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Title: Dead Men Laughing – Part 3 of 3

Pairing(s): Ultimately Chanyeol/Kris, Chanyeol/Baekhyun as friendship pairing

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Stand-up!AU, romance, slight angst

Warning(s) : Language, ghost!Baekhyun

Length: ~24,000

Summary: For aspiring comedian Park Chanyeol, being funny is no laughing matter. The assistance of a meddling but well-meaning ghost named Baekhyun only complicates matters further, but it might be just what he needs. (Written for Yeolliepopday exchange)






The next day, after much deliberation and self-doubt, Chanyeol gathers up enough guts to pay Kris a visit. Somehow the idea is almost as terrifying as being on stage in front of a huge crowd – maybe even more so, which confuses Chanyeol at first, because Kris is only one person.

Then again, Kris has always been worth far more to Chanyeol than any number of people. He knows he has to do this properly; he can always get up again when the crowd beats him down, but losing Kris isn’t an option.

When he ventures through the doors of the pub later that night, Chanyeol finds his friend standing alone at the bar, typing something into the register. There are only a few depressed-looking stragglers still sitting at the tables scattered around the room, nursing their near-empty glasses and staring at nothing – the ‘Sad After-Eleven Crowd’, Kris liked to call them. On the occasional night when Minseok and the others had gone home early, he’d sometimes have to enlist Chanyeol’s help in shooing them out the door as soon as it was time to close up.

“What are you doing here so late..?” Kris says flatly without looking up. “I’m closing soon.”

Chanyeol hops up onto one of the stools and folds his arms upon the counter. “How did you even know it was me..?”

“I could recognise the sound of that uneven gait a mile away. You walk like a drunkard.”

“Funny that, because I’m fairly sure this has been my longest stint of sobriety since the day I was born. And for your information, one of my legs is slightly shorter than the other.”

Kris rolls his eyes. “What, sober for 24 hours? What an outrage..”

“I’m sorry. I know I was a dick,” Chanyeol says quietly, trying his best to sound sincere. Kris merely nods in acknowledgment, but doesn’t reply.

“I want to come back here, Kris – not so I can drink, but because I want to see you. I don’t want us to be on bad terms anymore.”

“I don't know about that… I don't think these four walls could withstand your burgeoning popularity.”

Chanyeol laughs and shakes his head. “Hey – I’m trying to apologise to you here. Can you not be an arsehole for five seconds?”

Kris’s mouth twitches the tiniest fraction upwards; it’s barely noticeable, but Chanyeol manages to catch it anyway. “Well, five seconds is a bit of a stretch… will you accept two..?”

“Hmm. I suppose,” Chanyeol smiles. “Now are you gonna pour me a beer or what..?”

Kris nods, reaching behind him for a clean pint glass. “Sure. But I can’t promise you it won’t be all head..”

“As long as it’s a beer poured by you, I don’t care. Now give me some of your sweet foam.”

Kris snorts as he watches the golden liquid slowly filling the glass. “You’re disgusting… but god help me, I’ve missed you.”

Chanyeol raises an eyebrow. “Really..?”

“Yeah,” Kris mumbles, looking down at the floor. “I mean, you give me the shits, sometimes. But you’re kind of the best part of my day.”

He accidentally overfills the glass and swears quietly to himself, grabbing a cloth to wipe up the spillage, and Chanyeol opens and closes his mouth like a dying fish, unable to get any words out. Kris finally looks at him, and there’s something in his eyes that Chanyeol has never noticed before, but now that he’s seen it, he’s not sure how he managed to miss it so many times.

“Um,” he says, clearing his throat nervously. “Thanks. You too.”

With their brief moment of awkward tenderness now out of the way, Kris sets Chanyeol’s glass down upon the counter, the foamy liquid sloshing onto the wooden surface a little. He quickly wipes it up, and Chanyeol nods his head in thanks.

“So… are you still coming to the finals to see me perform..?” he asks.

Kris shrugs and goes back to fiddling with the register. “I don’t know. I guess it depends on whether you still want me there.”

Chanyeol’s expression softens. “Of course I want you there..”

“Well, then I’ll be there,” Kris replies, nodding. “By the way, that right there is an apology beer,” he adds, pointing at Chanyeol’s glass. “So don’t you even think about trying to pay for it, or I’ll spit in the next one.”

Chanyeol laughs and finishes the rest of his beer in one swallow, placing the empty glass gently down upon the bar. “Apology beer accepted.”

“Good. Now be a good man and skedaddle… I’ve got to kick all these bozos out of here,” Kris says, not sounding at all enthused by the idea.

Chanyeol laughs and gets up from his seat. “Alright, alright… I’ll get out of your hair..”

He’s halfway through the door when Kris calls out to him. Pausing, he looks over his shoulder.

“Will I see you soon..?” Kris asks, looking hopeful.

“Yeah… you will,” Chanyeol smiles, and gently shuts the door behind him.





* * * * *





Chanyeol walks up to the side of the stage, counting each and every step as though the next one might be his last. He stands there peering out at the crowd through the curtains, waiting for a signal to walk on.

He’s looking forward to making Baekhyun proud tonight; they’ve both worked so hard for this, after all. Chanyeol knows his material back to front now. He’s practised his routines so many times he could perform them backwards in his sleep. He’s fired up and ready to roll.

There’s been no trace of Baekhyun in the kitchen for the past couple of mornings, which strikes Chanyeol as being a little odd… maybe even a bit sad. He was just beginning to look at the charred evidence of Baekhyun’s breakfast attempts with fondness instead of irritation. Still, he supposes that his friend has his own reasons for being absent; even ghosts must have their own affairs to attend to.

Chanyeol takes several deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. He has to take the stage soon, and Baekhyun still isn’t here. But he’s sure to show up; he hasn’t missed a single one of Chanyeol’s performances since they became friends. He’d always be there somewhere; standing at the side of the stage to give Chanyeol a high five before he walked on, or sitting cross-legged in the aisle, occasionally being trampled by people arriving late to their seats. Sometimes Chanyeol would look up and see Baekhyun watching from one of the catwalks above, a shadowed figure leaning against the scaffolding.

He’ll be here, Chanyeol tells himself. There’s no way he wouldn’t come.

He promised.

“Is it possible for me to go on a little later..?” Chanyeol asks the club host. He needs to buy himself some time.

The host erupts in a fit of laughter. “Not on your life, boy,” he says, slapping his chest, and he waddles away to bark at someone else for being late.

Chanyeol nods, determined to accept his fate. Soon enough, he hears his name being called, and he walks silently onto the stage. He looks out into the crowd, searching for that one face he wants so desperately to see, but the faces staring back at him are all blank; all unfamiliar.

Tonight, on this very stage, he’ll die alone.

Chanyeol opens his mouth to introduce himself, stuttering over his own name, and his mind becomes a blank slate, wiped completely clean of anything to say. His palms are so soaked with sweat that he nearly drops the microphone. He clutches at it for dear life, his knuckles whitening, the bones straining against skin pulled so taut that it feels like it might burst open.

A man sitting in the front row scratches his arm, and to Chanyeol’s hypersensitive ears it sounds like his nails are scraping against sandpaper. Someone else coughs loudly and it catches him by surprise, his body jerking violently in response to the sound. His heart jackhammers against his breastbone.

Chanyeol drags his own chewed fingernails over a persistent itch on the back of his neck, scratching the skin raw. His feet are nailed to the stage; the sweat runs in rivulets down his forehead. It burns his eyes and he blinks furiously, the searing stage lights blurring in his vision. He turns his head to the side, a last-ditch effort to catch a glimpse of those bright brown eyes peeking through the stage curtains. Perhaps a hint of a cheeky grin shining in the darkness.

Maybe a thumbs-up.

Nothing.

The fear grows and grows until it reaches godly proportions, too large for him to have a hope of crushing its head beneath his heel. It snakes around his ankles and pulls him down to earth, and Chanyeol does the only thing he can do. He gets down on his knees before it.

Muttering an apology, he walks off the stage as calmly as his shaking legs will allow. The audience makes no sound as he leaves, but as soon as he disappears through the curtains there is an eruption of confused whispers that he can hear all the way through the corridor.

The club host tries to stop him on his way out, but Chanyeol only brushes past, closing his ears to any requests to get back and finish the show if he wants to see a single dime.

The silence follows him all the way home.




* * * * *





Chanyeol tiptoes through the entrance to the theatre, the beam from his torch slicing through the darkness. He can see a thin line of light shining through the gap beneath the main doors of the auditorium, and it sets his heart aflutter with hope.

The lights are on. He must be here.

He pushes the heavy wooden doors open and gently shuts them behind him. Sure enough, the stage lights are all switched on.

"Baekhyun? Are you here?"

Chanyeol makes his way towards the stage and ascends the stairs, the old wood creaking loudly beneath his feet. He sits himself down on the edge of the stage, waiting patiently for Baekhyun to show up.

“Baekhyun?” he calls out again. “Please come out…”

He looks up at that magnificent chandelier, its multi-faceted pendants shining like diamonds. He closes his eyes and imagines it swinging back and forth, just like it was on the night they met. The tinkling of glass and rattling of chains is still fresh in his mind.

Chanyeol waits for his ears to ring; for a light to flicker; for something – anything – to happen.


Just one sign. One single sign that you existed. That’s all I ask.

After waiting for what feels like an eternity, Chanyeol lets out a sad sigh and makes his way towards the exit, looking over his shoulder one last time before shutting the wooden doors behind him.

He steps outside the theatre, into the cold night air, and he looks up at the Cheshire Cat smile of the moon, wondering if it's Baekhyun smiling instead; if he's happy wherever he is now, not having to worry himself about Chanyeol's problems anymore. If he’s finally free of all those things that kept him chained here for so long.

Chanyeol gives up and walks briskly to his battered car, pulling his jacket tighter around himself to keep the cold out. Somewhere behind him, there is a faint buzzing sound as the lights spelling out the Stellar Theatre's name begin to blow out, until they read something else entirely:


STI LL HE RE


This time, Chanyeol doesn’t look back.




* * * * *





"Any reason why you're staring dejectedly into that cupboard..?”

Chanyeol jumps a little at the unexpected sound of Yura’s voice, and turns his head to see her leaning against the frame of the kitchen door, her arms casually crossed. He swallows the lump in his throat.

“Oh, you know... just trying to get some inspiration for this kitchen-themed sitcom I’m writing,” he says drily, offering her a half-hearted smile. “I call it ‘Desperately Seeking Saucepan’..”

Yura chuckles, but the laughter quickly dies down. She looks at Chanyeol worriedly. “Are you okay? You seem a bit… lost.”

Chanyeol sighs and closes the cupboard door. "Yeah. I'm fine," he mutters, slowly getting to his feet. “I was just looking for something, but it's not here, so... I'm sorry, you must think I've completely cracked it.."

He doesn't want to look at her. He already knows what expression she’s wearing; that 'I'm worried about you' face where her forehead crumples slightly and the frown lines carve deep valleys into her soft, pretty features. Seeing that is the last thing he needs right now.

“Yura,” he says at last.

“Yes, Chanyeol?”

“I know I told you that as soon as I find what it is I'm looking for, I'll be out of here,” he says quietly. “Well, I'm not sure I'll ever find it. I think it's time I stopped looking.”

“Chanyeol...” Yura says slowly, and Chanyeol knows what she’s about to say, but he doesn't want her making excuses for him anymore.

“It's okay… I’ll be fine,” he tells her with a reassuring smile, but he’s not sure how convincing it is when he doesn’t really believe it himself.

Yura nods and clears her throat.

“Well... whatever makes you happy,” she says quietly, patting Chanyeol's shoulder, and she closes the door behind her without another word.





* * * * *





Soon afterwards, Chanyeol takes the first soul-destroying, decently-paying telemarketing job he can get, and moves into a tiny studio apartment on his own. He takes a much-needed break from performing, he stops going to the pub, and he stops looking for signs.

At first he doesn’t know what to do with himself, having all this alone time in the evenings. For a while there is a lot of standing around and staring – staring into empty spaces, or staring at his hands until he fools himself into believing that they’re fading away into nothing, just like Baekhyun did. Sleeping isn’t so much sleeping as it is an intense study of the insides of his eyelids, while praying for sleep to overcome him, but for the most part his prayers go unanswered.

Everything he puts in his mouth tastes like it's been burnt into ash. He reads and rereads the words he scribbles down so many times that they no longer seem real.

Where did they come from, those words?

Chanyeol doesn’t know anymore.




* * * * *





Chanyeol wonders why it seems like some unwritten rule that you’ll always bump into people you’re trying to avoid at the supermarket. Bonus Sad Points if it’s someone you have a bit of a man-crush on, and you’re sporting stained sweatpants, a bird’s-nest hairdo and the worn-out slippers your mother bought you for Christmas four years ago.

If you also happen to be carrying a shopping basket inexplicably filled to the brim with bacon, well, that deserves a level up.

“Hey… you haven’t replied to any of my texts. I was starting to think you’d fallen off the face of the earth. How have you been..?” Kris asks, his eyebrows furrowed with apparent concern. Chanyeol can’t decide if the concern is due to his recent disappearance, or if it’s because he looks like shit right now, but he thinks he’s probably better off not knowing.

“Yeah.. I’m alright,” he replies, trying to discreetly smooth his hair down with one hand. He hasn’t spoken to anyone all weekend, so his voice comes out sounding strangely foreign, at least to his own ears.

Kris glances down at the contents of Chanyeol’s basket. “So. Bacon, huh?”

“Uh… yeah,” Chanyeol replies with an embarrassed chuckle. “Breakfast for dinner is kind of my new thing..”

He doesn’t tell Kris his real reason for buying all that bacon; that he throws a couple of rashers in a frying pan each morning and leaves it to burn so badly that even his cat won’t touch it, all because the smell reminds him of Baekhyun.

“Cool,” Kris says, nodding. “Listen... you wanna go somewhere?”

Chanyeol stares at him blankly, and looks down at his own state of dishevelment. “What, now..?” he asks, gesturing towards himself.

Kris shrugs. “Yeah. You got time for a quick coffee?”

Chanyeol considers the invitation for a moment. “Well… I guess I can spare a bit of time…” he says hesitantly.

“Great. Meet me outside when you’re done,” Kris replies, and he walks away, heading towards the checkout area.

Not wanting to line up behind Kris, Chanyeol parks himself at the next register and begins to unload his basket. He sneaks a sideways glance at Kris’s shopping – sensible items like dishwashing detergent and wholegrain bread and the fancy ‘smart’ milk with all the extra vitamins added to it, and things that actually require assembly, like vegetables and rice. Then he looks down at the conveyor belt in front of him, layered with packet after packet of bacon and a few cups of instant ramen. Sighing, he hands his card over to the cashier.

He finds Kris waiting for him just outside the sliding doors, and they walk side by side in silence, accidentally bumping each other with their shopping bags and exchanging only a few shy glances. Kris leads him to a small café a few doors down, and they sit down at a rickety little table in the corner. A waitress hurries over to hand them a pair of menus; Kris orders two coffees and she nods politely, leaving them in peace.

“Where have you been?” Kris asks Chanyeol as soon as they’re alone. “Are you avoiding me because of that thing I said…?”

“What thing?” Chanyeol asks, confused.

“The ‘you being the best part of my day’ thing,” Kris says, his face reddening slightly.

Chanyeol shakes his head, smiling in spite of himself. “No, Kris… of course not. That actually made me really happy.”

Kris’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “It did..?”

“Yeah,” Chanyeol replies, feeling shy all of a sudden. The waitress returns with their coffees, and he thanks her with a smile. “It definitely wasn’t because of that. I’m just having a personal crisis at the moment, and I haven’t really felt up to going out. I didn’t want you to see me like this.”

“You've become a reclusive sad-sack,” Kris says, frowning a little. “I don't like it..”

Chanyeol takes a sip of his coffee and returns the mug to the table. “I'm not sad… just apathetic.”

“That's even worse.”

“It's not so bad,” Chanyeol replies. Not wanting to look at Kris, he stares out the window instead, following people with his eyes as they pass by. “At least I have my own place now… I’m finally out of my sister’s hair. I figured maybe I’ll just start collecting cats; I've got one already, I could easily bump up the population to twelve or thirteen.”

“That doesn't sound very sanitary…” Kris replies, stirring another sugar into his cappuccino. “How’s the competition prep going..?”

“Actually… I haven’t really been writing any material lately. I’m thinking of pulling out,” Chanyeol says, chewing his lip.

Kris lowers his mug, frowning. “What are you on about? You can’t pull out of the finals..”

“I can, and I will,” Chanyeol mumbles, his head firmly buried in his hands.

“Chanyeol, you’ve been working so hard for this. Too hard to just let it all go.”

“I know,” Chanyeol cries, pulling his hair. “But… I can’t do it. I royally screwed up the Charlie’s gig. I never told you that, did I? I just lost my shit and walked right off the stage. My confidence has totally skipped town on me..”

“Chanyeol, it’s normal to be nervous before a performance,” Kris says gently. “I’m sure it happens to everyone. If it were me I’d be terrified too.”

“You don’t understand,” Chanyeol sighs, shaking his head. “Charlie’s is one of the most high-profile comedy clubs in the country; I fucked myself over by walking out. Even my agent said so, but he’s still busting his arse trying to find me other gigs like he always does, because he honestly believes that I’m gifted. He clearly thinks too highly of me… I should just tell him not to bother.”

“You are gifted, Chanyeol,” Kris says. He takes Chanyeol’s hand and holds it in his own, stroking it gently. “I don't like seeing you like this... it’s depressing. You've got to keep performing, for your own sanity.”

Chanyeol shrugs, staring numbly at their joined hands. “I do still perform,” he mumbles, “just not very much. I've got a normal-person job now, so I don’t have time to travel around anymore.”

“Leave the normal-person jobs for normal-person people,” Kris tells him. “Comedy is what you love. It’s what you’re good at. That's the job for you.”

“It's not a job,” Chanyeol replies angrily, pulling his hand away. “It's just a bloody hobby – you even said it yourself. I'm finally trying to man up and grow up. Why are you belittling my efforts..?”

Kris sighs and shakes his head. “I'm not – I’m happy that you’re trying to improve your situation. But there’s no point lying to yourself. If you love something, and you can feasibly earn a living doing it, then it's a job. If comedy is what you really want to do, you shouldn't give up on it – at least not until you've exhausted all possible avenues.”

Kris takes Chanyeol’s hand again and gently traces the lines in the palm with his fingers.

“And I know I said those things, Chanyeol, but I want you to prove me wrong,” he says quietly, looking up to meet Chanyeol’s gaze. “I think I want it even more than you do.”

Chanyeol merely watches Kris playing with his hands, too lost in thought to reply.

“You've got to perform at the finals,” Kris says, pulling him out of his reverie. “Think of the exposure. It could be so good for you – what if you win..?”

“Well, what if I don't?”

“Then you can go back to your new boring normal-person life, knowing that you at least tried,” Kris replies, downing the last of his coffee. “What is it you do at your job, anyway..?”

Chanyeol looks Kris right in the eye, daring him to laugh.

“Telemarketing. I sell insurance.”

“Wow,” Kris chuckles, rolling his eyes. “Sounds riveting..”

“Try doing it for nine hours a day and see how you handle it,” Chanyeol grumbles, and Kris only laughs at him.

Chanyeol picks up his mug to take another sip and realises it’s empty. He eyes the dregs in the bottom and puts it back on the table with a sigh.

“You really do care about me, don’t you..?” he comments absently.

“Yes, of course I do,” Kris replies. “Would you like another coffee?”

Chanyeol shakes his head. “No thanks, I’m alright.”

“So,” Kris says after a moment’s pause, “are you going to admit that you care about me too, or is this a one-sided thing..?”

“Please,” Chanyeol whispers, trying to look at anything else but Kris’s eyes. “Don’t make me say it back… you already know how gutless I am. That’s the reason we’re both here, isn’t it..?”

Kris shakes his head, leaning closer to Chanyeol. “No. You're brave. You always keep me guessing. And truth be told, when you’re not around, you’re all I think about. And I’ll be good to you. Or, at least, I’ll do my very best..”

Cradling Chanyeol's face in his hands, he leans forward until their lips are almost touching, and then pauses for a moment.

“Please tell me you've brushed your teeth recently,” he whispers, and he lowers his head, laughing into the crook of Chanyeol's shoulder. The warmth of his breath sends shivers down Chanyeol's spine.

“This morning,” Chanyeol replies, his heart pounding in his throat. “I know I’ve let myself go, but I’m not that bad.”

“Mmm… good..” Kris murmurs, pressing a soft kiss to the base of Chanyeol's neck. He lifts his head until their lips meet, tentatively at first, and then Chanyeol wraps his arms around Kris's neck to pull him closer. Kris groans into his mouth and Chanyeol feels his body weaken at the sound, until he virtually melts into a puddle of goo on the café floor.

“How about a drink?” Kris whispers breathlessly. “Just you and me. I'll go open up the bar..”

Chanyeol looks pointedly down at his watch. "It's 11 AM… and I look like a pile of ass."

Kris cocks an eyebrow, his smile making a rare but welcome appearance. He stands up and holds out a hand to help Chanyeol up from his seat. "I'll be the judge of that. Anyway, what else would you have to do on a Sunday morning..?"

Chanyeol sighs and smiles back at him. "Okay. Fine. Can I put my bacon in your fridge?"

Kris laughs huskily and grabs Chanyeol's hand, lacing their fingers together. "Sure."

“I'm curious,” Chanyeol asks while they’re walking to the pub together. “How long have you been sitting on these feelings without telling me..?”

Kris pauses for a moment before replying. “I don't know… a while,” he says eventually. “But lately it's like there's been this voice persistently whispering in my ear, saying ‘just tell him. Tell him you like him. What have you got to lose..?’ So I finally listened to that voice. And I don’t regret it one bit.”

Chanyeol smiles to himself at Kris's reply, but he doesn't say anything. He merely squeezes Kris’s hand, and he wonders if he'll ever tell him about Baekhyun.

Maybe, one day.




* * * * *





Chanyeol is back where he started, standing before a crowd of blank faces. The room is cloaked in such tangible silence that he imagines he can hear the sound of each person blinking. Each inhale and exhale is a hurricane.

So quiet.

"Hi," he says at last, swallowing nervously. "I'm Chanyeol."

His mouth stretches into some vague semblance of a smile, painfully pulling at the chafed skin. The cracks sting as sweat trickles down over his lips, and he swipes his tongue over them, tasting salt.

Chanyeol feels like he might die again. But it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees, or so the saying goes.

"Get off!" a man's voice calls out from the crowd, cutting him off before he can open his mouth. He looks out into the audience, and then he hears it in the back of his mind. Small; far away; but demanding to be heard.

I’m here. Talk to me.

Chanyeol removes the microphone from the stand and walks as calmly as he can to the front of the stage. "What's your name, sir?" he asks, bending down to look the heckler in the eye.

The man looks around uncomfortably as a spotlight settles upon him, and then his eyes meet Chanyeol’s.

"Uh... Shindong…" he replies.

"Well, Shindong, if you'd like to watch me get off, you're welcome to come and see me backstage,” Chanyeol deadpans. “But I’m afraid it'll have to wait until after the show. Now settle down.”

He shuts his eyes tight for a second or two, and all he can hear is a loud roaring. Then he realises it’s that unique, beautiful combination of laughter and applause, not the sound of blood rushing in his ears, as he’d first thought. He exhales deeply, so filled with joy and relief that, for a moment, he thinks he might faint.

And then none of these things seem to matter anymore. It doesn’t matter that he’s standing up there all alone, because he doesn’t feel like he’s alone. And it doesn’t matter that many people have already stood up here before him, or that many more will follow; or that, in terms of probability, winning this contest is about as likely as another light fixture falling on his head right this second (never say never). For those fifteen glorious minutes, the stage and the world both belong to him.




* * * * *





Not winning isn’t quite as disappointing as Chanyeol thought it would be. At any rate, it’s hard to be disappointed when he knows he has someone as sexy as Kris Wu waiting for him out in the foyer.

“Hi,” Kris says softly as Chanyeol approaches. He’s smiling, and he looks as beautiful as ever, and Chanyeol feels like a winner anyway.

“Hi,” he replies, and he tries to keep his grin in check, but he can feel it growing ever wider and cheesier.

“You were fantastic,” Kris tells him, and he’s grinning now too, which isn’t quite so rare these days. He pulls Chanyeol into a tight hug. “The way you put that heckler in his place… what a golden moment.”

“Well, you gotta work with the audience, or so they tell you.”

Kris pulls away and gives Chanyeol a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry you didn’t win. For what it’s worth, I thought you should have… but then I’m probably biased.”

Chanyeol shakes his head. “It’s fine… Chaerin really deserved it. She’s a force to be reckoned with, that girl. Anyway, just being here and putting on a great show was already far more than I could have hoped for, so I kind of did win, in a way."

“That’s the spirit,” Kris says, smiling. With one arm around Chanyeol’s waist, he pulls him closer, kissing him softly on the lips. They’re still kissing when Chanyeol hears the sound of someone politely clearing their throat behind him, and he quickly pulls away to find an attractive older woman standing there, wearing a fitted grey skirt suit and square-framed tortoiseshell glasses.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she says, smiling warmly at him. “You’re Chanyeol, right..?”

“Uh, yeah,” Chanyeol replies. He can feel his face burning a little at being caught in the middle of making out. “That’s me..”

“My name is Park Bom. I’m a talent scout,” the woman says, extending her hand towards Chanyeol. “I thought you were fantastic tonight. You really should have won, in my opinion, but I suppose humour is subjective..”

Chanyeol smiles back at her and shakes her hand. “Well, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”

Bom opens her handbag and pulls out a cardholder full of business cards, handing one to Chanyeol. “Give me a call sometime… I know quite a few people who would love to meet someone like you.”

“Wow… thank you,” Chanyeol replies, turning the card around in his hands. “I will..”

With a polite bow of her head, Bom excuses herself, and Chanyeol watches her walk away for a moment, still in shock.

“Did you see what just happened there…?” he says, turning back to Kris. “I just got scouted..”

“I did see,” Kris replies, nodding. “Congratulations, Chanyeol. Anyway, it just so happens that I might have a little business proposition for you myself.”

Chanyeol raises an eyebrow. “I’m listening..”

“Well, I was thinking I might tentatively start up a weekly comedy night at the pub,” Kris says casually, wrapping an arm around Chanyeol’s waist again. “For each set, I’ll pay you double whatever the other clubs paid you. And, if it all goes well, we’ll make it a permanent thing.”

“Hmm. A very interesting proposal,” Chanyeol replies, grinning widely. “Now what's the catch?”

Kris chuckles and shakes his head. “No catch… but you might possibly have to fill the role of ‘boss’s boyfriend’ as well. It’s full-time, but you can choose your own hours.”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes, throwing his arms around Kris’s neck. “I thought as much…”

“The job comes with lots of perks,” Kris says in a low voice, planting a little kiss on Chanyeol’s ear. “All the beer you can drink, and an endless supply of nuts.”

“Well, that’s quite an offer, Mr. Wu,” Chanyeol laughs. “Where do I sign..?”

"Here," Kris whispers, and he runs his thumb lightly over Chanyeol's lips before leaning down to kiss him.




* * * * *





“Uh… are all these people really here for me?” Chanyeol asks Kris, swallowing nervously.

Kris smiles, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “Uh-huh. Just for you.”

Chanyeol has never seen Rubbing Elbows like this. It’s usually packed to the rafters on a Friday night, granted, but this is a whole new level of packed. Minseok, Sehun and Jongin had spent ages filling the floor with rows of chairs at Kris’s direction, and now every single one of those chairs is taken. There are more people milling around the back, leaning against the wall with their drinks, chatting to each other and waiting for the show to start.

“But how...?” Chanyeol asks, dumbfounded. “How did you get so many of them to come? Especially after what happened last time..”

“I have my ways,” Kris replies mysteriously, and then he leans over to whisper in Chanyeol’s ear. “Half-price drinks all night..”

“Ah, yeah,” Chanyeol nods, smiling. “That'll do it.”

“It's all about getting bums on seats, Chanyeol,” Kris replies, rubbing Chanyeol’s shoulders gently. “Are you ready?”

Chanyeol nods and takes a deep breath. “Yeah. I think I am. Kiss for good luck..?”

Kris smiles and kisses him, soft and slow and sweet, before spinning him around and gently pushing him towards the stage. “Alright. Time to go. Knock ‘em dead, okay?”

“Okay.”

Chanyeol slowly walks up onto the tiny stage, coming to a halt in the centre, and he turns to face the crowd. It’s a smaller room than he’s used to, and he can see every single face clearly. It makes him nervous, the thought of being able to see people’s reactions so closely, but it’s a good kind of nervous... a little like that feeling he gets in his stomach when Kris looks at him. Or when Kris touches him, or kisses him… or anytime Kris does anything at all, really.

For a moment, Chanyeol is overcome by the urge to hide behind the mic stand again, but then he takes a deep breath and pushes it aside. He doesn’t need to hide anymore.

“Hi,” he says, “I’m—”

A deafening crash stops him in his tracks, and Chanyeol turns around to look behind him, seeing the shattered remains of a large spotlight on the floor, barely a few metres from where he’s standing. He looks up at the ceiling, and then turns around to look at Kris, his face frozen in an expression of shock and confusion. Kris stares back at him for a moment and then screws his eyes shut, putting a hand to his forehead and shaking his head in dismay.

For a moment the silence is so thick you could cut it with a knife and spread it on a cracker.

“Wow,” Chanyeol pipes up, “how's that for an ice breaker..?” and the crowd laughs, clapping their hands in appreciation. Smiling, he takes a few steps forward until there's no longer anything heavy hanging over his head.

The show must go on, and all that.

“Alright,” he says into the microphone, shooting a wink and a thumbs-up in Kris’s direction. “Let's bring this house down.”




________________________________________






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