Length: ~7800 words
Ratings/warnings: PG-13 for language
Notes: Bakery AU written for undamage for b2stsanta. Tearful thanks to jeonggam, who prodded me through the writing process, checked in on me every few days, and then betaed like she's never betaed before. ♥
Summary: “Are you really what I want?” he asks the cake, realising a second later that he’s talking to a cake and clearly Yoseob’s crazy has rubbed off on him.
One year after graduating university, Junhyung realises he hates his job.
After paying the driver, helping Shingook up the narrow steps to his home and refusing a drink from his relieved wife, Junhyung starts making his way to the strip of shops he’d noticed along the way. He reaches the shopping area within fifteen minutes, a full street of convenience stores and specialty shops and a little bakery down the end, with a bus stop out front.
Sliding his hands into his pockets he strolls up to the timetable, scanning the PM services until he finds the next one back into town. One just left and the next is on the hour, so now he has time to kill.
He considers and writes off the bus stop with a single glance – someone recently did a Shingook to one end, and someone else spilled a sticky drink all over the other. He’s this close to camping out in the 7-11 when he notices that the lights are on in the bakery, and, curious, walks over to have a look.
There’s still product in the window and the door is open, and while there aren’t any customers inside he figures it can’t hurt to look. He steps over the threshold and goes inside.
It’s not a big shop, not like the Paris Baguette near his apartment or the bread shop down at the local markets, but what’s left on display looks quite good, rolls and loaves and savories that make his mouth water at once. He’d been too busy during dinner to have more than a few bites, and he steps closer to a chilled cabinet full of cakes, drawn by a decorated slice of shortcake, carefully wrapped in clear cellophane with sugared strawberries piled on top.
Junhyung jumps at the voice, so entranced by the pink marbled icing on the shortcake he hadn’t noticed someone emerge from the bakery proper. He coughs into his fist and adjusts his tie. “Hello.”
“Are you after something in particular?” The guy behind the counter looks young, short and cheery with a hint of pudge around the face. Junhyung thinks he’s doing okay for working at a bakery; if this was his job they’d probably have to roll him in and out each day.
He clears his throat. “Are you still open?”
The guy raises his eyebrows. “The door is open, the lights are on, and I’m here asking you if you want stuff. Nope, we’re closed.”
Junhyung narrows his eyes at him, unsure of whether he’s joking or not.
After a beat the guy pouts. “Seriously, no sense of humor? I’m working and you’re not but I have to make the jokes?” He lets out a sigh and runs a dramatic hand through his already tousled hair.
Junhyung eyes his hand warily in case he plans on touching food without washing it.
The guy sighs again and drops his hand. “Sorry about that. I had two employees call in sick so I’m at the end of a very long day.”
Junhyung presses his lips together. “I was just checking.”
“That’s cool, I just get the question a lot.” The guy wipes his hands on his apron – no longer quite as white as the rest of his outfit, the sleeve of the baggy white t-shirt underneath it smeared with a line of green Junhyung hopes is icing. “But seriously, do you know what you’re after?”
Junhyung shrugs and steps closer to the cabinet, wiping condensation off the glass and peering more closely at the dessert-type things. “What’s good?”
The guy slaps both hands to his face in abject horror. “You ask me, Lord Pâtissier, Ruler of the Cake Dominion, Master Of All That Is Sugared, which of my children I love the most?”
Junhyung coughs into his hand because the guy is lame and he absolutely should not be wanting to laugh at him right now.
The guy abandons the pose. “You know,” he says, leaning on the counter and resting his chin on his hands, “I have this thing where I can always tell what the people who come in here want the most.”
Junhyung’s still got time until the bus comes, so he decides to humor him. “Oh?”
The guy nods solemnly, chin digging into his hands. “Yeah. Not like everything about their lives, their hopes and dreams or whatever, but when people walk through that door I can always tell exactly what they want from here.”
Junhyung arches a sceptical brow. “Really.”
“Really!” The guy nods vehemently, almost knocking his chin off its perch. “What, you don’t believe me?”
“Nope.” Junhyung turns and glances out the window. “Actually, I’m just waiting for the bus.”
The guy doesn’t even deflate, as Junhyung half-expects him to. Instead he perks right up and grins. “Oh, but that’s the most fun, when people don’t think they want something specific, but they do.”
“Okay.” Junhyung shrugs. “What do I feel like?”
The guy’s eyes brighten and he gives Junhyung a once-over, which is slightly discomforting, even if Junhyung knows what he’ll see: a plain face, full lips, an overpriced haircut that combed one way seems all business and teased the other way would guarantee him entry to any club in town if he was the partying type. An understated white business shirt, narrow tie, charcoal slacks, leather shoes. He may be stuck in a menial role but that doesn’t mean he can’t look the part of a young businessman making his way up in the world.
If Junhyung were on the other side of the counter he’d guess something plain, something respectable. Vanilla slice, maybe. A coffee scroll. Something to match the image he’s so carefully prepared.
“I’ve got it!” the guy exclaims, snapping his fingers. “And how’s this – if I get it wrong, I’ll give you whatever you do want for free.”
Junhyung blinks at this display of poor business sense. “Couldn’t I just say you’re wrong, even if you’re right?”
“Well, yeah, of course.” The guy rolls his eyes like Junhyung’s the idiot. “But firstly, I won’t get it wrong, and secondly, if you ate something you got unfairly like that, it would taste like lies.”
Junhyung can’t quite believe he’s still humoring him, but his mouth just opens of its own accord. “Okay, fine.”
The guy watches him with big, dark eyes. “Aren’t you going to ask what you want?”
“Am I?” Junhyung asks, and feels confused.
The guy pushes off the counter and comes out from behind it, the rubber soles of his sneakers squeaking on the floor. “Bread over here,” he says, pointing at a display, and Junhyung looks down at him because he really is very short. “Savories over here. The pizza rolls are a big favorite!”
Junhyung glances at his watch. Still a few minutes until the bus.
“But!” The guy freezes, then hunches over slightly and tiptoes slowly to the cake cabinet, approaching it with the same care Junhyung would use on the wild African plains with, say, a lion. “The one you want is in here.”
Junhyung brings his thumb up to smooth down the curving corner of his mouth. He really shouldn’t be amused by this. “Oh, really.”
“Yeah, really.” The guy spins so his back is to the cabinet, then flings out a hand, index finger pointing unerringly at one particular row of cakes, all done up in cellophane and sugared fruits. “The thing you want the most is strawberry shortcake!”
The guy grins up at him. “How did I do?”
“I’m impressed.” Junhyung reaches for his wallet. “You were right.”
The guy claps his hands. “One hundred percent success!” He ducks behind the counter and pops up brandishing a pair of plastic tongs, before carefully sliding out the shortcake tray and manoeuvring a piece into a small cardboard box.
“Enjoy,” he says, satisfied, pressing a sticker onto the top and sliding it across the counter. “And be sure to tell your friends.”
Both of Junhyung’s friends are overseas or in the army, but he accepts the business card the guy hands him anyway. “Yang Bakery,” he reads. “Yang Yoseob?”
“That’s me,” the guy replies, curling his thumbs behind his apron strings and striking a pose.
Junhyung picks up the cake box and wonders where to put it, eventually settling on tucking it into the crook of his arm. “Well, this has been—“ he pauses. Interesting? Entertaining? Really fucking weird?
The guy – Yoseob – doesn’t seem to mind the lack of closure. “The 502 has just pulled up,” he says conversationally, nodding past Junhyung. “Is that you?”
“Is that—shit!” Junhyung spins on his heel and runs out the door to the bus, jumping on rather ungracefully and just in the nick of time. He flops into a seat at the back and rests the box on his knee, leaning back to catch his breath.
Poking the box with a curious finger he feels his lips curve into a smile again. “Are you really what I want?” he asks the cake, realising a second later that he’s talking to a cake and clearly Yoseob’s crazy has rubbed off on him.
A lady two seats down gives him a furtive look and gets up, scurrying down the aisle and taking a seat behind the driver.
Junhyung resolves not to go back there again.
A month later he’s photocopying notes for a meeting, zoned out and staring at the workplace health and safety poster tacked to the wall. He’s read and re-read it so many times he can probably quote the entire thing, and he’s about to start reciting the rights and responsibilities of all employees when Sanghoon from his department strides up from his cubicle on the other side of the floor.
“Junhyung-sshi, are you busy?”
It takes Junhyung a few seconds to blink back to reality. “Sorry?”
Sanghoon’s already whipped a notepad from his pocket and is scribbling something down. “It’s my wife’s birthday today.”
Junhyung wonders how that’s relevant. “Oh. Congratulations.”
Sanghoon rips off the sheet. “And I was wondering if I could trouble you to pick up a cake for her?”
He holds out the note and a few bills and Junhyung looks at them and wonders how his life has come to this. “I don’t think—“ he starts, trying to phrase I don’t think that’s my fucking job as politely as he can, when Division Leader Lee sticks his head out of his office and gestures for Sanghoon, who shoves the money at Junhyung with a quick “thank you!” and trips away across the room.
Junhyung stares after him for a long moment, and then he just sighs and shoves the notes into his pocket, turning back to the photocopier to finish his current all-important task before embarking on another.
He’s halfway to a bakery near work when he remembers the night of the dinner and the Yang Bakery and Yoseob-the-weird-bakery-guy, and deciding he might as well make the most of his time outside the office, gets on the 502 bus to Shingook’s area instead. The bus stops across the road and he alights to find the whole street is bustling during this time of the day, with the bakery busiest of them all. With good reason, too – the cake had been delicious, just the right weight and texture, hitting the perfect balance between sweet and tart. Even the memory of it makes his mouth water, and it’s reason enough to overturn his earlier decision not to come back.
Through the window Junhyung can see that Yoseob is there again, working alongside another guy in a hairnet. They’re taking orders and ringing up sales and another foreign-looking guy seems to be the bread runner, since he keeps disappearing out back with loaves and reappearing with them sliced and bagged.
There’s a mix of customers, a handful of business-types like himself, maybe down from the nearby office district to grab a quick lunch, a pair of students counting out bills and looking wistfully at the cheesy savories, and the rest ahjummas and halmonis, filling up entire baskets and chatting amongst themselves.
Junhyung angles past a mother trying to decide between a married tin and a tiger loaf, and lines up at the counter behind a whip-thin old lady with hair the colour of steel.
“Well, I just don’t know what I want,” she says, peering past one of the university students to look at the cake display.
The other guy behind the counter adjusts his hairnet and turns to the back, letting out a loud whistle. “Yah, Yoseob! One for you!”
Junhyung glances back just as Yoseob re-emerges, tapping Hairnet Guy on the shoulder and smiling at the old lady. “Need a hand, Halmoni?”
The woman nods and frowns at the cabinet. “They all look so lovely!”
Yoseob preens good-naturedly and winks. “They taste even better.” He laughs and the old lady joins him. Junhyung shakes his head at the cheesiness of it all.
The guy with the hairnet calls him forward and Junhyung starts, checking over his shoulder to see if anyone else is waiting. They’re all still making their minds up elsewhere, so he reluctantly steps up.
“Yes?” Hairnet Guy is wearing a nametag that says HYUNSEUNG. He gives Junhyung an expectant look.
“Uh,” says Junhyung, and it’s as far as he gets when Yoseob returns to the counter with a trio of profiteroles, setting them on the counter and glancing up, letting out a whoop when he meets Junhyung’s eyes.
“Cake Guy!” he says jubilantly, and Hyunseung gives him a double-take.
“You’re Cake Guy?” he asks, a tad suspiciously.
“Apparently,” Junhyung replies, confused.
Beside Hyunseung, Yoseob is excitedly shifting the profiteroles into their box. “You’ll love these,” he promises the old lady, who still looks dubious but takes them anyway. “Come back and tell me what you think!”
He turns his attention to Junhyung once she’s left. “And you! How was your shortcake?”
“That was weeks ago,” Junhyung says, surprised.
“Yoseob remembers what everyone buys,” Hyunseung says, shaking his head almost fondly. “He’s a freak.”
“Special,” corrects Yoseob. This time he’s wearing a badge too, upside down and pinned to his sleeve. He beams up at Junhyung, and just like before, he’s struck by the unfamiliar urge to smile back. “What would you like today?”
Junhyung can’t resist. “Don’t you know?” He tugs Sanghoon’s note from his pocket and puts it face down on the counter. “I’m here to pick something up for my co-worker.”
The foreign-looking guy pokes his head out the bakery door. “Hyung, I’m going to start scrubbing the trays, okay?”
Yoseob nods distractedly. “Sure.” He frowns at the piece of paper. “I don’t know, it’s not for you…”
“What if I think about what they want?” Junhyung asks, trying not to let the surprise show on his face at a little guy like Yoseob being the hyung.
Yoseob purses his lips at the paper, then gives Junhyung a look. “A whole cake? Like a full, entire cake?”
Junhyung tries to reign in his eyebrows. “Uh—“
Yoseob nods decisively and strides to the cabinet. “Yes. Cream, strawberries, chocolate,” he continues muttering to himself as he carefully withdraws a cream gateau, carrying it over to the counter and setting it next to the note.
He has unexpectedly large hands, Junhyung notes faintly, as he reaches over and flips the note.
“Cream gateau,” Hyunseung reads without a hint of surprise.
Yoseob blows on his fingers and brushes them off on his shoulder. “I am too good,” he tells them both solemnly.
“Not when you do that,” Hyunseung says, piecing together a box for the cake. Junhyung swallows a snicker and pays by credit, oddly gratified when Yoseob reads his name off the card.
“See you next time, Junhyung!” Yoseob calls after him when he leaves, and Junhyung gets on the bus with a smile for the second time in as many trips.
Over the next few months Junhyung finds himself escaping to the bakery more and more often, catching that bus and crossing that road and going in to test Yoseob’s skills, chat with Hyunseung and tease Dongwoon for looking foreign, since it turns out he’s full Korean and really quite sick of people assuming otherwise all the time.
He’s not sure how or why the bakery becomes his hangout, especially since it’s so far out of his way, but he goes on weekends, after work, and occasionally during the day when he’s sick of being told to wipe down desks with disinfectant and pick up gifts for his colleagues’ families. As soon as he steps foot inside and takes that first breath of sweet, warm air, something inside him just relaxes and he feels better for simply being there.
He’s awkward the first few times, uncomfortable around the guys since he’s a customer and coming by so often is more like stalking than just dropping by to pick up some bread. It’s even more confusing because usually he has no time for things that make him uncomfortable, since he gets enough of that at work, but he’s oddly intrigued by their little setup, by Yoseob’s ‘special’ power, and even though he ends up eating far too much cake, it’s just what he needs after each thankless day at work. Work drains him; each day a new serving of the same old monotony, but the bakery is different, warm and inviting and fun.
He realises just how important it has become one evening, when he has to stay back late at work to file two months-worth of backdated drinks receipts. Afterwards he’s so pissed off that he gets on the 502 without thinking and winds up outside the bakery just as Yoseob lets himself out of the darkened shop and locks the front door.
Chucking the keys into his knapsack, he turns and starts to find Junhyung standing there. “Junhyung, hey!”
Junhyung jams his hands into his trouser pockets and hopes he doesn’t look as disappointed as he feels. “Hey.”
Yoseob looks at him, scrunching his mouth up thoughtfully. “Did you come for a delicious pastry, or did you come to talk?”
Junhyung wonders when his life became so pitiful that some guy at a bakery is his only social outlet. “Uh.”
After a moment Yoseob shrugs and slips his other arm through the knapsack strap. “I haven’t eaten yet, have you?”
Junhyung’s eyes slide involuntarily past him to the shop with the big YANG BAKERY sign, picked out in still glowing neon above the window. Yoseob laughs and jumps off the front step, bumping his hip against Junhyung’s leg.
“I meant real food. Dinner. Meat,” he elaborates, when Junhyung still looks dubious at the idea of anyone in a bakery going without food.
“Oh,” says Junhyung, just as his stomach comes to the belated realisation that he hasn’t eaten either, and expresses its disapproval with a loud gurgle. He winces and presses a hand to his stomach as Yoseob lets out another delighted bark of laughter.
“Okay, that settles it.” Yoseob snatches up one of Junhyung’s arms and starts dragging him down the street. “Samgyupsal and soju it is.”
Junhyung digs his heels in. “Wait!”
Yoseob pauses and turns, raising a curious brow. “Yes?”
Suddenly Junhyung’s not sure. “Isn’t this weird? That I’m a customer?”
Yoseob rolls his eyes and goes back to pulling him along again. “How does anyone become anything else, if everyone thinks like that?” He starts humming under his breath, swinging their linked arms between them, and Junhyung, to his own immense surprise, lets him.
“You get away with a lot, huh,” he says, almost to himself, wondering why he feels so relaxed about giving in, and Yoseob throws a quick grin over his shoulder.
“It’s what I do,” he says immodestly, and shaking his head, Junhyung picks up speed until they’re walking side-by-side instead.
They wind up at an outdoor café and bond over alcohol and fatty pork, and Junhyung finds himself opening up to Yoseob, telling him about his five-year plan and his frustrations at work and the lack of anything outside of work now that his best friend is overseas and his old roommate has gone off to the army with a day’s notice, all whimsy and weirdness, but then again Kikwang was always like that.
He stops himself halfway through a story, suddenly aware he’s talking more than he has in months, but Yoseob urges him to continue, listening with rapt attention and only drinking when Junhyung pauses for a drink of his own.
In return Yoseob tells Junhyung about finishing school and taking over the bakery so his mom could finally get some rest, and how he has three sisters who are all older and who spoiled him rotten when he was younger and he misses them now that they’re all married and have moved away.
Junhyung thinks it explains a lot about Yoseob, and surprises himself by saying so. It cracks Yoseob up, sending him into peals of laughter, and Junhyung feels a lot warmer when he finally stops to catch his breath.
They buy hot coffees from the 7-11 and sip them on the way back to the bus stop. Junhyung talks about how he’d expected more out of his degree, out of himself, and how nothing seems to have gone the way he planned.
It’s stuff he hasn’t even told Doojoon, unwilling to open up to his friend over the phone. He’s always thought it’s because he’s never sure how long Doojoon has to talk, or how well the connection will hold with continents between them.
Yoseob sits next to him on the bench and admits that he’s never done anything else, but he can’t imagine living his life any other way. He leans back and looks up at the stars and says that he loves making things from scratch, building something out of flour, water, yeast and hard work, covering a plain cake with icing and fruit and everything pretty, and Junhyung glances down at his own hands and wonders if anything he does at his job actually counts.
The bus comes and Yoseob waves him on. Junhyung waves from his seat and when it lurches away from the stop he realises he’s smiling again without quite knowing why.
Somewhere along the transition from shopkeeper-and-customer to friends they exchange numbers (Dongwoon steals Junhyung’s phone and adds himself as ‘THE SON LORD’, while Hyunseung keys his number in under ‘H’) and one rainy Sunday Yoseob calls to ask if he wants to come over for a cooking lesson the next day.
“Tomorrow is Monday,” Junhyung says patiently, used to Yoseob’s strange ideas by now.
“It’s also a public holiday,” Yoseob replies smugly, and Junhyung can feel his grin all the way down the line.
“I knew that,” he says, and Yoseob lets him pretend to be cool for once.
“Okay, good, so did you want to come over or not? Not many people have an awesome industrial kitchen just lying around, you know.”
Junhyung coughs back a laugh. “What are we making?”
“It’s a surprise,” Yoseob says and rings off, which means of course Junhyung has to go.
He shows up the next day in worn jeans and a t-shirt, and Yoseob gives him a surprised look when he comes to the door to let him in.
“What?” asks Junhyung, immediately self-conscious.
Yoseob shakes his head, although he still looks thoughtful. “Nothing. I’ve just never seen you out of business clothes before.”
Junhyung doesn’t know what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything and just follows Yoseob into the shop. Dongwoon’s done well; the floor is spotless and all the plastic display boxes around the walls are clean and prepped for tomorrow’s loaves, rolls and savories. Junhyung’s never seen it bare before – the shop looks a lot bigger when it’s not full of customers and baked goods, and then Yoseob crouches down behind the register and he realises that’s a huge part of it as well, the big personality that kept him here that first night and kept him coming back each time after that. He feels warm again and tugs his shirt away from his chest. Most likely the air-conditioner isn’t on, since there’ll be no customers in today.
Yoseob pops back up with a bundle of cloth and gestures at the back door. “Come on through.”
Junhyung follows almost apprehensively – he’s never been out the back before, friendship upgrade or not. It’s one thing to hover at the counter and make small talk and another thing entirely to breach the sanctity of the kitchen, and he’s glad no one else is around to see him gawk at the wall of ovens, the stacks of trays, black from use, the open storeroom filled with flour and yeast and whatever other things bread needs to taste as good as Yoseob’s bread does. There’s a long bench in the middle, three whole meters of spotless stainless steel, a rolling pin as thick as Junhyung’s arm the only thing upon it.
“Here you go.” Yoseob tosses the cloth bundle at him and Junhyung catches it reflexively, unrolling it to discover a long white apron, clean smelling and slightly yellowed from use. He shrugs it on over his head and is fumbling with the ties when Yoseob clicks his tongue and comes to help him, winding the strings twice around his waist and tying a firm knot at the back.
Yoseob’s hair tickles his cheek as he works and Junhyung angles back slightly, the faint brush reminding him of how long it’s been since he’s had someone close enough to touch. Yoseob smells like shampoo and sugar and Junhyung swallows, struck by the intimacy of the moment, taking in little details like the way Yoseob’s lips purse as he works, the soft curve of his cheek. He banishes the thoughts as Yoseob steps back, nodding in satisfaction at his own apron-tying skills, and forces his mind back to the task at hand.
“What are we making?”
Yoseob holds up a finger and winks. “All in good time, my child.”
The spell broken, Junhyung rolls his eyes and crosses to the deep sink to wash his hands, patting them dry on his apron as Yoseob re-emerges with various canisters of mystery powders. He sets them on the bench before doing another trip, returning with a carton of milk and a slab of butter.
“You ready?” he asks, sending Junhyung a quick grin.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Junhyung mutters.
Yoseob tugs him closer to the bench and gestures proudly at all the ingredients. “Today,” he says, looking very superior, “we are making scones.”
Junhyung has never heard of them. “Ah.”
“You’ve never heard of them, have you?”
Yoseob sighs and reaches under the bench for a massive stainless steel bowl. “I’m starting you on the easy stuff. Scones are like…little cakes. They’re not sweet at all, but you serve them with jam and cream and they’re like a morning tea more than a dessert.”
Junhyung shrugs. “Okay.”
Yoseob flicks on one of the big ovens, a loud whir signalling the heat turning on. He quickly washes his hands then uncaps one of the canisters of mystery powder, scooping some out and showing it to Junhyung with a, “this is self-raising flour, okay? Pay attention!”
Junhyung leans over the bench and obeys, watching as Yoseob scoops careful measures of each ingredient into the bowl.
“Usually I’d just guesstimate,” Yoseob tells him, cutting off finger-thick slices of butter with a string, “but I want to do it by the book for you today.”
Junhyung leans closer and watches Yoseob’s curiously massive hands move the butter through the flour, rubbing lightly with his fingertips until the bowl is full of tiny yellow lumps.
Junhyung watches until Yoseob realises that’s all he’s doing, and then with a huff of breath and a quick shake of his head he pulls floury fingers from the mix and beckons Junhyung closer.
“Come on,” Yoseob chides, leaving the bowl to walk around Junhyung and bump him closer to the bench with his hip. “How will you learn just by standing there?”
He pours in a cup measure of milk, then reaches out for Junhyung’s hand, guiding it into the bowl and laughing at Junhyung’s expression when he encounters the cold milk and the greasy crumbs of the butter-flour mix.
“Shouldn’t you use a spoon or something?” Junhyung asks faintly, the milk spilling over his hands with a low gurgle as he shifts a section of crumbs.
“Nope.” Yoseob looks down into the bowl and slides his hand behind Junhyung’s, cupping the back of his palm and pushing it slowly through the mix. “The key to light and fluffy scones is the same as with muffins, try to combine with the least amount of effort. Too much mixing or overthinking the recipe ruins it, makes them tough and dry.”
He pushes Junhyung’s hand through again and it finally dawns on Junhyung just how close they are at this moment, Yoseob’s smaller body snug against his back and hip, implausibly large hand strong and warm behind his. His heart skips a beat at their proximity and he swallows, hard, because he shouldn’t be feeling this way about his friend.
Yoseob curls his fingers through Junhyung’s and scrapes their joined hands down the side of the bowl, folding the mixture in on itself with slow, practised movements. He peers around Junhyung’s shoulder and bounces on the soles of his feet.
“Almost done,” he says happily, and Junhyung can’t hold back his relief, breath returning to normal only after the scones are rolled, cut and safely in the oven.
They clean and wash up while the scones cook and cool, Yoseob filling the time with chatter while Junhyung wrestles with the realisation from before, the one that told him maybe he has an ulterior motive for spending so much time with Yoseob, maybe he’s had that motive all along.
He’s quiet while Yoseob pulls out a blender and whips some cream to serve with the scones, doesn’t say a word as Yoseob cuts them in half and spreads a generous serving of jam on before adding the cream.
“Mmm, delicious!” Yoseob takes another bite of the finished product, a dab of cream somehow finding its way to the end of his nose.
Junhyung ignores the cream like he ignores the twist in the pit of the belly, the sick awareness that he’s become too invested in this friendship and now he wants it to be something more. Which it can’t be of course, not now, not ever, since their friendship is the best thing that’s ever happened to him and he doesn’t want to let it go.
Yoseob swallows and looks at him, concerned. “Are you okay?” He glances down at Junhyung’s untouched serving and his face falls. “Did you not like them?”
“I don’t feel well,” Junhyung says, and it’s even the truth.
He tries not to feel anything from Yoseob’s warm hands on his forehead, checking for fever, tries not to read into his worried glances as he packs up some scones for Junhyung to take home. Yoseob treats him as a friend, nothing more. Junhyung won’t let him become anything less.
He accepts a parcel of the still-cooling scones and they wait outside for the bus. When it arrives Yoseob waves him off with his usual smile, while Junhyung slouches in a back seat and stares out the window, unable to summon even a hint of a smile in return.
He thinks about it a lot over the next few weeks, about the sudden rush of clarity in the kitchen, the moment he realised that he liked Yoseob more than a friend and the following understanding that Yoseob couldn’t, wouldn’t feel the same way.
Ignoring Yoseob’s calls and messages becomes difficult so Junhyung throws himself into work, not that there is anything important for him to do anyway, just an ever-increasing list of mundane tasks that weren’t in his contract, things like scrubbing desks and vacuuming and doing an inventory on the number of paperclips on every one of his colleagues’ desks. He’s marking down 47 in the paperclip column for Lee Yoongun and thinking tiredly back to graduation and his five-year plan and how he’d expected things to be better, different by now, when Shingook taps him on the shoulder and gives him an amused look.
“Someone’s here to see you.” He jerks his head at the foyer near the elevator and Junhyung takes his clipboard with him, curious to see this visitor since he’s never had someone drop by before.
He’s trying to rationalise a visit from his parents when he rounds the corner and sees a familiar figure in white clothes tucked into one of the waiting chairs, a cardboard bakery box resting on his knees.
Junhyung halts. “Yoseob?”
Yoseob glances up at his name, a grin instantly taking over his face. “You’re here!” He jumps up, almost knocking over the box, moving it aside just in time and leaving it on the chair before throwing himself at Junhyung.
Junhyung braces himself for the impact as Yoseob wraps his arms around his waist and squeezes tight, and he fights back the urge to return the hug. It’s a struggle but he manages to just stand there stiffly, looking away when Yoseob pulls back with a shadow of hurt in his eyes.
It’s quickly buried and Yoseob steps back and dimples at him. “Bet you didn’t expect to see me here.”
“That’s an understatement,” Junhyung replies without thinking, since he’d been trying very hard not to see Yoseob at all.
A ghost of a frown flits across Yoseob’s face, but he banishes that too. “You gave me a business card ages ago, remember? So I managed to convince Hyunseung to do a double-shift and it wasn’t easy, I had to bribe him with brandy snaps and I hate making brandy snaps, and Dongwoon might actually serve customers and I hope he doesn’t give someone a kimchi roll instead of an apple Danish again, that was awkward, and –“ he stops his rambling and gives Junhyung another blinding grin. “Well, I just wanted to see you again.”
Junhyung lets out a low breath and repeats the things he’s been telling himself since the last day at the bakery, how they’re friends, how they can only be friends, how Yoseob won’t want anything more from him and not to read too far into this friendly visit.
When Junhyung takes too long to respond Yoseob visibly deflates, before straightening and letting out a breath of his own, determinedly meeting Junhyung’s eyes. “Why haven’t you been by in a while?”
Junhyung’s practiced this, just in case. He shrugs. “It’s an important time at work.”
“I don’t believe you.” Yoseob’s eyes are far too knowing. “You don’t do important things here. They treat you like a cleaning ahjumma.”
Junhyung raises a careless eyebrow. “Things change.”
“Bullshit.” Yoseob’s retort is instantaneous, tone scathing. “The only thing that’s changed is you avoid me now.”
Junhyung shrugs again. “I just—“
“You like me, right?” Yoseob crosses his arms across his chest and looks steadily up at Junhyung, who fights a losing battle to keep the surprise off his face. Yoseob searches his face and nods. “I figured it out eventually. That’s why I came.”
Yoseob takes a step forward just as Sanghoon rounds the corner, stopping in his tracks and blinking at them. “Junhyung-sshi. Are you done with the, uh,” he pauses, “counts?”
Junhyung quietly seethes even as he welcomes the interruption. “Not yet.”
Sanghoon nods, flicking a curious glance at Yoseob and taking in his apron and messy hair, then dismissing him without a second look. “Well, don’t spend too long with your friend. I need some photocopying done.”
“We’re already finished,” Junhyung snaps coldly, hackles rising involuntarily at way Sanghoon had written Yoseob off with his eyes, like someone without a suit wasn’t welcome here, in this world.
“Of course,” Sanghoon replies, startled by his uncharacteristic vehemence. “Excuse me.” He turns on his heel and heads back to the office.
Junhyung watches him go and wonders how long it will take for Division Leader Lee to hear about how the minion was rude to one of his superiors, and then he realises that he just doesn’t care.
The ding of the elevator pulls him from his thoughts and he spins just in time to see Yoseob stepping inside and pressing the down button.
“We’re already finished, remember?” says Yoseob quietly, pressing the button again.
Junhyung doesn’t know what to say to that so he doesn’t say anything, just stands there and stares helplessly at Yoseob until the doors slide closed and finally cuts off the eye contact, finally frees him from Yoseob’s empty, accusing gaze.
He stands in the foyer until the other elevator dings, opening and expelling more of his coworkers, who give him odd looks as they move past. Junhyung turns to follow suit and spots the bakery box on the chair where Yoseob left it. Hesitantly he picks it up, fingers shaking as he eases the lid open, and when he peeks inside he finds the answer to everything and suddenly he knows exactly what to do.
Carefully tugging the lid back down, Junhyung heads back into the office, taking great satisfaction in dumping his clipboard in the bin on his way past.
There’s a few loose ends to tie up at the office before he can leave but eventually he’s out and heading to the bus stop with only one place and only one face in mind.
He sits at the front of the bus this time, near the driver, tapping impatiently on his thighs all the way there, and he all but leaps off the steps when the bus pulls up at his favourite, familiar stop.
He strides across the road and straight into the shop, careful not to jostle the box he’s still carrying, and finds Dongwoon standing behind the counter just as Yoseob had feared. Junhyung ignores him and scans the shop for Yoseob, not finding him anywhere.
Dongwoon spots him and waves. “Hyung! Long time no see!”
Junhyung nods distractedly in return, mind already racing off elsewhere, considering the other places Yoseob could be, when Hyunseung pokes his head out the bakery door. He gives Junhyung an unreadable look before coming over to greet him, wiping his hands on his apron and then tucking them into his pockets.
“What are you doing here?” Hyunseung’s tone is flat and the question seems more like an accusation.
Junhyung knows he deserves it. “I’m looking for Yoseob.”
Hyunseung’s eyes glitter with challenge. “What for?”
“To—“ Junhyung pauses. He doesn’t think there’s an easy answer to that. “To tell him the truth.”
“Really.” Hyunseung doesn’t look convinced. “I guess everyone has a different definition of—“
Junhyung hadn’t noticed Yoseob come out from the back – he looks tired and grim and somehow shorter than when he’d seen him only hours ago, and Junhyung’s heart clenches knowing that his thoughtless words made him that way.
Hyunseung looks at Yoseob. “I was just looking out for you.”
“It’s okay.” Yoseob walks past Junhyung, careful not to brush past him on the way, and gestures at the bus stop. “Let’s talk out here.” He leads the way without looking back, and with a quick nod at Hyunseung, Junhyung follows him out.
Yoseob perches on the edge of the waiting bench and rests his fists on his knees. “Why did you come?” He doesn’t sound too curious; more like he wants this meeting to end as soon as possible and for Junhyung to go away again.
Junhyung has no intention of doing that, not now, not now he knows. He’s still not sure what the right words are to fix this, though, whether he should start off with I’m a dick or do you hate me now? and settles on, “I got your cake.”
“Oh.” For someone whose every emotion usually broadcasts from his face, Yoseob is doing an admirable job of keeping his expression blank.
Junhyung’s still holding the cake box, so he sets it down between them and lifts the lid. The whole shortcake has survived multiple bus trips and an almost-dropping remarkably well, and the perfect heart on the top, made out of sugared strawberries, has kept its shape.
“Thank you,” he says, honestly, sincerely. “It’s amazing.”
Yoseob shrugs and stares out at the road, the lunch-time traffic sparse today. “You didn’t have to bring it all the way back if you didn’t want it.”
Junhyung can’t decide which one of them is the bigger idiot right now. “But I do want it.”
Yoseob’s eyes flick quickly to his then away again. “Oh, really.”
“Yes, really.” Junhyung moves the cake to his other side and slides into its place, closer to Yoseob. He reaches for Yoseob’s hand, envelops it in both of his and squeezes it tight. “I’m sorry. For today, and the last few weeks. I was just…I was just dumb.”
Yoseob doesn’t snatch his hand back immediately, which Junhyung finds encouraging.
“How dumb are we talking?” Yoseob asks quietly, staring down at their hands.
Junhyung squints away across the street. “So dumb I threw my clipboard in the bin.”
Yoseob nods. “That’s pretty dumb.”
“So dumb this guy I like came to my work and I said stuff I didn’t mean.”
Yoseob’s lips twitch. “Wow, that’s dumb.”
Junhyung takes a deep breath. “So dumb I quit my job.”
Yoseob’s head snaps up. “For serious?!”
“Wow.” Yoseob blinks in disbelief. “That’s just—I mean, you hated it and they treated you so badly, but, wow.” When he looks up at Junhyung again he’s beaming with admiration. “I’m so proud of you.”
Junhyung coughs and scrapes the toe of his dress shoe over the concrete. “Yeah, well, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Yoseob misses his heartfelt declaration, sitting up and clapping his hands together with a gasp. “But what are you going to do for money? What about your five-year plan?”
Junhyung stands and tugs Yoseob up with him. “I was thinking,” he says, collecting the cake and starting to walk back, “that I could try a career change, you know? Working for this guy who makes a mean scone.”
Yoseob laughs. “I bet he’s really skilled and handsome and extremely cool.”
Junhyung shrugs. “He’s okay.” He evades Yoseob’s punch and grins. “Also, he owes it to me after lying to me this whole time.”
Yoseob stops in his tracks and stares up at Junhyung. “What? When did I lie? I never lie.”
“But you did,” Junhyung insists. “Right from that first night you said you had one hundred percent accuracy with knowing what people want when they step inside the bakery.”
“And I do,” Yoseob counters, looking put out.
“But you got me wrong,” Junhyung says, grin widening as stoops to whisper in Yoseob’s ear. “You told me of all the things in the shop, I wanted shortcake the most.”
“Which you did,” Yoseob agrees.
Junhyung draws back. “Wrong.”
Yoseob makes a frustrated sound. “What do you mean?”
Junhyung’s grin is so wide now he knows his cheeks are going to ache tomorrow. “There was one thing I wanted more than the shortcake, even though I didn’t know it at the time.” When Yoseob still looks confused he tugs up their still-joined hands and gives him a significant look.
Yoseob’s face clears and his answering smile is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “My apologies, customer-sshi,” he says formally, bowing to hide his dimpled grin. “However can I make this up to you?”
“I have a few ideas,” says Junhyung, as they finally step back inside.
“Tell me about them,” Yoseob demands.
And over the course of his new five-year plan, Junhyung does.