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“Hey, Taeyong. You with us?”

Taeyong only jumps in his seat, previously distracted by the neon signage situated above the bar. It leaves crimson where its fluorescence could reach, blanketing people in a flush of rosiness to contrast the dim lighting surrounding them. A crowd is gathered within the open space, some attempting at conversation while others follow the rhythm of some poorly remixed song coursing between their bodies. There’s a barely restrained bout of hasty energy with the people present, chasing the high before the night wavers into another memory. 

“Yeah.” Taeyong replies, staring back at Yuta. “Just a little…overwhelmed.”

Yuta only shrugs in response, swiftly downing the drink in his hand and Taeyong inwardly sighs. He’s surprised to feel his shirt clinging onto his skin, the atmosphere too stuffy for a rooftop bar. Taeyong doesn’t really frequent places like these, but since he’s chosen to indulge his friends and their choice of going out he can’t really back out anymore. 

“…he’s so fucking useless he couldn’t even edit his part on the report we had to do.”

His friends laugh in unison just as Taeyong tunes back into the conversation properly. The uneasiness he’s been carrying upon setting foot in the bar hasn’t left him, but he tries his best not to dwell too much on the unfamiliar feeling nestled at the pit of his gut. He hopes his discomfort doesn’t tarnish the mask he chose to wear for the night. 

“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” comments Yuta, who pats Doyoung on the shoulder, “we’re always here to listen to you talk shit about your useless groupmates.” 

This makes Taeyong genuinely smile, already too familiar with Doyoung and his passionate rants about the people who make his life more difficult than it should be. The worst kind of people to be grouped with, honestly. 

Doyoung drowns the rest of his sorrows in two shots of tequila, his skin fabricating a gradient of scarlet spanning from his cheeks down to his neck. Yuta offers another shot, but Doyoung declines—instead, he immediately begins another torrent of complaints, his hands flailing around in accompaniment to his spiel. The alcohol is clearly taking effect on his friend and Taeyong downs his own drink to catch up.

“What about you guys?” Doyoung slurs after expelling all the pent up stress in his system. Poor boy needed it after everything he’s been through. “How’s the thesis coming along?”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Yuta answers immediately, “but I honestly just want to relive freshman year now. The bullshit I had back then is on like, baby level, compared to the bullshit now. What more when I go to Law School?”

“Get fucked.” Doyoung laughs and Taeyong almost reminds the younger of the fact that he’s aiming for Law too. Instead, he moves to take the shot gripped in his hand and drinks it for himself.

“Thesis making honestly sucks.” Taeyong admits before Doyoung could protest about the loss of his drink. “Makes me question why I pursued my major in the first place.”

“Cheers to that.” Yuta raises the cup in his hand and drinks half before passing the rest of it to Taeyong. “But I believe in you, my favorite artist! I’m so excited for the exhibit in a few months.”

“Wish I could say the same. I don’t even know where to begin with my proposal.”

“What are we talking about here?” Taeil suddenly returns to their table, a wide grin threatening to split his face in half. 

“How much thesis making sucks,” Yuta replies the same time Doyoung says, “The lack of basic human intelligence in some of my groupmates.”

“Ah, the woes of university life. Speaking of, I actually had to take Japanese as a course just to meet the required credits I have for this semester. Even grad school is a joke at this point.” There’s humor dancing in Taeil’s eyes when he says this, knowing a response would be elicited from his friend. 

Nani the fuck?” Yuta asks, indignant. “Why do you make it sound like a bad thing? Dude, I could get you top marks for that course—“

He’s interrupted by Ten, who arrives looking a little out of breath. Who wouldn’t, when the bar is situated at the top of a five-storey building and is only accessible through a flight of stairs.

But what catches Taeyong’s attention is the company his friend brought with him. 

Five strangers stand awkwardly by their table, gazes flitting around Taeyong’s group of friends. He manages to hold eye contact with the tallest one of them, following the once over given to him as it prickled against his skin.

Ten makes the necessary introductions as he pours himself a shot. “Right so, these are my friends from that one theatre student org I joined out of the blue.” He lets out a shrill yell when the alcohol seeps into his system and cheers, a few onlookers raising their drinks to him. 

"We came together because they were heading here anyways,” Ten continues, motioning for the others to sit on the vacant spaces, “so here we are now. One big happy group of pals drinking away a week’s worth of existential dread.”

They all laugh at Ten’s statement, settling down easily into the previously unoccupied space. The tall one who held Taeyong’s gaze sits beside him and smiles widely once he settles down.

“I’m Johnny,” he introduces himself, eyes not leaving Taeyong but clearly addressing everyone present. “I’m in the same major as Ten, focusing on film directing.”

“Another communications major!” Taeil exclaims with glee. “I don’t have to guess where all that charisma is from.”

Taeyong hesitantly smiles in return and breaks their trance, facing towards the boy with pink hair and strong features who’s smiling at Doyoung.

“I’m Jaehyun, from Legal Management. Though it’s not as interesting as my friends’ majors, I guess I have to say that out loud for everyone to stop picking me apart just to try and guess what I’m studying.”

Yuta shakes the outstretched hand Jaehyun gives and offers him his best smile, the one where Taeyong can see the shadow of his friend’s potential as a politician.

The rest of the introductions blur together, with a soft-spoken boy introducing himself as Jungwoo the Computer Science major and Sicheng with the sharp eyes, who’s in a premier business course but manages to sneak in a Theater Arts minor between the numbers. And then there was Kun, who Taeyong swears he’s seen somewhere in his own university’s campus and probably has, since he was always bumping into Education majors anyway.  

Taeyong refocuses his attention onto Johnny once everybody is properly settled with a drink in hand and conversation flowing seamlessly between all of them. He finds him handsome in the way most people wouldn’t notice easily, not like Jaehyun who could belong on the cover of a magazine, or like Ten whose features attracted people the way a painting would. 

Johnny’s presence commanded attention, not just as a feast for the eyes but as an invitation to throughly engage in his energy and bask in the warmth he seems to carry with him. He effortlessly puts people at ease with the honeyed lilt to his voice and the subtlest hint of a lisp which Taeyong finds charming. 

There’s no doubt that Johnny is Taeyong’s kind of attractive…until he pulls out his juul. 

Taeyong stares in thinly veiled dismay as Johnny brings the handheld evil to his mouth, his lips wrapping delicately around the narrow head. Johnny inhales generously and tips his head backward when he exhales, the smell of artificial vanilla making Taeyong’s head spin. He tries not to focus too much on how Johnny became infinitely hotter with the way he smokes, but more on the reality of him indulging in such a vice.

Everything else in the background melts into an indistinct dissonance and it’s made Taeyong stare longer than far necessary, making Johnny prompt him with a wide grin.

“Wanna try?” Johnny asks, holding out the stick to Taeyong with one hand and downing his drink using the other.

If Taeyong was being honest with himself, he would take up the offer and see what all the rage is about. But he’s not and he swallows down the temptation back into the pit of his gut where desire threatens to spill over his self resolve.

“No thanks,” he replies, pushing Johnny’s hand away. He’s not surprised to find his skin warm and his nerves thrum with the contact. 

“Ah.” Johnny’s smile shifts into something shy of embarrassed. As if sensing Taeyong’s discomfort, he taps Sicheng beside him and offers the stick to him. The younger accepts it with a smile and a nod of acknowledgement towards Taeyong, proceeding to wipe the head using the hem of his shirt before putting it in his mouth.

The smell of vanilla reaches Taeyong again and he finds himself breathing in the excess, teetering on the the edge of something close to craving. But he told himself he would never indulge in such things, so merely allows his mind to take in what was already in front of him: Johnny. 

“Sorry about that,” Johnny apologizes after a while, “didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay.” Taeyong smiles at him and sips the drink Ten passed to him. “I appreciate you being considerate enough not to smoke in front of me.”

A beat of silence makes its way between them, easily filled by the current song playing. Taeyong has been drinking more than usual, this much he knows. But he downs his current drink anyway, submerging himself into mindlessness provided by the alcohol. 

Taeyong has never been fluent in the art of initiating conversation, but luckily Johnny seems to be the opposite of him and has his voice thread through the surrounding noise.

“So, Taeyong, right?” A smile is fixed on Johnny’s face, illuminating his charm.

“That would be correct.” 

“You don’t seem like the type to frequent these kinds of places…I would know ‘cause I’m here almost every Friday.”

“Is that so?” There’s genuine surprise in Taeyong’s voice, slowly slipping from sobriety. He could almost feel the ground rippling beneath his feet. 

“Yeah.” Johnny responds and there’s a knowing glint in his eye that lets Taeyong know the other is aware of his descent into drunkenness. “And even if you did come here often I would also know. It’s kind hard not to remember someone as cute as you.”

Taeyong’s reaction is immediate and he chooses to blame the alcohol for the blossoming heat on his face. “Real funny. How often do you say that kind of thing to people?”

“Not often. It’s not really a normal thing for me to run into pretty people like you.”

“Alright. Ha-ha. Enough. What’s your major again?”

Johnny chuckles and Taeyong resists the urge to duck behind the giant potted plant on the other side of the bar. “Communications. With a focus on film directing.” 

“You want to become a film director?” Taeyong questions.

“I suppose. Maybe a photographer too. The opportunities are endless.”

“That’s nice.” It’s a genuine statement and Taeyong finds a sliver of envy as the moment passes. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do after his days in university are over, but he’s happy for those who already have an idea of where to go once they graduate. He can only hope for some direction in his life, even if the destination is nowhere in sight. 

“What about you? You look like you do music.” Johnny raises an eyebrow at him and Taeyong’s mouth hangs open at the assumption.

“I almost did music!” Taeyong exclaims, lightly hitting Johnny on the shoulder. “Applied for the conservatory, but didn’t really pass the talent test since it was focused mainly on classical training and stuff. So I went to my second option.”

“Which is…?”

“Painting.” Taeyong’s voice carries his answer with pride, as he always does when talking about the thing he loves most. “Fine arts, but focused on painting, so.” 

“Fine arts? That’s so cool!” Johnny puts his hands to his mouth, eyes alight. “But I would have thought your focus would be sculpture.”

Taeyong stares back in confusion. “Why would you ever think that?”

“‘Cause you like look a sculpture yourself. Y’know, being one with your art and all that stuff fake deep artists like to say nowadays.”

Heat surges through Taeyong’s cheeks again and he wills himself not to think about it too much, since Johnny seemed to be the friendly flirt kind of guy anyway. Then again, flattery is always hard to ignore, especially from people Taeyong found attractive in every sense of the word. 

Taeyong opts to scrunch his nose in response and Johnny laughs. Any intention of drinking more is thrown out of consideration, not when Taeyong is already getting drunk on Johnny alone. Johnny is intoxicating, drawing Taeyong into a haze where it feels like it was only the two of them present. 

The two of them end up talking about the most menial things like people from school and their favorite food, until they reach out the bubble of meant for small talk and probe into idiosyncrasy. They exchange opinions on the state of the arts at present and what it means to be an artist with purpose. Taeyong’s heart absolutely soars with every subject he shares in agreement with Johnny. It is refreshing to say the least, to find someone who shares his views and still have things to teach him.

Time passes by the two of them in quiet passage, letting the night continue in conversation and getting to know one another. The initial discomfort blanketing Taeyong leaves him easily while he soaks up Johnny’s presence and he doesn’t notice hours have passed until Jaehyun and Sicheng start getting up from their seats and call for Johnny. 

He unlocks his phone and reads the time, surprised to see it’s already past one in the morning.

“Aw, damn.” Johnny curses and looks towards his two friends, then returns his gaze back to Taeyong. “I forgot we’re going to be in uni tomorrow for this film thing.”

“With Sicheng and Jaehyun?” Taeyong asks, disguising his disappointment with Johnny’s leaving. “Aren’t they both in business school?”

“They are,” Johnny grins at Taeyong, amusement painted all over his face, “but Jaehyun’s in the same student org as I am which involves film and theatre. Sicheng’s carpooling since he lives in the same area as Jaehyun anyway.”

Taeyong nods and tries not to dwell on Johnny’s absence as the other one gets up to leave when Jaehyun says his driver’s already there. He hasn’t even left the bar and Taeyong can already feel the empty space Johnny left behind.

“It was nice meeting you, Taeyong!” Johnny calls out as he leaves the table and waves to the others. “I’ll see you around!” 

A half-hearted wave is returned to him and Taeyong finds himself smiling. There might be no guarantee of ever seeing Johnny around the area again, but the pleasure of meeting him is enough to warm his heart and get his blood rushing to his face. 

 

Taeyong and his friends leave after Jungwoo and Kun bid them farewell, with the former still cracking up jokes and silly facial expressions that have them clutching their stomachs in laughter. It was a good night, Taeyong concludes when they walk into the nearby McDonald’s for some post-drinking food. His friends seemed to enjoy themselves as well, recounting hilarious moments they shared with their new friends as they gorge on greasy food to expel the alcohol from their system. He didn’t mind that Johnny had to leave early, he tells himself as he eats his Oreo McFlurry and Taeyong definitely wasn’t thinking about how charming Johnny was. 

When he manages to bring himself home in one piece, Taeyong showers and carefully washes off any physical remnants of his night out. He changes into his sleeping clothes, tucks himself into bed, and looks at his phone one last time. He’s greeted by a multitude of messages from his friends’ groupchat, filled with gratitude for the night they shared together. Taeyong reminds them to message the chat when they make it home safely and only rolls his eyes when Yuta teases him. 

Weeb Lord [02:45]: alright, mom! sleep well and dream of johnny !!

Filled with good spirits and just enough exhaustion to knock him into peaceful slumber, Taeyong is busy fluffing up his pillows when another notification pops on his phone. Expecting a message from his friends, Taeyong holds his breath when he’s greeted by another familiar name lighting up his screen.

He laughs in the darkness and smiles so wide he thinks his face might permanently stay that way. Taeyong ends his night with his heart racing in excitement as he accepts a Facebook friend request from a certain Johnny Suh.  

 

 

 

 

Taeyong prides himself on the fact that he’s not one to crush on someone so easily. Liking someone for a prolonged period of time as a university senior wasn’t appealing to him at all. Not when he was already so preoccupied with focusing on important matters, like trying not to wallow in self-pity and remembering the existence of his social life from time to time. His thesis is already in the planning stages after his topic had been approved by his thesis adviser with a wide grin and compliments delivered to Taeyong’s ears. There was simply no room for a crush at this point of Taeyong’s life.

What use is a crush on a person, besides the mind being plagued by thoughts of persistent infatuation putting them in ideal situations which would otherwise be impractical when applied in real life? 

But ever since accepting Johnny’s friend request, Taeyong’s been living a life of hypocrisy. 

Over the weeks which have muddled into daily routines and greying affairs, the thoughts of Johnny stayed with him as his constant. When he submitted the working title and concept for his thesis, he thought of Johnny and whether he would be interested in what Taeyong was about to paint. When he was walking down the row of trees inside campus one time after class, Taeyong had imagined himself walking alongside Johnny in the pewter overcast, enjoying his company once again. Taeyong hates to admit it, but he misses the other’s presence.

On the rare occasion where their schedules align better than their luck and they can share a meal out together, Taeyong gingerly admits to his friends of his current state of being lost somewhere in between being more than acquaintances, but less than friends with Johnny.

“No way,” says Doyoung, eyes wide in surprise, “did he like, follow you first? He did add you on Facebook first right?”

“Who even uses Facebook nowadays?” Yuta asks, stealing a piece of siu mai Doyoung ordered. “I swear the government watches your every move while you’re on there. Way too creepy.”

“Maybe if you stopped searching for questionable paraphernalia you wouldn’t feel like you’re being watched every second you spend on the internet,” Taeil quips. 

“Anyway.” Ten reverts their attention back to Taeyong. “Are you and Johnny talking and stuff?”

“Not really,” Taeyong laments, “he does view my Stories and once liked my Tweet, though.”

“I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a prime example of modern-day romance.” Ten grins up at him and clasps his hands together, his face lit with too much enthusiasm. 

“Does this mean you’re crushing on Johnny now?” Taeil questions, voice muffled by the dumpling  in his mouth. “I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

“What? No way.” Taeyong ducks his head and focuses on dismantling the har gow in front of him. He doesn’t really have a definite answer, so settling with denial is where his instinct brings him.

“Every time you deny having a crush it only becomes worse for you.” Doyoung comments, frowning at Taeyong.

“Says the disaster gay.” Yuta counters and moves away from Doyoung instantly, holding his chopsticks up in protection. “Stop that! You’re mad ‘cause I’m right. Not my fault!” 

Taeyong only sighs and shoves more food into his mouth as the two of them continue to bicker, exchanging creative insults and building enough chaos that Taeil has to intervene for the other people in the restaurant to stop staring at them.

The two quiet down eventually and his friends talk amongst themselves while Taeyong retreats to his own thoughts, wonders if he really does hold a crush on Johnny. Does he admire Johnny? Yes. Does he find Johnny attractive? Definitely. But does he know Johnny, what kind of person he is besides the version of himself that Taeyong met all those weeks ago? Not really. 

His doubts are stilled when Ten pulls him out of his reverie, drawing him back into the conversation. 

“Huh? What, sorry?” Taeyong asks, blinking at Ten who rolls his eyes in return.

“I was talking about this exhibit we’re having in two weeks for our student org. It’s mainly to showcase artworks, but since there’s an entrance fee and other payable stuff it’s partly a fundraiser too for some NGOs the org supports.”

“Of course I’ll go, Ten.” Taeyong smiles at Ten, honored by his invite. 

Ten smirks in return. “Glad to hear it. I thought I had to pull the Johnny card to convince you to go.”

Their friends laugh while Taeyong stares at him, indignant. “What does Johnny have to do with this? And I told you, I’m not crushing on him!”

“He’s part of the org too, you know. Not only are some of his shots included in the exhibit, which means he’s there during the exhibit day, but he did the promotional video too.”

“Handsome and talented. Are you sure you’re not crushing, Taeyong? He really does seem like your type.” Yuta teases and Taeyong’s face heats up. His cheeks blossom with apples, Yuta reaching out to squish Taeyong’s face between his hands. “Aww, you’re blushing. You do have a crush.”

The rest of their meal goes by peacefully, but not without Johnny’s name being lodged within conversation and with proper emphasis to catch Taeyong’s attention. He merely scowls in return and tries to pacify another onslaught of thought focusing on Johnny and how the exhibit day would turn out when they see each other again. 

Taeyong is aware he shouldn’t embrace any expectations he has upon being in Johnny’s presence again, but he does hope for the best. 

 

 

 

 

Limp Noodle [15:37]: Where are you guys?

FROOT Anti [15:37]: same question lol

FROOT Anti [15:37]: i don’t wanna be stuck with doyoung anymore

Limp Noodle [15:38]: Bitch, I’m leaving you.

FROOT Anti [15:38]: I’M KIDDING

Weeb Lord [15:38]: lmaooo i’m only going to see you guys fight

Halfway to 50 [15:38]: plz don’t

Halfway to 50 [15:39]: we’re supposed to be adults here

 

Taeyong finds himself smiling when he checks the messages blowing up his phone. The days leading up to the exhibition left him in a nervous bundle, agitation wrapped around him like a second skin he couldn’t shake off. Objectively, Taeyong knows he has nothing to worry about. Nothing is expected of him, his presence isn’t even mandatory. But it still gnawed at his thoughts, leaving him on edge when he least expects it.

When he enters the exhibit doors, all his worries fade away into the ether, along with a fraction of his confidence. Taeyong is greeted by rows of different photos plastered against the temporary walls installed in the middle of the wide space. It reminds him of a kaleidoscope, how each turn around the exhibit would lead him to another array of colors weaving themselves in a deliberate dissonance. The atmosphere creates its own harmony within the desired chaos, bringing the subjects of the varying photographs into lucid clarity. 

 

Mother Goose [15:41]: heyyy i’m here by the entrance

Mother Goose [15:41]: everything looks so good i’m overwhelmed!

Weeb Lord [15:42]: i’m omw already ^___^

Halfway to 50 [15:42]: u said tht 30 mins ago

Halfway to 50 [15:42]: u just got out of the shower haven’t u

FROOT Anti [15:42]: dons and i are at the left side, near the video being shown 

Weeb Lord [15:43]: I’LL BE THERE I SWEAR 

Limp Noodle [15:43]: Didn’t Yuta say he was going to be the first one of us to be here?

Weeb Lord [15:44]: doyoung jsut shut upp !!! i’m tryign

 

The short walk going towards his friends makes Taeyong almost lose himself in the photos he passed by. As a traditional artist, he’s used to seeing techniques practiced to perfection using manual prowess through the working coordination of the mind and the muscle. 

Taeyong does not find modern art forms flawed and something of a mockery, as a lot of traditional artists see it. He only sees a new perspective, a brand new window to an artist’s soul that cannot be properly represented by the techniques he’s learned over the years. And he appreciates it. Consumes it with renewed enthusiasm and absorbs all the new insight he gains with every photo he passes, each telling a different story going beyond the wooden frames containing it. 

Upon reaching his friends, Taeyong immediately finds a small crowd gathered around Ten and the few photos he has framed up against the walls. The soft lilt of Ten’s voice carries the story behind the focus of his photos and Taeyong doesn’t need to make his way through the throng of bodies to know his friend has done a spectacular job. He always did like Ten’s work, always focused on being candid, but dancing around the edges of something more delicate that it waltzes into an open intimacy. 

He sees Doyoung standing by the edge of the small crowd and walks up to him instead.

“Hey,” Taeyong greets and is met with a smile, “didn’t expect this kind of attention gathered here.”

“Me neither.” Doyoung rolls his eyes, hinting at Ten’s messages from earlier. “But I’m happy to be here. Ten looks so legit, even in that ugly hipster shit outfit he’s wearing.”

“Give him some credit.” Taeyong coughs into his fist to hide the laugh that almost spilled out of him. “At least he didn’t wear the suit that made him look like a clown.”

“I wouldn’t notice. Everything he wears is basically a clown suit to me.”

The two of them try to contain their giggles, Taeil staring at them in confusion from his place near Ten. Releasing a long exhale, Taeyong stills his shoulders and shakes off the amusement still ringing in his ears. Instead, he looks towards the other surrounding photos around him and is surprised to see someone familiar.

Taeyong didn’t say it out loud, but the work of art he’s been waiting to see again is right in front of him and he has to stifle the excitement bubbling at his throat. His enthusiasm must be travelling in waves because Doyoung looks at Taeyong with questioning eyes and casts his gaze in the direction of where his friend is staring. With eyes widening in surprise, Doyoung only sticks his tongue out at Taeyong as he pushes him towards Johnny. 

Managing not to topple over and make a fool out of himself, Taeyong clears his throat when he approaches Johnny and smiles up at him.

“Oh!” Johnny exclaims, voice louder than what is considered appropriate. He grimaces and bows his head in apology to the people staring at them in judgement. “I didn’t expect to see you here, Taeyong.”

“Well, Ten invited me and the rest of our friends and I figured it would be fun to contribute to something like this.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Johnny grins and Taeyong thinks all is right with the world. “You know, when I got here today I really didn’t expect an addition to the exhibit, and yet here you are.”

Taeyong almost chokes when he inhales, his lungs seemingly forgetting the rhythm of his own breathing as his mind practically runs into overdrive. He should really start getting used to Johnny’s flirting or he wouldn’t survive until his own graduation in a few months. 

“You’re not so bad yourself.” Taeyong retorts, stepping away only to halt when Johnny catches him by the elbow.

“Where are you going?” 

“I don’t know, really. See the rest of the exhibit?” There’s a slight tremor accompanying his words and Taeyong hopes it doesn’t resonate to Johnny’s ears. 

“Walk with me then.” It wasn’t a question. Johnny closes the small distance between them to stand by Taeyong and loop his arm around his. 

Noticing their height difference, Taeyong can’t help but appear smaller next to Johnny. He tries not to revel in the warmth transferring itself from where their shoulders almost meet, but it’s difficult not to when all he can think about is the satisfaction of getting to be engulfed in Johnny’s warmth. Taeyong tries not to let his mind wander too much. 

They find themselves manoeuvring the labyrinth of photos with ease, observing each one carefully and unfurling a discussion for their own personal interpretations. Similar to the night when they met, Johnny and Taeyong share a lot of opinions with each other and still find common ground with where they contrast. Taeyong thinks Johnny completes his thoughts in many ways, filling up where he lacks and nurturing what he already has. 

When they turn around a corner, one of Johnny’s schoolmates greets the two of them, a freshman named Donghyuck who winks at Johnny and asks, “Hyung, why you didn’t tell me you have a boyfriend now?”

“That’s ‘cause I don’t, you little shit.” Johnny remarks, momentarily breaking their interlocked arms to chase the younger boy. Taeyong sighs with endearment, finding it adorable how Johnny clutches onto Donghyuck and puts him in a headlock. 

When the two boys are approached by Taeyong, Johnny brings Donghyuck forward with mussed hair and the beginnings of a scowl making its way onto his face. 

“Do you have something to say to Taeyong, Hyuck?” Johnny asks, hands stilling Donghyuck in his place.

“Ah, hyung, really! It was a joke. Even he gets it.”

“Hyuck.”

“Ugh, fine.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes and contorts his face to show a beaming smile so quick it almost makes Taeyong fear the younger boy. “I’m sorry I assumed you were dating Johnny hyung. But at the same time I’m not really sorry because you two look really good together and you never know you might really end up being hyung’s boyf—“

“Alright, that’s enough. Bye, Donghyuck! See you never!” Johnny ruffles the younger boy’s hair before sending him off, Donghyuck scrunching his nose in distaste before walking away. 

Johnny laughs, embarrassed. “Sorry about him. He’s usually like that with everyone.”

“And here I thought you were the funny one. I guess that recognition belongs to Donghyuck.”

“I am funny!” Johnny complains, interlocking arms with Taeyong once again. “Okay, maybe not as funny as Donghyuck, but he likes teasing people for fun. Little devil.”

Taeyong laughs candidly, making Johnny smile. 

 

Time passes the two of them in quiet passage once again, Taeyong only realizing his friends have already left when he checks the messages he ignored while his attention was monopolized by Johnny. 

 

Halfway to 50 [18:20]: so like

Halfway to 50 [18:20]: who’s gonna collect taeyong frm johnny 

Halfway to 50 [18:20]: im not it btw

Weeb Lord [18:21]: not me either 

Limp Noodle [18:21]: We can leave him as he is. He’s clearly enjoying his time with Johnny. 

FROOT Anti [18:21]: for once doyoung said something that makes sense

Limp Noodle [18:22]: Excuse me?

Halfway to 50 [18:23]: anyway taeyong when u read this later !!!

Halfway to 50 [18:23]:  we all left together to eat at ten’s house nd ur welcome 2 join

Weeb Lord [18:24]: no he’s not!!!!!! he has to stay with johnny!!!!!!!!!

Weeb Lord [18:24]: how else will he get himself a ~*boyfriend*~

FROOT Anti [18:25]: use protection lol 

 

Realizing it’s been an hour since his friends left him to his own devices, Taeyong starts to think about how he’s going to get home when Johnny speaks up.

“It’s not that late, but it is dark out already, uh.” Johnny pauses and Taeyong sees him visibly swallow back what he was going to say next. 

“Uh?” Taeyong asks, urging Johnny to continue with a smile.

“Uh, I could drive you home if that’s alright with you. I’m not actually the one driving, my driver’s going to pick me up and I swear I’m not bragging, um, what do you say?”

“Yes?” Taeyong utters, not quite sure how to respond.

“Okay, great!” Johnny remarks, tension visibly leaving his shoulders. “But can we, like, stop by to eat somewhere first? My treat.”

“We don’t really have to,” Taeyong notes, eyes blinking at Johnny in confusion, “unless you’re hungry?”

“Yeah, I am. I haven’t eaten all day.”

Taeyong’s maternal instincts kick in immediately. “Johnny!”

“I’m sorry! I was busy with stuff and then you came and I wanted to spend time with you and didn’t want to leave you alone while you’re here and whoa, look at that my driver’s here. Let’s go!” 

Before Taeyong could protest, Johnny wraps his arm around Taeyong’s shoulders, any thought of scolding dissipating into a distant echo at the back of his mind. The feeling of being pressed against Johnny is short-lived, the two of them walking a short distance before Taeyong is released from Johnny’s hold on him.

“After you.” Johnny says, bowing with exaggeration as he opens the car door to let Taeyong in. Taeyong pats him gently on the head before entering the car, Johnny’s cologne taking over his senses once he closes the door. 

 

The meal they share together is spent arguing on whether Phở broth is tarnished when Hoisin sauce and Sriracha are thrown into the soup. Johnny disagrees, saying the addition of the sauces enriches the flavor and adds depth to the clear broth. Meanwhile Taeyong tries to convince him a good broth doesn’t need any other flavor, which makes Johnny laugh because he says Taeyong looks like an angry kitten while trying to argue.

They have a great time nonetheless, Taeyong noting how Johnny orders a Bánh mì to take with him. Initially confused, Taeyong breathes a sigh of approval when Johnny hands it to his driver before he enters the car. It’s the bare minimum, but it’s rare to find people of his standing go the extra mile to be kind to those that work for them.

The car ride going to Taeyong’s house is quiet, the playlist curated by Johnny the only thing occupying the silence surrounding them. Taeyong doesn’t know how to feel about Johnny, but he does know being around him puts him at peace. Unless he’s flirting, but Taeyong could only take so much with his easy to fluster nature. 

There is certainly an attraction towards Johnny, but Taeyong is still in the process of figuring out whether it’s more than a feeling—of infatuation and a lasting first impression. It may be a genuine crush too, Taeyong won’t deny himself that. But he doesn’t dwell too much on the latter, opting to push it at the back of his mind and pulling forward the focus he needs to graduate university first. 

Before long, Taeyong sees the familiar chipping paint off the gate leading up to his home through the tinted car window. To no surprise, his mother is standing by the entryway, tapping her foot impatiently. 

“Taeyong!” She immediately remarks upon Taeyong stepping foot outside the car. “Do you know what time it is, young man? I know you’re old enough to make your own decisions but you’re supposed to be mature enough to consider how worried I was!”

Taeyong sighs as he walks up to her, trying to force back a smile. “Yeah, mom. Sorry, mom.”

“I was starting to think of the worst, honestly, Taeyong—oh, hello.”

Johnny walks up to them and puts a halt to the incessant nagging, Taeyong failing to introduce them first.

“Mom, this is Johnny. Johnny, this is my mom.” Taeyong steps aside to let Johnny shake her hand and Taeyong’s mom looks at her son, eyebrows raised. 

“It’s nice to meet you, auntie. Sorry we got back so late, I kept Taeyong too busy as it seems and we may have lost track of time.” Johnny smiles warmly and Taeyong could practically see the charm being casted on his mom. 

“That’s perfectly fine, Johnny. I’m very happy Taeyong got to spend time with you and you even brought him home! What a kind young man.”

“Ah, it’s really nothing, auntie. But I must say, I can now see where Taeyong gets his good looks from.” 

Taeyong stifles a laugh, lightly slapping Johnny’s shoulder. “Alright, good night. Thanks for bringing me home, Johnny!”

Avoiding any further commentary from his mother regarding Johnny, Taeyong pushes him back into the waiting car, promptly closing the door once he was already inside. They drive away shortly and Taeyong waits until the vehicle is out of his sight before turning back to his mom.

“So, where’d you meet him?”

“Mom!”

She flicks Taeyong’s ear, making him pout. “He’s a nice boy, rich too, I presume? Are you friends with him? Is he nice to your friends? Don’t let him distract you too much from your thesis work, Taeyong.”

“Mom, seriously it’s fine,” Taeyong replies, wrapping his arms around her in a hug, “he’s really nice, smart in his own way, and definitely not a distraction. Way out of my league, too.”

Gentle fingers make their way through Taeyong’s hair, a memorized feeling of comfort and everything familiar. “Oh, so you like him?”

“Mom! Ah, really. I have no time for crushes like you said, no distractions!”

“If you say so, my darling.” 

Taeyong walks his mom to her room, easing her of worries and into the peaceful sleep she deserves. He takes a deep breath before he walks towards their small kitchen to drink some water before he washes up and changes into his sleeping clothes.

He sits himself on their dining table, reclining back into his seat and throwing his head back. The quiet of the night blankets him, making his limbs feel heavy and his ears ringing, trying to catch any ripple in the air. Taeyong smiles as he thinks back on his day and wills his heart to follow the stillness of his surroundings.

It proves to be unsuccessful, his heart racing once again when he hears his phone notify him of two new messages. 

 

Johnny Suh [21:18]: thanks for today and for letting me treat you to dinner 

Johnny Suh [21:18]: can i take you out for lunch next time?

 

 

 

 

The weeks following Taeyong’s date with Johnny (as Ten puts it) sees him under constant stress, hands numb with holding paintbrushes for too long stretching them out is almost painful. Taeyong’s painting is undergoing good progress, from a mere abstract idea to an outline of carefully patterned smoke drifting on a canvas. He’s only started coloring in the silhouettes, but Taeyong is already proud of himself for all he’s done so far. 

It isn’t so bad either, having Johnny talk to about how his days go. Taeyong falls into a routine of conversation with Johnny almost everyday, the two of them talking about the most menial things. The intimacy of it all makes Taeyong’s heart never cease to slow down when a new message comes from Johnny, even if it’s only a meme he wanted to share or a video with absolutely no context that it actually turns out funny. 

Once, the two of them even bumped into each other during finals week, Taeyong dropping his highlighter in surprise when he saw Johnny from where he sat inside the coffee shop. Chivalrous as he is, Johnny immediately came to his aid and picked it up, along with the Taeyong’s lingering doubts about Johnny. They stayed studying quietly, the amber glare of the lights above them a witness to their time spent together. 

When they both went their separate ways, Taeyong was immediately bombarded with questions in the groupchat he shares with his friends. His heartbeat almost doubled its tempo as he read through the screenshots and messages, his mouth barely containing the yell he wanted to give out. There he was, looking unimpressive with hair mussed and his head hung low rewriting his notes, immortalized by the photo Johnny posted of him on his Instagram story.

Taeyong tried his best to deny all claims of them dating, even with Doyoung insisting that he’s not being convincing and how he really shouldn’t lie to his friends. Which is why Taeyong has been plagued with the thought of where Johnny is in his life.

Does he like the idea of Johnny being well-off, handsome, charismatic, and far too good to be true? Or does he like Johnny for how he seems to be one of the best people Taeyong has had the privilege of meeting, even if he sends him weird Naruto memes at three in the morning? Taeyong really has to sort things out. 

The one thing Taeyong seems to be sure of is how he enjoys being in Johnny’s presence, thoroughly enjoys listening to him talk hours on end, and thinks interacting with him in any way is always the best part of his day. He just doesn’t really want to call it a crush yet. 

Johnny makes it difficult for Taeyong to keep his denial, always teetering into the vacant space where acknowledge of his feelings for Johnny is waiting to be filled out. Especially when they’re talking.

 

Taeyong [10:53]: it’s not a good morning

Taeyong [10:53]: i want western food, which is nowhere in sight

Johnny [10:53]:  you had me worried there for a sec

Johnny [10:54]: luckily, i’m here lmao

Taeyong [10:54]: ?????? johnny what do you mean

Johnny [10:54]: i can cook too you know :/ 

Johnny [10:54]: western food to be exact

Taeyong [10:55]: and here i thought you weren’t funny at all

Johnny [10:55]: i’m going to ignore that

Johnny [10:56]: consider this a formal invitation for you to come over for lunch!

Taeyong [10:56]: johnny you can’t be serious

Taeyong [10:56]: johnny 

Taeyong [10:56]: seriously??????

Taeyong [10:57]: ugh, fine i’ll be there 

 

Taeyong looks up to see the entirety of Johnny’s home, blinking furiously when the sunlight blinds him. The house itself isn’t as big as he initially thought, but its size still hints at the social standing of the people who reside in it. Sharp angles decorate the exterior of the house, with tall windows and the right balance of minimalist colors contributing to its effortless elegance.

Pressing on the doorbell once, Taeyong is let inside by a kind woman who introduces herself as one of the housemaids working for the family. They don’t talk for long, Taeyong immediately directed to the kitchen where Johnny stands by the stove. 

The taller boy is still dressed in his pyjamas, a matching pinstripe set with teddy bears scattered across the fabric. Taeyong smiles involuntarily, his mind already stuck in a loop where the only thing he can think of is cute. 

He clears his throat and Johnny turns to him, spatula in hand. Johnny waves to him in greeting and points his spatula to one of the stools situated by the kitchen island. Taeyong follows, settling down and leaning forward to rest his arms in front of him.

“Is this hygienic?” Taeyong asks, scrunching up his nose when Johnny stares at him, mouth hanging. “I mean, you’re still in your sleeping clothes and your hair doesn’t look like you even brushed it.”

“I didn’t.” Johnny remarks, reaching out to tame the mess of his hair. “But what does that have to do with hygiene? I thought people found this attractive?”

“Which part, the messy hair or the fact that you clearly haven’t showered yet even though it’s already past noon?” 

“Hey!” Johnny only giggles, turning back towards the stove to flip whatever he was cooking. “I’ll shower when I’m done and before we eat. Happy?”

Taeyong pushes his torso upwards, trying to look past Johnny’s broad shoulders and get a glimpse of the pan in front of him. “Only if you tell me what you’re making.”

“Crab cakes. The Western kind? I dunno, but I had these before when I visited America and learned how to make them myself.” Johnny turns around again, carrying the pan with him and Taeyong reaches for the plate nearest to him, setting it between them.

“That looks good.” Taeyong comments and Johnny smiles as he carefully places each delicate patty on top of each other on the porcelain.

“Thanks. It’s not what we’re all having for lunch, though,” Johnny returns the pot on the stove and places his hands on the counter to stare at Taeyong, “my mom left some of her special diet salad and I think some kimchi can compensate for the bland disappointment of a salad without dressing.”

“Can’t wait.” Taeyong smiles up at Johnny and raises his chin towards the direction of the staircase. “Now go shower already! I’ll be here.”

Johnny doesn’t take long and before Taeyong can click on another cat video to watch, he smells the crisp undertone of freshly laundered clothes and sees Johnny sit himself down beside him on the dining table. A camera is in his hands and Taeyong tilts his head, questioning. 

“I have a confession to make,” Johnny says, picking up the pair of thongs and places a crab cake onto Taeyong’s plate, “while I did invite you over to cook for you, I also wanted your opinion on this thing I wanna try.”

Picking up his fork, Taeyong gently cuts through the crab cake. “What thing? This is really, really good, by the way.”

Johnny grins, biting into his food. “What I wanted to try,” he swallows and focuses his attention on Taeyong, “is this new technique I’ve been meaning to explore specifically in like, shooting food stuff. Think of cooking shows and Buzzfeed’s Tasty. It’s part of my thesis and since your opinion matters highly to me, I wanted you to see how it goes.”

“I’m flattered and all,” Taeyong frowns in confusion, “but why…me? I don’t know all the technicalities behind all this stuff. I’m a traditional artist, Johnny.”

“Exactly.” Johnny answers, getting back to his food. Taeyong does the same, hesitation pressing at his movements.

They finish off the rest of their meal in silence, Johnny proving himself correct when the bland salad they had became tolerable (and edible) when kimchi managed to build the lacking flavor. Johnny abruptly stands up and beckons Taeyong to follow him.

The kitchen is the same as they left it and Taeyong gestures with his hands in confusion. “So…how can I help?”

“You,” Johnny points, tugging Taeyong forward by his hand, “will recreate what we just ate while I film it.”

Facing the counter where all the ingredients were already laid out, Johnny busies himself with arranging his equipment and placing certain elements across the marble countertop. It looked like a mess to Taeyong, but he doesn’t have the same perspective of someone who looks through the lens of a camera, so he stays quiet. 

“What we’re going to do is I’ll be dictating what you’ll be pouring and stuff. You really just have to follow what I’m saying and leave the rest up to me.”

Taeyong finds it easy enough to carry out, save for the proximity of Johnny looming behind him. The warmth emitting from his body is difficult to ignore, but Taeyong prides himself on his sense of self-control. He can only hope it still applies when it comes to Johnny.  

“Hey, Johnny—oh wait, sorry.” Taeyong apologizes, pursing his lips. Johnny only smiles at him, having moved to the right side of the countertop to film at a different angle. “I thought we weren’t allowed to talk, the silence was getting unbearable.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” Johnny reassures, “I’m putting background music and it’s not an ASMR video, so talk all you want. I missed the sound of your voice anyway.” 

Taeyong almost drops the whisk in his hands. “Ha-ha. Right.”

Suddenly he feels something dripping onto his skin and sees Johnny with a shit eating grin. “Hey! What was that?!”

“Some slime from the egg that got left in the bowl we used. You won’t get salmonella it’s—“

Johnny doesn’t get to finish, mouth catching some of the panko crumbs Taeyong throws at him. It leaves Taeyong in a fit of laughter, the kitchen spacious enough for his amusement to bounce off the walls and close in on them.

“I’ll get you for that later,” Johnny warns, voice carrying no real threat. Taeyong only sticks his tongue out.

Instructed to slowly knead through the mixed crab meat and vegetables, Taeyong does as he’s told and decides to start talking, not wanting to suffocate on another bout of silence.

“Have you always wanted to do film?” Taeyong asks, eyes cast downward on the squelching meat his hands found a weird sense of satisfaction in holding.

“Not really,” Johnny admits, slightly pouting, “I was always interested in photography and almost went to study Design, but I figured Communications had a wider reach and more options for me to explore while studying and after I graduate.”

Taeyong spares a glance at where Johnny is situated across from him and wishes he hadn’t. Johnny is…attractive when concentrated on something, simply put. His whole expression contorts into something more serious, the good-humored glint in his eye nowhere in sight. In its place is hawk-like focus, the planes of Johnny’s face following suit to manifest the sharp angles of his face when he’s not smiling. If Taeyong didn’t know Johnny and came to him while he’s sporting his look of concentration, he would’ve been intimidated. 

“What about you? Did you always know you wanted to go into Fine Arts?” Johnny asks, momentarily breaking focus to give Taeyong a small smile.

“I mean I guess,” Taeyong mumbles, removing his hand from the bowl after Johnny gestures to him, “there aren’t a lot of options for people who are more inclined with traditional art styles and I didn’t want to be an architect, so I went to fine arts.”

“Did you have that talk with your parents?” Taeyong knows exactly what Johnny means.

“My dad was so against me taking up art,” Taeyong chuckles, but it sounds hollow, “gave me the whole, ‘There’s no money in that!’ speech. My older sister and mom supported me though and I’m really thankful they did.”

“I’m thankful they did too.” Johnny comes up to Taeyong, putting his hand over his. 

“Did you have that talk?” Taeyong repeats, retracting back his hands. 

“Unfortunately. Both my parents were against it; my dad wanted me to study something like what Jaehyun and Sicheng are studying ‘cause of family business and tradition and blah.”

Johnny sighs, putting down his camera. “I would have gone to study it too, because I actually do respect my family’s legacy. But I didn’t get into university with that major and instead got in with my second choice.”

“Communications?”

“The one and only. So I thought, ‘Hey, maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.’ and I really think this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Johnny moves to the other side of the countertop again and Taeyong begins shaping the patties in between his palms. “Do you regret it sometimes? Not pursuing what your parents wanted for you?”

“Yeah.” Remorse dyes his words, coloring it with his honesty. “In a way, I felt it was my duty as their only child to follow what they wanted for me. I try not to dwell on it too much, but it’s difficult not to when you’ve been raised with the idea of fulfilling what’s expected of you when you reach a certain age, otherwise you’re pretty much useless.”

Taeyong carries the weight of Johnny’s words, wishes he could help take off the heaviness from his conscience. But instead he only nods in acknowledgement, sensing the discomfort from Johnny’s body language.

“Are these okay?” Taeyong then asks, holding up a patty and changing the topic entirely.

Johnny gives him a thumbs up and the rest of the filming goes smoothly. The second batch of crab cakes is eaten in between their shared laughter and better spirits, Taeyong completely mesmerized by the sound of Johnny’s laugh. His laugh is pigmented enough to paint Taeyong’s mind with an image of something sweet and familiar and inherently Johnny. 

The dreadful part of their whole test run is inevitable; Johnny insists on cleaning up the mess they made even though calling for one of his house helpers would be easier. Taeyong smiles at the thoughtfulness of it all, helping Johnny wipe down the counter and restore the pristine ambience of the kitchen ruined by their earlier antics.

Washing the dishes they used is a chore for both Taeyong and Johnny, having to play rock-paper-scissors to determine which one of them would be the one to get their hands soaked. Taeyong wins and stands by Johnny, carefully wiping down the porcelain and his mind of wandering thoughts of his physical attraction to the other.

Silence encloses around them, the only noise Taeyong can hear besides his rampant thoughts is the running water. He finds himself halting his movements, completely transfixed on the way Johnny’s forearms move in an erratic rhythm while scrubbing. 

Taeyong stands there, hands stilled on the plate he’s holding and holds his breath when Johnny finishes rinsing the last of the dishes and reaches towards the drying rack. Their faces almost touch and Taeyong swears Johnny is breathing down his shoulder on purpose. It gets worse when Johnny turns his head and stares directly at Taeyong.

“You okay?” Johnny whispers, blinking in question.

“Y-yeah.” Taeyong tries not to stare at the other’s mouth, only a few centimeters away from his. “You know how easily distracted I can be.”

“Yeah?” Amusement partners with Johnny’s question. Taeyong follows the movement of his eyes, going down the stretch of his face. “Do you find me distracting?”

Taeyong is trapped by Johnny’s gaze on him, his rational thinking blurring into raw impulse. He knows he should answer the question, counter the implication weighing down what is asked of him. But Taeyong finds no words at the back of his throat, only an urge to pull Johnny’s face against his—

“John?” Someone calls out, catching their attention. Just like that, the spell is broken. “Are you home?”

Johnny slowly grins in response, taking the plate out of Taeyong’s hands and collecting the cloth he used from his grasp. Their hands touch for a brief moment, long enough for Taeyong to think it wasn’t by accident. Taeyong reminds himself to breathe. 

“Yeah, mom!” Johnny yells back. “In the kitchen!”

Johnny is a spitting image of his mother, who rounds the corner and greets them both with the same smile Taeyong has already familiarized with himself, from the uncanny lilt of the eyes down to the radiance of their smile. But the way Johnny’s mother carries herself is different from her son, a sense of refinement bearing her every movement.

“Oh, hello,” Johnny’s mother comes up and kisses the air beside Taeyong's cheek, “I see John has brought home another handsome friend.”

Taeyong raises his eyebrows at Johnny who only shakes his head and feigns a scowl.

“You say that about all the friends I invite over.” Johnny puts his arm around Taeyong, pulling him flush against him. “But Mom, meet Taeyong. Taeyong, this is my mom.”

“It’s nice to meet you, auntie.” Taeyong reaches out to shake her hand, not missing the way his arm brushes against Johnny’s stomach. “You have a very lovely home.”

“Thank you, Taeyong. Ah, you’re too kind! Johnny is definitely the one who makes our home lovely. And messy, might I add.”

“Hey! I clean up after myself.”

“You’re having other people over again later, aren’t you?” Johnny’s mother asks, busying herself with something on her phone.  “Not too rowdy, please, John? Your father and I won’t be here to experience the aftermath in the morning, but I expect you to be responsible.”

“What other people,” Taeyong mutters, mostly to himself. But Johnny might have caught the fleeting whisper of his voice because he starts running his hand down Taeyong’s arm, making his focus melt away. 

“You have my word.” Johnny promises, his smile a reflection of his mother’s. “And it’s really just a few people, you don’t have to worry.”

Johnny’s mother only sighs, glancing up from her phone in defeat to stare at Taeyong. “Please. Put him in line, would you, Taeyong? You seem like a very nice boy, while John is…well, himself. Now, if you boys would excuse me, I have other matters to attend.”

“Mom, what’s that supposed to mean?” Johnny protests, eyes wide. His mother only laughs, already turning around to leave. Taeyong purses his lips to stifle his own laughter. 

“Can’t believe her,” Johnny comments, but not at all sounding upset, “she’s leaving for Japan and teases her only son as if she’s not gonna miss me the whole time she’s there.”

“Your mom’s really cool,” is all Taeyong says. He’s unsure of himself, whether his presence is still welcome with the addition of other people or is he better off excusing himself while he still has the time to save himself?

Johnny seems to sense Taeyong’s worries, placates him with the tightness of his hold on his shoulders. “You’re welcome to stay, by the way. Only if you want to, I don’t want to hinder you from your sched or whatever. Ten’s coming too…so.”

“So?” Taeyong teases, lifting his chin up to peer at Johnny.

“So…I think you should stay.”

“Because Ten’s coming?”

“No,” Johnny leans down, his breath tickling the shell of Taeyong’s ear, “because I want you to stay. But I don’t want to keep you away from other important—“

Taeyong pushes himself away from the embrace and stands across from Johnny, smiling sweetly. “You’re important too, you know? And don’t worry, I want to stay. After all, your mom wants me to keep an eye on you.” 

 

Taeyong learns of three different things as people streamed into Johnny’s house, creating a ripple in the placid air glazing the house while it was empty. 

The first thing Taeyong learns is that Johnny’s definition of inviting over a few people is vastly different from his. The first ones to arrive were Sicheng and Jaehyun, both hugging Taeyong in greeting, then followed by Ten and Kun, who meet him by the doorway with raised eyebrows and goading eyes. Everyone else who followed is a face without a name to him and the sheer amount of people almost made the house feel small, like their presence tightened up the walls and compressed them all into social interaction. 

The second thing Taeyong learns is how difficult it is to keep an eye on someone like Johnny, even with his towering height and build. Taeyong lost him to the sea of people once Ten kept him by his side and asked him to reiterate all of what happened earlier in the afternoon. He hasn’t been able to see Johnny again since the beginning of the night. 

The third and final thing Taeyong learns is how much he hates the feeling of longing when Johnny isn’t by his side. It would have been fine if he and Johnny were at two different places at the same time, then Taeyong could accept the distance separating them. But they were in the same premises and yet Taeyong still has his eyes skimming between the nameless faces, trying to find the face he sees before he closes his eyes every night. Taeyong tunes his ears to catch even a rift of his voice, the subtle lisp and the viscous drip in his words that adhere to Taeyong’s mind. 

Taeyong thinks he might be too clingy at this point, and finds himself sitting beside Ten on the couch and lets himself get lost in the mismatched voices all clashing against each other. Ten notices his sulking and lays his torso against Taeyong’s stomach.

“What’s up, buttercup?” Ten questions, lower lip jutted out for emphasis. 

Taeyong could only sigh. “I don’t know, really. Maybe I’m just tired.”

“Yeah, auntie mentioned you always got home late the past weeks. Minus the one after the exhibit ‘cause you were out with Johnny, but you really shouldn’t hole yourself up in the studio like that.”

“But my thesis.”

“Your thesis is in great hands, but your well-being is not.” Ten pulls himself up from his previous position to face Taeyong. “When was the last time you had a proper sleep?”

“I don’t remember.” Taeyong admits, voice quiet.

“Exactly. And I know you get whiny and clingy when you’re tired and I bet you’re looking for Johnny right now—ow! Don’t pinch me, that’s Doyoung’s thing.” 

“Fine,” Taeyong huffs, “I’ll go take a rest somewhere if it means putting a stop to all these annoying thoughts about Johnny.”

“Annoying how?” Ten laughs, ruffling Taeyong’s hair. “Like him naked and you can’t do anything about it?”

“I’m going!” Taeyong stands, back straightening with the weight of the others’ stares on him. 

“I’ll wake you up when I'm going home!” Ten yells at him.

 

Taeyong navigates his way between bodies of people, trying his best not to come into contact with any of them. He eyes the staircase and carefully threads his steps between the people sitting on the stairs and smiles in apology when he accidentally steps on someone’s jacket. 

The second floor is quiet, save for Taeyong’s heavy breathing. He walks towards the hallway slowly, the photos on the wall seemingly following his every move. Seeing the first door on his right, Taeyong opens it and finds it empty of any other person.

A sigh escapes him, not sure if it’s from the disappointment of not being able to be with Johnny or finally realizing how exhausted he really is. Taeyong doesn’t check the rest of the room, promptly passing out when he situates himself on the spacious bed.

The last thing he remembers is the smell of fresh laundry and sickeningly sweet vanilla carrying him to sleep. 

 

 

 

 

Taeyong wakes up bathed in liquid gold, the sunlight caressing his face warm and inviting enough to leave the dreamless slumber he previously occupied. When he opens his eyes, he expects to be greeted by his whiteboard filled with pending tasks to be ticked off one by one until he meets the satisfaction of accomplishment. It fills him with dread sometimes, seeing the build up of things he has yet to finish as soon as he wakes up; but it motivates him to get out of bed and start the day right. But Taeyong doesn’t find his whiteboard anywhere, doesn’t even recognize the color of the walls he’s faced with.

Panic begins to settle in.

Attempting to stand up and gather his senses, Taeyong finds himself immobilized in the soft bed. Taeyong almost thinks he’s stuck in a nightmare of sorts, a twisted reality where everything looks fine and a little surreal until the terror bleeds through and taints the whole thing. 

Realizing he’s not in his own bed, Taeyong makes a mental note of all the ways he could make Ten suffer without the nuisance of losing his friendship; until he hears a sleepy mumble behind him.

Taeyong squirms in his position until he can manage to turn around. His mouth hangs open in surprise when he finds Johnny sleeping right next to him, arms tight around his torso and the only explanation as to why he can’t bring himself to move freely. Taeyong has seen numerous depictions of angels in classical paintings throughout his years of studying art, but nothing could compare to the image of Johnny with his hair tousled around the pillow like a halo.

Wanting to verify that what he’s seeing is not a dream within a dream, Taeyong brings a finger to Johnny’s face and presses down on his exposed cheek. Johnny scrunches his face at the intrusion and Taeyong has to fight back a smile.

“Johnny,” Taeyong leans down to whisper, “wake up.”

Not expecting anything, Taeyong is taken by surprise when Johnny’s arms tighten around him again and his body is shifted until he’s pressed against Johnny. Laying on top of Johnny, Taeyong feels a rush of heat travel up down his neck as his stomach fills with butterflies. 

“Hey, you.” Taeyong mutters, fingers tracing the slope of Johnny’s nose. He commits every detail of his face to memory, finally realizing why artists have muses. 

Johnny unfolds into consciousness under him, eyes slowly coming into focus. Taeyong sees his smile again, soft around the edges and still grasping at sleep, but definitely already part of his good morning. 

“Morning,” says Johnny, kneading comfort into Taeyong’s back, “fancy seeing you here.”

“Yeah, right.” Taeyong rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’m assuming Ten didn’t wake me up?”

Johnny hums, eyelids almost drawing to a close. “He said you looked too comfortable in my bed and thought disrupting your sleep would be bad ‘cause you needed to rest. So you were entrusted to my care.”

“And I just conveniently happened to sleep in your bed?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t think to sleep on the floor or something?”

“Well in my defense, I did put a pillow barrier between us before I went to sleep. It’s not my fault it got broken.” Johnny giggles, his chest thrumming with amusement. 

“You seem to know just what to do during these situations,” Taeyong remarks, “do you do this often? Let people sleep in your bed and cuddle them pretending there was a pillow barrier?” Taeyong puts emphasis on the last two words in jest. 

Johnny’s mouth goes wide at the accusation, letting out a breath that sounds like something between a scoff and a laugh. He juts his face upward, levelling it where he can stare directly into Taeyong’s eyes. 

“If I did, then all the others wouldn’t compare to you.” Johnny laughs when Taeyong purses his lips and rolls off him, trapping the whine that threatened to escape him. 

Taeyong sits up and crosses his legs, eyeing the other boy from his peripheral. “Shut up, Johnny. It’s too early for this.”

“I gotta say though, you sleep really cutely like, a cat? If I had to describe it. You were curled up on my pillow and it was so adorable even Ten had to coo at you—“

Taeyong grabs a pillow and knocks the rest of Johnny’s sentence into a fit of laughter. He continues to do this even as his arms grow tired, immersing himself in the refrain of Johnny’s happiness. 

“Alright, alright,” Johnny concedes, taking the pillow from Taeyong and pushing himself off the bed, “would you like some breakfast now? I think there are some pancakes downstairs, but we could always make whatever you feel like eating.”

Taeyong reaches for his phone on the bedside table, checking the time before glancing up at Johnny. “As nice as that sounds, I think I have to go home now because my mom might be worried.”

Johnny opens his mouth to say something else, but Taeyong beats him to it. “Can I borrow some clothes? And use your shower?”

Taeyong makes quick work of himself, taking a quick shower and indulging in all the scents that bear familiarity to him upon association with Johnny. The clothes lent to him are still loose, the shirt obviously from Johnny’s High School days and shorts which made Taeyong think were actually Johnny’s underwear. 

When he steps back into the room, Johnny immediately looks up from his phone. The gravity of Johnny’s stare bores into Taeyong, makes him feel exposed with the intensity. Johnny only tears his gaze away when Taeyong raises an eyebrow at him. 

The drive back to his house is quiet, with Johnny personally driving Taeyong home. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, another one of Johnny’s playlists providing enough white noise to fill in for the lacking exchange of words. Taeyong thinks it’s nice being able to spend moments in silence with Johnny, resisting a smile when their flitting glances meet by chance.

“You owe me a breakfast date.” Johnny states as soon as the car is parked in front of Taeyong’s gate.

Taeyong removes his seatbelt and furrows his eyebrows, baffled. “You haven’t even taken me out for lunch!”

“Ha! So you do want to go out with me!”

“Uh, yeah? What makes you think I don’t want to?”

Johnny is taken aback, eyes widening by a fraction. He seems to do that often, Taeyong notes.

“Anyway.” Taeyong disrupts the silence brewing to interrupt their rapport. “I was wondering…”

“Wondering?”

“…if you would like to visit the exhibit my uni is holding for us Fine Arts students to display our thesis? It’s still in a few more weeks—“

Johnny seizes Taeyong’s hand and slots it in between his. “I would love to go.”

Looking down at the shared warmth between their palms, Taeyong smiles at Johnny. Finding a bout of courage in the reassurance Johnny gives him, Taeyong pushes himself forward into Johnny’s personal space and leaves a resounding kiss on his cheek.

Not waiting for a reaction, Taeyong sees himself out of the car without looking back. He enters his home, answers his mother’s questions about his night, and entertains the idea of aiming for Johnny’s lips next time.

 

 

 

 

The process of finishing his thesis leaves Taeyong wondering if the end result is enough to compensate for all the long hours he put in and the doubt that consumed him the moment an inkling of uncertainty drips into his thoughts. But he figures if he didn’t get the recognition of Best Thesis in his major, Taeyong at least has new learnings to carry with him once he officially takes his leave from university.

On the day of the exhibit, he waits with prickles climbing their way up his spine. He had nothing to worry about; all his professors assured him of his great work and all his close friends were there to give their whole support for him, along with his family. But Taeyong never really managed to push the jitters away.

“Should I ask him out on a date?” Taeyong lets out the question into open air, four heads turning to him immediately. 

Yuta reacts first. “Like, with us?”

Ten scowls at him. “Like a proper date with Johnny.”

What brought this up?” Doyoung asks patiently, narrowing his eyes at Yuta. 

“I think,” Taeyong begins, choosing his next words carefully, “I actually do like Johnny? For himself and not the idea of him or the feeling he gives me. I genuinely like like him as a person.”

Doyoung and Taeil slow clap, a sarcastic acknowledgement of Taeyong’s confession.

“That’s great,” says Ten with a wide grin, “but I hope you’re prepared to tell him that.”

Taeyong anticipates the moment where he can finally tell it directly to Johnny and waits in excitement the whole day with the prospect of seeing him. He happily entertains the people who come up to him and ask about his work and nods earnestly when certain audiences bring up their opinions of his work. Taeyong welcomes the distraction and only notices the time lost to him when he sees all his professors have left and the exhaustion knocking at his bones. 

No sign of a certain Johnny Suh all day. 

His friends must notice the slump in his shoulders and the fall of his smile. They don’t bring up the absence of someone they were all waiting for and Taeyong is grateful. At least he has a chance to mope on his own.

Making his way home, Taeyong ponders on some things. Maybe he read things wrong and interpreted Johnny’s inclination to be physically affectionate as something reserved for Taeyong. Maybe Johnny figured out Taeyong liked him because of his predictable temperament and is now avoiding him and the rejection he doesn’t want to drop. Maybe Taeyong was a fool all along to think that someone like Johnny Suh would ever like him.

Taeyong’s internal monologue is interrupted when he receives a notification from the one person he’s not sure he wants to talk to at the moment.

 

Johnny [20:13]: what time does the exhibit open tomorrow?

Johnny [20:13]: i want to be there at the grand opening!!! 

Taeyong [20:16]: ???johnny that was today

Taeyong [20:16]: you didn’t show up

Johnny [20:16]: wait isn’t it the 15th tomorrow?

Taeyong [20:17]: today is the 15th? are you okay??

Johnny [20:17]: fuck

Johnny [20:17]: taeyong i’m so sorry

Johnny [20:17]: it’s kinda late but can we meet?

 

Johnny is waiting for Taeyong outside of the nondescript convenience store they agreed to meet at. Taeyong had to exhale a long sigh before approaching Johnny, keeping the visual of him sitting on a plastic chair with his long legs stretched out at the back of his memory.

Before Taeyong could even open his mouth to call out to Johnny, the taller boy kneels in front of him and clasps his hands together in apology.

“I’m really sorry, Taeyong,” Johnny continues to stay down on his knees and Taeyong is glad there are no other people to witness it, “please forgive me.”

Taeyong only hurries and pulls Johnny up by the collar of his shirt, saving him from further humiliation. They sit together where Taeyong found Johnny and doesn’t meet his eyes.

“It’s fine.” Taeyong mutters and clears his throat, deciding to speak up. “It’s fine. I was just hurt that you didn’t show up because I was really looking forward to seeing you.”

“I was looking forward to going too. But I have really bad sense of time and it was dumb of me not to set a reminder on my calendar like I usually do, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to go. I really am sorry.”

“I can’t believe I like someone this dumb.” It comes out as a whisper, but Johnny catches it. 

“You…like me back?”

Taeyong chokes on the air passing through his lungs. “What do you mean, like you back?”

“Like reciprocated, requited—“

“I know what it means!” Taeyong half-yells before collecting himself. “So does that mean you like me too?”

“I thought I was being obvious already.” Johnny laughs, throwing his head back. Taeyong resists the urge to plant a kiss on his exposed neck. 

“Yeah, but…I always assumed you were kind and flirty with everyone so I didn’t think much of it.”

Johnny turns to him, evident of his sincerity “You’re not just anyone, Taeyong.”

Taeyong flushes and instead brings his palm down to Johnny’s shoulder to hit him lightly. “You are honestly so dumb. I can’t believe you.”

“Unfortunately, you’re into that.”

“Unfortunately.”

They both laugh.

“Seriously though,” Johnny says, reaching out to clasp Taeyong’s hand in his, “I feel really bad about missing today. Can I make it up to you?”

“Of course,” Taeyong smiles, “your presence is highly requested tomorrow at the second day of the exhibit. Also, you can pay for your mistake in gummy bears.”

“Deal.” Johnny stands up, pulling Taeyong with him. 

For a moment, they stand under the watchful eye of the moonlight facing each other with Johnny smiling down at Taeyong and the latter frowning up at him in response.

“I take it back, I can’t have you eat sugar at this time of night. It’s bad for you.” Johnny remarks, making Taeyong pout.

“You’re mean—“

Johnny does Taeyong better by dipping down to kiss him, tasting sweeter than any candy Taeyong could ever want. It’s slow and languid, collecting all the lost time they missed from the day and pushing it into the moment that’s theirs—and theirs only. 

 

 

 

 

The second day of the exhibit sees Taeyong and Johnny practically attached by the hip, stealing quick pecks on each other’s exposed skin when they thought no one is was looking. 

But Taeyong’s friends notice and don’t fail in reminding the two of them of their ‘gross PDA stuff’, as Doyoung puts it. 

“I can’t believe it,” Taeil comments upon seeing Johnny place another kiss on junction between Taeyong’s head and shoulder, “he really got himself a boyfriend.”

“I wonder when I’ll get one,” wonders Ten. 

“When you stop being a gremlin, maybe?” Doyoung responds, earning a pinch from Ten. 

“Hey, Taeyong,” Yuta calls out, momentarily disrupting the couple, “how’d you manage to make him your boyfriend so quick? You guys didn’t fight last night?”

Taeyong shakes his head and lets Johnny answer. “We didn’t fight, but I did go down on my knees, so.”

“Wait, what?” Doyoung whips his head so quickly Taeyong almost heard it snap. “Stop being gross, oh my God. I’m leaving.”

“Wow, you guys really work fast.” Taeil comments, holding back his laughter. 

“That’s not what he meant!” Taeyong counters, but it’s already lost to them.

Johnny just laughs at the chaos he set off, holding Taeyong closer to his side.