“Kun, he’s out there again.”
Kun glances up from the table he’s scrubbing, reading the concern on Chenle’s face. “You’re sure it’s him?”
Chunle nods, lips pressed together. “He’s just sat there on his laptop.”
“Okay, can you take over the cleaning?” Kun asks, dropping the rag and wiping his hands down his apron. “I’ll go and speak to him this time and make sure he’s alright.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
He squeezes Chenle’s shoulder. “It’s fine, you were right to tell me. Make sure you remember to take your break, okay? Yukhei should be back soon, so don’t work too hard.”
He heads out of the cafe, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbow, just in case, because from what he’s seen of the guy sat in the doorway at the other side of the street, he’s messy. Huge sunglasses cover his eyes, and his hair is slicked back by something with glitter. His boots are huge and caked in mud, and on a scale of how likely is a stranger to have three knives on their person, this guy would definitely rate at a seven out of ten.
He looks up when Kun comes to a stop in front of him, but his eyes are covered and unreadable. “Yeah?”
Oh. A higher voice than Kun had expected.
“Hi there, I work at the cafe opposite the road.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Well...” he tries to think of a kind way to phrase ‘you’re scaring my staff’ but nothing comes to mind. “You’re scaring my staff.”
“My staff, some of them are just kids working part time you know-“ he’s rambling. Fuck. “They’ve noticed you’ve been here for hours every day, just sat opposite the window. It’s scaring them. They’re worried you’re like... a hitman or something.”
The guy actually smiles at that, his teeth straight and pearly. “A hitman? For some cafe kids?”
“I know it’s ridiculous, but I promised I’d come along and ask to see if there’s anything I can do to help.”
The guy sighs. “Well, this is embarrassing. I’m not a hitman, I live here.”
Kun cocks his head and tries not to look too disbelieving. “You... live here. You live here and you spend hours of your day just sat here, staring at nothing?”
“I keep locking myself out, and usually I’d just climb onto the roof and into the skylight, but I hurt my ankle last week and I don’t want to add any extra exertion onto it, so I just have to wait around for my roommate to finish work so that he can let me in.”
Kun already deals with a lot. Like, a lot. Yukhei, who frequently locks himself in the storage freezer, Mark, who can find something to trip over on a flat surface, Chenle who is scared of dust particles in the air, Sicheng who is just happy to watch it all unfold with a serene expression –
Doyoung’s voice pops into his head, flat and bored and slightly condescending. “If lost souls were rats, Kun, you’d have the plague by now.”
“You can... just come and sit in the cafe while you wait, if you’d like.”
The guy cocks his head, mirroring Kun, and his smile turns sly. “Yeah? You’d trust me just like that, even if your staff think I’m gonna murder them?”
Kun shifts uncomfortably. “I try to give everyone at least one chance.”
“I’m sure you do, Mister Perfect.”
He laughs somewhat nervously. “My name is Kun, actually.”
“I’m Ten.” He pulls his sunglasses off and blinks rapidly at the onslaught of sunshine, and Kun tells himself that his stomach doesn’t drop faster than Yukhei drops any hot drink he gets his big hands on. He tells himself that, messy and clearly exhausted, covered in glitter, Ten isn’t the prettiest person he’s ever seen.
“Nice to meet you,” he says weakly.
Ten giggles. “We’ll see about that.”
Two hours later, lunch rush safely conquered with only minor incidents (Yukhei burning his hands on the steaming milk, Chenle losing a cookie to a customer’s dog) Ten is at the table furthest from the counter, curled onto a chair with his chin resting on his knees, feet on the edge of the seat, typing rapidly on his laptop as Mark stares at him with unveiled interest.
“So... why does your profile say you’re called Susan?”
“On facebook? As someone called Susan?”
Yukhei passes by, looking briefly at Ten before focusing back on picking up used cups. “He’s too hot to be a catfish, so it can’t be that.”
“There are lots of hot catfish, actually,” Ten says, reaching out for the black coffee Kun had made him on the house. “It’s a power game for most people.”
“So you’re a catfish?” Mark asks, mystified.
Kun clears his throat. “Mark, there are customers that need serving, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Mark makes a tiny noise of dismay, going pink. “Ah, sorry!”
Kun smiles at him as he passes to make sure Mark knows he’s not actually in trouble, then cleans away the plates on Ten’s table from his sandwich (which had also been on the house).
Ten looks up briefly and smiles at Kun. “Thanks, man.”
“Taeyong should be home soon, so I’ll be out of your perfectly groomed hair within the hour.”
“It’s fine; don’t feel like you have to rush.”
“We both know I’m hoarding a table despite not being a paying customer, during one of the busiest periods of the day for your business. Thanks for the sentiment, though.”
He’s not rude, but he’s... quick, for lack of a better word. Kun kind of wants to smack him on the back of the head. “I’m being kind, can’t you be polite?”
Ten’s little grin widens as he looks up at Kun like he’s six foot tall despite being folded into a tiny ball on his chair. “I’ve said my pleases and thank yous, doesn’t that make me polite?”
“Not if the sentiment isn’t there.”
Ten looks up through his eyelashes like he’s seeing straight into Kun’s lonely, yearning little soul. “Thank you so much for being so kind to me,” he murmurs, blinking slowly. “You’re so sweet, so handsome, so... big.”
Somewhere behind them, Chenle inhales and it sounds like a scream.
Kun feels a blush that must be purple with the force of his embarrassment begin to climb up his neck as Ten leans back and cackles. “Your face!”
“This – this is highly inappropriate for a cafe at midday!” Kun splutters.
“So you’d prefer it another time, huh?” Ten asks, head snapping forward again so he can give Kun another catlike smile. “How about tonight? Your place or mine?”
“You’re right, it better be yours since I keep losing the key to my apartment. Don’t wanna have to do anything unsightly in the hallway where the neighbours could see, right?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
On the table Ten’s phone pings and he glances outside, where a skinny guy with chestnut hair is waving hesitantly. “Oh, looks like Yongie is here, I better be going.”
He can feel eyes on him – Mark, Chenle, he can definitely hear Yukhei laughing – but Ten just gathers his things into his stupid skinny arms, drops a wet kiss on Kun’s cheek, and then cheerily says, “I’ll see you around, Kun!” and leaves.
Kun watches in silence as Ten jogs across the street and launches himself into his friend’s arms, who just pats him gently on the shoulder and then unlocks the door to the apartment and lets them both in.
“You know who will love this story?” Yukhei asks, still giggling in his low voice, “Doyoung. Doyoung will love this story.”
“You know who would love being unemployed?” Kun asks, turning to meet his eyes, “You. Yukhei, I think you’d really enjoy being completely unemployed.”
Yukhei seems to lose five inches off of his height. “Yes boss,” he says weakly, “This will never leave the cafe.”
He didn’t count on Sicheng being the one to betray him.
“Sorry,” he says, clearly not sorry as he wedges himself between Taeil and Yuta like the filling of a very content sandwich.
Doyoung passes Kun a glass of wine and a very mean look. “You’ve been an idiot again, and that’s no one’s fault but your own.”
“I was just being nice,” he mumbles into the glass.
“You don’t owe anyone your kindness,” Doyoung replies, inhaling his own wine with a speed that belies a very bad week of accounting.
“I work in customer service! I have to be nice or I’ll lose the customer part of the customer service and be left with just the service which is useless without the customers!”
Jaehyun wanders over from the bathroom and flops down on the couch next to Kun, patting his knee. “You’re a good guy, you’ll figure something out. Besides, some people are just weird.”
“What’s his name again?”
Yuta laughs. “Who has a name that’s just one syllable? Sounds stupid.”
Kun throws his wine at him and the evening turns out just like every other Friday: everyone covered in wine, a couple of bruises, and asleep on the floor in one undignified pile.
The weird thing is, Ten doesn’t forget his keys for a while after his afternoon in Kun’s cafe.
And yet, Kun sees all the time.
If he has a job it isn’t a stable one, because the hour of the day varies, but Kun sees him constantly.
Kun’s opening his cafe, flips the sign on the door and sees Ten outside of his apartment in what looks like a sporting uniform, stretching down to touch his toes. His hair is back behind a headband.
He looks up and Kun, winks, and then jogs away.
Ten stops by the cafe during the lunchtime rush, orders a coffee to take out, puts an ungodly tip down the front of Kun’s shirt, then leans in to whisper, “It doesn’t have to be the only tip I give you,” and saunters out.
“Don’t even bother pretending you weren’t staring at his ass,” Yukhei says with a frown. “Even I was. I mean, it looks like a good ass, right? No homo.”
“No homo?” Sicheng asks. “Wow. I’ll have to tell Jungwoo about that one.”
“Nooooo,” Yukhei complains, and Kun is dragged from his Ten-induced-stupor just in time to stop Yukhei from knocking over the milk jug.
He hires Chenle’s friend, not because he really needs another member of staff, but because Chenle had come to work all sad and had mumbled something about his Chinese friend feeling kind of insecure in Korea.
How could Kun reject that? So he trains Renjun up as quickly as possible, showing him the many ways to make a latte correctly, and using Yukhei as an example of how not to do anything.
Renjun leans quickly, and for a brief but freeing minute Kun thinks he might actually have found a competent employee, until Mark wanders in to start his shift and says, “Hey Kun! Oh – hey Renjun!”
And Renjun smiles in a way that Kun is too familiar with.
Way too familiar, because that’s the smile of mischief and disaster, and he sees it almost every day from at least one member of staff.
Then Mark says, as if just remembering, “Oh Kun, I saw Ten just down the street, he asked me if I could get you to go see him?”
“Is there something wrong?”
Mark shrugs. “I don’t know, but he said it was important.”
He knows he shouldn’t go. “Where is he?”
“Outside the Laundromat.”
So Kun jogs over, because he’s weak, and what if it is an emergency?
Ten is sat outside, his legs outstretched on the sidewalk, combat boots still somehow covered in mud, hair sparkly again, sunglasses in place. He looks up and smiles when he sees Kun. “Hey momma.”
“I don’t know what that means, but please never say it again,” Kun says tiredly. “Is there something wrong?”
“Yeah, my friend lives above the Laundromat and he’s all kinds of funky since his girlfriend dumped him, and he won’t let anyone see him. Can you give me a boost up so I can climb through his window?”
“No!” Kun exclaims. “That’s called breaking and entering!”
“I’m worried about him.”
“Then be worried outside of his door! What the hell do you have against using human designated entrances?”
Ten shrugs, but his cocky smile has fallen into a carefully neutral look as he stands. “Doesn’t matter. Thanks anyway.” He shrugs into a thin jacket he’d been sat on and rolls up the sleeves, then starts stretching in a way that bodes trouble.
“What are you doing?” Kun asks.
“I can see that. Why are you stretching?”
“So I can climb up the side of the Laundromat without straining any muscles.”
“You cannot climb up there!”
Ten frowns. “I can, but it’s easier with a boost up, which is why I asked if you’d help. It doesn’t matter though; I’ll just have to be careful.”
“I am not giving you a boost into someone’s apartment window!”
“I know, you’ve said that.”
“I’m not doing it!”
He does it.
Ten giggles when Kun links his hands together and offers the platform for his foot. “Such a gentleman.”
“Can you hurry up,” Kun mumbles, red in the face. “If I’m arrested for helping you I’m going to sue.”
Ten strokes a hand through Kun’s hair, making him jolt. “You have soft hair, considering it’s dyed. Why did you dye it?”
Kun laughs nervously. “You know. Gotta be different sometimes, right?”
“You don’t seem like someone that enjoys change all that much.”
“I do enjoy change, I just...” like it on my own terms. Need someone to force me. Something like that. “I like my hair brown, and that’s that.”
“I like it brown too,” Ten murmurs. “Makes you look all kinds of gentle. Soft.” He puts his huge boot into Kun’s hand and tenses his leg in a way that Kun can’t help but stare at, mouth slightly open, stomach tight. “Thanks for the lift, honey.”
He steps up and Kun can do nothing other than tense his arms and lift Ten as high as he can go, praying that no one sees them and that Ten doesn’t actually fall to his death.
His prayers are answered when Ten somehow manages to boost himself onto the window’s ledge and while hanging, pries it open with one hand and slithers through the gap.
He must hit the floor with a loud thud, because Kun can hear it from the street, followed by a squawk.
“Ten what the fuck are you doing here!”
“Surprise asshole, time to stop living in your own filth and focus on taking a shower and getting over a girl that didn’t even like Queer Eye.”
Kun takes that as his queue to leave, but before he does Ten’s head pops out of the window and he winks at Kun then blows him a kiss.
He walks back to the cafe slowly, only to find that Mark and Renjun have somehow knocked over an entire stack of small plates and the floor is covered in sharp porcelain.
He sighs and gets out the broom.
At four in the afternoon, wearing a leather jacket and jeans that are too tight for anyone’s sanity, Ten presses himself against the window of the cafe, meets Kun’s eyes, smiles with his mouth and his eyes and his aura, then presses a kiss to the glass.
Sicheng gives Kun a side glance that’s veiled but somehow says everything he’s feeling at the same time. “He seems very friendly.”
Kun nods and keeps polishing the glasses, pretending his heart isn’t in overdrive, practically launching itself around his ribcage.
It counts, right? He doesn’t see Ten, but he sees Taeyong, the apparently longsuffering roommate.
The fact that he’s an accountant stuns Kun, because the only accountant he knows is Doyoung, and the thought of Doyoung living with someone like Ten makes him want to itch his skin off. The violence is unimaginable.
And yet, Taeyong is an accountant.
He’s Doyoung’s colleague.
He’s... perfectly normal.
“Ten’s not that bad,” he says with a glass of wine in his hand, wedged between Jaehyun and Kun while Doyoung tries to set up a movie on the ancient TV he refuses to replace. “He knows his own mind, and I admire that. He’s very strong willed.”
“You sound like you’re trying to sell a misbehaving horse,” Yuta says doubtfully.
“I would never sell him,” Taeyong says with earnest. “No one would buy him.”
Yuta and Jaehyun crack up at that, but Kun is still in turmoil.
“You look constipated,” Sicheng says kindly. “Do you need some laxatives?”
“No, I need new friends,” Kun replies, staring down at his dry white wine, wishing it was a glass of vodka instead. At least alcohol poisoning would mean he didn’t have to face another inevitable fight with Yuta over something stupid.
“Do you have some kind of interest in Ten, Kun?” Taeyong asks, turning to him with wide, pretty eyes. Like, what? Is that two bed attic apartment home to the most beautiful men in the city?
“I wouldn’t call it interest,” he says. “He just keeps turning up.”
Taeyong nods. “He does that.”
“Okay.” That doesn’t help him at all.
Taeyong turns back to the TV, sipping his rosé. “But if he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t let you see him at all.”
That doesn’t help either, because he spends all night thinking about it.
“Am I too invested? Am I being stupid? I don’t know anything about him, at all. Absolutely nothing! He might be a catfish!”
Renjun nods slowly. “It does sound like you’re being stupid. Very stupid, if I may say so.”
Mark passes by with a small giggle. “He’d call you stupid anyway.”
Chenle’s best friend stops by, interrupting Kun’s quarterlife crisis. Jisung is tall but maybe the sweetest of all the demonic children that Kun has to deal with, so his presence is welcome.
“Hey,” Kun says, happy to see him but confused. “Chenle doesn’t work on Saturdays.”
“I know,” Jisung says, “I, uh. My dance teacher asked me to bring you something.”
Kun blinks. “Sorry?”
Jisung goes pink and fishes out a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of his hoodie. “Here. Sorry if this is weird, but he’s cringey and he likes embarrassing me. He also said if I did this for him that he’d teach me how he does flips though, so I felt like it was worth the trip.” He gives Renjun a happy little wave. “Hi Renjun!”
Kun smoothes out the paper and a key falls out from within the messily scrawled note.
For my sexy cafe owner,
Here is my spare key.
I am giving it to you so that I can visit and no longer have to wait for Taeyong to get home.
Your legs are short, but I still want to ride them.
Enjoy your weekend x
“Oh good lord,” he murmurs, rubbing his forehead.
“Yeah,” Jisung says with a wince. “He’s like that. Anyway, I have to go before he beats my ass for dawdling. Have a good one.”
“You too.” He turns to Renjun. “I’m going on a break. I’ll be in the store room in the dark, so please don’t turn on any lights or try and disturb me. If there’s a fire, just let me die in the dark. It’s what I want.”
Renjun nods, like it’s the easiest yes he’s ever said. “Sure thing boss.”
The cafe is closed on Sunday’s, and when he wakes up with no alarm, sees that the sun is shining outside of his quaint apartment a safe distance away from the disaster-zone, he breathes a sigh of relief.
He rings Doyoung, who had asked to talk to him about something, and they spend a couple of hours talking about nothing important, laughing over recent memories and arranging the next Friday of drinking and shitty films.
He does his laundry.
After lunch, he goes for a run, and makes it a long one.
He gets back home, he showers, he dusts, he cleans his apartment until it’s gleaming.
He’s unbearably bored.
He doesn’t see Ten at all, either.
He spends the rest of the day trying to pretend that the two are unrelated.
Monday comes around, and Ten locks himself out.
He comes over to the cafe to get his spare key just as Kun, flustered and panicked, is propositioned with a date by a sweet blushing woman who had ordered the unhealthiest hot chocolate Kun has ever made.
He sees Ten, who is scowling with such vicious intent that it’s actually kind of terrifying.
“Here is your-“
The key is snatched out of his hand abruptly. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome?” but he’s speaking to Ten’s back, and by the time he thinks to ask what the fuck, Ten has already left.
Yukhei laughs. “Someone is jealous.”
The woman goes pale. “Have I – Are you in a relationship? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude!”
“I’m single!” Kun says.
Yukhei waves one hand dubiously at the woman. “I’d say it’s complicated.”
“I’m single!” Kun repeats.
“I don’t want to get in the middle of anything,” the woman says quietly. “Maybe I’ll come back in a couple of weeks and ask again. Until then, I hope you find what you’re looking for. Thank you for the drink.”
Kun turns, very slowly, to Yukhei, who is pretending Kun doesn’t exist in what must be a last ditch attempt at self preservation.
“Nice weather today, huh?”
He doesn’t see Ten for a week.
He’s bored again, and this time he’s anxious too.
“You really look constipated this time,” Sicheng says on Friday evening.
“I kind of am.”
“I still have those laxatives if you need them.”
“Thanks,” he says weakly. “But I’m fine.”
Taeil tops up his wine. “You look like you need to get laid.”
He scowls. “Says you.”
Taeil raises a brow. “I choose to isolate myself, thank you. No one so far as been good enough to stay with.”
“Who is saying that I don’t choose it too?”
“The fact that you’re yearning after a guy you don’t know, maybe?”
“I’m not yearning!”
“You’re definitely yearning,” Yuta says. “That sour expression is the look of a man that is yearning.”
“I’m constipated, haven’t we already been over this?” Kun snaps.
Doyoung shakes his head. “Emotionally constipated, maybe.”
Taeyong frowns. “Is this about Ten? He’s been weird all week too.”
Kun’s heart spikes. “What? Why?”
“I don’t know. He gets sulky sometimes.”
Kun’s mouth goes dry. “Is he... is he a jealous person?”
Taeyong laughs. “Yeesh! He really, really is. He’s not confrontational about it, but he’s really sensitive, you know?”
“Okay,” Kun says. He doesn’t know what to do with the information, but he knows he needs to do something with it. “So. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to... ask him on a date. Hypothetically! But yeah. A date, a hypothetical date. Do you think he’d say yes?”
Taeyong scrutinises him. “I’ll be honest Kun, you’re not his type. He likes people that... this sounds weird, but he likes people he knows could throw him around, and he likes making them crawl after him on their hands and knees.”
“Oh,” Kun says faintly. He’s not that tall, and while he could probably throw Ten because of how damn skinny he is, he doesn’t know why he would try. He can crawl, but he doesn’t want to. You know, knees and stuff. They hurt after a while. It seems like he doesn’t fit any of the criteria.
Taeyong shrugs. “Still, he talks about you all of the time. Maybe he’s changed his type.”
“Oh,” Kun repeats, brain whiting out.
“Wait,” he says, shaking his head. “He what?”
He doesn’t come back to the cafe for a week, and Kun doesn’t see him anywhere.
Taeyong was right; if Ten doesn’t want to be seen, he isn’t seen at all.
It’s annoying, because now that Kun has found courage he just can’t find Ten, who is extremely necessary for the equation of Kun’s courage plus love interest equalling eternal happiness.
He spends his time trying to keep busy with other things instead, like showing Chenle how to bake the cookies they have on the specials board.
It’s fulfilling, because every second spent with Chenle is precious, but he’s also annoyed because Ten is like one of those creatures in a horror film that you only see out of the corner of your eye, and then when you turn to look at him he’s gone. The only difference being that Kun has never been painfully attracted to a creature in a horror movie.
“You know where he lives,” Mark says, wiping down the tables at closing the following Saturday. “Why don’t you just go over and ask him?”
“That would be creepy.”
“You boosted him through someone’s window; I don’t think he registers privacy breeches like other people.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kun says, immediately rejecting the idea. His courage has faded now that a solution has been presented.
He lets Mark go early so that he can sit alone and spend his Saturday night binging on Chenle’s reject burnt cookies while he does his taxes in the middle of his empty cafe, pretending that he knew his twenties would be like this. Pretending that this is all he needs.
Eventually his moping gets lost in the paperwork, and by eleven, he feels almost okay. Full of cookies he’ll need to work off tomorrow, but much less likely to go get an impulse piercing out of sheer despair.
He looks up and out of the window at the streetlights and the dark, empty sky, and wonders where Ten is on his Saturday evening.
Then he sees him, stumbling down the street.
He sees him trip over his undone lace and face plant the floor.
Kun is out of his chair and out of the cafe before he registers that he’s moving, running over to help Ten off of his face.
Ten blinks up at him, and he reeks of alcohol. “You,” he says with venom, yanking back only to fall over again. “Go away.”
“You’re being a public nuisance,” Kun says, instead of I’m worried, you endearing asshole. “Get up.”
“I will if you go away.”
“You’re not fooling me, I know you can barely walk.” He holds a hand out. “Come on, get up.”
Ten scowls. “No. Maybe I want to stay here.”
“You’re being childish.”
He doesn’t expect Ten to burst into tears, but he does it anyway.
“Oh,” Kun says, dismayed, unsure how to comfort him. “Can I help you up to your apartment?”
“I locked myself out again and Taeyong is away on a business trip!” Ten wails. “Just leave me here and go live your perfect little gay life with your stupid kids and your delicious food and pretty smile and short legs! Just leave me alone!”
It’s a lot for Kun to register, so he compartmentalises it in the back of his mind and decides to deal with it later. For now, there’s a wailing man on the ground.
Kun sighs, resolve hardening, and ignores the way Ten tries to ward him off with smacking. He picks him up bridal style for lack of a better way of moving him, then carries him into the cafe and dumps him unceremoniously onto the nearest table.
He leaves him there for a couple of minutes as he turns the machines back on and prepares a hot chocolate, fetching more of Chenle’s reject cookies. Ten continues to cry, but quieter now, and he sounds more genuinely upset than before, less the tears of alcohol and more the tears of someone that’s hurt.
“I got you a hot chocolate,” he says, and Ten starts wailing again in response.
“Stop what?” Kun asks, genuinely baffled.
“I’m not perfect.”
“Yes you are!”
Kun passes him the hot chocolate to give Ten something to focus on other than crying. “Drink this please. Have a cookie.”
“I don’t want to; I’ll just have to exercise more in the morning! I can’t afford a bigger ass!”
“Your ass is small, what the hell are you talking about?”
Ten glares past his tears. “How dare you tell me I have a small ass!”
Kun throws up his hands, completely clueless to everything, apparently. “What do you want from me!”
“I want you to stop flaunting your perfection!”
“I’ve told you I’m not perfect, what the hell!”
“You have your own cute little business with loads of friends and people that care about you, you’re kind to a fault, you help everyone you meet, you’re gorgeous despite your stupid stubby legs, you have the best smile I’ve ever seen and you still haven’t pounded me into my mattress! It isn’t fair!”
Kun takes a seat and puts his head, very gently, into his tired hands. “I don’t know what you want from me.”
“Sex! Lots of really rough sex! Maybe a date or something!”
“Why do you always insult my legs?”
Ten sniffs loudly. “I don’t know. I guess I like them or something. I wanna suck your dick.”
“Is this... how you usually act around people you’re attracted to?”
He looks down at his hot chocolate, nose red, eyes watery, so painfully beautiful. “No.”
“Then why me?”
“I don’t know.” He sniffs again, eyes welling up with fresh tears. “I’m sorry.”
“Have a cookie.”
He sniffs again. “Okay.” He takes a nibble then puts it back on the plate and has a sip of the hot chocolate. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go find a hotel after this or see if Johnny is in.”
“Johnny?” Kun tells himself that he isn’t jealous; that it’s a good thing Ten has someone he can go to when he’s sad.
“The guy above the Laundromat.”
“Ah, I see.” Kun bites his lip. “You could stay with me if you like. I promise nothing weird will happen, but I have a spare room. I don’t want you climbing through any windows while you’re this drunk.”
“I don’t wanna be more of a burden than I already am.”
“You’re not a burden.”
“You’re just too kind to tell the truth.”
“Fine. You’re being a real burden, because if you don’t come home and stay with me I’m going to be worrying about you all night, and I won’t get any sleep.”
Ten glares again, but the effect is lessened by the chocolate on his lower lip. “You’re being difficult.”
“I can’t leave you alone like this.”
It takes another ten minutes of pointless arguing for Ten to finish his hot chocolate and agree, however reluctantly, to come home with Kun. He texts Taeyong so that Ten feels safer, having friends know where he is in case Kun is a murderer that is luring Ten into isolation to chop up his body and use it for the filling of the cafe’s pies.
They walk back to his apartment silently, but Kun keeps an eye out for Ten’s unsteady legs, grabbing his shoulder whenever he becomes particularly wobbly.
Quiet, no sunglasses in place, just dressed in plain jeans, a thin black shirt and sneakers, Ten looks skinner than normal. Not fragile, but... small. Kun knows Ten is small, but since he’s not wearing his boots he’s lost like two inches from his height. It’s odd to see him dressed so casually.
“What were you doing this evening?” Kun asks, gently pulling Ten out of the path of a streetlight.
“Was clubbing,” Ten says. Now that he’s stopped crying, he looks tired, eyes drooping. “Went too hard too fast so I came home.”
“You didn’t wear your boots?”
“No.” Ten smiles slightly. “Men don’t like gays with big boots and big personalities.”
Kun does, apparently. “You’re shorter than I thought.”
“That’s why I wear the boots.” He shrugs. “I only wear them out, though. I like flipflops and trainers too. I don’t dance in the boots.”
“Oh yeah,” Kun murmurs. “You teach Jisung.”
Ten nods. “He’s a great kid.”
“He is.” They reach Kun’s building and he fishes out his keys, unlocking the door and letting Ten in with what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “How does it feel to use an actual door?”
Ten smiles shakily. “Boring.”
Kun gets Ten a glass of water while he washes his face and cleans his teeth with one of Kun’s spare toothbrushes. He finds some old clothes for Ten to sleep in and passes them over, noting Ten’s rosy cheeks, but unwilling to ask about it.
“Thank you,” Ten mumbles, staring at the floor.
“You’re welcome. There’s water on the nightstand, and some aspirin. I also put the bin by your bed. You know, just in case. Scream if you need anything.”
Ten nods, then leans forward, shocking Kun rigid, only to place a light kiss on his cheek, wafting the scent of mint. “Thank you, Kun.”
“You’re welcome. Get some rest.”
He’s gone in the morning, and Kun tries to tell himself he isn’t disappointed.
“He’s humiliated,” Taeyong says the following Friday. “Don’t take it personally.”
“He sounds like a mess,” Taeil interjects.
“He is, but he’s good. He’s great,” Taeyong says. “Ten is kind and passionate and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. It’s just behind the... you know. The facade. He’s so scared of being hurt.”
“I’m scared of being hurt too,” Kun mumbles, trying not to be petulant. Judging by the stank look Yuta gives him, it isn’t working.
“Well one of you has to have some courage.”
“I’m so courageous,” Kun says, outraged.
Yuta snorts. “Then prove it.”
He’s definitely gonna prove it.
Tuesday, Ten comes into the cafe, mumbles that he’s locked out again, and doesn’t meet Kun’s eye.
“Take a table and chill,” Kun says, trying for cool. “I can bring you a drink over.”
“Chill?” Some life enters Ten’s eyes again. “You sound like a dad.”
Chenle comes over and swings an arm over Kun’s shoulders, giggling. “That’s because he’s my dad!”
Kun is briefly distracted from Ten by the overwhelming paternal love he feels for Chenle, and trying not to cry becomes a whole ordeal when Chenle then spills a latte all over the floor. He’s so cute and hopeless.
Like the first time Ten had entered the cafe, Mark spends most of his time watching Ten’s laptop screen with an intent focus. “You’re still Susan?”
“So are you a catfish?”
“No, I just have this profile so I can get added into weird yummy mummy facebook groups and give them bad advice about essential oils.” Ten snorts and takes a sip of his coffee. “This woman here, for example, really thinks orange zest is gonna stop her husband from smelling her boyfriend’s cum. Good luck with your cheating, bitch.”
Mark nods, uncomprehending. “Okay. I’ll leave you to it.”
He passes Kun, then pauses, focusing on him. “You like Ten, don’t you?”
Kun looks up from slicing the fresh brownie. “Uh, yeah?”
Mark nods. “Me too. He’s really cool. Weird, but cool. I was talking to Jisung the other day, and he’s known Ten for years apparently. They grew up near each other.”
“Nice.” He doesn’t know why Mark is telling him this.
“Jisung said that Ten’s last boyfriend made him feel really bad about himself. Called him a whore, said he was useless for anything other than sex, that he wasn’t even hot. You know, stuff like that. Said he was dumb.”
“Oh,” Kun says faintly.
“He dumped him like a month ago, I think, after a weird glitter rave in a field. Apparently Ten kicked him and really hurt his ankle though.”
Things kind of slot into place like tetris, and Kun realises that the whole time they’ve known each other, Ten has been one raw, weeping wound.
“Yeah, it’s really fucked up, right?” Mark says, scratching his head. “But Jisung said that since then he’s cheered up, has been better than he has been for years. He must have found something to make him happy again.”
“Okay,” Kun says faintly. “I’m taking a break now.”
“Oh?” Mark blinks. “How long will you be?”
“I don’t know, maybe a couple of hours. Don’t burn down the cafe.”
He leaves Mark spluttering and walks over to Ten, who looks up and smiles at his arrival. “Hey. Did you know there are women out there that genuinely think lavender can stop polio? Antivaxxers are wild.”
“Will you come with me? I need to talk to you.”
His smile falters. “Uh – sure? Right now?”
“Yeah. Right now.”
“Okay.” He gathers his things and shoves them into his bag, shrugs into his jacket and follows Kun with hurried steps that make Kun laugh. Sure, he has small legs. Ten has small everything.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m gonna make you some real lunch, instead of a sandwich, and maybe we can have some wine. I’ll let you pick a movie to put on, if you want, or we can go for a walk. I’ll kiss you, if you let me. I’ll date you properly once I’ve finished work, if you let me.”
Ten stops in the middle of the street, pale. His eyes are dark and serious. “I don’t want any kind of fucking pity-“
Kun makes an exasperated noise in his throat. “It isn’t pity. I wanna date you.”
“Yeah? Why?” Ten’s voice is soft, silky, like he’s getting ready to cut Kun with how syrupy sweet his cruel words can be.
“Because you’re funny,” Kun says, enjoying the way Ten blinks, disarmed. “And sweet. You’re ridiculous, but in a good way. You keep me on my toes. You’re exciting and intelligent, and I think you’d be fun to date. I enjoy spending time with you, and I’d like to spend more of it in your company, if you want the same thing.” He shrugs. “If we date, you can give me your key again, and I can let you in.”
Ten blinks rapidly, but doesn't say anything for a minute.
Kun notices the laces on his boots are undone, so he bends down onto one knee to tie them while Ten works out whatever he’s thinking.
“You’re not just saying this because you think I’m hot?”
Kun looks up, disgruntled. “Do you really think I’m the kind of guy to date someone because of appearances?”
“No,” Ten murmurs as Kun stands back up. “But you’re not the kind of guy to date someone like me at all.”
“The hell does that mean?”
“You have the best kind of life. I can’t even imagine holding a stable job, having people care for me the way they care for you, having a smile that melts hearts.” He shrugs, but his eyes are raw and pained. “You know, I just wasn’t made for that life.”
“I don’t know who told you that,” Kun says slowly, “But I’d be happy to help you learn otherwise. You’re meant for whatever life you can reach out for with both hands.”
“You don’t know me.”
“Dating is to find that out.”
“I teach dance and barely survive on the money,” Ten says, suddenly animated again, full of frustration. “I’m blunt and I’m always horny and I’m a fucking mess, and you’re good. Kun, you’re so good. Looking into the cafe window is like looking straight at the sun.”
“Is that why you always wear your sunglasses?”
Ten swallows. “People like us don’t match.”
“I think that’s for people like us to decide.” He holds out a hand. “I’m not going to force you into anything, but I want you to know that my feelings are earnest. I look forward to seeing you every day. When I don’t see you, I miss you.”
“You do?” Ten asks, and his voice breaks in the middle. “You miss me?”
“Yeah. I do.”
He swallows again. “What are you making for lunch?”
“I was thinking pasta, but I’m open to suggestions.”
“You really mean it?”
“Yeah, I’m not that invested in pasta.”
Ten smacks his arm, some humour coming back into his beautiful features. Kun kind of wants to shout about how painfully beautiful he is, but he gets the sense that Ten knows he’s pretty, and that it’s the only thing about himself he thinks holds any value. “You know what I mean.”
Kun softens his voice, reaches for one of Ten’s small hands. “Of course I mean it, Ten.”
“Then maybe... we can start with pasta. And see.”
“Then let’s go.”
Kun makes pasta.
Ten eats it, then quietly asks for more. Kun joins him in another bowl out of solidarity.
They watch some artsy black and white film that Ten has a lot of emotional investment in, but Kun falls asleep because he ate too much pasta, and for once he’s comfortable with feeling like an old man. Ten seems happy to have Kun’s heavy head on his shoulder, hand in hand as he continues to watch whatever the hell is happening on screen.
Kun wakes up to the sound of Ten’s laughter, the feel of his soft lips against his forehead. “Mark just rang,” he whispers. “Yukhei has had to go to the emergency room because he spilled boiling water down his leg.”
Kun groans. “Of course.”
“It’s okay. We can have a date at a different time, right?” Ten asks, full of mischief and thinly veiled vulnerability.
Kun turns quickly, presses a kiss to his surprised lips, and smiles. “Yeah. We can.”
Two months later, Kun wakes up screaming as his bedroom window rattles.
He turns on the light, only to see Ten’s head peeking through the curtains. He knocks on the window, and Kun runs over to unlock it and pull him through while Ten giggles.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I forgot the key you gave me.”
“So ring me, idiot!”
“But I thought you like me for my exciting nature?”
Kun huffs. “Sometimes.”
“Oh, really?” Ten pouts, and it totally isn't cute. Not at all. He steps out of his unlaced boots, losing two inches only to stand on his toes and press a kiss to Kun’s mouth. “A shame. I like you all the time.”
Kun puts his hands around Ten’s tiny waist and leans into the smell of fresh air and leather. “All the time then. Twenty four seven. Every waking moment.”
Ten puts his head in Kun’s neck and smiles so wide that Kun can feel the sunshine against his skin. “Wow. Likewise, Mister Romantic.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” he murmurs, “Mister Exciting.”
Ten giggles, and yeah, it sounds like sunshine. The middle of the night can’t dim his glow.