Work Header

It Takes You Years to Know What Love Is

Work Text:

Donghae keeps mentioning someone named Henry in his texts.

Every message that contains his name has twice as many happy emoticons as Donghae’s average; Kibum’s frown deepens depending on how many there are per text.

Here is what Kibum knows about Henry so far: he’s Canadian, he’s a trainee at SM, he plays the violin, and he makes Donghae happy. Kibum doesn’t like him. He’s never seen a picture of him, but, knowing Donghae’s “type”, he’s probably more cute than handsome, with dark hair and a killer smile.

I was right, is the first thing he thinks when Donghae posts up a picture of them together on Twitter.

The second thing he thinks is: He has stupid cheeks. Then he exes out of the window.

If he had any friends, he’d tell them, in a bitingly joking tone, how funny he thinks it is that Donghae is preying on someone as young as Henry, that Henry is probably just using the kind-hearted superstar to jumpstart his climb to the top, that Donghae is naïve and childish and is going to get his heart broken. And then he’d laugh as if to say, Like I care if Donghae gets his heart broken.

If he had friends they’d be honest, because Kibum likes honest people. They’d tell him, some of them gently and some of them bluntly, that he is just bitter.

(I can’t do this anymore.)

But Kibum doesn’t have friends: he has Donghae, the handful of people from Super Junior who still pretend to care about him, and a few acquaintances from his earlier life whom he goes out for beers with now and then (during which they laugh and swap stories while he sits in the corner barely sipping his drink and wondering why they invited him).

Kibum has never been good at getting close to people. In elementary school, he was the kid who sat by himself and chose not to go outside at recess. Donghae was the kid that colored outside the lines and ate paste just to know what it tasted like; the kid that everybody loved and chose first in kickball. He thought he’d been doing a better job of reaching out after he joined Super Junior, but, as Herculean as his efforts were, it was impossible for him to outshine a house full of extroverts.

He’s quiet. He seems cold. He doesn’t smile much. Every comment in this vein hit him right in the heart that, according to all of them, he didn’t have. And to think he smiled more in those first few years with Super Junior than he had in all the time since he moved to Korea.

Kibum is not like Donghae. Donghae, who keeps his heart pinned to his chest for everyone to see, for anyone to snatch and shatter into a million pieces. Donghae, who smiles because there are clouds in the sky and sometime because there aren’t, and sometimes just because he’s alive. Donghae, who makes friends wherever he goes. Donghae, who everyone falls for eventually.

Even he, cold, heartless Kibum, fell for Donghae.

Donghae later had the gall to call it love at first sight. Kibum laughed at him, but to this day he can’t think of a term more apt.

(It’s too difficult.)

The first time Kibum saw Donghae he was in a practice room at SME. Donghae was alone in the room. Well, alone minus Kibum, who had forgotten his bag and rushed back to get it. Donghae thought he was alone, and he had headphones on and his arms outspread and he was spinning, spinning, until he was so dizzy he stumbled and had to catch himself against the wall of mirrors. He knocked Kibum off-balance with a laugh and a smile when he spotted him lurking in the doorframe. While Kibum was trying to calm his flipping heart, Donghae walked over to him on slightly wobbly legs, extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Lee Donghae.”

Kibum doesn’t remember if he fell in love before or after he took Donghae’s hand, but by the time they were in the coffee shop later that afternoon, he was already head-over-heels for this mop-haired boy who spoke with an accent and loved his father more than Kibum had ever loved anyone and ate the whipped cream off the top of his coffee with his fingers.

Kibum turns his phone back on. He has one missed message. From Donghae, of course; no one else ever calls him. Because Kibum hasn’t answered the last five texts Donghae sent him (they were all about Henry), Donghae is now going to keep calling until he answers and tells him he’s okay (even if he’s not).

Kibum stares at the pixilated envelope on his screen so long that he loses track of time, so long that his vision gets blurry. He doesn’t listen to the message. He falls asleep trying to remember what Donghae’s voice sounds like outside the tinny speaker on his phone, dreams of a warm body wrapped around his, of smiles pressed against his lips, of a soft laugh he’s starting to forget huffed against the shell of his ear; of absence and longing and emptiness.

(I’m sorry.)

When he wakes up, there are wet marks on his pillow. He flips it over and closes the window above his bed, as if it was the rain’s fault. Then he checks his phone. There is another message from Donghae, and he ignores it.

Sighing, he crawls out of bed and goes to make a pot of black coffee. He swallows his medication with the first sip of the bitter drink and can already feel himself going numb, as illogical as he knows that is; the pills won’t kick in for at least another half hour. He has sometimes wondered if they are useless in their intended purpose and only serve as an excuse for him to stop feeling for 8-12 hours. That’s fine by him.

The first time Kibum kissed Donghae was during the filming of “Attack on the Pinup Boys”. He was spending every moment with Donghae, on screen and behind the scenes running lines, and that little kickback his heart did every time he saw Donghae was getting harder and harder to ignore.

“Kibum!” Donghae said, waving his hand in front of Kibum’s face.

Kibum started, blushed when he realized he’d zoned out staring at Donghae. Again.

“It’s your line,” Donghae reminded him.

“Sorry. I’m a little… distracted.”

“I’ve noticed. Okay, well,” Donghae shifted in his seat, folded one leg up under the other, “I’m really sick of practicing this scene, so I think you should tell me what’s bothering you instead.”

“Donghae, I don’t th—”

“Come on, Kibummie. Spill.”

“No. It’s nothing. Now, what’s my line again?”

“Tell me!”

Kibum sighed. Then, throwing caution to the wind, he leaned in and kissed Donghae.

Donghae stared at him when he pulled back, eyes wide.

“I wanted to kiss you. That’s what was bothering me.”

“Oh. Do you want to kiss me again?”

(Do you even like me?)

Kibum’s phone rings. He looks at the screen just to be sure it’s Donghae, and then doesn’t answer it.

Donghae doesn’t call back after that for a month and a half. Kibum is vaguely worried until he finds out it’s Super Junior M, a new subgroup, that’s been keeping Donghae occupied. If he’d answered his phone a month and a half ago, there would have been an excited Donghae on the other end telling him all about it in between shouting irrelevant phrases at him Chinese.

Now Donghae is in China. It’s not the farthest apart he and Donghae have ever been, but it feels far. Unimaginably far. Kibum, unable to deny his morbid curiosity, finds videos of the seven of them on his computer. He watches Donghae laugh and smile and enunciate in a language Kibum can’t understand, watches him put a casual hand on Henry’s thigh, sling an arm around Henry’s shoulder, lean in close and whisper in Henry’s ear. Kibum still remembers what it felt like to have Donghae touch him with an almost alarming amount of verisimilitude, and he knows with absolute certainty what Donghae is whispering in Henry’s ear.

Kibum never told Donghae he loved him.

Donghae told Kibum he loved him all the time, but Kibum never took it seriously because Donghae told everyone he loved them. Still, Kibum’s never stopped wondering if it meant something different— something more, when Donghae said it to him. But he never asked.

The first time he and Donghae had sex was two weeks after their first kiss. It would have been fifteen minutes (or less) after their first kiss if their hearts and hormones had had anything to say about it, but their hectic schedules interfered. After fourteen days of quick kisses and hurried gropes (on the couch when none of the other members were around, in dressing rooms before filming, backstage after performances), they were both sexually frustrated enough to do something about it. (And tired enough, to the point of intoxication— Kibum read somewhere once that losing an hour of sleep each night for two weeks leaves you with the same brain capacity as someone who’s been awake for 48 hours straight, and someone who’s been awake for 48 hours straight has the same brain capacity of someone who’s drunk.)

Donghae dragged Kibum into his room when no one was looking, shoved him down onto his bed and kicked the door shut behind him before Kibum could say, “Hello Donghae, nice to see you, how was your day?”

“Where do you get off,” Donghae started, crawling towards Kibum with intent in every shift of his muscles, “sending me a text saying you want to fuck me while I’m in an interview? I checked my phone during the break and had to jerk off in the bathroom before I could go back.”

“I knew you’d like it,” Kibum said, smirking as Donghae closed in on him.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it after. The nice lady kept asking me questions and I could barely answer because I was so distracted imaging it. Imagining sucking you off, imagining you fingering me open and fucking me until I scream,” Donghae whispered, accent heavy and voice husky as he palmed Kibum through his jeans.

“No wonder you always look so spacey.”

Donghae laughed, his teeth glinting in the low light. “Yeah, you’re the reason. If only they knew it’s ‘cause I can’t stop thinking ‘bout you—

Kibum shoved Donghae off the bed. “If you ever sing that me in bed again, we’re over.”

Donghae popped up over the side, trying not to laugh as he pretended to be outraged, and pounced on Kibum. He pinned him to the mattress with all four limbs, laughing (empty) threats against Kibum’s jaw as he trailed his teeth along the curve of his neck, breathing (empty) declarations of affection against his parted lips as he blindly worked at the fastenings on their pants. After a good deal of struggling, Donghae was naked and Kibum was kissing him sloppily, frantically, and kicking off his boxers and hoping to god that nobody had left anything in Donghae’s room that they decided they needed right this minute.

They didn’t get to the actual fucking that night. Kibum had forgotten to take the lube he’d bought out of his bag, which was out in the living room. Understandably, neither of them wanted to go get it and be seen by the other members in such a state. Waiting sounded pretty distasteful, anyway, and rutting against each other worked perfectly well, Donghae trailing his fingers up Kibum’s spine as they ground their hips together.

Donghae went to pieces under Kibum’s touch, intermittently moaning and gasping Kibum’s name as he writhed in a desperate search for more friction. He was beautiful like that, eyes shut tight as he clutched at Kibum’s shoulders and shook apart; even the faded memory of him in that moment can still take Kibum’s breath away, if lets it.

Kibum didn’t say anything when Donghae told him he loved him after (he’d said Donghae’s name when he came—that was worth something, right?), just smiled and kissed him on the temple. Donghae yawned and fell asleep tangled up in him.

On the news that afternoon it is briefly mentioned that the members of Super Junior in the subgroup Super Junior M are back in Korea. They are resting after their whirlwind tour in China and we should all wish them good health, the anchorwoman said. There is a paparazzi shot of them at the airport in the corner of the screen. Even though it’s small and blurry, Kibum can still see Donghae’s hand on Henry’s waist. His fist clenches around his phone so tight the plastic casing makes the beginnings of a cracking sound. The story changes to something about a bank and Kibum checks his phone for damage.

(Please say something.)

They were happy for a while. A year, maybe two. That’s the part where it gets fuzzy.

They had just released their 3rd album and promotions were starting. Donghae started getting quiet after Kibum didn’t return his “I love you”s. Kibum withdrew further into himself. It was like something was very slowly fading pieces of him away, reaching up out of some dark, secret place inside his chest and touching parts of his heart with an incurable necrosis. He and Donghae were still together, but just barely; they had sex, and then they went their separate ways. Kibum saw the downturn of Donghae’s lips, the turmoil in his eyes for a week before he said anything, so he wasn’t surprised when it happened. He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t surprised.

“Kibum.” Donghae knocked on the frame as he poked his head through the door, wordlessly asking permission for entrance.

The first hint that something was wrong: Donghae never knocked.

Kibum gestured him in with a tilt of his head. He didn’t say anything. Waited for Donghae to speak.

Donghae shut Kibum’s door. The second hint. “Kibum, I have to ask you something.”

Donghae looked as serious as Kibum had seen him since his father died. The third. “Okay,” he said slowly, cautiously.

“Do you love me?”

Kibum felt like someone had punched him in the solar plexus, or maybe like he was underwater. “What?” he asked. It sounded far away to his own ears.

“You don’t, do you?” Donghae said, and then he bit his lip, looked away and blinked rapidly. His eyes were wet. “Do you even like me?”

“Of course I like you,” Kibum said. His voice sounded funny.

“But you don’t love me,” Donghae said quietly, his voice wavering. “Look Kibum, I—I can’t do this anymore. It’s too difficult. It’s so fucking difficult, and on top of everything else… it’s too much. I’m trying so hard, but you, you don’t even seem to care.” Donghae was crying at that point, his voice breaking and sometimes disappearing altogether as he spoke. “And don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Just don’t.”

“Donghae.” Kibum felt helpless and heartbroken, but it didn’t come through in his voice. Nothing came through in his voice.

“I’m sorry. I love you, but being around you just—it hurts now.” Donghae walked over to where Kibum was sitting on the bed and hugged him. It was stiff at first, but Donghae soon crumpled in Kibum’s arms, sobbing things into Kibum’s shoulder that he couldn’t hear past the words echoing in his ears. “I love you. So if— ” Donghae paused to wipe his nose, letting out a halting breath, “If you ever… realize that you feel the same, tell me. Please. And maybe we can try again. Okay?” Donghae pulled away from Kibum then, stood up and stepped away and fixed his crooked shirt.

Kibum couldn’t feel anything.

“Kibum? Please say something.”

Goodbye. That’s what he said. He’s still kicking himself for that one.

After they broke up, every look, every touch, and every smile Donghae gave away that wasn’t for Kibum chipped off another piece of his heart. Eventually management noticed his change in demeanor, as they put it. They pulled him from promotions and sent him off to work on his “acting career”— the one thing he always thought would make him happy. He hasn’t been back since.

Kibum is terrified to go back. He is terrified to see Donghae again, because he knows they’ll just fall back into whatever it was they had all those years ago; he knows he won’t try to stop it. Things would be good for a while. Maybe touching Donghae would be a sensation he could feel, and maybe he’d be happy again, but it would be at the expense of Donghae’s happiness. He can’t break Donghae’s heart again. Besides, he has Henry now.

Kibum loves Donghae, and he’s never going to tell him.

Donghae deserves to be happy.