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fearless

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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—"

Oh.

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."

"Hm?"

"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."

Chapter Text

Staring out the train windows, Hyukjae can see what Donghae meant by unchanging.

The sight of Kyoto feels like it has not changed at all for decades. People don't walk as if their lives depend on it. Little shrines decorate every street corner, where the elderly would be praying and talking among each other. Lush trees shade the benches people sit and rest on. Kyoto is slow, serene, unchanging.

They get off the train and it's even more apparent - the Saga-Arashiyama station has preserved its old wooden look, topped off with a locomotive sitting outside.

"Isn't it so much different from Tokyo?" Donghae asks as he hands Hyukjae his green tea ice cream. "Tokyo is too frantic. Heck, Seoul is, too. I love it here. I always make sure to stop by if I'm ever in Japan."

"And how many times a year do you go to Japan?"

Donghae laughs. "Look, all I am is but a mere slave to the mighty algorithm, and the mighty algorithm loves Japan."

Fifteen minutes later, Hyukjae can see bamboo trees come into his vision, tall and looming. The packed grove stretches as far as his vision can go, painting it a cool mellow green, and a soft breeze flows through between the tree canes.

"Did you know that bamboo groves can last more than a hundred years?" Donghae says, setting up his expensive-looking camera gear. "This one dates back to the 8th century. New trees replace the old and grow to be the same height and color. What you see now is the same thing people saw back then, and it doesn't get any less beautiful."

Hyukjae looks at Donghae, not expecting such words to come out of that usually brash mouth. "Are you the guide here, sir?"

Donghae grins. "You think I can part-time as one?" He snaps a photo, looking pleased with the result. "I've been here more times than I can keep track of, and each time I still always take photos because it's so pretty. You should take a walk through, I'll catch up with you."

So Hyukjae does, walking further into the forest where more tourists are taking more photos. Some of the trees have things carved on them: Aiden was here. 2018.12.26. LIJ ♡ CSH. Japanese letters he can't read.

All the dates written are fairly recent. These carved bamboo culms with people's memories will grow and die off, and new identical ones will take their spot. Things change, yet remain the same.

Surrounded by the endless trees, Hyukjae feels like he is being embraced by it. For the first time in a while, he feels... calm. Nothing will interrupt him here. If he comes here in the future, he will see this same sight, reminding him that some things in life remain the same. Despite all of the turbulence and the things that come and go in life, here it all remains the same. Despite all the bad memories, Hyukjae is still Hyukjae, his life is still his life.

He basks in it for a couple more minutes, watching the trees and the people going past by, then he notices Donghae in the distance, then Donghae notices that Hyukjae has noticed him, then the long-haired makes his way over.

"You looked like you were having a moment," Donghae said, handing Hyukjae something from his pocket. "I didn't want to interrupt you."

It is a polaroid photo of Hyukjae, gazing peacefully at the trees, a hint of a smile on his face—doubtless, weightless, fearless.

 


 

 

In this passenger's seat, you put your eyes on me

In this moment now, capture it, remember it

 


 

Donghae takes him to more places over the next few days — Fushimi Inari Temple, Kinkakuji Temple. He takes him to see the deer park in Nara, to eat authentic matcha treats in Uji. On the last day, Donghae takes him to Osaka, from where Donghae will leave Japan to his next destination.

 

After depositing their belongings in a locker in Osaka station, they grab some authentic Osakan okonomiyaki to go and find a quiet place to sit with some beer. The late summer night air is warm and breezy, the sound of cicadas ringing through the casual chatter of everyone else passing through this corner of the street.

"Where will you go next?" Hyukjae asks, cracking open his cold one.

Donghae cracks open his own. "Bali. It's going to get a bit cold up here soon, I don't have my coats with me."

"Sounds like that's just an excuse to run away from home."

"You know me well already," Donghae says with a laugh. "Look at my skin. I'm a summer boy. Also, the algorithm loves Indonesia. Gotta pay my bills."

Hyukjae chuckles. "Is another person joining in there?"

Donghae shakes his head. "I told you, I've always been alone. I really don't have any friends that are that close. I never had any to begin with, and after I started getting views a lot of people wanted to be my friends just for the sake of being one. So I decided to just not fuck with that."

"But isn't it hard being alone?" Hyukjae traces the rim of his beer can with his thumbs. He recalls the first morning — the emptiness and stillness of his apartment, the eerie silence from his phone, the jarringly cold other side of his bed. "I've—to be honest, I've never had been alone for most of my adult life. This is the first time. Everything feels awkward. And lonely."

Donghae gives him a wistful look, then sighs. "I'm the opposite then. I've been alone for most of my adult life."

Hyukjae turns to him with wide eyes. "Never dated?"

"Not really," Donghae admits with a weak laugh. "Is it that surprising?"

"I mean," you're hot as hell and nicer than an angel, Hyukjae opines in his head, and there's also the stereotype of an influencer creeping up the back of his mind. "You seem like the aggressive type. I thought you'd capture hearts left and right."

"I'm not a fuckboy, I swear." Donghae laughs with a dismissal wave. "I don't know. People I liked never liked me back. That's just how it is, I guess. And I don't want to just date for the sake of dating, I want to have real meaningful relationships, with—" he clears his throat. "With... love, and stuff."

Hyukjae looks—looks. And with another swig of his beer, he asks another question: "Why do you like me, Donghae?"

Donghae, too, looks, and takes a swig of his own beer. He combs through his long locks with his hand and asks, "Can I be honest with you?"

"Please," Hyukjae says, trying to nonchalantly open another can of beer when he's completely freaking out. Why did he ask that question? He's not even close to drunk but already making questionable choices.

Smirking, Donghae examines him thoroughly with his eyes, up and down. Hyukjae raises an eyebrow, both eyebrows, holding himself back from shaking the other to get an answer out of him right here right now.

Instead, Donghae shrugs. "I don't know."

Hyukjae rolls his eyes, releasing a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Come on."

Donghae snickers and finishes the last drop of his beer. "When I first saw you I just knew I like you," he confesses boldly — the straightforwardness of it making Hyukjae feel certain things. "I never second-guess these things. When I like you, I like you."

Hyukjae tries to hide his blush. For some reason, that strikes a chord more in Hyukjae than any other reason Donghae could have said. "Better be careful who you choose to like. You don't know me. I could be a bad person."

He curls his hand tight, feeling his nails dig into his palm. It's happening again. Hyukjae really didn't want to, but it just keeps happening. It'll maybe still be a long way before he can just talk about love and relationships comfortably without always getting bothered by those thoughts, those memories, those voices, and all the other things he recorded with his senses.

Hyukjae doesn't want to be defined by his trauma. Hyukjae doesn't want to always bring the mood down. Hyukjae doesn't want to be pitied. Hyukjae wants to be free. Yet...

"Sorry," Hyukjae says, it's all Hyukjae can seem to say in times like these. "I—"

"Did he hurt you a lot?"

Donghae's voice is rough and hoarse. His low lidded tipsy gaze bore into Hyukjae like daggers, surprising Hyukjae with the intensity. It was off coming from Donghae — perhaps it was the alcohol? Hyukjae has learned that Donghae is an intense guy when it comes to his expressions, but this is the first time he has seen it not being anything positive.

But Donghae didn't look at him with pity. It is anger in Donghae's eyes, and pain—and Hyukjae feels the urge to confide in it, pulled into it.

For the first time in a while, Hyukjae feels the urge to be vulnerable.

 


 

 

I don't know why but with you I'd dance

In a storm with my best dress, fearless

 


 

 

Despite Donghae's persistent resistance, Hyukjae is here, at the check-in area of Osaka International Airport, to send Donghae off.

"I told you you should just go back to Tokyo," Donghae says, passing Hyukjae his warm vending machine coffee and taking a seat next to him.

"It's fine. It's not like I have anyone waiting for me in Tokyo or anything to do there."

Donghae shoots him a glare. "I told you to not be like that. You better watch. Once I get off that plane, I'll have a long list of places to visit in Tokyo ready for you to never get bored in the next three years. Not a second of free time to overthink."

Hyukjae laughs. "You're too much," he says, finding it incredibly strange and comfortable. It is incredibly strange and comfortable how Donghae treats him the way he wants to be treated.

It should only be comfortable — the strangeness is just something that would never wear off in three days. In the end, Hyukjae couldn't follow that urge to be vulnerable to someone else — his heart raced, his chest painful. His body said clearly what it wanted to say, and that is this is terrifying and you should stop.

"Thank you for this whole trip," Hyukjae says with a wry smile. "You don't know how much you helped. And I'm sorry."

I'm sorry I can't do anything for you, Hyukjae wants to say, but that seems to not just be the only thing he's sorry for. He's just sorry for everything to everyone.

Donghae's hand reaches up to Hyukjae's back and Hyukjae wants to take it—Donghae isn't a bad person, you have to be able to do this for him—but his whole body tenses up immediately. It's still like this for any part of his body that isn't his hand. Promptly, Donghae pulls his hand back to his side, and Hyukjae is left feeling even more guilty.

"You have nothing to be sorry for," Donghae says then, his usually boisterous voice low and soft. "It's not your fault. That you were caught up in it is not your fault, that you're feeling what your feeling is not your fault."

Hyukjae looks up. His voice, his gaze, his words—all of it sends shivers up Hyukjae's spine. "You sound just like my therapist."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" asks Donghae in response, sounding mildly amused. "I, um, I read up. They said it's what you should hear."

Hyukjae's thumbs stop tracing the rim of his coffee can.

"Sorry. I'm not really good at this. But if it brings you any comfort, do know that if I'm ever back in Seoul I'd gladly knock that guy's teeth in."

"Donghae," Hyukjae says, his chest hot and eyes warm. "Can I ask you a favor?"

Donghae's lips curl to a warm smile. "Anything," is what he answers with, and it makes Hyukjae's stomach twist tighter.

It's a little selfish, Hyukjae thinks, and wishes he has the courage and ego to say. But please don't be in love with someone else.

"I'll get better," Hyukjae says instead, trying his best to not tremble. "You promise you'll come back here, right?"

So please don't be in love with someone else.

 


 

A couple of hours later, Hyukjae's phone vibrates as he prepares to head to bed at 7 AM.

The long list goes on and on as Hyukjae scrolls down the message bubble: Tokyo Museum of Modern Arts. Meiji Temple. Miraikan. Big Gundam statue. This really good Unagi stall in Asakusa (opens at night). Sakura at Inokashira Park (don't go to Ueno, it's crowded as fuck). Kawagoe Festival. And on and on it goes.

He wasn't kidding. Hyukjae smiles as he reads Donghae's next message.

You better have checked off some of this list by the time I come back in a couple months. Promise!

Chapter Text

Donghae arranges his food neatly, making sure the cafe ambiance is still in view as he positions his phone camera. He takes the photo, tags the store's Instagram account, and quickly uploads it to his story.

He's in a new hit cafe in downtown Seoul, this godforsaken city where he has been trapped for nearly two years now. Two years ago, a global pandemic spread across the world, postponing all his travel plans indefinitely. He thought it would be a couple of months at best, and now it's been nearly two years without traveling.

Which has been barely bearable. Donghae in the meantime has been touring the city and vlogging it for his YouTube content, but he's so sick of Seoul already. He misses seeing colorful cultural dances and festivals all over the world, eating food with spices and ingredients he couldn't even spell, feeling the tropical sun and breeze, meeting new people whose words he couldn't understand one bit but still having fun trying to communicate with. Traveling is his life's calling and not being able to do so has been suffocating.

Cafes in the city start to get boring, the same vibe, the same Iced Americano, the same things to take photos of. It's good that Donghae's vlog style isn't the energetic type and instead relies on pretty photos and shots, because he has no idea how to still be excited like this.

Then, amidst Donghae's thoughts — vibration from his phone. It's an Instagram reply from Hyukjae.

Hyukjae... it's been two years. Meeting Hyukjae was his last Japan trip before the world collectively went to shit. They've always kept in touch since — true to his promise, Hyukjae attentively visits the places on Donghae's list one by one, reporting to Donghae each time complete with a photo and a short paragraph of his thoughts.

Sakura at Ueno Park. You're so right, this place is crowded as hell. I see why you didn't recommend this last year. My team said they want to go do hanami here tomorrow, how the hell will we even get a spot? But the pond is really pretty and there's some cute stuff at the flea market. I got some castella at the festival area and left to get ramen.

Yanaka Ginza. Amazing atmosphere! I ate some really good tempura and snacks. There's a shop here that sells snacks that look like cat's paws, man do I want a pet... I used to have a dog back in college but now my apartment doesn't allow pets. Anyway why do you keep recommending places with good food? I'm gonna put on so much weight.

It's hecking adorable. There's always a report from Hyukjae on the weekends, sometimes on weekdays. It all never gets any less exciting, even after two years. Donghae truly is one hopeless man.

On the other hand, he hates that he couldn't keep his end of the promise to Hyukjae in the past two years. Japan is only a two-hour flight away, so close yet so far.

Donghae unlocks his phone with a sigh. I've heard about this cafe, is it good? Reads Hyukjae's message.

It's alright, but vibes are great, Donghae types back. Vibe check = pass.

Hyukjae quickly replies. Buy me coffee then.

Donghae is about to reply back with his usual Okay, when this shit debacle ends and I can get my ass to Tokyo to see you template answer, but Hyukjae has sent another message.

I'll be there in 15mins.

 


 

Hyukjae's eyes don't leave the screen as he quickly grabs his mask and keys.

Sure. I'll make sure your coffee doesn't get cold. Got your speedboat ready to cross the Yellow Sea?

He laughs. Hyukjae can just imagine Donghae's reaction when he actually gets to the cafe in fifteen minutes, him being overdramatic as he is.

Downtown Seoul has changed a lot in the two years he wasn't here, but the sight of Hangul on street signs alone already makes him feel at home. Heck, the fact that he can drive here alone is already a comfort he didn't know he missed. Hyukjae definitely won't miss the packed rush-hour Yamanote line train and the stench of beer it reeks of on weekends. Maybe one day he'll come to miss Japan and all its vending machines, but for now, he's completely on board with being sent home to work remotely.

As his car rolls onto the bridge, he catches a glance of the Han River below, sparkly and clear on a summer day. It's not so painful anymore to see. Two years away from it and all those grueling therapy sessions have done the job well. Hyukjae thinks about finally replacing those memories with more beautiful ones — skating on it when it's cold enough, getting food delivered right to his picnic blanket on breezy summer days.

Hyukjae thinks, and in his head, next to him is Donghae.

It's been two years. Hyukjae wonders if Donghae's heart still remains the same.

Suddenly he's hyper-aware of how clammy his hands feel on the wheel, knowing he's on the way to see the only guy whose message has never failed to make him smile in the past two years. The guy who is partly responsible for why he asked to be sent home. As fun as it was visiting the new places Donghae told him, Hyukjae has given it a lot of thought and decided he would rather visit familiar places with Donghae. He wants to make memories with him, get in silly little squabbles with him, spend his boring days with him.

Please don't be in love with someone else.

Over the past two years, Hyukjae has done so many things he would've laughed at if it were anyone else doing it. He feels like some delusional fan, creeping through Donghae's every vlog and social media post.

Hyukjae parks his car, gets off, and there he is sitting by the cafe windows — Donghae, with his hair tied to a ponytail and tucked into a cap, absentmindedly scrolling to his phone.

It's Donghae.

Please don't—

Hyukjae takes a deep breath and walks into the cafe, alerting its visitors with the chime of the bell. Donghae, in particular, is in high alert, looking like a cat sighting a laser toy.

"Hyukjae," Donghae simply says.

Hyukjae laughs—his chest feels light, free. "I said fifteen minutes, right?"

 


 

The sun is setting above the Han River, the patch of grass below him—below them—starting to feel cold.

But Hyukjae is warm. It is the warmest he has ever been.

In his peripheral vision, Hyukjae can see the exact spot that once held his turbulent memories, begging for his attention. It feels like a distant memory now, but also recent.

He looks somewhere else—next to him, where a warm person with the warmest heart is sitting, exaggerated disbelief painting his face, true to character.

"Are you kidding me?" Donghae says, cheeks and ears pink. "Of course not. It's only ever been you."

It is? Hyukjae thinks. It's funny. Admittedly he was half confident about it, but hearing it from Donghae himself is still unbelievable. It feels like a dream. Apparently, Hyukjae is someone worth waiting two years over. He means something to someone. He means something to Lee Donghae, one of the kindest and most beautiful men in the world.

It feels funny. It makes him feel funny. Hyukjae focuses on his thumbs, trying his best to keep them still.

Donghae hesitates for a moment, then gently takes Hyukjae's hand finger by finger. He moves his hand to the small of Hyukjae's back, and Hyukjae lets him. It is warm. Donghae's hand is warm.

"I've always been waiting, Hyukjae, and I would've waited however long it takes," Donghae says, barely a whisper. "Is it okay now for you?"

Tears pool in Hyukjae's eyes. Two years ago, he wouldn't have imagined this is the point he would be, having someone who accepts him and takes him in, and himself letting people in. Having someone he could trust again with his heart and his life.

Sobbing now, his voice cracks as he says, "Yes."

Donghae chuckles, filling Hyukjae's chest with more warmth. The warmth of Donghae's hands is now on his cheeks, wiping his tears away. He could feel Donghae's warm breath, inches away.

And then, Donghae's even warmer lips are on his. Life feels right.

 


 

You pull me in and I'm a little more brave

It's the first kiss, it's flawless, really something —

It's fearless