It wasn't that he hated black coffee. He usually drank coffee for the warmth and not for the flavour, so it wasn't the worst. It was just that he didn't like the lack of sugar.
Or cream. or milk.
He just preferred coffee that wasn't kissed by the gods of death, that was all.
"That's a double shot," his girlfriend pointed out as they stood in front of the vending machine. It was odd, calling Cha Eun Jae his girlfriend. Not a bad kind of odd, because nothing about them so far that had that. Odd in a giddily good sort of way. The way he had felt when he had first cut open a cadaver to experiment his surgical skills.
That last thought made him take a quick sip of his drink in mild mortification. His dismal romantic comparison skills made him glad for the umpteenth time that his girlfriend was a doctor too. He suspected that not many would find being compared to a cadaver sentimental or nice.
The taste of the terrible mix hit his taste buds like a freight train and he had to use every last bit of self control to not cringe. She had warned him that it would be extreme and here they were.
Still, he couldn't exactly tell her that he hated it. It would only bring up things he would rather keep hidden.
They had been through a lot of things since they had come to Doldam and had learnt to be honest with each other, something that still made him smile in the dark at night. He liked being honest with Eun Jae, loved being able to tell her parts of his mind he considered too dark to let out in the open. She had always been lighter in soul compared to him and he had worried that he would drag her into his misery in the past. But that had been his own fear speaking and she had proven herself stronger than anybody had expected, willing to understand his hidden sides.
Still, there were always bundles of harmless truths that could be hidden, weren't there? It wouldn't exactly be bad if she didn't know this one small fact.
"Nice?" Eun Jae glanced at him as she sipped at her coffee and he kept up his poker face as he nodded. It would be fine, he figured. Any minute now she would leave and he would make an excuse to stay back. He could add some sugar and cream then. All he had to do was hold out for another minute.
It turned out that Thursday was his unlucky day though just as Friday was to Doldam. Eun Jae showed no sign of leaving, calmly sipping at her coffee and offering him a slight smile whenever he looked at her.
The taste of the bitter concoction slowly peeled away his remaining taste buds and Woo Jin absently wondered if he could survive without tasting anything after this. Could he manage if he could only taste this coffee from now onward? He'd eat ramen and taste this. Sip at the sweetest tea and feel this bitterness.
He'd even kiss Eun Jae and only taste this, he realised with a saddening sense of doom.
"Hey, I have a question," Eun Jae drained her cup and tossed the empty trash into the nearby bin before facing him.
"Are you going to keep this up for the rest of our lives?"
Woo Jin paused with the cup to his lips and looked over at the calm gaze Eun Jae was aiming at him. When he didn't react immediately, she glanced at his cup pointedly before looking back at him, her eyes only momentarily lingering on his lips.
He smacked his lips as he pulled the cup away and cleared his throat lightly.
"What?" he asked as he pretended that his heart hadn't skipped a beat at her casually addressing the rest of their lives together, "Keep what up?"
"Torturing yourself," she nodded at his coffee and tilted her head to the side as she observed his face with a slowly blooming grin, "I mean, I don't mind you testing your limits, your body your choice and all. But it's starting to look genuinely painful and I was wondering if this was going to continue for long. It was fine in college when you would slip my extra sugar into your cup. It was even fine in the beginning here when you'd sneak in cream from the snack counter in the lounge. I'm just not sure if you're gonna find it that easy now."
"I like black coffee," he tried weakly under her knowing look but it only served to make her smile turn into a repressed smirk.
"Right. Coffee as dark as your soul or something," she brushed her hands over the tissue from the box nearby and tossed it into the trash as well before blinking innocently at him, "Isn't that what I said back in college? Or was it you?"
Woo Jin clearly remembered what she had said and it took him a second to digest that she remembered it too. It had been a passing comment, a casual observation when she had first bought him a cup of coffee while they practiced her surgical skills together. College in general was a landmine of exhaustion and coffee was a lifesaver everybody thrived on. It would have replaced blood in IV bags if the students had gotten their way during exam season. They had all been hopped up maniacs trying to survive the mad rush.
Well, everyone who actually liked coffee. People like Cha Eun Jae. It was just an unfortunate occurrence that people who didn't like coffee fell for people who did. Woo Jin hadn't been a romantic fool but he definitely wasn't going to refuse a cup of coffee from the girl he liked and was unsuccessfully harbouring a secret crush on. When he had tried to play it cool and asked her to get whatever she wanted, she had guessed that he liked black coffee since he made a show of avoiding sweeter things in general.
He could have corrected her the first day. Or the second day. Or even not lied after coming to Doldam all these years later. He could have tried to act like a normal human being but clearly it hadn't struck him before.
"How long have you known?" he asked as he dropped the act of actually enjoying the drink from hell, failing to keep up the indignation at the face of her obvious amusement.
"You looked like you had been force fed liquid death the first time you had this," she informed him with a snort as she stopped trying to keep her grin in check, "I kept waiting for you to ask for a different drink but you kept drinking and I thought I was imagining things. Then I thought you were just putting on a macho show. And then after you got me my first coffee here, I realised that you were just a really smart fool."
"I have no clue why people drink coffee this way," he shook his head as he eyed his drink with true loathing and Eun Jae shook her head as she snatched the cup from his hand, "You could have told me before that you knew."
"And deprived myself of you being a cute dork? Why would I do that?" Eun Jae asked as she added two spoons on sugar and a dash of cream, effortlessly making it the way Woo Jin actually liked, "It was my own guilt-free pleasure, thank you very much."
"I can't believe people think you're innocent when you're clearly evil," he pointed out but his voice came out fond and her eyes had a twinkle as she handed him back his cup, "Does your new fan in the VIP ward know you're like this? He might finally change his mind of you being his type."
Eun Jae wrinkled her nose and made a face as they began walking together, her hand casually brushing against his.
"I don't know how much more obvious I can be that I'm not interested in him, but that kid, I swear," she rolled her eyes and he hid his smile in his cup as he finally relished his coffee, "He's your patient now, isn't he? Can you talk to him?"
"I'm pretty sure you'll find a way to handle him without his surgeon telling him that his crush is his surgeon's girlfriend," he replied and chased his lips after his cup when she dragged it to herself, "Hey, I was drinking that!"
"I'm collecting my labour fee. I made you this coffee and you paid the vending machine," she declared as she took a quick sip from his coffee before letting him have it back with a satisfied look, "Not bad at all."
"You could have gotten yourself another cup, I had been drinking that," he said as he wiped at her chin to catch a drop that had escaped. She shot him a deadpanned look and wiped at her lips.
"You're icky about me drinking from your cup? What, afraid that we'd end up swapping saliva?" she asked and brushed her knuckles against his, "It's not like we haven't done that before."
Woo Jin wasn't shy by any sorts but there was something about the nonchalant way his girlfriend said that and he tried hard to control his face but Eun Jae's eyes caught on with a gleeful look.
"I can't believe this is what it takes to get you to blush," she laughed and he gulped the rest of his coffee in one go, narrowly escaping choking, "Alright, alright, I won't point out how red your cheeks are getting, calm down."
"You're a menace," he informed her gently and she winked at him as they finally turned around the hallway towards the ER, "How is that still a secret to people we work with?"
"Don't know, maybe because they're not people who love me like you!" she quipped as she waved him a quick goodbye before making her way into the ER, a chuckle in her wake. Woo Jin took a second to smile to himself before getting his face under control as Dr. Jang came to ask him about a case.
He wasn't sure everybody needed to know his secret thoughts. He'd keep those only for the one who mattered.