Hyukjae plays with his thumbs. He taps his thumb's nail with his other thumb's nail, scratches it, grinds the tips against each other. He interlocks both thumbs. He makes it seem like his thumb split into two. Magic!
The person in front of him takes a step, and then some. He, too, takes a step, and then some.
The person in front of him stops. He, too, stops.
He goes back to his thumbs. Tapping, scratching, grinding—
The line walks and Hyukjae follows it into another room. This is probably it! In this room, there will be staff members in front, and they will finally get strapped onto their roller coaster seats—
Only to find out that this room is yet another corridor full of twists and turns, with what feels like the entire population of Tokyo lining up into yet another room at the other end.
How long does this go the fuck on!?
Hyukjae sneers at the historical carvings lined up the wall and the occasional gizmos moving and lighting up, trying to make the parkgoers feel like lining up is fun and exciting when it, in fact, isn't. The constant build-up of music and blaring of instructional videos in a language he doesn't understand is starting to hurt his head. He looks at his watch—it's been one and a half hours.
He goes back to his thumbs yet again, and again, and again until finally, they enter a spacier room. This time, he could finally hear staff members' voices trying to get everyone seated properly.
To Hyukjae they sound like angels singing.
The line shortens and shortens—man does it go quicker where you can see the end of the line—and before long, it is his turn to get on the car.
Then he catches a blur of motion in the corner of his eye. In the space between his crowded zigzag queue line and the wall, somebody confidently walks right up. The staff opens his gate and he gets in the car immediately.
Hyukjae eyes him sharply. What? He lined up for like two hours and this guy gets to just walk up like he owns this damn park?
He gets into the coaster car, and wouldn't you have it, he sits right next to Park Owner Guy. The guy is wearing a bright yellow shirt and a pair of loose short overalls. His hair sits at an awkward length, slightly curled chestnut locks that extend to somewhere in the middle of his neck.
As he puts his straps on, Hyukjae shoots him a dirty look that he doesn't seem to notice. The guy is busy examining the detailed set in front of him that the car then launches into. The ride is designed to imitate an exploration through a mystic cave, complete with Indiana Jones music playing in the background.
The car makes several turns, and then a wall is flashed alight to reveal a horde of animated spiders.
To which, Park Owner Guy responds in perfect, natural Korean. "Shit! Fuck! Scared the shit out of me."
Hyukjae turns to him, laughing from the sudden interjection. "You're Korean?"
"Ah, yes—Jesus!" He screams at another surprise. "Yes. I'm Donghae."
That wasn't really the correct answer to his question. But it answered it, in a way.
The car turns a couple more times with Donghae at least letting out a yelp each time, before finally, it stops at a well-lit room. Hyukjae was a bit let down by the ride, to be honest—he expected it to be more thrilling given how long the line was.
"That was fun!" Donghae says a little louder than Hyukjae is comfortable with. "You didn't react much, though."
Donghae talks to him like they've known each other for years. Hyukjae attempts to keep at least a foot of distance ahead with this stranger that Donghae keeps trying to close. "I thought it would be more thrilling."
"Yah, if you're looking for thrilling rides this is not the one. First time in DisneySea?"
"Yeah." Hyukjae makes a sharp turn between the souvenir aisles trying to lose him, but Donghae follows him like a lost baby duck. If nonverbal cues don't work, maybe sarcasm would. "You seem familiar with the park though, with how easy you could get in earlier."
"Oh, that was the Single Rider line."
Okay, that doesn't work either. "Jingle what?"
"Single Rider. You're not here with friends?"
Hyukjae wants to say no, I'm here with friends, because 1) admitting he's at Disneyland by himself is a little sad 2) if he says no, Donghae might follow him all day, but it seems to be an easily see-through-able lie that would just be even more embarrassing if proven to be one, so Hyukjae regretfully answers with the truth. "No, I'm alone."
The smile that colors Donghae's face makes Hyukjae exhausted already. "If you're alone, get in the single rider line, it cuts the wait time by a good bit. You should also get fast passes with the app so you can skip the line. Here, let me show you."
Again, Hyukjae wants to say no, I don't need it, thanks though, bye! But Hyukjae is kinda sorta curious. He spent quite a bit of money to come in here, might as well know how to make the most out of his money and time.
Donghae takes out his own phone and opens the park app. "Download this first."
So Hyukjae does, and he also follows Donghae's instructions to scan his ticket. "You want a thrilling ride, right? Let's go to Tower of Terror. I happen to also wanna go."
A few clicks later, a QR code shows up on Hyukjae's screen. "We got the 4 PM slot, so you can just scan this at 4 PM and you'll get into a special fast line. You're welcome."
"Thank you!" Hyukjae says sincerely, as that probably just saved him hours and hours of queue time. Mayhaps, he's starting to feel a little bad for judging Donghae harshly earlier when he was probably just excited to talk to another Korean in a foreign land. "Really, I—"
Now that Hyukjae is taking a good look at Donghae and the expression on his face, everything becomes more clear. Hyukjae now has gotten The Picture.
"There's still some time before we can get in," Donghae says, and Hyukjae can now pick up the nervous cues from his posterior—the awkward hand hanging by Donghae's side, the unnaturally straight back, the slowly softening voice. "Wanna get lunch?"
Donghae takes him to this restaurant on a boat, and once they're both inside, it becomes even more clear.
The inside is cozy and dimly lit, and there's even a bar. Lush elegant velvet-lined sofa seats sit closely across each other, providing a relaxed and intimate atmosphere with the soft piano music accompanying clings and clangs of tableware.
It's romantic. Donghae doesn't even try to be subtle. Straight off the bat, he takes him to a Romantic Thing.
"So, um, is this your first time in Japan?" Donghae asks once their waitress takes their order, and Hyukjae has been dreading this moment all the way here. Donghae is not a bad guy, not by any means. He had braced for red flags when Donghae pulled out a vlog camera on the way, thinking he was just going to become content fodder to an influencer, but then Donghae explained kindly that he makes a living as a travel vlogger with an added "don't worry, I'm not putting you in any shots, you can check my footage or check the edited version once it's up."
And then Donghae helped a foreigner couple take their photos, and then Donghae picked up a Japanese parkgoer's fallen keyring and returned it to them, and then some of Donghae's viewers recognized him and he graciously offers them a photo and signature, and at this point, Hyukjae is well convinced that Donghae is not a bad guy. Just that now that they're both alone, Hyukjae knows this is where Donghae would try to connect with him.
Which is normal. It is expected. Maybe Hyukjae is the bad guy here for being too pussy to tell Donghae that he is looking for neither a relationship nor a fling at the moment. But at the same time, Hyukjae kind of doesn't want to wipe that honest smile off Donghae's face.
"It is my first time in Japan," Hyukjae says, mentally contemplating how to approach this talk. Should he be dismissive? Should he be welcoming?
"How long are you staying?"
"Long." Hyukjae laughs. "I'm in Japan to work. Not the kind of exciting work you do, though. A boring nine-to-five."
Is that too friendly? Is that too personal?
"Hey, who says nine-to-fives are not exciting?" Donghae says, laughing himself. "I'm sure it has its moments."
Hyukjae scoffs. "I can tell you've never worked a nine-to-five."
"I'll admit, I haven't. Started my channel when I was a film student. Just your average out-of-touch obnoxious YouTuber."
And as he confesses so, Donghae takes a thin headband out of his bag, combs his hand through his hair before he puts them on. Hyukjae watches as Donghae does it in one practiced motion. Under the dim lights like this, Donghae's features are perfectly accentuated—his soft doe eyes that seemingly hide nothing, his perfectly symmetrical nose, his cheekbones.
Hyukjae averts his gaze. He sure has the look of an influencer down pat.
To avoid Donghae's questions, Hyukjae decides he will be the one who asks them. "So, how long have you been vlogging?"
"About five years?"
"And how many million subscribers do you have?"
"Bold question." Donghae snickers. "About fifty million?"
Hyukjae laughs. "Sure. Fifty million."
Their food arrives then, a collection of sandwiches and finger food as well as some light cocktails. Donghae is eating something with prawns, while Hyukjae opts for chicken.
Because he desperately wants to chicken out of this situation. Ha! Funny!
Hyukjae takes another good look at the other man. He's not a bad guy, he's established that much already,
Hastily, Hyukjae finishes his food first, swallowing rather than chewing. Donghae keeps making comments about his food as if he is in a variety show, perhaps to fill the silence, perhaps his YouTuber side trying to salvage this disaster of a lunch. He takes a large gulp of his cocktail before saying: "Hyukjae."
"My name is Hyukjae, I don't think you've asked yet."
After a couple of hours of walking around the park and a few minutes in the FastPass line, finally, Hyukjae successfully escapes the Tower of Terror unscathed, but with a giant man-baby clinging to his arms.
"Is it over? Is it over?" Donghae says, eyes still sealed shut.
"It is. Now get your ass up, people are waiting."
Donghae finally gets his ass up from the ride's seat as instructed, walking slowly towards the souvenir shop. "Fuck, I think I fucking leaked."
"Did you just seriously mark a seat of Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror's seat like a dog?"
"How the hell are you so calm about it? Scared the fuck outta me!"
Hyukjae snorts. "Mr. YouTuber Man, corporate life is the scariest ride you can take in your life. Imagining not meeting my targets makes me want to take that ride three times over instead."
He then glances at the monitor, where a photo of people screaming as their ride reaches a climax is shown. Hyukjae is there, with Donghae's head buried in his shoulder, his hands clutching onto Hyukjae's shirt for his dear life. Hyukjae looks at his own expression on the monitor.
He's smiling. He looks happy.
An expression he hasn't seen in a long time. It was the adrenaline for him, for sure, and screaming with all of his body to let go of the burdens that have shackled him for the last few months. But Hyukjae's mind briefly wonders how much of that happiness is because there is someone there to share the moment with.
Which makes him realize that his hand is still linked to Donghae's.
Donghae notices Hyukjae's curious stare at his hand—their hands—and promptly lets go. "Sorry. I didn't realize."
"It's okay, I didn't either." Hyukjae awkwardly puts his hand back in his pocket. Donghae purses his lips then scurries off to look at the merchandise on the shelf, suddenly finding them incredibly interesting.
Hyukjae stares at the broad of Donghae's back, then at the orange light peeking through the door. The sun is setting. The day is almost over, and Hyukjae has to part with Donghae, and Hyukjae has to tell Donghae that he isn't interested in continuing whatever the hell this is.
Well, he is. It's better to admit that now than later. Normally, he would be, but he can't. It's just not possible.
"Hyukjae, it's us!" Donghae finally notices the monitor. "God, look at me. Am I five? People will take this photo home and frame it, commemorating the moment I soiled my pants in Disneyland."
Hyukjae answers with a chuckle, still feeling a bit awkward hearing his name so casually being said by Donghae.
"Donghae," he says, also still feeling awkward saying it himself. "Isn't it almost time for the parade? Let's go see."
It isn't almost time for the parade. But Donghae is too much of a good sport to say no, probably. They take a spot a little high up, away from the crowds and noise.
Hyukjae plays with his thumbs. He contemplates if he should say it now or just chat to kill time until the carnival, and does so silently for a couple minutes, but then it's Donghae who breaks the silence.
"It's a no, isn't it?"
Hyukjae flinches, but doesn't answer.
"Hey, don't worry. I enjoyed today anyways, thanks to you it way more fun than visiting alone."
He taps his thumb's nail with his other thumb's nail, he scratches it, grinds the tips against each other. "Why were you alone? You seem like you make friends easily."
"Do I?" Donghae laughs, but it sounds empty. "It's good you think that way, I guess. I've just always been alone, that's how it is with me."
Still not daring to look at Donghae, Hyukjae just nods. Donghae seems like he wanted to say more, but Hyukjae has to admit he's not in the right heart to listen to Donghae right now.
Donghae seems to get the situation and instead asks him a question. "If I may ask... why were you alone?"
Hyukjae bites the inside of his cheek. It should be fine now to talk more, now that Donghae isn't expecting anything. Should he?
He decides to give a more vague answer. "I thought I needed to be alone. But then I realized I don't like being alone. But I also don't want anyone near me. I don't know. It sucks."
If Hyukjae's observation of Donghae is correct, he'll probably press further, gently but dire, perhaps frustrated. Perhaps, for a fleeting moment, Hyukjae had hoped in his little heart that Donghae would press when he said what he said.
And Donghae does. "Did something happen?"
Hyukjae's eyes finally meet Donghae's, a pair of curious brown eyes that seem to hide nothing. Hyukjae expected there to be anger, or at least disappointment written on that face and those eyes, but Donghae seems to just be legitimately curious, even worried.
Hyukjae reminds himself that he's only known Donghae for six hours. Donghae has only known him for six hours.
"Donghae," Hyukjae says, against his better judgment. "How can memories change?"
He pans his vision across the glitz and glamour of Tokyo DisneySea, thinking this will also be another memory soon. Will this memory change, too?
"Memories that had always been fond to me for over twenty years, the same scenery, the same smell and taste, everything changed. The food my mom cooked became bitter, the music I used to love now brings me fear, the river I worked hard to see everyday is no longer beautiful." Hyukjae's mind briefly flashes to summer nights by the Han River, hands all over his body, the sweetest words and promises never kept whispered to his ear— "All because one guy chose to play with my life. It's not even fair."
A few silent moments pass. Hyukjae keeps his eyes trained on his thumbs, both starting to twitch. Then: "Is that why you came here?" Donghae asks.
Feeling pathetic suddenly, Hyukjae laughs dryly, fully starting to realize how stupid all of this is. Even telling all of this to Donghae is stupid, but he just can't stop. He's held it in for months, having no one to talk to after everyone else was cut from his life, after literal years of only being vulnerable to one person who chose to use that vulnerability to manipulate him instead. "At one point even Korean language itself makes me feel sick to my stomach."
He waits for an answer, or comment, or whatever, but Donghae doesn't give any. He wants to see Donghae's expression, but he also doesn't. He'll fucking hate himself if Donghae looks at him with pity, he doesn't want to be seen as pitiful. Why did he even do this? When he has zero idea how Donghae would react, how Donghae would think, and also when apparently Donghae's opinion of Hyukjae is important to him.
Hyukjae is on the verge of tears. "Sorr—"
"Then let's go," says Donghae, tone light and bright, like it's the easiest thing to say in the world. "See unchanging places so you can have unchanging memories. I'm heading to Kyoto in two days. My room can accommodate two, you just need a Shinkansen ticket. Wanna come with?"
You take my hand and drag me head first, fearless
If anyone knows Hyukjae is going on a trip out of town in a foreign country with someone he's only talked with for a total of eight hours, they'd flip hands. Too bad no one really cares. It could've been a hit party story.
Hyukjae drags his mini suitcase through the ever-busy Tokyo station, trying to match the characteristic rushed steps of Tokyoites. There, by the Shinkansen gates is Donghae, clad in a simple tee, shorts, and beanie combo, his sunglasses hung snugly on his collar.
"You really look like a traveler," Hyukjae says, staring at Donghae's large travel backpack, suddenly self-conscious of his choice of shorts and printed shirt. He wanted to look trendy but wasn't sure if he pulled it off, and if it were the right time and place to do so. "I look like a kid on a family vacation."
"To be honest, it's just to look cool on camera." Donghae laughs. Hyukjae laughs with him. "And frees up hands to film. Also, you look fine, really. You got your ticket, right? Let's get Ekiben before we leave."