As Hyukjae had expected, he doesn't see Donghae for several days after he had watched him leave with his brother. He’s thankful that Yesung becomes a constant presence for the next few days; since they have all the same courses, they spend most of their time studying together. Yesung never asks or pries into Hyukjae’s business, but the greatest comfort for Hyukjae comes from his friend’s presence. So he allows himself to take that comfort, sort out his tumultuous feelings, and then soon enough, exams are upon them. Hyukjae is quick to compartmentalize, forcing his thoughts away from Donghae and onto the more important things for the time being.
His saving grace is the text messages he exchanges with Donghae throughout his exam week. Even over text, Donghae sounds better. Donghae tells him about living with his brother and his brother's boyfriend Leeteuk, as well as reconnecting with his mother again.
Hearing that Donghae is doing well lifts a weight off his shoulders, allowing him to truly focus on his exams and practicals.
He’s not certain he’s done quite as well as he could have, given that his mind is otherwise occupied for many of them. But Hyukjae is nothing if not a good student, so even when he’s not a hundred percent present for his exams, his autopilot still does well enough to get compliments on his practicals. So he’s sure his written exams are just fine.
Exams being over is a breath of fresh air, and the first thing he does, once he finishes his final exam, is to fall face-first into his bed and sleep for fourteen hours straight.
For the first time since the end of his school year, his sleep is uninterrupted and dreamless.
Adjusting to life post-exam rush is always a strange feeling. There’s always a nagging feeling that there’s something to be done, some assignment, some test to be studying for when there’s nothing. It’s a strange sort of malaise, and it’s especially potent when Hyukjae's just lazing around, doing nothing.
He has a couple of days off before he returns to work, but after the novelty of having nothing to do for one day, he’s certain he’s starting to go insane.
Yesung has been out since early morning and Hyukjae has no idea where he's gone or what he’s doing. Ryeowook isn’t answering his phone, so Hyukjae calls Kyuhyun instead.
“Hello,” Kyuhyun says, answering his phone after two rings.
“Yo,” Hyukjae says, adjusting himself so he’s no longer hanging off the sofa. He grabs the stress ball on the coffee table and fiddles with it as he continues: “Are you free? Want to do something, because I’m dying of boredom.”
“Mm,” Kyuhyun says. “What do you propose we do?”
“Ahh,” Hyukjae groans. “I don’t know, you can come over and we can do nothing together?”
“What makes you think I’m doing nothing?” Kyuhyun says.
“Are you doing anything?”
“Then come over,” Hyukjae pleads. Kyuhyun lets out a long-suffering sigh, and Hyukjae can almost see the man pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “Come on, you know you want to.”
“Fine,” Kyuhyun says. Hyukjae fist pumps, but keeps his celebration silent because if Kyuhyun knows that Hyukjae is doing that, he will definitely rescind his acceptance just to piss him off.
“Hell yeah, see you,” he says.
Kyuhyun gets to his apartment ten minutes later, and the two of them spend the next hour slowly growing roots into the couch as they play multiple rounds of Mario Kart.
“You’re never going to beat me,” Huykjae says as Kyuhyun loses for the umpteenth time. He savours in Kyuhyun’s defeated groan as he tosses his controller onto the table.
“You’re the one who actually gets to practice,” Kyuhyun says, scowling. “I don’t own a Switch. It’s the only reason why you and Yesung are so good at this.”
“Mmm, keep making up excuses, loser,” Hyukjae says.
“That’s it,” Kyuhyun says, standing. He makes his way over to the shelf, picking up the deck of cards that sits there. “We’re playing something where I’m better than you, so you can have a taste of your own medicine.”
“What are we playing?” Hyukjae asks, a sense of dread growing in his stomach as he watches Kyuhyun unpack the cards and expertly shuffle the cards in midair.
“Ah, off,” Hyukjae says. He literally cannot be worse at poker.
“Come on,” Kyuhyun says, heading to the kitchen, clearly unwilling to listen to any of Hyukjae’s negotiations. Hyukjae drags himself to the kitchen island, where Kyuhyun has already begun to deal the cards.
“We’re betting nothing,” Hyukjae says as he sits down because he’s not about to lose money on this fine day. “Just our pride. And bragging rights.” It should be enough, because Kyuhyun has no shortage of pride, and would absolutely enjoy bragging rights.
Kyuhyun nods, thankfully not in the mood to take all of Hyukjae’s money today, and begins dealing. Hyukjae’s about to pick up his phone when his phone starts vibrating in the pocket of his pants. He’s almost gleeful at the interruption, hoping it’s something that will give him an excuse to escape this game.
Hyukjae fishes his phone out of his pocket and is unable to hide his delight when he sees 'Donghae' on the caller ID. He doesn’t hesitate to answer.
"Hey Donghae," he says.
"Hyukjae," Donghae says. "Can I come over?" Hyukjae straightens, glancing over at Kyuhyun, who isn't even trying to look like he's not listening.
"Come over?" he repeats and when Kyuhyun nods, continues: "Yeah, sure. If you don't mind that Kyuhyun is also here."
“Oh, that’s okay, I just need to get out of the house, Heechul is being very overbearing,” Donghae says. “As long as I’m not interrupting anything?”
“No, not at all,” Hyukjae says, so quickly that Kyuhyun snickers. “You can come over any time.”
“Okay,” Donghae says. “I’ll see you in about five minutes, then.”
“See you,” Hyukjae says, hating how sappy and excited he sounds. Donghae hangs up and when he does, Hyukjae puts the phone down and immediately levels Kyuhyun a glare.
“Don’t start,” he says as Kyuhyun opens his mouth to speak. “Whatever you’re doing to say, I don’t want to hear it.”
“I was just going to say that Donghae sounds good,” Kyuhyun says, shrugging in a way that tells Hyukjae that this was definitely not what he was going to say.
“You’re very convincing,” Hyukjae says, rolling his eyes. He sits back down and grabs his cards and tries not to scowl down at his hand—why is it that whenever they play poker, he always gets the terrible hands?
"So," Kyuhyun starts as they start their game. "Are you and Donghae like… together, now?"
Hyukjae shakes his head.
"No," he says. "We're not."
Kyuhyun raises an eyebrow. "But you want to. And now he's single."
"I can't, okay?" Hyukjae says. "Not right now."
Kyuhyun nods, looking thoughtful. "That makes sense. You really do like him, don't you?"
"What gave it away?" Hyukjae says dryly. Kyuhyun chuckles.
"Well, it's easy to just want to bang him. Given how… how pretty he is," Kyuhyun says. He pauses as if considering something. "And given how much you're… not."
Hyukjae straightens, blinks, and then frowns.
"Okay, rude," he says, mock offended. He knows Kyuhyun doesn't mean it, given how he's laughing. It’s very on-brand with Kyuhyun’s brand of humour, but he’s also certain that there is truth to Kyuhyun’s statement.
"Kidding," Kyuhyun says, holding his hands on appeasement. "But yeah, it's nice to know you care. He's a good guy who deserves to be more than just something you're lusting after."
It definitely might have started that way, but Donghae is so much more than that.
"He is a nice guy," Hyukjae agrees. “Unlike you.”
“Mm,” Kyuhyun hums but doesn’t disagree. “I’ll cook for your forgiveness?”
Hyukjae’s eyes narrow. “You’ve been hanging around Ryeowook too much,” he says, but he’s never been able to turn down an offer of food. “Fine.”
Kyuhyun smiles and puts his cards down, getting up to begin cooking. Hyukjae takes the opportunity to gather the cards and puts them away on the shelf before Kyuhyun can rope Donghae into playing as well when the man arrives. When he’s finished, he pulls a can of coke out of the fridge and sits down, content to just stay out of the way.
He's about halfway done with the can when his doorbell rings. Hyukjae perks up, like a dog reacting to a treat, sliding out of his stool and bounding to the door.
"Donghae," Hyukjae greets. He takes the opportunity to take Donghae in: the stitches on his forehead have almost dissolved, leaving an angry red line on his forehead. Even so, it looks like it’s healing pretty well, especially considering how mediocre Hyukjae is at suturing.
In the week or so Hyukjae hasn’t seen him, the dark circles under Donghae’s eyes are gone as well. Hyukjae hadn’t even noticed they had been there in the first place, but now that they’re gone, Hyukjae realizes that they definitely had been a constant presence on Donghae's face. With the dark circles gone, Donghae’s eyes seem lighter, brighter. There’s a fullness to Donghae’s face as well, filling in from the gauntness that Donghae had when Hyukjae had seen him last.
He looks beautiful.
Donghae had always looked beautiful, but he had never realized just how much was missing to his beauty until now, where Donghae looks so unburdened. The weight Hyukjae didn’t know existed has been lifted off Donghae’s shoulder, and he looks… absolutely magnificent.
“Hey,” Donghae says, snapping Hyukjae out of his reverie. “Am I interrupting something?”
"Not at all, Kyuhyun was just calling me ugly," Hyukjae says as he moves aside to let Donghae enter. Donghae removes his shoes and puts them neatly in the corner before blinking at him, eyes wide like an owl's. Then he frowns, his bottom lip pushing out into a pout.
"I think you're very ha