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After The Sun Goes Down

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Meeting each other is the best thing they’ve done, and perhaps secrecy will be their forever.

 

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The night is busy as men of different ages and a few women entered the bar to have a good time. Bing Crosby’s smooth voice lingered in the area while it is almost drowned under obnoxious ringing of laughter from the mouths of drunken men and buzzed women. The yellowish lights give the pub a vibe that makes the locals frequent it for its ambiance and service, coupled with customers that offer either simple companionship or one night stand.

Only the rich can afford to go out at this time of the night, with the unfortunates forced to labor or curled up under short blankets as they sleep their way through hunger.

The bar is filled with the regulars as the new ones who had the courage to enter such a place stayed at the sight and quietly observed. A group of three ladies dressed in floral clothing that reached knee length and shoulders padded for style sit at one table, drinks in hand and murmurs of gossips are passed around as a bunch of soldiers still in their uniforms make way and claim a vacant spot. It’s their permanent table and as usual, the women ogle without bothering to hide the barely innocent gazes and sly smiles.

The music changes yet it’s still from Crosby who seem to be the most popular singer during the time. No one ever asked the bar to change the playlist since everyone is either too drunk or simply does not give a damn.

A soldier then waves a hand as a signal that he wants to order something to drink.

“Side car. For the five of us. Quick you should be, yeah?”

The short boy who mans the bar eyes the rest of the soldiers and nods before the drinks are prepared. Making these people wait is something everyone knows that should not be done and so the waiter puts the glasses on a circular tray and walks up to their table.

Taeyong must be losing the right amount of sleep and fails to register in his mind that his reach is a little past the table. The drink spills on a soldier’s lap and soaks his uniform.

“What the – are you kidding me, fat-head? You must be fucking blind!”

The poor waiter bites back an insult and murmurs an apology before he puts the rest of the glasses on the table and picks up the broken shards on the floor. The women nearby scoff indignantly.

“Heh, if I knew it’s your ploy to get me to change in front of you so you could suck this cock.”

“Yuta, it’s an accident. Stop busting your chops, will you? Just ask for another drink, they’ll deduct it from his wage.” Someone, perhaps a companion of the seething soldier speaks and Taeyong notes the calmness of his voice. It’s a new thing to meet someone of their kind who speaks like they are not in the middle of the war every second of the day. No hint of aggression.

Taeyong ignores the filthy accusation. “I apologize once again, gentlemen. I’ll bring another drink.”

The one with a drenched uniform sits down, seemingly convinced and Taeyong takes it as his cue to leave and fetch him a new glass. Ten, the bartended rolls his eyes at the little commotion before filling another glass.

“Here. Make sure you’re wide awake. You don’t want to lose your only source of income just because you thought it’s okay to anger a man with a gun attached to his hip,” The short boy pushes the drink to Taeyong and the latter takes it with an audible sigh. “Fix that attitude and serve the lords, come on.”

The lords. It’s what the soldiers think of themselves, all high and mighty. Maybe it’s what the gunshots and fatal cries make you feel after a long time in the battlefield, especially when you manage to survive.

He successfully hands the drink to the still sneering soldier and for a second, Taeyong catches the eye of one of them. The man covered in the same uniform doesn’t break the eye contact and Taeyong gulps before he turns around quick to serve the other customers.

It’s a look he knows all too well. It’s a gaze forbidden by the laws and looked down upon by humanity. It’s not a foreign intention from the locals whenever they visit the pub and Taeyong is around for his shift. He receives invitations and unwanted touches from women, rarely from men due to it being an abomination. Homosexuality can get you jailed for several years and a hefty amount shall be paid. There are news that don’t go viral, don’t get into the newspaper about men and women found dead in abandoned streets for playing around with the same gender.

Taeyong is gay. He has liked men ever since and it’s a secret that will be kept hidden in the deepest part of his heart. To be jailed is something he thinks he can survive, to die in the hands of a stranger who lives to abide the law is freedom, but his mother relies on him, on the minimum wage he gets from working himself off at the pub. It’s the only place that will accept uneducated citizens like him.

The soldier is attractive, Taeyong has to admit. Perhaps he longs for such attention but he can’t afford anyone to know. Soldiers are cunning, willing to kill to get promoted to a higher rank, to get the recognition and praises. Taeyong lacks the education but he is not naïve and he will not fall for the trap. He will grow old alone if that’s what it takes to keep his head intact.

 

 

“Good morning,” His mother is already up when Taeyong comes home from work. She’s a beautiful lady from a middle class family and chose to marry a man with little to no penny in his pocket.

It’s the happiness that counts and I can’t imagine myself in bed with a man who keeps a hand around my throat, she said when Taeyong, barely nine years old asked her about her maiden life and the decisions she made. Needless to say, his mother was disowned and he never had the chance to meet his relatives.

“I told you to stay in bed and not wait for me, mother. Look at the dark circles under your eyes,” Taeyong pulls her into a hug and kisses her forehead.

“Well, do they make me less beautiful?” She asks with a playful tone and returns the hug.

Taeyong smiles and shakes his head. “Never. You will always be the most beautiful in the city.”

His mother laughs and the sound is melodic, Taeyong will never get tired of hearing it. It makes him feel like they’re living a normal life and no one’s out every second of the day to shoot them.

She leads him to their small dining table and sits next to him, fixing his hair. “You look tired, son. Are you overworking yourself?”

“It doesn’t matter if I am. We need every coin to feed, is it correct.”

She releases a soft sigh. “If I lose you too, who would take care of me? I’d die of loneliness.”

Taeyong dips the spoon in the bowl of porridge and feeds himself until his stomach warms. “We lost father because we are too poor to take him to the hospital and buy medicines. If I don’t work until I fall face first to the ground, we’re going to die – the three of us. At least someone has to live to take care of the house.”

He receives a good slap and his mother whines while Taeyong rubs his assaulted arm.

“Stop saying things like that, Taeyong. I will see you grow into the finest man, be successful and sweep all the women off their feet. You will give me the prettiest little grandchildren, won’t you?” She’s giving him that look full of hope once again and Taeyong does not have the heart to break his mother’s so he finds himself nodding, not trusting himself to speak the blatant lies just to promise something and give his mother a future to hold on to.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Your bother said he will be home by tomorrow. Fetch him a drink from the pub, alright?”

“That means I have to pay for it, mother.”

She shrugs and stands up to bring the empty bowl to the sink and washes it. “Then get the cheapest. The price does not matter as long as your brother fills his system with alcohol. He cannot live with it.”

 

 

It’s a week later when Taeyong serves the soldier who looked at him with such feelings. He orders the same drink and Taeyong easily fights the urge to stare back. He goes away to serve more customers to avoid the man yet he gets called two more times for a refill, and it’s starting to irk him.

“Here’s your order. And sir, if you want more, please don’t hesitate to call for another waiter so you will have your order served immediately.”

“So you’ve noticed,” The man downs a few gulps and puts the glass down. “I requested for you.”

“I believe there’s no such thing as having a specific waiter for a certain customer. Especially when the pub is full and – “

“Are you declining the tips? You need it more than I do, am I correct?”

The man smirks and Taeyong sincerely wants to wipe it off by probably bludgeoning the handsome face with his own fist. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before plastering a smile on his lips.

“That is correct, sir. Now, if you may excuse me. I’m in the middle of work.”

The waiter does not miss the softer smile on the man’s face before he turns around to hide in the staff room.

“What are you doing here? The boss is not paying us to slack off!”

“I know, I know. But that soldier is getting on my nerves! Doesn’t he have to guard the city and make sure no one’s dead by the time the sun comes up,” Taeyong scowls and hugs the circular tray against his chest. Ten pokes his head out the door and sees the soldier looking in the direction where Taeyong disappeared to.

“He’s actually on duty right now. He’s guarding you, isn’t he,” Ten snickers and closes the door behind him. “I’ve noticed. He called for a refill and when I sent Mark to him, the poor boy came back to tell me he wants you to give it to him.”

Taeyong rolls his eyes at the information. “What kind of bullshit is that? Can’t he see I’m busy, it’s not like the drink tastes better when I serve it.”

“Why don’t you ask him that? Perhaps, it does taste better when it comes from you,” The bartender nudges Taeyong’s side and wiggles his brows.

Taeyong stands up straight from leaning against the wall and shakes his head, his brows furrowing even more. “That’s something we shouldn’t talk about. Plus he’s a damn soldier. Are you really pushing me to my death, Ten…”

The shorter boy grins and wipes his hands on the apron tied around his waist. “Who knows, Taeyong? This might be the one you’re waiting for.”

 

 

His greatest weakness is being altruistic. Taeyong finds satisfaction in helping people in need, even in his own simple ways. Hence when he hears a groan coming from the alley, he does not think twice and he hurries to the owner of the voice hunched on the ground.

“Sir? Are you alright? Where are you hurt? I will call an ambulance!” The man grips Taeyong wrist and pulls him in. Taeyong loses his balance and unceremoniously falls on top of the stranger.

“Hmm, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, pretty boy.”

The strong smell of alcohol hits his senses and Taeyong screams for help when the realization dawns on him. The stranger, who possibly waited for him to finish his shift at the pub pulls him up and pins him on the wall, the pointed rocks digging painfully in his back.

Taeyong feels tears prick his eyes.

The hands enclosed around his wrist prevent him from throwing a punch and there is a knee lodged between his legs. Taeyong desperately cries out for help when wet lips attached themselves on the side of his neck.

This is not the way he imagined himself giving his virginity and he’s scared, so, so scared. He keeps crying for help but no one hears.

“Stop! P-please, I’m begging, please stop…”

He’s exhausted and he has half the mind to just give up fighting because no one is going to lend a helping hand to someone like him, and if ever someone sees, they will most likely think he’s engaged in a mutual act and he will be sent to jail. The poor does not have a voice in the society.

“I think he clearly told you to stop, so maybe you should before I blow your brains off.”

There’s the familiar click of a gun’s hammer and Taeyong turns his head to find the soldier aiming his pistol towards the drunkard whose grip falls limp, and Taeyong forces his buckling legs to run to the soldier’s side.

“I don’t demand an excuse from rapists like you. If you want to keep your balls, I suggest you run away this second.”

The man shakes like a leaf in fear and runs, and if not for the situation he’s in, Taeyong would have found it hilarious.

The soldier puts his gun back in the holster and faces Taeyong whose eyes are still wide in fear. “Don’t be afraid now, I got you. He’s gone.”

He looks up and meets the same pair of eyes he tried to avoid and expects the same gaze cast upon him, but he finds nothing but worry and relief at the same time. Taeyong sighs shakily and takes a step back before wiping the side of his neck with a kerchief. “I’m…fine. Thank you for helping me.”

The man does not respond and instead, holds Taeyong’s wrist before leading the way out of the alley.

“You should be careful. You don’t know how many of them watch your every move in the pub.”

“That’s what you do.”

Taeyong covers his mouth as soon as the words are out. He really has to have a filter.

The soldier chuckles and keeps his eyes on the way. “That’s true, but with a different intention.”

Taeyong immediately feels himself stiffen.

“Why didn’t you arrest us? Public indecency is a crime; moreover, you could have charged us with engaging in homosexual acts. You shouldn’t have let him go.”

“I know what I saw. Anyway, I let him go because I’m on my way home and I don’t really have the energy to do extra work. Let the police take him.”

Taeyong glances down and pries his wrist out of the other’s hold.

“Ah, I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t touch you when you don’t even want me close.”

They continue to walk in silence after that and Taeyong realizes that the soldier is accompanying him on his way home. He does not really trust the other but this will do unless he wants to be attacked for the second time.

Taeyong finds his mother at the door when they reach his house and faces the soldier. “I’m home. Thank you again for helping me.”

He’s about to turn when the other speaks.

“Please call me Jaehyun.”

His mother frowns at the scene and tilts her head in curiosity.

“Alright, Jaehyun. I’m Taeyong, and good bye. Be careful on your way.”

 

 

“Do you mind telling me what I saw back there?” His mother crosses her arms and raises a brow. “Why are you with a soldier?”

“I was harassed and he helped me. I guess he wanted to make sure I’m safe.” Taeyong drops himself on the couch. He hears footsteps climbing down the stairs and soon he finds his brother, shirtless and looking like he’s disturbed from sleep.

“What’s going on here?”

“Kai, your brother came home with a man.”

“Don’t make it sound scandalous, mother. I told you he helped me.”

Kai stares at Taeyong, boring holes into his head and Taeyong squirms under the scrutinizing gaze.

“Go back to sleep, mother. I’ll talk to him.”

She shakes her head and goes back for the comfort of her bed, leaving the two men in the living room.

“Is it true? You’re with a man?”

Taeyong rolls his eyes as Kai sits next to him. “Don’t be malicious like mother.”

“I’m asking you if it’s true. So I guess it is. Who’s that man and what is your relationship with him?”

Kai pins him a look and Taeyong tries to stare back, hoping his brother would back down but he ends up losing yet again.

“He’s a soldier and a customer at the pub I’m working at. We’re not friends. I don’t know what to tell you to satisfy your malicious expectations.”

Taeyong hears a snort and finds his brother on the way to the kitchen. Kai fills himself a glass of water and empties it before putting it in the sink. He leans against the table with a hand casually tuck inside the pocket of his pants while the other remains immobile on his side.

“I trust you. I just want to let you know that if you ever get into a relationship with a man, I’m the last person who will spit on you for having a dick up your arse.”

That is the least he expected to hear from his rugged-looking brother who looks like he’d be one of those people who look down on homosexuals. Taeyong guesses he underestimated the other.

Kai takes his previous spot next to his younger brother and messes Taeyong’s hair, much to the other’s annoyance. “Are you gay, Taeyong?”

Surprisingly, his heart does not hammer in fear. Kai looks at him with the calmest pair of chocolate brown eyes and maybe, Taeyong can finally let himself breathe for a little bit.

“Promise me you won’t tell mother?”

Kai laughs and pats Taeyong’s shoulder. “It’s been two years and mother still thinks I’m shagging women when I’ve been bedding the same man from day one.”

The gasp that rips past Taeyong’s lips makes his brother double over in laughter. Taeyong waits for the other to stop laughing, eyes wide in shock and disbelief. “Kai, are you being honest? Are you telling me the truth?”

Kai calms down and wipes a tear at the corner of his eyes. “Ah, we can’t dictate our own heart, Taeyong. It feels what it wants to feel. It loves whoever it wants to love and honestly? I don’t mind not having soft breasts to touch. He’s the only one I’ve ever felt this strongly for, and if one day we have to pay for being human and having emotions we cannot control, I’d be happy to die with his face being the last image in my mind.”

 

 

Jaehyun becomes a regular at the pub. There are times he comes alone and there will be times he’s with the same group of soldiers he was with the first time Taeyong saw him. He doesn’t request for Taeyong’s assistance again and the waiter wonders what changed the soldier’s mind.

Taeyong comes home with a companion ever since the unfortunate incident in the alley. Jaehyun would tell the others to go first, not wanting anyone to know that he’s walking the waiter home. They don’t talk much, they don’t engage in friendly conversations for they are hardly even acquaintances, as Taeyong would tell his brother every time Kai catches the two of them outside. Kai is hardly convinced and Taeyong does not really plan to make his brother listen to him.

“Have you eaten, Taeyong? I don’t see you taking a break to fill your stomach.” Jaehyun is not in his uniform this time. He’s wearing a long sleeved white shirt and high-waist cuffed jeans. Taeyong thinks the other looks better in civilian clothing.

“I eat in the staff room. Of course you won’t see me.”

There’s a faint red on Jaehyun’s cheeks and Taeyong concludes that an embarrassed Jaehyun is a cute Jaehyun.

Wait, did I just call him cute? Ridiculous!

“Well, maybe I could take you to a diner next time, before I send you home.”

The soldier stops walking as soon as Taeyong did when they reach the waiter’s house.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jaehyun.”

Taeyong sighs when the other frowns at his words. “I eat properly; don’t worry about me because it’s not your job. Walking me home is not your job as well. Your job is to make sure our country’s safe and you’re doing poorly at that by acting like a leech.”

“What did you call me?”

Jaehyun’s eyes land on Kai and see the other watching his interaction with Taeyong. He looks at the shorter boy once again and presses his lips firmly as if keeping himself from being offensive. “You could’ve just told me you hated my presence.”

“I don’t hate your presence…”

“Huh, then what is it? You called me a leech.”

Kai goes back inside and Jaehyun lets out a breath he was holding. Taeyong’s brother is so intimidating that even he, a soldier feels uneasy when Kai’s around.

“It’s just…I’m afraid I’ll start depending on you if you stick around longer.”

Taeyong hugs himself as the wind breezes past them, and it’s so cold he almost asks Jaehyun if the other could give him some warmth. Possibly with a hug?

“Then depend on me. Isn’t that my job as a soldier? For the civilians to depend on us for safety. You said it yourself, I should be fulfilling my duty, but it’s you who are not letting me do it, you’re preventing me from doing my job, Taeyong.”

“You’re forcing yourself on me. From the beginning, did I not let you know I don’t need you beside me, walking me home as if I can’t protect myself?”

This is totally not what I want to say, but I really can’t let you know.

Jaehyun runs his fingers through his hair. It’s getting long, Taeyong notices. The soldier has to shave that again.

“Message received. I guess this will be the last time we’re going to see each other.” Jaehyun sighs and does not spare Taeyong one last look before he walks away until he disappears from Taeyong’s sight.

 

 

Kai is sitting on the worn couch when Taeyong finally enters. “Why can’t you let yourself be happy, Taeyong?”

“It’s not your business, please don’t interfere.”

“You’re my brother, you’re my business.”

“Then forget we’re related by blood, Kai.”

The next second, Taeyong has his back against the wall and there’s a hand wrapped around his throat. Kai is seething and Taeyong feels the hand around his neck tightens, blocking his airway.

“Don’t talk to me this way because you know you’re the only one providing in this house.”

“Is it my fault you’re invalid?”

Kai lets go of Taeyong’s neck and swings his fist, landing a punch straight to Taeyong’s jaw, sending the other on the ground, groaning in pain. Kai crouches and fists the front of Taeyong’s shirt, forcing him to look up.

“Okay, I can’t fucking move my paralyzed arm, I can’t find a fucking decent job so that makes you the boss in here, is that what you’re trying to tell me? That I don’t have the fucking right to worry about you? Does my disability hinder me from being a brother too, huh? Answer me, you chicken.”

Taeyong closes his eyes and Kai lets him go.

“At least I don’t lie to myself, forcing myself to believe a narrative to avoid committing mistakes. I try, Taeyong. I’m trying. I’m barely home to find a job. Give me a break.”

Taeyong cups his jaw and feels it begin to swell. Kai shakes the hand he used to punch his brother and turns around to make his way upstairs.

“Come to me when you wake up from the entire pretense.”

 

 

Taeyong remembers the day when Kai got into an accident. He was on his way to work when a car speeds through and hits his brother who was walking down a pedestrian lane. The driver was drunk and loaded with money that the crime was dismissed and Kai was left with one working arm, the other forever stiff at his side. He was forced to find a job because no one wants to take Kai in, saying he’s useless. That didn’t stop the other from trying as he leaves home to find a job somewhere, anywhere his feet can take him. It’s fruitless until now, but Taeyong knows his brother - Kai has a big ego and he will not let anyone step on him.

He wipes a table clean and when he’s done with it, he tends to a few customers. True to his words, Jaehyun does not come back to pub. The same group of soldiers comes whenever they can, but Jaehyun is nowhere to be found. Taeyong isn’t certain if he’s relieved, but there’s a hole in his chest every time he watches the uniformed men come but the one man he’s familiar with doesn’t show up.

It’s my fault. I wanted this.

“Are you okay? You’ve been out of it for days,” Ten puts a hand on the waiter’s forehead. “You’re not sick.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re lying. You’re obviously not fine.”

The soldiers laugh obnoxiously when one of them made a joke. The women giggle and throw obvious glances on the men’s way and Taeyong sighs.

“Jaehyun is not coming back. I told him I don’t need him around.”

“Really. He’s a soldier, he won’t back down just because you told him you don’t – “

“I called him a leech and insulted him.”

“Okay. Understandable.”

The waiter puts the tray down and sits on a stool, clutching his head. “I lied, Ten. I don’t want him to go, but I can’t be honest with myself for once in my life. He’s a soldier. I’m fucking stuck in this pub working my ass off for coins. I’m fucking gay as well, and I don’t know – maybe he’s just friendly. I’m getting the signals wrong and before I can clarify it he’s gone. I pushed him away and he’s not coming back.”

“You’re so pessimistic. Maybe things happened, okay? He’ll come back, and when he does, please be sure of your own feelings first before confronting him. If he’s interested, then good for you. If he’s not and he finds it disgusting, then I’ll tell boss to throw him out together with his friends. They’re probably homophobic like him.”

The bartended wraps a hand around him and even just for a moment, Taeyong feels at ease.

“Thank you, Ten. I don’t know what to do without you.”

 

 

A month passes by. Words spread that there’s another threat of war and soon the streets are almost empty once again and business is slow, for no one comes out of their homes. Fear consumes the people and Taeyong fears for himself and his family, but he has to go to work if he doesn’t want any of them to starve.

A troop of soldiers and a few armored vehicles round the area day and night. Children are kept inside houses. Women rarely go outside if not for visiting the market to buy goods while men help in watching and keeping their families safe.

Taeyong is on his way to the pub when he passes by a group of armed soldiers. He eyes the men who are occupied, talking to one another. The street is free of civilians except for three or four, including him. It looks like a ghost town and if Taeyong didn’t know better, he would think the country is dying judging by the graying of establishments and lack of life.

The pub suffers as well. Each night passes with less and less of the regulars. They don’t expect new faces anymore. Due to the lack of customers, the wage of the workers lessens as well. Taeyong is still thankful for the fact that the pub is still open. If it closes, then he doesn’t know what to do anymore.

He wears an apron and stands by the bar, helping Ten wipe the tables that are already clean and still untouched. Crosby sings in the background to keep the ambiance of the pub. There is less chatter and glasses breaking and they aren’t sure if they should be happy about it. Nothing to do means nothing to earn.

“Taeyong, can you please take those gentlemen’s order? I’m mopping the floor.” The youngest employee, Mark calls and dips the mop in the basin before cleaning the floor dustless floor again.

Taeyong sighs and lets go of the rug, wiping his hands on the apron before he makes his way to the newly occupied table.

He doesn’t expect to see Jaehyun sitting there with his comrades.

“The usual. And add something to eat, we’re hungry.”

Taeyong nods and looks at Jaehyun but the soldier has his eyes somewhere else. The waiter pretends his chest does not constrict.

He comes back with the orders. Taeyong bows when he’s done putting everything on the table. He does not see the foot sticking out, and he trips over before pathetically falling on the floor with a grunt.

“What the fuck, Yuta?” Jaehyun speaks up just as Taeyong pushes himself off the floor. Mark rushes to his side to ask if he’s hurt and he assures the boy with a smile.

“What? It’s funny. He’s the cocksucker who spilled the drink on me, right?”

“Stop fucking around, Yuta. I’m only keeping myself from beating you up.”

Mark pulls Taeyong to the staff room. They don’t close the door - Taeyong is curious as to what Jaehyun does to the rude soldier, whose name Taeyong knows by now.

“What are you so pissed for? I only tripped the dude, calm down.”

Taeyong gasps when Jaehyun drags Yuta up by his collar. The soldiers are trying to calm down the two but Jaehyun does not let go of the other. A few other customers leave the pub.

“If you don’t get your act together and keep being a fucking child, I’m going to put a bullet in your skull,” Jaehyun drops Yuta and walks out, leaving the remaining soldiers mum. Yuta scoffs and mumbles things under his breath that Taeyong cannot understand anymore. Ten peeks and pokes Taeyong’s side.

“Go, Taeyong. This is your chance to talk to him.”

Taeyong throws off his apron and hurries through the back door to look for the soldier. He finds Jaehyun leaning against a wall at the far back with a cigarette between his lips. He approaches the soldier and yanks the stub before throwing it to the ground.

Jaehyun does not talk.

“I’m sorry for saying all of those things to you. I didn’t mean them.”

“Then what do you really mean to say? I stopped forcing myself on you. What do you want from me now?”

Taeyong winces and grips the hem of his shirt. “I want to say I’m not bothered with your presence at all. I’m just not used to it. I’m thankful for the times you walked me home, Jaehyun. Please forgive me.”

Taeyong hangs his head low and Jaehyun sighs before taking a step closer. The shorter man tenses up and Jaehyun does not move closer.

“Forgiven. I never hated you for it. But I’m glad I was not a pest to you.”

“You’re not a leech, Jaehyun.”

“Then what am I?”

Jaehyun bravely comes closer; he’s so close that Taeyong feels the other’s breath on his cheek. His heart ricochets and maybe he’s blushing as well and he hopes the lack of a bright light helps in hiding it from the other.

“A friend?”

Jaehyun bends a bit to match Taeyong’s height and bring his lips next to the waiter’s ear. “I thought you apologized for lying to me. Why are you doing it again?”

A whine tears through Taeyong’s lips as Jaehyun gently presses a kiss to his ear, caging him in a pair of sturdy arms. “Taeyong, please. Don’t stop yourself. Don’t make it hard for the both of us.”

Taeyong thanks the lack of illumination at the back of the pub when Jaehyun kisses him for the first time. There is no spark or what magical things the movies say but there’s warmth blooming in their chests as they build a rhythm with their lips molding together perfectly. Taeyong sighs into the kiss and Jaehyun takes the chance to slip his tongue in, earning a moan from the other. They pull away later on to let themselves take as much air as they need and Taeyong presses his face against the other’s shoulder, hiding a smile.

“I’ll see you whenever I can. Maybe we can look for a place where we can meet each other without worrying about people catching us.”

Taeyong sighs and looks up to see the soldier smiling down at him. “I understand. Please, let me see you more often.”

“I promise I’ll meet with you when I can.”

 

 

Jaehyun drops him off again and Taeyong holds himself back from kissing the other, opting to watch as Jaehyun disappears from his sight.

“So I assume you finally listened to me.”

Taeyong drops his bag before hugging his brother tightly. “Sorry, Kai.”

“No need to be. Let’s just think about how you’re going to face the consequences now that you’ve come clean with yourself. But it makes you happy, right?”

Kai cups his brother’s cheek and presses a kiss on it.

“Yes. I’m so happy. But I’m scared.”

“Scared, you will be. But as long as you keep it down, you will be fine, brother. Trust me.”

 

 

The secret meetings happen at least thrice a week and Jaehyun does not go to the pub anymore to avoid raising suspicions. They had agreed meeting at a motel and Taeyong always tells the other to change into civilian clothing before picking him up. Kai knows and assured Taeyong that their mother will not hear a word from him. She does not question anything when Taeyong comes home later than usual, only smiling and greeting him with a hug. Kai does not tell Taeyong what he told her.

They are inside a room they rented for a few hours and Taeyong is in bed, eating peanuts while Jaehyun showers inside the bathroom. He’s sweaty from training and standing under the heat of the sun for the whole day, guarding and watching out for enemies that have passed the borders.

To say the least, Jaehyun has become someone special in Taeyong’s once monotonous life. The first few times they sneaked around, it was as if playing with fire and stepping in a territory full of lions, with the wild animals being the people around that hate people like them – people that knew love knows no gender. The discrimination is apparent and it bites them every second of the day, even so when Taeyong witnessed a woman being dragged out of her house by the police for committing a crime – for getting caught kissing another woman and it was her own mother who had reported her to the police, crying out how her daughter was possessed or possibly drugged. Anger filled Taeyong’s heart and he wondered if his own mother would do the same once she learns that he will never be able to bring a girl home and give her the grandchildren she always asked from him.

Jaehyun is lovely. The times they spend together is limited and always filled with the crippling dread but the soldier always made Taeyong feel like there’s nothing to worry about, like there’s nothing to think about other than his lips on Taeyong’s neck whenever they do more than just cuddling.

Taeyong hopes this does not end, that he doesn’t wake up from this dream.

The bathroom door open and reveals Jaehyun with a towel wrapped around his waist. Taeyong puts the food away and scoots to the side to allow Jaehyun to sit on the bed.

“Here, let me help you.”

He reaches for a smaller towel and begins drying Jaehyun’s hair. He smells so good and Taeyong wants to map the other’s skin with his lips. He’s really tempted to.

“I might be gone for a few weeks. Maximum, two months. The troop’s deployed to a remote area and we have to stay there to make sure there are no spies. It’s easier to breach through in places that don’t really matter to anyone. Don’t worry, another troop will stay here.”

Taeyong stops drying Jaehyun’s hair. “Two months? Why don’t they just put the other troop there? You’re already assigned here.”

“It doesn’t work that easily. That troop is more experienced so they will be able to keep you safe better. The place we’re going to doesn’t have much so if ever a battle starts there, it will be easier since we have no one to think of other than ourselves.”

“Right. When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

Taeyong forces Jaehyun to turn around and the other has a guilty look across his face. “Why didn’t you tell me? Jaehyun, did you expect me to wake up tomorrow and just bid you good bye? You’re going somewhere I don’t know and it will be two months if the gods hate me enough.”

“I was scared of telling you. I am scared that you are not willing to wait for me and that if you do, I might not be able to come back. I’m a soldier, Taeyong. Every day of my life one of my feet is already buried six feet under. The country comes first and I’m scared I can’t find a way to go back.”

He knows all of it, Taeyong knows all of it but he’s not ready. Everything’s so sudden and he’s not ready to let Jaehyun go and face the reality that there’s a chance Jaehyun will never come back to him.

Jaehyun reaches to wipe a tear that cascaded down Taeyong’s cheek. A sob rips through his chest and Jaehyun pulls him into a tight hug and presses his lips on top of Taeyong’s head.

“Don’t cry, I’m afraid I can’t go if I see you cry.”

“Then don’t go, please. Don’t leave me alone.”

“I want to stay with you, Taeyong. Believe me. I want to stay, but I’m needed the – “

“I know. I know I’m not your priority. But I need you.”

Jaehyun muffles Taeyong’s cries with a deep kiss. Taeyong’s back hits the mattress and Jaehyun hovers on top of him, situated in between his legs. The towel falls and exposes Jaehyun but he doesn’t do anything to cover himself, and instead he lowers himself to grind against Taeyong, forcing out a moan from the man beneath him.

He repeats the action a few more times until Taeyong’s gasping for air and clawing down his back. The sting Taeyong’s nails give him fuel his desire and Taeyong finds himself naked soon after, with Jaehyun continuing to do wonders with his hips.

Taeyong’s cock swells and curves against his stomach and another whimper bounces against the four walls of the room when Jaehyun takes the reddened head in his mouth and swirls his tongue around it, gathering the precum and dipping the tip of his tongue in the slit, making Taeyong go crazy with the blinding pleasure given to his cock. He gasps for more and Jaehyun gives it, bobbing his head in a steady pace while stroking the part his lips cannot cover.

“Oh my god, Jaehyun. This feels so good.”

The other man had the audacity to chuckle with a mouth full of cock and the vibrations send Taeyong’s mind into frenzy. A pair of hands find purchase on Jaehyun’s short hair and Taeyong gives a harsh tug, making Jaehyun groan.

“Kiss me, please.”

Jaehyun slips off Taeyong’s cock and licks his lips before kissing Taeyong again, more tongue than actual kissing. He nudges Taeyong’s legs apart and breaks the kiss to slip his fingers in Taeyong’s mouth.

“Suck.”

He watches the smaller boy suck his fingers like his life depended on it. It’s such a fucking turn on and Jaehyun ruts his hips once again, letting his cock rub Taeyong’s.

He pulls out his fingers and brings them to Taeyong’s entrance, rubbing the puckered hole with the pad of his index. Taeyong squirms in embarrassment and flushes red, and Jaehyun takes it as a permission to push one finger in.

Slowly, he thrusts his finger and moves it around to feel the warm walls. “Does it hurt?”

“Barely.”

“Good.” Jaehyun begins thrusting it in and out in a faster pace, and when he’s sure the other can handle one more, he slips a second finger and keeps up the steady pace. Taeyong finally moans and it encourages the soldier, digging his fingers deeper and faster until he’s touching a certain spot that makes Taeyong cry out and arch off the bed.

“There, there. Fuck.”

Jaehyun doesn’t need to be told twice and gives what Taeyong wants.

Three fingers in and Taeyong already has tears in his eyes, hands pulling on the sheets.

“Please, I need you inside. Please.”

Jaehyun swears and pulls out his fingers, making Taeyong whine. He coats his cock with his own spit and nudges the tip against the puckered hole.

“Tell me if it hurts and you want me to stop.”

Taeyong only manages to nod before he locks his legs around Jaehyun’s waist to pull the other closer. Jaehyun carefully thrusts in, alternately looking at Taeyong’s face and on his cock slowly disappearing in the heat of his lover’s ass.

“Shit. God, you feel so good and hot around me.” Jaehyun exhales once he’s completely buried in Taeyong. The other shows a hint of discomfort but doesn’t ask him to pull out.

“Give me a minute. You’re fucking thick, holy shit.”

Jaehyun laughs softly and kisses Taeyong to distract the other from the pain. Taeyong eagerly responds and they kiss for a minute or two before the man beneath bucks his hips and Jaehyun groans.

“Move.”

Jaehyun pulls out almost completely with only the tip buried in Taeyong and slams back in, hitting that bundle of nerves dead on. Taeyong grips his arms, lying helplessly in bed and mewling in a mixture of pain and pleasure as Jaehyun keeps a steady pace in snapping his hips. This is not the first time they’re making love but Taeyong will never get used to Jaehyun’s size.

Jaehyun grips his waist and prevents him from moving before fucking him thoroughly, pounding hard and deep in his ass and Taeyong is left with nothing to do but to moan wantonly, writhe underneath Jaehyun and pull on the sheets as he chants his lover’s name over and over. The pleasure clouds his mind and Taeyong can’t think of anything but Jaehyun’s cock, Jaehyun’s lips on his chest and Jaehyun, Jaehyun, Jaehyun.

There are lips closing themselves around one of his nipples and Taeyong whines, he’s so sensitive there and Jaehyun is really doing the absolute most of making him lose his sanity. A tongue circles around the areola before teeth graze the skin and lips suck, a tongue flicking repeatedly over the perky nub.

“Jaehyun…”

Jaehyun leaves Taeyong’s nipple to latch his mouth on the side of the other’s neck and licks the skin, tasting faint sweat and sucks on a spot just below Taeyong’s ear that almost sends the man to completion.  He feels himself near the edge and he picks up his pace, the sound of skin slapping reverberates in the room and as he looks down to watch Taeyong’s face contort in pure ecstasy, mouth formed into a small ‘o’ and eyes close, Jaehyun’s hips stutter and he fills Taeyong with his load.

He slowly pulls out and quickly dips his head down to press his tongue flat against Taeyong’s hole.

“Ah – fuck!”

Jaehyun grips Taeyong’s cock and strokes it in sync with the teasing flicks of his tongue on the other’s entrance until Taeyong’s coming in short spurts, body twitching as Jaehyun’s name leaves his lips.

Taeyong whimpers from oversensitivity and Jaehyun finally settles next to him, gathering the smaller boy in his arms to pepper kisses all over his face.

“I want to come back, Taeyong. I want to see you again; I don’t want this night to be our last.”

Taeyong hums and lets sleep take over.

 

 

He wakes up with a sore back and alone. The other side of the bed is still warm and he guesses it hasn’t been long since Jaehyun left.

There’s a letter on the pillow and Taeyong pulls the blanket up to his lap before reading.

Dear Taeyong,

When you read this, I won’t be there anymore. I don’t have the heart to say good bye, I don’t have the heart to say I’ll see you later. I gave no promises because I’m afraid I can’t keep them. You’re so beautiful sleeping and I didn’t wake you up because I know with a single look, I won’t be able to leave. I just want you to know that you’re special to me. From the first sight, you made me feel that admiring a man is no wrong. You are the most beautiful, and no lady can top the face of an angel and you are that angel, Taeyong. I’m thankful that we’ve met and no matter what happens, I will keep you in my heart and mind with no regrets. You’re a blessing to my rather boring life as a soldier. I hope you don’t regret meeting me. I know being with someone like me gives no guarantee that we will be growing old together – but that is my greatest wish at the moment. I want to come back into your arms soon. I miss you already.

Once I’m back, I have something important to tell you. I won’t ask you to wait for me. If you feel tired, feel free to go. You deserve happiness and if you ever find someone that will be proud of showing you off to the world, please don’t hesitate. I will only think of you, however.

This letter is getting long and I really don’t want to shed a tear. I will miss you a lot and I will always think of you. Please remember me when you can.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Only Yours,     

Jung Jaehyun

 

Tears drop and wet the paper and Taeyong quickly holds it against his chest to prevent the ink from getting smudged.

I will wait for you, Jaehyun.

 

 

Taeyong continues to work at the pub. Every day he waits for the soldier, only to see a group that he has never seen before. It dawns on him that Jaehyun really has gone far away and he knows the other did not promise him anything but he will wait anyway. Taeyong knows Jaehyun will come back to him.

A war breaks out two weeks later. The soldiers informed families to stay inside as much as possible and only come out when necessary. Taeyong stored the kitchen with food spent from his earnings and tries his hardest not to show how afraid he is for his family and for Jaehyun. Only Kai knows and when the night comes, when their mother is asleep, Taeyong curls up in his brother’s holds and cries for hours until he’s too tired and there are no more tears left to cry.

Faint sounds of gunshots and bombings served as music to their ears. Bing Crosby is long forgotten and as time goes by, the children’s cry and soldiers shouting here and there are what lull them to sleep. To hear people, whether it’s a cry or a series of laughter - assures them they’re alive and there’s still hope for everything to be over.

A month finishes and Taeyong still waits for Jaehyun to come back.

Another month passes by and there’s still no Jaehyun knocking on the door. Taeyong tells himself that Jaehyun’s fine, he will return and he’s just taking a longer time. It’s not easy to travel from a remote area. Taeyong will give it another week.

 

 

Another month passes, and another, and another.

It’s been five months since the last time he saw Jaehyun. Taeyong’s hope begins to wane. He fills his mind with thoughts of their shared nights and convinces himself that the memories are enough to last him another month. He hopes Jaehyun will be back by then.

 

 

Kai holds him tight when the news broke that the troop they have sent away was attacked by spies and no one survived.

Taeyong refused to believe it at first but they have a list of the soldiers’ names, the bodies that were found and sent back. Jaehyun’s name is missing, and he’s labeled M.I.A but the soldiers asked Taeyong not to wait anymore. Jaehyun is most likely taken away and dead by now.

When they asked his connection with Jaehyun, Taeyong smiled and fought back the tears.

He was a good friend of mine.”

 

 

Taeyong fulfills Jaehyun’s wish for him to move on. He decides to continue his life as if nothing happened with Jaehyun’s memories lingering in the back of his head, and with the acceptance of Jaehyun’s death, Taeyong buries his own wants and finally listens to his mother.

Kai packs up and tells them he’s off to another city to find a job. Taeyong bids him good bye and his brother promises to come back and maybe let Taeyong meet his lover, if given the chance.

“I’ve told him about you and he wants to meet you too. I’ll bring him here; I know you two will get along.”

Taeyong watches his brother go. There is no one to hold him at night and Taeyong thinks he doesn’t need Kai’s embrace anymore. He’s fine. Jaehyun was someone that gave him happiness for a short period of time and he’s thankful, but Jaehyun is gone.

 

 

He meets Leah at the pub. She’s with the ladies who only go to the pub to meet men and bring a companion home. She stuck out like a sore thumb for the way she behaved – her eyes cast down and refusing to acknowledge the presence of men howling obscenities from another table. Taeyong served them once and Leah, for the first time looked up to meet his eyes.

It’s not a surprise when he finds her almost every night even without the women she was initially with. Taeyong pities her at first, for she’s really uncomfortable staying in such place and decides to accompany her whenever he’s free, and Mark is okay with being the only waiter available to tend to the other customers’ orders.

 

 

Leah kisses him in the dark and Taeyong is reminded of his first kiss with Jaehyun. Yet again, there is no spark igniting in his chest but Leah is warm in his arms so he kisses her back, imagining a different pair of lips moving against his.

When Taeyong brings her to his mother, she was delighted to see Taeyong finally fulfilling her dreams. Leah sits down on the worn couch and Taeyong notices her tight expression. Leah comes from a well-off family. She’s not used to the low-class and poor amenities of Taeyong’s home. He hopes his mother does not notice for it will break her heart.

“You remind me of myself when I was young. I didn’t mind that my husband had an empty pocket because my love for him was stronger. I wish he was here; he would be happy to meet you.”

Taeyong sips his coffee as Leah fakes another smile.

 

 

They checked in a room and Taeyong pushes her gently on the bed before she pulls him in for another kiss. He closes his eyes and sees Jaehyun, sees the last night they shared and maybe, Taeyong can get used to the kind of intimacy he never wanted.

The sex happened a few more times and one night, Leah confronts him after work.

“Taeyong, am I ugly?”

No, but Jaehyun has a prettier smile.

“No, why are you asking me that?”

“Because I don’t feel like you’re enjoying it whenever we have sex. So tell me, what’s wrong with me? Or what’s wrong with you?”

There’s nothing wrong with you. But it’s him that I see when I pleasure you, it’s his taste that I remember when I kiss you.

Taeyong sighs and holds her hand. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Leah. I’m enjoying it, I swear. It’s your mind making up things.”

She stares at him for a moment and flashes a smile before wrapping her arms around him.

And it’s his warmth I feel when you hug me.

 

 

Ten is busy wiping the glasses when someone places an order.

“The usual, please.”

“I get a ton of usuals from the regulars so what are you – what the fuck.”

Ten drops a glass and it breaks into pieces, catching Mark’s attention.

“Hey, what’s wro – oh.”

Ten doesn’t break the eye contact as he waves Mark away. The younger boy hurries to the staff room.

“Hey, Mark, what’s up? What’s going on?”

Taeyong almost loses his balance and his eyes are wide, matching Ten’s. It’s like the time stopped and the world stopped turning when he sees Jaehyun sitting at the bar, his arm in a cast and a thick bandage is wrapped around his head.

“Taeyong, my favorite waiter. Are you the one serving me again?”

 

 

Taeyong didn’t expect such a thing. He’s been told Jaehyun was dead. There’s nothing to hope for. Jaehyun disappeared and was most likely murdered. Taeyong moved on, or so he thinks, and then suddenly Jaehyun comes back without a warning.

They find themselves at the back of the pub again just like that night, almost a year ago. The wind is relentless and it leaves goose bumps on Taeyong’s skin. He tugs his coat closer and when he hears a fain chatter from a distance, he moves farther, to avoid getting seen with the man in front of him. Jaehyun does not take his eyes away from Taeyong, eyeing his fragile frame and noticing the tiredness on his face.

“Have you been well?”

The roughness of his voice came from the ghost of a battle cry. Taeyong wonders if Jaehyun ever felt his throat hurt from screaming, if he ever did scream. Was there enough water to quench the thirst of dehydrated soldiers? Did they sleep on the rocky ground? Did Jaehyun feel cold at night from the lack of a blanket and his body heat? Taeyong asks himself but the words will never come out. To care for the other beyond what life allows Taeyong is illicit.

“Yes, I’ve been perfectly fine.”

It’s not what he means to say.

Jaehyun smiles and kicks a stone. “That’s all I want to hear.”

“H-how about you?”

“Me? You must have an idea from what you are seeing right now. The news of me being taken away was true – I was tortured to say the least, but I’m alive. I miss my comrades, though. I didn’t think I’d be back in here without them.”

Taeyong thinks he hears sorrow in Jaehyun’s voice but his face does not show it.

“You remember the guy who disrespected you twice? His name’s Yuta. He was foul-mouthed, but he asked me to tell you he’s sorry. He breathed his last after that.”

For the things Yuta did to him, Taeyong feels guilty for even feeling sorry for the fallen soldier’s fate.

“He will not hear me, but wherever he is, I want him to know I forgive him.”

Jaehyun’s smile reaches his eyes and he looks just as good the last time Taeyong saw him. There’s a scar across Jaehyun’s cheek and for a second, Taeyong’s chest bubbles in anger at whoever gave it to him.

“Taeyong? Are you there?”

He quickly turns to find Leah looking at him. She then hurries to his side and kisses his cheek.

“Ten said not to bother you for you are in the middle of an important business. What business do you have with a disabled that prevents you from spending time with me?” Her voice is soft but Taeyong sees venom in her eyes.

Taeyong clears his throat and avoids the look Jaehyun gives him. “He’s a friend of mine and we’re catching up.”

Leah scrutinizes Jaehyun from head to toe and smiles. “Well, do it fast. I have something to tell you.”

She’s gone when Taeyong releases a breath and Jaehyun chuckles. “I didn’t know you have an eye for stingy women of the higher class.”

Taeyong doesn’t meet Jaehyun’s eyes so Jaehyun takes the chance to continue. “I’m happy for you, Taeyong. You deserve to be loved.”

A hand lingers in the air but it doesn’t touch Taeyong, and Jaehyun mumbles something under his breath that the waiter fails to register before he sees the taller man go.

Taeyong lets him go for the umpteenth time.

 

 

“My family will be organizing a dinner tomorrow night. I want you to go.” Leah straddles his waist and leans in to kiss his lips. Taeyong responds right away with a grip on her thighs.

“I don’t have fancy clothes to wear. They will not find me a sore in the eyes, right?” Taeyong breaks the wet kiss and presses his mouth on the side of her neck, earning a delighted sigh from the lady.

“Are you out of your mind? I will send you a nice suit and that’s what you will wear. Can’t have you embarrass me in front of my grandmother, Taeyong. She will be visiting us.” She pushes him down and starts to unbutton Taeyong’s shirt, with her lips mapping his skin.

Taeyong keeps his eyes on the ceiling as Leah’s mouth reaches the waistband of his pants. Soon, red lips are wrapped around Taeyong’s cock, and her head bobs while she sucks him off. Taeyong’s eyes are close as he tries to get it up, but it won’t, and he’s afraid to let her down so he thinks of lewd thoughts, pornographic scenarios of a faceless couple.

His cock hardens and Taeyong grasps her hair, hips bucking up to fuck into her mouth and moans fill the room as she pleasures him. Taeyong doesn’t last long and he shoots his cum down her throat which she gladly swallowed.

It’s a moment later when images of him on his hands and knees getting fucked real good by Jaehyun dissipate from the back of his eyelids.

 

 

They get off a black Lincoln Zephyr Continental as it parks along a row of other luxury vehicles. The car was sent to Taeyong’s house. Leah said it’s to avoid anyone seeing him walking.

A man dressed in plain black ironed suit completed with a bowtie escorts Taeyong inside the mansion. The house is impeccable with its grandiose columns and high ceiling; an impressive chandelier hangs in the middle to illuminate the whole room. Large paintings are lined up on the wall and deep vases keep colorful flowers in their place.

The man leaves his side when they arrive in the dining room, and he finds Leah mingling with people he doesn’t know. Everyone wears the same style of elite clothing. Taeyong himself is covered from the finest piece of linen suit and his hair is gelled back to show his forehead.

They all look the same inside the room but Taeyong feels out of place.

“He’s here! Taeyong, come.”

Taeyong goes to her and she immediately holds his hand. He might be mistaken, but he’s almost certain that Leah gave him a look of warning.

“Ah, everyone! This is Taeyong, the one I keep talking about - the one who holds my heart.” Leah presses herself against his side and Taeyong does his best to smile without showing how uncomfortable he is.

“It’s a pleasure to meet Leah’s family. She’s heaven sent.”

An old couple nods and compliments him for his words. The rest of the people around shake hands with him but Taeyong can’t remember all the names, and just when he starts to feel suffocated, Leah’s father announces the start of the dinner.

He subtly watches how Leah holds the fork and the knife.

She notices Taeyong and scoffs. “Just do what I’m doing. Don’t be obvious.”

Taeyong sighs and starts to eat, not minding anymore that he is using the salad fork while eating fish meat.

“So, gentleman. Tell us about you, since this is our first time meeting my daughter’s lover.”

Taeyong swallows the food he’s chewing and wipes his lips with a napkin. “I’m from the city, just like you, and I live with my mother and my brother. There’s nothing interesting about me except for the fact that I work at a pub as a waiter and I do not know what the inside of a university looks like.”

The silence that comes after that must be deafening that he hears Leah breathe in anger through her nose.

“I believe you are fooling us, son. I’m sure you came from a wealthy family. Who knows, maybe I’ve already closed a business deal with your father. Speaking of him, you did not mention his existence.”

“Because he’s dead, sir. We couldn’t afford the hospital bills so we let him die in bed, the bed I sleep on every night.”

Leah slams her hands on the table, startling the members of her family sitting around the long table.

“What are you talking about, Taeyong? Don’t disrespect me and my family in our own house.” Her eyes are wide in anger and her hands are trembling. Taeyong fails to feel bad for her.

“If what you’re saying is true, then how come my daughter is head over heels for you? Must be a drug powdered under a rug and mixed into her drink.”

Leah’s father stands up and nods at the man who escorted Taeyong in the mansion.

“Throw him out. I welcome no dirt poor man in my family.”

 

 

“You’re a worthless man, Taeyong. I can’t believe you did that! You ruined my chance to marry you!”

Taeyong loosens his necktie and slips his hands in his pockets.

“Why would you marry me when I have no money to give you the most extravagant material things? Leah, what did you even see in me?”

“My friends, the ones I was with when I went to the pub for the first time that night – they are interested in you as much as they are interested in the high ranking men and bold soldiers from the tables next to ours. You are the most handsome despite your poor status and winning you means winning over them. They always get the men I want, and I won’t let them take you away too!”

“So you never loved me?”

Leah wipes her tears and scoffs. “What is there to love about you? You have nothing.”

Taeyong chuckles and rubs a hand down his face. “You’re correct about that.”

“You love me, don’t you? I’m rich, I’m beautiful, I have everything. Why did you do that? You let go of the chance to marry me and to pick yourself up from the ground. Tell them you were lying, Taeyong. Tell my father before it’s too late!”

He smiles and holds her hand, giving a gentle kiss on it.

“I’m sorry, Leah, but you’re the most arrogant, self-centered woman I’ve ever met. You’re the worst. I won’t let my future children come from someone with a rotten heart like you.”

The slap to his cheek is strong but Taeyong stands his ground.

“You will never get out of poverty, Taeyong. You’ll die without a name.”

 

 

Ten doesn’t question Leah’s absence when the woman stops visiting the pub, but he guesses Taeyong’s relaxed posture and genuine smiles are enough to explain.

“You didn’t tell me how the talk with Jaehyun went.”

“There’s nothing to say. He met Leah. It’s the closure we were both waiting for.”

“Did you ask him if he was back for the closure you just said?”

Taeyong sits down and takes off his apron. He’s done cleaning and Mark went home an hour ago.

“He was dead and I moved on. To go our separate ways is the only thing to do.”

“Stop saying he’s dead, perhaps? He’s alive? You only moved on- “ Ten adds with invisible quotes, “because you thought he was not coming back. Did you really move on?”

The truth claws on Taeyong’s heart but he does not want to listen to it. “I did. Hence, Leah.”

“Oh, please! You never even liked that witch.”

Taeyong chuckles and punches the bartender lightly on the arm. “You know me best.”

Ten rolls his eyes and starts counting the sum they earned for the night. “I do, so it’s time for you to wake the fuck up and stop hurting.”

 

 

Taeyong doesn’t know how and where to look for Jaehyun. It’s impossible for the soldier to be on duty when he’s injured – worst, he’s already dismissed.

He fails to go to work for the night because of a sudden fever and his mother blocked the door when Taeyong attempted to go, so he’s left with nothing better to do. He’s supposed to be serving customers at the moment, but being stuck at home with nothing to kill time with, it feels like the world is not turning.

“Mother, when is Kai coming back?”

“He didn’t mention a date, son. He never does. Why?”

Taeyong hugs a tattered rabbit doll and shakes his head. “Nothing important. I just want to talk to him.”

“Eh, about what? You can talk to me.”

“I know – but there are things only brothers can discuss.”

His mother wipes her hands on her dress and sits next to him on the couch. “A subject that only men can talk about – you mean to say, women? What happened to that beautiful girl, Taeyong? You should bring her here again.”

“We have broken up, mother. She’s not coming here anymore.”

“Oh. What happened?”

Taeyong gives the doll to his mother. “She hates your couch.”

His mother raises a brow and pulls her lips down into a frown. “Well, if that’s the case, then I don’t like her too. This couch is the first furniture your father put in this house.” She pulls Taeyong for a hug and kisses the side of his head. “It will be alright, son. You will find someone who will love you for who you are and keep you even with the little things you have.”

I have found him, mother - but I also lost him.

 

 

The citizens are woken up by the blaring sirens coming from several police cars. Taeyong gets up from bed and pokes his head out the window to see what so rudely disturbed him from his sleep.

“Keep on driving! Do not let him run!”

An officer whips a man whose hands are tied behind him while his feet are chained to one of the cars’ rear as the vehicle slowly drags him along. The man groans through a cloth made to gag him and Taeyong frowns when the voice sounded too familiar, but he can’t point it out.

“What crime did he commit for him to be publicly tortured?”

“The man was caught doing the unspeakable with another man. Such disgrace to his family, a disgusting human that God made a mistake of creating. That is really unforgivable, Taeyong. The man deserves it. I, too, would be regretful if I my son was bedding another man,” His mother stands by the window and brushes Taeyong’s hair. “I’m thankful that my sons are normal.”

The sight of her smile sickens Taeyong and he runs to the bathroom to vomit last night’s dinner. His head is pounding and his eyes are brimming with tears. The pain of hiding a secret from his own mother stabs Taeyong when he goes to bed and in every waking moment. To be judged by the society is something Taeyong expects, something Taeyong has learned to accept but to be insulted by his own mother as if he’s nothing but a pest is something Taeyong will bring to his death bed.

 

 

He meets Jaehyun again on broad daylight when his mother sent him to the market to pick up some ingredients. Jaehyun drags him to the side of the road and pushes him against the wall as desperate lips find his. Taeyong wraps his arms around the taller man’s neck to pull him in and they kiss until their lips throb and their lungs beg for air. Taeyong is the first one to break away from the contact and he cups Jaehyun’s cheeks before showering little pecks on the soldier’s face. He takes his time kissing along the scar on Jaehyun’s skin.

“I missed you so damn much, Taeyong. I’m sorry I can’t let you go, I’m sorry I can’t move on, please don’t go back to her. Please.”

“She’s gone, Jaehyun. I didn’t love her. It’s only you, it will always be you.”

Taeyong leans in for another kiss, wanting to drown in Jaehyun and only Jaehyun, and now that the other is back, Taeyong will never let him go again, even if it breaks his mother’s heart, even if the whole world is against –

– Jaehyun drops with a loud thud on the ground as blood seeps through his uniform, a hand clutching his side to desperately cover his wound. Taeyong is frozen in both shock and horror, Jaehyun is dying right in front of him, and he can’t move a muscle. Jaehyun is groaning in pain, the blood won’t stop and Taeyong looks around to ask for help but no one is doing anything to save Jaehyun, no one is calling an ambulance and Taeyong doesn’t know if he can carry the other to the hospital. Before he can kneel beside Jaehyun who’s slowly turning pale, a pair of strong hands grip Taeyong’s arm and drag him to the middle of the road for everyone to watch.  

“Stop! Someone is shot, please save him – let me go!”

“Remain silent or your words will be used against you, you sodomite!”

Taeyong is pushed to the ground and the heel of a boot digs on his back as the officer who had dragged him kicks him deliberately while the civilians watch and enjoy the show, gossiping with each other. Taeyong kisses the dirt when another one hurls insults at him and spits on his face before shoving his head down. He can feel hot blood running down his face and into his mouth and Taeyong honestly does not care, he thinks of Jaehyun, he wants to see Jaehyun and hold him in his arms.

“Enough, you’re going to kill the filthy boy and you don’t know what kind of sickness contaminates his blood.”

Taeyong is limp on the hot ground, the heat of the cement burns his skin but he can’t move even a single finger. He even bets he’s got a broken rib stabbing his insides because every time he tries to breathe deeply, a sharp pain shoots up his body. A woman crouches in front of him and despite the blurry vision, he can recognize Leah’s smile.

“My, my, Taeyong. I knew it. No man would ever deny me and I thought there must be a reason why you were so unyielding. You’re sickening – putting another man’s cock in your ass. You deserve this.”

His mother’s words ring in his head and Taeyong almost laughs – yes, he deserves this, but this is the price he will pay for letting his heart feel what it wants to feel and love who it wants to love.

He’s forcefully made to stand up even when his legs refuse to support him.

“Let him go – let Taeyong go, I beg you.”

Taeyong lets his head loll to the side. Jaehyun limps as he walks to where Taeyong is, and the side of his uniform is already soaked in hot, sticky red. Jaehyun’s pale lips move but Taeyong doesn’t hear him as his vision spins and he falls once again, head hitting the side of the police car he was supposed to be thrown in.

“You, soldier! You will be sent back to the camp and have your leader decide what to do with your head. Don’t come closer!” Taeyong closes his eyes and listens for there’s no more energy left in him.

“It’s my fault, I forced him. He didn’t do anything! Let him go!”

“I said do not come close or I will shoot you! Stay where you are!”

Taeyong wants at least one of them to live, to be able to grow old and so one can tell their story if ever the world changes for the better, but Jaehyun doesn’t listen and the gunshot deafens him for a second before Jaehyun abruptly drops next to him.

Taeyong fails to hear anything else. If the spectators are screaming, he doesn’t hear them. If the armed men who caught them are saying anything more, he doesn’t know. Taeyong crawls his way closer to Jaehyun and rests his head on his lover’s chest. He doesn’t hear a heartbeat.

“You didn’t….even tell me you love me. How unfair.”

Taeyong feels the holster attached to Jaehyun’s hip and wraps his fingers around the grip of the gun. He doesn’t hear anything as he takes it out and presses the muzzle to his throat. The hammer clicks and Taeyong remembers his mother, remembers Kai, and his friends at the pub in fast forward images and at last, he sees Jaehyun.

“I haven’t said it yet too. Maybe secrecy is our forever, Jaehyun.”

Taeyong fails to hear anything after he pulls the trigger.

Maybe if the world was a little kinder, they would hear those three words in daylight, when the night is not the only time they could be with each other, and darkness wouldn’t be their silent sanctuary.