Title: Salty Taste of Tears
Characters/Pairing: Yunho/ Jaejoong, Taemin, Changmin, Junsu, Yoochun
Rating: PG 14
Form: One-shot (4415) / Short Story (2/4)
Beta: Not beta-ed. Please forgive errors
Genre: Mild Angst
Summary: "Taemin?" Yunho repeated, smiling this time, "I'm Jung Yunho".
At the tender age of 15, Taemin fell in love for the first time. He remembered the day vividly. It was early winter of 2007, and he was crying at the rooftop of his company, SME. He screwed up in a dance practice with a couple of other trainees and was reprimanded for it. He was damn tired, his legs gave up and he felt like he wanted to give up too. He stormed out of practice and ran to the rooftop, sliding down the wall and crying on his knees.
"Okay there?" Taemin heard a male's voice over his head, he hid his face deeper into his knees. He didn't like to be caught crying. A hand touched his head, and suddenly he felt fingers ruffling his hair. "Hang in there, it gets better eventually." The voice was so close to his face, the man must have squatted in front of him. The caress on his hair didn't stop, and Taemin was forced to lift his head to stop the man from comforting him because what he really wanted was to be left alone.
His eyes met Jung Yunho's. Taemin flinched on the spot at seeing his senior. Not just any senior, but the Jung Yunho. Taemin had heard stories of this man's greatness and was intimidated by him. He never went close to wherever Yunho stood, always watching the man and his group members from a far. "Oh, it's Taemin," another voice pulled him back to reality, and he realized someone was standing one step behind Yunho. Taemin looked up and saw Kim Jaejoong, smiling at him with a cigarette in his hand.
"Taemin?" Yunho repeated, smiling this time, "I'm Jung Yunho". Taemin was so close to saying I know, but he was too speechless to utter even a single word. Tears had stopped falling completely and what he felt moment ago was replaced with a feeling of nervousness. "Behind me is Kim Jaejoong, and we both will leave you alone now, okay?. Taemin didn't know what to say so he nodded, flinching again when Yunho ruffled his hair again. "Let it all out," Yunho got up as he said the word, walking to the exit door with Jaejoong. Taemin sat there, against the wall for two more hours thinking of his senior instead of his previous sadness.
It was two weeks after the incident when he met both Yunho and Jaejoong again. He was practising in the dance studio when the two dropped by. When Yunho entered the room, his heart began to beat real fast he had to look away and pretend to be looking for his bottled water which was actually in his hand. He took a gulp of the water when Yunho noticed him, and wondered if Yunho would tell everyone about meeting the crying him at the rooftop. Yunho didn't, and Taemin guessed that if he wanted to, he would have spread the news the day it happened.
"We have Yunho and Jaejoong to help with your practice today," the dance instructor announced, and Taemin could see the faces around him lighted up, whereby his must have looked like a zombie. He was nervous knowing Yunho would be watching him dance, and perhaps making mistakes while doing it too. Taemin put away the bottle in his hand and move to his spot when the music was played. He caught Yunho's eyes on him and missed the next step. The instructor didn't stop the music as he always did when someone screwed up with the dance steps so Taemin immediately continued his dance.
"Comments Yunho, or Jaejoong." The instructor said as he stopped the music after the final dance step. Yunho moved to the middle of the room, standing in front of them. He looked different than Yunho Taemin saw at the rooftop, the one in the room right now appeared stern and serious. Jaejoong trailed after Yunho, though the older man rested his back against the mirror wall, seeming like he had nothing to comment on. Yunho cleared his throat and began giving his feedbacks to each person in the room. "And Taemin," Yunho looked at him, his face serious, "your moves are like Junsu's, my teammate. He'll be the right one to comment on your moves. As for me, besides a few mistakes that you've made, I think you're a very good dancer. You just need focus."
Taemin felt like his heart swell with pride. It was the first time someone said nice things about his dance. The instructor would always point his mistakes. He didn't care if Yunho was just being nice because he had seen him crying but he needed such encouragement. He suddenly felt like he should try harder and showed Yunho just how much he could improve.
"Like Junsu hyung?" Taemin asked, hoping no one saw his developing grin.
"Yes, and if you have seen us perform, you would know how great that is. Junsu is excellent." Yunho smiled a little, nodding his head as he praised his own teammate. Taemin found the act endearing. He wished that when he had his own group, his leader would be as cool as Yunho.
"What about Jaejoong hyung?" Someone in the room asked, breaking Taemin's thoughts.
"Him?" Yunho turned to look at Jaejoong, and he suddenly smiled brightly, making the stern aura around him disappear that second, "you?" he made a face. The whole room laughed, perhaps at the face Yunho was making, or maybe even at the surprised look on Jaejoong's face. Jaejoong snorted, his shoulders jerked at the force of his snort. He even mouthed curse words at Yunho, muttering 'making me look like a fool in front of them, huh?' and Yunho shrugged his shoulder at Jaejoong's babbling.
"We need to go to our dance practice now," Yunho said to the instructor, ignoring Jaejoong's mumbles. He turned around and grabbed Jaejoong by the shoulder. Taemin thought he heard Yunho muttered, "someone needs to learn a few things from the juniors," to Jaejoong's ear, and saw Jaejoong thumped his elbow onto Yunho's stomach as the two left the room.
Taemin debuted in 2008, the year Yunho and his group achieved bigger success than they have already achieved. His teammates were eager to beat TVXQ, but Taemin was more than happy to finally able to share stage with Yunho. Yunho on stage was passionate, cool and charismatic. Yunho as just Yunho was kind, compassionate and charming. Yunho as his senior was supportive, humble and considerate. And Taemin on stage, as only Taemin or as a junior was in love with Yunho.
He realized his sexuality after meeting Yunho, and he was glad and grateful it was Yunho and no one else. Yunho was perfect, and he knew his heart had done good in choosing the man to skip a beat, to race or to even to calm down. He could go 'Yunhyungie,' all the time he saw Yunho, and Yunho would treat him like a precious being.
"Yunhyungie!" Taemin ran after Yunho, wanting to congratulate him for TVXQ's first dome concert and he received a bright smile and a ruffle of hair which he loved so much. He memorized Yunho's hectic schedule and would never miss the chance to see him whenever he returned back from overseas tours. "You miss him, Taemin?" Jaejoong would tease him whenever he ran after Yunho and hugged the man and Taemin would be too shy to admit.
Taemin tried to corner Yunho whenever the man was alone but Jaejoong seemed to always be near Yunho. Thus, it was impossible for Jaejoong not to notice his routine of meeting Yunho whenever he could. "Just a little," Taemin would response, and would congratulate Jaejoong, Yoochun, Junsu and Changmin too. He made sure he hugged any one of them to hide any obviousness from his side.
'Yunhyungie!' with ecstatic tone was used more often after the dome concert success; because his five seniors never failed to break their own records. As months passed by, they expanded their achievements and Taemin was more than glad to hug Yunho for the accomplishment. Due to TVXQ's never ending records and achievements, one particular night when the group was nominated for the Best Album of The Year in MKMF, Taemin knew they would win. He was already so happy to be given the privilege of performing TVXQ's Rising Sun in the award show, and when the winner was announced and Shinee was invited to celebrate the winning on stage, he was the happiest person on earth.
He would never forget how cool Yunho was with his sexy white jacket, how breathtaking it felt to hug Yunho at the backstage and how wonderful it was to know that the great leader was the subject of his unrequited love. All of SME artists were promised a celebratory after party that night, and they all went back to the company for the promised fest. Taemin remembered how cool their backs were as the five of them walked the corridor of the company. In the middle of all the congratulating, Yunho whispered something into Junsu's ear and walked out of the room with Yoochun and Jaejoong. Changmin stayed with Junsu, chatting with the others.
Taemin left too, following after the three. They were going up to the rooftop, probably to smoke. Over the years, Taemin learnt that the rooftop would be the place Yunho spent the most of his break time, together with Jaejoong. Taemin climbed the stairs after them, seeing their backs facing him. Yunho was tugging Yoochun's arm, whispering to his ear as they laughed. Yunho's other hand was holding Jaejoong's shoulder, who was busy messaging on his phone.
Taemin hesitated behind the door that his three seniors had disappeared into, the one leading to the rooftop. He wondered if they wanted to be alone, relishing their success with those who mattered. But Taemin wanted to be there, beside Yunho too, to share Yunho's happiness. Taemin breathed out, pushed the door to the rooftop, and peeked inside. It was dark, but there was enough light for him to see the three clearly. Yoochun was the only one smoking, Jaejoong was still messaging on his phone and Yunho was looking down at what Jaejoong was typing. Yoochun offered his cigarette to Yunho but the man refused. Yoochun and Yunho conversed and they might have said something funny as the two, including Jaejoong, laughed.
Taemin bit his lips, wondering what he should say to announce his presence when Jaejoong stopped typing. Jaejoong pushed his phone into his pocket and turned to face Yunho. He muttered something, and Yunho smiled before he tilted his head to the same level as Jaejoong and captured his lips. Taemin thought his breathing stop. His heart beat crazily when Yunho grabbed Jaejoong's waist and deepened the kiss. The way their lips moved made Taemin assume that this wasn't the first time they have kissed. Yoochun non-reaction as he gazed at his hyungs and smiled added to Taemin's assumption.
Taemin moved from the door, walking towards the stairs. He felt dizzy with no air so he sat at the edge of the stairs, looking at his trembling hands. His heart was shattering into million pieces, he could hear the sound of it breaking. His eyes became hot, liquids wetted his cheeks. His unrequited impossible love, became a bitter realization. Yunho could love anyone he wanted no matter the gender, yet it would never be him. How could he win against Jaejoong?
Taemin looked up and saw Junsu kneeling on the stairs, touching his knee. "Taemin, why? Don't cry." Junsu was patting his knee soothingly. Why was it, it always has to be one of the Gods of the East to catch him crying? "Yunho hyung and Jaejoong hyung were kissing," Taemin muttered just to check Junsu's reaction. Junsu sighed and Taemin was sure that all the group members knew. "How long have they been together?" tears fiercely fell as he asked. He didn't know why it mattered when it would break his heart further. "Since they were 17," Junsu whispered, "but Tae, please don't tell anyone," Junsu continued.
"I won't," Taemin shook his head, it would be too painful for the words 'Yunho and Jaejoong are together' or 'they're in love' to escape his lips. "Don't tell them I know too," Taemin muttered and left Junsu without waiting for his response.
Taemin spent half a year avoiding both Jaejoong and Yunho. It wasn't difficult, the group mostly stayed in Japan. Just when his feelings for Yunho started to lessen, he was dumbfounded by the news of a lawsuit.
Two and a half years had passed since the news. Many things have changed. TVXQ has now become two, and there was one more successful group on a par with TVXQ out there that went with the acronym JYJ. Taemin had spent the years by Yunho's side whenever he had a chance, albeit rarely. And if he could describe his feeling for Yunho now, it would be like a burning fire.
Taemin climbed the stairs leading to the rooftop, knowing for sure the man he wanted to see would be there. They had just ended their SM Town concert, and for the first time after the lawsuit, Yunho had joined the after party, even only briefly.
Taemin wanted to believe that Yunho had healed. It was pretty obvious at the beginning that a big part of Yunho was broken. Anyone could read his empty eyes, his forced smile, his scarce interaction with others and his fake laughter. But anyone wouldn't know what Taemin knew, that Yunho was not only heartbroken due to the break-up of the group. The sad Yunho shouldn't make him happy, he wasn't happy for Yunho's sadness, no, but suddenly there was hope in his heart. He wanted the sad Yunho to be happy with him. He could be anything that Yunho wanted him to be, he could love Yunho as much as Yunho wanted to be loved, and he could promise never to leave his side.
"Yunhyungie!" Taemin greeted Yunho cheerfully as he walked to Yunho's side. Yunho was sitting against the wall at one corner of the rooftop. His hair was fluttering in the wind, his face showing no expression, almost empty, but he was looking damn fine in his black t-shirt and blue jeans. He was munching baby carrots that were placed in a white polystyrene cup. Yunho must have stopped smoking by the way he was occupying his mouth, and Taemin liked that about him. He liked that Yunho had total control of himself. He wouldn't drink or smoke if he needed to, with ease. "Hey Tae," Yunho smiled at him, a generous bright smile that could melt heart.
"When you stay here, it seems like you're waiting..." Taemin stopped his words, he absentmindedly had muttered what was in his head. In his head, he knew Yunho was thinking of someone. It was apparent. Even during the concert, he could see Yunho become lost in the sea of SME artists, not knowing to whom he should flock to. But Taemin's heart refused to agree with his head.
"Why are you here? You should join the after party," Yunho said, offering his carrots as Taemin sat in front of him. "You left," Taemin muttered, biting his lower lip, "I want to be where you are," he continued. Yunho should have caught his confession. He had hinted on his feelings so many times. On occasion, he thought that Yunho knew, he even hoped that Yunho's loving gestures and words towards him meant more than just a friendly act. He hoped those acts meant Yunho was returning his feelings.
"I can go back to the party if you want to be there longer," Yunho said, biting the orange vegetable. Taemin's heart skipped a beat. There. He hoped those words meant more. Maybe he should check if Yunho meant more. "Yunhyungie," Taemin faced the floor, "I like you."
"Hmm?" Yunho's expression didn't change, so Taemin tried again. "I like you hyung, I really really like you."
"I like you too," Yunho smiled.
"No," Taemin shook his head, looking straight into Yunho's eyes, he wanted his feelings to reach Yunho, "not like you, I love you... as in love, love you."
Yunho swallowed whatever in his mouth, Taemin could see the older man straightening his body against the wall, looking surprised.
"Why are you so surprised?" Taemin tried to joke, "I am not the first man that has ever confessed to you."
"You are," Yunho laughed, a little fake, "you're the first man that ever confessed to me." Taemin bit the inside of his mouth at Yunho's words. It meant that it was Yunho who confessed his love to Jaejoong. His stomach became sick with jealousy.
"Taemin, thank you." Yunho muttered, it sounded sad. It sounded negative. Taemin didn't like the sound of it. "Thank you?" Taemin felt lump in his throat, his eyes had started to water. Damn, talk about crying only in front of TVXQ, "that's it? But I have loved you since I was 15. I am 20 now and I can love you as much as..." he choked and cried.
"I'm sorry," Yunho moved closer to him and placed his hand on his head. That touch. That smooth voice and kind words, "Taemin, I don't think I'm ready to love right now. It would be unfair to you because my heart..."
"Your heart? What? Say it." Taemin wanted to scream. He was trembling, his heart was breaking. Again.
"My heart is the problem, I can't give you my heart."
The rejection was clear. Taemin nodded his head and muttered "I love you, Yunhyungie. You shouldn't be here five years ago when I cried." He pushed the hand on his head, leaving the rooftop.
Taemin pressed the bell with his index finger over and over again. His finger was almost numb when the door opened. "Tae?" Jaejoong stood in front of him in his pajama, and Taemin hated the fact that despite looking pale, Jaejoong remained beautiful.
"Let me in," Taemin didn't wait for response, walking inside towards the living room. His guess was right. Jaejoong lived here, at the apartment he had seen both of them, the leader and lead singer, went into. It was a coincidence, he was visiting a relative when he saw the two of them at the basement parking lot. It was before he knew they were together. After he found out about them, he came to a conclusion that this apartment must have been their love nest. "I want wine," Taemin muttered. He had been drinking before making a decision to meet Jaejoong, but it was not enough.
Jaejoong appeared puzzled but he walked away and returned minutes later, holding a bottle of wine, a mineral water, and a glass. Jaejoong poured the wine, passing it to him without a word. The older man grabbed the mineral water and sat at the other corner of the leather couch, looking at him. "It's 4 o'clock in the morning," Jaejoong muttered, his voice was shaky and quiet, like he was extremely tired. "And your phone hasn't stopped ringing."
Taemin took out his phone from his pocket, looking at Changmin's ID flashing at the screen. He set his phone into silent mode, placing it on the table. He had 34 missed calls. His teammates had contacted him nonstop too, but he would not answer any calls except from Yunho. Yunho seemed to be asking Changmin to do the deed, but he knew Yunho wasn't running away, he was being considerate. That's how kind Yunho was. How kind Yunho was in his eyes. Always perfect.
"I confessed to Yunho hyung," Taemin muttered, sipping his wine. "I said I love him since I was 15." Taemin fished for Jaejoong's reaction. He appeared a little surprised. Perhaps at the confession, not of his feelings. Jaejoong might have found out when Taemin was obsessing over Yunho. "He said thank you and smiled." Taemin shrugged his shoulders, signaling as if he didn't know what Yunho meant. Jaejoong stared straight into his eyes, his expression unreadable. Had he forgotten Yunho? If yes, Taemin could wait a few more years and confessed to Yunho again.
"Why can't I get over him?" Taemin realized his thoughts. Why was it even after the rejection he still couldn't give up?
Jaejoong stared at him at the question. Taemin was about to sigh at Jaejoong's silence when the older man muttered quietly, "Because it's him, a person like him, is someone you'd love for a lifetime, no matter how painful it is. It's a curse. No one would be able to get over him."
Taemin looked at Jaejoong's eyes, and he saw emotions that Jaejoong couldn't hide anymore after his words. Sadness. Affection. He still loved Yunho.
"When did you fall in love with him?" Taemin asked, Jaejoong didn't seem surprised that he knew.
"I don't know."
"He's not special to you then. I remembered vividly when I fell for him."
"I don't know," Jaejoong repeated, drinking the water in his hand, "was it when he danced, or when he was angry at me, was it during that first day we shook hands, or when he took care of me? I don't know, when would be too many to list."
Taemin stared at Jaejoong, hating what he heard. The phone on the table vibrated right on the moment Jaejoong stopped his words. Taemin glanced at the screen and saw Yunho's ID. He grabbed the phone instantly and answered the call. "Yunhyungie," he said the name while looking at Jaejoong's face. "Where am I? Take a wild guess," he saw Jaejoong look away from his face "no, wrong. I am at Jaejoong hyung's apartment." Taemin ended the call after revealing his location. He finished the wine in his glass and poured more into it.
"It's pathetic," Taemin lifted the glass to his lips, "that it has been five years and I'm still not over him." Taemin sipped his wine, putting the glass on the table after emptying it. He wiped his wet face with his t-shirt, cursing himself for being the crybaby of the year. Just hearing Yunho's voice, and he'd become a mess. When he looked at Jaejoong again with his red eyes, he saw two lines of tears across Jaejoong cheeks. The tears told him that Jaejoong understood the sadness of not being able to move on, to be stuck at the same place, loving the same person.
"I want to know one last thing," Taemin whispered, crying again seeing Jaejoong cry, "how did he confess to you?" He wanted the final blow to break his heart completely. To engrave deep within his soul that Yunho was not meant to be his. He knew Jaejoong knew he needed it as he answered without hesitation.
"We were 17, newly deported to Japan. I was about to give up at the pressure there, and he held my hand and said he knew one thing that could make me happy, one thing that would make me give up on the thoughts of giving up, that there's someone who loves me and was fighting the same battle as me. I didn't get what he meant until he kissed me."
The final blow was delivered. Direct to his heart. Taemin hoped it would erase all of Yunho's presence in it.
Taemin thanked Jaejoong for the wine when the bell rang. He got up from the couch and grabbed Jaejoong's hand, dragging the man together with him to the front door. When he opened the door, Changmin's face appeared. Just when Taemin was about to think that Yunho chickened out, he saw his face beside Changmin. Taemin pushed the door wide open, making sure Yunho and Jaejoong saw one another while he wore his shoes. They were both quiet.
"Follow me to the car hyung?" Taemin said, looking at Jaejoong. Jaejoong nodded, walking closer to the door and wearing his sandals.
"Stay." Yunho finally said, looking at Jaejoong. "Stay here, it's cold outside, you're having a fever." Taemin turned to look at Jaejoong at the words, sure enough the man was pale, and on closer look, he was shivering too. "Sorry Jaejoong hyung, I didn't know." Taemin felt guilty, he asked Jaejoong to stay and nodded his goodbye. Taemin walked past the door and pushed Yunho inside. "Maybe you should stay too." He muttered and closed the door.
Taemin walked past Changmin, listening if there was any sound of the door opening. If Yunho would come after him. He bit his lip at his dim-witted hope. He heard no sounds except for Changmin's voice.
"For someone who like Yunho hyung, you're making a mistake, a stupid mistake."
"Are you trying to say that if I waited and seduced him, he would fall for me? Would he even notice me like he noticed Jaejoong hyung is having a fever just by a glance?" Taemin asked, walking towards the elevator. Changmin didn't say anything. Seemed like he knew how undefeatable those two persons' love was.
"You know it's impossible. You know him better than anyone else." Taemin snorted, punching the descending arrow of the elevator. He could taste salty tears at the corner of his mouth when he muttered the words.
"Tae, if you want to be alone for a few minutes..."
"It's okay," Taemin sighed, if he cried in front of Yoochun later, he had completed the list of five members of TVXQ (and JYJ) who had witnessed him sobbing like a child. "Let me cry one last time because it hurts. It hurts knowing that I can never have his heart." The door to the square space in front of him opened, Taemin walked in and rested his head against the cold wall. He heard the sound of the door closing, bringing him farther away from Yunho. "I am pathetic, even more pathetic knowing that I could never win against Jaejoong hyung even when he's not there anymore. It frustrates me. I guess I love Yunhyungie too much. But I prefer to lose him like I always had in the past. Knowing he has someone he loves by his side."
This was the end. He was going to teach his heart to move on. It would be difficult, but trying to get his Yunhyungie to love him would be impossible. Just like how his heart was filled with Yunho, Yunho's heart was filled with Jaejoong. How could he be so blind not to notice Yunho's feeling before the kiss? If he noticed earlier, maybe he would not have his heart broken twice, at separate years.
He cried bitterly at the realization. He was going to cry until his tears ran dry. Then he would smile like he always had and move on. He would shout 'Yunhyungie' forever, but he would fall in love again with someone else. Taemin promised himself that as he felt Changmin pat his head, muttering "your heart is great Taemin, I'm proud of you." Back then, it was Junsu hyung who comforted him, now it was Changmin hyung.
But back then and now, his eyes still wept for the same man.
'Let it all out.' Taemin remembered Yunho's words to him at the rooftop, the moment when he fell in love. He chuckled to himself despite his tears at the memory.
For unrequited love and heartbreak, his heart had chosen the perfect person.
And for the last time, he would gladly swallow the saltiness of his tears for him.
A/n: The fic isn't continuous, but connected. It can be read as a one-shot.