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the ways to love and to be loved

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Johnny knows a lot about Donghyuck.

He's known him for years, after all.

He'd known about Donghyuck the moment he passed the Saturday audition. Even after years of being a trainee, someone passing those auditions is an occurrence so rare that Johnny can count on one hand how many have succeeded — and he would still have fingers left.

So of course, the news of it spreads around the trainees like wildfire. Johnny had known from that first whisper alone that the new trainee, Lee Donghyuck, is obviously very talented. Enough to pass the hardest audition in the company.

And when he finally meets Lee Donghyuck, he meets a boy bright enough that it's clear he'll shine in this business. That there's something special about him, and the company knows it too.

He lives up to Johnny's expectations: he's talented, gifted with a good voice that he knows how to use.

Training together, sharing practice rooms and mutual friends, Johnny learns more about him.

He's hard-working, passionate, and confident in his abilities. He also has a penchant for mischief, can rile up the usually calm Mark Lee like no one else, and manages to always weasel himself out of trouble.

Full sun, they call him. Haechan.

It's fitting, Johnny thinks. Donghyuck is the brightest light he's ever seen, even from a distance.

Johnny knows a bit about Donghyuck, but not a lot. They don't really talk to each other, as Johnny has his own circle of friends, and Donghyuck has his own too.

And then they're put in the line-up for NCT.

So Johnny soon knows Donghyuck as the maknae of 127. A member of Dream.

Johnny isn't in either of them, isn't with Donghyuck in a unit — not until Limitless, when he's added to 127 with Doyoung.

Despite the fact they don't talk that much, their circles never properly overlapping as trainees, Donghyuck makes sure Johnny is welcomed in his new unit. He makes sure Johnny is up to date on all inside jokes, reassures him he's doing really well when Johnny's confidence falters.

Donghyuck is also a lot shyer around him than the other members, and it doesn't escape his notice.

Still, it's just a new thing he's learned about Donghyuck. That he's considerate, and shy to a point that it's obviously embarrassing for Donghyuck — which is cute, honestly. Donghyuck's cute, even when he's trying not to be.

Maybe that dongsaeng cute act does work on him a little too well.

They get closer, and Johnny learns more about Donghyuck.

It's hard not to when they work and live together. He learns more about Donghyuck at his best, watches the ways he lifts the energy of the room, cheers the members up with practised ease, looks out for them in the ways they need.

He's even gotten good at figuring out what Johnny needs, which he appreciates. Johnny tries not to show that he needs it, because he likes to be positive energy for everyone else as well, but Donghyuck has a tendency to figure it out anyway.

Of course, things aren't always good. He learns about Donghyuck at his worst, too. The way he snaps with frustration, the usual cheekiness of talking back to his hyungs becoming sharp and aggressive before he can stop himself.

Donghyuck is confident in himself. He has high expectations of himself to achieve things. Johnny quickly learns that Donghyuck is hard on himself, too. Sometimes too hard.

Johnny learns these things, but he doesn't quite understand some of them. Like how to deal with Donghyuck when he's upset. Like what Johnny can do to help. Donghyuck has a tendency to store everything, to keep it inside and let it fester and build until he bursts, and then immediately apologises or leaves so he doesn't say anything worse.

If he leaves, he comes back with a gruelling apology. The guilt over his reaction takes precedent, and he makes sure his behaviour hasn't left any lingering hurt.

Donghyuck is young, and works under a lot of pressure. They always let the hurt go, always forgiving immediately if with a light scolding, because they know Donghyuck never means to hurt them. It's just that sometimes things are too much, and they all know that well.

The problem is that Donghyuck doesn't actually come to them before he bursts, or even after. He's always clearly still troubled even after he apologises, but he doesn't let them in to try and understand what's going on. It's something he deals with by isolating himself, and Johnny hasn't figured out how to help.

Donghyuck has figured Johnny out, but Johnny still needs to figure out some things about Donghyuck.

Over time, Donghyuck doesn't burst as much. Maturing plays a significant part of it, but it's also the fact that he learns how to hide his hurt better.

Donghyuck refuses to let anyone understand that side of him, so Johnny's left with things he's still yet to learn.

But there's other things Johnny is learning now.

Like the fact his feelings might not actually be unrequited. His feelings are a bit of a mess, honestly. A love for Donghyuck that's always been sitting in his chest, a love that he's comfortable with. Slowly shifting, or something being added to it — nothing more than admiration at first. Then it developed into — well, a bit of a crush.

And then he actually liked Donghyuck. He isn't going to act on it, doesn't think anything will come of it, and definitely doesn't want to ruin their friendship. It's taken years of knowing each other to be so comfortable.

It's taken years of Johnny learning about Donghyuck for them to be so close.

But all those years of learning — Johnny's picked up a few things.

Like how Donghyuck looks when he's in love.

They're slowly feeling it out towards something, but they're not quite anything for a while. Donghyuck's busy with schedules, and Johnny doesn't want to add any extra pressure, so he waits.

If Johnny's learned anything though, it's that Donghyuck is impatient. He won't push at Johnny if Johnny doesn't want to be pushed, but he's sneaky. He'll slightly prod at Johnny until he hasn't even realised he's moved.

So when they move dorms, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise Donghyuck's somehow managed to make them roommates.

Before they move, while Donghyuck's away on schedule with Dream, Johnny drags Jaehyun out for a coffee.

There's a spot they head to at a park, secluded and quiet. Jaehyun takes a contemplative sip of his drink, then turns to Johnny.

"So, what's on your mind?" He asks, because it's clear that Johnny's dragged Jaehyun out for a reason today.

"Well, we're moving dorms soon," Johnny replies, and Jaehyun lets out an understanding "ah."

"You're going to ask me about Donghyuck," Jaehyun figures, lips upturned in a teasing grin.

"I'm going to ask you about Donghyuck," Johnny confirms. "If there's anything I can do for him as a roommate."

He could've asked Donghyuck himself. But depending on the mood he caught Donghyuck in, he wouldn't have gotten the answer he's actually looking for. Donghyuck would've either brushed it off, saying he doesn't need anything, or he would've amped up the mischevious act and overdone it with silly demands he doesn't actually want.

Jaehyun raises a judgemental eyebrow. "Aren't you the one basically dating him?" Then, his tone shifts to properly teasing. "Do you want me to give you a sex talk?"

Johnny scoffs at him, shaking his head. "No thank-you, that would bring my total of sex-talks up to like four and a half, which is like four too many."

"Your parents, the company, and...?"

"Taeyong tried, I think, I kind of just didn't listen. And then maybe Taeil, I'm still not too sure honestly, so he gets half a point for it."

Jaehyun laughs, taking another sip. He seems to be thinking over the question seriously despite the teasing, so Johnny waits.

Johnny knows a lot about Donghyuck now, but he doesn't know what it's like sharing a room with him — he will, soon enough, but he wants to get a headstart on it.

"You'll probably get annoyed at his tendency to stay up late. Sometimes he forgets how loud he's being during those hours, but he'll immediately tone it down if you mention it," Jaehyun starts with.

Johnny knew that much, at least — he knows Donghyuck prefers to stay up than to get sleep. It's hours he gets to himself, without focusing on work, and Johnny gets that. Johnny's one to pick sleep over most things though, but he knows they'll figure out a compromise if either of them are disrupted.

"If you go out, just message to check in with him at least once. And let him know if you'll be returning home or not. Otherwise he'll wait up for you," Jaehyun continues, tapping against his coffee cup. "He's a lot quieter in the room. He likes having the space to relax. He'll usually crash out straight after a schedule, sometimes before removing his makeup, so you have to decide if it's worth waking him up to take it off."

"And what did you decide?" Johnny asks, purely out of curiousity. He already knows what he'll do, anyway.

Jaehyun shrugs. "Sometimes he'll go with a bit of complaining. A few times he's been so out of it I just did it for him. Just depends on the night."

Johnny's finished his cup of coffee, so he spins it between his palms. Jaehyun picks up the conversation again.

"Honestly, I think the best thing to do is just letting him have the space to relax. Give the room a good atmosphere, a place you'll both enjoy just relaxing in, and he'll be happy with that. Maybe provide some alcohol every now and then," Jaehyun answers, then grins at Johnny. "I mean, he'll be fine with whatever because it's you anyway."

"Yeah, but I'd rather not make him hate actually rooming with me. We're not even... anything, right now. We're missing some steps here in the usual relationship — from dating to then sharing a room together."

"We've worked and lived together under the same dorm for at least three years," Jaehyun brushes off, nonchalant about the issue. "Not to mention the tour-bus. So if he still likes you, it probably won't stop just because you're roommates."

"Right," Johnny says, pushing down his doubts. "Yeah, okay. You're right."

"Of course I am. You two are grossly in love. I love him, don't get me wrong, but I am very glad he's now going to be sharing a room with you. If I had to hear any more goddamn pining about you, I would've maybe suffocated him with a pillow."

Johnny hates that he flushes red, because Jaehyun just gets another excuse to laugh at him. Still, he's thankful for Jaehyun's help. Also thankful for the later words Jaehyun slips in, telling Johnny he's happy for them. That things will be just fine, and it'll work out.

During the move, Johnny and Donghyuck set up a plan for their room. They try and make it nice and comfortable, with things they'll both enjoy. It's minimalistic, but it works for them both, and Johnny can tell Donghyuck really likes how they've set it out.

And they're roommates, which is great.

And they're on the brink of being something, for a while.

Until Donghyuck decides one night to just climb into Johnny's bed, into his lap, and — well, they've both held out patiently for a while now.

Like letting go of the ends of a rubber band holding tension for so long, they finally crash together.

So. Roommates. Boyfriends, as Donghyuck proudly decides and declares — and it's not like Johnny's one to refute him.

They don't actually tell anyone, but they don't need to. Their members have known they've been hurtling towards something now for a while, and it's clear to see when they've actually acted on it.

Turns out, Jaehyun's advice serves him well with understanding Donghyuck as a roommate. He's definitely not wrong about the alcohol — if Johnny cracks the lid, then Donghyuck sniffs him out within a minute.

"You like wine that much?" Johnny asks him one night, filling up their glasses — their second top-up of the night. Donghyuck's got a pillow on his lap, and Johnny's a little nervous about it getting stained, but Donghyuck hasn't spilled anything yet.

Donghyuck smiles at him, soft and warm, formed the same way that's made the red flush spill across his cheeks.

"It's okay," he says in a dismissive way, which is surprising to Johnny. Then his tone shifts into something that reflects his smile — something softer, something more genuine, open for Johnny to dissect in front of him. "I just like doing things with you."

Here's the thing — Johnny's learned a lot about Donghyuck.

Now he's getting to learn about Donghyuck in the way only he can. In the way only someone that loves him, as someone Donghyuck loves back, can.

Learning what makes Donghyuck's breath hitch. How to rile him up and tease in all the best ways. The ways that make him catch his words, breathless, unable to speak. Unable to think.

Johnny lets Donghyuck learn these things about him too. Opens himself up and lets Donghyuck understand these things.

Lets himself be vulnerable in front of Donghyuck, letting him know it's okay to be in return.

Donghyuck learns how to deal with the nights Johnny's not doing so well. He's been away from his family for a long time, an ache he's used to in his chest, but sometimes it flares up with a painful spike.

And Donghyuck will push Johnny out of bed and into the main room so he's got some more space, so he's not trapped in their room with his thoughts. He'll make Johnny a coffee, and will fuss around in the kitchen until he comes back with a meal he's cooked.

The most recent had been burgers. A beef hamburger and an attempt at fries that hadn't gone perfectly, but the attempt is more than enough.

He cuddles into Johnny's side, clinging to him, refusing to let go. Makes Johnny call his parents, sitting beside him and holding his hand, or wrapped up behind him so he can press kisses to his neck.

Donghyuck sees these moments with Johnny and wants to help. It does help. And Johnny wants to do the same, but he knows better than to say it. He just lets Donghyuck in, lets him see, lets him understand.

Slowly, it starts to get through. Donghyuck starts to open up as well, giving Johnny the chance to learn some new things. To understand more about how to help.

Before, whenever he was upset, he'd avoid Johnny. Hide in the bathroom for a while if he had no place to go. Then curl himself up in his bed and put on his headphones and refuse to listen to Johnny.

Those nights are frustrating. Donghyuck won't let himself be touched, and won't listen to any words Johnny says. There's nothing Johnny can do but silently lie beside him and wait until morning, and see if Donghyuck worked it over with himself or not.

And the worst night, when Donghyuck hadn't come back to the dorms after practice with Dream despite promising that he would. Had texted Johnny a blunt "in a mood. staying in renjun's room."

Johnny had texted Renjun, just to check in, and Renjun had replied only to say Donghyuck hadn't come back with them. A short time later, with a little help from Jaehyun who's dealt with it before, found Donghyuck exhausted in the practice room, overworking himself.

The night had been a turning point, though.

Donghyuck will still curl up in his bed, but won't put his headphones on. Johnny learns the best thing to do is just let some music play that they both enjoy, and it'll slowly ease the tension from Donghyuck's shoulders.

Then he starts to turn over in his bed, looking at Johnny. Johnny doesn't look over, not until he's certain Donghyuck wants him to.

It's a small movement. A small hand gesture that has Johnny slip out of his own bed and into Donghyuck's. And he waits until Donghyuck indicates he wants Johnny closer, to let Johnny press up against his back and hold him.

It's slow progress, but Donghyuck starts to talk. Starts with whispers, half-mutterings that ramble with what he's upset about. Then they become proper sentences, words tinted with frustrations and upset that he's letting Johnny properly hear.

So Johnny learns what to say. How to help as best as he can.

It seems to work, because Donghyuck will turn over to kiss him with a faint smile on his lips. Will settle into sleep easier, not restlessly like he does when he's still upset about something.

And a few days later — Johnny on his bed and braced up against his headboard with some pillows, and Donghyuck sprawled across his lap and somehow allowing both of them to fit on the bed — Donghyuck will, by all means, look entirely enraptured with his phone.

But he'll say, very quietly, "you always know me best, hyung. Thank you."

And Johnny will smile, place down his phone, and wait until Donghyuck gives him the attention he wants.

And Johnny will say, very seriously, years behind him now of learning Donghyuck.

Learning all the ways he loves him. All the ways to love him.

"I love you," he'll say, and Donghyuck will flush but will grin, wide and confident, dispelling his earlier embarrassment at being so genuine.

"I love you too," he replies, easy as anything.

And this — this is something Johnny knows very, very well by now.