Summary: Finding the perfect backyard is easy when you live like a tourist.
The day Donghae pulls up in front of their dorms in an old beat up van looking straight out of a sixties riot for world peace and the legalization of marijuana, Hyukjae learns to never take Donghae’s word lightly.
Donghae stands there with what he knows is his most insufferably irritating smile showing off the door hanging off its hinges painted brown and streaked of white in a faded peace sign.
“What is it?” Kyuhyun asks, studying the object in question as if it were a space ship or a submarine tank and Donghae thinks he’s captain Nemo about to sail twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea.
“This, Kyuhyun is my house,” Donghae answers, hands on his hips filled with some sort of pseudo pride like they built it themselves from wood and metal and glass. He turns to Hyukjae with that same smile plastered on his mouth and Hyukjae barely contains himself from banging his head against the side of the van.
“What do you say, Hyukjae? How about we take it for a spin?”
Somewhere down the trip, the spin straightens itself out into a line that keeps going and going. If they turn around they might get lost. The decision is unanimous.
There is something absolutely enticing about having the world as your backyard.
There is something absolutely disheartening about realizing your entire life fits inside four walls, in no time everything is packed up and on the road, the past thirty something years of their lives squeezed in between the front seats and the double bed in the back.
Hyukjae hates the pungent smell of past lovers and leftovers of drunken nights and spit up smoke kissed on the mattress. He sleeps in the driver’s seat when he can’t take it until Donghae gives in and forgoes buying the good kind of bottled iced tea for a month so they can afford new sheets. Donghae spends five minutes fighting with the gear shift each time before he drives, patting the dashboard soothingly until the old piece of crap decides to purr to life and Donghae sticks his tongue out at Hyukjae in triumph.
“Why would you buy a van with an old transmission? You don’t even know how to drive stick!”
“Oh, ye of little faith, Hyukjae. Now shut up. I’m driving here.”
Hyukjae rolls his eyes and kicks the glove compartment shut when it falls open and smacks him in the knee. Five seconds later, it falls open again, a map and a pair of purple sunglasses tumbling out. Hyukjae sighs and wonders why he even bothers. Donghae says it has been both his awesome driving skills and the hand of the Lord that has kept them in once piece so far. Hyukjae knows it has to be some force greater than themselves granting them life whilst caged in a death trap for over seven thousand miles.
Donghae looks at him out of the corner of his eye, one eye still kept on the road. He sighs and lets go of the gear shift to grip Hyukjae’s knee. “Hey. I know you’re still pissed about having to pay extra to bum a ride on that cargo ship but we had to take the chance or else we’d never get out of Portugal. I thought you’d be happy about coming back to America. You always said you wanted to go back and see it for real.”
“I am happy,” Hyukjae grumbles. He grabs his half eaten bag of macaroons from the cup holder accidentally knocking over the open bottle of cough syrup they bought two weeks ago after they got drenched in a rainstorm while they were still in Spain.
“Then stop being such a sour puss.”
“I know you did not just call me a puss.”
“Okay. Sure. Whatever makes you happy.”
“You better be extremely thankful you’re driving right now or else I’d show you which one of us is the puss.”
Somehow, they manage to get from Boston Harbor to the city without killing each other.
Market day is Saturday. Growing up, Hyukjae would trot behind his mother and Sora on streets crowded with vendors shouting their prices mingling the smells of fresh fish still flopping inside their display cases and spicy soup buns together. The vendors don’t shout here. They chat idly with shoppers and onlookers who are hopping for a free sample, hand crafted wooden tables lined by worn out white tents.
Hyukjae rolls out of bed by eight. He bangs his hip against the bathroom door, each step he takes leaves another bruise because he still can’t get used to such a reduced space, always stepping on Donghae’s toes or tripping on some belt left thrown on the floor. He smacks Donghae’s sleeping face with his elbow as he’s pulling on a pair of shorts. Donghae groans and turns over snoring, unaffected. Hyukjae stares at him for a moment, places his hand on Donghae’s lower back to urge him closer to the center of the double bed before realizing it’s futile. Donghae is going to roll off the edge at some point anyways.
Pushing the door open slowly, Hyukjae cringes at the eerie sound the hinges make. Hyukjae doesn’t think it should be normal to walk out your front door terrified it might fall down behind you but it is exactly what he does.
The farmer’s market in Louisville, Kentucky is Hyukjae’s favorite so far. Far less crowded than the one in Union Square in New York City; much more varied than the one they stopped at in Vermont. Hyukjae understands they’re known for their maple syrup and cider but he doesn’t care how good it is, no one can survive on just pancakes and hot cider no matter what they say. It’s mid summer and the sun paints a red tattoo on the nape of his neck, it stings when Hyukjae slaps away flies or pushes his hair up his neck.
Hyukjae doesn’t particularly like buying groceries or dragging fifty pounds of produce all the way back to the van. He likes how common place it feels. To ogle the world’s largest watermelon and taste fresh baked bread accompanied by stilled conversation in his mediocre English with people who put something into the earth and take something tangible and real out of it.
It’s almost noon by the time he gets back to the van stocked with a small watermelon, dried salmon, and a loaf of naan bread baked by the Indian woman whose English was as about as good as Hyukjae’s.
“Hey,” Donghae greets sitting on the steps at the bottom of the side door, their front porch, the stoop where they watch the kids down the street shoot some hoops as the sun goes down. It’s been months since his last hair cut, miles and miles of sun have burnt the tips of the hair touching his collar bones golden and its glare has rooted itself into Donghae’s skin painting it brown and carving wrinkles around his mouth and eyes.
Hyukjae catches a glimpse of his own reflection in the yellow tainted window of the passenger’s seat. Sometimes Hyukjae doesn’t even recognize himself. This man with the ten dollar hair cut, the shadow of red dye still there when the sun hits it at a certain angle but always ashen black in the low light, his skin as pale as ever but sun spots skipping along his arms and calves and years of quick flashing land and its people blurring in his eyes. With a slightly ironic laugh he weaves up a story where Donghae loses Hyukjae somewhere along the cathedrals’ of Moscow and a hidden oasis in the middle of the Sahara to try to make sense of who he sees.
“Hey,” Hyukjae returns, side stepping Donghae to walk inside. He leaves the bags down with a thud, grabs a water bottle from the fridge bringing it up to his sweaty brow and leaning against the door frame. “Did you just wake up?”
Donghae doesn’t answer for a while. He rips short grass stalks with his fingers and twists them between his palms. “Not exactly. Why didn’t you wait for me?”
Taking a sip, Hyukjae shrugs even though Donghae isn’t looking at him. “I thought you’d rather sleep,” he adds when Donghae tilts his head back to give him a look, his voice a little more biting than he’d intended. Hyukjae isn’t sure why he feels defensive so suddenly, even less sure why he didn’t wake Donghae up this morning when they always go to the market together.
Opening his palms, Donghae scatters the grass back on the ground, jumps up from the bottom step so quickly Hyukjae backs up too fast and knocks into the edge of the diner style counter that serves as their kitchen table.
Donghae fills his hands with what will be their food supply for at least the next week, storing the salmon in the fridge because he likes his salmon sandwiches cold, dividing up the naan bread and putting half in the freezer. He’s all graceful movement in the nonexistence of space, he cuts nothing except air as he pulls out a knife to slice up the melon. Half the of it is enough to satisfy them for lunch, the illusion of a kiss Hyukjae whispers in what might be an apology to Donghae’s damp chin is enough for Donghae to push Hyukjae down onto their bed and undo the button on his shorts and peel the fabric off his sweaty skin. Donghae presses his mouth to the bruise on Hyukjae’s hip, traces the skin and bone with his tongue and fingers over and over fueled on by Hyukjae’s hands twisting in his hair and the fact that for once Hyukjae doesn’t complain about the bed springs digging into his back. Every sound from his mouth is simple and raw, sweeter than the lunch still saccharin in Donghae’s stomach.
Hours later, the bruise is gone and Hyukjae washes off the imprint of green fingers from his thighs and hips.
Hyukjae hadn’t wanted to go to Montana. If it we’re up to him, they’d have kept going straight along the south all the way to California. If only he hadn’t fallen asleep when they were almost at New Mexico, that odd stretch of land where the lines are blurred between Texas and Oklahoma in the dust practically. By the time Hyukjae wakes up, Donghae has driven half way through Colorado and Hyukjae can see Wyoming in the distance.
Donghae doesn’t say anything when Hyukjae pulls out the bottle of wine they bought at a market square in Morocco but have sparsely touched. Hyukjae gets drunk, keeps his lips shut except to let the burn of alcohol quench the anger brimming in his gut. Donghae takes it, lets him brood in the solitude of peace and quiet, Hyukjae’s best friend and enemy when it comes to dealing with his emotions.
“I don’t get why you’re so angry,” Donghae begins. He holds onto the ladder on the back door, his chin a few feet from where Hyukjae sits on the roof of the van. They’ve counted the stars from almost every corner of the world on this roof. It’s always the same stars but each centimeter the world turns makes them look like they are reflected to completely different universes.
Swallowing the last sip, Hyukjae considers throwing the bottle at Donghae’s head. He thinks otherwise and holds the bottle firmly in his hand. They can’t afford the hospital bill to sew Donghae’s head back together anyways.
“You know me. You know I do these kinds of things so why are you acting like this?” Donghae isn’t being defensive and if he were it would be the weakest type of defense. But Hyukjae knows. Expect the unexpected is what he signed up for when years ago Donghae smiled at him outside some practice room and Hyukjae in his sixteen year old naïveté had smiled back.
Hyukjae fists the neck of the bottle so hard his nails reach over and bite into his skin. The alcohol has swarmed all the way from his stomach up to his head now and it turns Donghae into his other enemy. Hyukjae knows they’ve been fighting a lot lately, they always fight the rational part of him reminds Hyukjae sullenly, but he’s never felt the desire to hurt Donghae before and the thought sends a shiver of panic chilling down his back.
Colorado smells like snow and burnt corn, it all mixes with the alcohol and comes out as a nauseous reaction pushing up his throat. Letting his head fall, Hyukjae buries his forehead against his knees, the last thing he sees is Donghae’s frown. “Donghae. Just go to sleep, okay? I’ll come to bed later.”
“Hyukjae.” Hyukjae is anything but surprised when he feels the van jostling, the warmth of Donghae’s knees pressed against his. “Why are you crying?” he asks, running the back of his hand in the open space between Hyukjae’s cheek and his knee.
“I’m drunk,” Hyukjae sniffles, feeling pathetic that at this age he still can’t control his emotions. It hits Hyukjae all at once like a pinnacle rush of lightning before thunder strikes, he is never going to. “I always cry when I’m drunk. Just tired,” he mumbles as an afterthought.
“Tired of?” Donghae coaxes, his hand drawing circles across Hyukjae’s back. His palm gets drenched in Hyukjae’s anger, slowly evaporating through the t-shirt he’s been wearing for the past three days because they can’t find a cheap laundromat. Donghae’s hands are wrinkled in water weight from washing their underwear by hand. Hyukjae’s index finger still hurts from when he caught it on a clothes pin pinching his skin and the t-shirt Donghae is wearing right now he hung to dry over the sink.
Hyukjae shrugs, his eyes studying the cracks in the skin of his knees. He can’t even remember why he got so angry. California. Montana. There really isn’t much of a difference once he realizes they are not on some sort of schedule. Those places will be waiting for them whenever they get there, nothing stopping them from living in some log cabin tucked away in the mountains for eight months, then pitching plastic tents on the southern coast nearing Mexico and calling the beach their home for the next decade.
“I miss home too sometimes.”
Hyukjae lifts his head from his knees, sits up straight causing Donghae’s hand to slip down his back and hit the roof. “That’s not it.”
“Then what is it?” Donghae asks. He shifts his body so one of his legs is lying between Hyukjae’s bent ones, his hand curled around the cuff of Hyukjae’s tattered jeans. His voice sounds like he’s playing some guessing game with Hyukjae, a tactic he resorts to with people, the rare occasions when he genuinely doesn’t know what’s racing through Hyukjae’s mind. Hyukjae pretends Donghae was just guessing, that Donghae can’t miss home because with Hyukjae here there is no home to miss.
“Nothing,” Hyukjae says, half his mouth smiling at Donghae while the other hides from the moonlight. “I guess I just really wanted to see the bridge in San Francisco. There’s not much to do up here and no offense, but you’re kind of boring after a while have I ever told you that?”
Donghae rolls his eyes. He has no idea what to do with Hyukjae half the time so he busies himself with kissing Hyukjae’s mouth which is something he always knows what to do with, he tastes the acridness of the wine and the sourness of his leftover anger overpowering the faint taste of watermelons.
They stretch out against the bumpy ridges of metal at their backs side by side. Hyukjae relaxes and the empty bottle rolls off the edge of the rooftop as they stare up at the pitch black sky. They don’t count the stars, take comfort instead in their presence.
At some point, and despite the haze of alcohol burning off Hyukjae gets lost to time and the deft wandering of his fingertips, the roof turns into their bed still mostly made out of metal but Donghae never protests about the springs piercing his skin as Hyukjae holds him to the sheets. Cleaned less than three days ago, they smell like linen and the coffee Donghae accidentally spilled on them when he thought breakfast in bed might mend Hyukjae’s anger. If Hyukjae presses too close he can still smell the burn of someone else’s high in the mattress so he keeps his nose in the crook of Donghae’s neck. The nonexistence of space doesn’t matter here, not as they pour out the last of Hyukjae’s anger and Donghae’s doubt with eager hands, the burn the sun has left on Donghae’s skin mangled with the scars it has opened on Hyukjae’s deep in his veins, sliding down his wrist and slipping into Donghae’s.
“So you’re not dead. That’s good. I’d hate to have to find your dismembered bodies in that death trap.”
“Gee, Sungmin it’s nice to hear from you to. I’m glad we’re not an inconvenience.”
“Oh come on, Hyukkie. You know I’m just kidding. Sort of. So, how’s life on the road?”
Hyukjae twirls the phone cord around his index finger a few times. He can’t remember any point in his life where he used the public telephone so much as he does now, forking up an insane amount of pennies to make trans continental phone calls every so often. Taping his finger against the door of the booth Hyukjae thinks about Sungmin’s question, pins living in one place as opposed to living anywhere at the drop of a hat. Always knowing they‘ll have a bed to sleep but never knowing where. Food stock is always an issue, money comes up short and tickets litter up the wipers for double parking. They have to drive outside of city limits to have sex in peace, sometimes they don’t make it all the way and one time a cop in South Dakota tried to arrest them for public indecency to which Donghae had argued how could it be indecent for a man to fuck in his own home? The cop wrote them up for using foul language with an officer instead.
Stacked up like that, Hyukjae isn’t surprised by the caustic worry in Sungmin’s voice.
“It’s not that much different from touring,” he lies watching as night begins to fall over the Washington skyline through the glass. Autumn in Bainbridge feels like winter in Seoul. Hyukjae pulls the zipper of his jacket all the way up to his jaw and the glass is cold.
“Hyukjae. I don’t get it,” Sungmin admits and truth is, sometimes neither does Hyukjae. “I mean, I understand,” and here Sungmin stresses on the last word, years of coming to terms with a truth a part of him wishes he could ignore weighed down by his acceptance of them. “But. When are you guys coming home?”
On the other line, midday Seoul buzzes loud and burning. Hyukjae hears the screech of the metro car’s wheels against metal, the sway of bodies traveling underground. He takes the phone away from his ear and presses it to the glass. Silence. Complete and utter silence. It’s so loud Hyukjae can hear the sound of Donghae’s breathing at dawn, thunderous in his ear. The sound of their fingers sliding and holding, as little space as possible between their skin and being able to hold on for as long as they want to. It’s so deafening, every time he gets a new bruise, Hyukjae hears his body protesting at the impact followed by the obscene sound of Donghae’s mouth kissing it clean.
“I miss you, Sungmin,” Hyukjae says, the phone back to his ear. “Tell the others we miss them too.” Slowly, Hyukjae hangs up, Sungmin’s question left hanging over the thousands of miles, the lives, between them now.
Hyukjae steps out of the phone booth. The sky is dark blue, lamp posts turned on and burning walkways on the sidewalk. Nighttime has fallen and it’s about time Hyukjae went home.
The sun rises in the west in Ventura and the beach lasts until the tide stops, one day the sea level will rise so high the entire town will be under water. For now the waves push themselves on and off shore, rehydrate the sand and dust it in salt. Donghae and Hyukjae arrive at the beach just in time to catch the end of sun rise, the drying of the sand and the ocean painted in orange as dark as the Accona Dessert in Tuscany. Reminds Hyukjae of late afternoons when the breeze was cool enough to smoke the rolled up tobacco leaves they picked in Egypt and it was safe enough to stare at the sun through clouds of smoke.
“I could die like this,” Donghae had said that day, mumbled by the cigarette in his mouth. He says it again now clear as the day beginning just at their backs, still blinking directly at the sun, its rays getting trapped in his eyelashes each time he blinks.
Hyukjae wants to tell him to look away, he doesn’t have the excuse of smoke to stare at the light until there’s nothing but black spots clouding his vision. Donghae doesn’t need an excuse. He’s grown now, set in his ways and this is as certain as the fact they’ve reached the point where their lives meet at a time where the years they’ve known each other outweigh the ones they didn’t.
“Yeah?” Hyukjae questions, his back leaning on the side of the van and his feet resting on a large log burnt out by someone elses bonfire.
Donghae nods from his seat on the bottom step at the driver’s seat door, his naked feet digging into the sand. They’ve been driving for two days straight from San Francisco stopping once to sleep and once to fuck. Both of are them starving and there is nothing but water and white bread in the fridge but Hyukjae headed straight for the beach anyways.
“When I die,” Donghae starts, a calmness that shouldn’t be there when people talk about death, especially their own. “I don’t want you to bury me. And if you do I want you to make sure I’m buried naked. I was put naked into this world and that’s how I want to leave it,” Donghae elaborates when Hyukjae’s face scrunches up in slight horror.
“What if I go first?” Hyukjae asks, wincing when his foot rubs over a splinter in the log, wood joining the sun and time carved into his skin. “And what if it’s not my decision how you’re buried?”
Sliding down from the step, Donghae lies flat on his back on the sand, his hair fanning out around his head and twisting with the beach. “If you go first. I don’t know. What do you want me to do with you?” He tosses Hyukjae a sideways glance, a half grin ruining the seriousness in his voice. “And I’ll name you the sole manager of my estate so if you don’t do as I say, I’ll haunt you from the after life until you join me.”
Donghae doesn’t talk in if’s and maybe’s. He talks in when’s and how’s. When they will die and when they will be buried or how they will scatter each others ashes one day. It should be scary that they are long past hushed whispers about becoming the world’s best dancers and living their dreams. They’ve met the world’s best dancers and it wasn’t in a mirror but in the currents, the air pushing in and out of expanding lungs and oceans spreading and pulling the continents closer together for the wheels of their home.
Hyukjae doesn’t get to answer and Donghae doesn’t want to guess as he asks about what they should do next. The possibilities are infinite, the most obvious spreads out before them as a hop skip and jump to where they started.
“We could do what I originally wanted to do,” Hyukjae suggests casually.
Donghae’s mouth twists in confusion before he smiles in understanding. “I hear Mexico’s not so bad as they say it is. And I’ve always wanted to meet a real Spanish cowboy and they say the last ones are all in Argentina.”
Winter promises to spread out for the next couple of months. Heading south might be the only viable option.
They finally have breakfast in some corner street diner, enough food to feed a village but they manage to finish it themselves without the extra help.
The surf is visible through the window by their booth. All of Ventura is surf and sun and the promise of the south.
Hyukjae takes a sip of his coffee, it burns the roof of his mouth, the sun somehow managing to reach where it can’t shine. “When I die,” he interrupts the quiet, picks up their conversation as if it had been on a waiting pause. Donghae swallows the bite in his mouth slowly and his eyes look darker in the morning light. “I want you to scatter my ashes in our backyard.”
Donghae nods, leans over to push their fingers together, a silent promise to not lose Hyukjae along the way but leave pieces of his memory between their back porch and the oak tree at the far end by the fence.
Mexico is exactly what they say it is and more. They get blinded by the sun in Chichen Itza but the wheels keep rolling a sinuous and spinning line on the road.
By the time they reach Argentina, it’s snowing heavily and the smoke isn’t thick enough to shield their eyes from the sun but they don’t turn back. The ground in Tierra del Fuego is cold and Hyukjae decides that one day, he wants a part of him buried in the ocean.
Inspired by Donghae saying he wants them to live in his car. Idk what's wrong with him bur it lead to this. Title credit goes to Two Door Cinema Club's album of the same name.