pg; 3,857 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 | part ten; a support
It's weird being on music shows with just the two of them, but it's a good kind of weird. They don't have to arrive so early for hair and make-up, don't have to squeeze with approximately twenty people into a space so small that half of them have to sit on the floor, and don't have to practice Zen methods in order to block out the surrounding noise and clamour. Donghae would feel nervous, but he has Hyukjae beside him, coolly confident and clearly not in the least flustered at the thought of performing without the backing of eight other members.
"The only thing that makes me nervous is that you might forget your dance moves and start cracking up right in the middle of the song," Hyukjae says wryly.
"That's not fair!" Donghae protests. "I've mastered them just the same as you!"
Hyukjae just laughs at him.
Shindong drops in during Music Bank to film them for their self-directed music video. They hadn't intended to have one at first, but after SM released a so-called 'music video' that dismayed all of them with its glaring lack of effort, Shindong declared that he was going to show SM that he could release a far better music video with a handheld camera and basic video editing techniques. "Besides, it's your first single," he said. "I think it deserves more effort than just lousy concert footage."
"Show 'em, PD Dong!" Hyukjae cheered.
They didn't have time to sketch out any sort of storyline at all, so they settle for generally goofing around and doing the most random things that they can think of. It's been a while since Donghae has laughed so much and when they finally go out on stage to perform, he's still smiling, lights hot and bright on his hair, the fans screaming their support, and he turns his head to see Hyukjae grinning back at him. Let's get this show on the road, Hyukjae mouths, and Donghae nods, thinks, I wouldn't do this with anyone else but you.
It feels better than U, better than Don't Don, better even than Sorry Sorry – in fact, when it's all over and the fans are still waving and screaming and they're bowing in thanks, Donghae thinks that this could possibly be better than Twins, because back then he'd been young and terrified, and now he's just enjoying himself. This is a song that he has worked hard on, has had creative input, has just performed beside his closest friend and colleague, and as he stands there soaking in the joy of the moment it feels like a brand new debut, the real debut of his entertainment career.
"You guys were awesome," Chance shouts when they return backstage. "Let's go out and get drunk."
Hyukjae doesn't drink and Donghae can manage only a bottle of beer before he flushes red all over, but they go out gamely with the One Way guys and a few of their dancers. They book out an entire room for BBQ and over the frying of pork and beef Donghae steadily gets more and more drunk, downing soju bomb after soju bomb with Peter and playing ridiculous drinking games with the rest until the world starts to spin in bright colours. Hyukjae's seated a few spaces down between two of their female dancers who have also decided to abstain from drinking, and Donghae can't seem to take his eyes off him; basks in Hyukjae's smiles and gestures, in the way he deftly cooks the meat on the BBQ plate and politely serves the food to the girls before eating his own share, in the way the ceiling light shines into his eyes and the way he makes everyone laugh with a few quick words put together. Then Chance starts singing and Soohyun, one of their dancers, gets up to pop-lock in time to Chance's beat and Donghae's laughing so hard he thinks his heart is going to explode and he rests his head on his arms and Hyukjae is laughing somewhere near him and it is one of the happiest nights in his life.
He runs into IU coming out of their dressing room the following day at MBC. She flushes and stops when she sees him and Donghae stops too, more out of politeness than anything else, since he has never actually spoken to her and he tends to be awkward around girls whom he isn't familiar with. "Um, were you looking for something?" he asks after they exchange the standard greetings.
"No," she says, flushing again. "I, uh, came to support Hyuna-ssi so I thought I'd come to congratulate you for 'Oppa Oppa' too. It's doing pretty well on the digital charts, isn't it?"
"Yes," says Donghae, smiling happily. "We're keeping our fingers crossed for a Japanese release."
"That'll be so great," she says.
"Yeah," Donghae says, looking at her with some curiosity. He doesn't go in for her type of looks; has never, in fact, really given a thought to his ideal female type, but she is really very attractive in a young, appealing, innocent way. It has to be something that straight men fall like ninepins for. He wonders how long it will be before she loses the freshness to gain the cynical, hard sort of beauty that the older female celebrities all seem to get after years of being rubbed raw by the industry. It's so hard on the girls, he thinks, and he's still sighing in his head when IU runs off to re-join her manager and he goes into the dressing room to find Hyukjae perched on the dressing table, talking confidentially and seriously to their manager Daebin.
"What're you doing?" he asks.
"Just talking," says Hyukjae.
Donghae looks from Hyukjae to Daebin's troubled face. "Something wrong with the performance later?"
"No, no," says Hyukjae. "God, you get agitated so easily."
He gets off the dressing table and makes for the door, then turns around for a moment. "By the way, I heard one of the A-Pink members has a huge crush on you."
"What?!" Donghae almost chokes.
"Naeun…was it? Or maybe Eunji?" Hyukjae screws his face up in thought, then shrugs it off. "Seems like you're pretty popular with that group, anyway."
"Me, no way," Donghae says. "You, more like."
"Idiot," says Hyukjae lightly, going off in search of the restroom.
The performance goes off well and by the time they're on the way back to the dorm, Donghae has already forgotten about the entire incident. Kyuhyun and Shindong are hard at some new computer game up on the 12th floor, so he joins them for two hours of de-stressing gaming until his stomach reminds him that he hasn't had dinner yet. "Where's Ryeowookie?" he asks.
"Staying over at a friend's place," Kyuhyun says, his eyes still on the computer screen.
Donghae pouts a little. "So there's nothing here that I can eat?"
Shindong looks up suddenly. "Don't touch my instant ramyeon, I'm warning you. Someone has been stealing my ramyeon and I keep replenishing it and they still get stolen and I'm…"
"It's not me, hyung!"
"No, I know that," Shindong says, returning to his computer. "You only steal Teukie hyung and Eunhyukkie's food."
Donghae's tummy rumbles a little. "I'll go see if Hyukjae wants to go out for supper."
"Even if he doesn't, you'll still drag him out with you," Shindong chortles. "Consideration for others' wants or not-wants isn't high on your list of priorities."
"Without me, his life wouldn't be half as exciting," Donghae announces rather grandly, and goes downstairs to seek Hyukjae out. But the 11th floor dorm is empty except for Sungmin sitting on the couch reading a manga, and Donghae blinks with some surprise into Hyukjae's dark room. Hyukjae does not, of course, report all his comings and goings to the rest of the group, but Donghae had assumed that he would stay in that night what with the Inkigayo rehearsal scheduled for early the next morning.
"If you're looking for Eunhyukkie," Sungmin says, his eyes still on his book, "he went out a couple of hours ago."
"Yeah, he went out to meet someone."
"I don't know," Sungmin says. "Maybe."
"Guess I'll call him," Donghae says, and suits action to word. Hyukjae picks up the phone just before it goes to voicemail.
"Hae? What's up?"
"Where are you? Are you eating? I'm hungry, there isn't any food in the dorm cause Ryeowookie's not in tonight. Can I come join you?"
"Uh," says Hyukjae. "I've finished dinner already. Why don't you drag someone else out?"
"Nobody wants to go with me!"
"I don't see how that has ever been a problem for you," Hyukjae laughs.
"Come on, don't be mean. You can watch me eat. Who're you with?"
"A friend," Hyukjae says, suddenly sounding a little awkward. "It's not really convenient right now. Go call Teukie hyung instead. I think he's out with a couple of the ex Sukira staff members; they won't mind you joining them."
"Fine," says Donghae. "You can forget about being my best buddy from now on."
"Noted," Hyukjae says. "But you can't say I didn't help you out."
Jungsu proves far more accommodating than that failure of a best buddy, so Donghae doesn't end up starving. He gets back late-ish that night after losing track of time with Jungsu and a couple of media friends, so he doesn't contact Hyukjae again until they huddle together in the van the next morning, cold with sleep-lidded eyes and still-damp hair. The sky is grey with remnants of night; the streets begin to show signs of early rush hour traffic. Hyukjae yawns widely. "Don't sit too close to me, I'm probably gonna drool."
He falls asleep in approximately five seconds and Donghae tries to follow his example, but for some reason his mind refuses to cooperate. He plugs music into his ears instead, watches the buildings go by.
It just so happens that Hyukjae holds his phone in his hand at an angle where Donghae can see its screen quite clearly. And it just so happens that when it clangs and lights up with a notification, Donghae glances over to see this:
Wake up, wake up, oppa! Don't be late! Think of me today too, okay? I miss you already.
He stares at it until the screen goes dark again.
The first thing he does is to find a justification. "Ji-eunnie" is probably a stalker fan who has gotten hold of Hyukjae's phone number. That happens very frequently; Jungsu even has a stalker fan who used to text him so often that he was intimate with every detail of her family life. He has gotten a number of calls from stalker fans himself. It's nothing unusual.
The only thing is, they usually share quite openly about each other's stalker fans, and Donghae has sat through several of Hyukjae's rants over fans who call him at the most inconvenient times and send him the most explicit texts. ("They know more about sex than I do! I mean, what the hell are anal beads?") It is nothing new, yet this text has a familiar feel about it, something slightly different from the usual stalker fan's text, and Donghae can't remember Hyukjae ever mentioning a Ji-eun before.
A friend, then. Hyukjae has any amount of friends – though, admittedly, not usually female, but then again, Donghae can't claim to know each and every single one of his friends. Ji-eun could be an ex-classmate, a 'flavour of the month' trainee, a pal of his and Junsu's, an ex-Sukira staff member – she could be from anywhere. In their line of work, they meet so many faces and names that they're hard pressed to remember even half of the people whom they talk to, laugh with, go out for beers with. Perhaps Hyukjae has mentioned her before; Donghae just doesn't remember it.
In any case, he tells himself, there has to be a simple explanation for it. Hyukjae is gay, after all. He pretends interest in women only for the cameras; he doesn't actually spend much time thinking about them off-camera. Remember all the years he spent with you. Remember that guy from China. Think of the other guys that he might have…
Donghae flinches. Stops thinking. They have a performance to give; shows to record; a lot of work, basically, to do. He will not, will not, trouble himself by over-thinking unnecessary things.
Except, in the last days of December, they participate in the usual music show festivals and the revelation hits Donghae with all the force of a speeding car. He's just minding his own business, really, fixing his costume, chatting to the stylists, when IU and a few of the SNSD girls come into their dressing room to say hello. There's nothing unusual about Hyukjae's banter with Sooyoung and Yuri; they joke a bit, talk nonsense, and then Hyukjae turns to IU and says, "Good luck for your performance later", and it hits Donghae, just like that, because he knows every nuance of Hyukjae's voice and he hears now the note of intimacy, sees the warmth in Hyukjae's smile, a warmth that he has often considered exclusive only to himself (so presumptuous, so silly, really).
He's speechless even after they've left and Hyukjae has gone back to playing games on his handphone. He's made some kind of mistake, he rationalises; he's overly paranoid, over-thinking again – and yet a part of him knows, with a blunt sort of finality, that he has not mistaken anything. IU is, of course, Ji-eun, and has for some strange reason managed to attract Hyukjae despite himself – or is it despite himself?
And then, suddenly, he's scared. It's been such a long time that he has almost forgotten, but he remembers now that Hyukjae had, in fact, started out in life liking girls. And since that's the case, it isn't IU who has turned him against himself, but Donghae himself who had somehow tricked him onto the path that had cost him so much heartbreak. The thought makes him sick to his stomach.
Years of discipline means that he manages to perform without a hitch that night, trying not to show that he notices when Hyukjae passes IU on stage and gives her that fond smile again. SHINee come exuberantly into Super Junior's dressing room at the end, wanting to congratulate them on yet another job well done and take photos for their twitter accounts, but Donghae can't muster up enough enthusiasm for them. The bulk of photos are taken with Jungsu, Hyukjae and Siwon, and Minho comes up to Donghae at the end of the marathon photo-taking session to ask, very worriedly, if there's anything wrong. "You seem kind of off," he says.
"No, no," says Donghae, embarrassed. "I'm just tired."
Minho pats his shoulder sympathetically. "Get some good rest tonight, hyung! You've been working too hard."
Yes, Donghae thinks, yes, I have, that's why I'm so stupid, doing the whole over-thinking thing again.
He's glum and silent all the way back to the dorms. It doesn't seem like anyone else notices, and for once he doesn't feel like making a fuss about it. He lets the 11th floor people leave the elevator without playing with the buttons, and goes quietly into his bedroom without saying good night to the others. When he lies down on his bed, he can just about see the formless night sky through the window.
"You look like you're going to cry," says Jungsu. "What's wrong?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"That's new," says Jungsu, eyeing him dubiously. "You were okay this morning. What happened?"
Donghae shakes his head. Then, "Why am I always making horrible mistakes?"
"We all make horrible mistakes," says Jungsu.
"Not as bad as mine," says Donghae, and closes his eyes.
He wakes up with a jump. The room is still and grey, his cheeks cold and his lips strangely heavy, and he blinks confusedly before he realises that Hyukjae is hovering above him with his finger on his lips. "Wha…" he begins.
"Shh!" Hyukjae whispers. "Get up. I want to talk to you."
"Na…na…nah-ow?" Donghae tries to clear his head. "Wuh time is it?"
"Almost six. Come on. I'll wait for you outside."
He manages somehow to struggle into a bomber jacket and thick track pants, his mind still lost somewhere in the fog. Hyukjae's waiting impatiently in the sitting room, holding two Styrofoam cups of hot coffee from their new coffee making machine. Donghae vaguely wonders what's so important that they need coffee for; they seem to always have coffee whenever Hyukjae needs to talk.
"Where're we going?" he asks, finally managing to piece a sentence together without slurring.
"To my car," Hyukjae says.
The elevator ride is silent. Donghae sips at his coffee – latte with plenty of sugar syrup; Hyukjae never forgets – and tries not to think about how much he doesn't want to be here right now. He doesn't want to see Hyukjae again until – until possibly the next century, when he has finally gotten over how much of an idiot he has been. But the thoughts swoop in and invade, regardless of how much he tries to fend them away, and as he follows Hyukjae to his car he keeps thinking – about that girl whom Hyukjae had dated so happily once (what was her name? what did she look like? No, he remembers quite well how she looks like; short-haired and sporty, with green fingernails), about the confusion and bewilderment he had put Hyukjae through, about their kiss on the rooftop and the despairing way that Hyukjae had cried in that bitter wind (how young he'd been then; how vulnerable); about the friends who had turned against him and the shock on Hyukjae's family's faces. And all that, every instance of those bad memories, could have been avoided if Donghae had not pushed Hyukjae into them; had had more control over his own feelings.
They're on the road now, driving at a casual speed along the Han River. It's a bright, gleaming cold new year's eve morning, and most of Seoul still lies asleep. It doesn't seem as though they're in any hurry; it doesn't, in fact, seem as though they're going anywhere in particular.
"You went all quiet and weird yesterday," Hyukjae says suddenly.
"Mm. It was nothing."
Hyukjae glances at him. "I want to tell you something," he says after a pause. "I'm seeing someone. Ji-eun…IU."
They reach a red light. Hyukjae pulls up the handbrake and lets the engine idle while he obviously tries to find the right words to say. "You realised yesterday, didn't you? I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. But I just didn't know how."
"You don't have to tell me anything."
"No, I do," Hyukjae says. "Because you'll start thinking all sorts of weird things if I don't, and you'll probably blame yourself…and you'll end up avoiding me. I guess that's why I took so long to tell you. I was scared of doing it wrong. Am I doing it wrong, now?"
Donghae frowns at his coffee. "Hyuk, it's okay. I'm not mad or anything. You're doing the right thing."
"If you like her…I mean, you do like her…I saw the way you look at her. It's for the best. You can be true to yourself now."
Hyukjae's silent for a moment. "It's not what you think."
"What am I thinking?"
"Probably that our time together wasn't…as real as it should have been. That I'm actually not gay. That you forced me into being one. Am I right?" He doesn't wait for an answer. "The thing is, I don't even know why I'm like this…and it does make me worry…but it has nothing to do with you. I did fall in love with you as much as any person can, every bit as real as a man and a woman…and it was from within me. Not from your influence. I thought at that time that I was gay, and I guess that led to me doing other things…but then I started talking to Ji-eun, and it all started again, and I don't know where I stand now. But whatever it is, I don't want you to blame yourself or to think that you led me into anything, because whatever I did, I did it knowingly and because I wanted to. I was true to myself every step of the way."
Donghae's crying, even though he doesn't realise it. He tastes the saltiness of the tears on his lips, senses that his nose is stuffing up, but all he can feel is an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude that someone had noticed and cared after all, and that someone was Hyukjae.
"Do you understand?" Hyukjae asks anxiously. "I don't regret anything about what we went through. Donghae, I don't think I'll ever love anyone else the same way I loved you, or be as happy as we were, when we were happy – you will always be the love of my life. Whatever happened between us, or whatever will happen to us with other people…nothing will change that."
"No," says Donghae, smiling through his tears. "Nothing will change that."
They've reached a red light again, and Hyukjae takes one hand off the wheel to grip Donghae's tightly. "What a mess you are," he says, with a little laugh. "You can be such an idiot, you know."
"I know you like her," says Donghae. "That's what matters. I'm happy, really."
Hyukjae squeezes his hand. "I know you are," he says. "You're probably the only one who genuinely is."
"That's why I'm the love of your life," says Donghae.
They're gathered on the MBC stage waiting for the countdown. There are so many celebrities and idols that Donghae has lost pretty much all of Super Junior except Siwon, who's big and easy to spot in a crowd because he's half a head above mostly everyone else. It's a pity, since it would be nice to do the countdown with them, but – it doesn't matter, he tells himself. It's just a countdown. I'll find them afterwards.
Then, out the blue, Hyukjae appears beside him and puts his arms around him. "Thought I'd leave you to countdown alone with MaSiwon?" he says, laughing at Donghae's surprise.
"Hey!" Siwon says in mock outrage. "We're EunSiHae, not EunHae, and that's the way it's still gonna be this year!"
Actually, Donghae wants to say, shouldn't you be standing beside IU to welcome in your first new year together?
But he smiles instead when he sees the brightness on Hyukjae's face. "Come on," he amends. "Let's do this!"
The countdown begins, they scream out the numbers together, the whole auditorium goes into a frenzy, they hit the number 'ONE' and just as the confetti starts raining down, just as everyone starts shouting and laughing at the same time, they turn and grab each other in a hug.
The confetti looks like falling silver to Donghae's eyes.
previous: part ten (ii); a support