It's close to midnight when Taeyong quietly trudges through the front door into a dimly-lit, cold home. He doesn't announce that he's home, and no one comes to welcome him at the door, either.
Once upon a time, two adorable dogs would have rushed at him with excited barks, and the love of his life would have been waiting nearby with bashful but dazzlingly warm eyes and open arms. But Rapunzel had passed away months ago due to sickness, and a depressed Ruby had followed just weeks later. The love of his life, on the other hand, is alive and well, in a sense. However, he's faded before Taeyong's eyes; his physical beauty seems to increase with every day that passes, but the smile no longer reaches his eyes, strained by stress and heartache and a developing frost.
Although he managed to leave the office early tonight, it's an empty victory. No matter what he does, Taeyong somehow finds himself too late again. He just always feels too busy and too late these days, and despite his strong feelings of denial, he knows deep down that uttering the same drab apologies over and over can't truly save what's gradually slipping through his fingers.
As he shuffles towards the kitchen past ornate furniture, the Korean businessman mentally gives himself the same pep talk he's been giving himself ever since his very first promotion.
Working long hours and sacrificing my time at home is worth it. I love business, and the more I move up in the company, the better the salary...
With a better salary, I can make me and Yuta's lives so much better. Those days of living in shitty apartments and working so many fucking odd jobs and always wanting more are over...
Yuta surely understands; he loves his job just as much as I love mine. He's always busy these days, too, and we don't get to see each other much, but the sacrifice is worth it. We're becoming more successful with each passing day. I wonder what they'd say if they saw us nowー our homophobic "families" who disowned us, our "friends" who shunned us, the people who didn't believe we could make it...
Yuta and I are both living the dream, be it together or individually. We're strong and doing our best to make things work despite the distance...
Yuta is sitting in the kitchen, clad in his sleepwear and a cup of tea and a Japanese light novel in hand. The Japanese model doesn't seem to be reading, thoughー he's just drumming his elegant fingers against the table as he stoically stares off into space with his pretty, somewhat haunted eyes.
"I'm home," Taeyong announces awkwardly, tension flooding his veins when those sparkly eyes regard him anxiously.
"Hi," Yuta greets simply, running a tired hand through his brown hair. "Iー I wasn't expecting you home this early. You should've called to let me know... I would've warmed up your portion of takeout," he finishes a bit stiffly.
"It's no problem," Taeyong replies uneasily, finally motioning to put down his briefcase and remove his blazer as he traipses to the fridge. "Slipped my mind..."
He and Yuta both knew that that wasn't the case, but they don't comment any further on it. The younger goes back to reading, and the elder transfers his portion of takeout to a plate before shoving it in the microwave.
The husbands hadn't called, much less texted, each other in what felt like months. They didn't care to do those things much anymore; their conversations had grown stilted and monotonous, filled with forced pleasantries and talk about work this and business trips that. It's not surprising that they stopped making an effort to contact each other regularly.
It's not that Taeyong and Yuta don't love and support each other, but the Korean man thinks it's a bit pointless for them to contact each other if there's nothing new or interesting to say. They've been together for eight years, after all. They don't have to tell each other every little thing, do they? He'd moodily told Yuta as much after one frustrating week at work, and the Japanese model had agreed to back off with no real argument.
They're fine. Really.
As Taeyong seats himself with his plate across from his husband, Yuta closes his novel and grants him his full attention. "Happy anniversary, Taeyong," he whispers almost shyly, pulling a velvet box out of his pocket and sliding it across the table.
"Happy anniversary, Yuta," his husband murmurs back gently as he catches the box. He pulls a velvet box from his own pocket and slides it across the table in a similar fashion. "Eight years today... I'm so thankful, you know. But I really am sorry, though. You had the day off for once, and I couldn't even spend it with you," the elder mumbles apologetically, the prickling guilt making it hard to swallow.
A flicker of sadness passes through Yuta's eyes for a moment, but the younger just smiles delicately. "It's fine. I know we've been busy lately... we can always celebrate another day, right?" He fails to mask the faint tinge of disappointment in his words, and he feels awful when he sees his husband bite his lip in concern.
Taeyong clears his throat and leans back in his chair. "I have next weekend offー"
His husband shakes his head. "Fashion Week in Tokyo," the model informs, looking away from the elder. "What're you doing the week after that?"
The businessman sucks his teeth. "Business trip in Hong Kong the entire week," he answers, feeling a burdensome weight forming in his chest. "The first day of next monthー"
"I have a photoshoot in Thailand that day," Yuta sighs, burying his face in his hands. "Second week of next month?"
Taeyong sighs, too, shoving his plate away. He doesn't feel so hungry anymore. "I'm scheduled... but I'm sure I can get at least one day off that week if I ask my boss, I promiseー"
"Don't make promises you can't keep, okay?" Yuta doesn't mean to sound curt, but he's tired and not in the mood for some back and forth. "If you have to work, you have to work. Really, I get it. Just take care of yourself."
"Sorry," Taeyong utters blandly, rubbing his temples. "I'm sorry, Yuta."
The younger takes a sip of his now tepid tea. "I'm sorry, too. I don't mean to make it sound like everything's your fault," he confesses. "I've been adding on more and more schedules these days because I... I don't expect you to be free, anyway. Might as well be productive instead of waiting around for you to finally come home, you know?" he chuckles half-heartedly.
No one can blame Yuta for not wanting to set himself up for disappointment again. He just can't stand the thought of waking up all hopefully again for the nth time, only to be greeted by an empty bed and a note from his husband saying that a last-minute important thing came up at work and that he'll make it up to him next time.
Taeyong understands where he's coming from. Really.
Yet the dread pooling inside of him doesn't stop. "I missed you," the Korean man utters softly on impulse. He's not sure why he said such a thing out of the blue, but he doesn't regret saying it when his husband offers him a breathtaking, almost relieved half-smile.
"I missed you, too," Yuta returns genuinely, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. "Feeling you slip into bed next to me in the middle of the night isn't the same as getting to actually see and talk to you face-to-face."
After much deliberation, he rises from his seat and pads over to his husband; he stops behind him and wraps his arms loosely around the elder's broad shoulders. Taeyong holds his breath for a moment but ultimately leans into the embrace. Yuta rests his chin atop his husband's head and says nothing.
Instead of enjoying the feeling of closeness, both men distance themselves from reality as they recede into their heads.
How many "next times" have gone by unfulfilled over the past few months, they wonder.
What feels like an infinite period of silence passes, and Yuta exhales drowsily. "I love you..." he mutters.
The words are sincere but bittersweet on his tongue. However, Yuta feels compelled to say them regardless. It's their anniversary, so it's only fitting...
In reality, he can't remember the last time he said those words aloud to his husband and vice versa, and the thought frightens him greatly. He tightens his embrace but fails to find warm reassurance.
It's said that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but Yuta isn't so sure. He likes to think that he loves Taeyong as much as everー the elder is his everything, his truth, the center of his universeー but the air of discontent and detachment that's started to plague their interactions as of late is undeniable.
He wonders if his husband feels the same way.
The Japanese model tenses when the Korean businessman in his embrace abruptly twists around, leaning up to kiss the younger on the cheek. The contact is comforting, so, so comforting and warm, and Yuta shoves his depressing thoughts aside in a heartbeat when Taeyong appraises him with a sweet, intense gaze.
"Wait for me upstairs? I won't be long," the black-haired man says lowly as he lightly trails a finger across one of his husband's exposed collarbones.
"Okay," Yuta replies a bit breathlessly, nuzzling into one of the other's rough hands when it rises to cradle his cheek before departing.
Later that night, during their last round of long overdue, slow, sensual lovemaking, Taeyong finally breathes a belated "I love you" against Yuta's jaw, and the younger shatters completely.
Words can't describe how maddeningly gorgeous Yuta looks underneath him, with his onyx sapphire earrings, pleasured face, and exposed vulnerability. He never ever wants to let go, but those recurring, nauseating feelings of numbness and apprehension that start to materialize inside of him as soon as he rolls off of his husband's dazed form scream otherwise.
Let him go. You're growing farther apart every day, so just separate and lessen each other's burden. You can't even tell him you love him and vice versa without it being awkward.
If you love him so much, then shouldn't you be trying harder? He deserves someone better than you. He deserves someone who wants to happily communicate with and support him, someone who doesn't make empty promises, someone who can give affection regularly, someone who actually shows their face at home, someone who can offer him something more real than a pretty house and trinkets...
It's been eight years. Maybe you deserve something more, too. You've shared a beautiful life together, but is he your forever? He's not as perfect as you think he is, and surely he has his justified misgivings about you, too. You've both changed...
"Taeyong?" Said man is pulled out of his troubled thoughts by his husband's sleepy mumbling. "Thanks for... telling me. You didn't... say it back earlier..."
Yuta passes out then. But Taeyong feels as if someone's dumped copious amounts of ice water on him, because he's wide awake now, and not in a good way. "You know I love you," he laments to the sleeping beauty beside him, "don't you? I really was happy when you told me earlier... since you haven't told me those words in a long time, too..."
His words are lost on deaf ears.
Taeyong eventually succumbs to a troubled slumber, rolling to lie as far away as possible from the bed's other occupant in an effort to sort out his conflicted emotions.
Little does he know that Yuta's slumber is also riddled with similar nightmarish insecurities and worries.
They know it's impossible to run away from reality, but they try anyway. They try so damn hard to fix what's already unfixable; for months on end they pretend that they're not carrying the slowly increasing, burdensome weight of every missed date, every emotion-driven insult and argument, every broken promise, and every unsaid "How was your day?" and "I love you" on their shoulders. They work so, so, so hard to rekindle a long-gone romance by going on dates and taking vacations together and spoiling each other with material gifts at every opportunity.
But it's not enough. Their love isn't strong enoughー maybe it once was, but not anymore. It's been sullied, sullied by estrangement, materialism, and irreconcilable differences.
As Taeyong numbly watches a sobbing Yuta throw his latest gift on the floor and slam their bedroom door in his face, he reflects on their eight years together and wonders how everything could've turned out so wrong. "Yuta?" he croaks, feeling his eyes well up with warm, stinging tears. "Yuta, please..." His voice cracks as he presses himself against the locked door and slumps onto his bottom. "What did I do wrong? What is it this fucking time?!" he yells hoarsely. "We've barely seen each other all week, yet this is our seventh argument over nothing! I thought you wanted us to spend more time together, so what's gotten into you?!"
The Korean man slams his back against the door viciously to express his lividness, and his husband is quick to reply with a bang of his own. "Well, I'm sorry spending time with me is such an annoying obligation to you!" Yuta's fiery words are muffled by the door between them, but the grief is conveyed clearly. "You really don't know what's wrong, Taeyong? Everythingー we're wrong! I'm tired, so tired..."
The elder's blood runs cold at the implication. "But I love you, Yuta. And don't you love me?" Taeyong practically whimpers in a heartbroken manner. He scratches the wood of the door with his dull fingernails in an attempt to assuage his building anxiety but is unsuccessful, for it just keeps building. "I'm here with you now, aren't I? You're the one I come home to, the only one for me. I'd give you the entire world if I couldー"
"No," Yuta calls out tremulously, "you're not with me, Taeyong. You may live here, but you haven't viewed this house, or me, as your home in a long time. And for the record, I never wanted the entire world. I just wanted you."
The Japanese man stifles a gasp as he hears his husband ram into the door with startling aggression this time. Worriedly, he wrings his hands and starts, "What're youー?"
"I did it for you! I did it for us!" This time, it's Taeyong who's sobbing; his world seems to be crumbling beneath his feet, and he's unable to stop it. "I know I'm not home often, but I'm working for us. We deserved more than what we had. I hated working all those stupid part-times and living in a shitty apartment and not having enough money to cover the bills. I especially hated those nights when we went to bed cold, hungry, and miserable. But most of all, I hated watching you burn yourself out from overwork and cry from stress when you thought I wasn't looking. Yutaー"
"But I had you," Yuta interrupts in a surprisingly matter-of-fact voice, "and that's what made everything bearable. I would take that humble life and the love we shared years ago over this glass mansion, these luxurious presents, and our current relationship any day," he swears vehemently, balling his fists in his lap. "I love you, Taeyong, and I know that you love me. And I'm sorry, so sorry for so many thingsー for not speaking my mind that day when you told me you wanted us to start limiting our communication, for not begging you to come home or take a day off when I missed you too much, for throwing myself into work and running away to other countries to fill the void, for being distant when you actually made it home early, for not being good enough to make you want to leave the office, for not realizing sooner that we were growing apart... I'm sorry for everything."
The elder is rendered speechless by the admission. He mutely gazes at the door in despair and wonders what his husband must look like on the other side.
Is the beautiful being hiding behind that door really his Nakamoto Yuta? Is he himself even the same Lee Taeyong Yuta fell in love with all those years ago?
Maybe yes, maybe not.
Maybe they've been blind this entire time, stubbornly choosing to hold onto the preciousness of their past instead of facing their fragmented present.
Maybe they actually lost sight of each other ages ago, having been too enamored with their blossoming careers.
Maybe they were unconsciously too afraid to separate prior to now because they were afraid of losing a constant in their busy, scattered lives, too afraid of stirring strife and damaging their fragile balance.
Maybe they were never meant to be in the first place.
"Open the door. Please." Taeyong releases a shuddering breath, his heart beating a tattoo painfully against his ribs.
The door soon creaks open to reveal a slightly hunched over Yuta. The Japanese man is holding himself tightly, and the sliver of light that hits him from the hallway emphasizes his disheveled hair, shimmering eyes, and flushed cheeks. He looks a far cry from the renowned model who's graced runways and fashion catalogs around the world.
But he's still the most beautiful thing Taeyong's ever laid his eyes on, and the Korean man surges forward to ensnare the younger in a bone-crushing embrace. His husband lets out a small noise at the sudden pressure, but he simply shushes him and rests his cheek against silken brown locks. "I'm so sorry. I never stopped loving you. I'm sorry I made you feel neglected. I threw myself into work with the intention of giving us a wonderful life, but I lost you somewhere along the way, huh?"
The Japanese man melts into his husband's arms but clicks his tongue disapprovingly. "Don't you remember what I said before? I'm just as guilty as you are... I couldn't bring myself to weigh you down and make you stay with meー it would've killed my pride to beg. And besides," Yuta laughs wetly, "I kind of turned out to be a fucking workaholic like you, too. You've always been my role model in a way, after all."
Taeyong plants a faint kiss on top of Yuta's head. "It's too late, isn't it? We can't fix this, can we? Us, I mean." He feels Yuta mumble something into his chest, and he smiles tragically. "Love really isn't enough sometimes, is it?" he comments in a soft, rhetorical manner. "Sorry for promising you forever all those years ago. I never meant to break so many promises."
Yuta detaches himself from his husband's embrace; he takes a step back wraps his arms around himself once more. The lonely gesture makes him look frail and smaller than he actually is, and it makes Taeyong want to smother him with apologetic affection forever. "Don't apologize anymore. The good days, the bad days, and the ones in betweenー I'm glad to have spent eight years with you, Taeyong. At least we made a beautiful life together, right?"
Ever the in sync couple, both men simultaneously move to take off their wedding rings; shock and depression pool in their eyes when they realize what each other is planning on doing, and they freeze.
Taeyong grimaces as an unexplainable, red-hot sensation pervades his being like poison. Yuta, on the other hand, bites his lip, feeling nothing but blue as he slowly inhales the air of finality.
Dark eyes lock onto the glint of white on red longingly. Without any warning, Taeyong stalks forward and drags Yuta to their bed by his thin wrist. The younger yelps as he is pushed down onto the mattress and straddled roughly by his husband. Thin fingers hungrily rake over plump lips, finely-crafted angles concealed by smooth skin, and soft hair, and the Japanese man keens frantically as the elder begins to leave bruising, almost filthy kisses along his lips and exposed neck like a man possessed.
"Stop," Yuta gasps, squirming in his husband's uncharacteristically dominant hold. "Stop, Taeyong." He inhales sharply as reckless hands make their way to his hips and squeeze painfully. "Not like this. Don't make our last time like this."
His husband retracts as if burned. The frenzied lust vanishes from his eyes, and he stares at the younger with a mixture of shyness and yearning. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Taeyong mutters a bit meekly. "I don't know what came over me, sorry."
He starts to strip the younger with slow, careful movements, and as Yuta dips his head back and shudders submissively, the same frightening urges cross his mind.
Taeyong knows exactly what came over him a moment ago. He knows that their time together is running out fast, and while Yuta's free spirit and happiness mean everything to him, he can't help but feel scared and selfish.
Yuta has been his for forever. And now he won't be. It feels as if he's losing a significant part of himself, and something ugly inside of Taeyong demands that he hold on with a vengeance; it urges him to brand Yuta forever, to fucking destroy him for any other after him, to bend him to his will so that he'll never want to leave or even beg to stay, to intoxicate him with pleasure and never let him wake up to reality...
The sinful thoughts immediately disappear from the Korean man's mind when his husband suddenly leans up to peck his nose and unbutton his shirt. "Let me help," Yuta whispers against his lips heatedly.
They're both naked and ready to continue in no time at all. As a blushing Yuta hides his face with his messy bangs and parts his long legs just a fraction, Taeyong feels a rush of heart-wrenching nostalgia overtake him. "It's our last time, yet you're as beautiful and bashful as you were the day I took your first. You're really something else," the elder remarks in a hushed, admiring voice.
Chuckling a bit breathlessly, Yuta spreads his legs properly this time. "You're not going to make me beg, are you?" he asks nervously.
"I could never degrade you like that," the elder responds seriously before pressing their bodies together as close as physically possible.
The younger winces as the first lubed finger sinks into him. Two more follow in rapid succession; it's not the stretch that makes him cry outー ever the gentleman, Taeyong had slicked his fingers quite generously to make things as comfortable as possibleー but the unexpected sensation of a cold sharpness grazing his insides. "Oh my godー"
Taeyong's wedding ring and anniversary ring are inside him, and the intimacy leaves him floundering.
"Just trust me. I would never hurt you," Taeyong coos, kissing away his husband's tears as he toys with his straining entrance. "I could never..."
He fingers Yuta until he's quaking from oversensitivity, and when he finally pushes his member inside of him, Taeyong almost loses himself instantly to the heavenly warmth and tightness. It's good, so, so good. And the Korean man feels weak, so utterly weak and lightheaded as he starts to thrust into his husband as steadily as he can.
They make love slowly over and over again, both desperately wanting to draw out their last time.
Yuta holds Taeyong close, arms looped around his neck securely.
Taeyong ensures that there's no space left between them as he moves his thin hips between the plush cradle of his husband's thighs.
Their breaths are mingling, their hearts are beating wildly against each other in sync, and Yuta feels the tears start anew against his will. "Taeyong, Iー"
His husband shuts him up with a smile that doesn't reach his reddening eyes. "Don't tell me you love me. Don't make it harder than it has to be. It's goodbye after this, after all."
And Yuta shuts his mouth obediently, no longer possessing the energy to fight.
After rolling in the sheets for hours, they talk about everything that nightー the past, what they miss, and what could've been.
Yuta snuggles against Taeyong's chest and sighs quietly. "Do you remember how we used to have dinner together every night back in uni? We couldn't afford much, but I really did enjoy all that ramyeon and convenience store food we shared."
Taeyong hums as he cards his fingers through his husband's slightly sweaty hair. "Honestly, I can't even remember the last time I had a homemade meal with you. I should've made you tteokbokki or bulgogi or something those times I was able to come home early instead of just being lazy and bringing takeout."
The Japanese model stifles a yawn and scrunches his nose endearingly. "Do you remember my first big fashion show?" he starts randomly. "I felt like an idiot, wearing a man-skirt thing and a choker, but you still told me I looked amazing backstage even though I thought I was going to hyperventilate."
The Korean businessman clears his throat, only to change the topic of their conversation. "I remember how you sacrificed your precious sleep to tie my tie and give me a pep talk in the mornings when I was just starting out with my company."
"I miss it, you know, going out with youー and I don't mean expensive vacations or fancy restaurant dates. I mean the fun, simple thingsー going to the movies, walking in the park while eating ice creams, hitting up the old arcade with the guys..." the younger wistfully mentions.
"I wish we'd never agreed to keep our relationship a secret from the public. It's funny, you knowー we were better together as nobodies than somebodies. There were so many times I wanted to visit you at your photo shoots, or cheer for you like an embarrassingly proud husband as you walked the runway. And I wish I would've taken you to all my business dinners and social functions, though the sight of someone as breathtaking as you on my arm would've made the masses green with envy," the elder reveals, sounding almost stricken.
"We could've been quite the power couple," Yuta jokes dimly, placing a hand atop the one currently residing on his bare hipbone.
"Indeed," Taeyong finishes plainly, and he cranes his neck to place a chaste kiss against his husband's pierced ear.
Both of them continue to talk as they lazily show their affection to one another. They talk for what feels like forever; they talk until their eyes are struggling to stay open, until their words are coming out somewhat slurred, until practically every fond memory and what-if has been addressed.
"So what comes now?" Yuta later inquires timidly, dread pooling in his stomach.
"What do you think?" Taeyong shoots back rhetorically. "I... you deserve more than what we have now. And I... I meant to tell you earlier, but I'm leaving for Jeju next month or so; I'll be gone for a few months to oversee the development of the new branch my company is starting there."
"Oh, I see." Yuta almost flinches as he realizes how frigid he sounds in that moment. "You were selected, or...?"
"I requested it as soon as the opportunity presented itself." Taeyong feels a stabbing pain in his heart as he sees a deep hurt flash in Yuta's eyes. "I need time away from Seoulー a change of scenery, if you may. They're paying me a lot for this move, and I was thinking... that we could start doing video calls and stuff again to bridge the gap, that I could take you on the most amazing trip once I got back to make up for lost time," he concludes regretfully. "But I guess we don't have to worry anymore."
"No, we don't," his husband agrees tightly. "I meant to tell you before our argument earlier... that I was planning on not renewing my modeling contract after it expires in a few months. I wanted to take a break from the spotlight. I wanted to be home with you more," he laughs bitterly. "But I think what I need most after tonight is a change of scenery, as well."
With that, he rolls out of the elder's arms to the other end of the bed. "You're a good man, Taeyong. I hope life treats you well." He sends his husband one last soulful look before turning his back to him resolutely.
Taeyong feels empty inside, devastatingly so. "You, too, Yuta," he returns hollowly before scooting to the opposite end of the bed.
He lies on his side with his eyes closed for a while, feigning sleep and ignorance. It hurts a little less when he pretends that he can't hear his husband's muffled sobs or his own chaotic thoughts.
They'll be strangers in the morning, he knows. That is, if they weren't strangers already.
In order for both of them to move forward with their lives and regain some much-needed perspective, they need to separate, because they're just breaking each other down insidiously the more they're together.
It's a shame that love is so cruel.
As soon as he wakes up, Yuta can sense that he's alone. It's not surprising, really. His eyes feel puffy, he feels sore and cold all over, and he knows he must look like a wreck. He definitely feels like one, both emotionally and physically.
As he turns over, he's shocked to find a neat tray of breakfast waiting for him in place of his husband. Ignoring the cold bulgogi and crab fried rice for a moment, his shaking hand instinctively dives for the strangely folded note beside the napkins.
Taeyong's wedding ring slips out as soon as he unfolds it. And as he processes the sober contents of the note, written in the Korean businessman's familiar, shoddy handwriting, his heart plummets to immeasurable depths.
Yuta almost crumples the note in shock as his phone chimes and buzzes to signal a text. He quickly leans down to pluck it from his discarded pants on the floor, feeling extremely agitated for some unexplainable reason.
[11:11 AM] Hyung~ How are you doing today? You haven't texted me in SO long... ㅠㅠ If you're free and back in Korea, let's have ice cream together later! I'm sure a day of pigging out won't kill you...
By the way, it's 11:11, so make a wish! ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ But really, text back soon~~~
After sending some vague reply, the Japanese model chucks his phone off the bed, relocates the tray to the bedside tableー he considered dumping it but didn't have the heart toー and crushes a pillow to his chest. "A wish, huh?" he muses aloud emotionlessly as he examines the wedding ring still on his finger. It feels wrong wearing it, but he can't bring himself to remove it just yet. Later, perhaps. "I wish things could've been different."