Everything that has a beginning must also have an end, but even still, nothing could have prepared Ryeowook for the afternoon Leeteuk called everybody together for a meeting and told them, tone flat, “Super Junior will disband in about two months.” He opened his mouth as if he had something else to add, but after a moment he stopped and shook his head and said, “That’s all I have to say.”
Ryeowook remembers wanting to be angry, wanting Leeteuk to say something more, but in truth, that really is all there was to it: Super Junior would break up. The end.
(nine) | (two)
One of the final public showings that Super Junior made was an idol Olympics event. Not everybody could make it - two were in the middle of their military service, another at a drama filming, a fourth painfully, permanently absent - but the rest of them did. Most of the time, they stood together in a semicircle trying not to stare at the fifteen-, sixteen-, seventeen-year-old boys and girls milling around them, not talking much to other groups if conversations could be avoided. “We’re too old for this,” Heechul said, sighing irritably like he always did when they had to participate in activities like this, but in truth, everybody agreed.
Competing with teenagers was uncomfortable for all of them: though they weren’t yet old, they didn't have the same youthful vigor, and even if they did win, it would feel as if they’d bullied a victory from kids nearly half their age. All-in-all, though, they made a better showing than they’d been expecting - none of them won golds, but a few managed silvers and bronzes, and never did they finish in the bottom two.
The final event was the long-distance relay, and Ryeowook was picked to run the last leg. “For Super Junior,” Leeteuk said, and tried to smile as encouragingly as he could, but - perhaps inevitably - it fell flat. “Let’s try our best to win this very last one, alright?” He put his hand in and the rest of them followed, and Leeteuk led them in their rallying call before taking his place at the starting line.
Ryeowook doesn’t quite remember what emotions he felt as he stood there, waiting for his turn - he knows Leeteuk was near the middle of the pack as he handed the baton off to Sungmin, and Sungmin managed to gain a little ground before it was Kyuhyun’s turn. He remembers thinking to himself that maybe they could have a chance at winning, if the hand-off was perfect and the rest of the final leg runners weren't too fast.
When Kyuhyun passed the baton over to Ryeowook, he grabbed it and ran faster than he even knew that he could. The longer he ran, the more it felt like the end was getting further and further away, and he couldn’t tell where the other runners were relative to him, but it didn’t matter: there was a part of him that needed to show that Super Junior could end strong, that they were not disbanding with a whimper but with a bang - to himself more than anybody else.
He doesn’t recall how long he ran, or how much time it took, but after he crossed the finish line he almost immediately started going pale, a feeling like a clamp pushing down on his insides building in his sides. Sungmin only barely managed to pull him out of the view of the cameras before he collapsed on the ground, short of breath. “You shouldn’t have pushed yourself so hard,” Sungmin chided him, but he’d sounded too worried for the warning to be particularly effective.
It wasn’t until almost twenty minutes later, when Sungmin finally let him stand up and walk back onto the field, that he found out that Super Junior had placed fourth.
(ten) | (three)
At their last concert they sang far too many of their singles, with solo and subunit performances in between, and it was so long that most of them looked like they were sad not because Super Junior was disbanding but because they were tired. The majority of the songs chosen were utterly unfitting for the occasion, and as he sang Sorry Sorry, Ryeowook looked around him and suddenly realized that even though the others were there with him physically - dancing, singing, taking a part in the grand finale of their lives together - most of them were already somewhere else mentally. They had already moved on without even thinking about it, and it struck Ryeowook as unfair, because he had been trying to prepare himself for this moment for years and he wasn’t ready, not yet.
He’d thought he would probably cry, but he didn’t, if only because he was too exhausted for tears by the end.
(eleven) | (four)
Three weeks after the official disbandment, Ryeowook was called with Kyuhyun and Yesung to meet with two of their producers. “We’d like to give Kyuhyun a mini-album,” they’d said. “And we would like it if you two - Yesung and Ryeowook - could do a collab on some of the songs.”
Ryeowook had expected Yesung to say something, but it was Kyuhyun who’d spoken up first: “This isn’t fair, is it? To me, or to them,” he said, even though all of them knew that this industry doesn’t follow the principle of fairness. “I don’t like this. We’ve already disbanded, but isn’t this just an attempt to capitalize on what’s left of Super Junior?”
They watched the producers exchanged uneasy glances with each other. “It’s only a request,” one finally said, but none of them believe it.
On one side, Ryeowook could sense Kyuhyun getting annoyed, and on the other side he could sense Yesung getting angry, and he wished he could reach out and hold both of their hands and somehow reassure them. Instead, he took a deep breath and said, “Kyuhyun, I think you should do it. And I don’t mind contributing as much or as little as you think is necessary.” There was a pause before he added, “I’d do it if you asked me to, but not for any other reason.”
It took Yesung a few moments, but he nodded in agreement. “I get it,” he said, and sighed. “I don’t like it, but I get it. And I feel the same way.”
Kyuhyun sighed. “I’ll think about it,” he said evenly, but all of them know that he’d end up accepting, whether by choice or by force. “Can we go now?”
After they were released, each of them went off in different directions - none of them were ready to talk about it, not yet. “What’s wrong?” Sungmin asked after Ryeowook returned to the dorms, eyes downcast.
He hesitated for a moment. “Nothing,” he said, and he convinced himself that his answer couldn’t be called a lie.
(twelve) | (five)
“Since we’re not doing anything, let’s go on a vacation,” Sungmin suggested one night as they laid sides pressed against each other, skin still hot and moist.
“To where?” Ryeowook asked, mind still not altogether gathered. “How long?”
“Anywhere,” Sungmin replied. “Everywhere. Until we’re ready to come back.”
Ryeowook closed his eyes and Sungmin rolled on top of him, pressing his lips to Ryeowook’s collarbone gently. “Okay,” Ryeowook answered, and moaned slightly as Sungmin dragged his teeth across skin.
After they got each other off for the third time that night, Sungmin propped his laptop and they booked two tickets for a plane to Rome that would take off six days later.
(thirteen) | (six)
Somehow, they managed to get permission to take leave. Sungmin would probably start military service soon and management probably didn’t think it worthwhile to start him on anything only to have him leave a few months in, and Ryeowook had been put on the backburner for Kyuhyun - in other words, both of them were temporarily expendable. Their leave, though, came with the condition that they come back right away if called for. “Our leash has lengthened,” Sungmin commented dryly, but he grinned.
Ryeowook probably shouldn’t have laughed, because the words rang too true, but he did anyway.
(fourteen) | (seven)
The day Ryeowook and Sungmin left Seoul was sunny and bright, so that when their airplane left the ground they could see far into the distance. “A good omen,” Sungmin said, even though neither of them are superstitious. They have both flown in too many planes to really believe that the color of the sky or the shape of the clouds have any meaning on how smooth a flight will be.
Even though the view was beautiful and they didn’t know when they’d return, neither of them looked out the window as they took off. They decided to call it a vacation, but it felt more like running away.
( - )
The day Ryeowook and Sungmin leave Seoul is sunny and bright, so that when their airplane leaves the ground they can see far into the distance. “A good omen,” Sungmin says, even though neither of them are superstitious. They have both flown in too many planes to really believe that the color of the sky or the shape of the clouds have any meaning on how smooth a flight will be.
Even though the view is beautiful and they don’t know when they’ll return, neither of them look out the window as they take off. They’re calling this a vacation, but it feels more like running away.
The weather is just as nice when they land in Rome. “What time is it?” Sungmin asks groggily as they walk through the terminal.
Ryeowook checks his smartphone. “Around four-thirty in the afternoon,” he answers. Back in South Korea, it’s already half past midnight, and neither of them got much sleep on the plane, so instead of going out and exploring they opt to find their hotel and sleep.
“This is a little weird,” Sungmin says as they crawl into bed together.
“That we’re going to sleep this early?” Ryeowook asks.
“No,” Sungmin answers softly. “That we’re going to sleep in the same bed together and we don’t have to go over to each others’ rooms and hope nobody notices we don’t leave until the next morning, or ask somebody to trade with us if we’re not in the dorms, or anything like that. It’s just so... I don’t know. Normal?”
“Oh,” Ryeowook replies, because he’s not sure what else to say.
Sungmin laughs lightly. “I like it, though,” he says, and arranges the covers around Ryeowook’s shoulders before pulling him close, before whispering “good night” into his ear, casually intimate.
Ryeowook’s pretty sure that Sungmin’s asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, but he smiles and whispers “good night” back anyway.
They spend four days in Rome, cycling between eating, sleeping, and walking around the city. They go to some tourist attractions, but just the ones that they happen to pass by: Sungmin kisses him by the Colosseum and in front of the Trevi Fountain and Ryeowook returns the gesture in the Piazza del Campidoglio and as they pass the Pantheon, simply because they can and nobody’s watching them. They drink coffee every morning even though neither of them particularly like it, and make jokes about doing as the Romans do.
“Let’s move on,” Sungmin says after dinner on the fourth day, and Ryeowook nods in agreement. Rome is beautiful, but it’s not a place they can stay in for long, so they pick up and take a train to Venice the next day.
“Ti amo,” Ryeowook reads off of his smartphone as they sit in a little Venetian restaurant overlooking the canals, the leftovers of their lunch still on the table in front of them. He rolls the vowels in his mouth thoughtfully, considering carefully how the words should sound. “Ti amo. That sounds nice, don’t you think?”
“Are you talking to me?” Sungmin asks, distracted as he compares bottles of wines with labels written in languages he can’t read, trying to find some way to decide between them that doesn’t come down to chance.
Ryeowook puts his phone down and makes a face, pretending to be offended. “I’m talking to my lunch, actually,” he says, in a tone of exaggerated sadness. “But, no - I was just speaking aloud. Trying to learn a little Italian. It’s a pretty language.”
Sungmin hums in agreement. “A lot of operas were written in Italian, right? Because there were a lot of musicians here, or something like that. Now that I think about it, a lot of musical terms come from Italian originally, don’t they?”
“Yeah. I think so,” says Ryeowook. It occurs to him that in the years he spent singing and composing, he’d never thought much about where music came from: to him, it had always been something that just was, something that defied history and explanation.
“Not that it matters, really,” Sungmin replies. He puts down the two bottles and looks up at Ryeowook, smiling wryly. “I think, probably, music is just what you make of it. In my unlearned opinion, of course.”
Ryeowook wonders if he was that obvious or if it’s just because Sungmin is Sungmin that he knows exactly what to say. He returns the smile and nods before picking up the bottle on the left. “I think this one looks good,” he says.
“Okay. This one it is, then,” Sungmin says, before raising his hand to get the attention of the waiter. They struggle through a conversation partially in English, partially in Italian, partially in Korean, and completely confusing to the people involved, but much pointing and gesturing to the wine that they want the waiter’s face lights up and he smiles broadly at them. He says something incomprehensible but cheerful before whisking the bottle off to prepare it for serving.
“I think maybe he said we have good taste?” suggests Ryeowook.
“Either that, or he’s grateful we finally managed to have a breakthrough in language barriers,” Sungmin replies, and both of them laugh.
A few minutes later, the wine arrives. For some time, they sit quietly and enjoy each other’s presence, the weather, the bright sound of people speaking in Italian around them. “We should send some wine back home, for the others,” Ryeowook suggests vaguely. “They’d like it.”
“Yeah, we should,” Sungmin agrees. “The red or the white, do you think?”
They contemplate it for a few moments. “We could just take both,” Ryeowook suggests.
“I like the way you think,” Sungmin replies, and grins. They buy five bottles of wine, and with a fair amount of difficulty, they carry them back to their hotel, where they carefully arrange them in a case with styrofoam peanuts and newspaper strips. Instead of sending it to their friends, though, they end up addressing it to Sungmin’s parents and include a letter politely asking them to keep a hold of the box in their name until they return.
“What they don’t know they’re missing won’t hurt them,” Sungmin declares as he writes the address in with a black marker borrowed from the front desk.
(one) | (nine)
They take a train to Spain, and on their first afternoon in Barcelona they watch a football game. “I thought Koreans could get crazy over football, but this is a whole different level,” Sungmin says as they leave the stadium - neither of them are even sure what teams were playing, but somehow, it was far too easy to get caught up in the rowdy enthusiasm of the people around them, and they’d spent the entire time screaming until their throats were hoarse.
Ryeowook laughs, and tries his best not to think about watching Sungmin jump up and down in a music video years ago, singing Victory Korea.
In Madrid, just outside the Puerta del Sol, they discover the paella. “They put some really weird things in this rice,” Sungmin comments, pushing his food around the plate before hesitantly spooning up a bite. “It’s really... yellow. And fragrant.”
“To be fair, I’m sure Spaniards would think some Korean food is weird too,” Ryeowook says, even though he is clearly waiting for Sungmin to take the first bite.
After a moment or two, Sungmin finally gives in and brings the spoon to his mouth, expression thoughtful as he chews. “Oh,” says Sungmin, and his eyes light up. “It’s good, it’s really good -” he holds up his spoon to Ryeowook’s mouth, and Ryeowook lets Sungmin feed him.
“It is good,” he says after he swallows, nodding in agreement. “Unexpectedly, really, really good.”
By the time they’re finished, there’s not a speck of food left on either of their plates.
“I’m writing Kyuhyun an e-mail,” Sungmin says that afternoon, as they lounge on their hotel’s outdoor deck. “Anything you want to tell him?”
Ryeowook shrugs. “Not really. What are you writing him?”
“I can read it to you, if you want,” Sungmin offers, and Ryeowook nods. He grins, and begins reciting aloud: “Dear Kyuhyun, the vacation’s going great. Ryeowook and I drink a lot of good wine, eat a lot of good food, stay in nice hotels, meet a ton of interesting people, and also kiss a lot in historic locations. I want to say I wish you were here, but then, I really don’t, because then I think you would make us cut down on the kissing part and I’m pretty fond of it. Definitely one of the best parts.”
Ryeowook has to stifle a laugh, because he knows Sungmin will just be encouraged by it. “Please don’t send that,” he says, although he thinks it would be worth the embarrassment just imagining Kyuhyun’s reaction.
“I already did,” Sungmin replies cheerfully. “He sent an e-mail back a few minutes ago. ‘You guys are gross. Don’t come back home. If you must, you had better buy me souvenirs. Nice ones. I won’t accept anything that costs less than $50.’”
"Of course he’d say that,” Ryeowook says, but not unfondly. “Let’s buy him a vuvuzela.”
Sungmin snorts. “It fits his personality so well. Yeah, let’s do that.”
They get him the vuvuzela on one of Madrid’s side-streets the next day, but they relent and also buy him two bottles of Sangria and Andalusian brandy. “He is totally not going to be grateful for this,” Sungmin says as they pay, but he’s not really serious.
(two) | (ten)
Impulsively, they decide to hop from Spain over to Eastern Europe. They take a train to Croatia and then buses from there to Hungary, then to Ukraine, and then onto Russia, stopping whenever they feel like it, to stretch their legs and take a look around. On the way Sungmin and Ryeowook perfect the art of sitting comfortably next to each other in small spaces: it was something they were already good at, but extensive time spent traveling together teaches them that Ryeowook head is most comfortably balanced on the space under Sungmin’s clavicle, and Sungmin’s arm can just reach across Ryeowook’s lap. They get to the point where they can instinctively curl into each other, and it becomes another way that they take comfort in each other’s bodies’, more platonic than others, but just as meaningful and just as warm.
They finally decide to stop wandering when they reach Russia’s capital. “There’s not much further east we can go before we hit Siberia,” Sungmin says, looking at a map on his phone, “and I’m not sure we really want to go to Siberia.”
“Okay,” Ryeowook replies. “Then let’s stay here for a while.”
The dry cold of Moscow wreaks havoc on the texture of Sungmin’s hair. “If I had known that being an idol meant frying my hair beyond repair, having people overanalyze every piece of food that went into my mouth, and so, so much crossdressing, maybe I would have given it a second thought,” he mutters glumly as Ryeowook straddles his waist and massages another layer of leave-in conditioner onto his scalp.
“Only a second one?” Ryeowook teases.
Sungmin mulls it over for a second before he nods, Ryeowook’s hands moving up and down with the movement of his head. “Yeah,” he says. “I would have still wanted it, I think.”
“We were all young and didn’t know much better back then,” Ryeowook says. He’s not entirely serious, but at the same time, Sungmin knows that he means it than he would be willing to admit.
“We’re only young once,” Sungmin replies. Ryeowook finishes his hair treatment and takes his hands off; Sungmin looks up at Ryeowook’s face and blinks expectantly.
Ryeowook smiles and is tempted to laugh, because something in Sungmin’s expression reminds him of a child wheedling for attention, and it’s not annoying so much as it’s cute. “Your hair’s fine for now. I’ll do it again later, after we get back,” he promises.
“But it feels so nice,” Sungmin says, but sighs and nods in acquiescence before getting up and pulling his coat on.
They wander Moscow during the day, passing by St. Basil’s Cathedral (“It looks like it’s made of candy,” Ryeowook says as they stand in front of the church) and the Red Square and the Triumphal Arch, holding each others’ hands to keep each other from getting cold. At night, they drink vodka for the same effect.
“This was a bad idea,” Sungmin says vaguely, before almost tripping over himself. Neither of them are lightweights by far, but the spirits are strong and their inhibitions are low, so that when they decide to go back to their hotel both of them are smashed out of their minds. Ryeowook laughs and kisses Sungmin as they stumble out of the bar, ignoring the cheerful Russian girl flashing them a thumbs-up in encouragement.
They haven’t had sex drunk in a long time, but they end up taking off each others’ clothes the moment they get back to their room, touching each other gracelessly and desperately, trying to find warmth in each others’ bodies where the Moscow night has stolen it away.
They spend the next morning nursing hangovers and soreness. “We really aren’t young anymore,” Sungmin says, and sighs. They’d originally planned on going out, but instead they sit in their hotel all day, lounging around and passing the time idly, watching television shows they can’t understand and surfing the internet.
“Eunhyuk hyung is going to start hosting a new show soon,” Ryeowook says sometime in the afternoon. The way he says the words is carefully unemotional. “Donghae hyung e-mailed about it just now. You probably got it, too.”
Sungmin looks up. “That’s good for him,” Sungmin replies, tone neutral. “What kind of show?”
“I’m not sure. He didn’t say.” Ryeowook shrugs. “But he always was good at that kind of thing. I’m sure he’ll do a good job.”
They’re silent for a long time. “Russia’s too cold,” Sungmin finally says. “We should’ve stayed in Spain for longer.”
(three) | (eleven)
They leave Russia and go back west, through the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, and finally Austria: their travels have brought them nearly back to where they’d begun, so they buy a plane ticket to China that leaves in three days and wait in Vienna in the meanwhile. It’s still cold there, but somehow, it’s a little more bearable.
While in Europe, Ryeowook’s learned how to say I love you in many languages. >o?Te amo. Ich Liebe dich. Kocham cię. Es tevi mīlu. Volim te. Ya tebya liubliu. The word for love sounds different in each language, but all of them have a certain roundness to them, a certain lilt that makes them pleasant to say and hear. He takes great care to pronounce them precisely, because love is a powerful, beautiful thing, and he thinks it would be a little disrespectful not to call it by its proper name.
He practices on Sungmin, but it’s only the day before they’re set to leave Europe, as they’re walking along the Danube River in Vienna, that his eyes light up and he says, “Oh. So that’s what you keep saying,” and smiles so brightly that Ryeowook feels almost a little shy. But Sungmin says, “I like the way that the words sound when you say them, even if I don’t understand them. They just sound like the feeling of being in love, somehow,” and Ryeowook thinks to himself that he should have known that Sungmin would get it.
“So, which language’s I love you do you like the best?” Sungmin asks that night, when they’re bundled together under hotel bedsheets and blankets, whispering the question right into the curve of his ear.
Ryeowook closes his eyes and is a little glad Sungmin can’t see his face, even though he’s sure his ears are heating up in embarrassment. He answers, “The one that you reply I love you too in.”
Sungmin laughs softly, gently, and whispers, “You’re such a sap sometimes, you know that? I really like that, though. I love you too. I do, I do, I do.”
(four) | (twelve)
They fly over to China next. Even though they’ve both been there before, both of them agree it’s worth another visit, and so they find themselves sitting in the Beijing Capital International Airport until 3 in the morning waiting for their luggage to show up.
“Remember when we had people who took care of this kind of stuff for us?” Ryeowook says jokingly as they sit at the baggage pick-up, sitting on a bench together with their carry-on bags in between them.
“Yes, that’s right,” Sungmin teases. “It was a whole six months ago. So long ago I can barely remember it.”
They pass the time by pretending like they’re interviewing each other on the radio, asking each other ridiculous questions and addressing each other with exaggerated formality. After another two hours pass, somebody comes by and lets them know their luggage has finally appeared. “Ah, Ryeowook-ssi,” Sungmin says as they get up. “It appears that we can finally leave.”
“That’s too bad, Sungmin-ssi,” Ryeowook replies, grinning. “I was about to tell our listeners something scandalous. I suppose it’ll have to wait for next time.”
Sungmin pretends to sigh deeply. “Well, you always did flirt a little too transparently when we were on Sukira,” he says. Ryeowook doesn’t deny it.
Their first full day in China, they visit the Great Wall. “It’s different from what I expected,” Sungmin says as they stand on one of the guard towers and stare out into the distance.
“Somehow, it’s bigger than I thought it would be,” Ryeowook replies.
There’s a moment of silence before Sungmin says, “We’re standing on the only man-made structure that can be seen from space. And on the bones of the people who made it, probably. It’s a strange feeling.”
“The air feels different here,” Ryeowook murmurs, and Sungmin knows he’s not just talking about the air pressure.
Sungmin sighs. “There have always been those who are sacrificed, I guess,” he says. “But at least they aren’t forgotten.”
“I wonder if that would make them feel better about it,” Ryeowook replies. Sungmin shrugs in reply.
They’d originally talked about staying in Beijing for a while and seeing the Forbidden City, the royal gardens, maybe taking a day trip to the Summer Palace - but something about their trip to the Great Wall has soured the idea of seeing ancient monuments and imperial landmarks, so they take the bullet train to Shanghai instead.
For the first time since they’ve left South Korea, a fan recognizes them when they’re walking down the Bund - a girl, probably in her early twenties. She almost drops the shopping bags she’s holding when she notices them and calls out their Chinese names.
Both of them freeze instinctively. “Should we ignore her?” Sungmin asks, but in the time it takes him to say that much she’s already by their side, starry-eyed with amazement.
“It is you two! I used to be such a big fan when I was younger,” Ryeowook thinks she says. His Mandarin is a little rusty, but he’s pretty sure he can understand the general meaning of things. “Not very much now. I’m getting too old for that kind of thing. But still, it made me sad when I heard that Super Junior disbanded.” She pauses for a moment, then asks, “Lixu, will you continue to sing? Your voice is very beautiful. I’d buy your album.”
Ryeowook thanks her, not sure what else to say. “You two are so talented, I’m sure you’ll do well in whatever you decide to do,” she says, and grins widely, the corners of her eyes creasing slightly. The two of them return an awkward smile.
“Autograph?” Sungmin offers, rather weakly, because he’s not sure what else to do.
“If it’s no trouble,” she says shyly, so the two of them rummage around to find a pen in their bags and they sign one of the receipts she’s carrying, because she has nothing else they can write on.
“Thank you for supporting us,” Ryeowook says as he caps the pen, trying his best to smile.
“Thank you!” she replies brightly, and waves enthusiastically before she turns and they part paths. Sungmin and Ryeowook keep walking along their way, but the mood’s already gone.
That night, Ryeowook presses kisses into Sungmin’s mouth, neck, chest, thighs and Sungmin touches him until he’s arching into Sungmin’s fingers, moaning. He lets Sungmin fuck him and then they switch positions, repeating the cycle over until they’re too tired to move.
After they’ve finished, Ryeowook lies on his back and stares at the ceiling. “Do you think we’re running away?” he asks.
He doesn’t expect a response, but Sungmin sighs and says, “If we were, would that be so wrong?”
Ryeowook doesn’t answer. “It’s strange having people recognize us on the street,” he says instead. “Maybe we should leave China.”
Sungmin murmurs a quiet agreement. They fall asleep curled into each others’ bodies, the bedsheets around them a mess.
(five) | (thirteen)
Cancún is warm and sunny, but the sand is so white that it doesn’t burn when they walk across the beach barefoot. “The ocean’s beautiful,” Sungmin says, putting his hand over his eyes as they stare out at the water.
“It looks different from back home, somehow,” Ryeowook replies, just loudly enough that he can be heard over the sound of water crashing onto shore.
Sungmin tilts his head slightly. “Well, I guess it is the Atlantic here,” he says. “In Korea, it’s the Pacific, right?”
That’s not what Ryeowook means and they both know it, but he nods his head in agreement anyway.
They’ve learned a little from their Moscow night, so instead of tequila they drink Coronas and stop after they’re pleasantly tipsy - but then they pass by a swarm of people hopping from club to club and impulsively, they decide to do the same, too. Clubbing in Mexico is a different experience than clubbing in Korea, but the balmy air and the buzz from the beers loosens their muscles and their hesitations, so they press their bodies together and between dozens of strangers and move to the beat of the music, holding each other close so they don’t get lost in the crowd. It’s close to two in the morning when they pull themselves out and go back to their hotel room.
“Cancún is humid even after the sun’s gone down,” Ryeowook comments idly, but they end up lying in bed with their legs tangled up in each other anyway.
Sungmin doesn’t reply, but after a few moments he says, “That was kind of reckless of us, wasn’t it? I mean, most likely nobody here would recognize us, but even still. We probably shouldn’t have done that.”
Ryeowook shrugs, because this entire trip has been reckless from the very beginning, as if he’s making up for all the years that he’s lived as an idol and not a human being, always suppressing the desire to do anything risky - being able to do what he wants without worrying is freeing. “You can’t get away from the sound of the waves here,” he murmurs, ignoring the question. “Even when we’re indoors.” He sighs and closes his eyes - even with the lull of alcohol in his bloodstream, sleep doesn’t come easy.
(six) | (fourteen)
The United States of America (x)
They carefully avoid California and take a direct flight to Chicago, not because they particularly want to go there, but because the flight time is convenient. Neither of them know very much about the city, so after they check into a hotel, they ask the two people at the front desk for advice on what to see. “You could go to Sears Tower?” says one of them. “I think it’s, like, the tallest building in the world. Or something.”
The other person working there sighs. “You are so dumb,” she says. “It’s not the Sears Tower anymore, it’s the Willis Tower. And it hasn’t been the tallest building in the world since we were, like, born.” She clears her throat and turns to face them, smiling. “But you should definitely go!” she says, more cheerfully. “The view is amazing. Definitely worth the visit.”
Sungmin and Ryeowook only understand about half of what either of them say, but they nod obediently and about half an hour later, they find themselves riding the elevator up the Willis Tower. “I’m getting vertigo already and there aren’t any windows in here,” Sungmin says, half-joking, half-serious. Ryeowook laughs, but it’s a nervous sound - he feels the same.
When they get to the top, they step out together. It takes them a few minutes before they manage to steel themselves enough to walk closer to the windows. “At 108 stories and 422 meters high, the Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago,” Ryeowook recites aloud, reading off of his smartphone. “For almost twenty-five years, it was the tallest building in the world. It remains the tallest in the United States today.”
They stare across the buildings of Chicago and beyond to Lake Michigan. “It’s strange,” Sungmin murmurs. “We can see so far, and it’s so beautiful, but this is such a small, small part of the world.”
Ryeowook doesn’t reply, but he reaches for Sungmin’s hand and they curl their fingers together just tightly enough that he can almost forget how high up they are.
They take an Amtrak train from from Chicago to New York City, arriving in Penn Station at nearly seven in the evening, and spend the next few days exploring. New York City, they find, is very much like Seoul in that the city is alive in different ways at different times and different places: there’s the New York City of the night, artificial lights illuminating the people walking below with vibrant colors as they go from bar to club; the New York City where artists line the streets and show off their craft for quarters as dancers and singers get ready behind the stage for a shows that costs over a hundred dollars to get into; the New York City where tourists go to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building; and countless other spheres of existence that criss-cross and pass by each other.
Sungmin and Ryeowook walk slowly while New Yorkers walk quickly, and hold each others’ hands firmly to make sure they don’t get separated from each other when they’re in busy places. They wander up and down streets, not ever going anywhere in particular, and most of the time they simply move with the crowd, letting the people around them sweep them down Broadway Avenue and onto Times Square, or into Chinatown and then north into SoHo, never letting go of each other until the fourth day after they arrive, two blocks down from Rockefeller Plaza. A young woman talking rapidly on her phone and moving just as quickly comes towards them, obviously in a hurry - without even glancing behind her, she walks right between them and they barely separate in time to let her pass.
For a split second all Ryeowook can do is stare at Sungmin, surprised, because there was a lurching feeling in his stomach and a pang in his heart the moment that their hands stopped touching. For some reason, the idea of Sungmin letting his hand go makes him feel uncomfortable, even though there is a rational part of his mind that knows that they had to. With a jolt, he realizes that what he’s feeling is fear, that he’s scared because the one constant no matter what corner of the Earth they go to is that he could always reach out and take Sungmin’s hand in his and remind himself that he is not alone, like how once he reassured himself before concert stages that if he faltered, he could always look around him and find twelve, thirteen, fourteen other people there to support him unconditionally - having that taken away from him, even for a moment, is like knocking down the support on a building.
If Sungmin notices the look in his eyes, though, he ignores it and reaches over to grab Ryeowook’s hand again. “Let’s keep going,” he says.
The way words sound makes it sound so easy, so Ryeowook lets Sungmin lead him.
That night, he lies in bed eyes open, listening to the sound of Sungmin sleeping and thinking about the calm, easy way Sungmin had curled their fingers together again when he’d been too stricken to even move.
“So in the end,” he says aloud, “it turns out that I was the only one running away this whole time.”
(seven) | (fifteen)
( - )
It takes Ryeowook several weeks and a dozen countries to realize why he’s scared enough to fly across the world, but it only takes one slip of the hand and a night of contemplation to decide that he has to do something about it. He knows he can’t run away forever - in fact, he thinks, maybe he’s already been running for too long.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” he says after they’ve eaten breakfast in the morning, “but could I go out by myself today?”
Sungmin smiles and reaches over, brushing Ryeowook’s cheek lightly with his palm. “Be safe,” he says, as if he has been waiting for this moment to come.
“Thank you,” Ryeowook says, and tries his best to smile in return.
He walks around Manhattan until he finds a Starbucks to sit in for a while, so he orders a cappuccino and sits in a two-person window booth by himself, looking as people outside pass by him. Most don’t even look up, let alone notice him, but it doesn’t bother him as much as he thought it would. Sitting by himself is strange - he’s alone but he’s not. He’s scared, but he feels free.
As he watches and drinks his coffee slowly, he thinks to himself that maybe people are scared of being by themselves because they are scared of who they are when nobody else is looking.
Ryeowook doesn’t say anything when he returns to the room: he opens the door, puts his coat onto a hanger, and goes to join Sungmin where he is reading on the bed, leaning over to rest his head on Sungmin’s shoulder. “Welcome back,” Sungmin says, setting his book down to the side. “Did you have a good time?”
In reply, Ryeowook sighs and reaches out to take Sungmin’s hand. “It was okay,” he replies, because he can’t think of any other way to answer.
“That’s good,” Sungmin says, and squeezes Ryeowook’s hand lightly.
For a while they sit in silence, sides pressed against each other comfortably. Finally, Ryeowook says, “I think I’m ready to go home now.”
Sungmin smiles. “Okay,” he replies. “Then let’s go home.”
fandom: Super Junior | Ryeowook-centric, Sungmin/Ryeowook
rating: PG-13 (some sexual content)
summary: Super Junior disbands, so Ryeowook and Sungmin go on a trip around the world. They call it a vacation, but somehow it feels more like running away.
notes: sometime in December I said something along the lines of “I think I can post a Super Junior fic soon but now that I’ve said this I’ve probably jinxed it and I’ll need another two months!!” but i only ended up needing... one extra month!! :’( this fic changed radically from its inception in terms of plot, but at the same time, i think that it’s not a bad thing at all. anyway, i hope to write more suju in the future because Super Junior is actually the group i’ve probably seriously followed for the longest Q__Q