What sets apart fine-dining and public fodder is a fine, thin line- the same line that divides champions and measly runner-ups into the statuses they’ve accomplished.
Sometimes these divisions of segmented glory could be represented as another form. Trophies, medals, diplomas- but in the culinary world- in Jeon Jeongguk’s world, everyone was striving for the stars. It was quite a cruel practice, really. Breaking your spine day and night just to be told you’ve gained ‘stars’ like some 5 year-old in a preschool.
Jeongguk has never seen the stars he earned, even when he had two of them already.
All he knew was that with each star, everyone’s expectations were raised. The stakes along with it. He did once had the mind to reject these stars to keep his sanity intact, but his pride held onto the jagged edges of the star, letting it dig deep into his mind until it bleeds.
And something else he did know; was that he was missing one.
“Have you heard?” A smiling man of his thirties swirled a Bourgogne Rouge, the colour of bleeding burgundy, in his glass. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard.” He glanced up at Jeongguk, the edge of his full lips tugging up as he took a sip from his wine glass.
Jeongguk stared at the man’s crisp white chef’s apron set aside on the table and reached for the wine bottle to pour the red liquor into his own glass. He watched how the red water washes over the clear glass. “Plenty.” He kept his tone detached, not revealing any emotions behind his calm façade, “Everybody wouldn’t shut up about you. Being the first Asian chef to obtain his third Michelin and all.” He fisted his napkin with his free hand under the table.
“I’m sorry I took that title from you.” The man’s features lit up as he laughed, “I know how badly you wanted it.”
He scoffed lightly, looking into his glass of wine with contempt, “Don’t act as if you’re sorry, Yixing.” After five years of working in the same kitchen as mere station chefs together, he would know better. “I know you’re anything but.”
The chef of Chinese descent gave him a playful look, “Of course.” His voice drawled, “As always, you know best.” They looked at their finished plates, each comfortable with the thoughts swarming in their heads. Yixing looked to his right and nodded at the waiter standing by, signalling the end of their meals. He grabbed his apron from the table’s surface and turned to Jeongguk, who was still sitting.
“You better follow up, kiddo.” He smirked as he tied the ribbons of his apron behind his back, “I’ve got to go now,” Jeongguk watched silently as the other dusted off their uniform, “I need to get back in there; y’know, stuff to cook, expectations to meet.” He sent him a little smile as he stepped away, “It was nice catching up with you, Jeon.”
“Why of course- What would Mozart be without his Salieri?” Jeongguk called back, returning his pleasant smile as the other man laughed at his words, “You’re still so overdramatic. I’ll see you soon.”
As soon as Zhang Yixing stepped behind the kitchen doors, Jeongguk’s expression fell from his face to reveal the scowl he’d been holding in for the past hour-or-so. He remembered hearing the news this morning, just like being woken up by a bucket of freezing piss. Even if his maître d' had told him any more gently, he’d still react the same way he did earlier.
Now his restaurant needed more plates from the ones he’d not so regretfully launched at the walls this morning. He stared at the plates in Yixing’s restaurant in front of him and cringed. Everything about L'exode screams his pitiful failure of becoming first. The next thing he knows, the tablecloths would mock him for the absence of a star in his name.
He exited the cursed restaurant in a haste, surprising some of Yixing’s staff but not caring as he just simply couldn’t stand it anymore. The bitter taste in his mouth intensified as he watched workers putting up a new sign in front of the entrance. There, on the board, was the restaurant’s name in large, cursive font (oh, how pretentious) and the three stars proudly decorating the bottom half of the sign.
Jeongguk gritted his teeth in reflex and swore to himself that he would get his own star when the time comes- Bigger, brighter, and much more valuable than Yixing’s could be. He’d sweep the other man into his shadow and not the other way around, not like how it had been for the past 10 years.
“He’s here!” Namjoon hissed under his breath as he entered the heated kitchen. The restaurant’s Sommelier had to pull Jeongguk from running the pass to grab his attention, “Jeon, he’s here .”
The head chef dropped the ticket he was reading out and gave Namjoon an impatient look, but he knew that the latter wouldn’t bother him in the kitchen if it wasn’t something drastically urgent. “Who is?” he asked, tone clipped.
“The critic from The Times - V- or whatever he calls himself,” The taller man spoke with frustration, “We didn’t hear any notice- no news from anyone but he’s here now and he’s going to destroy us!”
Jeongguk groaned, wiping his face with a hand, “Why is it always him ?” he spat with the dreaded knowledge of what was about to come, “Don’t they have anyone else to send?”
Namjoon shrugged before storming out of the kitchen once more. The head chef breathed in deeply and scanned over the dishes on deck. He brushed a napkin over a small stain at the edge of the plate- staring at it for another second- and yelling out to his team. “Hoseok to the pass!”
“Yes, chef!” the said man came sauntering over, leaving his previous station. Jeongguk nodded to him and placed a hand briefly on the sous chef’s shoulder before going to an empty station.
A waiter walked in and handed a ticket to Hoseok with trembling hands, making the sous chef squint his eyes at the order. “Chef- Special order for table five!” he announced.
“Of course it is,” Jeongguk muttered as he threw a pan into the sink with a clang, “When is it fucking not.” He looked over to where Hoseok was running the pass and nodded begrudgingly, “I’ll see what I can recommend.”
He looked through his recettes swiftly before picking one that would suit the season and the ingredients available. The last time V had visited Jeongguk’s restaurant, he’d given a mediocre rating for them, making the head chef’s blood boil faster than water. And it had struck his mind several times whether this douchebag critic had it out for him because the next few visits were also ranked as mediocre; in other words, never good enough.
“Team, we’ve got an A la minute for table five!” Jeongguk called out, assembling his supports.
“Jimin- start the mirepoix right now,” he instructed to the prep and receiving a squeak of ‘Oui Chef!’ in return. “Seokjin, hand me a condom,” Jeongguk said with a hand held out next to his head. In record-time, a clear, plastic film was passed onto his hold. “Oh, and prepare the starter,” he gave a recipe card to the older man, “Here.”
As he prepared the water bath, Jeongguk wrapped the fish fillets and the spices Jimin had prepared earlier. Everything had to be perfect; he was going to stuff V’s mouth shut with his food. Les coulisses was not going to be just another ‘mediocre’ dining experience featured by the Times .
He was going to give V a run for his money.
With Seokjin and Jimin supporting him, the head chef was able to get in his zone- eyes calculating and measuring the ingredients with exact precision. He followed the recipe like it was his one way ticket to Heaven- or Nirvana- or Those Three Goddamned Stars.
When he finally finished plating his dish, he walked up to Hoseok who was still yelling out orders and slid the plate on the deck. Hoseok gave his work a once-over before smiling brightly, looking out of place from the tense atmosphere of the kitchen. “Fish?” he questioned easily, pulling out a napkin to clean off distinct areas of the plate.
“Sea bream,” he corrected, “Pan fried- with preserved lemon and fennel.”
“Gotcha boss,” Hoseok dinged the bell, calling in Namjoon and a waitress. The Sommelier looked at the dish and hummed, “I have a 2013 Pinot Noir and a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ; what do you think, Jeon?”
The head chef sighed, rubbing his temples as the exhaustion finally seeped into his bones. “The Pinot- it goes with the fucking fish.”
As soon as the wine was decided, the waitress took the main dish in her hands and strode out of the kitchen doors to deliver the food. Jeongguk slumped above the deck and held onto his chef’s hat in one hand- letting his sweat-beaded forehead cool without it. Hoseok was shouting out an order to Yoongi who was manning the grilling station, not giving Jeongguk the silence he needed.
“I’ll be out for a sec,” he breathed out to the sous chef, patting his back before walking out towards the backdoors.
Hoseok balked at him and tugged his sleeve, “But V’s outside!” he pointed out, “Don’t you wanna see what he looks like?”
“Why should I want to know what he looks like,” Jeongguk scoffed, “unless I’m planning to make a voodoo doll with his assface on it, for instance.”
The sous chef crossed his arms in front of his lean chest, “I know you, Jeon. This guy’s been trashing our food for three months and none of us knows what he looks like!” he whined, “You’re not the passive type. And besides, Namjoon said he’s hot-“
“Hoseok,” he said, a warning to his tone, “To the pass.”
With a sigh, the latter retired from their pointless argument, “ Oui chef ,” he mock saluted as Jeongguk stepped away.
The air outside was cold- a contrast to the scorching heat of the kitchen. Jeongguk untied his apron wearily as he leaned his back onto a brick wall, closing his eyes. His hands reached into the back pocket of his pants and pulled out a box full of cigarettes. The head chef slotted out a thin, white tobacco stick and held it between his teeth as he returned the box.
He was reaching into his shirt pocket for his lighter but groaned in frustration when he couldn’t locate the item. He probably left it at home. Jeongguk didn’t even know why he was so devastated- it’s not like he was a ritual smoker.
The first time he’d tried breathing in the tobacco was the night before his restaurant’s opening. It had been so stressful he couldn’t take it- and the action of smoking gave him something to do. Something to hope for; a promise of death.
It was pretty morbid, but the thought of dying was still easier than the thought of waking up every morning, going to do the work that you used to love but had now turned into more of a chore. Jeongguk remembered the thirst he used to have- the yearning to become better.
It was so innocent- learning just for the sake of knowledge.
“Motherfucking stars,” he mumbled, looking up at the dark sky and letting the cigarette dangle on the edge of his mouth. Gone were the days he would come into the kitchen and feel excitement course through his veins. Gone were the days he would feel genuinely satisfied with the food he cooked. Gone were Jeongguk’s days as a chef.
A shadowed figure neared as he stood in silence. Jeongguk watched with boredom as a man stepped into the light and wondered if he was about to get robbed- “You need a light?” or maybe not.
The head chef regarded the man in silence, eyes moving up and down slowly to size him up. He was about Jeongguk’s height- maybe slightly taller- and he had the face of a front-cover model. His hair was the colour of dark brown to match with his designer coat. The pretty-faced man shoved a hand inside his jeans and produced a lighter.
“Sure,” Jeongguk plucked the stick from between his teeth, hovering the end in the air. The man moved closer and flicked the lighter on with his long, slender fingers. The chef stole a look at his own hands- calloused and course from the rough labour he does in the kitchen.
When the tip of his cigarette burned orange, he hummed his thanks and offered the man some sticks out of courtesy. “Oh,” the man’s deep voice sounded amused, “No thank you. I don’t smoke.”
Jeongguk stared at the man before him, befuddled at his logic. “Then why do you have a lighter on you?”
The pretty stranger chuckled, his almond shaped eyes gleamed mysteriously, “It’s not mine.”
“That’s…” He failed to continue his sentence. Jeongguk cleared his throat and inhaled a breath of nicotine before releasing a puff of smoke from his mouth. The wisps of smoke danced, curling around the cool air of the night.
“Smoking could dull your palate,” the stranger suddenly quipped, standing next to the chef, “and I happen to want to taste other things aside from Nicotine.” He laughed softly, not minding Jeongguk’s lack of reaction. “My career depends heavily on it.”
“Career, huh?” Jeongguk sighed, tapping his finger on his cigarette to shake off the ash, “Ain’t that a scary bitch.”
The man’s laugh was clear and lively, making the chef turn his head and witness the box-shaped smile. What the actual fuck. “But I love my career,” the man said, eyes crinkling up with the smile. “Reading and writing are my two pillars of strength.”
“Mine used to be cooking.” Jeongguk found himself saying, but for what purpose, he did not know.
The man blinked, letting his long eyelashes brush the tops of his cheekbones. “You’re using past tense, mister chef.” A small smile tugged up his lips, “Why are you using past tense?”
Jeongguk snorted at the nickname and took another drag of his cigarette, “Because that’s not the case for me anymore.” He thought of the lack in spirit he had for cooking nowadays- and how his driving force to be better was to emerge as a victor. Jeon Jeongguk could only allow himself to win.
“Hmm- that’s a shame,” the man said, pulling away from the wall and tilting his head at Jeongguk, “I hope it returns to you; your fire.” He said good-naturedly, “Au revoir, mister chef.”
Jeongguk nodded, huffing out a trail of smoke through his nostrils, “Good riddance, V.”
At his words, the man in front of him smiled mischievously, “Ah, what a smart mister chef you are.”
The head chef glared holes at the back of the food critic’s despicable skull. He was flippant, strange, and annoyingly attractive just as Namjoon had claimed. Jeongguk shook his head to himself at the nuisance of a person he’d met and caught a misplaced item lying on the ground. It was where V had stood previously.
A lighter- crushed and shoved into dirt.
Jeongguk snorted at the message and snuffed out his cigarette, “Fine. I’ll stop.”
Turning back to face the backdoors leading into the kitchen, the head chef took a deep breath before pushing the metallic doors, tying his apron around his waist as he continued living through the responsibilities of something he used to love.
A week later, he was confronted by his not so happy maître d', who was holding an offensive piece of paper right in front of his face.
Mr Bang was a patient man- and it usually took a commendable effort to rile him up. The moment the man marched up to him with a frown on his face, Jeon Jeongguk knew that he was in trouble. The hotel’s maître d' dropped the newspaper in his hands, letting the head chef read it for himself.
“The Times,” Jeongguk swallowed as he ran his eyes over the paper. It didn’t take him long to find the Food and Dining column. He spotted a review corner at the top of the page.
Les Coulisses: A Taste of France in the Heart of Seoul.
The meal started with nibbles. The Emmenthal gougeres were decent enough but un-inspiring because they were cooled down, so they were not at their best. These were a pleasant touch but I have had many better gougeres than these ones (15/20).
Much better were the scallops, sliced and then reassembled into a cone, surrounded by small pieces of tender lobster and served on a bed of spinach leaves, enlivened with a little caviar. The presentation was splendidly executed, although I can’t say much for the originality of the taste (17/20)
Unfortunately, it was anti-climactic from the main dish to the rest of the course. The pan-fried sea bream was served with a sauce from preserved lemon and a dash of fennel- which is a predictably soulless combination. The whole set-up was textbook; nothing was out of place, but it didn’t mean they were fantastic (13/20).
Jeongguk didn’t even bother reading the rest- knowing that he’d only turn angrier by the end of it. He saw Mr Bang’s partly-concerned face and forced himself to refrain from kicking something, anything.
“A fucking textbook,” the head chef seethed, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
The maître d' sighed wryly, “This wouldn’t be the first time this guy has given you a stale response, Jeon,” he addressed the issue with a certain air of frustration, “My hotel has a reputation to uphold too. When we decided to become partners- I had total faith in you- but the results now speak for themselves.”
Jeongguk frowned, “Are you firing me, Bang?”
“No,” the man said, “Namjoon talked me out of doing that, but if you keep this up- I can’t risk it much more, Jeongguk. So go, take the day off. Find whatever it is that’s fucking you up and fix it.” When the head chef was about to protest, Mr Bang held up a hand, “Hoseok can handle it today- you’re off the hook.”
Without another word, Jeongguk dropped his apron on the table, gathering his knives before hightailing out of the establishment. To think that he’d been chased out of his own fucking restaurant.
That slimy critic was the bane of his existence with his Cheshire grins and his wretched writing. With a single flick of his pen, V had swirled Jeongguk’s career down the drain. And Jeon Jeongguk was nothing without it. It’s all he’s learned to do- it’s all he’s strived for in his life. It’s all gone now.
Jeongguk swore he’d kill the damned critic the next time he sees him.
Jeongguk didn’t even know how he’d gotten in this strange situation- staring at your life’s greatest pain as they took selfies from across the street. V was- ironically- posing with a V-sign as he held up his phone in a certain angle.
The head chef was initially enjoying his coffee; a burning cigarette between his fingers and his mind whirring to find alternate ways to dispose of the critic’s body after eliminating him. He wasn’t joking.
He’d looked across the street out of boredom when he saw a gaudy banner spread out across the railings of a bridge. It was a campaign ad for Seoul’s police department- and Jeongguk snorted at the words printed on it.
‘ Don’t Text and Drive: Falling onto asphalt isn’t as beautiful as falling in love .’
Really, his government was trying way too hard to get the message across. Jeongguk took his glass of iced coffee up to his lips, tasting the delightful bitterness of the drink as he basked under the warmth of the sunlight. Really, no one would actually pay attention to these things right? They were a pathetic attempt at engaging their audience.
Jeongguk almost choked on the ice he was crushing between his molars because he was proven wrong not more than five minutes later. A man- a very hateful man- was standing in front of the banner, laughing delightedly at the sight before pulling out his camera.
And that was how he’d ended up staring at V like a goddamned creep and not wrapping his hands around the other’s throat as he’d originally planned to do.
The food critic was making faces, posing with a myriad of gestures Jeongguk didn’t even know were a thing. His dark brown hair was softened to a lighter shade as he stood under daylight, and there was an amused ring to his laugh as he scrolled through the pictures he’d taken.
Jeongguk gripped the glass in his hands. V looked so carefree- so unaffected when he’d been the cause to all of the head chef’s current suffering.
“Hey, mister chef!” Jeongguk’s eyes widened as he looked at V, who was now waving his hands excitedly in the air. “Fancy seeing you here- can you take my picture for me?”
This man was the most shameless human being Jeongguk had ever met. The head chef balked at the request- what kind of person with a conscience would ask someone they’d publicly trashed to do a favour for them?
Jeongguk found himself standing up from his seat before looking left and right to cross the street. He was going to show this thick-skinned prick a lesson for messing with him.
“Alright,” he said nonchalantly, hands reaching out to grab the other’s phone. V smiled radiantly at him as a result and Jeongguk almost felt guilty for what he was going to do. Almost, but not quite.
He watched silently as the slightly tanned man took his position in front of the police department’s ad- and honestly, it was the most ridiculous sight Jeongguk had ever witnessed in his life. A man dressed in designer clothes posing with two hands up in the air, and the cheesy slogan serving him as a background. “Unbelievable,” he muttered to himself.
Jeongguk held the latter’s phone higher to level it to his chest. He let the camera focus on V’s face before continuing with, “Okay- One… Two…” he watched as the food critic sported a larger smile- looking so painfully unaware as Jeongguk gripped the phone tightly in his hand, “Three!” and without clicking the capture button, he pulled his hand back and launched V’s phone off the bridge.
The unsuspecting man’s face was priceless as his eyes followed his phone- flying off the railings and plunging into the water with a splash. Jeongguk guffawed at the other’s shocked expression- he wasn’t being childish, V deserved it.
“What the fuck?!” The food critic’s hands yanked at the strands of his hair, “What was that for?!”
Jeongguk wheezed his laughter to a stop- holding his abdomen as he doubled over. He looked up to see V’s face frowning down at him. “For your shitty ass review.”
V knotted his eyebrows together as he thought to himself. The head chef watched, unamused, as the man began understanding his reasoning. “Ah,” he nodded and gave out a snort, “That. I didn’t expect you to be so salty about one measly review.”
“Well- I am if it costs me my restaurant,” he snapped, eyes glaring at the other’s calmed demeanour, “There was nothing wrong with my dish so you called it textbook- well, you know what, sweetheart? That’s actually called perfection.”
“Wow,” V drawled with a poker face, “First you toss my phone into the river and then lecture me about my synonyms.” He stepped closer to Jeongguk, to match their gaze, “I am a writer, Jeon. Do not tell me how to do my job when you can’t even do yours.”
“You’re such an asshole,” he bunched up V’s shirt collar in his fists, feeling the man’s breath hitch in surprise, “I never even asked for your blind feedback.”
V’s laugh was so unexpected and condescending, Jeongguk had to stare at his face to decipher the other’s unusual reaction at his taunt. The man’s lips were tilted in a sad smile- and the chef decided he liked the man’s normal boxy smile better. “But you need it, Monsieur Chef de cuisine - Oh, how you need it.”
“You’ve lost your touch, Jeon,” V said calmly, feeling the other’s hold on his shirt loosen, “Admit it- you’re running out dry. You’re out of passion, out of lust- your fire is dimmed.” Jeongguk snatched his hands away from the other man as if he’d been burned. He stepped back in a haste as V continued, “You’re not the chef you once were.”
Jeongguk took in the critic’s words with a conflicted expression. How this man’s words affected his life so far- was terrifying, really. He wondered how V could see him so clearly- how he was able to see, with little to no effort, what Jeongguk had been trying to hide from everyone.
“Stay away from Les Coulisses ,” he struggled to keep his voice monotone, “Don’t step foot into my restaurant ever again.”
V observed him with a vague look on his face. Jeongguk could tell that whatever the other man had in mind would not bode well for him. The other man shrugged and shook his head, crossing his arms aloofly like they hadn’t been at each other’s throats five seconds ago. “But you owe me a meal now.”
“What.” Jeongguk frowned quizzically at him, not understanding where this conversation was directed anymore.
“You threw my phone away, so now I want compensation.” The food critic explained as if it was obvious, “The least you could do is cook for me, and I promise I won’t make it a business trip this time. I’ll meet you then.”
Jeongguk breathed out incredulously, a dark sort of laughter bubbling up his chest, “You’re unbelievable, honestly.”
V smiled cheekily, “No, Jeon. Honestly, I’m Kim Taehyung.”
Ever since that unfortunate encounter with V- or apparently, Kim Taehyung- The head chef had developed a certain anxiety for someone’s arrival. It was a week after, and Jeongguk just finished clearing the rail when Namjoon burst into the kitchen.
“V is here again!” he said with a panicked hand gesture, “He’s booked a VIP table with the name Kim Taehyung and… and we don’t know why he’s here…”
Jeongguk breathed out solemnly, “He’s with me this time. I owe him for something.”
Ignoring the Sommelier’s stumped reaction, the head chef took the ticket from his hands and read out Taehyung’s order to Yoongi, “One sirloin, sauce on the side- Kill it!” he shouted out as he narrowed his eyes at the next dish, “And Hoseok, to the pass!”
Two ‘Yes Chef!’s were echoed through the kitchen and Jeongguk nodded to Hoseok as the sous chef arrived. He grinned at Jeongguk as he spoke, “I heard V’s here. Are you gonna cook for him, chef?”
“Like I have a choice.” He mumbled, “Just run the deck and shut up, will you?”
“Yes Chef!” Hoseok chirped as he looked through the window of the kitchen doors, “Oh damn ! Well what do you know, Joonie, you were right!” he wolf-whistled as he saw someone sitting in a VIP table, “He’s hot alright. Hey team- come check your plates!”
Jeongguk groaned, feeling like strangling his sous chef for being such a nuisance. Jin sauntered over from the back and leaned on Hoseok’s shoulders, peering over through the window, “Wow, he’s very well dressed.”
Soon enough, the whole kitchen was passing through the deck, each giving their own input on the attractive diner. Hoseok joked about the head chef turning red in the face but Jeongguk wouldn’t feel so embarrassed if his team would just stop checking out their customer.
“I didn’t know that was your type, chef,” Yoongi teased as he walked past the younger man’s station. Jeongguk stared daggers at the latter, “Well at least I’m not the one who has Hoseok as my type,” he returned, smirking victoriously as Yoongi’s ears grew red.
“Hey,” the sous chef intervened from the pass, “I’m not a bad catch!”
They were hopeless- Jeongguk thought as he shook his head amusedly, but instead of continuing the banter, he called Jimin in, “How’re your Mise?” the question alerted the prep cook and he looked at Jeongguk with hesitance, “I… I still need to peel the mangoes for the puree, chef.”
“Okay- do that while I work on the fish.” He said, sending him off.
They worked in relative silence after that- when the joking atmosphere had been washed down and more tickets started piling up. Hoseok was busy checking everyone’s plates and making sure none were less than satisfactory. Jeongguk received support from Jimin while Seokjin worked more on desserts, his specialty. A couple other station chefs were assisting Yoongi as they made their way through the endless stream of orders.
The kitchen was finally back in order, and Jeongguk never felt so relieved.
Jeongguk timed the meat he was cooking so that it was perfectly finished- but then faltered as he thought of his actions. Why was he suddenly trying so hard to impress the annoying critic?
“Jimin!” he gritted his teeth, “The mangoes!”
He watched with a twinge of guilt when the said prep cook scrambled over to his station, carrying peeled slices of the said fruit. Jeongguk needed to get his act together. He thanked Jimin, adding in a smile which seemed to frighten the other man more.
The head chef focused back on his cooking and started making the puree- which he imagined would go nicely with the fish. During the process, he remembered Taehyung’s words on the review. Textbook. He clicked his tongue. Fucking textbook.
Jeongguk looked at his recette and huffed in thought. He wasn’t boring- and he was going to prove it to the big-mouthed critic. His hands reached out for a certain spice and he hummed, finding it suitable for the dish.
Before he knew it, Jeongguk was done plating his dish. He brought it to Hoseok so the sous chef could run the dish out.
“The turbot looks great, chef.” Hoseok gave him a thumbs up, at which he’d scoffed. “Did he order for a wine recommendation?” the younger man asked, leaning on the counter as he watched a waiter picked up the dish.
“Oh, no.” Namjoon said, “He only ordered water.”
Jeongguk nodded at the information and glared at Hoseok when the latter gave him a teasing grin. “So, what is it do you owe him chef?”
“That’s none of your business,” he rolled his eyes, “plus, it’s nothing. We don’t even know each other that way.”
He endured more of Hoseok’s rambling until he couldn’t take more and ordered the sous chef to get off his case. It didn’t help that Mr Bang entered the kitchen in that very moment, prompting everyone’s attention. “Table five,” the maître d' relayed “He’s calling for you.”
Jeongguk’s eyes widened as he pointed to himself, “ Me ? But… is there something wrong with the food?”
“Just go, Jeon.” The older man said despondently, “Before he makes a scene.”
And Jeongguk knew that his and the maître d's relationship had been on thin ice ever since the last restaurant review, so he said nothing in retaliation and handed over the pass to Hoseok. He consistently ignored the curious glances he received from his staff and followed Mr Bang out the kitchen doors.
As promised, Taehyung was seated on table five, looking like he belonged there with his crisp white shirt topped with a satin black vest and a cute wine coloured beret to match. Jeongguk blinked nervously as he neared, not ready to hear any complaints the other man was about to spit at him.
When he reached his table, the food critic gave him a little grin and Jeongguk noticed that the food wasn’t yet touched. He stood in front of Taehyung’s seat, looking aside to Mr Bang as the maître d' moved away to leave them be.
He could feel Taehyung’s unabashed staring and coughed to clear his throat. “Why’d you drag me out here?” the chef asked in a hushed tone as his eyes spotted some diners whispering to each other.
Instead of answering him, though, Taehyung gestured at the empty seat in front of him. Perplexed and utterly lost, the head chef humoured the other by taking a seat there. “Taehyung, if you have any complaints then you could just-“
His words faded as he saw the food critic’s awed expression at the dish he’d cooked. Taehyung’s eyes were rounded and glassy in wonder, and his pink lips were pouted, the lower lip jutting out slightly. He watched as the other man took a hold of the cutlery and expertly cut into the fillet, knife meeting little resistance as the tender meat divided easily. An appreciative hum was heard from Taehyung as he saw the gradient of colours in the meat.
“Turbot?” he asked Jeongguk offhandedly, eyes still trained on the food.
The head chef had to remind himself to answer and nodded, “Yeah. It’s… uh… turbot fillet with lemongrass and vanilla,” he listed, observing the latter’s expression, “garnished with mango segments and served with mango puree.”
Taehyung looked up from the plate, eyebrows furrowing a little as he spoke, “Vanilla?” he questioned the rather unusual element.
“I… I thought it would give it a little spunk.” He tried to not look too eager, but a grin was already making its way to his lips, “You said my food was textbook; well joke’s on you now.”
Taehyung’s eyes turned up into little half-moons as he chuckled, a hand coming up to cover his mouth, “You don’t let go of things easily do you?”
“Not really,” he admitted, leaning back into his chair, “But you’re not any better.”
Taehyung hummed as he resumed to cut through his meal, separating the ingredients on his plate into little, bite-sized mountains. “If this one’s any good,” he quipped as he directed a forkful of food to his mouth, “I’ll consider letting you off for being a jerk.”
Jeongguk was about to disagree when a content hum echoes from Taehyung’s chest. He watched as the critic’s eyes closed and his lips stretch into a closed-lipped smile. The head chef’s eyes followed the movements of Taehyung’s throat as he swallowed and averted his eyes away to cough awkwardly.
The interruption reminded Taehyung of his presence and he witnessed in a brief moment of entertainment as the other man was pulled out of his musings. “Wow, Jeon Jeongguk,” he said before taking his glass of water to drink, “You just gave me a foodgasm, holy shit.”
Jeongguk tilted his head to the side in confusion, “The fuck’s a foodgasm?”
“Food orgasm,” Taehyung said with a straight face, surprised when the head chef went into a fit of coughing and offered him some of his water. Jeongguk refused pointedly, “What, you’ve never heard of it?”
“I’m too old for that kind of shit,” he deadpanned, “What kind of idiot invented that word?”
“The same intellectual who founded foodporn.” Taehyung responded without missing a beat, shoving more food onto his fork. Jeongguk had to look away again when the other man sighed in bliss. His actions were so suggestive that the chef looked around at their surroundings, worried if anyone else noticed. He thanked heavens they didn’t.
Really, what sin had Jeongguk committed in his past life to deserve this?
“Why did you call for me?” he asked Taehyung before the man could have another bite. The other regarded him silently before placing his elbow onto the table top, resting his cheek on it casually. There was a certain glint to his eyes that Jeongguk couldn’t yet place, but it unsettled him. Whenever Taehyung looked at him, it always seemed like he knew something Jeongguk didn’t know- and it was killing him.
“When was the last time you’ve stayed to watch someone eat your cooking, Jeon?” his question caught the chef off guard, “It’s been a while- hasn’t it?” the man giggled at his flustered reaction.
“And your point?” he crossed his arms in front of his chest- unconsciously creating a barrier between them.
Taehyung smiled at him, “I just thought you should know what it’s like,” he continued even when Jeongguk snorted at his words, “since you’re cooking for other people after all- not just for yourself.”
“So basically you just wanted me here to watch you eat,” he shook his head as he pushed his chair back, “Unbelievable.”
The head chef stood up from his seat, pushing his chair back under the table. He bowed and turned to leave, only to be stopped when Taehyung spoke up, “Oh, and Jeongguk?” he glanced at the man who called him and noted the soft smile playing on his lips. “It was delicious.”
Not knowing how to respond to that, Jeongguk nodded with a grunt and walked back swiftly to the kitchen with his head slightly ducked. He excused himself to Hoseok, saying he needed to go to the toilet and left the sous chef calling after him. He’d asked Jeongguk why his face was so red.
As soon as he entered the toilet, he rushed over to the sink and splashed cold water on his face. The man looked up at his own reflection in the mirror- his cheeks were red as if someone had slapped him.
He didn’t understand why he was behaving so irrationally. A single fucking comment from Taehyung made him lose his composure- and the thing is- he knows his food is good. He was the head chef for crying out loud. Jeongguk didn’t need a weird critic’s validation, so why was he reacting this way?
For good measure, he shoved more water onto his face.
The bathroom lights were dim but he could still see Taehyung’s flushed face, his kiss-bruised lips open wantonly as they let drawn out moans spill out. He was beautiful- so unbelievably breathtaking.
Jeongguk trailed down the other’s neck, feeling his rapid pulse underneath his tongue. He sucked and nibbled, making the man in front of him squirm with each movement. Taehyung’s fingers were clawing down his back and Jeongguk hissed as his blunt nails left red lines across his shoulders.
His own hands reached south, palming the front of Taehyung’s pants to feel the hardness that was starting to leak. Taehyung keened, biting Jeongguk’s shoulder and muffling his whines.
“You’re already so wet,” he said into the other’s ear, letting his hot breath touch the other’s tanned skin. Jeongguk smirked as he saw goosebumps break out across Taehyung’s neck. He was just so responsive .
Taehyung pulled back and squinted his eyes at him, “Don’t act as if you’re not,” his fingers went down and fiddled with the top of his boxers- lightly tracing the v-lines that were cut deep between Jeongguk’s hips. He groaned, and Taehyung smiled at this, “That’s what I thought.”
“Shut your trap,” he went in for a kiss, but was stopped by Taehyung’s index finger. The brunette man gave him a lopsided grin and shook his head, “ No .”
Jeongguk glared at him for being a tease but stayed silent, letting Taehyung leave kisses down his neck- bruising his abdomen and painting them all in different shades of red. He looked down at the other when he paused briefly at Jeongguk’s happy trail.
Taehyung looked up, eyes glazed with desire as he silently asked for his permission. Jeongguk reached out a hand and tangled it between the latter’s dark strands, pulling him down closer to where he needed Taehyung most.
He grinned at Jeongguk, making the other feel anticipation pumping through his blood as his breathing became more ragged. Taehyung mouthed over his cock and Jeongguk grunted at the thin, wet cloth separating them. The other man hummed, the sound vibrating across Jeongguk’s sanity.
“Tae,” he said in a warning, making the said man chuckle softly against his pants. Taehyung’s voice was raspy with want as he replied, “No.”
Jeongguk tugged at the other’s hair impatiently, “Stop it,” he breathed, “Stop teasing me.”
And Taehyung’s face peered up at him, a familiar boxy smile gracing his lips. “Never.”
Jeongguk woke up with a start, jolting out of his mattress before losing his balance and falling off the side of his bed. “Fuck,” he held the side of his head- still aching from the fall. “Fuck,” he cursed as he remembered the dream.
“Fuck,” he repeated with more intensity as he realised who he’d dreamed of.
Jeongguk looked down at his lower body and groaned when he saw the rude boner tenting up the fabric of his boxers. “Oh fucking fuck,” he buried his face in his hands when he felt sticky, wet cum clinging onto his underwear.
“You have a VIP today, Jeon,” his maître d' reminded him, “It’s a very special guest.”
Jeongguk frowned. He really didn’t want to face Taehyung again after what had happened the other morning, “Can someone else take charge?” he tried, wincing at the prospect of meeting the food critic again.
Mr Bang frowned at him in disapproval, “No- and that’s because you brought this upon yourself,” the man sighed, “All you need to do is bake a birthday cake; why is that so hard?”
Jeongguk’s face contorted in confusion, “Wait- who are we talking about here?”
“Why you-” Mr Bang looked up at the ceiling- looking like he’d given up on Jeongguk. Who knows, maybe he already did. “Who else but Seokjin’s-“
The station chef suddenly showed up beside them, eyes worried and his bottom lip tucked between his teeth, “No! No Mr Bang there’s really no need…” Jeongguk watched as Jin took in a deep breath, “It’s just… It’s my five year old, chef.” He explained to Jeongguk, “It’s her birthday today but it’s not my day off, so Mr Bang planned for her to visit the restaurant today to celebrate,” he paused, looking up at the head chef with a panicked gaze, “I told him it’s not necessary-“
Jeongguk blinked as he took in the information, “Why… why didn’t you take a day off, then?”
The maître d' tutted at him, “Because you didn’t let him, Jeon.” He said with a touch of criticism. Jeongguk raised an eyebrow; he didn’t remember forbidding Seokjin of anything. The head chef looked to his station chef and felt guilt gnaw on his entire being. “Oh, I see.”
“I may not be better than Seokjin at anything involving pastry,” he said with a smaller voice, “but I can make a birthday cake.”
Seokjin’s eyes filled with awed gratitude at his words, turning speechless as he engulfed Jeongguk into a bear hug, “Thank you, chef.” He said quietly as he pulled away, “Thank you so much.”
That was how Jeongguk isolated himself in the pastry station that day, giving his entire effort to bake the cake. Seokjin mentioned that his daughter liked pink- so the head chef went all out with edible pink glitter, pink fondant and even adding strawberries in between the two stacked pieces of cake. He’d made a lemon cake as the base to cancel out all the excessive sweetness- but he guessed it wouldn’t make much of a difference for the birthday girl.
The last time he’d made a birthday cake was when he’d dated this girl in high school- back when he thought he was straight. She was a nice person- but she was also lactose intolerant, which made her angry when Jeongguk presented her with a buttercream chocolate cake.
Never in his life, had Jeongguk thought that he’d bake another birthday cake for a girl. He sighed contently as he swirled another pink rose icing onto the side of the cake, life sure was full of surprises.
When the dessert was finished, and the cake was looking like a Barbie-themed Quinceañera, Jeongguk finally took his work over to the deck for Hoseok to check over. When he arrived, his sous chef cooed at the giant pink cake and clapped his hands excitedly. “Oh my God, our chef had been possessed by some little girl’s spirit! This is perfect!”
Seokjin looked over to the deck from his station, grinning when he saw what the head chef had accomplished, “My baby’s sweet tooth would be satisfied with all that sugar, chef,” he grinned fondly. “Again, thank you for doing this.”
“Yeah, uhm… no problem,” Jeongguk muttered, placing a hand behind his neck in sudden shyness. “I’ll just… take this to her, I guess.” He looked to Seokjin, “Oh, and please join us when you’re done with your current dish.”
Seokjin’s eyes doubled in size as he put his hands to cup his face, “O-oh. Yes chef!” he exclaimed, a few tears dotting the inner corners of his eyes.
The younger man nodded at him before proceeding outside with his cake in his hands. Mr Bang smiled at him as he prepared five candles, each in the colour of pink and cream white. Jeongguk swallowed nervously as he walked out to the dining area, trying to locate the little birthday girl.
In the corner of the room- right next to the window- was a child sitting alone with a bunny doll hugged tightly in their arms. He walked towards her and smiled when he saw her small, chubby hands playing around with the dining utensils.
“Hi, angel,” he sat down on the seat opposite her, “I heard it’s your birthday today.”
The little girl scrunched up her pretty face at him as she hugged her doll closer, “Yeah, Nami turning five now,” she held out five short fingers at him to point out her fact, “but who are you?”
“I’m…” he looked around, “Uh… I’m your dad’s friend. He told me to make this cake for you.”
And that was when the child noticed the dessert he’d brought, “Caaaaaake!” she yelled out of pure elation, making little grabby hands at the item. “Yay cake! Pink birthday cake!”
Jeongguk stared, enchanted by Nami’s strong reaction, “Yeah, I hope you like it.”
“I love it, ahjussi!” she smiled, showing the slight dimples in her cheeks, “Now I can be pink power ranger,” she gushed, confusing Jeongguk with the lack of connection from the two topics.
“Alright then,” he chuckled along, lining up the candles before lighting them up one by one, turning Nami quiet as she stared unblinkingly at the dancing flames. “Here’s a wish for the birthday power ranger.”
“Wish?” she repeated quizzically, “A wish! Nami wants to wish daddy more time please, thank you!”
Jeongguk frowned at her unusual request, “You’re not supposed to say it out loud… but what did you mean by more time, angel?”
Nami puffed out her cheeks, looking annoyed that the man didn’t understand her, “Daddy always come home super-duper late when Nami sleeps, so I don’t see him lots.” She said, eyes still fixed on the candles, “If daddy has more time he can come home more.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk stared at the little girl with guilt kicking in his guts, “Then blow out your candles, Nami. I’m sure it would come true.”
And so the little girl did, raising a clap out of Jeongguk as a reaction. He settled her down back into her seat and sliced out a big piece of cake for her, grinning when she gasped at the strawberries lining the inside of the cake’s flesh. Nami blew on the pink glitter that decorated the cake, laughing when it flew to Jeongguk’s direction.
When she took her first bite, the head chef never felt so insecure before in his life. He’d worried if the cake didn’t suit Nami’s taste- or if she thought it was too much. His anxiety was appeased when the birthday child gasped in happiness, eyes doubling like her dad’s and cheeks stuffed with pink fondant.
“Does it taste okay?” he asked with an easy little smile on his face, “Do you like it?”
Nami nodded vigorously, looking like a hungry chipmunk. Jeongguk laughed softly at her reply and copied her, puffing out his cheeks as she had done. He reached over for a napkin and wiped the icing that splattered on her cheeks.
“Ahjussi smile like my bunny,” she said randomly when she played around with the flower fondant. Nami pulled up her doll as if to prove to him. The head chef raised his eyebrows and asked, “How?”
“Tooth-” she pointed at his mouth, “You both have the same tooth.”
“Baby, don’t point your fingers at people. It’s rude,” her father’s voice reached their table and Jeongguk glanced around to find Seokjin making his way to where they were sitting.
Nami hopped off her seat and stumbled a little as she ran to him, “Daddy! Daddy bunny ahjussi gave me a cake and I blow candles because today’s my birthday.”
“It is, sweetheart!” Seokjin hugged his daughter close, “Happy birthday, baby.”
Jeongguk watched their interaction with a little smile and stood up from his seat. He walked over to Seokjin and placed a hand on his shoulders, “Spend the day with her- and go home early for today,” he winked at Nami’s amazed face, “Someone’s wish is coming true.”
When he gave the father-daughter duo their privacy, he walked back into the kitchen where Hoseok was patiently waiting for him. He sent the sous chef a smile before taking his original position of running the pass.
Nami’s overjoyed expression when she tasted his food was memorable. Jeongguk felt content now, knowing she’d enjoyed it so much. Suddenly, Taehyung’s voice popped up into his mind. “Since you’re cooking for other people after all- not just for yourself.” And Jeongguk now understood what the man had meant.
He’d been cooking for the accreditation- he’d been cooking for himself. And that was what’s slowly destroying him. He remembered starting to learn how to cook because his mom and dad were busy with work and he’d wanted to surprise them with a home-cooked meal. They were so proud of him, and Jeongguk basked in their loving praises.
He used to want to cook for others; that’s what changed. Not his skill, not his love for cooking, but his passion. It was misplaced now.
“Is it too late to turn back now?” he sighed as he shared a smoke with Hoseok later that day. The sous chef- his friend- looked at him and clapped him on the shoulder.
“No Chef!” he’d said cheekily, making Jeongguk double over in laughter.
Coming to work on a Monday was the worst. No- scratch that. Coming to work late on a Monday with your coffee spilt down your trousers was the worst.
Taehyung flung the empty cup of coffee into the bin as he dashed for the elevator, sliding in at the last moment. He winced at his rotten luck when he sees his boss standing in the same metallic space. The lady was eyeing him down before shaking her head in defeat. Taehyung’s ability to land himself into questionable situations weren’t a surprise to her anymore.
“Good day, V.” she greeted, flicking through the papers in her file as Taehyung pressed the button to his floor.
The man turned to her with a sheepish smile, “Hello boss ma’am.”
She gave a quick snort at the nickname he called her with, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t found it endearing. “I see you kept in touch with trouble,” she commented, flitting her eyes at his left knee. It was soaked with caffeine.
“Ah, yes,” Taehyung played along, chuckling a little, “Trouble just won’t leave me alone, it seems.”
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly at him, tucking her file against her chest, “Do you think trouble would still follow you when you’re all the way in France?” his employer asked, “Or would it think that it’s too much of a trouble?”
Taehyung laughed boisterously for a moment- Oh, God he loved his boss. “Wait…” he tried to cease his laughter, breathing (more like wheezing) in and out steadily. “What do you mean by France?”
“There’s a position open in the French branch- and they needed an agent that has experience,” She explained, tone turning more business-like. “You graduated in Marseille, V; with a distinction,” the lady pointed out, making her employee deny her praises with a bashful grin, “so I thought you should go.”
“My French is a bit rusty…” he scratched the back of his neck, “I’m very honoured- don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know, ma’am. I’ll think about it.”
The lady sighed at his words, looking slightly deflated. “Alright, but I’ll only give you a week to decide. You’re not the only one capable of doing this job, you know.” She looked up as the doors opened to her office’s floor and she sent him a composed smile, “And you better not be late this time.”
“Will do, boss!” he saluted readily, making her shake her head amusedly at his antics as she went.
Taehyung slumped onto the walls right after the doors closed, sighing at the hectic morning he went through. Missing his alarm, then the coffee rage, and now France? The day only just started and he already needed a break from life.
He couldn’t go back to France… not without… not without him .
It wouldn’t feel right; it wouldn’t be the same. Taehyung thought of Marseille, of its sunny summer skies and wet winter roads. He remembered the ports- the cool breeze of the sea- and it was so, so tempting for him to run back up to his boss’ office and beg her to send him there… but he knew he couldn’t.
At least not when he’s here.
“That moron,” Taehyung tightened his jaw, “I’d die of old age before he figures anything out.”
When the elevator bells ding -ed, the man walked out straight to his office to not let any of his co-workers see the messy shit of a morning he’d barely tackled. He passed his secretary and her eyes were wide as she witnessed the haggard expression on his face.
“Oh, should I get you some coffee, sir?” the young girl asked as she studied the stain on his knees. Taehyung was so thankful to his little secretary for being so observant sometimes.
“Danah, would you marry me?” he asked, closing his eyes dramatically. His assistant eyed him with genuine concern as she took his jacket from his hand, “Sir, you’re gay,” her voice was unamused.
“And I need my coffee,” he groaned, waving his hands to shoo her away, “Go on, little sparrow, go fetch me my life elixir.”
“From his future wife to a bird,” Danah sighed, walking to a corner of the man’s office and picking up something with a rustling movement. “Here. A delivery came for you this morning.”
Taehyung sat up in surprise, not having expected anything to be sent to him. Especially to his office. He looked at what his secretary was holding and was surprised when his eyes beheld a bouquet- but in the place of flowers, were Ferrero Rochers. It was wrapped in pretty red and white tulle and there was a note stuck onto the side of the dark crimson ribbon.
“Oh Danah, I wasn’t serious about the whole marriage thing,” he said with mock-pity, “I’m sorry if you thought it was real!”
Perplexed, the young girl rolled her eyes and shoved the bouquet at her boss’ face, turning around to get out of his office while muttering profanities under her breath. It wasn’t even her fault that Taehyung enjoyed teasing her whenever possible.
Smiling at the reaction he’d gotten out of his minion, Taehyung dropped his gaze back onto the chocolate bouquet. He raised an eyebrow at the cheesiness of it all but smiled when he saw the card attached to it. The handwriting wasn’t neat- but Taehyung’s own handwriting was terrible- so he couldn’t really complain either.
‘ Flowers are also edible, but these taste better. Come to dinner with me? –Jeon.’
Taehyung chuckled amusedly at the message, which surprised Danah when she got back with his coffee. The food critic stared at the phone number given at the bottom of the note and asked his secretary to set up a call for him (because he liked abusing his bossy powers and because he can ).
As the call connected, Taehyung was surprised when Jeongguk picked up on the second ring. “Hello?” the chef’s voice resounded through the call. He must’ve been moving because his voice was muffled by static.
“Who are you and what have you done to poor Jerk Jeongguk?” Taehyung interrogated in a serious tone, trying his best not to laugh.
The other man sputtered on his end, sounding flustered at the direct question. “I…” a hopeless sigh, “why did I think this was a good idea.”
“It isn’t?” Taehyung frowned slightly, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“It is!” Jeongguk blurted urgently on the line, then proceeded with a smaller voice, “I mean… I don’t know? Fuck- just- can you make it?”
With a smile, the critic cupped a hand around his mouth before shouting over to his secretary’s desk, “Hey Danah, I think we might have to cancel our wedding! This guy just asked me out to dinner!”
The young, overworked girl glared at him tiredly from where she was seated and pushed the earphones further into her ear. “I don’t get paid enough for this,” she muttered as her fingers typed quickly across her keyboard.
“What the fuc-” Jeongguk’s sentence was cut off by Taehyung’s. The man’s volume overpowered his, “Alright Jeon, just name the time and place. I’ll see you!”
And with that, Taehyung ended the call, smiling at the thought of Jeongguk’s confused face. He sent a text to the younger man to give him his number and laughed at the reply Jeongguk sent back.
Monsieur Chef, at 08:32 AM
|w t f was that you’re terrible at phone calls.
Me, at 08:32
Thx you too ;) |
After a lot of bickering and compromising, the two finally decided on a neutral option for dinner. Somewhere Taehyung liked and somewhere Jeongguk didn’t necessarily dislike.
They were looking over Seoul, the sky a dark, empty void while the metropolitan city expanse glimmered bright with lights. Jeongguk watched as car lights blinked across the highways in flashes of reds and yellows. He looked up and noticed that Taehyung was studying the sky- looking somewhat wistful.
“The stars aren’t up,” Jeongguk commented, tilting his head back to gaze up at the sky. They were seated on the rooftop table of the restaurant; a 2006 Dom Perignon in Taehyung’s glass and a Red Bordeaux in his.
Taehyung shifted his gaze to Jeongguk’s figure, his eyes reflected the flames of the candlelight on their dinner table. “No, they’re still there,” he said, a certain weight carried in his tone, “You just can’t see them.”
Jeongguk sat back as he crossed one of his legs over the other. He breathed in and took in the sight of Taehyung, wearing a baggy white cashmere sweater and loose dress pants. He’d never seen the man dressed anywhere near casual, but he wasn’t going to complain- it was a refreshing sight.
Taehyung’s dark brown hair was pulled back from his forehead, framing his face as they get ruffled softly by the wind, making the food critic continuously brush through his hair to fix it up. Jeongguk pondered over how they’d ended up this way, how the other managed to wrap Jeongguk around his finger within the span of their brief encounters.
It was appalling; quite despicable, honestly, but Jeongguk couldn’t imagine it any other way.
“Why V?” he asked, pouring more of his red wine into the glass. Taehyung blinked at his query, looking a little puzzled from Jeongguk's sudden curiosity.
"It stands for the roman number 5..." he explained, eyes looking down from sudden embarrassment at his pseudonym. "It also represents the five main tastes of the palate."
Jeongguk's eyebrows frowned, incredulous, "You mean... sweet, sour, salty, bitter and… umami?" He smiled in disbelief, "Is that really it?"
Taehyung glared at him defensively, "What did you think it was, Jeon?"
"I don't know, something crazy," he chuckled under his breath, finding it cute. "I think it fits though. Unexpected, but fitting."
They smiled at each other, and when the head chef raised his glass of wine, Taehyung followed suit, clinking the two in a toast. As Jeongguk took a sip of his drink, he was reminded of the bizarreness of this whole affair. How their strange relationship bloomed from pissing each other off out of spite to playful arguments about nothing.
"Hey I have a question," he directed to Taehyung, who smiled as he gulped his drink down.
Taehyung gave him a teasing smirk and hummed for show, "Why, aren't you a curious little thing tonight."
Jeongguk gave him a withering look and took a breath before he proceeded, "Alright whatever." The chef crossed his arms, "I just want to know why you always give a bad rating whenever you come and review my restaurant."
He almost took back his words when Taehyung laughed aloud, voice full of life to contrast the dead view of the night sky. "Do you really not remember?"
When Jeongguk asked him about what he was talking about, the other man's expression turned dejected and he looked slowly down at his lap. "Oh, I guess it wasn't as memorable as I thought it was," he murmured to himself, a tone of defeat lining his words.
Jeongguk searched the man's expression with concerned eyes, not knowing why the other man was behaving so. He didn't know what to say, so he let Taehyung take his time to compose himself. They sat in heavy silence for a moment or two, with Jeongguk worrying and Taehyung thinking.
With his head still slightly bowed, the older man spoke. "The sky in Marseilles also didn't have many stars," his deep voice lulled, sounding as if he was starting a story. "It was cloudy and you can feel the salt carried by the chilly night breeze on the tip of your tongue. I remember it perfectly." He finally lifted his head, facing Jeongguk with a dreamy smile. "I remember opening my mouth to taste it in the air, being so hungry after two days of not being able to afford anything to eat."
Jeongguk hung onto his every word, his wine glass was set aside on the table, abandoned. "And I'd never forget the boy I met that one summer night, with his doe eyes and his big dreams." He laughed, a melancholic touch to the sound, "It was you, Jeongguk."
The head chef's eyes widened a fraction, taking in the information as he dug into his old memories of France; back when he was a mere prep cook who'd struggled learning his French. He remembered a young Korean boy, with his hair too long and his frame too thin. "...Tae?" he tried the name and found it familiar on his lips.
"It's been a while hasn't it, Gukkie?" he said, rendering the chef speechless.
Somewhere in the midst of summer, ten years ago, Jeongguk met his first customer.
"John!" A chef in his forties yelled at him as he threw a rag into the cupboard, "You lock up tonight and make sure to come earlier tomorrow."
Jeongguk looked up as a response to the name his boss gave to him ("I can't say Jeonggoog or whatever. I'll just call you John- how ‘bout that?") And even if he wasn't used to the different pronunciation, Jeongguk found his voice to yell out a convincing 'Oui Chef!'
He'd spent the rest of the evening cleaning up in the kitchen and organizing everything back into place. Jeongguk looked at the clock and found that there was enough time for him to peel the potatoes for tomorrow's menu, so he got to work immediately; his nimble hands running the peeler over the ingredients in a repetitive motion.
He'd asked his head chef earlier that day if he could practice his cooking with the leftover ingredients from today- since they had no-shows and since the food stuffs would turn bad by the next day. Jeongguk hummed excitedly as he finished the labour work on the potatoes and set it aside for the next morning.
The young cook took out the leftover ingredients and scanned through them, figuring out what he could do to hopefully cook up a legitimate French dish. The sea bass was staring back at him with lifeless eyes and it intimidated Jeongguk from trying to cook it correctly.
Deciding that he needed a break from his little staring contest, the prep cook looked out of the restaurant’s window. The building had a remarkable setting, seated above a series of rocks not far from Marseilles harbour (alternatively, le Vieux Port), and looking out to the Mediterranean. Framed windows allowed the sea breeze through to the dining room, while below were seen the waves- breaking onto the jagged rocks as pearly foam.
Jeongguk had to pause when he spotted an unfamiliar figure lying down on the sidewalk, seemingly unmoving. A sudden panic rose up his chest and he hurried out of the restaurant to check if whoever it was, was okay.
A boy was lying there, curled up into a ball as he stared at the evening sky. Jeongguk let out a sigh of relief when he saw the boy's conscious state.
"Ex-excuse me?" He tried with his choppy French, "Would you like to come in?"
The boy's head snapped to him, and Jeongguk chided himself for staring at how the other's mouth curled into a shocked 'oh'. The boy was not much older than him, it seemed, but he was significantly frail and had his eyes covered by long, tangled-up hair.
"I... it's alright... I'm just here to taste the sea." The boy replied, sounding weirder by the minute.
Jeongguk frowned at the latter, "Why?"
The boy gave him a wry smile. "I just... I'm hungry I guess," a shrug. "Haven't had a proper meal in two days, but don't worry. I always figure something out."
Jeongguk felt his mouth drop open at the words, "T-two days?" He walked up to the stranger, "What do you mean no food in two days?" He tried his best in framing his sentences in the foreign language.
"I meant no food in two days," the boy smiled sheepishly, shredding Jeongguk's last resolve and getting himself dragged inside the restaurant the cook worked in. He'd sat him down onto one of the tables. The boy had first protested but Jeongguk was more stubborn, and insisted that he was no trouble.
As Jeongguk cooked the fish, they'd conversed in French, only learning later (with a messy fit of laughter) that they were both Korean. Taehyung, he learned, was a language major in his university. The boy had been struggling with his finances ever since his father died in Korea and was trying his best to make ends meet by sending money to his mother. He’d earned the pay from his array of part-time jobs.
"You should still eat, though," Jeongguk said as he slid a plate in front of Taehyung, confusing the other boy when there was only one plate being served. "Are you... you're not eating with me?" The boy asked, eyes frantic as they worried.
"It's for you," the younger one said, "I made it for you."
Taehyung couldn't help the smile breaking out on his face and Jeongguk caught onto how adorably rectangular it was. The hungry boy looked at the food presented in front of him and let out a sound of amazement, "Woah... what is this?" he gasped, "It looks so fancy!"
Jeongguk had laughed fondly at his reaction. "Sea bass; served with a Provencal garnish of tomato, basil, fennel seeds and lemon zest," he smiled at Taehyung's gaping mouth, "and a drizzle of olive oil."
Taehyung had savoured each and every bite, exclaiming the occasional, 'Wow I didn't know food can taste like this!' and successfully making the young cook blush and squirm at his praises.
He'd watched Taehyung as he ate, a little smile playing on his lips as his fingers turned a lighter around nimbly. The older boy caught his actions and tilted his head, "Aren't you too young to be smoking that?" he questioned.
Jeongguk's mouth hung open in indignation, "Of course! Uh- I don't smoke." He sighed, “I just like keeping it around you know, just in case." Taehyung stared unblinkingly at him, urging Jeongguk to continue, "It's for... uh... later. When I'm an actual chef."
"Do all chefs smoke cigarettes, Gukkie?" the older boy inquired as he cut into the fish with his knife crudely.
Jeongguk cringed but said nothing. "The ones who live up to their names do." he said, flipping the lighter in his hands, "They all smoke to relieve stress." The boy sighed, "Someday- I'll be so successful and my restaurant would be so overbooked that I would grow dependent on these things."
"But why do they do that?" Taehyung asked, puzzled, "Doesn't smoking affect your tasting ability or something?"
It took several moments for the young cook to snap out of his thoughts, "Ah- you're right," Jeongguk laughed, "We’re a bunch of self-destructive pricks."
Taehyung snorted at his words and proceeded to chew his mouthful, making a face of contentment that Jeongguk found ridiculously endearing.
Here they were- two youths getting a bitter taste of reality. Washed ashore into each other’s company. They were clueless and lost, but what kept them going was the hope of finally finding their way back in life. They held onto that certain naïveté as they did with their burdensome dreams.
"Here," he tossed his lighter to Taehyung, who had to drop his fork on the table to catch it, "if I do end up as a smoker, please do me a favour and destroy it."
Taehyung looked down at his palms and his thin fingers curled around the tiny plastic, nodding his head slowly. Jeongguk took it as a promise, the way Taehyung clutched his lighter near his heart.
"If I see you again," the student smiled, rectangular and bright.
Jeongguk reflected the other's expression, a small grin on his lips as he answered, "If you see me again."
But he never did and Jeongguk didn't think he ever would so he stored the memory deep in his past. Old and faded, but no less enchanting.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jeongguk breathed in, shaking his head as he stared at the empty plate on their table. He glanced up at Taehyung after a long, icy silence and found the other man fiddling with a linen napkin on his lap.
Taehyung shrugged, eyes not meeting the chef’s. “I… I don’t know if you’d care,” he almost whispered out, “It’s been years , Jeongguk. At least a decade had passed.” He bit his bottom lip in worry, “I didn’t know if you’d remember a starving student you’d helped ten years ago.”
“I haven’t seen you since,” his shoulders slumped noticeably, “but I haven’t forgotten.” Jeongguk leaned forward a little in his seat, “Did you know I waited for you to come back?”
The brunette man looked regretful, “No,” he admitted, “but even if I did I still wouldn’t have gone to meet you.” Taehyung scoffed at himself, “I was young and too proud. I didn’t want you to see me like that again; dirt poor and weak. I wanted to prove to you- no, to myself- that I was worth something.”
“But I left,” Jeongguk felt like he knew what happened after- eyes examining the complicated man sitting across him.
“I hadn’t known you’d left.”
“And now you’re here.”
Taehyung sighed, “And now we’re here.” He sat up straighter, looking at Jeongguk with an open expression. There were no mysteries hidden in his eyes anymore, and the head chef found himself getting lost in them. “But now I’m not as skinny, and your food isn’t as inspiring as it used to be.” He smiled, “I think it’s about time we met, isn’t it?”
Jeongguk narrowed his eyes at his words, “What are you trying to tell me, Tae?”
“I’m… I’m going back to France,” he expressed with determination burning behind his pupils, “I’ll visit Marseilles again when I stay there and I plan to see the port. I’ve missed it, Jeongguk. I’ve missed you.” A subtle blush coloured his neck as he confessed, “Go with me.”
The head chef stared at the man in a stupor, still refusing that any of it was real. Taehyung missed him. Taehyung wanted him. Taehyung was laying out his feelings for him.
Yes , he thought, take me with you .
“I can’t.” Is what he said instead, “I can’t risk it, Tae.” His voice was small and strained, “You’re asking me to abandon everything I’ve worked so hard for. You… you’re asking for too much. I can’t do that.”
He was still missing a star, he wasn’t done. Jeongguk couldn’t give it all up now, he’d spent too much time and too much tears to get to where he was today. The prize was hung right in front of his eyes and all he had to do was reach for it. There was no leaving for him now.
Taehyung blinked, and Jeongguk was caught off guard when a tear slid down his left cheek. The brunette’s smile shattered before the chef as he watched, with pain thudding his chest, as Taehyung tried to look unaffected. “I see.” His voice shook with his effort to smile, “That’s fine. I wasn’t hoping for too much in the... in the first place.”
Jeongguk saw the man standing up, arms leaned onto the tabletop to support himself. His hands were twitching slightly. “I… I better go now,” he said, voice turning watery, “It was nice meeting you again, Gukkie.”
The head chef held his breath as the man took a turn, moving for the door of the restaurant. A hand was brought around to the front of his face, seemingly to wipe the tears. Jeongguk knew he needed to stop him, call him back, something- anything .
“When are you leaving?” his words betrayed him.
Taehyung took a second to pause his steps, his back rising and falling in a single, deep breath. “By next week.” He’d replied, looking back at Jeongguk with bloodshot eyes, “Good bye, Jeon Jeongguk.” He said with a pained half-smile, “I hope you’re where you want to be.”
So Jeongguk was left at his table with an empty glass of wine and an unfinished flute of champagne. He called in the waiter to refill his glass because he wanted to forget, but it wasn’t as if he could.
“Unbelievable,” he murmured to himself, for himself, at himself.
For the next three days, Jeongguk drowned himself in work. His team dreaded his sudden burst of diligence as they were also forced to keep up with his tiring speed. Jimin especially, was worked to the bone until he begged Hoseok to take him in as his support instead.
Jeongguk watched over his staff with eagle eyes- snapping whenever anything went wrong. On these occasions, Hoseok were always called in to calm the head chef down, stopping him from going on a rampage over Yoongi’s slightly burnt wagyu.
The kitchen’s atmosphere had been teetering on the edge for a while with everyone praying that Jeongguk’s patience would last through the day. It didn’t.
When a waitress entered, Jeongguk frowned at her jumpy demeanour and demanded an explanation. The woman almost stammered in her speech but kept it together under the chef’s intimidating glare, “M-Michelin Men.” She blurted out, handing the man a ticket. Her voice carried across the room and everyone stopped what they were doing.
Jeongguk blinked, snatching the order from her hands before looking up at Namjoon, “Is it true?” he asked the Sommelier, sounding desperate.
Namjoon nodded with a bottle of selected wine in his hands, “Both middle-aged, one ordered half a glass of wine and the other, water.” He specified, gulping as the entire kitchen focused their attention on him. “Mr Bang told the waiting staff to look out for any other signs.”
Just then, the maître d' barged through the kitchen doors. The man stopped in front of the deck and slammed down his hand on the metallic surface. Jeongguk noted the apparent paleness of his face. “One of the waiters spotted a fork under the table. It’s them .”
It was finally happening, and all Jeongguk could hear was the blood rushing rapidly in his ears. Michelin agents were here in his restaurant when he had least expected them. He looked around at his staff- witnessing the slightly tensed expressions they had on. As a head chef, he was supposed to remain calm, so he couldn’t let them down now. Not when it mattered most.
“In the end,” he said out loud, facing the group of chefs behind him, “they’re just another set of mouths to feed.” The head chef shifted his gaze to look at his men in the eye one by one, “We’ve served countless customers before and this doesn’t change anything.” He concluded cleanly, “I know we can do it- so do you?”
And the entire kitchen echoed, “Yes Chef!”
The problem is, Jeongguk wasn’t even sure himself. He looked to his right and saw Hoseok giving him a smile, but he couldn’t find it in him to return the gesture.
This was it.
There is also a thin line that differentiated between friendship and rivalry- it’s a line that Jeongguk breached when he’d stepped onto a familiar road after work that day. He looked up at the sign of the restaurant, with its pretentious font and three printed black stars.
The man looked at his wristwatch and sighed, realising that it was almost 10 PM; Closing time. Yixing should be at home already with his wife, not here. He wasn’t desperate like Jeongguk. He wasn’t alone.
Just as he was turning around, a sound of keys clinking together reached his ears. The doors were being opened and someone in a coat had their back turned to face Jeongguk. He looked down at their shoes and found that they were the gaudy dress shoes Yixing claimed to be his favourite footwear. Jeongguk frowned at the thought; It was surprising how much you could care for someone when you hate them.
“Jeongguk-ah.” The man let the old nickname slip under his surprise. “… What brings you here?”
Jeongguk sighed, digging his hands into the pockets of his jeans to conceal his unease- which Yixing noticed right away. “Michelin Men showed up today at Les Coulisses .” He kept his mouth open to speak but no words made it out, so the younger man sighed loudly instead.
The Chinese chef studied him with a deceptively calm expression. They’d spent standing outside like that for a few minutes. Jeongguk didn’t need sympathy and Yixing wasn’t one to provide it. They’d understood that much about each other.
“Come in, Jeon,” Yixing unlocked the doors to his restaurant again before walking briskly inside. He left the doors open for the other man to let himself in. Jeongguk chewed on the inner walls of his cheeks as he ducked his head and followed the latter inside.
They walked past the dining tables and the mirrored walls of the interior. Jeongguk wasn’t even surprised when the other chef led him into the kitchen. As soon as they stepped in, Yixing disappeared off into the pantry to leave Jeongguk to himself- sliding down to the floor and letting his back rest against a station.
Jeongguk closed his eyes, feeling as if there were weights on his eyelids. The cold floor was unwelcoming but the familiar, clean smell of the kitchen managed to calm him down, so he breathed it in desperately. This was where Jeongguk had always belonged. This was home to him.
“What are you making?” He asked Yixing with his eyes still shut, hearing the man approach closer and lay out items onto a station top. The older man hummed as he busied himself, “I’m making you Croque Tartine Parisienne.” He answered lightly.
Jeongguk scoffed at the name, “You mean a ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top?” He laughed incredulously, “I might’ve possibly ruined my own career and you’re cooking me a peasant dish ?”
“A French sandwich,” he corrected, smirking a little, “It’s still French cuisine, Jeon.”
He chuckled quietly at the other’s stubborn rebuttal and rested his forehead on his bent knee. Jeongguk felt his walls slowly crumbling under the privacy that the kitchen provided. “I fucked up so bad, I can’t even remember what I did back then.” He whispered, feeling hot tears cling onto his eyelashes, sealing it shut, “It was so loud… and if I try recalling anything it comes out blurry… I’m… I’m so lost, Yixing-ge.”
Yixing, surprised by the Chinese honorific the other used to call him, began to worry. Jeongguk was slowly breaking apart in front of him, which he’d only seen once before when they were working together in Marseille. It was rare for the other to show such vulnerability, so Yixing did his best to ignore it.
“This isn’t about Michelin, is it?” he glanced at Jeongguk’s curled figure next to him, “It’s more than that.”
Jeongguk hiccupped, choking on his tears and saliva. He refused to face the other man as he replied, “Nothing’s more important than Michelin,” his voice was shaken but adamant. Yixing rolled his eyes discreetly at the other’s stone-headedness but stayed silent as he started the grill.
He assembled the ingredients with ease he’d gathered from experience, sparing a look at Jeongguk when he sighed. “Keep saying that and you’ll lose it, whoever it is,” Yixing said as he watched the cheese melt onto the crusty bread, “because that’s what happened when I divorced Fei.” He said in a toneless voice, “I lost her.”
At the mention of the other man’s wife, Jeongguk looked up. Tears were still stained onto his face but he didn’t care anymore, “Wh… what… your wife…” he looked at Yixing with large, doe eyes, and the latter smiled slightly at the sight, “but you loved her.”
“Yes,” he proceeded to crack an egg as if they were talking about something trivial, “but I was stupid and I convinced myself that I loved this stupid job more… I forced her to wait for me.” He shook his head softly as he stared at the sizzling pan in front of him, “They can’t wait that long, Jeongguk-ah. I fucked up grandly.”
“Yixing-ge… I didn’t know…” he said with a small voice, earning a pat on the head from the older chef. The fire was turned off suddenly, and the other man began plating the dish. He sprinkled some pepper on top before taking it into his hold and sliding down to sit next to Jeongguk.
In Yixing’s other hand, was a bottle of wine. “Which one is that?” Jeongguk inquired, staring at the label under the dim lighting of the room.
“Who gives a fuck,” Yixing smiled, a dimple digging into his cheek, “They all taste the same.”
Jeongguk gave him a half-smile and picked up a sandwich into his hands. It was warm, and the aroma was welcoming as he bit into it. His teeth crunched into the bread and he chewed with his eyes closed.
“How is it?” Yixing questioned.
“You used too much cheese again.”
“Ungrateful brat,” he hissed as he held out his hand, “spit it out then.”
But instead of doing so, Jeongguk reached out and took the wine out of Yixing’s hand. Jeongguk discovered with relief that it was already open and swigged the liquor in greedy gulps. Yixing was right- they all tasted the same.
“Jeongguk?” Yixing suddenly said, pulling the younger out of his musings, “Don’t turn into a fuck-up like me,” he said, his eyes staring straight ahead, “Don’t let them down.”
“When you find your star, Jeongguk, follow it- but when it falls to someplace else- get off your ass and chase it.” The older man said with a resolute tone, “Run to it and open your hands to reach out for it. It’s going to fall, and you’re going to have to catch it.” He took the bottle back from Jeongguk and took a single swig out of it. The younger chef was staring speechlessly at the other, watching as his adam’s apple bobbed with each gulp. “And when you do- don’t let go.” Yixing finished as he placed the bottle down.
Jeongguk remembered Taehyung who waited for him patiently all these years; how he continued to be with him even when Jeongguk couldn’t place his name. Taehyung had fought for them all this time, and he hadn’t let go.
“He was the one I met when we were in Marseilles,” Jeongguk murmured out to Yixing.
The Chinese man’s eyes blinked at the unexpected words, “The first customer you served?”
“My first love,” he clarified, his throat constricting, “That’s him.”
The no-name wine bottle was placed into his hands again, and Yixing sat silently as Jeongguk poured the alcohol into his mouth- the bitter taste of wine mixing with his salty tears.
The next following day, Jeongguk strode into his restaurant, shocking everyone as he wasn’t wearing his uniform. Some of the waiting staff were whispering to each other as he passed them, but the head chef paid no heed.
He walked up to his maître d' and handed in his apron- making the man’s eyes widen in shock. “Jeon, the Michelin hasn’t given their verdict yet- you don’t have to-“
“It’s not for Michelin, Bang. It’s so much more.” He cut the other’s sentence as he let go of his apron. “I’ll go pack my knives.”
Jeongguk didn’t waste any more time to stand around so he entered the kitchen, receiving confused looks from his team when he started arranging his knives in a wrap. Seokjin gasped when he placed his favourite knife along with the others. When he was done, he tied it and held the bundle in his hands- all set to leave.
“Please take care of her for me, Hoseok,” he said as his eyes wandered around the kitchen, taking it in for possibly the last time, “She used to be my home.”
The sous chef’s eyebrows furrowed in worry as he stepped closer to him, “Jeongguk, are you leaving us?” he asked, getting a nod and a solemn smile from the younger man, “But where will you go?”
“Where are you going, chef?” Jimin asked from the back, looking just as confused as everyone else.
“I’m going to…” Jeongguk thought of Taehyung as a blinding smile stretched across his face, his eyes turning up into tiny crescents and crinkling from the action, “I’m going to be happy.”
“Sir,” Danah said as she entered his office, “Sir, someone is asking to meet you.”
Taehyung didn’t look up from his laptop. His glasses were perched on the bridge of his nose and his hands were jumping on the keys of his keyboard. “Who is it?”
“It’s someone with the name of Jeon Jeongguk,” the secretary relayed, “He said it was urgent.”
The brunette’s movements stilled at the sound of his name. Jeongguk is here? He thought with bitter hope filling his chest. He tamped the feeling down immediately, not wanting to inflict more pain onto himself. “Show him the exit,” he breathed out.
Danah bowed but raised an eyebrow at his indifferent act. “Yes sir.”
Jeongguk was at his office building. Taehyung thought of a time when he’d receive the other with doors opened wide, but then remembered how he was leaving in a few days and shook his head, erasing the false expectations he’d made for them.
When Danah came walking back, she was carrying something with her. Taehyung had assumed for her to walk directly towards her desk, but was surprised when the girl turned for his direction instead. Taehyung frowned at her inquisitively but remained quiet when she stopped in front of him.
“Did he leave?” he asked, eyes flitting to the item she was holding behind her back.
She nodded, making Taehyung feel somewhat disappointed, but then brought around the item in her hold. The man stared at the said thing, and kept on staring for a few seconds until Danah broke the silence, “He left this for you.”
She placed it on his desk carefully and bowed before leaving him be, considering her job done.
Taehyung held his breath as he looked at the bunch of Rosemaries that are tied together in a single string. Their leaves were still fresh and the little bell-shaped flowers decorated the stem in little Tuscan blue speckles. Taehyung caught a whiff of pine fragrance as he leaned further to the flowers.
He picked up the crude bouquet with gentle fingers- afraid to damage the plants as he turned it around. Jeongguk left this for him.
Taehyung spotted a curious piece of paper hiding in the middle of the bouquet. He raised an eyebrow as he reached for it, slowly pulling it out of the bundle of leaves. He put down the flowers and held up the piece of folded paper.
His fingers worked to unfold it, but was caught off-guard when a single card fell out of it. Taehyung sighed and picked up the said card. He turned it around to the side where there was writing and smiled unconsciously as he saw the messy handwriting.
‘ These flowers are also edible, by the way. I’m sorry, Tae.
p.s. Also, please return this paper to me. I’ll need it .’
Taehyung blinked as he felt his eyes turning damp, and he looked over to the folded paper in his hands. He unfolded it hastily, almost tearing it open- but thank God he didn’t, because it was an airplane ticket for France with Aéroport de Marseille Provence written under the destination.
“Oh, Gukkie,” he whispered, smiling with tears glistening in his eyes.
He stood up from his seat, scrambling for his bag when Danah appeared at his desk again with someone next to her. Taehyung’s tears finally fell out at the sight of Jeongguk standing awkwardly in his office. He stared incredulously at the man before a smile broke out on his face.
“Jeon Jeongguk,” he walked to stand in front of the other, face only centimetres apart. He raised his hand that was holding the ticket, “What’s the meaning of this?”
Jeongguk placed a hand on his cheek, wiping it clear of his tears before smiling so- so fondly back at Taehyung, “It means I’m not letting you go,” he watched as Taehyung struggled to blink the happy tears back into his eyes. He moved closer to kiss each of his wet eyelids, “Not anytime soon, not ever.”
The other man laughed in his arms, his own hands clinging onto the base of Jeongguk’s dark t-shirt, “So we’re going to Marseilles?” his voice was dripping with sweet excitement, “Together?”
Jeongguk chuckled with amusement, bopping the other’s nose with his, “No.” he muttered as he flicked his eyes over Taehyung’s lips, “Everywhere. We’re going everywhere together.”
And Taehyung didn’t waste any more time, rushing forward to catch the other’s lips with his. A hand moved up behind Taehyung’s waist to seal him there and he reacted with pulling his hands up to tuck his fingers under Jeongguk’s sharp jaw. When Jeongguk licked over the seam of his lips, Taehyung opened his mouth further, receiving everything the latter was offering.
“I love you,” Jeongguk said between kisses, “I’m in love with you.”
Taehyung laughed as he pecked short little kisses onto the other’s defined cupid’s bow, “And I’m still in love with you too.” He tightened his hand around the back of Jeongguk’s neck, “Have been and always will be.”
They locked lips once more, but slower this time, dragging their teeth over the other’s lips and deepening their kiss as they tilted their heads to the side. There were no need to rush anymore.
A cough disturbed them and Taehyung snapped out of the kiss when he saw his secretary still standing there near his office entrance. Oh, right , Taehyung remembered. Workplace .
“I need a raise,” she sighed under her breath, eyes deadpanned as she looked at the couple.
Taehyung, being the shitty boss that he was, laughed at her miserable face. Jeongguk, however, was more modest and had the decency to blush when she glared at them both. “Don’t worry, Danah. I’ll tell them you deserve one,” he said flippantly. “Even if you disobeyed me by letting him into my office.”
The young girl smiled at him, “Anytime, sir.”
Taehyung looked at the man next to him and smiled as he reached for his hands. Jeongguk’s head jerked up when their fingers were intertwined together. He saw Taehyung beaming at him and smiled back, feeling warmth fill his chest.
The day was scorching hot, if not for the salty winds that blew across the port. Jeongguk felt something vibrate in his pocket and pulled it out to see someone calling him on his phone. He blinked slowly at the ID ‘Mr Bang’ blinking on the screen and swiped his thumb to pick up the call.
“Hello?” he asked into the call.
Mr Bang’s voice was ecstatic as he spoke on the other line. “Jeon- you did it!” he exclaimed joyfully, “Three stars!” a boisterous laugh followed the words, “Michelin’s verdict is three stars!”
Jeongguk smiled along, “Congratulations,” he replied.
Someone was balancing on a wobbly boat in the distance, a sunhat on their brunette head which was suddenly blown off by a strong wind. Taehyung yelped as he reached for his hat, almost falling face-first into the water. He looked up from the edge of the boat with his hands clutched tightly around his hat, and spotted Jeongguk staring at him. Taehyung smiled brightly, waving his hat into the air as he called out to him.
“Sorry, I have to go now,” he said, not listening anymore to what the other had to say, “Good bye, Mr Bang. I’ll send you a postcard.”
After pocketing his phone, he made his way to the boat he and Taehyung had rented for the day. His boyfriend welcomed him into the said boat with a kiss, making Jeongguk almost lose his balance in the process.
It wasn’t the city of lights, but it was the city of their beginning; and that proved to pale everything else in comparison.