theme: oo6. Burn.
Fish balls. He would forever hate fish balls from that day onward.
It began one afternoon when Heechul was in the dorm kitchen making fish balls. He had done it dozens of times before and he was craving for some delicious balls of fish meat. He had turned to get more when his shirt had caught at the knob, turning it high. However, he didn’t realize it until it was too late. Everything after that happened in a flash:
The oil bubbled to the point of eruption…
Hot oil splashing everywhere…
Searing, white-hot pain…
Then everything was dark. Just dark. Complete and total darkness.
Heechul stay in the hospital for days. He refused entrance to anyone who wasn’t a doctor or nurse. His members waited outside in the hallway, trying to convince him to let them in. He conversed with the managers with a notepad being slid underneath the door. It had taken him three days alone, to convince his mother from coming all the way to Seoul to see for herself that he was “fine, just fine.”
Day in, day out he’d sit in a chair across the room from his bed beside a window which overlooked a nearby park. His eyes would pass over the children playing, the couples sitting together, the runners cut through in seconds. He would analyze each tree he could see, appreciate their different shades of green, the way they seemed to dance in the summer wind. He could see dots of colour, lining the paths of the park or circling around bases of choice trees. He would look at every detail of the park from his hospital window, and he believed all of it beautiful.
And he hated it.
Whenever a nurse or doctor came into his room, he wouldn’t face them. He would keep his face directed out towards the window and he requested they not come close to him. They would speak to his back and he would reply with the same thing, “Not until the surgeon comes.”
Then one day, the door opened without a knock, but Heechul didn’t move, didn’t even flinch to glance at the intruder.
“Heechul, I brought some of Hankyung’s Beijing fried rice,” Yesung’s voice said cheerfully as he entered, placing the small basket on the bedside table. He moved to approach Heechul, but he stopped him,
“Don’t,” Heechul said warningly, “Don’t take another step closer.”
“But Heechul -”
“I don’t even know why you’re bother coming every day,” Heechul stated, “The other members stopped visiting three days ago.”
“When I had my breakdown over the radio, you were the only one who didn’t tease me about it,” Yesung said simply as he sat on Heechul’s empty bed, “So I figure I should be the one to force my way into here.”
“The door was unlocked,” Heechul pointed out in a dry tone. He was silent for a moment before adding, “Thank you for the food.”
“Yeah no problem,” Yesung replied. For twelve minutes they sat in silence. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t awkward. It was just… there. Finally, Yesung got up from the bed, “If there’s nothing else you need, I should get going to the radio station for my show.”
“Okay. Bye,” Heechul said flippantly.
Yesung headed to the door and paused there, his hand twisting the knob. He took a steadying breath as he opened the door, “And for the record, the members come everyday. They just stay in the waiting room because they know you won’t let them in.” And with that, he left.
Once the door closed, Heechul let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. He sat in the familiar chair, hands folded simply in his lap, his back ramrod straight and gaze unflinching at the park. He raised a hand to move a stray hair from his eye when he paused, his fingers mere inches from his skin.
No, he thought. If his fingers made contact, they would feel the deformity. They would graze the folded and tight skin, feel the dryness, the rubber-like feel his skin had gained since the cooking accident just a week ago. He lowered his hand back to his lap, loosely lacing his fingers to stop himself from any more instinctive gestures.
A few days later, Yesung returned again, this time bringing some kimbab that Kangin had made. He placed the tinfoil-covered plate on the bedside table and sat on the empty bed as Heechul sat across the room in his chair.
“Do you even sleep in your bed?” Yesung asked, his hands running over the neatly pressed sheets, the starched pillow cases that lacked any sign of usage.
For a slow five-count, Heechul said nothing. Finally, he admitted, “No.” Yesung’s eyes widened with surprise; he has asked only to have something to say, but he didn’t expect a negative answer to his random perusals.
“But… but why not?” Yesung questioned, feeling the worry that had settled itself become wild again.
“If I sleep in the bed, I become vulnerable,” Heechul replied simply,
“Anyone can walk in when I’m sleeping. I could even over sleep and you could walk in on me,” Heechul explained in the same trance-like tone that he had adopted since arriving at the hospital.
“So what if you’re sleeping? It’s not like I haven’t seen you sleep before,” Yesung said,
“But you’ve never seen my face like this before,” Heechul countered quietly, his hands clenching tightly in his lap as he fought all urges to tremble or perhaps even cry. “At least if I sit here, I’m more alert to sounds in the night, and I wake up to the morning sun.”
“You’re scarred that badly?” Yesung asked tentatively,
“I know I am scarred, but I don’t know how much. Since the first day here, I haven’t looked at it,” Heechul admitted, “I’ve seen it at its worse, but I haven’t seen it since it’s healed over.”
“Then maybe there’s nothing there for you to even worry about,” Yesung stated,
“There is… I can tell,” Heechul said, “I can feel an unfamiliar tightness beside my right eye… and along the left side of my jaw it feels like my skin’s being stretched out to the limit. I’ve stopped licking my lips because I’ve tasted how burned they are, how raw they are.”
“So, what now? You’re just never going to look at people ever again? Never let other people look at you? What kind of life is that Heechul-sshi?” Yesung demanded.
“Only until the surgeon comes,” Heechul said simply, “The one that fixed Eeteuk-sshi after the car accident last year. He was able to restore Eeteuk back to his former self, despite the amount of stitches in his face.”
“So you’re waiting for him to take away your burns?” Yesung concluded,
“I’m not asking for a miracle… but if he can make me at least a shadow of my former appearance, then I’ll be complacent,” Heechul answered, “Then I’ll be able to face the world again.”
“I’m not that vain of a person, Yesung… but over the years I’ve been defined because of how I look. To lose that now…” He sighed heavily, “It’s like losing my identity.”
Yesung watched quietly as Heechul slumped in his chair for the first time. Saw Heechul raise his hand to cover his mouth when he yawned, then lowered his hand before it could make contact with his face. “Heechul-sshi… if you’re tired, sleep in your bed.”
“I can’t!” Heechul stated as if he were scandalized at the suggestion,
“I know, I know… you’re worried that people will see your face, but how can they see your face if they can’t get into your room?” Yesung asked,
“We’re not supposed to lock the doors for more than ten minutes at a time for security reasons,” Heechul explained,
“Then I’ll stand outside and make sure no one comes in,” Yesung offered,
“I can’t let you do that,” Heechul argued, “I appreciate the sentiment Yesung, but that’s too much to ask for.”
“I want you to sleep at least once in your bed,” Yesung countered, “Just half an hour then. Nap for half an hour in your bed and I’ll make sure no one comes in.”
Heechul sighed, “Just half an hour.”
With that, Yesung slipped into the hall and closed the door behind him, allowing Heechul his desired privacy. Once out in the hall he came face-to-face with Eeteuk and Kangin. They had accompanied him to the hospital, but decided to wait outside since Yesung was the only one auspicious enough to be granted entry.
“How is he?” Eeteuk asked,
Yesung leaned back on the door and sighed heavily, “The same as all the other days. He’s really self-conscious about his facial burns, that’s why he won’t let anyone in.”
“He lets you in,” Kangin stated,
“Sometimes I’m not even sure why,” Yesung admitted, “I gave him my reasons for being so persistent in visiting him in his room, but he hasn’t said his reasons.”
“What’s it like in there?” Eeteuk inquired,
“Dark,” Yesung said simply, “Well.. Dim. He keeps the lights closed, so the only light that gets in is through the spaces in the blinds of the window. He always sits by the window looking outside, but he doesn’t even open the blinds, just adjusts the blades so that he could look through; letting as little light in as possible.”
“Did he eat the kimbab?” Kangin asked hopefully,
Yesung shrugged, “I told him to sleep in his bed for a bit, so he’ll eat when he wakes up. At least we know he’s not starving himself. He hasn’t even been sleeping in his bed out of fear that he wouldn’t wake up when someone comes into his room and they chance upon seeing his face.”
“Well there’s no surprise there. Heechul may not be as vain as the rest of the world perceives him, but he’s been regarded so highly of his appearances for so long; losing that aspect of his life would be shattering,” Eeteuk noted as he chewed on his bottom lip,
“That’s what he said,” Yesung muttered, “So he’s waiting for this surgeon to come back from vacation or something like that… he just sits there… waiting.”
“I wish he’d just let us come in and talk with him,” Eeteuk sighed,
“No chance,” Yesung looked up at them with worried eyes, “He doesn’t even let me get closer than ten feet from him. I usually just put his food on the bedside table and sit on his bed. I tried once to get closer to him, but he told me not to. On any other occasion I probably would’ve rebelled and gotten even closer but… something about the way he said it. He tried to warn me off with his words but… there was such a sad undercurrent, I couldn’t bring myself to go against his wishes. I’ve never heard him talk like how he talks now.”
Yesung let himself slide down the door until he was on the floor. He raised his knees and crossed his arms atop them.
“We’re going to head back to the dorm, are you going to stay here?” Kangin asked,
Yesung nodded, “I promised him I’d stay here to make sure no one came in while he was sleeping. I’ll come home after he wakes up and I say goodbye.”
Kangin and Eeteuk made their farewells and left Yesung alone to guard Heechul’s room.
Heechul wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he was startled to wake up and see stars outside his window. He had slept for well over half an hour. He jumped out of bed and looked at the door wearily. Had Yesung stayed? He walked over to the door and almost grabbed the doorknob when he stopped himself. He’d be seen if he opened the door.
Thinking of another way to open the door, he went into the bathroom, turning on the lights. He had no worries in the white-tiled room, a spare blanket was draped over the mirror, which was smashed beneath its covers. He grabbed one of the towels but it was still wet from the shower he took earlier that day. He retreated back to his room and turned to the closet. Inside, he found a spare bed sheet. He unfolded it and draped it around him like a cloak, flinging the one end around his shoulder as if it were a scarf; the only part of his face visible was his eyes. He picked up the excess material to stop himself from tripping and hesitantly made his way to the door again.
Once he was met by the lights of the hallway, he felt his heart drop at the lack of a dongsaeng.
“Heechul-sshi?” Heechul whipped his head downwards. Yesung sat to the side of his door against the wall, knees propped up and a cup of what he surmised as coffee in his hands.
“Why didn’t you wake me up after half an hour?” Heechul demanded, his voice slightly muffled from the sheet covering his face,
“I didn’t want to wake you up,” Yesung said offering a tired smile before downing half of his cup of coffee,
“So… you stayed out here for…”
Yesung looked down at his watch, “Thirteen hours. But don’t worry; one of the nurses brought me a cup of coffee every hour,” he looked up and smiled again, finishing his drink.
Heechul blinked, his heart clenching at the thought of Yesung staying outside his door for so long. For a long time he wasn’t particularly warm towards the other members, so after getting closer to all of them, whenever they showed such a side to him, he wasn’t sure how to act.
“Ah… you… you can come in again,” Heechul said stiffly, feeling his cheeks warm from the dongsaeng’s loving attention.
He turned to go back to his chair and that’s when all his hard work became for naught. While conversing with Yesung, the rest of the sheet had slipped from his fingers, spilling around him as it wrapped about his head. He had forgotten to take up the sheet again, causing it to get tangled about his ankles when he turned and tried to walk. He hit the floor with a thud, instinctively trying to break his fall with his hands.
Yesung tried to jump to his feet, but ended up on his knees. He scrambled quickly over to Heechul on all fours. When Yesung reached his left side, Heechul rolled onto his back, cradling his left hand to his chest,
“That actually hurt more than it looked,” Heechul grounded out.
Yesung slipped an arm beneath Heechul’s back and slowly helped him up. When he got Heechul into a sitting position, Yesung kept a hand at the small of his back for insurance. With his free hand, Yesung gently took Heechul’s injured hand in his, careful turning it over to inspect it,
“We should call a nurse or something,” Yesung said decisively, more serious than Heechul had ever seen him.
“But… she’ll see my face,” Heechul chided,
“I don’t see what’s the problem,” Yesung replied, their gazes locked.
With a horrifying realization, Heechul looked down and found the sheet completely twisted about his lower limbs, leaving his face completely exposed. Had the room’s door been closed then he wouldn’t have thought much of it, but the door was wide open - bright corridor lights spilling forth into the dark-engulfed room.
Digging his heels into the tiled floor, Heechul tried to push himself away from Yesung, pulling his injured hand from Yesung’s gentle fingers. But Yesung would have none of it. The hand he had placed on Heechul’s lower back slipped around his waist and gripped tightly, trapping him.
His eyes widened with fear and shame as Yesung’s dark eyes roamed his face. He flinched and shut his eyes tightly when he saw Yesung raise his free hand. Seeing nothing but the darkness his eyelids provided, Heechul felt five fingertips brush over his skin.
Yesung explored Heechul’s long-hidden face with his hands. They brushed over every scar; every upraised line caused by the skin’s bunching. He caressed softly the damaged skin beside Heechul’s right eye, the rubber-like skin of the left side of his jaw, and eventually, Heechul’s raw and delicate lips. Yesung handled his face with such tenderness that Heechul thought his heart might burst.
“Please, stop,” Heechul stammered, turning his face away from Yesung’s touch.
Heechul hated the way Yesung would persistently come to his room when he wanted to be alone; he hated the way Yesung forced him into conversation when he wanted nothing but silence; he hated the way Yesung made him feel so damned vulnerable even when all Yesung did was stand guard. Most of all, he hated the way Yesung had pushed him to the point of pleading. He hated everything Yesung had done since the first time he stepped into the room and yet, he couldn’t hate Yesung.
When Yesung didn’t move away from him, Heechul begged, “Please…” his voice barely above a whisper.
Yesung tightened his grip on Heechul’s waist. With those gentle fingers of his, Yesung tentatively reached out to caress the side of Heechul’s face and then, finally, hold his cheek against his palm.
“Please…” Heechul repeated, his eyes stinging with hot tears as he fought to keep his head turned.
His dongsaeng stayed firm, turning Heechul’s face until, finally, they were looking at one another again. Hand still holding his face, Yesung used the pad of his thumb to brush away a stray tear. When Yesung made to pull him into an embrace, Heechul pushed against him with his good hand to no avail. He completely froze when Yesung had him totally in his arms and had his lips against Heechul’s forehead.
“I don’t care about your burns and scars ,” Yesung murmured against the damaged skin of his forehead.
Despite all the hate he had accumulated during his stay at the hospital, Heechul knew there was one thing - one person - he couldn’t hate. It had been a long time since Heechul last cried. Even the intense pain and unbearable burns from his accident didn’t make him cry. But his heart clenched and his tears fell freely as Yesung whispered four words:
“You’re beautiful to me.”