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“Here, I picked off the olives the way you like.”

 

It’s that sentence. That sentence, those ten stupid words, are what make Johnny go all dumb-struck in his seat while his heart does this weird inflating, glowy thing, and he thinks to himself, Oh my god, I am in love.

 

And Taeyong just stands there, holding out the plate for Johnny, eyebrow slowly arching as he clearly wonders what’s taking him so long to accept the dinner being offered. Johnny forces himself to reach out, to meet Taeyong’s eyes and give him a grateful smile as he accepts the plate. Taeyong smiles back at him, always soft around the edges despite being constructed of sharp corners and angles. Despite the fact that Johnny’s known since Day One that Taeyong is this stupidly, offensively beautiful, this is the first time Johnny’s noticed just how much it punches the air right out of his lungs.

 

Taeyong takes his leave, turning to head down the hallway to his room because he has so much work to do, he’s been complaining about his workload for a week now, and Johnny just watches him go. Watches the back of his head - his hair is so messy from a combination of being overdue for a haircut and Taeyong’s stress-habit of running his hands through it - and the back of his shoulders being swallowed by his giant t-shirt and his little legs only covered down to his mid-thighs with his boxers and, Johnny-

 

Well. Johnny is thoroughly fucked. 

 

He looks down at the plate in his lap. Two pieces of pizza, the olives picked off the slices and piled in the corner of the plate because Johnny likes olives, he just doesn’t like them on pizza. There’s a dollop of that garlic dip that Johnny likes to dunk the crust in as well, which of course there is. Because Taeyong knows all this. Because Taeyong cares. Taeyong is that type of roommate; he’s caring and he’s considerate, he notices things and stores them away in his memory to remember for next time. He cleans up his messes and he cleans up Johnny’s and he minds his own business but still asks about his day. And he knows how Johnny likes his olives picked off and shoved into the corner of his plate even though that’s kind of weird and Johnny has never told Taeyong that; Taeyong just saw him doing it himself once and has done it every pizza night since because he notices and he cares.

 

Johnny forces himself to count to ten before he starts seriously spiralling. He’s just so fucking stupid. So slow to come to conclusions - and comes to them at the most inopportune, unromantic of times.

 

Because of course he’s in love with Taeyong. It’s about damn time he got with the program.

 

-----

 

Johnny first meets Taeyong on a sunny April afternoon. The sky is bright blue and Johnny is regretting wearing a jacket, standing on the sidewalk where they agreed to meet, his americano in his left hand and Taeyong’s caramel Frappuccino in his right.

 

“Are you Johnny?”

 

He turns around to meet big brown eyes that look up at him like a puppy begging for the scraps off your plate and it takes Johnny half a second to remember to respond. He smiles, holds out the drink in his right hand as a - peace offering? Greeting gift? “How’d you guess?”

 

Taeyong takes the drink being held out to him with a curious furrow between his eyebrows. Johnny makes a mental note to curse out Yuta for not warning him that his potential roommate has a face that looks like this. He could have prepared himself. Now he has to battle with his instinct to flirt in order to remain professional and appear to be a good candidate for a roommate. A lot is riding on Taeyong’s yes or no answer to renting this place with him.

 

“Yuta just said that I couldn’t miss you,” Taeyong says before wrapping his lips around his straw in a poor attempt to hide the smirk that grows on his lips. Johnny rolls his eyes.

 

“What did Yuta really say? I can handle it.”

 

Taeyong seems to hesitate. Johnny narrows his eyes, making notes in his head on everything Taeyong, things he should know about him if he plans to live with him. First, he’s hot in a kind of unignorable way but it’s not like Johnny isn’t around hot people for a literal living, so he’ll get used to it. Second, he’s a little timid, and doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings.

 

“Um,” Taeyong says, “he said you’d be the biggest guy on the street and probably wearing ‘pretentiously distressed clothing.’ His words.”

 

Johnny looks down at his tastefully, thankyouverymuch, ripped jeans. “Yuta’s an ass but at least he’s always right.”

 

Taeyong giggles at that, takes another sip of his coffee.

 

“Is the drink fine?” Johnny asks. “I asked Yuta what coffee you’d like and he just told me to get you something sweet…”

 

“Like you said,” Taeyong says with a smile, “Yuta’s always right.”

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

“The coffee is great, thank you.”

 

Johnny nods, taking a sip of his own coffee and shoving his free hand in his jeans pocket. He rocks up on his toes, lets the sun hit his face. The two of them stand there in slightly uncomfortable silence for a minute and it makes Johnny restless. 

 

“We’re uh- just waiting on the landlord to come let us in,” he explains, stumbling over himself a little bit. He’s usually much smoother than this, but there’s a lot of pressure riding on this apartment tour. Riding on whether or not Taeyong likes him enough to agree to live with him. Sue him for being nervous.

 

Taeyong nods, squinting a little in the sunlight. “Sure. I- thanks for meeting with me, by the way. This could save me from yet another year’s lease with the world’s messiest roommate.”

 

Third, Taeyong likes a clean apartment. Duly noted.

 

Johnny shakes his head. “No, you’re the one doing me a favour. This apartment is too gorgeous and too close to my new job to pass up, but too big and too expensive to do on my own.” A large gaggle of teenage girls walk past, forcing the two of them flat up against the warm brick of the building. The group of them are laughably unsubtle about the way they look Johnny and Taeyong up and down and giggle amongst each other. Taeyong is completely oblivious as he sips his drink and looks up at Johnny with those big black eyes. “It’s- it’s honestly too convenient that Yuta happened to know someone in the market for a roommate.”

 

“New job,” Taeyong hums. “What do you do?”

 

Johnny swallows his sip of coffee, gestures down the street past Taeyong’s shoulder. “I’m a photographer for that talent agency down the street.”

 

Taeyong’s eyes widen. Fourth. Cute. “A photographer! So you take pictures of models?”

 

“Models, actors. Any clientele they want me to photograph,” Johnny shrugs. 

 

“So cool.”

 

Johnny laughs, “Really not as glamorous as it sounds.” Taeyong shrugs. “What do you do?”

 

“I, uh… make music. For other people to sing.”

 

“And you thought my job was coo-”

 

“Mr. Seo!”

 

Johnny spins around to see the landlord appearing out of thin air, interrupting them. Johnny puts on his diplomat smile, reaching out to take the landlord’s hand and give it a firm shake. “Just Johnny, please. Thanks so much for letting me come in for a second viewing.”

 

“No problem at all, sorry for being late. You must be...?”

 

Johnny steps aside and lets the two of them go through their introductions and small talk before, finally, they’re being led indoors and out of the sun.

 

In the cool air of the lobby, Johnny trails behind with Taeyong. He asks him, “So how do you know Yuta?”

 

Taeyong snorts. “Bad luck?”

 

Fifth, Johnny is certain he wants to live with him.

 

-----

 

Johnny first photographs Taeyong on a cozy September evening.

 

He steps into Taeyong’s room to ask if he has any towels he’d like washed but he gets distracted by the way the setting sunlight bleeds through the gaps in Taeyong’s blinds and just stands there and stares for a moment. The shadows the light casts are stunning and jarring, glittering particles of dust floating through the stripes of light, begging to be the perfect backdrop.

 

Taeyong gapes at him, wondering why he stopped speaking mid-sentence and is just staring, but Johnny quickly says, “I’ll be right back,” and scurries out of the room before Taeyong can respond. 

 

He grabs his favourite camera off of his bedside table - a beat up 35mm Canon he picked up from a flea market six years ago - feels it in his palms for a second, before he’s bursting back into Taeyong’s room. Taeyong looks equal parts shocked and amused by Johnny’s strange behaviour, as if Taeyong isn’t the strangest person Johnny has ever met. He smiles with a curious furrow in his brow, and Johnny just needs to capture that face on film before he dies on the spot.

 

“Let me photograph you.”

 

Taeyong laughs. He laughs as if it’s the most absurd thing he’s ever heard, that anyone would want to take a picture of him. He laughs in a way that’s sort of bashful, very modest. 

 

In the few months they’ve been roommates, they’ve become well acquainted with one another. Johnny would consider Taeyong a friend, though mostly they just politely live around each other, mind their own business, keep to themselves. They’ll hang out, occasionally, watch a movie or something. And it’s strange, for two people who run in the same circle of friends, they never spend time together beyond their front door.

 

Johnny’s been learning all the little pieces of Taeyong’s bizarre, quietly flamboyant personality. Like the way he panic-laughs when anyone ever pays attention to him.

 

“Me?” 

 

“Yeah, you!” Johnny says. “Please, I- I’ve been doing stuffy headshots for like three weeks now! I need lighting that isn’t from a bulb and I need to use film, tangible, palpable film-”

 

“Okay, okay!” Taeyong cuts him off with a giggle. “You can… take a picture of me.”

 

“Plural?” Johnny pouts. 

 

Taeyong sighs. “Yeah.”

 

“Let me just-” Johnny murmurs, reaching out to adjust Taeyong’s desk chair until he’s facing the window at just the right angle. Gentle hands adjust Taeyong’s shoulders, his neck, the tilt of his jaw.

 

“You’re a weirdo,” Taeyong says as Johnny fusses over the perfect pose, a perfect frame, for a frankly insane amount of time.

 

“Yeah. So are you. We’re creative types, you know.”

 

Taeyong’s mouth barely curls up at the corners. His cheeks flush a little under the geometric beams of light across his face. Click. Adjust. Click.

 

A crease grows between Taeyong’s brows the longer the silence between them carries on, gets heavier and thicker with every passing moment, every click of the lens. “You take pictures of models all day long,” click, “and you wanna take pictures of little old me?”

 

The clock hanging above Taeyong’s bed ticks and tocks. Johnny frowns, using a finger to tilt Taeyong’s chin up. “You talk like you’ve never seen what you look like.”

 

“I’ve seen a mirror or two in my time.”

 

Click. “Hmm,” Johnny hums, distracted. “Okay. Done.”

 

Taeyong slumps into his seat like a man relieved of all burden. Johnny can’t help but laugh. 

 

“So, uh,” Taeyong says, spinning back around in his chair to face his computer. He brings a hand up to scrub at the back of his head, mussing up all his overgrown hair. “Did you just come in to take pictures of me, or…”

 

“Oh!” Johnny exclaims, plopping down on Taeyong’s bed to laugh at himself. “I was gonna ask if you have any towels you want washed.”

 

Taeyong peers over his shoulder at Johnny and the clock ticks above Johnny’s head and Johnny realizes, in that moment, that something has shifted forever. He knows, somehow, that Taeyong is not his casual friend and amicable roommate. This is where everything changes, somehow, though Johnny’s just not sure how or why. Something just tells him that Taeyong - beautiful, strange, meticulous Taeyong - is stuck in his life for the long-haul.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Taeyong says. “I was gonna do a major laundry day tomorrow. Just leave your stuff by the washer.”

 

Johnny frowns back at Taeyong. Decides Taeyong has to become his new best friend. “Okay. Wanna go watch a movie?”

 

Taeyong looks back at his computer screen, contemplating. He always has work to do, Johnny had quickly learned, always has something to make better, make perfect. Johnny sucks in a breath, puffs his chest, gets ready to be rejected and to carry himself out the door for a lonely night on the couch without a friend, but Taeyong must sense it too - this change between them - because he’s closing all of his windows with a sigh before he turns to smile brilliantly at Johnny and says,

 

“Yeah. You choose.”

 

-----

 

That thing, that shift, proves itself different from just an inkling, a feeling. It’s blatant, clear as day, that suddenly Taeyong and Johnny were no longer housemates who got along - they’d become Taeyong-and-Johnny, Johnny-and-Taeyong in seemingly the blink of an eye.

 

It takes four months after Johnny first snapped a picture of Taeyong for him to fill a book with printed film of Taeyong. Taeyong laughing from the other end of the couch, Taeyong trying to reach the top shelf of the baking goods aisle at the supermarket, Taeyong when the light was hitting just right, Taeyong when his hair was messy from accidentally passing out on the couch on lazy Sunday afternoons. Johnny uses his favourite film camera on plenty of things - not just faces. He has photographs of buildings and lonely, hollow streets. He has photographs of beautiful meals that Taeyong whips up and photographs of stranger’s shoes as they bustle about the New York City streets. 

 

But, mostly - mostly he has photographs of Taeyong.

 

Johnny, for a living, takes photographs of people on digital cameras worth fortunes, with elaborate sets and perfect lighting. At work, he gets creative, uses his artistic vision, pushes his limits as an artist with the funds and supplies his agency can provide him with.

 

But what Johnny loves best is the simplicity of a picture taken in natural light, no matter how poor that may be, with no makeup and hair crew fixing every flaw. Something about a photo on film, a photo not staged to perfection, a photo of just a moment captured in time… it breathes life.

 

And Taeyong just so happens to be with him all the time.

 

Johnny goes almost nowhere without Taeyong. When they’re not at work they’re with each other, to the point where their friends took barely a couple weeks to learn that inviting one meant inviting both and that they speak for each other. Yuta asks them, sometimes, what changed. Neither of them have an answer.

 

They just like each other a lot. They get along really well. Once they got over the niceties of being tolerable roommates, once they broke down that wall and entered actual friendship, they’ve been unable to separate for longer than a shift at work or a good night’s sleep.

 

Johnny hasn’t brought anyone home in months, he thinks to himself, as he and Taeyong lay together in Johnny’s bed, looking up at the ceiling and talking about everything and nothing. Taeyong’s been telling him a story about a time he went camping with his family as a kid, and Johnny stopped paying close attention a while ago because Taeyong’s told him this story so many times - the way he clings onto good memories like magnets is endearing - and let his mind drift off to wherever it wished to go. Which, strangely enough, is his lack of interest in dating, right now.

 

“Taeyong,” Johnny says during a lull in conversation, “why don’t you and I ever go on dates?”

 

Taeyong turns his head to frown at him. “You- you mean with each other?”

 

“No, no!” Johnny shakes his head with a laugh. “I mean… we don’t date. I haven’t gone on a date in months and I know you haven’t either.”

 

Johnny wracks his brain, trying to think of a time Taeyong brought anyone home in the time they’ve lived together. While Johnny’s had his fair share of late nights trying to be quiet bringing home boys and girls and nonbinary folk alike, Johnny doesn’t ever remember seeing Taeyong with anyone. Honestly, Johnny doesn’t know if Taeyong even does date, or fuck, or whatever.

 

Taeyong just shrugs. “I dunno. I just haven’t… felt the need to be with anyone right now.”

 

“Are we too codependent?” Johnny asks, frown on his face, faux seriousness on level ten.

 

A laugh from Taeyong. The kind where he swallows the sound and scrunches his nose. “Yeaahhh,” he says, syllable drawn out. “I think we might be.”

 

-----

 

It’s probably been about five minutes, at this point, that Johnny has just been staring at the plate of pizza in his lap. It’s gone cold by now, sure, but Johnny can’t make himself move. His epiphany has hit him so hard he thinks it might have physically harmed him. Is he capable of moving?

 

He kicks a foot out to test it. Okay, so he is mobile. Physically, at least, but he seriously doubts he’s mentally mobile.

 

Johnny’s just- he’s stuck. Stuck sitting in this La-Z Boy and stuck staring at his pizza and stuck thinking about all the signals he’s been giving himself for months now. He thinks about every picture he’s taken of Taeyong, every phone number he’s turned down, every day that he wakes up and thinks What are Taeyong and I gonna do today? 

 

Taeyong and Johnny. Johnny and Taeyong.

 

He considers that maybe he fell for Taeyong the day they met on the sun-warmed concrete a year ago and repressed it all in order to solidify the lease on their apartment. Maybe he fell for Taeyong that very first day he immortalized Taeyong’s regrettably perfect face on film, buried in stripes of heady light and suffocating on the silent and thick air between them. Maybe there wasn’t a specific time. Maybe he didn’t fall for Taeyong, he just dipped his toes and waded in until he was knee deep, waist deep, in way over his head.

 

With a sigh, Johnny takes a bite of his lukewarm pizza. It tastes like cardboard.

 

His life is ruined. He’s ruined his own life, fucked himself over, and it’s no one’s fault but his own, by going and falling for his roommate and best friend. The one person contractually obligated to have to be around him, even if Johnny were to go and fuck everything up between them. But it’s not like Taeyong’s kindness and goodness and ethereal beauty and insurmountable talent and unwarranted modesty is any of Johnny’s fault. He’s a victim of Taeyong’s perfection.

 

His jaw freezes mid-chew, as a disastrous and unignorable thought crosses his mind. He wonders, with a hint of panic, if he should tell Taeyong.

 

“I can’t,” Johnny mumbles to himself, immediately shutting that thought down. Taeyong’s the best friend and roommate he’s ever had. He can’t go and make things awkward between them.

 

“Well-” Johnny muses, returning to chewing ridiculously slowly. Johnny’s never been particularly good at not getting what he wants; he’s stubborn and greedy and bold and never shies away from a challenge, always the first to make a move. 

 

And he wants. He yearns to earn the right to hold Taeyong’s hand and kiss him and remind him how loved he is and to-

 

He chokes on his pizza at the mental image of Taeyong flushed and dewy and sprawled out on his pale green sheets. He feels like he committed a crime, just imagining such a thing, as if that’s what he’s here for, as if that’s what he wants, when it isn’t. No, Johnny just wants to spend all his time with Taeyong and share everything with Taeyong and hold Taeyong and then another realization hits him in the chest and this time, for sure, cracks a rib or two.

 

What he wants is literally everything he already has. He just also wants to be able to kiss him sometimes.

 

Not entirely sure of what he’s doing, he climbs out of his chair and wanders down the hallway to Taeyong’s room. Johnny knocks on his door, unsurprised when he doesn’t receive a response. He’s always wearing his noise-cancelling headphones.

 

He opens the door and peeks his head in. Taeyong’s sitting at his desk, hunched over his equipment with his legs folded up at odd angles beneath him in his chair, never one to sit properly but always one to complain about his joints aching. When he notices Johnny at the door his face brightens into the most stunning sort of smile - that soft and expectant one reserved for Johnny and Johnny alone - and pushes his headphones down around his neck.

 

“Hey,” he says. Johnny aches. 

 

“Hey.”

 

Taeyong flicks his head in gesture for Johnny to come in, so he does. Taeyong spins his chair around to follow Johnny’s movement as he makes his way over to Taeyong’s bed and plops down, resting his plate on his stomach and turning his head to look at Taeyong. They smile at each other.

 

“What’s up?” Taeyong asks. He shoves the last of his pizza crust into his mouth.

 

Johnny’s chest is starting to burn with how fast his heart is beating. “Uh,” he stalls. He can’t hear anything except the repetitive thunder of his heartbeat.

 

Is this a good idea? Should he do this? Is now really the best time for this conversation?

 

“I just wanted to hang out.”

 

Coward.

 

Taeyong’s eyebrows do that thing where they tilt down like a bothered cat’s ears. He looks guilty, like he’s about to let Johnny down, and Johnny’s stomach twists at how goddamn fucking adorable he is.

 

“I have- my deadline is Friday.”

 

“I know,” Johnny stretches his limbs, forcing himself to pick up his pizza again and take a bite. He’s getting his sense of taste back, which is a good sign. “Can I just… hang in here while you work?”

 

Taeyong tilts his head to the side, smiling pretty. “Sure!” And then he turns back around to face his computer.

 

Johnny sighs quietly, finishing off his pizza and internally reprimanding himself for letting everything affect him so drastically. He’s typically so cool and collected, always the sturdiest one in the room, and here he is letting his stupid feelings impact everything he says and does, sending him into panic mode. He slides his plate onto Taeyong’s bedside table and rolls over onto his side, grabbing Taeyong’s pillow to fill the space his body curves around, listening to the sounds of Taeyong clicking away at his buttons, humming along to his melodies, mumbling his scattered thoughts to himself.

 

This isn’t anything new. They do this often, just sitting in each other’s rooms as the other works, just spending time near one another. But this time, Johnny feels vulnerable, exposed. He squeezes Taeyong’s pillow tighter.

 

He doesn’t realize he’s falling asleep until he wakes up when the room is dark. He’s under the covers and the pillow is gone and Johnny is so confused for half a second, but then he registers the weight and warmth of an arm slung over his waist, Taeyong’s tiny, bony body curled up snug against his back. He’s cold everywhere, except every inch of him that Taeyong’s body reaches. 

 

Johnny hopes so desperately that Taeyong is deep asleep, because he can’t fight the massive, shattered sigh that pushes up from his chest.

 

Taeyong, never much of a heavy sleeper and always so perceptive to everything Johnny says and does, stirs, squeezing Johnny’s waist a little tighter. It feels oddly like heartbreak. “Wh’s wrong?” Is mumbled against Johnny’s spine.

 

He finds Taeyong’s hand against his stomach with his own, gives it a reassuring squeeze. “Nothing,” he lies. “Just a sleepy sigh.”

 

There’s a pause. Johnny hopes Taeyong can’t feel the way his heart is hammering and his stomach is doing somersaults.

 

“Okay,” Taeyong says. It’s obvious Taeyong doesn’t believe him.

 

But Taeyong never pries.

 

-----

 

Taeyong meets his deadline without any hiccups.

 

Johnny comes home that Friday night, eyes exhausted from flash bulb exposure all day, and tosses his jacket into the entrance closet with barely enough time for Taeyong to throw himself at him full force, wrapping his limbs around him like a koala. 

 

“Oof,” Johnny grunts before breaking into quiet laughter. “Hello, there.”

 

Taeyong puts his feet back on the ground, backs away barely a step. Johnny curses himself for missing his touch like he’s missing a limb. “I’ve barely seen you all week.”

 

Johnny schools his expression, tries to disguise the sting he feels knowing that Taeyong’s noticed his absence. “Work’s been busy.”

 

It’s a half-truth. His actual workload remains static, but he keeps finding ways to make extra work for himself - volunteering for shoots that other photographers double-booked themselves for, making multiple edited copies, being strategically picky about the results of his shoots. He stays behind at work until he just can’t anymore, chatting with the receptionist who is young and full of spiteful, mischievous energy that makes him a seemingly endless barrel of entertainment. 

 

Johnny has been exhausting himself, working late and coming home just to collapse in bed, because ever since that night he woke up in Taeyong’s arms and couldn’t grasp at slumber again, his instinct has been to avoid seeing Taeyong at all cost.

 

“Well,” Taeyong says, spinning on his heels to make way to the kitchen. “I made my lasagna for dinner.”

 

And this is exactly why Johnny has been avoiding home. Because Taeyong does things like make Johnny’s favourites for dinner and treats it like it’s nothing, like it wasn’t intentional. But Johnny knows Taeyong, knows that everything he does, he does it with meticulous planning and every intent, and it kills him. It fucking kills Johnny, because he’s so very much in love with him and doesn’t know how to handle it.

 

“It smells amazing,” he says, because it does. Then, he smiles, because it’s so easy to do that around Taeyong. He’s missed Taeyong so much over the past four days it’s actually pathetic. It’s instinct for him to reach out and pull Taeyong in against his side, coiling his arms around Taeyong and squeezing as if he’ll fly away if he doesn’t hold on tight enough.

 

The smell of Taeyong’s shampoo, floral with a hint of cinnamon and clove, is like medicine for his ailments and poison to destroy him all at once.

 

Taeyong giggles before wiggling out of Johnny’s hold, mumbling something about having to take the lasagna out of the oven and Johnny lets him go. He watches Taeyong bustle about the kitchen with a dopey smile on his face, unable to control it, heart too full and belly too fluttery from finally being near Taeyong again. If Taeyong happens to turn around and see the obvious, lovesick expression on Johnny’s smitten face, so be it. He is beyond repair.

 

“The label loved the mini!” Taeyong announces, cutting giant slabs of lasagna and putting them onto plates for the two of them. “They raved about it. I’ve never been more relieved.”

 

“Of course they loved it,” Johnny says, accepting the plate that Taeyong hands to him. “You’re the best producer in the whole world.” There isn’t even a drop of hyperbole in Johnny’s sentence.

 

Taeyong rolls his eyes. “I’m competent.”

 

“You’re amazing.” Johnny bites down on his tongue. He needs to stop gushing. “I mean it.”

 

“Anyway!” Taeyong is quick to divert the conversation. Usually, Johnny would get offended and persistent about Taeyong’s desperation to steer the topic away from praising him, but at this point in Johnny’s pathetic gay suffering, he’s grateful. “I thought we should celebrate by getting drunk and watching our favourite movies.”

 

Johnny shoves a forkful of lasagna into his mouth and groans at the sheer deliciousness of it. “Sounds like a perfect night.”

 

Taeyong smiles his Johnny Smile. “We haven’t done that in so long.” A pause, as they both stand at the island and eat their dinner. “I’m glad you’re home. I hate when we’re both flooded with work, I miss you too much.”

 

Oh, how it burns. Johnny forces himself to smile at Taeyong, cocking an eyebrow. “We should do something about that codependency of ours.”

 

“Shut up,” Taeyong snorts with a roll of his eyes. He picks up his plate and starts sauntering over to the living room. “Grab us some beers while I set up a movie.”

 

“Yes, your majesty.”

 

They decide to make it an Edgar Wright movie night. They watch Baby Driver and they eat and they drink. They watch Hot Fuzz and they put the lasagna in the fridge and drink some more. By the time they put on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the DVD case all battered beyond recognition from overuse, their favourite movie to watch together and never fail to love it every single time, they’ve had so much beer that Johnny feels like his belly has expanded three sizes and Taeyong’s doing that thing where he sways back and forth despite the fact that he’s sitting down. 

 

And it’s so much easier like this. When the world is fuzzy around the edges, it’s so much easier to draw Taeyong into his side on the couch, curling together down to their toes as Johnny absentmindedly runs his fingers through Taeyong’s overgrown hair and they recite the movie, line-for-line. Even the line where Ramona lists all the teas in the cupboard.

 

“Here comes my favourite part!” Taeyong shouts, far too loud for two in the morning, as if either of them care, before they both burst into ugly laughter at Scott and Ramona’s kiss.

 

It always makes them do this, laugh until tears spring up in their eyes. They know it’s not that funny to anyone else but them. It’s their favourite inside joke, this funny thing that’s theirs and theirs alone, and Johnny feels like he’s filled with hot air.

 

“Why, why, is Michael Cera the world’s most awkward kisser?” Taeyong squeals with laughter, turning to face Johnny. He’s practically climbing on top of him, at this point, but Johnny is too love-drunk and too real-drunk to do anything besides drop a hand to rest on the small of Taeyong’s waist as Taeyong tries the impossible feat of getting closer. He knows his face is obvious in his want but he also doesn’t have the muscle control to stop himself. Taeyong squints at him. “What’s with the smug smile?”

 

Tongue loose and all sense of self-control long gone, Johnny says, “What makes you the expert on kissing?”

 

“Wh-” Taeyong stutters then scoffs, climbing up even further so he’s seated on Johnny’s hip, legs bracketing his torso. This is in no way how friends are supposed to sit. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“I’ve never seen you with anyone,” Johnny has completely lost it. He’s too distracted looking up at the way Taeyong gazes down at him from his vantage point. This is an angle he never gets to see. “Have you even ever kissed anyone?” he teases.

 

The movie continues, forgotten in the background. It casts flashing colours of all shades across the heights of Taeyong’s bone structure. Johnny wishes he could manifest his camera on the spot.

 

“I have kissed before, thankyouverymuch,” Taeyong says, haughty and slurred. “And I’m pretty good at it, too.”

 

“Yeah?” Somewhere in Johnny’s brain, finally, the fire alarm is pulled. As if everything hasn’t burned to ashes already. “Prove it.”

 

Something grows in the minimal space between them, something viscous and saccharine and glaringly obvious. It tastes tacky on the roof of their mouths and makes it impossible for them to look away from each other, to pull away. No, it draws them in, slowly pulling them closer, inch by inch.

 

“You think I won’t do it?” Taeyong’s voice is low. 

 

Johnny can only repeat himself. “Prove it.”

 

Then Johnny is kissing Taeyong and Taeyong is kissing Johnny and it fizzles and pops between them like the carbonation in their beer, tastes like alcohol and terrible ideas. It’s the most magnificent thing Johnny has ever experienced in his twenty-five odd years of life. 

 

All the alarm bells are diluted, submerged deep somewhere under all the alcohol swimming through Johnny, giving him the bravery to slide his hands under the hem of Taeyong’s shirt. His skin is hot at his waist, taut and smooth and Johnny can’t help it, can’t stop his hands from wandering and feeling as much as he can. All he earns in response is further enthusiasm from Taeyong, a moan that vibrates between their mouths, heavy breaths that Johnny swallows like a man starved. 

 

Johnny could die like this. In fact, he has to die like this, because while he’s foggy and dizzy he’s still startlingly aware that he’ll never be able to not have this. How could he ever separate from Taeyong, detach himself and go about life doing anything other than breathe Taeyong’s air and explore the space behind Taeyong’s teeth. Feel his skin and absorb his warmth and allow himself to drown so sweetly in this pool of Taeyong as thick as molasses.

 

Taeyong’s knobby fingers are curled around the back of Johnny’s neck, tangled in the hair at the base of his skull, pushing and pulling as if he could possibly bring Johnny in closer. He climbs further, rolls his hips against where they rest on Johnny’s torso.

 

The groan Johnny releases startles them both to part for air.

 

Apart from each other and breathing actual oxygen, they realize what they’ve done. 

 

“Fuck,” Taeyong says, eyes going wide. He stares down at Johnny with panic swirling violently behind his wide eyes and Johnny wishes with all his might that he had died minutes ago, when Taeyong would be the last thing he ever tasted.

 

Not the bitterness of absolute heartbreak.

 

“I-” Johnny starts, but he doesn’t know where to end. Everything is crashing around him. The world beneath his feet has shattered and his chest has imploded and he can’t believe what he’s done.

 

Above him is Taeyong, flush high on his cheekbones and lips scarlet red and plump with temptation, eyes blown out with both lust and mortification. This flawless creature that trusted Johnny to hold him in his arms, entirely fucking destroyed because Johnny has never heard of self-control. All he does is break every beautiful thing he gets to hold, he swears. Stomps on everything delicate and made of glass until he can’t hold it any longer without slicing his palms.

 

“I think… I’m gonna head to bed,” Taeyong says slowly, so quiet, as if any louder and the air around them will shatter into dangerous shards. “You should too. We’ve- had a lot to drink.”

 

Johnny is useless in his seat. His hands, finally, drop from Taeyong’s waist to fall lifeless at his sides. Coldness covers him like he’s been dragged a hundred feet under water. 

 

“Yeah.”

 

Taeyong hesitates a moment, face unreadable with too many emotions for Johnny to decipher. Eventually, he unwinds his hands from the nape of Johnny’s neck, slowly extracting himself from every possible inch he’s bound to Johnny - as if it’s even possible for a piece of him to never be part of Johnny again.

 

He hesitates again when he’s standing. The movie is barely more than halfway finished, still happening in perfect sequence behind Taeyong’s back. Johnny does nothing.

 

“Good night,” Taeyong says, and then he’s gone. 

 

Johnny puts his head in his hands.

 

-----

 

“Do you, like, live here now?”

 

Johnny glances up at the door, curled up on the couch in the staff lounge. Donghyuck stands at the threshold, arms crossed over his chest and eyebrows furrowed with curiosity. Johnny sighs, sitting up in his seat and putting his feet on the floor and his elbows on his knees.

 

“Unfortunately no.”

 

Donghyuck comes in the room, strutting over - because that receptionist never walks, he struts - and sitting himself down next to Johnny on the plush leather couch. “You’ve been even more mopey this week than you were last week. Tell Hyuckie what’s on your mind.”

 

Johnny just stares at Donghyuck. Over the past couple weeks of Johnny spending as much time as possible at work, he’s become closer and closer to the kid - aspiring singer, model, actor, etc., who is currently manning the front desk until his Big Break comes - who seems to spend just as much time twiddling around the office as Johnny does. Though they’re both always here for very different reasons.

 

Hyuck is here because he wants to get noticed. Johnny’s here because he wants to be forgotten. 

 

“It’s kind of a long story.”

 

“Tell me the short version, I don’t have all night.”

 

Johnny laughs, shakes his head. “I have really bad feelings for my roommate and I didn’t wanna do anything to fuck up our friendship. We have this codependency problem.”

 

“Okay, and?” Donghyuck leans back against the couch, nonchalant and honestly bored.

 

It feels sour in Johnny’s stomach. He doesn’t really like acknowledging the next part. “On Friday we got drunk and we kissed. Like kiss- kissed. Like one more minute of it and we would have been fucking kind of kissed.”

 

“Hmm,” Donghyuck says, closing his eyes. “I’m just trying to imagine the situation. Is your roommate hot?”

 

Johnny slaps Donghyuck in the arm, laughing as he rolls his eyes. “Very. But don’t be gross.”

 

When Donghyuck opens his eyes, he’s rolling them. “Anyway, you’re so dumb, John. Go home, kiss him again.”

 

Johnny chokes on nothing, splutters for a bit. He’s afraid his little friend is missing the point entirely. “No? I made a mistake and now I can never look at his face again.”

 

Donghyuck just narrows his eyes.

 

“Look,” Johnny sighs. “It’s- it’s complicated. You should have seen his face, he was horrified. He saw right through me and he couldn’t get away fast enough, running off to his room and saying we had too much to drink. We spent all weekend skirting around each other, avoiding each other at all cost. I… I fucked it all up.”

 

“You fucked it all up,” Donghyuck deadpans. Then, he sighs, over dramatic and full of exasperation. “I guess we can’t all be pretty and smart.”

 

“You think I’m pretty?”

 

Donghyuck winks in response, making Johnny burst into belly laughter. It feels good.

 

“Go home, Johnny,” Hyuck eventually says, getting up to saunter out the door. “Talk to your roommate. At the very least just apologize and stop avoiding each other, no?”

 

Donghyuck is already long gone before Johnny can admit that he’s right. Thank god.

 

But just because Donghyuck is right doesn’t mean Johnny is particularly happy about it. He understands that a conversation is to be had, that he has to apologize, clear the air, so they can put it behind them and get back to normal and wait until Johnny’s feelings go away because if he hopes hard enough and wishes every single day, surely, he’ll get over this. Surely. All he has to do is talk to Taeyong. All he has to do is go home, have an adult conversation, and move on.

 

Yet he’s stuck in place.

 

He still has a couple things to wrap up before he can head home for the night and he finds himself taking his sweet time getting it all done. He’s not doing it intentionally, just instinctually. It isn’t until Donghyuck finds him, sighing with an, “I’m leaving and I’m locking up, so you’re either sleeping here or you’re leaving with me,” that Johnny admits defeat and faces his fears. He packs up all his shit with a slouch in his shoulders. Donghyuck starts tapping his foot.

 

The night is cool, and it shocks Johnny out of his headspace of sorrow and self-pity. The walk home is always short, but at this point Johnny just can’t wait to get home and find Taeyong and tell him he’s sorry.

 

He can’t keep avoiding him like this. When he misses Taeyong, it honest to God feels like he’s missing a part of himself.

 

Johnny didn’t realize just how late he’s stayed back at the office until he’s coming home to a cold, dark, quiet apartment. He tiptoes on light feet, hanging up his jacket in the entry closet and putting his bag away in his room, before he tiptoes over to Taeyong’s room. The hardwood is cold beneath his toes.

 

He knocks lightly, doesn’t receive a response as always. Johnny cracks the door open with an apology on the tip of his tongue, except Taeyong isn’t sitting at his desk with his headphones on and his chin atop his knees. 

 

No, Taeyong is curled up under the covers of his bed, just a lump barely visible in the scarce lighting the moon provides through the window, the sliver of yellow light that bleeds in with the crack in the door. 

 

“Taeyong?” Johnny says. Taeyong, always a light sleeper, always attentive to everything Johnny says and does.

 

He doesn’t get a response.

 

He’s just sleeping, Johnny tells himself, over and over, as he gently shuts Taeyong’s door and turns back to his own, lonely room.

 

Even though he knows fully well that Taeyong has never been able to sleep through the sound of Johnny’s voice.

 

-----

 

The next time Johnny sees Taeyong, it’s Thursday evening. They’d spent all week just missing each other - though something tells Johnny it’s no coincidence. For the past few days they would be out the door before the other is out of bed and vice versa, and Johnny’s getting restless, antsy. He just wants to talk, to put this all behind them - or maybe it can be the start of something new - but Taeyong can’t seem to be able to stay in the same place as him for more than a good night's sleep before he’s sprinting, long gone before Johnny can even reach out to grab the back of his shirt. 

 

His last shoot of the day goes unexpectedly well, giving him substantial results in half the time allotted. Normally, over the past couple weeks, Johnny would find every excuse in the book to stay behind, away from home as long as possible. Except now - now he’s decided he needs to confront Taeyong no matter how painful it may be. 

 

So he decides to go home early and wait. 

 

He heats himself up some leftovers and sits on the couch, munching his dinner and staring at his fuzzy reflection in the black screen of the television. He feels this strange combination of no-thoughts-head-empty and many-thoughts-head-noisy, so noisy to the point where it’s just white noise whirring away inside his head. He’s so anxious. He’s so fucking anxious.

 

It doesn’t take too long for Taeyong to get home, the clanking of Taeyong’s abundance of keychains audible down the hall and through the door. Johnny goes stock still in his seat, waiting. Waiting.

 

When Taeyong comes in it’s obvious he doesn’t realize anyone else is home. No lights are on yet, as there’s still plenty of sunlight out, and Johnny hasn’t been home at this time in a couple weeks. So Taeyong hums to himself - some song he must be working on - the way he does when he thinks no one is listening, and Johnny can catch a glimpse of him from around the corner bending down to untie his shoes.

 

Taeyong’s humming comes to an abrupt stop. So he must have seen Johnny’s shoes by the door.

 

Johnny counts to ten in his head, waits for Taeyong’s next move. It takes him a startling amount of time to untie his shoes, very clearly stalling. Thinking.

 

Johnny sighs. “Hey, Tae,” he calls out. 

 

Taeyong emerges from the entryway on gentle feet. His eyebrows are doing that sad-kitty thing, his eyes are wide. He looks like he does not want to be there. “You’re- home awfully early.”

 

“Yeah, I-” he pauses to shift in his seat on the couch, turn himself more toward where Taeyong stands nervously behind the arm of the couch. “I was able to finish up early.”

 

“Cool.” Taeyong’s knuckles curl up and twist in the hem of his shirt. Johnny watches the way he rocks up on his toes, tugs nervously at the fabric of his shirt. He’s itching to escape.

 

Johnny doesn’t let him. “I actually was hoping we could talk.”

 

“Um,” Taeyong says. He visibly swallows. “What about?”

 

“Please,” Jonny scoffs with a smile and a roll of his eyes. He pats the spot on the couch next to him, puts on his most welcoming, open smile. The one that always gets Taeyong to do what he asks. “Let’s not pretend we don’t know what’s going on. We can’t keep avoiding each other like this.”

 

Taeyong eyes the cushion next to Johnny’s hip. He doesn’t, however, move from where he stands. “It- it’s just kinda awkward, you know?”

 

Curling his fists in his lap, Johnny forces his smile even wider. “Yeah, duh. We really- we really went for it, huh?”

 

The flush on Taeyong’s cheeks is so vibrant and so adorable it physically aches in Johnny’s chest. Taeyong covers his face with his hands. His knuckles are flushed too. “Stop, I know, I- Christ I don’t ever want to acknowledge it again.”

 

Johnny’s stomach plummets. He thinks he just felt a piece of him die. “Yeah, it was a mistake,” he says with a smile. He hopes the heartbreak saturating his tongue isn’t audible in his words. “I wanted to apologize. So we can stop acting like strangers.”

 

His heart hurts so bad. He did not want to feel this way, he did not expect to feel this way. Johnny hadn’t expected Taeyong to miraculously confess, he had not expected them to end up kissing and making up and living happily ever after. He was prepared for this, for an amicable and awkward apology and for them to move on. Yet he feels like he reached inside himself and tore out the very best of him and crushed it beneath his feet. He feels like he could melt into this couch and cease to exist. 

 

He smiles up at Taeyong and he yearns. 

 

Taeyong’s hands fall from his face to his sides. He takes a deep breath. “No need. No need to apologize.” His voice is small. “We both did it and we both had a lot to drink and it’s nothing and we should just forget it ever happened and we should just move on becauseImissyousomuchand-”

 

“Taeyong!” Johnny cuts in, his laugh genuine. “Slow down.”

 

Taeyong halts mid-sentence. He takes a big, centering breath. “It’s fine,” he says and he smiles. If Johnny didn’t know him so well, he wouldn’t notice how the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes the way this soft Johnny-smile normally does. “We’re fine.”

 

There’s a shatter somewhere in Johnny’s chest. “We’re fine.”

 

A long moment drags on where Johnny just sits on the couch and Taeyong just stands multiple feet away and neither of them say anything. It makes Johnny’s nerves on every inch of his skin begin to tingle and ache with the knowledge that there is so much left unsaid between them but neither of them are capable of saying another word. Johnny can see it, the words pushing at the back of Taeyong’s teeth and threatening to breach their way past his lips - yet he says nothing. So Johnny doesn’t either.

 

Johnny is burning from the inside out with the need to just get it all off his chest, tell Taeyong he loves him, he loves him, HE LOVES HIM, but Taeyong looks like he’s toeing at the edge of a cliff. Anxious and vulnerable and scared of what might come next.

 

So, instead, Johnny just smiles and says, “Can we hang out now? I miss my best friend.”

 

Taeyong’s smile just brushes his eyes, this time. “Yeah, of course,” he says before turning to head to his room, probably to change into PJs. “You’re gonna be seeing a lot of me anyway,” Taeyong calls from down the hall. When he emerges again he’s pulling his favourite eight-sizes-too-big hoodie over his head. “I’m gonna be working from home a lot the next little while.”

 

“How come?” Johnny asks, flipping through Netflix already.

 

Taeyong sits himself down at the opposite end of the couch from Johnny. “I, uh- I’ve got a pretty big project I just signed to but everyone else at the studio has tons of free time right now. Lots of noise and collaborating and fun happening. You know me, I need-”

 

“Peace and quiet,” Johnny cuts in. He smiles to himself, proud to know Taeyong well enough that Taeyong acknowledges it. As if it wasn’t guaranteed considering their friendship and all. Johnny’s just desperate for validation at this point. “Yeah, I know.”

 

They decide to pick back up on their third re-watch of The Office and settle in and order Italian for dinner. It’s about halfway through their first episode of the night that Johnny notices just how far away Taeyong is. He’s only a couch-length away but for them… it’s wrong. Johnny doesn't remember the last time pre-incident that they didn’t spend their TV nights all curled up together under their fuzzy throw blanket. 

 

And he wants to reach out. His muscles physically ache to reach out, to pull Taeyong in. But Taeyong, whether intentionally or not, has set his boundaries loud and clear, his knees curled up under him and his waist tilted away from Johnny. He’s put up a glass wall, between them, like the wall that was there before they decided they were better than roommates - they were friends. 

 

Johnny hopes so, so desperately that they really can be truly, undeniably fine.

 

-----

 

The sky is clouding over, gray and icky, on the following Saturday afternoon when Johnny walks the few blocks over to their group’s favourite little cafe, tucked into a corner between two massive office buildings. Cozy and local and source of the most delicious espresso in all of New York City, and there’s always that little table by the window, surrounded by potted plants, that seems to almost be reserved for Johnny and Taeyong and their circle of friends.

 

Today, Doyoung, Mark, and Yuta wait for him at the table. Johnny is always a little bit late, if he doesn’t have Taeyong - ever so punctual - rushing him out the door.

 

He orders his americano and a bagel with the works and then wanders over to his friends to take one of the vacant seats.

 

“Hey,” he says with a smile, shrugging his jacket off his shoulders to hang off the back of the chair.

 

He doesn’t even get a hello back. “What’s going on with Taeyong?” Doyoung asks.

 

Johnny blinks at his friends from where he sits across from them. Or beside them. The table is a circle. 

 

“What makes you think there’s something going on with Taeyong?” The rising anxiety tastes tacky on his tongue. He wonders if it inhibits his speech or if that’s just his own ears playing tricks on him.

 

Doyoung only frowns. Mark looks effectively confused - but that’s not exactly out of the ordinary for him. Yuta is the one that sighs and says, “You invited us out but you didn’t bring Taeyong. Is he sick?”

 

The anxiety under his tongue morphs into guilt. It’s arguably worse. “No, he’s not sick.”

 

Mark takes a bite off his muffin with a frown. “Then where is he?”

 

Johnny feels like he’s been thrown into a dark, concrete room with one single, invasive light shining down on his face. He can feel it, the way his friends read and analyze the line of his shoulders, the tension in his forehead. There’s a moment of reprieve, when the barista comes and drops Johnny’s coffee and sandwich on the table, but then he goes back to being observed and picked apart and put under scrutiny.

 

In reality, his friends are just waiting for him to respond, nothing more. Yet he feels like he’s been cut wide open.

 

He kinda really needs to talk about his issues.

 

“I- didn’t invite him.”

 

Doyoung squints. “Why.” It’s not a question. 

 

Johnny buys himself time by taking a sip of his coffee and a bite of his bagel. He wishes the curling and churning and rancidness that’s taken over his body didn’t make his food taste like glue. He clears his throat. “I- well, you see… We-... Actually-”

 

“Oh my god,” Yuta says. “Oh my god!” he says again, louder. 

 

Johnny puts his elbows in the table and his head in his hands. 

 

“You idiots! You fucking imbeciles!”

 

“Yuta-”

 

“No, Doyoung, it’s fine,” Johnny says with a sigh. He lifts his head and offers his friends a sad, self-deprecating smile. “I am both an idiot and an imbecile. A bad best friend and roommate.”

 

“Umm,” Mark says, making everyone turn to look at him. “Probably not the best time, but… actually I have no idea what’s going on but- dude, when’s the last time you washed your hair?”

 

Johnny just laughs. It’s probably not the appropriate response, but honestly he’s been nothing but a mess the past little while. He’s skipping showers and losing sleep and making a mess, like a fucking garbage hurricane, everywhere he goes. He’s so… bothered by everything going on with Taeyong - the walls that have been reinforced and the cold set of Taeyong’s jaw and the inability to just go back to the way things used to be. What happened has proven irreversible and Johnny could cry, right here right now, at the thought that he can never have that perfect and special and spectacular friendship he and Taeyong once had again. It’s gone forever.

 

No matter how much Taeyong smiles politely and says that they’re fine.

 

“You dumbasses finally realized, didn’t you?” Yuta says. Doyoung shoots him a glare for his repeated offence of calling Johnny stupid. As if Johnny isn’t remarkably self-aware.

 

“What is going on?” Mark whispers to himself.

 

“Dumbass, singular. Not plural,” Johnny says. He takes a long drag of his coffee. Oh, sweet, sweet caffeine. “I did realize, because I’m so stupid and I fuck everything up all the time-”

 

“Whoa, whoa!” Mark says, reaching across the table to grab Johnny’s forearm. “What are you beating yourself up over, man?”

 

Johnny levels Mark with his gaze. “I realized I’m in love with Taeyong and then I kissed him when we were drunk and now he’s tiptoeing around me like a frightened cat in a strange home.”

 

He’s really gotta stop comparing Taeyong to a cat.

 

Mark just stares at Johnny, sparkly brown eyes blown wide. From the corner of his eye, Johnny sees Doyoung take a tentative, contemplative sip of his latte, mapping out his next move. 

 

“Oh,” is all Mark says.

 

Doyoung clears his throat, kicking into Mom Mode. “How you of all people managed to fall in love with that little alien man is beyond me-”

 

“Hey!”

 

“But, honestly, Johnny. Why do you think Taeyong is afraid of you?”

 

Johnny just frowns at Doyoung, a little offended. He glances at Yuta for help, but Yuta could not physically look less interested, and it’s not like Mark is any help, he’s still just catching up. Eventually, he relents, sighing and slumping into his seat. 

 

“I dunno,” Johnny mumbles. “Maybe because I made my feelings very clear that he does not reciprocate so he feels bad and also I took advantage of him and he’s scared if he comes anywhere near me I’ll just go feral all over again.”

 

Yuta drops his forehead onto the table with an audible thunk. “I can’t do this.”

 

Doyoung takes a deep breath through his nose. “Have you talked to him about it?”

 

Johnny’s mouth is stale and his chest hurts but at least his shoulders feel a little lighter. He figures this is what friends are for - sharing the burden. He nods, sad to be thinking about it all. As if it’s not already all he thinks about.

 

“Yeah, I mean- I apologized for the kiss and so did he. He says everything is fine but… all he does is stress clean and keeps acting… extra polite. Like we’re brand new roommates all over again.” Like he’s trying too hard to make Johnny tolerate his presence. Johnny wishes he would understand that these niceties are unnecessary.

 

“So you told him how you feel?” Mark asks, voice soft with awe. The sparkle in his eye actually makes Johnny smile all fond.

 

“Well, not so much with words,” he shrugs. “I think it was abundantly clear with how intense that kiss was-”

 

“The kiss you shared while you were drunk and then apologized for,” Doyoung deadpans. Now, it’s his turn to put his forehead on the table. “Yuta.”

 

“Yeah,” Yuta says, lifting his head up and staring actual real life daggers at Johnny. “Wanna know a little secret of mine?”

 

Johnny will never understand why and how Yuta goes around making everything sound so cryptic and life altering. All he can do is nervously nod.

 

“When the both of you were hunting for a roommate I thought to myself ‘hmm, this can’t be any more perfect.’ You know why?”

 

Johnny gulps. “Why?”

 

“Because you kept pretending that casual dating was fine, even though you’re an obnoxious romantic who craves monogamy, and Taeyong was my single hot friend who refused to admit that he was lonely. You’re literally a perfect match.”

 

Johnny honestly feels a little betrayed. “I’m not obno-”

 

“So for the love of all that’s good, Johnny, do us all a favour and tell him how you feel. With words.”

 

Johnny stares at Yuta and Yuta stares at Johnny. Johnny can also feel Doyoung and Mark staring at him and it makes his skin itch. He understands that they all mean well, but don’t they know that Johnny is a coward?

 

Yuta sighs, exhausted. “Taeyong is about as oblivious as it gets. You need to use your words.”

 

“But-” Johnny stops himself to stall by taking three enormous bites of his bagel. It takes him a heinous amount of time to chew. “Then I’ll really- what… what am I supposed to do when he rejects me? Die my whole life?”

 

“Dude,” says Mark.

 

“Just do it, John,” Doyoung says with a sneer. “Otherwise you’ll really die your whole life every time Taeyong smiles at you and you lose three days of sleep wondering if he likes you.”

 

Fair enough.

 

Johnny huffs, defeated, and scarfs down the rest of his bagel.

 

-----

 

The apartment, when Johnny walks in about a half hour later, smells like bleach and lemon scented floor cleaner. Johnny halts at the door, looking down at the freshly polished hardwood beyond the entrance mat, and toes off his shoes before he can ruin Taeyong’s hard work. He knows how much Taeyong hates that, even if Taeyong only ever sighs softly and says it’s fine.

 

He does that about a lot of things, it seems.

 

When Johnny rounds the corner into the hallway, he sees Taeyong coming out of their tiny laundry room, hair all ruffled and sticking up at odd angles, clad in his signature giant t-shirt and boxers, carrying a basket of clean laundry. He looks so ridiculously soft Johnny could cry. He swallows down his feelings before Taeyong spooks.

 

“Hey,” Johnny says.

 

Taeyong looks up at him, smiling amicably as he waddles past Johnny to bring the basket into the living room. Johnny notices they’re all his clothes. “Hey,” Taeyong huffs as he puts the basket on the ground. “Was wondering when you’d get back. Did you get caught in the rain on your- on your walk?”

 

“No,” Johnny says, watching Taeyong pull a pair of jeans out of the basket to start folding. “No rain yet.”

 

Taeyong nods. There’s a beat of awkward silence, neither of them really sure what to say or do next. Johnny is so sick of being scared to talk to Taeyong.

 

“Why are-”

 

“You know-”

 

They both stop and wait for the other to continue. Neither of them do.

 

Johnny laughs, shaking his head. “You go first.”

 

“No, you,” Taeyong says, voice quiet, eyes wide. “Please.”

 

Johnny’s smile comes easily. What is it about Taeyong, always being the best, cutest, sweetest person Johnny knows? “I was just gonna ask why you’re doing my laundry.”

 

“Oh,” Taeyong looks up at him, folding his third pair of pants. His eyes are wide and dark and perfect for Johnny to stare at for the rest of forever. “I’ve got nothing better to do, working from home and all. You’ve been so busy at work, I- I see how it’s wearing you down.”

 

Johnny has to clench his fists at his side to stop himself from screaming That’s not it! That’s not what’s wearing me down at all, Taeyong! Instead, he just releases a slow breath, able to mutter out a, “Thanks. You really don’t have to.”

 

“Least I could do.”

 

There it is, again. That brand of politeness you use with strangers. The type of politeness you use at job interviews and with the cashier at the grocery store and with your brand new roommate who you still don’t know all that well. 

 

And it makes Johnny feel so guilty. Knowing that Taeyong is constantly cleaning up his messes, cooking him his favourite meals, doing his laundry, and never complaining, not once - It makes Johnny feel like a god awful roommate, like a horrendous friend. Taeyong does nothing but take care of him, and Johnny does nothing but give him more work to do.

 

He figures, perhaps, that it’s always been that way. Taeyong is a caretaker, it’s in his bones, and Johnny had been functioning just fine until Taeyong came along and took care of him better than Johnny has ever taken care of himself. 

 

Johnny’s just about to offer Taeyong to help when he remembers, “Oh, what were you going to say?”

 

Taeyong very visibly flushes before ducking his head down, practically putting his nose in the laundry he’s folding. Johnny steps in to grab a sweater out of the basket and start folding.

 

“Um,” Taeyong says, “I was just gonna say… like, if you- you don’t have to keep it a secret, if you’re going on dates.”

 

Johnny feels his mouth flapping about. “Wh- what? I’m not-”

 

“Like, you don’t have to tell me you’re going on walks. You smell like Little Moon.” 

 

The coffee shop. Of course Taeyong can smell it on him. “I’m not- Taeyong, I’m not going on dates.”

 

“Okay, well,” Taeyong is so red it’s cute, but Johnny forces himself not to comment on it, “Just know, if you are, you don’t- have to keep it a secret. You can tell me.”

 

Ouch. Ouch. “Of course.” Johnny’s chest burns from the inside and he feels like he’s plummeting down the world’s deepest, darkest well. How could Taeyong ever think that Johnny- 

 

He’s given him no reason to believe that Johnny’s devoted to him. He gets that now.

 

Taeyong smiles nervously up at Johnny, taking the folded sweater that’s just been sitting in Johnny’s immobile hands for a good minute now. Johnny watches him, all his harsh angles and soft expressions and fuzzy hair and slender frame. There’s something pushing up from Johnny’s throat, a confession or a question or maybe it’s just a desperation for air. Not this strange suffocation he’s been doing ever since he stepped into the apartment.

 

Can he tell Taeyong? He knows his friends are right - Taeyong is unfairly modest, and oblivious by catalyst. He needed things spelled out for him. And this is the longest Taeyong has been able to stay in the same room as him without fidgeting his way out the door in the last few weeks so it could very well be that this is Johnny’s chance to just get it off his chest and let Taeyong decide what he wants to do with that knowledge.

 

He opens his mouth. He is painfully aware of the way that Taeyong’s eyes drop to watch it. “Tae,” he says, and then regrets it. His voice feels like a bundle of needles climbing out of his throat. “I- do you…”

 

Taeyong looks back up to meet his eyes. Johnny feels his life force drain out of him.

 

“Do you want to hang out tonight, me and you? We can- we can go out, or we can stay in, or,” Johnny says, desperate. And disappointed in himself. “I miss you, you know.”

 

A whole series of emotions dance across Taeyong’s face, all far too quickly for Johnny to be able to read. The expression he does settle on, in the end, is some combination of disappointed and guilty. Johnny doesn’t know why it breaks his heart so much to see it,

 

“I would love to, but,” Taeyong says, sighs. “I’ve been putting off work all day. I really gotta get a track under my belt before I can- you know.”

 

“Say no more,” Johnny says, taking the shirt out of Taeyong’s hand before he can fold it. “Go, do some work. I’ll finish up here.”

 

Taeyong shakes his head. “No, I was planning to make something for dinner before holing myself away in my room.”

 

“You have work to do,” Johnny says, grabbing Taeyong by the shoulders and turning him toward the hallway. “I can take care of dinner.”

 

“Johnny!” Taeyong says with an exasperated laugh, spinning around to look at him incredulously. “I was planning to make you dinner before leaving you alone!”

 

“You’ve cleaned the entire apartment wall-to-wall and you did my laundry!” Johnny says, unable to fight the smile from growing on his face despite feeling frustrated. Taeyong is just so goddamn stubborn. “You’ve done enough for me, today, you don’t owe me any favours.”

 

“They’re not favours!” Taeyong pushes lightly at Johnny’s chest. There’s a flame of desperation, earnestness in his eyes. “Just- let me make you dinner. I want to,” he says, voice quiet yet heavy with seriousness. “Please.”

 

Johnny just stands there, his head ducked down so he can hold eye contact with Taeyong, frowning at the urgency in Taeyong’s fervent gaze. He doesn’t get it. He can read it, the way Taeyong’s black eyes are screaming at him to understand, to catch what he’s trying to say, but Johnny just cannot comprehend it. He can’t fathom why Taeyong is so determined to keep doing things for him, even more than he always has, constantly bending over backwards to make Johnny comfortable.

 

It feels like he’s begging for forgiveness, one act of kindness at a time. It’s killing Johnny that Taeyong thinks he has something to be forgiven for.

 

Instead of saying anything, though, Johnny just sighs with a, “What were you planning on making?”

 

“Just a stir-fry,” Taeyong says, his expression melting into something softer now that he knows he’s won. “Nothing fancy.”

 

Johnny bites down on his lip. “Get out the rice cooker and I’ll start chopping up some veggies?”

 

“Fine,” Taeyong blinks, smiles. Compromise. “Sounds good to me.”

 

-----

 

Johnny’s favourite room in the entire studio is the dark room. It’s rarely occupied, what with the agency pushing for the efficiency of digital, and the perfect place for Johnny to spend some time alone with his thoughts and his film. 

 

It’s been too long since Johnny last had the chance to come in and develop some of his film. The film he’s developing is at least a month old, considering how busy he’s been making himself with work, he hasn’t had the time to spend an hour or so alone in his little safe haven, processing his film and watching the images come to life.

 

He’s just finished hanging up a piece to dry when the phone hanging by the door rings, practically making Johnny jump out of his skin. 

 

“Christ,” he mutters under his breath, wiping his hands on his jeans as he walks over to pick up the phone. “Hello?”

 

It’s Donghyuck on the other end. “Hey, Johnny,” he sing-songs. “There’s a ridiculously beautiful man standing in my lobby saying he’s here for you.”

 

“Ridiculously beautiful, huh?” Johnny says, leaning back against the wall and rubbing his hand over his brow.

 

“Offensively.”

 

“That would be Taeyong. You can send him in.”

 

“Oh!” Donghyuck exclaims. “Is this the roommate?”

 

There’s not enough oxygen in the world for the size of sigh Johnny wants to let out. “Yes. Please just send him in, Hyuck.”

 

“Your roommate looks like that and it took you a year to realize you wanna hit that?”

 

“Goodbye, Donghyuck!” Johnny says, hanging up. 

 

He goes back to his task, soaking the film with slightly shaking hands. He’s nervous - why is he nervous? He sees Taeyong every day of his life.

 

It isn’t long until Johnny can hear footsteps approaching and the distinct sound of Donghyuck’s voice. “The dark room is just in here,” he’s saying. “Please close the door quickly behind you, Johnny gets pissy when you let too much light in.”

 

Johnny smiles down at his hands at work as he shakes his head.

 

“Thanks, uh, Donghyuck,” Taeyong can be heard through the door. Johnny holds his breath as he listens to Donghyuck walk away. It takes a second for the metallic sound of the door handle turning.

 

Taeyong is quick to shut the door behind himself, as advised. Johnny rinses the piece of film he’s working on off, grabs a clothespin to pin it up.

 

“Hey,” Taeyong says. “Dark in here.”

 

Johnny laughs. “That’s usually the intention, when making a dark room.”

 

Taeyong steps in further, closer. Even in the darkness, his smile blinds. Johnny can’t help but stare, the dim, red lighting casting drastic shadows, carving out Taeyong’s perfect bone structure with finite detail, transforming him into some dark, two-dimensional figure. Johnny wishes he had his camera loaded with film.

 

Beneath the smell of chemicals, Johnny catches the scent of something delicious and garlicky. He cocks his head to the side. “Did you bring food?”

 

Taeyong holds up a plastic bag full of Tupperware containers, his eyes literally shimmering despite the low light. “I brought you some lunch!”

 

“Taeyong!” Johnny says with an exasperated chuckle. He reaches out to take the bag from Taeyong and when their hands meet they linger. Much longer than necessary. Johnny clears his throat. “Wh-why are you bringing me lunch at my work?”

 

“Is it so weird for me to want to take care of you?” Taeyong asks, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I made some extras when I made lunch. Figured I’d finally come and see what your work is all about.”

 

“Ah,” Johnny says, finding a shelf where his food will be safe for now. “This isn’t exactly my work.”

 

“No, that receptionist,” Taeyong says, distracted as he squints at the developing film hanging in a line, “he said this is your happy place.”

 

Johnny watches Taeyong wander around the room, squinting at the pieces of film and observing them, seeing the process for himself. “Yeah. It’s been way too long since I’ve been able to come in here and develop some pictures.”

 

Taeyong stops in front of one photo, feet firmly on the ground. Johnny knows which one it is - the one he took of Taeyong sitting on the kitchen counter, staring into his steaming mug of hot chocolate, completely unaware of the lens pointed in his direction. It makes Johnny’s heart thump a little louder in his chest, but something about being in here, in the dark, in his space, he feels safe to open up. Free from judgement and consequence.

 

“There’s… an awful lot of me.”

 

Johnny crosses his arms over his chest, leaning back against the counter. He pauses, before responding, “Yeah, I mean. You sure make a decent frame.”

 

Taeyong just looks over at him, brows furrowed, confused. Johnny smiles, pushing himself off the counter to walk over to Taeyong. He stands, with a breath between them, and reaches up to pinch the corner of the picture, holding it where he can get a better look.

 

“See? The sharp ninety-degree angle of the bend of your knees, contrasted with the rounded curve of your posture.” Johnny’s smile grows enough that he has to bite his bottom lip between his teeth. He can feel Taeyong looking up at him and not the picture, but he doesn’t let that deter him. “Not to mention that frown you do when you’re not paying attention. It’s a perfect picture. A perfect frame.”

 

He looks down, then, meets Taeyong’s eyes. Taeyong looks- befuddled, totally lost. And vaguely like he’s struggling for breath.

 

Johnny smiles, pointing at the next picture in line. “Just like that one. That one too. All of them.” He steps back, putting his arms out at his sides, gesturing to the room full of little Taeyongs, filling frames with all his pointy angles and soft expressions. “Perfect frames.”

 

“I’m… flattered?” Taeyong says, voice quiet. He still looks stuck somewhere up in his head, unable to come back down. Johnny doesn’t mind.

 

“You know how I like to photograph on film, Tae,” Johnny says with a shrug. “I like to capture imperfectly beautiful things.” 

 

It takes a moment for Taeyong to respond. He just stands there, in the middle of the room, looking small and confused and far too stunning in the strange, red lighting, and Johnny waits. Johnny waits for him to process this and he kind of really hopes that Taeyong understands. It goes beyond Taeyong filling a frame in that perfectly imperfect, knobby-kneed and unawarely breathtaking way.

 

To Johnny, Taeyong is the most beautiful thing this imperfect life can offer.

 

“And I’m…” Taeyong trails off.

 

Johnny doesn’t even need him to finish the sentence. “Yeah,” he says, with a gentle smile, turning his head to look at the film that’s hung up to dry. “You are.”

 

Another long stretch of heady silence. Johnny doesn’t feel uncomfortable, like he usually is in such quietness, and he actually finds comfort in the thickness in the dark air around them. A room void of light but filled with secrets shared without the actual words. It feels like a reprieve off his chest.

 

“I…” Taeyong says, pauses. “I should go. Leave you to it.”

 

Johnny can’t even be disappointed that that’s all Taeyong has to say. He just smiles as his heart fills up, relieved to have said something so honest - romantic, even - to Taeyong, after having been dancing around each other for so long. “Thanks for the lunch.”

 

“Anytime,” Taeyong’s smile comes easy, despite the pensive furrow that remains between his brow. “I’ll- see you later?”

 

Johnny nods. “I won’t be too late tonight. I just have to finish up in here.”

 

“Okay,” Taeyong breathes. “Bye, Johnny.”

 

He closes the door quickly behind him.

 

Johnny sighs, wistful and pleasant. With Taeyong’s exit, the thickness in the air disappeared, and now Johnny feels like he might be floating. Floating on that thing that blew up in his chest the moment he realized the way he feels, that warm, glowing bubble of something good. Good, like Taeyong’s cooking, good like Taeyong’s behaviour and Taeyong’s kindness. Good, like everything Taeyong has always been, done, said.

 

Johnny takes his lunch to the staff lounge where he eats it and amuses Donghyuck with light conversation. He goes back to his little lightless safe place, ready for an afternoon of bringing all the life that breathes out of Taeyong to immortality in the film grain. 

 

-----

 

When Johnny gets home that evening, he’s half expecting Taeyong to be in the kitchen, heating up leftovers for dinner. Instead, the apartment is weirdly quiet, cold. The way it would be in those first few days after their kiss, when Johnny would come home to a lifeless apartment and an absent Taeyong.

 

Johnny frowns, toeing his shoes off and inching his way into the apartment. He wonders if he said too much, worries that he scared Taeyong away, once and for all. He’d felt so good after their conversation, this rude awakening is a disastrous crash.

 

Taeyong isn’t in his room. There’s a lump in Johnny’s throat that he refuses to set free.

 

He pushes open his bedroom door, defeated, ready to just roll over in bed and wallow in his feelings. He wishes he hadn’t been so transparent, so honest. It wasn’t worth it, not when-

 

“Hey.”

 

Taeyong is sitting there, in the middle of Johnny’s bed. In his lap is one of Johnny’s photo books, open at the spine to reveal some photographs he had taken of Taeyong. And Taeyong is looking up at him with wide eyes and a small smile, surrounded by Johnny’s photobooks that he took off the shelf, all scattered about the bedspread, open and exposed.

 

Johnny is struck speechless. “Uh-”

 

“I hope you don’t mind me snooping,” Taeyong says, flipping through the pages with nimble fingers. “I just- today I realized I hadn’t seen most of your pictures. The ones you frame and hang, I’ve seen. But all of these…”

 

Taeyong. All of these being all of Taeyong, occasionally broken off by a landscape or a bird perched on a branch or whatever Johnny finds a more perfect frame than Taeyong. Not much makes the cut.

 

“What,” Johnny says, feeling outrageously exposed, “what do you think?”

 

“They’re all of me.” 

 

“Is that really so surprising?” Johnny asks, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You let me photograph you all the time.”

 

Taeyong just looks up at Johnny for a long moment, his expression soft and open. Inviting. Johnny doesn’t feel scrutinized by him, despite the intensity of his stare. He feels welcomed.

 

“They’re all of me,” Taeyong says again, turning back to the book in his lap. “So I have a hard time calling them beautiful, but- God, Johnny. They’re beautiful.”

 

Johnny smiles, yearning to step forward, closer. His feet stay stuck in place. “I mean. It’s pretty much impossible for a picture of you to not be-”

 

He stops mid-sentence at the look that Taeyong shoots him, suddenly painfully piercing with seriousness, ferocious in his intensity. Taeyong frowns, contemplative, his mouth hung open like he has something to say but the words just won’t move. Johnny waits, stares back, feeling like his heart is about to break out of his rib cage at any moment and fly out of the room.

 

“Johnny,” Taeyong says, finally, so quietly. “Johnny, when you- when you say these things. About me.”

 

A pause. Johnny is about to fall forward, he’s so anxious for Taeyong to continue. The humming of the ceiling light is audible, and beyond the window the sun is setting in magnificent corals and blues. Taeyong’s ethereal face, looking so tender and vulnerable, hunched over the book in his lap, wondering-

 

“What do you really mean?”

 

Johnny’s mouth opens but no words come out. Because, really, there are no words, nothing to fully encapsulate everything that Johnny feels so much that it fills him up until he’s overflowing with it all. The adoration, the admiration, the way he worships the ground Taeyong walks on. There aren’t enough words in every language he knows that can sum it up the way he wishes.

 

So instead of speaking, he acts, and before he can fully realize what he’s doing Johnny has one knee on the bed and his spine is curving down and he’s holding Taeyong by the side of his neck, thumb under his jaw, tilting his exquisite face up to meet his own halfway.

 

Johnny has enough mind to stop himself, inches away from Taeyong, breath hot against his lips. He tries to drown out the ferocious beating of his heart, whispering, “Can I kiss you?”

 

“Johnny,” Taeyong says, voice low in all its reverence, “there is nothing I want more.”

 

Heartache, so painful in every good way. Johnny’s chest constricts and his stomach twists, but it’s pleasant, this time, so pleasant he thinks he may burst. And Taeyong is just watching him with an expectant furrow in his brow and his lips agape, refusing to shut, so perfect in Johnny’s unworthy palm. He isn’t even so sure if this is real life.

 

It takes little more than a tilt of his chin until he's taking what he wants, what Taeyong wants, and their lips meet in a glorious symphony of every possible word Johnny could have used instead of this - instead of this glorious, profound, painfully good kiss. 

 

This kiss, honest and uninhibited, is a thousand times better than the kiss they shared weeks ago. This one is vulnerable, gentle. This kiss is a conversation, a mutual expression of a billion things passed along from one pair of lips to the next, one sigh swallowed by the other. While their last kiss was hungry and foggy and relentless, this one lingers and tingles and bleeds comfortable warmth instead of searing heat. 

 

Taeyong’s hands on Johnny’s waist pull, urge him closer. Who is Johnny to deny him?

 

Johnny pulls back for air, just barely, as he crawls over Taeyong, caging him against the mattress. “I love you, Taeyong,” he murmurs, easy as breathing. A kiss beneath Taeyong’s jaw. “I love you so much.”

 

“Oh, god,” Taeyong breathes.

 

“I love you,” another kiss, “and I’m so sorry-” kiss “-that it took me so long.”

 

“Johnny,” Taeyong’s voice is broken and vulnerable and when Johnny leans back to look at him, he’s flushed at the tops of his cheeks and his eyes are blown wide and he looks terrified and comforted all at once. Another kiss, to placate Johnny’s desire to devour him. “Johnny, I love you.”

 

Oh, how Johnny feels that in the pit of his belly. He laughs into Taeyong’s skin. “We’re so stupid.” The words are muddled, unable to speak clearly when he can't detach himself from Taeyong’s skin, Taeyong’s lips. “I’m so stupid.”

 

Taeyong shakes his head, eyes squeezed shut as he kisses the life out of Johnny. “It’s fine, it’s fine.” Taeyong releases the prettiest little noise as Johnny licks behind his teeth. He tastes sugary, like the pack of marshmallows he’s been snacking his way through the past few days. “We’re here- here now.”

 

There’s a thunk as one of the books slides to the floor, pushed off by their tangled limbs. Taeyong’s nestled up against the pillows, his fluffy hair strewn out around his head, his thighs locked around Johnny’s hips so tight it’s as if he’s scared that if he loosens his grip, Johnny will disappear. How silly, how foolish, to think that it’s even possible for Johnny to leave Taeyong’s embrace.

 

Johnny pulls back - an awful feeling - hovering over Taeyong. He was right, to think that Taeyong would look so gorgeous sprawled over his pale green sheets. A gentle hand to cup Taeyong’s cheek as Taeyong’s hands come up to fist in the fabric of Johnny’s shirt. 

 

“You- we should talk,” Johnny says, dragging his hand down Taeyong’s neck, chest, his torso. Until his hands fall to the skin of Taeyong’s thighs wrapped possessively around his hips, exposed by the way his shorts ride up almost to his hips. 

 

Taeyong groans. “Nooo, no talking just kiss me!”

 

Johnny laughs, dipping down to obey Taeyong’s demand for a brief moment. “Please, I could kiss you forever and you know it.”

 

“Do I?”

 

Johnny just raises an eyebrow, corners of his lips curled up.

 

Taeyong sighs. “Okay, I guess we do need to talk.”

 

“Yeah,” Johnny murmurs, deliberately not moving away from Taeyong’s hold. “I just- I don’t want us to move too fast.”

 

Taeyong huffs out an incredulous laugh, before tilting his head back and busting out into high-pitched guttural laughter. Johnny would be offended, if he wasn’t so enraptured by how gorgeous Taeyong looks when his face scrunches up with laughter. So busy admiring the line of his throat, the way it curves into collarbones.

 

“Too fast! Too fast?” Taeyong says, overflowing with mirth. “Christ, Johnny, I’ve been dying to do this for like a goddamn year and you wanna stop because you’re afraid we’re moving too fast?”

 

“Whoa, whoa, I said nothing about stopping,” Johnny emphasizes. Then, he smirks. “What was that about a year?” 

 

Taeyong flushes, bashfully pushing at Johnny’s chest, but squeezing his thighs together to ensure he doesn’t budge. “Please,” he says, voice shrunken a bit with shyness. Johnny plants a kiss on his forehead for good measure. “You waltzed into my life all handsome and charming and funny… you- you really didn’t know?”

 

Johnny gapes at him. “You’ve seriously had a crush on me this whole time?”

 

Taeyong flushes even deeper. “I thought it was pretty obvious,” he mumbles. Then, “And then you went and kissed me, you asshole, after I’d been pining after you forever, even though you didn’t even like me-”

 

“Didn’t like you!?” Johnny cuts in, eyebrows shooting up his forehead. “Why do you think I kissed you?”

 

“I don’t know!” Taeyong whines. “We were drunk and you’d been acting all weird with me that week, I didn’t- what was I supposed to think?”

 

Johnny brushes Taeyong’s bangs off his forehead, drinking in the warmth of his skin against his fingertips. “You were supposed to think that I’m out of my mind in love with you and I just couldn’t resist.”

 

Taeyong’s face scrunches up. “Is this how things are going to be? Do I need to start a ‘Gross Romantic Things You Say’ jar?”

 

He can’t help but snort out a laugh, dipping down to kiss Taeyong soundly and fully. It really hits him that he can do this as much as he wants and Taeyong will kiss him back every time. Johnny can’t wrap his head around it.

 

“You can go ahead and start one, but you and I both know I don't have that kind of cash.”

 

There seems to be nothing Taeyong can possibly say in retort, instead resorting to wrapping his arms around Johnny’s neck and pulling him in, close enough that their lips brush. Every minute touch has shivers racing up Johnny’s spine.

 

Taeyong gently, oh so gently, closes his mouth over Johnny’s upper lip, so tender and open. It humbles him, a little, to have Taeyong open himself up so willingly to him. It makes Johnny want to share, to spread his arms wide open and break down his walls in return.

 

So, he says, “I might have loved you all along, too,” another kiss, just to taste the breath that rushes out of Taeyong’s lungs. “I’m just dense.”

 

At that, Taeyong laughs. “I know that.” 

 

Johnny mocks offence, pushing himself up onto his hands and further away from Taeyong’s face. That just makes Taeyong whine, wrapping his arms around Johnny’s neck even tighter. 

 

“You’re dense but I love you,” Taeyong says. He pouts his lips, “Now kiss me.”

 

Johnny obliges.

 

“Now, Johnny-”

 

“Hm,” Johnny hums against the skin of Taeyong’s jaw. 

 

“Make love to me.”

 

Heart plummeting to the pit of his belly, Johnny pushes up onto his forearms, brow furrowed, reading Taeyong’s expression feature by feature in search of any shade of doubt. “Are you sure?” Taeyong smiles so prettily, Johnny can’t help but lean down for a brief kiss. “It’s not too soon?”

 

Taeyong groans, frustrated beyond compare. “Johnny, I just told you I’ve loved you for like a year, not to mention that I haven’t gotten laid as long as I’ve known you, so-”

 

“Say no more,” Johnny says with a laugh, diving down for an open-mouthed, shameless kiss. A little closer in intensity, in intent, to the kiss they shared a few weeks ago. It’s laced with something more desperate, like a silent plea for something more.

 

And Johnny realizes he can have that something more. He just needs to be the one to take it.

 

A hand slides under Taeyong’s t-shirt, exploring the flat, ridged planes of his belly. And Taeyong, sweet, sweet Taeyong, arches into the touch with a puff of breath. Johnny swallows it, desperate to swallow all of Taeyong, and he continues his ministrations, pushing Taeyong’s shirt up, up, up, until they have to part long enough to pull it over his head and toss it aside. Johnny’s grateful that they’re doing this in his room, because if they’d been in Taeyong’s room, Taeyong would probably be taking a break to fold his shirt neatly and put it aside. 

 

“Off, off, yours too,” Taeyong says, words all a fragmented, jumbled mess. “I need you shirtless, immediately.”

 

“Whoa there, tiger,” Johnny teases, though he lifts himself up to kneel over Taeyong on his knees, tugging his shirt off by the neckline. “You’ve seen me shirtless before.”

 

“Yeah, but never when I could do this,” Taeyong says, hands immediately finding purchase on the skin of Johnny’s torso, knobby knuckles and the pads of his fingers thoroughly mapping out every inch, plane, divot in Johnny’s body. 

 

Johnny just laughs, indulges Taeyong for a moment, before he ducks back down to trap Taeyong under him and swallows him up in yet another resounding kiss. They part with a filthy smack that makes Taeyong blush.

 

“Pants?” Johnny says. He can’t even be bothered to find embarrassment in how rough his voice sounds, already. He just can’t believe this is happening. 

 

Instead of using words, Taeyong rolls his hips up, meeting Johnny’s in the middle. They both groan. Hungry, frantic. 

 

It’s a laughable mess of limbs and joints, fumbling over each other as they breathe far too heavy in the space between them and tug at their shorts, pants, boxers until there’s nothing left but skin, hot air, and the unignorable need to devour each other whole. Johnny loves it, wouldn’t have it any other way, than to be laughing into Taeyong’s skin as they tangle each other up in their ministrations. No one Johnny would rather be with than his very best friend, who he trusts, adores, admires.

 

He loves him so much.

 

So, he tells him, “I love you so much.” A kiss, pleasant, world-spinning. “Taeyong, I love you so fucking much.”

 

“Then show me,” Taeyong whispers, merely a release of breath. Bony legs wrap tightly around Johnny’s waist, hot skin against hot skin. 

 

And that’s a challenge, if Johnny’s ever heard one.

 

He pulls back, just long enough to grab Taeyong by his hips and flip him over, pressing his belly into the mattress. Taeyong groans - at the ability Johnny has to maneuver him so easily, probably - and curves his spine into the mattress. Johnny’s breath catches somewhere in his chest before pushing out unreasonably aggressively, dropping a hand down to trace the dip of Taeyong’s tiny waist. The other hand joins in, squeezing the other side of his waist, and he stays there a moment, just looking at Taeyong’s perfect, lithe form, so fragile in his hold.

 

A groan comes from somewhere in the sheets. “Johnnyyyy.”

 

“Right,” he’s in the middle of something, right. He lets go of Taeyong, leaning over to dig through his bedside drawer. Taeyong wiggles his hips, impatient and restless, as he watches Johnny’s hand emerge from the drawer with lube and a handful of condoms in tow.

 

Taeyong tucks his chin over his shoulder to frown at Johnny.

 

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Johnny says, tossing the condoms aside and uncapping the bottle of lube. “I just grabbed them all ‘cause I couldn’t see what I was doing.”

 

“Riiiight,” Taeyong teases, turning to bury his face back in the sheets. He wiggles his hips again but this time for the purpose of being a little shit.

 

Johnny smacks his little bony butt, just lightly, playfully, and earns an indignant yelp from the boy beneath him. “Stop making fun of me or else I’m not gonna fuck you.”

 

“Nooooo!” Taeyong cries, pushing his hips up into Johnny’s grip. “I love you! Continue!”

 

Johnny just laughs, amused, and that’s all the warning he gives Taeyong before he’s tracing a slick finger along the rim of Taeyong’s entrance. 

 

Taeyong gasps, a sharp sound, seemingly sinking further into the mattress as Johnny carefully pushes in to the last knuckle. He is just… mesmerized. Watching the splotchy pink of Taeyong’s flush bleed down his shoulders as Johnny works in another finger, and another. He blinks every time he thinks he has a perfect frame, wishing he could truly immortalize the curve of Taeyong’s spine, the way his knuckles glow red as he curls his fingers into the sheets - the way he turns his face to the side to cry out, wanton and without reservation, as Johnny finds that spot inside him and stays there, content to just sit here and watch Taeyong - this gorgeous, flawless, indestructible creature - fall apart under his touch.

 

However, Taeyong has other plans. “Joh-Johnny,” he whines, flapping a hand behind him to smack at Johnny’s forearms.

 

“Yes, my love?” Johnny asks, gaze stuck on the little dimples at the base of Taeyong’s spine. 

 

“Flip me back over- oh,” Taeyong’s sentence dissolves into a cry as Johnny pulls his fingers out. 

 

With Taeyong gracelessly tossed onto his back, his hair sprawled out around him and his gaze fuzzy and glassy with want, Johnny genuinely considers getting up to go find his camera. But, not only does he think Taeyong would literally kill him if he ever took a picture of him like this - he thinks Taeyong might kill him if he even thinks about getting up and walking away, right now.

 

Taeyong pushes up onto one elbow, tangling his other hand in the hairs at the nape of Johnny’s neck. It’s hardly a kiss, but it’s enough to make Johnny’s chest feel like it’s going to explode. He’s just overflowing with it - the joy, the love, the lust.

 

“Wanna see you,” Taeyong whispers, “let me- wanna see you.”

 

Hurts. It hurts so good, this ache in his chest and this fluttering in his stomach. Johnny’s in pain and it’s the greatest thing he’s ever felt.

 

“I’ve got you,” he says, voice pitched lower in the seriousness he didn’t even know he had in him. He struggles to rip open the condom packet, roll it onto his dick, without letting go of Taeyong, his arms wrapped securely around Taeyong’s ribs. 

 

When he’s ready, he tilts their position, using gentle, firm hands on Taeyong’s hip, behind his ribs, as he pushes Taeyong back into the sheets. “Lay back, baby,” he says, hovering over Taeyong. Taeyong is looking at him with the unprecedented intensity, frenzy, and Johnny kisses him in an effort to taste it.

 

“Ready?”

 

“Please.”

 

Here’s the thing - Johnny’s had sex before. He knows what sex feels like, and the feeling itself is familiar, ordinary but good. Yet, when Johnny finally pushes himself slowly inside Taeyong, submerging himself in familiar warm walls, a familiar action, his world positively crumbles.

 

And perhaps it’s not a matter of the act itself, but the way his name sounds like gospel wrapped around Taeyong’s breath, the intensity burning like. flame in Taeyong’s blurry gaze. The fact that Johnny can lean forward and kiss Taeyong. Taeyong. Taeyong. 

 

“Oh, oh-”

 

Fuck, baby,” Johnny groans once he’s fully sheathed. He pushes Taeyong’s hair off his forehead. “You good?”

 

Taeyong leans his head back a bit, closes his eyes. “Yeah just- ah,” he breathes out, “‘s been a while.”

 

Johnny smiles, pushing gentle fingers through Taeyong’s hair again. “Let me know,” he whispers, content to just sit here a while and study the way Taeyong looks right now, backlit by the early evening sun pouring in through the window. Johnny thinks the warm hues of orange and coral perfectly match the feeling inside his chest right now.

 

“God,” Taeyong sighs. He allows his eyes to open, just barely, looking right at Johnny as he smiles, sweet and content.

 

“You’re so beautiful,” Johnny can’t help but say. “God, look at you.”

 

Taeyong flushes against the hand that Johnny softly brushes Taeyong’s cheekbone with, rolling his eyes. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

“No, I mean it,” Johnny insists with an earnest shake of his head. “You’re so perfect, Taeyong, you don’t even know.”

 

“I might someday know it,” Taeyong says, completely unimpressed. Still, he lifts a hand to drag firmly along Johnny’s torso. “If you keep reminding me like that. Y-you can move now.”

 

Johnny nods before pressing a kiss right to the middle of Taeyong’s forehead. He rocks back, slowly and carefully, forcing down the groan that threatens to punch out of his throat in order to hear the shallow gasps of Taeyong’s breath.

 

He sets a rhythm, steady and careful and oh so perfect. He holds Taeyong’s thigh up over his hip, cradles the back of Taeyong’s neck, admires him and pampers him. Kisses and praises and nips to his throat, the delicate angles of his collarbones.

 

Taeyong gives just as much in return - adorable gasps of Johnny’s name, hands in Johnny’s hair, on his shoulders, digging into the working muscles of his abdomen. Taeyong tosses his head back with moans like he’s fully aware of how much Johnny wants to see it, hear it. He asks - please - even though he’s already receiving - yes.

 

Johnny has had sex before, and while the act itself is no different from any time before this… this feeling in his chest, this curling in his belly, this zap of fire and lightning all the way down to his toes. This is new, and unexplored, and welcome in every way. 

 

Because Johnny has never been in love before this.

 

“John- Joh nnyyy,” Taeyong whines out, curling his arms like binds around Johnny’s neck.

 

“I’ve got you,” he responds. “I’ve got you.”

 

The only way to tell how much time has passed is the slowly cooling colours in the sunlight that fills the room. It’s darker, barely, and Johnny studies the shadows under Taeyong’s jaw, in the divots between his collarbones and beneath his ribs. He wraps his arms around Taeyong’s back and rocks backward, until Taeyong is perched on Johnny’s thighs, the only thing keeping him sitting up Johnny’s arms snaked around him. Secure.

 

“Ah, AH!” Taeyong cries out, head falling back. Johnny swallows a moan, unable to keep himself from picking up pace.

 

He’s just so full. So full of love and light and, god, this pleasure. He’s overflowing and spilling out at the seams and the more he absorbs Taeyong’s sounds and expression the fuller he gets. The tighter and tighter all the strings inside him pull until he’s bound to snap.

 

“Johnny, I- there, there.”

 

“I love you, Taeyong.”

 

God, say it again,” Taeyong cries out. He digs his fingers into Johnny’s hair, tilting his chin down to stare deliberately into Johnny’s face. “Say- ah- that again.”

 

His words are dissolving into pathetic whines, but Johnny still hears him, loud and clear.

 

“I love you,” he says, barely. “Taeyong, I love you. ‘M close.”

 

“Me too, me too. And I love you, too.”

 

Johnny adjusts his grip, reaching between them to take Taeyong’s cock in his hand. He nearly loses his grip on the boy, Taeyong shuddering so violently the moment he receives friction, crying out with the pleasure it shocks him with. Johnny chuckles, pulling Taeyong in against him for a messy, tactless kiss. Taeyong just moans into his mouth the whole time.

 

“J-Joh-”

 

And that’s all the warning Johnny gets before Taeyong is tensing up like a spring under pressure, releasing all the tension with a punched out release of breath right into Johnny’s awaiting mouth.

 

That’s all Johnny needs. The sound of Taeyong’s release, the tears in his eyes, the bitten-redness of his pretty mouth.

 

Johnny feels the fullness inside of him pour out, a moan against Taeyong’s skin and fingers curled in so tight they’ll leave bruises.

 

Taeyong just encourages him, “Yes, yes.”

 

The fullness in Johnny is quickly replaced. As he stays there, sticky with Taeyong’s release and panting in the afterglow, he fills up with something more gentle, more tender. Fuzzy and warm.

 

Taeyong looks so pretty, smiling dopily at him, visibly full with the same thing that’s got Johnny bursting at the seams. 

 

Love. Plain and simple.

 

Johnny dives in for another kiss and Taeyong welcomes him, mouth curled up at the corners. A kiss the colour of early evening.

 

-----

 

“Wait- hold still.”

 

“I am still.”

 

“Shh,” Taeyong hushes him, ducked behind Johnny’s trusty film camera.

 

Johnny can’t help but smile. His boyfriend is so cute, wearing a beanie despite it being September and seriously not nearly cool enough to justify it, the wind catching in his bangs across his forehead. The sun is so bright, bouncing off the knobs of his knuckles as he holds the camera up to his eye, reflecting in the buttons of his denim jacket and the sheen of his clean hair. Johnny just looks at him, takes note of all these little details, and waits.

 

There’s a click and then Taeyong is emerging from behind the camera, grin on his face. He hands the camera back to Johnny.

 

“There. Perfect frame.”

 

Johnny chuckles, slinging the camera strap around his neck. He takes Taeyong’s hand in his as they continue their walk on this gorgeous afternoon. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

 

“I don’t care,” Taeyong says, matter-of-fact and breezy. He has this untameable smile on his face, a sparkle in his eye that gleams brighter than the sun that sits high in the sky. “I took it. You’re in it. It’s perfect.”

 

“Okay,” Johnny says, furrow in his brow but smile on his face. He squeezes Taeyong’s hand and his boyfriend looks up at him, smiling sweetly and genuine. Johnny doesn’t think it should be possible to be this in love. “It’s perfect.”

 

And if that’s what it takes to make Taeyong’s face light up like the world has been offered to him on a silver platter, so be it. The frame is perfect.