r, 7,106 words; multi-chapter; complete
there was a lifetime in each other, if they chose to see it.
masterpost: all chapters linked
On a calm, blue-skied Wednesday in May, Donghae sits in the study room of their home, opposite large bay windows facing the sea.
He hears Hyukjae moving around in his room, occasionally breaking out into the deep rasping cough that’s the last lingering remnant of the bad bronchial attack that he’d gotten back in late April; an attack that kept Donghae up for a week and almost put Hyukjae in hospital. The cough is still deep and chest-congested, and Donghae frowns when he hears it; makes a note to boil a nourishing soup for dinner. Then the bed creaks as Hyukjae gets into it and Donghae breathes a little easier. Hyukjae will sleep now, and recover some strength for the evening, when they’ll take their usual walk down to the shore and Hyukjae will talk of the old days – of the only things he remembers now.
“I like the tea they served us in the Saitama arena,” Hyukjae was just saying the other day; “Masao-san had six cups of it and we teased him saying he would be going to the toilet half the show! Oh and remember the ramen shop? Heechul hyung used to eat up two bowls in ten minutes – he has a heat-proof mouth…”
Hyukjae’s musings are irregular, erratic, reflective of his state of mind these days, and yet his memories remain clearer than Donghae’s are. Donghae cannot, upon pain of death, recall what tea they’d been served in Saitama, and the ramen shops that they used to frequent in Tokyo have long since faded into very grey pictures with neither taste nor temperature in them. Yet Hyukjae occasionally comes out with such startlingly vivid memories that Donghae wonders if the slow erasure of his present is allowing more space for these old, mostly-forgotten details to occupy.
He sits back against the leather chair and lets his eyes run over the room. It is this room, more than any other, where most of their life together has been stored in knicks and knacks on mantelpieces, in photo frames, in letters and bank statements and various household bills filed away in drawers. His precious collection of cameras is stored in the glass-fronted cabinet against the wall, his favourite city landscape photos hung up in flattering corners despite Hyukjae’s persistent teasing (“If we want stock photos, why don’t we just buy them off the internet instead of getting another thousand-dollar camera for you?”). The more ‘personal’ photos are lined up along the desk and shelves and Donghae considers them. There’s one of them kissing after a day of skiing in New York, noses pink from the cold, Donghae smiling against Hyukjae’s mouth. They’d gone on a holiday to the United States with Jungsu, Kyuhyun and Ryeowook where they’d spent an entire week just snowboarding and skiing, and Ryeowook had snapped that picture of them after they came down the mountain for the last time. Donghae remembers the incredible ache in his thighs and arms for days after that trip, how much he and Hyukjae had laughed in the mornings when they tried to move their stiff limbs, and the nights of driving through highways from one city to the next, Jungsu singing loudly and off-key in the driver’s seat while Kyuhyun tinkered with the GPS and Donghae dozed against Hyukjae’s shoulder.
There’s another of them standing at the doorway of their then-newly built house in Mokpo, Donghae’s arms flung out wide while Hyukjae backhugged him, both making victorious faces at the camera. They’d stayed in their first apartment in Seoul for seven years until they decided to retire from show business – too much competition, way too much stress both physically and mentally, too many disapproving voices complaining about the need for aging idols to move out. Donghae was making good money out of Haru&OneDay and the royalties he got from songs that he composed for other artistes, and Hyukjae was mostly focused on his various retail and F&B businesses by then, so there was really no reason for them to continue battling it out with newer and much younger stars coming out of the woodwork every other month. They stayed in Seoul for a couple more years, until Donghwa decided to sell off Grill5 and move back to Mokpo with his mum and family (“I’m sick of this rat race,” he’d said. “I want space and a life that I can call my own”). Donghae wanted to follow them, but concern for Hyukjae had kept him silent – he would never suggest moving to Mokpo if Hyukjae wanted to stay in Seoul. But Hyukjae announced one day that he was ready for a change in their lives, and Mokpo seemed as good a place as any to move to unless – with a roguish twinkle – Donghae had any objections to moving there. The very next day they went to a real estate agent’s office and looked at houses for sale in Mokpo that they could buy over and renovate.
Even now, after close to twenty years of living in their Mokpo house, Donghae still feels a sense of pride and joy whenever he comes back to it. The plot of land that they’d bought was smaller than others that they viewed, but the views of the sea from all the sea-facing rooms were spectacular, and the little house that they’d built was exactly what Donghae had envisioned in his youth as a ‘love nest’ – spacious enough to be comfortable, cosy enough to be lovable, trees to bring in fresh air, odd quirky furniture that he and Hyukjae like. He loves every single room in the house, every inch of the grounds, every tree, every leaf, every little flower that he finds blooming on the bushes in certain months of the year. He loves the pink-and-gold dawns that come in at the windows when he lies in bed with Hyukjae nestled in his arms; the bright mornings in the kitchen when he and Hyukjae feed each other breakfast, the red sunsets when they sit out on the balcony sipping hot tea; the solemn, still nights saturated with the sound of crashing waves and Hyukjae’s quiet breaths in his ear as they tenderly make love.
It is in this house that they’ve received their closest friends – Jungsu, Junsu and their wives, in particular, have spent many happy summers with them fishing and boating and barbequing. Hyukjae’s dad had spent his very last autumn in this house with his wife and children, the whole family clustered around him as he walked in the garden or to the shore to watch his last sunsets, and it was in the garden that he'd sung for the last time – his favourite track from their old D&E albums. Kyuhyun had proposed to his girlfriend in their living room after they teamed up with Sungmin and Ryeowook to concoct an elaborate plan to hurry him into it; Donghae grins now as he remembers how they’d decided that Kyuhyun had found the best girl possible for him but was going to lose her if they didn’t help him out with the proposing bit.
It is this house that they've returned to from their worldwide wanderings – from Taiwan, where they bathed in hot springs, ate every single delicacy they could find, and drove along mountainous coasts of crashing waves and wind-blown grass; from Bali, where they jet-skied and paraglided and spent every night wrapped in each other competing to see who could climax more times; from Italy, where they gorged on gelato and pasta and watched sunsets over the Mediterranean; from Australia, where they drove through wide plains of shrubs and oddly shaped trees and hiked ancient trails.
The little house has so much of them in it, so much of their love and laughter and life and dear, sweet, sacred moments, that Donghae knows he can never give it up, no matter where Hyukjae will go to after today.
He frowns instantly at the thought of that. He has consciously avoided thinking about it for the last week, focusing instead on packing and organising, telling himself that they still have time, but now he gives up avoiding it and faces it head-on. Hyukjae will be leaving him tomorrow.
No, he reminds himself before despair and worry cloud his thinking. Hyukjae is merely moving to live in another place, a place which will be better for him, where he'll be carefully taken care of by expert healthcare professionals, and not suffer anymore under Donghae's amateurish attempts at caretaking. They will still see each other every day, and Donghae will be allowed to stay the nights sometimes. Hyukjae isn't leaving. It's simply another change in their lives.
Still, the sharp ache in his chest gives him a sudden need to be close to Hyukjae. What was he thinking, sitting here alone in the study room on Hyukjae's very last day in this house? He gets up and goes over to the room on the ground floor that they'd fitted out for Hyukjae after he'd tripped and fallen down the stairs one day. They sleep together there at night, but the room is very much Hyukjae, full of his paraphernalia and medicines and neatly arranged colognes, and Donghae feels the turmoil inside him quieten as he steps inside.
Hyukjae's lying on the bed, eyes closed, but he smiles once Donghae comes in. "Don't tell me, you need a nap too."
Donghae lifts the blanket and slips down beside him, raising a hand to stroke his cheek. "Just wanted to be near you."
Hyukjae opens his eyes to look at him. "We promised not to dwell on it."
"I know." Donghae sighs, leaning forward to press a soft kiss on his mouth. "But I can't help it. The thought of not waking up beside you...or knowing that you won't be here anymore when I come back…is driving me out of my mind."
He rests his head in the crook of Hyukjae's neck and shoulder, bringing Hyukjae's hand up so he can kiss the knuckles and then the fingertips. Almost thirty years, he thinks. Almost thirty years of marriage, of being to close to this man that he's practically under my skin – how can I let this go?
"But you'll come and see me every day," says Hyukjae. "We'll still be together, only you won't have to worry about me falling down…or finding myself hopelessly lost when I go out and forget my own address."
That was what started it all, Donghae remembers. Or rather, the early warning signs of Hyukjae's deteriorating memory had completely passed them by until that horrible night Hyukjae forgot where their house was and got lost wandering the streets after dark trying to find the place he belonged to.
Hyukjae has trouble remembering many names of places or faces; sometimes he doesn't remember what he did the day before, or even the hour before. Sometimes he falls asleep in the middle of a conversation and when he wakes up, he can't remember having had any conversation at all. Other times he forgets that he's in Mokpo, and wants to go to Apgujeong or Han River, and gets upset when Donghae explains to him that they aren't anywhere near those places.
It had started out innocuously enough – Hyukjae suddenly and intermittently asking "What was the name of the movie we watched yesterday?" or "What did we have for breakfast?". Neither he nor Donghae thought much about it. People forgot things. It was normal, nothing out of the ordinary, and Donghae had in fact teased him about it – "you're getting on in years, aren't you, old man? Just don't forget who I am, that's all I ask."
And so it went on for months, Hyukjae forgetting little things here and there, until he'd gone out one night for drinks with a couple of friends from town while Donghae was in Shanghai with Donghwa to meet their Chinese vendors for Haru&OneDay. He had completely forgotten his own address after he left his friends and spent hours walking up and down the streets, down the shore and back up, frantically trying to find his own home, barely remembering how it looked except that it was cream-coloured and he had a view of the sea from his bedroom and study. Donghae, busy at a work dinner, hadn't checked his phone until he was back in the hotel, and when he took out his phone to make his usual nightly call to Hyukjae, he found 15 missed calls.
"Donghae," Hyukjae sobbed the minute Donghae called him back, "Donghae, Donghae, I can't remember where we live. I've been searching and searching and I just can't remember."
He'd managed to flag down a taxi then and Donghae had talked to the driver over the phone, but Hyukjae was still in a state even after he was home safely, too afraid to end the call with Donghae in case he got into another accident. So Donghae stayed on the line with him all through his shower and nightly routine until he was in bed, and then said, "I'll be with you by noon tomorrow, Hyuk. I'll cancel all my meetings and come back to you on the earliest flight I can get. I'll call the airline and change my ticket now."
"No, no," Hyukjae protested. "You still have another three days of meetings, and you need to tour the factories don't you? Don't cancel them, they're important. I'll call Sora noona and ask her to come down to be with me instead."
"But I have to be with you," Donghae argued. "I can't be away from you when there's something wrong…"
"Just three days," said Hyukjae. "Noona will take care of me, everything will be fine."
It took some persuasive convincing and logical argument to make Donghae stay in China, but even so he rescheduled his flight to the earliest possible timing after his last meeting. Hyukjae rushed into his arms once he exited immigration at the Muan airport, and from that day onwards Donghae never left his side for more than an hour unless absolutely necessary. They visited the doctor to get a diagnosis, and ended up having to go to both the doctor and hospital several times for scans and consultations before the cold, stark result hit them in the face. Hyukjae had a vanishing memory illness; the name of which Donghae would not say to himself, even in thought, because he abhorred the sound of it so much. There was no cure, no hope for improvement; Hyukjae’s brain would shrink and he would continue forgetting more and more things until the entirety of his life was erased by his mind.
In the months following, Donghae would often bear witness to Hyukjae’s fits of frustration and anger, his bewilderment and fear, his growing feebleness. He would often come home to find Hyukjae sitting in the living room, chanting “Lee Hyukjae, Lee Donghae” over and over as though trying to drive their names so deeply into his mind that, traitorous though it was, it would somehow hang on to the remembrance of who they are. He would find Hyukjae trying to jog around the house and failing, knees buckling to the ground, unable to comprehend how he could've deteriorated to this when once he'd leapt fences, climbed mountains and done a hundred pushups in less than five minutes.
He would find Hyukjae signing his name a hundred times in empty notebook pages, or carefully spelling out the names of their Super Junior members, or making a timeline of his and Donghae’s love story:
15 – Donghae loves me
19/20??? – rooftop, Donghae loves me
21 – motel, we make love for the first time
22? 23? – we go to Mokpo
25 – we’re best friends, we love each other
33 – I come back, we get married
35 – we buy our first apartment in Seoul
44? 45? – we move to Mokpo
and he usually gave up after that, because it took too much effort to remember, and Donghae would hug him, kiss him out of his grief, take him by the hand to the bedroom and undress him and curl around him, covering him with his love. And he tries his best – they both try their very best – to avoid facing the possibility that one day Hyukjae will forget who Donghae is, as simply and absolutely as he has forgotten so many other things about his life, and this life that they've shaped for themselves through the decades will simply vanish from his mind.
"I want today to be like every other day," Hyukjae says as they continue lounging in bed together, Donghae pressing soft kisses along his chest and shoulders. "We'll go for a walk down by the shore, and then you'll cook dinner, and then…"
He pauses, and Donghae looks up at him automatically. "And then…what?"
"And then you'll make love to me," Hyukjae says very quietly, smiling at him.
Donghae smiles back. They have, of course, largely scaled down their sexual activities in the last decade or so, age and Hyukjae's health slowing them down a good deal. They joke about it a lot; laughing over how they've gone from a few times a day every day to a few times a week to a few times a month to a few times a year, and very soon "sex will just be something we talk fondly about," as Hyukjae put it, but they haven't reached that stage yet. They still manage to make love semi-regularly, Donghae taking the lead now since Hyukjae's too feeble to do much, and this love of their older years astonishes Donghae with how quietly passionate, how lovingly yearning it is. He'd thought in his youth that most of their passion and physical needs would have died down, so it is constantly a surprise to him how much he still desires Hyukjae, and how beautiful their lovemaking always is; more of a natural merging of their bodies than a need for physical fulfillment.
"Make it good," says Hyukjae. "It might be my last!"
Donghae laughs. "Idiot. I'll stay over nights with you in the nursing home, and we'll have time for anything you want to do. Or you'll come back for Christmas and chuseok, and you can be sure we'll be having sex then."
"Sex in the nursing home," says Hyukjae thoughtfully. "I'm not sure how conducive the environment will be."
"I can take you anywhere as long as you want it," says Donghae, rubbing his nose over Hyukjae's cheek. "You know that."
"Yes, you have this amazing ability to shut out your surroundings," says Hyukjae, slipping a hand under his shirt to stroke his waist. "Unfortunately, I don't."
"It's less of shutting out my surroundings, and more of just focusing on you."
Hyukjae quirks an eyebrow at him, and Donghae has to laugh again. "Great, Donghae," says Hyukjae, laughing as well, "way to make me sound like a fool next to you."
"I'm the fool," says Donghae cheesily, kissing his nose. "A fool for my rheumatic, grumpy old man. Come on, let's go for our walk."
It's a perfect late afternoon by the shore; flat clouds in the sky, wind-ripples in the sea, a slowly lowering sun. They pace leisurely along the pavement hand-in-hand, Hyukjae's footsteps sometimes stumbling, and Donghae automatically points out steps and uneven cracks in the ground to him.
"I'm so glad that we moved here," says Hyukjae, looking round at the sea and sky with happy eyes. "Things would've been different if we'd stayed in Seoul…wouldn't they?"
"Different," Donghae agrees. "We wouldn't have…belonged to each other as much as we do here. We've built our entire lives around each other – and so many of our friends have built their own memories right here with us, too. Whenever I walk in the garden I remember how much appa loved to sit beneath the trees, and the jetty makes me think of the huge fish that Teukie hyung hooked that summer he and Siwonnie were visiting us – and remember the time we hired a catamaran and went for a cruise with the guys, and caught Jinoo frisking his girlfriend in the kitchen?"
Both of them chuckle at the memory, and Hyukjae teases, "You weren't much better. Don't think I've forgotten how you pounced on me literally every night and morning on that boat. And a couple of afternoons too."
"Well, you were walking around in your trunks all day, it was bound to do something to me," Donghae says defensively. "And I always did it behind closed doors, not in the kitchen! Besides, I don't remember you complaining at any point. You were only too happy to be pulled along."
"I knew it was worth going along with you," Hyukjae laughs. "You know, Donghae, I seem to spend every hour of my life looking at you…and thinking how lucky I am to have you. I just wanted to say this before…before whatever happens in future, so you'll know. I've never once regretted being together with you."
"You're the only one I could have spent my life with," says Donghae, squeezing his hand. "I see that now. There has never been anyone for me but you, and it was just natural that we would've found our way back to each other. Everything happened in the only way that they could've happened."
"Even if I forget everything one day," Hyukjae says quietly, "even if I forget my own name, I hope my mind will still remember that you're the one I love."
Donghae smiles then, leans in to kiss the corner of his mouth. He can tell that Hyukjae's tired from all the talking, so he leads them to a bench and, sitting there side by side, they watch the sun sink into the sea as they've done so many hundreds of evenings before. Our own sun is setting too, thinks Donghae, but it's alright. We've lived our lives in such a blaze of sun. We've lived enough, done enough, loved enough for a thousand lifetimes. All I want to do now is to let it go down, slowly, flicker by flicker, with Hyukjae's hand in mine.
Later that night, after Hyukjae has managed to eat most of the simple dinner that Donghae cooks for them and they've spent an hour talking to Donghwa's daughter on the phone, an incredibly smart girl who's the pride and joy of Donghae's heart, they go into their bedroom and draw the curtains. Hyukjae's smiling at him, breathing softly out through his mouth, and Donghae kisses him longingly, undresses him as though he's unwrapping some precious gift, traces kisses along every inch of skin that he exposes.
Hyukjae's half hard when he pulls his track pants off, and he presses his cheek against Hyukjae's inner thigh, mouthing the base of his cock gently until Hyukjae lets out a breath and says, "Come up here."
Donghae slides his body up and rests his elbows on either side of Hyukjae's face, dipping his tongue out to lick his mouth as he rolls their hips slowly together. Hyukjae pants a little under him, obviously trying to keep his breath steady, and Donghae pauses to let him catch his breath. Ever since Hyukjae started weakening, he keeps a tight watch for any signs of fatigue whenever they have sex, restraining himself from pushing things too hard or fast. He'd never have imagined in his younger days that he would be able to have so much control over his own body's urges, but he has learned over the years that love is as much about restraint as it is about indulgence.
"I love," says Hyukjae, stroking Donghae's hips so he knows it's okay to move again, "I love that you're still as fit as any young punk out there on the beach."
"Fitter than most, I'd imagine," says Donghae smugly. They used to enter marathons and triathlons together well into their fifties until Hyukjae had to stop running, and even after that Donghae continued training and entering as many competitions as his stamina and Hyukjae's health condition would allow. He takes meticulous care of himself, curates his diet and exercise daily, partly because of vanity and mostly because he needs to keep himself healthy to nurse Hyukjae. He's well into his sixties and knows that he looks as good as any man in his forties – better, perhaps, than most of the fattening, balding middle-aged men who spend most of their time sitting around.
Hyukjae, of course, had been right there with him until the sickness came on, but as Donghae watches his eyes drooping close with pleasure and the corners of his mouth turning up, he thinks every line, every deterioration on his face is a testament to the courage and grace with which Hyukjae has borne his illness – far more beautiful, more human than any perfect face could be.
They continue rubbing their bodies together until Donghae feels Hyukjae's erection full and hard against his, and then he parts his legs and lets Hyukjae slide a lube-slicked finger into his entrance. Years of practice mean that Hyukjae knows precisely how to read the movements of his body, and he shudders when Hyukjae probes three fingers into him, can't help the whole-body shiver that runs through him when they brush against his prostate.
"Are you ready?" Hyukjae whispers and Donghae nods, presses a hard kiss on his mouth before he pushes himself up and angles over Hyukjae's cock. Hyukjae watches him quietly, hands on his thighs, as Donghae wraps his hand around the base and lines it up against his ass. Then, his eyes fixed on Hyukjae's, he slides down, and he sees the pleasure in Hyukjae's face as his body swallows more and more of his cock, feels the deep sense of completeness in his soul as he fills himself with the only man he's ever so passionately and absolutely loved.
"I love you," he says, clear and unflinching, "I love you, I love you, I will love you till the end of time."
"Yes," says Hyukjae, "yes, yes."
It feels right, their bodies merged into one, as though that's the way they've always been meant to be; and when Donghae starts moving, falling quickly into the rhythm that they've perfected over the years, he thinks: if this was all that life had ever given me, if there was nothing and no one else but Hyukjae, it would still have been worth living.
He leans down, aligning their bodies, and Hyukjae wraps his arms around him, kisses his throat and neck and shoulder. Their breaths come quick in the quiet of their room; the brush of Hyukjae's lips on his skin is almost unbearably sweet; the warmth of Hyukjae's cock inside him is so alive, so solid, that Donghae has to close his eyes against the sensation of Hyukjae permeating through what seems to be every nerve in his body. He ups the speed of his thrusts a little, wanting Hyukjae to come before he does, bends to lick every inch of his chest and nipples, and when Hyukjae jerks and gives that familiar little cry he sucks at the base of his throat, that delightful dip just between his collarbones, and continues thrusting even as Hyukjae comes inside him in a flood of heat and wetness.
"God, baby," he whispers, holding Hyukjae tight as he shudders and pants through his orgasm, "you feel so good, I can't even begin to describe it."
Hyukjae laughs weakly, still breathing hard, and Donghae raises himself to let his cock slip out. "Just stay still," he says, grinning at him. "Now I'm just going to get myself off on you."
Hyukjae obligingly keeps his legs open for Donghae to fit himself between, running his hands over his back as Donghae begins to rub his shaft against Hyukjae's thigh. He's so aroused that it only takes a few thrusts for his orgasm to hit, and his head falls onto the pillow beside Hyukjae as he comes hard against him.
They lie beside each other wordlessly for a good length of time, just breathing and enjoying the last flickers of pleasure, Hyukjae sliding his fingers through the come on his thighs. Then Donghae says, "Isn't it the gentlemanly thing to grab a towel and wipe me down, since your come is still leaking out of me?"
"Well, I believe in normal situations that yes, that is the gentlemanly thing," Hyukjae says, "but since I know you like it, I was hesitating about suggesting that."
"Idiot," says Donghae, slapping his arm playfully, and they laugh and make their way to the shower, where Donghae makes Hyukjae sit down in the bathtub while he rubs soap over the both of them and rinses them off. Hyukjae's eyes are crinkling at every joke he cracks, his laughter round and loud, and Donghae kisses him again and again, thinks he can never get enough of his husband, commits every word and touch to his memory so he'll be able to re-tell it minutely to Hyukjae one day.
The weeks do pass, do turn into months. Donghae gets used to returning to an empty home, adjusting his portion sizes to suit one person, sleeping alone. He has trouble sleeping the first couple of months, constantly reaching out in the middle of the night for Hyukjae or waking up cold and breaking into tears when he remembers that he's alone, but eventually he gets used to it. Human nature is resilient, he tells himself, finding comfort in the thought of Hyukjae safe and secure in the nursing home with competent caretakers close at hand.
To his great relief, Hyukjae has taken amazingly well to the nursing home, brefriending all his nurses within a few days and then the other old folks within a couple of weeks. Everyone likes him, looks up to him as a former celebrity and successful businessman, and it makes Donghae happy whenever he arrives at the home to find Hyukjae talking and laughing to two or three of his new friends.
He loves the way Hyukjae's face brightens up like a lamp the moment he glimpses him, the way he often sees Hyukjae watching eagerly at the window for him, the way Hyukjae opens his arms and kisses him like it's been a hundred years since they last saw each other, even if they've only been apart for a night. He loves staying over nights, when they talk late in Hyukjae's room and fall silent to listen to the quiet breathing of the house. He loves the walks in the garden that the nurses allow them to take when the weather is warm, walks that grow slower and shorter when Hyukjae starts needing a walking cane. The only shadow over Donghae's heart is the seemingly rapid deterioration of Hyukjae's physical strength, even though he's eating well and managing to get in more than six hours of sleep every night.
"Are you happy?" he asks Hyukjae frequently; "is there anything more that I can do?"
"Yes," Hyukjae says to the first, and then, "the only thing you can do is to keep coming to see me every day. The only thing that makes me unhappy is how much I miss you when you're not here."
"I miss you too," Donghae says, leaning his forehead against his cheek. "Every single room in the house misses you."
"Tell me about the house," Hyukjae says, and then Donghae will spend the better part of the next hour talking about how the plumbing in the toilet seems to need a little looking at, or how the flowers are blooming in their garden, or how the bedroom door has started to squeak. Hyukjae listens closely to everything, his eyes glowing, and says, "I can see it all. When I close my eyes, I can see how blue the sea is from our bedroom window."
"You'll come back this chuseok," says Donghae. "I'll call Donghwa and Sora down, and we'll all have a wonderful time together."
"Yes," says Hyukjae, "I will like that – but promise me that we'll spend at least two days just alone together in our house."
"We will," Donghae promises. "We will do whatever you want, baby."
A month after that, Hyukjae forgets mostly everything about their house. Donghae realises it when he sees Hyukjae smiling blankly without understanding when he talks about the kitchen sink needing fixing and the new easy chair that Donghwa's daughter has bought for him. He doesn't push it, even though the realisation makes him sick to the heart, forces him to sneak away to the toilet and cry out the initial pain until he's composed enough to go back to Hyukjae.
He still brings Hyukjae home for chuseok regardless, though Hyukjae shows apprehension and anxiety about leaving the nursing home for a place that he can't remember. Still, he goes because it's Donghae, and the relief that Donghae feels when Hyukjae steps inside the house for the first time in six months and smiles widely and joyfully when he looks around is inexpressible.
"Do you remember any of it, darling?" he asks tenderly, putting his arms around Hyukjae from the back and kissing his neck, and Hyukjae says, "Just a little, but it's everything that I imagined."
Hyukjae is so weak by now that Donghae has to hold his arm as they walk through the house, has to help him in the shower and practically carry him up the stairs, but Donghae finds that he barely even thinks about it. This is Hyukjae, and Donghae would find the strength to carry him on his back if Hyukjae needed it. The amount of compassion and energy he gets from his love for Hyukjae continues to astonish him throughout the entire period of chuseok when Donghwa and Sora come with their families and he finds himself with eyes only for Hyukjae, watching and loving and anticipating his every need as Hyukjae plays with the grandchildren and lets everyone fuss over him.
Sora comments on it once in the kitchen while they're putting plates of food onto trays; "the way you look after him is amazing, Donghae, I doubt even the trained nurses in the home can take such good care of him."
"I love him," says Donghae simply. "That gives me the strength to give him everything he needs."
"Yes," says Sora, smiling at him. "My brother lucked out so much with you."
"No," says Donghae, thinking of Hyukjae's smile, of the way he brightens up whenever Donghae enters the room; "I'm the one who got lucky."
Donghwa and Sora leave with their families after a quick visit, and they spend two precious days alone together, mostly on the shore with Hyukjae's head on his shoulder if the weather is good, or in the garden under the trees with Donghae feeding him from his hand, or in the living room cuddled into blankets and sipping hot tea. It's a wonderful time, and Donghae's forever grateful that he was able to store up the memories, because in the middle of the new year, Hyukjae forgets his name.
It happens gradually, with Hyukjae starting to forget the names of Suju members and their close friends, and Donghae steels himself to accept the morning when he arrives at the nursing home and Hyukjae looks at him happily, opens his mouth to say his name, and immediately confusion and fear replace his happy smile.
"It's okay," says Donghae gently, trying to keep his voice steady. "I'm Donghae, your husband."
"Donghae," Hyukjae repeats, tears coming into his eyes. "Donghae."
"Yes. Do you remember who I am?"
Hyukjae nods. "You're the one I love."
"That's right. You love me, and I love you too. It's okay to forget my name, but please don't forget that, Hyuk, okay?"
"I love you," says Hyukjae, tears clogging his voice, and Donghae wraps his arms around him. "Yes, that's right."
It's a difficult time for both of them; Hyukjae close to tears whenever he can't remember Donghae's name, Donghae trying his best to stay strong for him and convince them both that names aren't important, not in the general scheme of things as long as Hyukjae continues remembering who he is. And he knows that he's right, that names are secondary, but even so he cries himself to sleep every night for a fortnight. He feels so depressed one day that he doesn't even have the energy to leave the house, and he stays in that day, hating himself for missing a precious day of Hyukjae, hating the silence and solitary feeling of the house. When he makes it to the nursing home the next morning, still angry and upset at the way life played out for the both of them, the first thing he sees when he enters the compound is Hyukjae's anxious face looking out of the window for him and his heart breaks.
"You," says Hyukjae, crying when he steps in, "I love you."
"Yes, Hyuk," says Donghae, choking on his own sobs, "I love you too. I'm sorry I didn't come yesterday."
"I waited for you," Hyukjae cries.
"I know. I'm sorry. Please don't be angry with me."
Hyukjae shakes his head. "I love you. I can't be angry."
He spends the whole of that day sitting in one of the R&R rooms holding Hyukjae tightly in his arms, loath to let go even when Hyukjae has to go to the toilet, and he comes to a conclusion that night: he must not dwell on their problems. He has to move on for Hyukjae's sake. He will keep it together, he tells himself, for as long as Hyukjae still remembers who he is. For as long as Hyukjae looks out of the window for him.
On the day that it rains, Donghae arrives at the nursing home just after lunchtime. The home has undergone a number of changes in the three years that Hyukjae has been there, primarily due to a couple of huge anonymous donations. The garden is bigger, the facilities are better, and Hyukjae has been moved to a corner room on the ground floor where his window opens out to big orange trees. They've done up the room with photos and flowers, and Donghae loves it almost as much as Hyukjae does; considers it an extension of their own house.
It has been two years since Hyukjae forgot his name and they've given up attempts at making him remember it, but Donghae has made his peace with it. He looks forward to the way Hyukjae greets him with "You! I love you!" whenever he steps into the home, and the way Hyukjae kisses him doubly hard at the end of each day as though trying to make up for his failing memory. It's enough, he thinks. If all he remembers in the end is that we love each other, that'll be more than enough.
He supports Hyukjae out to the veranda, where they sit on a bench under the awning. The sky is still grey and threatening rain, and Donghae says, "It rained as I was leaving. I went into your old bedroom and stood there. You know, it still looks exactly like it did when you were there."
"How does it look?" Hyukjae asks.
"It's light blue," says Donghae, "and the bed is white, and there's a blue dresser against the wall, and a table fan. There used to be a lot of photo frames on the dresser, but we've moved them all here now. We used to sleep there together, but now I've gone back to our old bedroom on the second floor. I still love that room best."
"Was it the room…" Hyukjae frowns in an effort to remember. "The one that had sunlight in the morning?"
Donghae smiles at him in surprise. These nuggets of memories struggling their way up Hyukjae's consciousness never fail to delight him, and Hyukjae, knowing it, gives voice to every image that appears in his mind even if it's half-complete. "Yes. We used to lie in bed late on weekend mornings, and the sunlight would come in through the windows."
Hyukjae closes his eyes. "That must've been nice."
"It was more than nice. It was home. It's always home whenever I'm with you."
The first drops of rain start to fall, and a nurse comes out to lengthen the awning and throw a shawl over Hyukjae's shoulders. Then they're left alone on the veranda, and Donghae suddenly has a queer sense that they're the only two people in the world.
Hyukjae says, "The grass will be green again."
"Yes," says Donghae. He reaches out to take Hyukjae's hand in his, and they watch the irregular lines of rain falling onto the ground.
Hyukjae squeezes his hand lightly and Donghae turns to look at him.
"You," says Hyukjae, his eyes shining. "I love you."
"Yes," says Donghae again, and suddenly it all seems to come at him in a rush – their days together as boys in the SM building, jamming up vending machines and kicking soccer balls; their days of falling in love, of sitting in the drizzle on grey rooftops and driving down highways; of snatched moments at street corners and dingy motel rooms and skies of crayon blue; of the quiet room 316 and two-hour train rides back to Mokpo and standing side by side before his father's grave; their days of apprehension and tentative friendship, of hot Taipei nights and tears and painful confessions, of achieving their dreams together as D&E, of loyalty and support, of Hyukjae coming back, and then of falling in love again, so gently, so passionately – of their life together, building their little home-by-the-sea, hiking up mountains, fishing off jetties. And it seems to him that it has been a life so rich, so full of love and blessing and companionship and joy, that no words can ever really describe what has happened between him and Hyukjae, no one can ever really understand but themselves.
And I would do it all over again, he thinks, because it was worth every bit of effort it took to spend a lifetime with you.
He looks at Hyukjae, who even in the midst of forgetting every single detail about his life still remembers, tenaciously and stubbornly, that Donghae is the person he loves.
"Yes," he says, raising Hyukjae's hand to his lips and kissing it. "I love you too."
The rain is still falling pitter-pat when Hyukjae leans forward to kiss him back.
SO. It is finally over, after 5 and a half years.
Obviously it has not been smooth sailing, but I'm so, so glad that I've managed to wrap this fic up, and so, so thankful to all of you who have made it through to the end with me! Over the past 5.5 years, SJ has gone through umpteen enlistments (including the two heroes of this story), scandals, weddings (!), bad hairstyles, four albums, solo debuts - and there have also been about a million EunHae moments that I haven't managed to include in this fic (as you can tell, the whole D&E part is very scanty - I wish I'd written more about it but this fic is already too long. They should've told me in 2010 that they were going to have their own act so I could write it into the plot!).
But in the end, I'd started writing this as a love project for EunHae, and I hope that's what it has turned out to be.
Again, so, so grateful to you, who've stuck with this fic through the years and put up with my horrible untimely updates.
So closes the last chapter of "Running Blind with Eyes Wide Open". :)
29.07.2010 ~ 31.12.2015