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“Taeyong? Taeyong Lee? Is that you?”

Taeyong closes his eyes, his hands forming empty fists on the table, before he turns to greet them, his biggest smile forced onto his face, “Hey Yuta, Sicheng.” He nods his head to the latter who at least has the decency to look away, a light blush of what Taeyong hopes to be shame sitting high on his cheeks.

“I thought that was you!” Yuta responds with a giggle that Taeyong once thought was the cutest sound in the entire world, but now makes him want to pick up the knife on the table and gauge out his ear drums. That laugh haunts him. “What are you even doing here? You never leave the city!”

Taeyong can’t breathe, much less respond.

His whole body is paralyzed with barely restrained rage.

Thankfully, Johnny responds for him, a simple “We're on a road trip.”

When Johnny speaks, Yuta turns away from Taeyong with wide eyes as if he forgot that he had company.

“Oh, how rude of me! I’m Yuta, and this beautiful boy right here is my boyfriend, Sicheng. Taeyong and I used to be close before I moved out here! And you are?” He asks Johnny, as if confused that Taeyong could have friends that Yuta had never met.

Taeyong’s jaw clenches at the word “close.”

Saying they were close, as if they had been nothing more than friends, and Yuta hadn’t taken Taeyong’s heart and jumped on it like a trampoline.

Johnny moves to get out of his side of the booth, accepting Yuta’s outstretched hand into a visibly tight handshake, straightening to his full stature to tower over both Yuta and Sicheng.

“Johnny Suh, nice to finally meet you.”

While Yuta shows no surprise at the word “finally” because he thinks that he is the center of everyone’s universe, Taeyong looks at Johnny with a confused gaze. Johnny didn’t even know that Yuta existed an hour ago. 

Where was Johnny going with that?

Taeyong, eyes still glued to Johnny’s face watches his eyes as he glances at Sicheng’s arm looped around Yuta’s waist, and a look of anger flashes briefly across his eyes before he sets his jaw.

Taeyong pulls his cup of water closer to his body, leaning down to take the straw into his mouth as his eyes flit between Yuta and Johnny nervously. The two look to be in some sort of alpha-male standoff, and the tension in the room rises substantially.

Johnny drags his gaze back towards Taeyong, his head titled slightly as if struck with an idea, his lips pulling up on one corner and a look similar to mischief dances in his eyes.

Good things never come from that look, so Taeyong naturally expects Johnny to say something unexpected, but the next three words he says are a combination of words he never in a thousand years thought he would hear from Johnny’s mouth.

“I’m Yongie’s fiancée,” Johnny says with a smirk, voice so smug, his knuckles turning white from now tightly he is holding Yuta’s hand.

Taeyong’s eyes widen comically and he chokes on his drink, coughing into his hand as he tries to reign in the look on his face. He pushes the drink away on the table and grabs a napkin, wiping his mouth and shooting a look at Johnny that screams What the fuck are you doing?

“You okay, baby?” Johnny asks instead, feigning concern over his ‘fiancée’ choking on his water, dropping Yuta’s hand to come over to Taeyong’s side, his hand reaching towards him.

Taeyong has forgotten how to form words.

He feels his skin burning at the pet name, and the knowing smile Johnny is looking at him with, suddenly way too conscious of the large hand resting on his shoulder.

Johnny’s eyes flick to Taeyong’s red ears and a he raises an eyebrow. He was enjoying this, the bastard.

Taeyong tears his gaze away from Johnny and turns to Yuta in time to see his eyebrows arch so high they almost hit his hairline. A crazed look flashes across his face at the words fiancée and baby, and for a second he looks positively homicidal. The look only lasts for a few seconds before Yuta schools his expression back to nonchalance and gives them a tight-lipped smile.

“Wow, Yong, engaged…” Yuta trails off, a low whistle coming from his mouth. “You didn’t tell me?”

He sounds accusatory, as if Taeyong had neglected to tell his best friend he was getting married, rather than his piece of shit ex who cheated on him for the entire duration of the relationship and made it clear he meant nothing to him.

“We haven’t had much time to catch up,” Taeyong all but spits, having to physically restrain himself from getting up and slapping him.

Johnny gives his shoulder a squeeze, his muscles relaxing under the touch.

A touch that says I’ve got you. You’re not alone.

Taeyong doesn’t know whether to cry from relief or laugh because it’s Johnny giving him support. God, this day was already so strange.

“Clearly,” Yuta responds, dragging the word out as he sends a loaded glare towards Johnny’s hand resting possessively on his body, “We have a lot to catch up on.”

Taeyong doesn’t like the look he finds in Yuta’s gaze.

“And how exactly did you two meet?” Yuta asks, his jaw ticking.

Taeyong looks up at Johnny, craning his head to gaze up at him. He tries his best to look loving, but probably just looks panicked at the thought of having to lie. If Taeyong had learned anything with the Starbucks incident that morning it was that he was a terrible liar.

Johnny thankfully responds for the both of them.

“Well,” Johnny pauses, looking up as if thinking, “it was about two years ago now, right, baby?” He asks softly, his voice low and rumbling like it had been this morning.

Taeyong shivers, goosebumps coating his flesh. He just nods, not trusting himself to speak without saying something stupid.  

“So we were at a party our brothers were having, and he had been running late because of his restaurant gig he had going on, he had to cover a shift or something, and there he was standing in the door with his firetruck red hair sticking in every direction and his apron still on.” Johnny’s hand moves closer to the juncture of Taeyong’s neck and shoulder and he swipes his thumb along his collarbone, a small laugh leaving his body, looking like he was reflecting on a much-loved memory.

Johnny continues, “My brother introduced us, and we immediately got along,” they share a smile at that and Taeyong has to reel in a laugh at just how wrong the statement was. “I think I fell in love with Yong right then and there, and it’s been history since then.”

Taeyong’s traitorous heart skips a beat at the word love and his name in the same sentence coming from Johnny. He was almost too good at lying.

He thinks how long ago the first time they had met actually was and realizes with a start that he and Johnny met right before he had broken things off with Taeil and long before he had met Yuta. Because if Johnny was insinuating that he and Taeyong had been together for that long…

It only took one look at Yuta’s face to see he was also doing the mental math, if the tightness in his jaw and the way his hands were forming fists at his sides had anything to say.

He thinks that Taeyong had been cheating on him too. Taeyong wanted to laugh in his face, karma truly was a beautiful thing. He would frame the look on Yuta’s face right now if he could.

Did Johnny even realize what he had just implied? Either way, it was the perfect set-up. Yuta can’t be mad because he cheated too but knowing that Taeyong had ‘gotten away with it’ and he hadn’t, was obviously making him furious. Steam was practically coming out of his ears.

“Two years,” Yuta repeats, his voice just above a whisper. He turns his murderous gaze towards Johnny.

Taeyong feels the need to hide the knives on the table.

“I remember when Taeyong had that job as a waiter. Must’ve been hard to support the two of you,” Yuta says, looking pleased with himself, “That SoundCloud career wasn’t going so well, poor thing.” His voice is laced with venom and fake pity, and he is hitting the all of the parts of Taeyong’s heart that he is most sensitive about.  

Taeyong takes that back, he wants to take the knife on the table and throw it straight between Yuta’s eyes. Maybe Johnny was right, and he really was violent.

Taeyong stands up, ready to pull Johnny out of the restaurant, feeling tears building in his eyes.

But Johnny doesn’t move, a brick wall of muscle that Taeyong can’t get through. His demeanor changes in an instant and gone is the charmer looking at Taeyong with loving eyes and telling cute stories.

Standing before him is the Johnny Suh he first met, in his tailored designer suit, his words aimed to hurt. Cold.

It’s been so long since Taeyong had last seen Johnny so cold, Taeyong had forgotten how it felt. And god was he happy to not be on the receiving end of it for once.

“Oh, that’s where your wrong, Yuto--” Johnny’s words are quiet and low, the threat imminent in each vowel.

“--Yuta,” Yuta interjects.

Johnny continues as if he hadn't heard him.

“Do you hear yourself when you speak? Do you think you sound smart or that it’s funny that Taeyong had a job as a waiter in order to support his dreams?” Johnny is practically growling.

He takes a step forward. “Taeyong has shown more ambition than you probably will in your entire life. Just because he’s still working to that dream doesn’t take away from how hard he is working and how much he deserves it.”

Johnny takes another step towards Yuta, who in turn takes one step back. The look of pity was nowhere to be found, replaced instead with pure fear.

“And as far as having to ‘support’ the two of us,” Johnny practically spits out the word, “I think that you are forgetting that I made a name for myself at Goldman Sachs as their youngest executive director in over a decade, and quite frankly I make more money in a week than you do in almost a whole year,” He laughs, the sound mocking, “So no it wasn’t ‘hard’ on me, and if Taeyong needed support for the rest of my life it wouldn’t be hard on me then either.”

Taeyong feels his heart swell, a butterfly forming wings and breaking free of its cocoon. He looks up trying to meet Johnny’s eyes, his eyes rimmed with silver.

Did Johnny really mean all that?

Yuta has gone positively still, no sound coming from him but heavy breathing.

“Do Taeyong a favor and keep his name out of your mouth, your thoughts, your life. You can both rot in hell, have a nice lunch” Johnny says, his tone final with no room to argue.

Johnny pulls his wallet out and places a few bills on the table, grabbing Taeyong’s hand and turning them out of the restaurant, leaving a speechless Yuta and Sicheng behind.

 

☽☽☽☽☽☽  ☾☾☾☾☾☾

 

If the way that Johnny had slammed his car door shut when they had climbed in wasn't enough of a tell that Johnny was still made, Taeyong can practically feel the anger still radiating off of Johnny as he calms himself down. His rage was so potent it was almost tangible. 

Taeyong himself is still mad, but his emotions are much more restrained, mingled with sadness and wonder at what the fuck just happened. 

Johnny doesn't bother to turn the car on as they take time to come down off the wave of emotions.

This means however, that they are sitting in their seats with the air filled with nothing but stale heat and suffocating silence.

Taeyong thinks that if he opens his mouth to say thank you, or ask 'why did you stand up for me', or ask if he meant what he said, or say pretty much anything, that he will start crying. In fact, he knows he will.

And Taeyong has made a fool of himself one too many times in front of Johnny, so he sits there, eyes glued to the dashboard, in complete and utter, painful silence.

The only noise that fills the air is the jingling of Johnny’s keys as he messes with them in his hands.

A few more seconds pass before they both try to speak at the same time.

“Listen, I’m so sorr—”

“Johnny I—”

They both look at each other, their surprised gazes, mirror images of the other.

“You first,” Taeyong says, his voice surprisingly steady for how emotional he feels.

Johnny clears his throat.

Taeyong lets his eyes roam over Johnny. He seems like a different person, softer, his fingers dancing nervously along his keys, his eyes downcast. He’s slumped in his seat to the point he almost looks small, the direct opposite of the cold, looming, direct persona he had adopted mere minutes ago.

“Uh, I was saying that I am, um sorry for how I acted back there, you know?” He meets Taeyong’s eyes briefly, “I know you don’t need anyone to fight your battles for you, and I know you didn’t ask me to do any of that, or force you to lie or anything, and um I’m just sorry. Yeah.”

“I just don’t understand why, Johnny.” His voice cracks, “You don’t even like me.” Did you mean it? Or was that part of the act too? Taeyong wants to ask but is afraid of the answer.

“Don’t say that,” Johnny mutters under his breath.

“Hmm?”

“It’s just,” He sighs, “I don’t know. It’s like, when he first came in you were so mad. But mad Taeyong I’m used to, you’re mad at me like all the time,” He laughs softly. “But then he kept touching that boy and talking about how beautiful he was and shit, and so I just said we were engaged because I knew it would make him mad, and I mean, fuck, you saw his face, he was pissed.” He runs a hand through his hair, the black strands shining in the light pouring through the window.

Taeyong’s heartbeat picks up in anticipation.

Johnny runs the same hand over his face, “And then, I just kept provoking him. I knew he was going to snap but I just kept going. And I am really, really, so sorry for that, I mean I don’t even know what I thought was going to happen, but … but then, ah then he said all that absolute bullshit and I just. I mean, Christ your face, Taeyong. That wasn’t the Taeyong I know. I watched your face fall as the words hit and it just, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t just stand there and not say anything if you weren’t going to stand up for yourself. I mean, fuck, I am not a violent person, but I wanted to fucking hit him.” Johnny is talking so rushed most of his words are jumbled together. Taeyong doesn’t care though, because all he feels is warm. So, so warm at the words Johnny is saying.

“And, you meant it? You meant everything you said?” Taeyong asks, his voice barely above a whisper, cracking.

“About my salary being like 25 times his? Of course I meant it, the smug asshole was asking for someone to put him in his place,” Johnny says, a smile creeping back onto his face.

And fuck if Taeyong wasn’t grateful for that small semblance of normalcy that sentence offered him.

Taeyong slaps Johnny’s arm. “Shut the fuck up, you know what I meant, asshole,” he says with a grumble, his lips subconsciously matching Johnny’s smile.

“There it is, there’s that ‘I hate you, Johnny’ smile I’ve been missing,” Johnny whispers, “Thought I lost you there for a second.”

He reaches towards Taeyong’s face as if to caress his cheek before he quickly retracts his hand. Now that they aren’t pretending for Yuta, he has no reason to touch Taeyong casually.

That was acting, Taeyong reminds himself. He shoots Johnny a look, reminding him that he didn’t answer the question.

Johnny sighs. “Of course, I meant it, Taeyong,” he turns to put the key in the ignition, the car whirring back to life as some of the heavy tension in the air clears. “I still don’t like you very much, and I think you are an annoying little shit who likes to lie for fun, but yeah, I meant every single word.” He’s smiling, and Taeyong is tracing the lines of his face with his eyes, jotting down this moment in his memory. “You’re gonna get your dream someday, it just might not be today or tomorrow. Don’t let people like him tell you any different.”

“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” Taeyong tsks with a crooked smile, a bizarre idea popping into his head. All he feels is warm, so warm inside. Someone other than Mark is saying that they believe in him and that his dreams are valid, and he doesn’t give a shit that it’s Johnny, all that matters is that someone believes in him.

Johnny hums in question, setting up GPS on his phone to wherever they’re stopping for the night.

“I’m gonna do something crazy,” Taeyong laughs, clapping in maniacal delight at the terrified look he sees on Johnny’s face as he turns to face him, “Are you ready?”

“Absolutely not.” Johnny responds, “Why on earth would you preface something with that?”

“Close your eyes.” Taeyong can’t stop laughing.

“No.”

“Close them right now,” Taeyong says, his tone scolding like a schoolteacher’s.

Johnny doesn’t move.

“Don’t be like that, close your eyes,” Taeyong rolls his eyes when he just stares back. “Please, Johnny?” He tries instead, using his best puppy-dog eyes.

Johnny sighs in defeat. Taeyong knew the eyes would work.

With one last wary glance at Taeyong, Johnny slides his eyes shut. “I swear to god if you kill me now, Hyuck is going to be so pissed and will probably call off the wedding, and Mark will definitely never forgive you.”

“You are such a moron,” Taeyong mutters, laughing as he leans over the middle console and wraps his arms around Johnny’s neck, pulling him into his body in a tight hug.

At first Johnny jolts back, not expecting the sudden contact, but Taeyong just pulls him tighter, not letting him escape.

A few seconds later Johnny sinks into the embrace and eventually wraps his arms around Taeyong’s middle, the movement slow and tentative.

Taeyong closes his eyes and relishes in Johnny’s warmth. He smells like wood and tea and slightly of lemons, and Taeyong wants to drown in it.

He feels when Johnny finally opens his eyes, his eyelashes fluttering against Taeyong’s neck. It tickles, but Taeyong refrains from squirming. He doesn’t want his moment to burst.

When Johnny speaks, Taeyong feels it rather than hears it, the mumble of his lips pressed against the exposed skin on his shoulder making Taeyong shiver.

Taeyong.”

Johnny.” Taeyong mocks Johnny, the awe in his tone, his voice hushed.

Taeyong can’t stop smiling. 

“You’re hugging me,” Johnny whispers conspiratorially, like it’s a secret he’s not supposed to tell anyone.

“I am,” he responds, clearly amused. “What an astute observation, John. I see why they pay you the big bucks.”

“So, this is the Taeyong hug Mark and Hyuckie don’t stop talking about,” Johnny says, wonder in his tone. “I never thought I’d experience it, to be honest, but now I think I get it.”

“It’s my signature thank you hug,” Taeyong responds, as if that was obvious, “Don’t get used to it.”

“I hate you. God this is so weird. Don’t you dare stop,” Johnny responds, pouting against Taeyong’s skin.

And so Taeyong indulges him, relishing in the shared warmth for a few more minutes, before he has to go back to the real world where Johnny makes him want to rip out his hair.

“Don’t worry, I still hate you too,” Taeyong says, smiling against the top of Johnny’s head, his hair tickling Taeyong’s nose.

 

☽☽☽☽☽☽  ☾☾☾☾☾☾

 

The next few hours in the car pass quickly, but not quietly.

They discuss the rest of the trip and how Johnny has planned out the days with specific destinations in mind. The 2,825 miles sound a lot less intimidating when they are broken up by day. Their next stop was apparently Columbus, Ohio, but Johnny could have said anything and Taeyong would have gone with it.

All he wanted was to get to the hotel and sleep. It wasn’t like Taeyong to wake up before eight, and the side-effects of his 6 am start to the day were hitting him like a truck.

They play rock paper scissors for who gets to choose the radio station, and of course Johnny wins. Because, Taeyong is “predictable,” and Johnny is a self-proclaimed “RPS genius.” Yes, he used those words, exactly.

The radio argument digresses and naturally launches them into a discussion of favorite artists, and albums, to which Taeyong reluctantly had to give Johnny some props for his music taste. To think that they had anything in common, even something as simple as music taste, makes Taeyong's heart twinge in an uncomfortable way.

Taeyong is put in charge of Johnny’s GPS and only makes them turn the wrong direction once. Which he gets a mouthful from Johnny about as Johnny takes the phone out of his hands. Of course, this only results in Taeyong whining and pouting for the next few minutes until Johnny sighs and hands him the GPS back.

About two hours into the drive, Taeyong asks Johnny to pull over, and takes out his phone to take a picture of the sunset, which was easily the prettiest he had ever seen. And maybe he takes a picture of Johnny too. What can he say, the view is nice.

Taeyong learns things about Johnny he wouldn’t have normally cared about, like how he used to play volleyball, and can play piano, and has a birthmark on his hip.

How he hums to music when he's zoning out.

How he bites his lip when he's concentrating.

How we glances over at Taeyong when he speaks, just to be told to look at the road, every time. 

Most of all, however, they argue. It wouldn’t be them if they weren’t constantly bickering. Taeyong even goes as far as to keep track of how many times he and Johnny argue in a note on his phone and by the time they are pulling into the Columbus Holiday Inn parking lot, his tally has reached 33. In just four hours.

When they finally pull into a spot and park, Taeyong’s body feels stiff, and he can only imagine how Johnny feels after driving for at least eight hours that day.

That’s not to say that Taeyong didn’t offer to drive, he was simply denied the chance by Johnny saying “I don’t need to see you drive, I already know your bad from just looking at you. I’d rather not die.”

Taeyong, of course, had chosen that as his hill to die on, and continued to argue for the next thirty minutes on why he was an excellent driver, and Johnny was stereotyping him as a gay man and saying that he couldn’t drive.

Was Johnny wrong? No. Did Johnny have to know that? Also, no.

Johnny leaves Taeyong in the car and goes to check them in, returning with two room keys, rooms 127 and 128, with an adjoining door.

Not that Taeyong would ever admit it, knowing that Johnny was just a room over made him feel a lot better about being alone in a hotel room in a foreign city.

They unpack separately, until Johnny calls through the wall "Dinnertime, baby!" in the same tone as Johnny the fake-fiancée, which leaves a stupid smile on Taeyong's face as he joins Johnny in his room to eat room service dinner on his floor, both of them far too tired and lazy to find a restaurant.

Full and tired, they separate with a plan to meet in the morning and go over the next day's itinerary over the hotel’s breakfast, to which Johnny only rolls his eyes and goes on a 30 minute rant about how buffets are just one big cesspool of germs and how Taeyong was going to get sick, and ultimately give it to Johnny, which would then delay them days from driving, and then they would somehow miss the wedding. This only served to remind Taeyong of just how fussy Johnny could be, making him roll his eyes yet again at how Johnny thought that something as mundane as a buffet was the source of all evil.

Taeyong gets ready for bed humming a Frank Ocean song that Johnny had pointed out as one of his favorites when it played on the radio, and promptly gotten stuck in his head. It reminds him of Mark, who has always loved to play Frank Ocean on his guitar, bringing it out whenever Taeyong was over, and with a smile he opens his messages to tell his little brother about his eventful day. Leaving out some bits, like the hug, he'd rather keep just to himself.

After messing around on his phone for a little, and checking the rest of his texts and scrolling aimlessly through his social media accounts, he turns the lights off and crawls into bed, his eyes fluttering shut almost immediately, a moan halfway out his mouth at the feeling of the heaven he feels when his body relaxes into the comforter, even if it was only a b rate hotel mattress.

Taeyong curls up on his side and falls asleep to the hum of the air conditioner in the corner, and he sleeps soundly for the first time in months.