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Seasons of Love

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"Small things become big.

Winter turns to spring.

One thing always changes into another."

(Brother Bear)

 

Everyone knows what college is about: finding your soulmate.

Yeah, yeah, there’s also the whole thing about getting an education, making connections for the future, learning how to survive by yourself, but when it comes down to it, what most people can remember from their college days is 'searching’: going from relationship to relationship, waiting anxiously to feel it - ‘it’ being the obvious and unmistakable sign the universe gives you that this is the one you’re meant to be, or your soulmate. Some people are lucky to find it in their first partner, enjoying the next four years being completely and grossily in love, but it takes a few attempts for everyone else, who just keeps trying: the universe makes it so that your soulmate is never someone too far away or impossible, and the reason why college is the place almost everyone finds theirs is just that there really isn’t a place better designed for searching: you meet thousands of people in your years of education, so odds are, one of them is the one.

Despite being well into his last year in college, Johnny haven’t felt it yet; and he knows too well that he’s the one to be blamed for it, not the universe. “You just haven’t looked enough” is not an uncommon phrase for people still on the search to hear, and in Johnny’s case, it’s true. The way searching works is that you meet someone, you go out, you date, pull all the stops - and then, eventually, you fall in love; and when you do, that’s when it comes. It’s different for everyone: the sign is supposed to be very obvious, but also completely unique to something you truly love. When Yukhei felt it, he was staring at Xiaojun edit a video on his notebook, and suddenly, he could smell his favorite dish his mother used to make him, even though she was a country away. But when it came for Xiaojun, two weeks later, it was seeing Yukhei walk to him like it was a movie, with an epic soundtrack and special effects. The sign only comes when you’re in love, and it has no set time: it happens when it happens, in a week or in a year - though, the latter is so much rarer that most people would normally accept it’s not meant to be after 3 or 4 months of being in love. Searching can be cruel when it means you have to fall in love to find out that your significant other is not the one, and then break up, and then fall in love again, and so on. Some people just don’t do it, accepting their love for each other as more important than something the universe decided for them, and Johnny can’t blame them, because he can’t say the thought didn’t cross his mind once before.

The reason Johnny didn’t search enough has a name: Chittaphon Leechaiyapornkul, or Ten. Johnny met the thai student when he was a sophomore and Ten was a freshman, and a few dates later, Johnny was sure he was the one; and over a year into his relationship, he was still certain about it. Ten and Johnny clicked amazingly well together, not only as lovers but as best friends - there was something about the younger’s energy and foolish sense of humor that brought the child in Johnny out, and whenever they were together, it was all about being silly, getting into trouble and feeling young. Johnny was so completely in love, he could never allow himself to think about not being Ten: it was rare for the sign to take so long, he knew the odds of them being destined were thinner everyday, but they were happy and it felt perfect.

But when Ten told him that he felt it , Johnny knew by the tears and the pained look in his boyfriends eyes, that he was wrong. And for a second, he thought about it, thought about asking Ten to ignore the universe, to trust that their love was enough, but he saw it wasn’t fair: Ten had someone out there that was guaranteed to make him the happiest he could ever be, and more than that, Ten loved that person: it was the only way he could have felt it. So Johnny let him go, despite how much it broke his heart, and for a long time after that, simply didn’t go back to searching.

For the most part, Johnny thinks he is alright with it. His friends are constantly nagging him to get him out there, to not waste his young years being by himself submerged in all the books he has to read for his English Literature graduate thesis, but he always answers with some variation of “I’m not ready yet”, which, if he pairs with puppy eyes and a heartbroken expression, will usually take them out of his ass for a while. After his break up with Ten, Johnny was completely broken, and it took a lot of effort to get him to a good place again - none of his friends are willing to risk him going back to that even if it means Johnny was losing all of his searching years.

Perhaps that’s why, when at the first days of spring, Johnny gets home to his apartment and sees a white envelope by the dinner table, Mark is quick to avert his gaze and pretend to be busy watching the TV on the couch. Johnny furrows his brows, taking the envelope in his hands to look at it closely. He freezes.

“When.. did this get here?” He asks, small voice. Mark is now looking at him with a concerned gaze.

“Ten hyung brought it over a few hours ago. I think he knew you would be at class, cause he didn’t seem surprised you weren’t here to receive it”.

Johnny snorts unhumourously, because of course Ten knew; it was only 7 months ago that he helped Johnny make his schedule, so that they could still meet up comfortably on weekdays. It felt ironic that he was making use of the knowledge now, as he dropped the invitation for his wedding on Johnny’s doorstep.

It wasn’t uncommon for soulmates to marry soon into their relationship; if you already know that person is the one you’re spending your life with, why wait? Still, it felt too soon to be looking at Ten’s and Hendery’s (the chinese guy Johnny later found out was the lucky one) name beautifully drafted into the paper, with a wedding date set to late next fall; Johnny had barely looked at another male eyes in a non platonic way, and Ten was already planning a future.

Mark watched Johnny’s expression carefully, specially the way he folded the invite back and put it on the table again. “Should I tell Taeil hyung to pick up some soju on the way back from work?”.

Johnny takes a few seconds to answer, running his hand through his hair. “Yeah, that would be nice”.

❁❁❁

A few hours later, Johnny is sprawled on the ground, taking yet another swig from the bottle in his hand. Mark is by his side, laying against the couch eating a fried chicken wing, and their other roommate, Taeil, is casually laying against Johnny’s other side, his own bottle in hands. They’re all listening to Yukhei (their friend who doesn’t live with them but might as well considering the amount of time he spends in their apartment) loudly talk about his own opinions on the matter of hand, clearly already a bit tipsy.

“Now - listen,” he says, as if they weren’t all listening before. “If I was getting married with my soulmate, I wouldn’t invite my ex to the marriage! That’s a dick move!”.

He sounds exasperated, and Johnny can’t help but smile: he can always count on his best friends to be angry about the world and slightly protective on his behalf.

“I don’t know,” Taeil starts, and as always, his voice is a lot calmer and more reasonable “He and Johnny weren’t just together, they were best friends. I think it would be weird for Ten to not invite someone who was so important to what might as well be the biggest moment of his life”.

Taeil sneaks a glance at Johnny, trying to see if his words somehow affected the younger. Johnny just nods, in agreement.

“I guess…” Yukhei says, and he sounds a bit dejected. After a few minutes in comfortable silent as they drink and eat, he starts again. “Hey, hyung”.

Johnny looks at him, still chewing “What?”

“Do you still like Ten?”

The question is followed with silence, and Johnny knows his friends are looking at him in expectation. Johnny already knew the answer the moment it was asked, in fact he knew it a long time ago, but saying it out loud would makes it real.

“No, not really” he sighs, and takes another swig “I think I was just holding onto the feelings because I’m scared, you know, to get out there. But I think I fell out of love a long time ago”.

All of his friends nod, but they seem somehow relieved by his answer. Now they know this wedding thing isn’t going to put Johnny into another spiral; in fact, he can see in their exchanged glances that they perhaps saw it as an opportunity.

“Maybe you should, you know, get out there” Mark starts, and Johnny opens his mouth only to be stopped by the youngers words “No, just listen: you know you’re no longer in love with Ten, so all you’re doing right now is moping and missing your chance to be happy, you know. Just as happy as he is”.

“I’m happy though!” Johnny protests.

“Yeah, yeah, but you know what I mean” Mark continues “You’re gonna tell me sometimes you don’t wish you had someone? To go out with us? To not be alone on friday nights?”

“That’s not good enough reason to fall in love, Mark.” Johnny tries to logic, sounding a little resigned.  

“Johnny” Taeil starts, and his tone is a unsurprisingly lot quieter than Mark’s “Can’t you just give it a chance? I know you’re scared, but you can’t let it control you. You deserve love, like everyone else, and even if it wasn’t Ten, you know it will be someone you meet. Please tell me you’re at least going to try”.

Johnny looks at his own bottle for a while, then he feel Taeil snuggle under his arms, wrapping his arms around Johnny’s torso. He hugs his best friend closer, and hear the vibrations of another “Please” hit his chest. Out of everyone in that room, Johnny and Taeil know each other the longest, and the older one has always had his own odd way of getting through to Johnny, even if it means being a lot softer than he would be with anyone else.  Eventually, Johnny sighs, and finishes off his drink.

“Ok, alright. But I don’t even know where to meet people anymore”.

Yukhei and Mark celebrate loudly, and Johnny can’t help but laugh at their excitement. “Don’t worry hyung! We will find someone for you to meet!”.

❁❁❁

So during spring, Johnny finds Jungwoo.

When Yukhei and Taeil barge into his room two days after their conversation talking about how they found the perfect someone to get Johnny back into it, he’s a bit suspicious on how little time it took. When they tell him it’s actually Yukhei’s upperclassman and Taeil’s tutoring student, Johnny gets even less confident, because dating people close to your friends can turn out to be a bit awkward after a while. Still, he agrees to go out to a coffee date with the guy, and it turns out to be much better than he expects.

Jungwoo is younger than Johnny, by three years, and it shows; he’s always bright, has a lot of energy and is full of what Johnny can only explain as an innate and natural cuteness one could never recreate. While Johnny is a bit nervous at first, not being used to being with someone that isn’t his ex, Jungwoo is patient and never pushes him too much; their dates start casual, grabbing coffee after class, meeting on the cafeteria for lunch, going for late night walks around the campus holding hands. Jungwoo likes to talk almost as much as Johnny, and their conversations always end up going on for hours; they discuss their friends in common, their majors, and Jungwoo seems especially passionate about talking about his work as an florist. Johnny never met someone who knows so much about flowers and their meanings, and even if it may seem like not that exciting of a subject, the way Jungwoo’s eyes would shine as he nerded out over it was completely captivating. It gets more comfortable as time passes, and Johnny sees that Jungwoo has a lot more to him than just being an endearing dongsaeng: he’s mature, has a good sense of what he wants, is considerate and extremely kind hearted in a way Johnny can’t help but appreciate. He’s also very pretty, with round features that make him resemble an adorable puppy, and a smile that makes Johnny heart skip a few heartbeats. The older finds himself warming up more and more to the idea of having Jungwoo with him and taking a step he thought he would be too scared to make.

After a while, the casual dates turn to dinner dates, movies, catching up on soccer season at each other’s places; they become more intimate in a way that leave people wondering whether they are together or not. Johnny knows Jungwoo is waiting for him, trying to respect the fact that he prefered to take things slow, and it starts to get him anxious to think that he wants to take the step, but when it comes down to it, he can’t.

Taeil ends up being the one to give Johnny the last push; “If you get your head out of your ass and kiss Jungwoo already, I promise I’ll ask out the chinese guy from work”.

Johnny looks up from the book his reading, looking surprised “Who? The Kun guy?”

“Yes, him. The whole departament went out for drinks last friday and turns out he’s a really nice guy, a bit softer than what I usually like but…” He shrugs, and an smirk takes his face “He dyed his hair blond and it makes him look really hot”.

Johnny laughs, and ends up nodding in agreement; he was never one to back out of an bet anyway “Sure, I’ll do it, but you have to give him a fair chance! No giving up after a few weeks just because he ‘doesn’t know how to properly make your coffee’ or some dumb shit like that”

Taeil scoffs, offended, but he knows Johnny is right: despite being easily willing to go out with a lot of people, Taeil has a precedent for giving up on relationships way before they even get a chance for falling in love. He always has an excuse, some petty thing he will hold on to, but really, Johnny knows that Taeil is just not someone who’s very good at dealing with his own feelings, or allowing himself to become that vulnerable. It sometimes worry Johnny that Taeil has perhaps already met his soulmate, and just haven’t waited long enough to know.

The saturday after the conversation, Johnny takes Jungwoo out for what he feels is a carefully planned romantic date. He picks him up at his dorm with an bouquet of pink Camellias; he isn’t surprised that Jungwoo smiles and blushes the moment he seems them, mumbling the meaning under his breath “my destiny is in your hands”. They hold hands across the table all through lunch, and Johnny gets a little bit braver, putting his arms around the other guy’s waist as they go for ice cream afterwards. While the date in itself isn’t something they haven’t done before, it feels different, and both of them can feel it; so when they go for a walk in Yeouido Park to look at the cherry blossoms, it’s a matter of time before Jungwoo turns to Johnny, and almost like it’s the easiest thing in the world, bridges the tiny height difference by lightly brushing their lips together.

It gives Johnny butterflies, and it makes him blush and smile at the same time; turns out he didn’t even need to take the first step after all, because Jungwoo understood what he needed and took the leap of faith for the both of them. So he kisses his now boyfriend again, and again, until they start getting a bit embarrassed under all the side looks they are receiving. The whole afternoon is light and heartwarming, exactly the way Jungwoo makes Johnny feel, so when he gets home that night all his roomates need to know they were amazing cupids is to see the silly smile plastered on Johnny’s face.

❁❁❁

Johnny’s and Jungwoo’s relationship is a lot like spring itself.

It’s warm, but not too hot; they spend a lot of time together, and while Jungwoo brings an energy to Johnny’s life he hasn’t had since he was an undergrad, they also tend to balance out each other, and it leaves a very mild and calm result. They’re slow kisses, playing with fingers, laughing at each other and taking mid afternoon naps while cooking shows play on TV. They’re the middle ground in going out with Jungwoo’s junior friends who like to drink till 4am and throw up on the curb and having dinner parties at Johnny’s grad school friends who are mostly married and feel sleepy after 3 glasses of wine and the clock hitting 1am.

Like spring, the days and the sunlight are longer with them. They almost never argue, fight, bicker or disagree, despite being different people in very different points of their lives. Both Johnny and Jungwoo are listeners, both willing to let go of their pride for the other easily, so situations in which they get truly upset with each other are very rare: everything tends to be solved with a good conversation and an offering of peace: flowers for Jungwoo and books for Johnny.

Spring also means rebirth, regrow and renewal; for Johnny, all of those things go to Jungwoo himself. As he spends more and more time with the boy, he finds himself letting go of things he learned to be scared for: for a long time, Johnny didn’t think that would be possible again, but being around Jungwoo makes him think less and less about the what ifs, the negative outcomes, the risks that their situation always brings. Jungwoo, with his sweet smile, positive words and light sense of humor, makes it easy for Johnny to focus, focus on being happy with where he is, and accept that things will go where they need to go.

So when both of them decide that after a few months of being in love and receiving no sign means that they’re probably not to be, Johnny knows that the reason he doesn’t feel like it’s the end of the world has nothing to do with how much he loves Jungwoo; on the contrary. He loves Jungwoo enough to know that because it’s Jungwoo , and his power over him, it couldn’t matter less that they weren’t soulmates: what they had was still important and special in it’s own way. It’s still heart breaking, and Johnny still cries for days as his best friends comfort him with ice cream and plushies, but despite the tears on their faces as him and Jungwoo kiss for the last time, the kind words and wishes of good luck that comes right after are the most heartfelt and genuine.

❁❁❁

Johnny tries not to get distracted by how Xiaojun is sitting on Yukhei’s lap right in the middle of his living room, their “disgustingly in love” label as obvious as an neon sign. He’s still sulking and bitter about him and Jungwoo, and how the universe was clearly dumb not to see how they were perfect for each other, so having to sit and watch as Yukhei pepper kisses all over his boyfriend face really wasn’t helping with his mood or his focus as he tries to finish off his homework.

He quickly ends up giving up on the task as he hears the living room door open, and a clearly upset Taeil walk through it. He calmly closes his notebook in front of him, and without another word prepares himself for the smaller guy to just silently fall into his gigantic arms, snuggling to his friend like he was an oversized teddy bear. The lovebirds across the room sense the mood right away, and at least have the decency to stop sucking face to look concerned.

“Hyung? You ok?”. Yukhei asks in a worried tone, and Taeil just sighs.

“I did it,” he says, sounding exhausted “I broke up with Kun, and it was awful

That gets Johnny’s attention very quickly. Taeil is used to breaking things off, in fact, he’s very good at letting people down as gently as possible, being direct and honest but regardless, mindful of their feelings. He never heard his best friends describe an break up as negatively as he just did, which means something different happened.

Sensing that everyone was waiting for him to continue, Taeil went on. “He.. confessed to me today. Like, he told me he loved me, and I thought I would be able to say it back, I thought that it was mutual, but it just didn't come out. I couldn’t feel it, and I just knew it wasn’t love, and I freaked out and instead of thinking of a better answer, I just told him I thought we should break up”.

Xiaojun takes a long gasp, and Yukhei whistles. “Rough”

“I know” Taeil mumbles back, putting his head into his hands. Johnny’s natural protective side squeezes him a bit tighter “Kun is such a nice guy, who always treated me so good, he didn’t deserve this, not at all. I was an asshole, wasn’t I?”.

No one answers, so Johnny takes it upon himself. “You were” he says, and Taeil groans again “but the entire situation was kind of fucked up, and he would end up upset anyway if you did it now or in a week. If you didn’t feel it, than you didn’t feel it, and you guys probably weren’t soulmates then”

Taeil doesn’t show much reaction, but at least he takes his hand out of his face and lays his body back on Johnny’s chest, letting his head fall back and his eyes close. Johnny nudges him, playfully. “You should still apologize though. The timing was shitty”.

Taeil snorts, and then nods. “I don’t think I want to listen to your searching advice for at least another year though. This was too intense, at least in my way I don’t feel shitty afterwards”.

“Well, in my way, at least you feel something!” Johnny pokes his friend's sides. “You can’t run from it forever, hyung.”

“Which is why,” Yukhei pipes in. “neither of you should stop searching! I don’t want another redacted situation where there’s way too much moping and way too little kissing going around”.

Johnny laughs. “You can say his name Yukhei, you don’t need to call him redacted”.

“I’m still pissed about the wedding thing” Yukhei narrows his eyes “Especially because he could invite his ex and he couldn’t invite me? Very rude”.

Even Taeil laughs at how salty and childish their friend sound, before getting up to call some take out place for them to eat their feelings. Once Mark gets home, he chiperly announces to everyone that he himself is seeing someone from his class, and that he thinks maybe this is the one. The mood of the night is light despite how upset Taeil was earlier, and they even joke about how Johnny and Taeil are so in sync with their getting together and breaking up that it’s likely they’ll find their soulmates at the same time too.

That thought somehow brings comfort to Johnny, although he can’t really tell why.

✸✸✸

Summer is hot, and so is basketball captain Jung Jaehyun.

Mark is the one that convinces all of his friends they should attend his final game of the season, to support him when they win the championship. Johnny haven’t really attended any of his friend games before, as they usually coincide with his thursday night shift; luckily though, his manager finally managed to rotate his shift to tuesday, so now Johnny is more than free to show his school spirit by cheering Mark on.

Mark, and the tall blonde guy with dimples that has JAEHYUN written on his back.

Johnny thinks that his admiration is very discreet, but apparently not as much as he hoped so, because 30 minutes into the game, Taeil elbows him on the stomach. “Mark will love to know that you came all the way to support him and just ended up getting a hard on over his team mate”.

Johnny chokes on the coke he’s drinking, and his ears turn red in embarrassment. It doesn’t help that Sicheng, Taeil’s current boyfriend, also snorts: the boy barely speaks full sentences when he’s around Johnny (Taeil says it’s because he’s not confident in his korean, though Johnny notices he is much more talkative with Mark), but even he finds humor in how Johnny is lusting over some boy he barely knows anything about.

The american tries not to become too distracted over Jaehyun’s arms, legs, smile and sweaty hair while the game still goes, and focus his energy into screaming top of his lungs everytime Mark makes a point. When the final bell rings and their team is the champion, the crowd goes insane in cheers and Johnny and his friends find themselves running to the court, excited to celebrate with their team.

After Mark hugs his teammates and does what Johnny can only guess is their team’s chant, Johnny is sure that he’ll come talk to them; instead, he’s surprised to see his younger friend bee line towards an smaller, tanned boy standing on the bleachers, and kiss him with so much passion it makes everyone around them cheer in excitement. Johnny can hear Taeil groan in horror on his side (“He’s so young!” “He’s literally same age as Yukhei” “Doesn’t matter!”), and Yukhei first crack in a loud laughter before screaming top of his lungs “Yes, you go baby bro!”. Johnny himself is somewhere in the middle, laughing at funny it is to see Mark show so much PDA, and how awkward due to to how he’s basically his brother.

When the canadian finally joins them, he has the beaming tanned boy by his side, and quickly introduces him as Donghyuck, his boyfriend . The boy is a very bright kid, who’s cute shenanigans get quickly into Johnny’s endearing side; however, he also seems to have a knack for teasing and annoying their friend, and that’s what gets Johnny to decide that he will personally manipulate the universe into making this two soulmates, as he can’t wait to adopt Donghyuck as his new favorite son.

In amidst all the celebrating and Markhyuck talk, Johnny almost forgets about the guy he’s been lusting over the last 2 hours. It surprises him when when he sees Jaehyun come in their direction, obviously looking to talk to Mark, and it surprises him even more to see the blonde guy measure him up as he comes by; Johnny suddenly feels very self conscious of the fact he hasn’t really washed his hair in four days.

“Hey, Mark, coming to the celebration? It’s going to be over at Sehun’s apartament”. Jaehyun asks when he’s close enough, and his voice sounds equal parts deep and sweet. Johnny is even more mesmerized by how good he looks from up close, just a tiny bit shorter than himself with a large build and dimples Johnny has to fight the urge to poke into.

Mark looks at his friends in expectation, and they know the boy will just go along with whatever they prefer; he looks perfectly happy together with his best friends and boyfriend. Surprisingly, Yukhei takes the lead in answering “Yeah, he will! Can we come too?”.

Johnny would be embarrassed by how direct Yukhei is, but before he can think too much about it, he hears Jaehyun laugh and gets distracted by it. “Absolutely dude! Mark knows where to go, see you guys there!”

Johnny thinks he imaged the look Jaehyun gave him before going over to his friends, but Yukhei is very quick to comment. “You’re welcome hyung, I will take my payments in rides to my morning classes”

“Welcome for what?” Johnny plays along, despite knowing the answer.

“For getting you one step closer to riding that dick!” Yukhei answers, and Mark’s eyes widen quickly “Or giving him that dick? Wait, you’re a top or a bottom? Nevermind, I don’t think I want to know”.

Johnny rolls his eyes, and is about to give an snarky reply before Mark interrupts more loudly than necessary. “You’re into Jaehyun hyung?!?”

After quickly scanning around and hoping no one heard his friends little outburst, Johnny provides in a annoyed tone. “Can you please be louder? Don’t think he heard yet. And why is that so surprising?”

Mark mumbles an apology, although he doesn't look that apologetic with a knowing smirk in his face. “Just never pegged you for the straight sports bro kind of guy, considering Ten and Jungwoo”.

Johnny can’t help the frown that quickly takes his expression. “He’s straight?”

Mark laughs at how disappointed his friend looks, and puts an sympathetic hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, he’s bi. But I’m sure you know being straight is more of an state of mind, so you should be prepared”.

✸✸✸

Mark is right: had Johnny not been sure of the guy’s sexuality, he would definitely have given up on Jaehyun after he hears the younger boy say “bro!” for the fourth time in 3 minutes. He reminds Johnny a lot of the white boys he went to high school with back in Chicago, and it is equal parts unsettling and humorous.

But still, he couldn’t care less about Jaehyun’s fuck boy vocabulary when all he’s interested in hearing is the younger boy moans as he kisses him deep in the bathroom of said party. It’s hot, humid, slightly uncomfortable but full of passion and hormones, and it’s exactly what Johnny needs.

Dating Jaehyun makes Johnny feel young. Not only the boy reminds him of home back in America, with his musical taste and culture references (“Dude, it feels so good to meet someone else who has actually watched The Office!”), but being with Jaehyun is an roller coaster of experiences that make him feel like a dumb, stupid and horny teenager. They sneak out at 3am to make out on Jaehyun’s dormstep, they go out to drink on weekdays and go to class on no sleep the following morning. It’s lewd kisses in public and amazing sex every single time, it’s making terrible decisions and not regretting them later because all they can remember is how much fucking fun they had. It’s everything Johnny did and didn’t do when he was Jaehyun’s age, and it’s addicting.

Jaehyun himself is one of the sweetest and chillest people Johnny has ever met; it’s easy to let go of everything when he’s around him, because if Jaehyun himself doesn’t care for a second, them neither should Johnny. He’s easy to talk to, and fits very easily in Johnny’s ever growing friend group, even making an tight friendship with Sicheng (Johnny tries not to be too bitter on the fact that Sicheng talks to his boyfriend than to himself): they end up going on various double and group dates, and Johnny isn’t embarrassed to say that it’s the most light hearted fun he’s had in longer than he can remember.

The heat is at its highest when the school year ends and summer vacation comes, and yet, it becomes the time where their relationship start to cool down the most. Both being one of the few that actually spend their vacation on Seoul, Johnny and Jaehyun meet up the most often out of their friend group, keeping constant contact over text and in person. They become close, tighter than they expected, and without noticing, their relationship starts becoming more and more platonic, in a very comfortable and natural way. They don’t kiss as much, don’t have sex as much, prefering to play Mario Kart into late night or having in depth discussions over Netflix shows. It’s as if, without them noticing, both take a larger step in their relationship: it just happens that said step is towards friendship, and not romance. When Jaehyun eventually asks Johnny if it would be OK if he went on a date with a journalism student he knows, it’s not at all awkward or uncomfortable, and it’s clear to both of them that despite not falling in love and finding soulmates in each other, they came out with an bond and connection just as precious.

✸✸✸

As the months go by, Johnny focus more on getting ready and settling in to a new school year than in thinking about dating anyone else. It’s an unofficial pause in searching, and he’s thankful that Yukhei and Mark are too busy with constantly talking about their visits to their home country over the summer break to worry too much on Johnny’s lack of romantic life. Taeil is the only one that notices, but he understands that Johnny thinks having two boyfriends back to back earns him a well deserved break for at least a while; he still offers to introduce one of Sicheng’s friends though, something Johnny politely refuses leaving out the part that he thinks Sicheng wouldn’t want him with one of his friends anyway.

Taeil and Sicheng are going strong, and despite the fact that Johnny is not that tight with Sicheng, Johnny feels happy for them. Everyone seems to be comfortably in the expectations that they will be soulmates, just because they have never seen Taeil open up so much to anyone, ever. Taeil has an look of adoration when he looks at the chinese boy, and Johnny can admit that it does weirds him out to see it a first, making it slightly uncomfortable for him to be around the couple, but he passes it off as not being used to seeing Taeil so clearly into someone. It doesn’t surprise Johnny when his best friend wakes him up at 2am with an elated smile to admit that they confessed they’re in love with each other.

And yet, months go by, and nothing. Johnny can feel how Taeil starts to get anxious and antsy, and everyone is almost tip toeing around the elephant in the room, whispering about how much they’re hoping for it happen already when they don’t think Taeil can hear. No one wants to acknowledge that maybe the two aren’t destined.

So when Johnny hears Taeil sneak into their room at 1:40am in a school night followed by very clear noises of crying, Johnny’s heart grows tight very quickly. He hopes that it is nothing much (after all Taeil can be a crybaby at times), hopes that it’s maybe just a fight or stress, but something in him knows. And so he leaves his bed and climbs over to Taeil, who doesn’t hesitate one second before letting his bigger friend curl up to him, burying his face in Johnny’s chest right away.  

While Johnny has seen Taeil cry many times before, he’s never heard something so heartbreaking as this. The pain in the older guy’s sobs goes straight into Johnny’s heart, and it makes him feel both incredibly sad and angry at the same time. He’s sad because Taeil deserves this, he deserved Sicheng to be the one, and he’s angry because it doesn’t matter what Taeil deserves, because Sicheng isn’t and there’s nothing they can do. He settles with kissing the top of his friend head, rubbing comforting circles in his back and waiting.

Eventually, after a few hours, the sobbing subsides, though Johnny suspects it’s mostly because Taeil is too tired to cry. They don’t stop cuddling, and Johnny is almost drifting to sleep when he hears a voice so tiny he may have thought he imagined it if it wasn’t by how it vibrates against his chest.

“He was the one to suggest it,” Taeil starts, and Johnny waits for him to continue, the hand on the youngers back indicating he’s listening. “That we broke up, that is. I wouldn’t have suggested it for at least three more months, but he thought it was clear already. That I wasn’t the one”.

There’s a certain bitterness in Taeil’s voice, and Johnny has to fight back the urge to be angry at Sicheng too, despite what all of the logic says; the younger just can’t avoid the protective feeling he has over his best friend. Still, he tries his best to sound neutral as he says. “Taeil, some people don’t like to prolong it, cause they’re scared the longer it takes the harder it’ll be to let go. I’m sure you can understand that”.

Johnny isn’t sure he said the right thing, because he can feel Taeil’s voice sound strained with tears again. “But why would we need to let go? I would have done it. If Sicheng wanted to, I would have say fuck you to my soulmate and I would have stayed with him”.

Johnny doesn’t answer immediately; he doesn’t know what to say. He’s been there, in the exact same place Taeil was, and he doesn’t remember hearing anything that made any difference. After what feels like a few minutes, he starts off in a quiet but firm voice.

“Hyung, I know. I know how you’re feeling, and I know it sucks. It hurts, it hurts so much, and it will hurt for some time, and there isn’t much anyone can do. But you know what made me feel better? Having you with me, telling me that despite what it felt like, I wasn’t over. It didn’t mean the end”.

Taeil doesn’t answer, but he stops crying, so Johnny continues. “It wasn’t Sicheng, and I know you wished that it was, I know that right now you think there isn’t a single reason why Sicheng couldn’t be the one. But please don’t forget that someone is, and that someone isn't far. Someone will love you as much as Sicheng did, and much more. And you’ll love them too, even if you don’t think you can. You will be happy, in fact, you will be happier than you have ever been. That person, your soulmate, he will be the most amazing guy in the universe, and you know why? Because only someone like that could ever deserve the honor to have your love till the end”.

Johnny is worried that maybe Taeil has fallen asleep and his entire speech fell into deaf ears, because he can’t feel the older move a muscle for a while. Eventually, he hugs Johnny closer, and Johnny let’s him, burying his own hair on the mess that is Taeil’s hair, inhaling the comforting smell that is so distinctively Taeil. After some time, Taeil raises his head to look into Johnny’s eyes, and he tries not to let his heart break too much from seeing the older with red eyes and a swollen face, fighting the urge to rub his finger to clean the tears away; he knows Taeil would probably feel embarrassed by that.

“Thank you” Taeil says, and his voice sounds very tired, but also calmer. He doesn’t say more, and he doesn’t need to, because Johnny knows his best friend too well and knows the genuine feeling behind the few words. He smiles down at his friend, and shakes his head like it’s nothing.

“You should go to sleep, it’s late. And don’t even try to get up for class tomorrow, or I will personally drag you back into bed. You deserve to rest, hyung”.

Taeil hums, but doesn’t make any movement to let Johnny go; instead, he closes his eyes and lets his head fall into Johnny’s chest once again. Johnny waits for a few minutes, confused, and starts to move to get untangled from Taeil’s arms, but the younger just holds him tighter.

“Stay.” he says, voice already sleepy. “I don’t want to be alone tonight. Stay.” 

Johnny is a bit surprised for a second, because he never slept together with Taeil before, but it dissipates quickly. He doesn’t answer, but finds himself getting into a more comfortable position on the single bed, turning Taeil over so that the younger is the big spoon, his arms draped over the older’s waist and his face buried in his hair.

Johnny drifts to sleep on the comforting smell of Taeil, taeil, taeil.

 ϟϟϟ

When autumn is at its peak, Johnny is as invested in his masters as he’s ever been. Any time he’s not sleeping or working, he can be found at the library, reading, taking notes and feeling like he’s one step closer to death by stress.

Taeil tries to make sure he eats, and at least twice a week he stops by with some homemade food when he’s on the way to pick up his new “boyfriend” (Taeil doesn’t like referring to Yuta as a boyfriend, being very adamant on how they’re just casually seeing each other), but most of the time Johnny makes it on 3 cups of extra strong coffee and bags of snacks that do more to keep his mouth busy than actually feed him.

Johnny isn’t the only one who’s constantly laying over the tables on the private study area; there’s usually one more person there, a guy with dark black hair who Johnny can’t avoid being jealous off, considering said fellow seems to be much more efficient in his studying if the way Johnny sees him get through the books his reading on record speed mean anything.

Johnny is more than a little bit confused, when he gets to his usual table and finds a small tupperware filled with food sitting on top of the table. He hesitates first, worried that perhaps his seat has already be taken, but then he sees how the black haired boy is looking directly at his in expectation, looking away the moment their gazes meet. Johnny approaches the tupperware, and finds a small post it note on top of it “Eat up! Good luck on studying ^-^”

It makes Johnny smile, because it’s not everyday you see an act of pure kindness and consideration like this; he takes his seat and opens the tupperware to find perfectly made kimbaps sitting there, so he looks back at the boy staring at him again and holds one of them up, putting into his mouth and smiling with his lips, showing that his eating and thankful. He can see the boy blush from across the room, and relishes on the small smile he gives back before the black haired turns back to his studies.

Before he leaves, Johnny makes sure to go over and thank the boy properly, giving him his tupperware back. He finds out his name is Doyoung, and that he’s an year younger, and they do a bit of small talk before the younger ushers Johnny to go home on account of how many times he yawned in the last 2 minutes.

The followings weeks, Johnny finds some sort of food and encouraging post it on his table almost every night, and it makes it sort of exciting, guessing what he’ll find each time. Before he leaves, they always talk for half an hour or more, and Johnny has said more than once Doyoung doesn’t need to keep doing it, but the younger assures him it’s the leftovers from his own dinner and that Johnny shouldn’t stop eating just because he’s stressed. It doesn’t take long for Johnny to realize Doyoung is definitely more the type to take care than be taken care of, and it’s rather endearing for him.

Johnny first asks Doyoung out on a complete impulse, something he’s not that used to. He was supposed to meet with Taeil to get an proper dinner on celebrating Johnny’s first successful taught class (undergrads can be scary and Johnny postponed this as much as he could), but the elder canceled last minute in favor of taking care of Yuta who apparently was under the weather (Johnny isn’t convinced to why Taeil, who’s not Yuta boyfriend, should have to take care of him when he has like 5 roommates, but whatever), so Johnny is left without plans. He decides to go to the library, even if he doesn’t have anything to study anymore, and Doyoung looks pleasantly surprised to see him there.

“Oh, hyung!” His face breaks into a gummy smile, the adorable bunny teeth making Johnny want to coo “What are you doing here?”.

Johnny barely thinks for more than five seconds before blurting out “Would you like to go out with me?”.

ϟϟϟ

Like fall, dating Doyoung is comforting. Both guys are very busy with school and work, both are constantly stressed out, but finding small snippets of time to meet each other becomes an safe space for Johnny and Doyoung, to vent out about their masters or to talk about the unimportant nothings of daily life they barely have time to discuss with anyone anymore. Doyoung is nice to talk to, very affectionate and kind hearted, but also extremely observant and intelligent, with a smart and witty sense of humor that seems to have knack for picking on Johnny.

He tells Johnny he’s the first guy he’s ever dated after coming out, and perhaps that’s why he becomes the poster guy for Panicked Gay when he’s around his boyfriend; violent blushing, wide eyes and choking are common sights whenever Johnny sneakily throws him a compliment, or makes an dirty joke around the younger. Doyoung pouts and complains about how Johnny just enjoys teasing him, but honestly, Johnny can’t help feeling good about being the confident gay in the relationship for once and enjoying the adorable reactions the black haired guy gives him.

Doyoung likes taking care of Johnny, and Johnny enjoys letting him. Taeil more than once complains about how he can’t ever get Johnny to eat a proper meal when he’s stressed, but all Doyoung has to do is look at him a certain way and Johnny is already devouring whatever he brought. It’s just in Doyoung’s nature to nurture, and he worries a lot about Johnny, so the elder just tends to listen to him in favor of not seeing Doyoung get too stressed about him, and be able to focus on his own life.

Johnny finds his life reaching a comfortable routine as the fall semester goes on. He and Doyoung are still happy together and in a good place, although the latter is very busy with rehearsing for the Winter Recital (he’s on the school choir), and they haven’t done much more than texting in the last few weeks. To Johnny’s relief, Taeil and Yuta break up after Taeil gets enough with the youngers intensity, so it happens that Johnny and Taeil spend a lot of their free time together this days, reminding both a lot of how it used to be back when they were undergrads. It’s fun and heartwarming to be with Taeil, who knows Johnny the most out of anyone in the world, and is still the person who puts a smile in the youngers face the easiest with his randomness and small oddities. Johnny is happy, and he doesn’t notice the wedding date creeping up until he receives an RSVP email from Ten. Johnny wasn’t planning on going, and his first instinct is to give an excuse, talk about how he’s busy with his thesis. Instead, he finds himself staring at the email for ten minutes, before quickly typing back an positive, adding he’ll be bringing an plus one.

ϟϟϟ

When he tells Taeil over dinner in their apartment later, the elder drops his chopsticks into his carefully made bibimbap. “What? Why are you going? Are you crazy?”

Johnny just keeps eating, because honestly, he’s not sure of the answer himself. He just felt like he should be there, when it happens, and he doesn’t regret following his gut. After a minute of him slowly chewing while Taeil stares at him, he swallows.

“I think I want closure”. He says, and he sees Taeil shoulders relax. He knows his friend will understand it.

“Ok, but,” Taeil starts with an gentle voice “Do you think it’s a good idea? Going there by yourself to see Ten get tied forever with another person?”.

“I won’t be going by myself!” Johnny replies as if it’s obvious “You’ll be going with me!”

Taeil chokes on what he’s chewing, and Johnny has to tap his back a few times before the elder stops coughing. Johnny ads quickly “Or not! You don’t have if you didn’t want to, but I had no idea you would be so opposed to free food”. 

“It’s not that, idiot. Of course I don’t mind going with you. It’s just…” He looks at Johnny with a weird expression that the younger can’t quite figure out “shouldn’t you invite Doyoung instead?”

Johnny frowns at that, confused. If he was being honest, he didn’t even consider inviting Doyoung until that moment; from the moment he answered the email, he had in his mind that Taeil would be the one going with him. It just felt natural, being that Taeil was the one there for him during the breakup, but also, he couldn’t stop thinking it’d just be fun to have his best friend with him during the wedding. Although, now that Taeil mentioned, he realises it probably would have made more sense to invite his boyfriend as his date.

“Oh” Johnny provides, his face a bit blank before he smiles. “Honestly, I just thought it would be fun for us to go together. Besides, he’s super busy right now, so I’m sure he’ll understand”.

Taeil nods slowly, giving and “Ok then” and going straight back to eating. Johnny almost misses the slightly smile his friends is giving the food.

ϟϟϟ

Doyoung doesn’t understand.

In fact, he takes it much worse than what Johnny expected. Maybe he was naive, but he didn’t think for a second that casually dropping about the wedding and Taeil at their study session on his bedroom would lead to a loud, tear filled argument that went places that had absolutely nothing to do with the wedding itself, and everything to do with Taeil .

Doyoung is upset that Johnny spends so much time with his best friend, much more time than he spends with his boyfriend, and Johnny gets defensive, because as far as he knew, Doyoung was busy and he was trying to give him his space to rehearse and get school work done. He just doesn’t understand how can Doyoung get jealous of Taeil, when Taeil has always been the most important person in his life, much earlier than he met; there isn’t a point in making a competition, when in Johnny’s mind, they take completely different places.

Doyoung is not happy with that though, not happy knowing that doesn’t matter what, he’ll never be able to be as close to Johnny as Taeil is, he’ll always be second to the best friend, and it’s exhausting how Johnny doesn’t even realize he prioritizes the elder. The entire argument is frustrating, and hurtful for both sides; in the end, Doyoung is the one who proposes they should take a break.

At first, Johnny really expects for it to be just a break, but as times goes by and Doyoung makes an point of avoiding Johnny everywhere, he gets the note and stops trying to contact him. A week later, Doyoung meets him at their table in the library, looking nervous and very uncomfortable, and tells Johnny that he thought about it, and they should break up. He apologizes for overreacting on the wedding thing, but makes point of saying it just means he’s not ready for an serious relationship. Johnny is hurt, because although he wasn’t in love with the younger, he definitely had strong feelings and cared much for him and for them; still, he tries not to make it harder for Doyoung, and wishes him good luck on everything. Before his now ex-boyfriend goes, Doyoung turns back and tells Johnny what he feels is a good piece of advice.

“Maybe you should take a break from dating too, Johnny. Think about yourself, and your feelings. I think you’ll be surprised”.

ϟϟϟ

The wedding is in Busan, because considering the grooms Thai and Chinese nationalities, it was just easier for them to meet somewhere in the middle rather than having two separate ceremonies. Johnny is thankful he doesn’t have to buy a plane ticket, but it still means he has to take an around 5 hour drive from Seoul to Busan, so in the morning of said sunday, he and Taeil get together in Johnny’s car in the preparation for the road trip.

The weather is nice, and so is the drive. Taeil and Johnny sing to the songs on the radio, and Johnny complains about how it’s not fair to have an vocal major sitting by his side, although Taeil assures him that he loves Johnny’s singing voice, even if it’s out of key and he screams too much. Being with Taeil is as comfortable as being home, and in between talking and laughing by the side of the person he loves the most in the world, it’s easy for Johnny to forget how nervous he is about their destination; 

It starts to get to him as they get to the hotel, checking in and going up to their room. It only has a single master bed, but that isn’t that much of problem, being that they have shared beds before. What starts to get into Johnny’s nerves is knowing they have to go down eventually, and then he’ll see him , them , and he’s not sure how prepared he is. Taeil can feel his friend's nervousness, so he tries to distract him, helping him get ready by styling his hair and applying a bit of makeup, and Johnny is thankful that he brought Taeil with him after all.

Taeil goes to shower and put his clothes on, and Johnny puts on his suit; as he tries to put on his tie by looking in the mirror though, it suddenly overwhelms him; looking at himself putting on a suit to Ten ’s wedding: Ten’s, not theirs. When Taeil leaves the bathroom, already completely ready and looking absolutely stunning, he finds Johnny sitting on the edge of the bed, shaking in frustration as he tries to tie the tie for what is the hundredth time with his shaking hands.

“Hey, hey…” Taeil says softly, before taking Johnny’s hands from the tie and hugging him instead. Johnny head is in his stomach, and he feels his breathing get calmer as he calmly repeats mantras of ‘it’s alright, i’m here, you’re alright…’”.

Eventually, Taeil let’s go of his friend and kneels in front of Johnny, their height difference still very obvious in this position. He busies himself with quickly making his tie and aligning it, and once they both get up, an smile takes his face. “You look amazing Johnny”.

Johnny smiles back, and he’s absolutely sincere when he replies. “You too, hyung. And thank you. I’m really happy you’re here”.

Taeil hugs Johnny again, and let’s go quickly so he won’t wrinkle the suit. “I’m happy I’m here too. Now let’s go, we don’t wanna be late”.

Taeil doesn’t flinch when Johnny takes his hand on the elevator down, and Johnny is glad.

ϟϟϟ

The wedding is beautiful, and Johnny isn’t surprised. Ten always had an amazing aesthetic sense, and it shows in how every detail is made to be delicate, thoughtful, and still very much original to them.

Johnny thought that once he saw Ten again for the first time since their break up, he would freak out; instead, Taeil’s hand squeezing his ground him, and he manages to make it through the ceremony easily. The entire thing is very touching, an mixture of chinese, thai and soulmate traditions; Johnny doesn’t miss the way Taeil tries to hide his emotional tears from him during the soulmate vows, and it makes him giggle.

Once the ceremony is over and the party start, Taeil turns to him as they walk to their assigned table. “You alright?” 

Johnny thinks before answering, but gives Taeil an reassuring smile and a warm hand squeeze. “Honestly… yes. I’m surprised, but I’m honestly fine”.

Taeil watches Johnny’s eyes for any sign of lying, but he’s being sincere, and the elder’s shoulder relaxes as he gives an relieved smile himself. “I’m really glad. Now let’s sit down, I want to eat!”.

They end up seated with some of Hendery’s college friends, and it doesn’t surprise Johnny that Taeil knows some of them; he tutors a lot of undergrad students and seems to collect dongsaengs easily. The conversation is more comfortable than what he would have imagined, and if any of them knew who Johnny was they don’t comment, which he’s thankful for. The dinner is served after Taeil complains to Johnny about being hungry for the fifth time, and it’s unsurprisingly really good, so both Johnny and Taeil do repeats afterwards (“Hey, he ditched me for this guy, I’m allowed to make use of every cent he spent in this thing”). After dessert, Taeil reminds that they can’t avoid it anymore, and that they need to go congratulate the grooms.

As they approach Ten and Hendery, Johnny’s heart starts beating faster, and he holds Taeil’s hand tighter to let him know he shouldn’t let go. Ten actually eyes the fingers intertwined as they approach, but his expression doesn’t show any reactions.

Taeil and Johnny politely congratulate the two on the wedding, as it’s usual, and both Ten and Hendery thank them with trained smiles. It’s Ten who first speaks directly to Johnny.

“I’m really glad you came, I didn’t think you would”.

Johnny doesn’t know exactly how to answer, but he does anyway. “I… didn’t know either, but I’m glad I came. Food was really good, and the ceremony is beautiful”.

Ten smiles and laughs, mostly trying to break the tension. “Well, I’m glad you two are enjoying yourselves then. They’ll take away the dinner stuff, but if you want anything…”

His voice turns to a mischievous stage whisper. “Just ask me or Hendery, we can sneak something for you”.

Johnny and Taeil both laugh a little at that, and Johnny is glad that this isn’t as awkward as he thought it would. In fact, he feels a bit silly to think it would be in the first place: regardless of everything, this is still Ten he was talking to. Ten, whose talent is to never let any conversation be anything less than delightful.

When they realize there’s a line of people forming behind them to talk to the grooms, Johnny and Taeil wishes them finals congratulations and good luck, and move away. Johnny sighs afterwards, and gives Taeil an relieved smile, finding the same expression on the smaller.

“See?” Taeil says in a knowing tone. “That wasn’t bad! Not at all!”.

“I don’t think I’ve heard Hendery say a single word the entire time though, he just stood there with his Ken doll smile. It was weird”. Johnny says with snark, and Taeil hits him in the arm.

“Stop!” He says, but Johnny can see the smile he’s fighting. “I’m sure he was as nervous about it as you, don’t be mean. You’re just jealous he’s beautiful enough to look like a Ken doll”.

Johnny haults his step, putting his free hand on his chest to indicate how offended he was. “You think Hendery is more handsome than me ?”

Taeil snorts at that, and shrugs. “There’s no right answer to that so I will politely turn down an statement”.

Johnny keeps pouting about it for the next minutes, not exactly upset by it but not pleased about it either. When the dance floor opens and the lights start to dim, Taeil brings him a red cocktail matching his own, and rolls his eyes at Johnny’s frown. “Stop being an baby and drink this. I want to dance!”.

Johnny is stubborn, staring right back to his friend. “Not until you say who’s more handsome, me or Hendery”.

Taeil throws his hands up, and Johnny can see he regrets even commenting about it on the first place. “Why do you care so much?”.

“I don’t know!” Johnny says quickly, although he can feel his ears turn red. “I just do!”.

Taeil examines his face, before sighing in defeat. “Although it pains me to admit, you’re objectively more handsome, since you don’t look like an doll. Happy?”.

Johnny doesn’t even try to be embarrassed by the smile that takes his face. “Ha! So you also think he looks like a weird doll!”.

“Oh god, if you keep talking about Hendery’s face I’ll just find another guy who wants to dance with me. C’mon!”.

Johnny let’s himself get dragged to the floor with Taeil, and he can’t deny how fun it is. He and Taeil haven’t gone out dancing together in years, because even when Johnny and Jaehyun were in their crazy partying phase, Taeil was always too busy with his job as an vocal coach to be able to go out with them. It’s fun, drinking, moving and letting himself go with Taeil, the two of them not worried about how ridiculous their moves look.

Once an slow song start, a lot of the friends groups take the opportunity to go refill their drinks. Taeil is getting ready to do the same, before Johnny extends his hand at him: “Will you give me this dance?”.

Taeil snorts at the formality, but Johnny thinks he sees the older blush even on the dim light. He let’s Johnny puts his hands on his waist, but before Taeil throws his arm around his shoulders, he furrows his eyebrows. “Why are you the one leading?”.

Johnny rolls his eyes, exasperated. “Because I’m bigger, obviously”.

“That’s not fair! You’re an giant, there should be equal opportunity to smaller people”. He pouts about it, and Johnny is pretty sure it’s the most adorable thing he’s ever seen.

In the end, he takes Taeil arms and puts it on his shoulders, starting to lead the two iin small moves left and right. The older ends up putting his head in Johnny’s chest, like he did many times before, and Johnny can’t help but think about how it fits perfectly there. The moment is nice, comfortable and warm, and Johnny hopes it doesn’t go by too quickly.

Taeil is still pouting on Johnny’s chest though, as if to pay him back for Johnny’s own pouting before. Johnny sighs, and takes one of his hands from Taeil waist to lift the elders head, untill he has his chin on Johnny’s chest, looking up. “Stop being pouty! You know I’d let you lead me anywhere in life regardless”.

At first Taeil laughs, as if in agreement, and as quickly as the laugh comes, his expression changes into one of complete surprise. Taeil’s entire body stiffens, and he looks at Johnny as if he’s seeing him for the first time, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. Johnny laughs nervously, not sure of what just happened, and asks in a concerned tone. “Taeil? Hyung? Everything alright?”

Taeil still doesn’t answer, and Johnny tries again, this time taking Taeil’s hand from his shoulder to give it an squeeze and a shake. “Hyung? Are you ok?”.

Taeil breaks from it with a shake, but he still looks a bit freaked out, and Johnny is extremely confused on what just happened. The elder breaks from his hold, and tries to give Johnny an reassuring smile. “Yeah, yeah, I’m ok… I think I drank one too many though, I’m not feeling too well. Can we turn in for the night?”.

Johnny isn’t tired, and he’s not convinced he believes Taeil anyway, but looking at his clock it’s already 2am, so maybe it is time to go up to their room. There’s no point in pressuring Taeil about it anyway, he’ll come to Johnny when he’s ready, so he just agrees, taking Taeil’s hand so they can bid their goodbyes and leave the party.

Taeil is quiet the entire time they wash up and change into their sleeping clothes, and he looks like he’s thinking deep about something, rather distracted from whatever task he attempts doing. Johnny attempts to ask about it one more time before they sleep, but Taeil waves it off again. As they’re both laying in bed though, Taeil eventually turns to him, and says in a quiet voice.

“Thank you for bringing me. I had fun”.

Johnny smiles at that, and brings Taeil close for a hug in a natural manner. “No, thank you. This night was amazing, and it’s thanks to you”.

Taeil snorts. “Me, and not the amazing food?”.

“Well, the food was a close second, but the food didn’t dance with me like the old times and made me forget this was the wedding of the man I used to love. So yeah, second place”.

Taeil doesn’t answer, but moves to a cuddling position alike the one they’ve had one before, in that night he cried himself to sleep. Except this time, it’s rather peaceful and comfortable, and Johnny has no problem in quickly falling asleep.

❅❅❅

Winter brings heavy coats, negative temperatures and white, fluffy snow that isn’t enough to cover Seoul’s streets, but it’s enough to make it slippery and annoying anywhere you go.

Mainly, winter brings an skinny boy with baby pink hair and a constantly red nose names Lee Taeyong, who’s rather introverted and quiet at first sight, but turns out to be one of the warmest people Johnny has ever met, regardless of the weather.

It’s Jaehyun and Mark who introduce them, as Taeyong is the new captain of the dance team they’ve recently decided to join (even after the “break up”, Jaehyun still hangs out with them regularly, and has become an natural addition to their group of friends), and both of them argue that this time, they really hit jackpot, because Taeyong is perfect for Johnny.

At first, Johnny is hesitant to agree to a date. He haven’t really thought about going back searching for a bit, and while he can tell his friends think he got weird again because of the wedding, that’s only half truth. Johnny is just comfortable with his life at the moment, where he has time to dedicate to his thesis and to his friends equally, specifically, Taeil. They’ve been spending a lot of time together lately, even more than normal, and while the elder still haven’t properly explained what happened that night, it seems he’s making more effort to being around Johnny, and the younger isn’t complaining. For some reason, having a boyfriend doesn’t exactly feels necessary or right at the moment.

His friends insist though, absolutely convinced of their matchmaking skills, and so Johnny agrees to a date. He’s surprised to find out that Taeyong is beautiful - in fact, he might objectively be the most beautiful human being Johnny has ever seen - and has a really nice personality too. They have a lot of fun on the date, and Johnny can tell they fit together quite well, with Taeyong laughing at Johnny’s dumb jokes and Johnny being surprised by the long conversations they can hold on life and practically any other subject. They’re both same age, and both doing masters (although Taeyong’s is in education), so it’s clear they’re mentally and emotionally in very similar points of their lives, even having similar relationship experiences before. The date flows effortlessly, and so it’s just natural that Johnny agrees to a second and third date.

Still, something keeps itching at him, something that doesn’t feel right. He just doesn’t feel it, doesn’t feel the same pull to Taeyong as he felt in his other relationships, and he can’t figure out why, when Taeyong is clearly perfect for him. He can see, how much they fit together and make sense, and it doesn’t surprise he can see a future that he and Taeyong would obviously be soulmates, and yet, Johnny can’t find himself being excited, and it frustrates him.

When he tells Taeil about it, the elder is weirdly vague and evasive on his advice, which is odd for him. Still, by the end of it, he says in a very sincere voice. “Just follow your heart Johnny, I’m sure it already knows what it wants”.

And Johnny knows it too, so despite his friends protests and how he himself knows this is incredibly dumb, he breaks up with Taeyong after their third date. It makes him extremely upset, to see the confused and disappointed look in the youngers eyes, because Johnny does care for Tae and wishes him the best, but he also knows he’s making the right decision by doing this now before he got too attached, Johnny leading him on.

He takes a long time going home this time, driving around to nowhere for a while just so he could think about stuff, or rather not think at all. When he gets home, he’s mentally exhausted and just wishing for a shower and a good night asleep, so he’s thankful that Mark and Donghyuck are already sleeping in the couch. He turns off the TV, and covers them with a blanket, before walking into his shared room with Taeil.

Taeil is still awake, typing something in his computer. He has his puffy and snuggly pajamas on, and his hair's still wet from a recently taken shower. When Johnny comes in the room, he looks up and an bright smile takes his face. “Hey! How was the date?”.

And then Johnny can’t breath. The smell, the strong, distinctive smell that hits him at once, without preparation, without logic reason. It smells like blommer chocolate, lilacs, garrett popcorn and semen trees. It smells like Chicago. When it comes for Johnny, Taeil smells like home .

And then it all comes to Johnny, all at once. That it’s Taeil. That it has always been Taeil. That it’s Taeil he loves, Taeil he wants to spend all of his time with, Taeil that makes him feel comfortable and happy and so incredibly light. Taeil who understands him, who’s always taken care of him, who makes him so happy. Taeil who he’s in love with , even if he didn’t know. Taeil is the most important person in his life because he’s supposed to be, he loves Taeil the most because that’s how it’s meant to be. It rushes Johnny and he’s overwhelmed, completely overwhelmed on Taeil .

“It’s you”. He manages to say, after an minute of staring into Taeil’s face. He can see the elder’s eyes get glassy with tears, and the smile he opens is the brightest, most special and precious he has ever seen.

“Finally”.

Johnny doesn’t even realize he’s going forward before he’s so close to Taeil, close enough he can feel the older hold his breath. Johnny smiles, because he doesn’t know what else to do, doesn’t know how to express the most pure happiness he has ever felt. And he hugs Taeil, hugs him close and tight and feels the elders tears wet his shirt close to his stomach. The position is slightly uncomfortable and weird, but it’s perfect and they don’t want to, can’t let go. So Taeil pulls him, just slightly, and Johnny is so pliant on the hug that he lets himself fall into the bed, completely over the elder one, who ends up gasping at the massive weight over him.

“God, you’re huge, I can’t breath”. Taeil says from under Johnny, and Johnny laughs loudly.

“Already, Taeil?”.

He hears his soulmate groan in annoyance. “You’re such a child”

Johnny rolls over to the side, his head in the pillow, and waits so that Taeil pushes himself up, and they’re laying down, looking at each other's eyes. “I’m your child though. You’re stuck with me now”.

Taeil rolls his eyes, but can’t hide the stupid, lovefool smile on his face. “As if I wasn’t before”.

They stay in silent for a moment, just staring at each other, taking in each detail and enjoying the moment. There’s no rush to say anything, and so they don’t.

Eventually, Johnny’s eyes widen in a realization. “The wedding. It was there for you, wasn’t it?”.

Taeil nods, smiling. “I heard Salut D’Amour, on piano. Didn’t even realize it wasn’t the song playing at first, but then I realized it was your version of Salut D’amour, where you always got the exact same notes wrong on purpose because it annoyed me. And then I was confused, because I didn’t even realize I was in love with you that way, and then I was more confused because you were my soulmate. After all this time, it was fucking you all along!”.

Johnny laughs at the frustration in his tone, but he’s still confused. “Why didn’t you tell me! You let me spend all this time confused as to why I didn’t want to date! You let me go out with Taeyong!”.

“I was waiting for you to realize instead!”. Taeil says, pushing Johnny’s chest with his hand. “I didn’t think it would take this long, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for you, the amazing moment when It cames. You waited so long for it… I could wait a few months”.

Johnny humms, and he understands. He thinks that if Taeil told him back then, it wouldn’t be as special when it came, and honestly, he couldn’t really complain when he wouldn’t honestly change a single thing.

They keep staring at each other, and Johnny can feel Taeil inch closer to him, so he deliberately moves himself so that they’re so close they can feel each other’s breaths. Johnny can see Taeil’s gaze go from his eyes to his lips, and back to his eyes.

“Can I… kiss you?” Taeil asks, so quietly it’s almost a whisper.

Johnny knows he shouldn’t, but he can’t resist. “Wow, hyung, already can’t wait to get a piece of me? Who would have thought…”

Taeil blushes, and looks incredibly annoyed and embarrassed. Johnny starts laughing loudly, cracking up at his expression, and Taeil curses him off, groaning and rolling over so that he has his back on the bed and Johnny can’t see his face.

“Oh god, I can’t believe you ruined it! Forget about it! You ain’t kissing me for the next year!”.

Johnny can’t stop laughing, and can’t get Taeil to roll back over either, so he just ends up going over Taeil, his hands on each side of his head and hovering over the older, who’s red and pouting.

Johnny slowly stops laughing, although there’s still a smile on his face. He starts bridging the distance between him and his soulmate, until their noses brush once again; and then he just hovers there, waiting.

Taeil is the one who closes the gap in the end, putting his hand on Johnny’s neck and pulling him down. The kiss starts slow, nothing more than lips touching and pulling away delicately, both trying to get a feel for each other, trying to calm down the desperate beating of their hearts and letting go of the fact that they’re kissing their best friend . Johnny is the first one to be bold, taking Taeil’s bottom lips between his teeth and pulling slightly, getting an frustrated groan as an answer.

Taeil quickly pushes Johnny, who lets himself fall on the bed inverting their positions, with Taeil now straddling his hips and kissing him much more intensively than before. Taeil is the one who licks into Johnny’s mouth, and the younger quickly finds himself letting go of control, letting Taeil lead the kiss as their faces move in a frenetic, passionate rhythm.

Johnny has never thought about kissing Taeil, but when it happens, it’s not awkward or uncomfortable. It feels right, like everything else always does when it comes to Taeil, and he doesn’t want it to ever end, doesn’t want to let go of the feeling of having Taeil, his soulmate so close to him. And so they stay there, for as long as they possibly can, until the kisses becomes lazy and sloppy, until their mouths are numb.

Johnny, obviously, is the one to break the mood.

“I was thinking,” He starts and Taeil humms, laying pecks on Johnny’s cheek, jaw and neck. “They were right. We did find our soulmates at the same time.”

Taeil pulls away to laugh. “I’m sure that once they get over the shock, they’ll be very smug about it”.

“Should we tell them now? Yukhei always said I was contractually obligated by our friendship to tell him whenever it came for me”. Johnny asks.

“No, let’s wait till morning. I don’t feel like hearing screaming right now”. Taeil answers, burying his face on the crook of Johnny’s shoulder. “Besides, I want us to stay here, have this night just to ourselves”.

Johnny agrees, and kisses the top of Taeil’s hair, the way he always loved to do. He is mildly aware he hasn’t showered or taken off the clothes he came home with, but he would rather die than get up from Taeil’s embrace. So he stays there, and slowly starts to feel sleep pull him closer, tired from all the emotions in a single night. Before he lets himself go though, he finds it within him to whisper.

“Hey, Taeil”. Taeil makes a sound to indicate he's listening, although he also sounds tired. “I’m really glad it’s you. I really, really love you”.

Taeil lays several kiss on Johnny’s neck, without moving the position of his lips. Johnny can feel the whisper vibrate on his skin. “I love you too”.

Johnny falls asleep with his soulmate in his arms, knowing that this is the start of their forever.