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Two Sugars

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Kyungsoo pulls his car gently up to the leafy curb and puts it into park. The suburban street around him is peacefully silent at this early hour of the morning, only the occasional dog walker braving the chill to pound the pavement. Kyungsoo looks at his watch face as it peeks out from the sleeve of his suit. Five am.

The door to the house he’s parked in front of cracks open and a blonde-haired figure emerges, trench coat over one arm. He makes his way to the car, footsteps swishing the fallen autumn leaves away as he walks. The passenger side door opens and Kyungsoo feels the rush of cold air that accompanies his friend.

Minseok settles into the seat beside him, thunking the door closed. “G’morning.”

Kyungsoo smiles. “Morning. Where’s Jongdae?”

Minseok slips on his seatbelt, clicking it onto place. “Coming. He just had to finish putting his stuff in the dryer.”

Kyungsoo nods. “If he hurries we might beat the rush. I’ll pay for the coffee today.”

“You know,” Minseok folds his trench coat across his knees, the dark brown fabric mixing gently with his own suit. He stifles a yawn. “We wouldn’t actually need the coffee if we weren’t up at this ungodly hour to go get it in the first place.”

Kyungsoo flushes, guilty. “I’m sorry.”

Minseok’s smile is teasing. “No, you’re not. But it’s a good thing we’re your friends. No one else would be up at this stupid hour several times a week to go with you.”

The back door of the car opens and Jongdae slips inside, chased by a crunchy orange leaf. “Oh, is it an appropriate hour to pick on Kyungsoo for his crush already? I thought we agreed to not do that until at least breakfast.”

“It’s Friday.” Minseok laughs. “All rules are off on Fridays.”

Kyungsoo pulls away from the curb. “Shut up, both of you.”

* * *

It’s faintly raining by the time they pull into the parking lot at the end of the café strip. Soft, light smatterings of drops that all three of them ignore as they pull their collars up and make their way towards the shop they’re specifically there for. The whole street smells delicious at this early time; croissants and cakes and bagels being baked before most customers are yet to appear, but only one store at the very end beckons with the smell of home-brewed coffee.

A gentle, electronic meow chimes out as Kyungsoo opens the door in place of the usual bell. Must be a halloween addition. The smell of coffee intensifies, thick and almost physically warm. A few people have beaten them there and are milling around the counter for their orders. No one else at this hour usually stays to eat, too busy on their way to work. But never too busy to stop into The Paw Print for their morning caffeine, apparently.

The simple shop is so much more than it seems which is what drew Kyungsoo to it in the first place. Hidden away down the back of the café strip, it means each potential customer must first walk past half a dozen other enticing stores to get to it. But those who are regulars all have come to understand that it’s really, really worth it.

The cosy little place is half coffee shop, half bookstore; a perfect mix of dark brown tables near the open brick facade and tall cream shelves, of soft couches by the windows piled high with pillows and recessed alcoves full of comforting novels. Tiny strings of fairy lights run up along the awnings and little glass jars of silver sugar cubes are dotted about the place. You can read while you drink and most often than not, the patrons end up buying the book. There’s something magical about the store. And it’s not just how amazing the coffee is.

Lately the new barista might have something extra to do with it. At least for Kyungsoo anyway. And while his friends tease him mercilessly about it, they faithfully wake up at the crack of dawn several mornings a week to accompany him before they get to work because Kyungsoo is hesitant to go alone. Which is the ultimate irony because in no other aspect of his life is Kyungsoo anything other than perfectly calm and in control. So he might just love them for it. No, scratch that. He does.

“Look at him.” Jongdae mutters, closing the door behind them and unwinding his scarf. “Did I make puppy eyes that big when we first met?” he asks Minseok, who snorts.

“Bigger.”

Kyungsoo elbows Jongdae. “Busted.”

Jongdae laughs, shoving back. “Hey just remember who chased who.”

Minseok won’t be cowed. “You were the cutest understudy I’d ever seen.” He states airily. “And the most helpful. I just knew you’d make a good wife.”

Jongdae is in the middle of attempting to smother him with his scarf when the crowd thins a little and a voice ahead of them calls out.

“Next please.”

Kyungsoo looks up. And promptly forgets how to speak. He’s greeted by the warmest, gentlest set of eyes and oh, fuck. He’s wearing his glasses today. Fine golden circles that should look far too preppy but somehow on the barista… suit him perfectly. Kyungsoo smiles faintly, swallowing and stepping forward when Minseok pokes him none too gently in the kidneys.

“Hi.”

The nametag pinned neatly to the oversized cream sweater flashes as the barista turns from the machine to the register in front of him. Jongin. Kyungsoo has glanced at it every day that he’s come for coffee these last few weeks but has yet to say it out aloud. Is it too informal to call the guy who makes your coffee by his name? How and where is the line exactly? Kyungsoo madly wishes he knew. So instead he feels warm and a little like an idiot when Jongin recognises him and visibly brightens.

“Hey! Kyungsoo.” Jongin flicks his eyes over the three of them. “Minseok, Jongdae. Good morning!”

Of course, Jongin knows his name. The amount of times he’s scrawled it on the side of a styrofoam cup and gently handed it over in a brush of fingertips should have made it easy to memorise. However, Kyungsoo has passed through a million coffee places over the years and knows just how many people the poor staff see every day - so the fact that Jongin has such a good memory is just another thing about him that makes Kyungsoo soft. It gives the illusion that they’re special. Valued customers. And even if it’s a gimmick, it’s a cute one.

There’s a tiny, sparkly pumpkin sticker pressed high onto Jongin’s tanned cheekbone today, almost hidden under the lowest curve of his glasses and that small detail… Kyungsoo can’t. He feels like such a dork but all he can do is mumble out a hello. Jongin’s plush mouth curves into a happy smile and he ducks his head, prepping the filter handle.

“The usual?”

Minseok pops around Kyungsoo’s shoulder with an exasperated roll of his eyes. “Yes please. To go.”

Kyungsoo goes to open his mouth. To say something. Anything. But Jongin interlocks the filter handle with the tampering head and flattens the coffee grinds, sliding the basket onto the group head in a practised move and fishing three empty cups off the top of the machine with his other hand. He opens the shot extraction to allow the hot water to run through the grinds and turns to the nearby cash register, flicking off his plastic gloves and ringing up the order. When he’s finished he glances up through the falling strands of his dark fringe and relays the tally to Kyungsoo. All up it takes him a total of about thirty seconds. Kyungsoo painfully wishes it were longer. God he’s such a dork.

Sometimes when he has the free time, Kyungsoo is able to stop by and have an in-house coffee. Then he can sit and pick a book, read a chapter and enjoy the magic of the place. It’s during those periods that Jongin will bring him over a coffee and hover a moment to talk quietly. It’s how Kyungsoo knows he’s not a barista by trade, just a self-taught college student. That he’s here in the last few weeks to help his sister who owns the shop. That he’s majoring in a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on dance with the hopes of becoming a choreographer one day. Tiny snippets of information that Jongin happily relays in quiet, shy sentences before he has to go and serve another table.

And other times, Kyungsoo has only enough time to grab a quick takeaway. Like today. Kyungsoo digs his wallet out and slides a card across the reader, paying the total. Jongin neatly hands him the receipt and finishes adding the steamed milk to their cups, topping them off with the final whips of foam from the jug. He adds the correct amounts of sugar that each of them prefers (again, helluva memory), snags two of the sweet cups and dusts the fluffy tops with chocolate and a hint of cinnamon. Then he caps them carefully and scribbles the names on the sides in black marker. Jongdae is waiting on the other side of the bench to collect them in a cardboard container and offers his thanks.

Kyungsoo bites his lip. Another customer has already shouldered around him and is waiting at the counter and Minseok is nearly at the door, ready to open it for them. Jongin passes behind the machine again and heads for the register, glancing past the hovering customer to Kyungsoo. His eyes catch and hold and maybe it’s the change in the seasons, maybe it’s the fact that any day now Jongin could be gone again, but Kyungsoo is tired of feeling nervous. The tiny pumpkin sticker glitters in the low lighting.

Kyungsoo raises his chin. “Thanks Jongin.”

That earns him a brilliant, startled smile. Then Jongdae grabs him by the shoulders as Kyungsoo gawks too long, turns him and physically pushes him out the door.

“This is more painful than a cheap romance movie.”

Kyungsoo looks back over his shoulder but past the closing door Jongin has already turned to the other fellow. “What? Why?”

Jongdae pulls his coffee cup from the holder and shoves it at Kyungsoo. Next to his name where the full stop should be is a small, awkward squiggle.

Kyungsoo angles the cup slightly sideways, trying not to spill the contents. “Did his hand slip?” Is that supposed to be a cauldron or something?

Minseok takes a not-so-subtle sip of his drink and walks past them both, eyebrows raised. “Looks like a heart to me.”

* * *

Kyungsoo finishes the coffee and keeps the styrofoam cup on his desk for the rest of the day. Jongdae looks far too amused every time he comes into the office to hand Kyungsoo some fresh invoices, but apart from dropping a handful of candy corn onto the lid he kindly doesn’t say anything.

Minseok pokes his head around the door to Kyungsoo’s office just before lunch. “Don’t forget drinks after work. We’re still trying to figure out the bucks’ night venue.”

Kyungsoo nods and gives a quick thumbs up, a pencil held between his lips as he reviews the latest draft autumn spread for the magazine’s upcoming issue. Jongdae and Minseok’s bucks’ night before they officially tied the knot. Right. He hadn’t forgotten, he’d just been… slightly distracted as of late. Kyungsoo’s eyes dart to the object that represents that distraction.

The cup with the squiggly could-be-heart stays where it is for the remainder of the afternoon, right next to the assistant editor’s plaque on Kyungsoo’s desk.

* * *

A long arm slithers around Kyungsoo’s waist later that afternoon as he’s standing at the microwave watching his little lunch packet rotate. He startles so badly he nearly knocks over his cup of water.

“Ohh, skittish?”

The arm and voice are creepily familiar and Kyungsoo immediately knocks the roaming hand away.

“Shut up.”

It belongs to one of the other assistant editors on the floor above and Seungwon angles his rattish face around to look down at Kyungsoo. One eyebrow climbs.

“No need to be so coy, Soo. You should relax. It’s only a touch.”

Kyungsoo angles himself away. “I don’t have to do anything.” He snaps. “You know I don’t like it.”

Seungwon shrugs, forever letting Kyungsoo’s rebuttal wash off him. It creeps Kyungsoo the hell out and nothing he ever does seems to dissuade the other, slightly older man. He took a more than professional liking to Kyungsoo from the day he started and at this point shy of making an official complaint and rocking the corporate boat here at the magazine, Kyungsoo just usually avoids the guy. It works most of the time.

Today isn’t one of those days.

“One day.” Seungwon sighs dramatically. “One day you’ll stop playing hard to get.”

Kyungsoo pulls a face and ignores him, eyes trained on the painfully slow countdown timer on the microwave. It had been such a nice day so far, dammit. C’mon, c’mon…

Seungwon reaches above Kyungsoo’s head for the spare plates that are kept in one of the top cabinets, brushing far too close. Kyungsoo grits his teeth and counts slowly to ten to keep from shoving an elbow back into the other man and instead angles closer to the counter, creating an illusion of space. Don’t make a scene. The kitchenette area is a small, thin room at the best of times so he knows space is at a premium, but this is ridiculous… But before Kyungsoo can jab Seungwon in the ribs and possibly lose his job he finally, finally retrieves his plate and steps back.

“You know now that we have a private moment to talk, I’d like to request you for my team for the winter competition. Whadda ya say, Soo?”

Kyungsoo frowns, only half listening as the microwave completes its cycle and cheerfully dings at him. “What competition?” He mutters, lifting his half-nuked meal out and barely paying attention. At this point he’ll take it cold just to get away before he loses his temper.

Seungwon sounds far too smug at Kyungsoo’s confusion. “Aha so that means you don’t have a team already? Fantastic. I’ll contact Mr Oh and put in my recommendation. I think that’ll secure us the top spot this quarter-”

“Kyungsoo!” Minseok takes that moment to appear around the door, half out of breath as if he’s been running down each hallway in the complex looking for him. “There you are!”

Relief washes over Kyungsoo as Minseok grabs his arm and tugs him close, away from Seungwon. Minseok takes a steadying breath, shaking his head.

“I thought you were only going to be five minutes! We still need to come up with a team concept.” He looks pointedly at Kyungsoo, eyes flaring wide.

Kyungsoo knows that look. It’s the kind that often starts plots and gets them out of trouble. “A team concept…” He squints at Minseok. “For the… winter competition?” he hazards, hoping he’s following along correctly.

Minseok pulls a ‘perfect, shut up and follow my lead’ look. “Yeah.” He grits out. “You know. The one head office just announced.”

Seungwon tries to angle himself between Minseok and Kyungsoo. “Wait. I thought you didn’t have a group organised already.”

Minseok tugs Kyungsoo around nearly behind himself and angles them away just as Jongdae appears and shoves past, forcing the older man to take a step back.

“Oh! Didn’t see you there.” Jongdae smiles coldly. “Just came to get our teammate. Right, Kyungsoo? Fantastic, let’s go.”

Between the two of them they collect Kyungsoo and his lunch and manhandle both of them out down the hallway and back into Kyungsoo’s office. The door closes with a slam.

Kyungsoo sinks into one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Jesus, thank you. He’s such a pain. But… what the hell is this competition everyone is talking about?”

“Winter fashion issue.” Minseok replies smoothly, as if that answers everything. At Kyungsoo’s shrug he rolls his eyes. “You really need to check your e-mail more than once a day. Head office just launched it.” He ticks the points off on his fingers. “We have four weeks prep, the whole design theme is up to us, we have full photo shoot access time for a mock up and a temporary loan of any requested concept-specific clothing to present to them an idea by mid-October. The winning team idea earns the partner spot with Gucci for the whole centre spread in the final quarterly for the year.”

Kyungsoo’s eyes go wide. “Well holy shit.”

Jongdae crosses his arms, smile soft. “Yeah. And we figured you didn’t want to be stuck with rat-features for it. So I sent Minseok to find you the moment we heard.”

Kyungsoo rubs his eyes tiredly, leaning his head against the high leather back of the chair. “I owe you both big time.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Minseok pats his shoulder kindly as he makes to leave. “Put it on my tab.”

Kyungsoo smiles underneath his hand. Outside the rain starts to thunder down.

* * *

Saturday morning rolls around with something less than a hangover from the after-work drinks the night before, but just shy of a decent headspace. Kyungsoo unanimously decides it can be improved with coffee. After all a weekend is a perfectly acceptable time to just go in by himself, right? He keeps coming back to how creeped out Seungwon made him feel the day before, which may have led to a few too many drinks while planning Minseok and Jongdae’s final night of frivolity before tying the knot. Yeah he definitely needs hot caffeine and a shy, comforting smile.

The rain has lessened overnight, letting the crisp autumn morning unfold and Kyungsoo decides to take the bus. Parking is always hell on a weekend anyway. He throws on dark jeans and a warm shirt, dragging over it a grey jacket and a scarf. It’s getting too cold outside to just layer shirts like he prefers. Umbrella in hand he walks to the bus.

It drops him off half a block away and Kyungsoo enjoys the final short walk in the rain, glancing into shopfronts as he passes to try and get inspiration for the winter edition. Gucci is nothing to be complacent about and to have his team’s work partnered with such an esteemed name… Kyungsoo thoughtfully chews on his lip and racks up ideas to tell his friends on Monday the entire way to The Paw Print. No way are they going to lose to Seungwon.

Warmth and the now-expected meow welcomes his arrival and Kyungsoo can see that perhaps the cold weather is keeping people in bed on a lazy weekend morning. There’s only a few tables occupied and it’s not far off midday. It makes the cosy nooks by the window stand out invitingly and Kyungsoo moves for one of them, dropping onto the plush couch cushions in a puff of pillows. The fairy lights lend everything a soft glow and there’s a stack of books balanced on a low shelf nearby. Kyungsoo peers down the pile and pulls one out from about halfway.

The menu stands on one corner of the table and Kyungsoo folds it over, twisting to look at the back. Maybe he’ll try something new today… He’s pretty predictable and boring with his coffee choices so maybe he should-

A light shadow falls across the corner of the wooden table and Kyungsoo glances up. Jongin hesitates there, a steaming cup in one hand, looking suddenly extremely embarrassed. He’s not wearing his glasses today.

“Oh. Oh, you were looking at the menu. Did you… not want your usual?” Jongin runs a hand through his hair and makes it fall haphazardly over his forehead. “Shit I’m sorry. I just saw you come in and made it up without thinking, I-”

Kyungsoo snaps the menu closed, incredibly touched. “Its fine. Honestly.” Kyungsoo smiles warmly. “You made it so of course I’ll have it.”

Jongin hesitates, looking ridiculously adorable in his baby blue long-sleeved shirt, apron tied over the top. There’s a smudge of icing sugar streaked across one eyebrow. Kyungsoo thinks he might be crushing stupidly hard over the little details.

Jongin slowly places the cup down in its little saucer, almost as if waiting for Kyungsoo to change his mind. So Kyungsoo takes a chance and shuffles over on the couch, drawing the cup towards himself and leaving a very obvious space along the length of pillows. He offers a small incline of his head and Jongin glances around. There’s no one waiting at the counter.

Jongin folds his apron and slides in beside him, settling his longer legs in so that their thighs are brushing under the table. Kyungsoo’s heart is beating so stupidly fast he thinks caffeine is probably the last thing he should be having right now. But Jongin made it for him with care so Kyungsoo takes a long sip. It’s perfect, as usual. Dark coffee with a gentle reminder of something sweet underneath. Kyungsoo smiles against the porcelain, savouring it.

Jongin’s face lights up, even if he doesn’t say anything. Kyungsoo notices that too. And it’s been a week or more since he’s had a chance to talk to Jongin so he asks how his studies are going.

Jongin excitedly relays his progress, keeping Kyungsoo updated on how he’s in the running for an understudy apprenticeship at one of the leading dance studios in the country if he can finish top of his class next year.

“You’ll do it.” Kyungsoo replies gently. At Jongin’s gentle tilt of his head, he elaborates. “I don’t know the first thing about dancing but you’re focussed. I can see that much in what you do each time I’m here. You take your time to make things perfect yet you’re not slow, you have an awesome memory and you’re methodical.” He shrugs. “You’ll ace it.”

Jongin drops his gaze, nodding. “I hope so.” His voice is small, serious. “It means everything to me. When I’m dancing I’m…” he lifts his head and searches for something in the rain-streaked window behind them both. “Free. More than myself. Maybe all of myself. I don’t know.” He laughs quietly at his own words, nudging Kyungsoo’s knee with his own. “It’s probably stupid. I can’t explain it properly.”

“Who knows.” Kyungsoo offers raised eyebrows over the coffee cup he’s still drinking from. “Maybe I’ll buy a ticket to one of your shows one day. Then I can see it in action and understand.”

Jongin laughs at that, eyes crinkling. “No way.” He shakes his head. “I’d get you in for free. Friends and family discount.”

Kyungsoo feels warm in a way that has nothing to do with the coffee. He takes a deep breath and gathers his courage. God he used to be so much smoother at this. At the whole flirting thing. The coffee cup feels like a shield so he moves to place it down. His voice is quiet.

“Maybe more than friends?”

Jongin’s gaze softens and for some reason his eyes dart down to the saucer resting on the tabletop. He opens his mouth that’s curving into a smile - but a call from the counter makes him look away. There’s a customer waiting and his sister is waving in their direction. Jongin unfolds from the small table with an apology and darts over, smoothing his apron back into place. Kyungsoo feels that same warmth sink out of his chest. Crap. How’s that for timing. Well it was worth a try…

He looks down into the dregs of his coffee, mentally kicking himself. But the receipt sitting tucked under the saucer catches his eye. Jongin had been looking at it before. Kyungsoo picks it up, noticing the black marker layering over the total, crossing it out. There’s a phone number scrawled next to it. And this time yeah, that squiggle in the corner is definitely a lopsided heart.

Kyungsoo sinks back against the cushions and can’t stop smiling. He picks up the book he’s chosen and reads a chapter. By the time he leaves, receipt tucked carefully into his wallet, he doesn’t remember a single word of the plot. Only the taste of the coffee.

* * *

Sunday is spent clearing fallen leaves from his front porch and sending competition ideas back and forth with Jongdae and Minseok in the group chat they have (which is all kinds of ridiculous because his two friends often pick up each other’s phone as they move about the house they’ve shared for the last few years so Kyungsoo is never quite sure who he’s talking to, but it doesn’t matter in the end anyway).

The text box for Jongin sits empty in comparison because Kyungsoo isn’t sure how soon is too soon to be texting (god he’s rusty) and he ends up second-guessing himself at some point over his takeaway on Sunday evening and wondering if maybe Jongin gave him his number as a friend and… fuck.

So Kyungsoo texts. Before he overanalyses it and has a minor freak out over his burger and cold beer. Asks Jongin how he is because what could be simpler than that? Then Kyungsoo realises after he’s hit send that he’s not said who he is and that his message will come up as just a random number. In a flurry he types out a second text explaining that he’s not a stranger-- but midway through his phone vibrates. A happy emoticon and a few words have returned.

Jongin: Double shot espresso, two sugars?

Kyungsoo grins at his phone screen. He types back a reply.

Kyungsoo: How did you guess?

The rebuttal is quick and Kyungsoo can almost hear Jongin’s soft laugh in the words.

Jongin: Because I don’t give out my number very often. But I did yesterday to a cute customer I know who never changes his order.

Kyungsoo rereads the sentences until he feels giddy and a little lightheaded.

* * *

Monday means a return to the shop before work, this time with Jongin’s number in his phone like a lightning bolt. Both of his friends have been left carefully in the warm idling car as Minseok fights off the beginnings of a cold. Kyungsoo had offered to veto their bi-weekly predawn coffee run but the other two had insisted and still got up early to meet him. So Kyungsoo had left the car running for the heater and made a dash in the chilly breeze for the shop. He intends to get them both the biggest comfort-food pastry he can find. And maybe a matcha tea for Minseok today, for the jolt of antioxidants.

Kyungsoo hasn’t quite told Jongdae or Minseok about the number yet, still holding that detail tight to his chest. He wants to be brave enough to ask Jongin out first. Cute texts are one thing but Kyungsoo genuinely wants more than ten minutes in the other man’s company; wants to hope for maybe dinner, a movie… hell, he’ll be happy with just walking up and down the block with him so they can talk and he can watch those tiny laugh lines that fold up around Jongin’s eyes when he finds something particularly hilarious. He wants whatever Jongin will give him.

As it turns out, that happens to be a heavy box nearly as soon as Kyungsoo enters the shop, the gentle doorbell meow trailing in his wake. He barely has time to grab the cardboard square before it topples off the wobbly pile stacked in a set of arms in front of him. A female voice calls out from behind the counter.

“Nini! Don’t try to take too many at once. I’ve told you before!”

Jongin’s head pops up from behind the remaining three boxes in his arms, dark hair askew and glasses fallen to the end of his nose. He grins at Kyungsoo, surprise evident in his tone.

“Oh hey. Thanks! Good catch.”

Kyungsoo mouths ‘Nini?’ and Jongin ducks his head, chuckling. He hoists his armful and makes for the back of the store. Kyungsoo follows into the shelves, placing his box down when Jongin stops at an open section bare of books. He takes the rest off Jongin’s hands and stacks them neatly. When he turns back he’s greeted with a grateful smile. God, sometimes Kyungsoo forgets because most of their interactions are at a table that Jongin is half a head taller than him. In amongst the small shelving pathways he should feel claustrophobic like the kitchenette at work but somehow… he’s more than okay.

Jongin glances between Kyungsoo and the boxes, running a hand across the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture. He’s dressed in a knitted sweater today, auburn coils of wool that trail up his chest and across broad shoulders. The move exposes a faint trail of skin along his belly as it rides up. Kyungsoo doesn’t look. He doesn’t.

“Sorry for nearly squashing you as you walked in.” Jongin pushes the golden frames back up his nose to perch properly. There’s a tiny cauldron sticker pressed against one earlobe like a pretend sparkly earring and Kyungsoo swallows at the sight, shoving down the urge to reach out and touch it. Instead he shrugs.

“It’s okay. Is this new stock?”

Jongin crouches down and reads off the labels against the invoice sticky-taped to the bottom one. “Yeah most of the bestselling authors release new books in the months before Christmas. Perfect marketing.” He tugs off the glasses that Kyungsoo has figured are only for close-up work and stands again. It’s then that Kyungsoo notices the dark powder along the bridge of his nose. He squints playfully.

“How do you manage to get messy every time you work?”

Jongin swipes at his cheeks. “What? Did I get flour on me again?”

“No,” Kyungsoo laughs, reaching out without thinking and brushing a couple of fingers lightly down Jongin’s nose. “Chocolate dust.”

Jongin’s hand comes up and he snags the cuff of Kyungsoo’s sleeve as his hand falls away. He holds on for a moment, fingers curling into the material. Then he flicks his eyes up to Kyungsoo and without breaking their gaze raises both their hands to his mouth. Kyungsoo’s heart stops.

Jongin presses his full lips against the side of Kyungsoo’s fingers that have brushed the dust, collecting it in a kiss. Time seems to stop, like even raindrops could have frozen. Then Jongin lets go and with the shyest of smiles (far too shy for a guy who has just pulled one hell of a move like that) turns away and licks his chocolate-smeared lips, motioning with a flick of his head towards the front counter.

“The usual?”

The outside world returns like rain after passing under the silence of a bridge with that softly-voiced question. Frozen to the spot Kyungsoo nearly says yes automatically, only remembering at the last moment to order a tea instead. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to kiss someone more in his whole life. Jesus.

Jongin makes the order up quickly, cheeks the most adorable shade of pink the entire time. Kyungsoo stands to one side as he does and holds his coat folded over his hands in front of him, trying to look for all the world like he wasn’t just half-hard in the middle of a public store.

He ferries all the cups and a cardboard box of pastries back to the car not long after, dodging the puddles on the sidewalk in a daze without really noticing. Jongdae and Minseok take one look at his face and tease him mercilessly the entire drive to work.

* * *

“Invite him along.” Minseok says simply, perched on one corner of Kyungsoo’s desk. He swings one foot like it’s the simplest thing in the world. “Why not?”

Kyungsoo doesn’t look up from the pile of folders he has in front of him. “That’d just be weird. He doesn’t need to tag along as an extra to a… where did you guys decide on again?”

“Booty bar.” Jongdae calls from his cross-legged spot on the carpet, surrounded by past editions of the magazine and the remnants of several pastries.

“Gentleman’s club.” Minseok corrects him instantly and Kyungsoo rolls his eyes.

“It’s still a fancy strip joint with food. He won’t know anyone besides me and doesn’t need to bear witness to you two making out over the tapas and ogling dudes in hotpants.”

Minseok shrugs like it’s going to be Jongin’s loss. “The food is really good.”

Kyungsoo is already slightly regretting having told them on the drive over that he was going to ask Jongin out. But at this point his friends would have figured some of it out and he loves them too much to not be honest. It’s a distraction that he doesn’t need at the moment though, because they’re still no closer to a concept for their mock up shoot and time is ticking. They’ve been at it all afternoon since the production meetings were finished. “Is anything jumping out at you from those past spreads?”

Jongdae makes a noncommittal noise. “Nothing stands out but we don’t want to be too heavily influenced by the standard stuff we’ve done before anyway. We need a fresher idea. Something that stands out.”

Minseok pushes off the desk and drops down to crouch next to him, flicking a few glossy pages over. “I like the idea of something raw. You’ve got a thousand different variations on the fluffy sweater and cosy fireplace backdrop. I think we can risk going a little off that.”

Kyungsoo closes the first binder of catalogue reference shots and puts it aside, picking up another. “Might make us stand out. You thinking sexy?”

“Yeah.” Minseok hums, “What do you guys think?”

Jongdae rests back on his arms, stretching. He looks up at the ceiling and the afternoon shadows sliding across them as the grey clouds change position outside. “I think that might work. If we can par it with the fall theme.” The phone by his knee rings and he picks it up. It must be one of the production managers because Jongdae gets to his feet and trots out immediately.

Minseok gazes after him fondly. “He’s always so obedient.”

Kyungsoo snorts and turns back to his binders. “Whatever kinky shit you two get up to behind closed doors can stay there.”

Minseok’s smile is wicked. “Hey don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There’s a great place downtown that used to have this amazing do-”

Kyungsoo throws a pen at him.

* * *

Jongin texts Kyungsoo pictures of the cats that seem to like perching on the windowsills of the store, shots of silly things customers have drawn on napkins and other random things throughout his day that he finds entertaining. Kyungsoo saves every one and sends him a picture of the view from his office window down to the nearby park with its plethora of orange leaves in every shade imaginable.

He gathers his courage by mid-week to send a message asking Jongin out on a date. He hears nothing back that day or night and doesn’t sleep nearly as well as he’d like.

But his coffee cup the following morning has one word scrawled on it. Jongin silently hands it over amid the morning rush with the fondest look.

Yes.

* * *