pg; 4,784 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 | part eleven; a loyalty
The weeks pass by. The members start getting into the F&B business; Jongwoon opens up his own café, four of their mothers pitch together to open a franchise of Konabeans, and Hyukjae hints that he's thinking of getting into the franchising business too. Jungsu says that they should start putting their money into property investments. They aren't stupid. They know that the idol career won't last forever – will, in fact, be all but over once the Korean pop scene hits a slum or they hit thirty, whichever comes first – and there has to be something that sustains their livelihood once their entertainment spree takes a downward spin.
Unlike the others, Donghae doesn't have any concrete plans for the future. All his life he has depended on others to tell him what to do. He went into singing because his father wanted him to; debuted in Super Junior because SM wanted him to; went into acting because the managers wanted him to. He still feels like a child sometimes, bouncing back and forth on other people's ambitions and dreams for him.
The sole exception is his sub-unit with Hyukjae. His one step in life that had been entirely fuelled by his own desire and his own certainty that no collaboration between him and Hyukjae would fail. And it hasn't. SM has finally decided to take the single further by promoting it in Japan (for the ocean of Japanese money, no doubt, but Donghae appreciates that SM actually recognises 'Donghae and Eunhyuk' as a lucrative unit), and they'll be getting a proper music video with a couple of fanmeets in Japan. It's much more than he could've hoped for in the beginning, when they'd worked on the song with no idea of it being anything more than a concert duet. He allows himself to daydream about releasing full-length albums with Hyukjae in future, being invited on popular foreign TV programmes, holding their own concerts in Korea and overseas. He knows he'll never have the confidence to do it on his own (what will happen if he suddenly blanks out on stage? How is he ever going to manage all those variety shows by himself?), but with Hyukjae beside him, he feels like the world is at their feet.
On the day of the music video filming, Hyukjae instantly becomes happy the minute they walk into the studio and realise that the set-up is a lot more elaborate than they'd hoped for. They have, of course, been in countless briefings about the video and seen the 3D renderings of the set, but somehow they'd thought that it would be as low-key as most Super Junior videos are. "Looks like the management is finally willing to spend a bit more money," Hyukjae whispers.
"Maybe it's because they think we aren't big enough to be successful with a low budget video," Donghae says pessimistically.
Hyukjae punches him lightly. "Don't rain on my parade!"
"Ow," Donghae yells, pretending to back away in pain, but promptly trips over some wiring and sends expensive-looking equipment crashing down around him.
"Oh, shit," Hyukjae says, rushing towards him. "You stupid idiot, get up! Run!"
They flee the scene of crime and hide out at the back of the studio until the make-up artists and stylists arrive. Donghae later finds out that one of the camera's lens had been cracked and that a sneaky, deceitful, evil (Hyukjae's words) production assistant hoping to curry favour with the director had told on them. The cost of replacing the camera came out of Donghae's salary that month.
Filming takes all day and way into the night, and everyone around them starts downing energy drinks to keep going. They film the entire dance sequence at least four times in a row until the backup dancers say they can't think straight anymore. Hyukjae asks for a break, but it's clearly for the crew and not himself; he's still happily swaggering around, pretending to chat up the many female dancers that SM had brought in (Donghae doesn't really dare to approach any of them), watching the takes over and over to ensure that everything can be spliced into a perfect whole. Donghae watches with admiration as he shares a quick-witted joke with the director, makes the dancers blush with a flowery compliment, starts everyone cheering as he shows off his "cheap dancing" skills for one of the takes. This is Hyukjae at his best and brightest, and Donghae watches the way the female dancers' eyes seem to follow him around, how their voices seem to get higher and softer whenever he talks to them. This is how people fall in love with him, he thinks. Unknowingly, without willing it to be so, simply because he's the flame you can't help flitting towards, and one day you wake up and realise that he has somehow become the central focus of your world and you want nothing more than the privilege to sit and look at him.
He stays inconspicuously behind the cameras during the breaks, chatting to the cameramen until Hyukjae descends on him and drags him off. "Come on, let's go somewhere quiet," he says.
"You mean, away from your flock of admirers?" Donghae remarks teasingly.
Hyukjae pulls him over to a large window and unfastens it to stick his head out, sniffing the cold night air appreciatively.
"You're gonna get frostbite on your nose," Donghae warns.
"You can lick the frost off it," says Hyukjae roguishly.
Donghae laughs and pokes him in the chin. "Cute."
Hyukjae closes the window and they spend a few minutes blowing their breaths onto the glass and running their fingers over the mist. Hyukjae writes 'Oppa Has Risen' and 'World's Anchovy'. Donghae scrubs out weird pictures.
"I like seeing you so happy," Donghae says.
"I feel like I'm debuting all over again," says Hyukjae. "Except this time it's better, because I know that we already have fans who're gonna love the video."
"They'd probably like it more if you took off your shirt."
"Oh yeah, do that. Make it seem like you've never taken off your shirt when you are in fact a bit of an exhibitionist."
"I resent that!"
Hyukjae laughs at him. "Says the man who once gave me a blow job in a carpark."
Donghae's cheeks turn pink and Hyukjae reaches out to press the back of his hand against it. "It was a good one."
"All you have to do is ask," Donghae counters. "I'll think about how much to charge you."
"Don't tempt me," Hyukjae says.
They smile at each other, and in that moment it seems as though they belong to each other again, absolutely and unconditionally, and he can drag Hyukjae off to dark carparks and do whatever he wants with him because he has the right to. And he remembers that feeling, that artless, breathless joy of belonging to someone he loves with his entire heart, the fulfilment in their lovemaking, the sensation of being so close to Hyukjae that the very air between them seemed to be caressed when they stood apart; and he sees the mist in Hyukjae's eyes too, the harking back to all those good times, as though they've simply chosen to forget the sadness and difficulties that had come along with it all.
"Let's rock this video," Hyukjae says, breaking the moment by raising his fist.
Donghae grins and pushes him. "What, do you think I would've agreed to collaborate with you if I thought you weren't gonna rock it?"
"I want to know when you became so quick with your comebacks," Hyukjae complains.
"Through observation," says Donghae cryptically.
"Yeah, because you've always been such an observant person," Hyukjae says, and they re-enter the studio laughing.
Something fundamental and essential changes about their relationship after that day. Donghae can't quite describe it exactly, but it's as though they've finally laid all their demons to rest. Nothing matters anymore; not their many quarrels and fights and angry words, not the sadness of their breakups, not that terrible night in the practice room when they'd had sex for the last time; not that anonymous Chinese guy, not Andy, not even IU. When he looks at Hyukjae again, all he feels is that old sensation of love and trust, that unmitigated joy in his presence. That feeling that he can never get enough of his companionship, that he would be happy if he could just spend his entire life by Hyukjae's side listening to him talk, laugh, sing, complain, groan.
Hyukjae doesn't say anything about it, but he seeks Donghae out as frequently as he used to do, in fact even more so. In the past, he had various groups of friends whom he used to call his "off-work buddies" and met separate from the members, but he brings Donghae along now to all his meet-ups like he feels security in Donghae's presence even among such familiar friends. Sungmin wonders how they can possibly have so many things to talk about when they see each other every single day – "don't you just…I dunno…run out of stuff to say to each other?" – but Donghae often doesn't remember what their conversations are about; recalls only that they'd been laughing.
There are scattered days when Hyukjae goes out for several hours to work on schedules, and those times Donghae actually feels a sense of loss, like he's been split away from what makes him whole and he's not sure how to proceed from there. It feels like he has nothing much to say, after all, when Hyukjae isn't around; that his words and laughter lack lustre, that his thoughts are half-formed. Peter assures him that he can't detect anything wrong with him and that he's behaving exactly the same way as he always does, but Donghae feels the weird change within himself, a sort of emptiness that goes away only when Hyukjae finishes his schedule and comes looking for him. He feels normal again then, functional, and he can tell from Hyukjae's quick pressure on his wrist that he's glad to see him too, even though all Hyukjae says is "I'm hungry, is there anything to eat?"
Jungsu remarks that it's good seeing them so happy together again, because he'd been worried about any tensions rising due to their relentless proximity and another rift in their relationship could probably split Super Junior up for good – "you're exaggerating, hyung" – no I'm not, we would probably have all ended up fighting because of the two of you.
"You don't have to worry anymore," says Donghae. "It's all over. I don't care about what has happened, and Hyukjae doesn't care, either."
"Yes," says Jungsu. "Maybe now, if you tried, you could…" then he bites his lip and leaves his sentence unfinished.
Donghae doesn't ask him to complete his thoughts. He can guess at what Jungsu had almost been about to say, but he doesn't want to think about it. Doesn't want to think any further beyond the present, the enjoyment in the now, the pleasure of once again being Hyukjae's boon companion and friend. One day Hyukjae spends the entire afternoon on some endorsement shoot and then the entire evening on a date with IU. Donghae spends the day messing around in the kitchen with Ryeowook, getting into his way, and then the evening playing games with Kyuhyun (he gets slaughtered every single time except for once, which Kyuhyun denies as a fluke). Hyukjae comes back sometime after eleven p.m., his face taut with tiredness, and smiles a little in relief when their eyes meet. "Spending the night down here?" he asks off-handedly.
"Um, yeah," Donghae says, "if there's enough space for me."
Kyuhyun snorts. "You would sleep on the floor if there wasn't enough space."
"You're welcome to sleep on the floor, Kyuhyunnie," Hyukjae says. "Or you can cuddle up with me too, if you feel like it."
"No thanks," says Kyuhyun. "I have my own very nice bed and I'm sleeping in it."
Donghae's already pretty much dressed for bed, so all he has to do is take a quick wash (because he remembers Hyukjae's OCD-ness concerning dirt in his bed) before slipping under Hyukjae's covers, kicking a couple of stuffed toys out of the way. Hyukjae comes into the room after his shower and pulls his sleeping shirt on slowly, too seemingly tired to even dry his hair properly. Donghae pats the bed. "Give me the towel."
"I'm not sure I can trust you with my hair," Hyukjae says, but sits down anyway and hands Donghae the towel.
"That's a nice thing for you to say when my hair is so much better cared for than your dry, constantly bleached roots," Donghae points out, beginning to squeeze the dampness onto the towel.
"I have an answer to that," says Hyukjae with a yawn, "but I don't remember it now."
Donghae chuckles. "Had a good date?"
"Aren't you supposed to be at the stage where you have to prepare surprises for her?"
"Love isn't made up of surprises," says Hyukjae philosophically, and splits his face into half with another huge yawn.
"I wonder what she thinks of that."
"She can go prepare the surprises, if she wants them so much. Oh my god, let me lie down, I think I'm gonna die. Leave my hair."
"No," says Donghae firmly, plugging in the hairdryer and propping Hyukjae up with his knee. "It'll take ten seconds and you'll love me for it."
"Mmph," says Hyukjae. His eyes are closed when Donghae finally decrees that his hair is dry enough and puts the hairdryer and towel away, arranging Hyukjae neatly on his side of the bed.
"My grandma always said that sleeping with wet hair will give you flu," Donghae explains.
"Mmph," says Hyukjae again, pushing Donghae down under the covers and wrapping his arms around him like a bolster. "Shurrup, Lee Donghae."
After that night, Donghae's clothes and underwear collection starts to grow again in Hyukjae's closet.
Their Japan promotions for 'Oppa Has Risen' go by in a whirl of activity. They have one afternoon free before heading back to Korea, so Hyukjae proposes a bike tour through the less travelled neighbourhoods in Tokyo and off they go, pedalling through little alleyways and slopes and quiet residential lanes, buying bento lunches from a convenience store manned by a blank-faced young man and sitting by the river to eat their curry rice and mixed sets, watching commuter trains rushing by in the distance. They buy a couple of apples from a fruit stall obaa-san, cycle through a seedy street that looks bland and common in the daylight, discover baby shoes uncharacteristically strewn on the roadside. Hyukjae tells Donghae about the saddest short story ever written ("For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."), and Donghae chats up an old lady watering her flowers with his best and most endearing Japanese. For years afterward, Donghae will look back on those four hours of cycling with Hyukjae through Tokyo as a pure, simple, exquisite memory of happiness and freedom.
In the mid-year, Super Junior comes back into action with 'Sexy, Free and Single'. It is a fairly decent song with a ridiculous title considering half of them have steady girlfriends, but they agree that it is 'figurative'. Youngwoon, back from the army, trains hard in his gym and dance for weeks to put up a credible performance in the video. He's anxious about his reception, worried about his ability to keep up with the group's standards, but Jungsu takes him in hand and walks him through. Hyukjae says Youngwoon did great during the filming.
He doesn't do so great in their live shows, preferring to stay in the shadows, but the fans are jubilant to see him back and he fits back into the group's unofficial lives like he'd never been away. The spaces he left that they'd thought had been plastered over reappear again, filled by Youngwoon's larger than life boots, and when Donghae looks around at the group now he thinks, yes, we can be Super Junior still, we can be together till we're old, and this is how we'll be, going away sometimes but always coming back.
In September they start planning for their 7th anniversary fanmeet. Jungsu begins preparations to go into the army. Hyukjae starts to look a little withdrawn and sad, contemplative and quiet when he thinks there isn't a need for him to talk. Donghae asks him a couple of times if anything is wrong but Hyukjae doesn't want to share, and Donghae has learned to let him be until he chooses to open up. Nobody else aside from Sungmin notices, and Sungmin doesn't pursue it either after one query, assuming that his moodiness is due to Jungsu's enlistment, so Hyukjae is left largely to settle his vague problem by himself.
"If you want, I can move back upstairs for the time being," Donghae offers, because over the last few months he has practically moved into Hyukjae's room since, due to the group promotions, they barely have any time left to themselves during the day.
"Nah, it's okay," Hyukjae says. "I'm too used to having you around to kick at night."
"You're not going to cry in the middle of the night, right?" Donghae jests.
"So says the worst crybaby I know," Hyukjae scoffs.
And so, it is with Donghae sleeping peacefully beside him that he wakes up one early morning in November and finds that the world has collapsed sometime during the night. Donghae doesn't get it at first, because he's rudely woken up by the managers coming in and out of the room and talking very rapidly to Hyukjae, who talks very rapidly back, and nobody tells him what's going on for a while until he finally makes himself heard and Hyukjae shoves his phone at him in explanation. "She uploaded that on Twitter last night," he says.
It's a picture of Hyukjae and IU, presumably in some compromising situation since Hyukjae has a dazed, out-of-it look. Donghae's heart stops momentarily. Beats after a second, but fast. Stops again when he hands the phone back and sees the misery in Hyukjae's eyes. "Hey," he says to the managers, to Sungmin and Shindong who've crowded into the room as well to figure out how best to react to the unexpected bombshell, "all of you, can you leave for a minute?"
"Don't do anything stupid," Seunghwan warns. "Don't tweet, don't reply, don't…you know what, just give me your phone so I can make sure you don't do anything stupid until the management gets back to us."
"Fine, take it," Hyukjae says. "Just go out for a moment so I can clear my head."
Donghae waits until the door is shut before looking at Hyukjae. "Do you need a hug?"
"You wouldn't imagine so, considering…" Hyukjae gestures aimlessly. "But yes, I do."
He sits down on the bed and Donghae puts his arms around him, hugs him tight. "Is this her idea of a surprise? Have you asked her about it yet?"
"Yes. When I first found out. I called her. Asked her first if she was okay. Then if she was out of her mind."
"You don't have to tell me what she said," Donghae says. "I know she was out of her mind."
Hyukjae manages to chuckle a little before it dies in his throat. "She…well. We've actually been fighting a lot since…for a month or so now. Probably longer. Just always fighting, she kept saying I don't love her enough…that always seems to be the theme of my breakups, you notice? She said I don't put enough effort into the relationship and I don't show her how much I care, and it's like I'm just going through the motions, yadda yadda – and she brought you in, too."
"Yeah, she didn't like that I spend so much time with you. I said you're my closest friend, I have every right to spend time with you, and she didn't like that answer either. Said I could go fuck you if it made me happier than fucking her. I don't think she meant it, but yeah – she mentioned fucking a lot. I guess she's at that age."
"Um," Donghae begins, blinking hard at the thought of such words coming out of IU's innocent, girly mouth.
"So…you get the idea. Lots of angst. Then she started to give me all sorts of drunken calls, and got me to drive down to her house at night to make sure she was okay, and then she wouldn't let me leave, etc. All that jazz. And you know what's frustrating? I like her! I really like her! That's why I allowed her to treat me like that! Ironic, isn't it?"
"So all the times you suddenly ran out in the night…"
"Were all because of her, yup."
"So now, this picture…?"
"God, we took it back when…I don't even remember when, some faraway time when we were happy, I suppose." Hyukjae closes his eyes tiredly. "She says that she was so drunk last night she didn't know what she was doing, thought she was sending that picture to me to remind me of how happy we used to be, and then ended up uploading it on her Twitter. Said she realised it within a minute and deleted it but of course half the nation had seen it by then. That's what she says anyway. I didn't bother to question her any further. Her manager called me and said LOEN's taking care of it. They're probably going to fuck it up. And her fans are going to throw bombs through my window. That's it, in a nutshell. You wanna get away from me now before you get blown up too?"
"I think all this has made you stupid," Donghae says. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm sticking right by you. It's her fault, her accident, why do you have to suffer for it?"
Hyukjae glances at him cautiously. "Well, that…I…that picture…"
"That means nothing to me!" Donghae exclaims. "Hyuk, I don't care if you've fucked her. You're my friend. You're my Hyukjae, and all that matters right now is that you don't suffer for it, you come right through this no matter what people say and hold your head high because you did nothing wrong."
A faint smile curves up the corners of Hyukjae's mouth. "Even if I become the most hated person in the country?"
"You'll know for sure that someone loves you enough to make up for all the hate in the world," Donghae says. "Me."
Hyukjae says nothing to that, but their fingers intertwine and cling on tight, and Donghae feels such an incredible rush of love for him that it almost knocks him over. He can, he thinks, he can fight off anyone, face off tigers, trample on snakes, cut his feet on broken glass for Hyukjae. He will stick by him.
Daebin knocks on the door. "Sorry to disturb, guys, but the management has called a meeting in half an hour and we have to be there. And Eunhyukkie, we have to decide now what you're going to tell them."
"Okay," Hyukjae calls out. He closes his eyes again, takes a breath, and squares his shoulders. "Okay."
"I'll be with you," says Donghae.
"Yes," says Hyukjae, suddenly gripping his hand. "Stay with me."
"Out to meet the tigers," says Donghae.
"On a wing and prayer," says Hyukjae, and this time he manages to smile fully.
LOEN throws fuel into the fire by inventing the silliest, most obtuse excuse ever known to mankind. SM calls them up to air their grievances after the media statement goes out (before it was vetted by anyone at SM, before the PR department had even seen it), but what's done is done, and the nation is already bent over cackling in incredulity. IU calls up once to inform Hyukjae that she has been advised not to contact him for the time being. She's on speaker phone so the managers can be updated concurrently, and everyone remains steadfastly silent as Hyukjae acknowledges and tells her to take care. Then the call disconnects and Daebin, Seunghwan, everyone, is saying, "Eunhyuk-ah, break up with her, she's no good for you, she's little more than a kid, she doesn't even realise what she's done", and Donghae is the only one who notices the sadness in Hyukjae's face, slips a hand comfortingly into his.
"It's crazy," Hyukjae confides in private. "I know she's young and immature, and clearly not in her right mind right now, and has put me through the Relationship from Hell over the past couple of months, but I find myself almost wishing it doesn't have to end like this. Wait, that sounds dumb. Of course I don't want it to end like this. I think I was hoping for something amicable and peaceful, like a peck on the cheek, a 'thanks for the good memories and let's remain in contact, cheerio' – cause it was headed towards the end in any case, I wasn't fooling myself, just…I wanted it to happen in a good way. I care about her, I wanted her to wake up and stop drinking and come to a conscious decision that she didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore. But now – it feels like everything's left unsettled, and we've both come out smelling like stinkers."
"Not you," says Donghae staunchly.
"I'm a man who apparently visits a sick person without a shirt on," Hyukjae says.
"You're a man with such a forgiving heart that you make all of us look like stinkers," says Donghae. "The fans will stick by you. Of course there'll be those who'll say bad things, but the majority of them will support you. Sure, our next comeback might be pushed back, or whatever, but none of us blame you, and we all stand by you. As for her – she'll give it some time, let the public settle, and it'll be more or less alright. And maybe you can call her when it's all blown over and the paparazzi has stopped tapping your calls or something and you can still have that amicable parting."
Hyukjae smiles ruefully at him. "I want to believe you."
"So believe me," says Donghae. "What's the point in believing something dark and gloomy when you can believe in something optimistic?"
The media and netizens, of course, have a field day, but everyone in the group unites to keep Hyukjae from looking at the damning articles and comments. It's not conducive in any way, Sungmin says, and Kyuhyun adds, if you have the time to look at that nonsense, you have the time to do something more productive with your life.
Shindong takes on the task of filtering out the hate mail from Hyukjae's stack of letters; Siwon assists to carry the message to IU, through his personal friend in LOEN, that all is forgiven and to look out for herself. Jungsu calls from the army with a word of comfort and advice ("he must have had an ulcer when he found out," says Kyuhyun). Ryeowook cooks up all sorts of dishes to help take Hyukjae's mind away from the scandal, and engages him in more verbal abuse than usual in a bid to lift his spirits. Heechul, during his evenings in the dorm, makes light of the whole matter and tells Hyukjae with would-be scorn that he'll need to try harder to really create a stir, like "be actually naked next time, nobody can even see anything in that photo."
But Donghae is the only one constantly by Hyukjae's side, the only one whom Hyukjae looks for constantly and gets anxious when he isn't there, and in those weeks after the scandal the new feeling of outside trouble binds them closer than ever, births a deepness of friendship so complete and unconditional in nature that Hyukjae, in a moment of tenderness, says he wouldn't have gotten through it half as well without Donghae's support and loyalty.
"Now he knows my worth," Donghae says to Shindong, who's sitting at the table going through Hyukjae's mail.
"I think I'm worth more," Shindong says without looking up. "Do you know how many cheesy declarations of love I've had to go through just to take out the hate mail? I'm sick of reading about Hyukjae being swooned over because of his 'beautiful single-lidded eyes' or his 'perfect jaw' or his 'wonderful personality'."
"That's what a real man is about, hyung," says Hyukjae with some of his old arch.
"I don't think I can sleep tonight," Shindong says.
Donghae smiles to see the laughter in Hyukjae's eyes.
previous: part eleven (i); a loyalty