Donghyuck doesn’t hate working in a coffee shop. The pay is fine, he actually likes his co-workers (even if he’ll never tell them that), and it gets him free coffee.
But it can get boring.
He shuttles from classes at the nearby university, to shifts at Wakey Wakey — yes, that’s the stupid name of the coffee shop where he works — and then back to his shared flat with his best friend and favourite person to annoy, Mark. His life isn't unpleasant, but it’s mundane, and the days have started to bleed into one another.
“I have half a mind to quit,” Donghyuck complains to Mark, bending over so he can prop his elbows onto the counter and rest his chin in his hands. It’s the post-lunch lull, the shop is nearly empty, and Donghyuck should probably help tidy up the tables, but he can’t be bothered.
“Don’t quit — I’ll be bored,” Mark says, without turning around. He wipes down one table, then shuffles over to the next.
“I’m already bored,” Donghyuck shoots back. He glances around the shop. Johnny is behind the counter with him, wiping down the mugs and putting them away. Doyoung is bringing a cake out from the kitchen, delicately sliding it into the display case. “Nothing ever happens around here.”
Mark quirks an eyebrow at him. “Which is a good thing,” he points out. “What do you want to happen, anyway?”
Donghyuck shrugs. “I don't know,” he says vaguely. “Something that won’t make me want to stab myself with a fork just to pass the time.”
“I’ll stab you with a fork,” Doyoung pipes up, matter-of-factly. There’s no venom in it, of course -- they just like to bicker. Donghyuck supposes that’s one thing that keeps his days from getting too stale. But even that's sort of lost its sting, now that they've gotten so used to each other.
“What we need is fresh blood,” Donghyuck declares, ignoring Doyoung completely. “I'm bored of all of you, now.”
Johnny laughs as he puts the last of the mugs away. “Fresh blood?” he repeats, incredulously. “As if — you hate people.”
Donghyuck sticks out his tongue at Johnny. “No, I hate you guys,” he clarifies. Jerks his head at Doyoung. “That guy in particular.”
“Hyuck, yesterday you told a customer to stop talking to you, while they were midway through ordering a coffee,” Mark points out, raising an eyebrow. Doyoung’s eyes widen in horror, and Donghyuck grimaces. That had happened when Doyoung was off, and so he needn’t have found out if not for Mark’s big mouth. He waves one hand at Doyoung in a feeble attempt to reassure him.
“I was half-joking,” he says, shrugging. “Their coffee order was too complicated. They needed to be taken down a peg.”
Doyoung just heaves a long, exasperated sigh. “I don’t have the energy for this,” he complains.
“Point is,” Johnny says, coming round the counter and flopping himself into a chair, “you hate new people. You’re stuck with us.” He grins toothily at Donghyuck.
“Never,” Donghyuck shoots back. “I’ll make a new friend, right now, and never speak to any of you again.”
Johnny cocks his head to the side. “Yeah?” he challenges. “Then befriend the next customer who walks into the shop. Get his name and his number.”
Doyoung makes a strangled noise of protest. “Don’t encourage him!” he scolds. Everyone ignores him, because of course they do.
“Fine,” replies Donghyuck, without missing a beat. “Challenge accepted.” He sticks out his hand across the counter for Johnny to shake. Johnny leaps to his feets, clasps Donghyuck’s hand in his own. Doyoung presses his fingers to his temples, while Mark just beams at them cheerily.
Then the door swings open.
Donghyuck turns, still grabbing onto Johnny’s hand, and lays eyes on possibly the prettiest guy he's ever seen.
The newcomer is slim, dressed in skinny jeans and a black bomber jacket over some sort of band t-shirt, and he looks cool. But he also has these big, shiny eyes, and a pouty pair of pink-stained lips, and a general expression of bewilderment that makes him look like a puppy.
Johnny smirks. “Go on then,” he urges, releasing Donghyuck’s hand and dropping back down into his seat. He leans back, crosses one ankle over the other knee.
Donghyuck clears his throat, stands up a little straighter. He’s never been one to back down from a challenge. Even if the challenge is an almost intimidatingly hot guy and even if all of his friends are watching him, ready for him to fail.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” he declares, as pretty boy walks up to the counter, no idea what’s about to hit him. Donghyuck nudges Doyoung out of the way with a vigorous bump of his hip, beaming as brightly as he can manage. “Do you go to the university?”
Doyoung gives Donghyuck a sharp glare, rubbing his hip and looking affronted. Whatever. Not Donghyuck’s fault that Doyoung is so bony. “Hyuck,” Doyoung says, firmly. “Don't be weird.”
Pretty boy glances warily between Doyoung and Donghyuck. “I just want a caramel macchiato?” he says, voice lilting upwards at the end like it’s a question.
Donghyuck ignores both Doyoung’s warning, and pretty boy’s coffee order. “I'm Donghyuck,” he introduces. “What’s your name? It’s nice to meet someone new — we usually see the same old faces in here.”
Pretty boy isn't given a chance to respond, before the door bangs open, and in crashes Nakamoto Yuta, Wakey Wakey regular and generally overly-friendly human, his backpack slung lazily over one shoulder.
“Same old faces?” Yuta whines, clutching one hand to his chest exaggeratedly. “Is that all I am to you?”
“What you are to me is a pain in my butt,” complains Doyoung, aggressively shovelling ice into a cup.
Yuta scoffs lightly, ignoring him and already making a beeline for the newbie. “You’re cute,” he says, because Yuta is an irredeemable flirt and not in the slightest bit ashamed of it. “Are you new?”
Pretty boy — as Donghyuck has now taken to referring to him in his head — looks completely taken aback to be addressed by Yuta. Donghyuck can sympathise. Yuta’s energy can be overwhelming for people who aren’t used to him — not to mention the fact that he likes to play it up around strangers. Maybe because he gets a kick out of watching people squirm.
“I just transferred to the university,” Taeyong explains. His eyes dart over to where Doyoung is preparing his coffee. He looks ready to bolt at any second.
Yuta hums, nodding. “I’m Yuta, by the way,” he says. “Third year, psychology major.” Then he cocks his head at pretty boy expectantly.
There’s a beat of silence, when it seems like maybe pretty boy isn’t going to rise to the bait, but then the awkwardness of not responding to Yuta’s introduction with an introduction of his own seems to be too much for him to bear. He offers a feeble smile. “Taeyong,” he says. “Third year as well, education major.”
“The education faculty is right by the psychology building,” Yuta replies, clapping Taeyong firmly on the shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll see you around lots.”
Taeyong doesn’t look like he’s all too pleased by this information, but thankfully Doyoung appears to save him from the interaction. “Your coffee,” he says, setting the caramel macchiato down on the counter, ringing up the order on the cash register. Taeyong pulls out his wallet, gives him his card. Meanwhile, Donghyuck waggles his eyebrows at Yuta. Mark catches the exchange, and frowns.
“Hope to see you around more often!” Donghyuck calls out, waving enthusiastically, as Taeyong shoves his wallet into his back pocket, picks up his coffee, and starts to head towards the door.
Taeyong pauses. Blinks at him once, then twice. “You're weird,” he says, but it doesn't sound like a judgement, or criticism. Just an observation. He glances around the shop, at all the curious faces staring at him. “You're all really weird.”
“It’s part of our charm,” replies Donghyuck. He spreads his arms wide. “Weird is just another way of saying unique.”
Taeyoung shakes his head at them as he pushes the door open and leaves, but he's suppressing a smile. Donghyuck can tell.
“You failed,” Johnny points out, when Taeyong’s gone.
“I got his name,” Donghyuck argues.
Johnny raises an eyebrow. “No, Yuta got his name.”
Yuta looks confused. He frowns at Johnny. “Wait, what did Hyuckie fail?”
“Some stupid bet,” grumbles Doyoung. He shoves an iced americano in front of Yuta, because they know Yuta’s daily routine well enough by now. A hot latte in the mornings, before lectures, and an iced americano at midday, on his way to the library. “You drink too much coffee.”
Yuta blows a noisy kiss at Doyoung, who wrinkles up his face in disgust. “Whatever, mom,” he says breezily, as he pays for his coffee. Sips on it, leaning against the counter. “Tell me, what bet?”
“Johnny challenged Hyuck to get the next customer’s name and number,” Mark explains wearily.
Yuta laughs. “Is that why you were being so friendly to pretty boy?”
Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “And I might have succeeded, too, if Nakamoto here hadn’t been flirting with him so aggressively.”
“Please — that was nothing. You're just bad at flirting.”
“Really? Because I didn’t see you get his number either.”
Yuta lets out a scoff. “I wasn’t trying,” he retorts. “If I’d really been laying on the charm, you’d know.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“No more challenges!” Doyoung shouts, interrupting Donghyuck and Yuta’s rapidly escalating repartee. His face has gone quite red, Donghyuck realises. How amusing. Yuta seems to find it funny too, because he takes one look at Doyoung and snorts out a laugh.
“Fine — I have a paper to finish, anyway,” he says. “Seeya later, losers!” he calls out, bidding them all farewell as he leaves the shop.
Donghyuck grins as the door shuts behind Yuta. “At least that wasn’t boring,” he declares. “Anyone want to make a new bet?”
Doyoung chucks a dish towel at him.
Donghyuck genuinely doesn’t expect to see Taeyong again, not after he’d looked so terrified of them during that first meeting. But he turns up again, the very next day, at the very same time, and orders the exact same drink.
“I thought we’d scared you off,” Donghyuck says, dutifully ringing up the order as Jaehyun makes the coffee. Doyoung’s not working today, which means Donghyuck isn’t trying as hard to be annoying. His calmer energy seems to relax Taeyong a little.
“Well, I need my daily coffee, and you guys are right round the corner from where I live,” Taeyong says, shrugging. He glances around the shop. “Your angry colleague isn’t here today.”
Donghyuck laughs. “You mean Doyoung? He doesn’t work this shift on the days he has midday classes.”
Taeyong hums thoughtfully. “Are you all university students?”
“Yeah — and most of the people who come here for coffee are too.”
“Like your friend?”
It takes Donghyuck a moment, but he quickly realises who Taeyong is talking about. “Yuta hyung?” he asks, grinning. “Yeah, he was roommates with Johnny — that’s the tall giant who was here yesterday — in their first year and he’s a huge coffee addict, so he’s here basically all the time. In fact, he should be here any moment now…”
As if on cue — or maybe because Yuta never, ever, falters from his coffee routine — the door swings open. Donghyuck grins. “There he is,” he says triumphantly, like he’s predicted the unpredictable, when in reality it’s just the opposite.
“Jae, the usual, please!” he calls out, waving to Jaehyun. Then his eyes fall on Taeyong. “Oh, hi — you’re here again.”
Taeyong quirks a half-smile. “Apparently so,” he replies.
“A fellow coffeeholic?”
“I prefer ‘coffee connoisseur’.”
Yuta chuckles. “Okay, Mister Education Major with his big words,” he teases. “Call it whatever you want.”
“Is the psychology major going to give me a lecture about caffeine addiction?” Taeyong returns without missing a beat. Jaehyun hands him his coffee, and Taeyong thanks him with a small smile. Donghyuck nudges Jaehyun with his shoulder, nodding towards the interaction between Taeyong and Yuta.
“I would be a hypocrite if I did,” says Yuta, shrugging and leaning against the counter. “I’m pretty sure my blood is 90% caffeine at this stage.”
Taeyong lets out a laugh. It’s light, and airy, and Donghyuck is startled to find how much softer it makes Taeyong seem. “Fair enough,” he says. Raises his coffee cup Donghyuck and Jaehyun, in thanks. Then glances back at Yuta. Pauses for a split second, before saying, “See you tomorrow.”
Yuta smiles, all dazzling charm as he always is. “Definitely,” he replies, tipping two fingers at Taeyong in goodbye as he leaves.
When Taeyong’s gone, Jaehyun turns to stare at Yuta. “Who was that?”
“Taeyong,” Yuta says, matter-of-factly. “He likes coffee, apparently.”
Jaehyun raises an eyebrow. “And?”
“And, what?” objects Yuta. “He was here yesterday too, and if he’s going to become a Wakey regular like me I might as well get to know him.”
“Sure,” Jaehyun says, not sounding at all convinced. But he saunters off to go make Yuta’s coffee. Donghyuck just grins devilishly at Yuta, not saying a word, not even when Yuta reaches over to smack him on the arm for being weird. Sometimes, as Donghyuck has learnt over years of annoying his friends, it’s much more effective to remain silent. In the end, Yuta just grabs his coffee when Jaehyun’s done with it, sticks his tongue out at Donghyuck, and leaves.
Jaehyun and Donghyuck stand side by side, watching as Yuta steps out of the shop and crosses the street, heading back into campus. They’re silent for a while, and then Jaehyun turns to Donghyuck.
“Was it just me or was Yuta a little more flustered than usual?”
Donghyuck punches Jaehyun on the shoulder in excitement. “He definitely was,” he exclaims. They both know Yuta well enough to know that he doesn’t usually get so defensive when he’s accused of flirting. He just takes it in his stride, most of the time because he knows perfectly well what he’s doing when he bats his long eyelashes at pretty boys and pouts up at them. But one jab from Jaehyun was all it took for Yuta to get all “I’m not flirting at all I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Very unusual.
“I think it’s because that guy’s like, really hot,” Jaehyun observes. “Like — seriously, crazy hot.”
And Donghyuck’s not one to lavish compliments on people, but even he has to agree. “He’s Yuta hyung’s type as well,” he points out. “Tall and slim and pretty.”
Jaehyun nods seriously, then chuckles. “Tall and slim and pretty describes Yuta himself.”
“We’ve always known Yuta’s a narcissist,” Donghyuck replies, and they both laugh. But the cogs in Donghyuck’s mind are spinning. Something interesting could be brewing here.
Donghyuck makes it a point to get himself onto all the midday shifts at Wakey Wakey. It suits him perfectly, anyway, since most of his lectures are late in the afternoon. Which isn’t a coincidence in the slightest — Donghyuck had very intentionally avoided early morning classes. Education is important, but so is sleep.
In any case, Donghyuck manages to engineer it such that he’s always working when Yuta and Taeyong pop by for their midday coffee. Sometimes Taeyong arrives first, and sometimes Yuta — but they’re always within minutes of each other.
Yuta’s always the one who makes conversation first, Donghyuck realises, after just over a week of the same old routine. Taeyong’s never rude, always answers Yuta’s questions politely, but there’s a wall there. He smiles his pretty, guarded smile, sips on his caramel macchiato — how does he have such a sugary drink every single day and still remain so slim? — and doesn’t volunteer any information that hasn’t been explicitly asked of him. The most Donghyuck's been able to learn is that Taeyong has one older sister, is bisexual, and likes cooking.
The whole charade was fun to watch for a while, but now Donghyuck’s getting bored again. He glances out the front window as Taeyong leaves the shop, then turns back to Yuta.
“Are you ever going to ask for his number, or what?”
Yuta makes a face. “What?” he objects. “What are you talking about?”
Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Taeyong,” he says, pushing out each syllable forcefully, like he’s speaking to a child. “Or are you just going to keep flirting with him in my sacred place of work?”
“Sacred place of work, my ass,” replies Yuta, rolling his eyes. But Donghyuck just levels him with a steely gaze, and Yuta scowls at him. “Look, he’s pretty and he’s fun to flirt with, okay? It’s not a big deal.”
“So you’re telling me you don’t wish he’d flirt back with you? I find that hard to believe.”
“Only to the extent I want everyone to flirt back with me,” points out Yuta, and okay — that’s fair enough.
Donghyuck shrugs, as Mark returns with Yuta’s iced americano. “What are the two of you arguing about now?” Mark asks, handing the drink over to Yuta, who just sips it mutely.
“I’m just telling Yuta to ask Taeyong out,” Donghyuck explains.
“You really should be calling me hyung, you brat,” Yuta says. Both Mark and Donghyuck ignore him.
“Please,” Mark says to Donghyuck, “When’s the last time Yuta actually asked someone out?”
Yuta glares at Mark. “That’s Yuta hyung to you, as well,” he scolds. Yuta doesn’t actually care about the honorifics — he only gets exercised about it as a way to distract from whatever conversation he wants to avoid. Like this conversation now, about Taeyong.
Mark just raises an eyebrow at Yuta. “Seriously, I don’t think you’ve asked someone out on a date in all the time I’ve met you.”
“I’m too pretty to ask people out,” declares Yuta, huffing in indignation. “People ask me out.”
Donghyuck smirks, seeing his opportunity and taking it. “Taeyong’s prettier than you, though.”
Yuta gasps in exaggerated horror, but Donghyuck can tell — a part of him is genuinely affronted. “You take that back!”
“I’ll take it back if you ask for his number.”
Yuta considers this for a moment, then scrunches up his face at Donghyuck. “Forget it — I know I’m pretty and that’s all that matters. You just don’t know how to appreciate a masterpiece when you see it,” he says. Sticks his tongue out at Donghyuck — he's taken to doing this quite a bit recently — and waves breezily at Mark as he leaves. “See you demons later!”
Mark turns to Donghyuck, folding his arms across his chest. “You really like antagonising him, don’t you?” he asks, cocking his head to the side in amusement.
“I just think Yuta should ask him out,” Donghyuck says, truthfully. Even if his ulterior motive isn’t Yuta’s well-being, but his own entertainment. “He clearly likes Taeyong, and they would make such a pretty couple.”
“Yuta would never — he’s too proud,” Mark replies, and he’s right, of course he is.
But Donghyuck refuses to admit defeat. “Wanna bet on it?” he suggests.
Mark, unfortunately, is far too sensible to indulge Donghyuck’s antics. “Get back to work, Hyuckie,” he says, shaking his head with a good-natured chuckle. Donghyuck pouts at Mark, who just laughs and waves him away.
But Donghyuck has never been one to give up. He doesn’t bring Taeyong up to Yuta anymore, just observes them from a distance. What he does do, however, is drop subtle hints about Yuta and Taeyong to whoever is on shifts with him.
“They look cute together, don’t you think?” he says to Jaehyun, leaning over his shoulder as Jaehyun cleans the coffee machine.
“I wonder if Yuta hyung will ask Taeyong out first, or the other way around,” he muses out loud, when Johnny's within earshot.
He even mentions it to Doyoung, who — to his surprise — looks mildly intrigued by the idea. Maybe because Donghyuck’s dropped it into conversation enough that even Doyoung has started picking up on the signs. Donghyuck’s good at playing the long game, especially when he has nothing else better to do to entertain himself during the long, endless shifts at Wakey Wakey. So he lies in wait, biding his time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
His chance arrives a week later, on a busy Saturday morning. The coffee routine doesn't exist on the weekend — everything is up for grabs. Taeyong and Yuta both tend to drop by the shop a couple times, sometimes even staying for a few hours to study or work on a project or maybe just scroll aimlessly through the internet on their laptops. But they’ve never crossed paths on a weekend.
Not until now.
Taeyong had arrived fairly early, said his hellos to the staff, who all know him by now, and then set himself up at the big table by the window towards the back of the shop. He’s sort of blocked from view, and so when the front doors open and Yuta steps in, Donghyuck realises abruptly that this is his chance to catch Yuta out.
“Hyung!” he greets brightly, waving Yuta over to the counter.
Yuta gives Donghyuck a suspicious glance, but walks towards him. “You never call me hyung,” he says warily. “What do you want?”
Donghyuck beams at Yuta. “Don’t be so paranoid — I’m just bored, and happy to see you,” he says. “Are you staying here to study?”
“Yeah — but not if you keep grinning at me like that. It’s creepy.”
“You have no appreciation for my friendliness,” whines Donghyuck. He waves Yuta towards the back of the shop. “The light’s really good over there — I’ll bring you your coffee.”
Yuta rolls his eyes, turning away from Donghyuck and heading to where he’s being directed. But he takes two steps in that direction and freezes.
“Lee Donghyuck,” he hisses out, shooting Donghyuck a fiery glare. He’s evidently spotted Taeyong, a dark head of hair ducked down over a stack of paper as he scribbles notes down and periodically types something onto his laptop.
Donghyuck glances in Taeyong’s direction, then back at Yuta. He grins devilishly. “Oh, of course — Taeyong’s here too, I completely forgot,” he coos, voice dripping with faux innocence. Blinks up at Yuta. “That won’t be a problem for you, though, right? Of course, if you’re too shy to be around him and decide you don’t want to stay here and study after all, I completely understand.”
Yuta opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, then clamps his lips shut. Narrows his eyes at Donghyuck. He looks like he knows what Donghyuck is doing, and yet his pride won’t allow him to admit defeat.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Yuta, pursing his lips together. “Why would I have a problem with Taeyong being here?”
Donghyuck grins. “Great,” he declares. “Then you won’t mind if I tell him you’re here.”
“Taeyong-ssi!” Donghyuck calls out, before Yuta can stop him. He waves energetically, as Taeyong lifts his head and looks over. His eyes widen when he spots Yuta, but he smiles warmly, and offers a small wave. Yuta grimaces and waggles his fingers in Taeyong’s direction half-heartedly. Donghyuck grins. “You don’t mind if Yuta hyung joins you to study, do you?”
Yuta whips his head round at Donghyuck. “Lee Donghyuck—” he says sharply.
But Taeyong’s already nodding, and saying in reply, “No, of course not. Yuta-ssi, you’re very welcome to join me.” And then he’s shuffling his papers around to make space for Yuta at the thankfully very roomy table he’d chosen.
Yuta glowers at Donghyuck. “You’re such a meddler,” he complains, but Donghyuck just laughs and shoos him away.
“What on earth are you doing?” comes Doyoung’s voice from right behind him, and Donghyuck startles, whirling around.
“Don’t sneak up on me, for god’s sake!”
Doyoung just levels him with a deeply suspicious — and wholly unapologetic — look. “Seriously, what are you doing?” he repeats. “And why are you shouting at people across the shop?”
Mark’s popped up beside Doyoung now, as have Johnny and Jaehyun. They’re all looking between Donghyuck, and the table that Taeyong and Yuta are now sharing, with undisguised interest. Even Doyoung seems unable to mask his curiosity behind his typical “I’m the manager, listen to me” facade.
Donghyuck leans back against the counter. “Yuta hyung, and Taeyong,” he explains. “There’s something going on there.”
“Is there?” queries Mark. He looks, as he always has about this topic, deeply unconvinced.
But Jaehyun’s grinning and nodding eagerly. “No, I think so too,” he says, in a loud stage whisper. “I know Yuta’s flirty with everyone, but he’s differently flirty with Taeyong. He’s less smooth, more flustered. Babbles on a little more.”
Doyoung furrows his brow. “Yuta babbles on all the time,” he points out.
“No, but he babbles more around Taeyong,” Jaehyun insists.
Johnny pokes his head around Doyoung to get a closer look at Yuta and Taeyong. Yuta seems to be talking at Taeyong, who’s just staring at him and smiling and nodding periodically. “Hyuck may have a point,” he agrees, nodding over at Yuta. “Look at him go.”
“Yuta hyung’s like that with everyone,” Mark argues.
Donghyuck shakes his head. “No, seriously — this is different. I bet he’s going to crack and ask Taeyong out soon.”
At the word ‘bet’, both Johnny and Jaehyun whip their heads round to stare at Donghyuck, two pairs of eyes glinting with mischief. “Really?” Johnny asks. “Wanna bet when that’s going to happen?”
Doyoung makes a face. “No more betting, please!” he cries out. As expected, no one pays him any mind. Doyoung doesn’t even seem surprised by this.
“By the end of the school term,” Jaehyun offers.
Donghyuck shakes his head. “Sooner,” he counters. “End of the month.”
Johnny raises an eyebrow. “Yuta never asks anyone out, he’s too proud,” he says. “I’m with Jae on this.”
“No, if anything he’ll just wait for Taeyong to ask him out instead,” Mark objects.
“He may be proud, but he’s also impatient,” Donghyuck argues.
Johnny waves his hands between them to end the discussion. “Okay, so Hyuck’s in for end of the month,” Johnny says, counting their bets out on his fingers. “Jae and I are in for end of the school term. Mark’s going for Taeyong being the one to ask him out.” He pauses, turns to Doyoung. All of them stare at Doyoung expectantly.
Doyoung heaves a sigh. “I’m with Mark, Taeyong’s going to be the one to make the first move.”
Donghyuck beams up at Doyoung. “That’s the spirit, hyung,” he says. “I knew you’d get involved.”
“You’re a bad influence on me,” replies Doyoung, not looking at all happy about it.
Johnny chuckles. “So what are we betting?” he asks, and that triggers a renewed round of argument. They end up settling on ten bucks each and the winner getting an exemption from bathroom clean-up duty for a week. But the only thing that really matters to Donghyuck is pride. He’s going to win the bet, one way or another.
Mark’s at the coffee machine, making Yuta’s coffee when Donghyuck sidles over to him, leans his chin onto Mark’s shoulder. “Markie-pooh,” he coos. “I’ll bring Yuta’s coffee over to him when you’re done with it.”
“What, so you can terrorise Yuta into asking Taeyong out?” Mark replies, laughing lightly. He turns, raises an eyebrow at Donghyuck. They’ve been best friends and roommates for too long, and Donghyuck very unfortunately can’t hide anything from Mark.
So Donghyuck just pouts, as cutely as he can manage, and gives Mark his best puppy-dog eyes. “Is that what you think of me?” he whines.
Mark smirks. “Without a doubt, yes,” he replies. “And stop making that face — you may be cute, but after all this time, I’m immune.”
“Fine,” says Donghyuck, his expression returning to neutrality. “But you can’t stop me from following you over there.”
Which is how Donghyuck ends up escorting Mark over to Taeyong and Yuta’s table, hovering awkwardly at Mark’s elbow as Mark sets Yuta’s drink down in front of him.
Yuta gives them a funny look. “I know you guys are best friends, but do you really need two people to bring one coffee over here?”
Donghyuck waves him away without responding to the question. “What are you guys talking about?” he asks. “Anything interesting?”
“Yuta’s just telling me about this child psychology module he’s doing,” says Taeyong. “There’s a lot of crossover with education theory.”
“Fascinating,” murmurs Donghyuck, even though he doesn’t care in the slightest about whatever boring science nonsense Yuta and Taeyong are studying. He bares his teeth in an insincere grin. “You guys seem to be getting along really well.”
Mark gives Donghyuck a sharp elbow in the ribs. Yuta narrows his eyes at them, takes a long, slow sip of his drink.
Taeyong glances between all of them in confusion. “Uh,” he starts, hesitating. “I guess?”
Donghyuck nods, humming thoughtfully. “So, Taeyong-ssi — are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
Yuta splutters on his drink, coughs loudly and quite ungracefully. Mark hisses, “Donghyuck!” under his breath. But Donghyuck just beams unapologetically at Taeyong.
“No, I’m not,” Taeyong offers, slowly, looking incredibly wary. He glances over at Yuta, who’s thumping himself on the chest, then back at Donghyuck. “Am I missing something?”
“No, you’re not,” croaks out Yuta. He glares at Donghyuck. “They’re just being annoying, and they’re also leaving now,” he says, giving them a pointed look. “Goodbye, Donghyuck.”
Donghyuck doesn’t want to go, but Mark tugs on his wrist, pulls him away. “Lee Donghyuck,” Mark whispers into his ear as they shuffle away, arms still intertwined. “What the hell was that?”
“Just making casual conversation,” replies Donghyuck breezily, grinning at Mark. He reaches over, gives Mark a pinch on the cheek. “Don’t get so worked up, it’ll give you wrinkles.”
Mark rolls his eyes at Donghyuck. “Being around you gives me wrinkles,” he complains, releasing Donghyuck and walking briskly back towards the counter, where Jaehyun and Doyoung are giving them strange looks.
“I love you too, Markie hyung!” Donghyuck calls out, cackling wildly as he does so.
When he glances back, Yuta and Taeyong are staring at him. He winks at them and throws up finger guns.
Yuta starts studying in Wakey Wakey more often, instead of heading to the library after getting his midday coffee. That has nothing to do with the fact that Taeyong’s also taken to spending some afternoons in the coffee shop. At least, not according to Yuta.
Donghyuck flops into the seat across from Yuta, one afternoon. “Taeyong not joining you today?” he quips, voice casual but a meaningful look in his eyes.
“He has lectures till three, he’ll come by later,” Yuta replies, without looking up from his books.
“Oh?” Donghyuck asks, leaning forward on his elbows. “And how do you know that?”
Yuta freezes, like he’s just realised who he’s talking to. “Because we’re friends,” he says sharply, raising his gaze to look at Donghyuck. “We talk. It’s not weird.”
Donghyuck shrugs nonchalantly. “I didn’t say it was weird.”
“You’re implying it.”
“And you’re reading too much into it.”
Yuta scowls at Donghyuck. “Don’t you have work to do?” he asks. “Or why don’t you annoy Mark, or something?”
Donghyuck gasps in feigned shock. “Me? Annoy my beloved Markie hyung? I would never.”
Yuta scoffs, shaking his head. “You’re an absolute terror, you know that?” he says, but good-naturedly. Yuta has a massive soft spot for Donghyuck, as do the rest of Donghyuck’s friends, and Donghyuck relishes in exploiting that for his own amusement. “I don’t know how Mark puts up with you.”
“Mark loves me,” Donghyuck says, without pausing to think about it. Because Mark does, and he knows it, without a shadow of a doubt. Mark is one of the great constants in his life, the one who’s always there for him, no matter what. Even if the whole world were to go up in flames, Donghyuck knows that Mark is the one person he can, without a doubt, rely on. “I'm his favourite.”
But then Yuta’s looking over to the counter, where Mark’s working, and raising his eyebrows. “Looks like your Markie hyung has a new favourite,” he points out.
Donghyuck turns, and sure enough — Mark’s come round to stand on the other side of the counter, talking and laughing to a tall boy with big eyes and a soft, round cheeks. Donghyuck feels his own eyes narrow. Who the hell is that?
“I don’t know — shouldn’t you know?” Yuta says, and shit — Donghyuck must have spoken his question out loud.
He stares at Mark and the mysterious stranger. This makes no sense. He knows all of Mark’s friends — most of them are his friends as well. And the ones that aren't, Mark tells him about. But not this guy, apparently, for whatever reason. Donghyuck watches as Mark throws his head back in laughter, one hand coming up to touch this apparently hilarious stranger on the arm.
“You jealous?” Yuta’s voice crashes into Donghyuck’s consciousness, drags him back to reality.
“What?” snaps Donghyuck. He pushes his chair back, standing up abruptly. “Of course not.”
Yuta smirks up at him. The tables have been turned, all of a sudden, without warning, and Donghyuck doesn’t like it. “If you say so,” Yuta sing-songs, but Donghyuck’s already walking away. Back to Mark, and this unknown person. Just out of curiosity, nothing else.
“Hey,” Donghyuck greets, winding one arm around Mark’s waist, and hooking his chin into the curve of Mark’s shoulder. They do this all the time, arms draped around each other. But this time, Mark suddenly stiffens up, edges away from Donghyuck.
“Hyuck,” he says, his smile looking a little forced. “This is Jungwoo. Jungwoo hyung — Donghyuck.”
Jungwoo, as the stranger is apparently named, turns his attention to Donghyuck. “Ah,” he murmurs, his voice soft and gentle in a way that makes Donghyuck want to scream in frustration, because how can someone’s voice possibly sound so nice? “You must be the roommate.”
Donghyuck clears his throat. “And best friend,” he adds, pointedly.
“Anyway,” Mark pipes up. “Thanks for stopping by, hyung.” He smiles brightly at Jungwoo, and then suddenly he’s leaning in for a hug, and something white hot twists inside Donghyuck as he watches Jungwoo wrap his long, stupid, spindly arms around Mark.
“Anytime,” Jungwoo replies, releasing Mark from the hug, his hands lingering a couple of seconds longer than necessary on Mark’s waist. Donghyuck wants to slap his hands away, but he — for once — suppresses his instinct, and just grits his teeth. Forces a smile, as Jungwoo turns to him. “Nice to meet you, Donghyuck-ssi.”
“And you,” returns Donghyuck. His voice sounds a little strained, he can tell, but he doesn’t care. Just fixes Jungwoo with a steely gaze, until he picks up his coffee and walks away.
Mark turns and heads back behind the counter as Jungwoo leaves. Donghyuck trails after him. “Who was that?” he asks, trying to keep his voice light, and casual.
“Oh, Jungwoo hyung? We have a seminar together,” Mark explains simply.
“Since when? You never told me about him.”
Mark gives Donghyuck a look. “Since start of term,” he says. Pauses, frowns. “I have friends other than you, you know.”
Donghyuck laughs thinly. “Of course I know that,” he replies, waving one hand at Mark. “It’s just that you usually tell me about them.”
There’s a beat of silence, then Mark shrugs. “Slipped my mind,” he mumbles, as he picks up the inventory clipboard and turns to head into the backroom, a clear indication that he thinks this conversation is over. “It’s not a big deal.”
Donghyuck’s left standing by himself, watching as Mark disappears into the backroom. Presumably to do some stock-taking, but possibly also to get away from Donghyuck. The thought makes him feel a coil of frustration in his chest.
“Not a big deal,” he repeats to himself, under his breath.
When he turns back around, Yuta’s watching him with an inscrutable look on his face.
Donghyuck's never been great at turning up to his shifts on time. But the midday shift isn't particularly busy, so it doesn't really matter. Especially not when Doyoung isn't there.
“Sorry I'm late,” he calls out to no one in particular, wandering into the staff break room — which is really just a glorified closet — and chucking his backpack on the floor.
When he comes back out, tying the apron around his waist, only Jaehyun is there, standing by the register and scrolling idly through his phone. Donghyuck frowns. He could have sworn Mark was on this shift as well.
“Where's Mark?” he asks. Jaehyun looks up, then jerks his chin over to the far end of the shop. Where Mark is sitting at one of the tables. Talking to Taeyong.
Donghyuck stares at the unlikely pair in mild confusion. “Since when have they been so chummy?” He squints suspiciously as Mark starts shaking his head vigorously while Taeyong laughs.
“Dunno,” mumbles Jaehyun in response. “Mark was cleaning tables near him and Taeyong just beckoned him over.”
It’s at this very moment, when Donghyuck is staring intently at the back of Mark's head, Taeyong looks up and catches Donghyuck's eye. A sly smile spreads across Taeyong's face, one that reminds Donghyuck of Yuta — he should have known Nakamoto would be a bad influence on Taeyong.
Then Taeyong says something to Mark, nods his head over at Donghyuck. Mark turns in his chair, looking somewhat alarmed. Donghyuck hasn't the slightest clue what Mark and Taeyong could possibly be talking about, but he really, really wants to know.
When Mark returns to the counter, it's with flushed cheeks and eyes that staunchly refuse to meet Donghyuck's gaze. He fusses about unnecessarily with the teabags.
“Why were you talking to Taeyong?”
Mark shrugs, his attention still focused on the teabags. “No reason,” he says. It's an obvious lie, and the fact that Mark is keeping things from him makes Donghyuck feel a sudden, irrational swell of displeasure.
“You're keeping something from me,” he grumbles. “You never keep anything from me.”
“That you know of,” replies Mark. Donghyuck narrows his eyes. What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Then Mark casts a surreptitious glance over at Taeyong, and okay — now Donghyuck is convinced something is up, and that whatever it is, he's not going to like it.
Mark finally leaves the teabags alone, heads over to wipe down the coffee machine. Donghyuck trails after him. “You're scheming something with Taeyong,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“No one is scheming anything,” complains Mark. “We were just having a conversation? Like normal people?”
Donghyuck makes a murmuring noise of acknowledgement, but he’s not really paying attention. The cogs in his brain are whirring as he tries to figure out what's going on.
“You're trying to win the bet!” he exclaims triumphantly, and suddenly, making Mark jump. Donghyuck grins at him. “You're trying to convince Taeyong to ask Yuta out, so you can win.”
Mark glares at him. It's a strangely severe expression, and Donghyuck isn't used to it. Mark doesn't get angry at him, he just doesn't.
But here he is now, furrowing his brow at Donghyuck, corners of his mouth turned down. “Not everything is about the stupid bet,” he says sharply.
Donghyuck gasps in exaggerated shock. “The bet is not stupid!” he says, because relying on humour and insincerity is the only way he knows how to deflect other people’s displeasure with him.
It doesn't work. Well, not really. Mark does stop glaring at him, but instead of rolling his eyes good-naturedly and giving Donghyuck a playful shove, like he usually would, he just sighs heavily and turns his attention back to the coffee machine. Which most certainly does not need to be cleaned as thoroughly as Mark seems to think.
“Look, I'm sorry,” Donghyuck says, bumping into Mark's shoulder with his own. Mark looks up at him in surprise, and Donghyuck pulls a face. “Don't look so shocked, I'm perfectly capable of apologising.”
A small smile creeps across Mark's face. “Could’ve fooled me,” he mumbles, and his voice is a little softer.
Donghyuck feels something in his chest slowly start to unclench. Mark has that effect on him. He's starting to think he might have an idea what that means. He doesn't want to think too hard about it.
“How about you get to pick the movie we watch this Saturday?” he offers. They take turns to pick every week, and it's not Mark's turn, but Donghyuck figures it's the least he owes his tireless best friend. And if it would make Mark happy, then, well — it would make Donghyuck happy too.
Mark doesn't say anything for a while, then puts down the dishcloth he's been using to wipe the coffee machine. He turns to Donghyuck, something unreadable on his face.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” he says. “I can't do movie night this weekend.”
“What? Why?” Movie night is their tradition, has been ever since their first year. Of all the weekends they've been at university, they've only missed three, and one of those was when Donghyuck got appendicitis and had to stay in the hospital — and even then, Mark had tried to sneak in overnight with his laptop so they could watch the latest Thor movie.
“I have a project to do.”
Donghyuck can't shake the sense that there's something Mark isn't telling him. His chest tightens. “Can't you do it another time?”
Mark hesitates, and then he says, “Saturday evening is the only time this weekend that Jungwoo hyung can do.”
Jungwoo. Donghyuck feels his jaw clench. “What?” he asks. Mark shrugs, and for some reason that infuriates Donghyuck more. As if it's not a big deal.
But it is a big deal. Donghyuck wants to scream this at Mark. But he knows enough to know that it won't be appreciated. So he just grins, and bears it.
“You’re missing movie night to hang out with — this Jungwoo guy?”
“We're not hanging out,” corrects Mark, a little tersely. “We have a project to do for our seminar.”
“Yeah, fine,” Donghyuck mutters. “Do what you want. I don't care.”
Mark gives him a long, hard stare. It makes Donghyuck feel suddenly incredibly exposed. He doesn't like it. So he turns, starts fussing about with the cake display. He can feel Mark's gaze on the back of his head, but he ignores it.
Finally, Mark heaves a sigh and leaves, the door to the back room clicking shut behind him.
“What are you doing on Saturday? Let's hang out.”
Yuta looks up from his laptop as Donghyuck drops into the seat across from him. “Isn't Saturday movie night with Mark?”
And great, like Donghyuck needed the reminder that he's being abandoned by his best friend. He scowls, rolling his eyes. “Mark's doing a project with Jungwoo,” he explains. “So I have a free evening and you, my friend, have the honour of spending it with me.”
“A dubious honour,” replies Yuta. “Anyway, I can't. I promised Sicheng I'd go for dinner with him.”
Donghyuck pouts. But he can't really argue — Sicheng is Yuta's best friend, the same way Mark is Donghyuck's. Except that Yuta and Sicheng haven't abandoned each other to go do some stupid project with Jungwoo.
“You and Mark have such a weird relationship,” Yuta says suddenly, startling Donghyuck out of his internal monologue. He blinks at Yuta, who is just watching him carefully.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Donghyuck huffs. Even though he knows perfectly well — they've all teased him and Mark about this before, about how they're so close they might as well be dating. Donghyuck's always just rolled his eyes and laughed it off, but now — the way Yuta is staring at him makes something beneath his skin crawl with unease.
“Do you like him?”
Donghyuck splutters on air. “What?” he exclaims indignantly. And a little more dramatically than necessary. “He's my best friend!”
“That wasn't the question.”
“Well, it's a stupid question.”
Yuta raises one eyebrow. “Is it?”
“I know what you're doing,” Donghyuck grumbles. “Trying to deflect my attention so I’ll get off your case about Taeyong. A clever game, but I'm not falling for it.”
Yuta shakes his head. “Not everything is a game, Hyuckie,” he says, in his wise old man voice, even though Yuta is basically an overgrown child. But there's a gravitas in the way he's looking at Donghyuck now, one that hasn't always been there before. “Maybe you treat everything like a game so that you don't need to take any of your own emotions seriously.”
“Stop psychoanalysing me,” snaps Donghyuck, glaring at Yuta and kicking out at his shins under the table. “What about you? Are you going to ask Taeyong out or what?”
Yuta gives Donghyuck a look, one that Donghyuck can’t quite decipher — why have people been giving him so many cryptic looks lately? — but then seems to decide to let it go. He shrugs. “Don't know,” he replies. “Maybe I will, maybe I won't.”
There's a softness in Yuta's eyes, one that Donghyuck doesn't quite recognise. Yuta’s dated many people in the time that Donghyuck's known him, and not once has he looked so unbearably fond. The sudden realisation that maybe Yuta is in far deeper than any of them had realised startles Donghyuck into seriousness.
“You — you actually like him,” he says. It's not a question.
Yuta scrunches up his nose. “No,” he protests. “He's just — I like being around him. I guess — he just makes me feel like I can be myself. Like I don't need to try to be happy, or funny, or interesting. Like I can just — be. You know?”
Donghyuck stares at Yuta. Yeah, he knows. That's how being around Mark makes him feel.
But if he thinks Yuta likes Taeyong — what does that mean about him and Mark?
“No,” mumbles Donghyuck, pushing himself to his feet. “I don't know.”
By the time Saturday rolls around, Donghyuck and Mark have made up. At least, Donghyuck thinks so. They've not actually talked about anything, because Mark is constipated about feelings and so is Donghyuck. But Mark's stopped looking like a kicked puppy, so that's an improvement.
He's not working at Wakey Wakey, though. The project had gone from needing one evening to needing the entire day. Donghyuck can't even bring himself to be annoyed about it. He has no right to, and he knows it.
But he can't help feeling — and acting — a little gloomy, so much so that Doyoung takes him off cash register duty and bans him from speaking to any of the customers.
“They're here for a pick-me-up, and you, my friend, are a massive drag-me-down right now,” he says.
Donghyuck scowls half-heartedly. “Thanks, buddy,” he snarks. “Appreciate the support.”
So that's how he ends up spending the morning slouching around the shop, bussing tables with minimal enthusiasm. Yuta's not around, which part of Donghyuck is grateful for, because he doesn't doubt for a second that Yuta would be able to connect the dots and pick up on the reason for his grumpiness immediately. But he also kind of wishes he had Yuta to talk to about this, about what it could possibly mean that the thought of Mark hanging out with someone who isn't him makes his insides twist with something that he doesn't want to name.
He's clearing one of the tables in the back, when he hears his name. Looks up, to see Taeyong watching him with a curious expression on his face. Donghyuck pauses, empty mug in one hand and a crumb-covered plate in the other, and stares at Taeyong. He’d forgotten that Taeyong was here, so caught up in his own gloominess that he'd — for once — stopped paying attention to the bet and everyone associated with it.
“I don’t bite,” Taeyong says, smiling as he rests his cheek against one hand. “The shop’s quiet. Come sit down, and talk to me.”
“You want to talk to me?” Donghyuck asks, somewhat incredulously.
Taeyong laughs. “Yuta seems to like you, even though he calls you a demon all the time,” he says. “And I’ve spent so much time here, but we haven’t really even gotten to know one another.” He gestures at the chair opposite him.
Donghyuck hesitates. He glances back at the counter, where Doyoung is chatting idly to Jaehyun. The shop isn't quiet, but it isn't heaving either — he can probably take a little break. Donghyuck slips into the chair, setting the mugs and plate down on Taeyong’s table.
“Yuta not joining you today?”
“He’s meant to be getting here soon — had a Saturday morning seminar.”
Donghyuck pulls a face. “Gross,” he says. If any one of his professors ever suggests a Saturday seminar, he thinks he’ll just drop the class.
Taeyong hums absent-mindedly, like his thoughts have wandered elsewhere. He tilts his head at Donghyuck, and there’s something incredibly unnerving about his gaze — like he’s seeing right through all of Donghyuck’s secrets.
There’s something about his tone that makes Donghyuck narrow his eyes. “What has Yuta been telling you?”
A small smile crosses Taeyong’s face. “Only that he thinks you and Mark obviously like each other but refuse to admit it.”
Donghyuck opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out. Taeyong’s bluntness startles him into silence, and he scrunches up his face in displeasure.
“I haven’t known you guys for very long, but I think Yuta has a point,” Taeyong offers, shrugging. He sips at his coffee, his eyes — large and bright and eager — peering up at Donghyuck over the rim of his mug.
“Yes, well — that’s what we say about you and Yuta,” Donghyuck retorts.
Taeyong puts his coffee down. “There’s nothing going on between me and Yuta,” he says. His voice is a little tight, and it doesn’t escape Donghyuck’s notice.
“You guys have certainly gotten very close, very quickly,” he points out nonchalantly, like he’s commenting on the weather.
“We’re friends,” Taeyong replies. “He’s — nice.”
Donghyuck raises an eyebrow, smirking at Taeyong. There’s a sudden discomfort there, in the rigid line of Taeyong’s shoulders and his unwillingness to meet Donghyuck’s gaze. “Nice?” Donghyuck repeats. “Is that all?”
Taeyong doesn’t respond to Donghyuck’s question, just shrugs and wrinkles his nose. “I don’t think Yuta likes me in that way.”
“Are you kidding?” Donghyuck exclaims, letting out a bark of laughter. “I’m pretty sure he’s smitten.”
Taeyong studies Donghyuck. “Has he said anything to you?”
Donghyuck shakes his head. “No,” he replies, truthfully. Yuta’s one of those people who can say a lot without saying anything at all. “But I know Nakamoto, and I know the difference between him being flirty for the sake of it, and him actually taking a liking to someone.”
A light flush colours Taeyong’s cheeks. Donghyuck can see him suppressing a smile. “So — do you think I should ask him out, or something?”
Donghyuck freezes. Wait, no — the bet. He may want Yuta and Taeyong to be happy, but he also wants to win. “Um,” he mumbles, hesitating. “Maybe wait for him to ask you?”
Taeyong frowns. “Wait? But why—”
He doesn’t get the chance to complete his thought, because the door to the coffee shop swings open, and the sound of Yuta’s voice fills the air.
“I can’t believe we had to waste two hours on a Saturday for that pointless seminar,” Yuta’s whining. There’s someone with him, someone with dark hair, a chiselled jawline and a much more subdued energy. He’s smiling, and nodding serenely along to Yuta’s complaints.
Donghyuck startles, as Taeyong gets to his feet and waves excitedly. Yuta turns and looks over at them, as does his companion — someone named Taeil, apparently. The grin on Taeil’s face broadens, and he starts heading over towards Taeyong. Yuta trails along in his wake, looking as confused as Donghyuck feels.
“Yongie — haven’t seen you in ages,” Taeil says, and then suddenly he’s sweeping Taeyong up into a tight hug, or maybe Taeyong’s flinging himself into Taeil’s arms. Donghyuck exchanges a look with Yuta. Who the hell is this guy?
Taeyong finally pulls away from Taeil, eyes bright and smile wide. His hands, however, stay on Taeil’s shoulders, as if he’s afraid that Taeil will disappear if he lets him go.
“How do you guys know each other?” Yuta asks, cautiously.
“We went to the same high school,” Taeyong replies. He’s still grinning at Taeil. “Taeil hyung was the only person I knew when I transferred here.”
Taeil chuckles, pats Taeyong affectionately on the head. “I’m glad you’ve settled in well,” he says, fondly. Taeyong giggles, clinging onto Taeil’s arm and burying his face in Taeil’s shoulder. Donghyuck feels completely shell-shocked. This is a completely different side to Taeyong, one he’s never seen before. Judging by the wide-eyed stare on Yuta’s face, Donghyuck doesn’t think Yuta’s ever seen this side of Taeyong before either.
“Hyung, were you in the same seminar as Yuta?” Taeyong asks, dropping back into his seat and tugging Taeil down into the chair next to him. Donghyuck hovers awkwardly next to the table, as does Yuta.
“Yeah — I didn’t know you guys knew each other,” Taeil replies. He grins up at Yuta. “I just came here to grab a coffee, Yuta said the coffee here is great.”
Taeyong beams proudly, as if he’d been the one on the receiving end of that compliment. “The coffee here is the best,” he enthuses. “I come here all the time — hyung, you should study here as well!”
Donghyuck glances at Yuta. A frown crosses his face, but he doesn’t say anything, just watches as Taeyong practically hangs off Taeil. Part of Donghyuck is panicking as he watches this spanner in the works by the name of Taeil potentially mess up his best laid plans to win the bet. But that’s just a small part of him. Most of him is worried about Yuta — worried because he recognises the dark look on Yuta’s face. It’s the look Donghyuck knows he has when he sees Mark with Jungwoo.
In any case, Taeil is laughing, and shaking his head, saying something about how Wakey Wakey is too far from his dorms. Taeyong pouts at him — pouts! — and starts chattering on about how much he misses Taeil and how they should hang out more often.
Thankfully for Yuta’s nerves, Taeil has to leave to meet another friend, so he just gets himself a coffee and leaves. Taeyong — who’d followed Taeil to the counter when he went to order his coffee — stands there and waves brightly as Taeil leaves. Donghyuck slides Yuta’s iced americano over the counter at him, the two of them studying Taeyong carefully. The atmosphere between the three of them is thick with tension, although Taeyong seems completely oblivious to it.
“You seemed really friendly with Taeil,” Yuta observes. Donghyuck can hear the edge in his voice, but Taeyong just beams at him cheerily.
“Taeil hyung’s the best,” Taeyong gushes. “He was the popular kid in our high school, but he was always so nice and so friendly. And he helped me settle in when I first transferred here.”
Yuta forces a smile. “That’s good,” he mumbles.
Donghyuck watches as Taeyong and Yuta head back to their table — they spend so much time in Wakey Wakey that they now have a table that’s unofficially theirs — and chews on his bottom lip.
The end of the month — and therefore Donghyuck’s time limit for winning the bet — is only days away. Things are most certainly not good.
“Ask Taeyong out.”
Yuta looks up from his books to glare at Donghyuck. “No,” he says. “Leave me alone.”
It’s the last day of the month, and the last day for Donghyuck to win the bet. The introduction of Taeil over the weekend had certainly messed things up a little, but Donghyuck was still certain that Taeyong would say yes if Yuta asked him out. And he still had time to make it happen.
“You obviously like him,” Donghyuck presses on stubbornly. “You wouldn’t be so bothered by Taeil if you didn’t.”
Yuta raises an eyebrow at Donghyuck. “I don’t like him, and I’m not bothered by Taeil.”
“Yes, you are!” exclaims Donghyuck in frustration. “Just admit it!”
“There’s nothing to admit,” snaps Yuta in return.
Across the shop, standing at the counter, Mark and Johnny are watching Donghyuck’s agitated exchange with Yuta. Donghyuck casts them a sideways glance. There’s no one else in the shop, so it’s not like he’s bothering anybody — other than Yuta, of course. But he can see the concerned look on Mark’s face. Even Johnny, the very embodiment of the word ‘chill’, looks like he might come over and tell Donghyuck to stop.
Donghyuck lowers his voice as he turns back to Yuta. “I’m pretty sure Taeyong likes you too,” he says. “So why don’t you just take a risk that’s not even that much of a risk for once in your life, and go for it?”
“Why don’t you?”
Yuta rolls his eyes. “You’re one to talk,” he mumbles.
Donghyuck’s mouth goes dry. Yuta doesn’t need to say any more. He knows exactly what — or who — Yuta is talking about. “I don’t — I don’t like Mark in that way.”
“Yes, you do, and anyone with eyes can see it,” Yuta replies. His voice has a hard glint to it, like he's taunting Donghyuck with the edge of a blade.
“He's my best friend,” Donghyuck says flatly. His eyes dart over to where Mark is standing. Hopes desperately that Mark can’t hear them.
Yuta rolls his eyes. “And that was fine when you could keep Mark all to yourself,” he points out. “Are you telling me you'd genuinely be cool with it if Mark started going out with this new Jungwoo guy?”
“Shut up,” snaps Donghyuck. Everything Yuta is saying is hitting too close to home. “Mark and Jungwoo are just friends.”
Yuta's words weigh heavily in Donghyuck's chest. The thought of Mark and Jungwoo together — it makes something beneath his skin crawl. He doesn't want to think about it. About how much he's been imagining what it would be like to not just cuddle up to Mark, but to slip their hands together, fingers interlocked. To not just poke and pinch at him, but to hold him like he's precious. To nuzzle into him, to lavish kisses on him, to make him feel loved in all the ways he deserves.
“Stop deflecting this onto me,” Donghyuck grumbles. “This was about you asking Taeyong out.” He looks down, fiddles with the napkin sitting on the table. Yuta's gaze is fixed on him, he can feel it.
“Why do you want me to ask Taeyong out so badly?”
Donghyuck scrunches up his face, glares half-heartedly at Yuta. “Why do you want me to ask Mark out so badly?” he counters, parroting Yuta's words back at him.
Yuta quirks a half-smile. “Fair enough,” he concedes. Then pauses, brows furrowed, like he's deep in thought. He's completely silent, and still. It's unnerving. Yuta leans back, folds his arms across his chest. “I'll do it if you will.”
Donghyuck frowns in confusion. “Do what?”
“Ask Mark out.”
“You'll ask Mark out?”
Yuta leans over and flicks Donghyuck on the forehead, drawing a loud yelp of protest from him. “No,” says Yuta, pointedly. “I'll ask Taeyong out if you ask Mark out.”
Donghyuck narrows his eyes. “What, right now?”
“Don't mind, but you might as well,” Yuta replies. He grins devilishly at Donghyuck. “I just want what's best for you.”
“Okay,” Donghyuck says slowly. He can't even believe he's considering this. Maybe it's easier to think about because he can pretend he's just doing it for the quid pro quo with Yuta, and not because he actually wants to. Donghyuck’s always been better at pretending. “But only if you ask Taeyong out. Today.”
Donghyuck nods. “Has to be today.”
Yuta thinks for a second, then shrugs. “Fine, Taeyong should be here soon,” he says. “I’ll ask him when he gets here. But you have to ask Mark first.”
“Fine,” Donghyuck replies. He sounds a lot more confident than he feels. “I can do that.”
Yuta follows him up to the counter, where Mark and Johnny are still standing, watching them. Mark looks mildly alarmed by their approach. Johnny just looks confused.
“What are you guys doing?” Johnny asks, eyes darting between Yuta and Donghyuck.
“Hyuckie here has something to ask Mark,” Yuta declares proudly. He winks exaggeratedly at Johnny, which Donghyuck catches out of the corner of his eyes.
He glares at Yuta. “Some privacy, maybe?”
Yuta giggles and drags Johnny out from behind the counter. They both flop into chairs at a nearby table, still clearly within earshot. Whatever. Donghyuck will just have to deal.
“What's up?” Mark asks. He keeps looking over and where Yuta and Johnny are, whispering eagerly into each other's ears.
“Ignore them,” says Donghyuck, even though he's finding it hard to, himself. He clears his throat, shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His palms feel clammy. He's not used to this feeling. Nervousness. That’s what it is, and Donghyuck is not a fan.
“Is everything okay?” Mark asks hesitantly, as if he's not quite sure he wants the answer. By this point, Yuta’s clearly briefed Johnny on what's going on, because they’re both sitting silently and peeking over out of the corner of their eyes.
Donghyuck bites down his slowly mounting sense of panic. It's just Mark. He can do this.
“What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asks. “Do you wanna have dinner?”
Mark raises one eyebrow. “Uh, okay,” he replies, voice lifting like a question. He looks confused. “We have dinner together almost every night.”
Donghyuck grimaces. He's already messing this up. “No, I mean — do you want to go out for dinner?”
“Sure? There's a new barbeque place that Jaehyun wants to try out, we ask if he wants to go tomorrow.”
Donghyuck casts a helpless glance over at Yuta and Johnny. Yuta beams at him and shoots him two thumbs up. Johnny is suppressing laughter behind a hand. Not very encouraging.
Heaving a sigh, Donghyuck turns back to Mark. “I kind of meant just the two of us,” he clarifies. Or, attempts to.
Mark’s eyes are wide with concern. “Are you sure everything is okay?” he asks, then gasps. “Are you in debt? Is that what this is? Do you need help?”
“What? No!” Donghyuck shakes his head in exasperation. Why the hell would he be in debt? “Oh my god, Mark — can you just understand what I'm saying?”
Mark frowns and pouts. “Maybe I would if you were making more sense,” he complains.
Donghyuck throws his hands up in the air in exasperation. “I'm trying to ask you out!” he exclaims. “Like, on a date, where we go to a stupidly fancy restaurant and hold hands and do cute things, because I like you or something, I guess. For god's sake, why are you so oblivious?”
The silence that follows is deafening. Donghyuck can hear the blood rushing in his ears. He coughs awkwardly, looks down.
Then Mark lets out a soft chuckle. Donghyuck looks up at him. There's a wry smile on Mark's face. “I don't think I'm the oblivious one,” he mumbles.
Donghyuck blinks. “What?”
There’s a faint pink flush dusting Mark's cheeks. “Are you actually asking me out?” he asks.
“That is what I said, yes,” grumbles Donghyuck.
Mark beams at him, and it's like the sun flooding through the clouds. “I, um — I’ve sort of had a thing for you for a while now,” he mumbles sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I just didn’t want to make our friendship weird.”
Donghyuck opens his mouth, then closes it. Then opens it again. He’s struggling to find the words to express how simultaneously shocked and pleased he is. “Is — is that a yes to dinner?” he finally manages to stammer out.
Mark chuckles softly. “Yeah.”
“Wow, okay,” Donghyuck exhales. He swallows around the lump in his throat. This is the first time he’s ever felt so awkward around Mark. “I thought you liked Jungwoo.”
Mark scrunches up his face in something that looks like mild disgust, and it makes Donghyuck grin. “What, no! The only reason why Jungwoo hyung's been coming here so often is because I told him that I liked you and he said he'd be my wingman.”
“What?” Donghyuck goggles at this information. “He just flirted with you all the time — he was a terrible wingman!”
“Actually, if his aim was to make you jealous and force you to show your hand, he did a great job,” Yuta pipes up. Donghyuck whips his head round. He'd forgotten about their audience.
And their audience is just about to get bigger, because the door swings open and in steps Sicheng. He mumbles a dazed hello, waving lazily in that typically Sicheng way. “Yuta hyung,” he greets. “My last lecture was cancelled. We can go back to mine now if you want.”
“Ah, that,” Yuta says, looking inexplicably sheepish. “We can skip that now, don't worry about it.”
“What, why? You made me cancel dinner with Kun for this, said it was essential,” Sicheng protests.
But Yuta just waves him away. “Change of plans,” he demurs. “I'll explain later.” Shoots the assembled crowd a reassuring grin, to head off any unwanted questions.
“Okay, fine,” Sicheng grumbles, flopping into the seat next to Yuta. He glances at everyone else as he does so, looking deeply suspicious. “What's going on, why does everyone look so...shocked?”
Johnny points. “Donghyuck just asked Mark out.”
Sicheng’s reaction is not at all what Donghyuck would have expected. He raises one eyebrow, turns languidly to Yuta, and asks, “Does that mean you win?”
Yuta whips his head round in a panic. “Dong Sicheng!” he hisses. But it's too late — Donghyuck’s already caught Sicheng’s slip of tongue.
“Win what?” Donghyuck asks. He narrows his eyes at Yuta. “Win what?”
“It’s nothing,” says Yuta breezily, trying to wave Donghyuck away.
But Sicheng just grins cheekily at Donghyuck. “Yuta and Taeyong bet on which of you or Mark would be first to ask the other out,” he says, lightly, like he's just talking about the weather.
“Excuse me?” Mark sounds affronted.
Yuta grimaces. “Sicheng, please!”
Donghyuck gapes at Yuta. “You bet on us?” he repeats. He knows he should be offended, but in reality he's just sort of impressed. Who knew Yuta — and Taeyong — would have had it in them?
“It was just — we kept seeing you guys flirting, and I said that I bet you'd ask Mark out before winter break, and Taeyong said no, that Mark would do it first…” Yuta trails off, shrugging sheepishly. “It was just for fun!”
Johnny's nearly in hysterics at this stage. “This is hilarious,” he splutters out. “Too hilarious.”
“Is that why you agreed to ask Taeyong out if I asked Mark out? To win your bet?” Donghyuck asks — now he's actually annoyed. He thought he's been the one manipulating Yuta but it turned out to be the other way around, and he's not pleased about that at all.
Mark pouts at him. “Wait, did you just ask me out so that Yuta would ask Taeyong out? So you’d win the bet?”
Donghyuck waves Mark away, attention still focused on Yuta. “What was the pot? You should split it with me!”
“No way! I worked hard to get you to admit your feelings!” objects Yuta. “Besides, the prize was the other person treating the winner to a meal.”
“Like on a date?” gapes Donghyuck. “Had you already asked Taeyong out?”
“No, not like a date—” Yuta starts, then breaks off abruptly. His gaze darts from Donghyuck, to Mark, then back again. “Hang on a minute. What did Mark say? Win what bet?”
Donghyuck freezes, glances at Mark. “What?” he repeats, feigning ignorance. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Oh my god, you bet on us as well!” shouts Yuta, leaping to his feet.
“Yeah, well — so did you!”
Mark presses his fingers to his temples. “I have a headache,” he complains.
“You still have to ask Taeyong out!” Donghyuck insists angrily.
Johnny furrows his brow. “I'm not sure it counts for the bet if you tell Yuta about the bet,” he points out.
“This isn't about the bet anymore, this is about — brothers-in-arms!” Donghyuck yells. “You made me admit to my stupid crush on Mark, now you have to do it too!”
Mark’s hands fly to his cheeks, which have gone a deep shade of pink. “You had a stupid crush on me?”
Donghyuck makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. “Mark, not now!”
“Yuta was going to ask Taeyong out anyway,” Sicheng pipes up suddenly, earning himself a dark look from Yuta, which he pointedly ignores. “There was a whole plan that involved me helping him pump helium into like, hundreds of balloons. That's what we were going to do this evening.”
“Sicheng, please,” groans Yuta, burying his face in his hands. “That's embarrassing.”
Johnny chuckles. “Balloons? Seems a little cheesy, don't you think?”
Sicheng beams. “They were pink and white balloons, too.”
“Look, what was I supposed to do?” whines Yuta, leaping to his feet in defence of his apparently very romantic plan. “I couldn't very well just be like, ‘hi, I like you a latte’ now, could I? Or ‘this coffee is hot but you're hotter’?”
Donghyuck grimaces. “Why have you gone straight to coffee-based puns?”
“Because we met here,” pouts Yuta. “I've been wanting to ask Taeyong out for a while but I wanted it to be special. Because he's special.”
Mark clutches at Donghyuck's arm. “Okay, that's really cute,” he concedes. “I'm all for the coffee-based puns idea.”
Yuta grins. “I have more,” he declares proudly.
“You've been working on these puns for a while, haven't you?” Johnny asks. Yuta ignores him.
“How about — this one's my favourite — Lee Taeyong, will you be the caramel to my macchiato, because you make my life sweeter? ” Yuta asks. He snickers to himself. “See, it's funny, because Yongie's drink of choice—”
“—is caramel macchiato. Clever.”
Yuta jumps about a foot in the air, and even Donghyuck startles visibly. Taeyong’s standing just inside the doorway, looking unbearably amused.
“Oh my god, Taeyong,” stammers Yuta, uncharacteristically flustered. His ears have gone a shocking shade of red. Johnny tries to suppress a laugh, only succeeds in making a spluttering, snorting sort of noise behind his hand.
Taeyong just smiles beatifically at everyone. “What did I miss?” he asks, and it’s so innocent — except for the glint of mischief in his large, puppy-dog eyes. Donghyuck wonders how they’d all missed that before, the sly curve of Taeyong’s lips and the devilish look in his eyes. Probably because they were all too busy being bowled over by his beauty.
“You missed Yuta trying to ask you out, apparently,” Donghyuck manages to compose himself enough to say.
“But not with balloons,” Sicheng adds, shaking his head solemnly. “There was a change of plans.”
Taeyong looks slightly bemused, but he just walks up to Yuta, smirking at him the entire way over. Yuta just looks like a literal deer in the headlights, eyes wide open in shock and frozen still.
“Were you trying to ask me out?” Taeyong asks, tilting his head to the side and staring at Yuta. His lower lip juts out ever so slightly in the smallest hint of a pout. Donghyuck shakes his head. Yuta has no chance.
“I, um — yes,” Yuta manages to get out. He looks more flustered than Donghyuck’s ever seen him, pink-cheeked and bashful as he blinks his long lashes at Taeyong. “Do you want to? Go out with me, I mean?”
Johnny rolls his eyes, laughing softly to himself. “What happened to all the confidence you had when you were spouting coffee puns at us?”
But Yuta’s not listening to him, because Taeyong’s smiling and reaching out for Yuta’s hand, tangling their fingers together. “Yes, of course,” he says gently. “I would love to, Nakamoto Yuta.”
Donghyuck hadn’t thought it possible, but Yuta’s cheeks go even pinker, and he buries his face into Taeyong’s shoulder when Taeyong laughs and pulls him into a hug. Johnny lets out a loud whoop and applauds, which Sicheng ends up joining in. Even Donghyuck has to admit, it’s cute — not to mention great to see, after weeks of watching them dance around each other.
Then he feels Mark bump shoulders with him, turns in surprise. Mark’s smiling at him in that soft, subtle Mark way. The sight of it makes Donghyuck’s heart do a flip.
“Hey,” Mark says, and that’s it. Just a small smile and a quiet, ‘hey’. Donghyuck feels the tug of affection so strongly he thinks he might just launch himself into Mark’s arms. But no — not right now.
So he just shoots Mark a small smile in return, bumps his shoulder back against Mark’s. “Hey,” he replies, and they share a look, and that’s enough.
Donghyuck clears his throat, looking away. Too much sappiness for one day. “Not to interrupt this lovely moment,” he says, loudly, fully aware that he’s doing just that, “but does this mean I win the bet?”
Mark hits him on the shoulder — hard. Johnny groans, Yuta balls up a napkin and chucks it at him, and Taeyong and Sicheng just exchange glances and laugh. Then Yuta’s threatening to tell Doyoung everything — joke’s on him, Donghyuck isn’t scared of Doyoung at all — and Johnny’s started going on a rant about how the rules of the bet implicitly prohibited tampering with the subjects. Mark’s giggling in the way that he does, infectious and bubbling out of him. Donghyuck just smiles, and watches.
Donghyuck doesn’t hate working in a coffee shop.
In fact, he thinks, leaning back against the counter and surveys the chaos, he might actually quite like it. Here he is, surrounded by his co-workers and customers, who have somewhere along the way turned into his friends (not that he’ll ever tell them that). And next to him, his best friend turned possible boyfriend. This wasn’t quite what he’d signed up for, but he can’t complain.