Minhyuk rubbed at his temples as he sat back with a glass of red. He loved his friends, he did, and he appreciated them, but nights like this just made him feel… alone. Tired. Most nights, they were so good about spreading their attention around, making him feel like he was kept in the loop, especially after a break up.
It had been months, though, and the sting of loss had faded, leaving him just feeling empty and annoyed. Tired. Alone.
He didn’t blame them. Kyung and Jiho had been together so long they were basically one entity, hands threaded together as Kyung told a story and gestured wildly with his free one. Jiho was smiling, leaning on his other hand and giving his boyfriend his undivided attention, a soft look on his face as he watched him. Cute. He loved that usually, how cute they were. It made his heart swell with affection at how sweet it often was, but today it just made his head throb.
He blamed Taeil and Jihoon a little. Taeil was their newest addition, but only because Minhyuk couldn’t keep hold of a partner himself. He’d come to them when the younger was lonely and trolling websites, trying to find someone who would keep his bed warm in exchange for however much spoiling they could tolerate. Several years and even more tattoos later, he was covered in ink paid for by Jihoon’s family money and fulyl integrated with the rest of him. Minhyuk wouldn’t want to be without him. He never would. Still, he was sprawled halfway on top of Jihoon, big hands at his waist as they laughed loudly about whatever it was that they were laughing about.
“Minhyukkie,” Kyung sighed, swiping the bottle as he reached to pour another glass.
He glanced up at him, brow lifted, and internally cringed as the rest of them started to focus in on him as well. “Just let me drink,” he grumbled, making another swipe for the bottle. It went out of his reach and passed to Taeil, where he would never get it back by speed or force.
Jihoon sat forward some, folding his hands on the table now and giving him a concerned look. “Are you okay? I thought you were feeling better.”
“I was,” he replied, then quickly corrected himself. “I am. I’m fine. Give my wine back.”
The mood at the table had taken such a quick downturn that Minhyuk felt like he was reeling. “It’s been months, Minhyukkie,” Taeil said softly, as Kyung moved around the table to sit beside him instead, pressed close to his side. Without hesitation, Jiho joined him.
The show of support was appreciated, but it made him feel worse . “Yeah, and I’m over him, I don’t give a shit. I’m fine. But it sucks. This sucks. Okay? I don’t want him back, and I was fine being alone, but…”
“You know what you should do,” Jihoon piped up, sounding like he was having a brilliant idea, which was really bad news for him in the long run. “You should try one of those sites like where Taeil-hyung and I met.”
Taeil’s head whipped around so fast his hat nearly flew off, his brows raised. “You think so?”
“Absolutely not,” Minhyuk said firmly, making another swipe for the wine. He got his fingers around it, but with Taeil still holding onto it, it didn’t even budge as he tried to take it back.
“Why not?” Kyung continued. His tone was musing, his expression thoughtful, and this was all heading downhill. “You have enough, you make enough to support someone else. You don’t like going out and meeting people. You get to skip the whole ‘what do you do’ thing-”
“It’s honestly pretty nice to skip all the stuff where you don’t know what’s okay and what isn’t,” Jihoon offered. “All those places have rules you have to fill out so people know what’s okay and stuff.”
Minhyuk grunted noncommitally and gave the bottle another tug. It still didn’t move. He reached for Kyung’s glass of soju only to have that taken from his hands by Jiho before it reached his lips.
“There’s a mixer coming up,” Taeil offered. “Like, you have to be on the site, but there’s a mixer so people can meet safely coming up. Do you want to go?”
“How do you know there’s a mixer?” Jihoon asked, without the barest trace of jealousy, bless him.
“You weren’t the first guy I met there,” he replied, rolling his eyes. “You’re just the only one I wanted to stay with. I still talk to some of them, though. They were cool guys, but we didn’t really click.”
Minhyuk ignored the way Jihoon beamed at that, the puff of pride and rubbed at his temple again. “I can’t explain to any of you how much I don’t want to go to a mixer of people I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to talk to any of them anyway.”
“We’ll go with you,” Jiho shrugged.
“You have to sign up for the site,” Taeil countered, but he didn’t sound like he was on Minhyuk’s side. None of them were on his side. Traitors.
Kyung shrugged, giving him a squeeze and resting his cheek on his shoulder. “We’ll sign up. All of us. Jiho-ah is my sugar daddy now.”
“I want to be signed up on the other side of things,” Taeil announced, pulling his phone out. “Jihoon-ah is my baby now.”
The younger let out a booming laugh, but kissed his cheek anyway. “Sure. I’m okay with that.”
Minhyuk whined, grabbing for another glass and this time no one stopped him from drinking. Unfortunately, it was the watered down soda none of them had been drinking since they decided they would get a ride instead of having a DD.
“Hey,” Jiho said, poking at his side until he looked up. When he did, he got caught in a hard study, his friend trying to gauge his mood. “I think this is a good idea, but we won’t make you do it. Obviously. Just… think about it, okay?”
Minhyuk frowned, but nodded. When he swiped the wine again, they let him have it an he poured another glass. The rest of the night, though, was better. Easier. With Jiho and Kyung on either side of him and Taeil and Jihoon across the table laughing, it was easier to forget how alone he felt.
The next morning was bad in a different way. He woke up feeling sick and with a headache that felt like railroad spikes behind his eyes, hot and sticky from a night of sweating on his sheets. When he went to get up, he realized that it was especially bad because Jiho and Kyung were both piled into his bed as well. The three of them barely fit, tangled together to keep from falling to the floor. He carefully extracted himself only to tumble off the bed in a heap and groan at the light coming through the windows.
The shower helped. The coffee helped more. He was nursing his third cup and checking his phone when Kyung shuffled in and poured one for himself, face puffy and eyes slitted. He heard the shower turn on in the other room and was quietly grateful that they at least weren’t showering together.
Kyung’s voice was thick and cracking when he spoke, voice groggy. “Sugar daddy,” was all he said, sitting heavily at the table.
Minhyuk paused, taking another long sip, and then nodding once. Kyung nodded back and settled in to wait for Jiho to get out of the shower. An hour later, they were all sitting in a cafe with dark sunglasses on, nursing hangover remedies and setting up accounts on the site Taeil had sent them.
The mixer was three weeks out when it was brought up for the first time. Taeil urged him to at least take a look, even if he didn’t talk to anyone. At the very least, it gave him something to do, and he was worried that if he was completely inactive on the site, they wouldn’t let him go. (Even Jiho and Kyung were using it, just in case, but it had turned into some kind of bizarre roleplay scenario that none of them were brave enough to ask about.)
Three weeks had seemed like a lot when Minhyuk had been told when it was, and it seemed like it was looming on the horizon, like time was dragging on slowly as the date came closer. Somehow, though, it snuck up on him between work and avoidance. The day of, he flipped through the new account and looked at the twenty seven messages he had never replied to, had been too nervous to get back to, and kicked himself. He should have said something. He should have said anything. Now if any of these people saw him, he looked like a dick when really he had just told himself day after day that he would reply tomorrow when he could think of what to say. Now he was out of tomorrows and he hadn’t thought of anything.
The car pulled up outside of his home and the door popped open, Kyung smiling up at him from the back seat. “Up front or back here with us, Minhyukkie?” he asked.
For a moment, he was torn. He wanted to sit with them, but not feel awkward. Sitting away from all of them, though, sitting with the driver, felt like it would crush him with anxiety. So instead, he nudged Kyung to the side and climbed in, closing the door and looking into the back.
They’d all gone very… them for this event. Minhyuk himself had stressed about clothes for two hours before landing on something he thought would be understated and then instantly decided it was boring. Now he was in tight red pants and a black blazer. The tee dressed it down enough to be appropriate and, he hoped, made it seem like he wasn’t trying too hard. Jiho had done something similar, but softer, with a snapback and rolled sleeves, looser pants and a lighter shirt. He looked like he didn’t care, which made sense because he didn’t. He had no reason to.
Kyung had leaned in again on how small he was, with sleeves to his fingertips and and oversized coat. He looked adorable, soft, and Minhyuk knew that was a trap. Not that he wasn’t adorable or soft, but that he was going to spend the night soaking up attention before “choosing” to go home with Jiho.
In the back seat, Jihoon was, predictably, drowning in Ralph Lauren. A button up shirt, a sweater, shoes. He couldn’t prove it, but he would bet is company that the jeans were Ralph Lauren too. Taeil, meanwhile, had gone literally as casual as he could. A massive hoodie that was yellow enough to stop traffic and jeans that were half destroyed. He didn’t even try to look like he belonged there. He didn’t look like someone who was looking for a partner. Minhyuk couldn’t blame him, but why was he coming if he wasn’t going to try?
The others chatted as they drove. Minhyuk chewed at his nails until Kyung slapped his hands away. “You’re going to be fine,” he said softly, nudging him with his shoulder.
“I know,” he mumbled, and it sounded hollow even to him.
“Hey,” Jiho said, reaching across the back of the seat and giving his shoulder a squeeze. “We’ll be right there. Okay?”
“We’ll help you look,” Kyung offered. “We can wingman.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Taeil piped up, sitting back and scrolling through his phone. “You need to keep the really weird people away from him.”
Jihoon nodded quickly. “I bet lots of people will talk to him, but we should probably make sure nobody is, uh… you know. Pushy.”
Minhyuk nodded again, his stomach twisting as he lifted a hand to chew at his nails again until Kyung slapped it away.
The car pulled to a stop. They had wasted the time on the way, and now he was out of road too. No more tomorrows, no more road, just a room full of people who were literally just interested in his money and his bed.
Kyung reached past him and opened the door, urging him out as Jiho paid the driver and rubbing his arm to try and calm him down. “You’ll feel better once we get some drinks,” he assured him.
Jiho came up to his other side, arm wrapped around Minhyuk’s shoulders. He walked forward, dragging him along to the door and shooting the attendant a smile. Nametags were handed out and Taeil slapped the sticker onto Minhyuk’s jacket a little harder than necessary. With a serious look, he tugged the jacket straight, brushed off his shoulders, placed both small hands on either side of his face. “They’re more nervous than you are,” he said seriously. “This is nerve wracking for everyone.” He reached up, dragged Minhyuk’s face down and planted a kiss on his forehead. “And no matter what, you’re not going home alone because you’ve got us. Okay?”
With several more pats and reassurances, the group of them branched off and spread out in the room. Minhyuk stayed at the doorway for a few seconds, catching his breath and wiping tint from Taeil’s lips from his forehead, even if he wasn’t sure it was there. A waiter passed by, offering him a tray with a glass and he snatched it, downing half in one go. He needed to coat his nerves in something before they began the night.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Jaehyo said, as firmly as he could.
“Then figure out a way to make rent,” Yukwon shot back, earning a scowl from his roommate. He didn’t look up, turning his head back and forth to choose between earrings.
“The black ones,” Jaehyo snapped, flicking the back of his head as he headed to the bathroom.
Yukwon continued to ignore him, although he did put the black earring in on the other side. “I’ll do your hair if you do my make up,” he offered, which received a grunt in return as Jaehyo lined his eyes carefully. He didn’t need make up to be devastating, but it was always a plus when he did it.
Tonight, they were both pulling out all the stops. Lightly lined eyes, tinted lips, smoky shadow on their lids, the barest amount of gel in their hair. Jaehyo had broken out the choker and the blazer, Yukwon settling for a simple black sweater. They didn’t have a lot to dress up with, but they were lucky enough to be pretty in whatever they chose.
“What if this doesn’t work?” Jaehyo asked, a hand on Yukwon’s chin as he tilted his head and dragged the kohl across his lid.
“Then we both get third jobs,” he mumbled, eyes still closed.
Jaehyo huffed, his breath fanning across Yukwon’s face. “Fourth for me.”
“Farming gold isn’t a job, Hyo.”
Another flick landed on Yukwon’s forehead and he flinched back, shooting him a dirty look with one eye finished. The world looked awkward, off center for a moment until he closed his eyes again. “It pays and it keeps me up at night, it’s a job. It buys the fucking groceries.”
“Then why don’t we have any groceries?” he shot back, going quiet as the kohl touched his face again.
Jaehyo finished his eyes quickly and then held out two tubes for him to choose for his lips. “Because we were behind on the electricity bill. What if it does work, but they make us move out?”
“Then we both get third jobs,” Yukwon insisted again, raising a brow. This seemed to settle Jaehyo a little more and he tapped one of the colors without looking. It didn’t matter. Jaehyo knew what would go well with this and he trusted him. The other tube went back into the bag on the counter and he parted his lips to let him apply the first.
“Promise me neither of us is gonna go with a guy who’s, like… mean. Or weird. Or just wants to fuck all the time,” Jaehyo mumbled. He pulled back, rubbing his lips together as though Yukwon needed the cue to know what to do.
He nodded, allowing Jaehyo to clean the edges with a piece of tissue before he stood and traded spots, pushing the taller man down onto the side of the tub and starting to arrange his hair carefully. “Neither of us is going to just suddenly sell ourselves, Jaehyo. This isn’t last resort territory. This is… we’re just trying. Trying one thing, one time.”
“All the guys who have messaged me from this site have been a million years old,” Jaehyo mumbled. “Or weird. Like really weird. Like asked me if they could tie me up weird.”
“You’ve been tied up before,” Yukwon replied dryly. “I remember distinctly that you liked it. I remember losing sleep over how much you liked it. These walls are thin.”
He rolled his eyes, earning a tug to his hair to keep his head still. “Yeah, but I knew that guy. These guys just message me out of the blue and ask. I’m not just gonna let a stranger tie me up because they pay my rent. That’s a level of trust I am not willing to put in them.”
Yukwon pursed his lips, grabbing a little more product and rubbing his fingers together, styling the hair into place. “Yeah, well, now you can tell them to fuck off in person and get drunk on someone else’s dime. At the very least, we can drink for free for a night and then work on money in the morning again, okay? Just. Stop thinking about money for one night and act like we’re just going to meet guys. Okay?”
Jaehyo was silent for a moment, but he nodded, getting up when Yukwon finished and turned to fix his own hair. “We should hurry if we want to catch the bus, then.”
The last of their routine was done quickly, although not record time, since Jaehyo as far as the door before he realized that the shoes he was wearing were dark blue and not black, followed directly by Yukwon making a sudden decision that the belt he had on was wrong. (“Your sweater is so long you can’t even see it, now let’s go .” “Shut up or I’ll smudge your eyeliner.”)
The bus stop, too, was a bit of a walk, but Yukwon felt like he needed that. He felt like he needed a few moments to collect himself. Jaehyo was still a bundle of raw nerves, but he was settling into what they called his customer face, the one that got him tips and won over angry tables at the cafe and the diner. That was probably for the best. He may not be happy, but at least he was less likely to snap at someone. Yukwon, however, didn’t really have a customer face. He stocked shelves at night, away from them, and walked dogs when people were too busy. He didn’t have to interact with customers. He had no context for this.
By the time they reached the mixer, it was well into full swing, although people were still arriving. Some of them were practically glittering, flexing their wealth despite being told specifically that it was a semiformal, somewhat casual event. Others were doing their best in past-season dresses and thrift shop upcycles. (Like they were. Luckily, they were among the ones pulling that look off.)
The attendant at the door greeted them without batting an eye, smiling and handing them name tags once she had checked to be sure they belonged there. Once inside, both of them moved out of the doorway and then halted.
“There’s a lot of people here,” Jaehyo breathed, fidgeting where he stood.
Yukwon nodded, and when he felt his roommate’s shoulder bump into his, he wasn’t sure if it was him seeking the comfort or if Jaehyo had been the one to move closer. He darted a hand out as a waiter passed and snagged two glasses without checking to see what they were. Without looking at one another, they tapped them together and downed them in one go.
“Stay together or divide and conquer?” Jaehyo asked.
Yukwon cut him a look, finding him still looking across the room nervously. Most people seemed to be either roaming alone or pairing off to lean close and murmur charming words. They probably shouldn’t stick together or someone would think they were together. Still, Yukwon couldn’t bring himself to tell Jaehyo to go it alone. He didn’t really want to himself.
“Who will wingman for your dumb ass if I leave you by yourself?” he asked with a smirk.
That was rewarded with a nervous grin in return and Jaehyo dropped their glasses off with a waiter, snagged another two and handed one off. “So what kind of guy are we looking for exactly ?”
Minhyuk was on his third glass now and he was getting a headache despite that. There was a lot of chatter in this room, an a lot of perfume, and a lot of warm bodies. He could step outside, but people were smoking out there and he didn’t want to smell like that. He could excuse himself to the bathroom, but when he was in there before, someone had given him a once over that made him feel exceptionally awkward. He could hide under the table, but he would need at least three more glasses before that felt like a real viable option and not just a possible future.
For now, he was hiding out in the corner, taking a break from small talk and curious hands. At least three people he knew were here, people he knew from work or through connections, and all of them had taken one look at him and then turned away. Like this was a dirty secret. It shouldn’t be, he thought, although he supposed for some people, it was going to be.
He could see Kyung across the room, commanding the attention of three women and a man while Jiho stood nearby, keeping a fond but watchful eye on him as he soaked it up. There was a table where Jihoon had started some kind of drinking game with a pair of strangers who were already holding hands, as if laying claim to one another even as they put their attention elsewhere. That was nice. He liked that. Like a normal fucking couple. Taeil was nowhere to be seen, but Minhyuk expected that was because he was lost in the crowds somewhere, hidden by bodies taller than his own.
Abruptly, the solitude of his corner was interrupted and Minhyuk turned to find a man who was striking, beautiful, with expertly gelled hair and thick black earrings. “Hi, do you mind?” he asked, darting a nervous look out into the crowd again, like he was avoiding someone.
“Not at all,” he replied, shifting to turn a little more toward him and tip his head in greeting. “Minhyuk.”
“Yukwon,” the man said, almost absently. He gave a look back to the crowd, which prompted Minhyuk’s eyes to follow and try to see what he was seeing. He didn’t catch anything of interest. “Sorry, I… There was this guy who I didn’t reply to on the site after a little while and he’s here, and I just really don’t want him to see me.”
Minhyuk raised his brows. “Oh? I mean. Are you okay?”
Yukwon nodded quickly, focusing on him finally and, god, once he had his full attention, he felt like he was never going to move. Just the look nailed him to the floor. “Yeah, I’m fine. He didn’t do anything to me, but he, uh. He was just kind of pushy in the messages and I’m not really into it. Now I’m looking for my friend.”
“Friend?” he repeated. Friend like friends he had brought or friend like someone he had met here? Why did he give a shit what kind of friend? He didn’t. God, he didn’t at all and no one could make him say otherwise.
Relaxing a little and breathing out a huff (from red, red, red lips) Yukwon tilted his head back to the wall and closed his eyes for a moment. “My roommate. He didn’t really want to come and I promised I would stay with him, but then we got separated and I don’t know where he went. He isn’t answering his phone, and I don’t know if that’s very bad or very good.”
“We should hope for very good,” Minhyuk said, scanning the crowd as well, brow furrowed in a little concern. Not that he would be able to pick this friend out. He couldn’t even find someone he did know, much less someone he’s never seen before in his life. “Sorry you had to deal with the pushy guy - or, you know. Almost had to.”
Yukwon shrugged, relaxing a little more against the wall and Minhyuk started to feel a little better that he wasn’t proping this one up alone anymore. Before, when someone walked up and tried to talk to him, it was all wandering eyes and curious questions, but he was finding that he liked how Yukwon barely seemed invested in this as a whole. Like he was already too tired to stay here. “I mean, that’s sort of the nature of dating in general, right? And this is like the high stakes poker of dating. I’m better at poker than dating, but it doesn’t really translate here, unfortunately.”
A laugh bubbled up, startled out of Minhyuk by the weird analogy, and it drew Yukwon’s attention in full, finally, and he grinned back. For the first time since he’d come to hide with him, his sharp eyes flickered over Minhyuk and he was quietly thankful that he had dressed well tonight, glad he had chosen the red pants that hugged his thighs and the blazer pushed up to show his forearms, and the name tag on his chest with the little gold border, denoting him as someone here with money. Yukwon’s shone back up at him with a subtle silver, the other side of the coin. Someone here with something Minhyuk thought was more valuable than what he had to offer. Time. Maybe affection. He found himself really hoping he could win that from the man beside him.
There was a moment, a tense few seconds where neither of them seemed to know what to say, what to do, like they were both waiting for the other to move forward. Minhyuk knew this was what would happen, knew that he was supposed to be good at this, was expected to be in some kind of position of… confidence? Power? But he wasn’t. He felt lost and unsure and a little smitten and he didn’t know what he was supposed to say here.
“So what do you do for a living?” Yukwon finally asked, as though he was reciting from a script, but not in a bad way. More like he was just as lost as Minhyuk and desperately trying to get them both back on track.
“I’m the COO of a record label,” he replied vaguely, but was quietly grateful for the question. “It was a passion project before, something for me and a few friends to work on since the big companies were all shitty. Now we’re the big company, but I’m hoping we’re not shitty.”
A smile passed over Yukwon’s face and he leaned his head on the wall, a little fondly. “I’m sure you’re not shitty. Even saying you hope you’re not kind of put you above a lot of them.”
Before he could stop himself, Minhyuk found himself asking, “What about you?” Quickly, he tried to backtrack. “Not- I mean, not ‘are you shitty’ but what do you do? You don’t have to answer that. I just remembered I’m not supposed to ask that. I’m sorry. You-”
Laughing, Yukwon interrupted, “I walk dogs in the afternoons and I stock shelves at night. It’s kind of shitty, but I don’t think I am.”
A smile pulled at Minhyuk’s face again, relief pouring over him that he hadn’t fucked this up yet. There was still time to do that, but he was really hoping he would run out of that time too.
Jaehyo was going to commit a murder. No one would even blame him, he was sure, because he would just tell them how Yukwon wandered off in this pack of fucking wolves and left him alone here. They would understand.
Normally, Jaehyo could control a crowd easily. He could handle a party of ten looking at him, making several demands at once. He’d fielded a bachelorette party asking him if he would strip for them once, and that had been one hell of a feat, especially considering how drunk they all were.
This, though, this was something else. He was stuck, trapped in the mindset he used for work and therefore repeating be nice be nice be nice over and over in his head while a woman with a lot of perfume and not enough manners kept a tight arm around his waist. His nerves were fraying quickly, and he was feeling raw before and absolutely bloody now.
He cast around one more time, looking for Yukwon, or even someone who looked friendly , and found nothing and no one. Well. He found a lot of someones, but they all seemed to think this was completely normal, the way Jaehyo was tethered to someone’s body, with her pressed against his side.
At another coo over how handsome he was, a hand coming up to toy with the choker, Jaehyo let out a grunt and jerked away. His hand shot up and grabbed hers, pulling it away. “Please let go of me. You really are giving me a headache,” he said firmly.
“That’s no way to talk to someone who’s just trying to help you,” she shot back, looking affronted.
As gently as he could, but much more forcefully than he had been for the past ten minutes, Jaehyo extracted himself from the woman’s hold. He put both hands on her shoulders, stepping back far enough to keep her at arm’s length. “I don’t need help that badly,” he told her firmly, then turned on his heel and ducked into the crowd.
Another waiter passed and Jaehyo snatched a glass from the tray. He was on four, maybe five, and was losing count, but he needed it to soothe the headache and the nerves and pretend he didn’t feel quite so abandoned. He was making his way to a corner when he caught sight of them.
Yukwon was there, tucked into the shadows with someone who was… really, really fucking handsome. Casual enough that he fit what they were supposed to be going for, tailored enough that he looked amazing. He wasn’t flaunting his money the way many here were, but he had a watch on that Jaehyo could tell from here was expensive. More to the point, he looked… nice. Sweet. Smiling soft and dimpled at Yukwon with his hands to himself and his eyes trained firmly on his face.
Yukwon already looked like he was head over heels. He had always fallen hard and fast and the context here didn’t change that. He looked just as soft, maybe more so, leaning on the wall with his head tilted and a smile on his lips. From here, Jaehyo could see how fond he looked, how he was already enamored with this wealthy stranger, and it wasn’t the promise of being able to make rent that urged him to back away. Rent was secondary. Yukwon being happy came first.
He sighed heavily and dragged a hand down his face before he remembered the make up he had probably just smeared and knocked back the rest of his drink.
“You’re going to be full of bad decisions if you keep that up,” a voice said from his left, and he turned to see a tiny man in a yellow hoodie looking up at him. There was a purple tattoo on his neck, huge and probably expensive, and Jaehyo wondered why he was here if he could afford something like that.
“This whole thing was a bad decision,” he mumbled back. He wasn’t really interested in making friends here, but if someone was going to talk to him, he’d rather it be someone on the verge of eviction like he was than someone who was just trying to help .
A laugh broke out and the man moved a little closer, standing beside him and looking out over the room. “What are you here for, then, if it’s such a bad decision?”
Jaehyo sighed again, using the tip of his finger to try and get his liner back into shape. He could go to the bathroom and fix it, but he didn’t want anyone here to feel like they were worth the effort anymore. “Because I love my roommate, even when he abandons me to talk to rich guys who might help us keep our apartment.”
“You came with a roommate?” the man asked, starting to walk. Jaehyo must not have been really thinking, because his feet started moving on their own, following him across the room.
“Came with him,” he sighed, flicking a glance over at Yukwon and his new friend with his gold lined name tag and his soft, dark eyes. “Don’t know if I’ll leave with him now. God, the cab home is going to suck.”
“Where do you live?” the guy asked, taking a seat at a table with a handful of other people who don’t even look up at them. “I’ll split the tab with you. I’m Taeil.”
“Jaehyo.” He sat heavily in a chair, catching a waiter’s sleeve and asking if he can bring water by. It was beyond time for him to get something besides booze in him. He turned back to the table, folding his arms and looking at the short man beside him. On his other side, someone was playing a drinking game with a giggling pair. He had on what looks like a lot of Ralph Lauren, and the man across from him wore several thick gold rings on his fingers. The girl was wearing a simple dress, plain and pretty, and it left her looking lovely. Jaehyo hoped that’s how it would be for Yukwon, smiling with his new beau like they belong together, like it’s genuine.
“Don’t you have someone to go home with too?” he asked, flicking a pointed glance at the man laughing loudly as he failed and then taking a long drink.
Taeil turned around to look at the other man, shrugged, and turned back to Jaehyo. “Eh. We’ll see.” There was a conspiratorial smile on his face, a turn of the lips on his small mouth. “Unless I find someone I want to go home with more.”
Jaehyos’ brow furrowed, head tilting curiously. Surely, he couldn’t mean him, because this whole event was orchestrated for them to pair off in a very specific way, and Jaehyo had nothing to provide for this guy. He barely had anything to provide for himself. Finally, his eyes flicked down, scanning over the eye-bleedingly yellow hoodie and finding no nametag at all. There was nothing to tell him if this Taeil was here under silver or gold borders and Jaehyo felt like he was suddenly standing on sand when he thought he was on stone.
“Where’s your, uh…” he started, cutting off when Taeil grinned wider at him. He frowned in reply.
“Nametags are stupid,” he said flippantly, waving a hand that Jaehyo now realized was also covered in tattoos. What part of this man wasn’t covered in tattoos? “Besides, I’m sort of neither anyway.”
“Sort of neither,” Jaehyo repeated, frowning tighter. “You mean you crashed. You’re not supposed to do that.” He was trying to sound disapproving, trying to sound offended that he would waste his time like this when he was supposed to be finding someone to pay his rent. He was failing, though, and he knew it, because he felt positively giddy that there was someone here who cared so fucking little about it.
Taeil laughed again, smiling brightly, and it drew the attention of the man behind him a little. “I’m here for moral support,” he told Jaehyo.
“Is that why you didn’t even bother to dress up? You look like you’re about to get on a school bus.” Maybe he was a little drunk, but the way Taeil’s eyes sparked up in amusement when he insulted him made him smile.
“For someone who thinks this is a waste of time, you dressed up an awful lot yourself,” Taeil replied.
Jaehyo rolled his eyes, taking the glass of water that comes back to him and sipping at it. “That was pathetic. That was the saddest attempt at sass I’ve ever heard in my life. I was really expecting better of you.”
Another laugh and Taeil leaned forward a little, his eyes sparking with something a little like mischief and a lot like interest. Jaehyo knew already, deep in his gut, that he would regret challenging him on that, but it was already done and he was feeling loose with liquor and pleasantly familiar with this stranger. Something about the light teasing put him at ease more than any cloying sweetness could.
“Taeil-hyung,” the man behind him says, his voice deep enough to go straight down Jaehyo’s spine. He smiled over his shoulder, the game over, and Jaehyo noted how polar opposite they are. He looked sweet and soft and young where Taeil is a little menacing, the only young thing about him his stature. He was big where Taeil is tiny. He was neatly put together in designer brands while Taeil was wearing a hoodie several sizes too big, splattered with color and ink and art everywhere his skin shows. “Who is your friend?”
“This is Jaehyo,” Taeil replied easily, waving a hand forward as he sat back. “Jaehyo, this is Jihoon.”
Jihoon offered a smile, wobbly and cute with eyes that sparkled. Was that from the drinking game or was he always like that? Jaehyo couldn’t say, but he figured the flush was from the first, at the very least. He reached out, long arm passing Taeil and offering Jaehyo a big hand to shake. When he grasped it, Jaehyo felt like he was going to come out of his seat with the force of his ‘nice to meet you.’
“So you two are…?”
“Taeil and Jihoon, yes, that is our names,” Taeil nodded, as though Jaehyo was going to ask for their names again. He tried to correct it, but he was interrupted abruptly by a casual wave of his hand. “Did you notice there’s no food here? It sucks. Do you want to leave?”
“I could leave,” Jihoon said with a nod, turning to Jaehyo. He gave him a smile, and expectant look. It was a clear invitation, but Jaehyo suddenly felt like he’d been led into a trap, with a cute boy and tattoos as bait.
Casting around, he looked for Yukwon again, only to find that he had moved to a table and was fully engrossed in conversation. He was talking about dogs now. Jaehyo could tell from far away, by the animated look and the way he waved his hands. Shit. “I, uh, I should really wait for my friend,” he said carefully.
“You said your friend probably found someone to go home with,” Taeil countered, getting to his feet. Jihoon stood as well and then he was moving forward, offering Jaehyo a hand. “Come on. There’s a place not far from here that’s open all night and they serve really good bibimbap.”
He frowned again, looking between the two of them. Moral support, Taeil had said, which led Jaehyo to think that maybe he was there are moral support for Jihoon, who was now looking at him with soft, curious eyes and offering him his hand. He felt like a commodity, a prize Taeil had won to be passed off.
“I should really go home,” Jaehyo tried again, in direct opposition to what he had just said. Disappointment flashed over Taeil’s face quickly, there and gone, while Jihoon’s stayed passively curious, pleasant. “I mean, I just… I don’t know. If I should.”
Jihoon turned to Taeil, pausing only when he caught his look, and cocked his head curiously. There was an odd, awkward moment before he turned back to his seat and plopped down. “Okay. We can stay here then.”
“You don’t have to stay here,” Jaehyo countered, shaking his head again.
Another wobbly smile, wide and open and friendly, as Jihoon nodded. “Well, yeah, but neither do you and you still are. Besides, we only came here for moral support, so we can leave now or later or whenever. Right, hyung?”
Taeil nodded, taking his seat again. His expression was back to neutral, but mischievous, and Jaehyo wondered if that was just his default. “Yeah, the one who needed it seems to be doing okay now.”
It took a few moments for Jaehyo to connect that the moral support wasn’t from Taeil for Jihoon. They were both here for that. On the heels of that, he caught Jihoon’s hand on Taeil’s knee, caught the little rim of gold around Jihoon’s name tag, and then a second name tag slapped to his arm with a little gold border, bearing the name Taeil like a mark of ownership more than a signifier.
“Are you… are you both trying to-?” he started, but cut himself off when Taeil grinned at him again.
“I mean, we came here for moral support, but we are more than happy to help with any bad decisions you want help making or not making,” the man offered, and under the teasing of it, he looked almost a little hopeful. Like there was genuine interest.
Jaehyo looked at Taeil, then up at Jihoon, who was as open and friendly as could be. Pleasant. Happy. A little drunk. “Are you… okay with that?” he asked, brow furrowing down, and he didn’t realize that he should probably ask himself if he was okay with it first.
He beamed, letting out the booming laugh Jaehyo had been hearing all night without knowing where it was coming from. This close, and this tipsy, it felt like it warmed him a little. “If we’re going to be interested in someone else, we’re going to do it together,” he explained, then reached out a hand again, looking ready to stand up. “You sure you don’t want to go ge something to eat?”
Jaehyo hesitated, frowning, looking over at where Yukwon was still talking about dogs, where the man across from him looked like he could happily allow himself to be stabbed if it meant he could keep listening, where people in clothes that cost more than he made in a week flirted with disingenuous 20-somethings.
“Just a dinner,” Jihoon assured him. “And a ride home when you’re done.”
“And if you have fun,” Taeil continued, once Jaehyo was looking at them again. “We can go from there.”
His brain was still a little fuzzy with stress, smoothed over with wine and cider and beer. His head still hurt from perfume. His feet still hurt from working a full shift this morning. He was tired. But Jaehyo was a man of bad decisions, so he reached out and put his hand in Jihoon’s and tried not to feel pleased when Taeil slipped an arm around his waist on the way out the door. He was in the car on the way to the diner before he remembered he had a phone. Eight texts from Yukwon flashed up at him, but he sent a quick couple back to keep him from worrying more.
Leaving with some friends(?) Have a good night and be safe xoxo
Dimples is cute. I approve.