nc-17; 3363 words; multi-chapter
there was a lifetime in each other, if they chose to see it.
Note: I've decided to change the format of posting since it would appear that the current method of long chapters isn't working out too well for me. I tend to deliberate over my chapters too much, worry about the quality, and then give up out of sheer despair. So let's try a new method whereby I post shorter, easier, bite-sized chapters that will hopefully get me further!
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 | part eight; a break up
There's an awkward sort of coldness between them over the next couple of weeks, made worse by Hyukjae's increasingly crowded variety schedule and Donghae's preparations for the SJ-M comeback. When Hyukjae isn't filming, he's in endless production meetings; when he isn't in meetings, he's working on Sukira; when he isn't on Sukira, he's either in company-mandated hair salons, facial spas and gyms or practicing gags with Jungsu and Boom in Boom's private apartment. Work commitments seem to have come upon them with a vengeance, and Donghae's left wondering whether it's because they're unusually busy these days or if it's simply because they've stopped trying to make time for each other.
He tries to bridge the ruthlessly widening gap once by asking Hyukjae out for a quick supper after his Sukira schedule. But he doesn't sound convincingly enthusiastic enough about it; partly because he's afraid of rejection, and partly because he has had so little experience in the way of awkwardness with Hyukjae to draw from that he isn't quite sure how to appear natural. Either way, he's stiff and formal with his invitation, and Hyukjae obviously thinks that someone put Donghae up to it, because he replies just as stiffly that he has to go to the gym; it's part of his new goal to supplement his 'skinny anchovy' image with a 'beasty man' one.
It's a difficult conversation, and Donghae is momentarily relieved when they hang up their phones. After all, Hyukjae isn't the only busy one; he's swamped too himself with the hundreds of little tasks that spring up in the months before a big promotional activity. He doesn't have the time or energy to sit through an uncomfortable dinner trying to talk to someone who isn't in the mood to be responsive.
But the relief is gone before it takes any sort of hold, and within minutes he's sorry, intensely sorry, for how things have gone down between them, because most of the anger has vanished now and each time he replays their quarrel in his mind he loses more confidence in himself, creeps a little more doubt into his convictions. He's beginning to listen to a small voice inside him asking, is there any need to force things on him that make him uncomfortable? Is there any need to put him under such stress when he's already facing pressure from his family and friends?, and he wishes now that he'd thought a little harder before speaking, had listened more attentively to what Hyukjae had been trying to say before rushing headlong into his own arguments.
"I'm an idiot," he says to Yunho over the phone late one night after tuning in to Sukira – it's a routine he can't abandon regardless of any arguments or coldness – and missing Hyukjae's presence so much that he had to vent his feelings to someone. "I should have listened to him. Thought about it more from his perspective. Am I always going to be this stupid?"
"No," Yunho says. "Stop thinking it's the end of the world. You're always so dramatic. Just buy him dinner and talk to him nicely and everything will be okay."
"I don't think it's going to be that easy."
"Nothing in this world is easy, just that some are easier than others," Yunho replies irritably. "You're lucky. At least your kind of problem can be fixed."
Yunho is so rarely unsympathetic that Donghae is silenced. He's well aware, of course, that there's something seriously wrong with Dong Bang; rumours have been circulating in SM that they've been having numerous talks internally, and the atmosphere at the office lately has been very tense. He knows, too, that part of the reason why Hyukjae is hardly ever at home anymore is because he's been tied up with meeting Junsu in his spare time, and the difficulty of being caught between his loyalty to Junsu and his friendship with Yunho and Changmin has been driving him away from Donghae and Kyuhyun, who are just as emotionally vested in Dong Bang. Donghae has no illusions about Hyukjae and Junsu's friendship. He may very well be Hyukjae's boyfriend, may be the one sleeping with him and dreaming of a future with him, but Junsu is Hyukjae's oldest and most cherished friend, and if push comes to shove Donghae wouldn't put it past Hyukjae to choose Junsu over him.
"Have you talked at all to Hyukjae recently?" he asks.
"No; I don't have anything to say to him at the moment that won't end up being a minefield," Yunho says.
The conversation leaves him heavier and sadder than usual, because it feels as though the world he has grown up in and is surer of than anything else in his life is breaking apart at the seams. When Hyukjae comes up to the 12th floor the next day to discuss an idea for a new show with Jungsu and Shindong, their laughter irritates him so much that he turns up the volume of his music player to drown them out.
Halfway through a bass-heavy, head-banging clubbing song, Hyukjae opens the door and shouts, "Turn it down! We can't even hear ourselves!"
Donghae stares at him; how can you laugh, he thinks, how can you continue being so happy when our closest friends are becoming enemies and our own relationship is about to fall apart? And it seems as though Hyukjae has suddenly become a stranger to him; a mystifying, incomprehensible stranger far removed from the tender-hearted, silly, serious-minded boy that he has grown up with, and he stands up to shout back, "So discuss your work at the office! This is where I live!"
Hyukjae's mouth falls open in disbelief. "What is wrong with you?"
"What is wrong with you? This is my room, I don't have to cater to anyone!"
"Why – the fuck – are you – so goddamned CHILDISH," Hyukjae yells at him before stomping into the room and turning the volume button way down to mute.
Donghae lunges at him, but just then Jungsu intervenes to drag Hyukjae out of the battleground. For goodness' sake, he says, for fuck's sake, for all the sakes in the world, be adults. If we can't be friends, can we at least respect each other as members? How are we ever going to last ten months, let alone ten years, with you two screaming into each other's faces –
"Let's just go elsewhere," says Shindong, ever the peacemaker. "Donghae has a point, it's his rest time and we shouldn't be disturbing him."
Hyukjae turns and walks straight out of the room, and Donghae is left to contemplate the deep silence that follows them leaving the apartment, presumably to find somewhere more peaceful to have their meeting in. It's suddenly too quiet for his liking, and he regrets his impulsive anger again, wonders how they could have gone from being best friends and lovers to flaring up at each other at the slightest excuse.
He sends all three of them apologetic messages, even records himself singing 'Sorry Sorry' and sends the entire audio clip to Hyukjae's phone in hopes that it will make him laugh. He imagines Hyukjae playing it to the Sukira staff, talking on radio about how silly Lee Donghae is with that tone of warm affection in his voice that Donghae has learned, over the years, to identify and appreciate, because Hyukjae can be such an undemonstrative bastard sometimes – but the only reply Hyukjae gives him is "Ok". Okay, he thinks. I guess that's the way it's going to be.
One can't be sorry forever without the reception of forgiveness. There are no more quarrels, but no apologies either, because Donghae can't seem to bring himself to say "sorry" when he sees the way Hyukjae's face closes up when it turns towards him. He has done his part, he tells himself. He has humbled himself, even made a fool out of himself by singing a song, and the ball is in Hyukjae's court to keep things going. There's no reason why he needs to say sorry more than once; the fault isn't even entirely his.
"Donghae-yah," says Siwon one day, "don't you think that the two of you are being a bit ridiculous about this whole thing? I don't know what happened, but is it worth it being so cold to each other?"
"I have already apologised," Donghae says. "It's up to him whether he wants to accept it or not."
"That's not the way it works all the time," Siwon says. "If you really want it, you have to make that extra bit of effort to make things right. And besides," he adds, "it's not like it's just about you two. It's affecting all of us too."
"I'm sorry about that," Donghae says sincerely, "but I've tried my best. It's up to him now."
There isn't time to do anything more anyway, even if he wanted to. Their plane tickets to Beijing are booked; itineraries are planned out. They make numerous trips to the office for measurements and fittings; their hairstyles are decided, choreography refined. Nobody sleeps the day that the music video is filmed; they stay up for 35 hours straight, downing a toxic mixture of Red Bull and coffee to keep them awake and running through the 25th take, the endless powdering of their faces, the elusive camera angles that they can't seem to perfect. The only glimpses Donghae has of Hyukjae's life now are through Ryeowook and Kyuhyun's occasional chatter about what happens in the 11th floor dorm; he seems to be very popular with the variety show crowd, invited to half a dozen social events and attending any amount of birthday and anniversary parties. "To think that he used to be the country bumpkin with smelly feet," Ryeowook says jokingly.
And badly dyed hair, Donghae adds mentally. Awkward limbs, knobbly knees, crinkly eyes, and a laugh that made you feel that life was worthwhile. God, how I loved him. How he meant the universe to me. How the stars seemed to shine out of his very eyes. I don't know if I recognise him anymore. Isn't that terrible? When someone you love so much changes to the point that you miss him even when he's standing right in front of you.
Please patch things up, Sungmin texts him a week before they're due to leave for Beijing. Don't go away angry. That's the worst thing to do.
Some things aren't patch-uppable, he writes back.
Is that so? Sungmin replies. Then where do you suppose this will end up?
It's a blow right in the gut. He has never considered the option of breaking up with Hyukjae; has never even thought about it, if you come to that. Hyukjae was his best friend throughout his formative years, his lover during the early adult years, and he has assumed, up to now, that even a quarrel as big as this one has no power to truly affect their bond. Since their first tentative kiss, their first combined tears, their first 'I love you', he has believed, with a conviction beyond any persuasions otherwise, that they're meant for each other; that Hyukjae is the one great love of his life. Letting go of Hyukjae would mean letting go of everything he has ever understood about love.
It'll be alright, he tells Sungmin.
You can't ignore your problems away, Sungmin says. You can step over them, walk in the opposite direction, close your eyes, but you know what, they're still gonna be there.
Three days before he's due to fly to Beijing, Hyukjae texts asking him to come down to one of their favourite cafes in Apgujeong if he's able to. The evening is chilly, so Donghae throws on a light cardigan before stepping into his car and heading out into the congested roads of Seoul. It's nearing autumn on a Friday night; groups of friends and couples are out in full force, thronging the streets. For the rest of his life he will remember the exact number of red lights along the way, the number plate of the Hyundai car that remained in front of him for most of the journey, the sequence of the songs that played on the radio, the heat of his latte that stuck to the roof of his mouth when Hyukjae, slowly and hesitantly, which means that it wasn't at all easy for him, but what needs to be said has to be said, tells him that he thinks it's for the best if they take a break.
Why? he asks, and it's the only word he says for a while, as Hyukjae stumbles over his explanations of how things have gotten so difficult that he can't concentrate on his work, the members are starting to get tired of their everlasting animosity, and it'll reach the higher-ups soon if they don't do something about it. After all, their relationship has never simply been about them; it's linked to the group, and they can't be selfish enough to think only about themselves when the dynamic needs them to work peaceably together.
They sit in silence for a moment after Hyukjae's last words stammer away, and Donghae watches the rain starting to hit the window; would count the raindrops if he could as they run confusedly into each other and fall down the window in thin watery trails, but his mind doesn't register that it's raining. Doesn't realise anything, in fact, than what's immediately before him, the overpowering knowledge that Hyukjae wants a separation.
"You don't think we can work it out?" he asks, shaping his numb lips around the syllables like they're rocks in his mouth.
"That's not that I mean," Hyukjae says. "That's not it."
"You don't want me anymore?" Donghae asks, too numb to feel hurt, and Hyukjae shakes his head, says no, that's not what he means, he needs a short break from everything to step back and look at their problems from a less emotional point of view, but then Donghae isn't listening anymore because all he hears is that Hyukjae wants to separate from him.
He wants desperately to go out and get drunk, use alcohol to lessen the cold fear lying in his stomach the way he sees leading males do in dramas, but SJ-M is poised at the entrance of a comeback and the managers will chew him out if he turns up for practice even remotely less than sober. He tries to dance it out, to keep moving so that he won't have time to sit around and dwell, but the very act of dancing itself makes him sick because it reminds him too much of Hyukjae. He ends up crying in bed instead, night after night while Jungsu's pulling all-nighters filming for his numerous variety shows. There doesn't seem to be an end to the tears, or any possible way of checking them; they come out of their own volition, entirely against his will, and soak his pillow with their bitterness and fear. He isn't sure what his position is in Hyukjae's life anymore nor even where he stands in their argument; doubt has crept into his indignation and polluted his confidence in himself.
"God, you two," Junghoon says, staring in horror every morning at Donghae's swollen eyes. "It's a good thing the two of you don't have any schedules together right now; the fans will start freaking out over you in a minute."
"How is he?" Donghae asks. He can't quite remember when was the last time that he saw Hyukjae for longer than five minutes; it's too easy, really, to stay apart if that's what you want to do. In such a big group of members and managers, such dizzying daily schedules and to-do tasks, it's so simple to draw apart.
"I don't know," Junghoon says. "He's gone back home for a while, so I haven't seen him. Seunghwan hyung says he's doing okay, though. He can't be any less, he's got so much work to do."
"Yes," says Donghae, with a sort of weariness that he can't reason away. "Eunhyuk, the variety star."
Junghoon looks thoughtfully at him for a moment. "Don't you think you're being a bit kiddy over this?" he says. "You can't expect him to remain exactly the same as when you got to know him, you know. It's been seven, eight years – that's a long time."
Donghae doesn't say anything. He does, however, write a very long and confused text message to Hyukjae on the morning of his evening flight to Beijing, asking if they can meet and talk things over, and he thinks: this is what he has reduced me to, typing and deleting and re-typing the same words over and over, looking at my phone every five seconds to see if he has replied.
Hyukjae shows up at the dorm an hour later, his face impossibly exhausted from an evidently overnight shoot, beanie firmly pulled low over his forehead, eyes red-rimmed. Come on, he says, let's go sit somewhere quiet.
Their 'somewhere quiet' is the second level of a little café that serves wonderful homemade pastries. Hyukjae orders chicken pies for the both of them, and devours his ravenously while Donghae makes a valiant attempt at eating half of his. The lilting café music is muted, the sky is fresh and blue outside. Hyukjae's fork clangs steadily against the plate.
"Have you got everything packed for your flight?" he manages to ask between forkfuls of pie.
"Yeah," Donghae says. "It's just the same old stuff."
Hyukjae nods solemnly, jabs his fork into the last remaining piece of pie.
"Hyuk," Donghae says, "I don't want things to be difficult anymore."
"I…" Hyukjae begins, his eyebrows furrowing a bit, and Donghae hurries to elaborate, "I mean, I don't want to keep making things hard for you. I know that you've been so busy and I'm going to be busy, too, and our fight has been worrying the members…"
Hyukjae takes a deep breath. "If I made you feel that I don't accept your friends…that's not what I meant. You have a right to be friends with whoever you want and…I know I was unreasonable about that."
Donghae has to fight very, very hard against an overwhelming impulse then to reach over and pull him in for a bone-crushing hug, to kiss every ounce of love and desire he feels into Hyukjae's very pores, but from some strength within him that he didn't know he possessed, he manages to remain still. "Okay," he says.
They're silent for a moment, listening to the strains of Nell on the stereo, and then Donghae makes an effort and says what he came to say, "I respect that you need a break. We need to focus on work right now, and we can't do that if we're always fighting about something."
A small, fundamentally selfish part of him is thinking, say no, you were mistaken, nothing is more important than our relationship, but he accepts it when Hyukjae nods.
"It's not that I don't want…this…anymore," Hyukjae says, "it's not that I don't think it's going to work, but I really think that at this point in time, we can't afford to worry everyone…"
"No," says Donghae. "It's okay. I get it."
They sit for a little longer, chat a bit about their upcoming schedules. It's late morning when they leave the café and drive the few streets back to the dorm. Hyukjae says, it's going to be frantic over the next few weeks, they've crammed practically every minute of my days with something, something, something. I don't know how I'm going to survive it in one piece.
If it gets too much, you should drop a couple of shows, Donghae says. No amount of fame is worth burning yourself out.
Hyukjae smiles a little wryly. You're right. If only the company thought like you.
Just before they hit the 11th floor, Hyukjae turns to him and touches his lips, very briefly and tenderly, to Donghae's temple. "Take care of yourself over there," he says.
"You too," says Donghae, and watches him until the lift doors close.