when donghae turned sixteen, his mother made samgyeopsal. this was no ordinary version of the dish, nothing like the ones he and siwon would often sneak out of classes during lunch break for from their local vendor. no, his mother only ever made samgyeopsal on special occasions and according to her, the coming of age for her son counted as one of these. till this day, donghae remembers the garnish of chilli paste, the shredded lettuce his mother liked to sprinkle atop the meat with a stunning clarity. he licks his lips, the smokiness of the garlic, the juicy tang of pork — it all floods back into his conscience. his mother has always believed a day of good food would only lead to auspicious outcomes. it’s a philosophy donghae follows; he remembers everything he’s had down to his drink order if it is an auspicious occasion.
its odd then, how he seems to remember what he’s had for breakfast this morning as he heads to work. lips curve upwards into a smile as he greets the street musicians, pausing even to pull his wallet out of his coat and shell out a few thousand won. donghae drops them into the guitar case, watching how the young boy’s eyes lighten; they seem brighter almost, as if he’s grateful. he shakes his head when the kid begins to bow and with a small wave, he turns towards Platform 4, glancing down at his watch.
if he times everything correctly, he’ll get off at the stop for hapjeong-gu with twenty minutes to spare before office starts. normally, donghae is rushing into magazine headquarters with prints developed only ten minutes prior clutched to his chest, messenger bag flapping against his side as his other hand clutches an extra large coffee from the cafe around the corner. most days, the large glass doors hit him on the way in — donghae didn’t know revolving doors could even do that. after all, weren’t they specifically designed to stop such things from happening?
most days donghae finds himself struggling to even step onto the train, let alone maneuver his way through the crowd towards a less claustrophobic space — an impossible feat in the morning people traffic of seoul’s working class — but then again, most days he’s trying to sneak extra kisses from siwon before they both go off to work. siwon, just his name manages to send donghae into a giddy rush. his mouth is doing that thing again where it widens without his permission and donghae finds himself staring at a grinning reflection. he averts his eyes to the ground, tries not to grimace at the grime he can see sticking to the yellowing subway floor and glances at his phone once more.
five days, siwon has been gone five days. despite donghae’s consistent warnings of check the weather conditions and some work friends were stranded for four days because of the weather! siwon had not listened. what was meant to be a two day work trip turned into five. he’s coming home today; or rather, coming straight to office from the bus station — that stupid workhorse — and donghae wants to be there to greet him. maybe even slide into his office with takeout from their favourite spot in hongdae, back when it wasn’t overrun by commercial agendas, and demand kisses as reparation for the emotional torture he’d put donghae through.
the best part is, donghae knows siwon will give in. he’ll smile, and all the colours in donghae’s worlds will brighten. the potted fern resting on siwon’s desk darkens from its usual light green to something resembling a forest. it turns lush and donghae knows it is because of siwon . siwon brings colours into donghae’s world. it is because of siwon when they’re sitting in their car, the sun roof down, overlooking the han river that donghae can see the streaks of pink, the splotches of purple, the dashes of orange as if whoever was watching them from the great big upstairs was showing off. maybe it’s arts and crafts night up in heaven, donghae had told siwon. the laughter, the dimples he’d received in return were much more beautiful than any sunset ever could be.
for as long as donghae can remember, his world has been one of colours. he doesn’t remember anything before age three but donghae likes to believe he remembers siwon. even if he loses his memory in a tragic car accident — like moon chae won in sesang eodiedo eobneun chakan namja — donghae likes to think he could never forget siwon. everyone else, as his mother told him, is not so lucky. most people’s worlds are a mixture of blacks and whites and greys; his mother didn’t see in colour until she turned twenty.
(donghae doesn’t mention how she didn’t meet his father until she was twenty three).
it seems like a terrible way to live, to not know the blue of the sky; the emerald of the glittering ocean on a bright summer day; but those are the big things. he wonders about the little things too, like the soft grey of the asphalt; or wearing a favourite shirt to work when all colours are the same; or even the garish hue of white, orange and red which comes together to make kimchi.
donghae may not remember but his mother does:
the chois’ had come to the hospital when you were born , his mother told him;
they had little siwon in their arms, even if it is difficult to imagine his six foot tall boyfriend as little;
he kept peering over at you in the crib, wanting to know why you were crying.
donghae may not remember but it does sound like siwon. he remembers siwon’s stern frown at age seven as he sat donghae down by the curb of their neighborhood block. siwon had been the one who had run to auntie chunhwa’s house to get some bandaids. siwon had been the one soothing donghae’s tears, who could only stare at the red which oozed from his leg. it was a hodori plaster, the orange and black stripes of the once olympic mascot are burned into donghae’s mind as if the memory is not from two decades prior but from the day before.
the day he realized he was different to everyone else was when he was five; five and clutching his blue — siwonnie’s favourite colour is blue! he’d argued when his mother tried to buy him one in red — backpack by its shoulder straps. everything would have been okay if siwon was in his class, except he wasn’t. siwon had been sorted into the section next to donghae’s. his mother had reassured him the night before, telling him he would see siwon during break times and lunch, and even on the bus rides to school. this much was true; he had sat next to siwon for the forty minute ride to school; even if he’d spent most of it looking out the window; even if the most he’d done was hold siwon’s hand tightly, no words spoken.
it happens when school ends for the day, the commotion by the cubby holes all neatly organized with little stickers of their names, and a particularly boisterous boy — hyukjae, donghae remembers — who had been crying into his security blanket when he was dropped off, reaches for donghae’s bag. donghae remembers thinking if anything, this boy should see he’s reaching for a bag in a cubby which is clearly marked with a name that isn’t his.
“that’s my bag!” donghae’s hand reach for a strap, tugging it away from the scrawny kid. he wonders if he tugs hard enough, will the other kid’s arm break? it certainly looks frail enough, and donghae loosens his grip. even if the kid stole his bag, he doesn’t want to be the reason for something like that. siwon says when a bone breaks it looks and sounds exactly like the time we accidentally broke the window playing football. even the thought of hyukjae’s bones shattering like the glass sounds terrifying but donghae, still unwilling to give up his belonging, gives a gentle tug to his bag.
“no, it’s mine!”
“it’s in my cubby!”
donghae glances at the clock and he knows he has to get his bag; he needs to get to the front of school. siwon will be waiting for him, and they’ll get ice cream on the way home — or siwon’s driver will, promising not to tell their parents — but he can’t leave without his bag. “give it!” he gives one harsh tug, and causes hyukjae to freefall right into him.
“that’s enough!” this is spoken by none of them, but rather the teacher who is towering over them. donghae’s eyes begin to water, for two reasons; one, he doesn’t want to get in trouble on his first day; two, hyukjae’s landed on his arm and its really starting to hurt.
“get off,” he whines, trying to shove the other boy away who only blinks at him with wide, brown eyes. donghae watches as a hand comes down on hyukjae’s scrawny arm and lifts the other boy off of donghae. he’s about to breathe a sigh of relief when he realizes despite the altercation, hyukjae still has his bag.
“what’s going on here?”
“hyukjae took my bag, seosangnim!”
“that’s my bag!”
“no, it’s not! that’s my bag! my bag is blue.”
donghae blinks right back, not recognizing the look of confusion on not only hyukjae’s face, but the pretty teacher’s.
now it’s donghae’s turn to be confused. “blue...” now everyone else too is staring at him, and donghae clutches at the hem of his shirt, gripping the fabric tightly between his fingers, allowing it to wrinkle. he bites down on his bottom lip, wanting his mother. “like the sky? like— like water!” except siwon’s voice echoes in his ear — that know it all — hae, did you know water is actually clear?
he must have said something wrong, because the ever smiling yura seosangnim’s pretty face is all wrinkled, lips curved downwards into a frown. except donghae has no idea what he could have even said! he only asked for his bag. another glance at the clock, and donghae shifts his weight from one foot to the other repeatedly. siwon is waiting for me, donghae chants to himself and wonders if he can simply snatch the bag out of hyukjae’s hands.
“seosangnim” his voice is a soft whine, eyes going as wide as he can possibly make them — it’s a trick he’s recently mastered — and lips drawing downwards in a pout. “he took it from my cubby”
the relief which causes his teacher’s shoulders to slump does not go unnoticed by donghae but he isn’t sure what to make of it. what matters more to him is how she has plucked the bag out of hyukjae’s hands and settled it on donghae’s shoulders. “go home donghae-ah, your car is waiting.”
when he comes home — chocolate stain scrubbed but still pale against his blue shirt — the peculiar behaviour in class appears in the forefront of his mind. just to be sure, donghae had even asked siwon in the car what colour his bag was. when the latter responded with a bemused blue? donghae breathed a sigh of relief, not unlike yura seosangnim. maybe adults just weren’t used to children knowing colours. except... except, he remembers the perplexity of her features that he wonders if she even knows colours herself.
it’s only when the hubbub of the day has died down, his father comfortable in his arm chair as he watches the sports does donghae pad into the kitchen. he tugs on his mother’s apron — a soft pink which reminds him of the hwachae his grandmother would make in the summers — before tugging again, impatient. she turns to look at him, the flood of the tap suddenly silent.
“ umma, am i weird?” the encounter has affected him much more deeply than he’s expected, as told by the watering of his eyes, tears spilling past his water line in fat droplets as they splash against his cheeks.
this catches his mother’s attention as she wipes her hands against the apron, causing the colour to darken in patches. donghae shuts his eyes; he wills for the colours to disappear. “did someone say something at school?”
a meek nod. his gaze clings to the floor, to his toes — stubborn.
“was it the kids?”
donghae shakes his head.
his mother sighs, her fingers raise to thread through his sweaty locks. “donghae, baby i can’t read your mind.”
siwon probably never had to go through this, donghae thinks. he’s always been perfect, why would anyone make fun of him for seeing colours? donghae is the weird one, the one they all pick on; the one siwon has to save. prompted, more tears spill down his cheeks as he crawls into his mother’s waiting arms. his tears stain the pretty fabric of her green — no, i don’t know what colour is donghae insists — blouse.
“oh baby,” his mother’s voice is hushed, hand rubbing in circular motions against his back.
“i don’t wanna go to school anymore,” he mumbles into her shirt, fingers curling around the fabric as he crinkles the pretty chiffon.
like all mothers, donghae’s too worries. it’s too soon in the year to be bullied — especially since it is the first day of school — and she wonders if she should have insisted on siwon and donghae being placed together. she’d thought maybe the separation would be good for them; maybe it would force donghae to make new friends; she now wonders if she was wrong. “did someone say something?”
a tearful nod. donghae pulls away from his mother and wipes at his eyes. tears cling to his lashes and he sniffs. “hyukjae tried to take my bag.”
his mother glances in the direction of the living room where donghae has deposited the blue item and sighs.
“he didn’t believe me when i said it was mine!”
“that’s no reason not to go to school.”
donghae stomps. “i told them it was mine because it was blue,” he screeches. the anger however, leaves him within the second and donghae’s shoulders slump as he stares down at the floor. “even the teacher thought i was weird...”
in a split second, his mother’s expression morphs into one of sympathy. she has always suspected who her son’s soulmate is — even if it means she will never have grandchildren who inherit her son’s crooked teeth, or her own nose, or wide eyes — and knows how difficult it must be. most people don’t meet their soulmates, the person who brings colours into their life, until their early twenties. some people go a whole lifetime living in monochrome; she is just glad her son won’t be one of them.
her hands come to frame her son’s cheeks, fingers pushing back the hair which falls in his face. “you’re not weird sweetheart, i promise.” she leans in, pressing her lips to his forehead. “some people are just luckier than others, and you are the luckiest of them all.”
“how?” donghae’s voice holds a tone of awe. above all else, he’s always believed his mother; this time would be no different.
“you met the person who makes your life worth living the day you were born. ”
the thing about time, it’s a tricky son of a bitch. donghae glances up from the mess of red crosses and corrections for the piece the magazine wants to run about bar crawls in kitschy neighbourhoods of seoul and his shoulders slump. the hands of time are fate’s cruel mistress, and donghae can only imagine them clicking their knitting needles with all the fervour in the world as they watch him suffer. he glances up once again, eyebrows furrowed before he directs his gaze to his phone. it’s blank. there are no notifications, no matter how much he wishes there would be. siwon should be waltzing into office by now, dimples indenting his cheeks deep enough for donghae to stick his finger in.
there should be a steady uproar of clamoring girls glancing up from their cubicles to get a glance of the magazine’s photographer sauntering his way through the writers floor. the smile which would break across donghae’s face was unmatched because they all could look but donghae knew siwon would only be walking into one office — his. sometimes, though he’s loath to admit, donghae will leave the blinds open and kiss siwon for everyone to see. a simple reminder of what belongs to him.
he chews the nib of his pen, no longer interested in correcting spelling mistakes or needling his junior editors for letting simple grammar mistakes — they are after all the W, and not some lowbrow magazine funded by an international mogul wannabe — but rather the whereabouts of his boyfriend. don’t forget to text me when you land, he remembers siwon saying at the airport; his hands had been adjusting donghae’s jacket while donghae himself fiddled with his tickets. text me when you board the plane too, siwon had added as he waved from behind the barrier separating those traveling and those left behind. it’s why his eyebrows furrow; there is a strange itch against his skin; an ache in his chest; a nagging in his stomach which haunts him.
donghae knows if siwon wanted to be here, he would have been here already. he shuts his eyes and the image of a faceless woman, perfectly manicured fingernails trailing along equally sculpted abdominals, wrapped around siwon like bindweed comes to mind. he squeezes them even tighter, until the forced tears wash away the sight. he’s being stupid, siwon would never. not when this is the siwon who had linked their arms after graduation — caps skewed on the crown of their heads, hair tousled, tassles of a blue gown uneven — and dragged him away from the party their parents had thrown for them. he’d struggled back then, to keep up with the speed of siwon’s footsteps and even complained about the other’s long legs and how they put donghae at a disadvantage.
the laughter which escaped siwon’s lips still echoes in donghae’s soul; the green of the grass seemed more vivid, its hue beckoning. at siwon’s insistence, they’d both taken off their shoes — allowing for the blades of grass to dampen the soles of their feet. as siwon ran up the incline, donghae followed. the sun too grew brighter, and the blue of the sky was deeper than the crystal of any ocean. and every breath donghae took only uttered the same name: siwon, siwon, siwon. as he watched siwon stand at the top of the hill, taller than the skyscrapers of the city they were looking down on — he heard it again.
siwon, whispered the swaying trees.
siwon, uttered the gentle grass blades.
siwon, whistled the wind.
siwon, stuttered donghae’s heart.
nothing however, absolutely nothing could have prepared him for what siwon had done next. donghae had watched as siwon intertwined their fingers — when it felt like every puzzle piece in the jigsaw of his life had come together — and returned his gaze to the vast expanse of city. sometimes donghae wonders what others, those without colour, see when they look out. there were a million city lights, a blur of hot white, red, yellow and blue. somehow their chaos made them seem organized, and each string of lights possessed formation. donghae wondered what the story behind each light was; he would wonder what the window from which the light shone held.
“i love you,” siwon shouted, yelled until his voice grew hoarse. he yelled it so loud, to this day donghae thinks the declaration echoes amongst the hills — immortalizing him, them.
we’re going to be together forever right? donghae remembers asking, eyes brimming with sincerity as he’d turned to look at siwon. in a world where everything moved much too fast for his taste, siwon was the only constant. the colours in his world brought him a sense of calm, reminded him of his purpose.
it never helped siwon somehow always knew exactly what it was he needed, and now as donghae glances at the analogue he had been gifted as a way to christen his new office — he wonders where the latter is. so instead, donghae focuses his attention on the sunlight which splatters against the mahogany of his hardwood floors. he draws his attention towards the pale pink of his button down shirt — a present from siwon — and then to the flecks of gold in his watch.
anything to keep his mind from wandering towards the sinking feeling in his stomach.
love, donghae realizes at the tender age of fourteen, is not unlike the dust which gathers in the attic of his home. sunday mornings are often devoted by his mother to whack at the nasty little grey particles which settle no matter what dust busting techniques she uses. donghae has seen them all, from the trusted feathers to the new fangled machine which made all too much noise donghae’s father bought when he’d gone into the city. no matter what his mother does, no matter how much sweat gathers at her brow — it seemed as if there would always be a new nook or cranny in which these mites found their home.
the problem lies in recognition. if his mother hadn’t learned of the grey which settled like film upon his participation medals from sports days past, old boxes from when they’d moved, antique china from donghae’s grandmother which she was too polite to throw — and trotted out every time the old lady came to visit — nothing would have changed. the attic would have continued to smell as musty as it had been since the day they bought the house, and the dust particles would continue to harbour real estate opportunities upon the lees’ family heirlooms (if they could even be called that).
see, with love — once you realize it is there, it’s almost impossible to know what life was like before it. donghae thinks he knows love. he thinks love is the shimmering pink of his first girlfriend’s lip gloss; he thinks love is the decadent flutter in his chest whenever he saw her. donghae also thinks he knows what it feels like to lose love; he is sure he felt it when the said girlfriend trampled all over his heart. the phone in the kitchen had been ringing off the hook, almost unheard over the whistle of his mother’s pressure cooker as she boiled the lotus root she’d bought from the market.
donghae stumbles into the kitchen with a newfound sense of emergency once he remembers the flock of giggling girls who had cornered him by the gates right after school.then he heard her voice; it was soft, like it always had been; not unlike the soft coo of a hummingbird. her words however were anything but — too immature, that’s what she’d said. he paid too much attention to his studies, to football, and siwon (not that he told his best friend this when the other boy had asked) and not her.
back then, the routine after a girlfriend broke up with you was to come back stronger, to flirt with other girls — but not donghae. instead, he found solace in the typewriter which lay unattended in the attic. he found the soft pitter patter of rain falling against their roof slowly patching the scattered pieces of his heart. the sound of siwon’s growing baritone and his laugh, which donghae swears he would hear even if he were halfway across the world, were enough to make him forget.
donghae glances up at the sound of hyukjae’s voice a moment too late, the blur of black and white speeding towards him collides with his stomach. a soft oof escapes him as he allows the impact of the football to push him to the grass. it’s soft, as it always is and from this angle on the ground donghae likes to think he can catch a glimpse of the basketball court, where the school team has been practicing since the final bell.
the court is occupied by the junior varsity basketball team; after all, sports teams are the only ones excused from self study hours in the evening. a fact donghae is immensely thankful for, between classes, morning self study and the extra tutoring his parents have paid for — his mathematics skills leave much to be desired, like a grade above sixty percent — donghae doesn’t think he can sit in an air conditioned classroom for another six hours with only the sound of pen scratching on paper, and the turning of pages to keep him company.
instead, he gets to go home after football practice, stuff his face with whatever his mother has made for dinner and get a few hours of shut eye before he has to go for his tutoring. an uproar of cheers and shouts from the basketball courts break him out of his reverie and donghae smiles, eyes closing. siwon must have scored another three pointer, or made one of his famed half court shots. despite being only fourteen, siwon had made waves on their campus first by shooting up almost overnight — a fact donghae still is very bitter about, one minute he and siwon are shoulder to shoulder, and the next he finds himself having to look up whenever speaking to his best friend — and gaining the attention of pretty much every girl in their year, and the years above. second, by being chosen for the junior varsity team at a tryout for the under fifteens’.
even donghae has to admit, siwon looks rather handsome in the blue and gold colours of their school. a fact he knows is wasted on the entire school population since none of them — save a select few — know what colour even means, let alone recognize the way the blue of siwon’s jersey only served to further his already regal looks.
“get off the fucking grass, donghae!”
“if you hadn’t thrown the ball so hard—”
“— scared of getting rough lee?”
donghae sits up, eyes narrowed. “first of all, we have the same last name! that won’t even work!” he huffs, blowing the strand of hair which falls into his face away, and jumps up. his hands move to dust off the blades of grass which have caused the off white fabric of his shorts to be streaked with the dirty brown of mud. “and second, there’s a reason i’m captain and you’re not — twig arms!”
“twig arms?” the rising pitch of hyukjae’s voice and the way it cracks makes the fall, as hyukjae shoves him down on the grass again, completely worth it. “at least i don’t trip on air!”
the blow of a whistle hurts donghae’s ears and the way hyukjae immediately pulls off him is proof enough. the ear shattering noise belongs to none other than the football coach, who also moonlight as the school counselor. donghae has never been, but some of the upper classmen are seen entering the room cordoned off behind the principal’s office — admitting to stress, or worse a mental illness is worse than failing exams — and returning with silver wrappers and grins wide enough to split their faces in half are enough to to pique his curiosity.
“get back to running drills right now!” the coach sounds as if he’s been smoking one too many cigarettes, and he’s sure if he gets close enough — the stink of nicotine will be clinging to the slim fit exercise shirt the man is wearing. of course, if donghae were the coach of a team which had reached the semi finals of a tournament each year and then proceeded to lose, he too would be stressed.
perhaps thats why donghae pushes back the sleeves of his training jersey, and grounds his cleats, and whistles to get his team’s attention. they all glance up at him, hyukjae included, and donghae glances back towards the coach, waiting for a whistle. it pierces through the air, cutting past all the noise in donghae’s mind and his vision tunnels. now all that exists for him is the field, the ball and the goal. he barely registers the feeling of his silver cleats — a present from the chois’ — cutting through the grass as he propels forward. a firm elbow nudges away hyukjae’s line of defense as his feet dribble the object against them. all donghae sees now is the familiar white netting of the goalpost, and with a deep exhale he extends his leg forward. of course, a surly looking boy — a teammate whose name donghae can never seem to recall, hyukjae would call him a terrible captain for this but on field it’s easiest to address his teammates by their jersey numbers — wearing a orange scrimmage vest shoves him. donghae feels the ache in his leg rather than sees it.
he thinks it would have hurt just as bad if the dumbass had fallen on his leg. donghae groans, shutting his eyes as he slides to the ground — goal forgotten. the fist face he sees is hyukjae’s, peering over him with his wide eyes sparkling and then there’s a crack. donghae moans, hands reaching for his leg as he pulls it against his chest and curls over to the side, laying fetal. “you made it worse,” he accuses; it would have been more of an accusation if donghae’s voice hadn’t come out all small and choked.
“hey come on, we can’t have you injured before the big game! get up,” hyukjae hisses, poking at donghae’s side. there is no bone sticking out, nor is there any blood and hyukjae breathes a sigh of relief. both for the wellbeing of his friend and the possible outcome of them winning the championship.
donghae’s face contorts into an expression of pain as he lets out short breaths in an attempt to sit up. its only once he’s in an upright position does he open his eyes and furrows his eyebrows at the state of his leg. it is neither bent, nor twisted, nor is it broken like the pain led him to believe. the coach too crowds over him, bushy eyebrows knitted together so that donghae had to hold in his laughter and his comment of how it looks as if a caterpillar has made a home on the coach’s forehead.
“do you need to go to the nurse’s office?”
a ferocious shake of the head causes the coach to back off, understanding filling his gaze. if donghae goes to the nurse’s office there is a very good chance he’ll be deemed unfit to play the tournament this weekend. if that happens — they can kiss the championship trophy goodbye.
“just need to walk it off coach,” donghae insists, realizing he doesn’t need to convince a man who has already agreed. no wonder his wife ran off with a boy almost half her age. if donghae was a woman, he would want an assertive man too — one who cared about his wishes but also showed him who was the boss in the bedroom. he’s sure coach’s wife ran away because he did absolutely nothing to please her in the bedroom.
a snicker escapes him at the thought and aside from a few strange looks courtesy his team members, nobody else seems to notice. he focuses instead on the neon blue of his shoelaces as he reties them, standing up with almost no difficulty. his expression briefly morphs into something unsightly, his eyes scrunching up and mouth opening, an inaudible noise of pain escaping donghae, as he sets the weight of his body on his injured foot. hyukjae’s arm comes around his waist without any prompting and he shoots his friend a grateful glance.
“do you need a ride home?” hyukjae’s voice is soft, polite. donghae is utterly oblivious to the hope shining in the scrawny teenager’s eyes.
he shakes his head, nodding towards the gym where the basketball team practices.
“right,” the slight bitterness in hyukjae’s tone does catch donghae’s attention but he makes nothing of it. he’s turned down his friend enough times because it always cut into his time with siwon. he blinks back to reality when he realizes hyukjae has started speaking again, “you’re waiting for siwon.” this is accompanied with a slight roll of the eyes and donghae laughs.
his best friend tends to get this very reaction from most of the boys in their year; especially since he’s begun to monopolize every girl in the school’s heart. yesterday, a picture of siwon fell out of wang feifei's pencil box. it was a nice photo too. a photo donghae thinks is wasted, especially since none of them can discern colour. he too is curious, wonders on occasion what it is like to live life like a movie from the nineteen forties.
donghae would ask hyukjae but the first time he tried, hyukjae had pounced on him. donghae had never been called snooty and faux superior before that, and it had taken more than his usual apology — his mother’s homemade bungeoppang , crispy on the outside and delicious red bean on the inside — to be forgiven.
and now, apparently the lust of every boy in school — model, and trainee for one of south korea’s most prestigious entertainment companies — choi sooyoung admitted to having a crush on siwon too. the rumour was she was planning on asking him to the school dance, and make it ‘official.’
make what official? as far as donghae knew, siwon had never shown interest in any girl. even when they made it a point to sit atop his table, legs crossed to reveal milky white skin and rising hemlines of a school regulated uniform. donghae didn’t mind, the less attention siwon paid to girls — the more attention would be paid to him. if siwon got a girlfriend, it would mean donghae would no longer be able to drop in at the choi residence unannounced; it would mean siwon would no longer walk home with him; they would no longer sneak out at lunch and get spicy tteokboki from the vendor outside the gates. or maybe siwon would still do that last one, just not with the donghae. bile rises in donghae’s throat at the thought of their place being tainted by sooyoung’s high pitched squeak, or her ravenous laughter.
“donghae? donghae?” hyukjae smacks donghae on the back, causing him to stumble. “yah! lee donghae! i’ll see you tomorrow right?”
donghae nods, cheeks flushing at being caught in his musings. hiking his backpack higher on his shoulders, donghae continues his trek to the sports hall where the junior varsity basketball team practices. he’s only reached the doors when siwon exits, a gust of air conditioning slamming donghae right in the face. he pauses at how good siwon smells and then wrinkles his nose. “did you even play?”
“not everyone prefers to walk home with sweat drenched clothes, hae.”
siwon grins and makes light footed steps down the granite steps and towards the back exit of the school. he glances over his shoulder at donghae, who is trying hard to keep up and not let siwon know of his injury, before raising his eyebrow. “you coming?”
donghae can only manage a weak smile, as he hobbles faster in an attempt to catch up. despite the itch in his chest, donghae does not place a hand against his leg to relieve it of the pain. the normally weathered path on which donghae enjoys racing siwon to their homes — the wrought iron gates of his, and the marble detailing of siwon’s residence make for quite a pair — today seems torturous. with each leg he moves forward, donghae’s face contorts into another terrifying expression and the pain only seems to increase sevenfold.
he doesn’t even realize he’s fallen behind until siwon becomes a distant blur, one which stops and slowly moves back in his direction. donghae opens his mouth to protest, reassure siwon that he’s fine and practice was simply tiring, “i—“
“—give me your bag.” siwon extends an hand for the athletic bag slung over his shoulder, wagging it much like a dog’s tail when donghae hesitates. “donghae, the bag...”
the bag in question is a sleek black colour, with the school’s name emblazoned in blue script across the front while the side has a golden paw print — their school mascot is the lion. donghae sighs, fingers curling around the shoulder strap as he lifts the weight off himself and presses it into siwon’s hand. his face relaxes, shoulders slumping, finally free from the extra weight.
he watches as siwon places the strap against his right shoulder, on top of his own bag; it’s similar to donghae’s, except siwon’s has a VICE CAPTAIN printed in white. a flash of orange and black moves in donghae’s periphery and he extends a hand out, grinning when wings flap to settle on his index finger. “siwon look, a tiger butterfly!”
siwon’s eyes grow smiler, dimples pushing his cheeks and he nods. “it’s their season.”
“they have no season siwonnie! they’re free to enjoy the world, to enjoy life,” donghae’s fascination with tiger butterflies can perhaps be traced back to his childhood when siwon’s family had come home from a trip to bangkok; the recently developed photographs included multitudes of colours, of different shapes of wings but donghae had no interest in the pinks, or the silvers or soft blues. his attention remained enraptured by the tiger butterflies which resembled Hodori, and the plaster siwon had stuck to his knee. there were a few sitting on siwon’s arms in the photo, and donghae had teased him then for being such a sissy — they were eight, sissy seemed like an appropriate insult.
when asked what he would have done different, donghae had only smiled. since then, he was obsessed. it was as if siwon had come back from his vacation and smuggled all the tiger butterflies he’d encountered back to seoul for donghae.
“well come on,” siwon says and donghae blinks, watching the butterfly flap her wings towards the big city, skyscrapers glinting in the far distance — one day, donghae thinks, one day siwon and i will be there too; because there is no future if siwon isn’t in it — before directing his attention to siwon who is now crouching.
“what are you doing?”
“are you getting on or what?”
donghae flushes a dark crimson, looking exceptionally pretty. “siwon i don’t need—” the look on siwon’s face is enough for him to stop in his tracks and he looks away, moving closer. arms wrap around siwon’s neck, and donghae coughs, the noise soft but it catches his best friend’s attention whose hands move back to grab at donghae’s thighs. his cheeks flush, thinking he is most definitely way too old to be carried like this; nor is he the girls at school who fawn over siwon if he even so much as breathes. he is none of these things and yet donghae cannot find a reasonable explain for the warmth in his cheeks nor the fluttering in his chest. the feeling is akin to a butterfly flapping his wings and as siwon’s hands slide higher up his thighs as sweat gathers against donghae’s skin, his stomach seems to have acquired a talent for the russian ballet, as sprightly ballerinas tiptoe into an arabesque.
siwon on the other hand is oblivious to donghae’s turmoil, to how the colours seem even brighter than usual in donghae’s world and how when siwon turns his head, enough to catch a glimpse of those infamous dimples — fuckity fuck fuck — as he talks about the captain of the team, jung yunho, pushing them too hard.
“he did—what?” donghae hopes the surprise in his tone covers, or at least makes up for, the fact he hasn’t been listening.
siwon furrows his eyebrows, and he continues trudging down the beaten sidewalk. maybe he should talk to his father. the city council is looking for new initiatives and siwon would very much like to walk in the streets without the fear of cracking his head open on the pavement because of uneven roadwork. “he’s just really stressed about the championships.” he draws his lower lip in, teeth piercing into the soft pink and donghae’s heart gives a particularly loud flap.
he knows what siwon is thinking and donghae reaches forward, the noise of his palm meeting siwon’s skull echoing in the empty streets. “don’t do that! you’re easily the best player on the team!” he points — with great difficulty, and additional jostling by siwon who tries to keep them both steady — to the badge on siwon’s school issued athletic bag. “they wouldn’t have made you vice if you weren’t just as good as yunho hyung!”
“that’s not what yunho hyung said,” siwon mutters, his features downward and donghae wants to run back to school and yell at yunho for putting that expression on his face.
“well who cares what yunho hyung says? coach says you’re easily the best on the team and next year, captaincy could be yours. plus—“ donghae leans in closer, “— the screams for you are louder.” his stomach clenches at his own words and donghae worries if the two servings he’d scarfed down at lunch were coming to haunt him.
whatever it is, donghae doesn’t care. not when he finally hears the soft notes of siwon’s laughter, feels the shoulders his chest rests against shake a little. the tips of his ears go red, and donghae smiles; he’d do anything to make siwon smile, to hear him laugh the way he is now.
“hey wait— you took the wrong turn!” donghae points to the right end of the roundabout which gets further and further away with every step siwon takes. “siwon! siwon where are we going? i can’t come home late again, eomma will have a fit! especially after the grades on my last maths test.” he huffs, releasing his hold on siwon’s neck to push back the hair which falls in his face. how is it his fault he has never quite understood nor liked maths; a sixty percent is good for him; unfortunately, for his father it’s an abysmal grade. “and you didn’t even come over to help with the homework last night!”
donghae takes advantage of his free arm and whacks his best friend on the shoulder. “siwon—“ his words die in his throat when the familiar red and white of the clinic siwon’s mother works at comes into view. his heart drops to his stomach and donghae’s previously clear visage turns clammy as he tugs at siwon’s shirt. “no! we don’t— there’s no need to go to the clinic! i’m fine! you can put me down. i just need a good night’s rest.”
his pleas go unheard as siwon only adjusts his grip, donghae bounces when he does, and lets go of an arm to push open the glass doors. the gust of cold air is appreciated, but donghae ducks his head in shame.
“eomma , is exam room three free?” he hears siwon say, and knows there’s no way he can make an escape now; not when mrs. choi knows too. and if mrs. choi knows, it’s only a matter of hours before the news reaches home — perhaps before even donghae himself gets there — and his mother will once again extol the dangers of playing sport. if it were up to her, donghae would be preserved in bubble wrap and kept in his bedroom.
he huffs when he is set down on the white bed. it creaks as donghae shifts to make himself more comfortable. “can your eomma just hurry up and get my embarrassment over with?” donghae glances up from where he’s sulking, only to find siwon rummaging through the steel cupboards. when siwon returns there is a crepe bandage and a tube of gel between his palms.
donghae’s heart resumes its regularly programmed performance of the ballet; the ballerinas in his stomach launch into their repertoire of tchaicovsky’s sleeping beauty. donghae’s throat dries and he blinks at siwon, struck dumb.
“place your leg on my knee hae,” siwon coaxes, gently stroking donghae’s shin. a shiver runs down donghae’s spine and he obeys. somehow, despite having spent an entire half hour clinging to siwon’s back, the simple touch makes donghae’s blood flow faster and he feels light headed.
“just relax .” siwon’s voice breaks through the blood pounding in his ears and donghae gives a sluggish nod, choosing instead to focus on siwon as he applies the translucent gel onto donghae’s leg. he continues to watch as the cream coloured bandage vines against his tan visage, hiding it from view. the cream colour contrasts with siwon’s hands, with the red string he wears around his wrist and donghae’s heart gives a little nudge.
“is that—“ his voice chokes, words dying in his throat. donghae remembers a few years earlier, when they had been about to start middle school; the first year they’d been separated after five blissful years of togetherness in primary. he remembers his own frenzy, afraid to step onto the premises without siwon’s hand to hold. what if he got lost? what if he dropped his books? what if he forgot his pencil box and there was no siwon to silently pass his own?
donghae remembers siwon, remembers how gently the other boy placed his hands on donghae’s shoulders and reassured him with a soft breathe, it’ll be okay. he’d been wearing a red sweater that day, one which was fraying at the edges. donghae’s hands had reached for one of the loose hanging threads, wrapping the red around his finger before tugging it loose. his hands had been shaky as he knotted, then double knotted the cotton around siwon’s wrist before ripping off another and handing it to siwon; he wanted it around his wrist too.
siwon had agreed — donghae never realized, not until today, how siwon always gave in to him; no matter what it was he wanted — before asking a soft why .
if i shut my eyes and count to three, it’ll be like you’re here with me.
“i can’t believe you kept—“ he shuts his eyes then, words too buried on his tongue; siwon has always been there for him. donghae doesn’t need to say a single word; he only needs to glance at siwon for the other to know. how is it this boy in front of him, knows his heart better than donghae himself. a life without siwon has always seemed impossible to donghae but now as he watches siwon gently tape the bandage; he knows if siwon leaves him donghae will surely die. the way his heart beats within its confines — so loudly, donghae fears siwon will hear it — donghae knows it now. he hears it in his pulse, sees it in the silver and white colours of the hospital room, feels it in the tingles running down his spine: he loves him.
he’s in love with his best friend.
donghae looks up when he hears a knock against the door to his office; the pen nestled between his fingers drops to the table; he curses not having capped it because now his article is a mess of a red scribbles; it looks less like the central feature releasing in this month’s issue and more like a preschooler’s drawing. if donghae squints, it resembles the picture siwon’s niece gifted them last month. he loves the little girl with his whole heart — and maybe he and siwon have spent many a late night discussing moving to europe or somewhere they can legally adopt children of their own — but she has no artistic ability.
siwon of course will deny this. he will claim his niece’s artistic abilities are beyond the understanding of normal people. not that donghae will tell him but he thinks even if pablo fucking picasso saw her drawings, he would pull his hair out in frustration. questionable drawing talents aside, donghae loves babysitting siwon’s niece. he loves watching siwon play with the little girl as if she’s his own daughter. his chest constricts when he watches siwon sit patiently while makeup and sparkly clips are applied to him. donghae can’t help but wonder if siwon would do that with their daughter as well.
the thing is, donghae has always known siwon would be a good father. the way siwon cares for him — since hyukjae insists he is an overgrown child — is indication enough. more than that, donghae knows siwon wants this. his own family history wasn’t the most pleasant and despite being with donghae — which in itself will present a million road blocks — siwon is determined to make sure whoever he and siwon bring into the world will not miss anything. but that is a long ways away. first, donghae has to win the ho-am prize for the arts; siwon has to be scouted by a magazine the likes of national geographic; only then, only once they’ve achieved everything they set out to — will they move, starting a new life together.
he can picture it now. they’ll move somewhere not too cold, donghae hates seoul winters. he finds them too cold and often, in the dead of winter he is found with a layering of two blankets and siwon’s arms. he does however like a slight breeze, likes to break out his collection of jackets, coats and scarves. maybe california; yes, california seems nice. donghae swivels in his seat to face the wall, prints siwon has taken from their last trip — to bali — hung along a clothesline and little wooden clips holding them up. in the middle lays a picture of the two of them, arms around one another utterly in love. donghae laughs, remembering that day and how siwon had forced him to hike through kilometres of rice fields because according to him, there was an amazing view at the top. donghae had grown tired halfway and insisted siwon carry him on his back, the way he would when they were younger.
the knock on the door grows insistent and donghae grunts, “come in.”
he sees the unruly mop of hair first, a dyed mixture of dark brown, honey brown and light brown to give a sunkissed look to the strands of hair. “hae hyung!” henry’s sweet voice chimes, dimples indenting his chubby cheeks as he takes a seat on the white leather couch donghae had ordered for his office. he kicks his feet up on the arm rest, his head against a pillow and sighs.
“what? no ge anymore?” donghae remembers a few years earlier when henry had just been a. naive, wide eyed intern; fresh out of university with his journalism degree and a minor in foreign correspondence. the boss man had wanted someone who could get them stories from taiwan, for the foreign expats who read their magazine. plus everything that was written would go through henry first for initial edits, before making its way to donghae’s desk. the pile on his glass table is ever growing and he is already dreading the stack of stapled copies he can see peeking out of henry’s bag. “and please, you know the house rules!”
henry colours a soft pink, and sits up so fast donghae is sure he’s heard a cracking noise. he watches as henry kicks off his black shoes, the tell tale swoosh of the Nike brand emblazoned in white. “sorry hyung!”
donghae shrugs, taking the time to give henry a once over; he doesn’t need to, henry’s wardrobe underwent a massive surgery thanks to zhou mi and his role as fashion police. donghae chuckles at the memory of what henry used to wear before zhou mi got his hands on the younger boy. “what did you want brat?”
“can’t i just want to see my favourite hyung ?”
“your favourite hyung?” donghae echoes, eyebrow raised. “i haven’t heard you say that since you used to drag me everywhere as your translator.”
“it wasn’t that bad!”
“you took me with you to purchase underwear, henry! underwear!”
“it’s not like you don’t wear siwon hyung’s more often than your own anyway,” henry mutters under his breath. donghae is about to protest but remembers he grabbed siwon’s ralph lauren boxers instead of his own, and quickly shuts his mouth. especially since if he stands, the pink silk of his shirt will flutter to reveal the very familiar logo.
“yeah whatever,” donghae mutters. he sneaks a glance at his phone, heart sinking a little at the lack of messages from siwon. if he was going to be delayed, he would have texted so donghae prays siwon is on his flight; or maybe planning a surprise for donghae, it wouldn’t be the first time he had. “if you’re just here to give me more articles, stop stinking up my office.”
henry glances at the messenger bag and clears his throat. his gaze drops to his shoes, donghae notes they are new; last he remembers, henry has been wearing the same tattered blue all stars.’ henry is twisting his fingers now, and donghae wants him to get out with it. he feels the butterflies in his stomach too resting on edge, and he worries for siwon. of course, he hears siwon’s soothing — if somewhat exasperated — voice in his ears, telling him to just breathe.
and so he does.
once, then twice, then thrice. deep breaths, exactly how siwon taught him. this time when he opens his eyes, donghae’s voice is softer. “henry-ah,” he coaxes. “tell hyung what’s going on.” it had taken donghae weeks, no months, to overcome the korean afflicted pronunciation that was henli.
“i—“ henry exhales; he wishes siwon hyung was here. donghae hyung may be his favourite but for something like this, he was pretty much useless. donghae’s ideas were too idealistic, too unrealistic for anyone who didn’t have a bottomless bank balance. “sunny and i— our anniversary is coming up.” he flushes at the mention of his girlfriend and coughs to hide the warmth flaring against his cheeks. “i wanted to do something special.”
“sunny?” donghae blinks, recognition slowly dawning on him. he remembers a girl with henry, one with the most quizzical cotton candy coloured hair — not that he can say anything, what with hyukjae as his best friend. “soonkyu-ssi? from the art department?”
come to think of it, donghae remembers siwon catching him up on office gossip quite some months ago. he’d only been half listening, annoyed that siwon was still talking about work on the one night they’d managed to get away from the office. the month of january was always the roughest; actually the dual issues of december and january both. holiday issues were essential for travel magazines; the former issue existing to raise people’s hopes for their own vacation; the latter existed for the poor souls who could only simmer in jealousy of the fortune of others. he remembers over a shared plate of pad thai — siwon was going through a thai food phase, having come back from a trip from the country — with donghae dumping his shrimp pieces into siwon’s plate, his boyfriend had mentioned sparks of another office romance.
not that he and siwon counted as an office romance, especially since they had come to seoul together; so hopeless in love, their shoddy studio apartment seemed big enough for an entire family. was it henry he’d mentioned? a blossoming romance between their very own adopted child of sorts, and the pretty girl from the art department whose laughter could be heard from a mile away; the office’s happy pill, they called her. glancing at henry, donghae’s eyes soften. a perfect match. “how many months?”
henry looks up, relief settling in his shoulders as they slouch; the rod in his spine too seems to disintegrate. he breaks into a smile. “six months. it’s a big deal.” his hand raises to rest against the nape of her neck. “i wanted to do something special.”
there’s a silence as donghae reads his face, remembering a similar look on his own features at a much younger age; around the time he realized he would do anything to keep siwon in his life; to keep him exactly where he was, next to donghae.
“hyung,” henry’s voice wavers a little, taking on an emotional edge. “i think she— i think this one is meant to last.”
he’s after donghae’s heart, donghae is sure. he remembers sitting in front of his mother, the morning after graduation. the living which housed some of donghae’s fondest memories, now held different storage boxes, each clearly marked with a black pen of its contents. at the very top rested a box labelled memories; donghae didn’t need any prompting to know its contents. its got a fragile stamp on it too — siwon’s idea — so they know which boxes go in the backseat of siwon’s brand new toyota camry. they were eighteen, eighteen and ready to move to the big city, with dreams of degrees and high flying jobs.
his mother had sat him down at the dining table; the very one which still sits in donghae’s childhood home. with its rickety legs, and the fraying beige cotton of the seat cushions — nothing has ever described home more. he’d sit in the dining room for hours on end when studying for national exams, or any exam really because the smell of whatever his mother was cooking became enough to entice him to study. her hands take his, and donghae remembers looking up at her from where his attention lay on her emerald bracelet — a birthday present from his father, many many years ago.
“donghae,” her voice is soft, thumb rubbing against the back of his hand. suddenly donghae feels like he’s five again; five and crying into his mother’s blouse because he could see colours. “baby, are you sure about this?
he stares down at their interlinked hands and tries to imagine a life if he stays here; the university here isn’t bad either; his father could pull some strings and have him enrolled, despite his poor marks. every morning he would wake up to his mother’s singing; perhaps a church hymn, or something playing on the radio; every morning his mother would set breakfast for him and his father at the table; he’d pedal the distance to the university every morning and then back home every evening. siwon would come down to visit from seoul every holiday and donghae would have a few spare moments to tide him till the next moment.
there would be no sneaking kisses whenever he feels like it, no breath tickling his chin in the morning as an wake up call. donghae’s chest constricts and he grips his mother’s hand tighter. he is sure of his decision now, more than ever. he doesn’t want stolen moments, a short montage whenever siwon can spare — he wants the whole film reel. he wants to be there when siwon falls asleep halfway through a movie. he wants to see the mix of exasperation and fondness on siwon’s features as the light from the television casts shadows on his features, when donghae recites titanic by heart for the fiftieth time.
“we’ll come down for the holidays eomma , i promise.” he squeezes his mother’s hand, taking her small one in both of his. donghae’s heart clenches once more but this time it’s of the memory from when his hands were small enough to disappear into his mother’s. he shuts his eyes, wondering how he will manage without seeing her face.
“your appa got a new computer, with a webcam. promise you will video call at least once a weak,” his mother sounds near tears and donghae swallows his own. “and you better be eating, i don’t want you to get sick. make sure you buy enough food every week and study hard, don’t fall behind in your studies. don’t worry about money okay? you just—“ her voice cracks; her hand falls from donghae’s grip as he moves around the table to pull his mother into his arms.
there is a wetness against his shoulder, seeping through the fabric of his shirt and he only holds his mother tighter in his embrace. “we’ll come visit, i promise. i’m only a phone call away eomma please.” he’s never managed his mother’s tears well and he hates being the reason for them. donghae knows if his mother disapproved of his feelings, of his relationship with siwon — he would have put an end to them. no matter how difficult, no matter how even now his chest protests at the thought; donghae would have done it for his mother
somehow she understood; understood what siwon meant to donghae without donghae ever saying a word. sometimes, donghae thinks his mother may know more.
“i know, i know siwon-ah will take care of you.” his mother raises a hand to his cheek, caressing it. donghae’s own comes up to rest atop hers, turning towards the touch as he presses a kiss to her open palm.
there is a honk outside and donghae stands, wiping the tears which have materialized at his waterline. he smiles but it’s wobbly. “that— that must be siwon.”
he rushes out the kitchen only to find the main door wide open; he follows, footsteps soft only to find siwon carrying two boxes at a time and depositing them in the trunk of car. donghae reaches for a box too, holding it close to his chest as he lugs it outside. it’s a warn summer day; his mother’s hydrangeas are in full bloom, and he can see a couple of red rose buds beginning to flourish.
siwon too matches the weather in a nice blue shirt, sleeves rolled up — one donghae remembers buying him — and donghae’s heart stutters before kicking in double time. this is it; he is going to start a new life with siwon. everything they’ve ever dreamed of, all of it is about to come true. the thought of it alone brings a skip to his steps as he catches up with siwon.
“donghae,” siwon whispers and donghae’s toes curl.
he gives a crooked grin in response, snaggletooth peeking out, before reaching up on his toes — boxes still in hand — and kissing the other boy.
the flush which rises in siwon’s cheeks is echoed in the way donghae’s ears turn pink and he coughs, pulling away. his mother, he is sure, is watching from the kitchen window and he doesn’t want to give her any more ammunition to embarrass him.
“i’m going to say hi to your eomma okay? and then we can go.” another kiss is pressed to the shell of donghae’s ear and a shudder runs down his spine.
ˆhyung!” henry’s voice pulls him out from the memory of eight years ago and donghae blinks. henry clears his throat. “what did you and siwon hyung do for your last anniversary?”
“for our last anniversary?” donghae glances at the photo resting on his table and reaches for it. his fingers trace the glass edge, its silver piping and his thumb brush against the outline of siwon’s smile. he remembers raising his camera, calling out siwon’s name and when he glanced back — donghae had clicked. the smile siwon gave him could rival the setting sun they hiked all the way to see.
“yeah, didn’t you take time off work?”
“it was our— tenth anniversary.” even the thought of having known siwon’s smile, his eyes, his lips, his heart, for so long causes a giddy feeling to spread in donghae’s chest.
“tenth?” the incredulity in henry’s voice is unmissable. donghae is used to it; to have been dating the same person ten years out of his twenty six is surprising to say the least. he doesn’t know how to explain siwon is everything he’s looking; if there are things he doesn’t know he is looking for, siwon is those too. being with siwon means living in colour; it means falling asleep on the couch. it means coming home to the sound of a hot kettle, to the fizzling of the raw noodles on the stove. what makes it home is the low hum of the dishwasher, the gentle cycle of the washing machine, the smell of jasmine which fills the house because donghae had bought a room freshener — one of those new fangled plug in things — on his last trip to japan for an interview. he relishes in it because this is his home. wherever siwon is, donghae knows that is home.
“yeah,” donghae flushes, gaze dropping as he waits for henry to wipe away the surprise which stretches out his features.
“sorry hyung,” henry flushes a pretty pink shade and donghae hides a smile behind his hand. “you were saying?”
“he booked tickets to bali, a nice private villa by the beach.” donghae’s heart flutters, simply thinking of it. perhaps it was because the surprise was unexpected. for their last anniversary, siwon had woken him up with breakfast in bed — all of donghae’s favourite dishes on one tray — and nine soft kisses, for nine beautiful years. sometimes, donghae wishes he could make a career out of kissing siwon; analyzing each kiss which is bestowed upon him. there are the quick kisses in the morning, ones which serve as a wakeup call. those kisses are the ones accompanied with fat droplets splashing against his forehead and the scent of siwon’s aftershave lingering even after he moves into the closet.
then there are the kisses which leave donghae wanting more — and are often the ones causing them to run a few minutes late; these are the kisses shared while siwon locks the door to their apartment; breathless laughs and siwon’s whispered at least let me lock the door ddeohae are its clear markers. these kisses are similar to the ones in the kitchen, when donghae demands siwon’s attention; siwon who is cooking, siwon who is doing the dishes. donghae will usually take the washcloth from siwon’s hands, set it down and demand kisses. kisses which siwon only grants on a single condition — one dish dried translates to a single kiss.
donghae’s favourite kisses however, invoke a certain atmosphere. by far, his favourite kisses are the ones where siwon takes his time. his large hand presses into the small of donghae’s back until it is impossible to inhale without their chest brushing against each other. donghae’s own hand rests against siwon’s chest, marveling at the taut muscle he feels ripple under his touch. and the kiss — oh the kiss! — is slow; siwon’s lips against his are no less torrential than the waves which crash against the sea during a storm, or a high tide; all donghae can do is be swept away, holding on for dear life. despite this, the kiss remains gentle; siwon’s lips are soft, softer than any cotton or silk; he lets out the softest sounds too: hums, moans, whispers of his love whenever donghae clutches his shoulders, or pulls at his hair.
most nights, donghae loses himself somewhere in siwon’s love. he is never afraid though, knowing siwon will always pull him back. siwon will never leave him in the darkness of the world; in a silence so loud, a million hawkers and blaring horns are sorely missed.
henry to his credit, is used to his hyung losing himself in memory. the office often jokes siwon and donghae skipped the hot, passionate phase of their romance — considering nobody has caught them trying to sneak a quickie in the storage closet, something henry himself is guilty of — and jumped straight to the happily married ever after. “hyung?” he picks up a pencil sitting on the table and tosses it in donghae’s lap.
“yes? sorry, i—“
donghae drops his gaze.
“you forget i’ve come to dinners at your home.”
“oh, you should come this weekend!” donghae pauses, a teasing grin lighting up his features; the crinkles by his eyes reappear. “bring soonkyu-ssi too.”
this time, it’s henry who flusters. “ah hyung, you— it’s not— i mean— fine. this weekend?” henry, in defeat, pulls his planner out of his messenger bag and scribbles in the date with a reminder to ask sunny.
“so any ideas?”
henry shakes his head. “you haven’t been much help hyung.”
“well you won’t tell me what you and soonkyu-ssi do in your spare time! how am i supposed to cater an event to you if i know nothing about you two as a couple?” he huffs, frowning when hair falls in his face. maybe it is getting too long, he wonders before tucking the strand behind his ear.
“well we— we like to do the sunday crosswords together,” henry admits with a small grin; donghae too can’t help but smile; how can he not? the blossoming of young love is so soft, so pure. “we listen to music in the evenings, dance in the living room.”
“maybe you can take her to a nice jazz bar?”
it’s a feat in itself to watch henry’s features light up and those cheeks of his to indent a little, to make way for his dimples. “hyung that’s perfect! thank you so much!” he shoots out of his seat and runs towards the door, no doubt to start preparations.
“henry— henry-ah! aren’t you forgetting something?”
“forgetting—“ henry glances at donghae, words dying in his mouth. now with a renewed vigour on how to surprise his girlfriend, the main reason he’d stepped into the elder man’s office has slipped his memory.
with a sigh, donghae lifts his earmarked copy of an article. it’s covered in an angry red and already he is dreading the new package he’d seen in henry’s bag. the standards for hiring journalists seems to have gone down, especially considering the sheer number of grammatical errors he’s fixed in the past hour.
“oh! the new articles!” henry rummages through his bag and dumps a brand new pile on donghae’s desk to replace the one he’d just lessened. “this is for next month’s issues, that’s why all the articles won’t be there yet!”
donghae nods, waving henry away with his hand. there is a pain beginning behind his eyes and donghae pinches the bridge of his nose, breathing slowly. siwon’s voice echoes in the background, asking if donghae remembered to take his migraine medication.
he huffs, spinning once in his chair before picking up the page he’d left off on. “looks like it’s just you and me again,” he mumbles, turning to a new page with heavy shoulders and red pen poised. his phone lights up and donghae all but drops the pen, grabbing the device. perhaps its a text from siwon; maybe he wants donghae to ditch work and come home.
it’s a simple reminder: SIWON’S FLIGHT LANDS. [11:30AM]
donghae has never hated anything as much as he hates this notification; he hates it because he doesn’t want to know when siwon’s flight lands; in fact, he could care less about siwon. stupid siwon who hadn’t texted when he got on the plane; stupid siwon who didn’t text when his flight lands. donghae doesn’t care at all what happens to siwon.
except he does.
he cares very much.
all donghae wants is to be home with siwon, like they were the weekend before this, and the one before that too. he likes waking up on sunday mornings, so close to noon that sunlight blazes through their windows. he likes sitting on the floor as they play snakes and ladders, white curtains billowing with the wind which blows against the them. donghae especially likes the way siwon’s eyebrows raise to his hairline, jaw falling open when he accuses donghae of cheating.
the sound of footsteps echo in their home as siwon chases him, calling cheater at his back while donghae’s laughter only grows in peals with every step he takes. oh how he craves for siwon to push him down on the carpet, his breath caught in his lungs as he looks up at siwon whose face only gets closer.
donghae shuts his eyes, grip on his pen tightening before dropping it. he reaches for his phone instead, fingers shaking as he types out another text. the gnawing in back in his stomach, and donghae hopes it’s nothing; he hopes its an after effect from the breakfast he had, or the dinner he ordered last night.
[ OUTGOING: siwonnie ♡ ] hi baby, i hope you had a safe flight. i love you
donghae shifts in his bed, unwilling to pull himself out of the cocoon he’s been wrapped in. instead, he only clutches the fleece tighter and brings it up to nose. there is a scratch in his throat, an itch which only makes his irritated eyes squint further. they match well with his red nose and donghae lets out a groan as he reaches for the warm thermos by his bedside. unscrewing the cap, he places it against his lips expecting relief. he gets none. his eyebrows furrow, expression morphing into something less than pleasant.
maybe the cough medication has induced hallucinations because when donghae shook the bottle — four hours ago, which he then drained — liquid was sloshing. there is no way he could have finished all of the chigae so soon, could he? donghae groans, the noise sounding inhuman from his lips; in fact, it sounds more froglike than usual. his hands move around the bed, disrupting the mountain of tissues which have gathered over the days, for his phone.
his mother of course, has placed him under strict orders to stay away from his phone; or anything really which could aggravate his headaches. donghae, on the other hand wishes he’d never agreed to go out with heechul hyung in the dead of the night, wind howling and rain splattering against concrete. siwon too, had warned him against it; heechul hyung had enticed him with a new norebang place opening near his home. siwon never wanted to go to karaoke with donghae, too shy of his voice.
he for one, liked siwon’s voice. he liked the soft huskiness one could hear if they paid attention; he liked how siwon’s eyebrows furrowed in concentration when he sang; or even how he would bite his lip right after the song faded out. heechul hyung would say it was because he was in love, and when one is in love — even the sharpest of thorns feel like clouds. donghae isn’t sure what clouds feel like but he wonders if they are as soft as the cotton candy at the local fairgrounds; he wonders if they’re as gentle as his mother’s pashmina shrug — a gift from a friend traveling overseas. it doesn’t matter what heechul hyung says because donghae lives with a thorn in his side regardless.
it pierces his skin every time he so as much breathes; it jostles against his ribs, striking close to his heart. he bleeds in places nobody — not even donghae himself — can see because the wound heals every time siwon so as much glances in his direction. the irony of it all is when siwon looks at him, the thorn digs deeper into his skin because donghae knows. he knows his love is fruitless; he knows siwon’s future like the back of his hand because his is the same. they both will grow up, remain best friends until one day siwon finds a beautiful girl worthy of his looks. they will have a lovely chapel wedding and donghae will hold siwon’s hands before the ceremony, reassuring him of his decision — even if his heart says otherwise — as is the duty of a best man.
donghae will put a mountain over his heart, the words he’s held onto since he was fourteen will die somewhere on his lips and he too will marry. a petite girl his father approves of, a girl his mother will dote on and hand down family recipes too; they’ll have two children, a boy and a girl; they’ll live in a picket fence house with a backyard and donghae will die. the words he’s held so close to his heart, dying with him too. perhaps in an alternate universe, in an alternate world he could have siwon.
he’s terrified of what it would mean to even admit he likes boys: donghae is certainly no heechul hyung . everyone knows the tale of kim heechul, the boy from the upperclass family who had permanently tarnished his parents’ name when he was caught kissing the foreign exchange student from china behind the stairwell. rumours spread, as they usually do, faster than a house going up in smoke. apparently, kissing was not all heechul had done.
there are scribblings in the boys bathrooms — no matter how often the principal discourages it — in various markings of black, blue and the occasional red (donghae suspects its when they run out of ink) of the sexual acts kim heechul will perform for just a little bit of money. donghae too has heard the rumours of heechul using his mouth to get boys off in the bathroom before evening self study hours. his fingers twitch at the thought, mind running back to the dreams he’s been having — on a recurring loop — since he accepted his feelings for his best friend.
most nights donghae wakes up, the digital clock telling him its three in the morning — siwon gracing his dreams is no less than a haunting, a haunting donghae wants but will never have — and there’s a patch at the front of his boxers. he glances at the window he can see through, siwon’s aqua night light soft and glowing. it is then donghae places a stone over his heart and sinks under his covers, sliding a hand into his pants and grips his erection. he imagines it to be siwon’s lips wrapped around his cock, that very smile which makes donghae’s heart flutter, flattening around his girth.
not that he’s noticed but siwon has perfect mouth to suck cock. all rounded and perfect, wide enough to swallow donghae whole. a shudder escapes him at the thought — nothing to do with the fact he’s half out of his blanket cocoon — and he glances down to see the partial he’s already sporting.
apparently being sick has not affected his libido in any way whatsoever. not that it should, he’s merely sixteen; if he weren’t turned on at the thought of his best friend slash object of pining going down on him — then it would be a problem.
right now however, donghae wants some chigae . his mother’s homemade sundubu chigae is one of the only things he can stomach when he feels like this. even if his nose is red and runny by the end of it and there are tears in his eyes. a family recipe, his mother has always told him; it will clear your nose right up. for donghae it has somewhat of an intoxicating effect; one serving and he’s knocked out for a good couple hours. somewhere he wonders if this is a ploy on his mother’s end, to make him more tolerable when he’s sick.
“ eomma ,” donghae calls out, his voice hoarse and raspy. it echoes through the household and donghae waits for a soft yes donghae? in reply.
it never comes.
“ eomma !” this time his voice is laced with urgency, and fear grips his stomach. his legs feel heavy as he swings them over the side of the bed, still clutching the blanket as he stands. the world shifts underneath him for a good few seconds and donghae latches onto the edge of his nightstand, exhaling. sheets wrapped around him, donghae trudges out of his bedroom and glances down the staircase. there is no sounds coming from the kitchen, nor the telltale static of the television; his parents room is unlocked but the curtains are drawn.
for a brief moment, donghae entertains the possibility he’s woken up in an alternate dimension. one similar to a stephen king novella where everyone he knows and loves is dead and he is left in this ghost town to fend for himself; there is of course a horrific danger threatening to wipe out mankind. skulking down the steps, donghae makes his way into the kitchen where there is a saran wrapped plate on the counter. there’s a note too, his mother’s slanted handwriting visible from his position in the doorway.
it floods back to him then, his parents were going out to dinner tonight. his mother had come in earlier in the morning, stroking his hair and changing the wet cloth on his forehead in hopes the fever would go down. she’d asked donghae then, if it were okay for them to still go out; she felt terrible leaving him alone like this; they were nowhere to be seen which meant he had obviously told her to go. a noble intention, but now it meant there was nobody to coddle him while he was sick. the lights in siwon’s bedroom were off too, curtains drawn which meant the choi family were probably at the same dinner as his parents; a dinner donghae would have been a part of too.
he sniffles, abandoning the dinner his mother has heated for him and trudges back up the stairs. maybe this time when he wakes up, his parents will be home and the thermos will be filled with chigae once again. donghae sneezes, rubbing at his already nose, before wrapping the sheets tighter around himself. stairs he walks everyday suddenly feel harder than climbing the tallest mountain in the world — not that donghae can make an accurate comparison — and fingers curl around the bannister as he hunches over to catch his breath.
the door swings shut behind donghae as he collapses, face first, into his bed. there is a stray tissue sticking to his forehead and donghae paws at it in irritation, eyebrows scrunching together. burying his face in the comforter, he lets out a groan. even that, with his sore throat, sounds like the pathetic mewling of a kitten who has a hairball problem. maybe, if he’s lucky, he’ll die. it would certainly be better than suffering like this.
thud. thud. thud.
fate of course, seems to have other plans. there is a steady smattering against his window and donghae turns his head, opening a single eye to look out for the rain. it is the weather’s fault he is sick, not his. even if he made the decision to go out in the rain with heechul hyung.
the skies are clear, and donghae even spots a cloud in the shape of a dog. its salt in his wounds considering they’d just given away the stray his family had been looking after for the past year. yuki was a part of their family, and when she fell sick donghae could feel a strange clawing in his chest; it was the first time he’d said good bye to a family member. unlike siwon, who had already been to two funerals for his grandparents — all of donghae’s recent ancestors were still alive.
his eyebrows furrow as donghae forces his limbs to cooperate. feet first, donghae gets off the bed and rubs his eyes. his nose is starting to itch again and he feels a headache coming on. if its one of the cho siblings planning another prank — this time with no siwon to hold him back — he might very well deck cho kyuhyun the next time he sees him.
“yah, lee donghae!”
donghae pauses, one foot mid air. the voice is muffled but that is definitely not cho kyuhyun. it sounds a lot like— but it can’t be. he’s supposed to be at a family dinner isn’t he?
“my arm is getting tired and i don’t enough rocks!”
this time donghae laughs, it makes his throat hurt and his chest curses him but it feels good. somehow siwon always manages to make him laugh no matter the situation. its gotten them in trouble a lot before, especially during exams or quiet study hours. there, sitting with siwon in the whitewashed walls of the classroom, elbows leaning against black tables with spindly legs — donghae realizes the older they grow, the less colours are visible in places like schools. he wonders if its because most people can’t see them — and the only noise being turning of pages or the scratch of a pen. siwon will whisper some terrible joke about yoona’s braids making her look five years younger than she is and donghae will laugh. his body bends in half as he hides his face in his hands. siwon’s shoulders would shake beside him, and donghae doesn’t have to peek through his fingers to know the dimples are there. the ones so deep he can rest the tip of his pinky finger in them, the way he does when sneaking icing off the top of a cake.
“you can’t be asleep, donghae-yah!”
siwon’s voice breaks him out of his trance, and this time donghae is sure; the mix of fondness and exasperation is a tone specific to siwon only; even if it is only ever directed to donghae. donghae moves, stumbling over his own feet as the pajamas he wears get caught between his toes. his hands move with precision to undo the latch as he lifts up the glass window.
sure enough, siwon’s smiling face greets him. donghae’s gaze falls to the rocks still in siwon’s hands and his cheeks flush. a warmth spreads through his ears, and he is sure they too are red. a companion shiver tingles through his spine, and donghae suppresses a less than manly giggle. “aren’t you supposed to be at dinner, siwonnie?”
donghae is most definitely ignoring how passe the whole situation is. or even how conversing with siwon like this only serves to remind him of the balcony scene in romeo and juliet. he would be claire foy’s juliet and siwon, leo dicaprio’s romeo. the only difference being both romeo and juliet loved one another, donghae however — suffers alone.
“aren’t you going to let me up?” answering a question with a question had always been siwon’s forte and donghae can’t help but wonder what he is hiding this time.
“i don’t want you to get sick too!"
siwon snorts, shaking his head. they’ve made each other sick more times than they have fingers to count; it always was better to be sick in bed together; besides, it wasn’t like they were going to stop playing with each other because of a few sniffles. “okay, better idea. grab your jacket and come down instead.”
donghae furrows his eyebrows, eyes pulling away from siwon’s frame to the landscape behind him. the stars glitter in all their silver glory, contrasting against the deep blue of the night. the road to his street is marbled with stones of grey, brown and even black. the pavement is asphalt and it shimmers, basking in the light which splatters against it from the moon. and amidst it all, is siwon.
beautiful, tall and tan siwon. siwon who is wearing a green button down — one which reminds him of the freshly watered grass of the football field — creased as it falls out from the restraint of his light wash jeans. in the blue denim, siwon’s legs look even longer than donghae remembers. his hair is pushed up too, and donghae’s heart gives a little flutter; he wonders what it would be like to kiss his best friend. if his lips really are as soft as kwon yuri states, if he really kisses like he’s devouring the other, according to tiffany hwang. he wants to experience it all, and yet...
he never would.
“i’m coming,” donghae says instead, swallowing the lump in his throat. the thing however, with nerves is they never disappear. the lump remains lodged at the base of donghae’s throats, his feelings barely buried. he reaches for the first jacket he sees on the tenterhooks; a soft, little blue thing. the fabric settled on donghae like a — slightly oversized — second skin. he tugs at the edges till they catch against his palm.
donghae reaches for a packet of tissues, shoving them into the pocket of his bottoms before rushing down the stairs. the window. fuck. his footsteps are even lighter, barely touching the ground as he returns to his bedroom, slamming the window the shut. its heavy enough to lift, no thief would bother. skidding to a halt at his front door, donghae reaches for his own house keys and opens the door to siwon. “i’m ready!”
“i can see that.”
siwon’s gaze flickers over donghae, who lowers his gaze. cheeks flush a light crimson to match the colour of his nose. under siwon’s eyes, he feels shabby. there siwon stands, looking no inch less than the disney prince he is while donghae, with his mismatched and fraying clothes, resembles a street rat. “why— how— i’m sick!” the light pink darkens and donghae looks anywhere but siwon. somehow around his best friend, he is both the most eloquent and the most tongue tied he ever can be.
“i thought you could use the company.” siwon smiles, but donghae can see the faint reddening on his right cheek. he knows then, siwon’s decision to leave dinner cost him. there is a constricting in donghae’s chest, and he feels light. it’s not the flu, he’s sure of it. donghae wonders why siwon puts up with it, why he allows his father to discipline with his fists; why siwon tries so hard to please a person who never will be.
he says none of these things, he never does. instead, donghae returns siwon’s smile with one equally as bright. one which takes over his entire face, eyes crinkling and nose scrunching. “where are we going?” because it’s best to never bring up siwon’s father to him. donghae only hopes he can finally take siwon away when they turn eighteen; away from the scrutinizing gaze of choi senior; far enough for siwon to be the boy he is with donghae; far enough for siwon to smile without anyone telling him to stand straighter.
it was the right thing to say because the next thing donghae knows is siwon’s fingers furling around his wrist; they lock around the bone and donghae allows himself to be tugged towards siwon. the door slams shut behind him, and he shuts his eyes. did he remember to take the keys? how much shit will he be in if he rings the doorbell when he’s home? would he be in definitively less shit if siwon escorts him all the way to his front door.
perhaps donghae has spent too much time in his bedroom, watching contraband films. yesung hyung has a way for getting unofficial videotapes of the latest films in america. donghae has never asked yesung hyung how, nor is he sure he wants to but he is thankful. julia roberts in both notting hill and my best friend’s wedding seems to have had an effect on his psyche. perhaps even ten things i hate about you — although most would argue he is more bianca than kat — if donghae is hoping for a goodnight kiss at his door; a confession of love folded in a note; or even just a simple i love you donghae.
“—it’s a surprise.”
donghae jolts out of his musings when he feels his feet dragging along the tarmac and he glances down at his hand — wrist still tight in siwon’s grip — before up at the boy leading him. a whine finds its to his lips and he wriggles his arm, trying to get siwon’s attention. “are we going to a movie?”
“the arcade?” he asks, when they pass the first roundabout. donghae comes to a halt in front of the statue, carved in elegant ivory. what it depicts exactly, donghae isn’t sure; nor is he quite certain of the relevance of a fairy to their small city. if he squints, he’ll see the faint rust against the railings. anyone who lives in cheongju knows about the suicide-murder which happened two years ago. donghae’s own mother had barred his exit from the home for a week.
siwon’s hand pulls away donghae’s from where his fingers are picking at the rust coloured flakes, brown grime which now gathers under his nails, and frowns. “do you want to get a disease?”
“that’s from water, siwonnie! and mosquito infested corners! and wounds which aren’t treated, not dried blood which is an artifact of the most gruesome murder in the past two years.”
“most gruesome murder?”
“yeah, didn’t you watch tv? or read the paper? or even listen to the radio?” donghae’s voice rises in pitch as his volume of questions increases; his eyebrows furrow. “a guy and his girlfriend were driving here and the detectives said they must have been fighting. next thing you know, he pulls over and drags her out by her hair. apparently he slammed her head against this railing until she started bleeding!” donghae’s eyes glitter; he’s always been a bit of a true crime sleuth; quite out of character for a boy who jumps at the slightest noise in a horror film.
“i don’t know what’s scarier, the fact you know all this— or that you’re grinning like a chesire cat.”
donghae’s grin only widens when siwon’s hand swats at his hair. there is an itch in his chest, a nagging in his stomach which wants to hold siwon’s hand right there. a part of him wants to feel every part of his skin set ablaze under the ferocity of siwon’s gaze, under the delicacy of his touch.
donghae hates being sick. he hates how red his nose gets, how it’s always clogged. he hates how his head feels as if its being bulldozed; hates the dry scratch in his throat. most of all, he hates how absolutely nothing in the world seems right, and he would prefer death over this kind of suffering, buried under mountains of tissue and orange medicine which smells like cotton candy but tastes nothing like it.
when he’s with siwon however, all these thoughts are fleeting. his heart races faster than the horses his uncle took him to see at the race track. there is a lump in his throat, but not from phlegm. no, donghae fears its his feelings — threatening to surface, bubbling at his lips. every scent seems stronger, and despite his blocked nose donghae feels the intoxication of the jasmine flowers growing at a distance.
perhaps he is still sick, but this is a sickness he doesn’t mind.
even now, donghae looks at siwon with hearts in his eyes. the colours of the night seem brighter when he’s around siwon. the cars which zoom by them are a mixture of reds, and whites and silvers. the planted flowers in the roundabout contrast nicely in their pinks, and yellows and whites to the blue of the night sky. even a colour as dull as the night sky seems brighter. shimmering amongst the stars tacked upon its canvas.
“siwon-ah,” his voice is soft, as they begin walking away from the roundabout.
“what colour is your home?” it’s a game donghae has often played; ever since that first day of school; ever since he’d realized not everyone could see colour. to donghae, siwon’s home glints of white marble, ivory towers and exudes class. siwon’s mother too, is a far cry from donghae’s own mother. the choi matriarch is always dressed in flowing silk blouses, colours ranging from dark burgundies to the delicate yellow in the edges of a frangipani’s petal. she wears tapered trousers — black, always black — and ties her hair up with red chopsticks. although donghae doubts they are actually chopsticks; in fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if they are made of some expensive metal donghae never knew existed.
in comparison, donghae’s family seems poor. donghae’s mother with her paint splattered overalls, strands of hair falling out of the messy bun atop her head, plaid shirts with threads fraying — is no siwon’s mother, that’s for sure. he knows they aren’t poor, not with their red brick structure and wrought iron gates meant to resemble homes on the Upper East Side — or at least that’s what donghae’s father always says. even if they are the UES, siwon’s home is the palace of all houses with its spiralling staircase and golden bannisters. the mahogany of their floors is always polished, and donghae feels an invisible stick pressing into his back whenever he is around siwon’s parents. it commands him to stand straighter, to smile less, to keep his gaze down and speak only when spoken to.
siwon’s eyebrows furrow but donghae can read the smile in his eyes; he notes it in the way siwon’s shoulders relax. if donghae feels so restricted in siwon’s home, he wonders how his best friend even breathes. there are things their families never talk about; like the time siwon showed up to donghae’s birthday with a cut lip; not to mention, how he’d wince every time someone touched his back. there was the time at sunday brunch when siwon flinched even at the slightest of sounds and kept his head down when he spoke — even if it was donghae he was speaking to. he likes siwon now, with his loosened shoulders and dimples deep enough to be craters. donghae wants siwon to always be like this; he shines brighter than the sun ever could, splashing the bright yellow on a canvas till everything in sight glitters.
he doesn’t mind being the wind which blows at the dark clouds above siwon’s head, casting its shadow.
“you’ve seen my home.”
“yeah, i know but what colour is it?” he adds an urgency to his tone, hoping siwon will indulge. not that he has to wonder, siwon usually does.
and indulge siwon does. “ivory,” he sighs, staring down at the asphalt, the rubble in shades of navy black and grey.
“like rapunzel’s tower?”
“yah! i’m not rapunzel!”
donghae snorts, kicking up a dust storm as his shoe comes in contact with the road. there is less traffic than usual, and the red lights remain at a perpetual green. the government, donghae thinks, does a good job covering its tracks for those who haven’t met their soulmate. next to the green swatch is a lit up message of GO. to donghae, this too is green — but to those without love in their lives, its a way to exist.
he wonders if they even know what they’re missing in a life without colour. he glances at siwon, bathed under the orange light of a street lamp and feels his heart constrict. there are so many things he wants to say: thank you for being my friend, i’m so glad our parents are friends, i don’t know what i’d be without you, but most importantly — i love you.
none of this is said; instead, donghae exhales. “but you’re the one who said your house is the colour of ivory!”
“fine,” donghae cedes, throwing his hands in the air. “you’re not rapunzel, you’re the prince. i’ll be rapunzel.”
he doesn’t realize what he’s said until the words settle between them. donghae squeezes his eyes shut, heart thudding in his chest. idiot, he curses to himself; of all the ways to confess his feelings, this has to be the dumbest. of course then, it’s right in character for donghae. his cheeks flush a gentle crimson and he rushes ahead of siwon.
nothing can be said if there is nobody to say it to.
a gust of wind forces donghae’s hair to fly into his eyes and he sputters, retrieving a strand from where it remains stuck to his lip. siwon is not next to him, and donghae’s eyebrows knot together; his lips curve downwards and he wonders if he’s really managed to offend his best friend — and the boy he loves — thanks to his idiocy.
donghae glances back then; siwon is standing right where donghae left him. the light from the streetlamp floods, circling around siwon as if it were a spotlight. in the wind, his shirt flutters; his hair is ruffled, swept to the side. donghae’s breath catches in his throat as he watches a particularly strong blow of wind rattle the hibiscus tree on the sidewalk. petals in colours of purple, pink and yellow flutter down. they scatter around siwon as if greeting him, a few settle against his clothes and donghae’s heart thumps, unsteady within its confines.
he looks like a prince. they all joke about it, the girls swoon over him and his prince like charms — holding doors open, pulling chairs out for girls, the dimples themselves — but donghae has never taken it seriously; until now. not until bathed in the mix of moonlight and street lamps, siwon seems like a character in the mangas which are passed around their school like contraband. he seems like the crown prince, and donghae wonders which lucky girl will inherit both the prince and his crown.
“si—siwon,” donghae stumbles over his words; his heart seems to be lodged in his throat. an inopportune place for it to be, considering now he can’t speak. “wh— why are you still...” it’s odd; his tongue feels swollen, heavy. donghae feels about two inches tall — more so than usual — with siwon’s gaze on him. every part of him suddenly feels as though it’s on fire. he feels sweat gather under his collar and clear his throat. “where are we going?”
“let me catch up to you at least.”
donghae nods, keeping his gaze on his flip flops as he waits. there’s no need to embarrass himself more than he already has.
siwon’s fingers wrap around his wrist once more, and donghae feels as if all his bones are jutting at awkward angles. he feels his ribs dig into his skin, the crack of his knee as he takes a step forward, but most important of them all — donghae feels the edge of his wrist dig into siwon’s finger.
this isn’t the first time they’ve touched; not the first by far. there are countless times siwon has fallen asleep on donghae’s shoulder while they watch another movie — see, donghae is making a list, of all the movies in the world he wishes to watch — or when donghae snores on siwon’s shoulder, face buried in siwon’s chest and siwon’s arm serves as a protective cover from the turbulence of the bus driver. excluding that, there’s the horsing around; the sleepovers and pillows tossed away as donghae’s limbs wrap around siwon in his sleep, imitating an octopus. the numerous piggy back rides, the tackling — donghae will soon run out of fingers (and years) if he continues to list their proximity.
“a film?” donghae asks instead as they near the cinema hall. he squints at the matinee; it glows, the red and gold of its design must be lost on those without soulmates. donghae however — with a furtive, wistful glance towards siwon — is not one of those poor souls. “there’s a new kate winslet movie, siwonnie!”
“we have titanic in the vcr at home,” is all siwon says, pulling donghae ahead as the movie theatre too, fades in the distance.
“are you going to kill me and bury my body in the jungle? i’m weak too right now, so i won’t be able to put up a fight.”
a snort. “if you annoy me, i just might.”
donghae grins too.
“oh, siwon-ah! donghae-ah!” kwon boa, the daughter of the owner of their city’s best ramyeon joint, waves. “appa is out, i can get you noodles for free!”
jealousy stirs in the pit of donghae’s stomach. it gurgles and bubbles, much like his mother’s samgyetang brewing in the kitchen. he’s sure the only reason boa is offering them
noodles for free is because of siwon. it always is. the pretty girls ogle him, they approach donghae either in hopes he’ll help them woo siwon — he never does, sometimes he purposely gives wrong information — or that dating him will be as close as it gets to dating siwon himself.
that certainly was the case with joohyun, a freshman who’d taken a special interest in him. donghae tries not to bare his teeth when he smiles, and instead shakes his head at boa in what he hopes is a polite manner. that too, only because siwon will chastise him later for being rude. “no thanks noona! we already have plans.”
before siwon can so as much get a word in, donghae tugs him away from the twinkling lights and the blue plastic sheets which cover the rickety tables at the kwon noodle shop. he’s never seen the monster which rears its ugly head whenever siwon is around girls, but donghae imagines it to be an ugly mix of green and black. there is green which is pleasant to the eyes, soothing even. the green of the rolling hills, of the tree plantations, of his mother’s hanbok — these are all greens donghae finds comforting.
the green of the monster is an entirely different breed. the green which births the monster in his chest reminds him of the algae growing on the edge of rocks; of the moss which clings to drainage pipes; hyukjae’s puke when the exchange student zhou mi dared him to eat all the spicy seaweed in the entire cafeteria.
“boa noona was wearing a pretty dress today,” siwon comments and donghae’s fingers clench into a fist by his side.
i will not ruin my mood, donghae chants. the key here is perseverance . sure, boa noona may have looked pretty today in a lilac coloured sundress; donghae had noticed the sweetheart neckline, exposing her breasts. of course siwon would think she was pretty; maybe if donghae had breasts, siwon would compliment him too.
“lilac isn’t really boa noona’s colour, is it?”
he laughs, the monster easing up. it no longer feels as if there is an elephant sitting on his chest. “i don’t think boa noona knows what lilac even is!”
“i saw her kissing hyukjae behind the bleachers last week, after the football game.”
donghae’s jaw drops, eyes widening. “hyukjae and boa noona? no way.”
“ way ,” siwon’s voice holds a edge of gloating; to have a piece of gossip that hasn’t reached donghae yet. the sky darkens from its navy, to an indigo and yet in patches there is a purple — the clouds.
“we’re going to get caught in the rain,” donghae notes.
“no we’re not.”
“yes we are.”
“what are you? the meteorological department?”
donghae snorts. “can’t you just say weather station, siwonnie?”
“you understood me, didn’t you?”
oh, sometimes donghae really wants to wipe that all knowing smirk off his best friend’s face. and okay, maybe he wouldn’t mind kissing it off either. instead, donghae settles for kicking siwon in the shins; he grins when siwon doubles over
“what the hell?”
“karma?” the incredulity is evident in the way siwon echoes donghae.
“for not telling me where we’re going.”
siwon rolls his eyes, straightening as he pokes around his knee before running his fingers through his hair.
so handsome, donghae thinks to himself before pausing. when did his conscience start to sound like yoona, and sooyoung, and yuri, and tiffany — and well you get the point. “where are we going?”
“how can i surprise you if all you do is ask questions?!”
“you can tell me and i can pretend to be surprised when we get there!” donghae grins, elbowing siwon in the side. “i’m an excellent actor you know.”
a snort. “right, that’s why we were grounded for a whole month when we snuck out to the michael jackson concert?”
donghae whines. “that wasn’t my fault!”
siwon doesn’t grace him with a response, instead continues forward. donghae follows at his heels, wishing — not for the first time — siwon’s long legs wouldn’t continue to wish him ill.
he keeps any further comments about their destination to himself, simply basking in the fact he is no longer in the confines of his home. he doesn’t understand why there is the silly ban imposed on those who are ill, to be banished to their bedrooms — not to be seen for days on end. of course when donghae pauses and bends over, hands on knees, coughing so hard he worries he might throw up a lung: he decides maybe staying home when you’re sick is a novel idea after all.
“did you get lonely on your runs and decided to pretend you’re taking me somewhere?”
siwon’s been silent for a while and worry festers in donghae’s stomach. it’s unlike siwon to keep to himself; he wouldn’t be mr. congeniality if he were quiet. siwon’s charm is in the lull of his voice, in the gentle baritone which wraps around you and holds you captive. with such a beautiful captor, donghae is willing to be remain imprisoned for the rest of his life.
donghae nearly crashes into siwon when the latter comes to a quick halt. he is about to ask why they have stopped till the neon pink glow of the signboard splatters against his cheek. donghae squints, hand raised to shield from the rays, at the board before breaking out into a smile. “kangta’s diner?”
kangta’s diner is a bit of a relic in their town; a permanent fixture if you will. with its jukebox and red leather booths, it transports customers into a different time. often, you can find parents and other people who miss their youth, sitting in the booths and sipping at milkshakes. to donghae, this place is equally special. he remembers his father bringing him to the diner for a birthday milkshake, or even his first kiss — in the very back booth of the diner with im yoona — are some of the memories attached to the diner.
perhaps his favourite however, is none of these. it’s not his mother’s surprise birthday, or the first time he performed for a crowd, clutching his guitar tight enough to break its strings. no, his favourite memory is every thursday till he and siwon turned fourteen. up until then, on the ride home — siwon’s driver would go and get them ice cream and tell them to eat quickly. not because it would melt, but because if they ate the evidence nobody could prove they’d ever eaten it in the first place.
of course their mothers always knew.
(siwon’s mother blamed donghae for corrupting her son).
“come on, i reserved us a booth.”
despite the hour, there is the constant ringing of the order bell; the chatter of schoolchildren enjoying their vacation; the couples cozied in the corner, sharing milkshakes and kisses. donghae glances towards siwon before averting his gaze.
don’t even think about it , his conscience sneers. donghae pulls a face; he hates when his inner voice is right.
“oh, siwon-ah! donghae!” kangta’s voice trills from behind the cash register. “the usual?”
siwon shakes his head. “one chocolate ice cream float and one—“ he glances to donghae who only nods; siwon knows his order by heart, maybe even better than donghae himself. siwon grins, “— and one vanilla ice cream float.”
“sorry, ice cream soda.”
kangta’s eyebrows raise. “celebrating?”
siwon’s laugh echoes through the diner, and the checkered floor seems even more raised. everything seems more vivid when siwon is around; the neon pink of KANGTA’S DINER , the red neon OPEN sign; all of it is brighter than usual.
“i guess you could say that kangta-ssi .”
“yah! shim changmin, clear a table for my look alike. the corner booth and wipe the edges properly this time!”
donghae watches as a scrawny kid with eyes too big for his face, and limbs too lanky for his frame, rushes over to their usual spot. his hands wipe down the red booth with silver piping, blue washcloth in his jean pocket.
“ hyungnim !”
donghae startles, realizing they’re being spoken to. well, siwon is being spoken to.
“ hyung, i finished that book you lent me.”
siwon beams, “did you like it?”
donghae shifts his weight from one foot to another; there is a constricting in his chest, one which makes it hard to breathe. he knows he doesn’t like to read very much — try at all, usually siwon gives him condensed notes from their textbooks and the literature texts — but why won’t siwon recommend books to him? why won’t siwon have that very glint in his eye he does now when he’s with donghae?
(if only donghae was watching from the outside, he’d know siwon looks at him as if he is the reason the sun rises and the stars shine).
“i’ll give you another one after school okay?”
and donghae pulls himself away from his self pity, sliding into the booth. “what was that about?” he busies his hands, sure if he isn’t fiddling with the cutlery or twisting the ketchup bottle to read its ingredients — he might strangle changmin.
“who?” siwon raises an eyebrow at donghae. “oh, you mean changmin? nothing, he’s a new transfer. i think he’s friends with kyuhyun but he’s on the basketball team, good player too. tall.”
donghae suddenly has the urge to wear two shoe lifts, the way hyukjae does. he stifles it but cannot hold back a snide, “i didn’t ask for his biography.”
his snark has somewhat of a desired effect because siwon’s eyebrows knit together, making a very furry caterpillar, and he reaches to place a hand atop donghae’s. “you okay? are you coming down with a fever again?
before donghae can formulate any semblance of a witty remark, or maybe just a reassurance — changmin reappears; this time with their orders. he shoots a polite smile to the younger boy, one which hopefully tells him to scram or else.
“you worry too much. you always have,” donghae notes, stirring his soda and watching the effervescence at the top of the liquid. the ice cream remains unaffected, and donghae can’t help but smile. it’s as if siwon is the ice cream, completely oblivious, while donghae — the effervescing bubbles in this scenario — suffers in silence.
“that’s because i care about you.” siwon lifts up the ice cream spoon, carving out a piece as he places it in his mouth.
“we used to come here every thursday after school,” donghae mutters, poking at his own scoop. “why did we stop?” he doesn’t mean for it to sound as accusing as it does; not when he’s equally at fault; not when all they’re guilty of is growing up.
“you have football practice—“ siwon says through a mouthful of cream “— and i have basketball. it’s just part of growing up hae.”
donghae’s bottom lip quivers, and he knows — he is certain — it is because of siwon’s soft tone. it lulls him, the way a mother’s lullaby would and donghae squeezes his eyes shut. when he opens them, he focuses on the swirly straw. “they changed the colours, these straws used to be white with blue stripes.”
“now they’re white with red stripes,” donghae continues as if he hasn’t even heard siwon.
“they’re just straws donghae,” siwon intones, his voice soft. his hand too comes down atop donghae’s and donghae shuts his eyes, squeezing them even tighter. he wishes he couldn’t see in colour; he wishes siwon wasn’t his soulmate; he wishes siwon wasn’t his best friend. maybe then, he wouldn’t have these feelings to deal with.
“yeah,” he mumbles, avoiding siwon’s gaze. “just straws.”
they work on their orders in silence, donghae slurping his straw and siwon carving away at his ice cream. one by one, the customers begin to filter out of the shop. gone is the loud laughter, the chatter, the idle gossip, and the kitchen bustle which donghae has been using as a distraction.
now its just him and siwon. donghae, siwon and the slowly growing ocean of distance between them.
it’s just a part of growing up, donghae knows this. traditions fade away, people get busy but he’s always thought he and siwon would be exempt from it. he’d thought he would always have the brightest colours in the canvas because siwon would always be with him. now the reality that may not be so has hit and donghae feels sick to his stomach.
“what did—“ siwon starts, taking another bite of his ice cream, “—the two flags say when they saw each other?”
“what?” donghae furrows his eyebrows, glancing up at siwon and a smile widens his features. donghae’s eyes crinkle and his nose scrunches. he wonders if siwon realizes the smear of chocolate on his upper lip.
“what did the two flags say when they saw each other?”
“siwon, i swear if this is another one of your awful dad jo—“
“just answer the question,” siwon interrupts, eyes twinkling with mirth. his tongue flicks out to pad away the chocolate against his upper lip.
donghae groans. “can flags even talk?”
“you’re ruining the joke donghae!”
“your jokes are already bad!”
“at least i can tell jokes!”
donghae gasps, feigning hurt. he holds the expression for a second — maybe half a second — before bursting into laughter. siwon joins in too, and the previously dull diner brightens. with it, so does donghae’s world.
(siwon is donghae’s world).
the laughter dies down and both siwon and donghae steady their breaths. donghae meets siwon’s gaze, breath catching in his throat. siwon’s brown eyes shine, reminding donghae of the almonds his mother forces upon him because it will better his eyesight.
faint in the background, donghae hears the riff of a guitar. it must be the radio; kangta knows siwon and donghae don’t mind the old english hits which play on some channels. his heart flutters when he hears the opening lyrics of the song.
(i can’t help falling in love with you).
it is then donghae notes the smear of brown against siwon’s pink lips; they’re as pink as the nub of a rose. delicate, yet to flower. donghae has never wanted to kiss anyone so badly as he does now.
siwon raises an eyebrow.
donghae shakes his head, blinking away the water gathering at the corner of his eyes. he manages a smile, pointing to siwon.
it’s a game they used to play when they were younger; a way for donghae to get out of fights. whenever one or the other pointed their index finger at the other — they would become a statue.
siwon complies, despite the years its been since they’ve played it, and pauses his motion.
he looks like a wax figurine, maybe a statue made of marble; one depicting the gods, or a prince. donghae realizes he would give up his whole life for siwon. it was always siwon’s to begin with.
leaning forward, the edge of the table digs into donghae’s stomach. its sure to leave an angry red slash and yet donghae can’t feel it. he can’t feel anything except the racing of his heart, the blood rushing to his ears and the faint strum of a guitar in the background. a hand reaches forward, donghae’s thumb hovers over siwon’s mouth. the chocolate smear is still there, a taint on an otherwise perfect painting.
(a painting of the boy he loves).
his heart thuds within its confines as he presses down on siwon’s upper lip, wiping away the chocolate. he’s aware of siwon’s gaze on him, aware that he’s still frozen because of their game; although some part of him fears, it’s not just the game. maybe he’s lost his best friend forever tonight.
there is nothing left for him to lose, donghae realizes; nothing to condemn him more than he already is. so he leans forward again, keeping his eyes on siwon’s whose widen. a hand rests against siwon’s cheek before he presses his lips to his best friend’s. donghae’s heart bursts, there are a million fireworks exploding behind his closed eyelids; they are red, and blue and yellow and all the colours in the world because that is who siwon is to him.
if he is the canvas, siwon is the brush. if he is the painting, siwon is the colour. he is nothing without siwon.
eventually, donghae pulls away. his cheeks are flushed, thumb coated in chocolate and yet donghae cares about none of that. he only glances at siwon, waits for him to say something; his heart is caught in his throat.
“so, is this our song now?”
donghae breaks into a smile.
donghae sighs, turning another page of the article he’s assigned. shaking his pen, donghae glances at the ink which is now half full, from its previous three quarters. he groans, shuffling the pages of the — held together by a paper clip, not a staple like standard company procedure — article, to the front. his gaze scans for a byline and sighs when he finds it: oh sehun.
talented kid, just poor organizational skills; poor people skills; actually, if donghae begins listing all the indictments of his character, they may be here a long time. instead he settles for a quick scribbled, do go over the magazine guideline for submitted articles next time! siwon has always said donghae excelled in the art of passive aggression; this is just the tip of the iceberg.
his phone buzzes and donghae’s heart clenches. maybe its siwon! his flight must have been delayed; in all the hustle and bustle of the office and henry’s visit, donghae has forgotten to open a tab on his laptop with siwon’s flight details. perhaps that would explain the jitters, otherwise donghae always knows when siwon’s flight takes off, lands or if its delayed. without the guide, it’s as if donghae has entered a blind spot.
the red markings on sehun’s articles turn gray, blending with the monotones of the paper and typed ink, making donghae blink. there’s a lump in his throat he can’t quite explain, and his when his vision clears, his corrections once glare at him in red. his eyebrows knit together, opening the drawer to comb through it for his eyedrops. without siwon to remind him, donghae goes through his entire day with dry eyes — to his doctor’s chagrin — and he tides himself with this excuse.
ding! this notification is more insistent, repeating twice and donghae reaches for his phone. siwon would call, leaving a voicemail as he usually does. throughout the week, donghae has spent most nights before bed, listening to old voicemails. siwon’s gentle baritone lulling him to sleep as he is reminded he is loved, he is cherished, and siwon loves donghae just as much donghae loves him.
if donghae writes love letters to siwon — lengthy ones, incredibly sappy ones — then siwon’s love letters are the voicemails in donghae’s inbox.
[ incoming - hyukjae ]: i finished work early, lunch?
[ incoming - hyukjae ]: oh siwon is coming home today right?
[ incoming - hyukjae ]: when does his flight land? is he already there?
[ incoming - hyukjae ]: donghaeeeee let’s get lunch, i’ll even PAY.
donghae snorts, even if the mirth lasts for a second. hyukjae’s texts only pull away his attention from siwon for a sparkling moment. another glance at the message reminds him he hasn’t heard from siwon yet; there is a constricting in his chest. his shirt feels so tight against his skin, donghae can’t help but wonder if all his chest presses at the gym — a membership he was coaxed into by siwon — have finally started to pay off.
[ outgoing - hyukjae ]: i’ll go to lunch with you
[ outgoing - hyukjae ]: only if i get to pick the restaurant too.
maybe lunch will take his mind off siwon; maybe by the time he gets back from lunch, siwon will be here. dimples, dress shirt hanging loosely off his shoulders — he’s losing weight, and no matter how often donghae tells him he doesn’t need to, siwon won’t listen — and long legs; his face would be a little sullied, tired from the flight. despite the fatigue, siwon will run his fingers through his hair — its growing a little shaggy, falling into siwon’s eyes: just how donnghae likes it — before giving a smile, cheeks caving for his dimples and the edges around his eyes will crinkle.
only then will donghae feel the air return to his lungs.
“yo,” a voice echoes through his cabin and donghae looks up from the paperweight he is fiddling with to meet hyukjae’s eyes. gaze flickers over hyukjae and the corner of donghae’s mouth curves into a smile.
“you dyed it again?”
“don’t give me that look!”
donghae snorts, raising his hands in surrender. his nose wrinkles as his smile widens. “i’m not giving you any looks!” he’s curious though; this is the fifth time hyukjae has dyed his hair. somewhere along the line — around the first time hyukjae dyed his hair a soft red colour — donghae began to assume that perhaps hyukjae had started to see in colour. that was when they were nineteen; it’s been seven years and hyukjae still refuses to tell donghae who the person behind his technicolor is.
he doesn’t push anymore, not when he knows it will aggravate hyukjae. all their friends too are aggravated but their words are more playful; jealousy hidden under lighthearted jabs of how donghae already has his soulmate; cracks on how donghae will never have to go through the struggles of dating to find the one; not when siwon has been tailor-made for him since the day he was born.
“—yeah you are! you do that thing with your face, the pursed lips and the drawn eyebrows.”
“pink though? really?” donghae doesn’t deny it looks good; then again, hyukjae looks good with most hair colours. if he can pull off his head looking like cotton candy, he can pull off anything.
“i didn’t say it looks bad!” donghae snorts, grabbing his jacket which is slung on the back of his chair. “i thought we were getting lunch?” as much as he enjoys useless bickering with hyukjae — it’s been years and yet they can spend hours arguing with one another as if it hasn’t been a day since high school — his stomach has started to clench and if he leaves it unattended another second, it will start growling.
at least this time there will be no classroom full of giggling students or the ticking time bomb of an exam to witness his humiliation. this time there won’t be a siwon three rows in front of him either, but he tries not to think about that.
“where are we going?”
donghae ponders this question; he may have been the one to raise the condition but he’s been so caught up in articles (and worrying about siwon), donghae hasn’t really thought about where he wants to eat.
hyukjae, sensing hesitation, jumps at the opportunity. “ramen?”
“come on, there’s an amazing one near your office. they serve tonkutso ramen!”
“hyukjae, no.” if it were up to hyukjae, they’d be eating ramen every day. donghae shudders at the thought of what that much processed flour can do to his system.
“fine, papa pho?”
“i’m not feeling vietnamese,” donghae interjects, stepping out of his office. he greets an intern with a smile, before waving his hand so she doesn’t have to bow.
donghae makes a face.
“it’s like going to lunch with a idol trainee,” hyukjae mutters, pressing his thumb against the elevator button. “next thing you’ll be saying you only want cucumbers for lunch.”
“let’s go to roro 11.” the elevator doors slide open then, and donghae steps inside. he turns towards the mirror, adjusting his hair for that one single strand which has moved out of its place. he ignores the jibe about idol diets, swallowing the poor memory. it’s already too late, too late because now the memory has taken ahold of his chest.
he’d warned siwon against it countless times, told him there was no reason to put his body through such torture; there was no reason to hurt himself the way he was. siwon listened to him when donghae convinced him to apply to seoul national university instead of staying behind in their small town; he’d listened to donghae when he’d bought the nice blue button down instead of the pink he’d initially picked up; hell, siwon agreed when donghae decided he wanted to try cooking mediterranean.
of course the last one meant their super had nearly kicked them out of the apartment for setting off the smoke alarms at ten past midnight.
siwon always listened to donghae — even when he shouldn’t — so this time shouldn’t have been any different. except it had; siwon clearly felt he knew better, and spent the night on the couch. every day donghae would see a fridge compartment filled to the brim with cucumbers, and every day he would set out an extra plate for siwon, only for it to remain untouched.
the silence tips hyukjae off and donghae feels a hand on his shoulder. “man i— sorry, i say stupid shit, you know that.”
donghae manages half a smile and shakes his head. “it’s nothing.” it is nothing; siwon had screamed it at him enough; siwon had whispered it — voice raspy, eyes dull — in the hospital. despite his sense of colours, siwon had never look more pale nestled in the white sheets. his face was drained of colour, and the mole on his nose seemed like the spot of a dalmatian rather than a beauty spot.
it frustrates him to no end, the way siwon treats his life — as if its dispensable. as if all donghae has to do is insert some coins into a vending machine, and he’ll have a new choi siwon. one who laughs the same way, one who who drapes him with a blanket if he falls asleep watching television; a siwon who will caress donghae’s waist when they kiss; a siwon who knows him better than donghae does himself .
they step out of the building together and donghae blinks. “did you get a new car?"
hyukjae furrows his eyebrows. “if you count two years and running old, then sure.”
donghae chews on his lower lip, squinting at the car. he doesn’t see the glint of silver, or the bright colour he remembers the car to be. “wasn’t it red?” donghae’s voice is soft; it quivers, as if his subconscious is already aware of the problem. this car looks a lot like the car he remembers, it has the same tyre mould and yet... it’s gray.
“donghae,” hyukjae’s voice trails, unsure if donghae is messing with him. “it’s still red.”
“no it’s—“ donghae squeezes his eyes shut before blinking rapidly. when he opens them again, the car is indeed red. in the distance, donghae can hear a faint cracking. maybe some of the kids were playing a little too rough in the alley; they must have broken a window of one of the houses.
and yet, the tightness in his chest remains. it scratches at his chest and donghae feels bile rise up his throat.
hyukjae’s voice snaps him out of his reverie and donghae glances over at his friend who is now by the car. “dude, you okay? you look a little pale.”
donghae waves away the concern with a fluid motion of his hand. it must be the dry eyes, or maybe the smog has travelled all the way from shanghai and shrouded seoul’s greens and pinks and blues with a nasty, dull gray. “i’m fine.” and yet, the thought clings to him; it remains at his forefront like a piece of gum stuck to a shoe.
the engines revs and donghae turns his attention to the scenery which blurs into a cacophony of colours as they drive. a phone buzzes and donghae reaches for his only to see hyukjae already typing away, a single hand on the wheel.
he swallows the fear once again, burying it somewhere deep. if he could lock these feelings in a chest and toss it deep in the han river, donghae would. things lost at sea, never return. unfortunately, feelings don’t work that way; unfortunately, donghae’s stomach clenches and he fears a loss in appetite as they near the restaurant.
“i hope you don’t mind but i invited ye—yesung hyung ,” the way hyukjae stammers over the name means this man must be important to hyukjae. donghae wonders if this is who hyukjae has been seeing; the mystery person he refuses to divulge.
before donghae can even react, a lanky man — around his height — throws his arms around donghae. he staggers back a little. his hands raise, either to return the affection or to push the man away donghae isn’t too sure.
“you must be donghae,” the man finally says, flush high in his cheeks and eyes twinkling.
donghae’s own gaze flickers across ‘yesung hyung’ and takes in the baggy shirt, the small waist and breaks out into a smile of his own. “yes, that’s me.” he extends a hand, wishing siwon were here too; siwon would compliment yesung on the blonde dye of his hair; siwon would return the hug, not remain stiff like donghae had. “you must be yesung hyung?” he bites back a ‘hyukjae has never mentioned you before’ because that would be cruel and it would be unfair to take out his own frustrations on hyukjae’s boyfriends.
their steps fall into line as they enter the restaurant and donghae realizes he enjoys yesung’s company; he sees why hyukjae likes him so much. donghae too, approves. yesung is calm enough to balance out hyukjae’s insanity. yesung is soft spoken to hyukjae’s loud volume and donghae feels an ache in his chest. they’re two pieces of the same puzzle, and donghae’s other half is still unspoken for.
a call, a text: anything would be nice at this point. anything would be enough to comfort donghae; as if the two weeks of spotty internet and frozen video calls weren’t hard enough, now he was yet to receive a text.
walking past the stuffed bears at the entrance, donghae’s steps falter. the toys— there were a different colour weren’t they? he and siwon had come here for the latter’s birthday; the bears were an assortment of light browns, dusty pinks, and soft yellows. yet now when donghae looks, they seem gray. the exact same gray of hyukjae’s car — for a brief second — and when he lowers his gaze, the grass too is gray instead of a dewy green.
hyukjae’s voice snaps donghae out of the fear spinning in his mind; it’s got donghae tight in a grip, one which he can’t worm his way out even if he tries. his jaw wobbles as he glances up at hyukjae, ‘it’s all gray’ bubbling on his lips. except when his eyes meet hyukjae’s he notes the grass is green again, only a splotch of gray remains on the asphalt — as if donghae had dreamed the entire sequence.
“yeah, i’m coming.”
there is a nagging in his chest, one which no matter how he tries donghae is unable to push away; or at the very least, soothe. it sits in his gut like murky, swamp water; like the cold of the deep sea ocean — chilling him to the bone. it would help if he knew what he was so worried about, if he had even the slightest idea what there was to fear.
“donghae,” yesung’s voice is soft, a hand against his forearm. “donghae, are you ready to order?”
he can’t even look them in the eye, not when he is sure there will be concern dripping from their irises; donghae isn’t sure what to do with the comfort. not when he doesn’t know why he is so afraid.
“the waiter... the waiter knows my usual,” donghae, stumbling over his own words glances up to greet said waiter with a smile. he looks away too, before the girl can ask how siwon is.
in the hustle and bustle of the restaurant, chatter overlapping across tables and dishes being set down — it is distracting to say the least and donghae allows himself to be lost in conversation. he laughs along with yesung when they make fun of hyukjae’s eating habits, contributes in telling embarrassing stories of their childhood.
this time when his world flickers into monochrome, donghae hardly notices. he’s too busy laughing at a joke yesung has told, curling into himself as his limbs flail forward — a palm landing on hyukjae’s shoulder with a loud thwack.
he almost doesn’t notice, almost, the radish pink of the shrimp is no longer that colour. or the light blue of the pepper shaker seems faded around the edges. the moment is fleeting for when donghae blinks — in that split second — all colour returns. his eyebrows furrow but his attention is grabbed by hyukjae trying to force two forkfuls of spaghetti into his mouth.
swallowing a crude joke about hyukjae’s ability to stuff himself, donghae sneaks a glance at his phone. his clear lockscreen glares up at him, mocking him. maybe siwon is waiting for him at home, he contends himself. either that or he’s already at the office. siwon does this often, getting into office right after a flight so he can get the photographs in, right after they’ve been developed.
his phone vibrates next to him. donghae pays no attention to it; it must be an advertisment, sk telecom urging him to upgrade his plan for even more data.
except it doesn’t stop buzzing; its insistent, much like a bee. donghae frowns, raising a hand at hyukjae and yesung as he attends the call. it’s not a number he recognizes, and donghae’s hand hesitates over the red button, before his heart once again finds its way into his stomach.
donghae’s fingers tighten around the edges of his phone, leaving harsh marks into his skin. if he could, he would crush the phone — postponing whatever he will hear on the other end for as long as possible. his grandmother had always said bad news would always find its way to you, as long as you were its recipient; there was no use delaying news which is meant for him.
“hello?” donghae sets down the freshly strained cabbage leaves on the kitchen island, wiping his hand against the blue jersey towel hanging from the oven. he smooths down his other hand on his sweatpants, switching to hold the phone in his now dry hand. craning his neck, donghae nestles the phone between his ear and neck as he moves around the kitchen.
he glances at the planner on the wall, elaborate with handwritten encouragements next to big events: a ‘my donghae is the most talented!’ next to a dance showcase donghae had partaken in first year, a ‘the most handsome basketball captain the university has seen!’ accompanying a basketball scrimmage from a few months back. next, donghae’s gaze falls to the wall clock and he sucks in his lower lip.
basketball practice ended over a half hour ago, and donghae knows it only takes twenty minutes to get from campus to their little flat. they really lucked out when they’d moved; other people, their friends, donghae knows spent months looking for a place to live. thanks to siwon however, they had a nice one bedroom flat where the sunlight flooded in on bright days.
“am i speaking to mr. lee donghae?”
“this is he.”
there is an icy grip around donghae’s heart and he swallows the lump which seems to have formed in his throat. he waits, inhaling shakily, for the person on the other end to say something; anything, just so donghae does not make the worst assumptions.
“i’m calling from seoul national university hospital. it says here you’ve been listed as choi siwon’s emergency contact?”
the world shifts underneath donghae, his entire world tilting on its axis. his feet stagger, knews buckling as he sinks to the floor. “i—“ his voice tremors in his throat. “that is... that is correct.”
“okay, i’m glad i have you on the line.”
donghae shuts his eyes, unsure of what exactly that means. the only reason she would be glad is if he were going to be a father to twins — but that’s impossible. he gathers some skin between his index finger and thumb, allowing pain to pierce through him.
no, definitely not a dream.
which leaves only one outcome, and it’s one donghae is not fond of. his legs feel like stilts and donghae wobbles, still clutching the phone to his ear as he sinks to his knees. “wh—what happened?” there’s a lump the size of mount everest in his throat and donghae blinks, blinks fast enough to stop the tears from clouding his vision. water still cling to his lashes and they drip against his cheeks with a splash.
in the blur, donghae does not notice the white and blue pattern of their kitchen has started to dull. the electricity of the blue especially seems to wane, until it resembles the water in a murky puddle after it’s rained. nor does he realize the red of his high school jersey is washed out too; as if it spent too long in the wash, all its colour drained.
except when donghae opens his eyes, exhaling as he does so, the colours all fall back into place. there is nothing amiss, nothing except for the woman on the phone who is trying to get his attention. “i’m here, sorry...” he doesn’t know how to stop the tremor in his voice, or stop it from breaking on the last syllable.
“yes, we need you to come in.”
“what happened to—“ he pauses, realizing that isn’t an answer he wants. “is he going to be okay?” the voice which escapes from donghae’s throat is not that of a twenty year old, nearly finished with his second year of university but of a little boy; a boy who is terrified of losing his best friend in the whole wide world. it’s the voice of a boy who might have to say good bye to the love of his life; a boy who may have to learn how to live all over again.
“he’s stable, we’re preparing him for surgery.”
donghae nods, tears clinging to his lashes despite how often he blinks. they blur his vision, and donghae’s jaw wobbles as he whispers a soft “thank you.” even so, donghae remains on the floor. his fingers grasp against the cool tiles, as a sob escapes him. he needs to— he needs to call siwon’s mother; he needs to call his own. they’ll all want to know.
and yet, his fingers tremble. he hovers over siwon’s mother’s contact and bites down on his lower lip. the last message she’d sent him had been over two weeks ago; donghae remembers that. he’d called her to ask how she made her pajeon , a dish siwon had been craving ever since they moved away. donghae figured it would be a nice surprise for siwon’s birthday; already the thought of the sunrise smattering against siwon’s features makes donghae’s toes curl.
if he gets up and moves towards the cupboards, he will find leftover cornstarch in a little pink box. when his own mother had made the drive up from cheonju the day he and siwon had purchased their own apartment, donghae had scoffed. what will we do with so many boxes eomma? he’d said with a roll of his eyes. siwon, that suck up, had promised donghae’s mother they would use all the boxes and she was so thoughtful for making the trip to see them and make sure they were settled.
it was certain to say siwon charmed everyone he met, and he’s been charming donghae’s mother since the day they both were old enough to talk in sentences.
“eomma...” he breathes when the line connects, and he nearly bursts into tears again. he can hear the faint noise of the kettle whistle, or the boiling of water in the pot and donghae wants nothing more than to be in his mother’s kitchen. he wants to hear his father tuning the radio, despite there being a perfectly working television in their living room. he wants to crawl into his mother’s arms, rest his head on her lap and feel her fingers go through the tufts. “eomma, siwon... siwon, he...” there is a crack in his voice, a tremor. in the background, there is a faint ringing donghae can hear; the kind you hear at the opera when the soprano is singing a cadenza.
any minute now, the glass will break.
“donghae? is everything okay?”
that’s it, that’s all it takes for donghae to break. the ringing only gets louder, rising to a crescendo. he can imagine an orchestra, all dressed impeccably in whites and blacks as a maestro conducts them in the pit. there, on stage, is a damsel in distress. she sings an aria of her love, a love lost at sea. donghae’s love is not lost at sea, but he fears he will be lost forever. “he’s in the hospital, eomma... i don’t know what— can you call his mother for me?” his voice shakes as he asks this of his mother.
he definitely cannot face her.
“hm, i’m here.” except he wasn’t. donghae glances down at his shaking hand and the fear multiplies when it is not the tan he remembers. it must be the paranoia, he reassures himself. the paranoia is making him see things, he hasn’t seen gray a single day in his life. why would he be seeing it now?
“where are you?”
“i’m— i’m going to the hospital.” he has to; the doctors will call him again if he doesn’t show. it doesn’t matter if donghae doesn’t feel strong enough for this, he has to. siwon needs him to be.
donghae’s shoulders slouch, losing their hanger-like quality when he reaches the bus station and everything is in colour. while he’d been walking, there were splotches of gray against the green bushes lining the sidewalk, separating homes from streets. the pebbled walls of the curving, narrowing roads were no longer a shade of sandy brown that reminded donghae of the vacation his family took to jeju when he was younger. instead, it’s all gray. he staggers then, as if his legs no longer have the capacity to hold him up and clutches at the walls.
his nails grate against the pebbles, dirt gathering underneath his fingers. he shuts his eyes; siwon, he has to get to siwon; and yet, donghae’s body seems to have given up on him. when he lets his eyes flutter open once more, the world is righted. nothing is gray as it had been, but the local convenience store shines bright in its tricolour of red, blue and orange. donghae has always found the combination of hues to be atrocious — and the work of a colour blind artist — but today, he has never been more grateful for them.
a glance down at his watch and donghae realizes — with stunning clarity — his world had been in monochrome for a good minute. he has no idea what the gray means, but if it means what he thinks it to be... donghae shudders, keeping his head down as he enters the bus. even the driver’s cheery greeting is not enough for him to lift his visage and grant the man with a patented donghae smile.
there is no reason to smile, not when siwon is in the hospital and he doesn’t even know why. it could be anything; possibilities have always been donghae’s greatest fear. nothing terrifies him more than the great, wide world and its unknown.
it’s only siwon’s hand in his which tempers his heart, to know he won’t have to walk alone which settles donghae’s racing heart. he plays with his fingers, idle, watching them slip underneath the size of the sweater he’s wearing. it’s siwon’s; even if it has stopped smelling like him, and more like the tide plus they wash their clothes with. it smells like home and donghae stifles the urge to hide his nose in the collar of the shirt.
instead, he glances up as the number of people fluctuate with each stop; people get off, going to work; others get on, going home. they’re a mix of blues, and whites and blacks. there’s an occasional sprinkle of red and that makes donghae smile. he knows people wear neutral colours because not everyone can see the different hues which are in the world, but for someone like donghae — it can get exhausting.
the bus pulls up at the university and the bus driver glances back to where donghae is chewing on his fingernails. “the university is here.”
donghae glances up and shakes his head. “not today.”
he doesn’t wait for a response, instead resting his head against the window as he stares at the passing blur of roads, and shrubbery. there’s an unspoken relief in his chest when everything is the way it is supposed to be: the green of the bushes; the red, blue, white, and silver of the cars; the ever reliable red, yellow and green of the traffic signals. even the seat in front of him is once again a navy blue, instead of the gray it was seconds ago.
his phone buzzes against his thigh.
donghae ignores it.
nothing matters more than siwon; he needs to see siwon before he can do anything; before he can call anybody.
the bus makes another noise and donghae glances up when he sees the familiar logo of seoul national university hospital glaring back at him; it’s still daytime so the white neon which sears his retinas is still off; there’s an elephant on his chest. it sits, quite comfortably, upon his lungs and makes it difficult for him to breathe; even more difficult for him to stand; even more difficult to address the bus driver who is waiting for him to leave. his legs threaten to buckle underneath him, unable to carry both his weight and the weight of his fears. donghae doesn’t blame them, not when he wants nothing more than to crumple in someone’s — siwon’s — arms.
“thank you,” he mutters as he hops off the last step, even though when he turns there is only dust and well other cars. he shoves his hands into his jacket, trampling on falling leaves as he enters the hospital. donghae keeps his head down, not wanting to bump into anyone — rather, he doesn’t want anybody to see his swollen eyes. there are tears tracks streaking his cheeks and his nose is red, not uncommon in this weather except it has nothing to do with the slight chill a seoul autumn brings.
the hospital is busy — it always is — and donghae glances at a mother nursiyng a baby in her arms, her other two children at her feet as they tug at the edges of her pants. her hair is frazzled, and a part of him wants to go over and entertain the children so the woman will have some time to devote to the baby currently screaming its head off. he makes a face at the shrill noise, swallowing a comment of how it sounds like ryeowook singing at norebang after a few too many drinks. there is nobody there to enjoy it after all.
“uh, lee donghae.” donghae’s fingers rest upon the marble countertop of the reception, eyes glazing over as he counts the different colours of the granite like design — black, brown, copper, silver, white — idle work to keep his mind busy.
his words have no response and the receptionist gives him a blank stare. donghae glances at her too, at the pale yellow of her hospital regulated uniform; at the tight bun her hair is pulled back into, revealing a receding hairline; at the red taint on her lips, a splotch of colour on an otherwise drab outfit. he wonders who such outfits comfort, or even who decided this was an appropriate colour for hospital staff. if anything, it only depresses donghae further and he isn’t even a patient.
“sorry, i mean—” he pauses, words heavy on his tongue. “—lee donghae for choi siwon?” his heart hammers (unsteadily) within his chest; maybe she did recognize his name the first time. her voice sounded familiar enough, perhaps distorted a little by the telephone lines. maybe siwon is already in the morgue and she’s trying to find a nice way to tell him. panic rises up his throat, its icy fingers wrapping tightly around his neck. his airways blocked, like the time he’d let a hard candy go down the wrong pipe, donghae wishes she would hurry up and finish typing with those manicured, pink nails
“—the ICU is on the third floor, two doors to your right.”
donghae thinks it would be impossible to miss something as daunting as an ICU but thanks her regardless, voice wispy and eyes downcast. his phone vibrates with an increased urgency and yet, donghae does not move for it. not even as he waits for the elevator, foot tapping against the white marble. he wonders why hospitals have to be so pale; why they can’t colour the walls a soft pink, or blue — anything to make him feel like nervous.
leaning against the wall of elevator, donghae’s gaze remains trained on the space above the doors; it counts through the floors and donghae’s anxiety rises with each level.
L ( i can’t tell his mother, she’ll blame me. it’ll be my fault. )
1 ( what if siwon doesn’t make it? )
2 ( he’ll be okay, he has to be okay. )
3 ( won’t he? )
donghae glances up from where he’s fixated on the scuffed shoe he’d throw on his haste to get to the hospital. the edge which was once a nice cream, now filters into an off white. a colour donghae has not much interest in; the blue denim of his shoes, the brown of the mud caked against the laces — now those are much more interesting. anything is much more interesting than this hospital, than the thought of losing the boy he loves.
there is so much they haven’t done yet; so many places they haven’t seen. the world map siwon bought remains rolled up in its plastic bag, the packet of red push pins they purchased, gathering dust. the keurig coffee maker they’d bought last month has only just begun to smell like home and not the inside of a cardboard box; siwon told him they had no real use for a coffee maker; especially since up until a few weeks ago, coffee powder and water did the trick just as well.
landlord kim had told them he would keep an eye out for a better apartment in the building for them; a nice two bedroom with enough air for more than two people. nothing like their can of sardines (although that is quite a bit of an exaggeration). they haven’t been home for chuseok yet, and donghae is sure his mother is buying him a new typewriter; how is he supposed to write love letters if there is nobody to write them to. nobody to immortalize in the drying ink of a page.
the panic in his chest rises and all donghae can compare the feeling to is that of being front seat in a horror movie. as a child, donghae had always been afraid of the dark; as an adult, he is wary of it. there wouldn’t be so many stories if there was nothing to fear, is his logic. he can’t even begin to describe the different kinds of darkness, but perhaps the one donghae fears the most is a darkness without siwon.
stumbling through the floor, he keeps a steady gaze on the labels next to each door.
one of them is slightly ajar, and donghae’s gaze falls to a man in a bed. he notices the colours first; the washed out green of the hospital gown, the silver of the bars on the hospital bed; he notices the soft browns and pinks the family wears and his heart lodges in his throat. there’s a little girl, bent over and crying. she’s clutching hte man’s hand and donghae staggers back, his spine pressing against the wall opposite.
there’s a pricking in his eyes, a twitch in his nose and donghae raises a sweater sleeve to rub at his upper lip. he sniffles, turning away from the scene. his gaze falls instead to the patient he can see through the window. a hand raises, hesitant as he touches the figure of the boy laying in the bed. it doesn’t matter if siwon would have a smattering of blue and purple bruises; it doesn’t matter if there is a gauze around his head, matting black hair against his forehead, red blooming in a spot. donghae would recognize siwon with his eyes closed.
his gaze flickers to the monitor in the corner, to the needles which go through siwon’s palm and onto an intravenous bag and his fingers curl into a fist as he bangs lightly against the window.
it’s not meant to be as loud as it is; a few nurses peek out of rooms, stations and glare at donghae; he returns a sheepish grin and a mouthed sorry! it’s not his main concern, not when he returns his eyes to siwon and breaks out into an even wider smile when siwon’s gaze lands on him. the elephant on his chest seems to have manifested into thin air, the flickering of colours gone altogether.
donghae’s feet do not falter as he moves towards the door, fingers curling around the knob as he pushes it open.
donghae stumbles through the entrance of the hospital, hands shaking. he isn’t quite sure what to do with them, or where they go. his limbs hang by his side, dead pieces of meat attached to his torso; they feel limp, as if they’ve been dead centuries. “siwon?”
even his voice shakes, terrified. donghae remembers when he was ten and his parents had gone on a retreat, leaving donghae alone for the weekend. he’d slept with a bat clutched against his chest; he’d triple locked every entrance, woken up from disturbed slumber to check twice. he had not been afraid then; he’d been more worried for a robber to come and away with his parents’ most valuable possessions.
(he’d forgotten he was their most valuable possession).
twelve, lee donghae had been twelve and clutching onto siwon’s hand as they both stood in the line which started at the polls and wrapped all the way around the ramen joint. his legs had started to ache and he shifted the weight from foot to foot, giving him the appearance of an energizer bunny. even at twelve, siwon was taller than him and he reached up on his toes, squinting; they’d been in line for over an hour now. the joint family vacation to gangwon-do would come to an end after today, and donghae was determined to enjoy it. it meant he would dig his fingers into siwon’s forearm and tug his best friend over to the rapidly growing line for the roller coasters. they were the only children in the line, well preteens , in the line; donghae wondered if they were afraid. he wasn’t.
(donghae wondered if the air caressing his features would feel as nice as the blue sky he was blessed to see).
he is fifteen when his fingers curl around the head of the gear. there are three more years for him to practice but heechul hyung had been insistent. heechul hyung was older, which meant he was wiser; if heechul hyung said it was okay for donghae to learn how to drive, it must be. already, donghae could hear siwon scoffing. he exhaled, fingers tightening and then flexing as his foot pressed down on the pedal. heechul hyung had been over the basics; all donghae had to do was shift gears and turn the steering wheel. easy.
(his heart may be racing, but his hands are steady; he’s old enough for this).
perhaps the greatest test of his courage came when he was seventeen. there had been a sinking feeling in his stomach all evening, heart pulling itself apart by the seams. it had only grown when none of his messages got any reply from siwon; it grew even more potent when he heard loud noises from the chois’ next door. siwon would always tell him to turn on the radio when he heard them — yelling, the sound of objects being thrown, more yelling — and donghae followed. not this time however, this time his heart leapt into his throat and donghae sat in his living room, thighs pressed together and rosary beads between his fingers.
his praying grew more fervent, lips moving faster than the beads as the noise rose. donghae was not sure what he was praying for, but he hoped whoever was up there tonight listened. donghae’s answer came when he returned upstairs; siwon’s light was on, shadow cast against his pale peach curtains. now, donghae wished siwon had never opened the curtains; or at least, not when donghae was an entire house away.
the skin underneath siwon’s eye was sallow, purple coating his cheek as if he’d rubbed his face against paint. except the tinge of blue donghae could see said otherwise. his skin crawled, to know siwon — the boy he loved, the boy he was dating — was suffering like this. suffering and donghae could do absolutely nothing to help. he’d wished then he couldn’t see in colour; he wished siwon wasn’t his soulmate.
(anything to absolve himself of the guilt he felt; the guilt of being unable to save siwon from his father).
none of that however, compares to how donghae feels now. his hands shake, his knees feel as if they’re about to crumble. still, donghae’s shoes squeak as he rushes through the hospital, slamming into other patients, family members visiting the sick, nurses on duty, janitors. anything, he’d do anything in this moment to get to siwon; to simply know he is okay.
donghae’s steps falter to a halt as he blinks, trying to adjust to the hospital lights. his head whips from one side to the other, paranoia crawling up his throat. the seizing in his hands seems to increase, and donghae opens his mouth but nothing seems to fall. this can’t be right; everything was... it is... donghae’s head spins and he feels like he’s on the teacup ride all over again; except this time there is no steady hand on his back as he pukes; no comforting whisper as his hair is held back.
he gasps, feeling much like a fish out of water as he blinks again; the nurse’s scrubs are purple. never has donghae felt more grateful to see lavender in his life, especially since his mother had insisted on him wearing it to his high school commencement ceremony; she thought it brought the colour out on his face. donghae skids on freshly waxed floors, fingers grasping for the edge of the reception desk as he meets the gaze of a woman — who seems none too impressed by him — who is on the phone.
there is a brief sense of deja vu, one which washes away when the colours begin to fade once again. donghae’s grip against the marble counter tightens until the edges dig into his palm; his hand reddens, or he assumes it does; he can’t be sure, not when everything is grey. “choi siwon, i’m hisbest friend, boyfriend, partner, soulmate, “—emergency contact.
lips curve downwards and donghae watches, helpless, as she turns her back towards him and confers with the other women behind the desk.
tell me, please tell me what’s wrong, donghae begs; he cannot create a scene, he reminds himself. instead his fingers curl into his palm, nails breaking into skin as they dig. he feels blood drip against his fingernails but donghae cannot care less.
not when his blood too will be grey.
he is no longer a person, not without his colours.
eyes shut as he allows the whispers to drown into the background, the cashier calling numbers for patients to pay for medication, the hobnob from the outside traffic as the automatic doors open and close.
donghae lets his eyes flutter open, expecting the colours to return. they have but they’re dull, like a sweater that has been washed too many times, or an old pair of sneakers. he raises an eyebrow, hand raising as he pulls the crucifix out from underneath his shirt, clutching it. it’s no rosary but it will do for now. God had put his son through many trials and tribulations because he loved him, donghae too must suffer. God has a plan, is his mother’s favourite saying; he has never had reason to doubt her, he won’t start now.
“the patient is still in the operating room, would you like to wait there?”
“there is a wonderful lounge next to the pediatric lounge if that’s what you’d prefer...”
he shakes his head.
aligning his feet with one another, donghae keeps his gaze strictly on the steps in front of him. just one more, he reassures himself; just another one, he promises. baby steps, it’s the only way to get through this; the only way to not obsess with worry. fear clutches at donghae’s heart, wrapping it in its icy grip until donghae feels cold all over.
(maybe it’s just the air conditioning in the hospital).
the nurse gives him a apologetic smile, guiding him to a seat and handing him a paper cup. donghae is tempted to ask her to slip a sedative into the drink, anything to take the edge off. he’s heard xanax is great for anxiety, for mothers suffering with postpartum depression. she doesn’t; doesn’t even crack a smile at donghae’s jokes.
(he doesn’t blame her, he’s made better ones).
donghae watches until her footsteps fade, flickering as the lights do. his world tilts into brighter colours for a split second before they’re dull once again and donghae’s heart remains lodged in his throat. he crushes the paper cup in his hand, water spilling and dripping against the knee of his jeans. he doesn’t care; the phone buzzes in his jacket — donghae ignores that too.
instead he stands, shaky legs and all, and hesitates towards the doors leading to the operation theatre. his gaze flickers to the light above it, signifying its occupied. donghae doesn’t realize till later he’s read the words — the ones meant for those without soulmates, without colours — to figure this out. no, right now he’s too busy leaning against the small window. his hand raises as he places it against the glass, against where he can see siwon.
already donghae knows this is worse than anything else they’ve suffered; there’s a mask on siwon, one which is helping him breathe. if he cannot breathe on his own, it means his body has given up on him. donghae wipes away a few tears, jaw set. no, he refuses to believe; siwon cannot die; if siwon cannot believe, donghae will believe for him.
it all happens too fast then; he watches as the doctors look at each other. their gazes wide and hands flailing to gesture something or the other. donghae may not have a medical degree but he understands body language; if anything, he’s not blind. he can see the monitor which captures siwon’s heartbeat rapidly decreasing and his hand curls into a fist, thumping against the glass. he begs, he cries for siwon to fight.
siwon is stronger than anyone donghae knows; when donghae was injured, it was siwon who wiped his tears and fixed him up; when donghae failed a test, it was siwon who comforted him, reminded him there were more important things than grades. siwon is selfless, not thinking about himself.
never thinking about himself.
in fact, donghae is sure siwon was not thinking of himself.
it is only when he notices the doctors bring out the paddles that donghae turns away; he sinks to the ground, knees folding into his chest as he buries his face against them. his shoulders shake as donghae gasps for breath. he keeps his eyes shut; donghae never wants to open his eyes again. he does not want to see a single thing in the world if there is no siwon to share it with.
a hand rests against his shoulder, but donghae remains firm. he shakes it off, keeping his eyes squeezed closed. he does not want to look, he does not want to look, he does not want to look, he does not want to—
“donghae-yah,” the voice is soft, inviting. “donghae-yah, come on.”
a shake of his head, stubborn.
“donghae-yah, they’re going to take him down to the morgue.”
his head lifts, just the slightest. eyes still shut.
“i can’t,” donghae’s voice cracks; he buries his face in his knees again. “i can’t do it— i can’t say...” his voice breaks, making way for tears.
he sobs into his knees, allowing for different arms to come around and comfort him. he doesn’t care; not when none of them can provide the warmth he needs the most.
“so you won’t see him?” this voice is new, different. it’s not one of their friendship circle— junmyeon. “you won’t go see hyung?” his voice rises and donghae hears another in the background, presumably trying to calm — “no i don’t care! he’s not the only... yeah but he... we’re here...” — him down. there is a scuffle, and donghae keeps his eyes shut.
perhaps if he keeps them closed long enough, everything will be in colour when he opens them.
“you’re not the only one suffering. you aren’t the only one who lost him!” junmyeon’s voice is shrill, breaking through the bubble of delusion donghae has crafted for himself. “he was my brother! yet we’re all supposed to act like stone while you behave like a child?” junmyeon scoffs, the sound so similar to siwon’s donghae almost does a double take. “no, not a child. a coward. you’re a coward donghae-hyung.”
that breaks something in him and donghae looks up. when he opens his eyes, they are rimmed with redness. a hand rests against the floor as he pushes himself up. donghae wobbles and hyukjae is quick to catch him. “i want to see him.”
all his bravado falls the second his fingers wrap around the knob of the door to the morgue; he wonders why they had to keep him in here . why couldn’t they have let donghae see him somewhere nicer? how does it matter, his conscience sneers. it’s not like you can see anything nice anymore. donghae flinches at the reminder. if he could have, donghae would have walked the entire distance with his eyes shut. instead, he’d been forced to see the world in a way he’d never imagined it to be.
black and white.
he hesitates, before exhaling. be brave, that is what siwon would tell him. this is what donghae knows he must do now; be brave, even if he feels as if he could fall apart any second. as if he already has.
siwon lays against the metal table, one which donghae assumes is cold to the touch, covered by a white sheet. he looks as if he could be sleeping. donghae’s heart cracks, and a laugh escapes him as he takes a seat next to siwon. his mother has always believed a day of good food would only lead to auspicious outcomes. it’s a philosophy donghae follows; he remembers everything he’s had down to his drink order if it is an auspicious occasion.
this morning, donghae had traipsed over to the refrigerator and pulled out a packet of tofu and fried it to place in his ramen. he’d washed the meal down first with a glass of water, and then the coffee in his thermos as he left for the office.
yet there is nothing auspicious about this occasion.
his fingers interlace with siwon’s but as he lets go, the hand falls with a thud. the reminder nothing will ever be the same; the reminder, no matter how hard donghae tries — he cannot turn back time.
“si—siwonnie,” donghae’s voice comes out strangled as he looks at the man he loves, the man he had wanted to marry. all those dreams, half completed. “wake up, please wake up. i know— i know you’re just playing, that you don’t want to go to work and listen to the bossman talk for another ten hours about how you should have gotten more prints but we can go for dinner hmm?”
“we can go to your favourite place, you know the small one in hongdae with the the artsy graffiti on the walls? the one with that yakult soju you like so much.” a hiccup and donghae lets a tear splash against his lip, taking in the saline taste.
no response, except for the whirring of the air conditioner.
“come on siwonnie, we have to go visit eomma next weekend. you promised her remember? she was going to make nakji bokkeum, your favourite.” donghae shuts his eyes, jaw wobbling. there are so many things he hasn’t told siwon, so many things he hasn’t heard yet. they were meant to grow old together, die together — holding hands like that old couple in Titanic.
he sniffles, blinking rapidly.
“i saw... i saw the ring in your sock drawer yesterday,” donghae’s voice is barely audible over the air conditioner. he could be saying this in his head, it’s not like the dead can talk back. “you have to... if you don’t wake up— who will propose to me hmm?” his voice raises a little. “who will elope with me?” an octave higher. “who will listen to me ask stupid questions at three in the morning? who will make me haejang-guk? who will cheat at snakes and ladders?” donghae’s voice rises, and he hears a door open behind him but he no longer cares.
donghae stands, staring at siwon’s corpse. there is nothing he can see about the man he’s spent his whole life loving in the body in front of him. no dimples, no warmth, no twinkling eyes and yet donghae’s life force is tethered to these remains; to a man who no longer exists, someone who brought colour into his world.
“who will love me?”
the sound of the vacuum cleaner is loud, loud enough to drown out the latest hit by some boygroup called SHINee playing on the television; donghae doesn’t keep up much with idol culture, never has. the tune is catchy however, and donghae finds himself humming the hook to himself as he cleans the carpet to his modest one bedroom flat.
pulling at the plug, donghae reaches for a duster as he moves towards the mantle. there’s a single picture of siwon, one he doubts siwon even knew he took. after the— incident, donghae couldn’t bear to look at a single photo, not when he could remember the colours. that had been the hardest part, to forget colours; to live his life as if he’d never seen them in the first place.
most days he doesn’t succeed; most days he still hears siwon’s voice, and most days he runs to the source only to find nothing. donghae exhales, shaking his head. accept life is for the living, his therapist’s voice echoes in his head and donghae knows he should; he knows this is the only way to move on.
bereavement, n. to be deprived by death.
donghae has been deprived, he’s been deprived of a life he was supposed to have; a life he thought he would have. a life he’s lost.
already he knows there will be messages from hyukjae on his phone, checking in on him; wanting to make sure he is okay. yesterday was the first time donghae went to visit siwon’s grave after the funeral.
six months, it’s been six months since siwon passed away. six months since donghae stopped seeing in colour.
the kettle whistles in the kitchen and donghae’s ears perk in that direction; he sets down the duster and moves to the kitchen, wiping his hands against the apron — “why does it say kiss the chef?” “because that’s what you’re supposed to do.” “is this your way of getting me to kiss you?” “oh just shut up and kiss me.” — before lowering the heat on the stove.
his phone rings in the other room and donghae groans. “i only have two legs,” he mutters to himself, tempted to let it go to voicemail. except if it’s heechul hyung, the entire cavalry will be outside his house within the hour and there will be paramedics at the scene because they’ll have got it into their heads that donghae too wanted to be with siwon.
(he does, but he knows it’s not what siwon would want).
“i’m coming, i’m coming,” he mutters, quick footed as he moves through the apartment. donghae’s eyebrows furrow at the unfamiliar number, finger hesitating over the green button. it could be one of those spam callers; people who will steal his credit card information faster than he can blink. he’s being silly, donghae decides and presses the phone to his ear.
“who is this?”
“donghae? lee donghae?” there is an americanized pronunciation to his name, and donghae frowns. he pulls the phone away to glance at the number hoping it will spark recognition but nothing.
“yes, and who am— who am i speaking to?” his english is rusty, much better than it was years ago but it could still use work.
“oh! i’m sarah! from the agency!”
“agency...” donghae echoes, chewing on his lower lip; there is a faint spark of recognition in the back of donghae’s mind, but too far to actually grasp.
“your adoption papers came through, congratulations we found you a match.”
it hits donghae then, the phone falling from his grip and onto the bed.
he and siwon had applied for an adoption agency in the States almost two whole years ago; they were told it was a long process. they were also told it could take years before they would hear anything, if they would hear anything. especially since they were looking to raise a korean child. how could he tell this woman — this nice lady — he couldn’t take the baby
how was donghae supposed to raise a child on his own? this was a dream he had with siwon, and siwon was long gone.
noise breaks through his stupor and belatedly, donghae realizes the woman is still talking. he picks up the phone, all set to to tell the woman he cannot raise this child. he appreciates the opportunity but there is no way he can raise a child on his own, not when his partner is no longer in the picture and he is sure he no longer meets the requirements they’d been told at the start.
“i’m— my partner passed away.”
static crackles over the phone and donghae wonders if the woman has ended the call.
“would you still like to raise the child?”