theme: o12. Chains.
(Sequel to What He Sees in the Mirror)
He wasn’t sure how he got there. He barely remembered what happened to lead up to him getting where he was now. He remembered the world spinning, and he remembered the darkness. The only clear thing he could truly remember was his name being called with a sweet, familiar voice.
“We didn’t want it to get out that he had cancer,” the manager explained, “His family insisted for absolute discretion because it’s such a private situation.”
“We’re his family TOO!” Yesung exclaimed, stepping forward as if he were going to attack. Shiwon, who had been standing closest to Yesung, subconsciously put an arm around him to stop him, just in case.
Kangin sat in a hospital bed. The blanket pulled to his waist and his now fragile looking hands lying in his lap. He kept his eyes out the window outside his bed, seemingly mesmerized by the night sky. The other twelve Super Junior members stood sporadically around the room as the manager explained the situation from the foot of the bed.
“It wasn’t my choice who to tell and who not to tell. Kangin’s family asked for discretion, and Kangin decided who he wanted to know and who he didn’t,” the manager said quietly, not liking the fact he had to put the member in such a rough spot.
“Please leave us,” Kangin finally broke his silence since he woke up in the hospital room half an hour ago.
The manager looked at Kangin, startled and yet, slightly relieved they didn’t have to explain to the hostile members. Quickly, the manager made his exit, shutting the door to the private room behind him.
“The first thing out of your mouth better be a damned apology!” Donghae stated began, his eyes filling with tears,
“I hid it for a reason,” Kangin said quietly, “I didn’t want you all to worry.”
“Why can’t we worry?” Ryeowook spoke up then, “Hyung - we’re Super Junior. Aren’t we supposed to be friends? No - family?” His voice broke halfway through his sentence and Kibum put a hand on his shoulder as a means of comfort. However, Ryeowook shook him off and walked off to a corner, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and gaze glued to the tiled floor, but Kibum followed him anyway.
“What I don’t understand is why you felt you had to hide it from us,” Shindong stated quietly but firmly. He stared directly at Kangin, not allowing him to look away;
“We’ve all been through our own personal struggles, but we’ve never hidden it before. So why start now?” Hankyung added,
“I didn’t want to be treated differently,” Kangin replied simply, “I didn’t want things to change.”
“Of course things would change - you have cancer!” Sungmin cried out, the tears already brimming his eyes. Eunhyuk, who stood behind him, immediately turned him around and pulled him into his arms.
“I wanted things to remain as they were,” Kangin explained, his voice barely above a whisper, and yet still stern, “I didn’t want my cancer to overtake my lives - our lives. I didn’t want it to rule, I didn’t want it to change everything… If things changed because of my sickness, it would only give it power, and… I didn’t want that. I wanted some normality in my life and…and if that meant hiding the truth from all of you, then I was willing to do it.”
“That’s bullshit…” Kibum’s quiet statement floated across the room from where he stood in the corner with Ryeowook to where Kangin sat in his hospital bed.
“If you’re all going to get angry with Kangin hyung, then you have to get mad at me too,” Kyuhyun slipped through the members and stood beside the bed, facing them, “I’ve… I’ve known for a little over a month and I didn’t say anything.”
Eeteuk, who had been standing by the door, quiet the entire time, stepped through the members. He walked up straight to Kyuhyun and everyone heard the crisp sound of the slap before they even realized it had happened.
“KYUHYUN!” A jumble of voices called out in unison; several members stepping forward, but it was Heechul who slipped in between both members.
After his strike, Eeteuk stood still, his hand still crossed over and raised from the action. Kyuhyun didn’t raise his head after being hit, instead he kept his face to the side, eyes focused on the ground.
Heechul grabbed Eeteuk’s raised hand and lowered it. With a bit of effort, he pulled Eeteuk away and guided him out of the room. Afterwards, everyone was silent and Kyuhyun, cheek reddening from the slap, was immobile. Kangin, filled with guilt that it was Kyuhyun who had been attacked, turned his attention back out the window in a trance-like fashion, as if it were a dream and he could slip away.
A few quiet minutes later, Heechul re-entered and stood beside Kyuhyun, but faced the other members, “It’s late and both M and H have schedules tomorrow. The cars are waiting downstairs to drive everyone home,” Heechul stated matter-of-factly. After convincing Eeteuk to head downstairs ahead of everyone to cool off, Heechul decided to take it upon himself - as second oldest - to lead everyone in Eeteuk’s absence.
Some of the members began to protest, but Heechul held up his hands and shook his head firmly, “No. It’s past midnight already - everyone’s tired and angry. There’s no point in staying if the only thing that’s going to happen is you all getting more angry at Kangin,” Heechul said sternly, “We all know the truth now, there’s nothing else to do but go home and clear our heads before we say - or do - anything we may regret,” he glanced at Kyuhyun before continuing, “Besides, Kangin’s the one here who’s sick. He needs his rest, and we’re not helping him get any better by staying here and yelling at him.” Heechul stood there until, finally, the members began leaving the hospital room.
When Kyuhyun made to leave, Heechul made a subtle movement with his hand to stop him, and he complied. Once it was only the three of them in the room, Heechul faced Kyuhyun and made Kyuhyun look at him, “I doubt you’re going to bruise from that,” Heechul decided, “But on the way down we’ll grab some ice for you, just to be sure.” Kyuhyun turned to leave again, but Heechul put a hand on his shoulder to stop him briefly, “They’ll get over it once they let go of their anger.”
“And Eeteuk-sshi?” Kyuhyun muttered, his voice quiet and cracked,
“He’ll come to his senses once he’s himself again,” Heechul insisted, “It’s sudden for them and, they don’t know how to handle their emotions; that’s why they’re so hostile. Once they’ve calmed down, everything will be okay again.” Heechul watched Kyuhyun a moment before adding, “Okay?”
Kyuhyun nodded as Heechul let go of his shoulder. “Night Kangin hyung,”
“Goodnight Kyu-sshi,” Kangin said quietly, his eyes turned to him.
Kyuhyun took a steadying breath before departing, wiping away a stray tear before disappearing beyond the thresh hold. Once he was gone, Kangin turned his eyes towards Heechul, not knowing what his hyung would say now that they were alone. Heechul had remained silent the entire time until Eeteuk had slapped Kyuhyun, so Kangin wasn’t sure his position on the situation. However, Heechul said many things that made Kangin think - no, hope - that he wasn’t angry; not a lot, anyway.
“Heechul-sshi…” Kangin began, but then stopped; he wasn’t sure what to say to this particular member, especially after the way Heechul had behaved just moments ago.
Heechul looked at him, his arms crossed loosely about his torso. He stared at Kangin for a silent moment before speaking, “I can’t say I’m surprised, because I’m not. I realized you were sicker than you actually let on… probably the same time Kyuhyun found out. I had an uncle who had cancer, so I saw the symptoms, but didn’t want to assume it right away.”
“You never said anything or alluded to it,” Kangin said in askance,
“Because I don’t pry in other’s business,” Heechul stated simply, “If you were hiding it from me and the other members, I wasn’t going to ask you, or make you tell me. I figure you’d tell us eventually… but after tonight I’m starting to wonder if you were going to tell us at all.”
“If it progressed, I was going to tell,” Kangin insisted, “but if no one found out before I got better, then there wasn’t a point to tell.”
Heechul watched him as a silence fell upon them again. After a few minutes, he spoke again, “The cars are waiting for me, so I should get going. Get some rest, Kangin; I’ll see you tomorrow… Kibum and I are the only ones without a schedule.” He turned to leave when he heard his name,
Heechul paused at the door, his arms still crossed. Before Kangin could continue, he answered, as if knowing what was going through his dongsaeng’s mind, “No. I’m not angry. If anything, I’m sad that you didn’t believe in Super Junior.” And with that, Heechul left Kangin alone with his thoughts and shadows.
The next day, Kangin woke up early for a chemotherapy session. When the nurse rolled his wheelchair back into the room an hour later, he was startled to find Heechul sitting there reading a magazine.
“Hyung?” Kangin greeted in confusion as the nurse helped him back into bed and promptly left.
“I told you I’d see you today,” Heechul said as he flipped a page of his magazine. He sat in a chair beside Kangin’s bed, angled so he faced him. He had one knee crossed over the other, the magazine propped up on his knee. “How was your chemo?”
“Hell,” Kangin replied simply as he pulled his blanket up to his waist and leaned back against the raised part of the bed.
“Hungry?” Heechul asked as he licked the tip of his finger to help him turn the page.
“Starving,” Kangin said, “But if I eat I’ll probably just end up regurgitating it an hour later.”
“Yeah… doesn’t help that the hospital food… well, sucks,” Heechul looked up and offered a small smile.
It was such a small gesture, something seemingly insignificant to other people. And yet, to Kangin - who had nothing but anger thrown at him over the past couple of hours - it held a meaning ten-fold than usual. It relaxed his tense heart and, for a brief moment since the members found out his secret, allowed him to breath easily.
“So it doesn’t matter I can’t eat anyway,” Kangin offered, hoping to continue the light atmosphere that somehow fell upon the room.
Heechul shook his head, “Oh, you’re still going to eat,” he said as he looked back down at his magazine, “You may be sick and fighting cancer; and it may be taking away your ability to eat, but we’re not going to let it take that away so easily. Kibum will be here soon with some toast and soda crackers we brought from home- that should steady your stomach; he just went to get a drink in the cafeteria.”
“Kibum-sshi…” Kangin said the name with apprehension in his voice,
“Will be coming from his boxing lesson, so he’ll be a few degrees less angry than last night,” Heechul stated as he turned a page,
“Or use what he learned to pummel me,” Kangin countered dryly.
“They’re ANGRY with you; they don’t want to HURT you… that’s why Eeteuk hit Kyuhyun, because he couldn’t hit you.” Heechul said, “And if you’re looking for something to do, the remote’s on the table to your right, or there’s a manhwa I brought in my bag.”
Kangin picked up the television remote and soon, the sounds of the television filled the room. When Kibum arrived, he placed the toast and crackers on the table beside the bed and sat in an empty chair, angling it towards the television. Kangin could tell Kibum wasn’t as angry as he had been the other night, however, he could also tell that Kibum wasn’t quite ready to talk to him.
Kangin ate the lightly buttered toast in silence, furtively glancing at Kibum once in awhile. It was fine that Kibum wasn’t speaking to him. All that mattered was that he stayed in the room, sitting in a chair at his bedside.
Everyday after the members found out, Heechul would return and visit Kangin. Sometimes his visit would be brief, on his way from one show to another. Sometimes his visit would remain for the entire period allotted to visitors. The one thing that was consistent with his arrival was that he would always bring another member with him. Slowly, with Heechul’s help, the members began to forgive Kangin, began speaking to him and, even laughed with him again.
On the eleventh day, Kangin surmised it was Eeteuk that would accompany Heechul; he was the only member yet to visit him in the hospital. When Heechul showed up that day alone, Kangin was beyond devastation. Heechul took his usual seat and noticed Kangin’s mood immediately,
“He’s hurt, Kangin,” Heechul said simply, “He was the most hurt out of all of us.”
“Is he ever going to forgive me?” Kangin asked quietly, his gaze glued to his hands in his lap.
“Just give him time,” Heechul insisted, “He’ll… he’ll come around sooner or later.”
“I… I don’t know how long I can go on with him hating me,” Kangin admitted quietly, “My heart literally hurts, hyung.”
“Are you in love with him?” Heechul asked tentatively,
“If no one found out, it wouldn’t be like this,” Kangin sighed, obviously changing the subject,
Heechul leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and cocked his head as he regarded Kangin silently. Finally, he spoke with a tone that made Kangin believe he had been thinking this over for a long time; “You said you didn’t want the cancer to overtake your life, and yet you let it anyway.”
“What?” Kangin looked up at him confusedly,
“The fact that you felt you had to hide it, proves you let it encompass you,” Heechul stated matter-of-factly, “You let it put fear in you to the point that you hid it from people who have been by your side for years, seen you at your lowest, and been there with you when you had no one else. You spoke as if your cancer was a prison, that you lied to free yourself from its chains… and yet, in the end, you ended up shackling yourself to it even tighter.”
“I… still let it control me?” Kangin stammered.
Heechul nodded slightly as he continued, “Had you spoke of it freely, told us when you found out, then that would’ve shown that - for one - you weren’t afraid of it, that you were able to talk of it and acknowledge it and it would’ve shown that - for another - you weren’t afraid of what it would do to the group.” Heechul tilted his head to the other side, his gaze locked with Kangin, “But you didn’t speak of it. If you want it to stop controlling you, then answer this with no more of your lame excuses: why did you hide the truth of your cancer?”
“I was scared - I AM scared,” Kangin stated, his gaze dropping back down to his blanketed lap, “I guess that somewhere in my mind… no, I KNOW that for some reason I felt if I didn’t talk about it, it’d go away by itself. I felt that if I talked about it, it would make it more real and… I wasn’t ready to face it yet. I felt that if I said it out loud, then I’d be acknowledging its existence and… I didn’t want to.”
Silence filled the room for minutes which stretched into eternity. Finally, it was Heechul to break it; his voice piercing the silence with his quiet yet strong words, “It’s time you acknowledge it.”
“I… I…” Kangin clasped his bony fingers in his lap tightly. He felt the hot tears stinging his eyes, felt the tremble in his now wiry frame. “I have… I have…” His jaw shook slightly and he bit his lip until he tasted copper. “I have can… can…” He felt a lump form in his throat painfully, as if his admittance was stuck there, choking him. “I have cancer,” his voice broke as it came out in a heart-wrenching sob. “I have cancer,” he repeated as the tears fell, “I have cancer,” he cried when suddenly a pair of arms wrapped about him securely. One arm wrapped about his shoulders protectively, the other wrapped about his head, holding it against a warm and sturdy chest. Kangin leaned into Heechul’s body as his hands grasped at his arms; “I have…”
“Shh… it’s okay now… you can stop now,” Heechul murmured, his lips pressed on the top of Kangin’s head, “You can stop now…”
“Hyung, I have…” Kangin’s words trailed off as another sob escaped his lips and he completely broke down in Heechul’s arms.
“It’s okay… It’s okay…” Heechul said softly. Kangin had always been the strong one, had always possessed a strength that even those older than him envied. Seeing him so weak, so broken, made Heechul’s heart ache and so he only tightened his embrace around his crying dongsaeng.
When Heechul returned the next day, he found Kangin sitting in bed already, the manhwa he had brought the first day open in his lap, but his eyes were staring out the window into the bright January morning.
“Morning Kangin,” Heechul greeted as he took his usual seat, placing his bag down on the floor beside his feet, “How are-”
“I have to have surgery,” Kangin said quietly, immobile.
“What?” Heechul questioned,
“The chemo was working in the beginning; but after doing tests yesterday after you left, the mass they found in my head last month… it had been shrinking, but since the last time they did the tests, it’s grown considerably. So, I have to have surgery,” Kangin explained in the same quiet and eerily calm tone,
“W-w-when?” Heechul stammered, his hand at his mouth, stopping the sob that wanted to come out,
“Tomorrow,” Kangin answered simply, easily. He had acknowledge it and now it seemed he had resigned himself to it; “What a way to spend my birthday…”
“Everything will be-”
“Hyung,” Kangin interjected, stopping Heechul from finishing the line everyone was told when facing the worst. “Just… can you just hold me today?”
Heechul promptly stood from his chair and walked up to Kangin who kept his eyes out the window. He stood perpendicular to Kangin and wrapped his arms about him, his hands clasped over his left shoulder. Kangin reached over to his left shoulder with his right hand and held tightly onto Heechul’s hands as he leaned his head back against his chest. He could tell by the slight tremble in Kangin’s body and the tight grip over his hands that Kangin was silently crying. If Kangin wasn’t going to be strong, then Heechul needed to be; so, he bit on his lip hard to stop from screaming.
The next morning, Heechul arrived as usual. This time, he was accompanied with ten other members. Kangin didn’t even have to look, he could sense who was missing; Eeteuk. He felt his heart grow heavy and immediately, break from the smothering weight. He kept his eyes on his hands in his lap. He knew if he looked at the other members past the quiet greetings, his resolve would break and he would cry again. They waited in the room in a dense silence, the clock on the wall ticking louder than ever before; his parents stayed in the waiting room, giving the members time together.
Finally, the nurse appeared with his wheelchair. Slowly, he pulled the blanket from him and climbed from the bed with the nurse’s help. Clad in a blue hospital gown, he sat in the wheelchair. He decided to be brave for the others, so offered a small smile to them. The nurse began to wheel him out of the room, when Heechul placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping their progress.
Kangin looked up at him quizzically. Heechul raised a fist, “Kangin - fighting!”
Soon, one by one, each of the other members repeated Heechul’s words. Kangin looked at them all, each with a forced smile on their face, eyes wetted by tears and a fist clenched with determination. In unison, they all chanted, “Kangin - Fighting!”
Kangin’s eyes whipped immediately towards the doorway. There, catching his breath, stood Eeteuk, his fist raised by his heart.
“We have to go, Kim-sshi,” the nurse said tentatively.
Kangin nodded and the nurse pushed him out the door, but Eeteuk remained at his side, walking beside them towards the elevator doors; the other members spilling into the hallway, watching them from behind. A few feet away from the elevator, Kangin begged the nurse for a moment alone with his hyung. She complied quite easily and walked ahead of them to the elevator, Eeteuk saying he’d push Kangin the rest of the way.
“Ee… Eeteuk…” Kangin muttered and in a flash, Eeteuk was kneeling on the ground, his arms around Kangin.
“Kangin, I’m so sorry,” Eeteuk grounded out, his lips pressed against Kangin’s shoulder as he hugged him tightly, “I should’ve came sooner.”
“I don’t care about that anymore,” Kangin insisted, “Hyung…” his voice broken as he fought the urge to cry, his eyes stinging with hot tears, “Hyung I’m scared.”
Eeteuk hugged him even tighter, his knuckles whitening from the effort, “I am too,” he admitted as he wetted Kangin’s shoulder with his tears, “But… but it’ll be okay.” Eeteuk stood, but kept his arms around his dongsaeng, “You’ll go in for surgery and… and you’ll come back to me.” Kangin let out a small cry at his words, “You… you have to come back to me because… because if you don’t…” Eeteuk took a deep, steadying breath as he finished, “If you don’t come back to me I won’t have anyone to love anymore.”
Kangin twisted in the wheelchair so he could hug Eeteuk back properly, his arms wrapped tightly about his waist. Eeteuk had his arms around Kangin’s shoulders, his lips pressed to the top of his head as he repeated his sentiments.
The ding of the elevator rang, signalling its arrival, the doors opening. The nurse looked over at them just as Eeteuk looked over. He straightened and went to Kangin’s back, hands gripping the handles with a strength he didn’t feel. Slowly, step by step, he pushed the wheelchair closer to the waiting elevator and nurse. As the nurse took over the wheelchair, Eeteuk stepped to the side, his eyes locked with Kangin’s.
Before he entered the elevator, Kangin grabbed Eeteuk’s hand and tugged him down for a kiss. Their lips touched in a sweet kiss that both wanted to last for eternity. When Kangin broke the kiss, Eeteuk straightened, but held onto his hand.
Kangin gazed up at him with tear-filled eyes. He brought Eeteuk’s hand to his lips, dropping a kiss to his palm, “I have loved you every day I have known you… I love you, Jungsu.”
Eeteuk had to cover his mouth with his hand to forcibly stop himself from crying out. He was startled to feel a hand at his shoulder. Eeteuk looked back to find it was Heechul’s hand. He and the other members had gathered around them at the elevator doors. Eeteuk looked at them and nodded. Looking back at Kangin, he gave his fragile hands a comforting squeeze before letting his fingers slip away. Eeteuk stepped back beside the other members as the nurse and Kangin entered the elevator. The doors closed between them with Kangin giving them his best brave smile.
An hour later, the twelve Super Junior members entered the now empty operating room. The doctor who had come to Kangin’s hospital room to tell them the sordid news, waited outside of the operating room, allowing them their privacy; his parents, who already said their goodbyes to their son, were out in the hallway in inconsolable grief.
They approached the covered body in the middle of the room and, with a shaking hand, Eeteuk reached out and pulled the sheet down to reveal Kangin’s face, already pale and cold. The room erupted into soul-wrenching sobs and heart-breaking cries as each and every member broke down, giving themselves up to their sadness and tears. It was Eeteuk alone who did not cry out. Instead, he stood there quietly, tears streaming down his face. His hand affectionately holding the side of Kangin’s face, he lowered his head. His lips met Kangin’s cold, dry mouth as he murmured his final farewell:
(For Eeteuk's point of view: Thirteen Days of Darkness)