pg-13; 10,170 words; multi-chapter
there was a lifetime in each other, if they chose to see it.
part zero; a moment | part one; a past
Rewind five decades, and a little more.
His name is Lee Donghae, and it's his first year in Seoul. He's fifteen years old. It's possible at that age to become good friends with pretty much anyone fifteen years old, easier still when he spends nearly all his weekends with the same four boys in the same building going through the same classes in the hope of someday becoming Korea's top idols. Donghae tires quickly of the three-hour commutes from Mokpo to Seoul on early Saturday mornings and back again on late Sunday evenings, but he loves the SM Entertainment building, the singing studios and long corridors and spacious dance rooms and Hyukjae and Junsu goofing around, getting their can drinks stuck in the vending machines and seeing ghosts reflected in windows.
"It's a green lady," Junsu insists. "She has long hair and blood-red eyes and vampire-like teeth."
"It's an old lady," Hyukjae insists back. "She has grey hair and she's seeking revenge for her son."
"He died in this room," Hyukjae says solemnly. "Dropped dead while learning a dance routine."
Hyukjae always fails to scare them. Donghae likes the green lady story better, almost hopes he'll be able to see her reflection one day instead of Junsu. He would like to ask her why she's green.
They're best friends for the weekends. Everyone in SM knows about them; Yunho, Sungmin, Junsu, Hyukjae and Donghae, closest buddies and practice mates until they scatter in the weekdays, Yunho and Donghae on the train back to Jeollanam, and Sungmin, Junsu and Hyukjae back to Goyang. Life is simple and unfettered and carefree, or would be, says Hyukjae, if not for the horrible Math teacher that he and Junsu suffer under all week long.
Junsu and Hyukjae attend the same school; have been attending the same school, actually, since they were chubby-cheeked and didn't know reflection from refraction. They hang out with the same group of friends, take pictures on the same escalator, are friends with each other's extended family, and fall over themselves on the same ice rink. Donghae envies them more than he cares to admit, wishes sometimes that he could persuade his father to move the entire family to Goyang just so that he won't have to say goodbye to Hyukjae on Sunday evenings. He hates going away from Hyukjae because even at fifteen, even amid the camaraderie of their little SM group and the care of the older trainees and the comfortable friendship of his classmates in Mokpo, Hyukjae is special and he loves Hyukjae most.
Donghae is a steadfast believer that he and Hyukjae were always meant to be good friends. They get along too well not to be. He likes imagining that they were born under the same stars, that in the barely existent consciousness of his baby mind he'd cooed to Hyukjae and Hyukjae had cooed back to him, three hundred and forty kilometres away in Goyang.
"But the star thing doesn't make sense," Hyukjae objects. "All of us were born under the same stars."
Donghae is always slightly grieved that Hyukjae can't perceive how fated their connection is.
"The only connection you two would have shared is wearing the same brand of diapers," Junsu says.
There's no point in arguing the case further, so Donghae gives up. Hyukjae isn't always so difficult. His best friend is Junsu and almost-best-friend is Sungmin and everyone knows that, but he smiles idiotically whenever Donghae runs into the practice room, cursing the slowness of the train in his rough Gwangju dialect. There's something beautiful and brightening about that stupid smile, something that makes Donghae perky and hyper and when the two of them are together, Yunho complains that their ridiculous amounts of energy exhaust him.
"That's because you don't receive Hyukjae's stupid smile," Donghae tells him on the way back to Jeollanam, smug and prissy over Hyukjae's obvious favouritism. Yunho thinks he's crazy, but it's okay.
The weekends are what really gets Donghae through the otherwise unbearably tough training regime of SM Entertainment. When the dance classes and vocal lessons are over, the night is free for them to do whatever they want. If it's too cold out, they huddle in kimbap restaurants and feast on galbitang. If it's not, he and Hyukjae induce Yunho and Junsu to play football with them, and occasionally Sungmin joins them as the goalkeeper when he's in the mood. Sungmin is a very good goalkeeper. He has an uncanny ability of knowing exactly which spot you're aiming for. Hyukjae never gets past him during penalties; his face is too much of an open book, too easy to read. He says left and everyone knows he'll go right.
"That is why you'll never be a professional footballer," Yunho says.
On some nights they attack each other virtually in cybercafés, and Donghae usually lets Hyukjae win because Hyukjae looks pitiful whenever he loses. In July they discover a craze for badminton and table tennis, but soon get tired of hitting little spinning things with rackets; they turn to football again as the greatest love of their hobbies. Hyukjae supports Manchester United, and Donghae supports Liverpool, and so neither Junsu nor Sungmin nor Yunho are ever willing to watch a Manchester United versus Liverpool match with them.
"Pure hell," Yunho pronounces.
"Got socked in the eye," Junsu grumbles.
"Nobody cares that I like Blackburn Rovers," Sungmin sighs.
For all their football club rivalry, they love playing together. Running and getting mud on their sports shoes (Donghae saved up for three months to buy Hyukjae a Nike pair for his birthday; it took Hyukjae a month before he could bear to dirty them), hurling themselves bodily at each other when they score a goal, bouncing the ball on their knees and heads and pulling jerseys and discussing tactics (4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or 0-0-10; Donghae prefers the 'all-attack' playground tactic) and collapsing on the field hours later, damp and flushed with exercise, grass crushing under their bodies.
The only thing they love more than football is dancing. They record their favourite dance performances on VHS tapes, replay them on the 22-inch television set in the practice room, study them, and then Hyukjae leads while Donghae follows, left arm this way, right knee that way, one two, turn, three four, jump, pop, feet squeaking on the polished floor. It's exhilarating when they get it right, when they dance in sync, and Donghae feels a vague sort of triumph that dance is where he beats Junsu out in; no matter how hard Junsu tries to keep up, he can never match up to the passion that Donghae and Hyukjae share in dancing, the joy they get from learning to move.
Yunho objects that he loves to dance, too, and he doesn't like how they're always talking about Donghae and Hyukjae when they fantasise about being Korea's most famous dancers. They're a team of five, not two, and they should be fair even in their fantasies. It should be Donghae and Hyukjae and Yunho.
Donghae apologises for leaving him out; doesn't mention that when Hyukjae is dancing alongside him, breathing with him, casting little grins at him over his shoulder, it's a little like looking at the sun with eyes slightly averted; the dazzle makes everything else hard to perceive.
At fifteen, Hyukjae is gawky limbs and sharp elbows and muddy shoes and dorky smiles, and Donghae loves him so much it hurts. But they're just boys, and they don't know what it means to love; they find the thought icky, they prefer to play football instead.
They're almost sixteen, and they're on the threshold of being men. Or they would be, except that Yunho and Sungmin are snoring on the grass beside them and Hyukjae's convinced that being a man is going to get him arrested and thrown into jail and everlastingly disgraced.
"What if they sack us from SM?" he panics. "I'm never going to be a famous dancer! I'm going to be an ex-convict."
"Will you quit freaking out?" Junsu says, handing the bottle of Hite beer to Donghae. "Nobody gets thrown in jail for underage drinking, and anyway it's just one bottle."
"For the want of a nail the kingdom was lost," says Hyukjae solemnly, but they've stopped paying attention to him.
Donghae holds the beer bottle in his hand. It had been cold and perspiring when Junsu brought it out of his bag five hours ago ("nicked it from the fridge at home," he'd confessed) but it's lukewarm now, shining dully in the glow of the streetlight. It feels harmless, just another bottled drink, just a glorified beverage. They'd been excited when they saw it five hours ago, but they're less sure now.
"Come on," Junsu says, taking out a box of cigarettes that he'd pilfered from his dad's collection. "We're just trying it. We're not going to get addicted."
Three puffs each, and they know that they're not going to get addicted. Donghae thinks he's going to die. Hyukjae turns red with coughing. Junsu snuffs the cigarette out on the grass. "Okay," he says with slight disappointment when they're more or less back to working condition. "The beer should be better. All the old guys like it. It's alcohol."
It may be alcohol, but Donghae hates the bitter aftertaste. He can tell from the way that Hyukjae's eyes wrinkle that Hyukjae doesn't like it too, though Junsu remarks knowingly that it's very good beer. They must be pathetic sort of guys, Donghae concludes, not enjoying smoking or drinking. Rebelling isn't fun anymore. They're momentarily depressed.
"You know," Hyukjae says, brightening up, "it's good that we don't like it. Appa says that the world would be far less troubled if people didn't smoke or drink. Let's not do it again."
Junsu grumbles a little at having to give up his fantasy of some day leaning against his convertible blowing smoke into the air, cigarette in one hand and Hite beer bottle in the other, but Donghae thinks the resolution is cool. They'll be better than the smokers and drinkers of this world who create so much trouble. It's a nice promise to make, and they feel good about themselves after it; Hyukjae says that they're doing the world a civic-minded, socially responsible service.
"Huh," says Sungmin, waking up in time to catch the last sentence.
Hyukjae leans over to pat Sungmin's head. "We're being civic-minded, hyung."
"Oh," Sungmin says. "Okay." He goes back to sleep. Hyukjae puts his arms around Sungmin and yawns. Donghae feels jealous for a moment at how Hyukjae loves cuddling Sungmin, but he forgets it the next moment because Hyukjae looks funny sleeping with his mouth open.
"…Grass? In his mouth?" Junsu says, looking at him.
Donghae considers the prank. "Nah," he says regretfully. "We just did a civic-minded thing. Let's be civic-minded for the whole of tonight."
"Okay," Junsu says, and goes to sleep beside Yunho.
Flashes of memory are interspersed with the blur of their adolescent years; doing civic-minded things, grabbing each other into headlocks on the sidewalks, dancing and dancing and dancing, cutting Sungmin's hair when he's asleep because he's too lazy to go to the barber. Sungmin is furious, but Donghae, Hyukjae and Junsu think it's the funniest thing they've ever done. On rare times Junsu doesn't join them, and then Donghae gets Hyukjae to himself; he remembers those times best, pays careful attention to remembering. He remembers staying over at Hyukjae's house, meeting his pretty sister Sora and playing computer games till four a.m., when Hyukjae's so brain-dead that he falls over in sleep with the game controller still in his hands. Donghae has fun blasting Hyukjae's character until his life bar depletes.
He remembers waking up on the floor sometime in the middle of the night (or morning) with a crick in his neck and an ache in his shoulder region, tripping over Hyukjae on his way to the toilet, peeing tiredly when Hyukjae opens the door wide and stumbles in because Donghae had been too sleepy to remember to lock the door.
"You're in the way," Hyukjae mumbles, nudging Donghae to the side and starting to pull down his pants. Then he blinks, looks at Donghae again with widened eyes, and yells. His yell pierces straight through the drowsiness in Donghae's mind and gives him an instant headache. Sora shouts at them from downstairs wanting to know what the hell they're doing up there, stabbing at each other with shavers? They tell her later that Hyukjae had squirted toothpaste all over Donghae.
"Don't think she'll want to know the true story," Hyukjae says.
It's not like nudity was a big thing with them, Donghae remembers. All Hyukjae's modesty doesn't stop him from rushing into the toilet when Donghae is bathing and grabbing his clothes away so Donghae has to run from the toilet to Hyukjae's bedroom with the towel around his waist. They shower together one night after a dance practice when they're too tired and smelly to argue over who gets to go first; they drop the soap in lunging for it, get shampoo foam on each other, take turns under the shower cap. When the water runs cold they realise that there's still shampoo in their hair, and they almost burst a lung trying to contain their laughter when they try to fit their heads under the basin tap for warm water.
"Dude, you look stupid," Hyukjae chortles.
"Dude, you're doing the same thing as I am," Donghae retaliates.
Hyukjae smells of green tea shampoo and indefinable soap when they huddle together on the bed (at some point over the past year or so they'd decided that they were just going to share the bed instead of constantly fighting over who gets the floor) and Donghae wants to rest his nose in the curve of Hyukjae's neck and shoulder, wants to snuggle up to him and breathe into him and fall asleep against him.
"Don't fidget around," Hyukjae says before his eyes close. Hyukjae's body gives off distinct signs once he's asleep; he breathes heavily, occasionally grinds his teeth, and when he's sure that Hyukjae is unconscious, Donghae puts his forehead against Hyukjae's shoulder and lets himself sleep too.
They wake up from the happy blur of adolescence all too soon when Yunho and Junsu leave them to debut in SM's new boyband Dong Bang Shin Ki.
Hyukjae and Sungmin are praying beside him, and all around him people are raising their hands and speaking in tongues. The worship leader is praying out loud, something about Korea and unbelievers and let your mighty reign be seen and acknowledged by all, and Donghae should really be paying attention. He should be praying too. He should be feeling God in the place, too. But he can't immerse himself into the atmosphere; his thoughts keep skittering off elsewhere to non-holy matters.
To Yunho and Junsu surrounded by fans everywhere they go now. To Yunho breaking up with his girlfriend to avoid any hint of scandal. To how stricken Hyukjae and Sungmin had looked when they realised they weren't going to debut with Junsu. To how bitter farewell feels, even when it's farewell to days and times instead of people.
A woman in front of him starts crying, and it's distracting. Donghae tries to pay attention to what's going on. He apologises to God for his current frame of mind; it's not that he doesn't want to worship, it's just that there are too many other things on his mind right now. God, please don't let Hyukjae be sad anymore. Come to to think of it, why didn't You let him debut with Junsu? That's what they've been praying for. It's mean not granting them their prayer. Hyukjae deserves to debut with Junsu, and they deserve to be famous together. What's with this planning, God?
It's snowing when they leave the night service; misted windows, streets covered with thin layers of damp. If they're not careful, they'll slip and fall. Little snowflakes land on Hyukjae's pink nose. He's a big puffy bundle in his yellow bomber jacket and woollen beanie and Donghae covers Hyukjae's cheeks with his palms to warm his face, thinks suddenly that he wouldn't mind kissing Hyukjae's mouth.
Sungmin defuses the thought before it takes shape in Donghae's mind. "Let's get something to eat, I'm hungry after all the praying."
Neither Hyukjae nor Donghae are hungry when they reach the kimbap restaurant, so they decide to share galbitang among themselves. They're three now, not five, and they don't need to order two servings. There's something very comforting about the beef ribs and hot steaming soup when people are passing by outside with hands in pockets and scarves tucked around their necks. Hyukjae finishes up the rice (he's the type who eats even if he isn't hungry) and Sungmin sucks at the ribs until all the juice is gone. Sungmin is always economical; he believes that if you pay for a meal, you should get the most out of it. Donghae says he doesn't care about getting the most out of his money, he can't eat and that's that.
"Donghae-yah," Hyukjae says, peering at him through narrowed eyes, "why have you been so down lately?"
Donghae plays with his chopsticks, ding ding ding on the empty metal rice bowl, and Sungmin says, "Is it about Yunho and Junsu?"
"Don't be sad," Hyukjae says, reaching across the table to pat Donghae's hand. "Our time will come soon. We've been training for so many months already, and there are rumours from management…"
"It's not that," Donghae says. He turns his hand over and their palms lie flat against each other, Hyukjae's warm, Donghae's cold from the surface of the table. He wonders how Hyukjae would react if he rubbed his thumb in circles on the back of Hyukjae's hand. "It's just, when I think of how you and Junsu wanted to debut together, I feel sad."
Hyukjae worries his bottom lip. His eyes are big and honest and Donghae looks away from them, studies the now-lukewarm soup and metal chopsticks gleaming cold under the florescent light.
"Don't be," Hyukjae says eventually. "Junsu and I wanted to debut together, but it's not going to happen anymore and you know…" he pauses, clears his throat a couple of times. "It's not just Junsu. I would be happy too if I could debut with you and Sungmin hyung. We've been together so much lately that I feel…you know. It would be nice, if the three of us could remain together."
There's a faint, uncomfortable blush working its way up from Hyukjae's cheeks to his ears as he says that, a blush like a burn, and suddenly Donghae leans over the table and hugs him. Hyukjae doesn't fit very well in his arms, all bones and angles and knobs, but Donghae hugs him tighter, presses his cheek against Hyukjae's. "We'll debut together," he says into Hyukjae's ear.
"Yeah," says Hyukjae, not very enthusiastically. "You're going to knock the soup over."
"You guys are so sappy," Sungmin says. "Will you sit properly before the whole restaurant looks at us?"
Donghae's grinning wide enough to span the moon when he sits down again. He thinks his heart might burst out of his chest, and he's not entirely sure why he's so happy. "Hyungie, you ate up all the ribs!"
"You said you weren't hungry!" Sungmin says defensively.
Donghae orders another galbitang, and this time he finishes the whole thing by himself. Hyukjae says with some awe that it's impressive how quickly Donghae can swing from one end of a pendulum to the next.
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Sungmin says, mispronouncing 'Jekyll' as 'Jacker'. They're laughing at him, and Donghae puts his hand on his cheek. Thinks he can still feel the impression of Hyukjae's skin on his.
That night, when they're huddled in bed together, he asks Hyukjae what he thinks of homosexuality.
Hyukjae blinks a couple of times, bewildered and sleepy. "It's sinful, isn't it? Pastor says that God condemns homosexuality."
Donghae doesn't have an answer for that. Pastor does say so. All the church leaders do, in fact, including his youth leader and cell group leader and his own parents, who think that gays are 'disgusting'. If all the moral authorities in his life say that God condemns homosexuality, then it has to be true because it's not possible that all the authorities are wrong.
"Why are you suddenly asking that, anyway?"
"I just thought of it, that's all."
"You think of weird things." Hyukjae yawns and shifts around a little. He's too used to Donghae's random questions to give it much thought. "Don't steal my blanket tonight."
"I never do," Donghae retorts. "You're the blanket hog."
Hyukjae's reply is a grunt. It's been a long day, and he's tired out. His breaths get heavier in a moment, his entire body slackens. Donghae feels his mind blurring, but he's still partially awake, thinking of pink noses and red mouths and cold cheeks and blushes like burns. There's a face, of course, bringing everything together, but he refuses to focus on the whole, just on the parts. That way, he doesn't have to see what he's really looking at.
He's almost asleep when Hyukjae sighs and turns over a little, rubbing his hand absently over Donghae's stomach. Donghae jerks under his touch, opens his eyes wide in the darkness. He might be trying to breathe and forgetting how. He's acutely aware of the feel of Hyukjae's fingers through his shirt, of blood rushing downwards, of the trace of Hyukjae's breath on his neck. His underwear tightens. He wants to throw off Hyukjae's hand and push himself up into it all at the same time, and he thinks he might die like this, trying to remain still when everything in him is screaming to move, when he's so hard that the pain is almost unbearable.
He wants to reach down and lift the waistband of his underwear, push it down an inch maybe, give himself some form of release, but he's afraid that the movement might jerk Hyukjae aware. Hyukjae would be traumatised by this. Donghae himself is traumatised by it, by the intensity of his desire for Hyukjae and the effect that Hyukjae has on him, crazy and dizzy and dazed and oh god he has never felt like this before, not even when that pretty cheerleader in school bent down to give him a view straight into her chest. He starts breathing rhythmically, deep and forced, in and out, straining to think of the most unromantic things he has ever encountered. It might work. Just a little longer, and maybe…
"Donghae-yah," Hyukjae says sleepily, and Donghae jumps a mile. "Are you okay? You're breathing really heavily."
"Yes, no, I…" Donghae squeezes his eyes shut in terror. "I, um, I'm going to the toilet."
"Uh," Hyukjae says. He sounds confused, but he's more asleep than awake and he doesn't really care. He withdraws his hand and turns over, rubbing his forehead into the pillow, and Donghae bolts from the bed, practically runs out of the room and across the corridor into the toilet where he locks himself in without turning on the light.
He doesn't want to see himself. He doesn't want to know that this is him, that he can't sleep beside his best friend without getting aroused, that he's so attracted to another guy. He continues his rhythmic breathing and forces his thoughts away but nothing's working and it's still Hyukjae he sees, still Hyukjae he wants so badly to touch. His pants are down, fingers trembling to push his underwear away. He tastes tears on his lips, and he tells himself, it'll only be for this one night, just this once, and never again.
He doesn't want to know that it's 'Hyukjae' he whispers in the thick silence of the toilet when he comes, hot and sticky over himself, damp saltiness on his tongue.
He's not gay, he thinks. He doesn't want to dress up as a girl and he likes being a guy and doing what guys do. He likes girls. He has never thought of being attracted to guys, and he wants to get married as soon as he's grown up to a beautiful, pure-hearted girl who will adore him and make cute fat babies with him. Guys don't figure in his plans for the future, and definitely not Hyukjae, with his smelly feet and arms and legs like sticks. Not Hyukjae, with his silly smile and high-pitched laughter and annoying habit of warming his cold feet on your calves.
Not Hyukjae, even if Donghae jerks off in the middle of the night to the image of Hyukjae's face and the memory of his touch. It can't be Hyukjae. This is just a one-off thing, a weird side effect of growing sexuality. He'll be back to normal once it's over.
He doesn't allow himself to think that maybe there won't be a normal. The next time the pretty cheerleader (he can't remember her name; it might be Sookjoo or Jooeun) shows him her chest again, he pulls her in around the waist and kisses her, quick and desperate. She giggles, tries to blush, but the kiss tastes like cardboard.
Maybe that is the normal. That is where people reside. That is where he has to find his way back to; the normal needs and wants, the fragrant hair and high voices and tiny waists and cardboard kisses.
It's surprisingly easy to avoid Hyukjae and Sungmin the next weekend. They take the same dancing and singing classes, and so it's difficult to avoid them in the practice rooms, but an excuse presents itself for the spare hours in the shape of Kim Kibum, a younger trainee who'd come over from America a year ago with homesickness and English-accented Korean. Kibum doesn't hate dancing (doesn't, to Donghae's mind, hate anything in fact; Kibum seems so apathetic), but he doesn't understand how it works; how there can be certain ways of following beats in a song with your body. Donghae breathes a prayer of thanks to a still-understanding God and offers to help Kibum out.
Kibum is quiet and reserved, the type of person who can eat lunch by himself and not feel lonely. He's different from Hyukjae, who jabbers on about anything given half a chance and gets bits of vegetables stuck in his teeth and wails if someone steals a spoonful from his plate. Kibum is self-contained and too mature for his age and Donghae likes him very much, enjoys being in his company and listening to his occasional talk, but he can't stop himself from thinking about Hyukjae and Sungmin sitting with a couple of older trainees at the other end of the staff canteen, most likely bickering and stealing food from each other. Sungmin would be poking the egg yolk on Hyukjae's kimchi fried rice and Hyukjae would be retaliating by eating as much of Sungmin's ramyeon in as little time as possible, and the hyungs would be yelling at them to stop it and shut up wailing, Hyukjae, if you want to leave this table alive with all your teeth still intact, here have some of my drink you screamy little idiot. Donghae falls into a reverie and wakes up out of it only when Kibum says, "Hyung, why aren't you eating with Hyukjae hyung today?"
"Um." Donghae casts around in his mind for a reason. "Because I'm eating with you?"
Kibum gives him an odd look, but doesn't question further. That's the nice thing about Kibum; he knows when not to pursue certain questions.
Hyukjae comes up to them towards the end of lunch with Kim Jongwoon, one of the older trainees whom Donghae personally thinks has the best voice in SM. "Donghae-yah, Sungminnie hyung and I will be going for karaoke tonight with Jongwoon hyung and Youngwoon hyung. Do you want to come?" He looks at Kibum. "Kibummie, you can come too, if you want. You can sing the English songs!"
"I'm sorry, I don't really like karaoke," Kibum says apologetically, and Hyukjae lets him off because he's Kibum and they've all learned a long time ago that when Kibum says 'no', he will not be budged into changing it to a 'yes'. He turns to Donghae, and his face is bright and smiling and Donghae wants so much to take that face between his hands and kiss his mouth, to find out if kisses could taste like anything other than cardboard, that he frightens himself.
"I'll stay with Kibummie tonight," he says so stiffly that Hyukjae is taken aback.
"Okay," he says, and Donghae forces himself to turn away from the hurt on Hyukjae's face.
He spends Saturday night with Kibum in the dorm that Kibum shares with three other trainees, lying on the floor beside Kibum's bed talking randomly and listening to English music on the CD player until Kibum falls asleep. Donghae tries to sleep too, but he's thinking of Hyukjae again; what would he be doing now, having jajangmyeon by the Han River or playing video games in Sungmin's house, maybe? Getting his characters blown up and shaking his controller to see if anything's wrong with it?
Donghae closes his eyes and turns over, burrowing his nose into the pillow. He's fine without Hyukjae. That's what normal people are, they're okay spending a night away from their best friend. He's normal, and he won't miss Hyukjae anymore.
He contrives to avoid Hyukjae again the next weekend until Hyukjae's staring at him from across the practice room, mouth in a straight line, eyebrows wrinkling. Sungmin manages to grab a hold of him right after class ends, asks him what the hell is wrong, and Donghae almost confesses right there, almost turns to Hyukjae and scream across the width of space and floor that he's sorry and he doesn't mean to hurt him and it's not what you think, but fear stops him.
"I'm okay, hyung. I've got other things to do this weekend, you two go ahead without me."
"We could wait for you," Sungmin says, but Donghae wriggles out of his hold and says no, no, go, please go, and Sungmin does. Hyukjae avoids his gaze as he walks out of the practice room and Donghae reflects miserably how simple it is for things to become so complicated.
He isn't prepared for Hyukjae to show up half-frozen at this house on Thursday night, hands tucked into his coat pockets, backpack hanging so low off his back that it looks like it's about to slide off. "I hope you don't mind," he says almost shyly. "I took the train here after I finished school and um, yeah. I got lost walking around the neighbourhood trying to find your house. It is a very hard house to find," he adds solemnly.
Donghae doesn't know what to say, and Hyukjae flushes when Donghae stays silent, grips the handles of his backpack uncertainly.
"Maybe you boys might want to go upstairs to Donghae's room?" Donghae's mother says.
Hyukjae shrugs off his backpack, takes a few sips of hot brown rice tea and scrambles up the stairs behind Donghae. The room is in a mess, the combination of the after-effects of sandstorm and tornado and messy living habits of a teenaged boy. At any other time than this, Hyukjae would make disparaging remarks, but now he only steps carefully over the scattered magazines and clothes on the floor, reaches out absently to push a drawer back into place. Donghae looks at him, awkward and red and thin under his brown coat, so thin, so strangely vulnerable, and he pushes himself backwards so that he won't reach out, back and back until he bumps against the window sill.
"Donghae-yah," Hyukjae begins, standing in the middle of the room with piles of clothes around his feet, "did I do something wrong to make you angry at me? I'm sorry if I did."
"No," Donghae says, stumbling over his words a little. "It…I was, um. It has nothing to do with you, Hyukjae. You didn't do anything. It's just that I offered to help Kibummie with his dancing. He has a lot of problems with it."
"But I…" Hyukjae scratches the back of his neck agitatedly. "Sungminnie hyung and I…we thought you could join us at night. You know, like always."
"I…I stayed with Kibum."
"Oh." Hyukjae drops his hand back into his pocket. "Will you be with him this weekend too?"
"I guess so," Donghae says, gripping the sill.
"We were planning on ice skating," Hyukjae murmurs, and his face looks so bewildered that Donghae wants to cry. But he doesn't, and so Hyukjae continues standing in the middle of the room, hands in his pockets, clothes at his feet. "Um, hyung and I will be at the ice rink anyway. You and Kibummie can join us if you want."
"I'll ask him."
"Okay." Hyukjae nods. "I'll see you this weekend, then."
"Going already?" Donghae's mother asks in surprise when they come down. "Hyukjae-yah, you're not staying the night?"
"No, I'm taking the last train back to Goyang," Hyukjae says. He picks up his backpack and thanks everyone politely. Donghae walks him out to the main lane and watches as he trudges off, skirts around the house next to them and vanishes.
"He came here just for ten minutes?" Donghae's mother asks disbelievingly.
"Umma…," Donghae begins, but he doesn't finish. He's too busy thinking that Hyukjae had been so unhappy he'd come down all the way from Goyang to apologise. He doesn't know how he'll ever be able to make up to Hyukjae for so much needless misunderstanding. He doesn't know, except that he has to stamp this desire out of himself even if he can't figure out, for the moment, how that's supposed to happen.
Days of spring and summer pass into each other and then it's autumn, three months away from 2005. Hyukjae loves the fall, says he can't think of anything clearer and fresher than autumn days. Kibum says he doesn't like the dead leaves.
"Do you always have to be so morbid?" Donghae asks, poking Kibum in the side.
Hyukjae laughs. They're almost okay now. In fact, sometimes it feels like they're actually okay, that everything was resolved when Donghae and Kibum showed up at the ice skating rink and Hyukjae had been so thankful that he'd apologised again for whatever he'd done to cause the problem. But Donghae is honest and he thinks almost because even though they don't talk about it, the shadow of it lies between them, nudges them almost imperceptibly apart.
"Kibummie is the most grown up of all of us. He sees the dead things," Hyukjae says. His arm is around Sungmin and they're laughing down the concrete sidewalk, matching steps, cracking dead leaves under their sports shoes, sharing a messy hotdog and getting ketchup on their clothes. They've grown closer in the last few months and Donghae thinks he has somehow fallen short; has, in a sense, relinquished his position in Hyukjae's life to Sungmin. It's Sungmin whom Hyukjae reaches for now, whispers silly little observations to, discusses the latest Premier League football fixtures with.
It is, Donghae realises, a case of Junsu leaving him physically and Donghae leaving him emotionally but Sungmin staying.
Kibum draws close to him as they follow Sungmin and Hyukjae down the streets towards the SM building. "Hyung, if you don't want them to find out, you should stop looking at them like that."
Donghae blinks at him. "What? Like what?"
Kibum sighs patiently, gestures towards Sungmin and Hyukjae. "How jealous you are of them."
"I'm not jealous," Donghae says immediately.
"Your face shows otherwise," Kibum says. "You know, hyung, you can always walk with them. I don't mind walking alone."
"No," Donghae says, because he is a man of responsibility and he will never let anyone walk alone. That's the Liverpool motto and all Reds live and die by it. "Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone," he sings, and in front of them Hyukjae plugs his ears with his fingers, shouts back that he doesn't want to know. Donghae laughs at Hyukjae and Kibum looks from the back of Hyukjae's head to Donghae's face, bright and happy in an instant.
"Suit yourself," he says, shrugging. "But just stop looking at them like that if you don't want them to know."
They're going to debut together, all three of them and Kibum, in a rotational group with eight other members. Literally the biggest boyband ever, Sungmin says, laughing, but Donghae hears the uncertainty in Sungmin's tone. How are they ever going to get themselves noticed in a twelve-member band, especially when there are flamboyant characters like the infamous Kim Heechul who once walked out of a dance practice because the dance instructor called his moves 'gay', and the seemingly perfect Choi Siwon who is constantly bombarded with female attention?
"Nobody is going to remember my name," Hyukjae says, and then, as though to prove how right he is, he goes and changes his.
There are proper reasons for the name change, of course, legitimate reasons, but for a few days Donghae doesn't think it's right that Hyukjae should no longer be Hyukjae but some other person with a different name for the camera.
"I'll still call you Hyukjae," he says, almost wistfully.
"I don't mind Eunhyuk," Sungmin says. "It sounds cooler than Hyukjae!"
"Call me whatever you want," Hyukjae says, drawing out the choreography of their debut song for the hundredth time, this time on a napkin. He's obsessed with the choreography. He probably draws it in his sleep, too, on the bedsheets. "What's in a name, anyway?"
"A Hyukjae by any other name would smell just as bad," Sungmin agrees.
They talk again, really talk again, the night before their debut on Inkigayo. For months they've been in and out of practice rooms, recording studios, filming and photography sets, subsisting on three hours' worth of sleep per day and running purely on adrenaline. They're going to be Super Junior 05, they're going to be stars, and excitement and nervousness colours everything from moving out of their homes to learning new dance routines but mostly Donghae's scared shitless.
He's not old enough, he thinks. Maybe he's not old enough to be having his life spin entirely away from what it has always been.
Their leader, Park Jungsu, who has long been big brother to eighty percent of the SM trainee population, says it's okay, he'll take care of him, and so will all the other hyungs. This is what you've been working for all these years. Talk to your dad, talk to me, and everything will be fine.
Jungsu is trustworthy and so Donghae trusts him, but he's still afraid and he misses his dad whom he hasn't seen since he moved to Seoul a fortnight ago, and the winter sky outside the living room window is formless and blank and cold. This is his last night as Lee Donghae, unknown trainee of SM. From here it's all uphill or downhill, and he's not sure if he's ready to face the ride.
The sofa dips and he turns to see Hyukjae settling down beside him. Hyukjae has a solo dance tomorrow. If he messes up, there will be a hundred index fingers ready to point in his direction. The pressure is intense, and Donghae knows that Hyukjae has been spending the last four nights in the practice room dancing ten seconds over and over, forcing the memory of the dance into his bones so that even if his mind freezes, his body won't.
Not that Hyukjae has ever frozen before. In the silence, his hand finds Hyukjae's and clings.
"How are we going to adapt to this, Hyukkie?" he says softly. "How are we going to get used to this sort of pressure…to things changing so much?"
"I don't know," Hyukjae says. "But you know…we just have to find a way to get through it. Junsu and Yunho hyung did."
"I want us to remain the same," Donghae says. "I don't want us to change. Fundamentally."
"I'll be with you," Hyukjae says. "It's less easy for two people to change than for one."
Donghae grips his hand. "Hyukjae-yah."
He takes a moment to breathe, then pushes out the words one by one. "I'm sorry for…everything. This is really late but I'm sorry for what I did…avoiding you, and not spending time with you, and making you think that I didn't want to be your friend anymore. I know I made you unhappy. I didn't mean to, but I did and so I just want to say…I'm sorry. To me you're still my best friend."
Even in the darkness, Hyukjae's smile is blinding and Donghae still can't look away from it, still sees it as dazzling as the sun. "It's okay," Hyukjae says.
Jungsu prods them awake the next morning. Half his body aches and Hyukjae's weight has erased all feeling in his left arm, but Donghae buries his head in Hyukjae's chest and holds on for as long as he can. The world is cold sunlight and warm Hyukjae. It's been a long time since they last slept curled up with each other, but they haven't lost the knack. Old feelings still remain.
Later on that day, they line up behind the exit waiting for the stage director to say 'go'. The singing on stage reverberates back to them in muffled, indistinguishable sound and Jungsu peeks out of the door, says that there are many sapphire blue balloons out there waiting for them so there's no need to worry, they have lots of support, don't be nervous and let's just do what we have to do.
"I'm so nervous, I think my tongue is going to fall out once I start singing," says Hyukjae, shivering.
Sungmin hugs him and Hyukjae stretches out a sweaty palm towards Donghae. Donghae catches hold of it and looks into Hyukjae's eyes. "We're in this together, Hyukkie."
"That's right," says Sungmin. "This is what we've always wanted and we're here at last. We're going to debut together. Everything will be fine, there's no need to be nervous. Junsu and Yunho are cheering us on, too."
"Ten seconds and you're on," the stage manager says.
Hyukjae takes a deep breath, pulls his and Donghae's linked hands towards Sungmin. Sungmin grips their hands and they share a smile, quick and bright, before the seconds are out and they're running out together in the dark towards the coloured lights and heat of the stage.
Work is almost terrible at times, soul-numbing and bone-breaking and three months into their debut their youngest member, Ryeowook, collapses on a staircase and goes to sleep once the pressure of standing is taken from his legs. They can't bear to wake him, so Jungsu lifts Ryeowook onto Jongwoon's back and Jongwoon piggybacks him to the company bus where all of them promptly fall dead asleep once it starts moving.
Sometimes they can't fall asleep in the bus because the camera is in their faces and Donghae has learned how to smile and look chirpy even though there are a hundred tiny men hammering away at his head and jaw. He has to block them out, all those yelling hammering little men, and smile and wave and say hello, I'm Super Junior's Lee Donghae, and laugh when Youngwoon or Jungsu says something funny.
In time he learns to laugh, too, when the tone of what they're saying sounds funny. It's easier to pay attention to the inflections of their voices instead of what they're actually saying.
"Not that we're really saying anything worth listening to, anyway," Youngwoon yawns when Donghae tells him. "Jungsu hyung just blabbers, and I blabber when he stops blabbering."
"We have the gift of the blabber," Jungsu says.
Youngwoon and Jungsu quickly become popular as a fan pairing, KangTeuk, a smush of their stage names, and Donghae doesn't get it at first. Why would fans want to see boys being paired with boys? Jungsu explains that it's because they can't be paired up with girls; the fans wouldn't like it. Wait a little longer and you'll see more 'pairings' forming. As usual, Jungsu is perfectly right.
Heechul and Hankyung, already close from their trainee days, quickly become one of the popular 'couples'. Ryeowook teams up with Jongwoon, and Donghae finds himself stuck with Hyukjae, whom he has been hugging and kicking for the past four years and whom he is now apparently obligated to hug and kick for the fans.
"It's kind of weird, isn't it?" Hyukjae says. "This whole 'couple' thing."
"Seeing as you two are practically together all the time as it is, I don't see what's so weird about it," Jungsu says. "I do find it weird that Donghae kisses you in bed, though."
"It wasn't a kiss," Hyukjae protests. "It was just a…a…his lips accidentally touched my cheek!"
"His lips accidentally touch your cheek very, very often," Heechul points out. "Even when you're sitting apart, he leans over and sticks out his mouth aiming directly for your cheek and, you know, maybe that's an accident?"
"Hyukjae has nice cheeks?" Donghae says. "So do you, hyung."
Heechul points to his own cheek. "Touch this and you're dead."
"Don't worry, I only aim for Hyukjae's," Donghae says, drawing a smiley emoticon in the air.
Hyukjae's red to the tips of his ears when he makes a disgustingly sappy face at Donghae. "Hi, honey."
"Hi, darling," Donghae returns, and wonders if those tips of his ears are as hot as they look. It's cute, really. There aren't any girls (or guys, for that matter) he knows who blush to their ears.
Fanservice is one area of work that he finds easy. Too easy, in fact, because hugging Hyukjae is like second nature and the fans obviously sense their camaraderie, scream themselves hoarse whenever he touches Hyukjae or makes some offhand remark about how he punishes Hyukjae with his lips (which, he thinks, he would actually do just to see Hyukjae's ears turn red. Nothing else, even though Hyukjae's mouth might be the prettiest, plumpest, most kissable little mouth he has ever seen and Donghae usually stops thinking by this point).
Hyukjae may be embarrassed, but he doesn't object when Donghae touches him on screen or crawls into bed with him in early mornings, wrapping arms around him and breathing against his neck. Sometimes Donghae's lips touch Hyukjae's cheek or shoulder, but he tells himself it's just a coincidence, his lips just happened to touch Hyukjae's body, and Hyukjae doesn't ask, anyway. It's not a kiss unless Hyukjae thinks it is.
In the bewildering mess of Seoul and rushing schedules and meeting all kinds of people from directors to floor managers to lowly production assistants, Donghae thinks he might freeze if there wasn't Hyukjae beside him. Hyukjae grinning, yawning, laughing, plotting their next attempt at blowing up the dorm. Hyukjae who doesn't push him away, even though he may not reach out so readily to touch and hug and, in Donghae's case, punch and kick. They dance together, rap together, and whenever Donghae turns around he sees Hyukjae, setting the kitchen stove on fire with him, over-boiling the water meant for the hyungs' instant ramyeon soup, burning a couple of dinners, smashing a few plates while mock fighting each other. They turn the dorm upside down and hang off each other in front of the cameras and work on dances together and the fans praise their chemistry in hundreds of comments on their fancafes.
"They need to stop praising you," Jungsu says exasperatedly when Donghae upsets coke all over the floor by leaning over to mock strangle Hyukjae. "You're going to blow up this building and this neighbourhood and maybe the whole of South Korea if they continue praising you. And insurance won't cover self-inflicted damage, too."
They're too busy choking each other to reply.
It may be acting on Hyukjae's part, it may be for the cameras or for the members and managers who regard them with a lot of amusement and a little playful suspicion, but in that starting year work is terrible and wonderful and Donghae thinks he'll never be happier than this.
It goes all downhill from there.
They're officially Super Junior now. They have a thirteenth member, their new magnae Kyuhyun who made a mess out of the instant ramyeon that Shindong asked him to make and so has been relieved of all cooking duties. They've released their biggest hit so far, a song that rings in their heads even when they sleep ("cause I can't stop…," Jongwoon had begun singing at breakfast that morning and promptly gotten a kitchen towel thrown at his head), and girls love them, buy expensive gifts and hold up banners screaming whenever they see them.
They've started filming for a new TV series, Mini Drama, and Jungsu laughs when the new theme of 'dangerous friendship' is announced, laughs so hard that he's almost breathless hanging off the arm of the chair.
"The fans will like this," he says, and Donghae thinks he can learn a lot from Jungsu about what fans like.
"The fans like us to like each other, don't they?" Hyukjae says.
"As long as we don't really like each other," Youngwoon says, and they don't have to ask him what he means.
The four of them are sitting around a table, Jungsu, Youngwoon, Hyukjae and Donghae, the 'Pearl Blue' team, discussing ideas for the 'dangerous friendship' drama when Hyukjae suddenly says, so earnestly that they stop to listen to him, "In the past, I used to like Donghae."
Donghae yells before he thinks; he's not sure what he yells, but it makes Hyukjae jump a little.
"Not anymore, not now," Hyukjae says quickly, "now I only like you as a friend."
"Of course you do," Youngwoon says. "It would be troublesome if you didn't like him. Okay, here's what I think we should do, a scene where the four of us are in a hotel room…"
Donghae can't figure out how Jungsu and Youngwoon can be so nonchalant when Hyukjae just confessed to him, damn it, when all along he's been thinking that Hyukjae never thought of him in that way and his heart is beating so erratically he can barely breathe oh God dear God this has to be wrong and immoral but he's so happy he's careening straight into the sun and he isn't going to burn, that's how happy he is, and everything is going to be amazing and why is Hyukjae acting so nonchalant about it too?
The discussion is over and he can't really remember what they've decided on, but it's okay. The manager will brief him on it later. He grabs Hyukjae's wrist as they're walking to the company van, leans in close so Jungsu and Youngwoon, talking hard in front of them, won't hear.
"Hyukjae-yah, was that…I'm sorry I yelled but I was so surprised…was it…"
Hyukjae blinks at him. "What?"
"That…thing back there…oh," Donghae says, because he suddenly understands and he drops Hyukjae's wrist.
"What do you think the fans would say about it?" Hyukjae says, giggling a little. "It's real but not real. I'm getting it, Donghae-yah. Do you think PD-nim will leave it in for the broadcast? Your reaction was so great, I think he will!"
Donghae tries not to lash out, tries so desperately because Hyukjae doesn't have a clue what he just did and it's not his fault, he doesn't know, but all the willpower in the world can't stop him from muttering, "You fucker."
"What? What did you just say?" Hyukjae stops walking, eyes wide.
"When the fuck did you become so conniving and fucking fake?" Donghae says, fighting to keep the level of his voice low, fighting to stop the words, but they pour out of him regardless; "you weren't like that before. You didn't fucking know how to play with people's feelings before."
"But Donghae-yah, I'm not playing with people's feelings, it's what the fans want…"
"Stop using the fans as an excuse!"
"I don't like what you've become," Donghae says, his fists trembling, ignoring Jungsu and Youngwoon hurrying up to them. "You've become this…faker called Eunhyuk and I don't want to know you anymore."
After that Youngwoon's pulling him away, saying if you want to fight god damn it don't do it in the M-net building where everyone can see you, and Hyukjae's being pulled along by Jungsu what's going on, Hyukjae, what's going on, hurt and confused and almost crying and Donghae turns away from him, doesn't want to see the bewildered tears on Hyukjae's face.
Hyukjae's eyes are still swollen from crying and Sungmin's still fluttering back and forth from Donghae to Hyukjae in panic when the call comes from Mokpo and Donghae's rushing back three hours to see his dad.
He's in time but he almost wishes he wasn't, because sitting by his dad on the hospital bed watching the heartbeat rate drop from 70 to 60 to 40 to 20 to 0 is the worst thing that he has ever had to do. He's still blank when his aunt pulls him off the bed, when the nurses put the sheet over his dad's head and wheel him out of the ward, all the way from the wake nights to the funeral service to What A Friend We Have in Jesus to the very end, the last moment, when the coffin is already sealed and about to be cremated.
And then it feels so terrible, so final, that he begins to cry.
"You have to go on being a singer, Donghae-yah," his brother Donghwa says, gripping him as Donghae sobs helplessly and hopelessly against his chest. "Appa always wanted you to be a singer and so you've got to go on."
Heechul hugs him once before he goes back to Seoul, driver speeding to get him back in time for his next schedule. They keep him in the dark about Heechul's accident until he arrives at the dorm a week later, head aching, to see Hyukjae waiting downstairs in the car park for him. He thinks that Hyukjae looks paler than usual, thinner like he hasn't eaten in days, and he instinctively reaches out to support Hyukjae when Hyukjae begins telling him about how badly Heechul had been injured don't worry though he's fine now, he's out of danger and then Hyukjae's the one holding him instead, supporting him as Donghae bends over his arm and vomits onto the road.
It's Hyukjae who piggybacks him up to the dorm and deposits him on the sofa, opens the windows wider for fresh air. It's Hyukjae who brings a pail of water down to the car park and washes the vomit down into the nearest drain so that the cleaner tomorrow morning doesn't have to deal with the mess. It's Hyukjae who heats milk and dips bread into it and feeds Donghae slowly, one bite at a time, massaging his arms and legs and shoulders afterwards until the nausea goes away.
Donghae looks around at the apartment, at the familiar walls and knickknacks and scattered possessions of nine boys living haphazardly together. He hears Sungmin's muffled voice somewhere; realises that whoever's in the dorm now is hiding out in the big bedroom keeping away until he's ready to see them. He appreciates it.
"I'll sleep with you tonight, if you want," Hyukjae says.
He does want. Sungmin has left his bed empty for Hyukjae, but they huddle up together instead on Donghae's bed, wrapped so closely around each other that Donghae doesn't know for a moment if it's Hyukjae's thigh he's feeling or his own. Hyukjae mumbles that it tickles.
"Hyukjae," Donghae whispers, feeling around for Hyukjae's face.
"Mmph. That was my eye."
"Hyukjae-yah, thank you for staying with me."
"I'll stay with you as long as you want me to."
"About…about the last time, when I yelled at you…I'm sorry. I said really horrible things that weren't true."
"Maybe what you said was true, some of it," Hyukjae says soberly. His arm curls around Donghae's waist. "I don't want to change."
"You haven't. You're still Hyukjae."
There are other things to say, explanations to give, but they don't say anything else. Hyukjae falls asleep faster than he does. The room is quiet and the darkness is somewhat forbidding, lonely. Donghae closes his eyes. All he wants is to sink so completely into Hyukjae that he forgets all this, the pain and the grief and Heechul in hospital and the schedules to be worked on tomorrow. He doesn't want to think about or be a part of any of it. The burden is too heavy, he thinks, he can't bear how heavy it is; but then Hyukjae's breathing evenly beside him and it quiets his mind, the steady, regular ins and outs of breathing, the pump of Hyukjae's heart beneath his ear.
He doesn't know when he falls asleep, but for the first time in a week he doesn't wake up in the middle of it.
It is easier, in a sense, to recover faster when he's in Seoul. He has a fixed life that he slips back into; the manager hyungs fill every hour with something to do and somewhere to go; he isn't assaulted by random, unwarranted memories of his father in nooks and crannies, unexpected places. It's easier to pretend that his dad is still back in Mokpo when he doesn't face constant reminders of his death, and easier still when he's constantly surrounded by people all doing their best to get him back on track.
But it's hard to find heart in his work again. Hard to joke around and pretend to be happy and continue the fanservice with Hyukjae (because that's all it is to Hyukjae, just fanservice, he knows that now) when all he really wants to do is to close his eyes and dance until every muscle in his body screams at him to stop, until he has pushed out his heart and reminded himself of what passion feels like.
"You're overworking yourself," Shindong says, concernedly, when Donghae comes back to the dorm one evening too tired even to take off his shoes.
"That's just what I'm trying not to do, hyung," Donghae says. "I don't want to work."
Shindong frowns at him, but doesn't say anything more.
One late afternoon Hyukjae descends on him in the practice room and drags him off to have jajangmyeon by the Han River. They sit opposite each other at a wooden table, scooping dark gooey noodles into their mouths and watching the water passing by. Hyukjae is beginning to fill out, still skinny but less scrawny, and Donghae wonders how many more things are going to change.
"I don't know why it feels like everything has died," he says.
Hyukjae silently transfers some of his kimchi onto Donghae's side dish.
"Once I thought that I would be so happy just being a singer…but now I feel like it's all…it's just a pretence. That's all I'm doing. I'm pretending here and there and I'm not really doing anything that isn't a pretence." He looks down at his noodles. "Appa isn't here anymore to watch me, too."
"I'll watch you," Hyukjae says. "I'll watch everything you do from now on."
Donghae looks at him. "What?"
"All your shows," Hyukjae says, flailing his arms a bit in an attempt to explain more clearly. "I'll watch everything you do!"
Donghae starts to laugh. His vision blurs and swims before him but he laughs anyway, until Hyukjae kicks him under the table. "Stop laughing, jerk."
"You," says Donghae. "You…you're such an idiot. How can you watch everything I do? You don't have time."
"It's not like your dad had a lot of time too, right?" Hyukjae says. "He still managed to do it anyway. I'll do it. You just wait."
That night, Ryeowook and Sungmin present a home-cooked dinner to them. Kyuhyun says that he contributed by chopping all the garlic and vegetables, so don't be on my case about being a lazy magnae. Jongwoon whips out a brand new Liverpool scarf that he'd bought for Donghae "because your old one is fraying at the edges".
Some things remain real, Donghae thinks. Not everything is a pretence, after all. Not everything is fanservice.
He looks at Hyukjae sprawled on the floor in deep conversation with Bada and in that moment he realises that he loves Hyukjae so much it hurts.
previous: part zero; a moment | next: part two; a denial