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Tokyo nights

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March, 2020.

Cowardice, in a sense, takes some bravery.

Mark teaches Donghyuck that lesson, four years after Donghyuck fell in love with Johnny, while they lie in their shared hotel room in Jakarta and watch the interview that was filmed one month ago. It’s mostly in English, and though Donghyuck has made a considerable progress with his understanding skills, his eyes automatically flicker to Mark for translation. He sees pity in Mark’s eyes, hesitation, right before he translates Johnny’s words, but Mark never lies, and never omits any hurtful words.

“Hyung won’t budge,” Mark tells him in a mutter, afterwards, avoiding looking at Donghyuck. The replay button on his phone expands over the screen, and Mark hides it against the bed so that Donghyuck doesn’t have the urge to watch the interview again. “He grew up with that mindset.”

Outside, the sun is falling. Inside, Donghyuck’s heart is stabbed by words and a smile that mocks him through the screen. Johnny, talking about his future, talking about having kids, a wife, a life that only includes his members as side decoration to his family life.

A life that doesn’t include Donghyuck.

Being a coward takes the greatest of bravery. Because Johnny doesn’t swing that way, and he’ll never be happy embroiled in his lies. He swings to the path to Donghyuck’s mouth and legs, to forbidden kisses in hotels and the burning wish to touch a man that belongs to thousand of persons, to a corporation, but not to him.

And Johnny, Donghyuck thinks bitterly, won’t ever completely belong to him either.






When Johnny becomes the new addition to the group, Donghyuck isn’t familiar with him.

He has no excuse for that, except his age, except that Johnny is a foreigner – and yet that doesn’t explain why he can’t connect with Johnny. Donghyuck has never been shy or demure to the older trainees; he enjoys being the younger one, pulling pigtails and playing with the limits of politeness and offense. His complicated friendship with Mark proves that he’s not reticent towards foreigners either, towards the obvious breach in their cultures. Donghyuck stomps on rules and suppositions, but every time Johnny’s stare fixes on him, Donghyuck shrinks in himself, unable to reach out for someone that has all doors closed for him.

Since the beginning, it’s different with Johnny.

Donghyuck barely crosses paths with him once he debuts, and he’s too busy to spend time with the trainees, even with his friends. The spotlight devours him, and Donghyuck shines on the stage without thinking about anyone else. He bears with the teasing from his friends in certain performances, and smiles and smiles and smiles in public wondering if he really feels happy. He obeys orders; what to do, how to feel, what to wear, where to go.

Then he shines brighter. He puts on a blue stripped pajama and slides on a hoverboard, and the world revolves around him, and there are no limits to play with, no older members to tease and look at with a glint of malice in his eyes. There is Mark, the unchanging constant in the picture, and it’s Mark who Donghyuck leaves with when they have to abandon their Dream unit, but they’re returning to the familiarity of the beginning, and Donghyuck doesn’t imagine what he’s about to get into.





October, 2016.

“I told you so,” Jaemin reminds him through the phone, a cunning tug of smugness in his tone.

Of course Jaemin warned him. Unlike him, Jaemin is tremendously observant, hawk eyes and a silence around his elders that is anything except submissive. Donghyuck differs greatly from that, but it’s their differences that convert them into a perfect combination. While some people survive in the industry by observing and learning, like Jaemin, others fly through it and set their own rules, like Donghyuck.

Imposing his own rules is a mere illusion of Donghyuck. It makes him feel like the owner of his own life for a while, but he’s just a puppet, and so it’s proven decision after decision while standing on stage. When they’re told that they’ll have two new members, none of them have a say in it; it doesn’t matter, not when it’s a concept that it was imposed on them since the start, and yet Donghyuck has the nerve of being unsettled at the changes.

“He wasn’t supposed to be here,” Donghyuck whines back at him. He’s in Busan, voluntarily trapped in the bathroom of his hotel bedroom – shared with Taeyong, much to his disgrace – hoping that Taeyong doesn’t misinterpret the amount of time he’s spending inside. “He was learning Chinese. Chinese, Jaemin. They added Doyoung and Johnny because they didn’t have anywhere else to put them anymore.”

Those words burn his own tongue, but he has been dying to let them out for days. It mitigates the unnerving feeling of disturbance. When it was announced that the group wouldn’t be a fixed unit anymore, most of them were confused, but not unenthusiastic. Taeyong’s lips had stretched into a huge, knowing smile, no words to justify it. Donghyuck felt like he didn’t have the right to have an opinion, but he still did. It was inevitable.

Practicing with Doyoung and Johnny wasn’t a distressing drift from their usual routine, but Donghyuck knew that it was a false first contact. During practice, they barely have any time to bond; it’s all about sweat, physical and emotional pain, and congratulatory pats on the back once they’re done. It’s later, in the safety net of their dorm, when they talk with their guards down and their hearts out.

Johnny, however, doesn’t. Not with Donghyuck, at least. Perhaps because he deems that Donghyuck is still a kid, a kid that won’t understand his concerns, and he’s not entirely wrong. Though Donghyuck can’t hold it against him, it stings his ego. Most of his hyungs don’t share their deepest worries with him for that same reason, but they still leave a door open for him in other aspects.

“That’s harsh,” Jaemin points out.

“It’s the truth,” Donghyuck retorts. It doesn’t mean that Donghyuck should say it out loud, however. “And I don’t know how I feel about that either. Sure, I’m angry about Mark following Johnny like a damn loser, and that’s one thing.”

But Jaemin did warn Donghyuck about that as well: once Mark and Johnny were together, it wouldn’t be the same for Donghyuck and Mark. Because even if they weren’t the same age, and Mark insisted that he didn’t feel like a kid in contrast to the rest of the members, both of them had put their feet into the industry together, like a small portion of territory detaching from an island – from Jeno, Jaemin and Jisung. The older ones had trained together all the time, had lived together, and Mark and Donghyuck were a sprinkle of novelty in their lives.

Amidst that, Mark and Johnny had always been close. Donghyuck had attributed it to the language, assumed that was the reason Johnny had stuck to Ten and Mark for comfort. Donghyuck always tried not to ponder about Johnny’s relationship with Taeyong, for example, or Doyoung. Donghyuck didn’t have any explanation for that.

It still prickled that Mark wasn’t part of that small island anymore. And before their first comeback, Donghyuck finds himself standing alone, isolated, and has to blame Johnny for it.

“And the other thing?” Jaemin asks, smart, quick to catch on.

Donghyuck catches his breath, hesitant. This idea has invaded his mind a hundred times by then, yet it’s such a childish, paranoid thought that sharing it drives him to pure shame.

And then, through gritted teeth, he mutters, “Johnny doesn’t treat me like his dongsaeng.”

A pause.

“What do you mean?” Jaemin mutters back.

Donghyuck feels like a fool, staring at the bathroom tiles and disclosing his tiny, whimsical attention matter. “He doesn’t treat me at all,” he confesses. “It’s as if I don’t exist for him.”

The only response through the speaker is silence, and Donghyuck clutches the phone with his right hand so hard that he fears he has accidentally hung off. He’s more intelligent than that. Jaemin listens and learns. Jaemin can read his feelings even when they’re miles away and they can’t see each other’s face – the fact that Donghyuck didn’t facetime him is a hint itself of how important this is for him – and Jaemin doesn’t overlook it.

“Oh, Hyuck,” he sighs, voice impregnated with defeat and affection. “Don’t go on.”


“It’s just not realistic.” Jaemin cuts him off, tense enough for Donghyuck not to drag the fight for longer. It’s for his own good, Donghyuck is aware of that, because Jaemin will hurt Donghyuck himself, now, a little bit of dull pain, before anyone else can slice him into pieces. “His age, our situation, he isn’t going to indulge any crush you might have on him.”

Not even Donghyuck is certain of what’s happening to him. It’s difficult to differentiate his will to break everyone’s barriers, his insistence in being loved by everyone, and the jealousy he feels for Johnny and Mark’s relationship. Because he’s jealous, but he doesn’t know if he’s jealous of them, or just jealous of not being a part of Mark’s life that once upon a time belonged to him.

“Do you think-” Donghyuck starts. He stutters, and he’s not the type to do so, thus he bites on his lower lip in an attempt to regain the control, and only when he’s ready, he continues, “Maybe that’s why he’s distant?”

Jaemin doesn’t lie to him. He would never.






December, 2016.

Donghyuck, unlike some of his friends, has always been an open book.

During the filming of Limitless, he’s not in his best state, but he does his best to hide it in front of the cameras. And there are cameras everywhere, gathering footage for a thousand of extra videos that won’t ever be released. Despite having the certainty that the stares he shoots at Johnny won’t be caught, he convinces himself to ignore him as well as he can.

It’s hard to, however, after his conversation with Jaemin. The word crush is implanted in his head like the seed of a herb that is branching to occupy every tiny corner of his brain, and Donghyuck has no idea how to put a halt to it. A crush.

Donghyuck’s secret isn’t a secret in the group, not entirely. He has never expressed it out loud – Jaemin and Jeno being the exceptions – but the boys are too smart not to pick up the hints. Donghyuck never talks about women, not even about other idols, and falls uncharacteristically silent when they discuss their relationship’s experiences. It’d have been simpler to assume that due to his age, he doesn’t have any experience, but Donghyuck wouldn’t have forgiven them. It wouldn’t be odd for Johnny to have noticed Donghyuck staring at him more than it’s decent, too, and Donghyuck wants to trail back on the whole practicing period and force his past self not to admire Johnny through the mirror.

On the second day of filming, his radio silence has lasted for so long that Jaemin sends him a message, short and embarrassing: make yourself exist.

And Donghyuck does that.






The dorm is dead silent when Donghyuck shuffles out of bed, casting a glance at Taeyong to make sure that he’s asleep. He is. They’ve come back from an award show just hours ago, and having to keep up the appearances for hours on a chair, no bad expressions, no bad words, no looks at other idols, is exhausting. The silence that has taken over the dorm is proof of it, but Donghyuck knows that Johnny, against all odds, might be awake.

Johnny, who hasn’t been announced as a member yet, stayed alone at the dorm. Not completely alone – they’re always accompanied by at least one manager – but Donghyuck is familiar with the feeling of being left out. All other members except Kun were away, working, and that’s the fastest way to isolate one of them. Donghyuck hoped that Johnny would go out with Yukhei to distract himself, but when they arrived his room was locked and Doyoung had an awkward smile while he tried to open their shared room, so it was obvious that Youngho had watched the whole show.

As Donghyuck walks through the hall, his instinct warns him of his bad decisions. He already has a tiny bit of a crush on Johnny, and the last thing he should do is invading his bed at night – Johnny doesn’t see him as a friend, doesn’t consider him an equal, and Donghyuck is aware that he’s too young for this. But his stubbornness keeps him on track, and when he pushes Johnny and Doyoung’s door open, it’s too late to back out. Donghyuck is good at touching. He’s good at casualty, at pretending that he doesn’t care. He’s also at expert at invading spaces, and that’s what he does to Johnny.

At Donghyuck’s right, Doyoung is soundly asleep, one arm hanging off the bed and grazing the floor. At his left, Johnny sits up to check who’s entering, messy hair and confusion on his semblance. The light of the hall makes him squint, so Donghyuck hurries up to press his palm on the switch.

“What are you doing?” Johnny mutters, voice raspy.

Donghyuck wonders too. What is he trying to do, showing up at Johnny’s door at 4 in the morning? He’s chasing after a heartbreak, playing with their boundaries, and yet Donghyuck knows that giving up has never been an escape for him.

“I can’t sleep,” Donghyuck lies. His feet, bare on the floor, slide into the bedroom without giving Johnny any chance to invite him.

Perhaps because Johnny was halfway into dreamland, he stares at Donghyuck without a shadow of comprehension. For him, it doesn’t make sense: Donghyuck wouldn’t resort to him for entertainment at late hours of the night, and he wouldn’t resort to him for affection. They’ve never shared a bed, and Johnny’s big limbs occupy all the space, becoming bigger and bigger as though he can dissuade Donghyuck that way.

When Johnny recovers from his own confusion, he asks, “Aren’t you tired?”

Donghyuck is exhausted. He shakes his head, anyhow. “I can’t breathe in here,” he lies. He does, now, but it’s not an unrealistic excuse; sometimes as soon as he steps into the dorm, his chest hurts and the house asphyxiates him. Being with his feet on the floor instead of on a high stage is suffocating.

Johnny believes him, however, and Donghyuck can see the small frown that forms between his eyebrows. “Are you okay?” he worries, softer, regretful.

Although Donghyuck nods, Johnny signals him to approach him. Donghyuck follows through, feeling more nervous with each step towards Johnny, but he doesn’t flinch away. Lies are easier to be discovered when you look into someone’s eyes, and that’s what Johnny intends to do.

Johnny sets his feet on the floor, and when Donghyuck is at his reach, he grabs him by the hips and tugs him forward. Donghyuck releases a low yelp, not used to Johnny touching him, and immediately checks if the noise woke Doyoung up. But it didn’t, and Johnny looks up at him from the bed, concern dissipating as he takes in Donghyuck’s semblance.

Donghyuck is an open book. He has always been.

Johnny can’t help but laugh, a tiny snicker that resonates in the stillness of the night, and his fingers shake on Donghyuck’s hips with the vibrations of his own laughter.

“Is this a trick so that I help you to sneak out?” Johnny accuses him. Donghyuck blinks at him, tries to repress the urge of smirking until the corners of his lips twist in an irrevocable gesture of his hidden smile. Johnny huffs, “God, Donghyuck.”

It’s just another mischief of his for Johnny, and Donghyuck doesn’t care that it’s interpreted that way. He’s fine with Johnny presuming that Donghyuck is using him for freedom, to disobey the rules, and not because of the tingling, warm sensation Donghyuck feels with Johnny’s hands on his hips.

“How could you say no to me?” Donghyuck protests, followed up by one of his infamous, mocking pouts.

“First of all, it’s almost dawn,” Johnny grunts, lifting his head to point at the window. Donghyuck doesn’t imitate him; he’s too busy looking at Johnny, and Johnny catches that tiny detail, eyes flashing with confusion for a second. “Second, I – we – haven’t slept in three days. Why would you want to walk around?”

“I told you,” Donghyuck insists. But by then both of them are aware of each other’s lies, and therefore Donghyuck smiles. “I can’t breathe here.”

Johnny doesn’t answer. He inspects Donghyuck’s face, fingers tapping at the hem of his pajama as if he was following the rhythm of a new song – intermitten, hesitant.

Donghyuck breathes in, pensive. Among all of their lies, there’s a truth to share, one that takes more bravery than Donghyuck is used to, and his lips tighten as he whispers, “And I think it’ll do you good, too.”

It’s the revelation that, no matter how hard Johnny tries to conceal his feelings, Donghyuck – and the rest – are aware of them. Johnny hasn’t braced himself for that, judging by how he stutters, taken with his guard off, and his calmness fades away.

“Me?” he repeats, as though he’s giving Donghyuck a chance to correct his words. The lines of his jaw harden, but his gaze doesn’t. “You shouldn’t worry about your hyung, Donghyuck.”

It’s not his duty to do so, but Donghyuck can’t help it. With their gazes locking, Donghyuck doesn’t care about anyone or anything else, and the warning falls dull to Donghyuck’s ears. It’s a warning about many other things, and that’s why Donghyuck is deaf to it.





“I feel like I’m intruding in something I didn’t help to build,” Johnny confesses later that night in the inner courtyard of their dorm.

Johnny has allowed Donghyuck to be in his embrace, and Donghyuck feels tinier than ever, feels that despite Johnny indulging him for once, the breach between them has grown bigger. Donghyuck’s feelings are palpable, and Johnny won’t ever accept them. And yet Donghyuck condones his own lies for a couple of hours, convinces himself that maybe one day, when he’s older, Johnny will look him in a different way. That maybe one day Donghyuck will have matured enough for a boy like Johnny, not strapped back by the excessive control of the industry, and the breach won’t be so notable.

“Hey, America.” Donghyuck throws his head back to gaze at Johnny, a mischievous smile on his lips that, if it has the effect Donghyuck wishes, will take off some weight from Johnny’s shoulders. “All of us are here for a reason, even if you don’t know why yet.”





March, 2020.

There’s a basic rule about not creating a bad atmosphere before a performance, but in a group of nine people, it’s hard to abide by. Sometimes they fight about their petty whims, sometimes they have huge arguments that provoke nausea even in those that weren’t involved, and sometimes it’s too personal to ignore it.

With his lips sealed during the whole morning, Donghyuck makes an active effort of ignoring Johnny. He perches on Jungwoo’s arm while they explore Jakarta to take promotional pictures, and deliberately pretends that he’s not noticing the looks Johnny is casting at him.

Johnny isn’t stupid, even if he must have no idea why Donghyuck’s behavior changed overnight. Or so Donghyuck thinks. He forgets that it takes one question from Johnny and one answer from Mark to discover what both of them did last night; as soon as Johnny finds out that they watched the interview in California, he’ll recognize his own mistake.

Johnny approaches him when they’re posing in Merdeka Square, a group picture that will be uploaded when they’re far away from the place. Much to their relief, no fans have managed to follow them, but it’s a matter of time they do; it’s always about moving from one place to another as fast as they can before they can be tracked down.

Despite their fixed positions, Johnny moves to Donghyuck’s side in the last picture, his arm encircling Donghyuck’s waist in a casual move. Donghyuck thinks about putting up with it for a second, but his impulsiveness wins over logic. When he shakes Johnny’s hold off him without a single trace of care, Donghyuck can detect the shock in the photographer’s face. Donghyuck smiles, nonetheless, and the group dissolves after the picture at the speed of light; perhaps because more than one person has noticed what Donghyuck has done, perhaps because they’re tired of them.

As Donghyuck walks away, he’s not surprised to discover that Johnny trails behind. It’s not what he’s looking for. The mere feeling of Johnny’s fingers on his arms makes Donghyuck snap, clear and sharp, “Don’t touch me.”

Johnny retracts his hand, no need for Donghyuck to push him away again, but his face falls at the rejection.

“Donghyuck,” he calls, voice weak, a ghost of what Johnny’s voice is. “We have to talk about it.”

Unlike him, Johnny has made sure there’s no one close enough to hear them, otherwise he would have never prompted this conversation. Safety first, appearances first. Donghyuck is tired of such chains, and that’s the reason he turns to meet Johnny’s eyes, venom both on his tongue and his heart.

“You did it again,” Donghyuck spits at him. Again. It’s a dejavu, facing Johnny, hurting, all for the same reasons, and Donghyuck isn’t sure if he still has room for forgiveness. “We’ve argued about this a hundred times. And you did it again. You promised you wouldn’t, and yet.”

Johnny’s lips press into a line. Such a beautiful place for such ugly words, broken promises, and the realization that he can’t change, can’t change for Donghyuck.

“What the fuck do you expect me to say?” Johnny retorts after a pause that lasts an eternity. His voice is laced with bitterness, and when he stares down at Donghyuck, it’s obvious he’s not going to apologize. “Oh, yes, I don’t see myself in the future marrying a girl and having kids because I’m actually fucking my band mate. He’s the one on the other side of the formation, do you see him?”

The slap of reality doesn’t throw Donghyuck off his feet. Since the beginning, Donghyuck has known that he’d never be able to come out. It wasn’t just about the consequences it could have on him, but how that would affect his group as well. He never asked such a sacrifice from Johnny either, but instead of keeping it a secret, of hiding his personal life and future plans, Johnny is disposed to prove the contrary with lies and ridiculous fantasies.

And among all that, there’s a word that stings in the deepest corner of Donghyuck’s feelings.

“That’s what we do, don’t we?” he asks, his smile turning acid. Behind Johnny, the city expands like an endless maze, and Donghyuck has nowhere to run away to, nowhere to go. “We fuck.”

It’s the first time Johnny has been so insensitive to him, despite their numerous arguments, and Donghyuck can’t help but wonder if he has run out of patience as well. When Johnny is mad, he’s his honest self; Donghyuck experiences the same, but Johnny doesn’t seem to be aware of his choice of words until Donghyuck repeats them, swirls them into the only meaning they could have.

Johnny deflates at the accusation. “I didn’t mean it that way,” he says. And Donghyuck would believe him, but he has believed him too many times. Perhaps it’s the truth, it doesn’t matter, because the truth only has value if Johnny is brave enough to admit it. “You know it’s not just that.”

Donghyuck doesn’t know anymore. Getting lost in Johnny’s kisses, in his words, in his arms, seems too real when they’re alone. But then he steps into the real world and Johnny shifts into another version of himself, and Donghyuck realizes that what happens behind close walls is a mere illusion of his; they’re not allowed to love, and Johnny wouldn’t be foolish enough to let love drag him around.

“Go and marry a girl, Youngho.” Donghyuck backtracks, well aware that Johnny will try to stop him, that he will try to twist his pain until Donghyuck is back in his bed and he has been forgiven. Johnny lies to himself too that way, but Donghyuck won’t grant him the opportunity of being happy at the cost of his own happiness, and that’s why he looks into his eyes and adds, “Fuck you.”

Donghyuck leaves, and Johnny doesn’t stop him this time. He doesn’t have an apology for him.

They perform that night on a festival, and Johnny gets numerous steps wrong throughout the performances. Jaehyun looks at him with worry every time across the stage, but Donghyuck smiles to himself, reminds himself that for once, Johnny deserves to take his own medicine.





June, 2017.

“You should treat your dongsaeng well,” Donghyuck chides Johnny, a mischievous grin shining on his lips. Johnny, with his feet propped up on the table and his food away from Donghyuck, lifts his eyebrows at him. Donghyuck doesn’t relent, even though he’s not hungry, even though the only thing he’s chasing after is the idea of Johnny giving up his food for him. “So that he gives you back love and affection.”

It’s a matter of time.

By the time the next comeback is around, Donghyuck doesn’t feel a gap between them. Johnny is part of the group, at last, his slight awkwardness towards Donghyuck – and Yuta – gone. It matters that he makes an effort to open up, to communicate with them, but Donghyuck is aware that he has to pull Johnny’s strings to be in his life, and that’s what he does.

It’s not a secret that Johnny doesn’t see him the way Donghyuck wished he could be seen, but for once Donghyuck listens to his friends’ advice and decides to let it die. Crushes don’t last forever, and being surrounded by pretty boys all over the industry, Donghyuck will find someone else to crush on – someone his age, someone that isn’t straight, someone that can make him happy.

The advice comes mostly from Jaemin, but a tiny piece of it comes from a very scandalized Jeno, who deems so, so indecent that he’s allowing himself to like a group mate that he makes Donghyuck feel like a criminal. And he’s right. Donghyuck is being too lenient with himself, chasing for those small moments of happiness and the faint fluttering of his heart when Johnny is around.

“Don’t be so shameless,” Johnny retorts, carefully observing Donghyuck as he crawls on the couch towards him.

Taeil, who has just left his room after five hours, sends them a distasteful look and turns on his heels, not disposed to witness what Donghyuck is about to do. Truth to be told, Donghyuck isn’t sure of how many members are in the dorm right now; it’s past midday, but he has just woken up, and most of them are still sleeping – what they usually do if they have only one free day in their schedules. He’s not worried about being caught in a compromised situation, for it has happened too many times.

Sleepy and with his pride still repressed, Donghyuck doesn’t beat around the bush. He adjusts besides Johnny, leans his head on his arm and takes that little distraction as the moment to reach out for his food. Johnny doesn’t buy it, already used to Donghyuck’s physical affection and the tricks that it brings, thus he slaps Donghyuck’s hand away.

Donghyuck pouts at him. “I have many other hyungs to thrive off, you know?”

“I know,” Johnny replies. “So why don’t just go and do that?”

Perhaps if Donghyuck had a bad day, he’d be offended. He isn’t interested in the food, after all, though that’s a plus; it’s an excuse to occupy Johnny’s time, to press his cheek against his arm and fall asleep like that again, and wake up with the certainty that Johnny won’t dare to move in case he accidentally wakes him up.  

Youngho,” Donghyuck whines.

Johnny is unaffected at the sound of his Korean name, but a smirk blooms on his lips.

“Donghyuck,” he says back. There’s a teasing tone to it, but the shadow of rejection has faded away. It might be because they’re alone at last, and no one will scrunch their nose at them because they’re cuddling on the couch – Donghyuck always managed to be comfortable with that level of skinship, but Johnny isn’t the type of person that welcomes a lot of direct contact. Only in their intimacy, like a little secret, fondness taking over him. And it happens now, as Johnny distractedly reaches out for Donghyuck’s hair and pets him, cradling him closer. “They gave you such an ugly hairstyle. I can’t get used to it.”

Donghyuck knows that the hair makes him look more aggressive, more intimidating than he is. Maybe that’s why Johnny finds it weird.

“Red-phobic,” Donghyuck accuses him.

“It’s the bangs, not the color.” Johnny sighs, and when he sets his food aside, Donghyuck realizes he has won again. His insistence might throw Johnny off sometimes, but under the right circumstances, it’s what Johnny needs to open up, to accept the affection he unknowingly requires. Donghyuck has the theory that, no matter how independent someone is, they always need support from time to time, to know that someone appreciates and loves them, and that’s what happens to Johnny. “Red suits you.”

Donghyuck doesn’t know what that means, but he draws a pleased smile and stares at Johnny through his bangs, “Does it?”

When Johnny answers, there’s an odd hint of defeat in his eyes. “It fits who you’re becoming.”





January, 2018.

Life flashes before Donghyuck’s eyes when he’s on the stage.

Time is a curious thing. Donghyuck spends two years wanting to grow faster, to grow up so that Johnny doesn’t think he’s a kid, but once he does, he watches the world from a different, heartless perspective.

The remaining spark of his childishness is what prompts his awful decisions. Or maybe it’s the confirmation that Johnny isn’t straight: a single-handed comment from Ten when they’re preparing Empathy promotions, the blush on Johnny’s cheeks even though half of the group is too obtuse to understand Ten’s wit, and the way he glances at Donghyuck immediately after; with fear, with the dread that the revelation will fuel Donghyuck’s hopes.

Donghyuck lies on bed every night, headphones in as Johnny and Jaehyun’s voices fill his ears with innumerable stories – some of them based on a script, some real – and wonders if Johnny has someone else on sight. If there’s a characteristic that describes Ten, it’s that he’s purposeful: he would never make an innocent comment without a second intention. Either he meant to tease Johnny about Donghyuck’s obvious crush on him, or Johnny is seeing another boy. Realization arrives like a cascade for Donghyuck, but he hasn’t lied to himself to the point of not recognizing that Johnny, even if he liked men, he could like other men.

Empathy promotions are a bundle of distress in Donghyuck’s stomach until he can promote with Dream. He needs space, he needs to think, he needs to learn that sometimes life doesn’t work out the way he wishes to, and that it will be fine anyhow.

Or that’s what he hopes, because reality turns out to differ.

“Do you know why you’re still into him?” Jeno tells him one night at the practice room. They’ve taken a five minute break, and Renjun, Chenle and Jisung are loudly laughing in the other side of the room, so Jeno takes advantage to approach the topic. His bangs, drenched with sweat, stick to his forehead as he answers himself, “Because you haven’t got a proper rejection.”

It’s a theory that Donghyuck shouldn’t ignore. Johnny, aware of his feelings, is careful of both not hurting him and not igniting the flame. It’s a gray zone. And Donghyuck might need black or white instead to accept that it’s not on his hands and it has never been.

Jaemin, who is drinking from his water bottle, glares at Jeno with the rancor of someone who has argued about this before. Donghyuck isn’t surprised: all of them often talk about each other behind their backs, whether it’s for their own good or just to gossip and complain, but it feels quite intruding that Jaemin and Jeno have fought over Donghyuck’s relationship with Johnny.

“I don’t know if that’d work either,” Jaemin says, giving Donghyuck a pointed look.

Because feelings won’t evaporate at a rejection. However, Donghyuck’s hope will be burned down.

“You’re always protecting him so that he doesn’t get hurt.” Jeno crosses his arms, a subtle frown on his face. “And he’s already hurting, Min.”

“Guys-” Donghyuck cuts in.

“Are you conscious of the mess this could become?” Jaemin replies, louder, until the boys fall into silence. Donghyuck catches the alarming glance Renjun sends him – as though he could tell what they're talking about – and Donghyuck can just feel grateful when Renjun smiles at the youngest ones and prompts another conversation as a distraction. On the other hand, Jaemin breathes in, controls his outburst, and asks in a lower tone, “Confessing to someone in our group?”

Donghyuck feels himself flinch; he has wanted to take the next step a thousand times, but he respects their limits. Both Johnny’s and his. It's not about the fear of rejection, for Donghyuck is sure that would be the outcome anyhow, but about Johnny pitying him. Donghyuck's pride can take many hits, but not pity.

And that's why he sides with Jeno. Jaemin is shielding him from heartbreak, even though he doesn't believe for a second that Donghyuck will ever have a chance with Johnny. It doesn't make sense.

Jeno narrows his eyes at Jaemin and spits, "If he's mature enough to let Donghyuck dream, then he should be mature enough to give him closure."

And though Donghyuck loves dreaming, it's time to put his feet on the ground.






May, 2018.

Unlike many of his antics, Donghyuck doesn't plan the confession.

Truth to be told, he doesn't think himself capable of a love confession. He doesn't know if what he feels is love, even, and he's not ready to pronounce the magic words in front of anyone. If he was brave enough, he’d write Johnny a letter. Then maybe he’d dare to express his feelings, but to put them on a piece of paper is not only intimidating, but also dangerous for both of them.

A message, a letter, a song can fall into the wrong hands. But a moment can always be destroyed, pulverized until both sides have forgotten that it happened, or until they pretend they did. And since Donghyuck doesn't prepare his words, words never come out of his mouth.

Japan welcomes them with open arms. Yuta runs around, runs his mouth, and infects everyone with his happiness. He has much to show, and they have much to learn.

Johnny, who is naturally empathetic, beams as much as Yuta does. Donghyuck can't stop looking at him. He stares at him while they explore the city, all of them, and realizes that Johnny blinds everyone else; he stares at his smile, baths in his laughter and wonders if this is what Johnny is to him: happiness. Donghyuck stares at him when he falls asleep in the car, secretly intertwines their hands together, and when Johnny wakes up, he pretends to be asleep. Johnny knows that he isn't asleep, because his fingers cling on his hand with the strength of consciousness, but he keeps their hands entangled, indulges Donghyuck’s affection just to protect him.

Donghyuck enjoys those moments of peace before ruining them all.

And, the night before their concert, he kisses Johnny.





Donghyuck has never kissed anyone.

Not if he ignores the time he kissed his classmate, hidden in a bathroom, when he was fifteen years old. Despite the years that have gone by, and the fact that he's not hiding in a bathroom anymore, kissing Johnny doesn't feel very different from that first time. It feels like a first time all over again.

It's exciting, nerve-wracking, and Donghyuck still vibrates at the prospect of a punishment, at the thought of getting caught like this – being himself, bad, out of the norm behavior that he will never be allowed to express out loud.

The spark of mischief is erased by Johnny's hands on his chest, trembling fingers that are afraid to be too harsh on him. Their lights are off, but the lights of Tokyo illuminate the interior of the room enough for Donghyuck to recognize the shock on Johnny's face as he carefully moves Donghyuck away. Away from him.

It's just a peck, lips against lips, and Donghyuck feels like crying. He wants more; however, this is the farthest he will ever go. Inside the hotel room – a room that they don't share, but that Donghyuck invaded while Taeyong left for dinner – that stolen kiss from Johnny's lips becomes their secret. A mistake that, judging by Johnny's semblance, will never happen again.

“Donghyuck,” he whispers. And he doesn't shine anymore, the desolation of having to fix this at last, to put Donghyuck in his place, taking over. But his hands preserve their delicacy as he brushes Donghyuck's hair out of his eyes, as his thumb caresses Donghyuck's cheekbone like a small farewell. “I'm sorry.”

Donghyuck is, too, sorry.





It’s a turning point for them, and mostly, for Donghyuck.

Donghyuck does his best to keep their relationship intact, but it’s obvious that Johnny is scared of giving him too much room once more. Even though it’s not his fault, Johnny blames himself. Donghyuck might not know much about feelings, yet it’s impossible not to notice the distance Johnny sets between them.

For once, it isn’t Donghyuck’s pride what is hurt. It’s something deeper, the rooted sensation of being unloved in the only way he cares about, and being loved in many ways that he doesn’t need. He stares at the audience when he’s on stage, appreciates their starry-eyed expressions with a new, cold perspective, and cries afterwards in his room, when Mark has drifted to sleep and can’t hear him anymore.

It’s ironical to be loved for the person he’s on stage, but never for the person he’s off stage. He could have many people, could kiss a hundred of them and consequently break their hearts, yet he’s the one in that situation, pinning after a boy that loves him too much, but never how Donghyuck wants him to.

Their secret is also their perdition. Donghyuck’s behavior doesn’t change, not in front of Johnny and not in front of the group, but Johnny builds a barrier that Donghyuck can’t trespass anymore. If Donghyuck tries to hold his hand, Johnny moves back, hand fisted on his thigh. If Donghyuck tries to share food, Johnny shoves the whole plate towards him, as though feeding each other is a dangerous trap. Donghyuck is too scared and embarrassed to try physical contact, and when he finally does, Johnny doesn’t embrace him. Donghyuck rests against stone, against a fence; cold, impersonal, and after all, compassionate.





March, 2020.

The night before leaving Jakarta, Johnny knocks on his hotel room’s door. It’s past two in the morning, and Mark is nowhere to be seen, messages unanswered and the faint air of suspicion floating in the air.

Their antics are too clear for Donghyuck. Every time he fights with Johnny, Mark and Jaehyun help them. During the whole trip it becomes evident that Donghyuck doesn’t even want to look at Johnny, that he won’t acknowledge his existence, and Mark and Jaehyun catch on. Sometimes helping them is as easy as disappearing for a while, sometimes it’s as complicated as having a conversation about why they’re being stubborn, immature, or plainly cruel. Donghyuck doesn’t trust them anymore, however; whether they have such intention or not, Jaehyun and Mark comprehend Johnny’s pain better than they comprehend Donghyuck’s.

If Donghyuck has learned a lesson throughout the years, is that loving himself is the first step to respecting himself as well. He’s tired of lies, of pretending, and though he will remain stuck in a world where he can’t be himself in public, he’s disposed to grant himself what he deserves in private. Johnny, no matter how much he wishes to, will never bold enough to stay by his side, will never disregard his parents’ wishes in favor of being happy with Donghyuck.

That night, Donghyuck doesn’t open the door. He twirls on bed, faces away from the door, and listens to Johnny plead behind it, covering his ears with the pillow.





June, 2018.

Before We Go Up promotions, Donghyuck explodes.

Both Johnny and Donghyuck walk on a tightrope, a small game of who will last longer before confronting their problems. Taeyong glares at them all the time: when cameras stop rolling during interviews, when all of them eat together and Donghyuck spits a petty remark that creates an awkward silence for minutes, when they underperform because they refuse to communicate.

Donghyuck hates to put more responsibilities on Taeyong’s shoulders, but Johnny doesn’t facilitate the process of getting over the rejection. They don’t discuss what happened at all, and Johnny expresses himself with obscure, painful hints in situations in which Donghyuck can’t speak out his mind.

Johnny isn’t unfazed at Donghyuck’s words. He’s not an angel, and like any other human, he has his limits too. Donghyuck isn’t sure when he crosses the frontier between pettiness and an open, stupid war, but Johnny gets roped into it. And, with the advantage of having experience and knowing the nuances of Donghyuck’s personality, he battles better than Donghyuck.

Donghyuck stands behind him in interviews, and though he has improved his English skills every time he has visited the States, he can have only a subtle grasp of what they’re talking about. Johnny hums at the interviewer’s question, pensive, and Donghyuck steals a glance at him, straightening up.

“I guess a lot of us changed,” Johnny replies, the microphone loosely resting in his hand. “Physically, I’d say Haechan.”

Donghyuck doesn’t react, but he can recognize an attack when it’s thrown at him. Of course he changed, and he changed beyond growing up. Some idols never grow up, after all, and some are pushed to the edge of a cliff until they manage to protect themselves. Whether it’s because of his own stubbornness or because bright lights don’t shine forever, Donghyuck belongs to the second category.

“He got a lot more adult,” Johnny continues. “He matured a lot.”

He matured because he dared to kiss him, because one year ago Donghyuck wouldn't have even considered the possibility, and now he does.

Donghyuck tastes blood on his tongue, but he doesn't stop biting the inner meat of his cheek until Mark turns around to look at him. There isn't concern on Mark's face at first, for he's too immersed in the interview to suspect that Johnny's words have a meaning beyond the surface. As soon as he registers Donghyuck's seriousness, his confusion, his face falls for a second before picking up with the appearances.

And then everyone is looking at Donghyuck, and so is Johnny, handing him the microphone with an expression that reveals his intentions. Donghyuck meets his eye like a lost lamb, accepting that Johnny has scored a point against him for many reasons: because he understood enough of the conversation to feel butterflies in his stomach, because Johnny knows his weakness and plays with the strings of Donghyuck's self-image better than anyone else could ever do; because perhaps he's not lying, and he admits that Donghyuck has grown up, but that doesn't mean he will love him back.

Donghyuck fists the microphone with one hand, eyes begging for help, and Johnny has the decency to guide him with a small, fast translation. Mark aids him too, not before sending Johnny a resentful look, and Donghyuck remembers where he is. And remembers, over all, that he can play this game too.

"I must be at that age, still growing up," Donghyuck answers, flashing a small, demure smile. He spins the microphone towards Johnny, and Johnny stares back at him, understanding what he's talking about.





April, 2020.

Back in Korea, Johnny doesn't try to reach out, but Donghyuck doesn't lower his guard.

On the first day he sets foot on the dorm, he wakes up to a message from Ten. It's, indeed, unusual. In a group with so many members, and given the amount of activities Ten develops in China, Donghyuck barely has any time to talk to him. Even before the company split them up and apart, Donghyuck wasn't specially close to Ten.

It was thanks to Johnny that they formed a strange bond. Ten, the only person who Johnny had trusted in, explicitly, about his sexuality – it was assumptions and confirmations by trial and error for the rest, just like it had happened to Donghyuck – and Donghyuck, the boy who had dragged Johnny around until he had fallen in love with him.

Ten and Donghyuck had never been very compatible. In Donghyuck's opinion, there was too much ego in the mix, too much pride, and Donghyuck had enough with himself. It made sense that Johnny liked both of them, in different ways, and it made sense that Ten adored Johnny as much as Donghyuck did.

Donghyuck blinks at the screen, rolling around in bed until the light of the phone doesn't bother Mark.

we have to talk, Ten's message says.

It's not a question. Donghyuck has never had a good relationship with orders. He types a dry, i dont think so.

Ten's response is immediate, and Donghyuck can't help but smirk at his reaction.

you do think so unless you want to get your ass kicked

He's in advantage for once, even though Johnny has the power to control everyone around him – not the power, but the love that is necessary for people to take care of him. Mark, Jaehyun, Ten, all of them will collaborate just to bring them happiness.

And Ten, unlike the others, doesn't have any trouble with using excessive sincerity as a weapon.

“Youngho is miserable,” is the first thing Ten shoots when they meet up that night.

It’s Friday night, and the restaurant is full of university students that are too busy drinking to notice a couple of boys with caps – which would usually raise suspicions – coddled in a corner. The manager that drove Donghyuck there is far away from them, half annoyed and half resigned that Donghyuck told her it was a private conversation. Ten came alone, much to her despair, and when she scolded him because he can’t go out alone, Ten merely shrugged and lifted his eyebrows. Ten had never been too keen on having uninvited company.

Donghyuck is glad of having alcohol at hand, because he won’t survive this otherwise. “And whose fault is that?” he retorts, calm, poison in his voice.

It’s the first time Donghyuck decides to draw the line; it’s the first time they’ve gone this long without talking, letting their problems rot until it’s too late, and Ten has assumed that Donghyuck would be as willing and desperate to make up with Johnny as Johnny is.

But Ten learns fast, and instead of pressuring him, his face lights up with interest. "Why won't you let him apologize?"

"Because I've heard it before." There’s not much Johnny can offer him anymore. They’ve been running in circles, always, since the beginning. "And if I listen to him, I'll forgive him."

That confession is too direct, too heartless for Ten to conceal his shock. “Donghyuck, that's-”

Donghyuck knows how it sounds. He doesn’t want to forgive Johnny, not this time.

“I deserve better,” he cuts Ten off. “I deserve being in love in peace.

Amidst the noise of the university students, silence dilates between them. Ten would never tell him that he doesn’t deserve to be in a happy, simple relationship, and Donghyuck is certain that Ten believes that they can live their own romantic lives without worrying about the future. Donghyuck doesn’t have to shout out loud that he likes men; one day he will disappear from the industry, his fans will be too immersed in their lives, and Donghyuck will have a normal life with his significant other, in the privacy of their home.

“He loves you,” Ten sighs, and his hands vacillate over the table, as though he wished he could take Donghyuck’s hands. He bends a bit over the table, scrutinizing eyes, and continues, “You know that, right? He's completely crazy about you.”

Donghyuck isn’t so sure. Perhaps Johnny isn’t that careful with Ten, but with Donghyuck, even after more than one year of love, he always makes sure their passion doesn’t blind their obligations. And Donghyuck yearns for the opposite: for allowing madness to take over, to enjoy his feelings and nothing else, and to be loved back with equal force.

“Love is more than opening my legs for him,” Donghyuck says, shaking his head. Sourness paints his voice, and for a moment, Ten gapes at the choice of words; Donghyuck isn’t wrong, nor is he ashamed. “It’s not love if you’re not willing to sacrifice anything for them.”

“He is sacrificing things for you.” Ten fidgets on his seat, looks around like he requires some help. And then, so low that even both of them have trouble to comprehend it, he adds, “But the stuff he says in public- It’s his way to protect himself. You can’t blame him for it.”

That’s not a consolation for Donghyuck. Once upon a time, it was all about protecting Donghyuck. He has no idea when it shifted to this: Johnny putting himself first, and Donghyuck’s feelings and well being second.

It feeds the last of Donghyuck’s anger, the remainders of strength he has after the emotional rollercoaster this last year. He grips his glass, swallows the shot in one go, and sets the glass on the table with a loud clatter.

“He’s not in danger,” Donghyuck grunts. He listens to the chatter and the laughter around them, and wonders if being on stage was worth renouncing to everything else. If Donghyuck had opted for a normal life, he would have never ruined Johnny’s too. “You can tell him that. Since it’s over for good, he doesn’t have to protect himself anymore.”





June, 2018.

Like a ticking bomb, Donghyuck explodes in the worst moment.

Perhaps it’s the exhaustion, but Donghyuck spirals down step by step on a day with a full schedule on their heels. They wake up when it’s still night. Johnny tries to ride the car Donghyuck isn’t in, but they end up arm against arm. Johnny doesn’t even greet him good morning, and the rest of the members are too sleepy to chat up and distract him.

Donghyuck watches the nightlife of Seoul through the misty window, and wishes he could escape from the man next to him, from his own life, and from his own decisions. It’s too late for that. Following Jeno’s advice was effective to break his heart, but the heart wants what it wants, and Donghyuck still loves him. It’s the sort of love that, under the weight of frustration, becomes a ball of despair and rage.

The silence of the car speaks for itself, and only the two of them stay awake during the ride. Donghyuck counts every minute, every second; not only to leave the car, but to leave the whole unit and run to his friends’ arms. A breath of air.

Yet Donghyuck can’t breathe. There’s a strange pressure in his chest while the stylists do his make-up, during the two interviews they have, and during the private performance they give in the evening. Donghyuck sits backstage, legs trembling and heart racing, not understanding what’s going with his body.

Doyoung is the first one to approach him after the performance. He squats in front of him, encircling Donghyuck’s legs, and looks up at him with a concern Donghyuck has never seen on him. It makes Donghyuck wonder just how bad he must look; if he looks half as bad as he feels, then Doyoung’s worry is justified.

“Donghyuck,” he whispers, visibly nervous. Donghyuck makes an effort to focus on his face, but his surroundings are blurred and he doesn’t remember where Doyoung is anymore. “Can you speak?”

Donghyuck shakes his head. The knot in his chest develops until it hurts, until he sees white and the world tilts in his vision. There are hands on his body, either moving him or supporting him, and the next thing Donghyuck knows is that he’s lying down, forced on his side, seeing shoes run all over the place.

Fighting against the urge of letting himself go is unbearable, but when Johnny’s face appears in his vision, Donghyuck grips onto consciousness one last time. Johnny is gasping, as though he had sprinted backstage, and he runs his hand over Donghyuck’s forehead to move his hair out of the way.

“Don’t close your eyes, Hyuck,” he pleads. And then, even lower, so that the staff around them doesn’t hear them. “Stay with me.”

It’s anger what keeps Donghyuck awake. Johnny’s fingers unbutton his shirt, pull at the collar to liberate Donghyuck from the pressure, but that doesn’t improve Donghyuck’s condition. Donghyuck wants to scream at him a thousand reproaches, aware that if he has reached the point of passing out in the backstage of a random festival, it’s because of Johnny. And Johnny doesn’t have any right to take care of him now, not after months of neglecting him on an emotional level. And Johnny doesn’t have, over all, the right to look into his eyes as though he couldn’t bear the idea of losing him. Donghyuck lost him long ago. Johnny deserves to experience the same.

“It’s not fair,” Donghyuck croaks out. He senses his own arms flailing around, attempting to grab Johnny; not even Donghyuck knows what for, maybe to pull him closer, maybe to shove him away. “You can’t do this.”

Whether Johnny understands his rambling or not, he pretends to be too busy with Donghyuck’s shirt to reply. He slips a hand over Donghyuck’s neck, a gesture that is meant to check his pulse, but intends to be disguised as affection.

“Breathe,” Johnny insists, voice rising with a hint of panic.

But Donghyuck’s body doesn’t respond to his own wishes, and with Johnny before his eyes, with Johnny paying him attention for the first time in months, Donghyuck’s tongue moves on its own. By the time he speaks, it’s too late to realize that Taeyong is right next to Johnny, and that the person pulling Donghyuck’s shirt from behind is Doyoung. They’re not alone.

“You’re pushing me away because I tried to kiss you,” Donghyuck cries out. Doyoung’s hands on his back freeze, and out of the corner of his eyes, Donghyuck can see Taeyong’s mouth falling open in shock. It anguishes Donghyuck further; Johnny didn’t tell any of them about that, even though they’re incredibly close, as though it was a memory to erase from their lives. Donghyuck hates thinking that it was a mistake. His feelings aren’t a mistake. He sobs, “I got it, okay? You don’t feel anything for me. So can everything go back to normal?”

Donghyuck isn’t the only one who can’t breathe.

“Youngho-” Taeyong mutters, shooting Johnny a wary, scared glance.

Donghyuck can’t blame him. He’s scared, too, and all of them have reasons to be. One wrong word, one wrong move, and all of their careers will be over. Perhaps their friendship as well.

When Johnny cups Donghyuck’s face, it’s wet. Donghyuck can’t feel himself cry, but Johnny’s fingers slide over his cheeks until the last tear has gone away. Donghyuck holds onto the warmth of Johnny’s hands while the world insists on spinning around them. Shoes and loud voices, and the small barrier of protection that Taeyong and Doyoung are building for them, so that no one else hears the dangerous truths that slip past Donghyuck’s lips.

Right in this moment, Johnny could lie to him. He should lie to him, considering Donghyuck’s state, and promise that they’d be as close as they used to be.

However, Johnny bends down and, with a sorrowful look, he whispers, “I know you, Hyuck. You’re stubborn, and you won’t ever stop.”

Among the confusion and the pain, Donghyuck still has strength to let out a faint, bitter laugh. The breach between Johnny and him has become too big, and now Johnny is afraid of falling while trying to jump to the other side. Donghyuck isn’t like him. He’ll jump, and fall, and lose himself in the process if it’s necessary.

“How is that any of your business?” Donghyuck grunts. The white spots around Johnny’s face expand, take all over his vision until Donghyuck can only distinguish Johnny’s eyes. “If I’m doing this to myself, then let me.”

And the world shuts down at last.





August, 2020.

Donghyuck fights his own war with the company during two whole months.

He doesn’t share it with any of the members. He doesn’t tell his friends. He doesn’t tell his parents, or his siblings, and less does he tell Johnny.

The announcement is a surprise for all of them, and somehow, it’s a surprise for Donghyuck too. It’s not the pressure of the industry that propels him to take the decision – in fact, the industry is the only thing that could have hold him back, the fear of being forgotten while he’s away. Donghyuck has no other unit to run away to anymore, and the weight of the atmosphere heavies on all of them. They were right, those who said that being in a relationship with someone with whom he worked was a bad idea. It becomes a bad idea when the relationship crumbles down and they don’t have any meanings to fix it.

Donghyuck watches the world burn with the news. It’s nonsensical. It’s a folly; pure sabotage, fans say; perhaps Donghyuck has broken a rule behind doors and the company is punishing him for it. And Donghyuck laughs in his room, because he has stepped over many rules, but if the company knew about Johnny and him, then he would be sent away and would never be taken back. He laughs because his phone doesn’t stop buzzing, and in a matter of minutes, any member will burst into his room and scream at him for ruining it for everyone.

Perhaps it’s for the better this way: Donghyuck disappearing on his own terms for a while, hoping that when he’s back, he can have a new beginning.

Donghyuck is the only person that deems his enlistment a good idea.





December, 2018.

“Look at the bright side,” Renjun chirps up, sounding happier than he looks. The contrast between how he speaks and how he observes Donghyuck’s leg in a cast gives him away, though. “Now you can stay home and stuff your face with food.”

There isn’t a bright side to everything, Donghyuck wants to complain, but Renjun’s intentions are too pure for him to destroy. He’s supposed to be attending a dozen of award shows and preparing, always preparing for the tour, but instead he’s sitting back at the dorm and waiting for his family to fetch him.

Besides, it hurts. And when Donghyuck fell and fractured his leg, he screamed so hard that he’s never going to get over the embarrassment of it. Johnny carried him in his arms to the infirmary, fussing over how careless he is and how he was going to kill him for doing stupid tricks. Donghyuck would have appreciated the concern, especially after so many months of being back to tiptoeing around each other, but the pain was too intense for that.

“I’m going to miss our event,” Donghyuck grumbles instead. He stomps his sane foot on the couch, right next to Renjun, and Renjun doesn’t hesitate for a second before trapping his leg to stop him. “You’re going to do fun things without me.”

“Not to be mean, but it’s not that fun to go drink with someone that can’t walk,” Renjun replies, guiltless. He opens his mouth to undoubtedly add a sarcastic remark, but he catches Johnny walking into the living room in that exact second, and his whole demeanor shifts. “You know what you should do?”

Whatever Renjun is planning, Donghyuck isn’t sure that he wants to be involved. Both Johnny and Renjun meet eyes at first, before Renjun turns his whole attention to Donghyuck with a spark of evil in his expression. Donghyuck blinks up at him in curiosity, but as Renjun arches over him without any shame, Donghyuck instinctively laughs.

That, Donghyuck realizes two seconds later, makes it look like he’s being playful.

“Mess up with him,” Renjun whispers into his ear, both hands creating a tunnel so that Johnny doesn’t have any chance to hear them. “A little bit, at least.”

Of course, Donghyuck is used to touching Renjun this intimately, but when Renjun’s intentions are on the table, he can’t erase the blunt feeling of excitement.

“You’re being awful,” Donghyuck protests in a mutter. A smile plays on Renjun’s lips as he caresses Donghyuck’s hair, slowly, looking into his eyes. “And he won’t care.”

“Are you sure?” Renjun differs. They’re too close, so close that if anyone else dared to step into the living room, they’d believe they’re kissing for real. Donghyuck wouldn’t be able to explain that later, but that’s the last of his worries as Renjun, voice tinted with laughter, reveals, “From the moment I set foot in the dorm, he’s been looking at me like I’m about to snatch you away from him.”

In different circumstances, Donghyuck would believe Renjun just for the sake of his pride. Yet it's hard to imagine Johnny being jealous of Renjun, out of all people. If Johnny really cared about him as more than friends, Renjun could indeed be seen as a tiny obstacle in their lives, and Donghyuck flusters at the thought of how they must look like right now: with Renjun hovering over him despite Donghyuck being injured, smiling at each other like two little kids.

“Should I push his buttons?” Renjun continues, because if he's good at something, it's at playing with people's boundaries. “Maybe little Hyuck has already grown too much, and he's looking at other men.”

Donghyuck is smarter than falling for another member, both of them know that, but it still humors Donghyuck. He giggles at Renjun's insinuation, scrunches his nose at the possibility of Johnny thinking that they're together, and whispers, “You’re disgusting.”

Renjun doesn't contradict him.

“And smart,” he compliments himself.

He might be, because when he pulls away, Donghyuck's eyes find Johnny standing at the feet of the couch with the sternest expression he has seen in a while. Donghyuck feels his own cheeks burn, both because of Renjun's proximity and the blatant glare Johnny is giving them, like their secrets are secrets as long as no one else interferes with them. Otherwise, it's an open fight.

"Donghyuck needs rest," Johnny says, warns Renjun.

Renjun understands the situation better than any of them, so he displays one of his charming smiles for Johnny. Johnny doesn't seem to enjoy that, but Renjun retreats in time, aware that he can't ignore someone older – and not close to him – just to rile him up.

However, he glances one last time at Donghyuck and with a newfound confidence, he assures, “It’ll get better.”

Renjun is not talking about the injury.





Going back home is oddly satisfying.

It’s also strangely similar to the dorm life, except the noise comes from his siblings, not from a bunch of young men. His mother makes sure to, like Renjun said, feed him until he can’t bear it anymore, but instead of gaining weight, Donghyuck loses it. The stress and pressure to recover fast doesn’t allow him to relax, and he can’t share those thoughts with his family in fear that they’ll feel rejected by their own son, their own brother.

Every night, once everyone is asleep, Donghyuck flips over on his bed and reaches out for his phone. After the whole day, he has a hundred messages, mostly from Jaemin and Jeno, but also a few questionable messages from Jisung, who doesn’t know how to express that he misses him. But some nights, Donghyuck swipes over his phone and is greeted with a few messages from Johnny. It’s silly, quite childish that Donghyuck’s stomach vibrates with a unknown emotion, since Johnny’s words are ordinary, simple questions to check if Donghyuck is recovering well, or small anecdotes of what they’re doing so that Donghyuck doesn’t feel left out.

Donghyuck spends new year’s eve at home. His father serves him gin and both his mom and he laugh at him when he can’t walk straight around the house – not for the cast, but because he needs a lending hand after so much alcohol. It alleviates the guilt of not being with his friends on this special day, and he hopes Jaemin, Jeno and Renjun reserve a bit of fun for when he’s back.

He’s too entertained, enjoying the time with his family, to check his phone. By the time he slips into bed, his mom giggling as she aids him under the covers, it’s past four in the morning. And still Donghyuck’s mind screams at him to extend his arm, once more, and cradle the phone between his arms. He does just that, though the phone drops a few times as he discovers the right way to hold a phone while being completely drunk.

It’s the alcohol what doesn’t give him space to fool himself, to lie about his own desires: he ignores all the messages from his friends and moves directly to Johnny’s name. His heart swells with both dread and happiness upon recognizing the notification, and he feels so, so stupid for being in love with a man in a world that will never accept him as he is. He feels so, so foolish for not being able to forget him, for not dismissing him as a teenage crush, no matter how much he tries.

His heart beats uncontrollably at the message, a simple, sweet happy new year, little one sent right at midnight. There’s nothing else, but Donghyuck reads it a dozen times, his smile becoming bigger and bigger every time. It gives him courage, dangerous courage, and though usually it’d be his tongue what becomes brave, tonight his fingers do the job.

what’s your excuse now?? he types, not doubting that Johnny will understand right away.

Donghyuck’s eyes shift to Johnny’s state, and the message gets marked as read just two seconds later, as though Johnny has been waiting four hours for Donghyuck to answer. Maybe he has. Johnny doesn’t reply, doesn’t even type and delete, doesn’t even try at all.

And Donghyuck knows the reason: he doesn’t have any excuse now.





August, 2020.

With Johnny crying on his knees, holding onto Donghyuck’s legs and pressing his head against his knees, Donghyuck has a sudden realization: Johnny will never forgive him for this. Not now, and not for the rest of their lives, even if Donghyuck leaves the military and both of them find happiness in their lives.

The dorm is sunk in absolute stillness. A deafening silence. No one moves a muscle, enclosed in their respective rooms, and everyone listens to Johnny’s sobs through the walls, not daring to interrupt such an intimate, private moment.

Donghyuck wishes they would, despite not deserving such favor. Instead he observes Johnny in the solitude of their room, a room they’ve been sharing since they started dating, a room that has been full of silence and tension during the last few weeks. Void of love.

All actions have consequences, but Donghyuck never imagined that Johnny would kneel in front of him, that he would kneel in a last attempt to retain him. It’s too late, and there’s no point in regretting his decision; even if Donghyuck had the chance to do it, he’d force himself to follow his own aim. It feels like he’s running away because that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“Please, don’t,” Johnny cries out, his voice muffled against the bare skin of Donghyuck’s legs. All of him trembles, and Donghyuck is helpless as he holds Johnny in place, as though he could stabilize him with a simple touch. As soon as Donghyuck’s hands land on his head, Johnny shakes harder, convulses with an anguished, “Don’t go.”

If they wanted to, they could see each other during Donghyuck’s enlistment. Johnny is too smart, and over all, too guilty to believe in such a fantasy. Donghyuck won’t grant him any of his time while he’s doing his service, and it’s a definitive, heartless goodbye.

“I can’t take it back, Youngho,” Donghyuck whispers. He already knows that. “All the paperwork is done, and the announcement-”

Johnny can be such a delicate creature sometimes that Donghyuck can’t help but marvel at him. He has always been patient with Donghyuck, a bit scared of his feelings, and disposed to love him with all his heart, in secret, once it was the right moment. Donghyuck believed in the beginning that it was the right moment, but it wasn’t. So he waited and waited, hoping for a better moment, until he realized that there wasn’t any right moment for people like them.

“Is this a punishment?” Johnny asks, but it’s not a question. “Are you doing this because I was a coward?”

“Youngho.” His name hurts on Donghyuck’s lips, and out of the blue he feels like vomiting, feels like the worst person in the world. This was inevitable, and yet Johnny trusted that it wouldn’t be; that’s what breaks Donghyuck’s heart. “You knew I had to enlist, sooner or later.”

Johnny is right. It’s some sort of punishment, because Johnny dreaded this moment and Donghyuck decided to shove it onto them without any previous warning. Donghyuck has been too occupied assuring himself that it was his escape, what he wished, but unconsciously it was a revenge on Johnny. A way to tell him that Donghyuck wouldn’t be the only one fighting for a dying relationship.

Sooner or later, and Johnny always hoped it would be a never.

Donghyuck flickers his stare down, there where Johnny’s hands lie on his thighs, and avoids the incredulous look Johnny is dedicating him. “It’ll give us time to think,” Donghyuck adds.

Johnny doesn’t miss a beat, but the huff that pushes past his lips is full of bitterness. “I don’t need to think.”

It’s not a lie, but Donghyuck has learned to distinguish desperation from a promise. On the brink of separation, Johnny will believe his own words, and of course he’s sure of his feelings now that Donghyuck is about to fade away. That’s one of the reasons Donghyuck must leave.

“You do,” Donghyuck replies, weaker by the second. With a subtle shake of his head, he utters, “Think about if you can live without me. You’ve always had me by your side, so you haven’t had the chance of knowing if you really need me.”

For better and for worse, Donghyuck is about to add. But Johnny is aware of that. Probably both of them wish they could go back in time to fix the bad periods of their lives, to fix their mistakes and, perhaps in Johnny’s case, to never fall in love with Donghyuck.

With no turning back, however, Johnny has no option but to cling onto his last hope. Cling until his hands bleed and Donghyuck believes that Johnny would sacrifice anything for him. And yet Donghyuck never asked that for him, and never will.

“I’m not going to marry a girl,” Johnny breathes out, and Donghyuck’s heart skips a heartbeat, white noise blocking his hearing. Johnny stares up at him through the remainders of his tears, dry on his face, and his voice grows louder with certainty. “Is that what you want to hear? I’m not going to marry a girl and I’m not going to have kids with her. Not as long as you love me. You’re insane if you think I’d leave you for anyone else.”

Donghyuck’s lips quiver, but Johnny doesn’t give him time to talk. He’s aware that, if Donghyuck interrupts him, it’ll be over at last. Johnny still has unsaid words on his tongue, whether they exist out of desperation or they’ve always existed, hidden in quiet moans and long nights buried between Donghyuck’s legs.

“You’re insane if you think I’d leave you,” Johnny corrects himself, plainer, simpler, more honest than ever.

But, this time, it’s Donghyuck who is leaving.






January, 2019.

Renjun’s eyes sparkle under the disapproval of their friends, but he still dares Donghyuck, “Kiss him.”

They kept their promise, the four of them – Renjun, Jaemin, Jeno and Donghyuck – to secretly gather one night and drink together for the first time. They had gotten drunk before, despite being forbidden both by law and the company, for some of their hyungs were a bit more lenient, but it’s different from openly drinking until they pass out. They sit at the dorm, sprawled on the couch and resting their heads on each other, on whoever is lying the closest to them at that time. After drinking a long shot of vodka, Donghyuck squishes his face against Renjun’s tummy and enjoys the way Renjun threads his fingers through his hair, tipsy enough to indulge Donghyuck’s affection.

Donghyuck feels warmth in the pit of his stomach for many reasons. He has shown Renjun the messages Johnny and he exchanged over the last month, and though Jeno and Jaemin are reticent, Renjun is always up for giving him some venous boldness. It makes sense that they don’t have the same opinion. Renjun has seen Johnny act up with his own eyes. Jeno and Jaemin have experienced Donghyuck’s heartbreak over the years. It’s the two sides of the same coin.

“He tried to do that, remember?” Jaemin punctuates, tapping on Renjun’s arm in an attempt to distract him from the conversation. From lighting up Donghyuck’s feelings.

“Didn’t try,” Donghyuck slurs, a dumb smile taking over. “Did it.”

It might have broken him in pieces, but Donghyuck doesn’t care anymore. Life goes on. He fought with Johnny for months because of it, and then they were fine, and now they’re beyond fine. Indecently fine.

It’s quite ironic that Jeno is the one to accusingly point his finger at Donghyuck and ask, “Did you forget what happened?”

Donghyuck cried for days. And if Johnny rejects him again, Donghyuck will cry for days once again, yet he’s certain that Johnny will kiss him back. Perhaps he’ll reject him as soon as their lips aren’t pressing against each other’s, but the chance to kiss him like Donghyuck has always wanted to is nothing but unwavering.

“Johnny wants him,” Renjun grunts. His mouth smiles down at Donghyuck, but his stare is tinted with reproach as he glances at Jeno. “For fuck’s sake, he wants him so bad. He just can’t touch him after causing him so much pain.”

Donghyuck blinks up at Renjun, and it might be a consequence of the alcohol, but his words have never made so much sense. In the remote case Johnny was falling for him, it’d be almost impossible for him to admit it. Both of them have been quite mean to each other in many occasions; Donghyuck regrets every one of them, so he can’t imagine how Johnny must feel about his own mistakes. He was supposed to take care of Donghyuck, and he tried to, but Johnny wasn’t, isn’t and will never be perfect, and his emotions took the best of him as well.

“You’ve changed so much,” Renjun adds in a pensive mutter, and Donghyuck sees Jaemin nod in agreement. “And at the same time nothing at all.”





April, 2019.

One year after the first time, Donghyuck kisses Johnny in a hotel in Miami.

Donghyuck realizes, in the middle of the night, as they lie down in bed and watch an American TV show while Johnny translates for him, that it’s much easier to be brave when he’s not at home. It’s easier when he’s a foreign country, cuddled against Johnny’s side, and he can pretend that it’s only the two of them in a hotel, enjoying their time together, only the two of them in the whole world.

It surely feels that way, with the volume of the television to the minimum not to bother other rooms, lights off so that the manager doesn’t scold them if he catches the light beneath the door. The world has gone to sleep, and they remain awake. Johnny’s arms embrace Donghyuck as he laughs and laughs at the silly details of the show; he keeps asking what’s so funny about them, but Donghyuck can’t explain it without breaking into giggles, so Johnny merely pets his hair and laughs with him.

Donghyuck can’t tell what’s going on that night, but it’s not a normal night. His body refuses any sort of sleep, and Johnny’s eyes twinkle every time their gazes lock, but neither of them brings up the many things they should talk about. If Johnny ever missed him when he was injured, if Donghyuck is still in love with him, if they shouldn’t be afraid of themselves, of their own desires and decisions.

Donghyuck doesn’t know at which point of the night he stops paying attention to the show. But then his eyes are fixed on Johnny’s face, on the unusual calmness reflected on his expression, and he can’t look away. Donghyuck doesn’t move, not at first, just observes that tiny piece of happiness between them and wonders for how long it will last, if it will last. When his hand slides over Johnny’s stomach, grasping at his other side for support, Johnny glances down at him.

Upon recognizing the subtle call, Johnny’s lips expand into a cat-like smile, “What?”

“Nothing,” Donghyuck whispers, flustered. He bites his tongue, an effort that can’t stop his thoughts from infecting every inch of his body; he wishes it was nothing. It’d prevent him to ruin this moment. As soon as Johnny’s attention drifts away again, Donghyuck timidly says, “Hyung?”

Donghyuck’s voice is tinted with nervousness, so when Johnny gazes at him, he does it knowing that it’s something. And that it’s important. That’s why he doesn’t ask, because any wrong word could make Donghyuck regret his intentions, and Johnny doesn’t wish to scare him.

“Hm?” he hums, instead, cautious.

Donghyuck’s fingers walk over Johnny’s side, hesitating yet firm, and Johnny presses his hand over his, uniting them. Donghyuck glances at his lips and realizes he’s not smiling anymore, and then looks into his eyes, and realizes that Johnny won’t stop him.

“I want to kiss you,” Donghyuck whispers, a whisper barely louder than the voices coming from the television, and yet a whisper that resonates within them with a strenuous force.

Donghyuck has never been so direct, so explicit, and Johnny’s façade crumbles down. There’s surprise at his boldness, but Donghyuck isn’t a kid that hastily jumps into a kiss and then cries for months, not anymore. He’s a man that asks for permission first not to hurt both of them.

Johnny falls into a deep silence, but sometimes Donghyuck doesn’t need words to understand him. His eyes betray him; they travel from Donghyuck’s pupils to his lips, and they don’t flicker up again. It’s intentional. It’s not a mistake, and Johnny isn’t trying to hide it.

It’s a dance of two. Johnny’s arms hold him; Donghyuck twirls over him, a gasp on his mouth. Johnny smiles at him, brings him closer; Donghyuck straddles him, leaning forward until their foreheads touch. And they laugh for a second, forehead against forehead, because this is equally odd and natural for both of them.

It’s Johnny who takes the next step, just a soft touch to cup Donghyuck’s mouth. Donghyuck angles his head to press against his hand, and when he closes his eyes, he bathes in the tenderness of Johnny’s gesture. Donghyuck meets Johnny’s lips midway with a sigh; a sigh of relief, perhaps, or a sigh of comfort. Because this time Johnny kisses back, and every caress of his lips against Donghyuck’s mouth sends a rush of excitement through him, careful but intense, awaited but expected.

And then it’s over, and Donghyuck is still close enough to feel a smile tugging at Johnny’s lips. Donghyuck can’t help but smile as well, pressing his hands on Johnny’s chest for support, and steals another kiss from Johnny. It’s clumsy, almost funny, because both of them are smiling, and it takes a few attempts to stop laughing at each other. But Donghyuck lures him back once and once again, until his lips are wet and warm and he has tasted Johnny’s tongue enough times to dream about it for a thousand years. And, again, Johnny lets him dream.






It doesn’t become a routine.

Donghyuck could feel upset over it, could fear that it’s Johnny’s silent way to push them back to square one, but he’s sure of their relationship at last. In the middle of the tour, they don’t have much time for each other, and when they’re away from the public eye, they’re surrounded by other members.

It’s not a rejection. Johnny smiles at him backstage with the spark of someone who doesn’t want to let go, smiles at him with the happiest, most sincere grin Donghyuck has ever seen on him, before every show. He holds Donghyuck’s hand on stage, strokes him with light touches, and always keeps an eye on him, making sure that he’s fine, safe and content.

The second time they kiss, they’re in Chicago.

Donghyuck is terrified of going to Johnny’s home; on the other hand, Johnny is ecstatic. Donghyuck sleeps in their bus using Johnny’s arm as a pillow, but Johnny stares all the way to Chicago through the window.

Johnny’s home is full of life, but Donghyuck suspects that it revives the moment Johnny sets foot in it. It’s like a flower following the sun, impregnating everyone with a different sort of excitement. Donghyuck understands why, because seeing their friends happy makes them happy, but Donghyuck is drowned in his own doubts. He walks around Johnny’s living room, greets his parents with impeccable education, and then worries. Johnny’s parents don’t know about his sexuality. They would never imagine that the young boy invading their house along other eight boys is dragging their son to make decisions that could ruin his own life.

Donghyuck feels invisible the whole day, but he isn’t. Johnny doesn’t pay him as much attention as usual, which is a relief for Donghyuck, and he hopes for the end of the day to leave Johnny’s house. Doyoung and Mark decide to stay and spend the night with him, and Donghyuck avoids Johnny’s eyes when he asks if anyone else wants to join.

Johnny doesn’t allow him to leave that easily. He grabs his hand before he can cross the door, and while Mark and Doyoung run upstairs to choose a bed, Johnny closes the door and leans for a kiss.

Donghyuck startles, his heart trying to leap out of his chest. One second and Johnny’s parents could walk on them, one second and Doyoung and Mark could take a peek from upstairs and discover them.

But Johnny doesn’t care. He presses an innocent, tender kiss on Donghyuck’s mouth that seems to last for a whole eternity, forgetting the dangers around them and the fragility of their own selves. Donghyuck drenches in that instant, in the way his heart is about to explode and the walls close around them, and makes sure he’ll remember it for a long time.

“Thank you,” Johnny whispers afterwards. His thumb traces the path across Donghyuck’s cheek, a small goodbye as he stares into his eyes. “I’ll miss you tonight. I’m not used to being without you.”

Donghyuck isn’t either.





August, 2019.

It all goes back to Tokyo.


Donghyuck blacks out for a moment, overwhelmed by the feeling of Johnny’s fingers buried up to his knuckles inside him. He’s grateful that Johnny convinced him to lie on his back, because he wouldn’t have been able to bear this sensation otherwise, because Donghyuck was too insistent and excited to know what was best for him.

Now, with his whole body burning, he’s sure he can trust Johnny to fuck him good. To fuck him with care, but good. In a hotel room in Tokyo, after the first company concert of the week, after everyone is too exhausted and happy to bother them.

Donghyuck doesn’t know what Tokyo does to him, but he finds himself kissing Johnny behind closed doors and begging for more than just kissing. And Tokyo must have an effect on Johnny as well, because after months of setting limits for both of them, of sweet kisses building Donghyuck’s frustration up, he gives into Donghyuck’s request. Perhaps it's the ecstasy of performing, but Donghyuck doesn't mind, not when Johnny has him naked on his back and legs spread over the bed. All he can think about is how vulnerable he is, and how little vulnerable he feels.

“You’re so dirty-mouthed,” Johnny muses, huffing at Donghyuck's cursing. He doesn't pull his fingers out, however, and orders, “Be quiet.”

It's hard to, that's the problem. Donghyuck is full, so full that he can barely articulate any word, his chest going up and down as he tries to breathe. Johnny is careful, but it's the first time for Donghyuck, and he has no idea of what he's doing.

As soon as Johnny tries to slide a third finger in him, Donghyuck breaks into a loud moan, his hands shooting to grip the bed. It's not pleasure, it's not pain, but the feeling of being stretched out bit by bit.

“John-” he tries to warn him.

“Everyone is asleep,” Johnny reminds him. And though the reminder is harsh, his voice is playful. “And we don’t want to wake them up.”

The thought of being heard flusters Donghyuck. They'll know what's going on if they recognize any moan, so he bites down on his lower lip and pleads, “Then go slowly.”

Johnny is beyond amused at the petition, but there's endearment in his eyes. He noses at Donghyuck's belly button, and then presses a kiss on his hipbone, “I’m going slowly, you baby.”

Donghyuck isn't used to being the inexperienced one. He's always been at pioneer at everything, the fearless one, but obviously he couldn't compare to Johnny when it came to sex. He has imagined this so many times that his own thoughts disturb him and leave the trace of a blush on his cheeks, but Johnny doesn't mock him for being nervous and embarrassed. Donghyuck is fine with nakedness, for all of them see each other naked on a daily basis, but it's the intimacy of giving himself what intimidates him.

"Your hands," Donghyuck breathes out, blinking away the white spots in his visions, "are too fucking big."

Instead of laughing, Johnny looks at him with his pupils blown. Donghyuck can imagine why, but he doesn't know how it feels to have a boy so ready for him, and he shies away under Johnny's obvious attention.

When Johnny slides his fingers out, the sensation is just as strong as being filled up. Donghyuck cries a desperate moan, and Johnny's hand immediately shoots up to his mouth to muffle it. It doesn't stop Donghyuck from groaning, for he moans against Johnny's palm until the overwhelming warmness dissipates and his legs start trembling.

"Oh my fucking god," Donghyuck whispers. Johnny hovers over him, holding him down by the waist, and Donghyuck takes the opportunity of tugging at Johnny's hair. Between gritted teeth, he tells him, "That felt so good."

Johnny's lips expand into a smile void of tenderness, but full of smugness. That has always turned Donghyuck crazy, and it does now as Johnny smirks down at him and assures, "You'll learn to like my fucking big hands."

"I want more," Donghyuck demands him. He has to gather his breath to speak, and he's surprised at himself for being able to tease Johnny when he feels so undone himself. He lifts his hips, looking for friction, and Johnny slides his hands behind his back to help him. "How did you do that?"

"I didn't." Johnny closes his eyes for a second, gasping. Their erections brush against each other, but instead of keeping Donghyuck there, he places him back on the back and presses against him, relief on his expression. "You were tightening around my fingers."

It wasn't intentional, just out of nervousness, and yet Donghyuck can't wait to feel that again. Johnny is ready, has been ready for a while, but he's being patient until Donghyuck is relaxed enough to take him. Donghyuck doesn't want to wait anymore. He made Johnny that hard, and he wants to feel it inside him. And he wonders if, even though Johnny doesn't say so, it will feel better for him if Donghyuck is nervous, if he tightens around his cock until he can't take it anymore.

That's the reason why, upon the next kiss, Donghyuck caresses Johnny's nape and looks into his eyes, a newfound determination on his mind. "I want you so bad," he says, watching Johnny's reactions from up close. The answer isn't on Johnny's face however, but in the way his dick twitches on Donghyuck's hipbones. "I want to feel that again."

If Johnny's fingers are overpowering, Donghyuck can't imagine how his dick must feel. Johnny takes mercy on him, on him wanting but not knowing what that implies, and brushes their noses together to bring his attention where he needs it.

"Slowly?" Johnny asks him.

Donghyuck nods, feeling his whole face and ears burn. "Slow, but don't be careful."

They meet in an open-mouthed kiss, sharing their breath and their impatience. Donghyuck focuses on Johnny's mouth as he caresses Donghyuck's thighs; it's not a matter of feeling him up, it's Johnny's way of making him spread his legs further without rushing him. Donghyuck does so, until he's completely open for Johnny and the muscles of his inner thighs pull at the effort. Johnny lifts him up a bit, enough to give himself space, and doesn't wait for another signal to move.

There's a first time for everything, yet Donghyuck can't wrap his head around being fucked like this. The head of Johnny's dick pushes inside him, and though Donghyuck is anticipating it, he still clenches around it by instinct, not able to relax. Johnny doesn't force himself further, just strokes Donghyuck's sides and plants a few pecks on his lips until Donghyuck isn't as tense.

Johnny keeps his promise, but Donghyuck doesn't. As soon as Johnny's dick slides all the way in, stretching him out for the second time, Donghyuck moans out loud. It's strange, because this time there's pleasure, and Donghyuck doesn't know where it's coming from. Johnny pushes in until their bodies are tightly connected, and then lets his head fall in the crook of Donghyuck's neck, trying to shush him.

Donghyuck bubbles out a breathy laugh, and Johnny laughs with him for a second, aware that there's nothing funny about this and Donghyuck is just amazed at how it feels. When Johnny moves his hips backward, Donghyuck experiences the same strong sensation from before; his own warmness closing in itself, clenching around Johnny, except this time Donghyuck doesn't feel any sort of emptiness. Johnny slams back into him, and none of them care about how loud they are now, both melting into a synced moan.

Johnny fucks him slowly, but not carefully. And when Donghyuck needs him to speed up, Johnny doesn't, for Donghyuck is too tight for him to put up with so much pressure all at once. Donghyuck grabs onto him, feels the muscles of his back as they tense up and relax, and buries his mouth in Johnny's mouth. By the time they build a pace, there aren't kisses anymore, just moans muffled against lips, oxygen that runs out by the second, and desperate movements to feel more and more of each other. Johnny whispers a dozen times how nice Donghyuck feels around him, rams into him with more strength when Donghyuck pleads for it, and brings Donghyuck dangerously close to insanity.

Donghyuck comes first, dick untouched, just for how good Johnny fills him up, just for how softly Johnny tells him that he looks pretty, so pretty undone for him. The rest is a blur for Donghyuck, Johnny slumping on top of him and kissing under his jaw, just as breathless as Donghyuck is. But he grips onto the memory of Johnny's lips on his skin, on their humid bodies united, and then lets himself go.





January, 2021.

Johnny lies next to him, heavily breathing, and curls a hand beneath his face.

“I haven’t stopped thinking about you,” he says, voice faint and laced with melancholy.

Donghyuck doesn’t need Johnny to tell him that. He knows. For once, they’re not in a luxury hotel surrounded by staff and a bunch of other young boys, but in a cheap hotel where no one can find them. Donghyuck didn’t plan to spend his army permission entangled in Johnny’s arms, but it was awfully easy to fall into them.

When he swiped his feet outside the building, Johnny was waiting for him. He hadn’t changed much, but with a simple glance Donghyuck could intuit all the suffering he had gone through, how his absence had eaten up a vital part of him. And Donghyuck, after so much time without him, had forgotten that they weren’t together anymore, that Donghyuck had left him alone to think and alone to live.

Neither of them could conceive living without each other. Beneath all their feelings, Johnny touched him with a familiarity that it should have faded away by then, and Donghyuck pressed against him and buried his face on his chest, not caring about getting caught. And for once, Johnny didn’t care either.

“You can stop thinking now,” Donghyuck whispers back. He revels in the way their bodies are entangled, in the weight of Johnny’s legs over his, both of them on their side. The lights of the cheap hotel room barely illuminate Johnny’s expression, but Donghyuck knows that, when he draws a smile for him, Johnny can see it. “I’m here.”

Not for long. Donghyuck will have to go back to his duties, but Johnny has waited for him every day, and Donghyuck is certain that he will wait for a bit longer.

Johnny rubs their noses together, plants a sweet kiss on the corner of Donghyuck’s lips. It reminds Donghyuck of their third kiss, in the dark halls of a hotel in Paris, Johnny pulling away as Donghyuck chased for a kiss, their noses bumping and both of them laughing at their own impatience. Johnny doesn’t laugh now, and Donghyuck closes his eyes, breathing in every second that ticks against them.

“You can leave, if you want,” Johnny says, so low that Donghyuck swears he’s hurting himself by offering. “If you’ll be happier like that.”

Donghyuck clings onto him, demanding every inch of Johnny’s body against him. It’s, in their forbidden secret, where Donghyuck’s home is. And no matter how much Donghyuck fights against his own feelings, they won’t ever evaporate; Johnny has fought too, but both of them lost the battle long ago.

“Don’t say that,” Donghyuck grunts, but there’s a subtle hint of happiness in his words. As always, he feels small in Johnny’s embrace, and at the same time, for the first time, he has never felt bigger. Against Johnny’s lips, he muses, “Don’t let go.”