nc-17; 3,600 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 | part eight; a break up | part nine; a falling
They read about Hankyung's resignation from the group in the newspapers two days after it happens. It's like a cut to the throat. Or maybe a knife in the back, says Kyuhyun in those first bitter, disbelieving hours.
Jungsu and Shindong take turns trying to contact Hankyung on the phone. Heechul is the only one who gets through. They tele-talk for an hour in the privacy of Heechul's room while everyone tries to guess what's happening: it's a misunderstanding, the newspapers are exaggerating the details, all Hankyung needs is a sabbatical and he'll be back, there isn't going to be any lawsuit business. Dongbang is already providing more than their fair share of tabloid fodder – Suju doesn't need to jump onto this particular bandwagon. They believe, naively, more because they don't want to face the truth than anything else, that it's a misunderstanding. Then Heechul comes out of his room after that hour, his face set and strained, and tells them that the newspapers are right. Hankyung has resigned from the group and isn't coming back.
The remaining SJ-M members fly to Beijing to fulfil one last obligation before the company halts all SJ-M activities. It's a solemn, cheerless affair, and they return to Seoul after a couple of days on a bumpy, late-night flight that has Ryeowook puking in the airport toilet after it lands. Donghae tries to avoid looking at Henry and Zhou Mi – the apprehension and disappointment on their faces are almost too much to bear. If SJ-M is put on an indefinite hiatus, what will happen to them without a proper group to fall back on? That, he thinks, should really have been something that Hankyung should have considered before pulling his little party trick.
Not that being an official Suju member is any real comfort now. The newspapers are having a field day, the netizens are having a ball of a time finding new ways of hating them, and worst of all – the atmosphere in the dorms is tense, verging on the tip of an explosion. Heechul has moved out of the dorm temporarily because, as he puts it bluntly, "this group is driving me insane". Jungsu and Shindong seem to be engaging in a silent war, and Hyukjae explains that it's because Jungsu had seemed to think that the best move was to remain cheerful and pretend that everything was going to be fine. He'd kept up the pretence until Shindong told him that his laughter was getting on everyone's nerves. Avoidance never helped anyone, Shindong said, and Jungsu had retorted that sitting around with long faces doesn't help anything either, or haven't you noticed that nothing about this situation is going to change and so we might as well deal with it as best we can instead of sulking?
It ended with Jungsu and Jongwoon giving Shindong the cold shoulder, Shindong disappearing frequently from the dorm once his work appointments are over, and Heechul practically non-existent. Donghae wants to interfere, but Hyukjae says that it's best not to get involved when the hyungs are all so angry.
"But we can't let things go on like this," Donghae argues. "We're going to disband."
"We're not," Hyukjae says irritably. "It's not that bad."
Donghae stares at him. "Youngwoon hyung is in exile and Hankyung hyung wants to sue the company, and you say that it's not that bad? Hyukjae, two of us have left within less than two months, it means that there has to be something wrong!"
"I know, okay?" Hyukjae says. "You don't have to point it out to me, god. It's not like I don't know what's happening."
"Don't argue," says Sungmin pacifyingly. "It's enough that the hyungs are all fighting. We don't have to add to the chaos. The important thing now is to pull together and get through this as a group."
Donghae keeps quiet after that, and outwardly they maintain some semblance of peace. There's still work to do, after all, whether or not the sky has crumbled on them. There's money that they have to make; contracts that they have to fulfil. There are concert dates in Taipei, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Manila – they can't afford to collapse if they don't want event organisers filing lawsuits too. Jungsu and Shindong patch up out of pure necessity; Heechul forces himself to come out to perform as requested. Their concert in Taipei is emotional, as expected, and when they return to Seoul, Heechul goes straight back to his apartment and ignores all their calls.
"Feels like he might leave the group, too," says Kyuhyun, and even though they hate hearing that, nobody can find enough confidence to contradict him. Heechul's always been a maverick, unpredictable and fiery, and nobody puts it past him to march into the company's office one morning and demand to be released from the group.
Hyukjae's so busy with the concerts and his regular variety and radio schedules that what little spare time he has goes into his family and out-of-work friends. He doesn't say it explicitly, but Donghae knows that he needs some time away from the group, too, to remind himself that work isn't the be-all and end-all; that there are different concerns and enjoyments out there; that the world doesn't revolve around Hankyung's betrayal and Heechul's bad mood. Donghae doesn't begrudge Hyukjae's escapism methods, but it's lonely without him.
"So find yourself other people to hang out with," says Jongwoon when Donghae confides his loneliness to him. "The problem with you is that you stay in the dorm too much. Go out more, meet new people."
"It feels as though…he thinks of me as part of the whole trouble. Like he doesn't want to spend time with me, because I'm linked to all this…mess. He needs to get away from everything, me included."
"He probably does," Jongwoon says. "Who wouldn't want to get away from this shit?"
The company decides to go ahead with the 4th album regardless of Suju's shakiness. No better time than now to prove how cohesive you are, declares the management, and so they push through with the whole routine: learning new songs, recording, promotional photoshoots. The pressure mounts. Donghae feels everyone drawing together again out of shared stress; even Heechul gets dragged out of his depression by the combined efforts of Jungsu, Donghae, Ryeowook, and Hyukjae. It's not the most ideal situation – coming back under such circumstances with a song that everyone will be expecting to top Sorry Sorry – and there are times when Donghae truly, sincerely, wants to dig fingers into his throat and vomit out everything he eats because food churns uncomfortably in his stomach.
'Miinah' is the song that the company settles on as The Next Big Thing. It doesn't sound very big at all. Jungsu argues with the music producers that they need a more cohesive song, and both he and Hyukjae present their case to the music director, but they're told that the music department knows what it's doing.
Jungsu is frustrated for a day. Then he picks himself up and decides to take the leader-like attitude route. "Maybe they're right," he says. "The song could be big. We'll do our best anyway. I believe that we can make any song sound decent."
"We'll show so much skin that they forget about the song," Hyukjae says, laughing hollowly. Despite his increasingly impressive physical physique through long, painful hours at the gym, he doesn't look like he's in good shape. The shadows under his eyes are deeply etched and his skin is pale. Donghae wants to tell him that he's working too hard and needs to take some time off, but he knows that it won't be of any use. They're all pushing themselves hard to make this comeback a worthy one; there's no point in telling anyone to take a break.
Nick Bass sends his assistant down to show them the choreography for 'Miinah'. It is more intense than anything they've done before, more exhausting even than Don't Don, and Hyukjae spends hours worrying whether the recurring 'skating' move will be admired or reviled by the public – even more hours worrying whether the group will be able to perform such a complicated choreography. In the end, he decides to modify it so that members like Jongwoon and Ryeowook will be able to keep up, and Donghae elects to spend night after night working with him on the moves, trying to find the balance between simplicity and impressiveness.
"I think I'm going to go mad if I have to go through the choreography for the chorus one more time," Hyukjae says at last after they've spent five straight hours going through the dance moves in an independent dance studio that their manager's friend owns. He collapses onto a heap on the floor, legs and arms outstretched, eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. Donghae sits down beside him and looks at the clock indicating two a.m.
"We should stop for tonight, before you really go mad."
"Yeah," says Hyukjae, and gnaws his bottom lip in frustration. "You know, sometimes I feel like all this is so meaningless. Why am I busting my lungs for a choreography?"
"Because you love it," Donghae says, and doesn't blink when Hyukjae gives him an unimpressed look. "And besides – it's not like it's really meaningless. Think of our fans. They're all looking forward to our comeback. It means so much to them because of…everything that has happened. They wanna see us strong and together."
Hyukjae sighs. "Can we do that? Be strong and together?"
"We're already doing it, don't you see?"
"You have a point," says Hyukjae, and smiles for the first time that night.
"I'll get us coffee," Donghae offers.
"Sure," says Hyukjae. "You can get me a coffee. I know what you really want is a beer."
It takes about ten minutes to run down to the nearest 7-11 for coffee and beer. The college kid sitting behind the counter looks too sleepy to notice that it's an idol making the purchase. Donghae returns, stash in hand, to find Hyukjae still lying in the same position. He's reminded, suddenly, of their pre-debut days – those long hours in the dance studio with Yunho and Junsu and Sungmin, jump, squeak, pop, slide; the football games and the overnights in the cybercafés. "Remember when we used to think that being idols was gonna be easy?" he says.
Hyukjae laughs. "Are you sure we were ever those kids?"
They drink companionably. The silence around them is so deep that it feels as though they're the only ones left awake in a sleeping world. He draws his knees up to his chest. "Would you want to go back to those days, if you could?"
Hyukjae makes a small considering sound at the back of his throat. "Maybe. It would be fun. Or maybe we should meet ourselves. You know – if our old selves opened the door and came in right now, you and me and the others, with our CDs and those vending machine drinks…"
Donghae shivers a little. "No!" he says. "That wouldn't be funny at all…"
Hyukjae laughs again, and it sounds so much purer and happier than how his laughter has sounded ever since Hankyung left. It crinkles his eyes, and Donghae reaches out impulsively, because he simply can't spend another minute of these long, intimate hours being so close to him without touching him.
He puts his hand on Hyukjae's knee and squeezes it, and suddenly the desire to be back together again, to have the license to touch Hyukjae whenever he wants, to have and to hold, is so strong that his heart feels swollen with it. He thinks of the rings that he'd bought in that Guangzhou street market and of the afternoon when they'd slid onto them onto each other's fingers and watched them shine in the warm sunlight. What has happened to Hyukjae's ring? Is it still nested inside his wallet?
"Donghae," says Hyukjae, "what are you doing?"
Donghae blinks and realises that he's holding Hyukjae's hand tightly with their fingers interlaced. He has no idea how he ended up doing that, and he should draw back with a stammer of an apology, but there isn't any sign of disapproval on Hyukjae's face, only bewilderment. He might as well make a bad job out of it. "What has happened to your ring?"
"My ring," Hyukjae repeats blankly, then widens his eyes in illumination. "It's still inside my wallet."
Donghae breathes out, perhaps in relief. "Good. I thought you might have thrown it away."
"What do you take me for?" Hyukjae demands indignantly. "Why would I throw it away? You bought it for me, and carried it all the way back from China – I may be an asshole, but I'm not that bad!"
Donghae laughs. "Yeah, yeah, but you can be that bad, in fact…" and then, entirely independently and without any conscious thought, he leans forward and kisses Hyukjae's maddening mouth.
Hyukjae goes completely still, his breath stuttering to a shocked stop. Donghae would pull back, but the taste and feel of Hyukjae's mouth is too familiar, and he can't make himself withdraw – can't, in fact, face pulling away and apologising for his slip. Can't face the awkwardness that is bound to follow or the way that Hyukjae is certain to avoid him after this. So he continues kissing Hyukjae instead, hoping against hope that somehow – that maybe - that what if - because the longer he kisses the harder it is to stop. He takes a quick breath without moving away, sucks lightly on Hyukjae's bottom lip, and suddenly Hyukjae comes back to life, opens his mouth with a deep sigh and allows Donghae to work his tongue in. They kiss and kiss and kiss, and then Hyukjae's hands are in Donghae's hair, Donghae's legs on either side of Hyukjae's hips, and they're kissing like drowning men, like they haven't done this in a thousand thirsty years, and Donghae thinks, simply and in bold, I need him I need him I need him I need him.
Then Hyukjae positions his hands firmly on Donghae's temples and pushes him gently away, holding him at half an arm's length to look into his eyes. "Donghae," he breathes, "this…we…can't. We have to stop this."
"No," says Donghae, and something seems to break inside him, because tears are coming to his eyes now, "no, no, Hyukjae, you can't – you can't kiss me like that and then tell me that we have to stop."
"I'm messed up. I don't deserve…"
"I need you," Donghae says, "I need to be close to you now, you don't understand how much."
Hyukjae bites his lip and Donghae reaches to run his thumb over his cheek. "Please, Hyuk. Even if it's just for tonight – don't shut me out. We can go back to being friends, or whatever it is that we are, tomorrow – but for tonight, please, don't push me away."
He sees the reluctant capitulation in Hyukjae's eyes even before he's freed from Hyukjae's grip and they're kissing wildly again, cocks rapidly hardening in their pants, hands moving underneath shirts. Reluctance, his still-conscious mind processes; why? But he doesn't want to think about that now; he only wants to focus on the present, the now, with Hyukjae pliant beneath him and months of need and desire stacked up between them. He can't remember ever thirsting so much for Hyukjae's touch, not even back in their teenaged days when they'd been brimming full of half-ashamed hormonal desires. When he manages to get Hyukjae's shirt and pants off, when Hyukjae presses a kiss to his jaw with his erection rock hard against Donghae's thigh, it feels that there is no way that they can be close enough to satiate his yearning. He wants to be swallowed right into Hyukjae's core. The intensity of his want and self-abandon almost frightens him.
"Donghae," Hyukjae whispers, and his hands shake as he pulls off their underwear. Donghae looks up to see the same desire reflected on his face, the barely concealed lust and pure want in his eyes, and he knows that they would eat each other in that moment if they could; "I have – I have lube in my backpack."
Somehow, they untangle themselves long enough to get to the lube. Then Hyukjae's fingers are pushing into him, gentle and stretching, and he catches his breath; it's been too long since they've done this – he hasn't forgotten the sensation, not at all, but he had somehow lost the memory of that sharp edge of pleasure. He feels it now, hands clenched around Hyukjae's arm as he works him with those fingers, and then he's balancing himself on his knees astride Hyukjae's hips as Hyukjae lowers him down slowly onto his cock, and yes, he remembers this, he dreams about it on lonely nights, the blunt pressure of Hyukjae entering him, the wild joy and abandon of their bodies merging together. They take a moment to adjust, but everything feels right and familiar and just how it should be, and Donghae looks into Hyukjae's eyes as they begin to make love, slow at first, upping the speed one notch at a time, until Hyukjae finally takes a deep breath and groans, "Donghae", and they throw caution to the wind.
Donghae will remember, in excruciating detail, their frenzy and rhythm and breathless kisses, the way Hyukjae's hands grip onto his thighs, the way Hyukjae moves his hips and thrusts up into him, the way they cling to each other. The way they come so quickly that it's almost embarrassing, if not for the fact that they came within seconds of each other, and how the desire is still so strong that they recover within a shorter time than Donghae could've imagined of two very tired people.
An irrational fear comes upon him when they do it again, this time with him keeping balance on his elbows while Hyukjae fucks him from behind. He can't put a name or even a single specific reason for that fear, but it feels like everything is going too fast for him to get a grasp on it before it ends. So he pleads for Hyukjae to stop, just for a few seconds, just to lie still against each other and feel the most minute sensation of their bodies together like this, as if it could mean that their hearts are together too and all this could mean something deeper than he dares to hope for. Hyukjae stills obediently, but Donghae feels his thighs trembling from the effort, and he tries to take in everything of this one moment; to etch it so deeply in his mind that he'll never forget it.
"Donghae," Hyukjae says, and his voice sounds like a sob, "I can't hold out any longer…"
"Kiss me," Donghae says, tilting himself over and letting Hyukjae move his leg over his hip to get a steady grounding. They kiss again, open-mouthed, and Hyukjae begins moving slow and deep in him, so good that it almost hurts. It doesn't last long; it's impossible to have much staying power when they're this needy, and when he comes the second time his vision blacks out from the sheer intensity of it. Hyukjae pumps into him a few times before he pulls out and comes against his leg, his breaths unwieldy and his eyes closed, and Donghae turns around to hold him close, to press kisses on his forehead as he slowly comes down from his high.
Hyukjae doesn't say anything for a long time afterwards. He simply stays, quiet and unmoving, in Donghae's arms, submitting to being kissed and fondled, and already it feels like he's moving away even though they're still as close as they can possibly be without fucking again. Donghae doesn't want to ask why. Hyukjae has already given him more than he could have asked for tonight; he wants it to remain as perfect as it seems. Doesn't want to acknowledge the undefined doubt buzzing at the back of his mind; doesn't want to question Hyukjae's silence or reticence now that their mindless abandon is over. It's enough to lie here holding him. It's enough to feel the ache in his bones and the sensation of Hyukjae still inside him.
Yet everything has to come to an end. Nearing four a.m., they eventually clean up, get dressed, and keep the studio door wide open when they leave to air out the smell of sex. Hyukjae drives them back to the dorms, and during the short, quiet drive home, Donghae wonders how one single hour could have held so much passion and intimacy. Is it possible that anything in the world can remain safe and ordinary after this?
No, his sleep-deprived mind tells him in that witching hour. Everything will be different; nothing can be ordinary again.
They part in the elevator, Hyukjae squeezing his hand quickly to mean a good-night-and-sleep-well, and Donghae wishes he could follow him back to his little one-person room, climb under his covers and nestle up against him like they used to do. But that's asking for too much. He makes his way back to his own room instead, gets through the shower anyhow, and falls asleep moments after his head hits the pillow, pushing the buzzing half-formed thoughts away.
It's approximately nine-forty-five the next morning when the buzzing doubt solidifies into a specific question, cold-chilled and tainted with a soul-numbing shock.
Why had there been lube in Hyukjae's backpack?
previous: part eight (ii); a break-up | next: part nine (ii); a falling