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Why the hell was there someone behind the bar?

It was thirty minutes before The Crow’s Nest opened, so no one should have been inside -- in the front, at least. But this tall guy didn’t look like one of the cooks from the back getting a little cheeky and checking out his liquor stash at the bar. Wonwoo had never seen this boy before. The kid looked like he was barely old enough to be in a bar, much less Wonwoo’s bar, with bottles and glasses stacked precariously along practically all the shelves. He was just lucky he remembered to lock up his special cabinet last night with a strong lock charm because, honestly? This kid could be anybody.

“Yo!” Wonwoo shouted, startling the other boy. The intruder promptly pivoted around, knocking over one of the beer glasses that had been straddling the edge of the lower shelf. Now with two major problems on his hands, the kid’s head quickly darted up and down, presumably looking at all the shattered glass behind the bar and at Wonwoo at the door, seemingly unsure of what to do next. Wonwoo had half a mind to light a fire charm under this kid’s ass, but, then again, he had no idea of what this boy was capable of or what his powers were. So far his only special power seemed to be acting like a total and complete klutz. Wonwoo took the precautionary measure of snapping his fingers behind his back, locking all of the liquor and glasses behind an invisible shield. He snapped his fingers again to lock the front door behind him just in case this got messy.

Maybe this kid was just a nonmagic who somehow broke in… Wonwoo didn’t want to be too obvious about The Crow’s Nest catering to a special clientele.

“Hi, um, I’m sorry about that, I’m Mingyu,” the other boy rambled, awkwardly waving with a strained smile.

“You’re trespassing,” Wonwoo dryly replied, stepping a little closer to the bar. He was a little less on-edge because it didn’t seem like the kid -- Mingyu -- was trying to outright steal stuff. Still, one could never be too careful, especially when thinking about just how much rare and priceless shit he had back there. And he wasn’t even thinking about the liquor.

“Oh, um, actually I’m not?”

Wonwoo cocked one of his eyebrows. “You’re not?” he asked.

“No, you see, I’m actually the new assistant bartender. I’m, uh, looking for Jeon Wonwoo, the head bartender?”

“An assistant?” Wonwoo grimaced. “I don’t need an assistant.” Certainly not an assistant like you, he almost added. “A barback, maybe.”

Wonwoo started walking toward the bar, ready to resolve this… this misunderstanding quickly and make it clear to the management that he did not need an assistant, no matter how busy the bar got. What he didn’t have time for was training some newbie how to do everything -- if that’s even who this Mingyu person was. He wouldn’t put it past some of the magic world’s more unsavory characters to pose as a nobody to get access to a potion master’s stock of ingredients. He heard countless stories from his old mentor about heists targeting other potion masters, but Wonwoo had figured he’d be safe in a bar, he’d be safe under the guise of a mixologist. Or so he thought.

“They, uh, said you might be like this and that I should bring my employment contract,” Mingyu muttered, unfurling a roll of parchment that he had put down on the bar counter. Wonwoo cautiously worked his way over to Mingyu, snatching the contract from his hands; he carefully read the cursive prose outlining the terms of Mingyu’s employment, the fact that Jeon Wonwoo was his sole and primary supervisor and that the small employee classification table listed Mingyu as NM.

Non-magic.

Wonwoo sighed. Why the hell would they hire a nonmagic to work at a magic’s bar? There were a fair number of nonmagics who frequented The Crow’s Nest, but the place had all the facets of a neighborhood bar, a place that only someone from the neighborhood would know existed. Not a place that some random nonmagic would wander into and find a job. But who was he to question the owner’s dumb decisions? No, in traditional Wonwoo fashion, he was going to silently stew about it.

He looked back up at the boy, who was eagerly waiting for Wonwoo’s reaction. Wonwoo studied his features now that they were standing closer to each other, only the bar separating the two of them. It was obvious that Mingyu was a little bit taller than him, but not by much. Only Junhui rivaled Wonwoo in height, but Mingyu was definitely taller. Not only that, but Mingyu looked like he worked out at least a few times a week, and had a broad build that was only betrayed by his youthful facial features. He really couldn’t be much above the legal age to even enter a place like The Crow’s Nest, yet here he was. Wonwoo already didn't like this.

Fine,” Wonwoo acquiesced, passing Mingyu’s contract back over to him. “But you must do exactly as I tell you. Understood?”

Mingyu awkwardly smiled and nodded.

He motioned toward the ground behind the bar. “The first thing you need to do is clean up. The broom and dustpan are just inside the kitchen,” Wonwoo explained, pointing at the nondescript swinging door near the back.

Of course they hired a dumbass who breaks something within five minutes of starting. Wonwoo massaged his temples, trying to run through all the things he’d have to do to make sure that a nonmagic like Mingyu wouldn’t accidentally discover something he wasn’t supposed to see at the bar. Not only was Wonwoo going to have to be even more discreet about casting charms and spells, but Mingyu was in no way ever supposed to know about the secret tap menu, and Mingyu was only going to be taught the “normal” drinks. No magical weeds or herbs or essences or nectars; only the usual liquors, fruits, and mixers. Wonwoo already had a charm on his special potion-making ingredients, making them invisible to anybody but him.

Maybe he needed to cast some protective charms on all the glasses, too.

Mingyu promptly returned with the broom and dustpan, walking back behind the bar again and sweeping up the bits of glass he had shattered everywhere. Wonwoo threw his messenger bag behind the bar and into a cubby he had cleared out when he started a few years ago. He then turned his attention back to the rather large problem, which was currently crouched over the glass danger zone behind the bar. Wonwoo could’ve solved the broken glass so much more quickly, but, alas, no magic allowed in front of nonmagics. Which brought his attention back to the main question that had been bothering him...

“So… how did you even find this job?”

“The newspaper,” Mingyu quickly replied, diligently sweeping up after himself. Wonwoo was a little surprised by the response. This kid reads the newspaper?

Wonwoo stepped back around to the patron’s side of the bar so that Mingyu had an angle to get to the trash can. “You’re joking, right?” he doubtfully muttered.

Mingyu hesitated for a moment, probably trying to figure out why Wonwoo was so perturbed by the newspaper. He still couldn’t really believe that Mingyu just stumbled across this job that Wonwoo didn’t even know existed. “Oh, my parents saw it in the classifieds. I don’t read the newspaper, if that’s what you’re curious about.”

Mingyu’s response eased some of his concerns; it made a little more sense. Even if the whole let’s-put-a-help-wanted-in-a-nonmagic-newspaper thing still perplexed him.

“Fair enough,” Wonwoo accepted. “Well, you’re definitely not gonna make, carry, or touch any drinks going to paying customers tonight. But --"

“-- Not even if it’s a water?”

Mingyu had finished sweeping up the glass and was now looking at him expectantly. Wonwoo cocked the same eyebrow as before, thinking about whether the clumsiness was a one-off thing or a pattern. And, well… to be honest, if he couldn’t trust the new kid with a glass of water, then he was never gonna bartend anything. Wonwoo sighed.

Fine, if it’s a water or soda or whatever, you can do it.”

Mingyu pumped his fist a little, like he’d won something much better than the ability to pour glasses of water at his new job.

“Don’t make me regret that,” Wonwoo added, rolling his eyes when Mingyu almost knocked over another glass. “The alcohol is absolutely off-limits tonight, though.”

“Gotcha.”

“And I swear to god if you so much as breathe near any of the vodka, I will actually light a fire under your ass this time.”

“Oh -- feisty,” Mingyu teased. Wonwoo quickly shot a death-glare Mingyu’s direction that shut his new assistant up. It hadn’t even been five seconds after Wonwoo gave Mingyu one iota of trust, and he was already regretting it.

He may not have been able to actually light a fire under Mingyu’s ass without giving away his powers, but he sure as hell wasn’t gonna let Mingyu mess with him like that without some sort of punishment.

Maybe he’d make his shoes squeak all night.

***

“It’s like raising a small child,” Wonwoo contemptuously stewed.

It hadn’t even been an hour and he was already sick of Mingyu and his… his… everything. So much so that he resorted to complaining to Jeonghan , who had little empathy, a big fat mouth, and an even bigger crush on Joshua. The blonde-haired boy absentmindedly stirred his Magic on the Beach, submerging the star-shaped floater that Wonwoo had special-ordered just for making this drink.

“So you don’t want children?” Jeonghan nonchalantly replied, clearly not grasping the gravity of Wonwoo’s problem. No, Jeonghan seemed more focused on something else -- someone else -- to care much about what he was saying.

Wonwoo shook his head. “Listen, if you stop watching the door and hear me out, I’ll make Boy Crush Wonder’s drink even stronger than usual when he gets here.”

Jeonghan looked like he was about to say something snarky before exhaling and nodding a little.

“Uh, Wonwoo?” a deeper-sounding voice interrupted. Wonwoo turned to find his current headache awkwardly hovering next to him and Jeonghan. “Where do these glasses go?”

He sighed in response. “First of all, those are flutes, you uncultured swine. They’re for champagne. You can put those in the back tonight, we probably won’t need them.”

Mingyu frowned at the insult then nodded, heading straight toward the door to the kitchen. There was something just a little bit cute about the way Mingyu wore all his emotions on his sleeve, how he was exactly the opposite of Wonwoo.

Wash them out, first!

The taller boy switched directions mid-stride, nearly knocking over an empty beer bottle behind the bar. Wonwoo quickly buried his face into his palm after Mingyu shot him a dopey-looking apologetic smile.

“He seems to be a rather large child, actually,” Jeonghan blithely commented, taking another sip of his fruity handcrafted drink. The thought of spiking Jeonghan’s drink with an attitude-adjusting draught seemed to cross his mind every night, before remembering that Jeonghan, like most magics, was immune to most potions unless given in highly concentrated doses. And, frankly, was Jeonghan really worth it?

The point is,” Wonwoo continued, “I have never, will never, and do not ever need an assistant. Especially a clumsy nonmagic who can barely make it five minutes without breaking something.”

“Don’t need one or don’t want one?” Jeonghan challenged.

Maybe spiking his drink was worth it.

He wondered how The Crow’s Nest somehow attracted the most annoying clientele. Between Jeonghan constantly buying drinks for Joshua and Chan constantly buying drinks for himself that neither of them could actually handle, Wonwoo seemed to have a constant headache from opening to close. With Jeonghan getting here right at opening, today was shaping up to a be an extra strong headache.

“Listen, Wonwoo,” Jeonghan started, leaning back in his bar stool to size Wonwoo up. “You may not want an assistant, but I also don’t want to wait twenty minutes for a drink, like I did last night.”

Wonwoo frowned. “It wasn’t even a drink for you, it was a drink for --”

“-- It doesn’t matter who the drink was for,” Jeonghan hastily interrupted, this time leaning forward. “What matters is that if you can get someone to take care of the nonmagics’ drinks, why not seize that opportunity? Why not get Mingdoo --”

“-- Mingyu.”

“-- Mingyu, or whatever, to make them. If it requires two weeks of dealing with an actual child, of babysitting a big baby, to get him up to speed, then just do it and get it over with.”

Jeonghan took another sip of his Magic on the Beach while Wonwoo crossed his arms.

Maybe he was right. He had already showed Mingyu how to clean glasses and where to put at least a few of them. The klutz seemed pretty adept at picking up the basics of wiping things down and working in a cramped space, even after the glass disaster earlier. He was on top of waters and other non-alcoholic drinks for the first hour -- something Wonwoo never had time for unless he was directly asked. Maybe it wasn’t all bad.

“Then we can get back to more important problems. Like my problems.”

Wonwoo wondered if it was possible to roll his eyes out of their sockets.

“I am not making you a love potion to use on Joshua.”

“I know, you’ve told me, like, thirteen times,” Jeonghan dismissed, stirring his drink some more. “I think I’m gonna try the old-fashioned nonmagic way now.”

“You? Without magic?” Wonwoo practically sneered in response. “Am I hearing the master of sleights, the master of all cheap parlor tricks himself admit that he doesn’t have the magical chops to win over a softie like Joshua Hong?”

This time Jeonghan shot him a death-glare. “Don’t look now because there’s a glass right next to the edge of the bar where your quote-unquote ‘actual child’ is gonna come back from. I wonder if he’ll knock it over?”

Jeonghan smirked while Wonwoo looked over his shoulder and immediately locked-on to the glass that Jeonghan planted precariously on the edge of the counter. Wonwoo shook his head and nudged it back a little from the other side of the bar, hoping none of the non-magics noticed the ghostly sliding glass.

“Cute.”

“Almost as cute as me stealing your towel while you weren’t looking?” Jeonghan replied, holding up Wonwoo’s white towelette from across the counter.

Wonwoo reached over the bar and snatched it out of Jeonghan’s hand, folding it into his pocket. “Maybe this is why Joshua doesn’t like your parlor tricks,” he grumbled.

“Or maybe there’s something romantic about wooing someone without the conveniences of magic? Not that your silly little love potion would actually work~” the older boy pointedly lilted, earning another glare from Wonwoo. “Besides, I’ll be quite happy when I’m getting laid with a certain someone and you’re still forever alone with your apothecary of medicinal shrubs, Wonwoo.”

“Those shrubs are worth more than --”

“-- Wonwoo?”

What! ” Wonwoo shouted, pivoting around to find Mingyu staring at him expectantly. The nonmagic looked rather startled, jumping a little by the force of Wonwoo’s usually-soft voice. “Um, sorry about that, I was a little surprised.”

“You and me both,” Mingyu demurred, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. “So, uh, I put away the glasses and cleaned up the other side of the bar. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Oh, you did?”

Mingyu nodded.

“Oi, bartender,” Jeonghan interjected. “I’ll take a Magic on the Beach for the gentleman with pink hair who just walked in.”

“Pink?” Wonwoo interrogated. “It was mint yesterday…”

“He dyed it that quickly?” Mingyu added.

“Uh, yeah,” Wonwoo lied. “Dyed it.”

It definitely wasn’t some sort of weird magical trait that Joshua had somehow lived with for his entire life -- his hair seemed to change color every few days, sometimes every day; Joshua swore he had no control over it, but Wonwoo was pretty sure he was lying. For instance, he always went to pink when he wanted to innocently flirt with Jeonghan.

“Bartend, Magic on the Beach? Remember our deal.”

“Right,” Wonwoo acceded, pulling out a highball glass from behind the bar. “Mingyu, wanna watch?”

“Sure.”

Wonwoo curtly nodded, moving over to give Mingyu some space to spectate. “Magic on the Beach has four ingredients. Vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and orange juice -- in that order.”

He pulled out a bottle of house vodka and the bottle of peach schnapps from one end of the bar: “The alcoholic stuff is in the middle of the bar, and the mixers are on each end.”

“First, you’ll wanna add ice to the glass, maybe about one-third, halfway up? Add equal parts peach schnapps and vodka to the halfway mark, then equal parts orange juice and cranberry juice the rest of the way up. Since this drink is extra strong, we’ll add the alcohol up two-thirds of the way. Once everything’s in, we’ll stir with this cocktail spoon.”

Mingyu watched intently as Wonwoo poured in all the different mixers and alcohols until the drink was perfectly topped off, stirring it and then dropping a star-shaped floater in along with a straw. “Add the floater last.”

Wonwoo then ferried the drink over toward the end of the bar where Joshua had taken a seat, sliding the drink in front of him. “Already?” Joshua whispered, earning a nearly unnoticeable nod from the bartender. It wasn’t unusual for Jeonghan to order drinks for Joshua -- it was unusual for him to order drinks for Joshua this early in the night.

“This one’s from the blonde-haired gentleman down there,” Wonwoo said a little more loudly, motioning down toward Jeonghan.

“Oh, which one?” Joshua asked, pretending not to see Jeonghan. “That one?”

Joshua was pointing off toward some random bleach-blonde dude sitting at a table near the bar, causing Jeonghan to promptly frown and look entirely disgruntled with his first pass at nonmagic flirting.

“Am I missing something here?” Mingyu asked, glancing down the bar toward Jeonghan and then back over at Wonwoo.

“Nothing you wanna be a part of…” Wonwoo trailed off, looking up toward the ceiling then out toward the window. “Is that white cat still out there? Tell me you’ve seen that cat loitering around the window, Mingyu.”

Wonwoo motioned toward the window off near the corner of the bar. There had been a small white cat pacing in front of the window for what felt like two hours, taking small breaks to knead, briefly nap, or stare through the window at the bar. It was starting to freak him out.

“Uh, probably just a stray,” Mingyu sheepishly answered. “I need to, uh, go to the bathroom real quick.”

Before Wonwoo could reply, Mingyu had bolted down the bar, heading straight toward the restroom. Wonwoo shook his head, looking over at a confused Joshua.

“New hire. Nonmagic.”

“Hmm,” the pink-haired boy ruminated. “How different.”

“I’m a little skeptical myself,” Wonwoo continued. “ Too skeptical.”

Wonwoo started whipping up another Magic on the Beach -- this time, for Mingyu. His cover story? As a new bartender, Mingyu needed to know the drinks on the menu. But his real reason was that he needed to know if his assistant was actually a nonmagic. He usually didn’t make potions during business hours, but he needed to know, and he needed to know right now, especially if Mingyu’s disappearing act was anything to read into. Wonwoo ducked behind the bar, crouching down to find his hidden ingredients, gathering the two he needed. He quickly combined a small pinch of nightshade powder and a drop of death cap juice in a mini-beaker ethanol and mixed the two together. Wonwoo snapped his fingers, boiling the ethanol for seven seconds before snapping his fingers again to stop the reaction. He quickly poured the ethanol into a highball glass with some vodka, adding cranberry and orange juice as usual. Finally, he put the special ingredients back and reappeared to find Joshua eyeing him warily.

“My guess is that I don’t want to drink that.”

“If you’re a magic, it’ll stop all of your powers and charms that you might currently be using and probably make you vomit. A nonmagic will just feel queasy for about a day. A strong Magic Reveal Potion.”

“Gross,” Joshua lisped, taking a sip of his extra-strong cocktail.

Wonwoo sighed. He really wanted to believe that Mingyu was telling the truth. But Mingyu… well, Mingyu seemed too friendly, too eager for the job. He showed up extra early and broke just enough things to seem benign. Wonwoo worried that Mingyu was trying to play him.

“Bartend, another Zombie please.”

He looked up across the bar. His eyes narrowed. “No, Chan, three’s your limit,” Wonwoo denied, grabbing an empty glass to fill with some water. Chan pouted, but Wonwoo just shoved the water in his general direction, insisting that he take it. The younger boy’s depressed hiccuping as he sauntered away only reinforced Wonwoo’s notion that three of anything was definitely Chan’s limit.

Three brain cells, for sure.

Mingyu returned a few moments later, smiling amicably at Joshua and Wonwoo before looking down at the new drink on the bar in front of Wonwoo -- “what’s that?” he asked.

“If you’re going to make the drinks, you need to know what they’re supposed to taste like,” Wonwoo quickly answered, picking the drink up and handing it to the new bartender.

The taller boy smiled. “The only job where I get to drink on the clock,” he replied, taking a sip.

Wonwoo waited for something to happen, but, when nothing did, he slouched a little. This draught was supposed to work instantly. Either Mingyu truly was a nonmagic, or he was an especially adept magic who could evade even the strongest charms and potions designed to reveal his powers.

When Mingyu nearly tripped walking back toward the other end of the bar, Wonwoo decided it had to be the former.

***

It was well past midnight when Wonwoo got off his shift, so naturally he headed to the only bookstore that was open at one in the morning.

Lucky Charms.

Apparently it was a common nonmagic cereal? But it was banned amongst the magics by a parliamentary act twenty years ago. Something about Lucky Charms being a derisive and racist breakfast cereal against leprechauns. A cheeky name for the nonmagics, though, as the bookstore was always busy.

Wonwoo enjoyed the much quieter restricted section -- restricted because nonmagics didn’t know it existed and couldn’t enter it even if they tried. Junhui and Minghao truly were masterful when planning this bookstore, thinking of everything. Unfortunately for Wonwoo, Junhui and Minghao were just a little bit too much for him in more ways than one.

“All black again?” Junhui lilted, getting Wonwoo to stop near the main register in the non-restricted section. Junhui motioned with his eyes, his gaze darting up and down Wonwoo’s entirely black outfit: black skinny jeans, a black T-shirt, black boots. An entire ensemble of black.

Not like his soul, he just liked black, damnit.

“Not all of us can wear pastel pink everyday, Junhui.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“I don’t want your attitude,” Wonwoo quickly countered, rolling his eyes.

“Hmmph,” Junhui challenged, crossing his arms. “Minghao, someone’s a little glum today.”

Just then, Junhui’s slender boyfriend stepped out from one of the rows of bookshelves, joining the two others at the front of the shop. It was late, so there was practically nobody else there, especially so on a Tuesday night. No amount of Junhui and Minghao spicing up the magic section of the bookstore with annoying charms could woo a late-night bookstore-roaming clientele on Tuesday past midnight. 

“Wonwoo? You know we close in five minutes, right,” Minghao muttered, shaking his head a little. His black mullet followed his head motions, bangs getting a little messy.

“As your favorite customer, you’ll let me stay, though?” Wonwoo suggested, motioning toward the restricted section.

“You mean our favorite window shopper,” Minghao sassed, rolling his eyes and darting back into another aisle to reshelf a book.

After Minghao had disappeared out of earshot, Junhui turned his attention back to Wonwoo. “You look like you’ve had a bad day, so of course you can stick around for a while.”

“Thanks,” Wonwoo murmured, walking toward the pass-through wall to get to the restricted section.

“Ooooooooooon the condition that you tell me why your day was bad,” Junhui continued, following him into the other half of the bookstore. “Minghao, close up, will you? I’ll be talking to Wonwoo.”

After an annoyed-sounding grunt from Minghao, the two of them passed into the other half of the store, a cadre of enchanted marbles flying over Wonwoo’s head. “One marble wasn’t enough?” he pointedly asked, looking back at Junhui and his stupid grin.

“There’s no such thing as too many marbles!” Junhui exclaimed.

“You’re actually five years old.”

Junhui followed him as he wandered down one of the aisles, ignoring the charmed trinkets moving on their own and the grimoires leaping within the shelves. “And you’re gonna tell me what happened today,” Junhui continued.

Wonwoo sighed, quickly playing out his options in his head. On one hand, he could try to ignore Junhui for the next thirty minutes and never hear the end of Junhui’s whining. On the other, he could swallow his pride and actually say what happened, hoping to get it over with as soon as possible. He wouldn’t even bother trying to lie -- Junhui’s specialty was detecting lies, which, in combination with his personality, made him especially difficult to deal with sometimes. Even if Wonwoo probably needed to tell the truth more than he actually did.

“The Nest hired a new bartender, and I have to train him.”

Junhui clasped his hands and jumped a little. “Oooo, how exciting!~” he sing-songed. “Is he cute?”

“He’s a nonmagic, and a little clumsy.” Wonwoo kept pressing toward the back of the bookstore, looking for a quiet place to unwind and read one of the books he bought last week. He also hoped that Junhui would drop the cute thing if he kept the conversation moving without addressing it.

“Wonwoo.”

“He picked up on things fast, though, so I wondered if he was lying about the nonmagic thing. I slipped him a Magic Reveal Potion, but it didn’t do anything.”

“Wonwoo,” Junhui repeated.

“Joshua played more hard-to-get while Jeonghan played more hardball. Nonmagic hardball this time, though.”

Wonwoo,” Junhui demanded. “Is he cute?”

Wonwoo sighed.

Yes.”

Chapter Text

The walk home after work seemed as good a time as any for Mingyu to rehash everything that had happened during his first shift. Well, his brain was going to do that either way, whether he wanted it to or not, apparently.

As he meandered down empty streets and past dark shopping centers, Mingyu recapped the whole evening to himself, really honing in on the parts that mattered the most. Number one: the universe gave him Wonwoo as a boss. It would be fine if Wonwoo was just cute. Which he was. Like, unbelievably so. But, Wonwoo was also testy, and standoffish, and Mingyu didn’t really know why. Usually, everyone liked Mingyu, almost immediately. He wasn’t one to brag, but Mingyu was a likable guy! He tried his best to be friendly and positive at all times, and it seemed to do the trick of bringing him friends and acquaintances wherever he went.

But Wonwoo? Wonwoo seemed… almost suspicious of Mingyu, and that was something Mingyu’d never had to deal with before. Turning onto his street, finally, Mingyu frowned. He hated the idea of his employer disliking him, especially since he had no idea what he’d done to cause it. He’d just have to try harder tomorrow, Mingyu figured. He’d be the Ultra Super Mingyu. More Mingyu than he’d ever Mingyu-d. That was really his only idea, so. It had to work.

Mingyu climbed the few steps to his front door, grimacing, one hand floating to his stomach on its own. Ugh. He just hoped he felt better tomorrow for all that Super Mingyu-ing, because suddenly, his stomach was killing him. It was like half-nausea, half-cramps, and it had been building up slowly that way since he’d tasted the drink Wonwoo made for him during his training. The drink had tasted fine, so Mingyu didn’t really know why he felt like shit. Hopefully, the tolerance he’d spent years of partying building up hadn't decided to abandon him, just when he’d gotten a new job at a bar. That would be highly inconvenient.

The front door was open, and Mingyu silently praised whichever one of his roommates remembered to leave it unlocked for him, because he didn’t exactly have the energy or brainpower left to fumble for his keys and figure out which one he needed in his current state, which was three parts exhaustion and one part bellyache. He stepped inside the house, leaving his shoes in the pile by the front door, and then, before he could even call out for his roommates, he found them.

Seokmin and Soonyoung came barreling into the hallway, hot on each others’ heels. Mingyu frowned. It had to be past one in the morning by now, and usually both the guys he lived with were asleep at this time of night, so they could get up early and go to their normal, daytime jobs.

“Oh, thank god, you’re finally home,” Soonyoung exclaimed when he skidded to a stop in front of Mingyu. “Will you please tell Shitmin here that pistachio peanut butter is a perfectly good and interesting idea for an ice cream flavor, unlike all his ideas, which are boring and typical??” Soonyoung demanded. Behind him, Seokmin rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest and giving Mingyu a significant Look. When Mingyu glanced back at Soonyoung, he was doing basically the same thing, and this was honestly how it always went. The three of them had been friends for years, and for all of those years, it had been Seokmin vs. Soonyoung, with Mingyu unwillingly caught in the middle. The Eternal Tiebreaker.

Usually, Mingyu tended to side with Seokmin, both because he was almost always more rational and logical than Soonyoung, and also because as the two resident nonmagics of the house, they had to stick together, Mingyu felt. He didn’t know why, because Soonyoung rarely made his magic into an issue when they were all together, but, y’know. Solidarity, or whatever. Also, Soonyoung tended to really tip the crazy scales when he wanted to. Like right now, apparently. It only took a second’s glance for Mingyu to ascertain that Soonyoung was probably being way more intense about this whole ice cream debate than it warranted, because he could see Soonyoung’s normally brown eyes intermittently flashing purple, and purple Soonyoung was Angry Soonyoung.

Mingyu fought back the rapidly amplifying pain in his stomach and attempted to access the three brain cells he had left to think about what Soonyoung had said. It was important, after all. When they’d made a pact two years ago to work hard and save as much as they could as fast as they could, so they could open their own ice cream shop and never have to work for any horrible (or horribly cute, in Mingyu’s case) bosses ever again in their lives, the three best friends had also made an agreement to hear out each other’s opinions and take them seriously, before making decisions using a majority rules method.

Soonyoung occasionally (all the time) made it very difficult to take his opinions seriously.

Mingyu winced as a particularly bad cramp hit his guts. “Soonyoung,” he started shakily, “Not that I really have time for this right now, but… pistachio peanut butter sounds fucking awful, okay? Okay?” Mingyu added the extra “okay” just because, because sometimes it took that extra “okay” to get things through Soonyoung’s thick skull.

Soonyoung dialed it back approximately four percent, leaning forward a little to examine Mingyu with an at least partially worried look. “Dude, are you alright? You don’t look so good,” Soonyoung stated, as if that weren’t already glaringly obvious. Seokmin, although he hadn’t been nearly as much of a problem as Soonyoung (he never was), looked concerned as well, and Mingyu was halfway grateful for his current health issues, if they were going to help unite the household instead of tearing it apart, at least.

Mingyu leaned against the nearest wall, wiping the sweat off his forehead. When had he started sweating? “Not really. Uh. My boss is super hot and he also, like, super hates me, and I think he might have poisoned one of the drinks I learned how to make, like, I don’t feel so good, at all, my stomach feels like it’s trying to fall out of my ass and what if he hates me that much that he literally tried to kill me and it’s only been one night, and, and, Jihoon--”

He’d been babbling so long, so nonsensically, that Mingyu hadn’t even noticed Sooyoung and Seokmin team up to push him down the hall and into his bedroom, changing him into his pajamas and all but tucking him into bed by the time he shut up, and then they were both standing over Mingyu and his blankets were pulled up to his ears and that was basically the only reason he stopped babbling. Smart. Smart roommates. Nice friends, Mingyu thought sleepily. Next to his bed, Soonyoung whispered a Good Dreams charm. Mingyu's eyes were starting to droop shut on their own, and the last thing he heard before he fell asleep were Soonyoung and Seokmin, their voices fading slowly as Mingyu drifted off.

“Get some sleep, man. We’ll reopen the pistachio peanut butter issue tomorrow,” Soonyoung reassured him.

“Don’t worry, Mingyu. We definitely won’t,” Seokmin answered.

“Hey, Shitmin?”

“Yes?”

“Die in a fire.”

“Love you too, Soonyoung.”

*

Luckily, when Mingyu woke up the next morning (afternoon? It was hard to tell), it was as if he’d never felt sick, the night before. In fact, he felt great. Today was definitely a day for Super Ultra Mingyu, and he was going to take full advantage of his elevated state of being.

Ultra Mingyu had a great first hour of his shift.

He made drinks left and right. He didn’t drop any glasses or bump into anything or generally make an ass of himself with his own clumsiness.

He got along great with every customer he served, making conversation and making acquaintances, doing what he did best.

He had all that going for him, so, why, why was Wonwoo still looking at him like he was the Antichrist??

Seriously. For that entire first hour, while Mingyu actually worked, Wonwoo stood about four feet away from him behind the bar, just staring.

Scowling.

It was really starting to bother Mingyu.

He’d almost made up his mind to bring it up with his boss, to have a mature discussion about it before it started affecting both their jobs, when suddenly, just as Mingyu was turning to Wonwoo to broach the topic, Wonwoo’s eyes widened and he grabbed a broom sitting nearby, leaping over the bar like he was about to hunt a wild beast.

“Out! Out! ” Wonwoo demanded, waving the broom at something Mingyu couldn’t see, at first.

When he finally craned his neck far enough to understand what was going on, Mingyu flushed bright red, shrinking into himself while trying to remain outwardly calm and unaffected, all at once. It was difficult. Jihoon was going to be so pissed.

The predator that had caught Wonwoo’s ire was the same white cat that had been hanging around outside the bar the previous day, except now, it had just waltzed inside at some point, probably on the heels of a customer swinging the door open, and decided to take a power nap right in the middle of the floor, on the other side of the bar. Mingyu watched as Wonwoo irritatedly hissed and made all sorts of noises at the cat, while the cat itself remained completely unbothered, even rolling over onto its belly at one point to catch some sun while Wonwoo continued his “attack”.

Mingyu cleared his throat, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t incriminate him or Jihoon, but that would also get Wonwoo to just… stop.

“Uh,” Mingyu called weakly after a moment. “Uh… it’s just… it’s just a cat?” Mingyu's cat.

Wonwoo spun around at the sound of Mingyu’s voice, still looking annoyed. “It’s trespassing!” he protested, and Mingyu nearly snorted out loud.

“It’s just trying to take a nap, Wonwoo,” Mingyu said sensibly. “He’s...it’s not hurting anyone.”

Wonwoo sighed, seeming to remember that the bar wasn’t actually empty and that the few customers there had just witnessed him going apeshit over a small white housecat, and he blew out a gush of air with as much dignity as he could, slowly moving back behind the bar to join Mingyu again, settling the broom back into it’s corner when he got there.

Mingyu watched as his boss pulled himself together. Maybe he’d just shelve the whole conversation he’d been about to initiate, for now, Mingyu thought. Wonwoo glanced up at the clock on the wall, then back at Mingyu for a millisecond, barely long enough for Mingyu to notice it at all.

“It’s almost six o’clock. Let me show you the new drink of the day before it goes up for sale,” Wonwoo said evenly, pulling a shot glass down from above the bar and lining up three bottles next to it, along with a cocktail shaker. Mingyu was still sort of struggling to catch up with Wonwoo’s unpredictable mood swings, so he didn’t really move at first, just stayed rooted to his place next to Wonwoo, but not too close, unable to stop himself from gaping a little.

Wonwoo was kind of a weird guy, really. Weird, and cute.

Mingyu hated that his brain kept reminding him of that last fact.

“Okay,” Wonwoo said finally. “The Shapeshifter Shot.

Mingyu paid attention.

“Shot glass. Cocktail shaker. Tequila. Lime. Raspberry liqueur,” Wonwoo pointed at each ingredient as he listed it off, and Mingyu squinted and leaned forward to read all the bottles and commit them to memory, so he could replicate this drink tonight.

Tequila… lime…

“Why’s the raspberry liqueur in quotes?” Mingyu asked when his eyes landed on it. “Are you implying that it’s not actually real? ‘Raspberry liqueur’,” he read, laughing a little and adding air quotes while Wonwoo rolled his eyes impatiently.

“Of course it’s real, Ming-dumb,” Wonwoo snapped crisply. “I just ran out of bottles for my housemade version so I put it in this bottle,” he explained.

Mingyu raised an eyebrow. “In quotes.”

“Yep.”

“In what looks like the handwriting of a fifth-grader.”

Wonwoo narrowed his eyes. “Watch it.”

Mingyu took a step back, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay. Too far. Sorry. Teach me the shot.”

Wonwoo sighed. “Drink-making 101. Put all the shit in the shit and shake it up, then pour it in the shit,” he instructed in a bored tone, splashing a shot of each liquid into the cocktail shaker with ice and shaking it up. After he poured the raspberry liqueur, Wonwoo frowned a little, shrugging. “Looks like this one’s out, now. When you make this later you’ll have to grab another bottle from the back.”

Mingyu chuckled. “Will it also be theoretical and in quotes?”

Wonwoo groaned. “I can fire you, Mingyu,” he reminded his employee.

Mingyu laughed harder. “Not for my incredible wit, you can’t.”

Wonwoo grumbled something under his breath, shoving the small shot glass in Mingyu’s direction. “Whatever. Just drink this so you’ll know how it tastes.”

Mingyu shrugged, raising the shot glass to his lips and tossing it back. It was slightly awkward, because Wonwoo was staring at him so intensely while he did it that Mingyu was worried a hole might appear right in the center of his forehead just from the sheer magnitude of his boss’s laser gaze, but fortunately, that didn’t happen. The shot went down fine, and in a stroke of good luck, Wonwoo was so focused on Mingyu’s reaction that he didn’t notice at all when the white house cat he’d been fighting with just a few minutes prior disappeared from its spot in the middle of the bar, and a short, disgruntled looking guy in wrinkled clothes stumbled over to the bar.

“Motherfucker, I was sleeping,” the guy muttered, dropping his head into his hands and dozing off almost immediately, right across the bar from where Mingyu and Wonwoo stood. Mingyu swallowed the shot perhaps a bit louder than he meant to, forcing it down his throat. It wasn’t because it tasted bad. It was pretty good, actually. It was just that the strain of not revealing certain secrets (secrets that were becoming more obvious and meddlesome and sleepy with each passing moment) was starting to get to him.

Ugh. Mingyu’s shift was barely beginning, and suddenly, he was getting a headache, now. He wondered if it was Wonwoo’s drinks that were having this effect on him, like the stomachache from last night and now this headache. He wondered if maybe Wonwoo just mixed them extra strong to give customers their money’s worth, and Mingyu simply couldn’t handle it. That would be a bit distressing, honestly. Mingyu frowned, rubbing his increasingly poundy head, and Wonwoo was still staring at him.

“How was it?” the head mixologist questioned, squinting at Mingyu, tilting his head this way and that way, until he looked sort of like a really hot chicken (No, Mingyu. Weird thought).

Mingyu shrugged, trying for a little smile, even though it pained him to do so. “It’s great!” he replied, forcing so much positivity out of his voice that it made his head hurt even worse. “It’s great,” he added a second later, at a more reasonable volume and tone. “I’ve got the method down, this one will be no problem,” he reassured Wonwoo.

Wonwoo should have looked pleased with that information, but instead, he sighed loudly, throwing up his hands in what seemed like defeat (although Mingyu didn’t know what he was fighting, because the cat was gone) and turning on his heel to walk away. It didn’t really have the effect that Mingyu guessed he was going for, though. The bar was too small to allow for a sassy walk-out.

He really didn’t have time to keep contemplating the many reasons Wonwoo might hate him, though. Mingyu was on the clock, and the bar was welcoming more and more customers in by the minute. He served drinks to Joshua and Jeonghan, the regulars he’d met the night before. Jeonghan bought Joshua’s first drink, as always, and as always, Joshua pretended to have zero clue who it was from or why. It was an interesting game they were playing, Mingyu thought to himself. He wondered who would win, in the end, or if it even mattered to either of them.

As the hours passed on Mingyu’s shift, he got better and better at ignoring the insistent headache brewing at the front of his skull, until it was nothing more than an (extreme) annoyance, but at least it was one that didn’t prevent him from getting things done, while he had things to do. He kept an eye on the guy sleeping at the end of the bar as much as he could, wondering why he’d suddenly shown up at all. It wasn’t like him. There had to have been a reason for it, some catalyst that Mingyu wasn’t aware of.

Mingyu even tried for some small talk with Wonwoo as they worked, even though he was mostly unsuccessful. Wonwoo seemed dead set on ignoring almost everything Mingyu said, unless it was work-related, and sometimes he even ignored those things, too, until Mingyu repeated them.

After a while, Mingyu figured that since he was being ignored, he might as well take full advantage of it. He decided to flirt with Wonwoo. He was cute, okay? Wonwoo was cute and even if he didn’t like Mingyu, Mingyu certainly liked him. He was intriguing. Mingyu really wanted to know what went on inside his head, once you cleared out the giant cluster of fuck yous he was apparently gathering just for his new assistant bartender. There had to be something else behind all that surface hostility. Wonwoo seemed smart, and maybe like a bit of a loner, sure, but Mingyu could sense his decency from a mile away. He knew Wonwoo was a nice guy under what had to be a crapton of defense mechanisms, and if Kim Mingyu was good at anything, it was people, so, he allowed himself to indulge.

He leaned against the bar when there was a lull in customers, watching Wonwoo rinse out glasses and stack them up for reuse. Technically that was his job, Mingyu knew, but he was working on something else much more entertaining, here.

“That’s a nice shirt,” Mingyu said casually in Wonwoo’s direction. It wasn’t exactly a lie. It was a fine shirt, a black button down that Wonwoo had rolled up the sleeves on. There was nothing special about it, but Mingyu was gonna use it anyway.

“It looks good on you,” he continued, making sure he was smirking through his headache by the time Wonwoo glanced up, a confused expression on his face.

“Huh?”

Mingyu cleared his throat, pushing up his own sleeves to help Wonwoo with the glasses. They didn’t need pushing up, Mingyu was already wearing a short sleeved shirt, but Mingyu also knew that he had a good set of arms, and showing them off had never steered him wrong. He made himself useful drying off the glasses Wonwoo was washing. He maybe even threw in a completely extraneous flex or two in the process. Unconfirmed.

“I said, you look nice today,” Mingyu repeated, giving Wonwoo a lopsided grin. “You looked nice yesterday too.”

Wonwoo frowned at his newest employee. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked suspiciously.

There it was again. The suspicion.

Mingyu rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. Can’t I just say something nice to you?” he complained half-heartedly. Why was Wonwoo so hard to get through to? It was annoying.

When Mingyu glanced over again, he could swear Wonwoo was blushing, but it was hard to tell in the dim, neon-tinged lights of the bar. “You can, I guess,” Wonwoo muttered, not meeting Mingyu’s eyes. There was a long pause before he added, “Thanks.”

Mingyu smiled a little. Maybe there was hope. “Welcome,” he said, and they finished the glasses in relative silence. Mingyu had gotten a bit distracted from his napping patron watch, at that point, and he’d failed to notice the sleeping boy in the wrinkly clothes apparently wake up and leave the bar, but when Mingyu glanced out the windows to his left, the white cat was back, staring inside and looking bored. Good. Business as usual.

Wonwoo straightened up after drying his hands off with a clean dish towel, finally gracing Mingyu with a quick once-over. Mingyu watched him think, could practically hear the wheels turning in his head as he tried to figure out how to make conversation like a person was supposed to. It was kind of cute. Y’know. Along with everything else about Wonwoo.

Sigh.

“You uh…” Wonwoo started finally, licking his lips as he clearly tried to think of something to say, to respond in kind to Mingyu’s compliments. Mingyu watched him settle on some words, and then Wonwoo’s gaze floated down to the necklace Mingyu had worn every single day for the last ten years, and he seemed to forget every last one of them. Also, he was frowning again, and that wasn’t great.

“What’s that for?” Wonwoo questioned, nodding towards the necklace. Mingyu looked down, to confirm what he was talking about, then raised his head again, shrugging with a grin.

“I just like it. I’ve worn it for a long time,” Mingyu replied, reaching down to touch the silver pendant hanging off a leather cord, with had an intricate spiral design on it. It was Mingyu’s favorite possession, honestly.

Wonwoo groaned, rolling his eyes. “Whatever, Mingyu. Just stop slacking and get back to work, please,” he muttered, and then he stalked off towards the restrooms without another word.

Mingyu was seriously starting to wonder if maybe Wonwoo had multiple personalities, and whether or not nine out of ten of them wished Mingyu were dead.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Wonwoo wondered if his life would easier if Mingyu were dead.

… Maybe he didn’t mean to sound that morbid, but Mingyu barreling into his life as his apprentice mixologist was turning him into a perpetual ball of stress -- almost like a ball of wound-up yarn that a dumb white cat might knead while sleeping in the middle of his bar. In fact, it seemed like Mingyu’s entrance into his life precipitated a whole lot more stress appearing in his life in general: the white cat, Junhui being even more excitable than usual, Jeonghan starting his whole nonmagic flirting game with Joshua, and Wonwoo’s hypervigilance taking a nasty-slash-unhealthy turn toward full-on delirium. He fucking beat up a cat in the middle of his bar… what the hell? Who does that? Wonwoo was now probably on some animal rights activist’s list somewhere.

There was just something about Mingyu that was completely and entirely… off. For someone who claimed to be nonmagic, he seemed to be unperturbed by the clientele at The Crow’s Nest. Not that any of them were exactly flinging spells at each other in the bar, but Mingyu didn’t bat an eye at Joshua’s ever-changing hair colors, Jeonghan’s dorky parlor tricks, or the brooding demeanor of Seungcheol, the dark-looking dude who always sat at the corner of the bar. None of it seemed to faze Mingyu, which bugged the shit out of Wonwoo.

Most magics were awful at realizing things that were weird to nonmagics. They knew the rules -- no magic in front of nonmagics -- but beyond that? They simply had no idea how to conceptualize a life without magic. Not that Wonwoo was the best at it either, but he knew Mingyu should’ve been more perturbed by all the things at The Nest. Maybe Mingyu didn’t trust him enough to tell him?

To be fair, Wonwoo didn’t trust Mingyu.

But none of it added up! Mingyu seemed open and friendly with him -- he was charismatic and likable and goofy and funny. And it grossed Wonwoo out to even think all of those nice-sounding things about Mingyu, but Mingyu seemed fundamentally… normal. He was hiding something, Wonwoo was sure of that. But was it something that even mattered?

Wonwoo tossed his towel behind the bar counter, leaving it for when he inevitably came in at 5pm tomorrow. Mingyu likely finished up bringing the last of the dirty glasses to the back, and, like clockwork, the taller boy reappeared just then.

“Don’t be late tomorrow,” Wonwoo warned. Not that Mingyu had really been late ever, but he didn’t want Mingyu thinking that he was softening up on his apprentice.

Mingyu frowned, like he wanted to counter what Wonwoo had just said. The younger boy opened his mouth, then closed it, probably deciding that it wasn’t worth it. He grabbed his coat and his bag from one of the empty tables next to the bar, and wandered toward the exit. “Good night, Wonwoo.”

Wonwoo grunted, watching Mingyu as he headed home in the dark of night. He shook his head, Maybe he was going crazy. He quickly pulled out his personal parchment and snapped a quill into his fingers, deciding that he needed a second opinion. Rec room, 40 minutes? he wrote on the parchment, adding a -WW at the end for good measure. The message was for Joshua, who had returned home a few hours ago at Jeonghan’s insistence. Hopefully Joshua was level-headed enough to be helpful -- and hopefully he was still awake after Jeonghan wanted him to “sober up.” Whatever that meant.

***

Thankfully, Joshua, who was now sporting a pleasing shade of lavender as his current hair color, got his message. The older boy was reading a book at their usual table near the edge of the rec room, the one with a chessboard on top of it. The pieces were set up, and despite it getting closer to 2am now, Joshua seemed ready to play, flashing a smile at Wonwoo when he entered the rec room of their apartment complex (Dragon’s Landing -- magics only ). All three of them lived there, but on different floors, fortunately. Wonwoo’s gaze drifted over toward Jeonghan, who was hovering near the ping-pong table with a paddle in his hand bouncing one ball up over and over again. Wonwoo shook his head -- of course Jeonghan followed Joshua down here.

“Y’know, for a nonmagic thing, table tennis is surprisingly entertaining,” Jeonghan commented to no one in particular while Wonwoo slid his messenger bag off his shoulder, leaving it near the door. “Shua, we should play after you're done consoling Wonwoo about his Mingyu problem.”

“You told him!?” Wonwoo shouted, crossing his arms.

You told me, dumbass,” Jeonghan corrected, still entirely focused on bouncing his ping-pong ball. “Or are you so stressed that you didn’t remember that I’m your friend, too.”

Wonwoo scoffed. “Acquaintance.”

“Potato-patato,” Jeonghan replied.

“Are you two done?” Joshua interjected, his eyes darting from Jeonghan to Wonwoo and back to Jeonghan. He put his book down on his lap and sighed. “Because it’s 2am, and I am not playing ping-pong until 3am.”

“2:30?” Jeonghan bartered.

Joshua rolled his eyes, motioning for Wonwoo to come join him at his table. As Wonwoo was walking over, Joshua twirled his finger, moving the pawn in front of his queen two spaces forward. The lavender-haired boy then shot him a conciliatory look, as if he were apologizing for Jeonghan being there too. Wonwoo just smiled -- honestly, he should’ve expected it. At least the two of them were less drunk now, especially Joshua after Jeonghan sent him at least two different cocktails earlier in the evening. It seemed like Jeonghan was single-handedly building Joshua’s tolerance for both alcohol and for annoying suitors.

“So what’s up?” Joshua asked while Wonwoo telekinetically moved the pawn in front of his queen two spaces forward to meet Joshua’s pawn. “Other than Mingyu and his giant head.”

The older boy snickered at his own joke while Wonwoo rolled his eyes. “I wonder what his parents fed him…” Wonwoo mused before re-focusing on his own problem. “I just don’t know to make of the kid.”

Joshua pushed the pawn in front of his queenside bishop forward two spaces too, leaving it open for Wonwoo to capture. “It’s amusing that you call him a kid when you’re what? Maybe one year older than him, tops.”

“Cute, gramps.”

Joshua shot him a faux-angry look, which was quickly usurped by Jeonghan yelling “Shit!

Wonwoo leaned over to get a better look at Jeonghan, whose ping-pong ball was bouncing away from him toward the edge of the room. Jeonghan had his face buried in his hand, shaking his head in anger? Disappointment? Something. Joshua tutted: “Aw, so close, Jeonghannie. Only 4273 to go.”

The lavender-haired boy snapped his finger, and a counter that had been hovering above Jeonghan’s ping-pong table reset to 0 from 727. Wonwoo strained his lips and squinted, wondering what the hell was going on; Joshua leaned forward over the board. “I promised him I would kiss him if he gets to 5000 without using magic,” he whispered.

“He’s never --”

“Mmhmm,” Joshua cut off.

Wonwoo smirked; this is why he was friends with Joshua. While Jeonghan pulled his ball back over to his paddle to start from scratch again, Wonwoo captured Joshua’s pawn, knowing full well that this strategy didn’t work the last seventeen times he lost to the dimpled boy. For the uninitiated, Joshua was scarily good at chess. “Anyways, so I can’t figure Mingyu out,” he muttered.

Joshua cocked an eyebrow, inviting Wonwoo to continue. “Like, I don’t get how he got the job in the first place, and I don’t get how he’s not bothered by all the weird characters who hang around, and how he’s always so happy and pleasant and charismatic. I’ve slipped him two draughts that should’ve revealed if he was using any magic, but neither of them did anything. And I know they were good potions, I know they were. I don’t fuck up like that. So he’s a nonmagic, but I don’t get how he can be so eager and charming and funny when he’s… everything’s so weird.”

Wonwoo finished rambling, looking up at Joshua, who motioned down toward the board with his eyes. “Your move.” He was more focused on the older boy’s knowing smile, like he was acutely aware of exactly what was happening.

“I can’t figure him out,” Wonwoo grumbled, moving his kingside knight in front of his pawn. “And now it really bothers me because you look like you know.”

“Oh, I do know,” Joshua answered, that stupid smile still plastered on his face. He advanced his own kingside knight out, making Wonwoo impatiently squirm.

“Spit it out, dickwad.”

Joshua feigned offense, dramatically putting a hand on his chest. “Maybe if you asked politely --”

“-- Please spit it out, dickwad.”

Joshua giggled, developing more of his chess pieces by pushing them in front of his front line of pawns. “I can’t believe you haven’t noticed that Mingyu is in love with you, Wonwoo.”

“Stop bullshitting me, Joshua,” Wonwoo quickly retorted, angrily exchanging one of Joshua’s knights for his bishop.

“You really haven’t picked up on it yet?” Joshua insisted. “At the very least, Mingyu is crushing on you. But I think he’s actually more than that, even if he hasn’t realized it yet.”

“Why are you still fucking with me?”

Joshua sighed, capturing one of Wonwoo’s pawns. “I’m not messing with you. In my opinion, Mingyu is in love with you. He is legit crushing on you, Wonwoo. He puts up with your insufferable personality because he likes you. Mingyu’s always looking over at you, like he’s always studying everything about you. I’ve seen him invent problems in the middle of his shift just so he can ask you for help. He does anything you say because he wants to impress you.”

“I’m not insufferable,” Wonwoo protested, folding his arms again. Joshua rolled his eyes, moving his knight well into Wonwoo’s territory and forking his queen and king.

“You’re not, but around Mingyu?”

Wonwoo silently fumed, marching his king out of check and crossing his arms defiantly. Joshua promptly took his queen, floating the most valuable piece over to his growing army of captured pieces on the side of the board.

“You can’t lie, Wonwoo. You’ve been impatient with Mingyu.”

“A dick!” Jeonghan added, shouting from across the room.

Joshua nodded. “You should give him a chance, maybe he’s not so bad when you open up a little.” Wonwoo sighed as Joshua floated his queen close to his king, stealing another one of his pawns. “Checkmate, by the way.”

Wonwoo stared down at the board, looking if there was any possible way to dislodge his king from his current predicament -- no dice. It felt like real life, to be honest: no good options to escape his current problems. Joshua was innocently smiling at him, like he had seen this coming five moves away. “Good game~” the lavender-haired boy sing-songed.

Just then, Jeonghan shouted into the void again, his ping-pong ball ping-ponging off the ground instead of his paddle. The eldest of their trio stormed over to the chess board that Joshua was silently resetting with a charm, butting into the seat that Wonwoo was slowly vacating. “New rule. If I beat you at chess, you have to kiss me.”

Joshua rolled his eyes, now rotating the board around so that he was playing the black pieces. “Sure, but you’d probably have a better shot of getting your ping-pong volley up to 5000…”

While those two quabbled over how Jeonghan was definitely not gonna get a kiss from Joshua, Wonwoo focused on his own problem. He wandered over toward one of the couches in the rec room, plopping down on the dilapidated cushion.

Maybe he was being a little too wound-up with Mingyu. Maybe he needed to give Mingyu more of a chance -- both as a bartender and as a friend. He had never ever really considered the notion that Mingyu might like him, and an uncomfortable mixture of uneasiness and hopefulness percolated to the front of his thoughts soon after the thought of Mingyu liking him crossed his mind again. What if Mingyu really did like him? Or what if Joshua was wrong? And -- if Joshua were wrong -- how would Mingyu react to Wonwoo suddenly being nicer? On top of that, how would a relationship with a nonmagic even work? His parents, his friends, his teachers, everybody back home told him to avoid relationships with nonmagics. But why? Did he even like Mingyu enough to consider anything more?

Wonwoo chewed on his lip, blankly staring at Joshua and Jeonghan. It didn’t seem nearly as simple as Jeonghan and Joshua made it out to be. Those two were always flirting with each other, Jeonghan obviously more so than Joshua. But Mingyu? Flirting? Mingyu was bubbly and charismatic with everyone. And handsome. And outgoing and personable and hard-working and funny --

Okay, so maybe he did find Mingyu ever-so-slightly attractive. But that didn’t mean that it would work! After all, Mingyu was supposedly a nonmagic, and Wonwoo wasn’t. They just weren’t compatible, he decided.

“Checkmate!” Joshua exclaimed, parking his queen in front of Jeonghan’s king. “In six moves, too.”

Jeonghan looked down at the chessboard, shock and disappointment washing across his face. Suddenly, the blonde-haired boy stood up, pointing a finger at Joshua. “I demand a rematch! Table tennis! Double-or-nothing!”

Joshua, meanwhile, quietly collected his book and reset the board, standing up and smiling at his exasperated opponent. “Good night, Jeonghan.”

Wonwoo and Joshua meandered up the stairs back to their apartments, ignoring Jeonghan chasing after them -- well, Joshua -- in a huff.

***

The next morning, Wonwoo decided that maybe there was a tiny, imperceptible chance that he might like Mingyu as more than friends. And, as the constant worrier that he was -- as a purveyor of contingency plans -- Wonwoo needed to gather all the information that he could about magic-nonmagic relationships. Asking friends was out of the question; they would never let him hear the end of it. So Wonwoo decided to go do some research. Unfortunately for him, the best place to go do research was Lucky Charms.

His game plan for when Junhui or Minghao (probably Junhui) asked him about why he was looking at books about dating advice for magics? Pretend that he was looking for a ‘friend.’ Did this friend exist? Absolutely not. Did Junhui and Minghao need to know that? No fucking way. And Wonwoo was damned if he let those two asswipes find out that his Mingyu problem was even worse than it was last week. Since he was going in the morning, only one of them would be working. Minghao would be easy. But if Junhui worked this morning? Well, hopefully practicing the lie to his mirror this morning would be good enough to evade Junhui’s magical lie-detecting powers. Honestly, how the hell did Minghao live with that? Had the younger boy never lied to Junhui?

Wonwoo shuddered at the thought.

Lying was convenient. Lying was easy. Lying was usually harmless. And it wasn’t like Wonwoo lied all the time; he just knew that sometimes he needed to, and his life was much easier because of it. Like when Jeonghan asked if he was cool and when Minghao asked if the mullet was a good idea -- lying made life easy.

It was, like, five minutes past opening when Wonwoo pushed open the door to Lucky Charms, Please be Minghao the sole thought playing through his head on repeat.

“Hey! Wonwoo!” a sweet, higher-sounding voice greeted him. Fuck . “You’re here early,” Junhui finished, wandering from behind the front counter over to Wonwoo at the door.

“Hey Junhui,” he muttered. He was trying to sound normal, which, for him, meant pretending to tolerate Junhui’s existence for the next few minutes.

“You’re the first one here! Lookin’ for something?”

“Yeah, but I think I know where it is.”

Junhui’s mouth strained a little. Wonwoo knew he wasn’t lying, he knew in general where the dating books for magics were -- so that strained look was entirely because of Wonwoo shooting Junhui down. “O -- okay,” Junhui lilted, trying to recover a little. “But if you need any help just let me know, okay? I’m here to help!”

Wonwoo smiled a little and nodded, which probably made Junhui feel a little bit better. He actually really liked Junhui and how genuine he was, but today was not the day that he wanted to deal with Junhui interrogating him about his love life. Again.

He stepped over to the other half of the bookstore exclusively for magics. Junhui had all sorts of charms ready-to-go for the day: a flock of birds -- passenger pigeons, probably -- flew over his head, the ceiling was actually large oak trees arching over him, multi-colored irridescent butterflies congregated in the middle of a patch of ‘sunshine,’ and that was all just after walking in. Apparently Junhui decided to do a natural theme, wanting to make the magic side of the bookstore like visiting a forest. Wonwoo shook his head, diving down one of the narrow aisles, stacks of books surrounding him on each side.

It’s ironic, really. Last time he noticed the dating section, he scoffed at it. Who needs books to tell them all about relationships , past Wonwoo thought to himself. And now here he was, about to read a book about dating. A few books whizzed past him as he wandered down the aisle (Junhui and Minghao’s idea of ‘advertising’). Reaching the end of the stacks, Wonwoo’s eyes latched onto what he was looking for: the dating section.

There were about twenty books in all in this section, and Wonwoo quickly scanned the titles, searching for anything that jumped out at him. Magical Dating for Dummies quickly joined the “last resort” list. Dating Mythical Creatures sounded intriguing but not helpful. Kinks for the Magically Inclined was something he might wanna read later if this all works out -- or recommend to Jeonghan. Frogs -- Foreplay and Fornication sounded absolutely disgusting. Just when he was about to give up and go to the For Dummies volume, he found his holy grail: Magic-Nonmagic Relationships and How to Navigate Them .

Just as he pulled out the book, he heard the books farther down the aisle start flying out of the shelves again. Wonwoo looked over his shoulder, seeing Junhui’s smile start to strain as he concentrated on figuring out just what book Wonwoo had in his hand. Even with all of his contingency plans, Wonwoo completely panicked, hiding his book behind his body, as if Junhui totally did not just see him do that.

“Oh come on, let me see it, Wonwoo!” Junhui demanded, stopping a few steps away from him.

“See what?” Wonwoo lied, looking away guiltily. Maybe if he blatantly lied like this, it would be harder for Junhui to figure out if he actually lied later.

Junhui frowned. “You’re an awful liar,” he complained. “And you should know better than to try that on me.”

Sighing deeply, Wonwoo pulled the book out from behind his back, holding it up to show Junhui, whose expression quickly lit up when he saw just exactly what type of book it was.

“Ohmygod, Wonwoo, baby, are you in the dating game again!” Junhui exclaimed. “I can hook you up with this wonderfully handsome boy who browses on the nonmagic side of the store, he’s tall and has a killer smile -- well, that’s unless you already have someone who you’re interested in. Are you interested in someone?”

Junhui was expectantly waiting for an answer, but Wonwoo had decided that his Plan B for this whole interaction was not to say anything to Junhui if he asked compromising questions. Instead, he turned around, and headed toward the back of the store where there were a few couches.

“C’mon, you have to tell me!” the brown-haired boy insisted. “You have to tell me the truth, Wonwoo!”

Declining to respond, Wonwoo parked himself at his usual spot -- the empirically comfiest cushion out of all the couches -- and tried to ignore Junhui. Meanwhile, the bookstore owner was having none of Wonwoo’s antics, sitting right next to him.

“Wonwoo! Tell me!”

He sighed in response. “You can’t tell if I’m lying if I don’t say anything,” Wonwoo explained, thumbing the book open to the table of contents.

Junhui frowned again. “You’re right,” he admitted. “But I can annoy you until you tell me. And I’ll know if you’re lying!”

“Do your worst,” Wonwoo challenged, leaning back into the cushion.

Junhui was never one to back down from a challenge, sidling right up next to Wonwoo’s ear.

“Wonwoo. Wonwoo! Wonwoo. Potions Master Wonwoo! Earth to Nerd-Woo, there’s an incoming transmission from Planet Junhui. Mixy Mixy Mixologist Wonwoo. Wooooooooonwooooooooooo. Wonwoot. Wootwoot. Wonwoo! Tequila is the worst hard alcohol, Wonwoo. Reading is for nerds, Wonwoo. You’re a nerd, Wonwoo. Wonwoo! Wonu. Wonu. Wonuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu. W-O-N-W-O-O. Wonuwu!”

“What the actual fuck, Junhui?”

“WONUWU-WONUWU-WONUWU-WONUWU-WONUWU-WONUWU-WONUWU,” Junhui petulantly repeated, latching onto Wonwoo’s moment of weakness.

“Fine! I’ll tell you,” Wonwoo finally acquiesced, pushing Junhui away. He massaged his ear, wondering how Minghao could deal with such incessant annoyingness on a regular basis. “I swear to god…”

“Cough it up or I’ll start up again!” Junhui cutely threatened, smirking a little.

“No. God no. Anything but that,” Wonwoo pleaded. “I wanted to see if this book had anything useful for a friend, Junhui. For a friend . Not for me.”

Junhui leaned back, his brow furrowing as he took in Wonwoo’s response. “For a friend, you say?” he interrogated, his voice seeped in doubt.

“Yes.”

The brown-haired boy eyed him warily, sizing Wonwoo’s blatant lie up. Wonwoo was starting to sweat, wondering what he was gonna do if Junhui caught him in a lie. Before his mind traveled too far down that rabbit hole, Junhui’s intense look broke into a soft-looking smile, the other boy patting him on the back enthusiastically. “Okay, then, I’ll be in the front if you need anything, Wonuwu!”

Junhui leaped up from the couch and walked back toward the nonmagic section, Wonwoo waiting to exhale until all the whizzing books stopped and it had been a good thirty seconds since Junhui left him. God, how the hell did he manage that? Wonwoo tried to collect himself, wondering how he managed to lie to the human lie detector.

But then he looked down at the book he was holding and immediately re-focused on his goal; namely, what’s the deal with magic-nonmagic relationships? The flipped through until he found the introductory chapter, reading the first paragraph:

“So you want to know about how a magic should go about starting a relationship with a nonmagic? Good for you! No matter what the reason for your unconventional relationship, this book is intended to help you win over a nonmagic and start a productive, healthy relationship. Our only goal is making sure that you, the reader, are happy in the end. In this book, we discuss some of the major pitfalls in dating a nonmagic, which include (but are not limited to) the following: (1) broaching the subject of magic, (2) obtaining permits to discuss magic with a nonmagic from the appropriate governing body, (3) dealing with conservative magics’ mistrust of magic-nonmagic relationships, (4) setting ground rules for the use of magic, (5) balancing the power dynamic between a magic and a nonmagic, and (6) using magic to your advantage, when appropriate."

Wonwoo stopped reading and looked down the bookstore, his brain processing all the words he just read. A list of six -- six! -- pitfalls, which may not even be totally inclusive, that he needed to avoid-slash-overcome if he wanted to date a nonmagic!? What the actual fuck? Even if Mingyu was the biggest catch in the world, Wonwoo didn’t think he could deal with all of that… that shit. It was too much for a relationship that might not even work out. Fuck that.

He got up from the couch, wandered over to the bookshelf where he got the book from, (took another look at the Kinks for the Magically Inclined guide), and decided to fuck it, waving bye to Junhui, leaving the store, and heading back to Dragon’s Landing before his shift later that day.

Him and Mingyu? Not worth it.

***

Wonwoo spent the remaining time before his shift trying -- and failing -- not to think about Mingyu.

Oh man, was he failing.

Thanks to Joshua and that stupid book, Wonwoo was completely and utterly obsessed with all of the possible ways today’s shift could play out. Did Mingyu actually like him? If so, how much did Mingyu like him? And what the hell was he gonna do if Mingyu actually liked him?

That’s how he ended up in the middle of his shift with two concrete goals, both of which he was completely and utterly avoiding.

Goal #1: be nicer to Mingyu. Joshua was right -- there was no excuse for him being a dick to his subordinate. It needed to stop, and it wasn’t fair to Mingyu for him to keep being an asshole 24/7. He would only act like that when Mingyu deserved it, which was the same arrangement he had for Jeonghan. Unfortunately for Jeonghan, the trickster basically deserved it all the time.

And Goal #2: end Mingyu’s crush (if he had one to begin with). As always, potions master Wonwoo had another draught up his sleeve. This one was called Love-Me-Not, and it was supposed to dilute crushes with a few choice ingredients: three drops of fairy tears, three wilted rose petals (ground-up, of course), and a pinch of zombie powder for extra effectiveness. And, since today was Thursday, he knew Chan would be ordering a steady stream of Zombies -- the perfect time to teach Mingyu a new drink and spike his drink with Love-Me-Not.

It was foolproof, really. Part of him felt bad that he was deceiving Mingyu like this, but it had to be done. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself every time he put off dealing with Mingyu. Instead, Wonwoo kept sending him to the back to return dirty dishes and restock their ingredients. When Mingyu was up front, Wonwoo tried to keep him busy making the few drinks he did know how to make -- Shapeshifter and Magic on the Beach . It wasn’t like he was worried or anything, he just, um, was busy.

“Maybe your friend isn’t the only one who should be picking up a nonmagic,” Junhui lilted from the other side of the jam-packed bar.

Oh, and there was that problem, too.

Junhui and Minghao had decided to drop by The Nest tonight, and it was a bit of a mess. Junhui was a sloppy drunk, and Minghao was sophisticated -- it was a ridiculous combination. Junhui had downed three Magic on the Beach cocktails and was nursing a mandatory water, and Minghao was halfway done with his second New Age (Wonwoo’s play on an Old Fashioned). If sober Junhui was ridiculous, drunk Junhui was even worse, flirting with every living, breathing being within a two kilometer radius. It didn’t bother Minghao much, he knew what to expect; he also knew that Junhui would lean right back into Minghao’s shoulder after each and every attempt at flirting. And, to be honest, it wasn’t that bad of a night… Junhui had only hit on Wonwoo twice so far.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Wonwoo sardonically replied, whipping up another Magic on the Beach .

“The other bartender,” Junhui slurred. “Your -- your apprentice.”

“Oh,” Wonwoo retorted.

“He’s cute, right?” Junhui asked, looking over at Minghao. “Well-built, strong jawline…”

Minghao nodded. “Sure, babe.”

“Definitely your type,” the eldest finished, jabbing a finger in Wonwoo’s general direction.

“Uh huh,” Wonwoo fake-agreed, focusing on making his drinks.

“Wonuwu, can I have what he’s having?” Junhui slowly asked, pointing toward Minghao’s drink. “It looks good.”

“A New Age?” Wonwoo interrogated. “Absolutely not, Junhui. Not until you finish your water, and then we can discuss maybe giving you something fruity that your delicate little palette can handle.”

Junhui didn’t seem to mind the not-so-subtle dig, focusing on something else. “I’m gonna -- I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” the older boy hiccuped, disappearing into the crowd. Wonwoo shook his head, earning a sympathetic look from Minghao. The head mixologist passed off the two drinks he was making.

Then he turned his attention to a new drink. He pulled a highball glass, setting it on the bar in front of him. Wonwoo quickly pulled out his zombie powder, wilted rose petals, and mason jar of fairy tears, lining them up in a row in next to the glass. He poured a splash of apricot brandy into the bottom of the glass, then dumped each of the ingredients for the Love-Me-Not into the ethanol, dissolving the powders and mixing in the fairy tears.

“Are you -- never mind, I don’t wanna know,” Minghao dismissed, taking another sip of his cocktail.

“You’re right. You don’t wanna know.”

When Mingyu reappeared moments later, Wonwoo waited until just the person he was looking for came up to the bar, asking for his usual order. “Bartend, a Zombie , please?” Chan asked, passing his first glass of the night back over the bar.

“Sure thing, kid,” Wonwoo replied. “Mingyu, I’m gonna teach you a new drink!”

“Oh cool,” the younger boy answered, moving over to where Wonwoo was working.

Wonwoo pulled out the glass from earlier and a fresh highball for Chan. “So I started working on this drink earlier, but the dickwad changed their mind after I already started adding ingredients; that one’s for you and I’ll make a fresh one for Chan,” he explained. “This one’s called a Zombie, and it has a bunch of ingredients, but it’s easy to make. You’ll just take this highball glass -- it’s the normal-looking tall glass -- and blend together equal parts apricot brandy, which I already added, pineapple juice, orange juice, light rum, and dark rum. Add a pinch of sugar and a squeeze of lime juice and mix well. Now’s the tricky part: pour Bacardi very slowly over the top of the drink so that the alcohol floats on top of the rest of the cocktail. Then garnish with mint and a cherry if you’re not too busy. Got it?”

Mingyu was silent for a few seconds before snapping out of his funk and looking over at Wonwoo. “Uh, yeah, I think so. You might have to show me that one again.”

Wonwoo was about to shake his head before he remembered his don’t-be-an-asshole-to-Mingyu goal for the night. “That’s alright,” he replied. “Oh, and if they ask for a Flaming Zombie, you’re supposed to light the Bacardi on fire.”

“Oh, do you have matches for lighting it on fire?”

“Um,” Wonwoo equivocated, realizing that, no, Mingyu couldn’t just snap his fingers and light the Zombie on fire. “You know what, I’ll do the fire-lighting for tonight, if anyone asks.”

“So we do have matches?”

“Um, yeah, but I don’t trust you with that yet.”

Mingyu was about to protest, but then it looked like he caught himself again. “Fair enough,” he admitted, “I wouldn’t trust myself with matches yet either.”

“Right.” Wonwoo passed Chan’s drink over the bar and then slid Mingyu’s over to his apprentice. “Drink up.”

Wonwoo pretended to move onto the next order while Mingyu took a few sips from his drink, frowning when his co-worker decided not to finish it off. Hopefully he had enough of it for it to have any effect.

After Junhui returned, Wonwoo had his hands full for at least the next hour. They were surprisingly busy tonight, and both him and Mingyu were whipping up drinks and clearing the bar left and right. Maybe having help wasn’t so bad, even if Junhui pestered him about the hunky guy behind the bar for at least fifteen more minutes until he started dozing on Minghao’s shoulder again. Minghao seemed perfectly content with the arrangement, and Wonwoo sure as hell wasn’t complaining -- he had drinks to make and an apprentice to watch.

About an hour after Mingyu had the spiked Zombie, the taller bartender wandered over near Wonwoo during a lull in the drink-making.

“Y’know, you’re a really good teacher, Wonwoo,” Mingyu said out-of-nowhere, smiling and staring at him with his puppy-dog eyes. “Oh, and I like your shirt again.”

Wonwoo frowned. So much for ending Mingyu’s crush tonight.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Mingyu thought it was a very good thing that Soonyoung and Seokmin were his best friends in the entire world. It was a good thing that their relationship was so strong, incapable of being sunk by a few minor inconveniences.

As Mingyu stared at the broken-down ice cream truck in front of him, he reminded himself of that over and over, internally. Hopefully, it was internal.

Unfortunately, Soonyoung wasn’t being nearly as internal about his current rage.

“Shitmin. Shitmin. What the fuck is this,” Soonyoung growled, his voice way too subdued. It was a ruse, Mingyu knew. The calm before the inevitable storm. He glanced back in Soonyoung’s direction just in time to see the familiar purple flash in his eyes.

Mingyu began running over the facts, concerning the immediate situation.

One, he’d had another bad night at work. Wonwoo had been as inscrutable and contrary as ever, and Mingyu was really starting to believe that absolutely nothing could be done to change the head bartender’s feelings about him. At this point, Mingyu just wanted to understand why Wonwoo didn’t like him. He’d given up on trying to fix it.

Two, he’d kind of made a fool of himself on the previous night’s shift. He didn’t know why, but out of nowhere, his mouth had started saying all kind of things his brain one hundred percent didn’t sign off on. Well. Okay. So his brain did sign off on them, maybe. Mingyu had just thought they’d been moved to a deep dark corner where he kept all his inappropriate feelings, rather than sitting right at the tip of his tongue. Loose lips sinks ships, infuckingdeed. Every night, Mingyu’s tiny, solitary ship, with its WONWOO PLEASE LOVE ME white flag, sank a little further into the ocean of his heart. Mingyu was equal parts annoyed and sad. Definitely equal. Certainly not slightly more sad with each passing minute.

Three, after the terrible night he’d had, Mingyu had agreed to wake up early and accompany Seokmin and Soonyoung to check out a potential future home for the ice cream shop that Seokmin had found available for rent in an ad online, and now, here they were.

Here they were, standing on the sidewalk of a half-busy downtown street, in front of an ancient, leaning-to-the-side, paint-peeling ice cream truck, and honestly? It was only serving to amplify all of Mingyu’s other problems, all at once, and his normally positive, optimistic demeanor was taking a sharp turn right, down the fatalist fork in his metaphorical road.

Next to Mingyu, Seokmin sighed, crossing his arms defensively. “The ad said ‘retail space available’, Shityoung. It said, ‘perfect for a frozen dessert business! Freezers included!’” Seokmin was starting to sound more miserable with each word, and Mingyu felt kind of sorry for him, except it was buried under the heavy layers of not wanting to be awake and his constant worry about all things related to his actual job, instead of this pipe dream they were foolishly pursuing.

He didn’t really feel like that, okay? It was just… Mingyu was going through a lot, lately.

Also, he’d forgotten fact number four, possibly the most alarming and distressing of all the facts, which was that two nights ago, while Mingyu was on shift, Jihoon had appeared out of fucking nowhere. He never did that, he was only supposed to show up all human and disgruntled when Mingyu specifically called for him, and it could have cost Mingyu his job, plus whatever fragile trust he’d managed to build up with Wonwoo. It had been the weirdest few days Mingyu could remember as it was, without his feline familiar suddenly turning human and sleeping on his bar. Mingyu was sure that would come back to haunt him, soon. Wonwoo didn’t seem like the type to forget, and he also didn’t seem like an idiot, not really. Mingyu suspected he was acting a little stranger than usual, since he’d gained a new hire, though. He just couldn’t figure out why.

Anyway. Back to reality.

Seokmin and Soonyoung were screaming at each other now, right there on the sidewalk. Mingyu was caught in between them, like he always was, except that this time, he didn’t have the energy to take a side or try to stop it. Soonyoung’s eyes were flashing violet and Seokmin was turning red with embarrassment and anger, and Mingyu was glancing around for the nearest manhole he could throw himself into and never be heard from again, when suddenly, Soonyoung stopped yelling.

“Wait! Shut up, Shitmin, look,” Soonyoung breathed, voice hoarse from overuse already, before noon, no less, and both Seokmin and Mingyu looked, following Soonyoung’s outstretched arm and finger to where they pointed, across the street.

Sandwiched in between two larger, busy shops, sat an empty unit, with a sign hanging on the door that read: SPACE FOR RENT. Mingyu tried not to let his heart leap too much. Even if he was used to being optimistic, nothing about this stupid ice cream shop idea had come easily so far, and he didn’t expect it to start now. But, Soonyoung was already crossing the street, not paying attention to traffic and almost getting hit by not one, but two cars, so Seokmin and Mingyu had no choice but to follow him.

At least they waited until the light turned red.

By the time all three of them were across the street in front of the storefront, Soonyoung was tapping one foot impatiently, rolling his eyes. “Nice of you to make it, grandpas. It’s unlocked, I already checked. Let’s go look around!” Soonyoung was trying to sound annoyed, still, Mingyu knew it, but he was having trouble, because maybe, this was something more exciting than a dilapidated ice cream truck. Possibly. Mingyu allowed himself a tiny shred of hope that things were turning around, that this place could be something, that they weren’t trespassing, for fuck’s sake, and then he followed his roommates inside the empty shop.

Thankfully, Mingyu figured out almost immediately that they weren’t trespassing. At the small front counter, a clipboard sat, and Mingyu glanced down to read it.

Welcome! Show yourself around, and if you are interested in more details or in renting, please leave your contact information here and we will be in touch!!

Quickly, Mingyu wrote his name and number before Soonyoung could wander over and complain that he was the brains behind this whole operation (he wasn’t), and that he should be the one to handle any sort of business concerning it (he definitely shouldn’t). Nearly everything so far had gone much smoother when Mingyu was running it, although Soonyoung would never admit it. Seokmin, at least, was usually on the side of reason. Usually.

“No, Soonyoung, listen to me! A theme is good!! It gives customers something to latch onto! Why couldn’t we be the only all-mint ice cream shop in town??” Seokmin was yelling in the background.

Like Mingyu said. Usually, on the side of reason.

He tuned in to the argument just time for Soonyoung to reply, after poking his head into one of the ice cream cases and back out again. “Shitmin, we’re not having this discussion again. Mint is not the end-all be-all of ice cream. It’s not even that good. It doesn’t go with everything, most of your flavor combinations sound disgusting, and--”

“Not even that good?? Not even that good ??” Seokmin sputtered, looking absolutely appalled. “You take that back right now, Kwon Soonyoung!” he shrieked desperately.

Mingyu honestly had no idea where Seokmin’s mint obsession came from. Maybe, he theorized to himself as World World Double S continued to rage in front of him, Seokmin’s perfect, pearly white teeth were the result of accidentally ingesting a lot of mint-flavored toothpaste, over the years. Maybe it had burned a hole not only in his stomach, but in his brain. Mingyu made a note to look that up when they got home, see if it was plausible. If they could ever leave this place, that is.

He kind of didn’t want to leave, really. It was perfect, here. Mingyu could see everything so clearly: the decor, the ice cream, the customers… He could imagine it all, and it was amazing. There had to be a catch. The rent was probably astronomical, or came with a bunch of weird caveats. Best not to get too hopeful. Life was always letting Mingyu down, especially where 2Shit were concerned.

Mingyu smirked as the combination of names ran through his head. It was good. He would definitely be keeping that one for later.

The three of them ended up laying on the floor in front of the ice cream counter after a while, chatting about plans and exchanging ideas calmly, and Mingyu was just starting to get a little giddy, after all, when he remembered that he still had to work that evening. Mingyu groaned softly, closing his eyes for a moment. He liked his job at the bar. He truly did. He just wished Wonwoo would like him. Mingyu liked his boss very much. Maybe a bit too much.

Ugh.

He sat up quickly, rubbing his eyes and trying to swallow down the dizziness from the head rush. “Let’s go,” Mingyu said to his friends, getting to his feet. “I gotta have a nap before work, I’ve been sleeping like shit.”

Soonyoung rolled his eyes, but he stood obediently, followed by Seokmin. As they made their way back out onto the street, Soonyoung was ever-ready with the snark, as if Mingyu had expected anything less.

“That’s right, grandpa. You get that midday nap,” Soonyoung chortled, and Mingyu raised an eyebrow at his slightly older friend.

“Who ya callin’ grandpa, grandpa?” Mingyu countered with an amused grin, and then he walked ahead of Soonyoung and Seokmin just in time to avoid that old familiar flash of purple, directed right at him.

*

One good nap (finally) and several hours later, Mingyu’s fourth shift at the bar was actually going… surprisingly okay.

He hesitated to call it good. Mingyu had just decided to keep his expectations low for the time being.

But, Wonwoo wasn’t being outwardly hostile, tonight, not really. He had smiled at Mingyu exactly one and a half times, and mostly left him alone besides that. It was nice, not feeling like he was being scrutinized and judged every single second of the evening. Mingyu was enjoying himself.

He made every drink order efficiently and correctly. He engaged in casual debate with Jeonghan about many subjects, and because Jeonghan’s mind seemed to work at twice the speed of a normal person’s, Mingyu forgot about all of those subjects almost immediately after the debates ended. He chatted with Joshua off and on, all while the newly navy-blue-haired boy continued his usual routine of stringing Jeonghan along via a series of baseless flirts and just generally toying with him, because he could. Mingyu knew that Joshua wasn’t like this to be cruel. Honestly, he was one of the nicest people Mingyu had ever met. But, their whole thing was the game, and boy, did Joshua know how to play.

And anyway, Jeonghan not-so-secretly loved it. That much was obvious.

Or, he was just a masochist. Maybe both.

Mingyu was just considering those options when Wonwoo appeared next to him, trying for another little grin. Make that two and a half smiles, and all in one shift. Miracles truly never ceased, Mingyu thought.

“Hey. You can take a break,” Wonwoo said quietly, busying himself wiping down the bar. Mingyu nodded gratefully, letting himself out from his workspace through the small door that separated it from the customer side of the bar and flopping onto the barstool separating Jeonghan and Joshua. Neither of them complained, but out of the corner of his eye, Mingyu saw disappointment filter through Jeonghan’s features, then disappear just as swiftly. He decided not to worry about it, for the time being. They could deal with their bizarre mating dance being interrupted for fifteen minutes, he figured.

Wonwoo slid a glass filled with dark liquid across the bar towards Mingyu, who eyed it suspiciously. “Wonwoo, I really don’t feel like drinking tonight,” Mingyu admitted with a small frown. His alcohol consumption on the clock hadn’t exactly gone well so far, and he kind of just wanted a night off from that whole thing.

Wonwoo chuckled, giving the glass a final little push. “It’s Coke. I figured you might be thirsty for something a bit less intense.”

Mingyu raised his eyes to his boss, dressed in all black as usual, hair styled artfully and messily and sleeves rolled up. He was thirsty for something, all right.

Trying not to blush at his own thoughts, Mingyu nodded, taking a small sip through the straw. Yup. Just a plain old Coke. “Thanks,” he said finally, not meeting Wonwoo’s gaze again. “It’s good.”

Wonwoo hummed in response, going back to cleaning up behind the bar. He seemed more cheerful tonight than usual, Mingyu noticed. Maybe he was finally coming around, finally realizing that Mingyu just wanted to be friends, and also maybe make out a lot, sometime. More than one time. No big deal.

Mingyu blinked rapidly. That thought had come out of absolutely nowhere. Generally, he’d tried to train his brain to avoid that sort of brutal, lewd honesty at all costs while he was at The Crow’s Nest. It almost made Mingyu mad, that he’d failed so suddenly. At least the words hadn’t come out of his mouth, he guessed. He still had his dignity, for the moment. As much as he’d ever had it, anyway.

Jeez. What was happening to him, right now? Mingyu wasn’t usually a moody guy. It took a lot to change his demeanor, one way or the other, and his demeanor was almost always happy-go-lucky. But right now, he was starting to feel distinctly grumpy, and annoyed, and irritable, and all sorts of other words he didn’t like when applied to himself. He thought about it some more, drinking his Coke. Mingyu realized that every single night he’d worked at the bar, all four days, he’d been incredibly moody during his shifts, in one way or another. It was so unlike him. Mingyu frowned into his half-empty glass. God. They were always half-empty, weren’t they?

Thankfully, Mingyu was saved from his weirdly intense downward spiral by Wonwoo, glancing at him again from across the bar.

“Mingyu, how tall are you?” Wonwoo questioned lightly, still wiping down freshly-washed glasses.

Mingyu struggled to make his cranky brain catch up with this totally new conversation train. “Uh. A hundred eighty-seven centimeters. Why?”

Wonwoo shrugged. “Just wondered. I always thought I was pretty tall, but you make me look short.”

Mingyu managed a chuckle. It was almost painful, to contradict his sour mood so much. “You’re not short. You’re exactly the right height.”

Wonwoo raised an eyebrow. “For what?”

Gulping, Mingyu began crumpling the cocktail napkin under his glass. Why couldn’t he seem to control the things he was saying, anymore? He hadn’t meant to say that. And now he didn’t want to have to explain what he meant by it. He would have to look his boss in the eye and say, “Oh, y’know. For kissing me.”

Mingyu cleared his throat. “For your… for your… frame. Or whatever.”

Wonwoo gave Mingyu a Look. “Okay.”

Neither of them said anything for a moment. Mingyu was extraordinarily busy trying to pull himself together, trying to force himself out of whatever mood he’d gotten into, when Wonwoo spoke again.

“Do you work out a lot?” he asked next, and Mingyu was really just terribly confused, both because he was fairly sure this qualified as the most normal conversation he and Wonwoo had engaged in thus far, and because it was about the most random shit ever.

“Yeah, I guess,” Mingyu murmured. “Three or four times a week.” He gave Wonwoo a quick once-over. “Why, you wanna know how to get ripped?”

Wonwoo blushed. It looked good on him.

No. I don’t. I don’t think it would look right on me,” Wonwoo confessed. “I just. Wondered. Because you…” he trailed off, looking like he really didn’t want to complete the sentence. Mingyu very much wanted him to, despite himself and his shit mood.

“Because…?” he prompted, daring Wonwoo with his eyes. He hoped it was coming off like a dare, rather than a completely insane, murderous death glare, which was kind of how it felt on the inside. It was so upsetting, having all these conflicting emotions. Mingyu wanted to be happy, because he and Wonwoo were finally talking and Wonwoo finally didn’t want to kill him, apparently, but he was just so annoyed, because… reasons, he guessed. It couldn’t have been the drink. Every time there’d been some sort of physical or mental ailment over the last few days, it had been alcohol-related. But this was just a Coke. And Mingyu was just suddenly an asshole, he guessed.

Wonwoo shrugged behind the bar, and Mingyu could tell he was trying to be casual. Maybe overly so. “Because you look good, I guess,” Wonwoo muttered. “I just wondered.”

Mingyu felt that compliment seep into his ears and through his brain. He tried to let it take over his poor mood. “Thanks,” he returned a moment later, making sure to pick up his glass with as much extraneous flexing as possible, because his shirt was sleeveless and he knew it looked good. He knew Wonwoo saw it, too. People all the way across the bar probably heard the head bartender swallow, it was so loud.

He finished off the Coke after that, declining Wonwoo’s offer of another. He was pretty sure his fifteen minutes were almost up, but Wonwoo seemed content enough to remain behind the bar, so Mingyu stayed on his barstool. Joshua and Jeonghan had temporarily disappeared to parts unknown, but Mingyu wasn’t too concerned about them, just then.

“What’s your blood type?” Wonwoo asked after a while, pouring himself a shot of tequila and taking it in one go.

“B,” Mingyu answered, wondering just how many questions Wonwoo had on deck, tonight.

“What color was Joshua’s hair yesterday?”

“Purple.”

Wonwoo sighed. “It was lavender, but I’ll accept it.”

Mingyu rolled his eyes. “Okay, fake art hoe.”

Wonwoo leaned over the counter. He was potentially a little too close to Mingyu to be professional.

Mingyu didn’t stop him.

“Watch yourself,” Wonwoo murmured, before he retreated back to his side of the bar, and now, on top of being fucking angsty, Mingyu was fucking horny, and honestly? He wasn’t a fan. Not at work.

“How do you make a Magic on the Beach?” Wonwoo continued, as if nothing strange and slightly seductive had just happened.

“Like you make every drink, boss. You put the all the shit in the shit and shake it up, then pour it in the shit,” Mingyu sassed. Maybe he did it because he wanted to see just how much he could push Wonwoo’s buttons, again. Or maybe he was just not in the mood for the third degree, again. Always.

Wonwoo narrowed his eyes. “I’ve taught you too well,” he muttered. Mingyu just forced a giant fake smile onto his face and held it there until his head started to hurt worse.

Wonwoo was on autopilot now as far as making drinks, churning them out left and right for the customers wandering up to the bar. Mingyu supposed he should probably get up and get back behind the counter, and he totally would. As soon as this spontaneous migraine and attitude problem he was currently experiencing passed.

“Where do we keep the good wine?” Wonwoo questioned from the other side of the bar, and Mingyu snorted.

“I don’t know. You said I didn’t deserve that information,” he reported, trying not to pout about it.

Wonwoo snickered softly. “Maybe one day, Ming-dork. One day.”

Mingyu smiled a little in spite of himself. Wonwoo could be so funny. He had a great sense of humor. It was a shame he seemed to use it only to mildly insult Mingyu, thus far. But maybe…

“Do you think I’m nice, Mingyu?”

Mingyu hadn’t been expecting that one. It was uncharacteristically vulnerable for Wonwoo, and when he looked up and saw the head bartender’s face, he could tell that Wonwoo one hundred percent meant it. His eyebrows were creased with concern, a small frown replacing the smirk that had just been on his face. Mingyu wanted to lie. He wanted to be snarky some more, throw it back in Wonwoo’s face. He wanted to tell him that no, he wasn’t nice at all, and Mingyu didn’t appreciate having to deal with his bullshit on a daily basis.

But, he couldn’t lie.

Like, physically. He kept trying, for his own good. The words just wouldn’t come out right.

“Yeah, Wonwoo. I think you’re nice,” Mingyu answered, staring down at his hands in his lap. “I think you’re nicer than you believe you are.”

Wonwoo snorted. “What if I’m not?”

Mingyu sighed. “You are.” It was true. And it was annoying.

Wonwoo paused, licking his lips, before he stared at Mingyu again. Mingyu felt like maybe Wonwoo was trying to stare through him, suddenly, through his face and down into his soul, and he didn’t mind that as much as he’d expected to.

“Mingyu.”

“Yeah?”

“What are you? I want you to be honest with me.” Wonwoo was nearly begging.

Mingyu met his eyes again. “I’ve always been honest with you,” he replied. Even before whatever was happening to him tonight, it was the truth. Mingyu had no reason to lie, and he couldn’t understand why Wonwoo was so suspicious.

Wonwoo groaned, throwing up his hands. “So, you’re human.”

“Yes.”

“A human who just happened to find the help wanted ad for this bar.”

“Yes.”

“You’re not anything other than human?”

Mingyu hesitated. There was no way that Wonwoo would have known that Mingyu was aware of the magical world. There was no way for Wonwoo to know just how close to that world Mingyu walked, every single day. He probably thought Mingyu was just a giant, goofy idiot, who didn’t notice Joshua’s changing hair colors, who didn’t know about Wonwoo’s secret magic ingredient cabinet, who honestly thought that all the strange things that went on in this place could be written off as halfway normal. The idea of that made Mingyu sad. The revelation that Wonwoo had so little faith in him, so little faith in his intelligence, was honestly the biggest fucking bummer of Mingyu’s night, and that was saying something, given how pissy he was about almost everything, right now.

Mingyu let out another sigh. “No, Wonwoo. I’m not. I’m just Kim Mingyu, the human. You don’t have to worry about me,” he muttered, finally getting up from the barstool and trudging back behind the bar. He was changing his mind about that whole alcohol consumption thing, getting out a glass and splashing bottles into it at random, when Wonwoo spoke up again.

“Listen, Mingyu, I didn’t mean to… I’m… I’m sorry if I…” he started, but Mingyu waved a hand, cutting him off.

“S’fine, boss,” he said, looking up with a grin and raising the Frankendrink he’d made to his lips. “I get it. You gotta protect your bar,” he finished, drinking it all in one go and trying not to make a face about it.

Wonwoo frowned. “No, that’s not. That’s not what I need to protect, Mingyu. Just… let me explain…”

A new customer arrived in front of Mingyu at the bar, effectively saving him from whatever Wonwoo thought he was rambling about. “Don’t worry about it, all right?” Mingyu said firmly. “I gotta go to work.”

Mingyu moved down the bar before Wonwoo could reply.

Chapter Text

“Baaaaaaarteeeeeeeeend~” Junhui sang, his falsetto voice cutting across The Nest like a misfired neuron cutting through Wonwoo’s migraine-riddled brain.

Wonwoo shook his head. This was the last thing he needed today, the last people he needed making this shift difficult. Yesterday was a complete and total mess -- Junhui finally sobered up enough to remember that Mingyu was a person that existed in Wonwoo’s life, that Mingyu was a nonmagic, and that Wonwoo was looking into magic-nonmagic relationships. With some last-minute deductive reasoning from Minghao, Junhui finally put two-and-two together, reasoning that there was no friend of Wonwoo’s who needed help with a magic-nonmagic relationship. It was just Wonwoo, and Wonwoo alone.

Junhui took it upon himself to march over to Wonwoo’s apartment and demand to speak to him, as if the quiet and sanctity of Wonwoo’s apartment meant nothing to the perpetually-loud Junhui. Wonwoo instantly knew that something was wrong when he opened the door and Junhui had the biggest shit-eating grin he had ever seen on a person ever in the history of everything. Junhui didn’t even bother waiting til he got inside -- correction: he never made it in Wonwoo’s apartment -- to spill the beans, to let on that he knew about Wonwoo’s Mingyu problem.

Considering he had just endured hours of honest-Gyu, Wonwoo noped the fuck out of that conversation, shutting the door in Junhui’s face, casting a noise-canceling enchantment on the door, and pretending that Junhui absolutely 100% did not exist. Just like Mingyu. In fact, none of his problems existed. They were all figments of his imagination. Bad dreams. Unlucky charms, if you will.

Honestly, he just needed at least 17 days off. In a row. Preferably on an island far far away from Junhui, Mingyu, magic -- all of it.

Junhui marching into The Nest in the middle of shift number five with Mingyu was definitely not what he had in mind. Worse yet, Junhui was sober and probably had a plan for how to make Wonwoo squirm. Luckily for Wonwoo, he had at least 17 contingency plans for every type of emergency, from riding out the apocalypse to protecting his potions ingredients to incapacitating-slash-neutralizing annoying friends.

Wonwoo quickly turned to Mingyu, who was in the middle of pouring waters for some patrons at the end of the bar. “Mingyu, I need you to help restock the back.”

“Sure, right after I --”

“-- Now,” Wonwoo insisted, trying to sound as dark, scary, and intimidating as possible. Not that anything could ever be intimidating to his giant apprentice.

Mingyu shrugged, sliding two empty glasses across the bar in Wonwoo’s general direction and heading to the back. It was true -- ever since their last shift together, the two of them had been weird. Wonwoo was back to being short, demanding, and feisty. Mingyu was distant, guarded, and quiet. Why couldn’t they just be normal? Normal, not in love, easy, still not in love? It had to be complicated. And he was tired of it. Wonwoo filled the two waters while Junhui and Minghao promptly took seats right in front of him. Why couldn’t they just sit literally anywhere else?

“Where’d lover-boy go?” Junhui immediately piped up, earning what Wonwoo hoped was the most scornful, dirtiest glare he could muster on-demand. Junhui, as always, was unmoved. He knew Wonwoo was all bark and no bite. Junhui was dressed in a pretty pastel pink, as usual. Minghao might have been wearing more black than Wonwoo, his skinny jeans sporting strategically-placed tears at the knee and along his thighs.

Mingyu ,” Wonwoo replied, trying to emphasize that his apprentice was not his lover to the ever-unpersuadable Junhui, “Is in the back helping restock the bar.”

Minghao nonchalantly grabbed a menu, poring over which wine he wanted to try tonight. At this point, he’d sampled nearly all of them when he wasn’t ordering New Ages. “How unfortunate,” Minghao muttered. “For you.”

Junhui giggled. “Yeah, you know that’s just gonna drag this whole thing out. You could just introduce tall, dark, and handsome to us now and let me work my magic on him.”

“Magic?” Wonwoo scoffed. “You don’t have a magical bone in your body.”

“Oh, not the magic kind of magic. The magic of love, mon contrarié serveur . The magic of being the best wingman you’ve ever had --”

“-- The wingman I didn’t ask for,” Wonwoo interjected.

“The best wingman you didn’t ask for, and the wingman who will hype you up in all the right ways for Monsieur Mingyu. I’ll have him thinking ‘mon petit chéri’ of you by the end of the night, dear friend.”

Had he known Junhui was going to be this ridiculous tonight, Wonwoo would’ve just called in sick. Minghao seemed amused by all of this, but Wonwoo could not even begin to think about talking to Junhui, so he settled on Minghao. “Is he always like this?” he asked in exasperation. “Speaking in French?”

“Only when it comes to amour ,” Minghao cheekily replied. “I’ll have a glass of the Bourgogne Blanc chardonnay, by the way.”

Wonwoo narrowed his eyes. Of course he’d order a French wine. He turned to Junhui, who looked as smug as ever. “And for you? A Magic on the Beach?”

“Oui!”

Is it possible to roll your eyes out of their sockets? Wonwoo was asking for a friend. He tried to think of something clever, witty, or just plain matter-of-fact that might get the two shopkeepers off his back for the rest of the night. Something told him that he couldn’t outwit Junhui’s hyperness -- or the sheer elation he felt now that he was going to be ‘helping’ get Wonwoo a date -- especially with Minghao there to provide the subtle-yet-powerful digs. So he went straight for a reality-check.

“You know,” Wonwoo eventually replied, pulling Minghao and Junhui from their own conversation. He was in the middle of pouring Minghao’s glass of wine, which helped pry their attention from whatever scheming they were engaged in. “Mingyu is going to be restocking for a while. It might be best if you just come back another night, especially since I’ll be busy.”

Junhui looked over toward the back door, where he saw Mingyu bringing racks of beer and cider from the kitchen cooler to the end of the bar. “You just like seeing his arms flex, Wonwoo.”

He wasn’t prepared for that one. Wonwoo nearly lost his concentration while making Junhui’s drink; he was thinking back to the first time he realized that Mingyu, indeed worked out. And not just a little -- a lot. He was kinda into it, not that he would ever admit that to Junhui and Minghao. Instead, he focused on trying to come up with some sort of excuse as to why he wouldn’t even care about Mingyu’s body. Or Mingyu in general. “I doubt his arms are flexing much carrying a 12-pack of draft IPAs.”

“So you were looking!” Junhui exclaimed.

Yes , maybe he was looking at how Mingyu’s arms strained the tight short sleeves of his collared shirt. But he’d never tell Junhui that.

“Only because you told me to look.”

“To be fair,” Minghao added. “He could probably snap you in half, Wonwoo.”

“He could actually snap you in half,” Wonwoo countered, sliding Junhui’s cocktail and Minghao’s glass of wine across the bar.

Minghao rolled his eyes, swirling the wine glass like the connoisseur he was. Or pretended to be. “He’s surprisingly flexible,” Junhui commented, innocently sipping his own drink so that Minghao couldn’t hit him too hard.

“Bendy, even,” he added.

Babe.”

“Okay okay, back to teasing our big bad Wonwoo and his big bad crush.”

“I don’t have a crush,” he insisted, probably getting through to exactly zero of his two so-called friends on the other side of the bar.

Minghao paused before sipping his wine. “Infatuation?”

“Heart boner?” Junhui suggested, the two of them feeding off each other now.

“Boyfriend?”

“Real boner?”

Junhui, I swear to god,” Wonwoo muttered, massaging his temples. This was going infinitely worse than he expected, and his expectations were already pretty low. Wonwoo quickly decided to move onto Plan B -- instead of convincing Junhui and Minghao to be less ridiculous, he was going to make them disappear. Literally. But only to Mingyu.

Wonwoo sighed and slipped away to his expansive collection of magical ingredients. The potion he was going to make was called “See-Me-Not” … his old potions master used to quip that the old geezer who named the potion must’ve liked Forget-Me-Not flowers. Despite, you know, the only flower in this draught being venus flytrap seeds. Wonwoo started grinding up the seeds -- waving his hand to move the pestle with magic -- while trying to remember where he put the blast-chilled spring water for dissolving the seed powder. This recipe was nasty, also calling for troll hairs and two drops of beetle juice. Wonwoo added one part ethanol and one more part of spring water and then heated the mixture with the snap of his fingers, dissolving all the components until it made the putrid-smelling potion. The last thing he needed were the ‘vessels’ of the two boys he wanted to disappear.

Ordinarily, he’d wander up behind his victim (or victims) and pluck a hair from the back of their heads to drop in the potion. He knew that Junhui and Minghao would never let him leave the bar and wander behind them without making a show of it, so he had to play it a little more risky. Quickly thinking of a distraction, he walked back over to the two shopkeepers.

“Mingyu’s been standing near the kitchen for five minutes and you guys haven’t once tried to tease me. Losing your touch, assholes?”

Minghao and Junhui quickly turned around to look for Mingyu, giving Wonwoo a short window of opportunity to swipe a hair from the bar counter in front of each of them. Before the two dickwads could turn around and start yammering about how Mingyu wasn’t really there, Wonwoo had already returned to his potion, dropped the hairs in the mixture, and dissolved them.

He needed something sweet and with a strong taste to drown out the acrid draught. Something that wouldn’t tip Mingyu off too much: a mixer. Wonwoo tossed some ice in a cocktail glass, poured the draught in, and then filled the rest up with cranberry juice. Perfect timing -- Mingyu had just brought out a few bottles of wine from the back.

“Yo, Mingyu!”

“Hmm?” his apprentice hummed, looking a little bewildered because of Wonwoo’s sudden interest.

“Here.” He handed the cocktail glass over to Mingyu, who wasn’t sure what to make of the sudden concern from his boss.

“Thanks? Another drink to learn?”

“No, it’s just cranberry juice. Figured you could use some sugar.”

Mingyu smiled and nodded. Wonwoo was secretly hoping that all of his problems for the night would end soon: the awkwardness, Junhui, Mingyu, everything. Mingyu seemed willing to move past everything, but Wonwoo didn’t need Junhui and Minghao making things worse. He intently watched as Mingyu took a large swig of the cranberry juice before returning to grab the last case of beer from the back. Once that potion kicked in, everything would get better. Mostly better, at least. Wonwoo exhaled, feeling like he could breathe for the first time in a while.

“That was cute~” Junhui sing-songed. “Getting your hard-working boyfriend a drink.”

“He is not my boyfriend.”

“Keep saying that, mon --”

“-- What’s the French word for ‘shut up?’” Wonwoo interrupted, looking over at Minghao.

Minghao took another sip of his wine, like he was letting this whole thing play out just so he could spectate. “Oh, are you talking to me?”

“Like I’m talking to Madame Mouthy over here,” Wonwoo spat, trying to make it perfectly clear that no, he was not talking to Junhui. At least not until he knew that potion worked.

Minghao giggled, adjust his long dark-colored bangs before gracing Wonwoo with a response. “I’d be crazy to shit on my boyfriend, Wonwoo. Maybe you’d understand if you and your crush started dating.”

Wonwoo thought about saying something snarky back, but he decided it’d be best to just spike a bit of his Drowsy Draught in Junhui and Minghao’s next drink when they weren’t looking. Now that he was thinking about it, he certainly wasn’t the most ethical bartender, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

When Mingyu returned, Wonwoo held his breath. The taller bartender joined Wonwoo in front of Minghao and Junhui, who immediately leapt at the opportunity to insert themselves into what they viewed as a burgeoning relationship.

“Mingyu?” Junhui piped up.

Wonwoo was still holding his breath.

“Hmm?” Mingyu replied, looking over at Minghao and Junhui. “You guys need waters?”

“Yeah,” Junhui lilted while Minghao nodded. “And I think Wonwoo could use one, too, he seems pretty thirsty right now.”

Fuck that. He was absolutely not thirsty right now -- in fact, he just seemed to be drowning in the middle of his own bar. If only someone had a life preserver to get him the hell out of here? Wonwoo was 100% sure his friends weren’t here to help; they were just here to help him get laid, which was not what he wanted. He just wanted to do his job and secretly pine over Mingyu in peace; in no way, shape, or form did he ever want to confront his problematic feelings for his apprentice. The more Junhui and Minghao pushed, the more he wanted to pull away.

“Oh really?” Mingyu answered, grabbing three glasses from behind the bar. “I didn’t know you two could tell whether Wonwoo was thirsty or not.”

Junhui giggled. “Of course I can. I have, like, a sixth sense for that type of thing, babe.”

“You also have at least six more senses to flirt with than Wonwoo,” Mingyu teased.

Minghao made a face while Wonwoo silently stewed next to his apprentice. His throat was a little dry, but he was determined not to indulge Junhui and Minghao’s stupid senses of humor. The fact that his potion seemed not to work only added insult to injury -- he decided he would just ignore the two of them for the rest of the night. It was the only way to keep his sanity at this point. Wonwoo moved onto dealing with the next few drink orders, though he was still within earshot of the three of them.

When Junhui finally stopped laughing at Mingyu’s joke, he wiped a tear from his eye and leaned into Minghao. “Unfortunately, I’m already taken by Hao-hao.”

“You flirt like you aren’t, Junhui,” the younger boy deadpanned.

Junhui shrugged. “What can I say, I try to make up for Wonwoo being single and never flirting.”

“Go easy on him,” Mingyu warned with a cocky smile on his face. “He might spike your drinks.”

“Oh, he would never do that,” Junhui dismissed while Minghao sipped his water. “He’s not the type to mess with people like that.”

Wonwoo furrowed his brow. He had long since given up on rescuing this conversation, but he couldn’t help but feel like Junhui was messing with him -- that little shit was smarter than he looked… and suave enough to play with double entendres and the like. He also had an intuition that Mingyu was onto him, too.

“Yo, bartend!”

The regular at the end of the bar, Seungcheol, was trying to get Mingyu’s attention, but Mingyu ignored him.

“Bartender!” Seungcheol repeated, waving his arm a little. Mingyu kept joking around with Minghao and Junhui, though, completely oblivious to Seungcheol hollering from the end of the bar.

Wonwoo frowned. So the potion did work. Just on the wrong person. He could try to make another one...

But it didn’t even seem to matter at this point. The damage was already done, and he was sure that Junhui was already telling Mingyu all sorts of embarrassing things about him. Wonwoo sighed.

“Bartender, am I invisible to you?”

Wonwoo nodded at Seungcheol and made his way over to help. It was gonna be a long night.

***

His feet hurt like hell from running up and down the bar all night, he was quite sure that he smelled like an unhealthy amount of liquor, and he knew that it was rude to bang on someone’s door at 1 am, but Wonwoo was having a Problem. Not just a problem -- a Problem . Something that needed to be dealt with immediately before he spent all night in his lonely bedroom thinking about how nice it’d be for Mingyu to be with him right then and there so that he could be wrapped in his arms before they both drifted off to dreamland. Where he’d probably be dreaming of Mingyu whether he was there or not.

Wonwoo needed advice; he needed Joshua’s advice.

Broaching his Problem with Joshua had been the current thought dominating his brain for the past 15 minutes, his mind running through all the possible ways he could explain everything to Joshua without actually mentioning or alluding to the fact that it was Mingyu. After the whole Junhui debacle, he was determined not to get another friend on his case about dating Mingyu, even if he was pretty sure that Joshua wouldn’t be as brazen about it as Joshua. Actually, Joshua was probably more effective at duping Wonwoo into a relationship because he knew how to maneuver Wonwoo into agreeing with him. Whereas Junhui basically bludgeoned him with ridiculousness, which only made him more reticent about the whole thing.

The Problem was getting worse, though. He needed advice because everything that he had tried -- playing it cold around Mingyu, ignoring him like he didn’t exist, even drugging him with powerful potions -- well, none of it worked. Either his approach wasn’t working and he needed to switch it up or his mindset wasn’t in the right place and he needed to correct it. He was convinced that it couldn’t be the second of those two options because, well, that would mean that he needed to accept that he liked Mingyu a little more than he admitted to himself and a lot more than he admitted to anyone else.

His last shift with Mingyu at The Nest was a disaster for his heart. Junhui and Minghao (well, mostly Junhui) were quite skillful at making him fall for Mingyu more than he already had, even if their intention was to make Mingyu fall for him. Instead of Mingyu taking all of their bait, Mingyu, from the small bits and pieces he heard, waffled between playing along with Junhui’s wingman antics to essentially taking the position of ‘let Wonwoo live.’ It was comforting, really. A big part of Wonwoo really wasn’t sure what he wanted, and having Mingyu shoved on him would just turn him off. It helped to hear that Mingyu was cautious, even if he was still his usual, playful self most of the time.

It was endearing. Cute, even.

And those thoughts scared the fuck out of him.

He knocked on Joshua’s door. Wonwoo hoped that his friend was still up -- despite it being 1 am, he hadn’t bothered to give Joshua any sort of warning for his arrival. He listened intently, his nerves calming a little when he heard footsteps shuffling toward him through the door.

“Wonwoo? What…” Joshua rambled, yawning a little. “Come on in.”

It didn’t take long for Wonwoo to find out that Joshua had someone else over. After following Joshua into his apartment -- and watching Joshua lazily lock the door with a quick charm -- Wonwoo’s nose was overwhelmed by the smell of brothy vegetables and spices.

“Shua!” a shrill voice whined from the kitchen. “Why’d you let him in? We’re supposed to be eating dinner. Together. Alone.”

Joshua rolled his eyes even though Jeonghan couldn’t see him from the kitchen. “Dinner?” Wonwoo quietly asked. “It’s 1 am.”

“Jeonghan decided to cook me dinner. He didn’t read the recipe all the way through until after he started cooking. It’s a stew and it needs to simmer for six hours.”

“Six --”

“-- hours,” Joshua finished for him, nodding a little. Wonwoo noticed how Joshua was holding his stomach a little, probably hungry from not eating anything for at least a few hours. Otherwise, he seemed at ease despite Jeonghan making him fast all night. Nothing really outwardly bothered Joshua, and his soft smile and light-blonde hair seemed almost angelic given the circumstances. Wonwoo would actually kill someone if they got between him and food like this; a pizza would have been ordered a few hours ago if Mingy -- anyone , ever did this to him.

Shua!” Jeonghan repeated, his voice still clearly annoyed. “Our dinner.”

“I invited Wonwoo in, Jeonghan. I’m not gonna kick him out because your stew might be done in the next hour.”

“It will be done in the next --”

“-- That’s what you said two hours ago, Hannie,” Joshua hummed.

Wonwoo was pretty sure he heard Jeonghan bang his head against a cabinet. Honestly, that might help him with his problem, too. “It has to be perfect,” Jeonghan explained. “For you!”

“I’m sure it will be. Who knows, maybe Wonwoo can join us?”

Jeonghan made some sort of exasperated noise, and Wonwoo looked over at Joshua. His friend had curled up onto his couch, pulling his legs up into his chest and wrapping his arms around them. Wonwoo realized that he was a walking ball of stress, and it was probably glaringly obvious. His fists were balled-up and clenched, his posture was stiff and robotic even while sitting in Joshua’s chair, and he could feel the stress in his facial features.

“Are… are you two on a date?” Wonwoo quietly asked.

“I’m sure he thinks we are,” Joshua replied with a smile. “I never said anything, but I think he’s cute when he tries like this. But… well, you probably didn’t come here right after work to interrupt our 1 am dinner reservation.”

Wonwoo chuckled a little, some of his stress melting away. “No, I’m here because, well, one of my friends is having a problem.”

“Your friend?” Joshua skeptically replied, cocking one eyebrow. Wonwoo darted around, trying to avoid Joshua interrogating his movements. Joshua seemed to realize what he was doing to Wonwoo, softening his expression a little. “So what problem is your… friend having?”

Wonwoo chewed on his lower-lip. “Well, he’s -- he’s in love with a nonmagic.”

“I see.” Wonwoo watched Joshua’s reactions, but it was like his friend, the one sitting right in front of him, had flipped a switch so that he could be as opaque and unreadable as possible. God, what he’d give for Junhui’s lie-detector... minus the Junhui part.

“He, um, doesn’t think it would work out with the nonmagic. Well, you know how taboo those relationships are. Nonmagics naturally would be distrusting of someone who has so many more powers than they do. How would they know if their significant other is lying? Or making them fall in love? Or if they’re cheating? There’s just such a big power imbalance and --”

“Are these your concerns or your friends?” Joshua quietly interrupted, his narrow eyes watching Wonwoo intently.

Wonwoo paused. He was sure that Joshua had picked up on the fact that this friend did not exist -- he didn’t exist when he talked to Junhui, and he didn’t exist now. But at least they could both pretend that he did, and that made Wonwoo feel a little bit better.  “They’re mine,” he finally answered. “My concerns.”

“Do you think your friend really likes the nonmagic?”

He paused again. Yes, he really liked Mingyu. He knew he did. He thought Mingyu was cute, charming, handsome, funny, attractive -- everything that Wonwoo wanted and more. He just… well, he couldn’t get over the fact that he knew it wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work because Mingyu was a nonmagic, it wouldn’t work because of their work relationship, it wouldn’t work because Wonwoo thought about it all too much, and it wouldn’t work because Wonwoo would be one-half of that relationship. He liked Mingyu, but he liked Mingyu enough to protect him from getting into a relationship with a cold, distrusting person like him.

“Yes, he likes the nonmagic.”

Joshua switched to sitting cross-legged, weaving his legs through one-another while his butt was still parked on the couch. “Well, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to fight your feelings…” Joshua replied, his voice trailing off. “And by ‘your,’ obviously I mean your friend.”

Wonwoo made a face and glanced over toward Jeonghan. “And what about him?”

It took a few seconds, but Joshua realized what he was referring to, and his eyes lit up a little while his small smile returned. “Oh, I’m not fighting with my feelings, I’m playing with his,” Joshua explained. “I want to see if he’s really into it.”

“I don’t know if my friend is into it.”

“I mean…” Joshua sighed, his expression darkening again. “You could always try to match the nonmagic up with someone else, right? If you’re really that concerned for the potential relationship, that is.”

“I -- I don’t know if that’s --”

STEW’S DONE!” Jeonghan shouted from the kitchen, levitating a large pot over to Joshua’s dining table.

“Hannie, be quiet or you’ll wake up all the neighbors,” Joshua chided.

“Well, one of them is already here, so I don’t have to worry about him,” Jeonghan muttered, shooting a dirty look at Wonwoo. “There’s only enough food for two, Wonwoo, you’ll have to make something for yourself.”

“I was leaving anyways,” Wonwoo murmured, making his way toward the door.

“But Hannie,” Joshua started, waving goodbye to Wonwoo. “You kept me waiting so long that I could eat enough for two, so what are you going to have?”

Wonwoo chuckled a little, slipping out of the apartment while Jeonghan tried to sputter out an explanation of how there would surely be enough for the cook.

At least one relationship was going alright, Wonwoo thought to himself. Maybe Mingyu would find a better one, too.

***

Chapter Text

Mingyu was having a very nice dream.

In his dream, Wonwoo was nice, too. Nicer than usual, anyway. He was so nice, in fact, that Dream-Wonwoo was currently pressing Dream-Mingyu against the Crow’s Nest bar and making out with him hard, and apparently neither Dream-Dude cared if there were customers trying to get their drink on or not, because all the kissing they were doing was taking precedence.

Dream-Mingyu had his hands on Wonwoo’s waist, but they didn’t stay there. They went up to tangle in and tug on his hair, making him gasp against Mingyu’s lips. Wonwoo tasted like tequila and sex and boy and Mingyu was fucking thirsty (again, always, forever), and then--

Mingyu’s phone was ringing.

Dream-Mingyu groaned, but he didn’t break the kiss. He was not going to stop all this kissing, so help him, especially because he might never actually get the chance to experience it in real life if Wonwoo kept being all Wonwoo about things. Instead, he yanked Wonwoo even closer by his empty belt loops, but then Dream-Wonwoo turned his head, making Mingyu’s lips skate across his cheek, which was very warm and smooth and soft, but not exactly what Mingyu wanted.

“Your phone’s ringing,” Wonwoo murmured, trailing his fingertips down Mingyu’s chest.

“I don’t care,” Mingyu answered as Wonwoo mouthed along the curve of his jaw.

He could almost feel Dream-Wonwoo smirking against his skin.

“You should pick it up.”

Dream-Mingyu made some sort of noise that he hoped would properly convey his dissatisfaction with that idea, stubbornly moving his hands down to cup Wonwoo’s ass (even in his dreams, there wasn’t much there to grab, but he did the best he could), but Wonwoo leaned away again, digging around in Mingyu’s back pocket to liberate his phone, thumbing the answer button and holding it to Mingyu’s ear.

Dream-Mingyu frowned. “Hello?” he said automatically, even though this was becoming very inconvenient.

“Jesus, Mingyu, I’ve been waiting for like twenty rings. Don’t you have your voicemail set up?”

It was Wonwoo’s voice, which was weird, since Wonwoo was standing between Mingyu’s legs, still wearing that distracting smirk.

“No, I… I never got around to it,” Mingyu murmured, gazing at Dream-Wonwoo with pleasant confusion.

Dream-Wonwoo was starting to disappear slowly, which was also weird, but nevermind.

“Am I interrupting something?” Wonwoo asked over the phone, voice a little impatient now.

Mingyu blinked. Dream-Wonwoo was gone. Dream-Crow’s Nest was gone, too. Everything Mingyu had just been able to see and touch and feel and kiss was gone, and Mingyu was laying in his bed, alone in his room at his house, squinting into the obnoxious light of day.

He’d known it was all a dream. But being awake was still annoying as shit.

Mingyu cleared his throat, trying to regroup. He glanced at the alarm clock on his bedside table.

“Uh, no. No. Is everything okay? It’s really early.”

Mingyu could hear glasses clinking together on Wonwoo’s end of the line. God, he really did live at the bar. How depressing.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Wonwoo replied after a moment. “I just realized that you’ve been working quite a few shifts in a row, so I thought I’d let you know that you have the night off. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Relief washed through Mingyu, making him smile even though it was dumb o’clock and he wanted to go back to dreaming about kissing his boss, instead of having this brief conversation with him over the phone. He had been working every night for nearly the last week. A day off would probably do a lot as far as improving his attitude and letting him rest up. But…

The corner of Mingyu’s mouth turned down in a small frown as he realized something. “Who’s going to work with you, then? I’m like, your only employee,” he reminded Wonwoo.

Wonwoo chuckled softly. “You may be my only employee, but I have a long list of friends who owe me favors,” he told Mingyu.

Mingyu frowned harder. Whatever THAT means, he thought to himself.

“Oh. Okay,” he replied, instead of prying. He hoped Wonwoo appreciated his restraint.

“Okay,” Wonwoo echoed. “See you tomorrow,” he said again, and before Mingyu could get out a proper goodbye, he hung up.

Mingyu flopped back down on his bed, thinking. A whole day off, and no plans in sight? Incredible. Outstanding. Every positive word Mingyu could possibly think of. Except…

A whole day off meant not seeing Wonwoo. It meant missing his daily chance to flirt with-slash-bother his boss. Mingyu rolled that around in his mind, and found he didn’t enjoy the thought at all, actually. And also, Wonwoo had been so insistent that he would see Mingyu tomorrow, and Mingyu kind of just wanted to fuck with him, maybe, a little. Quickly, he grabbed for his phone again, sending a message to the group chat he had with Soonyoung and Seokmin.

 

I’m off 2nite. U guys wanna go hang out at the bar later and meet my work fam??

 

It was maybe a stretch to call Wonwoo family, no matter how much Mingyu wished they were closer. But thankfully, Mingyu was saved from dwelling on that too hard by Soonyoung’s enthusiastic response.

 

LITTTTTTTTTTTTTTT

 

Mingyu rolled his eyes, watching as Seokmin typed as well, albeit at a slower, more appropriate for this time of the morning pace.

 

Sounds like fun! ^_^

 

There were still a whole lot of hours left before any of that happened. Mingyu decided to spend them asleep, hoping he’d run into Dream-Wonwoo again, so they could pick up where they left off.

*

“Okay, let’s go over the rules again,” Mingyu said as their small group walked to the bar just after sundown.

“No embarrassing you,” Soonyoung parroted immediately.

“No flirting with your boss, because that’s your job,” Seokmin continued cheekily.

Mingyu sighed. “Good, and fuck you, in that order.”

“No shifting in front of your boss, because it would be weird and inappropriate,” Jihoon said from behind them, eyes on his phone as he took smaller, shorter steps. He’d pouted all afternoon, curled up on the edge of Mingyu’s bed in his cat form, until Mingyu finally took pity on Jihoon and said he could tag along, which caused him to shift rather abruptly and excitedly.

“And also, he might try to attack you with a broom again,” Mingyu reminded Jihoon wryly.

Jihoon scowled. “Asshole. I’ll fuckin’ fight him,” he muttered under his breath.

Mingyu stopped in his tracks and spun around, staring Jihoon down with his arms crossed silently. Jihoon stared back resolutely for exactly three seconds, then he wilted visibly under Mingyu’s glare. “No fighting your boss,” he relented, huffing out a breath of annoyance.

Mingyu nodded firmly, turning himself back around and leading the way once again. They were almost there. Just one more right turn, and Mingyu was grateful. It was unpleasant and muggy outside this time of year, and in contrast, so nice and cool and relaxing at the bar. Mingyu liked it there, despite the frosty exterior Wonwoo continuously tried to display. Mingyu was starting to see through it pretty easily, especially after the last couple of nights. It made him happy.

By the time they reached the door of the Crow’s Nest, it was peak business hours, and patrons were inside the bar, outside the bar, and everywhere in between. Mingyu sincerely hoped that whoever Wonwoo had gotten to sub for him was at least as good of an assistant as Mingyu himself was, or else they’d be drowning in there.

He held the door open for his three companions, shuffling inside after them and leading the way to the bar. Somehow, even though the Nest was full to capacity, there were four vacant stools at the edge of the long bar, just waiting for them. Like magic.

Mingyu slid onto his stool, trying to fight back the sudden nervousness making his heart pound, and when he looked up, Wonwoo was looking right back at him.

Staring, really. Propping himself up with both hands wrapped around the bar and staring.

Mingyu tried for a smile. “Hello, Wonwoo.”

Wonwoo opened his mouth to respond, but he was cut off by the sound of glass shattering to his left. Mingyu’s eyes followed the noise, and he saw what had to be the substitute bartender of the evening staring down at the ground in shock, where a now-broken highball glass must have slipped off his tray and hit the floor.

Wonwoo groaned quietly. “It’s fine, Hansol. Just. Clean it up, all right?”

The guy, Hansol, Mingyu supposed, nodded quickly. “Yeah. You got it,” he said, waving a hand in front of him. Immediately, the nearby broom flew right into his grasp and he took care of his mess speedily while Mingyu and his friends watched.

Finally, satisfied that the minor disaster had been mitigated, Wonwoo turned his attention back to Mingyu. “I thought I said I’d see you tomorrow, Mingyu,” Wonwoo bit out, but there was less actual bite in his words than Mingyu expected.

He turned the sparkle in his smile up to eleven. “I wanted to see you sooner,” Mingyu flirted a little shamelessly, causing Jihoon to fake-gag next to him.

Mingyu rolled his eyes. “And, uh, anyway. My friends wanted to see this place, too,” he added, glancing down the bar to start introductions.

“This is Seokmin, Soonyoung, and Jihoon. Guys, this is my boss, Wonwoo.”

“We meet again,” Jihoon muttered, giving Wonwoo a death-glare that was completely ignored. Wonwoo nodded after every name, taking their orders while he was at it. Despite the “don’t embarrass me” rule Mingyu had firmly put in place, Jihoon took it upon himself to order a “large milk”, and Mingyu began to wonder where the nearest hole was, so he could crawl in it and die.

Wonwoo raised an eyebrow at Jihoon. “A large… milk?” he repeated doubtfully. “Wait, are you actually twelve, or do you just look it?”

Jihoon was turning a bright shade of red, his fists clenching at his sides, and it took Mingyu more effort than he felt it reasonably should have to hold Jihoon back, while Soonyoung answered Wonwoo.

“He’s just used to being a cat, is all. He’s Mingyu’s familiar,” Soonyoung explained casually, as if that entire sentence wasn’t going to cause massive amounts of friction between Mingyu and his employer at some rapidly approaching point in time.

Mingyu let go of Jihoon, staring at the ceiling. “This was a bad idea,” he murmured.

“Huh,” he heard Wonwoo reply, and he could hear how carefully balanced the head bartender was keeping his voice. “That’s interesting. His familiar.”

Mingyu glanced back at Wonwoo just in time to feel the full weight of his accusatory stare. “What can I get you to drink, Mingyu-who-has-a-familiar?”

Shit. This was not going to end well, and Mingyu knew it.

“Coke,” he managed, but it was enough to make Wonwoo walk away.

Two stools down, Soonyoung had the decency to at least look regretful. “Hey, I’m sorry, Mingyu. I didn’t even think about it…” he said apologetically, and Mingyu sighed.

“It’s whatever. Too late now,” he shrugged, trying to shake it off, make it seem less important than it felt. Maybe by the time they left this place, he’d succeed at convincing himself.

A few minutes later, Wonwoo was back with all of their drinks, including Jihoon’s ridiculous, large milk, and he seemed to have brushed the recent revelations to the side for the moment, or he was at least pretending to well enough to placate Mingyu’s rising anxiety.

Everything was good, for that first drink. Mingyu chatted with his friends, introducing them to the other regulars in attendance. They met Joshua and Jeonghan, Chan, and Jihoon even managed to get a small grin out of Seungcheol, sitting in the corner with his drink as usual. Mingyu was kind of amazed at that, but he couldn’t really concentrate on it. He was too busy feeling Wonwoo out, trying to find the cracks in his genial persona. Trying to figure out just how much Soonyoung’s careless comment had fucked him over, how much it would matter when he came back for his shift tomorrow.

Mingyu was aware of the biggest problem, of course. He looked like a liar, now. Just two nights ago, he’d insisted to Wonwoo that he wasn’t magical. Of course, Wonwoo didn’t have the whole story. Mingyu hadn’t lied, on one hand. He, himself? Not a magical inkling in his bones. His family, however… that was a different story altogether. One he might end up having to tell, way sooner than he’d anticipated, or wanted to.

Mingyu was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of slurping, and he realized that his Coke was gone, and he’d been so distracted by his increasing Problems that he’d continued trying to drink it. Wonwoo eyed him, chuckling. “Want another?” he questioned, voice softer around the edges than it had been before. Almost like Mingyu was the only person in the bar, as far as Wonwoo was concerned.

“Yeah,” Mingyu answered, blushing at his own brain and it’s continued inability to just stay the fuck on track. Wonwoo glanced around at the other glasses on his bar.

“Another for everyone?” he asked, and welp. There went Mingyu’s silly “it’s only the two of us” illusion. A real shame, honestly.

Everyone said yes to that, and Mingyu had just finished introducing everyone to the recently appeared out of nowhere Minghao and Junhui, when he noticed Wonwoo staring at him again, while he made drinks. Mingyu couldn’t see exactly what Wonwoo was doing with his hands, since he seemed to have strategically hidden himself behind the bar at just the right angle to avoid curious eyes, but he was certainly doing a lot to Mingyu with his face. Wonwoo was staring at him like he was trying to figure him out, just like always, but there was something more behind it, tonight. Something… something more intense, but Mingyu didn’t feel like it was a bad intensity, this time. In fact, it was kind of hot.

He watched Wonwoo’s glance flicker from Mingyu to Soonyoung and back again, scrutinizing them both, and Mingyu felt his heart drop a little. Of course. Soonyoung was a handsome guy. He was flirtatious and personable, sometimes even more so than Mingyu. Anyone would be interested in him. Wonwoo obviously was.

It wasn’t like Mingyu had any prior claim to Wonwoo, after all. He had no reason to be as bothered as he suddenly was.

Wonwoo passed out the new round of drinks to everyone except Jihoon, who was still working on his large milk. He didn’t drink much alcohol, Mingyu knew, and it was for the best. It tended to mess with his shifting, and generally just be more than his small body could handle. He was usually good with one lightly-liquored drink, and Mingyu was sure he’d get to that later on. After his milk.

Mingyu lifted his second Coke to his lips, swallowing a sip, and the glass wasn’t even all the way back down on the bar in front of him before Mingyu made a face of pure disgust at the sour, acrid taste of the dark-colored liquid. If he’d been paying a bit more attention, he’d have noticed that just down the bar, Soonyoung was also grimacing at his 7 and 7, pushing the glass across the bar and away from him, stealing a gulp of Seokmin’s drink instead to wash the taste out of his mouth. Mingyu glanced around, spotting Jeonghan’s water nearby, and did the same, relishing in the palate cleanser. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying their drinks just fine, and Mingyu didn’t have a lot of time to think about what had just happened to him, because Soonyoung got to his feet and bellowed, “Who’s gonna get their ass handed to them at the pool table first??”

Spoilers: it was Seokmin. It was always Seokmin. He was just too nice to say no.

Soonyoung and Seokmin were sufficiently distracted by a pointless argument on the more obscure rules of billiards fifteen minutes in, when Mingyu realized that Jihoon hadn’t actually left the bar yet. He glanced up, finding his familiar and friend sitting on the same stool he had been all night, sipping Mingyu’s forgotten drink through a straw. Mingyu watched him carefully, searching for any signs that Jihoon was enjoying it just about as much as Mingyu had (which was not at all). He didn’t exactly look thrilled with the taste, but then again, Jihoon cared more about the effects of liquor than anything else, so Mingyu supposed he could have it. Besides, it all seemed to be a convenient excuse to make eyes at Seungcheol, who had commandeered the remainder of Soonyoung’s drink and moved two stools closer to Jihoon at the bar, laughing at some joke Mingyu guessed Jihoon had made.

It was weird, because Seungcheol was normally so quiet, almost mysterious. Mingyu had seen him for hours on end every day for the last week, and he still didn’t know anything about him. Not his last name, what he did for a living, nothing. But, from the looks of it, Mingyu wouldn’t have been surprised if Jihoon knew all that information and more by the end of the night. He smiled fondly at his familiar. Good for him. Jihoon didn’t get out much, and that was partly due to his odd relationship with Mingyu. Mingyu felt kind of bad about it, really. If Jihoon had found someone he liked, far be it from Mingyu to mess with that.

After a while, Seokmin and Soonyoung were basically ignoring him in favor of the thrill of the pool table, so Mingyu wandered back over to the bar, making sure to sit at the opposite side from Jihoon. He didn’t want to look like he was spying. That would be drifting a bit further into the stereotypical dad role than Mingyu was quite prepared for. Instead, he sat quietly, alone, until the bar started to quiet down along with him, and his thoughts got louder. They tended to do that. Mingyu didn’t appreciate it.

But, like, seriously. What was the deal with Wonwoo’s drinks? Mingyu had thought he was just crazy at first, just unaccustomed to fancy, homemade spirits. But now… he kind of wondered if he was being targeted, or something. What was Wonwoo’s game? Was he slipping Mingyu some shady shit, just to fuck with him?

Oh, god.

Was he slipping Mingyu some shady shit, trying to get Mingyu to fall in love with him?

Mingyu should probably tell him that really wasn’t necessary, and he was like seventy percent of the way there on his own.

Just then, Joshua’s light, lilting voice drifted into the air from nearby. When Mingyu glanced up, Wonwoo was just down the bar, talking to their two most irregular regulars, and Mingyu could hear it, and he knew right away that he wasn’t supposed to hear it.

“It’s just… it’s not fucking working. At all. Nothing is working. And now he has a familiar? I mean, what am I supposed to do with that??” Wonwoo was muttering, trying to keep his voice down.

Mingyu stiffened. Was… was this about him??

“Maybe you should stop, then,” Joshua suggested. “Maybe you should… I don’t know, tell him how you feel, instead?”

Mingyu heard Wonwoo groan. “No. That’s not. You’re the worst.”

Jeonghan tsked, then. “Now, now. Shua’s lovely, you take that back.”

Mingyu concentrated on the clock on the wall of the bar.

“...fine, I take it back,” Wonwoo all but groaned a moment later.

“Mmm,” Joshua hummed, amusement in his tone. “Look, what’s the worst that could happen, if you told him you’re falling for him?”

Wonwoo sighed. “He could quit. He could hate me. He could quit and hate me and I’d never see him again.”

Mingyu bit his lip. Should he stop listening? Was he even capable of that, at this point?

As it turned out, it didn’t come to that, and Mingyu wasn’t sure if he was grateful or not.

“Hey, man,” a low voice came rumbling, from the opposite end of the bar this time.

Mingyu whipped his head around, hoping he looked a little less deer in headlights than he felt, currently.

Seungcheol was giving him a friendly smile, and Jihoon was missing in action.

Mingyu cleared his throat. “Where’s my cat?” he asked carelessly, because like, what was even the fucking point in hiding it anymore?

Seungcheol, strong, silent, stoic Seungcheol, was blushing. “He went to the restroom. He’s pretty cute when he’s not a cat, y’know.”

Mingyu grunted. “He’s cute when he’s a cat too. It’s irritating.”

Seungcheol didn’t really answer that, but then again, how could he? Mingyu was saying weird things, now, things that shouldn’t make sense, except in the half-magic world Mingyu had grown up in, grown accustomed to.

Instead, Seungcheol leaned forward a little tipsily, poking at Mingyu’s necklace. “What do you wear that for?” he questioned, but it was without the suspicion that Wonwoo had included in his similar query. Mingyu was grateful. Automatically, he reached up and wrapped his fingers around the pendant, feeling the cool metal against his palm. It had always comforted him, and now was no exception.

“Because I like it,” Mingyu answered honestly, and Seungcheol looked like he wanted to ask more questions, and also like potentially none of them might be about the necklace and all of them might be about Jihoon, instead, but they were both saved from the strange embarrassment of that by Soonyoung, stumbling into Mingyu and shouting about his latest string of victories over Seokmin.

The next round was on Seokmin, as a penalty for losing (he always lost, and Mingyu wondered how he wasn’t completely broke yet because of Soonyoung, honestly), and then there was a next round and a next round. Mingyu gave up on abstaining from alcohol somewhere between the third and fourth round, and by the time he poured himself into bed, it was after two in the morning and Mingyu fell right to sleep.

Dream-Wonwoo didn’t even have the decency to visit him, this time.

Rude.

Chapter Text

Why?

Why was nothing working?

Why was Mingyu still crushing on him?

Why was everything so fucking confusing and stupid and painful?

And why the fuck was a fucking game of ping-pong so fucking loud?

Wonwoo closed his eyes, massaging his throbbing temples. He was in the middle of a nasty migraine, and the bright fluorescent lights in the rec room of the Dragon’s Lair along with the incessant plasticy bouncing and wooden snapping were just making everything worse. He only got migraines when he was stressed, and, after the past week, he was the captain of S.S. Stress. The bad news? The only life rafts on this shithole of a boat had Joshua and Jeonghan on them too.

His two older friends -- Jeonghan dressed in a casual button-up shirt and Joshua sporting an aggressive shade of red-orange hair -- were the source of the external ping-ponging noise, not to be confused with the internal ping-ponging of his stupid brain thinking stupid thoughts that had no place in his stupid head.

Stupid thoughts like maybe I’m really not a potions master . Stupid because he was starting to believe those thoughts, and stupid enough to not stop thinking them. No, Wonwoo was actually starting to become quite sure of his impotence at making potions. He had tried no less than six potions to make his Mingyu problem go away, and no less than six of them had failed. Either they failed to even do anything in the first place or they failed to accomplish the one thing that Wonwoo needed right now, and that was to bring some sanity back into his ridiculous, Mingyu-riddled brain.

He was losing his fucking touch. He’s been reduced to a shriveling mess because of a 187-centimeter giant puppy who didn’t know up from down or happy from sad. At least, that’s what Wonwoo told himself to make himself feel better -- and a little worse at the same time. Better because who wasn’t a mess because of puppies? Worse because that puppy was fucking Mingyu and his dumb dimples and his dumb face and his dumb arms and his dumb, well, everything. Wonwoo was pretty sure that his apprentice was a nonmagic (the familiar -- Jihoon -- was suspicious), yet Mingyu magically reduced him to a dysfunctional, distraught piece of human detritus that needed to be dislodged from the armchair in the rec room before he melted into it in shame and misery and disappointment from this whole debacle.

All because of one dickhead.

Wonwoo groaned again at the passing thought of Mingyu’s dick, causing Joshua and Jeonghan to pause their game and look over at Wonwoo with concerned faces. Apparently they decided that he was just being dramatic because they quickly returned to their game of ‘how can we make Wonwoo’s headache even worse?’ Or ping-pong. Table-tennis. Whatever. All he knew was that he needed to get out of here before he actually vomited from all the noise and all the lights and all the Mingyu thoughts.

Without thinking much of Joshua or Jeonghan, he slowly hoisted himself off of his armchair, inching toward the door back to the lobby so that he could crawl to his apartment and die on his bed. Jeonghan had other ideas, though; he snapped his fingers in the middle of a volley with Joshua, simultaneously locking the door out of the room, whizzing the airborne ping-pong ball around Wonwoo’s head a few times, and throwing a whoopie cushion under Wonwoo’s next step for good measure. Seconds later, the cushion was gone, and the ping-pong ball had flown back over to Jeonghan’s paddle so that he could send it back over to Joshua’s side of the table, his opponent mildly amused by the whole thing.

Wonwoo was not amused.

“Jeonghan, I swear to god --”

The eldest didn’t let him finish -- no, the blonde-haired boy snapped his fingers again, making Wonwoo’s voice sound like he had just sucked the air out of a helium balloon, his words high-pitched and ridiculous-sounding.

“Fuck you, Jeonghan,” Wonwoo stewed, tapping his foot impatiently. His headache was getting worse, and he was seriously debating whether vomiting all over Jeonghan was fair game now.

“You don’t get to mope for twenty minutes in the middle of the day without telling us what’s up,” Jeonghan hummed. “We’re gonna turn that frown upside-down, even if I have to rip it off your face and plaster it right-side-up.”

Wonwoo crossed his arms. “I refuse to speak until my voice is back to normal,” he squeaked.

“You promise you’ll talk?” Jeonghan replied, cocking one eyebrow.

Wonwoo looked over at Joshua, who didn’t seem like he was in a mood to help. In fact, the red-haired boy just motioned over toward Jeonghan, like he was defaulting to the eldest’s judgment. So much for friends. Wonwoo finally decided to give in and nod; Jeonghan snapped his fingers again, so Wonwoo tried to talk.

“I just have a headache,” he explained, hoping that neither Jeonghan or Joshua were adept enough to pick up on his half-truth. He had no such luck. At least his voice was normal.

This time, Joshua crossed his arms. “It’s about Mingyu, isn’t it?”

Jeonghan snorted. “When is it not about him?”

“It’s not,” Wonwoo countered, a frown tugging at his mouth. “It’s not Mingyu.”

Bull to the shit,” Jeonghan claimed, rolling his eyes. “As a boy in love, I know when a boy in love is tortured by being in love. Plus, you confessed to us last night.”

Joshua turned his attention to Jeonghan. “You’re in love? Who’s the lucky man?”

While Jeonghan tried to stammer out a response, Wonwoo cut in with his own indignance. “I’m being truthful and serious, but you guys treat it like one big joke. If you’re gonna flirt, just let me leave.”

Wonwoo was hoping that would be enough to earn his freedom, Joshua and Jeonghan were not-so-easily persuaded. Joshua sighed, walking over toward Wonwoo. “I’ll give you the serious part, but you’re always serious, Wonwoo,” he commented, grabbing one of his hands so he could drag him back to the armchair he had been sitting on previously. “You are definitely not telling the truth, though.”

After Joshua pushed him back into the chair, the red-haired boy found his own chair and scooted it over in front of Wonwoo. Jeonghan, never missing an opportunity to be close to Joshua, sat on the armrest of Joshua’s chair. His headache was just getting worse at this point.

“I’m with homeboy Shua here.”

Homeboy? ” Joshua quizzed.

“Yeah, as in ‘take me home with you, boy,’” Jeonghan quipped.

Wonwoo sighed so loudly he thought he might have strained his voice. “I said --”

“-- I know, I know. But I’m so bored by your problems, Wonwoo. They’re so one-dimensional and unchanging. So how about we make this interesting and play a little game?” Jeonghan suggested, his eyes glinting with a shimmer of mischief. He snapped his fingers once more, and now there was a paper cup sitting just above Wonwoo’s head. “For every lie you tell, you’ll get drenched by a cup of water.”

“What about the flirting?” Wonwoo grumbled.

Jeonghan snapped his fingers again. “Every time I flirt with Joshua, a cup of water spills on him.”

“Hey!” Joshua protested. “I didn’t sign up for this.”

“What can I say,” Jeonghan gloated. “The house always wins.”

“Until I vomit all over your shoes…” Wonwoo muttered.

Joshua giggled. “Shall we get started?” he offered. “Oh, and I know you wanna see me get wet, Jeonghan, but don’t you dare if you ever want to step foot in my apartment again.”

Wonwoo was still a little woozy, but he didn’t miss how Joshua’s threats were always delivered with a smile and a nod, like they weren’t actually meant to be warnings. Jeonghan seemed to take it quite seriously, though, and he quickly turned his attention back to Wonwoo.

“Why do you have a headache?”

Wonwoo paused. He knew he couldn’t lie or the charm would pick it up. But Jeonghan’s charm didn’t discriminate between truths and half-truths -- just truths and lies. Maybe he could weasel his way out of this one, too… perhaps more effectively than with the human lie-detector, Junhui.

“Work,” he replied.

“What about your work is stressing you out?” Jeonghan continued.

Another pause. “None of my potions are working.”

“And?”

“And…” Wonwoo started, thinking about how he wanted to finish this sentence. “And they should be working because I’m a trained potions master. I know what I’m doing most of the time.”

Joshua took over the… the interrogation now, as Wonwoo was hesitantly referring to this whole ordeal in his head. “Why do you think they aren’t working?” Joshua softly asked.

“Well…” Wonwoo equivocated. There were a lot of reasons why his potions might not be working. Maybe Mingyu was resistant. Maybe some of his ingredients were going bad. Maybe he forgot to clean the drink glasses. Maybe the alcohol was interfering with the potions. But Wonwoo knew that even if one or two of those explanations were merited in a few cases of his potions not working, there was one underlying reason why he was having so much trouble. He exhaled, and looked up at Joshua. “Mostly because I’ve gotten sloppy.”

“And why have you gotten sloppy?” Joshua quickly retorted.

Wonwoo bit his lip. There was no good way to answer this question.

“Because of Mingyu.”

“Because you like Mingyu?” the red-haired boy quizzed.

Wonwoo was on defense. “Because Mingyu distracts me?”

“Because you like him?” Jeonhan cut in, sitting forward on the armrest. Despite his usually-lighthearted and mischievous demeanor, Jeonghan was deadly serious now. Like he knew how invested Joshua was in Wonwoo, so he decided to become invested in Wonwoo too.

“Yes, I enjoy his presence.” Jeonghan and Joshua were just as incisive as Junhui.

Joshua frowned. “But do you like him?”

“When did this turn into quiz-Wonwoo-about-his-coworker time? I have a headache because I’m stressed, and I’m stressed because my potions aren’t fucking working when they’re supposed to be working! I’m failing at the one fucking thing I’m supposed to be good at -- I apprenticed for three years to learn this art, and I can’t even make a potion that does what I want.”

Joshua and Jeonghan both leaned back, giving Wonwoo the space to vent and yell a little. Yet, if Wonwoo thought he was scaring away either of his two older friends with his outburst, then he was sorely mistaken. Jeonghan glanced over at Joshua before glaring at Wonwoo again. “And what do you want?” he asked.

Wonwoo was entirely done with this. “To leave,” he deadpanned.

“What do you want your potions to do?”

He sighed -- at this point, he was exasperated, and he really just wanted to get this over with. If Joshua and Jeonghan were going to pry, then so be it. They were gonna pry him right open.

“I want Mingyu to find someone better than me.”

Jeonghan looked over at Joshua, who immediately looked down. It was like Joshua was ashamed to have broken Wonwoo down to the point where he heard exactly what was troubling Wonwoo -- almost like he wanted to take everything back. Too fucking late. Now he was raw and broken and Joshua could do whatever the fuck he wanted with this dumbass knowledge that he didn’t need and probably didn’t want. Wonwoo looked down, too.

“Jeonghan, stop the game.”

“What?”

Joshua spoke up again. “I said stop the game,” he repeated.

“Alright.” Wonwoo heard Jeonghan snap his fingers again, and both cups of water anticlimactically disappeared. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re a great alchemist -- potions master, whatever. Point is, you could make anything you wanted if you put your heart and mind into it, Wonwoo.”

Wonwoo looked up to see Joshua nodding in agreement. “It’s true, I’ve seen you make things that I’ve never even heard of.”

“I bet you make a mean love potion,” Jeonghan added, earning a befuddled look from Joshua.

“I’m sorry, Wonwoo,” the red-haired boy continued. “We shouldn’t have pushed you like that.”

Wonwoo shook his head. “Can I go now? I have a shift in a few hours and I need a nap.”

Joshua tried to smile apologetically. “If only there were an ice cream place around here to treat you to.”

***

One might ask when Wonwoo wasn’t working at the Crow’s Nest.

The appropriate answer seemed to be never, considering two incontrovertible facts. First, Wonwoo was the head bartender -- the mixologist for the establishment. That meant that the bar basically couldn’t do without him most nights. He was the best at making drinks, the best at rolling with the punches (the fruity kind and the metaphorical kind), and the best at satisfying the regulars. Second, Wonwoo was fiercely protective of not only his bar and his reputation, but also all of his magical shit back behind the bar. Letting anyone, especially a nonmagic like Mingyu, hang out with all of his important, priceless, irreplaceable reagents? Out of the question.

Tonight was no exception. Unfortunately for Wonwoo, Wonwoo’s heart, and Wonwoo’s dick, Mingyu was working with him. It was hot again today, so the taller boy decided to wear a sleeveless shirt -- again. Lord help Wonwoo and his weakness for Mingyu’s arms. And his smile. And his deep voice. And, well, just about everything about him.

Too bad he was determined to stop this madness once and for all. It was just going to have to wait until everything calmed down. It wasn’t even Junhui and Minghao this time. They were actually going easy on him for once: Minghao was still nursing his first glass of wine, and Junhui had hardly touched his umbrella cocktail. No, it just seemed to be everyone else needing double the normal number of drinks they usually ordered.

Seungcheol, the perpetually-brooding regular, had already gone through a beer and a New Age … on top of ordering a few drinks for the blonde-haired boy who seemed to take a fancy to tall, dark, and handsome. Jihoon was his name? Wonwoo honestly wasn’t sure at this point, the bar was too fucking busy to keep up with stupid things like names. Chan was already on his third Zombie of the night, which meant he needed to be cut off pronto. The barely-legal boy took a page out of Joshua’s book and dyed his hair a light shade of pink. As if he wasn’t already screaming for attention by finding a new table to sit at every other night, hiccuping until he sobered up. You could never tell with Chan; either he was just gonna get nachos or something and munch on those all night, or he was gonna drink until Wonwoo decided to save his liver. There was no in between. The kid needed a less expensive place to hang out. Maybe somewhere that was more age-appropriate, like an ice cream shop?

Either way, Wonwoo was fucking busy, and he was fucking over it.

To make matters worse, Mingyu was wearing that damn necklace again.

He had totally forgotten about it earlier. Mingyu had been wearing the stupid thing during his last shift two days ago, and he had half a mind to believe that Mingyu’s dumb necklace got in the way of his potions working. It looked old and perhaps even magical. And now it was maybe getting in the way of Wonwoo’s mission to get Mingyu off his back and off his mind.

Never mind the fact that Wonwoo seemed to be getting weaker for Mingyu’s dumb smile every freaking day. The kid was 187-centimeters but had the demeanor and face of a puppy. What the actual fuck?

Maybe if he weren’t so charming Wonwoo would be a functional human being.

Wonwoo angrily pulled out a red wine glass. Minghao and Junhui looked down the bar, but Wonwoo was too determined to make this work. Next, he pulled out his cocktail shaker and mashed up some blackberries -- this time, he was making a Raven. He added a few mint leaves, a splash of white rum, and some ice. He vigorously shook the drink-in-progress and thought about what magical ingredients he’d need now. Setting the shaker down, Wonwoo grabbed a vial of honeywater, squirting a few drops into a new shot glass. He added some more ethanol, a pinch of pearl dust, and moonstone dust. He was making a Nothing Draught. As soon as he mixed all the ingredients, he quick-boiled the shot glass and threw it in the cocktail shaker. Giving it a few good mixes, he dumped the drink into the red wine glass. He quickly shoved the laced Raven toward Mingyu. He murmured a thanks, Wonwoo grunted, and that was that.

Wonwoo kept telling himself to keep his cool, to lower his expectations in case yet another one of his draughts was a dud. He couldn’t help himself, though; he was intently watching Mingyu, hoping that his apprentice would at the very least stop being so handsome and charming and perfect and -- shut up, Wonwoo’s brain. However, he’d settle for Mingyu just being a little more muted today: less outgoing, less bubbly, less tolerable of Wonwoo’s bullshit.

Mingyu didn’t seem to get the memo.

Without missing a beat, Mingyu was adeptly floating up and down the bar, refilling waters, making cocktails, and grabbing beers for a demanding clientele. He threw the Flaming Zombie Wonwoo’s way, but Mingyu dexterously made everything else, like he had been working there for years. He seemed to have better relationships with most of the regulars -- minus Seungcheol, who was still a little bitter about that time Mingyu ignored him -- than Wonwoo did, even though he had worked there for years as the mixologist. He just had that it factor, that charming and friendly personality that was approachable and contagious. Why was Wonwoo so anemic around Mingyu?

Why did literally everyone else have a normal relationship with Mingyu? Why can’t he just be a normal fucking person and accept that he might like Mingyu a little? Why was his first response to liking Mingyu to push him as far away as possible? And why the fuck wasn’t his potion working?

By the time Wonwoo had finished making the Flaming Zombie, Mingyu had already winked at him a few times, accidentally groped his butt while going for a washcloth, and consolingly massaged his shoulders when he saw Wonwoo rolling them on his own. It was too fucking much for the pitch-black-haired boy, and he was waffling between losing his cool because his potion didn’t seem to work again and losing his shit because Mingyu might have been flirting with him.

“Wonwoo!”

The head mixologist glanced up after handing the Flaming Zombie off to Chan, seeing Junhui waving him over. Wait -- he gave Chan another drink? Mingyu took another order from him? Wonwoo tried to look over the bar to find the pink-haired boy, but he had already disappeared, his flaming drink probably already extinguished. He was steaming -- seething, really -- when he walked over to deal with Junhui… and Minghao-slash-Mingyu, who were all hanging around him.

“Hey babe, Mingyu here was just telling us that you have a nice ass and --”

Wonwoo glared directly at Junhui, cutting him off: “Shut it,” he warned. Turning his attention to Mingyu, he was ready to unload. “You let Chan have another fucking drink? I told you when he hit 3. We cut him off at 3. And why the fuck are you so happy, shouldn’t you be working?”

Junhui, Minghao, and Mingyu were all dead-silent, the chatter from the rest of the bar seeming to die down a little, too. Junhui looked like he was trying to say something, like he wanted to say something, but Minghao kept squeezing his hand, as if he were telling him not to. Mingyu looked the most shocked out of all of them, like he didn’t know what to say despite Wonwoo badgering him about at least one thing he fucked up every hour of every shift. He didn’t even bother waiting for Mingyu’s dawdling, inconsequential response. “I’m going on my break. Do me a favor and don’t make any fucking drinks you don’t actually know how to make?”

Without waiting to hear or see what Junhui, Minghao, or Mingyu said or did, Wonwoo stormed out back to the alleyway after tossing his washcloth on the back counter. To say that he was pissed was an understatement. Pissed at Mingyu? Yeah, definitely. If that giant asshole hadn’t barreled into his life, none of this would’ve happened in the first place. Pissed at Junhui? Of course, Junhui made this whole Mingyu-problem 17 times worse than it needed to be. Pissed at himself? More than a little, mostly because he had been such a fucking idiot about all of this. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to date Mingyu or kill him, and his normally cool, level-headed personality was seesawing wildly between hot and cold. More often than not, Mingyu was on the receiving end of it, even if he didn’t entirely deserve it. More than anyone else, Wonwoo was the one who needed the Nothing potion.

Wonwoo was pissed because that stupid Nothing potion did absolutely, well, nothing! He was a failure, a fraud, a fake. He couldn’t make simple potions that did what he needed them to do. He couldn’t just get Mingyu out of his mind, out of his hair, and out of his heart. And because Wonwoo spent so much wasted time equivocating on which potions worked and which ones didn’t -- and of course which ones to try next -- he managed to be a 100% dick to the one person he actually kinda genuinely cared about in a slightly romantic way. Wonwoo wasn’t used to feelings like this, but, if this were a test, Wonwoo would have flunked two weeks ago for an exam that started one week ago. He squatted down in the middle of the dark alleyway behind the bar, burying his face in his hands. Why was he so fucking stupid? If he were the protagonist of a novel, every reader would be fed up with his stupidity.

But… but it wasn’t stupid, he tried to tell himself. He was convinced that Mingyu was far too good for him, that his stupid little crush was hopeless and that his magic-nonmagic problem was too real and too grave to overcome. Sure, he knew he was young and stupid inexperienced -- especially when it came to hot guys like Mingyu -- but it wasn’t fair. No, it wasn’t fair to expect him to be perfect when he had all of those problems, plus Mingyu was his employee, his direct subordinate. Everything about this was hard, hopeless even. It was enough to reduce the usually-resilient Wonwoo to a sniveling mess in the middle of the dank throughway behind the bar. Thank god the shitty lights weren’t bright enough for anyone to see him wallowing in his own pity.

Or so he thought.

Wonwoo made his way back to the bar, grabbing his washcloth and finding Mingyu still shooting the shit with Junhui and Minghao. They looked less animated than usual, and neither Junhui nor Minghao rushed to say anything when they noticed Wonwoo back behind the bar. Even Mingyu was cautious.

“Boss, we have an order for an Extra Magic on the Beach ,” Mingyu reported, keeping a moderate amount of distance between him and Wonwoo. Almost like Wonwoo was carrying the plague.

“Great. Thanks.”

Mingyu nodded and worked his way back down the bar. Wonwoo didn’t mean to sound so unenthusiastic about everything, but he just didn’t have the energy to be as peppy as, well, everybody else. Especially with how shitty today was.

“Wonwoo?”

Fuck. And it was just about to get shittier.

“Wonwoo, over here.”

He knew that voice anywhere, the slightly nasal high-pitched tone that he loved to forget. When he glanced up, his eyes only confirmed what his ears heard.

“Hey.”

Wonwoo instantly frowned. “What the fuck are you doing here, Seungkwan.”

Boo didn’t seem all that happy with how this seemed to be starting either, given how quickly his expression dropped. Wonwoo would have been happy if this never happened in the first place.

“I’m here to see you.”

“Clearly,” Wonwoo bitingly replied. “But why?”

“Because…” Boo started. “Because I didn’t like how things ended.”

“I’m perfectly fine that it ended.”

Seungkwan was frowning now. “Well, I’m not.”

Wonwoo couldn’t care less. Actually, he did care. Mostly because Mingyu was walking this way with a big fat puzzled expression on his face, and Seungkwan seemed to have completely forgotten the part where they agreed that they weren’t a good fit.

“Boo, stop. We were young. It was dumb. It’s over. Let it go.”

Seungkwan bit his lip. “But we’re not young anymore, and I want to try again.”

Wonwoo snapped. “Look, I don’t know what got into you, like, what fucking compelled you to march into my bar and demand to get back together right now, but it’s not gonna happen Boo. It didn’t work the first time for a reason, and --”

“-- Um, Wonwoo?”

How could tonight get any worse?

“Wonwoo, we need a Shapeshifter Shot at the other end of the bar. I can take this gentleman’s order.”

Wonwoo glared up at Mingyu, then down over at Seungkwan. Fuck it, it couldn’t get any worse. “Fine,” he spat. While he walked away, he snapped his fingers casting a charm that let him listen in on what the two were going to say to each other.

“Listen, I don’t know who you are--” Boo tried to start, sounding awfully annoyed.

“-- I don’t know who you are,” Mingyu countered, “But Wonwoo is having a really bad night, and bothering him in the middle of his shift with personal shit is not fair to him or any of the other paying customers. So unless you plan to find a table and order something, I’d suggest you leave.”

Wonwoo was surprised how authoritative someone so silly and easygoing could sound. He glanced over at Mingyu and Boo, and it actually looked like Seungkwan was catching the hint, thank god. Apparently, looks could be deceiving.

Boo started marching down the length of the bar. He didn’t want to fucking deal with this right now -- after beating himself up over Mingyu for the past few hours, he was gonna have to beat himself up over Boo now? Something he forgot about and wanted to keep forgetting for the rest of his life? Wonwoo snapped his fingers again, canceling the charm he had cast a few moments ago.

“Wonwoo, are you gonna talk to me, or are you gonna have your co-worker do everything for you?”

“I’m not going to talk to you in the middle of my shift, Boo,” Wonwoo replied as calmly as he could. He was doing everything in his power to hold it together. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t, blow up at a patron in his own bar, even if that patron happened to be his ex-boyfriend. Even if it was painful and awkward and everything in between.

Seungkwan was livid. He always had a temper. “I come all the way down here to talk to you, to spill my feelings, and you have your, your lapdog tell me that you’re busy.”

Mingyu was now standing next to him, but Wonwoo was so focused on trying to ignore Seungkwan that he didn’t acknowledge Mingyu.

“Are you dating him now?” Boo spat. “T’would make sense because as always you’re making your significant other do everything for you. You’re such a lazy, no-good --”

“-- I think it’s time for you to leave,” Mingyu interrupted, leaning over the bar. “Now.”

Seungkwan was still fixated on him. “Well, Wonwoo? Are you gonna answer me?”

Mingyu rolled up his sleeves, trying to look even larger and intimidating than he already was. Even though he was 15 centimeters taller than Seungkwan, Mingyu was no match for a magic like Boo. Wonwoo decided to step in: “Leave, Boo. Now.”

Seungkwan looked like he was ready to fly over the bar and tackle both of them. However, the younger boy finally gave up, abruptly turning around and silently walking out the door.

“Sorry about that.” Wonwoo murmured to Mingyu, trying not to sound too sappy. “For everything, actually.”

Mingyu didn’t have to stand up for him like that. He really didn’t. Actually, how could Mingyu stick up for him like that even after how much he chewed him out? How could Mingyu tolerate him?

His apprentice nervously laughed a little. “Don’t mention it. I’m just sorry he thought we were dating. That must’ve made you uncomfortable.”

“It’s nothing,” Wonwoo dryly commented, returning to making drinks.

Mingyu was too good for him, he decided.

***

Chapter Text

Well.

That had been a whole, entire night.

Mingyu still wasn’t sure if he’d done a good thing or not, coming between Seungkwan and Wonwoo like he did. It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, or maybe, not a decision at all. An instinct, more accurately. Seungkwan wasn’t being fair to Wonwoo, he was verbally and emotionally attacking him at his place of business, and Mingyu just… he couldn’t have that. He didn’t want Wonwoo to have that.

So, he’d stepped in.

He’d expected Wonwoo to be mad, after the fact. He’d expected annoyance, and maybe even some aggression brought on by Mingyu inviting himself into spaces where he had very little business being. He hadn’t expected an apology. Wonwoo had apologized for what Mingyu had to deal with, in total. Full stop. Maybe he’d apologized for the way he’d been treating Mingyu, too, but Mingyu wasn’t sure what all the words had covered.

One thing was for sure: all throughout the rest of his shift, and after Mingyu went home for the night, those words continued ricocheting around in his head like a pinball. They bounced off of every part of Mingyu’s brain as he tried to understand what they really meant. By the time he gave up and fell asleep, it had been nearly four in the morning, which was much too late, considering what he was dealing with, now that he’d woken up and begun his new day.

As per usual, what he was Dealing With was just simply… Soonyoung, and Seokmin. Mingyu felt like maybe it was his never-ending, eternal punishment for something he didn’t even remember doing. Whatever he’d done, he was very sure he didn’t deserve to be here, inside the still-empty ice cream shop (their still-empty ice cream shop, Mingyu reminded himself. He had to pinch himself and say the words three times whenever he thought of them, just to make sure all the good fortune shining down on them, the luck that had allowed them to secure this location for their future business, didn’t stop shining), listening to Seokmin and Soonyoung have the most passionate argument about fucking napkins anyone had ever had.

“No, listen to me, Shitmin!” Soonyoung was yelling. “Of course we’re going to have paper napkins, you idiot! Do you have any idea how much time we’d spend washing cloth ones?? And who’s going to be the one to wash them??” he screeched, nostrils flaring and fists clenched as he leaned towards his roommate in a way that Mingyu was sure he meant to be menacing, but was just kind of comical, instead, given the subject matter.

Seokmin opened his mouth to reply, already going red in the face before noon thanks to Soonyoung, when Mingyu interjected.

“Me. I’ll be the one to wash them,” Mingyu interrupted, because it was true. Out of the three of them, he was by far the most reasonable and responsible, and that meant that by default, all the menial, bullshit tasks that went along with running the shop were going to fall to him. He knew it. Seokmin and Soonyoung knew it too, even if they’d never admit it.

Just like now.

“No, no, no,” Seokmin tried, shaking his head rapidly. “That’s… that’s not going to happen, Mingyu. We’ll all wash them. Paper napkins aren’t classy, Soonyoung!” Seokmin whined. “I wanna be classy.

Soonyoung snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “Fuck you if you think I’m washing your damn napkins, Shitmin. I’m not your maid.”

Seokmin rolled his eyes. “No, you’re my business partner, ” he stressed. “As in, one third of this whole operation? As in, you have just as much of a responsibility to do the dirty work as Mingyu.”

Mingyu opened his mouth to say something, but Seokmin held up one hand placatingly. “Mingyu or I,” he amended, and Mingyu sighed. He appreciated the effort Seokmin went to, but he wished sometimes that his two roommates, partners, best friends, whatever the hell they were, would just face reality. Mingyu was going to be the laundry boy, and paper napkins would mean that he wasn’t that, and--

“Look. We’re using paper napkins, Seokmin,” Mingyu said flatly, staring into his friend’s soul as hard as he could. Trying to intimidate him with just his sheer size. Sometimes it worked. He just hoped right now was one of those times. “They’re not not classy, all right?”

“Double negative,” Soonyoung muttered, and Mingyu wheeled around to face him so fast that he nearly got whiplash in the process.

You’re a fucking double negative, Shityoung,” Mingyu growled, now officially fed up. “Both of you are triple negative, and I hate it, and I’m suffering every day because of it, okay? Just stop,” Mingyu practically begged.

A beat of silence passed over them. “Please,” Mingyu added.

No one said anything for another few moments, until Soonyoung was opening his mouth and Mingyu was trying to gauge if he was still pissy or not (but, honestly, when wasn’t he?), but then they were all interrupted from their various breakdowns by a new, extremely familiar voice. At least, to Mingyu.

“Um, knock knock?”

All three of their heads whirled around in unison to find Jeon Wonwoo himself, head bartender and professional ruiner of Mingyu’s life and heart and ability to not have a permanent boner at work, leaning against the open door of their would-be ice cream shop, and well. Just perfect, Mingyu thought to himself. Early afternoon Wonwoo was just exactly what he needed after last night. Just exactly what he needed before tonight.

Mingyu’s jaw set itself in a tense line. “Wonwoo. Hey,” he bit out, wondering why the hell his boss was even here, and inserting himself into the situation, on top of that.

“Hi,” Wonwoo replied, taking a tentative step into the shop. “I was just across the street at Jun and Minghao’s bookstore, and as I was leaving I heard… well, um, a lot of yelling…”

Seokmin, at least, had the decency to look embarrassed. Soonyoung was never embarrassed by his own outrageous behavior, Mingyu knew.

“...and when I crossed over here I saw you guys,” Wonwoo continued. “All of you. Again.”

Mingyu deflated a little. Apparently, early afternoon Wonwoo was about a hundred times softer and shyer than late night bar Wonwoo, and it was kind of doing it for Mingyu, honestly. He even managed to look soft, though he was dressed in his standard all black and still had the jawline of some sort of nonspecific, regal deity.

Wonwoo took a few more steps towards their small group. “Is there… is there anything I can help with?” he questioned. “Maybe be a tiebreaker?”

Soonyoung rolled his eyes. “We already have three people. Mingyu’s our tiebreaker,” he said, irritation and sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Wonwoo blushed. Mingyu wanted to die, or kiss him, or some combination of the two, but kissing was definitely first. “Oh,” he said quietly. “Right. That’s… that’s obvious, I guess.”

He trailed off, glancing at Mingyu, his expression turning unreadable. “Um… I’ll see you tonight, then? At the bar?”

Mingyu gazed back at him, a mess of emotions swirling around inside of him. He didn’t want Wonwoo to leave. He didn’t want Seokmin and Soonyoung to fight. He didn’t want to be the laundry boy of this operation. He…

Had an idea.

Mingyu’s gaze turned more intense. He had no idea how to move thoughts from his mind to someone else’s, but damn if he wasn’t trying, suddenly. He thought very loudly at Wonwoo, as hard as he could.

Please please please help me I can’t take this anymore I’m going to freak out and run away also your hair looks pretty please I just need something to make them get along and holy shit why does your skin look so soft in the daylight come on Wonwoo help me out here I’ll do anything I swear I will

Wonwoo was staring back at him, because Mingyu was basically making it impossible for him to politely do anything else, and suddenly, his eyes widened, and Mingyu saw it: understanding.

Shit. He hoped to hell that Wonwoo had only picked up on the relevant parts of his thought process. Mingyu had no idea if all his Thinking had actually worked at all, really. It would be weird if it had. But also helpful? But weird. Definitely weird.

Wonwoo turned slightly, giving Seokmin and Soonyoung a collective friendly smile. “You guys look thirsty,” Wonwoo said, and it was only slightly more awkward than Mingyu was sure he meant it to be. As Mingyu and his friends watched, Wonwoo reached in his messenger bag, pulling out two ice cold bottles of water, and Mingyu didn’t miss the way the water seemed to shimmer and sparkle for just a moment, but he was positive the two targets had, because they were both staring at Wonwoo like he’d just sprouted a second head.

Wonwoo smiled wider. “Here,” he offered, holding a bottle out to each of them. Soonyoung glanced at Seokmin, who glanced at Mingyu, who glanced from Soonyoung to Seokmin and back again, and then Soonyoung shrugged.

“Sure. Thanks,” he muttered, accepting one bottle, while Wonwoo handed the other off to Seokmin. Neither of them mentioned that Mingyu hadn’t been offered the same courtesy, which only served to further confirm Mingyu’s suspicions that he was, indeed, nothing but a glorified laundry boy, and he needed to push his paper napkin agenda fast, to avoid a bubbly, sudsy, fabric softener scented future.

Mingyu watched them each uncap their bottles and take long swigs, waiting until they’d both swallowed their water to glance over at Wonwoo nervously. Wonwoo just nodded, the motion nearly imperceptible, and gave Mingyu a small grin.

They waited.

“You know,” Seokmin said after a while, relishing in another sip of water, “I think you might be right, Soonyoung. Cloth napkins would create a lot of extra work for Mingyu.”

Mingyu stared at the ceiling, trying to maintain his composure.

“Mmm,” he heard Soonyoung agree. “I mean, I totally get your point, cloth napkins are super classy, but… I just think… maybe it’s best to use paper?”

“Yeah,” Seokmin decided, just as Mingyu looked down at them again. “Paper sounds good.” He gave Soonyoung a loopy, ultra-calm smile. “We good?”

Soonyoung’s crinkling eyes were even more hidden by his smile than usual as he and Seokmin hugged it out. “We good, man. That’s my bad, I’m so sorry.”

Mingyu choked on his own spit, but he managed to play it off as something that hopefully seemed semi-normal, but actually just devolved slowly into the coughing fit it was always going to be. As he was bent halfway over, hacking up a lung thanks to Soonyoung’s once in a blue moon apology, Wonwoo bent down too, until they were eye to eye.

“You okay?” he murmured, eyeing Mingyu’s red face with concern.

Mingyu let out one last hacking cough, then he nodded. “M’good. Uh… thank you,” he managed, trying not to blush too much on top of being all tomato-faced to begin with.

“It’s cool,” Wonwoo said, and then he reached out and clapped Mingyu on the back several times, just to look like they were doing something other than having a covert, awkward, exchange right in front of the other two idiots in the room.

Clearing his throat, Mingyu straightened up slowly, and Wonwoo did too. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Wonwoo gave all of them a bashful grin. “Well, I guess I better get going,” he announced. “It was good seeing you guys,” Wonwoo added, turning to walk out of the shop.

“Yeah, it was good seeing you!” Seokmin chimed after him. “You’re good people, dude!”

Mingyu took to staring at the ceiling again. It seemed to be the only thing that could reliably calm him, lately.

“For sure!” Soonyoung called out, a little too loudly as always. “We’ll see you around!”

“Mmm,” Mingyu heard Wonwoo reply. “I’ll see you later on, Mingyu.”

“Yeah,” Mingyu said to the shitty, popcorn ceiling. He made a mental note to add repainting it to the ever-growing list of things they had to do, before they could even think about opening this place.

Wonwoo was out the door by the time Mingyu glanced down and out the window, eyes following his boss as he wandered off down the street. God. Mingyu was pretty sure Wonwoo could wear a trash bag and look good, honestly. It would even match his black aesthetic, he thought, eyes wandering down to Wonwoo’s non-butt as he contemplated him. Mingyu frowned to himself. Was that the problem, he wondered? Was he just too vanilla for Wonwoo’s tough persona? Mingyu tended to wear jeans and t-shirts pretty much all the time, but they were usually in pastel colors, pink and lavender and seafoam green. He didn’t really care much about fashion, to be honest. Most of the clothes he owned, he’d had since high school, and they were purchased by his mother. It didn’t bother him at all, normally. But suddenly...

He was starting to get a thought, and it was an interesting one.  

Another few seconds passed, and, it was confirmed: Kim Mingyu had an Idea.

He was still staring out the window, even though Wonwoo had disappeared from sight, when Mingyu spoke up.

“Hey, Soonyoung? You still have those fingerless gloves and collar you wore for Halloween last year?”

*

So, Mingyu had turned a few heads in his time, right?

He was a good-looking guy, after all. He was tall, and built. He had a killer smile, and he knew it. He’d be lying if he said he’d never used all of those facts to his advantage.

However, the reason he was turning heads tonight, as he walked into the bar for his shift, was completely different, and he wasn’t used to it at all.

“Holy shit,” Jeonghan breathed out as Mingyu brushed by him with a shy little grin, leaving Jihoon on the patron side of the bar to take a seat next to Seungcheol, who’d been waiting for him. Mingyu didn’t answer, busying himself with stowing away his keys and the bag he’d brought with him that evening behind the bar, even as Joshua was openly ogling him and Jeonghan was still open-mouthed and Wonwoo…

The head bartender turned around, two full glasses clutched in each of his hands, and then there were four glasses broken on the floor, all because he’d taken one look at Mingyu and let them fall out of his hands.

Mingyu tried not to smile too smugly as he passed the broom over to Wonwoo. “Evenin’, boss,” he greeted Wonwoo mildly.

When Wonwoo responded, he sounded a bit winded. Maybe even… slightly panicked, on top of that. “Uh. H-hello, Mingyu,” Wonwoo muttered, sweeping the glass up without sparing Mingyu another glance. Mingyu didn’t mind. He knew there’d be plenty more glances to make up for it, over the course of their shift together.

Joshua’s mint green hair fell into his eyes ever so slightly as he leaned over the bar, shamelessly checking Mingyu out. “What’s with the style shift, Wonwoo Jr.?” he questioned lightly, making Wonwoo grumble as he set the broom back in its spot carefully.

“Don’t call him that. It’s weird,” Wonwoo mumbled under his breath.

Mingyu shrugged, flexing his fishnet covered arms, just because he knew Wonwoo was watching out of the corner of his eye. “Dunno. Just felt like a change,” he replied breezily.

A change was, perhaps, an understatement. It had taken Mingyu nearly two hours to get ready for his shift that evening. It might have only taken an hour, but Soonyoung had insisted on doing his eyeliner, and had refused to rest until he deemed it perfect. Most of Mingyu’s outfit belonged to Soonyoung, as well, from the black, strategically ripped muscle tee, to the similarly deconstructed black skinny jeans, tastefully spiked leather collar and aforementioned fingerless gloves included.

Mingyu could at least take credit for his own black boots. He felt good about that.

He glanced at Wonwoo, gauging his reaction. Looking for any signs of interest (more than usual, and possibly less constipated than usual, Mingyu hoped), but the head bartender had already begun remaking the drinks he’d dropped when Mingyu arrived, and didn’t seem too keen on looking Mingyu in the eye anytime soon. Mingyu tried to convince himself that it was because his plan was working, that he had Wonwoo distressed and stressed and maybe like a third hard. Those expectations seemed realistic enough. Either way, he was familiar enough with Wonwoo to realize that he probably wasn’t going to get an actual reading out of him this early in the night, so Mingyu let it go after a while, heading down the bar to start doing his job.

(It wasn’t until an hour or so in that Mingyu started to understand why Wonwoo always looked so uncomfortable. All the black clothing was making him sweat, and the fishnet shirt under his muscle tee was itchy, and honestly fuck skinny jeans and how they were tight in all the wrong places, and--)

Anyway.

Three hours had passed by the time the nightly rush slowed down enough for Mingyu and Wonwoo to talk. Wonwoo might have kept up his silence all night either way, Mingyu knew, but Mingyu wasn’t about to let that happen. Not today.

“So,” Mingyu began, leaning against the bar next to Wonwoo, arms crossed over his chest, “What do you think?”

Wonwoo looked up for the briefest second, then he stared right back down, at the blackberries he was currently muddling into a shaker. “What do I think about what?” he muttered. “The current state of the stock market? Competitive e-sports? What color hair Joshua will have tomorrow and whether or not Jeonghan will have to bring an extra pair of boxers to the bar to handle it?”

Mingyu snorted. He wanted to laugh, because Wonwoo was still one of the funniest people he knew when he wanted to be, but he figured that might put a few too many cracks in whatever persona he was trying to cultivate at the moment. “No. About my new look,” he said plainly. There was no point in dancing around the subject. Not when he wanted Wonwoo’s opinion so badly.

Wonwoo let out something like a small sigh, and Mingyu saw him steady himself before he raised his eyes again. “I think…” Wonwoo began, and Mingyu leaned forward. Before tonight, he’d never known what it meant to wait with bated breath, but he was positive that was exactly what he was doing, at the moment.

Wonwoo looked him up and down, once. Then he did it again. On the third pass, his tongue poked out and wet his lips a little. Mingyu was sure it was an involuntary action, one his skinny jeans were suffocating his own response to, but nevermind.

“I think,” he said again, “That you look… y’know. Fine,” Wonwoo decided after a while.

Mingyu couldn’t help it. His jaw dropped immediately, and he knew he was pouting and blushing, but also, what the fuck?? Fine?? Fine?? Who said that, in a situation like this one? Mingyu was so fucking offended.

“Fine, huh,” he huffed out indignantly, getting ready to lay into Wonwoo good, but to his surprise Wonwoo’s features softened and he chuckled a bit.

“Yeah, Mingyu. You know you look good, all right? You don’t need me to tell you,” Wonwoo said next.

But what if I DO?, Mingyu thought to himself. Even his inner monologue was growing petulant, now.

“But I also think…” Wonwoo continued, and Mingyu tuned right back in as fast as he could, so he didn’t miss whatever Wonwoo was about to follow up with.

Wonwoo’s teeth were dug into his bottom lip as he thought out his words before he said them. “I like you a lot better as yourself,” he said simply, and then he nodded and turned back to his work, leaving Mingyu to completely melt down, right next to him.

“O-oh,” he managed to croak out, and then Mingyu darted over to where he’d stashed his bag, cradling it in his arms with the rest of his humiliation, and he ran off to the bathroom before anyone could stop him.

Wonwoo watched him go, a mystified expression on his face, and even though he wanted to drown in his confusion and sorrow, because it was his forte, dammit, he didn’t get the chance. A quick giggle sounded across the bar and to his left, and when Wonwoo looked up, Seungcheol was brushing a small kiss onto Jihoon’s cheek as they sat as close together as they possibly could without Jihoon being in Seungcheol’s lap, but Wonwoo was almost positive they’d get to that before the night was over.

Seungcheol squeezed Jihoon’s hand, getting up to change the music on the jukebox, and suddenly, before Wonwoo was prepared to handle it, Jihoon slid four stools over and right in front of Wonwoo, leaned as far across the bar as he could, and moaned, “Oh, god, I’m in so much fucking trouble.”

Wonwoo raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” he responded calmly. Keeping the patrons calm was his number one job, here. It was even more important than making drinks, probably.

“I know we both drank the matchmaker potion you tried to use on Soonyoung and Mingyu and now we like love each other or whatever, but what if it’s fake? Like, for him?” Jihoon stumbled the words out desperately, leaving Wonwoo to try and piece them together as best he could. He stiffened at the mention of the drinks he’d spiked for his employee. He’d honestly thought he’d done a good job of hiding how shady and secretive he was being, but maybe Jihoon was just extra observant. He was a cat, after all. They were like that.

Wonwoo tried to think of how to answer. He wanted to reassure Jihoon that the potion definitely hadn’t worked on him, because it didn’t work on magics or magical creatures, and he wasn’t entirely sure what Seungcheol’s deal was, but Wonwoo had seen a lot of saps in love in his time, and honestly? It was as real for Seungcheol as it was for Jihoon.

He wanted to say all that, to help Jihoon in his hour of need, but then Mingyu came back from the bathroom, and he was Mingyu again. He was Mingyu again, with his stupid tight pink t-shirt and his stupid baggy, frat boy khakis, but he’d kept the eyeliner on, and the way it was juxtaposed against his stupid, goofy smile was suddenly making Wonwoo far weaker in the knees than he cared to admit. So, that being the case, he canceled replying to Jihoon in favor of preserving his own sanity, and stalked into the office to take a break.

Chapter Text

Even with Minghao’s face upside-down, Wonwoo could decipher his dumb little smirk with the two functioning brain cells he had left.

(The rest were currently dead because of Mingyu.)

“You know, if you wanted to be a starfish, I could help you with that.”

A smartass quip for a smartass wizard.

“I see you perfected transfiguring into an ass,” Wonwoo murmured, moving his limbs a little closer to his chest. Starfishing was his thing right now, and Minghao wasn’t gonna take it away from him. “Can’t you see that I’m in pain?”

Minghao scoffed, like it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. Like he couldn’t possibly comprehend the idea of love. Or maybe it was just the idea of Wonwoo and love. Jeon Wonwoo, the gruff, feeling-less bartender who dressed in all black all the time, was a lifeless lovesick mess in the middle of Junhui and Minghao’s living room, and it didn’t make sense to anyone, most of all Wonwoo. Maybe he really couldn’t blame Minghao for being all that amused by his whole situation. Sandwiched between the coffee table and the couch, Wonwoo took up most of the space in their tiny walk-up apartment’s living room. The joys of living above your bookstore, he guessed. Minghao had to slide himself off the end of the couch just so he could stand up and smirk at Wonwoo right now. Junhui, meanwhile, was reading a comic on the couch, probably amused by the whole situation.

Maybe he should give up on bartending. Maybe he should open a bookstore so he can read dumb comics in his free time. Maybe he was hopeless.

“Yeah, I remember when Hao was like that,” Jun lilted, thumbing to the next page of his comic. “He used to follow me around campus like a lost puppy.”

Babe!

Junhui giggled. Thank god someone else was catching a little heat around here… it wasn’t just roast Wonwoo til the end of time. “You didn’t think I noticed, Hao-hao?” Junhui teased.

“I thought we had agreed to forget about that.”

“And forget about when I fell in love with you?” Junhui mouthed. “Fat chance?”

Guys,” Wonwoo interrupted. As much as he enjoyed watching Minghao’s dumb little smirk melt away, he was getting tired of moping around people who seemed to relish in his little love problem. Big love problem. Whatever. Everybody pretended like they knew exactly what Wonwoo needed to do, but they all refused to tell him. They refused to end Wonwoo’s misery, like he had done something awful to them. Hell, he made their fucking drinks, they should just tell him before he starts slipping potions in their drinks.

Maybe that’s because there was no solution to his problem? Even now, with Minghaos dumb little pouty face fixated on Junhui, he could see why Junhui chose Minghao. He could see how they fit together like two puzzle pieces from one of their novelty puzzleboards downstairs in the bookstore. He didn’t see how Mingyu could feel the same way about him.

“Right, Wonwoo’s ‘I’m gay for the tall handsome guy who works for me but I refuse to admit it’ problem,” Junhui teased again. “Have you tried following him around?”

“Have you tried sucking a dick?” Wonwoo sassed.

“Have you?” Junhui asked.

“I don’t think he has,” Minghao added, flopping down onto the couch next to Junhui. Wonwoo couldn’t see Minghao’s dopey-looking smirk, but he knew it was there -- he knew it. At least he saved him from answering Junhui and his dumb little lie-detector brain.

Wonwoo sighed. “You don’t understand. You’ll never understand.”

Junhui leaned forward so that Wonwoo could see his smug smile. “Help us understand, lover boy~”

He sighed again. “He fucking dressed in all black yesterday, guys. He -- he dressed in all black for me. He talked to Boo for me. Nobody does anything for me!”

Junhui coughed loudly.

“Nobody does anything for me except for my lovely friends who are already hooked or hooking up,” Wonwoo huffed. “Except for them and Mingyu, who… who just has that switch where he can be a soft, fluffy, dumb puppy one second, and my walking wet dream the next. And the worst part is? I don’t think he has any idea how much it fucking affects me. He has no clue that I’m busting a nut when he’s flexing through his shirt. Or that I’m about three seconds away from proposing to him when he’s being his dumb charismatic puppy-like self.”

By the time he was finished, he was running his hand through his hair and trying not to think about how he spilled his guts to the two assholes who would probably use it against him forever and ever. His breathing was ragged, and he wanted nothing more than to just actually become a starfish right now with no brain and no feelings and no love problems to worry about because they reproduce through regeneration and shit.

“Wow,” Junhui finally muttered, leaning forward again. “You really love him, huh?”

“Yes-more-than-anything-in-the-world,” Wonwoo rushed out, trying not to think about how desperate he seemed.

Junhui leaned back. “Wow, he might be worse off than you were, babe…”

“I heard that!”

“Right, right, your problems,” Junhui continued. “Well, it sounds like he likes you back so I don’t see the problem, actually.”

But I’ve tried slipping him potions to make him not like me and nothing changed.

Silence again.

“Maybe he just likes you a lot?” Junhui offered.

Minghao snorted. “Or maybe you just suck.”

“Bad verb choice.”

Junhui and Minghao snickered. “Sorry,” the younger muttered. “Though maybe you should really try making a potion you know you won’t screw up. Just to make sure.”

“Or maybe you should just stop using magic and actually admit you have feelings for him,” Junhui countered. “It’s not like you have to be a dumbass like Minghao.”

Wonwoo loudly groaned, sitting up a little. “I can be my own version of a dumbass, thank you very much.”

***

“I don’t suck, I don’t suck, I don’t suck…”

“Did Junhui give you some sort of fucked-up self-help book?”

Wonwoo took his eyes off the glass he was drying off by hand to look up at an amused Jeonghan, Joshua and his fire-red hair not far behind. “More like a pep talk,” Wonwoo muttered.

“Some pep talk,” Jeonghan retorted. “You know, if you’re goal is to eventually, you know, suck his dick, maybe you should try repeating something else under your breath when Mingyu gets here.”

“Thanks for the advice, but, like I said, I don’t suck.” Wonwoo dabbed the last drops of water at the bottom of the glass, shoving his hand-towel into his back pocket. “Also, he’s not working today.”

Oh,” Jeonghan commented. “Carry on then, trooper.”

“Is that glass for me?” Joshua hummed, wandering up behind Jeonghan. It was amazing, the effect that Joshua had on Jeonghan. “Is my mystery date getting you started that early?”

“How many times do I have to tell you, Shua…” Jeonghan complained, his whiny voice even more grating than his normal voice.

“Shua?” Wonwoo deadpanned. “What the fuck?”

“Jeonghan has pet names, mystery dude knows my favorite drinks,” Joshua explained, smiling slightly while he slid onto a bar stool. “Jeonghannie’s just upset he didn’t come up with the drink thing first.”

Jeonghan opened his mouth, about to say something again. But then a miraculous thing happened: no words came out. In fact, Jeonghan seemed to weigh his options and then shut his mouth. Maybe he had finally figured out that Joshua had been messing with him?

“I hope mystery dude chokes,” Jeonghan grumbled.

Or not.

“So what am I getting, bartend?” Joshua lilted. “Another cocktail?”

“Nothing,” Wonwoo muttered. “You’re not getting any drinks until Chan...” Wonwoo trailed off, holding up the dry glass. “Gets his.”

Joshua perked up. “So mystery dude did order me drink.”

“Wait wait wait, hold up now,” Jeonghan interrupted. “Chan? The kid who turned 20, like, last week? Why the fuck --”

“-- Because it’s my bar and he ordered first,” Wonwoo insisted. “With Vernon sick and Mingyu off tonight, I’ve got enough problems without you two being pains in the ass.”

Jeonghan leaned back. “Wow, he sure is cranky when his boyfriend isn’t here.”

Wonwoo tried to scowl at Jeonghan, but the older boy just went straight back to ogling at his unrequited crush. “You don’t even want this drink,” he muttered. “I wouldn’t even let you have this drink, actually.” Jeonghan wasn’t paying attention, though, so he just went to making Chan’s drink. Minghao had suggested making something he was sure he wouldn’t screw up, and he immediately gravitated toward this potion. On top of that, Chan was the perfect test-subject -- small, nonmagic, easily corruptible. The only problem? The potion he knew how to make best was a Hyperactivity Draught.

For Lee Chan.

What kind of hell on earth was he subjecting them to? After one hour of debating whether to just throw in the towel and choose Junhui’s way instead, he finally convinced himself that he would never be able to live with himself if he couldn’t make potions anymore. Hence, hyperactive Chan was a go.

This was actually the first potion he ever learned how to make. It was simple, really: two drops of frog juice, a tuft of dreamhare cotton, and another two drops of the essence of grasswhistle. Wonwoo mixed all the ingredients up in a cup of sugar water, heated the concoction for 30 seconds, and poured it into the freshly-cleaned beer glass. Chasing the potion with actual beer -- the new IPA that Chan decided he would try today, “to seem cooler,” the younger boy added -- Wonwoo hollered for Chan to grab his drink.

The grateful boy chugged a few sips, burped, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. The potions was strong and fast-acting, and within a few moments of handing the glass over to Chan, Wonwoo started to regret everything.

Everything.

The pink-haired boy pulled out the barstool next to Jeonghan and Joshua. Instead of, you know, being a normal person and taking a seat, he hopped over it, his hands on the front of the stool next to the inseam of his pants. Moments later, he was waddling his body -- and the stool with him -- closer toward the bar, like that wasn’t unusual at all. “You know, they really should put an ice cream place next door.”

Joshua and Jeonghan were intrigued, stopping their conversation so that all three of them, the lovers and the bartender, could listen in on what Chan was saying.

“Like, you know, it would be a really good idea if there was more ice cream around here. With lots of flavors and fancy cloth napkins and bright pastel colors, and you know, a disco ball would be great? I don’t know why they’d have a disco ball in an ice cream place, but they should do it. You could, like, get 10 scoops and then get a chance to spin a wheel for prizes and they start the disco ball and it’s like a big party. And all the flavors should be mint! Like mint chocolate chip, mint peanut brittle, extra minty mint. I’ve thought about this a lot, you know. Even though I’m supposed to stay in shape since I’m a dance major, I eat a lot of ice cream. A lot. You know --”

“How long is he gonna keep on going like this?” Jeonghan muttered, looking over toward Joshua and Wonwoo. Chan, ever unfazed by attention drifting from him, just kept blabbering on and on about dance.

“I dunno,” Wonwoo flatly replied. “Days?”

Days?” Jeonghan sputtered.

“-- And, like, I really do think magic is real just like how aliens have got to be real. You know, if there are aliens out there somewhere, then there’s also gotta be wizards and werewolfs and vampires and other creepy shit out there. Like, you know, it’s almost Halloween? And Halloween is inspired by true shit, right? Everything’s inspired by true stuff, even the rumors. So that Halloween stuff about witches and wizards has gotta have at least some truth right? Right? I can’t be making this up, magic is definitely real. I wouldn’t be surprised in the Nest was magical. This food tastes like, you know, magically delicious. Not like Lucky Charms, but like it’s too good to be real food made by real people with real pots and pans. That ice cream place should also have food! Like, real food --”

Wonwoo tuned out again -- he could only take so much Chan before he lost his mind. Apparently Jeonghan was the same way, because he growled “Make him stop,” without either a please or could you. When Joshua nodded along with Jeonghan, Wonwoo was basically forced to put an end to this for his own sanity and theirs. He sighed, pulled out a small vial of tortoise shell powder, and sprinkled it into a new beer. While Chan was busy counting the cracks on the ceiling, Wonwoo swapped his two beers.

None of them exhaled until Chan took a sip of the new beer, quickly returned to the normal, still-hyper-but-not-so-hyper level of Chan energy, and slid off the stool, returning to his table with his friends.

“I could live with never having to hear his voice ever again,” Jeonghan deadpanned, spinning back around to face Wonwoo. “I’ve never heard so much shit about aliens before.”

“I zoned out after ice cream,” Joshua reported, fiddling with his fingers. “He said mint and all I could think about was going back to mint hair tomorrow.”

Wonwoo tutted. “Well, at least I know my potions work. Or at least should work.”

Jeonghan slammed his fist down on the table. “That’s what this is about? You made us suffer through that -- that kid so you could test your chemistry skills?”

Wonwoo rolled his eyes. “I’m making your drinks now, don’t get your magical panties in a knot, Jeonghan.”

“He has a point, you know,” Joshua hummed, adjusting his bright red hair so he could look up at Wonwoo a little better. “Maybe it’s time that you stop trying to do this the magical way and you start trying to do this the right way. You’ve used potion after potion after potion to try to get Mingyu to fall into or out of love with you -- I don’t even know anymore. Maybe you should just tell him how you feel. Come clean. Get it over with, for your sake and ours.”

“Mostly for ours,” Jeonghan added. “Shua’s right, just do it the non-magical Jeonghan way and tell him how you feel.”

“Oh, and how do you feel about me, Hannie?” Joshua asked, fluttering his eyelashes.

Jeonghan stuttered, practically vaulting himself off the bar stool. “Um, I feel like I’ve gotta go to the bathroom right now.”

Wonwoo shook his head, sliding two cocktails across the bar. “Thanks for the psychoanalysis, Joshua. Maybe you should stick to dyeing your hair.”

Joshua made a face, but Wonwoo ignored it as he wandered down the bar to take Seungcheol’s order. Even so, it kept nagging at him: if Joshua and Junhui were telling him the same thing…

Maybe they had a point.

Chapter Text

Wonwoo was so lost in his thoughts that at first, he didn’t even notice Jihoon slip onto the stool he’d claimed as his own at the bar.

It wasn’t that his thoughts were all about Mingyu, or that they were so loud and so insistent that he couldn’t focus on anything else, okay? Jihoon was just small. Inconspicuous. Hard to notice, until he started talking.

That was definitely the reason.

Wonwoo didn’t notice Jihoon at all until the patron cleared his throat, forcing Wonwoo to stop mentally making out with Mingyu and glance up at him. Wonwoo raised an eyebrow in the direction of Mingyu’s familiar, hoping he wasn’t blushing too much at being caught. “Hey, Jihoon. Large milk today?” He didn’t ask where Mingyu was. They were never too far from each other, Jihoon and Mingyu, anyway, so the tall hunk of wet dream fuel Wonwoo had been suffering over had to be nearby.

Jihoon frowned a little. “No. I want… I want a shot of something,” he said firmly, and Wonwoo’s eyes flicked up to the clock behind the bar.

“Jihoon, it’s eleven in the morning.”

Jihoon frowned harder. “I said what I said.”

Wonwoo squinted at Jihoon, trying to figure out what was going on with him. After a moment, he noticed several things.

One, Jihoon had been sitting here for more than five minutes, and Mingyu still hadn’t shown up. Unusual.

Two, Jihoon looked annoyed. Not unusual, but…

He also looked kind of sad.

Finally, Wonwoo shrugged, pulling down a bottle of top shelf vodka and pouring a shot for Jihoon, hesitating only a moment before adding one for himself, too. The bar wasn’t technically open yet, after all, even though he’d taken to allowing regulars to come and go as they pleased, as long as he was there. Which… he was always there.

He clinked his glass against Jihoon’s, tossing his shot back while the catboy (Boycat? Catperson? Man… kitty?) did the same. Jihoon thumped his empty glass down onto the bar, staring down into it as his face grew more and more tormented, and Wonwoo was concerned, he honestly, truly was, but also, he had a question. One he really shouldn’t ask.

“Where’s Mingyu?”

Wonwoo winced the second the words were out of his mouth, wishing he were capable of not caring about his employee. His… friend. His whatever.

Across the bar, Jihoon sighed. “At home, asleep. I snuck out,” he reported, rolling the shot glass on the bar between his hands listlessly.

“Oh,” Wonwoo answered. Strange.

Jihoon didn’t seem particularly inclined to start whatever conversation he obviously needed to have, and Wonwoo had work to do, so, he decided to save them both from the wait. “Is there anything I can do for you, then?” he questioned, occupying himself with alphabetizing the bottles of liquor behind the bar, just to have something to do. He didn’t want to make Jihoon even more uncomfortable than he already looked by staring into his soul. He had a tendency to do that, without even meaning to sometimes.

It was another thirty seconds of silence, before Jihoon gathered his thoughts enough to respond, and Wonwoo waited it out as patiently as he could, until finally, his one and only morning customer began to talk.

“I’ve just been thinking more about that Matchmaker Potion,” Jihoon confessed, not meeting Wonwoo’s eyes. “I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind to talk about it the other night, I was kind of…”

“Panicking?” Wonwoo provided.

Jihoon snorted. “Yeah, that. But now I’ve moved on to depression and existential angst, so, right on schedule.”

Previously, Wonwoo hadn’t been aware that cats went through the same set of emotions as humans. He supposed Jihoon wasn’t exactly a cat, not really, but even in his human form, he’d always seemed more feline than anything else. Still, it caught Wonwoo off guard, and he didn’t quite know how to answer, but as it turned out, Jihoon was far from done getting his feelings out.

“Anyway…” he continued, tapping his glass on the counter until Wonwoo got the idea and poured him another shot. Privately, he resolved to cut the boy off after this one. He’d resort to switching vodka for water through whatever secretive means necessary, if he had to. He didn’t know how closely Jihoon and Mingyu were bonded, but he knew that even if Mingyu couldn’t feel his familiar getting dangerously trashed before noon, that he’d be worried about the guy. Wonwoo didn’t want Mingyu to worry about anything, if he could help it.

“Anyway,” Jihoon said again, seeming to summon some inner reserves of courage, “I think I’m in love with Seungcheol, Like, actually, not… potion… ly,” Jihoon admitted. Wonwoo stayed quiet. “I think… I like him so so much, Wonwoo. I’ve never really liked anyone before. Not like this. And I just…”

Jihoon trailed off, taking a deep breath. Wonwoo realized he’d said all those words without stopping for air.

“I just hate the idea of it being real for me and fake for him, y’know? I don’t think I can live with that,” Jihoon decided.

Wonwoo frowned. “Jihoon, this is a magical bar. The potions I make? They don’t work on magics. Or, if they do, it’s to a far lesser degree than it would affect a human. And I highly doubt that Seungcheol is human,” he pointed out reasonably.

Jihoon chuckled, but it still sounded sad. “Mingyu’s a human.”

God, Wonwoo hated the way his heart raced at even the sound of that name.

He made way too much of an effort to scoff carelessly. More than he should have, probably. “Mingyu’s a Mingyu,” Wonwoo muttered, for whatever that was worth.

Jihoon raised his eyes to Wonwoo for the first time. “Yes, he is,” the familiar replied. “He’s a lot of things.”

Wonwoo scowled. “Can we not make this about him,” he bit out, and he hoped it was obvious that it was more of a statement than a question.

Jihoon shrugged. “Whatever. Listen, the point is…” he began again, and Wonwoo watched as he contemplated tapping his glass on the bar for another round, then decided against it. Smart mankitty.

“Would you do something for me, Wonwoo?” Jihoon asked earnestly.

Wonwoo would. He’d come to care about Jihoon a lot, both because he was a friend and familiar to someone else he cared about almost more than anything, and because Jihoon, despite his gruff, antisocial exterior, did a pretty poor job most of the time at hiding how much of a softie he was, under all that posturing.

“That depends,” he replied evenly.

Jihoon sighed. “I want you to make a reversal potion. I want you to reverse the matchmaker potion Seungcheol and I drank.”

Wonwoo was confused. “Why? Don’t you want to be in love?”

Jihoon bit his lip. “I do. I am. But… I want it to be real. If I’m going to be with Seungcheol, I want it to be because we both want it, when we’re clear-headed. I want to learn about him, find out what he does with his time and what he likes, besides… besides…” Jihoon stopped himself from finishing that sentence, but Wonwoo felt that they both knew it would have ended with the word me.

Wonwoo let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. “Okay, Jihoon. I’ll make the reversal. Tonight?” he clarified, and Jihoon nodded gratefully.

“All right,” Wonwoo agreed. “But, you both have to drink it at the exact same time for it to work. I’ll give you a signal when I serve it,” he instructed the boy, making sure Jihoon understood everything he was saying.

By the time Jihoon wandered out of the bar and towards home nearly an hour later, he seemed happier. Relieved, even. Wonwoo just hoped that he felt that way after their plan played itself out, later that evening.

*

“Bartender!” Seungcheol’s voice rumbled across the bar. “Something strong, please!”

Wonwoo’s head snapped up and over to where Seungcheol was helping himself to his stool at the end of the bar. He was normally quiet and stoic, Wonwoo knew, but right now he looked even rougher. He looked like he’d had a bad day. Wonwoo wondered again what Seungcheol even did with himself when he wasn’t at the bar. He could have been a mafia boss. That wouldn’t have surprised Wonwoo at all.

Wonwoo nodded, letting Seungcheol know his order had been heard. It was the beginning of the night, Mingyu wasn’t even there for his shift yet, and the bar was already crawling with patrons. He’d just started pouring liquors into a shaker when Jihoon appeared, sliding onto the stool next to Seungcheol nervously. Wonwoo watched as Seungcheol managed to smile down at Jihoon even through his obvious angst over… whatever. He wished he’d tried harder to convince Jihoon that this wasn’t necessary, that Seungcheol’s feelings were absolutely, one hundred percent real, but… if this was what Jihoon needed to set himself right about the whole situation, Wonwoo would do it.

Sliding over behind the bar ever so slightly, just out of Seungcheol’s line of sight (not that he was paying much attention, anyway. He was focused on Jihoon, and Jihoon only, now), Wonwoo dumped out the shaker he’d been filling for Seungcheol and started over, carefully concocting the matchmaker reversal potion he’d agreed to make for Jihoon earlier that day. He tossed in three twigs of rowan, muddling them until they formed a sticky, green paste. Wonwoo kept stirring until green turned slightly orange, and then in went the castor oil. Not too much, or it would taste obvious, he knew. Wonwoo continued stirring and stirring, until the mixture achieved a blue hue that quickly melted into purple, and then it was time to add the extractus reginus, carrying on the rainbow theme with a lovely, bright red shade to the base of the drink.

Wonwoo added a few more rowan twigs, just to make sure this thing was going to work. He really didn’t have any idea what sort of magic Seungcheol possessed, or how strong it was. He had to be prepared for anything. He repeated all the steps twice more, activating a small flame under the shaker with a flick of his wrist so the mixture would boil, and then, when it had gone through each color once again, Wonwoo extinguished the tiny flame and dumped a shitload of lemon schnapps into the shaker, in the hopes of making it taste like something less than completely disgusting.

(He’d used the potion on himself before. He knew the horrors Jihoon and Seungcheol were about to experience.)

Wonwoo finished mixing the liquid as well as he could, pouring it into two shot glasses and plastering a big, fat customer service smile onto his face as he edged out from where he’d been hiding, presenting Seungcheol and Jihoon with the glasses. “You asked for strong!” Wonwoo said brightly, even though it gave him a headache to be so bouncy. He could only hope Seungcheol was too distracted by his own problems to notice the manic change in Wonwoo’s personality.

Jihoon stared down into the glass, then back up at Wonwoo, a question in his eyes. Wonwoo gave him a quick little wink, and Jihoon took a deep breath, lifting his glass to meet Seungcheol’s. “Cheers…” he breathed out, but it was weird and shaky, and then they both took the shot, right at the same time.

Wonwoo had been prepared for the reaction. He’d been prepared, so he’d prepared two tall glasses of water, one for each of them, when the inevitable reactions occurred.

“POISON!!” Jihoon choked out when he slammed his glass down, holding one hand over his mouth like he might barf it all back up. Wonwoo met his eyes and shook his head firmly, willing Jihoon’s stomach to behave as he shoved the water at him. Jihoon was downing the glass when Seungcheol started coughing, loud and hard, reaching across the bar aimlessly for whatever could help him, so Wonwoo pushed the second glass into Seungcheol’s palm and prayed his potion would stay down, too.

All in all, it took almost five minutes for both of them to get themselves together properly, almost five minutes until Jihoon wasn’t gagging anymore and Seungcheol’s coughs had worked themselves down to a few light wheezes. They’d both drained their waters, and now, there was nothing Jihoon and Wonwoo could do but wait.

The first thing Seungcheol said, when he was able to speak again, was, “Jesus Christ, Wonwoo, I said strong, not fatal.”

Humor was a good sign. Wonwoo managed a chuckle, one that Jihoon echoed anxiously.

Seungcheol was working on a second glass of water, eyes still wet from all the coughing, when he looked down at Jihoon and smiled. “You okay, baby? Don’t tell me you handled that better than I did.”

Immediately, Jihoon blushed bright red, and for the first time since Wonwoo had met him, it seemed that Lee Jihoon was at a loss for words. Granted, he didn’t talk a lot, but it usually wasn’t because he just didn’t know what to say.

“Um…” Jihoon began, fighting through the wide grin creeping onto his lips, “I guess… I guess I did?” he tried, sounding for all the world like a kid giddy with a crush, one that he’d suddenly realized was mutual.

Seungcheol laughed good-naturedly, reaching out to pull Jihoon off his stool and into his arms. “I love a man who can handle his alcohol,” he rumbled as Jihoon visibly melted, and Wonwoo wondered if now was the time to bring up the fact that Jihoon had suffered almost as much as Seungcheol over that potion. Probably not, he decided. What he hadn’t noticed while he was coughing his brains out wouldn’t hurt him.

Wonwoo smiled tightly. “You looked like you needed it,” he said. It wasn’t exactly a lie. “Rough day?”

Seungcheol nodded, his smile turning a bit rueful. “Reaping’s a tough gig sometimes,” he said, and suddenly, it all made sense. Seungcheol was a reaper, as in, the grim variety. He was in charge of driving around, waiting for calls to pick up new souls as they passed on. Wonwoo had known a reaper or two in his time, and they were usually serious and uptight, just like he’d thought Seungcheol was, until he saw him with Jihoon. Jihoon had the ability to relax the man, help bring out his sense of humor, and turn him positively giggly. It was kind of amazing, truthfully.

Across the bar, Jihoon’s eyes were wide as saucers. “A reaper?? That’s awesome,” he whispered, and Seungcheol squeezed his hand fondly.

“You could always drive around with me sometime, if you want,” he offered. Wonwoo pretended to be much busier behind the bar than he was, not wanting to intrude. Seungcheol had just made a sort of big proposal to Jihoon, after all. Reapers were a solitary bunch, but Seungcheol was inviting Jihoon into his life and his world, and if that wasn’t a sign of real, true feelings, Wonwoo didn’t know what was. He was happy for Jihoon, and Seungcheol. They were way cuter together than they had any right to be.

“Okay,” Jihoon was answering hesitantly. “But, I can’t go too far from Mingyu…”

Wonwoo smiled to himself, making a mental note to tell Jihoon about his Unchained Potion sometime soon, in case he ever wanted a temporary break from his platonic life mate.

“I totally understand, babe,” Seungcheol promised. “I’ll be here at the end of every day, too. Just to see you.”

God, love was truly disgusting, Wonwoo thought to himself. Disgusting, and incredible, and fuck if he didn’t want it for himself, despite his protestations.

*

Naturally, Jihoon’s presence at the bar (this time) meant Mingyu’s presence, and he wandered in right on time for his shift.

He was feeling good, tonight. He’d slept well, despite a few weird dreams about Jihoon running away. Mingyu had been a little rattled when he woke up, but to his relief, Jihoon was curled up on the end of his bed as usual, napping peacefully. Even in his cat form, Mingyu could see the smile on his face, and he felt better.

Now he was at work, and he was determined for it to go smoothly. No exes coming in to start trouble. No deep conversations about feelings. No awkward flirting.

Well. Maybe a little awkward flirting. It was kind of Mingyu’s wheelhouse, after all.

He greeted Wonwoo as he strode behind the bar, rolling up his sleeves to get to work. It was busy already, so Mingyu dove right in alongside the head bartender, taking orders and slinging drinks. This was becoming second nature to him, now. He was finding that he really enjoyed bartending. Or barbacking. Whichever Wonwoo was still considering him. He was surprisingly good at the actual process of making drinks, seeming to have an intuition about how much of what he needed to use without doing much measuring, and the end results were always delicious.

So, it was a good night.

Until…

“Mingyu, can I talk to you in the office?” Wonwoo asked quietly when the rush died down, and Mingyu realized that Wonwoo was standing very, very close to him, suddenly. Like, closer than was necessary. Closer than was professional.

Mingyu swallowed hard. “Um. Sure,” he stuttered out, tossing down his towel and following Wonwoo over to his small office as Hansol took over behind the bar for a while. Mingyu was glad Wonwoo had started inviting Hansol to help out on their busier nights. It took a lot of stress off his shoulders. As in, the stress that was currently hovering around his head like a messy halo, instead, because he had no idea what Wonwoo wanted to speak with him about, whether it was good, bad or indifferent.

Mingyu stepped into the office after Wonwoo, and Wonwoo shut the door behind them. Just the sound of it clicking softly into place sounded like a gunshot, to Mingyu. That was maybe a little dramatic, he knew, but this was dramatic, suddenly. Thus far, Wonwoo had never wanted to talk to him privately about anything. In fact, he’d gone well out of his way to avoid anything beyond small talk with Mingyu, for the most part. Mingyu began to run back through all the things that had happened since he’d started working at The Crow’s Nest, trying to find anything that could have been a fireable offense. He was going through his mental backlog so intensely, in fact, that Mingyu didn’t even notice that Wonwoo didn’t sit down behind his desk, choosing instead to hover uncertainly a few steps away from where Mingyu had unconsciously flattened himself against the closed door.

“I wanted to talk to you about the other night,” Wonwoo began, clearing his throat. “When Seungkwan came in.”

And just like that, Mingyu’s heart dropped straight down into his ass.

Mingyu swallowed hard. “Okay.”

Wonwoo glanced down, seeming to summon up some bravery before he went on. When he looked back up, Mingyu could have sworn that Wonwoo was blushing.

“I wanted to thank you, Mingyu.”

Mingyu opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Wonwoo went on.

“I wanted to thank you, because… because you didn’t have to do that. You didn’t have to stand up to him, but you did. And, um… it… I really…” Wonwoo trailed off, catching his breath briefly. “Just. Thank you. It was really…”

Mingyu could see that Wonwoo was starting to flounder. “It was nothing,” he replied automatically, even though they both knew that wasn’t true.

Wonwoo frowned. “No, it wasn’t… it wasn’t nothing, Mingyu. Nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before. Not ever.”

Mingyu licked his lips. He couldn’t seem to gather his thoughts, couldn’t seem to pick any of them out as the appropriate ones for the situation. “Well, I’m sorry,” he said finally.

Raising one eyebrow, Wonwoo let out a small noise that would have been a scoff, if it didn’t sound so… trembly. “You’re sorry?” he repeated doubtfully.

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” Mingyu said again. “I’m sorry no one’s ever had your back when you needed them to. That’s what friends do.”

Internally, Mingyu groaned. It was a stupid thing to say, a worthless platitude that was always offered insincerely, and Wonwoo had no reason to believe Mingyu had really meant it, especially given his track record with trusting Mingyu’s word. On top of that, Mingyu had classified himself as Wonwoo’s friend, which went against all the idiotic feelings he had for his boss. He could only hope that wasn’t the part of the sentence Wonwoo would hone in on.

Wonwoo muttered something under his breath, so low that Mingyu missed it. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted Wonwoo to repeat himself, but as always, his big dumb mouth won out over his brain, and he asked, “What was that?”

When Wonwoo met his eyes again, there was something in them that Mingyu had only seen twice before. He’d seen it when Wonwoo gave him the third degree, asked question after question, and he’d seen it a few nights ago, when Seungkwan entered the bar.

Vulnerability.

“Friends,” Wonwoo said again. “Is that what we are?”

He didn’t sound happy about it, but for some reason, Mingyu felt like it wasn’t because he didn’t want to be friends. He felt like maybe Wonwoo wanted…

No. Impossible.

Mingyu blinked. “I don’t know. Are we?”

It was an honest answer. He had no idea what the hell he and Wonwoo were, or weren’t. He never had. Wonwoo had made it impossible.

Wonwoo sighed, leaning against his desk, two fingers pinching the top of his nose as if his head hurt. Mingyu could relate, except his headache was mostly out of confusion.

“I had hoped that… that maybe we could be… something else,” Wonwoo murmured, eyes closed. It was a good thing he wasn’t watching Mingyu’s reaction, really, because it consisted of a blatant jaw drop and comically wide eyes, and he couldn’t seem to stop.

“Like what?” Mingyu made himself croak out the words, no matter how difficult a time he was having with anything that wasn’t losing his goddamn mind, suddenly.

Wonwoo let out a sharp, humorless chuckle, opening his eyes finally and directing them at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling of his office. “Come on, Mingyu. Don’t make me say it,” he grumbled out quietly, and yeah, Mingyu was definitely going to make him say it.

He crossed his arms, butterflies zooming around in his stomach and a light tremor starting all over his body. Was this actually it? Was this the moment? Had he really read every interaction he’d had with Wonwoo entirely wrong, this whole time?

“I like you, okay? I have feelings for you,” Wonwoo said finally, without being prompted, and holy shit. Mingyu had no fucking idea what to do next.

Wonwoo was looking at him, and he looked scared and nervous and uncomfortable, and that vulnerability was topping all of it off. He was looking at Mingyu, directing all those emotions right at him, and they were because of him.

“Um,” he managed after a long silence, and he was about to follow it up, about to say something else or do something else like grab Wonwoo and kiss the shit out of him, but Wonwoo kept talking. How inconvenient.

“I’ve, um… it’s been a while, that I’ve been falling for you,” Wonwoo continued. “I think, basically since we met?” He paused, laughing a little. “Even though I tried to deny it to myself and everyone else. Obviously.”

Mingyu couldn’t seem to do anything besides stand there and blink owlishly, arms awkwardly pressed to his sides, now. None of this felt real. He thought about pinching himself, just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, but he didn’t get around to it before Wonwoo went on. Mingyu watched as his face turned determined, before he spoke his next words.

“But, I need to tell you something. I’ve been… I’ve been giving you potions. In all the drinks I’ve made you try. I was doing it for a while,” Wonwoo admitted.

A thousand responses all rushed into Mingyu’s head at the same time. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand what, or why, or how, and he needed to understand, so he would know how to react.

Mingyu could feel his cheeks getting hot, and an odd tingling began to brew just behind his eyes. Anger. Embarrassment. Confusion.

Mingyu stared at Wonwoo. “Excuse me?”

Wonwoo fumbled over his words as he repeated them. “I said, I’ve been giving you potions--”

“No, I fucking heard you,” Mingyu snapped.

Wonwoo didn’t have a comeback to that.

Mingyu took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts. Trying to figure out where to start, how to unpack this or unravel it, or both.

“I need to know everything,” he said finally, when he’d exhausted all the options he could think of.

A faint, perplexed expression passed over Wonwoo’s face. “What you do mean?” he said quietly. Too quietly.

“I mean,” Mingyu began, struggling to keep his emotions at bay and his voice at a reasonable volume, “that I need you to tell me how many times you did this, what the potions were, and why. Why??”

He practically growled the last word in Wonwoo’s direction, digging his feet into the floor underneath them to stop himself from lunging forward and punching Wonwoo right in his stupid, pretty mouth.

Wonwoo licked his lips, thinking. “Um. Okay. Let’s see…” he started, and Mingyu was so fucking pissed off. It had happened enough times that Wonwoo had to think about it, before answering.

“First, there was the Magic Reveal draught. I needed to know if you were really a nonmagic,” Wonwoo admitted. Mingyu continued staring at him with his arms crossed again, but Wonwoo saw his eye twitch, just briefly, at that information. He sighed, and went on. What else could he do?

“Then there was the Shapeshifter shot. I thought you might be a shifter, maybe, but all that did was make Jihoon turn. Even if I didn’t know it at the time,” Wonwoo told Mingyu. He wanted to smile at that memory, but he couldn’t. Not now.

Mingyu’s silence continued.

“Uh. Okay,” Wonwoo said, thinking some more. “After that was the Love-Me-Not Potion.” He didn’t dare look at Mingyu as he explained that one. “I’d started to figure out that maybe you had a thing for me, and I wanted to put a stop to it, for both our sakes.”

Near the door, Mingyu let out a small scoff. At least he’s paying attention, even if he won’t talk to me, Wonwoo reasoned.

“Then I made you an Honesty brew. I think I was just…” Wonwoo blew out a breath of air, staring at the ceiling for a moment. “I was just paranoid and scared and confused of what was happening to me, I guess. Of my feelings, maybe. I needed to separate the truth out from the mess in my head,” Wonwoo reasoned.

Mingyu seemed like he wasn’t going to be adding any commentary to Wonwoo’s lengthy spiel, so he stopped pausing in between the items on his list. There wasn’t a point, he supposed.

“Um...See-Me-Not Potion, Matchmaker Potion…”

Mingyu snorted again. Wonwoo took it in stride. He was almost done.

“I guess that’s it. I mean. It’s enough, I guess.” Wonwoo sounded ashamed of himself, now. Mingyu was more pleased about that than he should have been.

“Why?” Mingyu asked again, carefully, keeping his voice as even-keeled as he could. Maybe there was a reasonable motive. He tried to tell himself that. Maybe there was a good enough reason for him to not feel completely violated by what Wonwoo had just confessed. Maybe they could just pretend Wonwoo hadn’t said it at all, and go back to all the other things he’d said since they came into the office. Mingyu liked those things much better.

But, he had to know.

Wonwoo let out a small, frustrated groan, running a hand through his hair. “Because I didn’t know what else to do, Mingyu,” he said, voice louder and exasperated. “I felt all these things, and it scared the shit out of me. I’ve never… it’s never been that strong, that fast, okay?” Wonwoo’s voice turned pleading for just a moment, before it straightened out again.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I can do right. I tried to push you away. I tried to figure you out so I could drive you off. I tried to make you fall in love with someone else, for fuck’s sake, and--”

At that, Mingyu snorted. “With fucking Soonyoung? Fat chance. Boy’s got some strong-ass magic,” Mingyu muttered.

Wonwoo sighed. “I know. I thought I made it strong enough. But… it should have worked on you,” he continued desperately. “You’re human, so it should have worked on you. But, it didn’t. Nothing worked on you. Why?”

Mingyu didn’t answer. Not yet.

Wonwoo must have seen it in his eyes, that he wasn’t ready to talk, because he gave a short nod and kept going.

“I thought that it was the best thing for both of us, Mingyu. I thought that there was no way we could be together, if you weren’t magical, but… I don’t care anymore, okay? I just. I want you.”

Wonwoo stopped, and Mingyu could practically see the wheels in his head turning, working through something as fast as they could.

Then, he saw the moment Wonwoo decided to ignore those wheels, and just say how he felt.

“I think I… I love you, Mingyu.”

Mingyu closed his eyes the minute the words were out of Wonwoo’s mouth. They were the words he’d wanted to hear, but this wasn’t the way he’d wanted them. Not at all. He hadn’t wanted to be lied to, deceived, pretty much betrayed, especially by someone he cared for so much. He hadn’t wanted to be fucking drugged up by that person, all in some ill-advised attempt to avoid emotions they were both having the whole time.

He hadn’t wanted all that, and he didn’t want to do what he knew he was about to. But there was no stopping it.

“Your magic didn’t work on me because of my family,” Mingyu began quietly, staring at his feet, planted on the carpet in Wonwoo’s office.

“Every single person in my family had, has magic in them, except for me. It’s in my blood, Wonwoo, even if I can’t do it. Your spells, your potions, all of it? It’s not going to work, ever. All your fucking draughts and brews did was make me so sick I thought I was dying a couple times.”

Wonwoo felt even worse, suddenly.

“So, yeah. They don’t work on me,” Mingyu said, emphasizing each word in the last sentence. “It wouldn’t have worked, anyway,” he went on. “Because I was already--”

I was already in love with you. I AM in love with you.

But…

Wonwoo gave him a hopeful look. “You were already what?”

Mingyu shook his head. He felt so sad, now. Sad and deflated and cold.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, sniffling. Trying not to lose it completely, while he was still in the office.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mingyu said again.

Wonwoo didn’t reply.

When Mingyu went on, his voice was so quiet that Wonwoo had to lean forward to hear him.

“I don’t think I can continue to work here,” Mingyu whispered finally. “I can’t work for someone who would do something like that.”

Wonwoo stood up off the edge of the desk, a panicked look on his face as he tried to explain. “No, no, no. You don’t understand, Mingyu. I stopped! I swear to you, I stopped after what happened with Seungkwan. I couldn’t do it anymore.” Wonwoo rushed out the words, hearing how they ran together and got confused, but he didn’t fix them. He was too concerned with fixing this.

“But you did it,” Mingyu pointed out, a tear slipping down his cheek before he could stop it. “You lied to me. I never lied to you.”

Fuck,” Wonwoo cursed under his breath, holding out a hand as if that alone was going to stop Mingyu. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, okay, Mingyu? Just, please don’t leave. Let me--”

Mingyu turned around before he could finish, facing the door. He couldn’t look at Wonwoo anymore.

“I’m sorry too, Wonwoo,” Mingyu murmured.

“I quit.”

Mingyu let himself out of the office, swiping at his eyes with his arm as he stumbled back out into the bar. He passed Jihoon and Seungcheol, pausing long enough to issue a defeated command.

“Come on, Jihoon. We’re leaving.”

“What??” Jihoon sputtered out. “You’re working!”

Mingyu glanced up at Jihoon briefly, just long enough for his familiar to take in the state of Mingyu’s emotions. He was already clambering down from his stool when Mingyu answered, in a small, small whisper. “Not anymore.”

It didn’t seem like Wonwoo was going to burst out of the office and try to change his mind, so Mingyu let Jihoon say his goodbyes to Seungcheol. He wasn’t a total fucking monster, after all. Just an increasingly distressed and depressed lump, who very much needed to crawl into his bed and cry this all out. As he and Jihoon left the bar, Mingyu did his best to ignore a silver-haired Joshua and Jeonghan, both watching him go, twin expressions of sympathy on their faces. Well, Jeonghan looked sympathetic. Joshua looked like he was gearing up to verbally annihilate Wonwoo at his earliest convenience. Mingyu approved.

When they were halfway down the street, away from the Nest and towards home, Jihoon began leading the way, tugging Mingyu along by his hand because he’d stopped caring about where he was walking and nearly run straight into a stop sign. Neither of them had said anything yet, the only sounds their labored breathing as they quick-walked, interspersed with Mingyu’s quiet sniffles.

Finally, Jihoon spoke up. He tried to make his voice light hearted, tried to be a little bright spot of humor for Mingyu in his time of need, with his words.

“Y’know, you kinda interrupted a moment back there between Seungcheol and I,” Jihoon started, pulling Mingyu’s hand and blinking into the dark, his eyes glinting in the faint moonlight. “You owe me a night off after I finish taking care of you, you big baby,” Jihoon said wryly, even as he gave Mingyu's hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Okay,” Mingyu replied simply, his voice listless and devoid of all amusement. He didn’t argue, or say something sarcastic, or even let out a tiny chuckle.

Jihoon didn’t try again.