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fighting dragons with you

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How strange to write about


when for so long

I've drawn inspiration only from


Having, Halsey


Johnny is pretty sure that he used to be popular in high school. He had a big group of friends, and he’d played hockey well enough to get a scholarship to a big school in Chicago. His parents had been proud. He’d been proud of himself, sure of his place in the world.

Now when he’s back home in Chicago and his parents' friends ask him what he does for a living, he has to explain that, yes, he is a photographer, but most of the time he makes his money from the Dungeons & Dragons podcast that he makes with his best friends.

Then he has to explain what D&D is, and halfway through explaining that his character is a level fourteen paladin, he starts to see their eyes glaze over.

It’s really all Ten’s fault. Moving to Los Angeles, the podcast, even photography. They’d all been because of Ten somehow.

Two weeks into Johnny’s first semester of college, he’d met Ten and his life had taken a hard right turn. At eighteen, Johnny had been sure of a lot of things. Ten pushed him out of his comfort zone, embarrassed him with his boldness and his big mouth, made him laugh. It had been one of the things that made Johnny nervous about him at first. He didn't seem to care what other people thought of him.

It wasn't that Ten wasn't capable of being "cool", he was. Ten was more than capable of being cool, sexy, charming, it was just that he didn't care. Laughed big and loud, asked questions that seemed obvious to other people, and he let other people's judgment slide off of him.

They’d met when Johnny had asked Ten to model for him for a project for their Photography 101 class.

Johnny had asked simply because Ten was objectively pretty. He caught Johnny’s eye in class all the time, perfect profile, long eyelashes. He was always dressed well, even when he wore pajamas they seemed like an artistic choice, and not messy and gross like how Johnny felt like he looked when he wore sweatpants to class.

Ten was beautiful in a constantly moving, dynamic way that Johnny was constantly trying to catch on film. Johnny couldn't make sense of the way he would look at Ten and see all of him, only to try and take a picture and have it flatten him out.

He followed Ten all over Chicago that first year, always taking pictures of him. Ten pushed him out of his comfort zone, embarrassed him with his boldness and his big mouth, made him laugh.

One of Johnny's favorite shoots from that first year was Ten's first experience with snow. They'd walked through the park and down to the beach, cold sand sliding under their boots and breath fogging in front of their faces.

Ten was beautiful. Ten's always beautiful. But that day there was something else, his coat unzipped as he spun haphazardly on the packed sand by the lake's edge.

Already the water was starting to freeze over. In a month or two there would be huge frozen ice floes here, jagged cracked sheets, three inches thick, crunching in layers along the coastline.

"Johnny!" Ten had called, his head tilted back as he craned his neck to watch the snow fall all around him.

He was usually the best model Johnny worked with, knew his angles better than anyone, even back then. But that day Ten hadn't been able to stop moving, and Johnny's photos reflected that; landscapes of grey water and grey sand and grey sky, only interrupted by Ten's blur of motion, spinning with his coat unzipped, pink cheeks turned towards the sky.

"What is it?" Johnny had asked, circling Ten like a helicopter searching for a place to land, constantly searching for that perfect angle.

"This is so cool," he said happily, his cheeks pinking up in the cold, snowflakes catching on his dark eyelashes.

Johnny chuckled. He'd seen enough snow to last a lifetime, shoveled his parents’ driveway enough times to hate the stuff forever. Stepped off the bus and into a grey, muddy puddle of slush and had it fill both of his boots.

Later, when he developed the film from that day, the pictures came out better than any he'd taken before, came the closest to capturing what Johnny saw every time he looked at Ten.

They moved to Los Angeles together after college, Ten to pursue modelling and Johnny to try out a career in photography.

Ten made friends easily in L.A., and Johnny didn't. It was the first time since middle school that he remembers not having an easy time making friends.

Johnny had moped around the apartment for long enough that Ten got sick of it and forced him to come meet his friends. His “friends” turned out to be an eclectic group of people from the fashion world that all played Dungeons & Dragons together.

Joshua and Yubin were models and the ones that had introduced Ten to the rest of the group. Joshua’s character was a friendly firbolg wizard, which Joshua explained to Johnny very patiently, was a type of giant, but in appearance looked a lot like a gentle cow-human. Yubin played a rough-voiced but flirtatious orc warrior.

Chaeyoung was a photographer like Johnny, and her character was an elf, a former princess turned rogue. Ten played a bright red tiefling monk, the son of a nobleman who had left that all behind to go adventuring.

Ten had helped Johnny build his own character, a human paladin, and they had written him into the story by making him Ten's character’s bodyguard.

The thing that had surprised him the most was how much he loved playing games with Ten’s friends. He had been shy and nervous the first time he’d played, and to be honest, those weren’t feelings he was used to having. Not for a long time, anyway.

But they had made him feel comfortable right away, and an hour in he had found himself battling a group of knolls and actually, genuinely having a really good time.

He’d asked the table, afterwards, when they were splitting a bottle of wine after the game, if Dungeons & Dragons was always this much fun, and they’d laughed kindly. Like they were laughing with him, not at him.

“Yes and no,” Joshua had said, “It’s always kind of fun if you make it fun, but also we’ve been doing this for a while and, not to brag, but we’re good at it.”

“It helps if you have a really good DM,” Chaeyoung had said, grinning at Chris, who blushed up to his ears, “And Chris is the best there is.”

Johnny had nothing to compare him to, of course, but even he had to admit that Chris did seem to be uniquely talented at storytelling, at leading the game and creating vibrant scenes with just his voice, at bringing characters to life.

From then on, they’d played together at least once a month and Johnny had found himself getting used to the game, its rules, the mindset you needed to bring to the table. And then he’d gotten good at it. They all did, got really good at playing together as a team.

A year in, Chris came to them with an offer. One of his friends ran a podcast network, and they had offered to let Chris record their games and release them as a weekly podcast. The network seemed particularly interested in them because of their relationship with the fashion world. A fashion-themed Dungeons & Dragons podcast hadn’t been done before, they’d said, and they wanted to try it out.

Johnny had almost said no. It was a huge commitment, and Johnny was just starting his career in photography.

He’d stayed up all night with Ten at their apartment, talking about it, and by the time morning rolled around, Johnny had agreed.

It was a risk, a gamble they had all taken together and Johnny is painfully aware of how lucky they are that their podcast had taken off.

They have fans now, more than Johnny was expecting, and panels at every convention on the West Coast. Johnny would be lying if he said that it didn’t affect him, to have people who truly loved the character he’d created, the show he helped grow. The first time he’d seen someone dressed as his paladin, he’d been so overwhelmed that he’d had to hide in a con bathroom to collect himself.

On the wall above his bed, pride of place, surrounded by some of his photographs, is his favorite fanart of his character.

They record their games on Thursdays at seven, and this week Johnny is running late. He pulls up to the studio at 6:55. He unbuckles his seatbelt and hears Ten do the same. They get out of the car and jog across the parking lot, Johnny locking his car over his shoulder.

When they get to the doors, Johnny turns and opens them with his shoulder, grinning at Ten, who laughs breathlessly. Felix meets them in the entryway of the building, shaking his head fondly. He’s one of the production crew, and Chris’s fiancé, although that part is new. Johnny had done their engagement photoshoot at a ren faire just a few weekends ago. They’d looked so in love.

“Hurry, hurry,” Felix ushers them down the hallway with his clipboard. Everyone else is already in their places in the studio, ready for the game.

“You made it!” Yubin calls out, “Chris was about to put out a hit on you!”

“No I wasn’t!” Chris protests from his spot behind the DM screen. “I’m glad you guys are here, seriously.”

“I can’t believe you’re missing a fashion week afterparty for this,” Joshua says.

“Ah, no,” Johnny shrugs off his suit jacket and hangs it over the back of his chair. Someone, probably Felix, has set up his spot for him, laid out his dice and his character sheet, as well as the notebook he uses to take notes during the game. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

There’s an overdramatic chorus of “Awww''s from the room, but Johnny really does mean it. He’s feeling sentimental today. Maybe it's the adrenaline from speeding here.

An hour ago Ten had been model Ten; intensely stone-faced as he, once again, made the runway his bitch. Not that Johnny is biased. Now, Ten is in a sweatshirt, hair and makeup still pristine, perched in his chair with one knee up, and rolling d-20’s to determine which one would bring him the best luck today.

Ten does this little ritual before every game. He plucks the highest scoring one up and holds it out to Johnny, who takes it and kisses it for luck, passing it back without looking.

“Everyone ready?” Chris asks, and when they all yell their assent, Felix gives the countdown, and then they’re recording.

They call for a break after ninety minutes and Johnny’s heart is racing. He’d never admit it, he has a cool exterior to maintain after all, but a solid gameplay session still gives him the best rush.

Ten stretches, joints popping, and rests his legs in Johnny’s lap. Johnny doesn’t even look down, just wraps a hand around Ten’s ankle reflexively, massaging what he knows are sore muscles.

Johnny smiles to himself as he flips through his player’s handbook, searching for a spell he wants his paladin to use in the next round. Chris has their party on a rescue mission and they’d just uncovered the hideout of a duo of evil sorcerers. Ten’s little tiefling has already accidentally tipped them off and is in trouble, and it’s Johnny’s character’s job to guard him.

Ten must see the dopey look on his face, because he nudges Johnny’s stomach with his foot.

“What are you smiling about?” he asks, suspiciously. Which feels a little unfair to Johnny, but that’s fine. He pretends to think about it, tapping his pen against his mouth.

“Just remembered we have leftovers in the fridge,” Johnny says, eyes not leaving his book. What Johnny really means is I am happy I have this now. I’m so glad I followed you here. I’m so glad we have these people around us. But he’s not about to say that shit out loud.

Ten grins like he kind of gets what Johnny means anyway.

Of course, Johnny is happy for exactly one day before his little peanut brain decides to ruin it. He wakes up the next morning in a foul mood.

Ten and Johnny have vastly different schedules usually, but this week they’re both shooting at studios that are only a few blocks away from each other, so Johnny drives Ten to work.

Everything that could go wrong at Johnny’s shoot does go wrong. It gets so bad that the art director gives up and calls the day off at three, telling everyone to come back tomorrow when they’ll have the equipment they need.

Johnny buys himself an iced coffee and forlornly walks the three blocks to where Ten is shooting.

Ten’s still working when he gets there, but Johnny knows some of the people on staff so he gets in easily, waits for Ten in the back of the studio.

He likes watching Ten work, gets this little bubble of pride like yeah that’s my best friend.

After a few minutes, though, Johnny starts to get irritated at the photographer, who doesn’t seem to be meeting Ten in the middle, even though he’s giving it his all. Johnny doesn’t like to brag. Really, he doesn’t, but if other people want to talk about how great he is, he’s certainly not going to stop them. Johnny doesn’t like to brag, but he knows how to take a damn good photo of Ten.

It might be the thing he is best at. Sometimes he wonders if that’s his purpose in life: to play dungeons and dragons and take good photos of Ten.

It becomes obvious pretty quickly that this dude doesn’t know how to shoot Ten, and Johnny gets more and more irritated as time passes. He knows this photographer, and he’s got at least twenty years of experience under his belt. It’s not like Johnny can waltz over to him and say “hey dude, you’re getting his angles all wrong, and his skin glows more under warm-toned light”.

All he can do is stand in the back of the room and furiously sip on his coffee while some jackass takes sub-par photos of his favorite model.

“How’d it go?” Johnny asks when they’re in the car. Ten’s got his chin on the door, trying to take a selfie of his reflection in the side view mirror, the afternoon sun on his face, his hair blown around by the wind.

“Fine,” Ten answers, angling his chin up and taking another selfie before clicking his phone off and rolling up the window.

“Did you like how the pictures came out?” Johnny tries to keep the tense irritation out of his voice but he doesn’t succeed. Luckily he doesn’t think Ten notices.

“Yeah, sure,” Ten says distractedly.

Johnny’s quiet after that, and after a few minutes in stop and go traffic, he feels Ten’s eyes on him.

“Are you doing your weird jealous photographer thing?”

“It’s not weird!” Johnny says, “And I’m not jealous. It’s like a totally normal thing to feel.”

“Mhmm,” Ten says, leaning back against the headrest and closing his eyes. “Whatever you say.”

Johnny scowls, then turns on the radio.

“Stop pouting,” Ten says at the next red light. “We have that shoot with Yubin and Chris this weekend, you can take all the perfectly framed photos of me you want.”

Johnny snorts.

“You’ll be dressed as a tiefling, Ten,” Johnny says, “You’re gonna have horns.

“Bet I’ll still look good though,” Ten says with a smirk, closing his eyes again.

He does, is the thing.

The cosplay photoshoot had been Chris’s idea. Their design team had suggested that they update their website, and since they were a fashion-focused show, Chris thought it would be a good time to show off the character’s costumes that Ten and Chaeyoung had designed.

They hire a crew of make-up artists to do their looks for the shoot. They all get ready at the studio, where Johnny has to drive Ten there before dawn on Saturday so that they can get his horns on before the shoot.

Yubin gets there after about an hour, with a tray of coffees for everyone. She and Ten have a fun time being transformed, and she giggles as the make-up team paints her green everywhere her skin will be exposed.

Because Johnny is a genius, or, as Yubin likes to say “really fucking boring,” his character requires very little make-up, just a sick set of leather armor and some facial scarring, to make him look rugged.

They drive over to the park that Johnny scouted as the perfect setting for the shoot, and Johnny keeps grinning at the orc and the tiefling sleepily lounging against each other in the backseat. Yubin keeps snarling at Ten, baring her fangs and making him giggle.

He takes photos of Yubin first, looking green and ferocious on a pile of rocks.

Then it’s Ten’s turn. He’d been right, he does look good. His horns are cute, and the stylists had gotten his hair to look adorably tousled. His nobleman’s costume is sexy and well tailored with gleaming buttons.

He’s on one knee in front of Ten, the sun at his back when it happens. Yubin says something that makes Ten laugh brightly, and Johnny snaps his photo and looks down at the screen on his camera.

It’s like the drop at the beginning of a roller coaster; one moment Johnny is kneeling there in the dirt, perfectly comfortable with the whole situation he’s got going on, and the next second, he’s in freefall.

He’s in love with Ten.

He’s so in love with Ten.

He can’t move for a moment, can’t hear anything in his ears except for the frantic pumping of his own blood. He looks up in bewilderment, feeling the color drain from his face.

He’s in love. With Ten.

His best friend. His roommate. His business partner.

Ten says something to him and he doesn’t hear it. Ten comes over closer and asks him if he’s okay and Johnny wants to kiss him.

He’s thought about kissing Ten before. It’s hard to not think about kissing Ten once you know him. He kisses most of his friends. Not Johnny though. Why has Ten never kissed Johnny? Would Ten kiss him if he asked? Not now, of course, even though Johnny wants him to, horns and red face paint and all.

He manages to get a fucking grip for long enough to finish the photoshoot. He’s pretty sure his photos are going to come out completely shit. His smile felt fake and plastered on.

He feels like he’s underwater for the rest of the day, completely lost in the sauce, thoughts of every moment he’s ever spent with Ten playing over and over in his head.

By the time Johnny is in bed that night, staring at the wall that Ten is on the other side of, sleeping peacefully after making their shower look like a literal murder scene, he’s narrowed his overwhelming onslaught of thoughts down to two:

Obviously he’s in love with Ten, he can’t believe he didn’t see it before now, and

He cannot ruin the best thing in his life.

He sighs and rolls onto his other side. He makes up his mind that he’s going to say nothing. This doesn’t change anything. Ten is Ten. If he had felt anything remotely romantic for Johnny, surely he would have told him by now. And Johnny can’t put him in the awkward position of rejecting him. Not when their lives are so tangled up together.

Johnny really overestimated how easy it was going to be to keep his mouth shut. Mostly the problem is that he’s told Ten nearly every single thought that’s crossed his mind for years. It kills him not to be able to tell him this.

He hovers in the doorway to the bathroom like a fucking creep while Ten carefully dots his concealer on with his ring finger, and Johnny so badly wants to wrap his arms around him and tell him how beautiful Johnny thinks he is.

He drives Ten to work and Johnny can’t stop glancing down at Ten’s hand on the center console and considers threading their fingers together.

After a week, Johnny is absolutely miserable and has to tell somebody or he’s going to end up blurting it out or doing something else stupid.

He tells Joshua in the middle of a Starbucks run before a company meeting.

“Dude, I’m so screwed,” Johnny says, squeezing his hands on the steering wheel. It’s always been easier for Johnny to be honest when he’s in the car, when both parties are looking forward and he doesn’t have to make eye contact with anybody.

Joshua hands him his drink once his seatbelt is buckled.

“You never know,” Joshua says, maddeningly gentle as always. Johnny’s feeling particularly hostile right now and he envisions smacking Joshua’s iced tea out of his hand. Johnny thinks about it for a little too long before shaking his head. He’d never actually do it, Joshua’s a sweetheart. “People fall in love with their friends all the time. You guys are so close. I don’t think it would be a mistake to be honest with him.”

They pull up to a stoplight and Johnny stares over at Joshua’s drink again. It would be so easy to just reach over and—

“You wanna try some?” Joshua offers his straw to Johnny, because of course he does, and Johnny feels like an asshole, even though he didn’t technically do anything at all.

“No, I’m okay,” he says, “Thanks man. Seriously. I’ll think about it.”

The next weekend Johnny has a photoshoot with Joshua, and Chaeyoung, who by Saturday also knows about Johnny’s predicament because apparently, nice and considerate Joshua can’t keep a goddamn secret. Johnny forgives him as soon as he apologizes because he’s only human and not immune to the gentle Joshua eyes. Even when he’s dressed as a firbolg.

“I don’t think he does relationships,” Johnny says as Joshua adjusts Chaeyoung’s crown, making sure it’s in place on her head, nestled between her prosthetic ears and pinned to her blonde wig.

Chris is paying Johnny's full rate for his time, but Johnny feels weird taking too much money from his own company, so the only help he has on today’s shoot are also his models.

“What makes you think that?” Chaeyoung asks, wincing as Joshua tugs on her wig. “Ow!”

“Sorry!” he says, and Johnny snaps a few photos of the two of them. Their characters are always bickering in game, and the fans will like these candids of Chaeyoung, looking irritated and tiny and Joshua towering over her, looking awkward and apologetic, both in full costume.

“I’ve known him since college,” Johnny says, fiddling with his camera settings, “And I’ve never seen him date anyone for longer than a few months.”

Chaeyoung and Joshua exchange a look that Johnny immediately distrusts.

“What?” he says, lowering his camera to his chest and sighing. “I hate it when you guys do that.”

“Nothing,” Joshua says, “If you don’t know, you don’t know. I’m not gonna tell you.”

“Why don’t you just talk to him?” Chaeyoung says kindly. Johnny looks at her through the viewfinder again, gestures to Chaeyoung to move to the right and into the afternoon sunlight.

“I’m not good at that kind of stuff,” Johnny says, taking shots of her while she’s glancing up at him. He takes a few steps back, refocuses, kneels down so that he’s more on her level. She’s so much shorter than him that whenever they shoot like this he’s got to practically get on the ground to get her angles right.

Ten had made Johnny promise to capture all the details of Chaeyoung’s dress in the photos. He couldn’t make it to the shoot today but he’s been texting Johnny non-stop instructions. He can feel his phone buzzing in his pocket right now. He understands the impulse. This side project of theirs has become bigger than any of them expected, and they all desperately want it to succeed. They don’t want to let their fans down, so everything has to be perfect.

Chaeyoung’s dress is pretty, ruffled and ruched at the top, a sheer sparkling shawl around her shoulders. If it weren’t for the elf ears, this could almost be a normal fashion shoot.

“Come stand over here,” Johnny points, walking backwards over to a flowering bush that towers over Chaeyoung’s head. The powdery pink of the blossoms provide a satisfying contrast to the white of her dress, the gold shimmer of her shawl.

“Nobody’s good at that kind of stuff,” Chaeyoung says, laughing. Johnny gets a few shots of her smiling and catches himself subconsciously mirroring her expression. Chaeyoung is always fun to work with, her expressions so genuine, grinning at the camera like it's an old friend.

“No way,” he says, deadpan, “I thought lesbians were supposed to be good at talking. Isn’t that all you guys do.”

Chaeyoung scowls at him and he happily clicks the shutter. She points a finger right into the lens, scrunching up her nose.

“Someday I’m gonna kick your ass, Johnny Suh,” she says, looking about as threatening as a corgi, and Johnny grins, because he knows she could.

“I don’t doubt it.”

After their game on Thursday, Johnny stays behind to talk to Chris about his character, and Ten waits for him in the hall.

By the time he's done, Ten has fallen asleep on the couch in their studio. Johnny's heart twinges at the sight of him laying there on his side, hands tucked between his thighs. He almost doesn't have the heart to wake him. But they have to get home and Ten will be more comfortable in his own bed.

Johnny crouches by his head, gently runs a hand through Ten's silky hair.

"Hey," he says when Ten's eyes flutter open. "We gotta go home."

"Mmm," Ten mumbles, stretching and groaning. "Uh-uh. Wanna sleep here."

Johnny chuckles. God, he's so gone for him.

"C’mere," Johnny says, "I'll carry you."

Ten cracks an eye open at that, smiles slyly. He lifts up his arms like a toddler and Johnny scoops him up, wrapping Ten's legs around his waist. Ten nuzzles into his neck, his skin sleep-warm and soft, and Johnny feels his heart break, just a little bit. There isn't anything he can think of that he wouldn't do for this boy in his arms.

Ten's heavy, and completely limp, not supporting his own weight at all, but Johnny's been working out recently. He can take it.

Johnny heads for the door to the parking lot, but before he makes it he runs into Joshua in the hallway, who just surveys the two of them with raised eyebrows.

Wow, Joshua mouths, and if Johnny had a free hand to flip him off, he would. Instead he just pouts.

Tell him, Joshua mouths, and Johnny vehemently mouths back, No!!

Joshua shrugs, rolls his eyes and opens the door for Johnny to pass through.

Johnny’s not used to keeping things from Ten, and this is such a big thing, always right under the surface.

It’s two weeks later, when Johnny’s on the way back to his car after a long day at work. He calls Ten on the phone, even though he’s about to see him at home, because he can’t take it anymore.

“Hey,” Johnny says when Ten answers, “So I’m like. Freaking out a little.”

“Okay,” Ten says, and he sounds distracted, like he’s doing something else while they’re talking; cooking, or folding laundry, maybe. “Tell me what’s up.”

“You’re going to laugh at me,” Johnny says, “I think I’ve been really dumb.”

“Uh-huh,” Ten says, and Johnny hears the kitchen sink running. He’s doing dishes, then.

“I think I’ve been really dumb about us,” Johnny says. He hears the tap shut off, then Ten’s soft breaths on the phone. “I think I have to tell you something. Ten, I think I’m— God, why is this so hard? Ten. I think I’m in love with you. And, and—”


Something about his tone makes Johnny’s mouth snap shut. He breathes heavily through his nose, stepping over to the curb to let the people walking behind him pass.


Come home.

“Oh,” Johnny says, something like hope tugging at the corners of his mouth, “Okay. Yeah.”

Johnny gets back to his car before he realizes he's moving. He gets home in record time, no music playing, just driving in silence and chewing on the inside of his cheek.

He parks down the street in the first spot he can find, and walks deliberately down the sidewalk, trying to figure out what to say. Ten deserves a confession full of romance, doesn't he?

Should Johnny have stopped for flowers?

He falters for a moment, but then he sees Ten, on their front steps, sitting with his chin in his hand. He turns and sees Johnny and jumps to his feet.

Even from this distance, Johnny can see the moment of hesitation on his face, the way he doesn't smile or move, just waits, like he's watching to see what Johnny will do. Ten. Hesitating. Ten, nervous.

It's suddenly absolutely essential to Johnny that Ten never look like that about him ever again.

He stuffs his keys in his pocket and sweeps his hair back, jogging towards Ten with a growing smile on his face.

"Hey," he says, a little breathless, when he gets close enough, "You came out to meet me?"

"I couldn't sit in there and wait," Ten says, looking up at Johnny, shielding his eyes from the sun. "It was driving me crazy. My heart was beating so fast. Feel it."

Johnny steps closer and presses his palm against Ten's chest. Ten grabs his wrist, eyes still on his face, and presses his hand down. Johnny can feel the frantic beat of Ten's heart.

"What could possibly make the great and powerful Ten this nervous?" Johnny asks, eyes teasing. Ten bites his lip.

"You know," he says.

Johnny wants Ten to know everything, never wants him to doubt again that Johnny is absolutely obsessed with him, completely devoted, totally in love.

"Yeah, I think I do," Johnny says, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Ten says, insistently, and Johnny gets a bit lost in his eyes, in the way they sparkle and fix on Johnny so intently.

“Hey, hey,” Johnny says, an excited smile growing on his mouth, jostling Ten back and forth with his hand. “Hey. I love you.”

Johnny holds his face, his precious, perfect face, Johnny’s favorite face ever, maybe, and doesn't even think about it, just kisses him. Ten kisses back, pushing up onto his tip-toes and wrapping his hands around the back of Johnny's neck.

“Come inside,” Ten says, dropping back down onto his heels. “I want you to finish telling me what you wanted to say on the phone.”

Johnny doesn’t have to be told that twice. He lets Ten lead him upstairs by the hand, feeling a bit like this is all a dream he might wake up from any moment. But then they’re inside and Ten is turning around and kissing him again. He should keep doing that forever, Johnny thinks.

“We could go talk in my room?” Johnny suggests, nosing along Ten’s jaw and up to his ear.

“Uh-uh,” Ten says with a giggle, holding him at arm’s length. “If we do this anywhere near a bed I’m not gonna want to talk about anything.”

“Okay, right,” Johnny says, nodding. He understands what Ten means. If he thinks any more about what Ten could possibly do to him in his bedroom, he’s not going to want to talk either.

It doesn't matter, in the end.

Johnny gets through his awkward, stilted confession while Ten takes his hand and kisses each of his knuckles.

Ten looks up at him over his glasses and says, "I love you too. Can we have sex now?"

Johnny grabs him and tickles him until he's laughing and wheezing, kicking at Johnny's legs.

He looks down at Ten underneath him on the couch in the afternoon sun. This is usually when the photographer part of his brain says; get your camera. He's beautiful. Look at this lighting.

Instead Johnny just tells him.

"You're gorgeous," he says, and Ten shrugs like he knows, but Johnny can see the smile curling his mouth.

Ten reaches up and touches his eyebrows, his nose, taps his pointer finger against Johnny's lips.

Johnny ducks down and kisses him, keeps on kissing him after Ten takes his glasses off and places them carefully on their coffee table. Keeps kissing him as Ten sneakily attempts to get Johnny naked, slowly tugging up his shirt, working his fingers into the waistband of Johnny's jeans.

Johnny pulls back and tries to be sexy as he takes his clothes off for Ten, but he gets caught in his jeans and starts giggling and then Ten is giggling too and standing up to help him.

Ten bends down to free Johnny's ankle from his skinny jeans, and then kneels down on the rug and Johnny forgets about anything that isn't Ten, on his knees in front of him.

Ten runs his hands up the back of Johnny's thighs, keeping eye contact with him as he gets his fingertips under the hem of his boxer-briefs, digging his fingernails in and scratching down.

Johnny folds almost in half to kiss him, then follows him down to the ground.

It feels so natural, so normal, to be kissing Ten like this, to undress him and touch the inviting soft warmth of his skin.

He looks gorgeous, too, here on the floor of their little apartment, on the woven red rug that Ten had bought at a flea market a few months ago.

The bright southern California sun looks right at home in Ten's shiny black hair, on his bare chest, the soft brown of his nipples. The contrasting black spikes of his tattoo.

Johnny worships him, this body he'd thought he knew so well. But now he gets to learn it all over again, new.

He kisses his mouth, his nose, his eyelids, then south, his neck, his chest, presses his mouth to the soft expanse of Ten's stomach, feels the way it rises and falls with each breath.

Johnny only gets up once, when Ten sends him to get lube and condoms from his bedroom.

“We could go to my bedroom now,” Johnny suggests when he gets back, looking down at Ten on the floor. “Or even the couch.”

Ten shakes his head, grinning and stretching his arms up above his head, hands in tiny fists.

“Right here,” he says, tipping his chin back and fluttering his eyes closed as the sun falls on his face.

Johnny’s painstakingly careful, gentle as he preps him, as he rocks into him, slow. He tries to last as long as possible, but he can’t stop thinking; Ten, this is Ten.

He comes with his mouth pressed against Ten’s, his elbows on either side of his head, hands in his hair, cradling him. He gets Ten off with his mouth, Ten grabbing his hair and spilling onto his tongue as the sun sets down past the windowsill, casting the living room in shadow.

“Sorry for wasting all this time,” Johnny says, rolling onto his side and curling an arm protectively around Ten’s stomach, resting his head on his shoulder. “If I’d realized sooner, we could have been together all this time.”

Ten runs his fingers through Johnny’s hair.

"Don’t think of it that way. We didn't waste any time. I haven't needed more from you than what you've given me, Johnny,” Ten says, “You're my best friend. So we took some extra time. Maybe we weren’t ready yet. Maybe it would have been a disaster."

“Woulda been fun though,” Johnny says, kissing right beneath Ten’s collarbone.

“Well duh,” Ten says, “It’s us. It was always gonna be fun.”