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Ten stared at the envelope in his hands. It was difficult to process and once again, he wished he wasn’t such an impatient and nosey person and had had the foresight to put down his gym bag before grabbing the beautiful envelope that looked out of place among a scarce pile of mail. After all, it was 2019. Who sent paper mail anymore?

The bag had thudded to the floor once Ten had realized what it was that he was holding and the sound seemed to startle his flatmate, who looked up from where he was lounging on the couch.

“Dude, you okay?” Vernon asked, frowning when Ten didn’t respond. “That came earlier for you. It looked harmless.”

“Hansol,” Ten wailed and Vernon leapt up, making his way to Ten.

“What?” Vernon asked. “What is it? Is it one those things that look pretty but there’s anthrax inside? Why are you so pale? Did you ingest it?”

“What?” Ten looked up at Vernon, disoriented. “No, Han- Vernon.”

“Yes, Ten?” Vernon said, now patiently, seeing that Ten was in no immediate harm. Which may be the case but that didn’t mean Ten was safe. Far from it.

“This is a wedding invitation,” Ten said weakly and Vernon raised an eyebrow, eyes falling to the piece of paper in Ten’s hand.

“Alright,” Vernon said slowly, pulling the invitation out of Ten’s hand and into his own to read. “Who is it? We invite you to the union of Johnny Suh and Lee Taeyong-

“I know what it says,” Ten interrupted.

“Is it an ex?” Vernon asked knowingly, passing the invitation back to Ten, who gripped it tightly.

“Something like that,” Ten sighed tiredly, looking back down at the invitation.

To call Johnny as ex would be a disservice, in all honesty. Johnny was and continued to be so much to Ten that it was hard to categorize him with one title in Ten’s life. He was everything from his best friend to his first love to his last heartbreak. He was the one who’d given Ten piggyback rides back home when he scraped his knees at fifteen, he was his first real kiss at seventeen and he was the last hand he held in Seoul before he left for LA at twenty-four. Johnny had always been there, a steady presence even if their relationship was rocky at the time, even if sometimes they didn’t speak for weeks, Ten knew that Johnny was always there.

Except perhaps not anymore.

Ten was in his room, huddled in his blankets, alternating between staring at the invitation and staring his phone. He had calmed himself down, his entire being no longer shaking, his mind thankfully quieter, more reasonable. Vernon had left him alone after asking if he’d had dinner and sliding him some pizza and herbal tea when Ten had said he hadn’t. The pizza had been demolished and it was when only dregs were left in his mug that Ten finally found the courage to figure out what to do next.

The obvious thing would be to call Johnny. Asking him why the fuck he was getting an invitation- no. Ask him why he hadn’t mentioned anything- but then Johnny would say they’d barely spoken in two months. To which Ten would retort that even if they weren’t speaking regularly, Johnny could break the silence to let Ten know he had gotten engaged, for fucks sa- no.

Ten hit the call button on the contact page before his cowardice could take over. The phone rang and Ten cursed the man on the other end, willing him to pick up.

“Ah,” Doyoung said as a greeting. “So, you got the invitation.”

“What the fuck, Doyoung?” Ten whispered harshly. “What the fuck?”

“And he’s frothing at the mouth too, alright,” Doyoung said absently. Ten heard the sound of a printer in the background and realized Doyoung was probably still at work. “Don’t worry, they surprised us all.”

“What do you mean?” Ten demanded. Surprised them all? Surely Taeyong and Johnny didn’t simply decide to get married out the blue? Surely there had been some precedent and if anyone would observe it, it would be Doyoung.

“Taeyong and Johnny aren’t dating,” Doyoung informed Ten.

“I know that,” Ten lied. He knew that Johnny and Taeyong hadn’t been dating two months ago, which was the last time Johnny and Ten had properly talked. He knew Johnny didn’t have any romantic inclinations towards Taeyong during that time and he was sure Taeyong would gush to Ten if he went out on a date that had the potential to lead to fucking marriage. Though, with the invitation in his hand and the memories from the past resurfacing, Ten wondered if Taeyong would have.

Taeyong, if nothing else, was an incredibly kind soul. And if he’d began dating and falling in love with the man Ten had broken his own heart leaving, perhaps he would spare Ten the pain of it.

“What’s making your pretty little head hurt?” Doyoung’s voice startled Ten out of his thoughts.

“Aw, you think I’m pretty?” Ten instinctively teased back, smiling when Doyoung snorted, comforted by the sense of normalcy in their conversation.

“What’s on your mind, Ten?” Doyoung asked more seriously and Ten sighed, burrowing into his blankets with his phone. The invitation fell off the bed in the rustle but Ten couldn’t be bothered to pick it up, instead reaching forward to switch off his lamp.

“What is going on, Doyoung?” Ten asked, fully aware of how vulnerable he sounded. Doyoung was allowed to hear him as such, one of only a handful of people.

“I’m pretty sure Johnny’s going through a quarter-life crisis if I’m being honest,” Doyoung said honestly. “Johnny and Taeyong both, they’re- they’re not in a great place right now and I think they’re making bad decisions.”

“Then stop them, what the fuck?” Ten snapped. It wasn’t as though he could do it, with his baggage and their history but Doyoung sure as fuck could.

“It’s not that easy, Ten,” Doyoung said, voice tired. “We tried to figure out what was going on but it was as though one day, they just decided they were going to get married and that was that and nothing could change their minds.”

“But why though?” Ten asked.

“Some fake deep bullshit that made even Yuta roll his eyes as an excuse to cover up the fact that they’re going through some shit and they don’t know how to deal with it because they’ve never been this old and faced these issues before,” Doyoung spoke almost as if he was reading off a piece of paper and Ten wondered how many people had turned to him in their confusion. “We’ve tried, alright? We’ve tried to talk them out of it, but you know how Johnny gets. He has such a way with words that he half convinced me.”

“So, you’re just going to let them do this?” Ten asked. There was an array of emotions fighting for dominance in his brain, piling up until he felt them pressing against his windpipe but the one that shone through at that moment was shock. He couldn’t understand how people like Doyoung or Taeil or Yuta could let Johnny and Taeyong do such a thing if they thought it was a bad idea. Doyoung was far from a pushover and even Yuta, with his big ideas of romanticism and practicality meshing into some truly surreal philosophies, wouldn’t want his best friends to making such mistakes.

“You should talk to them,” Doyoung said. “Then maybe you’ll understand why it’s so hard to pull them out of their mindset.”

Doyoung’s words were scaring Ten if he was being honest. Doyoung, despite being a pain in Ten’s ass, was the one person Ten could trust irrevocably to make sense. Even if what he said wasn’t what Ten wanted to or needed to hear, even if sometimes they had a conflict between their sensibilities, Doyoung was nothing but honest to Ten. That’s why it absolutely terrified him that Doyoung was genuinely at his wit's end, that even he couldn’t figure out what to do with the situation.

“I will,” Ten decided and Doyoung hummed in approval. “I will, I’ll call them once Johnny gets back to their place.”

“Try not to get too swayed by their emotions,” Doyoung warned. “Anyway, how’s LA?”

“They don’t really have seasons here,” Ten mused.

“You’ve said that every single time I’ve asked you that,” Doyoung laughed. “When are you coming back?”

“I don’t know,” Ten shrugged. He was twenty-five, he had a dumb millennial job as a content creator and he was experimenting, dabbling in hosting and video making and photography and writing, having been blessed with the opportunity to do so, even if it was miles away from home. His future was open and undefined in the current moment and Ten had no issues with that, happy to go with the flow and try his best to live his best life, picking up skills and making money, trying to figure out his role in this world. Ten focused more on who he was meant to be and what he was meant to be doing rather than where he was supposed to be and perhaps that had been the crux of the issue when he left Seoul, more occupied with finding himself, finding who he was and how he could leave his mark rather than settling down.

“You’re coming to the wedding, right?” Doyoung asked and Ten hummed noncommittally. First, he had to figure out what exactly the fuck this wedding business was about. “At least they’re not spending a shit ton of money on it.”

“So it’s not an expensive mistake, at least,” Ten said.

“Yeah, Yuta went off about the wedding industry and the wedding tax and I think Taeyong’s scared to bring it up so it’s just going to be a small occasion, apparently, in Sicheng’s backyard.”

“Sicheng would be offended at you calling his 500-acre garden a backyard,” Ten giggled. The conversation continued, Ten catching up on the lives of everyone in Seoul while indulging Doyoung in his nagging, promising him he went grocery shopping and that he wasn’t going to die of scurvy anytime soon.

It was half an hour later that Ten finally hung up to Doyoung’s insistence that he text him more often if only to let him know he’s alive and well, which Doyoung could just find out from Ten’s Instagram page if he so desperately wished.

Ten wondered how his day came to this point. He’d woken up like it had been any other day, particularly excited because he got to work on his videography skills that day. He had a fun day, heading to the gym after work and making his way home, entirely unaware that his life would become so complicated so quickly.

He wondered if he should call, even though he had told Doyoung he would and if he backed out, Doyoung would (and rightfully should) give him hell for it. What if Johnny and Taeyong were having dinner? What if they had gone to bed early? Did they still sleep in separate rooms or had they migrated into a single bed? What were they doing? Ten felt nauseous at the idea of knowing.

Still, Ten didn’t run away from his problems and he found the same resolve that pushed his body when he was memorizing a new routine to press call on Johnny’s number, breathlessly waiting.

“Hey, Ten!” Johnny picked up almost instantly and Ten breathed out quickly, almost choking on his furball of emotions that hacked against his throat. “Remembered I exist, huh?”

“Hey, Johnny,” Ten replied fondly, if more reserved. “How’re you doing? Are you home?”

“Yup,” Johnny said, letting the P pop. “What’s up?”

“You tell me,” Ten said, trying his hardest to keep his voice measured and lighthearted. The last thing he wanted was for Johnny to feel bad, he didn’t think he could take that. “Am I supposed to be congratulating you on your impending wedding?”

“Oh,” Johnny said, voice bland before picking up again. “So, you got the invitation? I wasn’t sure it would even make it, I was going to resort to email but we wanted to be old fashioned and annoying since we’re not really doing much.”

“Johnny,” Ten said, his laugh bordering on hysterical. “Why are you and Taeyong getting married?”

“Why not, man?” Johnny asked lightly and Ten froze, unsure of how to answer.

“That’s hardly a good enough reason to get married,” Ten said finally.

“I’m putting you on speaker,” Johnny said and Ten rolled his eyes, knowing his evasion tactics well enough. “Taeyong’s here as well.”

“Hey, Ten,” Taeyong said cheerily.

“Is Johnny hiding behind you now?” Ten asked, huffing and Taeyong laughed, a merry sound that uncoiled the tightness in Ten chest only a little.

“He’s not,” Taeyong assured Ten. “He’s very much here for his conversation. God knows we’ve had a million times already.”

“Are you guys dating? Why didn’t you tell me?” Ten demanded.

“We didn’t date,” Taeyong interrupted Ten hurriedly.

“Then what is happening?” Ten asked, aware that his sheer bewilderedness had bled into his voice but no longer particularly caring. He needed answers, he needed to understand.

“Taeyong and I have been living together for a while,” Johnny finally said, his voice slow and steady. Ten knew his sirens song, knew Johnny could weave the most ridiculous words together to form the most baffling concept but it would still somehow make sense to the other person. Ten braced himself to resist it. He stood by his resolve as best he could. “And we figured, since we already work so well together, we might as well make it permanent and do this.”

“Too many shitty dates,” Taeyong piped up. “I’ve given up hope.”

The words were said lightheartedly but Ten heard the truth ringing in them and it hurt his heart. His friends were too young to have given up hope.

“That’s not good enough reason to tie yourself together in holy matrimony,” Ten insisted because he was right. He had to be right and no easily said words of reasoning would convince him otherwise.

“Sure, it is,” Johnny insisted back just as forcefully and Ten wished he could reach across the phone and strangle him for the nonsense he was making Ten listen to. “We’ve decided we want to give this a try and honestly? It’s going great.”

“Love this peace of mind,” Taeyong added. “No worries about finding the person to spend the rest of your life with! No pressure!”

“It’s great, isn’t it?” Johnny agreed amiably and Ten pulled the phone away from his ear, gaping at it in disbelief. Were these two fucking with him?

“Are you two fucking with me?” Ten asked bluntly.

“No,” Taeyong said firmly. “We thought a while about it-”

“Well, not really,” Johnny interjected sheepishly and Taeyong paused.

“We thought seriously about it, albeit for a shorter amount of time,” Taeyong repeated with much gusto and Ten sighed loudly.

“You realize you’re having a quarter-life crisis, right? Just buy a motorcycle!” Ten tried to reason.

“Well,” Johnny said and a pregnant pause followed before he continued. “We’re gonna get married and it would be nice if you could attend.”

“It’ll be loads of fun, Ten!” Taeyong insisted. “I promise!”

“We gotta go now,” Johnny said. “Go to sleep, Ten! Talk to you soon!”

“See you soon too!” Taeyong chimed in before they hung up and Ten was left staring at his ceiling in disbelief.

You
what the fuck

Doyoung
bitch i know

You
they??

Doyoung
I know.

Ten switched the chat.

You
dude
what the fuck

Kun
go the fuck to sleep, ten

It was easier said than done. The whole situation was simply surreal to grapple with and Ten couldn’t even begin to explain why it filled him with such anxiety and horror. He just knew he didn’t want it to happen, he knew Johnny and Taeyong would regret it. He knew they were making emotion-based mistakes but it was hard to justify to them why it was such a bad idea. Ten spent the next few hours, rolling around in bed, trying to come up with good enough reason but Johnny’s voice in his head always thwarted all his reasoning easily.

Sleep was restless and he woke up begrudgingly, hurling himself out of bed in the last minute only because he had asked a coworker to spare some time to show him some video editing and he didn’t want to make them waste their time. He got ready in a daze, thoughts of the issue in his peripheral but his mind was too sleep deprived to absorb it.

It was halfway through his working day when his eyes fell on his phone and he saw a message from Johnny light up. Dread rolled in his stomach but he picked up his phone anyway, unlocking it with barely shaking hands. What awaited him was a long message, the kind of long that Ten would only read if it were from Johnny.

“Wow,” a voice whistled and Ten turned on his chair to see Hendery looking down on the message with slight disgust on his face. “That’s a long ass message.”

“Didn’t you mother teach you manners?” Ten retorted and Hendery drew a face at him.

“My mom taught me just to call someone,” He called out before settling into his desk beside Ten’s and putting on his massive headphones, dismissing Ten. Ten would be offended but he had more urgent matters to tend to.

Johnny
Hey. I just wanted to send you this because it’s kind of eating me up inside. I know you can’t really see why I would do what I’m doing but I really hope my explanation makes sense and that you understand and support me because honestly? Dude, you mean the world to me and if you give me shit about it, i’ll feel like shit so, yeah
I feel like I owe you some sort of explanation. And before you go on about ~ no you don’t, what we had is in the past, u can do what u want ~ like you did before you left and like you did when I went on my first date after you left, I don’t mean it in that sense. I mean it in the way that ur still my best friend and you deserve to know
I wasn’t exactly hiding all this from u but like we haven’t properly talked in so long and whenever we do talk its like normal stuff and then you have to do smth or I have to do smth and its never rly the right time to bring it up
Like honestly I’ve been going thru it haha I’m kind of like? Very tired and lonely all the time. i think i got used to having you around all the time and when you left its not the same and I’ve tried like going out and dating bc u know me :P looking for love :P but its been pretty disastrous tbh idk why its like the universe is out to get me
so like I started spending more and more time at home w/ Taeyong and he was in the same position and like one day we were talking and we were like haha wouldn’t it be funny if we just dated each other
and like it was just a joke honestly after one too many shitty dates we were like why not!!
so we tried it and it wasn’t bad? It was gr8 but it was like. More like a friend date and what we did all the time and we figured there was no romantic inclinations but we still Kept At It bc why not u know and its. Its ended up kinda nice like yea its not the great sweeping romance I always dreamed about but its nice u know? Its nice. And I think if we kept at it, it would be good enough
I know u probably think getting married is rly dumb, doyoung has certainly made his opinion clear and yuta has ranted his fair share at Taeyong but honestly we wanna do it anyway,, its not like it’s a legally binding contract here and its just. Its just smth we rly wanna do.
and this is how we wanna spend our life and its our decision at the end of the day so
pls support us juseyo
seriously, please message me back about this
love you

“So what did the long ass message say?” Hendery asked and Ten swirled around to face him.

“You ever hear someone say some real dumb shit but it makes sense in its own fucked up way?” Ten asked seriously and Hendery seemed to genuinely ponder it.

“Honestly, yeah,” He said thoughtfully. “Everyone’s living their own reality and what seems weird to us might seem perfectly rational to someone else because of their own version of reality.”

“My friend is getting married,” Ten said.

“Yeah, sounds about right,” Hendery nodded somberly. “Old hag problems.”

Ten threw his notebook at Hendery, who couldn’t duck past it in time and it slapped against his chin satisfyingly.

“Seriously, though,” Hendery said with a laugh, wheeling closer cautiously to hand Ten the notebook back. “Sometimes you just gotta let your dumbass friends make their dumb mistakes.”

“That’s stupid,” Ten sulked. Hendery nodded sagely before wheeling back to his desk and proceeding to ignore Ten and the gloomy cloud that hung over him.

Ten drafted many messages back, some of which he almost sent before he erased it hastily. He knew his productivity was going to remain out of his reach until he got this thing over with and he wished he could put his thoughts into words, put the right words on the screen while still staying true to himself but every draft he wrote up fell short of the ideal he wanted to send across.

Perhaps it was because he himself was at war with the idea that he couldn’t put down a satisfying message that wasn’t contradictory and a tad bit condescending. Before he could reassure Johnny, he needed to come to terms with the idea himself and for that, he would need time. It sucked because Johnny could see that he’d read the message and he didn’t want to leave him hanging.

You
hey! not 2 make this abt me and all lmao but I need a lil bit of time to process this :( I’ll get back to u soon
pls don’t feel bad
love u too <3

“Ouch,” Hendery said, sucking in his breath audibly. “You got that long ass note and that’s all you sent back?”

“Kunhang,” Ten said, smiling sweetly at Hendery. “If you keep this up, Yangyang will come back from Germany and not find his boyfriend anywhere. Do you want to know why?”

“Because his boyfriend will have an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland, courtesy of Ten?” Hendery asked optimistically, grin wide.

“It’s because I will kill you,” Ten declared in Mandarin and Kunhang looked appropriately terrified and weary.

“I regret teaching you Mandarin phrases,” Hendery muttered grumpily.

“Sad,” Ten retorted back in Mandarin before turning back to his task: grappling with the fact one of his closest friends was about to do something he didn’t agree with and thought was quite honestly ridiculous and how he could possibly support him through his sheer dumbassry.

Ten managed to strike off at least one thing off his daily to-do list before he packed up and decided to head to the gym to clear his thoughts. The drive and the traffic helped him more than he’d like to admit as he hurled curses at the car that cut in front of him. Did it truly matter if Johnny was going to get married if Ten was going to fling himself out of his car and murder some redhead bitch with his sunroof down who didn’t know how to use the turn indicators in cold blood?

He did manage to make it to the gym in one piece, changing and heading straight towards Lucas when he saw him by the weights.

“Hey, man,” Lucas grunted, sitting up effortless to look at Ten with a grin. “You were here yesterday; I didn’t expect you back today.”

“Well, ta-da,” Ten said, waving to himself before starting his warm-ups. “You here long? I might wanna use the punching bag.”

“Yeah, sure,” Lucas said easily and Ten smiled gratefully, though he shouldn’t since Lucas practically lived in the gym as it was. It was hard to believe he was a travel vlogger since he was such a permanent fixture at the gym and it would only hit Ten that he wasn’t there after he left and there was a prominent Lucas shaped hole in Ten’s life and more importantly, in his gym routine. But when he came back, it was as though he’d never left, his tales of other places and cultures and what he learned seemingly distant tales rather than real experiences. It was what made him such a fantastic vlogger, Ten supposed. Lucas had a way with storytelling, making the experience so real but also somehow dreamlike and fantastical, making people want to take the leap with him.

As Ten stretched out his body slowly, he thought about his dilemma at hand. He realized he couldn’t allow himself to remain objective. It wasn’t objective to him. It was Johnny, and Johnny was special to Ten. He couldn’t lie to himself and try to see this situation as though it were something happening to just another one of his friends. Truth be told, if Doyoung or Kun or even Hendery were about to do it, Ten would have tried to talk them out of it but eventually shrugged and let them make their mistake because that’s how they would learn. And who knew? Maybe it would all work out.

It was more complicated with Johnny because- well, it was Johnny. It’s something he tried very hard to not think about often or bring to the forefront of his mind but Johnny truly was the love of Ten’s life. It was cheesy to say but it was the simplest and most fitting definition. Love that had transformed from platonic to romantic and just blossomed into something so deep and permanent, Ten knew he couldn’t get rid of it if he tried. Not that he did. Loving Johnny was something he cherished because Johnny was wonderful and he deserved to be loved.

Perhaps that would be the place to start, one of the building blocks as to why this ordeal was grating on him so. The idea of Johnny- bright, romantic Johnny- settling for something lesser than what he deserved left a horrible taste in Ten’s mouth. Johnny shouldn’t be sighing tiredly and giving up on love. He deserved to be swept away in dumb romantic gestures. Why couldn’t someone just fucking treat him right?

Ten grabbed the skipping rope, still fuming.

If Ten could be fucked to Google ways to woo someone, if Ten could spare some time out of his day to figure out what cute little date Johnny would like to go on, then surely, surely someone else could do. If anyone would do anything for anyone, it would be for Johnny. It wasn’t as though Johnny was high maintenance. (Alright, he was a little bit of maintenance but it was absolutely worth it when he saw Johnny’s giggle in the flickering candlelight). He shouldn’t be settling for good enough.

Ten winced at the noise of the stomp of his feet against the floor as he came to himself, slowing down for a breather. He looked around to see if he was disturbing anyone and caught Lucas’s bewildered eye.

“Bro,” Lucas asked with deep concern. “You okay?”

“Define okay,” Ten replied breathlessly.

“So, not,” Lucas conceded, still looking at Ten with concern. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m thinking about it,” Ten said, speeding up again.

“Okay,” Ten heard Lucas say wearily before tuning him out again.

The burn of his muscles prevented his thoughts from wandering too far as he crisscrossed the rope. His thoughts whipped around faster than the rope, striking against the restraints of his mind and he tried to keep control over them, parsing through him slowly as he lent some brain power to not tripping. It scared Ten somewhere deep down that Johnny truly sounded like he had given up and it was a hard truth to comprehend for Ten. It was ridiculous to him because Johnny was still twenty-six years old, for God’s sake, with so much time to find The One that he wanted. Just because things seemed desolate momentarily didn’t mean that they should simply give up.

Perhaps Ten couldn’t truly understand because he didn’t feel that longing towards romantic companionship that some of his friends seemed to chase. He wasn’t averse to romance, he indulged in his fair share and when he had been with Johnny, he’d actively tried his best to be the most romantic version of himself he could be and honestly? It had been nice. He liked having lovers but marriage wasn’t a priority to him and if he never got married? The thought didn’t really bother him objectively.

Objectivity wasn’t reality, though. Ten knew that just a little over a year ago, he was dead set on living his life with Johnny, even marrying him at some point. He couldn’t discount their past while he was trying to make sense of their future. The truth was Ten had tried his damnedest to be everything Johnny could want and then he had left and the buried guilt of it still gnawed at him when he allowed it out of the box he’d shoved it into. Leaving hadn’t been an easy decision but he didn’t regret it, even if it had shattered his heart. He could fool himself into thinking everything was fine, that initially Facetiming Johnny all the time was normal because they were best friends. He couldn’t allow himself to regret his actions because, no matter how hard it had been, it was something he needed to do.

It was now, more than a year later, that Ten was truly coming face to face with the consequences of his actions. Even though they had broken up, a quiet secret part of Ten was always convinced he could go back. It wasn’t that he saw Johnny as someone who would always wait for him but rather as their relationship as something that was permanent, something that would persevere against time and distance even if they temporarily went their separate ways. It was all Ten had ever known, even when they had dated other people. They were two celestial bodies locked onto each other’s orbit, nearing and furthering but never breaking free of the grip the other’s gravity had on them.

When they collided, it had been spectacular.

Ten could still feel the way Johnny felt when he pressed against him, could still hear Johnny’s gasp when he bit into his top lip, reminiscing the way his entire being felt like it was shaking when the pure domesticity of watching Johnny pour over some notes before bed had struck Ten one night. Parting with that had hurt indefinitely more than it hurt when Ten lost focus and his leg got caught on the rope, leading him to his downfall.

“I knew that was going to happen,” Lucas said simply, helping Ten up.

Ten winced, looking down at his leg to see a shallow cut from the lashing of the rope on his calf. His muscles were straining and his lungs were working overtime.

“Bro, talk to me,” Lucas said somberly, leading Ten sit and kneeling in front of him, taking his hurt leg into his hands. “I know you’re hardworking and persistent but I haven’t seen you get this worked up- well, ever, to be honest.”

“You’ve only known me for a year,” Ten said and he had meant to sound teasing and light but instead, it came out heavier, almost sad. Lucas caught it and looked up at him with big, sad eyes that made Ten look away.

“I know something’s wrong,” Lucas continued matter-of-factly, putting down Ten’s leg and wandering off to look for something, presumably the First Aid kit. His voice still carried through the nearly empty gym. “I could help you.”

“It’s a long story,” Ten sighed, letting Lucas manhandle him, wincing when he felt the alcohol hit the minute cuts. “If I told you, I’d have to tell you my entire life story which I’m not entirely adverse to but I genuinely don’t feel like doing.”

“That’s alright,” Lucas said. “Just say what’s on your mind.”

“My ex is getting married,” Ten blurted out. “And I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Lucas hummed sympathetically, his hands gentle and his glance up at Ten kind and the gesture broke the dam.

“It’s so fucking complicated, man,” Ten said, frustration leaking into his voice. “Because it’s so fucking weird. Like if it was a normal wedding, if he actually found love and decided to get married, I’d be so fucking down for that. I mean, I would be heartbroken and shit but I want the best for him so of course, I would support him. But he hasn’t found love, he’s settling! He’s fucking settling, Lucas! Do you understand how fucked up that is?”

“Not really,” Lucas shrugged.

“It’s so fucked up!” Ten declared. “It’s Johnny, he’s so- he’s so fucking romantic, man. He plans out dates and looks up meanings of flowers and puts thought into his fucking words when he tells you he loves you. He shouldn’t be getting married like this!”

“Why would you be heartbroken?” Lucas asked simply and Ten’s swirling thoughts screeched to a halt. Ten breathed out, “What?”

“You said you would be heartbroken if he found love and got married,” Lucas replied. “Why would you be heartbroken? Are you still in love with him?”

Ten’s first thought was I shouldn’t have said anything because of course Lucas wouldn’t understand. He wouldn’t understand that Ten couldn’t not love Johnny, that loving Johnny was written into his very base code. It was simply a way of being for Ten, the way he’d been existing for years. Moving away hardly changed that and he never tried to convince himself otherwise.

“Yeah, I still love him,” Ten said, looking at Lucas like he was stupid, to which Lucas simply rolled his eyes.

“Are you in love with him?” Lucas asked and Ten scoffed.

“The love I hold for Johnny goes beyond that shit, bro,” Ten said. “I love him.”

Lucas looked like he didn’t buy it but it didn’t matter, Ten didn’t expect him to understand. A lot of people didn’t and Ten had learned a long time ago that what he felt for Johnny was special and exceeded the usual labels. Ten knew that if Lucas saw them, he would understand.

“Thanks, dude,” Ten said, looking down at his freshly wrapped up leg.

“Be careful,” Lucas warned, his eyes warm. “With your leg and your heart.”

“Urgh,” Ten overdramatized, looking away with a grin. “You’re so fucking cheesy.”

The drive home was tiring, even though it took a significantly shorter amount of time, Ten rapidly crashing from his adrenaline rush. He flung the door closed as soon as he got it, barely murmuring a greeting to Vernon as he fell on the couch beside him. The film on screen paused and he felt Vernon look at him.

“I’m fine,” Ten declared against the pillow before Vernon could ask. Another beat of silence and the film resumed. Ten breathed out in relief, burrowing further into the couch, craving comfort. He smiled happily when he felt a hand on his head and fingers running through his hair, scratching his scalp. He let himself become one with the couch, the sound of the French film in the background and the feeling of Vernon’s fingers grazing his scalp easing his mind, making him almost drift off. He stayed in the hazy limbo for what felt like hours but when Vernon pulled hand away and shook Ten awake, it had barely been half an hour.

“Is this about the invitation yesterday?” Vernon asked.

“Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it,” Ten said. Vernon nodded and turned back to the television. Ten followed his gaze and frowned.

“What the fuck are you watching?” Ten asked as he watched the movement on screen.

“Miraculous Ladybug,” Vernon responded distractedly before turning to look at Ten. “Oh, my God, you’re Chat Noir.”

“I’m what?” Ten’s confusion wasn’t answered as Vernon turned away, causing Ten to roll his eyes and lurch himself off the couch. Ten made his way to bed, wondering if he could formulate a response yet or if he should sleep on it and attempt fresh tomorrow. His leg ached and he wanted primarily to slip into unconsciousness. He childishly hoped it had all been a bad dream and that he, in reality, didn’t have to deal with this issue at all.

Before he could allow himself to fall into darkness, his phone rang.

“It’s late,” Ten answered as a greeting. “I was going to bed.”

“Sorry,” Kun replied, not sounding sorry in the slightest. “This was the only time I could call.”

“How long have you known about this?” Ten asked bitingly. “Couldn’t you have given me a fucking heads up?”

“Well, not really,” Kun mused. Ten could tell the man on the other end was tired because he became infinitely more irritating when he was. “Honestly, I thought Doyoung and Yuta and Taeil would have talked them out of it by now. But if you got the invitation, then they’re actually going through with it.”

“It’s fucking crazy, Kun,” Ten insisted.

“It is,” Kun agreed. “So, are you going? It’s in three weeks.”

“Fuck,” Ten muttered. He hadn’t even processed the date of the supposed event yet. “Fuck, Kun. What the fuck are we doing?”

“I know it’s tough,” Kun said kindly. “I know it’s hard to see someone you love make decisions you don’t agree with. But sometimes, life is hard and complicated and our loved ones need support, not reason.”

“Aren’t we doing them a disservice by allowing them to do this when we know they’ll regret it?” Ten asked, biting his lip.

“Taeyong and Johnny are grown ass adults, Ten,” Kun sighed. “We’re not allowing them to do anything. They’re adults and they’re making their own decisions. And honestly, I don’t really see the harm.”

“You don’t- you- what?” Ten spluttered. Didn’t see the harm? Didn’t see the fucking harm?

“Calm down,” Kun said, infuriatingly condescending.

“I’m calm,” Ten said slowly, voice controlled and Kun laughed.

“You’re not calm,” Kun retorted, blowing through Ten’s façade. “But that’s understandable. But I stand by what I said; this is harmless. They want to get fake married in Sicheng’s backyard to deal with an issue that’s not easily solvable. Honestly, I think it’s a good thing.”

“How the fuck-” Ten started but he’s cut off swiftly by Kun.

“We’re all going,” Kun said. “We can gather and hopefully knock some sense into them in a couple of days. As far as I know, only Johnny’s mom is showing up and that’s because she’s in the country at that time anyway. For now, let’s just play along.”

“You’re coming from China?” Ten asked, gripping the phone. Kun hummed in affirmation.

“So,” Kun asked again. “Are you coming?”

The question echoed long after Kun had hung up, as well as his other words. He didn’t even know if he could get two days off before the weekend in three weeks to travel but the more he thought about Kun’s words, the more his resolve strengthened. Johnny needed support and comfort, not reason. Ten needed to see Johnny, meet him physically to find out exactly what the fuck was going on. He knew he couldn’t do that from across the fucking planet so he made up his mind.

You
hey, sorry for the late response. i’ll be coming to your “wedding” and we can talk about it! i love u, please take care of yourself until then and I’m here if you wanna talk >_< i know this timezone thing sucks im rly sorry. missing you loads. see you guys soon!!

Johnny
“wedding”

You
ur getting fake married to ur friend in a glorified backyard, what do u want from me

Johnny
ok that’s valid :P

It took a few days for Ten to figure out how to get a leave. Of course, he was entitled to one but he needed to give prior notice and he wasn’t sure if barely two weeks was enough notice. It felt wrong to even ask when he was busy and had work to do and deadlines to meet but it was unavoidable. He could fake the death of a relative. Or he could just explain the whole debacle and let them make a viral video on it.

“Dude, just tell them it’s a family emergency and that you need a leave, it’s two fucking days,” Hendery said, biting into his ice cream. “You don’t really owe them an explanation. You have paid leaves which you’ve never really used.”

“It’s hard,” Ten whined and Hendery patted him indulgently.

Despite all his complaining and procrastinating, he did make his way into his boss’s office before the week ended. The idea of just telling them his non existent third cousin four times removed was on his deathbed was on the forefront of his mind but instead, he chose to tiptoe around vaguely. After a few pointed questions about his deadlines and other work, he was dismissed. His boss told him to contact HR and that they’d sign the approval for an expedited leave notice. Ten thanked the stars that his dance videos garnered enough views that he was an asset to the company.

Time flew by, mostly due to the fact that Ten aimed to meet most of his deadlines before his little trip, which was a task and a half. As the second week approached, Ten could feel it the long hours at work weighing him down.

“Hey,” Hendery snapped, swirling Ten’s chair his way so that Ten was physically torn away from his work. Ten scowled at the younger boy, who looked back at him with a deadpan expression. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Working, Kunhang,” Ten said dismissively, trying to swirl back into place. “It’s what you do at the office. You should learn something from me.”

“It’s late,” Hendery said, grip on Ten’s chair unrelenting. For a twig of a boy, he sure packed some upper body strength. Ten glanced at the time, wincing when he realized Hendery was right.

“You’re still here,” Ten shot back and Hendery rolled his eyes.

“I’m here because I woke up late and I have something to do but if I don’t finish it in the next half hour, I will close my computer and head home and Facetime my boyfriend and work on it tomorrow,” Hendery said slowly, as though explaining something to a toddler, which Ten did not appreciate in the slightest.

Before Ten could respond with something as equally biting and condescending, a noise startled both of them and Ten held on to the hand Hendery had slipped into his. The office was dark, with only a few desk lights on and Ten moved to get up and look at the source of the noise but Hendery held him down.

“What if it’s a crazy person?” Hendery whispered harshly in Mandarin. “You know this country is full of crazy people barely controlled by the governments shitty gun control laws!”

“So you want to cower?” Ten whispered back in disdain but couldn’t help but admit that Hendery had a point. It was still startling to Ten to see people simply carrying guns around when the only place he’d seen guns before was the gun range or in movies and pictures.

“What are you two doing?” A voice asked and Ten would deny the yelp that came out of his mouth because the sound was swallowed up by Hendery’s louder scream. Ten looked up to see Xiaojun peeking from above Ten’s cubicle divider, doe eyes looking at the two men in confusion.

“What’re you doing?” Hendery demanded in a high pitched tone, flailing up. “You know I have a weak heart!”

“You have no such thing,” Xiaojun snorted. “Seriously what’re you guys doing here, literally everyone’s left.”

“We’re leaving,” Hendery replied before looking at Ten pointedly. “We’re leaving, right?”

“We’re leaving,” Ten said, holding his hands up in surrender. “Hendery’s going to buy me dinner.”

“I haven’t eaten either,” Xiaojun said, pouting while Hendery looked at Ten in exaggerated offence.

“It’s okay, Hendery will feed us,” Ten reassured Xiaojun as he started packing up. “It’s not like his boyfriend is here for him to splurge on, right?”

“Low blow,” Hendery whined, sounding wounded but Ten knew it was all over dramatization. Yangyang would be back soon enough. “But I will feed you just so I can tell Kun I did.”

“Stop talking to Kun behind my back,” Ten complained. “He’s my friend.”

“I think Kun is a friend to us all,” Xiaojun said somberly

Hendery did end up feeding them that night and well as sneaking snacks from the breakroom and pantry onto Ten’s desk throughout the week. It was almost as though Hendery, Xiaojun, Lucas and Vernon shared a single hivemind, ready to pounce on Ten whenever they saw him, asking him if he’d eaten and if he was resting.

His complaints garnered no sympathy from Doyoung and Kun though, who of course simply laughed when he complained about his friends.

“You would laugh,” Ten said darkly. “You taught them your ways.”

“I’ve barely spoken to them,” Doyoung protested but Ten was eyeing Kun suspiciously. Kun simply shrugged under Ten’s critical look, stretching and yawning. Ten watched in amusement as Doyoung’s face on his screen turned disgustingly soft at the sight.

“Tired?” Doyoung asked Kun in a soft voice and Kun hummed, nodding sleepily.

“Been working overtime,” Kun mumbled, burrowing himself deeper into the comforters he’d surrounded himself with.

“Oh, so if I work extra hard, you’re letting your little minions loose on me but you can work overtime,” Ten said indignantly, earning a laugh from Kun.

“I always work overtime,” Kun reminded Ten.

“At least they’re paying you for it,” Doyoung mediated and Kun agreed.

“And they’re letting me take a sudden leave, which is nice,” Kun added. “I expected to get more shit for it but honestly, they’re fine with it. As long as I finish the drafts I need to submit before I leave.”

“You should go to bed,” Doyoung said, still looking impossibly doting.

“You should,” Ten agreed, if only so he didn’t have to keep looking at their nauseating displays of affection. Kun smiled at them and logged off not long after, leaving Doyoung and Ten alone.

“Alright, so I’m leaving,” Doyoung started but Ten butted in.

“You’re becoming obvious,” Ten stated smugly. Doyoung’s expression turned to shock.

“What?” Doyoung asked.

“Kun being away from you is making you slip,” Ten told Doyoung. “You used to be so good at hiding your mushier emotions.”

“I’m just worried about him,” Doyoung insisted. “This project is draining him and-” A pause, a shuddering breath then a continuation. “I miss him.”

“You’re a two-hour flight away,” Ten said. “Just go to him.”

“And do what?” Doyoung snorted. “He’s so busy, all we could do is hang out together at his place.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t just want to go and nap with him,” Ten teased, satisfied with Doyoung turned red, mouth moving as no words came out. “I’m sure he’d be fine with that.”

“Shut up,” Doyoung said with a downward turn of his lips. “I’ll see him in three days. And you! Are you done with packing? It’s better to finish packing now because you won’t get time during the weekdays. You have your passport and everything right? Visa?”

Ten allowed Doyoung to change the subject, informing Doyoung that he indeed had everything, he’d fucking travelled before, he knew what he needed and yes, he’s already packed away most of his things.

“I’ll pick you up,” Doyoung said. “Yours and Kun’s flight reaches around the same time anyway.”

“Actually, I was going to ask Johnny to pick me up,” Ten said.

“We both can pick you up,” Doyoung said dismissively. Seeing Doyoung and Kun be disgustingly soft wasn’t the first thing Ten wanted to see as soon as he landed in Seoul but he was willing to make sacrifices. Johnny’s body was large enough that could make him block the view if things got too nauseatingly heartbreaking.

It was the day before his flight when he sat up in cold blood in the middle of the night, lurching out of sleep and blindly reaching for his phone in a clammy panic. The light when he switched it on went straight to his head, not helping his panic in the slightest and he went to the Phone app with shaking fingers, hitting Call before he could comprehend the difference in time zone or whether or not it was even appropriate.

“Ten?” Johnny’s voice sounded confused and Ten exhaled in relief, breathing harshly now that he was allowing air back into his lungs. “What’s wrong?”

“Just remembered something,” Ten said, aiming for light and breezy but falling short when his breath caught in his throat.

“At this time?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah, I realized I didn’t tell you to come pick me up,” Ten said. This was partially the truth. Johnny didn’t need to know about Ten’s restless sleep and how memories turned into dreams turned into nightmares.

“You don’t have to tell me, Ten,” Johnny said, amused. “You told me the time your flight lands, I assumed I would be picking you up.”

“Oh,” Ten breathed out. “Well, I just wanted to make sure.”

“Okay, well, now you have,” Johnny said with a laugh. “Now go back to sleep.”

“Wait,” Ten interrupted hurriedly. The silence on the other end was expectant. “What’re you doing?”

“I’m at work, Ten,” Johnny said. Ten squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to hit himself but knowing Johnny would hear if he did. Stupid, stupid.

“Right,” Ten said weakly. “Sorry, I’m still sleepy. I’ll see you soon, Johnny. Bye.”

He hung up before Johnny could reply and fell back on the bed, his drenched sheets feeling cool against his back. He turned back to his phone, knowing the odd hours his flatmate kept.

You
hey can u turn the thermostat to cooler

Vernon
yea sure
u ok?

You
hot :P
thanks

It was ugly, the feeling that was creeping over him, almost a paralysis of sorts, not allowing any happiness to mobilize in him. A small relief came in the way the air got cooler, hitting his bare skin. He tried to keep the thoughts at bay, telling himself that Johnny was simply stating that he was at work, of course, he would, because Ten had asked. It was in no means an echoing testament of why they couldn’t be together, why the distance was just too far. Four words shouldn’t bring him back to the moment he found out he got a job across the world and the devastating weeks that followed.

But things rarely made sense at the witching hour and Ten felt old sadness grip his heart once more, preventing him from falling back into slumber.

He hated that he had been put in that position, had been forced to choose between his greatest love and his future. He hated himself just a little as well for being who he was: practical, pragmatic. Just grown up enough that he wasn’t ready to simply give up his opportunities for love and familiarity. Ten had always dreamed of great things and he met challenges head on so the easy way was never an option. Something in Ten wouldn’t allow him to simply let go of things that could mould him into the person he wanted to be.

At times like these, when the reality of his life seemed farther away than a few hours to sunrise, Ten wished he was more romantic and whimsical in the right ways. Wished he’d made a different decision.

Maybe, instead of that night where they’d decided to break up and go back to being friends for fear of ruining what they had, Johnny and Ten might have decided to try going through it. Maybe then Ten would be falling asleep to Johnny on Facetime rather than to familiar music and Johnny wouldn’t be sending him fire signals that he needed help. Maybe then Ten would have had the courage to call Johnny at three a.m. and tell him to stay on the line until he fell asleep.

Countless maybes, infinite possibilities, all fell away as Ten finally slipped back into a darkness where he blissfully didn’t relive his regrets.

All too soon, he was clocking out of work, leaving a fake sobbing Hendery behind to board his plane back home. It had been decided that Ten would be staying with Sicheng so he hadn’t really had to spend on anything other than a visa and a plane ticket.

You
at the airport, boarding soon :)

Doyoung
Okay

Johnny
see u soon!!!

Ten wished he’d slept through the flight. Being stuck in a middle economy seat, restless and anxious, was not the best way to spend nearly thirteen and a half hours. He tried his best to distract himself, to keep the bubbling emotions in check, keeping his hands pointedly dry. If the lady sitting next to him was weirded out, he didn’t particularly notice.

His time was consumed either by watching movies he didn’t entirely comprehend or staring listlessly ahead of him, not having been fortunate enough to get a window seat. The closer they got to Seoul, the more erratic his ticks became until he pulled out his iPad, hoping to turn his energy into something productive to create.

He was halfway through a sketch of Yuta as Naruto that he was paying far too much attention to detail to when the pilot announced that they would be landing. Ten successfully held in his scream and he was incredibly proud of himself and he knew Kun would be proud of him too.

Touch down onto Korean soil was exhilarating and nauseating at the same time, excitement and dread mixing like a toxic cocktail that would knock him out if he wasn’t careful. Shaking hands required extra steadiness as he tried not to rush through customs, trying to keep in mind that he, despite popular belief, was not the centre of the universe and other people needed to get through the line as well.

Luckily, he hadn’t checked in luggage so he was free to walk out of the airport, heart in his throat. He had switched out his American SIM for his Korean one on the plane. Calling the number was second nature.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Came Johnny’s cheerful voice. “We’re at arrivals, where are you?”

“Walking out,” Ten replied, trying to mimic Johnny’s tone. He looked around, knowing Johnny would be hard to miss and he was right. He saw them and there he was. There he was.

Ten had wanted to be calm and collected. He’d wanted to steadily walk up and say hello, greet his old friend and lover nonchalantly.

Of course, all that went straight out the window the second he saw Johnny scanning the crowd and he immediately waved his arms, grinning wide. The world seemed to narrow down and all prior anxieties and inhibitions were shed as Ten threw caution to the wind and barreled towards Johnny, jumping into his waiting arms with an excited squeal.

Johnny under him felt unreal and Ten gripped tight, irrational fears that he would vanish surfacing. Johnny was as warm and grounding at Ten had remembered, holding him up effortless in his arms. Ten looked down fondly at him, Johnny’s eyes crescents from his smile. It was a moment that was easy to get lost in if it wasn’t for Doyoung’s pointed cough.

Ten hopped off Johnny sheepishly and looked at his friend, who was walking back to them with Ten’s carry on that he had abandoned in favour of jumping Johnny.

“Yeah, no, that’s fine,” Doyoung sighed in disappointment. “It’s not like I matte-”

His words were cut off by a tight hug from Ten, prolonged and desperate. Doyoung’s hand on his back was comforting, letting him know that Doyoung knew.

“I missed you guys,” Ten wailed as he pulled away. “Where’s Kun?”

“Should be here in twenty,” Doyoung replied, looking down at his watch. “How was your flight?”

“Long,” Ten groaned, leaning against Johnny, who put an arm around his shoulder and rubbed his arm comfortingly. “I can’t believe I’m here. Do you think aeroplanes are liminal spaces?”

“Definitely,” Johnny replied. “Airports as well.”

“Right,” Ten agreed. Ten caught Doyoung’s eye, who was looking at him appraisingly. Ten raised an eyebrow but Doyoung simply shrugged in response, a slight smirk on his face that he knew Ten would demand the reasoning behind.

“So,” Ten said loudly, feeling Johnny lightly startle against him as Doyoung shot him a weary glare. “Are you excited about seeing Kun again?”

“Of course, I am, Ten,” Doyoung replied drily while Johnny snickered. “He’s one of my best friends.”

“Yeah but,” Ten teased. “Special excited.”

“What the fuck does that even mean?” Doyoung muttered, looking anxiously at the doors.

“Sounds like a euphemism for horny,” Johnny admitted, finally dragging Doyoung’s attention away from the gates with a scandalized gasp.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Ten said defensively before his face broke into a knowing smile. “Unless it is that way.”

Ten absolutely, in no way deserved the smack he got from Doyoung and he was glad he had Johnny to rub it soothingly. He was, after all, baby.

“Go back to LA, we don’t want you here,” Doyoung complained.

“I’m not here for you,” Ten shot back.

“Yeah, we all know what you’re here for,”

“Kun could have literally just gotten an Uber and-”

“Are you two quite done?” A new voice said and Ten and Doyoung looked away from each other to see Kun looking at them in tired amusement. “If you’re going to keep at it, Ten’s right, I’ll just take an Uber.”

Kun was expecting the flying mass that was Ten to come hurling at him, clinging on for dear life.

“You’re being overdramatic,” Kun said with a laugh, though he held Ten just as tightly. He finally managed to pry Ten off him and gave Johnny a quick hug. Ten watched Doyoung stand waiting his turn, seemingly nonchalant. He truly tried not to be a little shit but he couldn’t help the suggestive look he sent Doyoung’s way Kun as caught up with Johnny. The look Doyoung shot back made Ten thankful that Sicheng had state of the art security at his estate. Though, Ten had little doubt that Doyoung could get away with murder if he were so inclined.

Kun turned away from Johnny and moved towards Doyoung and Ten waited, wondering if he should turn away or continue staring for future teasing material but his choice was taken away from him when Johnny blocked his view.

“Hey!” Ten protested but a smile danced upon his face when he looked up.

“Give them some privacy,” Johnny said.

“For what,” Ten said, crossing his arms. “It’s not like they’re together or anything.”

His voice had gotten louder and he knew he would pay the price for that later, perhaps by Doyoung serving him unseasoned food. As it was, neither Doyoung nor Kun replied and Ten was playing with Johnny, trying to get past him but not seriously.

They all somehow eventually managed to get into Johnny’s car, Doyoung and Ten talking over each other loudly and in the commotion, Ten forgot why they’d all assembled in the first place.

Sicheng’s estate was sprawling, an obvious testament of old money where the land had been tended to for years. Ten felt like he’d been transported to a different time as the grand gate closed behind them and they drove towards the actual house. Away from the city life and tall builds and harsh reality, this seems like the land of fantasy, where the wildest things seemed plausible. Perhaps that’s why Johnny and Taeyong decided to have their dumb fucking wedding there.

They got off at the front of the door and the door was opened to them.

“Master Ten,” one of the maids bowed to him then to Kun. “Master Kun, Master Sicheng is in the parlour.”

“What about us?” Doyoung demanded weakly but the maid had already turned away to lead them towards the room Sicheng was in.

“I guess she got sick of your faces around here,” Ten said with a sly grin. Kun smiled at his comment but patted Doyoung comfortingly.

Sicheng’s mansion was grand but Ten knew this. While the rest of their friend group were comfortably in the lower middle class to the upper-middle-class range, Sicheng and Taeil had just skyrocketed to being part of the elite. Sicheng, with his old money and his modelling career that brought in millions and Taeil, with his very much new money from his musical career and smart investments. For Sicheng, he’d been surrounded by this splendour his entire life, therefore when he and Ten became friends through the dance studio, Ten got used to it too.

Taeil, on the other hand, was very much not used to it in the slightest. Being married to Yuta probably didn’t help, ensuring they did not have a mansion but certainly donated heavily to the local children’s shelter.

“This seems like a liminal space too,” Ten whispered to Johnny, who hummed in agreement.

“Why are you whispering?” Kun said.

“Don’t wanna disturb the paintings,” Ten said, looking around at the frankly creepy paintings that adorned the hall.

“They’re not haunted,” A deep voice said in amusement and Ten looked up to see Sicheng standing by the doorway, looking amused. “God, you people walk slowly.”

“It’s not our fault you have a ridiculously large house,” Ten complained but quickened his pace. “What the fuck do you need all this space for?”

“Shut up, if I wanted Yuta here, I’d just have invited him,” Sicheng grumbled before pulling Ten into a hug as soon as he stood in front of him.

“Why isn’t he here?” Ten complained, pulling away.

“It’s eleven at night, Ten,” Kun said tiredly as he leaned in for his own hug.

“Oh,” Ten said. “Right. Man, I lost a day getting here, what the hell.”

“I lost an hour but I’m still tired,” Kun said.

“Have you eaten yet, though?” Doyoung asked frowning. “Airplane food doesn’t really count.”

“It technically does,” Kun countered just for the sake of it. “I’m not really hungry.”

“Me neither,” Ten chimed in, stretching. Being reminded of the time made the adrenaline wear off just a little and to be honest, he was quite ready for bed too.

“Are you sure?” Doyoung asked worriedly.

“I think I have enough in my pantry to feed them if they change their minds,” Sicheng insisted. “Unless you two are spending the night, you should leave.”

“We’re dismissed,” Johnny laughed. He gave Ten and Kun quick hugs before guiding Doyoung out.

Are you hungry?” Sicheng asked to confirm and both Kun and Ten shook their heads. “Alright, let’s go.”

Ten and Kun, of course, had their own rooms but all they used it for was dumping their luggage in and washing up before finding their way to Sicheng’s room. It was a ritual of sorts for the first night, though unspoken.

“I cannot believe this is actually happening,” Sicheng said as they settled in. He turned to Ten. “You really flew thirteen and a half hours for Johnny’s fake wedding.”

“How the fuck are they even planning on making it official?” Kun asked. “Do we have a priest? Officiator?”

“Honestly, I think we’re just kinda hoping Ten will fix everything,” Sicheng admitted and Ten sat up halfway, looking at them in bewilderment.

“Bro, that’s way too much responsibility,” Ten said. “To put on me of all people.”

“What do you mean on you of all people?” Kun asked sleepily, looking at Ten with bleary eyes.

“I’m hardly the most stable, rational person here, Kun, let’s be honest,” Ten stated.

“You’re one of the closest people to Johnny,” Sicheng said evenly. “And you’re good friends with Taeyong as well.”

“You’re stable,” Kun said, rolling his eyes. “I think you see yourself as the college version of yourself more than other people do. You literally moved across the world to pursue your career.”

“How is that stable? That’s the definition of whimsy!” Ten protested.

“It’s you following your dreams based on grounded reasoning, Ten,” Kun said, getting up in frustration and looking at Ten. “You can do this. Now go the fuck to sleep.”

Kun fell back against his side of the bed as Sicheng giggled and Ten sulked.

“China isn’t good for you, you’ve gotten grumpier,” Ten announced. “When are you moving back and getting together with Doyoung?”

Ten got a whack on the face from a pillow for his words. The only thing that stopped Ten from launching a full-scale retaliation was Sicheng’s arm over him, stopping him from lunging up.

“He has,” Ten whispered harshly.

“Go to sleep,” Sicheng whispered back, mirth dripping from his voice, easing off Ten’s momentary irritation. With the weight of Sicheng’s arm on him and the comfort of the company of his friends, the day seemed to catch up on Ten and he was knocked out before he could turn away in mock irritation.

Ten is not woken up gently but then again, he didn’t expect to be. Ten startled awake when Yuta jumped onto the now empty side of the bed, saying his name repeatedly until Ten smacked him in the face ‘accidentally’ while stretching.

“That was unnecessary,” Yuta stated, rubbing his chin.

“This entire ordeal is unnecessary,” Ten complained, falling back onto the bed after stretching.

“Hey, get up,” Yuta prodded. “We have shit to do. Get up.”

“What time is it?” Ten grumbled, throwing an arm over his eyes.

“It’s 9 a.m.,” Yuta said, pulling Ten’s arm away and looking down at him seriously. “Get up before you fuck up your sleep schedule.”

“Does it matter if I’m only here for three more nights?” Ten whined.

“Yes,” Yuta said definitively, getting up and dragging a motionless Ten with him until Ten teetered on the edge of the bed. “Everyone’s waiting downstairs.”

Ten finally admitted defeat and got up, trudging back to his room and grabbing his toiletries before heading to take a shower. The heavy pressure of the shower and the heat woke him up entirely. Panic was quick to set in as he scrubbed himself rigorously, wondering what he was going to do. He didn’t particularly have a game plan and he knew his friends looked to him in this particular situation to give them a solution.

By being Johnny’s keeper all these years, it seemed almost instinctual for them to turn to Ten when they couldn’t get through to Johnny. It was reminiscent of all the days in university when Johnny was too caught up in his degree that people would reach out to Ten instead to make sure Johnny was okay and that he wasn’t ignoring their texts. After work nights when Johnny was beyond a little tipsy, his new coworkers knew to call Ten to guide him back home. And despite bumps and small fights along the way, Ten didn’t begrudge the role. He enjoyed it, enjoyed being valued and essential. He’d never thought about the impact it would have if he left because he never thought he would leave Johnny, that even when they moved apart physically, their friendship would persevere.

That remained true to a certain degree. It wasn’t their friendship that had broken when Ten decided to leave to LA. It had been their romantic relationship.

The water turning cold told him he’d been in the shower far too long. He quickly went through the motions of finishing up, padding downstairs not long after.

By ‘everyone’, Yuta had meant himself, Doyoung, Kun and Sicheng, all of whom were already eating breakfast by the time Ten arrived.

“Good morning,” Yuta called out, annoyingly chipper, patting the seat next to him. Ten wants to sit beside Kun just to spite him but actually, the seat beside Yuta is strategically placed closest to all of Ten’s favourite foods so he obliges.

“So, what’s the plan?” Yuta asked. Silence reigned and Ten looked up from cutting into this food to see all four other occupants of the table looking at him expectantly. He looked back for a moment before looking away, digging into his food.

“The wedding is tomorrow,” Sicheng stated and Ten chewed harder. “We have one day.”

“I’ll see if I can talk to Johnny today,” Ten said finally. “We can strategize after that.”

The table agreed and thankfully dissolved into mundane conversation, much of it directed at Kun and his project and when he thought it would be wrapping up. Ten pitched in when he could but his mind was elsewhere as he picked at his food, losing his appetite as anxiety curdled any food in his stomach. Tomorrow was too soon and for some unfathomable reason, Ten had thought he’d have more time. Truthfully, he didn’t have much of a game plan beyond ‘Talk to Johnny and then wing it’, which admittedly wasn’t the most nuanced plan but it was the best he had. He didn’t want to ambush Johnny, he simply wanted to help him.

“What about you, Ten?” Someone asked and Ten tore himself away from his thoughts at the mention of his name and smiled at his friends.

“I wasn’t listening, what?” Ten asked and Doyoung snorted.

“I was asking about how you liked your job,” Sicheng replied patiently.

“It’s great,” Ten grinned. “I’ve learnt a lot! It’s getting me some really cool connections too. Oh! And there’s this project in the future that they might pick me for that deals with South East Asia so I’m really excited about that.”

“So you’re all settled there, huh,” Doyoung said.

“I mean,” Ten shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll be at that company forever, to be honest. But for the time being, there’s still a lot to learn there and yeah, it gets stressful sometimes because it’s a creativity-based job and sometimes you’re just not creative, you know? But it’s worth it. And I’ve found a bunch of cool people there too.”

“Of course, you have,” Yuta said mournfully. “Your childhood friends are old news now.”

“First of all, we met in university,” Ten laughed. “Secondly, you can come to visit me anytime, trophy wife.”

Trophy wife,” Yuta repeated indignantly in mock outrage. “The audacity. The nerve.”

“What exactly do you do, Yuta?” Doyoung asked, siding with Ten with a teasing smile.

“I’m a philanthropist, thank you very much,” Yuta said, aiming for snobby but he was grinning too wide. “And I don’t want to waste our money on vacations to LA when I could be helping people with it here.”

“You quit your job after a minor injury and just never went back to work,” Sicheng said.

“Why am I being attacked right now?” Yuta wondered. “I broke out of the capitalist machine and now coach kids who can’t afford to go to elite schools and help get them sports scholarships and yet, here I am, being mocked by my own friends.”

“Broke out of the capitalistic machine by marrying someone who profited off capitalism,” Kun muttered, sending Doyoung snickering.

“Redistribute your wealth, Yuta,” Doyoung said between laughs as Kun looked onto him fondly. Knowing the conversation would soon devolve into familiar political banter, Ten reached for his phone to find a text from Johnny.

Johnny
hey
wanna hang out today

The message brought an instant smile to Ten’s face while nostalgia gnawed at him. It was so similar to before, almost identical to the countless messages Johnny had sent in the years past.

You
where to :D

Johnny
meet u for lunch? then we can head back to my place, i have to drop some stuff off then… idk, hang?

You
sounds good :3 see you at noon?

Johnny
yup ! :D

It was hours until Ten had to leave the estate but the minutes seemed to fly by as he went digging through his luggage for something to wear.

Ten, admittedly, didn’t have the most on trend style. He consciously made a point to leave all his gym clothes at home and only have Proper, Real Life clothes on hand so he wouldn’t do something like show up in sweats and his sleeves hoodie to the wedding. In the years of being around Johnny, Ten had learned some things, even if he sometimes chose to forget them.

When getting himself dressed, he stuck to basics. Basic fitting black jeans, a basic loosely hanging shirt, his favourite jacket.

“Put the bucket hand down,” He heard a voice from his door and he turned guiltily to see Doyoung looking at him in appraisal. “Wear shades like a normal person.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a good bucket hat,” Ten said snobbishly but kept the hat back, figuring his hair was having a good day as was.

“You’re going to meet Johnny?” Doyoung asked and Ten hummed in response, willing Doyoung not to ask what he thought he was going to ask. Of course, Doyoung rarely obliged him. “What’s your plan?”

“I don’t have a fucking plan, man,” Ten exploded, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Do I look like a man with a goddamn plan? Johnny isn’t some hostage or villain or something that I need a strategy to deal with him. He’s fucking sad and I want to know why and how I can help.”

Silence met him. No witty retort, no angry bluster. Ten turned to see Doyoung looking at him curiously.

“What?” Ten demanded.

“Why are you guys yelling?” Kun asked, appearing at the door beside Doyoung, looking at Ten in worry.

“I misspoke,” Doyoung said before Ten could. “I’m sorry.”

Ten swallowed, turning away. He almost wished Doyoung had stayed true to his stereotype so Ten would have a familiar bantering routine to run through. Instead, he had to grapple with the task ahead of him and the true gravity of the situation.

Ten felt familiar hands pulling at his arm and he fell into the embrace he was being pulled into easily. Kun smelled nice, using the same lightly perfumed cologne as always, never too overbearing when Ten buried his face against the crook of his neck.

“We’re not counting on you,” Doyoung started, closer than he was before. With Kun’s hand gently rubbing his back, Ten felt comfortable enough to hear Doyoung out. “We just think you’re the only person who can get through him at this point but if you don’t- we’re not going to hold it against you. It’s not your responsibility.”

“It feels like it,” Ten said, lifting his head and resting his chin on Kun’s shoulder as he looked at Doyoung, who was right behind him. “I don’t want him to do this.”

“If he goes through with it,” Doyoung said firmly. “It’s his decision and his mistake to make. We all tried. That’s enough.”

“His mom is coming tomorrow and even she thinks it’s ridiculous,” Kun said, pulling Ten back by the shoulder and looking at him softly. “It’s a ridiculous situation borne out of some serious issues but it’s not your job to fix it. Worst comes to worst, they go through with it, have a rocky marriage because they realize they’re not in love with each other and they don’t fit. But they still have us and we can make sure they don’t continue something that isn’t working, right?”

“They have Doyoung,” Ten sniffled, waving a hand in Doyoung’s general direction. “And Yuta. And Taeil and Sicheng. Jaehyun. You, even. I’m not going to be around.”

“I know it’s hard,” Kun said quietly. “We’re used to just showing up at each other’s place whenever there’s a crisis and you can’t do that anymore. You can’t be on call either because you’re sixteen hours behind us. It’s easy to feel helpless.”

Helplessness was a good word to describe one of the multitudes of emotions tying knots around Ten’s stomach. If he paid enough attention, he was sure he could feel the stress ulcers forming.

“Just do what you think is best,” Doyoung said before pausing. “Do you what you think is best but think about whether or not Kun or I would do it.”

Ten laughed at that, the tension in the room easing as he pulled away entirely from Kun’s grasp.

“When has that advice ever worked?” Kun replied drily.

“Okay, Mom, Dad,” Ten replied, sticking out his tongue appropriately.

“Not your mom,” Kun said, rolling his eyes while Doyoung narrowed his eyes at him.

“Does baby want a ride?” Doyoung asked, speaking to him like he was a child and Ten wrinkled his nose at him.

“Baby would like that very much,” Ten replied in kind. He then noticed that Kun was dressed as well. “Wait, are you guys going somewhere?”

“Out,” Kun said breezily, moving to leave the room. “Your yelling didn’t even let me put on my shoes.”

“Out,” Ten repeated once Kun had left, raising an eyebrow at Doyoung.

“Out,” Doyoung shrugged, though Ten didn’t miss the slight reddening of his ears. “See you downstairs in ten.”

Doyoung wisely left before Ten could tease him any further. Ten quickly finished up and joined Kun and Doyoung downstairs before Doyoung could start complaining.

You
where are we having lunch

Johnny
just come by my office, there’s a place nearby, we can walk!

You
ok cool see u in a bit

The ride to Johnny’s office was quick, Ten taking his usual seat at the back of Doyoung’s car. Again, nostalgia blinded him as he thought back to so many moments, too many to count, where he’d been in the exact same position, between Doyoung driving and Kun in the passenger seat. Though the conversation changed through the years, going from talking about freshman parties to exams to talks about their thesis and life and personal problems.

The way Doyoung put his arm around the headrest of the passenger seat as he reversed was familiar, as was the way he simply left it there for a bit. Doyoung predominantly drove with one hand while his other lay between him and Kun, sometimes resting against the gear, almost begging to be held.

Years of familiar pining later and Ten thought that perhaps the two had become so used to being on the edge of something that they forgot they could take the leap. Either way, despite sweet nostalgia, Ten couldn’t wait to clamber out of the tension-filled car as soon as Doyoung stopped in front of Johnny’s office building.

Ten knew his way around Johnny’s office building and he was happy to see that though the receptionist at the front desk had been replaced, the guard remembered him and let him pass through. It took him a moment to remember Johnny’s floor and not put in his own floor number back in LA, fingers quickly jumping from the 2 to the 5.

As soon as Ten stepped out, he was faced with a harried-looking intern, who looked at him in bewilderment.

“Hi,” Ten said with a smile. The intern seemed new; he certainly had not been there over a year ago. “Has Johnny’s office changed or is it the same one in the corner?”

At the mention of Johnny, the interns' eyes widened and he seemed to pale. He nodded erratically before scampering off, muttering to himself as he fell into a cubicle, quickly opening his laptop. Ten looked at the intern in concern but continued on his way, hoping the office was the same or that he’d spot a familiar face. Luckily the latter happened before he could try his luck at the former.

“Namjoon!” Ten called and the man visibly startled before turning to Ten, smiling brightly when he saw him.

“Ten, oh, God,” Namjoon said, dimples deep and prominent and he briefly hugged Ten. “It’s been forever.”

“A little over a year, but sure,” Ten said easily. “You’re still publishing. I thought you were going to take a break from writing.”

“I was,” Namjoon said with a deep sigh. “But then it just came to me and I have to write it down before I went insane and soon enough- you know how it goes.”

Despite not being a writer, Ten did know how it went. Just as an unseen force seemed to compel Namjoon to put to paper the words in his head, the same force moved Ten to create a movement that fit the beats of the song.

“Hey,” Namjoon said suddenly. “You’re here for Johnny’s wedding, right?”

“Yeah,” Ten said with a pained smile that Namjoon saw right through. “Are you invited?”

“I’m ‘officiating’,” Namjoon said, pulling air quotes. “I’m all for spontaneity and all but it’s a little strange. But you’re here now!”

The weight of the words kept pressing down on Ten even after Namjoon had bid him goodbye. It seemed that even Johnny’s friends whom Ten wasn’t that close to seemed to see him as the fixer.

Ten knocked on the door and entered without preamble.

“Woah,” Ten said, causing Johnny to look up.

Johnny’s office had changed. A lot. Ten had always teased Johnny for having his office designed so pretentiously in such an old fashioned way but now it felt wrong. Gone was the antique wooden bookcase and the short, round coffee table and the comfy brown leather couch that used to be shoved into a corner that they used to make out on. In their place was open furniture, a look sleeker but a lot more clinical and detached from what Ten perceived as Johnny’s personal aesthetic.

“Oh, yeah,” Johnny said, noticing Ten looking around. “I changed the furniture.”

“Why?” Ten asked. He couldn’t fathom it. Johnny had been ridiculously excited at getting his own office, albeit a tiny corner one but it had been an accomplishment and Johnny had painstakingly designed it to how he had ideally wanted it. A set up that would help him be the most productive and for Johnny, having an aesthetically pleasing, neat workplace was important.

“I wasn’t feeling it anymore,” Johnny said with a shrug but he wouldn’t look Ten in the eye and Ten knew that wasn’t the whole story. But he let it go for now, as he had the whole day to get Johnny’s concerns out of him.

“Oh, I saw this intern on the way in,” Ten said as Johnny packed up. “Seemed fucking terrified of you when I mentioned your name.”

Johnny snorted without much grace, folding his coat over his arm.

“I got a little snappish, I suppose,” Johnny said with a shrug. “I just expected better.”

“Right,” Ten said uncertainly, following Johnny out. Johnny, in all the years Ten had known him, had not been a particularly snappish person. That’s not to say Johnny didn’t get frustrated or didn’t bite back but for the most part, if there was a kinder way to say something, Johnny would choose that path. The only time he got to harsh snapping was when he was under extreme stress.

Thankfully, Ten’s weariness seemed undetected by Johnny, who started talking about the restaurant they were going to visit.

“It’s just a bit of a walk,” Johnny said as they exited the building. “Bibimbap to die for, which I’m sure you’ll love after all the shitty Korean food you’ve probably had in the US.”

“It’s not that bad out there,” Ten protested before admitting, “But it isn’t like it is here.”

“Didn’t think it would be,” Johnny said. “You should go up to Chicago and get my mom to feed you real Korean food.”

“I know I have a car and everything but that’s a little far,” Ten said, slightly struggling to keep up with Johnny’s long strides. “Can you slow down, jeez, are you that hungry?”

Johnny slowed his pace with an apologetic smile.

“I forgot how tiny your legs were,” Johnny said and Ten tried not to let the hurt show on his face. Not from the height comment but rather that Johnny forgot.

“Taeyong is about as tall as I am, you should get used to this,” Ten responded lightly.

“He’s taller,” Johnny said shaking his head. “But you’re right. He has a tendency to just stop and window shop and I don’t think he walks in a straight line.”

“Well, that’s Taeyong,” Ten said with a shrug, though the image that the words brought to mind endeared him.

“It is,” Johnny agreed before turning to Ten with a grin. “We’re here.”

Here was somewhere that was so Johnny’s style, Ten wasn’t even surprised. Authentic Korean food in Korea but make it bougie and aesthetically pleasing. Ten was sure the food would be just the same as any regular store but since they made everything so pretty, they got to put a higher price tag on it.

“My Instagram followers will love this,” Ten said, taking out his phone. Ten snapped some shots as Johnny went in and got them a table, hurrying inside when Johnny gestured at him to enter.

It felt surreal, watching Johnny sit opposite him, pouring over the menu thoughtfully, lip between teeth. If Ten reached out his arm, he could touch Johnny and not wake up with lead heavy in his stomach. The familiar sight wasn’t something Ten thought he could have experienced any time soon. He’d been so caught up in the situation, he hadn’t truly processed that he’d get to see Johnny again like this and how it would make him feel, he hadn’t prepared. When Johnny’s brow started twitching as a strand of hair fell over it, Ten’s hand itched to reach forward and brush it aside. When Johnny looked up at him and the sunlight made his honey brown eyes even more prominent, Ten felt his breath shudder. He should have prepared.

“Do you want me to order for you?” Johnny asked. It was something they’d done often as a result of Ten being a notoriously picky eater who took ages to decide on something.

“You know what’s good here,” Ten agreed. “And you know what I like.”

“So,” Johnny said, turning his attention to Ten once the orders had been placed. “How’re you doing?”

“How am I doing?” Ten asked incredulously. “How are you doing?”

“Me?” Johnny asked in confusion, tilting his head. “I’m fine.”

“Fine?” Ten repeated, hoping the hysteria that spiked in his mind didn’t bleed into his voice. “You’re- you’re fine?”

“You first,” Johnny insisted and Ten sighed.

“I’m good,” Ten said. “LA is great.”

“I’m glad,” Johnny grinned. “How’s your job treating you? I saw your videos went viral.”

“I’m just hot shit, what can I say?” Ten shrugged, smirking. “The job has been treating me better since then, though. I have more time to create something meaningful rather just churn out clickbait content, which is nice.”

“That is really nice,” Johnny said. “Have you decided on what to focus on yet or are you still experimenting?”

“Still experimenting,” Ten shrugged. “What about you? Still editing the same books?”

“Honestly, at this point, I feel like I should just officially become a ghostwriter,” Johnny groaned. “It feels like that’s what I’m doing anyway for these people.”

“Dude, you could literally just write your own book,” Ten pointed out.

“I don’t really have anything I want to write about though,” Johnny said. “It’s like I take other people’s creativity and ideas and give it structure and a better writing style and better grammar but at the end of the day, I couldn’t make something original.”

“I don’t think so,” Ten said, frowning. “You could start small. There’s no need to write an entire novel off the bat.”

Johnny’s smile was more of a grimace but whatever he was going to respond with got interrupted by their drinks arriving. They thanked the server and Ten turned back to Johnny, who was looking out the window. In the moment, Ten decided to indulge him and change the topic. He had a limited amount of time with Johnny and didn’t want to spend it arguing about things that Johnny wouldn’t see reason in any time soon.

“What do you think of my fit?” Ten asked instead, watching Johnny startled and turn his gaze back at him. “Have I started dressing better since moving to LA?”

“I would say so,” Johnny said with a smile, his eyes crinkling. “You’ve learned well, young padawan.”

“I have this coworker, Yangyang,” Ten reminisced. “He’s also obsessed with fashion so he gave me tips as well. Well. ‘Tips’. He mocked me loudly every time I showed up to the office looking like a fashion disaster.”

The laughter that the anecdote pulled out to Johnny eased the atmosphere and soon, they sank into easy conversation, sticking to safe topics. It was odd because for the longest time, Ten hadn’t had safe topic restrictions with Johnny. He could talk about whatever whenever and Johnny would indulge him and it worked the same way vice versa. Somewhere deep down, it felt wrong to tiptoe around matters but a bigger part of Ten was simply caught up in the happiness of the very moment, not thinking much beyond their immediate conversation.

The food had been good but they stayed seated long after their bowls were emptied. The establishment was too polite to send them nasty looks when they’d overstayed their welcome but they’d definitely, loudly overstayed their welcome. Ten couldn’t be to blame. He’d always lost track of time when he was with Johnny, quickly falling into the delusion that he had plenty of time.

“We should leave,” Johnny said and Ten instinctively looked at the time and winced. They’d been there for three hours.

“Are we just booking it?” Ten asked in confusion as Johnny got up without calling for the cheque. “Dine and dash?”

“I already paid for it, I’ll just pick up my card at the reception,” Johnny said.

“Oh, that’s so nice,” Ten replied, perhaps a bit too dreamily but the feeling was sincere. “All my LA friends do is mooch off of me.”

Johnny’s arm was warm around Ten’s shoulder as they walked out of the establishment.

“Where to next?” Ten asked.

“Let’s head to mine to drop this off,” Johnny said, gesturing at his work bag. “I wanna grab my camera as well. Then I thought we could head to the park.”

“Sounds good,” Ten said, letting Johnny call a cab.

Ten had only been to Johnny’s new place a handful of times before he left for LA. After university, Johnny, Yuta and Taeyong had gotten a place together. But Yuta had officially moved in with Taeil a few weeks before Ten’s flight out of the country. Taeyong and Johnny had found a new place closer to Johnny’s work rather than a new flatmate. Ten had helped them move and had watched them set everything up but that had been over a year ago and he was sure Taeyong had moved things around again multiple times in the meantime.

The apartment was a lot closer than Ten had anticipated and soon enough, he was on the elevator, going up. Ten wondered if he would find a lover’s den rather than a platonic cohabitation situation. He’d get a chance to observe Johnny and Taeyong and figure something out that he could only figure out if he saw them in the flesh interacting with each other.

Before they entered, Johnny turned to Ten.

“Don’t comment on his hair,” He said pleadingly and Ten rolled his eyes.

“I will comment on whatever the fuck he’s done to his hair,” Ten said. It was ridiculous that Johnny thought some hair would alarm Ten. Fucking up your hair when things were tough was normal, a human reaction. Getting married was not.

“Okay, but be nice about it,” Johnny insisted and Ten lied and agreed just so Johnny would let him in. They both knew Ten would be incapable of keeping his mouth shut.

“Ten!” Taeyong appeared instantly, grin wide, arms open. “I missed you so much!”

“I missed you too,” Ten said, hugging the other man tight. He pulled away and evaluated Taeyong. “Oh, sweetie.”

“Ten,” Johnny said weakly but Ten ignored him.

“Remember when you went platinum blond in junior year and you swore never to go that extreme again?” Ten asked, reaching up a hand to run through Taeyong’s locks.

“Yes,” Taeyong replied.

“Then why is your hair pastel pink?” Ten asked, tugging at the strands under his fingers lightly. The hair was coarse and damaged but Taeyong’s smile didn’t dim.

“I felt like it,” Taeyong shrugged, moving away and skipping back into their living room. Ten looked at Johnny, who simply shrugged at him. Alright, perhaps Johnny wasn’t the best person to look to for rationality at that moment. Johnny went off to drop his bag off and pick up his camera and Ten and Taeyong were left alone.

“So,” Ten asked, sitting down on an armchair. “How’re you doing?”

“Well,” Taeyong replied easily. “What about you, though? You’re the person off having adventures in the States! It’s all same old here.”

“You’re getting married,” Ten deadpanned and Taeyong paused.

“Right,” He agreed. “That we are. But really, it’s just a ceremony to make this official! It’s the same old to us.”

“Taeyong, there is a difference between acting like an old married couple and getting married to someone, no matter how fake the actual legality of it is,” Ten said seriously. “There’s a commitment that comes with marriage.”

“I know, Ten,” Taeyong replied calmly. “But really, we’re just cementing what’s been the norm for us for a while and honestly, it’s nice. The idea of committing is liberating.”

Johnny came back out of his room and the conversation paused as he entered the open kitchen and started rummaging around. Ten and Taeyong both looked on until Taeyong looked away, smiling at Ten.

“Please don’t get too stressed about it,” Taeyong said beseechingly. “We’re not.”

That particular ship had already left the harbour but Ten chose not to mention the weeks of stress he’d endured, smiling back fondly. The gesture seemed to ease something in Taeyong and Ten, despite vehemently disagreeing with the situation, was glad he could give him that. Taeyong, in all honesty, seemed better off than Johnny, taking his frustrations out in normal ways like killing his hair. He’d still agreed to the wedding and seemed genuinely unfazed by the idea but it seemed he wasn’t on the same boat as Johnny.

Or perhaps that was Ten’s single-track mind putting on its Johnny goggles. Ten couldn’t pretend to not be biased.

“Let’s go,” Johnny called out finally and Ten got up, ruffling Taeyong’s hair on the way out, getting a pout in return. “I’ll be home later.”

“Okay,” Taeyong called back, turning and waving at the two before turning back to his phone.

“This is fucking surreal,” Ten announced as they made their way back downstairs.

“Alright,” Johnny nodded then turned and hailed a cab as though Ten hadn’t proclaimed his disbelief.

“I mean, we’re going to have to talk about it eventually,” Ten reasoned as Johnny shoved him into the backseat of the cab and told the driver where to take them. “You can’t just keep distracting me.”

“Bet,” Johnny said, pointing out the window. “Look at that cat.”

Ten’s head instinctively turned and he cursed Johnny out well and good when he saw no cat. The driver shot them an alarmed look and Ten quickly apologized, not wanting to get on the bad side of drivers in Korea. When he looked to Johnny to bring him back to the topic at hand, he found himself face to face with a camera and heard the clicking noise just as he looked at Johnny in sudden confusion.

“Are you using actual film?” Ten asked, looking at the android contraption in Johnny’s hand.

“Yeah,” Johnny said, raising this camera again. This time, Ten was ready and he posed accordingly.

It was a good thing he got used to the clicking sound quickly because it didn’t stop, even as they hopped off the cab onto the park by the Han River. The weather was nice, spring brightening up the environment around them. They walked around, taking pictures, Ten sharing what he’d learned with digital photography that could be applied to film photography.

It would have been easy to forget why Ten was here if it weren’t for the consistent jolts of anxiety in his stomach every half hour or so. Still, there was seemingly always something else to talk about and Ten didn’t have the heart to interrupt Johnny’s rant about the latest novel he was editing and his struggles with it. The sun began to set as they meandered their way lazily towards the street food stalls and Ten hadn’t felt so at ease in over a year.

They ate their food in relative silence (relative, of course, to them, which meant that they still talked with their mouths full of food occasionally) as the sky darkened and night lights started twinkling. Ten couldn’t tell you if, physically, the night lights of Seoul were any different than that of LA, only that they evoked drastically different emotions in him. Seoul, despite not being his homeland, despite not being where he was born, was home. It wasn’t as though Ten felt he couldn’t leave it but he always knew he’d come back to it, eventually, because no other place felt so familiar to Ten. This park would be where he would take his someday children and they’d watch the same river and night lights and hopefully, they’d feel as at ease as he did.

“Where’re you thinking about?” Johnny asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen over them. Ten pondered how to answer, wondered if the words that came to mind were the best for the situation.

“Remember when you said you wanted to bring our kids here?” Ten asked, not looking at Johnny, instead watching the glistening water. Your. He had meant to say your kids, but truthfully, Johnny’s kids had turned into Johnny and Ten’s kids in the past.

“I think it’s something everyone dreams of,” Johnny replied. “How could you not?” Ten knew he was talking about the kids running around, laughing in sheer joy and excitement.

“I didn’t,” Ten said redundantly. Johnny already knew his stance on children. “I’ve never really wanted kids.”

“I know,” Johnny said in amusement. “You’ve gone on enough tirades about Mark of all people for me to know how you feel about children.”

“Yeah, but,” Ten started then stopped. He knew the entire conversation was pointless and not in a good way. It wasn’t the same kind of pointless as when Johnny and Ten argued for what was probably the millionth time about whether pineapple belongs on pizza. It was the kind of pointless that Ten knew was a bad start to an important and meaningful conversation. He’d wanted to start the conversation off with more gravitas that ‘Hey, remember when we were together and I fucking hated kids but I loved you so much, I was totally fine with the idea of adoption with you’.

“But?” Johnny asked. He seemed completely unaware of the swell of emotions inside Ten.

“Nothing,” Ten finished, sighing and laying down. Some stars were visible, valiantly fighting against the light pollution and shining bright.

The silence wasn’t right but it was bearable. More stars showed themselves to Ten the longer he looked up, focusing on just the sky rather than the light emitting from the buildings and the street lamps, winking in and out of view like a secret only between themselves and Ten. It reminded him of when he was particularly homesick in LA and he’d called Kun.

He’d driven off on a whim to a place where he could see the stars better, Kun and Doyoung’s voice grounding him.

“We see the same stars,” Kun had said and at the time, Ten had snorted.

“I know full well it’s daytime for you two,” Ten had said.

“Stars are still in the sky during the day, dumbass,” Doyoung had replied. “Just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.”

“Also, we have the SkyWalk app open so we’re definitely seeing the same stars,” Kun had added.

“If you’re on the other side of the planet, shouldn’t you be seeing the stars on the other side? So technically, we’re not seeing the same stars,” Ten had said thoughtfully. He hadn’t been meaning to poke holes in Kun’s sentiment.

“Stars are stars, Ten, shut the fuck up, Kun is trying to do something nice,” Ten smiled as he remembered the exasperation in Doyoung’s voice.

“I mean, technically, he’s right,” Kun had muttered.

The sentence was flawed and factually inaccurate but it had stuck with Ten, truly making him feel somewhat at home in the foreign land so far away from everything he knew and held dear. Ten reached for his phone and took a picture of the view above him. It was terrible quality and grainy from all the light but they would understand.

You
[image attached]
we see the same stars

Almost instantly, he got a response.

Doyoung
jinx
[image attached]

The image Doyoung had sent was similar to the one Ten had sent but with far clearer stars.

You
aww are the lovebirds stargazing?? owo

Understandably, he got no response. The sound of the camera shutter made him look lazily at Johnny, raising his eyebrow inquisitively. Johnny lowered the camera, looking at Ten with an unfathomable expression.

“What is it?” Ten asked, frowning.

“Nothing,” Johnny lied by looking away. “I’m just glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad I’m here too,” Ten replied. “Though I’m not happy about the circumstances that brought me here.”

“Right,” Johnny said wearily. “That.”

That would be your wedding tomorrow,” Ten said. “Wanna tell me what that’s all about?”

“I do believe I already told you,” Johnny said quietly.

“No, you word vomited something at me,” Ten corrected him. “I’m still confused.”

When Ten peaked a glance, Johnny looked contemplative. Ten let him have his time to find the right words and formulate the right response.

“Dating didn’t work,” Johnny started slowly. “I started, like, a month after you left? So two months after we broke up.”

“What do you mean it didn’t ‘work’?” Ten asked, throwing up air quotations.

“What you need to understand is,” Johnny said. A pause, then a defeated sigh. “You were the love of my life, Ten. I know it sounds ridiculous, I was only twenty-three, what the fuck did I know about the love of my life, right? But I knew, Ten. So it’s kind of hard to bounce back from that and go on mediocre dates again.”

I don’t think it’s ridiculous, Ten wanted to say. I felt the same way. But he wasn’t given the opportunity to respond as Johnny barreled on.

“And, God, it felt like every date I went on was a god damn disaster. No one fit as well and for a time, I hated the fact that you showed me what my ideal relationship looked like. That I’d spend the rest of my life comparing everyone I met to you. It was unfair to everyone. But that didn’t last very long, don’t worry. I’ve pretty much accepted that I’m always going to love you in some deep, impossible way that I can’t get rid of.”

Ten wanted to apologize but he kept his silence, not sure what he would even apologize for. He couldn’t sincerely apologize for leaving because he didn’t regret it. He regretted the consequences but the action itself was something he was proud of himself for. Instead, he bit his tongue and let Johnny speak.

“On top of that, work had gotten harder. I got signed on to edit a whole series and as I told you, it needed work. A lot of work. Whenever life had gotten too much, I’d turn to you, you know? But I couldn’t do that anymore because you were sixteen hours away.” Another pause. “I’m a social person. I don’t think I’m codependent, but I do need companionship. It’s just the way I’m built, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a flaw. A few months alone made me self-aware of myself and my capabilities and my needs. I think, before, it was never really something I had to think much about because you were always there, already everything I needed.”

The words settled uncomfortably against Ten’s skin.

“It’s not your fault,” Johnny said quickly. “I don’t- fuck. I don’t mean to say that you’re my everything and that losing me made me go off the rails or something. You’re an important part of my world, though and what you were to me, I don’t think anyone else could be. And trust me, I’ve tried, Ten. The number of dates I’ve gone on and the effort I put into anyone I was compatible with proves I’ve fucking tried. I have our friends and they’re great, you know this. I have my work, I have my family. They’re all important to me too.”

“It kind of feels like it’s my fault,” Ten starts but he’s interrupted almost immediately.

“It’s not,” Johnny said firmly. “It’s me and my inability to function well without a companion. It’s something I’ve tried to work on and fix, trust me, I really have. But it’s hard. It’s really hard and tiring and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just a character flaw I can’t entirely get rid of.”

“So, Taeyong,” Ten concluded.

“Right,” Johnny said. “We were in a similar situation. You know us, we’re both sappy, needy assholes. So, we thought why not give it a shot, you know?”

“Makes sense,” Ten nodded.

“I thought so too. So, we went on a date and it was – it was fine. Like, romantically, nothing would come out of it but it was nice to hold hands and just have this thing. Like, marriage might as well be a lifelong commitment to your best friend and it’s never easy anyway so is what Taeyong and I are doing really that different than traditional marriage?”

“See, this is my issue,” Ten said. “You’ve turned into a fucking pessimist. You’d be the one to tell me that marriage is about love and soulmates and all that sappy nonsense. And now you expect me to believe you’re in your right mind when you want to get married because it’s convenient?”

“Well, what do you want me to do, Ten?” Johnny said, frustrated, his voice thick with emotion. “Be fucking lonely my whole life?”

“You’re whole life?” Ten replied incredulously. “You’re twenty-six! You think you don’t have time to find someone who you actually want to marry?”

“I’ve already found him,” Johnny said point blank.

“Not me, you moron,” Ten near shrieked with frustration. “Other people! Preferably in the same continent!”

“You think I’ve haven’t tried?” Johnny shot back. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do for the past year? I haven’t been half-assing this, you know, I’ve genuinely fucking tried. Even with Taeyong, I fucking tried to make it real. But it’s not, not in that sense and you know what? That’s fine. This is my lot.”

“You sound like a martyr,” Ten huffed. “An unnecessary one at that.”

“Maybe so,” Johnny replied. “But this is what I’ve decided to do.”

Johnny’s voice sounded hoarse with emotion and his hands shook as they rested on his lap. He looked on the verge of tears and it broke Ten’s heart.

“You don’t have to do this,” Ten pleaded, reaching forward and taking Johnny’s hands into his own. “You don’t have to settle like this. You’ll find someone, I promise you. You’re so wonderful, you will find someone who makes you happy and whom you genuinely want to spend the rest of your life with.”

“I won’t, Ten,” Johnny said, voice tired as he looked down at their intertwined hands. “I think this was it. We were it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ten said helplessly, unable to put much strength behind the words when his own emotions weren’t far off from Johnny’s.

“I’m not,” Johnny said, looking up. Unshed tears made warm brown eyes glisten. “Yesterday, at the airport, that really cemented my decision. I looked for you, and I saw you, and I thought, ‘Ah. So this is it. This is what love feels like.’ And I actually realized how I hadn’t felt that way for anyone since. How could I, when I was still in love with you?”

“You need to get over me,” Ten whispered and it hurt to admit. It hurt because it wasn’t what Ten wanted. Ten just wanted Johnny to be well adjusted but he didn’t want to lose him.

“Why?” Johnny asked, rubbing his thumb over Ten’s hand slowly. “Are you over me?”

“No,” Ten admitted. “But I’m not letting that stop me from experiencing life, Johnny. I love you so much but-”

“Not enough,” Johnny said, swallowing roughly.

“It’s not that,” Ten shook his head. “It’s not like that, babe. It was never that I didn’t love you enough to stay. It just that- I love you. I love you so much and I’ll always love you and you’re my soulmate. I didn’t stop loving you. I just did what I had to do- for my life, for me. We talked about this.”

“We did,” Johnny nodded. “I’m sorry I’m being this way. And that my emotions are making you worried and making you feel like it’s your fault. It’s not.”

“We should have talked about it more,” Ten said. “Clearly, we should have.”

“No,” Johnny shook his head, taking a hand back to wipe away the tears. “At the time, I didn’t think it was that bad. I think time made it worse. I don’t want you to think I wasn’t happy for you. I was, my support was genuine. I do wish we could have tried long distance but I respected your decision and you were right. We’re too far apart for it to be sustainable.”

“I can’t do that,” Ten said. The thought of long-distance filled him with dread because he knew it was doomed. He genuinely didn’t think he had it in him to pull it off and he was no stronger or more efficient than he’d been when he had broken things off more than a year ago. He didn’t know if it was worth it.

“I know,” Johnny said with a tilt of his lips but his smile held no mirth and his eyes were filled with exhaustion. “It sucks but this is life, right? We survive how we can. It’s not fair but life rarely is.”

“I love you,” Ten said because he didn’t know what else he could say.

“I know,” Johnny said, squeezing his hands. “I love you too. I always will. That’s why I have to do this.”

When he wrapped his arms around Johnny and pulled him into an embrace, he was met with no resistance. Johnny’s hands were large and warm against his back and his breath tickled Ten’s neck but he didn’t mind. He wrapped himself around the other man, lest he never be able to do it again- not in the same way, not with the same emotion behind it. Johnny’s chest shuddered against his and Ten felt the tears drip on his neck and he held on tighter.

“It’s okay,” Ten whispered, running his fingers through Johnny’s hair as Johnny’s grip around his waist tightened at the words. “I’m here for you.”

Johnny mumbled something but Ten couldn’t make it out, couldn’t even move away to let Johnny talk with how tightly he was held in place.

“I am,” Ten insisted. “If you want to do this, really, genuinely, if you see no other way, I support you. I’ll be happy for you tomorrow and I won’t even say I told you so if it falls apart.” Johnny’s breathing hitched. “I hope it won’t fall apart, though. I hope this is everything you want and need and that maybe, this will turn out even better than you thought and I’ll just become another friend. It hurts me to say that but I want the best for you.”

It hurt beyond words to describe the pain and helplessness Ten felt. It was everything he’d felt over a year ago tenfold. It was never meant to be this way but life rarely turned out how it ideally should. Ideally, for Johnny, Ten would have stayed or tried long distance. Ideally, for Ten, Johnny would have reacted differently but he couldn’t fault the other man for his love. He truly couldn’t and perhaps that was what made Ten finally accept what was going to happen. Just like Johnny, he couldn’t see another way out.

It wasn’t what he wanted and he wanted to throw a tantrum and riot, yell at the universe for all to hear that this was all shit. Instead, he held the boy in his arms until they both calmed down.

“It’s okay,” Ten said when they finally pulled away. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Johnny nodded and silently got up, extending a hand to pull Ten up as well. They made their way towards the main road in silence, both too exhausted to keep up conversation anymore. Johnny got Ten into a cab then closed the door behind him.

“Aren’t you coming?” Ten asked, rolling the window down.

“I’ll walk around a bit more,” Johnny said with a sad smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The car pulled away as Johnny walked away before Ten could respond properly. The ride felt short and the driver could have kidnapped Ten for all he knew, his brain fuzzy and tired from the emotions that had run wild. But the taxi did drop him off in front of Sicheng’s home. Ten handed the man the money, letting him keep the change and hopped out.

“You’re back,” Sicheng said as he entered the lounge. “I wasn’t ex- oh.”

Ten fell on the couch beside Sicheng, who immediately wrapped an arm over his shoulder.

“Well, that was a waste,” Ten said finally, voice quiet.

“Was it?” Sicheng asked.

“Yeah,” Ten said, then shook his head. “No. It wasn’t- it was a lot.”

“I’m sure it was,” Sicheng rubbed his hand over Ten’s arms. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Yeah? Yeah, I do,” Ten said. “So, you know how Johnny’s the love of my life, right?”

“I do,” Sicheng agreed.

“I don’t entirely understand where he’s coming from,” Ten started. “I haven’t really been dating or even looking to date. So my ‘I’ll always love you’ is different than his ‘I’ll always love you’.”

“It sure is,” Sicheng said and shoved something cold into Ten’s hands. Ten looked down to see a tub of ice cream in his hands with a spoon sticking out of it.

“Thank you,” Ten said, both to Sicheng and the servant that had turned the corner and shut the door between them. “As I was saying, to say I can empathize with Johnny would be- wrong, right?”

“Right,” Sicheng nodded. “You’re not really going through a quarter-life crisis about how you’ll never find love ever again and you might be stuck in a life of loneliness because you keep comparing your new lovers to your old one.”

“Has Johnny talked to you about this?”

“No, but I have half a brain,” Sicheng rolled his eyes. “Plus, you’re not as dependent on love as he is. It’s really not on the top of your priorities any time soon, Johnny being the outlier. So, yeah. You’re not going to truly understand what Johnny’s going through right now.”

“Okay, but,” Ten said after he’d guzzled down ice cream while Sicheng spoke. “I love him.”

“What’s your point?”

“Damn, I don’t know,” Ten mumbled, shoving another spoon on ice cream into his mouth. What was his point? “We both still love each other. But we can’t be together. And now; this.”

“Johnny’s fake marriage,” Sicheng added.

“Yes, that,” Ten said, waving his spoon. “Maybe it is for the best.”

“Maybe,” Sicheng replied tentatively.

“Because, honestly, Sicheng, think about it,” Ten continued. “If we can’t be together, maybe this is the best course of action for Johnny. Maybe this will make him happy! Maybe it’ll work out.”

“Have you considered,” Sicheng said slowly. “If you both adore each other oh, so much and you’re soulmates and there’s no one else for you, that you could try long distance?”

“What?” Ten blinked at Sicheng. “Don’t be ridiculous, Sicheng. That would never work.”

“And why not?”

“Because,” Ten insisted. “A sixteen-hour gap is too much. I’ve thought this through before I broke it off, you know? I tried to find a way but it’s just not feasible. Johnny’s a clingy person and I don’t mean this in a negative way. I just mean that he has certain affection needs that I can’t really fulfil if I’m on the other side of the world, you know? So, I thought it would have been best to let him find it elsewhere. I really thought he would find it elsewhere.”

“You said you were each other’s soulmates,” Sicheng pointed out. “If you weren’t moving on, what made you think he would?”

“Because!” Ten gestured wildly. “I’m me! He’s him! Why would he choose a touch-deprived long distance relationship over a real physical one?”

“That makes no sense,” Sicheng said blatantly. “Even so, now that you know you’re both not moving on anytime soon and you’re better settled in LA, you could try again.”

Ten huffed, getting up.

“No,” Ten insisted. “I’m going to sleep.”

“Okay,” Sicheng said wearily as Ten stomped away. The sheer audacity. As though Ten hadn’t thought of every way that they could have kept their relationship going.

The decision hadn’t been easy and he was still suffering the consequences of his actions but truly, he didn’t regret it. Emotionally, he felt it was unfair that he had to choose but practically, he knew he wouldn’t have turned down the offer no matter what. And despite wanting him around, Johnny wouldn’t have let him turn it down either. Johnny had his stable job here in Seoul, in a company he loved and wanted to grow in. Ten hadn’t had that and even in LA, while he didn’t see himself leaving anytime soon, he didn’t think he had a permanent physical place to be.

To say he wanted his home to be by Johnny’s side was cliched and ridiculous. But it rang of the truth in some way, except that he didn’t see home as one physical permanent place but rather a thing that he could keep coming back to, at least when he was still so young and there was so much of the world to see. It was hopelessly romantic to expect Johnny to wait for him and already, he was being shown the error of his ways.

Ten trudged up the stairs towards his room, his mind spiralling before he could stop it. He told himself he would sleep on it because honestly, what else could he do?

The hallway towards his room was dimly lit, with only a few lamps on while most of the other lights were motion sensitive. Still, as he deftly got near the top of the stairs, he could make out Kun and Doyoung standing in front of Kun’s door, awfully close. Ten smiled to himself and slowed down. Were they finally going to get their shit together? Could Ten crow in victory?

As Ten stood still, taking in the sight, it made something uncomfortably melancholic lodge in his throat. Perhaps it was the way Doyoung’s fingers were loosely wrapped around Kun’s wrist, their bodies linked even casually. They weren’t doing anything particularly scandalous or clandestine but the moment seemed heartachingly intimate. They were speaking too lowly for Ten to be able to pick up what they were saying but going from the sickeningly fond look on Doyoung’s face and the care with which Kun was speaking, Ten didn’t think he wanted to know.

Ten’s eyes tracked the way Doyoung raised his hand to brush Kun’s hair away from his face, though it didn’t seem to be obstructing his view. He saw them both freeze as Doyoung’s fingers grazed Kun’s skin. The tension immediately shifted as Doyoung’s hand lingered by Kun’s face. If he were so inclined, he could grip Kun’s jawline and pull him closer, making his intentions clear. It was painful to watch and Ten prayed they got it over with quickly. Any other time, he would have interrupted, cat calling and telling them to get it on but he wanted this to happen. He so wanted them to finally get together.

A click startled Ten and he watched in sheer incredulousness and bemusement as Kun fell into his room, wrenching himself away from Doyoung and hurriedly saying goodnight far too loudly before closing the door, Doyoung still stood frozen.

“Well, that was pathetic,” Ten bemoaned and Doyoung turned to Ten as the lights came on when Ten finally made it to the top stair. “Although, I suppose I’m in no place to be making such accusations.”

“Ten,” Doyoung said, his voice unlike himself. “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough to see you two make an embarrassment out of yourselves,” Ten said, leaning towards Kun’s door and raising his voice. “You hear that, Qian Kun? You’re an embarrassment.”

“Leave him alone,” Doyoung said, exasperated. “How did the meeting with Johnny go?”

“Terrible,” Ten said brightly, making his way to his own door, Doyoung following. “We’re attending a wedding tomorrow! I hope the food is good.”

“What do you mean?” Doyoung said, his frown evident in his voice even as he trailed behind Ten and Ten couldn’t see his expression.

“I mean,” Ten said, throwing open his door and slipping in and blocking Doyoung’s path inside. “I couldn’t stop him. Maybe this is for the best. Good night.”

Closing the door on Doyoung’s rabbit face only felt satisfying momentarily. Undoubtedly, he would have to deal with the consequences of his actions in the morning when he would have the face the entire cavalry with his failure.

Getting out of his clothes and into pyjamas was a blur and the next thing he remembered was wrapping himself up in his blanket and staring blankly up at the intricately designed ceiling. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to grasp as the wisps of thoughts whizzing about his brain and finally, he allowed himself to fall into oblivion instead.

Ten awoke with no prompt, eyes flying open as dread settled in his stomach, leaving him unable to fall back asleep. A quick check of his phone told him it was twelve past 6 a.m. Despite being wide awake, Ten’s body had no inclination to get out of bed. The thought of starting the day nauseated him so he chose to bundle himself in his blankets, squeezing his eyes shut in hopes that he would fall back asleep and childishly wished he could sleep through the wedding.

He had no such luck and after what seemed like forever, but was probably only ten minutes or less, Ten gave up. He tried to distract himself by going through different applications on his phone but it was all fruitless. He couldn’t keep his attention on any YouTube video, even when he opened his own to do a critical review. Games frustrated him within seconds.

You
how’re u holding down the fort w/o me

Hendery
hehe its great :D
how’s seoul?

You
no ur supposed to say everythings a wreck and that im indispensable

Hendery
u’ve been gone for like a day calm down lmao
and u’ll be back day after tomorrow??
god, the ego on this man

You
say u miss me >:(

Hendery
no i don’t

You added Xiaojun to this conversation.

You
xiaojun tell me u miss me

Xiaojun
ur not here??

Hendery
LMAO

Xiaojun
im kidding ofc i miss u

Hendery
he’s not kidding and he doesn’t

Xiaojun
ok ““““hendery””””

Hendery
its my NAME

Xiaojun
whatever u say kunhang
ten whatre u even doing up
isn’t it like 6 am or smth there

You
yea
jetlag ig

Ten paused, wondering he should really be spilling his guts to these dumbasses. But then again, it would hardly be the first time

You
my ex is getting married today

Xiaojun
:o

Hendery
yikes

You
he’s getting fake married and i have 2 support him

Hendery
it b like that sumtimes man
im sorry tho :(
come back and we’ll find a way 2 get u over him

You
lmao i don’t think i’ll ever get over him but thanks
he’s the loml

Xiaojun
stop the wedding then

Hendery
this isn’t on of ur trashy romcoms xj :P
u cant just Do stuff like that irl

Xiaojun
lmao why not
yes u can
when the officiant goes like “does anyone have any objections” just go uh yea me

Hendery
shut ur romantic ass up xiaojun
the man is getting married clearly he’s over ten

You
well actually

Xiaojun
:O

You
he’s kinda getting fake married 2 a friend bc hes settling bc he doesn’t think he’ll find love ever again

Xiaojun
omg :c
ten nooooooooooo
don’t let him do that, that’s so sad

Hendery
yea that’s dumb wtf

Thank you, Ten wanted to say. It was fucking dumb and he was being forced to endure it.

Ten
we can’t be together bc u know,, time difference

Hendery
yea that shits hard man
yangyangs is 9hrs away and its not fun :|

Xiaojun
ok but?? ur still together

You
bc yy’s gonna come back right
i will eventually too but not any time soon
its unfair 4 me to ask him to wait

Xiaojun
honestly just do long distance if u think ur soulmates
like whats a few years to potentially fucking up the rest of ur life
tryna be w/ ppl ur not meant 2 be

Hendery
ur romanticism disgusts me

Hendery added Lucas to this conversation.

You
literally what

Hendery
group therapy :]

Lucas
ayooooo

Ten stared in exasperation at his phone. Were they serious? He looked at the time. Well, it made the minutes fly by and he didn’t feel the pit of anxiety at the pit of his stomach when he was talking to them.

Lucas
therapy? For ten?? I Knew It
I knew smth was wrong

Ten
yea ok

Xiaojun
so ten’s in seoul going 2 attend his exs fake wedding but he n the ex have feelings 4 each other and the ex is only getting married bc hes like scared of becoming an incel or smth

You
AN INCEL,,, don’t insult johnny like that

Lucas
omg that’s wild

Hendery
right

Xiaojun
clearly ten should taylor swifts speak now this bitch

Lucas
who the what now

Hendery
TAYLOR SWIFTS SPEAK NOW
XJ I HATE YOU SO MUCH

Xiaojun
:]
johnnys not the kind of guy who should be marrying the wrong guy :(

Hendery
so don’t say yes run away now :(

Xiaojun
i’ll meet u when ur out of the church at the back door :(((

Lucas
whats going on

You
theres no church

Xiaojun
whatever the point remains
speak up!!

You
for fucking what T_T we cant have a relationship

Lucas
why not

You
long distance is a bitch?? we’re 16 fucking hours apart??? why is this not registering with any of u

Xiaojun
16 hrs is nothing between soulmates ten

You
i regret telling u that

Lucas
i mean No,, 16 hours is a lot
but all relationships require effort
what u need to think about is
is it worth it

You
you know its not that easy

Lucas
i never said its easy but that’s what it boils down to, imo
yea long distance is hard
and its not for everyone
and sometimes it IS better 2 just break it off
its better bc then both ppl are allowed to move on
it just wasn’t meant 2 be

Ten clenched his jaw as he read Lucas’ words. It was hard to apply that justification to his and Johnny’s relationship. Maybe at the time, it had been better to break it off but neither had moved on more than a year later. Ten couldn’t believe that they weren’t meant to be because he hadn’t viewed their break up as the end of their entire relationship. His heart pounded as he typed out the words.

You
other times?

Lucas
other times, its not for the best
people are just scared
or they overestimate the difficulty and the strength of their love
and u know ten
people can get back together

You
i know that
i always thought we would maybe in the future
he’s my forever

Lucas
that’s cute but i don’t think u understand
ur allowed to change ur mind now
u can try this long distance thing bc neither of u have moved on
if it doesn’t work out u can work from there

You
it would be so much easier if we were closer distance wise

Lucas
yea well
life isn’t easy but you need to figure out whats worth struggling for, man!!
my travels aren’t easy
sometimes i wanna be petulant and whiny and be like
‘why cant ppl just understand me??’
why must i be stereotyped
but its worth it to me bc i can experience new things and cultures
and i can communicate and prove them wrong and show them a different version of me
its not always easy and things r hostile sometimes
but its worth it

You
ur making me feel bad comparing your admittedly noble quest of learning to my dumb love life :/

Lucas
the essence remains the same bro
if this thing, if this guy is worth it
jun’s right
speak up

Xiaojun
HECK YEAAAA

Hendery
xuxi, ur so wise :o

Lucas
:D

Ten laughed at his friends’ antics. Lucas’ words made sense in a way but they terrified Ten. It felt like massive decision to make and Ten didn’t know if he had the brain cells for it. If he made the wrong decision, it could have disastrous consequences no matter what.

If he let Johnny go through with it, Ten would have to accept the fact that it’s truly over between him and Johnny. He couldn’t pretend to be happy for their union if he truly wasn’t, it would be unfair to all of them. He couldn’t watch them and not want the best for them and for them to succeed and be happy. He refused to be that asshole ex waiting for them to break up.

On the other hand, if he didn’t let Johnny go through with it, if he managed to stop the event (not in the ridiculous way Xiaojun was insisting, no way), then what? Ten would have to fly back day after tomorrow, back to being sixteen hours away from Johnny, back to missed calls and sleeping while Johnny was awake and being awake while Johnny was asleep. Surviving on Facetime and phone calls and texts. Was that sustainable? Would that just end up ruining their relationship more forever?

Ten’s eyes wandered back to his phone, which had switched off. He clicked it open to see new messages.

Hendery
i think ten fell back asleep :P

Xiaojun
good
im hungry

Lucas
me too :o

Xiaojun
kbbq in half an hour??

Lucas
heck yea

Hendery
yup

Ten smiled at the exchange and let his phone fall back to sleep. He kicked his sheets off himself and meandered about, lethargically getting ready for the day. He took his sweet time washing up and by the time he wandered into the dining room, it was already loud and chaotic.

It was seemingly close to a full house, with the exception of Johnny and Taeyong. Ten finally had the chance to lay eyes on Jaehyun and Taeil for the first time since he landed. Of course, Doyoung, Kun, Yuta and Sicheng were also there but Ten didn’t particularly care about them when he was swept up in Jaehyun’s overenthusiastic arms.

“It’s been so long,” Jaehyun complained as he put Ten down, pulling away.

“This is my second morning here,” Ten mock pouted. “Where were you?”

“Working?” Jaehyun said with a laugh.

“Don’t you know Ten here should be our priority?” Taeil’s voice said and Jaehyun finally moved his body to reveal Taeil.

“You’re one to talk, old man,” Ten mumbled, falling into the cosy embrace. “You have the money to visit me and you don’t.”

“Yuta told me I must let my child be independent,” Taeil said mournfully.

“I did say that, but I was talking about Jaemin,” Yuta called out from his seat. “Ten can’t be our baby, Taeil, we’ve discussed this. I am baby.”

“Stepmom is barely older than me, papa,” Ten whined. “You know he only married you for the money! He’s going to Cinderella me!”

“Sit down and eat your food,” Yuta said, rolling his eyes, taking Taeil’s hand into his own once Taeil sat back down beside him. “The impertinence.”

Ten ended up sitting next to Kun during breakfast. It felt odd since everyone else was truly paired off and Ten spent quite a bit of time simply shovelling food into his mouth and observing his friends and their dynamics. Not much had changed in the year or so he’d been away. Sicheng still snuck food onto Jaehyun’s place and Jaehyun still had the dumb smile on his face when he became aware that his food pile kept replenishing. Jaehyun was incredibly indulgent and Sicheng knew when to stop so it was a system that worked for them, even if Jaehyun spent more time working out which ended up with Sicheng complaining that he wanted Jaehyun soft, God damn it.

Yuta and Taeil moved as old married couples did. They weren’t overt in their physical displays of affection (unless they wanted to make someone uncomfortable. Then they were super into PDA.) but they had an air and dynamic about them that intrinsically linked them to each other, whether it was the way Yuta automatically put ketchup in front of Taeil without even looking at him or the way they’d hold hands when they could or even simply link pinkies. Yuta’s jacket matched Taeil’s shirt in a nauseating display of couple culture.

Ten couldn’t look much at Doyoung and Kun, who were beside him, without drawing their attention to the fact that he was studying them. He didn’t have to, having memorized their ridiculous oblivious flirting and pining from the years that he’d been exposed to it. Even now, he felt Doyoung freeze when Kun put his hand over his mid earnest conversation and forgot to move it. Momentarily, he wondered what his friends saw when they observed him and Johnny. What innate quirks and habits did they have a couple that they didn’t even realize they were doing? Ten decided to ask just that, silencing the table for a moment.

“Well,” Taeil said thoughtfully. “You gravitate towards each other. Even before you were a couple. It was a game we had.”

“Oh, I remember!” Yuta said with a laugh, clapping his hands. “Especially when we went to parties, we would place bets on how long it would take you to find each other.”

“Even when we were in the same large group, you both would always end up looking at each other,” Sicheng added. “For the most part, wherever there was Johnny, Ten was bound to show up and vice versa.”

“True,” Kun nodded. “But it wasn’t all the time, in my opinion.”

“It’s because we were in the same year and dorm building as him,” Doyoung said. “So we saw him alone more. Then I had Johnny hyung in one of my electives, so I saw him separately too.”

“You’re your own separate people but you were something when you were together,” Jaehyun said, sighing wistfully. Ten remembered that Jaehyun was just as much of a ridiculous romantic as Xiaojun was back in LA.

“Something, huh,” Ten echoed, looking back at his plate. The silence lingered and Ten regretted bringing up the topic.

“So, what happened last night?” Doyoung asked without preamble. No one told him off for his bluntness, instead looking at Ten expectantly. Ten instantly wanted to deflect, bring up the moment he’d witnessed in front of Kun’s door to throw Doyoung on a loop. But he bit back the words and sighed. He would have to deal with this sooner or later.

“We talked about it, Johnny and I,” Ten said. “I think maybe he’s right.”

“I told you he’d find a way to talk him around,” Yuta warned.

“He made some points,” Ten protested.

“Of course, he did, that’s why it’s so hard to dissuade him,” Jaehyun sighed, mouth firmly turned downwards. It was a strange look on the normally cheery man.

“Taeyong as well,” Yuta complained.

“Honestly, I don’t think so,” Taeil said. “Taeyong seems- I don’t want to say less convinced but if something happened and they didn’t go through with it, I feel like Taeyong wouldn’t be heartbroken over it, you feel me?”

“Hm, yeah,” Doyoung agreed. “I feel like the worst of Taeyong’s crisis which lead to this decision has passed but like the mentality is still there and he still won’t back out voluntarily.”

“Of course, he won’t,” Ten sighed. “They’re not actually treating this like a wedding so why should we? Let them make their dumb mistakes. If they feel like there’s no other option and nothing we say can convince them otherwise, what can we do?”

“I don’t like it,” Yuta pouted and Taeil patted him comfortingly.

“I don’t either but there’s nothing else to do,” Ten shrugged. Perhaps he was being overly simplistic or defeatist in not divulging his inner struggle, but he was sure if he did, his friends would try to convince him to go for it and he’d be swayed by them. Ten didn’t want that. Whatever decision he came to, whatever he decided to commit to, it would be his decision entirely. Perhaps that was isolationist, but it was the only way Ten could be confident in the choice he made and face the consequences of actions because it had truly been him who had made the decision.

His friends waited for another beat for more but when none came, they accepted Ten’s decision and went back to their conversations. It wasn’t long until Ten finished his meal and made his way to the backyard with Doyoung and Kun.

“Are you really okay with this?” Doyoung asked as they sat on chairs on the back patio, looking on as Sicheng’s servants set up the modest backdrop to the wedding. And despite the lavish house, it was modest, appearing more similar to Sicheng’s upscale afternoon parties than a wedding. Sicheng had thrown brand galas that held more pomp and gravitas.

“I don’t know,” Ten admitted. “I’m not completely okay with it but I feel like it’s no longer my place to stop him from doing what he wants, even if I think it’s bad for him.”

“Of course, it’s still your place, Ten,” Kun said gently. “You’re still his best friend, the person closest to him. You’re like his other half, for god’s sake.”

“Don’t you think that’s ridiculous?” Ten asked, not looking towards his friends. “It can’t be healthy, the way Johnny and I gravitate around each other and complete each other. We should be our own people. We should be able to move on.”

“What?” Kun said, sounding lost.

“Oh, my God,” Doyoung groaned. “Are you going to go on a manic pixie dream girl from an indie movie monologue about how you need to love yourself and be complete on your own before you can be in love with someone else.”

“I mean, they have a point,” Ten pointed out. “Wouldn’t it be best if I just let this go and eventually, Johnny and I would move on with enough time.”

“Everyone’s life and love is different, Ten,” Kun said slowly. “Life’s too short for us to be trying to make the decision we think would look the best on paper. If you think being with Johnny will make you happy, if you truly feel like he completes you and you’ll never find another person like him, I don’t see why you have to force yourself to not fall headfirst into it. Love’s like that, Ten. Not everything needs to be a calculated move.”

“Being a dash bit codependent isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Doyoung added. “You’re not letting your love hold you back.”

“I haven’t dated anyone since,” Ten muttered. “And look at Johnny! Look what he’s doing!”

“Are you under some delusion that he’s doing this because you broke up with him and he can’t see himself with anyone other than you?” Kun snapped incredulously.

“That’s essentially what he said!” Ten replied defensively. “I’m not being egotistical!”

“Then he’s wrong,” Doyoung stated bluntly. “If that’s why you think you can’t speak up and stop this because you think you’re perpetuating unhealthy codependency, then you’re wrong.”

It was so like Doyoung to take his deepest, darkest fears and put them on display like that. It was a fear he hadn’t even had the words for before Doyoung laid it out bare.

“How can you say that after they basically said we’re like one person,” Ten said, nodding towards the interior of the house where the others still were.

“Johnny dated other people when you left, Ten,” Doyoung said. “He’s not where he is now because he lost you, he’s scared because he’s looked for someone to be what you were and he found none. It’s not that he’s not going to be able to go on without you, it’s that he doesn’t want to, do you understand? There’s a choice being made by Johnny, an acceptance that you’re it. It’s the same decision you’ve made in your heart when you say he’s your soulmate. It’s not fate or volatile emotions. It’s a choice you’ve both made. And that’s what makes it different.”

“What do you want me to do with this information?” Ten replied, agitated. Be that as it may, he could hardly justify breaking off whatever Johnny was going to do when his own emotions were so fragile and indecisive. He hadn’t even decided if he wanted to try long distance with Johnny.

“Do with it what you will,” Doyoung shrugged. “I’m not trying to convince you to do anything. I just want you to have all the information before you make a decision.”

“Best make it quick, though,” Kun quipped. “The wedding starts in four hours.”

Four hours. Ten did not know if that was enough time. He was frustrated with himself because honestly, how hard could it be to make a decision? But when it came to Johnny, apparently, it was infinitely difficult to decide. There were so many factors and their history made it so much more complicated, as did the nature of the situation. When Ten got up to walk around the gardens, neither Kun nor Doyoung stopped him.

It would be easier to just let it happen. Let it go, bury all the possibilities and uncertainty with the knowledge that it was too late, that he couldn’t do anything anymore. He would mourn, he would be heartbroken grieving what could have been but he would genuinely wish the best for them, even if he knew deep down it wouldn’t be attainable on such a flimsy union. He could stand by Johnny in his disillusionment of love and accept that life made sceptics of everyone, even the stubbornly romantic dreamers like Johnny. It would be painful but it would be easier than the alternative.

The alternative being telling Johnny that he wanted a second shot at them. The thought made something curdle in his stomach as he realized how selfish he would sound, walking on Johnny’s wedding day of all days to declare his love. Despite knowing the wedding didn’t hold any real romance behind it, it still made Ten feel sick to his stomach. Just the idea of starting the conversation gave him more anxiety than everything that followed.

Not that everything that followed would be easy. It would be so hard, so difficult. It would take so much out of Ten and Johnny to keep things going. Lucas’ words of whether or not it was worth it rattled around in his brain. Of course, came the answer. Johnny was always worth it, worth everything, worth every heartache and inconvenience. Johnny had been worth Ten having to research ways to woo him with dates. When Ten was bone tired from practice after class and Johnny sent him a message saying he missed him, it was worth getting on the next bus and stumbling into Johnny’s room and falling into his arms. Because Johnny would coo at him, run his fingers through his hair and let Ten doze off in his arms, content with simply his company.

Ten thought back to his call with Johnny the night before his flight and how he wished he could have stayed on the phone with him until he’d fallen asleep. Those little things, Ten realized, would be worth it. Just the knowledge that Johnny was his, was available on the other side of the line. That even if they were time zones apart, Ten was willing to just listen to Johnny do his nightly skincare routine and doze off while Ten worked. That he could flirt with Johnny, make him blush and flustered, make him feel loved and wanted.

With a sinking feeling, Ten realized he was leaning towards the difficult way, that he wanted the alternative, and time was running out. Worry that his realization had come too late and confusion over what to do with it gnawed at him as he made his way back to the house. He wondered how much time had passed as he raced by a set up outdoors area. Doyoung and Kun were no longer in a patio and no one seemed to be in the house when Ten made his way inside. He paused, unsure of where he was going and what he doing. Why had he run? What had he been running towards?

“Ten,” A surprised voice said and Ten startled, whipping around to see Johnny’s mother looking at him. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Ten tried to say brightly but his voice was breathless, partially from the exercise but mostly from anxiety. “How are you, Mama Suh?”

“I’m good, Ten,” Mama Suh said kindly. “How’ve you been? It’s been so long since I’ve heard from you!”

“Well, you know,” Ten said, gesturing vaguely. “Busy with a new life and all.”

“I heard you moved to LA,” Mama Suh nodded. “Why don’t you come up to Chicago sometime? I told Johnny to tell you to.”

“Oh, he did,” Ten assured him. “I just haven’t really had the time.”

“Haven’t had the time to come up for a nice meal but had the time to fly here, I see,” Mama Suh teased, mirth evident in her voice. It struck Ten how similar Johnny and his mother were.

“Well, this is a momentous occasion, isn’t it?” Ten said. “Marriage!”

The snort that came out of Mama Suh was undignified and slightly shocked Ten.

“I am sitting through this façade of a union because I love my son very much and I don’t quite know what else to do,” Mama Suh said seriously before looking at Ten with twinkling eyes. “I do hope you make it interesting.”

With that, she walked off, leaving Ten gaping after her. Sure, it had sounded cool but who the fuck talked like that? Had she practised? On top of that, it just made him anxious knowing she was expecting something from him. He hated disappointing his parents and Mama Suh definitely counted as someone equal to a parent to him.

Ten’s palms got sweaty as he realized that if Mama Suh was here, that meant Johnny was here and his window for changing the course of the day was closing.

The problem with Sicheng’s house was that it was ridiculously massive and confusing. Since Ten hadn’t been in it in over a year, it was easy to lose his way in the labyrinths of halls and stairs, ending up in front of his own door in sheer befuddlement about twenty minutes later. A click made Ten turn and he saw Doyoung come out of Kun’s room.

“Oh,” Doyoung said in surprise. “There you are. Aren’t you dressed?”

“What were you doing in there?” Ten asked.

“Getting my bowtie fixed,” Doyoung said, pointing at the accessory.

“You’re perfectly able to make your own bowtie,” Ten pointed and Doyoung flushed.

“He can’t do it as well as me, though,” Kun said easily, coming outside his room and closing the door behind him. He looked at Ten, still in casual clothes, appraisingly. “Do you need help?”

“No, I can do it, thanks,” Ten said hurriedly, rushing into his room and closing the door behind him. Oh, God. He had to get dressed. For Johnny’s wedding.

He looked at the suit that hung in the empty closet, undoubtedly Sicheng’s incentive having taken it out of his suitcase and gotten it pressed. It was fine. He could put his fucking suit on and then- truth be told, he wasn’t sure what he would do. For now, he focused on the task at hand, dabbing on a base layer of makeup so that he didn’t look like the wreck he felt inside and put on his suit.

A light knock on the door made Ten look away from the mirror as the door swung open, revealing Yuta coming in.

“Need any help in here?” Yuta asked and Ten silently shook his head. Yuta smiled sadly. “You look nice.”

“You too,” Ten said because it was the truth. Yuta looked dainty and beautiful, light bouncing off pretty accessories, wearing a well-fitted suit. “Uh, so, how many people were invited?”

“Not many,” Yuta said casually, though quirking an eyebrow at Ten. “In case you’re planning on making a scene, it’s mostly just us, Namjoon and couple of Johnny’s other friends. What’re their names, I keep mixing it up? The J’s.”

“Jeonghan and Joshua?” Ten asked and Yuta nodded.

“Yes, them. And Seungcheol. And Mama Suh,” Yuta added. “I think that’s it.”

“Taeyong’s family?” Ten wondered and Yuta shook his head. “Alright.”

“See you downstairs,” Yuta said, walking back out. “The event’s going to start soon. And by event, I mean Namjoon reading some fake deep bullshit he made up in place of vows and Johnny and Taeyong possibly tying the knot.”

“Fun,” Ten muttered drily to himself. He took another moment alone to gather himself. His brain felt fuzzy and he was unsure what to do, trying to calm himself with the notion that what’s meant to happen will happen. Either he will find Johnny before the event and say – well, say something. Or he would go to the wedding and he wasn’t entirely sure what would happen but surely his brain would click and force him to do something.

Ten walked out with resolve, confidently making his way downstairs and through the house towards the back, looking for anyone who could point him towards Johnny. But the house was empty, with guests having seemingly made their way to the backyard already. He was almost ready to give up and go out back to ask someone where Johnny was when he stopped in his tracks outside the door of the lounge as he heard the familiar warm cadence. Simply hearing Johnny’s voice strengthened his resolve and Ten made up his mind to push forward, to talk to Johnny and vomit out his feelings and then they could work on something better together, that he was willing to commit to more if Johnny so chose to want it.

Another familiar voice stopped him and his thoughts on their tracks. Ten swallowed, registering Taeyong’s voice. Panicked, he wondered what to do. He should make up his mind, he couldn’t just stand there. But anxiety had frozen him and the conversation from inside unwittingly reached his ears.

“Hey,” Taeyong was saying soothingly. “It’s okay.”

Despite his instincts screaming at him to leave or interrupt them, Ten stood breathlessly still. Why was Taeyong comforting Johnny? Was Johnny okay?

“I know,” Came Johnny’s tired voice, causing Ten’s heart to ache. “I know, I’m fine.”

“You know we don’t have to do this, right?” Taeyong said slowly. “Like, you shouldn’t just go through with it for me or whatever.”

“No,” Johnny said firmly. “This is the best way. I want to do this. It’s time to get over him.”

Ten involuntarily took a step back, thankful he was quiet in his swallowed gasp and that neither groom noticed Ten slinking away into the backyard.

Fuck. Fuck, it was too late. Ten should have stayed up longer last night, been less lethargic this morning, then perhaps he could have realized what he wanted earlier and he could have raced to Johnny’s place in time. But it was too late because Johnny said he wanted to this, that he wanted to get over Ten and who was Ten to deny Johnny anything he wanted?

Outside, the sun was shaded by Sicheng’s gorgeous trees and despite the low budget, everything looked gorgeous in its simplicity. Ten credited that to the fact that Sicheng’s workers were probably used to throwing a party, especially ones that were much more lavish than the current set up. Ten saw Namjoon up at the front with Seungcheol and Joshua buddying up to Mama Suh. He made his way to the empty seat beside Kun and sat down, not responding when Kun hummed questioningly.

His shaking hands were taken into Kun’s warm and stable ones.

“Are you alright?” Kun asked in a low voice. Ten shook his head and Kun sighed, taking Ten’s hands into his own lap as Ten pressed against his side. Ten could hear Doyoung’s low murmur, asking what was wrong but not Kun’s hushed answer.

“I don’t want to ruin things,” Ten whispered into Kun’s ear. He felt Kun swallow and pat him slowly.

“Ruin what?” Kun asked in return. “This?”

“Not the event, I don’t care about that,” Ten replied. “I overheard Johnny saying he wanted to go through with this, to get over me.”

The notion hurt deeply, though it should be what Ten would want. But the reality of it felt like a million papercuts on his hurt that sent pain striking through him every time he breathed. He wanted to get up and run, leave this ridiculous day and everything it entailed behind.

“Ten,” Kun said, tone utterly serious. “If you’ve changed your mind or if your feelings are different than they were when you last spoke to Johnny, I think he deserves to know.”

“It’s bad timing,” Ten muttered. “Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t. Then he can move on like he wants.”

“He deserves to know, Ten,” Kun said sternly and Ten knew it was something Kun believed in. “It would be unfair if you hid this from him when you know how he feels.”

Ten’s response was interrupted by music playing. Thankfully, it was not the Wedding March or Ten might have burst into hysterics. He looked up to see all the guests settled down. Namjoon stood at what Ten supposed was the altar, along with Jeonghan, who had a mic.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jeonghan started, looking around. “Well, mostly gentlemen. We really need to diversify our crowd.”

“We tried, all the others said they wouldn’t waste a Saturday on a fake wedding,” Yuta called out and Jeonghan nodded understandingly.

“I, myself, would not be here if I hadn’t been whined at by those two,” Jeonghan said, gesturing vaguely at Joshua and Seungcheol. “But here we are! To witness and celebrate the holy union of Johnny and Taeyong-”

“Actually, I’m not a pastor,” Namjoon added.

“The legal union,” Jeonghan revised before halting. “Wait, isn’t same-sex marriage illegal here?”

“It is,” Namjoon said helpfully. “I’m not an officiator.”

“The-” Jeonghan paused. “Union.”

“Oh, dear God,” Ten heard Sicheng mutter in front of him as he downed his glass of wine.

“Anyway, here comes the groom,” Jeonghan said in a hurry.

The light clapping and laughter became background noise as Ten set his eyes on Johnny. He took Ten’s breath away and not entirely in a good way. His suit fitted him well but his face looked exhausted. Even the way he walked seemed as though he was trudging along with massive weight. The smile on his face was perfectly polite and most people wouldn’t find anything amiss but the dead eyes and blank turn of lips nauseated Ten. It felt wrong to see Johnny like this.

When their eyes met, he saw Johnny frown, tilting his head. He mouthed something at Ten but Ten couldn’t make it out, too caught up in the emotions that sparked in Johnny’s eyes when their eyes had met. If he stared a little longer, he might have had the strength to stand up.

“And the other groom!” Jeonghan announced before scampering back to his sit, his muttering still audible through his mic. Ten tore his gaze away to see Taeyong approaching. Taeyong looked miles better, his smile as he looked on at his friend sweet and genuine. His face fell when his gaze passed Ten, who was staring at him, transfixed.

“You okay?” Taeyong mouthed and Ten looked away, swallowing. Still so kind, still so gracious, even as Ten wanted to take his stability away from him. Ten went back to staring at his hands, which were now tightly curled around Kun’s, turning them white. But not a sound of complaint came out of Kun and Ten didn’t think he could let go even if he wanted.

“We are gathered here today to join Suh Youngho and Lee Taeyong in a life of mutual commitment,” Namjoon started and something heavy fell in Ten’s gut. He heard Kun hiss beside him as his grip tightened and Ten tried, he truly did, to ease up. They were just words but they rung so serious, it made Ten want. “It is fitting and appropriate that you, the family and friends of Suh Youngho and Lee Taeyong, be here to witness and to participate in their union. For the ideals, the understanding, and the mutual respect which they bring to their life together had their roots in the love and friendship and guidance you have given them.”

Ten heard a snort from his right. Kun wouldn’t so the only culprit could be Doyoung. Ten didn’t understand why; what Namjoon was saying wasn’t too far off from what Johnny and Taeyong were promising to each other. Perhaps Namjoon had been right. Maybe this was all marriage, at its core, was.

“The union of two people makes us aware of the changes wrought by time,” Namjoon continued somberly. “But the new relationship will continue to draw much of its beauty and meaning from the intimate associations of their past.”

Words had a way of transforming the atmosphere. Whether it was commented to lighten the mood or words to add gravity to the situation, words were undoubtedly important in creating the right atmosphere. The guests listened observantly to Namjoon’s lovely voice weave beautiful words that encapsulated the situation and even the ones who hadn’t taken it seriously were enraptured. The words felt like a force Ten would be damned to reckon with his own impertinence.

As Namjoon went on about marriage, Ten looked at the couple. They both had smiles on their faces, though they weren’t beaming with joy or anything of the sort. Johnny still looked out of place and tired, like he wasn’t meant to be there. Or perhaps that was simply Ten’s personal bias. It made him breathless when he realized this was happening and he was a passive bystander, too caught up in observing how Johnny’s jaw seemed clenched.

"If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot be joined together in matrimony,” Ten heard Namjoon say. “Let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

Though the silence was expectant, no one turned to Ten. Hold his peace? Is that what he would be doing? That was far too gentle a phrasing for the riots going on inside Ten.

“Alright, then,” Namjoon said once the silence got uncomfortable.

“Actually,” Ten interrupting, standing up. Distantly, he could realize that he had taken Kun’s hand up with him but his body didn’t seem interested in relinquishing the grip. “I- yeah, me.”

“You what?” Namjoon asked kindly. Normally Ten relished in being in the spotlight but right then, he felt like shrinking away. Instead, he stared right ahead at Namjoon, who was staring back with no judgement. Ridiculously, Ten thought he looked like a kind owl.

“Well, you see,” Ten told Namjoon because he couldn’t care to look at anyone else. “I have some issues with this union. And I don’t think it should go on until I’ve said what I have to say.”

“What do you have to say?” Namjoon asked and Ten sighed, playing with fingers that he realized were still Kun’s.

“I don’t really have anything planned, to be honest,” Ten admitted in a quiet voice.

“It’s alright,” Namjoon shrugged. “Speak your truth.”

“The truth is,” Ten started before pausing. He summoned herculean courage to shift his eyes towards Johnny’s, who was staring at him with wide eyes. “The truth is I’m still in love with you. But that’s not news to either of us and it’s hardly cause to stop this, right?”

“But,” Ten continued. “It’s a bit more than just that and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just stayed silent knowing what I know now. I just came to this realization a few hours ago so I didn’t mean to do this. I know it’s hard to believe because I’m so overdramatic and like turning things into spectacles but that wasn’t what I wanted with this at all. I tried to find you earlier but I couldn’t.”

Ten took a deep breath. He tried not to think about how the silence was suffocating and how he really, really did not have any sort of guide on what to say. It unnerved him as he was usually a man of quippy remarks or scathing comments. He always had something to say and yet, words failed him when he was faced with the moment that he needed them the most.

“I love you and I know you,” Ten gritted out. His words hardly echoed in the open space of the garden but they still seemed weighed down by something, perhaps his own pain. “This doesn’t hurt me because I love you or because I don’t want to see you with someone else. Well, it is a little bit of that, I would be lying otherwise. But the worst part is seeing you like this. You’re not the kind of person that should be having this pathetic wedding. You shouldn’t be losing faith in love, never but at the very least, not while I’m still alive.”

“I said earlier,” Ten said tentatively. “Yesterday and more than a year ago, that I couldn’t do long distance. But I realized I was wrong. It would be hard but you’d be so worth it because you’re worth all the pain and heartache if it means that someday, I can come back home to you.”

All his thoughts were a whirlwind and any instinctive words got stuck in his throat. This was the best he could do and all he got in return was a deafening silence. He didn’t dare look at anyone.

“Right, well,” Ten said hysterically, backing away. He was met with resistance and looked down to realize that his fingers were still intertwined with Kun’s and he had dragged the poor man with him. He let the hand go instantly. “I’ll just go then.”

Running away was hard but it was made easier by the fact that the only person who seemed to call out to him was Taeyong. The cool air-conditioning in the inside of the house calmed his nerves slightly but the sound of his foot hitting the floor seemed to thunder around him. He didn’t know if anyone was following him and he dared not hope that someone in particular was.

Finally, he made it out the front door. The air seemed fresher on the other side, not weighed down by mistakes and emotions as it was in the back. He hardly had a moment to himself to contemplate his sheer idiocrasy when he felt another person barrel into him from the back, wrapping their arms around his waist. Ten could tell instantly who it was and he felt tears well up in his eyes.

“Ten,” Taeyong muttered, holding him tight. “Don’t go.”

“I’m sorry,” Ten said and he cringed at how wet his voice sounded like he was on the verge of actually crying. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

“It’s okay,” Taeyong said soothingly and for a moment, Ten could fool himself into thinking they were in university again and Taeyong was simply comforting him after he got emotional because of his finals or because he binged watched Star Wars. Caring Taeyong, nurturing Taeyong. It hurt Ten that he was the one stuck in this and not some random stranger Ten had never met. It would have been easier than. “Everything will be okay.”

“No, it won’t,” Ten whined, trying to move away. But Taeyong was stronger than he looked and Ten didn’t particularly put up much of a fight. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

“Of course, you do,” Taeyong said. “You wouldn’t have said all those things otherwise. You don’t half-ass things, Ten.”

“I’m sorry,” Ten repeated, sagging in defeat. “Really. I know I told you it’s a stupid idea but it’s something you wanted to do, and I ruined it.”

“It’s okay, Ten,” Taeyong said, loosening his grip now that Ten seemed unlikely to bolt. His arms settled comfortably around Ten’s waist and his voice was comforting in his ear. “It’s not the end of the world. And I’d let you crash my real wedding.”

“You shouldn’t,” Ten near sobbed.

“Why not?” Taeyong demanded. “You’re my friend and I trust you.”

“I’m being selfish,” Ten said.

“And?” Taeyong seemed unfazed. “You’re allowed to be. And I think the situation calls for it a little.”

“Can you at least be a little mad at me, so I don’t feel like shit?”

“No,” Taeyong said simply “Truthfully, I’m happy for you. You make Johnny happy; anyone can see that. I’m really happy you’re going to give it another shot.”

“If he lets me,” Ten sniffed. He felt Taeyong move away and looked back to see the man going to sit on the stairs to the front door. Ten followed and sat silently beside him.

“He will,” Taeyong said, throwing an arm over Ten’s shoulder. “He was just shocked. You’ll be able to help him.”

“And what about you?” Ten asked. Guilt gnawed at him that he hadn’t truly asked. Taeyong simply shrugged.

“Truthfully?” Taeyong mused. “I’m better. I got really lonely and hopeless, but it was easier for me to get out of because I don’t really know what it’s like to have someone like that yet. It’s easier for me to be hopeful again. I don’t know if I’ll get back into dating anytime soon but that existential dread isn’t there anymore. I have my family and my friends. I think I’m content in that now.”

“I didn’t want to take the comfort away from Johnny, though,” Taeyong continued. “I felt bad that I had changed my mind, that I was being whimsical while he was actually committing to this. And it would hardly be a punishment. Trying wouldn’t hurt, right? But I don’t feel a sense of loss if I don’t get to do this, Ten. Don’t worry about me.”

“You’re too understanding,” Ten said, shaking his head.

“Perhaps,” Taeyong laughed gleefully. It was a wonderful sound to hear. “But to be honest, we did put you in this unfortunate position through our ridiculousness so maybe you shouldn’t be too kind on us either.”

“You made me fly all the way from LA,” Ten said, a smile breaking through.

“I can’t apologize for that,” Taeyong grinned back. “It’s turned everything out for the better and we got to see you.”

Ten smiled, looking ahead. Looking back, the entire thing seemed utterly ridiculous. Worse than the most clichéd of stories and if there was anything Ten hated, it was being a cliché. And yet, he felt lighter after talking to Taeyong, feeling fond of the ridiculousness.

“I’m going to go get Johnny,” Taeyong whispered. “Stay here.”

Time seemed to stretch and become painstakingly slow. Ten watched as the kittens in the garden played around, often falling on their round bellies in their instability. It was only as one of the calico kittens had managed to wrap its limbs around a toy and had started to viciously attack it that Ten felt someone else sit beside him.

Without saying a word, Johnny reached out and took Ten’s hand into his own. Ten flushed at the contact. His hands were clammy and sweaty, but Johnny didn’t seem to care; he never did. He silently intertwined their fingers. Ten couldn’t help but watch his hand get dwarfed by Johnny’s as their fingers locked together. His eyes followed the hand as Johnny brought it up to his lips, gasping as a gentle kiss was placed on the back of Ten’s hand, his eyes flying to Johnny’s.

Ten didn’t think he deserved to be looked at with such fondness and love right then, but he allowed it because it was Johnny. It was easy to fall into comfortable silence but Ten knew they had to talk, and they had little time to do it face to face.

“Hey,” Ten said softly.

“Hey,” Johnny replied, his voice lowering to match Ten’s. Ten opened his mouth then closed it, unsure of what to say. Johnny smirked infuriatingly. “Cat got your tongue? You sure had a lot to say earlier.”

“Stop,” Ten whined, pouting. “I just spilt my guts.”

“And I’m glad you did,” Johnny said, tone turning serious. “I’m really glad.”

“I should have done it earlier,” Ten replied ruefully. “Then it wouldn’t have been such a scene.”

“You always were one for extravagance,” Johnny said, shaking his head with a laugh. “You did it in the nick of time. That’s something.”

It was something. It was done and it felt like a significant weight had been lifted from Ten’s shoulders. Kun had been right; he had needed to at least say it, even if nothing would come out of it.

“Now what?” Ten asked.

“You really want to try again?” Johnny asked, eyes cast downwards. “Because I would understand if you just said those things in the heat of the moment. I’d wait-”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ten said instantly. “I would never ask that of you.”

“Good,” Johnny replied. “I don’t know how I’d feel about you if you did.”

“Here’s what we do,” Ten said, forcing his fuzzy brain to grind gears and work beyond releasing love fumes because of how close Johnny was. “Facetime at least twice a week. We’ll need to figure out a time that works for both of us and stick to it. I’m willing to sacrifice some sleep. What else? Communication! If something isn’t working, we talk about it! We can-”

“Hey,” Johnny interrupted, moving his unoccupied hand to cup Ten’s jaw, effectively shutting him up. Ten hummed questioningly. “Can I kiss you?”

Ten had barely finished nodding when Johnny slotting his lips against his, tilting his head just right. It was familiar but that didn’t make it any less head spinning, Johnny stealing the air from his lungs with a  deep kiss. Ten’s grip in Johnny’s hand tightened as he leaned into the kiss completely, chasing the heady feeling. Kissing Johnny was the best kind of familiar, like listening to your favourite childhood song that you only associated the best of memories with. The slick brush of Johnny’s tongue made Ten gasp and soon enough, they were making out on the front steps like teenagers, laughing against each other’s lips as they realized it but unwilling to stop.

Ten didn’t mind. He knew he’d have to cherish this moment for a long time so he fell into it, allowing himself to forget about the future for a moment and concentrate on preserving the present.

“You literally have a room,” Sicheng’s voice startled them but not enough for them to move apart. “Please take it upstairs and stop traumatizing my workers.”

“Traumatizing?” Ten yelped, offended. “They’re getting front row seats to the best view of their lives and you’re saying it’s traumatizing?”

“Not everyone wants to see you try to eat Johnny,” Sicheng replied in a bored voice. “Speaking of food, it’s been served if you’re hungry.”

“We should head back inside,” Johnny whispered but his arms didn’t budge from around Ten. Ten hummed contently but made no motion to get up, instead nuzzling Johnny’s neck. “Head back to your room.”

“Hm, that sounds nice,” Ten murmured before looking up. “But I’m hungry.”

They managed to get up a few moments later, limbs reluctantly unfurling from each other. They walked back inside hand in hand and were met with wolf whistles and cheers for the sole reason of embarrassing them.

“You know,” Joshua said. “I’m glad I came. The food is amazing.”

“Can I make a storytime on this?” Jeonghan asked. “Can I please make a storytime on this?”

Ten was buzzing, perhaps from the adrenaline, perhaps from the immense amounts of serotonin his brain was probably producing. He didn’t let go of Johnny’s hand even when he wasn’t in conversation with Johnny, contently munching away at his food as Johnny talked to the others. He sat next to Mama Suh, who thankfully didn’t say anything until he was done shovelling most of the food on his plate into his mouth.

“So,” Mama Suh said quietly as Ten slowed down. “I see you made it interesting.”

Ten flushed, willing himself not to choke on his own spit.

“You know me,” Ten said with what he hoped was a winning smile. “Always wanting to impress!”

Mama Suh laughed and ruffled his hair fondly.

“I’m glad you came around,” Mama Suh said kindly. “I trust you with my boy.”

The thought both exhilarated and frightened Ten. It would be a challenge, but he’d never been one to run away from a fight. Ten smiled gratefully at the matron. With Johnny’s fingers still intertwined in his, Ten felt like he could take on anything.

Ten soon migrated from the dining table to the couch next to his friends, reluctantly leaving Johnny to his devices with whatever the hell he was talking to Joshua about. Ten had tried to pay attention but they jumped from topic to topic so quickly, it gave Ten whiplash. Instead, he settled on the single armchair as Doyoung and Yuta bantered.

“I’m just saying,” Yuta was wildly gesturing. “Not personally using plastic bags is useless if the top companies don’t stop dumping their waste into the ocean!”

Still,” Doyoung insisted. “Personal accountability could have some impact and once we all stop consuming these products, the companies might follow!”

“I take a tote bag to the grocery store,” Ten added.

“Thank you!” Doyoung declared, waving his arms to show he’d proven his point. He then turned to Ten. “So, did you talk about it?”

“About global warming?” Ten asked, confused. He’d certainly had discussions on the matter but Doyoung knew this.

“No, you dumbass,” Doyoung rolled his eyes. “About your relationship! To Johnny!”

“He’s asking if you discussed beyond your dramatic confessions of love,” Kun said and Doyoung nodded vigorously.

“We mostly made out,” Ten shrugged just to make Doyoung’s temple throb. “It was great.”

“I’m sure they’ll talk,” Kun said soothingly. “They have another day.”

“We will,” Ten assured Doyoung. “Don’t worry.”

“I can’t not, you’re so annoying,” Doyoung muttered.

“Worry about your own love life,” Ten shot back. Doyoung turned red.

“He doesn’t have one,” Yuta drawled out, his smile teasing.

“Oh, yeah,” Ten smiled mischievously. “A little birdy saw something the other day and-”

“Johnny’s coming for you,” Doyoung interrupted hurriedly. Ten immediately looked up to see Johnny was indeed coming towards them and that Doyoung wasn’t simply trying to save his own hide.

“Doyoung and Kun almost kissed,” Ten announced before walking away, meeting Johnny half way and easily slotting his hand into Johnny’s and dragging him upstairs to his room.

They didn’t speak much, only giggling when they brushed too close together, almost tripping on each other. Ten closed the room door behind him with his back and Johnny closed the space between them, pressing his lips against Ten’s and his back against the door. It was perfect, grounding to be enclosed and surrounded by Johnny, Johnny with his hands under his shirt and his tongue in his mouth.

“We should talk,” Ten gasped out when Johnny moved away, trailing his lips down Ten’s jaw, scraping his teeth on the underside of his jaw. Johnny hummed in agreement but made no effort to stop his exploration, instead pulling Ten closer by the waist and biting into sensitive flesh. Ten’s knees almost went weak under Johnny’s consistent stimulation as he was breathless and pinned against the door. “Can we at least get to the bed?”

Johnny’s hand pulled Ten’s leg up and hooked them over his hips, Ten hitching himself up and crossing his legs around Johnny’s waist and wrapping his arms over his shoulders. It was a familiar move that had Ten grinning down at Johnny.

“You’ve gotten heavier,” Johnny wheezed when he finally got Ten down on the bed, clambering on top of him.

“Muscles, baby,” Ten replied, trying to flex his biceps but gets distracted by Johnny’s lips again.

Feverish mashing of lips turned slow and lethargic. The sense of urgency fell away as they focused on relearning each other, hands exploring heavily and recategorizing old whines and moans and soft pleadings.

“Your shirt looks uncomfortable, you should take it off,” Ten whispered. Johnny pulled away and looked down, as though just realizing he was still wearing the remnants of a suit.

“Yeah, it is,” Johnny said. “Do you have a shirt I can borrow?”

Ten burst out laughing at the question, shaking his head when Johnny looked at him questioningly, pushing him off gently to go scour his suitcase for something. When he finally finds something and pokes his head up again, Johnny is much more undressed, sitting cross-legged on the bed in only his boxers, looking at Ten expectantly.

“Found one,” Ten said, waving the item in his hand as he made his way back to the bed. “The price is a kiss,” He added as he stood at the edge of the bed on Johnny’s side, keeping the shirt tucked behind him. Johnny rolled his eyes but didn’t hesitate in leaning up and kissing Ten quickly, before asking for the shirt, insisting it was cold.

Ten himself stepped out of his slacks and pulled his own shirt off, as well as the undershirt. Johnny burrowed under the blankets and patted the space beside him for Ten to join him.

“Do you want me to switch off the lights?” Ten asked.

“I wanna look at you a little longer, but yeah,” Johnny said mournfully and Ten felt blood rush to his face. It was flustering how Johnny could just say things like that. “We’ll be too lazy to get up later.”

Ten didn’t wait the eight seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and tried to make his way back to the bed as quickly as possible, nearly doubling over a dresser on the way.

“I made it,” Ten crowed in victory as he slid in next to Johnny. Johnny’s arm instinctively went around him and Ten sighed contently. “I’m going to miss this.”

“Me too,” Johnny whispered. “Do you really think we can do this? We’re both such physically affectionate people.”

“I don’t know,” Ten said honestly. “I don’t know for sure. But I’m willing to try. I think- I think we can. We just have to be patient with ourselves.”

“Okay,” Johnny shifted, nuzzling into Ten. “Okay.”

“Hey,” Ten said. “How’re you feeling?”

“Overwhelmed. Like I’m going to fuck this up. Happy,” Johnny muttered into Ten’s shoulder.

“Yeah?” Ten asked, reaching for Johnny’s hand blindly, intertwining it awkwardly. “I don’t think you’ll fuck up.”

“I’m still terrified of the future,” Johnny admitted. “I’m happy you’re going to be in it but I’m still scared. My mind’s still so caught up in unnecessary bullshit.”

“How can I help?” Ten asked, turning towards Johnny. He slowly began to run his fingers through Johnny’s hair, waiting for his response.

“I’m working on it,” Johnny said after a moment. “Trying to rationalize this feeling of losing time and jumping to dumb decisions.”

“Talk to me about it, okay?” Ten said. “I’ll talk you out of them.” Johnny snorted a laugh.

“I think I’m going to decline some projects,” Johnny said seriously after a moment. “I’ve been taking on so many in this race to reach the top that I feel like I don’t have any time.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ten replied. He placed a soft kiss on top Johnny’s forehead. “You’ll be fine. You have me. You have the rest of our friends here. We’re all growing into old hags together.”

“I’m twenty-six,” Johnny pointed out.

“Are you getting joint pain already?” Ten asked, helplessly giggling when Johnny attacked him with tickles. He gave up soon enough, securing Ten snugly by his side in the process. Ten wasn’t sure what they mindlessly chatted about before they dozed off, the darkness and the comfort getting to them eventually, the highs of the day finally making them crash.

Ten slowly gained consciousness, falling back asleep several times before he could open his eyes and comprehend where he was. The comforting weight on top of him was Johnny’s arm and his legs were hooked in between Johnny’s legs. Ten turned sleepily, resting his head against Johnny’s chest and slinking back into unconsciousness quickly. The sleep was deep and blank for the most part, darkness only penetrated by the feeling of the body pressed against his shifting and such.

When he finally got up again, he saw honey brown eyes studying him with surprising intensity for such an early hour.

“Hey,” Ten said, his voice hoarse. He wasn’t expecting the kiss but he welcomed it, ignoring the morning breath and disgusting taste. He was sure that in a couple of days, he would miss that too.

“Hi,” Johnny said when he pulled away. “Your last day here. How do you want to spend it?”

“Can we just stay here?” Ten asked, stretching languidly before letting his limbs fall back over the other man.

“Yeah,” Johnny whispered. “We can just stay here.”

Sleepy, messy kissing soon evolved into something more as Johnny pressed Ten against the mattress, hovering over him with intent. Warm hands travelled up and down Ten’s bare torso, leaving goosebumps in their wake. Johnny’s mouth swallowed Ten’s moan when his fingers grazed a nipple.

“Johnny,” Ten whimpered when Johnny grounded down on him. It had been too long, far too long and it was embarrassingly easy for Johnny take Ten apart as soon as he woke up, overwhelming him with sensation from the rolling of his hips to the way his mouth attacked Ten’s neck to the way his hands seemed unable to rest. It wasn’t long before Ten tensed under him, falling into wanton oblivion with Johnny soon following, muffling his grunts into Ten’s neck.

Ten was spent but wide awake, letting Johnny only move away to clean them up before wrapping himself around Johnny again, their sweaty bodies not deterring him the slightest.

“We should fuck before I leave,” Ten announced, probably a bit too loud. A knock startled him.

“Please change the sheets after you do,” Sicheng’s voice came from beyond the door. “Also, come eat breakfast.”

Ten snickered as Johnny turned a mortified red, calling out that they’d be down soon. They got up soon after, their stomachs rumbling. Johnny put his slacks back on and loosely buttoned up his shirt. Ten looked at him appreciatively.

“What?” Johnny asked.

“The white looks lovely against all those bruises on your neck,” Ten said casually, letting out a laugh when Johnny’s hand flew to his neck.

“You’re not better off,” Johnny pointed out and Ten shrugged, grinning.

“I’m fine with that,” Ten sang, rushing into the bathroom to wash up before Johnny could say anything else. Looking at the mirror over the sink, Ten realized how right Johnny was. The marks would bloom into bruises in a day or two. He’d have to go into work like this. Ten quickly went about his routine, trying not to pause too often to grin to himself like an utter maniac.

He checked his phone when Johnny switched places with him.

Hendery
yo so how did it go

Xiaojun
reply soon, im emotionally invested :c

You
i taylor swift speak now’d

Xiaojun
HDGFSJFDHSFJSDJFJ
YEEESSSS

Hendery
congrats man

“What’re you grinning at?” Johnny asked and Ten looked up, smiling.

“Telling my dumb LA friends about us,” Ten said, waving his phone. “They’re pretty invested.”

“That’s sweet,” Johnny replied. “I wanna meet them someday.”

“You will,” Ten said firmly.

Ten wanted to be optimistic, at least for now. He was sure trials and hardship would come later but for now, he wanted to look on the bright side. They made their way downstairs, ready for the onslaught of catcalling and teasing that would come the moment they set foot into the dining room. They were not disappointed.

“Wow,” Yuta said, impressed. “You really got to work.”

“Would it have killed you to cover it up?” Kun complained. “I don’t want to see that while eating.”

“Well,” Ten replied, sitting opposite Kun and getting a withering look for his actions. “You’ll have to get used to it.”

“Guys,” Taeyong chirped happily. “This is so nice. It’s just like our uni days.”

Breakfast flew by. It seemed like time was not willing to slow down for any reason, no matter how badly Ten wished for it to. The conversation devolved into disjointed chaos as always and it took hours for the first person to get up from the table. They had always had a habit of doing that, of finding a place to settle, preferably near food, and just stay there chatting for countless hours sometimes, much to the chagrin of some café owners and librarians. The chance to do so had gotten less as they hit their senior years and even more so as they graduated. Soon, though, they splintered off into different conversation, migrating from the table to various places.

Ten, Johnny and Jaehyun had moved to the back porch where every remnant of the day before had been cleared meticulously.

“Look at that,” Jaehyun laughed. “It’s as though it never happened.”

“Oh, it happened,” Ten muttered darkly. He had stressed too much about the moment to forget it, at least anytime soon.

“I’m glad it did,” Jaehyun smiled, dimples out in full force. “I feel like it was the manifestation of all of the issues and if it hadn’t happened, something worse might have.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Johnny said thoughtfully, his fingers playing with Ten’s absently.

It had been a cry for help, a last-ditch effort of a hopeless man. Looking at Johnny, Ten wondered if stopping the crescendo of the climax from resounding had actually fixed any of the underlying issues. It would be naïve to believe that simply getting into a relationship would fix the issues that Johnny had that had led to his decision. The idea that he might be brushing aside real structural damages left a bad taste in Ten’s mouth. He didn’t want to be the only solution, he wanted to help Johnny find his own solution.

“Are you happy now?” Ten asked, turning to Johnny. Johnny hummed thoughtfully.

“Right now?” He asked. “This very instant? Yeah. But will I be tomorrow? The day after? The coming weeks and months? I don’t know.”

“What can I do to make sure you are?” Ten muttered. Johnny, surprisingly, snickered.

“I know you have delusions of grandeur of wanting to be a hero,” Johnny said fondly. “But you can’t fix everything. There are some things I need to work on myself.”

“But I can help, right?” Ten asked imploringly. As much as it would be ideal for them to be completely separately so Johnny could work on building himself up on his own, their love didn’t work like that. Ten couldn’t not care, couldn’t not want to hold Johnny’s hand through his issues.

“Of course, you can,” Johnny said, wrapping an arm around Ten’s shoulder.

“Your relationship isn’t an automatic fix to a quarter-life crisis,” Jaehyun said and Ten startled, forgetting the breadier boy was there.

“But it’s a great addition,” Johnny said brightly. It settled Ten only temporarily but he had a hard time letting it go despite his insistence to be optimistic on his last physical day with Johnny. He hoped it didn’t show too much but he was sure it did because just as it was the other way around, Johnny was in tuned to Ten and his changes in mood and behaviour. Thankfully, he didn’t bring it up, only trying to physically sooth Ten through whatever had suddenly agitated him.

It was only once they were back in Ten’s room after the sun had dunked low in the sky and their friends had departed that Johnny asked what the matter was.

“I feel like maybe I should have waited,” Ten admitted. “Until you’re better.”

“Oh?” Johnny asked, his face blank. He was sat on the edge of the bed while Ten stood a few steps away, tapping his foot erratically.

“Yeah, it’s just that-” Ten stopped frustrated. He didn’t know how to phrase what he was trying to convey.

“Have you changed your mind?” Johnny asked, not looking at Ten and Ten’s heart broke.

“No,” Ten rushed to say. “I meant it, Johnny, you’re it for me and I, one hundred percent, want to give long distance a try.”

“Then what is it?” Johnny asked, tilting his head in confusion.

“What if-” The words were hard to choke out because the honesty was painfully ripped out from the base of his lungs. “What if I’m not the right choice for you? Jaehyun said that a relationship won’t fix your crisis and what if that’s what I was trying to do?”

“What,” Johnny said bluntly.

“No, think about it,” Ten insisted, starting to pace. Old fears cropped up again, the familiar sense that he was holding Johnny back sending ice running down his spine. “Like think about it objectively, right? What if we’re just stupidly codependent? Is not being able to live without each other a good thing? Am I supposed to have such an impact on your happiness? Like, it’s really-”

Arms around his waist, abruptly halting his pacing. Johnny turned Ten towards him, Ten shuffling forward so that he fit in between Johnny’s legs. It was a different perspective, looking down at Johnny, even if he wasn’t too much taller even as he stood and Johnny sat. Johnny’s expression was still calculatingly blank but the fondness in his eyes was unmistakable.

“Calm down,” Johnny said softly and Ten took a deep breath. “What’re you so scared of?”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Ten said quietly, brushing Johnny’s hair away from his forehead. Johnny’s lips quirked upwards.

“I’m stronger than you think,”

“You’re not,” Ten said sadly, cradling Johnny’s face in his palm. “You looked like shit when I got here. You’re sensitive and you’re vulnerable now. Is jumping into a relationship the best decision for you right now?”

“Hm, but I’m not jumping into anything,” Johnny said, pressing his face against Ten’s palm comfortingly. “I didn’t run after you when you crashed my wedding. I never begged you to stay with me because I thought I couldn’t live without you when you broke up with me, or even when we had the talk day before yesterday. You have all these thoughts in your head, but have you considered that I’ve thought about this for a long time too?”

“I’m not trying to be egotistical,” Ten protested. He bit his lip, sagging into Johnny’s touch. “What’re your thoughts?”

“When you said that you wanted to try again, I actually paused and thought about it,” Johnny said, then he smiled. “I’m actually quite proud of myself for that. I think, in the past, I wouldn’t have given it any thought and I would have just agreed and jumped back into it. But if this quarter-life crisis has done anything for me, it’s that I just think. A lot. All the time. And sometimes, it’s not good. It spirals and I end up somewhere so awful and negative and nihilistic, I can’t believe it’s even my own thoughts. But it’s forced me to confront a lot of things in my life that wasn’t working.”

“Yeah?” Ten whispered.

“Yeah,” Johnny nodded. “About my life, about how I live my life, about my job. So, when you gave me the perfect solution to this thing that had been grating on me, that had been hurting me, I wanted to jump into it. But I didn’t.”

“You,” Johnny continued after a pause. His gaze remained unwavering. “- are so special to me. Genuinely. I wish I could give you the perfect answer you want and say that I would be okay and as happy as I am now if you hadn’t said anything but that’s just not the case. But that’s okay, Ten. I thought about it when Taeyong ran out to you, I thought that maybe you were just saying this because you were emotional and what it would say about me if I just discarded my convictions and went back to you.”

“I was pretty emotional,” Ten admitted. “But I didn’t do it because of that. I just- I just really thought you should know.”

“And you were right,” Johnny replied. “Because my convictions were a reaction to me thinking about what you wanted, because you’re important to me, beyond the romantic stuff, you’re always going to be an integral part of my life. When you changed your stance, my convictions no longer held up. So I didn’t just give everything up to be with you again. I gave them up because they no longer had any grounds to stand on.”

“And honestly!” Johnny’s voice went higher and Ten raised his eyebrows. “Why would I hold on to them? Why would I accept the thing that made me happy? It was a choice I made. I didn’t jump into it, I decided to embrace it because it’s what I wanted. It’s what I’ve wanted since over a year and I don’t want you to think it’s something I’ve, like, romanticized to the extent that I think it’ll fix my issues. I don’t think that. Because my issues go beyond just the fear I had that I would end up alone. That was just the symptom that was the most evident.”

“What if we broke up again?” Ten asked. “Do you think you’ll still fear being alone?”

“Humans are social beings, Ten,” Johnny said and Ten couldn’t help his smile because it was so pretentious but so Johnny. “I’m a social person and I like having connections and people. So yeah, I don’t like being alone. Yeah, I, ideally, would not want to end up old and alone without a partner. That doesn’t mean I need another person to, like, live or else I wouldn’t be happy. But like, I’d like someone. And it would be great if that someone was you because I don’t think I’ll ever find anyone else like you.”

“I’m one of a kind, baby,” Ten said softly. He leaned down to press a kiss onto Johnny’s forehead. “I just don’t want to hold you back from anything. I want you to get better so that even if I’m gone, you’re still happy.”

“That’s unreasonable,” Johnny argued. “Would you ask me to still be happy if Doyoung left my life? Or Yuta? Or Taeyong? Of course, I’ll mourn the loss of relationships, Ten, especially ones that are important to me. If you’re gone, I’d be devastated. Just like I would be if Yuta was suddenly gone. I can be my own person and still care about people enough to give a shit about them if they leave me.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Ten said, though he realized his request had been a tad bit ridiculous. Ten was trying to be an oxymoron, thinking that Johnny was his forever while expecting Johnny to be detached from Ten. But it only came from a place where Ten didn’t want to see Johnny hurt. “I just don’t want you to think that because you’re in a relationship now, your problems are fixed. That’s unhealthy and shit.”

“I’m well aware my problems aren’t fixed,” Johnny said, humour dripping from his voice. It eased Ten’s fears, knowing Johnny found Ten’s tirade amusing and that he was arguing with Ten. Odd as it may be, it confirmed to Ten that Johnny truly had thought about it and his decision was on solid ground. The last thing Ten wanted was for Johnny to stumble and sink again. Ten didn’t want to be another mistake he’d jumped into.

“I want the best for you,” Ten murmured, leaning in to press his forehead against Johnny’s, closing his eyes.

“I know,” Johnny whispered. “But life isn’t that black and white. We just try our best, okay? To be happy and healthy. But it’s okay if we fall short sometimes or if something isn’t exactly how it’s meant to be, ideally. We’re human. We have a hard road ahead of us so I just- I really want you to be sure you want to do this.”

“What made you change your mind from last year?” Johnny asked curiously.

“We’re different people,” Ten replied. “I’m not the same person I was a year ago, going into the unknown. I know my life in LA now, I know my routines, so I know better. I know it could actually work.”

“I’m sure,” Ten said firmly.

“What made you change your mind from last year?” Johnny asked curiously.

“We’re different people,” Ten replied. “I’m not the same person I was a year ago, going into the unknown. I know my life in LA now, I know my routines, so I know better. I know it could actually work. I wouldn’t have interrupted otherwise. I guess I have thoughts and insecurities I need to work on getting rid of too.”

“Ooh, matchy,” Johnny teased before leaning in expectantly, lips a hairsbreadth away, waiting for Ten to finish the action.

Ten poured his excess energy into the kiss, grasping Johnny’s face with both his hands and kissing him like Johnny deserved to kissed. Johnny was pliant under him, hungrily kissing Ten back, pulling Ten closer until he was flush against Johnny.

“You know,” Ten said breathlessly as he tore away to gasp for air. “I just really think that-”

“Stop thinking,” Johnny said, lips bruised and begging to be kissed again as he looked up at Ten with dark eyes. “You’ll give yourself a headache trying to think your way out of something you want just because you think I need to completely stable again before I can be with you again when in reality, I can be with you and heal side by side.”

“You shouldn’t be making such long sentences when I’ve just kissed you,” Ten said but he was smiling.

“You shouldn’t be thinking while kissing me,” Johnny pouted. Ten leaned in to kiss it away, tugging Johnny’s bottom lip between his teeth.

His hands wandered down to Johnny’s shoulder, pushing him back until he fell lightly on the bed, allowing Ten to straddle him. Leaning down and kissing Johnny until he arched against Ten’s torso was something Ten would make sure remained etched in his mind. He memorized every breathy noise, every gasp and grunt that he elicited out of the man under him. Clothes were discarded without much thought as their actions turned urgent and fervent.

When Johnny’s hands shook as they roamed Ten’s body, Ten took them into his own and pinned them to the sides of Johnny’s head. The following kiss was slower, tongue licking a low moan out of Johnny.

“Missed you,” Ten pressed against Johnny’s clavicle as he ground down on him, basking in the choked gasp he got. “Missed this.”

“If you missed it so much, maybe you should hurry up,” Johnny said, his voice hoarse, trailing off into a breathy sigh when Ten ran light fingers over his neck.

“What’s the hurry?” Ten teased as he rocked against Johnny slowly and purposefully smoothly, leaving Johnny writhing under him as he peppered bites and kisses on the skin he could access with his mouth. “We were in such a rush this morning. I want to take my time.”

“You can take your time for the next round,” Johnny insisted, his needy voice going straight to Ten’s hard on. “Ten, please.”

Ten never could truly deny Johnny’s pleading. He’d tease for a bit but he’d almost always give in at the end and after being deprived for so long, Ten broke easier than usual. He stumbled off Johnny’s lap and Johnny looked at him in horny confusion.

“Do you think if I go ask Sicheng for lube, he’ll drop kick me?” Ten asked. He’d be willing to take a drop kick for some lube and condoms, to be completely honest. Johnny laughed, shaking his head.

“Check the drawers before you leave the room with a raging hard-on,” Johnny said in amusement. Ten conceded, disappointed when the right set of drawers presented nothing. He hit jackpot on the left set, grabbing the supplies as well as the sticky note on top of them.

“Put the sheets in the laundry hamper, so help me God,” Ten read out before giggling. “Found it.”

“How’re we doing this?” Johnny asked, sitting up and kicking off his pants and underwear before dropping into place on the head of the bed, looking at Ten expectantly.

“Two rounds, you said?” Ten said, smiling mischievously. It wasn’t anything they hadn’t done before.

“Go big or go home,” Johnny shrugged.

He watched Ten’s approach, his legs falling open with just a touch on the knee from Ten. Ten positioned himself between the legs, pressing a gentle kiss onto his lips before asking him politely if he’d like to get fucked. Ten took hitched yes as an affirmative and ran his hands over the insides of Johnny’s leg, pushing them apart further.

“Don’t make me beg again,” Johnny whispered as Ten took his time trailing warm, wet kisses down Johnny’s torso.

“I’m not,” Ten replied.

“Please fuck me already,” Johnny complained anyway because he was a god damn brat.

“I’m trying, baby,” Ten said, popping open the bottle of lube.

Ten didn’t go slow to be teasing, though Johnny’s drawn-out moans sounded delicious. He was just being careful and turning Johnny into a writhing, whining mess with his fingers was just a bonus. It was only when Johnny’s grip on the sheets was turning his fist white and he was wantonly fucking himself on Ten’s fingers that Ten pulled out. Ten put on a condom and lubed up before Johnny could start whining again, pushing in slowly.

Johnny’s grasped at Ten’s back, hissing as Ten bottomed out, eyes shut as his mouth fell open.

“Yes,” Johnny’s voice was guttural and wrecked. “Move”

Ten obeyed because how could he not when his every movement brought Johnny to near tears as he begged without shame. Johnny wasn’t loud but he was talkative, even when he couldn’t grasp at words entirely, thrusts leaving him with choked up words. The filthy litany almost brought Ten over his own edge but he held back, fucking Johnny until he turned incoherent, until all he could say was Ten and please.

Johnny was beautiful when he came undone because he did so with his entire body, back arching off the bed as his mouth fell open to let out wordless noise, his eyes fluttering shut as he became overwhelmed with all the sensations, chasing the high as he tightened around Ten. Ten soon followed, his last thought before his mind blanked out about how Johnny looked like an open book under him, looking up at him with open adoration.

The expression was still there after Ten stuttered to a stop, gasping harshly. He didn’t know if he deserved to be looked at with such tenderness but he knew he liked it. He always liked Johnny’s gaze on him.

“You’re gorgeous,” Johnny whispered and Ten huffed out a laugh.

“You’re a sap,” Ten croaked back. “Why’re you looking at me like that when I’m fucking you?”

“It’s called love, babe,” Johnny said with a smug grin. He hissed when Ten pulled out, but his smile was still there, bright as ever if a little hazy.

It took a moment to dispose of the condom and find towels to clean up, Ten pointedly dropping the dirty clothes into the hamper before crawling back into bed with Johnny.

“I’m scared to sleep,” Ten admitted. “I don’t have enough time with you.”

“You need sleep,” Johnny said with a laugh, pulling Ten closer. It was easy for Ten’s eyes to slide shut without Ten meaning for them to as he was surrounded by warmth and comforting presence. “At least take a nap.”

“A nap,” Ten nodded, only because it was hard for him to open his eyes again. He felt Johnny rubbing his arm soothingly before he finally fell asleep, giving his tired mind that had been running around in circles all day a break.

Ten woke up in a panic, thinking he had to leave soon. The room was dark, and his body felt heavy. Disoriented, he tried to reach for his phone to check the time but he was pinned down. His breathing slowed when he realized Johnny was curled up around him and that they rolled to the near edge of the bed at some point in their sleep, with Johnny’s arm ensuring Ten didn’t topple over.

He wished he could remain in the position, even though his arm ached in the awkward position between them now that he became conscious of it. He wished he could nuzzle against Johnny and fall back asleep but the twists in his gut kept him up, reminding him time was precious and scarce.

Johnny’s eyes fluttered open instantly when Ten tried to discreetly stretch his arm out from between them. It was hard to see his expression in the dark but arms loosened around him as Johnny slowly got up and scooted back.

“Sorry for waking you,” Ten whispered, sighing in relief as he stretched.

“No, it’s fine,” Johnny said blearily. In the dim light, he saw Johnny change his position, sitting up sleepily. For the first time, Ten cursed Sicheng’s dark curtains that kept out any light, as helpful as they were in the morning, desperately wanting to see Johnny’s face. But the overhead lights were too bright and Ten didn’t have it in him to drag himself out of bed.

“There should be a way to light up a room without the overhead lights,” Ten complained, moving closer to Johnny.

“Candles,” Johnny said. “Lamps.”

“Oh, right,” Ten replied sheepishly. “I kinda forgot lamps existed. Why doesn’t Sicheng have lamps?”

“He does,” Johnny said, amused. “Do you want me to put it one?”

“Yeah,” Ten said. He felt Johnny move away and a click illuminated the room a dim, hazy orange. “Oh, shit, it was right there?”

“It’s okay,” Johnny said comfortingly, though he was laughing. “Lamps are the kind of furniture your brain kind of ignores.”

Ten hummed in agreement, finally looking at Johnny and being able to see him. In the romantic light of the lamp, the image felt like a mirage that would soon fade. Ten hadn’t come with the intention of this happening, he didn’t think he’d see this again anytime soon, let alone indulge in leaning across and kissing the plush lips that followed him to his dreams.

The kiss held none of the urgency Ten had woken up with as Ten contently licked his way into Johnny’s mouth, moving against each other slowly. Johnny’s placed a hand on Ten’s waist, pushing him back until Ten was pressed against the mattress comfortably, Johnny hovering close over him. The position gave Ten the freedom to let his hands wander lazily, feeling the goosebumps that rose when he trailed a hand over Johnny’s back.

It was a heady feeling and easy to become lost in until all thoughts in Ten’s mind had simplified to experiencing the press of skin and the soft sounds of want and longing. Desire was a slow burn and Ten gave himself up to the flame, exposing his neck for Johnny to trail down with his tongue and teeth, steadily adding fuel to the heat under Ten’s skin.

Ten gasped as Johnny’s mouth moved downwards. The pace picked up as Johnny wrapped his mouth around him, sending him reeling.

“Johnny,” Ten warned as sensation flooded him through Johnny’s tongue and mouth. Johnny pulled off smugly, coming up to kiss Ten. The clashing of mouths was rougher and less refined.

“Do you want to switch?” Johnny asked against Ten’s lips. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Ten whispered back. He refused to leave South Korea without getting fucked well and good, even if his muscles might ache the rest of the day.

Johnny tried to be slow and teasing in prepping, trying to bring back the languid rhythm of earlier but Ten was too far gone to tolerate that, whining at Johnny to get a move on and that wasn’t weak and Johnny knew full well that he was good with it being a little rough.

“Are you planning on making me miss my flight?” Ten moaned and Johnny slowed his fingers down as the words.

“You are so annoying,” Johnny replied conversationally like he didn’t have a whining, sweaty mess under him demanding to be fucked.

“Can you please hu- oh,” Ten sighed as Johnny pulled out. He watched as Johnny moved exaggeratedly slow to put on a condom and Ten’s impatience got the better of him. Johnny looked up to see Ten glaring at him and bite back a smile, shooting him a pseudo-confused look instead.

“I guess I have to do everything myself around him,” Ten complained, sitting up. Manhandling a surprised Johnny was easy as was straddling him, Johnny’s hands instantly moving to Ten’s hips to steady him. Truthfully, Ten thought as he lined himself up with Johnny’s cock, Ten just liked having Johnny under him. Johnny looked up at Ten with blown pupils, his breathing visibly hitching when Ten started sinking down. Ten’s own thoughts turned almost single-minded, overwhelmed with the sensation and the pleasure as Johnny bottomed out in him.

“You good?” Johnny said in a low, hoarse voice. Ten nodded. He was good. He was so good.

Experimental pacing turned slow and steady as they rocked together, lost in each other. The feeling of Johnny in him and Johnny’s hands all over him was dizzying. Soon, the burn in his legs became too prominent and distracted but all Ten needed to do was make a mild noise of complaint before Johnny flipped them over. Ten felts the sparks of the fire in the stomach, felt electricity when Johnny mouthed against his jaw fervently. It didn’t take long, in between Johnny’s sounds and movements, for the explosion to ignite, consuming him entirely.

He thought he might have lifted off the bed but honestly, Ten didn’t know because he lost moments to the searing pleasure, overtaking every nerve in his body. It wrung out everything from him before leaving him spent and breathless, stretching out his fingers that had tensed against the sheets and Johnny’s muscle.

He managed to get oxygen to his brain, which realized that his eyes were still shut and Johnny had stopped moving, though he was still full. Ten opened his eyes to see Johnny looking at him with the same expression as before. Ten couldn’t even bring himself to laugh at it.

He was pliant as Johnny leaned in for a soft kiss, swallowing Ten’s whine as he pulled out.

“I can kind of lost it,” Ten admitted. “Do you-”

“Yup,” Johnny said with a laugh as he threw the condom away. “I’m glad you lost it.”

Ten wrinkled his nose as Johnny but allowed him to sidle up against him after wiping him down. Johnny switched off the lamp before wrapping his arms around Ten’s middle as he rested his head on Ten’s chest. Ten wrapped an arm around Johnny’s shoulder, lazily running his fingers through the slight sweat dampened hair at the nape.

The sun had evidently risen, even the dark curtains unable to keep all light out entirely. Ten stretched out to grab his phone and checked the time.

“I have to leave in four hours,” Ten said, not commenting on how Johnny’s arms tightened at the words. They didn’t fall back asleep, simply enjoying being in each other’s company in easy silence.

Ten would miss this. Not just the physical intimacy, of course, but also just this; the easy company, the feeling of rightness, of being where he belonged when he was by Johnny’s side no matter where he was or what he was doing with life. Ten thought if he hadn’t had such a need to explore himself and what he had to offer to the world, he might have fallen into easy domestic bliss and he would have been happy. But Ten couldn’t bring himself to wish he was different or even think seriously about staying.

As much as he loved this life, he loved his other life too. He loved challenging himself and creating dumb viral challenges and moving people with his dance and inspiring others to pick up dance and the arts. He loved his small apartment with Vernon, his regular gym sessions with Lucas, even Hendery, Xiaojun and Yangyang. While he was leaving something behind, he was happy he had something to go to this time.

Ten didn’t have an exact road map on their life and relationship after he left. (He would soon, though. He loved lists and organization.) All Ten knew was that he wanted to try to make both work and just like repeating a move enough times, it becomes muscle memory, Ten wanted the learn the new rhythm of their relationship and see how it would work.

Finally, Johnny got up, stretching out.

“You should go downstairs for breakfast,” Johnny said, yawning. “I’ll change the sheets.”

“Do you want me to bring food up?” Ten asked. Johnny thought about it and nodded. Ten gave him a quick kiss before shrugging into some clothes and heading down.

He paused when he saw only Sicheng as the table, nursing a cup of tea.

“Where’s Kun?” Ten asked. It was odd to see the table so empty.

“He left early with Doyoung somewhere,” Sicheng shrugged. “You would think Doyoung had work.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ten said, grabbing two plates and starting to pile on the food. “Johnny should be going to work too.”

“I guess they’re going in late,” Sicheng said, watching Ten happily build his plate with a smile. “Hey,” Ten turned to him curiously. “I’m glad you’re happy.”

“Do you know how expensive breakfast is in LA?” Ten asked.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Sicheng replied with a laugh. “I really hope you guys can make it work.”

“Me too,” Ten smiled, biting his lip.

Ten precariously took the plates back upstairs, just as Johnny finished putting on his clothes.

“Don’t you have work?” Ten asked as he set the plates down on the ground, sitting down cross-legged.

“I’ll work from home, I already told them yesterday,” Johnny said. “I wanted to spend as much time with you as possible.”

“Good call,” Ten chirped, earning a kiss as Johnny sat down beside him in front of their feast. Once he’d ate enough to slow down, Ten decided to get at least some things down. “So, how are we doing this?”

Johnny hummed in confusion.

“I need some sort of plan or structure,” Ten said, flailing his arms. “We stopped talking before!”

“We communicate more,” Johnny said. Ten heard the obviously that Johnny didn’t say but might as well have.

“Good morning and good night messages,” Ten offered and Johnny nodded. “But let’s not beat our selves up if we miss or something, okay?”

“Okay,” Johnny agreed.

“Facetime regularly,” Ten added, Johnny nodding along. “Any other ideas?”

“Don’t micromanage it and turn it into a hassle and a chore to get through?” Johnny suggested. Ten swatted him but let the matter go, instead discussing timezones and what they’d be doing when the other was awake or asleep. They didn’t set out exact times for things because that would be best done through trial and error but Ten got enough structure and information to feel at ease and confident. He felt butterflies in his stomach and he was genuinely excited at the prospect of it.

Time moved too fast and soon enough, Ten was heading downstairs with his suitcase, Johnny in tow. Kun had come back in time to say goodbye, thankfully.

“It was really nice seeing you again,” Kun murmured as he hugged Ten. “You weren’t even that annoying, distance does make the heart grow fonder.”

“I wasn’t?” Ten replied in mock dismay. “But I ruined an entire wedding.”

“Don’t let it get to your head,” Kun said, rolling his eyes and stepping away. “Let’s meet again soon, okay?”

The words made Ten lean forward and hug Kun again. He wasn’t sure where he’d be without the other man and he squeezed him appreciatively before pulling away.

“Doyoung didn’t come?” Ten asked, looking around for the man that had spent the past few days being attached to Kun.

“He got called in,” Kun said with a sad smile. “He’ll drop me off to the airport later, I’ll tell him you missed him.”

“Thanks,” Ten said, grinning at Kun before turning his attention to Sicheng.

Sicheng was expecting the armful of the short man but he still stumbled backwards at the force of it.

“I’ll miss you,” Ten said sincerely. “Thank you for everything.”

“Anytime, Ten,” Sicheng replied, his voice as soothing as the hand rubbing Ten’s back. Ten pulled back, sniffling slightly.

“Come visit me, okay?” Ten pouted. “I can’t believe so many of my friends are loaded and can’t be fucked to visit me.”

“I will, I promise,” Sicheng said with a smile. “I’ll nag my agent to get me a gig in LA.”

Soon, Ten was packed away in Johnny’s passenger seat, watching the mansion disappear in the side view mirror. He wanted to say he would miss this but Johnny already knew. He reached out and took Johnny’s hand, intertwining their fingers and placing it on his lap, only momentarily letting go when Johnny had to change gears or use both hands to steer, which wasn’t often.

Johnny parked the car and walked Ten to the farthest point he could.

“Alright,” Ten said, turning on his heels to face Johnny. “I don’t think I can handle it if we get all overdramatic and emotional so let’s just- let’s just say ‘see you soon’, okay?”

Johnny stepped closer, taking Ten’s face into his hands.

“See you soon,” He said, before leaning down to kiss Ten, pouring all the words he couldn’t say into it. The sheer emotion of it left Ten’s lashes wet with unshed tears as he pulled away.

“Text me when you land,” Johnny continued.

“It’ll be really late for you, Ten replied, looking up in an attempt to make the tears go away.

“Do it anyway,” Johnny insisted. Ten nodded.

“I love you,” Ten said and Johnny grinned brightly.

“I love you too,” He replied tenderly. He wished Johnny would let go of his hand because he wasn’t sure he had the strength to. With a final hug and kiss, Johnny did just that, stepping away, shooing Ten to go inside. “I’ll see you soon!”

Ten waved and took a deep breath, turning around and walking towards the ticketing booth, only looking back once he was cleared to pass through, shooting Johnny one last smile.

He was waiting to board, listening to music and trying not to think too deeply when a message came through.

Hendery
we’re gonna pick u up from the airport so don’t get a cab :D

You
who is ‘we’
don’t u lot have Work?
i’m gonna head straight to work anyway

Hendery
me + xj
and we can just go to work together !!
we wanna be cliché n annoying
n we already made u a banner so yea

You
????
fine
don’t be late or i will leave

Hendery
tee hee

Ten grinned, putting away his phone. He’d gotten a window seat for the flight back and he took that as a change in his luck and as optimistic foreshadowing for the future. He intended to sleep through much of the flight so that he could head straight back to work and get back into the rhythm. He’d probably crash terribly at night but it was a sacrifice to be made.

A plane slowly rolling into view caught Ten’s attention through the tall windows. He quickly took out his phone and snapped a shot.

You
[image attached]
isn’t this the airplane kun’s horny for

Doyoung
.

Kun
urgh i wanna be in her so Bad

Doyoung
don’t indulge him

You
u’d love to get ur hands on her and take control, wouldn’t u, kun

Doyoung
please shut up

Kun
absolutely
could ride her so well D:

Doyoung has left the chat.

Kun
well

Ten
dw he just got horny over u talking abt wanting to take control

Kun
lmao
isn’t ur flight boarding soon?

Ten
yeah yeah
ttyl

Kun
have a safe flight

Ten
you too

Ten smiled to himself as he put his phone away, getting up to get in line for boarding, feeling like maybe he could balance both worlds.

True to his plans, Ten knocked out pretty early on in the flight, only blearily waking up to eat food that tasted like nothing only to doze off again. He dreamt in wisps that soon dissolved into darkness and despite his stiff muscles and the aeroplane noise around him, he curled against the window into himself and slept deeply, unresisting of the grip sleep had on him knowing he would have to be awake the rest of the day. He only shook himself fully awake, stretching out, once they’d started landing. Looking out, he saw a bright sunlit LA under him and felt himself unwittingly grin at the sight.

It was a little mindboggling to him that he had technically travelled five hours back in time from when he’d last been on land and that he would experience noon of the same day again. As the buildings got closer, Ten looked down, wondering what his friends down there were doing, realizing he’d had no contact with his roommate the entire time he’d been gone. This wasn’t particularly alarming, Vernon and Ten weren’t the type to talk constantly; it was what lead to such a peaceful living situation. Still, Ten thought he’d send out a message to remind Vernon that he was back.

Touchdown on LA ground made Ten feel a myriad of emotions. He was happy, of course, he was. This was where he wanted to be. But a part of him was melancholic at the idea that he’d truly left and that his time in Seoul, for now, was over. He didn’t know when he’d see Johnny or Kun or Doyoung or any of his friends in person again.

He tried to shake the thoughts out of his mind, rushing through the airport to find his friends who were here outside, who’d come to the airport at seven in the morning before work to pick him up. It didn’t take long for Ten to spot them with their massive sign. How the fuck did they even have the time make that, the WELCOME BACK, TEN <3 big and loud and colourful.

“This is so unnecessary,” Ten said as he approached. Hendery rolled up the banner with a grin, chucking it into the car through the open window. Hugs were exchanged and they soon clambered into the car, unwilling to stand under the sun any longer.

“I wanted to mimic the Welcome home, cheater meme with Welcome home, homewrecker, because, you know, you broke up a wedding but Hendery didn’t let me,” Xiaojun said mournfully as he turned the ignition and put the aircon on blast.

“This is the first time we get to do this for Ten!” Hendery said. “We can’t use that if we want to keep this tradition alive!”

“Yeah, I don’t want LAX to know me as a homewrecker,” Ten replied. “Anyway, selfie time, I need to send it to my boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend,” Xiaojun repeated excitedly before assuming a pose.

You
[image attached]
i’ve landed!
my friends came 2 pick me up :3

The response was almost immediate, Johnny already typing as soon as Ten sent the image.

Johnny
yay!!
you made it safe!

You
yup
heading 2 work now :<

Johnny
you can do it!!
good luck <3

You
<3 <3 <3

Ten settled back, getting into conversation with Xiaojun and Hendery. They talked about Ten’s flight, spending most of the drive catching up on what Ten missed in LA (nothing much of significance except that Lucas had got bamboozled into adopting a kitten by a cute boy) instead of talking about what happened in Seoul. It was for the best since Hendery told Ten they would be having dinner with Lucas and he could spill everything then.

The first day back at work ended up being super hectic, Ten immediately following up with tasks and getting information about new things that were going to happen. It was the first time in a while Ten realized how fast-paced the industry was.

Johnny’s goodnight message appeared as Ten was leaving a meeting with his superior catching him up on everything and his new tasks.

Johnny
goodnight
have a great day

You
sleep well
i love u

Johnny
hfasjdfsdf
I love you too <3 <3

Ten grinned at Johnny’s reaction, putting his phone away and diving back into work. Ten was glad he took the break, apart from obvious romantic reasons, because it helped him refresh and find even the things he’d started to get bored with at work interesting again. Ten, despite his occasional lethargy and laziness, liked being a busybody, especially when it came to creative endeavours that he could physically see the results of.

He got Johnny’s good morning message at 3:12 p.m., surprisingly a squeal out of him. He didn’t know exactly when Johnny woke up for work but now he did and he made a mental schedule in his mind.

Johnny
good morning
still at work?

You
morning!!!
yeah but i’ll leave soon to grab dinner with friends

Johnny
[image attached]
miss u

Another yelp at the sight of a sleepy, ruffled Johnny had people looking in his direction but he just held up his phone, showcasing the selfie Johnny had sent.

“Look at my boyfriend, you guys,” Ten said.

“He’s a very handsome man,” Laila, who was the closest to actually be able to see the picture, said in a monotone voice.

Johnny
ten?

You
sorry!!
was telling my coworkers abt my boyfriend

Johnny
am i the boyfriend

You
.
yes johnny
u r my boyfriend

Johnny
:DDD

Conversation tapered off once Johnny had to start his day and Ten had to wrap up but it felt natural. Ten didn’t want to come off as overly clingy and communicative and neither did either of them have the time for it.

Ten did, however, send Johnny a picture of his dinner and his friends. He didn’t stay out too late, the day already starting to wear him down but he ate his food and explained what had happened, enduring the teasing and laughter at his expense happily. Barely a couple of hours later, he was dropped off under his apartment building.

His place was empty when got in and thankfully, clean. He’d never left the place for so long so he truly didn’t know what kind of mess he’d find when he returned since Ten was definitely the tidier of the two. Other than a leftover blanket on the couch and some collection of clutter, the apartment was pretty much as Ten had left it, which was the best he could ask for, to be honest.

Ten mechanically went about his nightly routine, showering and changing and snuggling into bed though it was much earlier than his usual bedtime. Just as he was contemplating whether or not he should text Johnny or if he would fall asleep mid-conversation, his phone rang and he saw Johnny calling him on Facetime. He accepted.

“Hey,” Johnny said. It was daytime in Seoul and he looked like he was in his office. “Are you busy?”

“No,” Ten replied contently. “I just got into bed but I’m not super sleepy yet.”

“I just thought that, you know,” Johnny sounded a little awkward, endearingly so. “I could call you during my lunch breaks when you’re free.”

“Sounds good,” Ten replied. He felt fuzzy and warm. While the pangs of wanting Johnny to be physically there still hit, spending time with him like this was still good, watching him munch on food as he tried to explain why a book he was editing had terrible world building. They talked for nearly an hour before Ten started unintentionally dozing off, Johnny’s comforting voice and hectic day making his eyes heavy.

“I’ll let you go now,” Johnny said and Ten’s eyes flew open. The momentarily panic subsided when he realized he could speak to Johnny tomorrow again when he woke up and Ten smiled, nodding. “Sleep well.”

“I love you,” Ten said, his voice sleepy, grinning when he saw Johnny’s face spasm in joy at the words.

“I love you too,” Johnny replied. They just looked at each other a moment before laughing, Ten ending the call before he could be tempted to force himself to wake up at the detriment of his health. As Ten fell back into proper slumber, his heart felt at ease.

It became routine, though not in a particularly strict way, with much learning, especially in the first few months. They realized neither could stick to a set schedule of calls and catching up since Ten had a flexible and unset schedule and Johnny’s workload rose and fell according to the projects he took on and the work that was put on him by his superiors that he really didn’t have much of a choice to ignore. On top of that, they had social lives, with sudden hangouts and dinners with friends, going to get drinks without prior commitment. Any expectations to an adherence to a strict schedule and their inability to do so made them both feel guilty and awful.

Johnny’s earlier suggestions of not micromanaging and turning their calls into a chore made things easier than Ten would have initially thought. It was terrifying, of course, to not have designated times to spend together because of the fear that they would just forget would great. But other the next month or so, Ten saw a pattern emerge even when they didn’t make many set dates or times. They still messaged each other good morning and good night and had a tendency to send each other pictures of their day rather than sending messages. Their common Facetime hours were during lunchtime for Johnny where they sometimes watched things together, just enjoying the company, or as soon as Ten woke up, which was normally an hour or so before Johnny went to sleep. They’d unwittingly adjusted their schedules to each other a little, Johnny sleeping a little later and Ten waking up a little earlier until they had just enough time to spend with each other before Ten had to start his day and Johnny had to end his.

It wasn’t to say it wasn’t rough. It was certainly harder than the seamless, easy relationship they had when they were physically together but Ten insisted on remaining the optimist, celebrating the victories and the fact that they had even sustained their relationship for a while, considering just over a year ago, Ten hadn’t thought that would have been possible in the slightest. Hitting a few road bumps, while devastating when they were both emotional, were rarer than the sheer joy and contentment they felt. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t ideal, but it was perfect and ideal for their situation.

Their first serious fight came three months after Ten had returned to Seoul. Time seemed to fly by on a busy schedule of work and friends and having a relationship and before Ten knew it, it had been three months. The time they’d spent together seemed close yet so far away and longing and busy schedules made tensions right.

Ten knew, objectively, that Johnny hadn’t meant to not pick up his morning call or answer any of texts throughout the day. Ten knew that Johnny had been working long hours to finish the extra work he’d picked up before he decided to stop compensating loneliness with work. But he still had to deal with the projects he was already halfway into. Ten knew Johnny was busy, had heard him complain about it the night before and had murmured soothing words.

But long distance relationships had a way of distorting objectivity very easily and making everything very volatile and emotional very quickly. Perhaps it was Ten’s own fault for settling into their not strict routine that sudden, constant disruptions to it caused him to start feeling pissy and unsettled over time. It was after the fourth time Johnny had disappeared for more than a day without contact before reappearing again, apologizing profusely and Ten pretending it was fine, for Ten to finally snap.

“You’re being petty,” Yangyang said. He’d come back a month prior and apparently didn’t need any catching up since Xiaojun and Hendery kept him up to date with all the drama. He’d found Ten sulking at his desk around four p.m., trying to pretend he wasn’t bothered by the fact that he, again, hadn’t gotten a good morning message.

“Just message him first, dude,” Hendery said, his voice concerned even though he rolled his eyes at Ten’s petulance.

“I will not be the clingy boyfriend,” Ten ground out. “Every long distance relationship article says not to be clingy.”

“You’re not being clingy, you’re being communicative!” Xiaojun insisted. He didn’t know why they all decided to hold an intervention around his desk when he was trying to work. “You’re addressing a repetitive issue!”

“Go away and let me work,” Ten said dismissively, pointedly not looking at his phone again to see if he had any notifications.

“You’re being an idiot,” Yangyang said before wheeling his chair away. Hendery also shrugged and turned away but Xiaojun remained looking over Ten’s cubicle wall.

“What is it, Xiaojun?” Ten murmured. “Don’t you have actors to be yelling at about directions?”

“Do you think,” Xiaojun said slowly. “That maybe, if you maintain your silence and keep pretending that this doesn’t bother you, Johnny will think you don’t care enough?”

Ten looked up, struck by the words enough that they made him mildly angry. Perhaps Xiaojun saw the emotion in his eyes because his own widened as he stepped away.

“What the fuck, man?” Ten’s voice was tight with tension. Xiaojun shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” He said hurriedly. “I overstepped. Okay, bye!”

Xiaojun running off didn’t stop the words from rattling around in Ten’s mind, keeping him from focusing a hundred perfect on his work, causing him further anger. Just the idea that it could be perceived that Ten didn’t care enough grated on him. He cared so much. He did so much and the least Johnny could fucking do is texting him. With someone so far away, it wasn’t as easy to be forgiving as you would be if they were in front of you.

When Johnny finally called, the following day when Ten had just woken up, Ten had half a mind to not pick up and give him a taste of his own medicine. But no- Ten felt combative.

Johnny probably picked up on it and tried to tread lightly but that only irritated a sleepy Ten more. He looked at Johnny, tired and probably ready to turn in for the day and small part of him thought to himself that maybe this wasn’t the best time to do confrontations.

“Why do you keep ghosting me?” Ten blurted out, sounding madder than he expected or felt because he wanted to cover up the real hurt that would have bled into his voice.

“I’m not ghosting you,” Johnny replied, sounding tired. For some reason, that stung Ten more, like his grievances weren’t being seen as legitimate. “I told you I’m busy.”

“I know you’re busy,” Ten snapped. “But a text doesn’t take long, a simple ‘hi, I’m busy, love you, bye’ doesn’t take that long.”

“I try my best, Ten,” Johnny shot back. “But you know it’s hard. I’m trying to deal with work and my own issues and sometimes, I forget, okay?”

“It’s happened like four times by now, though,” Ten argued.

“Then why don’t you reach out?” Johnny said softly and Ten froze, Xiaojun’s earlier words coming back to him. At the lack of a response, Johnny sighed. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“What do you mean that’s what you thought?” Ten demanded. “What’re you thinking? I don’t reach out because I know you’re busy.”

“I-” Johnny started before floundering, closing his eyes. “I’m exhausted, can we not do this right now?”

“Can we not-” Ten started incredulously, stopping himself before he could bite out something too harsh. “Okay, you know what? Fine.”

He hung out without preamble, wrapping his arms around his knees as unwanted tears brimmed his eyes and fell. It was stupid, he knew it was stupid but he was allowed his stupid emotions and if his boyfriend could fucking comfort him about it, that would be great. He ignored the call when Johnny almost instantly called back. He put his phone on his dresser with the screen facing downwards and allowed himself to cry because he knew that if he didn’t, it would show when he arrived at work.

His morning routine seemed off with only two days of not talking to Johnny. It wasn’t that they talked every single morning but they did it more often than not and the days they didn’t, they still left a message or something to sooth the other. His last missed call from Johnny was past midnight Seoul time before they stopped. He went to work, ignoring all the looks, dropping his bag off and making his way to the dance studio to work on a project.

It was easy to lose himself in the process of making and learning the choreography, though he had to work extra hard to remove his personal melancholy out of the interpretation of the song that was quite cheerful. He didn’t check his phone until they disbanded for the evening, Ten feeling lighter in a way knowing much of the work was nearly done.

He had missed calls from Johnny from three p.m. onwards until they stopped again.

Johnny
please stop ignoring me
last night might not have been the best time but
lets please talk about it
i love you

Ten chewed his lip. He wasn’t sure if he could call Johnny then, considering it wasn’t one of the times in their normal routine, a time when Johnny was working and Ten was getting off work or going to the gym or out with friends or just chilling alone. He could wait a few more hours to when he knows Johnny will take a lunch break. He came to a decision quicker than he thought, pressing the call button before he could convince himself otherwise.

Johnny picked up immediately, coming into the view. Just the sight seemed to ease something in Ten as well as making an aching rise. He wanted to reach out and touch.

“Hey,” Johnny said tentatively.

“Hey,” Ten replied. Silence hung heavy as neither was sure what to say.

“I’m really sorry,” Johnny said finally. “You’re right, I should have said something. I was just so caught up in everything but- no. You’re a priority as well and I should have taken the time out.”

“You should have,” Ten said before sighing. “But like, I should have reached out too. And not ignored your calls and stuff when you wanted to communicate.”

“Yeah, please don’t do that,” Johnny said, his voice sounding wounded. “I- I really don’t like that.”

“I’m sorry,” Ten said sincerely. “I’ll try not to again.”

“If I forget, just call me or nag me or yell at me, it’s fine,” Johnny said. “Just like- maybe not after I’ve had a long ass day.”

“Yeah,” Ten replied sheepishly. “It wasn’t the best timing. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Johnny said easily. “Let’s learn from this, okay?”

“Okay,” Ten whispered. They hadn’t talked for long or even extensively discussed their issues but Ten still felt unburdened and better.

“Are you at the dance studio?” Johnny asked and Ten nodded. “How’s it going?”

“It’s almost done,” Ten said with a proud grin before his eyes flickered to the clock. “I’ll ramble about it later though, you have to get back to work.”

“I don’t mind,” Johnny said seriously and Ten flushed.

“Get back to work,” Ten said, trying to sound firm. “We can talk in a few hours.”

“But,” Johnny pouted and Ten almost broke.

“I have to drive back anyway,” Ten said with a laugh and Johnny finally conceded at that, promising he’ll call soon.

“I love you,” Ten said.

“I love you too,” Johnny replied, crinkling his nose before ending the call.

As he made his way back home, Ten wondered if it could be so simple. A bursting of emotions yesterday, a raw wound healed with a few words today. A part of him wanted to be sceptical and pessimistic, insisting it might not actually work out, that the cycle would continue until they barely spoke again until this fantastical relationship dissolved into busy silences and too many empty apologies.

Still, he pushed the thoughts aside and waited to see if any evidence supported that notion. They talked later that night, Johnny listening attentively as Ten rambled on about his latest dance video preparation. They talked more about their relationship as well and what to readjust and fix.

Moving forward, they both made active efforts to work together and at some point, the long distance relationship became Ten’s new normal. Date nights where they both watched the same movie on and kept the commentary running on video chat were biweekly occurrences. When Taeyong went to stay with his parents for a week, Ten watched Johnny make a disaster out of his dinner, yelling at him through the phone to let the oil heat up more, eventually watching him order in take out. Ten knew how to work Korean sites to send Johnny gifts and flowers when he felt like this and Johnny did the same with Amazon.

Ten liked it. Despite his earlier convictions that pursuing this was worth it, the reality of how much he enjoyed it still surprised him. He never felt the inclination to replace the relationship with an easier, more physical one. Sure, he got melancholic and felt longing when he saw couples kiss and hold hands and cuddle or simply sit together, but he didn’t want that with just anyone, he wanted it with Johnny.

“That sounds really sappy,” Ten said, laughing. It was late in LA, nearly one a.m. but it was a weekend and he was on a call with Johnny, talking about things that eventually lead to Ten’s romantic musings.

“It does,” Johnny admitted, though he didn’t seem unhappy with it. “But I understand. I feel the same way.”

“But you dated other people when we separated,” Ten pointed out. “I can’t even be fucked to do that.”

“Yeah, but it’s like,” Johnny waved a hand. “I’d rather have this relationship with you than a physical one with someone else.”

“Aw,” Ten cooed, trying to hide how the words made him flustered. “Would you rather be sexting me than having actual sex with someone else?”

“Yes,” Johnny said seriously and Ten snorted. “And sexting is sex! We’re creative!”

That they were. Sexting, phone sex and video sex also became Ten’s new normal but it was better than next to no sex which had been his habit for the year prior. And Ten shared Johnny’s sentiment. It was better online with Johnny than it would be with anyone else in real life.

As they fell into a familiar rhythm, Johnny got noticeably less busy. When questioned, he told Ten he’d finally finished the extra shit he’d taken. Their routine didn’t change though, Johnny taking more time to himself, reflecting on his life and what he wanted to do and what he could do to fix the feelings of existential crisis he still felt at times. While he talked to Ten about it, he didn’t delve too much into it, choosing to resolve it in his own time by himself.

Ten didn’t mind. He could see that the alone time was helping Johnny, as well as himself and all their friends who were there for me. When Johnny said he would be going away with Yuta on his week camping out in the mountains, Ten wasn’t particularly surprised but it did startle a laugh out of him.

Living a week with no contact wasn’t easy and by the end of it, Ten was quite ready to tear his hair out. He missed Johnny and he never thought he’d cherish a video call as much as he did then. But Johnny came back and he looked better, talking a mile a minute about everything he’d done. He was remorseful that he hadn’t allowed Yuta to whisk him away sooner and after the experience, he seemed more willing to let his friends intervene, to find meaning in the little things in life rather than feeling lost in the grand picture where he was a but a speck.

Sicheng came to LA seven months after Ten had returned, though only for a few days, for a shoot. Ten was ecstatic, unwilling to let go of his friend for more time than necessary, introducing him to his friends in LA.

You
[image attached]

Kun
omg
all my dumb kids
luv it

Doyoung
what about renjun and chenle

Kun
i said my Dumb kids
renjun and chenle r the smart ones

You
i’m telling xj that

Kun
noooo ur right
and xiaojun
the rest r dumb kids

You
join us :c

Kun
lmao i’m not even back in korea yet and u want me 2 fly to LA
but i wish i could lol
i rly miss u guys >_<

You
still cant believe smn (doyoung) doesn’t just fly for an hour and come visit you
fake

Doyoung
i cant just?? do that??

Kun
come over the long weekend

Doyoung
wait rly?

Kun
unless u have other plans?

Doyoung
no!! i’ll see what i can do

Kun
omg i’m looking forward to it

You
p l e a s e get a room.

Kun
we will, ten, doyoung needs somewhere to stay

Doyoung
DFJHDSFJDSHF

“Dads still haven’t gotten their shit together,” Yangyang said mournfully. “Would love to be in a stable family one day.”

Ten threw a fry at him.

Once Sicheng left, Ten felt himself crave physical affection more. Perhaps because Sicheng reminded him of his time in Seoul and brought it back to the forefront of his mind to the point where the new normal didn’t satisfy him anymore.

At some point, he ended up looking at flight prices and days he could take off. He didn’t bring it up to Johnny, not wanting to say anything until he could make confirmations.

“I still think Thor with long hair is iconic,” Johnny said one night as they finished watching Thor: Ragnarök.

“Yes, but that’s why it’s so symbolic that he loses it,” Ten explained. They discussed the movie more until Johnny went silent for a moment. Ten didn’t think much of it. It was late where he was and he was probably getting sleepy.

“Hey,” Johnny said instead, his voice clear. Ten looked at him questioningly. “I have something to tell you.”

Immediately, the words seemed to send his mind into chaos. Those words never meant well, did they? Well, he’d never know if he didn’t find out so he told Johnny to continue, fear gripping his throat.

“I’m going to be coming to LA next month for a week,” Johnny said and Ten froze. “Ten?”

“What? How? When? Why?” Ten asked in rapid succession before shaking his head and breaking into a grin. “For real?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said with a smile he tried to bite down but couldn’t. “There’s this launch party happening for a book I worked on and when they said they’d do a launch party with their American publishing partners in LA too, I asked if I could attend that as the company representative and they agreed today.”

“That’s amazing,” Ten gushed. “When’s your flight in? Where are you staying?”

“That’s the thing,” Johnny said. “The company is going to be paying for my flights and stuff but they’ll only put me up in a hotel for the two nights around the launch. I was wondering if I could stay with you?”

“Yes,” Ten said immediately before pausing. “I’ll confirm with Vernon but I’m sure he’ll be fine with it.”

“Are you sure?” Johnny asked dubiously. “I could get a motel or something.”

“No,” Ten insisted. “I want you here. And yeah, I’m sure Vernon will be fine with it. He’s a really chill dude, even if you never see him.”

Johnny arrived on a Thursday morning. Hendery and Xiaojun had once again insisted to pick him up.

“We gotta, Ten,” Hendery said seriously while Xiaojun nodded. “It’s a tradition.”

“Don’t you two have work?” Ten groaned, knowing he couldn’t oust the two from his car.

“Yangyang’s covering for me,” Hendery grinned.

“He’s such a good boyfriend,” Xiaojun said wistfully.

“I know,” Hendery replied before looking at his watch. “Let’s get going, Tennie.”

Ten ended up taking them, promising he’d leave them on the streets if they inconvenienced anything.

“Oh, dear God,” Ten said as they got off the car and Hendery unfurled a sign that said WELCOME BACK TO TEN, JOHNNY. “When do you people even get the time for this shit?”

“We arts and crafts every week,” Hendery said smugly. “Yangyang added the stickers this time.”

“Please don’t embarrass me in front of my boyfriend,” Ten warned lightly.

“If he’s embarrassed by you, you shouldn’t be his boyfriend,” Xiaojun shot back. “Isn’t it that tall guy over there?”

Ten whipped around and it actually was. Xiaojun wasn’t just pointing at some random tall guy to distract Ten. Ten called out, waving his hands. He could barely contain his excitement as Johnny spotted him and started walking towards him.

“He’s here, you guys,” He told Hendery, fervently slapping his arm while Xiaojun waved the banner.

“Ouch, ouch,” Hendery complained. “Yes, he is, go kiss him or something, get away from me.” He rubbed his arm when Ten finally stopped hammering into his tender flesh. Ten proceeded to do just that, running forward to leap into Johnny’s waiting arms.

Perhaps a tad bit overdramatic but the moment called for it and Ten gripped tight, relishing the realness of the man under him, burying his face in Johnny’s neck as he held on.

“You’re here,” Ten whispered.

“I’m here,” Johnny replied, rubbing a soothing hand over Ten’s back. They stayed like that for a moment, wrapped up in each other before Ten reluctantly let go, climbing down and taking Johnny’s hand in his own, leading him to where Hendery and Xiaojun stood.

“Hey, guys,” Johnny said warmly. “Thanks for coming to pick me up.”

“He’s as tall is Lucas, I’d say,” Was the first thing Xiaojun said, making Johnny laugh.

“I will leave you here,” Ten warned and Johnny squeezed his hand soothingly.

Ten designated the younger two to the back seat as they drove back. Ten dropped them off near their work building.

“Take your fucking banner,” Ten called out and Hendery ran back to grab the banner before running off after Xiaojun.

“They’re interesting,” Johnny said in amusement as they made their way to Ten’s place. Vernon said he would be crashing with a friend for a couple of days due to some issues they were having so Johnny and Ten would have the apartment to themselves for a day or two.

“They’re something,” Ten agreed. “You’ll probably have to have lunch with all of them sometime this week.”

“I’m fine with that,” Johnny said. “I feel like I need their approval.”

“You need Lucas’ approval,” Ten said after a moment of thought. “I don’t care what dumb, dumber and dumbest think.”

Ten pulled Johnny into a kiss as soon as he closed the apartment door behind him. It had been too long and Ten’s every nerve felt on fire from the simple brushing of lips. Yet, he’d never felt more content than standing way too long in a doorway, with only Johnny’s arms around him keeping him up.

As they fell into bed, Ten bemoaned the fact that they couldn’t spend the entire week together. But Ten couldn’t get an off other than the weekends and Johnny had work to do. Still, they made the most of their time together and despite working away from each other for two days, coming home to each other felt like the most fulfilling thing in the world.

“I missed this,” Ten said the night after Johnny’s launch when they were curled up together in bed. Ten had delighted in taking off the suit off Johnny and finally having the freedom to pepper him with hickeys.

“Me too,” Johnny murmured back. He’d had a long day and it was soon after that he dozed off, entirely spent. Ten stayed up, staring at Johnny like a creep but he couldn’t help it. His eyes drank in the slope of his nose, his slightly ajar lips as he slept and felt a swelling of inexplicable emotion in him, something that made him pull Johnny closer and press their temples together. Johnny barely stirred, simply gripping on tighter as a sleepy reaction.

It would be hard to part with this again, Ten thought. A large part of him, larger than it had been before, didn’t want to let Johnny go again, didn’t think he could go back to surviving in a long distance relationship when he got this, for real, for a longer period of time.

Ten sighed, closing his eyes. He knew he could. And for the man in his arms, it would be worth it, no matter how hard it would be. It always would be worth it.

He pushed the sadness aside in his mind for the rest of the week, focusing on making the best of the time he did have with Johnny. The promised dinner with his friends came and Johnny got Lucas’ coveted approval. Ten took Johnny to all his favourite places, even to his office once. He took far more pictures than he knew what to do with. He needed enough to keep him going after Johnny was gone, which would be all too soon.

Ten took the day of Johnny’s nighttime flight off. They spent the day alone in bed, just surrounded by each other. Ten thought that might not be the best idea since after Johnny left, everything here would remind him of him but he didn’t care, overwhelmed with the feeling of Johnny around him, closer than ever.

Later, as Johnny waved goodbye and ducked into the airport, Ten wondered how Johnny had found the strength to let him go when Ten was flying back to LA. He shuffled back home and wrapped himself in the sheets that still felt like Johnny and went to sleep.

It was harder, having had a recent taste of being together at the same place but life moved on and their routine fell into place again. Only, Ten’s longing grew. He started wondering, genuinely, if he should start looking for jobs back in Seoul. In all honesty, he’d gotten a lot out of his job in LA while there was still a way to go, Ten wouldn’t mind giving it up for something closer to home. Still, it was something that needed a lot of thought and he had to make sure he simply wasn’t thinking it because of his fresh longing for Johnny.

As days went by and they got back into the same routine again, Ten looked at his life, really looked at it and thought about what he was doing anymore. He’d come to LA to find his purpose, to experiment around and try to figure out what he could give to society and what he does for the world. Truthfully, he wasn’t doing much experimentation anymore, his speciality consisting of dance and more artsy, longer-term videos rather than the eccentric, viral content where he got to try his hand at a million different things. He’d seemingly found his field, the niche he enjoyed working at and had garnered an audience while doing so.

He tentatively brought it up to his friends nearing the one year anniversary of his relationship.

“You’re right,” Yangyang said, nodding. “There’s a company in South Korea that does similar things that we do and they also have a section focused on dance and film and such. If you butter up the higher-ups, you could get a reference for that.”

“Really?” Ten asked, gut-churning at the possibility. “How do you know that?”

“I know everything,” Yangyang said with a slightly eerie smile. “Trust me. You’re an important asset to the company, you could ask for shit like this.”

Ten didn’t quite yet, still mulling it over, even talking to Kun and Doyoung about it.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Kun said. “I’m moving back to Korea in two months as well.”

Doyoung disappeared from view as he dropped his phone. Ten raised an eyebrow questioningly at Kun who smiled back sheepishly.

“This is the first time I’m mentioning it,” Kun admitted as Doyoung appeared on Ten’s screen again.

“You’re coming back?” Doyoung demanded. “For good? When? Where are you staying? Are you transferring back to your old company or into a new job? What?”

“Yes, for good,” Kun replied patiently. “Two months from now, I told you. I’ll be staying with Sicheng if I don’t find a place until then though, I likely will. I transferring back to my old company, in a promoted position. What what?”

“Does this mean you two will finally get your shit together?” Ten asked excitedly.

“Sure,” Kun said, just as Doyoung said, “Shut up, Ten.”

The silence was awkward and Ten wanted to dip out but he didn’t want to miss the crucial moment.

“Did you say sure?” Doyoung asked after a moment nervously.

“Yes,” Kun replied.

“Ah,” Doyoung said before falling into silence again.

“God, you two,” Ten groaned. “Please, please bone as soon as Kun gets back. I can’t take this anymore.”

“Bone?” Doyoung choked out while Kun nodded understandingly.

“Anyway,” Kun continued, ignoring a red Doyoung. “You should definitely try it. Talk to Johnny about it too, see what your future plans are together so you can plan it around each other.”

“Alright,” Ten said. Kun nodded and logged off soon after. Ten turned to Doyoung. “You’re a grown ass man, Kim Dongyoung, what the fuck?”

“I was startled!” Doyoung said defensively, though his ears were still glaringly red even through the screen.

“Kun is literally heavily flirting with you,” Ten said. “And you flirt back! Can you please just-!”

“Bone?” Doyoung asked drily.

“Yes, that, but also like,” Ten sighed in exasperation. “Get together like you’ve been on the brink of doing so since university? Like, God, Doyoung, you can’t have any doubts at this point, can you?”

“I don’t,” Doyoung said in a quiet, thoughtful voice. “I haven’t had any since I visited him that long weekend. But I never really knew what to do about it.”

“When he comes back, take him out on a date,” Ten said. “And like, say it’s a date, don’t go out on one of your normal hangouts where you act like it’s a date anyway. Ask him out officially. On a date.”

“Okay,” Doyoung said firmly. “Got it. I will.”

“Thank God,” Ten praised the Lord.

It was their one year anniversary. It was one a.m. in Los Angeles and five p.m. of the same day in Seoul so they were both in the same day when they celebrated. Ten made an effort to dress up even though it was past midnight. He watched fondly as Johnny opened the present and flowers Ten had sent. His own flowers were in a vase and the earring Johnny had sent already in his ear, dangling prettily.

He didn’t get to bring up his idea that night since Ten got distracted by Johnny and his filthy fucking mouth. And it was probably for the best because Ten would have been too sleepy to properly explain anything as time progressed.

He finally got to talk about it, after he’d conferred with people in the company, asking them if it was a possibility, to which they agreed that it was, but only once Ten’s contract ended the coming year.

“Hey, so,” Ten said, diving right into it, making Johnny stop mid-bite and look at him in concern. “What’s our future?”

Johnny chewed and swallowed before answering.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Ten explained. “How long are we going to keep doing this long distance thing? What’re your career plans? How can we make our lives intersect again?”

“Honestly, I don’t particularly have any plans on leaving this company right now,” Johnny admitted.

“Okay, because I think I can come back to Seoul,” Ten said, wincing when Johnny’s chopsticks clattered.

“Sorry,” Johnny said, picking them up again. “What?”

Ten explained what he dubiously planned on doing but the more he spoke about it, the more he became convinced of it. He talked about how it wouldn’t be for another eight months, though, since Ten had to finish out his contract with the company well and leave on good terms. Johnny nodding along, absorbing the information with a passive expression.

“Well,” Ten said finally. “What do you think?”

“I mean,” Johnny started. “I love it. Obviously. I would love to have you back, everyone would.”

“I can hear a ‘but’ in there,” Ten said wearily and Johnny smiled comfortingly.

“But,” Johnny continued. “Are you doing this because you’re truly done with your career there or because of our relationship?”

“Honestly?” Ten mused. “Both. I’d be lying if I said our relationship didn’t have an impact on my decision but that’s okay. This relationship is important to me and it’s an important factor in my decision. It’s not the sole reason but it’s definitely a reason. But there’s no reason for me not to move back. Dance is much bigger in South Korea, at least industrially, in the field I’m in and I’ll have more opportunities to make an impact there as well.”

“Okay,” Johnny grinned. “I just want the best for you.”

“I know, baby,” Ten said with a laugh.

Now that he’d spoken it into existence with Johnny, it felt more real. Ten discussed it more with his superiors. He stopped getting longer-term projects, most of his deadlines finishing before his eight months were up.

“This is so sad,” Hendery mourned, seeming genuinely heartbroken when Ten broke the news over drinks that he was definitely leaving once his contract was up. “Everyone’s leaving, this fucking sucks.” Hendery was also a little drunk.

“What do you mean everyone?” Ten asked with a laugh.

“You’re leaving,” Hendery whined. “Lucas is always flying off somewhere! He’s off somewhere now! He’ll see you so much in Seoul! And Xiaojun’s going back to China.”

“You are?” Ten asked in surprised. Xiaojun glared at Hendery, who didn’t notice as he buried his face in his crossed arms over the table.

“Yeah, probably,” Xiaojun shrugged. “Unless I find another sustainable job here. This company is driving me insane.”

“Oh,” Ten said. He knew Xiaojun complained a lot about work but that was expected of him as a director, having to deal with a whole bunch of people, a lot of whom could be difficult as fuck.

“Also, I’m over this internet content shit,” Xiaojun continued. “I’m gonna go be a real director! On real films or music videos! Not this ‘Six Types Of People You See At The Grocery Store’ bullshit.”

“That’s a great idea,” Yangyang insisted, his words slurring, petting Xiaojun lovingly. “You should write that down, you precious smart cookie.”

Ten made sure to drop the kids off to their apartment, leaving Xiaojun on Yangyang and Hendery’s couch. He took a picture and sent it to Kun.

You
[image attached]
ur kids
wasted

Kun
uwu u put them to bed <3
don’t forget to leave water and aspirin for them >:(

You
yea yea

You
u know doyoung’s gonna ask u out next week

Kun
o worm? :o
nice

You
please livechat it

Kun
absolutely not, ive been waiting for this moment for Years

Of course, the following week, Ten did get long messages from both Kun and Doyoung as well as a bombardment of pictures. It settled warmly on Ten’s chest and watching their pictures of their dates on Instagram, Ten felt his excitement at going back heighten.

With four months left before he went back to Seoul, he started looking for housing. He wondered if Johnny and he could move in together but discarded the idea. If they chose to in the future, he would be open to it but Ten needed to go back to his own place. He also started setting up communications with the Korean company, sending them audition tapes and references as well as his resume. He wouldn’t boast to say he was hired on the spot but- it was pretty close.

It suddenly became real when Taeil found Ten a place. Suddenly, Johnny and Ten weren’t saying ‘I miss you’ but rather ‘I’ll see you soon’. Ten and Yuta were making real, physical, feasible plans for the near future.

“Do you think we should come to LA?” Yuta asked a month and a half before Ten was set to head back.

“Yes,” Ten said instantly, unsure of what Yuta plan even was or whom ‘we’ consisted of exactly. “Come to LA before I leave.”

“Yeah, let’s do that,” Yuta said thoughtfully before getting distracted by a squirrel on his walk and showing it to Ten.

It turned out that by ‘we’ Yuta meant everyone. Ten thought he was being a little ambitious when he said that he wanted to get them all out to LA the week before Ten was supposed to head back so they could all fly back together. He didn’t truly think it could happen and sure enough, there were issues with timing and being able to get that long of a leave.

But, in the end, they decided on the last three days, all of them getting the days off under Yuta’s insistence.

Ten was packed away, most of his things already shipped back to Korea and waiting at Sicheng’s place. He was living out of a suitcase and while he had told Vernon he was happy to crash with a friend if he wanted to rent the room out to someone else, Vernon insisted it was fine. His friends here at gotten mournfully clingy, with Ten having to physically detach Hendery from him most of the time.

“Oh, God,” Ten groaned as he came to a stop in front of his car to go pick up everyone from the airport. Adding to the consistent nuisances that were Xiaojun and Hendery, Lucas and Yangyang had also decided to join them. “Listen, you all can’t even fit in my car. I have to pick eight people up.”

“Which is why we should take two cars,” Hendery insisted, grinning when Lucas unlocked his car, which admitted looked cool.

“Can I even stop you?” Ten asked tiredly.

“Nope!” Xiaojun said, getting into Ten’s backseat once he unlocked his car. “We have banners.”

“Banners?” Ten complained. “More than one?”

“One is for Doyoung and Kun, particularly obnoxious, says ‘congrats on the sex’,” Xiaojun explained and Ten immediately felt better about the situation. “The other is the generic one with the rest of them.”

Yangyang climbed into the back seats as well while Hendery went with Lucas in his SUV. Ten didn’t know where Lucas got his mom van from but it would be helpful.

The entire ride, Ten was buzzing, close to vibrating off his seat trying to contain his excitement and joy. He hastily parked in front of Arrivals, almost hitting the car in front which was thankfully Lucas’.

The first to come out of the gate were Yuta and Taeyong, followed closely by Taeil.

“Hi!” He heard Yuta screeching. “Oh, my God! Are those banners for us?”

“Yeah!” Xiaojun yelled back and Yuta laughed out a scream. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Yuta hug Xiaojun but his main focus was still on trying to see Johnny. The crowd coming out of the gates had clearly separated the group as Doyoung and Kun came out next, and mortified screams from Doyoung at the banner followed. Next, Sicheng waltz out, unfazed by the hurried people around him.

Finally, finally, Ten saw Johnny with Jaehyun before Johnny saw him and already started making his way towards the man. He saw Johnny’s eyes wander, trying to find Ten near the crowd of their friends but Ten ran up to him from the side.

“Found ya,” He said brightly, hooking his arm into Johnny’s.

Johnny immediately looked down at him with a massive smile. As they made their way to their friends, arm in arm, Ten realized how drastically different his life was and for the better. When they all joined together, Ten was beyond happy and content that he was decided, at the right moment, to speak now.

 


 

 

"You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of your love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soul. Fill each others' cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Even as the strings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

- Kahlil Gibran