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Woes of the Written Word

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There are several problems with working in a crappy, one-floor building. The first might be the lack of space, since there are only three private offices in the facility. The rest of the floor is filled with cubicles. Ten lonesome desks separated by thin, gray dividers, not even tall enough to conceal the top of Mingyu’s head. For regular, functioning members of society, working in cramped quarters is no more challenging than a tick on the shoulder or an ill fitting shoe. But 66 East Dundas Road is occupied by a group of rowdy, young men, and the lack of space proves to be a very big issue for them. It’s brought up, without fail, at every monthly meeting.  

Another tribulation of working in a crappy, one-floor building is the non-existence of privacy, which is largely due to the lack of space. The close quarters result in every sneeze, whisper and spoken word traveling with alarming accuracy from one end of the cubicle-ridden floor, to the other.

But perhaps the most prevalent issue with 66 East Dundas Road is that every worker, from the managing editor to the editorial assistant, is peculiar. Despite the shared peculiarity of the employees, each man has convinced himself that he is the exception, the normal of the bunch. They are all wrong, of course, but to tell them so is to convince a fly not to buzz towards the light, simply impossible.

 

 


 

 

 

Mingyu starts with Seungcheol- the managing editor is a man that can generally be trusted. Besides, starting with Seungcheol means that Mingyu gets to escape the god-awful cubicle nest and recuperate in the confines of Seungcheol’s private office. There’s nothing he wouldn’t give to have an office of his own, but Mingyu is at the very bottom of the S.V.T hierarchy. He’s pretty sure the office printer is held in a higher regard than him.

 “What am I supposed to do?”

Mingyu sighs, removing the Canon from the tripod with care. The camera costs more than his entire life, and he’s not risking debt to replace it. The government made sure he had enough of it before he even managed to graduate. With gentle fingers, he places the device carefully on Seungcheol’s oak desk. Another perk of having an office is that it comes with a big, fancy desk. Mingyu’s own desk looks to be made of wood, but he’s certain that it’s a fake. Probably crafted from plastic, cleverly painted to emulate wood.

“Just introduce yourself, your position. Say a little bit about yourself?”

“Yes, but why am I doing this?”

“It’s the new fad,” he patiently explains, trying, and failing, to keep the excitement out of his voice. “It’s ingenious!”

Seungcheol offers him a tight-lipped smile. “You’re rather confident about this.”

Mingyu scoops up the camera again, struggling to screw it back onto the tripod.

“Trust me, all the big media sites and entertainment companies do introduction videos. Even Buzzfeed….” Mingyu trails off at Seungcheol’s look of utter betrayal. Oh god, he’s committed the greatest sin, the one forbidden act. A rule that even Jeonghan, a man who had run out of shits to give somewhere in his adolescence, wouldn’t dare to touch.

“We’re not Buzzfeed,” the management editor says, eyes glinting with a special brand of hatred. Seungcheol harbours a deeply personal abhorrence for Buzzfeed. In fact, the name of the company is practically banned within the office walls.

“Of course.” He vigorously nods to show how much he agrees with his boss.

“We’re different from them. Complete opposites.” Mingyu can practically feel the sermon coming on. "Buzzfeed is an Internet media company, with a heavy focus on digital media and digital technology. S.V.T, on the other hand, is an adult lifestyle magazine that just happens to be dabbling with online media outlets.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

Seungcheol freezes at the apology, a rather flustered expression replacing the rage. “No, there’s nothing to apologize for, Mingyu. I just need you to understand that we’re not Buzzfeed. Nor are we copying them.” The man had said the exact same thing when they first met, almost a year ago. Mingyu had passed off the lecture as useless rambling, not knowing that they were words he’d have to live by.

“Okay.”

Apparently, Mingyu’s forced sincerity is enough to satiate the man, and he rests more comfortably on his chair. He gestures for Mingyu to start filming.

“My name is Seungcheol,” his boss says, in a practiced, formal voice. Soonyoung once said it sounded like a salesperson on steroids. “I work at S.V.T.”

Seungcheol chuckles so transparently, that Mingyu almost drops the more-expensive-than-his-entire-life camera in disgust.

“You’re probably wondering what S.V.T is.” Oh yuck, this was a bad idea. It was such a bad idea to start filming with Seungcheol, he should have known better. “Well, it’s an adult lifestyle magazine.”

“What are your responsibilities?” Mingyu interrupts, trying to veer the introduction back to Seungcheol and away from the company. He wants the video to focus on the workers as individuals, not make them seem like hypnotized victims of hive mind, which they probably are.

“Managing editor.”

“And what does that mean?”

“I manage stuff.” Seungcheol goes back to saying things he really shouldn’t be saying. “We may sound like Buzzfeed, but we’re very different.”

Mingyu resists the urge to yell.

 

 

 

“I’m head of Outdoors and Beauty.”

Mingyu pauses the feed, sighing through his nose as he deletes the footage. “Soonyoung, you’re the editor in chief, not the head.”

“It’s the same thing, Gyu.”

“But it has to sound official. This is the official introductory video, it’s going on the official website. Official.”

Soonyoung laughs, rolling his eyes at the nagging. And nothing about Soonyoung is all that official, he’s dressed in scuffed up blue jeans for one, with a ratty, black shirt that’s seen better days. His red converse are in horrible shape, looking as if they’ve lost a battle with a lawn mower, which maybe they have. Mingyu doesn’t know much about Soonyoung’s hobbies outside of work.

“Fine, okay.” Mingyu gives the cue to start filming again. “I’m an editor in chief.”

“What do you do?”

The man hums in concentration, before answering thoughtfully. “I edit, approve and finalize the articles that Junhui and Minghao write for me.”

Mingyu pauses the video again, gesturing for the elder to stop.

“What? I used fancy and official terms. I said the word finalize, Gyu. That’s, like, the epitome of official.”

“Soonyoung, you can’t mention Junhui and Minghao by name! They haven’t been introduced yet.”

“But you’re going to interview them?”

“Yeah, but I’m going to edit in their interviews after yours. It’s got to go in order: the editor in chief, then the editorial assistant, then the writer and then bam, the interns!”

Soonyoung nods, giving Mingyu a crisp thumbs up. “Got it.”

“List your responsibilities for me again.” Mingyu focuses the camera before giving the cue to start speaking.

“I’m in charge of editing, approving and finalizing articles that a bunch of people who haven’t been introduced yet, write.”

Mingyu makes a sound that is somewhere between a guttural moan and a screech. It hurts his throat, and Minghao has to make him citrus tea later to soothe the pain.

 

 

 

Jihoon, the last and final owner of an office, is easy to work with. Mingyu chalks this up to the fact that Jihoon is the only one of the three that actually deserves his office.

“Jihoon Lee, editor in chief of Lifestyle and Love. I edit and finalize articles.”

Mingyu could almost kiss the shorter for being such a good sport, but Jihoon scares him so he settles for a hearty smile. In fact, he’s willing to go as far as saying that it is his heartiest smile yet, very wholesome. His good mood only lasts until he gets to the door. No more private office interviews, which means he has to deal with the snake pit that is the cubicle nest.

“Good luck,” Jihoon snickers.

Mingyu quickly stops liking the editor in chief, he’s an ass, no matter how quickly he finished his interview.

 

 

 

There are ten employees working in the cramped, one-floor building that is 66 East Dundas Road. Thirteen, if the interns are counted. Only Seungcheol, Soonyoung, and Jihoon get offices because they’re the only ones with a semblance of authority.

This leaves Mingyu squished into a cubicle, sat in between Seokmin and Jisoo. It’s objectively the worst spot to have. Seokmin spends his shifts screaming into his phone, which Mingyu can’t complain about since it’s Seokmin’s job to yell, and Jisoo mutters whatever he’s typing out loud. This would be all right if Jisoo weren’t the writer for S.V.T’s sex column, but he is. So it’s horrible.

 

 

 

“I write stuff,” Minghao says.

“You’ve got to say more,” Mingyu hisses.

“I’m a writer, I write stuff.” 

Minghao knows exactly what he’s doing and he knows how frustrating it must be for the person holding the camera. Mingyu simply decides that he must have been a terrible person in his past life to deserve this hell, one that murdered orphans with poisoned lollipops or something. Either that or he made bad career choices, probably the latter if he’s up to being honest.

 

 

 

“Editorial assistants are very important,” Junhui claims, nodding as seriously as he can manage. “Vital to the system.”

“Junhui is my spell check bitch,” Minghao laughs, leaning his head out of his cubicle and into Junhui’s. Mingyu pauses the camera.

“Minghao, you just rendered this take useless,” Mingyu groans. He offers his friend an exasperated look, one mustered from the depths of his tortured soul.

Junhui just looks thoughtful, tapping his long fingers on the surface of his fake-wooden table. The editorial assistant smiles as he speaks. “I’m more of Soonyoung’s spell check bitch than yours.”

“True,” Minghao concedes easily.

At least they’re having fun.

 

 

 

“My job? Same as Mingyu.”

The pause button is probably going to break soon, in which case Mingyu will remove a kidney and pay for the repairs. That’s fine, he only really needs one kidney. He can live without the other.  

“Wonwoo.”

“It’s true, though.” The elder sighs when he sees the pleading look on Mingyu’s face, shrugging in defeat.

“Take 2.”

“I’m a photo editor and producer.” Wonwoo clasps his hands together on his lap, leaning lazily onto his chair. “I edit and produce content catered towards rich, middle aged women.”

Mingyu stabs the pause button. “Please take this seriously."

“Mingyu, we’re a try hard copy of Buzzfeed, feeding off suburban white mothers with nothing better to do at their children’s soccer games than read an ‘adult lifestyle magazine’. Our magazine is called Satisfying, Visual and Tasteful. How serious can I be?”

Sometimes, Wonwoo likes to let people know that he hates his job.

“We’re like a no name brand of Buzzfeed, not a try hard one,” Jeonghan argues, head popping up from his cubicle. He flashes Mingyu a cheeky grin. “Sorry if I ruined your take.”

“Agreed,” Wonwoo hums, turning away from Mingyu and returning to squinting at his computer screen.

Wonwoo has shitty vision. This, coupled with a tendency to forget his eyewear at home, leads to the elder being the resident squinter. Junhui and Jeonghan sometimes make bets on whether or not Wonwoo will bring his glasses to work. Jeonghan, who likes to bet that Wonwoo will forget them, always wins.

“I hate you,” Mingyu mutters with feeling. 

“That’s life, Gyu. Hating people.”

“Don’t cut yourself on all that edge,” Minghao snorts. Wonwoo kicks his cubicle.

“Fuck, that scared me.”

“Good.”

 

 

 

Jisoo requests for his interview to be held in the break room, mostly because he’s embarrassed. It's funny because the writer has no qualms about muttering the names of sex positions whenever Mingyu is trying to concentrate on his work. One day, Seungcheol is going to grant Mingyu’s request to be moved, and he’ll never have to hear about minute details of heterosexual intercourse again.

“What do you do?”

“I mostly work as an editorial assistant for the Lifestyle and Love department of the magazine, but I write articles when asked to.”

“What do you write about?”

Jisoo swallows his saliva with a pained look. “I work in the Lifestyle and Love department,” he repeats.

Mingyu closes his eyes, not wanting to breach this topic any more than the sex columnist. And a blossoming flower of pity blooms within the tendrils of his chest, one that weeps for the poor, innocent soul that is Jisoo Hong.

“Okay, that’s fine, Jisoo. We’re done here, thanks.”

Jisoo sighs, looking up at the ceiling with the air of a defeated man. One that had given up his sanity long ago, when he was forced to take on a column that no one else wanted to touch. Jisoo is a kind, battered human, one who sacrificed himself so that his coworkers might avoid learning about the intricacy of heterosexual intimacy.

“Maybe Jihoon will let you drop the column,” Mingyu mumbles. “Try bringing it up at next month’s meeting?”

“My column is the most read column in S.V.T,” Jisoo comments tonelessly.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” Jisoo closes his eyes tight as if hoping reality will change when he opens them again. “I got a congratulatory email from the main branch.”

“That’s…nice?”

Jisoo only hums in response. He still hasn’t opened his eyes.

 

 

 

Mingyu interviews the interns together, mostly because they do the exact same thing. There’s no point in filming them one by one. It goes fine until he asks what lessons they’ve learned while interning at the company.

“Nothing,” Chan says.

“Don’t make spelling errors,” Hansol tries.

“Screaming ‘you asshat, fucking ink machine’ at a jammed printer does very little to rectify the issue at hand,” Seungkwan finishes, shrugging. “A lesson that Soonyoung has yet to learn.”

“You do that too, Seungkwan,” Chan points out, high fiving an ecstatic looking Hansol.

Mingyu’s lets them bicker, mostly because he filmed salvageable content before hand. It’s amazing what a little editing can do.

 

 

 

Seokmin was loud before Seungcheol hired him. Seokmin Lee was probably born screaming at decibels higher than humanly possible. During his high school days, Seokmin sat in front of his guidance counselor with a beatific grin and a confident stature.

“What career path interests you?” the guidance counselor might have asked. And Seokmin would have laughed at that, nice and loud. Because everything he does is loud.

“Something where I can yell,” he would have answered.

 

“I’m the ad sales agent,” Seokmin beams, looking very pleased with himself.

He should be pleased, actually. Seokmin is perhaps the only person in the cubicle nest whose job is important to the maintenance of the magazine. The ad sales agent might be the most vital part of any magazine, really. It’s just hard to appreciate a man who spends half the day deafening you.

“And what does that entail?”

“Yelling,” Wonwoo says from across the nest.

“Screeching,” Minghao adds.

“Attempting to shatter the glass of the office with his shrill, unpleasant voice,” Jeonghan suggests.

Seokmin grins in amusement, which worries Mingyu. This poor man is oblivious to the burning hatred that his coworkers have for his voice.

“Take two?” Mingyu suggests.

“I sell advertisement spots in the magazine, mostly on the phone!”

By yelling, Mingyu thinks bitterly. What he says, however, is, “Great! Good take, Seokmin.”

 

 

 

Jeonghan, per his request, is last. If Mingyu were to indulge the butterflies in his chest, he might convince himself that Jeonghan is shy about speaking one on one with him. But Mingyu is practical and recognizes that Jeonghan just wants to mess with other interviews before doing his own.

“I’m Jeonghan Yoon.”

Mingyu shouldn’t be this happy. All he's doing is sitting in front of Jeonghan with his camera and staring into his face. Jeonghan has quirks about him that can only be seen up close. His nose has a soft, rounded tip that’s just a little bit pinker in hue than the rest of his face. His eyelashes are incredibly short, but that just makes it easier to see his rounded eyes. There’s sharpness to his chin that can’t be seen from far off.

“What do you do?”

Jeonghan smiles and Mingyu thinks it should probably look devious instead of endearing, but trying to tell that to his brain is difficult.

“I’m an editorial assistant for the Lifestyle and Love portion of S.V.T.”

Mingyu is entirely convinced that he can finish this interview without drowning. He’s going to stomp the life right out of those pesky, winged insects fluttering within his stomach.

Jeonghan laughs before he continues speaking, a soft, tinkling sound that Minghao swears sounds like a hyena’s bark. And the butterflies flutter once more.

 

 


 

 

 

“I bet you twenty dollars that Seungcheol is going to shoot Mingyu down,” Jeonghan says, leaning so that his body is almost completely in Junhui’s cubicle. Junhui smiles.

“You’re horrible, I thought you had a soft spot for Mingyu.”

“Oh, I do. He’s a real cutey, but I know Seungcheol. This idea was dead from the start.”

“You’re despicable,” Minghao dead pans, leaning in from his own cubicle to join the betting pool. Sometimes, Junhui thinks he’s sitting in the middle of two cold-blooded vipers, vying for blood and chaos. But he reminds himself how much fun betting on the misery of his coworkers is, and he feels better about it.

“Okay,” Junhui agrees. “I think the idea is nice, Seungcheol wouldn’t shoot it down. Not when Mingyu put so much work into editing the footage.”

“He complained about my interview,” Minghao snorts, crossing his arms across his chest. “Made me film it again.”

Junhui peers over the top of his cubicle to see what’s happening in Seungcheol’s office. Mingyu has his laptop on Seungcheol’s desk and seems to be explaining something, hands flying here and there.

“Seungcheol is frowning,” Minghao comments, grinning slyly at Junhui. He pushes the younger away with a comical pout.

“You just want me to lose.”

“I want Jeonghan to lose too, you’re not special.”

“Look at that slouch,” Jeonghan says, pointing a finger at Mingyu’s figure. “He’s receiving bad news, it’s written all over his posture.”

“Mingyu is just a very slouchy person,” Minghao argues, arching his eyebrow at Junhui. “See? I’m on no one’s side.”

 

 

 

“I’m sorry,” Seungcheol says, and Mingyu tries his hardest not to frown. 

“It was a sweet idea,” Seungcheol assures him, smiling all wide. “But seeing the concept in real life….well, we’re not that sort of magazine, Mingyu. An introductory video just doesn’t fit our target demographic.”

Of course, it doesn’t, and it’s only when he hears the truth out loud that he realizes it. Mingyu frowns in defeat, and he and Seungcheol both startle when they hear a satisfied noise of accomplishment from the cubicle nest. 

 

 

 

Jeonghan buys him a donut at the end of the day.

“You shouldn’t have,” he says, taking the desert out of its encasing. Jeonghan shrugs.

“Don’t worry, it’s on Junhui.”

Chapter Text

Editor in chief sounds fancy on paper, but the reality is a lot less glamorous. It involves early mornings and hours staring helplessly at an article, scoping for the grammatical errors that surely lurk beneath the paragraphs but continue to evade him. Rephrasing sentences, then undoing the rephrasing because it sounded better the first time around. Ordering  Minghao and Chan to research about subjects that neither he or his subordinates give a shit about. After all, they aren't in the middle of a life crisis, and definitely not desperate enough to pick up a magazine titled Satisfying.Vivid.Tasteful.  Soonyoung knows he should be grateful for his salary and working space, Junhui reminds him of it more than enough.

 

“I have a picture of a tree in my wallet,” Junhui muses, when Soonyoung takes him out to lunch. “Because I want to remind myself that there is a world beyond my pathetic, little, windowless cubicle.”

“I get it,” Soonyoung snorts. “I’m privileged.”

“Birds,” Junhui sighs, resting his face in his hands. “I wonder if they still exist. Please, window man, remind me how birds look like?”

“Kindly shut up.”

 

But yes, editor in chief sounds fancy on paper, but not when Soonyoung has to drag himself to the office at the asscrack of dawn. He knows it's damn early because even Jihoon has yet to arrive.

It’s when he's scrutinizing Minghao’s latest article that he catches movement in the periphery of his vision. A figure with inhumanely long legs totters to his cubicle. Mingyu, as Soonyoung smartly identifies, holds steaming mugs in each hand, probably of coffee. The worker carefully sets down a cup at a cubicle whose owner Soonyoung can't remember, before taking the other cup with him to his own desk.

This is what he’s been reduced to. He’s so bored that watching Mingyu deliver coffee is actually interesting. At least he has a window in his office instead of a pathetically scratched up Polaroid of a tree, with the words "you'll be out of prison one day," at the bottom.

 

“Another cup?” Soonyoung identifies Jisoo's melodic voice as he and Jeonghan walk into the office. 

The two of them like to carpool, mostly because Jeonghan’s car is a shitty, old sedan that barely functions properly. The office bustles with life as the staff trickle in. He can already hear Jihoon arguing with someone on the phone.

Jeonghan lifts the steaming cup up to his face, taking a whiff of the liquid inside. “Orange Pekoe, my favourite.” Soonyoung frowns in confusion, allowing his eyes to drift towards Mingyu. It’s not hard to find the giant; his head is perpetually sticking out of his too small cubicle.

“I wish a mysterious person left cups of tea on my desk every morning,” Hansol says.

“You don’t like tea,” Seungkwan points out.

“I really don’t, it tastes so bad? Like hot water with leaf bits.”

Seungkwan retorts, "Well, healthy things never taste good, do they? It's a cruel world," before rearranging his files.

To satisfy his curiousity, Soonyoung sticks his head out of his office to get a better look at the situation. Mingyu is staring intently at his laptop with fake concentration. It’s either that or he’s in the middle of the most intense game of solitaire ever played.

Jeonghan takes a seat, sipping at his cup with a small smile, one that might actually be perceived as soft.

“I wonder who it is,” Jisoo ponders as he makes his way to his own desk, and Mingyu does his best to evade the knowing gaze of his seatmate.

And either Soonyoung has gone mad or Jeonghan’s eyes briefly drift towards the top of Mingyu’s head, the corner of his lips twitching as if about to break into a wider smile. The moment passes in the blink of an eye, and Soonyoung is left one part disgusted and another part flabbergasted.

 

 


 

 

 

Jeonghan knows why Wonwoo and Soonyoung came to work in the same car, but it’s still fun to press them for answers.

“We carpooled,” Wonwoo mutters. He pointedly keeps his gaze on his laptop screen, his fingers tapping away at the keyboard. “You and Jisoo do it all the time.”

“You’re wearing the same shirt as yesterday,” he points out with glee, and Wonwoo looks up with the most lackluster expression he can manage.

“It’s called owning two of the same kind.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s the same shirt, just look at that coffee stain.”

“It’s called consistency. I hate change, alright? Now leave me alone.”

Jeonghan laughs all the way back to his seat, reveling in the heated waves of pure annoyance emanating from Wonwoo’s desk. He only wishes Soonyoung was here to poke fun at as well. Sadly, Wonwoo’s better half is locked away in his private office.

 

 

 

Mingyu frowns when he sees Soonyoung and Wonwoo stepping out of the same car. It’s Soonyoung’s car, he’d recognize that Hyundai i10 anywhere. They’re arguing about something, Wonwoo keeps shaking his head as if disagreeing with everything coming out of Soonyoung’s mouth. They wave as Mingyu jogs up to them.

“What happened to your car?” he asks Wonwoo, squinting as a particularly violent gust of wind blows straight into his eyes.

Wonwoo blinks at this, perhaps in confusion. “Nothing?”

“Oh…. then why is Soonyoung giving you a ride?”

Wonwoo manages to collect his thoughts. "Well, I just thought it was finally time for me to become a responsible citizen and decrease my ecological footprint." His voice is devoid of any emotion.

Soonyoung lets out a strangled sort of a cry, the sound a goose would make if a pudgy-fingered toddler grabbed its tail feathers and yanked particularly hard. It’s not pleasant to the ear, to say the least.

Mingyu just cocks his head to the side, brows furrowed at Wonwoo's cryptic reply and at the inhumane noise that came out of Soonyoung's mouth.

“Carpooling isn't a very tough concept to understand,” Wonwoo adds, crossing his arms over his chest as if daring Mingyu to question him further, which confuses Mingyu.  Sheesh, why is Wonwoo getting so defensive?

“But you didn’t carpool yesterday?”

“We didn’t feel like it yesterday,” Wonwoo says. At the same time, Soonyoung exclaims, “We don’t carpool on Mondays.”

The two share a rather hostile staring session, and Wonwoo elbows Soonyoung in the ribs, annoyed by their differing answers. It’s too early in the morning to be dealing with whatever this is, so Mingyu awkwardly laughs, edging away as quickly as his legs will take him.

 

 

 

Jeonghan doesn’t like to go out for lunch, the nearest place to eat is a run down sandwich shop that looks like it’ll fall over if he breathes a little too hard. So he packs his lunch, lounging comfortably in the break room and watching his co-workers scramble by.

Seokmin is dressed properly today, in a white dress shirt and ironed gray pants. His hair is slicked back with copious amounts of gel, and the ad sales agent reaches into the fridge for a pesto pasta. That’s how Jeonghan knows Seokmin is meeting a client- the loud employee usually lives off of fried foods and dairy. Today is special, though, he can’t afford to smell of oil and gas.

“Good luck,” he calls out when the ad sales agent leaves, and he gets a cheerful thank you in return.

Next to enter is Wonwoo. For the first time in his life, Jeonghan is at a loss; he’s not sure what part of his coworker he’s supposed to tease first. The obvious place to start would be Wonwoo carpooling with Soonyoung again, and it’s definitely not for the environment, unless Mother Nature specifically asked Wonwoo to stay the night at Soonyoung’s. But Wonwoo’s pants, good god, his pants are hilarious.

Scuffed and faded jeans are Soonyoung’s specialty, so it’s quite obvious the pants belong to the editor in chief. But Soonyoung also happens to be shorter than Wonwoo, and marginally so. This ends with Wonwoo shuffling around with his stick thin ankles poking out, laid bare for the world to see.

“Nice pants.”

“Thanks,” his coworker mumbles, not a trace of shame colouring his monotonous voice.

Jisoo decides to rush in then, smiling happily at each of them before making his way to the fridge and poking around the freezer.

“Why does Seungcheol keep steaks in there, anyway?” Wonwoo asks as he watches Jisoo move around the hunks of meat in search of his frozen lasagna.

“Why does he even eat steaks?” Jeonghan shakes his head. “The man likes them well done, no one who likes their meat well done deserves steak.”

“What’s wrong with well done?”

“Jeonghan thinks people who like well-done steaks are as dry as the meat they consume,” Jisoo interjects, finally locating his frozen food and slamming the freezer shut with a victorious smile.

“It’s true.”

Wonwoo shrugs, retrieving his own lunch before taking a seat beside Jeonghan. They chew in relative silence before Jeonghan leans forward and asks the question that Wonwoo’s been dreading.

“Isn’t that Soonyoung’s shirt?”

This has Jisoo turning around and staring at the offending item of clothing, eyes growing round with recognition.

“No.”

“It is Soonyoung’s,” Jisoo argues, abandoning his lasagna to properly examine the shirt. It’s tight around Wonwoo's shoulders, given that Soonyoung has a narrower build, but what really gives it away is the band stamped to the front. He’s pretty sure Wonwoo is one for mellow songs and dramatic ballads, and not whispers of the Lucifer.

“No, it’s mine.”

“You like SHINee?” Jeonghan asks, taking a bite of his Panini to conceal his laughter. He receives a determined nod in response.

“Oh,” Jisoo says, scratching his head with a baffled expression. “Well, hey, that’s cool. What’s your favourite song?”

There’s floundering and then there’s Wonwoo Jeon, grasping for an answer that he doesn’t know how to give, desperately racking his brain for the title of a song he hasn’t even heard.

“That one about embracing your inner furry.”

Jisoo coughs and Jeonghan tries his best not to spit his lunch out. It’s a very difficult task.

“I think it was called, err, wolf?”

Jeonghan can’t help his laughter this time, and it’s a good thing he swallowed that bite of Panini because he would have choked otherwise. Jisoo is still a bit lost.

“So…. I guess you like Exo too?” the sex columnist tries.

 

 

 

When asked why he did it, Mingyu will say that he doesn’t know. But that’s a lie because he does know, and he’s ashamed.

It starts, as it so often does, with his clumsy fingers. His favourite fountain pen, the one his bank sent him for his birthday, rolls out of his hands and onto the floor. The world decidedly hates him because it doesn’t stop there. No, the annoying fountain pen decides to roll right past Jisoo and stop next to Wonwoo’s foot.

“Could you, uh…” he gestures to the pen and Wonwoo, in true asshole fashion, pushes it even further away. “I hate you.”

“Thanks.”

And when Mingyu crawls forward to retrieve his lost item, his eyes fixate on the scrawny, pale ankles in front of him. They’re so thin, impossibly bony and literally right in front of his face.

It’s like his arm grows a mind of its own. Without him even realizing it, he’s reached forward and grabbed Wonwoo’s ankles. Not the pen, which he was supposed to grab, but the skinny, white ankles.

“What the fuck!” Wonwoo screams, leaping up from his seat in surprise. This has Jisoo immediately scooting backward, anticipating there to be a nasty, little insect nearby. Mingyu dearly wishes it had been an insect.

“Just squish the bug with your foot,” Junhui calls out.

“And make sure it’s alone! I’d hate to run into any of its friends,” Seungkwan requests, and someone laughs at him, it could be either Chan or Hansol.

“It wasn’t a bug, Mingyu grabbed my ankle!”

This has Minghao popping up in curiousity, like a groundhog from hell, baited by the potential embarrassment of his friend. “What?”

“He just grabbed it!”

“Mingyu grabbed your ankles,” Chan echoes, and the words sound even worse when repeated. The intern is trying, and failing, to think of a reason why a man might grab another man’s ankles.

Mingyu is still crouching on the floor, eyes wide. A part of him hopes that maybe, if he stays still enough, the others will forget he’s even here. No such luck, the cubicle nest descends on him like vultures.

“Why’d you do it?”

“Is it because the pants are ugly?” There’s a pause before the same voice asks another question. “Is it because the ankles are ugly?”

“Were you aroused by Wonwoo’s ankles?”

“No!” he exclaims, rushing to stand up. The sudden movement has the blood flushing out of his head, and he’s momentarily woozy. When he’s able to steady himself, he makes a show of shaking his head angrily at Minghao. “I do not find Wonwoo’s ankles hot.”

“Geez, thanks,” the owner of said ankles snorts.

Most of the cubicle’s inhabitants are staring his way, the only exception being Seokmin, and that’s just because he’s away at his meeting. If Mingyu doesn’t say something soon, the office dwellers will surely notice the mayhem and ask for an explanation. Mingyu just can’t deal with his bosses hearing about his lack of impulse control and his apparent affinity for ankle grabbing.

“Mr. Chow’s noodles,” he whispers, trying to swallow his mortification. It stubbornly refuses to go down his throat.

“Okay,” Minghao says, quirking an eyebrow and gesturing for Mingyu to continue.

“It has…. a mascot. Like, an anthropomorphic noodle man, with limbs and everything.”

“The one wearing the big, red hat,” Jeonghan says, snapping his fingers in recognition. “Yeah, I used to live off of that brand in uni.”

“The…the ankles. They reminded me of Mr. Chow’s.” There’s a brief silence. “His ankles, I mean. Not, err, his whole body.”

The situation isn’t even funny enough to laugh at, so there’s just a whole lot of nothing. At least Junhui seems to find the situation amusing, although he’d find anything amusing as long as it involved the embarrassment of someone who wasn’t him.

“So you grabbed my ankles because they remind you of a noodle man?”

“I didn’t mean to grab them,” Mingyu hurriedly exclaims, shaking his head as fast as it will shake. “I really didn’t mean to. I just…did.”

Hansol strains to get a better look at the ankles in question. “Hey, they really do look like Mr. Chow’s.”

 

 

 

Jeonghan smiles when he sees Soonyoung and Wonwoo exiting a shoddy white van together. Whenever they carpool nowadays, it’s always in Wonwoo’s car. This means, of course, that they fool around at Wonwoo’s home instead of Soonyoung’s. Either Wonwoo has had enough of forcing himself into clothing too small for him, or Mingyu had really shaken him up.

“Maybe Gyu was just embracing his inner furry,” Jeonghan suggests one day at lunch. Wonwoo gets up and leaves, his food untouched.

 

 


 

 

The bellow of pain from the kitchen startles Wonwoo, causing him to slam his hand onto his keyboard. Just like that, the licensing agreement that he’d been typing up becomes gibberish. God bless the undo button.

“What did Mingyu do now?” Minghao snorts, and Wonwoo leans over to examine Mingyu’s desk, which, just as Minghao suspected, is empty.

“I’ll go check on him,” Jeonghan sighs, getting up and pattering towards the source of the sound.

If anyone else had done this, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but Jeonghan voluntarily getting up is a very big deal. It is, in fact, the biggest of deals. Once, during a fire alarm test, Jeonghan had stubbornly stayed in his seat, earphones jammed into his earlobes to tune out the shrieking of the alarm. Jeonghan is wholly dedicated to moving as little as humanly possible.

Wonwoo looks around to see if anyone else is as shocked as him, but no one seems to be paying attention to Mingyu or Jeonghan, or anything outside of their illuminated screens. Even Seokmin is uncharacteristically quiet, squinting down at his phone with his tongue peeking out of his pressed lips.

Great, so he’s over thinking things.

Mingyu returns with one of Seungcheol’s frozen steaks pressed against his very red arm. Jeonghan good-naturedly pats the taller on the back before returning to his seat.

“I burned my arm,” Mingyu sullenly tells the room.

Wonwoo hears Minghao mutter something under his breath in exasperation, along the lines of "Of course you did."

“If we told Seungcheol that Mingyu used his steak as an ice pack, do you think he’d still eat it?”

“Disgusting, of course not,” Seungkwan snorts, slapping Hansol on the arm for suggesting such a thing.

“I don’t know,” Chan muses. “The steak’s all wrapped in plastic, it’s not like it’s actually touching Mingyu. He might still eat it.”

Wonwoo allows his eyes to flit over to Jeonghan’s cubicle, then Mingyu’s. Overthinking, he reminds himself, shaking his head to exterminate the errant thoughts.

 

 

 

All Mingyu wanted was to go into the break room and get himself another frozen steak. It’s not too much to ask for, it really isn’t. As soon as he opens the door to the room, he recoils in horror.

Soonyoung and Wonwoo are facing one another; the microwave runs in the background. Soonyoung is smiling abashedly, eyes lowered to the ground, and Wonwoo is doing this thing with his face, a thing that should be illegal. Not because it’s too sexual, although that’s probably what Wonwoo is going for, but because it’s too disturbing.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Mingyu backs away, clutching his limp and melted steak with an iron grip.

 

 

“Soonyoung and Wonwoo are a thing?” he asks Minghao listlessly as they eat at the really shitty sandwich shop across the street.

“Have been for a while. They’re keeping it on the down low, or they think they are, at least.”

“I saw something awful today.”

“Yeah?”

Mingyu looks up at the dingy ceiling, watching as the lights flicker in tune to the buzz of electricity. “I think it was supposed to be Wonwoo’s bedroom eyes.”

Minghao laughs, pure and light. The sound contrasts the disgust churning within the pit of Mingyu’s stomach.

“Hao, you don’t understand. It was horrible.”

“Don’t be mean to Wonwoo just because he can get a date and you can’t.”

“No,” Mingyu fixes his eyes on his friend’s face, begging him to understand. “Wonwoo’s bedroom eyes are just…it’s inconceivably unsexy. You know that video on YouTube, of that Chihuahua choking on a meatball?”

Minghao nods slowly.

“And then the Chihuahua coughs out a piece of meatball because it’s too small to swallow it in one go.”

“Right.”

“The expression that little dog makes as that piece of meat flies out of its mouth, that’s what Wonwoo’s bedroom eyes look like. The ardent desperation in the Chihuahua’s beady, little eyes is what I saw today.”

“You’re being overdramatic.”

“Minghao, listen. I don’t…I can’t understand. Wonwoo is good looking, right?”

His friend shrugs, looking bored with the topic of discussion. “Sure.”

“But how can…it’s just so wrong. He’s a hot guy, how can his face just…do that . How?”

But no one can give him an answer. Not Minghao, not that choking Chihuahua, and certainly not Wonwoo.

 

Chapter Text

"There was a grammatical error in last month’s issue."

Seungcheol is deadly calm which sends shivers down everyone's spines. Even Minghao can't help the goosebumps that rise up along his arms. There’s an eerie silence that blankets the room, devoid of Seungcheol’s usual dad laughter. It’s times like this that the staff of S.V.T realize that their managing editor is a terrifying man.

Seungcheol takes a deep breath before slamming his palms onto the shitty conference table. It’s shitty in that they bought it on sale at IKEA. It’s also shitty in that Mingyu’s half sure he assembled it wrong .

"This is why cuman nature is unpredictable,” Seungcheol reads, his voice reverberating across the room as he shouts.

The silence that follows is suffocating. Hansol's legs bobble erratically which does not escape Minghao's attention. He squints at the intern whose anxiety is clearly written on his face.

If Seungcheol really concentrates, it wouldn't be very hard to find the culprit behind cuman.

The silence is broken when Seungkwan bursts into giggles. This is immediately cut short by Jihoon’s glaring. Minghao briefly wonders how so much anger can be contained in such a tiny body, but then again, who wouldn't go mad working with twelve idiots. He’s big enough to include himself in said group of idiots, no logical person applies to a magazine called Satisfying. Vivid. Tasteful.

"Seungkwan, is there something you’d like to share? Perhaps your desire to take over Jisoo’s column?" Seungcheol raises a brow, mouth in a tight line. He’s clearly not impressed by the intern’s immaturity. It’s almost funny how the biggest threat in the office is having the sex column reassigned, but Minghao forces himself not to laugh. He’s gone several years without knowing the mechanics behind heterosexual thirst, and he’d like to go several more.

In the periphery of Minghao's vision, he sees Jisoo’s eyes shine eagerly, a hopeful smile dawning on the corners of his lips. Minghao hadn’t known the true nature of desperation until  he met Jisoo Hong. In fact, if he were to flip through a dictionary, he’s quite certain there’d be a picture of Jisoo beside desperate .

"My readers would miss me if I were, err, reassigned," Seungkwan argues quickly, face morphing into an expression of horror.

Minghao rolls his eyes at the theatrics, scoffing when being reminded of Seungkwan’s column. Why Jihoon allowed Seungkwan to open an ask column in an adult lifestyle magazine, Minghao will never know, but he did. And it’s there. Strangely, most of the asks come from teens, probably kids whose parents purchase the lifestyle magazine.

Seungkwan needn’t look so afraid, Seungcheol would never follow through on his threat. He sees the interns as babies, too young to handle such a rated column.

Jisoo jumps in then. "Well, we don't really need a column for teens considering we're an adult lifestyle magazine, right?"

It’s a valid point.

"Enough. You're staying right where you are, Jisoo. Even if I don't see it, I know you're clenching your delicate, little fists underneath the table."

"My fists aren’t delicate. They were born and raised in the streets of California." The half-hearted jab lacks strength, especially since Jisoo’s voice is no stronger than the buzz of a ditzy bumblebee. It’s also hard to be scared of a man who demands that Minghao kill spiders for him.

“Weren’t you, like, super pampered growing up?” Hansol asks, cocking his head to the side.

“His house was bigger than this entire building,” Jeonghan whispers, smiling at his friend’s cries of protest. “Plus, he never took any student loans.”

“None,” Wonwoo repeats lifelessly. “Not a single OSAP application?”

“Nope.”

Junhui whistles in appreciation. “Rich boy.”

It has been a year and a few months since Minghao started working at S.V.T. In his time here, there hasn’t been a single staff meeting that didn’t end with him not wanting to be run over by Wonwoo’s van. And Wonwoo has a really ugly van. This meeting is just another one of many.

"Can we please focus? And, Jisoo, you're not threatening anyone with those fists." Soonyoung is surprisingly the one to break up the conversation, although the amused look on his face doesn’t do much to quench the flames of distraction.

Seungcheol manages to regain his composure and rolls out a copy of last month’s  issue. He slams it down on  the table to catch the fleeting attention of his subordinates. Minghao wonders if his boss has something against tables, or if slamming things down is just his hobby. Perhaps he's imagining the staff members as the table.

"How could this have passed through proofreading? Jihoon? Jisoo? Jeonghan? This was written in your portion of the magazine." Seungcheol looks at the offending employees in question.

Jeonghan shrugs his shoulders."When it's six in the morning and you have a profound realization about the futility of life, things like the unpredictability of cuman nature just pass you by.”

Minghao can pinpoint the exact second the life flickers out of Seungcheol's eyes.

Jisoo raises his hand up politely, and Seungcheol perks up a bit. "Yes, Jisoo?" his voice fills with a newfound, fragile hope.

"In my defense, writing about adventurous sex positions to spice up a dying marriage doesn't help, either."

Seungcheol shuts his mouth before several curses escape. He is a professional, and a professional he will stay.

 Minghao wants to quit, badly. 

"If you're the one behind this typo, just admit to it. You won’t come to any trouble, I promise. Just admit to it and we can adjourn the meeting," Seungcheol sighs, complete resignation clear in his voice.

 Minghao closes his eyes, struggling to remember what he’d been doing when last month’s issue was being written.


A few weeks back


"I better see articles on mine and Jihoon’s desks before you drag your sorry asses back home!" Soonyoung's voice erupts from his office.

Minghao hears multiple grunts and groans from the cubicles around him, and he can't help the weary sigh that escapes his mouth.

It’s that time of the month.

Editors hustling before deadlines, writers pulling adjectives out of their asses, and the interns running themselves into the ground. They eat stress for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And occasionally for brunch.

Minghao concentrates on the task at hand, eager to finish his article so he can go home and be free of the spiralling pit of disaster that is his workplace.

He's reviewing the glorious infomercial product known as the Tiddy Bear . It supposedly prevents seatbelts from digging uncomfortably against chests. Comfort? Check. Affordability? Check.

Everyone needs some extra padding.

And people wonder why Minghao loathes his job. Wonwoo goes around whining about having to draw up licensing agreements, but at least he doesn’t have to wax poetic about the fucking Tiddy Bear.




Hansol is honed in on his article. It is, after all, the first time he gets to write his own article. He doesn’t even know how the topic of human nature came into the radar of Lifestyle and Love, given they only ever write about dumb shit, but he’s thankful. Since he’s an intern, Jihoon trusts him as much as he would a monkey on crack. This means that his article will be scrutinized by every editor and writer in Lifestyle and Love. First, Jeonghan will look at it, closely followed by Jisoo. Finally, Jihoon will set his laser eyes on the rough draft and make thousands of corrections. But it’s still being written by Hansol, no matter how many revisions it suffers through, which is what’s important.

Hansol freezes when he hears familiar mutterings from across the cubicle nest. It’s Jisoo.

"The wonders of Canis mating has recently breached fictional literature which, in turn, inspired discussions around its primal nature. Aggression and territoriality are among the characteristics exhibited by those involved."

Hansol listens as he types, though his mind is completely dissociated from the words his nimble fingers are continuing to produce.

"It usually involves a lot of biting, which is just an alpha marking an omega as his, like ‘ fuck off, Bancroft, Susan is mine! '"

He hears someone choking on their coffee from one of the neighbouring cubicles. Hansol has to stop and collect his thoughts, still dazed from hearing the shit that Jisoo manages to find online.

The internet is a terrifying place.

 

Nature is unpredictable, humans were never meant to fit into a certain mold.   His eyes trail along the last couple of words and he nods in satisfaction.

 

"A certain omega might smell of lavender and sea breeze while another smells putrid so, as an alpha, you just hope your mate smells like Chloe or Armani, and not curdled milk.”

Hansol drags his pointer across the screen and prints.

The plethora of furry mating information subconsciously put images in his head that should have never mixed with the complexity of human nature.

 He drags his feet to the printing machine and grabs the copy of his article before stapling it together. Perfect.



Jeonghan barely blinks when Hansol shyly places the stapled papers on his desk, far too busy wondering what the difference between a kale centered diet and an avocado centered diet is. He curses himself for missing an interview with the health trainers at Goodlife, those health nuts would have provided him with a plethora of green facts. And so, he tosses Hansol’s article onto Jisoo’s desk.



Jisoo rubs his eyes miserably with his fingers, desperately trying to rid his brain of the mental images his articles are drudging up. Is the word alpha capitalized like a name? Is it lowercase? There are only so many raunchy, romance novels he can handle before he explodes, and he’s reaching the end of his tether. So when Jihoon comes around asking for Hansol’s article, he passes the papers to his boss without giving them even the briefest of glances.



“They’re seriously making you do the art directing for this month’s issue?” Soonyoung asks, arms crossed as he leans comfortably into Jihoon’s recliner. Jihoon, on the other hand, is squinting at his laptop as he edits with a ferocity he didn’t know he had.

“Yeah, the art director fell down a flight of stairs and shattered his arm or something.”

“Wow, fuck that dude.”

“Seriously, I’ve never even met him and I hate him.” Jihoon scrubs his face with the palms of his hands. “At least I get paid overtime.”

“Is money worth the stress?”

“Who knows.” Jihoon tosses a stack of papers at Soonyoung, mildly impressed when the editor in chief manages to catch them. “Would you mind handing that into Seungcheol for me?”

“Aren’t you going to read it over first?”

“Don’t worry, Jeonghan and Jisoo already did. It’s fine. Now leave, I’m going to have to pull an all nighter if I can’t fix the measurements of the pictures within the next hour.”


This is why cuman nature is unpredictable, humans were never meant to fit into a certain mold.



Present day (although the day is certainly not a present)



"I might have accidentally pressed the c instead of the h while I was trying to rephrase the sentence." Jihoon just looks resigned as he admits to a crime he never committed.

Hansol looks at Jihoon like he’s God. Perhaps he is, Jihoon is the one ending this godforsaken meeting.

Everyone sighs in collective relief as Seungcheol nods in understanding. "This will not happen again, understood?"

And like a bunch of brainwashed cumans, they uniformly nod.

Seungcheol claps his hands together, a bright grin on his face."Since we all had a tough night, why don't we head to the new seafood restaurant across town? Jihoon's treat since he's a good, little cuman."

Seungcheol bursts into his despised dad laugh. No one laughs along with him so it trails off quickly.

Normalcy has returned, although no one is sure they like it any better

Jihoon just slaps a palm over his face."Fuck me for being a good person," he mutters quietly to himself, just loud enough for Minghao and Seungkwan, who are sitting on either side of him, to hear.

"You mean cuman?" Seungkwan corrects in amusement. This amusement is short lived as he earns a withering glance from Jihoon. The intern never learns.

"How about that new chicken place instead? Koko's chicken, was it?" Soonyoung  suggests as he puts on a loosely fitting bomber jacket.

"But I want to eat abalone," Minghao argues. He’s going to eat the most expensive shit he can, these free dinners are the only good thing about working here.

This elicits another groan from Jihoon.

"Let's not," Soonyoung says, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Why not?" Seungcheol’s brows furrow, "You eat seafood all the time! I never pegged you as a picky eater.”

Wonwoo shoots Soonyoung a look before shaking his head, asking him to drop it. Minghao is getting better at deciphering the nonverbal communication between those two, although this is a skill he never wanted to acquire. Great, his grammar skills have gone to shit, but at least he knows Soonyoung and Wonwoo’s secret language.

"Wonwoo's dietary capabilities does not include seafood."

Wonwoo just sighs in resignation. So much for subtlety.

"And you know this how?" Jeonghan asks, a visible smirk tugging at his mouth. He’s clearly getting a laugh out of this, but then again, so is everyone else. Everyone besides Mingyu and Chan, anyway. Mingyu because even the loudest of hints fly right past him, and Chan because the intern couldn’t care less about what happens in the office.

Soonyoung shuffles his feet, looking up at the ceiling as he responds, "Well, it's normal for colleagues to know this kind of stuff."

"Uh huh, because I totally know Wonwoo’s dietary restrictions," Seungkwan quips, earning chuckles from Hansol and Junhui.

"Well, what can I say? I'm just an inherently good cuman."