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Sweet Like Vinegar

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Insanity was doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results. Renjun was reminded of this the next morning when he served breakfast for Donghyuck and gave him some money for the bus fare home, only to hear—

“Can’t you give me more than this? I need to stop at the store on the way home.”

“This is all the cash I have on me,” Renjun answered, trying to keep his crabbiness to himself. It was his own fault, wasn’t it? For trying to help? Maybe helping Donghyuck was too much of an effort. After all, Donghyuck never got any better. It was a little disheartening. “Go eat your cereal, before I change my mind and make you walk.”

Johnny stepped into the kitchen just then, dressed smartly for work as always: a neat black suit, custom tailored to stretch perfectly across his broad shoulders, with a deep maroon tie that he was still working on tightening and straightening. Instantly, Donghyuck’s attention beelined: “Daddyyyyy. Give me money. Renjun’s being a tightwad.”

“I’ll give you 10,000 won to never call me that again,” Johnny suggested, with a hint of exasperation.

“I need more than that. I’ll pay you back. I think.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow. “What do you need more than 10,000 won for right now? I’m sure you have more than that in your wallet back home.”

Donghyuck bit his lip, seeming strangely shy for someone who had just called his best friend’s boyfriend daddy. Then he stood from the table, bowl of soggy Froot Loops forgotten for the moment, and popped up on his toes so he could whisper something in Johnny’s ear. “All right,” Johnny finally conceded with a small sigh. “All right, all right. Hold on.” And he fished his wallet out of his pocket, sifting through his cash and finally depositing three 10,000-won notes right on the table beside him.

“What the fuck? We’re keeping secrets now?” Renjun asked mildly, trying to hide the slight hurt of being left out as he tightened the top on Johnny’s travel mug and carefully wrapped up his still-warm toast to take on his commute. (After all this time, stupid little things like this still warmed Renjun right up from the inside. He wanted to take care of Johnny even more than Johnny took care of him, he’d made that a goal, and it made him proud when he could do it well. He wondered if Donghyuck was capable of that certain happiness, the happiness that came from sacrifice.)

“Nah. You’ll just call me an idiot if I tell you now,” Donghyuck replied with an air of faux-innocence, shrugging and finishing the last sip of his coffee. “I’m gonna run. Something I gotta do before a certain somebody runs off to work and ignores my texts all day.”

“Taking our money and running? Nice.” Renjun half-chuckled, clearing the table in front of Donghyuck without even thinking about it. “What happened to wanting to talk?”

“I’ll call you tonight. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about.” Donghyuck grinned widely, suddenly enveloping Renjun in a crushing hug and giving him a wet, coffee-breath smooch on the cheek. “Thank you! Love you!”

Love you, another oddity. Donghyuck had certainly said it before, but it was always during moments of high gravity emotion, the bullshit stripped away. In fact, the last I love you he'd gotten had been on the day that he'd moved the last of his shit out of Donghyuck's apartment and into Johnny's— though maybe that was just because Renjun had let him keep the coffee pot and the full length mirror and the flatscreen TV. Who could know? He knew there were genuine moments with Donghyuck, but they were well-hidden little pockets between layers of absolute bullcrap.

“He wanted money to go buy Doyoung flowers,” Johnny said quietly, as soon as he heard Donghyuck’s footsteps disappear down the hall. “I think he’s going to apologize.”

"What? Donghyuck doesn't do apologies." Renjun scoffed. An apology from Donghyuck would be like a diamond, even rarer than the elusive I love you.

“Well, if anyone deserves it, it’s the man who just got saddled with the most needy, most demanding, most manipulative twelve-year-old-in-an-adult-body on the planet.”

Renjun grinned. “Oi. Don’t discredit me like that, I’m pretty needy and demanding, too. Give me a kiss before you go.”

Johnny didn’t argue; his goodbye kiss, just like every day’s, made Renjun fall more in love with Johnny than he’d been the day before.

//

“We talked our way to an understanding. I think we’re okay.”

“Did you apologize?”

“I mean… we talked. I’m not gonna tell you every word we said, it’s kinda personal.”

“Ahh. Did he like the flowers?”

“Eh.”

“Well, I’m glad things worked out in the end.”

“I also let him fuck my throat before he had to leave for work. Seemed to help.”

“Hyuck, you’re the fucking worst.”

(Donghyuck’s metric of “kinda personal” was way fucking off, but Renjun had already known that. Sigh.)

//

The final agreement, as Donghyuck described none too happily, was that he would stay in his shithole apartment and Doyoung would pay his rent and phone bill. For food money and everything else outside of dates, Donghyuck was on his own, meaning that he would need a part-time job— and Renjun knew that he would probably regret it, but he secured another position at the tea shop for him. Donghyuck was an asshole, but he was certainly smart enough to learn the job.

“Ayo, slut. Let me up.”

Donghyuck’s voice over the intercom made Renjun tense, and he could see the same in Johnny’s shoulders. Dinner was picked up, for a change, but Johnny was just depositing the final scoop of green tea ice cream in a dish big enough for them to share on the couch. He cast Renjun a bona fide pout, and then slowly, as if at gunpoint, started to prepare Donghyuck a bowl as well.

“Fine. Just for a little while, though, I work in the morning.”

Donghyuck was clearly dressed from a date, and Renjun’s first inclination was that he was going to get a play-by-play of whatever sexcapade Donghyuck had just returned from. He was wearing his favorite pair of skinny jeans, the ones that made his ass look amazing, he sported a dark bruise on the side of his neck that would likely get him in trouble at work, and his lips had the vague afterglow of lip tint that had been kissed off— but he also had a reddish tint to his eyes, which told Renjun that his friend had either been smoking weed or crying.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. My ass is sore. Let me live.” Donghyuck answered without much humor, hanging up his coat. “Renjunnie, can’t I please spend the night? I don’t wanna go all the way home. I hate my apartment.” It was whining, but not the over-the-top-give-me-attention whining that he was used to.

“Okay, but you have to leave when I go to work. You can’t sleep here all morning and then wake up and eat all my food.”

“Fine.” No cheeky comments, no flirtatious one-liners about waking Renjun up with a morning blowjob, not even a protest that Johnny was so rich that Donghyuck could empty their pantry and it wouldn’t hurt them. Donghyuck was quiet as he followed Renjun into the living room, taking the recliner opposite Johnny, who was on the couch with the same subtle pout on his face.

“Your ice cream is on the table, Your Majesty,” he piped up in greeting, lifting his arm to beckon Renjun to cuddle up to him. “How was the sex, dare I ask?”

“It was fine. I came twice,” Donghyuck answered as casually as he were talking about the weather, grabbing the bowl of ice cream to hold in his lap— but as Renjun laid his head on Johnny’s shoulder and unpaused the drama they’d been watching, he noticed that Donghyuck wasn’t eating it, only poking at it.

“When are you going to tell us why you’re upset?” Renjun asked at the next commercial, noting that Donghyuck hadn’t said a word making fun of them for the trash TV they were watching.

"Who says I'm upset? I'm just vibing."

"Whatever. You don't just vibe." Renjun noted dryly. "You're only quiet when you're upset. You're also not eating ice cream, and you're not bitching about how much you hate our leather furniture."

"And you haven't told me you hate my hair yet," Johnny provided helpfully. (It was getting long, starting to cover his eyes, and Donghyuck never failed to point out that it looked like garbage when it got that way.)

“Ugh.” The first little hint of pure Donghyuck— he rolled his eyes and groaned, setting the ice cream aside with only a couple bites taken. Renjun half expected to be told off, but Donghyuck closed his eyes and sat quietly for another few moments. Then, quietly, he confessed, “I asked Doyoung to be my boyfriend after we had sex, and he said no. He said that he’s too busy for a relationship, and if he was going to try and date, he would pick someone that he liked for more than just their body. So like… he thinks that’s all I’m good for, and he’s probably right.”

Donghyuck wants to really be with Doyoung, to be his boyfriend. The dawning realization felt like something out of a fever dream, and for a moment, Renjun truly didn’t know how to respond. I-told-you-so? Pity? Congratulations on unlocking human emotions and empathy?

“Donghyuck… you know you’re worth a lot to me. You’re my best friend,” Renjun began cautiously, fiddling with his sweater-paw. “But I can’t speak for Doyoung, because from what I can tell, you’ve been kind of shit to him. And… you know how it is, Hyuck. He’s protecting himself from getting hurt the same way you always do, by creating distance. It might be too late to change that. I don’t know.”

Donghyuck sighed dramatically— a little of his old flair back now that things were out in the open. “I just… I like him. And it fucking sucks. I can’t stop thinking about the weekend in Busan, when he kept asking me what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, buying things that he thought would look pretty on me…” Johnny snorted, clearly amused, and Donghyuck gave the telltale eye twitch that meant a nerve had been struck. “I’m not explaining it well, but— you know, even though he was livid at me when I got drunk and puked in the bathtub, he still listened to me when I started ranting about the shit my parents put me through. The fact that he really cares about the people that he’s with, that he still dotes on me even when I fuck up—” He sighed again, draping himself back over the arm of the recliner in anguish. “Also, he buys fair trade tea and listens to jazz music and does his own taxes— he’s such an adult. It’s so weirdly hot, and I can’t stand it. It kind of makes me want to… be like that too?” Fully ashamed, Donghyuck curled up in the chair, hiding his face in his hands. “I might love him. Why am I being such a lesbian about this?!”

“Donghyuck, what does that mean?”

“It means,” Donghyuck answered impatiently, frantically, almost, “That usually I pick up losers with nice cars from gay bars and suck their dick in exchange for weed and Taco Bell, and I wake up in weird places with big chunks of my memory missing and count my lucky stars every time I open my wallet and find all my shit still in it, and I’m beyond tired of that. I want stability. I want a nice person to like me. I want to do all the gay bullshit that I make fun of you and Johnny hyung for doing.”

Renjun glanced to Johnny, who looked just as lost for a response as he was. Sigh. Fitting, anyway. Donghyuck was his headache, after all.

“Are you prepared to try to change your bad habits?” Renjun asked at last. “Is he worth that to you? I mean— there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work, but that’s your best bet, Hyuck. If you want stability, then you need to be more stable. Show him that you’re serious about it. Actions speak louder than words. Just telling him that you have feelings for him isn’t going to be enough when you keep treating him like an ATM.”

Donghyuck frowned, looking doubtful all the same. “Thing is… I dunno. If I’m a dick and people don’t like me, I don’t care. But if I try to be nice and people don’t like me… that would make me feel disgusting.”

“I don’t think you can have love without being vulnerable,” Johnny piped up this time, more subdued in his tone than Renjun could remember him being with Donghyuck before. “You need to be brave and show Doyoung what you have to offer him. Obviously, there’s something good inside of you that Renjun found.” He paused, before admitting cautiously, “I don’t think you’re that bad. Sometimes, I mean.”

“I’m pretty fucking bad.”

“But is Doyoung worth getting better for?” Renjun inquired softly, and Donghyuck’s answer came almost without thought:

“So worth it. I just—” Clearly, Donghyuck had been too vulnerable already; he seemed spent by the way that he pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “I’m— I’m just a mess right now. Hey, is there space for me over there? I wanna cuddle.”

Renjun smiled to himself. Donghyuck was cute, when he wanted to be. “Fine. Squeeze in.” He patted the empty cushion beside him, and Donghyuck quickly obliged— curling up in the modest space with his head on Renjun’s thigh, a silent plea for his hair to be played with. Yes, Donghyuck was cute. Maybe annoying, maybe high-maintenance, maybe even savage at times, but perhaps there was something precious underneath once the beast was tamed.

//

If Donghyuck was obnoxious at his best, he was insufferable when he was feeling under the weather. Renjun expected moping and dramatics, and that made him all the more surprised by the serious effort that Donghyuck seemed to put in instead.

Maybe this was genuine. Maybe this was love. It gave Renjun a funny feeling, but a hopeful one. Maybe Donghyuck really would find a little stability, a little peace, something that he’d truly never had before. Maybe he could feel that same selfless joy that Renjun felt in loving, coddling, and in turn being spoiled by Johnny.

It had always felt doubtful before, but maybe. Maybe.

The price he had to pay for Donghyuck’s self-improvement was that Renjun fell into the role of his coach. Donghyuck would come over in the afternoons before his dates with Doyoung and ask for instructions for the evening: Should I ask him to buy me those new winter boots I was looking at, or is that too outright? Is it too intrusive if I ask questions about his family? Would it be weird if I invited him to the concert of a band that he really hates? I know he’s gonna say no, but it would be way more fun if he came.

Text message revision became a secondary duty. Is this too many question marks? Do I sound too pushy here? Is a heart emoji too much? It was to the point that Johnny would sometimes joke that Doyoung was bound to fall in love with Renjun at this rate. Donghyuck didn’t care, though, he sucked up everything that Renjun told him with surprising attention to detail.

And of course, Johnny got sucked into the action too. “Renjun, do you remember the first thing I ever cooked for you? That you said was the best thing you’d ever tasted?” he questioned as he tied his apron strings at the small of his back.

Did he ever. “Yeah, it was spaghetti carbonara.” Crispy pancetta, salty parmesan cheese, satisfyingly greasy noodles, served with fresh bread and garlic butter and a vintage wine selected perfectly to Renjun’s tastes. It was only their third date, which was early for Renjun’s standards, but it had taken a hand in Renjun’s decision to hug Johnny from behind as he finished the dishes and ask which way to his bedroom.

“This will trick him into thinking you have culinary skills, but really, anyone can cook it as long as they pay attention while they’re doing it. That means put your phone away, Hyuck.”

“One sec. I’m texting Doyoung. I really wanna see him tonight.”

But on top of all the specifics, Renjun had a few overarching pointers: Be sweet, even when your instinct says to go sour. Communicate what you’re feeling. Try to find ways to let him know how important he is to you. He could practically see the mental notes that Donghyuck was scribbling. Okay.

“I want him to find someone, hyung,” Renjun whispered in his lover’s ear one night— Renjun had just been texting Donghyuck some final words of encouragement before turning off his phone for the night, while Johnny lay impatiently against his shoulder with his fingers massaging up and down his inner thigh. “He just seems happy, or— like he wants to be happy. And I want that, too. I don’t want to constantly worry about Donghyuck doing stupid shit by himself.” He found himself smiling. “Double dates. We can go on double dates.”

“You get so excited about the weirdest things, y’know?”

“Donghyuck has never really been happy before. I just— I think he deserves that. I think everyone deserves that.”

Renjun really believed it. The way Donghyuck smiled before dates with Doyoung, the way he bounced around anxiously and bit his lips until they bled and asked him a million times if his hair looked okay— Renjun believed in that.

//

Johnny had such an innocent air when he was sleeping, it really changed up his face. He looked so intense when he was awake sometimes, mouth always turned down when he came home from work, eyebrows always furrowed— Renjun joked with him that he was going to give himself wrinkles. It was nice to see him relaxed for a change, dozed off early in the evening while they watched TV in bed, and Renjun could never resist petting his soft black hair.

Sometimes it was dazzling to think that they’d been together for two years. That out of all the rich and successful and beautiful people that ran in his family’s circles, he’d still decided to reach out and pluck Renjun from his mundane little life, instead. Out of all the people, you wanted me the most— a song lyric flashed through his head, and it made him smile.

Finally, careful not to wake his lover, he slipped out of bed; he still had to wash his face, brush his teeth, and set the coffee pot for the next morning, and on top of it all, he’d left his phone out on the kitchen table while he and Johnny were cuddling. As it turned out, though, his timing was perfect. As he walked down the hallway, he could hear his phone buzzing against the wood, and he hurried his step to pick it up. It was either a coworker asking him to cover a shift the next day— or it was Donghyuck, who only ever called when he really needed something.

Texts could be ignored, but calls always made Renjun pick up, especially when his caller ID said Hyuckie.

"Donghyuck? What's up?"

"Hey, slut. You're not sleeping, are you?"

"Obviously not, since I'm talking to you."

"Okay, smartass. Come downstairs, then," Donghyuck ordered, and before Renjun could open his mouth to ask what the fuck, Donghyuck explained, "I'm almost to your place, and I'm invoking my best-friends SOS rights. Me and Doyoung might be breaking up, and I need hugs."

"What?" Renjun couldn't help the exclamation— it really had seemed like Doyoung and Donghyuck were doing well these past few weeks, at least from Donghyuck's one-sided accounts. He'd been steadily learning recipes so that he could spoil Doyoung with his limited but growing capabilities; they went to offbeat concert venues together and listened to weird indie music and ate fancy shit that Renjun couldn't even fathom (cue Johnny and Donghyuck teaming up together to call Renjun uncultured for never having eaten escargot). Donghyuck's sex life, which Renjun was used to hearing about in great detail, was less of a conversation subject these days— but Donghyuck still wore hickeys on his neck more often than not, and he had once shown Renjun the lingering red outline of Doyoung's hand on his ass, just to prove how big it was. (And honestly, damn.) "Hyuck— I'm getting my shoes and coat on, I'll be right there. Meet me by the gates. We'll go for a walk."

Donghyuck's cheeks were ruddy from the wind and cold, to the point where Renjun didn't even realize that he was crying for a moment. But when he saw Renjun coming out of the building lobby, Donghyuck swept him up into his arms, wet cheek pressed against Renjun’s.

“Are you okay, Hyuck?”

“Ugh. I guess,” Donghyuck fretted, pulling back and smearing the tears off of his cheeks with his balled-up jacket sleeves. “I just feel like an idiot, that’s all.” He jammed his hands in his pockets, and they began to walk, aimlessly as ever— it had been a fair few years since they’d gone walking at night like this, and it gave Renjun an inevitable sense of nostalgia.

“So what reason did he give you, anyway?”

Donghyuck pouted— looking so pathetically dejected that Renjun had to make the conscious choice not to hug him all over again. “He said that he doesn’t know who I am. He said I’m manipulating him, but— it’s not like I’m trying to act like a different person to trick him into giving me more money. I’m trying to be better, because I’m sick of being bitter and miserable and alone. And because I think I do have some goodness inside of me. And because— because his stupid ass makes me happy.”

Renjun smiled weakly. Honestly, he’d been questioning the morality of what Donghyuck was doing, but put in those terms, it made a whole lot of sense. Actually, it seemed surprisingly pure for Donghyuck. Really, who didn’t try to act sweeter and more selfless in a new relationship? Maybe it wasn’t so conscious as what Donghyuck was doing, but wasn’t it still natural to change when you fell for someone?

“I’m really sorry, Hyuckie. I guess maybe— maybe things started out so fucky between the two of you that there was no salvaging it. But I know how hard you tried.”

Donghyuck huffed. “Probably shouldn’t have told him that I loved him,” he nearly whispered, his red cheeks flaring even darker.

Yikes. Yeah, maybe a little early for love, but… Renjun had never seen Donghyuck act like such a fool for somebody before. Quick as it was, maybe it had been love, at least in Donghyuck’s mind.

“Do you wanna go scratch the shit out of his car or something? Because I’m down,” Renjun joked, stifling a chuckle

Donghyuck laughed softly. “You sound like me! No, we’re not going to scratch the shit out of his car. I’m thinking maybe ‘new me’ doesn’t do petty revenge.”

Renjun couldn’t keep from smiling. Those were words he never thought he’d hear out of the infamous Lee Donghyuck, that was for sure. He wished Johnny’d been around to hear them, too, honestly. “So you’re really going through with this?”

“Yeah, it turns out that when I let people get to know me, they’re not all bad. I mean, it didn’t work out with Doyoung, but… I don’t know. Maybe there will be other chances for happiness someday.” Donghyuck predicted, giving a heavy sort of shrug as he walked on. They were heading, vaguely, in the direction of Donghyuck’s building, passing the still-lit signs of bars and late night cafes, but Donghyuck’s eyes didn’t waver from his path. “It just sucks right now, though, that’s all. I really fucking miss him. And, like— guess who I’ve been calling lately when I want to die? Doyoung. And now I can’t.”

Want to die. Renjun wasn’t quite sure if Donghyuck was being serious or dramatic when he said shit like that, but it always sat awkwardly in his stomach. He might have been a pain in the ass, but Renjun couldn’t even begin to imagine how bleak his world would be without Donghyuck in it. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he reached out to tug Donghyuck’s hand out of his pocket, lacing their fingers together.

“Well, guess you’re my boyfriend for the night. Let’s get coffee and I’ll walk you home, cutie pie.”

Donghyuck was shocked for a moment, eyes widening— and then, just as suddenly, he began to laugh at Renjun’s proposition, squeezing his hand. “You’re so fucking cute! God, this is fucked up— can you imagine? We’re both so twinky.”

“Why can’t two twinks love each other!”

If there was one thing Renjun was thankful for, it was that Donghyuck always bounced back from trauma quickly— at least on the outside. No doubt, he’d cry about it later, and Renjun wouldn’t blame him. But in the moment, he laughed, and that laugh shone brighter than the sun. Renjun felt a swell of warm love in his chest, and he closed the distance between them to press a firm kiss to Donghyuck’s cheek.

Coffee definitely built up morale (Donghyuck used coffee as a vehicle for sugar, so he was happy), and from there, the walk back to the familiar little apartment building felt quick. An even stronger wave of nostalgia, walking down the sidewalk and instinctively looking for the third window on the third floor as he always had on his way home from work, to see if his then-roommate was home and awake.

“I miss you living with me,” Donghyuck murmured absently, squeezing Renjun’s hand.

“Yeah. I miss it, too,” Renjun admitted. “You were, ah… well, you weren’t a good roommate, but…”

“I was a roommate.”

“Yeah. You were definitely that.”

“Oh, shit—” Donghyuck’s change in tone was just as sudden as the halt of his feet, and Renjun looked back at his friend in question, only to follow his gaze directly forward, to the building entrance. There was someone standing there, and though it was too dark to see many of the details of his face, Renjun observed that he was clasping his hands nervously and seemed to be waiting for something.

“Is that Doyoung?” Renjun asked in wonder. “Are you sure?”

“I’d know that body anywhere. You know how many times I’ve undressed it?”

“Ah. Fair.” He cast another glance back at Donghyuck, biting his lip. “Wanna turn around and come back to my place? You can sleep there. I have tomorrow off.”

Donghyuck was silent and still for a moment, eyes averted down to his shoes; then, after a deep breath, he shook his head and took a step forward. “Nah,” he answered simply, fingers still linked tightly with Renjun’s to pull him along for the ride.

The movement out of the corner of his eye must have made Doyoung turn as they got closer; yes, that was definitely him, every bit as handsome in real life as he was in the pictures that Renjun had seen. Dark hair in a sleek, professional cut, lips and cheeks pinked with cold against his pale face, broad-shouldered but thin-waisted and lanky as all hell. Part of Renjun wanted to dislike him, but there was something so loveable about his very presence that he knew exactly why Donghyuck was hurting the way he was.

“Donghyuck— who is this?” Doyoung’s eyes turned on Renjun, and then on their linked hands, eyes slightly narrowed. Oh my god, wait. He’s not here to fight. He’s jealous. Renjun tried not to react, but the subtle little moment gave him a pulse of hope.

“This is Renjun,” Donghyuck replied evenly, as though he were someone that needed no introduction. It made Renjun want to flinch, wondering just what Donghyuck had already told Doyoung about him. “Anyway… how long have you been waiting here for me? Stalker.” The unaffected humor, Renjun knew, was all strategy. It was a flash of the old Donghyuck, don’t let them see you’re hurting. Get ready to hurt them first. If you don’t give them a chance to love you, it won’t hurt so much when they hate you.

Doyoung, perhaps wisely, chose to ignore this and answer straightforwardly: “I want to apologize, and I want to talk. I don’t feel good about how we left things. But…” He glanced back to Renjun, clearly not wanting to be rude.

Donghyuck, too, looked at Renjun, eyes blankly uncertain. The confidence was a ruse— he was asking Renjun what to do, once again.

“From the sounds of things, you guys should sit down and talk,” Renjun agreed mildly, offering a pleasant little smile. “No worries, I’ll leave you guys to it… although, Hyuck, can I use your bathroom before I head home? I think I drank my coffee too fast.”

“You can if you want. I haven’t cleaned the bathroom since you moved out, though,” Donghyuck teased, giving Renjun’s hand one final squeeze before he let go at last, digging out his key card to swipe into the building. “C’mon, hyung,” he added, almost as an afterthought. Donghyuck held the door for him, and Doyoung didn’t hesitate in hurrying after them.

The elevator ride, though short, was one of the most awkward moments that Renjun could recall. Worthwhile, though. He wanted to stay just long enough to make sure that Donghyuck was okay— and to satisfy a little of his own nosiness, of course. Luckily, he’d lived in this shitty building, too, he’d shared a room with Donghyuck, and he knew how thin the wall was between the bathroom and the bedroom. Doyoung, with any luck, did not.

This, more than anything, was a purely selfish, old-school-Donghyuck move. Renjun figured he owed himself one.

“Hyung, I don’t know how to prove to you that my feelings are real and that this isn’t about the money anymore. If you don’t trust me…”

“I don’t know whether I can trust you or not. I just know that— you’ve been such an important part of my life in these past few weeks, and as soon as you left, I missed you so much that it hurt. I don’t know what it is about you, but you light everything up, even when you’re making me want to tear my hair out.” A pause, which seemed to go on forever. A kiss, Renjun reasoned hopefully, before Doyoung continued: “I’ve had my heart broken too many times before, and it always starts with someone pretending to be somebody they aren’t, wanting something from me besides love. If we’re going to do this, I want to take things slow, and I want us both to be certain.”

“I can promise you, for whatever it’s worth: I’ve never been deceptive with you. When I told you I wanted your money, I wanted your money. When I told you that I wanted a new apartment and a new car, you can bet that that’s what you were worth to me.” The trembling in Donghyuck’s voice was unmistakable tears— it was notoriously hard to make him cry, but them, once you’d cut to the core of him, it was hard to get him to stop. “And when I told you that I loved you this evening, that wasn’t for show. That wasn’t a manipulation. You inspire me to be a better person, Doyoung, and I— I’m not trying to manipulate you into loving me. I’m just trying to show you that I can be the person you deserve.”

“You piss me off so much. I don’t know why I still want you.”

“Beats me, honestly. You have bad taste. Not like I can complain.” Through his tears, Donghyuck laughed softly, and Renjun smiled softly. He’d heard Donghyuck with a lot of guys, but never like this, giggling like a schoolgirl. He might have been crying, but he was trying to be cute, too.

I guess he’s out of my hands tonight. Bittersweet, but probably for the best. It was nearing 11 PM, and thinking about the warm spot waiting for him back beside Johnny was making him sleepy. Smiling to himself, he gave his hands a quick wash and quietly opened the bathroom door, slipping out silently.

Putting on his shoes by the door, Renjun happened to glance back, through the open bedroom doorway, which nearly made him blush by first instinct. But nope, they weren’t ripping each other’s clothes off or eating each other’s faces— they were simply holding each other, Donghyuck’s arms tight around Doyoung’s waist and face buried in his shoulder, Doyoung’s chin resting on Donghyuck’s shoulder. Doyoung, angled more towards the doorway, stiffened when Renjun entered his line of sight, but Renjun only gave him a quick, dismissive wave before slipping out the creaky front door as quietly as he could.

Continue.

//

Johnny’s days off were some of Renjun’s favorite days ever. The tables were turned for once: Renjun had opened at the tea shop that morning, Johnny had sent him off with a homemade latte and a pat on the ass, and then Renjun had brought home lunch from their favorite little bistro. They spent the afternoon watching variety show reruns and folding laundry (surprisingly romantic) and then napping together (very romantic— Renjun loved the slow, warm, haziness of waking up at 4:30 in the afternoon with his face buried in Johnny’s chest), and then waking up slowly and forcing themselves out of bed to get the apartment ready for dinner. Doyoung was done work at 6, and he and Donghyuck would be over soon after. It would be Johnny’s first time meeting Doyoung, though Renjun had gotten to chat him up quite a few times when he’d picked up Donghyuck from work.

Luckily, Johnny was a whiz at whipping things up quickly— and he had a certain way with pasta, so linguini with fresh clams it was, all tossed in a garlic and wine sauce. The kitchen smelled heavenly almost immediately, and though there was nothing to really help with, Renjun was content to linger around the kitchen for company, enjoying the warmth and stealing sips of wine when Johnny wasn’t looking (and sometimes when he was).

“Just wait ‘til you see them. Donghyuck is so different with him,” Renjun marveled as he leaned back against the edge of the counter, pausing in his Instagram feed at the picture of Donghyuck’s long fingers twined with Doyoung’s. The glimpse of the beautiful diamond-encrusted bracelet on his wrist was probably no accident. “Breakfast and coffee with lovie before work <3 Who needs sleep!”

Johnny, pausing in his maneuvering of the food around the pan, and peeped over Renjun’s shoulder with a little snort. “They’ve been together like— what, three months?”

“Officially,” Renjun replied, making air quotes. “More like five months, if you count from the nightmare Busan trip where Hyuckie threw up in the bathtub. But I mean, like— they’re being major lesbians about the whole thing. Remember how disgusted Donghyuck was by the prospect of moving into Doyoung’s place? He told me the other day that he’d been there so long that all his plants at home died from lack of water. They’re practically married.”

“Wait ‘til they’ve been together a whole two and a half years like us,” Johnny replied, playfully bumping Renjun with his hip, making the younger have to grab onto his arm for stability. “We used up all our romance in the first year. Now our idea of a romantic day together is doing laundry and cuddling with all our clothes on.”

“That’s what I’m saying. Where are my diamonds, Daddy?”

“Y’know what?” Johnny turned around to glance at the clock— barely 6, and knowing where Doyoung worked, they’d probably be there within fifteen minutes. “I was gonna wait until later tonight, after I had you properly dickmatized, but I can’t bring myself to pass up something this good. And I’m still feeling really sleepy and soft for you.”

“Johnny, what the fuck are you talking about?” Renjun started to laugh, but the sound died in his throat when Johnny reached into his back pocket, pulled out a bright red ring box, and lowered himself to one knee. “Johnny— what the fuck?” he whispered hoarsely, feeling stupid for the obviousness of it. What else would he be doing but—

“Today has been perfect, just being able to spend so much time with you— it’s reminded me all over again how crazy I am about you.” He flipped the box open, and Renjun nearly forgot to breathe. This is real, a real diamond. Holy shit holy shit— “Renjun, there’s nobody else in this world that I want, and I would be the happiest man in the world if you would—”

The buzz of the doorbell made them both jump, Johnny nearly knocking the pan of wine sauce off of the stove with his head. Fuck. Early. That had to be Doyoung’s doing, because Donghyuck had never been early for anything in his entire life. Before Renjun could figure out what to do, what to address first, the doorbell rang again, and again, and again, short impatient bursts.

“Yes, Johnny. Yes, yes— I can’t imagine being with anybody else, I love you so goddamn much—” Renjun dropped to the floor beside Johnny, squeezing him tight and kissing him over and over again— lips, cheek, neck, everywhere he could reach, all while Donghyuck continued to wail on the doorbell. Finally, once he’d worked out the worst of his excitement, they both stood up and Renjun made his way over to unlock the door, hitting the intercom first and just about yelling in his hysteria: “Chill out!”

“Not a chance, slut! I brought wine!”

“Sorry! I tried to make him stop!” This was Doyoung; Renjun rolled his eyes at the notion that Donghyuck could ever be stopped. Doyoung was an amateur.

Johnny’s fingers around his wrist drew Renjun’s attention again, and he glanced just in time to see his fiancé slip the ring onto his fourth finger. “Now we have bragging rights. We’re the superior couple,” Johnny joked dryly, grinning as he pointed out, “Fuck, my hands are shaking.”

“Superior couple, my ass,” Donghyuck announced as he stepped through the door, tailed closely by Doyoung, who had a bottle of wine in hand. “Take a look at my snazzy boyfriend. All dressed up for work— ugh, you’re so cute.” Donghyuck nearly scoffed as he said it, turning around to grab Doyoung by his suit jacket and force a wet kiss onto his cheek.

“Fantastic!” Johnny was beaming— tensing his shaking hands to keep up the hard-cultivated illusion of sanity as he bowed in thanks and reached to take the wine bottle from Doyoung’s hands. “I’m excited to finally meet the poor guy that Donghyuck roped in. Let me guess, stockholm syndrome?”

Doyoung clearly hadn’t expected this, though Renjun wasn’t sure why he would expect anything less from Donghyuck’s friends. “I mean, Hyuckie has his moments,” Doyoung defended them both at last— backed up somewhat by the way Donghyuck had taken his coat and even loosened his tie slightly for him. “At the very least, I’m never bored.” Highest compliments, clearly— but the way he clasped Donghyuck’s hand as they were invited into the kitchen betrayed his feelings, and the way Donghyuck looked at him, pure honey.

Renjun tried not to stare too openly, but he snuck looks when he could, and he couldn’t help but smile. Happy endings were possible— for once, Renjun could believe.