Because here, he realizes that people don’t live in these abundance of pretty and huge mansions. Here in Limbo, people wait by the streets. And it’s full. The street. Full with people. Not overcrowded, but just a lot of wandering people. All seem lost, scared, sad, angry, lonely.

 

Dead.

 

They are all dead just like Chanyeol is.

 

===

 

Chanyeol can't tell how long he'd sat on the wooden white armchair as he overlooks the street. It's neither cold nor hot there in Limbo. And he realizes that people are mostly just walking aimlessly down the road. Most are too scared to even drop any of the glamorous manors there along the street even a single glance. They are stupid. They should just quickly pick one empty lot and claim it for themselves instead of sitting on the curb and just cry.

 

Sitting here, Chanyeol realises he had done nothing but people watching. A shameful truth, but he's dead. That is one undebatable truth and what else is there for him to occupy himself with?

 

And with that, he'd come to notice that there are, much to his surprise, a lot of brides. Or more specifically, sacrificed brides. Those women in red wedding dresses.

 

They wander aimlessly, feet not touching the ground as they glide around and worst of all, they fucking wail. Like the mourning brides that they are with red translucent cloths veiling their heads and faces.

 

He wonders if they are wandering aimlessly because their intended husbands have moved on to the next phase. Chanyeol has heard of it. Of families in the past sacrificing women or dolls to appease their dead sons.

 

But now that those sons have surely moved on, reincarnated, the brides have nothing to do, stuck in Limbo. Dressed in red wedding garments and going from one man to another, asking if they are their intended.

 

Corpse brides, he aptly names them in his head. Because as much as their wailing grates his nerves, they scared the shit out of him too.

 

How many that have come to him and asked if he was their husband. How many have told him that they were waiting for him. That they were his wife. That they were there to please him. To accompany him. How many had he had to chase away. With gritted teeth and cold hands. With skin breaking into goosebumps and cold chills.

 

Chanyeol had chosen a nice house made out of white brick near to the beach. A double-storey Midwestern bungalow with a country feel to it. Like one of those he'd seen in the many western movies back when he was alive. So different than the sterile penthouse made of steel, marble and glass he'd used to live in back in Seoul.

 

It's strange here, he notes. To have one side of his chosen residence facing the sea, while the other towards the main street just like this. But he supposes that nothing here makes any sense. He's dead. He's here in Limbo. Nothing is supposed to make sense. Here, where the concept of religion is non-existent.

 

When he’d first chosen this lot, this bungalow, the house had been dark. There were no lights. The garden was dead, the grass was all dried up in paling yellow mounds. There were no leaves along the branches of the trees, and the sea seemed to be all dried up. Like a desert. White salt flaking along its shore.

 

But now, they are different.

 

The trees have blossomed, luscious in fat green leafs. What falls to the grass are not those leafs, but instead, it is all money. Wads of cash, all literally falling down from the sky, littering his front yard like it's just another day in autumn.

 

Here in Limbo, he finds out that it's always in a constant state of twilight. On the beach's side of his lot at least, where orange seems to bleed among the blue canvas that is the sky. Choppy white cotton that is the cloud, shaded in a gradient of purple. Millions of stars dotted along the blue sky, like diamonds.

 

Sparkling.

 

A pretty thing.

 

Chanyeol had always liked pretty things back when he was still alive.

 

But then there on the street, the sky is black. With thousands of floating red lanterns made of paper rice lighting the whole street. They are just as beautiful as they are haunting. Chanyeol likes the sight nonetheless.

 

It's a rather strange thing that he's still trying to get used to. His backyard is the beach, and his front yard overlooks the long street where thousands of lost dead bastards walk up and down it looking for a clue on what was going on. Chanyeol thinks they need more than just good luck to figure shit out. He's been trying to since his arrival, he'd lost track of time.

 

He also wonders if the concept of time even exists here in the first place. Chanyeol has never been a thinker back when he was alive. But here, he's done nothing but think, think and just fucking think.

 

Some of the lost aimless bastards on the street who are smart enough had started to occupy the many lots of mansions that there are along the street. But most would just cry and wail and cry out injustice. Some would mumble and scream things out loud in languages Chanyeol doesn't even understand.

 

Some got lucky, swayed by the wandering ghost brides and lured into the many palanquins where it would shake uncontrollably with voices screaming out sins and pleasure, never seeming to settle down until it does, when the men would climb out and saunter towards the tunnel shrouded in white thick mist with quick feet. When it happened, they always do so with light steps. The brides then would come out again, resuming their search for their missing intended husbands. Like a reset button. It's a vicious circle.

 

Here, in his lot of a white bungalow, there's a red barrel of drum oil where fire is constantly lit in the garden of his front yard. He'll just need to throw a wad of cash in it and request for whatever he wanted. Food, drinks and even guns.

 

And lately, he's been craving for beer and pizza. A weird thing. Like he's reliving his youth where it's all cheap fast-food and cheap beers. Gone are the expensive bourbon, caviar and cigar. He never seems to even miss their taste.

 

There is one round table and four wooden armchairs with fluffy cushions on his front porch. Chanyeol would drink his beer and eat his pizza there alone as he looked over the street with keen interest.

 

He doesn't know how long he's been there, but he also knows that it's been long. And despite the unchanging weather, his body never seems to tire out. He didn't sleep, doesn't seem to find the need for it as he gulps down his beer, forever sober and not drunk. People watching, goosebumps prickling his skin whenever a corpse bride approached him and screamed whenever he shot them.

 

They didn't die, only continued their wailing with bloodied heads as they floated down his courtyard and back to the main street.

 

===

 

Chanyeol meets Kyungsoo not long after he has settled down. He is one of those wandering men who strangely used a palm to shelter his eyes with a straight face whenever a corpse bride approached him. It was a comical sight. Like a child being chased by frantic neighbourhood old women.

 

Kyungsoo has a small figure and owlish wide eyes. He wears white dress shirt tucked into black slacks. The kind that comes in a cheap bundle at the department store. The necktie he wears is yellow in colour. It also looks cheap. Its material coarse. Chanyeol would know. He used to buy them in bulk, shared them with Sehun before they learnt the pleasure of tailor made suits and silken neckties.

 

Kyungsoo's hair is fluffy in black. He looks young and his face is a blank canvas.

 

When they made eye contact, Chanyeol beckoned him over with a wave of his beer. Green bottle cold, fresh, taste good. Kyungsoo didn't even think twice as he walked up Chanyeol's front yard and joined him.

 

Chanyeol finds that he is soft spoken and he also curses in a soft voice that didn't feel like he is cursing at all. He also has a melodious tinge to his voice, even if he is questioning Chanyeol's manhood.

 

"We're dead. None of it matters, anyway." Kyungsoo says as he takes a sip of the cold beer.

 

"A rather contradictory statement considering all the curses you just threw my way, Kyungsoo." He grunts out.

 

"I died an unremarkable death." He says after that. Both of them are looking out towards the streets. Watching the same sight. Hearing the same tune. The same fucking wailing.

 

"How did you die?" Chanyeol had asked. Not really curious, but he likes hearing Kyungsoo talk. At this point, it feels good to even hear anyone talking like a normal human being.  

 

"Sprained my ankle while climbing up the stairs. I teach there, well, taught there. I remember I just confiscated a plastic bag full of porn blu-rays from the brats in class 2." He says. "I hope those bastards die in a bus crash."

 

"You're a teacher?" Chanyeol laughs, truly finds it amusing how a man with such dark humour as Kyungsoo’s was a teacher.

 

"I'm a music teacher." He says.

 

"You can sing then?" Chanyeol asks, finally placing his bottle of beer on the table in a quiet thud. He then reaches out for a slice of the forever steaming pizza. Of cheese that never hardens. Of pepperonis that always stay soft and chewy in his mouth. To satiate a stomach that knows neither hunger nor fullness.

 

Kyungsoo didn't say anything, but he did hum out. Of a bittersweet song Chanyeol knows nothing of. No lyrics, but only a tune, and by God, it sounds lovely. Like a long lost forgotten memory that itches at that one corner of his head. Like it's telling him that Chanyeol is still sleeping. Still muddled. Still dead. Still forgetting about something. Like a sense of nostalgia. Deja vu. Like a faraway memory.

 

It's a shame that Kyungsoo was only a music school teacher. It's a shame that Kyungsoo lived an unremarkable life. It's a shame that he's dead.

 

"Yeah, you did die an unremarkable death." He says.

 

It was worth it even when Kyungsoo throws a bottle of beer towards him and Chanyeol falls off the armchair and onto the floor of his porch trying to evade it.

 

Damn his fight or flight instinct.

 

===

 

Jongdae joins them not long after.

 

Just like Kyungsoo, he is small figured and he is dressed in white and blue dotted hospital gown. He had been running when both Chanyeol and Kyungsoo saw him, all in his slitted gown and bare-assed glory, screaming down the street with chasing corpse brides trailing after him.

 

"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!" His yells were so loud, Chanyeol thinks he could break the sky into two if he so wanted to.

 

He has a feline smile and a bright laughter. He looks pleasant and he sounds even better. A rather refreshing sight compared to Kyungsoo's depressing exterior.

 

"How did you die?" Chanyeol had asked while they are drinking. Instead of pizza, this time, Jongdae has ordered a set of Yang-Nyuem boneless fried chicken and a pot of melted cheese. A rather humble dish that Chanyeol has long forgotten about.

 

Like a fresh batch of air. Jongdae is just that. Matching humour, pleasant smile and shared jokes that almost made Chanyeol think that he's home. Only that he's not. Something is still missing. He does not know what it is. He just knows that it is. Something is. Forgotten and missed.

 

"Throat cancer." Jongdae says easily with a nod as he downs a piece of boneless chicken in one bite. "I sing for a living, we go around in a group. But I had to stop due to the cancer. Voice gone and so was my money. Treatment was expensive. My company dropped me. And now I'm dead." He says and mutters his thanks when Kyungsoo hands him a new bottle of beer.

 

"You were an idol then? One of those men dancing on TV in matching clothes with the rest of your group?" Chanyeol asks as he plucks a piece of chicken himself. Dipping them into the melted cheese before dumping them into his mouth.

 

"Well, something like that. It was pretty okay. Most of the money went to my agency but at least I can sing." He says with a shrug.

 

"Until you can no longer." Kyungsoo states with a blank stare. Not meaning to be mean. Just factual and straight forward. Chanyeol knows the kind of man Kyungsoo was. Always the efficient one with guns and shovel in his hand. How many had he utilised back when he was alive? Sehun would still have the list if he took over Chanyeol as per his wish.

 

"Yeah, something like that." Jongdae says. And he looks sad. It looks wrong. Jongdae seems like the kind person who’s not made to be sad. Like there’s a template of the kind of life he deserves. To only smile and laugh his bright laughter. And now he's dead. How unfair.

 

Chanyeol then tells him, "That's a good thing then, no? Now that you're dead, at least you can sing to your heart’s content."

 

Jongdae laughs and asks him, "Can I, really?" He still looks sad, but at least now there's a tinge of something bright in his eyes. Like a veil lifted. Like the sun finally finding its way to sneak through the gloom that is the thick black cloud before a storm. Barely there, but still there. Still hidden. Still trying to shine.

 

Chanyeol isn’t lying when he tells him, "You're dead anyway, what harm can singing do to you?"

 

Jongdae's laugh is infectious that even Chanyeol can't help himself from smiling. He's dead, and suddenly, he feels like he’s twenty-two again. Still happy and still light. Like the world is still within his grasp. Like the game is just a mere game. Not a race of time. To conquer. To be filled with greed and ambition. Back to that time when he and Sehun were still stupid and naive and still happy with whatever they had.

 

And when Jongdae sings with Kyungsoo, some Korean ballad song that Chanyeol thinks he might have heard of in one of his car rides with Sehun.

 

Where the lyrics go like this -

 

What shall we do about tonight?

 

Shall we cross the sparkling galaxy together?

 

In the night where the lazy streetlights are drowsy

 

In the night, tonight

 

Chanyeol thinks that is the first he'd seen Kyungsoo actually smile. How his cheeks lift up, how his eyes brighten and how he has a heart shaped smiling lips.

 

He thinks that it's not bad. Here in Limbo. Where life is not about car chase and gunshots and dirty money. Where life is simple. Of beers and chicken at the porch of a borrowed house with two men he just met, two men that he barely knows.

 

Not bad.

 

Even though something is nagging at the back of his head. Calling out for him to remember. He can still tune it out. Because now. Now is not bad at all.

 

The three become close very quickly.

 

So yeah.

 

Really not bad.

 

===

 

But life, really, will never go as one planned. Because life, unfortunately, even if they were carefully planned by a person, ultimately, it was not their hands that weave it into reality. Some called it fate, some called it God's plan.

 

And like many good things in life, they tend to end. Usually much quicker than one would like to. But in some strange way, Chanyeol had anticipated it. Knew that whatever he has now is only temporary. Limbo is not the afterlife. Limbo is just a transit, a stop before the next stage. The next step. The next trip. The rebirth. Reincarnation. To be reborn and maybe to die again.

 

He wonders if people come back here if they die in their next life too. He wonders if there's a limit to how many times a person can be reborn. If the there's a cap for the number of one person's death and rebirth.

 

Limbo is no good, after all.

 

Because Limbo makes him think.

 

Jongdae is the first to go.

 

One day, under the black sky littered with red lanterns. Where the breeze is none, where it's neither hot nor cold, where they are not hungry nor are they full.

 

He says, "Ah, they're calling my name." Jongdae still has his beer bottle in his hand. He's still dressed in his white and blue dotted hospital gown. With a slit along his back for the whole Limbo to see his ass.

 

Chanyeol didn't hear anything. Jongdae said they were calling his name, but all Chanyeol can hear is the chaotic mess that are the corpse brides' depressing wailing, lost men and women and children crying and screaming.

 

So he says, "Who's calling you? I can't hear anything."

 

Jongdae looks at him weirdly and points to the mailbox by the street. "There, by the mailbox. Can't you see the guy with pink hair? He's been shouting my name like a mad man for the past minute." He says.

 

Chanyeol looks towards where he was pointing at. At the typical mailbox most western movies would have and scratches his cheek when he sees nothing there.

 

"Are you sure someone's there? I can't see anything." Chanyeol asks, confused.

 

"Maybe because it's not our time yet." Kyungsoo says. "I can't see anything either."

 

Chanyeol looks at Jongdae and gives him a wry smile, asking him "So, what. God has pink hair?"

 

Jongdae laughs heartily at his question. Chanyeol can't explain why his chest feels tight. Like that time when Sehun got shot and had to be coma-induced for some treatment Chanyeol can't remember much of its details. 

 

"God doesn’t have pink hair, Chanyeol, and that guy's not God." He says. Eyes bright, smile wide. "I guess I'll see you guys around?" He then tells them.

 

"I hope you'll have a good life this round." Kyungsoo tells him. Voice actually sounding sincere.

 

Jongdae then says before he hops down the short flight of staircase that will lead him to Chanyeol's frontyard, his ass all for the two to see. "I just hope that I can still sing in my next life."

 

So much hope. So much fear. So much sadness. So much misery. He's just like a songbird whose beak was broken off, tongue cut. What a miserable thing. Because only in death that he was liberated. Will his next life treat him better, Chanyeol thought to himself.

 

"Then I'll pray that you won't get to be reborn as a bird." Because birds sing not because they want to. They are built to sing, to complete the circle of life. Jongdae deserves better. He should sing because he wants to. He deserves that choice.

 

Jongdae is still laughing even as he is walking away, "At least if I was a bird, I can still sing and that's enough for me."

 

Ah, it hurts.

 

Chanyeol has never been good with goodbyes. He thinks that Jongdae knows this. He also thinks that Kyungsoo knows. Funny. Because when he was still alive, only Sehun knew. Understood how he functioned. Empathised with his fear.

 

Yet, here in Limbo, even in this too short of a moment where unexpected friendship was built, these two people understand him too. Can see right through him. Like he's just one of them. Not a feared ruthless mobster. Maybe he was. Maybe in another life, they were brothers. Friends. Comrades at arm. Friends of same age. Of same interest. Of same occupation. Of same struggle and misery.

 

Jongdae is gone. Just like that. His train takes him away and Chanyeol really hopes that his next life could be better.

 

===

 

For a short while, there's only Kyungsoo and he. Back to square one. Two miserable men looking over the long stretch of the chaotic street where strange objects seem to fall unseemly from the black sky.

 

Boxes of brand new smart phones, tablets, cars and even more houses to fill the endless empty plot of land along the stretch of the street. He wonders how far does the street go. Will it ever end? And if it does, what awaits at the other end? Another tunnel with thick white mist?

 

Kyungsoo is the next one to go, not long after Jongdae. He didn't say much, but the sudden colour of expression that fills his face tells Chanyeol all.

 

"Ah, so that's what he meant." He says. Hand hovering over a bowl of steaming kimchi-jigae. Chopsticks still plucked in between his fingers.

 

"Dude with the pink hair?" Chanyeol asks, feigning disinterest when he feels hollow. He wonders if he has formed a habit of co-dependency in Kyungsoo. The man might be small, but Chanyeol discovers that in the duration he's been here, that Kyungsoo is as sturdy as the mountain.

 

He is bitter, but he is a realist. He is a realist because he is bitter. They both know that any of them can go at any time, yet, one can't just help but feel a little lonely to see the person they consider a comrade leaving them behind.

 

What a funny thing. He used to stand at the top of the world. He was not kind. He was not fair. He played dirty. But Sehun was still there. A good brother to him. A good friend to him. To all his dirty glory. He was not alone. And here, he was not alone, but now. He will be. Alone and hollow like the bastard he truly is.

 

"This guy has black hair. But he says that the pink-haired guy’s name is Taeyong." Kyungsoo says. Voice soft as he starts to stand. 

 

"His name sounds pretentious." Chanyeol grins. He's miserable, but Kyungsoo deserves this. Limbo is all about this after all, isn't it? A transit. Everyone will go ultimately.  

 

"See you around." Kyungsoo tells him with a small smile as he walks down the staircase, passing through the frontyard.

 

"What do you want to be? In your next life?" Chanyeol calls out after him, face hot, chest tight. Shit. Kyungsoo really is going.

 

Chanyeol feels like he's twenty-four again. Back at that time when Sehun hadn't woken up for a full two weeks just because he took a bullet for Chanyeol. "Because I'm your BFF, you know." He had said. "Do you even know what BFF stands for?" Chanyeol had asked. Sehun was bleeding badly. The ambulance was late. "Of course I do. Butt fucking friends." He said. "You're gross, Sehun. I hope you're in a lot of pain." He told the man. 

 

Kyungsoo looks so small when he stands next to the mailbox. He gives Chanyeol a wave and his laugh is small too, like they were too precious for the world when he hears his question. 

 

"Not a fucking teacher." Kyungsoo answers back. "I don't want to see the face of another kid in at least two or three of my next lives."

 

Chanyeol is truly alone again once more.

 

===

 

It's not long after that that he meets Junmyeon. He had claimed the lot of mansion just right across from Chanyeol. He's standing in the middle of his front yard when their eyes first meet. His suit is crisp, tailored to the proportion of his body. Silken in grey and his tie is blue. He looks expensive.

 

Chanyeol thinks that out of all the people he'd seen here, he can tell that Junmyeon and he were cut from the same cloth.

 

When he joins Chanyeol on the porch, he's had his knee crossed over another. His posture is straight, his shoulders are broad. He must have worked out a lot when he was alive. Chanyeol bets his abs are rock hard, with the whole six-pack shebang. This up close, Chanyeol can see that he is very fair. Porcelain fair. His hair is inky black, bangs pushed up. He's a perfect definition of wealth. Of someone who was born in gold, brought up in gold.

 

Someone who plays a different ball altogether. Because while Chanyeol knew wealth too, his glory was gained through dirty means. Of blood, lies, deceit and just dirty money. Junmyeon, he can tell, was of the corporate breed.

 

"What would you have?" Chanyeol asks. Didn't think Junmyeon would've settled for cheap beers.

 

"Whiskey would be nice, if it's not too much." He says. Not disappointing Chanyeol's expectation at all.

 

Junmyeon told him that he had been a CEO in his life, dutied to continue his father's legacy. A chain of hundreds of cosmetic surgery clinics in South Korea, China and Singapore, apparently. Got stabbed to death by his mistress when she found out that he's actually engaged to be married to another woman.

 

"She's the most beautiful woman I've ever been with." Junmyeon says with a sigh.

 

"Even when she stabbed you?" Chanyeol asks. Not really interested, but curious of Junmyeon's train of thought.

 

"Especially when she stabbed me." Junmyeon says, ridiculously sounding like a man still in love.

 

"You're one fucked up bastard, Junmyeon." Chanyeol tells him after that, gulping down what remained of his beer.

 

"I'm dead, Chanyeol. What does it even matter?" Junmyeon sighs, swirling the glass in his hand before he takes another sip of his whiskey. The very painted image of a majestic man. So in control when God knows how fucked up life is.

 

"So, what, she's your secretary?" Chanyeol asks as he takes a piece of cashew nut from the snack plate on the rounded table.

 

"No. She's an idol." Junmyeon says. "I was her sponsor, her group was a flop. A bad investment. But she's beautiful." He adds.

 

"Life must be really good for you then." Chanyeol says with a small laugh.

 

Pure-breeds like Junmyeon really unnerve him. Because truly, no matter how hard he plays dress-up and no matter how many he killed, he could never be one of them. They stood on a different principal. Different background. Different foundation.

 

"You were a man of money too, Chanyeol. You must know that life for people like us was great." Junmyeon says after that.

 

"I signed off people's life like you signed off a takeover's agreement." Chanyeol hums, amused as he eyes Junmyeon from across of him.

 

"I turn people into corporate slaves. I'm not any better than you were, Chanyeol. We both killed people for a living." Junmyeon tells him then.

 

His words ring nothing but the truth. They both were killers. Both taking people's lives, so to speak. Because ultimately, while Chanyeol did kill, it's no different than what Junmyeon did. Because truly, what life is there when one is stuck in a joyless corporate commitment? Where corruption is their God, and their happiness is signed off with bleeding hands just for some semblance of a place up the corporate ladder.

 

Chanyeol took people's life, and Junmyeon took people's will and freedom. They were the same after all.

 

He takes another sip of his beer. Finds it amusing, actually. Because Chanyeol can't remember how beers taste like. He drinks beers here, but are they really the same as those he drank back when he was alive? He can't recall.

 

"Yeah. Life was good." He says as he watches a woman in red wedding garment and a red veil covering her face climb the staircase to his porch. A palanquin is parked just by the roadside, right by Chanyeol's front yard.

 

"Life was good." Junmyeon said as he downs his glass of whiskey, eyeing how Chanyeol is telling the corpse bride to fuck off. He prays that Sehun, his sworn brother, would stop sending all these sacrificial brides to him.

 

"You were loved. Your family is so concerned that you might be alone that they won't stop sending all these brides for you." He says, voice forlorn and lonely. But what he didn't know is that this is nothing but a cruel joke, really.

 

"I was gay back when I was alive. Sehun used to set me up with strippers back then. Even now that I'm dead, he still wants to fuck with me. Sending all these bitches." He groans, plucking the bride's twirly fingers off of his arm.

 

"He's your family? This Sehun person?" Junmyeon asks, clearly looking amused as he eyes Chanyeol's struggle with mirth in his eyes.

 

"He grew up with me, both of us were homeless before we started our own crew and became big. He was my second in command. Now that I'm dead, he's the boss. Fucker won't stop burning me money and sending me brides just to piss on my day." It was the first time he ever told anyone here his life story. Not even Kyungsoo and Jongdae knew.

 

"My chosen house is the mansion just across of yours. The grass is dry, the sky over there doesn’t vomit money like yours does here. I was beyond rich when I was alive, yet over here, I'm nothing more but a charitable case that has to drink out of your money."

 

It's true.

 

Junmyeon's garden is dead and dry, whilst Chanyeol's is green and luscious with life.

 

"I guess I am loved." Chanyeol says with a surprised huff.

 

He finds it weird saying it out loud no matter how true it is. Sehun's and his relationship runs deeper than just any friends or brothers. Both were devoted to one another. Because both of them understood each of their struggle, complex, misery. When Sehun was shot, Chanyeol was distraught. Now that he is dead, he wonders how the man is faring.

 

Both Chanyeol and Junmyeon share a strange bitter and melancholy sort of comradery. A mutual understanding, for they both understand. Of each other's world. The dirty deeds. The dirty money. Hell, corporate breeds are just as dirty as the mobster if one carefully thinks about it.

 

And even then, Junmyeon too has to go away eventually.

 

"Pink haired dude? Or black?" Chanyeol asks what he already knew.

 

"He has pink hair. He's not the God, is he?" Junmyeon asks skeptically, eyes squinting as if he can't believe what he's seeing.

 

"God doesn’t have pink hair, Junmyeon." Chanyeol reasons with him.

 

"He's God, he can have any kind of hair if he wants to." Junmyeon tells him with an arched eyebrow, face smug.

 

"Just fucking go, Junmyeon." Chanyeol grunts out.

 

"See you around." Junmyeon smiles one last time. Eyes bright, shoulders relax, steps light. “Maybe in my next life, I should start with nothing. See if I can climb up the world myself.” He says.

 

“Yeah, sure.” Chanyeol tells him.

 

===

 

He meets Jongin not long after.

 

A rather strange man, walking around in red, yellow and white skiing gear with the whole goggles set. He had look scared, head and body turning, looking left and right. Crying out – “Noona! Are you here? Where are you?"

 

When Chanyeol first beckoned him over to his porch, he was in a panic. Frantic. Asking about his sister.

 

He told Chanyeol that he and his family were on a skiing holiday when an unexpected avalanche hit them. He looked sad. He looked scared. He'd looked like he was on the cusp of breaking down.

 

Now he just looks stupid with a piece of drumstick stuffed full in his mouth.

 

"We were on bad terms before. Me and my sister. We got into a fight before. Barely talked the last two months. The holiday was supposed to be a healing time for us." He says with a muffled voice. Chanyeol hopes he chokes on the chicken he's stuffing in his face.

 

"Did it work?" Chanyeol asks. At this point, he only did it just for the sake of doing it. Asking.

 

"Yeah," Jongin says. He looks sad again. Mouth turning downwards. His lips glisten with chicken grease. His hands too. The bone of the drumstick is still in his grasp when he puts his hand on the table. "At that point, I was missing her like crazy. She's my sister, you know? Why did we even fight in the first place?"

 

Jongin, overall, is a sweet guy who laughs like he's possessed. He tells Chanyeol that his favourite past time is to go on horror movie marathons on the weekends.

 

"I think I've watched all the horror movies listed on Netflix." He’d said with a sigh.

 

He has two sisters who doted on him. The one he fought with was his eldest sister. When he was a kid, they made him grew his hair out and put ribbons on him. It became a weird complex after that. He can't stand cute things at all.

 

"To this day, I'm still conscious about my hair." Jongin says. "I never let them grow past my ear." He sighs as he takes a huge gulp of the cold beer. Bottle green with condensation falling down the side of its neck. Cold. Cheap. Just like how Chanyeol used to love.

 

"Why? Does it make you want to put on frilly ribbons or something? Just do it. We're dead anyway." Chanyeol says with a shrug. Still eyeing the whole stretch of street across from him with bored eyes.

 

Still feeling uneasy. That nagging feeling at the back of his throat. Like he's forgetting something. And it itches. Clawing up, trying to come out from his mouth. Like bile. Except that it's not. And Chanyeol still can't recall anything.

 

Jongin tells him that he was supposed to start at his new job next week. "We're talking about a 30% increment, hyung." He says. "It's my third year working. It had felt so good when I received that call." He smiles longingly.

 

"What do you work as?" Chanyeol asks.

 

"I'm an accountant. There's not many male accountant so I'm always surrounded by girls. Work has always been fun." He laughs. Eyes crinkled small, face just bright.

 

When Chanyeol asks him the exact figure of his new salary, he can't help from laughing out loud at the amount the man told him.

 

"That's just pocket money to me, kiddo." He says with a grin.

 

A sulking Jongin is a weird and a funny experience. He didn't look at Chanyeol for a very long time.

 

But if there's anything a person needs to know about him is this –Chanyeol was a conqueror back when he was still alive. How many crews and group he'd taken in a ruthless takeover. How many had died because of him?

 

He wins Jongin over with fried chicken and an insane number of bottled coke.

 

Chanyeol starts to laugh again.

 

At times like this, more than his old life, he misses Sehun the most now. The unbreakable bond the two have. Even in death, he can feel the man's devotion to him. Look at the sheer amount of money the man burns for him. Like an endless hail storm pouring down from the sky, filling up his garden quickly that Chanyeol has no choice but to shovel them until they mountain all over on the side of his massive front yard.

 

Limbo seems alright to him for a while. Death, for him, is pretty simple. His daily routine has simmered down to people watching from the comfort of his porch. Drinking beer to the sight of miserable people. In confusion. In misery. In sadness. In fear. He feels like a retired old war veteran in an old folk’s home.

 

Jongin leaves him not long after that. Hopping down the staircase to his front yard with a blinding grin.

 

"I'll be going then, hyung!" He says. Still grinning. Bright eyes and light steps.

 

"Take care, Jongin." Chanyeol says with a practiced wave of a hand.

 

How many times have he done this. Saying goodbye. He used to be bad at this. He'll be an expert at doing this in his next life, surely. Like the flight attendants waving goodbye to the passengers when their flight lands. Maybe he should be one of them in his next life. A flight attendant. He's tall. He's good looking. He can definitely make the cut.

 

===

 

He meets a kid called Mark just shortly after. He has black curly hair, dresses in a black hoody beneath another black varsity jacket. His jeans are skinny in black. His shoes are bright yellow. He looks just like any other university student who used to come to Chanyeol looking for a deal. To make extra cash. To push stuff for him in a busy club. Or at some back alley.

 

Mark doesn't look scared. He just looks confused. Like he had a different belief. And this Limbo he’s arrived at does not live up to his expectation.

 

"I didn't expect waking up on a train, though. After death." He says as he drinks the orange juice straight from its box carton. He’d told Chanyeol that he's a light weight. He prefers to stay off alcohol if he could, even if it’s impossible for a person to get drunk in Limbo.

 

Mark overall is a good kid. He doesn't laugh, but he giggles and it sounds like he's on helium. He's not bad. Chanyeol even finds himself enjoying the boy's company. Where misery can never find him. Like he's already accepted all of this once he died. And he's just waiting for the next sequence of this journey. Of his death.

 

He tells Chanyeol that he died while playing around on a hoverboard with his best friend by the road side at 2am. A pretty dumb thing, Chanyeol thinks. It was his summer vacation. He was supposed to start the first semester of his final year in a month.

 

He says that he was stoned that night. Both he and his best friend. They were vibing together. It had felt good. Like nothing could ruin their moment. Except that it did get ruined. Death can do that. Can come in between good moments with a snap of a finger. The kinds where a person wouldn't want it to end not matter what.

 

He got hit by a drunk driver. It's everyone's fault. Two stoned kids playing by the road side. An asshole who drove under the influence.

 

He said that his best friend had cried when he held Mark's broken body. It broke Mark's heart to see him cry. Mark thinks he has sinned. To make his friend cry that hard. Hiccupping until he couldn’t even say his goodbye when Mark closed his eyes that one last time.

 

Mark said that he was in love with his best friend. That he still is. Even after his death. Chanyeol's not surprised when he said that. There's that soft tinge in his expression when he talks about the boy. He said the boy is like an embodiment of a full sun. Bright and lovely.

 

He regretted not doing anything about it when he was still alive.

 

"Why didn't you do anything, then?" Chanyeol asks.

 

"I was scared that it would ruin our friendship. We were friends since we were, like, babies, you know. Wouldn't know what I'd do if I screwed up and scared him away." He answers Chanyeol with a shrug and a deep sigh.

 

"So what do you think now that you're dead?" Chanyeol asks back.

 

"Should've told him I loved him and fucked him to the moon and back." Mark answers with a bitter smile.

 

"Yeah, you should. Sex is great." Chanyeol tells him with a smirk. "Ah, what a miserable fucker." He grins when Mark groans and buries his face on his arms, pulling at his own hair in misery. Foolish boy. Foolish boy in love. And now he's dead, taking his fiery confession and love for another boy to his next life. Never will get the chance to confess. To deliver his feelings. Forever in regret.

 

Sometime after that has Mark looking out to the many red lanterns floating in the black sky of limbo. He looks like the love forlorn fool that he is. Sad. And longing for something he can never have. Because he can’t have it no matter how hard he wishes for it. He’s dead, and that’s it.

 

He wonders how Mark would feel if he'd seen the constant state of twilight of the beach spreading along the backyard of this bungalow. Chanyeol never took anyone there. Mark looks like a poor kicked puppy, so Chanyeol takes him there. Looks over as the boy sits by the beach with glittering blue glow in the dark sand.

 

"FUCK, now I will never get to kiss him!" Mark screams out. Actually crying, wailing like some miserable sad fuck. Tears falling down his cheeks. Face red, lips trembling and shoulders shaking from his pathetic sobs. It's funny. Death is an ironic joke.

 

But even Mark, the sexually repressed kid eventually moves on rather quickly after that. The good ones always do. He thinks of Jongdae. He thinks of Kyungsoo. He thinks of Jongin. Very quickly they get to go.

 

"Wow, God actually has pink hair?" He says, voice breaking at the end as he eyes the mailbox with scrunched eyes.

 

"He's not God, Mark." Chanyeol says with a sigh.

 

"Ah. Makes much more sense then." Mark nods as he hops down the staircase. He turns back towards Chanyeol after that and gives the sitting man a 90 degree bow. A polite and a nice boy. Body bending before he straightens up again.

 

"Thank you for taking care of me, hyung. Hope we'll meet again in our next life." He says. Bright eyes. Bright smile. Light steps.

 

"What do you want to be in your next life?" Chanyeol asks.

 

"I want to be a rapper. I want to be in a band and travel around the world." He grins.

 

"You dream big, kiddo." Chanyeol laughs.

 

"Well, got to start somewhere, no? What do you dream of, hyung?" He asks.

 

Chanyeol honestly doesn't know how to answer his question. Mark is a good kid. He looks like one of those earnest types of asshole. No malice whatsoever. Just a normal kid. Just a normal kid who died so young.

 

He tries to think. Past the uneasy quench of his stomach. And he thinks he misses Sehun. Hell, he even misses Kyungsoo, Jongdae and Jongin. Even Junmyeon in all his miserable glory.

 

"I want to be surrounded by a lot of friends in my next life." He says. Chest a little sunken. Tinge of pain electrifying and burning his nerves. Only for that few seconds. Just that few seconds. "I want to be happy." And it's enough to render him a little breathless.

 

Mark's smile had been wide and he tells Chanyeol –"I pray that your wish comes true! In your next life, let's meet again, hyung!"

 

===

 

Chanyeol wonders how long he has to stay and wait there in Limbo. He wonders why he's still there. What's holding him back? Why can't he move on? Why hasn't he been called? When will it be his turn?

 

Donghyuck arrives in Limbo in what seems just a few hours after Mark's departure. And Chanyeol thinks that the boy must be favoured by the sun. His hair is dyed in bronze, the kind of colour when one had spent too much time in the sea that they turn into a different lighter coppery shade. His skin is tan and despite being of an average height, he has long legs.

 

He wears a black suit, white shirt and black tie. Like he just came from a funeral. Chanyeol wonders whose funeral he was at.

 

Everything clicks when he tells Chanyeol that he's looking for his best friend, a boy called Mark.

 

"He's a good kid, laughs like he's on helium. Thinks himself as a man of god, but is actually a closeted gay and sexually pent up." He says as he downs the shot of soju like a typical salary man. He looks like a pro drinker. He looks like the kind of kid that can climb up a corporate ladder out of his own sheer willpower.

 

Chanyeol didn't think there was anything about Mark that screamed closeted gay. He seemed pretty chill and accepting when he told Chanyeol of his story. He wonders if death changes a man's perspective of life. He wonders if he seemed that way to Donghyuck because he was just so frantic about hiding his feelings from his best friend.

 

"Ah, I know him. Good kid. Said he regretted not confessing to his best friend and fucked the dude to the moon and back." Chanyeol tells him and raises an eyebrow when Donghyuck stops drinking from the shot glass altogether. Eyes wet. Before going straight for the soju bottle.

 

Donghyuck tells him that –"Yeah, I regretted it too. Sex would've been great." He says, groaning and hissing as he swallows what remains in the bottle. 

 

"That's what I told him. He's moved on by the way. You missed him by only a day."

 

Donghyuck then exhales a long sigh, looking actually sad when he says, "Fuck, now I will never get to kiss him." Word by word. Exactly like what Mark has said. Two dumb fucks that were made for each other.

 

Then the naggy nervousness returns. The spread of anxiety that claws up his throat. He's sick of it. He doesn't know what triggers it. But when it does happen, it made him jittery. Like the thought of it is at the tip of his consciousness. But he just can't recall. Can't remember it. Fuck. What was it that he has forgotten?

 

Donghyuck too moves on quickly after that.

 

He never said how he died. Chanyeol didn't dare to assume. It's not his business. He told him after all that he's here only to look for Mark. Fate decided to play a cruel game with him instead. He missed Mark by only few hours.

 

"Want to know what I wish to be in my next life, hyung?" He asks. Chanyeol didn't even need to ask.

 

"What?" He decides to play along.

 

"Just me. Just Donghyuck. So that I can find Mark and confess to him and kiss him senseless." He barks with all confidence. Slender shouldered boy, wet glassy eyes, pudgy face and long legs. In his full funeral garment, standing by the mailbox.

 

Chanyeol can only laugh. Surprised and taken aback by the sheer confidence he has.

 

"I hope so too, kiddo. Mark wants to be a rapper in the next round." He says with a grin.

 

"Oh yeah? Well, he's a loser. I better end up at the same place as his. He can't function without me." Donghyuck answers back with a crude laugh.

 

He's a strange one.

 

He waves his goodbye before finally walking away.

 

And the question still remains in Chanyeol's head.

 

What is he forgetting?

 

===

 

Kyungsoo comes back after that. It's funny that he looks even more tired than the first time around he was here. It's even weirder that he's dressed in a full medieval garment.

 

"You too?" He asks as he takes his old place on the armchair next to Chanyeol's own. He lets out a deep sigh as he takes one of the beer bottles on the rounded table.

 

"What do you mean?" Chanyeol asks back, eyeing the front yard and curses at the amount of money that is still falling down from the sky. Only on his yard. Sehun has a fucked up sense of humour. Are all these his money? How come he has so many free time to pull a stunt like this? Doesn't he have anything better to do? "I never left." He tells Kyungsoo.

 

The man then simply tells him, "God must really hate you."

 

Chanyeol tells him only the truth –"I killed, conned, gambled and lied for a living. I'm a mobster, Kyungsoo."

 

Kyungsoo's face is blank when he repeats, "God must really hate you."

 

Kyungsoo also said that his life was weird. His name was Dominic. That the world he was in was different. Like a different dimension and time zone. He was on a weird program called the Witcher project where kids were put up against each other, to fight each other until only one lives to be a witcher, the destroyer of men.

 

"That's fucked up." Chanyeol says. "Sounds like a cheap man-made game."

 

"I've killed eleven other snotty brats, and I'm not even sorry. I was a music teacher in my past life, wasn't I?" Kyungsoo tells him that he died at the hand of one kid called Kai. "I was his first kill. Unbelievable. God must have hated me too."

 

===

 

Jongin comes back shortly after Kyungsoo does. He didn't even look as lost and distressed this time around. Like he already knows where to head to. It's at Chanyeol's front yard that he ends up at. He only spares Kyungsoo a single glance before he looks back at Chanyeol and tells him - "I don't like him, hyung."

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t say anything for a while, looking at Jongin with calm eyes before he breathes out a deep sigh. "You stabbed me with a fork and used your teeth to tear my guts out." It confuses Chanyeol for a while. Until it all clicks together in his head.

 

"He's the Kai? The ten year-old brat that killed you?" He then turns towards where Jongin was standing before, eyes going up and down the man's figure as nothing about his height and broad shoulders scream ten years old. "That can't be it. He looks too old to be ten. He looks at least twenty-four."

 

"It's the death thing, Chanyeol. I was eleven when he killed me. And now that I’m back in Limbo, I don’t know why I’m at this age." Kyungsoo says with a shrug. Face still blank.

                                                                    

Jongin is still looking at Chanyeol when he tells him – "I really don't like him, hyung."

 

Yet, the two became quick friends right away after that. Both drinking Chanyeol's beers at his porch. Leeching off of him like a pair of parasites. Singing to the tune of past memories and struggles.

 

"You were bad at it." Kyungsoo says over the sound of women's wailing, corpse brides looking for their husbands. Creaking palanquins, cries of pleasure and distress. The sound of falling object. TVs, cars, new houses. It's fucking chaos.

 

"I don't like killing people." Jongin groans. Mouth glistening with chicken grease again. Chanyeol thinks he misses that very disgusting sight. The pleasured sound he would make when he swallows a whole chicken thigh in one breath. It's disgusting, but Jongin looks delighted by it that it almost seems too innocent.

 

"Can't believe you died at the hand of this wuss, Kyungsoo." Chanyeol says after a while.

 

"Can't believe it myself, either." Kyungsoo agrees with a blank face.

 

"Did you have fun, at least?" Chanyeol asks. "Killing a bunch of kids?"

 

Kyungsoo's glare could kill a man easily, Chanyeol thinks, when the man turns his way. "I was a teacher, Chanyeol. Killing is not only unethical. It's inhumane." He states.

 

"Yeah, I know." Chanyeol agrees. "And so? Did you?" He asks again.

 

Kyungsoo's sigh sounds tired. As if Chanyeol's one of those brats he taught back when he was a teacher.

 

"Yeah, I did." Kyungsoo admits.

 

"How were you a teacher?" Jongin asks in disbelief, looking at Kyungsoo with wide eyes.

 

"It's a fact that normal people can't be teachers, Jongin. Especially to a bunch of high school kids. What makes you think Kyungsoo was a normal man to begin with?"

 

Ah, Chanyeol remembers the feeling of adrenaline and suffocation when Kyungsoo pulls him into a deadlock.

 

===

 

But all good things have to come to an end.

 

Jongin moves on first. He didn't say much. Only gave Chanyeol a bright smile and told him –"Hope we'll meet again in the next round! I'll buy you chicken and beer this time!" He says.

 

Kyungsoo moved on shortly after him.

 

"You better not be here when I return." He says.

 

"I wish so too." He says. At this point tired. Feeling a little hopeless. Maybe it's karma. Maybe he's meant to be here for eternity. He was not a good man back when he was alive.

 

Kyungsoo didn't say anything after that. And he's gone. Just like that.

 

===

 

When Sehun arrived, he has that stupid poker face on that Chanyeol knows so fucking well. Furrowed eyebrows, mouth thinned into a long line across his face. His hair is black, parted in the middle. He's dressed in one of those weird designer's dress shirts made of silk typically favoured by pimps. Like one of those that one could find in a Versace boutique. Clothes made to dress the assholes of the world. The kind of shirt that Sehun had always liked. Vectors and florals of gold and black and white. Then he has an obnoxious green satin jacket on top. His pants are tight in black.

 

When Sehun sees him, Chanyeol is already running down his porch towards the side road and pulling him into a tight hug.

 

"Shit, is that you, hyung?" Sehun asks out loud, in disbelief.

 

"The fuck, Sehun, what took you so long, you rascal?" He asks.

 

"Well, what can I say." Their embrace breaks after a while, both men wear a similar stupid grin. Both are suddenly twenty-two and twenty again. "I was the epitome of health, hyung. You know of this."

 

Sehun who drinks alcohol like it's water. Sehun whose gambling habits were up through the roof.

 

"Don't be a little shit, you bastard. We both know you inhale alcohol like a koi fish in a pond."

 

===

 

For a while, life seems perfect again. Sehun is here. The only memory of his past life that he has. The only family and friend that he has. Because they were really close back then. They both were willing to take a bullet for the other. They both did it, in fact. How many times had they both had to get patched up because of that?

 

There had never been any question. The depth of loyalty and devotion both sworn brothers had for each other. He could have Sehun on the wheel even if the man had his eyes closed. Because he knows Sehun would trust him the same.

 

And yet, after a while, that nagging feeling returns. This time, it stays. Persistent and strong. Like red lights. Alarms ringing in his head. Deafening. A knot has made a permanent spot in his throat. Like it won't allow Chanyeol to forget about it. About something that he can't even recall. A memory long gone.

 

He's restless.

 

Jittery.

 

At one point, the money stops raining down from the sky. The mountains of piled up cash are slowly dwindling down. There are still a lot. And now, even the trees start to dry up.

 

"So these were really your doing, huh?" Chanyeol huffs out with a smirk. Slouching against the armchair at his porch.

 

"Paid five temples to do it. Used up all of your savings for it. Sold all of your car and villas to make sure the money kept on coming." He says with a nod.

 

"Yeah? So what's your fucking deal with the weird bride dolls shit?" He asks.

 

Sehun laughs his weird laugh. The kind that sounds like a dying whale.

 

"They don't carry any gay male grooms. Figured I might as well make do." Sehun says with a huge grin, laughing even when Chanyeol swats the back of his head.

 

"You dumb bitch. I left all my property and money for you, not to use them on stupid shit like this." Chanyeol says with a shake of his head.

 

"It's exactly because of that that I can do what I want with it." Sehun shrugs his shoulders. "See, think of it as an investment. We're drinking cheap beers like the olden days now, aren't we? With pizza and tteokbokki too."

 

Chanyeol chooses not to tell him that in Limbo, money has little value. Because just look out there on the street. How tall the money have piled up. Like mountains. Easily accessible. Simply because the intended have moved on. Money burned with no one left to use. People here can just use them to their heart's content. It won't finish.

 

"Did you have a good life, at least? Found anyone? Settled down?" He asks the younger man.

 

"Well I mean, I'm only into my late thirties when my car got blown up. Not really at the age of settling down. But found myself a protégé of a sort. A young kid. Called Yerim. She's weird and a pervert. Don't think she'll live long, though. Always pissing off the wrong people." Sehun tells him. "You'd like her. She takes care of all our strip clubs."

 

"Sounds alright." Chanyeol nods.

 

===

 

When it was Sehun's turn to go, Chanyeol is reminded of loneliness once again. That cold deep pool that he hates. He used to feel it back when he was a sniffling brat. When he didn't get any attention. Scratching at his unkempt hair, face caked in dirt. Then he met Sehun after that. They became sworn brothers. They are not related by blood, but who cares. Their hearts might as well be one.

 

"So the pink haired guy is God?" Sehun asks with furrowed eyebrows.

 

"No he's not, Sehun." Chanyeol says.

 

"Religions are weird." Sehun remarks.

 

"You are weird, asshole." Chanyeol snorts.

 

Chanyeol can't even bear to look at him. His chest feels tight. He can't breathe.

 

"So I'll just go with him? To this so called next phase?" Sehun asks.

 

"Yeah," Chanyeol answers. "To a new life. To be reborn."

 

"Oh." Sehun says. Voice quiet. Chanyeol finally turns towards him. They both are now standing by the road side. Just next to the white mailbox. Where people are wailing all around them. Corpse brides calling out to their beloved. Dead men they know nothing of, but to serve as companions and to give their bodies to.

 

"Do I have to go, hyung?" Sehun asks. He sounds like he was eight all over again. Hiding behind Chanyeol with dirty hands. "I just got to see you again. I've waited so long for this. Do I have to go now?" He asks. As if Chanyeol had all the answer in the world when he is just as lost as the younger man.

                                                                                                                                                                                

Because he's been here for so long. How many have come and go.

 

"We'll meet again." He says. Not because he knows it, but because he wishes for it. Having Sehun in his past life was not bad at all. He'd want to have the asshole in his next one too if he can. Hell, he’d want to have Sehun in all his next lives if he can.

 

"You promise?" Sehun asks. Stupid question. Both of them had grown out of that phase. Both were adults. Both were grown men when they died.

 

"I should hope so." Chanyeol grins, eyes wet.

 

They didn't hug. Chanyeol thinks that if Sehun hugged him he would break down. And he's scared of it. Of what would happen if he did. Breaking down in this strange place. Will he then be as lost as all those fuckers roaming on the street?

 

"See you around, hyung." Sehun says.

 

Chanyeol only gives him a nod before the man starts to walk away.

 

===

 

Chanyeol realises that during all his time in Limbo, he rarely spends it by the beach at his backyard. He’d almost forgotten the reason he’d chosen the bungalow in the first place at all was because it was the only property there that had a private beach and a whole ocean to it.

 

When he took that boy, Mark, here, he recalls how melancholy the weather was. Forever in a state of twilight. Blinking glow in the dark blue sand of the beach. Gradients of orange and purple painting the whole sky.

 

The wind waves and kisses his skin in soft touches. Like a forgotten lover's touch. Like Chanyeol used to be touched in such a soft manner. Except that he can't remember if he ever did. Can't recall.

 

There's that choking knot forming in his throat again. That dreadful feeling of déjà vu. Like it wants to tell Chanyeol that it did happen before. Except that it didn't. Because Chanyeol can't remember. He never has had the liberty of finding a lover for himself back when he was alive. He was twenty-nine when he died. His memories are still clear.

 

He still remembers his past life clearly. Like a box made of glass. Clear and transparent. Like his first trip to the beach. He remembers surfing for the first time. Sehun took him on a trip to Miami. Eager to spend his money on Chanyeol.

 

He remembers how much he hated it. When he fell off the surfing board and the wave crashed over him. Mouth full of saltwater. Rush of water swallowed him whole, turning his body over like rolled empty shell carried to the shore.

 

His ears perk up at the sound of incoming footsteps. Of heavy weight stepping into the sand. That crunchy sound that grates on his nerve. He didn't turn around. He wonders who this new unfortunate dead person is. Will they drink with him up on his porch if he invited them? He's not in the mood to do so. Maybe he should just ignore them this one time.

 

Maybe it's not a newcomer at all. Maybe it's Kyungsoo. Maybe he's died again. Maybe Jongin has killed him again. Maybe this is this Yerim girl Sehun has been telling him about. About her reckless nature. About how she likes to check out both boys and girls equally and always gotten into trouble with other mobsters.

 

Maybe it's Jongdae. Did he at least become a singer? Or a bird at least?

 

Maybe it's Donghyuck. Maybe he didn't manage to find Mark like how he wanted to. Maybe it's Junmyeon. Maybe it's Junmyeon’s mistress. The idol from a flopping girl group.

 

When he turns towards the new person that is now standing next to him, he instead is met with a man whose eyes are droopy and lips lined into a smile that reminds Chanyeol too much of a puppy he used to look at from the other side of the glass outside of random pet store.

 

The man has black fluffy hair. His bang falls over his forehead and eyebrows haphazardly. His bottom lip is thick and they are red, blooming in contrast against his fair skin. Chanyeol can see that his neck is thin as it is collared in light blue shirt. His black necktie looks cheap. That coarse satin material one can easily find at any department store. The kinds that always have a 15% off tag to it. Reminds him a lot of Kyungsoo, except that his shoulders are broader.

 

And when their eyes met, Chanyeol thinks that the earth sinks in.

 

Like he's falling and is under that crashed wave again in Miami. His heart throbs, his head throbs –he can't fucking breath. When surges of memory come forward like a marching band. Banging their drums in loud endless beat.

 

Let them out!

 

It seems like they're screaming it. To be released. Like water. Pushing against the frail wall of a dam. Demanding to be let out. And when it does, Chanyeol is sobbing. A crying mess. Because how could he? How could he forget?

 

Of a past life.

 

Of a past love.

 

Of fingers intertwining between his. Patrolling on flying dragons, where hot and rough winds wash over them.

 

Of a lover's hot kisses.

 

Of a lover's warm embrace.

 

Of a lover's pleasured moans.

 

Calling out for him. Calling out his name.

 

A lover’s sweet voice, calling out to him like a priestess singing her prayer to the seven gods. Like Chanyeol was his god. Like Chanyeol was all he ever prayed to. Like Chanyeol was all he ever knew to pray to. In the midst of war, they found love. Easily. Made to be. One a son of a harlot and one a bastard to a lord and his wife’s chamber lady. Who would’ve thought?

 

Even when the cannons blew one after another like roaring thunders on a stormy night. Of a ruined watch tower. When bricks fell over them like the sky was hailing ice down on them instead of death and misery.

 

"I know that face." Someone said to him before.

 

"Not that bad of a face, no?" He remembers answering.

 

"Yeah, ain't you the prettiest of them all, sugar."           

 

Just two soldiers. So low in ranking. Just two mere pawns in the grand scheme of things. Of a king's chess board.

 

He remembers a burned face wrapped in dirty bandages. A lover's broken whisper. "I know that face." They’d said.

 

Only that the lover's eyes were covered. Eyelids melted shut together when he was burned from a dragon's fire. Such was the fate of low raking soldiers. To spear the rest of the armada at the very front. Disposable. The two were.

 

And the feeling. It’s coming back to him now. The warmth of being needed. Wanted. He was once wanted just as much as he had wanted. He was once loved just as hard and intense as how he had loved. The sharp teeth and the sharp, crude words. The tendency to get them into trouble more often than not. And Chanyeol, a faithful follower. Jumping into trouble with them without a second thought.

 

One a son of a harlot and one a bastard to a lord and his wife’s chamber lady.

 

"Let's go somewhere, after this." Someone had said.

 

"We’ll get caught again." Chanyeol remembers answering. .

                                          

"Oh yeah? Then let's just go anyway." He was told instead.

 

"You're a nasty bitch. You're just looking for a chance to suck my face off and get groped." He remembers his heart beating like crazy. He remembers melting. He remembers feeling swooned off his feet.

 

"Yeah, I mean, can you blame me? You got me whipped by just breathing. Like, you were born only to do just that. Maybe you were a harlot in your past life, Chanyeol. Think about it.” Someone said. Sharp teeth and a big smile full of mischief.

 

"Your mother is a harlot, you motherfucker." Chanyeol remembers being in love. Chanyeol remembers the greed of wanting to keep the person all to himself.  

 

"Ain't that just the truth, love."

 

The memory that comes to him feels warm. Like that warm fuzzy feeling kind of warm. Where it's not the kind of burning hot that would make a person sweat. It feels more like a room temperature kind of warm. Where the air is still, not stuffy despite how there is no breeze. Just, warm.

 

Warm.

 

He remembers how there was a body standing next to him.

 

Breathing and alive. Baekhyun. In his silver armour. A typical soldier's attire as they stood patrol at one of the guard's towers. Just the two of them. Under the darkness of the night where the sky was littered with millions of stars, but none could be as brilliant as the man's wide grin. Chanyeol swore he could turn blind. Not that Baekhyun needed to do anything to blind him in the first place.

 

"I know that face." The man in front of him says now. Gasping. Eyes wide. Shocked. Surprised. As if Chanyeol is not a crumpling mess on the sand like a burnt ant. "Chanyeol." He whispers, testing the name before he breaks into a smile. Bright. Big. And Chanyeol thinks that he might die all over again.

 

Baekhyun.

 

Fuck, his name is Baekhyun, isn’t it?

 

"Let's be together again in our next life, Baekhyun-ah." He remembers crying to a gasping Baekhyun in the medic's tent where thousands of other soldiers were dying all around them. "Even if I have to wait seven lives to be with you again, let's be together. Away from war. Only the two of us. Let's build a house by the sea. We can catch fishes for dinner. Let's grow old together." He remembers promising that.

 

The nerve to promise that when he has forgotten all about it just before this man came.

 

The nerve.

 

Oh, the fucking nerve.

 

His body is shaking. He feels the world is closing down on him. Like he's hyperventilating. Except that he's not. He's just crying like the little bitch that he is. Uncontrollably. Like he was not a cruel mobster who ruined people for a living. Like he was not twenty-nine when he died. Like he was ten all over again.

 

Baekhyun.

 

Fuck.

 

How could he forget him? The very man who he's loved with his whole heart. The one who he's mourned for until he died, pierced by a spear, yet his heart still ached. Empty. Hollow.

 

Has it been seven cycles already?

 

Baekhyun is grinning now. Cheap clothes and all. He kneels next to him. Weight dipping into the sparkling blue sand. Cupping Chanyeol's wet face with thin and long fingers.

 

"You've always been a big crybaby, huh. Get a fucking grip, private!" He laughs. Like the two are still trainees back at the royal fleet. Clumsy with shields and spears. But still wanting to look cool. Playing dress up.

 

"Shit, is that you, Baekhyun?" He asks. Sobbing. Voice breaking. Shit, what a pathetic sight. His hold is tight around the man's biceps. Bruising. Because. Fuck. What if Baekhyun disappears again? Because what if? What if?

 

"Who else can be just as handsome as me, Chanyeol?" Baekhyun laughs. Heartily. Bright. So full of life. Not gasping in pain. Not hurt. Not cold. Not tired.

 

He doesn't say anything as he buries his face into Baekhyun's torso. Inhaling before he lets out the loudest wail he can muster. Just like the boy Mark who wailed here just that night. Fuck, he's a miserable little shit, isn’t he? He's happy. But just so fucking sad too. Baekhyun is here. How could he have forgotten all about him? About them? How could he? He cries and cries until Baekhyun's shirt is wet with his tears, snot and spit.

 

Baekhyun doesn’t say anything as he wraps strong arms around Chanyeol's head. Lips pressing against the crown of his head. Inhaling and just quiet. But his chest shakes, trembles. The grip he has around him just as tight.

 

He had always been a silent crier. Had always been the braver one. The stronger one. Yet, he gave Chanyeol all parts of him. Indiscriminately he gave in. His heart, his body, his pride, his shame. Everything. He had loved aggressively. But it was okay, because Chanyeol did too.

 

So it's almost unfair how now that he remembers, now that he has Baekhyun with him, now that he finally feels full again, it is then that he hears it. The shrilling sound of a whistle. The kind one would hear at the train station.

 

Whistle.

 

Just a damn shrilling thing.

 

Ah, he hates that fucking sound. He doesn't know why, but he always had. Back when he was alive. When he was drunk on one of his trips to Japan, he had beaten an innocent train conductor. Almost got arrested for it if not for the hefty amount of compensation money Sehun threw the man for the assault.

 

And this time when he looks up, pulling his face away from Baekhyun's wet shirt, he sees it.

 

The pink hair.

 

That pink fucking hair.

 

Jongdae was right. He didn't think that the man is God. He wears the same navy blue with golden trimming train conductor uniform and hat. Just like that first man Chanyeol saw when he first arrived. A guy called Doyoung, if he recalled correctly.

 

This man has a very handsome feature. Pink hair and pink lips and grey eyes. His hands are gloved in white as he holds up a clipboard, reading over it as if to confirm if a passenger's name is there. The blow whistle is silver, chained to his neck and it's still puckered between his lips. It falls down to his chest after a while when the pink haired man looks up again to Chanyeol.

 

"It's time." He says. "You don't want to be late. The train is waiting."

 

Ah, it's not fair.

 

Just not fucking fair.

 

He doesn't want to go. Why should he? He just got Baekhyun back. They both can stay here in peace. In this double-storey Midwestern bungalow by the beach.

 

I don't want to go, he seems to think.

 

And he looks up towards Baekhyun. To see his face. To drink up the beautiful man's face to his heart's content.

 

"Do I have to?" He asks aloud.

 

"You don't want to go?" Baekhyun seems to ask when he looks down towards Chanyeol again. Shame burns through his whole body at the thought of how weak and embarrassing he must look like to Baekhyun, but he doesn't care. Not like this, he can't care. He used to be a powerful man back when he was alive, at the top of the world even and he had nothing. Now that he’s dead, he finally gets Baekhyun back. So yeah. No. He doesn’t care how pathetic he seems like now.

 

"I don't want to leave you behind. What if we won't get to meet again? What if I lose you again? What if we forget again?" He asks. Bombing the man with questions. With his doubt. With his insecurity.

 

Baekhyun's grin is wide. They seem playful, like how he remembers the man is.

 

"But Chanyeol, can't you see?" Baekhyun asks. "He's holding two tickets. It's for us." He laughs.

 

The conductor's face burns just as pink as his hair. He clears his throat as he tells them -

 

"My name is Taeyong, and I have here two tickets for a Mr. Baekhyun, Byun and a Mr. Chanyeol, Park. I will be taking you to your train. It's ready for your departure."

 

There are many more things Chanyeol wants to say. To do. He wants to know how was Baekhyun's past life. How did he die? Was he in a lot of pain? Did he have a good life, at least? Did he find love in it? Did someone else ever managed to steal his big heart like Chanyeol once did?

 

But Baekhyun is holding his hand now. Leading him as they trail after the flustered Taeyong. Like he knew something about them more than Chanyeol did. Like he's holding on to a secret.

 

"He knows me." Baekhyun says. Fingers tight around Chanyeol's. Like he's scared to let go. Like he's scared that Chanyeol will disappear too. It appeases him. Calms him enough at least to know that he's wanted just as much.

 

"How so?" Chanyeol asks, pulling Baekhyun around the huge box of a brand-new washing machine sitting in the middle of the street. Really. Limbo is just another chaotic junk graveyard of expensive brand-new items.

 

"This is my seventh cycle, here. Each time it was always him who led me to the next phase." Baekhyun explains.

 

"You mean there are more people like him?"

 

"He told me before that they are called shepherds. Their duty is to guide souls who are in transit like this to the next phase of their cycle. Reincarnation." Baekhyun explains. "He told me that shepherds usually have their work cut out in a batch. So if you see a group of people being led to their departure within the same timeframe as you by the same shepherd, the chance for them to be reborn in the same world and life is more likely."

 

"Oh. That's neat." Chanyeol muses. Suddenly remembering Kyungsoo, Jongin, Sehun and Junmyeon. Will he meet them again in his next life? And he thinks of Baekhyun. Will they see each other then? "So is that why he turns weird and pink then?" Chanyeol asks to which Baekhyun only laughs out loud.

 

"Nah, he's like that because he was my shepherd for my last three cycles and I always tell him of all the nasty sex we've had." He grins.

 

"WE ARE HERE!" Chanyeol hears Taeyong shriek.

 

He looks around him then, finally, to see that while they were talking, they’ve already passed through the tunnel. The train station that perpetually seems to be empty. True to Taeyong's words, there's a train waiting for them. Just over the yellow line. A black train. Puffing out white thick clouds of smoke.

 

He looks back at Baekhyun again. His smile that's so full of colour and mischief. Ah, he misses this. The trouble maker that is his best friend and his lover. They got into a lot of trouble back then, didn't they? Got chased by the cook for stealing buns and dumplings. Got screamed at by the sergeant when they decided to skip one particular night patrol just to suck face in the thick of the forest near to the barracks.

 

It was worth it, wasn't it?

 

Even if they were flogged in front of the rest of the soldiers in their barrack as a punishment for doing stupid shit.

 

"Do we go in together, then?" He asks and both of them look up towards Taeyong who's standing just next to the main door of the cabin.

 

"Afraid not, sir. This cabin is for the ticket holder, Mr. Baekhyun, Byun." He looks at Chanyeol before pointing towards the other middle passenger car. "Ticket holder, Mr. Chanyeol, Park, your cabin will be that one, sir."

 

Both men didn't move after that. He thinks no one has the right to blame them for being skeptical about parting now. They just got each other back. And to let go now. It's not fair. It's cruel. Like idiots, they just stand in front of the entrance to the cabin, still holding hands. Palms now clammy. Heart clenching, holding back all the air they breathed in.

 

So Chanyeol turns towards Baekhyun. Only to see that the man is looking at him. With soft eyes. Like a whipped asshole, as if Chanyeol is not just as whipped.

 

"Have I ever told you how I think you're the most beautiful man in this world, Chanyeol?" Baekhyun asks.

 

And Chanyeol remembers. Of hushed whispers, soft kisses under the black blanket of the night sky. Hidden between the crooks of stones by the river bed. Where no one was the wiser to look for them there. Lost as they made love to one another until the sun broke out and bled the black sky blue.

 

He remembers that when he first met Baekhyun on their first day, the two just clicked. Like two cogs of a bigger machine, they fit just nicely rogether

 

And love?

 

Love came easily to the two of them.

 

Like breathing. Baekhyun was bright. He was funny. His love was intense, and he called Chanyeol pretty. Said that his beauty could put even the fairest of maidens to shame. Like a star. Across the sky. Like the golden scales of a dragon. The shiniest and the prettiest.

 

Chanyeol had liked it.

 

Not the name calling or the praises. But the feeling of being needed. Wanted. Baekhyun wanted him just as much as he wanted him. Baekhyun loved him just as hard and intense as Chanyeol loved him. In all his misfit glory. With his sharp teeth and sharp, crude words. His tendency to get the two into trouble more often than not.

 

And Chanyeol, a faithful follower. Jumping into trouble with him without a second thought.

 

Like a fool.

 

Because he was. They were. The two of them. Two nobodies, careless in their romantic endeavours. Such fools.

 

"You did." Chanyeol grins. Sheepish. He remembers. "Many times over." And by god, it feels good to remember.

 

"Because it's the truth. And fuck, aren't you just the prettiest, Chanyeol." He sighs. Like a forlorn fool in love. What idiots they are.

 

He then remembers of the two best friends. Mark and Donghyuck. He wonders if they ever got to find each other. Both of them were also led by Taeyong, were they not? They should head towards the same destination, then, no?

 

"Let's meet again in our next life, Baekhyun." Chanyeol says. Still feeling uneasy, but hopeful. Like a beady seed. It will grow. It has started to grow. The hope. Just beneath his breast. "This time, I would know. We would know immediately that we are meant to be. To grow older. To find that happiness." Chanyeol says. Eyes wet.

 

Baekhyun's eyes are just as wet.

 

Ah, what fools the two are.

 

And who can blame them, really.

 

"Let's meet each other again then. And maybe this time, I can follow you around like a lovesick bitch." Baekhyun grins.

 

Chanyeol laughs when he hears that.

 

"We both know I had it worse for you, Baekhyun."

 

He turns them around until both of them are standing face to face. Like this, Baekhyun's head can easily reach his shoulders and the man's fingers are cold this time when he grabs at the back of Chanyeol's neck, pulling him down and smashing his lips against the taller man's.

 

They kiss like they've lost each other. They kiss like it's their first kiss all over. They kiss like this will be their last shared kiss.

 

Because that's nothing, but the truth.

 

How sure are they that they will meet again? How sure are they that they will be reborn again in the same life? Even if they did, how sure are they that they will meet each other then? The world is a huge place, after all. They might not get lucky.

 

Nothing is set in stone in this life, after all. Sheer willpower is just not enough for such a big case as this. It won't work against fate. Against God's decision if he truly is out there.

 

When they part, Taeyong has looked restless. Agitated. The train whistles came. Its engine starts to roar, vibrating its whole black steel wall. "Please sirs, you both are the last one in line. We can't delay the train much longer. Or one of you might have to bump into another shepherd's empty slot." He says. Desperate. Urgent. "You remember what I said about how shepherds arrange their assignment in batches, right hyung?" He looks at Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun's eyes widen and he laughs before giving Chanyeol a final peck. He then climbs into the cabin, car no.4, turning around to look at him.

 

"Go, Chanyeol! It's going to be alright!" He says with a huge grin. A man of conviction. Like he believes that he can beat his fate. Like he believes that he can shit on their will. "Let's meet each other again!" He shouts as Chanyeol runs after a running and a panicking Taeyong until he reaches his own cabin.

 

Car no.61.

 

He looks up ahead towards Baekhyun's own cabin, smiling when he can see the man's head peeking out from the entrance. He waves. Faking a smile when he feels like vomiting. Heartbroken. Sad. But still a little hopeful.

 

"I'll see you around, Baekhyun!" He shouts as he climbs into his own car.

 

He can't remember much after that. The door closes just as he jumps in and Taeyong ushers him with a huge relieved sigh towards his assigned seat with a sweating face. The whole cabin is vibrating, rumbling before it starts to push forward.  

 

Chanyeol settles down and finds it weird when Taeyong takes a seat in the row just next to his.

 

"This is my final assignment," Taeyong says with a grin. "Just like you, I too am moving on to my next phase." He says as he takes off his hat and places it on his lap. "Made a promise with a friend. He's in the next cabin."

 

There is no scenery outside. Just flashes of white light. Like a car passing in the highway in the middle of the night, with thousands of streetlamps overhead.

 

That's the last thing he remembers before everything just turns white.

 

===

 

Epilogue

 

First after they broke the news on the final lineup for their debut, it’s the immense happiness and glee brought about by the thought that –finally. Just finally. He’s about to reach the starting point of his dream. To do what he does best. To perform. To be known to the whole world. To be on stage.

 

Then comes the anxiety, an unpleasant mixture of adrenaline and dread, nauseating and pooling in the base of his guts, and his hands are clammy, his heartbeat a maddening tribal tune, something off-beat and uneven.

 

He is both sure and unsure of his future. A part of him is happy that his hard work and uncertainty are about to bear fruit. That they will not go to waste. That the jump he’s made when he’d decided to stay in this path, rather than going into something more stable and safe, a normal career –they would have all been worth it.

 

Yet he’d chosen this.

 

To be in the entertainment industry, where it’s already congested with thousands of entertainers in South Korea itself. Where it’s a normal notion that five years, if even that, are all that he would have after this before reaching the decline –his decline.

 

Another part of him, well

 

He’s about to throw up.

 

The practice room feels clogged and stuffy. Not from their sweat and heat –no. It’s the anxiety and the nerves –something filling to the brim, bursting at the seams.

 

The what ifs.

 

The will we.

 

The what next?

 

One of the managers comes in with the two new vocalists. One is assigned to the K unit, the other to the M unit. The anxiety he feels this time is a different kind. Something he can’t put a name to, not yet.

 

They’re small and skinny, both men. One with sharp eyes and a cheshire smile, the other with droopy eyes and a tight, boxy smile.

 

Jongdae introduces himself with a bright smile. The other is called Baekhyun.

 

Byun Baekhyun, he says.

 

And it takes Chanyeol only ten seconds for the anxiety to melt away into something else as they make eye contact.

 

Suddenly he feels warm. High and jittery. As if his heart is about to burst. He doesn’t know why, but it does. His heart. His head. They stare at each other for a few seconds. A beat. An entire moment. It’s strange, the strangest thing. Chanyeol feels like this isn’t the first time they’d met. Like they had a past between them. Like they’d known each other inside out. He feels like he should say something, anything, every single thing he can, and nothing at all.

 

Baekhyun has mischief in his smile. Chanyeol could tell he’s one of his kind. He’s not sure what kind, but he just knows. Something, something nagging in the back of his head, telling him that they’re meant for this.

 

This was meant for them.

 

And they shake hands after that, and something tells him that he’s done this a million times before. The shape of their grips around each other is disarmingly familiar, like they’d memorized the shape of each other, sometime long ago.

 

“Let’s get along well,” Chanyeol says.

 

“Something tells me we’ll get along just fine,” Baekhyun says, all boxy smile and droopy eyes, and Chanyeol trusts him with his whole heart.

 

The dance studio smells like them. Smells of heat and sweat and jitters and nerves. It’s something clicking into place. Two cogs of a much complicated bigger machine. The world tilted right on its axis.

 

It’s a short few seconds at most. It feels decisive. It feels like an eternity in the making.

 

It feels predestined.

 

Maybe.

 

Maybe it is.

 

- End -