Ou Wen agreed to go to KTV because, well…it wasn’t like he had that much of a choice. Joanna had cornered him earlier in the day and simply informed him that there was going to be a company outing later and who said no to Joanna? Certainty not Ou Wen. Besides the fact that she was incredibly intimidating when she wanted to be, she also controlled his paycheck and Ou Wen kind of liked his job. Still, he wasn’t looking forward to it by any means, especially not after finding out that the hairstylists of VooDoo were invited as well.
“Aren’t you avoiding Mark?” Ou Wen asked when he found out. He was avoiding Mark too, but no one knew that.
“Yes, but I’ve decided to be magnanimous and help out Yan Fei,” Joanna said. She gestured for him to come closer and Ou Wen leans in, too afraid not to. “It’s been so long she’s growing cobwebs down there. You know what I mean?” Joanna whispered conspiratorially as she waved her hand in the area of her crotch. Ou Wen grimaced at the unnecessary imagery, but didn’t comment on the oversharing of information. “She just needs a little push so she can fall onto Hsuan Yu’s- uh...fall into Hsaun Yu’s arms and we’re going to help her.”
Ou Wen didn’t say anything, but the way he raised his brows and pursed his lips must have given away his skepticism because Joanna scowled and smacked him in the arm. He yelped and shied away, surprised at how strong she was.
“You’re either with me or you’re against me,” Joanna said, warning clear in her voice. “Just follow my lead and don’t mess up.” She stared him down until finally, he timidly nodded in agreement.
“Good,” she said. “9pm. Don’t be late, I’ll make a LINE group chat and sent the location later.” She started turn away, but then stops and looks at him for a moment, eyes calculating in a way that gave Ou Wen goosebumps. He felt like he should say something, but before he could think of anything, she shook her head and flounced off to invite the other people in the office. Ou Wen watched her leave feeling like he had missed something big that might come back to bite him in the ass later.
It had been a couple of days since the incident and so far, Ou Wen had done a phenomenal job at avoiding VooDoo, and in turn, Mark. A lot of his clients were newer so that meant meetings to discuss the results of the algorithm, self-improvement classes, and a whole lot of paperwork before Ou Wen even had to consider taking them to the salon for a makeover. Mark, who usually messaged him at least once a day about something completely inane, hadn’t contacted him at all. Ou Wend didn’t know if he should be upset or relieved by this. One one hand, the longer Mark didn’t message him, the longer Ou Wen could pretend like nothing happened between them. On the other hand, the silence was giving him mild anxiety because he had no idea what Mark was thinking. Was he upset with Ou Wen? Disgusted by him? Afraid of him? Was he avoiding Ou Wen the way Ou Wen was avoiding him or was he waiting for Ou Wen to make the first movie? Even if Ou Wen bit the bullet and apologized first, what would even happen? They couldn’t return to the way they used to be. At least Ou Wen couldn’t, not when he knew what Mark tasted like, felt like, sounded like. He didn’t know about Mark.
(Also, if he was being honest, he kind of missed the memes and cat videos, especially on slow days.)
But now…now he was going to have to face Mark whether he wanted to or not. Joanna was going to be there which meant Mark will definitely come. Not to mention there was no way Hsuan Yu would show up without him. He didn’t seem like the partying type. So Mark was either going to confront him, ignore him, or pretend like nothing happened. None of these options were appealing to Ou Wen.
He took a moment to consider making up an excuse to get out of the event, but then he thinks about all the ways Joanna could make his life a living hell and begrudgingly comes to terms with the fact that seeing mark for a few hours was the lesser of two evils. Probably. He’d just have to figure out a way to sit as far from Mark as possible. And get really, really drunk really, really fast.
Work went by way too fast though Ou Wen tried to drag it out as much as possible. It seemed like every time he checked his watch another hour had passed. The weight in his stomach grew progressively heavier and when he finally sat down for dinner, he was barely able to take two bites before he put his chopsticks down and gave up.
Joanna sent the location in a group chat as promised and followed up with a vaguely threatening sticker. Sheng Ying replied with a gif of a sloth that made Ou Wen snort. Then Mark sent a gif of a dancing heart and Ou Wen feels his heart skip a beat, Shakily, he locked his phone screen and shoved it into his back pocket. He just had to survive a few hours. He was a grown man. He could do it. Absolutely…yes.
Ou Wen arrived a few minutes late because no one arrived at karaoke on time anyway and he wanted to avoid running into Mark. The place was a typical KTV joint. Full length mirrors lined the halls creating fractal patterns and the lights were dim and placed far apart, giving the whole place the impression of a night club. A high energy EDM song was playing in the background to cover the muffled music coming from the private rooms. A waiter in a black bowtie and ill-fitted red brocade vest led Ou Wen to the room Joanna booked.
When he walked in, he was momentarily relieved to see that Mark wasn’t there yet. Joanna had booked a large VIP room meant to fit 20 people which was more than enough room. The couches spread along three sides of the room and there were a few extra stools in the corner. The low tables in the middle of the room were full of alcohol, empty cups, snacks, and a few sets of Liar’s Dice. Some of his coworkers were lounging on the couches, helping themselves to the drinks. Others had microphones and tambourines in their hands, singing a recent pop song very badly. Joanna was in the far corner in front of the song selector, swiping through the screen with one hand as she held on to Yan Fei with her other hand, trying to get her to pick a song.
“Dai Ou Wen!” Sheng Ying shouted when she saw him. She was closest to the door and halfway through the beer in her hand already. “Take a shot with me or call me your grandma!”
Ou Wen could only cross his harms and shake his head in exasperation. Sheng Ying and alcohol was never a good idea. Combined with a KTV room? Ou Wen didn’t even want to think about where this night was going to end up? Hopefully there would still be a few people sober enough to get her home safely.
“Take a look at your wrinkles. I’ll call you grandma right now,” Ou Wen shot back. Sheng Ying gasped in indignation, clutching her heart, while the people who heard him laughed. Ou Wen himself chucked, feeling the knot in his stomach loosen a little. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
“Hey big guy, move over. You’re blocking the door.”
He spoke too fast.
The moment Ou Wen heard Mark’s voice, he stiffened. He wasn’t sure what his expression was, but if the way Sheng Ying wriggling her brows was any indication, it was a good thing he wasn’t planning on playing poker tonight.
Forcing a smile on his face, Ou Wen stepped to the side and half-turned. “Right. Sorry. Didn’t notice.” His eyes skimmed over Mark and settled on Hsuan Yu behind him.
“Hey, Ou Wen,” Hsuan Yu greeted in his usual mild-mannered way. He spared Ou Wen five seconds of a genuine smile before his attention naturally and very obviously gravitated towards Yan Fei. He drifted over to where she was trying to avoid the microphone in Joanna’s hands without another word. To Ou Wen’s surprise, Mark didn’t follow. Instead, he looked a bit stunned as he stared at Ou Wen, eyes wider than normal, mouth slightly parted. Ou Wen didn’t know what to make of that. Was he shocked because he hadn’t expected Ou Wen to be there? If so, then that was stupidity on his part. Ou Wen clearly replied to the group chat at one point with a thumbs up emoji.
Or maybe he hadn’t been prepared to face Ou Wen so quickly? Ou Wen could sympathize with that.
Whatever it was, the expression was starting to make Ou Wen more uncomfortable than he already was. After a few beats of incredibly awkward silence, Ou Wen couldn’t help himself.
“The last person to look at me like that ended up in my bed,” he said pointedly. And usually that statement would be fine, on brand with his typical sarcasm and wit. He wouldn’t even think twice about it. However, this situation was anything but usual and Ou Wen regretted it the moment the sentence left his mouth. Apparently he had no brain cells where Mark was involved,
Still, it was enough to shake Mark out of his stupor. He grimaced and looked away, the tips of his ears flushing red.
“Sorry,” Mark muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. “I didn’t realize…you just…you look different.”
That caught Ou Wen by surprise and he glanced down at himself. He was dressed more casually than usual, a white graphic t-shirt French tucked into a slim pair of dark wash jeans. He had traded his usual Italian leather dress shoes for a pair of white sneakers and he had ran the iron through his hair a few times before heading out, giving his usually pin straight hair a slight curl at the edges. It was nothing to write home about.
“What, you thought I only wore suits?” Ou Wen asked, raising one of his brows at Mark. If anything, Mark blushed an even brighter red and furiously shook his head.
“No-that’s not-I just…” He trailed off into an incomprehensible mumble, then points in the general direction of Hsuan Yu and started backing away. Ou Wen could only watch him flee to Joanna’s side of the room with a sour taste in his mouth, knowing that he had been right to dread coming to KTV. To Joanna’s credit, she plainly ignored Mark when he tried to greet her and pulled Yan Fei between them as a barrier, but that didn’t make him feel any better.
Ou Wen didn’t get long to dwell on it. As soon as Mark was across the room, Sheng Ying grabbed Ou Wen by the arm and dragged him to the couch with surprising strength. Since when were the women in his life so strong?
“You promise me a shot, Dai Ou Wen! Don’t even think about weaseling out!” Though she didn’t explicitly say she was trying to distract him, Ou Wen could see a hint of sympathy in her eyes as she poured them out shots of Hennessey. If it had been any other coworker, Ou Wen might have been embarrassed about such an obvious moment of weakness. However, it was Sheng Ying, and as much as they liked to constantly insult each other, at the end of the day, the camaraderie the shared as unspoken and deep. Being the only two queer people in the office hadn’t exactly been difficult – Boss Fei strove for an inclusive work environment- but there were always things and experiences that would be difficult to explain.
Ou Wen downed the shot without waiting for Sheng Ying, wincing as the alcohol burned the back of this throat.
“You wanna pace yourself that, buddy?” Sheng Ying asked, watching Ou Wen pour out a second shot uneasily. “We’re just beginning and tonight is going to be a long night.”
Ou Wen waved away her concern with a roll of his eyes. “Funny coming from Ms. Lightweight herself. What? Afraid you can’t keep up?”
“Ha!” Sheng Ying exclaimed. She was never able to back down from a challenge. “I’m just afraid no one’s going to help your drunk ass get home tonight. Hope you enjoy sleeping on the streets! Cheers!” She clinked her shot glass against his and they both threw back their drinks.
Ou Wen set his glass down, only to be immediately accosted by his coworkers and forced to sing. They shoved a microphone into his hand, turned on the flashlights on the phones, and started waving them in the air like light sticks when the opening notes of a familiar ballad floated from the speakers. It went without saying that Ou Wen was the best singer out of all of them and Sheng Ying even fake swooned as he crooned through lyrics that hit a too close to home.
When he finished, last note lingering in the air, Ou Wen felt a bit maudlin. Was it really better to have loved and lost rather than not to have loved at all? The songs always say that, but real life application didn’t really support the argument, not from Ou Wen’s perspective anyway. He had never experienced an unrequited love that didn’t suck. Maybe it was a matter of his luck?
He didn’t get to dwell on that thought long. Sheng Ying slapped him heartily on the back, pulling him back before he got too lost, and switched his mic for a beer.
“Maybe you should quite being a matchmaker and try being an idol,” she said.
“Sure,” Ou Wen replied, leaning back into the back with a smirk. “And you can be my bodyguard.”
Sheng Ying got a dangerous gleam in her eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of all those dangerous female fans for you,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows salaciously. Ou Wen laughed. He was sure she would.
About five songs and half a beer later, Ou Wen felt more relaxed. Most of it was because of Sheng Ying and his other work friends, cracking jokes, singing off tune, dancing awkwardly to songs with signature choreography. Some of it was those two shots finally kicking in, giving the world a pleasant, hazy glow. Not paying attention to the other side of the room also helped.
However, peace was never meant to last.
Midway through a rousing chorus of Look Over Here, Girl!, Joanna paused the song and stepped onto the low table, expertly avoiding the glasses and cups that littered the table. Half the room booed while the other half continued singing without music, progressively getting more off-key.
“Everyone’s here, so listen up!” Joanna shouted, placing her hands on her hips. She glared down at the crowd and everyone quieted, too intimidated to do anything else. Only Yan Fei was brave enough to tug at Joanna’s arm, asking her what she was doing in an embarrassed hissed. Joanna shook her off and produced a pack of playing cards out of thin air. Then she looked over at Ou Wen and gave him a wink. Any apprehension he already felt tripled in a matter of a split second.
“We’re going to play a game I learned about during my many years as a stewardess!” she announced with all the grandeur of a game show host. “It’s called Seven Minutes in Heaven!”
And while Ou Wen had never heard of the game before, it didn’t take a genius to pick up the context clues. On top of the dread he felt, there was a new layer of confusion. Was this…was this…Joanna’s genius plan? For some reason he had been expecting something more subtle. This was a bit more forceful that he expected. Also, wasn’t it a bit chancy to leave things to a deck of cards?
“Here’s how the game goes! We’ll only be using two suits since there are only about twenty of us here. We all draw a card and keep it a secret. The person who draws the king is all powerful! They get to choose two number and those two will be escorted and locked in out ‘heaven’!” Joanna pointed to the ensuite bathroom in the corner of the room. “We’re all adults here so I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you ‘heaven’ means,” she said twirling her hair suggestively.
The room burst in a low roar, everyone giggling and nudging each other. Curious, Ou Wen risked a glance over at the other side of the room. Yan Fei was glaring daggers up at Joanna while Hsuan Yu was behind her blushing slightly. Mark was also observing at Joanna, expression contemplative. The familiar feeling of jealousy twisted in his stomach and Ou Wen forced himself to look away.
“Now, of course we’re not making anyone do anything,” Joanna reassured and some of the people in the room let out a breath of air. “But we’re still locking you in that room. Make a new friend, Take a nap. Braid each other’s hair! I don’t care. This gathering is about team bonding and we are going to bond! In fact, let’s make it an even ten minutes instead of seven. Really get to know each other!”
With a self-satisfied smile, Joanna moved to step of the table, then then stops, remembering something. She spun around and pointed at every single person. “If you back out of the game, five shot penalty. I’m playing for keeps tonight.”
No one even thought to challenge her. Joanna hopped off the table and, to Ou Wen’s surprise, squeezed her next to him instead of returning to her side of the room.
“Gather around everyone. Don’t forget who’s paying for you to have fun tonight.”
When she had been explaining the rules, Ou Wen had been perplexed. How was Joanna going to guarantee that Hsuan Yu and Boss Fei ended up locked in the bathroom together? Just play until fate smiled at them. Ou Wen wasn’t the best at math, but even he could tell the chances were slim.
Then Joanna slid the cards out of the box and Ou Wen understood. With practiced ease, she separated the heart and spade suits and discarded the rest of the deck. She started shuffling, the cards fluttering so fast between her hands they were a blur of red and white. There was no fate involved. Joanna was Lady Luck tonight.
“Draw,” she said, taking the top care and passing the ‘shuffled’ deck to Ou Wen. Ou Wen hesitantly accepted it, not trusting the mischievous glint in her eyes She winked at him again and he really wished she’d stop doing that because it was only making him more and more uneasy about the whole thing.
He drew a card.
King. Of course.
He passed the deck to Sheng Ying, ignoring the smugness radiating from Joanna. He still wasn’t sure how she was going to pull this off and it kind of felt like jumping out of a tree with his eyes closed and trusting that someone will happen to walk but at exactly the right moment. He hoped he didn’t metaphorically break his back.
The cards made their way around the table. Some people were more enthusiastic than others, looking at their cards behind cupped hands and trying to steal peeks at what their neighbors had. Yan Fei took her card begrudgingly – Ou Wen was surprised she was actually going along with Joanna’s harebrained scheme- and glowered so hard across the room it was a wonder Joanna hadn’t burst into flames yet.
“Will the king please reveal themselves?” Joanna said cheerfully as soon as the last card was drawn.
Ou Wen reluctantly flipped his card face up on the table.
“Ou Wen!” Joanna gasped in surprised. It was so fake he had to level with a deadpan expression or risk saying something rude. She gave him a dazzling smile in response and swept a hand at the room. “Our first king of the night. Pick your numbers!”
Ou Wen squinted at her, trying to determine if there was some sort of trick involved. Were there numbers he was supposed to call? Was he supposed to know what those numbers were? They were trying to get Hsuan Yu and Yan Fei together, right? But how was he supposed to know what cards they had? He was neither psychic nor the one rigging the game. He racked his brains for any hints Joanna might have dropped, but nothing came to mind.
Finally, he gave up and decided to pick random numbers. If he somehow ruined the plan, Joanna could only blame herself.
“Eight of hearts and four of hearts.”
Next to him Sheng Ying froze. On his other side, Joanna cackled. The numbers he picked didn’t seem so random anymore.
“Lucky number eight! Where are you?” Joanna said, standing up and throwing her card on the table. At first no one responded, everyone exchanging glances in anticipation. Then Sheng Ying lowered her card. There was a collective gasp that resounded throughout the room.
Ignoring them, Joanna grinned wickedly and grabbed Sheng Ying, dragging her over Ou Wen’s lap. Ou Wen caught the panicked, wide-eyed look on her face- recognized it because that was how he looked every time he saw Mark- and suddenly remembered the off-hand comment she had made the other day about falling for straight people. All the pieces of the puzzles fell into place.
Well, Ou Wen couldn’t say he blamed Sheng Ying. Joanna was a formidable force of nature, the kind that demanded to be worshipped and deserved nothing less. There was a reason why Mark was so enamored with her and even Ou Wen had to admit that there were worse people to fall for. If Ou Wen was maybe 10% less gay, he probably would have fallen for her, too. Might have been easier than falling for Mark.
The whole situation was weirdly ironic and now it was Ou Wen’s turn to grimace sympathetically at Sheng Ying being pushed into the bathroom.
“Remember to set the timer!” Joanna called out. Almost half the room pulled out their phones as she shut the door behind her.
For a good ten seconds, everyone was lost. Joanna was obviously the ringleader and now that she was occupied, no one was sure what to do. But then someone cracked open a beer, Yan Fei turned the music back on, and the atmosphere settled back into something more normal. Ou Wen ended up downing the rest of his beer before he does anything else. If Mark didn’t force him into an early grave, Joanna definitely would and he wasn’t sure his current salary could cover the funeral expenses.
Speaking of Mark…Ou Wen wondered how he was reacting to this newfound pair. Was he upset that he hadn’t been chosen? He was probably blaming Ou Wen for not picking his card with Joanna’s. He could already imagine Mark sulking, pouting like he was a spoiled child. Maybe it was a good thing they were avoiding each other because otherwise he would definitely be whining to Ou Wen right now and Ou Wen would be taking gulps straight out the Henny bottle to stop himself from strangling Mark.
Unable to help himself, Ou Wen snuck a peek across the room. To his surprise, Mark was remarkably calm. He wasn’t even paying attention to the bathroom door, instead switching between nudging an embarrassed Hsuan Yu into Yan Fei and laughing with one of the junior hairstylists. It was unexpected to say the least and Ou Wen was so thrown off, he forgot he was supposed to be ignoring Mark and ended up staring.
As though he could sense Ou Wen’s gaze, Mark turned his head and ended up locking eyes with Ou Wen. He was mid-laugh, eyes curved into crescent moons, lips pulled over his teeth and it was so breathtaking, so genuine, Ou Wen felt his heart stop. Ou Wen immediately looked away, a blush rising in his cheeks, and his pulse thudding in his ears. One of his coworkers shoved a microphone into his hands, demanding he sang another song, and he took it without protest.
He ended up singing two and was about to start a third one when phone alarms started going off. It was like the air disappeared from the room and everyone snapped their heads toward the bathroom door, buzzing with anticipation.
Joanna came out first, perfectly composed, and flipped her hair over her shoulder. She flashed a smile at the room and people started turning away, disappointed.
Then Sheng Ying stumbled out.
She was dazed, eyes glassy, lipstick smeared on the corner of her mouth. Her hair was messier than usual and here was and obvious red mark on her neck, peeking out from beneath her collar. Excited, hushed whispered started to circulate the room. There was no mistaking the self-satisfied curl of Joanna’s lips as she took her place next to Ou Wen again.
Sheng Yin also tried to return to her seat, but she almost fell flat on her face when Joanna grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her down next to her. Still in shock, Sheng Ying sat down obediently and Ou Wen sympathetically passes her a beer, swallowing down his own surprise.
He guessed Joanna was not as straight as he assumed, or anybody else for that matter. He was definitely going to have to ask Sheng Ying more about that later.
“Who’s going next?” Joanna asked playfully after she made sure Sheng Ying was settled next to her. She gathered up the forgotten cards and made quick work of shuffling them. Ou Wen found himself wondering where she picked up these skills. He made a mental note never to play poker with her. Or blackjack. Or Go Fish for that matter. She’d probably end up taking the clothes off his back.
The rest of the room gathered back around the time, trying to be subtle about the way they were stealing glances at the two women. Joanna ignored them and let Sheng Ying pick the first card, an unexpectedly sweet gesture.
Did Joanna also…no, but…he hadn’t…So confused, Ou Wen accepted the deck and drew a card. How could he have missed the signs that something was going on between them? Had he really been so blinded by his own issues with Mark that overlooked this budding office romance? More importantly, why didn’t Sheng Ying tell him? He thought they were comrades in arms! Ou Wen made up his mind to corner Sheng Ying later that night.
He was just about to start plotting how when Joanna jumped up and threw her card face-up on the table. Looked like the last card got drawn when Ou Wen wasn’t paying attention and Joanna was king. Nothing good could come from this.
“Who’s going to be the lucky bastard this time?” she said, scanning the room. There was devious expression on her face the unnerved Ou Wen. When she turned to him, he knew he was screwed.
Ou Wen tried to stare her down which was a difficult task as he had to look up at her. There was also the fact that the gods couldn’t intimidate her and Ou Wen was only human. He knew what she was about to say before she said it, but that didn't stop him from silently begging her not to.
Joanna stared right back, openly challenging him. “Queen of hearts,” she said slowly, naming the card in Ou Wen’s hand. She lifted a brow and one edge of her mouth raised into a smirk that promised nothing good. Still, Ou Wen foolishly held out hope. As long as it wasn’t Mark. Anyone but Mark. Just not Mark.
Joanna waited a few seconds for dramatic effect and then said, “Jack of spades.”
Of course it was Mark.
Ou Wen’s stare turned into a glare as he slowly lowered his own card onto the table. Joanna responded by blowing him a kiss. He could feel everyone in the room looking at him and knew the gossip mill was going to be rich with speculation on Monday.
Why did he let her trick him into this again? Oh right, she gave him his paycheck.
Was it too late for him to quit his job?
No, but it was definitely too late to avoid Mark.
Ou Wen took a deep breath to mentally prepare himself. He wasn’t sure how Mark was going to react and he half expected to down five shots, already feeling the ghost of the burn in the back of his throat. To his surprise, Mark had gotten out of his seat and was walking towards Ou Wen like everything was completely normal.
He strolled passed the couch without sparing Joanna a glance and stopped in front in of the bathroom. “Well?” Mark says impatiently, seeing that Ou Wen hadn’t moved. “I don’t have all night.”
Flabbergasted, Ou Wen hesitantly got up and joined him. Some of their coworkers were hooting in the background and if Ou Wen had been in less of a stupor, he would have checked who they were so he could make their lives a living hell at work. The next thing he knew, they were in the bathroom and Mark was closing the door behind them cutting off the sound from the outside.
The bathroom itself was small, but clean and very well soundproofed, to be expected from a KTV room. The sink was set in a black marble counter and a mirror stretched from the counter all the way to the ceiling. Next to it was the toilet.
Ou Wen went to the furthest wall away from Mark, but that didn’t mean much in such a small space. The first minute passed agonizingly slow in awkward silence and Ou Wen crossed his arms protectively in front of his chest, racking his brains for something to say. Should he bring up the kiss? Should he apologize for what happened at VooDoo and try to play it off as a joke? Should he make a comment about the weather? Anything had to better than this weird tension, right? Ou Wen could barely stand to look at Mark and in a room this small, that didn’t leave many other places to look at.
“So…” Mark broke the silence first and Ou Wen was so deep in his head that he jumped in fright. “Sheng Ying and Joanna, huh?” Mark asked tentatively and Ou Wen could tell it was an olive branch of some sort by the way he seemed unsure, almost shy.
“Yeah,” Ou Wen nodded, feeling a bit relieved. So they weren’t going to talk about the kiss. Fine by him. “I didn’t see that one coming.” The knot that had been in his stomach the past few days loosed slightly. He knew Mark well enough to realize that if he was upset, he wouldn’t hesitate to express it. The fact that he wasn’t yelling at Ou Wen right now meant that he wasn’t mad about what happened on the couch. Where that left them though, Ou Wen wasn’t sure.
“I just…I thought Joanna liked guys,” Mark said. He frowned, rubbing the back of his neck and Ou Wen almost rolled his eyes at how puzzled Mark sounded, how predictable this all was. There was the old Mark he knew. The ignorant one that liked to put his foot in his mouth. The one that was still stuck on Joanna.
“She does,” Ou Wen said, trying to be patient. “Bi people exist. So do pan people. But also sexuality is a scale so maybe she just felt like kissing a girl today.”
Mark tilted his head as he thought about it and Ou Wen was hit with the sudden urge to make a sarcastic comment about thinking too hard. He forgot how easy it was to insult Mark sometimes.
“That seems complicated. You think Joanna’s bi?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Ou Wen said dryly. He should have made the comment. “We don't exactly print out our sexual preferences on the company memos. Why don’t you ask her yourself if you’re so curious?”
In all fairness, Ou Wen was pretty interested in knowing as well. Sure it wasn’t really any of his business, but that didn’t deter him from enjoying the occasional piece of company gossip. Besides, Joanna owed him after all of this, and the whisperings about Boss Fei and hairstylist Number 29 was starting to get old.
“Maybe that’s why she’s not interested in me,” Mark muttered thoughtfully. He rubbed his chin like an old sage and Ou Wen gaped at him incredulously. Where did that conclusion come from? Did he not know what the definition of bisexual was? He knew Mark was dumb when it came to all things not straight, but Ou Wen was still at a loss. What twist of fate made him fall for the most ignorant straight man he had ever had the misfortune of meeting.
Before he could stop himself, Ou Wen took a few steps forward and flicked Mark in the forehead. Mark yelped and batted his hand away.
“What was that for?” he asked, shoving Ou Wen in the shoulder. It was a light push and Ou Wen barely swayed.
“That’s for being an absolute dumbass! If she’s bi, she likes men and women. That has nothing to do with the numerous of reasons she has not to like you.”
“What are you talking about? I’m an absolute catch!” Mark said. He puffed out his chest and glared at Ou Wen, daring him to disagree. “I’m handsome, I’m considerate, I’m loyal, I’m great at protecting people-”
“You can’t fight,” Ou Wen cuts in to point out, remembering the alley. There had been two different alleys, in fact, but both proved his point.
Mark continued over him. “I have a great sense of style. I can cook. I can do hair. I’m a great kisser. I’m really good in bed. And did I mention how handsome I am?”
Ou Wen hummed noncommittally because while yes, Mark was handsome and loyal and pretty considerate most of the time and did dress well and was a phenomenal kisser – he didn’t even think about the bed one, too dangerous –there was no way he was going to let Mark know that he thought any other that. So instead, Ou Wen shrugged and crossed his arms again, letting Mark interpret the silence however he wanted to.
“What, you disagree?” Mark challenged, taking a step into OU Wen’s space?
“Well, let me see. “ Ou Wen raised a hand to tap his bottom lip in mock contemplation. He started counting off his fingers. “You’re whiny. You’re immature. You’re impulsive. You’re needy. You’re ignorant. You’re hotheaded. You don’t listen. You can’t take a hint. Do I need to keep going? I don’t think being ‘handsome’ or a ‘good kisser’ or ‘good in bed’ is enough to make up for all of that,” Ou Wen said, making air quotes around the last few things to emphasize his sarcasm.
“What does that mean?” Mark asked, mimicking the air quotes. “What are you trying to say? I’ve never had any complaints about my performance.
And of course that was what Mark took away from all of this. Not the long list of flaws Ou Wen just pointed out, all valid reasons as to why Joanna had no interest in him. Nope. The thing he focused on was the comment on his virility. God forbid if Ou Wen insulted his sexual prowess. Men. They were all the same whether they were gay, straight, or any shade in between.
“Why would you have? It’s a commonly known fact that women fake orgasms and lie about that stuff all the time,” Ou Wen said dismissively. He was a bit too entertained by the way Mark’s eyes widened, the gears in his head starting to turn. Serves him right. Unable to resist, Ou Wen leaned in a little and theatrically whispered, “Especially if you’re really bad at it.”
Mark opened and closed his mouth a few times, reaching for words he couldn’t find. He looked like a gaping fish, much to Ou Wen’s entertanment. He ended up pointing an accusing finger at Ou Wen and sputtered, “How do you know all of this? Did Joanna say something to you?”
Unimpressed, Ou Wen gestured to himself. “I’m gay. Did you forget, Women share things with me. We like to bond over how useless men are.” He delicately pinched Mark’s pointer finger between his index finger and thumb and moved it out of his face.
“But that’s not-you’re also-it’s not…”
Smug and amused, Ou Wen watched as Mark had a mini-breakdown, probably mentally running through all the women he had ever slept with. Ou Wen knew he was being a little mean, but he couldn’t help it. All was fair in love and war, right? Why not let him suffer a bit? He’d put Mark out of his misery later and reassure him that no one said anything, that he had just been joking, but for now, he reveled in the moment.
Pretending to be sympathetic, Ou Wen placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “It’s ok. I know you’re-”
Ou Wen was abruptly cut off when Mark grabbed his wrist and looked up at him, eyes sharper than usual. There was something calculation about Mark’s expression and any remaining amusement was swiftly replaced by faint sense of alarm.
“But we kissed,” Mark said and Ou Wen froze. This was…this was not going how he expected. He did not think Mark would bring it up, hadn’t even considered the possibility at this point. He thought they had mutual understanding to avoid the subject for as long as possible and maybe even bury it under seven feet of concrete. Mark was either stupid or brave for bringing this up.
“We kissed, so you know that I’m a great kisser.” The confidence Mark said that with shook Ou Wen to his very core and he felt like a deer caught in the headlights, too stunned to run away. He scrambled to find a comeback.
“You act like you’re the best kiss I’ve ever had,” Ou Wen said. He was several beats too late and his eye roll was unconvincing, but it was better than nothing and all he had left. He tried to pull his hand back, but Mark’s hold is too tight and he’s sure Mark could feel the way his pulse picked up.
“Aren’t I?” Mark asked. And normally, Ou Wen would be offended by the absolute display of ego, the narcissism of it all, but nothing about this was normal and he’d be lying if he said Mark wasn’t one of the best kissers he’d ever met.
So he lied.
“Not even top ten.”
“Oh?” Mark cocked his head to the side and leaned forward. It felt like he could see through Ou Wen which couldn’t be true. He was being paranoid.
He wasn’t paranoid.
“You’re right,” Ou Wen said, licking his lips nervously. He tried to play it off. “Probably not even top twenty. In fact it was awful. Kissing you was awful.” If Ou Wen could slam his head into the wall, he would. It seemed he suddenly forgot how to lie.
Mark frowned and furrowed his brows like he was trying to figure something out. “That’s not it,” he said, taking a step forward. It forces Ou Wen to take a stumbling step back, his hand still in Mark’s grip. “You clearly enjoyed it. Why are you lying?”
Ou Wen felt faint. What was Mark trying to do? What did he gain from getting Ou Wen to admit that Mark was a good kisser? There was a little voice in his head that was starting to become suspicious, that was whispering enticing things about possibilities, but Ou Wen quickly squashes it under the heel of his foot. Hope was a fragile, delicate, translucent thing, easier to break than to keep whole and impossible to put together once shattered. It was better that Ou Wen never considered the possibility Mark might be interested in him. His heart ached enough as it was, thinking about the way Mark chased after Joanna, the way his eyes lit up every time he talked about her, the way his voice softened around her name, the way he literally brightened. If Ou Wen latched onto those thin threads of hope only to watch them deteriorate in his hands when Mark inevitably became enamored with another woman? It would crush him.
He had to figure out a way to end this before it got out of hand.
“It was passable” Ou Wen said weakly. He had never been claustrophobic before, but he was beginning to understand what people meant when they said they felt like the walls were closing in on them. “Kissing is kissing. It was fun. You’re good enough. Is that what you want to hear? Does that make you feel better?”
“But not the best?” Mark asked, refusing to let it go. He had crowded Ou Wen against the sink without him noticing and Ou Wen could feel the edge of the counter against the back of his thighs. There was a rising pressure of panic in the back of his throat.
“Why do you even care?” Ou Wen asked a little hysterically. He pressed a hand into Mark’s chest to maintain some distance between them. He could hardly think straight as it was. He didn’t need Mark coming any closer.
“Do I kiss better than Benson, at least?”
The mention of his ex-boyfriend was so unexpected, Ou Wen tells the truth without thinking. “Yes.” Then, in what might be the stupidest thing he had ever done, he said, “But I doubt you fuck better than him.”
Ou Wen immediately regrets it, clamping his mouth shut. He wondered if he could die from mortification. It had been a desperate attempt to scare Mark off in this weird, perverse game of gay chicken they were playing, a reminder that Ou Wen liked men, kissed men, fucked men and Mark was very much a man.
Except…it came out too much like a challenge, like a dare, like he was wanted Mark to prove him wrong.
Ou Wen wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t the way Marks jaw tensed or the way his expression darkened. There was something dangerous about the quiet intensity in Mark’s eyes as they considered him, not quite a glare, but not quite pleasant either. It triggered a fight or flight response in Ou Wen and adrenaline flooded through his body, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. He was distinctly aware of everything, the way his breaths sounded- harsh and unusually loud in his ears- the heat radiating from Mark so hot it almost burned, the distant sound of singing though it didn’t register as anything more than background noise.
Anticipation simmered beneath the surface and Ou Wen forgot every reason he was fighting against Mark in the first place.
He supposed some things were just inevitable.
Ou Wen didn't know who moved first. The only thing he knew was that one moment they were apart and the next he was kissing Mark like he was starving. He tangled his hands into Mark’s hair, pulled him in as close as they could physically be, and still wanted more. Mark kissed back with equal fervor. He had finally let go of Ou Wen’s wrist, but now his hands seemed to be everywhere, sliding up Ou Wen’s arms, stroking up his back, digging into his waist.
Ou Wen wasn’t sure how to explain it, but this kiss felt different from the others, a little more desperate, a little more hungry, a little more real. If the other kisses were like drowning, this one was like falling knowing no one would catch him at the bottom.
Mark slid his hands under Ou Wen’s shirt and the sudden chill of his rings against Ou Wen’s heated skin causes him to arch into Mark. He let out a low moan and he knew it pleases Mark because he pressed Ou Wen a little harder against the counter and licks at the seam of mouth. Ou Wen didn’t bother playing coy. He let his lips fall apart, let Mark lick into his mouth, let him take what he wanted.
Mark’s hands scratched down Ou Wen’s back, a trick he learned from the alley, and Ou Wen whimpered into Mark’s mouth. Arousal coiled hot and heavy in Ou Wen’s stomach and he parted his legs to let Mark fit better between them. Mark groans in response and in an unexpected display of strength, grabbed Ou Wen by the ass and lifted him onto the counter.
Ou Wen pulled back in surprise, but Mark didn’t miss a beat kissing, down Ou Wen’s jaw and the sensitive skin of his neck. He squeezed Ou Wen’s ass and trailed one hand down his thigh, hooking Ou Wen’s leg around his waist.
It jarred Ou Wen into a moment of clarity, and he frantically patted Mark on the shoulder, a half-hearted attempt to push him away. Was he really halfway to having sex in a KTV bathroom with his supposedly straight, but maybe not so straight unrequited love?
“Wait, wait, wait,” he gasped, trying to focus through a fog of pleasure as Mark worked on a particularly sensitive spot under his jaw. Mark hummed against his skin and slipped his hand back under Ou Wen’s shirt.
“No, wait, Mark,” he hissed, tugging at Mark’s hair.
“What?” Mark snapped, finally letting Ou Wen pull him back. He was still much to close, his breath fanning across Ou Wen’s skin, fingers digging into Ou Wen’s thigh in annoyance. He looked absolutely wild, lips kissed bruised, skin flushed, eyes glinting dangerously.
“I don’t think-”
“For fuck sakes.” Mark yanked Ou Wen’s hips forward and grinded against him. Pleasure shot through Ou Wen and he momentarily forgot his words. “You think too fucking much.” Mark did it again and Ou Wen let out an embarrassingly loud moan, his head knocking back against the mirror behind him. It was impossible not to feel Mark’s growing arousal pressed again. Ou Wen decided that for once Mark was right. He did think too much.
Blindly, he surged forward and claimed Mark’s mouth again. Mark gladly accepted, swallowing all the desperate little sounds Ou Wen was making. He dug his heel into the small of Mark’s back, pulling him in closer and urgently tugged at Mark’s shirt, wanting to feel skin.
He never got the chance though because alarms started blaring so loudly, it could be heard through the bathroom door and it startled them so much they broke apart.
Mark growled, a dark, threatening sound that sent a thrill up Ou Wen’s spine and glared at the door of the bathroom through the mirror. They had forgotten about the time limit.
If Ou Wen was being fair, they had forgotten about a lot of things. Like the fact their coworkers were right outside the door waiting for them to come out. Like the fact they were out in public. Like the fact that they probably shouldn’t have sex for a number of very legitimate reasons Ou Wen was having a hard time remembering.
There was a split second where Ou Wen was tempted to say screw everything and pull Mark back in. The door was locked and he didn’t know if he’d ever get a chance like this again. Their relationship had fundamentally changed and he would be a fool to think that there was any way of returning to the way it used to be once they left the room. If it was ruined, might as well ruin it completely, right?
But then he realized it was in incredibly bad idea and reluctantly unhooked his leg from around Mark’s waist. There was no way he would be able to face his coworkers and boss after he had sex with them right outside the door. His skin wasn’t thick enough for that and he was already going to have to deal with the obvious signs of what happened between him and Mark. Not to mention he probably shouldn’t have a quickie with the person he had feelings for.
“We should probably…” Ou Wen untangled his hand from Mark’s hair and brushed through the messy strands, arranging it into something more presentable. He avoided Mark’s burning gaze and instead focused on straightening Mark’s collar.
Slowly Mark withdrew his hands as well and took a step back to let Ou Wen hop off the counter.
“You go first,” Ou Wen said, spinning around to face the mirror. He could see Mark’s reflection staring at him, looking conflicted. Ou Wen started inspecting himself. He patted down the stray hairs and re-tucked his shirt into his jeans. There were very obvious red splotches on his neck and he lifted his chin to examine them.
“Ou Wen…” Mark said hoarsely as he watched Ou Wen lightly touch the one right under his jaw. The way Mark said his name made it feel like he was asking a question, but Ou Wen didn’t know what it was and even if he didn’t, he didn’t know the answer.
“It’s fine. Go. I’ll be out in soon.”
Mark looked like he wanted to say something else, but then he hesitated and clenched his fists. Finally, he nodded stiffly and turned away from Ou Wen.
“Don’t take too long,” he mumbled, opening the door. The sound of chattering voices filled the bathroom and was abruptly cut off again when the door closed behind Mark.
As soon as Mark was gone, all the strength Ou Wen used to keep himself together drained away and he swayed forward. He clutched the edge of the counter and used it to keep himself up.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he muttered, running a tired hand over his face. There were too many thoughts swirling around in his head, too many emotions, too many sensations, all of them centered on Mark. He couldn’t even begin deciphering them, not when he still felt the ghost of the Mark’s hands on his skin, Mark’s hair between his fingers, Mark’s lips against his pulse point. Everything was Mark, Mark, Mark- how he sounded, how he smelled, how he felt- to the point where Ou Wen wasn’t sure where Mark ended and he began anymore.
He was right about the falling, but he was also right about there being no one at the bottom to catch him.
If he could go back, he would do things differently, but there was nothing he could do now, not with a room full of people waiting for him outside. Not with Mark waiting for him to come out.
So Ou Wen closed his eyes and tried to focus. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.