Pairing: Sehun/Lu Han
Genre: romance, comedy/crack
Summary: M is a relatively successful Chinese restaurant in the heart of Seoul, but there's an ominous 'Coming Soon!' sign across the street. Could this brand new Korean restaurant run them out of business? Lu Han is determined to do his part to keep their business afloat -- but wait, one of their Korean rivals is pretty cute.
(Kris is going to kill him.)
a/n: Originally posted here for suddenwhispers. ^_^
It wasn’t unusual for Kris to call a staff meeting an hour or so before prep work started so that the restaurant could open at three. He liked for them to talk about how things were going, to discuss problems and potential solutions so that everyone was always on the same page. He really liked these stupid team building things, too, like playing trust games and putting all their hands in and cheering “we are one!” every day before opening the doors, and it was stupid but no one complained because it was also kind of cute.
Plus, you know, Kris was the boss. And their friend, who had so graciously hired them all when he’d inherited the restaurant from his great uncle or something. If the restaurant took over their lives, well, at least they were all in the same boat. They kept each other sane. Most of the time.
“Can we put someone else in the kitchen this week? Lay’s noodles are disgusting,” Chen was complaining, as usual, but Lay just blinked at him, nonplussed.
“Lay’s the only one with restaurant experience.”
“Shut up, Chen. Lay’s in the kitchen. You’re on dishes this week.”
Chen made a displeased face, and it was cute, so Lu Han patted his shoulder. “It won’t be that bad, ChenChen. Just one week.”
“Maybe that should just be his permanent position. It’d save the customers from his horrible Mandarin,” Lay contributed.
“If you wanted fluent Mandarin, you shouldn’t have hired a Korean,” was Chen’s logical response.
“Xiumin does just fine,” Lu Han teased, and Xiumin puffed his cheeks proudly. Chen started to say something but then cut himself off, and Lu Han made a mental note to be on guard later. Chen would definitely find a way to get him back for that. Salt in his water, maybe? Vinegar? That was classic Chen.
“All right, kids, settle down,” Kris sighed, and Lu Han was kind enough to not remind him that he and Xiumin were technically older than him. Kris was the boss, so if he said they were kids, then okay. He wasn’t above holding their paychecks if they dissented too much. “So we have Lay in the kitchen, Chen on dishes, Xiumin waiting tables...Lu Han, you get front of house. You’re good at that.”
Lu Han smiled, pleased, even though he’d known without Kris saying anything. Of course he did -- he prided himself on his ability to talk to anyone about anything, and he made friends as easily as breathing.
Plus he had no problems admitting that he was adorable, so putting him up front, where he’d be the first impression people got of the restaurant? Well, it was only logical.
“What about me, ge?” Tao pouted where he was draped across Xiumin’s shoulders, apparently feeling forgotten. Which he somewhat had been, judging by the way Kris was scrambling.
“Uhhhh, let’s see...what’s still open?” Kris checked his notes, a weird mix of Chinese/Korean/English that only he could decipher. “Tables or prep work...well, I guess Chen can help prep food, since he’ll be in the back anyway. So you can bus tables.”
“Okay...” Tao hung his head, but he didn’t complain. Years of martial arts training to thank for that. He was the youngest and, in a lot of ways, the most tolerant, which Kris definitely took advantage of -- but Lu Han wouldn’t complain about that. He sure as hell didn’t want to bus tables.
“All right, that’s all settled. Hands in, everyone -- let’s get to work.”
It was kind of a weird little coworker-friend-family they’d all fallen into. Kris had been scrambling to put a staff together when he’d first gotten the restaurant, about five months ago now, so he’d just asked people he knew. Lay was his roommate since freshman year, and Lu Han had met him in a couple of history classes they’d had together. Lu Han had called in Xiumin (really Minseok), who had called in Chen (secretly Jongdae), because they needed a couple of Korean natives on staff, since their restaurant was in the middle of Seoul. The Chinese names were just to go with the restaurant’s concept -- which was, pretty simply, Chinese food. Lu Han wasn’t really sure how they’d picked up Tao. He was adorable, sort of like a stray puppy that Kris had taken under his wing. His Korean was pretty abysmal, but he was eager to learn, and he looked up to Kris with stars in his eyes.
They all worked their asses off for this restaurant, open from three till ten every day, with them as the only employees. Morning classes had become both their best friends and their worst enemies. But it was kind of fun, to have this place that belonged just to them, that they’d built up on their own through trial and error and lots and lots of work. It was home away from home.
So Lu Han had no trouble at all conjuring a smile as the first customers trickled in, because he loved this place and wanted them to love it, too.
It was a little unusual for Kris to call staff meetings in the middle of the week. Usually they were at the beginning or the end to negotiate position changes, since they still hadn’t settled on a permanent structure after all these months. It was refreshing to mix it up, anyway, so no one really complained about that too much.But today was a Wednesday, so meetings were basically unheard of unless there was some sort of emergency.
“Did you bounce another check?”
“Did someone die?”
“Did you inherit another restaurant?”
“Shut up, no -- did you see across the street?” Kris ushered them all over to the big glass windows, and Lu Han pushed himself up on his toes so that he could see over Lay’s head. He didn’t really see anything out of the ordinary. A typical Wednesday, not too many people out. Especially now, since there was construction going on.
“What?” Apparently Chen saw something he didn’t, and Lu Han felt left out.
“They’re turning it into a Korean restaurant.” Xiumin pointed, and it was only then that Lu Han saw the sign -- WHAT IS KIMCHI, coming soon! He was pretty sure that storefront had been a pet store before, so he hoped they’d get it thoroughly sanitized before they opened their doors. Seemed sketchy to him.
“What the hell kind of name is that?” Kris fumed, as if its very cheesiness offended him. It probably did.
“It’s memorable,” Lay shrugged, and that made Kris’ heavy brows knit together in a frown, because he was right. Lu Han, for one, knew he wouldn’t forget it. It was too lame, too funny.
“But everyone knows what kimchi is...this is Korea,” Tao said, tilting his head. His confusion was so cute that Lu Han cooed at him and patted his head.
“Don’t worry about it, Tao. It’s a joke.”
It was a Monday when WHAT IS KIMCHI opened its doors for the first time, and M was full of weird, nervous energy. Lu Han was waiting tables this week with Chen, and he felt extra pressure to smile and make conversation and make sure their regulars didn’t stray. It was discouraging, though, to hear the curious murmurs about the place across the street, the plans made to check it out for dinner or dessert later.
Kris pulled him aside around five and shoved a stack of menus into his hands. “What are these for?” he asked, confused.
“Stand outside and advertise. They’re doing it. We can’t lose business to them.”
It was only when he was halfway out the door that he saw what Kris was talking about -- one of the WHAT IS KIMCHI employees was standing a little ways outside the restaurant across the street, handing out menus and making polite small talk with everyone who passed by. And, damn -- he was good-looking to the point where people couldn’t help but stop, all milky white skin and straight, bowl-cut hair. Lu Han straightened his vest and took a breath. He was not going to lose to this kid, no matter how cute he was.
Lu Han didn’t need to be worried -- he was swarmed within minutes of stepping outside. M had been around long enough to have a reputation for attractive employees, and he’d worked front of house often enough to be easily recognized. The honey blond hair helped. He addressed people he recognized by name, when he could remember them, and it filled him with satisfaction whenever people would cross the street just to ask his name or to take his picture, as if he were some sort of celebrity.
It was super busy, but Lu Han didn’t mind. It was fun, to just hang out and flirt like this. He was good at it, and people liked him without him having to try very hard, so that was nice. Much better than waiting tables.
There wasn’t a lull till around eight. Lu Han wouldn’t mind heading back inside for a bit to get some tea or maybe a snack before heading back out, if that’s what Kris wanted him to do -- but first, he had a plan.
“Hi,” he said, walking right up to the boy across the street like it was no big deal. It felt strangely forbidden just to be standing here, on this side of things, but there was no one else around and the boy looked pretty harmless. His skin was so pale it almost glowed, and up close his eyes were sort of sleepy-looking. Cute “How’s business, neighbor?”
“Not too bad,” he shrugged, though he looked a little wary. As well he should, Lu Han thought to himself. “How’s yours?”
“It’s good, it’s good~” Lu Han singsonged, and he plucked a menu out of the boy’s hands. “I’m taking one of these, okay? I’ll see you around.” He saluted with the menu and dashed back across the street, where things were safe.
“Wait!” Lu Han hesitated against his will, halfway through M’s door. He peered over his shoulder at the boy, who was right where he’d left him, looking mildly put out. “Give me one of yours, too.” He gestured toward the menus in Lu Han’s hands, but Lu Han just laughed.
And he closed the door behind him with a self-satisfied grin on his face.
At first, Kris was confused when Lu Han pressed the menu into his hands. His eyebrows lifted, eyes narrowing slightly as he scrutinized the cover. “What’s this for?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Lu Han leaned into his shoulder, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Now we have their menu. We know what they’re offering and how they’re pricing everything. We have the advantage now, right?”
And then Kris broke into a grin, an expression not seen nearly often enough on his usually stern face, and he clapped Lu Han on the back. “You’re the best.”
“Does that mean I get a raise?”
“...Don’t push it.”
Turned out their menus were about as different as they could be, all things considered. But M did lower the prices of their desserts a little, so they could get a competitive edge.
It seemed to work. There was actually a slight increase in business that week, and Tao excitedly counted the customers who came from WHAT IS KIMCHI to M for dessert.
“Welcome to M, how may I-- oh. It’s you.” Lu Han crinkled his nose, but the boy from across the street just smiled at him.
“How’s business?” he asked, reaching across the counter to peruse a menu.
“It’s good -- but hey, you can’t just take that!”
“Why not? I’m a potential customer, aren’t I?” There was mischief in the boy’s smile, and Lu Han pouted.
“No, you’re our competition. There’s a difference.”
“What’s your name?”
The question took Lu Han completely by surprise, and he answered without thinking. “Lu Han.”
“Thanks, Lu Han.” He saluted with the menu, a mimicry of the day before, and turned on his heel, despite Lu Han’s protests.
“Hey! Aren’t you even going to buy something?”
“Next time,” the boy promised, and then he was gone.
Lu Han just sort of gaped after him. What had just happened? Ah, damn it, Kris was going to kill him... He’d let the competition get a copy of their menu - he’d even accidentally disclosed his name, and he hadn’t gotten anything in return! “Shitttttt.”
“Wasn’t that one of the guys from across the street?” Xiumin asked, resting his elbows on the counter.
“Yeah, it was. He stole a menu and ran away.”
“Ah, shit. Kris isn’t going to be happy about that.”
“Kris isn’t going to be happy about what?” Kris growled, suddenly directly behind them. It made Lu Han jump, and then he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously.
“Well, uh...you see...the competition may or may not have gotten ahold of one of our menus.” He looked to Xiumin for backup, but Xiumin had already run off to tend to one of his tables. That cowardly bastard. Lu Han was on his own, so he tried to look as innocent as possible. “It wasn’t my fault, really. He said he was a customer.”
Kris groaned and ran a hand through his hair. “You’re such an idiot. Our advantage only lasted, what, two days?”
“...so I guess I’m not getting that raise?”
“You were never getting a raise. Get back to work.”
WHAT IS KIMCHI must’ve lowered their dessert prices, too, because the slight increase in business they’d had became a slight decrease, and Tao counted the people crossing the street with a pout on his face.
“We need a game plan. We can’t keep losing business to those Korean bastards.”
“Not you, Xiumin and Chen. Not you.”
“What kind of game plan?” Tao asked curiously, leaning his elbows on the counter. “Lower prices again?”
“That only helped for a couple of days when we did it before,” Lay pointed out, and Kris shot Lu Han a look.
“...Sorry,” he said sheepishly, hiding behind Xiumin. “Don’t hurt me!”
Kris glowered at him for a second longer, then sighed and looked to Lay. “I think we do have to lower prices again. At least on dessert. The rest of our menu is different enough that it doesn’t matter, but we could really compete with them here. Is there any way we could cut the cost of production?”
“Not really. We’ve been making things as cheaply as possible from the start.”
“We can’t just give up and let them sell things cheaper than us, though. We’r Chinese.”
“Isn’t that just perpetuating negative stereotypes?”
“Shut up, Chen. It’s good business.”
“And good business is a positive stereotype!” Lu Han grinned, and Chen face-palmed.
“So it’s settled. We’ll lower dessert prices again.”
Lu Han tilted his head. “Will that be enough? It seems like their business has been doing really well...” He didn’t want to outright point out that their own flow of customers had been somewhat dwindling. Everyone knew, anyway. Not that they weren’t still getting people in -- it just wasn’t the usual filled-to-the-brim-with-a-ten-minute-wai
“Well...we could do the menu promotions again. That bumped our business up a bit.”
“Can I do it this time, gege?” Tao begged cutely, his hands curling like he was itching to aegyo -- which he probably was. But Kris had forbidden it at work. Mostly because he was a sucker for it, and as the boss it wouldn’t be fair of him to spoil Tao rotten.
“No way. Have you looked at yourself? You’ll scare people off,” Chen said, poking his finger into Tao’s face.
“Or they’ll just think you’re a street walker,” Lay added blankly.
Tao looked like he either wanted to cry or beat them both within an inch of their lives, so Kris immediately went into damage control mode and curled his fingers around Tao’s bicep to hold him back, if need be. “They’re kidding, Tao.”
“So can I do it, ge?”
“...Maybe next time. Lu Han’s going to do it this week.”
Lu Han was pleased, but he nudged Tao anyway when his face fell and gave him a comforting pat on the back. “It’s okay, Tao -- you can work front of house!”
Kris was frowning, but Lu Han nodded anyway. “Yeah, why not? He hasn’t gotten to try that yet, right? I think he’d be good at it.”
Tao looked up at Kris, a little flushed and breathless and adorable. The poor kid had been stuck in the back for so many months that he looked like he might cry at just the possibility of working directly with customers, and he tugged on a corner of Kris’ vest. “Please, ge? Can I?”
Kris hesitated, his eyebrows twitching, and everyone watched with bated breath to see what he’d decide -- but then his resolve crumbled, as Lu Han had known it would, and he hung his head and gave in. “Fine. You can try it this week.”
Turned out Tao was pretty popular with the customers -- something about his overall cool demeanor and the way it would break into bursts of unadulterated cute whenever he made a mistake (which was, admittedly, pretty often; though, to the kid’s credit, he never made the same mistake twice, so he’d be out of new ones soon).
Now the challenge would be to get Kris to stop hovering.
Sunday was grocery shopping day. That was the one downside to getting a single dorm room this year -- Lu Han always had to do it himself, even when he didn’t feel like it. Xiumin had suggested they get an apartment next year, either the two of them or maybe along with Kris and Lay, and maybe Lu Han would have to think about that.
Except that then he would really never be able to escape from work, and he might go crazy.
“Let’s see...cereal, milk, rice, eggs...” Lu Han double-checked his mental shopping list as he waited his turn in line, only realizing as he watched the checker ring up his stuff that he’d forgotten the milk after all. “Ah, shit...” Oh well. It was too much trouble to go back. He’d just eat his cereal dry this week, or bum some off work if he could somehow manage to sneak it without Kris catching him.
That would be a dangerous mission, though. The kind that would require an accomplice.
He wondered if Xiumin would be up to joining forces.
He adjusted his bags on his arms, regretting, as always, how much he’d bought. He didn’t live too far away, but he debated hopping onto the bus for one stop just to save himself from walking it. He wondered how hard it would be to get bus fare out of his pocket.
...probably pretty difficult, considering the fact that he couldn’t even get the door open. In retrospect, he probably hadn’t needed to buy both four boxes of crackers and six bags of chips -- but they’d been on sale. So, really, he’d made the right choice.
Luckily, someone was coming in and took pity on him, holding the door to let him through.
“Thank you so mu-- oh, it’s you.”
The boy from across the street blinked his sleepy eyes (was he really sleepy, or was that just the way his face looked?), and then recognition flickered between his eyebrows. “Hi. Need some help?” He looked sort of amused as he quirked an eyebrow at Lu Han’s armload of bags, which Lu Han was having a hard time squeezing through the doorway.
“No,” he lied, because he didn’t even get why this kid was offering. He cast a suspicious glance around, wondering if this was all some kind of elaborate set up. He narrowed his eyes as menacingly as possible. “Are you stalking me or something?”
The boy just shrugged it off. “Not really. I always shop here.”
Lu Han was still sort of suspicious, but he was also still blocking the doorway. He should move. He managed to edge his way out the door without jostling his stuff too badly and was mentally congratulating himself for a smooth exit when fate turned against him. Some young mom’s stroller caught on one of his bags and tore clean through it, sending snacks and packs of ramen all over the sidewalk. The boy laughed (cutely, behind the back of his hand) as Lu Han just gaped at it all and sort of wanted to die of embarrassment.
“Stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen in real life,” he pouted, bending down to save his snacks before anyone could step on them.
“Here, I’ll go get you another bag.” And the boy was gone and back before Lu Han could really think to protest. He loaded the fallen groceries into a fresh plastic bag, and it was sort of cool, or something. As was the way he helped Lu Han fit the handle over his wrist with a “Here, good as new.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Lu Han wondered, and it was only when the boy blinked at him that he realized he’d said it aloud. But he really did want to know. If this kid thought he was going to charm information out of him, he was dead wrong. Lu Han didn’t care how cool he was. Or how cute he looked in that sweater.
But the boy just shrugged his shoulders. “Why not?”
“Because we’re rivals,” Lu Han insisted, sticking his tongue out and making the boy smile.
“If you say so. Good luck getting all your junk food home.”
Lu Han made a face. “Thanks.” He turned to go, then turned back suddenly. “Wait!”
“What?” The boy had paused halfway through the door, sleepy eyes blinking slowly, and Lu Han suddenly felt a little foolish.
He powered on anyway, banishing the warmth in his cheeks out of sheer willpower. “What’s your name?”
A smile spread slow across his face. “Sehun,” he lisped a little, and Lu Han’s heart stuttered irrationally in his chest. “Nice to officially meet you, Lu Han.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Lu Han warned, even though he wasn’t sure he meant it. “It’s just that you already asked mine, so now we’re even.”
“Uh-huh.” Sehun was still smiling, and Lu Han’s face felt a little warm.
“Anyway...I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah.” Sehun sounded certain. “You will.”
“See you later, suckers~” Lu Han singsonged, smacking Lay’s ass on his way out of the kitchen. Tao pouted at him from where he was elbow deep in dishes, but Lu Han just wiggled his fingers at him over his shoulder and skipped out of the restaurant. It wasn’t his fault Kris had let him off before them -- that was just one of the perks of waiting tables on a busy day like today had been. They’d had two parties, one birthday and one office get-together, and Chen had rather spitefully put them both in Lu Han’s section.
Whatever. He’d survived it, which was really all that mattered, and now he got to go home without having to worry about closing up. Totally worth it.
You know what? He deserved a treat. It had been a long day, and he’d done well. This called for bubble tea. His favorite place was just down the street, and the bell tinkled happily as he stepped inside. He ordered mango and tapped his fingertips against the glass display case in anticipation as the auntie made it for him, wondering if he should buy a bao to eat in the morning as he was running to class, but his drink was done before he could decide.
The bell jingled just as he was turning to go, and he found himself blinking at the boy from across the-- at Sehun. “Oh, it’s you,” he said intelligently.
“Hi,” Sehun said, only slightly more intelligently, and there was a slow smile spreading across his face.
He looked like he might say something else, but the auntie interrupted -- “Strawberry milk, right?” and Sehun nodded.
“How did she know?” Lu Han tilted his head curiously, lingering near Sehun’s side without thinking too much of it. He was just being sociable. It was only polite, after Sehun had helped him out last time. No harm in a little small talk, even if it was with the enemy.
“I come here kind of a lot.”
“So do I.” Lu Han pouted. He wanted the auntie to guess his order, too.
“Well, I only ever get this kind, so.” Sehun shrugged his shoulders.
“What?” Lu Han almost choked on a tapioca pearl in his astonishment and had to cough and sputter a little, because he absolutely could not believe his ears. “Why? There are so many good ones!”
“I don’t know...I just like this kind.” Speaking of, it was done, and Sehun pulled a couple of crumpled bills out of his pocket and left them on the counter. He turned, and there was an awkward moment as Lu Han realized he was still standing there when he had no real reason to be, and they both sort of awkwardly shuffled from side to side before Lu Han couldn’t take it anymore and started laughing. Sehun laughed too, and, just like that, the tension was broken.
“Want to walk with me?” Lu Han grinned, and Sehun shrugged his shoulders.
“Are you sure it’s okay, rival?” he teased, but he held the door for Lu Han anyway, and the smile never left his face.
“Oh, shut up.” Lu Han smacked his arm, which got him another laugh. “Someone who only drinks strawberry milk bubble tea has to be harmless.”
“Mm, if you say so.”
“I think it’s okay, as long as we don’t talk about work things.” He shrugged and swirled his straw. “Out here, let’s just be Sehun and Lu Han. Not rivals or anything like that. Just...Sehun and Lu Han.”
He wasn’t really looking, but he could still see, out of the corner of his eye -- the smile that lit up Sehun’s face, even in the near darkness around them. “Okay,” he said, and he sounded sure. “I’d like that.”
There weren’t too many people out, at this time of night on a Wednesday, but it was nice to have some quiet after such a busy day at the restaurant. The silence was companionable as they each sipped at their respective bubble teas, and Lu Han somehow wasn’t surprised that Sehun’s every step matched with his. It was weird, but tonight he sort of regretted how close he lived to the bubble tea shop. Just a couple of blocks, and there they were, right outside of his building. He tugged Sehun’s sleeve. “Well, this is my place.”
Sehun nodded, glancing from Lu Han to the apartment building and back again. “Okay. I’ll see you around, just Lu Han.”
Lu Han laughed and raised his hand in a mock salute. “Yes you will, just Sehun. I’ll see you!”
He grinned all the way up to his apartment, all the way down to his last sip of mango bubble tea. He contemplated the empty cup for a long moment, the bright mango taste still strong in his mouth. Was the strawberry milk kind really better? He’d had it before, of course, but it had been a while... Hm.
He was still thinking about it when he finished up his homework and finally crawled into bed, because there was really no way strawberry milk was that much better than anything else. Yeah, strawberries were good and milk made it a pretty color, but the best flavor? Good enough to order every single time? No way. Sehun was full of shit.
...and it was well after 3am, and he had class at 8. “Damn it, not again!” It wasn’t usually this bad...damn it. He was going to die tomorrow.
Lu Han rolled over and tugged his blankets up to his chin, shutting his eyes resolutely. He could do this. He would fall right to sleep and it would be okay, even though he had a quiz in his first class and then a full shift of work after. He would survive it.
After work he would get himself some strawberry milk bubble tea as a reward.
Lu Han was waiting tables this week with Xiumin, while also training Tao to run the front of the house. “You’re doing well!” he said, tucking his chin over Tao’s shoulder and making him smile. “Just relax and have fun~ The guests really like you!”
“Really?” Tao’s face lit up with hope, and it was so cute that Lu Han laughed and gave his arm a friendly squeeze.
“Really. They keep talking about how cute you are~ You’re stealing some of my favorites!”
Tao beamed, equal parts embarrassed and pleased, and Lu Han dashed off to deal with one of his tables by the window. If his eyes drifted across the street, it was just natural curiosity -- not, definitely not, in the hopes of catching Sehun’s eye while he was hosting. If that happened, it was pure coincidence -- as was his smile and the way his heart jumped when Sehun did happen to look up and see him and shot him a grin.
“You seem happy today,” one of the girls observed as he refilled her tea.
Lu Han blinked, reeling his thoughts in a little reluctantly, and tilted his head. “Am I not usually?”
“No, you are -- but even more lately.”
“Good, then.” He smiled bashfully and rubbed the back of his neck, because the ladies loved the innocent type. “Now how about dessert?”
Lu Han most definitely wasn’t waiting for anyone, as he sat at the counter and sipped strawberry milk bubble tea through a thick green straw. He just felt like sitting down for a while today because there was a paper he needed to write when he got home, and he wasn’t really in the mood to write four to six pages of bullshit right now. Maybe in a little bit. Hopefully after this cup of bubble tea and maybe a smile or something from a boy with sleepy eyes.
And then the bell jingled, just like magic, and Lu Han spun around in his seat.
“Hi, Lu Han,” Sehun smiled, and Lu Han beamed up at him.
“There you are! Took you long enough.”
“I didn’t know you’d be waiting.”
“I wasn’t waiting,” Lu Han protested immediately, taking a somewhat aggressive sip of tea and almost choking on it.
Sehun just hummed and handed the auntie his money, settling into the seat next to Lu Han’s a moment later. “Text me next time,” he said, and Lu Han blinked at him.
“What are you talking about? I don’t have your number.”
“Give me your phone.” He held his hand out expectantly, and Lu Han only hesitated a second before handing it over.
“You’re not doing something weird with it, right? There’s no information about the restaurant in there, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Sehun just shook his head, tapping a couple of things on the touch screen before handing it back. “Stop being so paranoid -- I just put my number in. So next time you can text me to meet here, if you want to.” He wet his lips with his tongue, maybe a little nervous or something, and it was really cute. “Besides, I thought we agreed that we’re just Sehun and Lu Han, out here.”
Just Sehun and Lu Han. It sounded nice in Sehun’s voice, and Lu Han couldn’t really help the smile that overtook his face. “Good. Next time I’ll text you.” He went back to sipping his tea, and Sehun raised his eyebrows at him.
“Strawberry milk tea?”
“...I just wanted to see if it really was the best, okay?” he mumbled, nibbling at his straw a little self-consciously.
He blinked. “And what?”
“And is it the best?”
Sehun was smiling, this smile that sort of felt like a trap or something, the way it was drawing Lu Han in -- but that was probably just the paranoia again, so he contemplated his bubble tea very seriously and took another appraising sip as he debated his answer. It was good, yeah. Sweet and not too heavy, even with the milk. And it was a pretty color, too. But he shook his head. “Nope.”
“Now you’re just being stubborn,” Sehun said with a roll of his eyes, but Lu Han shook his head earnestly and latched onto his arm.
“No, really! It’s good, but as good as green apple? Or passionfruit? No way. Not even close.”
“Uh-huh. If you say so.” Sehun didn’t sound convinced. His own drink was finally done, and he slid to his feet and tilted his head towards the door. “Should we get going?”
“Get going where?”
“Home. I’ll walk you again, if you want.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s late, and I have homework to do still.”
“Me, too.” Lu Han pouted, but he got to his feet anyway. He wanted to procrastinate a little longer...but he guessed it was good that at least one of them was responsible. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Business had settled down again, a little slower than before but not too bad. They were still staying afloat and making good enough money -- but Kris wasn’t satisfied.
“We need a new plan,” he said at their Sunday staff meeting, and a collective sigh went up from the rest of them.
“Can’t we just give up?” Xiumin puffed his cheeks. “We’re still doing okay. It’s not like we’re going broke or anything.”
“Seconded. You’re going to go bald early if you keep taking everything so seriously,” Chen added helpfully.
“So Chen’s on dishes this week,” Kris determined, slamming a massive hand down on Chen’s shoulder. Chen groaned, but Lu Han just stuck his tongue out at him. He should know by now that humoring Kris was the way to go. “Does anyone else have any complaints?”
“No, sir!” Lu Han exclaimed, and Tao and Lay mimicked his salute.
“Good. Now. What are we going to do?”
There was a long moment of silence. Lu Han shifted his weight and looked to Xiumin, who looked to Chen, who looked to Tao, who looked to Kris, who looked to Lay.
Lay cleared his throat.
“I think we should give up.”
Kris ran a hand down his face, but then he sighed and all the fight went right out of him. “...Fine. Forget it, for now. Everyone just get to work.”
Lu Han snatched a shrimp off of one of the plates Lay had just finished prepping and popped it into his mouth with a grin, undeterred as Lay elbowed him in retaliation.
“Don’t do that. Now I have to add another one.”
“Being one short is okay,” he insisted. “Besides, I’m hungry. Make me fried rice?”
“Later. I’m busy now. You keep bringing me more orders.”
He pouted and draped himself over Lay’s shoulders. “Please?”
“Mm, okay.” That was probably the best he was going to get from Lay right now. He was right, anyway -- it was a pretty busy night. “Make it with pork?”
“Yeah, I will. Now get out.”
Lu Han ignored him in favor of leaning back against the counter and sneaking another shrimp. He could take a break for a minute. Kris wouldn’t kill him for that. Just a tiny break. Just a couple of minutes. Then he’d go back out there and deal with the huge party who seemed determined to power through every single item on the menu. It was just too much for right now.
He chewed his stolen shrimp and fished his phone out of his pocket, flicking through his address book until he found Oh Sehun. So that was his last name, huh? Not bad. Made for a boring entry, though, so he deleted it and wrote in “Sehunnie~” instead. There. Much cuter. He smiled, quite pleased with himself, and sent a quick text.
bubble tea tonight?
He hadn’t been yet this week. Hadn’t seen Sehun there since last Thursday, and a few days sort of seemed like too long. He would get passionfruit tonight and show Sehun just how much strawberry milk tea sucked in comparison, because really -- just drinking one flavor all the kind was so boring. He didn’t get it at all. There were so many better options!
“Ooh, who are you texting? Your boyfriend?” Chen asked, suddenly at his elbow and making Lu Han jump and fumble his phone.
“No! Just...someone I know.”
“Someone we know, too?”
“No, I don’t think so. Just someone.”
“Hmm...” Chen smiled, and it was one of those dangerous smiles that meant he was up to something. “That guy from WHAT IS KIMCHI, maybe?”
Lu Han’s jaw dropped, because there was no way Chen could know that -- had he been spying on him or something? Actually, that wouldn’t be too surprising, but wait -- he’d meant to instantly deny it, because the only way to win against Chen was to shut him down as quickly as possible, but he’d messed up and now Chen was full on grinning at him.
“So it is him. I wonder what Kris would have to say about that.”
“You wonder what Kris would have to say about what?” Kris said suddenly, halfway through the door. Lu Han almost shrieked in terror and jumped to his feet.
“Nothing! Chen was just being dumb. Don’t listen to him! Chen is not to be trusted!” Lu Han stuffed his phone back into his pocket hurriedly, because now would be the absolute worst time for Sehun to text him back, with Kris frowning down at him. He tried to look as innocent as possible. “I didn’t do anything, I swear.”
“He was stealing shrimp again,” Lay said, and Lu Han was never so happy to be accused of anything in his life. As far as crimes went, petty theft had to rank lower than treason, right? He looked up to see if Kris was buying it, and Kris just heaved a weary sigh.
“Those shrimp are coming out of your paycheck.”
“Okay,” Lu Han agreed immediately, too relieved to even argue. Kris was cheap as fuck, but whatever -- as long as he wasn’t getting murdered, he’d pay for as many shrimp as Kris wanted. “I’ll go back to work now. Thanks for the food!”
Lay just nodded at him vaguely and went back to stirring noodles in a great big pot, and Lu Han shot Chen a look as he edged around Kris to get through the door. If Chen talked, he was dead -- but Kris was on Chen about dishes (“you have to wash them with soap, Chen” “I was just trying to save you some money!”), so maybe he was safe for now.
He leaned against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. Whew, that had been a close one... He’d have to find a way to bribe Chen later to make sure he didn’t say anything, because Chen having this kind of leverage on him was definitely dangerous.
His phone went off in his pocket, and a wave of guilt washed over him as he saw the name on the screen.
sure, see you there! ^^
He bit his lip and typed up a quick reply.
sorry, actually I can’t tonight...sorry
He couldn’t do this. If he stopped it here, he could just play it off if Chen did end up ratting on him -- because, really, they’d just run into each other a couple of times. He could be mostly honest about that, maybe just leave out the part about Sehun walking him home and the way Sehun’s smile made him feel sort of funny inside, and he’d be in the clear.
But he couldn’t help but be a little disappointed, even though he’d been the one to cancel their plans, when Sehun just texted back
Lu Han had to stay late the next two weeks to help Kris close to make up for the shrimp thing. Which he hated, a lot, because staying late meant cleaning and Chen had a spiteful way of making last minute messes for him to clean up, and he couldn’t say anything or else Chen might really tell on him and then Kris would actually murder him in cold blood.
On second thought, maybe staying to close wasn’t so bad, after all.
It was tiring, though, and Lu Han yawned as he rinsed out the towel he’d been using to wipe down the counters. “All done,” he called, and Kris looked up from where he was counting the day’s profit and marking things off in his notes.
“Yep, all done!”
Kris adjusted his glasses, looking skeptical. “Even in the kitchen?”
“Yes,” Lu Han lied, smiling sweetly.
Kris frowned at him for a moment, waiting for him to break, but Lu Han was good at this game. The key was to smile and keep your eyes as big and dumb as possible. Eventually Kris would let it go, and, yep -- he sighed and waved him off. “Get out of here, then. Good work.”
“Thank you~” Lu Han grabbed his jacket and shrugged it on, happy to be free. He tapped Kris’ shoulder on his way past, flashing him a smile. “Don’t stay too late, okay?”
Kris made a noise in the back of his throat and shooed him away. “Yeah, yeah. I know. Get home safe.”
One final “goodnight!” called over his shoulder, and he was out in the cool night air. It was getting colder, these days, but even the stiff wind was refreshing after an extra hour scraping pans and mixing cleaning supplies. It was the kind of night where bubble tea seemed to be calling out to him -- sweet and rejuvenating, the perfect snack before he had to buckle down and start studying. But it didn’t really feel right to go there anymore. He felt weird about it. What if he saw Sehun? He sort of wanted to, but he also...sort of didn’t. Were they still okay? He missed it -- being just Sehun and Lu Han.
“Hm?” He looked up, and, speak of the devil -- it was Sehun, straightening up from where he’d been leaning against the wall. He’d almost walked right past him and not even noticed, and that made fresh guilt well up in the pit of his stomach. They hadn’t talked, hadn’t texted or happened to run into each other since Lu Han had made plans only to cancel them a couple of minutes later, and Sehun shifted his weight uncertainly. Then he wet his lips with his tongue and pressed a cup of bubble tea into Lu Han’s hands.
“Here. You like passionfruit, right?” He hesitated, so Lu Han nodded quickly and took a sip, and Sehun looked away. “Sorry, it sort of melted.”
Lu Han shook his head frantically (even though Sehun was right, it really had -- how long had he been waiting?) and drank some more of it to prove it was okay. “No, it’s totally fine -- thank you.” He smiled until Sehun looked his way again, and he didn’t think he imagined the slight pink in Sehun’s cheeks. He felt this weird sense of relief, to be standing with Sehun again in the dark, with Sehun looking every bit as awkward as he felt. Their gazes finally caught and held, and Lu Han found himself drifting closer, leaning up, and in.
But then the door opened, not more than five or six meters from them, and panic flooded Lu Han’s veins. It was Kris, locking up, and here they were -- pretty definitely fraternizing. Or about to fraternize. It was dark, so maybe he hadn’t seen? Either way, fight or flight instinct was kicking in, and Lu Han chose flight. “Shit, that’s my boss -- run!” he whispered frantically, and he made a mad grab for Sehun’s hand. Then they were off like a shot, sprinting through the night like their lives depended on it (which they sort of did). They ran all the way to Lu Han’s apartment building, laughing, breathless and wild as they finally came to a stop and the adrenaline slowed in their bloodstreams.
“Will he really kill you if he finds out?” Sehun panted, still not letting go of his hand.
“Probably.” But Lu Han kissed him anyway, because he really wanted to -- and it was worth the risk, for the way Sehun blinked at him dazedly, as if he were just coming out of a dream. Maybe he was a little giddy from their daring escape, but Lu Han looped his arms around Sehun’s neck and kissed him again, and this time, Sehun’s lips pressed back against his. Softly at first, so, so softly -- but then more confident and firm, and Lu Han sighed, satisfied.
“Hmm, maybe you’re right,” Sehun mused, brushing another kiss to the corner of his lips as Lu Han grinned up at him lazily.
“Right about what?”
“Passionfruit isn’t that bad, after all.”
Lu Han was finally done serving his sentence for shrimp stealing, so he was put back at front of house. It was about time, too -- Xiumin and Tao kept pouting that all the guests were so busy asking where he was that they didn’t appreciate them properly. “Never get in trouble again. Chen sucks at hosting.”
“I was just trying to maximize your tip intake,” Chen insisted, swatting at Xiumin with his dish towel.
“By making me cover three-fourths of the restaurant?”
“You’re an ass.”
“I’m pretty sure you mean ‘you have a nice ass’.”
“Chen.” It was amazing how quickly Kris’ booming voice could kill a conversation. “You’re waiting tables this week.”
“Wait, really? Why?”
Kris frowned. “Are you questioning my authority?”
Chen grinned. “Yes.”
“Just do it,” Kris scowled, snatching the dish towel from Chen’s hands and smacking him with it. “God knows you need Mandarin practice, anyway.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to--”
“Shh. No more questions. We’re opening.”
It was sort of a problem, having the two Koreans waiting tables. Not because they were bad at it by any means, but because M did get a fair amount of Chinese customers who came in, and Xiumin’s Mandarin was pretty minimal whereas Chen’s was virtually nonexistent. Lu Han was running all over the place, asking one or the other to cover for him while he went to translate someone’s order or answer a question about the menu, and it was sort of lively and exciting -- but it was also distracting him from texting Sehun cute emoticons. Which was, of course, highly important business.
“Lu Han, help?” Xiumin waved him over, and Lu Han groaned. It wasn’t that he minded helping -- it was just crazy to be running around like this. And, hell, it was only Tuesday, so he still had five more days of this to look forward to. He set his phone down and intercepted Chen, pushing him behind the front desk.
“I’ll be right back -- Xiumin calls.”
Xiumin, at least, was good about it. Always apologized to the guests and bowed to them and flashed them cute little baozi smiles that made Lu Han want to squish his face. But they were working now, so he wasn’t allowed. That was an intervention that had already been undertaken.
It was an easy translation, just a question about the night’s special, and then Lu Han was free to go. “You can take it from here, right?” he asked, squeezing Xiumin’s shoulder, and Xiumin nodded.
“Yeah, I’ve got it. Thank you!”
Lu Han mentally patted himself on the back for another job well done. He totally deserved a raise for this. This was not in his job description. He would have to have a talk with Kris about that later. For now, though, he skipped back to the front counter to relieve Chen of his duties. “We’re all good! I can take over again n-- What are you doing?!”
Chen had Lu Han’s cellphone in his hands and barely even looked guilty about it. Instead he just smirked that little kitten smirk of his and twirled the phone in his fingers. “Just reading your text messages,” he said sweetly. “Who’s ‘Sehunnie~’? His face looks suspiciously famil-”
“Don’t tell Kris.” Lu Han hated having to resort to begging, but it was really all he could do in a situation like this. As if having Sehun’s number wasn’t bad enough, he’d added a picture to his contact information the night before -- a really cute one he’d taken of Sehun and his cup of strawberry bubble tea. And yeah. He couldn’t really explain that one away. “Please don’t tell Kris? I’ll do anything you want.”
“Don’t tell Kris what?”
Lu Han almost shrieked, even though he should be used to it by now. He looked to Chen desperately, but Chen just smiled his most innocent smile.
“That he’s been stealing shrimp again. Cookies, too.”
The shrimp part was true, but Tao was the one stealing cookies. Lu Han opened his mouth to say as much, but Tao shot him a frantic look from across the room, and damn it, Lu Han was a good ge. Tao owed him. He shut his mouth.
Kris sighed. “Another week helping close up, Lu Han. When are you going to learn? You can’t keep stealing from the restaurant. How are we supposed to beat those Korean bastards if you keep doing this?”
“Not you, Xiumin and Chen. Not you.”
Chen successfully blackmailed Lu Han into dish duty for a week, but Lu Han decided not to let it get to him. He kept meeting Sehun anyway, because it turned out the only thing more refreshing than bubble tea after a long day’s work was bubble tea and kisses. It had become a familiar routine, at this point. A couple of flirtatious texts, complete with cute emoticons, and then one or the other of them would text
so, bubble tea?
and the response would always be
Since Lu Han had to stay after to clean dishes and help close, Sehun could usually be convinced to buy him his bubble tea ahead of time. Lu Han just had to text him whatever flavor he wanted and an appropriately pouty picture of himself, and that was all it took.
Sehun was waiting around the corner when Lu Han was finally let off, and Lu Han accepted the proffered green apple bubble tea with a smile. “Thank you~” He nosed into Sehun’s cheek and brushed a kiss there, perpetually amused by the blush that always sent flooding Sehun’s pale face.
“You know, we’re doing this wrong. The hyung is the one who’s supposed to pay for everything.”
Lu Han just smiled and linked his fingers with Sehun’s. “Yeah, but you thought you were the hyung at first, didn’t you?”
“...sort of, yeah.”
Lu Han laughed, because he’d never seen Sehun’s face more incredulous than it had been at that point. Clearly, a four year age difference had not been what he’d expected. Lu Han was used to it, though. He’d had this baby face his whole life. He nudged Sehun’s shoulder, sipping his tea thoughtfully. “Do you mind?”
“Buying me things.”
“Not really, no.” He felt Sehun shrug, and he tipped his face up to smile at him.
“I’ll make it up to you~ Here, try this.” He shoved his bubble tea into Sehun’s face, and Sehun looked at it with an expression of pure, unadulterated judgment.
“Because it’s good!”
“I told you, I just like the strawberry milk kind.”
“Nuh-uh, you said you liked passionfruit the other day.”
“I didn’t say I liked it, I said it wasn’t that bad,” Sehun corrected him with a sigh. “Anyway, that was a little different.”
“What, because we were kissing?”
“Ah...” It was really too easy to get Sehun flustered like this. But that didn’t make it any less fun. “...yeah.”
“When you kiss me later, I’ll taste like this. So you’re going to taste it anyway. Might as well just try it now.” Lu Han beamed, because he knew his logic was flawless. Sehun opened his mouth to complain or something, but Lu Han wasn’t really sure because he took that opportunity to jam the straw into Sehun’s mouth. “Drink.”
Sehun rolled his eyes, but he did what he was told. Lu Han watched a couple of tapioca pearls travel up the straw and disappear into his mouth, and he patted the underside of Sehun’s chin fondly. “There. Now, what do you think?”
“Disgusting.” Sehun made a face, and Lu Han laughed.
“Sorry~” he singsonged, even though he wasn’t sorry at all. “I’ll make it up to you. Let me walk you home tonight.”
Sehun finished a very long draught of strawberry milk bubble tea to cleanse his palate and blinked at him slowly. “Why?”
“You know where I live but I’ve never even seen your place. That’s not really fair, right?” And Lu Han was curious. Even though Sehun probably just lived in the dorms or something, he still wanted to see for himself.
Sehun wet his lips with his tongue, which Lu Han recognized by now to be a nervous habit, and he sort of averted his gaze, off and to the side. “If you want to...I take the train.”
“The train?” Lu Han echoed dumbly. “But, wait -- the train station’s the other direction.”
“Uh...yeah. It is.”
“Wait a minute...so, you don’t live the same way as me?” Lu Han was completely bewildered, and Sehun hesitated a second before shaking his head. He needed confirmation. “Walking me isn’t just on your way home?” Another moment’s hesitation, another head shake. It took another second or two, but then it sank in. “You wanted to walk with me that badly?” Lu Han grinned, and Sehun’s face went sort of red.
But Lu Han didn’t, and Sehun’s face went even redder when Lu Han tugged him close insistently and pressed laughing kisses against his lips until he kissed right back.
It really was much too easy to get Sehun all cute and flustered, but it was so adorable that Lu Han didn’t mind.
Sehun walked Lu Han home after all, their fingers intertwined.
It was Saturday when Chen leaned his elbows on the hosting desk with a grin on his face, and Lu Han was immediately filled with distrust. “Come to blackmail me again? What do you want?”
“Do my Chinese homework for me.”
“What? No! That’s cheating! Do it yourself.”
“Well, okay,” Chen said, smirk spreading slowly across his face. “If you really want me to tell Kris~”
“Tell Kris what?”
Lu Han barely even flinched this time as Kris came up behind him, because damn it, he was tired of living in fear -- and Chen’s Mandarin 101 homework was where he drew the line. “I’ll tell Kris myself.”
“Tell Kris yourself what?”
Kris was frowning, but Lu Han wasn’t afraid. Tao would probably protect him if need be, since he still owed him one for taking the rap for the cookie theft, so he took a deep breath and just said it. “That I like Oh Sehun.”
There was a moment of silence.
“And he works for WHAT IS KIMCHI.”
Kris’ frown was going more confused than angry, at this point, and then he did the impossible:
Lu Han openly gaped at him. So did Chen, because they had both thought for sure that Lu Han was about to die. Lu Han had braced himself for impact and everything, but Kris looked completely and utterly...okay with it, like Lu Han hadn’t just admitted to a crime that he’d been sure equated with arson or manslaughter at least. “You aren’t mad...? Even though he’s one of the enemy?”
“Why would I be mad? I know some of the WHAT IS KIMCHI guys.” Kris shrugged. “They’re not bad.”
“The tall one with the grin’s on my basketball team, and I have a couple of business classes with their boss. They’re nice. Even if they do steal our business.” Kris’ expression got a little darker at that, but it was still only partly cloudy as opposed to the full on thunderhead look Lu Han had been expecting.
Chen looked utterly devastated.
“So, wait...let me get this straight. You’re really not mad at me? Not upset at all?”
“You’re not going to Chinese water torture him with dirty mop water? You’re not even going to fire him?”
“Damn,” Chen said, shaking his head solemnly. “I’m disappointed.”
“Me, too, honestly.”
Tao poked his head around the corner. “I’ll Chinese water torture you if it’ll make you feel better...?”
“No, Tao. Please no.”
Lu Han called Sehun on his ten minute dinner break, remembering to call the restaurant and not Sehun’s cell, since he was hosting again. Lu Han could see him through the window, and he wiggled his fingers in a cheery wave. “Meet me here when you’re off work?”
“Won’t your boss kill one or both of us if he sees us together?”
“Nope. Sort of the opposite, actually -- he found out, and it's okay. Everyone really wants to meet you.”
“Everyone?” He could hear Sehun’s hesitation on the other end of the line. “...okay,” he said finally, “but I’m bringing my coworkers, too.”
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.” Lu Han blew a kiss at him through the glass, and he could see his blush all the way from across the street.
The WHAT IS KIMCHI boys weren’t able to make it over till close to eleven, what with closing and everything, but that was okay. It gave Lay time to whip up a shit ton of food (“to commemorate our peace treaty,” he’d said very seriously), with a little help from Xiumin and Tao. The rest of them got busy pushing tables together and making sure the place was spotless, because even though this was a friendship dinner, they did have a lot of pride in this place. They wanted it to look damn good, and yeah, it really did.
It was worth all the trouble, for the grins and curious looks that poured through the door as their boss (who for some reason went by Suho) introduced them one by one. But Lu Han only had eyes for Sehun, and he all but leapt into his arms when he finally stepped inside, the last one in. “This is where I work!” he proclaimed proudly, and Sehun smiled at him.
Sehun was just leaning in to kiss him when their respective bosses forcibly dragged them apart. “You’ll ruin everyone’s appetites,” Kris complained, and Lu Han made a face at him. Sehun mouthed ‘Later’ over the top of Suho’s head, and Lu Han nodded, satisfied for now.
Introductions over, they all settled down pretty comfortably into their places at the long, makeshift table, and between all the good food and some good alcohol, the conversation was soon flowing freely.
“M? Really? It’s like you think this is some classy establishment instead of a Chinese buffet.”
“For the last time, Kai, it is not a buffet.”
“At least our name isn’t a joke!”
“WHAT IS KIMCHI is a clever name, all right?”
“I still don’t get it. Everyone knows what kimchi is, so why--”
“Just accept that it’s a joke, Tao. It’s really...just a joke.”
At some point, Lu Han’s hand found Sehun’s under the table, and he squeezed his fingers gently. “So...this is going well, I’d say.”
Sehun shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.” Exception being, maybe, all the snarky banter -- but that was a friendly thing to do, right? Maybe they really should all sign the peace agreement that Chanyeol kid had written in sweet and sour sauce on his napkin, though, just to be safe. Lu Han was going to say something to that effect, but then Sehun was leaning closer to murmur in his ear. “I’m glad your boss didn’t kill you.”
And for once Lu Han’s face was the one going red, because they’d been so scared for so long over nothing, and he felt completely silly for losing sleep over something so stupid when he could’ve been with Sehun this whole time. He nudged against Sehun’s shoulder, meeting his gaze with a secretive little smile. “Me, too.”
There was a sudden collective retching noise from the rest of the table.
“Could you guys not?” the kid called Kai groaned, looking like he was about ready to claw his face off from all the cute.
“Yeah...I know I said I was okay with you fraternizing with the enemy, but could you just...not fraternize right now?”
Lu Han pouted, but Sehun just murmured, “Later,” right in his ear.
“No,” he said, and he smiled his most innocent smile. “Now.”
And he kissed Sehun right where everyone could see.