Donghae all but throws Hyukjae into the car and, after a thought that crosses his mind in a half a second, locks the doors. He knows that Hyukjae is inside of the car and that the locks wouldn’t deter him in the least from getting out and running off to who knows where to do who knows what, (he tells himself that, because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he does know what Hyukjae would go and do, doesn’t want to think like that, doesn’t want to think about it right now) but it’s all really for peace of mind because Donghae doesn’t have enough of that right now and hasn’t had much of any of it in the past few months.
He tries hard not to place aimless anger on the dead, but it’s hard when the dead can’t fight back.
Donghae rushes into his house and grabs things, anything that catches his eye or anything that his fingers happen to wrap around and pick up; this busyness is just to make it feel like he’s doing something that helps. He spots his backpack, lying halfway under the piano in the living room, forgotten and unused since graduation last spring, and he snatches it up and shoves whatever he has cradled in his arms into it. Haphazardly zipping it closed, he yanks it onto his shoulder and barely remembers to lock the door as he slams it behind him.
Hyukjae is still in the car, just sitting and staring at the dashboard – there’s old fast food packaging and Donghae’s driving registration (he had considered getting it revoked a couple months back, but hadn’t been entirely sure if you could do that, self inflicted revocation, that is. he just doesn’t drive that much anymore, instead) wedged between it and the windshield. Donghae heaves a sigh, somewhat relieved, Hyukjae isn’t too far gone then, and slides into the driver’s seat, putting the key into the ignition starting up the car.
They drive for a long time without any talking and without any music, just silence and apprehensiveness hanging awkwardly in the air.
“You’re stupid, you know that?” Donghae finally says when he makes up his mind as to where they’re going. “You’re really really stupid, Hyukjae.”
Hyukjae flinches and if Donghae cared, he’d stop. But that’s really kind of the point, and he doesn’t care, not about that, not like that, and it’s all been building up into something ridiculous and if Donghae doesn’t do or say something soon he’ll explode, he’s sure of it.
“Dammit, Hyukjae, you can’t just – this is just retarded.”
Hyukjae closes his eyes and curls up in his seat. “Shut up Hae. Don’t.”
Donghae will be nice and let Hyukjae have his little shell of security for now, but will eventually do what he wants and say what’s on his mind because Heechul has taught him that, in situations like this, you just can’t afford to give a damn. Donghae would truly like to give a damn, but Hyukjae hasn’t left him with much other choice lately.
Donghae uses one hand to keep a bruising grip on Hyukjae’s arm and the other to pick the lock of the cabin door. (He’ll call Youngwoon later and tell him what’s going on and maybe Youngwoon will be nice and send him a key in the mail. Or maybe Youngwoon will be a complete and total ass and Donghae will have to call Jungsu and ask him to kick Youngwoon in the balls for him.)
Hyukjae looks around and lets out a pitiful excuse for a laugh. “Oh my god, Donghae, what is this? What is this supposed to be?”
Donghae swipes his tongue over his upper lip as the lock clicks satisfactorily, the doorknob turns, and the door opens. “Reclusion,” Donghae announces, but that doesn’t sound or feel like the right word, “Seclusion. Healing for the soul. Healing for the heart. Doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder?” He’s being a jerk now. (and he really doesn’t care.)
Hyukjae’s back stiffens and he hiccups after a few seconds. “That’s not funny. It’s not the same.”
Donghae shakes his head and steps inside. “Well, I don’t know. It is what it is.”
Hyukjae refuses to talk to Donghae, sits in front of the window with his back to the world and lives in his head, plays pretend.
It pisses Donghae off.
“God, just get your butt over here, I’m not going to eat you or anything.” He says too loudly, heart pounding away in his chest and he feels like it’s going to split open, all bloody and raw. Hyukjae ignores him.
I’m sorry, Donghae wants to say, Are you mad because I’ve opened the Pandora box? I’m sorry, I take it back back back. But he doesn’t because that won’t help anyone.
Minutes tick by and Donghae turns off the television because he isn’t really watching it anyway. Slowly, like he’s acting in a scene and it’s the dramatic part, the climax that changes everything, he gets up and pads his way over to where Hyukjae is trying to hide within himself. He reaches out a hesitant hand and lets it rest on Hyukjae’s shoulder and Donghae feels his knees wobble in the trepidation.
“I.” He tries, and can’t take it. Hyukjae won’t look at him. Donghae grabs his chin and –
– forces Hyukjae’s head up, forces Hyukjae to look at him.
Donghae’s lips tremble because he doesn’t know what to say and his eyes fall on the redness of Hyukjae’s forehead. He must have hit it on the bathroom sink counter earlier when Donghae walked in on him and then wrestled him to the ground and forcibly made him gag and spit over and over again, yanking that little bottle away from him.
This is stupid, he wants to say. But he has a feeling he’s vocalized that thought already.
“What the hell!” Youngwoon roars into the phone, “You broke into my family’s summer cabin?”
Donghae makes a face and can hear Jungsu tittering unhelpfully in the background. “I panicked. I’m sorry. We’ll leave soon, promise.”
Youngwoon heaves a sigh and audibly over the phone places his anger aside for bigger and more important things. “So…everything’s fine?”
“Everything is everything.” Donghae says cryptically. He can hear Hyukjae stirring in the bedroom. “Look, I have to go. Tell the kids I say hi.”
He doesn’t wait for the response, just hangs up.
Donghae is in the kitchen struggling to flip the pancakes (made from the box of instant batter he found in the pantry) just like the way Hangeng attempted to teach him that one time before giving it up as a lost cause – Donghae has never been a good cook and he’s sure he never will be – when Hyukjae stumbles in and throws himself in a chair.
Donghae can’t help but smile as he tries to scrape half cooked pancake batter off the pan’s sides, it’s almost like everything’s normal and it’s just the two of them being silly and scavenging for food early in the morning right before one of them has to run off for a class.
But then he looks over at Hyukjae and he sees dried tears on his cheeks and the remnants of nightmares playing behind his eyelids and he drops the spatula on his foot.
Ow, he barely registers, going to lay his head in Hyukjae’s lap.
“I made breakfast.” He whispers after an hour passes by in seemingly an instant and they’re both all cried out and he’s sure the pancakes are cold by now.
Kibum sends a photo album in the mail after a welcomingly familiar phone call (“Changmin found it and gave it to me and I don’t know what to do with it.” “And what am I supposed to do with it, then?” “Show it to Hyukjae hyung, what else?” “You’re kind of full of shit, Kibum.” “I know.” “Tell Hangeng I said hi.” “I will.”) and Donghae hides it under the couch. He doesn’t think it will do any good yet.
“How long are you going to avoid the problem?” Donghae asks lightly as they sit on the back porch in the sun. “Because we can’t stay here forever and I have a job I have to get back to, you know.”
Hyukjae shrugs. “I don’t think of it as avoiding. I’m over it.”
Donghae snorts and stares up into the blue blue sky. “The hell you are, liar.”
Hyukjae kicks his chair and pulls his knees up to his chest. “I am over it. I am.” It sounds like a mantra that he’s trying to force himself to believe. “You’re the one that dragged us up here. I don’t know what you’re trying to do or what you’re waiting for.”
Donghae doesn’t answer that question because it never occurred to him that they are here for him.
(they’re not. it’s for Hyukjae. yeah.)
Later that evening, Donghae burns the photo album in the fire place (because, because, because), imagines that the smoke is filled to the brim with fading memories, and doesn’t tell Hyukjae about it.
Donghae has a bad dream. There are flashes of light and screams mangled in the background with white noise and all he can focus on is how tight Sungmin’s hand is clutching onto his own and how there is high pitched frequency noise streaming through his mind, he can’t think right, can’t see right, can’t breath right, and he remembers, remembers that Kyuhyun will sit by his bed in the hospital saying I’ve been through this once too, you are so lucky, and he remembers that he’s forgetting a lot, too much, but tries so hard to retain the memories that years of imprint have left on him and in doing so he remembers –
That this is reality.
He wakes, huddled in the corner of the bed, cold sweat soaking through his shirt and fingers trembling. The sun hasn’t risen yet and the digital clock reads 2:46 in sharp harsh red numbers.
Red reminds him of blood. Of angry slashes in skin.
was there blood?
All Donghae knows is that he can’t afford to lose his mind, not when he’s the only sane one around these days.
He doesn’t know where Hyukjae is. He’s gotten up this morning and Hyukjae is nowhere in sight and shit shit shit.
Donghae bolts out the door, forgetting to shut it behind him but that’s not important right now, doesn’t mean a thing to him and where is Hyukjae?
“He used to like that lake behind the house,” Donghee offers because Donghae’s fingers were lighting over the numbers and Donghee just happened to be the end result, “Hae, calm down, you can’t think straight like this and it’s not helping you.”
“I can’t think straight as is!” He hoarsely yells into the phone, ankle nearly twisting as he turns sharply to head for the lake, and duh, he should have thought of that first. “I can’t think straight because Hyukkie is stupid and he’s killing me slowly and l can’t take this, I lo – I love – He’s – ”
He’s really not thinking straight, memories of everything colliding in the space between his ears (there was that time that everyone came here for the summer they had all been so young and invincible and had forever ahead of them and Siwon hadn’t known how to swim yet so Yunho had taught him and Donghee wouldn’t get in the water so Hyukjae had shoved him in and Jaejoong had laughed and laughed at that and – ) and he wishes he could just let them go free in the air – he’s crying.
Donghee’s voice is no longer filtering through static and telephone lines and he’s dropped his phone, it must be somewhere on the ground back by the house, and Donghae doesn’t care. He can see the lake and he can hear splashing and he can imagine Hyukjae doing something very very stupid and hopes that this is not the case.
Hyukjae is standing knee deep in water, staring out over the dark murky surface, when Donghae tackles him from behind and they both go tumbling into the icy cold water.
“Stupid stupid stupid.” Donghae repeats over and over again when Hyukjae struggles to drag them both from underwater, clinging desperate and wet to the only thing that seems tangible now.
Hyukjae coughs up water and stares down at Donghae. “I wasn’t doing anything, Hae, I just wanted to – there are memories and I guess I just got caught up. Calm down – Hae? Hae.”
Donghae can’t stop crying and he just supposes he’s getting caught up too.
Donghae sits on the couch while Hyukjae sits on the floor, both showered and in warm dry clothes, and he drags the comb carefully through Hyukjae’s hair, letting it catch on the tangles and knots and raking through them slowly.
Donghae collects his thoughts and says softly, “You’re working yourself out. I didn’t think you could or would, but you’re working yourself out.”
Hyukjae nods sleepily and yawns, “Yeah. But you seem to be…”
Donghae sighs and closes his eyes. “Shut up. I’m fine. You scared me, I don’t think I can trust you for a while.”
Hyukjae leans back on the couch and tilts his head back, blinking up at Donghae innocently with pursing lips. “It’s okay. I won’t do something like that again. It’s not worth it. I have to move on. I know that.”
Donghae feels his heart start painfully and he has no control over himself as he leans down and presses his lips to Hyukjae’s forehead, where the bruise (and it symbolizes so much more) is fading.
“Hyukjae.” He begins and finishes. There’s nothing left for him to say.
He has another nightmare, but he can’t remember it at all and that’s a little worse than before. He feels cold hard panic in his stomach but draws a huge blank in his mind and Donghae crawls out of bed and into Hyukjae’s, wrapping himself around him and breathing onto his skin.
“I am sorry.” Donghae tells him, not sure if he’s awake or not and that doesn’t seem to matter, “But I love you. I have always loved you and you loved Junsu and he loved you a lot back so I loved him too and then I killed – well it was an accident but I still love love love you and I cannot live without you, you can’t go and die too, you can’t try and kill yourself because I love you. I really really do. I. Love. You.”
Hyukjae either half wakes up or is already half awake by this point, that’s not important, and he is confused. “Donghae?”
Donghae just breathes and breathes and breathes, it’s all he can remember to do. It’s nothing like the movies, there’s no intense soundtrack playing, there’s no promise of them piecing everything back together the way it should be, and there’s no rain pattering against the window to remind him of that day. But then again, it hadn’t even been raining that day. It had been sunny and bright and in the middle of the day and there had been no reason for a car accident.
Donghae blames his parents’ genes for his short attention span. Blames the other driver. Blames the sun for being in his eyes and the car for not being his own and Junsu for distracting him from the road, because blaming the dead is always so much easier than living with the heavy heavy guilt.
“Junsu.” Donghae exhales out, “Junsu Junsu Junsu.”
Hyukjae buries his head in Donghae’s shoulder and he really has come to terms with things on his own. “Junsu’s dead, Hae. We’re moving on.”
Donghae shudders and remembers Sungmin singing along with the radio in the passenger seat and Yoochun in the back looking for his mp3 while insulting Sungmin’s choice in music and Junsu unbuckles his seatbelt to get a better look on the floor while punching the back of the driver’s seat as a warning, because he swears it slid under the seat over there just now you idiot, can’t you see right Chunnie? and Donghae had laughed at them and then. And then.
And then here they are.
“I’m sorry Hyukjae.” He tells Hyukjae solemnly, voice barely coming out and he doesn’t really know what he’s trying to say anymore, “I’m so so sorry that I.”
Hyukjae doesn’t let him finish that sentence, that thought process, and squeezes him tightly. “Don’t apologize for something like that. I’m moving on. And you should too.”
Jongwoon comes to pick them up, accompanied by Ryeowook and under the orders of Jungsu. “It’s time to rejoin the living.” Jongwoon says simply as he lights a cigarette.
Ryeowook snatches it after the first two puffs as he crosses the yard to get Donghae’s car and stomps in out on the gravel driveway. He confides in them, “You’ll lose yourselves, otherwise,” as he claims the keys.
Donghae leans on Hyukjae as they sit in silence during the ride back. He thinks that maybe he shouldn’t have burned that photo album after all in attempt to let go and come to terms. It’s really not the worst thing in the world, but it’s still a shame; a whole book of memories, gone, but he won’t get hung up on that because out of their whole group he’s sure someone has at least two more for the one he’s gotten rid of.
They were lost but they’ve sort of found each other and are clinging for support, and that’s good enough for now, that’s all that they need right now to get by.
“Maybe there’s hope for us.” Donghae murmurs, staring at the back of Jongwoon’s head. His hair is puffier than usual, like he just rolled out of bed and came to get them and he realizes that it is kind of early in the morning and that all four of them, including Ryeowook following behind them in the car, are in pajamas. “We still have friends who care too much about us.”
And Hyukjae smiles at him. “Yeah.”