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Taeyong pounds his fist relentlessly against the hard wooden door until his knuckles turn red and start to ache, the thin skin threatening to break every time he slams his hand against the door with all of his force. 


“Johnny, please,” Taeyong croaks, leaning his forehead against the door as he continues to knock, defeat seeping in with every painfully silent second that passes. “Let me in, please. I’m sorry.”


Taeyong hears nothing but silence from the other side of the door, but he continues nonetheless, banging and pleading for Johnny to open the door. 


He has to apologize. Hell, Johnny has to apologize. Taeyong knows that they can get through this, if they just talk. Johnny means too much to him now, he can’t just let him slip between his fingers before he actually ever has him. Not now, not when he knows he didn’t understand what was really going on. 


The knocking goes on for a few more long, defeating minutes before Taeyong hears the door behind him swing open, the sudden noise causing him to turn. Taeyong swallows hard, realizing he probably looks like a complete mess after crying for a good part of the day.


Taeyong’s eyes go wide as he takes in the man in front of him. He’s easily over six feet tall with a long ginger beard and covered in tattoos that start at his wrists and stretch to the sides of his neck. He looks down at Taeyong with his jaw set, clearly unhappy. 


He looked furious when he first opened the door, but his light blue eyes soften when he takes in Taeyong’s disheveled appearance — from his red-rimmed eyes to his crumpled shirt, his messy blonde hair and the probably obvious pain written across his facial features. That is, if he looks only half as miserable as he feels. 


The man sighs, running a hand through his short-cropped hair before he speaks, his voice a low timbre with an accent Taeyong doesn’t recognize, “Look. I’m sorry, man, but it’s almost one am, and I have to get up early tomorrow. I can’t fall asleep if you’re banging on this guy’s door.” He sounds apologetic, but his words are firm. 


Taeyong feels his cheeks flame with embarrassment — he hadn’t even realized how late it had gotten or how loud he was probably being. He ducks his head and starts to apologize but the man cuts him off with a wave of his hand and a sigh. 


“No, no, no. It’s fine, it happens.”


Taeyong nods awkwardly with his eyes glued to his feet, feeling his cheeks burn impossibly red. Because… Does it happen? How often do people have breakdowns in hotel hallways and bang on their kind-of-almost-lover’s door and wake up their neighbors in the middle of the night? 


The man goes to shut his room but pauses, turning back to face Taeyong. “For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure your guy’s gone,” the man says carefully, causing Taeyong’s head to snap up.


“Johnny?” Taeyong asks, wincing at the obvious desperation in his tone. He feels his heart sink a moment later at the realization that Johnny isn’t even here


“Uh, maybe? Pretty tall guy, black hair. He looked, well,” The man pauses, breaking eye contact. “He looked like he’d been crying?” he offers, his tone cautious. 


Taeyong lets out a shaky breath, willing the tears out of his eyes before he breaks down again in front of a complete stranger. “Yeah,” he manages, his voice quiet. “That sounds like my Johnny.”


“He was on his way out about an hour ago. I talked to him for a second before he left. Nice guy. Really friendly, despite, well,” The man trails off awkwardly, clearly trying not to make Taeyong uncomfortable. Or any more uncomfortable than he already was. 


Taeyong swallows, the lump in his throat growing.


“Did he—,” Taeyong starts, his voice cracking. He clears his throat and sniffles, trying again, “Uh, sorry, did he say where he was headed, possibly?”


“Oh, actually, yeah, he did. He said he was gonna uber to a bar, I think. Didn’t say where, though. Sorry, mate.”


Taeyong forces himself to smile politely, taking a deep breath and collecting himself. “That’s okay, thank you. Really , thank you, you’ve been so helpful. And… understanding. I’m sorry. For the noise,” Taeyong adds, still sheepish for having woken the man up in the middle of the night.  


The man nods and sends him a sympathetic smile before disappearing back into his room, leaving Taeyong alone in the hallway. 


With a heavy heart, Taeyong turns back into his room, pulling out his phone as soon as the door shuts behind him and sitting down on the bed.


He searches for Johnny’s contact and hits call, putting it on speaker phone as he lays back into his pillows. 


Taeyong listens to the call ring through to voicemail and hangs up, calling again. Listens to that call ring through. Calls again. And again. And again. 


Frustrated, Taeyong opens up his messages, opting to send Johnny a text instead, his frustration seeping through his words as he types. 


To: Johnny 🥰😏🥺😍🤧😳😘


1:42 am: We need to talk. Please answer my calls. 

1:43 am: Where are you? 


Taeyong sighs, going to put his phone down and wait for a response when he sees that he forgot to open what Donghyuck sent him earlier. With nothing better to do but sit and wait for Johnny to text him back, he opens the messages, hoping wedding drama can distract him from the emptiness he feels in his chest. 


When he opens the texts, expecting another change of the wedding band, or a problem with the cake, or something about their ridiculously expensive custom suits they made Taeyong help them pick out, what he reads instead makes his heart stop beating for a second, and his stomach turn with anxiety. 


Because it wasn’t about the wedding at all, it was about Johnny . It was about Johnny and Kun .


From: Donghyuckie Suh 


7:05 am: good morning T :) 

7:08 am: I know Johnny would never admit it but I know he’s really happy that he’s not going to be alone today. He hasn’t been the same since Kun passed away, but I see a little bit more of the old him every time he talks about you. Try to be gentle with him today, even when you don’t want to. He’ll try to push you away, but please don’t let him. He’s gotten in a bad habit of pushing away the people he loves when he gets scared, I had to learn that the hard way. He also would probably be mad if he knew I was telling you this, but I think he really likes you, T, & fuck if I’m going to sit here and watch Johnny not let himself be happy, he deserves it. You both deserve it.  

7:09 am: forgive me for the long and heavy text so early in the morning hihi I just wanted to say thank you for looking out for my big brother and that I love you and can’t wait to see you 😘😘 


Taeyong feels a tear roll down his cheek as he finishes reading Donghyuck’s words. He hadn’t even realized he started crying again, but when he brings a hand to his face he feels wetness on his fingertips. He rubs his eyes, swiping a hand under his nose as he presses the button to call Hyuck before he even realizes what he’s doing. 


Donghyuck picks up after the third ring, his voice thick with sleep, worry laced in his every word.


“Taeyong? Hello? What’s wrong?” 


Taeyong’s heart clenches at the sound of Donghyuck’s voice. He tries to form a sentence, tries to explain , but all that comes out is a miserable whimper of Donghyuck’s name.  


“It’s okay, Taeyong-ah, shh, it will be okay. Can you tell me what happened?” Hyuck asks, his voice gentle. He waits a pause before adding, “Do you want me to wake up Mark?”


“No, no, need you.” Taeyong rushes to say before Hyuck wakes Mark up too, sniffling before speaking again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up, I wasn’t thinking. I’m never thinking. I’m just, I-I fucked up, Hyuckie,” Taeyong whispers, “I fucked up so bad and now he’s gone, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do, Hyuck. I just read your texts, and I didn’t know and I—” 


Donghyuck cuts him off, the sound of rustling loud in the background as if he was just now getting out of bed, “Woah, woah, woah. Taeyong, slow down.” Taeyong finds himself nodding even though Donghyuck can’t see him. He takes a long, deep breath to try to calm his heart down. Donghyuck lets him take a few seconds to just breathe into the phone before continuing, “Good, Taeyong. Keep taking deep breaths, it’s gonna be okay, I promise. Can you tell me what happened, again? Slowly?” 


Taeyong swallows, guilt clogging his throat as he remembers the fight, remembers the reckless words he and Johnny threw at each other, remember’s Johnny’s face before he left. “Um, well, it started this morning,” Taeyong says, blinking tears out of his eyes before taking a deep breath and continuing, “Johnny was being weird and like cold and distant, and I thought it was because,” Taeyong pauses, laughing ruefully at how dumb he sounds now. “And, I thought it was because of me. I thought um, well, you see we kind of did something? We hooked up last night, but I was so drunk and being stupid, and then, I-I woke up, and he was gone and I just thought…” Taeyong trails off. 


“And you thought it was because he regretted what happened?” Donghyuck supplies, his voice slow and kind, tentative like he was afraid of scaring off a hurt animal. When all Taeyong does is make a small noise of agreement and sniffle into the microphone again, Donghyuck sighs, “Taeyong.”


I know, Hyuckie, it’s stupid now, but I didn’t, I just didn’t know ,” Taeyong groans out, dragging out the end of the word, “I didn’t read your text until like five minutes ago, and Johnny didn’t say anything so I kind of just— assumed the worst, I guess. And now he’s gone and I don’t know how to fix it or where he went.”


Donghyuck is silent for so long that Taeyong wonders if he accidentally hung up. 


“Wait a second, back up. Did you just say that Johnny didn’t say anything?” Donghyuck asks, his voice uncharacteristically monotonous, “He didn’t tell you that it was Kun’s fucking death anniversary?”


“No...” Taeyong says, the word lilting up at the end like a question. 


“I can’t fucking believe— I’m going to kill him. I’m actually gonna kill him. He told me he was going to tell you what happened. He promised. No wonder you were fucking confused,” Hyuck says, exasperation in his voice. 


“Well, he —” Taeyong starts, before realizing he was about to blindly defend Johnny, the same Johnny who he’s supposed to be mad at, Johnny who he is mad at. He clears his throat before responding, “Yeah, I guess,” instead. 


Donghyuck sighs and Taeyong can imagine him reaching a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose like he does when Mark is being stubborn and refuses to admit he’s in the wrong. Taeyong smiles slightly at the mental image, his heart aching at how much he misses them both. 


“So, earlier when you said you fucked up?” Hyuck asks, his tone muddled with confusion, “I really, really hope you’re not blaming yourself for not knowing what today is.”


Taeyong hums. “No, it’s not that.” He couldn’t have possibly known what was going on if Johnny wasn’t going to tell him. Taeyong frowns as he reminds himself why he called in the first place, “But, I um, said some things, and he said some things, and it escalated, like a lot, and I said something I shouldn’t have. I said something I didn’t even mean, and then he, he left. And I made his really shitty day even fucking worse. And now, I don’t even know where he is. I just know he’s out there, somewhere, drinking, and thinking I hate him.”


Taeyong swallows the emotion creeping up his throat, willing himself to stay strong through the rest of the phone call. 


“And I really don’t hate him. I really, really, really don’t want him to think that. Not when it’s quite the opposite. And I don’t know what to do. What do I do, Hyuckie?” 


“Well,” Donghyuck hums, stalling, “Oh. Well first, I can send you his location, we all have each other’s phone location. We did that after, um, well, we did that after the accident. It’s not my place to talk about that really, though, sorry. I’m sure he can explain later?”


“It’s fine, Hyuck, you don’t need to apologize, seriously. But, thank you, having his location is a good start, at least. That would be wonderful, actually. I just need to find him and say sorry before he hates me even more.”  


“Oh, Taeyong. I don’t think there’s anything you could do that would make Johnny hate you. If I had to guess I’d bet he’s beating himself up enough over being any sort of mean to you, if anything. Besides, he probably thinks he deserved everything you said. He’s not really as nice to himself as he should be,” Donghyuck says, a resigned sadness punctuating his every word.  


Taeyong frowns, the idea of Johnny not letting himself be happy putting a sour taste in his mouth.


“Yeah,” Taeyong whispers, his hands itching to end the call and run to Johnny. Even if he shouldn’t, the only thing he can think about is pulling him into a hug and never letting go. 


Right as he’s about to say goodbye, already reaching to pull on his shoes, Hyuck speaks up again. 


“And, for what it’s worth, Taeyong?” Donghyuck says, his words slow and carefully chosen, “I think you’re really, really good for him. I think Johnny needs someone like you in his life, and I think that he’s been waiting for you for a long time. So, don’t forgive him immediately, of course. He hurt you and definitely needs to apologize, but maybe hear him out, first? Before making any decisions? He has a lot of things he is still working through, and a lot of healing left to do, but I think he could be worth it. I think you guys could be worth it, you know?”


Taeyong feels a little part of his heart thrum at Donghyuck’s words as he spots Johnny’s keys where he left them on Taeyong’s dresser and starts to run to the car, feeling something dangerous blooming back in his heart.


Something that feels a lot like hope. 


☽☽☽☽☽☽  ☾☾☾☾☾☾


Taeyong expected tears. 


He expected to find a barely sentient Johnny passed out on the bar or drowning his sorrows in alcohol. He assumed that he’d have to drag him back to the car and nurse him back to health, worry about him all night, and wait until the next day to talk about the thoughts that had been plaguing him since the morning. 


He even prepared himself to walk into Johnny with someone else, someone random, someone who doesn’t know him. Someone to take away from the pain, the pain Taeyong caused him. 


Taeyong was used to it — that destructive, careless, selfish behavior. 


He saw it in Yuta, he saw it in Taeil, he saw it in his dad before his parents got divorced and he even saw it in himself sometimes. That selfish behavior manifests itself ugly inside of you, urging you to just forget and pretend like nothing matters anymore, to ignore the people you love and selfishly drown your feelings away with a glass of whiskey and a pretty stranger’s smile. 


So, when he walks into Altitudes Bar and Grill, frantically following the blinking blue dot of Johnny’s location that Hyuck had sent him, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest, he stops in his tracks at what he finds. 


Because what Taeyong walks into is not what he had expected at all. 


He spots Johnny almost immediately, a messy head of black hair sitting alone at the bar, sipping solemnly on a glass of clear liquid and ice, eyes red and face blotchy, but nonetheless seeming perfectly sober. 


The sight tugs on Taeyong’s heart as he continues to weave his way through the bar, his heartbeat loud in his ears as he stops a few steps away from Johnny. The tension between them as Johnny lifts his gaze and finds Taeyong’s eyes is palpable. 


Taeyong has to look away, his heart aching and his fingers starting to sweat. What if Johnny doesn’t want to see me? He thinks as he nervously fidgets with Johnny’s keys in his hand, the silence between them far too loud as he takes another tentative step towards Johnny.


“What are you doing here, Taeyong?” Johnny asks, his voice exhausted . Taeyong’s heart drops at how disappointed he sounds to see Taeyong standing before him, then again at how tired Johnny sounds, how desperately he must want the day to end.   


Taeyong wonders if Johnny thinks that he’s here to yell at him more. Taeyong hates that he wouldn’t blame Johnny for not trusting him to be there for him, hates that Johnny probably expects him not to forgive him, not to apologize. 


Taeyong swallows his heart and forces himself to put on a brave face for Johnny. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before meeting his gaze and explaining softly, honestly, “what I should have done, earlier.” 


Johnny looks up at him, a mix of surprise, confusion, and a hint of hope in his eyes as he stares back at Taeyong. His knuckles go white as he grips his glass, his voice coming out strangled as he croaks out, “What?” 


Taeyong sighs, his heart breaking at Johnny’s tone. Taeyong could be the person Johnny needed, he thinks, if Johnny would just let him. 


“I think we have some things we need to talk about, so, let me take you home. Please?” Taeyong asks softly, ignoring the way his heart beats stupidly at calling the hotel home, at the idea that he and Johnny could one day have a home, together. Johnny pauses, looking down at his hands, and Taeyong realizes he’s still holding his drink. “Err, if you’re done with your,” Taeyong gestures awkwardly towards the glass, “with your, um, whatever that is, I mean.” 


Taeyong feels his cheeks color in embarrassment, and watches as something like amusement flickers in Johnny’s eyes and realizes with a start that he really missed that feeling. Missed Johnny, really, all day. He would embarrass himself ten times over if it got Johnny to smile. He really missed seeing Johnny’s smile.


“Vodka,” Johnny deadpans, taking a long sip without breaking eye contact with Taeyong. Taeyong flinches at the thought of drinking vodka straight, and Johnny’s face relaxes, a small smile working it’s way on to his lips before he laughs quietly, “Water. Sorry, It’s just water.” 


Taeyong’s heart swells at the sound. Johnny’s snarky comeback and gentle laugh feels like a huge victory after a long day of Johnny being so absent and cold. Taeyong feels his heart pound as a matching smile reaches his lips, hope blooming in his heart again, the small interaction feeling like Johnny saying “I’m sorry,” for more reasons than one. 


“Hilarious, Johnny,” Taeyong whispers. He laughs, grateful that his Johnny isn’t completely gone, shaking his head as he looks down at his feet. 


“Well if you’re done with your vodka, ” Taeyong mocks, rolling his eyes, “you ready?”


☽☽☽☽☽☽  ☾☾☾☾☾☾


Taeyong pulls back into the hotel’s parking lot, his hands shaking lightly against the wheel of Johnny’s car, his body tight in a bundle of anticipation and nerves. 


It had started to feel more real the further they drove, the closer they got back to the hotel. The inevitability of the conversation they were about to have had hit Taeyong like a truck, the adrenaline of seeing Johnny again wearing off, leaving behind a bundle of insecurities, fear, and dread. 


His fingers ache to reach out and pull Johnny into the hug they both so desperately need, but Taeyong reminds himself that Johnny still needs to apologize. Even if Taeyong’s basically already forgiven him in his head, they do need to talk about it. 


Fuck, they need to talk. There’s so much Taeyong wants to say, so much he needs to ask. 


He lets out a heavy sigh, putting the car in park and taking a moment to just think before turning his head to look over to the passenger seat, only to find Johnny already looking at him. There are so many emotions swirling in Johnny’s honey colored eyes — pain and regret and something that looks terrifyingly close to love filling his gaze as he looks back at Taeyong.


They stay there for a moment, just staring at each other with desperate eyes, the tension in the car so high, so charged with emotion, Taeyong finds himself drowning in Johnny’s gaze. 


Johnny breaks first, his voice hoarse as he croaks out a single broken word, “ Taeyong—” 


Taeyong just shakes his head, reaching out a hand to place it on the inside of Johnny’s wrist, swiping his thumb lightly across a vein there as he rubs back and forth against the soft skin, the feeling of Johnny’s heartbeat flickering under Taeyong’s thumb a reassurance that he’s actually there, and that maybe it’s not too late for everything to be okay. 


“Not here,” Taeyong says. He can’t have this conversation in Johnny’s car, with so much stress and pent up energy, and anger permeating the air around them. They need to sit down together and fucking relax, and work things through like adults. 


Johnny seems to understand, nodding his head slightly and, without another word, moving to get out of the car. 


Taeyong lingers behind, his eyes slipping shut for a second as he sends a silent prayer to whoever may be listening that things are going to be okay. 


Taeyong takes a deep breath and gets out of the car, following Johnny into the hotel and back up to his room. 


They don’t speak in the lobby, or in the elevator, or even in the hallway — the very same hallway that Taeyong was breaking down in, not even an hour ago. 


Taeyong pauses in front of his door before unlocking it, the image of Johnny walking out on him earlier with a look of pain and betrayal plastered on his face burnt into Taeyong’s memory, causing a shiver to run down his spine before he walks inside. 


Taeyong takes a few steps into the room without turning back around, the sound of the door shutting softly and the quick jingling of Johnny locking it with the deadbolt making the reality of the situation fall heavily on Taeyong’s shoulders. 


“Taeyong—” Johnny starts, his voice coming from behind Taeyong, closer than he thought. 


But Taeyong shakes his head, turning around but not yet raising his head. He needs to say what he has been working up to for the past few hours, and he knows the second he looks at Johnny’s face he’s just going to break down again. 


“No, Johnny, I need to—” Taeyong interrupts, “Just, let me? I need to explain,” Taeyong says softly. He waits until he sees the movement of Johnny’s head nodding tentatively in the corner of his vision before continuing. “First, I really need to apologize for what I said earlier, I need you to know that I didn’t mean anything I said.” 


Johnny raises his hand and immediately starts to interrupt, causing Taeyong to finally raise his eyes, meeting Johnny’s eyes and shaking his head again.


“No, let me speak, please. I need to, I need t-to explain. I used to hate you, Johnny,” Taeyong starts, his voice raw. Johnny flinches at the admission, but Taeyong continues. He needs to be honest if he wants this to work, if he wants them to ever move on. “I hated that you were mean to me but so nice to Mark and Hyuck. I didn’t understand what I had ever done to you to deserve that. I resented you for being so perfect, you had a wonderful job, and were in a long-term committed relationship, and you were like everyone’s favorite person except for mine. And I hated that. I hated that you always got the last word and that you always had some snarky comment to come back to whatever I said, and that you pushed my buttons, and knew all of the right buttons to push to rile me up. I would avoid going to things if I knew you were going to be there, and I complained to Mark every chance I got about how terrible you were.” 


Taeyong’s gaze flicks back up to Johnny’s face briefly before he continues, looking back away from the expression he finds in Johnny’s eyes, “But then… then Mark forgot to book me a plane ticket, and you of all people came to save me. You have no idea how much shit I gave Mark for not telling me it was you that was driving. But you showed up to my doorstep in that ugly blue car, and you got me my favorite drink without anyone asking you to, and…” 


Taeyong finds a spot on the carpet to focus on, willing the lump in his throat to go away. 


“You stood up for me against my piece of shit ex even though I had been terrible to you the whole day, and you paid for my meals because you knew I was worried about money, and you made sure I was sleeping well, and you were so kind, and funny, and, and...” Taeyong pauses again, emotion clogging his throat as he realizes what he’s about to admit, realizes that he really means it too, “And you were the first person that wasn’t Mark to tell me that you think I can accomplish my dreams. That you believed in me. That I could do anything I wanted, and, and, fuck .


“It came out of nowhere, but I started to like you so fucking much, Johnny. Everything about you. This whole week I refused to believe I didn’t still hate you, I was trying to hold on to that so hard, but I couldn’t. God, I mean, how could I? After everything, how could I still hate you? I wouldn’t have rather been with anyone else this week, as crazy as that sounds. It was perfect. Every single second was perfect. And then—then… and then last night,” Taeyong swallows thickly, his eyes back to being glued to the floor, focusing on the pattern of the hotel rug to calm himself down, “well, last night was perfect too,” he admits softly, “I wanted you so bad. I would have given you anything, you know? But you didn’t take advantage of that. You respected me enough to not push anything on me that you didn’t know I actually wanted, and god I fell for you a little harder just for that.”


A small noise escapes from Johnny’s lips, causing Taeyong’s gaze to flick back up to see a tear rolling down the taller’s cheek, his eyes red and rimmed in silver. Taeyong startles at the sight, immediately taking Johnny’s hand and rubbing a slow circle on the back of it, trying to tell him through touch that he’s sorry, and that they have each other. He had been so absorbed in trying to articulate his feelings he didn’t even know Johnny had started to cry.


Johnny gives him a quick squeeze on his hand and Taeyong continues, knowing what he’s about to say is going to be hard to admit out loud. 


“And then this morning… you were gone. And it was like this whole week just meant nothing to you. All of the flirting, the meals we spent together, everything we talked about, sleeping in the same bed, and like even what we did last night, it was like, God, I just felt so fucking stupid, Johnny. I’m so tired of feeling stupid in every goddamn relationship I get myself into. I just can’t do that to myself anymore. I’ve been taken advantage of one too many times, I guess. I was so used to being treated like shit I guess my brain just assumed that’s what you were doing, too. It felt like you wanted to make me fall for you just to break my heart, and the worst fucking part is that I believed it. I really believed you would do that to me.” 


Taeyong feels Johnny’s wrist start to tremble under his touch at his words and he realizes that Johnny is shaking. Taeyong remembers Donghyuck’s words and feels a pang in his heart. ‘ He probably thinks he deserved everything you said. He’s not really as nice to himself as he should be.’ Taeyong sighs and pulls on Johnny’s still trembling wrist a little, tugging him over to the bed. 


“Let’s sit,” Taeyong says softly, sitting on top of the comforter on one side of the bed and patting the seat next to him for Johnny to sit. He waits for Johnny to settle in beside him before he speaks again. 


“I think the worst part was that you were shutting me out. I didn’t know what you were thinking and that’s when my brain started to take over and just project. Because that’s what I was doing, really. Just projecting my insecurities and my past onto you. And, I feel like shit now, thinking that you felt like you couldn’t tell me what was going on, because Johnny, I would’ve never said any of that if I knew you had a reason for acting the way you were acting, and that you weren’t just slipping back into the asshole I thought I knew. I still don’t really know everything, but at least I somewhat understand, now. And, trust me, I’m here for you, and I want to listen. So, you can’t just shut me out. You can’t just leave when you get sad, or when you’re feeling insecure. I need trust, Johnny. I have been with too many people that can’t give me that trust, and it ruins me a little more every time. I need you to trust me, and I need you to talk to me, and I really need you to promise that you’ll never shut me out like you did today ever again, if you and I … If we are ever going to work, you know?


“So, I’m not saying I’m not mad at you, because if you ever pull something like that again, It’s going to just about kill me, but I am so sorry for how I was acting. I don’t give a shit how mean you were to me, the things I said were unforgivable. I want you to know, no, I need you to know, that I didn’t mean a single word that I said. I didn’t mean anything I said about Seulgi, or about her leaving you, I don’t know shit about that relationship, and it wasn’t my place to ever comment on it. And you’re not unlovable, you’re far from it. You are one of the greatest men I know, and everyone in your life loves you so much. You aren’t unworthy of love just because you lost someone you love and are still struggling because of it. You deserve to be happy, okay? And if that includes me, then we can work through this, together. And if it doesn’t? If it doesn’t, then that’s okay too, I just need you to talk to me, and tell me what you’re thinking.” 


“Taeyong,” Johnny whimpers. Johnny’s still shaking, his face streamed with tears, his hands clenched into the sheets by his sides. 


“God, T, I can’t believe. I-I just don’t understand,” Johnny says, his voice still shaky, but clearer than before. Right as Taeyong goes to ask what part he didn’t get, Johnny continues, “I was so fucking terrible to you, all day. I was horrible to you, and I hate myself for it, and you should hate me for it, too. Yes, what you said hurt me, Taeyong. We both know that, but you still deserve so much more than me. So much more than having to pick up my broken pieces and try to put them back together. You deserve everything.


“Johnny, you don’t just get to decide what I do or don’t deserve,” Taeyong sighs, frustrated. His voice softens, “If I say I want you, I mean that I want all of you. Broken pieces and all.”


Johnny shakes his head as if in disbelief as he reaches over to offer his hand up for Taeyong to take. Taeyong hesitates, but twines their fingers together.


“I don’t even know how to begin to apologize for today, Taeyong,” Johnny says, his voice scratchy, uneven. “I just wanted it all to stop. The pain, I mean. I just wanted the pain to stop. I felt so guilty, being so happy with you. I woke up, and didn’t even realize what today was. And I promised him,” Johnny squeezes Taeyong’s hand as he looks away, his voice dropping to a whisper, “And I promised him that I would never forget him. But I did, and it brought back all of the guilt and all of the terrible feelings that made me that horrible person you met, so many years ago. And I really, really, don’t want to be that fucking person anymore. That’s not who I am, that’s not the man I want to be. But, I can’t escape my past, and I can’t move on, and I think I might be a little bit broken forever. So, no, I don’t deserve you, Taeyong. I really don’t. But, God, I want you so badly. Wanting you is the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.”


Taeyong squeezes back, grateful that Johnny’s being open with him, knowing it can’t be easy to admit that he’s been struggling with something, especially after holding it all in those years. 


“I’m here, Johnny,” Taeyong whispers, fingertips dancing on the calloused lines of Johnny’s hand, “I’m here and I want you to know that you don’t need to tell me anything you don’t feel comfortable talking about. I know it’s not going to be easy, to talk about it, after all of the pain it’s caused you. But, I’m here, and you can tell me anything you want, and I’ll stay here.”


“I’m sorry I shut you out, Taeyong. I’m not going to try and give you any more excuses, I just need you to know that I’m sorry. Fuck, there’s so much I need to tell you. So much explaining I need to do, before I even let you think about forgiving me. Will you let me explain?” Johnny asks, his voice scared, as if expecting for Taeyong to say no. 


Taeyong nods slowly, knowing that he needs to hear what Johnny is going to say, that he needs to understand where all of this pain, all of this guilt is coming from, but feeling so, so incredibly scared about what Johnny is going to say, just from the basic information he knows from Donghyuck and the internet. Feeling scared he’s going to hear that there’s never going to be anyone else for Johnny, that Taeyong could never compare. 


But Taeyong wants Johnny in his life so he gives up his resolve and tries desperately to ignore all of the insecurity he’s feeling. He reaches over and pulls Johnny until he falls into Taeyong’s body, tucking him under an arm as he rubs Johnny’s back comfortingly. He can’t even imagine the pain Johnny must have gone through, the pain he still has to carry with him, the pain he’s going to have to relive just to let Taeyong in, to help Taeyong know him in ways that he hasn’t let anybody know him in years. 


Johnny seems to visibly relax as soon as Taeyong’s arms close tighter around him, some of the stress seeping out of his body as Johnny shifts his hips across the bed to get closer. 


“Okay. I’ll listen, Johnny. I’ll always listen. Tell me about him?” Taeyong asks softly, both of them knowing exactly who Taeyong is talking about. 


Silence hangs heavy in the air and Taeyong worries for a moment that he said the wrong thing. But, Johnny lets out a sigh and relaxes into the warmth coming from Taeyong’s body. Taeyong takes a deep breath, reminding himself that they can get through this.


“I don’t know where to start,” Johnny admits, turning his head to nestle into the crook of Taeyong’s neck, snuggling into the warmth of his body. 


Taeyong’s heart starts to swell at how far they’ve come, of how much more willing Johnny is to being open. Taeyong shifts, bringing his hand up from Johnny’s back to run his fingers through his hair, scratching Johnny’s scalp the way Taeyong loves, trying his best to be soothing. 


Taeyong hums, considering Johnny’s question. “The beginning?” 


Johnny nods, his cheek rubbing against Taeyong’s neck with the movement, letting a quiet, “Okay,” fall from his lips as he works up the courage to talk about him, to talk about Kun . “I think I can do that. No, I can do it. For you… for us,” Johnny says, mumbling the words into Taeyong’s skin softly, like he’s worried it will be too much if he says them any louder. 


For us, Taeyong thinks, his heart swelling at the sound of it. At the idea of him and Johnny as an ‘us.’ Taeyong shifts slightly, running his fingers through Johnny’s silky black hair as he waits for him to start, giving him the time to process how he wants to tell him the story. How he wants to tell Taeyong their story — his and Kun’s. 


“Well, we met in the summer of 2012...” Johnny begins. 

☽☽☽☽☽☽  ☾☾☾☾☾☾


JUNE 2, 2012


Johnny feels his stomach turn as he looks out the window as his mom turns into the parking lot, the red welcome banner flying on the lamppost taunting him. He hadn’t felt nervous until just now, the reality of it all sinking in, the fact that he’s about to be thrown into a fishbowl with about 10,000 other students that he doesn’t know making his palms sweat furiously. 


“Mom,” Johnny groans dramatically, rubbing his palms against his jeans, “I think we should turn around. I can’t do it.”


“Oh, John-Ah! ” His mom sighs, reaching over to ruffle his hair, “You’re going to be fine, honey. Don’t be silly.”


“It’s going to be terrible, mom. I don’t even know anyone.”


“That’s the whole point of early orientation, baby,” His mom says, turning in her seat to look behind her as she tries to back into a spot. Johnny sighs, accepting his fate. 


Just a few minutes later Johnny finds himself being corralled into a big auditorium, all of the parents siphoned off into smaller groups to learn about meal plans and financial aid, or some other topics Johnny deemed equally boring. 


However, that leaves Johnny to stand alone among the masses, no familiar faces in sight, a brochure crumpled in his sweaty hand. 


He walks through the double wide doors, following the swarm of people trying to find a seat in the packed auditorium, making his way to the back where he hopes there will be an open seat for him to sit alone and feel less terrible about his decision to go to film school 2,000 miles away from home. 


Johnny isn’t even shy, but something about knowing that he is going to be with these people for the next four years makes the prospect of introducing himself that much more daunting. 


He finds a seat a few rows from the top, sighing in relief as he sits down, checking his watch to see that the presentation is supposed to start in two minutes. 


Johnny lets his eyes slip shut for a second, bowing his head as he takes a minute to just breathe, letting the building stress seep out of his body as he prepares himself for a long day.


His peace doesn’t last long, however, his eyes flying open when he feels a tap on his shoulder. 


He looks up, his breath catching in his throat as he takes in the boy standing in front of him. He’s wearing a black long sleeve t-shirt with one of Johnny’s favorite bands on it, and he’s got dark jeans on with rips in them that Johnny’s mom would never let him wear back home, and his hair is a brighter red than Clifford the fucking big red dog’s fur, and Johnny thinks he has never seen a more beautiful human in his whole 18 years of life. 


“Hi,” the boy says softly, his hand pointing vaguely behind Johnny, “Is anyone sitting here?”

“Oh, here? N-No,” Johnny stammers, a blush reaching his cheeks, cursing himself for being so awkward as he shifts back to give the boy room to walk past him to the next seat.


“Thanks,” he says, walking past Johnny to plop down in the seat, pulling a bag of sour patch kids out of his pocket. “I didn’t mean to like wake you up, or whatever, I just don’t know anyone here and it looked like you also weren’t with anyone either.” The boy laughs, pulling out a blue candy and putting it on his tongue, humming softly as he chews on the candy. “Sour patch kid?” he offers, holding the bag out to Johnny.


“Thanks,” Johnny says, plopping a yellow one in his mouth, cringing at the sourness as it hits his tongue. “I’m Johnny, by the way. What did you say your name was, again?” Johnny asks, holding out his slightly shaking hand, ignoring the way his heart is hammering in his chest as he watches the boy’s cheeks split into the prettiest smile he’s ever seen, all white teeth and dimples. 


The boy looks down at Johnny’s outstretched hand with an odd look on his face, cherry red strands of hair falling in his eyes as he reaches over to shake his hand, the room going quiet as the speaker walks up to the stage to present.


“Oh, my name is Kun. It’s nice to meet you, Johnny,” he whispers in Johnny’s ear like a secret, turning back to face the stage as the Dean of the College introduces the speaker, the crowd erupting in applause. 


Kun, Johnny muses, tossing the name around in his head before he decides it’s the most lovely name he thinks he’s ever heard, his eyes flickering between the boy sitting beside him and the presentation for the rest of the event. 

AUGUST 13, 2012


Johnny wonders if Kun can feel how fast Johnny’s heart is beating through the pads of his fingers, held loosely in Kun’s hand. He swallows, eyes darting around as he wonders if it’s as obvious as he feels like it is that he’s so incredibly nervous. 


It’s just — 


Johnny can’t mess this up. 


After about a month of hogging the home phone too often to call Kun after dinner, and hanging out on the weekends when Kun can take the train into the city and working up the nerve to actually ask Kun on a date, they were finally here, and the night was almost over, and Johnny is going to throw himself out of a window if he doesn’t work up the nerve to just fucking kiss him. 


It was Johnny’s idea to go to the fair, a small event they always hold some time in July, just an hour out of Chicago, busy but not too busy that he would feel like people were staring at him, or paying any attention to his multiple failed attempts at flirting with Kun. 


Kun squeezes his hand and Johnny realizes that while he was drifting, completely lost in his own thoughts, the ferris wheel had gotten to the top. 


The rusty blue machine comes to a creaking stop as they finally reach the top, and Johnny’s gaze is drawn back to Kun sitting beside him, his head framed by the setting sun behind him, the pink and orange sky lighting up his red hair so it looks like it’s alive, flames dancing on his head. Johnny smiles as Kun shifts closer, laying his head on Johnny’s shoulder and kicking his feet out to rest on the bench across from them. 


Johnny wonders what he must’ve done in a past life to be lucky enough to actually be on a date with someone like Kun , who makes him laugh like nobody’s business, and who wants to be an animator, and dyed his hair bright red to piss off his step-dad enough times that now he’s become attached to the color, and responded to Johnny asking him on a date with, “Took you long enough.”


So Johnny swallows the lump of fear in his throat and takes a deep breath. “Kun?” He asks, his voice barely louder than the wind. 


“Hmm?” Kun asks, the hum of his voice against Johnny’s neck causing a shiver to run down his back despite the humid summer air hanging around them. 


“Look at me?” Johnny asks, his voice cracking.


Kun pulls back from his spot, resting his head on his hand as he smiles up at Johnny, his other hand tracing patterns on the palm of Johnny’s open hand.


A few seconds of nervous silence pass before Kun laughs softly. 


“Johnny,” Kun starts mischief in his eyes, “stop beating around the bush and just kiss me already, you big idiot.”


So Johnny kisses him, and Kun tastes like cotton candy and root beer and it’s almost sickly sweet but it’s Kun and he smiles into the kiss and Kun’s hand cups the side of Johnny’s face and suddenly Johnny is just any other 18 year old sitting at the top of a ferris wheel kissing a pretty boy, and it’s so cliche he hates himself just a little bit for it.


But then Kun laughs into his mouth and runs his hand through Johnny’s hair and he feels like he should stop making fun of the shitty rom-coms his mom loves, because if fireworks exploded behind Kun’s head right now, or it started to rain and a twenty-piece orchestra appeared and started playing Bach, it would just somehow make sense. 



“Shit,” Johnny mutters, turning down the volume as the radio turns to complete static, “I think we lost all of the stations.”


“Oh, oh my god, wait,” Kun says, his voice carrying an unlikely amount of enthusiasm for losing their only form of entertainment for who knows how long.


Johnny’s gaze flicks from the road over to the seat beside him to see the back of Kun’s head, his fingers busy tearing through the backpack at his feet. “Might I ask why?” Johnny asks suspiciously, focusing on the wheel as he drives down a narrow road. 


“I made something for you, actually, one sec,” Kun says distractedly. He makes a small noise of contentment when he finally finds it, pulling a CD out of his bag and holding it up for Johnny to see, CD in one hand, lollipop in the other. “Here we go,” Kun says. 


Johnny & Kun’s epic road trip to college, Johnny reads, written in red sharpie across the front of the CD. 


“You made that for me?” Johnny asks, ridiculously endeared. Always ridiculously endeared. 


“Maybe,” Kun responds, popping the lollipop back in his mouth, and Johnny can hear the smile in his voice, can picture a dimple popping into his right cheek. 


“You made me a mix?” Johnny asks again, a stupid grin now plastered on his face. 


“Yes, Johnny,” Kun laughs, popping the CD into Johnny’s car and changing the settings to CD player, “I made you a mix.” 


Kun sits back, propping his feet up on the dash as he reclines, the first notes of “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay seeping through the speakers. Johnny’s fingers automatically start tapping the wheel to the beat of the familiar song. 


“God, I want to kiss you so fucking bad right now,” Johnny whispers, his eyes flicking to the passenger seat briefly to see Kun smiling back at him, lollipop shoved in his cheek. 


“Next red light?” Kun asks, eyes bright with mischief. 


“Next red light,” Johnny responds, biting his bottom lip to keep the ridiculous smile threatening to break onto his face at bay, his hand finding Kun’s thigh across the console, squeezing it softly. 


Johnny wonders, then, if this is what it feels like to fall in love. 




“You’re doing great,” Taeyong whispers, wiping his thumbs under Johnny’s eyes to wipe away his tears. “I’ve got you. I’m here.”


“Sorry,” Johnny says, his words muffled from where his face is pressed into Taeyong’s shirt. “I just haven’t… I guess I haven’t talked about him in a long time.”


“It’s okay, Johnny. Look at me, c’mon,” Taeyong says, pulling softly on the ends of Johnny’s hair so he untucks his head from Taeyong’s shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere, okay? It’s gonna be okay, I promise. You’re doing so well, Johnny, you can do this.”

Johnny nods, pain in his eyes. Taeyong runs a soothing hand through his hair as Johnny continues.


OCTOBER 15, 2012


“You two disgust me, you know?” Johnny hears from across the room, causing him to laugh, leaning further back into Kun to press an obnoxiously loud kiss on the underside of his jaw. 


“Aww, Tennie, you jealous or something?” Johnny coos, looking at his roommate from across their apartment, running a possessive hand over where Kun’s arm is slung low on his waist, causing Ten to roll his eyes. 


“In your dreams, John. In. Your. Dreams,” Ten laughs, walking back into the kitchen to grab his drink from where he left it next to the fridge. 


“Oh, please,” Johnny starts, lips curling up on one side tauntingly, “you want a kiss too, do ya, Tennie?” Johnny calls after him, mischief lacing his tone. 


Ten peeps his head out of the kitchen to fake gag, pointing a finger at his mouth before he takes a sip of his drink. 


“Yeah, I’d rather die.”


“Don’t listen to him, cherry.” Johnny turns back to Kun to press a kiss on the corner of his mouth before snuggling back into his chest, his head falling in the crook of Kun’s shoulder, “He’s just pissy because Lucas won’t ask him out on a date even though they’ve been hooking up like basically all semester.”


“Okay, first of all ,” Ten says, holding up an accusatory finger in Johnny’s direction, “If I wanted to go on a date with Lucas I would ask him out myself, I’m not a little bitch. And second of all,” Ten says, his voice dropping as he winks, plopping down on the sofa a safe distance away from where Johnny and Kun are cuddled up, “don’t be mistaken, John. I’d get on my knees for Kun any day, it’s you I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.”


Kun chokes on his drink at that, his laugh a deep rumble against Johnny’s back. 


“Thanks Tennie,” Kun says, a smile evident in his voice, raising his drink in Ten’s direction to clink his bottle.


“Asshole,” Johnny grumbles in Ten’s direction.


“Play nice,” Kun scolds softly, leaning forward to press a whisper of a kiss behind Johnny’s ear.

DECEMBER 3, 2012 


“God, you are such a little fuck ,” Kun shrieks, tears streaming from his eyes as he chases Johnny down, batter-covered spatula in hand. 


Johnny laughs even harder at the sound, turning around to see Kun hot on his trail, brownie batter splattered across the bridge of his nose from where Johnny had flicked the spoon at him seconds earlier. 


Johnny runs to the living room, squeezing between the coffee table and the makeshift Christmas tree, trying his hardest not to slip, his socks barely finding traction on the wooden floors. He makes a full lap around the room before he concedes, letting Kun tackle him to the sofa as they both fall into a tangle of limbs, a cacophony of laughter drowning out the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack playing from the kitchen.  


Johnny grabs Kun’s wrists as he tries desperately to smear the batter on Johnny’s face, wrestling the spatula out of Kun’s hand easily despite the smaller’s thrashing. With one hand around Kun’s wrists, Johnny uses his other to lick the batter off of the spoon before it can get on his face, or worse, the rug. Ten would never let him hear the end of it if Johnny ruined yet another thing in their apartment. 


Kun struggles against Johnny’s grip for a few seconds more before giving up with a dramatic huff, sitting back so he’s straddling Johnny’s waist, crossing his arms over his chest with a pout playing on his lips as soon as Johnny drops his wrists. 


“I can’t stand you,” Kun groans, his chest heaving from running around the apartment. He leans forward, his palms resting on Johnny’s chest, rich brown batter threatening to drip onto Johnny’s face from where it dangles precariously off of Kun’s nose. “You got it all over me, you little monster.”


Johnny smiles up at him as he sets the spoon on the table, moving his arms around Kun’s waist to tug him closer. 


“Now, now,” Johnny scolds, a hand dipping under Kun’s sweater in search of warmth, his fingertips dancing across his skin, “You don’t mean that.”


Kun shakes his head, a smile forming on his lips despite himself, his act crumbling, “No, no. I do. I really do. I hate you, John.” Kun leans forward to press a soft kiss on Johnny’s lips, leaning back and smoothing his hands over Johnny’s flour-covered sweater. 


“Yeah, okay. I love you too, baby,” Johnny responds with a gentle smile, the words flying from his lips before he realizes he’s said them out loud. His heart warms, knowing he means it, too. He means every single word. 


He loves Kun. 


Kun’s hands still on Johnny’s chest, his body going stiff as a board. Johnny’s breath catches as he searches Kun’s eyes, looking for a sign that he shouldn’t have said anything, or that it was too soon. 


Instead, Johnny finds tears in Kun’s eyes, the lights from the Christmas tree behind them reflecting in Kun’s brown irises, making it look like he holds the entire galaxy in his gaze. 


“You mean that?” Kun asks, his voice shocked as if it would come as a surprise to anyone that Johnny loves Kun more than anything else in the world. 


Johnny nods, reaching up to swipe the remaining batter off of Kun’s nose, smoothing his other hand through his bright red hair, laughing as Kun leans into the touch. 


“So what if I do?” Johnny responds, biting his bottom lip to calm the smile threatening to burst onto his face from finally saying the words out loud. “I love you, cherry boy.”


“Say it again,” Kun whispers, leaning forward to press his forehead against Johnny’s. 


“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” Johnny whispers, pressing kisses against every inch of Kun’s face he can reach. 


Kun laughs, collapsing onto Johnny’s chest as he whispers back, “ Fuck. I love you too, Johnny.”




“He sounds wonderful,” Taeyong says, meaning every word. Anyone who could make Johnny feel so loved, make Johnny’s life so bright, leave such a big mark on him, had to have been a beautiful person inside and out. 


“Yeah,” Johnny replies, his voice soft, a small smile working onto his face, “Yeah, he really is. Sorry, was. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to using the past tense to talk about him.”


“It’s okay. I meant it though. It sounds like you two were perfect for each other,” Taeyong responds, a sad smile working onto his own face. 


Johnny pauses before continuing the story, the mood darkening slightly as he casts his eyes towards the end of the bed, away from Taeyong’s face.  


“Yeah, but, you know. We were so young, just two stupid college kids, and it wasn’t always so perfect…”



MARCH 2, 2013


“No,” Johnny says desperately, shaking his head furiously as he looks away from what Kun holds in his hands as he feels a wave of nausea rise, “Please. Please, no.”


“Can you not be selfish for one goddamn second of your life?” Kun screams, taking a step back, tears streaming down his face. 


“That’s not fucking fair,” Johnny yells back, knowing he’s going to regret yelling later, but not knowing what else to do. He feels betrayed, he feels hurt, and worst of all, he feels like Kun’s making it out to be his fault


“Do you want me to be happy, or not, Johnny?” Kun asks, his voice hitching as he looks up at Johnny, his brown eyes intense, even through the tears. 


Johnny looks away, wiping a hand furiously at his eyes. “How can you say that to me? Don’t stand there and fucking pretend like I don’t want you to get everything you ever wanted and more. You know that is not what this is about.”


“But, this is what I want, Johnny,  Kun says through gritted teeth, dropping the envelope at Johnny’s feet, the loud clap of the thick papers hitting the wooden floor causing Johnny to flinch. 


“I thought that I was what you wanted, Kun.” Johnny sobs, taking a step into Kun’s direction. Johnny realizes that he hadn’t even meant to say it, realizes that that was the reason he was so mad. 


The room is so quiet, Johnny can practically hear his own heart shattering, fissures forming, cracks that can’t be healed. 


“Gobelins is one of the best schools for animation in the entire world—” Kun starts, looking away before sniffling, realizing Johnny doesn’t want to hear that, that he probably knows, and is hurt anyway. “Maybe this isn’t working anymore,” Kun whispers, his voice raw from screaming, eyes glued to the floor. He won’t make eye contact with Johnny. 


“No, don’t say that. Please don’t say that,” Johnny whimpers, taking another step forward, about to fall to his knees and beg. He can’t lose Kun, he wouldn’t survive it. Kun is his person, the love of his life, the sun in his sky, the moon and all of the stars. Without him, Johnny would have nothing.


“I don’t know what you want me to say, Johnny,” Kun says softly, “I don’t know—”


“I just—” Johnny cuts in, finally right in front of Kun. He presses his forehead against Kun’s softly, a tear slipping from the bridge of his nose onto Kun’s cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me, baby? Why didn’t you tell me? ” Johnny whispers. 


Kun takes a shaky breath, shutting his eyes tightly as he pushes against Johnny’s forehead with his own, leaning into the touch, “Because I didn’t want this, I didn’t want to fight. I just, I—I knew you’d be so upset with me, so I couldn’t tell you. But I want it, Johnny. I want it so badly.”


“Of course I’m upset Kun. We are talking about you moving across the fucking world and you didn’t even tell me you were thinking about transfering,” Johnny says, leaning back to look into Kun’s eyes. Johnny wanders how long Kun has been thinking of transferring, of how long he’s wanted to leave California, leave Johnny. 


“Did you already accept it?” Johnny whispers, the lump returning in his throat. 


“I wanted to tell you, Johnny, I wanted so badly—” Kun whispers, eyes wide as he looks up into Johnny’s gaze. 


“Answer the question. Did. You. Accept. The. Offer. Already?” Johnny grits out, tears sliding down his cheeks.


Kun looks away first, another tear slipping from his eyes as he nods, defeat in the slump of his shoulders. 


Johnny runs a hand through his hair roughly, pulling on the ends as he tries to ground himself, as he tries not to just scream . He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what to do. What’s he supposed to do? 


“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Johnny. I’m so sorry,” Kun whispers, and Johnny breaks, pulling him tightly into his arms, tucking his flash of red hair under his chin as they sob into each other.


“I’m sorry, too,” Johnny whispers into his hair, his eyes squeezed shut as he feels Kun tremble against him. 


“I love you,” Kun whispers from where he’s tucked against Johnny’s neck, the vulnerability in his voice causing Johnny’s heart to crack a little more. “And next year from across the world, I’ll love you just as much.” 


“Promise?” Johnny whispers back, tucking Kun tighter into his body, afraid to let go. 


“Always,” Kun says, pressing a soft kiss to Johnny’s neck, “Besides,” Kun starts, smiling against Johnny’s skin, despite the tears running down his cheeks.


“Hmm?” Johnny asks, feeling his own lips starting to curl into a soft smile subconsciously. 


“Now you have an excuse to come to Paris, to visit me,” Kun says, smiling against Johnny’s neck, “The city of love, with the love of my life. Doesn’t sound bad, does it?”


Johnny laughs into Kun’s hair, blinking away the remaining tears in his eyes.


“No, no it doesn’t sound too bad.” 


They’re going to be okay. They have to be. 

OCTOBER 28, 2013


“Kun, it’s one in the morning,” Johnny whines, “And I have a test tomorrow.”


“Your test is in the afternoon,” Kun smiles, reaching over to move his piece to another space, “and I haven’t won yet.”


“Baby,” Johnny groans, laying down on Kun’s thigh with a sigh, “we’ve been playing for like three hours.”


“Well,” Kun laughs, reaching down to run his hand through Johnny’s hair, laughing when he tugs on a strand and Johnny whines, “I’m probably close to winning, then.”


“Kun,” Johnny groans, exasperated. 


“Johnny,” He whispers back in the same tone. He smiles, “It’s your turn, bub.”


Johnny sighs but sits up and rolls the dice anyway, “You can’t even technically win Monopoly, can you? It’s like made to be never-ending” Johnny complains, reaching across the board to buy one of the last properties left on the board. 


“It’s not never-ending.” Kun rolls the dice, looking at Johnny with challenge in his gaze. “It will end when I win.”


“Can I please forfeit?” Johnny asks, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout, “Pretty please? You can be the winner.”


“No, Johnny, you can’t forfeit,” Kun smiles, moving his piece and handing Johnny the dice, leaning back on his hands.


Johnny sets the dice down with a sigh, getting onto his knees to crawl towards Kun, a smirk forming on his face as he watches Kun’s eyes darken. Johnny slides onto his lap, a knee on either side of Kun’s hips as he straddles him. 


“Johnny,” Kun warns, tossing his head back slightly to look Johnny in the eye. 


“Please,” Johnny whispers, smoothing his hands over Kun’s shoulders as he sinks forward, their hips aligning. “I forfeit, you win.” Johnny smiles, his thumb finding Kun’s lips, tracing the outline of them softly as he leans forward. 


Kun meets him halfway, the taste of cheap wine on his tongue as he licks into Johnny’s mouth. The pace of the kiss is painstakingly slow, and after a drawn out minute a breathy whine escapes from Johnny’s lips, his hips rolling forwards as he sighs into Kun’s mouth. 


Kun’s hands travel up the back of Johnny’s sweater, pressing his fingers into the dips of his spine, flattening Johnny to his body as he deepens the kiss, sucking Johnny’s lower lip into his mouth. 


“Your bed?” Johnny whispers when they break apart, trailing a line of kisses down the side of Kun’s neck, strands of cherry red hair twirled in his fingers. 


“But—” Kun whimpers, drawing back, his eyes flickering to the board game discarded on the floor next to them. 


Johnny laughs, pressing a quick peck against Kun’s lips. “We can finish monopoly tomorrow, baby. Promise.” 



“Are you sure you want to keep going?” Taeyong asks gently, thumbing lightly over Johnny’s cheekbone, sweeping the wetness from under his eyes, “It’s okay if you aren’t ready, baby.”


“I’m scared,” Johnny admits, his voice shaky. 


“You don’t have to,” Taeyong responds immediately. The last thing he wants to do is make Johnny relive the worst day of his life if he’s not ready yet. “You don’t have to tell me anything you aren’t ready to talk about.”


“It’s not that. It’s just, you won’t, I know you won’t…” Johnny pauses, his hand clenching in the front of Taeyong’s shirt. 


“I won’t what, baby?” Taeyong asks, brows furrowing. 


“You won’t look at me the same, Taeyong. And I’m scared to see the look on your face when you know what happened. I’m scared, because you’re going to hate me, because I deserve it. Because I don’t deserve you, Taeyong, I don’t.”


“Johnny. Look at me.” Taeyong slinks further down the bed, laying on the pillow so he can look Johnny in the eye, “I promise I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to hate you and I won’t leave you, I’m right here.”


“You don’t understand,” Johnny cries, looking away, “It was my fault, Taeyong. Kun died and it was all my fault.”


Johnny’s crying now, his words broken by heart-shattering sobs as he recalls the worst day of his life. 


Taeyong waits silently for him to continue, knowing Johnny needs to tell him at his own pace, and pushing him won’t accomplish anything. 


“We were fighting, again,” Johnny says, his voice choking up, “It had been hard for a while, with him preparing to go to a new school the next semester so far away and all. Some days it seemed like all we did was fight. We had our good days, and I’ll never forget the memories we made those last few months, but it was hard.


“I’m sorry,” Taeyong offers, honestly. Not that it meant anything, and not that it would help, but he was.


“Yeah,” Johnny whispers, “The day. Um, the day that it happened.” He swallows hard, taking a deep breath, “We had plans to go to my parents house for dinner. It was one of those times everyone was going to be home, you know— Hyuckie, and my parents, and everyone— and it was supposed to be a sending off party of sorts, for Kun. His last week in the states before he went off to Paris.” Johnny’s voice cracks as he sniffles, the tears now streaming onto the pillow. 


“But, about a half hour before we were supposed to leave, we were at his place. And it was awful, Yong,” Johnny whispers. “It was probably the worst fight we ever had, all screaming and crying and I… I —and I just remember being blinded by rage. We were fighting about something stupid about him leaving, I don’t even remember, but it escalated quickly.” 


Johnny tenses, and Taeyong holds his breath, trying not to cry. 


“I think that was his biggest flaw, the anger. He was so hot-headed, and I just fed into it. I knew how to push his buttons, and I knew what would upset him, and I knew how to make it hurt. And I hurt him, Taeyong. He told me that I was jealous,” Johnny laughs, a humorless sound, “that I was jealous of his opportunity and that he was going to be happier without me, without California. And I blew up, because I had had enough of him telling me he’d be happier without me. So I told him, god, I feel sick even thinking about it, Fuck. I told him he didn’t deserve it, his scholarship, the school. Can you believe that? I told him he didn’t deserve his dream and then I threw his keys at his feet, and told him to drive himself, even though I knew he was upset. Even though I knew he’d been crying, and it was about to rain, and he wouldn’t be able to see. That—” Johnny sobs, his voice cracking, “That he wouldn’t be safe, driving like that.”


Taeyong tries to swallow the knot in his throat, willing the tears to go away. 


“He knew I didn’t mean it, obviously I didn’t mean it, but it hurt him nonetheless. I could hear him crying, but I didn’t look back. He said, he called after me, “I love you, I’m sorry,” and I got in my car and slammed the door and fucking drove away without saying anything else. I didn’t say it back. And I got to my parents house and I had cooled off by then, and I regretted it. Of course I did, I had just hurt someone I loved. So I sat on my parents' doorstep, and waited.” Johnny’s voice drops to a whisper. “I waited, and I waited, and he never came.”


Taeyong feels a tear drift down his cheek and sniffles, thumbing away the tears that are still pouring out of Johnny’s eyes. 


He never came , Yong,” Johnny cries, tucking his head into Taeyong’s shoulder, “and the last thing I ever said to him was ‘I don’t want to see you right now.’ That was the last thing he ever heard me say before he died, Taeyong. And I will never forgive myself for that. I was the reason he got in that car, and I was the reason he was crying, and I was the reason he didn’t see the stop sign, or the car that killed him.”


Taeyong can feel Johnny shaking in his arms as he pulls him closer, “It’s okay, It’s okay, shhh,” he whispers clutching Johnny as close to his heart as he can. “I’m here, it’s okay, let it out.”


“He’s dead, Taeyong,” Johnny sobs, his words broken. 


“I know, baby, I know,” Taeyong whispers back, “I’m so sorry. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.” Taeyong can’t imagine it, losing someone he loves. 


“And it happened again, today, Taeyong. I was so mad at myself and I took it out on you, and I’m so, so sorry. I watched you get upset and all I could think about was how I ruin every good thing I have. And, I… I—” Johnny breaks off, his voice cracking as he stumbles over his words. 


Taeyong shakes his head, pulling Johnny closer as he starts to break down again. Taeyong understands, he does. Johnny doesn’t need to say anything he’s not ready for. 


“Johnny, it’s okay, it’s okay, babe,” Taeyong whispers against his hair, “I forgive you. Kun forgives you, I know he does. He loved you so much, baby, and he knew you loved him too. You don’t need to say anything else, we can, we can talk more tomorrow. I’m not going anywhere.” 


But Johnny pulls back, shaking his head slightly, “No, I need to say this. Kun was my everything once, and losing that, losing him,” Johnny takes a shaky breath, “I didn’t know if I would ever be the same. I thought that the Johnny I was, the Johnny he loved… I thought that Johnny had died right there with him.”


“I’m glad that he didn’t,” Taeyong says honestly, a small smile pulling at his lips as he thinks about all of the memories he and Johnny made this week, of the Johnny he started to know, the Johnny he was falling in love with. 


“I’m glad he didn’t too,” Johnny says softly, “I like you, Taeyong. And it terrifies me. I just need a little more time.”


Taeyong makes a face and Johnny laughs softly, clarifying. 


“Not— not to get over him. It’s been six years, and I know he’s gone. I’m thankful for what we had together, and I miss him, of course, I miss him all the time and I think I’ll always love him, but I’ve moved on. It’s not that. It’s just —” Johnny pauses, looking away, emotion creeping back into his voice. “What I feel for you? It’s not casual, Yong. It’s big and all encompassing and, and… I like you, god I like you so, so fucking much, but it’s so god damn scary to admit that to myself. To admit that despite all my better judgement, I’m letting myself fall for someone this deeply again. It’s scary because, I think…” Johnny trails off, turning his head into Taeyong’s palm as another tear slips from the corner of his eye.


“Because what, Johnny?” Taeyong asks. Because he’s scared too. 


“Because, Taeyong. I think it would ruin me if I ever lost you. It would ruin me and I don’t think I would ever find myself again.”


“It scares me too,” Taeyong says, pressing a delicate kiss on the line between Johnny’s eyebrows. “To fall so quickly, and so deeply.”


Johnny smiles up at Taeyong, then, pressing a kiss on his forehead in turn. “It wasn’t quite so sudden, for me.” Johnny has a sheepish grin on his face and Taeyong wants to kiss him so badly it aches in every fibre of his being, but he forces the words out, because despite himself, he’s curious. 


“What’s that mean?”


“It means I think I fell for you a little bit despite it all. I think it started the second you showed up to Mark and Hyuck's place like a thousand years late covered in flour then proceeded to get so mad at me you looked like you were plotting my demise. Always so violent, my Taeyong.”


“You were mean to me,” Taeyong whines, pressing his face into Johnny’s shoulder, “How was I supposed to react? You took one look at me in my apron and thought I was some bug to squash.”


“That is not what I thought when I took one look at you in that apron,” Johnny challenges, pressing another kiss into Taeyong’s temple. 


“No?” Taeyong challenges, pulling back to raise an eyebrow. 


“No, let me tell you what really happened.”

JUNE 11, 2018 


“Donghyuck,” Johnny snaps. His tone is harsh, unforgiving. It’s a voice he rarely lets himself use around his brother, something reserved for work meetings and fights with Seulgi. “You being an ass isn’t going to help anything.”


Johnny’s tired. It’s late and the stress in the room isn’t helping the stress he was already feeling, with today being that day, on top of having a stressful day at work, and a stressful life at home, his relationship with Seulgi rockier than ever.


So, Donghyuck telling Johnny that he thinks Seulgi is “a bloodsucking, heartless viper who doesn’t actually care about you” certainly wasn’t helping.  


Hyuck sighs, his hands dropping to his sides in defeat, “I’m sorry, Johnny. I just—”


Want the best for me , I know, Hyuck.”  


“And you really think it’s her?” Hyuck asks, soft and apologetic, like he already knows Johnny’s answer is no. 


Johnny’s silence is answer enough. 


Mark comes over a second later, his voice low, quiet in a way Johnny’s not used to. 


“Donghyuck, he’s not answering.” Is what Mark says, and Johnny recognizes that tone. Johnny knows that tone because the desperation, the quiet fear that laces every syllable matches that of his own, two years ago, today. 


Johnny doesn’t miss the way Hyuck’s eyes flash towards him at the words before they slot back over to Mark, bringing him into a soft hug. 


“He’s fine,” Donghyuck says, his voice firm, no room for argument. “He’s just running late. He’s probably still working, Mark, you know how Taeyong is.”




Johnny realizes he’s heard so much about Mark’s older brother in the long time he’s known him, but never actually seen him. 


Donghyuck drags Mark away, likely to calm him down, leaving Johnny to sip on his drink and just think , something he doesn’t get much of a chance for these days. 


It’s about three hours later when Taeyong finally shows up, in a flurry of apologies and flour and vibrant hair that makes Johnny’s heart stop dead in his chest. 


Because his hair is cherry red. 


Johnny feels sick to his stomach, and the stress of the day suddenly feels like it might just overcome him if he doesn’t just go home and sleep. 


And then Taeyong is walking towards him, and Hyuck is walking away towards Mark who looks like he could murder somebody, and Johnny can’t bring himself to smile or hold out his hand, or be charming in any way, because he’s trapped in the corner of the room like a wild animal with Taeyong, and he doesn’t know if he’s still breathing anymore. 


And then Taeyong speaks, and Johnny wants to die all over again, because his voice is deep, way deeper than Johnny expected, and it’s pretty, and everything Mark has told him about Taeyong wanting to make music suddenly makes complete sense. 


“I’m Taeyong,” he says, his lips curling up into a smile. And, Johnny… Johnny doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what to think because the only thing he can think is  holy shit Taeyong is so fucking pretty. Everything about him is pretty, from his doe eyes to his pink lips to the smattering of flour on his cheek that Johnny aches to brush off with the back of his hand, to the way his red hair curls at the nape of his neck, his roots growing out in an adorable way that Seulgi would probably scoff at. 


Johnny aches and it feels dangerous. Dangerous because he’s feeling for the first time in who knows how long. 


“I know,” Johnny responds, dumbly, because his stomach hurts and he doesn’t know if he can say anything else without getting sick, and he’s wearing the suit that Seulgi gave him for his birthday that makes him look like an asshole but fits him so perfectly it’s ridiculous, and if he threw up on it she’d be so mad she’d probably order his execution, and Johnny just can’t handle another headache.


“You look nothing like how I expected,” Johnny says stupidly, because he’s an idiot and Taeyong is gorgeous and Johnny can never hold his tongue around pretty boys, and that’s what got him in the whole mess in the first place. He takes a long sip of his drink and hopes his voice doesn’t betray his thoughts, and to be fair, Taeyong doesn’t look anything like Johnny expected, not at all. Mark is all knit sweaters and styled black hair and soft words and uncontrollable laughter, and Taeyong… Taeyong is all dark brown eyes lined in black and pink lips and firetruck red hair and dangerous butterflies in his stomach and more earrings than Johnny can count, little silver flashes that sit delicately on his lobes, and God, Johnny wants him, and he hates himself for even thinking it. 


Johnny looks away. 


“I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean,” Taeyong mutters under his breath and Johnny wants to laugh because he doesn’t know either, and then it’s quiet and Johnny starts to panic because he can see out of the corner of his eyes that Taeyong is looking at him. 


Johnny latches on to the first thing he sees, which happens to be Mark, looking at him with his head cocked, probably noticing that Johnny looks like he’s seen a ghost, because maybe he has, and he says the first thing he can think of. 


“Mark was upset to hear you weren’t coming,” Johnny says quickly. The thought leaves a bad taste in his mouth because Mark hadn’t been upset, he had been scared. Mark had been terrified because Taeyong had promised him he would be here, and he hadn’t shown up, and Johnny can feel the anger rising in him at the thought, because he knows what it feels like for that promise to be broken. But he shakes the thought out of his head before he lets it ruin him, and thinks about what the fuck else he could talk about, leaving him with work, because nothing is more boring than work, and it will distract him from all of the things he’s trying not to feel. 


So he continues, "Good time management is an important virtue, you know. It’s the first thing that a lot of people look for in jobs these days,” and he smiles at the thought, having said the same words to one of his employees this morning when they had shown up late, and he looks down at Taeyong, and his smile grows just a little bit more. 


Because Taeyong looks like he wants to murder Johnny, and all Johnny can think about is how fucking cute he looks. 


Taeyong tries to interject, “I’ll have you know I have excellent time management—” But Johnny keeps going, because Taeyong keeps looking more and more mad, and Johnny wants to laugh because he hasn’t had this much fun in years, and Taeyong looks like steam is about to come out of his ears, and all Johnny wants to do is kiss him. 


Then he remembers that Mark had told him that Taeyong was a musician of some sort, a producer, or something, and Johnny takes one look at Taeyong in his apron, covered head to toe in flour and gets even more confused.  


“What is it that you do, again, that you couldn’t make time for your baby brother’s big party?” Johnny asks, realizing belatedly that it came out ruder than his mild curiosity had intended, but Taeyong’s hands were clenched into adorable little fists by his side, so Johnny thinks maybe it was worth it. 


“I currently wait tables at Frank’s, but I'm trying to go into music production,” Taeyong responds quietly, and Johnny can hear his heart shattering, because Taeyong’s eyes cast down towards with something that looks a lot like shame, and Johnny wants to pick his head back up and tell him that he believes in him, and that he’ll make it, and that he’s proud he’s working hard to support his dreams. 


Because he never got to tell Kun that he believed in him, that he wanted him to chase his dreams, and then Kun never got to accomplish his dreams because… Johnny feels his throat tighten and shakes his head.


Taeyong is not him, Johnny reminds himself, gritting his teeth. He’s dead and it’s your fault. Kun is dead. It’s not him. Get it together. 


“I see,” Johnny responds when he realizes it’s been too long to have not responded, and his voice comes out cold, flat. 


“What do you do, Johnny?” Taeyong asks, and Johnny can hear how much Taeyong had to force the words out just to be polite even though Johnny had given him no reason to be nice to him. 


“I’m an investment banker at Goldman Sachs,” and Johnny smiles at the ridiculously pompous way that sounds, and he wants to laugh, he really wants to laugh out loud, because he’s become everything a younger Johnny would have hated. 


He’s a suit, and an asshole, and he’s wearing something silky and tailored that Seulgi probably could’ve used the money to feed a small army with instead, and he has a rolex on his god damned wrist and he hates his miserable life, and — speaking of his miserable life — he wants to go home and sleep, possibly forever, because he just wants today to end. 


He spots Seulgi over Taeyong’s shoulder and calls her over and tells her with a smile on his face so fake he hates that too that they should leave. 


And Donghyuck was right, of course, because Seulgi is terrible and Johnny isn’t happy, rather the opposite, but Johnny deserves this life, because he’s the one that created it.


And Taeyong… Taeyong deserves so much more, so Johnny turns and leaves without another word.



“Seulgi…” Johnny starts, his fingertips ghosting over Taeyong’s hip as he searches for comfort, “she wasn’t—we weren’t—perfect, I know. And I know she wasn’t the best person, I know that, too. But, she saved me, Yong.”


Taeyong reaches down, twining his fingers with Johnny’s, resting their hands on the bed between them, I’m with you, I hear you. 


Johnny swipes a thumb over the back of Taeyong’s hand in a silent show of thanks and continues, “I dropped out of film school because every single hallway, every single idea, thought, memory I had in the place was plagued by the loss of Kun, and I was breaking my heart every day I was forced to live that life without him. I lost sight of my dream, Taeyong. He was my future, and when he died, nothing really mattered anymore. I started failing all of my classes and I stopped doing the things that made me happy. I stopped watching movies, stopped going out, stopped hiking, stopped seeing my friends, lost touch with Ten, my family. I was just a shell of who I used to be, and I had no purpose. I applied to school across the country, as far away as I could get, and it still wasn’t enough.


“Until… until I met Seulgi. She was sarcastic, and beautiful, and patient and she wanted something that I could give her, and never asked for more. She was never going to be the great love of my life, but she picked me up at the lowest point in my life and put me back on my feet, and I’ll always be thankful for that. I was brittle and mean, and money-driven, and I hated myself every second of every day, but I was alive, and she was there for me, through it all. She made the pain ebb, for a while, and I think I became addicted to that feeling. I could provide for her, and I could make her happy, and it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t love her like I loved Kun because we had each other and I thought that was enough. 


“Seulgi made me numb, Taeyong,” Johnny says, eyes bearing into Taeyong’s soul, “But god, you make me feel.”


“I thought you hated me,” Taeyong whispers, his heart in his throat.


“I think I did, for a while,” Johnny responds, a sad smile pulling at the corners of his lips, “But I hated myself more. I took one look at you and I wanted to give you the world, and that wasn’t something I ever honestly thought I would feel again. God, I wanted to make you mad, and I wanted to make you smile, and I was drunk on the sound of your laugh. I wanted you in a way I never let myself want Seulgi. You made me want to love again.”


“I’m not Kun,” Taeyong whispers, not trusting himself to say it any louder, the mere thought of trying to fill the Kun sized hole in Johnny’s heart making his own heart ache. “I’m never going to be him.”


“Taeyong,” Johnny whispers, scooting closer to press his forehead against Taeyong’s, pulling his body in close and wrapping him up in his arms, his warmth surrounding Taeyong. “You are more than I could ever hope for, and far more than I deserve. You are the answer to my dreams and my prayers, and my God, I want to be selfish with you. I want it all — you make me want and hope and dream and more than it all, you make me feel, god you make me feel. You make me want to be better. You make me better. I don’t want you to be Kun, because I want you to be you, unapologetically. I want you, Taeyong, nothing and nobody else.”


“Shut up,” Taeyong whispers, pressing a kiss on the corner of Johnny’s lips, running a shaking finger around the edge of Johnny’s lips, tracing the shape so he never forgets it. “You’re going to make me cry again.”


“I’m sorry,” Johnny whispers, meeting his eyes, and Taeyong feels the weight of his words. They ask for a fresh start, for the forgiveness that Taeyong gave him long ago, and they promise happiness. They promise Johnny, and that’s all Taeyong can imagine he could ever want. 


“I know,” Taeyong responds, and that’s enough. “I want you, too, Johnny.”


And that’s enough for Johnny too, because he leans forward and catches Taeyong’s lips in a kiss that heals the cracks in his heart, and soothes his soul, and dries his tears. He kisses like he’s starving, and Taeyong responds, his fingers catching in Johnny's hair, tugging his head up so it slots perfectly against his mouth. 


Taeyong whimpers, a small desperate noise from the back of his throat, and Johnny shudders, flipping them so he hovers over Taeyong, kissing him deeper, harder. Johnny tastes like coffee and salt and Taeyong wants to drown in it, wants to drown in him.


Johnny pulls back minutes later, running his hand through Taeyong’s hair as a smile starts to break out, a tiny dimple forming like a whisker high on his cheek. Taeyong wants to kiss it, so he does, because he can now. He gets drunk on the idea that he can kiss Johnny just because. 


“What?” Taeyong asks with a laugh, pressing another featherlight kiss to Johnny’s cheek. 


“I just can’t believe you actually drove Tina,” Johnny laughs, “My poor baby, she didn’t deserve that.”


“You asshole,” Taeyong laughs, pushing up on his elbows to smack Johnny’s chest, “I took excellent care of her.”


“I’m gonna have to check her for dents tomorrow morning, aren’t I?” Johnny continues, shit-eating grin only spreading.


Taeyong rolls his eyes, pushing Johnny onto his back and settling onto his chest as he yawns, sleep threatening to take over him. “You’re such a little shit. And to think I put in the effort to come and find you.”


“I’m glad you found me,” Johnny says softly, pressing a kiss on Taeyong’s forehead. 


And he was.


The promise of a better tomorrow lingers in the air as they fall asleep wrapped in each other's arms, their feelings raw and scratchy and new, but real and aching, a tentative red line of string blooming between their souls. 


And when Johnny whispers into the midnight air, “Goodnight, Taeyongie,” Taeyong smiles against his skin and whispers back, “Goodnight, Johnny.”