Kibum/Donghae, Eunhyuk/Donghae, PG-13, 1,074 words
Should haves are always clearer in retrospect.
He could’ve confessed then, Kibum thinks in retrospect, halfway between the dining room table and the television so old Heechul liked to joke it was an artifact of the nineteenth century. It was the common cold, they all said, Heechul with a roll of his eyes, Leeteuk with concern befitting a mother twice his age. That didn’t stop Donghae from milking the situation, so to speak, for all it was worth.
“Kibum.” Donghae sounded either annoyed or exaggeratedly hoarse. “I know it’s you; they’re your footsteps.”
“Damn.” Kibum smiled. “You caught me.”
“That’s right.” Donghae wiggled around a bit in his self-made cocoon of blankets until he was sitting almost upright. “And I can’t believe you almost left without even saying hi.”
“Didn’t want to disturb the invalid. I hear it’s contagious.”
“It’s called a cold.” Kibum thought vaguely that whatever Donghae was doing to improve his whiny voice, it was working. “I’m sure you’ve had at least a few in your life.”
“And then some,” Kibum agreed.
“I want ice cream.” It was an order. “Chocolate. With marshmallows.”
“Sure,” Kibum said. “I guess,” he added as an afterthought.
“Really?” That easy, Kibum? Really? went unsaid.
He could’ve done it then, one hand behind his neck scratching at some invisible itch, the other on the arm of that raggedy couch whose color had faded from an emerald green to a shade resembling puke from years of use and presumably a couple instances of actual puke.
He could’ve said, Really. I care about you. My treat.
Or, Yes, you idiot. I care about you. Idiot.
Or, How difficult is it for you to tell that I love you?
What he said instead? “No, hyung, get your own damn ice cream.”
He could’ve done something then, two steps from the door frame, when Donghae returned to the dorms looking like a drowned rat, grinning like he’d just discovered the secret to happiness.
“Kibum,” Donghae sang. “What are you doing here?”
“Well.” Kibum motioned to his umbrella. “Leaving.”
“That’s a shame.” Donghae kicked at the tassels of the carpet with one soaked shoe before bending down and peeling it from his foot. He hummed softly to himself before smiling slyly at Kibum.
“Okay, I bite.”
“The weather forecast,” Donghae started again, this time all words and hand gestures, “said it would be clear. Clear my ass! So I go out there without an umbrella to get some groceries at the place two blocks down and suddenly I feel this plop of water on my head. So I look around and suddenly there are these strings of water striking everything like we’re all toddlers that need to be kept in line.”
“Why didn’t you get an umbrella at the store?”
“Huh.” Donghae stared at Kibum, dumbfounded. “You always come up with the best solutions.”
“Yeah,” Donghae continued after taking a breath. “So I look up again and there are these strings hitting me in the face. And I suddenly realize that it all makes sense.”
“This,” Donghae gestured wildly to the area around his waist. “That. Everything! That if there is an all-knowing force, all-knowing power, that he’s definitely speaking to us. Also, my bread’s soggy now.”
He could’ve given Donghae his jacket, or some bread, or his umbrella – he had two anyway. You are extraordinary, Lee Donghae, he could have said. I don’t ever want to leave.
Instead, he said, “That’s great, Donghae. Why don’t you go find Heechul to tell him your story?” and closed the door behind him to Donghae’s wet footsteps scrambling up the stairs.
He could’ve admitted to the truth then, he remembers, in the hallway between Donghae’s room and the front door.
“I – I think.” Donghae bit his lower lip and dug one nail into the side of his leg. “Hyukjae asked to play video games.”
“Video–” Kibum started. “What? What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, he asked to get dinner together afterwards.”
“Like, a date?”
“Sure. Why are you telling me this?”
“I just wanted to,” Donghae hesitated. He blew up at his bangs. “To make sure.”
“Make sure about what?”
“That you’re okay with it.” Donghae was staring at him worried, now. His eyes were open wide, as if he were trying to read Kibum’s thoughts. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, Kibum thought to himself. He rolled his.
How can I be okay with it, he could have said, when I’m in love with you?
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Kibum put one hand on Donghae’s shoulder. “You’re my friend, not my bitch. What you do with your love life is none of my business.”
“Whew,” he said, flashing Kibum a bright grin. His shoulders dropped in visible relief. “Thanks, Kibum. You’re the best.”
And yet, two weeks later, when he sees Hyukjae reach surreptitiously for Donghae’s hand, knowing smile plastered to his face, after losing his third game of Mario Kart, Kibum’s heart does this thing where it seems to be twisting itself around the middle, as if that development were a train he hadn’t seen barreling down the track and had no time to dodge. When really the train had been visible for miles and he was the conductor.
And because he’s human he plays toward making himself the victim; like, there was nothing I could do, and it all just happened so quickly, and he was never interested in me that way. And, I’m no Hyukjae – but this one at least isn’t his self-pity-induced rationalization so much as an unwanted reminder he can’t push from his thoughts.
But fifteen years from now, when he’s an oblique on the existential clause of Donghae’s life, he’ll think back to the things he could have done, could have said, and think to himself with a start, how wrong I was. Life has a funny way of giving you what you deserve and making you feel like shit for it. Even – especially – if you don’t know it at the time.
Today is cynicism and self-righteous coping. Today is, You’re an idiot, he thinks to himself, for letting him get away. They say age brings wisdom, or, well, at least experience. Heechul used to say it while downing his third bottle of soju, clapping Kibum on the back like the most misguided father trying to teach his son the tenets of life. With any luck, tomorrow will be cold, hard fact. Tomorrow will be growing the fuck up. Tomorrow will be,
He will never be the one that got away because he was never yours to own. Idiot.