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Sweet Like Vinegar

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A text from Donghyuck was a toss-up, and Renjun was never quite sure if it was worth opening. He could always delete it and pretend that he’d never seen it, but… well, uh, that felt a little too much like something that Donghyuck himself would have done.

Good Texts included: “Got a promotion at work! Come to the bar and celebrate with me, you ho 🍻 ”, “Do you want to drink wine and binge watch all the Pirates of the Carribean movies this weekend??”, “ 🤣 Holy shit look at this twitter thread, I almost peed myself laughing”

Bad Texts included: “I don’t feel like cooking, invite me over and buy me pizza”, “Hey slut, answer your phone, I lost my wallet at the club last night and ended up crashing somewhere in Gangnam, come pick me up and help me out”, “The guy with the bad teeth that I hooked up with last weekend keeps texting me and now he’s calling!! How do you block phone numbers again??”

This text had all the warning signs of a Bad Text: it was late on a Friday night, Donghyuck had been sulky and irritable all week, and the message preview only showed: “😡💢😡💢…”

Fuck. Renjun sighed. If Johnny were home, he would have asked his opinion on whether it was worth it, but his boyfriend had gone out for an after-work drink and left Renjun to his own devices for the night. He briefly considered swiping the notification off the screen and surrendering himself to the tantalizing pull of a reality TV rerun binge, but then the doorbell buzzed and he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

With a shaky breath, he checked the message.

“😡💢😡💢 I’m SO tired of working all the time and never having any fucking money. I’m on my way over, I’m gonna bother Johnny until he agrees to set me up with one of his rich friends.”

Fuuuuuuck.

With another heavy sigh, much heavier than any twenty-two year old had any business heaving, he made his way over to the door like a death row inmate walking to the guillotine. He hit the button to unlock the front door of the condominium without bothering to use the intercom system; Renjun wasn’t Donghyuck, he didn’t have a Friday night social life, and Donghyuck knew that. He’d likely keep buzzing until Renjun caved and let him in, anyway, so he might as well rip the Band-Aid off quickly.

“Fuck,” Donghyuck announced loudly as he threw open the door several seconds later, half-winded from the stairs. He looked disheveled as ever in his work uniform: tie crooked, shirt wrinkled, chocolate-toned hair mussed.“I’m going to quit my job. I swear to god, I’m really gonna fucking quit this time. Waiting tables sucks, doing dishes sucks, people treat me like I’m a servant all day— and then I tell a dick that he’s being a dick, and I get sent home early and told to change my attitude.”

“Keep your voice down, will you? I have a headache already,” Renjun whined softly, shutting the door behind Donghyuck while the other kicked his shoes off. “If you don’t like your job, you should find another one! I mean, I didn’t need a degree to start work at the tea shop, they taught me everything when they hired me. And I love my job!”

“Ew. How can you love a job? That’s gross.” Donghyuck wrinkled his nose as Renjun led him inside. He always had impeccable timing, Renjun had been just about to clean up from dinner: homemade Japanese curry with chunks of beef and potato, with the rice still hot and fresh. Without waiting for an invitation, Donghyuck grabbed himself a plate and a pair of chopsticks, bumping the drawer closed casually with his hip. “Nah, I’m serious, I’m done working. I’ve decided that I’m gonna get myself a sugar daddy like you. Like, no offense, but if you can do it… I’ve got a decent shot, don’t you think? I’m cute, right?”

Renjun snorted in amusement. “Johnny is not my sugar daddy. He’s my boyfriend, who just happens to be wealthy and generous. And he’s only five years older than me!”

“Twenty-seven is plenty old enough to be a daddy,” Donghyuck retorted smugly, taking an uninvited seat at the table as he took his first hungry bite. “And didn’t he buy you that sweater? That Burberry sweater?”

“For my birthday,” Renjun defended, though he couldn’t help but wince at the reminder, fiddling with his rolled-up sweater sleeves. Johnny was the only son of a business mogul; he worked hard, spent long days in the company offices learning the ins and outs of his father’s job in preparation to inherit it one day, but he also received plenty of financial support from his family still. He knew he was lucky to have a boyfriend pure-hearted enough to want to take care of him, but the fact that Johnny actually had the means to do so felt almost undeserved; it had taken Renjun awhile to come to terms with that, when he was used to working himself ragged for minimum wage, to keep the lights on in his shitty studio apartment. “But— seriously, don’t call him my sugar daddy. He hates when you say that. I have a feeling that he’s planning on proposing to me, but he’s not gonna want to get married to a guy with an obnoxious friend.”

“Boo. I’m not obnoxious, I’m jealous!” Donghyuck corrected indignantly. “I’ve been sucking dick for free, when I could have a guy buying me designer clothes and paying my rent for it! I’ve been looking at dating sites on the way here, and there are a ton of girls who are looking for ‘special arrangements’ with ‘financially independent men’. And guess what, I probably give better head than all of them.” Donghyuck pulled out his phone with one hand while he ate, adding absentmindedly, “You met Johnny on a dating site, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah… But Johnny was, like, attempt number seven or something. Before Johnny, there was Taeyong, who showed me a million pictures of all his tropical fish on our first date. And Yuta, who shoved his tongue down my throat while we were on the subway. Don’t you remember this?”

(Since it had nothing to do with him, Donghyuck probably didn’t.)

“Doesn’t matter. I’m making a profile right now,” Donghyuck replied simply, sounding so distracted that Renjun doubted he’d been listening at all. “Come tell me what profile picture looks the best. Kinda like this one from when Jaemin did my makeup— don’t I look fucking hot in eyeliner?” He tilted his head back to look at Renjun behind him, upside down. “Get your laptop. Type for me while I eat. I’ll dictate, but you have to give me pointers so I can get that old, rich dick. Because horrible or not, Nakamoto Yuta is a pretty fucking wealthy Japanese socialite, and Lee Taeyong’s family owns a nice building in Gangnam.”

Massive eye roll. Of course, Donghyuck would remember the things that “mattered”. Sometimes Renjun wondered why he put up with him so consistently, but this time, just like most times, he did exactly what he was told because it was easier.

//

“Oh, did I tell you about Donghyuck’s visit before you came home?”

“Hmm? He was here again?” Johnny sounded half-amused, but then almost scolding as he called back from where he’d already gotten comfy in bed, “I’d say you might as well just invite him to move into the guest room, but I can already hear the excuses as to why his rent is late…”

Renjun sighed, closing his left eye as he pinched his contact lens out of his right. His boyfriend could get along with anyone, but Donghyuck was a very special sort of case. “And we’d never get a moment’s peace. Can’t you see him trying to burrow between us for warmth at night?”

“Yuck. Don’t even joke about that, I was kind of in the mood and you’re killing it.”

Renjun bit his lip to keep from grinning and squinching up his eye as he removed his other contact. “Anyway, like I was saying, he came over to ask for help with his dating site profile. Apparently, we’ve inspired him to try and find himself a sugar daddy.”

“Can you imagine going on a first date with Donghyuck, not knowing what you’re getting into?” Johnny snorted. “Sorry. I know he’s your best friend, but— I wish he was a little more like all your other friends. As in… kind.”

Renjun brushed his teeth quickly, falling quiet. Johnny had a definite point, but what he didn’t understand was that Renjun and Donghyuck had been friends since elementary school. Donghyuck had always been blunt, sarcastic, and rude— but they’d come out of the closet together, when they were only thirteen. They’d faced bullies together, endured the wrath of their families together, and when things had gotten too bad at home for both of them, they’d moved in together and somehow figured it all out. Renjun’s coping mechanisms had become art, poetry, pouring out all his negative energy into creating something meaningful; Donghyuck, on the other hand, had developed a thick skin and a vicious bite, to hurt others before he could be hurt himself.

“I know he’s an idiot, but I hope it works out all right for him,” Renjun said at last, turning off the bathroom light and returning to the bedroom, slipping into his perfectly warm, cozy place at Johnny’s side. “Warm me up, daddy. I’m cold.”

“Anything for you, son.” (Just about the only good thing to come about of Donghyuck’s judgment of their relationship was this stupid, stupid inside joke. It made Renjun cringe, but god, did he love it.) Johnny embraced him immediately, holding Renjun’s cold hands and kissing his cold nose. All sweet, utterly selfless.

//

It was late, and Renjun had to work the next morning. In fact, he’d been curled up in the living room with Johnny, watching the end of a movie while his lover dozed against the arm of the couch, and he’d been just thinking that it was time to wake him up and bring him to bed when the doorbell suddenly buzzed. Once, twice, three times, all in quick succession. Could only be one person. He huffed as he dragged himself up off the couch and hurried to answer the door through the intercom: “What is it, Donghyuck?”

“I want to bitch! Unlock the door, loser!”

Renjun’s mouth pressed into a flat line, and without argument, he unlatched the lock. “Come on up,” he answered shortly. He wasn’t quite in the mood for bullshittery… but Donghyuck had gone on a date, and he would have been lying if he claimed to be uninterested in how it had gone. Apparently, not well.

Donghyuck threw the door open dramatically as always. He was dressed up, wearing a soft cashmere sweater (stolen from Renjun) and a nice pair of tight-fitting skinny jeans that showed off all his best assets. He was made up, with lovely dark mascara and a subtle dusting of glitter on his eyelids. And— yup, he was marked up, Renjun observed, with a smattering of amorous bruises on the side of his neck.

“I thought he was tall and handsome and rich,” Donghyuck exploded into it without a second’s hesitance, stomping in and closing the door behind him. Well, if the doorbell hadn’t roused Johnny, this would. “He’s so average and boring that it sort of makes me want to die. He’s only, like, three centimeters taller than me.”

Renjun shrugged. “Sugar daddies aren’t sugar daddies because of their height.”

“He works in ‘talent acquisition’ for some entertainment company I’ve never even heard of. I don’t even know what that means, but I bet he’s not the heir to an entire fucking company like yours is. And look—” He yanked his phone from his pocket and scrolled furiously through messages, finally turning the screen around to show Renjun a benign selca of a man much younger than he’d pictured, with a charmingly unruly mop of black hair and a sweet smile that lit up his eyes. Renjun privately thought he might be more conventionally attractive than Johnny, but before he could decide whether or not to say so, Donghyuck went on: “His dick is just as average as his face, if you were wondering. I barely choked when I swallowed the whole thing.”

“I— I wasn’t wondering, but thanks.”

“I’m just not sure. Like, do I want to settle for an average sugar daddy experience, or do I want to aim high and try to net the best of the best?” Donghyuck mused with a troubled sigh. “I want to be pampered the way I deserve. Would you settle for a C when you knew you could get an A+ with a bit more work?”

Renjun should have expected this. It was such classic Donghyuck, and yet— 

“What’re we yelling about in here?” Johnny mumbled from the kitchen doorway, looking half-asleep as he rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. Focusing in on the scene before him, his mouth twitched, but he couldn’t be bothered to fake a smile. “Ahh, Donghyuck. Should have known. Good night with your new daddy?”

“I mean, he seemed kinda rich. He took me out for nice Italian food and drove a Mercedes. I just don’t know if I’m in love with like, y’know, his whole vibe.”

“Good lord.” Johnny sighed a heavy, heavy sigh. Some little things about Renjun were clearly starting to rub off on him, including this, his trademark. “Junnie, I’m going to bed. Turn the lights off when you come, yeah?”

“I will. I’ll be there soon.”

“Ahh. You’re going to bed?” Donghyuck pouted, pulling a face at Johnny’s retreating back. “Lame. It’s only 11:30. Come into the living room and have a nightcap with me.”

“You say that like you live here.” Renjun rolled his eyes. “I work in the morning, I’m not drinking. I’ll give you one, but then you’ve gotta call a cab.” Even so, he was already pulling down a lowball glass and the expensive whiskey. Donghyuck sure was good at getting his way. “So are you going to try to find another guy? I don’t think yours is bad-looking, for the record.”

“I dunno. I haven’t decided yet,” Donghyuck replied glumly. “Maybe I’ll stay with Doyoung while I keep my eye out for someone better. As a positive, he said he works too much for commitment, so that’s license for me to keep whoring around, right?”

“Uhh, maybe.” Renjun handed him the glass, pinching the bridge of his nose. This was becoming a tired conversation. “Don’t be too much of a dick to him. You have a tendency to do that.”

“I won’t! He said he has a business trip in Busan in two weeks. If I haven’t found any better opportunities by then, I’m gonna try and tag along. Might be a good time to propose that I start getting a regular allowance, don’t you think?” Donghyuck grinned, though he flinched at his first sip of the alcohol, shaking his head. “Disgusting. Your boyfriend has shit taste in liquor. Do you guys have like— root beer? I need a mixer.”

“What the fuck, Donghyuck.”

(Renjun was so glad Johnny wasn’t awake— he would have choked.)

//

8 PM was like the perfect time for Donghyuck to “drop in” at Renjun’s place: late enough that he would miss helping with prep and cooking, early enough that the leftovers weren’t yet in the fridge. And given that this was Sunday night, the first evening that he was back home after his weekend in Busan with Doyoung— well, Renjun had advised Johnny to make enough food for three.

The doorbell buzzed at 8:11 PM. Fashionably late.

“What is it, Hyuck?”

“Let me in and feed me. I have so much to tell you.”

Johnny, doing dishes just a few feet away, closed his eyes for a long moment and shook his head— but then reluctantly murmured, “Let him up. I’ll mix him a drink.”

When he stepped through the door this time— well, Renjun didn’t know what to say other than that Donghyuck looked very overwhelmingly himself. Impeccable makeup, stylishly mussed hair, wearing skintight black jeans and a leather jacket so unfamiliar-looking that it had to be new. If he’d owned that before, he would have made sure I’d seen it, and that I knew how much it cost.

And he greeted Renjun with a tight hug, out of nowhere. Not wholly unpleasant, but usually meant that he wanted something. Renjun hugged back for half a second, before asking nervously, “Did you have a good time with Doyoung? How was getting spoiled in Busan?”

“Actually, I had a terrible time. I’m still recovering,” Donghyuck replied brightly, kissing each of Renjun’s cheeks in an infuriatingly pretentious way. “I don’t think I can drink again for a little while— not without puking. Can you make me some coffee?”

“Did I just make a whiskey root beer for nothing?” Johnny asked crossly as he overheard, his shoulders slumping a bit in defeat.

“You should drink it, then maybe you won’t keep making fun of me for mixing my whiskey with root beer,” Donghyuck suggested, shrugging off his jacket on his way in and giving the predictable introduction that Renjun was waiting for: “Like it? 3 million won. I’ve never owned something so fucking nice in my life. The sugar daddy thing is really paying off. Like, you know I hate when I have to say this, but you were right, Renjun!”

“Gee, thanks.” Renjun had taken on the task of making coffee, while Donghyuck helped himself to the sesame noodles and seared scallops that Johnny had cooked, and Johnny resigned himself to sitting at the far side of the table and sipping the terrible cocktail that he’d made. “So, pray tell, why did you have a terrible time? I’m really confused. You didn’t reply to any of my texts all weekend!”

“Yes, we were just dying to know how the money and the dick were,” Johnny piped up sarcastically, grimacing through a sip from the glass in his hands.

“The money was fantastic. We ate fusion food, whatever that is, and drank the best chardonnay I’ve ever had, and he took me to like five different stores. You should see the jeans he got me, and these scarves— I swear, I’m not normally a scarves-gay, but the sales attendant showed them to me, and—” Johnny clearing his throat cut Donghyuck off, and he turned to regard him with an icy glare.

“Sorry. I think we’ve had enough exposition, that’s all. We’re ready to hear the part where you fucked up.”

Renjun set his mouth into a neutral line and shrugged. He didn’t want to say he agreed, but he agreed.

“I’m world-building! This is all important later!” Donghyuck replied indignantly. “Renjun, bring me that coffee, will you? Johnny’s giving me a headache.” Renjun wasn’t sure why, but he actually turned around and started obeying Donghyuck’s command, feeling like an idiot and pausing with the mug in his hand, but then feeling like an idiot for just standing there with a mug in his hand; he ultimately brought Donghyuck his coffee anyway. “Basically, Doyoung had a bunch of meetings on Saturday, and he left me all alone in the hotel from like 11 AM on! Like, eight hours by myself, in a hotel room, with nothing but a TV and a laptop and a Busan tourist guide and a hotel pool pass?”

“Oh, god, Donghyuck, what did you do?”

Donghyuck shrugged. “I did exactly what you’d probably expect me to do: I drank two bottles of wine from the mini-bar.”

Johnny couldn’t keep from smirking, though he probably shouldn’t have. “And let me guess, you got sick?”

“Incredibly sick. Doyoung had to cancel our dinner reservations,” Donghyuck answered somberly, strangely unaffected by talking about puking with his mouth full of food. “And it didn’t help that I missed the toilet and threw up in the bathtub. He apparently has a weak stomach, so he had to call room service to clean up after me— he had to leave them a huge tip. That part was kind of funny. But he got so grumpy afterwards that I couldn’t properly enjoy it. Told me that I completely embarrassed him. He wouldn’t even talk to me on the ride home today.”

“Woah. Shit. Do you think he’s gonna dump you, then?” Renjun wasn’t sure what emotion to channel: self-satisfied at being correct? Piteous at the end of a relationship, no matter how nonsensical and toxic it was? Or maybe he should have taken a cue at Donghyuck’s smug smile?

“That’s the best part.” Donghyuck answered, taking his sweet-ass time slurping up a noodle to build suspense before revealing: “He brought me back to my apartment, but he came inside with me and just about dragged me to my bedroom and fucked me silly.” Setting down his chopsticks, he tugged his shirt collar aside, revealing a bruising set of teeth marks on his collarbone. “And then he asked if I’m free later this week. Can you believe it?”

It was funny; the minute Renjun’s jaw dropped, he watched Johnny’s do the same, like looking in a mirror. Somehow, Donghyuck always just scraped by, and— somehow, he’d done it again, charmed a guy at full messiness. Renjun was about to ask what the actual fuck, but Johnny beat him to the punch, asking in complete disbelief: “How good at sex do you have to be to win a third date after puking in the bathtub? Seriously, do you just suck their autonomy out through their dicks?”

“Get me a popsicle, and I’ll teach Renjun,” Donghyuck offered innocently, finishing the last bite on his plate with a satisfied sigh. “That was awesome. I wonder if Doyoung can cook? I’ll have to ask him this Thursday— I told him to take me shopping and buy me sashimi and sake, and I’d let him do whatever he wants to me.”

Sashimi and sake. The words triggered something in Renjun, who hadn’t been sure what to say up until now; suddenly, it was all incredibly clear, and he blurted out without a second thought: “Donghyuck, are you crazy? Against all odds, you found a decent guy who might take care of you. Be good to him. If you keep doing or saying whatever you want, you’re going to chase him away.”

Donghyuck scoffed, rolling his eyes and leaning back in his chair. “Don’t try to ‘mom’ me all of a sudden. I don’t need it.”

“I just know how you are.”

“Yeah, this is how I am. You’ve been my friend for like half my life, and you should know that by now. I don’t appreciate you trying to change me— if Doyoung offered me an ultimatum like that, I’d laugh in his face and tell him to find someone else.” Donghyuck’s tone was firm, but he was fidgeting with the ring on his left-hand middle finger. A nervous habit.

“And Doyoung would find someone else, because he’s a decent and reasonable person,” Johnny pointed out calmly, and Renjun felt a little spike of irritation.

“Hyung, stop,” Renjun warned lowly.

“Oh, no need. Let me just step out so you both can talk about what a hopeless piece of shit I am. It’s fine.” Donghyuck got to his feet quickly, mouth set in an exaggerated little pout that was clearly meant to garner sympathy. “Call me later. If you want. Or not. I don’t give a shit.”

This time, Johnny seemed to know to keep himself out of it— smart man. Renjun followed after Donghyuck to the door, though he knew better than to try and stop him. Once Donghyuck was set in his ways, he was stubborn as hell, and nothing would remedy his bad mood except time and alcohol. “I’m just trying to help. You seem so happy for once - sort of - and I don’t want you to lose that.”

“Keeping a man is never a problem for me! Unlike you, Mr. I-Turned-Down-A-Rich-Handsome-Model-Because-He-Has-Too-Many-Tropical-Fish.” Donghyuck grabbed his expensive new leather jacket, shoved his feet into his knock-off-but-still-pretty-nice Givenchys, and turned to face the door.

“Well, then, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it the way you’re thinking it.”

“Yes, you did. But that’s okay.” Donghyuck spared him a half-second glance, a little shrug, and a smile that Renjun just knew would absolve him of guilt. These were the same fights as ever, and Donghyuck never stayed mad. That was one of his good points, few and far between though they were, and the knowledge that he would probably still call Renjun the next night to hang out sent an unreasonable surge of affection through his chest. “See ya, Injun.”

Renjun hated the way his Korean name sounded. Donghyuck knew that. The subtle dig made him want to burst into laughter, but all he could do was cross his arms and turn back to the kitchen table. Donghyuck’s empty plate sat abandoned, along with the cup of coffee he’d demanded and then left without so much as a sip. God, I could kill him. I won’t, but I could.

“Sorry,” Johnny said faintly, brows creasing as he stood and opened up his arms in invitation. “I didn’t mean to piss him off so much. Want a hug? I know how much you worry.”

“It’s okay. But yes. Always.” Renjun took a couple steps forward and let Johnny make the rest of the effort, drawing him in and squeezing him against his chest, Renjun’s very favorite place in the world. For a long minute, he let his lover’s heartbeat drown out everything else. Tranquility.

“I just really like him. I dunno. He’s… endearing.”

“You’re a masochist, baby. It’s okay.” Johnny planted a kiss directly atop Renjun’s head, nuzzling against his hair. “Also, you know… whiskey and root beer isn’t that bad. Like, I wouldn’t order it in a bar, but…”

“Yuck. Yuck, Johnny.”

“I’m trying to validate your shitty friend! And I’m tipsy, cut me some slack.” He snorted. “It’ll be okay, though. Maybe he has to fuck it up with Doyoung to learn that he’s not completely invincible. If he gets hurt, we’ll be here to make sure he doesn’t get hurt alone.”

Renjun smiled softly, giving his boyfriend a squeeze of his own. When it was just the two of them, at least, he always knew what to say.

//

Of course, Renjun called Donghyuck, and Donghyuck called Renjun back, and their argument was swept under the rug as surely as ever. Still, Renjun noticed the change in his texts with Donghyuck: more sarcasm and memes, less relationship-bitching and talk of Doyoung. When they had coffee on Wednesday, Donghyuck mentioned giving his notice at work (and giving his boss the middle finger, which Renjun knew had been a dream of his) and showed off a lovely new bracelet, but didn’t mention Doyoung’s name even a single time.

Finally, before they parted ways, Renjun asked almost tentatively, “Everything’s going okay with Doyoung, right? He’s still being good to you?” (That was the least of their concerns, he knew— was Donghyuck being good to Doyoung, there was the question.)

“It’s fantastic. Hey, you know me— as soon as there’s reason to bitch, you’ll hear about it.” He raised an eyebrow. “Everything’s going okay with Johnny? Because that thing we talked about before—”

“Oh, god, Donghyuck, don’t ruin it—”

“—if you get tired of him, I’ll jump ship from Doyoung so fast, I’m not even kidding—”

“Donghyuck—”

“Just tell me how big his dick is, you’re being selfish.”

“Goodbye, Donghyuck. I’ll call you later.” They were both too headstrong for an argument; when Donghyuck got pushy, the only two choices were to give him his way or to turn your back. Renjun knew that all too well.

Things went south again quickly, though, less than two weeks later. It was nearly 10 PM, and with his classic terrible timing. Johnny had just gotten his lips around Renjun’s dick when his phone started buzzing in the pocket of his discarded pants, and he groaned, reluctantly groping for them off the edge of the bed. “Fuck, this better not be someone from work…”

“Hnn.” Johnny made a little sound of disapproval around him, grabbing his straying wrist and pulling it back to pin against the mattress as he pulled back. “Whoever it is can leave a voicemail. You’re all mine right now, baby…” His lips, hence distracted, fell on Renjun’s inner thigh next; Renjun gripped the bedsheets with a whimper, trying to resist the urge to grab Johnny by the hair and pull his head back to where it had been.

Then his phone started buzzing again, almost as soon as it had stopped. When he wiggled away from Johnny’s lips, this time his boyfriend made no move to stop him, simply watching curiously as Renjun dug it out to answer. Donghyuck?!

“What is it? What do you want?” Renjun demanded, still breathless.

“I need a fucking ride. I don’t have my fucking wallet, I don’t have any fucking money on me, and it’s fucking raining. And fucking— fucking Doyoung was supposed to drive me home, but he’s not answering his fucking phone!”

“Hold up. Hold up. Where are you?” It was easy to keep calm. Donghyuck was a drama queen, Renjun was used to tears. These tears most likely weren’t anything special. Maybe he could talk him down; he didn’t exactly feel like putting on pants to go get him, and he doubted Johnny would agree.

“I’m at Doyoung’s house. Locked outside. He said if I keep knocking he’s going to call the cops, and that probably means he’s going to break up with me too! Renjun, please—”

Donghyuck didn’t use words like “please” all that often, and it sort of tugged at Renjun’s heartstrings. And then a flash of lightning outside their bedroom window, making Renjun jump, sealed the deal. “All right— stop crying. Text me the address.” He met Johnny’s wide gaze, giving him an apologetic smile and mouthing a piteous sorry in response to his boyfriend’s dramatic collapse on the bed beside him. “Me and Johnny will be there soon. And you can come spend the night with us, okay?”

“What? What?” Johnny managed to hold off his demands until Renjun hung up the phone and grabbed his pants off the floor. “Having to go get him is a bummer as is! Why did you invite him home with us?”

“I don’t think it sounds good for Donghyuck and Doyoung. They might have broken up. He was crying. Come on— fix your shirt, will you?”

Johnny scowled as he pushed himself up off the mattress and re-fastened the buttons that Renjun had gotten undone down his chest. “Do you think it was Donghyuck’s fault?”

“I don’t know,” Renjun answered quietly, meeting Johnny’s grim amusement head-on. “But it doesn’t really matter. If he says he needs me, I’m going to be there, and— Johnny, you can’t tell him I told you so or anything stupid like that.”

“I won’t. Why would I do that?” Johnny grumbled, running his fingers through his hair. “I’ll drive. Chill out. Just tell me where we’re going.”

Doyoung’s apartment was in Gangnam, apparently not far from where he worked. It was a beautiful building, which Renjun would have taken more time to admire if not for Donghyuck darting out of the alleyway beside it, leather jacket pulled up over his hair to keep it dry. Out of habit, Johnny reached with the lock controls to fuck with him, and Renjun had to lace their fingers to keep him from acting on impulse.

Now that Donghyuck was in front of him in the flesh, it was plain to Renjun that these were real tears, not the crocodile tears that Donghyuck could whip up on a dime. Tears that messed up his face, made his nose run and his eyes puff up, had to be real. Immediately, Renjun’s chest was cracked wide open, and he reached back without reservations to grab his best friend’s hand from the front seat.

“Hey. It’s gonna be okay, Hyuckie. Are you hungry? Johnny and I were thinking we could make popcorn or something, and watch a movie?” Johnny didn’t bother to interject with anything, just flexing his fingers on the wheel. Clearly, this hadn’t been his vision when he’d said we’ll be here to make sure he doesn’t get hurt alone.

“I don’t care. I can’t stop alternating between wanting to knock Doyoung’s teeth in, and like… just calling him and fucking talking to him. I can’t stop missing his stupid fucking voice, and it’s pissing me off.” He wiggled restlessly in his seat, finally thinking to pull his seatbelt over his shoulder. “I don’t know what happened. One minute I’m trying to convince him of the merits of buying me the apartment across the hall from him and supporting my livelihood— and he said I should just move in with him! Really, I’m supposed to move all my shit in with all his shit and actually put up with him 24/7? Like, how cheap is he?”

Johnny and Renjun’s jaws once again dropped in unison, but this time Johnny was able to restrain himself from speaking, letting Renjun take the wheel in what had become the second part of Donghyuck’s intervention. “You’re trying to get him to buy you an apartment? Are you out of your mind? You’ve known this guy for like a month, and he’s been nothing but good to you, and you’ve been nothing but— impulsive.”

Donghyuck was clearly taken aback, having never been scolded so readily by Renjun before. “Why is nobody listening to my reasoning here? Look,” he went on with practiced impatience, a spiel he’d probably already run through with Doyoung. “I don’t have a job anymore, so I have nothing tying me down. This is a safer neighborhood than my current one, and the apartments are way bigger, and I’d have a balcony to smoke cigarettes on! And then I’d be, like, living with him without actually living with him, which is like— best case scenario, because we can have sex whenever we want! So if you take all that stuff into account, how crazy is it, really?” He paused for a long moment, gathering his thoughts, and his voice came back as a hoarse whimper as he went on softly, “Doyoung said it’s not his fault that I quit my job before talking to him, and called me an idiot. Kinda felt like a slap to the face.”

Once more, Johnny was quiet. Jeez, now he listens. Renjun fidgeted for a moment, taking deep breaths to keep his temper under control, and then murmured, “You’re an idiot, and not just because you quit your job. You have a rich, successful, kind, and generous guy who wants to take care of you, and you think that sucking his dick is going to excuse you from having to work on your shitty personality at all. You have just as many problems as the rest of us, Hyuck— but we work on them.”

“I hate you,” Donghyuck said simply in retaliation, voice tight with more tears. Renjun shrugged, kept his eyes ahead, and held Johnny’s hand tight as they drove in silence.

“Surprised you brought me here since you both apparently think I'm an idiot,” Donghyuck commented as they stepped through the front door of Renjun and Johnny’s long-dark apartment.

Johnny turned on an unappreciated light, but he didn’t say a single thing to try and deny Donghyuck’s claim. “I’m going back to bed. See you in a bit, babe?”

“Yeah,” Renjun sighed, offering his lover what he hoped was an encouraging smile. If he had anything to say about it, he’d be back there right this instant, competing to see who could get whose pants down first. “Be right there.”

“You’re gonna invite me over and then not sleep next to me?” Donghyuck asked softly, sounding hurt again, legitimately hurt. “But I have bitching to do. You always listen to my bitching.”

“Yeah, well— I do. But right now I think you’re sort of getting what you’ve had coming to you, so I’m going to let you sleep in the bed you’ve made for yourself until tomorrow morning. Once you’re cooled down and rational, I’d be happy to talk,” Renjun murmured cautiously, stepping in to give Donghyuck a tight and reassuring hug while he was still allowed to touch him. “Plus, you kind of… called while I was in the middle of something, and I think Johnny wanted to finish what we had started, so…”

“Were you getting your cock sucked?” Donghyuck asked somberly, eyes wide, voice tiny. Renjun shifted uncomfortably on his feet, hoping it didn’t show.

“Uhh. Yeah.”

“Renjun, I’m asking you as a friend—”

“You may not fuck us. I’ve already told you.”

Donghyuck sighed, harshly, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, then, come do a fifteen-second nightcap with me, at least. I feel like shit. I just need to stop feeling like shit, and I don’t know how.”

Why was Donghyuck like this? Renjun hated it, and yet— just leaving Donghyuck as coldly as he wanted to felt wrong. There was something different about this, some genuine distress behind Donghyuck’s eyes, and he could neither figure it out nor pretend it wasn’t there. Resigned to obedience once again, he slipped an arm around Donghyuck’s shoulders and squeezed.

“Yeah. Fifteen-second nightcap sounds good.”

Half and half, Donghyuck mandated, root beer and whiskey, filling a lowball glass for each of them. One ice cube each, one glass clink, and then they both gulped them down as quickly as they could— an old game from their high school days, when Donghyuck’s life had just fallen apart and his insomnia had been so shit. A long gulp of liquor always did the trick.

(Surprisingly, the mix wasn’t as bad as Renjun was anticipating, either.)

Chapter Text

Donghyuck felt very tiny, by himself in the double bed in Renjun and Johnny’s guest room. Oftentimes when he stayed over, he could convince Renjun to sleep there with him. He liked the closeness of another body, the familiar scent of the nighttime moisturizer that Renjun had used since high school, sometimes cut through with the sharp, masculine scent of Johnny’s body wash that Renjun liked to steal. They’d whisper in the dark a little bit, always mundane stuff - stories of shit customers at work, Renjun sometimes coaxed into giving the details of his and Johnny’s love life - and Donghyuck would be transported back to sixteen years old on a nostalgic wave.

Renjun had stayed beside him faithfully, giving Donghyuck sanctuary at his house every weekend from his shitty parents trying to save his soul, going so far as to move in with him when they finally gave up and left him for dead. Donghyuck was eighteen and terrified, going from micro-managed helicopter-parentee to complete independence overnight, but Renjun had held tight to his hand through the best and the worst of it. Renjun was a well of strength, pouring his heart into Donghyuck’s, and, well— Donghyuck simply got used to taking and taking and taking.

Johnny did something different, Johnny filled Renjun up. (He didn’t mean in the gross sexual way, though he probably did that too.) From the moment he'd received that first message from his boyfriend, Renjun glowed, and most days, Donghyuck lived for it. Renjun deserved all the best and more— but sometimes Donghyuck would miss the awkward, messy eighteen-year-old Renjun who didn’t do yoga in the mornings or know things about expensive wine or keep up with the stock market.

Donghyuck sighed, curling himself around his pillow in lieu of Renjun’s body and checking his phone at last. No text, not that he expected one. Donghyuck hated texting, texting about important shit was for pussies. He’d call, then.

“Donghyuck, what do you want?” Doyoung sounded exasperated, but he did answer. A gentleman— Donghyuck would have given up on himself, frankly.

“When do you work tomorrow? I’m going to come over for breakfast.”

“Do you think I exist to take care of you, all of a sudden? I offered to let you move in here since you quit your job without even discussing it with me, and you threw a tantrum because you want me to buy you a place of your own! That’s so—”

“Shitty? Yeah. I know.” Donghyuck picked his nails as he spoke, feeling embarrassed even in the dark of the guest room. “I’ll cook for you. Just tell me when.”

“You told me you can’t cook.”

“Listen, I’m doing my best right now. My best friend just chewed me out and told me I’m an idiot. Now I’m probably going to have to listen to him and his massive boyfriend have sex through their apartment wall.”

“Ah.” Doyoung didn’t sound that sympathetic, but Donghyuck felt something anyway, and he hated it.

“What time?”

“I have to work at 10 AM. Come before 9.”

“Do you like French toast? French toast is all I can cook.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be waiting for you.” Doyoung paused, the silence palpable, electric. “I’m going to bed. You should get some rest, too. Take care.”

Take care. There it was, a drop of water that evaporated almost the moment that it touched Donghyuck’s parched skin. He wished suddenly, with a stinging heart, that he could submerge himself in Doyoung. Maybe just lay in his arms for a few hours and let him play with his hair, touch the planes of his face, tell him how pretty and perfect he was. The thought made his insides turn to mush.

“Donghyuck, are you still there?”

“Yeah. Sorry, my cell reception is bad. Sweet dreams, Doyoung.”

It was the first time that he’d called the elder anything besides hyung or daddy, but if this registered with Doyoung, he didn’t mention it. He murmured another quiet goodbye, and Donghyuck was left all alone to wipe the inexplicable tears from his cheeks.

Feelings were for ugly people, he was famous for saying in jest, and the truth was, he felt pretty damn hideous.

Chapter Text

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.