Chapter 1: Intro
Nothing can quite eclipse the sense of over-inflated, ill-founded sense security possessed by a man in his early twenties.
There’s something about the cocktail of newly gained independence, along with the severe lack of accountability and that slight pinch of youthful vitality that ensures bad decisions are made with little to no consequences. Foolhardiness like this is what prompts all sorts of imprudent behavior like keg stands or twenty credit-hour semesters. Those who undertake such foolish endeavors seldom face the repercussions, and that precise confidence is what allows young men to commit all manner of stupid acts.
When one can pull of great feats such as keg stands and twenty credit semesters without consequence, what hope do the little things in life have to rouse any sort of meaningful response in the overstimulated receptors? When even the sight of a man getting sliced in half elicits little more than a slightly louder exhale than the last?
While some may regard such desensitization as bravery or even toughness, what such thought neglects to take into consideration is the numbing of humanity’s most primal defense mechanism: fear. It’s this suppression that allows even the most extreme pass as normal in present time, present days, and that is exactly why the gallivanting charlatans known as university youth are in such profound danger.
Because if screaming, blood, guts, and gore can’t alarm them, what will?
Few things seem less threatening to Lee Hangyul than the popup taqueria that just opened on the corner of Main and Ninth. The place burst out the seams, pouring out of every open door and inch of open patio that they can soundly plant their two feet on. Nothing about the whirly font reading “Mariposa Taqueria” or the standing chalk sign happily denoting their taco Tuesday specials make Hangyul’s hairs stand up. Of course they wouldn’t because as a young man of the modern century, Lee Hangyul’s most pressing concerns involve the delicate balancing act of academic health versus acceptable absences for a given class.
His most pressing concern upon entering the hip taqueria is if he’s gonna go for the chicken al pastor or the pulled pork. He gripes that the authentic Mexican place on the other side of campus is just as good and laments the gentrification of shit people perfected centuries ago. The queue is long just to get in, and the place is overcrowded, bodies occupying just about every square foot of space. Every seat, stool, bench and booth has an ass planted firmly along with a human attached gobbling down the fragrant food in front of them.
It’s not even sundown, the barely-beginning of happy hour on taco Tuesday, and the light floods in through the opened garage-style doors. It makes the entirely too modern, too open-concept too new and fresh and hip place feel immense in spite of the sheer number of turnout.
When Hangyul’s ass finally finds a seat, he orders two of each - the pork and the chicken. He washes it down with water and laughter at the expense of close confidants Wooseok and Yohan. Few places on earth could feel safer to him in that moment. It’s only for the briefest of seconds that he takes pause when he catches the first whiff of his tacos. A spice? He thinks. It smells like sweat, he says. The others ignore him, writing it off as spices. Some trade secret, probably amalgamated from traditions ranging from Mexico to India and Thailand. It makes sense, and there he is again. Safe. Happy. They devour their tacos without pause, barely chewing or thinking or breathing. The three bid one another a fond and riotous farewell before forking off into their respective places. The other two a dorm and Hangyul in his own shitty studio apartment, the kind of place that isn’t entirely unlike that cupboard that the one wizard boy lived in.
Hangyul gets home, and there’s still no cause for alarm. The sun’s just barely set, and the streetlights begin to illuminate the path home. It’s one he’s taken many times from the area: three blocks south and another three east. He’s got no reason to fill uneased because, after all, what harm would possibly befall a fit young man in his prime. He’s got no bullseye on his back in the form of gender expression or lavish, expensive brands. His trip home is easy as easy can be, completely carefree and undisturbed by the things that go bump in the night (or evening, in his case).
It isn’t until Hangyul finally gets home and takes a seat, dizzy and dragging from trekking in the summer’s stubborn remnant heat, does he realize something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Chapter 2: Taco Tuesday
// warning(s): vague descriptions of stomach sickness, mentions of sexually explicit stuff
“ Fuck no,” Hangyul rejects the dumb and dumber’s proposal bluntly.
“Wh- Come on, dude,” Yohan groans from across the table. The three had taken to a corner in the library - a regular study-but-not-really-study spot for them. “It’s thirsty thursday and they’ve got half off margaritas before seven.”
“Dude, I’m not going back there,” Gyul says. “I told you, man, those fucking tacos killed me.”
“Bullshit,” Wooseok protests. “You’re being dramatic. You can’t tell me you eat there one time and hours later you get sick. Food poisoning doesn’t work like that.”
“It does if it’s severe!” Hangyul fires back. “I’m telling you guys, tuesday night was literally like- like the purge. Not in the fun rob-and-kill-the-rich way, either.”
“It could’ve been anything,” Yohan remarks in support of Wooseok. It’s completely unsurprising that the two are ganging up against him. Immense bias in the matter aside, the two share a damn brain cell like tweedle dee and tweedle dumb. They’re the kids everyone’s parents warned them about. The ones that would jump off a cliff because their buddy did.
“I’m pretty regimented on weekdays, and I did not eat anything weird,” Gyul says. “Only one thing on the menu that day was different for me. And it was those nasty tacos.”
“Wh- They were delicious. You wolfed them down!” Wooseok gasps as if a dig on the tacos is a personal offense.
“I told you they smelled funny,” Hangyul crosses his arms defiantly. “Like sweat. I swear I’m not lying!”
“You are so full of shit,” Yohan kicks him under the table. “Come get margaritas with us.”
“C’mon,” Wooseok throws himself onto the dogpile.
“They’re half off.” “Delicious margaritas.” “They’ll take the edge off.” “Please.” “Pretty please?” “You can just have chips and queso.” “Don’t be a puss puss.” “Please?” “Pretty pretty please?” “I’ll buy-”
“Ff- Fine!” Hangyul groans, defeated. The offer of free drinks is far too tempting to skip - honestly, it’s a low blow. They know damn well Gyul can’t deny free drinks, food, or anything, really. It’s like one of those trigger words programmed via hypnosis. He hears “sale” or “free” or even “buy one get one” and suddenly wakes up from a daze with four new pairs of sneakers.
And so he obliges the stooges, hesitantly following them back to the scene of the stomach crime. Spicy aromas waft into his nose as they approach, and his guts immediately turn. He reminds himself that mama didn’t raise no quitter and tips a few too many boozy beverages down his throat. Three of the best damn margaritas he’s ever had in his life later, his senses of logic and hindsight are numb enough for him to take the plunge into Mariposa’s meaty menu yet again.
It is one thing to upturn your guts into the porcelain of your toilet bowl after having a substantial meal. It is entirely another thing to do so after having a substantial meal and a substantial amount of alcohol. Wallowing in regret, Hangyul muses that swallowing rusty nails would probably have hurt less than what he just experienced. Burning is the most adequate word in the lexicon he can think of to describe the feeling, but he feels the descriptor entirely too mild, disingenuous to the genuine, sweltering agony. He spends another hour or so laying on the tile of his bathroom in the aftermath, letting the furious heat seep into the floor as he sprawls out, sweat clammy on the surface of his skin clad only in boxers. When he wakes up the next morning, aches in his muscles replace intestinal despair. Sadly, Hangyul much prefers that. Stiff and hungover, he peels himself off the ground and vows never , ever to even step foot near the taqueria from hell ever again.
They go the next Sunday for brunch (“They have all you can eat migas before noon!” Yohan exclaimed excitedly when he started dragging Hangyul down the sidewalk).
By the time the next Tuesday rolls around, Hangyul considers himself more a husk of a man than an actual person. He’s fairly certain only about half the calories he’s eaten in the past week have actually been digested; unfortunately, the other half never quite made it down the tract before meeting the plumbing. When Wooseok complimented him on how “distinct” his cheekbones look, Gyul actually smacked him. Then, the fucker had the audacity to invite him to the taqueria-that-shall-not-be-named again . No! Hangyul insists fervently, ready to wring his hands around the moron’s neck. He will not go back to that goddamned place no matter how many puppy eyes and pouty faces he gets from Woo suck and No han.
“I’m just gonna get an avocado li- li-” Hangyul squints at the menu, “licuado? That’s like a smoothie, right?” He gives the waitress the least pained grin he can muster.
“Sure is,” The waitress nods, writing on her pad, “What would you like to eat today?”
“Nothing. Just the smoothie,” Gyul says.
“Are you sure? It is Taco Tuesday,” She smiles cheekily - like Hangyul doesn’t know he’s in a taqueria on a Tuesday.
“Seriously?” Wooseok balks. “You’re still on about the sick thing?”
“Yes! I’m still on about the sick thing. I've died three times in the past week.”
“I’m sorry, do you have allergies?” The waitress asks, completely missing the whole “no food” point. “Dietary needs? Are you halal?”
Though Hangyul’s like ninety-nine percent certain the girl doesn’t know what halal actually means, he doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he flashes another strained smile and shakes his head.
Gyul replies,“No, I’m just- just fine with the smooth-”
“He has it in his head that the food here makes him sick,” Yohan cuts in, displaying tact similar to what Gyul imagines a colonial village idiot would have. “Even though it literally has made nobody else sick. Ever. This place is all organic and shit. Tell him how organic it is!”
The waitress’s veneer of professional is starting to fade (which Hangyul doesn’t blame her for whatsoever). Even so, she kindly indulges Yohan’s brief lapse in manners and basic courtesy.
“We do source all of our ingredients locally with organic, fair trade farms,” She says.
“Yeah,” Gyul coughs awkwardly. “I think it’s just… The spices. Marinade. Or something.”
“You can always order your tacos mild if you prefer less spice, or we can make it with no spice at all-”
“That’s fine, thanks,” Hangyul responds. Every second just sitting in the place makes him feel more and more ill. At this point, it’s like his body is just preparing itself to get sick. The smell fills his nostrils like a noxious gas, and Gyul would do anything to smell anything else - fresh air, a gym locker room, even. “I think it’s just. All the spices.”
The waitress finally gives up on her mission to upsell and shrugs before moving onto another table. Like always, the place is packed. Every seat on the bar, every table, booth and high top, they’re all packed to the max, just narrowly missing the fire code limits. Hangyul isn’t above trying to validate himself by using the internet, so he searches for reviews on Mariposa while his friends wait.
His brows knit in frustration when he reads five-star after five-star review. “Best tacos I’ve had in my life” says one. “Amazing bang for your buck” another. “Best tacos on campus” “Best Thirsty Thursday Deal” “Best organic eatery” “Love the decor” “It’s really hip”. The lowest it gets is between three and four stars. One person complains that the wait can be long during peak hours and that their delivery orders are slow. Not a single one talks about the food making them sick (or even tasting off). Usually at least one person wants to rain on the hype parade, but nobody has come through to be the asshole for Hangyul’s sake. Not one!
When the waitress comes back, arms stacked with plates, Hangyul’s stomach does another flip, and it takes all of the manners and will he has not to pull a face. Wooseok (unsurprisingly) has the gall to taunt Gyul by waving his pulled pork taco right in front of the youngest’s face. Hangyul lifts a hand, posturing to smack the other like a mom who doesn’t give a shit about to discipline their kid in the grocery store.
“Excuse me,” A gentleman’s voice pops up beside the table.
Hangyul throws his hand into his lap, pretending that he wasn’t about to treat Wooseok like a delinquent child, “Sorry, we already got our food. You’ve got the wrong tab…” Gyul’s brain temporarily ceases functioning when he actually looks at the guy standing by his side. “Table.” He chokes out the final syllable of his pitifully stunted sentence.
“Yeah, I know,” The guy chuckles. “I’m actually here because one of my waitresses told me that someone had dietary concerns?”
Yohan and Wooseok are equally as stunned, taking a recess from their regularly scheduled inhalation of food to ogle the god on earth who’s seen fit to bestow upon them his presence. The black double-breasted shirt he’s got on is a clear indicator of exactly what his role is in the place. Even though the garment isn’t exactly the universe’s most flattering fit, the way he’s got the sleeves rolled up to show off his tattoos massively improves the look. Of course, it’s not likely a person would be paying much mind to the boxy shirt anyways when they’ve got a face like that to stare at. The chef has an undeniable handsomeness to him - small face, button nose, and a nice smile.
“Which one of you was it who had the concerns?” The handsome chef asks sweetly. He looks genuinely concerned. The sincerity makes Hangyul’s heart do flips. Or maybe it’s just the smell of the tacos, he’s not sure.
“U-Uh- um- m-me?” Hangyul chokes out, unintentionally raising his hand like a dweeb. He glares at the traitorous appendage and puts it back in his lap promptly. “It’s not, um, it’s not a big deal, really.”
“My waitress said the food makes you sick, is that right?”
“Oh- Sorry, I never introduced myself,” The pretty brunette flashes Gyul another gracious smile, “I’m Cho Seungyoun, executive chef of Mariposa.”
“Oh. H-Hi,” Hangyul squeaks out. Heat rushes to his face, and part of him is afraid he’ll throw up on the spot from embarrassment. Never in his life did he ever want to get the executive chef involved. He dreads the realization that he’s probably gonna have to stare the guy in the face and tell him his food is literal poison. But how? The man looks like an angel, and just the manner he has about him makes him seem like his attitude is pretty divine, too. Part of him is terrified that the chef’s ego has already been bruised beyond repair.
“I’m really curious about your issues. Do you have any conditions like celiac disease or intolerances?”
“Um, n-no,” Gyul mumbles.
“Okay. May I ask what you’ve ordered from us up to this point?” The chef asks. Thankfully, his manner is gentle - something Hangyul’s definitely not used to with the company he keeps. Chef Seungyoun seems like he actually wants to get to the root of the issue.
Hangyul flushes more from knowing he’s got the other guy’s full attention,“U-Um. P-pulled pork. Chicken. Briscuit. Um- There was, like, two kinds of chicken ones… I had migas with, um, chorizo?”
Seungyoun narrows his eyes at the college student and scrutinizes him for a minute. He nods to himself as if he’s come to some conclusion and asks:
“Has everything you’ve eaten had some type of meat?”
“Uh-” Hangyul thinks about it for a second and - oh, yeah, it has. “Yes, actually.” He’s into fitness and a habitual meat-eater. Meat is a staple of his day to day diet - it’s not something he typically skips. Like, ever.
“Interesting,” Seungyoun presses his lips together, and his brows knit in thought. “I’m wondering if that’s the problem, then.”
“Why? What’s in the meat?” Hangyul’s stomach roils in remembrance of his nasty episodes of sickness from the week prior.
“We use a special spice blend to marinate our meat. It’s the common base for every protein, so no matter which one you would eat, it would have those ingredients.”
“Right,” Hangyul nods. “That’s so weird, though. I’ve never had anything make me that, um, sick. So quick, too.”
“I can’t tell you because it’s a trade secret, but, I would like to offer you something else,” The chef replies. “May I propose that I make you a vegetarian option? I’ll make it from scratch with my own hands, clean utensils on foil so there is no chance of cross-contamination. I promise it’ll be delicious and it won’t have any of that spice blend.”
“O-Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Hangyul wrings a hand through his hair embarrassedly. He’s pretty sure his face is redder than the chili peppers on Yohan’s taco.
“Please, I insist,” Seungyoun says. “Hearing your food makes someone sick with no real root cause is kind of a chef’s worst nightmare. I want to at least try. It’ll be free of charge, and if you give sick then I’ll… I’ll give you free drinks for life. Alcohol, too.”
Heat sears Hangyul’s cheeks, and he outright refuses, “Wh- Oh, no you really don’t have t-” Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he catches the sight of his idiot friends making faces at him. Yohan’s gripping the edge of the table with white knuckles staring him down while Wooseok nods furiously with wide eyes. “I- I mean, are you sure?”
“It’s no trouble at all,” The chef responds with a cute little grin. “That’ll be right out, then!” With that, he’s off, waving genially at the front of house staff as he power walks determinedly toward his domain, the kitchen.
Wooseok lets out a dreamy sigh, “Hate to see him go. Love to watch him leave.”
Yohan laughs, “No offense, but Gyul I kinda want you to get sick. Think of all the free booze.”
“Fuck you!” Hangyul kicks the moron under the table. “I only said yes because you guys would never shut the hell up if I didn't.”
“You’re right,” Yohan says, mouth still half-full of taco, “We wouldn’t.”
“Bro, you had a hot guy literally, like, beg to make you free food,” Wooseok weighs in. “Trust me as your elder on this one: you get a chance like that, you take it.”
“If I get sick this time, I’m gonna pack vom into a bag and leave it on your doorstep,” Hangyul threatens.
“Ew!” “Gross!” The others’ faces distort with disgust.
Without much mind paid to it, time passes, and banter is interrupted abruptly with the lowering of a plate onto the table in front of Hangyul. He raises his brows and mutters a thanks to their waitress. He tries not to look so disappointed that Chef Hottie didn’t hand deliver it, but the man’s probably busy, he thinks.
Then, it’s time.
Yohan and Wooseok watch with bated breath as Hangyul bends down to take a sniff of the chef’s green concoction. It’s perhaps the prettiest heap of vegetables Hangyul has ever seen packed into a corn tortilla. It's chock full of ruby red tomatoes, roasted squash, peppers of all colors, deep yellow charred sweet corn and bright green cilantro along with hunks of avocado and little purple rings of pickled onions. Gyul’s stomach tosses and turns nervously, but the smell’s heartening. It’s nothing like the savory, almost sickening, sweaty smell of the meat’s marinade. The vegetables are a beautiful blend of aromas - sharp, fresh citrus and cilantro underlined by the sweetness of the corn and the savory quality of the roasted peppers.
And so, yet again shoving aside that little voice of reason in the back of his head, optimistically thinking himself invincible just this one more time, Hangyul takes a bite. Then he takes another. And another. His plate is completely clean in minutes, and the only thing bothering his stomach immediately following the consumption is jitters.
The rest of the night goes on, and Hangyul walks home feeling lighter than the times before. Sometimes, he gets nervous, and his stomach lurches. The fear that he’ll have to experience another painful night making out with the toilet bowl drags his guts toward the ground. But he talks himself out of it, understanding that it’s anxiety souring his stomach at that point, and that if he keeps on working himself up, he’ll cause his own sickness.
Hours pass and nothing of note happens.
He starts a reading for one of his classes. He gets distracted by his phone and stops reading. He starts reading again and manages to go for a solid half hour before getting distracted again. Yohan and Wooseok blow up his phone asking how he’s feeling. He yells at them for suddenly caring when they never gave a fuck before. He starts reading and stops again, deciding his brain is too fried to do anything academic anymore. Yohan bullies him into playing a few rounds of League. They lose every single one.
Hangyul says goodnight and tells everyone he’s gonna go to sleep.
He scrolls his phone again and starts thinking about the hot chef. He scrolls his phone more until the aching he feels is too much to ignore. It’s not sickness, thank god. Just the familiar condition of virile youth this time. Hangyul blames the chef for both afflictions when he reaches down his pants. He wonders just how many tattoos the guy has under that boxy chef’s uniform while he rubs one out.
He cleans himself up and tries not to dwell too much on the shame he feels from jacking off to the fantasy of a dude he interacted with for three minutes. He scrolls his phone some more.
Then, finally, he goes to bed. It’s the best damn sleep he’s had all week, and he doesn’t stir for anything. No sickness, no worries, just pure, peaceful rest.
Chapter 3: An Artist and His Muse
Hangyul curses the human race for their instrumental hand in global warming. It’s early September, but the weather is still searing hot like it’s the middle of goddamn July. Even at the ass crack of dawn, when the sun’s barely crested the horizon and half the campus hasn’t even heard the ring of their alarm bells yet, it’s still sweltering. Gyul wonders if this is what his leftovers feel like in the microwave, doing laps around inside the metal box until its insides are sufficiently cooked to a molten level. He wonders if he’s taken a wrong turn on his usual running route and accidentally ended up in the seventh ring of hell. However, upon turning another corner he realizes that, no, that’s just the heat radiating off of the asphalt that’s distorting the world around him. Sweat coats his entire body like a slug’s mucus, making his muscle tee and shorts cling uncomfortably (dry-fit my ass, Gyul thinks). It’s the final stretch - thank fucking god - and Hangyul eagerly extends his stride to reach as far as possible with as little effort as he can exert.
Just ahead of him is the corner where campus and city meet.
Hangyul’s pace slows as he approaches the now all too familiar spot. A stylistic, geometric butterfly adorns the sign next to the name of the place, Mariposa. Without thoughtfully meaning to, Gyul comes to a complete stop in front of the place. His heart (and stomach) do a little dance as he’s reminded of his tumultuous history with the new campus hot spot. The majority of his experiences were completely, irredeemably awful, gut-roiling, bile spilling events that he’d happily erase from his memory. But the most recent one… That was different. His ears tint, heat needling his face when he remembers the ease with which he stuffed his hand down his pants and rubbed one out thinking of the hot chef who serviced him. (Not like that , unfortunately.)
Gyul realizes that he never contacted the handsome, alluring, charming, captivating, flirtatious (maybe?), creative Chef Seungyoun after the fact. A twinge of guilt pangs in his chest because of it. After all, the man-made him special tacos just for him, he offered handsome compensation in the event of sickness, put his heart and soul into the on-the-spot dish - and what did Hangyul do? Ghost him. Hangyul contemplates knocking on the door, but the place is very clearly closed. All of the chairs are up on their tables and there’s not a soul to be seen. Maybe, just maybe, there’s someone in the back for prep, but they probably wouldn’t even hear him.
Hangyul heaves a sigh, making a mental note to swing by later and give his compliments to the chef.
“Excuse me,” A voice coming out of fucking nowhere scares the shit out of Hangyul.
He jumps, gasping a bit at the sudden appearance of, well, of someone. Eyes wide and heart rate dangerously high, Gyul swallows hard to acknowledge the dude who’d nearly sent him into shock.
“I-I’m sorry?” Gyul wheezes. There’s something familiar about the tall, skinny man standing out by the Mariposa patio. Hangyul can’t place it, though.
“Whoa, sorry for scaring you,” The man chuckles. He’s got a warm, friendly smile and dark eyes. “You’re Hangyul, right?”
“I… Do I know you from somewhere?” Gyul asks. He’s pretty sure he’d remember a lay that good looking - the guy is handsome. Tall and slender but clearly fit with a nice figure, and his features are altogether soft and sharp, a complete contradiction that manages to be harmonious in one man.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I- Let me introduce myself,” The man chuckles. He extends a hand and smiles again, “Han Seungwoo, I’m part owner of this establishment.”
Hangyul glances at the man’s - Seungwoo’s - face and up at the sign. Maybe it’s the time of day. Maybe it’s the exhaustion from jogging in hell’s kitchen. Whatever it is, it bogs down his thought process, making it take Gyul a shamefully long time to connect the puzzle pieces presented before them.
“Oh, you mean this place?” Gyul asks dumbly, pointing to the Mariposa sign.
Seungwoo chuckles and nods, “Yes, this place. I’m Seungyoun’s partner.”
Seungyoun. The hot chef. The hot chef Hangyul’s been fantasizing about for, like, three days now. The handsome guy who gave him special attention and tended to his needs when he really had no need to. The sexy creative mind who designed a menu and, in part, built an incredible business. That Seungyoun.
Seungwoo said partner.
Hangyul’s affable expression of civility completely shatters. He quickly realizes just how stupid and tactless it is to mope like a sad puppy who got punished for pissing on the carpet right in front of his crush’s partner . Shame trickles into his gut, slurrying with the already noxious brew of anxiety and fatigue from the run.
Seungwoo laughs again, an almost intoxicating, mirthful sound, and he shakes his head, “He’s my business partner.” The fact that the man so obviously picked up on Hangyul’s self-pity and even teased him about it makes Gyul want to die even more. He curses the campus area for being so fucking flat because, shit , he could use a cliff to jump off of right about now.
“Oh,” Hangyl grunts dumbly as heat swells in his face. He’s probably as red as one of those extra hot chilies they use in their salsa. “Have we, um, met before?”
“Seungyoun told me about you,” Seungwoo replies.
“He did?” Hangyul’s eyes widen with shock.
Seungwoo nods, “Yeah. I’m really glad I caught you, actually. He wanted to see you.”
“He did ?” Gyul mentally slaps himself for sounding so fucking eager. “I mean- I guess it makes sense. I wanted to see him, too, actually. About the tacos.”
For a second, Seungwoo doesn’t respond verbally. It’s just a brief instant, but for some reason, it stretches on to feel like a ten, no, twenty-minute inspection. Seungwoo’s eyes make their way all the way down, down, down Hangyul’s body and then slowly, lackadaisically back up again. There’s an expression behind those dark, dark eyes, but Gyul can’t read it. If Hangyul didn’t know any better, he’d think he would feel judged right about now, but he knows better than anyone his own personal propensity to exaggerate things in his mind. Whatever strange shadow that had fallen over Seungwoo’s gaze vanishes in an instant, and he’s back to his sunny, courteous self.
“Yes, the tacos,” Seungwoo replies with another smile. “He’d really like to talk to you- he’s prepping in the back, actually. We’d love to invite you in- if you have the time that is.”
Hangyul contemplates for a moment. He’d just been invited to the back kitchen of the new, hot taco spot in town. He had been personally invited by one of the owners on behalf of the executive chef . The executive chef who is quite literally a wet dream for him. Seungyoun could have just asked for a number or tried to find him on social media. He didn’t even need to follow up at all, really. He could’ve just said customer-be-damned and gone on with his life. But he’s going out of his way to invite Hangyul to speak with him face to face.
“I have time,” Hangyul says. He takes a step toward the door but stops for a second, “Wait, I-“ He glances down at himself. Even though he’s not running anymore, the sheen of sweat sitting on his skin stays put, boiling him beneath the morning heat. “I dunno if I’m decent right now.”
“You’re fine,” Seungwoo waves dismissively, heading toward the door he’d apparently come out of very stealthily.
“I- I probably smell,” Gyul presses his lips together.
“You smell great,” Seungwoo replies. He opens the door, gesturing for Hangyul to enter with another wide, close-lipped grin. “Come on. He won’t mind, I promise.”
“U-Um, okay,” Hangyul coughs awkwardly. He’s not exactly a “no” guy - especially when hot people are involved. His personal consolation is that he has been working out for the past couple of years, and even if he looks greasy and smells gross, his arms and legs are on display. Maybe that’ll win him points or something. Not that his intention of following Seungwoo back to the kitchen is to get rhetorical “points”. It would just be a bonus is all. A toe-curling, lip biting, breathy moaning, back arching bonus that Hangyul really needs to stop imagining because his shorts do nothing to hide what’s under them.
“Look what I found out front,” Seungwoo says cheerily as he enters the kitchen. It’s a nice, clean space. A lot of shining metal counters, a giant basin sink, and an impressive variety of knives hanging on magnetic racks. Some lofi station echoes softly across the space, and sunlight from a set of wide windows up high fill the space with light.
Hangyul’s heart jumps into his throat when he sees Seungyoun casually bent over the island in the middle of it all, nibbling on the eraser of a pencil as he scans over some scribbled notes of his. He’s not wearing his chef’s coat just yet, instead donning a figure-hugging black tee that shows off more tattoos.
Seungyoun glances up and his contemplative expression immediately blossoms into a pleased smile, “Oh my god- hi. What are you doing here? Seungwoo didn’t hunt you down and drag you here, did he?”
Gyul waves awkwardly and shakes his head, “Oh, y’know, I was in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, I- I live a few blocks away and campus is just over there.”
“Right, right, yeah, of course, I-“ Seungyoun chuckles, and his faces scrunches into this cute, flustered expression that makes him look downright edible. “Sorry. Morning brain.”
“I get it.”
“Right, well,” Seungwoo grins at the two, “I have some work to do. Youn, you can walk him out?”
“Yeah, of course,” Seungyoun responds. With that, Seungwoo bids another polite farewell before dipping and leaving Hangyul alone with Seungyoun. Hangyul wonders if he’d done so on purpose because he knows Gyul has the hots for his co-owner. But then Gyul remembers that restaurants are real, demanding businesses and, yeah, he probably has a lot of work to do. So does Seungyoun, actually.
“Um- I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything,” Hangyul says sheepishly.
Seungyoun shakes his head, “No, no I really wanted to check up on you. How are you feeling? How did you feel?”
“Oh, you know. Hanging in there. School. Work. Exams and- and you didn’t mean, like…” Hangyul trails off, willing whatever deities control the forces of nature to strike him with lightning. Then again, he might burn up at the rate he’s going, with how much heat is swarming to his face. “I’m fine. I didn’t get sick. I… It felt good, actually. You made a really good dish.”
The chef grins shyly, “Really?”
“You really mean that? Because, like, you don’t have to coddle me or sugarcoat it. If it was unsatisfying or, like, blah, I wanna know.”
“Honestly, my only problem with the dish was that I didn’t have more,” Hangyul shrugs.
Seungyoun beams at the compliment, and seeing it makes Gyul completely okay with the humiliation he’s put himself through to get to that point. The end product of the elated chef is absolutely worth it. Ten out of ten, would embarrass himself again.
“That’s great. Thank you.”
“No, thank you. You paid special attention to me when you didn’t have to,” Hangyul says.
“No, I really owe the thanks to you,” Seungyoun says more seriously. “Talking to you made me notice that I have a major hole in my menu.” He stands up straight to speak more directly to the student. “I guess I thought with this pop-up shop kind of experimental venture I could get away with a small menu. But you made me realize that the current menu I’m serving is really limiting. There are a lot of dietary needs and considerations people have, and I should try to cater to at least some of them. I want a concise, impactful menu, but I don’t wanna isolate people, you know?”
“Yeah, yeah of course,” Hangyul nods. It’s incredible the change that’s come over the chef. One second he’s cute, almost boyish, twiddling a pencil between his fingers and smiling with twinkly eyes. But once he gets started on his passion, the fire inside him really kicks up, and he’s earnest, sincere. (It’s really, really sexy, too - but Hangyul tries to stuff that thought down.)
“You really inspired me, and I wanna start by offering a few vegetarian and vegan options in the menu,” Seungyoun declares.
“Oh- That’s awesome,” Hangyul smiles. He’s glad that his horrific allergic reaction to a spice mix could result in the development of something far greater than him. “That’s really considerate of you.”
“Well, I was wondering…” Seungyoun’s impassioned severity diminishes slightly, and he presses his lips together. His voice gets lower, and he asks bashfully, “I was wondering if you would help me develop it?”
Hangyul’s brain temporarily short-circuits, and he even points to himself like a moron, stuttering, “You- you want me to-? But I’m not even a-“
“I know- Er, I figured you’re a habitual meat-eater- but that’s what makes it better! I want kickass veg options that anyone can enjoy. Someone with a more well-rounded diet will be of more help than someone who’s already used to a limited diet, you know? Plus, like, I love my staff, but I just- I want someone removed from the business so there’s no incentive to be dishonest or sugarcoat anything. It’s clear from how you spoke to my staff that, well, you’re opinionated and blunt- but not inappropriately so. So…?”
Hangyul contemplates the man’s words for a second. It makes sense… He thinks? In truth, thinking isn’t super easy. His thought process has mostly been reduced to short phrases like “Seungyoun hot” “hot chef” “me like chef” “like” “hot” “he talk to me” “make food?” and the like.
Gyul attempts to answer, “Uh-“
“I wouldn’t charge you, of course,” Seungyoun says. “I’d probably just let you in through the back door and have you try stuff out once, maybe twice a week.”
“Mhm,” Hangyul’s head nods in acceptance without his consent.
“So… Will you do it?” Seungyoun asks.
“Of course,” Hangyul answers too eagerly.
Once again, another one of those beautiful, billion watt smiles blossoms across the chef’s face, and Hangyul’s reservations and disgrace melts away. His brain - no, his entire soul - floats away from his body in the minutes following when Seungyoun exchanges numbers with him. Hangyul’s body glides on cloud nine as he’s escorted out with dozens of “thank you”s and “see you soon”s. He jogs home without a single care in the world. Suddenly, the heat is a mere trifle and his upcoming exams feel like completely manageable tasks instead of the dread-inspiring titans they once were. He doesn’t even care that for the entire duration of his conversation with Seungyoun he’s been a sweaty mess more likely than not tenting in his shorts and drooling like a zombie.
Because he’s good . He’s talking to Seungyoun, they’re gonna have one on one time in the kitchen, they’re gonna text , and nothing can possibly ruin it.
“You can’t go empty handed,” Wooseok tells Hangyul from across the table they’d taken at the student union. The trio were too rowdy for the library and after a few too many dirty glances migrated to the busier, noisier student union. The major common area is full of tables with students eating and studying (a few of the bolder among them even dare nap in the public space). A few TVs play ads for campus activities, sports channels or the news, adding to the general hum of people-generated white noise echoing off of the high ceiling.
“What?” Hangyul squints at the text in his biology book. It’s way too small - something he swears they did on purpose so they could pad the page count and release a new edition that cost ten times its predecessor.
“Dude’s giving you free food,” Woo says, “You gotta take him something.”
“What kind of flowers does he like?” Yohan asks.
Hangyul’s nose scrunches with confusion, “Why the fuck would I bring him flowers?”
“It’s your first date,” Yohan teases Hangyul, running his foot up and down Gyul’s leg under the table. Hangyul responds with a swift kick to the other’s shin, making him wince. Serves him right.
“It is not a date,” Hangyul declares. “Our relationship is purely that of an artist and their muse.”
Wooseok snorts, “You realize most artists fuck their muses, right?”
“So, what’re you doing on your date again?” Yohan asks.
Hangyul’s cheeks burn, and he grumbles, “It’s not a date. And I already told you, like, twenty times: I’m stopping by after close to help him develop some vegetarian options.”
“Hm,” Yohan nods. “I wonder if dick is vegetarian.”
“Probably not,” Wooseok responds with a wide smirk. “There are little baby animals living in there.”
“Okay, but what if he doesn’t swallow ,” Yohan posits, brows raised with interest.
“Prejac, dude,” Wooseok replies.
Hangyul grimaces, “Can you not-“
“Okay, but, like, is yogurt inherently unvegetarian, then?” Yohan asks. “Because they have cultures. And yeast in bread!” He claps triumphantly, like he just did something there, like acknowledging basic bacteria cultures in food is some groundbreaking discovery in culinary science.
“Alright, alright,” Wooseok nods, “I see you. So, in that case, are we likening yogurt culture bacteria to livestock?”
Yohan’s brows raise, and he nods, “I mean- when you think of it…”
Hangyul tries to tune the two out, rolling his eyes and returning to his textbook. Voices upon voices drone and echo across the student union. There are idle conversations of all sorts: she said that to this girl, he’s from that fraternity, I’m dreading my exams. Gyul ends up doing the opposite of what he’d intended, staring off into space instead of actually studying. His gaze lands on one of the TVs mounted to the wall in front of him. A meticulously groomed newscaster speaks in a dire, serious tone, her gaze unwavering from the camera. Captions lag slightly behind the spoken words, marqueeing across the bottom of the screen following her speech. There’s a picture of a young woman superimposed on screen behind the caster.
“-ast seen on Sunday evening by a friend at approximately seven o’clock heading back to her off campus apartment from the Science and Education Library. She has not made contact with friends or family since. She was wearing a black hoodie and skinny jeans. The city and university police departments are working in collaboration and are asking the public to cooperate with the effort to locate her…”
“Jesus,” Wooseok breathes out, head turned to the display, “That’s fucked.”
“Hey,” Yohan says softly, “Eyes off the screen. College is depressing enough as it is.”
Hangyul tears his eyes off of the screen, training them back down on his book. Even though he’s looking away, trying not to pay any mind to the grim news reel, the damage is done. Unease settles in his gut, creeping up his chest and into his throat. Terrible things happen every day to people from all walks of life. This is something Hangyul knows. It’s a reality of life. Not everyone has the privileges he does, and he understands dwelling on that fact - on the unavoidable truth that the world is severely fucked up - won’t do him much good in the long run. Still, for something like that to happen on campus - in the place he essentially deems his home away from home - it makes his stomach toss. Everyone thinks that nothing bad can happen in their neck of the woods until it does. It’s a stark reminder that the safety and security of youth and college and ordinary, everyday life is really just a delicate, thin veil, and all it takes is the slightest disturbance to rip that illusory veil to shreds. It’s a reminder to Lee Hangyul that he’s not as invincible or safe as he likes to think, something that will cause him to perpetually glance over his shoulder with paranoia as he walks to class or back home over the coming weeks.
Chapter 4: Independent Butchery
Hangyul teeters nervously from his heels to his toes as he waits for Seungyoun to open the door. Being a rather slow week night, Mariposa closed relatively early at eleven. The executive chef said the kitchen closes at ten, so he’s free to come by shortly after eleven, most of the cleaning and closing work ought to be done.
The student checks on his outfit, assessing himself for the hundreth time that day. He’s just wearing a t-shirt tucked into jeans, but part of him is paranoid. What if the chef thinks he’s trying too hard for wearing jeans? After all, most college students shed their confining denim cocoons for sweats after dark (that is if they bother wearing anything other than track pants at all). Will Seungyoun notice the extra effort Hangyul took to pick out the slightly uncomfortable pair that best emphasizes his ass? Will he care? Will he appreciate it? Or will he just not notice at all?
“Hey,” The door swings open, and Hangyul’s met with the sight of an angel. Seungyoun smiles prettily and waves the student in, “Thanks for stopping by.”
“Of course,” Hangyul nods.
“I know it’s kind of late.”
“I’m up at this time anyway,” Gyul shrugs.
“Oh, gosh, thank you again,” Seungyoun waves Hangyul over to the kitchen which is a quick shot from the back door. “I, um, I’ve never really done anything like this before.”
“Like- like what?” Hangyul coughs out. He reminds himself he’s there to help the guy make vegetarian taco recipes and tries to combat the invasive mental image of the other timidly folding over the kitchen counter wearing nothing but an apron. Gyul suddenly regrets not jacking off before stopping by.
“Can you wait here a sec?” Seungyoun asks, gesturing to the already pristine kitchen. Damn, that’s an efficient staff. “I’m just gonna grab some ingredients.”
“Of course,” Hangyul nods. He watches the other scurry off down the hall - probably into a walk-in refrigerator or something. Gyul walks around awkwardly, twiddling his thumbs and eyeing the impressive collection of knives. Seungyoun must really run a tight ship, because everything is spotless, completely free of smudges or splatters. A hint of nausea turns Gyul’s stomach, and he’s not sure if it’s his nerves getting the best of him or the faint smell of that spice mix lingering ever so slightly.
The student tries not to dwell on it. Like hell is he going to let his thinking about getting sick turn into some horrific self-realizing prophecy. Getting sick when you’re out and about is bad enough without the added layer of humiliation that the presence of one’s crush provides. Hangyul takes a deep breath, hoping to steady himself, but that just results in the slight scent bothering him even more. His face contorts, the ghost of a gag reverberating through his throat in remembrance.
Hangyul steps out of the kitchen to clear his head (and his nose). Down the back hall, there’s a few doors. Gyul imagines there might be an office and some storage. He ambles down lazily, trying to think of some meaningful suggestions to give Seungyoun. Hangyul once heard chickpeas are a good source of protein - maybe he can recommend something with those? Black beans are also a pretty popular latin flavor - right? Then again, can someone go really wrong with tofu?
“Stupid,” Gyul murmurs to himself. Seungyoun is a professional chef - of course he knows tons of non-meat options that would make for kickass taco filling. The student wrings a ruffles a hand through his hair, shaking the ideas out of his head. He paces back and forth anxiously, wondering what the fuck he’s supposed to do about his painful crush on the guy.
Initially, he made the mistake of going to Yohan and Wooseok for comfort and advice. When Wooseok suggested that Hangyul be himself, Yohan laughed so hard he actually choked and ended up having a coughing fit. The younger of the two then crassly recommended that Hangyul take his clothes off and serve sushi on his bare body. Needless to say, Gyul didn’t find their recommendations all that helpful (though the mental image of the hot chef eating off of him is more exhilirating than Gyul would like to admit).
Gyul heaves a sigh, glancing around the hall he’d ended up in idly. On the wall opposite him there are little bulletins and posted documents. Health checks and certifications, federal requirements and cleaning lists. Behind him are a few doors. Storage stuff, Gyul imagines. He turns around and glances through the little view window of the metal door he’d been leaning on. It’s small, the size of a walk-in closet. He can’t see all too well, but there appear to be containers of prepped ingredients. He steps over to the one adjacent, peering in curiously.
“Wh- Ff-Holy shit!” Hangyul yelps, jumping back from the window. His heart jumps into his throat, and his blood freezes.
There, dangling menacingly from a massive meat hook is a human body, stuck straight through the ankles and split right down the middle of the rib cage. Hangyul clamps a hand over his mouth, illness swelling in his guts. The long body hangs limply, flayed out to reveal every single rib and the blood-red meat encased in the sickly, pinkish skin.
“Hey!” A voice bellows from down the hall.
“Wh-” Hangyul gasps, panicking.
“What’re you doing back here?” Seungyoun asks demandingly.
“I- I- Th- That- That- That’s a person- why does that look like a person?!”
Seungyoun’s brows knit in irritation. He glances through the window to the meat locker, and he shakes his head. Hangyul starts slowly backing away. He’s not sure where he’s going, exactly - the door is in the opposite direction. He’d have to go through Seungyoun.
The chef heaves a sigh and shakes his head, letting out a wry laugh, “Hangyul,” He says in a low voice that’s calm, even. Too calm, if Hangyul had to say. “That’s a pig.”
“Wha-?” Hangyul’s eyes shoot to the window again, and he squints. It’s not like the thing has a head, but something about the limp carcass hanging in the refrigerator looks so peopley to Hangyul. He supposes that it could, in fact, be a pig. Or it could not be a pig. But then again, what kind of a moron would actually accuse someone of hanging up a butchered human corpse in their restaurant’s meat locker? The more he actually scrutinizes the form, the less humanesque it appears. Obviously, mammals all share similar features. Of course there would be some basic similarities, and it’s definitely hard to really recognize any animal when they’ve been gutted, trimmed, and hung upside down.
Embarrassment crashes into Hangyul like a tidal wave, flushing his face and prickling his ears.
“Uh,” Hangyul coughs awkwardly. “I’m sorry, I- I lack sleep.”
Seungyoun’s expression of vexation melts away. His cloudy mood parts, allowing his jovial, sunshiney smile and laughter to shine through.
“It’s okay. College can be stressful. But, next time, just stay in the kitchen, please. I technically shouldn’t be letting non-staff back here anyway.”
“Oh, okay,” Hangyul nods obligingly, following the chef back to the kitchen. This time, upon entering, there’s a rainbow of ingredients spread out on the main work area - peppers, chilis, corn, cabbage, potatoes, avocados and more. “Sorry about, um, wandering off. I totally spaced.” He’s pretty sure that any sliver of a chance he might’ve had with Seungyoun is gone.
Even so, the chef remains cheery and nice, washing his hands and pulling a knife off of the magnetic rack, “It’s fine, I get it. School hasn’t been in session that long, though, has it? Are you already getting assaulted with work?” He speaks casually while his hands deftly get to chopping up green peppers.
“Uh, kind of,” Hangyul replies sheepishly. “Just a lot of juggling, you know, stuff. School. Social life. Hobbies. Exercising.”
“Really?” Seungyoun grins, and Gyul feels his heart melt a bit. “What kind of hobbies do you have? If you don’t mind me asking?” The chef grabs a corn tortilla from a prep container and throws it onto the grill behind him.
“Oh, um, taekwondo. Basketball. Netflix,” Hangyul shrugs bashfully. He knows Seungyoun’s just being polite, but having the other’s undivided attention still makes Hangyul’s heart beat fast. Or maybe that’s the residual stress and humiliation from mistaking a butchered pig to a person. Could be both, too.
“Damn. Sounds like a nice, healthy balance. Now, forgive me if I sound like, nosy, but do you consider yourself a healthy person?” Seungyoun asks. While he speaks, he continues working, not missing a beat. He flips the corn tortilla on the grill and turns back to chopping up a bit of cilantro.
“Huh?” That’s a different question. Gyul wouldn’t call it “nosy” per se, but it definitely is “under the hood of the car”. It’s a deeper question than most would ask the first time they’re hanging out with someone. Then again, he realizes: this isn’t hanging out. The guy’s essentially using him as a guinea pig to test out new recipes. Of course he’d be curious about Hangyul’s food preferences. “I’m not… The worst?” He shrugs. “I try to be good- I’ve been getting better lately. Meal prepping and stuff. But… Well,” He chuckles, “I still love instant noodles and fried chicken.”
Seungyoun smiles and nods, apparently satisfied with the answer, “It’s good that you try. What kind of meals do you like? Like- During the week, anyway? What do you normally eat?”
“Chicken. Lots of chicken,” Hangyul replies. “Chicken and greens- boring, I know. I try to mix it up. Maybe I’ll make, like, a fajita situation. I like to do the Mediterranean thing, too and just do, like, fresh vegetables, chicken and hummus. I’m trying to cut down on rice, too, but it’s hard.” He frowns. Rice is love, rice is life - but rice also doesn’t help him get an eight-pack, a fitness goal he’s been extra motivated to achieve since meeting Seungyoun.
“Ugh, I know,” Seungyoun sighs wistfully. “I love rice so much, but, ugh. The chef life is catching up with me.”
“Is it?” Hangyul laughs. “You look good to me.” The words leave his mouth before he can stop himself. While he’s proud of his two barely functioning brain cells for using the word “good” and not “hot”, the statement still feels wildly inappropriate.
“You’re just saying that ‘cause I’m giving you free food,” Seungyoun quips. “Speaking of which-” He gestures to a composed taco on his cutting board. “-care to take a bite of test taco number one?”
Hangyul nods, eagerly taking a sizeable bite of the first one.
“Mmm,” He nods in approval as a spicy, sweet combo hits his palette. Similar to the one he’d had before, there’s corn, black beans and avocado - though this time the avocado is more of a guac mix. The sweet is offset by punchy chilis and peppers.
“So… What do you think?” Seungyoun asks, eyeing Hangyul intently.
“It’s good,” Gyul nods with a satisfied smile.
“I need your real, unfiltered opinion, Hangyul,” The chef reminds him.
Hangyul nods, thinking on it a little more. After some reflection (and another bite) he announces his verdict.
“It could use more body. The taste is good, but it doesn’t feel substantial. I get people order multiple tacos, but this sort of leaves me wanting for more. If you want to do sweet and spicy, maybe use another base? Or use something in addition to the beans? Like, I dunno- sweet potatoes? Wait, that’s stupid-”
“No, that’s genius- you’re a genius,” Seungyoun gasps, his mouth wide with thrill. He quickly ducks down and jots something down in the notebook he’d had open. “See, I knew it was a good call asking for your help.”
“Oh, it’s no problem at all. You’re feeding me good ass food, I need to thank you,” Another rush of heat flushes the student’s face in lieu of the praise.
“No, no, it’s my pleasure.”
“Seriously? The pleasure is all mine. As long as it’s not your, uh, spice blend,” He laughs. “What’s in that stuff anyways?”
“Trade secret,” Seungyoun giggles. “Don’t worry, though, I’ll keep our veggie options completely-”
A door slams open, and the booming sound fills the kitchen, making Hangyul jolt. The tall, slender form of Seungwoo - Seungyoun’s co-owner - trudges across the hallway. Hangyul’s jaw drops in utter shock at the sight before him. The lean, raily man’s got a t-shirt and jeans - that’s fairly standard, that’s fine. What is not fine is the greased apron he’s got on over his outfit that is covered in blood. Adding blood-red frosting on top of the cake are his galoshes, dark, wet and squeaky, slick with the same stuff.
“Ha- Hey, Woo,” Seungyoun waves. He flashes his business partner a wide grin. “What are you up to?”
The other restaurant owner opens his mouth to say something, but then he notices Hangyul. The perturbed expression on his face shifts into the amicable smile Hangyul got when they first met.
“H-Hi,” Hangyul waves politely, feeling slightly faint. He never really thought of himself as the type to get squeamish around blood, but something about the sight of it just slathered all over a man’s clothing as if he’d gotten hosed down with the rusty red stuff doesn’t settle well with Gyul.
“Just got back from the butcher’s,” Seungwoo grins. “What are you two up to?” He takes a step toward the kitchen, but Seungyoun holds out a hand, signalling him to stop.
“Ah-ah, you know the rules. No dirty clothes in the kitchen,” Seungyoun tells the other.
Seungwoo chuckles and shrugs, “Right, right, good call.”
Hangyul’s eyes dart between the chef and his business partner dubiously. There are many, many strange puzzle pieces before him - pieces he can’t begin to make sense of. Why is Seungwoo here? Why is he covered in more blood than a blond chick in a splatterhouse movie? What is he doing covered in blood when it’s almost midnight? Why is Seungyoun completely unbothered by this?
As if sensing Hangyul’s terror-laced curiosity, Seungyoun laughs and regards the student, “You probably think he looks crazy right now, don’t you?”
“Uh-” Hangyul chuckles dryly. “Yeah, yeah kind of. It’s, uh, it’s kinda late to go to the butcher’s, isn’t it?”
Seungwoo and Seungyoun laugh as if the transparent disconcertation painted across Hangyul’s face is the most hilarious thing in the world.
“Not if you are the butcher,” Seungwoo replies amusedly.
“I’m sorry, you what?” Now Hangyul is even more confused.
“We’ve got a room in the back where we butcher the meat ourselves. We don’t actually use a butcher. We work with local farmers. They slaughter the animals, then we get them fresh and do the rest of the work. It’s really cost effective, plus we can support other local businesses who can make use of things like hides and skulls.”
“Hides and skulls?” Hangyul quirks a brow dubiously.
“Taxidermy and animal skull art is pretty hot these days,” Seungwoo replies with a shrug.
Hangyul nods, digesting the information. It fits the bill. Figures, the hipster taco place would go out of their way to support local artisans. Hangyul has nothing against the sentiment whatsoever - power to the local artists and all that! He just has never heard of a restaurant’s owner straight butchering their own meat and then hocking the rest of the carcass to the neighborhood artists.
“And you seriously do it all by, like, by hand?” Hangyul gasps.
Seungwoo nods proudly, his lips stretching into a smile that practically bisects his face, “It’s the best way to assure the quality of our ingredients and, of course, the cuts of our meat.”
“Wow, that’s impressive,” The student replies with a nod of approval. “To be honest, I thought you just did, like, the accounting and stuff- um, no offense. I just thought that was, like, your thing.”
Seungwoo nods graciously, “I do shoulder most of the business aspect, but Youn and I bonded over our passion for food. I like to be hands-on. Makes the dull days of doing the books not so bad.”
“I appreciate you!” Seungyoun chimes in with a laugh.
“Well, then, um, I- I just needed to grab something,” Seungwoo chuckles awkwardly, his cheeks starting to flush. Is he not used to the attention? Maybe that’s the case. “So, I’ll be off.” He bids them farewell with a wave and plods off. His soaked boots squeak against the treated concrete flooring, leaving little splotches and spittles of blood behind in his wake.
“I am so sorry about that,” Seugyoun says after hearing the door shut behind Seungwoo. For the first time, he looks flustered. He worries at his bottom lip with his cute bunny-like front teeth and pink tints his fair face.
“That’s okay,” Hangyul replies. Pink’s a good look on the chef, he thinks. He almost forgets about the entire scene that had just unfolded.
“I- I didn’t think he’d bring one in today,” The chef murmurs. His disoriented state quickly transitions from endearing to worrisome. Cogs visibly turn in the older man’s head as he practically abuses his poor lip, deep in thought.
“Do you usually help Seungwoo?” Hangyul asks.
Seungyeon presses his lips together and nods.
“You should go then,” Gyul says. It’s not that he wants their little taco experiment to end or anything. On the contrary, he really, really would love for it to continue. He’d happily spend all night swallowing down whatever Seungyeon sees fit to stuff down his throat.
“No, no, that’s discourteous,” Seungyeon shakes his head. “We literally just got started.”
“I don’t care,” Hangyul shrugs. “I mean- I- I do- I mean I won’t be offended. I care about your menu, but, it can wait a few days.”
Seungyeon thinks about Hangyul’s words for a few minutes before nodding, “Okay, yeah, um- are you sure?”
“Okay, well, um, can I have your number then? That way we can set up a time that works.”
Hangyul has to stop himself from shouting yes. Because yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. God, yes Seungyeon can have his number. Seungyeon can have his phone number, credit card number, ID number, driver’s license number - he can have any number he wants. And if that’s not enough, Hangyul’s happy to throw in a few material possessions, or, hell, maybe even his body. ( Definitely even his body.) His inner lovesick schoolboy screeches giddily, posturing its rhetorical fingers over his phone to post about it and tell everyone on social media that his crush asked for his number.
“Yeah, yeah sure,” Hangyul replies with a nod, unlocking his phone and handing it over.
“You are awesome,” Seungyeon says with a little grin as he taps it in.
The two text one another to make sure everything is alright, and Seungyeon walks Hangyul to the door, repeating his mantra of “thank you, thank you, thank you.”. Hangyul rides high on a trail of clouds as he walks home. His brain is useless mush, an ecstatic haze of infatuation mixed with lust. The caustic combination completely snuffs out any sense or reason, rendering him essentially brain dead from the moment he steps onto the street to the moment he hits the bed.
Chapter 5: Butterflies
“This is definitely a government experiment,” Yohan says, frowning at the newsreel playing quietly on the television. Gyul rolls his eyes. The trio took to the library yet again for one of their study sessions. Per usual, productivity lasted for a short while before disintegrating into whining and botheration. Wooseok’s been staring off in space for the past ten minutes, and Hangyul accidentally did the same practice problem twice. Somehow, he got it wrong both times.
Hangyul glances in the direction of Yohan’s gaze and frowns. Another disappearance. It’s like clockwork. Almost every weekend, somebody goes missing. The local news networks are still totally baffled, and the police don’t seem to have any leads. There aren’t really any common threads linking the victims save for location. They’d all been abducted in the vicinity of the university, most of them residents of the area. In response, the university has been putting out bulletin after bulletin advising that students don’t go out alone, don’t drink too much, don’t do drugs, don’t go home with suspicious characters, report suspicious behavior… It’s all the typical type of stranger danger, cautionary stuff that falls on the deaf ears of overconfident college kids convinced that yeah, it happens, but it won’t actually happen to them.
“A government experiment?” Wooseok laughs, clamoring to the first meaningful distraction he’s had in the past hour.
“Yeah,” Yohan nods. “Have you noticed people, like, always go missing on, like, Sundayish? It’s like clockwork.”
“Clockwork,” Woo answers flatly. “You mean for the experiments?”
“Yes!” Yohan throws his hands up. “Notice how, no matter what, the bodies never turn up! It’s because they’re in a lab, being experimented on.”
“Or maybe it’s a human trafficking ring,” Wooseok counters.
“It’s systemic, dude. And the victimology is scattered. THere’s no type. Wouldn’t a trafficker be more discerning?”
“I don’t know . I’m not a human trafficker!”
Hangyul grimaces, and his stomach lurches, “Guys, can you not?”
Yohan ignores him, “You’re right.”
“Right about what?” Wooseok asks.
“It might not be the government.”
“What if it’s aliens?”
“Wh- Are you fucking serious?!” Wooseok guffaws. “How do you go from government experiments to aliens?”
“Well an experiment would probably hone in on a specific demographic, but the collected are, like, all ages and ethnicities and stuff.”
“Th- Wh- The collected?” Woo huffs.
The conversation makes Gyul’s skin crawl, and he cuts in,“Guys, seriously, stop it. This isn’t fucking funny. These are real people with- with families.”
Yohan throws his hands up, “I am serious-”
Hangyul groans loudly, rolling his eyes and letting the other two idiots argue about conspiracy theories. Yohan tunnels in on the government-and-or-alien route, saying there might be some probing or extraction of genetic material. At one point he implies that the government is giving bodies to the aliens as some sort of payment for weaponry. Wooseok posits more logical, down-to-earth things. He suggests that maybe there’s a cult in town trying to make some sacrifices.
Gyul deliberately tunes out when he realizes the two can’t be deterred. Honestly, they never can. When they go off on their tangents, they’re like an unstoppable force of stupidity. Not trying to get sucked into the wormhole of morbidity, Gyul turns his attention to his phone. He taps around idly until coming up to his texts.
Just the sight of the contact makes Hangyul’s heart beat faster. His lips twitch ever so slightly, reflexively wanting to smile. The temptation to text suddenly becomes overwhelmingly strong. However, given the time, he knows Youn’s probably working. The mental image of the man in uniform sends Hangyul reeling, flushing his ears and heating his belly. He didn’t know he even had a thing for men in uniform, but Cho Seungyoun’s a special case he guesses. It’s been such a long time since Hangyul felt this way about anyone. Sure, he’s thought people were attractive. He’s had a couple of crushes and brief, casual relationships. But this? This thing he has for Seungyoun? It’s this sickening, disgusting, stomach-roiling, drippy, oozy infatuation. It’s the type of feeling that makes Hangyul want to write Seungyoun’s name over and over in the corner of his notes, surrounded by hearts. He’ll stop thinking about life for a second and just wonder:
What’s Seungyoun up to?
Just the sight of the guy is arresting, absolutely knee-buckling and upsetting to his chore. It’s that sort of visceral crush that only comes around once in awhile, like when the stars align right or some shit.
“Earth to Hangyul!” Yohan shouts (even though they’re in the damn library) and tosses a pencil at Gyul.
Gyul flinches when the wood flies into his face, “Wha-? What the fuck?”
“Boner alert!” Yohan shouts, kicking Hangyul’s chair.
Hangyul panics, eyes wide, and his gaze shoots down into his crotch.
“Ha! Made you look, though,” Yohan snarks.
Hangyul scowls at the other.
“You’ve got a little drool,” Wooseok jokes, “Right here.” He points to the corner of Hangyul’s mouth.
“What are you talking about?” Hangyul huffs, flustered. Heat needles his cheeks.
“You ask the chef out yet?” Wooseok grins evilly.
“Wh- No. It’s not like that.”
“Oh come the fuck on,” Yohan whines. “Think of all the free tacos.”
Hangyul kicks him under the table for that, “Fuck off! I’m not your damn taco ticket.” His nose scrunches just thinking about how their normal menu selection affects him.
“Lame,” Yohan pouts. “Okay, well, if you won’t do it, hook me up with that other guy.”
“What other guy?”
“The other guy. You know tall. Handsome. I think he’s the other owner.”
Gyul’s brows raise in realization, “Seungwoo?”
“Is that his name? He’s got like a- a- a, um-” Yohan gestures vaguely to himself. “A face.”
“A face?” Hangyul asks dryly.
“Yeah, you know. Small. Sexy. He walks the floor sometimes.”
“That’s… Probably him?”
“Right, so, help a guy out?” Yohan waggles his eyebrows maniacally.
“No,” Hangyul hands him a swift, blunt rejection.
Yohan throws complaints and insults until they actually get hushed by one of the library desk people. He and Wooseok gang up to harass Hangyul more, and Hangyul starts reconsidering his life choices - primarily the choice of befriending those two. Eventually they get bored of taunting Hangyul for his definitely not over the top thirst and move onto complaining about the cost of laundry on campus. Gyul’s mind wanders as time goes on, and he’s back to picturing that cute, buck-toothed smile and deft chef’s hands.
Hangyul slows his stride slightly as he turns the corner. The temperature has yet to drop, and Gyul’s fairly certain he could drown in the amount of sweat that he’s excreting at this point. It’s one of those sticky, suffocating mornings - the kind that make you curse global warming and the corporations who’d ultimately caused it. The silver lining is that the blistering weather makes for the perfect excuse to go shirtless. Hangyul’s pretty damn proud of the progress he’s made. Peeking at his reflection in the glass of a shop window vindicates him for all the times he’d turned away junk food and beer. He’d probably feel even better about his looks if he wasn’t on the precipice of death, melting between the too-sweltering-for-this-early-in-the-morning sun.
In spite of oncoming heat death, Gyul presses on at a more relaxed pace. Per usual, his route takes him down the block past a particular restaurant. It’s not that he intends or plans to be seen. It’s just that, if he happens to be seen, he wouldn’t mind one bit. If, by some crazy coincidence, he’s spotted, that is.
Hangyul tightens up his form so he looks like a model out of a fitness brand commercial. He feels like sort of a jackass, but when he notices a figure in the distance, tending the patio furniture of Mariposa, the impression fades.
Mentally preparing himself for some sort of a suave, cool, sexy greeting, Hangyul slows his jog into a trot, silently willing the other to look at him. As he approaches he can more clearly discern the executive chef rearranging tables and chairs a bit. Hangyul slows to damn near a walk, and that’s when the black-haired chef finally glances up, probably noticing the shadow out of his peripherals.
Hangyul’s face blossoms into a wide smile, and he waves enthusiastically, “Hi!” So much for cool, he chastizes himself, rapidly withdrawing his hand. The student slows down and leans againt the railing separating patio from sidewalk. Heartrate hastening, he tries to reign back his beaming smile into a more subtle, coy type of grin. He prays the result doesn’t look like constipation or something.
“Morning,” Seungyoun steps over to the railing. His lips turn up into the prettiest little smile as he tilts his head and asks, “How are you doing?”
“Kinda tired,” Gyul shrugs, butterflies dancing restlessly in his gut. “Almost done with my jog.”
“Shoot- Jogging in this heat? You’re a brave soul,” The chef laughs.
“Yeah, I, um, I’ve made a habit out of it, so, rain or shine and all that,” Gyul notices Seungyoun’s gaze waver slightly. A wave of giddy exhiliration washes over the student as the other’s eyes rake over his figure. It’s a victory he ecstatically takes. He practically wants to beg the other to stare - stare at him as long as he fucking wants. Minutes, hours, days.
“That’s really, um…” Seungyoun’s eyes cloud over with something obscure. His mouth lolls open, and he trails off like he’s lost in thought. Initially, Gyul laps up the attention eagerly. Just the heft of the other’s eyes on him presses weight on his shoulders. It affects him damn near as much as those hands on him would, he reckons. Time ticks on in silence, and Hangyul starts to wonder if something is up. Youn’s nostrils flare and his tongue flicks out of his mouth. His fingers fidget and twitch at the hem of his half apron. All the while, his mind appears blank - like the lights are on but nobody’s home.
Hangyul’s elation transitions into worry. It’s hot outside, really hot, and Youn keeps long hours. What if he’s dehydrated? What if he’s gotten heat exhaustion?!
“Uh-” Hangyul coughs, “Seungyoun?”
He tries again, “S-Seungyoun?!”
Finally, the light turns back on, “Hm? Oh my gosh, sorry, I- I- I zoned out.” Blush rushes to the chef’s face, making him about ten times cuter to Hangyul (which the student didn’t even think possible). “I just- Um- You smell-”
“Oh, god- Um- Sorry, I was- I was jogging,” Utter devastation hits Hangyul like a goddamn truck. Of course that’s what it is. Seungyoun was probably, like, paralyzed by his stench or something. He’d been jogging in the heat, sweating waterfalls. He thought that maybe his sweat would give him a pleasant sheen. Hangyul feels like the world’s biggest moron for thinking anybdoy in his vicinity would find him attractive given his current state of filth.
“You smell really good,” Seungyoun tacks on. His gaze is peculiarly piercing when it shoots over to Gyul’s wide, apologetic eyes. “What- Uh- What do you wear?”
“What do I… Wear?” Hangyul’s head cocks confusedly. “Like- Like cologne?” He scratches his nape sheepishly. “I don’t usually wash or anything before jogging. I sweat a lot so I, um, just do it after…”
“So it’s natural?” Seungyoun asks.
Seungyoun nods as if in affirmation or understanding, but his brain seems somewhere else entirely. Suddenly, all the mirth is gone, and all Hangyul can feel is humiliation for his own utter shamelessness. The silence that ensues is thick, exacerbated by the heavy, humid air and merciless heat of the sun.
Hangyul coughs, “Um- S-So, about rescheduling for menu prep-”
“Oh, yes!” Seungyoun yet again perks up in a split second. He grins widely and nods, “How’s tonight?”
“Tonight?” Hangyul’s mind goes to his promised study and netflix session with his friends. “Tonight’s good.” He tells the other.
Seungyoun brightens significantly, clapping happily, “That’s awesome! Ohmygosh, I can’t wait!” He wrings a hand through his hair and coughs embarrassedly following the overt eagerness. “Um- I’m sorry, I just-”
“No, that’s- that’s totally fine,” Hangyul replies. He can feel himself melting into the pavement, and he’s not certain whether it’s the heat or the adorable guy on the other side of the railing. “I’ll see you tonight?”
“Yeah, I’ll text you,” Seungyoun says.
The two exchange a few more giddy goodbyes before Hangyul’s self preservation instinct kicks in and he runs to escape the heat. His heart does about twenty back flips on the last leg of his jog, and he wills time to pass faster so it can just be nighttime already.
Chapter 6: A Call
“Okay,” Seungyoun gives his precious creation - a tofu and potato taco meant to emulate chorizo and potato - a little grin. “I think you’re gonna like this one. The tofu’s got a nice texture to it, it should have a bite.”
Hangyul couldn’t get to Agave fast enough. The second he got the greenlight from Seungyoun, he practically bolted to the taqueria. Most of the afternoon in preperation had been spent agonizing over what to wear. Hangyul wanted to look good - but not tryhard. He tried to communicate care - but, like, effortless care. A sort of “I woke up like this” handsomeness. He threw on sweats, skinny jeans, looser jeans, button-downs, t-shirts, hoodies. Eventually he settled on a t-shirt that fit just well enough to barely show off the contours of his pecs while still being flowwy and understated jeans.
Seungyoun eventually greeted him by the back door in the ally - a vision in all black. While Hangyul would’ve loved to engage in niceties, Seungyoun was on a mission. Things quickly transitioned to business as one taco after another got shoved down Hangyul’s gullet.
“Cool,” Gyul returns the other’s enthusiasm with a wide smile of his own. The night has been nice. Really nice. Seungyoun is charming, and even when Hangyul’s brain ceases function or he catches himself staring, the other manages to move things along smoothly. Hangyul timidly lifts the taco to his nose, giving it a whiff. It’s got spices but that deep undertone that’s in the regular meat blend is absent. It’s savory, peppery, and spicy. The tofu was cooked in a reddish sauce, and it’s damn near identical to ground meat in terms of appearance. Tofu and potatoes fill the flour tortilla, topped with hunks of queso fresco.
“It smells really good. It really does smell like chorizo,” Hangyul tells the other. Seungyoun’s smile extends up to his eyes, and Gyul nearly gets spellbound by it. Gyul shoves aside his schoolboy crush and reminds himself he needs to focus on the task at hand. Licking his lips, he takes a sizeable bite of the taco.
Savory spice hits his tongue immediately, a delicious, harmonic symphony of pepper, paprika, and a touch of smokiness. The queso fresco perfectly balances the flavor - a creamy respite from the just-right spice stinging his tongue. Encased in a fluffy, warm flour tortilla, the taco makes for a beautiful treat.
Hangyul savors the bite until finally swallowing it and letting his impressions settle in his mouth. He sighs contently, licking his lips as he chooses his words.
“Well?” Seungyoun bites his lower lip anxiously. His gaze wavers as he searches Hangyul’s face for an expression - any indication as to whether the taco was a hit or a miss.
As if it would miss.
“Obviously, it tastes amazing,” Hangyul says. He notices the other’s shoulders relax ever so slightly, but his face remains contorted in an eager, anxious expression. Gyul elaborates, “I think you were right, it’s substantial! And the tofu emulates chorizo pretty well. Chorizo and potato are a pretty classic combo. Almost breakfasty, I think…”
Seungyoun nods, pursing his lips thoughtfully, “Okay so… That’s good. Downsides?”
Gyul scrunches his eyebrows at the half-eaten taco. One of the little rules Seungyoun set for him (after the first three tacos all got raving reviews) was that Hangyul had to say a negative. Nerves flurry in the student’s chest as he tries to sort his thoughts in the most eloquent, inoffensive way possible. (Not that he really had any offensive thoughts.)
“It’s sort of one-note?” Hangyul shrugs. “Like, you get that spicy flavor, and the potatoes give a little break but it all sort of gets overtaken by that spice. Maybe something… Green would freshen it up a bit? But, like, I’m no chef, so-”
“No, no, that’s good, that’s brilliant!” Seungyoun beams at the critique. Hangyul nods happily. “I probably should’ve added some cilantro… Something to brighten it up. It probably is kind of heavy even with the queso fresco. I could try sour cream instead…”
“Y-Yeah, there you go,” Hangyul replies.
Seungyoun, who’d been leaning against the island with Gyul, turns around to grab a prep container full of fresh cilantro.
“What are your thoughts on corn?” Youn asks, eyeing the spread of prepped ingredients. He’s so serious about his work - something that Hangyul finds undeniably endearing and sexy. The way Youn contemplates everything carefully, how even the more profane or common ingredients are treated with care, his deft fingers delicately placing things on the plate just so… He’s an artist. No ifs ands or buts about it. A perfectionist through and through. Gyul supposes that’s apt for someone who’s so perfect himself.
Sure, he supposes there are flaws to Seungyoun. The man is a workaholic and would probably put his job over anyone else. As an artist, he has brief spells of very apparent spaceyness in which his eyes sort of gloss over and he just silently thinks. Those are things Hangyul could definitely reconcile with, though. They’re barely flaws, really, and Hangyul honestly finds it sort of unfair that a man so flawless has the gall to just exist in his presence.
“Corn is kinda sweet,” Hangyul responds, “Sweet and spicy is good, but I’m not sure you want to go that direction?”
“Hm. Good consideration. I’m thinking not. I liked what you said before.”
“Y-You did?” Thrill illuminates in Hangyul’s chest, and his heart skips a beat.
Seungyoun smiles and nods, “You mentioned it was breakfasty. I sort of like that. Sometimes that’s something people go for, you know. Hm… D’you think an egg would be too much?”
Hangyul smiles at the other warmly, “Can’t know if we don’t try it, right?”
Youn chuckles, “Love that about you.”
Gyul damn near blacks out at the word “love”. He determinedly urges his soul back into its corpereal vessel and nods.
“Love what about me?” Hangyul asks, definitely in no way sounding like a giggley schoolboy.
“You’re down to try anything,” Seungyoun elaborates. He crosses over to a standing fridge in the kitchen and pulls out a few eggs. “A real risk taker. Hell, you had an allergic reaction but still tried other food here.”
“So you think it is an allergy?” Hangyul asks curiously. He never did get to the bottom of that.
“Or an intolerance,” Seungyoun mentions nonchalantly. He grabs a pan from above the range and sets it onto a burner. “A lot of people have stuff that just messes with them. It’s not necessarily, like, an immune response.”
“Huh,” Hangyul says. He steps over to Youn by the range and peeks over his shoulder. “You gonna try the breakfast thing?”
“We’re going full breakfast,” Youn says with a chuckle. “Or, at least, we’re trying.” The way his lips curl up is almost fox-like, a cheshire grin full of implicit mischief. Hangyul wonders what he’s thinking. Seungyoun is many things. He’s charming, kind, open minded, funny, sweet - so, so many things - but an easy read? Not necessarily. Sometimes, their eyes meet. Seungyoun’s are so dark. Unreadable. Occasionally, something glimmers in the shadowy depths of the other’s gaze. It’s like a spark, the briefest ignition of something, and Hangyul gets a shiver down his spine pondering what it is.
Does he feel it, too?
Other times, Seungyoun’s gaze feels heftier. It’s lidded, heavy and obscure. The sort of discernment that makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Those moments are brief. Collected, all of those times would probably amount to no more than a cumulative second. But they impressed themselves upon the student profoundly, fueled many a fervent jack off session and wet dream. Seungyoun is a chef, no doubt he’s passionate about food, but the hunger that Hangyul detects in that occasional gaze is something of another kind.
A rhythmic banging noise pulls Hangyul out of his lusty stupor, and he yelps, jolting slightly. Hangyul doesn’t stir. The sound subsides, but only for a minute. Soon the loud banging picks up yet again, drowning out the soft sizzle of egg scrambling on a skillet.
“Uh- Do you hear that?” Hangyul squints. The sound is sort of dull and echoey, like it’s coming through the walls. But that doesn’t make sense.
The thudding comes again, underlined by a faint squeak.
“Wh- You hear that, don’t you?” Gyul asks, worry starting to trickle into his gut.
“Hm?” Youn stirs from his concentration, raising his eyebrows inquisitively. “Hear what?”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“That,” Hangyul says. “Is it- It’s coming through the walls? Or…”
“Oh,” Seungyoun responds, finally noticing it. Gyul wonders how the hell the other missed it, but he supposes concentration can do that. Youn heaves a sigh and frowns, “It’s those fuckers upstairs.”
“What?” Gyul’s brows knit confusedly.
“Yeah,” The chef’s face falls into an irritated pout. “It’s all apartments above this place, and I guess they’re remodelling on the floor right above us.”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Is it above?” Hangyul asks dumbly. The sound is far and distorted. It’s that sort of vague noise that could be coming from above, across, hell even below. It’s hard to tell. It is annoying, though.
“Sure is,” Seungyoun groans.
“This late at night?”
“I know, right?” Youn huffs, venting his frustration into the chopsticks he uses to scramble the eggs. “I guess it’s some DIY job. A procrastinator, by the sound of it.”
“Huh,” Gyul nods, eyes shooting up to the ceiling.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Either that, or someone is having a very pitiful lay,” Youn jokes. “I rent a few floors above, and honestly, I’m tempted to sound proof my damn place.”
“I don’t think that’s how sound proofing works,” Hangyul laughs. He leans forward, trying ta appear nonchalant and cool by resting his elbow on the cooktop. “Ah- Fff-fuck!” He hisses, immediately regretting his dumbass decision. Another attempt at appearing cool and nonchalant backfired - almost literally, this time.
“Wh- Oh my god what did you-?!” Seungyoun gasps, eyes wide with concern. He pulls his pan off of the burner and quickly killed the flame.
“Just got my fingers a little close to the range,” Hangyul winces, blinking back tears. It’d been a brief foray into the fire, but a painful one nonetheless. Still, he feels like it’d be bad form to shed tears over it in front of Seungyoun, so he plays it off. “It’s- ‘s fine.”
“Oh- Oh my- Here, let me get you some first aid! Here-” Youn crosses over to the deep metal sink on the adjacent wall and turns on the faucet. “Put your hand there, okay? I’ll be right back.”
“O-Okay,” Heat flushes Hangyul’s face, a combination of embarrassment and flusterment. Youn disappears into the hallway momentarily. When he returns, he’s got bandages and some ointment in hand. “Thanks.”
“It literally happens all the time,” Seungyoun says with a warm smile. “Here, gimme your hand.”
“Uh- Wha- No, that’s fine. I can do it myself,” Gyul tries to play it tough. “Seriously it’s fff-ff-ii-” Hangyul’s brain completely short circuits when the other takes the liberty to touch him. Seungyoun grabs Gyul’s wrist, delicately opening up the student’s palm and inspecting it.
“Looks like you just nailed under your thumb,” The chef muses. His touch is gentle - dainty, almost. The trained hands of a chef, Gyul thinks. Seungyoun squeezes a dab of ointment onto the reddened skin and rubs gently.
Hangyul hisses at the contact on his raw skin. The salve satiates the burn, though. Quickly, the irritated skin cools, and the burning diminishes to a tingle. Seungyoun’s thumb rubs soothing circles on the afflicted palm attentively. The gesture makes Hangyul’s insides swim. Affection and want stir inside his stomach. Seungyoun is so damn tempting, a delicious morsel dangling right in front of him.
How easy would it be just to snatch him up?
“Hey, Seungyoun,” Hangyul pipes up.
“Hm?” The black-haired beauty tilts his head curiously.
“Do you wanna go out some time?” Hangyul asks. He immediately bites down on his bottom lip hard. Nervous. The Hangyul of five seconds ago thought it was such a good idea. He was so confident, so sure of himself. Foolish. Regret runs him over like an eighteen wheeler as the silence of seconds stretches onto a minute.
Seungyoun seems to contemplate the student before him. The initial look on his face speaks to shock, but it softens soon after into something Gyul would guess to be consideration.
“You…” The chef’s voice is quiet, revealing nothing. It’s neither overjoyed nor disgusted. The neutrality lends Hangyul no comfort as he waits with bated breath. “You want to go out with me?” Seungyoun asks.
“Y-Yeah,” Hangyul replies way less confidently than he wanted to. “Yeah-” He tries more assuredly. “You’re new, right? I can show you around town a bit. You can eat a meal you don’t have to cook yourself.”
Seungyoun’s pupils dance around a bit. The quiet following Hangyul’s proposition is deafening. Hangyul feels his heart pounding against his chest in wait of an answer. He feels immensely stupid, wondering if this is where it ends. Seungyoun might reject him and send him on his way. Hangyul’s pretty sure that he’ll have to change his jogging route if that happens. Before he finishes his mental map of a new route, Seungyoun talks again.
“O-Okay,” The chef replies timidly.
“Wait, really?” Hangyul blurts out. He mentally scolds himself for the outburst.
“Y-Yeah,” Seungyoun’s cheeks flush a comely pink tone. His cheeks look like marzipan peaches - plush, pink, round and tempting. How Hangyul would love to sink his teeth in. He shakes the pervy thoughts out of his head, reigning his thoughts in before they take a profane turn. “I mean- I have crazy hours, but, um I can get some time off. Late nights. Maybe mornings?” He chuckles nervously and tucks a lock of hair behind his ear. Delectable.
“I can make it work,” Hangyul offers. “I- I want to make it work. I think you’re really cool. I’ve kinda been crushing on you.”
“M-Me, too, actually,” Seungyoun laughs sheepishly, wringing a hand through his hair. His face is bright red at this point. He looks adorable. “I, um, yeah. Yeah. So, um, yeah we can, um-”
“We can talk about it later?” Hangyul proposes hopefully. “After we’ve finished with the menu stuff?”
“Yes- Yeah. Yeah,” Youn chuckles. It’s unprecedented to see him so flustered, and the sight makes Hangyul’s heart grow three sizes. “Right. Tacos… Tacos.” He turns back to the range, mouth stretched out in a wide smile.
That beautiful smile stays on his face for the rest of the night.
Hangyul’s heart pounds against his chest, ready to fly out through his throat at a few points. The rest of the tasting is significantly less productive. There are a lot of little stare offs that end in embarrassed giggles and pink cheeks. Exhiliration dances beneath Hangyul’s skin as he excites over what’s in store.
Yohan shakes his head in utter bafflement, “It just doesn’t add up.”
Hangyul rolls his eyes. He doesn’t dignify the other with a response.
“I just don’t get it,” Yohan shakes his head and narrows his eyes at Hangyul. To make matterse worse, Wooseok joins. Sometimes, Gyul is shocked when he remembers he’s the youngest of the group. Yohan throws his hands up, “He said yes to going on a date with you?”
“He did,” Gyul answers dryly, setting his pencil down. He questions why he even studies with the two anymore. Half the time they just end up sidetracked, talking about conspiracy theories or anime.
“Like, that’s crazy as is,” Yohan says. “But then he went out with you another two times?” He shakes his head. “That’s sus.”
Hangyul rolls his eyes even more emphatically, “Thank you, Yohan, for not believing in my charms.”
“You’re welcome,” Yohan replies with a smirk.
Wooseok adds, “I mean, you two are sort of an item now.” He says to Hangyul. “I mean, what’s it been? Three? Four dates? How many until the boyfriend label sticks?”
“Ugh,” Heat swells in Hangyul’s stomach, running up to his face. “Stop it.”
Shit. He’d love to call Seungyeun his boyfriend. His heart soars at the mere idea of it. Of course, he’s not about to admit that to his friends.
“So, do you not want him to be your boyfriend?” Wooseok asks.
Yohan interjects, “And where are you on the Seungwoo front?!”
“Wh- Hold on, who said anything about Seungwoo?” Gyul scoffs.
“I do!” Yohan slams a hand on the table (lending them many a dirty look from fellow students in the library). “You’ve got your chef bae all over and Wooseok is- he’s… Anyways, I’m lonely, dammit! And he’s hot!” Yohan throws himself across the table, grabbing Hangyul’s hands and giving him a desperate, pleading look.
“How is this my problem?” Hangyul groans. “Also I don’t know where you get the idea that I’m BFFs with Seungwoo. I’ve seen him, like, three times in passing. He’s busy.”
“So is Seungyoun and he has time for you,” Yohan pouts.
“Wooseok!” Gyul looks at the eldest desperately.
“Down, boy,” Wooseok says. Yohan purses his lips sadly but relents, releasing his hold on Gyul’s hands. “Seriously, though-” He raises his eyebrows at Hangyul. “-have you guys talked about anything?”
“Talked about what?” Hangyul asks. He doesn’t remember volunteering to be interrogated, but apparently it’s happening.
“Well, do you wanna cuff him or not?” Woo presses the younger. Though he appears meddling, Gyul knows he comes from a place of care. He is the eldest, after all, and even though he tries to hide it, he looks after the other two like a hen her flock.
“Wait, like, you mean a relationship?” Hangyul bites his lip nervously.
“Yes, dummy, a relationship. You’ve gone out a few times. Surely by now you know if you wanna keep it going or not.”
“Wh- Of course I wanna keep it going, but- but-” Gyul shrugs. “I dunno. What if he doesn’t want to label anything? I don’t want to freak him out.”
“Where do you think he’s at?”
“Him?” Gyul purses his lips as he thinks back to their dates in the past. Their first one was a coffee date in the morning. Seungyoun broke away from pre-opening work, and the two enjoyed coffee and pastries. The date actually ran pretty long. Hangyul ended up being fifteen minutes late to class, but he didn’t regret it in the least. Every second with Seungyoun had been blissful. Even those spent awkwardly dancing around one another’s gaze or grasping for the right words to say. Date number two took them to a wine bar further downtown. It was Seungyoun’s suggestion, one Gyul admittedly wasn’t fond of. But seeing Seungyoun with flushed cheeks in candlelight made Hangyul suddenly fall in love with the place and everything associated with it.
The two still occasionally lapse into that lovesick brand of weirdness that strains their interactions, but it grows less and less frequent with each date. Hangyul’s pretty damn happy with where they’re at now, but the truth is he really does want more.
“You should talk about it soon,” Wooseok advises. “I don’t want you to get hurt-”
“Screw talking,” Yohan cuts in. “At least get laid before you face potential rejection.”
“Wh- Wow, okay,” Hangyul gasps, affronted. “So you think he’s gonna reject me?!”
“I mean-” Yohan shrugs. “-I’m just saying… Get it in.”
“Y’know, I like Wooseok’s advice better,” Hangyul replies dryly. He deliberately turns all of his attention to the eldest. “We’re hanging out tonight, actually. You think I should talk to him?”
“It’s your call,” Woo says. “But if you drag it out without really aligning your expectations, you could end up in a weird spot. It’s better to be honest.”
“Wait, you’re seeing him tonight?” Yohan butts in.
“Uh, yeah?” Gyul responds. “After his shift.”
“Where are you guys going?” Woo asks.
“Oh, um,” Warmth prickles Hangyul’s cheeks anew. “His place. He actually lives in one of the apartments above the restaurant. He wanted a quiet night in.” Gyul shrugs. “We’re probably just gonna hang out and chill.”
The other two exchange an amused look before bursting out into loud laughter. Hangyul’s jaw drops in disbelief. He’s not sure what the hell is so comical about his plans.
“I don’t know what I was so worried about,” Yohan snorts, leaning over the table to pat Gyul on the shoulder.
“Seriously, though, make sure you do talk stuff out,” Wooseok adds, an amused grin on his face.
“Wh-What? What are you two talking about?” Hangyul asks pleadingly.
Yohan laughs, “What do you mean ‘what’? Wait- Whose idea was it to chill tonight? You said it was his, right?”
“Uh, yeah? He works a lot. I’d wanna rest, too, if I were him.”
“You’re so full of shit, dude,” Yohan shakes his head. “Please tell me you don’t seriously think he invited you over to ‘rest’.”
“What exactly are you implying?”
“It’s a booty call!” “Seriously, Gyul?!” The two shout at simultaneously. Another wave of irritated looks shoot in their direction, and Hangyul shrinks in his chair.
“What?!” Hangyul balks. “Is not! I told you, he has weird hours.”
“Booty call,” Yohan answers adamantly.
“He’s a chef.”
“Booty call,” Yohan says again.
“I mean, I don’t even, we’ve kissed and stuff but we’ve actually been pretty- pretty restrained-”
“Okay, real mature-”
“Booty call, booty call, booty call, booty call, booty call, booty call-”
Yohan sings his crude song until a library employee actually has to come over and issue a warning. Eventually, the other two tire of teasing Hangyul and go back to actually studying (or at least pretending to study quietly). Even long after the conversation has moved on, the words “booty call” remain burned into the back of Hangyul’s mind. He can’t help the twinge of titillation that jolts into his gut at the thought.
He wants Seungyoun. Of course he wants Seungyoun. It’s been on his mind for, well, since he saw the other, basically. But, even after the other accepted his invitation for a date, even after they’d gone out on many dates, it never occurred to Hangyul that the other might reciprocate that desire, too. Hangyul didn’t think the other would be an initiator.
What if he does?
The more he dwells on it, the more thrilling the prospect becomes. Suddenly, the library feels hot and stifling. All Hangyul can think about is Seungyoun. His alluring smile. His dark gaze. His fit, toned arms and cute teeth. He knows how those teeth taste, but now he can’t stop wondering how they’d feel grazing across his skin.
Chapter 7: Is It A Dealbreaker?
WARNING: this chapter contains NSFW/sexually explicit content
Hangyul’s mouth waters at the smell of sizzling garlic and pepper flakes. The sight of Seungyoun in front of his own, personal range also contributes to the general collection of drool in Gyul’s mouth. The chef dressed simply in black, but the chef’s jeans hug him just right, clinging gorgeously to his figure and tapering in at the waist. Youn makes even a simple t-shirt look couture, and the wide breadth of shoulders peeking through the scooping neckline looks more delicious than the food he’s making.
He hums happily in the tiny kitchen of his studio apartment. The entire thing is open concept. Upon walking in, the kitchen is slightly to the right, along with a tiny dining area. To the left is the living area where Seungyoun has a queen size bed and flat screen TV with a console. There’s a loveseat for guests draped with blankets and a few artistic posters and prints hanging on the wall. It’s cozy and unfussy with just a hint of chicness to distinguish it from one’s typical college dump.
“Are you sure I can’t do anything?” Hangyul asks. He feels uncomfortable sitting down while the other essentially waits on him.
“You set the table, didn’t you?” Seungyoun asks, not even looking up from what he’s doing. A soft sizzling sound penetrates the loud hum of the hood above the stovetop.
“Yeah,” Hangyul responds, glancing at his work. While Seungyoun wasn’t looking, he googled proper place settings and set the table just so - two opposite place mats, folded fabric napkins (because Youn is that sophisticated apparently), forks on the left of the plates, knives and spoons to the right along with water and wine glasses above to the right.
“Um, you can probably decant the wine, then,” Youn grins at Gyul over his shoulder. Hangyul’s heart dances in his chest giddily. He strides over to the counter a few paces from Youn and grabs the nearby corkscrew. The bottle is a dark green, unlabelled. Seungyoun mentioned it being a craft brew from a friend of a friend.
Hangyul has never been a wine guy, but that’s none of Seungyoun’s business. Even though he’s a taqueria chef in a campus town, Youn is still an elegant person, and Hangyul wants to keep up. Or at least seem like he’s keeping up. Or, like, learn how to. While the other isn’t reciting soliloquys or quizzing him on art history, Hangyul still can’t help feeling slightly dwarfed. Overall, Seungyoun is imposing. Not purposely so. He just is. He’s worldly, accomplished, funny, handsome, and establishing a successful career as an executive chef and restaurateur. Hangyul is a student. Sure, he’s got a decent body and, yeah, he thinks he’s got a decent personality, but he has a lot of catching up to do before he considers himself really in Seungyoun’s league. He’s not sure what twist of fate led the other to him, but he’s grateful. Given that Hangyul seldom feels this strongly about anyone, he’s eager to hold onto it to the best of his ability.
Gyul pours the deep red liquid into a pitcher (or “decanter” as Seungyoun calls it). A distinct, pungent scent wafts up from the thing. Hangyul winces in surprise and blinks away tears. The closest thing to red wine he’s had is sangria, but he’s pretty sure that’s not how it normally smells. He supposes that wine culture might be something he’ll never get into, cute guy or not.
Seungyoun grabs a handful of bright green parsley, throwing it into the large pan he’d been tossing the pasta and olive oil sauce in. Hangyul watches, mesmerised at the easy and grace with which Seungyoun handles the food. Quickly following the addition of herbs is a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt soon after. He grinds black pepper over the delicious smelling pasta for a final touch.
“This smells amazing,” Hangyul damn near drools on the chef.
“It’s actually super easy, too,” Seungyoun replies brightly. “Not that I, like, didn’t want to try hard-”
“You literally are a chef by profession,” Hangyul says with a laugh. “I wouldn’t want you to do more than you already do.”
“Well, I like to cook for fun, too,” Youn says with a shrug.
“Mhm,” Seungyoun smiles cutely. He nods toward a cabinet near Hangyul, “Would you please get me two bowls? From the one in the far left?”
“Got it,” Gyul says in agreement. Happiness surges through his veins, warming him inside and out.
“Yeah, it’s nice to make something that isn’t tacos for once,” Seungyoun says, fishing something out of a nearby drawer. “Like, I love my work, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been so long since I had pasta.”
“I get it,” Hangyul nods, grabbing the bowls as instructed. He shuts the cabinet and turns to Seungyoun with a smile. A massive, gleaming carving fork catches Hangyul off guard, and he startles.
Seungyoun holds the carving fork tightly, eyes wide, “Whoa- You okay there?”
“Y-Yeah, sorry, I just- You surprised me with that thing,” The student nods toward the massive two-pronged utensil gripped in the chef’s hand. “What’s that for? We having meat?”
Youn’s brows raise in surprise, and he laughs, “Wh- Oh, no, no, no!” His cute bunny teeth show, and Hangyul’s worry melts away. “This is for the spaghetti. Here, hand me a bowl.”
Hangyul complies curiously. He watches with rapt interest as Seungyoun sets a bowl down and stabs the fork in the middle of the herby spaghetti aglio e olio. The chef twirls the fork, collecting a healthy heap of pasta and carefully transferring it over to a bowl.
“Oh,” Hangyul grunts dumbly. He seriously questions why the hell Seungyoun likes him sometimes.
“Wanna pour the wine?” The chef asks rhetorically. Of course Hangyul wants to pour the wine. Hangyul would do damn near anything the other asked him to do. Seungyoun could ask him to lay down and act as a floor mat and Gyul would say “with pleasure”.
“I’m on it,” Hangyul says. He grabs the decanter carefully and pours what appears to be a reasonable amount into each sparkling cup. Seungyoun sidles up next to the student, a bowl in each hand.
“Thanks,” He says in a low voice before planting a quick peck on Hangyul’s cheek.
Gyul turns to mush for a second. He has to steel himself to ride out the waves of ecstasy washing over him. When he reclaims ownership of his faculties, he takes the seat opposite Seungyoun. The black-haired beauty twirls noodles on his fork with a smile on his face. Even that simple gesture practically undoes Hangyul. Fuck, the student curses to himself. He’s in deep.
Seungyoun catches the other staring and gives Hangyul a start. Embarrassment flushes the student’s face. The chef, however, seems to drink it up. His dark pupils dart to his fork, and the grin on his face widens into something coquettish. The chef lifts his fork and holds sticks it in Hangyul’s direction.
“Open up,” He says flirtily.
“Wh- Oh. M-Me?” Hangyul sputters out. Smooth, he thinks to himself.
“Who else, dummy?” Seungyoun chuckles. “C’mon. I need the opinion of my favorite taste tester.”
“O-Okay, fine,” Hangyul replies. He’s pretty sure his entire face is redder than the wine in their glasses. Gyul leans forward and parts his lips. He prays he looks sexy and not like a fish.
Their eyes meet, and they don’t part for a single second as the chef gently guides the fork into Hangyul’s mouth. The second the steaming pasta hits Hangyul’s tongue, an explosion of flavor hits his palate. He closes his lips, and his eyes close reflexivly, savoring the buttery, garlicky taste underlined with the slightest kick from pepper flakes and zing of lemon juice.
“ Mm ,” He grunts. When his eyes flutter open, Seungyoun’s gaze bores into them, dark and heated. His lips are slightly parted, and something about him appears almost breathless. Hangyul’s stomach lurches - and not with conventional hunger.
“Good?” Seungyoun’s voice is a low murmur, making the question feel infinitely more intimate than a mere opinion on food.
“Yeah,” Hangyul replies huskily.
Seungyoun leans back, a satisfied grin on his lips, and he giggles, “Good. See? I can make more than tacos.” He says cutely. The veil of desire lifts quickly as the chef happily forks himself a heap of spaghetti with a coy laugh. Hangyul responds with an airy laugh of his own, and he tries to come down from his arousal as the two lapse into dinnertime conversation. Gyul rearranges his sitting position a dozen times, but it does little to alleviate the uncomfortable friction of his jeans against his half hard-on.
“-I almost was, I swear!” Seungyoun chuckles, grabbing Hangyul’s clean bowl.
“What? What?” Hangyul laughs, appreciating the view of the other sashaying over to the sink. “Cho Seungyoun. Brazilian soccer star.”
“If I got residency, I could’ve played for the national team,” Seungyoun chuckles. He reaches into the fridge and takes out two little ramekins.
“Wh- Hold up, what’ve you got there?” Gyul asks, brows raised inquisitively.
“Dark chocolate mousse,” Seungyoun replies as he pulls open the silverware drawer.
“Wh- Yes. Do you want to taste garlic for the rest of the night?” Youn chuckles.
“Wh- I mean, that’s not it. It’s just like. Wow. Mousse. Did you train in pastry, too?”
“Even if you don’t specialize in pastry, you learn dessert,” Seungyoun responds. “But, honestly, you can learn it from google, too.”
“So, wait, you… Lemme get this straight,” Hangyul laughs incredulously. “You’re an amazing cook, you can do desserts, you nearly became a pro football player, you can play guitar and piano-”
“Stop it,” Seungyoun’s ears turn red.
“No, I’m serious, we have a problem here,” Hangyul laughs. “Do you have any flaws?”
“Stop it, stop it,” Youn continues chuckling, face’s color deepening. “I’m gonna, like, melt into a puddle.” He returns to the table and sets down a cup of mousse in their places.
“You stop it!” Hangyul laughs. “Stop being so perfect! I- I am being victimized right now.”
“Oh my god, you are not!”
“Are not! Just-” Youn snorts. “Just eat your damn mousse! And drink your wine! How come it looks like you haven’t touched it?”
“O-Oh,” Hangyul responds sheepishly. He glances at the glass dubiously. The weird pungency fills his nose, underlined with acidic, fruity notes that he’s more familiar with. “Sorry, guess I was just, um, distracted.”
“You should try it. Close friend of mine made it themself,” Youn says, punctuating the thought with a gulp of his own.
Hangyul, ever the people pleaser, can’t bring himself to deny the other. He lifts his glass, tipping it before taking a tentative sip. The taste is…
Pungent is, in fact, an apt way to describe the overwhelming flavor. There’s acidity to it and, yes, an undeniable fruitiness. The entire taste is underlined by a strange, coppery tone. However, more disturbing than that is the strange sediment that slides across his tongue toward the end of the taste. It’s strange and gooey and gritty all at the same time, damn near tasting like nickels.
“Oh. Not a wine person, are you?” Seungyoun asks, sounding more amused than anything.
“No, no,” Hangyul’s tone strains into something awkward and squeaky in an attempt to not sound utterly disgusted. “It’s- Y’know it’s, um, unique.” He blinks tears out of his eyes. “It’s very, um… Strong.”
“Yeah, he brews a mean batch, my guy,” Seungyoun laughs. “It’s okay if you don’t like it, though. You could’ve just told me.”
“I like to try everything at least once,” Hangyul says. “Plus, I know that not all wines are the same.”
“We’ll get a nice moscato next time,” Youn says dotingly. “It’s like juice.” He purses his lips and grabs hangyul by the cheek, jokingly squeezing.
“Mmh- Stop it,” Hangyul pouts. “I’m not a baby.” He moves his face out of the other’s grip. “But, uh, yeah maybe next time we can get wine that’s, uh. Different.” Gyul’s nose wrinkles as he runs his tongue along the roof of his mouth, still feeling sediment. “What’s that stuff on the bottom of the wine anyway? Is there supposed to be, like, bits in it?”
“Bits?” Youn snorts. “You mean the sediment?”
“Sediment is actually really common - especially in higher quality wine. It’s often filtered out, but when left in it’s like all the goodness. The tartrate and colloids. You know they call it wine diamonds.”
“Really?” More like wine coal, Gyul thinks. “Jeez. And this is just from, like, a guy you know?”
“Yeah,” Youn nods. His glass is nearly drained, and consequently a comely pink settled across his pretty cheeks. “Organic, fair trade, locally sourced. My hashtag brand.”
“Hashtag- oh my god. Okay.”
“Sorry is that too millenial for you? You gen-Xer?” Youn pokes fun at the other, lightly kicking him under the table.
“Don’t think that’s a millenial thing, I think it’s a lame thing- ow!” Gyul gasps as another kick knocks his shin. “Oh my god- Youn you can’t just do that with your football legs.”
“Wh- You do taekwondo!” Seungyoun laughs, spooning chocolate and cream into his mouth.
“I was taught to use my powers for good, not evil,” Hangyul replies, doing the same. Thankfully the deep, rich flavor of the dark chocolate drowns out the metallic aftertaste of the wine. Bitter dark chocolate and sweet whipped cream create a scrumptuous yin and yang in his mouth.
“Mmm…” Seungyoun hums. He shuts his eyes, lashes fanning out prettily across his cheeks as he sighs softly. Hangyul finds himself distracted by the other. The smoldering in his gut warms again into a flickering flame, licking at his sides and running down to his groin. He’s not sure how much more of this he can take. He wonders if Seungyoun is doing this on purpose. Gyul could see it. He could see it all too well - Seungyoun showboating, damn near making love to his spoon just to rile the other up. Of course Hangyul is powerless. No amount of awareness or forethought can actually stop the rush he gets.
Hangyul compensates for his growing arousal by shovelling chocolate into his mouth. It doesn’t do much to stop his cock from straining against his pants, but it is super delicious. That’s a plus! Gyul contemplates licking the ramekin clean when his spoon meets bare ceramic, but he opts not to.
“God,” Hangyul says. “It’s been so long since I’ve had such a rich dessert. Thank you.” He reaches across the table, grabbing one of Seungyoun’s hands and squeezing affectionately.
The chef grins shyly, “Thanks. Yeah I can tell you’re not much of a dessert guy. I’m actually really relieved you ate it all- not that I’d take offense otherwise.”
“Oh- Well-” Gyul shrugs. “I just, I like to keep healthy and stuff. I enjoy in moderation. Y’know, though recently you kinda-” He lets out an airy chuckle, embarrassment needling his cheeks. “-I guess you’ve been motivating me a bit.”
“Wh- Wait, me?” Youn’s brows raise with surprise. “But you already seemed so healthy.”
“I’ve been trying for the past few years, but your passion for, I dunno, better standards, knowing where our food is coming from- I’m trying to do more of that.”
“M-More of what?”
Gyul shrugs, for some reason feeling even more bashful, “I- I know it’s really small, but I look for those fair trade, organic, cruelty free labels now. Been cutting down on processed stuff, too. Like, not even snacks and honestly I feel really fucking good. ‘Course I’m lucky I can afford to splurge on nicer groceries.”
“Wh- Wait. I did that?” Seungyoun gasps.
“I mean, maybe a little bit,” Hangyul tries to play it off coolly. In reality he feels like he’s burning up in an oven. “Honeslty it really is reassuring to know everything that’s in your food.”
“Wow… Well, it shows. You look amazing,” Seungyoun says, gaze dark. “Dare I say…” His mouth stretches into a sly, fox-like grin, “Good enough to eat.”
“Boo!” Hangyul scoffs. Seungyoun just titters shamelessly.
“Shut up, you love it!” Youn fires back.
“I definitely do not!” Hangyul groans.
“I think you do,” The chef says insistently. He stands up and takes Hangyul by the wrist, prompting him onto his feet. Hangyul’s head is spinning, and he feels like he’d had twenty glasses of wine when he barely sipped one. Seungyoun does that to him. His aura is arresting and heavy, a constant, feverish pressure. “Come on. You, sit there-” He nods to the loveseat. “-and I’ll get you something to drink that isn’t wine.”
Hangyul’s head swims as the night progresses. It’s late, and he’s tired. But the high of Seungyoun’s presence - and the possibilities that the night holds - keep him wide awake. He prays he’s not one-sidedly imagining things. The coy little smiles. The way the chef ate his chocolate mousse. It can’t be a coincidence - right? Hangyul knows he’s not always the most savvy, but he swears he’s not just making this up.
“Surprise!” Seungyoun pulls Hangyul out of his thoughts. He wields two tall glasses of bright yellow, bubbling liquid.
“Oh- What- What is that?” The student asks. It’s not the deep amber that beer normally is, and there’s no frothy head.
“A mixed drink,” Seungyoun declares proudly, squeezing onto the loveseat next to Hangyul. The heat of contact between them is searing. Hangyul clings to the cool glass handed to him with a vice. Silently, he sings the mantra: don’t look at my crotch, don’t look at my crotch, don’t look at my crotch.
“Is it gonna be a surprise, or?” Gyul gives the drink a tentative whiff. Thankfully it’s not pungent. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite - a zesty, citrusy, floral scent tickles his nostrils. “Is that… Rose?”
“Oh, very good,” The chef replies. “It is rosewater, ginger juice, lemon juice, simple syrup and a healthy couple ounces of gin.”
“Damn,” Gyul’s brows raise in surprise. He takes a sip, and the flavor punches him in the face. It’s refreshing and aromatic, the citrus and ginger clearing his sinuses and shocking him awake. The flavors are all so strong, yet they harmonize beautifully. Instead of being too much, they’re just enough.
“I call it the love shot,” Seungyoun says proudly, taking a sip of his own.
“But it’s not a shot.”
“Shhh- Just accept it,” Seungyoun jokes, pressing a finger to the other’s lips. The contact is momentary but leaves an impression that Gyul’s pretty sure he’ll feel for days. “I mean, I was literally drunk when I named this concoction.”
“Well, your drunk self is brilliant.”
“You saying my sober self isn’t?”
“Eh?” Hangyul shrugs.
“Wow, okay. Rude. What happened to all your compliments during dinner?”
“ Eh ,” Gyul shrugs, downing more of the drink.
“Wh- Fine. Fine,” Seungyoun huffs exaggeratedly. “I was gonna let you choose what we’re watching, but no. Your privileges have been revoked.”
“Wait- We’re watching something now?” Hangyul quirks an eyebrow at the other.
“Yeah, and I get to say what it is.”
“Fine! See if I care!” The student responds obstinately. He’s more than content to watch Seungyoun shuffle around in his tight jeans, bending over to find the controller to the console he uses to stream. “We could just play a game,” Gyul proposes when he sees the familiar controller gripped in the chef’s hand.
“Oh, good idea. ‘Cause to be honest, I had no idea what I wanted to watch,” he laughs.
The two scroll through Youn’s library and pick out a favorite of Youn’s - a dark, brutal fantasy RPG. Hangyul’s usually a lot better at games. He swears he is. He’s also usually a lot better at life in general. But a full belly, a bit of alcohol, and the presence of his knee buckling crush-slash-boyfriend hinders his mental capacity.
Not fifteen minutes pass before Seungyoun’s shifted from squeezed by Hangyul on to his lap. By about twenty, give or take, the “You Died” screen is fixed on the TV, and Hangyul’s getting dragged by the collar to the bed.
The two have kissed before. Their affections have even managed to draw out slightly into tongues brushing against tongues, fingertips grazing inked skin. Nothing like this, though. Hangyul perches on the edge of Youn’s bed per the other’s guidance, and Youn slinks into his lap. Their kisses are heated - blistering and boiling - yet unurgent. Hangyul’s fingers twitch with need, but he keeps his hands at the other’s sides, content to let him set the pace.
Gyul’s heart hammers against his chest as Seungyoun sucks on his tongue. The chef’s mouth still carries the faint taste of chocolate. At this point, there’s no hiding Hangyul’s arousal. The other grinds in his lap and brushes the strained bulge in the student’s pants against his own deliberately. Youn scoots closer, urging Hangyul to squeeze him tighter.
“Fuck,” Seungyoun whispers during a brief break apart. “You taste so good.” His voice enters Hangyul’s ears and goes into his bloodstream, shooting straight to his cock.
“Yeah?” Hangyul murmurs, instigating more.
“Yeah,” Youn responds. “Wanna taste more.” He presses a kiss at the edge of Hangyul’s lips before moving across his cheeks and down to his jaw. His tongue flits out, kitten licking at the heated flesh, and tiny, gratiated sounds trickle out from Seungyoun’s lips. The sounds and ministrations are intoxicating - moreso than any drink could possibly be. Hangyul’s eyes roll back and he cants his hips into the other’s lackadaisically, basically melting.
Seungyoun parts again, and Hangyul finds his gaze. The older man’s eyes are impossibly dark, his pupils blown out so wide they practically stretch beyond the bound of his brown irises. His cute buck teeth protrude ever so slightly from his parted lips, and his chest rises and falls with heavy breath. The flush across his cheeks and atop his ears somehow swaths the undeniably lustful sight atop the student with a tint of innocence. Even though he’s older, successful and accomplished, something about Seungyoun comes off as almost demure and hesitant. Perhaps it’s shyness, Hangyul muses. After all, it’s one thing to flirt, to do show off with something you’re confident in (like cooking) - it’s another to strip down your walls, to expose yourself and make yourself vulnerible for the sake of intimacy.
“You’re beautiful,” Hangyul whispers. He brings a hand up to cup the older man’s face, stroking soothingly with his thumb. He’s not sure what doubts are stewing in the other’s head, but he hopes the (truthful) statement helps alleviate it if only somewhat.
“You’re different,” Seungyoun answers. “I mean it in a good way, though. Probably sounds funny, but you’re not like other guys. You’re good and kind and open-minded.”
“You’re too kind.”
“No, I’m not,” Youn’s voice is almost dire, and his eyes bore into Hangyul’s.
“I disagree. You have been incredibly kind to me since, well, since I met you.”
“Yeah, well, maybe the right people bring it out in me,” Youn chuckles wryly. He closes the gap between them, and they resume their kissing. Seungyoun is even more feverish and urgent. Hangyul matches the other, and their teeth knock as tongues collide. Shirts are the first to go, the most annoying barrier, too much of an obstruction for the exploration of lips on skin. Hangyul briefly admires the inked pistol implicitly pointing down Seungyoun’s side. Gyul doesn’t think anybody else on earth could pull it off, but on the chef it makes him all th emore tempting.
Seungyoun is ravenous. Little whines leak out of his lips as he nibbles and nips at Hangyul’s neck. Gyul tilts his head, baring himself invitingly. The sensation makes him shudder. He relishes in the other’s borderline devouring of the tender flesh. Youn grazes his teeth along Hangyul’s collarbones and sucks on the other’s adam’s apple. He gently bites Hangyul’s earlobe and noses at the spot just beneath it.
Pants are next to go, thrown off hastily as hands hunger for places lips have yet to travel. Hangyul gets his fair share of flesh, sucking sweet bruises on the other’s shoulder and collarbone. Seungyoun loves Hangyul’s legs, it turns out, because that’s where his hands go. Squeezing, they love to squeeze, to grope, to carress - and Hangyul loves being on the receiving end of it. The two flatten on the bed, Seungyoun on top of Hangyul, and the older man begins travelling down.
Seungyoun sits up and digs his adorable foreteeth into his swollen bottom lip, “Hey, are you okay with this?” He asks.
“Huh-Wha?” Hangyul grunts. He can’t rightly process words at the moment. His brain is currently melting, seeping out his pores in the form of sweat and dribbling down the side of his erect cock in a clear ooze that’s sticking to his boxers.
Seungyoun leans forward, pressing his hands on Hangyul’s pecs. Nervousness is written on his face. The new show of timidity only spurs Hangyul’s arousal. The chef worries at his bottom lip and his fingers fidget along Gyul’s bare skin.
Swallowing nervously, Seungyoun speaks in a hushed voice, “I- Like-” His shy pupils flit around but finally find their mark, locking with Gyul’s. They’re abyssal and dark as he speaks. “I- I kinda have this thing for like- um, it’s like- body worship…” He trails off, dark gaze fleeing when Gyul’s brows raise in question.
“Body worship,” Hangyul considers the phrase for a moment. It sounds vaguely familiar. “You mean like a- like a kink?” He quirks an eyebrow.
Seungyoun nods, face turning beet red, “Yeah, it’s just like- I just wanna-” His eyes rake over Hangyul’s sweat sheened body yet again. His hands gently clasp into fists, and he visibly swallows. “I wanna touch all of you. Wanna taste all of you.” His tongue flicks out from between his lips. “You could think of it like… Like an oral fixation.”
Hangyul feels a twinge of relief. For a second, he was scared. He thought Seungyoun was gonna tell him something really freaky or out of the question or violent. He only vaguely recognizes the idea of body worship, but to his knowledge it’s pretty much what it sounds like. And, fuck, if Cho Seungyoun wants to put those lips all over Hangyul’s body, the younger man sure as hell isn’t about to protest. That sounds pretty much ideal.
“Go ahead,” Hangyul tells the other. “You have my permission to put your mouth wherever you want. Long as I get a say every once in awhile.” He punctuates that by leaning up on his elbows and pressing his lips against Seungyoun’s again. The older man answers the kiss enthusiastically. Hungrily. Little sounds escape his mouth - breathy moans and shaky breaths.
“Okay,” Seungyoun answers when they part. “You just lay down.” Hangyul obliges with a little grin, and the other follows him.
Youn presses another peck on Gyul’s lips before sitting up and taking hold of one of Hangyul’s hands.
Seungyoun starts by rubbing soothing circles in the middle of Hangyul’s palm. The heat swimming in the younger man’s veins is so sweltering that the mere hand to hand contact makes his guts lurch.
“You know,” Seungyoun murmurs, kissing the middle of Hangyul’s palm, “They say that the palm and wrist are erogenous zones, too.” He kisses down Hangyul’s palm until he finds his inner wrist and begins gently lapping and sucking. Hangyul’s eyes roll back, and he can feel another string of sticky precum drop onto his skin.
“Yeah?” Hangyul asks rhetorically, his voice more air than tone.
“Yeah,” Youn kisses his way back up the palm, running the tip of his tongue up the other’s middle finger before closing his lips around three of them. “Mm…” He moans around the digits.
Gyul knows he’d been asked to lay down, but he can’t help propping himself up on an elbow to watch. The sounds Seungyoun is making are downright sinful, and the older man appears completely enraptured with the taste of the other’s fingers. Seungyoun places a few more wet kisses down Hangyul’s hand before working his way back to the wrist and down the arm.
Seungyoun’s trip up Gyul’s arm is lackadaisical - as if he’s stopping to smell the roses. He langurously nips and nibbles at tender flesh, all the while Hangyul positively melts under the ministrations, trying to stop himself from coming untouched.
“Shit, Youn,” Hangyul says. “You look so beautiful like that.”
“Mn…” Is the only response Gyul gets. The other is practically entranced as he makes his way up the forearm, nibbling Gyul’s bicep and tricep. When he reaches the junction of the arm to the shoulder, he dips his head into the crook.
Hangyul jolts when a tongue swipes across his armpit.
“Wh- Sorry,” Seungyoun murmurs sheepishly.
“S-Sorry, just surprised. It kinda tickles,” Hangyul replies. In truth, he’s less shocked about the other’s preference and more self-conscious. Obviously he showered before coming, but with how much he’d been sweating from just general heat, what’s it taste like.
Good, apparently - at least to Seungyoun. Youn fixates on the area, making Hangyul shudder from the strange, ticklish sensation. Apparently, Gyul’s shivering amuses Seungyoun, because the older man chuckles with mirth.
“You’re so cute,” Youn mumbles against Hangyul’s skin. Finally, he grazes his lips over, across to Hangyul’s chest. Fairly familiar, typical territory. “Fuck, you smell so good.”
Hangyul almost says thanks to that, but it feels incredibly dorky given the circumstances. Instead, he lifts a hand and threads it through Seungyoun’s hair. He doesn’t push or anything, just lets it rest there. Seungyoun, feeling empowered, works his way across Hangyul’s chest to the other side. He gives Hangyul’s opposite arm the same treatment.
Even though Seungyoun isn’t touching any spots that are particularly sensitive, the pressure in Gyul’s gut mounts. He’s never felt so… So cherished. So honored. So worshipped - in the other’s words. Youn’s lips canvas every inch of exposed skin available to him. His lashes fan out across his cheeks as he carries out his ministrations almost dutifully, reverently.
Hangyul groans when Seungyoun reaches his chest again and nips at the plush musculiture of his chest. He can feel the other’s lips curve into a smile against the flushed skin.
“Mmf-fuck,” Seungyoun’s whisper is broken and muffled, spoken against Hangyul’s bare chest. “Tastes so good…” He muses.
Hangyul can’t say he understands how this turns the other on. All the younger man is doing is essentially laying there, occasionally giving the other a gentle scratch on the scalp or an encouraging moan. Seungyoun is the one doing all the work, yet the sight of his own cock straining against his black boxers is unmistakeable. Hangyul glances down at himself and regrets wearing gray. He’s become a sopping mess, and the light underwear just makes it all the more conspicuous.
“Your body is a work of art,” Seungyoun says dreamily. “Shit.” He sounds wrecked. The compliment makes the compounding heat in his gut swim and writhe. Fuck. He feels way too fucking close for not being touched. Hangyul grips the sheets in his spare hand tightly.
Youn starts taking more liberties on the torso. He’s rougher, grazing his teeth along the skin and even briefly sinking them in.
He makes that sound again. Like he’s eating another spoonful of chocolate mousse. Except this time his mouth isn’t full of creamy mousse but Hangyul’s flesh. Youn especially lavishes in the protrudence of Gyul’s abs. He takes his time on each one, sucking and nosing a the muscle. When his lips begin following the downward pointing V at the juncture of Gyul’s torso and hips, he finally stops.
Hangyul can hardly breathe, let alone think. All he can register is that Seungyoun is so, so close to his clothed hard-on and that the older man is looking at him with pupils so blown out his eyes look like a trench. Youn’s face is flushed, and his breaths come out ragged and uneven. Yet again, it shocks Hangyul just how wound up Seungyoun is. Knowing that just his body can do this exhilirates Hangyul.
“Can I…?” Youn breathes out the question as his fingertips graze the waistband of Hangyul’s boxers.
“Please,” Hangyul responds.
Seungyoun slides the boxers down slowly. He gazes down at what’s beneath as if unwrapping a gift - eager and excited. Hangyul’s swollen cock bounces against his belly when it’s finally freed. Even as he slides Gyul’s boxers off, Seungyoun’s eyes never leave Hangyul’s.
Hangyul grips the sheets even more tightly, until his knuckles are white.
Dizzying ecstasy renders him near brain dead. Initially, it seemed that Seungyoun was servicing Hangyul, that Hangyul was the privileged reciever. Now he realizes that things are the other way around. He’s a mess, brain a soup of wanton desire, completely at Seungyoun’s mercy. He worried that Seungyoun was doing too much, but in giving his body, Hangyul is the one who has given himself over for the sake of the other’s pleasure. The realization turns Hangyul on more. His cock twitches and his toes curl as the other lowers himself yet again.
Seungyoun’s trip downward is completely unrushed. He trails sloppy kisses across Hangyul’s pelvis before finally ambling down. With a gentle nudge, Hangyul parts his legs for the other to gain access. Seungyoun runs his hands up the inside of Gyul’s thighs. Up and down, the palms goes up and down, leaving a trail of sparks in their wake. His thumbs dip inward, teasing, just barely grazing the cleft of Hangyul’s ass but never dipping properly between to even pretend a finger might breach his entrance. All the while, Youn’s lips move down. Down, down, down. Down Hangyul’s pelvis, nipping at the protrusion of his hip bone and teasingly biting atop his thigh.
He goes straight past the so very obviously needy, painfully hard cock making a puddle on Hangyul’s belly and goes straight down. Hangyul unintentionally lets out a groan which only seems to further fuel the other’s teasing. Seungyoun actually lets out a low giggle - a fucking giggle - entirely too amused in his advantageous position.
Youn kisses down, down, down, the promise he’d made to worship every bit of flesh he can reach being fulfilled. He adores the inside of Hangyul’s thighs and sinks his teeth in multiple times. Hangyul gasps the first time, but by love bite number four, the sting of teeth puncturing skin only adds to the blazing fire raging in his guts. His cock throbs, wanting for attention. Gyul supposes he could touch it himself, but he doesn’t dare. Doing so would be disingenuous at the very least. Not to mention, he’s pretty sure he would come in two strokes, and if he’s going to come fast he at least wants the satisfaction of feeling the other’s mouth first.
Seungyoun runs his tongue along the fresh set of bruises decorating Hangyul’s thigh, and Hangyul throws his head back and moans. Fuck. He begins to wonder if it’ll even take two strokes. His cock twitches, ready and willing, and the tension inside of him has been mounting since long before they got to the bed. Humiliation at the thought of coming untouched somehow manages to only add to the pressure scarcely contained in his groin.
Hangyul huffs. Breathing is starting to get difficult. When he catches sight of Seungyoun - lashes fanned out on his cheek as he adoringly kisses down the student’s leg - his cock twitches dangerously again.
It’s going to happen.
Gyul stops holding onto the sheets with his hands and starts pressing crescents into his palms. His face scrunches with exertion as the wet lips continue to mouth at muscle. Fuck. He contemplates maybe asking the other to cool down. Would that be too lame? Or maybe he can just fool him and say he really wants a kiss.
Hangyul’s legs clench and his back arches. He steels himself, restraining the overpouring of pleasure with every single ounce of strength he has. Youn continues - either none the wiser or completely satisfied with making a mess of the other. Hangyul can’t tell given that his eyes are squeezed shut and he’s making an expression that probably appears pained.
Everything happens so fast in the following seconds, Hangyul’s lust-hazed brain can barely comprehend it.
Seungyoun takes hold of his ankle and lifts his leg slightly. First, he presses a kiss into the sole of Hangyul’s foot. Then, without warning, lips close around a toe. Hangyul’s stomach flips in surprise, but given his current, compromised state, his body can’t really discern shock from pleasure anymore. His cock twitches dangerously again, and Hangyul panics.
Coming untouched would be embarrassing enough. Coming while having his toes sucked is just not something he thinks he can live with. Period.
“U-Uh!” Hangyul yelps. “I- I need to- bathroom!”
“Wh- Oh, okay,” Youn responds dazedly, still under the veil of arousal.
Hangyul practically does a flip off of the bed and beelines it to the other’s bathroom. Like the moron he is, he stumbles over his discarded pants and, in a hurry, just scoops them up. The door slams shut more loudly than he’d intended, and he flicks on the light and the fan just so the other can’t hear him not peeing.
The student heaves a heavy sigh and wrings his hands over his face.
Nailed it, Hangyul.
He chides himself.
Even with the suddenness of the departure (and the toe sucking), his cock is still rock hard, and it throbs as if angry at the neglect. Hangyul’s hand reflexively moves toward it, but he shuts his legs and wills his hands away.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” He whispers under his breath. What does one do in a situation like this? Should he rub one out and then just will it back to hardness for a techincal round two? No, he thinks, that’s a bad idea. He feels like he needs to just turn down the heat a bit. But all he can think of is Seungyoun and his lips and his eyes and his pretty teeth and how fucking good htat tongue feels and the worship and then there’s the toe sucking-
Gyul paws at the pants he’d inadverantly tken with him and yanks his phone out of his pocket, calling the first person he can think of.
Nobody can kill a boner quite like Kim Yohan.
Hangyul bounces nervously, mind whirling at the speed of light as the ringing tone drones in his ear.
“...Hello?” Yohan answers, sounding confused.
“Yohan, I have an emergency!” Hangyul whisper-shouts into the phone.
“Wh- An emergency? Dude, it’s pretty late. Shouldn’t you be at your booty call or- Wait… How’d it go?” Yohan’s tone sounds entirely too amused, and Hangyul’s having none of it.
“He sucked my toes and I almost lost it, what do I do?!”
“....” The line is silent, and for a moment. Gyul glances at his screen worriedly, afraid the call might’ve dropped. It didn’t, thankfully, and Yohan quickly responds. “I’m sorry can you- can you repeat yourself?”
“He- He sucked my toes an-”
“Okay. Slower. Maybe a bit louder. Try and calm down a bit, you sound tense,” Yohan says.
Hangyul groans and responds again more clearly, “He sucked my toes and I almost… He sucked my toes.”
It goes quiet again, and Hangyul starts questioning the cell service in the apartment. An explosion of cacophonous, staticy laughter quickly kills that idea, though. The laughter is so loud, in fact, that it’s damn near impossible that a single person could’ve produced it.
“Yohan,” Hangyul says through gritted teeth.
“M-Mhhm?” Yohan replies, his voice quivering from snickering.
“Am I on speaker?”
“Chill, man, it’s just Wooseok-”
Hangyul pinches the bridge of his nose, irritation souring some of the pleasure that’d been ballooning in his stomach. He supposes that his idea is working - but at what cost?
“So what seems to be the problem?” Yohan asks, all too amused.
“The problem is that- that I- dude what do I do!?”
“What do you mean what do you do?”
“He’s sucking my toes!”
“What, like, right now? Is he sucking your toes right now?”
“Wh- Not right this second! I just- He- It- What do I do?!”
“Well… You like him, right?”
“You like him a lot?”
“Well, yeah. Yeah I do.”
“Was it bad?”
“What? The toe sucking?”
“Yes, idiot, the toe sucking- it’s like talking to a fucking brick wall. A sexually deviant brick wall, shitting christ.”
“I am not sexually deviant!” Hangyul shouts at his home. He clamps his hand over his mouth, and his eyes go wide. Thankfully, Seungyoun doesn’t seem to stir. He sighs, “It was weird and tickly.”
“Did you hate it a lot, though?”
“Well, I mean, there are definitely worse things in the world. It was just- I feel like I’m in over my head with this guy, you know? And to learn that he’s… Into stuff.”
“Okay, my point is: you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Like… If you’re really into this guy, then why not let him suck your toes? Maybe don’t make it an every day thing but compromise. Look, you seem super soft about this guy so I don’t think you should ditch him over some toe- Excuse me?” Yohan’s voice becomes distant. “Wh- Yes. Yes it is important. My friend’s getting his toes sucked. Yes…? Yes?.... Okay, fine. Fine. Yes, ma’am-” His voice gets clearer agian. “-ugh sorry, people are so rude.”
“Wha- Who was that?”
“Library aid,” Yohan says with a shrug in his voice. “You know how bored they get during the graveyard shift.”
“Wait a minute- you had me on speaker in the middle of the library?!”
“Uh, duh. Hands free is way more convenient. Plus Woo had to hear that shit.”
“Yohan, I am going to kill you.”
“Aw, love you too, bud!”
“I hate you-”
“Stop threatening me and get back out there, tiger! Before your sexy chef dreamboat thinks something is off.”
“Wha- Ugh, fine. You have a point,” Hangyul wrings a hand through his hair. “I do really like him.”
“That’s the spirit. I’m hanging up now and just so you know: you are never living this down.”
The call goes mute with that.
Hangyul has regrets. He has many, many regrets. Regrets about his choice in friends, about his choice in actions, about his current situation, about not jacking off before meeting up. But… Yohan has a point. Gyul hates to fucking admit it, but the guy is right. Seungyoun is more than a few funky kinks. And if Hangyul has to endure the strange, wet, ticklish sensation of his toes being sucked a few times, well… Seungyoun is worth it.
Hangyul, newly invigorated and significantly less turned on, emerges once again. He smiles at the sight of Seungyoun - much calmer himself - laying on his side casually. The older man has a faraway look in his eyes, like he’s remembering something. Though the place is open concept, it isn’t until Hangyul is at the side of his bed that Seungyoun seems to notice him.
“Sorry about that,” Hangyul said.
Seungyoun’s brows raise, and he sits up, “Oh my gosh, it’s fine.” He presses his lips together and raises his brows at Hangyul as if waiting for something. But what?
Hangyul decides that talking can take the wayside. He sits down next to the other and pulls him close, pressing his lips against the other. Seungyoun lets out a sweet, little sight as the slight awkwardness between them thaws.
When they separate, Seungyoun’s lips form an adorable pout, and he asks in the tiniest little voice, “You’re not leaving?”
“What?!” Hangyul’s brows furrow. “Why would I leave?”
“I- I didn’t freak you out or overwhelm you?”
“I mean, you have definitely surprised me, but-” Gyul shakes his head, “-I’m not going anywhere.” He cups the chef’s face and gives him a reassuring smile. “Though there is one problem…”
“There is?” The chef asks, eyes wide, fearful.
Hangyul tugs at the waistband of Seungyoun’s boxers, “You’re still dressed.”
Seungyoun’s worried expression melts away. It gives way to a playful, coquettish grin, and his eyes twinkle mischievously again.
“I’m used to being in charge, but since I like you so much…” He hooks his fingers beneath the black band and lowers it at a sluggish, agonizing pace. “I’ll oblige.”
Seungyoun shimmies cutely out of his boxers, throwing them to the wayside. His cock bounces up, head flushed a pretty pink like his lips. Hangyul can’t focus much on that, though, because in seconds Youn is back to where he’d left off (sort of).
Apparently impatient himself, Youn skips the lower leg and starts sinking his teeth into Hangyul’s other thigh. While it’d taken him a minute to temper down his arousal, it all shoots back into his system rapidly. His vision smears at the abrupt transfer of blood flow.
Seungyoun’s lips travel up, placing wet kisses along Hangyul’s inner thigh. The older man licks and laps at the skin as he moves in. He licks a stripe between Gyul’s ass cheeks, and the younger man shivers. That isn’t his goal, though.
Youn mouths at Hangyul’s balls gingerly, minding delicacy until he finally reaches the base of Hangyul’s cock. The thick member stands proud, flushed and hard with precome running down the sides lewdly.
Seungyoun locks his eyes with Hangyul’s, and they’re pitch black again, devoid of any twinkle or light or even mirth. Youn looks almost predatory - at least his gaze does. The rest of him, however, is pornographic, flushed and positioned naked, lips swollen with drool dribbling down his chin.
Youn licks a thick stripe from base to head, and Hangyul groans. Seungyoun’s tongue swirls around the head and dips into the slit.
“Mmmm-” Seungyoun mouns, eyes fluttering shut as if he’d just taken a bite of something exquisite. “Mmn-fuck- You realy do taste amazing, Hangyul.”
“Then don’t let a drop go to waste,” Hangyul says huskily. He’s never dirty-talked before, ever, but the words just sort of came out of their own volition. They felt right. And, judging by the wrecked look on Seungyoun’s face, they sounded right to him.
With that affirmation, Youn finally takes Hangyul into his mouth. Hangyul gasps, resting a hand on the back of the other’s head again.
After all the teasing, it’s surprising the way Seungyoun settles into a fast pace so immediately. He has no trouble taking Hangyul’s girthy member head to base, even though Hangyul can feel the back of the other’s throat ever so slightly. Youn quivers, eyes shut as more and more sounds leave his throat though muffled. The vibration sends tingles up Hangyul’s spine, and all too soon he finds himself approaching the precipice again.
“Ff-fuh- Fuck- Seungyoun,” Hangyul groans.
Youn manages to open his eyes again. They’re wet when they find Hangyul’s, and he keeps them focused on the other as he picks up his pace.
The searing heat in Hangyul’s gut starts ballooning yet again. His hips jerk involuntarily, wanting, chasing completion. All the while, Seungyoun follows the directive of not letting anything go to waste. He hollows his cheeks, dark, blown out eyes never leaving Hangyul’s face.
It’s too much. Seungyoun is ruthless. Even with tears running down his cheeks and drool on his chin he doesn’t let up. Hangyul’s moans get louder and louder until he’s pushed over the edge.
He comes hard. His vision goes white, and his hips stutter spastically into the wet heat of Seungyoun’s mouth. He throws his head back into the sheet as the calamitious orgasm that had been buidling up for way too fucking long finally crashes over him. It’s like multiple lightning strikes running down his spine and out through his cock. Every spurt of cum shoots straight into Seungyoun’s throat, and the older man whines and whimpers loudly, taking all of it.
When Hangyul’s vision mostly clears, he glances at Seungyoun, and his jaw drops.
The man is absolutely ruined. But it’s not the messy sight that takes him off guard. It’s the way that Seungyoun’s hips are twitching, how his chest is heaving erratically and how his eyes are rolled back. White liquid shoots out of Seungyoun’s cock, coating the sheets below, splattering inside his pale thighs and even nailing his stomach.
All Hangyul can do is watch, transfixed, utterly mesmerized by this strange beauty he has somehow managed to captivate.
“And then he just-” Hangyul makes an exploding gesture with his hands.
“Wow,” Yohan’s brows raise. His drained drink groans loudly as he takes a sip through his straw. The trio took to the diner style campus cafeteria for the night’s dinner. Obviously, Hangyul knew his dinner invitation from the other two wasn’t actually a dinner invitation. It was an interrogation invitation. Still, after having called them frantically late the previous night, Gyul felt like he owed them an explanation. Plus, he’s always been open with his friends. They all are. He can’t imagine life any other way.
“So, what do you think?” Hangyul bites down on his lip nervously.
“Wh- What do you mean what do we think?” Yohan asks incredulously.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Wooseok adds. “What counts is what you think.”
“Yeah, but- I dunno. You know people have, like, red flags. Is this a red flag?”
“A red flag that what? Your hottie is the easiest guy to satisfy in existence?” Yohan laughs.
“Yeah, but his body worship thing, too…”
“Oh my god,” Yohan groans, rolling his eyes dramatically. “Do you hear yourself right now, Gyul?!”
“What? I’m nervous and I’m coming to my friends for reassurance! Just- What if he turns out to be, like, crazy?”
“He is not crazy, Hangyul,” Wooseok says.
“Even if he is, so what? He’s still a good guy!” Yohan asserts. “You knmow what I hear right now?” He puts on an exaggerated, whiny voice, “I’m Hangyul, I have a boyfriend who’s hot and a freak in bed. Boo hoo!”
Hangyul opens his mouth to respond, but a text chime yanks away his attention.
Hey are u busy tonight? 💖
“Oh my god, it’s him,” Hangyul mutters. “I think he wants to hang out tonight. Should I go? Or should I, like, not seem to overeager?”
“Holy shit.” “Fucking go!” The two shout at him at the same time.
Wooseok elaborates, “Look, dude. Like we said before, you gotta ask yourself: do you like him a lot? Is he worth indulging? I mean, it’s not like it has to be a one way street, either. Plus, if something is off for you, you could just, like, talk about it.”
“Yeah,” Yohan agrees. “Seriously, Hangyul: is the sex stuff a dealbreaker?”
When laid out so plainly, it makes the answer seem so easy. Of course it’s not. Seungyoun is charming, kind, handsome, clever, funny… Hangyul would more gladly write a nine page MLA cited essay on the chef than on some depressing history topic.
“He’s quirky,” Hangyul says. “But, no, it’s not a dealbreaker.”
“Fucking thank you.” “Finally, a breakthrough!”
With the reassurance and approval from his friends, Hangyul feels significantly better. He happily taps out a response, already excited for their get together.
Chapter 8: The Freezer
Hangyul nibbles on his lip nervously. The stems feel funny in his grip, all spindly and rough. The clerk at the flower shop assured him that the roses had been de-thorned, but he still remains cautious, only gripping at the base of the impulsively bought bouquet. He had no idea the flower shop down the block opened so early. The little mom and pop place supplies many a graduation and special event arrangement. For today, though, Hangyul just felt like it.
He never fancied himself romantic, but being with Seungyoun has made lots of little things awaken in him. He’s become more conscious of his consumption - asking for no straws, forgoing cotton pads for reusable towels to apply his skincare, eating as much organic and fair trade as he can. It’s not that he’s doing so to please Youn, it’s just that the other inspires him. Seungyoun is the full package whereas Hangyul feels like one that got delivered with a few dents and items missing. Gyul wants to get to that level, to deserve the attention of a hot, accomplished chef.
Hangyul strolls down to the familiar corner building that houses Mariposa. He’s made a few trips to the taqueria and feels fairly welcome there. Seungyoun will sometimes welcome him in when he’s finishing up his jog and give him water or a shake. Sometimes, dating a chef who operates just blocks away has it’s perks.
Gyul approaches the familiar glass door with a smile, but it falls quickly. Surprisingly, nobody’s on the floor. Usually, Seungwoo, Youn or one of the openers is present depending on the time. However, it’s completely empty. Hangyul pouts, glancing at his flowers dejectedly. He considers his options. He could walk home and try to keep them alive until a better time, but that’s iffy. Hangyul is… Forgetful, to say the least. He had a cactus once and killed it. His second succulent turned out to be fake. Something he never realized until Wooseok pointed out to him months after he’d been taking care of it.
Hangyul could also knock. He’s not sure anyone would hear him, though. Hangyul eyes the door to the patio. There is a third option.
He doesn’t consider it breaking and entering when the door itself is left open. Sure, he’d hopped a fence, but the patio fence is proprietary, really, something to do with city ordinance and property lines. Hangyul grins when the door to the patio opens with ease. He’d stopped by Mariposa so many times, he’s certain Seungwoo wouldn’t mind, and while the usual openers don’t speak much to him, they recognize his face.
“Hello?” Hangyul calls out curiously.
There’s no answer. Just the gentle whirring of the air conditioner and the echo of his voice across the chic modern industrial furnishings.
“He’s probably in the back,” Gyul shrugs, skipping through the swinging doors to the kitchen. He admits that, yes, some liberties are being taken, but he’s been back there quite a few times. Maybe he shouldn’t be allowed back so often, really. He’s sure there’s some professional decorum issues, but he’s no business person. He knows that small businesses are casual all the time with close ones. It’s not the same as a big corporation. Sometimes, close friends and family can hang out in the back room, talk, et cetra. This is what Hangyul tells himself to justify his traipsing into the kitchen.
He frowns, searching curiously for his dearest boyfriend.
“Seungyoun?” Hangyul calls out, minding not to be too loud. He eyes the hallway that runs along behind the backside of the kitchen. He’d already made his way deep into the back area, but for some reason entering the hallway seems like crossing a threshold he shouldn’t.
Hangyul tiptoes over to the hallway dubiously. He glances to the left where the back entrance lets in and employees hang and put stuff. To the right there’s two walk-ins, offices, and dry storage (or so he recalls). Gyul checks to the right, and he sees something. He blinks a few times, squinting to assure that the hadn’t hallucinated.
One of the walk-in’s doors shut softly.
“Hello?” He calls out again, hiding flowers behind his back. He steps forward anxiously, hoping he’s not going over the top. He prays that, if he is found and berated, the flowers will soften the blow.
Slowly, Hangyul approaches the ever so slightly cracked door, and he gasps. There it is again. A new hock of meat hanging upside down off a hook, flayed open with all of its insides exposed. Hangyul’s skin crawls at the sight. Maybe it’s the memory of how eating their meat makes him feel. Maybe it’s the fact that, while he knows it’s a pig hanging there, the thing still looks eerily human to him. Through the frosted glass, a shadow shifts in the freezer. Is he in there?
Hangyul opens the door just enough to slip in. He decides that a surprise might be in order. That’d be cute, right? Getting surprised at work with a bouquet? However, upon passing through the door, there’s nobody to be found.
Well, no living body.
Rows of hooked meat fill the space, and Gyul labors not to bump into the crowded space. A shiver runs down his spine as the cool chill of the freezer penetrates his thin outer layers of clothing. Goosebumps prick his skin as he squints trying to find the other.
Even in a freezer, the smell gets to him.
It’s not rotten, per se. It’s just… Distinct. Something about it consumes his senses. The dizzying stench is just barely suppressed by the preservation of the freezer. Yet even just that trace amount of the odor is enough to turn Hangyul’s stomach.
“Hello?” He calls out, clutching the flowers at the small of his back more tightly. He swallows down a mouthful of saliva. “Hello- oh, shit.” He mutters after accidentally shouldering one of the things.
The hook on which the animal is hung squeaks ominously as the meat swings. Hangyul winces and hesitantly holds out a hand to steady it slightly. He recoils immediately upon contact, another shiver running up his spine.
“Nope,” He tells himself with finality. “Nope, nope, nope.” The flowers can die for all he cares. He can tell Seungyoun all about them, send nice pictures and an apology. What he cannot do is stomach another minute in the goddamn walk-in. Hangyul wiggles between another two flayed cuts of meat, his breath fogging in the frigid freezer.
“Jesus,” He murmurs to himself, looking ahead. “How deep is this thing?” Though he’s resigned to turning back, looking forward the freezer appears almost endless. At this point, he’s curious.
Hangyul, guided more by curiosity than sense, stumbles onward, wondering just when the deceptive walk-in will finally end. A few more rows down, he can finally see some semblance of an end. Except, there is no back wall. There’s a curtain.
It’s one of those plastic strip curtains that are put in industrial areas. It makes sense for one to be in a freezer - but why in the back of one. Hangyul’s brows furrow, and he walks onward, narrowing his eyes at the thing. Finally, after what feels like forever, he reaches what ought to be the back wall. Except, there’s an opening covered by the strip curtain.
Gyul’s heart drops.
He shouldn’t be here.
There could be trade secrets hidden behind the curtain. Secret ingredients or frozen offal from their fresh cut meat. This is somebody’s business, not a funhouse or a playground for him to freely roam as he wishes. Yet, there he is, feet having taken him there by thoughtless wonder. Behind him is the way out - where he ought to go. In front of him, the object of his arresting curiosity.
Gyul shudders - it is freezing, after all - and he extends a hand toward the plastic strip curtain. In a quick movement, he pulls it back expecting, well, expecting something. Boxes or mangled meat or something of the kind.
What he sees, though, is a door.
A door to where, though?
A loud thud stirs Hangyul from his pondering. He jumps, shocked awake by the loud noise. It came from behind him. Has he been caught? Heart pounding, Gyul glances through the rows of meat to see who’d made the noise. The glass is frosted over, and he’s not certain what he sees through it. Is that the silhouette of a person? Or a trick of the light, exaggerated by his own nerves?
Hangyul, deciding he has long overstayed his nonexistent welcome, trots toward the walk-in door. His heart lodges itself in his throat, and his mind whirs trying to whip up excuses. Though it’s arctic in the freezer, his palms are sweaty and the celophane wrap of the flower bouquet slips in his tight grip. Gyul reaches his free hand out to gently, quietly push the door open.
But it won’t open.
“What the-” Hangyul tries again, more insistently.
It still doesn’t budge.
“Wha- Fuck,” Gyul hisses. He gives the door another push - this time harder. There’s no handle on the inside, it’s supposed to just be a push door, he assumes. But it won’t go. He understands that some doors are just tricky. However, after two minutes of trying, he realizes that this door isn’t just being difficult.
This door is locked.
Hangyul throws his body against the door. He’s strong, and he can feel it strain against its lock. However, as strong as he is, he’s no match for the reinforced metal. The rhythmic thud of Gyul’s body against the metal is loud.
“Hey!” Hangyul shouts, pounding on the glass. “Hey, let me out!”
His body begins shivering violently. He’s not sure if it’s the panic or the temprature. It could be a bit of both. A t-shirt and jeans is hardly appropriate for freezing temperatures, that’s for certain. His fingers and toes begin to go numb as he continues advocating for himself.
“Hey! Hey! Hello!? Is anyone there? Hello!?” Hangyul yells at the top of his lungs. He’s got good pipes (or so he likes to think), but he can’t help wondering if he can even be heard outside. The walls of the freezer are thick and well insulated.
“Hey! Hey- Anyone!? Hello?!” Gyul keeps trying. The glass rattles and the door pounds loudly from the impact of his body - but still, nothing. No one.
“Fuck- Fuck- Fuck- Hey! Hey!” Breathing becomes more difficult. The freezing air stings his throat and lungs, willing it to tighten, to reject the very act of breathing. “Hey! Hello?! Hello!?” Hangyul pounds against the glass.
“Please, anyone!” He calls out, but there’s no answer. No indication of a person being nearby. The window in the door is tiny, and he can hardly look down the hallway. Hangyul’s heart pounds with an intensity that nearly matches that of his body against the door.
He wonders how long it’ll be. Will someone find him before he starts exhibiting frostbite? How will he keep warm for an indeterminate amount of time?
“Hello? Hello?! Anyone, please, hello?!” Gyul shouts desperately, eyes beginning to blur with tears. Even those are stunted by the chill of the air. “Hello, please- HELLO-”
Suddenly, the door swings open, and Hangyul falls out, flat onto his face. He groans, the pain radiating from his torso across his body. The warm air of the outside is welcome, but the abruptness of it all makes his skin sting. He winces, blinking the daze out of his eyes. In his blurred vision, he makes out a familiar figure with a not so familiar expression.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Seungyoun grabs Hangyul by the arm and yanks him up. Gyul stumbles onto his feet, using the nearby wall for support as the chef angrily slams the freezer door shut.
“ Why are you here?!” Youn presses, face squashed into an expression of pique. Hangyul had never seen the other so angry. Seungyoun’s eyes are dark with ire, and his arms are crossed. He’s coiled tight, clearly upset. It’s obvious to see why. Hangyul really had no business being there.
“W-Well, I- I thought I saw someone go in the freezer-”
“Are you serious?! What the fuck- How do you just- You can’t just walk into a restaurant’s freezer because you think you saw someone- wha-”
“I, um, I-”
“Why the fuck would you do that? Are you- are you insane?!”
“I just thought-”
“No, you didn’t think,” Youn jabs a finger accusingly at Hangyul, poking his chest roughly. “Because if you thought you wouldn’t get yourself locked in a fucking freezer.”
“Wha- But- I mean I… I didn’t know it would do that,” Gyul answers sheepishly, his cheeks stinging even more with the needling heat of humiliation.
“We only allow keyholders into this walk-in. We butcher our own meat, you think we want just anyone touching that?”
“So it automatically locks?”
“There’s a doorstop by the entrance,” Youn wrings a hand through his hair, “Why- Why am I even explaining this to you?! You- You- How did you even get in here?! We’re closed.”
“Wh-” Hangyul deflates, and he feels like he’s going to cry again. “You told me I was welcome. I’m sorry, you’re right, though, I-”
“You broke into my restaurant to say hi?” Youn asks bitterly.
“W-Well, I…” Hangyul frowns and holds up the slightly ruffled bouquet he’d been carrying. He brandishes the bouquet as if wielding an offering to an angry deity and offers it up, “I got you flowers.”
“You wha-” Seungyoun’s gaze shifts to the flowers, and the anger on his face begins to relax. “You… You came to get my flowers?” He sound more confused than anything else. Gyul is happy to take that over indignation.
“Uh, yeah,” Gyul answers sheepishly.
“Wha- Why? Why would you do that? It isn’t my birthday. I- We haven’t been seeing each other for a month already, have we? I-”
“I just felt like it,” Hangyul shrugs.
“Wha- So you’re telling me you- you just…” Seungyoun’s face transitions through a series of expressions in a few seconds - from befuddlement to shock before finally softening into something less terrifying. “You just wanted to bring me flowers for no reason?”
“A few select blooms incorporated with organic, fair-trade, bee friendly native species,” Hangyul flashes the other a little grin.
“I…” Seungyoun swallows and he timidly reaches out to take the bouquet. He sniffs the flowers, and his lips begin to twitch at the edges. Hangyul can tell: his body wants to smile, but his mind doesn’t. He gets it. He did do something incredibly stupid.
“That’s so sweet,” Youn says, his voice tiny and soft. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry,” Hangyul responds. “I’m really, really sorry. Like, so, so sorry I- I really wasn’t thinking. I just thought I saw someone-”
“No, no, no, no- Look, I just-” Seungyoun sighs, “That’s dangerous, okay? Kitchens and- and big walk-ins are you can’t just- just waltz in wherever you go. I’m happy to have you here, but only if you’re with me. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Hangyul nods in affirmation. “I’m sorry again, I just- I don’t know why I went in there. Trust I will never do that again- Though, I am curious.”
“Curious? About what?” Seungyoun tilts his head inquisitively.
“That back door? Why’s there another door in your freezer?”
“That’s just easier access to load the place,” Youn shrugs.
“Oh. Okay. Well, okay, listen, I’m- I’m sorry again. I know you probably have work to do.”
“Yeah,” Youn nods. He sniffs his flowers again, and this time he allows himself to smile. “But… The flowers are nice.”
“I just-” Gyul shrugs, “-thought of you.”
“Ugh- You are so… You’re too good, Hangyul, you know that?”
“I am not.”
“No, I’m serious, you are!” Youn responds with a laugh. “You’re different than other people. Thoughtful.”
Hangyul chuckles, embarrassed, “Stop it, seriously. I’m- I’m nothing special.”
“Just shut up and take the compliment.”
“Oh- And one more thing.”
“What?” Gyul asks, brows raised.
Seungyoun leans forward and catches Hangyul’s lips in a kiss. Hangyul smiles against the other, happily meeting the other’s warmth. The cold that had set into his skin thaws, melted by his affection for the other. It proves the ideal distraction from their tiff (their first argument - a milestone Hangyul is sure he’ll look back on with a laugh one day). The freezer is all but forgotten as their kiss elongates into something so languid that Seungwoo has to break them up with a loud cough.
Yohan groans, “You haven’t talked to him yet?”
“No,” Hangyul rolls his eyes. “I haven’t.” He volunteered to host their movie night, and the three of them curl up on his bed in his studio apartment.
“Why not?!” Yohan demands, affronted.
“I don’t talk to Seungwoo you fucking egg,” Gyul responds, kicking the other lightly.
“Ow- It’s not fair! You’re getting all this action and what do I have?”
“Wooseok?” Gyul answers dryly.
“Leave me out of this,” The eldest says.
“Been there, tried that,” Yohan adds.
“Hold up,” Hangyul gasps. “You what?”
“He tried to be friends with benefits,” Wooseok elaborates before Yohan can spin some heavily biased, ridiculous story. “As in, one time he was drunk and proposed we give each other ‘bro jobs’. I told him no.”
“We could’ve been something great,” Yohan says, reaching over Hangyul to set a hand on the eldest’s knee.
“They also called the American Depression ‘Great’,” Wooseok fires back.
“You suck,” Yohan pouts, taking his hand back to grab something from his phone.
“I thought the issue was that he did not suck,” Hangyul jokes. He and Woo enjoy a hearty laugh at the dumb quip, much to Yohan’s chagrin. The three lapse into a peaceful semi-quiet, rewatching some cheesy anime they all loved in their tween years. Surprisingly, the series holds up, but it’s not without it’s stupid shit. All the while, Yohan scrolls his phone, reading off stupid posts while Hangyul tries to hide his phone (and Seungyoun’s messages) from Wooseok’s prying eyes.
“Wait, so your boo’s name is Seungyoun or Sangyeon?” Yohan asks a while later, penetrating the somewhat silence.
“Uh. He goes by Seungyoun,” Hangyul responds. His face scrunches into a dubious expression. “Why?”
“Estalking,” Yohan answers frankly.
“Wh- F- No you are not, do not estalk my boyfriend!” Hangyul scolds the other.
“Mmm too late,” Yohan answers. Hangyul tries to grab for the other’s phone, but Yohan deflects his hand with a slap. “Let’s see… Mariposa, Mariposa, Mariposa…”
“Oh my god- Stop it, this is an- an invasion of privacy! You are violating him right now!” Hangyul groans. “And, by extension, you’re violating me!”
Wooseok snorts, “What, are you afraid he’s gonna dig up some dirt or something?”
“What? No! Seungyoun’s basically a saint. I just- That is none of your business,” He tries to get Yohan’s phone again, but Yohan turns swiftly, body blocking him.
“Here we go, Facebook! Oh, man, it’s been a minute since he’s used this-” Yohan laughs.
“Stop it!” Hangyul says. He throws himself onto Yohan, but the other is wiggly. With a steadfast grip on his phone, Yohan wriggles out from under Hangyul, tittering as he skips away from the bed.
“Alright now let’s see how our lovely Gyul measures up against the exes!” Yohan cackles.
“Wh- Come on! That’s not fair!” Hangyul groans, too lazy to chase the other off of his cushiony bed.
Wooseok shakes his head, “Gyul they’re exes for a reason. No matter what you’ve gotta be better than them.”
“Alright we’ve got- Oh look at this jackass,” Yohan laughs. “Shit- Can I cast this to the TV? Anyway we have a handsome picture of Bi Wenhan and- wow, okay, so this guy is way hotter than you-”
“Oh, shut up,” Hangyul shouts, throwing a nearby plushie at the other.
Yohan dodges the soft assault with ease and continues reading off, “And, oh, Wenhan also a chef, worked with Seungyoun and- oh. Oh fuck,” His amused tone immediately drops. “Oh god he’s dead.”
“What?!” “What the fuck!?” The two on the bed gripe at the same time.
“I’m sorry, this is an obituary thing that he shared, okay?! It started off so promising,” Yohan pulls an exaggeratedly pained face.
“Are you fucking serious?” Hangyul huffs, throwing himself off his bed. “Give me that-” He swipes for the phone again but gets deflected.
“I’m serious, dude! I wouldn’t joke about that,” Yohan gasps with offense. “Look, see?” He shoves the phone in Hangyul’s face with a pout.
Gyul’s brows knit together as he skims the shared post. It is, in fact, an obituary. Something about mourning the loss of bright, young Bi Wenhan. Hangyul frowns, and his stomach drops.
“He looks young,” Hangyul says dismayedly.
“Yeah,” Yohan purses his lips. He takes his phone back and taps the article, scrolling a little. “Oh… Oh. Jesus.”
“What? What is it?” Gyul presses, sidling up close to the other to peep over his shoulder.
“Oh this is tragic,” Yohan says. “Dude passed from a kitchen accident.”
Hangyul narrows his eyes, “What kind of kitchen accident?”
“I dunno?” Yohan hands his phone over. “I mean, you can look for yourself, it doesn’t say. It just says ‘kitchen accident’.”
Hangyul reads the article more carefully, doubtful. However, Yohan turned out to be telling the truth. The unfortunate incident dubbed as a “kitchen accident” is never elaborated on. People mourn his death, and many people of that local culinary community submitted kind words about him. Seungyoun wasn’t one of them.
Suddenly, Seungyoun’s freak out about the flowers make so much more sense. If a professional can die in the kitchen, no doubt some idiot amateur can stumble into a nasty accident. Youn probably has some PTSD or something. Hangyul sneaking into his damn kitchen surely didn’t help with that. And, hell, if Hangyul hadn’t been found…
He doesn’t want to think about the possible outcomes of that situation.
“Well that’s… Depressing,” Wooseok coughs, breaking through the awkward silence that had fallen over them.
“Oof, yeah,” Yohan winces. He grabs his phone back and closes the article. “I think my little boyfriend audit is over now. Let’s get back to anime.”
“Yeah.” “Agree.” The other two respond.
Soon, the three of them are curled up on the bed, laughing at dumb, over the top anime shenanigans. The mysterious Bi Wenhan, the freak out over the freezer are quickly forgotten.
Seungyoun isn’t, though. He’s always on Hangyul’s mind, and every time a new message from him pops up, Hangyul’s stomach dances with giddy joy.
Chapter 9: He Is Debonair
// WARNING(s): this chapter contains sexually explicit content, mention of oral fixation
Warmth simmers at the base of Hangyul’s gut as he and Seungyoun kiss languidly. The sound of smacking lips is mostly muffled by the sound of the TV in the background. The two have managed to make their schedules align in the form of late-night hangout sessions that quickly transitioned into sleepovers. Hangyul felt guilty at first, sheepish and embarrassed about doing the whole “walk of shame” even though the two are dating. Seungyoun soothed his worries though, reassuring him he’s happy to have Gyul. It was even the chef who suggested that Hangyul keep some things at his place since it’s their preferred spot.
“Mn… Wait, wait- I love this part,” Seungyoun murmurs against Hangyul’s lips, parting briefly.
Gyul laughs, leaning up slightly to peer at the television screen. He does so more to indulge Seungyoun than out of particular care. He enjoys the drama, but not nearly as much as Youn does. Seungyoun has, apparently, rewatched Hannibal a dozen times already. There are tons of lines he can recall from memory, and he never fails to drool over the food. Hangyul has to hand it to the food stylist of the show - they make human look damn delectable.
“The fuck is he doing?” Gyul mutters. He’d prefer to be making out with his boyfriend, but he can never really say no to him, either.
“It’s clay-roasted thigh,” Seungyoun says dreamily. “He encases the thigh in clay to keep flavor and moisture in. He’s a fucking genius.”
“You’re just saying that because you have a big fat crush on the actor,” Hangyul jokes.
“That is… Beside the point,” Youn giggles softly, burying his face in Hangyul’s shoulder. “I like you more.”
“Mhm,” Gyul chuckles, pressing a kiss on top of the other’s head. “I’m starting to wonder if you just put this on because it turns you on.”
“Wh- Oh my god,” Youn smacks Hangyul playfully.
“Seriously, who needs foreplay when you have Dr. Lecter on screen?” Hangyul laughs.
“Stop it,” Seungyoun giggles without actually denying the fact. “He’s got nothing on you.” He punctuates the statement with another languid kiss.
“Mmm, I love it when you lie to me,” Gyul chuckles against the other’s mouth. The two luxuriate in the taste of one another for awhile. The show drones on, aesthetically pleasing shots of food spanning the screen. Hangyul can only make out bits and pieces, between kisses and lidded gazes.
Youn slots so nicely against his body, he thinks. Seungyoun lays on his side, leg lazily thrown over Hangyul’s waist, arms tangled.
This is his happy place. The place where he feels the highest, strongest, most beloved, captivating, desirable, invincible. That little flat feels like their own world. It’s like a bubble, free from the stresses of school, from the insanity of the kitchen, from the outside world. In that place there’s only them. Them and their collection of strange quirks, offbeat fetishes, delicious food and binge-worthy shows.
Of course, as isolated as the two may feel - wrapped in one another’s embrace, murmuring sweet nothings atop each other’s skin - they are not actually isolated. Hangyul is delivered a stark reminder of this when a loud knocking echoes through Youn’s door.
The couple’s lips separate with a soft smacking noise, and they both glance confusedly at the door.
Once again, it sounds out, the steady knock-knock - firm but not overly noisy.
It’s the third set of knocks that finally rouses Seungyoun from his comfy position next to Hangyul. Gyul pouts, a chill coming over him at the loss of the other’s body heat. Seungyoun clad in only boxers and a t-shirt, lumbers over to his door, brows knit in irritation.
Given that everything is visible from the bed, Hangyul - knowing he probably shouldn’t - peeks over Seungyoun’s shoulder. A pang of worry strikes him momentarily. Who could possibly be calling at this hour? What if it’s someone drunk and disorderly? Someone angry? A criminal?
Seungyoun cracks his door, leaving the small chain locked in place. Due to the open concept, Hangyul can make out a tall figure through the slim opening. It’s not that he is intentionally peeking out of nosiness, per se. It’s simply that, well, he can very well see through the crack and this person did interrupt something quite pressing. Naturally, he’s interested.
The figure’s eyes flit over Youn’s shoulder, and dark, narrow eyes lock with Hangyul’s.
“O-Oh, hey Seungwoo,” Hangyul waves awkwardly. Mariposa’s other owner returns with a half-assed wave of his own.
Seungyoun shuts the door to undo the security chain and opens it widely. He checks on Gyul over his shoulder, an inquisitive, anxious look on his face. Gyul gives the other a dismissive wave. He assumes that Seungwoo wouldn’t interrupt him at such a late hour unless it was important.
Instead of inviting Seungwoo in, Youn steps out into the hall, shutting the door behind him softly. Hangyul coughs awkwardly and sits up. With Seungyoun gone. The heat surrounding him rapidly dissipates. He feels a chill run over his body and throws a blanket over himself to stave off the newfound cold.
The student zones out, idly watching the clever cannibal killer feed human to some poor, unsuspecting schmuck. Yikes. Hangyul’s stomach turns just thinking about it. He does concede that, in spite of his heinous crimes, the man committing the action is debonair. Minutes tick on sluggishly in lieu of the other’s absence, and Hangyul frowns.
Suddenly, a noise comes through the door. It’s vague and dull, muffled, but very much there. A voice. A loud voice.
Then there’s another.
A back and forth.
Between those two?
Hangyul’s brows raise curiously, and he reaches for the television remote, turning the program down just a titch. He tilts his head in interest in an attempt to trace the syllables filtering in through the door. He doesn’t get much of anything, really.
Loud yelling. An argument. A heated argument.
Gyul presses his lips together and plays with the idea of intervening. It sounds ugly, and he doesn’t feel comfortable just sitting by while his boyfriend is getting potentially verbally abused. However, just as he moves to get off the bed, the door swings open abruptly. Hangyul jumps, eyes wide, and his heart briefly stops. He doesn’t know why. It’s not like he’d been actually eavesdropping or anything. Yet, somehow, the mere thought of the implication of maybe listening in feels like something incredibly invasive. Getting caught with one leg over the bed isn’t unlike getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar before dinner.
Seungyoun slams the door shut quickly and presses his body against it. His face is red and his gaze a wide-eyed one. His mouth presses into a thin line.
“U-Um-” Hangyul impulsively grunts. “Is everything okay?”
Youn, very visibly flustered, nods vacantly.
Hangyul raises his thick brows expectantly. He supposes he is in no way entitled to obligation, but he would certainly like something. Some statement to prompt him that they can move on from the awkward situation. Or, hell, a plea for help. Hangyul doesn’t care. He just needs to know where the other’s at, or else it’ll bother him all night.
“S-Sorry,” Seungyoun finally answers after a few minutes of wordless contemplation. “Sorry, I, um-” He wrings a hand through his hair. “Cr-Creative differences.”
“Youn,” Gyul’s frown deepens, and he scoots to the edge of the bed, patting beside him. “Youn, c’mere. You look sort of- I mean- I- I didn’t hear what you said, but it sounded kind of gnarly.”
“No, no, really it’s- it’s fine,” Seungyoun dismisses the other’s concern. He does, however, oblige Gyul by sitting next to him. The chef reaches out and takes the student’s hand in his own and squeezes. He certainly doesn’t seem fine. He appears… Troubled. Occupied. His mind is elsewhere. The business, perhaps?
“Are you sure it’s okay?” Hangyul presses gently. “I mean- The dude came by in the middle of the night to yell at you.”
“It’s okay, really,” Seungyoun insists. “We’re night owls. It’s just, um, yeah. Seungwoo and I… We see things differently sometimes, you know. I’m sort of… All over the place sometimes. I’m the artsy half, I guess. He’s more business-minded, so occasionally we clash.”
“Oh,” Hangyul frowns. For some reason, he feels oddly guilty.
“Don’t worry, it’s got nothing to do with the veggie menu or anything like that,” Youn lets out a wry laugh. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Okay,” Hangyul responds in concession. He’s still got a gnawing sensation in his chest. Something about the situation troubles him. He supposes that seeing his boyfriend so shaken up, so distressed, is upsetting. “Should we-”
Gyul doesn’t get to finish his thought. He forgets what it was. Some offering of cuddles or calming down, maybe. That gets cut off, though, by the other’s lips smashing against his. Hangyul inhales sharply as dizzying heat washes over him again. Seungyoun kisses fervently - almost desperately. To release tension or to forget, maybe. Gyul doesn’t know nor does it really matter. He’s more than happy with the turn of events, and the strange episode quickly gets tossed into the bin of things forgetten.
Drool trickles between Hangyul’s fingers and down his palms as Seungyoun sucks on the digits eagerly. The older man goes at it like a man given an ice cube in the middle of the desert. Sinful moans push out of Seungyoun’s throat as his tongue explores the nooks, crannies, and crevices between the three fingers in his mouth. Hangyul doesn’t get it. It’s a bit of a strange sensation, having someone else’s drool trailing pooling around your fingers. However, Hangyul can hardly pay the sensation much attention when he’s buried inside the other.
It’s sort of a finnicky balancing act - one hand fixed firmly on Seungyoun’s hip, the other generously offered for the older man’s oral fixation. The result is worth it, though. Normally, Seungyoun is impish. He’s goofy and cool, kind and charismatic. But as he unravels, a different person emerges. A beautiful, wanton man, pliable, needy and near insatiable. His toes curl and his knees bend. He arches his back off the bed to meet Hangyul’s increasingly sloppy thrusts. Shameless, begging whimpers for more trickle out from the space between his lips and Hangyul’s fingers. Unlike most people, Seungyoun doesn’t bother doing what others do by anchoring themselves. He doesn’t grip at the sheets or shut his eyes or clench his legs.
Everything about Seungyoun is open. Hangyul almost feels as if the other would float away if not held beneath his weight. If his eyes aren’t rolling back, they’re locked onto Gyul’s, wet and wanting. His arms are thrown over his head and his legs spread wide, bent at the knee as his hips cant into Hangyul’s. Precum pools at the head of his cock, making a sticky trail to his navel. The noises coming out from between them are profane and vulgar - wet squelches and smacking noises, the slap of flesh on flesh, guttural groans and high-pitched whimpers.
Hangyul doesn’t know if he can describe the other as submissive. He’s putty, yes, a malleable mess that wants nothing more than to be pleasured and filled. Yet, Hangyul does not by any means feel in control. No. On the contrary, he feels like the one being controlled, the privileged one who gets to service the other. He never thought he’d love the idea of that until Seungyoun.
Youn dips his to the side. A trail of saliva runs from his lips to Hangyul’s fingertips as the older man unlatches.
“Ff- Babe,” Seungyoun whines. Hangyul’s hip stutter from the sweet sound. Fuck. He won’t last much longer.
“Y-Yeah?” Gyul breathes out huskily. He dips down and plants a quick peck on the other’s head as he tries to keep his pace straight and steady.
“I wanna taste,” Seungyoun murmurs. “I feel you getting closer… Wanna taste.”
Hangyul nods. His guts gnash, heat and pressure compounding from the request. He thrusts in a few more times, hard and deep, savoring those last passes of clenching heat before hastily withdrawing. He takes off the condom he’d been wearing and tosses it carelessly in the general direction of the trash before getting up on his knees.
Youn finally moves a hand to stroke himself as Hangyul does the same, aiming his cockhead directly above the other’s open and waiting mouth. His hand slick with the other’s spit, it doesn’t take long for the pressure to overwhelm him. Hangyul throws his head back and moans as come spills out of his cock. White stars splash across his vision as wave after wave of pleasure relieves itself.
Seungyoun seizes up, tremoring violently as his own orgasm rocks his body. His eyes squeeze shut, but even as the orgasm rocks through his body he determinedly keeps his lips parted to recieve the other.
Hangyul doesn’t even have time to fully come down before Youn sits up. The older man props himself up on his elbow and greedily takes Gyul’s cock in his mouth. Hangyul hisses through his teeth at the sudden stimulation. He grits his teeth, allowing the other to milk out every last drop even though he’s sensitive. It borders on painful, but the knowledge that Seungyoun wants him so much - wants him to the very last drop - makes the strange prickly feeling worth it.
When Hangyul’s cock is finally soft, and Seungyoun has had his fill, Youn parts. He drops onto the bed, winded, face red and pupils blown out. Stunning. Hangyul blinks the post-orgasm blur out of his eyes to take witness to his handiwork. Seungyoun is a mess of come and spit. Though he’d so very obviously strove to get every last bit he could, Hangyul’s aim wasn’t always spot on, and his face is still splattered like a Pollock. It’s pornographic, really. And Hangyul almost feels up to another round.
Dazedly, Youn swipes a finger across his cheek and chin to get what he’d missed. He dips it into his lips and hollows out his cheeks as he sucks. Seungyoun withdraws the finger with a wet pop. His gaze never detaches from Hangyul’s. The younger man’s insides swim, and he’s afraid he’ll get sucked into the other’s vortex yet again. It’s far from the worst case scenario - but, in truth, he’s tired.
Hangyul wrests his eyes from the other’s penetrating, dark expression and looks down at the rest of him. Ropes of white liquid run up his stomach, even reaching his chest. That can’t be comfortable.
“I’m gonna go get something to clean you up,” Hangyul says in a soft voice.
“Mmkay,” Seungyoun lilts out, satiated and happy. He flashes the other an almost drunk looking grin.
Gyul bends down to peck the other on the forehead before stumbling off of the bed and toward the bathroom. Inside the tiled walls, he heaves a deep sigh. He feels ten degrees cooler and twenty times stickier.
“Wash cloth, wash cloth, wash cloth…” Hangyul mutters as he paws around the bathroom, half-asleep. The exertion of his day plus their prolonged lovemaking sesh starts catching up to him quickly. “Oh- There.”
He crosses over to a caddy of shelves above the toilet and grabs a couple of wash cloths. Turning to where the sink is, he starts the faucet, gingerly adjusting the finnicky, worn hardware to get it to a decent temperature. In a haze, his mind wanders.
It wanders to the beautiful, eccentric man he’d fallen so hard for. It meanders to coursework, exams, his job, his friends. He’d never been able to meaningfully introduce Youn to his friends, but he’s sure they’d love him. He’s a bit nervous about what the other would think, though. Wooseok and Yohan are… A lot. Then again, Seungyoun is a lot, too, in his own way. They might get along beautifully.
Gyul zones out happily until something catches his eye. Immediately to his right is a small window. It’s frosted to allow privacy while still bringing in natural light. A single amber streetlight illuminates the alley beyond the glass pane. A few vague shapes are apparent. The fire escape. The adjacent building. Dumpsters.
Hangyul squints, leaning close to the window.
Something is moving.
He leans close, damn near pressing his big nose against the thing as if it’ll help. The shape is… Tall. A person. They’re impossibly slender. So much so that their white clad figure appears to recede into the darkness. Their gait is awkward, impeded by another sizeable shape.
Someone taking out the trash?
Hangyul tilts his head curiously. He knows that someone. He’s positive he does. He’s certain because only one person he knows has such a dramatic body line.
“Seungwoo?” Hangyul mutters dumbly. He watches the sinewy silhouette drag something toward the building until he’s disappeared out of view.
Gyul shrugs it off, wetting the washcloths and strolling back to bed. When he returns, Seungyoun appears human again. There’s a light in his eyes and he grins cutely as his boyfriend-slash-savior.
“Thank you,” Youn says sweetly. He grabs for the washcloth but Hangyul holds it out of reach.
“Of course,” Hangyul replies. He sits down next to the other and wipes off the mess.
“Ahh- You’re so sweet,” Seungyoun sighs happily.
“Eh,” Gyul shrugs it off, leaning down to kiss the other. Their kiss is devoid of heat and urgency. They draw out the chaste gesture, breaking apart to nuzzle one another.
“So, does Seungwoo live here, too?” Hangyul asks to make conversation when he’s wiping himself off.
“Huh?” Seungyoun sits up.
“I saw him out the bathroom window.”
“Uh, I don’t think you did,” Seungyoun laughs.
“No way, it was totally him. He was taking out the trash.”
“He doesn’t live here, silly,” Youn replies. “You probably saw someone who looks like him.”
“Oh,” Hangyul laughs sheepishly. “Were there no other places above the restaurant available?”
“I think he just didn’t want to live here,” The other shrugs.
“I guess I can’t blame him,” Gyul replies with a shrug. “The neighbors doing renovations can definitely be annoying.”
“Uh- Yeah. Sure are,” Seungyoun replies. He flops onto the bed and lets out another heavy sigh. “Babe, let’s go to sleep.”
“Okay,” Hangyul chuckles. The two slip under the sheets and Hangyul’s out like a light in minutes.
Chapter 10: Fire
CHAPTER 10 WARNING(s): violence, blood, mention of corpses
“You’re going for a booty call again?” Yohan asks in disbelief.
Hangyul rolls his eyes, “He’s my boyfriend, and we’re hanging out.”
“Seriously, you should get a drawer there,” Yohan shakes his head.
“Stop it… D’you think he’d let me?”
“Ah-ha! God, you’re whipped.”
“Shut up,” Gyul noncommitally tosses a pencil in Yohan’s direction. It’s nowhere near the guy’s head and ends up hitting the wall somewhere behind him. Good thing they’d opted to hang out in Yohan’s dorm room this time.
“Hey, you should totally peep through that second spooky freezer door!” Yohan chuckles.
“Wh- Hell no!” Hangyul gasps. “Need I remind you that I damn near died last time I stepped foot in a freezer?! Fuck no. Also that’s a major violation of, like, health codes and stuff.”
“Don’t you go back there, like, all the time?”
“Well that’s different! That’s with Youn’s permission and supervision.”
“What is he your dad? Your daddy-”
“Don’t you dare finish that thought,” Gyul grabs another pencil and brandishes it menacingly.
Yohan pouts, “Come on. You’re starting to ditch me and Wooseok for dick. That’s not cool! We used to be a beautiful threesome. Just us versus the world…”
“We hardly ever see you anymore unless we drag you out.”
“And even then you’re always checking your phone. You even ditched us halfway through the night just- just the other day! Don’t you remember? We weren’t even three episodes in.”
“O-Okay…” Guilt begins seeping into Hangyul’s stomach, and he frowns. He didn’t think he’d been so distant.
“You also blew us off last minute that one time because your boo texted you that he missed you,” Yohan glares.
“Okay, fine!” Gyul concedes. He admits, he’s easily worn down. “I’ll think about it.”
“Whatever. Scaredy-cat. Have fun getting laid. Be safe!”
“Thanks, mom,” Gyul replies nonchalantly.
The thought doesn’t really cross his mind again until he’s let into Mariposa per usual. The place is empty past close. Given the small operation, they don’t have the staff to cash in on Friday nights, apparently. Hangyul doesn’t mind it too much. It means he has more Seungyoun to himself. Youn likes to rise early for the brunch shift, anyway. Everybody wins!
“Hi- Hi babe,” Seungyoun whispers from the back entrance, ushering Hangyul in.
Gyul gives the other a hug and a peck before being shood away. Seungyoun mouths out “it’ Seungwoo” and points to his phone. Hangyul gives a nod of understanding and moseys on into the kitchen as the other walks toward the office. Weird that Seungwoo’s not around, but Hangyul doesn’t give it much thought.
Seungyoun’s voice echoes down the hall into the kitchen. The sound is far away, too much so for anyone to be able to hear him. Not that Hangyul wants to hear or anything. He’s just bored. Even with his phone in his hand, the feeds of his social networks quickly bore him. He wants Seungyoun in his arms or cuddled up next to him while they make out and watch movies.
Minutes pass slowly from five to ten, going on fifteen. All the while Seungyoun continues talking on the phone, entrenched in a call that’s no doubt pressing. It’s incredibly quiet with nobody else around. Hangyul can hear the air unit quietly rumbling and the dull reverberation of Seungyoun’s impassioned conversing down the hall. Not much else, though.
Gyul dares peek out of the kitchen. He can see a silhouette pacing through the frosted window down the hall labelled “OFFICE”. It doesn’t look like Youn’s coming out any time soon. A loud buzz makes him jump, and he paws at his pockets clumsily to grab his phone.
Yohan🤡: take a pic
Hangyul furrows his brows as he types out his response.
Hangyul (you): what??
Yohan🤡: take a pic of the spoopy freezer
Hangyul (you): i am NOT GOING IN THERE
Yohan🤡: u said you would :(
Hangyul (you): i said id think abt it
Yohan🤡: cmon dude
Yohan🤡: the fact that ur answering me rn tells me ur not makijn gout or anyth
Yohan🤡: dont tell me, he’s on a call again?
Hangyul (you): he is a business owner…
Yohan🤡: i dont mean anything by it im js
Yohan🤡: live a little
Hangyul (you): i live plenty ty
Yohan🤡: for me?
Hangyul heaves a sigh. He ventures a peek at the frosted glass of the office door again. Seungyoun remains animated as ever, a chronic pacer fleshing out whatever business stuff he needs to. Gyul considers the idea, the pros and cons. He figures he can prop open the door to prevent death, and, surely, Youn won’t notice.
Gyul gives the office door one last look. Nothing. It’s not open, and there’s no indication of Seungyoun stepping out anytime soon. On the contrary, he’s stopped pacing which means he’s probably leaning against something. This happens occasionally. He might have to take a call and he’s on the line for ten, fifteen, even thirty minutes. Hangyul doesn’t begrudge him for it. Business things can be urgent, and as an owner, almost all the major stuff falls on him.
“Fuck it,” Hangyul whispers, swiftly stepping down the hall to the freezer. He opens the door delicately, terrified that an errant sound could signal Youn to his deviance. Not like the boyfriend needs to know, Gyul figures. He’s just gotta snap a few pics for a friend.
Hangyul slips in quickly, shutting the door softly behind him.
He shivers, and goosebumps immediately begin pocking the surface of his skin.
Hangyul (you): i’m here ok??
Yohan🤡: wait srsly??
Yohan🤡: oh my god TAKE PIIICS
Gyul rolls his eyes but obliges. He holds up his phone and takes a quick snap of the meat locker. His stomach turns at the sight of it. The memory of his first foray into the freezer persists vividly in his mind - as do the memories of what happened to him when he ate the meat. The dim fluorescent light provides just barely enough illumination for Hangyul to make out the rows of meat hanging. It casts the flayed torsos in a flickering, bluish light that makes them appear less appetizing and more like props meant for the set of a horror movie.
Yohan🤡: shitting christ that is fucked up
Hangyul (you): its MEAT
Yohan🤡: ok but wheres this “”door”” u were goin on abt? Is it even real?? 👀
Hangyul rolls his eyes. He tries to ignore the anxiety creeping up his body. His breath fogs in front of him as he ventures back yet again through the seemingly endless freezer. It must be an illusion, he thinks. Perhaps the cold is what elongates the time. He avoids bumping into the butchered pigs with great effort, already concocting an excuse should he be caught.
Finally, after a short walk that feels like eons, Hangyul reaches the peculiar plastic curtain. The thick strips hang almost like tentacles. There’s something menacing about them. Though walk in freezers are an incredibly valid, logical application for them, they just don’t seem to belong. They don’t utilize them at the front of the freezer - so why would they the back? Hangyul remembers the vague answer he’d been giving about accepting shipments.
But don’t they butcher the meat themselves?
Other frozen goods, Gyul answers the question, disallowing his imagination from wandering too darkly. Hangyul shakily lifts his phone. With his other hand, he sweeps aside the curtain and snaps a picture of the mysterious door.
Yohan🤡: lol what the fuuck
Hangyul starts typing out a response, but the lights abruptly go out.
His heart stops. He checks around desperately, panick seeping into his veins like venom.
Then the lights come on. He scans the freezer frantically, and relief floods him when he realizes it’d just been an electrical problem.
Hangyul (you): im ngl this shit is creepy and sort of probably illegal im leaving
Yohan🤡: okkk. I wonder where it goes
Hangyul (you): outside i think
Yohan🤡: or DOES IT ??
Hangyul (you): 🙄
Hangyul is tempted to run out of the freezer, but he knows it’d garner too much attention. He pivots on his heel, ready to power walk as fast as he reasonably can. However, his leg somehow catches on a plastic strip. He slips, and his body falls backward, slamming straight into the frigid metal wall through the curtain. Gyul winces, gritting his teeth to bear the pain. He slides down onto the ground and lets the initial shock of metal jabbing into his spine subside. At the very least, it won’t get too swollen off the get go given his surroundings. That isn’t to say he isn’t eager as hell to leave, though.
Hangyul shivers, starting to get too cold for comfort. When he blinks his eyes open, he notices a strip of light painting the floor. His heart stops for a second. Has he been found. He follows the tiny sliver of white light, and his jaw drops when he sees it’s not coming from the front entrance. Somehow, he’d gotten the back door open.
“Curiosity killed the cat” is a fairly overutilized and misread proverb. In recent years, some try to allege that the initial part of the phrase neglects to impart the full message, stating that the sentiment in its entirety contains “but satisfaction brought it back”. While kitchy and catchy, this addition to the phrase is complete and utter fiction, a false tack-on provided by contemporary society to further encourage inquisitiveness. The genuine, original phrase actually goes: “care will kill a cat, up-tails all, and a pox on the hangman”. Though the idea of a satisfying discovery reanimating the careful creature is fairly charming, what people disregard is the fact that in lore these creatures have nine lives.
Lee Hangyul only has one.
But much like the proverbial felines fabled to bring pox upon the hangman, he, too, experience curiosity. It’s immense and overwhelming. Like a moth to a flame he’s drawn to that light. Just a peek, he tells himself. A little peek is all. It’s dark outside, so there’s no reason for a light so bright to be shining into the freezer. Hangyul stands up and steps through the door. He expects a supply closet or secondary freezer.
Where he ends up feels like a whole other world.
The room is fairly large and open. It wreaks of chemical cleaner, yet an almost deep musk underlines it - something that can’t quite be covered. Lights beam down from the ceiling, blinding, bouncing mercilessly across the floor-to-wall-to-ceiling white tile. The place gleams so brightly that it dazzles the humble student. He blinks rapidly, pulsating pain running from his pupils to his temples.
When he manages to straighten his sight, he finds more.
The blotches of contrast marring the otherwise bleach-white room are few and far between. Though sparse, the furnishings are disturbing, to say the least. In the very middle of the massive room sits an old looking surgical chair. Along one of the walls there’s a wide metal counter. Hangyul finds himself drawn to it.
He walks over and runs his hand along the smooth steel surface. His hand and heart stop when his fingertips happen upon something that doesn’t seem like it should be there. A meat cleaver?
Gyul tries to calm himself. They butcher their own meat. They probably do it here, that’s all. But the implements on the table seem fairly… Ill-suited to the task the more he thinks about it. There are sutures and scissors and needles? Syringes? Curved knives and long knives and fat knives and little paring knives. Tweezers and scoops and… A scalpel?
On the far wall rubbery aprons much like the one he’d seen Seungwoo wearing hang. They’re all clean now. Beneath them a few hoses lay limp. Hangyul notices a couple of drains on the ground, too. Is this their butchery? But why the chair? Hangyul wouldn’t describe the place as a meat processing facility. If anything, he’d say it looked more like a place where someone would conduct surgery.
A spine-tingling chill runs down his whole body like a wave.
It’s time to go.
But one more thing catches his eye. At the far corner of the room there’s a massive chest freezer. Perhaps they store meat scraps or bones in there.
Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
He convinces himself: if he opens the chest and sees meat, he can put his silly paranoia to rest. He can understand why there’s a sterile butchery built into the back of a restaurant. It’ll explain everything. But he has to look. Otherwise he’ll just be paranoid and terrified. If he brings it up to Seungyoun he risks upsetting the other or even pushing him away for good.
Hangyul reaches out hesitantly, as if the lid of the freezer might burn him. He takes a few shaky breaths to fortify his nerves before finally flipping the lid up. The student flinches, half expecting an alien to jump out. Of course, that doesn’t happen. A cloud of mist kicks up from the frigid freezer, and he timidly bends down to take a look.
Well, it’s something. It’s parcels wrapped in paper, taped and labelled. “Offal” “eyes” “skin” “tongue”.
Hangyul’s shoulders sag in relief. He damn near melts into the ground because of it. So much tension and worry had built up, and it’d all been for nothing. He chuckles and shakes his head, reaching out to shut the lid.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he spots something very odd, though.
“Is that… Glasses?” Gyul murmurs to himself. Without thinking he reaches into the chest. Between a few parcels of packed meat, he draws out a pair of round glasses that look like they’ve seen better days. “What the hell?”
Hangyul knows that Seungyoun can be spacey, but this is next level. He contemplates keeping them and giving them to Youn, asking him if he’d been missing a pair of glasses. But that would require an explanation which he does not want to give. So, he puts them back. Delicately, the sets them between the two parcels he’d found them in, but the gap made by shifting things around reveals another odd thing.
Gyul narrows his eyes at the grayish black… Thing. Under a few wrapped parcels, one of them is wrapped in layers of plastic. Even through the layers, Gyul can see the odd color. No kind of meat he knows of should look like that. But it’d been frozen, so how the hell did it go bad?
He felt curious.
That curiosity drove him to lift the parcels above it just delicately - just to get a peek. He furrows his brows, his wonder fueled more when he still can’t figure out what it is. There are splotches of pale gray, too. Is it hide? Why would they freeze a hide? Hangyul moves the stuff on top of it, swearing to himself he’ll put it back exactly the way it was. The warmth of the air above frosts the surface of the plastic on the parcel. This one is packed… Different. It’s got plastic wrapped around it, and tape covers the sort of base. Hangyul reaches in and swipes his hand across the plastic to clear the condensation.
He can see blackish… Hair? It looks long and stringy, fibrous. Like hair. Hair? The gray. Skin. Skin? Skin? He paws at the thing, impatiently lifting it to dispell the unsettlement roiling in his gut. He puts it right at eye level.
And he lets out a scream.
A pair of frozen eyes stare lifelessly back at him.
He’d inadverantly picked up a severed human head.
No, he tells himself. No. There must be an explanation. This must be at rick. A prop, a prank. He tosses the thing back as if burned by it and panickedly rifles through the rest of the contents. He grabs a package labelled “eyes” and tears it open impulsively.
“Fffuh- god-!” He yelps, throwing those back in, too. He clamps a hand over his mouth, wresting back the nausea ripping through his insides as frozen human eyeballs clatter onto the floor like marbles.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This can’t be. This is a joke. He rifles desperately in hopes of finding some explanation, something normal. He tears open a box labelled “soup bones” and immediately recognizes a human femur.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
He accidentally makes contact with a hand wrapped in plastic and nearly chokes on his own breath. Anxiety seizes Hangyul in a vice, squeezing him from the inside out in a relentless vice. His chest tightens, strangling every breath he tries to take, and the world around him begins to fade.
No, no, no, no, no.
Hangyul slams the lid closed and turns around, a ringing in his ears. He turns on his heel and prepares to make a break for it and never, ever return. But a figure darkens the doorway.
With a pouty frown across his lips, Seungyoun sighs, “Oh, Hangyul. Why did you have to go and do that? Didn’t you know? Curiosity killed the cat.”
Yohan rolls around, thrashing restlessly.
“Stop that,” Wooseok hisses, not bothering to look up from the book he’d been reading.
“Stop that!” Wooseok says again, more insistently.
“No!” Yohan hums with discontent.
“Yohan why are you acting like a petulant child? Well- more so than usual…?”
“Because!” He huffs, “Gyul doesn’t love us anymore, that’s why.”
Wooseok groans, “Yohan, just because he’s getting good dick doesn’t mean that Gyul doesn’t love us-”
“Then why does he keep blowing us off?!”
“Well, he is getting good dick.”
“But still!” Yohan throws his hands up. “What’s so great about this guy anyway? Huh?”
“I thought you supported him? I mean, aren’t you the one telling him to ‘go get ‘em’ constantly?”
“Wh- Well, yeah, but, I mean- not during our time. Ugh-” The younger whips out his phone, tapping furiously to open up his browser. “-I mean what’s this guy’s deal anyway?”
“I think we should be asking what Gyul’s deal is,” Wooseok muses.
“I mean, I guess . He is the loyal, ride or die type. And we’ve never seen him feel this type of way-”
“Oh my god!”
“What?” Woo’s brows knit, and he finally turns his attention to Yohan.
“He looks so hot with long hair,” Yohan pouts at his phone screen again.
“Wh- Are you serious?! You’re stalking him?”
“And what if I am?”
“...Well… Scoot over, dummy,” Wooseok hops onto the bed, forcing Yoh to roll over. “Oh, damn. He does rock the longer hair.”
The two scroll through inane feeds as time turns back. With just a swipe of the finger, the two travel back weeks, months, and years. They briefly lapse into comfortable silence, occasionally uttering commentary on their best friend’s beau here and there. Wooseok doesn’t really notice anything worth note until the surprisingly astute Yohan speaks up.
“Isn’t it weird that his ex died?” Yohan asks, sitting up.
Woo’s brows furrow, “Uh… I guess it’s always kind of strange and unnverving when young people die, isn’t it?” He glances at his own phone and determines that it’s way too early for existential realtalk hours. “It was an accident, wasn’t it? Something in the kitchen.”
“Yeah… Yeah except-” Yohan flicks his fingers further down, “Look at this guy?”
“Huh? What is that- two years old?”
“Uh-huh. But his Facebook…” Yohan tap’s the tagged gentleman’s name - Wang Yibo. “This dude hasn’t posted in two years.”
“Facebook is for boomers, dude. Maybe he just left with the rest of us and fucked off to Twitter,” Woo responds with a shrug.
“You don’t think it’s a little weird that this dude abandons his account just- what is this- days after the apparent ending of his relationship.”
“Hey- You know what, now that you mention it, something is weird.”
“Ugh- Thank you, finally-”
“The fact that you’re stalking not only Hangyul’s boyfriend but his exes to this degree,” Woo interjects bluntly.
“I am just being a good friend and citizen,” Yohan protests, feigning offense with a hand on his heart. “Okay, but like, look at this-” He taps back onto Seungyoun’s page and scrolls down again. Pictures blur and blur until they’re about three years prior. “Who’s this guy?”
There’s a picture of Seungyoun with long bangs and highlights. His arm is slung over a tall man with gelled hair who looks around the same age. Woo reads the name of the tagged person: Bi Wenhan.
“Bi… D’you think that’s Chinese?” Wooseok asks. He’s pretty sure the last guy was Chinese, too. Is this a pattern?
“Shut up, that’s not the point!” Yohan huffs as he taps onto Bi Wenhan’s page.
Wooseok’s brows raise, and a pinching sensation squeezes his heart. That’s… Something. Written all over Wenhan’s wall are messages to him.
Messages mourning him.
“Another angel has joined the stars above today.” “praying for you” “You will be missed, brother” “this is so sad i cant even :(“
Wooseok’s concerned gaze meets Yohan’s, and the younger of the two simply nods.
“That’s… Just a coincidence,” Woo chokes out a hollow laugh.
“Two dead exes and one missing?” Yohan raises his brows incredulously. “I bet if I googled the other guy, I’d find his obtiuary online, too-”
“Don’t say that. Do you know how crazy you sound right now? Do you underestand what you’re implying?!”
“I’m not implying anything! The fact that you’re getting so upset about it means that you’re thinking it, too.”
“I- No. There has to be another explanation. I mean- this is ridiculous. If- If he really had anything to do with- with anything, he’d definitely have gotten caught by now.”
“With his face and charisma? I bet he could get away with m-mmm!” Yohan leers as a hand clamps tightly over his mouth.
“You are not going to say that word, do you understand me?” A nervous sweat beads up on Woo’s brow. The thought is too unsettling to entertain for even a second.
“Mmm-fff! Mmmm!” Yoh throws Woo’s hand off. “Wooseok this is serious!”
“Yohan, with all due respect, I think you’ve seriously lost your mind. Have you been sleeping enough?”
“Do not bring my personal problems into this! Just listen to me-”
“I am not listening to you!”
“Listen to me-”
“La la la!” Wooseok plugs his ears and turns away. “La la, I can’t hear you! I can’t hear Yohan…!”
Yohan snatches the other’s hands and yanks them out of his ears, “Okay, fine I won’t say it!”
Wooseok stops, and he raises his brows, “Y-You won’t?”
“I won’t. I won’t, I promise,” Yohan tells him as he lets go of his hands. “I won’t say m- red...rum. I won’t say that.”
“Okay. Okay, good.”
“But what I will say-”
“-is black widow!” Yohan bursts onto his feet, shitty campus mattress squeaking. He holds a finger up and begins pacing in the way he probably imagines Sherlock Holmes does. (If he’d actually read a Sherlock Holmes story, he’d probably be a lot more convincing.) “He preys on sweet, innocent young men, and our Hangyul-” He claps again, and Wooseok can’t tell if he’s terrified or annoyed as hell. “-well, few come sweeter or more naive than he!”
“Than he?” Wooseok laughs wryly.
“Yes, and- and I think he’ll strike any day now!”
Wooseok heaves a sigh and wrings a hand through his hair. He waits for the initial spike of provoked unsettlement to die down. Sure, the coincidence is… Strange. But Cho Seungyoun? The chef at the taco place? A killer?
“Have you been dropping acid?” Wooseok asks frankly.
“Wh-” Yohan drops the dandy detective act and purses his lips. “Woo this is serious.”
“Serious?” Woo laughs. “You know what’s serious is accusing some guy of being a murderer just because he’s taking up your friend’s time.”
“Woo, come on. I’m a-hundred percent serious. I’ve got a bad feeling about him. I always have.”
“You’re just hot and bothered because you’re not getting laid and that other guy doesn’t wanna talk to you.”
“Wh- Hey, that’s not true! I just- we haven’t been in contact is all. Gyul still hasn’t gotten me his number. A-Anyway, that’s not the point!”
“And what is the point? Wh- Do you want to call the police on this guy? I’m sure that’ll go well. ‘Hey officer, I was peeping on this guy’s Facebook and noticed he has a few dead exes. Can you arrest him for me?’ I’m sure the station would love that.”
“This isn’t a joke!” Yohan drops to his knees and grabs Woo’s hands again. “Wooseok, please, I’m serious. I’ve got a bad feeling about this, okay?”
“Wha- What do you want me to do about it?”
Yohan pouts. It’s a devastating expression, really, one that even the most steely people are hard pressed to resist. Those deep brown eyes bore into Wooseok’s very soul, asking - no, pleading - for his compliance with whatever no doubt slapdash plan he’s concocting. And Wooseok, for all his good traits, knows himself to be a bit of a sucker. Letting out a sigh of defeat, he regrets the words that come out of his mouth.
“W-We can check on him,” Woo finally concedes through gritted teeth. “If that’s what you can want, we can interrupt his lovely time with a text or ca-”
“I knew you’d see things my way!” Yohan jumps off the bed and races to the door. Before Woo can even utter a word, the other’s got his feet in shoes. “Let’s go make sure he’s okay! I don’t want him to get beheaded and, like, eaten or whatever!”
“Yohan where are you going!?” Wooseok calls out the open door. No answer comes, and Woo’s left to his own devices. He catches sight of Yohan’s phone abandoned on the mattress. Surely he’ll come back for that - right?
When seconds pass into minutes and there’s no sign of the phone’s owner returning, Wooseok groans.
“Son of a bitch,” He hisses, pinching the bridge of his nose. He stuffs Yohan’s phone in one pocket and his own in the other. The cogs in his brain grind as he tries to think of where the hell Yohan would’ve run to at this hour.
A sharp, pungent taste fills Hangyul’s mouth. That’s the first thing he notices. He winces, body protesting and suddenly sore, so very, very sore. His limbs feel heavy. They move sluggishly, taking a substantial amount of time to follow the orders given. Things are dim and murky through Hangyul’s lidded gaze, but they don’t stay that way for long. White light leaks through his eyelids like sunlight through the slats of a blind. It swells into something brighter and brighter until intensifying to blinding. Everything swims, a sea of white, just barely-there shapes caught in a floodlight. A deer in the headlights. Shapes.
Hangyul notices something. Rectangles. Laid out in a grid. Tile. Is he facing a wall? The ceiling? The floor. He can’t tell. It’s like he’d woken up from one of those naps that feels like a lifetime. Usually he’s more observant than this, more sure, more clear. But his mind is hazy, boiled muslin draped over his thoughts. Something presses down in his chest. The pressure is constant, and when he tries to move it just intensifies.
Vague sounds bounce across the room… Chamber… Whatever that he’s in. It’s so white and blank. Eerily blank. Not blank, Hangyul realizes. Though his brain labors to trek through the mucky swamp of his thoughts, he manages to find that. That being a word. A word for the place he’s in. A word that isn’t merely ‘blank’ because blank implies the absence of anything and this place so very clearly is something. It’s a place covered in white and tile, a place where even hushed words ricochet endlessly like they want to be heard, boucning boisterously off of the glassy porcelain surface.
That’s the word.
The room is sterile. Like a hospital. Is he in the hospital? Hangyul wonders if he's undergone some terrible calamity like before. Had he stayed in the freezer too long? But the last thing he remembers…
A back and forth dialogue goes on somewhere out of view. Hangyul can hear it. Not the words, but he can hear the tone. Arguing tensity thrums across the open space. It seeps into the very walls from which it jumps forth and resonates into Hangyul’s bones. Though half-there he can feel it, the stress in the air, running into his body. He tries to move, but he can’t. Not much, anyway. He manages turning his head and shapes pronounce themselves against the blinding sterile white of the tile. His own body does. It’s there strapped down to something that vaguely reads as metal. He foolishly tries the binds. Their leather is worn but tough and stained with so many splatters it looks to be done so by design.
“-e can’t-” “...can!” The voices trickle into his ears. “-top it-, stop it-” “...lways let your…” “you have-” “-not fair…” “...m true to our…”
Realization does not dawn upon Hangyul gradually. There is no dipping his toe into reality bit by bit. No, instead it’s a pitfall, a steep precipice over which he is not dropped but thrown. It all surges to him in an instant, the realization that he’s strapped down to a chair in some horror movie torture chamber. Withthe understanding comes panic. Straight to the veins it rushes through him, gripping his lungs, heart, and stomach in its vice.
Hangyul tries to scream, but the sound is muffled. Of course it is. He’s gagged, after all. His mouth is stuffed with a knotted ball of coarse cloth like a roast hog with an apple.
“-eed to face the fac-” “Wait- wait- wait! Wait-!” A familiar voice exclaims. “He’s up. He’s up…”
Familiar footsteps approach Hangyul’s side. If the voice wasn’t a giveaway the gait would be. There’s something different about how Seungyoun walks. Hangyul wishes he could explain, but the point seems moot. He doesn’t think he’s fit to explain much of anything in his state. His guts clench when his eyes meet the other’s. They’re… Dark.
So, so, dark. A void. An abyss against the blinding white.
Seungyoun bites down his lip worriedly. His features, his body - they’re all squashed, knit tightly into an expression of worry. For what? For what?
“Hey, Gyul,” Youn speaks softly. He extends a hand toward the other, and Hangyul flinches. The sudden movement sends a wave of pain across his body. Seungyoun grasps the cloth gingerly and removes it. “I know this seems a bit scary, but I need you to be calm.”
Hangyul screams. His wails are so loud in the tiled room that his ears ring. He shouts at the top of his lungs, begging anyone nearby to just hear him. To listen. But he has no idea how long he was out or what time it is. Is there anyone to hear him at all?
“Gyul, you need to calm down.”
“Shut him up,” Another voice, stern and low, interns.
Hangyul carries on. He’ll be damned if he relents. Literally. His body strains against the thick leather straps binding his chest, waist, arms and legs to a chair.
“Gyul, just- just-” Seungyoun’s tone raises, stress increasingly apparent.
He writhes beneath them, pleading with the powers that be for mercy. For a passerby or the sudden emergence of superpowers or a camera crew.
“Hangyul stop screaming. Just stop it- stop screaming!” Seungyoun yells to no avail. The other’s voice continues to call out desperate, hoarse and ceaseless. “Shut up- shut up shut up shut up-”
A swift blow to the face ignites firecrackers in Hangyul’s cheeks. The back of a hand, knuckly with long fingers, stops him dead in his tracks. The smacking noise rings momentarily. Its remnants echo through the room as the tall figure who’d delivered the blow looms over Hangyul menacingly. Seungwoo was always imposing, but nothing could compare to the man standing over Gyul now. He’s mirthless, devoid of joy. Devoid of even anger or sadness. His expression presents nothing but cold indifference. It’s the sort of look someone would give to an ant squashed beneath their foot - that moment in which a person checks, just to make sure, is it dead?
Hangyul is not dead, but he’s got a hunch he’s not long for this world. His protests are dead for certain. Fear enters his bloodstream and freezes him from the inside out. He shrinks against the cold metal chair with wide, wet eyes. Hangyul wonders if this is how it feels to be a wounded deer face to face with a hungry wolf.
“Quiet,” Seungwoo says sternly.
“Hey- Hey! No pain!” Seungyoun steps between the tied down Hangyul and Seungwoo. He shoves his business partner roughly. “Don’t hurt him!”
“Don’t hurt him? Don’t hurt him?! Are you serious?” Seungwoo scoffs. “God- This is exactly why I told you to stop seeing him. You always do this- you always get attached!”
“He- He doesn’t have to die right here!” Seungyoun pleads pitifully. Though his back is to Gyul, Hangyul can see the other tremble. “He won’t t-tell anyone- right?” Youn turns to Hangyul, dark eyes wide and manic. “Right? You won’t tell anyone.”
Hangyul shakes his head furiously in accordance with the other’s words. He’ll do just about anything to get out of this situation.
“Youn, he’ll agree to anything just to get out of the chair,” Seungwoo scolds his partner. Damn him and his logic and sense. The guy says two works over the entire course of Gyul and Youn’s relationship, but now when he does speak it’s in favor of keeping Hangyul trapped. Figures.
“Human are a blight, you know that?” The older man says. “We are a disease, a fever that the Earth is so desperately trying to sweat out. War. Pestilence. Famine. Death. While attributed to fabled Horsement of the Apocalypse, these are the very things that humanity is guilty of perpetrating.”
“Wha…?” Gyul babbles, confused.
“I’m explaining, Hangyul. I am explaining because I know you’re so confused and, in spite of what you may think, I am here to help,” Seungwoo says, patronizing. “Widespread, institutionalized purging is only used for the political gain of corrupt leaders, but we, the common man, can still take something back. We can do what’s right. Little by little, if we all do our own part, we can make the Earth a bearable place. Like they say, ‘it starts in the home’. While some do things like recycling or community service, only a few of us understand the bigger picture. People have to die, Hangyul. But people are also hungry. And what more sustainable way to source food than feeding on the swine fattening in your own backyard? I mean, after all, much like swine, humans will happily gobble down anything you put in front of them.”
Nausea roils in Hangyul’s stomach. He remembers all the times he’s seen the taqueria busy, overflowing with people. Happy, chatting, tipsy people. They lined up to eat those fucking tacos. They gobbled them down, scooping them up enthusiastically, biting down and letting the red, greasy fat drip down their chins and slick their fingers. Talking with their mouths open, laughing, playing - all none the wiser as to what they were actually putting in their mouth. Unknowing or uncaring? He can’t discern anymore. Just like people stopped giving a fuck about the missing people, people stopped giving a fuck about the shit they shovel into their mouths. It makes him sick.
Seungwoo reaches toward Hangyul, and the student flinches. A hand bats away the assailant’s.
“C’mon, Seungwoo, please,” Seungyoun pushes the other back. He actually sounds… Sad. Like he’s pleading. Hangyul cranes his head to look. “Please, it- it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to kill him.”
Gyul’s heart aches, wanting for the other. Even if he’d gotten tangled with the wrong type, Seungyoun still carries a torch for him. The thought invigorates Gyul, igniting his desire for escape more fiercely than before.
“We- we- we can keep him. I’ll keep him,” Seungyoun pleads, even clasping his hands together. “I can soundproof my apartment. I’ll keep him fed and watered.”
Storm clouds immediately darken Hangyul’s drippy fantasy about running off into the sunset. Thunder booms and the crackling lightning goes right for his heart.
“Absolutely not,” Seungwoo responds, irate. “He’s a liability as he is.”
“No- No- No- Listen- listen, please, you don’t get it? You don’t get him, okay? He- he’s different,” Seungyoun rambles desperately. “He’s good, Seungwoo. He is good. He’s- he’s a good boy. He’s not like the others.”
“He is just like the others.”
The others they killed. The others they murdered before profanely grinding up their innards and serving them to the masses. Those others. A chill runs down Hangyul’s spine as the thought runs through his head. Ice trickles into his veins the more he ruminates on the idea that he’s about to be one of them.
“Please. Please, Seungwoo, I like this one-”
“You always like one of them,” Seungwoo reaches a long arm out, and though he’s tied down, Hangyul winces, anticipating pain or a strike. No indicative sound echoes throughout the room. Instead, he rests a hand on Seungyoun’s shoulder. He speaks, his tone more tender, “You’re a romantic. An idealist. That’s why you have me, the pragmatic one to ground you. Otherwise your sorry ass would’ve been locked up a long, long time ago.”
Seungyoun hangs his head, ashamed, “You’re right…”
“I know I am. Just like you know we have to kill him.”
His tone is unsettlingly soft for the discussion of murder. Seungwoo talks in such a way that one would think he’s regarding a child.
“Youn, if you don’t kill him, I will.”
“O-Okay. Fine. Fine… Fine. I’ll do it,” Seungyoun surrenders. The leader of the two pats his shoulder and even has the gall to flash one of his tight-lipped smiles.
Hangyul’s heart hammers against his sternum. His body fights against his restraints without conscious command. He can feel hot, wet tears dripping down his cheeks as he struggles. It’s not something he’d necessarily thought to do. It’s simply happening, the activation of his fight or flight response.
Is he even there?
Hangyul isn’t sure anymore. Is the boy bound to the stained surgical chair him? Or is he some bodiless entity watching as a man with hair black as night turns to face him.
Seungyoun licks his lips, eyes wide and blacker than tar, “Woo-” His gaze never leaves Hangyul’s body. On the contrary, it takes liberties. One, two, three long, jittery trips up and down the contours of his sweat sheened, panicked, heaving, straining body. “-I think I wanna take it slow.”
Take it slow?
Youn nods. He talks, but are the words really meant for anyone other than himself?
“Men are a dish best savored slowly,” The words echo across the frigid chamber.
Without warning he bends down and licks a thick stripe down Hangyul’s cheek. Hangyul’s body seizes up, entirely too stimulated by his own internal frenzy to cope with being licked by a man bordering feral.
Seungyoun lets out a shuddery moan that goes directly into Hangyul’s ear. Hangyul squeezes his eyes shut. If he has to feel, hear, smell, taste everything the least he can do is spare himself the sight. He can’t stop wondering where he went wrong. Were there signs? Why did he never look at them? Someone he’d held so dear before turned out to be a sick monster.
“Oh, baby…” Seungyoun hums against Gyul’s skin, nosing at it as he runs fingers down his throat. “You smell delicious.”
“S-Seungyoun,” Hangyul whispers. “Y-Youn, please, you don’t have to do this.” It’s his last ditch effort. “Youn please. Please I- I love you. Please, Seungyoun p-please…” It devolves into simpering quickly as despair takes over. His body hurts, physical pain not just from his bindings but the agony from inside leaking to the out.
“I know I don’t have to,” Youn whispers against his skin. He nips at Hangyul’s neck,”I want to.”
“But don’t you worry, I will enjoy every second of it. I will savor every last inch of your flesh, and not a drop of your blood will go to waste. I won’t allow it. Speaking of blood… Woo, scalpel?”
The lanky man who’d been resting against a wall obliges the barked command. He grabs something off of the counter nearby and hands it to Seungyoun. The slender blade glints in the too-bright light. Seungyoun takes it graciously, grinning ear to ear.
“Don’t look so bereft, my dear,” Seungyoun coos. His breath tickles Hangyul’s ear, making another shudder run down Gyul’s spine. “Red is a great color on you.” He pokes Hangyul on the cheek with the scalpel’s tip. Though not terribly painful, the pinching sensation is enough to provoke blood to bead up at the spot. Seungyoun eagerly dives in to lick the spot like a starved animal.
“Fuck… I knew you’d taste good,” Seungyoun’s tone drips with wantonness. Hangyul’s body simply locks up in response. His brain can’t properly function. All he can do is make out pain. A sting down the side of his throat where there’s a cut. Uncomfortable, wet muscle lapping up the red hot blood seeping from the wound.
Youn poises the tip at Hangyul’s wind pipe, “You’re so quiet, Gyul. It’s lovely, really. You’re not screaming or begging or grovelling or- god- apologizing. You really are something special…” Hangyul can feel the other’s proximitiy but he refuses to open his eyes. He can’t bear getting sucked into those starved eyes. “Though, I think it’d be cuter if you did cry, maybe a little.”
Hangyul remains petrified. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t open his eyes. He tries to keep his breathing steady. He refuses to indulge the other’s insanity even the slightest bit.
“Stubborn, I see,” Seungyoun huffs. Gyul can almost hear the pout. “Well if you won’t cry for me. How about a scream?”
Suddenly, the blade pierces his shoulder. Hangyul’s eyes blow open and his body strains against his binds as he wails. Burning, stabbing pain radiates from the blade digging into his shoulder. As if fueled, Seungyoun begins twisting the infernal thing. His breath stutters as Hangyul writhes in agony.
He’s getting off on this.
“That’s more like it,” Seungyoun sounds more ragged, and his palms feel sweaty against Gyul’s skin. “You’re such a good boy, doing what you’re told. I was right, your screams are so pretty, Gyul. So, so pretty.” He pulls out the scalpel, leaving searing pain in its wake. “Now, where to next. Let’s see… We could put the scalpel here-” Seungyoun gently places the tip atop Hangyul’s sternum. “Or- now, wait just a second.”
Hangyul turns his head away as the scalpel catches on his t-shirt. The blade pierces the cotton blend with ease, and Seungyoun drags it down the middle of the garment until it’s split in half.
“That’s better. Much, much better,” Seungyoun lilts. He runs the blade lightly over now exposed pecs and abdominals. He went on so much about how he adored them in the past. If only Hangyul understood just to what degree the man admired the human body. “Now, we could put the scalpel here-” He lightly pokes Hangyul on the pec, another bead of blood pooling at the point. “-or… Down here?” He runs the blade down between Gyul’s chest and abs, letting it catch on Hangyul’s navel.
“Or how… About…” The scalpel goes further down. Cool metal traces the line of hair leading beneath Hangyul’s waistband until it comes to a stop at his groin. Hangyul clutches the arms of the chair with white knuckles. He wills himself not to move, not even the slightest. Any errant movement could castrate him. “Here?” Seungyoun asks.
“This is where your brain is, isn’t it?” He laughs, just ever so slightly prodding with the scalpel. Hangyul gasps, grimacing as he presses himself into the chair as much as possible. “Oh sweetie, don’t look so sad. You won’t have use for this in a little bit, anyway. Though, I mean, I guess if you wanted one lasting memory for the road.”
Hangyul cries. He whimpers pathetically as Seungyoun’s other hand begins running up his leg. Then it abruptly stops.
“Woo, do you hear that?” Seungyoun’s demeanor completely changes. His voice drops into something aware and worried.
“Wh- hear what?” Seungwoo’s voice echoes across the room.
“That- That pounding sound? Don’t you hear that?”
“I don’t hear any pounding-”
“It’s- it’s up front. Shit. What if someone heard something. Could be that nosy neighbor again.”
“Are you serious?”
“Go check on it, Woo.”
“Go check on it! You’re not doing anything!” Youn demands. Seungwoo groans, but the departing footsteeps and the shutting of a door indicate his obligation. Seungyoun heaves a sigh of relief and returns his attention to Hangyul. “Now I’ve got you all by myself. So, where were w-”
His words get cut off by a thunderous boom. The sound is so loud Hangyul can feel it through the chair. He shivers, terrified, wondering what else could possibly be going on. The sound came from behind him, but given his restraints he’s powerless, left to wonder. What the fuck was that sound.
“What in th- wait- I- I know you-ffhh…”
“Hangyul! Holy shit!”
There’s the sound of pounding footsteps. Someone bounds toward him, and Hangyul cowers from the sound.
“Gyul! Holy fuck they got you good!” Yohan says worriedly. Hangyul dares to open his eyes, and relief floods him as he’s met face to face with his best friend. Never in his life has he ever been so excited to see Yohan. The younger fidgets with the bindings. Thankfully they’re just belts. Thick as hell, but simple and not equipped with any crazy lock mechanisms. The minutes it takes Yohan to undo them feels like hours.
When he’s finally free, Hangyul can barely stand straight. He wobbles as he attempts to walk.
“Fuck… Iunno what they gave me,” Gyul slurs. Whatever they’d done to knock him out still has him reeling.
“Don’t worry, we got this,” Yohan says. He grabs one of Gyul’s arms and throws it over his shoulder. “Let’s get the hell out of here before Chef Crazy wakes up.”
“Whoa. You seriously knocked him out?”
“Yeah, I know, right?”
“Yo… Yo… H-han,” A winded voice comes from the open door. Hangyul panics for an instant, clinging to Yohan for dear life. “You motherfucker.”
Gyul dares to open an eye, and his jaw drops, “Wooseok?”
“Yeah. ‘Sup Gyul,” Woo leans heavily against the doorframe, winded. He leans in and takes a look at the room. His face scrunches into a wide-eyed “hell no” expression, and he withdrwaws from the doorway. “I am… Not even gonna fuckin’ ask.”
“You shouldn’t,” A dark, menacing voice bellows from behind Wooseok. Woo gasps, but it’s too late for him. He gets shoved into the room and almost falls face first onto the bloody tile.
Hangyul’s heart stops, and tears well up in his eyes.
Looking eerily calm and collected, Seungwoo steps in through the back door, shutting it behind him. The loud clicking noise that follows tells Hangyul that the door’s been locked.
Wooseok scoots away across the floor and Yohan hugs Hangyul tighter. Seungwoo doesn’t hesitate. He dashes toward the work counter, grabbing the first thing he can get his hands on. The tall man finds a massive meat cleaver. Yohan chokes, and Wooseok squeaks in terror. Hangyul’s knees shake. The thing doesn’t look like a regular meat cleaver. It looks more like something out of a video game. It’s huge, and it’s being brandished at them.
“You two!” Wooseok yells, “Run!”
“Woo, no!” Yohan shouts.
“No- You take him. I know taekwondo!”
“You quit taekwondo in highschool-”
“Well I know more than you, so-!” Yohan shoves Gyul toward Woo and runs toward Seungwoo. Like he’s playing a game of catch, Wooseok hops onto his feet and catches Hangyul smoothly. Meanwhile, Yohan grapples with the psycho Han Seungwoo.
Hangyul’s heart clenches with fear for his friend. He feels so goddamn useless. He wishes he could help, but he can hardly stand up straight. Woo starts gently guiding Hangyul through the other door. Yohan lands a kick square in Seungwoo’s gut and runs to them, swiftly pulling the door shut behind them.
A blast of frigid air blows over the three as they enter the meat locker.
Hangyul sniffs, body yet again trempling. The three exchange terrified glances. Wooseok, the eldest of them all, holds a finger to his lips. Without a word, he prompts them: quiet. Quiet isn’t something they often do. But with their lives on the line, it’s all they can do.
Yohan shuffles some boxes in front of the door to obstruct the other as Woo and Gyul quickly weave between hanging bodies. Human bodies. Hangyul can’t help but wonder who all of these people were. Once upon a time the flayed torsos hanging on hooks led lives, had jobs, maybe families. Children or significant others. Sickness tosses his stomach once more, but Hangyul reigns it in.
In an instant, goosebumps prick his skin, and it’s not due to the temperature of the meat locker. No, it’s the sound of boxes falling onto the ground behind them. Hangyul’s gaze shoots to the door behind. He damn near cries out when he sees the door slowly open, pushing the boxes aside.
“Sh-Should we hide?” Yohan whispers.
“No, we’ve gotta move, now!” Wooseok chides the other. His expression and tone soften when he glances at Gyul. “Can you still move?”
“I… I’m fine. Head’s getting clearer, I think,” Hangyul replies.
Light floods the meat locker from behind them - their cue to run.
“You’re adorable,” Seungwoo says cooly, thin body navigating the meat locker with swift ease unmatched by the terrified trio. “You know it’s been such a long, long time since my prey’s made me chase them.”
“Fuck-!” Yohan hisses. Woo grasps Hangyul tightly and guides him forward. Gyul feels a twinge of guilt pronounce itself among the slurry of frenzied emotions toiling in his gut. Butchered corpses swing profanely left and right as they bump them carelessly, set only on escape. Hangyul counts himself as so incredibly lucky. He could very well have been one of the bodies hanging on a meat hook.
“Gyul, how do we get out?!” Wooseok asks when they leave the freezer.
“Um- Second back door, to the right, then another right,” Hangyul spits out. The three sprint the short distance, reaching the employee door by the timeclock in seconds. Yohan reaches for the handle and tries to turn it, but it doesn’t budge.
“Oh, fuck!” Yohan curses. “Fuck, fuck, fuck- it’s locked!”
“What do you mean it’s locked?!” Woo asks, panicked.
“I mean it’s fucking locked-”
“Let me try!”
Wooseok gives a similar effort, but it’s also in naught. All they’re met with is the frustrating clunking noise of a secure deadbolt.
“Shit, okay, um, through the front is our only way. We might have to break a window,” Wooseok mutters.
“Um, back the way we came,” Hangyul says. “Right through the kitchen and out through the double d…” He trails off when a familiar silhouette darkens their path.
Seungwoo fingers the wrought blade of his cleaver as he casually leans against the wall. Cool as ever, he quirks an eyebrow.
“Going somewhere, boys?”
Three exchange glances for an instant. Though only for a second, in that tiny moment of contemplation myriad thoughts get communicated. Hangyul supposes that’s the boon of friendship, nonverbal communication. Without vocal prompting, Yohan lunges at Seungwoo, aiming to disarm him. Wooseok grabs Gyul by the wrist and makes a break for it.
By the time they’re in the kitchen, Seungwoo’s already on their tail. He’s got one hand on his cleaver, the other drags a bruised and battered Yohan.
“As fun as the chase is, I’ve had enough,” Seungwoo growls. He throws Yohan into the kitchen. The student collides with the metal island in the middle, utensils and dishes clattering loudly as he crashes. He winces, and Wooseok reaches out for him.
Hangyul tries to assess the situation. It’s more cramped in the kitchen. The island makes for a massive obstruction, too. They can easily bump into things, get routed, get thrown… There’s no time for further thought. Seungwoo lunges toward them. The three cower away. That’s what they want. Away, they just want to get away. Seungwoo dashes to the right of the island, and the three convence on the left with magnetic repulsion.
Except, they’d miscalculated. Seungwoo closes the gap - not between him and them, but between him and the doors. He grabs a massive spoon and shoves it through the two pull-handles effectively trapping them.
“Gyul, stay right here,” Woo mutters, leaning Hangyul gingerly against the gas range. Hangyul’s mouth opens, ready for questions, but they’re pointless and laggard.
Wooseok and Yohan nod to one another before jumping their pursuer. Wooseok attacks from the front while Yohan slides across the island - knocking down dozens of things in the process - to get behind him. Seungwoo focuses on Wooseok first. The eldest student manages to take hold of the other’s wrist, and they start struggling. The cleaver twirls and jerks every which way as Yohan tries to get a good hold from behind.
Seungwoo throws his body back, and the unforeseen force sends Yohan onto his ass. Wooseok, also surprised, ends up stumbling, and Seungwoo shoves him forward. He brings the cleaver down menacingly, just missing Wooseok by a hair. Before Woo can think, a knee comes up and hits him square on the stomach. It sends him reeling, and he stumbles back onto the counter. Yohan, in the meanwhile, peels himself off the ground - but Seungwoo anticipates it. He turns on his heel and kicks Yohan on the chest, digging his heel into the other’s sternum for good measure. Yohan cries out in pain, and Hangyul’s heart seizes yet again. Fuck fuck they are so fucked. Fuck.
So many emotions, pains, aches, and agonies whip through his head. It’s like a tornado, a shitstorm that’s come to culmination due to his own bad decisions. There were red flags, here and there. Little things that should’ve set him off, caused him to question. But he didn’t. Why? Because he didn’t want to, that’s why. He knew about the disappearances, had tasted the metallic, blood-red wine. He’d seen that look in Seungyoun’s eyes. But he ignored the alarm bells because he thought that there was no way they could possibly be ringing for him. And his Seungyoun would never do something deviant or criminal. Certainly wouldn’t be accessory or even perpetrate homicide.
Now the bells ringing in his head are those of his death knell.
Hangyul wishes he could blame someone, but really he can’t help feeling responsible for everything himself. Not only has he gotten himself killed, tortured, eaten - but somehow his friends have gotten mixed up into this, too. His body quakes and his eyes blur. For some reason, he feels inclined to hold back tears. If only to give himself a few remnant seconds of fleeting dignity, he holds in his tears. He curses Seungwoo, curses Seungyoun, curses himself and curses the cuts, the aches, the pain of bruised wrists and uncomfortable digging of metal into his back as Seungwoo walks up to him like he’s the grim reaper him fucking self.
Then, Gyul’s hand grazes something. A knob.
He pauses. Though it’s probably a millisecond of real time, the duration prolongs into profound time for reflection. Hangyul supposes that maybe he ought to be reflecting on his life right now. Maybe this is the time he needs to be thinking about his family and loved ones. Maybe he should be praying or even uttering apologies to those he’s wronged. But he doesn’t. Instead, he does something he hadn’t really done for the past few months. He thinks. He really thinks. He doesn’t write things off or give up or take the easiest answer for truth. He thinks.
Of course, as arcane and unfathomable as the extension of time is, it’s but a mere instant, and it’s nearly over just as it’s begun. Luckily, though, that is enough. And just like the formulation of the plan before, the execution following take mere seconds.
Seungwoo lifts his cleaver with an air of intimidating finality and begins to bring it down toward Hangyul. Though sluggish, Gyul hones what focus he has and concentrates on being present until the last possible second. He waits. He waits and waits and waits and waits until, finally, Seungwoo is past the point of no return. Just before that cleaver comes down on him, Hangyul leaps to the side.
Unable to deftly control the no doubt heavy blade of the cleaver, Seungwoo’s face contorts into indignation as his arm continues to drop. That is when the gas range comes to life. Flame flares up from the burner, immediately catching the blade and Seungwoo’s sleeve. Hangyul rushes to turn on the gas for all of the burners - there’s about ten for the professional range. He grabs the nearest dish and strikes their pursuer across the head for good measure.
“Guys, let’s go!” Hangyul shouts. It’s all that’s needed to rally his worn troops. Wooseok and Yohan jump onto their feet, shaking off the bruises and pains from their encounters. Yohan pulls the spoon out from the door handles, and the others run after him.
The front of house is so open and cool compared to everything else. Hangyul’s shoulders slacken with relief at the sight of the beautiful, glorious outdoors from the floor-to-ceiling windows. But they’re not out yet.
“Wait-!” Hangyul shouts as the two bound toward the door. “The bar!” His thoughts are, admittedly, not the most thorough, but his theory is as follows: alcohol is flammable. Gas is flammable. If they throw alcohol into the gas-filled kitchen, that means more fire? More fire means less Seungwoo.
“Gyul what are you doing?!” Wooseok shouts from the front door. He tries fiddling with the little lock knobs on it, but without warning Yohan hurls a chair through an adjacent window. “Fuck-! Yohan!”
“We need a way out!” Yohan shouts, clearly manic with adrenaline.
Wooseok rolls his eyes and pushes the front door open without a hitch.
“Gyul, come on!” Wooseok yells at Gyul.
“Two seconds!” He shouts. He rushes behind the bar, adrenaline starting to fuel him as well. He grabs the two closest bottles of liquor he can find and hurls them at the door. They shatter loudly, splashing liquid across the door and down onto the floor.
Suddenly, they swing open, and a very pissed, very burnt Han Seungwoo leers at Hangyul menacingly. Amberlight trickles in from behind him, an indication that Gyul’s plan is working. There’s a fire in the kitchen. Of course, flames can’t compare to the wrath of law enforcement when Seungwoo and Seungyoun are found out. Though he’d displayed freakish and honestly unanticipated strength before, Seungwoo starts to falter. His chest heaves with labored breath as he hobbles toward the bar, where Hangyul is. The tiniest bit of smoke drifts out from the kitchen doors.
“Fuck!” “Gyul let’s go!” “How is he still up? Is he the fucking Slenderman?!”
Hangyul grabs a couple more bottles and hurls them in Seungwoo’s general direction. One shatters somewhere behind him and the other bounces off of his shoulder. Step by step, Seungwoo dwells nearer, face darkening as he glutches the cleaver like it’s an extension of his arm. Amberlight grows brighter, lighting Seungwoo’s back and painting his face in inky, black shadows. He looks like some hellish beast as he clings to the bar, stumbling toward Hangyul.
“I’m thinking we’ll have a special tomorrow night,” Seungwoo snarls. “What do you think Hangyul. You wanna be fried in hot oil? Or how about I pull the meat off of your bones with a fork?”
Now close enough, he jumps to close the distance, cleaver once again held high above his head.
“Fuck you!” Hangyul shouts. He grabs two more bottles and throws them. His first throw misses again, and Gyul decides to say fuck throwing. He uses the other one as a weapon. It’s heavy, a half-full bottle of Patron. Gyul gets Seungwoo square on the temple. The contact makes a sickening “thunk” noise. That definitely had to hurt.
The sinister light in those eyes vanishes, and Seungwoo drops to the ground, cleaver clattering beside him. Hangyul needs no further prompting to make a run for it. He jumps over the bar and runs through the dining room to his friends.
Hangyul knows it was Friday before, but judging by the empty, litter infested streets, they’re in the wee hours of Saturday morning now. After last call, judging by how deserted everything is. The emptiness doesn’t stop them from screaming their lungs out.
“Police! Police!” “Help!” “Police- Help!” “Help!”
The three of them run as fast as their legs will take them, and they don’t dare look back. Hangyul is terrified he’ll see Han Seungwoo’s lanky silhouette looming under some street light.
They run until they reach Wooseok’s building. Even indoors, in a place flooded with a light, attended all hours of the day by a receptionist, Hangyul can’t shake his paranoia. The fear is palpable, so acute he can almost taste it. It’s pungent, like the chloroform he’d been knocked out with.
Nervounessness surrounds the three like a staticy cloud, and it only begins to disperse. As the adrenaline begins to leave his body, exhaustion begins dragging Hangyul down. He crumbles onto Wooseok’s floor. A few concerned utterances echo into his ears, but he can hardly hear them. The last thing he remembers is just barely hearing Wooseok on the phone with emergency services. Then, everything melts into a hazy nothingness. Nothing but a cloud of static, a vacant channel on an old TV.
“-and that is when I really started to feel concerned,” Yohan’s voice drifts into Hangyul’s ear.
Gyul flinches, blinking rapidly as light re-enters his vision. He coughs, and the force of it awakens a soreness inside his ribcage he wasn’t prior aware of. Slowly, he starts to take in his surroundings, starting with Kim Yohan sitting in a chair next to him.
“...and then he started sucking on Hangyul’s toes- that was the first time Gyul got his toes sucked, by the way. So, anyway, I- wait, are you even writing this down?” Yohan gasps, offended.
The woman sitting across from them raises her brows incredulously at them. Hangyul squints at the nameplate atop her desk: Officer Moon Byulyi.
“May I ask how your friend getting his toes sucked is relevant to this incident?” Officer Moon asks dryly. Hangyul isn’t sure what time it is, but the woman’s manner tells him it’s too fucking early in the morning to be dealing with Yohan’s bullshit. He can’t deny that he relates.
Bit by bit, the pieces of their night come together. Hangyul only remembers it in brief spells. He’d been in and out of consciousness for the past… However many hours. Wooseok called the police, he thinks. He vaguely recalls seeing a fire truck with alarms blaring pass them on their way to the station. Some EMTs checked them, he thinks. At least, it seems the most logical explanation for the bandages and ice packs they’ve got. Hangyul squints at Yohan’s lip - are those stitches? Wooseok is conspicuously absent in the present.
“Wh- how it’s relevant? I’m helping you build a profile!” Yohan throws his hands up. In spite of the ordeal, he remains very much himself. The sight is actually immensely comforting. Hangyul almost smiles. “This man clearly exhibits paraphelia which is a massive sign pointing toward serial killer!”
Officer Moon’s face doesn’t budge as she delivers her response ramrod straight, “Mr. Kim, I apologize if the last three times I told you I was unclear. But, to be clear: I am not a detective investigating a serial killer. This isn’t even a homicide case. We are getting your statements in regards to the fire you reported.”
“Yohan, where’s Woo?” Gyul murmurs. "And my phone?"
Yohan responds, “They, uh, never recovered your phone... Wooseok, though? He’s getting us coffee.”
“Coffee? Um,” Hangyul finally decides to speak up, “Officer, what time is it?”
“Huh? The time?” Officer Moon pulls her sleeve back and glances at her watch. “Just past seven, actually.”
“Um… Have we-” Gyul turns to Yohan, “Have we been here long?”
“Yes,” Yohan sighs.
The policewoman elaborates, “Fridays are kind of a busy night for us given that we handle things in the campus area. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. That’s just how it is.”
“Right, of course,” Hangyul nods. “U-Um, what- what’s the condition of the place?” His stomach knots. What if they find fingerprints and suspect them? Gyul doesn’t even know what Wooseok told them. Did he tell the truth? Part of the truth? Hangyul’s small consolation is knowing that while many compulsive liars exist, Kim Yohan is a compulsive truther. There’s no way he left out any details in recounting the story.
“The condition?” The officer narrows her eyes. Shit, did that question sounds arosisty? Hangyul agonizes momentarily.
“Is- is everyone okay?” Hangyul tacks on.
Officer Moon shakes her head, “I’m not at the liberty of divulging their information… Too bad about their place, though. You saw that for yourselves”
“Th-Their place?” Hangyul presses.
“The squad’s still down there putting out the last of the embers, I think.”
“Wh- They’re what? But it’s- How many hours has it been?!”
“Old building full of nooks and crannies, plus metals and booze? Makes for a pretty caustic combination. I imagine the fumes can also cause a lot of smoke induced hallucinations,” Her eyes shift deliberately to Yohan. “Not all materials can be put out simply with water. I’m afraid Mariposa’s probably gonna be put out.”
“Wait, really?” “Oh thank god.” Gyul and Yohan mutter at the same time.
Officer Moon gazes pointedly toward the too-happy Yohan.
“I- I’m sorry I just… Hated their tacos so much,” Yohan shrugs. “I’m sorry that is so, so insensitive of me.”
The policewoman chuckles, “Don’t worry, you’re not high on the list of suspects.”
“Oh,” Yohan visibly relaxes. “Wait, if we’re not, then… Who is?”
“You’re not entitled to that information, but you’re a bunch of college kids, right? Think about it. What motive would there be to set a taco place on fire?”
The first thing that comes into Hangyul’s mind is insurance fraud. But things like intentionally set fires are a fairly common method to collect, right? Surely agents would be pretty savvy in detecting falsification or purposefully ignited fires (assuming they’re not being bribed or threatened). Then, Hangyul realizes there is another reason someone would burn everything they have, everything they love - to cover up their tracks.
Even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.
Hangyul wakes up tangled in blankets with sweat matting his hair to his face. He grimaces as a single, treacherous strip of light manages to wiggle into his room through the tiny gap between his curtains.
“Are you still watching?” The words on his TV almost taunt him. Sure, he’d dozed off, but yes he’s still watching. And no he will not stop watching every episode of every wholesome baking show he can get his hands on until there are none left. None.
Hangyul queues up the next episode and rolls off his bed for some sustenance. Though his appetite has been abysmal, he knows if he doesn’t eat something soon his stomach lining will just eat itself. Gyul glances at the contents of his fridge curiously. Blackberries, raspberries, bell peppers, hummus, tofu, arugala, eggs… He opts to go with sliced bell peppers and hummus. The peppers are a propriety, really. He’s fairly certain he could just shovel the chickpea blend into his mouth directly, but even in his desicated post-breakup state he would never stoop that low.
It’s a weird way to put it. Disingenuous, really. It does nothing to lend appropriate gravity to the reality of what transpired on that day. It’s been close to four weeks - a month, wow - but the wound still feels fresh. Hangyul’s withdrawn himself. He knows that. And he knows he shouldn’t. But he’s just… Exhausted all the time. Exhausted and ashamed. Talking to people runs the risk of being asked questions. Questions like “what happened” or “why did you break up”. Sometimes, it’ll even draw out unsolicited statements like “oh, you seemed so good together” or “I never liked him anyway”. All of these are, of course, unsolicited. And while Gyul’s true friends are privy to the reality of the situation, he still can’t fully face them. Not yet.
That being said, post-breakup life isn’t all bad stuff.
Hangyul’s officially vegetarian. He’s not regretted it the tiniest bit since converting. It’s not that he rides a massive ethical, moral high horse. In truth, more than anything it’s just that meat reminds him of That Thing He Really Wants To Not Be Reminded Of. Part of him even has the paranoia that what he’s eating isn’t what he thinks it is - and that terrifies him.
The two owners of Mariposa disappeared with the last cloud of smoke billowing out of their building. Everything was destroyed, the news said. Everyone’s baffled, the news said. As suspiciously perfect as the apparent purging of literally everything is, nothing about insurance fraud came up. Did they really get away with it? With everything ?
It’s just baffling to think that just like that, they’re gone. Hangyul still doesn’t quite believe it. Sometimes he sees Seungyoun in the distance. It might be across the street or in the student union. But then Gyul will blink or cross the street and he’s gone.
A knock on the door pulls him out of his reverie. Hangyul’s brows knot. He’s heard nothing of the two owners of Mariposa since it damn near took the entire building in flames. Something on the news mentioned that someone left a goodbye message on the metal frame of the door. “Thanks for all the good times, but we’re closing for good” - or something like that. Nothing more. Nothing telling Hangyul if either of the two fuckers are live. Nothing telling him that it’s completely out of the realm of possibility for one of them to be knocking on his door right now.
Gyul swallows down the knot of dread lodged in his throat and hesitantly approaches his door. It’s amazing how an event like that can change a person. He used to feel so secure, so casual about everything. Now he can’t stop checking over his shoulder, checking through the peephole of the door, listening for voices, thinking twice, thrice - even four times - before going out at night.
Paranoia aside, he has to live. So Hangyul does just that, spying two hazy figures through the dirty peephole of his apartment door. He undoes the sliding lock and the deadbolt, inviting utter chaos into his studio.
“Yo!” “You’re alive!” “Thank god-” “Gyul do you have room for this six pack in the fridge?” “It’s cleaner than I expected.”
Wooseok and Yohan invade in a storm of innappropriate but undeniably concerned, caring comments.
“I’m gonna pop the popcorn!” “They came out with that new fantasy series that looks pretty cool.” “I’m just gonna put it in the fridge.”
Hangyul is content to let it happen. He’s dragged onto his bed and an episode of the new series Woo’d been ranting about gets played. It’s ten degrees hotter in between the two. They’re all a tight fit for his modest double bed, and Yohan eats loudly.
Still, Gyul wouldn’t give any of this up for the world. He cuddles up between them contently and relishes in their presence. Between episodes, Wooseok runs off to get more beer, and Yohan rests his chin on Hangyul’s shoulder.
Batting his eyelashes, Yohan presses gently, “So, how’ve you been?”
Hangyul’s brows furrow, “I-I’m fine.” That statement gets shot down with a quick look. “Okay, well, I’m okay. I mean. I’m managing. I’m- I’m fine really. I mean- how are you?”
“Listen, my bruises healed and, yeah, I’m freaked out. But that doesn’t compare to what you’ve been through. I mean I- I didn’t have the same investment.”
“It’s fine, Yohan, really-”
“No it’s not fine! Your boyfriend tied you down and tried to kill you so he could serve you to college students at his restaurant! That’s not fine!”
“It’s not fine, but it happened, okay? So I- I’ve just gotta move on.” Yohan responds with one of his adorable, prying pouts. Usually, they don’t phase Hangyul, but he’s more emotionally comprimised than normal. Gyul crumbles, relenting. In a voice so quiet even he can barely hear it, he admits, “You know what the worst part is? Sometimes I… Sometimes I miss him. Or- I- I miss it. God that is so fucked up-”
“That’s okay,” Yohan comforts him, squeezing him close. “You were really head over heels for this guy, and it seems like you had some good times.”
“Yeah, but- I don’t know. What if there were signs and I just chose to ignore them? Like- The whole freezer thing! What if… What if I could’ve avoided everything? All of that hassle? I mean- would- would he still be here if I hadn’t-”
“Hey! You can’t think like that. What’s done is done, like you said. But I think it’s normal to miss the good times and even romanticize the person you were with.”
“Yeah, I guess I… I got so used to the attention. The cute back and forth. The butterflies in my stomach. Hell, even the weird sex. I just- I don’t know anymore,” Hangyul shakes his head. “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way about anyone again. I don’t know if I’ll trust anyone.”
“You will,” Yohan replies frankly. “They say time heals all wounds.” The almost sagely air with which the other speaks shocks Hangyul. He’s almost alarmed for a second. But then Yohan speaks again. With a cheeky grin, he adds:
“If you ever feel nostalgic, I could always suck your toes,” He laughs. Hangyul scoffs, reaching for the nearest pillowy projectile he can reach and throws it straight at Yohan’s head.
Chapter 11: Epilogue
“What’s up Joh-fam! Hey guys, welcome to another episode of JCC - Johnny’s Communication Center. Today, me and the boys are on a mission to try the new dim sum place called Butterfly House Chinese,” Johnny waves to the camera before swinging around to show his posse putzing about in the background. “So why don’t our special guests introduce themselves?”
Johnny turns the camera and skips up to one of his closest friends, Mark, “Here we have Mark Lee-”
“Dude,” Mark titters, “I thought you asked us to introduce ourselves. You kinda did it for me.”
“I- I did a preamble, okay?”
“Ugh- Shut up, we’ll edit it out,” Johnny laughs, putting down the camera and turning off the recording.
Johnny Seo, full-time student and part-time Youtuber, fancies himself fairly seasoned. He’s gotten to the point of monetizing. Though he’s no hotshot, he still likes quality in his production. Adding his friends into the mix is always a fun way to film, but sometimes they’re not quite on board.
“Okay,” Johnny lifts his camera, “We’re gonna do this again. And- Action!” He points the lens at Mark while a few of the others laugh. “So, tell me a little about yourself,” He says in a dramatically flirty tone.
“Wh- Dude, you know me- the joh-fam knows me. I’ve been on this channel like twenty times-”
“Shut up! Just introduce yourself! There could be first-timers!”
“Alright, well… Hi. I’m Mark and-”
Johnny immediately turns the camera away, shoving it into another friend’s face, “Anyway. Introduce yourself!”
Jaehyun, a friend Johnny’s known since high school, waves, “Hi.”
“Wh- What’s your name?”
“Jaehyun,” The handsome guy smirks, stuffing his hands into his hoodie pocket.
“Wow. Amazing!” Johnny beams at the camera. “Isn’t he beautiful? Then we have the man voted best ponytail on campus 2019-”
“Yuta!” Their favorite Japanese exchange student chimes in with a grin.
“Finally, our resident Dim Sum Expert, Ten!”
The waify dance major gives the camera a wink.
“So,” Johnny continues narrating, “This place Butterfly House literally popped up, like, over night. It’s been super crazy busy ever since. While during normal hours they serve up kinda Chinese comfort food, lunch time is the real treat: dim sum!”
“Dim sum!” “Yeah, buddy!” “Dim sum-sum-sum!” The hype men back Johnny up admirably.
The vlogger chuckles and goes on with his spiel, “As you can see, the line’s out the door-” He switches the camera around to catch view of the queue going out the door and down the block. “-but! Being dim sum, turnover’s fast, so we’ll get a table in no time.”
Johnny turns the camera off for the interim of their time in line. He and the others putz around as the queue moves up. Butterfly House really did become an overnight sensation. The place occupies a corner across from campus that’s known as cursed. Restaurants usually don’t last long in the spot, but it never stops people from trying to cash in on the fickle college crowd. It makes for a constant supply of suckers, many of whom haven’t been around long enough to know any good spots beyond the main thoroughfare.
When they finally make it indoors, Johnny fires his camera back up and gets nice panoramic shots of the place. It’s busy, round tables chock full of chattering people. The restaurant’s interior is pleasant. It’s not over the top, tryhard hipster but it’s definitely more chic than the typical family run Chinese joint. Everything is bright and appropriate. Employees scurry between tables with carts dropping off curried fish, dumplings and other dim sum fare.
“Follow me,” The hostess says, ushering the group to a fairly big round table. Without prompting, they’re served water and tea.
“So,” Johnny shows the camera around. A few of his friends wave as they start eyeing the carts coming by. “This is dim sum in all its glory. Here we’ve got some bao- oh those look good. Yo, Mark, grab the bao! Oh- Over there… That looks like a fish dish!”
He zooms in on different carts, happily commentating all the while. The first thing they pull is char siu bao. Johnny zooms in on Ten’s face, eager with anticipation regarding their resident “expert” opinion. Ten’s brows knit as if in deep thought for a moment. He chews on the barbecue pork bun contemplatively until finally brightening to flash a thumbs up.
“Pass the chicken’s feet-” “The what?!” “Yuta can you grab that- it’s lo mai mai-” “Yum.” “Does this one taste weird to anyone?” “Chicken’s feet are the shit, dude.” “Who wants another thing of egg rolls?”
Happy chaos erupts across the table as everyone gives their assessments. Johnny grins wide, already formulating the video’s structure in his head. Spinning it as a muk bang situation might bring in new viewers, he muses as he zooms in on Ten slurping broth.
“Excuse me,” A voice crops up behind Johnny. The vlogger startles, jumping and turning to get a look at who had potentially fucked with his footage. A handsome man in a dark chef’s jacket stands beside the table. His sleeves are rolled up, revealing various tattoos. His dark hair is swept into a neat style, and his genial smile is handsome. Johnny raises his eyebrows with interest. “Pardon my interruption, but I was wondering if you guys would like sponge cake.”
He takes the lid off of a steam basket revealing a batch of beautiful, yellow sponge cakes. The sweet smell drifts into Johnny’s nose and makes his mouth water. He reaches for his tally sheet.
“Oh, no, this is on the house,” The man - a chef, presumably - says. “This is a bit of an experiment.” He flashes a winning smile. The guy isn’t Johnny’s type, but even he feels a bit taken aback at his handsomeness.
“O-Oh,” Johnny responds, speaking for the table. “Well, sure, we’d love to. U-Um, thank you so much. Can I-” He holds up his camera, and for a second the chef’s genial expression falters.
“You’re free to film the place, but, please, blur my face!” He asserts.
“Oh, no problem. I can edit it out!” Johnny assures the man as he sets their cakes down. The table of college students dive in on the cakes like sharks. “So, you’re like a chef here?” He asks. The eyes the camera dubiously. “Oh- It’s- It’s not on,” Johnny sets the camera in his lap and throws his hands up. “I’m just curious, I promise.”
The chef’s shoulders relax, and he nods again, “Yes. Executive chef and co-owner, actually. I just like to see how everything’s going out front.”
“Oh- Oh my god- wow, um-!” Johnny laughs awkwardly. He didn’t expect the chef to be walking around front of house. Doesn’t he have a kitchen to run? Not that he’s judging or anything. Clearly, the satisfied customers indicate that whatever’s going on back there is good. “Well, so far we’ve really enjoyed your food, Chef…” He squints at the name embroidered on the man’s jacket. Johnny likes to use names when he can - it’s a nice gesture of goodwill and respect.
“Seungyoun,” The chef clarifies. With a smile he introduces himself,”Chef Cho Seungyoun.”