nc-17; 7755 words; multi-chapter
there was a lifetime in each other, if they chose to see it.
part zero; a moment | part one; a past | part two; a denial | part three; a growing up | part four; a togetherness | part five; a separation | part six; a confession | part seven; a quarrel
There's a space in Hyukjae's wardrobe, small at first and gradually expanding to a fairly significant area, that's specially set aside for Donghae's clothes. It sounds a lot sweeter than it actually is, because Hyukjae hadn't wanted Donghae's clothes cluttering up his already limited space and had struggled against the invasion until he gave up from sheer exhaustion. Donghae could not, or would not, understand that he has a chest of drawers in his own room that's designated for the express purpose of keeping his clothes in, but would insist on putting a couple of shirts in Hyukjae's cabinet just in case. And then, as cases are apt to grow, two shirts became four, then five and six, with two pairs of jeans added because shirts can't be worn on their own, and finally a huge bunch of wife-beaters and mangy-looking shorts that Donghae wears to sleep.
By then Hyukjae had given up the fight, aside from a few highly emotional moments when he discovered Donghae's jeans on top on his clean pillowcases – "there is no reason, no reason at all why your jeans should be on my pillowcases when it's quite obvious that this is my bed linen shelf" – and grown resigned to this shared ownership of his cabinet, but one morning Donghae is woken up very rudely by Hyukjae pinching his nose shut.
"What?" he sputters, slapping Hyukjae's fingers away. And then he realises, with some shock, that Hyukjae had been holding an underwear over his nose. "What the hell, Hyuk – that better be clean! When did you become this kinky?!"
"You are an idiot," Hyukjae replies in offended tones. "As for that underwear, I want to know what it's doing in my room at all. I opened my drawer this morning and found six – that's six, Lee Donghae – pairs of your underwear squashed on top of mine." He throws the underwear at Donghae's face. "You didn't even fold them properly!"
"Oh," says Donghae.
"Reason," Hyukjae demands.
Donghae widens his eyes and looks sad. "C'mon Hyukjae – how can I have T-shirts and jeans in your room but no underwear? Wouldn't you prefer me to wear my own instead of wearing yours? Or…" he mock leers, "if you prefer me not wearing any at all, that can be arranged…"
In answer, Hyukjae abruptly rips the blanket off the bed and with a squawk of surprise, Donghae's hands fly instinctively to cover his nether regions.
"Go get showered, naked boy," Hyukjae says, his eyes lingering appreciatively on Donghae's body for a few seconds before turning away haughtily. "We're going to be late."
Donghae lurches himself out of the bed to fling his arms around Hyukjae's neck, half-strangling him as he struggles to wrap his legs around Hyukjae's hips. "Mmmph!" Hyukjae yelps, losing his balance with the unexpected weight and they stagger clumsily before landing on the bed, sending Hyukjae's plushies flying to the floor. Donghae's laughing so hard that he can barely form any words even when Hyukjae shakes him and reaches down to smack his ass, firmly at first and then progressing into hard, almost bruising kneading. "You idiot," Hyukjae says again, leaning down to suck at the curve between Donghae's neck and shoulder.
Donghae's eyes light up mischievously. "So I guess my underwear gets to stay," he says teasingly, playing with the band of Hyukjae's underwear. "Mmm, Hyuk – can you hear my ass asking you to come inside?"
"No," says Hyukjae decisively, "we were supposed to be out of bed fifteen minutes ago and the managers will kill us if we're any later."
But his hand doesn't leave Donghae's ass, and Donghae smiles knowingly. "You're so whipped," he says, pushing Hyukjae onto his back and climbing atop him.
Hyukjae tickles his palms in retaliation, and Donghae almost falls off him laughing. "Bastard!"
"It's your own fault for being so ticklish," Hyukjae returns, locating the lube at the side of the bed and throwing it at Donghae. "Stop dallying around, will you? I'm giving us exactly five minutes."
"Okay – we'll have a quickie," Donghae says, slicking his fingers. "Don't touch me, I need to concentrate."
He doesn't miss the fondness in Hyukjae's eyes as he gets to work on himself, and for a moment he wants to forego the sex, cover Hyukjae's body entirely with his own and rest against him for the five minutes that Hyukjae has marked out. They haven’t been together like this in a week after all – Sorry Sorry promotions have basically overtaken their lives – and there have been times in the past seven days when Donghae has missed Hyukjae so much that it was practically a physical ache. He smiles down into Hyukjae's eyes now. "Ready, anchovy?"
Hyukjae nods and watches with childlike awe as Donghae raises himself to angle down onto Hyukjae's cock, inch by inch until he's in to the balls. They let out a great breath together, rocking lightly for Donghae to get used to the fullness, and Hyukjae scoots up into a sitting position so that they can wrap their arms around each other. "Okay?" he asks.
"Okay," Donghae says, and begins to ride him, setting the pace quick and hard from the start, partly because they have so little time and partly because a startling, blinding sort of animal lust had overtaken him at the push of Hyukjae's cock against his ass. Hyukjae gasps and thrusts his hips up into him and they're making good time, Hyukjae's hands in Donghae's hair, soft grunts and gasps and yes, right there, Donghae's mouth sucking a bruise into Hyukjae's neck when –
"Eunhyukkie, I expect you out of there before sunset," their manager, Kibum, yells outside the door. "By that, I mean in the next two minutes!"
"Oh, shit," Hyukjae whispers.
"Don't you dare stop," Donghae threatens, moving his mouth to lick the shell of Hyukjae's ear because he knows from experience that Hyukjae is putty in his hands whenever he does that. "If you stop now, I will never – ever – have sex with you – fuck yes, do that again – I'll never have sex with you again, Lee Hyukjae!"
Hyukjae clears his throat softly and calls out, "I'm awake! I'll be out in a minute!" in the steadiest voice that he can muster.
"I'm timing you!" Kibum calls back, and they hear his footsteps going away, presumably to shout Kyuhyun and Sungmin out.
"You idiot," Hyukjae says again, shaking with laughter, "Donghae, hurry!"
Donghae pushes the speed of his thrusts up a notch and Hyukjae groans helplessly, laughter gone, rubbing his face against Donghae's shoulder as his body begins to spasm and his thrusts lose rhythm in favour of a wild rolling of his hips that makes Donghae dig his fingers into Hyukjae's back. "Hyuk – Hyukjae," Donghae whispers, "fuck you feel so good – I can't – I'm coming…"
He reaches down to wrap his hand around his own cock and with two firm pulls he's done, shuddering hard as he spills over, staining Hyukjae's abdomen white. Hyukjae grips his hips tight and draws up his legs, pushing Donghae almost into mid-air with the power of his thrusts before he groans and comes too, head falling forward onto Donghae's chest in one long, glorious crest of pleasure.
Donghae holds him tight as they come back down to earth slowly, legs beginning to turn to water, aches surfacing in arms and thighs. "Shit, oh shit," Donghae says, "we're really idiots aren't we, we're so dead. You can't walk out of here covered in come, and we're already…"
"Eunhyuk!" Kibum shouts again, and they fall out of bed in a hurry, Donghae scrabbling for tissues as Hyukjae pulls clothes haphazardly out of the cabinet.
"You go first," Hyukjae pants, "you're more or less clean, put on some clothes and get out of here before he knocks the door down."
Donghae suddenly chuckles, deep in his throat, and pulls Hyukjae in for a quick, hard kiss. "Love you," he says, and leaves Hyukjae wiping himself up frantically behind the door as he pulls on his slacks and goes out to receive Kibum's scolding, the very present feel of Hyukjae still echoing bone-deep through his body.
Sadly, such mornings are a rarity in the current hectic pace of their existence. They'd started the promotions for Sorry Sorry with the highest hopes, and gotten their expectations blown clean out of the water when the country grabbed hold of the song and decided that it was going to be The Next Big Thing. Two weeks after they first performed the song on Music Bank, their manager Junghoon pasted up clippings of headlines on their walls – 'Sorry Sorry takes over South Korea!' 'Super Junior Comes of Age!' 'The Return of the Hallyu Wave' 'The Nation Apologises'!
Even now, almost a month into their promotions, they break out into jubilant laughter whenever they see those clippings. They've made it! It's not that they weren't famous before, but it's as though they've been propelled from starring in casual rom-coms to getting star billing on a summer blockbuster. Even U, their biggest hit to date, has gotten relegated to the backburner in the face of the behemoth that is Sorry Sorry. Everything about the comeback, it appears, is perfect; some say it's the repetitiveness of the song, others say it's the slick choreography, yet a few more say, blushingly, that it's the suits. Who wouldn't succumb to good-looking boys all spiffed up?
When Kyuhyun receives a gift from a fan from South Africa, everyone stares at it for a moment before breaking out into uncontrollable glee, laughing and clapping each other's backs and shouting about popping champagne. Here they are at last – after all the hard work, the sacrifices, the endless rehearsals, the dislike and criticisms that they've weathered from critics, the relentless pursuit of perfection – they're finally stars!
"To think that we didn't even like the song at first!" Sungmin marvels. "It's a good thing that we aren't the ones running SM Entertainment."
"And all it took was a few suits and a repetitive song," jokes Jongwoon. Everyone knows that he's secretly aggrieved about having shot to fame on a song that, to him, has no artistic merit.
"We're idols, not a rock band," Jungsu points out. "And this is not all it's going to take. Everything's great now, but if we slip for one second, let someone else take over, that's the end of our 'few suits and a repetitive song', you get me?"
"Oh, hyungie," Siwon says, throwing an arm around Jungsu's shoulders, "lighten up! We've just gotten a gift from South Africa. I think it's time to go out and get drunk."
Jungsu laughs at him, simply because it's impossible not to when Siwon's wheedling like this, and agrees – let's go out and get drunk! They head to their favourite BBQ restaurant that night after their first Inkigayo win, filling up one of the private rooms and ordering so much pork belly that Hyukjae says his stomach is going to stick out like a balloon. Heechul spills soju on Hankyung's head by accident, Youngwoon wins every single speed drinking game, Ryeowook starts a peculiar sort of game where one of the punishments is that they can't go to the toilet, and Kyuhyun stands up in the middle of the game to sing Sorry Sorry in his loudest voice.
"You guys are acting so crazy," says Hyukjae, the only one who's obnoxiously sober, and Donghae grabs him around his neck to plead with him to please, please drink just one cup of soju, damn your promise with Junsu all those years ago – he has already broken it anyhow.
Jongwoon crashes onto Donghae at that very moment and everyone forgets their games to unite in ribbing Jongwoon mercilessly for being a rude drunk.
But even the best of parties has to end, and theirs ends the very next day when Kwanghee, the oldest and most senior of all their managers, hears of the wild dinner party and issues a decree: no more crazy drinking, no more partying, no more overeating until the promotions are over. You're all in the middle of the greatest comeback of your careers and you will not hinder it by nursing hangovers every morning or having paunches where you're supposed to be having abs.
Youngwoon and Heechul grumble about it when they're in the privacy of their dorm; they're grown-ups, damn it, not some trainees who need to be told what to do, but Jungsu decides that Kwanghee is right and from now till the end of the Sorry Sorry promotions, everyone will have to toe the line. "If we want to be as great as everyone says we are, we're going to give it all we've got," he says. "What's the use of coming so far when we're going to make a mess of it simply because we want to have a good time?"
So suddenly, from stardom they're thrust back into their trainee days again – hour after back-breaking hour of rehearsal, practicing dance steps that have already been etched into the most slippery areas of their memories, seeking something even better than perfection; character, is the word Hyukjae uses to express it. Character is what will set us apart from perfection. Everyone can be perfect if they practice hard enough; but we're going to stand out because of who we are and what we can bring to the stage.
They re-learn how to perform on empty stomachs, how to survive on minimal carb foods and virtually non-existent sleeping hours. Donghae can barely get out of bed one morning because of his cramped muscles; Shindong eats so little that he has to down energy drinks to prevent from fainting. They start getting booked for the biggest shows currently on television; Sungmin remarks that their schedules read like a Who's Who list of the most popular primetime variety shows. Come to Play, Star King, Yeoyoomanman, Intimate Note – Jungsu starts up a nightly coaching session on how to perform in front of cameras. Initially almost everyone attends, but they start dropping out one by one due to tough schedules or the basic need for sleep until only Hyukjae and Shindong remain as regular students, working ceaselessly with Jungsu over jokes and gags, practicing them over and over in front of their mirrors to give off the impression of being spontaneous.
"Why is it so much harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry?" Hyukjae comments.
"Because laughter is a tricky thing," Jungsu says. "Sadness is generic – who doesn't recognise a sad thing when you see it? But laughter requires a person to be amused, and amusing someone is not easy because everyone has a different sense of humour."
Sometimes they request Donghae's presence as 'studio audience' (which Hyukjae says is a nice term for 'guinea pig'), and he rocks with appreciative laughter when they demonstrate their newest gags. Shindong says that Donghae isn't the best studio audience to have because he's about as easily amused as anyone can get, and if they want a more accurate response they should get Kyuhyun instead. But Donghae enjoys their practice sessions so much that he starts dropping by even when his presence isn't required; besides, in these hectic, work-consumed days, those couple of hours between one to three a.m. is practically the only time he gets to spend with Hyukjae without the interference of cameras and PDs.
"You shouldn't work so hard," he says to Hyukjae when the session ends. "Why don't you skip tomorrow night? We can play at being a couple and go to the 24-hour cinema for a movie."
Hyukjae shakes his head. "I'm not as good-looking as the rest of you. I can't just stand around and expect that people will notice me. If I don't work this hard, nobody will remember me, so I've got to do the best that I can do."
"You're gorgeous and everyone remembers you already," Donghae points out.
Hyukjae laughs, exposing his gums. "That's your subjectivity talking," he says. "I told you before, there are plenty of people who think I'm ugly and don't deserve to be part of a group that has Choi Siwon and Lee Donghae in it! So I have to work extra hard."
"Is that the reason for all this stuff cluttering up the dorm?" Donghae asks, waving his hand to indicate the piles of fashion magazines lying on every available surface.
"They don't clutter, they educate," Hyukjae says. "I'll be mutton dressed as lamb."
Donghae looks at him, wondering how anyone so beautiful can possibly consider himself ugly; if you could look at yourself through my eyes, he thinks, if you could see yourself the way I see you – but he knows, too, that it's futile to argue. They're poised at the edge of a cliff, wings spread, and the right push will send them soaring into the brilliant blue of endless possibilities. Isn't it childish to think of late night movies or relationships at this point, when all the opportunities are lying before them open and yielding and the only demand is for them to be deserving?
Hyukjae must have seen something of that in his face, because he suddenly reaches out to hug Donghae close. "We will watch a movie sometime," he says. "We have the rest of our lives to make it to the cinema, don't we?"
Donghae laughs into his neck. "Yup," he says. "That's a lot of time."
The days get progressively warmer as they enter into the thick of summer; the afternoons get murkier, the electric fans start spinning faster. Donghae perspires copiously just by running across the street to get cup noodles from the convenience store; Jungsu says that he practically needs a bucket to contain all of Donghae's sweat when they work out in the gym. Heechul thinks that's hilarious because he's one of those rare blessed people who never seem to perspire even in the hottest weather. Donghae doesn't think it's funny at all.
They continue winning awards on the music shows, so many that they run out of space to keep them in. Some go below beds; Shindong places the rest along their window sill. The Sorry Sorry wave continues surging around them, flinging open doors to musicals and OST recordings and variety show appearances that would otherwise require them to climb in through the window, and Hyukjae starts to lose more weight off his face, foregoing meals in favour of consuming energy drinks as though they're drugs. You can't expect me to keep performing on four hours of sleep every night, he says when Junghoon objects to his endless stash of Red Bulls and Bacchus. I have to get my energy from somewhere.
"So eat the food that we buy for you," Junghoon points out, but Hyukjae shakes his head; food has become tasteless, he says.
Donghae spends a hot week in Taiwan with Siwon, filming for Ariel Lin's new music video. Temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius. One of the production assistants faints from standing too long in direct heat; Siwon pours cold water all over himself in between filming. You did that just like a Hollywood star, Donghae teases him, but that's one of the only light-hearted moments on that serious, heat-consumed set. Ariel and her personal assistants do all they can to make things pleasant by buying Taiwanese snacks and delicacies for their Korean visitors, but Donghae can barely get the food down his gullet; even savoury foods tire him out.
When they return to Seoul, they discover that the air-con on the 11th floor has broken down and the inhabitants have moved into the 12th floor until such time that the air-con decides to work again. "It's more than a squeeze," Heechul complains, "and everyone's feet stink like rotting potatoes", but there isn't much he can do about it, nobody wants to remain in the furnace downstairs. Hyukjae sleeps in Donghae's bed at night, but the rest of the 11th floor people have to squeeze in the living room with sleeping beds and pillows, squabbling over their territories, complaining about the presence of smelly feet in places where they shouldn't be, ending up snoring together like they did way back in 2006 when they were bursting apart at the seams in their small apartment and dreaming of becoming stars.
Heechul comes back in a fury one day because he'd been chased from one end of Seoul to the other by fans in stalker taxis, and Jungsu is moody because he'd received a cologne bottle filled with urine from an anti at Sukira last night, so tempers flare up and Donghae has to suffer them shouting away in the kitchen while he tries to compose music inside his bedroom. He considers going down to the 11th now that the air-con has been fixed, but when he connects with Kyuhyun on the webcam, Kyuhyun informs him that Jongwoon and Sungmin are fighting downstairs too. "Apparently Yesung hyung ate up Sungminnie hyung's apples, or something, and they're really going at it, it's driving me nuts," he says. "I'm going out for coffee."
Donghae calls Hyukjae on his handphone. "Where are you?"
"I'm with Junsu," Hyukjae says. "What's up?"
"Let's go to Mokpo tomorrow. I need to get out of Seoul."
"Mokpo?" Hyukjae asks in astonishment. "But that means we'll have to be gone for at least a day."
"Do. We can visit my dad's grave. I haven't visited him since the last anniversary. We can take the rail, too, so we can sleep on the way there and be back by evening. You won't even miss Sukira."
"I don't know…" Hyukjae says, but he sounds half-persuaded. "I'll have to check with the managers about tomorrow's schedule."
"If not tomorrow, then at least the day after," Donghae urges. "I have to get out of here before I break things!"
He doesn't know how many strings Hyukjae pulls with the managers, but the next day, at ten in the morning, they board the train headed towards Mokpo. Hyukjae looks tired and thinner than Donghae remembers, a pale shadow of the sparkling, charismatic idol that he is on screen, and Donghae kisses him on the sly, intertwines their fingers together. Go to sleep, he says, we've got two hours to relax.
When they arrive at Mokpo, they have a simple lunch of bibimbap at a hole-in-the-wall stall. Hyukjae makes Donghae laugh by using his chopsticks to act out an entire skit of romance and tragedy; it was a gag that he'd performed on Star King but didn't make the final cut, he explains. Donghae assures him that it's a great joke. They take the cab to Donghae's place to delight Donghae's mum for an hour, then take another cab up to the quiet cemetery resting on the slopes of a hill facing the sea. Donghae takes out the items that he'd brought along: his dad's favourite brand of soju, the Sorry Sorry album, a mass of flowers, one of the Inkigayo mutizen awards, and sweeps out the grave carefully while Hyukjae stands by, listening to the breeze murmur around the graves.
"I've brought Hyukjae with me today, appa," Donghae says. "He's the most important person in the world to me. Takes care of me, indulges me, accompanies me down here on the spur of the moment even though we're so busy – so be good to him, okay?"
Hyukjae smiles, and they stand side by side in front of the peaceful grave in silence, thinking of how serene and eternal death can be. The cemetery caretaker, an old greying man, comes by with his broom and pail of water and stops when he recognises Donghae, exchanges a few friendly words with him. Donghae passes him a tip in gratitude for maintaining the graves so well. "You should retire soon, aboji," Donghae says. "Such physical labour isn't good for you."
"Not many people want to maintain graves these days," says the caretaker. "Who'll weed the graves when I'm gone? No, I'll keep doing it, so that these souls like your father can continue resting among flowers."
"He has a purpose," Hyukjae says when the caretaker leaves them. "Simple and invisible, but a purpose nonetheless. Wouldn't it be nice, Donghae, if we have purposes like that when we're sixty – if we can spend our twilight years living quietly by the sea, doing our little jobs in the daytime, eating simply and sitting out on the balcony at night to feel the sea breeze?"
They turn around to look at the sea in the distance, undulating blue against the white-clouded sky, stretching as far as the eye can see, and Donghae catches Hyukjae's hand, kisses his palm. "We can build ourselves a house one day," he says. "Brick by brick. That would be nice."
"A nest," Hyukjae says, laughing, his eyes shining as though he's already picturing their little house by the sea.
He looks much better on the way back to Seoul, more colour in his cheeks, smiles coming more readily. Donghae breathes a little inner sigh of relief, pulls their mouths together because there isn't anyone else in the carriage. They kiss lazily and intermittently, tongues clinging and parting, easy conversation passing between them in low whispers, as the train speeds past roads and mountains shimmering in the evening sunset; summertime kisses, Hyukjae terms them, flavoured of sun and sea and sky. I can practically taste the salt breezes in your mouth.
Nearing Seoul they're laughing together, Donghae caressing Hyukjae's cheek, when Hyukjae suddenly jerks away like he got bitten. Donghae looks up in confusion and catches his heart in his throat when he sees the train conductor standing before them, staring with such shock and revulsion on his face that all the pleasant sensations of the day shrivel up like withered flowers.
"Gays," the conductor spits the word at them before stomping to another carriage.
"Shit. Do you think he recognised us?" Donghae whispers frantically.
"No," Hyukjae says, his voice stiff. "I don't think so. He would have said more if he did."
He falls silent after that, staring bleakly out of the train window as Seoul's skyline comes into view. Donghae can't think of how to bring the smile back on his face. He feels sickened himself, furious at the conductor for ruining their day, worried at the look on Hyukjae's face. Hyukjae may have accepted the fact that he's gay and in a relationship with another man, but Donghae knows only too well how sensitive Hyukjae is to public opinion, how little it takes to hurt him.
He puts his hand on Hyukjae's shoulder. "Don't think about it, Hyuk. Not everyone is like that man."
"But so many people think like him," Hyukjae says in a low voice. "People I thought were my friends…my own family…"
An automated voice announces just then that they'll be arriving in Seoul in five minutes and Donghae sees Hyukjae gathering himself together, pulling on his public face over the vulnerability. He doesn't like the way Hyukjae covers his emotions, pushes them deep down where they fester and germinate, but he knows, too, that it's Hyukjae's way of shielding himself.
"Let's go," Hyukjae says, strong and indomitable again, the Eunhyuk of Super Junior who has the world at his feet.
Donghae follows him quietly off the train and into the milling weekday evening crowd. Businessmen wheeling their slim suitcases, tourists checking maps, ticketing staff attending to bewildered travellers, but most of all couples everywhere: couples going away for short getaways, couples kissing goodbye, couples holding hands and laughing over private jokes. He looks at Hyukjae walking ahead of him with his cap pulled low over his face and thinks, we might be stars, but I can't even hold his hand. I can't even stroke his face without someone looking at us with hate.
Seunghwan's waiting for them outside, idly tapping away at a game on his handphone. He looks relieved when he sees them; he'd probably been worried about any potential train delays because the managers take the rap for any lateness. "Had a good trip?" he asks, pulling back the door of the van.
"Yes," Hyukjae says, but doesn't offer any further information. Donghae doesn't feel like talking, so he stays quiet. They settle into the van and enter the slow rush hour traffic of Seoul. After a couple of minutes, Hyukjae leans forward and turns up the volume of the radio to mask the silence.
Zhou Mi, who's staying in the dorms temporarily for convenience's sake during the SJ-M album preparations, is in a great state of excitement when they get back the dorms. He has awesome news, he says, pouncing on Donghae the moment he walks in. Do you remember my friends back in Beijing – Li Tong and Ping Ya? Do you remember them? You do? Well, they're coming to Korea for a holiday! They'll be here for about two weeks!
"That's great," Donghae says, genuinely pleased for Zhou Mi. He gets along well with everyone in SM, but as with Hankyung, a certain difference in culture and language still sets him slightly apart. (Though, as Heechul remarks, Zhou Mi's Korean puts Hankyung's to shame, and Hankyung replied snappily that everyone learns at different speeds.)
"They're looking forward to seeing all of you – especially Ping Ya," Zhou Mi winks suggestively at Donghae. "He's still infatuate with you, you know. He's been taking Korean classes all for you."
Donghae looks quickly in Hyukjae's direction, but Hyukjae's in the kitchen, apparently too preoccupied with throwing together a quick dinner before he has to leave for Sukira. "Um," he says, "it'll be really nice to see him again but I really don't…"
Zhou Mi laughs and hits him playfully. "Don't worry about it! Ping Ya likes about ten guys at any one moment, he's never serious about anything. Won't it be great to have them here? I'm going to take them to all our favourite restaurants. Do you think the rest of the group will mind them?"
"I don't know," says Donghae honestly. He can imagine quite well Heechul's reaction towards Zhou Mi's flamboyantly gay friends, but he isn't very sure what Hyukjae or Jongwoon or even Jungsu would think of them.
Well, he thinks suddenly, hanging out with them will mean that Hyukjae and I won't have to censor ourselves; we can hold hands and kiss and nobody will judge us, we can talk about people like the conductor on that train and everyone will understand because they've been there before.
Zhou Mi throws an arm around his shoulder and squeezes him affectionately. "It'll be great," he says. "We'll bring some life into this smelly dorm!"
One of the girls on Introducing Star's Friends, a show that everyone in Super Junior refers to as "that dumb matchmaking show", actually falls in love with Hyukjae and courts him in such an aggressive style that it leaves even experienced Sungmin breathless with awe. She texts him every night, calls to praise him on almost every variety show appearance, offers to drive over to his filming sets to deliver snacks and energy drinks, invites him out for late-night coffee at the café across the street, and in short buttonholes him, blockades him, and charms him with such bright energy and girlish charm that Hyukjae confesses he would be impressed if he was in any position to be attracted to her.
"She's something else," Kyuhyun marvels. "She's the most determined girl I've ever heard of. It's kind of attractive – in a way."
"I would take a shot at her if she wasn't so obsessed with Hyukjae," Sungmin says. "Sooyoung and Sunny think she's brazen, but I think it's cool when a woman is so confident."
"She makes me feel like I'm some kind of god," Hyukjae confesses and immediately gets embroiled in an argument with Donghae about how he should put a stop once and for all to this girl's courtship. Hyukjae points out that it's a tricky situation because they're still filming ISF and it'll be awkward as hell if he dumps her unceremoniously, and Donghae points out that he's just leading her on by being so vague about her attentions, and the argument escalates into a shouting match that ends with both of them in angry tears.
"You know, you really shouldn't let her get under your skin so much," Sungmin comments from the kitchen where he's been watching the entire scene, and both of them tell him to shut up and mind his own business before Hyukjae stalks off to Sukira and Donghae stomps up to the 12th floor. The next day, the internet is rife with speculation about Hyukjae's unhappy face on Sukira the night before and the ISF girl sends a few concerned messages, which Donghae sees on Hyukjae's phone and starts up another quarrel again about banning her from his number. Hyukjae says that's ridiculous and you're going overboard. Donghae flings back that you're obviously getting tired of me and looking for some novelty. Hyukjae says I'm not even going to bother with you when you're in such a childish tantrum, and his holier-than-thou attitude infuriates Donghae so much that he leaps for Hyukjae's throat, knocking him down to the ground and struggling with him in a mess of limbs and fists until Heechul decides he's had enough of the noise and sends Siwon to break them up.
Siwon administers peace successfully and they're still tiptoeing around the shaky harmony when Zhou Mi's friends Li Tong and Ping Ya arrive in that uncertain atmosphere. They're as flamboyant as Donghae remembers them, wearing the most outrageous things (striped shirts with purple polka-dotted pants; black capes over glittery shirts; high-heeled shoes and branded handbags), talking openly about the attractive men they've seen so far on the streets of Seoul, and just as amusing and warm and genuine as they were in Beijing. Siwon, Kyuhyun, Ryeowook and Hankyung are pleased to see them again; Heechul takes to them almost immediately, as expected, and after the first wary encounter, Jungsu decides that they might be okay to hang out with.
"The way they talk about men needs some getting used to, though," he says. "Did you hear the way they were ogling Junghoon's ass?"
"My friends can be a little, uh, sexual," Zhou Mi says with some apology in his tone, but he's so obviously delighted to have them with him that none of them can begrudge him Li Tong and Ping Ya's companionship.
Hyukjae is cordial to them, but not as warm as Donghae would have liked; he's disappointed when Hyukjae doesn't suggest taking them out sightseeing or treating them to any dinners. "I thought we could hang out with them a bit while they're here," he says to Hyukjae in bed, two days after their arrival. "They're really good fun, and they took care of us when we were in Beijing. We would have been so bored without them."
"I like them," says Hyukjae dubiously, "but they're really very…different. Aren't they?"
"They're gay," Donghae says. "They're just like us."
Hyukjae flinches at that word, and for the thousandth time Donghae curses the train conductor in his heart. "I don't know if they're entirely like us," Hyukjae says. "They discuss guys and sex so openly, like – did you hear Li Tong-sshi talking about how he had a one-night stand with some American guy just before he left Beijing?"
"Hyukjae!" Donghae reaches over to shake him. "So what if they talk about guys and sex? We have sex too, don't we? Just because we don't talk about it openly doesn't make us any different from them. They've been through the same problems, they've even been bullied before – way worse than anything we've ever gone through – and the fact that they can continue being so positive and happy is something that we can learn from!"
Hyukjae's looking at him with startled eyes, unused to such strong opinions from Donghae, and Donghae drops his demeanour to stroke Hyukjae's face softly. "We've come this far," he says. "We can't look down on other people. Not in our situation, Hyuk."
For a moment he thinks Hyukjae is going to argue his point, but Hyukjae's eyelids droop and he lies quiet for several minutes before smiling slightly. "I guess you're right," he says.
"I'm right about everything," Donghae says.
"Oh yeah?" Hyukjae raises his eyebrows wilfully. "Even your over-the-top reactions towards our Bom-sshi?"
"Don't you ever mention her to me again," Donghae threatens, changing his caress into a possessive grip. Hyukjae struggles and they mess around a little, exchanging light punches until Hyukjae tires of playing.
"Okay," he says. "I'll hang out with them if that's what you really want."
"You'll like them," Donghae promises.
Except that Hyukjae doesn't, not really, even though he tries. But despite his own inclinations towards homosexuality and the fact that yes, he does engage in sexual activities quite frequently with a man and yes, he does use his sex appeal on stage to bring fans to shrieking incoherency, Hyukjae is a conservative at heart. He hadn't truly liked Bom because of her boldness in chasing him, and he doesn't really like Li Tong and Ping Ya, whose conversations revolve mostly around their sexual escapades. Donghae realises he has misjudged everyone's characters when he sees Hyukjae fidgeting uncomfortably over Li Tong's colourful account of his experiences in a Taiwanese 'spa'. "Just gorgeous naked men everywhere," Li Tong says, cheerfully unaware of Hyukjae's flushing. "I had the best time of my life there."
"We should go there sometime," Ping Ya says, smiling flirtatiously at Donghae.
"Uh oh, watch out for him," Zhou Mi says, laughing. "Once Ping Ya gets you into bed, you might never get out of it."
Hyukjae squeaks a little. "You and Ping Ya…you've slept together?"
"Way back when we were still in high school," Zhou Mi says. "But it didn't work out very well. We're just too good friends to jump into bed together. I pay homage to Ping Ya's skills, though."
"How about it?" Ping Ya says to Donghae. "If you're interested, and you ever get some time off, I'll bring you there. Everyone will be all over you – trust me."
Hyukjae looks at Ping Ya with a sudden hardness in his eyes, and Donghae hurriedly steps in to defuse the situation in the best way he knows how. "That's nice of you, but no thank you," he says, putting his hand on Hyukjae's. "I have Hyukjae, and he's good enough for me."
Li Tong whistles appreciatively. "So the two of you are together? I thought so!"
"Don't let it out, though," Zhou Mi warns. "We'll all be in deep trouble if it ever comes out."
Hyukjae removes his hand from Donghae's. "Yes," he says. "Please keep it a secret."
"Don't worry," Ping Ya says, his eyes going from Hyukjae's face to Donghae's, where they rest with a very distinct sort of admiration. "I won't breathe a word to anyone about you two."
They change the topic then, discussing sightseeing plans and things to do in Seoul, and Ping Ya understandingly steers the direction of the conversation whenever it veers too closely to anything sexual. Hyukjae stays quiet most of the time, and Donghae feels irrationally annoyed with him; why must he sit there like a stone when everyone's trying so hard to be friendly and pleasant? What has happened to the Hyukjae who cracks jokes and laughs at himself and can usually be relied on to be the life of any party? He grips Hyukjae's hand again, interlaces their fingers to show him that there isn't any need to be afraid of judgement when they're with Zhou Mi and his friends, but Hyukjae disengages himself and Donghae can feel the beginnings of a temper spark within him.
"Guess we'll be heading out to Changdeokgung Palace now before it closes," Zhou Mi says, looking at his watch. "You don't have to come with us – I know you're busy too, Eunhyukkie."
"Come join us tonight though, if you want," Li Tong says. "We're checking out Why Not."
"What's that?" Hyukjae asks.
Both Li Tong and Ping Ya look at him in surprise. "It's one of the top ranked gay clubs here," Li Tong says. "Haven't you ever been there?"
"No," Hyukjae says, looking horrified at the very idea. "I don't club, actually."
"That explains it, then," Ping Ya says quickly. "Of course you won't know it if you don't club. How about you, Donghae? Do you want to come with us?"
"Maybe next time," Donghae says. They say their farewells – politely on Hyukjae's side and warmly on Donghae's – and walk in silence to the parking lot where Hyukjae's Audi is. Donghae's struggling to keep his anger in check, telling himself two more minutes, rein it in for two more minutes until we're in the privacy of the car. When they finally get in and close the doors, Hyukjae turns to him and says, "Okay, you've been dying to yell at me, so let's have it."
Donghae stares at him, gobsmacked by his attitude. "Yes," he says. "I've been dying to yell at you, and for good reason. They've been nothing but nice to you, and you were completely rude – you didn't even bother to join in the conversation properly."
"I didn't know what to say," Hyukjae says. "Their world is too different from mine."
"But you could at least have tried!" Donghae yells. His voice echoes in the confined space of the car, and somewhere inside him an ache tells him to stop, yelling won't solve anything, but blood is pounding in his head and he can't stop the words from rushing out. "What's wrong with going to a 'spa' if you want to? What's wrong with sleeping with random guys if you want to? What's wrong with going to a gay club? Maybe they just want to dance in a place where they don't have to be worried about people judging them. I would want to go too, just so that I can dance with you somewhere that's neither a practice room or a stage. I want to put my arms around you and kiss you without being frightened that someone is going to spit in my face. That's all, Hyukjae. You don't have to be so uptight about everything!"
"I'm not being uptight," says Hyukjae, and his voice comes out resembling more of a sob than anything else. "I don't want to judge them, and I don't want to disapprove of their lifestyle or anything, but it's just not me, Donghae. I can't be like that, running around sleeping with guys and talking about my sexual experiences with complete strangers."
"Who are you to act so high and mighty?" Donghae demands. "Look at things clearly, Hyuk. I'm going to spell it out for you. You're with me, and I'm a man, and that makes you a homosexual. That means that we're already being judged and discriminated against by all the straight people in this world! Why do we have to discriminate against other gays, make their lives doubly miserable?"
"You're not listening," Hyukjae says. "There's no point in me talking if you're not going to listen."
"Fine," says Donghae, wiping angrily at the tears in his eyes. "Avoid the whole argument as you always do. You've already made up your mind, anyway."
They sit in a horrible sort of silence for a while, Hyukjae staring glumly out of the windscreen while Donghae tries to control himself from sniffing; he really hates this irritating thing about himself that makes him cry whenever he's trying to make a point in a quarrel. "Is this it, then?" he asks at last.
"You can see them if you want," says Hyukjae. "I just won't come along – especially when that Ping Ya keeps flirting with you."
"He doesn't mean anything by it," Donghae says.
"I will punch his lights out if he attempts to make a move on you again," Hyukjae says coldly.
He starts up the engine and drives through the roads towards the SM building where Donghae is due for a dance rehearsal with Henry. They won't have any opportunity to see each other again until the following evening, because Hyukjae will be filming Star King and Dream Team back to back, and for the first time Donghae thinks that their brief separation will be a good thing. He's not sure how much more nonsense he can stand from Hyukjae now without flaring up again, and amid all the frustration and anger, a sadness that they're stuck at an impasse makes its way to the surface. The next time he speaks, he can barely form the words out of the choking thickness in his throat. "I really just want to dance with you," he says.
Hyukjae doesn't say anything, and Donghae gets out of the car when they pull up outside the SM building. He tries to remember the last time he walked away from Hyukjae like that without a kiss or a caress or even a word. His thoughts scatter into incoherent fragments and he gives up, closes the car door behind him and climbs the steps to the entrance without a single look back.
That night, he's running in the thick mist again. He knows that he has been here before, and he turns his head to see if Hyukjae is still beside him. He is, but there's a distance between them that Donghae doesn't remember feeling before, a distance of only a couple of feet but feels as impassable as the widest points of the world's greatest rivers.
Hyukjae, he says, Hyukjae.
Hyukjae holds out his hand to him like he'd done all those years ago, and maybe the distance can be breached after all. Maybe, with a strong enough resolve and a belief in what they have, even the widest point of a river can be narrowed into a stream. But they're very different now from the boys they'd been those years ago; they're grown-up, that most evil of evil words, and they watch as the lights in the distance fade, watch as everything turns dark.
Why can't I see you anymore? Donghae asks. Why does it feel as though our eyes are closed?
He wakes up at four a.m. with tears on his cheeks, not remembering a single thing of the dream but the sensation of blindness.
previous: part six; a confession | next: part eight (i); a break-up