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An Arrow for a Cupid

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Lee Jinki, 34, bisexual, children’s doctor

Animals, especially dogs. Playing the piano. Fried chicken. If you like any of these three things, we’ll get along great. If you like all three, you could just be the love of my life. If you don’t like any of them that’s okay too, I’m sure I’ll like you regardless. If you’d like to get together sometime, send me a message of any kind and we can start chatting. :)

 

Yukhei eyed the profile in front of him with determination and scrutiny, tapping a company pen against his lips as he leaned back and tried to assess the situation. A doctor… There was a woman he had found before who was a forensic scientist, which was kind of the same thing as a doctor, right? Which meant that they could talk about work. But then again, there could be a lot of arguments involved if they had the same job, and although this guy didn’t look like the argumentative type one could never know… Perhaps it would be better if he matched him with that school teacher he had found before…

He vaguely registered the sound of a coffee cup being put down on his desk, picking it up without looking away from the screen and pausing with it halfway to his lips. Didn’t the teacher say she was allergic to fur? Clicking to her profile, confirmation stared back at him - a horrible match for an animal lover. Square one again.

“-hei! Yukhei!” Doyoung all but shouted, and the hand he waved in front of his face startled him so much that Yukhei spilled half the coffee mug over his shirt. Cursing, he began to wipe it off with whatever paper he could find - primarily work related - as he glared at Doyoung for interrupting his focus. At least he wasn’t wearing anything expensive. But his desk was going to be sticky and smell like coffee for days , and he would have to get a new cup, and his skin was kind of hurting and weren't burns like these somewhat dangerous?

 

“Sorry,” Doyoung said, not sounding sorry at all. “Just wanted to let you know that Luna and Amber, the ones you coupled during your first year? You know, Luna with the yoga pants and Amber-”

“Amber with the dog, yes, I remember,” Yukhei said, digging through his desk drawers for a spare shirt and trying his best to ignore the coffee currently burning his skin.

“They’re getting married. In July. Just thought you should know, especially since you got invited.”

“Really?” He looked up from the floor, clean shirt in hand and eyes wide at the news. “That’s great! Uh, tell me more about it when I’ve changed?” He asked, not even bothering to wait for Doyoung’s response as he brushed past him and into the bathroom.

 

If you had asked Yukhei to describe the bathroom on the eleventh floor in one word, he would have said not now, my shirt is like, really hot . If you had held a gun against his head and forced him to answer anyways, he would have said that it was confusing. The rest of the office had a cohesive theme of business with a touch of romance, which meant that there was abstract art on the walls and flowers in a specific colour scheme, that every desk chair had dark red cushions and matched all other furniture, but it was as if after the interior designer had finished someone else had decided to do whatever they pleased with this one bathroom. There was an oddly coloured matryoshka doll glued to the leftmost sink with the tiniest doll inside it having gotten lost over time, a painted portrait of Beyoncé and a whole heap of battle manga, not to mention the dozens of random trinkets Yukhei’s boss had picked up at yard sales and auctions. The whole floor was convinced that at least one of the items was haunted, and personally he was willing to bet that it was the creepy lion statue. There was just something about its eyes and the way they seemed to follow you…

 

The statue wasn’t the only thing in the room that was staring at him, however.

 

See, he had just gotten his shirt over his head and was furiously dabbing at his stomach with some wet paper towels when he noticed the door opening and Mark Lee immediately freezing in his steps. His eyes raked over Yukhei’s body and took in the scene before him - the shirt in the sink, the new one hung over one of the stalls, the reddened skin on Yukhei’s stomach.

 

“I’m sorry, I’ll just, I was gonna call my mom,” he stuttered before turning around and walking out again.

 

Yukhei blinked. He hadn’t even been able to apologize before Mark had hightailed it in the opposite direction. Was he really that prude? He must have been, considering that the two of them got along well otherwise - Mark was like that one guy you talked to and always felt better afterwards, and they had a really… comfortable relationship where they could do and say just about anything without judgement. They weren’t best friends or anything, but they probably could be, and although they didn’t hang out that often Yukhei wouldn’t mind if they did. He had thought he knew most of the important facts about Mark. To think that he could still surprise him like this... He supposed that that was important, to surprise one another in any sort of relationship, as it would grow stale quite quickly otherwise, and-

 

“Oh my god,” he whispered. “I know a perfect match for Jinki.”

 


 

“Kibum? With Jinki? Yukhei, with all due respect, they have like nothing in common except for the dogs.”

“And that’s exactly why they’ll work! They won’t get bored, and I think their personalities could complement each other really well,” he said, grinning at Taeyong who was still trying to hide his concerned frown. “Hey, what do you think of a first date at an amusement park? Is Lotte World too cliché?”

“Rather than it being cliché, shouldn’t you be more worried about the fact that Kibum literally wrote that he has a - and I quote - ‘ serious fear of heights’? I doubt he’d be able to go on half the rides at Lotte World.”

Yukhei waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, focused on the computer again. “Then Jinki gets to hold his hand or something. Bonding experience and all that. Don’t worry so much, Taeyong, I’ve got this.”

“If you say so…” He said with a sigh. “It’s your reputation that gets stained if this goes wrong anyways.”

“Hey, my track record is spotless!”

Taeyong raised an eyebrow. “Remember Jennie and Jongin?” 

“There was absolutely no way I could have known that they wouldn’t work out,” Yukhei said and crossed his arms in defiance. “If she had realized her lesbianism earlier I’m 200 percent sure I could have found her a better match.”

“Of course you would. Hey, before you clock out today, could you feed the fish in the lobby? Sooyoung already left and I can’t really stay behind today. Me and Johnny have a date,” Taeyong said, the look on his face no less lovesick than when the two had first started dating.

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

He had only met Johnny a handful of times, but he had a dependable quality to him that perfectly played off his boyfriend’s at times rather frantic personality, and Yukhei didn’t want to stand in the way of their love life. Not only because getting pat on the back by Johnny felt as if you had been run over by a truck - he really was far too touchy for someone his size, damn American -, but more so because he made Taeyong ridiculously happy and the guy deserved that.

Everyone did, he supposed, eyes trained on the profiles in front of him. Almost everyone at least. And getting to gift people that kind of happiness for a living was heartwarming, motivation to keep going even as he read through biographies that made the people they were describing seem positively vile, even as every new match left him with a staggering amount of paperwork. Sometimes he could laugh about it - like when a self-proclaimed “grammar nazi” had a typo in his profile, or whenever he found a particularly clever fake account -, sometimes his job made him sigh in frustration. But in the end… He liked it. Liked how grateful people were when he managed to find them their soulmate, or even just company for a while.

His eyes caught onto the envelope he hadn’t been able to open before and he carefully ripped it open. Dear Wong Yukhei and guest , the card read, Amber and Luna request the pleasure of your company…

He stared at the invitation. And guest . Quite generous of them, considering that they had only really met once or twice, but moreover, shouldn’t they be aware of the possibility that he didn’t have a partner to bring…? Would it be more rude to go solo or bring a friend? For all the fun it was to work at a dating agency, what good did it do when he himself couldn’t find-

And that was when it hit him. A stroke of genius, really, the realization that he worked with professional matchmakers, and if they couldn’t get him a partner then who could?

Wong Yukhei, bisexual, 25, he typed out. Seems like everybody says they’re laid back on here. I’m not. I’m actually really hyper...

Looks like he might be bringing that plus one after all.

 


 

Except that two weeks later things were still dead.

To be completely honest he had almost forgotten about it. The invitation had been placed in a drawer he rarely used and work kept him busy enough that his love life got sidelined. It wasn’t until fifteen days after he had sent in his profile that he remembered it and got concerned, discretely trying to ask his boss about it during lunch.

“I’ll check what’s up with it, don’t worry,” Heechul promised in between bites of some sort of foreign dish. “Might take a day or two though. There’s been - fuck, thats hot -, been a lot of tax issues lately. Would you believe that they’re still trying to charge us for Hansol? He quit six months ago, Yukhei. Six months. His resignation pay expired at the end of fucking December .”

“I mean, if you’re busy it’s not like you have to bother with my love life-” 

“Nonsense,” Heechul said, waving a hand to dismiss the argument. “Your love life is far more important.” 

Yukhei blinked. “Are you being sarcastic?”

“No, I’m perfectly serious. I’ll let you know who it is as soon as I can, alright? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with evil itself in four minutes. Enjoy the rest of your lunch.” 

“Thanks. Have fun with Siwon.”

“Oh I will. Trust me when I say that he will be suffering a lot more than me.”

 

Yukhei believed him. He stifled a giggle into his lunch at the thought of all the trouble his boss would be giving their main investor, regardless of the fact that they were rather dependent on his approval. How CEO Choi hadn’t pulled out yet was nothing short of a miracle and he honestly didn’t want to know what Heechul had up his sleeve to make him stick around. Blackmail, maybe, like records of a drunk accident or an embarrassing phase of his childhood. Or maybe there weren’t any tricks at all. Despite his easy-going nature and the fact that you rarely saw him actually doing his job, Heechul was a capable boss and Yukhei thought that maybe he should have a little more faith in him.

If Heechul said he would get him a date, Yukhei would trust him to follow up on that promise.

 


 

He was right to do so.

Heechul didn’t get back to him, but Yukhei did get a date after a mere two more days of waiting, so he wasn’t complaining. It was with a guy named Sicheng who was apparently also Chinese, and who looked so ridiculously handsome from the profile picture that even he was a bit intimidated. He played tennis, danced, studied something complicated and maths related, had been living in Korea for a little over a year and preferred tea to coffee. They didn’t really have anything in common, but Yukhei wasn’t one to be deterred by things like that - it would be kind of hypocritical if he was - and so he was really excited for Friday to roll around.

 

“I wanna make a good first impression, you know, so I have to wear something nice… Do I pick the red or blue tie? Doyoung? Are you listening? It’s important.”

“Seriously, Yukhei, just shut up ! I don’t care about your date right now, I wanna finish this report before I go home and you’re not helping,” Doyoung gritted out with a glare that might have been intimidating to someone else. To Yukhei, all it did was invoke a sense of sympathy, and a slight twinge of guilt despite knowing that Doyoung was most likely just taking out his frustrations on him and wasn’t actually that bothered by his blabbering in and of itself.

 

Either way he obliged, even though it felt like he was about to burst with excitement and questions. It was almost painful to choke down everything he wanted to say, as if he was trying to keep a monster locked down inside his body - like in Naruto , his mind unhelpfully supplied -, but he reminded himself that this was something he was supposed to work on . Not annoying people so much. Not talking all the time. Minding his own business and not trying to constantly impress people with stories to get their attention and respect, a fruitless task that never earned him anything but a few short laughs at his own expense. He was supposed to learn how to live for something other than those laughs.

And so he shut up and turned back to his work - he needed to get that done, after all, no matter how hard it was to concentrate - despite every cell in his body screaming to say something. He saved the paperwork for the weekend, even though he knew that it would have piled up by then, simply because there was no way for him to focus on such a menial task before his date. It had to be something interesting if he were to do any work right now. He glanced over at Doyoung, who was diligently filling out forms the way he always did at the end of the day. Did them a little bit at a time so that he finished them immediately after he was done with a match and didn’t forget anything about them. He didn't have to pull serious amounts of overtime, only did it when he wanted to or felt as if he should. Sometimes Yukhei really wanted to be like him.

By the time Doyoung said his goodbyes an hour and a half later, Yukhei had managed to match one couple. He had written a third of a report as well, but most of it was simply the standard template that he had copy-pasted and changed a couple of words on, and it didn’t really feel like much of an achievement when he knew that he was going to bring his papers home over the weekend like he almost always did unless he managed to focus tomorrow.

Doyoung gave him a sympathetic look when he noticed his frustration and rummaged through his bag for a ₩500 coin that he handed to him with a small smile.

 

“You’ve only had one cup today, right? Get yourself another one before you clock out.”

 

The act meant more to him than Doyoung probably understood. He did focus better with coffee as long as he didn’t overdo it, and knowing that he wasn’t being looked down upon but rather encouraged induced a heartwarming feeling that left a grateful smile on his lips as he took the coin from his colleague’s hand and wished him a good evening.

He stood up to get the coffee the minute he finished the paragraph he was writing, thankful for the break and the excuse to stretch his legs whilst simultaneously looking around to take his mind off of things. The office had gotten quite empty while he had been stuck at his desk. Taeyong was still there, because of course he was - Taeyong was probably the worst workaholic he knew, and everyone at the office had breathed a collective sigh of relief once he had announced that he was going out with someone and didn’t have the time to try and single-handedly run the company anymore. He still worked more hours than almost everyone else in the building, but they had been cut down rather drastically and it was nice to see him in a state of mind that wasn’t stress or exhaustion. He was engaged in a phone call when Yukhei walked by, and judging by the fond look on his face it certainly wasn’t one for work, but Yukhei wasn’t going to snitch. Simply raised his hand in greeting and carried on.

The lights were still partially on in Heechul’s office, but if he was right then his boss was most likely playing one of his video games again and Yukhei actually didn’t care enough to bother him. It was after hours anyways. He said a quick ‘hi’ to Jungwoo and Yuta instead - the former who was hard at work and the latter who was fast asleep -, a bit lost in thought when he finally reached the breakroom and found it already populated.

 

“You’re still here?” Mark asked. “And isn’t it a bit too late to drink coffee?”

 

Yukhei grinned, smile coming easily despite how tired he was. Something about the expression on Mark’s face, with his nose scrunched up in confusion and head tilted to assess him made Yukhei feel compelled to smile at him. 

“Nah, it’s fine. Makes me a bit more focused, you know? Wanna get a bit more done before I leave.” He squinted. “Why are you here then, if it’s not for the coffee?” 

“Heechul has a second ramen stash behind one of the paintings,” Mark said, completely serious.

He hesitated for a moment. “Are you joking?” 

Mark shook his head, eyes filled with sincerity when he replied. “It sounds super cliché but he had a couple of secret cupboards installed when they remodeled the office. Just in case, you know? And this one is for noodles and snacks.”

 

Yukhei wasn’t sure if it was because he trusted Mark or because it seemed like something Heechul would do, but he believed him, believed that there were hidden vaults in the building for no real reason other than that they might be useful.

 

“Aren’t they locked?” He asked, instead of saying that’s ridiculous

“Yuta gave me the password.” 

“Is it the same for all of them?” He asked, instead of saying I’m not that gullible.  

“No, I only know how to open this one…”

“Can you show me?” He asked, instead of saying I don’t believe you.

“Sure,” Mark said, and Yukhei was rewarded with an excited smile as his colleague took down the painting of a red splash and what some people might call meaning.

There was indeed a safe behind it. It looked unnecessarily important and expensive, like something out of a spy flick, but Mark tapped in 7-1-2-5-1-9 and the door clicked open to reveal a couple different kinds of noodles and a chocolate bar. Nothing more, nothing less, just as if it had been a normal drawer of junk food and not a hidden safe that required a six-digit passcode.

“Which one do you want?” He asked, and Yukhei shook his head.

“Not hungry.”

 Mark gave him a sceptic look, hand hovering over the packages as he stared him down. “You sure?” he asked. “When was the last time you ate?”

It had been at least three hours ago since he had a Snickers and even more since he had something that qualified as food, but he wasn’t about to tell him that - cup noodles weren’t all that appealing when they had also been your lunch. Besides, he wasn’t going to stay long, and there was food at home - real food, since it was his roommate’s turn to cook today and Jackson knew his way around the kitchen, not just store-bought meals and frozen dinners. He felt a bit bad for Mark with his beef-flavored ramen. How many times had that substituted dinner if he knew about Heechul’s secret stash? Did he eat normal food?

“Your parents don’t live here, right?” He asked as he closed the vault door.

“No, they’re back in Canada,” Mark said slowly and hesitantly, unsure of where this was going and probably confused that the topic had changed.

“Are you eating properly?”

Mark stared at him for a moment. It was a look that he didn’t really know how to read, filled with confusion and disbelief and something else that he couldn’t quite understand. The kettle was the only thing breaking the quiet - but somehow it was made much more poignant because of the sound, defining and defying the silence at the same time.

“Yukhei,” Mark began, a smile full of glee stretching across his face, “are you worried about me?” He was giggling slightly as he opened the ramen packaging, eyes sparkling with amusement and what looked like a blush on his cheeks for some reason. 

“Yes?” Yukhei asked. “Why wouldn’t I be?” It was his turn to be confused now. Wasn’t it normal to worry about the health of your friends? Yuqi doted on him all the time, but maybe that was just because it was Yuqi… But even Eunbi took him out for lunch sometimes to make sure he ate, and Doyoung reminded him to go outside at least twice in a workday. Surely it wasn’t something to get so worked up about…?

And yet Mark had gone completely silent. He kept blinking with eyes bigger than usual, mouth hanging slightly open and the blush from before having intensified tenfold. “I, uh, haha, that’s nice,” he chuckled nervously, breaking eye contact to stare at his noodles instead. “Taeyong cooks for me every other day so it’s alright...”

 Ah, right, Taeyong. Sometimes he forgot the two of them were brothers with how different they looked and since he didn’t speak a whole lot with either of them anyways.

“That’s good,” Yukhei said with a smile. “Your face is all red, by the way.”

Pointing it out seemed to somehow make Mark even more embarrassed than he already was. “It’s the noodles! I must have picked the spicy ones by accident!”

“It says ‘mild’ on the label.”

“The labeling is wrong!”

“You haven’t even eaten any!”

“It’s so spicy that just the smell is making me red-faced,” Mark said, and for the first time that week Yukhei truly, seriously laughed, and it took him almost ten minutes before he managed to collect himself.

 Somehow his work seemed a lot easier after that.

 

 


 

 

Mark Lee left for a lunch meeting on the Friday of his date, saying something about going home early afterwards to the seatmate with red hair whose name Yukhei couldn’t remember. It sucked. He was filled with nerves about meeting Sicheng and he had been counting on Mark to lighten the mood, calm his nerves. There wasn’t a lot of other people in the building he could trust to do that.

Doyoung would just glare softly until he shut up, Taeyong would go into therapist mode and try to counsel him about the reasons as to why he was feeling anxious, and Jungwoo would just listen to him without saying anything until he felt seriously unnerved by the lack of response and somehow even more on edge. Sooyoung was too much of a gossip. Wendy didn’t talk to him other than in passing. Minseok didn’t like him. His range of options was… Limited, to say the least, pushing him into the hands of unlikely advisors.

 

“Just… Be yourself,” Yuta said awkwardly and made a vague gesturing motion with his hands. “You’re a funny dude! No point in dating if he doesn’t like you for you, right?”

 

It was terrible advice, and only served to make Yukhei more nervous than he already was, which had probably not been Yuta’s objective. Under normal circumstances that ‘probably’ would be a ‘definitely’, but he had scribbled all over Yuta's files as revenge for him accidentally locking Yukhei in the building overnight one time last week and they weren’t close enough for him to gauge how well Yuta could hold a grudge. Regardless of his intentions, the result was the same: Yukhei came out of the conversation feeling awful.

In all honesty it wasn’t even because the advice in and of itself was that bad. It wasn’t helpful, that’s for sure, but it would probably not make anyone else feel this upset. But it fed into a pre-existing belief that he wouldn’t ever be able to date since people couldn’t like him for him, nourished the thought that unless he pretended to be someone else he would always be lonely. It was the exact opposite of what Yuta had said, but he just couldn’t believe it. Not when it hadn’t worked out before.

 Still, Yukhei thought with a sigh, I suppose I could give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 


 

 

He arrived late for his date.

He didn’t mean to, he seriously didn’t - the time had been marked in his calendar and there was a series of phone alarms set to remind him to not be late . But he had set them too early, given himself so wide of a margin that he managed to tell himself that he had time to read a chapter or two or five of the novel he had borrowed the other day and then suddenly the date was in half an hour and he hadn’t even showered yet.

It was 18:41 when he finally arrived, eleven minutes too late and a bit too disheveled for his own taste.

Sicheng was still there, naturally, as eleven minutes wasn’t too bad, but he looked a bit displeased when he took in the sight before him and Yukhei was immediately hit with the uncomfortable feeling of not being good enough.

 

He shook it off him and extended a hand. “Wong Yukhei,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.” 

“Likewise,” Sicheng said without bothering to introduce himself. Somehow it didn’t sound as though he meant it.

 

An uncomfortable silence settled over them, like a thick smoke that wormed its way into your very being and clung to the fabric of your clothes. His attempts at breaking it earned him a sharp look from his date that made him squirm in his seat and trail off his sentence, and even when his questions were answered the replies held an indifference that caused him to feel self-conscious and out of place. Sicheng had already decided his order while he was waiting and waved over a waiter almost as soon as Yukhei had taken his seat, forcing him to quickly skim the menu for a dish and choose something almost completely blind when his brain failed to make sense of all the Korean under pressure, especially since the two of them had been speaking Mandarin just a minute before.

The language thing proved to be an issue throughout the whole evening. His Mandarin wasn’t flawless, he knew that, but when he was nervous it was worse and the way Sicheng’s lip curled in irritation when Yukhei accidentally said a word in Cantonese instead kind of made him never want to speak again. He occasionally messed up grammar when he spoke even under normal circumstances, one language not being quite enough to express what he meant and to paint the full picture, but he wished that he had taken his father more seriously when he suggested classes in public speaking so that he wouldn’t have to humiliate himself during any more dates. 

But at least he could say that he tried. He truly did want to make this a successful evening and tried his best to brighten the mood, say something funny. It wasn’t really his fault that Sicheng seemed to dislike him from the start, that they seriously didn’t have anything in common or his date kept rejecting all his attempts to start a conversation. The blame wasn’t on him and he knew that, in the back of his head, but it was difficult to believe in it when Sicheng’s eyes were so sharp it seemed as though they could cut glass.

It was almost relieving when the dinner ended and they parted ways without exchanging numbers. He didn’t want to say that it had sucked because he was reluctant to admit even to himself that it had been disappointing and downright burdensome, but once it was over he found it far more enjoyable to wallow in misery with his roommate and watch a cheesy drama than the rest of the evening combined. At least the food had been good even if it was a bit overpriced.

Come Monday morning Sicheng’s profile was removed from his friend list, and Yukhei had made the decision to move on.

 

 


 

 

“I don't know how you do it,” Taeyong said and dumped half a library on his desk. “Every time. Every time I tell you it’s not going to work out, because if anyone else did it it would end in disaster, and every time it somehow works out!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Yukhei said slowly, still blinking sleep out of his eyes. It had been a long night yesterday. A small fire - courtesy of Yuta, he was sure of it - had started in the storage room at around 10 and the tapir plushie (a tapir . Seriously, Heechul, why) from the men's bathroom had mysteriously been cremated along with all evidence of the crime. The cursed bathroom items was the only bet Yuta wasn’t part of, since he didn’t “fuck with demons” in his own words, but Yukhei had little doubt he was the one who set it on fire. Probably to ward off the evil spirit inside. Jungwoo, who had ₩50000 on that very plushie, had his seatmate convinced that the devil himself resided in a stuffed animal the shape of an ugly tapir, and whether or not he realized that this would cause Yuta to get rid of it was a mystery that would haunt him till his dying days. Either way he had demanded to be compensated by the rest of the betting pool (sly thing probably realized he wasn’t going to win) and Yukhei had been short of both sleep and pocket money once he finally made it home.

 

Taeyong rubbed his temples. “Jinki and Kibum,” he said. “They called me to say that they really hit it off. Lotte World was a success, which is just bizarre - do you want to know what happened?” Yukhei didn’t have time to respond before he continued. “Jinki naturally liked him from the start - I mean you saw his profile, the man was about as non-selective as they come -, but fell for him properly once he saw Kibum posing with that one mascot Mark thinks is so cute, you know the one with the ribbon?” Yukhei shook his head, then nodded. If he remembered correctly it was kind of ugly. Mark liked that? Huh.

“Anyways, he wanted a picture with it but it turned out blurry and Jinki apparently fell in love when Kibum just laughed instead of getting angry at his lack of photography skills. Like can you believe? Of all the things to get enamoured with!”

 

Yukhei very pointedly did not mention that Taeyong fell for Johnny because he looked cute walking into a door frame.

 

“And-”, he began instead.

“And Kibum! Kibum screamed his lungs out after being convinced to go onto a rollercoaster, poor thing didn’t want to admit that he was afraid of them and Jinki seemed to not have read his profile even though we sent it to him , but get this: apparently Jinki started singing during the ride to prove that he was having fun, and he had such a ‘nice, stable voice’ - not my words - that Kibum fell in love instantly, especially once they got off and Jinki bought food for the two of them to make it up to him.”

 

Taeyong was slightly red faced at this point, breathing a bit heavier than usual after having spoken so many words with so much passion. It seemed as if he was done though, and Yukhei dared to tentatively ask a follow-up question:

 

“What’s so bad about all that?”

 

He watched Taeyong carefully, trying to determine whether or not he was going to launch himself into another speech and give out under stress, but after a moment of suspense he seemed to simply deflate with a long, heavy sigh.

 

“Nothing, Yukhei, it’s a good thing. Don’t look so sceptical, I mean it! It’s just a bit unbelievable is all. I mean you’re less hit or miss - don’t say it - than Wendy at least, so there’s less complaints, but… I don’t understand how you do it and it bothers me.”

“Taeyong,” he said with what he hoped was a comforting smile, “ I don’t get how you manage to do whatever it is that you do. You know me! I’m only observant when it comes to couples, I could never handle all the things you-”

“That’s not what I meant, Yukhei,” and if his own smile had looked comforting then the one on Taeyong’s face coupled with the tone of his voice made him feel five years old. “I’m just curious, and it annoys me a little bit that everyone always seems to know about love affairs before I do.”

“Oh! Is this about Sooyoung and the profile she set up with herself?”

Taeyong, to his credit, managed to keep his voice down even as his face and body language betrayed all the shock he felt. “She what? She shouldn’t even have access to them! When was this?”

Yukhei mimed zipping his mouth shut.

“I’ll do half your paperwork for this week if you tell me more about it,” Taeyong promised. He shook his head. No matter how tempting an offer it was to be rid of such a chore, he wouldn’t let Taeyong overwork himself. Johnny had made everyone promise to look after his boyfriend on his last visit and Yukhei wasn’t above being slightly terrified at the thought of making him mad.

“I’ll give you the password to Heechul’s ramen supply,” he proposed, and frowned when Yukhei shook his head again. “Do you already have it? Ugh, you got it from Mark, didn’t you… Don’t answer, I don’t want to know...”

“I’ll get you your money back from the whole fire fiasco,” Taeyong said. Now, let it be on record that Yukhei was not a treacherous person, but there was a new Zelda game coming out this weekend and he really, really wanted to get his hands on it. Under circumstances like these he can’t really be blamed for caving in and admitting that:

“She saw the file on my desk, it was one of the cases I was working on last week, a girl named Yerim, I’ve had some trouble with her and asked Sooyoung to take a look while she was passing by. That’s all I know, I swear! But I think they worked out? Yerim messaged me and said ’u didnt do anything but thanks’ and I take that to mean ’thank you the date went well’.”

 

Taeyong clenched his jaw, then unclenched it, breathing a bit unevenly and eyes squinting throughout his story. It was extremely apparent that he wasn’t pleased. His face had always been expressive like that, an open book to just about everyone.

 

”That’s against the rules…” He muttered to himself, frowning and chewing on his bottom lip. ”But she didn’t hurt anyone… But how would we fill out the papers if we didn’t officially match the client…”

Yukhei cleared his throat. ”Also, uhm... Jungwoo cost me 25000 won.”

”25000?” Taeyong asked and raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t he only have 50000 on it? I thought you were more than three people who took part in that bet.”

“I can’t remember exactly how he justified it but he did,” Yukhei argued. “Something about compensation for the mental strain? I don’t know, but you can ask like anyone in the office if you don’t believe me.” He leaned back in his chair, looking past Taeyong to talk to his deskmate. “Hey Doyoung, Jungwoo made us all pay him 25000 won last night, right?”

Doyoung looked up from his paperwork with surprise painted all over his face. “He let you get away with 25? I had to pay the full 50!”

Yukhei’s eyebrows shot so far up his face he worried they would touch the ceiling and leaned forward to talk to Taeyong instead, ignoring the outraged look he was getting from his seatmate.

“What were you upset about in the first place then, if it wasn’t the thing with Sooyoung?”

Taeyong sighed deeply as he remembered, shoulders kind of slumping down and hands twisting together as a nervous tick. “It’s about Mark and Hyuckie,” he admitted.

 

Yukhei froze. He could feel the smile on his face freezing up and sliding off his face, and the pen he had been holding fell onto the floor, but he couldn’t really figure out why the thought of Mark in the context of romance had such an impact on him. Maybe it was because his own dating life was such a travesty and he had assumed it would be the same for Mark, but… Somehow that didn’t feel like it was the case.

 

“Hyuckie?” He asked after a momentary pause, almost a gasp after forgetting to breathe for a moment.

Taeyong nodded. “His best friend. You know Mark transferred here from Canada, right? Well, I promised mom and his dad that I would take care of him, but the second he got here this kid called Donghyuck from the apartment next door introduced himself, they had a fight, made up, and have been super close ever since.”

“... And they’re dating?” Yukhei asked somewhat nervously.

“People say so,” Taeyong said, frowning. “That they have to be, given how touchy-feely they are, but… I just don’t see it. Donghyuck is touchy with everyone , you know? And while Mark isn’t like Johnny or anything he’s still more used to skinship than most people here, so I just assumed it was the way their friendship worked… But I don’t know if it’s only me who’s unable to see it or if there’s actually nothing and it bothers me that I don’t know something like that about my own brother.”

 

Yukhei could understand that. That had to be the reason for his own discontent, why the prospect of Mark having a boyfriend bothered him so much. He had assumed that they were friends as well, and at least kinda close ones at that, and being told by someone that his so called friend hadn’t let him in on such an important fact kind of hurt. Did he not want Yukhei to meet his boyfriend? Why? He wasn’t that embarrassing, right?

Taeyong must have noticed him looking put out, because he hurried to say that “it’s probably nothing, Johnny thinks they’re just friends too,” before picking up his books and leaving but from what he knew Johnny was even more oblivious than Taeyong and that statement did little to lift his spirits.

But at least it seemed like Mark wouldn't necessarily be the only one with a potential boyfriend, Yukhei thought as he heard his computer chime with a new email, smiling while he read through its contents.

Because apparently he had another date at the end of the week.

 

 


 

 

His name was Ten, though he was informed that this was a nickname for something Yukhei couldn’t pronounce, and he suffered the same problems with Mandarin that he did. His hair was shiny and well-maintained, his smile looked cocky in a fun way, and he was really, really, seriously short. It seemed to bother him a lot actually and Yukhei was suddenly glad he hadn’t planned his own date at Lotte World just because Jinki and Kibum’s had gone so well. He got the feeling Ten wouldn't appreciate being banned from a third of the rides.

Regardless of his initial annoyance once they got introduced - 186cm? Are you insane? -, they got along well and Yukhei was really beginning to hope that they had something based on the chat they had before the movie started, where it was made clear that they both liked pineapple on pizza and swore to get some afterwards just to “spite the haters”, in Ten’s words. It was fun. He bought the tickets, Ten got the snacks, neither of them were stingy and it was a good sign. They had similar taste in movies.

The only one problem was revealed halfway through the movie when the main leads had just broken up, before they inevitably got together again in the final act (he had seen it before, to make sure the date wouldn’t be stained with an awkward sex scene, and the movie was also very predictable). When Ten first started crying Yukhei had concluded that the reason he wasn’t tearing up was because he had already seen the film. After a quiet exchange of whispered ‘“are you okay?”, “yes”, “are you sure?”, “yes”’, he left it alone until the end credits, assuming that his date was simply someone who easily cried during romantic movies.

That wasn’t the case. A rather awkward dinner made that fact very clear.

A teary-eyed Ten dragged him into a pizzeria that he claimed was the best one around, choked out an order for the two of them and found a table at the very back, at which point he decided to start full-on sobbing. Yukhei didn’t know what to do. His date had placed them across each other, with a sturdy table between them that made it difficult to make any comforting gestures such as rubbing his back or hugging him, but trying to make him laugh only made things worse. The waitress glared at Yukhei when she showed up with their food and he was suddenly very thankful for the high seats in their booth which at least shielded them from the other customers.

The food looked good but he wasn’t that hungry. He let Ten dry his tears and inhale two slices with a distant look in his eyes before hesitantly touching the pizza they were supposed to share.

Only then did his date properly look at him.

 

“I’m sorry,” he began, swallowing a mouthful of food. “I guess I owe you an explanation…”

 

Yukhei chewed his slice slowly to avoid answering, letting his date decide whether or not he wanted to share what had been bothering him whilst simultaneously trying to think of something good to say.

 

Ten sighed. “I just got out of what could have been a relationship and my friends thought it would be a good idea to get a rebound, even though we weren’t actually dating so I guess it would be more of a replacement thing, but that sounds really horrible and I’m sorry.”

“Oh.”

 

There wasn’t a lot to say about that despite the amount of questions cluttering Yukhei’s mind.

 

“What do you mean not actually dating?” He settled on after a momentary pause. Tried to distract himself from being burdened by the word replacement .

 

Ten sighed again. Half the pizza was gone at this point and he hadn’t even finished his first slice, but the man was clearly in distress and Yukhei wasn’t going to deny him his comfort food.

 

“So we’re really good friends,” Ten began, and Yukhei felt a chill of unease as he was reminded of Taeyong’s words about Mark. 

“We’ve been flirting - or at least I think we have, I was serious about it and he definitely returned it - for a really long time, but… I messed it up. I tried to make him jealous by going clubbing and bringing a guy home but he just got mad at me for not warning him and we haven’t really talked since then.”

“Does he really have any right to get that angry with you for something like that? Unless you’re dating it doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal.”

“It’s not the first time though,” Ten said. “I used to do it all the time and I only quit because he told me it was a serious pet peeve, so I guess he took me doing it again to mean that I don’t respect him and his boundaries.”

“Ah. Yeah, that makes sense,” he said, swallowing so hard he was sure Ten could hear it. “Have you tried… Apologizing?”

 

His date mumbled something he couldn’t hear, boring holes into the tabletop with how intently he was staring at the glossy, slightly greasy surface.

 

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“No,” Ten admitted. “He ran out of the apartment before I got a chance to and I don’t really wanna do it over text. He probably isn’t into me anyways 'cause he’s been ignoring me ever since...”

“Look,” Yukhei said, nervously licking his lips. “If it bothers him that much you really need to apologize, regardless of whether or not he likes you. You should do it because he’s your friend, you know, and wouldn’t it suck a lot more to lose him completely than to be rejected? Corner him in your apartment or something and just apologize. And confess. You really should confess, I think it would clear things up a bunch…” He held up his hands. “Ah, but that’s just my opinion, I don’t know a lot about the situation so maybe-”

“No, you’re right,” Ten sniffed, drying his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. “I should just clear things up. Not like me to be so wimpy, haha....” His laugh rung hollow in the tiny restaurant, tables empty save for a group of teenagers in one corner and an employee on break. 

“Thank you,” he continued. “For the advice, and stuff. And I’m sorry that this wasn’t the date you were expecting or anything, I just…” He inhaled sharply as he picked up a tissue to loudly blow his nose, wiping at it and the tears on his cheeks. “I needed this.”

“It’s fine,” Yukhei said. It wasn’t. He had been looking forward to an actual date for a long time and not only was it a disaster, he had been forced to spend money on a movie he’d already seen and his date told him that he was supposed to be a replacement. But whatever. There wasn’t really anything to do about it and he sympathized with Ten even if he couldn’t really relate to what he was going through.

 

Ten nodded and finished the last slice of pizza with a thoughtful look in his eyes.

 

“Thanks again,” he said once they were outside, reaching up to awkwardly pat Yukhei’s cheek in what was supposed to be a reassuring motion. “I’ll try my best to fix things with Hendery and you go find yourself another date, okay? A better one. You’re a good looking guy, I’m sure you’ll find someone too.”

 

With that and a tired wave, Ten left him standing outside a shabby pizza place with his heart feelings strangely empty. 

The parting words echoed in his head during the walk home and he couldn't stop thinking about them. Couldn't help but be reminded of past insecurities he didn't want to think about. Because what was the point of being handsome, really, since it didn’t make him attractive to people beyond an appreciative once-over? He was a face in a crowd that people lingered on a bit longer than usual, maybe even made them whisper something to one of their friends saying that the tall guy over there, isn’t he handsome? , but at the end of the day few people approached him and even less talked to him ever again. It was always him who had to do it - introduce himself, make small talk, offer up a piece of himself and hope that people got interested. And though he had tried his best to not let that get to him, to remain positive and happy and every other synonym, it was difficult not to feel envious of those that didn’t have to always try so hard to be likeable.

He envied Jisung, for example, who people immediately wanted to dote on. He envied Heechul, who made everyone feel welcomed and at peace, and Taeyong, who commanded everyone’s attention, and Jackson who made people laugh without having to make an effort. He even envied his brother for managing to get a boyfriend despite having the same problem that he did. But Minho didn’t have to struggle with all the rest - yes, he was handsome, and people looked at him the same way they looked at Yukhei, but he had an approachability to him that made him seem trustworthy and friendly and people couldn’t help but talk to him, even if it was simply to ask for directions or help with something that they probably already knew. He didn’t have to initiate a conversation for it to happen.

And once he held someone’s interest, once he was in love, he managed to stay in love and not get bored nor have his partner grow tired of him. Minho was the perfect boyfriend, devoted for years and buying thoughtful gifts for every anniversary, never failing to make his partners feel appreciated. He cooked dinners, brought lunch to Jonghyun’s studio, surprised him with self-written music and movie tickets, knew whenever he was in a bad mood and how to cheer him up. Yukhei quit his unhealthy habit of comparing himself to his brother many years ago, but thinking about it now still left a bitter taste in his mouth regardless of how much time had passed. Perhaps he hadn’t changed as much as he would like to believe.

The cashier winked at him when she gave him his ice cream, but Yukhei couldn’t muster up the energy to be grateful.

 

 


 

 

The thought hadn't really left him the next work day, but it had evolved into something more contemplative and specific, concerning how he would act in a new relationship. The dates had made him wonder if maybe he could be like Taeyong soon too. Calling a partner while he was stuck at work just to hear their voice and get the motivation he needed to finish and go home, putting cheesy messages on the fridge and ordering flowers just because .

But somehow he doubted it.

It seemed too normal , something that belonged to other people, people who didn’t have to worry about suddenly speaking too loudly or forgetting birthdays or interrupting people in the middle of a sentence or losing interest in things as soon as they reached an equilibrium and stabilized. None of his (pitifully small amount of) relationships had lasted longer than six months - and even that one was kind of an anomaly, as the only reason they didn’t break up sooner was because Xiao Jun just wasn’t around often enough for them to discuss it. Despite his good looks he simply hadn’t been very lucky in love, and the fairytale relationship Taeyong and Johnny had seemed discouragingly out of reach. Maybe he should just learn to settle for what he already had. Find a way to be happy in his loneliness and try to convince himself that this was by choice, by design, that he wasn’t involuntarily alone and that if he wanted to he could be in a real relationship despite the fact that they had never worked out.

But he barely managed to finish the thought before he rolled his eyes and smirked a little. When did he get so pessimistic? Of course there was someone out there for him. It was like Yuta said, he was hot and funny. Could play the Game Of Thrones intro on piano with one hand (thanks Johnny), had finished every main series Pokémon game, owned a PlayStation 4 and even knew how to make really good dau fu fa (thanks grandma). If Clark the IT guy - fucking Clark - could have a devoted, loving wife, then who was to say he couldn’t get a partner? Maybe it wouldn’t be a typical relationship, but it wasn’t as if he had no charms or as if his case was hopeless. In a way he probably gave up prematurely, assumed he was a lost cause and decided against putting in enough effort. 

He wondered who would be his type. Not looks wise, but in a relationship, what kind of people he could picture a future with. Not someone like Doyoung, that’s for sure. Or Taeyong. They were both such perfectionists, so intensely focused and pristine that he knew a relationship with someone like them could never work out. And someone like his roommate wouldn’t do either, Jackson and him were too sloppy and platonic, best bros who at most could jack each other off if they were drunk enough but who never really had that kind of romantic tension. And also his room smelled really disturbing. No, he thought with a shudder, he couldn’t date a person like Jackson. Or someone like Sooyoung, who was happy and loud and a bit devious - they were too alike, he supposed, though they still didn’t like each other that much; he thought she was overdramatic and she found him annoying. He would be too scared to date a person like Jungwoo. Yuta was too carefree, Wendy too draining.

And then there was Mark. Mark was cool. He was funny and interesting without being obnoxious, and simultaneously motivated and calmed Yukhei down. He didn’t hold him back, but didn’t cause him to do stupid shit either, brought out only the best sides of him. Not to mention that Mark himself was a delight to be around. All smiles and tiny hands and semi-bad jokes that only really got funny because of his expressive eyes that were always filled with laughter. You couldn’t help but get pulled along and laugh just because it was funny to him , his joy was so infectious that not even CEO Choi could resist smiling a little when Mark had muttered a “Mr. Grey will see you now” to him when it was time for his and Heechul’s monthly statistics report. It was a terribly inappropriate thing to say to the man overseeing your entire company, especially in front of the whole floor, but he hadn’t been able to stop blushing and the giggles he was desperately trying to repress were charming enough for CEO Choi to dismiss it with a smile . There was a quality to him that make him instantly likeable and Yukhei thought that yeah, he could definitely date someone like Mark.

Which was a rather bizarre thought to have, but Yukhei didn’t like to dwell on things and although anxieties about his love life weighed heavy on his conscience, he had come to the realization that life was more enjoyable if you tried not to think about those things too often. Distracted yourself with memes and jokes and pushed every bad thought into dusty cobweb-covered corners of your mind until they became so overbearing that you had to stop and cry for an evening before moving on again. It was an unhealthy habit, detrimental to his overall health, but until he had managed to find a more permanent solution it was all that he had and he wasn’t going to slip into beating himself up over thoughts he didn’t want to have when he could just ignore them in favor of something else.

Perhaps that was why he liked people so much. They were a distraction from himself.

But of course he didn’t like all people the same - Clark in IT was a smug bastard, for example, and Yuqi should stop nagging so much, whilst Jackson was the coolest guy ever -, and that was the reason he found himself that afternoon repeating a story he had told so many times before that he had grown sick of it. Because he hadn’t told it to Mark.

And Mark… Mark had this way of making him feel like he was the most interesting person in the world.

 

“So there I was, barbeque sauce on my tiddies,” Yukhei said with his hands wildly gesticulating to emphasize what he was saying. There was a giant smile on his face and he knew that it was because of him , because Mark kept giggling at everything he was saying and slapping his arm as if every word coming from Yukhei was comedic genius. If he was completely honest with himself, it was cute. He didn’t repeat old stories only for the satisfaction of successfully entertaining someone. Normally he would breeze through the old ones if they ever came up in conversation, summarizing them in a couple sentences, but the way Mark scrunched his nose when he laughed and how his whole body shook with glee and amusement had him thinking that it was worth it. That the happy glint in his eyes made the story interesting again. Made him feel important.

 

“Seriously, Yukhei, you’re like so funny,” Mark said with a smile that seemed to be glued in place. Cocked his head to one side and giggled again. He appeared to be a bit embarrassed by his confession as there was a blush dusted across his cheeks, and when Yukhei forgot to keep his thoughts strictly focused on the topic at hand he slipped and mentally called it pretty . The revelation surprised him a little bit. On one hand it was a fact of life, that Mark Lee was cute, but on the other… It wasn’t something he had ever had reason to think about, what with the two of them being little more than surface-level friends, but once the thought had gotten into his head he found it difficult to let go of without first scrutinizing every part of his appearance.

People always told Yukhei he had pretty, deer-like eyes, but there was a certain innocence in Marks’ that made them fascinating in their own way. It was as though he held a limitless curiosity for the world and those eyes honestly reflected everything that he saw if you knew how to read them. He didn’t, not yet, but the way they were brimming with emotion made him itch to learn each and every shade of Mark Lee’s emotional spectrum. To find out what each different movement of those oddly-shaped eyebrows meant. Which smiles meant what. He was pretty, Yukhei concluded, in an unconventional way. His wasn’t a face one forgot. If you spoke to him you would remember what he looked like and how he talked. Mark Lee didn’t have the prince-like looks of his brother, who would get stopped in a crowd just to be stared at, but he had a different type of beauty that in a way was more memorable. Special.

With his 186cm almost everyone was short to Yukhei, and Mark would probably be considered tall by most people’s standards, but everything about him just seemed tiny . Tiny little button nose, small but nicely shaped mouth, baby hands. Yukhei wasn’t sure why he fixated on those baby hands so much. Maybe it was because they so clearly highlighted their size difference. Whatever the reason, Mark’s small hands were really charming, as was the rest of him. But seriously, Yukhei could probably fit both of his hands in just one of his own and it was distracting. Made him want to try it out.

And he had never really had very good impulse control, even if it had gotten better in recent years.

 

“And I didn’t mean to throw up in his closet, but I also really didn’t wanna kiss Daniel because he smelled like beef, and I was kinda drunk, and- Yukhei, what are you doing?!”

 

His hands were soft, much softer than he had been expecting, and he was almost right in being able to grasp both of them with one hand. In back of his head he couldn’t help but wonder what kind of lotion he was using. The nail on his left thumb was slightly cracked and there was a small scar on the back of his right hand that Yukhei found himself absentmindedly stroking. Wondered if his cheeks were as smooth as his hands.

 

“Yukhei…” Mark mumbled. There was an embarrassed look in those pretty eyes and he belatedly realized that he was probably making his coworker feel seriously uncomfortable. With a jerky, startled movement he let go of his hands, a part of him mourning the loss of contact.

 

“Sorry,” he said. There was a tangible tension between them as though the air had been stretched thin, like fabric being pulled taut to the point of tearing. “You have baby hands,” Yukhei said with a grin that came almost automatically, a somewhat anxious attempt to ease the mood that had Mark giving him a quick, soft look of relief.

 

“I don’t!” He protested, a more relaxed smile on his face as they fell back into comfortable territory. “Yours are just gigantic!”

 

They bickered a bit about it until Taeyong called for them to get back to work. They were able to pretend as though the moment never happened, all easy smiles and familiar semi-insults, and he was glad that his mishap hadn’t pushed his friend away - but as they parted ways Yukhei couldn’t help but replay the scene in his mind over and over.

 

 


 

 

He thought about that moment a lot. Thought about Mark quite a bit in general. But everytime he did so it was in the confines of the office, his colleagues were a part of his job and only that, that was the only box they belonged in and Yukhei never considered them once he left the building. They were separate to his spare time. Outside of work, it felt as though they simply didn’t exist. As if he would never encounter them anywhere else, like NPCs that didn’t have code written for them outside that one office building. 

It was a thought that Yukhei began to realize had been extremely naïve.

 

“Dude, did you really have to get the last one?” A familiar voice asked, and Yukhei looked down to find a surprisingly plainly dressed Mark Lee glaring at the bag of chips he was holding. Original Orion pocachips. Nothing special. But they were his favourite Korean ones, a bit more expensive than some other brands but worth it, and he had been looking forward to eating them with craft beers and whatever that deadly spiritmix his roommate always made was. The chips were lightly salted and the perfect snack to eat while you were tipsy as they had just enough crunch and not too much of a flavor. You could binge a bowl to ease the queasiness drinking on an empty stomach brought on without having to eat actual food. From experience - and Yukhei mentally winced a little at the memory - he knew that trying to eat a full meal whilst drinking spirits wasn’t a great idea, especially not if you were end-of-the-week tired and tended to forget to drink water.

 

“Yukhei,” Mark said, his tone surprisingly gentle as he reminded him of his presence. As if he didn’t mind that he had been frozen in place for a couple moments too long and forgotten to respond.

 

“There’s another on the shelf above you,” he pointed out. Ignored how weird it was to see his coworker outside the building. In soft-looking shorts, a baby blue hoodie without sleeves, less than fashionable off-brand Vans which looked as though they had been through hell and back a dozen times over. His hair was tousled without the usual product Mark used to keep it out of his face. He looked soft. Younger. Yukhei suddenly got the crazy urge to invite him to the movie night he had scheduled with his roommate, and he wasn’t really sure where it came from. They’d never hung out outside work. Hadn’t even talked to each other.

 

“I can’t reach that,” Mark said with a slight pout that really was too cute for his own good. It made Yukhei feel kind of funny, like he’d already drunk a shot or two of the dangerous “blend of the house” in his apartment, legs suddenly a bit unsteady and stomach twisting with what he refused to call nerves because this was Mark Lee, his awkward coworker, and he really had no business feeling nervous around him.

 

“Tough luck,” he grinned.

 

He watched with fascination as Mark shot him a glare before standing on his tiptoes, trying the best he could to reach the bag above him. But to no avail. There was just a couple of centimeters missing - maybe two or three - and the bag would be in his hands, but no matter how hard he tried it didn’t seem to be working.

Just as Mark was about to jump and climb the shelf - probably knocking a lot of shit over in the process - Yukhei stopped him with a panicked wave of his hands.

 

“I’ve got it, chill…” He said and reached up to grab the bag.

 

“Thanks man,” Mark said with a grateful smile and took it from him. “Hyuck kept threatening to hide all the drinks if I didn’t get the right kind. And I was the one who bought them.”

 

It felt as though someone had poured a bucket of cold water over him and instantly sobered him up. Donghyuck, Mark’s best friend/ boyfriend. Who he was going to drink with, presumably at home since they were buying their own snacks. Donghyuck who everyone insisted that Mark was dating. He wasn’t sure why the thought of their relationship bothered him so much.

 

“Hyuck?” He asked, playing dumb. 

“Donghyuck, my best friend,” Mark replied with a fond smile and an eyeroll. “He’s an idiot and also way too dramatic but that’s what best friends are like, right?”

 

If he had been feeling tipsy before, the loving look in Mark’s eyes made Yukhei feel as though he was nursing a horrible hangover. His mouth was dry and tasted bitterly like when you woke up the day after and hadn’t had water in 12 hours, his palms were clammy, his head was pounding, and there was a bout of nausea in the pit of his stomach that got worse the more he thought about it.

 

“O-oh,” he said. Tried to rack his brain for an appropriate reply that would alleviate some of the tension. Nothing . He wasn’t even sure why it mattered so much to him that Mark had friends, good friends, possibly even a boyfriend. Or several. It wasn’t any of his business, right? But maybe that was the problem. Maybe he wanted it to be his business.

 

Mark gave him an odd look and checked the time on his phone. “I should get going,” he said. “There’s pizza at home and it would suck for it to get cold.”

 

Yukhei nodded. Swallowed. Ignored the fact that Mark had just confirmed that Donghyuck was waiting for him at home. Something about the way he had said ‘home’ as if it was theirs just didn’t sit right with him, made his heart feel constricted and restrained.

“Yeah, I hate when that happens. It was good to see you though,” he offered with the stablest smile he could manage.

 

The bag of chips in his hand felt unusually heavy when Mark had left. Left to a home, to a we , where Yukhei’s own attempts continued to fall flat. All he had was a dynamic roommate and dates that never seemed to go well no matter how hard he tried. His efforts seemed as fruitless as Mark's quest to get chips from the highest shelf and Yukhei wondered if that meant he should attempt the jump to get what he wanted, knowing that it probably wasn't going to end well. The thought was exhausting and confusing, and as he mumbled a ‘hi’ to the smiling cashier he forced himself to drop it and instead hope that the next date would go better.

 

 


 

 

“Hi, are you Irene? I’m Yukhei,” he said and stood up to greet the woman in front of him.

She frowned. “Excuse me, but why are you seated here?” 

“I’m your date,” he said, slowly and hesitantly, confused by her question. “Wong Yukhei, we were paired via 1+1=Love ?”

Irene’s pretty eyes flashed briefly with what looked like pity. “I’m sorry, there appears to have been some sort of mistake - I’m a lesbian and I was under the impression that I was here to meet a woman named Kang Seulgi. If you excuse me, I’ll be taking my leave now.”

 Yukhei couldn’t do anything but nod and watch as she walked away.

 

 


 

 

So the dates were going terribly, but at least he had his job. Yukhei really liked his job. Everyone got along well, apart from a handful of strange choices the building was very aesthetically pleasing on both the in- and outside, the work was challenging but fun and rewarding, and the pay was in the immediate range above decent. It wasn’t a bad job by any means, especially not when you did your Bachelor's in English.

But every now and then he seriously questioned his life choices.

 The man on the phone was outright sobbing about a date gone wrong, wailing that he was doomed to be alone forever because this Sana didn’t seem to like him. He was kind of pathetic, to be honest, wearing Yukhei’s patience very, very thin - it wasn’t even his client, trust Doyoung to give out the wrong number -, and Yukhei was mere seconds away from hanging up without any consideration for brand reputation when Mark walked by and took the phone from him.

 

“Sir? No, this is a different agent, I must apologize for my colleague…” He trailed off and gave Yukhei a subtle thumbs up to let him know that he was handling it and that he could get back to work.

 

Not that the profile in front of him was an easier task to deal with. A woman listed as “ a bit much for most people ” and “ messy ”, who was only looking for women and preferably women who would pamper her? It was tricky enough to find a girl within her age range, not to mention someone who could actually work with any of that…

 He was eight pages into his list of available matches when Mark tapped him on the shoulder and told him he fixed it.

 

“Seriously? How? He was so angry when he talked to me...” Yukhei asked with a slight pout that made his friend laugh a little, cheeks red with what must have been second hand embarrassment.

“Told him he was too good for her, that we would find another match within a week, that in the meantime he could have 15% off at 541Lab with the promo code ‘TIGRESS’.” 

“Is that a real code?”

“Yeah, why? Updating your wardrobe?” Mark asked with a smile - the kind where he mostly smiled with his eyes, trying to hold back his amusement but having it show regardless because the guy just didn’t have any poker face when he was happy. If Yukhei hadn’t been so annoyed with work at that moment he might have called it cute.

“Are you saying that I should?” He asked instead, pouting ironically this time and looking down at the shirt he was wearing. To be fair, it did have a questionable stain at the bottom, but he had inconspicuously tucked that part into his pants and rolled up the sleeves to avoid showing off the spot where he had spilled hoisin sauce during lunch.

 

“Yuta and I have a bet on whether or not that’s a cumstain on your pants.”

“WHAT?!” He yelled, loud enough for the nearest five people to turn around before realizing that it was just him and turning back to their computers.

“He says it is, but I don’t think you’re getting any and that you probably have a special pair of sweatpants to jerk off in,” Mark stated with the all the calm of a millpond, only a teasing glimt in his eyes revealing how much fun he was having and how hard he was trying not to burst out laughing.

 

“As if you’re having more sex than I am,” Yukhei said, crossing his arms and mentally asking himself how the fuck they ended up on this topic 

Mark grinned at that, a devious smile where it was clear he knew something no one else did and was just about to share it. “Let’s just say,” he started, “that the reason I was limping on Tuesday wasn’t because I fell down the stairs.”

 

It was as if his brain completely froze over. Every thought in his mind simply halted in its tracks withered and died the second he heard those words and realized the implication of them. He barely even registered Mark going back to his own desk, too preoccupied with trying to comprehend the information he had been given.

 It was only at the end of the day that he realized that Mark Lee wasn’t as prude as the bathroom incident had made Yukhei think he was.

 

 


 

 

He definitely wasn’t. Yukhei was the biggest idiot on the planet - boo boo the fool, really - for ever thinking Mark Lee was prude. He had heard him make a BDSM joke to their CEO for crying out loud! But no, it took a sex joke and bumping into him outside a nightclub for Yukhei to finally get it through his thick skull. It was a huge coincidence that they met at all, he had really just been on the way home from the Chinese place he frequented (the owner always called him son and gave him extra dumplings) and Mark looked so different that he wouldn’t have recognized him had he not overheard him tell the driver to have a nice evening. Wouldn’t have believed it was really his coworker if Mark hadn’t looked up when he said hi, made expressions Yukhei knew belonged to him.

He just looked so different . The kohl lining his eyes seemed poetic, almost. Yukhei could see a smudge in a corner and the shape was slightly uneven, true to the shape of his eyes - but the asymmetry only served to make the look more appealing because it highlighted the fact that this was Mark. Mark Lee, his adorable coworker with the giggles and tiny hands, Mark Lee with the amused eye rolls and bad jokes. The Mark Lee that he knew from work didn’t match with this Mark, with fishnets and chokers and makeup and boots. He never knew him to be that hot.

Or hot in that way at least. In the edgy way. There had always been some innocent appeal to him, in the sense that Yukhei wanted to defile him, teach him things, ruin that innocence - but this was different. If his normal allure was a schoolboyish charm with a by Yukhei presumed eagerness (it was embarrassing to admit even to himself just how big of a turn-on it was to imagine a starry-eyed and flustered Mark Lee coming onto him all sloppy and eager - he didn’t think that fit within the boundaries of platonic intimacy), this Mark Lee made him feel as though he would be the student. As if he would be the one at mercy, begging for something, anything, with Mark in complete control. Yukhei didn’t think he’d mind that.

His dick definitely didn’t mind, if the excited twitching in his pants was anything to go by, and he forced himself to swallow and look away. Stepping off the train of thought was difficult, ridiculously so, with his mind refusing to stay focused on anything else and continuously returning to Mark hot you gay simply because he was trying so hard not to think about it - but he managed, staring at a spot just above Mark’s head and asking him something trivial. He couldn’t even remember what he said. Something about work, maybe, or something about his clothes. It wasn’t really-

 

“Uhm, no. I don’t.”

 

He blinked, glancing back at Mark’s face to see confusion in those sparkling eyes that somehow at the same time seemed both sharper and softer than they usually did.

”Sorry, what?” Yukhei asked. Mentally braced himself for the inevitable annoyed sigh or tongue clicking that always followed when asking that kind of question.

 

But Mark simply smiled, snorting with gentle amusement.

 

”Dude, you asked me if I come here often.”

 

Yukhei groaned, embarrassed by his own subconscious cheesiness. ‘Do you come here often?’ Seriously?

 

Mark chuckled, though he sounded almost tired, exasperated. “I know you didn’t mean it like that , ‘Hei. Don’t worry.” The tone of his voice was strangely bitter. It sounded strained, like he was biting back a complaint or trying not to snap at him.

“Are you sure you want to go clubbing if you’re tired?” Yukhei asked before could stop himself 

“What?”

Shit, maybe that was too invasive. “Uhm, nevermind… Do you do this sort of thing a lot? Go out I mean? I haven’t seen you around, so…” He trailed off.

 

Mark chuckled, cocked his head to one side, tapped tiny fingers against soft-looking lips in consideration.

 

“I guess? A couple times a month, probably.” He smirked. “Maybe you’ve never seen me ’cause you’re never out.”

 

Yukhei swallowed. He was right , he didn’t go to these kinds of places very often, preferring house parties and game nights and drinking over sports & snacks at Minho & Jonghyun’s. He liked people, and he liked drinking (in moderate amounts, max once a week, don’t worry mom), but it admittedly had been a long time since he went to a club or even a bar. It just wasn’t something he sought after. Beer with Minho or The Mix™ with Jackson was a good way to unwind and destress after a long week at work. Clubbing was an adrenaline rush and though it was fun, it wasn’t really what he needed at the end of a long week. But apparently people were different. Since Mark Lee clearly didn’t mind going out right after work.

 

“Oh, uhm, have fun,” Yukhei said.

 Mark raised his eyebrows, mouth forming a perfect ‘o’. “You’re not coming?”

“Do I look like I’m dressed for the club?”

 

His question was followed by a heavy pause loaded with tension. He had said it as a joke, since a t-shirt and jeans was hardly nightclub worthy regardless of how cool-looking his bomber jacket was (he had thrown it on rather carelessly mainly just because he needed pockets and it was honestly too hot to wear in this weather but taking it off and carrying it would be a hassle), but Mark seemed to actually consider the question. Took in every detail of his appearance with a level of scrutiny that honestly made Yukhei feel a little awkward.

 

“I guess not,” Mark said with a small shrug after looking him up and down for a moment too long. “You just gonna go home and sleep then?”

“Nah, I’ve got plans,” Yukhei said and raised the takeout bag for emphasis. “Movie night with Jackson.”

“Oh! From Heechul’s party?”

“Huh?”

“Jackson! He was the guy with the pyrotechnics, right?” 

“Oh! Yeah, haha… I don’t think Heechul’s neighbor appreciated them that much.”

 

Mark snickered, hiding the giggles behind his hand but to no avail as the amusement was evident by the sparkle in his eyes.

 

“You’re probably right,” he said. “Kind of a shame he’s like, permanently banned from their place though, from what I can remember he’s really hot.”

 

The comment made him feel uneasy but Yukhei couldn’t pinpoint why. Plenty of people complimented Jackson. He was hot, and worked really hard to be as jacked (hah) as he was, but it felt weird to hear Mark acknowledge it for some reason. It was the same unnerving feeling he had gotten when he first heard about Donghyuck, when Mark had that loving smile on his face when talking about him in the supermarket. It just felt wrong.

 

“I mean I guess,” Yukhei settled on, uncomfortably scratching the back of his neck. Well, mentally uncomfortable. Physically, he actually had an itch at the base of his hairline from a mosquito bite, so scratching it provided some temporary relief, and what was he thinking about, Mark Lee was right there dressed in leather and he was thinking about mosquitoes? Fuck you too, brain. Though he also didn’t want to think too deeply about the implications of Mark and leather because that was way too distracting and he knew that his pants would start tightening if he thought about it too much. The sight of him dressed so erotically had Yukhei feeling like a horny teenager again, and oh God, Mark wasn’t actually dating Donghyuck, right? He wasn’t thirsting over a taken man? Wait, was he really thirsting over his coworker in the first place? No, that couldn’t be. He was just appreciating good looks. Praising him on his effort. Maybe that’s what Mark was doing as well when he called Jackson handsome? Hm. Much to think about.

 

“Yukhei,” Mark said and pulled him back to reality. “Didn’t you have somewhere to be?”

 

Huh? The only plans he had was takeout with his roommate and-

 

“Oh shit you’re right,” he said, feeling the plastic bag to make sure the food was still hot. “I gotta go, Jackson’s gonna be sad if his wontons are cold when I get back. But it was nice seeing you! Let me know next time you’re going out and I might come with, yeah?”

 

Mark laughed softly, a gentle sound accompanied by a fond look in his eyes.
“Yeah. See you, Yukhei.”

 

And if he stayed a little too long to watch Mark’s legs and butt thighs in those sinful pants as he sauntered into the club, and if Jackson yelled at him a little for taking so long, could anyone really blame him?

 

 


 

 

Every since then, he supposed he considered Mark a lot more.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t think about him before, but the makeup club thing put him in a whole new light similar to the way meeting him at the grocery store had shifted Yukhei’s perspective before. Didn’t Donghyuck mind him clubbing that much? If they were dating after all. Cause like, of course you should be supportive of your partner’s hobbies and trust them not to be unfaithful, and Yukhei knew that if he was dating Mark he wouldn’t tell him to stop going out, but he would probably want to come with at least. If only to watch him. And oh my god, maybe Donghyuck had been there. He could have seen him. For what reason, Yukhei didn’t really know, but he kind of wanted to see them together. Find out what Mark’s type was. Because they were friends, right? And it wasn’t like he didn’t trust Mark’s judgment, but… He wanted to make sure he was taken care of. Being treated well.

He would probably like Kun. Kun was a great guy. He was also the person Yukhei should be paying attention to at the moment. It was his fourth date and so far, Kun was fantastic. Handsome, funny, kind. He was Chinese - and it had been quite some time since Yukhei had gotten a chance to properly sharpen his Mandarin without mockery - and perhaps most importantly, he was patient with none of the intimidation that Sicheng had had. Talking to Kun was comfortable. It felt as though they had known each other for years, a couple of friends catching up with each other over dinner and feeling at ease with pauses in the conversation, neither of them stressing to impress or seem interesting. But therein laid the problem. They felt like friends. There was no romantic tension, no desire from either side - from what he could tell, at least - to show off, no real interest. Dinner felt less like a date and more like the reason Kun would pay the bill was simply because Yukhei got it last time.

It wasn’t as disappointing as the disaster with Sicheng because at least he would walk out of the restaurant with a friend, but that nagging feeling of being unsuited for romance wouldn’t leave him alone. If he couldn’t fall in love with Kun , who was as close to perfect as they came, then who else? It felt as though the universe didn’t want things to go well for him. His thoughts kept drifting to other things - groceries, work, Mark. It was rude, and he knew that he should be paying much more attention to whatever Kun was saying, but he couldn't really help it. Mark had been occupying his mind a lot lately. Because of that comment about his sex life and especially because of the club, his thoughts kept drifting to him, like last Saturday when he had woken up following a rather embarrassing wet dream feeling more than a little confused, or Tuesday when he spaced out at work and walked straight into a wall, or Friday when he found himself staring more than working.

 

“They’re like my kids,” Kun said, and Yukhei laughed without knowing what he was talking about.

 

It didn’t matter how much he tried to get into the date and create a romantic mood that he honestly wasn’t craving. Didn’t matter how much he focused on Kun and thought about how nice he was. Regardless of Kun’s impressive napkin folding skills and the smoothness of his voice and how invested he seemed to be in Yukhei, the barbeque sauce story just wasn’t as funny when he wasn’t telling it to Mark.

 

 


 

 

His life more or less stabilized at an equilibrium after that. A dynamic equilibrium maybe, but an equilibrium nonetheless. He went on a couple more dates with people whose names weren’t important enough to remember, did his job dutifully and without any real problems, hung out with his roommate and brother during the weekends, thought too much about Mark Lee. Life was… Fine. The dates had begun to wear him out and Yukhei had considered more than once to pick up another hobby or start a new project - he had always wanted to get into pro wrestling, for example -, but so far he hadn’t really gotten further than googling the basics. Work was a lot and stole most of his ability to focus. Instead of actually understanding the rules when reading up on them he found his thoughts straying to Mark Lee, to his sparkly eyes and cheeks that bunched up when he smiled, to baby hands and a surprisingly nice backside. They were embarrassing thoughts, humiliating even, and often left Yukhei hiding a blushing face in his hands. But at least he didn’t have to feel that guilty about them. Because there wasn’t anything between Mark and Donghyuck and Taeyong could suck his dick for making him nervous in the first place.

It had been a very anticlimactic end to that belief, when Yukhei had finally caved and asked:

 

“Are you dating the guy you always talk about? Donghyuck? Taeyong says he wants to know.”

Mark had raised his eyebrows in surprise before giving him a smile full of mirth. “Only Taeyong?”

“Well, no... I mean we’re friends, right? So I wanna know too…”

The smile grew fonder, softer, lost the teasing edge. “In that case… No. Hyuckie and I are just friends. Never been or never will be anything more than that.”

“Oh. I’ll… Tell Taeyong that,” Yukhei said and swallowed the happiness bubbling in his throat. He wasn’t sure why that made him so happy to hear.

 

The importance he had placed on that one fact seemed silly in retrospect. There had been no need for him to feel guilty in the first place just because he thought about a coworker outside of office hours, and over-analyzing those feelings didn’t change anything. make anything better. Didn’t make him come to some sort of realization or anything along those lines. Mark was his friend. Yukhei cared about him. So what? It didn’t matter. And understanding that there wasn’t anything weird about the whole situation, that it wasn’t necessary to know the exact shade and significance of all his feelings - understanding that allowed him to settle into a slightly monotonous routine, comfortable but in the process of growing stale. A little dull, but that was okay.

Most people assumed that he was a person who longed for excitement. And to some extent they were right; Relationships got boring after a while, friends got tired of him if he didn’t get bored of them first, and he either binged a video game or didn’t end up finishing it at all. Changed music taste so often that the album shelf at home was an incoherent mess of impulse purchases. But life in general didn’t have to be that intense for Yukhei to be satisfied. He felt at ease with routines as long as there were projects to keep his mind occupied, new music to listen to, a book to read, friends to make.

Life was repetitive but Yukhei was happy anyways.

 

 


 

 

It all came crashing down on a very fateful Wednesday.

 

“Yukhei, would you come here for a second?” His boss called with a beckoning motion of his hand and stepped back to welcome him into his office.

 

The room was, as always, surprisingly clean. One would think that the place would be a mess considering Heechul’s personality and tendency to hoard, but the office was the only place he supposedly kept impeccably tidy. Or at least that’s what Taeyong had told him. Yukhei had never been to his employer’s apartment other than that one time he threw a crazy - even by his standards - Halloween party that had him accidentally making out with Jungwoo and Taeyong’s friend tripping over his feet trying to impress Doyoung. He was sure Mark had brought a plus one - his own being Jackson - and logically that meant that he most likely had met Donghyuck at some point, but his memories of that night were rather hazy. All he clearly remembered was that Jungwoo tasted like expensive champagne, that Taeyong’s friend had dimples, and that even though the apartment had obviously been cleaned there was still laundry lying around in places and a whole closet stuffed to the brim with random trinkets that he had opened on accident whilst looking for the bathroom. The place has been cleaned for an event and Heechul’s workplace was still tidier on a daily basis.

Yukhei liked his office. It was furnished according to theme with dark, reddish brown hardwood but complemented by velvet reds, purples and blues in all the fabric which accentuated the wooden paneling on the walls. It was a surprisingly traditional office and yet the few objects allowed to grace the room with their presence gave it personality, and the books on the shelves had clearly been read and weren’t just for show. It was all very… Heechul. Professional Heechul. Down to the discrete figurines on the executive desk and the anime stickers on his computer - which was open on League of Legends instead of anything productive. The guy had probably finished all his work already, damn genius. He didn’t even bother shutting the monitor off when Yukhei entered the room. Like a boss , his subconscious assaulted him with and he mentally groaned at his own bad sense of humor.

 

”So, you asked who was in charge of your profile, right?”

“Y-,” he began and Heechul held up a hand to stop him.

“You don’t have to answer that, it was a rhetorical question. But anyways, I found out who it is.”

He blinked. “You did? Who is it?”

 

Perhaps it was Yuta, with his spotty record, who simply hadn’t managed to find a good match for him. Or perhaps it was Jungwoo deciding to play a mean prank, or Doyoung who simply sidelined his case and gave him dates at random whenever strictly necessary. Maybe he should be blaming Wendy. Maybe-

 

“It’s Mark,” his boss said, and Yukhei’s world kind of froze.

“Mark?” He asked after a pause, voice uncharacteristically small. “Mark Lee? Are you sure?”

Heechul nodded. “Double checked. He’s been your agent since the very beginning.”

 

He couldn’t find it in him to do anything but swallow uncomfortably, throat suddenly all dry and choked up. There were too many questions for his brain to handle. Mark was competent. He was good at his job. The only reason he would mess up this badly this many times would be if he didn’t want Yukhei to have a successful date, and the thought of that really hurt. He considered them friends, especially as of late, but apparently Mark didn’t share those sentiments and he wanted little more in that moment than to run over to his desk and demand an explanation, would even go to his apartment if he had left already, he could ask Taeyong for the address and-

 

“-hei! Yukhei!” Heechul said, his voice sterner and more authoritative than he had ever heard it before. “I get that you’re upset but don’t do anything stupid . Think things through til at least tomorrow. Can you promise me that?”

 

He swallowed again, harder this time. Closed his eyes for a moment. 1, 2, 3, 4… His head was still filled with thoughts about Mark Lee but the impulse to chase after him was slowly subsiding to something manageable. Heechul was right. Nothing good would come out of confronting him when he couldn’t even form cohesive thoughts, not in the long run.

 

“Do you want to go home for the day?” Heechul offered.

 

He nodded gratefully. Although work would be a great distraction, there was no way he would be able to face Mark Lee had he not left yet. It would be a lot safer to just leave . Run away. Maybe his roommate was home from grad school to entertain him.

 

“Thank you, Heechul.”

 

His boss waves a hand in the air to dismiss him before turning to his computer.

 

“It’s no problem. Like I've always said, your love life is important.”

 

Taeyong gave him a worried look when he exited the office that made Yukhei wonder whether or not he knew anything. Maybe Mark told him. Gossiped about his love life to his brother, to perhaps the entire floor. Maybe everyone knew that Yukhei’s feelings had been played for a joke and no one had bothered to tell him.

But the frown on Doyoung’s face and the hushed “is everything okay?” when he walked over to pick up his things spoke of confusion, not comprehension. Yukhei could relate to that. Despite the tired nod he gave his seatmate he was no less confused than Doyoung was, mind swimming with questions and clouded by anger, hurt, disappointment. He barely registered getting home at all, acting more like a zombie dragging his feet through the building than he ever did during his university days.

It didn’t stop once he got to the apartment, didn’t stop for another couple hours which passed without him noticing. He was stuck in a trance, mindlessly watching something on the TV just to occupy his thoughts, staring blankly at the fake Greek man insisting that his food was “fresh, fresh frozen out of the can” and letting Gordon Ramsay think for him instead of crying his eyes out with betrayal. Taeyong called that avoiding the problem but he didn’t understand how Yukhei worked. Didn’t get that he needed time to calm down and passively process things before analyzing the situation.

Jackson got it. At some point during Yukhei’s Kitchen Nightmares marathon he had come home, taken one good look at the form on the couch and promptly left the apartment with the promise of bringing back food some time later. Well, he asked if he was okay first and if Yukhei felt like talking or eating anything in particular, but after a ‘no’ and ‘haejangguk’, he correctly read the mood and left for the gym, or something. It didn’t really matter. Yukhei’s brain barely registered it anyways, the conversation went in one ear and out another much the same way he struggled to remember if the episode on the TV was filmed in an Italian restaurant, or French, or American - his mind took in a couple of seconds at a time and erased the previous. It made him feel like he was trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone where the authenticity of his memories was repeatedly questioned, as they all felt vaguely surreal and became blurrier the more he tried to focus on them. A little bit like drinking something gross just to get drunk but not quite getting there, being barely past tipsy yet full of sadness and regret. Lately it felt like Yukhei spent a lot of his life feeling as though he was nursing a mental hangover and not enough of it actually being drunk on happiness.

 

It took about four full episodes until he finally decided to do something about the thing with Mark.

 

“I just don’t get why he’d do it,” He whined into the phone. There was a tub of pity ice cream in his lap even though he knew that it would fuck up his stomach later because of course his roommate couldn’t be bothered to buy his Häägen-Dazs lactose free when he should be anticipating by now that Yukhei inevitably would end up stealing it.

 

“... We’re talking about Mark, right? The tiny one who ‘for some reason’ - your words, ‘hei, blushed when you said you care about him?”

“The noodles were spicy,” he mumbled.

“What?”

 

He shook his head even though it couldn’t be seen over the phone. “Yes,” he sighed, scooping up another spoon of cookies & cream. His brother barked out a laugh.

 

“Yukhei,” he said, clearly biting back his amusement, “do you not think that there could be a reason for Mark to do this other than because he hates you? From what I’ve heard it doesn’t seem very in character.”

 

Minho was right, it didn’t make sense, but there wasn’t anything else he could think of - why sabotage his love life unless he wanted him to suffer? Why keep it up for this long? It had been far too many months for it to still be considered a prank, especially when it wasn’t funny in the slightest. The dates weren’t comical. They just made him feel bad.

 

“What else would it be if not hate?” He asked.

Minho chuckled. “Try the other end of the spectrum.”

“What do you- oh. Oh.”

 

And then it sort of clicked. The blushing, the winks, the long, considerate looks Mark would give him and how his eyes lingered whenever Yukhei stretched or bent over. Sharing the ramen stash secret with him. Insisting that Donghyuck wasn’t his boyfriend, flirting outside the club - hell, even blushing when he saw Yukhei half-naked that one time in the bathroom, all those weeks ago. Mark liked him. The thought was dizzying. His emotions had been thrown around so violently in so many different directions that he wasn’t sure what to think, disappointment and sadness hadn’t quite left his system before sharing the space in Yukhei’s head and heart with happiness, confusion, euphoria.

 

Yukhei ,” Minho said in a tone that made it evident that it wasn’t the first time he called for his attention. ” Do you like him back?

 

The answer was shockingly obvious. The ’yes’ was on the tip of his tongue and he almost let it slip without thinking before biting it back to consider the implications of that one word. For how long had his answer to the question ’do you like Mark Lee?’ been an unwavering ’ yes ’? For how long would it have made him ecstatic to find out that Mark had a crush on him? Perhaps for as long as he had been uneasy with the thought of him having a boyfriend. Perhaps even longer. But in the grand scale of things he supposed it didn’t matter, because regardless of how he looked at the situation, his answer to Minho’s question remained an unfaltering:

 

”Yes.”

 

He exhaled, shaken by the certainty with which he replied but standing firmly by the statement. Minho didn’t question it. Knew him well enough by now to know when Yukhei was serious about something and wasn’t giving his answer on pure impulse.

 

Well that solves things, doesn’t it? Go get him.

 

”You know what? You’re right.” He put down the ice cream, decided not to place it back in the freezer as revenge for the lactose but changing his mind when he remembered that Jackson was bringing home food - and he should definitely text him to cancel that, probably wouldn’t be back until later -, placing his phone on speaker to pick up the mess on the coffee table. ”Thanks for the advice, hyung.”

 

Ugh, he’d spilt some ice cream on the carpet… That would be annoying to deal with - later. Right now all he had time for was drying up the worst with a semi-clean paper towel and hoping Jackson wouldn’t be too mad about it.

 

Wait, now? Hold on, Yukhei, maybe you should take a minute to take it in - didn’t you just realize that you like this boy? Shouldn’t you maybe mope for another hour before running after him?

 

He shook his head despite knowing that Minho couldn’t see it.

 

”No time like the present, hyung. Besides, didn’t you take a plane to see Jonghyun-hyung the second you found out he had feelings for you?” Okay fuck the high tops, his hands were shaking with far too much impatience for him to tie them right now and regardless of how cool they looked, he stepped into a pair of worn-down sneakers instead and hoped Mark wouldn’t care.

 

Minho spluttered over the phone. ”That’s not-... First of all, it’s has , he has feelings for me, and secondly I had been aware of my own feelings for quite some time when I did that, and …” He heaved a deep sigh and Yukhei just knew that he was running a hand through his hair the way he always did when he was exasperated with something. ” Just… Be careful, okay? And don’t yell at him!

 ”I don’t yell!” He squeaked indignantly and threw on a jacket.

Yes you do, when you get excited! ” Minho laughed. ”But seriously, try to keep your hopes within the realm of possibility, okay?

He rolled his eyes. ”Yes, yes. I gotta go now. Bye hyung, say hi to your boyfriend from me!”

 

Bye, Yukhei ,” Minho said with a smile in his voice. ”And hey, if all goes well, say hi to your boyfriend from me too.

 

 


 

 

And then he was panting, staring at the door in front of him as he raised a hand to knock, knowing that if he stopped for another second he would back out.

 

“Mark!” He yelled. “Open up!”

 

He had texted Taeyong for the address on the way, asking where does mark live whilst rushing down two sets of stairs, praying for a quick reply even though he knew that Taeyong always kept his phone on him in case of emergencies. And sure enough; Half a minute later he got what he needed and barely looked at his phone as he typed a quick tnx its important in response, no doubt making a bunch of typos he didn’t care about but hoped wouldn’t render the message illegible.

He figured out that the 127 bus would get him there in 20 minutes but even the 8 minute wait for the next one felt too long and so he ran, turning the 12 minute bus ride into ten and leaving him doubled over trying to catch his breath once he reached Mark's apartment complex. In hindsight it didn’t save him a lot of time, but he had discovered years ago that running until your legs ached and your lungs burned kept your mind clear and empty. Stopped you from overthinking and backing out the way Yukhei feared he would have had he been forced to spend those 20 minutes doing nothing.

 

He knocked again, swallowing. “Mark!”

The door swung open. 

“Yukhei? What the f-... What are you doing here? Weren’t you sick? Why are you yelling?” A very confused-looking Mark Lee stood in the doorway of apartment 6B, hair soft and damp from a shower and mouth parted to ask more questions. The sweatpants he had on were bright yellow with a cartoon character printed on them and he looked so real, so adorable that it almost made Yukhei want to back out to avoid humiliation.

 

“Do you like me?” He blurted out so quickly that the words became incomprehensible even to his own ears.

“What?”

 

“You like me, right?” Yukhei said, slower this time, swallowing again to repress the urge to run away.

 

Mark’s eyes got impossibly wide and he nervously glanced around the hallway as though there would be someone else there. The apples of his cheeks were dusted with a warm pink colour which was growing brighter by the second and Yukhei couldn’t help but feel happy at the sight, proud to have brought out such a cute reaction and pleased that this time it was for his eyes only. The blush spreading onto Mark Lee’s ears belonged to Yukhei .

 

“Could you please come in?” Mark all but hissed, his voice tinged with embarrassment. Yukhei nodded once, twice, five times before realizing that he was supposed to do something and uprooted his feet from where they had been firmly planted to the door mat.

 Mark's apartment was unsurprisingly neat. It was bright, and the contents of his bookshelves were organized by colour, but Yukhei couldn’t have cared less if he had kept a life-sized statue of Shrek in the middle of the living room. He was there for Mark. The apartment could wait.

 And Mark… Poor thing looked nervous as hell fiddling with his hands and refusing to look up from the floor. Clearly worried about the conversation they were about to have.

 

“How did you find out?” He asked in a voice much quieter than normal. As though he didn’t want the question to be heard and answered.

“Heechul told me you’re my agent,” Yukhei said. “And then I got kinda sad about it because I thought you hated me so I went home but then I called my brother and he said you probably liked me and I figured that that makes more sense.” He finished the sentence in a single breath, anxious to get to the point and calm Mark down as quickly as possible. “Anyways uhm, if it’s true then that’s great so…”

 

At that, Mark finally raised his head to look at him. He still looked confused, but his eyes were starting to light up with hope and even though Yukhei didn’t like to call himself corny and preferred to pretend that he was cool and suave, he couldn’t help but feel his heart burst with affection at the sight of Mark’s anticipatory expression. It was like watching a miracle in the making, seeing the corners of his lips quirk once he realized what Yukhei meant, hesitantly quirking upwards until his mouth split wide open in a smile full of love and teeth and happiness.

 

“I do,” he breathed out. “I do like you, Yukhei. And you better like me back ‘cause I went through so much trouble, and-”

 

At least that’s what he thought Mark was saying. The smile was so lovely that it was difficult to hear anything past the confession through the blood in his ears and the beat of his heart, delirium drowning out the words and clouding his brain. Yukhei had the reckless urge to kiss the smile off Mark’s face.

 And he had never had very good impulse control.

The kiss was a little awkward at first, with Yukhei being slightly over enthusiastic and his hands pressing a bit too hard into Mark’s cheeks, but soon they were on the same page and he could feel Mark relax into his hands, smile and sigh contently against his lips. It made him a little annoyed to realize that he didn’t succeed in kissing the smile off him and so he tried a little harder, pulled Mark closer to him until he felt hands in his hair and teeth pulling at his lips and when did Mark get so good at kissing? The kiss was making Yukhei whimper and gasp and had he been in his right state of mind he would probably have been embarrassed but as it was, he couldn't help but enjoy the feeling and eagerly part his lips to allow entrance to Mark’s tongue. In the back of his mind he realized that Mark was shoving him onto a couch, distantly noticing that it kind of hurt to fall back on it and especially when his head hit the armrest, but then Mark was even closer and Yukhei could feel him all over and the discomfort of not quite fitting on the couch ebbed away to give space for more important sensations. Like the knee between his legs. Baby hands tugging at his hair. Teeth tugging at his bottom lip and a warm tongue licking at every part of his mouth as though Mark wanted to commit its geography to memory. He was pressing down on him more forcefully than Yukhei would have thought but he found that he didn’t mind, not when the feeling of being dominated in this way had him whimpering with desire, not when the boy on top of him moved to suck hickeys onto his neck and Yukhei bared it without a moment of hesitation.

When Mark pulled away for a second to breathlessly grin at him it had Yukhei whining at the loss of contact and under any other circumstance he would have hid his face in shame. But Mark’s eyes got a hazy look in them at the sound and it almost made him repeat the noise just to see what would happen. If it would go any further.

 

“Yukhei,” Mark said. “Does this mean that we’re dating now?”

He groaned at the question. “Yes, yes, we’re dating, please just…”

“So you’re my boyfriend?”

 “Yes, Mark, I’m yours,” he said and rolled his eyes. “Does that mean you’re gonna help me take care of this problem or are you gonna continue to ask me stuff? Because if you are I’d rather go home and handle this myself and then you can call me or something.”

 

And perhaps he sounded a little whiny, a little snappy, a little desperate, but with the way his new boyfriend was looking at him it was hard not to and in that moment Yukhei wanted nothing more than to have Mark’s hands wander lower than where they were resting on his shoulders, lazily stroking circles onto the skin beneath his t-shirt and smiling at the shudders he got in response. All he wanted was for Mark to kiss him again. To do something except torture him with the promise of relief.

 Mark smiled and ground his hips down, revelling in the moan he received.

 

“Don’t worry, Yukhei, I’m gonna help you take care of everything.”

 

 


 

 

Hours later when Yukhei had learned what it felt like to be inside of Mark Lee, he woke up to a string of soft curses and the smell of something burning. 

It took a couple moments for his brain to catch up with where he was. The bed sheets were white with a cute-looking fruit pattern, starkly different from his own plain navy or Jackson’s striped ones, and the room was neater than he was used to albeit slightly littered with clothes that weren’t his. Though that part wasn’t completely true, he realized - and at the sight of his boxers lying strewn next to a sweater which was clearly Mark’s, the memories of last night finally resurfaced and Yukhei couldn’t help the smile that overtook his face. They had done it. He had slept with Mark . Mark, his adorable coworker who apparently liked him back, who had called him his boyfriend, who gave the best head Yukhei had ever had the pleasure of receiving. That Mark. He really wanted to see him. Had to confirm that last night wasn’t a dream.

Upon closer inspection his boxers turned out to be stiff and dry from what must have been cum, and his shirt had what Mark would call a “questionable stain” on it, so he decided to take the liberty of borrowing something clean. And although the shirts were a little too small he found a pink one which only stretched a little, and despite the fact that the sweatpants were a decimeter too short he managed to get them over his hips. And Mark had clearly seen him in worse. Seen him in less. After what they had said and done, Yukhei didn’t think being seen in ill-fitting clothes would ruin his chances. The thought made him giddy - the thought of having locked Mark down and gotten him , that they had each other, that they belonged together; as corny as it sounded even to his own head, having reached the culmination of their mutual (albeit one-sidedly conscious) pining and ending up with Mark as his boyfriend felt like a dream come true. 

It was nice not to fret over his appearance and how he behaved. Last night had reassured him that even though Yukhei had made himself look like an idiot on numerous occasions, even though he spilled coffee on his shirt and talked too fast and forgot important meetings, despite being seen crying over expired chocolate once when he was drunk, Mark liked him. And it was comforting to know that he didn’t have to try so hard. 

He blushed a little as he carefully walked through the living room and a couch in serious disarray, mentally making a dry joke about how comfortable he had been yesterday . The state of the room as well as the one he woke in was tethering on the edge between passionate and embarrassing and Yukhei briefly wondered if he would have been this bashful if this had been the apartment of a one night stand. He didn’t think so. Doubted that he would have cared to even stick around for breakfast, probably choosing to sneak out as soon as he could to avoid a confrontation and an awkward conversation over stale cereal.

Mark couldn’t cook to save his life, but there was something endearing about watching him try, in seeing him work hard enough to warrant a frown over burnt eggs. Just because he wanted to make something for Yukhei. Whatever was in the pan honestly didn’t smell good, but Yukhei would happily eat all of it without a second of hesitation. Because Mark made it for him .

 

“Ah, fuck,” he heard him say, softly as to not wake or disturb anyone. A rather sizeable cloud of smoke rose from the pan and Yukhei thought that he must be in love.

“Do you need help?” He asked.

 

Mark dropped the pan. “Oh my god, Yukhei, make some noise when you enter,” he said and bent down to pick it up, the muscles in his thighs trembling slightly even from such a simple task. The T-shirt he was wearing hung loosely on his body - though judging by the holes and faded Pika-chu~♡ on the front it was stretched from wear and not oversized to begin with -, showing off collarbones littered with hickeys, and the pajama shorts did little to hide the bruises on his legs. Yukhei swallowed. Harshly. Forced himself to look away just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with another problem so early in the morning. It made him feel like a horny teenager the way Mark was able to turn him on with nothing but a T-shirt, proudly displaying hickeys left by him . Although he was only letting himself be seen this way by Yukhei, he wasn’t hiding them. They were there in plain sight as evidence of everything which had happened between them. Yukhei wondered if Mark liked them as much as he did just because it was tangible proof that last night was real.

 

“You’re making breakfast?” He asked, letting his eyes fall back onto Mark once he deemed it relatively safe. “I didn’t know you could cook,” he added cheekily. Grinned in a way which was probably childish but hopefully charming.

 

Mark turned his head around to glare, but it was soft and playful and Yukhei’s heart happily skipped a beat as he realized that he could tell the difference between Mark’s expressions and instantly know that he wasn’t seriously upset.

 

“I’m trying,” he said, “but I dropped the first two eggs and then I burnt these ones so is cereal okay? Otherwise I think there’s still some of Taeyong-hyung’s leftovers in the fridge.”

Yukhei hummed, moving to wrap his arms around Mark’s waist and relishing in how he could feel his heartbeat speed up as a result of the touch, pressing his boyfriend closer in appreciation. He felt so small . Not really skinny, Mark had some muscle to him - more than he would have thought, as he had found out last night -, but Yukhei could almost rest his chin on the top of his head and he was just more narrow, smaller, lighter. It was nice. He wasn’t tiny or anything and not at all dainty like some of the girls Yukhei had dated in the past, but he was soft and solid all at once and felt perfect to press against his chest.

 

“Nah, cereal is great.”

 

Mark laughed a little, making no move to shake off the arms around his waist and pressing back against them even though the embrace made it difficult to grab the bowls. He didn’t reach for them. They simply stood there for a minute, breathing in the moment. Yukhei felt as though he was trying to understand Mark’s feelings through osmosis by holding him as close as he could and he snickered a little at the thought, bending down to smother his laughter in Mark’s neck and receiving a matching giggle in return, one which had his stomach warm with fondness and brain cloudy with adoration. He felt lovesick but in the best way possible, as if everything was upside down but in a fun way, like winning the lottery and realizing once the initial shock had worn off that this was real but clinging to the ticket anyways just to remember that feeling of euphoria. For really the first time in his life, Yukhei understood why people felt a need to commemorate important dates and anniversaries. He wanted to remember this moment for the rest of his life.

 

“You’re gonna have to let go if you want breakfast,” Mark said and tilted his neck to get more comfortable. Neither of them moved.

 

It was a comfortable silence and though Yukhei knew that it would soon have to be broken, once either or both of their stomachs started complaining that it was time for breakfast, he wanted to delay it for as long as he could. To stay there in the tiny kitchen with his arms wrapped around Mark’s waist and forget that anything else mattered. The office would have a field day when they found out and though the idea made him smile, he wanted to keep Mark as his for just a little while longer before he had to share their relationship with the world. And-

 

“Oh right,” Yukhei said, and he couldn’t have stopped the gleeful grin from spreading across his face even if he tried. “My brother says hi.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Dear Future Mesdames Liu and Park

Mr. Wong Yukhei and Mr. Lee Mark

accept with pleasure

your invitation for

Saturday, the seventeenth of June.