Hate Me, Date Me
Here’s the thing. Minho is very proud about the fact that he’s Korean. He was born and raised in Gimpo, eats kimchi like there’s no tomorrow, has several pictures on top of their mantelpiece back home where he’s posing for his mother and her camera in a hanbok – he’s Korean, alright. He thinks in Korean, speaks easiest in Korean, breathes in Korean. He exists in Korean.
He just happens to do all of that in England.
Whatever. He liked the sound of the Computer Science course here better, so it made sense to haul his arse halfway across the world for a degree from a prestigious university. Even if the size of the tuition fee kinda made him want to cry – but that’s not important. What’s important is that Minho might be studying in England, but he’s still Korean which means that he is a very proud member of the Korean Society at the local Student Union. He’s even the Cultural Officer on their committee – and not just because it looks bloody well amazing on his CV.
(Oops, there’s the British influence bleeding into his speech. Kindly ignore it for the moment, please.)
As a member of the society’s committee, Freshers’ Week (and the week that follows) is a pretty big deal for him. A sea of new students flood the campus, wide-eyed and naïve, and there Minho is, ready to snap them up like a shark with a school of fish. Teeth bared in a smile, his nose sniffing out even the slightest interest or weakness for people preaching their causes on the side of the pavement.
Truth be told, Minho loves Freshers’ Week for this very reason. All of the societies spill onto the street outside the Student Union to try and reel some students in, bringing out all sorts of tricks. There’s a healthy undercurrent of competition and also some camaraderie since they’re all in the same position here. Freshers’ Week is fun.
That being said, Minho fucking hates the International Society.
Well. He mostly hates their Inclusions Officer, Bang Chan, to be more specific. Or Chris Bang as he likes to call himself, but Minho doesn’t care about what Bang Chan likes so he refuses to do the same. All he knows is that he hates him and will continue to do so for the rest of their university career.
“Nice to see you again, Minho,” the devil in question says with an easy smile, coming right up to the other side of K Soc’s booth. His hair is back to black this semester and the Australian twang to his words is much stronger after three months in Sydney. “It’s been a while.”
Minho scowls. “Not long enough.”
His reply only has Chan’s smile turn more amused. Minho’s scowl deepens in response. God, Chan is so fucking annoying. He’s impossible to actually rile up no matter what Minho does. Even during that one semester where Minho insisted on answering him in Korean whenever Chan spoke to him in English, all he did was find it funny.
“Ah, that’s the kind of sunshine I was missing in Sydney,” he says. “I should’ve figured I’d find it here instead.”
“Choke on shit, Chan,” he snaps.
He laughs. “Stay classy, Minho.”
His eyes drop to the display of Korean treats that Minho and his fellow committee members, Changbin and Jisung, have carefully laid out on the table. Well, Changbin and Minho carefully laid it out; Jisung kind of just dumped them out of the box like it was sand in a bucket. Then he stole a packet of Honey Butter Chips and ran off when Minho tried to snatch them back. Come to think of it, he still hasn’t returned since.
“Mind if I steal a Pepero?” Chan asks, his fingers hovering over a packet.
Minho clamps down on his wrist before he can grab it. “Sign up first and it’s all yours,” he says sweetly.
“Hmm, no can do, I’m afraid. I have to stay loyal to International Soc.”
“You’re Korean,” Minho points out, his lips pinched in a frown.
“And I was born and raised in Sydney,” Chan says, his mouth quirking upwards with his usual smile again. His dimples, infuriatingly deep, sink into the surface of his cheeks. “And I study in England. Sounds pretty international to me.”
Minho rolls his eyes. “Whatever, Mr. Worldwide. No sign-up, no Pepero.”
“You’re killing me, Smalls.”
Despite his words, Chan only lets out another laugh and then twists his wrist, still in Minho’s loose hold. He pulls his arm back just enough to be able to hold Minho’s hand and then squeezes their palms together. For a second, Minho can only look at their clasped hands, blinking in confusion, and then he realises what’s happening. He jerks away, his cheeks flushing pink.
If Chan notices, he doesn’t say anything. Neither does Changbin for that matter, but that might be because he’s busy scrolling through his Twitter feed instead of trying to entice any of the passersby into signing up to their society. God, Minho really is hard-carrying this society to the top.
“Bet you guys can’t get more sign-ups than us,” Chan challenges all of a sudden.
He’s just saying it to annoy Minho. He knows this, just like he knows that K Soc will never get as many sign-ups as International Soc given… well, given the fact that not many Koreans attend university here. Sure, they also get a few Chinese and Japanese students who just want any bit of familiarity they can find, but International Soc boasts people from all sorts of countries. Their sign-up sheets will easily wipe the floor with K Soc.
Here’s another fact about Minho: he’s not just proud of the fact that he’s Korean. He’s just proud in general.
Which is why, even though he knows Chan is right, he flares his nostrils and hisses, “I wouldn’t be too sure about that if I were you.”
“Oh? Would you bet on it?”
“Depends on what you wanna bet.”
Literally why is he talking. This is so fucking stupid, he knows he’s never going to win. But there’s something about speaking to Bang Chan that just gets Minho’s heart pumping, the blood rushing around his body. His tongue is loose, spouting all sorts of stuff before he can control it.
“How about… whoever wins gets to ask the loser to do whatever they want?” Chan proposes. He plants his hands on the table of the booth and leans forward, the muscles in his bare arms tensing with the movement. Minho absolutely does not notice this in the slightest. “Just the one thing as long as it’s legal.”
If he were a smarter person, Minho would tell him to shut the fuck up and get out of here. He would brush off the tease and busy himself with getting on with what he was stationed out here to do. But Chan’s eyes are boring into his and he’s still leaning forward, his cologne filtering into Minho’s open mouth, and even Changbin has put his phone down to stare at them curiously, wanting to see how things will turn out.
“Fine by me,” Minho says. “Just don’t come crying to me when you lose.”
Chan laughs and he’s so close that the force of it hits Minho right in the face.
“I’ll try not to,” he promises. He drops an eye into a wink and God, Minho can’t fucking stand him. “See you in a few hours.”
“This is never going to work,” Changbin sighs, despondently sucking on the straw of his banana milk. An hour has passed and they’ve only had one sign-up in that time. Clearly, the lack of results has been getting to him. “There are like three Koreans in this entire city.”
That is so blatantly untrue. Minho can count at least seven he knows by name in this strip of the campus alone! Of course, half of them are part of the International Soc too and on their committee no less… Petty and unable to reel it in, he fires off a vicious glare to where the society has set up.
Then he realises he recognises the blue-haired menace perched on top of their booth, blowing bubbles with his chewing gum.
“That little traitor,” he hisses under his breath.
He barks out an order for Changbin to man the stall while he goes off for a couple of minutes to which the Music student mumbles something about how no one is going to come over anyways so it doesn’t really matter what he does. Needless to say, Minho doesn’t appreciate hearing such a negative sentiment, thank you very much. Ignoring Changbin’s words, he storms over to International Soc’s booth with a face like thunder. He likes to think it’s quite a fearsome sight, but when Jisung spots him, all he does is grin and wave.
“Alright, hyung?” he says.
Minho comes to a stop a mere metre away from him and folds his arms across his chest like a disappointed mother. He taps his foot pointedly. “Having fun here, are you?”
Jisung blows another bubble and pops it with a smack of his lips. “Yup.”
“Get back to the stall, idiot,” he says witheringly. “We have a job to do.”
“Oh yeah, Chris told us about your bet,” says Lee Felix, International Soc’s newly appointed Social Media Officer for this academic year. His left hand fiddles with the lid of a container full of homemade brownies; Minho eyes them with considerable envy. God knows he’s missed Felix’s brownies over the summer holidays. Felix’s other arm is angled awkwardly so that his right hand can rest upon one of Jisung’s. “You don’t honestly think you’re going to win, do you?”
Now on an ordinary day, Minho really likes Felix. He adores him, even. They both go to Dance Soc meetings together and often end up in the same clubs on nights out so they’ve gotten to know each other well over the past year. Felix has the same helplessly endearing demeanour as a new-born kitten. In other words, he’s impossible to dislike.
Today, however? Minho’s usual affection for him plummets into the Underworld.
“I would if my committee members would come and do their job instead of wandering off to flirt with their friends,” he says, sending Jisung a glare.
Jisung doesn’t even look ashamed. “What can I say? I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
“Get back to the booth.”
He hops off the table, his combat boots slamming against the tarmac and turns around to wink at Felix as he walks away in what he probably believes is a suave manner. Unfortunately, his heel chooses that moment to catch on the edge of a flagstone. Jisung flails back, a strangled yelp in his throat, and causes Felix’s fond smile to explode into a laugh. Minho hides a grin of his own.
“I meant to do that,” Jisung says, his cheeks red.
“Cute,” Felix calls out.
Minho shakes his head in exasperation. Words cannot describe how utterly ridiculous Han Jisung is. He’s just so tragic. It’s probably why Minho is such good friends with him. There’s no way he can just walk away from such class entertainment.
Jisung’s embarrassment notwithstanding, Minho’s mission to retrieve him has been a success so he turns to also return to their booth, only to walk right into Chan. If anyone asks, he absolutely does not let out an embarrassing noise at the collision, though the smirk on Chan’s face when he steadies Minho tells him that he’ll claim otherwise. His hands are warm on Minho’s upper arms.
“You alright there?”
Minho pulls on a familiar scowl. “What’s it to you?”
As usual, Chan is not put off by the display of aggression. He tips his head to the side, a chuckle slipping out from between his lips. “Fancy seeing you over on our side, Minho. You’re not trying to steal trade secrets, are you?”
“Yeah, right,” he scoffs. “I only came here to get Jisung.”
“Are you sure you didn’t come to find me instead?”
“The fuck would I do that? The more time I spend away from you, the better.”
Chan raises his eyebrows, the movement conveying his usual amusement. God, he manages to make the simple gesture look so infuriating, it’s sickening.
“Interesting,” he says. “I mean, I don’t really believe you, but it’s still interesting that you’ve denied it.”
Minho bristles. “Well, why the fuck wouldn’t you believe it? I’ve never given the impression that I like being around you, Bang Chan. You know, for someone with such a big head, you’d think there’d be a brain in there to match it in size.”
“And for someone who claims to dislike me, you’d think you wouldn’t be clinging onto my waist so tightly.” Minho freezes, only just registering where his own hands have landed. Chan’s eyes positively sparkle with his smile. “Are your hands comfortable there then?”
He rips them away, his cheeks exploding with red. Chan lets out a loud laugh.
“Cute,” he comments.
Minho narrows his eyes scathingly. “Shut the fuck up.”
The sound of Chan’s laughter follows him all the way back to his booth. He doesn’t dare look back, not wanting to grace Chan or the rest of International Soc – who have no doubt been watching them – with the sight of how flustered he is. As he strides around the table, he catches Jisung and Changbin’s matching grins.
“Not a word,” he warns.
Jisung sidles up to him to throw an arm around his shoulder. “Got a little cosy there, did you hyung? I always knew you and Channie-hyung had something going on.”
“Absolutely nothing is going on, you brat.”
“So why are you so red in the face then?” he challenges. Unfortunately, this just has Minho plunge further into a blush. Jisung notes this with obvious satisfaction. “That’s what I thought.”
“Shut up,” he hisses. He avoids their smug looks in favour of rearranging their leaflets, making sure that each one is the right way up. It’s a very important task, you see, and one he certainly doesn’t trust someone as lackadaisical as Jisung to do properly. “And in any case, can you really talk to me about being cosy with Chan – not that I was doing that. You’re the one sneaking off to hold Felix’s hand.”
“Not the only part of him I’ve held either,” he says with a wicked grin.
Changbin groans. “I did not sign up for this just to listen to Jisung brag about his sex life.”
“No, you did it to eat all of our supplies apparently,” Minho says pointedly, narrowing his eyes at the Orion Choco Pie in Changbin’s hand. “You do know we’re handing them out to people right?”
“Yeah, well, they won’t know what they’re missing out on if it’s already in my stomach.”
“Excellent thinking, Changbin-hyung!” Jisung exclaims, diving in for a choco pie of his own. Minho is in half a mind to wrestle it out of his hand, but he doesn’t know if he has the patience to deal with the whines that are sure to follow if he goes through with that urge. “These taste great. Almost as great as Fe – “
“I was going to say Felix’s brownies.”
“No you weren’t,” Minho and Changbin chorus.
Jisung merely laughs.
“Since when were you and Felix a thing anyways?” Minho can’t help but ask curiously. He stops shuffling through the leaflets, satisfied that the burn of his ears isn’t quite so prominent anymore. “I swear you were with Hyunjin before we left for the summer.”
“I wasn’t with Hyunjin. I was just hooking up with him, that’s all.”
“Exclusively,” he points out.
“It was different,” he insists. “I only slept with Hyunjin because I hated him. But with Felix, I slept with him because I like him.”
“It’s the first day of Freshers’ Week,” Changbin says, baffled. “How the fuck have you already slept with him?”
Jisung waggles his eyebrows. “How detailed do you want me to go?”
“Never mind, I don’t care anymore.”
The three of them break off into collective laughter.
Still chuckling, Minho sweeps his gaze across the street to see if he can spot Jisung’s ex – for lack of a better word – anywhere. Hyunjin usually turns up to student events, lured in by the promise of free food and good vibes. He’s also a familiar face to both International Soc and K Soc, though Minho thinks he can sway Hyunjin into camping out at their booth and their booth alone if he spots him first. All he has to do is slide in a few reminders of how Hyunjin told him that he appreciates how Minho has made him want to explore his Korean roots more and he’ll be putty in Minho’s hands.
Plus Hyunjin is a pretty face. People like those.
As if God is answering his prayers, the crowd parts enough to let him to spot a head of shaggy blonde hair by the Creative Writing Society’s booth, peering at the cupcakes. He blurts out a garbled instruction to the others to man their booth and then hurries over, catching his hand on Hyunjin’s elbow. Entirely too dramatic as per usual, Hyunjin jumps with a shriek that’s far too loud even for Freshers’ Week.
“Are you alright there, Sam?” Elkie Chong asks him, her eyebrows raised.
Hyunjin nods, a hand on his chest. “Minho, you scared me!” he exclaims, turning around to shove lightly at his shoulder. After a moment, he tacks on, “Hyung.”
Minho doesn’t waste time getting into things. “Sorry, Hyunjin-ah, I just need your help at the K Soc booth. I think it’d be good if we had you there to talk about how nice it’s been having a space where you can learn about your cultural background.”
“I don’t know, hyung,” he says, making a face. “I kinda just came here for freebies.”
To demonstrate this, he snatches up a red velvet cupcake and then a couple of sweets from the open Celebrations box for good measure. Elkie pointedly shoves a sign-up sheet and a pen towards him. He smiles sheepishly and scrawls down his name.
“We have a bunch of Korean snacks at our table,” Minho says. “You can have your pick of them. God knows the other two are.”
“Say no more.”
Having Hyunjin around ramps up the interest in their booth by a considerable amount. All he has to do is stand there and smile at the passing students or call out a greeting for them to pause to give him – and by extension, K Soc – an interest. He’s too striking to ignore. Even if the students who pause to talk to him aren’t Korean, interest in the society is still interest and that’s what matters most. At this point, Minho just wants names on his sign-up sheet.
He watches as a pair of girls giggle at Hyunjin. Neither of them look like they have a drop of Asian blood in them, but he doesn’t care if they’re from Mars as long as they make it look like their booth is the place to be.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Jungkook from BTS?” one of them asks.
Hyunjin looks at her, baffled. “No?”
“How the fuck does he look like Jungkook?” Jisung snorts down Minho’s ear. “If he’s Jungkook, then I’m Byun Baekhyun’s long lost twin.”
Minho grimaces. Okay so maybe putting Hyunjin on the front line is also asking to attract attention from weirdos. He turns to Changbin, drawing him away from the TikTok videos he’s been scrolling through.
“Go and save the poor kid before they ask him if his blood is purple,” he sighs.
Changbin locks his phone, his face settling into an expression that isn’t quite as sunny as Minho would like, but he’s already off before he can say anything. Minho figures that it’s probably for the best if it manages to chase the girls off. At least he can redirect them to the K-Pop Society down the road.
“I don’t know what they’re on,” Jisung says as they watch the girls toddle off into the distance. “Hyunjin’s the least Korean Korean person I’ve met in my life.”
Minho digs his elbow into Jisung’s side. “Don’t be mean. He grew up in Vegas and only left it to study at uni over here. You know that embracing his heritage is important to him.”
“I don’t care. His accent pisses me off.”
“That has literally nothing to do with this conversation.”
“What’s the conversation about? Me?”
Dear Lord, Minho is going to lose all of his will to live if he hears that voice one more time. He closes his eyes, his head tilted up as if to ask God himself to bestow him with the strength he needs for this conversation before he opens them to meet Chan’s obnoxious smile. The sight of his dimples has never been so infuriating.
“Why the fuck would I be talking about you?” Minho demands.
“I dunno. Maybe you’re madly in love with me.”
“I wouldn’t get so ahead of myself if I were you,” he says coldly.
Jisung pops a fresh chewing gum into his mouth and chews it in as off-putting a manner as he can, his lips smacking together.
“I would!” he says cheerily. When Minho kicks him in the ankle, he crumples with a groan. From the ground, he wheezes, “It doesn’t matter how much you injure me, it doesn’t change the truth.”
Chan laughs. “Well, would you look at that.”
Minho doesn’t want to look at anything. Not at Jisung’s blatant lies or Chan’s stupidly curly hair or his damn fucking biceps either – God, would it be so hard for him to wear a proper top for fuck’s sake? He doesn’t want to look at anything that isn’t a full sign-up sheet for K Soc. He harrumphs in a manner much like his halmeoni and then busies himself with smoothing down the Korean flag they’ve laid out on top of their table.
“Go away,” he says. “I don’t even know why you’re here.”
“To see that charming smile of yours, of course.”
Minho sends him a withering glance. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re annoying as fuck?”
“I think you’ve got it covered for them.”
“Well clearly I’ve been slacking since it doesn’t seem to have gotten through to you.”
Chan plants his hands on the flag Minho is smoothing out and leans forward, intent in his dark eyes. Minho freezes, unable to do anything but look back at him and wait for Chan’s next move. He stops when he’s close enough that he doesn’t need to do much more than whisper for Minho to catch his words.
“Maybe,” he suggests in a low murmur. “Maybe you just haven’t gotten close enough for me to hear what you’re saying.”
His eyes flicker down to Minho’s lips.
Minho’s heart absolutely does not skip a beat. It doesn’t. Just like he doesn’t move away, too caught up in this fragment of a moment. Chan’s breath misting across his face, the strands of his hair close enough to touch.
Then Jisung’s voice splits through them like a caterwauling klaxon. “Do you guys need anything there? Some snacks? A condom? A room for you to continue this in?”
Breaking out of his spell, Minho jerks back. He feels a fresh wave of embarrassment flood through him, the evidence burning in his cheeks, and clears his throat. Making sure to avoid everyone’s eyes, he smooths out the rest of the flag and starts to organise the snacks into something less catastrophic to look at.
“I just came to see how you guys are holding up,” he hears Chan say. He directs his next words to Minho, but the Computer Science student still doesn’t look up to receive them. “That was a smart move by the way. Using Hyunjin to attract more people to the booth. I’m impressed.”
“He wanted to help,” Minho says.
Hyunjin snickers, coming over to stand by his side. “I was bribed with the snacks and you know it.”
“We have snacks too,” Chan says.
That has Minho’s head snap up. He glares hotly at Chan and then at Hyunjin. “Don’t you dare even think about it.”
Hyunjin throws up his hands in surrender. “Jesus Christ, I won’t think at all if it gets you to stop looking like you’re going to murder me.”
“How is that any different from usual?” Jisung can’t help but chime in.
“Shut the fuck up, Peter Han. Why don't you piss off back to Neverland?”
“Stop calling me Peter. You know that’s not my name, dipshit.”
“That’s what you introduce yourself as,” Hyunjin retorts. “I’m just going by what you said you want to be called.”
“Yeah, by white people, idiot,” Jisung shoots back. “Have you looked in the mirror recently?”
Minho pinches his nose in frustration. “Both of you, shut up. You’re going to scare away the freshers.”
“Well if that’s the case then I say they should carry on,” Chan says brightly.
Minho’s glare returns to him. If looks could kill, he’d have reduced Chan to nothing but ash long ago. It’s only for this reason that Minho wasn’t blessed with such powers, he knows it.
“I will bite you,” he promises through gritted teeth.
Chan shrugs, grinning that familiar lopsided smile of his. “I’m cool with that.”
He clenches his jaw so hard, he’s surprised he doesn’t crack it in half.
As the hours slip by, they see more interested faces. It’s past the lunch hour now which means that hoards of freshers have descended upon the Student Union with no stirrings of hunger enticing them away. Traffic flow to the booth increases and so do the number of names on their sign-up sheet. Unfortunately, the same can be said for International Soc across the way.
Minho looks up to see Sky Kim handing a clipboard to a girl with waist-length cornrows and sighs while Felix offers brownies to her partner.
“We’re doing well,” Changbin comforts, glancing away from his phone at the sound. He pockets it to pat him on the shoulder. “We have loads more names than we did at this point last year.”
Minho isn’t satisfied.
“I want more,” he says.
He looks down at their sign-up sheet, scanning over the last set of names. Shim Seungeun. Kang Minhee. Lee Eunsang. Jung Sungchan. A good crop of students. They must have a higher intake of Korean students this year. Still, it’s not enough.
“I know we’re K Soc, but we usually have some sign-ups from a couple of Chinese students by now,” he muses, his brow pinched into a frown. “Where are they? Why aren’t they coming over?”
“Maybe we’re just not interesting enough,” Changbin suggests, as helpful as ever.
“Well, we need to be,” Minho says passionately. He races to think of an idea before one occurs to him in the perfect Eureka moment. “You have your speaker with you right?”
It’s more of a rhetorical question than a genuine inquiry; Changbin never goes anywhere without his speakers. When he nods, Minho grins.
“Perfect. One of you needs to connect your phone to the speaker and blast EOEO by UNIQ.”
Changbin blinks. “You want us to what.”
“Wang Yibo was in UNIQ,” Minho exclaims. “Have you got any idea how popular he is nowadays? Jesus Christ, the guy sells millions of copies of his songs in less than an hour.”
“And this popularity is going to translate to us how?”
The fact that he can’t see Minho’s vision is offensive. Clearly, Wang Yibo is the answer to all of their problems. Anyone can see that.
Jisung looks over from where he’s shredding a napkin into confetti pieces. “What are you two losers nattering about over there?”
Changbin shakes his head, laughing softly under his breath. “I don’t know myself to be honest. Minho wants us to play a song by some idol group to get more attention to our stall.”
“Ooh, I didn’t realise we were the K-Pop Society.”
Minho sends the two of them an unamused glare when they dissolve into sniggers.
Thankfully, he’s not the only intelligent one around here. Hyunjin straightens up, dragging his eyes away from the split ends he’s been trying to locate in his hair, and says enthusiastically, “I actually think that’s a cool idea, hyung. I know a fair bit of idol group choreography so we could even dance to it.”
“Out here? In public?” Jisung asks, his eyes wide in genuine shock. “This isn’t Hongdae. Won’t you get embarrassed?”
Hyunjin flips his hair over his shoulder, scoffing. “Of course not. I’m a good dancer, what’s there to get embarrassed over?”
Jisung looks unconvinced, but even Changbin starts to seem swayed. “I think this is a good idea actually,” he admits. “The Hallyu wave is a huge thing. It’s a good selling point for the society.”
“We could even stick on some non-idol songs, Sungie,” he continues, turning to convince the younger. “Anything with a nice rap we can keep up with. Oh, or we can just find a good beat and freestyle it in Korean. That’ll get us some buzz.”
The more they discuss it, the more certain Minho becomes that this is the right path to take. They need to sustain the hype from the post-lunch rush and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t get another name on that sign-up sheet. He refuses to lose to the likes of Bang Christopher Chan.
“Let’s do it,” he says firmly.
They start off with some BTS first. Minho knows the choreographies to their title tracks like the back of his hand and Hyunjin has watched their dance practices enough to keep up so they launch into some of the easiest choreographies, Changbin’s speakers loud enough to flood the street with their music. Then comes the ever popular EXO tracks followed by other internationally recognised acts like BLACKPINK, Monsta X and TWICE.
As predicted, the spectacle gains attention. Minho and Hyunjin quickly find themselves at the center of attention on their little corner of campus, people gathering around from the other booths to cheer them on. Minho preens under their eyes, soaking it up like a sponge. He’s always loved dancing. Loves how powerful it makes his body feel, loves how it catches on the minds of any watchful eyes. He knows it shows in the way he delivers each move and how he loses himself in the music.
When he and Hyunjin need a break, Jisung and Changbin take over with their performances. In the meantime, they man the stall, calling over anyone who’s stopped to listen to them spit bars like there’s no tomorrow.
“They are very good,” says one of the students Minho has managed to reel in. The cut of his face is fine and sharp, but there’s a gentleness in it that makes him look younger than he is. Or maybe that’s because of how shyly he wades through his English, his accent thick around the edges. “I like them.”
Minho nods. “They’re a pair of idiots when they’re not rapping, but they’re impressive otherwise, aren’t they?” he says, making sure to speak in his native Korean.
It pays off when the boy lights up at the sound of his mother tongue. He switches into his first language although his words are still heavy with satoori. He sounds like he’s from Busan.
“It’s nice to see other Koreans here,” he says, smiling wide. The curve of his mouth is immaculate and his teeth are straight in a way that has to have been forced into him. There’s no way someone can have such nice teeth naturally. It just wouldn’t be fair. “Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing all of the different cultures and backgrounds here, but it’s just nice to have something familiar. Makes me feel less homesick, you know?”
Minho smiles gently. “I know what you mean. I was the same two years ago. I’m guessing you’re a fresher then?”
“You guessed right,” he says. “I’m Yang Jeongin, nice to meet you. Please take good care of me.”
He makes an aborted movement as if he instinctively bent into a bow before remembering that people don’t do that here. The sight makes Minho chuckle, if only because he remembers being the same when he first arrived in England. Bowing is so engrained into him that it felt uncomfortably disrespectful to not sink into one as soon as he was introduced to a senior.
“Lee Minho,” he says, inclining his head. “I’m the Cultural Officer for the Korean Society. I don’t suppose I could interest you in signing up? You get a free snack if you do.”
“Well, with an offer like that on the table…”
Jeongin giggles and leans forward to print his name at the bottom of the sign-up sheet.
He ends up sticking around to watch Changbin and Jisung perform some more. The two of them have started to clown each other now, playing it up for the gaggle of students who have paused to record them on their phones. Even if they don’t understand everything that’s being said, it’s not easy to misinterpret Jisung swaggering over to Changbin to thrust his hips at him as obnoxiously as possible or the way Changbin shoves him back with a laugh.
Eventually, the time to swap over again comes and both Minho and Hyunjin step into the semi-circle that’s formed around their booth with easy smiles. They’ve decided to travel back in time with their songs this time around, wanting to keep up the good mood with some cheesy tunes.
A section of the crowd thins revealing Chan who is perched on top of International Soc’s booth, leaning forward to watch them with interest. His fellow committee members are similarly engaged, craning their heads to catch their performance. Minho’s eyes meet Chan’s moments before the music pours out of Changbin’s speakers. He manages to catch the beginnings of a smile before he turns away, throwing himself into the routine.
Everything is going excellently. The music is loud, the students are laughing and cheering them on, Jisung is hyping them up with his shouts. Minho is shamelessly dancing around and having fun while doing it. Things couldn’t be going any better.
And then –
“THEY’RE TAKING THE HOBBITS TO ISENGARD! THEY’RE TAKING THE HOBBITS TO ISENGARD!”
Right in the middle of Taemin singing about how Shinee wants to go rocka rocka and how fantastic this is, a much louder song erupts in the street. Minho stumbles and looks around to see where it’s coming from – only to find none other than Bang fucking Chan standing on top of International Soc’s table with a speaker raised high in the air.
“What the fuck?” Hyunjin says to his left, bewildered.
Fury flows through Minho’s veins. He whips his head around to bark at Changbin, “Put the music up.”
There must be something manic in his eyes because Changbin doesn’t even bother arguing, just fumbles to grab the speaker and obey his orders. Unfortunately, Chan responds by just increasing the volume on his own speaker. Minho growls, all thoughts of dancing and attracting newcomers to their booth flying out of the window. He stalks back to their booth, leaving Hyunjin to stand in the middle of the circle by himself, just as confused as everyone else here, and snatches Changbin’s speaker for himself.
If Chan thinks Minho is just going to take this lying down, he has another thought coming. This is war.
“What are you doing?” Changbin splutters.
Minho doesn’t respond, too busy sweeping the snacks to one side of the table and clambering on top of it. Jisung starts to laugh, the sound wracking through his entire body as he catches onto what’s coming next. Their latest recruit, Jeongin, looks half-concerned, half-amused.
“Is this what usually happens in England?” he asks, delighted.
Changbin shrugs helplessly. “Uh. It is now apparently.”
Cameras flash in Minho’s direction as the gathering students capture his response in real-time for their Snapchat stories. Minho won’t be surprised if this ends up on the LADbible by this evening, but he’s too far gone to care. All he has attention for is the smug Aussie prick at the opposite end of the street who bursts out laughing when he sees Minho mimic his position. Glaring over, Minho increases the volume of Changbin’s speaker even more, the vibrations of the bass shuddering in his hands as he does his best to help Shinee try to reconquer the street.
“FANTASTIC, FANTASTIC, ELASTIC, ELASTIC – “
Chan grins, an eye falling into a wink as he follows suit.
“THEY’RE TAKING THE HOBBITS TO ISENGARD!”
He grits his teeth, cranking up the volume as loud as it’ll go. It’s close enough to nearly blow out Minho’s eardrums but he really couldn’t care less. He’ll be damned if he goes down without a fight. This is personal now.
“RING DING DONG, RING DING DONG – “
“THE HOBBITS, THE HOBBITS, THE HOBBITS – “
“RING DIGGY DING DIGGY DING DING DING – “
“TO ISENGARD! TO ISENGARD!”
From that moment on, it truly is war. After they stop their music battle – mostly because one of the employees from the SU comes out to shout at them for violating health and safety protocols by standing on top of their tables – Minho and Chan resort to all sorts of dirty tactics in order to get more sign-ups. Rather than making their respective societies seem attractive, they focus on undermining the other society.
“Don’t go to International Soc,” Minho says to a bewildered fresher. “One of the guys, Bang Chan – you know the one who looks like a bomb set off on top of his head? He only showers once every two weeks. Says it’s because he has faith in his natural musk as a man and wants to go back to how nature intended us to be. Trust me, you don’t want to be around that. Been there, made that mistake. Never again.”
Across the way, Chan warns someone else away from K Soc, claiming that Minho is a cultist and uses the meetings as a cover for his recruiting grounds.
“K Soc has free snacks!” Minho shouts across, waving a packet of Pepero in the air.
“International Soc has free pizza!” Chan yells back. “And Felix’s brownies! They’re famous all over campus – Buzzfeed UK even wrote an article about them after they went viral.”
He shoves one of the brownies into his mouth and lets out an exaggerated moan, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. The fresher next to him giggles and then reaches over to try one for herself. She signs up not a minute later, causing Chan to toss over his most infuriating smirk yet. God, if Minho could kick his butt over to the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, he would do so without hesitation.
Scowling, Minho turns to face Jisung who is busy braiding strands of Jeongin’s hair. How they managed to get so familiar with each other so quickly is beyond Minho’s imagination, but he decides not to question it.
“Sungie,” he says. “I need you to do something for me.”
“No, I won’t marry you.”
“That – that’s not even close to what I was going to ask you to do.” When Jisung scoffs like he finds that hard to believe, Minho rolls his eyes and leans close, dropping his voice. “Look… I need you to steal Felix’s brownies.”
Jisung’s hands fall away from Jeongin’s hair and he gasps in horror. “You want me to what.”
“It’s an unfair advantage,” he hisses. “We’ll give them back afterwards if you want, I just don’t want them there right now.”
“But – Lixie loves his brownies. He’s the brownie boy. It’s his brand.”
“Just go and get them,” Minho snaps, ushering him away.
Jisung groans, rolling his eyes. “Jesus Christ, I’ll get them, I’ll get them. I can’t believe you’re dragging us into this though. This is your weird-ass mating dance with Channie-hyung, not mine.”
He dances out of reach of the swipe of Minho’s hands, snickering. Minho narrows his eyes and hopes he trips on another flagstone again.
The brownie heist proves successful although all it does is escalate their war. In retaliation for stealing their brownies, International Soc sends Sky Kim over to steal Hyunjin. Minho cusses him out as he is dragged away, but all Hyunjin does is shrug and reply that he has to stay loyal to his best friend. When Felix comes over to do the same with Jisung, Changbin has to physically hold him back.
“But Sungie,” Felix says, peering up at him through his dark lashes as he leans across the table, “don’t you think you owe this to me after what you did? I worked so hard on those brownies. It took me hours and hours of work. I barely had any sleep last night.”
He reaches out to play with the top button of Jisung’s shirt. Minho can actually hear the way Jisung’s voice hitches in the back of his throat. He smacks Felix’s hand away.
“Don’t try and seduce my committee members, Lee Felix,” he warns.
Felix pouts. “I just feel so lonely with him all the way over here.”
“Oh God,” Jisung whimpers. He reaches out for Felix, straining against Changbin’s arms. “I’ll stop you from feeling lonely, Lixie. I’ll do whatever you want.”
“No you won’t,” Minho says sharply.
Once Felix has retreated and they’re sure Jisung is no longer a flight-risk, they send Jeongin over to steal the rest of International Soc’s empty sign-up sheets. Minho is pleased to say that they never even saw it coming. Between Jeongin’s sweet smile and his endearing English, snatching the sign-up sheets is like stealing food from a baby. He returns victorious and Minho swears there and then that he will personally adopt Jeongin for the rest of his years at uni.
In the end, however, it’s not enough. Five o’clock arrives and with it comes the end of the Freshers Society Fair. Instead of packing up right away, their societies come together to count the number of names on their sign-up sheets and announce the winner of the competition. Truth be told, Minho is expecting the defeat, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
“That’s what I’m talking about, Chris!”
The International Soc members pile on top of Chan like a bunch of footballers after one of their teammates has scored a penalty goal, jumping onto his back and ruffling his hair. Chan laughs, high-fiving them. Minho just rolls his eyes.
When Chan’s done celebrating, he detangles himself from the other students and steps closer to Minho, his laughter fading into a lopsided smile. His dimple is embedded deep into his cheek. Minho zeroes in on it if only to avoid the smug glint in Chan’s eyes.
“I believe we made a bet?” he says.
Minho fights back a groan. God, Chan just has to be obnoxious about this, doesn’t he? Minho ignores the voice in the back of his head that reminds him he would be much worse if K Soc had, against all odds, won.
“I remember,” he says witheringly. He folds his arms across his chest and raises an eyebrow, expectant. “Well? What do you want me to do? Hurry up and get it over with.”
He’s expecting something humiliating. Running around after Chan like a servant for the next week or racing through the student residential sites in nothing but a pink tutu in the middle of the night. Taking Chan’s lecture notes for him, going onto Facebook and writing a love letter to his course admin, sorting out drinks for him at the next night out. Wearing something really ugly to the next house party. Something along those lines.
He can practically see the gears in Chan’s brain turn, cycling through similar ideas before he shakes his head.
“Tell you what,” he says. “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Minho blinks, his composure faltering. “What?”
“I said I’ll come back to you with something when I think of it.”
He throws Minho another one of his usual winks, though there’s something a little less insufferable about it than usual. The rest of the group titters, all amused by the turn of events, but Minho can only frown.
He watches as Chan slips out from the cluster they’ve formed. The rest of them take this as a prompt to disperse, filtering out. Some of them nudge Minho as they go, spouting some good-natured remarks about how today has been fun and thanking him for spicing the society fair up, but he doesn’t hear any of it. His eyes don’t falter from Chan’s back.
“Hang on,” he says, running to catch up with him. He grabs onto his arm and turns him around to face Minho. “You can’t do that. You can’t just leave me hanging, waiting for you to think of something you want from me.”
Chan shrugs. “What else am I meant to do?”
“I don’t know, dipshit, think of something. We’ve spent half a day trying to win this bet and you’re telling me you didn’t think of anything you want from me in that time? Don’t give me that bullshit, you knew you were going to win. You had to have expected this moment to come.”
“Maybe I just wanted to mess around with you,” he says.
Of that, Minho has no doubts. Still, he’s not going to be left in limbo like this. He wants to know what he’s going to have to do. It’s like ripping off a plaster: there’s no use in gearing yourself up for it. You just have to get a good hold of the end and tear it free from your skin. If he’s going to humiliate himself, he wants it to be done with already.
“What do you want from me?” he demands.
Chan sighs. “God, you’re so fucking persistent. You’re like a dog with a bone.”
“Thanks,” he snarks. “Now tell me what you want – “
“I want to go on a date.”
His voice cuts off, dying in his throat. Minho’s eyes are as wide as dinnerplates, staring at Chan as if to question whether he heard that right. When he doesn’t hurry to clarify that he’s just pulling Minho’s leg, he realises that yes, he did. Chan has said exactly what Minho thinks he did.
“Y-You what?” Minho says weakly.
Chan’s cheeks redden, the colour rising to his face quickly and deeply. “Uh – I mean. I want you to consider going on a date. With me, that is. I wouldn’t force you into one if that’s not what you want.”
There’s no way that this is real. It can’t be. Minho must be dreaming – yes, that’s it. He’s sleeping on his flight from Seoul to London and has cooked up this wild fantasy where Bang Christopher Chan has asked him out on a date. That explains why everything that’s led up to it has been so odd and surreal from Jisung’s blue hair to the Shinee vs Lord of the Rings parody battle to stealing Felix’s brownies from the other stall. This is all a dream.
But the rush of blood to Minho’s ears feels real. The flesh of Chan’s bare arm under his hand feels real. The breeze that’s whistling through the street and stirring the strands of Chan’s curls feels real. The look in Chan’s eyes feels real.
“Why?” Minho has to ask. “I don’t understand.”
It’s not like Minho has ever been particularly friendly to Chan. In fact, he’s pretty much gone out of his way to be the opposite. He likes riling him up and seeing how far Chan will bend under his attitude. And any time Chan has given back as good as he’s gotten, Minho has never hidden how irritated that’s made him. It’s a wonder that Chan can even stand to be around him. And with so many people on campus who would love to date Bang Chan, it makes no sense for him to look to Minho for one instead.
Chan shrugs, his blush still going strong. “I like you. You’re strong and opinionated and proud about it. I like how you don’t ever pretend to be something you’re not. You are who you are and the rest of the world has to take it or leave it. I admire that in a person. And I also like bantering with you and riling you up.”
“Really?” he can’t help but interject dryly. “I couldn’t have guessed.”
He smiles. This time around, there’s no mischief in it, simply warmth. “I think you like it too.”
“I wouldn’t get so brave if I were you,” says Minho although the reddening of his ears betrays the truth.
Okay so maybe he doesn’t hate Bang Chan as passionately as he claims he does. But that doesn’t mean anything! There are plenty of people he doesn’t hate passionately. A whole world full of them in fact. It doesn’t make Chan special.
Chan chuckles. “There’s the sweet nothing I was looking for.”
“Deep-throat a cactus, Chan.”
“Should I do that before or after our date?”
His words throw Minho off-guard again. He opens his mouth, searching for a reply, only to find that no words come to his lips. This has all come on out of nowhere. He has no idea what to say or how to react. It’s not like there’s a manual for this!
Chan’s grin fades.
“It’s okay,” he says, looking away. He takes a step back, the movement dislodging Minho’s hand from his arm. “I shouldn’t have said anything, I’m sorry. It wasn’t right of me to pin that on you out of nowhere, especially by using the bet to do it. I mean, the winner got to ask the other person to do anything they wanted as long as it wasn’t illegal, what was I even thinking? I shouldn’t have asked you to go on a date, I don’t want you to think I was pressuring you to accept out of, I dunno, fucking honour or obligation or something.”
He rambles on, his words coming out faster and faster with each sentence. It’s like he hasn’t even paused to take a proper breath in his panic. The sight of it has Minho’s head spinning, scattering his already frazzled thoughts so he can’t even begin to think of what to do or how to respond. He just wants to be able to figure out how he wants to reply. He just wants Chan to shut up and let him think.
“To be honest, you’re actually taking this a lot better than I thought you would. I was expecting you to laugh at me or hit me or something, I don’t know. Maybe you should’ve done that, I feel like I deserve it for asking you out like this. If I was going to do it, I should’ve done it properly instead of – mmph.”
He wants Chan to shut up.
So he shuts him up.
Minho doesn’t think. Maybe wanting to take his time to think is part of the problem. Instead of listening to his head, what he needs to do is follow his instincts and see where they lead him. And apparently they lead to him lunging forward, throwing his arms around Chan’s neck and smacking their mouths together.
Chan’s squeak of surprise is squashed between their lips and he instinctively tenses up from the sudden attack. Minho holds his breath, waiting for him to respond.
After what feels like an age, Chan relaxes, his lips pushing back against Minho’s gently. The reciprocation has the tension that is in Minho’s shoulders leave him and he sighs into the kiss, sinking against Chan and trusting in him to keep him upright. Their mouths move against each other, curious to see how the other tastes and attentive. Minho doesn’t let himself think about anything other than the feel of Chan’s body against him and the warmth of his kiss. It sends a spark of pleasure to the base of his spine, his body shivering with the force of it.
He pulls away to suck in a breath, opening his eyes to see Chan’s dumbfounded look. In the distance, he hears their friends cheering and hooting with delight. Several wolf-whistles pierce through the air, but all Minho cares about is the slow smile that spreads across Chan’s face. He can’t help but mirror it in kind.
“If this date isn’t the best one I’ve ever gone on, there will be problems,” Minho tells him, rubbing his thumb against the corner of Chan’s mouth.
He grins. “If it’s not, you can always show me how it should’ve gone instead. I’d be open to that happening. In fact, I encourage it.”
“Ugh. Knowing how incompetent you are, I already know I’m going to have to.”
Chan tips his head back with a laugh. Still grinning, he leans forward to press another kiss to Minho’s lips. It’s more than welcome when it comes. Minho sinks into it readily, holding onto him like he never plans on letting go.
He’s beginning to think he might’ve misread what he feels for Bang Chan. ‘Hate’ is only a letter off from ‘date’ after all.