excelsa.

dear donghae (i love you)
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EXCELSA. chapter TWENTY-TWO  

When Hyukjae returns home, he quickly puts everything away before he goes in search for his boyfriend. He doesn’t find him on the couch, and the blanket folded up on the armrest. 

"Hey, babe? Are you feeling better?” he calls.

“Yeah, I’m good now,” he hears Donghae reply from their bedroom. Hyukjae corrects his path to the bedroom, only to screech to a halt when he catches sight of him, who has half of his hair tied up. Hyukjae has really never considered men with their hair tied up attractive, but with Donghae, it's so painfully hot Hyukjae might melt right here and now. "Hyukkie?"

Hyukjae snaps out of his stupor.

"Where did you get the hair tie from?"

Donghae's hand flies to his hair.

"Heechul gave it to me when I last saw him," he says. "He said I probably need it and he's right. I need a haircut."

Hyukjae barely bites back a groan—Donghae seems adamant to deprive him of being able to enjoy his hair for long periods of time. He hadn't even realized until now just how long Donghae's hair had gotten. But now, he finds he just can't look away.

"Keep it?" he asks. Donghae frowns.

"Why?"

Hyukjae takes a step forward, pulling Donghae closer by his waist.

"Because," Hyukjae says softly, tucking a loose strand of hair behind his boyfriend's ear. "It's very y. I like it."

Donghae flushes, ducking his head.

"I could keep it like this," he says. "I like it too. I'm just not used to it. You really like it?"

Hyukjae grins.

"I love it. I love you," he says, and Donghae's answering smile is so beautiful it takes Hyukjae’s breath away. Hyukjae cups Donghae's cheek, pulling him in for a gentle kiss.

Donghae's arms are tight around his waist, and his boyfriend doesn't seem keen to let go any time soon. Hyukjae resigns himself to his fate, letting Donghae hug him for as long as he wants.

"Have you fallen asleep there, babe?" Hyukjae teases when Donghae doesn't let him go, face pressed into the crook of his neck.

Donghae hums, the vibration of it against his neck, making Hyukjae shiver a little.

"You smell nice," Donghae mutters. Hyukjae lets out a startled laugh, patting Donghae on his back.

"Well I'm glad you think so," he says. "So… are you not going to let go?"

Donghae shakes his head and Hyukjae nods.

"Then can we move to the couch?"

When Donghae nods but doesn’t move, Hyukjae sighs, kisses the crown of his head, and shuffles them to the couch together. Donghae plants himself on Hyukjae's lap.

"Why are you stuck on me, little koala?" Hyukjae teases, playing idly with Donghae's hair. He pulls the hair tie off, running his fingers through the silky strands, delighted by how soft it feels. He pulls a few sections from the back, braiding them together as Donghae continues to bury his face into Hyukjae's neck.

"I love you," Donghae mutters as Hyukjae plays with his hair. "You're so perfect."

Hyukjae feels his cheeks heat up at the compliment as Donghae tightens his grip on him. 

"Do you want to go out for dinner today?" he asks. Donghae finally pulls back, blinking at him.

"Like a date?" he asks and Hyukjae shrugs.

"Yeah," he says. "We never really dated, now that I think about it. We skipped right to domestic."

Donghae beams.

"Yeah," he says, pecking Hyukjae on the lips. "Let's go on a date." 

Hyukjae spends much of the next day planning a perfect date while Donghae is at his physical therapy appointment. He makes a reservation at a highly recommended Japanese restaurant and finds a niche sightseeing spot overlooking the city to take Donghae.

He didn't expect his boyfriend to pout intensely at him when Hyukjae lets him know about his plans.

"I wanted to plan our date," Donghae says. Hyukjae can't help himself, he laughs.

"Well, you can plan the next one," he says.

"Fine," Donghae says, but his pout fades and he's smiling. "We'll take turns, then."

Hyukjae laughs again, pulling Donghae into a kiss by the waist.

"Deal," he mutters against his boyfriend's lips. Donghae giggles, his arms encircling Hyukjae's waist.

"Should we get changed, then?" he asks. Hyukjae nods, hesitating for a second.

"Can I choose what you wear?" he asks.

"Only if I can choose what you wear," Hyukjae says. Donghae laughs, his hand brushing against Hyukjae's.

"Okay," Donghae says. Hyukjae hasn't been this excited in a long time, it's not even something that should excite him this much. 

He takes great pleasure digging through the drawers while Donghae peruses the closet.

"Pick something warm," Hyukjae says. "We'll be outside late tonight."

Donghae hums. Hyukjae pulls a black turtleneck out of a drawer. He remembers this turtleneck intimately, how ridiculously attractive Donghae had looked when he walked into the bar wearing it.

He rubs the material between his fingers; it's not too thick, so it shouldn't overheat his boyfriend while they're out during the day but should be sufficient for a cooler night. Donghae gets cold easily, anyway.

He locates a pair of black pants to go with it and plays everything on the bed. 

"I haven't worn a turtleneck in a long time," Donghae muses when he sees Hyukjae's choice. He hands Hyukjae a dark blue patterned button-up and a pair of white pants before picking up the turtleneck. 

Donghae takes off his shirt and pulls the turtleneck on, his hair in disarray when he pops his head out of the top of the shirt. He blinks over at Hyukjae.

"Can you see the bandage?" he asks. To be honest, Hyukjae hadn't even been looking, because of the way Donghae's tousled hair is artfully framing his face and Hyukjae's mouth feels a little dry looking at him. "Hyukkie?"

"Hm?" Hyukjae says, snapping to attention.

"Can you see it?" Donghae repeats, and Hyukjae looks down. The shirt is looser than Hyukjae remembers it being, and with it being looser, covers the bandage without an outline being visible. Not that an outline would be an issue at all, but Donghae feels insecure about it.

"Nope," Hyukjae says. "Not an issue." He tugs Donghae into his arms by the wrist and kisses him, gently running his hand over his boyfriend's stomach. He can feel the bandage, but it's quickly forgotten when Donghae wraps his arms around him and sinks into his embrace, letting Hyukjae deepen their kiss.

"I love you," Hyukjae murmurs. Donghae chuckles.

"I love you too," he says. "You should probably get changed."

"Mm, let me enjoy this, baby," he says. 

"Not a baby," Donghae protests, which Hyukjae thinks is at this point, is an automatic response. 

"But you are my baby, baby," Hyukjae says, chuckling a little when Donghae punches him lightly on the arm. His face is still buried in Hyukjae's neck and he can feel his smile, so Hyukjae isn't too worried.

"I hate you," Donghae says lightly as he pulls free. "Get changed, Hyukkie."

Hyukjae laughs but obeys, quickly stripping his own clothing to change while Donghae puts on the pants Hyukjae had chosen and ties up his hair. 

"Stunning," Hyukjae says when his boyfriend finishes. Donghae grins.

"You're very handsome too," Donghae says. Hyukjae hates how quickly he flushes at the compliment.

"Okay, babe, if you say so," he says. Donghae frowns.

"I do," he says. Hyukjae nods and pecks Donghae on the cheek.

"Come on, we're going to be late," he says. "I made reservations."

"Fancy," Donghae mutters and takes his hand. "Let's go, then."

"You know," Hyukjae muses as they exit the sushi restaurant. "That might have been the best first date I've ever had."

Donghae snorts, punching him on the arm.

"Shut up," he says.

"Mean," Hyukjae mutters, rubbing his arm. It doesn't actually hurt, but it's the principle of it. Donghae hums, leaning against him.

"Where are we going next?" he asks. Hyukjae takes Donghae's hand, interlacing their fingers.

"It's a surprise," he says. Donghae pouts.

"Fine," he says. Hyukjae presses a kiss to Donghae's temple and leads them to the Han river. He finds the small staircase to go up into the neighbourhood and through the small streets until they get to an opening.

"Wow," Donghae murmurs when he catches sight of the scenery. He lets go of Hyukjae's hand and makes his way to the rail, his eyes wide as he takes in the city and the river before him.

Hyukjae finds himself looking more at Donghae than he is at the scene. His boyfriend looks radiant, eyes sparkling, and mouth slightly open.

"I know it's not sunrise," Hyukjae says. "And it's not the new year yet, but I thought it'd be a good place to go."

Donghae blinks over at him, his eyes going watery as he does so. A few tears trail down his cheek before he quickly wipes them away.

"Y-you remember?" he asks, lips trembling. Hyukjae smiles gently.

"Of course I do," he says. "I remember everything you say."

A few more tears.

"Hyukjae," Donghae says, throwing his arms around Hyukjae, squeezing tightly. "Thank you."

He can feel his boyfriend shaking a little and Hyukjae rubs him on the back.

"Anytime," he says. 

When Donghae pulls back, Hyukjae leads him to a bench a little further away from the railing. They sit, Hyukjae puts his arm around Donghae and his boyfriend rests his head on his shoulder. 

They sit, happy to just be in each other's company. Donghae's head starts to get heavier on his shoulder, and Hyukjae is certain he's starting to fall asleep.

"Babe," he whispers. "Babe?"

"Hm?" Donghae hums sleepily. Hyukjae chuckles.

"We should head home," he says.

"Mm."

"Okay, let's get up then," he says. He gets another sleepy hum in response. "Babe."

"Mm," Donghae hums again and slowly lifts his head. He rubs his eyes and yawns. 

"Should I carry you?" Hyukjae offers and Donghae blinks at him.

"Could you even do that?" he asks.

"I think so," Hyukjae says. Donghae frowns and Hyukjae pokes at the furrow between his brows.

“What’s that face mean, babe," he says. Donghae purses his lips.

"I don't want to hurt you," he says as Hyukjae pulls him to his feet. 

"Thank you for your concern," Hyukjae says dryly. Donghae giggles, but it quickly gives way to a large yawn. He looks visibly exhausted, clearly unused to going out for so long. He knows walking will be a tall order. "Let's get a taxi."

Donghae nods, so they make their way back to the street. It takes Hyukjae only a few seconds to hail a cab and bundle Donghae inside.

The ride is only a few minutes, but Donghae is asleep again on Hyukjae's shoulder by the time they pull up at their house. He gently shakes him awake and pays the driver as Donghae gathers his bearings. 

When they get back to their bedroom, Hyukjae helps Donghae out of his turtleneck and then tucks him into bed. He's out again in seconds, face buried into his pillow. 

Hyukjae chuckles and pulls Donghae's hair loose from the hair tie. He brushes some of the strands off Donghae's face before he changes and crawls into bed himself. Donghae seems to sense his presence even in his sleep because he rolls over and snuggles into Hyukjae’s arm. 

Hyukjae laughs, draping his arm over his boyfriend before settling into bed. He's asleep minutes later, content.

"Hey Donghae," Hyukjae calls a few days later when he returns from his appointment with his therapist, only to be met with a loud shushing noise. Hyukjae frowns.

What?

He follows the source of the sound to the living room, raising an eyebrow at the sight that greets him. 

Donghae is curled up on Siwon's chest, head tucked under the other man's chin, asleep. Siwon, who had looked over at him when Hyukjae entered the room, gives him a sheepish smile.

"Sorry," he says.

Hyukjae waves him off—he knows that Donghae's penchant for hugging like a koala is inescapable.

"Glad to see you two made up," he says. Siwon nods, petting the top of Donghae's head.

"Yeah," Siwon says. "I—uh—I took your advice. And I've realized just how bad everything was."

"That's good," Hyukjae says. Siwon nods, gently adjusting Donghae so he's less at risk of falling off the couch. Donghae stirs slightly at the movement and Siwon freezes, only relaxing when Donghae simply sniffles quietly and buries his face deeper into Siwon’s chest. "He's a deep sleeper, don't worry."

Siwon chuckles.

“Ah Donghae,” he mutters. “I missed you so much.”

“You’re free to come over anytime,” Hyukjae says, dropping his bag on the couch.

“Okay,” Siwon says, his hand resting on Donghae's back. “I will.” 

Hyukjae nods. He goes to the kitchen to grab a snack before returning to the living room, kissing Donghae on the cheek before sitting down on the armchair. 

"So…" he starts and then hesitates. "Sunghoon?"

Siwon's face immediately darkens, his arm tightening around Donghae.

"I—as much as I hate it, I talked to his attorney and made arrangements," he said. "For about a month from now."

Hyukjae nods.

“That’s good,” he says. Siwon sighs again, looking down at Donghae.

"Take care of him, okay?" Siwon says.

"Of course," Hyukjae says.

"Are you sure about this?"

"Honestly?" Hyukjae says, looking up at the ceiling. "No."

"Then talk him out of it," Siwon says. Hyukjae sighs.

"If only it were that easy," he says.

"Oh come on, he adores you, he'll listen to you," Siwon says.

"Mm, I don't know about that," he says. He knows Donghae adores him, but the other part, he’s not so sure about. "But I'll try."

Hyukjae waits until they've gotten in bed for the night, with Donghae curled up against him before he attempts to broach the subject. 

"Hey babe?" he whispers, running his hand through Donghae's hair. 

"Yeah?" 

"Are you sure meeting… your ex is a good idea?" he says. Donghae sits up at that, and Hyukjae's hand falls to his side.

Donghae tilts his head at him.

"I need it," he says. 

"But why?" Hyukjae says, brushing some of Donghae's hair behind his ear. "What closure are you looking for? Because I don't know much about that man, but I know he certainly won't give you that closure."

Donghae huffs.

"I know," he says. "I'm not looking for an apology or anything like that."

Hyukjae frowns.

"Then…"

"There are a few things I want, Hyukkie," Donghae says. "I want to physically see him in jail. And I have a few things to say. That… that will give me the peace of mind I need."

"I… see," Hyukjae says.

"I know wanting any kind of reaction is not reasonable, nor helpful,” Donghae says. “I talked about it extensively with Leeteuk and my therapist. I don’t know, sometimes I feel ridiculous.”

Hyukjae nods.

"It's not ridiculous," he says.

"I just—I need this," Donghae says. 

"Okay," Hyukjae agrees.

“And I—I don’t want anyone worrying about me,” Donghae continues quietly, and now they’re quickly diving into familiar territory. It makes Hyukjae’s heartache. 

"You deserve love," Hyukjae says, rather than push the other topic at hand. He knows he would be fighting a losing battle otherwise. This, however, he can help with.

Donghae recoils a little. 

“W-What?” he says. 

“I said, you deserve love, babe,” Hyukjae says. Donghae blinks a few times. 

“I-I know that,” he says, but he doesn’t sound convinced. 

“Do you?” Hyukjae says. He takes Donghae’s hand, rubbing the back of his hand. “Say it then, ‘I deserve love.’”

Donghae opens his mouth and then closes it. 

“What are you, my therapist?”

Hyukjae raises an eyebrow. He did learn this particular trick through psychiatric journals when he was looking for ways to help Donghae with his self-esteem, but his boyfriend doesn’t have to know that. Nor is he allowed to change the subject. 

After a few seconds, Donghae deflates. 

“I… I deserve love,” he says, clearly with great difficulty. 

“Good,” Hyukjae says, pressing a kiss to Donghae’s knuckles. “You do. And I won’t let you forget it.”

Donghae makes a few incoherent noises before he flops back down on the bed, over Hyukjae. 

“Really?”

“Yes,” Hyukjae says, resting his hand on Donghae’s back, massaging lightly. “I want you to love yourself as much as I love you.”

Donghae stiffens a little under his hand. 

Hyukjae doesn't verbally acknowledge it, instead, continuing to massage him until he relaxes slightly again.

"Okay?" he says.

"... Okay," Donghae says.

Surprisingly enough, Hyukjae’s little self-affirmation trick does work. 

Over the next few weeks, he notices the small changes: Donghae is more willing to ask for things, less likely to jump in to be 'useful.' He's also much more relaxed, and Hyukjae hadn't even realized the subtle tension that lined Donghae's muscle until it's gone.

It's great to see.

Sometimes, when Hyukjae thinks too hard about it, he feels like he might cry.

“I need a haircut," Donghae says, cutting through Hyukjae's thoughts before he can actually start to tear up. Hyukjae looks down at his boyfriend, who is lounging between his legs, back resting against his chest.

"Hm?" Hyukjae says.

"It's starting to get annoying, I want to cut it short again," Donghae says, blowing a stray strand of hair off his forehead. Hyukjae makes a vague noise of agreement, only to look up when he realizes that Donghae is staring up at him.

"What?"

"Are you okay with that?"

"With what, you getting a haircut?"

Donghae nods. "Yes."

"Why would I have an issue with that?"

"You said you liked it long!" Donghae says, pouting. Hyukjae blinks. He's not really seeing the issue here.

"I do," he agrees.

"Then… are you okay with me getting it cut?" Donghae says.

"I mean, if you think it's too long and you want to cut it, then go ahead," Hyukjae says. "What I want shouldn't stop you."

He'd be sad to see it go, though. He has it memorialized in pictures, which he will treasure (just like how Donghae had somehow gotten pictures of Hyukjae's dyed hair from Yesung and treasures those).

"Okay," Donghae says slowly. Hyukjae can't help but feel like he's missing something.

"So you're cutting it?" he says instead of pushing the issue, running his fingers through the dark, silky strands.

"Yes," Donghae says, more decisively this time.

"Okay," Hyukjae says. "I look forward to seeing it, then."

He doesn't have to wait long. Two days later, Hyukjae is playing Mario Kart and getting increasingly frustrated as he does so, Donghae sits down on the couch, kissing him on the cheek.

Hyukjae's frustration disappears almost instantaneously. And does remarkably better for it.

"Hey babe," Hyukjae greets when he finishes the race. 

"I have an appointment at the salon, I'll be back later," Donghae says. "I also made some curry in the fridge for you and Yesung in the fridge."

Hyukjae exits the game and turns, pulling Donghae close, rubbing his nose against Donghae's cheek. Donghae's laugh in reaction is a sweet sound.

"Thank you," Hyukjae says. "Enjoy your haircut, babe."

"I will," Donghae says, still giggling. He turns his head to catch Hyukjae in a kiss before he stands.

"Enjoy your game," he says. Hyukjae watches his boyfriend leave, his eyes drifting down to his before quickly flickering away.

He tries to focus on his game afterwards but fails miserably.

"Wow," Yesung says when he steps out of his room, hair askew from just waking up. "Last place."

"Shut up," Hyukjae mutters. Yesung snorts, dropping down on the couch next to him. 

"Gimme that," he says and Hyukjae sighs, handing the controller over. 

"You're up later than usual," he says as Yesung plays. 

"I worked overtime last night," Yesung said. "Surgery went way long."

"Ah," Hyukjae says. He scowls at the TV and the fact that Yesung is currently winning. "How is work?"

"Good," Yesung says. "I've been doing some thinking—I think I want to specialize in general surgery."

"I see," Hyukjae says, nodding.

"Have you thought about what you want to specialize in?" Yesung asks.

"No," Hyukjae says. He sits back—he finds that he does miss working. But he is happy where he is, and he doesn't regret his decisions. "I think… I would like to consider psychiatry."

Yesung finishes his race just as he says that and turns to him, eyebrow raised.

"Really?" he says. Hyukjae nods. "That's a surprise."

"I never would have considered it before," Hyukjae admits. "But now… I'm interested. Not set in stone, mind you, but it is something I want to pursue."

Especially given the taboos of mental health—the struggles he's seen Donghae go through, and not to mention his own struggles. 

"Might talk to Leeteuk about it," he continues.

"Who?" Yesung asks and Hyukjae blinks.

"Oh, Donghae's brother," he says. "He's also a psychiatrist."

"The scary one, or…" Yesung clarifies.

"No, the other one," Hyukjae says. "Oh my god, can you imagine?" He shudders.

"I see," Yesung says, fiddling with the controller. "Well, I'm sure you'd be fine in whatever you choose."

Hyukjae nods.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Yesung says. "So are you going to play with me or not?"

"Ugh, fine," Hyukjae says, trying not to smile. He trudges over to the TV stand and grabs the second controller. "You're going down."

"You ing wish."

They play for a few hours, stopping when Yesung's stomach growls violently.

"Should we eat?" Hyukjae asks.

"Shut up, I need to win before we eat," Yesung says because he's six points behind. Hyukjae rolls his eyes. 

"Sore loser," Hyukjae mutters and makes the executive decision to turn the game off. The sequence of expletives that comes out of Yesung's mouth is enough to make Hyukjae wince.

" off," Yesung says. "I'm not cooking."

"Well good news, my lovely boyfriend already made us lunch," Hyukjae says.

"Us?"

"Yes, there's more than enough for both of us," Hyukjae says as he pulls the large tupperware out of the fridge. Yesung trudges in, eyes widening.

"Oh man, I'm ready to eat like a king," he says, snatching the tupperware out of Hyukjae's hand.

"Okay," Hyukjae says, marvelling at the change in attitude as Yesung reheats the food on the stove.

"That man is the best thing to happen to you," Yesung says as he plates the food. Hyukjae smiles, aware that he probably looks a little dopey. 

"Yeah," he agrees. And then he frowns. "Why the hell do you get so much more than me, split that evenly, you fiend."

"Mm," Yesung says. He moves only one scoop over and Hyukjae rolls his eyes. He doesn't contest it, because he's not that hungry.

And if he whines about it to his

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