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paradise; between like and love.

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Come on, Taeyong. It’ll be fine. It’ll be okay.

 

His internal musings weren’t helping at all, Taeyong realises too late. Maybe it’s the trembling of his fingers, or the shallow breathing, that tips him off.

 

No, it’s probably the fact that he’s leaving to go on a week-long road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, to the beautiful beaches in the Tropics, with his best friends. It was an exciting thought, one that’s been entertained by Yuta and Taeyong ever since they got into high school, and one that they brought Johnny into when he joined their friendship group.

 

Yuta, Taeyong’s best friend ever since he tried to fight Taeyong on the first day of year eight before sticking up for him that afternoon, had always wanted to bring his friends to his hometown of Cairns, to show off the place that had been his backyard for almost his whole life. Taeyong had loved the idea then, and he loves it now.

 

It’s just … he’s leaving his family. For an entire week; just two eighteen-year-old boys, one nineteen-year-old, and a rickety, old Commodore VT that had been passed down through two generations of the Nakamoto family. Taeyong knows he’ll miss his dumb, little brothers, and his parents, and even the angry lady down the road that likes to yell at him every afternoon. He knows that he’ll have at least one panic attack, because he knows his body, and his anxiety, and that it’ll happen because he’s not in a stable environment.

 

He also knows that his crushes on his two best friends, Johnny Suh and Yuta Nakamoto - coincidentally, the people coming on the trip - won’t magically go away in a week.

 


 

“Hi, Ms Lee!”

 

Taeyong could hear Johnny’s voice down the stairs, politely chatting to his mother, and he knows that Yuta is probably bounding up the stairs now and will hit his room in three … two …

 

“Yong!”

 

With that split-second warning, Taeyong’s prepared for the moment Yuta launches at him, knocking him over and onto the carpet. A hand automatically cradles the back of his head, and Taeyong is left staring at the ceiling as Yuta laughs breathlessly into his ear.

 

“Hey, buddy - did you have fun tackling me?” Taeyong’s tone is dry and sardonic, doing nothing to dispel Yuta’s giddiness, and he pushes himself up into a sitting position. Yuta shifts so he’s pressed against Taeyong’s side, elbows knocking together, and Taeyong sighs softly.

 

“The car’s all packed, everything’s there, Johnny’s still chatting your mum up.” Yuta nudges Taeyong, the older teenager chuckling softly. “He thinks he’s some god-given gift, huh? Just because he’s got a slick Yank accent and some fancy, fucking shoes-”

 

“We get it, the wealthy are a blight on society, and you hate Johnathan Suh with a passion,” Taeyong cut Yuta off drily, knowing that he’s only joking. It had taken a little while, initially, for Yuta to warm up to Johnny in the beginning of year eleven; Johnny had been one of the new kids, and the only foreigner. Coming from the United States, Johnny was a year older, rich and unsuited to ‘crass and backwards country kids’ like Yuta Nakamoto, Cairns terror.

 

Those were his exact words, Yong! What the fuck gives him the right?” 

 

You called him a dickhead, Yuta.”

 

Taeyong’s pulled from his memories as Yuta stands up then, extending his hand and helping him onto his feet. By now, Johnny’s just poking his head through the doorway. He grins at the two, face lighting up in sheer happiness to see his best friends - despite the early tensions with Yuta, it’s clear enough to anyone now that the three are as thick as thieves.

 

“Are you ready, Tae?” Taeyong looks around his room - his room he’ll be without for an entire week - and then he sees the happiness on his friends’ faces. He sees his longest best friend reach for his hand, squeezing it comfortingly, and finally - finally - Taeyong feels himself relax.

 

“Yeah - yeah, I’m ready.”

 


 

“Do you have the map open, Yuta?” Johnny’s just steering the car out of Brisbane’s outer suburbs when he speaks up, Yuta lounging back in the passenger seat with a can of 4XXXX - why does he have a pack in the front? - and his phone clearly not on.

 

Do you have the map - Johnny, you magnificent bastard, I make this trip every holidays back up to hellhole Cairns.” Yuta’s scoffing around his mouthful, handing the drink back to Taeyong who takes a delicate sip; he really hates beer. “I can direct you easy.”

 

“That’s not … okay, whatever,” Johnny lets it go when he remembers who he’s arguing with; one of the most obstinate and stubborn people in all of their grade. “Just don’t let me make the wrong turn, okay?”

 

“Why’s Johnny the one driving, Yuta?” Taeyong can’t help but pipe up, letting Yuta finish the can before crushing it and putting it back in the carton. Cleanliness wins.

 

“Because I was up late last night packing, and I have a headache and don’t want to crash the car.” Yuta is as blunt as always, but then he’s shooting a wicked grin at his two best friends and Taeyong feels the world shift on its axis once more. “Come on, Yongie, aren’t you excited? You finally get to come to Cairns!”

 

“Wait, Yong’s never been up?” Johnny’s tone is incredulous, and Taeyong doesn’t blame him - he’s lived his eighteen years of life in Brisbane, been best friends with Yuta for four years, and yet he’d never made the trip to the tropical city up north. “Dude, what the hell? Even I’ve been to Cairns.”

 

“For a day, don’t get uppity about it.” Taeyong’s huffing and leaning back, and the resounding laugh from Johnny is disgustingly adorable.

 

“You sound like a grandma, Tae - old lady Yong!”

 

“Sweat out, you bloody drunk.”

 

 

It’s only an hour later when they’re pulling up at one of the gas stations along the road, finally in the ‘countryside’ of coastal Queensland. Taeyong’s gently shaken awake by Johnny, who’s leaning over him and softly pushing at his shoulder.

 

“Hey, buddy, we’re here now. Yuta’s gone on ahead to get some pies; do you want to go to the toilet, or …?”

 

Pushing past his current fatigue, Taeyong smiles and murmurs a quiet “no, thank you,” as he sits up. He notices how Johnny’s casually leaning on the car, obviously about to fill the tank up, and he notices how he also looks tired already.

 

“Do you want me to do the fuel?” When Johnny begins to look hesitant, like he was going to argue, Taeyong continues on. “Go and watch Yuta; you know what he’s like with a Brumby’s and money.”

 

That sentence alone is enough for Johnny to pale, shove the fuel pump into Taeyong’s hand and run in.

 

It's a perfect opportunity for Taeyong to fully comprehend where they are, what they’re doing - fuelling the car is methodical and steady, something he treasures.

 

“Fuck, we’re really doing this,” he murmurs to himself, looking up and spotting Yuta and Johnny through the glass windows of the service station. Yuta’s got his arms full of food - chips, chocolate, a rare banana that he must’ve found God-knows-where - and Johnny’s desperately trying to hound him. It’s a common sight, Johnny trying to contain Yuta, as Taeyong’s known him too long to even try anymore.

 

It’s not long before the car - shitty tank size for a shitty car - is full, and Taeyong’s motioning for Johnny and Yuta to finally pay the balance. He’s sliding into the car, and a few minutes later has the two boys bounding back in.

 

“I got chocolate!” Yuta flips around in his seat to push a block of Cadbury’s best - the Marvellous Creations brands - into Taeyong’s hands. “Look, Yong, your favourite!”

 

A smile tugs across Taeyong’s face, looking down at the chocolate in his hands, before he’s lightly whapping Yuta on the forehead and grinning at him.

 

“Thanks, Yuta, now I can eat myself into a chocolate-induced coma.”

 

“All you need is to sit and listen to Yuta babble, and you’ll nod off straight away.”

 

“Okay, first of all - fuck you, Johnathan …”

 


 

The afternoon bleeds into the evening, and the evening bleeds into biting wind and rolled-down windows, the last dredges of the setting sun casting across the highway that Yuta hurtles down.

 

“I thought you could drive!” Johnny sounds completely stressed, and Taeyong thinks it funny that he never knew how fast Yuta drove. There’s only a cackle in response, but the car slows down, and Taeyong sees Johnny’s death grip on the sides of his seat relax.

 

“We’re almost at the first stop - you both still alive? Yong, you okay?” Yuta’s voice calms, not as dramatic and outgoing as he usually is. It’s moments like this that Taeyong feels completely at home, when he’s with his best friends and they completely let their guards down.

 

“I’m good, Yuta, just ready to get out and stretch,” Taeyong responds as he sits up, having been previously sprawled out on the backseat. His legs are cramping from being contained in a small area, and he really needs to get into a real bed soon, or he knows he’ll lose his mind.

 

“Five more minutes, and we’ll be there.”

 

Yuta’s right – for once – and the car soon pulls into a small motel that is clearly a dive. Johnny’s expression as they unload the car is truly hilarious, and Taeyong finds himself doubled over against the car as he catches his breath.

 

“It’s not that funny,” Johnny grumbles at the other teenager, but he cracks into a smile and helps Taeyong with the bags. Yuta’s already checking in, obviously someone the motel staff know, and with one final wink at the poor receptionist the three are heading to their room.

 

“This place is a mess,” Johnny groans as he sinks onto one of the two single beds, a couch-bed made up on the other side of the room. Taeyong nods in agreement, flopping down next to him. As if on autopilot, Johnny immediately moves so Taeyong can use his arm as a pillow, pulling him closer.

 

(Taeyong ignores his traitorous heart, and instead focuses on relaxing)

 

“Keep your rich mouth shut, Golden Boy,” Yuta threatens with a dramatic finger and badly-hidden laughter; even he can’t defend the sheer mess of the establishment, but it’s clear that Yuta holds some fond memories in the building. “I sleep here every time I head back to the shithole; it’s practically my third home.”

 

“Makes sense, it’s about as clean as yours,” Taeyong pipes up, breaking out into laughter when Yuta throws a cushion at him from the couch-bed. Johnny’s caught in the crossfire as the other two start throwing the cushion back and forth; a true testament to the dynamics of their friendship.

 

 

“Taeyong?”

 

Taeyong looks up at the hushed voice, exhaustion marring the edges of his eyesight as he pops up from the couch. He’d taken it earlier, as Yuta and Johnny had both driven today, and were stiff and in need of a good bed.

 

“Wha’s up?” Taeyong pulls himself out of his thoughts, recognising Johnny’s tired drawl. His American accent shone like a beacon when he was uninhibited, and it was clear just how tired he was. “You okay, John?”

 

“Jus’ … checking,” he murmurs back, and Taeyong can hear him thumping back against the pillow. “You … you w’re quiet today, and we … Yu ‘n I got worried ...”

 

Taeyong hears the moment Johnny falls back asleep, leaving the poor teenager awake with the realisation that Yuta and Johnny had worried over him.

 

Taeyong takes a good ten minutes to fall asleep again, amidst the traitorous beating of his heart.

 


 

The morning had started off great; breakfast at a local cafe, the sun gleaming down like it was in a movie, the car freshly filled up with fuel for another day of driving.

 

It was set to be a good day.

 

Taeyong slides into the driver’s seat with the finesse of any high school senior – that being, none – and quickly flicks the ignition on. Yuta falls into the passenger seat, still cradling his coffee, and Johnny practically passes out as soon as he gets into the back seat.

 

“Is the drive alright?” Taeyong brings up as soon as they’re on the highway, cruising up the coast of Queensland. There’s a moment of silence before Yuta makes a noise, setting his drink down to respond.

 

“It’s easy, and we’ll be in Cairns tomorrow evening – just keep going along the huge, fuck-off stretch of bitumen and we’ll make it there.” Yuta grins to himself at his explanation, but the genuinely happy smile he gives Taeyong is worth everything.

 

He told himself last night that he wouldn’t contemplate the ‘what-if’s?’, he wouldn’t dwell on anything, but it doesn’t take long for Yuta to fall asleep too, and then Taeyong is left with his own thoughts.

 

The crushes on the two had completely blindsided Taeyong the previous year; first, it had been Johnny. Sweet, caring, giant Johnny. He was, and is, the kindest man Taeyong’s ever known, and he knows he’s lucky to be his friend. It was natural for the friendship to lead into crush territory.

 

Yuta was a complete surprise – it was an easy, albeit confusing, transition as Yuta had never been … Taeyong’s type. He was his best friend, from the beginning of high school to the end, and had always supported the other through thick and thin. So, really, Yuta should’ve been more predictable than Johnny, but Taeyong had agonised over it for months.

 

Basically, any crush was a bad crush, especially on them.

 

Taeyong’s fingers slips against the wheel, rapidly growing clammier and clammier, and he fights the urge to throw up from the beating in his chest. It’s already a tell-tale sign of the oncoming breakdown at some point, one Taeyong is definitely not looking forward to.

 

The relentless rhythm of keeping the Commodore actually running on the road soon calms Taeyong down, enough so that he feels human again, and with the window down the biting breeze slaps him in the face and keeps him awake. It’s nearing that transition from the cooler months to the Australian summer, with just the perfect amount of chill and warmth in the air.

 

(At least something is a perfect balance-)

 

 

“Okay, kids, wake the fuck up and get out for food!” Taeyong pulls into the parking lot of a McDonald’s as he yells, carefully but effortlessly reversing back into a parking space. He can hear Johnny moving in the back, obviously waking up, but Yuta proves more difficult.

 

As always.

 

“Come on, Yuta,” Taeyong prods, unbuckling his seatbelt and lightly slapping his cheek, “wake up or I’m leaving you to be stolen away in the car.”

 

There’s a pause before Yuta slowly cracks open an eye, glaring at Taeyong, and the sight is so precious that Taeyong immediately dissolves into giggles. It takes all three of them another five minutes to finally get out of the car, choosing to eat inside instead of on the road, and soon enough Taeyong is squished besides Johnny in a booth, Yuta sprawled out across them.

 

“Where are we staying tonight?” Johnny asks once they’re all a few mouthfuls into their meals, Taeyong leaning against the taller male to rest from driving. He also looks up at the question, seeing as he’s still driving for a good part of the day. Yuta shrugs from across the table, before pulling out his phone to check something.

 

“There’s this little motel in … uh, fuck, what’s it – here, it’s here,” Yuta lifts his phone to show Taeyong and Johnny the little map he has, with the stops marked. The second motel is a good drive away, but it’s close to Cairns, so it’s an easier drive tomorrow. “It’s right by the beach, it’s twenty-four hour – this is actually a really good place.”

 

“It looks … great,” Johnny carefully picks his words, and then is immediately pelted with a chip from Yuta. “Hey! Okay, okay, I take it back! It’s perfectly nice!”

 

“Stop moving.” Taeyong inserts just enough whine into his voice to still the squabbling fools – (that he likes so much) – and curls up closer to Johnny. “Let me meditate, assholes.”

 

“Meditate on what?”

 

“Not killing you guys.”

 

(Taeyong doesn’t need to look to see just how hard Yuta and Johnny start laughing, he doesn’t need to look to see how beautiful they both look)

 

 

The rest of the day flies by quickly, with Taeyong still driving as Yuta and Johnny fill the hours with meaningful stuff – that is, procuring the weed that Yuta had somehow brought. Taeyong refused to let Yuta try and hit it whilst he was driving, or give Johnny an attempt at it as well.

 

Wait until we’re parked, idiots, okay?”

 

Okay, mum.”

 

It’s not long until they’re pulling up at the motel, checking in and getting situated in the room. Taeyong’s laid down for all of five seconds before Yuta jumps on him, curling around him and making space for Johnny to move next to them.

 

 

“You guys realise there’s only two beds, right?”

 

Like a sitcom, all three heads pop up to look around the room, and sure enough, there’s only one king mattress and a single. No couch in sight.

 

“I – fuck, they don’t have couch beds here,” Yuta curses, burying his face into Taeyong’s shoulder with a loud groan, and Taeyong gently rubs his back in comfort. “They have little trundles I can call up; I’ll sleep there, okay? Tae, you can have the huge mattress.”

 

Johnny nods along, moving to curl into Taeyong’s other side. Even without the turmoil of feelings inside Taeyong right now, he loves the presence of his best friends. They always ground him, keep him feeling sane, even when they’re the absolute embodiment of chaos.

 

As Yuta ambles away to call the reception for a trundle bed, Johnny moves so he’s facing Taeyong on his side. There’s mere inches between their faces, Taeyong left to stare directly into Johnny’s eyes, before he flops back down and closes his eyes.

 

(He also misses the telling look Yuta gives Johnny, the small smiles exchanged between the two)

 

“Here, let’s go for a walk later,” Johnny finally murmurs into the air once Yuta’s finished, tugging Taeyong into a sitting position. “We have the beach right at our doorstep, we should go out later.”

 

“Yeah! Maybe then, we can actually utilise a certain something-” Taeyong cuts Yuta off with a look, the Japanese teenager sinking down onto the bed in defeat.

 

“Can’t we go a single trip without you hitting that thing?”

 

“It’s relaxing!”

 

“We’re at the beach-” Taeyong’s cut off from further scolding when Yuta tugs him up, spinning him around with laughter ringing through the room, and setting him down on the other bed. He’s left in absolute shock at whatever the hell that just was, watching how Yuta easily slots into Johnny’s side.

 

“Just one go tonight, please, Yong? John’s never had it before-” Taeyong will deny forever that it was Yuta’s pout that finally won him over, allowing Yuta to get everything sorted for that night.

 

Oh well.

 


 

Taeyong stumbles along the sand, the midnight air biting at his skin and raggedly tearing through his lungs, the moonlight catching on the tears streaming down his cheeks.

 

He can hear Yuta and Johnny in the distance calling out to him, but he occupies himself with frantically wiping his cheeks and resigning himself to the fact that he’s having that breakdown now.

 

Taeyong hurriedly pushes the door to the motel room open and closes it behind him, fingers slipping against the doorknob, and a sob forcefully pushes out of him as he sinks down against the wall.

 

“Fu-Fuck!” he gasps through wrecked crying, body heaving with the force of his emotions. It’d been going so well too, and then everything went to hell, and Taeyong’s traitorous body gave up on himself.

 

(Yuta had brought the bong down to the beach, and the three had secluded themselves in an area no one could see them. Taeyong watched as Yuta helped Johnny take a hit, slowly eating the chips they’d gotten from a nearby Night Owl convenience store, and he couldn’t help but smile to himself.

 

He’s doing well, right, Yong?” Yuta crooned softly, stroking Johnny’s back and helping him as he set the bong down and looked around with wide eyes. “Little weed virgin, isn’t he?”

 

Johnny giggled at that, flopping back against the sand and looking up at the sky. The stars shone through the cloud cover, dull but brighter than Brisbane’s night sky. Taeyong couldn’t help the loving expression that crossed his face, watching the two boys he cared for the most. He only averted his gaze when Yuta looked up, focusing on the can of 4XXXX that he’d shoved into the sand as a makeshift holder.

 

Yong ...” Yuta crawled over Johnny to perch on top of Taeyong’s shins, grinning at the other teenager. “Come on, take a hit?”

 

No, Yu, I got my beer, I’m good,” Taeyong assured him and took another swig of the can, letting it sting down his throat. He’d never loved the taste of beer, but he would still drink it. “Go and – and do stuff with John, okay?”

 

In hindsight, Taeyong knew he shouldn’t have had anything to drink that night; his anxiety had been playing up earlier, he was a notorious lightweight, he had no inhibitions when he was drunk …

 

It was a recipe for disaster)

 

“Taeyong! Taeyong, please!” Taeyong could hear Yuta outside the door, standing on the back entrance that leads to the beach. Only then does he remember that he’s the only one with the key to the room, and that the other two are currently locked out. Fresh sobs bubble up, despite it being such a minor issue, and Taeyong grips his chest through his shirt in an attempt to calm himself down.

 

There’s silence for a good ten minutes, ten minutes of Taeyong frantically fighting his own body over what had happened, and then he practically jumps out of his skin when he feels fingers coursing through his hair.

 

“Tae, Tae -” The voice is distant, as if Taeyong’s underwater, but he will always recognise Yuta. Taeyong just registers Johnny settling on his other side, wrapping an arm around his waist and stroking his side. Yuta’s fingers are nimble and relaxing, lightly scratching along Taeyong’s scalp, providing the stability he needed during an attack.

 

“Yong, you’re okay, you’re safe,” Johnny whispers against his shoulder, clarity returning to him in the sobering moment of Taeyong’s panic attack. He mouths against Taeyong’s shirt, pulling him closer, and the Korean-Australian just sobs even harder at the sensations.

 

It takes ten more minutes for Taeyong to finally calm down, burying his face in Johnny’s chest and letting Yuta wrap around his back. He’s never felt so warm and secure before, curled up in the arms of his best friends, and it’s terrifyingly amazing.

 

“I … Yong, baby, are you okay now?” Taeyong doesn’t register the petname accidentally slipping past Johnny’s lips, but he does nod anyway. He feels calmer, clearer; he loosens his death grip on Johnny and moves to push back a bit, letting Yuta guide him to lean against his chest and face Johnny.

 

“You gave us a scare, Tae,” Yuta whispers softly, lips pressing to Taeyong’s temple, and he’s still groggy enough to blindly accept the intimate actions from both Yuta and Johnny.

 

“Sorry,” Taeyong croaks out, voice hoarse from pained sobs. He coughs into his hands, covering his face for a moment, before pulling back and looking over to see Johnny looked heart-wrenchingly concerned.

 

“I’m sorry, just – sorry, sorry, shouldn’t have – have done that-” Taeyong’s breathing picks up again, but Yuta immediately rubs soothing circles against Taeyong’s stomach and he quiets immediately.

 

“Don’t apologise, Yong, don’t you dare.”

 

(Taeyong’s considerably drunker – it’s only thirty minutes later, just bordering on midnight, and he can feel the alcohol coursing through his body now. Johnny’s high enough for it to be funny without being a hindrance, and Yuta is calm and pretty sober.

 

Taeyong doesn’t remember how they had gotten onto the topic, or what they were even talking about. The last thing he remembers is blurting out how pretty they both looked, and how he wanted to see if they were as good kisses as they said they were.

 

The panic had soon sobered Taeyong up enough to realise exactly what he’d said, who he’d said it to, and he didn’t stick around much longer after that. Practically shoving Yuta off his legs, Taeyong grabbed his phone and jacket and tore up to the motel, ignoring both the burn in his chest and heart at how dumb he’d been)

 

“I shouldn’t – shouldn’t have said such things,” Taeyong whispers, wiping his eyes harshly, and Yuta cast a look at Johnny over the top of Taeyong’s head. A split second is all they need to talk now, after the months on end of actual discussions. Over, well, everything.

 

“Yong ...” Yuta gently guides Taeyong’s head up, holding his chin delicately, before leaning in to kiss his forehead with a tender touch. “You’re – You’re emotional now, so John and I aren’t, aren’t going to have a huge discussion with you, but we want – we need you to know that it’s okay … what you said …” Yuta trails off with his words, looking back to Johnny, and Taeyong soon feels the familiar warmth of Johnny pressed against his back.

 

“What Yuta’s trying to say, Tae,” Johnny begins softly, fingers stroking along Taeyong’s temple, tracing lines down his face, “is that you don’t need to freak out, because we – we feel the same. We want to – to kiss you too, and each other, and just – be together … you know?”

 

“We don’t expect you to have a huge discussion now, Tae,” Yuta adds in once Johnny’s finished, gripping Taeyong’s trembling hands and watching the clarity return to his eyes, watching Taeyong realise just what they’re saying. “We just want you to know that we like you too, just as much as we like each other.”

 

(That night, Taeyong lays in his bed for all of five minutes before he feels it dip with both Johnny and Yuta crawling in next to him, curling around his frame like they were made to fit perfectly)

 


 

Cairns is incredibly humid, Taeyong comes to discover.

 

It’s very tropical, very humid, and very rural compared to Brisbane. Taeyong notices how, despite Yuta constantly clowning the ‘country city’, he loves his hometown with a fierce passion and fights to bring his best friends everywhere.

 

His boyfriends.

 

(The drive up had Johnny driving, and they’d spent two hours just talking beforehand. Laying everything out, apologising for things that had gone wrong, discussing what everything now entailed. Who kisses who, who likes who? Is everyone together, is it like ‘Sister Wives’?

 

Taeyong knew it would be hard – he wasn’t ignorant when it came to polyamorous relationships, he knew that it took an immense amount of trust and respect, but he had that in spades when it came to his boys.

 

And if the rest of the drive up had been filled with Yuta peppering kisses over both his and Johnny’s cheeks, or how Johnny never hesitated to tug him or Yuta onto his lap when they were relaxing in the car …

 

Taeyong wouldn’t complain)

 


 

“Can you guys not get frisky in the front?”

 

Taeyong catches Yuta’s expression in his side mirror, raising an eyebrow at the grinning teenager. Johnny just laughs and squeezes Taeyong’s thigh, and if the sight of Johnny driving with one hand, the other on Taeyong’s upper thigh isn’t the hottest thing he’s ever seen–

 

Then again, he also was treated to both of his boyfriends swimming in Cairns.

 

“You want to climb up here and join in on the steamy, hot orgy?” Johnny quips, plodding the beaten-down Commodore down the highway, nearing Brisbane with each and every mile. Despite his actions merely calming and without any sexual intent, Taeyong still blushes furiously at his words. Johnny always did have a foul mouth once he learnt to let go.

 

“Watch me, Suh,” Yuta challenges, leaning forward in his seat to quickly kiss Taeyong’s cheek, whapping Johnny’s hand before squeezing his bicep. “Shit, Tae, our boyfriend is jacked-”

 

“Get back there!” Taeyong finally admonishes, choking out his words amidst peals of genuinely happy laughter. He feels so light, so happy, in this moment; with Johnny’s hand lightly squeezing his thigh every few minutes, with Yuta kissing his cheek and mucking around in the backseat.

 

With the two boys he really did adore – it was too early to say love, Taeyong knew he was only eighteen and he wasn’t going to box himself in, but whatever was between like and love?

 

That was where Taeyong Lee was, and it was paradise.

 


 

(The last term of senior year is hard, because Taeyong’s fighting his constant breakdowns over the future, over his courses, over his grades. He knows it’s the worst term with his anxiety, but he’s doing his best, and he will forever be grateful for everyone in his life.

 

His family always help him when he feels it too hard to get out of bed; Taeyong knows his little brothers Minhyung and Jeno will always come and wake him up.

 

His teachers are actually incredibly supportive, giving him a quiet place to gather his thoughts and talk, if he needs to.

 

The most support, though? Taeyong will never cease to wonder at how well Yuta and Johnny adapted to both the boyfriend lifestyle, and the increased anxiety around Taeyong. When his hands trembled too much to hold something, Johnny was there to steady them and take the objects. When he felt too sick to eat from the panic roiling in his stomach, Yuta would stroke comforting circles into his skin and help him when he felt ready.

 

Taeyong had thought himself in paradise after returning from the trip, and he was right – but the real love was when he finally graduated after a year of stress and turmoil, and he knew that he had every right to turn around and barrel right into the waiting arms of Yuta and Johnny)