Pairing: Sehun/Lu Han
Summary: The evolution of Chef Sehun. In which Lu Han has to deal with moody chefs, no one can catch a break in the kitchen or out, and EXO is a four star restaurant.
Everybody loved going to EXO. The decor was great, a quirky mixture of old world charm and clean, modern lines. But what made EXO truly special was the food.
No one cared that the food was being prepared by an 18-year-old barely out of the Culinary Institute of America and possibly diapers.
Why? Because oh my god, the food was amazing. Every week, Chef Sehun would challenge himself Iron Chef-style and make different dishes out of one particular theme ingredient. There was one memorable Squid Week where Sehun decided that he wanted to prepare them live in front of the diners because he said it was best that the squid be served fresh and not going to lie, he loved doing gimmicky shit like that. Suho nearly suffered an aneurysm brought on by distress at the suggestion while Kris frowned menacingly, but Sehun remained stubbornly steadfast about his desire and his dishes were so mouthwateringly good that the diners quickly got over their queasiness.
There was something else that made Chef Sehun legendary though. It was his temper.
What made Sehun's temper legendary wasn't that he threw tantrums, dishes, or cutlery around the kitchen or at people. It's the fact that he didn't. What he did when someone wasn't quick or good enough for his liking was to break the offense down to the molecular level, systematically tear the chef and sometimes his mother apart, all in a calm, even voice in the middle of the frenzied storm of food preparation. And then he fired them. Most of the chefs who unsuccessfully worked for him were never really quite the same after that.
Chefs were not the only ones subjected to Sehun's reign of terror. When Kris first hired Lu Han, it was to replace the manager who had quit when he broke down sobbing in the middle of the kitchen and had to be escorted out by both Suho and Kris.
"You really have to stop scaring away all the employees," Suho said, fretting over the work schedule.
"I would if you would stop hiring incompetent people," Sehun replied.
Sehun didn't think Lu Han would last a week. He looked too soft to handle the pressure of managing a restaurant, or for managing him for that matter. He would probably start crying if Sehun even looked at him, he bet.
"There are some ground rules in my kitchen," he said to Lu Han at the meeting Kris and Suho called to introduce Lu Han to everyone.
Lu Han settled in. "Sure, go ahead."
"My kitchen, my rules," Sehun said in his most threatening tone. Damned his high pitch my-balls-haven't-dropped voice. "That is all."
Spectacularly, Lu Han did not break down in hysterics after a week like the last manager did. But that was probably because Sehun didn't yell at him at all during the first week. Unfortunately, he had no reason to. Lu Han was efficient with putting in the orders, intuitive and friendly with both the chefs and diners, didn't step on any toes figuratively and otherwise, and he looked really good in a waiter's uniform.
Wait, what? Sehun shook his head violently. That's not right. Lu Han didn't have a butt to fill out those pants and really, he's practically swimming in the vest, he's so scrawny and thin. He really should eat more. I wonder-
Sehun slammed the spatula down into the pan, causing Baekhyun in the sous chef station next to him to jump possibly a couple feet up in the air. It was debatable depending on who you asked (don't ask Baekhyun).
"Something wrong?" Baekhyun asked.
"Bring Lu Han to me," Sehun said imperiously.
Lu Han was brought to him. He really did look good in the uniform. Dammit.
"What can I do for you?" Lu Han said.
"Why aren't the wines moving?" Sehun demanded to know. It was the only thing he could think of that could probably justify a yelling.
"Um, it's like two o'clock in the afternoon," Lu Han said. "People still have to go back to work."
"So? I'm not telling you to get them arrested for driving under the influence," Sehun said. "I'm just saying that as part of Fine Cheeses Week, there ought to be wine to complement that." Okay, even he knew he was grasping at straws here, but it's like he couldn't stop.
Lu Han was silent for a moment and the whole kitchen waited with dreaded breath for him to have a complete mental breakdown. It wasn't very pretty with the last manager. "Okay," he finally said. "I'll tell the rest of the waiters." He spun on his heels to head back out.
By the end of Fine Cheeses Week, Suho had to replenish the entire stock of their wine cellar.
"You're going to have to fire him," Sehun declared when he and Kris sat down for their weekly meeting.
"What?" Kris said.
"Lu Han. He's not working out for me. You should fire him," Sehun said.
"Erm, I'm like right here," Lu Han said, raising his hand slightly.
Kris sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, I really don't look forward to having to deal with another one of Suho's breakdowns every time there's an empty spot on the work schedule that he can't fill, so whatever issues you have with each other, please work it out between the two of you. Now if you will excuse me, the Celtics are playing against the Knicks tonight and it's really the only source of pleasure in my life right now, shut up Sehun, so..." He gesticulated in their general direction and then he was gone.
Sehun started to panic once Kris disappeared out of sight. He'd never had the social dexterity to navigate himself around people without making them hate his guts and Lu Han made him twice as nervous, despite himself. Food was easy, people were hard.
Mercifully, Lu Han broke the silence. "Look, if there's something I'm doing wrong, you should let me know so I can stop doing it."
Sehun wanted to say: then you'll have to stop being here because my thumb almost became theme ingredient last week because I was distracted by the way you adjusted your fucking tie. Jesus, I need to get a grip. Instead he said, "kdfjakldja;fd."
"I'm sorry, what?" Lu Han said.
Horrified, Sehun sat frozen for one eternal, torturous moment before he jumped to his feet and bolted out of the office.
He was too awkward to function.
Wrestling with various forms of crustaceans on a Sunday morning wasn't exactly Sehun's idea of fun either (and he was a card carrying with special benefits workaholic okay), so when he arrived in front of EXO early morning when the sun was barely peeking over the horizon, he was surprised to see Kai already there. He had two cups of coffee in his hands. He passed over one of the cups to Sehun.
"Good morning!" Kai greeted.
"Urgggh," was Sehun's only response that he was capable of. He kind of wanted to faceplant onto the sidewalk.
Once he took his first sip of coffee, he said, "What the hell, Kai? Who are you and how long have you been inhabiting his body? You're never this functional this early in the morning."
"That's because we have fresh meat today!" Kai said.
"Uh, yes, that's why we're here at ass o'clock in the morning," Sehun said, confused. "How is this different than any other week?"
"No, I meant we have fresh meat to help us unload the fresh meat," Kai explained.
"Hi," Lu Han said, popping out of nowhere.
"Jesus Christ," Sehun said.
Sehun frowned at the scene before him.
After the delivery of seafood had arrived and the boxes of lobsters, soft shelled crabs, a hundred pounds of shrimp, and clams had been unloaded and stored in the freezer, that's when Sehun realized that Kai had apparently acquired a new BFF. With the guy he had a crush on. His feelings were a little complicated at the moment.
"Kai, can I see you for a moment?" Sehun said.
Kai disentangled himself from Lu Han and followed Sehun into the kitchen. "What's up?"
"You're getting awfully friendly with Lu Han."
"Why, are you jealous?" Kai quirked his mouth into a knowing smirk.
Sehun sputtered indignantly. But actually yes, he was feeling a bit left out. Kai has been the only one who somehow was able to stand Sehun for extended periods of time and has not walked away yet, like Sehun expected (and still expected) to happen. He didn't want to lose that or he would truly be alone.
Kai must've seen the look on Sehun's face because he softened. "Look, Sehun, you know I don't pass judgment about the decisions you make, but maybe you should give Lu Han hyung a chance. He's really one of the better managers we've had."
Sehun was partially relieved that Kai had not completely seen through him. "Um, okay."
He made a resolve to behave more like a normal human being around Lu Han.
That was before Lu Han locked them both in the pantry.
"D-did you just lock us in the pantry?" Sehun said, backing up into one of the shelves. Oh god, Lu Han was actually a crazed serial killer who's going to chop Sehun's body into bite sized pieces and eat him. He'd already gotten to Kai and Sehun was next. Oh lord.
Lu Han had a determined look on his face. That was not disabusing Sehun of his serial killer theory. "Why do you hate me so much?" Lu Han demanded to know.
Sehun blinked. "I don't hate you," he said. "Or rather, I pretty much hate everyone equally. Please don't eat me."
"I-what?" Lu Han said. He paused. "You know, I find myself saying that a lot around you. People told me you weren't going to be easy, but you really are a piece of work."
Sehun couldn't pretend that that didn't sting. "Yes, well, then like everyone else, you don't have to make an effort to like me."
Lu Han breathed out hard through his nose, like he was frustrated. He looked around like he wasn't sure how to proceed from here. "Your hands are bleeding," he said suddenly.
Sehun looked down at his hands, marred by scars and burns and calloused at the area between his thumb and index finger on his left hand from years of chopping. There were indeed fresh wounds from his epic battle with two particularly angry lobsters. "Occupational hazard," he brushed off dismissively.
Lu Han approached and grasped Sehun's hand and turned it around, examining it. Sehun had to suppress the tiny shiver that started from all the points of his hand that Lu Han was touching and radiated through the rest of his body. Lu Han's hands were warm and dry, and they were gentle and soothing against Sehun's. Lu Han's mouth was slightly opened, his concentration total in his examination. Sehun couldn't stop staring.
"Come on, let's get the first aid kit," Lu Han said, letting go of Sehun's hand and unlocking the pantry door to head back out, expecting Sehun to follow. Sehun took a seat in front of the bar while Lu Han went behind the counter to fish around for the kit. He watched dumbly as Lu Han applied some topical antibiotic cream onto the first of his cuts.
Sehun remembered being fifteen, luggage heavy in his hands, his heart heavier in his chest, turning around to take one last look at his mother before he leaves for the CIA, the youngest applicant ever to be accepted. She had her arms wrapped around herself, as if stopping herself from holding him back. Seeing the look on his face, she had pulled him back into her arms and told him that if he ever feels like he wants to come home, she'll be there waiting for him with a plate of french toast made with challah bread drizzled with her homemade maple syrup, his favorite.
That was the last time someone took care of him.
"I really don't want to leave this job," Lu Han suddenly spoke up, his fingers still working swiftly to bandage up Sehun's wounds. "But ultimately, you're the head chef and you need to work in an environment that you're comfortable in. If me being here is going to be an issue, I'll-I will talk to Kris about it."
"I really don't hate you," Sehun said. That was all he could say at the moment. He was too afraid of saying anything else. "I'm just not the easiest person to work with. I'm working on it."
Lu Han didn't say anything further as he finished. Sehun mourned the loss of Lu Han's touch. "Thank you," he said softly.
Lu Han finally looked up at him and smiled and Sehun felt like it was a gift bestowed. Then he remembered.
"Uh, what happened to Kai?"
Sehun was noticeably in a better mood by the time prep service began later that morning and the rest of the chefs and waiters were trickling in.
"I think you're scaring Chanyeol," Baekhyun said.
"N-no, he's not," Chanyeol insisted, ducking behind the dessert station.
Baekhyun turned back to Sehun. "So out with it. What kind of crack are you on and can I have some of it? Maybe I would be able to make it through today without wondering why the hell I decided to get into a profession where I need to work on a fucking Sunday."
"Ah yes, apparently people do things like relax on Sundays. I've heard about it before," Sehun said, curious. "Now get back to work."
Being attracted to someone was a new experience for Sehun. He'd learned long ago to be on his guard at all times because people either resented him for things that he'd been able to achieve that took others decades or wanted things from him because of what he could do. He never meant to make himself vulnerable like this. He wasn't sure if he liked it.
Especially when he knew his crush on Lu Han would never go anywhere, not after the way Sehun treated him. Sehun didn't have the time to indulge himself in self-pity nor would he want to anyway, but it sucked that he was left feeling like he wasn't in control. That was a new feeling too.
All of that disappeared when he's actually with Lu Han. Lu Han demolished every bit of Sehun's resolve to shield his heart, he of the doe eyes, who liked to scarf down his food quickly but took the time to savor dessert (much to Sehun's chagrin and Chanyeol's delight), who hasn't found a difficult diner he couldn't deal with, although once they leave, he would collapse into one of the bar stools and demand a drink to calm his frayed nerves, who stayed late with Sehun on most nights to make sure the kitchen was spotless before they left, who was just as workaholic as Sehun. He whom Sehun wanted to feed, find out what his favorite foods are and cook them for him.
He was so fucked.
EXO was prettiest at night, when everyone had cleared out and Sehun was only left with the hum of complete silence with the occasional muffled interlude of distant traffic. The street lights outside streamed in through the glass panels into the restaurant, glistened against the smooth, finished surface of chairs, tables, the wine glasses hanging upside down above the bar in their respective slots on the rack. As much as he enjoyed the bustle and adrenaline of a full restaurant, Sehun liked this best.
It used to be that Sehun was the only one who stayed behind to clean up the kitchen and closed down the restaurant before heading home for a scant few hours before the next day began again. Even though as head chef, he could get someone to do it for him, he didn't because he preferred the pleasant silence of the restaurant to the oppressive one at home. At least here, he didn't feel so alone. Not with the wares of his profession, his life's blood.
He knew he had a bit of a problem.
Soon, Lu Han started staying behind too. At first, Sehun panicked and tried to diva his way out of being left alone in Lu Han's company. Cleaning up the kitchen in solitude was Sehun's way of winding down from another stressful day, cooking mishaps (especially that time Yixing dropped a giant pot of boiling water on his own foot and had to rushed to the emergency room. Sehun didn't have the heart to add salt to the wound and fire him), orders after orders that demand perfection each and every time, and trying to function as a normal human being whenever Lu Han was within the vicinity.
But Jesus Christ, Lu Han had glared at him, as if to say he's not taking any more of his bullshit.
It actually wasn't so bad. Lu Han didn't say much, as if he knew why this was therapeutic for Sehun. Sometimes he might talk about something that happened earlier in the day, like when Jongdae almost bitchslapped a diner because she could not for the life of her figure out what kind of wine she wanted and rejected every one of his suggestions, or that day that Kai was propositioned by both women AND men on at least seven different occasions while tending the bar. That was a new record. His last one had been five. Sehun couldn't say he didn't enjoy it, especially when Lu Han gets animated with his stories and his gesticulating hands starts coming out. It was nice.
"So Kyungsoo was like, sir, I really don't think it's EXO's fault that you brought your mistress to the same place where you take your wife to eat. Can you guys please take this outside. You're disturbing the other diners," Lu Han said. "The mistress threw her drink in his face and the man lunged at him but fortunately, the wife held him back. So Kyungsoo had pinot grigio running down his face and looked at me like, fuck my life so hard. And the most terrible thing about all this was that I just stood there thinking, oh my god, thank god that wasn't my table." Lu Han hung his head in shame.
"Wow, I didn't realize it could get that stressful outside of the kitchen," Sehun couldn't help but marvel.
"We totally need a raise," Lu Han nodded enthusiastically, leaning in for emphasis.
"Um." Out of habit, Sehun licked his lips nervously. Lu Han made a strangled noise in the back of his throat.
"Are you okay?" Sehun asked, alarmed.
"Uh yes," Lu Han said, quickly drawing back. "I, um, just remembered I needed to do something. I'm sorry I can't stay. I'll see you tomorrow-I mean today. Later on today."
Before Sehun could even say what the hell, Lu Han had vanished out the door with his backpack.
What the hell.
Sehun knew most people don't stay if spent too long in his company. He knew he misses social cues like that was his actual job and gave the impression that he was distant, dismissive, and that he was angry all the time. Okay yes, he was angry all of the time, but that was because the stress of his job often left him on edge with no release.
But this - knowing that even Lu Han had exhausted his endless reserve of patience with Sehun - that fucking hurt. Sehun dragged his feet to work the next day and bit the head off anyone who tried to even approach him within a five foot radius. Lu Han he ignored completely because even looking at him hurt.
"Okay, now you're really scaring Chanyeol," Baekhyun said.
"Yeah, you really are," Chanyeol said, ducking behind the dessert station once more.
It got so bad that a week later, Lu Han had to lock them in the pantry again. Sehun would enjoy it more if Lu Han wasn't glaring at him with that look of disappointment that made Sehun feel like the worst piece of shit in the world.
"Why are you being such an asshole?" Lu Han said, getting right to the point. "I mean, more than usual."
Hearing those words coming from Lu Han's mouth, something broke in Sehun. He felt like he couldn't breathe, the walls closing in on him. "You don't know anything about me," he hissed. "Now get the fuck out of my way."
Lu Han stood firm. "Sometimes I really just want to punch you in the face. You're so brilliant but you could be so much more if you actually enjoy what you're doing, but you're miserable and you take it out on other people and I just-" He stopped, like he didn't know how to continue.
This was all true, but Sehun was still smarting. "Why should you care?" He said bitterly.
"You think I don't care," Lu Han said softly.
There was something in Lu Han's voice that made Sehun look up. Lu Han was looking back at him, eyes boring into his. Sehun swallowed hard, his mind whirling. He could feel his body thrumming with some unnamed anticipation, like nothing was impossible. That if Sehun wanted to take his chance, it had to be now. Because it was Lu Han who gave him the strength to do so.
Sehun had to work ridiculously long hours and the last relationship he had with anything close to resembling a sentient being was with his pet turtle and even it left him after dying from neglect. He was tired of never getting what he wants because his career and everyone's gastronomical needs always came first. He wanted Lu Han. He was tired of denying himself even this.
"Lu Han," he began, his heart wanting to jump out of his chest. It was making it really hard to think.
"Yes," Lu Han whispered, his eyes impossibly large. It was not an inquiry.
"Thank god," Sehun said, lunging for Lu Han. The next thing he knew, he had mercifully found Lu Han's lips and he distantly heard himself let out a whimper of relief as he pressed kisses against that glorious mouth, Lu Han kissing him back just as desperately. He could feel Lu Han clutching the front of his tunic, the stiff fabric bunched up in Lu Han's hands, trying to pull Sehun even closer. Even that was not enough for Sehun. Sehun wanted to crawl under Lu Han's skin and map the entire topography of Lu Han's body. He wanted to burrow himself in Lu Han and stay there, warm and safe. He wanted to devour Lu Han, take Lu Han apart and put him back together with Sehun's name on his lips. He wanted. He wanted.
Eventually, Sehun had to breathe, but he pulled away only slightly, arms still wrapped tight around Lu Han, gulping for much needed air. The air still smelled of Lu Han and it calmed Sehun somewhat. Lu Han's lips were swollen, his eyes unfocused, and his hair was a sticking out all over the place and Sehun stared, bewildered and exhilaration bubbling that it was he who caused it.
Lu Han leaned back in and nuzzled the tip of Sehun's nose, his breath fluttering against Sehun's lips. This set Sehun off again and he decided that he'd gotten enough of his wind back, pressing into Lu Han again to kiss him, but this time it was slower. He wanted to savor the soft press of Lu Han's lips against his, the little sound that Lu Han made when Sehun bit down on his bottom lip just like that, and the little puffs of air each time Lu Han gasped into his mouth.
This time it was Lu Han who pulled away first. Sehun tried to follow him, not ready to let go, but Lu Han laughed softly and cradled Sehun's face in his hands to steady him.
"We're still on the clock," Lu Han said ruefully. It felt strange to hear words when Sehun's entire world just seconds ago was completely tactile.
"Do you want me to clear out the restaurant?" Sehun asked eagerly.
"What? No," Lu Han said, sounding like he was not sure if he wanted to laugh or admonish. "We should-we should probably head back out." But he didn't let go of Sehun.
"Lu Han," Sehun said, finally getting some of his higher functions back, which also meant that all his delightful neuroses came rushing back as well. "Lu Han, I-" He wanted this to mean something more than a kiss in a pantry. He wanted Lu Han to give him a chance to be a better person, to be what Lu Han seemed so confident he could be capable of. He wanted Lu Han, plain and simple. The problem now was how to say it.
But it seemed like Lu Han understood. "Yes, yes, Sehun, yes," he murmured soothingly, sealing his promise with a kiss.
Sehun learned new things about Lu Han.
Lu Han had a spot behind his left earlobe that made him pant and arched into Sehun when Sehun sucked on the skin. He endeavored to do it often.
Lu Han apparently had a fascination with Sehun's tongue, sucking it into his own mouth whenever they kissed, Sehun flailing for a bit but melting into Lu Han each and every time, his legs unable to sustain him.
Lu Han had in fact stayed behind with Sehun for kitchen clean up during those nights so that he can spend extra time with him.
"I really hate you, I hope you know that," Sehun said in response to that.
"And you're an idiot," Lu Han said fondly in response to that.
Lu Han hated asparagus (who doesn't?), wasn't too fond of eggplant either, but loved okras, stir fried with a little bit of garlic and onions. He also liked bibimbap with Sriracha sauce, lots of it. Sehun liked to tease him by asking if he wanted Sriracha with some bibimbap. Lu Han was not at all amused.
Lu Han tended to fidget a lot, especially when he's nervous.
Lu Han was Satan. He had this infuriating ability of always getting what he wanted from Sehun with the way he said his name "Sehun-ah," accompanied by brief but no less devastating touches in places that he knew would melt Sehun into acquiescence.
"Man, I thought I was supposed to be the younger one," Sehun complained. "I should be making you do things for me."
Lu Han laughed like that was supposed to be funny.
Sehun learned that he can, in fact, be happy.
That was how everyone else found out about their relationship. Apparently, it was impossible for Chef Sehun to be nice unless something was up. Or he had been abducted by aliens and replaced with a doppelganger trying to learn the ways of Earthlings. Chanyeol liked the latter theory.
"Seriously, I know you have the crack," Baekhyun said to Sehun. "Let me have some. I promise I won't tell anyone."
"Do you need to take a couple days off or something?" Suho asked, concerned. "Because if things are getting a bit too much and you feel yourself on the verge of a mental breakdown, it's imperative that you seek medical attention."
"Oh my god, you and Lu Han hyung have totally hooked up," Kai exclaimed happily. Good old Kai.
Chanyeol was a little disappointed that it wasn't actually aliens.
Being in a relationship with Lu Han didn't really change much for Sehun work-wise though. He was still as workaholic as ever. It was something that he couldn't change. It certainly helped that Lu Han was his coworker so that he can have mini dates with Lu Han in the lull between lunch hour, happy hour, and the dinner rush, which basically meant they had time to sit down for a meal together, sometimes in the pantry where it all began, when the ribbing of their coworkers became too much.
It also helped that Lu Han didn't seem to mind, as if he knew what made Sehun brilliant was also the source of Sehun's neuroses.
Lu Han started staying behind with Sehun for their nightly kitchen clean up again and they would share quiet kisses whenever Sehun got close enough with his mop to Luhan washing dishes at the sink.
Sometimes, Sehun would take out a pan and cook different things for Lu Han, who still ate his food too quickly for Sehun's liking.
"Where does it all go?" Sehun wondered, poking Lu Han's stomach.
"This is so good," Lu Han said. "Can I have some more?"
"You only like me for my cooking," Sehun said sadly.
"That's not true. I also like you because you're cute," Lu Han said, happily digging into his second helping of japchae.
One night, Sehun made smoked salmon with Bearnaise sauce. He'd been experimenting with different sauces in order to get ready for Different Sauces Week (final name still pending) and he needed to get some feedback on it.
Sehun fed a piece to Lu Han. "So what do you think?"
Without looking up from his magazine, Lu Han chewed thoughtfully for a moment and said distractedly, "You should pan sear the salmon instead and the Bearnaise sauce is good, but maybe you can beat the eggs a little more and add a pinch of paprika to it. That usually gives it a nice kick."
Sehun felt the world tilt for a moment.
Lu Han looked up from the silence that followed and it dawned on him what he'd just said. "Shit."
After using a series of threats that included withholding sexual congress, Sehun finally got the whole story out of Lu Han.
"I worked as a chef in Beijing for a couple years once I graduated from high school, working my way up from line cook and it was going great until new management took over and they wanted someone who had culinary school training. I didn't, so they let me go. I tried looking for work, but it seems like you can't be a chef in China nowadays without a degree. I knew Kris from back when he was still living in China, so when he offered me a job here as manager, I took it because I needed the money to go back to school," Lu Han said, his eyes not meeting Sehun's.
Sehun sat silently through all of this, trying to absorb it in. "This changes everything!" Sehun finally exclaimed.
"It really doesn't," Lu Han insisted.
"You know what this means?" Sehun said excitedly. "I never have to cook for myself ever again!"
"Oh dear god." Lu Han hung his head mournfully.
Sehun patted Lu Han on the shoulder. "Go make me a sandwich, hyung."
Lu Han shoved Sehun away. "Fuck you. Make yourself a sandwich."
Sehun sobered. "But why didn't you ever tell me that you're a chef?" He couldn't help the hurt tugging at him.
"Sehun," Lu Han said. "It wasn't that I wanted to keep anything from you. You have to believe me. It's just, I'm not a chef. I'm just a dumb kid who didn't know what I wanted to do after high school and just happened to find a job in a kitchen. I love cooking now, but it took me a long time to get here. And now I can't even do that." Sehun heard the trace of bitterness in Lu Han's voice and it made his heart ache.
Sehun didn't know why he never saw it before. It was only in retrospect that the callouses on Lu Han's hands were similar to Sehun's own, that he bore a scar on his index finger from when the knife slipped from the skin of a tomato and sliced Lu Han's skin open instead, blood gushing out redder than the color of the tomato. That Lu Han ate so quickly because it was from years of being in the kitchen and never having any time to satisfy his own hunger before serving food to other people. Lu Han knew what it was like, he knew.
And it turned out that-
"You're a better cook than I am," Sehun said, his voice hushed. The thought did not make him want to punch things like he thought it would. He thought he's growing as a person.
"I think I'm growing as a person," Sehun said aloud.
"That's great, Sehun," Lu Han said, "but I really don't think that's true."
"You don't think I'm growing as a person?" Sehun said, wounded.
"No, I meant me being the better cook," Lu Han said. "You and EXO are actually really well known over in China. Everyone kept saying that we needed a prodigy like you to make the Chinese culinary community proud. I was jealous, not going to lie."
Sehun was quiet for a moment. "Well, how do you feel now?" He was sort of afraid to find out the answer
Lu Han's eyes were soft when he turned to look at Sehun, as if he knew what Sehun was thinking. "I feel lucky. Really lucky," he said, leaning in for a kiss.
Despite Lu Han's insistence, this really did change everything. It was impossible for it not to. Now Sehun also knew something else about Lu Han. That he had all these dreams and aspirations, that he was embittered by the setbacks, but refused to let it derail his desire to accomplish them anyway. That Lu Han would eventually have to leave to pursue his dreams.
He learned that he might be in love with Lu Han.
This might be a problem.
"Go out on a date with me," Sehun said. "I mean, like an actual one."
Lu Han looked up from putting in figures in the accounting ledger, calculator in hand. "Okay."
So, for the very first time since Sehun started working at EXO, he asked for a day off for both Lu Han and himself. He'd figured since he never uses them, he'd accumulated enough vacation days for both of them, even though Lu Han had barely worked there long enough to qualify for them himself. Suho must've agreed because he approved the time off without much fuss. He just put Baekhyun in charge for the day. Baekhyun had high fived anyone who was willing to reciprocate when he heard. Sehun tried very hard not to take Baekhyun's excitement as a sign of a potential hostile takeover.
Sehun took Lu Han to Myeondong, where they walked down streets of food vendors, stopping whenever they saw something they like. Lu Han's face was red as a cooked lobster as he ate the ddeokbokki, and he had to constantly stop to gulp down glasses of water, but he insisted on finishing it.
"Oh my god, I think my tongue is dead," Lu Han said. Or rather, he said, "Oth my god, I think my thongue ith dead."
By the end of the day, they were stuffed to their gullets. They went back to Sehun's apartment with an order of kimchi mandu and a bottle of soju, which they shared while watching old episodes of Iron Chef Japan. Sehun had special edition DVDs.
"Of course you do," Lu Han said with a fond smile.
"Do you find Chairman Kaga kind of creepy, or is it just me?" Sehun asked out of curiosity.
"Oh my god, yes!" Lu Han said. "I'm totally convinced that there's a few screws loose."
"Ah, Japanese TV," Sehun sighed happily, pulling Lu Han closer to him on the couch. This was close to being the perfect day. There was just one more thing he had to do.
He waited until they've finished off the soju, Lu Han flushed with the alcohol in his system and getting a little handsy. He climbed on top of Sehun and straddled him, pliant and melting into him.
"Sehun-ah," he breathed, his eyes dark with intention. "Thank you for today. It was awesome." Normally, Sehun would be all over this, rendered incoherent and needy, but he needed to do this before he lost his resolve. Sehun let Lu Han press a kiss against the side of his mouth before he said gently, "Hyung."
"I paid for your first semester at the CIA and put in a reference for you," Sehun said in a rush, feeling flustered for some reason. "You could probably find a job in a kitchen as soon as you get there, but if you need me to continue with the tuition, I can-" He stopped because suddenly, Lu Han was completely focused and there's a strange look on his face, like he couldn't decide whether to laugh or to cry.
"Oh my god, I did something wrong, didn't I?" Sehun said, alarmed. "Look, I know I was a bit presumptuous, but-" He couldn't finish because Lu Han was already cutting him off.
"Idiot idiot idiot," Lu Han kept murmuring in between kisses that were uncoordinated and wet. Sehun wondered why Lu Han would continue to kiss him if he thought he was such a idiot, but he was not complaining about it, devouring Luhan's kisses as they come, hungry for more.
"I can't accept this," Lu Han said once his euphoria wore off.
"Yes you will and you're going to be awesome and when you come back, we can have our own Iron Chef battle and loser will have to owe winner sexual favors," Sehun said firmly, fully convinced that this is the natural course of action. "Naturally, I will emerge the victor, but it will be a close one."
"Your ego, I can't even," Lu Han laughed, rolling his eyes. "Oh my god, I can't believe this is really happening. I'll pay you back everything, I promise." Oh god no, Sehun swallowed hard the lump forming in his throat because Lu Han was getting teary eyed. He tried really hard not to think about the next four years and having it be Lu Han-less. Not when he had only just found the love of his life. But Sehun knew Lu Han had to do this, that this was more important than either of them, and that they'd still be okay in the end. Sehun hadn't felt this sense of peace in a long time. The truth was, it had not been a hard decision.
"Oh and when you come back, you can train under me," Sehun said, brightening up. "Under me. Heh."
"Oh my god, I can't just give up my job here. I just started," Lu Han suddenly said, like he was just remembering. "That would be a shitty thing to do."
Sehun brushed it off. "They're used to the high turnover rate for managers anyway."
"You seriously got to stop scaring them away," Lu Han said.
"Then I wouldn't have met you," Sehun pointed out. "By the way, remind me to send Kris a fruit basket."
Lu Han still had two months before the fall semester starts. It wasn't like Lu Han was going away forever, but Sehun felt like it was as the day that Lu Han had to leave kept getting closer. It was four years, maybe two if Lu Han's previous work experience gets accepted as part of his culinary training like they did for Sehun, but it was still a long time. Sehun was still at the stage where he couldn't believe Lu Han had saw something that was worth staying even as he saw the worst in Sehun. And now Lu Han still had to leave. Sehun wanted to be all "woe is me" about all of this, but the truth was, he was lucky. He was very lucky.
On Wednesday, EXO closed down early and threw a good bye party for Lu Han.
Kris got ridiculously drunk and started singing Genie while performing the choreography to Gee, limbs remarkably coordinated in his inebriated state. That was definitely a first and pictures and videos were taken for posterity. Suho eventually had to take him home early just in case he did anything even more incriminating.
Minseok and Tao brought out a karaoke machine and everyone learned just how terrible a singer Sehun really was, but later, Lu Han rewarded him for his efforts by serenading him with 80s power ballads, so it didn't turn out so bad.
Everyone was sad to see Lu Han go and the party quickly sobered up when Sehun clinked his wineglass.
"Um," Sehun began. "Um, well, it looks like I scared away another manager." Those who were still afraid of Sehun laughed weakly at his stupid joke. "But no, this time, I can honestly say that I like this one. Like, really, really like him." Sehun looked down at Lu Han, who looked back at him with eyes full. "And I know the rest of you do too. So instead of being sad about this, we should all wish him well and wait for him to come back so that he can finally make me that sandwich he promised me." Sehun sat back down and looked pointedly at Lu Han.
"Still not making that sandwich," Lu Han said firmly.
"Damn," Sehun said.
The party resumed mingling, but Sehun remained subdued.
Lu Han leaned in and nuzzled Sehun's ear. "What are you thinking about?"
Sehun took a while before he spoke. "I just wonder if it was me that was leaving, would people even be sad about it. I don't mean to make this about me, this is about you, but I just, you know, wonder."
Baekhyun, who was just walking by with a giant pina colada in his hand, dropped down into the seat next to them and looked at Sehun for a bit before he spoke, like he was trying to decide what to say. "To be honest, Sehun, I like working in your kitchen," Baekhyun finally said. "You're mean as fuck, but I think that's what I like about it. I like the adrenaline of getting things done under pressure and having people enjoy the fruits of our labor. And at least, at your meanest, you don't use charred chicken breast as projectiles aimed at foreheads like the last chef I worked for." He rubbed his own forehead at the memory.
"Yeah, and you let me be creative with the desserts, which I really appreciate," Chanyeol chimed in from behind Baekhyun's chair.
"That's because I don't know anything about making desserts," Sehun said dumbly.
Lu Han elbowed him gently in the ribs and gave him a look.
"But oh my god, you guys," Sehun said quickly, truly moved. "It really means a lot to me that you guys don't actually want to disembowel me with steak knives. No seriously, I love all of you too. All of you work so hard and I know I demand a lot from you, but that's only because I know each and every one of you are capable of a lot, so. Thank you for the privilege of working with you guys. Now get back to work."
"Er, we're not on service," Chanyeol pointed out meekly.
"Oh, right," Sehun said sheepishly. "Sorry guys, force of habit."
On Thursday, Sehun and Lu Han spent their last night together before Lu Han had to leave for New York the next day.
It wasn't like the first time they had sex. It really wasn't that long ago, Sehun thought ruefully. It had been slightly awkward, but not as awkward as Sehun had expected to be, considering he was one of the parties involved. They'd taken their time to discover each other's bodies and Lu Han had came apart beautifully underneath Sehun.
This time, it was intense and Sehun could only clutch Lu Han's hands to keep himself grounded as Lu Han rocked steadily into him, murmuring things into Sehun's ear as he tried determinedly to wring every bit of noise and breath out of Sehun.
Sehun whimpered as he could feel his orgasm cresting and threatening to overwhelm him. Lu Han growled softly as if he knew how close Sehun was and tilted his hips just like that, gripping Sehun's hands in his even tighter, and Sehun's entire world goes white with unbearable pleasure and all Sehun knew was Lu Han Lu Han Lu Han.
Sehun woke up to an armful of Lu Han, curled up in a ball and completely fucked out. After taking a short nap, Lu Han had climbed on top of Sehun and kissed him awake, demanding with his hands and mouth and tongue to go again. This time, Sehun had pulled Lu Han into his lap and they had stayed like that, completely wrapped up in each other, Sehun thrusting slowly into Lu Han, sweat soaked bodies moving languidly and easy together.
Sehun pressed his face into the back of Lu Han's neck and breathed him in, nosing his way closer to Lu Han's face. Sehun had memorized every slope and line of Lu Han's face, had pressed his lips against that small birthmark underneath Lu Han's right ear, had studied every scar, burn, and callous on Lu Han's hands, wanting to know the history of each one. He was going to need this knowledge to get through the next few years.
Lu Han was stirring awake under the fluttering presses of Sehun's lips. He groaned softly, eyes still closed, but he was smiling, his lips quirking up slightly. Sehun had to kiss that as well. He finally opened his eyes and turned to look at Sehun, his eyes soft from sleep. Sehun's heart did a little flip.
"I love you," he blurted out. Lu Han's eyes cleared and widened in shock and for one terrifying moment, no one said anything. Sehun knew he would not regret having said it, because he could feel it in the marrow of his very bones what he felt for Lu Han. It still terrified him, giving his heart to Lu Han like this, but maybe a part of him always knew that Lu Han would take care of it, no matter what his answer would be.
"I love you too, Sehun," Lu Han whispered, his voice hushed, as if he was in disbelief that Sehun could ever feel this way about him.
It took them all morning to get out of bed.
Sehun cooked Lu Han one final meal, a bowl of century egg congee with a sprinkling of chopped chives on top and a strip of youtiao on the side.
"Because you need a taste of home before you leave for halfway across the world," Sehun said, watching Lu Han spoon the congee into his mouth.
Lu Han had looked at Sehun and said, "But I am home."
The walk to the terminal that Lu Han's flight was scheduled to depart was quiet, Sehun clutching Lu Han's hand the whole way, Lu Han's gripping his just as tightly. They were stopped once by apparently a fan of Sehun's, who saw the episode of Cooking with Kim Kisoo where Sehun had been a special guest. She was a middle-aged housewife and Lu Han couldn't help but laugh after she had walked away, having gotten Sehun's signature on a copy of EXO's menu and exchanging cooking tips with him.
"Is this real life doesn't even begin to cover it," Lu Han said, shaking his head. "You forever defy my expectations."
"What can I say?" Sehun shrugged smugly. "I bring all the housewives to the yard."
Lu Han snorted and then turned to look at Sehun, his eyes lingering.
"Sehun, you can't look at me like that and expect me to be okay about leaving," Lu Han said, his voice thick.
"What look? I don't have a look," Sehun insisted, trying to contort his face into something that did not give off the impression that his heart was breaking.
"I'm totally serious about you not scaring off the next manager," Lu Han said. He paused. "Unless he or she tries to hit on you, then you can scare them off."
"And you," Sehun said. "You have to remember to eat and-and Skype me. And it gets fucking cold in upstate New York, like freeze your balls off cold. You have to remember to dress warmly."
When the last call for boarding came, Lu Han pressed a hard kiss against Sehun's mouth. "I'll be back before you know it," he said, his voice harsh with emotion.
"Not soon enough," Sehun said.
The plane was a speck of dust in the clear, blue sky before Sehun walked away.
Excerpt from Choi Sooyoung's "Guidebook to Today's Top Chefs" in Shikshin magazine:
Being in the company of two of the top chefs in Korea today, who also happens to be very much in love with each other, is like when you find the right wine to go with your meal. They complement and bring out the best of each other. I had the chance to sit down with both of them for a revealing interview about what drives them, their inspiration, and how they make two head chefs in one kitchen work.
Chef Lu Han is the older of the two, but he had the later start, having had to go back to culinary school due to arcane rules of certification.
"I have to admit, I was bitter that despite my years of working in the kitchen, people still only wanted to see a piece of paper proving that I can cook," Lu Han said. "But I did learn a lot about different techniques and it really opened my eyes to the science of cooking rather than just intuition. It definitely made me a better cook."
His was definitely a departure from the path taken by Chef Oh Sehun, the brash but brilliant prodigy chef who took the culinary world by storm four years ago with the sheer force of his talent and creativity, not to mention his personality. Having come from a long family line of chefs dating back to the later part of the Joseon dynasty, Sehun had gotten his feet wet very early in life, honing his skills in his father's four star restaurant, where the elder Oh is still head chef. But this was where the son had surpassed the father.
"My father was definitely proud of me, but we had very different ideas about cooking. That caused a lot of friction between us," Sehun said candidly, "and me being me, I knew eventually, I had to strike out on my own. But thankfully, my dad understood what I was trying to do. My proudest moment was when I made a boeuf bourguignon that legitimately made him cry. I swear I saw a tear."
So what makes these two chef work so well together? At first, the answer is obvious. They met right here in EXO, the very restaurant we're sitting in right now. It's clear that they're comfortable in it, and I was able to see it for myself when they worked together to make me wine-soaked pan roasted pacific halibut and a potato papaya milkshake for dessert. They moved in tandem with each other, often completing each other's next step. It was literally like watching a dance. The food was not bad either.
But it turns out that they normally don't actually work together. As they say, the kitchen is only big enough for one cook. When on service, Sehun and Lu Han actually take turns in the kitchen, Sehun taking the first half of the week and Lu Han the second. It was an arrangement that was not easy for famed workaholic Sehun to accept.
"He's always underfoot anyway," Lu Han complained, but it was with a smile. "He likes to engage in backseat cooking."
"I'm really trying to work on it," Sehun interjected, looking sheepish.
This arrangement allows Sehun to take some time off after having worked non-stop when he first started, many worrying that he was heading for a burnout that have plagued many chefs more experienced than him. He now makes monthly pilgrimages to food capitals like Singapore and Paris to broaden his skill sets. Sometimes he and Lu Han go together, bringing back more delightful recipes to enchant their diners each time.
When I asked their sous chef Byun Baekhyun what it was like to work for either of them, he was incredibly honest. "Lu Han is definitely a lot nicer. Don't tell Sehun I said that."
So what are their plans for the future?
Chef Sehun and Chef Lu Han had looked at each other and said, "Everything."
So there you have it. Be prepared.
A/N: I hope I didn't miss any member as I was trying to stick all of them in this fic. XDD
I think I might also be expanding on this verse with one-shots because I kind of want to explore the lives of the other chefs and waiters and also come back to the adventures of Moody Chef and Long Suffering Manager/Chef.
A disclaimer about culinary art schools: none of what is mentioned in the fic is necessarily true. I had to exercise a lot of artistic licence to work around Sehun's age, is all I have to say XD
Thanks for reading!