Yunho couldn’t make his throat work.
“Hello? Who is it?”
Yunho let out a shaky breath.
“Is this a prank? I’m hanging up.”
“Ah, no, wait!” his grip on the phone tightened, “It’s Yunho.”
The silence was now at the opposite end of the line.
Yunho worked up his courage. “I know it’s been a while but... I wondered...” He couldn’t find any suitable words. I wondered if you could help me with Changmin so he doesn’t starve to death. Too abrupt for the first phone call after months of silence.
“Yunho. That’s a surprise.”
“Yeah, I... It’s been a while.”
“That’s one way of putting it. What do you want?”
“Just... to talk.”
A (bitter) laugh was heard. “It’s never as simple, is it? Whom do you want to talk to? Should I put Jaejoong on?”
“I... No, I want to talk with you. It’s about Changmin.”
“What about him?” Yoochun sighed, however, his voice had betrayed a hint of worry. After all, why should Yunho call after so much time if it wasn’t serious.
“Have you heard about the hold-up incident a few months ago?”
“Ah... Yeah, vaguely.”
Liar, thought Yunho. “Well, to put it bluntly, I think Changmin is struggling. He needs some help coping with it.”
“Aren’t you enough? Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of counsellors in the world for that.”
“As you can imagine, Changmin is not very cooperative and he...” Yunho sighed. “He’s avoiding me. I don’t know what to do anymore. Yoochun...” Yunho’s voice was starting to crack.
“Yeah?” Yoochun now sounded openly worried.
“I’m afraid he’s going to do something really stupid.”
“Stupid as in?”
“Don’t make me say it.”
Yoochun breathed into the phone, “Is it that serious?”
“Yeah,” Yunho couldn’t hide from his voice the defeat he felt so deeply, “just... look at some pictures on the Internet.”
“Wait a second.”
Yunho heard some shuffling and then the sound of a computer being turned on.
“I’m back”, said Yoochun, “can you explain a bit?”
Yunho felt some relief though he scolded himself for feeling it. “What do you know about the hold-up?”
“Mmm... Just the facts. That Changmin was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that he was taken hostage and a bit hurt but nothing really serious.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what the doctor told me too. But... There were some bruises that just don’t make much sense. And he probably witnessed someone being killed or I don’t know,” Yunho stopped, searching for words, “I think he’s feeling guilty about that for some reasons but I can’t get anything out of him.”
“What... Do you mean he hasn’t talked about it with you at all?”
“That’s... Wait a sec, I’m opening a browser.” Yunho heard some muttering, “What about the bruises?”
“Huh? Ah, yeah, he had, you know, weird bruises on his neck and on his wrists as if he had been tied.”
“But that’s quite normal, to be tied, in a hold-up, I guess?
“Yeah, but the neck?”
Silence. Some clicking noise. And then a startled gasp.
“That’s really bad. He’s like a walking stick! How come no one has done anything yet?”
“I... We were busy.”
“Damn it Yunho!”
“I know. I have no excuse.” Yunho sighed, “Will you help?” At Yoochun’s silence, he added, “please?”
“I’ll talk with Jaejoong and Junsu.”
“Thanks.” Yunho didn’t wait for a reply as he hang up, his heart and head a mess.
The next day a message informed Yunho if it would be alright to come and visit their flat the same day, in the evening.
As the evening approached, Yunho grew more tense, tense enough for Changmin to notice. He had messed up a lot during the dance rehearsal, enough for Changmin to throw him two or three annoyed glances and for their trainer to call it a day.
Back home, Yunho had tried to make Changmin eat something but he had received his fourth annoyed glare of the day before Changmin retreated to his room to study.
Yunho looked at his wristwatch. Two more hours. They passed painfully slowly and, yet, they were still too quickly gone as Yunho felt he would never be prepared enough.
Indeed, he was not. He jumped from the shock of hearing his phone ring.
“We’re downstairs.” And then they were in the living room. All four at loss to what to say.
“Something to drink?” Yunho asked finally, not knowing where –whom– to look.
“Skip the formalities. Where’s Changmin?” answered Jaejoong with some dryness.
“In his room. But what’s the plan?” Yunho’s anxiety hit the roof. And if it didn’t work?
“Talking would be good, I guess,” said Jaejoong.
Yoochun nodded, “but the three of us at the same time would probably be too much.”
“Who goes first then?” Junsu asked, finally speaking.
“I see that everyone is anxious to see me. What the fuck is going on here?”
Yunho nearly jumped out of his skin. “Changmin!”
Indeed, Changmin was standing in the living room doorway. He had obviously been interrupted in his reading, as his glasses were resting on his nose.
The loose shirt and sport trousers he wore to hide his thinness did nothing else but precisely accentuate his emaciated figure as he seemed engulfed by the fabric.
Junsu gasped at the sight. “What happened to you?”
Changmin shifted uncomfortably. “It’s none of your business.”
He turned to Yunho and threw a betrayed glare, “What is going on? What were you thinking inviting them here? They have no right to be here anymore.”
Yunho stepped back, nearly falling as his legs hit the back of the couch.
Jaejoong stepped in, “The hell Changmin! Yunho just wants to help.”
“He should mind his own business and so should you,”
Changmin turned on his heels but Jaejoong’s hand on his elbow stopped him from storming out. Changmin slapped his hand away, shouting, “don’t touch me!”
He breathed harshly. “You weren’t there these past years. Don’t try to swoop in last minute to fix me.” Changmin’s voice cracked and his voice lowered. “There’s nothing to fix anyway.”
“Nothing to fix? Are you serious? Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently?”
Changmin’s hands flew to his ears to cover them as he closed his eyes tightly, starting to hum.
“Changmin... Stop it with this childish behaviour! I know I was the one who first messed up our friendship but we’re two grown adults,” Jaejoong stopped uncertain, “I... it hurts me, us, to see you hurting”.
Changmin snorted, a bitter smile on his lips.
That seemed to push Jaejoong’s patience over the edge as he grabbed Changmin’s wrists.
“Listen to me...” But the wild look in Changmin’s eyes as they flew open cut him short.
Changmin struggled to free his wrists but Jaejoong held on, not so surprised by the weakness of Changmin’s struggles but not yet understanding what was happening. “Changmin... what... calm down!”
Changmin didn’t seem to listen, nor even hear, as his eyes lost focus and he fell to his knees.
Yunho urged Jaejoong to let go. Jaejoong did but immediately fell to the floor to cup Changmin’s face so Changmin would look straight at him.
“Changmin, hey, Changmin.”
A flash of recognition passed through Changmin’s eyes before he closed them. Jaejoong let go of his face and Changmin’s head fell down into the crook of Jaejoong’s neck.
Jaejoong could not believe what was happening as he felt Changmin’s tears roll down his neck, the ragged breath on his skin making him shiver. Jaejoong encircled him in an awkward hug.
“Changmin... What’s happening?”
“You left,” Changmin mumbled through his tears, “You fucking left me.”
Jaejoong, at loss for words, tightened his hold.
“And then this happened and...” Changmin’s chest heaved, “And what am I supposed to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you. I can’t tell anyone. They would know. She would know.” Changmin was whispered in his ear so no one else would hear except that Yunho could hear it clearly, “Yunho would be hurt. I don’t want him to be hurt again. And then everyone would know what happened to me, what I did. He would know. He can’t know.”
Jaejoong’s brow furrowed, “Why? Who are they? Who is she? What do you mean by ‘hurt’? What happened? Talk to me.”
“I can’t. I can’t.” Changmin’s breathing quickened.
Jaejoong sighed. He stroked Changmin’s hair, attempting to calm him. “It’s ok. You don’t have to. But you do know you’re hurting everyone with your behaviour, don’t you?”
Changmin took a few deep breaths and moved back to look at Jaejoong’s eyes. Jaejoong was taken aback by the hopelessness that shined in his tearful eyes. “I can’t.”
Changmin pushed Jaejoong away, making him fall backwards, as he stood up, forcefully wiping his tears away. “I am the one leaving this time.”
“Chang...” Jaejoong tried to make Changmin look at him, to stop him from leaving but Changmin was avoiding all their gazes as he fled out of the room.
Yoochun helped Jaejoong stand up as Junsu and Yunho ran to catch up with Changmin.
They nearly caught up when they were separated by traffic lights, just across the street from their flat.
Yunho could see Changmin running through the crowded street. He shouted Changmin’s name but Changmin didn’t acknowledge him.
Junsu and Yunho were in the middle of crossing the road when Yunho saw Changmin collapse, crumpling onto the floor.
Random people were forming a small crowd around him when Junsu and Yunho reached Changmin.
Junsu quickly took out his phone to call for an ambulance as Yunho kneeled near Changmin, shaking his shoulders frantically.
Malnourished and exhausted, the doctor had said. Anorexia, he had explained.
Yunho was sitting down on one of those ugly green chairs again, hunched over. The words of the doctor kept replaying in his head.
Changmin had to be treated, but they could not do it against his will as he was over 18 and not yet in a critical state. They would make him stay for the night with an IV drip and make him see one of their counsellors, but that was all they could do until Changmin, himself, decided to seek help.
His throat closed. The smell of antiseptic had invaded his nose and made breathing difficult. Yunho stared at the floor, willing his eyes to stop stinging.
“Jaejoong and Junsu are bullying the doctor.”
Yunho stared even harder.
“Your manager is helping.”
He tried hard not to blink, emotions threatening to spill.
Yoochun sighed. Yunho could feel him hesitating for a few seconds until he heard him take the few steps needed to stand by his side. A comforting hand came to rest on his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault.”
Yunho closed his eyes tightly and felt a tear slide down his face to the corner of his mouth. He felt he should be angry, angry at Changmin for being stubborn, angry at Yoochun for saying those things that hit too close to home. He wanted to yell that how would he know, he –they– hadn’t been there but more than anger, he felt exhausted. He felt powerless all over again.
Another tear slid down, slowly and silently. He lifted his head before it reached his chin and looked right at Yoochun. “Yoochun.”
Yoochun’s face switched from concerned to unsettled as he saw the wet tracks on Yunho’s cheeks. “Yunho…”
“What should I do?” His voice was hoarse, further revealing his distress.
The sudden hug, the warmth of Yoochun’s arm around him took him by surprise. He felt himself unravel, the tears he had managed to hold back falling freely on the crook of Yoochun’s neck. “We’ll help.”
Something unlocked in Yunho’s chest, “I’ve missed you.”
He wasn’t sure Yoochun could hear those few words mumbled into his skin. He hoped Yoochun’s hold tightening meant that he had. For a few minutes he let himself relax.
Hearing Junsu’s voice, Yunho pushed Yoochun away gently and dried his face with his sleeve, blinking quickly.
If Junsu, Jaejoong or his manager had noticed anything, they didn’t mention it.
“Changmin has woken up. You should go and see him.” Dong Chang told Yunho as he stood up.
“Did…” Yunho cleared his throat. “Did the doctor say anything else?”
“Not really. He just recommended a few specialised clinics.”
They had arrived at Changmin’s room.
Dong Chang looked at Jaejoong, “I don’t think Changmin should see you three. He’s had enough for today.”
Junsu was about to protest but Jaejoong put a hand on his chest to stop him. He turned to look at Yunho. “Just keep us informed.”
Yunho nodded, catching Yoochun’s small smile as he turned away from them and pushed the door open.
He would never get used to the sight of Changmin in a hospital bed, an IV attached to his arm.
He was lying on the bed, his face as pale as the bed sheets. He seemed to be looking at the ceiling but his eyes were unfocused. He didn’t acknowledge Yunho’s presence.
Yunho sat on a chair next to the bed. He wanted to hug him, to hold him tight. He wanted to tell him that everything would be alright. Instead, he slowly grasped Changmin’s hand.
Changmin closed his eyes but didn’t move his hand away. Yunho stroked Changmin’s hand, making soothing circles with his thumb on his palm.
After a while, Changmin’s breathing evened out, the gentle rise and fall of his chest indicating that he had fallen asleep.
“Everything is going to be fine.”
Yunho wished he could believe that, the words sounding uncertain to his own ears.
Yunho had gone home for the night, letting Changmin’s parents fuss over him.
He was towelling his hair when the doorbell rang. It was a mail delivery, which was curious since all their mail usually went through their agency, just in case.
Yunho went to his room and closed the door. He put the package on his desk and sat down.
It was small and square, quite light too. He decided on opening it swiftly. Inside there was a paper, folded in two, and a small transparent case with a CD inside. He unfolded the paper.
The letters were typewritten and there was no signature.
The truth about what? Yunho had a small inkling that made him both hopeful and anxious.
His computer was already on. He put the CD in and was not so surprised to see it was a video of about 15 minutes.
He took a deep breath and pressed the play button, his heart beating fast with anticipation.
A storage room appeared on the screen. The quality was a bit grainy and it was in black and white. There was no sound. Overall, it looked like surveillance footage.
Thirty seconds into it and nothing had happened. It was making Yunho impatient.
He was on the verge of fast forwarding a bit when the panel of what looked like a shaft fell down and two figures came out of it, landing on top of boxes.
One of them slid some of the boxes in front of the door, effectively blocking it and then... waved a gun at the other.
Yunho squinted his eyes. It was difficult to see the faces because of the camera’s angle but...
The man switched to a knife and was way too close to the other figure for Yunho’s taste.
The sudden kiss and kick in the leg that followed made Yunho stand up in anger.
How could a video of an assault be related to Changmin’s strange behaviour? That was obviously a joke of a particularly bad taste.
But then, while the man took his victim’s clothes off, the face of the victim became clearly visible and... He looked like Changmin, didn’t he?
Yunho fell down on his seat, too shocked to look away as he watched Changmin being abused. Seeing Changmin’s trousers were being lowered, however, he paused the video with a shaky hand.
How could something like that have happened to his Changmin? He shouldn’t be watching that. This video shouldn’t exist in the first place. Maybe this was just a Changmin look-alike.
As he was trying to deny what was right in front of him, making up explanations, Yunho knew that it was really Changmin he was seeing. It fitted with his behaviour and his wounds: him shying away from touches, his left ankle, the bruises on his neck and wrists...
Anger bubbled in his chest. Who could do something like that? He was going to kill the bastard.
He decided to continue watching the video in hope of being able to the see the face of the attacker, but the sight of Changmin being hurt was too much so he fast forwarded it, trying to ignore what was happening by focusing on the back of the head of the attacker.
He was not prepared to see Changmin grab the gun and swiftly kill the man, a bullet in his chest. Nor was he prepared to see his own face –his own nose, his own eyes, and his own mouth– being revealed as the attacker’s face after Changmin rolled the body off of him.
Yunho was frozen in place, not believing his eyes as he watched the events unfold, seeing his face be stripped away from the attacker’s head as if it were a mere mask, revealing the face of a young woman instead.
He saw Changmin lose consciousness, falling in a heap on the floor, as the police broke into the room.
He saw them freeze in surprise at the surreal scene before rushing to the two bodies.
He saw the attacker’s body being inspected, the paramedics taking Changmin away...
The screen turned black but Yunho could still see Changmin’s hurt body lying underneath his attacker, the attacker that had Yunho’s face, whom Changmin had probably believed to be Yunho.
Everything made sense: Changmin’s scared face when Yunho had gripped his wrist and, yet, his guilty gaze as he shied away from Yunho’s touch.
Bile rose to his throat. Now what?
End of part 2. On to part 3.1.