Yunho doesn’t remember whose idea it was in the first place; all he knows is that it was a decision fueled by ridiculous amounts of store-bought cocktails and tequila shots between the three of them, in between munches of what San insists is a charcuterie board, but it’s more of a mixed chopped mess of leftovers from the communal kitchen of their floor.
“Give me my phone back,” Yunho sighs, extending his arm but making no effort to actually stop Wooyoung from messing around. The aftertaste of the strong drinks are making him too woozy to complain.
“You have an entire separate folder for dating apps, surely there’s no harm in creating another profile,” San reasons, helping himself to some more cheese and crackers. “Oh, choose this one, he looks very sexy in that one.”
Yunho sighs, slumping against the bed - his friends are feeling much more energetic than he is, so he’ll let them play around with his personal information and social media presence. That seems like a good idea.
“Okay,” Wooyoung speaks after finally selecting a few pictures for Yunho’s display profile, sipping some more from his bottled mojito, “Help me fill these in. Interested in…”
“No gender specification,” his friend mumbles, thumbing away on his phone, “Age, okay. Height, okay. Weight?”
“You really think I can remember that right now?”
“These are so specific,” Jongho furrows his brows, pouting, “I use Pulse and they never ask for that kind of stuff.”
“That’s different, this app operates more like a means for a transaction,” Wooyoung explains, shooing him with his hand. “Occupation?”
“Huh? Student of course,” Yunho yawns. San recently got him these cute LED lights that change color and he spent one whole afternoon taping them all around his walls - the dim purple light they’re emanating right now is slowly lulling him to sleep, and his best friends’ soft chatter sounds more and more like a pleasant lullaby.
“Part-time jobs? Internships?”
“Uh…” Yunho starts, “Wait, what? Are you really supposed to include everything in your bio? That seems too much…”
“How are you supposed to get matched with someone who will fulfill your financial needs?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Yunho finally jumps from the bed, landing messily on top of Wooyoung on the carpet and wrestling him, holding down his legs with his own thighs in an attempt to grab his phone from his best friend’s little gremlin hands, “What’s Nectar? ” he asks, baffled as he stares at the half-completed information of his profile.
“A dating app,” San says nonchalantly.
“A sugar-daddy dating app,” Jongho clarifies, sparing Yunho from his confusion.
“Hey, it’s not limited to just sugar daddies,” Wooyoung defends himself, “You can find all sorts of people there who are rich and want to financially help someone for something in exchange.”
Yunho’s eyes scan the information that Wooyoung has already put in - name, height, weight, occupation, a few pictures from his camera roll that are thankfully decent and not overly sexual. All that’s left are the ‘Interests’ and ‘Links’ boxes. The design of the app is admittedly very sleek, with beautiful graphics in deep colors in dark mode and golden details. This could have very well looked gaudy at best, but the appearance of the application makes Yunho stop wrestling Wooyoung and slump back on the floor, phone in hand.
“So, what? You match with someone and they pay you each time you have sex?”
“Who said you have to have sex?” says Wooyoung, “Not everyone wants sex. Some people are looking for simple companionship, like coffee dates and stuff. Or a gym partner. Or you might never even have to meet them, just text or send pictures. You customize your interests and then the algorithm shows you profiles who are looking for similar conditions to yours.”
“Who would pay for a gym partner?” Yunho grimaces. “Like, generally speaking, why would someone hand their money out to strangers?”
“I don’t know, maybe they’re consumed by capitalistic guilt from being rich,” Wooyoung reasons.
“What’s the name of the app?” Jongho mutters, already pulling out his phone, “I’m a little short on cash this month for rent.”
“Please tell me you’re gonna send feet pics to someone,” San asks, dissolving in hysterics from his own joke.
While Jongho affectionately keeps San in a chokehold in the background, Wooyoung approaches him, looping his arms around Yunho from the back and pushing his face into the crook of his neck, “We can delete it, y’know,” his friend murmurs, “Don’t get anxious about it.”
Yunho doesn’t respond immediately, scrolling up and down his profile, “How did you even find out about this?”
“Well, Yubin made a profile last month because a friend of a friend of hers recommended the app - it’s supposed to be super safe, and the money transfering aspect is great too. She’s texting like, three people at the same time.”
His eyes bulge out, “You can date multiple people at the same time?!”
“I told you, it’s not necessarily dating. You don’t go into it expecting a regular relationship. If you agree with this person that you’ll be exclusive as long as your agreement lasts, that’s fair. But everyone makes their own terms and conditions.”
“You know suspiciously lots of stuff about this.”
Wooyoung rolls his eyes, “‘S not my fault, she explained everything to me. She knew I’d be worried about her, so she sat me down and talked me through it.”
Yunho’s doubts begin to disappear like an early morning fog in the sun; Yubin is very independent in her own right, and Wooyoung and his friends have known her for years. Even when she and Wooyoung dated for a short while, or the few times her and Yunho had hooked up after parties in their first year of university, she always put their friendship above everything else.
He moves on to the next box he’s supposed to fill in: ‘Interests’.
“What’s a provider? ” he squints.
“The one who gives the sugar,” Jongho explains, stroking San’s hair while the older has his head on his lap, an expression of cat-like happiness on his face.
“And the receiver is the person who gets paid,” Yunho completes his sentence.
“They’re using gender neutral terms, that’s cool,” San mumbles, “You’re the receiver in this case, Yunho-yah.”
“Okay, this is important, are you interested in sexual relationships?” Wooyoung asks.
“Uh, yeah?” Yunho replies, ears turning red instantly, “I mean-” he cannot fully explain it, but the truth is that he likes sex. A lot. He loves it. But juggling his studies and an attempt at some sort of a social life takes a toll on you after one point, and he hasn’t gotten laid in a while, which, combined with the fruity drinks he’s been consuming all night, makes his most base desires scheme together to cloud his judgement. “Like a one night stand?”
“Or casual sex,” Wooyoung offers, “I’m gonna add that you’re interested in sex and you can change that whenever you want.”
They spend the next few minutes finalizing Yunho’s profile - San offers one-line suggestions here and there, but he’s mostly occupied with nosing into Wooyoung’s cheek like a newborn woodland animal, whining to Jongho to get some ice-cream from the fridge. Soon enough, their friend comes back to Yunho’s dorm room and the tub of strawberry cheesecake is set on the floor, the four mismatched spoons in their respective hands. They dig into the dessert absent-mindedly, the cool air emanating from the plastic container tickling their ankles.
Wooyoung presses ‘Complete’ and waits while the app’s algorithm finds similar profiles to Yunho’s interests.
“Okay!” he announces once they’re back to the main screen, “First up we have this fella, 45 years old, owns a telecommunications company, interested in young men; wants to spend the weekends together at his sea-side mansion-”
“How do we know he’s not just lying on his profile?” Jongho points out, suddenly fueled by the creamy ice cold dessert.
“He looks creepy,” San murmurs.
“He kinda does,” Yunho agrees, and watches as Wooyoung’s finger swipes up.
One profile after the other, the four of them pick apart the information in each new candidate, trying to guess if they’re faking it or not. Most of the users seem older than him by more than fifteen years, and Yunho can’t help but grimace at the idea. He only becomes interested when their profile pictures look cute, but nothing’s enough to make him heart the person’s profile or hit them up in the dms. Time passes like this, until their metallic spoons hit against the empty bottom of the plastic tub and the light of his phone screen starts making him dizzy.
Before he gets the chance to ask his friends to call it quits because his battery percentage is screaming at him to charge his phone, Wooyoung swipes up.
“Is that a joint profile?” Jongho asks, half laughing and half genuinely curious.
“Kim-Park,” San reads out, “Oh, they look-”
“They’re way younger than anybody else on this app,” Wooyoung chuckles, touching the ‘see more’ option in their photos section.
Their profile picture is definitely from a photoshoot - it’s in black and white, and they’re lying on the ground of some studio in casual clothes. The first one is settled cozily in the other’s arms, his fuller lips curling into a reserved smile. The second one who’s hugging him has a more neutral expression, but his chin is nestled warmly on the crown of the other’s head, lips almost planting a soft kiss there. Swiping, the next ones are solo pictures of each other that are definitely not professionally taken, near artsy graffiti walls, cafes and street markets. Their entire profile looks like a Pinterest board that Yunho would longingly stalk in bed, wide awake, two hours before his alarm is supposed to ring.
“What does their profile say?” Yunho asks tentatively, curling his knees towards his chest and pushing his head into the crook of Wooyoung’s neck, “Stop squealing, let me see-”
“I’m ticklish there, you idiot!” he cackles in return. He clears his throat and begins reading their bio, “We’re Kim Hongjoong and Park Seonghwa - we’ve been husbands for two years and partners for eight-”
“Wait, how old are they?” Jongho asks.
“Both of them turned 29 this year,” says Wooyoung, brows furrowing, “They’ve been together for a while, that’s a first.”
“Supposing this isn’t someone giving out fake information,” Jongho reminds them.
“We’re looking for someone who would like to keep one of us company while the other is away, but also spend time with us as a couple, too. The two of us are a package, so unfortunately a receiver cannot have one without the other. Sexual relations can be discussed after the first encounters, depending on the receiver’s intentions towards us.”
“Well, I appreciate that one of them isn’t using this app to cheat on his partner,” says San, “But I figure not many people here would approach them.”
“Why not?” asks Yunho, trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible as he swipes through the pictures, zooming into the details. They look so happy in all of them, the colors of their clothes blending into the vivid backgrounds and creating something akin to a mural that’s full of life and adventure in the hidden corners of a busy city. There are no photos to showcase any details about their occupations or their work lives. It’s most likely purposeful, to protect their identities - they do state that they hold high positions in the companies they work in; founder and CEO respectively.
“Well, who would want to get in between a married couple?” San wonders, “Obviously, this is a bit different, but still. And many people seek out one singular, celibate provider on these apps, usually.”
“Our Yunho-yah here is a different breed,” Wooyoung announces with gloat and pride, “Wanna hit them up? They look like they’d be fun at parties.”
Yunho hesitates for a moment. With the rest of his friends there, he doesn’t want to spend the rest of the night with anxious fingers hovering over the keyboard when he’s supposed to be having fun with his friends.
At the look of hesitation that takes over his features, Jongho steps in, “Or you can like their profile now and hit them up later or another day.”
“Mmm, so you can see when they like you back,” San agrees.
Wooyoung hands him his phone with a ceremonious ruffle to his hair and a smile. Yunho presses the pulsing silver heart on the side of their profile, watching it turn red.
He leaves his phone in the kitchen for the remainder of the night, forgetting all about the ‘Kim-Park’ profile with the help of fruity alcohol and the company of his best friends.
It’s not until later next day, while he’s trying his best to cook some dinner for himself (that’s a first) instead of ordering take-out once again and draining his bank account even more, even though he has no idea how long you’re supposed to saute mushrooms for and has added way too much salt in the broth, that his phone pings with a Nectar -related notification.
‘‘Kim-Park’ has liked your profile! Tap here to connect with them.’
“Okay,” he says out loud, but he’s alone in the kitchen. He could text Wooyoung, since he’s the one who got him into this mess in the first place. He could ignore the notification, delete the app altogether and go on his merry way with his vegetable soup that could definitely use a stirring right about now. He takes one look at his lockscreen before he puts it down on the counter, holding onto the ladle like a religious ornament protecting him from temptation.
There’s logically no reason he should be feeling this jittery about this, yet here is, jumping as his phone pings again.
‘‘Kim-Park’ has sent you a message! Tap here for more.’
His soup bubbles dangerously as it boils, the heat making his face flush a reddish pink color that matches his blushing ears, for entirely different reasons. He takes his phone and unlocks it, waiting for the app to load. In the ‘Notifications’ tab, there’s a few users who have pressed likes on his profile - older women and men, more than he ever expected, and the attention he seems to have garnered stirs something in his tummy. He pointedly avoids sifting through their profiles and liking back. Instead, he tentatively taps on the message pop-up that takes him directly to their conversation.
[Kim-Park]: Hello, this is Seonghwa!
[Jeong]: Hi I’m Yunho!
[Kim-Park]: This is Hongjoong, hi there! We text from different devices since we share the profile :)
[Jeong]: That’s fine
He chews on his lip, one hand stirring his lunch and the other hovering over the keyboard with his thumb.
[Jeong]: I don’t know if I should warn you but this is my first time making an account on an app like this
[Jeong]: But I’ve had accounts on other dating apps so yeah
The torturous seconds he spends looking at the typing bubble feel more like a century before he finally gets a reply. He was honestly expecting a rejection or for them to brush it off, but surprisingly the message is almost sweet-sounding.
[Kim-Park]: That’s perfectly fine! It is our first time trying out something like this, but hopefully we can work something out if you’re interested! -S
Someone comes into the kitchen from their dorm room and Yunho pushes his phone in his back pocket, guilt overtaking him as if his fellow student can take one look at him and guess he’s talking with strangers on the internet. The guy takes one look at the fridge before he decidedly grabs a fizzy drink and then retreats to his room, fortunately not taking any of Yunho’s precious ice-tea that he has so carefully labeled with his name on a post-it note. He pours the experimental concoction he calls a ‘soup’ into a bowl and takes it back to the safety of his room, after rinsing off the pot.
[Jeong]: I am, I just have a lot of questions about this and not sure how to go about it
[Kim-Park]: Admittedly there’s lots of things to talk about, so you can ask us questions. Nothing is off-limits of course, so don’t be shy. -H
He’s so lost in his thoughts about what this relationship could possibly entail, the nature of it and how he cannot avoid talking about the potential complications - this isn’t similar to any kind of flirting or relationship or casual sex he’s participated in before. There’s money involved, and he can’t help but hesitate at how he’s supposed to approach the subject. Surely, this couple has a profile on this app because they’re in search of a sugar baby. They want to potentially pay for his needs, that’s what providers are supposed to do, right? Is he supposed to just ask for it? How open can he be about his financial situation? He’s never even asked for a raise from his part-time jobs because who does that anyway?
Explaining all of that through texts already creates an anxious feeling in his stomach - he’s too sensitive and the slightest change in tone will make him spiral.
Thankfully, when he looks at the chat once again, they’ve sent him another text.
[Kim-Park]: Would it make you feel better if we met in person? No pressure, of course. But meeting each other would definitely make things less awkward :) -H
[Kim-Park]: But also please don’t feel pressured to meet us. If you want to go forward with an arrangement like this only through text, that’s perfectly fine as well. We don’t ever have to meet, and we’ll never pressure you to do so if you don’t wish to. -S
[Jeong]: Meeting each other would be nice I think
His friends find out about his plans, and to say the least they’re particularly overjoyed.
“No more cup ramen for dinner!” Wooyoung exclaims in triumph, raising his bottled water in the air as if it’s golden, sparkly champagne. They’re in the dance studio, taking a break and cooling off on the floor.
Yunho tries not to squirm as he stretches out his legs, head pushing against his calf and feeling the burn on the underside of his thigh. Although it’s a true fact that their diet is shitty because of little free time and limited funds, he still cannot fully grasp the idea of asking someone to pay for his needs, even if it’s an arrangement catering specifically to him. He hasn’t even met the couple yet - Wooyoung is already getting ideas and boasting about it, as he always does.
San helps Yunho stretch even more by pushing gently on his back, letting Yunho lean forwards until his torso is approaching the wooden floor, legs spread on each side and ending in pointed toes. “When’s your date?” he asks gently.
“At the end of the week,” Yunho replies. The three of them had agreed on going at a sleek, jazz bar-restaurant, nothing too excessive on their part - although Yunho had already spent an unnecessary amount of time looking at pictures of their destination on Google and gulping at the sight of how expensive everything looked, from the plates to the silverware to the decor to even the plates themselves; he wasn’t sure if it was photo-editing or simply money that made this restaurant’s dishes look so appealing. Perhaps his empty stomach was at fault.
“You’re nervous,” San observes, “Don’t be. I know it’s weird, but some people make a living out of this.”
“Sugar-babying?” Yunho asks, wincing at the stretch of his back. The word feels weird in his mouth. The cold floor against his cheek feels relieving enough, however. “I just - I have no idea how to approach this.”
“Well, your goal is to have fun and get money. Their goal is to have fun and give you money. As long as you stay within your boundaries and don’t overstep them, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Sannie’s right,” Wooyoung slides across the floor, crossing his legs and settling next to them, “Also, I’d much rather see you worry about what you’re going to wear than see you sulk because you’re anxious about this, Yunho-yah.”
At that moment, their instructor comes back and asks them to get into position as she looks for the appropriate track on her phone. The music fills the room with its thumping bass, and Yunho gets lost as he always does when he’s dancing; letting his mind drift away from technical thoughts and overwhelming overthinking. His body has a mind of its own, limbs stretching in intricate poses, following the rhythm as if the music is being produced from his pulsing insides.
When the track finally reaches his climax and comes to an end, Yunho sits still in the final pose their instructor has given them, and once she claps her hands he slumps onto the ground, chest rising and falling rapidly with each panting breath, adrenaline ringing in his ears.
All of his days are similar to each other - he has a hectic schedule of classes on contemporary dance, which is his major. Combined with that, he also attends hip-hop classes three times a week, as well as compulsory academic classes that plague his very existence and force him to pull all-nighters in order to finish the multitude of essays and small projects he’s due every week.
As a result, his body takes the brunt of his academic pursuits, and it’s more than often the case that he overworks himself to the point of exhaustion, his aching body jittery and fueled by caffeine even if he’s ready to fall asleep. Rarely does he get the time or the extra money to cook for himself, and managing his finances is something he doesn’t particularly excel in.
It feels like he’s giving himself excuses for getting into this - and he hasn’t even gone to their first date.
Surprisingly enough, he forgets all about it until the day of his date.
He’s painfully reminded of it with a cheerful text from his… potential boyfriends? Business partners? Sugar daddies, they’re your sugar daddies, Wooyoung would say.
[Kim-Park]: Good morning, Yunho! How are things? :) -H
Yunho jumps out of his bed like someone dropped an ice-cube inside the collar of his shirt - it’s Saturday morning, the day he’s supposed to meet the married couple for the first time, and he’s already slept in past his alarm. He has approximately five hours before he has to get to the station to catch his train.
[Jeong]: Good morning! I’m very well, just woke up actually
[Kim-Park]: Very happy about that, then. Is our date still happening? -S
[Jeong]: Yes of course
[Jeong]: I’m supposed to take the blue line, right?
They text him specifications and send a screenshot of the trains’ timetable. They had already agreed upon meeting at the station and then walking the short 5 minute distance to the restaurant. Thankfully, not one of them had mentioned a car ride or insisted on picking up Yunho from his residence, and that makes him feel a bit calmer for the time being.
That’s not to say that he isn’t once again jittery with anxiousness; he downs the stale iced americano that definitely classifies as lukewarm now from his bedside table and almost gets up from the bed, until his phone pings again with a calendar notification of all things.
An essay that he has no memory of ever hearing about in class. But the reminder is there, and the due date is in three hours.
His head falls on his pillow and successfully muffles his anguish of a dance major cursed to attend obligatory classes on language and writing.
Yunho curls like a turtle into the shell that is his bed, warm laptop vibrating against his thighs, typing away what seems like unintelligible jargon - he has to read his source articles multiple times before he can finally concentrate and understand the point. He imports pictures that mess up the layout of his text multiple times, but he stops himself from committing any sort of property damage on his electronics because he has no time, and no money to repair them. Once again bullshitting his way out of this essay, he sends it in with a haste spell check and immediately jumps from his bed - his phone now says 6:59, two hours before he’s supposed to meet up with a lawfully wedded couple, and that includes his train ride.
As always, he’s forgotten to do his laundry, so his options are limited; mismatched clothes that definitely don’t make a coherent outfit fit enough for a fancy outing. He pulls clothes out of his closet, piling them up on his bed as if the perfect two-piece will magically appear in front of him. Time passes quickly without making any progress, and so Yunho does the one thing he didn’t wish to resort to.
“Wait, today’s your sugar daddy date?” Wooyoung screams through the phone, but Yunho thankfully has him on speaker mode on his desk as he searches through his drawers, “You should have told me to come by earlier, I’m out for drinks now…”
“I can hear that,” Yunho sighs at the bubbly background noise coming from Wooyoung. “Oh no, I need to shower!”
“Uh, yeah? I hope you do. Where are they taking you anyways?”
“Some fancy jazz restaurant… I need to wear nice clothes, but-”
“You could literally show up in anything and you’d look good, Yunho-yah,” Wooyoung coddles him, and his voice takes that very specific tone he uses when he feels like his friend is down in the dumps with his appearance and needs a pick-me-up. And Yunho loves getting complimented, but his problems are of a more practical nature currently. But Wooyoung continues to rant away, showering him with compliments, “...Like, who wouldn’t find you attractive? Have you seen your legs and how shapely they are? You should wear that skirt more often-”
“Skirt.” Yunho says out loud, letting Wooyoung’s voice fade into the background while his hands dig into his closet.
He remembers thrifting it a year ago while accompanying Jongho who was looking for some vintage boots - the skirt had been discarded to the side, black satin fabric with a straight, slim fit. The hem of it reaches the middle of his calves, but there’s a slit over his right leg that stops just a little over his knee. There’s a few stray threads hanging from the bottom and a few sequins missing from the small butterfly design on the back of it, just over his butt - but the moment he saw it, it had made him so happy that Yunho rushed into the changing room to try it on.
It was his after that, an item of clothing that he’d grown so attached to but ultimately had worn only a few times outside, in parties and coffee shops. It had been a while since he’d had enough time to sort out his clothes and unearth this treasure from the deep wells of his dorm room.
“I think I got dressed,” he calls out to his phone.
“Nice! Did you shower first?”
Yunho barely manages to catch his train on time; in the end he’s forced to stand because there aren’t any seats available. The fluorescent lights glow a freezing white color, and he’s able to look at his reflection on the opposite window while he listens to his workout playlist. He can see the shine of the reflective material of his tights that peek underneath the skirt, since it is too cold to forego them. The skirt fits him like a glove, opening up at the bottom just enough for his legs to walk easily in his leather shoes. He opted for an old mock-neck bodysuit that he’s worn for dance competitions as a top - the material is a dark grey, almost glittering fabric that’s thin enough to almost sculpt his upper body, accentuating the curves of his muscles on his chest and arms. His leather jacket provides enough warmth for now, although he’s not sure how he’ll fare once he’s out of the train.
He doesn’t get intimidated easily, but this time, he has both Wooyoung and San on alert in case something goes wrong, i.e. the whole filthy rich married couple looking to throuple is a scam and he gets creeped out.
“Anything happens, you call me and I’m ready to drop-kick a bitch.” San had told him over the phone, voice exuding intimidation and love at the same time.
He squeezes his cross-body bag closer to his stomach with both hands, trying to take up as little space as possible in the cramped train.
A small part of him, the one that’s still stuck in his childhood and views everything through pink-tinted glasses, hopes that this won’t be a failure. He’s looked over their profile a few times now while waiting for the time to pass - they seem simply too good to be true. Yunho just wishes he didn’t dress up for nothing.
He hasn’t thought about what he’s going to tell them; he has to remind himself that this isn’t a normal date, by any means.
The train finally arrives at its destination, and he holds onto the railing as his body is pushed forwards against his will. He waits until a substantial amount of people have squished themselves through the exits before he, too, makes his way outside, boots clicking against the gravel.
They’re waiting at the top of the stairs, just outside of the station.
Yunho notices them, of course, because they look nothing like the rest of the people hastily moving up and down the staircase. They stand close to each other, bodies almost engulfed in an embrace and heads moving gently in tandem with a soft, hushed, private conversation that isn’t supposed to be heard by anyone else outside of their little bubble. Their noses bump as they share a tender kiss, before going back to conversing.
Yunho feels like an intruder.
He holds onto his bag as if he’ll lose his balance - he’s frozen, rigid in the middle of the staircase as people push against his shoulder and rush past him. He can’t help it - he’s too enthralled to look away, yet he knows that if he keeps staring at them like this, from far away, the growing dark cloud in his stomach will only get darker.
No one else seems to pay attention to the loving couple - is he the only one who’s affected like this, by two strangers he’s never met?
Not bearing to look at their faces any longer, his eyes move downwards - they’re both dressed impeccably, simple but expensive fabrics in dark colors, gleaming jewelry catching the reflections of the street lights in the night.
Lost in his thoughts, he doesn’t realize that the couple has noticed him - they offer small smiles, trying to decipher if he’s the one they’re waiting for.
Yunho takes a deep breath, stuttering as he exhales.
“You must be Yunho,” the taller one with the round glasses says, voice deep and smooth with a honey-like vibrato, “I’m glad you could make it. I’m Seonghwa.”
“I’m Hongjoong,” the shorter one smiles at him, voice more mousey and teasing.
“Yuh, I’m Yunho, that’s me,” he offers a smile as well, giddy at the realization that he hasn’t been scammed for the time being. “Hope I didn’t make you wait for long.”
“Not at all,” Seonghwa says with ease. He’s just a little shorter than Yunho, deep brown eyes studying his features, “You’re beautiful.”
Yunho catches the whimper that almost leaves his throat at the last minute, holding his breath. Next to him, Hongjoong lets out a laugh, “Excuse my husband, he’s very upfront and honest. But he never lies; pictures don’t do you justice, Yunho.”
“Thank you,” he breathes out, happy with himself that his voice didn’t tremble. It’s absurd, being affected by someone’s words like this - Yunho has always been sensitive to praise and kind words. It started out as a side-effect of being a bright, ‘gifted’ child in elementary school, and developed into a kink when he had proper sex for the first time. “You, uhm, you both look good.”
“Just good? ” Hongjoong laughs gently, “I was aiming for something more exciting. I guess I have to work harder to impress you, then.” The snark rolls off his tongue like ringlets of intoxicating smoke, and he’s so close to Yunho, looking up at him through mascara-coated lashes and dark, shimmering grey shadow circling his eyes.
“Are you hungry?” Seonghwa asks before Yunho can scramble to apologize out of sheer sexual intimidation, “The place I booked us a table at is just around the corner. Let’s not stand in the cold any longer, mm?”
He nods, not trusting himself enough to speak.
The walk is no more than two minutes long, but he ends up in between the couple - with Hongjoong and Seonghwa on either side of him, their warmth is enough to coddle his cold, pink cheeks. They make small talk about the train ride while entering a tall, glass building that houses multiple stores, cafes and karaoke bars, and head straight for the elevator, which will take them to the highest floor.
“The view from up there is stunning,” Seonghwa tells him over the generic elevator music that does just enough to fill in the awkward silence. There’s eight people with them in there, and Yunho is just conveniently squished in between the couple once again. Their stance is almost protective over him. “We haven’t been here in a while, have we?” he asks Hongjoong. Under the fluorescent lights, Seonghwa’s eyelids sparkle with the tiniest hint of peach gold.
“No, it’s been a while,” his husband agrees.
The restaurant, ‘Twilight’ , is located at the top of the skyscraper - jazz instrumentals filter smoothly from the speakers, matching the dim lighting and the deep colors of the decor; oak, dark green and golden accents. The gentle sound of customers talking and cutlery softly clinking against porcelain immediately makes Yunho feel serene. Everyone’s dressed in fine clothing, but it’s certainly nothing excessively luxurious - Yunho doesn’t feel underdressed for the occasion or uncomfortable for the time being. It certainly wouldn’t be his first choice if it were his decision solely based on what he can guess can be the price range, but that’s fine. He’s a student living off of convenience store food and cheap take-out, his standards are already low as they are.
The maitre d’ brings them to their table that’s positioned right next to the window, the dark sea of the cityscape spreading across the distance from their view. The yellowish lights litter the city like clusters of stars - a city that doesn’t intend on sleeping no matter how late it gets.
He sits down after Hongjoong helps him take off his coat and pulls out his chair for him to take his seat, cheeks burning. While the waiter fills their glasses with water and hands them their menus, he takes in his dates’ appearances from up close.
Hongjoong takes off his Montgomery coat, revealing a black turtleneck and a few layered silver chain necklaces resting on his chest. He pushes a few strands of dark hair behind his ear, and now Yunho can see that his mullet is overgrown the length he had in the photos on their profile. It curls around his neck, tied in a small braid that reaches just past his collarbone on his right side.
Seonghwa, on his side, is wearing a deep, V-neck purple mesh top that shimmers underneath the dim lighting, accentuating his golden, pronounced chest. Pearl earrings hang from his ears, and the man plays with them absentmindedly as he thanks the waiter.
Every piece of them belongs here.
“-Yunho?” Hongjoong’s voice brings him back to reality, “Have you picked out anything? We can order our drinks first and then take our time with the food.”
“Uh,” Yunho opens the drinks’ menu, eyes moving fast to catch something that might tickle his fancy. He’s more of a cocktail person anyway, but the cocktails’ section has weird names and he fails to come up with an answer in the next minute or so, “I’m not sure.”
“What type of drinks do you like?” Hongjoong leans forward, their shoulders bumping together. Yunho’s heart skips a beat, “I can help you out.”
“Fruity, I guess?” is the first thing that comes out of his mouth, “I like light and fruity stuff.”
He hears Hongjoong mumble ‘Cute’ under his breath and his ears get positively cherry-colored.
He ends up with a raspberry and rum based cocktail that has a vibrant fuschia color - Hongjoong gets a glass of wine, and Seonghwa opts for a non-alcoholic drink, “I’m the one driving this time,” he clarifies with a charming smile.
After they finally place their orders, Hongjoong brings his hands to rest under his chin, regarding Yunho with a curious smile, “So, Yunho, you’re in university?”
Yunho nods, gulping down more of his drink for good measure and a shot of bravery, “Yeah, um, yes. I’m in my third year right now. Dance major,” he blushes when he sees Seonghwa’s eyes open wider in surprise, like they hold entire galaxies in them, “I am a contemporary dancer first, but I also do hip-hop.”
“Seonghwa used to dance ballet when he was younger,” Hongjoong says proudly. Yunho’s eyes fix on the hand Hongjoong places on his husband’s thigh, how his fingers stroke over the fabric of his pants, his black nail polish glinting.
“I took some ballet classes when I was little, too,” Yunho admits, “Ultimately, I was more drawn to contemporary.”
“So you’re pursuing your dream of becoming a dancer?” Seonghwa says encouragingly.
“More or less,” Yunho chuckles nervously. He hesitates to say the next words, but he figures that since they’re getting to know each other with the goal of forming a transactional relationship, there’s no harm to tell them, “I originally entered another university for finance and business management, but I really couldn’t keep doing it. I hated it, to be honest.”
It’s the first time he’s ever admitted that to someone; even after the multiple fights with his parents, he’d never been so blunt about how much he hated that period of his life. Perhaps it’s the alcohol, perhaps it’s the way Hongjoong and Seonghwa listen to him; attentively, never taking their eyes off of him.
“B-but now it’s way better,” he assures them, “That was a few years ago anyway. What do you guys do?”
Hongjoong looks like he wants to ask more questions, but ultimately he lets it go, “I’m a fashion designer. I worked in the creative departments of local brands, tried my shot at haute couture and ultimately created my own company and brand with my husband here.”
“I’m nowhere near the clothes,” Seonghwa clarifies, taking a sip from his drink, “CEO and financial advisor Park Seonghwa at your service.”
“If it wasn’t for him, this company would honestly plummet to the ground,” Hongjoong jokes, but Seonghwa takes his hand and squeezes it, tenderly stroking the skin.
“No it wouldn’t,” he pouts, “Don’t say that, my love.”
“I’m just exaggerating,” Hongjoong brushes him off, turning around to Yunho and shooting him a wink, “I’m an artistic soul, I don’t know how math works.”
“Ah, me neither,” Yunho offers, taking another swing from his drink, “I’m really bad with savings. My friends always nag me that I need to take better care of my finances, but jokes on them because we all end up splitting the bill on groceries.”
The rum is now swimming freely in his tummy, and it’s making him ramble like he always does when he’s nervous, eyes averting the couples’ gaze. Fingers tapping on his glass, he looks outside towards the city lights. “I don’t even want to think about my student loans, I haven’t visited the department in a while now….” he mumbles to himself.
Silence falls across the table. Seonghwa clears his throat, “Yunho dear - is that something you’d like us to help you with? We can definitely do that.”
Instantly, Yunho panics, “Ah! No, no, not at all. I’m just-” he sighs, rubbing at his temples. He really should have waited for his food to arrive before downing his cocktail. Who offers to pay for someone’s student debt on the first date anyway? Park Seonghwa does, apparently.
“I just think that that is something that’s my responsibility. I don’t want other people meddling with it. I’m sorry if that’s rude-”
“It’s not rude at all!” Hongjoong assures him, “We’re practically strangers, we’re not entitled to know your financial situation, Yunho. We’re not going to forcefully meddle with parts of your life that you don’t want us to. That’s just wrong.”
“We can establish boundaries,” Seonghwa says, “Talk about the ways we could help you, if you want to meet again, that is. It’s a two-way arrangement - you obviously get something in return.”
Yunho gulps, nervously digging his nails into the pads of his fingers under the table. He’s not a confrontational person. He hates asking for help more than anything, especially when it comes to things like this. But the two of them seem eager to help him, at least they seem honest enough about it. But he’s so confused, so out of the loop with how an arrangement like this could work.
“Can I be honest with you guys?” his voice is barely a mumble, but they both nod. “I-I have no idea what I’m doing here. My friends thought it would be fun to create a profile for me on this app, but I’ve never done this before. I don’t know how it works. I don’t - I don’t really know what I want.”
Their expressions are hard to read, but they don’t look mad at least. His chest trembles with each breath, “I don’t know what I could give someone, and I don’t know what I would wish for in return. I don’t want help with my student loans - I just, I’m not sure-”
“Hey,” Hongjoong sounds soft, like the warm crackle of a fireplace, “That’s fine, that’s totally fine. If you want to not go through with this date-”
“No, I-” Yunho feels his throat swell with unshed tears, and he’s so nervous, “I’m here because - well, because I’m attracted to you. And maybe, maybe I want to try this out. I just don’t know what to do.”
“That’s okay,” Seonghwa reassures him, “It’s a first for us too, you know. And we’re attracted to you, too, you know.”
Yunho’s cheeks burn like he’s on fire.
Saving him from his embarrassment, the waiter finally arrives with their food; a few small plates in the center with entrees and salad, and their respective main dishes in front of each one of them.
Yunho finds himself with a hefty plate of slices of roasted stuffed meat and warm sweet potatoes that smell like heaven. “Go on, dig in, it’s delicious,” Hongjoong smiles at him.
And so, the conversation is put on hold for the sake of their dinner - Yunho carefully cuts a piece of juicy, warm meat and puts it in his mouth.
And almost tears up.
It’s scalding on his tongue but he doesn’t care; the flavors that burst on his tongue, the warmth that fills his entire body as he chews and swallows - he hasn’t eaten an actual meal like this in years, something that reminds him of when he was little. He’s been living off of store-bought snacks, coffee and energy drinks and he knows it’s stupid and insignificant but he just wishes he could have enough time and money to spend on groceries without having to cut corners.
There’s so many thoughts in his mind that it overwhelms him, and he falls exceptionally quiet as he eats his dinner, savoring every bite.
“Does it taste good?” Seonghwa leans closer, sweet perfume pulling Yunho in.
A comforting hand settles on Yunho’s back, large palm rubbing the small of his back.
It feels so good, this touch, the attention Seonghwa is giving him, and he doesn’t know if it’s because he’s a very touchy person who’s always craved hands-on affection, or because he’s secretly longed for something like this for a while now. Whatever the case is, Yunho trembles, nodding and pushing more food into his mouth.
“D’you want a dumpling?” Hongjoong speaks up, and when Yunho turns towards him he’s already holding a steaming one between his chopsticks in the air, ready to deposit it on Yunho’s plate, “Hey, they look just like you,” he giggles, one polished finger booping his cheek.
Yunho is going to melt right there, like fondue cheese, on the table, in this expensive fucking restaurant, forever stripped from his dignity.
“It’s all so tasty,” he whispers. Hongjoong and Seonghwa sigh happily and let him finish his dish in silence, listening to the background jazz music and the ambience of chatter.
It’s not until they’ve ordered dessert that they pick up the conversation again, “M-maybe,” he starts, playing around with his spoon in the piece of warm apple pie and ice cream they’re sharing, “Perhaps, I could, um.”
Hongjoong thankfully catches on quickly, “You can ask for anything, you can tell us. Whatever you feel comfortable with, Yunho.”
He tries to explain his jumbled thoughts from earlier as best as he can to them, and the couple listens to him, nodding along. They don’t judge him one bit when he explains that what he struggles with are the simple things, the insignificant small details of everyday life that manage to bring him down and even make it hard to get out of bed sometimes. That he doesn’t have time for a part-time job, and even if he did, he’d surely fall asleep on the counter. That his studies are hard, that his major is filled with competitive people and he can’t afford to fall behind.
Seonghwa speaks first, words gentle and comforting - he says their arrangement could work as a small allowance, since Yunho feels iffy about asking for more or teetering into ‘paying-for-his-entire-student-debt’ territory. They don’t settle on anything for the moment, but his stomach isn’t tied into a knot like before. He still feels shy, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. And Hongjoong and Seonghwa never make him feel bad for speaking up.
When their bill comes, the waiter places it discreetly on the table. Yunho, who’s talking with Hongjoong, sees Seonghwa out of the corner of his eye taking a peek at the bill before he signals to the waiter with one hand, taking out his card with the other from his coat.
Yunho doesn’t say anything, but Hongjoong gives him a smile. They’ll take care of it, he means.
They’ll take care of him, too.
“Are you sure you’re okay with riding the train this late at night? I can call you a taxi, y’know.”
“No, ‘s okay,” Yunho assures them. They’re in the elevator, descending slowly, and it gives Yunho a heady, floaty sensation in combination with his full tummy and the drinks he consumed. He blinks a few times when his eyes droop downwards, fatigue taking over him. “It stops right next to where I live. And I don’t want to waste a ticket.”
Admittingly, and he’s not sure why, but he does feel kind of disappointed that the couple didn’t offer to drive him home. He knows it’s probably for the best - he might have panicked, and they’re doing their best to give him his space. This was only a first date, if he can even call it that. Even after tonight, they know almost nothing about each other.
His stomach twists; he doesn’t want to catastrophize and assume that they’re not offering because they don’t want to see him again.
“Here,” Hongjoong passes him a small card once they’re outside of the building, heading towards the train station. Yunho takes it, regarding it curiously, “My personal card, it has both mine and Seonghwa’s phone numbers on it,” he points to the fine printing, “If you need us for anything, please don’t hesitate to call, okay Yunho?”
Hongjoong’s palm reaches up and ruffles his hair and, oh, Yunho really can’t protest after that.
They walk with him until the station’s entrance, Seonghwa’s hand on the small of his back, the three of them gravitating towards each other for warmth. He still has two minutes until his train arrives, so he stops abruptly right in front of the staircase, and turns to them.
“I-” he begins, failing to find the right words at first, “This was nice. I mean, I had a wonderful time.” He hopes he doesn’t sound as desperate as he feels.
The couple look at him with their star-filled eyes, offering their smiles on a platter, as if it’s just for him.
“It was wonderful,” Seonghwa admits, pursing his lips as if he’s trying not to smile harder, “To be honest with you, Yunho, we were very nervous before this. But, as it appears, there was nothing to worry about.”
An announcement rings through the station, startling Yunho. He needs to get going quickly, if he doesn’t want to miss the last train of the night.
Yet he remains frozen on his feet, standing before a married couple that’s looking at him with expressions so fond that draw him in, like a spell.
“Will I see you again?” he blurts out, almost breathless. His hands tingle at his sides - he wants to touch, but maybe a hug would be too much. He doesn’t even know them that well, why is he so touch-starved?
But Hongjoong rubs his hand down his arm, a momentary comfort, “If you want to, yes. We want to see you again too, Yunho.”
Yunho wants to hear his name from their lips again and again and again.
His ears ring again - he’s gonna miss his train if he doesn’t leave now.
“Go, go, you’ll miss your train,” Seonghwa tells him, “Be safe, Yunho!”
“You too!” he shouts as he runs, turning to look at them as he runs down the stairs - it’s a miracle he doesn’t trip and fall on his face, and squeezes himself through the automatic doors a second before they close and the train takes off, mechanical whirring pushing him forwards with force.
Thankfully, there seems to be no weirdos on the train this time, which is a first - there’s a couple dozing off with their heads pushed together at the back, a group of ladies softly chattering and another young man who’s reading a book. Silently, Yunho takes a seat and leans his head against the window. It feels soothingly cold on his flushed skin. He closes his eyes and sighs - maybe he’ll doze off for the rest of the ride.
His phone buzzes, but he’s already breathing heavily, head sinking into fluffy clouds of dreams, face squished against the window.
‘'Kim-Park’ has sent you a message! Tap here for more.’