Summary: "Zitao, I'm really kind of starting to feel like an escort." Zitao doesn't have a date to Zhou Mi's wedding, but he's got the next best thing.
Author's notes: Fake dating is one of my absolute favorite tropes, so I'm sorry I rushed through it, but I hope you like it! Thank you to various letters in the alphabet for holding my hand, offering their feedback, and naming fake exes.
With less than two weeks before Zhou Mi is set to walk down the aisle, Zitao has everything ready. His plane ticket, his best suit back from the dry cleaners and hanging in his closet, the perfect wedding gift wrapped and tied up with a red ribbon.
Even his suitcase has been dragged out of storage--not packed yet, of course, but it's good enough start. He's in the middle of rewarding himself for being on top of things for once, Candy perched neatly in his lap as he slurps a bowl of jjajangmyun, when his phone chimes loud enough to be heard over the drama he's watching. He glances at it on the table, debating whether or not it's worth the effort of moving when he's so comfortable, but then it chimes again and he ends up reaching for it anyway, careful not to jostle either his bowl or Candy.
It's Daeryong. heads up, the first message reads, followed by, ur ex (u know who) is gonna be at zm's wedding. vic just told me.
Zitao handles this like any mature adult who is totally over a relationship that ended five years ago would: he texts back, i'm not coming 😫 and throws his phone at the opposite side of the couch.
He doesn't really mean it- he's not petty enough to skip the wedding of two people he loves dearly just because thinking about his ex-boyfriend makes him feel eighteen years old and fragile all over again, no. "I'm going to have to get a date," he tells Candy. She responds by licking a smear of sauce off of Zitao's wrist.
He picks his phone up again, ignoring Daeryong's don't be a pussy and thumbing over to his phonebook.
"Chanyeol, my favorite Korean," Zitao says when Chanyeol picks up the phone. He can practically hear the narrowing of Chanyeol's eyes.
"What do you want?"
"Can't I just call to say hello?"
"Hello," Chanyeol says. "Goodbye."
"Hypothetically, I mean. Because right now I need a favor."
"How do you feel about weddings?"
They meet the next day at Zitao's favorite cafe near his apartment, though by the time Chanyeol shows up, he almost wishes he'd chosen his favorite bar instead. He could use something stronger than his Americano, but at least the slice of chocolate cake is helping.
"You want me to be your fake date to your ex's wedding," Chanyeol says, in lieu of a greeting, sliding into the booth across from Zitao. He reaches automatically for Zitao's fork, but a well-aimed kick under the table has him pulling back.
In two years of knowing Chanyeol, they've never really been close. Antagonistic at first, because Chanyeol is possessive over his friends and seemed to always show up when Baekhyun and Zitao were talking to steer Baekhyun away. Zitao confronted him one night, a little drunk and waving his bottle of Asahi around as he said, "You're awfully tall for someone who is reacting like a middle schooler. I'm not going to steal your best friend, okay?"
And maybe it took yelling at him for Zitao to earn Chanyeol's respect, but whatever it was, they were good after that. Chanyeol turned out to be a pretty cool guy. He's funny, surprisingly sweet when he wants to be, capable of making a delicious cocktail out of the most random ingredients, and yes, he's loyal to his friends. Zitao just hopes he is included among them.
"Not my ex's wedding," Zitao corrects. "He's just going to be there. It's Zhou Mi's wedding."
Chanyeol squints at him. "And you don't have, like, a real date you want to bring?"
"It's in a week," Zitao says, arching an eyebrow. "I know I'm good looking, but I'm not a miracle worker."
"So why not Baekhyun? Or Sehun? Don't you have a ton of other friends you could ask?"
As though Zitao hasn't already considered other possibilities. Baekhyun: too short, too loose-tongued, too likely to misuse his elementary Chinese and mortally offend someone's family. Minseok: Zitao is a little afraid of his wife. Joonmyun: terrible under pressure, and frankly a little too straight. Sehun: knows too many of Zitao's friends who would immediately see through the lie (plus he already turned him down.) Chanyeol is the most logical choice.
Zitao flutters his eyelashes. "But you're my best looking friend."
And it's a blatant appeal to Chanyeol's vanity and he knows Chanyeol will see right through it, but he also knows that Chanyeol is up for anything that sounds like a bad idea and will say, which he does,
"Fine. But you owe me a new suit."
"Of course," Zitao says, sweetly, and pushes his plate across the table.
"You know," Zitao says, when Chanyeol shows up to the airport wearing a bright purple snapback with the word DOPE on it, "my boyfriends have historically been pretty stylish."
Chanyeol makes a scoffing noise. "You forget that I have known several of your boyfriends. And that you really can't talk."
"I have no idea what you mean," Zitao says, and smooths down the collar of his studded leather jacket.
By the time they board the plane, Chanyeol is in a much more cheerful mood, thanks largely in part to the business class lounge vodka selection.
("Wow, now that I know how the other half lives, I don't think I can go back to traveling like a plebe again," he says, stumbling a little because he's a lightweight.
"And you haven't even seen the first class lounge.")
Zitao lets him take the window seat, the least he can do for someone doing him a favor. Even in business class, Chanyeol's legs look cartoonishly long as he settles into his seat, and Zitao pauses to reflect on the fact that he's never dated anyone taller than himself. He wonders if his friends will notice. Which reminds him-
"Hey, we should go over our backstory," Zitao tells Chanyeol, poking him until he looks up from the tangled mess of headphones he's trying to unravel. "You know, our history. Like, how did we meet?"
"Uh, through mutual friends? You know how we met."
"But that's boring. We need a meet-cute version. I guess maybe you thinking I was going to steal your best friend is pretty cute," Zitao says, pouting.
Chanyeol gapes at him. "I never thought you were going to steal Baekhyun."
"You totally did!" Zitao protests, shoving Chanyeol again. "You were like Candy when I get too close to her food!"
"While the Baekhyun-dog food comparison is not lost on me, I'm really offended that you just compared me to your purse dog."
It's Zitao's turn to gape. "Candy is not a purse dog I can't believe you, I thought you liked her."
Whatever Chanyeol is going to argue next is interrupted by a flight attendant who tells them they'll be departing in five minutes, please fasten your seatbelts.
"How long have we been dating?" Chanyeol asks. "Just so I know."
Zitao hums thoughtfully, tapping on his chin. "Four- no, five. Five's a good number. Four isn't long enough to sound serious, but five is still not so long my friends won't be wondering why they haven't heard about it."
"Okay, we met through mutual friends. We've been dating for five months. Anything else?"
"You're ready to say the l-word but you've been waiting for the right time," Zitao says, nodding seriously. "It's a big step in any relationship."
Chanyeol's fist lands squarely against his upper arm. "In your fucking dreams, kid."
It's after midnight by the time they land and get through the airport. Flying, even this simple two hour flight he's been on more times than he can count on both hands, always makes Zitao sleepy. (That, and the gin and tonic he had on the plane.) "Carry me to our room," he tells Chanyeol, letting his head fall against Chanyeol's shoulder. He doesn't care that they're in the lobby of their hotel waiting for the elevator. In China, they're boyfriends now. Time to start acting the part.
"Okay, let me just leave our bags here," says Chanyeol. Sarcasm comes as naturally to him as affection does to Zitao. "We won't need them."
"Whatever you want, hyung."
The elevator dings with its arrival and Chanyeol gently shoves Zitao forward. "See, I can tell you're tired, because you never call me hyung, you brat."
"Hyung," Zitao says. "Hyung, hyung, hyung hyung, hyung-" And he doesn't let up until he's flopped down face first onto one of the double beds. Chanyeol's laugh is the last thing he hears as he falls asleep.
It takes three cups of coffee to pry Chanyeol out of bed the next day. Zitao drinks one too, but he doesn't need it. He's running on nervous energy, snapping his fingers at Chanyeol as he slugs around their hotel room.
"Wherever you're taking me at 8 AM, will there at least be food?" Chanyeol asks as he straightens his hat. Today's is a much more sensible engineer cap, and Zitao is satisfied.
"You'll find out when you get there."
There is an unassuming storefront, which Chanyeol regards skeptically until Zitao practically pushes him inside the door. They're met with an older Chinese woman wielding a measuring tape.
"He's all skin and bones like you said," she tells Zitao while she begins to measure Chanyeol. "You need to feed him while he's here."
"I'll try my best," Zitao says, giving her a fond smile. He's got a soft spot for older people.
Chanyeol has no idea what's going on and Zitao is kind of dying on the inside watching the progression of his face from surprised to deeply confused. "Your suit," Zitao reminds him. "Baekhyun gave me your size and they do same-day alterations here."
"Zitao," Chanyeol says, as the seamstress holds her tape to Chanyeol's inseam, "I'm really kind of starting to feel like an escort. Are you Pretty Womaning me?"
"I love that movie."
"Of course you do," Chanyeol says. When Zitao laughs, the seamstress laughs too.
Hours later, Zitao has more than made good on his promise to feed Chanyeol.
"You should've gotten them to measure me after you made me eat my body weight in food," Chanyeol groans, rubbing his stomach as he tries to finish off the last bites of his pork sandwich.
Zitao always eats like a bear storing for winter when he comes home. He loves Korean food- he loves all food, really- but the smell of his favorite, familiar foods seems to unlock a special second stomach for the occasion.
As they mill around the park, watching tourists with their huge cameras taking pictures of everything they pass, Zitao is content. If this was a real date, Zitao would be stopping Chanyeol to take pictures too. Couple selcas by the bridge; he can see the instagram captions now.
The mood is nice, which is why Zitao is caught off-guard when Chanyeol says, "So, you know what I'm going to ask, right?"
Zitao's heart gives a surprised, painful thump against his ribcage. "If I already know, can we skip it?"
Chanyeol is quiet for a moment and Zitao thinks he's escaped the line of questioning, until, "It's just that you've dated several guys since I've known you, and I can't see you doing this for any of them. So I'm wondering what's so special about this guy."
Zitao can't have this conversation in the middle of the walking path, where he feels oddly exposed. He tugs Chanyeol over to a bench, and sits, facing the pond.
"It's stupid," Zitao says.
Chanyeol shrugs. "It can't be more stupid than me getting on a plane to Beijing to be your fake boyfriend, so let me hear it."
Zitao was eighteen, unsure, and on his own for the first time in his life. Guo Xiang was twenty-six and closeted. Zitao knew this, but what he didn't know then was that you can't change people by the force of will alone. Guo Xiang was nice, but he was never going to want Zitao the same way Zitao wanted him, and it took him a year of dating and getting dumped for the girl Guo Xiang would later marry to realize this.
"It's like, I don't know. I just didn't want to show up alone because I didn't want him to think I was lonely because I'm gay or whatever," Zitao says, smoothing his sweaty palms down over his knees. He looks at Chanyeol. "See, I told you. Stupid."
"No, you're right. That is pretty stupid," Chanyeol says, "You don't have to prove yourself to shitty exes."
It's different hearing it out of someone else's mouth for once, laid out so bare that it makes Zitao laugh, despite himself. But Chanyeol's words seem to smooth the tension out of Zitao's shoulders. He closes his eyes as he lets out a long exhale.
When he opens his eyes again, Chanyeol is already standing, holding his hand out to Zitao with a wry smile on his face. "Come on, that was about as much emotional shit as I can handle for the next twelve hours. Take me to dessert."
Zitao slides his hand into Chanyeol's, and though Chanyeol doesn't know where he's going, lets himself be pulled along.
The bar they meet Zitao's friends at that night hasn't changed since the last time Zitao met them here, three years ago, a testament to the dependability of friendship in a city that's constantly evolving. Or maybe the owner is still just too cheap to remodel, but Zitao is sentimental to his core.
Even the same old pop music is playing as he guides Chanyeol by the hand through the crowd to the back corner, where his friends have already gathered with all of the available tables and chairs commandeered. He can't help but smile when he hears the sound of Henry's laughter, cutting through the music. Zitao doesn't get to see them enough.
Jia is the first to her feet when she spots Zitao, climbing over the mess of chairs to throw her arms around Zitao's neck. "Come, sit down!" she says, "we saved you two seats!"
They end up squashed between Amber and Fei, thighs pressed together under the table, and Zitao takes a deep breath to ready himself for the lie.
"Okay, so this is Amber, Jia, Henry, Fei, Hyelim, Cao Lu, Daeryong, Soryong-" Zitao points a finger at himself, "Zitao-" and then points to Chanyeol. "And this is my boyfriend, Park Chanyeol."
It sounds less weird out loud than Zitao expected.
He plays translator for Chanyeol as everyone gets their questions out of the way. What do you do for a living, how long have you been together, how did you meet, do you get annoyed when Zitao spends a half hour taking selcas before you go anywhere? ("I'm not translating that," Zitao says, glaring at Jia.) Chanyeol's arm remains firmly wrapped around Zitao's waist the whole time, the kind of possessive gesture Zitao likes in his boyfriends.
"Haven't we interrogated the poor boy enough?" Amber asks, one bro looking out for another bro.
"Okay, but I'm not done with you," Jia says to Chanyeol, and wiggles her eyebrows.
Zitao wasn't exactly nervous about Chanyeol meeting his friends, but he relaxes considerably when he finally gets a drink in his hand. He leans close enough to Chanyeol to whisper and holds out his glass. "To fake boyfriends?"
"To fake boyfriends." Chanyeol clinks their glasses together.
Zitao's excuse for getting sloppy drunk is that he hasn't seen most of his Chinese friends in over a year. And sure, they're all adults now (mostly, in some sense of the word) but what is the point of adulthood if you can't take shots for old time's sake? Especially now that you can afford the top shelf stuff.
"Zitao, you always could afford the top shelf stuff," Soryong says, patting him on the thigh. "It was the rest of us that had to drink basically rubbing alcohol."
"That's because you never let me buy for you," Zitao says with a pout.
"You would've bought drinks for the entire bar if we hadn't stopped you." Soryong leans closer to Zitao, nudging him with his shoulder. His voice is low and affectionate when he says, "Hey, you didn't tell me you had a boyfriend."
Over at the opposite end of their corner, Chanyeol is having an animated conversation with Hyelim and Cao Lu, something that probably involves teaching Cao Lu a bunch of dirty words in Korean because that's the kind of girl she is. Zitao had been worried that Chanyeol might feel left out, but he should've known better.
"You know me," Zitao says, still watching Chanyeol. His cap is crooked on his head and Zitao wants to fix it. "I don't like to jinx it."
"Yeah, sure," Soryong scoffs, "But you guys look good together. I like him."
Chanyeol catches Zitao's eye over the top of Cao Lu's head and smiles. Zitao feels a little light-headed in a way that has nothing to do with baijiu.
The next morning, Zitao wakes up to a pounding on the door, which he initially mistakes as a pounding inside his head until Chanyeol groans, get the fucking door from the other bed. It's a concierge, holding Chanyeol's suit.
"Good morning, sir, your-" the concierge starts to say, and Zitao hands him a wad of yuan and won notes from his wallet before closing the door in his face apologetically.
When Zitao wakes up again, several hours later, he feels significantly more human. Chanyeol is still asleep, buried under his fluffy hotel comforter with only his left arm exposed, so Zitao does what anyone would do: he pulls the entire blanket off of Chanyeol's body.
"I'll kill you," Chanyeol says, or Zitao thinks he says, because he's mostly speaking into the pillow.
"That's not something a good boyfriend would say."
Chanyeol looks up at Zitao, bedhead and a bit of morning bloat in his cheeks, and scowls. "Then be a good boyfriend and get me some Aspirin."
Zitao is putting the finishing touches on his outfit by the time Chanyeol emerges from the bathroom. "I think you-" Zitao starts to say, but when he looks at Chanyeol, he forgets how his sentence was supposed to end.
Chanyeol's suit looks great. Zitao knew it would- because despite what any haters think, he has excellent taste, thank you- but he's still surprised by Chanyeol's sharp angles and long lines, his shoulders filling out the tailoring nicely. Even his hair is slicked back with gel and he looks nothing like the gangly, baby-faced guy that Zitao is used to seeing. He looks good.
Except for the goat patterned socks sticking out of his hotel slippers, but Zitao can overlook that.
"You clean up nicely," Zitao says. He beckons Chanyeol forward. "Your tie is crooked."
Chanyeol spreads his legs just the tiniest bit so that he's eye level with Zitao, and tilts his head back to give Zitao access. His adam's apple bobs against the crisp fold of his collar as Zitao reaches around his throat, his fingers smoothing the wrinkled fabric of Chanyeol's tie down to the knot.
"I didn't pack it properly," Chanyeol says. Zitao can the deep vibrations of Chanyeol's voice in his fingertips where they're pressed to Chanyeol's chest.
Zitao steps back. His cheeks feel hot. "All better."
"Thanks," Chanyeol says, clearing his throat. "Ready to go?"
One last look in the mirror to make sure his appearance is as stunning as he hopes it is, and Zitao nods. Ready as he'll ever be.
Zitao doesn't cry at Zhou Mi's wedding.
Okay, he doesn't cry a lot at Zhou Mi's wedding. It's just that Zhou Mi is one of his most favorite people in the world and he looks so handsome standing up there in his tux, looking at Victoria like she hung the moon. She looks beautiful too, all done up looking every bit like a queen.
Zitao hopes he's being subtle when he reaches up to wipe away the tears pooling at the corners of his eyes, but Chanyeol's fingers catch his, curling against Zitao's kneecap. He's glad isn't alone.
The banquet hall looks like something out of a movie. Everything is decorated with red and gold. Red tablecloths, gold lanterns, red roses on each table. Chanyeol lets out a low whistle of appreciation. "I've never been to a wedding like this," he says, "Yura's reception was pretty simple."
They're near the back of the crowd waiting to retrieve their assigned seat, but Zitao counts himself lucky that this is one of the smaller weddings he's attended. They should be able to sit down soon. "We don't do simple," he tells Chanyeol. "There are ten courses."
Chanyeol's reaction is so good it almost makes Zitao wish he had his phone out to record it. "Ten?"
"We'll probably be here all night," Zitao says.
"Is there dancing? Tell me there's no dancing. They made me do Crayon Pop at Yura's wedding."
Zitao laughs at the thought. "There's no dancing."
They reach the table of place cards, and of course Chanyeol insists on finding his among the names even though they've been written in fancy calligraphy. "Piao Canlie," Zitao says, scooping up Chanyeol's card along with his own. "You're holding up the line."
They've been assigned to a table with a few of Victoria's more distant cousins and some of Zhou Mi's coworkers. Small talk is exchanged, but Zitao notices Chanyeol's eyes scanning the crowd. "Are you looking for someone?" he asks.
"Your ex," Chanyeol says. "Do you see him? Is that him? Or that one?"
Zitao smacks Chanyeol's hand down. "Stop pointing, it's rude. And I don't remember what the back of his head looks like, sorry."
"I'm looking for people who look like your type. You know, long legs. Big eyes."
"And big ears and clown feet?" Zitao asks. "Sounds familiar."
"You forgot 'unbearably handsome,'" Chanyeol says, preening.
It's five courses into the night before Zitao thinks about Guo Xiang again. He's returning from the bathroom when he hears his name being called, "Zitao? Hey, Zitao!"
Guo Xiang has aged well. In Zitao's mind, he's been twenty-six for the last five-and-a-half years, long hair and a short beard that scraped against Zitao's chin whenever they kissed. Here, in real life, Guo Xiang's hair is cropped short and his face is clean-shaven. He looks good. He isn't wearing a wedding band around his finger when he reaches up to give Zitao a brief, one-armed hug.
"Hey," Zitao says, and in that moment he is more surprised by the lack of hurt he feels than seeing Guo Xiang himself.
"What have you been up to?" Guo Xiang asks.
"I work for a music company in Seoul, I've been there for a few years now. What about you?"
Guo Xiang shrugs a little. "Well, my wife and I split up last year, but things are good. Still doing the banking thing. Are you here with anyone?"
Zitao looks over at Chanyeol. Two of Zhou Mi's female coworkers have inserted themselves on either side of Chanyeol and he's laughing with them even though Zitao knows neither party understands a mutual word. A bubble of affection wells up in Zitao's chest, stronger than any regret he feels when he looks at Guo Xiang again.
It feels remarkably un-fake when he says, "My boyfriend. Who I should probably get back to. Zhou Mi's friends are trying to get him a job here or something and he doesn't speak and Chinese."
"Well, it was good to see you," Guo Xiang says. He hugs Zitao one more time, more firmly.
Chanyeol is watching him when Zitao reclaims his seat at the table. "That him?" he asks.
Zitao nods, and- because he's feeling brave, because the charm of Chanyeol in a suit hasn't worn off even after four hours- leans up to kiss Chanyeol on his cheek.
There's a chorus of awwws from the women at the table and Chanyeol lets out a small gasp of surprise. "Your ex watching?" he asks, cheeks faintly red.
"Who cares?" Zitao says, shrugging. It's not a lie.
Their flight leaves early the next morning. They'll be back in Seoul before 10 and Chanyeol will go back to being his real friend instead of his fake boyfriend. Three days might be the shortest relationship Zitao's had, though probably not the worst.
"That was kind of anticlimactic, huh?" Chanyeol says. His headphones are still a mess, but he's given up on them. "You saw your ex and I didn't even have to throw down for your honor or anything."
"I'm sorry I wasted your time," Zitao says, laughing.
Chanyeol waves a hand. "No, it wasn't a waste. I got a suit out of it. And a ton of good food, Jesus, was your plan to make me gain five pounds? Oh, and I liked your friends too. Henry and I are going to jam sometime if he comes to Seoul."
Zitao turns his face to watch Chanyeol ramble. He's suddenly very glad he didn't bring Baekhyun, or Sehun, or anyone else. They had a good time. "You know, this is the most time we've spent together in two years," he says, interrupting Chanyeol.
"You're right. Who would've thought we'd get this far?"
Zitao's heart is beating too fast and he must be staring at this point, because Chanyeol gives him a puzzled look. "What?"
"Do you want to do this again sometime?" Zitao asks. "Like, for real."
Now Chanyeol is staring too. There is a hesitation just long enough for Zitao to feel the beginnings of panic seizing up his chest but then Chanyeol's lips spread to reveal a toothy grin. "Okay," he says.
"Let's do it."
Chanyeol holds out his hand, probably for a high five or something completely unromantic like that, but Zitao says fuck it, intertwining their fingers together. He's still got two more hours of fake boyfriend time.
And then, maybe more.