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the snake that lives in water

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There’s something soothing about being the first one at work. There exists an inexplicable calm in seeing the serpentarium drenched in the weak rays of the morning sun, and in opening the front doors to silence.

Wonwoo doesn’t even start work until an hour later, but he comes early just because he can. Jihoon calls it kissing ass, while Junhui calls it dedication. Wonwoo calls it living five minutes away and wanting first access to the coffee machine.

The clatter of his footsteps echo in the empty halls. He passes by the keeping facility and extraction quarters with little interest; until there is caffeine in his system, he’s not even going to think about being productive. The door to the break room gives easily with a slight push of his hand, and he finds a figure lying half dead on the couch.

“Rough morning?”

Soonyoung startles at his voice and almost topples off the furniture. He grins embarrassedly once he gathers his bearings, desperately trying to calm his hair.

“You could, uh, say that. Waking up at five is not my favourite thing in the world.”

Wonwoo starts fixing up his coffee, turning to face his coworker again once the Keurig machine whirs to life. “Why’d you wake up so early? Your shift starts at seven.”

“It’s raining today,” Soonyoung says slowly, voice quieting the way it always does when he’s about to admit something that he doesn’t want to.

“And?”

“Well…. Taemin likes to be fed in the mornings during rainy days. He gets grouchy if you don’t.”

“Taemin can tell when it rains?” Wonwoo repeats, trying his best to keep the laughter out of his voice. Soonyoung is a push away from turning beet red and Wonwoo doesn’t want to be the asshole that pokes fun at him.

“Of course he can,” Soonyoung insists with a newfound confidence. “He can taste it in the air!”

“Snakes can’t taste.”

He might be relishing the soft pink that blossoms on the apples of Soonyoung’s cheeks a little too much, but it’s all right. There’s no one around to notice.

 

 

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After graduating with honours in biology, several people were expecting Wonwoo to do a lot of different things.

His parents and fellow graduates advised him to continue with his education and strive for a master’s. Grandma Jeon probably wanted him to dabble in pharmacology and provide his family with discounts on medication. Even his younger brother, who knew nothing about Wonwoo’s field, save for a few reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, pushed him to consider medical school.

 

(This was mostly because Bohyuk thought lab coats looked cool, but Wonwoo digresses.)

 

Wonwoo decided to ignore all of them and get a job at a serpentarium.

  

The thing about being a venom extractor is that not many people know you exist and the ones that do know, don’t understand why you do it.

He’d be lying if he said that the job wasn’t a spur of the moment decision because it definitely was. An advertisement popped up in the local paper about the job availability at the Dundas Serpentarium and he’d applied for the hell of it. The reply came a week later.

As it turns out, all that’s needed to be a venom extractor is an animal or biology degree of some kind, an affinity for snakes, and the knowledge that the job includes the possibility of certain death.

Unsurprisingly, the job isn’t all that popular and the serpentarium hires whoever qualifies, no questions asked.

 

Truthfully, he’s never been that fond of snakes, venomous or otherwise. They never really bothered him much, but they didn’t peak his interest either. It’s probably a good thing that he’s neutral instead of terrified. He’s required to manhandle Yellow-Bellied Sea snakes and Mexican Horned pit vipers on a daily basis and ophidiophobia probably wouldn’t help much with that.

 

 

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The keeping facility is, as it always is, incredibly warm. The species of snakes that they keep in the room are originally from warmer countries, Mexico and South America if he remembers correctly. As such, the tanks and the room itself are always kept at around twenty-four degrees.

He fans himself as he squints at the tank in front of him. Jinki stares back with vague interest.

“Is the Ophryacus present?” Seungcheol asks, his eyes glued to the clipboard in hand.

 Wonwoo can’t even remember the last time Seungcheol didn’t have his attention fixed on a form of some sort.The almighty head of the serpentarium is eternally locked in his office with mounds of paperwork. Sometimes, if all of them are quiet enough, they can hear his tortured wails echoing through the halls.

“Yup,” he replies, patting the tank softly. This makes Jinki hiss in surprise.

“The three Crotalus Atrox?”

“Kibum, Minho, and Jonghyun are as happy as ever,” Soonyoung reports, grinning stupidly at each tank. Being the more aggressive type of rattlesnakes, Taemin, Minho, and Jonghyun are usually kept apart.

“Okay, please tell me that the Pelamis Platurus is there.”

“The sea snake--”

“Taemin,” Soonyoung interrupts.

“Fine, Taemin is here,” Jihoon finishes, throwing his friend a pained glare.

Jihoon, Wonwoo is certain, could kill a thousand men and still get off scot-free. That’s not to say that Jihoon is mean spirited, he’s usually not, but the guy is definitely calculative. His eyes pierce right through Wonwoo like he’s reading a particularly detailed map that depicts exactly how Wonwoo works. Maybe he is, Wonwoo wouldn’t be surprised.

“Seriously though, attendance every morning? Don’t we have better things to do?”

“We have to make sure that all the snakes are present,” Seungcheol reminds Jihoon, scribbling something onto his clipboard before speaking again. “Remember that one time we skipped attendance and the pitviper--”

“Jinki!” Soonyoung corrects.

“Jinki escaped?”

“That’s because Jun was an idiot and didn’t close the lid,” Jihoon points out.

Wonwoo isn’t sure Junhui knows what’s going on half the time, which would be dangerous if he weren’t practically a snake whisperer. If Wonwoo had a nickel for every time Junhui accidentally left his hand in the snake tank for too long or mistakenly left the tank door open, he’d be rich enough not to need a job in the first place. Miraculously, Junhui has managed to never get bitten. The snakes either love him to death, or Junhui is the Jesus Christ of reptiles.

“I found him eventually. The little guy was hiding near my backpack!”

And Wonwoo will never understand how Junhui is not dead already.

Seungcheol straightens up and lets out a heavy sigh. “Big day today.”

It really isn’t, not for them anyway.

 

 

If Wonwoo can help it, he’ll try and be partnered with Junhui and Soonyoung instead of Jihoon. It’s not that he doesn’t like the shorter boy, he does, but Jihoon is very protective of people that he’s fond of. As it turns out, he is very fond of Soonyoung.

Jihoon opens the lid to the rattlesnake tank, grabbing the lifting cane and slipping on thick, rubber gloves. His co worker could very well drop the snake onto his exposed neck and make it seem like an accident. All that would be left of Wonwoo is a pile of legal forms for Seungcheol to sign and his mother spitting “I told you so” onto his grave.

It’s not that he doesn’t understand why Jihoon is annoyed, he does, but he still wants to live. Living, although quite strenuous at times, is an overall pleasant experience.

“Are you ever going to acknowledge the idiot?” Jihoon asks, lifting Jonghyun with the cane and a gloved hand, and then laying the rattlesnake’s wriggling form on the table in front of them.

He keeps its head down while Wonwoo puts on his gloves.

“I’m sorry?” he says, feigning ignorance because he doesn’t know what to say.

Determined to avoid the subject, even more, he moves in with both of his hands and gently grasps Jonghyun’s upper and lower jaw. Jihoon pulls the cane away and Wonwoo has the slight impression that his coworker is suppressing the urge to whack him on the head with it.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

And Wonwoo really, really does. There’s no other explanation as to why Soonyoung has been acting so weird around him. Whenever Wonwoo is within the vicinity, glass falls and Soonyoung stutters, his once plentiful words dying in his throat. If Wonwoo so much as compliments Soonyoung’s shirt, the boy blushes a brilliant pink and chokes on a thank you. It’s cute, it really is, but Wonwoo doesn’t know what to do.

Soonyoung is a good friend.

Wonwoo honestly didn’t think he could get along so well with a co-worker, but there’s something so easy about Soonyoung. He’s familiar and comfortable, like the worn-in sweater at the back of Wonwoo’s closet. They got hired around the same time but, unlike Wonwoo, Soonyoung applied because he actually liked snakes. It’s endearing seeing him coo at the tanks, going as far as naming the reptiles because “Pelamis Platurus isn’t an appropriate name for such a cute Yellow-Bellied water snake”.

Soonyoung had been the first person to genuinely find his humour funny. He didn’t mind Wonwoo’s sarcasm and awful jokes, or the fact that he went long periods without actually talking. For Soonyoung, it was enough that Wonwoo was there, smiling and nodding along as he did most of the talking.

Things would be just fine if Soonyoung didn’t have to go and develop a painfully obvious crush. Perhaps it’s selfish, but Wonwoo doesn’t want anything to change.

He lifts the snake’s head higher as Jihoon slides him the receptacle. He carefully position’s Jonghyun’s upper jaw so that his fangs sink into the membrane covering the receptacle. It pokes through and there’s a relative silence as they wait for the container to fill.

“I’m going to. Soon.”

“When?” Jihoon snorts, resting a gloved hand on his hip. He looks like a pissed off baker. “When Soonyoung falls and breaks his neck because he’s too busy staring at your ass to notice the floor?”

“He doesn’t look at my ass.”

“Are you smiling?”

Wonwoo wipes the offending expression off his face because yes, he is smiling. He maintains that he’s not an asshole, it’s just that the image of Soonyoung shooting heart eyes at him is awfully sweet.

“No.”

“You were, you were smiling, you ass .”

“I wasn’t. Besides, I just…. need to think about it, you know.”

“What’s there to even think about?” Jihoon pushes but is interrupted by a guttural hiss. The receptacle is full and Jonghyun looks almost annoyed.

“Sorry,” Jihoon apologizes, frowning as if realizing he just spoke to a snake.

 

 

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It might be easier to ignore Soonyoung’s feelings if they weren’t so obvious. His co-worker is an open book, and this is something that Wonwoo usually admires.

He’s never been the best at reading situations and people, but Soonyoung smiles wide when he’s happy and his lips tremble in a pout when he’s upset; there’s nothing to be confused over.Part of the reason they get along so well is that Wonwoo strives to be like that; he wants to laugh when he’s amused and cry when he’s sad. It would be nice to live as simply and as straightforwardly as Soonyoung does.

That’s why it’s not a secret, especially to Wonwoo, that Soonyoung likes him.

It started a few months back, the brilliant flush that coloured Soonyoung’s cheeks whenever Wonwoo would unexpectedly appear. Then the loss for words and stuttering began. Unfortunately for Seungcheol, Soonyoung’s fingers become butter along with his heart. Beakers and test tubes slip from his usually nimble hands in Wonwoo’s presence, enough that Seungcheol has to order extra batches with their usual shipments.

 

(Jihoon tells him that if he doesn’t do something soon, he’s going to shove his face into Taemin’s tank.)

 

When taking a job as a snake milker of all things, Wonwoo assumed that his greatest challenge would be three-foot long, venomous reptiles. As it turns out, it’s a lovesick co-worker.

 

 

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“Wonwoo,” Seungcheol says, squirming uncomfortably behind his desk. The elder shouldn’t be this nervous, he was, after all, the one who called Wonwoo into his office to talk.

“Yeah?”

Seungcheol leans forward, and his eyes are actually off of his paperwork for once. It’s a feat in and of itself.

“As your employer,” Seungcheol begins to say, and Wonwoo does not have a good feeling about this at all, “I’m not permitted to delve into the personal lives of my workers.”

“Alright?”

“I’m not permitted to speak of, err, personal relations within the workplace.”

Wonwoo musters the most uncomfortable look that he can manage, hoping that it’ll deter Seungcheol and halt their conversation. Unfortunately, this does not happen.

“Wonwoo, do you know how much we spend on beakers and receptacles on a monthly basis?”

He thinks he knows where Seungcheol is going with this, and his stomach lurches in anticipation. Seungcheol takes his lack of response as a no.

“Around four hundred a month, three hundred if we’re real lucky. And do you know how much we’ve been spending as of late?”

Wonwoo swallows.

“Five hundred, minimum. Do I need to explain why?”

“Because Soonyoung is a clumsy guy?” he tries.

“It’s because...” Seungcheol makes vague hand motions, which Wonwoo thinks he’s supposed to decipher.

“You know what,” Wonwoo mumbles, taking off his glasses and rubbing irately at them. This does little to clean them but it doesn’t matter, they weren’t dirty to begin with. He just wants to focus on something that isn’t his boss. “I think you’re right. You should definitely not speak of, err, personal matters. It’s against the rules, right?”

“Wonwoo, seriously, just….please.” And Seungcheol sounds flustered enough to cry. “Soonyoung is usually fine with glass and fragile objects, but then he started, you know,” Seungcheol makes hand motions that Wonwoo thinks are supposed to be hearts, “and now he’s dropping things left and right and the costs...He’s never going to say anything at this point, and I really didn’t want to ask this of you, but what else am I supposed to do?”

At this point, he really can’t tell who is more embarrassed about the topic.

“What are you asking me to do?” he manages to ask.

Seungcheol is really at a loss for words now, fiddling idly with the stack of papers in front of him and his leg is jostling beneath the table.

“I don’t know….maybe, talk to him? About, well, you guys and whatever is, um, going on?”

The words are said so quietly that Wonwoo has to strain to hear them. It takes a few minutes for him to process them.

“What?”

“I mean, maybe not right away! Whenever you’re comfortable, preferably quickly….”

There’s an awkward pause where Wonwoo stares at Seungcheol and Seungcheol goes to great lengths to look at anything that isn’t Wonwoo.

It takes several heartbeats for him to find his voice.

“Seungcheol, I don’t like him in that.....way?”

“Wait, what ?”

Wonwoo is startled by his employer’s look of utter disbelief. He didn’t think he said anything jarring enough to garner such an expression.

“What do you mean what?”

“Wonwoo, you.....you like Soonyoung, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, as a friend? But not, you know, as more.”

“I mean, are you sure?”

Wonwoo really doesn’t know why it’s so hard to believe. He does not like Soonyoung romantically; it’s not that hard of a concept to grasp.

“Yes?”

He doesn’t realize he’s raised his voice until Seungcheol startles at the sound. He puts his glasses back on in embarrassment.

“I mean, you’re just always together--”

“We’re friends. And co-workers, what do you expect?”

“And there was that time I gave that holiday bonus for working late on Christmas and you rushed to tell Soonyoung?”

“I told everyone.”

“But you told Soonyoung first.”

“Yeah, why does that matter?”

Wonwoo is confused, because yes, he did go and tell Soonyoung first, but he’d always meant to share the news with everyone. It just made the most sense to tell Soonyoung before the others, it was an unspoken agreement between them. To tell someone else would just be wrong.

Seungcheol clears his throat and if it weren’t Wonwoo on the receiving line of this talk, he might actually pity the older for having to give it. Since it is him on the receiving end though, he reserves all his pity for himself.

“Liking someone is kind of like that? It’s running to tell that person the good news first, like, when something good happens, you want them to know before anyone else?”

“Okay?”

“I’m just saying....you’re sure, you don’t kind of like him in, err, that manner?”

“Why is it so hard to believe that I just don’t like him in the,” he mocks Seungcheol’s hand gestures, making distorted hearts out of his fingers.

“Because whenever Soonyoung isn’t staring at you and dropping whatever's in his hand, you’re the one staring at him.”

Wonwoo is floored.

His glances were never romantic. They were entirely platonic.

He’s certain that he doesn’t even look at Soonyoung all that much. He just worried for his friend, and yeah, maybe he looked over at him a little more than he did with others, but that’s just because Soonyoung is so goddamn clumsy.

It isn’t a crime to be a thoughtful person.

These are all very good points, but all that comes out of his mouth is “what.”

 

 

“You what?”

Wonwoo really wants to know why it’s so shocking that he doesn’t love Soonyoung. Here he is, innocently sat in the local sandwich shop across from Jihoon, blinking in confusion as his friend bores holes into his head with his eyes.

“I don’t like.....Soonyoung.”

“What the hell.”

He puts down his lunch in favour of giving the smaller an offended look.

“What could I possibly have said that deserved that?”

“When you said that you weren’t ready to face Soonyoung,” Jihoon begins to answer, pointing a pickle slice at him as if it’s a dagger. With Jihoon, Wonwoo is certain that even a marinated cucumber could become a weapon. “I didn’t think it was because you were an actual idiot.”

There’s a beat of silence between them, interrupted only by the bustling of the sandwich shop and the clinking of silverware.

“And why am I an idiot?” he asks, cautiously because he doesn’t want to enrage the beast.

“How do you not know that you’re whipped for Soonyoung?” Jihoon sounds tired, scratching irately at his head as if his brain hurts just from conversing with Wonwoo. Honestly, Wonwoo is just as taken back.

“Because I’m not?”

The shorter lets out an exaggerated breath, which is far too dramatic for their current situation, and continues to speak.

“You get all happy and sparkly eyed whenever Soonyoung’s name comes up.”

“I don’t.”

Jihoon rolls his eyes, leaning back in his chair with an air of exasperation. “You really do. Maybe you don’t notice, but we say his name and you perk up, and I mean straight up like a stick.”

 Wonwoo feels his face drooping into a frown.

“I don’t--”

“You get excited when he’s around too. Like, you see him every day, but you’re still all--” Jihoon morphs his face into an exaggerated impression of Wonwoo’s smile.

To say he’s flustered is a fatal understatement.

“He’s my friend,” he finds himself saying, and maybe his voice lacks the conviction he’d been hoping it would hold, but that’s really not important.

Jihoon physically deflates, as if Wonwoo had pulled the stopper on a balloon and is now watching the helium dissipate into the greasy air of the diner.

“Do yourself a favour, Wonwoo. Before you say anything stupid to Soonyoung, sort yourself out.”

 

 

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Wonwoo doesn’t like Soonyoung, he is very certain of this.

 

 

“What would it be like if humans shed?” Junhui wonders aloud, face pressing against Jonghyun’s tank as he checks the humidity. “How long would it even take us? I mean, it takes Jonghyun two weeks to properly shed, but our species is much larger? I say a month, tops.”

“Why do you ask these kinds of questions?” Wonwoo sighs, avoiding Junhui in favour of trying to prod Jinki into eating.

The snake stares at him with an unamused look, taking a moment to glance at the dead mouse sitting in the corner of its tank. The reptile comes off as skeptical, peering at its meal and then at Wonwoo in a silent expression of dissatisfaction.

“To spice things up a little! Jonghyun is done shedding, he’s left the skin on the side of his cage.”

“We should probably take it out.”

“We definitely should. I mean, if I was a snakey, I would not want a pile of dead skin lying a few centimeters away from my slithery body.”

Wonwoo smiles quietly to himself as he taps his fingers absentmindedly against Jinki’s tank. The pitviper cocks his head at him as if mocking Wonwoo’s inner thoughts. He’s sort of tempted to stick his tongue out at the creature.

“Do you mind if I keep the sheddings?”

Junhui stops fussing over Jonghyun’s tank long enough to look over at Wonwoo with a frown.

He seems rather confused about the matter, but shrugs in agreement anyway.

Then, in true Junhui fashion, he pops the lid of Jonghyun’s tank open and sticks his hand inside. By the time Wonwoo has overcome his shock enough to yell at the fool, his co-worker has the dead skin in his hand and out of the tank.

Deciphering the expressions of a reptile is near impossible, but Wonwoo is fairly certain that Jonghyun is just as shocked as him

“You crave death,” he manages to choke out.

“You’re overreacting,” Junhui laughs, tossing him the snakeskin cheerfully as if he hadn’t just escaped being bitten by a rattlesnake.

“You stuck your hand in a cage holding a Diamondback rattlesnake without a glove.” He’s not sure if Junhui realizes how close he was to being bitten. “A poisonous, three-foot long rattlesnake.”

“Jonghyun would never bite me!”

“Jonghyun is a snake.”

Junhui just shakes his head at Wonwoo; it’s as if he is privy to some form of ancient, reptilian enlightenment that Wonwoo will never be able to achieve.

 

 

Jihoon and Soonyoung are eating in the break room when Wonwoo places the snake skin in front of Soonyoung. Jihoon gives him a look of repulsion, but Soonyoung just looks awed.

“Should I ask why?” Jihoon grumbles, lifting his sandwich from the tabletop and away from the skin.

“Jonghyun finished shedding,” he explains, shrugging. “I thought you might want the snake skin?”

It sounds a little foolish now that he’s saying it aloud, but Soonyoung really is that kind of person. He’s someone who adores the reptiles, a person who would be content sitting and watching Taemin aimlessly swim for hours on end. He’s not entirely sure about the others, but Soonyoung is a guy who genuinely loves his job.

Every small thing leaves him in wonderment, no matter how long it’s been since he started working at the serpentarium. Something like snake skin is right up Soonyoung’s alley.

His friend lets loose a brilliant smile, one that shows off his array of white teeth and even the pretty, pink gums that usually stay hidden behind his lips.

“I love it.”

Jihoon catches his eyes, before returning to his meal. “I can’t believe it, Wonwoo’s token of love is a snake’s dead skin.”

Soonyoung almost spills his coffee and Wonwoo chokes on his spit.

“I’m joking,” Jihoon snorts, rolling his eyes.

But no, he was definitely not.

 

 

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He doesn’t like Soonyoung, there’s really no way.

 

 

Soonyoung is able to derive joy out of nothing.

That’s not to say that Wonwoo has a dead sense of humour, but Soonyoung finds the oddest things amusing. This is precisely why he’s been laughing at Kibum for the better part of five minutes now.

The snake has somehow gotten stuck in the fake foliage that lines the bottom of its tank. The leaves hang on its head like a rather distasteful green wig, and it won’t come off no matter how much Kibum struggles to wriggle free. A mighty predator brought to its knees by cheap, plastic greenery.

He sees it as more burdensome than anything else because it’s them who have to put on the chunky, rubber gloves and free the reptile, but Soonyoung hasn’t stopped laughing. It’s a warm sort of laugh, the kind that comes from the gut. His eyes bend into happy crescents and his cheeks bunch up in flushed pleasure. He claps his hands together and the sound of the clashing palms echoes in the large holding facility, bouncing off of the plain, white walls. Kibum hissing quietly in his cage.

Soonyoung is absolutely ridiculous. There’s nothing funny about Kibum getting stuck, but he still finds the corners of his lips stretching upwards anyway.

He’s smiling because Soonyoung is smiling. And suddenly, he’s laughing too.He’s laughing at how absurd his coworker is because Soonyoung’s laughter is high-pitched and guttural, and so forceful that he’s practically choking on his own cackles.

It’s the sound of happiness, really.

 

 

Some people reach epiphanies after hours of meditation. Others are able to do so through walks in sunlight-dappled parks or while sitting in hot baths, with bubbles of soap popping around raw skin.

Wonwoo reaches one while watching an annoyed snake attempt to shake off its mane of plastic, green leaves.

Fuck.

 

 

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“I like Soonyoung, maybe… slightly more than I like you two.”

Jihoon and Junhui blink blankly at him.

“You’re saying that as if it’s a recent realization? Hasn’t everyone known this for a while now?” Junhui finally asks.

 

 

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On very rare occasions, their workload is blissfully small, with only a few mounds of paperwork and milking to be done. They usually congregate in the staff room then, to finish up their work together in the blessed presence of caffeine.

This would all be very normal if he weren’t working alongside the people that he does.

 

Wonwoo opens the door to find Soonyoung and Junhui labeling venom while eating sandwiches. Soonyoung at least has the gall to look embarrassed, but Junhui shamelessly continues with his work.

“You’re…labeling venom in the staff room?”

“Yeah.”

“The room where we eat and drink in.”

“Yes?” And Junhui seems genuinely confused at Wonwoo’s disbelief.

“Let me rephrase my question. You’re labeling a venomous substance while eating a sandwich in the room that contains foods that not only you, but all of us ingest?”

“Don’t worry so much, Wonwoo. The containers are closed nice and tight, no leakage here.”

He stares incredulously at Soonyoung then, who smiles sheepishly in return, his fingers fumbling with the cuffs of his sweater.

“It made sense when he suggested it?”

“How?”

“I mean, we can’t bring food into the holding room so….”

“You brought the venom to the food?”

Soonyoung and Junhui nod in unison, and Wonwoo just sighs because this health hazard is more Seungcheol’s problem than his. He takes a seat beside Soonyoung, cleverly ignoring his friend’s nervous squirm and the shit-eating grin that Junhui throws their way.

To Jihoon’s credit, he doesn’t say anything about the blatant health violation when he arrives, merely taking a seat as if blind to the bottles of cloudy venom sitting inches away from him. Instead, he focuses most of his attention on scribbling onto a blank sheet of paper.

“What’re you doing?” Junhui asks, mouth half full with what Wonwoo suspects is a salmon sandwich. It’s either that or Junhui is hanging around Taemin too much and has acquired the scent of the snake’s food.

“It’s a magical thing called writing .”

“What’re you writing?”  He’s not sure if Junhui is blissfully ignorant of Jihoon’s biting sarcasm or if he’s just ignoring it. With the spacey co-worker, it could be either option.

“A chart. It’s of the items that we have in stock and the stuff we don’t.”

“Jihoon does love his charts,” Soonyoung hums, the sound muffled by food. “He charts his groceries too. Back in uni, he had a chart for all the stuff he kept in our dorm.”

“Charts are an organized way of sorting your thoughts and clearing your head. They’re absolutely revolutionary is what they are.”

Wonwoo laughs the comment off with the rest of his co-workers, but as he taps his fingers along the wooden table he can’t help but think a chart might not be that bad of an idea for him.

As stupid as it sounds, anything that would help organize his thoughts is a welcome option.

He doesn’t even realize he’s staring at Soonyoung until they lock eyes. Startled by the eye contact, Soonyoung knocks over a container of venom.

“Hands off the table!” Junhui calls out, and all four of them scramble back. The cloudy, yellow substance spreads across the flat surface at an alarming speed.

“I’m sorry!” Soonyoung cries out.

“Fuck,” Jihoon groans. “Does wood absorb venom?”

“Maybe?” Junhui supplies. “The more important question is whether or not Lysol can clean Pit Viper venom. It’s kind of all we have at the moment?”

“Unless we go and tell Seungcheol,” Wonwoo points out. “And get the equipment to clean this up properly.”

Soonyoung lets out a small cough.

“Could we maybe not, err, mention this to him?”

And Soonyoung looks so sad, balefully glancing at them with wide eyes.  Wonwoo isn’t heartless, which is precisely why he marches over to one of the cupboards and takes out the blue Lysol container.

“We should probably wear rubber gloves,” Jihoon mutters, rolling up his sleeves in preparation.

“Well, we don’t have rubber gloves in the break room, but oven mitts are kind of like rubber gloves?”

“Except they’re not rubber,” Wonwoo argues, giving Junhui a flabbergasted look.

“Well, yes, except that.”

Wonwoo just sighs as he pops the container of Lysol open.

Yeah, a chart is definitely not the worst thing he could do. He really does need to do something, or Soonyoung might just drop a beaker of sea snake venom into his morning coffee.

 

 

“A chart,” Junhui repeats slowly, elbows resting precisely on the spot where Soonyoung had spilled venom the day before. Apparently, Lysol does work on snake venom because Junhui doesn’t look like he’ll be spasming or passing out anytime soon.

It’s rare that the two of them are alone so early in the morning, since Junhui has a penchant for barely making it to work on time, but here they both are. Soonyoung will probably be coming soon, rushing to work to feed Taemin.

“Yes.”

“A Soonyoung chart…..a Kwon chart.”

“That sounds dumb, please don’t.”

“Well, what’s this chart for exactly?” Junhui is trying his best to keep a straight face, but Wonwoo catches the glimmer of amusement in his eyes.

He shouldn’t have trusted anyone with this plan, much less Wen Junhui of all people.

“You know, to, err, sort out my mind. Like Jihoon said.”

“Okay, but to sort out your mind for what?”

He makes vague hand motions as he mixes his coffee, rolling his eyes at the smug look on Junhui’s face. “Soonyoung things.”

“You’re making a list about Soonyoung?” Junhui screws up his face in thought. “Like, whether or not you should date him or something?”

He doesn’t grace the question with a response, but Junhui’s laugh follows him out of the break room anyway. It’s all loud and obnoxious, and it grates against his ear drums.

“Good luck, Wonwoo!”

He hopes Soonyoung drops venom into Junhui’s lunch next time.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

The first reason he shouldn’t date Soonyoung: they’re good friends and Wonwoo really doesn’t want to fuck that up.

 

 

He’s not the suavest at relationships and the few people that he dated either hate him or don’t remember him. Neither outcome suggests that he is a good boyfriend. The idea of no longer being able to laugh about stupid shit with Soonyoung, or to poke fun at each other upsets him.

Some things are not worth the risk, and this happens to be one of those things.

 

 

“That’s silly,” Junhui says as they’re cleaning the snake tanks.

Soonyoung and Jihoon are busy in the other room, feeding the snakes in makeshift holding containers until the two of them are done.

“It is a very valid fear.”

“Just because you’re dating, doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.”

Junhui struggles to pull out some fake foliage stuck at the bottom of Jonghyun’s tank, or maybe it’s Kibum’s, he doesn’t know the difference between them to be honest. It finally comes loose, splattering sand onto Wonwoo face in the process.

“I mean, look at Seungcheol and Jisoo, they’re practically married and they’re the closest of friends!”

He wrinkles his nose at the mention of their boss and his boyfriend. If he remembers correctly, Jisoo is a pediatric nurse at the nearby hospital. He stops by the serpentarium sometimes to drop off Seungcheol’s lunch and make sure he’s still alive.

“That’s just one example.”

“They have movie nights, text each other cute animal pictures they find online and call each other silly names,” Junhui continues, ignoring Wonwoo’s comment. “It’s not like friendships die once you start dating. They evolve, if anything. Think of it as an upgrade.”

He coughs in discomfort at the mention of dating because he really can’t, for the life of him, picture himself holding hands and whispering sentiments of love onto the crown of Soonyoung’s head. It’s too much, far too domestic and foreign for Wonwoo’s liking. He can’t even coo at the goddamn snakes without feeling odd, he can’t imagine cooing at an actual person, much less his own friend.

Junhui glances sideways at him, smiling as he works on moving the soapy sponge onto the inside of the glass cage.

“Don’t look too far ahead, Wonwoo. Dating can be as slow as you want. It’s not going to kill your friendship if you don’t let it.”

He splashes soap suds onto Junhui’s face. A half empty keeping facility is an odd place to have a dilemma, but Wonwoo decides to have one anyway, because Junhui has made some very valid points.

His stomach reels at the thought of feelings and confessions of love, but starting small, that doesn’t sound all that bad. Hand holding and soft smiles, that sounds almost nice. He takes his frustration out onto the tank in front of him, scrubbing the glass hard and fast.

The door opens a crack and Soonyoung peers in. Wonwoo actually chokes on his own spit because, fuck, speak of the devil and he shall appear.

“What’s up?” Junhui offers, waving a sponge in greeting.

“Guys, have you, uh, seen Taemin?”

“No,” Junhui answers, confused. “You guys have him, remember?”

Soonyoung gives an awkward laugh.

Wonwoo is suddenly very aware of the fact that his co-worker hasn’t set foot in the keeping facility, only opening the door a bit and keeping his feet firmly in the hall. Wonwoo rises up slowly, nudging Junhui to do the same.

“About that, yeah, we......don’t have Taemin.”

“Excuse me?”

“We were counting the snakes, and we’re kind of missing one? Taemin to be exact....I might have left him here with the tank open and.....”

Wonwoo carefully, and at a quicker pace than he cares to admit, climbs on top of the nearest table, sponge still in hand. He’ll be damned if he lets it go; the soapy cleaning utensil is all he has as a defense against a fanged beast.

“Soonyoung, please tell me that you’re joking.”

“Just stay on top of the tables, okay! Jihoon is figuring something out!”

“How do you just forget about a snake?”

“I was preoccupied!”

Junhui apparently doesn’t fear death because he begins to shuffle around the room, calling out Taemin’s name and looking underneath tables and in the drawers of cabinets.

“Uh, Jun, my friend,” Soonyoung says, enviably safe in the shelter of the hall. “That’s probably not a good idea?”

“He’s got to be here somewhere, I mean, where can a three foot long sea snake hide, anyway?”

“Junhui, I’m usually okay with your very stupid ideas, but this is your life we’re talking about,” Wonwoo can’t help but add. “Death is not temporary.”

“It’s very, very permanent,” Soonyoung helpfully adds.

This whole situation is surreal. He’s kneeling on top of a flimsy, wooden table and clutching a sponge, which really won’t be any help against a venomous snake. Junhui is prancing around freely, ankles basically begging Taemin to nip at them, all while the source of Wonwoo’s current dilemma watches from the halls. It’s a horrible way to die.

 

 

“Get off the table.”

“What?” Wonwoo says, staring at Jihoon in disbelief.

“Soonyoung accidentally put Taemin in Jonghyun’s holding cell, that’s why we only counted four snakes.”

“So....”

“The snakes are all with us, so get off the table. If you break it Seungcheol’s going to start crying about exuberant costs again.”

And Soonyoung is blubbering with apologies (yet again), but Wonwoo can’t really hear anything because he’s too busy laughing. As it turns out, he’s the sort of person who laughs in the face of death.

“Guys,” Soonyoung says mournfully, “I think I broke Wonwoo.”

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

The second reason he shouldn’t date Soonyoung: Soonyoung would be opposed to the idea. Junhui closes his eyes and hums in thought for a bit, before opening them and responding.

“If Jihoon hears you say that, he might run you over.”

 

 

He can practically feel Soonyoung staring at him as he pastes labels onto glass containers of venom. It’s not that he’s narcissistic, but he can’t help the way his lips pull up at the corners.

Soonyoung whips his head the other way when Wonwoo turns to face him, hair flying with the sudden movement. Now it’s him doing the staring, but it’s kind of funny seeing how Soonyoung busies himself with work suddenly to avoid Wonwoo’s gaze.

 

(“Because whenever Soonyoung isn’t staring at you and dropping whatever's in his hand, you’re the one staring at him,” a voice in his head, that sounds irritatingly like Seungcheol, reminds him.

He promptly tells Seungcheol to shut up.)

 

 

Wonwoo thinks that maybe he does stare at Soonyoung a little too much, especially when he notices his coworker’s new shoes. It’s not the most obvious change ever, but it catches Wonwoo’s eye as he walks into the break room.

Soonyoung looks up at him from his position on the sofa, smiling tiredly.

“Came early today too?” he asks, removing his jacket and tossing it onto a nearby chair. Soonyoung hums in confirmation.

“It’s raining.”

“And Taemin can taste it,” Wonwoo finishes, and Soonyoung just laughs. The only sound is the whir of the Keurig machine and the dripping of hot coffee. The spoon clinks against his mug as he mixes in sugar and cream. “Taemin really is your favourite, huh?”

Soonyoung shoots up with a frantic look, as if he’s afraid that the other snakes will somehow sprout legs and gallop over to whack him upside the head.

“I love all of them equally!”

Now it’s his turn to laugh and he does so liberally, before muffling his chuckling with coffee. “Soonyoung, calm down. It’s not a crime to have a favourite. Besides, it’s not as if they can hear you.”

Soonyoung still looks nervous. It’s childish, ridiculous, and so like Soonyoung that Wonwoo isn’t even surprised.

“He’s my favourite,” Soonyoung almost whispers.

Wonwoo nods gravely. “I’ll make sure not to tell the others, it might hurt their feelings.”

“Exactly.”

They’re both laughing now, and it’s partially because Wonwoo hasn’t had his caffeine yet and Soonyoung his proper sleep, but it’s still a nice way to start the morning.

“So the sea snake is your favourite.”

“Well, my favourite snake, yeah.”

Wonwoo raises his eyebrow in surprise, he hadn’t been expecting the sudden differentiation between reptile and human.

“And your favourite human ?”

Soonyoung flushes, shrugging and pushing himself against the cushions of the couch, perhaps hoping that the furniture will swallow him up.

On impulse, he pushes his coffee cup into Soonyoung’s hands.

“You look like you need it more than me.”

It’s only when small hands wrap around the ceramic that Wonwoo walks off, preparing to make his rounds. Snakes may not be able to taste rain, but Kibum still gets upset if Wonwoo is late in feeding him.

A thought occurs to him as he stands in the doorway, birthed from a weak flame of curiosity and tinge of fondness.

“Hey, Soonyoung?”

“Yeah?”

“I like your new shoes, they look nice on you.”

He hears the crash of a coffee mug as the door shuts.

 

Yeah, Soonyoung not liking him is not as much of a problem as he would like to believe.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

“I like Soonyoung,” Wonwoo says. Junhui doesn’t stop eating but nods slightly to show that he heard Wonwoo just fine. “And he might like me.”

“You wanted to come over to say that?”

“And I can’t think of a fucking reason why I shouldn’t ask him out.”

With this, he lays his head on Junhui’s dining table, cheek pressed against the cold plastic (Junhui is a baby who buys bright, pastel coloured, plastic tables) and his eyes blankly looking ahead.

“I’m glad you said no when I offered you dinner, you wouldn’t have had room to lay your head down and mope with a plate of food in front of you.”

He hopes that the sigh he lets loose is enough to communicate his frustration.

“Aw, calm down.” Junhui cards through Wonwoo’s hair with gentle fingers. He’s honestly too exhausted to care that Junhui’s hand is probably drenched in grease; oily hair is the least of his problems. “What’s the problem then? Ask him out.”

“I can’t,” he mumbles into the table.

“And why is that?”

Wonwoo lifts his head an inch, frowning at Junhui’s amused face. He thinks for a second, scrambling for some reason, even a convoluted, unbelievably mindless one, as to why he can’t ask Soonyoung out to lunch.

“I’m.....afraid.”

He flops his head back down, more in shock this time than the lack of a will to live (although there’s that too).

He’s not lying either, because he really is.

The sad thing is, he didn’t even know he was afraid until he said it aloud. Judging from the silence, Junhui is a little startled too, either that or he’s texting Jihoon about how cowardly Wonwoo is.

Maybe he’s scared that dating will end up being a bad idea. Maybe he’s worried that they’ll break up after a couple of months, come to hate each other and drive one another mad until one of them gives up and quits the serpentarium. Maybe he’s just worried about being anything more than friends with Soonyoung. Friendship is good, it’s safe. When working with venomous beasts, safety is very important, vital even.

Junhui pats him on the head, and he might be imagining it, but it seems almost pitying.

“Are you really willing to give up on something because you’re a little afraid? Imagine this, it’s the future, right? You get hit by a bus on the way to Soonyoung’s wedding. You wouldn’t have been hit by the bus had you asked him out all those years before.”

Wonwoo lifts his head enough to stare at his friend, who only smiles back with pot roast stuffed cheeks.

“All I’m saying is that you better be prepared for Soonyoung to move on if you’re just going to leave him dangling. You better be okay with him adoring someone else.” Junhui shrugs. “What’s scarier? The prospect of being something more with Soonyoung, or of Soonyoung being something more with someone else?”

Wonwoo schools his expression into something neutral, but Junhui doesn’t look as if he’s fooled.

“If you’re still doing that silly list of yours,” Junhui continues, popping open a can of ginger ale with a bemused expression, “you might want to move to the next column. You won’t find any more reasons why you shouldn’t ask Soonyoung out.”

Wonwoo doesn’t reply.

“First reason why you should date Soonyoung: you want to.”

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

The first reason he should date Soonyoung: not doing so could result in imminent death. Whose he’s not sure, but a death is definitely on the horizon.

 

 

Soonyoung, no matter how lovable he is doing it, has nearly ended lives prematurely on far too many occasions. It might be alright if it were just Wonwoo’s, but everything in his vicinity becomes a target too.

No human (or snake) is safe.

 

The first time was probably when Soonyoung tripped on his own laces and dropped a beaker, thankfully filled with water, onto Wonwoo’s foot. Since his appendages were safely tucked into his shoes and since water is a safe liquid, nothing came of this situation except embarrassment and hilarity.

Then there was the time Soonyoung got distracted while talking to him and tried to feed Kibum his sandwich. The yellow- bellied reptile shot Wonwoo what he swears was a grieved expression.

On that same day, Soonyoung knocked over the plastic container holding Jinki’s food when Wonwoo called out to him. Picking up dead mice doesn’t sound that challenging, but the mice had yet to be frozen and had been spilled right in front of Jinki’s cage. Cleaning small, limp meat sacks in front of a starving, scaly monster was not something he knew he feared until then.

Broken beakers and receptacles (with Seungcheol crying about revenue costs in the background), dropped cages and snakes, and even doors mistakenly left open (which would be fine if they didn’t work with mammoth sized, poisonous reptiles).

The origin of these accidents can quite simply be traced back to when Soonyoung decided that he saw Wonwoo as something more than a friend.

 

 

“You’re like the omen of death,” Jihoon tells him. “Whenever we hang around you, we’re all a little more likely to die.”

Wonwoo frowns.

“Why do you think Seungcheol’s been spending so much time in his office lately.”

“Oh my god.”

“Yeah. Got to give him credit, he’s a clever man.”

 

 

The theory is that maybe, just maybe, if Soonyoung gets an answer to the question he hasn’t been able to ask yet, he’ll stop almost killing everything in sight.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

The second reason he should date Soonyoung: Wonwoo, despite almost dying on several occasions, likes spending time with him.

 

 

Even before the fiasco of emotions and mental charts, Wonwoo just liked being around Soonyoung.

He hasn’t given it much thought until now, but he honestly does enjoy Soonyoung’s presence, even if it means spilled coffee on his dry, blue jeans and cracked vials of venom.

It’s silly maybe, but he’s just happy. He’s happy when his phone lights up with a notification and when Soonyoung paddles into the break room, arms filled with miscellaneous papers and a scattered smile on his face. A good morning is when he walks into the serpentarium to find his friend half asleep on the couch, one foot draped over the cushions and an arm slung over his eyes to block out the light.

And yeah, they see each other quite a bit, enough that most rational people would grow tired of it, but it never does get monotonous. Every new day brings new things to talk about and laugh about and experience. Together.

Maybe he’s just overthinking it, as he tends to do with everything. Maybe wanting to be around Soonyoung is reason enough to just stop thinking and start, well, doing. Because, at the end of the day, Wonwoo wants to be around the clumsy idiot more than anyone else at the serpentarium.

Liking someone, in the romantic sense, doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as that. It can be wanting to hear their voice and wanting to tell them stories and wanting to meet their eyes from across the keeping facility while feeding snakes.

 

 

He probably should have realized that he liked Soonyoung sooner.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

The problem with focusing so heavily on work, if that’s what Seungcheol is even doing in his office, is that there’s a severe deprivation of social interaction. This inevitably leads to what most people call mistakes and what Wonwoo refers to as “Seungcheol getting drunk off his ass during the annual get together”.

He’d try and control Seungcheol more if: a) Seungcheol wasn’t hosting the party at his house b) Jisoo wasn’t there to wipe off the copious amounts of sweat that bead Seungcheol’s forehead (which is a true sign of love because yuck ) and c) he didn’t feel bad about the shit that his boss puts up with during regular work days.

Truthfully, pity is what drives Jihoon and Wonwoo to continuously attend the get togethers that Seungcheol insists on throwing. The party, contrary to what most people would assume, is not for the anniversary of Seungcheol and Jisoo’s relationship. No, that would be far too normal. It’s for the anniversary of the day West Dundas Serpentarium was built.

“This is stupid,” Jihoon announces around the same time he announced it the previous year.

Seungcheol is already balancing on the fine line between fairly drunk and piss drunk. It had been quite a surprise to discover that Seungcheol, in all his tall, muscular glory, could hold the same amount of alcohol as a fairly determined squirrel.

Wonwoo just shrugs, which he’s pretty sure he did last year too. There’s nothing wrong with tradition.

Junhui, Wonwoo is certain, is acting a lot drunker than he actually is, whereas Soonyoung is doing the exact opposite and trying to convince Jisoo that he’s fine. The harsh flush of pink painting his cheeks indicates that he’s probably not as fine as he’d like to believe.

“We should help Jisoo,” Wonwoo hums, staring sympathetically at the scattered nurse. He’s attempting to calm a frazzled Soonyoung and keep his boyfriend sitting upright at the same time. Junhui watches with a stupid grin.

“Jun is even soberer than us right now, he’ll step in if he has to.” Jihoon leans forward then, setting down his snake covered plate and cup. Wonwoo thought Seungcheol would grow tired of snakes after working with them for so long, but he thought wrong.

There’s a garbled cry from the kitchen table as Seungcheol weakly battles off Jisoo and struggles to stand.

“Guys, listen, you really need to listen. I really want to thank you all, seriously, for being so great and I love you. Not like Jisoo, of course,” and Seungcheol throws a heavy arm around Jisoo’s neck. The nurse just sighs and pats Seungcheol’s hand tiredly. “But I really love you guys!”

The amazing feat that is drunk Seungcheol standing without toppling over lasts for only a few moments longer, before he lurches sideways, pulling Jisoo down with him. It’s then that Junhui decides to be a decent human and help the struggling nurse sit Seungcheol safely in a kitchen chair.

“But really, I love every, single one of you. If you ever leave, I’d really miss you.”

Soonyoung squints at Seungcheol’s stooped form and utters a phrase that would be very sweet if it weren’t coming from someone quite so intoxicated.

“Why would we ever leave?”

“I remember when every single one of you got hired at the serpentarium,” his boss continues, and Wonwoo isn’t even sure if Seungcheol heard Soonyoung at all. “Junhui was first and, fuck, I love you, Junhui. This dude, let me tell you, this dude went to my high school, right? And like, right outta high school, like no formal college or university training with the snakes.”

Junhui smiles into his drink.

“He just comes for an interview. And I’m skeptical, cause only, like, 10% of all venom extractors have no formal training or education, and that’s including the dead ones. But Taemin just crawls onto Junhui’s foot!”

Jisoo seems more interested in forcing Soonyoung to drink a glass of water than listening to Seungcheol’s riveting tale, so Wonwoo can only assume that he’s heard it before.

“But Jun, this beautiful, wonderful, dolt, just pets him on the head! And Taemin doesn’t bite or anything! I hired him right after that. Anyone who can control that snake is a great employee. And then Soonyoung and Jihoon were right after, my fresh graduates, I love you two.”

Soonyoung lifts his head at the mention of his name, eyes comically wide.

“Wonwoo, god, Wonwoo you were the last to join and you’re so great. And I’m not dumb, I know you don’t even like snakes all that much, but you still stay. Please don’t leave.”

 

 

Wonwoo decides that it’s time to take Soonyoung home when he sees the tipsy boy reaching for another drink. The last thing Wonwoo needs is Seungcheol waking up to find his employees half dead from alcohol.

“You sure you can take him home all by yourself?” Junhui asks as he helps lead Soonyoung to the front door. His friend, thankfully, can walk just fine, but Wonwoo isn’t sure how much longer that will last.

“Yeah, his house is on the way to mine. I’m calling a cab so I’ll just take it with him.”

“Remind him not to take aspirin until the morning after,” Jisoo calls out from further in the apartment. Wonwoo grunts in confirmation.

Junhui waves them out with what is probably supposed to be a reassuring smile. “I’ll text you if Seungcheol falls off the balcony!”

“Thanks.”

 

 

“Wonwoo?”

This is the first thing that Soonyoung has said since Wonwoo hauled him into a cab. They’re in Soonyoung’s apartment building now, and the elevator is decidedly against him. There’s no reason for it to be going so painstakingly slow, but it still does.

The car ride had been fine, surprisingly quiet as Soonyoung had been fascinated with the scenery flashing by the car window.

“Yeah?”

“You’re not going to,” Soonyoung pauses as if trying to find the right words to say, “you know, leave, right?”

Wonwoo only smiles. “Not anytime soon,” he assures. “Maybe if I want to continue with school in the future.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“That would be sad,” Soonyoung says truthfully, and the elevator doors slide open. “I wouldn’t see you then, which would be bad. Bad and sad.”

Wonwoo rolls his eyes as he drags the tipsy boy out. “Soonyoung, I’d still contact you guys if I stopped working there, we’d still be....”

Friends. Or something more. He shakes the thought out of his head.

“Really?”

And Soonyoung looks like Wonwoo just handed him the entire world, placed lovingly on a golden plate and drizzled with love. A startled smile blooms on Soonyoung’s lips. It's so incredibly stupid, which makes it all the more delightful.

They’re creating quite the scene for any of Soonyoung’s neighbours that are still awake. If anyone were to peer into the halls through their eye hole, they would find a dishevelled tomato and his flustered coworker who might maybe, kind of, sort of, be a little infatuated. Or something along those lines, anyway.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Wonwoo, I really like spending time with you. Like a lot. And I like everything about you, I do.”

Soonyoung has stopped walking at this point, feet planted firmly on the carpeted ground, and his eyes hold a solid sort of determination. His nose is scrunched up in concentration.

“I like it that you don’t make much sound when you laugh and that even your smiles are quiet. And I like how you think so much, like, you just sit there and think and think. I love it that you do, though, and that you press your lips together when you don’t like something and I hope that something isn’t me, because I like you.”

“Do you now?” he asks softly.

He’s being quiet not in consideration for the neighbours, but simply because his words are only for Soonyoung.

“I like you,” Soonyoung repeats, nodding vigorously. “I like you just a little bit. A little bit more than a little bit. A lot bit.”

The words are a thing of nonsense.

He’s sure that Soonyoung is somewhat aware of what he’s saying, but the alcohol is making him impulsive. It’s stupefying him. It’s making him say things that he would never say otherwise, and Wonwoo shouldn’t acknowledge such words. Not when Soonyoung isn’t fully aware.

That doesn’t stop him from wanting to, though. He wants to smile down at Soonyoung and say that, yeah, he kind of really likes him too. There’s really no reason he should want to kiss Soonyoung at that moment, especially considering how chapped his lips are and how they probably taste of pizza sauce and ginger ale tonic, but he does.

“Good night, Soonyoung,” Wonwoo says instead, and he waves Soonyoung off into his apartment.

 

The third reason he should date Soonyoung: he wants to. In the end, that’s the only reason he really needs.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

Soonyoung walks into the break room, sees Wonwoo, and then walks straight out.

Jihoon and Junhui glance at him in confusion. Well, Junhui does anyway. Jihoon peers quietly at him in a way that is reminiscent of how he looks at the dead mice they keep in their freezers.

“I didn’t do anything,” is all he says, because he’s fairly certain that he didn’t.

 

 

Soonyoung, as Wonwoo comes to find, is extremely good at avoidance.

Seeing as there are only four people in charge of five temperamental reptiles, they have to work together for most of their shifts lest one of them gets bitten or attacked.

Despite this, Wonwoo miraculously doesn’t catch sight of Soonyoung for most of the day. Even if they do work together, Soonyoung determinedly keeps his eyes fixed on anything that isn’t Wonwoo’s face. Fortunately for Soonyoung, Wonwoo is too busy trying to keep Minho from wriggling free and gnawing their heads off to ask what’s wrong.

 

 

He successfully corners Soonyoung in the keeping facility.

One of Soonyoung’s hands is fitted in a thick, rubber glove. The other holds a plastic tub of dead eel and fish, the smell hitting Wonwoo’s nose in wafts. Taemin looks annoyed, his tail twitching as if he’s irritated at his meal being stalled.

“I’m a little, you know, busy,” and Soonyoung gestures to his rubber glove and tub of snake feed. When Wonwoo shows no sign of moving, Soonyoung takes the glove off reluctantly.

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

“I have not, I’ve just been busy today. Today is a busy day.”

“Junhui and Jihoon are literally playing tic, tac, toe in the break room.”

Soonyoung screws up his face in agitation, clearing his throat while his nervous fingers play with the frayed ends of his sweater. It’s a cute habit.

“Well, yeah, someone has got to, err, pick up their slack.”

The statement is ridiculous enough to warrant a few heartbeats of silence. Apparently, even Soonyoung is aware of the absurdity because he sighs before turning towards Wonwoo. They still don’t meet each other’s eyes as Soonyoung is busy being fascinated by the dingy ceiling. At least he isn’t bolting.

“We need to talk about, well, the get-together....”

There’s a horrible squelching sound as a plastic container falls onto the floor, spilling the remnants of ocean life onto Soonyoung’s shoes.

“Look, there’s nothing to talk about.”

Soonyoung is decidedly ignoring both Wonwoo and the spilled fish by sticking his hand into another (unspilled) tub and pulling out a limp eel.

“I’m sorry about what I, uh, said, but you don’t need to worry about it because it was an honest mistake.”

And Wonwoo watches with faint amusement as Soonyoung continues to avoid looking at him. Instead, he pops the top hatch of Taemin’s cage open to drop in the fish.

“And, god, yes, I was drunk and I was stupid, but I wasn’t drunk enough not to forget, okay. And if you could please just forget everything, that would be great.”

Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of sharp teeth cutting through skin. Surprisingly, Soonyoung isn’t the one that lets out a yell, Wonwoo is.

It’s hard not to yelp when Taemin has his teeth sunk into the soft flesh of Soonyoung’s left hand.

The snake apparently grows bored with the limp extremity and removes his fangs, wriggling towards the far corners of the tank where Soonyoung had dropped the eel in his shock. Soonyoung still has his hand frozen in place. They’re both staring at the retreating reptile in disbelief.

“I forgot to wear my glove,” he hears his friend mutter, “and he bit me. He actually bit me.”

It’s a bit of a blur afterward, but Wonwoo assumes that he pulled Soonyoung back because they’re both kneeled down on the floor, with Soonyoung afflicted hand encased in Wonwoo’s own.

The bite is misleading, especially when there’s so little blood and minimal swelling; it looks almost harmless, but they both know better. Venomous bites hardly ever cause extensive blood loss, and swelling takes a while to set in.

“Okay, fuck, you should probably lie down.” Wonwoo is trying his best not to panic because it really won’t help the situation much. “Yeah, lie down.”

“Are we supposed to lie down?”

“Fuck, yeah, I’m pretty sure? What did the orientation video say to do?”

“I don’t know! I watched that thing months ago!” And Soonyoung sounds understandably distressed.

Wonwoo distinctly remembers a small section of his orientation video saying something about calming the victim down and telling them to take deep breaths, but he skips over that step in favour of forcibly pushing Soonyoung onto the ground.

“No, I’m pretty sure it said lay down, so lay down.”

He worries his bottom lip while trying to recall what to do next.

Sucking the venom out is an automatic no. Seungcheol had repeatedly reminded them that this only aggravated the problem. It led to one person suffering from a venom infected wound and another with venom in their mouth.

“Why didn’t we learn what to do,” Soonyoung whines, and he sounds like he’s trying very hard not to freak out. He’s doing an objectively poor job of it.

“I think that’s what the orientation video was for? Oh my god, okay, I think we have to elevate your body?”

“What?”

“The venom is supposed to stay below the heart. Shit, okay, Soonyoung come on.” And he lays his friend down on the nearest table, positioned so that Soonyoung’s left-hand hangs limply off the edge.

He should have just listened to his grandmother and went into pharmacy.

“An ambulance is probably a good idea? Fuck, okay, I think Seungcheol keeps antivenom in storage, Taemin is a--”

“Palm platypus? Right?”

“Pelamis Platurus, actually, but yeah, whatever you say, Soonyoung.”

Wonwoo dearly hopes that the name mix up is because Soonyoung is naturally forgetful and not because the venom has seeped into the crevices of his brain. It probably hasn’t, as venom travels fairly slowly, but it worries him nonetheless.

“But we’re not supposed to give you the antivenom right away, I think?”

“You think ?”

“I know. I know we’re not. We’ll pass the antivenom to the EMTs, alright? Dammit, does Pelamis Platurus cause the clotting of blood? Fuck, those require blood transfusions.”

“Ambulance,” Soonyoung suggests quietly. “Ambulance has blood transfusion. And lots of....not dying stuff?”

“Ambulance, an ambulance sounds good, right ?”

“Right.”

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

As it turns out, their local hospital doesn’t have a designated floor for patients with snake bites. Shockingly enough, being bitten by foreign, venomous snakes is not a common occurrence. This is why Soonyoung ends up being checked into the rehabilitation unit.

 

 

It’s a little awkward as neither of them talks at first.

The orange zinnias that Wonwoo brought for Soonyoung sit snuggly on the patient’s lap, and Soonyoung absentmindedly plays with the soft petals.

Every flower supposedly represents a different concept or idea, roses for love, daffodils for a new start etc, but Wonwoo chose orange zinnias because they were, well, orange. He thought they might bring a dab of colour to the otherwise lifeless room.

(He was going to bring yellow zinnias, but Taemin is a yellow - bellied sea snake. Soonyoung probably doesn't want a reminder of that reptile just yet.)

“They didn’t hurt Taemin, right?”

Wonwoo is stumped.

“What?”

“Taemin, they didn’t hurt him, right? You told them it was my fault? That Taemin didn’t do anything and it was me that stuck my naked hand in his tank. He’s alive, right?”

Wonwoo is silent because of shock, but Soonyoung apparently takes it the wrong way.

“Did they take him away? Did they.....euthanize him? Oh my god, please tell me that they didn’t kill him! I mean, embarrassing me is one thing, but letting them kill my snake--”

“They didn’t,” Wonwoo interrupts before Soonyoung breaks into hysterics. “They didn’t kill Taemin, I mean. He’s fine.”

“Really?” And Soonyoung has such a relieved look about it that Wonwoo can’t help the frazzled expression that flits over his face.

“Soonyoung, the one everyone was worried about was you.”

“But I’m fine.” And Soonyoung pats his bandaged arm a little too hard for Wonwoo’s taste. He stops the action and gives his friend a distressed look.

“Let's not....aggravate the wound.”

“I’m really fine.”

It’s then that Soonyoung realizes how close Wonwoo has come during the duration of their conversation, and how Wonwoo is still holding Soonyoung’s unbandaged hand in his own. He starts looking a little short of breath.

One heartbeat of silence.

Then two.

“What’s that about me embarrassing you?”

“This,” Soonyoung mumbles, suddenly clutching the zinnias with far too much force, “is unfair. They’ll call code yellow if I make a run for it.”

Wonwoo only grins, shrugging at the exasperated pout that Soonyoung throws his way.

“I was.....drunk, alright. Why did you have to take me home? Why not Junhui or Jihoon?”

“They live on the opposite side of town,” Wonwoo points out. “And?”

“I.... I remember what I said and, dammit, I’m sorry, Wonwoo. I’m sorry that I....you know.”

“Said you liked me?”

Soonyoung looks like he wants to die right there and then, and truthfully, Wonwoo’s feeling more than a little ruffled himself. He’s just a lot better at hiding it. Hopefully, anyway.

“....yeah, that.”

“You said that you liked me.”

“I said that I liked you a little bit.” Wonwoo stares. “Fine, yes, a little bit more than that.”

“A lot bit, actually,” he teases, pleased at the strangled expression on Soonyoung’s already constipated face.

“I’m sorry, Wonwoo. I really am, I know it must have been awkward for you and it’s fine, if you just want to,” Soonyoung shrugs helplessly, and he looks longingly at his door, probably trying to calculate how long it will take for the nurses to call code yellow if he makes a break for it.

“What if I like you too?”

That was apparently not an option because Soonyoung is staring at him as if he was just told that Wonwoo is half snake. Honestly, Soonyoung would probably like him better if that were true.

“What?”

It’s not something Wonwoo particularly wants to repeat. Saying it out loud is beyond embarrassing.

But he knows, and he’s probably known for a while now, that it’s true. He does like Soonyoung, in the most horrendously romantic of ways. He likes the way Soonyoung laughs, loud and bright, and the way he smiles for others to see.

Honestly, screw his stupid lists and counter reasons, because he’s happy when he’s with Soonyoung, and that was the only reason he ever needed.

He wants to hold Soonyoung’s hand, even the sweaty, bandaged one, and he wants to try and lean down and see what it would feel like to have Soonyoung’s lips pressed against his own. It’s sappy and gut wrenchingly stupid, but he can’t help but want it.

 

(Seungcheol also begged Wonwoo to do something about Soonyoung while filling out insurance papers and company mandated forms. Apparently, almost dying generates quite a bit of paperwork.)

 

“I like you.”

“Me?” Soonyoung points to himself in awe. “Are you sure? Wait, no, that’s not what I meant. I mean, really?”

Soonyoung is offensively sweet. He’s kind and stupid and clumsy and, yeah, Wonwoo wants to try this.

“I’d make a horrible boyfriend.”

Soonyoung physically draws back at that word, and he’s seemingly forgotten about the zinnias if the way he’s crushing them is any indication.

“But, you know, if you want to try it out......” He winces at the triviality of his own words, but there’s really no other way to ask this question.

“As in romantically ?”

Soonyoung speaks loud and slow, the way Wonwoo used to talk to Bohyuk when they were younger and Bohyuk asked him to define a difficult word. It’s as if he thinks Wonwoo doesn’t quite understand what he’s saying.

“Yes, Soonyoung. I want to be the kind of boyfriend that....well, kisses….”

Soonyoung goes a little cross-eyed glancing at Wonwoo’s lips in what he probably thinks is a discreet manner.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Um,” Soonyoung swallows, bringing his bandaged hand closer to his chest before finally tearing his eyes away from Wonwoo’s quirked lips. “Okay, wow .”

“We probably should have talked about this sooner and avoided the hospital.”

“Wait, how long have you known?” Soonyoung is affronted by Wonwoo’s nonchalant shrug. “Why didn’t you--”

And maybe Wonwoo leans a little closer than he should. Soonyoung really does go cross-eyed this time around, but he doesn’t lean back. Instead, while gripping the poor zinnias even tighter, he stays frozen in place.

 

The first reason Wonwoo shouldn’t kiss Soonyoung: they’re in a goddamn hospital of all places, with bustling nurses and surrounded by the sound of buttons, talking and the clattering of footsteps.Wonwoo decides to do it anyway.

 

 

There’s a shattering beep.

 

 

“I think I accidentally pressed the call button,” Soonyoung says.

“Of course you did.”