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death & other happy endings

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As soon as the doctor walks into the room, Donghyuck knows he is about to deliver bad news. He can tell by the grim look on his face and the way his feet seem to stutter as he walks towards his desk. Donghyuck reaches across to the chair next to him and grabs Jeno’s hand firmly, grounding himself. He doesn’t know what he is about to hear, but he knows that he is going to need the emotional support of his most loyal friend by his side.

(Technically only family is allowed in with Donghyuck, but they lied and pretended they were brothers. Jeno even pulled out his ID to prove that his surname is also Lee, but the doctor remained unconvinced. Probably because millions of Koreans have the last name Lee and the two boys look nothing alike. When he saw that neither boy would budge, he eventually let it go, seeming to sense that the two boys in front of him were brothers in every sense of the word other than biological.)

“I’m just going to get straight to the point, Donghyuck. The MRI showed that you have multiple tumors lining your stomach and intestinal tract. It’s spread so much that there isn’t much we can do at this point, but hope to relieve some of the pain. We can also provide grief counseling to help you deal with the news if that is an outlet you wish to take. Do you have any questions at this point, otherwise I can dig deeper into your diagnosis,” the doctor pauses.

Donghyuck shakes his head slightly, leaning back in his chair, face white in horror. Jeno is gripping his hand so tightly Donghyuck thinks he could break a bone, but right now that seems to be the last of their worries. The doctor continues explaining Donghyuck’s condition, using medical jargon that neither of them understand, while they try to process the fact that Donghyuck has just been given a death sentence.

It isn’t until the doctor has explained the entirety of his condition that Jeno finally speaks. “Um…, how long-” he cuts himself off, voice watery and full with the deepest emotion Donghyuck has ever heard from him. The doctor gets the message anyway, and with a reluctant voice, tells them Donghyuck’s prognosis:

“3 months.”

Once they get back to their shared apartment, they collapse into each other on their slouchy gray couch. Donghyuck cries more violently than he ever has in his best friends arms, Jeno holding onto him tight despite the tears running down his own face.

 

After they have cried enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool, Donghyuck pulls away and gingerly wipes the tears from his face. “You know,” he begins all of a sudden, “If all I have is a couple of months left, I want to enjoy myself for all of it. This year has been the hardest year of my life, and I don’t want it all to end while I’m still feeling like this,” Donghyuck explains.

“There were a lot of people who hurt you this year, Hyuckie,” Jeno says softly, combing his fingers delicately through his hair. “I’m proud that you’re finally ready to get over everything that happened and move on,” he encourages gently.

Donghyuck sighs heavily, because despite his words, he isn’t over what happened to him. About a year ago, he walked in on his best friend making out with his lifelong enemy, and to his horror, learned that they were dating. Donghyuck had never felt as much betrayal as he did watching his best friend chose to date the one guy who has made his life a living hell since Donghyuck was five.

He was still dealing from the pain when another heartbreak hit him just three months ago. He got dumped. By someone he thought would be his forever. Not only that, he realized that the person who he thought was his soulmate didn’t seem to love Donghyuck nearly as much as Donghyuck loved him. Overall, it’s been a pretty rough year.

“I need to close this chapter of my life and move on so I’m not spending my last days crying over the stupid men in my life. But like, I’m not sure how to do that? I can’t just turn off my feelings and pretend that everything is sunshine and fairies all of a sudden,” Donghyuck says, thinking out loud.

“What about a bucket list? Why don’t you work on living your best life as a way to forget about them?” Jeno suggests.

Donghyuck thinks it over, and figures that it really can’t hurt. It is hard to think about how much you’ve been hurt when you’re flying through the air after jumping off of a small ledge. So he agrees, and the two of them end up creating a list with 20 things that Donghyuck will do in the next couple of months.

That is how Donghyuck ends up jumping out of a plane the very next day.

It was exhilarating in a way Donghyuck had never felt before. And for a second, he thinks Jeno’s idea could work. He thinks if he continues on with his bucket list, he’ll eventually be able to forget about the pain he’s been experiencing.

And then Donghyuck finds Mark’s old basketball sweatshirt buried at the bottom of his closet, and he starts to miss his ex-boyfriend so much he doesn’t know what to do with the hands. Especially because Mark had become Donghyuck’s emotional support system during the time that they had been dating, and now Donghyuck has to deal with the fact that he is dying without Mark there to help him through it.

Jeno catches Donghyuck crying in his closet an hour later, hands clenched tightly to the garment in his hand. The older boy just sighs, and pulls Donghyuck into a hug.

“I know I said that I’d get over everything, but it’s hard sometimes. Mark hurt me really badly. They all hurt me really badly,” Donghyuck sobs into Jeno’s shoulder.

“Have you tried confronting any of them?” Jeno questions curiously. “I mean, maybe you just need to get some of your feelings off of your chest. That would probably make you feel better, I think Oprah would suggest something like that,” he explains.

Donghyuck thinks it over, but there is one issue. His enemies may say something that makes him feel even worse, something that could ruin the rest of his life literally. If only he could have a conversation with them where they weren’t allowed to speak…

“Wait a minute!” Donghyuck exclaims. “What if I wrote them all a letter? I could explain my feelings and how their actions hurt me but I wouldn’t have to worry about them making me feel worse.”

Jeno thinks it over a second, and Donghyuck can practically see the gears turning in his head. “So like a To All the Boys I Ever Loved Before moment, but instead it’s To All the Boys I Ever Hated Before?” Jeno asks, bewildered but agreeable, like he is with most of Donghyuck’s ideas.

“Exactly!” Donghyuck replies, mind already made up. He gets up from the closet and walks towards his desk, pulling out the good stationary. It was a birthday gift from Mark, and it’s one of the last traces of him left in the apartment. Donghyuck thinks now is as good a time as any to purge it all.

He has a lot to say and he isn’t going to hold himself back. He sits down on the couch next to Jeno, pen and paper in hand, and begins to write.

To the boy who took every opportunity to make Donghyuck’s life miserable from the moment they met, a hateful, bitter, life-long enemy: Na Jaemin.

Donghyuck has hated Na Jaemin since he was four years old and they were in a toddler ice skating class together. Donghyuck accidentally tripped Jaemin with his skates, and Jaemin, with tears streaming down his chubby little face, decided that he was going to make Donghyuck’s life a living hell in retaliation.

When Donghyuck tried out for plays, Jaemin would go for the same roles, with the sole intention of taking the parts Donghyuck wanted away from him. When Donghyuck tried for a dance solo in his dance class, Jaemin would decide that it was also something he was interested in. When Donghyuck joined the soccer team, Jaemin did too, fighting for goalie with Donghyuck, despite having no interest in the sport previously.

It continued on like this for years, until it all came to a head in the form of one Huang Renjun. Donghyuck’s best friend. When Donghyuck realized his arch enemy was secretly dating his best friend, it was game over. Jaemin had won officially; had taken one of the most important things from him. He hasn’t spoken to either of them in a year, but the pain of the betrayal still stings from time to time.

Writing the letter to Jaemin is easy, he puts all of his thoughts into words that he personally finds eloquent and mature, not having to pause for a second to think of what to say.

Dear Jaemin,

You ugly, conniving, crusty-lipped, evil, lying, little bitch. (Just had to get that out of the way!) Every time I wanted something in life, you took it from me. It was like my life was a game for you, and you were in charge of making sure I would never win anything.

It was fine when it was petty things. I could get over not being the goalie on the soccer team, or not getting a dance solo. In some ways, I think you pushed me to become better. I trained hard on my singing so that you wouldn’t be able to take roles away from me at the theater. I studied harder so my grades would be better than yours. I thought maybe I wasn’t the loser in this silly little feud.

But when you started dating Renjun, I realized I could never compete with you. Our feud was over, and you had won. You completely destroyed the confidence that I had worked hard to build after over a decade of you trying to tear me down. Because how could I feel worthy of anything when my own best friend would choose a loser like you over me after just a couple months of dating.

I just have to ask, was it worth it? Knowing that every interaction we had left me feeling worse about myself? Was it worth it dating Renjun, knowing that it completely destroyed me when I found out?

You may be wondering why I am saying all of this to you now, and it’s because if I don’t say this now I probably will never have the opportunity again. I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I’ve been given three months left to live.

You have spent your entire life trying to make my life a living hell. I hope now that I don’t have that much time left, you’ll show me some compassion and stop this once and for all. I’ve said my piece, and gotten what I’ve needed to say for a long time off of my chest. So for one last time, fuck you Na Jaemin.

Love Sincerely Whatever, Donghyuck.

It’s been 2 days since Donghyuck sent the letter to Jaemin, and in the meantime, he has been drafting his second letter and completing more tasks on his bucket list. He tried smoking weed for the first time, something he’d never tried but heard about from Mark. It relaxed him enough to find the find the courage to start writing again. This letter is much harder to write, because it’s to his ex-best friend. And while Donghyuck feels completely betrayed by everything that Renjun did to him, he still cares about him deep down.

Luckily Jeno has been there for him the whole time. The three of them had all been very close, but after Renjun and Donghyuck had their falling out, Jeno took his side. He knows better than anyone how much Donghyuck was affected by Renjun’s actions, and encourages him to be as honest as possible in his letter to him.

Finishing Renjun’s letter was cathartic, like an emotional detox. Donghyuck decides he is going to enjoy the rest of his night cuddled up in bed watching the Bring it On movies and eating copious amounts of choco pies. Jeno offers to stay with him, but Donghyuck knows he has had a date with Yeeun planned for weeks, so Donghyuck dismisses him even though he’d love the company.

Jeno’s been very clingy with Donghyuck since his diagnosis, and while Donghyuck understands his best friend’s concern, he feels guilty that so much of his time is being spent holed up in their apartment.

So when Donghyuck hears a knock on the door not even an hour after Jeno leaves for his date, he feels particularly exasperated. He carefully unwraps himself from the blanket burrito he has buried himself into and makes his way towards the door.

“For god’s sake, Jeno. You can spend one night away from me, I promise I won’t hold it against you,” he grumbles, swinging the door open, and cutting himself off when he notices that the person on the other side is not his best friend, but the opposite.

Jaemin looks different from the last time Donghyuck saw him. He has dyed his hair back to pink, and while it pains Donghyuck to admit, the color does seem to suit him. Said pink hair is a mess, however, like Jaemin spent the last hour running his hands through it, grabbing onto it when he felt particularly stressed. His hands fidget like he doesn’t know what to do with them and for the first time in the entire time Donghyuck has known him, he is speechless.

“What are you doing here?” Donghyuck snarls, frown deepening on his face. Didn’t he ask Jaemin to let him enjoy the rest of his life? Doesn’t he realize that that means leaving Donghyuck alone?

“Can I come in?” Jaemin says hesitantly, voice devoid of any confidence, a tone Donghyuck has never heard before. He wants to slam the door in Jaemin’s face, but the change in Jaemin’s demeanor makes Donghyuck curious enough to open the door further and lead Jaemin into his living room.

Donghyuck stares at Jaemin expectantly, waiting for him to explain himself. Jaemin avoids his gaze, confusing Donghyuck even more. Jaemin has never turned down an opportunity to stare Donghyuck down, and the tension is so thick in the room that Donghyuck struggles to come up with something to fill the silence.

“I’m sorry,” Jaemin finally says, causing Donghyuck’s jaw to drop to the ground. Never in his life did he ever expect those words to come out of Jaemin’s mouth. Donghyuck sits dumbfounded waiting for Jaemin to continue, trying to process the fact that Na Jaemin, his lifelong enemy, just apologized to him.

“And it’s fucked up that it took me receiving your letter to realize that you felt this way. I knew you hated me, but I had no idea that my actions actually affected you that badly. I thought it was just a stupid, playground rivalry, I didn’t think I was actually ruining your life,” Jaemin confesses, opening up to Donghyuck in the first time since they’ve known each other.

“You may have thought that, but your actions didn’t reflect that, Jaemin,” Donghyuck chastises. “I accidentally tripped you when we were toddlers, I don’t get why that was reason enough to make my life a living hell for 15 years after that.”

Jaemin looks at Donghyuck confused, like he doesn’t quite get where he is coming from. “What are you talking about?” he asks, brow furrowed. “I wasn’t holding a grudge over you for 15 years over something dumb like that.”

“Then what was it? Did you just wake up one more and decide to hate me?” Donghyuck questions, voice raising and nostrils flaring.

Jaemin ducks his head and shame overtakes his features. He refuses to meet Donghyuck’s eyes when he finally admits to him the reason he has sought to hurt him. “I guess I was just jealous,” Jaemin confesses quietly.

Donghyuck opens his mouth to respond, but Jaemin cuts him off before he can. “It’s just- everyone loved you, Donghyuck. And I was the shy, awkward kid that no one invited anywhere. And I thought if I proved to myself and others that I could be better than you, then people would like me too.”

Donghyuck thinks it over, and he guesses he could see where Jaemin is coming from. He has a vivid memory from ice skating class where they had to pick partners and everyone wanted to be Donghyuck’s partner, but no one would be Jaemin’s. Looking back at the memory makes Donghyuck’s heart ache a little, but not enough to forgive Jaemin for all of the pain he caused him throughout the years.

“Well it worked,” Donghyuck replied bitterly. “You got your wish. People like you now. You even somehow managed to make my best friend fall for your spiteful ass,” he snipes, causing Jaemin to visibly flinch.

“Um, about that,” Jaemin begins hesitantly, treading very carefully around the explosive conversation topic. “I want to talk about something you wrote in your letter to me,” he explains. Donghyuck nods uninterestedly, urging Jaemin to continue with mild annoyance gracing his features.

“Looking back on everything, I regret all of the pain I caused you. I realize that I was a horrible person to you all of those years, and I would take it back if I could. But when you asked me if it was worth, I have to say that yes, yes he was,” Jaemin confesses, causing a pit to form in Donghyuck’s stomach.

“I know that despite everything, you still care about Renjun a lot Donghyuck. And part of the reason I came here today, other than to apologize, was to promise you that even when you’re gone, I’m going to do my absolute best to take care of him. Our relationship wasn’t borne out of silly revenge, it was built off of love and love only. And I love him with my whole heart, and I can assure you right now that I will never hurt him,” Jaemin says, voice going soft at the mention of his boyfriend.

Donghyuck sits dumbfounded at the confession, unable to think of the proper words to say. He feels himself getting choked up, thinking about his best friend (because despite everything, Donghyuck still considers Renjun one of the most important people in his life) being loved so deeply. He also feels slightly guilty, for not being able to provide Renjun with the same comfort and protection that Jaemin has over the past year.

“Despite everything, and all of the pain he has made me feel, you’re right. I do still care about him. And I want you to give him the life he deserves when I am no longer here,” Donghyuck whispers, tears falling silent down his face.

“Speaking of which, you need to tell Renjun about your diagnosis. I know that you haven’t yet because his mood hasn’t changed at all since I received my letter, and I can’t keep something like this from him,” Jaemin lectures, voice firm and stern, like he will fight any force in the world that might hurt Renjun.

Donghyuck just rolls his eyes at the request, chuckling to himself slightly. “Well of course I’m going to tell him,” he laughs bitterly, “Who do you think is getting my next letter?”

Donghyuck stops laughing, however, when he feels the atmosphere in the room drop sharply again, Jaemin looking at Donghyuck with wide, pleading eyes.

“You can’t send him a letter like you did to me, Donghyuck. It will devastate him. I understand that you were hurt by our relationship, but please take it out on me and not him. You know what he’s like, receiving something like I did would literally break him. Please, I beg you, don’t do it. You can even punch me in the face or something if it will help you get your frustration out,” Jaemin begs, voice dripping with desperation.

Donghyuck thinks it over. The fact that Jaemin wants him to not send the letter makes it all the more tempting for him to do it. But then again, the offer to finally punch Jaemin in the face is one that is too appealing to outright refuse.

But in the end, who is Donghyuck kidding. Jaemin may be a jackass, but he is right about Renjun. Donghyuck still loves him after all, and he doesn’t know if he can handle the emotional burden of inevitably breaking his best friend’s hard like that.

“Ok, fine,” Donghyuck sighs deeply. “I won’t send the letter. But I am punching you in the face, later, do you understand? I’d do it now, but I’m kind of tired and don’t think I can muster up the energy to give you the black eye you deserve.” Jaemin nods enthusiastically, eager to take a beating if it means Renjun will be protected from emotional turmoil.

After a beat of awkward silence, Jaemin announces that he should probably get going. “Ren-, oh uh- someone is waiting for me at home,” he reveals quite awkwardly.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes at his (former?) rival and gets up to show him to the door. “He’s not Voldemort, you know, you can say his name around me. Especially because I kind of assumed you would be going home to him anyways,” he says sarcastically.

Once at the door, Donghyuck assumes Jaemin will make a quick exit, so he is surprised to find the boy hesitating, as if waiting for something. Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at the taller boy before he is suddenly being gathered into a hug.

Jaemin grips at Donghyuck tightly, audibly sniffling in the doorway of Donghyuck’s flat. Donghyuck, unable to figure out what best to do in this scenario, pats Jaemin’s back awkwardly until the boy pulls away.

There are tears in his eyes when Jaemin softly admits, “I know we hated each other, but I’m really going to miss you, Donghyuck.” Donghyuck, for all of his disdain for Jaemin, feels his heart clench at the admission.

“You know, I never got to say it, tonight, but I’m sorry for everything too. Funnily enough, I think if we would have put our differences aside we could have been great friends,” Donghyuck replies sincerely, because despite years of hatred, he actually means what he is saying.

Jaemin smiles softly at Donghyuck, muttering a “Take care,” softly, before he heads out, leaving Donghyuck to decompress after the heavy conversation.

He walks back into his apartment, and immediately searches for his letter to Renjun. He wants to re-read it, memorize what he has written so he can say it in person, and then destroy it. But after half an hour of searching, he can’t seem to find it anywhere.

To: jeno dumb bff cute

Hey jen, do u know where i put rj’s letter? I can’t seem to find it anywhere…

To: hyuckie bff full sun

Yeah! I took it with me and mailed it for you :)

Donghyuck’s heart drops at the response, knowing that the letter is surely going to break Renjun’s heart. While Donghyuck feels sorry about it, he can’t change anything about it now. It’s not like he wasn’t going to say the same exact things to him in person anyway. He does feel bad for lying to Jaemin, though he didn’t technically mean to deceive him. He figures this can be one final ‘fuck you’ to the boy to end their 15 year rivalry.

Accepting his fate, Donghyuck slithers back into bed, burying himself under 50 blankets once again. He immerses himself in romantic comedies from the early 2000s and tries to ignore the imminent storm that will surely come once that letter arrives at Renjun’s doorstep.

Donghyuck is taking a nap in his apartment when he is awoken by loud banging on his front door. He gets up, wiping the sleep from his eyes, as he stumbles towards the door, where he is immediately greeted with a sobbing Renjun flinging himself into his arms, letter in hand.

Donghyuck hugs him back on instinct, the two close enough to have been in this position many times before. They were always the one each other turned to when times got rough, which is part of the reason why Donghyuck took it so hard when their friendship abruptly ended.

Renjun, more than anyone, know how much Donghyuck hated Jaemin. He was the one that Donghyuck confided in to tell him how upset Jaemin’s actions made him, knowing more intimately about their feud than Jeno, who was too kind of a person to get involved in petty feuds. (That changed, however, when Jeno saw how destroyed Donghyuck became when he learned about Renjun and Jaemin’s secret love affair.)

Renjun and Donghyuck met in middle school when Renjun first transferred to their school from China. Renjun was reserved at first, and Jeno was the one who invited him to eat with them at lunch first. Once Donghyuck had learned how sarcastic and blunt the smaller boy was, he decided to adopt him into their group immediately, and soon after they became true partners in crime.

Donghyuck could have never imagined his life without Renjun, nor did he want to. They complemented each other in a way that was distinctly them, platonic soulmates in the truest sense of the phrase. Which is why Renjun’s betrayal hurt him so deeply.

Donghyuck caught them in Renjun’s apartment, pressed up against each other in the boy’s kitchen. Donghyuck had barged in (like he had done a hundred times before) hoping to convince Renjun to come out for dinner with him, and stopped in his tracks at what he saw.

Renjun and Jaemin were shocked to say the very least. Renjun tried to explain through stuttering words and blinding tears, Jaemin standing behind him shellshocked. To say that Donghyuck didn’t like his explanation would be an understatement.

Apparently the two had formally met when they were paired together for a project for their women’s studies class, though they had known about each other for years. Renjun was obviously wary of Jaemin, but over the time spent together, he had actually grown quite fond of the other boy.

When the two submitted their final project, they decided to go out for drinks to celebrate. They both got stupidly drunk and Renjun ended up in Jaemin’s bed. Renjun was planning on writing the event off as a one night stand, but Jaemin invited him to stay for breakfast. It was easy for them to transition into a full blown relationship from there.

That all had taken place 5 months prior to Donghyuck finding them making out in Renjun’s kitchen. He didn’t know what hurt more, the fact that his best friend was dating the one person who made him feel like shit about himself, or the fact that he lied about it for so long.

So Donghyuck gave him an ultimatum: you either dump Jaemin, or I’m out of your life for good. When Renjun told him that he wasn’t going to break up with Jaemin, Donghyuck walked out of the door and never returned. Just like that, one of the most precious relationships in Donghyuck’s life was over.

And he never really talked about it with anyone. Not with Jeno, other than a quick explanation on why they were no longer inviting Renjun to their BFF movie nights. Not with Mark, back when they were still dating and relied on each other emotionally. Not even to his own mother, with whom he shared everything with.

It wasn’t until Donghyuck sat down and drafted his letter to Renjun that he finally got to say what he has always wanted to say about the situation.

Dear Renjun,

I know you are a blunt person, so I am just going to get straight to the point of this letter: you hurt me, and you hurt me bad. I don’t think I even knew I was capable of being in so much pain until the day I caught you with Jaemin.

Because you knew. You knew more than anyone how much the things he did to me hurt me. You knew how I cried over his antics multiple times over the span of YEARS. Yet you dated him anyway, despite how you knew it would make me feel.

Part of me thinks it wouldn’t have ended the way it did if you hadn’t lied to me about it, but I can’t confirm that. All I know is that I found out in the worst way possible. I couldn’t get the image of the two of your wrapped together out of my head for a long time.

Knowing you hid such a big part of your life from me hurt me a lot as well. Since we met, I always told you everything that was going on in my life. When I fell in love with Mark, you were by my side for my emotional support. The fact that you went through the same process without even indicating to me that you were seeing someone felt like a slap in the face.

But nothing broke me more than when you chose him over me so easily, without hesitation. And then you went on to start living this amazing life with Jaemin without so much as a single thought about me.

We’ve been so close for so many years. Best Friends. Platonic Soulmates. You were always one of the most important people to me, and when you threw me aside so easily, it made me realize that all of those years together must have meant nothing to you.

But despite everything, I still care about you. And I still want to include you in on the major things that are going on in my life. I’ve received the biggest news of my life, so here it goes: I’m dying Junnie.

My diagnosis is terminal. I have a couple of months left at most. I’m going to try to live the rest of my life as happily and peacefully as I can. That means letting go of all of the emotional baggage that’s been weighing me down for the past couple of months.

I know you are quite busy with your new life so I won’t bother you further. After all of the years we spent together, I thought that it would be fitting to give you a proper goodbye, and this letter seemed to be the best way to do that.

I’ll miss you Renjunnie. And despite everything, I still love you, ok?

Sincerely,

Duckie

Writing the letter had been one of the most emotional things Donghyuck had ever done, and given how Renjun has broken down in his arms, it’s safe to assume that the smaller boy is also quite hysterical.

“How could you think this?” Renjun cries, pulling away from Donghyuck and wiping his eyes (though the action is useless because more tears fall again immediately after). “How could you think any of this? After all of the years we spent together how could you possibly think that I didn’t love you?”

Donghyuck sighs deeply, his own eyes filling with tears. This is the first time he’s seen Renjun in a year, and part of him wants to forget about the conversation they are about to have and just forgive Renjun right here, right now. But he knows the pain cuts deep, and the only way he’ll truly be able to get over the betrayal he feels when he looks at Renjun is to dive head first into their past.

Donghyuck walks out of his entryway, and makes his way towards his couch, knowing Renjun will follow him unquestionably. It feels weird to be sitting here with Renjun again, especially given all the time they spent in the same exact position before everything went to shit. Times when the only emotions they felt towards each other were love and friendship instead of betrayal and hurt and anger and pain.

“You had your chance to say your piece when you sent me this,” Renjun says, gesturing to the letter. “Now it’s my turn,” he asserts, taking control of the situation easily, though his voice wobbles with fragility.

“I didn’t just move on happily with my life after you caught Jaemin and I together like you seem to think. You may not believe me but I’ve thought about you every single day since. I still cry about it sometimes too. I haven’t moved on, because how could I? You weren’t the only one who lost someone they cared about that night, Donghyuck,” Renjun croaks, stopping only for a quick breath and not a second longer.

“Every time something major happened in my life, all I wanted to do was call you and tell you about it. When I got the news that my art had been approved for the gallery, you were the first person I wanted to tell,” Renjun continues on, as Donghyuck starts to cry more fully now.

“You were the one I confided in when I was 17 and realized I wanted to study art instead of engineering like my parents wanted. You encouraged me to follow my heart and promised you’d support me in whatever my dream was. And I told you right then and there that my dream was to open my own gallery.”

“So I sent you an invitation, and I spent the entire opening night watching the door waiting for you to show up, to support me with my dreams like you promised. But you never came,” Renjun finally concludes, cutting himself off with the veracity of his sobs. He needs a second to catch his breath if he wants to continue their conversation without hyperventilating.

Donghyuck, in turn, isn’t doing much better. He’s also been crying heavily, thinking back to the day he received the invitation to Renjun’s gallery opening. He had been fighting with Mark that evening, and felt exceptionally bitter. He decided then and there that he didn’t want anything to do with the people who had hurt him so badly. He couldn’t take it on top of the pain he was already feeling in that moment.

Once Renjun properly regulates his breathing again, he continues, Donghyuck sitting back and letting the smaller boy say his piece. “I need you to know that choosing to be with Jaemin was not an easy choice. I tried to fight it every step of the way. I knew he was a jerk to you, but I could tell right away that he wasn’t a bad person,” Renjun explains again.

Donghyuck looks at him skeptically, which Renjun catches, adding “You know, you guys are actually a lot alike? And once I realized how much you had in common I thought I would be able to bring you two together. But I know how stubborn you are so I kept putting it off until I could come up with a way to tell you. But you found out before I could…” he trails off.

“I just don’t understand,” Donghyuck croaks, “why you chose him over me. Why you couldn’t make a sacrifice for me, your best friend.” This has been haunting Donghyuck since the last time they saw each other. While he knows Renjun’s answer has the possibility to break him even further, he doesn’t think he can move on until he gets his answer.

“Donghyuck, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I would have given up anything and everything else for you. But I couldn’t let go of this. And it just so happened to be the one thing that hurt you the most. And you have no idea how sorry I am for the pain I’ve caused you over it,” Renjun says sincerely.

Donghyuck believes in every word he is saying. He’s known Renjun for long enough to tell when he is lying and the boy is speaking as though he is telling him that 2+2=4, and that the sky is blue. He says it with such conviction that Donghyuck doesn’t quite know how to feel about it. Part of him thinks it would be easier if Renjun came here to tell Donghyuck to fuck off, and he wouldn’t have to deal with all of this emotional baggage.

“I’m sorry too,” Donghyuck speaks up quietly. “I’m sure it must have hurt to read all my feelings in a letter instead of hearing it directly from me,” he offers.

Renjun shakes his head gently, “You know what hurts the most?” he asked, waiting for Donghyuck’s nod before continuing, “At the end of your letter when you said you didn’t want to burden me anymore and that the letter was your goodbye to me.”

Seeing the pain in Renjun’s eyes as he speaks is enough for Donghyuck to regret everything. Their falling out, the letter he sent, his refusal to speak to his best friend for an entire year. He can’t believe that it took receiving a death sentence for him to have the balls to reach out to him again.

“How could you possibly believe that I could be able to think or care about anything else knowing that my best friend is dying?” Renjun continues, causing Donghyuck to flinch both at his best friend’s confession and at the reminder that he is terminally ill.

Renjun then scooches closer to Donghyuck, and grabs onto his hands desperately. “I missed so much of your life the last year we’ve been apart, please let me be here with you for the rest of it.” Donghyuck opens his mouth to continue, but Renjun cuts him off again, voice hysterical.

“I know I was a shitty friend to you and I don’t deserve your forgiveness but I promise I will work for the rest of your life, no matter how long or short, to make it up to you,” Renjun finishes finally breathing for the first time in what feels like minutes.

Donghyuck drops Renjun’s hand, the smaller boy’s face crumpling at the action that he perceives as rejection. But it doesn’t last long because soon after Donghyuck is pulling Renjun in for a hug.

“I forgive you,” Donghyuck whispers into Renjun’s ear as the boy lets out another weak cry. “And we will work on fixing our relationship together, okay? I love you and I want you by my side again.”

The two spend hours reconnecting and finally explaining to each other how they have felt the last year in which they were separated. When Jeno walks into the apartment after a long day of work, he finds them laughing together on the couch, eyes still red from crying, yet happier than he’s seen in awhile.

Renjun and Jeno take one look at each other before they are meeting to embrace each other. Jeno isn’t one to hold grudges, and Renjun missed Jeno, who was also one of his best friends.

The three of them decide to have a sleepover like old times, snuggled up together in Donghyuck’s bed, falling into a familiar pattern like nothing had ever changed.

“I’m glad Renjunnie is back,” Jeno says once they’ve turned the lights off for the night. “I don’t think I could handle everything on Hyuckie’s bucket list by myself,” he jokes.

Renjun sits up immediately, disturbing their snuggle fest with a bright grin on his face. “What bucket list?”

Renjun insists on helping Donghyuck complete his bucket list, and the very next day, the two of them cross off #9.

(“Horseback riding? Really Donghyuck? I never pegged you as a horse girl,” Renjun teases him. “Shut up,” Donghyuck blushed, “I was hoping to live a cowboy fantasy.”)

They ride slow, taking their time through the forest, not another soul in sight. The atmosphere is both peaceful and intimate, neither saying anything as they take in the beautiful scenery around them.

When Renjun speaks up, he can tell that the question he is about to ask has been resting heavy on the tip of the boy’s tongue. “So Donghyuck…” he begins hesitantly, like he is still deciding whether or not to broach the subject. “Whatever happened with you and Mark?”

Donghyuck know this conversation would come up eventually, but the mention of his ex-boyfriend still sends a dull ache through his chest. He doesn’t talk about Mark much anymore, his heart too fragile to dwell on what ifs and could have beens.

“Well,” Donghyuck begins, clearing his throat. “We broke up about three months ago. But we’d been fighting on and off since the month prior. He had gotten really busy with school and work and activities and stuff. Our relationship kind of got put on the back burner,” he explains.

“That’s not all though, right?” Renjun pushes further, catching onto the dismissive nature of Donghyuck’s tone, and the way the boy refuses to meet his eyes.

Donghyuck wants to pretend like there is nothing, but he knows there is no way he can lie to Renjun. Despite their separation, Renjun still knows Donghyuck better than practically anybody.

“I just kind of came to the realization that he never loved me as much as I loved him you know? I got busy too, but I always made time for him, despite the fact that he would never do the same for me. And he never initiated any physical content between us, and when I would reach out for him, he would reject me or brush me off half as the time anyways. I kind of stopped trying after a while, because I didn’t really see a point anymore anyways,” Donghyuck admits.

Renjun frowns at the admission, having seen first hand how much Mark seemed to care for Donghyuck. “Are you sure? Because the two of you seemed so good for each other. You were complete opposites, but you balanced each other out. Sure you guys fought fiercely, but you it really seemed like you two loved each other even more fiercely.”

Donghyuck laughs bitterly at the implication of Renjun’s words, explaining further “On the night Mark walked out for good, he told me that we would never work out because we were incompatible. I thought we were it for each other, but clearly he didn’t love me like I loved him.”

“Regardless, I’m sure Mark loved you, Hyuckie. And I’m not just saying that to make you feel better,” Renjun tries to comfort as best as he can from his place on his horse.

“Well, clearly not enough,” Donghyuck replies bitterly, taking the reigns and speeding up, in hopes that the conversation will end soon.

Renjun, to his credit, keeps up easily and doesn’t back down. “Does he know?” Renjun asks softly, once he has caught up to Donghyuck again. He doesn’t elaborate, but Donghyuck knows he is talking about his diagnosis.

“I was actually planning on writing him a letter actually,” Donghyuck admits hesitantly, worried Renjun will shoot down the idea after the emotional trauma of receiving his own letter. Donghyuck had told him last night that Jaemin had also received a letter from Donghyuck, but he had never hinted about sending any more.

To his surprise though, Renjun nods understandingly. “You know, as much as it hurt me to read that letter, it also provided me with some clarity that I think I needed. I think Mark could benefit from that as well,” he offers, smiling gently at Donghyuck.

“Ok,” Donghyuck replies. “I’ll write it when I get home. But for now let’s enjoy the rest of this ride. I bought this cowboy hat specifically for this moment and I don’t the memory tainted because I got all up in my feelings.”

And with that, they ride off into the meadow, racing each other with bright smiles on their faces. Donghyuck has so much fun that he silently thanks Jeno for the stupid bucket list idea. If there is one silver lining out of Donghyuck’s prognosis, it’s that he is finally enjoying life again.

The letter writing never gets easier. In fact, Donghyuck would argue that every time it gets harder. Donghyuck is glad that his list of enemies isn’t longer or otherwise he doesn’t know if he would have the emotional energy to follow through with it.

Writing to Mark is different than writing to the others. But then again, things had always been different with Mark.

They met during their freshman year of University. Mark was in Renjun’s orientation group, and they both bailed early to get high together. When Renjun introduced Mark to their friend group, Donghyuck was wary. Mark was uptight, bossy, and sure of himself, contrasting with Donghyuck’s loud, free-spirited, insecure self.

They fought a lot, but almost exclusively over petty things, like what to eat for dinner, or the quickest route to the mall. Renjun and Jeno mostly would leave them to their own devices, only intervening when things get particularly heated.

One night though, things get out of hand. They are all at a party and Mark and Donghyuck both have had a little too much to drink. The liquid courage was enough to push both of them to start screaming their deepest feelings at each other.

“You’re so insufferable, Donghyuck! Would it kill you to take things seriously for once?” Mark had yelled, face a deep shade of red as his nostrils flare violently.

“Me? I’m just trying to enjoy life. You’re the one that doesn’t know how to have fun, too busy trying to impress people,” Donghyuck roared back.

Mark had stepped very close to Donghyuck, and for a split second, Donghyuck thought Mark was going to hit him. Instead he opened his mouth, teeth gritted as he muttered sharply “I’ve been trying to impress you, you idiot,” before he dove into a kiss.

The kiss is all teeth and some tongue but absolutely no finesse. Yet somehow, it’s enough to enthrall Donghyuck immediately. Once he started kissing Mark, he didn’t want to stop, and soon after took the opportunity to pin him down and shove his tongue down his throat any chance he got.

Their makeout sessions progressed, as the two got to know each other better, and Donghyuck quickly learned that all of the things he used to hate about Mark are actually what makes the boy so remarkable. He fell quickly. So fucking quickly.

They had dated for three years, and in all honesty, Donghyuck thought they would never break up. They still fought, sometimes regularly, but it was never enough for Donghyuck to want to throw in the towel. In fact, every moment with Mark, good or bad, had Donghyuck falling deeper.

It wasn’t until their senior year when things started to fall apart. Mark was getting busier, always thinking about the future and little steps he could take to advance his career. Every hour of Mark’s day was spent going to class, working, attending networking events, and meeting with recruiters. Donghyuck saw him less and less, and watched in horror as he was slowly phased out of Mark’s life.

He should have seen it coming. If anything, their breakup was probably inevitable. But, somehow, Donghyuck has always thought that they would manage to prevail. Growing up, he had always believed in true love. Donghyuck thought that as long as you loved someone enough, that love would be able to overcome anything. No one had ever explained to him that for that to be the case, both parties needed to be committed.

The night that they broke up was actually their third year anniversary. Donghyuck had planned a nice dinner for the two of them, hoping that the evening would be an opportunity for them to reconnect. But Mark forgot. Even when he didn’t show up, Donghyuck still believed deep down that they would overcome their troubles.

But when he confronted Mark about his absence, the boy wasn’t remorseful at all, instead choosing to get angry at Donghyuck for his incessant nagging. It was in that moment Donghyuck understood that Mark didn’t love him in that fairytale-princess way that he had originally thought. If the realization wasn’t enough to break Donghyuck’s heart, the harsh words Mark threw at him were.

The breakup was mutual. Donghyuck had always considered himself to be someone who would fight for true love, but looking at the broken shambles of his relationship made him realize that there was just nothing worth fighting for anymore.

He channels all of it, the highest highs, and the lowest lows, and writes his finally letter.

Dear Mark,

I feel the need to start this letter talking about how much I loved you. How much I still love you, to be exact. Because I can’t explain the hurt you caused me without explaining the weight that your actions and words held over me.

You were nothing that I wanted, yet everything I needed. I know we fought a lot, but at the end of the day, you meant more to me than virtually everything else. The good always outweighed the bad for me, even up until the very end. Because I thought we were soulmates, plain and simple, and I thought we could overcome anything.

When he broke up, I didn’t necessarily want it. But I knew that we weren’t on the same page, and the last thing I wanted was to hold you back. I also had enough self respect to know that I deserved better than someone who couldn’t give their all to me.

I really tried to move on, you know? But it was like you ruined me for anyone else. I just spent my time comparing you to everyone else, and they never measured up. It was like once I knew how good love could be when it was with you, I didn’t want it with anyone else. But still, know I tried.

Someone asked me out a couple of weeks ago, and the thought didn’t completely disgust me. My answer was still no, but things had changed. I felt like there was hope that I could move on, that I could love again.

But then I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I realized that you really were the love of my life. It hurts to know that the love of my life didn’t reciprocate my feelings, but I was only given a couple months, and I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to fall again.

That’s why I am writing you this letter. To tell you that you were the love of my life. And you broke my heart into a million fucking pieces. But you also taught me the capacity for how much a person can love another person. Just like everything with you, the good outweighs the bad for me in our story. So thank you. For everything.

Yours forever,

Donghyuck

It’s been days since Donghyuck sent the letter, and he has no doubt that Mark has received it by now. Yet no response ever comes. Donghyuck tries not to feel disappointed that he couldn’t mend their relationship like he did with Jaemin and Renjun, instead trying to pay attention to his bucket list.

He’s completed almost everything already. Jeno and Renjun take him out every other day to do activities together, the three of them even taking a weekend trip to Beijing together, completing Donghyuck’s wish to see the Great Wall and eat authentic Hot Pot with his best friends.

Even though Mark doesn’t contact him, Donghyuck doesn’t let it get to him. He is enjoying the rest of his life, and he has no lingering feelings holding him back. He’s even decided to do something he thought he never would. Spend the day with Na Jaemin.

Donghyuck and Jaemin ended their feud awhile ago, and the younger boy is dating Donghyuck’s best friend. However, Donghyuck didn’t quite know if he wanted to be chummy with the boy just yet.

But #18 on Donghyuck’s bucket list is rock climbing, and Jaemin is the only one experienced enough to take him bouldering. Plus, Renjun looked so excited when Donghyuck agreed to willingly spend the day with Jaemin, and Donghyuck didn’t feel like letting his best friend down.

To his surprise though, the day is pleasant. They don’t speak much, other than Jaemin instructing Donghyuck on what to do and Donghyuck asking for advice. If anything, they find that the two think incredibly similarly and make a good team.

Once they get to the top of the boulder, they sit down next to each other, drinking water and taking in the view of the city.

“You know,” Jaemin begins, “We actually make a pretty good team when we aren’t trying to sabotage each other,” and Donghyuck has to agree. It’s funny to think how much their friendship could have progressed if they hadn't spent so many years trying to destroy each other.

“Maybe in my next life you won’t be such a twat and we can be friends,” Donghyuck jokes, but it tastes sour in his mouth. Other than his original doctor’s appointment and his letters, Donghyuck hasn’t talked much about his diagnosis at all.

Jaemin, however, seems to pick up on the sudden change in demeanor for Donghyuck and questions the boy. “Do you want to talk about it?” he offers, surprising Donghyuck. “I mean I understand if you don’t want to talk about it with your lifelong enemy, but I promise I will listen to you if you want to get something off your chest.” Jaemin says sincerely.

“It’s just-” Donghyuck begins, before cutting himself off, choked up slightly. “I can’t help but be a little resentful, you know? About all of the things I’m going to miss out on. Like when Jeno eventually proposes to Yeeun, or Renjun gets married. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to be able to accomplish my own dreams. But missing out on everyone else’s lives hurt more somehow,” he admits.

Jaemin, to Donghyuck’s surprise, nods in understanding, reaching out and grasping onto his hand tightly. “You’ll be there. I know you will. Maybe not physically, but I think we’ll be able to feel your presence anyways. You’re kind of hard to get rid of, Donghyuck. Like an STD,” Jaemin replies.

Donghyuck squawks at the comparison, and shoves Jaemin slightly (not as much as he’d like to because that would result in Jaemin falling and Donghyuck doesn’t know how to get down by himself.) “Fine, I guess that makes me feel a little better,” Donghyuck concedes bitterly.

“Should I propose to Renjun so that you can attend our shotgun wedding?” Jaemin asks earnestly, earning a glare from Donghyuck. He may have accepted Renjun’s choice to date Jaemin, but that doesn’t mean he is exactly ready to celebrate their love to that extent.

In fact, Donghyuck doesn’t feel ready to celebrate love at all. Given his current position in life, he doesn’t think he’ll get the opportunity to experience true, romantic love again, and he’s kind of miffed about it. Dying is sad, but dying alone, well that’s really the worst way to go.

Yet somehow, Donghyuck’s mind keeps drifting to Mark anyway. To how safe and protected he felt whenever they were together. And he knows its selfish, to crave the attention of someone who doesn’t want to give it to you, but Donghyuck can’t help it. He’s scared. Terrified at the prospect of dying, and Mark has always been the only one who seems to know how to ease his fears.

But Mark is gone. And Donghyuck doesn’t want to waste any more time talking about it, hurting his heart and ruining the rest of the days he has left. Jaemin doesn’t seem to understand that.

“So tell me about Mark? How did he respond to your letter?” Jaemin asks, not realizing the way Donghyuck tenses up the mention of the older boy.

“Um, he didn’t. I haven’t heard from him actually,” Donghyuck admits quietly, unable to meet Jaemin’s eyes, which have widened in shock.

“What?!” Jaemin practically yells. “I don’t understand. He loves you a lot, I can’t imagine him not wanting to be there for you right now. I mean, I know I didn’t know you guys very well, but every time I tried to flirt with him to make you upset, he shut it down pretty quickly. He even threatened to punch me at one point if I didn’t leave you alone,” he confesses.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes at Jaemin, because of course the boy tried to flirt with Mark. There must be a law in the universe that states for every ounce of pettiness that Donghyuck has in his body, Jaemin has double the amount. The thought is almost enough to distract him from the conversation, but Jaemin looks at him expectantly, and he knows he must continue.

“Well, clearly not everyone has someone who would drop everything and anyone for them like you do,” Donghyuck replies pettily, knowing full well that his and Renjun’s falling out is still a sore subject. Jaemin gets the hint and promptly drops the subject.

“Other than that, how are you feeling?” Jaemin continues after a few minutes of awkward silence. Neither have the energy to climb back down yet, and stiffness in the energy surrounding them feels suffocating. “Physically, I mean,” Jaemin clarifies a couple minutes later.

“I still get stomach pains frequently, but the painkillers the doctor prescribed helps. Honestly, though it’s been happening really irregularly, so it doesn’t bother me that much. I’m going back tomorrow for a follow-up though, so I’ll know more then,” Donghyuck explains.

Jaemin nods politely, “Well, definitely make sure to update us on everything afterwards,” he asks of Donghyuck, and despite everything Donghyuck knows that deep down the boy actually cares to hear about his condition.

Things aren’t perfect between Jaemin and Donghyuck by any means. But, as they climb down the boulder together, Donghyuck can’t help but be grateful that Renjun found someone like Jaemin to look after him once he’s gone.

Donghyuck feels a strange sense of deja vu sitting in his doctor’s office once again. Jeno is next to him, the doctor looks like he is trying to mask the horror on his face, and Donghyuck feels nothing but dread. His diagnosis was bad before, he can’t imagine receiving any worse news. Is his cancer progressing? Does he have even less time than he thought he did?

“First of all,” the doctor begins. “I need to deeply apologize to you, Mr. Lee. There seems to have been an administrative mistake on our end. We ended up mixing up your diagnosis with another patient’s,” he explains to the two of them.

Jeno and Donghyuck look at each other in shock. This was the last thing they had expected to hear at this appointment, and neither know how to process the doctor’s words.

“What are you trying to say?” Jeno questions, stepping up and asking the important questions like they did at their first visit.

“I’m so sorry for our mistake, Donghyuck,” the doctor begins mournfully, “You do not have cancer. You are lactose intolerant.”

Surprisingly, there are just as many tears when Donghyuck is told that he is not dying as there were when he was told that he was. Donghyuck can’t believe he gets another chance at life, and Jeno can’t believe that he doesn’t have to say goodbye to his best friend like he originally thought we would have to.

They pick up pizza and boxed wine on their way home and have a picnic on their living room floor, celebrating the wonderful news they’ve just been given. They don’t talk as they eat, the surprise from their doctor’s visit leaving them without words. It isn’t until they’ve finished their meal that Jeno suggests inviting Renjun over to get wine drunk with them. Donghyuck thinks the offer over, hesitating at the suggestion.

Jeno, noticing his friends change in demeanor, is quick to add, “But if you’re too overwhelmed by all that’s happened today, we can just call it a night and go to sleep or something.”

Donghyuck is thankful for the suggestion nodding his head slightly. “It’s just- I don’t know. It might sound stupid but I’m kind of afraid to tell Renjun and Jaemin that I’m not actually dying.”

Jeno furrows his brows in confusion, asking the younger boy to elaborate for him.

Donghyuck sighs deeply, before admitting, “We only made up because I was dying. For all I know, they don’t even like me and are just pitying me. And if I tell them the truth, they’re just going to leave me again-” he rambles before Jeno cuts him off.

The look Jeno gives him is so positively sad, that it makes Donghyuck regret the words that just came out of his mouth, no matter how much he means them. “That’s not going to happen, Donghyuck. If anything, they’re just going to want to spend even more time with you now that they’ve realized how much you mean to them,” Jeno offers, the voice of reason as always.

“Also, you can’t lie about having cancer, that’s fucked up. You’re going to have to tell them eventually, or they’ll be surprised when a year has passed and you’re still here with us,” Jeno continues.

“All right, all right,” Donghyuck interrupts, “I get it. I will tell them the next time I see them, I promise.”

“Good,” Jeno replies, satisfied with himself for clearing the air. “Besides, if they actually hated you they would have just ignored the letter.” The like Mark goes unsaid, but Donghyuck can hear the implication loud and clear in his head.

Jeno, noticing his mistake, quickly tries to correct himself. “Wait Donghyuck that’s not what I meant,” he begins quickly, but Donghyuck cuts him off by standing up.

“I know Jeno, it’s okay. But you’re right, today was overwhelming. I think I’m going to head to bed for the night,” Donghyuck says quietly. Jeno gives him a look like he wants to say something, but ultimately dismisses the thought, wishing him goodnight instead.

Donghyuck lays awake in bed for hours that night, dreaming about a future he no longer thought he had.

Donghyuck promised he would tell Renjun the truth about his condition the next time he saw that, though he doesn’t feel quite ready. So he doesn’t see him. Donghyuck goes full-on ghost mode with his best friend. Ignoring all of his phone calls and text messages for the last five days.

At this point he is worried that Renjun is going to show up at his apartment, and contact Jeno and force them to meet. To Donghyuck’s surprise, the smaller boy hasn’t let up, continuing to call and text multiple times a day, but respecting his space enough to give him time.

In the meantime, Donghyuck has been re-evaluating his life; his future, to be exact. He’s done so much in the last couple of weeks, achieved so much in a short amount of time. But the bucket list isn’t over, and Donghyuck wants more. He decides to complete number 19 on his own.

When Mark and Donghyuck broke up, Donghyuck tried to write a song. He got through some of it, but could never quite finish. He was unsure what vibe he wanted the song to have; sadness or hopefulness. He left it abandoned for months, finding no inspiration to continue on. That is, until he talked with Jeno the night he got the news that he wasn’t dying. He finally realized what he wanted to sing about.

Donghyuck had always wanted to record a song before, but had never had the confidence to follow through with it. He had plenty of opportunities throughout the years, given that Mark worked for a record label and produced music. He had offered to bring Donghyuck in and show him the ropes a couple of times, but Donghyuck never followed through. Eventually, Mark quit asking.

Now that Mark is out of the picture, Donghyuck has to find someone else to help him. Luckily for him, he knows just the person.

“Donghyuck, welcome to my humble studio,” Taeil greets, pulling him into a hug. Humble is the right word for Taeil’s small garden shed turned personal studio. The small space isn’t much, but it’s more than enough for what Donghyuck needs. Taeil’s one of the most talented people he knows anyway, so Donghyuck knows he is in good hands.

Not only does Donghyuck feel like he is well taken care of on the technical side, he knows Taeil will help guide him through the harder part: emotionally preparing to lay his heart out over the demo track he sent him.

Taeil is like the older brother Donghyuck never had, and he was one of the people Donghyuck turned to post-breakup with Mark. Taeil’s presence is calming, always ready to listen but never forcing the conversation. It’s with his guidance that Donghyuck steps into the recording booth and pours his heart out.

It’s cathartic more than anything. Donghyuck has to stop a few times when his voice becomes too thick with emotion to carry on, but Taeil is patient with him as he sings line after line. They work for hours before Donghyuck finally listens to what he has recorded.

More personal than any of the letters he has written, but entirely more vague, he looks at Taeil with tears in his eyes as he listens back to the words that he has written, the words that perfectly encompass how he is feeling after months of trying and failing to put his thoughts into something tangible.

“This is a beautiful song, Donghyuck,” Taeil compliments once it’s all said and done. “It’s kind of melancholy mixed with something else I can’t place,” he explains.

“Acceptance,” Donghyuck replies, and Taeil nods immediately in understanding.

“What are you going to call it?” he asks questioningly, saving the file to his computer.

“Dear Dream.”

Donghyuck gets back from Taeil’s studio and is barely home for one hour before he hears a knock on his door. He sighs deeply, knowing that Renjun has probably finally had enough of his ghosting and wants to talk. He mentally prepares himself for the conversation they are inevitably about to have as he walks towards the door, stopping when he notices something on the floor, as if someone shoved something under the door.

He picks it up and his breath catches immediately upon realization of what he is holding. It’s a letter addressed to him in handwriting he could recognize anywhere. Mark.

Dear Duckie,

Did you know when I was young I used to daydream about my wedding like a little girl? I even collected bridal magazines and scrapbooks dedicated to the day that I thought would be the most important day of my life. That is, until I met you.

Afterwards, I never cared about the details. The flowers, the location, the colors. All that mattered was who would be by my side. And in every scenario I imagined, it was always you. Even now, whenever I hear the word forever, you are all I can think about.

This may sound crazy to you, given that it’s been months since we broke up, but I never really got over you either. To be honest, I didn’t even really want things to end between us, I just wanted the constant fighting and vitriol to stop for a second.

The things I said to you that night were harsh, but I didn’t mean any of it, not really. I told you we were incompatible but that was the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, I think you’re perfect for me.

I need you to know that however I go on to live my life, you were always it for me. You will always be the love of my life too, because I know that no matter what, no one could ever care for me the way you do. And I’m sorry that at points in our relationship, I didn’t reciprocate that same care and made you feel unloved.

I always thought that we showed love differently, that our love languages weren’t the same. But looking back, I now realize that I didn’t do enough for you when we were dating. You loved me so wholly and so deeply that I felt like I was drowning, falling headfirst into you. The love I showed you was a puddle in comparison.

To be honest, I don’t really even know if there is a point to this letter. I know this can’t change anything, not in the long term at least. But more than anything, I want you to know that you are so fucking loved Lee Donghyuck. Always and Forever. Thank you for being my home.

Yours,

Mark

By the time Donghyuck has finished reading the letter, there are tears streaming down his face. His hands shake violently as he tries to process the beautiful words Mark had written for him.

His eyes zero in on the fridge, looking for something to focus on to ground himself. More specifically, he looks at his nearly completed bucket list, all but one item crossed out and completed.

There at the bottom, reads number 20. One last kiss.

That’s all Donghyuck needs to turn back towards the door, prepared to leave, not bothering with shoes or a coat. He may talk to Mark and realize that his feelings have changed. He may talk to him and tell him that he actually isn’t dying and Mark may change his mind. But no matter what happens, Donghyuck thinks that he really deserves this. Number 20.

He doesn’t make it far, however, because sitting right there on his porch is Mark. He hasn’t seen the older boy in months, and to be honest, he is looking a bit rough. Mark’s eyes are bloodshot, like he hasn’t slept in days, cheeks hollowed as if he hasn’t eaten much other. Still, he is beautiful.

Mark turns to look at Donghyuck, and neither of them say anything. They don’t need to when they know each other so well. Instead, they walk into each other’s arms, holding each other tightly, as if one of them could fall apart the second they let go.

Donghyuck buries his face into Mark’s chest, inhaling the familiar scent that comforts him in a Pavlovian way. Mark’s hands tremble from where they are wrapped tight around Donghyuck’s waist. Despite it all though, the awkwardness of not seeing each other for months, the hard news that Mark learned and the hard news Donghyuck has to explain to him, and the way they shake against each other, it still feels like home.

Mark is the first one to pull away, looking at Donghyuck with desperate, pleading eyes. “Can we talk? Please?” he asks, voice hoarse and full of emotion.

Donghyuck nods, leading him inside, before running to his bedroom to grab his hospital packets. When he comes back, Mark is sitting on the couch, head in his hands, breaking Donghyuck’s heart with the familiarity of his position.

“Mark, before we talk about anything I need to show you something,” Donghyuck says, handing him the first folder. “This is the diagnosis my doctor gave me at my first appointment,” he explains, as Mark looks over the papers in the folder.

“Why are you showing me this?” Mark questions with tears in his eyes. Donghyuck can tell that the pages are upsetting Mark, but he wanted him to understand what was going through his mind when he wrote the letter. He hands him the second packet.

“This is what I was given last week when I had a follow-up appointment. They mis-diagnosed me, Mark. This is what my test results actually showed,” Donghyuck reveals.

Mark’s face goes from confusion, to understanding, to hopeful in the span of ten seconds. “He looks up at Donghyuck again, tears shining in his sparkly eyes, before asking, “Does this mean what I think it means?” His voice breaks as he questions him, like the answer Donghyuck is about to give him has the potential to shatter him into a million pieces or make his entire year.

“I’m not dying, Mark. I never was. The hospital made a mistake when they gave me my diagnosis. I understand if this changes things for you-” Donghyuck begins before Mark cuts him off, pulling him into another embrace.

Mark’s shoulders shake more violently than Donghyuck has ever felt as he sobs into Donghyuck’s neck. Donghyuck holds him back tightly, grounding him, as he feels an influx of emotions overtake him as well.

“We have a chance,” Mark cries as he pulls away, looking Donghyuck in the eyes. “I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to prove myself to you, but I do. If you’ll have me, please, let’s try again,” Mark begs, and for the first time in their relationship, Donghyuck can tell just how much Mark loves him. How sorry he is for everything that happened between them.

Donghyuck, after writing three letters and one song, is finally at a loss for words. So he forgoes speaking altogether, and dives straight in for a kiss. The kiss is almost violent in nature, differentiated by the ferocity of it, as if they’ll die without the chance to breathe each other in.

After a passionate makeout session that gets interrupted only by Jeno barging in, and promptly barging out, the two head to Donghyuck’s bedroom where they wrap themselves around each other until they can’t tell where one of them ends and the other begins.

Mark looks at Donghyuck, eyes sparkling with so much love that Donghyuck has to look away. Despite being apart for so long, the feelings come flooding back so quickly for Donghyuck, it’s like they never left. Donghyuck’s convinced they must be permanent.

“You have a future,” Mark whispers, like he can’t believe it’s true, like he never thought the universe would afford him a second chance.

Donghyuck just nods his head, looking at him with adoration and giddiness. “And you’re going to be apart of it,” he promises.

“...So now we’re dating again. We’re going to try to take it slow and work on the issues that we had in the past. But for now, we really can’t keep our hands off of each other,” Donghyuck explains with a small smile on his face. He’s on Renjun’s couch, finally explaining to him everything that’s happened since Donghyuck ghosted him.

He explained that he isn’t actually dying (Renjun sobbed, promising to annoy to until they are 90 years old), that Mark showed up at his doorstep with his own letter (“Is that what took him so long to talk to you?” Renjun questions. “No, he was actually in LA. He waited barely two hours after reading my letter before he came to me.”), and the details of him and Mark getting back together (Renjun sobbed again, happy that his best friend has finally happy, and healthy, and loved.)

“We should go out to dinner to celebrate. Everything. Your health. Your love life. It can be us, Jeno and Mark, and we’ll go wherever you want. My treat,” Renjun offers, because as much as Renjun teases Donghyuck, he loves him an awful lot and wants to celebrate every milestone with him.

“Jaemin too,” Donghyuck offers in return. Even though Donghyuck has hung out with Jaemin once before since they’ve ended their feud, he has still never spent time with Jaemin and Renjun together. The suggestion makes Renjun tear up again, causing Donghyuck to roll his eyes fondly.

“But not if you’re going to cry again,” Donghyuck teases. “The last thing I want is my crybaby best friend sobbing into the expensive meal I’m going to make you buy me and ruin the taste,” he jokes. Renjun laughs back heartily, and to Donghyuck, all seems right in the world.

It’s the first time the five of them have ever spent time together, but the dinner is full of so much banter, it’s like it was always meant to be like this.

Jaemin, to everyone’s surprise, gives Mark the shovel talk, claiming to come for him if he hurts Donghyuck again. This is a noticeable change from all of the time Jaemin spent trying to ruin Donghyuck’s life, but he welcomes the adjustment in behavior with open arms.

Jeno announces to everyone that he is planning to use his fancy law degree to sue the hospital on behalf of Donghyuck for the emotional damage their mistake caused them. Donghyuck promises that if they win the lawsuit, he’ll book a trip for them all to go on.

Renjun spends most of dining alternating between staring fondly at Jaemin and making fun of Jeno. He looks so happy when Jaemin does literally anything, but when Renjun catches Donghyuck staring at them, his expression turns to one of worry. It dissipates immediately afterwards when Donghyuck’s face shows nothing short of approval. Renjun smiles so brightly, happier than Donghyuck has ever seen him, and he is glad to be a small part of that again.

And then there is Mark. Mark who spends the entire dinner with his hand glued to Donghyuck’s thigh, squeezing it every couple of minutes as if to prove to himself that Donghyuck is really there with them all. He laughs at Donghyuck’s jokes louder than anyone, and hypes him up as Donghyuck talks about the song he’s written and his plans to sing more.

As the other three are distracted bickering over what to order for dessert, Mark turns to Donghyuck with a tender smile on his face, before whispering into his ear, low enough for only him to hear, “I’m so fucking glad you’re alive.”

Donghyuck turns to Mark and stares at him with wonder. With his favorite people arguing in the background and the love of his life in front of him, it’s easy for Donghyuck to respond.

“Me too.”