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Cough and Syrup

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Jeno often asks how Donghyuck still has his job. The question is often met with an assortment of vaguely offended noises and the assurance that Donghyuck is a very loyal, hardworking and dedicated employee.

Jeno doesn’t believe him but that’s Jeno’s problem, not Donghyuck’s.

The thing about Donghyuck’s job is that it’s awful. He works at a local bar-slash-bowling alley combo, despite having no experience as either a bartender, nor bowling. He’s spent the past six months absolutely winging it, and it hasn’t lead him astray so far.

He spends each shift being paid minimum wage, pretending he knows what he’s doing and sipping on energy drinks he steals from the work refrigerators in order to stay awake through his 4am closing shift.

It begs the question: why does Donghyuck stay? There are a few reasons to justify his suffering. Money, for one. Hours that don’t interfere with his university schedule, for another. His boss and coworkers are alright on a good day. But the main reason why Donghyuck hasn’t taken his hospitality experience elsewhere is because of one particular regular.

Friday night, 11pm arrival, flanked by three of his friends. Size nine shoes, fond of the terrible hotdogs his work pretends are edible food. Soft, light brown hair. Cute smile. Fond of wearing hoodies that look oh so stealable.

He’s total boyfriend material, and to say that Donghyuck is smitten is an understatement.

“Do you even know his name?” Jeno has a habit of speaking with his mouth full, and the chips he shovels into his mouth begin to tumble out of it as he talks.

“Inconsequential,” Donghyuck deflects his question with a wave of his hand. He’s had six months worth of opportunities, and not once has he asked for the cute boy’s name. “I just appreciate the eye candy.”

Jeno snorts. “Right,” he drawls in disbelief. Donghyuck is tempted to bring up the barista at the café they like to frequent and Jeno’s inability to speak coherently in front of him. But Donghyuck is a good friend, lets it slide.

He’ll just bring it up next time they’re hungover and out for brunch.

“What time’s your shift tonight?” Jeno says after a moment. “And do you need a lift?”

“Eight ‘til four,” Donghyuck sighs, “and only if you’re awake. I’ll Uber home if you’ve fallen sleep on your laptop.”

The again is unspoken, yet heavily implied.

“That was one time,” Jeno mutters, “and you owe me McDonald’s.”

“I owe you McDonald’s and also my life,” Donghyuck flutters his eyelashes, overexaggerated and obnoxious.

“Shut up,” Jeno gathers his keys from their position between the couch cushions. “Go get your fugly uniform and we’ll eat on the way.”

“What would I do without you?” Donghyuck calls down the hall as he follows Jeno’s advice.

“Die, most likely.”

Donghyuck disagrees, but he knows better than to voice it out loud.

“I love you!” he says, instead.

Jeno makes another comment about Donghyuck’s work uniform, but it’s muffled by the sound of said hideous uniform as it’s pulled over his head.


Chenle is an incredible bartender. He mixes cocktails like no one else.

Chenle is also underage, employed under a very obvious fake ID and has learnt all his bartending skills after hours of binge-watching YouTube videos.

Still, he’s a treasured employee of the bar-slash-bowling alley combo, and a lot of his concoctions fit the neon theme of the establishment. Sometimes he slips Donghyuck something strong, mixed with Red Bull and filled with sugar.

Something to help the shift go a little quicker.

He’s not supposed to drink on the job, but it’s not like the owner particularly cares. If he’s going to hire a high school student to make cocktails, then he’s not about to judge Donghyuck for drinking them on company time.

“What’s in that?” Donghyuck’s regular peers over the counter, spotting the concoction Chenle has mixed up for him sitting very obviously on his side of the bench.

“No idea,” Donghyuck shrugs, wandering off to fetch his shoes. Size Nine. Favouritism means that he gets a newer pair in better condition. He can tell that Cute Boy appreciates it. “But it’s gonna keep me both awake and tipsy for a week.”

“I think I need one of those,” Donghyuck’s very cute regular sighs, very cutely. He’s wearing one of those hoodies again, one made from the finest boyfriend material. Donghyuck takes a sip of Chenle’s Death Juice in an attempt to quench his thirst.

“Bad day?” Donghyuck quirks an eyebrow, neon pink straw resting against his lip. He swears that Cute Boy’s eyes linger on his mouth for just a moment, but it’s probably a trick of the obnoxious blacklights the owner has installed.

“I had a super long lab,” he sighs, leaning on Donghyuck’s counter. The urge to ruffle his hair is almost overwhelming, so Donghyuck busies his hands with making up the customer’s usual hotdog order (extra mustard, no ketchup) instead.

“Ah, science, I don’t miss her,” Donghyuck’s (partially completed) Art History degree offers no hours of laboratory time, and for that, he’s eternally thankful.

“I made throat lozenges,” the Cute Guy bemoans. “It sucked. I’m still sticky. Pharmacy is the worst.”

He’s cute, he’s smart and he can hypothetically make meth. He’s gone from casual crush to Donghyuck’s future husband in one sentence.

“Say,” Donghyuck motions to Chenle that he wants another one of his drinks. It’s for the customer. Free of charge. The owner won’t care. “You know my name, right?”

Donghyuck vaguely gestures to the nametag pinned to his chest.

“Yeah,” Cute guy replies, not lifting his head from the counter. “You’re Donghyuck. You work the closing shift whenever I’m here. Your first day at work was my first time here.”

“Creepy,” Donghyuck jokes. The tips of Cute Guy’s ears turn red in embarrassment. “Anyway, like you said, you’ve been coming here for a while.” He reaches out, nudges the customer’s arm playfully. As expected, his hoodie is definitely made of boyfriend material. “I still don’t know your name, you know?”


The Cute Guy, presumably named Mark, doesn’t have to answer, because his friends do it for him.

“You coming, dude?”

“Yeah, one second,” Mark lifts his head with a sheepish smile. Chenle makes an entrance with another glass of his fabled concoction. “I didn’t order this, though?”

“I did,” Donghyuck pushes the glass in his direction. “For you. Get drunk and forget that labs exist. It’s a Friday night, my dude.”

From his position beside him, Chenle bites back a laugh. Donghyuck, lacking subtlety, kicks him.

“Thanks,” Mark says, wrapping his lips around the neon purple straw. Donghyuck’s eyes definitely linger on his mouth. “I’ll be seeing you, I guess?”

“You sure will,” Chenle interjects before Donghyuck has a chance to reply. He steps out of Donghyuck’s kicking range, a necessary precaution.

Ears red and with a wave, Mark re-joins his friends at their usual lane.

“One word and I report you for working here while underage,” Donghyuck mutters.

“Do it, I fucking dare you,” comes Chenle’s airy response. He’s coloured his hair with UV sensitive dye, the orange glowing obnoxiously under the lights of the alley.

“I need a new job,” Donghyuck sighs.

Chenle snorts, throwing a haphazardly cut lemon slice at him in response.


Donghyuck doesn’t know who gave him the seasonal flu, but he wants them to know that their bloodline will end with them. Because Donghyuck will be ending it.

He’s going to kill them.

For the first time since he got his job, Donghyuck calls in sick. He cuddles up to Jeno because he’s warm and has a bigger bed, builds a mountain out of used tissues and coughs up his weight’s worth of phlegm during the night.

It probably annoys the ever-loving shit out of Jeno, but he’s too nice for his own good, spooning a sick and whiny Donghyuck instead of kicking him out as he rightfully should.

Saturday morning rolls around and he’s feeling worse, pain in his face indicating that his sinuses are protesting against the appearance of whatever virus has infiltrated his system. Donghyuck internally scolds his nose for being discriminatory against viruses, realises he’s delirious with fever, immediately books a doctor’s appointment.

Two hours later, he’s armed with a script of something he can’t pronounce, trudging into the local pharmacy while dressed in his pyjamas and just generally wishing for death.

It seems to be the mood of the store. Coughs chorus through the waiting area as Donghyuck approaches the counter, fiddling with his prescription as he tries, desperately to figure out what the doctor’s handwriting says.

“Wow, you look like shit.”

Donghyuck is ready to end the pharmacy worker for the blatant disrespect, until he realises that he knows him. It’s one of Mark’s friends who bowls with him on Friday nights. His nametag says “Lucas”.

Donghyuck still wants to end him.

“I’m more mucus than human at this point,” Donghyuck says. His voice is nice and husky from all that coughing and it’s the only positive in the overwhelming pile of negatives that is being sick. “Get me my drugs and leave me be.”

“I’ll have to get someone to help me with this,” he says, smiling widely. He has a nice smile, very friendly. But in the current context, it’s downright terrifying. Donghyuck is overcome with dread, but then again, that could be the nausea. “Wait here.”

He scurries off behind some sort of employees only area, Donghyuck tries to peer around the corner but is met with the sight of shelves and boxed medication instead. He starts his own solo song in the Choir of Coughing while he waits.

Lucas returns, flanked by the last person that Donghyuck wants to see in his current state, armed with a bigger grin than ever before. Mark looks shell-shocked, and it’s probably because Donghyuck looks like patient zero dressed in Spiderman pyjamas.

“Oh,” Mark says, accepting the script from Donghyuck’s shaking hands. “So, this is why you weren’t at work last night?”

“Had a hot date with a bunch of paracetamol,” Donghyuck informs him. “Sorry to disappoint.”

Mark’s nametag has Pharmacy Student listed underneath his name, printed in pretty cursive that matches the font printed on plastic. Donghyuck avoids his eyes, peering into the dispensary, where he spots Mark and Lucas’ other two friends, dressed in matching grins and white pharmacist uniforms.

Of course.

They’re work friends.

They hang out in a bowling alley after work.


“Just the antibiotics today?” Mark fills out a prescription form, hands Donghyuck his tag and places his script into a nearby basket.

“No,” Donghyuck rasps, coughs, wishes for death. “Just, like, give me everything you can. The whole pharmacy if I need it. Hook me up with the good shit.”

Mark smiles, asks his symptoms, finds the cheapest products available to fix whatever virus that’s currently making Donghyuck’s life a living, mucus-y hell. Armed with enough cough syrup to drown himself in, more pills than he knows what to do with and lozenges that taste like strawberry, Mark drags Donghyuck down to the cash registers with a hand on his wrist.

Mark explains how to take his virus busting medication, but he looks so cute and dependable in his uniform that Donghyuck is very distracted. He’s feverish and crushing hard, he’s gonna daydream about smooching cute boys instead of letting them do their job. Besides, Donghyuck is an adult with exemplary reading comprehension— he’s more than capable of looking at a label before taking his pills.

“I hope you’re better by next week,” Mark says as he wraps up Donghyuck’s purchases. “I… uh… missed you last night.”

“Cute,” Donghyuck coos, sniffs, wipes his nose on his sleeve. “If I’m not better by then, it’s your fault.”

“That’s not how—”

“—I’m kidding, Mark,” Donghyuck, embolden by his fever, places his hand over Mark’s where it rests on the counter.

“Right,” Mark croaks.

Donghyuck suddenly remembers that he looks like shit, flushes, makes a tactical move towards the exit. “I’ll be seeing you,” he says, trying not to cough.

“Right,” Mark repeats himself, staring at his hand. The hand Donghyuck touched. That hand.

Seeing it as his cue to leave, Donghyuck slips out through the pharmacy’s automatic doors.

He still wishes for death.


“Your boyfriend missed you last week,” Chenle cuts lime without looking at it. He’s trying to intimidate Donghyuck with his recklessness and it’s working.

“I know, I visited him at his work instead,” Donghyuck’s grin is smug when Chenle falters, nearly cutting his finger open.

“You what?”

“He works at a pharmacy, I needed antibiotics,” Donghyuck shrugs. He still doesn’t know how to pronounce Amoxicillin. “I turned up looking super hot and he was absolutely floored and allured by my charms.”

“You were wearing your pyjamas and looked like shit,” Chenle theorises, resumes his cocktail prep, eyes on his task this time.


Donghyuck still has a bit of a cough, but he’s otherwise recovered. Chenle’s rocket fuel drink has an orange juice base for the evening. It’s nice to know he cares.

“They should be in soon,” Chenle checks the clock. 10:55pm. “If you don’t get his number tonight, I’ll stop making your drinks.”

“I won’t and you won’t,” Donghyuck sniffs, “because I’m nothing if not a coward and you love me too much.”

“You’re right,” Chenle sighs, dumping his badly cut limes into a container. “But I’ll be disappointed in you, and isn’t that worse?”

Donghyuck sips at his drink, feels the combined sting of the alcohol and the orange juice on his sore throat. Despite that, it still tastes wonderful. Chenle is a cocktail genius and absolutely wasted in a job like theirs.

“Nope,” he replies with an obnoxious grin. “I need your drinks more than your approval.”

Chenle means to reply, but he’s interrupted by the arrival of Mark and his friends and their constant, almost comforting noise.

Donghyuck spends the rest of the shift ignoring him in favour of watching Mark and his friends bowl under the blacklights.


“See this?” Donghyuck holds up his hand, the one with fingers currently linked with Jeno’s. “This is why no one wants to date you.”

“I’m a very good hand holder,” Jeno pouts. Donghyuck drops their hands but doesn’t let go, holding onto Jeno’s fingers as they wander down the main street. “Why wouldn’t people want to hold my hand?”

“Because you’re constantly holding mine,” he points out, lifts their hands again, gestures between them. “No one wants to date you, because it already looks like you’re dating me.”

“I have better taste than that,” Jeno mumbles. Donghyuck hits him.

It’s brunch day. Fancy omelette day. A housemate bonding exercise at a hipster café whose hiring standards seem to be: Must Be Attractive (and make good coffee).

Jeno’s been crushing on one of the baristas for the better part of a year, some pink-haired guy with a pretty smile who definitely checks out Jeno’s arms when he’s not looking. Donghyuck is the only one who notices the tension between them, but he says nothing.

Jeno is his best friend, and they’ve vowed to be insufferably single together.

Pink boy doesn’t wear a nametag and Jeno is too scared to ask for it, so he resorts to calling him by embarrassingly cute pet names instead of his actual name. His current favourite is “Prince Gumball”, despite Donghyuck’s insistence that Adventure Time is a niche and dated reference.

“You get it, I get it, therefore it still works as a nickname,” Jeno argues, using his free hand to push open the door of the café. He refuses to let go of Donghyuck’s hand, no matter the inconvenience. “He’s my pink-haired coffee prince, hence, Prince Gumball.”

“You’re a dumbass,” Donghyuck says lightly. They’re at the café so often that they don’t need to wait in line, Prince Gumball already knows their orders by heart and inputs them into the system the second they enter.

“Yes, honey,” Jeno coos, sarcastic and overexaggerated. “But I’m your dumbass.”

“Hey, uh, Donghyuck?”

He has the worst luck in the world. He’s pissed off some sort of God in a past life and has been cursed with a lifetime of misfortune. It completely slips Donghyuck’s mind that Mark’s pharmacy is just two doors down from the café they frequent. It makes sense that they get their morning caffeine from such a close and reliable source.

“Mark!” he squeaks. Beside him, Jeno snickers. “Uh, hi? How’s work?”

“Just about to start,” he holds up a reusable coffee cup. Donghyuck laments that someone so perfect shouldn’t exist. “Figured I needed a pick me up.”

Jeno clears his throat. It tears Mark’s attention from Donghyuck to their joined hands. Donghyuck fidgets, lets go, tries not to look as nervous as he feels.

“I’m Jeno, the housemate,” he offers. Donghyuck is still too shell shocked to introduce the two of them and Mark hasn’t seemed to notice Jeno’s existence. At least, this time, Donghyuck looks a little more presentable.

“Oh,” Mark’s face falls for some reason. He must be remembering that he has hours of customer service in front of him and only one cup of coffee. Donghyuck can relate. “I uh, better get going. My shift starts in five.”

“See you on Friday?” Donghyuck tries not to sound too hopeful, fails miserably.

“Sure,” Mark shrugs, not looking at him. Work must really suck on Saturdays.

He leaves without looking back, all the while Jeno attempts his usual awkward flirting ritual with the smitten Prince Bubblegum.

It works, unfortunately, because Jeno walks out of the café caffeinated, full and with a date scheduled for the following week.

Donghyuck can’t help but think of Mark’s crestfallen expression.

He hopes the workday treats him well.


Friday comes around after a long week of art and history, a whole lot of information that Donghyuck’s brain hasn’t quite finished processing and one too many cans of Red Bull.

Jeno goes on his date with Prince Bubblegum— now known as Jaemin— and the two of them end up making out on the couch while Donghyuck stays in his room, not wanting to intrude but also not wanting to see it happening.

He’s excited and inspired, he’s got big plans, big ideas, lots of pickup lines to try on Mark. Jeno isn’t exactly single and miserable anymore, so Donghyuck feels like he should follow suit and find himself a cutie to smooch, too.

Donghyuck practically skips into work, Chenle dry heaves because he’s apparently allergic to happiness, and he serves each customer with concerning enthusiasm while he waits for 11pm to roll around.

Like clockwork, on the dot, Mark walks in, flanked by Lucas and the two pharmacists that Donghyuck has come to know as Jaehyun and Johnny. Practically vibrating with how eager he is, Donghyuck pulls out their preferred shoes, starts organising their snacks.

Mark is usually the one who collects their things, but the routine changes when Johnny walks to the counter instead.

“So,” he says, making small talk. “You’re married?”

Donghyuck chokes on his own saliva.

“I’m what, now?” he squeaks, finding it difficult to breathe as his body continues to reject itself. “With who?”

“Mark saw you with your husband at that café near work,” Johnny shrugs. He tries to act nonchalant but he’s giving Donghyuck the biggest side-eye he’s ever been on the receiving end of. “Like, the dude introduced himself as such, so….”

“He’s my housemate,” Donghyuck represses the urge to shudder. Sure, he loves a good cuddle with Jeno, but it’s totally platonic. Dating Jeno? Out of the question. “And he’s like, fucking? Dating? Both? With one of the baristas there.”

Johnny stares at him. Sighs. Rubs a hand over his face in frustration. “Mark’s a fucking dumbass,” he deadpans.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Donghyuck waves his hands frantically. “Mark thought I was married.”

“He’s been upset all week,” Johnny sighs. “You broke his heart, or so he thinks.”

“I’m single, ready to mingle and my type is definitely cute pharmacy students with hearing problems,” he rushes to explain, leaning over the counter and grabbing Johnny by the collar. He could probably be fired for manhandling a regular, but he could probably be fired for nearly everything he does at work. “Please tell him that.”

“No way,” Johnny scoffs, shaking himself from Donghyuck’s grip. He smiles, however, ruffling Donghyuck’s hair. “You should tell him yourself, though.”

“My break’s in an hour,” Donghyuck says, pointing to the door to the Employees Only back room. “Tell him to meet me there?”

“Now that I can do,” Johnny winks at him.

Donghyuck stares at the clock as Johnny rejoins his friends, counting down the seconds until his legally required dinner break. Chenle nudges him unceremoniously, pointing in the direction of Mark and his preferred lane.

“He’s staring at you,” he says, passing Donghyuck his newest experimental drink. Minty. Rose-y. Vaguely reminiscent of a Mojito.

Donghyuck makes eye contact with Mark the second his lips wrap around his straw.

Mark smiles at him, bashful.

Donghyuck practically vibrates out of his skin.


The clock strikes midnight and Donghyuck moves at speeds invisible to the human eye. Practically leaping over the bar in his haste to get to the break room, he leaves Chenle alone at the counter without a shred of remorse.

Mark, too, seems to be excited, because he’s already waiting for Donghyuck as he reaches the door. They giggle at each other, flushing lightly, as they push their way into the wonderfully secluded area of the back room.

There’s not much to it— a few chairs, a table with uneven legs, lockers that Donghyuck kinda wants to push Mark up against while they—

He pauses, calms himself, resolves to talk first and smooch later.

“You’re an idiot,” Donghyuck starts. He makes sure he smiles while he says it, aiming for an air of fond morosexuality rather than chastising.

“Yes, I am,” Mark steps towards him, takes Donghyuck’s hands in his own. “Johnny told me everything.”

“He said he’d tell you nothing.”

“He lied,” Mark looks practically giddy as he plays with Donghyuck’s fingers. “How long’s your break?”

“Half an hour,” Donghyuck’s breath hitches as Mark steps closer still. “Why do you ask?”

“Come out and play with us,” Mark bounces lightly on his feet as he talks. He looks overwhelmingly happy, and Donghyuck understands exactly how he feels. It’s been minutes but his face already hurts from all the smiling.

”Solid plan in theory, not so much in action,” Donghyuck explains, “I don’t actually know how to bowl.”

“You work at a bowling alley,” the confusion is visible on Mark’s face and it’s downright adorable. “How do you not know how to bowl?”

“I’ve been faking my knowledge this whole time, I’m sorry to have deceived you like this,” Donghyuck takes Mark’s hand and puts it over his heart. “Besides, I had, uh, other plans for our half an hour in here.”

Mark, thankfully, understands what he means almost immediately. His eyes drop to Donghyuck’s lips, drags his hands down the front of Donghyuck’s chest and wraps his arms around his waist.

Donghyuck leans forwards, smirks, changes his path. He presses his lips to the side of Mark’s neck, kissing upwards towards his jaw, along his cheek and finally to his lips.

The first touch has Donghyuck gasping and Mark’s grip tightening. Pressed together closely, they take their time to learn how the other kisses, slow and unhurried, like they’ve got all the time in the world.

Mark pulls away, whispers “let me take you on a date,” and gets his reply by way of another kiss.

Eventually, Chenle has to come and ruin the fun, but it’s the best break Donghyuck has had during the best shift he’s ever had while at work. He can’t believe he’s found someone so wonderful at a job so mundane.

“I’ve got a confession to make,” Mark says as he walks Donghyuck back to the bar. They stroll hand in hand, ignoring Chenle’s indignant shouting from behind the counter. Donghyuck is sure his hair is a mess, knows that he looks like he’s just spent half an hour making out with a cute boy in the backroom.

He knows, and he doesn’t even care.

“Oh?” It’s a confession confession. A feelings talk, a cute little declaration of affection before—

“I fucking hate bowling,” Mark says simply. Donghyuck blinks at him, connects the dots and realises that Mark has been coming back for him.

“Same,” he replies, pressing a final kiss to Mark’s lips. “But I like you, so maybe it’s not all that bad?”

Chenle screams at him from the counter, customers beginning to line up on their side of the bar. Donghyuck sighs, not wanting to leave. Mark shoos him off anyway, claiming the importance of jobs and money to pay for dates.

Donghyuck practically skips back to the counter he’s so happy.

His job definitely still sucks, but hey, it’s got some pretty great perks.