riots: (Default)
k ([personal profile] riots) wrote2014-03-02 08:25 pm

even the smallest hello ; one-shot

Title: Even the Smallest Hello
Pairing: Chen/Kai
Rating: PG
Length: 11k
Summary: Jongin never really thought that being a chicken delivery boy would lead to so many blind dates, but he’s always been a little bit terrible at telling Jongdae no. AU.
A/N: written for [ profile] forjongin for [ profile] shanwens!! all my love to b for holding my hand, v bc they don't like exo but they love me, and e bc she's perfect

The first sight that greets Jongin when he comes into the shop is a stack of delivery boxes. “Just in time!” Chanyeol tells him cheerfully, pushing them towards him. “We got our rush a bit early. Better get going!”

Jongin wrinkles his nose, even though the smell of freshly cooked chicken is making his empty stomach rumble. “Give me a second to talk to Kris, I just got in.” He’s been up since early this morning, for his first class, and his last class had run late, so he’d had to race all the way here, too. The last meal he had was a coffee before lunch, and he’d kinda been hoping that Kyungsoo would sneak him a snack, but it looks like there’s no time for that, either.

Chanyeol drums his fingers on the top of the boxes. “Don’t take too long,” he warns, like Jongin
isn’t aware that he’s the one who will take the brunt of a customer’s anger over cold food. Jongin waves him off with a lazy flick of his wrist, making his way through the shop to Kris’ tiny little office in the back.

Kris’s long body is hunched over his low desk, broad shoulders folded in like he’s trying to make himself fit the size of the room. Jongin knocks at the doorframe as he leans in. “Uh, hyung?” he says, and Kris straightens with a start. “I just wanted to ask, y’know, about the hours next week…”

“Right,” Kris says, rubbing at his eyes. Kris is a good manager, but he wants this job about as much as Jongin does - that is, not at all. He always looks just a little out of place, his clothes just a little too nice, his hair with just a little too much hair product. “I looked things over, and I’m sorry, Jongin, I really don’t think I can squeeze you in anywhere else. I can’t afford it.”

Jongin does his best not to wilt. “Yeah, okay,” he says, forcing a smile. “Never hurts to ask, right?” He’d known that it was more than likely that Kris would say no, but things are tight this month, and Jongin can use every shift he can get.

Kris looks at him for a long second, and then he sighs. “Listen, if someone calls in sick, or we need someone extra, you know I’ll call you first.” Jongin feels a rush of affection. It’s funny, because Kris has thick, stern eyebrows and a naturally intimidating face, but he’s one of the softest men Jongin has ever met, and probably the best manager he’s ever had.

“Thanks, hyung,” Jongin says. He knows that he probably won’t get the call, but he can still hope. And anyway, maybe he’ll get a chance to catch up on some sleep. That’s kinda lower on the priority list, but still useful.

Kris nods. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says, but the smile he offers Jongin is genuine. “Now get out of here. Don’t you have deliveries to make?” He shoos Jongin out with one big hand.

There’s another box on top of the pile when Jongin heads back to the kitchen. “Quickly, Jongin,” Kyungsoo chides from his spot behind the stove. Chanyeol’s already back at work, focus etched on his features as he concentrates on deep frying the chicken just right. “If I hear anything -”

Jongin hoists the stack of boxes, his year’s worth of practice making it easy to balance in one arm. “I’ve got it, hyung,” Jongin assures him, reaching for the list of addresses. “Don’t worry.” Kyungsoo just hums noncommittally, raising an eyebrow when Jongin doesn’t immediately disappear from his sight. “I’m going, I’m going! Jeez.”

It only takes Jongin a few seconds to secure his cargo on his scooter before he’s heading out into the city off to make his deliveries. In all honesty, Jongin doesn’t really mind his job. Even if it means a lot of late nights to go with his early morning classes, the neighbourhood is nice and his coworkers are pretty great. It could be a whole lot worse.

Still, it does mean a lot of long shifts and pretty much everything he wears smells kinda like chicken, and the customers? Well…. “Jongin, hi,” Zitao says, covering his yawn with one hand, and Jongin flinches. This is the third week in a row that Zitao’s forgotten a shirt. Not that that’s a bad thing, really, Zitao’s mentioned wushu practice or something before, and he’s kind of really, really nice to look at. It’s just that it’s not really what Jongin’s expecting when he’s standing at the door with a boxful of chicken. “Gimme a sec, alright?”

He disappears back into the apartment, and Jongin pointedly does not take notice of the way his hips shift with his lazy gait, or the way his yoga pants fit his ass. He presses his free hand to his cheek, trying to will his blush away. He never knows what to do when he sees Zitao like this. It’s really hard to talk to someone when their nipples are right there. “Yeah, sure,” Jongin says weakly.

Zitao returns with a handful of cash and a sleepy smile. “How’s dance going?” he asks, sifting through the money carefully. He always tips Jongin massively, and even if he’s running late he always insists. It’s sweet of him. “That uh, competition was it? Is it coming up soon?”

“A few weeks,” Jongin says, juggling the cash Zitao passes over at the box of food. He’s fumbling in his pocket for change when Zitao smiles at him gently and shakes his head. “Lots of practice.” Especially when Taemin needs another private tutor and Jongin needs the money.

“Let me know when it is,” Zitao tells him, leaning against the doorframe. “I’ll come for moral support!”

“Oh,” Jongin says, blinking. He’s made small talk with Zitao for somewhere around a year now, but they’ve never really taken it outside of, well, the whole delivery boy routine. “Um, sure.”

Zitao beams and waves him off. “Good! Now go, you don’t want to be delivering cold food.” He closes the door and Jongin just stands for a moment, shaking his head. That’s one way to start off the night. He exhales in a burst, blowing his thick bangs up for a second, and then he turns and heads down the hall.

Zitao isn’t the only regular he’s got on his route. He drops off a couple of boxes for a group of teenage girls before he recognizes the next address on his list. “Come in, come in,” Joonmyun tells him, sweeping him in with a magnanimous hand. He’s still wearing his clothes from work today, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up and his jacket thrown over the back of a chair in the dining room. “How are your classes going?”

He’s used to this, by now, and Jongin toes his shoes off quickly and follows him into the apartment and carefully sets down Joonmyun’s meal on the table. “Good,” Jongin says. “Um, I mean, anthro is kind of killing me, but.”

“That prof,” Joonmyun nods, pulling a sympathetic face. “I’m sorry he’s still giving you trouble.” Jongin doesn’t make a habit of sharing his life with his customers, but sometimes, they just have a way of pulling it out of him. Joonmyun is like that. He’s a little bit lonely, Jongin thinks. He’s never seen anybody here with him, no unfamiliar shoes in the doorway, no pictures of friends on the wall. His orders are always for later in the evening, too, and tonight is no exception. And yet, still wearing his work clothes. His days must be as long as Jongin’s.

“‘S alright,” Jongin says, shrugging. “Don’t worry about it, hyung.” He still has deliveries to make, but Joonmyun looks extra tired tonight, fine lines worn deep around his eyes, so he pulls out a chair and sits down. They’ll keep for a few more minutes. “I’m passing, right? That’s what matters.”

Joonmyun slides into the seat across from him, mug of tea in his hands. “Good,” he says. “You’ve worked so hard this year, I’m proud of you.” It should probably be a little weird, that Joonmyun should say something like this to his chicken delivery boy, but this isn’t the first time Jongin’s come inside for a cup of tea. It doesn’t feel so strange anymore.

“Thanks, hyung,” Jongin mutters, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck. He drags his toes across the spotless polish of Joonmyun’s tiled floors and glances up and smiles. He doesn’t really get to hear this kind of praise all that often. His sisters are the academic ones. He’s not good at school like they are. Just dance. And making money, he supposes. He does okay at that.

Joonmyun sighs, props his chin up in one hand. “I bet you’ve got more deliveries to make, don’t you?” he says.

“Sorry,” Jongin says. And he really is. Joonmyun is so nice. Maybe he doesn’t know what they’d talk about, but tea and dinner sounds a whole lot nicer than racing around the city hoping he’ll scrape together enough tips to afford coffee tomorrow without being angry at himself. “It was nice seeing you today.”

“You too,” Joonmyun says. He just sounds so tired. He counts out his cash and hands it over, but when Jongin stands to take it, he tucks an extra few bills into his jeans pocket. “I hope your night isn’t too long.”

When Jongin bends to tie his shoes again, he watches Joonmyun stare at his own hands for a few seconds before he reaches for the box of chicken on the table in front of him. Jongin bites his lip, hesitating in the doorway. “Get some sleep, hyung,” he says finally, and he slips out the door before Joonmyun can reply, cheeks hot. He’s not sure he wants to see his reaction.

As the night drags on, Jongin’s scooter empties out, but something’s a little off. He hesitates, digging sorting through the stack. There are too many boxes in his scooter. Jongin frowns, digging through them, until he comes up with the culprit. dinner is important, the note says, in Kyungsoo’s small, scrawled characters. The night is cold but warmth floods Jongin’s chest. He should’ve known that Kyungsoo wouldn’t let him go hungry. He sneaks bites between the last of his deliveries, wiping his hands clean on his jeans and savouring the taste of it. He was even hungrier than he’d thought.

The final delivery of Jongin’s night is also the most nerve-wracking. “Ah, my favourite delivery boy,” Jongdae sings, spreading his arms wide. Jongin doesn’t really know what to do, so he ends up holding out the delivery box and trying on a smile. “How are you, Jongin-ah?”

Jongin has had one of those all-consuming, trembling-knees, butterflies-in-your-gut crushes on Jongdae from the first delivery he made to him. He’s a music teacher, singing, mostly, but also piano sometimes, and he has bowed lips that seem perpetually curled up in a smile. He doesn’t even have to open his mouth to make Jongin turn red and his hands shake. “Okay,” Jongin replies, voice softer than he’d like.

“Just okay?” Jongdae asks, clicking his tongue. “It’s Friday! Don’t you have any exciting plans for after work?”

“Not really,” Jongin admits. He doesn’t want to tell Jongdae that after his fourteen hour day, going out isn’t exactly on the top of his priority list. Not when he has to get up early for dance lessons tomorrow. “I guess I’m kinda boring.”

Jongdae shakes his head, pulling his lips down in a parody of a frown. “It’s tragic, really,” he says, plucking the box from Jongin’s hands, “that someone so young should be so dull.” There’s no barb to his words, but Jongin’s eyes find his shoes anyway. “You should be having fun!”

“No one taught me how,” Jongin jokes, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

There’s a pause, and Jongin glances up to find Jongdae looking at him, eyes soft. He laughs. “Poor you,” he says.

His scrutiny makes Jongin squirm, toying with the hem of his jacket. “You’re the one eating chicken by yourself on a Friday at home,” he points out. “Again.” It’s much better to shift the focus away from himself.

Jongdae snorts. “Woe is me,” he sighs. “My friends have abandoned me in my time of need.” He reaches into his box with his hand and pulls out a piece of chicken. Jongin supposes it’s probably against policy to let a customer eat before he’s paid, but Jongin’s never really been all that good at being strict with Jongdae. “I’m surrounded by the elderly. No one knows how to have fun.” He takes a bite and then lays the back of his free hand against his forehead, a moue of sadness on his face. “But I have you! And that’s pretty awesome too.”

This is the part where, if Jongin were a braver man, he’d suggest that they hang out. It’s the end of Jongin’s shift, after all, and all he’s gotta do now is head back to the restaurant with his earnings. It’s on the tip of his tongue, but when Jongdae digs a couple of bills out of his back pocket, the words die in Jongin’s mouth, and the best he can manage is a shrug. “I’m sorry,” he offers, and Jongdae takes another voracious bite. “But you have dinner. That’s good, right?”

“With chicken like this?” Jongdae says. He tears out a bite with his teeth, letting out a lipsmack and groan of satisfaction worthy of any idol’s commercial. “That’s amazing.”

Jongin ducks his head. “I’ll give your compliments to the chef,” he says.

“Thank you,” Jongdae says magnanimously. He peels the last of the flesh off his chicken and leans back against the wall. “And thank you for making my night. I always like seeing my favourite delivery boy.”

Favourite. Jongin lets that word settle in his chest and warm him up. He’s got this route most nights, and Chanyeol only fills in for him rarely, but Jongin still seizes on the word and holds it close. “No problem,” Jongin says. He wants to tell Jongdae that he’s Jongin’s favourite, too, but somehow it catches in his throat and he closes his mouth, tucking the cash away. Maybe next time. “I’ll see you around?”

“Of course.” Jongdae wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “And you’d better have a good story to tell me.” He raises his eyebrows. “Got it?”

“Yes,” Jongin says. He repeats it under Jongdae’s stern eyes. “Yes! I promise.”

“Good,” Jongdae says, and when he beams at him, Jongin wonders if his legs are just going to melt right out from underneath him. “See you later.”

Jongin takes a few minutes to steady himself out by his scooter, picking at the last of the box that Kyungsoo had packed for him and trying to slow the race of his heart. It’s dumb, the way he’s let his feelings for Jongdae spiral out of control like this. Jongin doesn’t have time for this, not between his two jobs and his classes and helping out his family. He doesn’t even have time to see his friends, how would he have the time to waste on daydreams about being bold and daring and sweeping Jongdae off his feet, or the way his lips might feel on Jongin’s. He’s just a customer, and Jongin’s just a delivery boy. That’s all it’ll ever be.

His cellphone buzzes in his pocket. done! race u back. whoever’s in last has to help kyungsoo with dishes. Jongin pulls a face. Gross. Greasy pans.

He vaults onto his scooter and races back towards the restaurant. It’s not worth it to bother with a reply, because Chanyeol doesn’t actually require anyone to agree to submit to his bets before he cashes in on a penalty, and because he’s probably already halfway back. Jongin’s going to need to really push it if he doesn’t want to be stuck on dishes tonight.

He skids around a corner, but his smile has nothing to do with the thought of beating Chanyeol, and just about everything to do with Jongdae’s smile and his promise to see him again.

Jongin curls in on himself when his alarm goes off, and he groans. He’s never been very good at waking up, and it’s worse on no sleep after a night of work and studying. He only straightens far enough to reach out for his phone, silencing the din. He allows himself only a few seconds of relief and silence before he pushes himself up straight, scrubbing at the gunk in his eyes and yawning.

He zombies through his morning routine before he heads into the dining room. “Good morning,” he says, tipping his head to press a kiss to his mother’s temple. It’s bad today. He can see it in the way that her hands shake, the tight line of her lips when she reaches up in the cupboards. He frowns, and then smoothes it away, taking the stack of bowls out of her grip and taking them to the table. “Smells good.”

“Good morning,” she replies. She takes in his jacket and his bag slung over his shoulder. “You’re heading out already?”

Jongin can’t remember the last time he had breakfast with his family. Or breakfast at all, actually. “Gotta squeeze in some work on my history project,” he says. The papers he needs are only available through the school system, which Jongin thinks is kinda unfair. With all the technology they have now, how come he can’t find all this stuff at home yet? Home has a full breakfast.

But if Jongin is going to be able to get this done, he’s gotta go now. It’s the only time he’s got today, between a day’s worth of classes, an afternoon of lessons, and then deliveries again. He just wishes it didn’t mean he has to see that look on his mother’s face, disappointed and resigned. He’s been seeing it a lot lately. “I’ll try to be home for dinner.”

“You work too hard,” she chides, but it’s an old conversation. When his father was downsized at his job, Jongin had to step in, especially since his mother hasn’t been able to work for so long. Sometimes being responsible kinda sucks. At least, he supposes, he gets his share of free chicken.

“I’ll see you tonight,” Jongin says. He kisses her again so he doesn’t have to see the way she looks at him.

The buzz of his scooter is noisy even in the morning rush of traffic, but Jongin doesn’t pay it much attention. He never asked for this kind of responsibility, but he knows that it’s pretty much the only option. Both of his sisters already had their schooling, heavy courses that required hours of studying and never left room for anything else. And Jongin just happened to be the one to pick up the slack. Not that he minds, really. It’s not easy but this is his family and he knows how hard his sisters worked to get into the schools they wanted and he couldn’t take that away from them.

It just doesn’t leave a ton of time for Jongin to do his own thing. He’s got dance, the one thing he never gave up, but it’s easy enough for things to lose their shine when they turn into an occupation instead of a hobby.

When all of this is over, when his sisters are done school and when Jongin can take a breath, he’s going to get a dog. A little fluffy one. He’s decided it. He’s always wanted a dog of his own. And then he thinks of Jongdae’s grin. Maybe then, he’d have time for other things too. He’s never been on a date. That’d be nice.

“Jongin!” Jongdae says. Jongin loves the way his eyes crinkle up when he sees him. He knows it’s wishful thinking, but he’d like to believe that it’s genuine. That it’s just for him. “I’ve been thinking.” The sweatshirt Jongdae is wearing is too big for his frame, and his socks don’t match, but still, Jongin’s heart does a quick two-step.

So has Jongin. With every delivery, Jongin’s been carefully cataloguing the things he’s done over the last week, trying to figure out if he has any stories that would qualify as ‘interesting’ for Jongdae. He’d made a promise, after all. “What have you been thinking about?” he asks. He holds out the box of chicken he’s brought, but Jongdae doesn’t seem too interested in it.

“I have this friend,” Jongdae says, and Jongin’s heart sinks, “and I know you two would get along so well.”

“Oh,” Jongin says. He files away his stories. Maybe later. “You do?”

Jongdae grins at him, and he just looks so enthusiastic that Jongin can’t help but smile back. “Definitely,” Jongdae says. He tugs the box out of Jongin’s hands and pats his elbow. “She’s tall and gorgeous and so much fun,” Jongdae says, heading into his apartment to set it down. “She’s just your type.”

“I have a type?” Jongin asks. It sets his stomach shifting uncomfortably, Jongdae’s encouraging smile and the sure tone of his voice. Jongin’s pretty sure you have to date to figure that sort of thing out, but he is certain about one thing. She’s not what he wants. She couldn’t be.

“She’s everyone’s type,” Jongdae says with certainty. There’s something tight about the way that he smiles at Jongin then, but Jongin has never been that good at reading things like that.
“Just like you.”

What does that mean? Jongin searches Jongdae’s face, but he’s busying himself with counting out the money he owes Jongin, eyes nowhere near Jongin’s. “What…?” Jongin says helplessly.

“You’ll love her,” Jongdae says. He hands over the cash, and when Jongin blinks at him dumbly for a few seconds, he folds Jongin’s fingers over it. The touch sends a thrill through Jongin, despite everything. “I already asked her if she’d be up for a blind date, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Trust me!”

It’s not Jongdae’s fault that he’s misread Jongin. They only see each other for a few minutes each time, their interactions limited to Jongdae’s doorway over the transaction of chicken and money. Still, Jongin feels a bit miserable. When he’d daydreamed about Jongdae asking him on a date, he hadn’t thought it would involve a girl he’s never met and not Jongdae at all. Jongdae looks up at him, so earnest and hopeful, and something in Jongin’s chest crumples. “I trust you,” he says after a second, smiling weakly.

“Atta boy,” Jongdae beams. “Give me your number? I’ll set it all up. You don’t have to worry about a thing.”

“Sure.” Jongin hands over his phone. He never thought that Jongdae would ever ask for his number, but this is somehow so much worse.

“There.” He’s saved his number in Jongin’s phone as funky jongdae hyung and Jongin laughs a little at that. “All set.” Jongdae claps his hands together. “Trust me,” he says again. “This will put a smile back on your face.”

“Thanks, hyung,” Jongin says. The unfamiliar word feels weird in his mouth, but Jongdae rewards him with a grin. “I’ve, um, gotta go. Deliveries.”

Jongdae nods. “Sure, sure.”

Jongin steps back, out of the doorway, hands clenched tightly at his sides. “I’ll text you?” he says.

“You’d better,” Jongdae says, delighted, and he waves as he closes the door between them.

Chanyeol texts him, something about a rush order for a place three streets away, but Jongin pays it little mind. He sits on the curb next to his scooter, ignoring the cold of the night and the concrete underneath him, and picks at the box of chicken Kyungsoo packed for him. He’s not even sure how he got himself into this mess. It’s just - Jongdae smiles, and Jongin’s higher brain function kinda evaporates. “Shit,” Jongin mumbles, burying his face in his hands. What do you even wear to a date?

He’s overdressed. Jongin realizes it the instant he walks into the restaurant and sees her. She stands to greet him and Jongin takes in her mile long legs in her shorts and the sweep of her long hair, and, well, Jongdae was right. She’s really pretty. “Hi!” she says brightly. “You must be Jongin. I’m Soojung.”

Jongin pulls at the cuffs of his button up. “It’s nice to meet you,” he says hesitantly. He never should’ve worn this. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t look out of place on Kris, but Jongin just feels like he’s wearing a costume. They both hover by the table before Jongin remembers his manners. “Oh, um, you look very nice.”

“Thank you,” she says, sitting down again. Jongin follows her lead. “Jongdae was right. You are handsome.”

Jongin’s ears get hot. Jongdae said I’m handsome? “Ah, thanks,” he replies, turning even more red.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Soojung says. She crosses her legs at the knee, carelessly tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Jongdae talks about you a lot.”

Jongin isn’t the talkative type at the best of times, but that takes the words right out of his mouth. He knows that he thinks of Jongdae a lot, during deliveries, when he’s falling asleep at night, but he never really imagined that Jongdae might do the same. “Oh,” he says, fumbling with his water glass. “He does?”

“So you must be something special,” Soojung decides. She leans over the table. “What do you do? Jongdae said you’re in school. What classes are you taking?”

It’s a good thing that Soojung is so proactive with the whole asking questions thing. Jongin feels completely out of his depth. What is he supposed to be talking about? Dates are confusing. Is it like an interview, or what? Kyungsoo had just told him to relax, to talk about the things that he likes. That’d be good advice if Jongin had interests outside of dance and Digimon. Soojung is pretty and talkative and funny and Jongin is fairly certain she’s not into Digimon.

“Um, literature?” Jongin says. “Only part time though.”

He can see her lack of interest immediately, and Jongin can’t help but wilt a little. He’d appreciate her transparency if it didn’t make him feel, well, super boring. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as the reading type,” she tells him.

Jongin looks down at himself, pulling his shirtfront straight, and then he blinks at her. “What do I look like?” he asks.

She tips her head, dragging a hand idly through the end of her hair. “Not a bookworm,” she says, and Jongin shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He doesn’t know what that means, but he doesn’t think it’s anything good.

Once they’ve run through what they each do for a living, conversation dries up. Jongin clears his throat. “So,” he begins, “um, how did you meet Jongdae?” Sometimes, Jongdae tells him about the classes he’s had, the students he’s teaching, but he’s never heard much about his friends. He certainly hasn’t heard about someone like Soojung. She’s dressed simply, but the shine of her jewelry looks pricey. A personal shopper, she’d said. He doesn’t know exactly what that entails but she clearly does well for herself. Jongin pulls at his shirt again, one of his best, and tries not to shrink in his seat.

“Oh, we went to school together,” she says, waving a hand casually. “But he said you met him through work?”

Jongin wants to melt away. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “Work.”

She grins. “Well, it definitely wasn’t the dance lessons, since Jongdae was born without a sense of rhythm.” She taps her fingers against her chin. “Unless you’re working miracles and have managed to teach him some moves, but I find that very hard to believe.”

Jongin laughs weakly. “No,” he says. “It wasn’t the dance lessons. I teach kids.”

“That’s adorable,” Soojung says. “So where was it?”

“I deliver chicken,” Jongin admits. He sees it, the faint distaste that washes over Soojung’s face. “He’s a regular.”

He really doesn’t blame Soojung for the face she pulls. “Jongdae set me up with his delivery boy?” she asks flatly. Jongin stares at the tabletop, his hands in his lap. He knew this was going to go wrong from the very start. “Sorry, sorry,” she sighs. When he glances up, she offers him a tight smile. It’s contrite, but she seems genuine. “I was under the impression that you were friends, that’s all.”

“So was I,” Jongin says.

Soojung shakes her head. “Well!” she says. “That doesn’t mean tonight can’t go well, right?”

“Right,” Jongin agrees.

Except it all goes downhill from there. Jongin gulps at the prices on the menu and even though he’s hungry, he only orders something small. Which is a good idea, because of course he manages to knock the entire thing into his lap. He yelps and jerks upright, but his chair catches on the floor and he goes tumbling to the ground. Sitting on the floor, his lap soaked with half-eaten food, he feels like an idiot. Soojung drops to a crouch next to him. “Oh, wow,” she says. If the floor opened up and swallowed Jongin down right now, he would be totally okay with that.

“I think maybe this date is over,” Jongin says, and Soojung offers him a hand to help him up. Everyone in the room is staring, and a waitress rushes up to him holding out a damp cloth. Jongin tries to wipe at the mess on his pants, his cheeks red with humiliation.

“I think so,” Soojung agrees. She surprises him by paying the bill and then again with a surprisingly venomous look directed at the other, staring patrons as they walk out the door. They stop at Jongin’s scooter. He’d offer her a ride, but he’s pretty sure he’s done embarrassing himself for the night. “Thank you,” she says, “for a, uh. A date.”

Jongin ducks his head. “Yeah,” he says. “Memorable? Let’s call it memorable.”

She squeezes his hand for a second. “You’re too sweet for me anyway,” she tells him, and she smiles. “Have a nice night.”

He waits until she’s hailed a cab before he pulls on his helmet and climbs onto his scooter. “Too sweet,” he mumbles, shaking his head. He’s not really sure that’s a good thing. What is a good thing, though, is the fact that this date is over. Hopefully he’ll never have to do this again. He’s pretty sure he’s filled his quota for humiliating himself with pretty women. He kicks off and heads home for the night, and he’s already trying to figure out what to tell Jongdae. He doesn’t want to disappoint him.

After that disaster, Jongin is glad to be busy. The stains don’t clean out of his pants, and he hides them away at the bottom of his laundry basket. It’s not really a memory he wants to be revisiting any time soon.

What’s worse is Jongdae’s texts. As soon as he’d wormed it out of Jongin, that it was a mess, he’d started to bombard Jongin with questions about details. ok, so soojung was a bust, he says, quickly followed by that just means we have to try harder! you need to tell me what you like in a woman. When that one came, Jongin had just sat for a moment, phone cradled in his lap, staring at the screen. Jongdae is still so far off the mark. In the end, he’d just turned off the screen and pocketed the phone and pretended it had never happened. It was all he knew how to do.

Lucky for him, he’s always got something to occupy his time. There are always deliveries to be made, customers to deal with. Like these three. Jongin knocks on the door and is startled when it’s thrown open with a cheer. “Chicken!” two of the men crow in unison and yank the boxes out of his hands. He’s been here before a time or two, and he knows these guys. Lu Han and Yixing are Chinese exchange students, rooming with Minseok. It’s Lu Han and Minseok who are squabbling good naturedly over the food right now, trying to juggle the boxes while they wrestle with each other.

Yixing worms his way through the both of them and smiles at Jongin. “You just saved the night,” he tells Jongin solemnly, a mischievous sparkle in his eye as he presses the cash into Jongin’s hand.

They’re all so affectionate. Lu Han is always touching Minseok, always, and even as he’s tucking away his payment, Jongin watches the way that Minseok’s hand slides from the small of Yixing’s back up to squeeze Lu Han’s chin. It’s rude to stare, but the sight of it sets off a pang in Jongin’s chest that he’s not able to ignore. He doesn’t have friends like that, not really, and he hadn’t realized he’d been missing it until right now. “Glad I could help,” he says, and Yixing waves him off with a flutter of his fingers, turning back to his friends.

It’s not that Jongin doesn’t like physical affection, he definitely does. It’s just that he’s picky about it. Most of the people he’s around are picky about it too. Kyungsoo will deliver a swift punch to the balls if he’s surprised by unwanted touch, and Kris is never really sure what to do with his abnormally long limbs anyway. Jongin has kind of forgotten what it’s like, to have that kind of relationship with someone. It’s odd.

But Jongin has deliveries to make, and no time to dwell. Jongin knocks on the next door and calls out, fumbling with his box as the door opens. “Well, hello there,” the man in front of him says, eyes raking down Jongin’s body in an almost predatory fashion. Jongin swallows. “I would’ve been ordering a lot more chicken if I knew someone like you would deliver it.”

Jongin has been spending a lot of his time lately intimidated by men so much shorter than he is, but this customer has sharp teeth and a really suggestive look in his eyes and Jongin can’t tell if he’s freaked out or into it. “Um, your order?” He holds up the box.

“Thank you,” the man says graciously. He leans against the doorway, one hip cocked, and Jongin doesn’t think he’s ever been hit on so aggressively. “How’s your night going?”

“Pretty good, thanks,” Jongin says. Byun Baekhyun is pretty, in a plain sort of way, and the weight of his focus is flattering. “It’s, uh, really nice out.”

Baekhyun smiles, but he doesn’t look up at the sky when Jongin gestures. “It is, isn’t it?” His hand lingers on Jongin’s when he takes the box, and again when he passes over his money. It’s kind of pleasant.

“Enjoy,” Jongin tells him, and Baekhyun salutes him with a little shake of the box in his hand.

“Maybe I’ll see you again,” Baekhyun suggests, and when he steps inside, it’s with a suggestive flick of his hips.

Maybe. Jongin tugs at his bangs as he heads back down to his scooter, parked at the curb. That’d be nice, maybe. Jongin can’t deny the pleasant shift in the gut at the thought of Baekhyun’s attention.

The problem is that it’d be nicer if it were Jongdae, and not Baekhyun. And that’s not a thought Jongin really wants to have.

“Jongin. Jongin.”

“Hmm?” It’s hard to pay much attention to his work when it’s so nice outside. Jongin stares longingly out the window, at the people who pass, smiling in the sunlight. It’s unfair that he’s stuck in Kyungsoo’s apartment, slogging through this anthropology project with no end when he could instead be out there, enjoying himself. Free time is kind of a luxury Jongin doesn’t have much of these days, though.

“You know what,” Kyungsoo says, laying down his pen. “Let’s go outside.”

Jongin tears his eyes away from the window. “What?” he says, cheeks pink.

Kyungsoo is already carefully tidying his things up, collecting himself to leave. “There’s a park a few blocks away, right? It’s not windy out. Let’s study outside.” He stands, ready to go, and Jongin is under the impression that it’s less of a suggestion and more of an order.

“But…” Jongin frowns, brow furrowed. “You don’t like the outdoors.”

Jongin remembers one time, last year, when Kyungsoo had been trying to figure out what to do for an anniversary date with his girlfriend. The look on his face when Chanyeol had suggested a picnic had been pure, icy disdain. “I prefer my meals without insects,” he’d said, and that had been that.

“Maybe today I can make an exception.” Kyungsoo is looking at Jongin with that soft expression in his eyes that lets Jongin know that this is a favour. Maybe he shouldn’t have told him all about that disaster of a date with Soojung. “Well? Are you coming?”

“Alright, alright.” Jongin scrambles to gather his things and follow Kyungsoo out.

Maybe he’s not much better at focusing outside, but Jongin sure feels a lot better. They find a spot under a tree and settle in, Kyungsoo spreading his books out neatly and resting his notebook on his knee, Jongin sprawling out on his belly and kicking up his heels. The heat of his sun warms his back and he kicks off his shoes, burying his toes in the fresh grass. He sighs happily and out of the corner of his eye he sees Kyungsoo smile a little.

Jongin’s lack of focus isn’t just because of being cooped up, though. He’s got his textbook open in front of him but as he taps his highlighter against the page, his mind wanders. It’s kind of hard to forget something, once you’ve figured it out. He’s been so busy for so long that he’s been outrunning his feelings, but they’re starting to catch up with him now.

It’s just, well, it’d be nice, to have somebody. It’s not really fair to want that considering how busy he is, but sometimes he just thinks it’d make it all just a little bit easier. It’d be nice, to have someone to tell about his day, someone to curl up with on those rare nights off. Jongin glances down at the page, highlighting a line almost at random, and laughs at himself. Maybe he really should look into getting that dog.

“Jongin?” He can’t deny the way his heart kind of stutters in his chest at the sound of his name. He knows that voice. “Wow, hi!”

Jongin straightens immediately, pushing himself up on his hands as Jongdae approaches. “Hey, hyung,” he says cautiously. Next to him, Kyungsoo raises an eyebrow curiously, but he doesn’t say anything.

“How are you on this beautiful day?” Jongdae asks. He plonks himself down next to Jongin and flashes a grin at Kyungsoo. “Hi!” he says. “I’m Kim Jongdae.”

“Ah, Kim Jongdae,” Kyungsoo says. He nods. “Do Kyungsoo.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jongdae says. He reaches out to flick the pages of Jongin’s textbook, scoffing. “Jongin-ah, didn’t I tell you to have more fun? This isn’t more fun, you know.” Jongin’s used to seeing Jongdae in like, house clothes. Comfortable pants and old hoodies, that kind of thing. So it’s a little weird to see him properly dressed like this. His striped shirt makes his narrow chest seem a little broader than it is, and Jongin’s eyes linger on his shoulders, his waist.

Jongin closes the textbook with a snap, flushing. “Helps me get through school, though,” he points out. “That’s handy.” He’s suddenly aware of the grass clinging to his shirtfront and his bare feet, and he folds them up underneath himself.

“Do you know what might help?” Jongdae asks. He nudges Jongin’s knee with his knuckles. “Another date.”

Two words, and the nice, comfortable mood of the afternoon is erased. “Oh?” Jongin asks, but he doesn’t really want to know. He draws on his knee with a fingertip, staring down at Jongdae’s legs because meeting his eyes is too hard. He’d kind of hoped that one failure would put Jongdae off the cause, but if anything, he’s just become twice as determined. It’s flattering, in a way. He’s wanted Jongdae’s attention for months. This just isn’t how he wanted it.

“Listen, I know the last one was, well.” Jongdae pulls a face, and Jongin knows that Soojung must not have pulled any punches when she’d told Jongdae about it all. “But okay, trust me. I have the girl for you, I swear.”

It’s worse, seeing the earnest way that Jongdae looks at him. For some reason that Jongin can’t fathom, he really wants these dates to go well for Jongin. He’s a good friend. “Yeah?” he says. He hears Kyungsoo make a small noise in his throat.

“Definitely,” Jongdae assures him. He’s got one hand resting against Jongin’s knee, and it warms him more than the mid-afternoon sun ever did. “She’s fantastic. I promise you, you will like this girl.”

The longer this goes on, the harder it is to sort out. “Okay,” Jongin says, folding beneath the weight of Jongdae’s perfect, hopeful smile. “Why not?”

Jongdae reaches out and ruffles Jongin’s hair, beaming at him. “Just you wait,” he tells Jongin. “You can thank me at your wedding.”

He looks so pleased with himself that any protests Jongin could have had dry up in his mouth. It’s just one date, right? It can’t possibly go any worse than the last one. All he has to do is go to dinner and figure out how to talk to a girl and then maybe Jongdae will be satisfied. He tried, right? Jongin tucks his hands in his lap and clenches them tightly together.

“Ah, shit, I’ve gotta go. Late for a lesson. Nice seeing you!” Jongdae stands and brushes himself off, and Jongin definitely doesn’t notice the sliver of belly he flashes when he stretches his arms above his head. “I’ll text you the details.” He nods quickly at Kyungsoo. “Nice to meet you too!” he says, and with a wave, he sets off across the field.

They’re both silent for a few minutes after Jongdae leaves, and that’s mostly because Jongin knows what Kyungsoo will say. “A date, huh?” Kyungsoo asks.

Jongin rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I guess so,” he says.

“So he’s got no idea at all.” It’s not a question, and it’s only slightly accusatory. If Jongin had just been honest with Jongdae, then he wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. It’s kind of his fault.

“No one knows,” Jongin sighs. “Except you, and Sehun. And Kris hyung, and that was mostly an accident.” He hadn’t really meant to come out to Kris in the first place and now he’s kind of aggressively solicitous, taking the role of ‘hyung’ very seriously. “It’s just - I don’t -” Jongin pulls his legs up towards his chest and frowns.

“It must be hard,” Kyungsoo says, and Jongin might not really like the sympathetic twist of Kyungsoo’s mouth, but he’s always understood what Jongin’s trying to say when he’s fumbling with his words. “I know.”

Jongin huffs, more upset with himself than anything, and grabs his textbook. “Doesn’t matter anyway,” he says.

Kyungsoo hesitates before he speaks. “He doesn’t know how you feel about him either, I take it.”

“Said it doesn’t matter, hyung,” Jongin says, shaking his head. Because it doesn’t. Even on that tiny, tiny chance that Jongdae could ever see him the way he sees Jongdae, it’d be silly of Jongin to think that he has time for a relationship right now. So it’s pretty much irrelevant anyway, right?

“You know,” Kyungsoo says, laying his pen down on his page, “You can take a few minutes for yourself sometimes. It’s not selfish.”

It feels selfish, though. “What should we do for a visual?” Jongin asks, stubbornly ignoring the exasperated look that Kyungsoo sends his way. “Everyone will be doing a powerpoint but I think it’d be quickest.”

Kyungsoo exhales through his nose, shaking his head. “Whatever you’d like,” he says. “As long as it’s not a poster. No more arts and crafts.”

Jongin musters up a weak smile at the memory of their final project last semester. It’s nice of Kyungsoo to play along with his subject change, at least. “Deal,” he says. He bends over his textbook, determinedly focusing his eyes on the page in front of him. He needs to get through this chapter before his shift starts in an hour, and if he can’t shake this off, he’ll never finish. It’s just hard to study with the threat of another horrible date hanging over his head.

Jongin doesn’t have time for this. He hikes his briefs up on his hips and rifles through his clothes one more time. He learned his lesson last time, with dressing up too much, and ended up with a pair of stained pants. He’s just not sure what counts as ‘casual’ that doesn’t also count as ‘sloppy mess’. He comes up empty-handed again and he groans, throwing himself onto his bed and burying his face in his pillow.

He’s tried asking for advice. Kris had rattled off a few designer names and offered to lend him clothes and, well, no. Jongin’s seen Kris’ idea of what to wear on a date and it’s a bit too avant garde for him. Kyungsoo had been dismissive about the importance of what he’s wearing, and Chanyeol had told him to go naked. His friends aren’t particularly useful.

He hesitates before he texts Jongdae. The answer comes quickly enough that Jongin’s heart clenches just a little. don’t worry so much, Jongdae says, followed by you’re handsome enough it doesn’t matter what you wear. she’ll love you.

Handsome. The context of it dulls the compliment, but Jongin’s cheeks still heat up with it. thanks hyung. It’s not really helpful, either, but it does make him feel pretty good, so he’ll take it.

In the end, he settles on a plain shirt, something Chanyeol had once told him he looked nice in, and he hopes it’s enough. What if it’s not dressy enough? What if this time, Jongdae’s picked somewhere really nice? He won’t even be able to afford an appetizer, in that case.

He wishes it were Jongdae, if he’s honest. He doesn’t want to be, because thinking about the things that he can’t have doesn’t help anything, but it’s the truth of it. At least then, he’d actually want to go. Right now, he’s a bundle of nerves and he doesn’t even know this girl, much less, like, want to date her. Maybe this can be practice. Less nerves. Right? Jongin tugs on a pair of socks and sighs. His stomach is a mess.

It’s amazing how easy it is to waste time by worrying. By the time Jongin’s brushed his teeth and wrangled his hair into something like submission, it’s almost time for him to go. He hesitates over taking his scooter again, but in the end, practicality wins out over any potential helmet hair. Having an escape route, is crucial.

This time, he’s early. He sits at the table, fidgeting with his water glass and the flower he’d brought. It was supposed to be a sign, that he was the one, but Jongin mostly feels kinda silly. It’s a bit wilted from the ride over, and he hopes she doesn’t mind. He can’t wait for all of this to be over.

“Oh my - Kim Jongin?” Jongin’s head whips around, eyes wide, and he stares up. Standing in front of him, flower tucked in her hair, is Choi Jinri. “Wait, you’re my date?”

Jongin blinks. Jinri sat next to him through two years of history class. “Wow,” he says, standing to pull out her chair. “You know Jongdae?” It takes the edge off, the fact that he knows this girl, at least a little. He knows she likes hairbows and chews on her pens and is surprisingly good at soccer.

“Yeah,” she says. “He’s my little brother’s piano teacher.” She sweeps her skirt under her legs as she sits, and Jongin is so grateful that this time, he doesn’t feel so out of place. “I’ve known him for years.” She shakes her head, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Wow. I was definitely not expecting you here.”

“Oh?” Jongin scratches at the back of his neck. “Who were you expecting?” He didn’t know he was so disappointing.

Jinri shakes her head. “Oh, no, it’s just -” She licks her lips, hesitates. Her lipgloss is so pink. “You know, I never thought I was your type.”

There’s that phrase again. Jongin pulls a face, baffled. “I have a type?” he asks. “I didn’t know I had a type.”

Jinri purses her lips thoughtfully. “Well,” she says, “I thought it was certainly more masculine.” Jongin goes cold. Oh, he thinks distantly. Their waiter approaches, expression cool and polite, and Jongin has already forgotten what he wants to order. He wonders if the man overheard Jinri. He wonders if he even cares what their waiter thinks. Jinri presses a hand to her lips. “I’m sorry,” she says immediately. “I didn’t mean to say anything, I’m sorry.” The waiter clears his throat and Jinri turns her smile on him. It’s sharp and dismissive, in start contrast the softness and sweetness of her features. “We’ll need a minute, thank you.”

Jongin hadn’t really considered the idea that someone might figure things out. He’d kinda thought that his sexuality would be the kind of secret he keep all to himself, fold it up tiny and keep it inside his chest forever. This wasn’t an option he’d ever considered. He feels so precarious right now. “Um,” he says.

“It’s none of my business,” Jinri says. She looks so worried, eyebrows creased up and one hand pressed against her sternum like she’s trying to steady her own heart. “I didn’t mean -”

“No,” Jongin says. “It’s fine, you’re. You’re right.” He smiles shakily. “I’m mostly into - well.” The words don’t quite make it out of his mouth but Jinri gets it, the tension softening from her face. “But, uh, I can still enjoy a dinner with a pretty lady, right?”

She snorts. “Of course,” she says. “Especially if you pay.” She winks at him good naturedly, and then waves over their waiter.

It’s funny how much easier a date is when it turns into dinner with a friend. Jongin is still a bit unsteady, but the thing about Jinri is she’s always been so warm and easy-going. She fills him in on her life, her forays into school theatre and her last year of studies and it’s just - it’s comfortable. Nothing has changed from the same, casual friendship they’d had in class. It’s not like he’d expected something dramatic, but. It’s just nice.

They linger on the street afterwards, and she kisses him on the cheek, leaving him with a bright, sticky imprint of her lips. “I had fun,” she says, squeezing his wrist.

“Me too,” Jongin says, wiping at his face and it surprises him how much he means it. It’d be weird, to thank her, but she still smiles at him. He thinks maybe she gets it, sort of. “And if I think of someone, ah, more your type, I’ll pass him along.”

Jinri has the kind of face that lights up entirely when she smiles, a bit childish, but mostly beautiful. “You’re so thoughtful,” she says. “The same goes for you.” She wiggles her eyebrows conspiratorily and then makes her goodbyes, heading out.

Before Jongin follows suit, he lingers over his phone. Somewhere around dessert, Jongdae had sent him another text. how’d it go? It’s not really an easy question to answer. After a few long minutes, Jongin settles on she’s not for me. It’s the truth, at least. Once he pockets his phone, he feels it vibrate with a flurry of replies. Probably the names of three new girls he thinks Jongin will like. Jongin doesn’t bother to check them. For now, he’d just like to enjoy the warm feeling in his gut and the looseness in his shoulders. This has been a good night.

Sehun looks grumpy when he opens the door. That’s not really new, though, Sehun looks grumpy a good sixty percent of the time. “Took you long enough,” he snipes.

Jongin slugs him. “I’ll have you know that I’ve got the fastest scooter in the city.”

“Sure,” Sehun scoffs. He scowls but he softens when Jongin holds up his delivery boxes, and Sehun waves him in for a second. “Your stupid scooter.”

“It’s beautiful,” Jongin tells him. He likes Sehun. He’s known him since they were kids and nothing makes him feel more normal than when Sehun tells him he’s an idiot for something. “Big order tonight. Got company.”

Sehun avoids his eyes, gesturing vaguely for Jongin to set the boxes down on the counter. “Nah,” he says. “Just hungry, I guess.”

Jongin presses a finger to his lip. Sehun’s only been living on his own for a year or so, and he’s never taken well to it. His kitchen is littered with takeout and empty instant meal boxes, but there are no dishes piled up in the sink. When Sehun reaches into his fridge for a drink, Jongin sees the shelves, bare of mostly everything but condiments. “If I didn’t have a job, unlike some people, I’d help you finish it,” he tells Sehun.

“Yeah, but you’re always busy,” Sehun says, a bit resentfully.

Jongin doesn’t have an answer for that, because he’s right. It’s been weeks since Jongin’s had much time between his studies and his jobs to spend time with people. The way Sehun stares at his feet reminds Jongin of Joonmyun and his tired eyes. If he were more ambitious, maybe he’d drag Sehun around on a delivery someday. He thinks they’d get along. “Sorry,” Jongin says finally, as sincerely as he knows how.

Sehun shrugs and pushes Jongin, hard enough to make him rock backwards. “Whatever,” he says, but he smiles a little bit. “But I better get an invite to your stupid dance thing.”

“Backstage pass,” Jongin says, jostling Sehun back. “Duh.”

“Okay, good,” Sehun says. He kicks at the floor with his socked foot. “I’m not tipping you, though.”

Jongin squawks indignantly, and honestly he should be mad. But he knows what it’s like to have a really long day and just come home and be exhausted by the thought of cooking. If money’s tight for Sehun this month, Jongin won’t begrudge him a few thousand won. He’s gone without coffee before, he can do it again. “Cheapskate. What kind of friend are you?”

“Here’s a tip,” Sehun says, “your face is ugly.” He grins.

“You’re lucky I’ve got to leave right now,” Jongin tells him. He shoves Sehun one more time. He’s still getting broader, which Jongin thinks is kind of unfair. He remembers when Sehun looked like a skinny dweeb and now he’s even taller than Chanyeol is. “Text me sometime, okay?”

“Sir, yessir,” Sehun says, but at least he doesn’t look so scowly. Jongin takes it as a win.

Now, he’s just gotta hope he’ll knock the next one out of the park. He’s got one more delivery tonight, and again, it’s Jongdae. He’s been picking Jongin’s brain for a week about the date. Jinri had covered for him, which was pretty sweet of her, said something about how he’d reminded her of an ex. tough break, buddy, Jongdae had said. but don’t you worry. i’ve got you covered. While it’s nice to be texting Jongdae this much, he wishes it could be about something other than what he looks like in a girl. There’s only so many gender neutral replies that Jongin can get away with.

“Hey, Jongin-ah!” Jongdae grins as he opens the door, that wide, dazzling smile that knocks Jongin off his feet. “Tell me I’m your last delivery.” Jongdae shifts and Jongin can see the flex of his biceps and okay, he maybe feels a little bit lightheaded.

It takes a few seconds for Jongin to remember his words. “You’re in luck,” he says. “I’m all done.”

“Come in, then, come in,” Jongdae waves him in. It feels a bit weird but when Jongin kicks off his shoes, Jongdae closes one hand around his wrist and drags him into the living room. He hasn’t even paid for his delivery yet, and Jongin’s still got it clutched to his chest, but Jongdae’s casual touch has his heart racing a little. “I bet you’re tired from being out all day. I know you were up early with school stuff.” Jongdae catches the way that Jongin eyes him strangely, and colours. “You replied to my text at like seven in the morning. It’s not rocket science.”

Jongin didn’t know that Jongdae noticed these things. “Oh,” he says. “I mean, it’s nice to get a break.”

“See?” Jongdae says. He throws himself down on the couch and reaches for his chicken. “Thought so. Join me?”

Jongin sits down stiffly. “What, like, your delivery?”

Jongdae hums, scrounging a few bills out of his jeans and then stretching out an arm to tuck them into Jongin’s hoodie pocket. “You don’t wanna have dinner with me?” he asks, pressing a hand against his chest in mock injury. “I’m wounded.”

“No,” Jongin says hastily. “No, no, it’s just - it’s your food. You paid for it.”

Jongdae waves a hand in a dismissal, tapping his fingers against the lid of the one box left in Jongin’s lap. “Help me eat it,” he says.

His couch isn’t that big, and Jongdae’s knee brushes up against Jongin’s when he shifts in his seat. Jongin feels like a kid with his first crush, heated up and so unsteady. “Well, I mean, if you insist.”

Jongdae pats his thigh. “Atta boy,” he says. Jongin isn’t sure how he’s supposed to eat, though, when Jongdae’s doing his best to stir up a storm in his belly. It’s kind of overwhelming, being so close to Jongdae. This isn’t like any of his deliveries before, and it isn’t like texting him. He’s actually getting to spend some time with him, one on one, and it’s worse than any blind date, because this is someone Jongin actually wants to spend time with again. “So I’ve been thinking -” Jongdae says, and Jongin knows that tone by now.

“Hyung,” he says suddenly, busying his hands with the box in his lap. “No more. Please.”

Jongdae looks taken aback. “What?”

“I don’t want any more blind dates,” Jongin says. He’s pretty proud of himself, actually, even if Jongdae looks confused and a tiny bit hurt. He’s never really been able to say no to Jongdae before. “I’m just - I said yes, because I thought it’d make you happy. But I’m not - I don’t really date. They’re not for me.”

“I’m sorry,” Jongdae says. He leans away, pulling away from that tiny bit of contact between them. Jongin does his best not to be crushingly disappointed. “I just thought - you always look so tired and sad.” He shrugs a shoulder, flushing again. “I just wanted to give you something good.”

Jongin doesn’t have the slightest idea what to say to that. Jongdae had noticed that? He rubs self-consciously at the dark circles he knows are under his eyes. “Oh,” he says again.

“You don’t need to say yes for me,” Jongdae says. “I’m sorry I was so pushy.”

It’s the first time that he’s seen Jongdae so unhappy, and Jongin immediately decides it’s not something he likes. “That’s not it,” he says, frustrated. “It’s just…” He takes a deep breath. “I’m not into girls.” It’s easier the second time around. Easier still when Jongdae is watching him, gaze steady and even. “So those dates were kind of doomed from the start.”

He can’t help it, he holds his breath until Jongdae replies. “That explains a lot,” Jongdae says, laughing a little. Jongin braces himself, confused, until Jongdae reaches out to him again. “I could’ve sworn I got it right with Jinri, but I was seriously missing the mark.” He’s tense, in a weird way that Jongin doesn’t really understand, and makes him nervous. Jongdae’s always been so confident and self-assured, and Jongin doesn’t get this.

“She’s really nice,” he says. He can’t tell Jongdae that it’s not just her gender that doesn’t work, but he thinks that one revelation is enough for tonight. He’s never told anyone he likes them, and it seems kinda terrifying. “But not quite right.”

“Gotcha,” Jongdae says. He smiles at Jongin, and it changes from sweet to sly. “Don’t worry, I can work with this. I’ve got just the guy in mind.”

Jongin’s stomach twists. “Um,” he says, twisting his hands in the too-long sleeves of his hoodie. “I’m still not really, like, super into the idea of blind dates,” Jongin admits. “I’m not really good at that kind of thing.” The dates were bad enough when it was girls. He can’t even imagine how much more nervous he’d be if there was a possibility of actually being with someone he has a chance of liking.

His stomach lurches when Jongdae grabs his wrist again. “Just this one last time,” he pleads. “Just one. After this, I promise I will never set you up with anyone again.”

The chicken in his lap is cooling fast enough that it’s gonna be too gross to eat soon. Jongin doesn’t really want to think about how disappointing it is, that Jongdae is so hellbent on this idea of setting him up. He means well, though, and his hand is so warm around Jongin’s wrist. “Well, okay,” he says reluctantly, and just like always, Jongdae’s face lights up.

“Third time’s the charm,” Jongdae promises, and Jongin manages a smile. If nothing else, maybe it’ll get his mind off the way that Jongdae’s mouth curls up at the corners and the flex of his shoulders and how earnest he looks when he’s trying to cheer Jongin up. “This one will stick.”

“I hope so,” Jongin says.

He has to pull his hand out of Jongdae’s grip to answer his phone when it rings. “Where are you?” Chanyeol asks. “I’ve been back for like twenty minutes. Kris wants to close.”

Crap. Jongin’s eyes widens when he realizes the time. “Sorry, sorry, I’m on my way.” Chanyeol crows something about how Jongin will be stuck on dishes duty for a week and Jongin hangs up, nearly knocking Jongdae’s chicken on the floor. “I’m sorry, I just, I’ve gotta go.”

Jongdae nods. “Yeah, of course,” he says. He wiggles his eyebrows. “Get stoked, though. This next one’s gonna be a doozy.”

It’s hard for Jongin to muster up the same enthusiasm when all he feels is nerves and a little bit of sadness. “I’m sure,” Jongin agrees, smiling at him. He takes his time pulling his shoes on again. “But uh, thanks, hyung.” For reaching out to him, for trying so hard, for a lot of things. It turns out that Jongdae’s a pretty good friend. “I mean it.”

“Thank me after this date,” Jongdae says. There’s something tight in the way he grins at Jongin, not quite as cocky as usual, but Jongin doesn’t know how to read it. “Have a good night, Jongin-ah.”

“You too.” One more date. That’s all, just one more. It can’t be that bad, right? Might even be nice if he likes the guy. He shivers at the thought.

Jongin’s early again. Which is good, on one hand, because being late is its own headache, but it does mean that Jongin has more than enough time to drink his way through a glass of water and think way, way too much.

Jongdae hadn’t given him any details about this guy, and that makes it worse. Because it means that Jongin doesn’t really have any boundaries for his imagination now. And no matter how much he speculates, twisting his water glass around in his hands, he just keeps imagining one person. Small, easy smile, those sharp, down-turned eyes - there’s only ever been one person Jongin wants to see on the other side of the table, and it’s the one person it won’t ever be.

Maybe this date will be good for him. Even if it’s cutting into his time for work on his final lit project. He’s never really let himself think about actually dating someone, he’s always had too much on the go. Still does, really. It’s just too hard to say no to Jongdae, though. One date. It won’t cost him all that much.

He’s halfway through his second glass of water when someone approaches his table. Jongin’s stomach does a really weird thing when he sees who it is, a simultaneous lurch of hope and disappointment. There’s only one reason that Jongdae would be here right now - his date bailed. Jongin thinks that maybe he should give up this whole dating thing if he’s gonna start striking out before he even meets the guy. “Hyung?” he says, looking up. “Where’s my date?”

Jongdae is dressed up enough that Jongin’s heart kind of flutters in his chest. He’s got a red flower tucked into his buttonhole and his hands pressed to his sides. “Right here,” he says, sliding into the chair across from Jongin. “If that’s okay with you.”

To Jongin, Jongdae has always been so confident and self-assured, and this is the first time he’s seen anything else in him. It’s strange, the way that he blinks a little too fast and drums his fingers against the table. “Wait, what?” There’s a weird sort of deja vu when you’ve been daydreaming about something for months and then somehow it actually seems to be happening in real life. “I don’t -” Believe that this is really happening.

“I just thought, maybe,” Jongdae says, flustered. “I’m sorry, I guess I misjudged again, I’ll just -”

He pulls at the flower in his pocket and Jongin reaches out before he even realizes he’s doing it. He closes his hand around Jongdae’s wrist before he can stand and pull away. “Wait,” Jongin says desperately. “Please, I -” He swallows. “I have had the biggest crush on you since the first time you opened your door,” he admits, his stomach rolling with fear. “I just never thought you’d ever...y’know.”

This is the scariest thing he’s ever done. The restaurant hums with the noise of quiet conversation and the kitchen, but the silence stretches between the two of them for long enough for Jongin to panic a little, pulling away. “I always thought you were straight,” Jongdae says, laughing a little. He sits again, slowly shifting his grip until he’s got Jongin’s hand in his. “So I thought maybe, I could be your friend instead.”

If Jongin wasn’t seated, he’d be worried about his knees giving out right now. This is unreal. “I teach ballet,” Jongin says, and he covers his smile with his free hand. “Most people don’t draw the same conclusion.”

Jongdae shrugs. “So, tonight, let me make up for my mistakes.” He tugs his flower out of his buttonhole and leans over to tuck it in Jongin’s pocket. “I told you, third time’s the charm. I bet this one will stick.”

It turns out that the real deal, Jongdae all dressed up and smiling and just as nervous as Jongin is, is way better than any daydream that Jongin’s ever had. “I hope so,” Jongin says, and his heart feels like it’s doing its best to flutter right out of his chest.

After their dinner, when Jongin feels full and warm and Jongdae has captured his hand again, they walk back to Jongdae’s together. They stop half a block from his door and Jongdae pushes Jongin back until he steps off the curb. Like this, their heights almost match, and it’s so easy for Jongdae to use his grip on Jongin’s collar to reel him back in and kiss him. Jongin would let Jongdae push him around forever if it always ends like this. He feels lightheaded. Jongin’s not experienced, but Jongdae is, and when he pulls away, Jongin follows, eyes half-lidded and out of breath. “So,” Jongdae says, and Jongin is so aware of the weight of Jongdae’s hands, on the back of his neck and against his chest. “How’d I do?”

“Bullseye,” Jongin says, dizzy, and Jongdae laughs, leaning in to catch his mouth again.

fashcndy: (Default)

[personal profile] fashcndy 2014-03-04 01:10 am (UTC)(link)

this was so cute.

(Anonymous) 2014-06-17 11:30 am (UTC)(link)
Oh my goodness! I am here exploding with feels and raging at the fact that this only has one comment!?!? WAEEEEEE It's so cute! I mean, Jongin and chicken, oblivious Jongdae, sexy beast Baekhyun, lonely Sehun/Suho, bff Kyungsoo, lovely XiuHanXing, awkward boss Kris, crazy friend Yeol, and shirtless sleepy Tao!!! <3 <3 <3

I think I want more. Like, does Chanyeol deliver to Baek, and do they end up together? And does Jongin set up something (friendship or date) between the lonely souls that are Sehun and Suho?

(Anonymous) 2014-07-23 06:17 pm (UTC)(link)
hey hey omg i can't breathe this fic is gold. i mean i really like how you portray everything /really/ close to real life. i really appreciate that. like god knows how tiring it is juggling between jobs and schools, how jongin keeping his sexuality a secret (i don't think his parents know?), how he feels responsible to take care of his family since he's (the only?) boy in his family and kris and kyungsoo are angels, bless their hearts. i am rambling don't mind me.