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To All the Boys I've Loved

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Taeyong is still quite bitter. Doyoung did propose to him first, yet they’re not married, nor engaged, nor together. Taeyong should be livid, but he’s a silent soul. He’ll endure in the name of love.

In Doyoung’s defense, he proposed when he was three with a ring made of bramble and spit. Taeyong’s kept it in a little box tucked away in the back of his sock drawer ever since.

But lack of context aside, Taeyong still waits for the day Doyoung will realize that no amount of dick can ever replace Lee Taeyong in his life.

However, Doyoung’s most recent acquisition from the cesspool of tomfoolery and bad decisions is giving Taeyong a little more fear than he’d hoped for.

Doyoung’s new beau is, by and large, a beau. The textbook, fuck-me-into-another-dimension hottie with the dimpled smile and the raspy voice. Jung Jaehyun has all the makings of every prepubescent gay boy’s wet dreams and seeing his awfully handsome face whispering sweet nothings into Doyoung’s ear sends Taeyong into another level of bitterness.

It’s been 15 years after Doyoung’s proposal and Taeyong does not fancy seeing his fiancé suck face with another boy, especially one that can compete on the world stage of most beautiful men ever created by God.

Jaehyun is tender and plush, with ridges of muscles decorating the sides of his torso. He’s charming and likes being taken care of, but only when circumstance allows it. He loves testing Doyoung’s nagging prowess and making Doyoung smile by kissing him on the cheek when he knows his boyfriend is teetering over the edge.

But people like Jaehyun don’t last long. He smiles too much and thinks that love is all sweet kisses and caressing by the moonlight. He feels that Doyoung is beautiful face first and intelligent man second. He doesn’t understand Doyoung. No one does.

Except for Taeyong, solely because he’s his Doyoung.

It’s two months after when they break up. Jaehyun cites bad timing. Doyoung knows it’s the politically correct way of saying that he was an endless pit of apathy. Jung Jaehyun becomes another name to add to Doyoung’s long, long list of past lovers. Tenth to be exact, not that Taeyong is counting.

When he breaks the news, Taeyong is already prepared with ice cream and a cake. They sit by the tv, limbs touching, and arms slung in ways they aren’t supposed to, but that’s what works. It’s odd and confusing, and it sums up Taeyong and Doyoung. They’re a strange machine, an anomalous entity that isn’t supposed to be functioning. However, against all the warning signs that the universe threw at them and all the handsome boys the earth sprouted to spite Taeyong, they work.

It’s still a modern marvel. Taeyong, an emotionally crutched adult mortally wounded by a three-year-old’s proposal and Doyoung, an emotionally vacant blackhole that seeks to find what love feels like. They don’t mesh. Taeyong feels too much, and Doyoung barely feels at all. They sit on opposite sides of the plain, but through hell and high water, they find a way to make things work. Doyoung thinks it’s because they’re so used to each other. Taeyong believes it’s love.

They work in odd ways—in their ways—and that’s the only thing that matters.

Doyoung and Taeyong stay like that, attached and interlocked like chains, watching mindless television until Doyoung finds the energy to speak.

“What’s my biggest turn-off?” he says forlornly as he watches the weight-sitting girl-face Kim Bok Soo something get kissed by that hot dude with the abs.

At first, Taeyong doesn’t hear it, he’s too busy asking Kim Bibimbap if she knew what a brush was. However, as with anything remotely related to Kim Doyoung, Taeyong’s senses get into gear as he processes his woes and hugs him closer to himself.

And maybe it’s because Doyoung is too blinded by his inability to feel, but Taeyong honestly thinks his best friend is too busy staring at the sky and asking the stars to guide him when all he really needs to do is to look over his shoulder.

“I can’t really think of anything.”

Doyoung scoffs and returns to watching Kim Bok Doo cry, the reason lost in the tune of electrostatic.

“You know I’ve never once cried after a breakup,” Doyoung says, eyes focused on the screen. “I mean, you know because you’ve been there for each, but I think it’s something of note.”

Taeyong rubs comforting circles on Doyoung’s back, “I don’t know why you keep trying to find a new boyfriend when it’s obvious you only like them superficially.”

Doyoung shrugs, “We have to start somewhere, Taeyong. Love, at first sight, doesn’t happen in real life. Relationships take work.” Doyoung sighs as he untangles himself from Taeyong and lies on one of the arms of the couch.

“I guess I’m just trying to find someone who I’ll work for.”

Taeyong wants to scream. Tell Doyoung how sorely mistaken he is because when 3-year-old Taeyong saw 3-year old Doyoung in a bucket hat, he knew in his little mind that he was in love.

“Maybe you’re just looking in all the wrong places.”

Doyoung closes his eyes, “Maybe I should just marry you and get things over with. You’re clean, you understand me, and you feed me. We should elope.”

He falls asleep like that.

“Just say the word, Doyoung. I’ll book the presider.”

It’s age 19 when Doyoung makes a lot of bad decisions. That is to say, he gets together with Wong Yukhei.

He apparently has many monikers, but Doyoung just calls him Xuxi because it’s the shortest. That’s the first indication that the Chinese-Thai giant from the streets of Hong Kong isn’t going to last long.

Xuxi has the energy levels of a child given coffee for the first time. He laughs at everything that Doyoung says and dawdles behind him with his eyes crinkling in unapologetic enthusiasm. He’s young, kind of clueless, and code mixes so much that he sometimes confuses himself. But he holds onto Doyoung’s hand like he knows all the words in the dictionary, so his best friend doesn’t mind.

But with youth comes insecurity and emotions yet to be fully realized.

Xuxi likes kissing too much for Taeyong’s liking. He kisses when he and Doyoung meet, when they part, and whenever Taeyong enters the room.

His holds that looked confident, now are wary and afraid. He clings tighter and kisses heavier. He leaves his mark on places like a dog marking its territory. He tries to send messages, subtle and discreet, to people, anyone, and everyone, that Doyoung has chosen him. That he’s Doyoung’s special person and that irks Taeyong.

Apparently Doyoung as well.

He gets fed up, and the breakup is not pretty. Xuxi begs and tries to compromise. He tries to tell Doyoung that he’ll change, but Doyoung doesn’t like the aftertaste that Xuxi’s kisses leave anymore. They’re no longer tinted with sweetness and care. Doyoung only tastes the bitterness of fear and desperation.

Xuxi tries many times, but he eventually gives up. He finds something else to infatuate over, or maybe he grows up.

Taeyong hopes it’s the latter.

Aged 21, Doyoung meets Johnny.

He’s all long limbs and the scent of the sea. He used to surf when he lived in “Cali,” and the smell of the ocean breeze and sewage slurry just stuck.

Taeyong befriends him before introducing him to Doyoung. Taeyong thinks that Johnny is just slightly daft because he did not pick up that Doyoung was, in every iteration, off limits.

That didn’t stop him though. And Taeyong cannot blame Doyoung for falling.

Johnny is sweet like candy. He’s tall and intimidating, but the way his voice caresses the back of Doyoung’s ears says otherwise. Doyoung calls him a teddy bear and Johnny buries his face into the crook of Doyoung’s neck.

Taeyong also does that from time to time, but Johnny does it with the promises of kisses after. Taeyong only gets a pinch to his cheek.

Johnny and Doyoung’s relationship transpires like a rom-com montage. They slow dance through time with picnics, arcade dates, and soft touches during the break of dawn. But scenes like this only last ten seconds, max. It’s what’s after montages that really counts.

They crumble as quickly as they build up.

Suddenly dates are rare, and Doyoung resigns to cooking dinner with Taeyong. Suddenly, there’s no more soft whispers and no more hugs and no more kisses.

Johnny breaks the news to Taeyong before he does Doyoung. The result is a tired sigh and a wave goodbye.

Johnny never did tell him why he chose to end it, only that it was hard to stay somewhere he was never meant to be.

They’re 23 and all Taeyong can think about is that he and Doyoung still live in the same apartment, still spend more time with each other than is necessary, and still haven’t ever breached the invisible wall of platonic friendship. Taeyong feels that somewhere down the road something’s going to give.

Dong Sicheng comes into the picture on a balmy summer day with broken Korean and the look of pure confusion. Doyoung’s eyes sparkle with something that suggests something more than friendly stranger willing to help, and it worries Taeyong.

They get together a week after.

Of the many boys that Doyoung has dated, Sicheng is, by far, the most charming.

He’s also very, very pretty.

He possesses the cadence of spring and the elegance of the first fall of snow. He’s everything soft and delicate, like flower petals, silken robes, and sandalwood. He breathes different happiness into Doyoung’s life, and Taeyong feels like maybe this is where something has to give.

It seems like the dam is about to break because Sicheng adores Doyoung like flowers adore the sun. His hands linger on his best friend’s arm with a want that can only be described as beautiful, and his words flutter like bouquets of flowers blooming in his mouth, the scent of love perfumed all over his tongue.

Sicheng reminds Taeyong of first love, of childish giggles and the effervescence of summertime. He is cotton candy and sunlit parks—nostalgic and tinted in gold.

Taeyong feels the dread that pools in his gut like tar, vile and vicious. Bitterness lingers on his tongue like bad instant coffee. Tasteless. Unforgiving.

It’s the first time Taeyong strays from Doyoung. It’s the first time he avoids his glance and refuses to touch. They drift away. Their limbs no longer chained together into odd angles when together on the couch, they settle untethered and unsupervised. Their arms now lay inches apart from each other, bared and limp. Like anchors unfettered, they’ve lost all purpose.

Time passes, and all that is green goes auburn. Sicheng must return to China and still Doyoung does not shed a tear.

But true to the adage, space makes the heart grow fonder. So Taeyong returns to where his hands feel the warmest. And with the passing of time, so does summer.

Taeyong is there with ice cream and a cake. They interlink their limbs like they used to and watch mindless television until Doyoung falls asleep in Taeyong’s arms.

Doyoung, at the strike twilight, cranes his head to look at Taeyong. His eyes are somber, filled with exhaustion and valent relief.

“Why did you stray?” he asks in a whisper, voice raspy and unsure.

Taeyong traces circles and constellations on his best friend’s nape and searches for an explanation in the expanse of Doyoung’s skin. It’s tranquil during this time, the peaceful transition from day to night—the turning point.

“I don’t know,” Taeyong says despite him knowing all the reasons.

It’s because Sicheng looked at Doyoung with fondness that stretched forever. It’s because Sicheng touched and clung without any intention of letting go. It’s because Sicheng spoke with so much assuredness, so much happiness, and so much loyalty.

It’s because Doyoung did all that too.

The reason was neither of their faults, Taeyong likes to think. He was dishonest about his feelings and hid instead of trying to fix what was never supposed to be broken. But it seemed like something that had to happen. For within that space bloomed a truth that may have only been realized given the circumstance.

"I'm sorry," he whispers into the crook of Taeyong's neck, "I'm sorry for whatever it is I did."

There are no tears. Taeyong holds him tighter.

"I don't like it when you don't talk to me. It hurt me a lot," Doyoung whispers.

It's Taeyong who cries. Doyoung remains resilient and calm, and Taeyong cries because guilt always stings deeper when you hurt someone you love. This one went straight for his heart.

His arms search Doyoung closer until not even the slightest of breeze could come between them. Their arms interlock in odd, perplexing ways, but it works. It always works when it’s the two of them.

Taeyong doesn't say anything. He just grips and gripes with want and need and desperation. Doyoung cradles him closer. They don’t need to speak.

Doyoung understands, he always does.

Halfway to turning 24, Doyoung tells Taeyong he should conduct a purge. Taeyong thinks he means cleansing his guts with an enema. Doyoung laughs at him for five minutes before patting his head fondly.

Doyoung clarifies, and Taeyong understands.

“How about writing them a letter?”

Doyoung turns his head at him.

“You can entitle it ‘To all the boys I’ve loved’ then we can burn it.”

Doyoung laughs again, this time to a joke that Taeyong isn’t in on.

At age 24 Doyoung gets into two relationships. One short and one long.

The first is Kim Jungwoo.

Given that Sicheng was Doyoung’s last great attempt at a relationship, Jungwoo should have been an obvious choice. He, like Sicheng, is bound together by sugar and the gastric acid of a unicorn. Given the fever dream left by Sicheng, maybe the same could begin here as well.

Doyoung thinks that maybe that was his type--tender and careful. Taeyong can’t disagree. If not for Sicheng returning to China, perhaps he and Doyoung could have lasted longer. Taeyong thinks that Doyoung needs someone firm and giving. Someone who doesn’t give in so easily.

Jungwoo can't handle Doyoung. Because Jungwoo is warm like butter. He’s sweet caramel drizzled on vanilla ice cream and roast peaches spiked with rum. He is everything that Doyoung doesn’t need. He’s warm and caring, but easy to fluster. He smiles like treasures hang his tongue, but his hands quake like tremors in the ocean.

Contrary to popular belief, Doyoung has to be taken care of. He is thoughtful and tender when he wants to be, but he tires quickly and hides within the galaxies of his mind. He soaks in shadows and shuns the light to find peace within himself. He ventures into endless abysses to find himself again. Doyoung lingers in the quiet of his own universe to hide that he is quietly broken.

True enough, the burden of recreating something so inherently inimitable takes a toll on their relationship. Jungwoo tries, maybe too much, to crack the ice that’s covered the expanse of Doyoung’s heart. It works for a while until Doyoung relents and rejects the warmth.

Maybe Jungwoo had too much warmth that Doyoung could not fully accept. Maybe in a better time, in a better place, they would have worked.

But at this moment, they could not.

Nakamoto Yuta arrives like a hurricane.

He is loud and obtrusive and unrelentingly intelligent. He tests Doyoung’s patience for fun and plays with the edges of his wit. He speaks to Doyoung like it’s a game, and holds his hand like he’s figured him out.

Yuta likes stars and constellation. He whispers the infinite wisdom of the stars into Doyoung’s ear and holds his hand with the promise of an eternity exploring the unknown vestiges of life.

Yuta is striking and stellar. He glimmers like the stars braid through the strands of his silken hair.  His voice is confident and unapologetic like he knows the answers to all the mysteries that filled the earth. Yuta looks like he knows what he’s doing--as if he is invincible. And maybe that’s what makes Doyoung so attracted to him. The fact that Nakamoto Yuta flounces about like he has Orion around his belt, and Pluto sitting on the shoulders of his ring or because he looks like he knows everything, yet admits that he knows nothing at all.

Maybe it’s because Doyoung’s found someone as broken as him. Someone who recognizes that some of his pieces don’t work properly but doesn’t hide it because he knows that everyone’s broken one way or another. Because Yuta knows that living ragged and bruised is better than not living at all.

He strings Doyoung in his adventures. He takes him to the very edge of his sanity so that they can be beautifully broken together.

Doyoung finds things in the strange world of Nakamoto Yuta. In the endless exploration with his new beau, he discovers something rarer than Halley’s Comet.

Taeyong sees it when Doyoung takes less time hiding. When Doyoung talks instead of walking away. It’s in the way he looks outside and seems genuinely hopeful.

At this point, Taeyong doesn’t even resent Nakamoto Yuta, he can’t do that. Not when his astral magic can heal the tears in Doyoung’s heart. Not when he stays when they night is darkest. Not when he gives Doyoung hope.

Right now, Taeyong can only envy him. Envy his strength, his honesty, and his flappable capability to love without asking. Envy the way Yuta trusts himself to make Doyoung happy.

Taeyong doesn’t drift, he owes Doyoung that much. He stays in pain because that’s the right thing to do. He tries to hide the bitterness in his smiles and the tremble in his lip.

But Doyoung notices, he always does.

“You’ve been sulking.”

Taeyong doesn’t meet his eyes, “I’m not.”

“Taeyong, you’re sulking. Tell me what’s bothering you?”

Yuta kissing you.

“It’s nothing.”

Doyoung does not look impressed, “Seriously, what’s wrong?” he whispers as he reaches for Taeyong’s arm. Doyoung’s hand on his arm feels unlawful, like a breach of some invisible code in the air.

Taeyong doesn’t like this, he doesn’t like feeling like touching Doyoung is a sin, but this is the consequence of his aching heart. His hands are starved, and his body craves for food, for the sweet taste of Doyoung’s tongue on his. He’s yearned for Doyoung’s breath to caress his neck with malice and in ill-intent. He wants to feel the fire in his eyes. He wants to be enveloped and overwhelmed by everything. He wants to be filled. Filled up to the brim with Doyoung’s love.

But it’s something he can’t have. Not in the way he wants it. Envy and hunger create a beast in Taeyong, one that wants to devour and claim everything and anything. Slowly, it might eat Taeyong whole.

But Doyoung does not relent. His hand is tender, and his eyes search for answers.

“Taeyong, don’t push me away,” he pleads. Doyoung’s shine with guilt and concern. He’s hurt because Taeyong is aching, and this just makes everything so much harder to bear.

Taeyong looks at Doyoung, tries to find the space where their intentions can meet. He sees desperation.

He looks away.

Taeyong spends time away from Doyoung. Yuta settles into the spaces that he left behind.

They move on. Or they try to.

Doyoung still fails to understand why Taeyong drifted away. Taeyong tries to fill the void that the best had left behind.

Taeyong thinks that maybe this is the moment he must let go.

When Doyoung turns 25, Taeyong no longer lives with him.

Between 25 and 26 Taeyong gets a promotion and Doyoung switches jobs. Taeyong finds a room with Johnny Seo. They laugh it off.

Doyoung and Taeyong don’t talk.

Life moves on.

At 26, Doyoung calls Taeyong.

It’s midnight. No one answers.

On his 27th birthday, Taeyong thinks he’s moved on. He hasn’t talked to Doyoung in two years, and maybe it’s for the better. Maybe his best friend, because he still is his best friend despite everything, finally found his forever in Nakamoto Yuta. Maybe they’ve reached the stars.

He ransacks his room to find the ring made of bramble and spit. He doesn’t find it. It’s at that moment that he thinks that maybe the scars haven’t fully healed.

On the day after Taeyong’s birthday, he receives a text from Doyoung. Against his better judgment, he opens it.

Happy Birthday, Taeyong!

I don’t know if this is still your number but knowing you, it still is.

Taeyong never knew that an exclamation point could ever make him so happy.

I know we haven’t talked in ages. But you deserve a proper greeting, so Happy Birthday!

I hope you have a great day.

It feels hollow. The echoes of his empty heart have never resonated this loud in so long. A single text from Doyoung and the gashes seem to bleed anew.

He’s about to pocket his phone when it pings again.

I still don’t know why you left. You hurt me a lot, you know.

Another ping.

But I can’t even find it in myself to feel mad.


I just want you here. I just want you to come back to me.

Taeyong feels shivers, tremors.

The space on the couch next to me is still yours. It’s always been, and it always will be.

Tears, hot and fresh, stroke the expanse of Taeyong’s cheek.

When you find it in yourself to forgive me. Come back, I’m waiting with ice cream and cake.

Breaking down is never fun. Taeyong realizes that maybe nothing ever hurt this much because he was always honest with himself. Perhaps it’s because his body has had enough of suppressing something as volatile as love.

Maybe it’s because he misses Doyoung.

It’s been a month since Doyoung texted. Each day after work, Taeyong looks at the messages Doyoung sent and debates if he should text back. He never does.

Johnny looks at him weirdly.

The week after, Doyoung texts Taeyong again.

I broke up with Yuta last year. I’m waiting for Mr. Right.

Taeyong feels like it’s supposed to speak to him. Like it’s meant to make him move and come back, but he can’t.

He physically can’t, so he leaves the text unanswered.

On midnight of the turn of the year, Taeyong receives a text. It’s Doyoung, and he assumes that Taeyong is at a party somewhere with cooler friends than him.

Wherever nightclub you are, I wish you every happiness this new year.

Yours always,


Taeyong sleeps to the words “yours always” playing around his tongue.

On February 1, Doyoung’s birthday, Taeyong remembers the proposal.

Kim Doyoung, aged three, proposed to Lee Taeyong on the date of his, Kim Doyoung’s, birthday with a ring made of bramble and spit.

He told Taeyong quietly with the broadest smile on his face and his gum sticking out the way it does when he’s excited, “My mom told me that when you give someone a ring bent on one knee, it means you’ll be together forever.”

Doyoung has snot on his nose and smells like damp soil and honeydew, but Taeyong nods his head because to him Doyoung just smells like forever.

Now, you’ll never be apart from me. You’re my Taeyong, and I’m your Doyoung.”

He makes a decision to text Doyoung. However, before he can do it, there’s a knock on the door. He takes his phone away and creaks open the door, not expecting the sight before him.

“Hi, stranger,” Doyoung says with a smile. His eyes are bright, and his hair is bathed in lilac. He’s older, more mature, but he’s still impossibly skinny. He’s everything Taeyong remembers, but there seemed to be no more pain or want that he used to harbor. He doesn’t look lost trying to figure out the reason his heart could not beat for another human being.


He’s beautiful, so, so beautiful. Taeyong wants to reach and scream and say sorry. He wants to take all the years back and bask in the warmth of his best friend again. He wants to go back.

“It’s my birthday today, so I decided to give myself something,” he says ignoring the way Taeyong has stilled at the threshold of his own home.

Doyoung reaches for something in his pocket and produces a sealed envelope with his distinct squiggly handwriting at the back.

“You remember years ago when I told you I needed a purge?” He asks as if they hadn’t spoken in years, as if their hearts haven’t been dragged through the dirt. As if they’ve forgiven each other for everything that has gone wrong.

“Can you do it with me? I can only do it with you.” His eyes sparkle with unspoken unease, but he masks it well. He’s always done that so splendidly, hiding. He hides from Taeyong when he’s depressed. He disappears from the world when things are too much. He hides from himself when he can’t bear the pain.

Never nerves though. Doyoung has confidence in spades. His heart was never built to be nervous, and to most people, he isn’t. However, Taeyong is not most people.

He’s memorized Kim Doyoung like a second language. Though he may have rusted over time, the basics are there, the signs are there. He still knows the language of the person he’s loved for over two decades. He’s still fluent despite the years of radio silence, and it concerns him how easy it is to get back into that mindset. To get back into interpreting every minute twitch of Doyoung’s fingers like it’s Morse Code only he could understand.


Doyoung smiles, “Because you’re my Taeyong and I’m your Doyoung,” he says with confidence, “Because you’re as much a part of me as my beating heart.”

Doyoung still knows that he has Taeyong wrapped around his dainty fingers and it makes everything that much more stressful. They still understand each other as if they played tag in the summer and went on adventures across rolling hills and ancient seas while fighting monsters and bandits in Doyoung’s backyard. Like Doyoung proposing to Taeyong with his handcrafted ring was just yesterday. As if they had just promised each other forever like it was the most natural thing in the world.

He can’t do that. It’s unfair. He’s not allowed come here like the years of pain was nothing and make it right with two sentences. They can’t just forget everything and act like best friends again, that can’t be healthy. This is not how things are supposed to pan out. Easing back into friendship should be harder. Forgiving should be harder.

Ordinary people work back into things. They start slow and let time heal the wounds that were made. Rehabilitating something that’s arguably so broken shouldn’t be this easy.

However, loving Doyoung has always been easy.

It’s odd and confusing, but it’s Taeyong and Doyoung, so it works.

Doyoung fetches a letter from inside his pocket and gives it to Taeyong. On the back, it reads, “To all the boys I’ve loved.”

“Help me burn it,” he says with his gums bared like they always are when he smiles really wide.

They find a field, somewhere where no can find them. Taeyong doesn’t entirely know how they found it—nor does he know the full extent of the ritual—but they’re there, together. Coming here, Doyoung kept his space away from Taeyong, always trailing five paces behind him. He appreciated it, they’re still trying to understand where their spaces can safely intersect. Now, they stand still five paces away from each other as the birthday boy smiles fondly at Taeyong like he wants to break through all the imaginary walls they’ve built over the years. They’re also probably breaking several fire-safety rules, but Doyoung smells like the changing of the season, like the bloom of a brand-new day, so he doesn’t mind.

There’s a pit that they’ve improvised, in it some of Taeyong’s textbooks from when he was still in college set in a bright blaze.

Taeyong holds the letter in his hands as Doyoung looks at him expectantly.

“Before we do anything, I need to know why you came to me?” Taeyong says, “It wasn’t your fault I left. It was all me.”

Doyoung shakes his head and points to the envelope in Taeyong’s hand, “Open it.”

Taeyong looks at him confused, “I need to say sorry. I caused us two years away from each other. We can’t just move on like it was nothing.

Doyoung shakes his head, “Yes we can.”


“It’s my birthday, and you’re ruining it with all your whining.”

Taeyong’s jaw slacks at Doyoung’s petulance. However, he can’t argue with that. Taeyong caused this mess and Doyoung bridged them back together. And it is his birthday, the least he can do is follow his orders.

He’s about to read the letter, but he remembers his roommate, and Jung Jaehyun’s face, and Sicheng’s smile, and Jungwoo’s touch, he remembers Yukhei’s kisses and Yuta sprawling smile. He recalls all of them, beautiful, contagious, and about to be forgotten.

About to be erased from Kim Doyoung’s life. It feels bittersweet to say goodbye to the people Taeyong met, however, strained their relationships had been. They were still a part of Taeyong’s growth as a person, and they made considerable marks in Doyoung’s life.

“Do you miss any of them?” Taeyong asks, his eyes unsure and slightly pained by his own question.

Doyoung shakes his head, “I’m good.”

Taeyong takes it as the cue to go on. He does it slowly and purposefully; sliding his fingers into a slit and prying it open inch-by-inch, letting the weight of this goodbye sink into his gut as Doyoung watches him in earnest. It’s one sheet of paper folded neatly in half. Taeyong gently takes the letter out of its sleeve and looks to Doyoung for assurance.

His best friend nods.

Taeyong unfolds the paper, and his heart drops.

There are two lines written in Doyoung’s squiggly handwriting.

To all the boys I’ve loved,

I’m sorry I could never love you as much as I loved him.

Taeyong looks at Doyoung. His hands are shaking, and he can’t properly decipher what Doyoung is trying to say. He has an inkling, the smallest, most insignificant inkling that maybe Doyoung means him. That Doyoung has never loved any other person in this godforsaken world more than he’s learned to love Taeyong. That at this moment in time, Doyoung can finally find his happy ending that he’s been searching for.

And Taeyong can finally find his own as well. They can do it together like it should have always been.

“Burn it.”

Taeyong takes in a deep sigh before his feet start heading for the pit. He throws it in. The words burn brightly before turning into ash.

“Who?” Taeyong asks.

Doyoung answers him with another envelope, “This one, you don’t burn.”

Taeyong takes tentative steps through the threshold of Doyoung’s space until his hand reaches out and touches soft fingers. The letter falls into his hands as Doyoung takes one step back. There’s a small object fitted in beside the letter, it looks suspiciously like a ring. Taeyong turns to read what’s written on the back.

My Taeyong

He shakes when he opens it. Tears threaten to fall. Breaking down prematurely seems such a Taeyong thing to do, but for now, he steels his will. He fingers through the slit like he did the last letter and opens the envelope. Much like the first letter, this one has one piece of paper folded neatly in half.

He opens it, and this time his tears break free.

To the only boy I’ve ever and will ever love,

I’m so sorry it took me so long, but at least we still have forever.

Please come back to me, my love, my life.

He stills. Tears are now falling gracelessly down his face as he quivered and shivered like a bare babe in the middle of tundra. There are too many emotions and feelings that overwhelm him. More than twenty years of waiting and hurting and wanting crashing viciously down his spine.

In his shaking, he forgets the little object hid beside the letter. It falls out of the sleeve and lands by his feet. He stops for a moment to crouch down and reach for the secret item. Once he sees it, his body crumbles as he falls to take the trinket from the ground--a ring crafted with bramble and spit.

The world seems to turn on its head as Taeyong succumbs to the burden of all the things he’s suppressing. He can’t stand, the weight of just everything paralyzing his limbs and leaving him motionless. He can’t support himself, so Doyoung does.

His hands lift him to stand. Taeyong is still crying--bawling--once he gets up. The ring is held in his right fist, and he can’t see through the tears and snot decorating his face. But Doyoung smiles and wipes it all away. His hands are still as soft and warm as he remembered--like the soft rush of forest streams and billowing dandelions in the breeze. Their arms interlock and their fingers interlace in the odd, weird ways they know. In this familiar tangle of Doyoung and Taeyong.

“You left it in the apartment when you left. Must’ve dropped it,” Doyoung says slowly as he brushes the stray strands of hair that cover Taeyong’s face, “I found it after Yuta broke up with me. I went into your empty room and cried,” he murmurs tucking Taeyong’s head securely on his shoulder as he hugged him tightly.

“Funny thing is I didn’t cry because Yuta broke it off. I cried because you weren’t there. The only thing that I ever wanted to be in my life wasn’t there anymore.”

Taeyong hiccups and lets his arms circle around Doyoung’s neck. He keeps him close, so unbelievably close to remind Doyoung that he’s not going away. He’s here. He’s back. Forever.

“I never knew you kept it. If you told me…if at any point in my life you told me…” Doyoung pauses because there too are tears in his eyes. They descend like feathers in freefall; slowly and quietly. “I would have done anything and promised you anything. I realized that the only reason no one could stay was that they were only placeholders for you. Because in the end, it’s you.”  

“I’m sorry. I love you. Please don’t go anymore,” he says holding Taeyong tight.

Taeyong shakes in Doyoung’s arms as he untangles himself to look at Doyoung properly. He brings his hands to hold him.

“I won’t. Just get me a proper ring and I’ll be yours forever.”

Doyoung laughs through his tears as he lets his lips kiss Taeyong’s forehead.

“I’ll get you twenty-thousand rings.”

They stay like that, happy and content clinging onto each other. It’s later when they walk back to the apartment hand-in-hand to talk things over that Doyoung stops and fixes Taeyong a smile. “To answer your question from earlier,” he murmurs invading Taeyong’s space, letting his own lips settling inches away from the other, “you already promised me forever when you were three years old. Two years is nothing.”

He kisses Taeyong like that, and the only thing that Taeyong can think of is that forever tastes pretty damned good.

When Taeyong turns 28 he gets engaged, for real.

Doyoung does it in their apartment with a gold band embossed with vines and bramble. Taeyong smiles and kisses his fiancé square on the lips.

Doyoung tastes like stars and comets and the ever lush bounty of spring. He’s winters cold and the golden rays of summer. He’s watermelon split by the river and cherries with the pip still intact. He’s monsoons and snowstorms, and the roaring seas. He’s everything and anything.

He’s Taeyong’s from now until the end of time.