Off the top of his head, Taeyong could name at least three times when Johnny started acting differently with him. That was to say that, for a couple of friends, they were together an awful lot, which meant Taeyong got to the point of feeling out Johnny’s moods, how he acted around others, how they only acted around each other, and so on.
The first time was probably the funniest time. They were young, probably around middle school, and Taeyong had noticed Johnny wanted to talk a little less than before. He was pulling away, isolating himself, acting like he didn’t need to hang out with anybody. Taeyong couldn’t really tell what it was that kept eating at Johnny, until they were walking home together one day, and Taeyong took the soccer ball in his arm, threw it at Johnny’s back, and asked him what his problem was.
“You’re a jerk!” Johnny had said, his voice much higher at the time than it was now.
Within a few minutes of arguing, Johnny and Taeyong were wrestling on the ground, Taeyong ending up on his back, before Johnny reeled back and punched Taeyong in the chin. Taeyong barely felt it, really, but the shock of it made him let out a whimper of surprise, as Johnny’s eyes went wide, and he immediately pulled off of Taeyong.
“Sorry, I’m sorry!”
“Why did you hit me?!” Taeyong whined, holding onto his chin while Johnny broke down into tears from beside him, voice cracking as he hiccuped through his words.
“You started hanging out with that new kid a lot, and I— I didn’t think you wanted to be my friend anymore.”
What started off as a minor misunderstanding blew up into... that. Taeyong still remembered walking home the rest of the way with Johnny, apologizing for not realizing how much time he had really started spending with that other kid. Admittedly, Taeyong thought Johnny wanted to spend that much time with him, too! He never said otherwise.
Their second fight stemmed from a bit of tension on Johnny’s side. His family was having troubles overseas, health issues. Johnny wanted to head back home for a few months, and Taeyong was... less than supportive. He felt guilty about it when he thought about it now. He sort of turned his nose up at Johnny whenever he talked about it, and when Johnny finally had enough, Taeyong just snapped at him and said maybe they shouldn’t talk about those kinds of things anymore.
It was only through Doyoung that Johnny found out Taeyong was nervous about Johnny going back home, concerned his friend wouldn’t come back. That didn’t take the sting away from what Taeyong said any, but it did make sense. Taeyong wasn’t really one to be so direct about how he felt. He just expected Johnny to know, sometimes. Most of the time, actually.
Johnny had to sit Taeyong down the night before he left, and actually talk until he was crying, because admitting things like that and being vulnerable was hard. But Taeyong did it, because at the end of the day, Johnny was still his best friend.
The third time was the most recent. Taeyong couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that caused the rift in their conversations, but he didn’t want to press on it too much. Even though Taeyong noticed the little changes in how Johnny talked to him, or how Johnny spent a little more time on his phone than usual, it didn’t mean it was in Taeyong’s place to call him out on it.
And after all, Johnny was an adult now. They both were. He should have been able to admit these kinds of things without being forced. Between working and studying, Taeyong didn’t have all the time to devote to decoding what was pressing on that brain of Johnny’s.
It didn’t take long for him to pinpoint the exact cause, though. Even if Johnny didn’t tell Taeyong everything, it didn’t mean their mutual friends weren’t intuitive, from all the time they were spending with him. Taeyong’s and Johnny’s schedules just hadn’t worked out together as of late, but Doyoung’s did, and Doyoung liked to observe, quite a bit.
“I have a feeling about it, but I don’t think I should go around blabbing my mouth. I mean, I’m not even sure, so....” Doyoung trailed off, watching as Taeyong walked back into the living room from his kitchen, plopping himself down on his couch and crossing his legs underneath him.
“But you have noticed he’s been acting different?” Taeyong said.
“Well, yeah,” Doyoung gestured vaguely, as if that explained his answer. “Y’know, the short answers, the dazed look on his face, the way he gets nervous at the weirdest times. I’m almost sure I know what it is, but I’ll need to see a little more before I can say it definitively.”
Taeyong nodded, sighing and rubbing the back of his neck. “Thanks, Doyoung. You don’t have to do that. I just get all worried about him.”
“I know,” Doyoung said with a placating smile. “I care about him, too, y’know. I mean, I know I’m second to you in everything....” Doyoung sniffled at the end of his sentence, like he was trying to hide a smile or a laugh along with his words. Taeyong knew better than to believe that, though. Doyoung loved Johnny as much as Taeyong loved him. Johnny was there for Doyoung during some really hard times recently. Doyoung owed it to Johnny, and moreover, he cared about him. He just liked pretending he didn’t.
“All right, let’s get this show on the road,” Taeyong said, wanting to brush that topic aside for now. No use worrying about it too much when he was sure it would resolve itself, one way or another.
Doyoung sat up in his seat, reaching forward and grabbing his remote off of the coffee table in front of them. Taeyong grabbed his own, getting comfortable before shooting Doyoung a competitive glance from the corner of his eye.
“Loser buys dinner.”
Doyoung grinned. “So, you’re buying dinner.”
“Oh, you’re gonna eat those words,” Taeyong said, turning on his Switch, waiting for the home screen to pop up, before finally clicking on Mario Kart.
Taeyong was sure he was going to regret it by the end of their match.
It just so happened, about a week after Doyoung and Taeyong had their initial conversation about Johnny acting weird, Johnny asked Taeyong if they could meet up for lunch the following day. Taeyong had to make sure he had that day off from work, but it seemed like his schedule was free. He agreed, to which Johnny spammed him with emojis, before disappearing. That was unlike him. Taeyong could tell he was nervous.
“You should invite me,” Doyoung said when Taeyong told him.
“I just wanna see if I’m right. About why he’s acting so weird.”
Taeyong had laughed and nudged Doyoung at that. He wanted to ask Johnny if he could invite Doyoung, but he was sure Johnny would be fine with it, and if he wasn’t, he would tell Doyoung to buzz off or something like that. Really, Taeyong wasn’t worried about it.
For now, Taeyong just had to get through that day, get home, and then he’d finally be able to talk to Johnny about why he was acting so strange. Something with his family? A friend? Maybe he was considering getting a pet? Taeyong couldn’t quite put his finger on it, and as much as he wanted to know Doyoung’s own thinking behind it, he was sure he would find out from one of them, one way or another.
Besides, Taeyong had other things to worry about, too. After all, his whole life didn’t revolve around his friends. He was busy with school, as that took up the better half of his time, while the rest was spent at work, lazing around his apartment, or messing around with the few friends he did manage to get to spend his time with. Even recently, Taeyong had managed to reconnect with an old high school friend, who had gone on to a different university than he had, named Taeil. It seemed like his music career was really taking off, and he wanted to talk to Taeyong, catch up.
In the middle of class, his phone buzzed with a message, the notification sound just barely muted under the sound of his professor giving a lecture. Quickly, Taeyong swiped it open, found a little encouraging message from one of his younger friends, Mark. He was a sight for sore eyes, for sure. Taeyong smiled and scrolled through a few pictures Mark had sent, all of which were from his hometown, grinning wide, some with family and others alone in front of the snow.
Taeyong had the pleasure of meeting Mark one day on campus, where Mark looked like an anxious mess of a student. He was dropping his things everywhere, couldn’t find his way, had this terrified deer in the headlights look on his face.
Taeyong stopped to talk to him, help him find his classes, and told him to keep in touch in case he needed any more help. As it turned out, all the help he needed was deciding whether or not he wanted to stay at university, or if he wanted to take a gap year and return home to his family, as he had been away for so long, he was feeling homesick.
Now, he was back home, and Taeyong made sure Mark knew how proud he was of him, for making such a huge decision, and how Taeyong would always be there to welcome Mark back, whenever or if he decided to come back.
After class, Taeyong looked forward to getting home and showering, making himself some quick food and binging TV shows he had to get caught up with. Really, Taeyong lived a simple happy life. He went to classes, he worked, he got to talk to his friends, and sometimes, Taeyong had to deal with one or two speed bumps along the way, but nothing too serious. Really, there wasn’t much that made things feel different. In fact, if somebody were to ask Taeyong, he’d say he was pretty ordinary, for a guy his age. Boring was a little harsh, but normal felt right. Ordinary. Chill. Whatever.
There were always constants in his life. His family, his mother, and the love he received from them. His friends, hanging out with them, his schoolwork. The scheduled chaos of it all that felt comforting most of the time.
Johnny. A constant. His best friend. Even a pillar in his life, kept him grounded even in the hardest times each of them had been through.
If there were signs those things would ever change, Taeyong might have missed them all, and he really, really wished he hadn’t.
Waking up the following morning, Taeyong didn’t check his phone first thing, like he usually did. He wanted to shower, wash his face, get ready for lunch first. Sleeping in was a rarity, and Taeyong wanted to take advantage of it, before he had to go out.
After getting dressed, Taeyong grabbed his phone from his nightstand, swiping through the notifications that had stockpiled overnight, getting rid of all the ones that were useless before finally finding a few text messages. Two had come from Johnny, and one from Doyoung, earlier this morning. He opened Johnny’s first, swiping them open. One was from the night before, and the second, earlier this morning.
do you ever dream about other people?
Taeyong furrowed his brows, then read the next one.
sorry, i was delirious. anyways are you still up for lunch? i want to go to that pizza place we saw a while ago. let me know!
Staring at the messages for a moment, Taeyong decided to shrug off the first one. Sometimes Johnny did say weird things when he was tired, so that wasn’t all that out of place for him. It just made him a little more worried, his friend’s strange behavior from before considered. Maybe he was just overthinking, and Johnny wasn’t really out of place, despite the fact that Doyoung agreed with Taeyong when he asked about it.
For now, Taeyong texted Johnny back, opened up his messages to Doyoung, and shot him one to let him know what time and where they’d be headed. Like he said, he was sure Johnny wouldn’t mind that much.
Taeyong had been wrong about a few things before.
He was wrong about this.
It was a little chilly when Taeyong headed out, pulling his coat a little closer to him than he had it before. It wasn’t usually cold this early on, but with the cold front moving in, Taeyong suspected they’d even get a few storms, maybe some rain or something, which he loved. There was something about cold weather that made him so happy. He supposed it could be a lot worse— seasonal depression was a bitch. He’d take loving the gloomy weather over that shit anyday.
The pizza place Johnny wanted to go to wasn’t too far for Taeyong to just take the bus. It was easier than driving. Sometimes finding parking was so absurdly tedious, Taeyong preferred paying the bus fare and copping a squat for a little while.
But Doyoung offered to pick him up, sitting at the curb of his apartments, messing with his phone while Taeyong quickly moved up to the car, opening the door and throwing himself in.
“It’s cold!” he whined, making Doyoung snicker.
“It’s just gonna get colder. Hey, put your seatbelt on. This car isn’t moving until you do,” said Doyoung, as Taeyong mocked him, but easily pulled it on over his chest and buckled in. Doyoung grinned triumphantly, starting his car up and pulling away from the curb after a beat. “Does Johnny know I’m coming?”
Taeyong hesitated, before answering. “No.”
“I know. I just keep getting this weird feeling about it. Like, I’m worried he’s gonna run away if I walk up to him too serious about it, y’know what I mean? So I’m afraid if I mention you coming, he’s gonna tuck tail and run away. The last time we got coffee together was like a month ago.” Taeyong sighed and looked out of his window. Doyoung slowed to a stop at a red light.
“That’s when he started acting weird, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m worried. What if it’s something he thinks he can’t tell me?” Taeyong turned his gaze back to Doyoung, trying his hardest not to sound like this was the end of the world, but it kind of felt that way, with the way Johnny was acting. “He should know he can tell me anything.”
Doyoung hummed, slowly pressing on the gas once the light turned green and rocking his head from right to left. “He should, but... who knows? We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Sometimes, Taeyong was envious of Doyoung’s easygoing attitude. Even when things got rough, Doyoung was relaxed, but not condescending. Just levelheaded. Maybe that was why he really wanted Doyoung to tag along. Not for Johnny’s sake, but his own.
Before he knew it, they were pulling up in a parking garage just a block away from the pizza place. Doyoung paid for the parking, despite Taeyong protesting and trying his hardest to throw money at him, before they pulled into a spot and headed out. Doyoung shivered, shoving his hands in the pocket of his coat, while Taeyong teased him for his comment earlier.
For some reason, the walk to the pizza place felt like an eternity, but it was only a couple minutes, if that. By the time they got to the storefront, Taeyong looked around, glanced at a couple of the nearby bus stops, but found no signs of Johnny.
“Do you think he’s inside already?” Doyoung jutted his thumb towards the front door. “Want me to go look?”
“Would you?” Taeyong said. “I’ll stay out here for a couple minutes. Maybe we’re early.”
Doyoung nodded and headed inside, where it felt warm and toasty already. How tempting it was to run inside and just wait for Johnny, but Taeyong figured it would be the nice thing to wait outside, just in case he wasn’t there yet.
Sighing, Taeyong leaned against the brick wall behind him, let his eyes linger on the sky above. Gray clouds swept across the sky in scattered splatters, as if a gentle warning it would rain later. As if on cue, a wind blew across the sky, through the buildings, against the trees and making the leaves rustle. Soon, they’d turn and fall, and winter would settle in and make its home. For now, Taeyong enjoyed the sound, like it was the trees and bushes sighing with him.
Johnny would think that was cute. Taeyong smiled, looking left and right once more, but still no sign of Johnny. Maybe Doyoung would come out and say he found him.
The voice came out of nowhere, as Taeyong startled back to reality, blinking the surprise from his eyes as he found Johnny standing in front of him. His hair was a striking auburn red color, much different from the last time they had seen together, when Johnny said he was done dyeing his for a while. Taeyong had figured it was a fib back then, but Johnny hadn’t even told him about the most recent change. Strange.
But that didn’t stop Taeyong from smiling immediately, reaching out to pull Johnny into a hug. Johnny let out a short huff of a laugh, hugged him back, but quickly pulled away to nervously rub the back of his neck.
“Sorry, there was a little traffic I got caught up in. You haven’t been waiting long, have you?”
“Not at all,” Taeyong said, only stretching the truth a little. “I was just worried for a second.”
“Do you wanna head inside? It’s pretty cold out here—”
“He’s not in there, Taeyong— oh!”
Doyoung poked his head out from the restaurant door just as Johnny went to reach for the handle, the two coming face-to-face, as Doyoung grinned, and Johnny went red faced in embarrassment. Taeyong took a step forward, his hands still in his pocket, before he reached for the door himself and scooted Johnny inside.
“I... I didn’t know Doyoung was coming,” Johnny said, sounding positively perplexed, as he turned away from Doyoung and directed his voice to Taeyong. For a second, Taeyong felt guilt wash over him, but quickly pushed it off. Despite how nervous Johnny looked, this was good for him to know that two of his close friends cared about him, only wanted the best for him. And besides that, it was just a lunch date, so inviting one other person shouldn’t have been such a big deal.
“Sorry! I thought I mentioned it. We were hanging out when you texted me about lunch. It seemed rude not to invite him.”
“No, that... that makes sense,” Johnny conceded, before trying to give a short smile, as if that was going to disguise the fact that he was completely caught off guard. “Let’s get a table.”
Doyoung staggered behind Johnny leading the way, Taeyong and him looking at one another before agreeing to sit across from Johnny. Taeyong couldn’t tell if that was the smartest idea now that Johnny was on the other side of the table, his shoulders hunched over as if he were trying to make himself smaller. Vulnerable didn’t look good on Johnny. Taeyong felt bad, but shook it off, and instead, smiled at Johnny.
“So, tell us what you’ve been up to. It’s been a while,” he prompted. Johnny nodded, hesitated in speaking before furrowing his brows and choosing his words carefully.
“I’ve been good, but I think... my mind’s been elsewhere a lot lately. It’s kind of weird.”
“Something stressing you out?” Taeyong said. Johnny shook his head.
“No, I don’t think so. My family is doing well, and I’m not having any problems at work. I even got a raise.”
“Oh, that’s awesome!” Taeyong exclaimed. Doyoung gave Johnny a reassuring smile, but judging by the expression on his face, Doyoung was calculating something, as he turned his gaze back to the menu in front of him. “That sucks that you can’t figure out what it is, though. You know I’m always here for you, if you want to talk about it.”
“I know,” said Johnny.
A waitress came by right after he spoke, taking their drink orders first, as Taeyong and Johnny hadn’t even had a chance to look over the food menu. Pointing out a few orders, they settled on an entree and a few appetizers.
“Hey,” Doyoung started, as their waitress came back with their drinks, and a few cups of water. Johnny reached for one of the cups, taking a sip right as Doyoung directed his gaze to Taeyong. “Did you hear Jaehyun is back?”
At this, Taeyong was ready to exclaim in surprise, but was completely cut off by the sound of Johnny snorting in surprise, his water coming through his nose as he started coughing, his face turning red in embarrassment. The waitress nervously offered up napkins, while cleaning up the mess he had made on the table.
As if expecting that sort of response, Doyoung leaned forward in his seat, arms crossed on the table. Taeyong furrowed his brows.
“You okay?” he said, as Johnny nodded, still coughing through the water in his nose, before finally getting all of it out. Some of the other patrons had stopped to watch Johnny, giggling to themselves and turning away once Johnny got his bearings together.
“Y-yeah, I just was surprised.”
“To hear Jaehyun is back?” Doyoung pressed. There was that tone in his voice again, Taeyong noted, giving Doyoung a quick glance. The way Doyoung quirked his lips said trust me, so Taeyong backed down, instead directed his attention to Johnny again.
“Er, yeah. I thought he was still working at that big company his dad worked at, or whatever. That’s cool, though, that he’s back. Have you seen him? Does he look the same?”
Doyoung kicked Taeyong under the table. Pay attention.
“I haven’t. He texted me this morning, said he wants to get dinner and catch up.”
The response Johnny gave was nothing like Taeyong expected.
“O-oh.... That’s cool!”
Repeating that phrase, Taeyong noticed. Nervous. Red faced, and not from spitting out his water anymore.
“I’ll let you know how dinner with him goes,” Doyoung said, and that was all he said about it.
The rest of dinner went... normally. Taeyong teased Johnny, and Johnny and Doyoung bickered through dessert. No matter how much Taeyong tried to get the reason for Johnny’s strange behavior out of him, it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen. By the time they were finished with dessert, Johnny was ready to leave, with that same strange dazed look on his face.
“I’ll get the bill,” Taeyong said. Johnny shook his head, left some money on the table, and bid the two a good night. That was especially out of character for him. He almost always said good night to Taeyong outside, because that was the kind of sentimental guy he was.
When Johnny was long gone, Doyoung stretched his legs out, arms above his head, giving a long, drawn out sigh of satisfaction, before turning his head so he was facing Taeyong.
“Did you get all of that?”
Taeyong turned slightly to face Doyoung.
“All of what?”
“The way he was talking. His reactions.” Doyoung paused, waited for Taeyong to catch up, but he just wasn’t getting it. “When I brought up Jaehyun? He spit out his water, and when I said we were getting dinner together, he sounded jealous.”
“Jealous?” Taeyong couldn’t help the playful sputter of his lips. “Johnny doesn’t get jealous. That’s funny, though.”
“No, seriously. Think about it.” Doyoung paused, lifting up his thumb to count. “He spit out his water as soon as I said his name. Red face, all nervous. He was asking all those questions about him. And then he got quiet, like he was overthinking.”
Taeyong furrowed his brows, before giving Doyoung a short nod.
“Okay, so he did those things. So what?”
“Taeyong,” Doyoung said, sounding surprised at his own friend for not catching on. “Have you never had a crush?”
“A crush?” Taeyong said. “On a person?”
“What else would you have a crush on?” Doyoung replied, incredulous at his friend’s incompetence sometimes.
“Well, yeah, but I was in, like, middle school.”
Doyoung waved towards Johnny’s empty spot. It was after a moment that Taeyong put two and two together, his eyes going wide.
“Yeah. I’ve had a feeling for a while, but this pretty much confirmed it.” Doyoung clapped his hand down on Taeyong’s shoulder, letting out an amused chuckle. “Our Johnny has a crush.”
“On Jaehyun?!” Taeyong said. Doyoung couldn’t do anything but shrug.
“Seems like it.”
That was quite a bit to take in on its own. It’s not like Taeyong thought it was gross or anything. Really, he supported any of his friends in any way they lived their lives, but... Jaehyun? Really? Taeyong didn’t even think they were that close? And why would Johnny be so hesitant to tell him about that? Didn’t he know Taeyong loved him no matter what?
That night, Taeyong considered texting Johnny, but instead, found one from Johnny to him first, asking if they could get coffee, alone, sometime soon.
“Jaehyun.... Really, Jaehyun,” Taeyong mumbled to himself, before falling into a relatively restful sleep.
“Sometime soon” in adult language meant maybe sometime in the next week, or maybe a few weeks in the future, or maybe just over text, if they couldn’t get together, because being adults was fucking absurd and for some reason, scheduling just never seemed to work out the way people expected it to.
Taeyong really wasn’t all that put off by how long it took them to get together, as he was busy with work, and Johnny seemed like he wasn’t comfortable enough with broaching the topic over text. When Taeyong asked if he was feeling all right, or if he just wanted to call, Johnny vehemently denied, almost completely ghosting Taeyong, until Taeyong decided to stop pressing on it. After all, he wasn’t the one having to deal with those kinds of feelings. It wasn’t in his place to start bugging Johnny about it.
So, he waited— went about his days as he always did, thought about Johnny once or twice, but mostly worked, and headed to class, and worked some more when he wasn’t there. Finally, Johnny texted Taeyong, asked if he still had the following day off, and quietly tucked in at the end of his message that he had the afternoon off from class and work, and would love to meet up for some coffee. Taeyong quickly replied with an excited emoji, before confirming their plans, and finally feeling some sort of relief wash over him.
Honestly, Taeyong wasn’t quite sure why he was so invested, other than the fact that Johnny was his best friend.
And now Taeyong found himself walking to the coffee shop they agreed to meet at. There was a slight chill to the air, but not enough for Taeyong to rush his pace, quite yet. He could take his time for now, but winter was rapidly approaching. It would almost be time for hot chocolate, and ice skating, and soft gentle weather. Taeyong was so excited for it, he could hardly keep himself together at the thought of it. The holidays were easily his favorite part of the year, too. Everything about fall and winter just made Taeyong happy.
When Taeyong turned the corner of the block, he found Johnny standing outside of the building. He had one hand in his pocket, and the other on his phone, scrolling mindlessly through whatever kept his interest. A smile tugged at the corners of Taeyong’s lips before he even realized it, his pace quickening for the first time. As if on command, Johnny glanced to his right, found Taeyong walking towards him. He took a moment to tuck his phone away in his pocket, which was a little unusual, Taeyong had to admit, but that was a little thing. It didn’t really mean anything.
Johnny grinned once he had put his phone away, kept his hands tucked in his pockets, didn’t hug Taeyong like his always did.
Taeyong couldn’t describe what it felt like to notice that. How his heart fell to his stomach, ached without explanation.
“Hey!” Taeyong tried to sound chipper, his voice coming out much higher than usual. Johnny gave a quick smile.
“Hey. Sorry, I was just talking to someone. Do you wanna head inside?”
Taeyong nodded, grabbed the door before Johnny could get to it, and held it for him. Johnny let out a sheepish, “thanks,” before heading inside, the two coming side-by-side. Taeyong didn’t dare give Johnny a sideways glance, out of fear of seeing something else he didn’t want to see. Johnny didn’t seem all that determined to start the conversation either.
But, after a beat, Johnny let out a quiet sigh.
“Do you wanna find a table? I’ll order your usual.”
At that, Taeyong let out a surprised noise, but nodded and headed towards the back of the coffee shop. With the way Johnny was acting, he would’ve thought somebody died. Maybe he should find a more secluded area, where he could actually talk without worry about someone else listening.
Ambling through the tables, Taeyong finally settled on one in the far corner of the shop, closer to the fireplace, where the fire going made it a little warmer than the rest of the store. This was perfect, Taeyong thought, as he took the seat closer to the open flame. He could handle being a little uncomfortable, in exchange for giving Johnny the peace of mind to talk.
Taeyong took his seat, took a careful look around the coffee shop, scoping out the nearest couples. So far, not much. Thankfully. Nice job, he patted himself on the back mentally, before catching sight of Johnny, holding two drinks, searching around the shop. Taeyong lifted his hand and waved him over, as Johnny’s expression shifted, and he quickly followed Taeyong to their table.
“Why all the way over here?” Johnny said, setting their drinks down. Taeyong hummed.
“Just wanted to make sure you were comfortable!”
Johnny seemed to freeze for a moment, his eyes widening, before sitting down and staring at his drink in front of him. Taeyong furrowed his brows, looked at Johnny, then behind him, then around them, before turning his attention to Johnny once more.
“Uh. Hey? Are you okay?”
“I’ve been acting that weird, haven’t I?” Johnny said, rubbing his head in frustration and huffing in irritation. “God, I thought I was doing better.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Taeyong replied reassuringly, lifting his hands in front of him. Johnny looked stressed out, as he kept messing with his hair, before Taeyong finally set his hand down on the table in front of him, open palm up. “Johnny, it’s okay. I’m worried about you. That’s all.”
Johnny nodded, as if accepting that as an answer, before going quiet. Taeyong hesitated in closing his palm, but pulled his hand away and held his drink instead. Maybe Johnny needed to talk about something else, first. Taeyong searched his mind for anything he could talk about, but for some reason, everything was gone. Jesus, everything was blank! What was he even doing with his time lately? And bringing up Jaehyun was probably counter productive! Unless he wanted Johnny to freeze up on him again.
Closing his eyes, Taeyong took in a deep, steadying breath, and finally spoke after he exhaled.
“Look,” he started, sounding desperate with the word alone, “I don’t know what’s been bothering you. I didn’t want to bother you if you weren’t willing to tell me first, but... yes, I’ve been able to tell something is bothering you.” Taeyong paused, tried to get Johnny’s attention. “You’re my best friend. We’ve been friends since elementary. I don’t know everything about you, but I’m pretty close to it.”
Johnny nodded, and Taeyong let out a quiet huff. He wasn’t upset, but Johnny was definitely lost in his own world.
“Even if you don’t want to tell me, I can tell. Something is really bothering you. Please.... Tell me when you’re comfortable, but... don’t think for a second I couldn’t already tell.” Taeyong sniffed, as if he was offended, turning his face away. “I’m a little hurt you’d think you could hide it from me.”
At that, Johnny gave a small laugh, that grew into a bigger one, before he was laughing outright, wiping his eyes with the back of his palms. Taeyong couldn’t tell if Johnny was crying or laughing anymore, but he couldn’t help the sad smile he gave Johnny, wanting to reach over and wipe the tears away for him. He couldn’t help it. Johnny never cried in front of him like that.
“I’m sorry,” Johnny finally blurted out, sounding more sad than he did before, but when Taeyong looked up at him, Johnny was looking back.
“It’s okay,” Taeyong repeated, hoping it came across as genuine as Taeyong felt. It was okay. Taeyong wasn’t mad. He just wanted Johnny to be okay. To be himself, to be happy again.
“You’re gonna think it’s stupid,” Johnny said, more to himself than he did Taeyong. Taeyong kicked him under the table.
“Shut up. Just tell me what it is.”
“That’s contradicting,” Johnny commented, and earned another kick under the table. He laughed, shaking his head and keeping his gaze on his drink.
As if on cue, a loud Kakao notification filled the air. Johnny tensed, and Taeyong had a feeling he knew who it was from. Still, he waited. Johnny didn’t reach for his phone.
“I... like somebody,” he started off, sounding small. Taeyong could hardly fathom the feeling that flooded his body at the sound of Johnny sounding that way. Delicate, and scared. It was so out of place, Taeyong’s heart hurt at the sound of it.
Fuck, this was the worst. It wasn’t even that serious. Taeyong didn’t know what to say to that, so he waited for Johnny to continue.
“It sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Thinking that my life got turned around all because I like someone. It’s a crush. It’s just a stupid crush. It really shouldn’t be all that serious, but I—” Johnny felt himself get nervous again, so he swallowed hard, took another breath in. “I really like this person. A lot.” Johnny brought his gaze up to Taeyong, and Taeyong finally noticed how glassy his eyes were, tears in the corners of his eyes. “Taeyong, I really.... I really like him.”
For some reason, despite knowing it would be that, it would be Jaehyun, Taeyong couldn’t help how his own eyes watered up at the sound of ‘him’, because it was more than just Johnny admitting he liked somebody, but Johnny admitting that somebody was a man, and that somehow meant it was a shameful thing. Taeyong remembered thinking the same thing when he was young, before he had come out to his parents and his sister. Now, he felt different, he felt comfortable talking about it, but that didn’t mean it was easier for everybody else.
Johnny didn’t dare speak after that. The tension in the air was thick, as he waited for Taeyong’s reaction, but all Taeyong could do was reach his hand across the table, open palm up, and wait for Johnny to set his hand in Taeyong’s. When he did, Taeyong squeezed reassuringly, felt a few tears spill over and trail down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said.
“Sorry for what?” Taeyong replied almost immediately. “For liking somebody? For not telling me you liked somebody?”
“For not telling you... that I like men,” Johnny said, and Taeyong resisted the urge to kick Johnny again, because that really wasn’t a fitting response, albeit what he wanted to do right about then. “I know you won’t judge me, but I know it’s probably still hard for you—”
“Seo Youngho,” Taeyong started, leaning closer and wrapping Johnny’s hand in his two own, hoping all his love and affection was communicated through the gentle touch of his open palms on Johnny’s hand, “there is almost nothing you could do that would ever change how much I love you.”
Johnny burst into tears again. Taeyong’s heart twisted, felt tight against his ribs, desperate to stop the ache. It was absurd how much this hurt, because it wasn’t even a bad kind of hurt. It was relief, and love— overflowing, overwhelming love, and Taeyong just didn’t know how else to relieve it, other than crying.
Taeyong let out a few stray sniffles, but didn’t dare pull his hands away from Johnny’s grasp. He wanted to hold his hand for as long as Johnny would let him.
“Do you know who it is?” Johnny said, through a hiccup of a quiet sob. Taeyong shook his head, lied. Johnny clicked his tongue at him. “I know you already know.”
“Yeah, but it’s better if you say it,” Taeyong teased, earned his own kick from Johnny under the table, before laughing weakly. Johnny shook his head, couldn’t help smiling and wiping his eyes with his free hand. Taeyong pulled his own hands back when Johnny’s palm opened up just a touch.
“I’m sure you know it’s Jaehyun.” At that, Taeyong nodded. Johnny couldn’t help being a little disappointed at how transparent he seemed. “I thought I was doing so well at hiding it. Even Doyoung knows, doesn’t he?”
“Doyoung is a freak of nature, he knows everything.” Taeyong waved Johnny’s statement off with a giggle.
“That’s why he came to the pizza place.”
“Yeah,” Taeyong agreed.
“He’s so smart. Asking all those questions, getting those reactions out of me. God, he’s the worst sometimes.”
“We love him for it,” Taeyong rebuked.
“Of course. He’s just also the worst sometimes.”
“If it’s any consolation,” Taeyong started, gesturing vaguely, “he really didn’t care that it was, y’know, a guy.”
“No, I didn’t think Doyoung would. He doesn’t seem like that kind of person.”
“Oh, and I do?” Taeyong said, sounding just a touch offended. Johnny laughed, shook his head in response. “Seriously, did you think I was going to have a bad reaction, when I’m not straight myself?”
“Of course not.” Johnny took this as his time to be reassuring, as he caught Taeyong’s attention, smiled at him for the first time since they had met up, really smiling at him. It made Taeyong’s chest flood with warmth. Taeyong wanted to cry again, but he didn’t. He held it back, took in a deep breath and smiled back. “It’s different telling the most important person in my life, though. My best friend.”
Taeyong couldn’t help his reaction, how triumphant he felt hearing those words leave Johnny’s lips, because as much as Jaehyun caught Johnny’s attention, no matter how much Johnny liked Jaehyun, he would never have the satisfaction Taeyong did when he got to call Johnny his best friend.
Being busy with work was just about the worst part of being an adult, Taeyong came to the conclusion, as he clocked out and stretched his arms above his head with a loud sigh. He supposed it could be worse, since he didn’t work for a big corporation, but a nice mom-and-pop store, and he was paid reasonably. And the hours weren’t terrible, but sometimes Taeyong wanted to hang out with his friends or even just give them a call, but he couldn’t because of work.
Okay, maybe Taeyong was just whiny about it, but whatever.
For now, Taeyong could live with being a little out of the loop of things, but he made sure to check in with Johnny a touch more than he did before, and even called him a couple times in the mornings when he knew Johnny was on his morning run. So they weren’t completely out of the loop, but Taeyong could tell Johnny was growing anxious, more and more concerned with whether or not Jaehyun knew Johnny was embarrassingly pining over him. To Doyoung, it was obvious, but Jaehyun was most definitely not Doyoung. Taeyong wasn’t all the worried about it either, but that didn’t ease Johnny’s anxiety much.
Taeyong sighed, as he pulled his phone from his pocket and glanced at his notifications. Johnny sent him a few texts here and there, before he found his phone buzzing to life with a phone call from Doyoung. Walking out of the shop and locking the doors behind him, Taeyong answered.
“You’ll never guess who I talked to,” Doyoung said, sounding particularly excited. Taeyong hummed, before stuffing his keys in his pocket. Putting one foot in front of the other, Taeyong ambled along, before finally shrugging.
“I’ll never guess. Who?”
Taeyong paused, furrowed his brows. He came to a stop at the crosswalk. “Jaehyun?”
“Yeah. I mean, we were friends at some point.” Doyoung played it off nonchalant, but there had to be a reason for Doyoung calling Taeyong so suddenly. Doyoung never called anyone. “Anyway, we met up for dinner again, and we got to talking. He told me the real reason he came back.”
“The ‘real’ reason?” Taeyong emphasized, as he came to a stop at a crosswalk at the end of the block. The light blinked at the end of the sidewalk, warning him not to walk, as he leaned against the light post and furrowed his brows.
“He told me he was here for a vacation, but the more we talked, the more he drank, and eventually he let it slip that his father passed. His family already had a ceremony and everything, but he came back to clean out their old home, fix it up, and put it on the market.”
“What?!” Taeyong said, mostly put off because he knew Jaehyun’s dad for most of his adolescent life. He didn’t seem like the type who struggled with his health, or even willing to give up if something health related came up. It must have been serious. “Should you be telling me this?”
“Probably not,” Doyoung admitted, but didn’t seem all that concerned. “But you’re missing the point. He’s going to be in town for a few months, at least. He said he wants people looking by March. Don’t you see what that means?”
“Uh?” The light turned right as Taeyong spoke, as he took a cautious step off of the sidewalk, into the road, with his phone tucked against his ear. “No, I don’t see what that means. Does that mean he wants nice blossoms for the open house?”
“No, dummy,” Doyoung said, sharp. “It means we have time to actually get him and Johnny on a date.”
Taeyong wanted to laugh out loud, but stopped short when a car came barreling towards him down the road, honking their horn the entire way, as he ran to the opposite sidewalk and turned around just quick enough to shout at them as they drove past. Doyoung couldn’t help the laugh he let out in surprise, as Taeyong huffed and pulled his phone back to his ear.
“That really doesn’t seem like it’s our business,” Taeyong groused. Doyoung clicked his tongue.
“Aren’t you supposed to be Johnny’s best friend?”
“Yeah, and?” Taeyong said, starting down the sidewalk. He was a little more than halfway back to his apartment, where he’d be able to kick off his shoes, get a drink, and relax before thinking about his shift the next day. “Just because he’s my best friend doesn’t mean I’m going to play Cupid in his love life. If Johnny doesn’t have it in him to tell Jaehyun himself, then why—”
“Oh, I’m sorry, let’s just recap all the things Johnny has done for you, then,” said Doyoung, cutting Taeyong off swiftly, hardly giving him a chance to process what was happening until they were square in the middle of it. “So, who was it that carried you all the way to the hospital when you sprained your ankle when you were on the soccer team in middle school?”
Taeyong could already feel his face going red, so he huffed, but replied petulantly, “it was Johnny.”
“Uh huh. And who was it that came and jumped your car in the dead of night, after you went to a concert said person explicitly warned you not to go to?”
Once more, with feeling. “Johnny.”
“Wondrous. Wait, could you remind me, who was the person who went and knocked out one of Taeho’s teeth after he started those rumors about you online?”
Taeyong didn’t want to answer that one, because he could still remember watching Johnny get walked to the office, most assuredly about to be suspended for what he did, and how Johnny just grinned at Taeyong, didn’t even care, as he pointed at Taeho’s tooth on the ground and asked if he saw that.
“You got your point across. Fine. I’ll do it for Johnny, because he is my friend, and not because you guilted me into it.”
“Great!” Doyoung chirped, sounding much lighter than he did while he was grilling Taeyong. “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?”
“Well, now you’re not!” Doyoung said. “I asked Jaehyun if he needed any help moving things out of the house, and he said yes, so we’re all going.”
Taeyong already wanted to claw his own eyes out at the idea. Seriously, flirting, and courting, and all those relationship type things were such a pain in the ass, just the thought of having to sit through all of it for the sake of Johnny getting to be around Jaehyun just barely made it worth it.
“Great. I’ll just call off work to do this. That’s fine.”
“Don’t be such a baby,” Doyoung said. “It’s one time, and then we’ll be able to actually work around a schedule. I don’t want Johnny to miss this chance.”
“Yeah, I get it. Have you talked to Johnny about it?”
Doyoung laughed, and just from the sound of it, Taeyong could tell it was a devious sounding one.
“I did, but he thinks we’re going to hang out at your place. So we’ll all meet up there, and I’ll drive us to Jaehyun’s.”
“Great,” Taeyong repeated, because it beared repeating. There were so many ways this plan could go up in flames, and Taeyong wasn’t particularly excited to see it, but he may as well. For the sake of Johnny, he might as well try. “I’m almost home so you can just text me the rest of it, if you want. I gotta shower and stuff.
“Will do. See you tomorrow!” Doyoung paused. “And hey, you won’t regret it. I promise.”
That last bit was genuine, and a little out of place, but it made Taeyong smile, as he bid Doyoung a good night and hung up the phone. As he headed into his apartment complex, ready for a short night in, Taeyong wondered if he should just let Johnny know exactly what they were doing. After all, Taeyong didn’t think he would appreciate something sudden like that, but.... Well, there was usually a method to Doyoung’s madness.
Still, once Taeyong kicked off his shoes and settled down, he decided to give Johnny a call. After just one ring, Johnny answered, his voice gentle, sleep-ridden. He must have already gone to bed.
“Hey,” Taeyong said.
“Hey. Are you okay?” Johnny said first, and the way he said it, with such concern, with the caring and tenderness he always had, it made Taeyong’s heart jump. That was weird. Taeyong took a second to take a deep breath in, looking at the socks on his feet, resting on the coffee table in front of him.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I just wanted to check in on you. Make sure you’re okay?”
“I’m all right, Johnny said, and it was... distant, in a way that Taeyong hated.
“You know I’m always here for you, right? It’s important to me that you know that.”
“Of course,” Johnny said, but once again, sounded less than genuine. Maybe getting too emotional for his own good, Taeyong sighed, melted into his couch with his phone tucked against his ear, as he wondered what he could even follow that up with. Anything more than that would seem just too forceful. He didn’t want Johnny to think anything weird of him.
“Hey, uh... do you remember punching Taeho? Back in high school?”
Taeyong wanted to kick himself after saying it, but Johnny just gave a gentle snort of laughter.
“What made you think of that?”
Nervous, Taeyong answered quick. “Nothing in particular. Just remembering stuff.” Taeyong turned over on his side, laid down on the couch so his phone was pressed against his cheek. “Jaehyun coming back just made me think of a lot of old stuff. You know how it is.”
“Well... yeah, I remember. I remember getting suspended immediately, that’s for sure. And my parents... they were so mad until I told them what it was about.”
Taeyong grinned, couldn’t help it when Johnny was so honest. He always loved Johnny’s parents, too. They were the kindest people Taeyong had met, not including Johnny, of course. There was a strange tightness in his chest as he listened to Johnny recount the story, a warmth that started at his heart, spread to his chest, ended at the tips of his fingers and his toes. Maybe he never noticed it before, but a part of him felt at home with every moment he spent on that call with Johnny.
“Seriously, why are we talking about Taeho right now?”
“I dunno,” admitted Taeyong, because that was the truth of it all. He didn’t know why. He just wanted to hear Johnny talk. He just wanted to hear his voice for a little. “Sometimes it’s just nice to remember how much you care about me. And to make sure you know I care about you the same. I’d do that for you, y’know.” Taeyong pouted a little. “I’d punch someone in the mouth for you.”
Johnny laughed at that. “That’s really nice of you. I’ll remember that, in case I need someone punched in the mouth.”
When the conversation ended, Taeyong couldn’t ignore what strange feelings lingered in his body after he hung up, as he plugged his phone in to charge and threw himself into bed.
Whatever the feeling was, Taeyong wasn’t so sure he enjoyed it.
The next morning, Taeyong called in, faked stomach issues as he had many times before, and apologized for not being able to come in, all the while picking out comfortable clothes he could move boxes around in. After all, that was what Doyoung said they’d be doing. So he settled on pulling on some joggers and a black shirt to go with it, tugged his shoes on, and called it a day, as he headed downstairs to wait for Doyoung and Johnny.
Once downstairs, Taeyong took a seat on his apartment stoop, making sure not to get in the way of others who would undoubtedly push past him on their morning commutes.
Part of Taeyong felt... hesitant. Almost afraid of this plan, but not because of anything Jaehyun could do or say. For some reason, Taeyong couldn’t quite place why exactly he didn’t want to enact this weird “get our friends together” plan Doyoung seemed to hellbent on acting out, but it was definitely there. He just didn’t want this to blow up in anybody’s face.
And besides, how did Doyoung even know Jaehyun would want to take Johnny on a date? Was that another thing that just “slipped” out on their dinner? Did Doyoung know a lot of things Johnny and Taeyong didn’t? All of it just seemed to be far too up in the air to be safe. At the end of it all, though, Doyoung was right; Taeyong did owe it a little to Johnny. There were countless times Taeyong made a stupid decision, and Johnny was always, without fail, there to catch him or support him when things went awry, as they usually did.
Giving Johnny an afternoon where he could talk to the person he was infatuated with was the least Taeyong could do. So he sucked it up, told himself it would be quick and painless, and put a smile on his face when he saw Doyoung pulling up to the curb with Johnny in the back seat. Doyoung rolled the passenger’s side window down.
“C’mon, get in,” Doyoung said. Johnny looked back at Doyoung.
“Wait, I thought we were hanging out here,” he said, as Doyoung met his gaze, turned back to Taeyong, who kept a straight face, because he honestly had no other idea how to answer that. This was all Doyoung’s idea, so Doyoung should’ve had an excuse at the ready.
And he did, apparently, as he spoke and pulled the car away from the curb.
“Well, Taeyong had a different idea, so now we’re gonna do something else.”
“Oh, I did, did I?” Taeyong said, sudden as he finished pulling his seatbelt on. “Yeah, I totally had this idea, it wasn’t Doyoung sticking his nose in places where it didn’t belong, like he always does.”
“Taeyong was insistent we do this instead, so I guess we’ll just have to do it to placate him.”
“Fuck off, dude, you’re the worst liar. Hey, I’m supposed to be at work right now, but Doyoung said I had to call off, so here I am—”
“Wait!” Johnny said, cutting both of them off before they could keep the back and forth up for any longer. Taeyong turned to face Johnny. At least he was in some casual clothes, too. Then he wouldn’t be super uncomfortable while they were moving boxes. “What are we doing?”
“Yeah, Doyoung, what are we doing?”
Doyoung sighed, as they came to a slow stop at a red light, and rubbed his forehead.
“Uh.... Well.... Jaehyun needed help moving boxes, so I offered—”
“What?!” Johnny was already panicking, his face going beet red at the mention of Jaehyun.
“He needed help!” Doyoung replied defensively.
“So you offered us up without asking?!”
“Well, Taeyong already knew,” Doyoung said, nonchalantly and looked out the window.
Johnny shouted again, throwing himself down in the backseat and whining the entire ride there, while Taeyong glared at Doyoung for putting them in this situation. But Doyoung just smiled and sang along to the radio, hardly paid either of them any mind, as they pulled up to a dirt road branching off from the main drag, the fence to it wide open, letting them right on through.
“Wow, this is nice,” Taeyong commented, as he rolled his window down and leaned out of the window, watching the landscape go by. “His parents must have been rich.”
“They were,” Johnny said, sounding particularly huffy. Taeyong smiled involuntarily. Johnny was really cute when he pouted, but he wouldn’t say that in the moment, unless he wanted to get a death glare from the backseat.
Doyoung let out a noise of awe as they neared the home, grandiose and pristine. Taeyong’s jaw dropped, jumping forward and leaning on the dashboard as his eyes got big. There was even a fountain in the front yard.
Johnny let his attitude loosen up a little bit, as they turned around the parking circle and Doyoung turned the car off, immediately unlocking the doors and stepping out. Taeyong quickly scrambled out of the car as well, tripping over his two feet as he ran to the fountain. The base of it was dry, like it hadn’t been running in a long while, but it was still magnificent in stature, in design. This was ridiculous!
“Johnny, get out of the car, you big baby,” Doyoung said, opening the door and jutting his hand towards the ground. “Seriously, it’s not going to be that bad.”
Grumbling, Johnny swung his legs out of the car and stood up, arms crossed over his chest. Taeyong turned to the house, marveling over all the full length windows and beautiful curtains, the planters full of half-dead plants, the grass landscape, all the statues.... This was definitely not the kind of place Taeyong was used to.
“Where’s Jaehyun?” Taeyong said.
As if on cue, the front door to the huge home swung open, a figure coming out from behind it with a loud huff, as they dropped a few boxes down to the ground, and stood up with a few panting breaths.
Even after so long, Taeyong, Doyoung, and Johnny all knew Jaehyun when they saw him. His chocolate brown hair, clean cut, and the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled at the sight of them. Without a moment of hesitation, Jaehyun started down the steps of the home, right towards all three of them. Unconsciously, Taeyong glanced at Johnny, and held back the urge to hold his arm or something... to reassure him. That was all he wanted to do it for. To make sure Johnny knew it was okay.
“I didn’t know all of you were coming, I would’ve put a little more effort into my presentation,” Jaehyun said, walking up to all three of them. “It’s been so long. Your face is still unreal,” he directed towards Taeyong, who gave him a sideways grin, shrugging it off. He was used to people saying things like that. “And Doyoung already saw me smashed, so it’s fine. And... Johnny?”
At the sound of his name, Johnny straightened up. Taeyong thought if you could see shivers, Johnny would have them running up and down his spine, as he nodded nervously and immediately smiled. Jaehyun jumped forward, pulling Johnny into a hug and squeezing tightly. Johnny whimpered, but reciprocated a moment after, his eyes wide as he looked at Doyoung and Taeyong for help. The two of them just held up their fists, bumped them, and stuffed them back in their pockets.
“God, it’s been so long. I haven’t seen you since we started texting, you are— so tall,” Jaehyun said with a laugh. Johnny laughed with him.
“Yeah, well, you look exactly the same. Do you age at all, or what?”
Jaehyun scoffed. “Trust me, I’m getting old. I can’t even move all these boxes out without needing help. God, wait, sorry, I reek,” he said, pulling away from Johnny, who looked a little sad at the loss of contact. Jaehyun pulled at his shirt to make some circulation. Taeyong wanted to say he didn’t stink even in the slightest. He just smelled like sweat and cologne, which was probably the reason Johnny looked so dazed and completely enamored. Doyoung snickered, looking back at the boxes near the home, and went to grab them.
It was only after Doyoung left that Taeyong noticed Jaehyun’s clothes. Everything was plain, but the way he was wearing them made them look... well, attractive. Taeyong didn’t want to say hot, because even in his head, that sounded odd, but that was definitely a way to put it. The sleeves of his white t-shirt were rolled up at his biceps, and he wore some plain blue washed denim jeans with them. Looking down at his own clothes, Taeyong felt severely underdressed. He looked like he walked into his closet and came out with his dirty laundry basket on.
And Johnny and Jaehyun fell into conversation, their back and forth easy, like they were picking up on a spot they left off at. There was a twinge of something, as Taeyong turned his back on them, started following Doyoung to the boxes, to help him carry them. They were labeled “trash” in large black letters. Doyoung lugged one in his arms, while Taeyong grabbed the other.
“We didn’t even really have to try,” Doyoung said. “He looks really happy, though.”
“Yeah,” Taeyong admitted, giving them a backwards glance. Johnny was grinning, and his face wasn’t so red anymore, just on the apples of his cheeks, the tips of his ears. He tucked his hair away from his face and laughed after Jaehyun pushed his shoulder. They looked so normal.... Like they were supposed to be together.
There was another tug at something inside of Taeyong, but he brushed it off, and kept walking to toss out the box of useless things in his arms.
At the end of the night, Jaehyun invited the three of them to stay for a drink.
“It gets boring all the way out here, sometimes,” he said, leading them into his kitchen. “I can’t go out to bars or anything, because I don’t have a way to get all the way out here. Even taxis won’t drive out here because they think I’ll skip out on my fare.”
As he spoke, Jaehyun reached to open a cabinet above his head, just barely able to reach, as he jumped and hopped in an attempt to reach a bottle of soju. After a moment of struggling, Johnny came up beside Jaehyun, reached his hand up, and grabbed the bottle without even straining. Taeyong didn’t miss the way Jaehyun seemed to flush nervously, nudging Johnny with his elbow and rolling his eyes.
“Thanks. Anyways, I have some food here, and we can drink and catch up. I’d love to catch up with you guys, as long as you want to.”
Doyoung turned to Taeyong, who shrugged, because this was bordering into being a nuisance. He was sure Johnny wanted to stay, or at least the idea of staying was really appealing, but Taeyong really did have to work the next day, and he wasn’t planning on calling off two days in a row unless somebody was going to pay him money for the days he was missing, and he was sure it wouldn’t be Doyoung.
“Just give us a second,” Doyoung said, pulling Taeyong out of the kitchen and into the hall.
“This isn’t suspicious at all,” Taeyong said.
“Well, it’s better out here than in there,” Doyoung paused, as he heard Johnny and Jaehyun talking. “See? They’re distracted already.”
“Yeah, yeah— what did you bring me out here for?”
Doyoung hesitated, before rushing his words out in an all-too-quick sentence Taeyong barely caught. “One of us has to stay here with Johnny.”
“Okay, and? This was all your idea. You stay with him.”
“But it’s gonna be weird if it’s me!” Doyoung replied. “I don’t want to sound self absorbed, but when Jaehyun and I are together, we talk too much. That’s not what we want for Johnny, right?”
“Are you serious?” Taeyong huffed and ran his hand back through his hair. “I want to help Johnny, too, but I have a job. I have a life outside of this. This is going too far.”
Despite wanting to argue about it, Doyoung’s face went red in embarrassment. Taeyong was right, as much as he didn’t want to admit it. They had lives outside of this. They weren’t matchmakers, or cupid, or whatever other stupid names they wanted to call themselves. He sighed in resignation.
“Okay. Fine, you’re right. I just want Johnny to get every opportunity at this. He’s liked Jaehyun for so long....”
“Wait, what do you mean?” Taeyong glanced back into the kitchen, where Jaehyun and Johnny had already poured themselves small shot glasses of soju, shooting them back and pounding the glass on the table, before groaning and shaking their heads. Johnny laughed, loud, carefree.
“Dude.” Doyoung snapped his fingers to get Taeyong’s attention. “Are you serious?”
“What? What am I missing?”
“I mean....” Doyoung jutted a thumb back at Johnny. “Maybe he just came out, but his crush on Jaehyun was so obvious back in high school. Do you not remember his poetry phase?” Without letting Taeyong answer, Doyoung held up his hands in front of him. “Okay, besides that, did you really think he just got a crush on Jaehyun out of nowhere? Poof, he likes him through some texts?”
“I don’t know.... I thought....” Taeyong couldn’t help himself, looked past Doyoung into the kitchen again, as Jaehyun sat down beside Johnny, pulling his phone from his pocket and scrolling through pictures of things Taeyong couldn’t discern because of the distance. Johnny pointed at his screen, immediately meeting Jaehyun’s gaze and talking fervently, all excitement and interest, and... love. Something like love. “Johnny’s liked him for that long?”
Doyoung paused, studying Taeyong’s expression, before nodding his head and rubbing the back of his neck.
“I’ll stay. I know I’ve been pushing you to do a lot.”
At the sound of Doyoung’s voice, Taeyong immediately met his gaze, shook his head.
“No, I’m going to stay. Johnny is my best friend, and I want to see him happy.”
“I’m sure they won’t even do anything tonight. It’s fine—”
“Doyoung,” Taeyong said, setting his hands down on Doyoung’s shoulders and squeezing. Doyoung’s eyes went wide, bigger than they usually were. “I’m your hyung, and I’m telling you to go home, get some sleep, and let your hyung take care of this.”
Doyoung couldn’t help rolling his eyes, but gave Taeyong a quick smile, because that stupid tactic was endearing when Taeyong wasn’t being belittling or rude.
“You’re stupid,” Taeyong retorted, but burst into laughter with Doyoung a moment after, the two giggling in hysterics until Doyoung took a deep breath in and pushed at Taeyong’s shoulder.
“Text me if anything happens.”
“Nope,” Taeyong declined, as they two headed back to the kitchen, where Jaehyun and Johnny were already pouring themselves second shots, and Jaehyun was reheating some pizza in the oven. “Hey, Doyoung has to head home, but I’ll stay for shots.”
“Aww, already?” Jaehyun said. “I was hoping we could all hang out.”
“Maybe next time,” Doyoung replied nonchalantly, winking at Taeyong when Jaehyun threw his arms around Doyoung’s shoulders and hugged him tightly, something only Jaehyun did to others. “See you guys. Don’t get wasted!”
Doyoung left without being followed out, and Taeyong sat down in the seat beside Johnny’s, taking the first shot Jaehyun poured for him and slid across the countertop. Jaehyun grinned, his dimples appearing on the surface of his cheeks.
“Are you a lightweight?”
Taeyong let out a loud guffaw of laughter right in Jaehyun’s face.
“I’ll send you home packing, kid,” he said, before shooting his first shot back without so much as a reaction. Johnny snorted out a laugh when Jaehyun’s expression fell, shocked at Taeyong’s complete ease, like this stuff was water or something.
“Taeyong outdrinks me all the time, it’s so embarrassing.”
“I’m not too bad myself,” Jaehyun said, pouring Taeyong another shot and pushing it back. “You’ll have to catch up though.”
“Catch up? To what? The two shots you both took?” Taeyong took the next, swallowed it easy, and set the glass back down. “Big deal.”
For some reason, the smile on Jaehyun’s face wasn’t so instigating, but the way Johnny looked at Jaehyun, in awe, in pure unadulterated amusement, made Taeyong drink too much for his own good, too fast, just so he might hear Johnny praise him in front of Jaehyun again.
Maybe Doyoung should have been the one to stay after all.
Johnny had tapped out of drinking first, always a lightweight despite his height and all his big talk that he’d be “just fine!”, but Taeyong expected that at this point. He was the same person in high school, and he’d always be that person until the end.
Jaehyun tried his best to keep up with Taeyong, but couldn’t hide the flush spreading across the bridge of his nose, to the apples of his cheeks, how his tongue grew lazier and slurred words together too easy. That wasn’t to say Taeyong wasn’t affected— god, he was smashed, but he was better at hiding it. Talking took a bit of time, but it was better to say things right than to say stupid things and let Jaehyun think he had one over him.
And even though Johnny was the first to tap out, and Taeyong was beyond his limit, Jaehyun was the first to head to bed, after pulling out some blankets for Taeyong and Johnny to make themselves comfortable on the living room couches.
“Normally the guest room has beds, but I’m— hic!— replacing them. Sorry, guys,” Jaehyun said, as he set down two piles of blankets, before running back to the closet and pulling out an absurd amount of pillows as well. “But you guys can sleep wherever, and watch whatever you want on— on the TV, and I’ll see ya in the morning.”
Taeyong waved Jaehyun off to bed, as Johnny did the same.
“Here, take that couch,” Taeyong gestured towards the longer, wider one. Johnny shook his head.
“You take it, Yongie,” Johnny said, and Taeyong knew he was really smashed, because Johnny hadn’t called him that since high school. Still, Taeyong persisted, pointing at the couch and setting his other hand on his hip like he was shaming Johnny for even thinking of giving Taeyong the bigger couch. Johnny sat down on the bigger couch without question, as Taeyong threw blankets and pillows at him until he was sure Johnny would be super comfy.
With little preamble or shame, Taeyong pulled his jeans off, readjusted his boxers, and then crawled on the couch opposite Johnny’s own, pulling blankets and comforters over his body until he felt nice and cozy against the pillows he picked for himself.
Johnny didn’t say anything, which was unusual for drunk Johnny. Normally Taeyong had a hard time getting him to shut up. He wondered if maybe Johnny was thinking about Jaehyun, had gotten all up in that brain of his and started thinking too hard about the things he said or did. Johnny did that often.
“Johnny?” Taeyong started. The sound of his voice must have startled him, as Johnny rolled over on the couch to face the source of where his name was coming from. Taeyong smiled, even if Johnny couldn’t see it. “Have you... have you really had a crush on you-know-who since high school?”
Even in the darkness, Taeyong could tell Johnny was blushing, the sound of blankets rustling, as he must have been covering his face. Taeyong hummed. That was answer enough, but he did want to hear it from Johnny himself. So Taeyong waited, as Johnny groaned, long, and lazy.
“Yeah.... That’s... embarrassing. To admit, I mean.” Johnny paused, his voice going soft as he spoke. A part of Taeyong wished he could see Johnny’s expression right now. He was so used to knowing Johnny, knowing every part of him, knowing his reactions, but for now, Taeyong was at a loss. This wasn’t something he had experience with.
And that... hurt. A little. Taeyong would never admit it, but that stung, thinking about how Johnny had this crush on Jaehyun since they were in high school, and Johnny just kept it hidden, like he couldn’t even trust Taeyong with the information. He knew it was more serious than trust, like his safety, and the way people would treat him knowing the truth, but it didn’t change the fact that part of Taeyong was a little hurt.
Maybe it was selfish of him to think he had any right to be hurt by any of this.
Taeyong swallowed that fact down and waited. For something. Anything.
“Do you think you love him?”
The words came out before Taeyong could realize he was saying them. He wanted to apologize immediately after, but Johnny was already taking a long breath in, readying his response. Now Taeyong really wanted to take it back. He didn’t want to know.
He let Johnny answer anyways.
“I think... maybe. I dunno.” Johnny hesitated. “What’s being in love like?”
The question came as a surprise, and a little out of place, because Taeyong was definitely not the one who should’ve been asked that question. Still, Taeyong took a moment to ponder on his answer. It was a good enough question to warrant thought. Why was his heart beating so hard? Was it the alcohol? Did Taeyong mix something he wasn’t supposed to? He was so sure he hadn’t taken any medicine before coming over, but maybe he forgot. There shouldn’t have been any reason for his heart to be skipping the way it was, the palms of his hands clammy, his skin feeling uncomfortable and... itchy. Almost. How adolescent.
“You’re asking me?” Taeyong said, dumbly. Johnny snorted.
“No, I’m asking all the other people in the room— yes, I’m asking you!”
Taeyong snickered with Johnny, felt lightheaded as he took a long breath in and focused on a small gleam of light spilling in the room from the partially open living room window. Moonlight just barely decorated the floor, looked like stars littered across the panels.
“It’s just a feeling,” Taeyong said. “A really special one.”
“Yeah, but I’m asking you what being in love is like. Have you ever been in love?”
That was a big question. Taeyong had dated people before. He’d had flings and dates, and sometimes he thought maybe he felt that way for someone, but realized it was just infatuation, and didn’t really count it as love, and.... Well, there wasn’t really anybody else that stayed around long enough for it to seem like love.
Nobody else, but Johnny stayed.
Taeyong’s heart skipped against his ribs and Taeyong furrowed his brows, set his open palm down on his chest. He better not be dying. Sleeping on Jaehyun’s couch in the middle of the night was most definitely not the way he wanted to go out.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love, but maybe I’ve had something close to it.”
Johnny replied eagerly, “well, describe it, then. I want to know what it feels like.”
Taeyong tried as hard as he could. He laid on his back and stared at the ceiling, as if the texture of it held the answers he was searching for, as if he could just search until Johnny forgot the question.
Maybe that worked, Taeyong thought, as he heard Johnny’s breathing level off. His snoring closely followed, Johnny turning over and burying his face in the pillow underneath him. Johnny was a belly sleeper, always. Taeyong didn’t know how he did it, but he knew he did.
Glancing at Johnny, Taeyong felt that tremble in his heartbeat once more, blinked away the haze of drunkenness from his eyes, and hummed.
He said, soft, “it’s like being friends with you.”
Weeks had passed since that night, and Taeyong hadn’t heard anything more from Johnny or Doyoung when it came to the subject of what the absolute fuck they were trying to achieve that night. Of course, Johnny had no idea what their ulterior motives were, but that didn’t negate the fact that Taeyong was left in this weird sort of limbo area, where he didn’t know if it was okay to ask about Jaehyun, if it was a touchy sore subject, if Johnny was still a little bitter about how Taeyong threw up in the taxi they took home the next morning and Johnny had to pay the cleaning fee for.
Like, all of it was up in the air.
But for now, things had gone back to relative normalcy. Taeyong was scolded for calling into work twice and showing up sans a doctor’s note, but a massive hangover instead. He still had a job, though, which was very nice for his wallet and his rent, and his general needs and purposes, which he really should have prioritized above Johnny’s love life, but y’know, the universe cut him some slack this time around.
For now, Taeyong kept his head down, did his work, minded his business. Doyoung did text Taeyong once or twice to ask him how he was doing, though the conversation always ended short. Their schedules wouldn’t work out for now, but Taeyong was sure they’d be seeing each other one way or another in the future.
And, honestly, Taeyong liked having some space for a little while. It wasn’t like he didn’t enjoy spending time with Doyoung, and it definitely wasn’t anything to do with Johnny, but sometimes he just needed a bit of time to himself to recharge, ground himself. With all this time away from Johnny and his crush on Jaehyun, Taeyong had some serious time to consider if he really wanted to be involved with it, or if he was maybe just playing along for the sake of humoring Doyoung, and because a part of him felt he owed it to Johnny.
That made it sound as though Taeyong had no choice in the matter. He did. He knew he did. But it was nice not to be faced with big decisions, like calling into work, or enabling your best friend to do dumb things like drink too much and flirt with his sexual preference-ambiguous crush for far too long.
There was simply something comforting in sitting at home, alone, eating some warmed up leftovers, and binge watching a TV show Taeyong had already seen twice through already.
Scrolling through his timeline on Instagram, Taeyong came across a post from a friend he hadn’t heard from in a long while. Immediately, Taeyong opened up a direct message, their last ones dating from high school days, typing quick and smiling when the message was read a few moments after he hit send.
Nakamoto Yuta. Taeyong remembered his name very well.
Yuta played on the soccer team. He was one of the best on the team, actually. Taeyong had tried out for the team his freshman year, but was quick to learn of just how grueling and arduous high school sports teams were. Shortly after, Taeyong dropped the sport, but Yuta remained a constant in his life, a friend to lean on.
After graduation, Yuta had moved back home, back to Osaka, and Taeyong hadn’t heard from him since. Taeyong remembered Ten mentioning Yuta didn’t want to use social media once he moved back home, so that must have been why the long hiatus between messages, but the check in on his latest post said he was back in Korea.
The sound of his phone ringing brought Taeyong back to earth, as he paused his TV show and sat back on his couch, as if he needed to look casual while talking to someone through a phone call, but whatever.
“Hello?” Taeyong said.
“This is Taeyong’s number, right?” A familiar voice spoke from the other line, sounding distant for a second. Taeyong could imagine Yuta pulling the phone away from his ear to make sure he called the right number, and gave a snort of a laugh.
“Oh, thank god,” Yuta said from his own part of the conversation. “Your voice is so much deeper than before, I was worried I called the wrong person.”
Taeyong laughed outright this time, because he was sure Yuta was right. In high school, his voice was much higher pitched, much nicer than it sounded now. Taeyong had received a few comment cards from customers saying his customer service voice, particularly on the phone, could use some work, but he wasn’t quite sure how to fix his own voice.
“How are you doing?” Yuta said. Taeyong hummed.
“I’m good. Sorry if my message was weird, o-or sudden or anything. I just got really excited to see you were back. I thought maybe you had quit social media for good.”
“No, I was always on there, looking at other people’s things. I just never had anything to post about. Now I do, since I’m back.” Yuta paused. “Are you free sometime soon?”
“Tomorrow, actually,” Taeyong said. “My days off are split this week for some reason, so I have tomorrow and then Monday off.”
“I have plans tomorrow, but would you want to meet up for lunch on Monday?”
“Yeah!” Taeyong said, much too quick to be casual, and earned a laugh from Yuta.
“Awesome. You can pick the place. I haven’t been anywhere in so long. How about we meet at one?”
Taeyong excitedly confirmed the time, and set to picking out a restaurant from the many that surrounded them. Surely he could find someplace Yuta would really love. Taeyong didn’t mind commuting a bit either. The busses weren’t all that bad.
And once they were finished on the phone, Taeyong was able to curl up in a ball on his couch, close his eyes, and grab a few hours of shuteye before he had to get ready for work in a very short two hours.
Taeyong decided on a family restaurant in downtown, a popular place he had been to with Johnny when they first opened. It was much bigger now, expanded their menu and the seating area, but still the same friendly staff members, who even recognized Taeyong as he approached and asked for a table for two, because Yuta said he would be cutting it close, but swore he would be there.
Taking a seat, Taeyong pulled his phone from his pocket once he ordered, fiddled with his texts and wondered if maybe he should have asked Johnny how he was doing. They had been texting back and forth, but the conversation never went any further than surface level asking how things were going, how work was, how life was. Taeyong wasn’t even really sure how to bring up Jaehyun, or anything about him. How do you casually ask about that?
Interrupting his thoughts, Taeyong set his phone down and watched as Yuta walked in through the front door of the restaurant, looking around before pointing at Taeyong. The hostess walked behind Yuta, set a menu down in front of him, before asking for his drink order as well. Then she took her leave, as Yuta shimmied his jacket off his shoulders, took a deep breath in, and met Taeyong’s eager gaze.
“Hey,” he said, and Taeyong grinned wide. Back in high school, he might have pulled Yuta into his arms for a hug, but now, he wasn’t sure where the boundary was. After all, it had been a few years since they had seen one another. Things weren’t supremely different, but surely Yuta had to have changed, at least a little. His hair was longer, that was for sure. It was shaggy, curled in some parts from how long it was growing, and met his shoulders in jagged, uneven edges.
Yuta took his seat, as Taeyong straightened out his posture. Now that he was seeing Yuta for the first time, he felt overwhelmingly underdressed. Why did that always happen to him?! First with Jaehyun, now with Yuta. Was he missing out on fashion trends or something? Taeyong even tried to look nice tonight, with a button up, but jeans and sneakers instead of something like a suit. Yuta, on the other hand, wore some well-fitting slacks, a blazer, and a turtleneck underneath. Even his shoes were nice, Taeyong noted, as he glanced under the table while readjusting his seating.
“I hope you weren’t waiting long. I was at an art exhibit, but I appreciate the time away.”
“Dude, of course,” Taeyong said, completely contrasting the way Yuta spoke with such formality, respect, something he must have caught through being out of practice speaking Korean. Taeyong just brushed it off, leaning on the table and pausing when the waitress returned with their drinks. They hadn’t even looked at the menus yet. “Wait, what do you mean the time away?”
“Oh, it’s, er— I’m hosting the exhibit.” Yuta looked a little... off as he said it. Taeyong quirked a brow, but smiled encouragingly a moment after.
“Hey, that’s awesome. That’s really big! I had no idea that’s what you were doing back here. I thought you were just visiting for a little. I didn’t even know you were an artist.”
“Yeah,” Yuta said, before realizing what he was saying. “I-I mean, I’m not. I’m not an artist. It’s complicated, I’ll, er, explain it later.”
That was strange, but Taeyong opted not to harp on it any longer than Yuta had, which was to say, not at all. For now, he settled for scanning the menu, searching the options before finally settling on an entree, some stew, because the cold outside was getting to be more than just a chill, and Taeyong wanted to feel cozy.
“What have you been up to?” Yuta said. “I mean, since graduating. It’s been so long,” he said, as if suddenly realizing just how long it had been since they had even talked. “Last time we talked, you were drunk. Do you remember that?”
Taeyong flushed furiously, trying to hide his face in his drink.
“I try not to.”
“It was so cute!” Yuta exclaimed, too loud for the setting they were in, as Taeyong sunk back in his seat and looked anywhere but at Yuta.
“Shut up, that’s embarrassing just to think about,” Taeyong murmured. Normally, Taeyong wouldn’t have been so upset over something like that being brought up, and he wasn’t really upset, but the night before Yuta left, Taeyong had this weird, strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He remembered talking to Yuta, sober, before he left, but then he went home, and he drank too much, and he went up to his room, and he just... called Yuta. For some reason or another.
“Fine, we don’t have to talk about that part of it.” Yuta grinned still, smug that he got Taeyong to blush already, and they had just started talking again. “Tell me what’s new with you. I really want to hear!”
After some gentle encouraging on Yuta’s behalf, Taeyong sat back up straight, took a sip of his drink, and really started thinking about what it was he had been up to as of late. The only thing his brain wandered back to, other than working, was Johnny, and Jaehyun, and Doyoung’s involvement in all of that. So he talked about it, in the vaguest way he could.
“So... I have this friend,” Taeyong started, and Yuta leaned his chin against his palm, staring at Taeyong intently, “we’ll just call him A, right?”
“Okay,” Yuta agreed.
“So, my friend, A, started acting all strange. Distant, and like, skittish almost? It was super strange, he’s only done that maybe once or twice before, so I got worried, y’know? And then, Doyoung— hey, you still remember Doyoung, right?”
Yuta rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I remember him being an asshole to me in high school, if that’s what you mean.”
“He wasn’t that bad,” Taeyong said, although Yuta wasn’t wrong. Doyoung had his moments, for sure. “Well, anyway, Doyoung and I were really worried about our friend, so we, y’know, started pressing, and eventually we found out that A, er....”
Taeyong wasn’t quite sure how to word this part. He didn’t want to explicitly say Johnny came out, because that wasn’t his place to, obviously. That didn’t mean he couldn’t find a way to make it sound different.
“Well, A has a crush on someone.”
“A crush?” Yuta said, sounding positively amused, his eyes getting big and almost gleaming under the light of their dining table.
“Yeah. We’ll call the other person— the one A has a crush on— we’ll call them ‘B’. So, now we figured out why A is acting so strange, but now it’s like this weird in between stage, where they’re, like, kind of hitting on each other? And they could date, but they have to ease into it, they can’t just— just jump in, y’know what I mean?”
Taeyong gestured vaguely with his hands, trying so hard to properly articulate what he was trying to say.
“And Doyoung got me involved with this whole mess, and he made me feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure A and B get together, or at least try to get together. I don’t even know anymore,” Taeyong sighed and sat back in his seat. “I haven’t talked to A about it because I’m, like, relieved I don’t have to deal with it right now, but I know that’s kind of a shitty thing to say.”
“Not at all,” Yuta quipped, and wow, that made Taeyong feel a lot better, for some reason. “Sounds stressful.”
“It’s not stressful, it’s just kind of... inconvenient? Wow, that makes me sound really shitty!” Taeyong huffed. Yuta laughed.
“Still the same kid from high school, I see.”
“Shut up,” Taeyong groused. As he thought about what else to say, Taeyong suddenly remember that feeling he got in the pit of his stomach, that strange tug whenever he and Johnny would talk about certain things, like love, like Jaehyun, like dating. “Hey, can I ask you something? Your opinion on all of this?”
Yuta nodded, gave a reassuring smile. “Of course.”
“Okay, so.... So, all of this is happening with A, and I’m really happy for him. Like, if there’s anybody who deserves to get the chance at something like a relationship, it should be him, y’know? So, I’m happy it’s happening, but sometimes when we talk about, like, falling in love, or when I think about him dating somebody, it gets weird.”
“Gets... weird?” Yuta repeated.
“Yeah. I don’t know how to describe it. I get this weird feeling in my stomach, like my stomach is twisting up. It’s not butterflies, it’s this unpleasant sinking, and twisting. Or, sometimes, when we’re talking about happy things, it happens again, but right here,” Taeyong said, and set his hand down in a fist on his chest, nearer to the left side. Yuta quirked a brow. “Do you ever get that feeling?”
“Not recently, but yeah. It sounds familiar, anyways.”
“What is it? It’s been bothering me a lot.”
“Bothering you how much?”
Taeyong parted his lips to speak, but was interrupted by the waitress arriving with their food. God, that always happened. Taeyong really needed to start inviting people over for lunch or dinner instead, or doing literally anything else other than going out for food, although he felt like that’s all adulthood consisted of anymore.
Once their waitress took her leave, Taeyong waited a second to speak, before starting again.
“It’s bothering me in my sleep, sometimes. Or when I drink, I think about it a lot.” Taeyong’s free hand went to his chest, grabbing at his shirt and fisting the material in his fingers. “Or, right now. Talking about it.”
Yuta hummed, didn’t even make a move to try his food. It was his turn now to sit back in his seat, relaxing and taking a soft breath in. When he spoke, it was gentle, cautious.
“Do you think, maybe, a part of you likes A?”
Taeyong furrowed his brows. “Of course I like A, he’s my best friend— I—” Taeyong slapped his hands over his mouth. Everyone knew who his best friend was. Yuta’s expression didn’t change, though.
“I mean, do you think a part of you really likes A?” Yuta kept up the anonymous names, which Taeyong appreciated.
“You mean... you mean, like, like-like?”
Yuta snorted out a laugh, nodding a beat afterward.
“Yes, Taeyong. Like that.”
Despite saying it himself, Taeyong took a moment to process what exactly it meant, before he burst into laughter, right in Yuta’s face, his eyes going wide before he fell back in his seat and kept laughing, so loud and disruptive, the others looked at their table once more.
“Oh my god, no way. There’s no way!” Taeyong said. Yuta remained calm, his expression hardly faltering. “Dude, seriously, there’s no way I have a crush on John— on A.”
“I already know it’s Johnny,” Yuta said. “I just.... That’s kind of how you act when you get a crush on someone, Taeyong.”
“Oh, really? How would you know how I act when I have a crush on someone?” Taeyong said.
It was Yuta’s turn to laugh now, short and loud. “Wait, are you serious?” he said, when Taeyong didn’t realize what he was laughing at.
“Uh, yeah. What’s so funny?”
“Taeyong,” Yuta said, his voice taking on that cautious, gentle tone once more, “you... had a huge crush on me in high school, didn’t you?”
“What?!” Taeyong exclaimed
“Oh, c’mon, don’t give me that. You had a huge crush on me!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, there!” Taeyong and Yuta continued shouting back and forth, until their waitress approached their table again, and asked they keep it down.
It took Taeyong a moment to recover from shouting, his face burning red and scarlet in color. Yuta’s own was tinged pink, as he took a sip of his own drink and steadied himself.
“Where is that even coming from?” Taeyong said, his voice sounding more harsh now that they couldn’t shout back and forth at each other.
“I swear, I’m not crazy,” Yuta said. “Everyone knew you had a crush on me. Even ask Doyoung, he knew. He talked about it all the time.”
“How did everyone mysteriously know about this random crush I had on you when I didn’t even have one on you?”
“Okay, hold on, pause,” Yuta said. “Completely negating the fact that it was me, and I’m the one saying this right now, can you just think back to when we were in high school?”
“Fine, but that’s not going to change anything,” Taeyong huffed. “All right, I’m thinking back to high school.”
“Humor me,” Yuta said. “Do you remember Valentine’s day, of our third year?”
That was their last year going to school together, Taeyong remembered. He nodded, albeit bitterly, hesitant.
“I remember walking into class that day. The way your face looked when I walked in with some chocolates from girls.”
Taeyong’s stomach sunk at the reminder. He didn’t want to remember anymore.
“It wasn’t that normal expression people get when they see their friend with gifts. Every other guy was excited, talking all loud about the girls they got presents from, but you didn’t accept any. I know you got a lot of offers, too. You’re a good looking guy, you know. And when I walked in with some, you looked a little... sad.” Yuta paused. “Like you were expecting us both to be the only ones with no chocolates.”
“I wasn’t sad,” Taeyong grumbled. Yuta nodded, didn’t even try to argue with him.
“And then, a month later, on White day, you looked a little happier when I said I wasn’t planning on giving anybody cookies or candy.”
“I really don’t think this is true—”
“Humor me,” Yuta repeated, and Taeyong clenched his jaw, but nodded once more.
“You didn’t give anybody sweets either, but....” Yuta paused, smiled fondly. “You pulled a Hershey’s kiss from your pocket, and you gave it to me. Put it right in my palm.” Yuta stared at his open palm, like he could still visualize the silver wrapper, the delicate paper hanging from the top of it. “A month after that, I asked you if we could get noodles for Black day. And you laughed at me, because it was supposed to be a singles thing, but we went together.”
Taeyong remembered all of it, but that didn’t mean he wanted to.
“That was right before we graduated. And then you called me before I left, when you were drunk, and... c’mon, don’t tell me I was imagining all of it.”
Despite the guidance, Taeyong wasn’t quite ready to admit Yuta was right. So he didn’t answer, opted to take a few spoonfuls of his food, while Yuta sighed sadly. Taeyong knew he didn’t have those feelings for Johnny, even if he maybe did have those feelings for Yuta in high school. Just because he could remember those sinking feelings back then did not mean this was the same thing. Taeyong didn’t appreciate the accusation, either. He just really admired Yuta in high school. Maybe that was sorely misplaced, now that Taeyong was seeing this side of him. How self absorbed.
“I heard Jaehyun came back,” Yuta said, which didn’t alleviate the tension much either. Taeyong didn’t stop him from talking, though. He just nodded. “It’s funny how we’re all ending up back here. Who knows? Maybe Taeil and Ten will come back, too.”
Taeyong snorted. “Yeah, right. Maybe pigs will fly.” Yuta’s expression faltered at that, and Taeyong felt bad. He knew Yuta wasn’t coming from a bad place. He only ever came from a good place. It just really caught Taeyong off guard to be called out like that, especially when he was just trying to vent about these weird feelings whenever he and Johnny talked about Jaehyun. Just listening would have been fine on Yuta’s part.
“Why did you come back?” Taeyong asked. Yuta smiled gently, took a bite of his food, which had definitely grown a little cold since their conversation started.
“I came to host the art exhibit. My friend’s parents refused to do it for her, so I came in her stead.”
“O-oh,” Taeyong said. “Why couldn’t your friend do it? Is she okay?”
With the way the mood dropped, Taeyong would suppose no, she definitely wasn’t okay. Yuta shook his head to reaffirm it.
“She passed. She wanted her ashes spread here, but her parents didn’t want that. I stole some of her art, and asked to showcase it.” Yuta paused, looked up at Taeyong, somber. “The profits from the exhibit go to a charity she volunteered for.”
“Wow. That’s.... I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Yuta said, even though it very much was not okay. “I think you really would’ve liked her.”
Taeyong wasn’t quite sure what to say, so he just nodded, and when Yuta decided to change the topic, Taeyong was more than comfortable with that.
The last thing Taeyong expected to come home to after dinner was a text from Johnny. It was simple.
can i come over?
And, like, normally Taeyong would have been more than happy to have Johnny over, even at the weird hour it was, but Taeyong had just finished downing a few bottles of soju on his own. Yuta had watched Taeyong finish them up on his own and smiled and told him it was fine, that he’d abstain so he could drive Taeyong home. It was so hot in his apartment, and Taeyong just felt gross, he wanted to peel all his clothes off and sit under the spray of cold water from his shower head and pretend the world didn’t exist, maybe fall asleep in there.
But, there was something in the question, and the time, and the way Johnny asked without offering any other explanation, or “it’s okay if not,” that worried Taeyong. So after kicking his shoes off and changing into some comfortable clothes, he texted Johnny, asked if he was far. Johnny said he was at the store, picking up some snacks, but he’d be right over.
That gave Taeyong enough time to make himself... presentable. Not that Johnny was expecting a whole lot from him, given it was late at night, but, y’know, Taeyong figured he could try and look like he wasn’t smashed off a few bottles of alcohol and stuffed full of stew. Hard emphasis on ‘try’.
As Taeyong finished running a brush through his hair and spraying some toner across his face, he heard his phone go off from the countertop. Always so thoughtful, Johnny said he didn’t want to wake up any of the neighbor’s dogs by knocking on the door, who were notorious for not only barking at the sound of a fart down the street, but also for hating Johnny. Apparently even the gentlest of giants didn’t sit well with those dogs.
Taeyong walked to the front door, opened it up without hesitation, as Johnny smiled and held up a few plastic grocery bags.
“Surprise?” he said, as Taeyong rolled his eyes and took the bags from him. Johnny kicked his own shoes off, walking into the apartment and following Taeyong to the dining room table, as he set down the bags of things. It was kind of a weird amalgamation of snacks, chips, and pretzels, and then cookies, and even some gummy type things? Taeyong wasn’t really sure if he was going to have any of this stuff. His stomach felt queasy enough from how much he drank, he wasn’t really gunning to shove some more down there and see what stuck.
“You good?” Johnny said, because Taeyong was oddly silent. Taeyong nodded, rubbed the back of his neck.
“Got a headache.”
“Oh, dude, you should’ve told me. I wouldn’t have bothered.... Do you want to lay down? I can leave—”
“It’s fine,” Taeyong said, tried his best to sound reassuring, even though his eyes were burning from the brightness of the dining room lights Johnny turned on when he walked in. Johnny leaned forward, his face a touch closer than Taeyong would have expected it to be, as he startled away and let his eyes widen just a touch, flickering between Johnny, the bags on the table, the lights that were too bright—
“Are you drunk?” Johnny said. Taeyong, for some reason, felt a tug of shame at the pit of his belly, as he furrowed his brows and went to shut the dining room light off.
“So what if I am?” he sounded defensive, strolling to the living room and throwing himself down on the couch.
“Did you get drunk in your apartment? Alone?” Johnny said. Although Taeyong was sure he didn’t mean for it to come out that way, it sounded a little condescending. Really, Taeyong didn’t have any plans to tell Johnny he spent time with Yuta, that he was drunk in front of Yuta, that he was a mess in front of Yuta, but it came out before he could think anything better of it.
“No, I went out to dinner with Yuta. From high school.”
It took Johnny a moment to respond. He froze, in the middle of taking his winter jacket off. It gave Taeyong a small kick of satisfaction, as he tried to hide the smug smile on his face. Johnny pursed his lips, in a huh kind of expression, before tugging his jacket off the rest of the way.
“I didn’t know he was back. That’s weird.”
“Why’s that weird?” Taeyong said.
“Just weird that he came back at the same time Jaehyun did. I wonder if the others are going to come back, too. Maybe we could all meet up!”
Taeyong wanted to make a face at that, but he just huffed and sunk into the couch more.
“So, you got drunk with Yuta?”
“No,” Taeyong purposely tried to keep it vague, but Johnny was intuitive, was easy to work Taeyong to get the answers he liked.
“So... you went out to dinner, came home, got wasted, alone—”
“No! I tried getting Yuta to drink with me, but he wanted to be my DD, so he let me get wasted, and that’s why I’m drunk!” Taeyong threw his arms up in the air. “I didn’t know I was gonna be interrogated about why I’m wasted.”
“You’re so dramatic,” Johnny said with a snort of laughter, grabbing a bag of chips and a drink from the gas station bags. “Then you’re extra dramatic when you’re drunk, and it’s even funnier.”
Taeyong wanted to take a jab back at Johnny, but instead, he made space for Johnny on the couch, curled up on his side, as he reached for his remote and went to turn something, anything on. Anything to keep Taeyong’s mind occupied for a minute, because he really felt like he was going to pass out if he didn’t get some stimulation.
He settled on some talk show, the hosts laughing obnoxiously loud, and the colors much too bright for Taeyong to focus on at the moment. Still, it worked, as he sat back on the couch, pulled his knees up to his chest, and watched Johnny get comfortable, settle in. He didn’t even ask Johnny what he wanted to watch. He wondered if maybe Johnny could tell there was something wrong, there was something pressing on Taeyong’s mind. Maybe Johnny was so busy with his own issues, he hardly even cared.
(Taeyong knew that wasn’t true. Johnny always cared about Taeyong before himself. Always.)
It might have been the alcohol speaking, or maybe it was the overthinking, but either way, Taeyong found himself speaking without thinking.
“When were you going to tell me I had a crush on Yuta in high school?”
Johnny furrowed his brows, directed his gaze to Taeyong, and laughed incredulously.
“Apparently, everyone knew I had a crush on Yuta. That I, y’know, like-liked him. When were you going to tell me?”
Johnny laughed outright this time. “Wait, you had a crush on Yuta?”
“Okay—!” Taeyong said, sounding super upset. “That’s what I said?! I said, how could everyone know about this crush I had on him, if I didn’t even know I had a crush on him? Like, what does that even mean? I know I didn’t have a crush on him.”
Johnny looked lost in thought, as he leaned his head from side to side, as if rattling the thoughts around his head.
“Well... maybe you did. That makes sense. You were always talking about how cool he was.”
“Ugh, shut up,” Taeyong said, shoving at Johnny’s shoulder, because he knew a part of him did feel those things for Yuta back in high school, but that was different. It was different. Johnny was different; Taeyong didn’t feel those things for Johnny, he was just worried.
The talk show filled the air once more, the conversation settling. Taeyong knew they weren’t done with it yet, though, as Johnny looked down at his lap, then turned his attention to Taeyong once more.
“Was it a date?”
Taeyong blinked the surprise from his eyes, but shook his head.
“N-no. He just came back from Osaka. I wanted to talk to him about everything. I mean, you know he swore off social media for years now, so... when I saw he was in town, I just wanted to talk to him. See him.”
“How’s he doing?” Johnny said. Taeyong hummed, didn’t want to say too much, because he was sure, to a degree, some of what they talked about wasn’t Johnny’s business. So he mentioned the minimum, the friendly conversations they had, and kept the loud, not so friendly ones, tucked away for later. Maybe when he wasn’t drunk, he’d talk about it then.
“Besides, I don’t even think I like Yuta anymore. Like that, I mean.”
“I mean, I’m definitely not in a place to judge,” Johnny said, sounded a little bitter in his tone, almost. Taeyong hated that, as he furrowed his brows and leaned his chin on his knees, pulling them closer to his chest. “At least one of us would be going on dates.”
Taeyong scoffed, already done with the subject before they even started talking about it. “Have you even tried asking Jaehyun out?”
Stuttering, Johnny let out, “o-of course not! Why would I do that?”
“Because everyone can tell you want to jump his bones,” Taeyong said, which was definitely not true, but it was fun to tease Johnny about, as his face went red, embarrassed at being called out in that way.
“That’s not as funny as you think it is,” he grumbled.
“It’s true, though. You’re all, ‘Oh, Jaehyun, you’re so funny, bro, you’re so cool, dude, you’re the coolest guy I know, man—’”
“God, you’re so annoying,” Johnny said, but laughed at the end of his sentence, shaking his head and looking away from Taeyong.
“Why don’t you just ask him out already?”
“It’s not that easy,” Johnny said back, almost immediately. “Seriously, it’s not easy to ask out another guy. I mean, I’m sure he’d just say no, but what if he got creeped out? What if he stopped talking to me?” A pause. “I’d rather have him in my life as a friend than not at all.”
“Dude, Johnny, my friend,” Taeyong started, and could definitely feel his drunkness when he moved and slapped his hand down on Johnny’s shoulder, “you’re a catch. Anybody is going to like you, or be flattered that you like them, and if they aren’t, it’s because they’re a tool.” Taeyong squeezed Johnny’s shoulder reassuringly. “And Jaehyun doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to be grossed out by that kind of thing. He’d probably be really flattered, honestly. Even when you guys hang out, it seems like he gives off that kind of vibe, too.”
“You’re just saying that,” Johnny said.
“Oh, yeah, I’m really just talking you up so I can watch you fail,” Taeyong said, his voice laden with sarcasm. “There’s nothing I want more than to see you get your heart broken, so I’m going to talk you up and watch it happen.”
“You’re an ass,” Johnny said, pushing Taeyong’s leg, but smiling. Taeyong always knew how to put him in a better mood.
“I’d date you,” said Taeyong, before realizing just what he was saying, his eyes going wide for a moment, but when Johnny looked at him, he let his expression drop, trying to look as casual as he could. “I meant that in a totally platonic soulmate kind of way. You know, like, we could put each other down for taxes and shit like that. Not in the relationship way.”
“Hysterical,” Johnny said. “I don’t even know where to start with dating. The last girl I dated.... That was a disaster.”
“Yeah, you definitely tried with her. But maybe it’s because it was a girl, and not, like, the man of your dreams, or whatever?” Taeyong hummed, rested his cheek against his knees. “Does Jaehyun seem like he’s in a place to date?”
Johnny paused, rocking his head from side to side. “I don’t really know. He seems like he’s open for anything, honestly. He just really wants to get the house cleaned up and put on the market as soon as he can, but he’s mentioned a couple times that he wouldn’t mind moving back here, working in a smaller town.”
“But what about dating?” Taeyong pressed. Johnny shrugged.
“I dunno. I guess I’d have to feel it out.”
Taeyong wasn’t quite sure what else to say, because the fact of the matter was that Taeyong didn’t really have the experience in this field to be giving Johnny sage advice on how to deal with all the things thrown on his plate. Still, a part of him was used to overextending himself, offering more of himself than he should have at any given moment.
“I’ll help you tell him you like him, if you want,” Taeyong said. Johnny looked flustered.
“You mean, right now?”
“No, dummy,” Taeyong teased, grinning wide. “I mean, like, helping you feel it out. Figuring out how to talk to him. Taking him out on dates and stuff.”
Johnny smiled instinctively, but squinted at Taeyong.
“Why would you do that?”
Taeyong shrugged this time. “Just ‘cause. You’re my best friend. I wanna see you happy, doing things that make you happy. Being with people who make you happy.”
“Have you always been this sappy when you’re drunk?” Johnny accused, bursting into laughter when Taeyong flipped him off a moment after, his smile immediately falling to a grimace. “I’m kidding. I appreciate it.”
When Johnny looked Taeyong in the eyes, Taeyong felt that telltale flutter in his chest, and he tried to swallow hard against it, could tell he was fucked from the moment he offered to help Johnny. He shouldn’t have. God, he shouldn’t have.
“I really want to be with him,” Johnny said, and Taeyong’s heart panged with pain, but he nodded.
“I’m gonna go throw up,” Taeyong said a beat after, and wasn’t sure if he was lying or not, as he hobbled to his hallway bathroom, and Johnny stood outside the door, offering to help him clean up. Taeyong wanted to curse him for being so helpful, even as Taeyong sat there, envious... jealous.
That night, Johnny fell asleep on the couch, his phone in hand, after he texted Jaehyun and asked if he’d like to meet up with the others at a bar he and Taeyong used to frequent, just for a few hours.
Johnny had fallen asleep by the time the response came, but Taeyong hadn’t. He carefully tugged Johnny’s phone from his fingers, typed in the passcode he knew Johnny would never change from, and read the message from Jaehyun.
that sounds dope! i’m down. wanna hang out before?
Taeyong knew he shouldn’t have done it. Like, he really knew he shouldn’t have said anything, but before he could stop himself, he was typing back a response.
lets just meet a t the bar :)
If Taeyong thought he had a hard time falling asleep before that, he had a hell of a time getting rest after pressing send, setting the phone down on the table, and damning himself for getting involved in things that weren’t his business.
The bar proved to be a finicky thing to plan, what with five different people’s schedules all conflicting in times and workdays and all those gross adult things that came with their age. Taeyong hated it, but when they finally worked out all the kinks and details, Taeyong was happy to say he had coordinated a day and time for all of them to meet.
Johnny never said anything about any texts to Jaehyun, so Taeyong figured Johnny just missed it, didn’t read his earlier messages. Taeyong could say he’d done that a few times before, after he’d sent drunk texts to people on more than a few occasions. So he was safe, for now. As long as he and Jaehyun were texting consistently, he wouldn’t see it again.
The bar was a little out of the way for Taeyong, but luckily, he had managed to finagle his way into a ride with Yuta, who seemed more than happy to give him one, and even said Taeyong could have just asked instead of mentioning it in the group chat every few hours until he offered.
“I didn’t want to be a pain!” Taeyong had whined, and Yuta laughed.
“Don’t you think you’re being more of a pain by not being honest? Really, just ask!”
And like that, the two of them found themselves at the bar first. Doyoung trailed in just a few minutes after they did, taking his seat around the big table and ordering a beer when their waitress came by to take their order. Yuta and Taeyong settled on soju and beer, despite Doyoung’s slightly judgmental expression.
“Mixing alcohol? Really?”
“Oh good, I’m glad I ordered some judgment with my drink,” Taeyong said pointedly, earned a snort of laughter from Yuta.
“I see you haven’t changed,” Yuta said, directed it towards Doyoung, who looked caught off guard by Yuta talking to him.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You haven’t seen me since high school.”
“Exactly,” Yuta agreed. “Same bratty kid I met back then. God, the only different thing about you is your hair.”
“Don’t,” Doyoung said warningly, immediately rolling his eyes when Yuta and Taeyong burst into laughter. “I was in high school! Why won’t you guys let that hair go?”
“Because it was just so good,” Taeyong said, and the two didn’t even have to mention the hairstyle, because they both knew what it was, and Doyoung shot daggers at them from across the table, tapping his foot impatiently like he couldn’t wait for some better company to show up.
The gap between Johnny arriving and Doyoung arriving was a little longer, but Johnny walked in next, looking flush from the cold outside, as he peeled his jacket off and threw it on a coat rack beside the door.
“Jesus, were you always that tall?!” Yuta said, hopping out of his seat and walking up to Johnny, as if he were sizing him up. Taeyong laughed, as Johnny scooped Yuta up into his arms and squeezed him in a warm hug. Doing the same to Doyoung, Johnny made his way around the table, before settling on a seat with an open space on either side of him. Doyoung and Taeyong both noticed it, but opted not to mention it.
They hardly had time to think about it, as the door opened one last time, and Jaehyun came strolling in, the image of perfection put together in a human. Taeyong looked Jaehyun up and down, before flickering his attention to Johnny, whose face remained a shade of scarlet most definitely not due to the weather outside.
“Holy shit, you’re all really here,” Jaehyun said, catching Taeyong off guard, as the others jumped up to greet him, Johnny shyly reaching over and giving him a short hug. Taeyong just nodded at Jaehyun from across the table, hardly even had the thought to get up, and poured himself another shot instead. Doyoung looked over his shoulder at Taeyong, brows furrowed, before taking his seat, as they each got comfortable.
“I didn’t think you guys were telling the truth when you said everyone was back, but Yuta’s really here.”
“You’re the only two that really left,” Doyoung commented. Jaehyun snorted out a laugh.
“I mean, we’re counting Ten and Taeil, aren’t we? So four of us.”
“You have us beat by one person,” Johnny teased. Jaehyun shrugged.
“I just think it’s crazy we’re all here together at the same time. Ten and Taeil being here would be nice, but I’m shocked you guys are even here.” Jaehyun realized he was the only one not sitting, quickly pulled out a chair and sat down beside Johnny, who even made room for Jaehyun. “Hey, don’t scooch over,” Jaehyun said, and Johnny flushed in embarrassment, but kept his seat right beside Jaehyun’s own.
“Have any of us even heard from Taeil? Or Ten?”
Taeyong spoke up first. “Last I heard, Ten went back home to see his family, but he was still posting dancing videos and shit. He’s a real influencer now.”
“What a job,” Doyoung commented, which earned a laugh from Yuta, in the midst of them all pouring themselves shots and licking the rims of their beer bottles to get every last drop. “Anyway, I heard from Taeil a couple months ago. He had just gotten approached with a nice contract deal from some company in Seoul. He was really excited about it, but I haven’t heard anything from him since, other than the music he puts out.”
“Shots!” Yuta interrupted, grabbing his shot glass and holding it up in the air. Doyoung did the same, as did Taeyong, Johnny, and Jaehyun, after filling their shot glasses and holding them up. “All right, on three.” He paused, before shouting, “three!” and threw his shot back while the others scrambled, tossed them in their mouths, and swallowed down the harsh burn of alcohol against the desire to be a little more relaxed.
“Maybe they’ll make surprise appearances. Hey, how long are you here for?” Yuta said, directed his question towards Jaehyun. It was funny how well they got along, considering Yuta never really had an interest in talking to Jaehyun in high school, but now he was getting a little more comfortable. In a little, Jaehyun would surely be calling him hyung, despite their relatively small age different that apparently meant the world to the rest of their group.
“I don’t know, really. The house has to sell.”
“Yeah, but you could just, like, have a realtor show the house, or just sell it quick to the first buyer.”
Jaehyun’s expression fell. He seemed almost offended by the insinuation that he would sell his childhood home so easily, without giving it so much as a second thought.
“It’s more important to me than that. I’m hoping with the renovations I do, it’ll sell in... four months. Five months, maybe. Just around springtime. I think the flowers blossoming around that time will help set the scene to sell it.”
Taeyong hummed and sat back in his seat, watched as Yuta and the others poured more shots, one for Taeyong, and they slammed them back again without a moment of hesitation. For a second, he thought, is this all they did? Drink, and work, and drink, and pretend that all of this way okay, and drink, and sleep, and that was all adulthood was.
Depressed, Taeyong asked for another shot immediately. If he was going to be existential, at the very least, he could be drunk.
Yuta and Jaehyun went back and forth, talking too quick for anybody else to pay attention to. Taeyong suddenly found his drink very interesting, glancing at Johnny, who seemed a little lost, trying to follow along the conversation. Jaehyun and Yuta were now excitedly discussing the nuances of oversea trading, as it was something Yuta had begun dabbling in, and something Jaehyun was very experienced with, after working at his father’s company for so long. Johnny didn’t know where to jump in, as he definitely wasn’t working in any of those fields. There was no space for him.
And everything in Taeyong’s brain wanted to just start talking to Johnny, move the conversation over to the two of them, because it would’ve been so easy to do. They could’ve talked about anything, on their own planet together, their own universe, their own space.
Taeyong knew better. Taeyong knew from the longing expression on Johnny’s face, from the way his eyes searched in Jaehyun’s own conversation for an opening, a place for him, and god, was Jaehyun seriously this fucking daft? That he was missing Johnny looking like a sad lost puppy in exchange for some dumb conversation about stocks and investments or whatever it was he couldn’t relate to either?
And maybe Taeyong should’ve minded his own business, after he stuck his nose in places it didn’t belong, including in Johnny’s text messages to Jaehyun, but he had the chance to make up for it now.
Before Taeyong could say anything, Johnny took a shot, and then stood up from his seat.
“Where are you going?” Taeyong said, almost panicked. Johnny quirked a brow at him, jutting his thumb in the direction behind him.
“Uh... the bathroom?” Johnny paused, waited for Taeyong to say anything else. “Is that... okay?”
“Well, yeah, why wouldn’t it be okay?” Taeyong replied, in almost a ‘I’m not nervous, you’re nervous’ tone, as Johnny continued eyeing him curiously. “I just thought you would want to stay and talk about that thing you started doing recently.”
At this, Johnny looked at Taeyong like he was going crazy or had grown a second head or something. It took Doyoung a moment to catch on, but when he did, he laughed in amusement. If Taeyong could, he would’ve reached back and smacked him.
“That thing,” Johnny said flatly.
“Yeah, you know, that thing you started doing. What was it again?”
“Oh my god,” said Doyoung, hiding his face in his hands.
“Uh....” Johnny looked at Taeyong, before turning his gaze to Doyoung, who was trying his absolute best not to burst into laughter. Furrowing his brows, Johnny couldn’t think of anything Taeyong was referring to.
“Oh, have you been doing something big?” Jaehyun said, looking over his shoulder at Johnny, who grew flustered at the sudden attention on him. Taeyong could practically feel the atmosphere of the room, but this was the conversation he started, so he was definitely going to facilitate it as much as he could.
“Yeah! He was, er, focusing a lot on work lately. Oh, and Johnny started cooking! That’s a big one.”
Normally, Johnny wasn’t one to blush. Taeyong knew he got embarrassed sometimes, or maybe got nervous if he was really anxious about something, but now, standing in front of this group, talking about himself this way, the tips of his ears turned bright red, and he flushed embarrassingly.
“That’s... definitely something,” Doyoung agreed a moment after, trying so hard to keep from laughing.
“Maybe Johnny has more to say about the thing he’s been doing lately. It’s really amazing, right?” Taeyong said, and met Johnny’s gaze for the first time since the conversation started. Taeyong froze, as Johnny shook his head, rubbed his face with his hands, before sighing.
“I have to pee. I’ll be right back.”
Once Johnny took his leave and headed to the restroom, Doyoung burst into ugly laughter, throwing his face down into his hands and screeching with delight.
“That was so fucking smooth,” Doyoung said as soon as Johnny was out of earshot. Jaehyun looked a little confused, still stuck on the previous topic, while Doyoung tried his hardest to stop laughing. Taeyong could feel his own face burning with embarrassment.
“Hey, Taeyong, let’s head outside for a second,” Yuta said. Taeyong furrowed his brows, and normally, would’ve offered some sort of fight, but he would’ve done just about anything to get out of the bar right now, so he stood up, pushed his chair in, and followed Yuta outside.
Once outside, Yuta leaned up against the building, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and tapping one out.
“Do you smoke?” Yuta said, offering one to Taeyong. For a second, Taeyong considered it, but quickly shook his head, lifted his hand up. Yuta lit the cigarette a moment afterward, taking a long inhale in and letting it slip past his lips a moment afterward.
“Did you want to talk about something?” Taeyong said, feeling particularly awkward, his hands stuffed in his pockets, palms clammy against the material of his jacket. How Yuta wasn’t freezing, Taeyong didn’t understand. Even being outside with the heavy jacket of his, he felt shivers running up and down his spine, goosebumps littering his arms.
“Oh, no, I just had to get you out of there,” said Yuta, snorting a laugh out before shaking his head. “I’m sure you’ve never been a wingman before, but that was definitely how to not be a wingman.”
Embarrassed from being called out, Taeyong huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, taking a spot beside Yuta before sinking to the sidewalk.
“I really don’t know how to help. Johnny keeps saying he wants Jaehyun to take him seriously, but... I’ve never had to deal with this kind of thing before?” Taeyong hummed, resting his chin on his arms, knees pulled up. “I keep doing more harm than good.”
“You’re not harming anybody,” Yuta said between a few puffs of his cigarette. “Let me ask you a question. If somebody asked you the best parts about Johnny, what would you say?”
Without even a moment’s hesitation, Taeyong spoke. “He’s always there for me. He’s super trustworthy, and caring, and responsible. That’s why he’s my friend. He’s always there to listen to me.”
“So why don’t you talk about those things?” Yuta pointed out. “I mean, don’t come out and say them just like that, but maybe talk about a time in specific that Johnny helped you, where he made sure you could depend on him. Where he listened to you?”
Pausing, Taeyong hummed. There were plenty of examples where Johnny helped him, made him feel loved and heard, and....
“Oh,” he said after a beat.
Yuta laughed gently, sliding down the sidewalk beside Taeyong and sitting next to him, about halfway through his cigarette now. Taeyong reached his fingers out for it, to which Yuta shook his head.
“It’ll kill you anyways. You’re smart for not smoking,” he said. Taeyong rolled his eyes, because of course Yuta would be like that after he already offered once. “Anyways, you’re Johnny’s best friend. Talk about him in the way best friends would. Be honest. It’ll make things go a lot smoother than....” Trailing off, Yuta gestured vaguely towards the inside of the bar. “Smoother than whatever that was, that’s for sure.”
“Thanks,” Taeyong said, making eye contact with Yuta and hoping he came across as genuine. Yuta grinned, took another puff of his cigarette and quickly put it out on the wall behind him.
“C’mon, we probably shouldn’t be out here alone for too long,” he said. Taeyong quirked a brow. “I don’t want you falling in love with me again or something.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Taeyong said, pinching Yuta’s arm and laughing when Yuta swatted at his hands, playfully pinching his cheek a moment afterward.
Walking back inside felt more daunting than it should have been, but once Taeyong and Yuta made their way back to the table, Taeyong found Johnny and Jaehyun in loud, raucous conversation, Johnny talking with his hands and making Jaehyun laugh over the sound of music in the background. Doyoung leaned his chin in his hand, staring at Taeyong with a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
“God, shut up,” Taeyong repeated, for lack of anything better to say. Doyoung laughed.
“If it’s any consolation, your weird wingman attempt did spark some sort of conversation.”
Taeyong perked up at that, as did Yuta, as Johnny and Jaehyun finally stopped their conversation, Jaehyun turning his gaze over to Taeyong.
“Johnny was just telling me about the time you broke your arm in high school. I can’t believe I didn’t hang out with you guys more!”
Taeyong blushed furiously, because he broke his arm in the most embarrassing way possible. Johnny grinned sheepishly, trying his best to look apologetic, but... Taeyong could tell, just from the way he was smiling, that he was happy to be talking to Jaehyun like that. So openly. So closely. So Taeyong hummed, nodded his head.
“Is he telling you about all the embarrassing things I did in high school?”
“A little of it! But I want to hear some from you.”
Taeyong, nervous, just glanced at Johnny.
“Johnny should tell you the best ones. Like, when I tried to pierce my ear in our homeroom.”
Johnny’s jaw dropped, and Jaehyun immediately whipped his focus to Johnny again.
Johnny, more in awe of how Taeyong seemed to give in so easily to being talked about, quietly thanked Taeyong, hoped he knew how much he appreciated it, before starting in on the story. Talking about it brought back a flood of nostalgia and queasy teenage feelings for Taeyong, as he tried his best to bury his face in the next shot of alcohol he could get his hands on.
Later that night, Taeyong would find a text from Johnny, thanking him for the favor, and promising to pay it back.
Taeyong fell asleep thinking of ways to ask Johnny to just talk to him more.
There wasn’t much to say about the outcome of the bar meetup between all of them, other than they all drank too much, ate too little, a few of them ended up throwing up on the way home (Jaehyun in particular, and they rightfully made asses of themselves in public, but....)
Well, for the most part, it was all worth it. Taeyong was able to see all of his friends catch up together, and he had been able to facilitate a conversation between Johnny and Jaehyun, so really, there were no losers.
Except for Taeyong, who totally threw up in his living room and had to clean it up whilst drunk and wishing he had not chosen to eat some cheap ramen as soon as he got home.
Yuta had mentioned a few times that night that he would be heading back home sometime in the next couple weeks, which nearly brought Taeyong to tears when he was drunk. Hell, it almost brought tears to his eyes now. There was something so absurdly comforting about having Yuta there for a little while, he really didn’t want to think about how Yuta would be leaving sometime soon, even though Yuta meant he was heading home to grab a couple things, and then coming back, for the foreseeable future. Taeyong could admit he was a crybaby.
Taeyong had the day off today, which he appreciated. It had been a little over a week since he had gone out with everyone to the bar, and while Taeyong usually thrived on social interactions, that one left him a little burnt out. Having some time alone was much appreciated. He caught up on some TV shows and movies, listened to music, cleaned up his house when he wasn’t at work. It was relaxing, for a while.
Until he got stuck in his thoughts.
Because as much as Taeyong liked to pretend that he wasn’t feeling odd things every time he watched Jaehyun and Johnny talk, the reality was that those feelings were there, in his chest, in his stomach, in his head, and all he could do was sit with them. Yuta had offered his insight on it, which hardly helped. Taeyong knew the difference between a crush and a friendship. He wasn’t that daft.
And Doyoung had tiptoed around the topic enough for Taeyong to know that he didn’t want to talk about it just yet, and would offer his opinion whenever he felt like Taeyong was ready to hear it. He could deal with that, since Doyoung usually was right about whatever it was troubling Taeyong, and maybe there was a good reason for him not bringing it up just yet.
Whenever Taeyong thought too hard about it, he could feel his chest flooded with those feelings again. That twist of his belly, the overwhelming suffocation of something in his chest, threatening to cut his breathing off, like a flower blooming in his throat and occupying all the space.
Taeyong opted to take another bite of rice, stuffing a piece of wrapped pork behind it and pretending he couldn’t feel it, as if he wasn’t wearing one of Johnny’s older t-shirts, two sizes too big for Taeyong, but so warm and so cozy. Watching his favorite drama probably didn’t help, as he sat there, wondering how the protagonist ended up backed up to a corner, trying not to kiss her disgustingly overbearing love interest.
“You’re too good for him!” Taeyong said through half chewed food, taking a swig of soda and sitting back on the couch. “He’s pressuring you into something you already said no to, he’s trash!”
As if on cue, Taeyong’s phone buzzed alive with a message from Johnny, asking if he had caught up with the drama yet. Quickly, Taeyong asked if he was free, and a moment after, Johnny was calling Taeyong, who answered with a full mouth.
“Hell—o?” Taeyong said, burped between syllables, as Johnny laughed out loud at him.
“Hello to you, too. Are you caught up yet?”
“I’m catching up right now. Why?” Taeyong said. “Where are you?”
“I just got off work,” Johnny said, sounding distant for a moment, before returning to his end of the call. “I’m literally clocking out right now.”
“Are you busy tonight?” Taeyong said. “You can come over, we can get caught up together.”
Johnny hesitated, which was all the answer Taeyong needed, as the smile on his face faltered for just a moment. That sinking feeling Taeyong never thought he’d know rushed his body, made his heart ache. He lifted his hand from his side to the left side of his chest, squeezing the shirt material and willing the feeling away.
“I actually caught up with Jaehyun last week. And I’m heading over there right now to help him start painting one of the rooms in the house.”
“This late?” Taeyong said, like it wasn’t only two in the afternoon, as if it softened the blow any that he was sitting alone on his couch in his boxers and a severely stained t-shirt, two sizes too big on him.
“We’re really just setting newspaper down and getting the first primer layer done. He wanted to get dinner afterwards, so I think we’re doing that.”
Despite the ache, Taeyong tried to cheer up. “Ooh, dinner?”
“It’s not a date,” Johnny replied flatly. “It’s like a sports bar we’re going to, he just wants to watch the game because there’s no cable at his place.”
“Oh, that’s sad.” Taeyong paused, furrowing his brows at his TV. “Wait, if he doesn’t have cable, then.... You guys watched a drama together at your place?!”
“Uh... yeah.” Johnny didn’t seem to connect two and two together, as Taeyong vaguely flailed his arms in front of him as if Johnny could see what he was doing, or even understood what it meant.
Taeyong didn’t think he would have to say it, but apparently he was gonna have to, as he cleared his throat and started speaking.
“Let me get this straight. You, Seo Youngho, took Jung Jaehyun, the guy you have a big fat huge crush on, to your apartment, to watch a romantic drama together, because he somehow doesn’t have cable, or even TV on demand, at his filthy stinking rich house.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Johnny said.
“Dude. Did you not hear me just now?” Taeyong paused, and Johnny let out a hum of confusion. “Oh my god. Jaehyun is rich. He probably has a way to connect his phone to the TV and watch shit from his phone or something! Or, like, those home systems where you just tell the machine to turn on Netflix, and bam, there’s some Netflix. You seriously, honestly, one-hundred-percent truthfully think he’s telling the truth about not having a way to watch that drama?”
Taking a moment, Johnny sighed. “What— you think this is some big elaborate way of him covering up having dates? He’s not interested in me like that. Or at least, he doesn’t act like it.” Johnny sounded like he was borderline pouting, frustrated. “And if he does have cable, then why wouldn’t we just watch the game at his house?”
“Oh my god, a sports game isn’t romantic to watch, but going out together is. He’s probably going to pay for your food, or your drinks, or basically anything you want.” Taeyong pursed his lips. “I mean, if I was trying to hint that I like you, that’s what I would do.”
Johnny laughed from his end. Taeyong realized what he said after a beat, his eyes widening before he realized his hands were sweating, and he quickly balled it up in a fist on his knee, willing his heart to stop racing.
“I mean, hypothetically. Not that I would ever be in a position to do that, but that would be what I would do, if you asked, hypothetically. Like, all for show.”
“Mmhm,” Johnny said, sounded satisfied, as he sighed. Taeyong could practically imagine the outfit he was in, as it was cold outside. Johnny loved to wear long tan jackets, and slacks, and button up shirts for work, and he always did this thing where he sighed and ran his fingers through his hair when he was frustrated, even though his hair would just turn into a mess. Every time he did it in front of Taeyong, Taeyong would reach over and fix his hair for him, tell him to stop being so dramatic.
“Fix your hair,” Taeyong said, and Johnny stuttered, before Taeyong heard some rustling, and then Johnny laughing.
“How did you know?”
“You always do that,” Taeyong said, and found his voice sounding much softer than he intended it to. Clearing his throat, he completely glossed over that topic, trying his best to get off of it, as he shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “Anyway, I’ll let you know how my binge watch goes. You have fun with Jaehyun, okay? Let me know if you need anything.”
“Of course,” Johnny said, his smile practically gleaming through his words. Taeyong couldn’t bring himself to say anything else, so he waited, as he heard Johnny breathing, listened to the way it faltered and caught, before Johnny finally let out a soft laugh. “You still there?”
Taeyong smiled. “Always.”
Johnny fake gagged.
“You love that sappy shit,” Taeyong said. “Go use that one on your crush, I bet he’ll eat it right up.”
“Oh, I will,” Johnny replied just as teasingly, to which Taeyong giggled, before shaking his head. When Taeyong thought maybe the conversation was finally winding down, and he could get far away from any conversation about Jaehyun and focus instead on binging on bad dramas and stuffing his face with unhealthy food, he heard Johnny clear his throat, a nervous laugh filling the other end of the line before he spoke. “Actually, Taeyong, I... I’m having a hard time with all this.”
Taeyong ignored how his heart skipped, and instead, hummed. “Having a hard time with what?”
Taeyong’s heart skipped again, and he hated how much his heart lifted, because maybe, just maybe, Johnny and Jaehyun weren’t meant to be together, or even to find out if they were meant to be together, or—
“O-oh. Wait, I thought you liked him?” Taeyong said, trying to hide the excitement in his voice.
“I do. That’s not what I mean, though. Like, being around him the way I am, talking to him sometimes, it... it’s hard.” Johnny sounded frustrated. That familiar ache returned to Taeyong’s chest, made him go quiet. “I don’t think he’d ever like someone like me. Maybe I should just be happy that we’re friends, you know?”
“Why are you telling me this?” Taeyong said, sounded much more bitter than he intended to. It caught him off guard, as he stumbled over his words, tried to save whatever it was he was going for by continuing his thoughts. “Johnny, he’s clearly interested in you. You two are constantly texting, you’re watching dramas and shit together, you go out for lunch and dinner and breakfast—” Taeyong paused and huffed impatiently. Why was he feeling so bitter all of the sudden? “You’re literally watching paint dry and renovating his house with him! There is obviously something there. Why are you having such a hard time this time around?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny replied, short. “I just....”
Taeyong waited, for something, any sort of answer, but even Johnny himself seemed unsure what it was that could have been bothering him so much. Still, no answer.
“Hey,” Taeyong said softly. Johnny hummed in response. “You seem stressed.”
“I am,” Johnny admitted.
“I know you said you have plans tonight,” Taeyong said, trying to find the best way to word his thoughts, “but I’m here for you, if you just want someone to be around. Without all the... pressure,” he said carefully. Johnny laughed.
“I’m not having a breakdown or anything, Yongie,” came Johnny’s reassuring reply, with that smile Taeyong had grown to know and love. “I think I might just be having a hard time because this is the first time I’ve ever really wanted to be with somebody like this.”
“Yeah,” Taeyong said, tone resigned.
“I just wish he could see it. I wish he knew. I want him to look at me the same way I look at him.”
There was a turn in Taeyong’s stomach, nausea flooding the pit of his belly, as Taeyong held his breath.
“Sorry for being so selfish, dumping my problems on you like that,” Johnny apologized a beat after. Taeyong couldn’t even think of anything to say. “Yongie?”
“I have to go,” Taeyong said. “I’m sorry, have fun tonight.”
Taeyong couldn’t let Johnny get a word in edgewise, simply ending the call and throwing his phone on his couch, before running down the hall to his bathroom, and immediately keeling over the toilet.
He wasn’t going to throw up, but every part of him felt like he could. Despite the feeling of nausea, Taeyong didn’t so much as dry heave. Instead, he realized how idiotic he looked. What kind of person got sick at the idea of their friend being in love? A bad one, that’s what kind. Dragging himself out of the bathroom, Taeyong threw himself into bed without so much as a second of hesitation.
This was so stupid, he told himself. Hearing Johnny talk about those things, hearing him speak so fondly about Jaehyun shouldn’t have elicited such a response from him. Even as he laid on his bed, wallowing in self-pity, all Taeyong could think about was how bad he felt for hanging up on Johnny like that, for just leaving and not even offering an explanation.
Immediately, his mind flooded with guilt remembering how many times he had wished for Johnny to just talk to him, only him, spend time with him, instead of Jaehyun, and how... selfish he was. Johnny apologized for dumping his problems, but Taeyong was the self-centered one. And he knew it.
Curling in on himself, Taeyong could feel himself growing tired. His eyelids grew heavy, eyes crossing when he tried to stay awake for too long, but a nagging part of him just didn’t want to fall asleep. What if his dreams weren’t any better than reality? What would be the point then?
(So dramatic, he reminded himself, before pulling his blankets up to his face and muffling a small groan into them.)
Taeyong didn’t know how long he sat in his bed. Could’ve been a few minutes, could have been hours. He had left his phone in the living room and didn’t have any other way to check, and honestly, he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to know about how he was wasting his time by having a mental breakdown in his stuffy apartment.
The only thing to stir Taeyong from his overwhelming thoughts was the sound of a click coming from the living room. It was strange, unfamiliar, mostly because Taeyong lived alone, which meant nobody else should have been getting inside. And yet, the door opened, followed by footsteps, and maybe Taeyong should have been more concerned, but he just couldn’t muster up the adrenaline to do as much as even hide under his covers.
After a moment, there was a knock at the bedroom door.
For some reason, hearing Johnny’s voice in the midst of all of this didn’t help. Taeyong would never be able to put into words how his heart sunk in his chest, how he couldn’t dream of forgiving himself for being so needy, for making Johnny feel bad enough to come to his apartment to check on him.
“Go away,” Taeyong said after a moment, tried his hardest to sound forceful.
“I’m not leaving.”
“You said you had plans tonight,” Taeyong replied.
“I did, and now I don’t,” rebutted Johnny. That tight ball formed in the pit of Taeyong’s throat, threatened to suffocate him, as he tried so hard to swallow against the soreness. Johnny cancelled. Because of him. “Can I come in?”
There was no point in being angry at him, Taeyong supposed, as he rolled over on his bed with his back facing the door. “Sure,” he agreed, and after a moment, the door was swinging open, Johnny behind it, tugging his jacket off and hanging it on the hook behind Taeyong’s door.
Johnny didn’t bother asking any other questions. Letting himself in, he approached the bed, moved the blankets so they rustled a little, before slipping in under the covers beside Taeyong. Taeyong blinked away the hot tears prickling at the corners of his eyes, threatening to spill over if he didn’t get ahold of himself pretty soon.
“That’s my shirt,” Johnny said. Taeyong couldn’t help scoffing.
“I’ve been trying to give this back to you since middle school. It might as well be mine.”
Johnny let out a gentle laugh, mostly amused that Taeyong could remember something like that. Then, he softened. “Sorry,” Johnny started off with. Taeyong furrowed his brows.
“What are you sorry for?”
The bed shifted, as though Johnny were turning over to face Taeyong, despite Taeyong’s unwillingness to even look his way.
“I’m sorry for being a bad friend, mostly.”
Taeyong couldn’t help the disappointed tone that filled his voice as he said, “Johnny, please,” but was instantly cut off by Johnny speaking.
“You’re my best friend, and I was so worked up about everything else, I couldn’t even see that you needed somebody there for you,” Johnny said. Taeyong hiccuped. Goddamn it, he thought to himself, and damned Johnny for making him cry. “That you needed me.”
Taeyong wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he stayed silent instead, buried his face in his blankets and willed himself to stop crying.
“You know, every time I start acting different, you notice. I don’t even need to say anything. You just know.” Johnny paused. “I want to try doing the same for you, if I can.”
And, of course Johnny could do the same things Taeyong did for him back, but all Taeyong could think to say was that he already did. Johnny already cared about Taeyong so much, he already gave Taeyong everything, so why did Taeyong want so much more?
“Is there anything I can do?”
Taeyong sniffled again, pulling the sheets away just for a beat. “You can go on your date with Jaehyun.”
“I don’t want to,” he said, before speaking with more urgency, “I can’t when I know you’re having a hard time like this.”
“I’m just being dramatic,” Taeyong continued brushing off.
“That’s fine, then. Nothing wrong with being dramatic.” Johnny probably shrugged, Taeyong guessed, before speaking with a nonchalant tone. “That doesn’t mean I want to leave you alone.”
There were very few things Taeyong could deny Johnny, and one of them was a hug. When Johnny opened up his arms for a big leaping hug, or a small comforting one, Taeyong was always the first one there, stayed in the hug for as long as he could, and always thought about how great Johnny was at giving them.
Tonight was no different, he thought, when he felt Johnny tugging at his waist, rolling him over, before finally pulling him in, arms already spread for a warm embrace. Taeyong buried his face in Johnny’s chest, snaking his arms around Johnny’s chest and pulling him in closer than he should have, but just couldn’t help himself. He had to learn some better self-control.
For now, he indulged. Taeyong took in a slow inhale of Johnny’s cologne, ignored how his belly protested when he remembered that the cologne was for Jaehyun at first, not him, how Johnny’s hair was slicked back like that for Jaehyun, not him. It went away after a few minutes of listening to Johnny’s even breathing, counting in time and wondering if his own heartbeat would synchronize with Johnny’s.
Taeyong didn’t even realize he was crying until Johnny was carding his fingers through Taeyong’s hair. He wanted to apologize for his hair being dirty, but he was sure Johnny would just tell him to stop talking or something like that, so he kept it to himself.
Even with Johnny there, Taeyong cried. He shivered, trembled like a leaf in too strong winds, wondered when he would stop long enough to thank Johnny for being such a great friend, tell him how much Taeyong didn’t deserve someone like Johnny.
But for now... Taeyong indulged.
He fell asleep with Johnny’s hand messing with his hair, and the other, holding onto his own under the covers of his comforter.
Taeyong awoke to the sound of rumbling thunder, rolling across the skies and gently fading away, followed by a flash of lightning, illuminating the room. It took him a moment to realize, while one hand was free to rub the sleep from his eyes, the other was laced in with... something else. Turning his head slightly, Taeyong furrowed his brows when he realized somebody was in his bed, with him, while it rained outside, and they snored ever so slightly.
The mess of brown hair caught Taeyong off guard, as he blinked the surprise from his eyes.
It was Johnny.
Taeyong could tell by the way he slept, how his legs hung off the end of his bed just slightly, how he curled in on himself and pulled the covers close to his face, huddling in with the heat of the bed. Taeyong remembered from all the times Johnny had stayed over when they were younger, late nights spent watching movies they shouldn’t have and sneaking food from the kitchen. His habits hardly changed.
He glanced at the alarm clock over his shoulder, the numbers illuminated in white.
The night before came back in bits and pieces. The whole day, really. How Taeyong felt queasy when he was on the phone with Johnny, talking to him about Jaehyun, and how, for a moment, Taeyong thought maybe he couldn’t do this anymore. That was what led to him crying in his bed, and then Johnny.... Reliable as he ever was, Johnny cancelled his plans. Johnny showed up at Taeyong’s doorstep, at his bedroom door, then in his bed, despite how much he always said he hated cuddling.
Squeezing Johnny’s hand in his own, Taeyong curled closer, tried not to move the bed as much as he could, because if he did, Johnny might leave, and at the moment, Taeyong wanted to be selfish. He wanted to keep Johnny here for as long as he could. In the morning, he would leave. Things would go back to the way they were growing to be. Taeyong would have to ignore that longing in his chest, that suffocating yearning he felt when Johnny pursed his lips, brushed his hair from his eyes. Even when he just looked at Taeyong, sometimes, he felt that rush of adrenaline where he thought maybe....
His heart twisted in his chest. It was too early in the morning to be thinking of these things, but he couldn’t help it. Taeyong had spent so long tamping it down, that now a part of him felt overwhelmed, like he was letting himself feel these things for the first time. Every moment Taeyong thought it was a weird twist in his chest or a stifled suffocation in his stomach, every distant flutter or skip of his heartbeat— everything pointed to Taeyong feeling something for Johnny. Something more than friendship, more than platonic, more than best friends.
It was... obvious. Taeyong knew it was obvious. He wondered who else knew. Maybe Doyoung knew, even before Taeyong did. For a panicked moment, Taeyong wondered if Johnny knew. But if he did, would he be there now with Taeyong, in bed right beside him, sleeping soundly because he knew Taeyong was his best friend and would never do anything to hurt him?
Probably not, was the conclusion Taeyong came to, before turning over in bed, pulling his hand free of Johnny’s own and making sure if Johnny did wake up from the bed shifting, that he noticed Taeyong turning away, choosing not to look at him, and giving him more than enough space to leave in the morning.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
It had to have been the tenth time Johnny was asking that morning. Johnny had woken up when Taeyong rolled over on the bed, turning away from him and hopefully urging him to leave. Despite his best efforts, Johnny knew Taeyong wasn’t asleep, shook him and asked him if he was all right and if he needed anything, like coffee or some donuts, to which Taeyong kindly declined and promised he was doing fine.
Now, Taeyong was rolled up in his comforter, which he had quickly torn off the bed once Johnny had excused himself to the bathroom for a few minutes to get ready for his morning. Johnny was even excited he had found one of the toothbrushes he had left just a few months earlier.
Johnny apparently didn’t have time to stop by home and get a change of clothes, so he said what he was wearing would have to make do for another day. Taeyong didn’t have much of a reaction to anything he was saying, really. He was too drained from the past few days. Everything was finally catching up with him.
Johnny helped himself to coffee, warmed up in the microwave, with some milk too close to the expiration date thrown in. Taeyong just sat at the dinner table, staring at his phone, bundled up and nodding along to the conversation Johnny was making. Taeyong wasn’t even sure if he had really retained any of it, or if he was just making noise to keep Johnny satisfied. Honestly, in hindsight, Taeyong wasn’t sure why he just didn’t tell Johnny to show himself out, the way he had plenty of times before. It just... felt different.
At the door, Taeyong wrapped his blanket around himself, watched as Johnny straightened out his hair and his clothes one last time, before turning in the doorway and asking him that question once more.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Everything in Taeyong wanted him to respond honestly, tell Johnny the truth, but that was out of the question. Taeyong knew the boundaries, and he was far over them now, even with their history. For now, Taeyong gave a short smile, a breathy laugh, nodded and went to rub a tear from his eyes, because he didn’t realize his eyes were welling up at the question alone.
“I’m okay,” Taeyong said. Johnny hesitated, the smile on his face faltering as he leaned forward just a touch, reached his hand out to nudge Taeyong’s chin with his thumb and forefinger. Flinching away, Taeyong played it off like he coughed into the blanket, before feigning another smile and slipping his hand out of the comforter to wave briefly. “Have a good day. Thank you again for yesterday. You really didn’t have to do all of that.”
“I know that,” Johnny said, and for a brief second, Taeyong’s heart felt painfully stuck. Johnny sounded so desperate to understand what was wrong. Swallowing hard, Taeyong just tried to keep it together for a few more minutes. Just a little bit longer, and Johnny would be gone, and Taeyong could go back to feeling sorry for himself, because that was all he was good at anymore, apparently. “I care about you, Taeyong. You know that, right? You know I love you.”
“Yeah,” Taeyong agreed. It was too quick, too casual to be genuine.
Johnny couldn’t bring himself to say anything else. Everything that came to mind quickly fell to the wayside, before he nodded and gave Taeyong a quick smile, told him if he needed anything that he could text him, before turning on his heel and headed down the hall. Taeyong stepped behind his door, went to close the door. He hardly noticed Johnny looking over his shoulder one last time, in exchange for shutting the door with a quiet click and locking it behind him.
When Johnny texted Taeyong later in the day to check on him, Taeyong didn’t respond. When he called at the end of the night, Taeyong ignored it after the second ring, and hoped maybe that would get the message across for now.
Despite his wildest dreams, Taeyong couldn’t stay in his blanket burrito for the rest of his life, which meant he did have to head to work eventually. Going back felt like an endeavor in and of itself, but for the most part, Taeyong worked, and then headed home and ate what little food he kept in the house, or maybe called takeout when he was feeling particularly social, and stayed in his blanket burrito.
Johnny didn’t reach out as much as he did before, but that didn’t mean Taeyong was acting completely different. After the first day, he made sure to thank Johnny again for being there, and reassured him that he was doing just fine after taking some time for himself. Johnny didn’t seem all that convinced, but Taeyong could hardly blame him, after the state he had seen him in that night. After a few more days, Taeyong made sure Johnny knew he was still doing all right, just working a lot! Once again, Johnny couldn’t take what Taeyong was saying at face value, but he didn’t argue with him either. There was no point if Taeyong was just going to shut down the moment Johnny confronted him.
At the end of his work week, Taeyong expected a nice, comfortable weekend alone, getting comfortable with his comforter once again and maybe cleaning his house or starting a few new TV shows. As of late, he had been watching a tidying up show that was very interesting, and almost inspired Taeyong to go through all of his things and start tossing them out to make more space. After all, being a young bachelor with too many things didn’t really attract people to him. Maybe he needed to get laid? God, he wished his problem was that easy to deal with.
Taeyong should’ve known better than to expect things to go the way he ever wanted them to, which sounded much more dramatic than he meant it, but it was also completely the truth.
A rapid knocking at his front door startled Taeyong, the flinch of surprise practically knocking him off of his couch and onto the floor, before he scrambled to his remote and paused his drama. Crouching on the floor, Taeyong peered over the table, cautiously trying to catch sight of who it was outside his apartment door, how many pairs of feet were out there, before they knocked again.
“Taeyong, open the door! We heard your stupid TV show.”
Letting out a sigh of relief, Taeyong rolled his eyes and pushed himself off of the floor. It was Doyoung at the door. Whoever else was with him, he wasn’t sure, but he would find out as soon as he opened the door. Taking a few steps through the hall leading to his front door, Taeyong made sure to tighten his blankets around him before opening the front door and peering his eyes through the small crack first.
“Who’s with you?”
Doyoung couldn’t help rolling his eyes before reaching to the side and jerking Yuta back into the doorframe. Yuta smiled, waved innocently, before Taeyong took a step back and opened the door up for Doyoung and Yuta both. Doyoung looked Taeyong up and down as he walked in, earned a mocking look in response from Taeyong. Yuta hardly seemed to care about Taeyong’s response, and instead just walked right into the apartment, taking a seat at the living room couch when Taeyong told him to make himself at home. Doyoung was the one snooping around, poking his head into Taeyong’s room and then into his kitchen, opening his fridge door and sighing with his hands on his hips.
“Please, look around my entire home,” Taeyong said, gesturing around. “Totally cool to just snoop and look around everywhere, I have no secrets.”
“Enough deflecting, Taeyong. You’ve been skipping work off and on now, and you’ve been skipping classes, too. I can’t remember the last time you went to your classes.” Doyoung started, sounding particularly confrontational. “Johnny said you’ve been acting weird lately, and you’ve been ignoring my texts.”
“You’ve been texting me?” Taeyong said, grabbing his phone before cringing when he realized he had set all of Doyoung’s messages to “do not disturb”. That must’ve been a petty decision when Taeyong was first upset earlier in the week.
“Yikes,” was all Taeyong had to say in response.
“Yeah, big yikes,” Doyoung said, short. “So, what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Taeyong replied defensively.
“You’re not the kind of person to just stop talking to people like that,” Doyoung said. “You’re the one that always bothers me when I’m depressed and tells me to get it together. You’re the one that always tells me to get out there and talk to people. So why are you the one not talking to people now?” Looking Taeyong up and down, Doyoung paused. “Especially not your best friend. What’s going on?”
“God, you’re so nosy,” Taeyong remarked. Yuta’s expression fell when he heard the incredulous scoff coming from Doyoung on the other side of the room. He stood up quickly.
“Hey, let’s bring it down a notch, all right?”
“No!” Doyoung huffed. “Taeyong, you have been acting so weird ever since everyone started coming back home! Yuta came back, and Johnny and Jaehyun started talking, and even with me, you have been acting different, and there’s something wrong. You can’t keep pretending nothing is bothering you.”
“Yeah, and you’ve been inserting yourself into everybody else’s business since all this started!” Taeyong shouted, immediately stepping forward to approach Doyoung, Yuta darting forward to intervene if he needed to. “Seriously, when did Johnny ever ask for our help with Jaehyun? When did he ask for you to just waltz in and start pushing them together?”
Doyoung flushed furiously. “He’s my friend and I wanted him to have an opportunity to—”
“Oh, he’s your friend?!” Taeyong laughed in Doyoung’s face. “That’s hilarious. He’s your friend, but I’m the one that’s had to deal with all the— all the consequences of everything. I’m the only one who has been there when he’s been happy, and sad, and upset, and fucking ranting about how in love he is with Jaehyun. I stayed that night when he was wasted. Even when I’m upset, all I can think about is Jaehyun, and that stupid smile on his face when he sees Johnny!”
“Don’t make yourself into a martyr when you wanted to help him, too. I have been asking you if you’re all right, and Yuta has been checking on you, and all the help you get, you just brush off and pretend like it’s fine, and then you turn into this.”
At this, Taeyong grabbed Doyoung by his shirt, fisting his hands in the material of his collar and pulling him close.
“Stop it!” Yuta jumped forward, putting his hands on top of Taeyong’s own and trying to worm his fingers underneath his own to loosen his grip. Taeyong just tightened his grip, could feel his fingers going tense and losing circulation, as he clenched his jaw and resisted the urge to pull back and hit Doyoung, because as much as his emotions overwhelmed him and threatened to drown him under each surge of sudden feelings, he knew he didn’t want to hit Doyoung.
“Just admit it,” Doyoung said, his voice lower now. “Just admit you’re upset, you’re mad about something with Johnny.”
“Shut up,” Taeyong shot back.
“Ever since Johnny and Jaehyun started talking, you’ve been acting different. Like— like there’s something you want to say, but you just don’t, you just keep it inside and you let it fester, and now you’re this fucking disaster—”
“Shut up!” Taeyong snapped, but there was a pleading undertone in his voice, like he so desperately wanted Doyoung to stop. Doyoung finally quieted down long enough for Taeyong to realize his eyes were welling up, warm tears building up in his eyes before they spilled over. Tears trickling down his cheeks, Taeyong sniffled and finally loosened his grip, as Yuta let Taeyong go. Doyoung hardly paid any mind to how disheveled his shirt was, wanted to start charging forward and pressing Taeyong again, but Yuta set his hand on Doyoung’s chest.
“Stop,” he said, and Doyoung paused, before rolling his eyes and turning his back on Taeyong and Yuta both. Quiet sobs filled the apartment, as Taeyong ran his fingers through his hair, before letting out a few laughs.
“I just wanted to relax this weekend, you know,” Taeyong said. Doyoung scoffed.
“You mean you wanted to sit in this apartment for two days straight and feel bad for yourself, just like you’ve been doing all week long. Seriously, what are you trying to accomplish?”
“I’m not trying to ‘accomplish’ anything,” Taeyong said, sniffling and trying his hardest to stop crying. “I’m just....”
“You’re just, what?” Doyoung said.
When Taeyong didn’t answer, Yuta stepped forward, holding out a box of tissues to Taeyong, who quickly took some and blew his nose, before sighing and putting his hands on his hips. This was stupid. This was so fucking dumb, and yet, Taeyong couldn’t bring himself to admit why he wanted to be secluded, why everything seemed to overwhelm him.
“Taeyong?” Yuta started. Taeyong sniffled in response. “Can I ask you a question?”
Taeyong paused, before nodding.
“It’s just like back then, isn’t it?”
It was so vague, but Taeyong instantly knew what Yuta was talking about, in the curiosity in his voice, the pang of pain in his chest as he remembered; the Hershey’s kiss, the candy, the noodles, the drunk call begging Yuta to forgive him for developing feelings for him, the headache the morning after—
“Yeah,” Taeyong said, voice cracking in the small word alone, as he sniffled again and felt tears building up once more.
Yuta hardly hesitated to grab Taeyong by his arm, turn him around, and pull him into his arms. Taeyong buried his face in Yuta’s shoulder, gripping tightly to the back of his shirt and bursting into tears again. If Yuta was bothered by Taeyong’s tears or his snot, he certainly didn’t seem to show it, as he rubbed small circles on Taeyong’s back, spoke soft and reassured him it would be all right.
There were a few footsteps, followed by Doyoung approaching the two of them, wrapping his arms around Taeyong and squeezing tight. Taeyong shivered, despite the warmth surrounding him, and let himself cry for a few minutes more.
When he pulled away, his head felt heavy, his eyes were sore, and his throat ached. Yuta thumbed away a tear from Taeyong’s cheek, before Doyoung set his hand down on Taeyong’s cheek, pulled back just a little, and gave him a light slap, nothing at all like they were trying to inflict on one another just a few minutes prior.
“Thanks,” Taeyong said, gave a breathy laugh. Doyoung shook his head.
“What kind of friends do you take us for?” he paused, but didn’t want Taeyong to answer. “We care about you, no matter what. Whether it’s someone you don’t like, or a girl, or a guy... and especially if it’s your best friend. C’mon, let’s sit down.”
Yuta and Doyoung helped Taeyong to the couch, sat him down in the middle with his comforter underneath him, as they pulled it up on either side of him and wrapped Taeyong up in it. Then Yuta and Doyoung sat on either side of him, both ready to listen, if Taeyong wanted to talk.
“When did you notice you started liking Johnny?” Doyoung prompted. Taeyong hummed.
“I... dunno. Maybe....” Taeyong paused, remembered when Johnny was wasted at Jaehyun’s. The room was so quiet, Taeyong swore he could hear his heartbeat, wondered if his was beating in time with Johnny’s. “I can’t actually pinpoint it. I remember a few times where I got that weird feeling. That weird heavy feeling, you know?”
Yuta nodded, like he knew all too well what that feeling was like.
“And then... and then there were just a couple times where Johnny said things a certain way, or... like, he wanted to spend more time with Jaehyun, and I got jealous.” Taeyong furrowed his brows, looking nowhere in particular, just talking into the air. “There’s never been a time I felt like that. Where I felt like... I was being forced to share him?” Another pause. “He’s not really mine to share, anyways.”
“But he’s your best friend,” Yuta reasoned.
“Yeah, but it’s different than just friends,” Taeyong said, and in that, he sounded so certain. “It’s like— like, now when I see him, all I can think about is how good we go together. How well we know each other, in everything we do. I’m afraid there’s going to be a day where maybe I don’t know him as well as I thought.” Taeyong twiddled his fingers under the comforter, tried to find anything he could focus his attention properly on.
“You think if he started dating Jaehyun, you two might fall out of touch?” Doyoung clarified. Taeyong tried not to huff with impatience, because he wasn’t impatient. He was just flustered, and a bit frustrated trying to find the proper words to say what he needed to. “Do you think him being with Jaehyun would change things that much?”
“It’s not even that it’s Jaehyun, or that I don’t want him to change,” Taeyong said. “It’s that i-it’s not... me.” Taeyong flushed in embarrassment, buried his face in the folds of his comforter and tried to fight back against the tears building in his eyes, against the ball forming in his throat. “It’s so dumb,” he said, muffled.
“It’s not dumb,” Doyoung replied. “Just a little inconvenient, given the circumstances.”
“You know what else is dumb? Every time I think maybe I’m done with all of it, like it’s passing or I’m not feeling that way anymore, he does something, or he says something, and I just feel like I’m falling right back into it again.”
Yuta let out a sympathetic noise, nodding his head and fixing his position on the couch to face Taeyong properly.
“Taeyong, if you feel that strongly for Johnny, you should let him know.”
“Right now?” Taeyong said incredulously.
“Maybe not right now, but... eventually, y’know? When you feel like the time is right. Does it feel like it’s right to say something now?”
“Not really,” Taeyong said. “Kind of feels like it’s a dick move if I say something right now. He was just talking about going on dates with Jaehyun and stuff.”
Doyoung couldn’t help letting out a snicker at that. “I don’t think having feelings for someone is considered a dick move, but fair.”
Sitting back on the couch, Taeyong sighed, could feel the tension melting from his bones and his muscles, how tired he was just from arguing with Doyoung like that.
“I really thought you were going to hit me,” Taeyong said, and turned his attention to Doyoung, who blushed nervously.
“I didn’t even want to yell at you. Yuta told me not to, but I can’t stand seeing you like that. All sad and sorry for yourself.”
“Why? Sometimes we all need to be a little pathetic,” joked Taeyong.
“Yeah, well, you’re not pathetic,” Doyoung said, sounding much more emphatic now that he was a little less embarrassed at his outburst. “And you’re not all this either,” Doyoung gestured towards the blanket burrito. “You’re a kind, sweet, caring person. Even when shit gets hard, you’ve always been the one person I could count on to keep their head up.”
“That’s not to say you’re not allowed to be sad,” Yuta chimed in, directing it to Doyoung as well. “We all struggle with things. But isolating yourself like this for weeks... we were worried about you.”
At that, Taeyong felt guilty for a second, but quickly realized it was no use feeling guilty. His friends cared about him enough to come check on him, make sure he was okay, and he almost kicked them out of his home and punched the other for just being considerate. The least he could do was feel a little bad for the way he treated them, but not guilty.
“I thought you were going back home,” Taeyong said, directed towards Yuta. Yuta hummed.
“Well, I... was, but,” he paused, and for a moment, Taeyong thought his eyes were glossing over, like he was holding back tears, “well, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave when I knew my friend was struggling.”
Taeyong tried his best to hold back tears, but he wasn’t nearly as resilient as Yuta was, and immediately broke down into tears once more. Yuta opted to hug Taeyong again until his breathing leveled out, completely exhausted.
At the end of the night, Taeyong reassured them both he would be fine if they wanted to leave, but neither walked to the door. Instead, they asked for some spare PJs and the three of them lounged around Taeyong’s apartment. Yuta, eventually, did have to head home, but Doyoung opted to stay, slept on the couch in a makeshift bed, and Taeyong couldn’t help crying when he went to bed, because he truly had friends too good for him.
Impulsively, Taeyong pulled out his phone just before he went to sleep, and quickly typed out a message to Johnny, before turning on do not disturb, stuffing his phone away in his nightstand, and burying his face in the pillows of his bed.
Johnny didn’t answer Taeyong’s text until the following morning. From the way he responded, Taeyong felt like Johnny could place something was wrong, considering the hesitance riddled with his replies. In his own roundabout way, Johnny tried making excuses for not being able to see Taeyong, until Taeyong finally pushed a little more, and Johnny gave in, agreeing to see him at the end of the week, at Johnny’s place.
Taeyong really didn’t want to put himself in that environment. Truthfully, he wanted to just stay at home in his blankets and take care of it from the safety of his own bed, but... but Johnny deserved better than that. He deserved a decent conversation if he wanted it, or the chance to tell Taeyong to leave, instead of Taeyong rushing Johnny out of his own apartment. So it just made sense when Johnny said Taeyong could come over after he got off work on Saturday.
Of course, that made the week go on forever, or at least it felt like forever. Every hour dragged on, made Taeyong overthink all of it and wonder if maybe he really was doing the right thing. Once or twice, he had even called Yuta and Doyoung, asking for their advice on it. Both of them tried to stay neutral, though Doyoung did mention more than a few times that he’d much rather see Taeyong removed from the situation, as he thought it would help with his emotional stability for the time being. And Doyoung wasn’t wrong. Taeyong just really didn’t want to admit that having Johnny leave his life for now was right.
Even thinking about it too much made his stomach turn. Just imagining the conversation... and how Taeyong would try to navigate it without actually admitting his feelings, because the last thing he wanted to do was say something that would ruin their friendship. God, he really didn’t want that. But how else was he supposed to say, hey, I’m sorry I can’t listen to you talk about your feelings for this other person, because I’m in love with you?
He supposed, just like that, but that would be too easy.
The end of the week approached quickly, much too quickly for his own liking.
The ride to Johnny’s apartment felt like the longest ride of his lifetime. His driver kept trying to make small talk, all of which went in one ear and out the other, while Taeyong fiddled with his phone, opening it, checking his social media, closing it, before doing the same over and over. Both Doyoung and Yuta were busy now, so he couldn’t even text them to keep his mind busy.
Taking a shaky breath in, Taeyong realized the driver was turning down the street to Johnny’s apartment complex, his heart immediately dropping to his stomach and threatening to overwhelm him with nausea. Was it too late to turn back? Could Taeyong just pretend none of this happened, stop talking to Johnny, just pretend like that was a viable solution for all of this?
He knew it wasn’t, so when the car stopped and the driver reassured Taeyong that the payment went through just fine, Taeyong slipped out and stood up on unsteady legs.
“Hey,” the driver called out after putting his window down. Taeyong glanced behind him. “You seemed a little nervous the entire ride. Did you want me to wait here for you?”
The question put him off. Taeyong could feel tears prickling at his eyes from the question alone. Shaking his head, Taeyong gave a short smile instead.
“That’s okay. I could use the walk home after this anyways.”
The driver simply nodded his head. “Sometimes, we need the time alone to really think about the things important to us, you know? At least, that’s what I tell myself when I start feeling really lonely.”
Taeyong hummed. “Thanks.”
“Don’t sweat it,” the driver reassured, before offering to stay once more. Taeyong shook his head once more, before turning to the path leading to Johnny’s apartment complex. It seemed so much longer than Taeyong had remembered it being— how many times he had walked those same steps, pushed that same button, done the same thing to see his best friend, and now... well, now, this.
Taeyong glanced at his phone once more, and found no new messages, no calls, no alerts. Just the sight of his home screen, before it went dark. He found his reflection staring back at him, eyes meeting before Taeyong sighed and stuffed his phone in his pocket. Johnny was already home. Taeyong couldn’t even meet him outside. He had to walk upstairs alone.
Heading down the path, one step a time, Taeyong wondered if Johnny could truly sense something was off, in the same way Taeyong could whenever something was wrong with Johnny; how many times they had been able to call each others bluffs when they were younger, making each other feel better by reassuring the other they were always there for them when they needed them, and even there when they didn’t.
Taeyong pushed the button to buzz into Johnny’s apartment, as Johnny wordlessly allowed him into the complex, before heading in and towards the elevator. Taking the stairs really would’ve given Taeyong too much time to change his mind and run back downstairs. He had to do it now. He had to.
Before he realized it, Taeyong was in front of Johnny’s apartment, knocking three times and letting his hand fall to his side before letting out a shaky, uneven breath. His heart knocked against his ribs, a million miles a minute and threatening to suffocate him, like he wasn’t already struggling to breathe, to think, to exist, even. Just breathe, he told himself over and over, like the mantra would make it easier to fathom the situation he was in.
When the door opened, Taeyong found Johnny standing behind it, as he always did. Post work, Johnny always looked a little older, a little worn from the day. It made Taeyong’s resolve soften, his heart skipping in his chest. He wanted to reach across the threshold and push Johnny’s hair from his face. The desire to be close, to touch, to love—
Taeyong bit the inside of his cheek and looked away.
“Hey,” Johnny said first. Taeyong nodded, as if gathering his motivation to speak, for fear of throwing up what little he ate earlier in the day instead of speaking actual words.
“Hi,” he managed.
Johnny stepped aside, easily made way for Taeyong to walk in. For some reason, it barely registered in Taeyong’s mind that he would have to actually be inside of Johnny’s apartment, despite the fact that he was standing there, on his doorstep, like there was any other way this would go. Taeyong walked in, tried to appear as casual as he could as he made his way to Johnny’s living area first. He didn’t even bother tugging his shoes off, and hoped Johnny could forgive him for it after Taeyong got to say what it was he needed to say.
“I just got home,” Johnny said. Taeyong nodded, like that was a viable response. “Sorry about the mess.”
“What mess?” Taeyong chirped too quick, much too loud. Johnny gestured towards the whole apartment, before letting out a nervous laugh.
“My life, y’know.”
“Shut up,” Taeyong replied, teasing just a little. It felt odd, out of place, but at the same time, just a little more familiar than the rest of the situation did.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Johnny said. Taeyong shook his head.
“No, that’s okay. I don’t want to stay for long.”
Johnny’s expression fell ever so slightly. “Right.”
And fuck, Taeyong didn’t want to be dramatic, but even seeing that hurt, seeing how Johnny’s expression completely fell hurt so much more than he expected it would. How was he supposed to be able to handle telling Johnny he thought maybe they shouldn’t talk anymore? How was he even supposed to justify it?
“Are you feeling better?” Johnny started. “You look a little better.”
Taeyong didn’t really know how to respond to that. Should he lie and say he is better? Wouldn’t that just rub salt in the wound when he started telling Johnny they should stop talking for a while? Unsure, Taeyong shrugged.
God, Taeyong wanted to kick himself as soon as the words left his mouth, as he mentally beat himself up for sounding so dramatic. Johnny didn’t seem to pay it too much mind, as he nodded and sat down on his couch. Taeyong took the cue as well, taking his seat a little too far from Johnny, trying his best not to get comfortable. He knew if he got cozy in Johnny’s apartment, he’d have second thoughts, and just the idea of being in this situation for any longer was too much already.
Sitting back, Taeyong took a deep breath in, before letting it out and hoping he had gathered his thoughts enough to say exactly what was pressing on his mind. Johnny quirked a brow, leaning forward, as if trying to reassure Taeyong he was listening. He was always listening. Taeyong huffed out the last of his breath. Everything in him felt frozen, on the verge of fight or flight. Even internally, he went back and forth between the two, despite knowing he came here for one reason and one reason only.
“I don’t want to sound dramatic, but you’re making me nervous, Yongie,” Johnny said, sounding anxious as he tried to play it off with a laugh. Taeyong immediately turned his gaze to Johnny, at the pet name, how his heart lurched in his chest at the sound of it.
He had to do it.
“I don’t think we should hang out as much anymore,” he started.
Johnny furrowed his brows, before letting out an unsure, “uhm?” Pausing, Johnny shrugged. “I mean, I don’t mind if you don’t want to hang out for a while, if you’re busy or something. Are you busy?”
“No,” Taeyong replied, short. Curt. It was out of place, even for him.
“Oh. Well... y-yeah, if you need some space, that’s fine.”
“It’s not just that,” Taeyong said. “I don’t mean, like, I need space. I mean... maybe we shouldn’t be as close anymore.”
“What?” The expression that befell Johnny’s face completely changed the mood. At first, Johnny appeared nervous, his lips twinging between a hesitant smile and a look of surprise. “You’re not serious, right?”
“I am,” Taeyong said.
Then, something like surprise, and then anger, but not quite that. Johnny looked away from Taeyong, at the ground, at anything that might help him gather his thoughts, like his words were scattered in the patterns of wood flooring. When Johnny didn’t say anything, Taeyong took that as his cue to continue talking, until Johnny stopped him, whenever that happened to be.
“I just think, maybe, that we’ve been friends for so long, and... and sometimes we both do things that hurt the other person, without realizing it. A-and while it’s not a big deal, maybe it’s better if we just take ourselves out of that environment, you know what I mean? If we take ourselves out of the situation of getting hurt, then maybe we won’t get hurt anymore.”
“I don’t understand. Have I done something to hurt you?”
Taeyong swallowed hard as soon as Johnny turned to meet his gaze. His eyes were stern, serious, as he searched for the answers in Taeyong’s expression. Half finished words and sentences fell past Taeyong’s lips, before he finally settled on a half-hearted, “not exactly.”
“If I’ve done something to hurt you, I want to know what it is, so I don’t do it again.” Johnny shook his head suddenly. “And what would make you think that us not being friends is a better fix than just talking it out?”
Everything all at once rushed Taeyong like a crashing ocean wave: the nausea, the longing, the loneliness, the bitterness, the anger sometimes when he thought too hard about why it couldn’t just be him that Johnny fell in love with, why didn’t it work out that way—
“This isn’t something I want to talk out. I thought about this for a long time, and I think that this is the best way to handle it.”
“Best way for who? For you?” Johnny said, and it actually sounded confrontational.
“You might not think it’s fair, but I have been—” Taeyong cut himself off. Everything he was going to say sounded like a guilt trip as he recited it in his head. The last thing he wanted to do was make Johnny feel like he was responsible for anything that was happening, even if a part of it was because of Taeyong’s feelings for him. At the end of the day, Johnny didn’t know, and no, this wasn’t fair for Johnny, but... but Taeyong had to do it.
“You’ve been, what?” Johnny challenged. Taeyong shook his head.
“It’s not even worth bringing up. I just wanted to tell you to your face, instead of just... not talking to you anymore.”
Johnny stood up from his couch, apparently too overwhelmed to stay seated in one spot. “But we’re not even talking about it. You just dropped this on me like this is a normal thing to tell someone you’ve been friends with since elementary school. I want to know what I did wrong.”
“And I don’t want to talk about that,” Taeyong replied.
“Don’t you think if you’re just going to walk away from this, that I deserve at least some sort of explanation?”
The sudden digs at his actions were starting to grate at Taeyong’s nerves, much like Johnny knew they would. As much as Taeyong did love him, platonic or otherwise, they both knew how to poke at one another to really make the things they said sting for more than just a second. Taeyong tried his best to keep his composure. There was no sense in both of them getting upset over this. Taeyong just had to end this as quickly and as cleanly as possible.
“Look,” Taeyong started, unsure of what he would even say afterward, but kept talking anyway, “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t fair to you, just to say something like this, and I know it’s really unfair not to explain myself, but I need you to trust me. I just think it would be better on both of us.”
“You keep saying that,” Johnny said. “You keep saying ‘both of us’, like I had any idea there was anything wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” Taeyong repeated. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“And that’s all you came over for? To tell me you don’t want to be my friend anymore, for no reason, and then you’re just going to leave. Am I right?”
Taeyong huffed, leaning over and resting his head in his hands. He knew it was going to be difficult, but he really didn’t think Johnny was going to put up so much of a fight. He thought Johnny would understand and just let him say his part and leave, but there was quite a bit of resistance in the way he spoke, how he talked to Taeyong. Clearly, they were not on the same page.
“I just want to get it straight. We’ve been best friends since elementary school. We’ve been with each other for all the good and all the bad, and now you’re just trying to leave because something bad happened and you don’t think our friendship is worth a single conversation.”
“That is not at all what I said,” Taeyong replied pointedly, jerking his gaze back up to Johnny. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“I mean, you’re not saying anything at all, so I guess it’s easy to put the words there,” said Johnny.
“You’re being mean for no reason. I am trying to do what’s best for this situation.”
“Are you sure it’s not what’s the best for you?” Johnny snapped, and stunned Taeyong into silence. His eyes went a bit wider than normal, as Johnny turned his back on him and faced the wall. As if on some sort of cue, Taeyong felt tears trickling down his cheeks, hot and jarring, as they brought him back from his stunned silence.
“Johnny, I know you don’t have any idea of what I’ve been struggling with for the past month, and I know that this is hard for you, but don’t you think that it’s been hard on me, too?” Taeyong couldn’t help how easily he fell into tears, voice cracking and getting uneven as he helplessly waited for Johnny to respond. “You’re my best friend, too. You are so important to me, more important than anybody I’ve ever known in my life. Do you think I’m enjoying any part of saying the things I’m saying?”
Johnny didn’t answer. Taeyong couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or not.
“I don’t want ... to not be friends,” was all Taeyong could bring himself to say, because no matter how he went about this, there wasn’t a way Taeyong could stay. If he admitted his feelings to Johnny, this would go just the same. If he stayed, and just allowed himself to sit with his feelings, Taeyong would never truly be a friend to Johnny again. There was no way of winning, no matter how he reasoned it out, Taeyong always came out on the other side alone. “Please understand where I’m coming from, at least.”
“I can’t, because you won’t even explain it to me,” Johnny shot back.
“But can’t you trust my decision?”
“Not when it means I’m going to lose you.”
Taeyong stopped. Johnny wasn’t even looking at him when he said it, didn’t see the way Taeyong’s expression completely fell, as he fell back on the couch with a quiet breath, like all the wind had got knocked out of him with that one phrase alone. Johnny couldn’t bring himself to look at Taeyong, so he kept his back turned on him, stared at the floor, before shaking his head and sighing.
“I can’t force you to talk to me, and... and I can’t force you to stay. That’s fine, then. If you want to leave, that’s fine.”
“I don’t want to—”
“But you are. That’s all I’m getting from this.” For a moment, Taeyong thought Johnny was going to get angry again, but Johnny just let out a bitter laugh, set his hands on his hips. It took Taeyong a second to realize he was crying, staring up at the ceiling now, trying to blink away his tears. “I didn’t think we’d stop talking like this, but if that’s what you want....”
“Don’t cry,” Taeyong said, sounded pathetic as he gathered himself off of the couch and tried to catch Johnny’s attention. Johnny let out the same laugh as before.
“How am I supposed to not cry?” Johnny gestured vaguely towards Taeyong. “Apparently I hurt you enough to make you want to leave, and I don’t even know what I did, and I’m—” Johnny hiccuped with a sob. “I’m sorry.”
“No, Johnny, please don’t apologize,” Taeyong said, rushing forward and getting too close to Johnny, seeing as Johnny flinched away in surprise when Taeyong set his hand down on his shoulder. Taeyong flinched back, pulled his hand away like he had touched a hot stove. Johnny never reacted like that. From his expression now, Taeyong could tell he was still mad. Crying probably rubbed salt in the wound. “It’s not you. It’s....”
“What? What is it?” Johnny pleaded, finally turning to Taeyong and putting his hands on either side of Taeyong’s arms, squeezing tight as if imploring him through the touch alone. “Please, tell me.”
“I-it’s... it’s nothing, really. It has nothing to do with anything you’re doing, or anything we’ve done together, or anything with Jaehyun—”
Fuck. Taeyong didn’t mean to say his name. As a matter of fact, saying his name was the biggest mistake Taeyong wanted to avoid, because he knew as soon as he mentioned him by name, it meant Johnny would know, because that was such an obvious tell in the middle of their little tiff. Furrowing his brows, Johnny took a step back from Taeyong.
“Jaehyun? Why would you bring him up?”
“No, it’s just that it’s not anything to do with anything you’ve been doing, I was just trying to stress that it isn’t you,” Taeyong scrambled for the words, damned himself for not knowing when to stop talking. The more he denied it, the more suspicious it looked. He knew Johnny was already making a note of all his reactions, of the way he flushed nervously, and couldn’t just blame it on the way he was crying.
Whether out of some sort of pity, or knowing Taeyong was lying, Johnny didn’t press on Jaehyun’s name anymore, but Taeyong knew he had gone too far in talking now. He shouldn’t have even brought up Jaehyun’s name. He shouldn’t have even been thinking about him. This was about Taeyong and Johnny.
“I’m sorry,” Taeyong said. “Maybe in the future, under different circumstances, when I’m more... stable, we can talk again. I just don’t.....”
Now, Taeyong could feel his knees starting to go weak underneath him, because admitting it sucked.
“I don’t think I can be the kind of person you deserve to have in your life.”
Johnny didn’t have anything else to say. No matter how long Taeyong waited, Johnny didn’t look at him, part his lips to speak. He hardly even let his breathing be heard. Taeyong nodded, made sure he still had his phone, keys, and wallet on him, before turning towards the door.
There were plenty of things Taeyong still wanted to talk about, but at the end of it all, he wondered if talking about it was just to make himself feel better, rather than opening the conversation for the two of them. And maybe Johnny was right; Taeyong really was just saying ‘for the both of us’ to make himself feel better.
When Taeyong looked over his shoulder as he headed to the front door, he found Johnny standing there, arms crossed over his chest, but the angered expression was gone from his face. Instead, he looked... so, so sad. Taeyong hesitated in reaching for the door, but did it nevertheless, opening it and taking his leave, without saying anything else, or even offering so much as a goodbye.
Johnny didn’t call out for him either. The door closed behind him. Taeyong left, and walked home, and let his loneliness sit with him for the rest of the night.
There were plenty of hobbies Taeyong had taken up once upon a time, and then dropped when he realized those things just weren’t up his alley, and dancing most definitely was one of them. As nice as it was to have an outlet like that, and being able to exercise at the same time, Taeyong just felt he couldn’t make the right time for it all, to really dedicate hours to honing his craft.
That being said, Taeyong couldn’t bring himself to deny when Yuta and Doyoung signed him up for dancing classes, failing to mention their teacher. Taeyong could still remember how they stood in the room amongst a handful of other people, all of them rearing for their first lesson, while Doyoung and Yuta helped one another stretch on the floor. Taeyong stretched his leg behind him, bent at the knee, and counted beats in his head with each stretch before letting his leg drop and moving to bend the other.
When their teacher walked in, all of them straightened up, except for Doyoung and Yuta, who grinned at the sight of them. At this, Taeyong moved his gaze up to the teacher, only to find someone a little short, thin, careful in his movements, before realizing—
“Ten?” Taeyong had said, before he fell to the side and barely caught himself on the floor.
That was almost two weeks ago now. They had caught up over drinks and dinner, as Ten explained he was doing dance workshops all over the country for a short time, but figured doing one in the town he grew up in was a nice gesture. After all, even though their little city wasn’t anything like Seoul or Busan, it was definitely a growing place.
Taeyong remembered having to awkwardly navigate the conversation after Ten asked why he and Johnny were no longer attached at the hip. Doyoung and Yuta both looked at one another, didn’t want to butt in where they shouldn’t have, and waited while Taeyong explained why the two had stopped talking. Thankfully, Taeyong knew Ten wouldn’t blab about it. He and Johnny hardly spoke, and even so, Ten wasn’t one to gossip like that.
“That sucks,” was all Ten really had to say about it. Taeyong just nodded and took a drink of his beer.
“Yeah,” he agreed, and hoped that was the end of it.
Now, he and Ten were the only ones in the dance room. Practice had ended so long ago, but Taeyong asked if he could stay late, and— well, of course Ten wasn’t going to be shown up by one of his own students, in his own studio, so he stayed as well. The two matched in perfect sync, yet doing different moves, in their own way. It almost felt second nature to Taeyong, and for a brief second, he wondered why he stopped dancing when he clearly enjoyed it so much.
They hadn’t talked in well over a half hour, which Taeyong didn’t mind so much. Despite how well they got along in other aspects, sometimes he and Ten didn’t always mesh well in terms of conversation. That wasn’t to say that Taeyong didn’t enjoy talking to Ten— it just meant the two most often enjoyed quiet moments together, too.
Ten was the first to take a break, setting his hands on his hips and walking away to grab his water bottle. He stretched for a moment, before throwing himself on the floor and leaning back on his hands, staring at Taeyong who was still following along with the loop of music, sweat dripping down the sides of his face.
Shortly after, Taeyong stopped, as Ten reached for his phone and paused the music. Panting, Taeyong dropped to the floor without stretching, and reached for his water to squirt it in his mouth. Ten snorted out a laugh, shaking his head and taking another sip of his water.
“You’re so out of practice,” Ten remarked. “What are you gonna do when I leave for my next workshop?”
Taeyong huffed as he lifted his arm to his forehead and wiped away a sheen of sweat. “I dunno. Be really sore, I guess.”
Ten sat up and leaned over a bit, crossing his legs in front of him and shaking his head. “You should keep up with dancing. It’s really... what’s the word... conducive! It’s really conducive to your mental health. Plus, it’s easy exercise.”
“Yeah, but,” Taeyong gestured vaguely at the room, “I don’t have a dance studio.”
“I mean, it’s not like I’m taking this dance studio with me when I leave,” Ten replied matter-of-factly. “It does stay in town when I’m gone. You just have to rent it out, or come when there’s other classes.”
Taeyong hummed, didn’t bother answering the question, because they both knew Taeyong wasn’t going to dedicate hours and hours to dancing. It was a nice hobby to jump back into, to get his mind off of anything that was happening in his personal life (or lack thereof). After Ten left, Taeyong might find his way back to another hobby. He always wanted to start painting again, or maybe learning a new instrument or another language. Ten knew, like, four languages near fluently. Taeyong could probably bear to learn at least one.
“Why are you worried about my mental health anyways?” Taeyong said, even though he knew exactly why. He could see the way Yuta and Doyoung talked when they thought he wasn’t looking, like a pair of concerned parents trying to keep an eye on their manic child. He was sure Ten had gotten an earful after asking about Johnny at dinner, too. Doyoung was hardly subtle with his irritation when Ten asked.
“I’m not worried. I just know how it is, being in that situation. You think you’re doing great when you’re distracted by doing other stuff: working overtime hours, or throwing yourself into something you’re not even sure if you really like, or drinking a lot. I know that’s how it goes.” Ten shook his head. “It’s not a solution, trust me.”
Taking a look at Ten, Taeyong realized how long it had been since he and Ten had truly had a full conversation. In high school, they both ran in different crowds, only knew each other as friends-of-friends, and even post graduation, Taeyong didn’t know Ten as well as he thought he did before this moment. Now, he was studying his face, how thin he was, how elegant his movements were in even drinking his water or pushing his hair from his face. No wonder he and Taeyong hardly talked in school.
“I’m not trying to take my mind off anything. It’s not as much of a big deal as everyone else makes it out to be. Big deal— Johnny and I stopped talking. It’s not the end of the world.”
Ten hummed, before nodding his head simply. Taeyong cocked his head.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“C’mon. What’s that smug look on your face for?”
“It’s just that I didn’t even mention his name, and he was the first one you thought of,” Ten explained.
At that, Taeyong flushed in embarrassment, pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. Ten read him like a book, and they hadn’t even been talking for more than a few minutes. Taeyong was tempted to tell him to turn the music back on, just so he wouldn’t have to think about the conversation they were having.
“Just don’t forget your motives for doing what you’re doing, is all I’m saying,” Ten replied, pushing himself off the floor and getting his footing, before tapping play on the music again. “For all of it.”
Taeyong didn’t answer. Instead, he sat on the floor and watched Ten perform a few songs, before catching sight of himself sitting on the floor, staring in the mirror. After a moment, he gathered his things and excused himself, wished Ten a good night, and walked home.
It was finally starting to warm up. The winter chill grew fainter and fainter with each passing day, and there was a crispness in the air that hadn’t been there before. Taeyong could smell it in the morning, the way the atmosphere smelled after a fresh rain. Now, the night had a sort of mugginess, like it was thick and humid, but still refreshing. Taeyong took a deep breath in.
Of course Johnny was the first one he thought of, Taeyong thought bitterly, kicking a rock and trying not to feel too bitter about what Ten was saying. He knew he had good intentions, but sometimes, good intentions don’t matter for much when they’re not particularly desired.
Taeyong knew he was still struggling. He didn’t need anybody else to remind him of the fact. He knew there were times where he felt like crying, but the tears just weren’t there anymore. He knew there were times where he wondered if Johnny had his number blocked. He knew there were plenty of better ways he could have handled the situation, and thinking back on it made Taeyong hate himself more and more, because what kind of person talked to another person like that—
But, there wasn’t much he could do for it now. So, swallowing hard against the ball in his throat, Taeyong took another deep breath of the humid air, and took the next step forward, walking down the suddenly unfamiliar road to his apartment complex.
With time came healing. Taeyong didn’t want to call it forgetting, because there never was a time where he forgot about Johnny, or his feelings for him, but rather, where Taeyong could admit that maybe one day, if Johnny ever forgave him, that he could still be his friend, despite his feelings. Taeyong was sure that was much easier to say than it was to enact, but for now, that was what Taeyong liked to think. Maybe he imagined himself as more understanding than he truly was.
Still, Taeyong was getting better. None of his friends touched on the subject often enough for him to fully gauge it, but Taeyong could think about Johnny without getting overwhelmed, even talked about him in passing with Doyoung, who tried his best to keep his name out of the conversation, even with Taeyong reassuring him it was fine.
Ten left town, onto his next workshop. He promised he would be back as soon as he had some free time from work, but Taeoyng wasn’t particularly holding his breath. According to Doyoung, Ten didn’t really have plans to stay in town longer than he had to.
Yuta was back for the foreseeable future, but was often busy with work and studies, so Taeyong never got around to seeing him often enough other than for casual conversation or quick back and forth before they both had to go their separate ways.
Jaehyun was fairly far removed from Taeyong’s life as well, had been since he and Johnny had stopped talking. Sometimes Taeyong found himself wondering if Johnny had mentioned the way Taeyong was acting to Jaehyun, seeing as it seemed they were close enough to talk about those kinds of things. He still kicked himself for mentioning Jaehyun’s name in the midst of the argument. Maybe Johnny had forgotten about it. Hopefully, at least.
That left Taeyong and Doyoung almost to their own devices. They would text often, and sometimes, they made plans just to hang out together. Taeyong supposed he had Doyoung to thank for not completely losing his mind when he stopped talking to Johnny.
After all, Doyoung was the one there for him through it all. Yuta surely helped, and Taeyong knew Ten had good intentions when he talked to him about the situation a few times, but Doyoung really knew what it was like. He stuck around on the days where Taeyong couldn’t bring himself to get out of bed. There were days where Doyoung struggled as well, where Taeyong went to the store and bought his favorite foods, and some of his non-favorites, because those were healthier and Taeyong couldn’t feed Doyoung pure trash while he was feeling bad. They both helped one another when they were feeling really low— and it meant a lot to Taeyong. Hell, if Taeyong weren’t so completely heartbroken at the moment, he might have even considered jokingly hitting on Doyoung and asking him to stick around, but he knew Doyoung deserved somebody really amazing.
Or at least, someone better than Taeyong, he thought, snorting out a laugh to himself.
Doyoung blinked, looking over at Taeyong, who laid beside him in the grassy field of their high school football field. It wasn’t too late— nearing midnight now, but they had been lying there since ten or so, just talking for a while, and then silence, and it was a nice, comfortable silence, for a change. There was no obligation for either of them to talk, since they had both done so much of it as of late.
“What’s funny?” Doyoung said, his voice uncharacteristically soft. Taeyong shook his head.
Doyoung smiled. “Like most of your thoughts, then?”
“I was remembering your stupid face, so yeah,” Taeyong replied, earned a quick pinch to his side before he laughed, almost loud and out of place for their environment, but did it anwyays.
It was Doyoung’s turn to give Taeyong a disapproving, affectionate look, before looking back up at the sky, the wayward clouds scattered across stars and a sea of long gone suns. Taeyong hummed, wondered what it was like to live in the big city, and if it was worth exchanging the nighttime scenery like the stars. He doubted it. Even now, he wished he could’ve been in a totally secluded area, staring at the stars in darkness and reaching his hand out to grab at them.
But a change of scenery sounded... nice. Different. Taeyong hadn’t moved out of his hometown, and a part of him longed, hungered for that change of pace, a lifestyle he hadn’t experienced yet. When Ten described what it was like to be traveling all the time, Taeyong found himself jealous, envious that Ten had found a job where he was able to travel, document, post pictures of his work, and at the end of the day, reap the monetary benefits of it all. He never let Ten know how jealous he was, but he was sure Ten had heard it once or twice from any number of people in his time as a dancer, and social media mogul.
Yuta’s change was surely a bigger one than what Taeyong was thinking of, but even then, a new country.... A new language, a new place for new experiences, to leave behind all the old that bothered him. Of course, Taeyong knew he would have to do more for himself than simply move to another town, or find another place to settle down to truly get rid of those old ghosts, but for now, it was a relatively simple idea to move someplace else.
“Have you ever thought of moving away from here?” Taeyong started.
Doyoung glanced at him, his expression hardly changing, as he shook his head, let out a soft, “not really.” Taeyong hummed. “Why?” Doyoung said.
Taeyong shrugged. “I just think it would be nice to be in a different place, y’know? We’re still really young. We should be out there experiencing the world for what it has to offer.”
“I like experiencing things right at home,” Doyoung replied. He knew that wasn’t the response Taeyong was fishing for, but Taeyong could tell from the way Doyoung’s eyes looked distant now, that this was a conversation he hadn’t anticipated from Taeyong. “I don’t think moving away from home is a fix for your problems,” Doyoung said, very soft, just loud enough for Taeyong to catch his words.
“I know,” Taeyong said, but continued anyways, “but I don’t think I can stay in a place where all I do is think about how sad I am all the time. All these memories, all these places.... Everything I used to do with Johnny is right here in this town. I-I mean, I’m not.... I’m not saying I’m going to leave tomorrow. I’m just thinking.”
Doyoung didn’t react to that, and while Taeyong thought he might’ve had more to say, he let it sit for now. He really was just thinking about it, though the idea had become more and more prevalent in more recent days. Even if he just moved an hour away, or maybe two hours away by train, it would’ve been better than staying in the same place, doing the same things, thinking of Johnny the same way every day.
“I’d miss you if you left.”
Taeyong took a moment to process, blinking and turning his face to Doyoung, who wasn’t looking at him, but the stars. He didn’t react when Taeyong said his name, either, and instead, smiled softly.
“Everyone just came home. I’d miss you.”
Reaching over, Taeyong took Doyoung’s hand in his own, squeezing gently. Doyoung shifted just slightly, lacing his fingers with Taeyong’s, and giving a reassuring squeeze back.
When Doyoung and Taeyong decided it was late enough to head home for the night, Taeyong sat in the passenger’s seat of Doyoung’s car, leaning his head on the window and staring at the sky. The stars remained.
“You can do one more! C’mon, tough it out, do one more!”
The cheering of Jaehyun through the gym didn’t make it any easier for Johnny to do one more sit-up, but if it made Jaehyun happy to cheer, Johnny didn’t mind bearing it, as he strained to do one last complete sit-up. With a huff, Johnny finally sat up and rested his hands on his knees, while Jaehyun whooped and grinned, throwing his arms up in the air.
“God, shut up,” Johnny huffed out with a laugh. “Gimme my water,” he said, more in the form of a question than a demand, though Jaehyun hardly paid it any mind. He tossed Johnny’s bottle to him, before he helped Johnny up to his feet. Johnny sighed as soon as he got to his feet. He should’ve stretched out some of the tension in his muscles, but he also wanted to get home and get showered as soon as possible.
“You got a little sweat,” Jaehyun pointed at Johnny’s face, where his hair stuck to the sides of his face, drenched in sweat. Faking a laugh, Johnny punched Jaehyun in the shoulder. “Hey, you’re getting way better at sit-ups. And you’re already killing it in everything else. Pretty soon, you’ll be a lean, mean bachelor machine.”
Johnny scoffed, shaking his head. “Dating is the last thing on my mind anymore.”
“Yeah,” Jaehyun said sideways. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be, it’s not your fault.”
“I mean, I thought we really did have something!” Jaehyun exclaimed, a little too loud for Johnny’s liking, as he shot Jaehyun a look to quiet down. Jaehyun shrugged. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. But I’m glad we get to hang out still. I would’ve been super bummed if you stopped talking to me because of it or something.”
“Yeah,” Johnny echoed, as it took Jaehyun a moment to process exactly what he said. Once again, in an awkward tone, Jaehyun apologized. “That’s not your fault, either.”
“I mean,” Jaehyun reasoned, but Johnny didn’t want to hear anything else on that topic. It had been a long while since he had talked about Taeyong, and as much as he did miss him, Johnny knew it wasn’t going to help him by bringing him up, especially with Jaehyun, who got too sentimental for his own good.
It had been a few months since he and Taeyong had stopped talking. Johnny tried not to think about it too hard. Usually when he did, he got all teary and thought about texting Taeyong, despite not knowing what to say. Oftentimes, out of habit alone, Johnny would think of Taeyong when he was trying something new, or took pictures of things that reminded him of Taeyong and thought of sending them later, only to bitterly remember that Taeyong had blocked him on most social media. It wasn’t even the blocking that hurt so much— it was just knowing that even if Taeyong hadn’t blocked him, Johnny wouldn’t want to bother him anyways.
Glancing over at Jaehyun, Johnny thought of how long it had been since he had confessed that he thought he felt something for him, and vice versa. It happened not too shortly after Taeyong left. So about three months as well? Either way, that phase hardly lasted. Johnny and Jaehyun had gone out on a few official dates after confessing— had even spent nights at each others place, yet it never felt... on. Johnny didn’t know how to describe it other than “on”, like a light switch. It was in that weird in between where it felt like it could go right, but no matter how long they tried, the switch just didn’t work.
“Treadmill for 15 before we leave?” Jaehyun said. Johnny agreed easily, following Jaehyun to the treadmill. Jaehyun tended to like talking when they were at the gym together. It probably helped that Johnny was constantly out of breath at the gym, so Jaehyun pretty much had free reign of the conversation. Honestly, Johnny didn’t mind listening most of the time, though there were times where he wished he could have listened to some music just to end his sessions on a higher note than some conversation Jaehyun carried on his own.
Being friends was nice, anyways. Johnny appreciated the space they had, but liked that they could still spend time together, in other ways other than romantic. Dates weren’t dates anymore, just hang-outs. When Jaehyun offered to pick up the check, it wasn’t flirting— it was because Johnny had called out of work quite a bit after he and Taeyong stopped talking, and he was still getting caught up with bills and work and rent.
It had changed, and Johnny liked his relationship with Jaehyun now. Plus, with all the time they were spending together now, Johnny got to see how he truly felt about Jaehyun— honestly, there were lots of things Jaehyun did that ruffled his feathers sometimes, but he was sure it went the same with Jaehyun for Johnny. Friends always did that. It felt natural, and Johnny liked that about staying friends with him.
Jaehyun tapped on his treadmill, turning it on a slow speed to start off with. Johnny did the same, setting the pace a little higher to give himself a little more challenge, seeing as he was taller than Jaehyun, had a bigger stride. Despite this, Johnny usually found himself almost tripping over his own feet once or twice, usually because of how hard his pushed himself during his workout. His legs felt like jelly underneath him— he was lucky if he kept himself upright for ten minutes once he got home, long enough to shower the grime off of him and then hop into bed and fall right asleep.
Going to the gym made Johnny feel better, though. He didn’t like feeling like Taeyong leaving his life made it suddenly dysfunctional. They weren’t codependent or anything like that— quite the opposite, really. Both of them functioned fairly well without one another. It just killed Johnny to think about the fact that Taeyong was very clearly in pain over something Johnny did, and Johnny had no idea what it was. Taeyong didn’t tell him that day, and to this day, Johnny couldn’t figure it out. It seemed Jaehyun had a few guesses, but he never let on about them. He just shrugged and said it could’ve been anything.
Jaehyun suddenly bumped up the pace on his treadmill, looking at Johnny from the corner of his eyes and giving him a challenging grin. Johnny rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help himself. He was naturally competitive! Following suit, Johnny quickly turned the speed up on his as well, before giving Jaehyun a shit-eating grin, and immediately getting the toe of his shoe caught on the tread of the machine, tripping and near falling off the machine, as Jaehyun burst into laughter and had to hold onto the sides of it to keep from falling off.
At the end of their gym session, Jaehyun and Johnny usually walked home. Jaehyun did have a car, and Johnny did keep his wallet with his bus and subway pass on him usually, but walking home helped the two of them cool down, and kept them from offending anybody with their sweaty smells. Most of the time, they made small talk, or had even just walked in silence. There wasn’t particularly an expectation for the two of them to do anything special, seeing as they were just friends, enjoying each others company at the end of a hard workout.
Johnny pushed his hair away from his face. It had grown so long as of late, he was so tempted to cut it short, or even to buzz it all off and just let it grow out again, but he had gotten more than a few warnings against it from Doyoung and Jaehyun alike. A part of Johnny thought Taeyong might’ve been the only one to encourage him to do it, if only to support his friend and indulge Johnny in his sometimes-impulsive-nature.
Jaehyun took a long breath in.
“I did miss being home,” he said. Johnny hardly spared Jaehyun a glance, nodding his head a beat later. “I’m glad I decided not to sell the house.”
“Yeah. There’s something about this stupid town that just makes you miss it once you’re older.”
“You’re not even 25,” Johnny said, shaking his head at Jaehyun, who just laughed and shrugged.
“I don’t mean old, I just meant once you’ve left. Once you’ve been away, y’know? I mean, I imagine that’s why Yuta and them came back. Speaking of, did you see Ten when he was back in town?”
“No. Ten and I weren’t really close in high school, honestly. We had this weird thing where, like, we hung out for a solid month, and then all of the sudden, he stopped talking to me, and then we would try talking again, and then I would stop talking to him.” Johnny paused and furrowed his brows, before continuing, “I dunno if we just wanted to really get along and forced ourselves to spend time with each other, or if it just happened that we stopped talking to each other at the right times. Either way, we didn’t talk after we graduated.”
“Bummer,” Jaehyun said. “I went and had lunch with him, but he didn’t seem all that interested in talking about old times or getting caught up or anything. He was just really focused on jobs and living spaces and stuff. He asked me why I decided not to sell the house a bunch of times.”
“Yeah, it didn’t seem like he wanted to stay in this town much.”
“Well, I dunno about that,” Jaehyun said. “There had to have been a reason he came back. That workshop excuse was so lame. I don’t understand why he couldn’t just say that he missed home a little bit.”
Johnny laughed. “This isn’t even his hometown, though? He’s from Thailand.”
“Well, yeah, but—” Jaehyun stumbled over his words, before punching Johnny in the shoulder. “You know what I meant! Home is where the heart is and all that.”
“Sentimental,” Johnny commented, and grinned when Jaehyun rolled his eyes.
“I’m just saying. It’s so strange that we all came back around the same time, and ran into one another in the same place we all met.” Jaehyun paused. “Except for Taeil? That was so weird. I haven’t talked to him in such a long time. Last I heard, Doyoung was the only one that had contact with him. I wonder why?”
“Maybe he’s a secret agent,” Johnny replied, nonchalant. Jaehyun just laughed soft, before he paused, studying Johnny’s expression. Before Johnny could ask Jaehyun just what it was he was staring at, Jaehyun looked away, down at the sidewalk. They were coming to the end of their trek together, where they’d split off and head their separate ways home— Jaehyun would walk a few more blocks to his car, and then drive home, and Johnny would cut through a few backstreets before finally finding his way home.
With just a moment of hesitation, Jaehyun spoke, his words rushed.
“Did you hear Taeyong is moving away?”
Of course, Johnny hadn’t heard that. In fact, he barely heard Jaehyun just now. His voice was so rushed, almost garbled, barely a sentence in any meaning of the word, but he still caught Taeyong’s name, and the vaguest sound of moving away, and pieced it together that way.
Then all at once, it hit him like a punch to the gut. Taeyong? Moving away from home? Away from here?
Away from him?
“Who... who told you that?”
Johnny’s voice was so quiet. Despite how hard his heart was beating in his chest, he tried his best to keep his voice level.
“Doyoung mentioned it. I wasn’t trying to pry, but he said Taeyong was talking about it the other night, and it surprised Doyoung how serious he was about it. He didn’t mention where Taeyong said he wanted to move, though. And he did say it wasn’t 100% confirmed, too! So maybe he’s isn’t. I just thought....” Jaehyun trailed off as Johnny slowed to a stop, a few steps behind him. Jaehyun stopped and turned to face him. “Johnny? Are you okay?”
Judging by the way Johnny’s hands were balled up in fists at his side, and how he immediately turned his gaze to the sidewalk, Johnny was most definitely not okay. Letting out a soft noise, Jaehyun took a step forward, setting his hand down on Johnny’s shoulder and squeezing reassuringly.
“Hey. Doyoung said Taeyong’s been talking about a lot lately. He probably won’t even move. This is his home.”
“You left,” Johnny said. “Yuta left. Ten left. Taeil left. Everyone left. Who’s to say he won’t?”
“Yeah, but we all came back at some point!” Jaehyun tried to reason. “It’s natural for someone to want to explore and travel. Maybe he’ll just take a vacation or something.”
Johnny couldn’t bring himself to say anything else. He knew Taeyong. He knew when Taeyong talked about moving, he was serious. There was never a time when they were in high school or even after graduating where he talked about leaving his hometown. As much as Taeyong complained or poked fun at their dinky little town, at the end of the day, Taeyong loved it. He loved this place. Thinking about it all over again made Johnny’s knees weak. Taeyong had to leave because of whatever it was Johnny did that hurt him so bad. What was it?
“You okay?” Jaehyun checked. Johnny nodded after a second. “Don’t think about it too much, Johnny. Really. You’ll make yourself sick over it.”
“I just....” Furrowing his brows, Johnny shook his head, as if shaking the thoughts out of his head as well. He gave Jaehyun a short smile. “Yeah, you’re right. Uhm, I’m gonna head home. Have a good night.”
Johnny hardly gave Jaehyun a chance to get a word in edgewise, as he picked up the pace down the sidewalk, starting to head home and leaving Jaehyun wanting to call his name out, but instead, watching him walk as far as he could, before he turned the corner and disappeared.
At home, Johnny hardly gave himself time to think. He walked in, took a shower, grabbed a snack, chugged water, and laid down, hoping he’d be able to sleep and forget anything Jaehyun said. If he thought about it too hard, Johnny got that feeling of the wind being knocked from his chest again, tears welling up in his eyes and burning until he blinked them away and told himself not to think about it once more.
When Johnny opened up his phone, he found himself staring at Taeyong’s contact. Even though they hadn’t spoken in a few months, Johnny couldn’t bring himself to delete it. That didn’t mean he could message Taeyong. He was pretty sure Taeyong still had his number blocked.
Instead, Johnny sent a message to Doyoung.
is he really moving?
After a few minutes, Johnny’s phone buzzed with a notification. Thankfully, Doyoung was still awake. The message was short.
who told you that
jaehyun did. he said you told him.
what a big mouth
i dont wanna sound rude but i dont think taeyong wanted you to know
i still don’t even know what i did to hurt him so bad
why won’t someone just tell me?
again dont wanna sound rude but youre so obtuse
Johnny didn’t know what to make of that. That hardly helped him figure it out anymore than he knew before. Still, Doyoung didn’t seem to be budging on the topic. The more Johnny pressed, the more Doyoung urged Johnny to sleep before it got too late, and eventually, stopped answering his texts. He did say if Johnny needed to talk, he could call, but Doyoung knew Johnny wasn’t going to call him, because he did feel bad about bothering Doyoung through text in the first place anyways.
Thinking back on it, Johnny tried so desperately to remember where things had gone wrong. Where things had appeared to change. If there were warning signs, Johnny wished he had seen them, so he could have stopped it.
But everything felt the same. When Johnny came out to Taeyong, it felt the same as it always did. When they spent time together, when they hung out at Jaehyun’s, that night that he got too drunk for his own good. Thinking back, he remembered even having one of those late night conversations with Taeyong, thinking much too hard about Jaehyun and his fixation on him at the time. Taeyong seemed fine even that night, as they talked about Johnny’s feelings, and....
There was something there that bordered on hazy when Johnny remembered it. Squinting and staring up at the ceiling, Johnny tried to pull the memory from the depths of his mind.
“Have you ever been in love?” Johnny remembered saying. That was when his eyes began crossing, when he realized he was losing to sleep, drunk and overly comfortable in Jaehyun’s home that night.
Taking a moment to think, Taeyong spoke. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love, but maybe I’ve had something close to it.”
Johnny tried to sound eager at the time, to hide his sleepiness, but he was sure Taeyong knew he was getting tired. Taeyong always knew things like that. He even knew when Johnny was messing with his hair when he was stressed, or what kind of things he wanted for dinner, or when he wanted to hang out and do fun things or hang out and just be in the same comfortable space as one another. Johnny couldn’t count on all his fingers and all his toes how many times he and Taeyong had spent hours together just working on their own separate things, simply enjoying each others company and not saying much other than showing each other memes or asking if the other was thirsty or hungry.
“Well, describe it, then. I want to know what it feels like,” Johnny had said, before he fell into a comfortable haze, half asleep, trying so hard to hear what it was Taeyong was saying. He was thinking, humming. The buzz was starting to lull Johnny to sleep, as he let his eyes close, and heard only the faintest sound of Taeyong’s voice in the living room.
“It’s... being friends... you....”
The words in between were lost, but Johnny could piece them together once he thought about it. The lilt in Taeyong’s voice, the softness, how he said it— so overwhelmingly full of affection and adoration and something Johnny would have called along the lines of love. It seemed so normal, too. Of course Taeyong loved him. They had been friends since elementary school. Johnny loved him just the same, but... there was something in him that lingered after he said it, like the thought wasn’t complete.
Then came the time when Yuta came back, and how Johnny so strangely felt this odd pang in his chest when Taeyong mentioned having dinner with Yuta. It was very out of place, made Johnny feel a little out of place, especially when Taeyong had asked about his crush on Yuta in high school. What did that matter? Why did Taeyong need to know about that? Johnny remembered paying close attention to Yuta and Taeyong at the bar that night they all met up. At the time, he had convinced himself that it was to see if there was something still there between the two, just friendly curiosity, but....
“Oh my god?” Johnny said to nobody, to himself, before sitting up and opening his messages to Taeyong, old threads he had saved and screenshotted. Long threads of simple conversation, questions ended with cute emojis or cute words that came so naturally when they were texting. Scrolling through his selfie roll, Johnny found the ones where he wasn’t alone were mostly with Taeyong, hardly any with anybody else.
“It’s like being friends with you.”
Taeyong’s voice echoed so clearly in his mind now, it was frightening. Johnny immediately found his messages to Doyoung, opening his contact picture and hitting the call button without even a split second of hesitation.
“Did you know?” he asked, and Doyoung took a moment to answer. He must have been sleeping, judging by the laziness in his voice.
“Did I know, what?”
“Did you know about Taeyong?”
“About him moving?” Doyoung said. “Really, Johnny, you shouldn’t be asking me about that. If Taeyong wanted you to know—”
“Not that,” Johnny rushed. “I meant... did you know Taeyong liked me that whole time?”
When Doyoung didn’t answer immediately, Johnny knew. He knew without the words, but he wanted to hear it. He needed to hear it from somebody else so he knew he wasn’t going crazy. Like he wasn’t grasping at straws that weren’t even there.
Sighing, Doyoung spoke. “Maybe you’re not as obtuse as I thought.” With a pause, it seemed like Doyoung was pushing himself up in bed, moving to sit up. “Did it just dawn on you?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Uh, because that isn’t my business?” Doyoung said. “Also, you were pretty focused on Jaehyun. How did you want me to go about telling you? ‘Oh, by the way, your best friend has been pining over you for the better half of four months, I’m sure this is super convenient in the middle of your huge big crush on Jaehyun’?” Doyoung let out a short, incredulous laugh, more like a huff of breath. “Yeah, right.” And then Doyoung paused before talking quickly, “and how could you not tell your own best friend was in love with you?! You grew up with that dumbass— how could you not see how painfully obvious he was?”
“Well—!” Johnny flushed in embarrassment. “I mean.... Wait, in love with me?”
Doyoung sighed. “Johnny... sweetie.... Yes. In love with you.”
Those words should have put a second wind in Johnny’s sail, but all it did at the moment was stun him into silence. Taeyong had really loved him.
All at once, Johnny was overwhelmed. He couldn’t quite put a name to the feeling. It wasn’t nauseous, but it was definitely something along the lines of that. Like he couldn’t quite catch his breath, like his stomach was in knots, like his chest just couldn’t stop beating a mile a minute.
“I have to see him,” Johnny said, impulsive. Doyoung didn’t answer. He didn’t even say anything. Johnny paused. “Doyoung?”
“I didn’t tell this part to that blabbermouth Jaehyun,” Doyoung started, before humming soft, like he was gathering his thoughts, “I just knew he was going to run his mouth to you, but.... Well, there’s no easy way to say it. Taeyong already left. He just couldn’t stay here. I helped him move the last of his things yesterday. I’m sorry.”
“He... he’s gone?”
“For now, yes. Goddamn it,” Doyoung said the last part more to himself, under his breath, before continuing. “Look, I really shouldn’t be telling you these things, okay? He signed a six month lease, so I don’t know if he’s planning on staying there for long. I just know he needed to take some time for himself, to— y’know, just to center himself again.”
Whatever Johnny was thinking, the words weren’t there. He could hardly breathe. Taeyong had moved already.
“I need to see him, then. Are you—”
“No,” Doyoung said, firm. “I won’t tell you where he is, and I’m not going to tell him you knew about anything that happened.”
When Johnny spoke again, Doyoung was stern once more.
“No, Johnny. You know... I don’t want to keep sounding preachy, but maybe now that you know, if you’re serious about your feelings for him, you can take some time to really consider how you want to tell him. Grow a little. See a therapist or something.”
“A therapist?” Johnny said.
“I just tell everyone to see a therapist,” Doyoung disclaimed. “But seriously. I think if you’re actually so interested in talking to Taeyong again, about everything, then maybe you should wait a little. See how it feels in a few months.”
“But... what if he decides to stay?”
“Then I guess he’ll stay there,” Doyoung replied, though there was something in the undertow of his voice, like he was telling Johnny not to give up hope, without really saying it. Still, it didn’t make it any easier for Johnny to concede. It felt like giving up, almost, like he was admitting he had missed his chance. “Go to bed, Johnny,” Doyoung said, before hanging up, and leaving Johnny on the other end of the conversation— drained, tired, and more than a little upset over everything he had just found out over the course of just a few hours.
But there was something in him that felt... patient. Something in the pit of his heart that wasn’t there. With Jaehyun, it wasn’t there. Johnny felt like time was constantly running out when he was pining over Jaehyun, like he’d miss his chance to have that something special with someone he thought was going to be his whole world, but now....
This flame was like a warm glow, albeit small and new.
Johnny laid down in bed, pulled his covers up to his chest, wondered just what he’d dream about that night, or if he’d dream at all.
Glancing out of the window, Johnny found a small cluster of stars in the distance, hidden by the clouds but barely beaming through. Johnny counted them, wondered just how far they were, before he felt sleep pull him into a dream.
The stars remained.
Much like Taeyong expected, the train ride back home wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought it would be. Three hours by train was hardly anything when it really came down to it, and traveling alone was a lot easier than people made it out to be. As he sat in his window seat, leaning his head in the glass and closing his eyes to savor the gentle back and forth of the car, Taeyong opened his eyes again when he heard the young kids in the seats in front of him chattering quickly, so excited as they pointed outside.
“Blossoms! Mom, look!”
Their poor mother, Taeyong thought. She was alone on that train with her three rowdy kids, all of which had so much energy, Taeyong could hardly keep up with them, and he wasn’t much younger than the mother herself. Jumping up and down, the kids pointed, jabbing their fingers into the glass and squealing in excitement. Taeyong peered his eyes open to look outside. The cherry blossoms were truly gorgeous on the border of Taeyong’s hometown. When Doyoung was driving him to his new apartment, Taeyong had sighed, staring at the trees and wondering when he’d see them next. Thankfully, he was fortunate enough to see them now, just as they were beginning to bloom.
Bursts of pink and red decorated the landscape before them, as the train seemingly glided through a sea of gorgeous, full trees. The kids ran to the other side of the car, hopping on the lap of the older gentleman they had affectionately began to call grandpa, despite the fact that he couldn’t have been much older than 40. Still, he let them hop up in his seat, chattering too quickly and pointing out all the blossoming trees around them.
“Hello passengers. We are currently 30 minutes away from our next stop.”
Taeyong perked up at the sound of the announcer, who continued chattering, just barely audible over the sound of the young kids still scattered across the train car. Scolding her children, the mother corralled them into their seats once more, telling them to hush while the nice lady on the announcements continued speaking.
“...check under your seats and in front of your seats for any items you will have to pack before we are stationed. Please do not head to the exits until we have announced it is safe to disembark the train....”
Glancing at the virtual map displayed on the chair in front of him, Taeyong caught sight of his hometown’s name. Ah, his stop was next. He’d have to gather his things pretty soon, then, although he had packed light enough to make it pretty easy. He’d do it in 15 minutes. No harm, then.
Thirty short minutes later, Taeyong was standing up from his seat, his ticket in hand and suitcase and backpack in the other. Plenty of people were already heading to the doors, rushing out and quickly trying to get off the train, while others, such as Taeyong, were waiting behind, not trying to get mobbed while getting off the train.
It seemed the mother with her children was also getting off at this stop. Taeyong looked over as she struggled to get her kids to hold onto their backpacks, sunglasses, little headphones and toys and things. She had her own bags to take care of as well. Letting out a sigh, Taeyong looked over the seat, before speaking gently.
The mother startled from the sudden sound of his voice. Taeyong waved innocently.
“I can see you’re having a hard time. Would you like some help?”
The mother seemed conflicted between accepting the help, because she truly did appear overwhelmed, or put-off by this stranger with sky blue hair. The kids shied away once Taeyong spoke, most likely due to Taeyong’s voice, his height, maybe just his appearance. Taeyong had gotten the comment on more than a few occasions that he was very intimidating.
“That’s okay if you don’t. I was just curious,” Taeyong said, but just as he began to back off, the mother held out one of her carry-ons.
“Thank you. I’m sorry for asking you to help.”
“You didn’t ask,” Taeyong said, taking the bag in his hands. “I offered.”
The mother’s expression softened, as Taeyong offered to take another bag for her, before leading the way down the stairs, the kids trailing behind him like baby chicks, all chattering and talking quickly, and their mother behind all three of them, to keep them in line and from leaving the line.
Once they got off at the station, Taeyong waited for the three kids’ mother to point him in the direction where she wanted him to leave the bags. She gestured towards the station, vague and rushed, before a man stepped out from behind a pillar, phone against his ear. Her face immediately brightened, grin stretching from ear to ear, as she lifted her hand and waved.
Within a second, the man was quickly speaking, then stuffing his phone in his pocket and rushing to the mother, who dropped her bags and easily jumped into his arms. The three children rushed forward as well, crowding around their legs and gripping tight to his knees.
Taeyong, not one to break up a special moment, simply brought his bags over to the others the kids and their mother had dropped, and set them down beside them in a small pile. He was sure they’d be fine with that. As Taeyong turned around, he heard the sound of rushed footsteps, a tug at the bottom of his shirt. Turning around, Taeyong found the smallest of the three children at his feet, nervously twiddling their fingers before lifting their hand up to high five him.
“Thank you!” the child squeaked out once Taeyong gave them a high five, then skittered back to their parents, who were still so enamored with one another, they hardly paid Taeyong any mind as he took his leave.
At the entrance of the station, Taeyong looked around. Doyoung said he’d be around here, but Taeyong wasn’t sure if he was still waiting for him, or if he had just headed back to his car. For a moment, Taeyong thought about pulling his phone out and calling him, but just as he began to look away, he saw Doyoung sitting in the seats of the station, leaned over on his arm, asleep. Taeyong couldn’t help but smile. It was definitely too early to be up and about, but Doyoung had insisted he could give Taeyong a ride, instead of having to take a cab.
Now, Doyoung was snoring quietly. He was even drooling a little. Taeyong debated pushing Doyoung’s arm out from underneath him, but opted not to, unless he wanted to get his ass kicked on the ride back to Doyoung’s place, where he’d be staying for his short week back home.
For now, Taeyong decided to shake Doyoung awake. Doyoung woke up with a loud snort, sitting up and eyes going wide, before he looked at Taeyong.
“Your hair is blue!”
Taeyong could feel himself growing a bit embarrassed. It was a last minute, impulsive decision. It probably looked like it, too. He had bleached his hair on his own, and dyed it in his bathroom at 4 am the morning before. He was sure it looked like a home dye job, but... it felt nice. It made him feel different.
“It looks good!” Doyoung exclaimed, before jumping to his feet and pulling Taeyong into his arms, a shameless embrace that Taeyong appreciated. Hugging back, Taeyong made sure Doyoung could feel how much he appreciated the chance to come back home so soon. If he didn’t have a place to stay, Taeyong wasn’t sure he could’ve made the time for anything more than a day trip.
Doyoung chattered the entire way to the car, gesturing wildly with his hands as he talked about his latest work escapades, how irritated he was with some of his employees now that he had been promoted to lead at the family store he had been working at for the past two years. Taeyong nodded along, listened patiently. To be honest, he was a little tired himself. As soon as they got into Doyoung’s car, he could feel himself growing a little sleepy. A nap would have been nice. He should’ve slept on the train, but for some reason, he couldn’t with those kids. Not even because they were loud— Taeyong was just worried if he fell asleep, something would happen to them, even though their mother was right there, watching them.
“Don’t worry, we can go home and sleep. Today is a lazy day since you just got here.”
“Thank god,” Taeyong said. Doyoung just laughed.
“Are you excited to see everyone tomorrow?”
Taeyong nodded, didn’t even hesitate. He was a little nervous because of his hair, and also because it had been a long time since he had seen most of them, but it was going to be worth it.
Taeyong didn’t like talking himself up too much, but he had really changed in these past months. He started seeing a therapist, per Doyoung’s command, and had taken up going back to school. When he wasn’t studying, Taeyong was at work, at a nonprofit business. He didn’t make a lot, but he made enough to buy food and pay his rent, which was all Taeyong wanted. And he had even made friends with one of his coworkers named Jungwoo at the nonprofit business. Granted, he was a little younger, freshly graduated from high school, but he was fun to tease. Plus, Jungwoo and Taeyong had a similar music taste, so it was nice to bond with someone over music.
“We even got Taeil to show up,” Doyoung said. Taeyong let his jaw drop.
“How’d you go about that?” Taeyong said in awe. Doyoung waved his hand nonchalantly.
“I pulled some strings, don’t even worry about it.”
When they arrived at Doyoung’s apartment, Taeyong drank some water and changed into comfy clothes. If Doyoung was serious about them having a lazy day, then Taeyong was going to embrace it, because he was sure the next week would be busy. Yuta was already talking about taking Taeyong to see some new art exhibitions, and Doyoung wanted to show Taeyong his herb garden in his backyard, and Ten had even reached out and asked Taeyong if he was keeping up with his dancing, or if he had been slacking again since he’d moved away. Taeyong didn’t want to give Ten the satisfaction of knowing he really was slacking, but he’d know as soon as they met up.
It sounded awful, no matter how much Taeyong tried to rationalize it in his head, but there was a part of him that was... anxious about this entire trip. While he should have been excited just to see all his friends again, Taeyong wondered if Johnny had found out through the grapevine that he was coming back. He wondered if maybe Jaehyun had mentioned it, as Jaehyun was invited to the dinner as well. Maybe Jaehyun let it slip on one of their dates, or when they were spending time together.
It had been a long time since all that, though. Taeyong was ready for whatever it was Johnny had to say, or not say. He wasn’t sure if there was ever going to be something there again, or if it was just wishful thinking that they could be friends again. Either way, Taeyong was a little nervous, but for what, he just couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
For now, Taeyong headed to bed to take a nap, pulled the covers all the way up to his face, and curled up, easily giving into sleep and willing himself only to think of the dinner tomorrow.
Outside, it began to snow.
The snow had continued for most of the night, piling up and sticking surprisingly well. Sometimes it snowed like this in the strangest months, like March or April, and just caught everyone off guard. Taeyong hadn’t really packed for snow, but Doyoung had extra winter clothes to spare, so Taeyong wasn’t completely left to fend for himself. He definitely didn’t have the right shoes, that was for sure. His sneakers just weren’t going to cut it, it seemed, but that wasn’t a huge deal. According to Doyoung, they were going to be inside for the most part, so the snow would hardly affect them, other than if they decided to take a random walk in the freezing weather.
Surprisingly, Taeyong was really excited for this dinner. It had been so long since he had spent time with people he actually considered to be his friends. That wasn’t to say that he didn’t have friends where he had moved— completely the opposite actually. He had even gone on a few dates and thought about seeing someone seriously (although that didn’t work out, seeing as the other guy acted like Taeyong was something to be embarrassed about), so it wasn’t like Taeyong lived in seclusion in his new place. It was just nice to be in a space he knew and already felt comfortable in, like he was coming home to people who wanted to be around him without all the pressure of getting to know one another or feeling out any sort of boundaries.
And even with that minor anxiety about his whole situation with Johnny, Taeyong remembered things he had talked to his therapist about, how many times he had considered writing out a letter and sending it to Johnny, apologizing for the way he so abruptly left. Taeyong never knew if it was a cowardly thing to do, to apologize through words instead of face to face, so he never did it. That being said, Taeyong considered that a growth on his part. He was ready to apologize.
Well, that’s what he thought anyway.
Honestly, the last thing Johnny expected first thing in spring was a huge blanket of snow getting dropped on their town without any kind of warning whatsoever. Sure, sometimes their town got freak snowstorms during early fall or late spring, but that didn’t make it any less jarring to go to bed to a beautiful spring landscape, and wake up to a winter wonderland in the beginning of April.
Sighing, Johnny thought about all the errands he had to run that day, the ones he had left from his prior day off, thinking it would be easy to crank out everything all at once. Now he was regretting not doing any of it yesterday. The only thing he did do yesterday, which wouldn’t even matter now, was his laundry, which was hanging outside on the lines, surely covered in snow.
Jaehyun had already texted him that he would be taking the day from going to the gym, so that helped take one thing out of Johnny’s schedule. Still, he had to go out and buy groceries, and he had just ran out of toilet paper in his bathroom, so he definitely had to pick up something for that. And really, Johnny didn’t feel like cooking much, so he’d have to find a restaurant still open in this messy weather, pick up food and head home.
In his head, it didn’t sound like a lot, but just thinking about it made him feel like it was just a little too much on a day like this.
Johnny’s phone went off with a message, Doyoung’s contact name popping up on the screen. Johnny’s heart lurched a little bit. Doyoung hadn’t spoken to him much since that night. Sure, they texted offhand occasionally, but Doyoung was strict with his conversations on Taeyong, never mentioned him as more than an offhand comment or in passing, and if Johnny pressed on it, Doyoung simply brushed it off and continued speaking. They hadn’t called in a few weeks, even. Johnny figured Doyoung was busy.
The message was short, simply asked Johnny if he was doing all right and if he had any plans in the next week. Other than working, Johnny wasn’t doing much with his time, though the snow might have thrown a wrench in his work schedule, even. He wondered how long it would take before the roads could get cleared. It looked like a snow desert outside.
Johnny replied, hardly paid any mind when Doyoung replied a couple minutes later, as he was already forcing himself to get ready to head out. Better earlier than never, right?
Tugging his jacket on, Johnny glanced out the window and wondered if it was snowing wherever Taeyong was, and if he was staying in, being lazy, the way Johnny and him used to do together when it would rain or snow.
He pushed that thought to the back of his mind, grabbed his keys and wallet, and headed out.
Doyoung thanked his lucky stars when the restaurant they had made reservations at was still open for the night, because it was a lot of money to make those reservations, and Doyoung didn’t want to hear it from any of the others (see: Ten) about how inconvenient it would be to change to the dinner date to another day because of their “busy schedules”. The only one who was truly busy was Taeil, and even he wouldn’t have complained as much as Ten would have if the date got changed.
Thankfully, the roads were cleared enough for people to drive short distances, and all of them arrived at the restaurant without a hitch. Taeyong was visibly nervous as he stepped out of Doyoung’s car, nearly tripping over his own two feet and standing up straight with a nervous laugh.
The others all laughed with him, grinning wide before rushing him and pulling him into their arms, a warm and comforting embrace as they each squeezed and welcomed him home. Doyoung couldn’t help but grin, until Ten grabbed him by his arm and jerked him forward, into the hug as well, squeezing just as tight and laughing when Doyoung grimaced and tried to pull away.
“Welcome home!” they all repeated, messing with Taeyong’s bright colored hair, pinching his face and commenting on how unfairly pretty he still was.
“Be ugly like the rest of us!” Yuta said, earning a huff from Ten.
“Speak for yourself, some of us are naturally pretty!”
“Oh, woooow,” Taeil said, earning a quick pinch to his side from Ten, the two easily bursting into laughter and turning their attention back to Taeyong. Taeyong couldn’t help the blush on the apples of his cheeks, smiling so shamelessly, so embarrassingly excited to be surrounded by these people he grew up with again. Even if there was a faint ache in his heart, because the one person he had truly wanted to see wasn’t there, he knew there would come a time when he and Johnny crossed paths again— for right now, Taeyong was fortunate enough to have all these others with him, welcoming him, loving him.
“Sorry I’m late!”
Taeyong jumped at the sound of a voice from behind the group of friends, peering past Taeil and Ten and finding Jaehyun breathing into the palms of his hands to warm them up.
“Taeyong!” Jaehyun sounded surprised that Taeyong was actually there, like he expected Taeyong to chicken out at the last minute and not show up. Without even a second of hesitation, Jaehyun threw his arms around Taeyong, hugging him and pulling away to grin. “You look like Jack Frost. Did you bring the snow with you?”
“Sh-shut up,” Taeyong grumbled, pushed his hair back into place as the others giggled at Taeyong’s embarrassment. Jaehyun excitedly greeted the others as well, before Doyoung cleared his throat and asked if they could head inside already, because it was just too cold for him. The end of his nose had even turned pink from the nipping winter winds.
They entered the restaurant to be welcomed with an excited host, showing them to their seats and bringing them drinks.
“Hey, should we give them our cards now, just so they know we’re not gonna walk out on the tab?” Taeyong said. Doyoung and Jaehyun both reacted at the same time, both shaking their heads.
“We already took care of it,” Doyoung said, gesturing between Jaehyun and himself both. The others didn’t seem to notice the conversation going on, as Ten went on about the places he had visited, pulling up pictures of his travels and earning noises of envy from Jaehyun and Yuta both. Taeil seemed curious, pointing at things in photos and asking about them, as Ten shrugged and swiped to the next one.
“You did?” Taeyong said. “Wait, both of you?”
“Yeah. That’s the only reason he got invited,” Doyoung said, earned a quick frown from Jaehyun before Jaehyun rolled his eyes and leaned over to speak directly to Taeyong.
“Don’t let him fool you. Doyoung said I was the first person he invited, and he asked if I would sit next to him.”
“I did not!” Doyoung replied, cheeks turning light red. Taeyong squinted at Doyoung, studying his expression as Doyoung met his gaze. “W-what?”
“Are you blushing?”
“What? No? Shut up?” Doyoung said, easily reaching for the drinks menu and waving their waitress over to order a round of drinks. Jaehyun shrugged easily, lifting his index finger to his lips and hushing Taeyong.
That was so... strange. The whole interaction was. Doyoung never got embarrassed like that for anybody, not even Taeyong. And Jaehyun shouldn’t have been acting that way when.... Well, Taeyong never got a straight answer as to whether or not he and Johnny were dating, but Taeyong could tell, from how Doyoung looked when he talked about it on Facetime, that they were spending a lot of time together in that way. It was normal. But why was Jaehyun acting like that?
“Taeyong, do you have any pictures of your apartment?” Yuta said, catching his attention. Taeyong took a moment to process what he was saying, but quickly nodded and reached for his pocket, patting the space to tug his phone out and finding it wasn’t actually there. Maybe the other pocket? Taeyong furrowed his brows and patted the other side of his pants, but found his phone wasn’t there. Panicked, Taeyong pat his chest, his butt, looking for that stupid lump of phone and found nothing.
“Have you seen my phone?” he said, looking under the table and behind them, towards the entrance of the restaurant. Doyoung shook his head, checked his own pockets.
“Did you bring it with you?” Doyoung said. Taeyong nodded.
“I was texting my mom on the way here. I know I had it in the car, but I put it in my pocket when I was getting out of the car, and then I....”
“Tripped on the way out?” Ten supplied. Taeyong flushed in embarrassment, but nodded.
“Here, I’ll go look for it,” Jaehyun offered, but Taeyong panicked.
“No, it’s fine. Stay here, I’ll go get it.”
Doyoung gave Taeyong his keys after a moment of reluctance. Taeyong could use the fresh air anyways, even if it was cold. For some reason, being thrown right into the group setting threw Taeyong off. He’d just take a second in Doyoung’s car after he grabbed his phone, and then he’d come back and he was sure it would help him feel better.
As soon as Taeyong stepped outside, he was smacked in the face by the winter cold, making his face hurt as he sighed and walked out, arms crossed over his chest. He kept his eyes to the ground, even as he went to cross the road, because Doyoung had to park a little far from the restaurant, seeing as the snow and ice had blocked up most of the parking spots in front of the restaurant. Taeyong wondered if the others had to park as far, too, but instead, focused on crossing the road, trying not to slip on the ice, and searching for Doyoung’s car as he tapped the panic button on the key until it reacted. God, they had really parked far! He was surprised the others had walked so far to meet them, instead of just waiting at the restaurant.
Taeyong got on his hands and knees to look under the car for his phone, hoping it hadn’t fallen in the gutter right underneath Doyoung’s car. That would’ve been just his luck, he thought, as he shut the panic button off and instead, unlocked Doyoung’s car to check inside. Maybe it fell under the seat. That’s what Taeyong was hoping for, anyways.
“I shoulda asked Doyoung to keep calling my phone,” Taeyong groused to himself, leaning over his seat and reaching his hand underneath the seat. As if on cue, his phone began buzzing, as Taeyong jumped up and hit his head on the top of the car. Hissing through his teeth, Taeyong searched for the source of the sound or even the light from his screen, before finding a gleam of light wedged between his seat and the car’s console. It was such a tight fit, Taeyong could barely fit his hand in the space, his fingers skimming the edge of his phone case before it fell out of reach once more.
Taeyong couldn’t help but curse, leaning over just a bit more and shoving his hand as far as it would go, before finally, finally pinning his phone against the car seat, slowly sliding it out of the space and cheering as soon as he had fished it out from its space.
“Hey!” Taeyong said excitedly, as soon as he answered Doyoung’s third call. “I found it!”
“Awesome. Hurry back, Jaehyun is being a pain in the ass already,” Doyoung said, the two hanging up as Taeyong closed Doyoung’s car up and hit lock, the alarm setting.
Taeyong took the same way he came, walking along the sidewalk and avoiding the icy pools frozen on the sidewalk. God, this snow was a curse. Maybe he really did bring the snow with him. After all, when Taeyong was back home, all he did was complain about how cold it was. God, maybe the winter was following him around. He’d have to go to Hawaii or something just to avoid it.
Out of the blue, Taeyong felt something hard and cold hit the top of his head, before another one hit his shoulder, and another hit his cheek right as he looked up at the sky and found a sudden sheet of hailstones barreling down from the sky.
Immediately, his eyes widened, because normally when it hailed, he could see one or two little ones as they hit the ground, nothing like tennis balls or golf balls— but these were still pretty big, at least the size of quarters or ping pong balls, and Taeyong didn’t think he could run all the way back to the restaurant without eating shit and leaving himself victim to the hailstones that suddenly rushed down in a consistent patter against cars and cement and even the trees knocked with the force of the hail.
Taeyong used his arm to keep the hail from hitting him in the face, as he looked up and searched desperately for a place to wait out this horrendous weather. He guessed he could run back to Doyoung’s car, but he chanced slipping and falling there, especially since he’d have to fish Doyoung’s keys back out from his pocket. Taeyong knew if he got too nervous, he’d drop them, and god knows they would fall into the gutter, and that would be a whole other issue—
Aha! Taeyong jumped to action as soon as he caught sight of a bus stop just a little ways away, not too far, and it was covered, so he’d be safe from the onslaught of hailstones until they decided to move on. Without a moment of reluctance, Taeyong picked up his feet and started towards the bus stop, sprinting as fast as he could without losing his footing. Damn his stupid skater shoes for not having any tread.
Panting and leaning against the side of the bus stop, Taeyong took refuge underneath the shelter of the bus stop, sighing softly and slumping down on the stop to catch his breath. Taeyong took a look around him. Not only was everything coated with snow, but now, hail was beating down on the trees and the plants that had started sprouting. Beside the bus stop, in a small dirt patch, there lay a pile of something green, completely coated in snow. Poor things, Taeyong thought to himself.
Already, Doyoung was calling Taeyong.
“Hello?” Taeyong said.
“Dude, are you still outside? It’s really coming down. The electricity went out here.”
God, that was fucking ridiculous, Taeyong thought, before sighing and shaking his head. “Yeah, I got stuck out here. I am at the bus stop like across the street from the restaurant.”
After Taeyong said this, he could see the others crowding the window, peering through the window before they waved at him. It was still a little far from the restaurant— too far for Taeyong to consider running to. Plus, he wasn’t sure if it was him or just his imagination, but Taeyong was sure the hailstones were getting bigger.
“I’m just going to stay out here until they stop. One already hit me in the head.” Taeyong lifted his hand to the back of his head and pressed his fingers to the tender spot. He wasn’t bleeding, so that was good, at the very least.
“Well, we’re not ordering anything since everything is down here, too.” Doyoung paused, and Taeyong could tell he was already feeling guilty. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want your welcome dinner to turn out like this.”
“It’s okay,” Taeyong replied reassuringly. Just as he started to speak again, another stranger from the streets came sprinting to the bus stop, immediately jumping under the shelter of the stop and keeling over, hands on their knees and they panted and caught their breath. Taeyong hummed. “I still have a whole week here, anyway.”
“I can barely hear you,” Doyoung said, and Taeyong knew he wasn’t wrong. The sound of the hailstones bearing down on the top of the tin bus stop roof was deafening, would be a real pain if Taeyong wasn’t focused on the sound of Doyoung’s voice at the moment. Still, he nodded.
“I’ll text you.”
Taeyong hung up, quickly typing out a message to Doyoung, who was already typing one back to him. As Taeyong focused on his phone, he heard the stranger beside him slump to the seat, setting down plastic grocery bags beside them and sighing loud, before settling down in the seat.
Taeyong gave them a sideways glance, couldn’t catch sight of their face, due to the black scarf they had wrapped around their neck, covering up to their nose. Wisps of brown hair fell past their eyes as they leaned over reached into their grocery bag to pull out a small plastic wrapped snack of cookies. Taeyong smiled to himself when he saw the brand name. Those were Johnny’s favorite cookies.
The echo of hail filled the air, as Taeyong inhaled long through his nose, exhaled from his mouth, a cloud of steam appearing in front of him. You look like Jack Frost! came Jaehyun’s voice in the back of his mind, as he shook his head and sat back in his seat, tucking his phone into the pocket of his jacket and staring at the gray sky above him.
After a reasonable silence, Taeyong looked over at the stranger beside him, who was still rummaging through his grocery bag. He was tempted to ask what kind of person went grocery shopping in this kind of weather, but Taeyong was sure they wouldn’t appreciate it, judging by the cherry red flush on their face from running around in this kind of weather in the first place.
But the stranger beat him to it, pulling out a bottle of water and reaching it out to Taeyong. When Taeyong glanced up to look at the stranger, they weren’t even looking at him, just handing it to him. Taeyong took it with a quiet nod of his head, opened it up and took a sip. The stranger did the same, moving their scarf from their face and pulling their hoodie off from their head.
As Taeyong took a few long drinks of water, he ventured another look at the stranger, hoping he’d be able to properly thank them for their kindness. Now, Taeyong could see full, vibrant brown hair, and dark eyes, focused on the sky as they chugged down half their bottle of water. And after a beat, Taeyong’s eyes flickered to their nose, their lips, and—
Taeyong spit out his water, choking on it as it went down the wrong pipe and dropping the bottle on the ground. Gasping, Taeyong beat down on his chest and looked away, as the stranger pulled their water bottle away from their lips.
“Are you okay?!”
Taeyong wanted to die. Fuck, he just wanted to die! This was not the time or the place, but there was nowhere he could go, and the hail wasn’t letting up either, and this was the worst—
Taeyong stopped coughing long enough to look back at the stranger, their eyes meeting for the first time in over a year. The stranger tensed up, eyes going wide as soon as they made eye contact. Taeyong resisted the urge to run, and instead, coughed out the last of the water stuck in his throat, before looking away.
It was Johnny.
There was a silence that followed where Taeyong felt like he could hear his own breathing, his heartbeat thudding in his ears, muffling out even the sound of the hail coming down on the bus stop roof. Taeyong didn’t dare look to Johnny again. It was him. He was sure of it. By the sound of his voice, to the way his lashes curved over his cheeks and how his brown hair fell over his face to obscure just the slightest bit of his eyes. The empty wrapper of cookies sat in the palm of his hand, crumpled up in a ball.
“I....” Taeyong started, unsure of what to say, his voice stuck in his throat. Was there even something he should have said? Did he have a right to start the conversation? Should he have waited in silence until Johnny said something? Questions flooded his mind, overwhelmed him all at once, made his breathing ramp up.
You didn’t get any better, you didn’t grow up, you’re not ready for this, you’re not ready— Taeyong’s brain repeated to him, on a loop like he wasn’t already sure of that himself, from the way he felt the instinct to leave, to run away just like he had before. Was that how he dealt with things? He walked away from them so he wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore? It seemed like it. Maybe his therapist was right. He wasn’t coping, and—
The sound of Johnny’s voice was muffled, like Taeyong had headphones on to block out the noise. For a moment, Taeyong felt like he was getting dizzy, from the way he kept having to blink to recenter himself, before he felt a gentle touch on his hand beside him.
His voice came much clearer now. Taeyong still jumped at the sound, but he finally turned to face Johnny, eyes still wide with surprise. Johnny looked just as astounded. When Taeyong parted his lips to stumble over his words, he found nothing came out. There was just so much he wanted to say. He didn’t even know where to start.
Johnny started for him.
“Your hair is blue.”
Taeyong stopped. He couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him as soon as Johnny said it, like he couldn’t believe Taeyong had dyed his hair without telling him. It started off small, an even laugh, and then Taeyong burst into giggles, sitting back on the bus stop bench and letting himself laugh, because if he didn’t, he knew he was going to burst into tears instead.
“You look... really good,” Johnny said. “It suits you.”
Taeyong sighed out his last few laughs, leaning back against the bus stop and finally daring to meet Johnny’s eyes. True to form, Taeyong’s eyes had started welling up, glossy. He couldn’t help it if he was a crybaby sometimes. He always had been. Johnny had told him plenty of times when he was young.
“I heard you moved,” Johnny said. “I always wondered what it would be like to move out of this place.”
Taeyong hummed. “I miss home.”
“I’m sure after a little bit you might miss home.” Johnny said. “A lot of people get homesick.”
“I’ve missed home since I left,” Taeyong replied. “I like where I live. My apartment is... nice. But it’s not home.”
Johnny seemed to pause, as if contemplating what he would say next. “Why did you leave, then?”
Taeyong gave Johnny a knowing look, his eyes sad just in expression alone. When Taeyong blinked, a stray tear made its way down his cheek. He lifted his hand to his cheek and wiped it away easily.
“You know why.” Taeyong, out of some sort of self pity, continued, “please don’t make me say it.”
“Because you liked me?” Johnny said. “Because you had a crush on me?”
“It wasn’t just that,” Taeyong said, sounding defensive. The hail grew more intense with his words. Taeyong shook his head. “It wasn’t just— like, it wasn’t a crush.”
“What was it? Was it Jaehyun?” Johnny pressed, as if he had been holding onto these questions for so long, and.... Well, Taeyong didn’t blame him. He really had left without letting Johnny ask any questions about why he had to leave. It just seemed like Taeyong absolutely had to leave.
“Johnny, every time I heard you talk about Jaehyun in that way... every time I saw you and Jaehyun together, I....” The more Taeyong tried to put it into words, the less he knew what to say. There was too much, and not enough, all at once. “It wasn’t even that it was Jaehyun. It could have been anyone.”
“Then what was it?” Johnny implored, sitting closer, urging Taeyong to speak. He set his hand down on Taeyong’s own sitting beside him, cupping his hand and squeezing reassuringly.
“I.... It.... Why wasn’t it me?”
And it sounded so childish, even as he said it. Like a child with a toy, so possessive and jealous and mean, but Taeyong didn’t feel that way. He wasn’t jealous or envious or even possessive, he just wanted to know how.
“It has nothing to do with Jaehyun,” Taeyong said. “It could have been anyone, Johnny. It could have been anyone. I just thought.... I don’t know.” Taeyong sniffled, now blatantly crying. He wiped his eyes with the back sleeve of his jacket. “I guess I got so used to being with you, I never thought there was going to be a time or a situation where we wouldn’t be together.”
Taeyong laughed bitterly, shaking his head and looking away from Johnny, willing the hail to stop. He just wanted to leave. He was saying too much now. This was bordering into territory where his therapist would be asking is this really helping you, or are you just venting to make others feel as bad as you? Still, Taeyong couldn’t stop.
“I was so desperate to stay, I pushed myself to be in a place where I watched you fall in love with someone else, and it just started getting to me, and I was starting to get bitter and mean, and I just didn’t want you to remember me like that.”
Taeyong hiccuped as he tried to catch his breath.
“And I’m so— I’m so sorry I just left the way I did, without explaining any of it to you, because I wasn’t in a mature enough place to tell you, but I couldn’t do it with a clear conscience. Even now, I’m sorry, I know you like Jaehyun, I know you two are a serious thing and I’m not trying to get in the middle of it, but I have to tell you now that I love you, and there is still almost nothing you could do that would ever change how much I love you.”
Johnny tugged on Taeyong’s hand, and Taeyong, too weak to object, gave in when Johnny pulled him closer, into his arms. Taeyong buried his face into Johnny’s shoulder and cried, shamelessly, without thinking of apologizing for looking so gross or for all the tears seeping into the material of Johnny’s shirt. He just couldn’t stop, until Johnny began to rub circles along his back, mumbling reassurances into his shoulder and squeezing tight every time Taeyong began to tremble.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Johnny,” Taeyong repeated into Johnny’s jacket, grabbing ahold of the material of Johnny’s shirt and holding on tight, like Johnny would leave otherwise.
“Hey,” Johnny said, in between Taeyong’s apologies. Gradually, Taeyong began to calm down, the apologies turning into slurs before he stopped. “Taeyong.”
“‘m sorry,” Taeyong said. Johnny shook his head.
“For telling you all that when you have Jaehyun. I don’t want you to do anything crazy. I just had to tell you. I couldn’t stand hiding it from you anymore.”
“Taeyong,” Johnny started again, pulling away and holding Taeyong’s face in his hands. Like this, Taeyong could see every curve of Johnny’s face, the dewiness of his skin, the gentle slope of his jaw and the plump roundness of his lips. How many times he had seen Johnny like this in past years, how close they always were— those memories rushed Taeyong, and he wanted to cry again, but before he could, Johnny was speaking again. “Taeyong, Jaehyun and I aren’t together.”
Even hearing those words, it took Taeyong a moment to process. His eyes flickered between Johnny’s own, then to his lips, and how he wasn’t smiling after he said it, like it wasn’t a joke.
“I’m not going to pretend we didn’t try dating, but we never got together. It just didn’t feel right. I don’t know if maybe I was just obsessed with this idea of Jaehyun, or... or something, but.... I felt the same way about you, too.” Johnny sighed. “Like you were always going to be there for me. I guess I got... complacent? I just expected you to be there for me through it all. Even falling in love with someone else.”
“You and Jaehyun aren’t together?” Taeyong said, processing everything Johnny was saying, but that was what hit first. “You’re not dating? You’re not in a relationship?”
“No!” Johnny said. “God, no. We’re still friends, but I look back on when I thought I liked him, and I just laugh now. It was a stupid crush.”
Johnny shook his head, like he couldn’t believe himself. “You don’t have any idea how much you mean to me, Lee Taeyong. The moment you left, I was just... hit with this realization that it was you. It’s always been you.”
“What does that mean?” Taeyong said, and really; a part of him knew exactly what Johnny meant, but another shameless, self indulgent part of him just wanted to hear it. He just wanted to know. He could feel it in the way Johnny looked in his eyes, how their fingers laced together and Taeyong squeezed and Johnny squeezed back.
“It means I love you, too,” said Johnny, so soft, so quiet, it was the sound of his voice that brought Taeyong to the realization that the hail had stopped, and snow fell in quiet, gentle tufts on the sidewalk, replacing the once disastrously loud clanging of ice. “I’m sorry it took me so long to realize it.”
Taeyong sniffled, couldn’t help grinning, as he shook his head and pinched Johnny’s cheek. “Shut up, I love you,” he said, before throwing his arms around Johnny’s neck and pulling him close, kissing his cheek on the way and making Johnny stutter and stumble over his words.
It felt so right, to be in Johnny’s arms like that, to be this close once again after being apart for so long.
Taeyong thought this was right where he was supposed to be. With Johnny, here, in this moment, in the snow. This was home.
“Welcome home,” Johnny said, and Taeyong nodded his head.
Unfortunately, Taeyong’s welcome home dinner did need to be rescheduled, as Taeyong thought, and Ten totally did complain the entire time, but they did end up meeting once the weather had cleared up. Although there was still snow on the ground and a few icy patches here and there, it was considerably better than it had been on that day.
“Do you think anybody is going to say anything bad?” Taeyong said, nervous. Johnny smiled, looked over at Taeyong.
“‘Course not! Why would they?”
“I dunno,” Taeyong said. “I just don’t want anyone to think this is weird. It’s not weird, right? Or is it a little weird?”
“Does it feel weird?” Johnny replied, always so patient with Taeyong. Taeyong shook his head. “Then it isn’t weird. I want to be here with you.”
“Okay,” Taeyong said, feeling placated. He nodded after a moment. “Okay. Yeah. Okay, here we go.”
As they turned the corner to the street the restaurant was on, Taeyong and Johnny found the others were standing outside of the restaurant once more in a group, chattering excitedly and one by one noticing Johnny and Taeyong approaching them from the other side of the sidewalk. Yuta and Jaehyun both grinned excitedly, while Ten let out a whistle of awe, Taeyong immediately blushing. For a moment, he thought Johnny’s hand was going slack, and a sudden rush of panic filled Taeyong’s chest. Maybe this was too much for Johnny? Maybe he didn’t want it to look too serious. Doyoung could tell from the way Taeyong’s expression fell that he was thinking too much for his own good.
Then Johnny readjusted his hold on Taeyong’s hand, lifting it high in the air and smiling wide and giddy.
“Hey guys, this is my boyfriend, Lee Taeyong—”
“You’re so ridiculous!” Taeyong said, couldn’t help how he laughed afterward while Johnny nudged him playfully, still holding his hand high up in the air.
“I know you guys are gonna be sooo curious to learn about him, but please no touching,” Johnny continued teasing, as the others all rolled their eyes and played along, indulging Johnny in his little joke before teasing him as they walked to the front of the restaurant.
“Took you two long enough,” Doyoung commented. “Thought I was gonna go gray and die by the time you two got together.”
“Yeah, well,” Johnny shrugged, before looking at Taeyong, “I mean, it was worth the wait.”
“Ugh, gag,” Doyoung replied. “Let’s get inside before we have to hear more of this. Congratulations, though,” he said, and from the tone in his voice, Taeyong was sure that he meant it.
Inside, they all took their respective seats. As much as Taeyong did want to sit next to Johnny, he didn’t feel that same tug in his chest when Doyoung asked Johnny to sit across the table, beside Jaehyun. Instead, it was a chance to see how Johnny and Jaehyun interacted now, and it put Taeyong at ease. There was no jealousy, no possessiveness, no heartache. Just... warmth. Taeyong smiled at Jaehyun when they made eye contact, and Jaehyun winked at him.
As their waitress returned and apologized for the electricity going out the time prior, she began taking everybody’s orders, from drinks to appetizers, answering tons of questions. Taeyong asked Doyoung to order for him, since he wasn’t familiar with this restaurant, and it seemed Doyoung had no qualms with that.
“I’m gonna use the restroom really quick,” Taeyong said, pushing himself out from his seat and heading towards the hallway, sandwiched in between the window of the front of the restaurant, and surely the kitchen on the other side. As Taeyong walked back there, he stopped at the window, eyeing the bus stop where he had been so inconveniently, yet conveniently trapped under just a few days prior.
The hail had really done a number on the top of the bus stop— it had left small dents in the shapes of quarters on top. Taeyong should’ve been thankful it hadn’t gone on for much longer, or he would’ve started getting really scared.
In the patch of dirt beside the bus stop, Taeyong realized as he was staring, that the snow and ice had begun melting away from those poor frozen over plants beside them. Bursts of red and yellow came up from the ground, complete contrasts against the white and gray landscape they sat on.
Tulips. They were tulips. Despite the snow, despite the hail, despite the cold, they were blooming, well on their way to growing tall and straight, against the odds of their very strange weather in that town.
Taeyong smiled to himself, before heading to the restroom and coming back out after a few minutes. Johnny was talking loudly, gesturing big with his hands, and it took Taeyong a second to realize he was telling the story of how he and Taeyong met in elementary school. Johnny had always been a better storyteller than Taeyong, but Johnny snapped his fingers and lost the words halfway through.
“God, what happened after that?”
“I was crying because I had gum stuck in my hair,” Taeyong said, and Johnny grinned.
“Oh yeah, that’s right! And I got in trouble because we weren’t even supposed to have gum, and we both got sent to the office for being disruptive,” Johnny said. “And while Taeyong was sitting there crying because he had to cut his hair to get the gum out, I felt really bad, so we went and found a pair of scissors, right?”
Taeyong shook his head at this embarrassing story. It just reminded me that he had always sort of been a crybaby.
“So I cut the piece of gum out of his hair, and then I told him to cut my hair the same, and Taeyong cut a little chunk out.” Johnny laughed. “My mom got so mad, she got in touch with Taeyong’s mom, but they actually ended up hitting it off really well. And Taeyong and I started hanging out since we were both those kids with the weird looking hair.”
Taeyong took his seat at the table again, resisted the urge to reach across the table and take Johnny’s hand in his own. There would be plenty of time for that later. Right now, it wasn’t just about Johnny— it was about Taeyong, and Doyoung, and Yuta, and Taeil, who had tons of explaining to do when it came to his weird, secretive lifestyle, and Ten, always the most interesting one of them all. And sure, at some point, it was about Johnny, too, but Taeyong couldn’t help thinking about how lovely it was to be back at home, in the place he was meant to be at, with the people he was meant to be with, in love with Johnny, the way it had always been.
Taeyong’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of all of them echoing the sentiment, all thankful to be together once more after being apart for so long since graduating, including Johnny, who did reach across the table and took Taeyong’s free hand in his own. He rubbed his thumb across Taeyong’s knuckles, an affectionate gesture in every meaning of the word.
“By the way, Taeyong,” Doyoung started, lifting his drink up in the air, as the others all did the same, all grins and smiles and quiet laughs, “welcome home.”
Taeyong flushed brightly. Those words felt so good to hear, but Taeyong knew, one day soon, it would be even better to be right back in this town, with Johnny, and Doyoung, and those tulips that bloomed despite it all.