pg; 2,104 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 | part twelve; an understanding
Three summers and winters pass, of work and play and laughter and tears, of uncertainty and joy and doubt and surprises. Donghae and Hyukjae take a couple of holidays together; drink more beer than they've ever had before during the Oktoberfest in Germany, feed pigeons by the river, climb mountains to look down on palaces so fairylike in beauty that they take their breaths away. They take a couple of holidays apart; traversing age-old cobblestone streets and tall, modern gleaming buildings, eating gelato and crepes and thin-crust pizzas, ambushing hapless taxi drivers with bad English and, in Donghae's case, pottering the hours away by staring through the viewfinder of his camera; spending the nights in quiet hotel rooms sending pictures to each other and saying "If you were here, we could…"
Three summers and winters of recording albums and rehearsing choreographies, catching melodies to put words to song, posing for endorsement shoots, working on concerts, passing out on night flights. Releasing an album with Hyukjae as 'Donghae and Eunhyuk', going on their first ever duo concert tour in Japan. Holding Hyukjae and crying like babies at the end of their first concert, because the pride is simply too overwhelming. It feels like they've come of age.
Three summer and winters of starting his own businesses, talking to suppliers and distributors, learning about investments. Reading through his first P&L reports and working on his first budget estimates. Pulling Hyukjae out for late barbeques or hot stews on cold winter nights, kicking him under the table and stealing his food. Feeling the sun hot on his back and the sea waves cold on his toes in Hawaii. Exploring cramped souvenir shops in Peru. Jamming around with Peter and Chance, having heart-to-heart talks with Halbae, flirting genially with the SNSD girls, playing tennis with Siwon, getting caught up in the madness of preparation for his brother's wedding. Crying when his first nephew is put into his arms. Spending a weekend with Hyukjae building a playhouse for his nephew's first birthday. Falling into infatuation with one of the production assistants on the set of his television drama; escaping to Jeju for three days of delightful sex, alcohol and night-time dips in the swimming pool. He actually manages to hold on to that relationship for one and a half years before ennui catches up with him again and he wakes up one morning wanting to be free of it all. It's Hyukjae who makes the unpleasant trip down to his ex's apartment to pick up the remnants of Donghae's belongings left there.
Three summers and winters of visiting his father's grave in Mokpo. The cemetery caretaker has passed away, so Donghae weeds the grave himself, plants the seeds for fresh flowers. Talks to his father about his deepest fears and insecurities, winding up with his deepest joys and pleasures, because his dad always told him that life had to be balanced; there was sadness so you could understand joy, joy so you could understand sadness. Hyukjae accompanies him on a few of these trips, stands by the side while Donghae talks and doesn't offer any comment nor advice because this is Donghae's private conversation with his dad, but it feels good just having him there. They drive along the seaside after the grave visit, watch the fishermen keeping their nets, the boats in the distance, the clouds passing under the bright glare of the sun. Hyukjae stops the car by the side of the road once and runs out, sinking his toes into the sand. Donghae rushes out after him, pushes him into the sea and leaps onto his back, and they laugh and laugh and laugh and lie under the sun baking their skin and drying their clothes, and it feels like they've time travelled into being just young boys again with the world a huge chest of mysteries waiting to be opened.
"If you could change one thing about your life, what would you change?" Hyukjae asks idly, stretching out his arms above his head.
Donghae considers. "I'd be a fisherman and spend the nights out at sea."
"And get seasick," Hyukjae chortles.
Donghae punches him. "Fine, what about you?"
"I'd be an astronaut."
"And get airsick," Donghae says, and laughs his head off even though Hyukjae tells him it's not funny. They stay companionably on that beach until the sunlight turns dim, watch the sunset turning the horizon into layers of oranges and reds.
Then the fourth summer arrives, and with it the letter from the army.
It's not bad at all. There's a certain adventure in serving his country. Besides, he kind of looks forward to not having to worry about his wardrobe for the next two years. He and Hyukjae spend a month preparing to go, getting their heads shaved together, comforting the fans crying outside SM that it's just the army, they'll go and do their duty and be back before anyone even notices that they're gone. Privately, they joke about drilling sessions and early morning exercise routines and ghosts of old soldiers haunting parade grounds. Hyukjae looks forward to shooting his own rifle. Youngwoon tells him that target shooting is nowhere near as easy as it looks.
It's overcast the day they enter basic training together. Hundreds of fans are gathered outside the army camp, crying and holding up banners, and Hyukjae stops before them, tells them to smile because he wants to leave with the memory of their smiling faces. It makes Donghae want to cry but he smiles instead, and the fans smile through their tears. They take away with them the image of the rows of girls blowing kisses and waving eager, girlish hands in farewell.
"Must've been how the soldiers felt like in old times when they went to war," Hyukjae remarks.
Donghae shivers slightly. "Don't!" he says. "No war is going to happen."
Hyukjae runs his hand over his shaved head. He'd wondered aloud several times before why men tend to rub their shaved heads, so Donghae laughs at him, says, "Hey, baldy! Rubbing your head isn't gonna give you more hair, you know."
"Shut your mouth, Private Lee," Hyukjae says.
He gets assigned to the navy after basic training. Hyukjae manages to qualify for the marines; he has turned out to be "the tougher it is, the more I like it" type of overachieving soldier that everyone hates. They know they won't see each other again for at least a year because the marines and the navy basically have nothing to do with each other, and so by unspoken consent they spend their last night of leave in Seoul together, rejecting even the most familiar company of the members in favour of sitting together by the Han River, downing cans of beer.
"Well," says Hyukjae, staring fixedly at the city lights glittering on the bobbing waves, and Donghae says, "Well", and they knock their cans together in a silent toast.
In the distance, the Banpo Bridge bursts out into its rainbow lights. Donghae finds Hyukjae's hand in the darkness and they sit watching the show quietly, hands entwined.
"I don't know what I'm going to do without you," says Donghae.
Hyukjae sighs and Donghae thinks he's going to make a joke out of it, probably a quick comment about how insecure Donghae is, but all Hyukjae says is, "Honestly, me neither."
Donghae swallows the sudden lump in his throat. "It's the first time since…I don't even know. Fifteen years? That we'll be parted for this long…"
"But you know," says Hyukjae, "it'll be scary at first, I guess, but we'll get used to it. And then we'll have a grand time – you'll have a grand time cruising around the country and watching out for rogue Chinese or North Korean ships."
"And you'll have a grand time doing three hundred push-ups before the sun even rises," Donghae says, laughing through the lump in his throat.
Hyukjae watches the last of the rainbow water panning upwards. "I'll call you on the weekends."
"You better. Every weekend. Or we can say goodbye to being best friends."
"Come on," says Hyukjae, "I mean, if I forget to call, you can make the call too, we should both be responsible for such an important, life-and-death thing…"
"What do you mean by that?!" Donghae says in anguish. "I need attention! I need you to show me that you care about me! That doesn't involve me calling you because you've forgotten about me. That's not the way it's supposed to be!"
"Brat!" Hyukjae says loud enough for the couple canoodling twenty metres away to look around in startled surprise, and Donghae nearly has a fit trying to muffle his giggles.
Hyukjae pulls his hair in retaliation and Donghae reciprocates in kind, and they engage in a sort of scuffle until Hyukjae suddenly says, "Oh god, I'm going to miss you so much", and leans forward and kisses him, and all of Donghae's blood suddenly stops flowing in the shock of that moment. It's a quick, closed-mouth kiss and Hyukjae draws away before it has time to develop into anything more, but Donghae stays where he is for several moments with the impression of Hyukjae's lips still on his, the softness and warmth of his mouth that suddenly seems so achingly familiar.
Hyukjae seems equally as stunned by the impulsiveness. They sit apart in an embarrassed silence for a while, staring at the water as though it'll yield up answers to unasked questions, until Hyukjae finally says, "That's something for you to remember me by."
"Well," Donghae says, trying to find the right words to say, "you better not die, then, cause I'll be expecting you to kiss me again when we get out of the army."
"Don't get greedy," Hyukjae says, but the atmosphere is considerably lighter and they recover enough to smile at each other again. "Kisses are rare things in this market."
"I'll place a standing order."
"That'll be subject to availability."
"Oh, hell," Donghae says. "I'll just look elsewhere for my kisses."
Hyukjae lays a finger playfully on his lips. "This belongs to me, remember? I decide who gets to kiss it."
They laugh at the memory of that old joke and Donghae, stealing a glance at him, thinks, you had that ugly blond hair back then and the cutest smile I thought I'd ever seen; who would've thought then that we would end up here, with so much history behind us?
"We better get going," Hyukjae says, looking at his watch. "I have an early morning tomorrow."
They collect the beer cans and make their way towards the empty road where their cars are parked. They're spending the night in their family homes, so they pause at the end of the lane to say goodbye.
"Take care of yourself," Hyukjae says. "We'll catch up on the weekend."
Donghae doesn't say anything for a while. He's too busy trying to fight down the inconvenient rush of tears that seem to be welling up from deep within him; it's silly, really, he's a grown-up and grown-ups don't cry over things like that, but he can't help it; the loneliness and fear and insecurity hits him all at once and he thinks, if anything happens – if anything happens – no, nothing will happen, because God knows I won't be able to stand it if anything happens to him.
"Stay safe," he manages to say. "Remember, no one…no one's allowed to take my best friend spot."
They make a move towards each other and hug, Donghae pressing his cheek against Hyukjae's. He has said many goodbyes before to friends departing overseas, to his mother when he was a child shuttling between Seoul and Mokpo, to his father; but somehow this hurts in a way he has never experienced, as though someone has reached over and pulled out a limb.
Hyukjae withdraws a little to look at his face. "Give us a smile, Lee Donghaek."
Donghae forces the corners of his mouth upwards.
Hyukjae laughs at the attempt. "That looks better," he says. "We'll have a great time!"
"Yes," says Donghae.
They hug one last time before moving off to their cars. Donghae drives off first, because Hyukjae insists he does ("You're not going to stay here alone and cry, I'm not gonna allow that, it's way too lonely"), and as he moves slowly out of the road Hyukjae beeps his horn cheerily, and he watches the car in the rearview mirror until he gets onto the main road and he can no longer see Hyukjae's hazard lights flashing in farewell.