there are days when it gets hard for donghyuck to hide the fact that he’s hiding a dragon in his apartment—particularly the ones where the damned creature sets off his smoke alarm in the middle of the night.
this is one of those nights. or mornings, rather.
yuta is sitting on the front steps when donghyuck gets out. tonight must have been his self-care day; he’s wearing a homemade avocado face mask and has his shoulder-length hair up in rollers.
“good, you’re not dead,” he deadpans, checking off donghyuck’s name on his clipboard. it’s a garish neon pink thing from a thrift store, something taeyong got him a few years ago for christmas. the apartment owner is hardly ever seen without it.
“don’t you sound relieved,” donghyuck mutters. his voice is rough from sleep, making it more hoarse than he wants it to be. this weather fucking sucks and standing out here in the freezing cold doesn’t help much.
he’s formulating about a million excuses in his mind. yuta has some sort of 6th sense when it comes to donghyuck making mistakes. he can clock almost everything about every tenant with a single glance, and that ability both excites and terrifies all of them.
“what was it this time?” someone asks, sounding thoroughly resigned, and donghyuck realizes belatedly that the rest of the complex has vacated already, taking the form of a small, sleepy crowd in front of him. he was the last to make it out.
it’s ten who’d spoken up, wearing nothing but a silken robe and a scowl. he’s usually very kind, always willing to help out a neighbor in need, but cross him one too many times and you’re dead meat. donghyuck has only nearly burned the complex to the ground about 20 times this year—and this is his first year living here—so one could say he hasn’t made the best of impressions.
“cooking,” he answers, avoiding eye contact. ten may be the same height as him (one centimeter shorter, donghyuck swears), but he’s fucking scary.
“at 3 am,” yuta deadpans, not even awake enough to act incredulous, which is one of yuta’s favorite things to do. “you used that one already.”
“i have... cravings,” donghyuck tries again.
“go out for shitty vendor food then,” doyoung, the tenant of the apartment under his, suggests. he’s swaddled in a million blankets, and donghyuck thinks he can see jungwoo’s fluffy brown bed head somewhere in there, snuggled up against his chest.
donghyuck turns out the insides of his sweatpants pockets. “broke,” he rasps.
“i’m starting to think he’s an arsonist,” johnny says to nobody in particular, adjusting his thick lenses. he’s in nothing but boxers and mismatched slippers. it’s about 15 degrees outside, but donghyuck doesn’t question it. had it been a real fire, state of dress wouldn’t be a high priority.
yuta rolls his eyes. “for fuck’s—alright, who wants to volunteer to make meals for donghyuck's sorry ass?”
no one raises their hand, as expected.
“woah, did hyuckster try and burn down the building again?” a voice calls out in the distance. donghyuck turns his eyes to his shoes and feels haechan’s thin tongue lapping at the fingers on the hand that’s stuffed in his pocket. she’s calmed down, thank god, but her tongue still scalds his skin like hot coals.
“and where the fuck were you, yukhei?” he hears yuta ask, and the flush deepens.
“running,” yukhei pants. thankfully it’s freezing out, because he’s covered up in track pants, a sweatshirt, gloves, and earmuffs, but his cheeks are adorably pink and his shaggy, slightly damp fringe hangs in his eyes and donghyuck's heart is doing the fucking samba in his chest.
“how do you know it was me?” donghyuck asks the ground, unable to look up. he thinks his cheeks are warm, and it’s not from the smoke billowing through his second story apartment and down onto the parking lot below (at least, not entirely. it’s pretty fucking hot).
but yuta catches this, because he invariably does, and smirks that annoying smirk of his that still manages to look unsettling even with the green gunk rendering his face nearly immobile.
“it’s always you,” yukhei says goodnaturedly. he reaches out and claps donghyuck on the shoulder in disappointingly heterosexual fashion. “i may not be around all the time, but i hear the stories.”
yukhei keeps a weird schedule. in the year donghyuck has been here, he’s only seen the guy a handful of times, and each one is more memorable than the last:
donghyuck’s mental list of
completely mortifyingencounters with one wong yukhei:
a. yukhei is really hot,
b. he was wearing a wifebeater and the tightest pair of running pants donghyuck has ever had the pleasure of looking at in his life,
c. and he saw donghyuck and flashed him this smile with perfect teeth and donghyuck swears he saw a glint, like the one you see in fucking toothpaste commercials, and donghyuck just—dropped the boxes, looking like he was fixing to be on an episode of extreme couponing.
a. it was 2pm,
b. despite the recent heat wave, no one else was conveniently in the same state of undress as he,
c. and that yukhei lived in the same fucking building and would thus be subjected to the sight of donghyuck’s farmer’s tan and his malnourished body.
a. donghyuck had been experimenting with a new foundation that was a good three shades lighter than his skin tone (and had far too watery a base) that made his tear tracks stand out embarrassingly against his cheeks,
b. his outfit of the night consisted of a homemade hair mask, preserved by a shower cap (courtesy of yuta and his growing hair care business on etsy), an oversized hoodie with burn holes reducing the sleeves and neckline to tatters (courtesy of haechan, who likes to spit fire at him when her mac n’ cheese is not heated to her liking), similarly ripped boxer shorts, and cinnamoroll slippers, in all their fluffy, bunny-eared glory,
c. and he had been crying over the most recent nintendo direct for animal crossing: new horizons, something not considered socially acceptable to cry about. but with a museum design that beautiful, how could you blame him?
1. the first time they met, donghyuck literally dropped grocery bags full of at least 20 boxes of kraft mac n cheese (haechan stole some of his right from the bowl once and she’s been hooked on the cheesy goodness ever since) right in front of him but in his defense:
2. then there was the very first fire drill of many, when donghyuck, who had been in the shower at the time when haechan decided to scorch his bedsheets (he spent, like, ₩100,000 getting new ones), walked out of the complex with nothing but a towel, sandals, and an apologetic smile, forgetting that:
3. that time last week when donghyuck was crying in the lobby at 1am and yukhei had just come in from his late night run, which could have been the perfect set-up for a rom-com scene except:
needless to say, donghyuck doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to running into inexplicably hot neighbor men with the unholy and illegal combination of a megawatt grin and rippling abs. but at least this time he’s fully clothed, tearstain-free, and already done with his hair routine for the night.
the only problem is his apartment is currently on fire, so. you win some, you lose some.
“yes, it was hyuckster’s fault again,” yuta says, that damned malicious grin stretching across his angular features, and donghyuck already knows this isn’t the last he’ll hear of that stupid nickname, “we were just talking about finding someone to make some food for the poor kid before he turns this place to ash in a week. you do lots of meal prep, don’t you, xuxi?”
horror finds its way to donghyuck’s face, just as eagerness comes to yukhei’s. “i sure do, dude! i’ve been looking for a diet buddy!”
so not only does donghyuck have to have his meals made by (a very special) someone like he’s a goddamn toddler, but they also have to be healthy? no fucking way.
“no fucking way,” donghyuck protests. “i’m not nibbling on rabbit food for the rest of my life.”
yukhei laughs a little, but he looks a bit embarrassed, shuffling from side to side. “it’s not that bad, dude, i promise,” he says in earnest. “but i understand if you don’t want to.”
ten huffs, holding his robe close to his chest as he approaches them. “hyuckie, i love you, but if this shit happens again, you won’t live to see another day. yukhei is making your meals until you earn your kitchen privileges back.”
“privileges?” donghyuck sputters, but his shouts are drowned out by the wailing of fire engines as they pull up to the scene, boots clattering on the pavement as they hoist the fire hose up to soak everything in donghyuck’s apartment for the second time this month (blasting the dehumidifier is really putting a dent in his electric bill).
yukhei claps him on the shoulder once more. “don’t worry, hyuckster, i’ll make something that you’ll be able to enjoy! swing by my apartment tomorrow—er, later today now, i guess—at 10, and we can go shopping for stuff.”
it isn’t until donghyuck is back in the comfort of his bed, haechan locked safely in her terrarium where she can’t reach any flammable objects, that he realizes fuck, yukhei wants him to be up at 10 in the morning.
“hyuck-ah, you need to calm down. this isn’t something to stress over.”
“hyung, i’m up before noon. this most certainly is something to stress over. you know what, i’m feeling kind of overheated. maybe i’m running a fever, i should probably get back in bed—”
“lee donghyuck.” taeyong’s specialty has always been his placating, ‘my way or the highway’ sort of tone, the one thing he picked up from their mother. “a handsome boy you’ve been avoiding ever since you moved in is offering to make your hopeless ass some food. this is the closest you will ever get to someone asking how you like your eggs in the morning; take the chance.”
“but hyuuuuung.” and donghyuck’s specialty has always been his ability to whine endlessly to his older brother. “did you check the time when i called you? it’s 9:30.”
“believe me, i’m as surprised as you,” taeyong says dryly. “that’s why this could be a good thing, hyuck. mom’s been getting on me for letting you waste your life away up there; maybe this health nut guy could help you turn things around.”
donghyuck scoffs. “‘wasting my life away’. alright.”
“her words, not mine,” says taeyong, voice softening. “i know you’re lonely in seoul, hyuck-ah; you don’t have to keep lying to us. at least try and make a friend.”
“yeah, yeah,” donghyuck mutters. “i’ve gotta leave soon, hyung, i’ll talk to you later.”
“love youuu, hyuck-ah,” taeyong coos.
“love you too, hyung,” donghyuck sighs, but he’s grinning as he hangs up.
he supposes taeyong isn’t… wrong. getting into the dance department at seoul institute of the arts was a dream come true, even though it meant leaving behind everything he’s ever known and moving to the big city by himself. thanks to taeyong pulling some strings with his college roommate-turned-apartment-complex-owner yuta, donghyuck was able to get his own place right off the bat instead of staying in the dorms, much to his mother’s disappointment.
she wants donghyuck to familiarize himself with city life, make friends his age that haven’t grown up on a small island providence raising dragons. but donghyuck, ever the homebody, prefers to hole up in his apartment when he isn’t busy with classes. and with the month-long winter break one week underway, he hasn’t seen the light of day in what feels like eons.
even on a beautiful, sunny island like his home of jeju, donghyuck preferred to stay inside, keeping an eye on the baby dragons in their incubators. when your mother was a renowned dragon tamer, breeder, and healer, it was hard to stay away from them no matter where you went.
dragon-taming has gone out of style over the last few decades. it’s become an outdated profession, with few opportunities left for the study of such majestic creatures. hot spots for raising them are scattered across the world. but as much as donghyuck loves them, and despite the open invitation he had from his mother to stay in jeju forever continuing his father’s family tradition of raising dragons, he needed to break out.
dancing was something that provided that escape, kept him pushing through the smoke and fire to bigger and better things. from time to time he misses the open air of jeju, the expanses of hills and valleys to explore with a team of fledgling dragons in tow. but that’s why he smuggled haechan, the runt of her litter—a species of dragon already known to be quite small—on his journey to seoul and has been raising her ever since, a little piece of home amongst the hustle and bustle of the city.
seoul has banned dragons from public areas, and essentially from all facets of life. but donghyuck knows that there are shady places downtown that sell dragons and things associated with them: their scales, their pelts, their horns. not to mention how wildly popular underground dragonfighting is with the city’s nightlife. if it somehow got out that donghyuck was the son of south korea’s best dragon tamer, he’d be in high demand from fighters trying to train their dragons to their highest potential.
unfortunately for them, donghyuck happens to be pretty shit at dragon-taming, if haechan’s unruly behavior isn’t evidence enough. their mother and father’s magic touch passed on to taeyong and stopped there. donghyuck’s sure with the right training, his mother could make him a prodigy, but he’d never had that initial interest and passion for the craft, like taeyong did.
he tries his best, though. sure, his mother would faint at the sight of a dragon eating mac n’ cheese out of a doggy bowl and playing with cheap chew toys on dongyhuck’s carpet, but haechan seems happy and that’s what matters.
right now, however, she’s pouting up at him, forked tongue lapping at the glass of her terrarium. “haechannie, i’m gonna be out for a bit. can you be good for hyuckie? hmm?” he always felt faintly ridiculous talking to dragons of every size in his nasally aegyo voice, but his mother did it to placate fussy dragons, and it usually worked.
but haechan, the little spitfire she is, looks unimpressed with the act, so donghyuck drops it. “listen,” he deadpans, “you have your food there and your water’s fresh. if you’re a good girl, you’ll get some spam for dinner, alright?”
she perks up at that. with his limited income, donghyuck can’t afford the fanciest of food to meet a dragon’s regal tastes, and he can’t ask his mother for any without revealing his secret. luckily, haechan has taken a liking to the suspicious, vaguely meat-like slab that is spam. she especially likes small, cooked pieces mixed up in her mac n’ cheese. donghyuck offers only the most gourmet of cuisine, in her eyes.
“good girl,” he praises, opening the lid of the terrarium to stroke her back. her scales are a duochrome of fiery orange and emerald green, the color shifting under the heated lamp that sits above the terrarium. she preens, several scales peeling off and sticking to donghyuck’s fingers. looks like she’s due for a shedding soon.
dragon sheddings are an unpleasant experience, for both the dragon and the owner. it takes days, even weeks, for a dragon’s skin to fully shed, leaving the poor thing stuck in a husk of its former self. it impairs movement, and leaves a mess. too many times has donghyuck been scared shitless from finding remains of haechan’s face lying on the floor.
but that’s a future-donghyuck problem. present-donghyuck is currently observing his face in the glass of haechan’s terrarium, frowning at his messy, honey blonde hair.
donghyuck has always carried a devil-may-care attitude about him, something that came around when he began to outgrow the mold his mother shaped for him in childhood. he didn’t give a damn about looking presentable, or particularly good looking, for that matter. appearing disheveled and akin to a dead man walking is kind of his thing. but being surrounded by all of these put-together adults who have their shit together sort of makes him want to turn things around.
especially yukhei. in spite of his odd schedule, whenever donghyuck sees him, he looks handsome, happy, and healthy—everything donghyuck is not. maybe… his mother isn’t entirely wrong, either. he thought getting away from home and pursuing his dreams would change things for the better, but if anything, he’s only gotten worse. wasting life away would somewhat aptly describe how he’s been feeling lately.
“donghyuckie, you better be awake in there or i’m getting the bucket!”
“i’m up, ye of little faith!” donghyuck shouts in response. he checks his phone; ten minutes until he’s supposed to meet up with yukhei. he’d been mindlessly stroking haechan’s scales, lost in thought.
tiny scales litter his hand now, so he wipes it off on his pants and trudges over to the front door, passing his full-length mirror on the way. he did try today, with his skinny jeans, ripped at the knees, oversized hoodie and turtleneck combo, and some adidas sneakers. usually he’s in track pants and ratty t-shirts 24/7.
yuta is standing outside when donghyuck opens the door. his hair, now curly from last night’s rollers, is in a short ponytail, unruly auburn strands tangled in his heavily pierced ears. “i have faith in you, kiddo, i just want the opportunity to use the bucket one of these days,” he says in lieu of greeting.
“pretty sure that violates your limitations as a landlord,” donghyuck grumbles. yuta ruffles his hair in response. “hyuuuung.”
“yukhei won’t leave you at his doorstep if you have a few hairs out of place,” yuta huffs as they set off down the hall, though as donghyuck checks the damage in his dusty iphone screen there are definitely more than a few out of place. “you look as cheek-pinchingly cute as ever, duckie.”
another bout of hair ruffling ensues, and donghyuck gives up on trying to fix it. he really is the adopted little brother of the entire complex, and with that position comes the same unwanted affection taeyong loved to smother him with. “we’re going grocery shopping,” donghyuck reminds yuta. “other people will be subjected to looking at me, thought they may as well enjoy the view. i haven’t set foot outside in a week.”
“sophomores,” yuta scoffs. they approach the elevator, which says it’s on the way to donghyuck’s floor. “you think staying home for a week equates to an eternity. try holing up in the library for three weeks straight, only leaving for one meal a day. that was your brother and i’s last month of grad school in a nutshell.”
“lot of good that did you,” donghyuck says, and the elbow to his ribs is admittedly deserved for once.
“you know what would do you some good?” yuta snarks. “a nice kick in the ass.”
“i second that,” ten drawls, emerging from the elevator doors. his hand is in donghyuck’s hair before his reflexes can kick in. “don’t make a fool of yourself today, hyuckster.”
“evict me,” donghyuck groans when the doors slide shut in front of them.
“even if taeyong wouldn’t kill me if I did that, I enjoy the chaos you bring far too much to do that, hyuckster,” yuta grins.
“nickname’s catching on, i see.”
“shut up, chenle,” donghyuck snaps. god, even the elevator boys in this place are gossip hogs.
the elevator ride from floors 7 to 1 has never been so excruciating. donghyuck has to shove yuta in the direction of mark, the newest tenant and yuta’s latest obsession, to make a break for it to yukhei’s door alone. so he won’t be mortally embarrassed in front of yukhei. again. for like, the millionth time.
and it totally isn’t embarrassing when donghyuck stands in front of the door for the next five minutes, knuckles poised as if to knock, when yukhei opens the door and walks straight into him.
donghyuck isn’t ready for the impact of his face against yukhei’s chest. even underneath an adorably comfy-looking sweater, white with embroidered blue deers (hot and dorky, the universe is either rewarding or punishing him for this), there’s a firmness there, a divot where his pecs must be and oh god, he’s weak in the knees.
“woah! hey there donghyuck,” yukhei greets, irritatingly unaffected by this, steadying the both of them by resting his hand dangerously low on donghyuck’s waist. his eyes disappear and the creases on either side of his nose deepen when he grins. donghyuck tries to hate that. “i didn’t mean to run you over—” (donghyuck barely manages to keep himself from blurting something stupid, like you could run me over anytime)—“was just about to come see if you were up.”
“not the only one,” donghyuck says, nodding his head toward yuta down the hall, who’s leaning against the wall cornering a hopeless mark. it helps to not look yukhei directly in his stupid, sparkling eyes. “my reputation precedes me.”
“didn’t know yuta was into blondes,” yukhei remarks, and hey, if the fact that mark is a dude is the least of his qualms, maybe donghyuck has a chance.
“yuta’s into anything with a pulse,” donghyuck grumbles, because it’s true, yuta flirts with everyone, including yukhei, just to make him jealous. but yukhei laughs, a wonderfully jovial sound that brings the butterflies swirling back all at once.
“i made a list of some meals we can try for the week,” yukhei says, bringing them back to the reason donghyuck got dragged into this in the first place. “hopefully there’s something here you’ll like.”
he says it with a hint of anxiousness in his tone, and donghyuck is struck by a pang of guilt. “i didn’t mean to insult you last night, yukhei-ssi,” he says quickly. “it was late, and, well, my kitchen was on fire. i was just irritated. i do appreciate you doing this for me, even though you really don’t have to.”
yukhei’s expression softens. “it’s okay. i really don’t mind helping you out; i’ve been meaning to get closer to you for a while now, actually.”
donghyuck can’t even begin to decode what that could have meant. is it simply a straightforward, heterosexual statement? or is it laced with gay yearning? jaemin from stats would have an answer to that. donghyuck makes a mental note to text him about it later.
“so have i,” he replies, because he shares both sentiments (though the latter is preferable). “i’m kind of a hermit though, if you couldn’t tell.”
“yeah, me and my friends kind of know you as the mac n’ cheese hoarding guy,” yukhei laughs.
“of all the things i’d want a cute guy to tell his friends about me, it wouldn’t be that.”
yuta has returned; mark must have found an escape. donghyuck tries his best to pierce daggers into the smug bastard via telepathy. yuta flashes him a wink, which is yutaspeak for the hint has been taken, but he has chosen to ignore it.
“it’s just a funny story, i’ve told them good things too,” yukhei interjects.
“you certainly have a lot to say about our hyuck-ah,” yuta says, faux innocence dripping from his tone.
donghyuck, in a state of utter gay panic, blurts out a shrill “we’ll be leaving now!”, grabbing an equally red-faced yukhei by the arm and dragging him to the exit, closing the door on yuta’s cackles.
[the duck, walking up to the lemonade stand]
if a hot, sexually ambiguous guy in my apartment complex says that he’s wanted to “get closer to me for a while now” what does that mean
[the man, running the stand]
either he wants to just be friends or he wants to bone